June Wrap Up Post

It might feel like I’m living in a volcano, but it’s only the end of June, can you believe it? we’re in the midst of a midwest heat wave,  my city is under a heat advisory, they are opening fire hydrants and telling everyone to check on their elderly neighbors.

I’ve been having fun with quick picked everything lately,  even ended up with these gorgeous ombre picked onions and radishes!

 

I started a new game of Stardew Valley recently.   I was getting a little bored of my old game, wasn’t interested in raising animals, and once you start growing starfruit and rare seeds in your greenhouse and use your seed machine, you basically break the game.  Once I hit a million spacebucks, it was time to start a new game.  I married Elliott, we never had any kids, and he loved living on the farm. He’d usually be up before me, he’d help a little on the farm, he’d sometimes make coffee, he didn’t mind that our relationship was quiet. He authentically seemed pleased to be with me.

For my new game, I opted for the Hilltop Farm (it is huge! I love it!), and I decided i was going to try for a relationship with either Shane or Harvey (because WTF is up with that radio set in Harvey’s bedroom!!!).  Since Harvey is hardly ever around and Shane is a lot easier to locate, it’s summer of year 1 and I’m already at 3 hearts with Shane.

How to get Shane to be friends with you? EASY.  Buy beer from Gus and gift it to Shane. If the Fri/Sun wagon guy sells Pepper poppers, BUY THEM, because Shane will eventually give you the recipe and hope you can make it and share it with him.

And, I got the first cutscene with Shane! #Dying

 

I want Shane to come live with me on the farm.  Everything on the farm is successful, even if a crow eats your plants you still succeed.

What I love about Stardew Valley is that everything is the right decision, and people I befriend authentically enjoy spending time with me.  And I want to be able to give that experience to Shane.

I will expand my house so I have a kitchen, always have the ingredients for Pepper Poppers on hand, and we’ll eat pepper poppers till the cows come home.  I’m a happy farmer. I want to give that happiness to Shane, however much he’ll let me.

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Pickled Onions should not taste this good!

I’ve been getting into pickling lately. Not canning rig, dip jars into boiling water pickling, but quick fridge pickles.  a brine on the stove takes 15 (or less!) minutes, you cram everything into a mason jar, and two days to a week later you have something delicious.

My favorite pickles are done with rice vinegar, it is sweeter, less harsh, and more forgiving than standard American white vinegar. But about a month ago, I was looking for a Passover friendly fridge pickle, something that wasn’t made with rice vinegar, something that would go good with gefilte fish, something really delicious, something that didn’t require me to purchase obscure ingredients.  I came across this pickled onion recipe from Smitten Kitchen. (oh, you don’t know Smitten Kitchen? She has a cookbook out, which you should buy, right now).

 

Anyway, the onions.  They came together in less than 5 minutes, and were good with everything I put them on. Gefilte fish + these pickled onions + horseradish? So heavenly I’m headed back to the grocery store to buy the leftover jars of gefilte fish that are  now on clearance.  Rice topped with a fried egg and these pickled onions?  Why didn’t someone tell me breakfast could be so good? (yes, I eat eggs and rice for breakfast).  These pickled onions on burgers, meatballs, and anything else I can think of? Sign. Me. Up.  Smitten Kitchen recommends them on tacos, which sounds divine!

I made a few tweaks to the Smitten Kitchen recipe to match what I had and my tastes (I didn’t have a red onion so I used white, I let them sit in the fridge a little longer, etc).  That’s the wonderful thing about quick pickle recipes, you can adapt them to suit your tastes and what’s sitting around your house.

Pickled Onions, adapted from Smitten Kitchen.  Makes 1  Jar of pickles.

1 large white onion, sliced thin and pieces separated

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/4 cup water plus some more to top off the jar

2 tsp sugar

mounded half tbsp coarse salt

Stir water, vinegar, salt, and sugar until salt and sugar have mostly dissolved (I guess you could put it all in the mason jar, screw the lid on tight and shake it up like you’re making salad dressing or bullet proof coffee? saves you a bowl to clean!).  Cram onion pieces into jar, pour brine over. top off with water. Screw lid down tightly,  put in refrigerator. your pickles are ready to eat in 1 week, and will last in the fridge for about a month.

People hear “pickled onions” and think it’s going to be onion-y, and overly vinegar-y, and these are neither of those things.  the onions mellow out, the sugar does its magical thang, and because of these pickles I want to get invited to a million summer barbecue parties just so I can bring a jar to every table.

Yeah Passover!

Passover is my favorite holiday.  It’s like spring break for me.  I love cooking, I love pulling out recipes we only make once a year, I love the planning, i just love Passover!

Passover is funny, because every family has their own traditions, what rules they will bend, what rules they ignore, and what rules they won’t ever break, no matter what.  Depending on how observant you are, and what your families traditions are, some rules are “rules”, others are “traditions”, others are “guidelines”.

more like guidelines than rules

The traditions I grew up with were “don’t be obvious or blatant that you are breaking Passover”.  I use store bought mayonnaise.  I use powdered sugar which usually contains a small quantity of corn starch. I use ketchup, which very likely contains corn syrup. We have Pepsi in the house, also usually with corn syrup. I use plenty of store bought stuff that surely contains forbidden ingredients, but isn’t walking around screaming “Look at me! I’m full of stuff you’re not supposed to eat!”. I categorize all that stuff as “not blatant”.  I’m sure some Jews are reading this right now and clutching their pearls. That’s cool.  Like I said, every family’s traditions are different.

 

Last year, a rabbinic ruling came out stating that “kitniyot” (beans, rice, a bunch of other previously forbidden stuff), was now okay to eat.  So I can have corn tortillas and beans and rice for Passover?  So, here’s the thing.  I eat a mostly gluten free diet as it is. If beans, rice, corn, etc are OK for Passover, how is this week any different from the rest of the year? what, i don’t eat oatmeal for one whole week?  I like the specialness of Passover. I appreciate the extra meal planning. It’s spring break from junk food, in a way. All that to say that I’m not ready to start blatantly eating kitniyot.  Next year at Taco Bell?

 

anyways, here is an incomplete list of all the delicious things I’ll be stuffing into my face during Passover, because getting to eat all this delicious stuff qualifies as a holiday!

meatballs (omg, so many meatballs!)

schnitzel with lemon caper sauce

egg salad

carrot and olive salad

frittata with home made fermented pepper sauce

smashed potatoes with leek sauce

Citrus chicken

Potato Skins

Zucchini Gratin

flax crackers

Matzah bark

chocolate truffles

chocolate walnut cookies

almond cookies

Rainbow Chard with Ginger

Cardamom Apple Cake

Spinach and Cheese Dumplings

Sweet potato and Apple casserole

Sweet potato, pear, and pecan casserole

fruit and nut stuffed turkey

Matzoh Ball Soup

Turkey Burgers

Pickled Onions

 

Citrus Chicken

You ever get halfway through a recipe and realize you are missing an ingredient? Or cross your fingers and hope an ingredient swap will actually work??   Happens to me ALL the time.  I improvise, and move on with my life.

We were supposed to be making Orange flavored chicken wings.  Didn’t have wings, had thighs. Couldn’t finish them in the oven as the recipe instructed because something else was in the oven, so cooked them fully on the stove. Didn’t have enough orange zest to make a 2nd batch of sauce, so used dried lemon peel. We botched neatly every ingredient, every step, and every instruction.  And it was one of the best dinner’s we’d had in a while.

I give you Citrus Chicken, which I’ll bet turned out better than the original recipe for whatever it was we thought we were making:

3-4 tsp oil

2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs

salt and pepper

½ tsp cinnamon

2 tsp ground coriander

4 shallots, minced

1 tbsp minced garlic

1 cup orange juice

grated zest of one orange, or 1 tsp dried lemon peel, or any combination of the two

1 cup chicken broth, or water, or white wine, or any combination of those

optional – chopped fresh herbs to garnish, such as fresh parsley, cilantro, or mint

heat 2-3 tbsp oil in a large non-stick pan and brown the chicken thighs, in two batches. As they are browning, season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle cinnamon and coriander over top.

While the chicken is cooking, make the sauce. In a saucepan, saute the shallots in 1 tbsp oil. After two minutes, add the garlic, and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Add the orange juice and the citrus zest. If there is any available chicken fat in the pan you are cooking the thighs in, add that to the sauce. Add the broth/water/wine (I usually use mostly broth and a big splash of wine), and bring the sauce to a boil. Boil over medium or medium-high heat for 5-10 minutes, or until cooked down to a sauce-like consistency. Stir often, when you stir and the bottom of the pot doesn’t cover over with sauce immediately, it is getting close to being done.

Serve the chicken thighs smothered with the sauce.

Hans Zimmer and the sound of negative space

I’ve been listening to a lot of Hans Zimmer lately, mostly Dunkirk, Bladerunner 2049, and Interstellar.

 

Zimmer’s music reminds me that my brain is wired, um, differently. I hear and see structure (and lack there of) in the music that other people don’t seem to see or hear, when I try to describe the music, everyone looks at me funny. This is nothing new, and nothing unique to Zimmer: when I was younger I used the excuse of “wires in my brain are crossed”.  Maybe this is synesthesia, maybe I’m just weird. Either way, I wouldn’t trade it for the world, because getting colors, shapes, and physical spaces from sound is hella fun.

 

We were listening to the Dunkirk soundtrack, and before the part where it turns to hornets, my husband asked me why this music made him feel anxious. I’ve been thinking about that for a while. Why does the Dunkirk soundtrack make a listener feel anxious, even if that person has no idea of the life and death situation the music was written for?

 

Here’s what I have come up with:

 

It’s the negative space, and the lack of handholds.

 

That didn’t make any sense, did it?  The music to Dunkirk feels fairly slow, with melodies melting into each other.   There is no marchy snare drum (oh, hai music from Gladiator and Pirates!) to tell you where you are. Out of habit, I assume the Dunkirk music is written in 4/4, but who knows, it could double time, a waltz or some post modern bizarro time.  There are no clues, no handholds to tell you where you are supposed to be tapping your finger.  The architecture of a lot of this music is completely open, there are no rooms, no doorways, nothing to tell you if you are in a hallway or a kitchen or a bathtub. It isn’t empty, not by any means, but it is completely open. There is architecture and structure here, just nothing like what I’m used to.  It is a huge open space, I don’t know where I’m supposed to be going on looking.

 

There is also the slower pace. If you’ve seen Dunkirk, you know it is two hours of solid tension. You really have no idea if anyone will be alive at the end. While you are biting your nails because omgeveryoneisdrowing, the music is going along at its own, slower pace.  Nature doesn’t give a shit that you are in a hurry, and neither does this music.  The water is just there, doing its watery thing, it doesn’t really care if you drown.

 

It’s just you, and the music. No handholds, no signposts, nothing to tell you where you are. This is the kind of music that forces you face yourself, that forces you to be patient. In and endless cavern, whose end you will never reach no matter how fast you run so you might as well slow down and take it all in, you can’t help but feel insignificant. That is why this music makes you anxious.

 

I drunkenly fell asleep to the soundtrack of Dunkirk once.  Very intense dreams, woke up very disturbed and freaked out.  As much as I enjoy napping to instrumental music, that is not a particular experience I would like to repeat.

 

The Interstellar soundtrack has an opposite feel, for me. Instead of the music making me feel anxious, the Interstellar music is full of hope, growth, green, movement, stairs, warmth, invigoration, energy.

 

What I call the “spiral staircase” melody, it’s full of handholds – you always know where you are. This melody, and variations thereof are heard when the ship is leaving earth, and also at the end when he is falling through space and tapping messages on the bookshelf, and lots of other moments of discovery in the movie.  There are handholds everywhere, both musically and visually, you can grab onto them and go wherever the sound takes you.  This is the kind of music that can take you literally, anywhere.  Want incredible dreams while you are sleeping? Listen to Interstellar!

 

The big weird gorgeous trainwreck of a set piece in that movie is the black hole, and it’s this big bad destructive thing. But the music? Sounds like a fucking supernova, the opposite of a black hole.

 

I guess all that makes sense, right? Interstellar is about hope, going up and out, trust, telling a black hole of fear to fuck off because we are made of supernovas of hope.  Books can start getting knocked off my bookshelves any day, I am ready!

 

If you listen to the Interstellar soundtrack, and you like it, I highly recommend finding a recording done by an orchestra. Live music always has differences to studio polished music. When listening to the orchestra recording, I heard different heights of music. The dynamics were completely different, in a good way.

 

The music to Dunkirk sounds like a big open white space with no directions and no handholds, Bladerunner 2049 is similar but it is a dark underground cavern with edges in surprising places, and Interstellar’s music flies me through that giant unknown, and shows that this structureless architecture is what hope sounds likes.

 

So, Thank you Hans Zimmer for writing this amazing music and allowing me to experience it. Everything you write is all that more enjoyable to those of us who have wires crossed in our brains.

Dear Dr. Ellie Arroway

Last weekend I attended ConFusion, a fan-run science fiction convention in the Detroit suburbs. As always, i had an absolute blast.  I hung out with all my friends, went to some panels, sat on some panels, went to some great parties, made some new friends. The promise I made to myself was that I would let myself stay in social situation I know how to navigate (helping at the Apex table in the vendor room, chilling with my friends, complimenting people on their beautiful outfits), and I wouldn’t push myself into social situations I didn’t want to navigate, such as introducing myself to people I don’t know. For that reason, when it came to asking for authors to autograph stuff, I mostly chickened out. I waltzed into the mass autograph session with not a single book in my hand, and said hello to authors I’m friends with.

I write stuff, but I am not a writer.

I write blog posts, book reviews, interviews, the occasional “essay”.   Last weekend an author friend very politely asked if I’ve tried to write fiction, or if I’d want to.  Well, writing fiction is hard as fuck, so the easy answer is No, I’ll leave that to the professionals, thank you very much!

Here’s the long answer:

I love falling asleep to music of varying intensity.  I used to fall asleep to whatever music was on whatever computer game my husband was playing. I judged his games by if the music was good napping music or not.  My sensory system has a lot of crossed wires to being with (fun!), and this can intensify if I’m half asleep, or if I am experiencing a sound that is new, unconventional, or much higher or lower pitched than I am used to.  You ever get chills up your spine when you hear a particular piece of instrumental music? It’s like that, but times a thousand.

I’ve been listening to a lot of Hans Zimmer lately – Dunkirk soundtrack, Inception soundtrack, Interstellar sountrack, etc.  He breaks a lot of  “rules” with his compositions, and most of his stuff completely freaks out my sensory system, so I dig it.  Listening to it is like chomping on a handful of Szechuan peppercorns.

However long the piece of music is, that is how long my experience is.

Sometimes I try to put words to what I experience.  That a particular actor’s very low voice feels like I’ve fallen to the bottom of the ocean and the atmospheric pressure on my skin feels like the worlds best weighted blanket, that a particular melody from the soundtrack of Interstellar feels like I’m tumbling up a spiral staircase and gravity is messed up and I’m falling up.  That I’m swimming, that I’m flying, that I’m swimming through the Earth, that I’m standing on the edge of the ocean and my feet are slowly sinking into the sand and I want to go out with the surf water, that music can sound like the buzz of a Szechuan peppercorn, that a certain pitch of a man’s voice can pull me under.  Words don’t really work here, because my metaphors (which are not exactly metaphors because in some sense I am being literal) don’t make any sense.   Communication only works if the other person understands what you are saying,  so words are not the right method of communication for what I experience.

When I’ve tried to put words to the experience, I end up with something nonsensical than can be read in maybe 60 seconds. A fully sensory experience that lasted anywhere from 30 seconds to 10 minutes has been distilled into a few paragraphs that don’t make any sense.  Words, language, fail me because they are not the right method of communication for what I am trying to communicate.

You remember the movie Contact, with Jodie Foster? If you haven’t seen it, you should see it, it’s really good. The book is great too,  and even though they took SO MANY liberties with the movie, I actually like the movie more than the book.  Anyways, at the end of the movie, the main character, Dr. Ellie Arroway,  experiences something. She struggles to put it into words that anyone else will understand.  When she’s told that what she experienced (that to her, must have taken a few hours, at least), only lasted a second or so, she doesn’t know how to respond. Her sensory experience was distilled down to a second or so, and what she experienced doesn’t at all match the sensory experience of other people, and words, spoken language, doesn’t work at all for anyone to communicate to anyone else.  The end of the story is actually quite sad.  Words and spoken language quite literally fail humanity.

Dear Ellie, my experiences are completely different than yours, but sister, I hear you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Years Resolution? I’ll do you one better.

Twitter will be aflame with New Years Resolutions for the next week or so.

there was a thing on NPR the other day about what people’s regrets for the year were (not waving back to people, not getting a tattoo, not saving a turtle, etc).

When I go back to work on Tuesday I’m sure people will be chatting about their resolutions to eat healthier, go to the gym more often, call their parents more often, be more patient with their kids, have a cleaner house, blah blah blah blah blah blah.

resolutions?

regrets?

Fuck ’em.

no, seriously.  Resolutions are fine, but they can fuck off. Regrets can fuck off even more.

so don’t tell me your resolutions, or your regrets.  Do me one better than telling me what you want to do or what you didn’t do. Tell me your accomplishments, tell me what you did do this year. Fucking BRAG ABOUT THEM!

Did you go on a road trip?

did you get a new pet?

did you volunteer somewhere?

did you help someone learn something?

did you make something creative?

did you learn a new recipe and then make it your own?

did you discover a new tv show and not feel guilty binge watching it?

did you learn how to drive?

did you buy a dress or a shirt or shoes or a purse or something that makes you feel confident?

did you change up the style of your hair?

did you do something that made you feel brave?

did you take good care of yourself?

did you finish reading a series of books?

 

Your accomplishments are as unique as you are. BRAG ABOUT THEM!