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Recently I got a chance to try out Blue Apron, one of those meal subscription services that has become popular recently. Basically I got sent a box with three meal's worth as a free sample that Bernie, who also tried out the service, was allowed to send to somebody. It's an interesting idea-- they send you the raw ingredients plus recipes for chef-designed meals to cook in your own kitchen. You can choose what gets sent to you from a number of recipes offered each week, and you can personalize a little according to your dietary habits, such as vegetarianism or not eating pork.

I tried it for the first time at Bernie's house, when he had received his own free samples from his brother. The food is very high-quality; everything they send you is fresh and even mostly organic, and just the right amount for the recipe. The plates are clearly designed by creative and talented cooks, who put a lot of thought into flavor combination and ingredient use. Each plate is fairly balanced too, with a protein, vegetables, and a starch. The recipes are clear and well-written; you don't have to be a good or experienced cook to follow them, and none of the techniques are difficult to execute. The results are really good meals, particularly if you like a lot of variety and combination in what you're eating.

They had some downsides, though. While not exorbitant, each meal is not cheap-- they work out to about ten dollars a portion, which if you order out a lot is low, but if you're used to doing your own grocery shopping to cook, like I do, that seems excessive. None of the cooking is difficult, exactly, but because the recipes favor lots of ingredients and many-step dishes, they always took me a fair bit of time to prepare. Finally, there is a LOT of plastic packaging for the individually-portioned ingredients, which seems wasteful. I think most of it is recyclable, but still. And I'm annoyed with the fact that despite the three-meal sample being free, they basically immediately sign you up for another three-meal delivery which they don't give you a chance to cancel.

Ultimately, I am not going to continue using it. It's too expensive for me, especially since I cook pretty regularly already, by doing my own much-cheaper grocery shopping. I also generally prefer to eat a little simpler than this style, with fewer ingredients, fewer sauces, fewer starches, that sort of thing. It's a very good product though, and if you want an easier way to get into cooking restaurant-style meals, it's probably worth it for ten bucks a plate.
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I haven't been cooking much lately. Too busy, too tired, or not home at convenient hours for it. But I love it. It has great meaning for me, beyond just a fun hobby. Food is holy; cooking is art and love at once. There's no other art or craft quite like it, in that everybody eats, everybody must eat, and so everybody can get something out of food. I know food's not a big deal for everybody, but nobody can go without it. Food is basic survival, so you can use it to be good to anybody, and then make it so much more.

I cooked tonight. Nothing fancy, just some panko breaded chicken and roasted vegetables. But it was delicious, and I felt so much better and stronger after eating it. I remembered that I made it, that I have the power and knowledge and ability to create something like this, to deliver this feeling when I want to. It's so powerful. I think of how my mom and dad showed love with beautiful meals. I think of how prone I am to bad attitudes about food because of my overwhelming desire to be thin, and how much my love of food helps me avoid those dangers. I think of all the wonderful occasions I've centered around dishes I've lovingly prepared.

I've got a scene in my head that I've wanted to include in a piece of writing for a long time now. I've just never had the right project for it. I imagine a novice chef laboring over a dish taught to them by a mentor. They put everything they have into it. They approach the table with the dish, to lay it in front of their mentor who sits at the head. The novice looks on in trepidation as the master takes a bite. All is still for a moment, then the master lays down the spoon and covers their eyes with their hand. The novice panics a moment, thinking they've failed. But the master stands and embraces them, weeping, because it was just so exquisite.

It reminds me of my mom, teaching me to make her lobster bisque, the most important recipe in our family. I don't have a place for it yet. But I've written other stories involving other passions-- sewing, ballet --so maybe someday I'll write a piece about cooking.

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Food substitutions are a depressing topic. Usually you end up with some sad, tasteless mess that in no way satisfies the desire for the original. But I've been craving sweet, spicy, milky chai latte from Starbucks constantly lately, but given that I try to avoid sugar for my diet and straight milk for my lactose intolerance, it's sadly right out for me these days.

Chai is always my favorite tea, but because tea is my go-to for drinking constantly all day, I got worried about the amount of caffeine I'd been consuming. So I settled on drinking a whole lot of Celestial Seasonings' Bengal Spice, which tastes like chai because of the spices, but is actually an herbal. It's cheap too, so basically it's perfect for the freebasing I need to curb my constant impulse to munch.

This week I decided to see if I could fake a chai latte with the stuff. I brewed the tea, then heated some almond milk in a saucepan. I've never liked a dairy substitute before, but I actually do like the taste of it. It's easy to simmer, too, because it doesn't scald easily or get that nasty skin on it like milk sometimes does. Mixing it together, I got something that was not entirely unlike a chai latte! I mean, honestly it doesn't really compare, it doesn't have the flavor or the body, but it's pretty tasty in its own right. I think I will make a habit of this. Maybe I'll just heat the almond milk in the microwave rather than hover on a pan for it, but it would be nice to make it in the morning, pour it in one of my glass milk jugs, and carry it along with me for the day.
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I made the croissants from scratch like I planned for Thanksgiving this year, and it was a very worthwhile experiment!

We used Paul Hollywood's recipe, the judge from the Great British Bake Off. Bernie and I made the dough two nights ago, and it turned out to be not particularly difficult but a fairly labor-intensive process. More than anything, it took a long time. I made the initial dough out of water, flour, salt, sugar, and yeast. It was supposed to be kneaded with the dough hook of a stand mixer, but I don't have one, so I had to do it by hand. I was concerned that I might not work it enough, but I think I ended up overcompensating and kneaded it too long.

Then we rolled out a sheet of butter and folded it into the dough. Doing that folding over process several is what gives laminated pastries like croissants their characteristic layers-- the water in the butter turns to steam and that air puffs the layers apart. The only difficult part it that between each "turn" the dough has to go back into the fridge to chill for an hour, so it takes forever. Also, making it so far in advance, the dough had a lot more rising time than it was supposed to. It made me nervous, as I kept hearing Paul Hollywood's coarse country accent in my head, saying, "They're over-proved, they're overworked."

We baked them in a 400 degree oven for fifteen minutes. They came out golden, but we found the ones on the lower oven rack blackened on the bottom, while the ones on top stayed nice. They were finished just as the turkey was about done resting, so we put them on the table to eat with the rest of the meal.

They were actually delicious, even the ones that were burnt on the bottom. On the inside, they had layers and you could see the puff, but I'm fairly certain the texture was wrong. When we were rolling it out for the last time to make into croissant shapes, we noticed the dough was very elastic, which indicated the presence of gluten. This pastry isn't supposed to be too glutenous, so that confirmed I kneaded it too much. Also, when you bit into them or tried to break them, they were ever so slightly tougher than they should have been, not quite as light and crisp. But the flavor was definitely there, and they did get the layers. Not bad for my first try of a fairly challenging pastry recipe!
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I'm super excited for Thanksgiving this year. My family is coming to my house, which I like because it makes me feel like a grownup, so I will be spending it with my dad, my brother, his girlfriend, and, for the first time ever, Bernie.

I have had the cooking and baking bug hardcore lately, so I'm champing at the bit to have the chance to make a huge elaborate meal. We've had basically the same Thanksgiving since I was a tiny child, and I'm not planning on changing up the dinner menu much. That makes a roast turkey with a kind of French country-inspired stuffing that was my mom's invention, whipped mashed potatoes, roast brussel sprouts, a fancy pear and parsnip puree, spicy cranberry sauce, and croissants in place of dinner rolls. It's a homey meal that I really love, and one I look forward to all year.

The differences I'm introducing this year are mostly to do with the baking and dessert. We usually buy croissants, but this time I think I want to try my hand at making them from scratch. It's definitely not an easy task, as it involves making a laminated dough, but I think beautiful homemade pastry would be a fun challenge and a nice addition to the table. I am using a recipe by Paul Hollywood, the judge on the Great British Bake Off. I'll have to convert some of the measurements to Imperial, and there's probably easier version out there, but I'm kind of on a kick with him right now. He knows his stuff, and, because I am shallow and easily manipulated by personality, I like his spiky hair, his blue eyes, and his slightly coarse accent.

I'm also going to make a pumpkin cheesecake for Casey and Sarah. Our usual family desserts and pumpkin and apple pies, which I really do love, but I wanted to shake things up this year, and Casey asked for cheesecake. Again I've never made one before, but I'm trying to expand my baking repetoire. For this I'm using a recipe of Alton Brown's, who is my go-to guy for when I want to try a dish I've never done before. This one is from his personal website, so sadly there is no corresponding Good Eats video, but he did do a regular cheesecake episode which I've watched for reference. With this version we can keep the presence of pumpkin on the table somehow.

The only real sticking point is Bernie's keeping kosher. My family lives on butter combined with meat, and up to this point it's been an integral part of our Thanksgiving recipes. My dad is not enthusiastic about the idea of a kosher Thanksgiving, so it's up to me to manage the cooking so that it goes as smoothly as possible. If I can pull it off so that it's not a pain in the butt to do, and the food comes out just as good, then I hope that will send the message that Bernie joining us for holidays is not a kink in the gears. I think if that precedent is set, it won't be an issue for the future.

Most of our holiday traditions are doing things we've been doing since Casey and I were born, basically, and never really involved anyone besides the four of us. We're all introverted to a degree, and part of the appeal was to celebrate exactly the way we liked it without having to put on anything for company. But I want Bernie to be part of my family now, joining us for our celebrations-- and honestly one of the advantages of being a mixed-faith couple is we can each celebrate our most important holidays in the way we prefer. Still, this is a small hurdle I'll have to work out.

Currently my plan is to start with Alton Brown's recipe for roast turkey with stuffing and adapt it to my purposes. I'm going to use my mother's stuffing instead of his, but follow his cooking instructions because his version doesn't use butter. I really hope you can't taste the difference too much-- everything is better with butter, and I don't want my dad to be disappointed. The extra stuffing that won't fit in the bird we usually put in a pan and bake separately as a dressing, so that can have butter in it-- though no meat juice from the turkey. The brussels sprouts can be done as we usually do them, as can the cranberry sauce. I think we'll do two versions of the mashed potatoes, one with milk and butter and one without. I hate margarine and think it's basically like eating toxic waste, but maybe I ought to pick some up just for Bernie's sake. The pear and parnsip requires sour cream and I'm not sure if there's anything that can substitute for it. He'll just have to wait on the croissants and desserts, but that's what usually happens anyway.

I hope it works out. Integrating new people into family gatherings can be tricky, but at least I've got a plan.
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Whenever my life gets demanding, and stressful, I find myself getting more and more interested in cooking. Food is one of the great passions of my life, so I always care about it, but my desires run more toward developing my cooking skills and trying new dishes when I feel like things around me are getting stressful. I believe it's because cooking has always come easily to me, even compared to other things I'm good at, so it gives me an easy feeling of satisfaction when everything else in my life feels difficult.

Last Friday I found myself wanted to make up an entirely new recipe. As good a cook as I've become, that's not something I've done much of. With Bernie not around I've been eating more pork tenderloin, as it's healthy, delicious, and relatively cheap, and I thought it might be interesting to experiment with marinades. My first thought was to try a variation of the marinade for chicken marbella, a recipe from my family's favorite cookbook, the Silver Palate, and one that my mother made for us all the time. I figured I'd do a simplified version, leaving out the prunes and olives, and the sugar, because it's not on my diet. But when I looked in my cabinets, I was missing most of the most characteristic of the remaining ingredients like the oregano, the capers, or the red wine vinegar. Without them, it wouldn't be even vaguely in the family of marbella.

So I dug through my kitchen to see what I did have. What I settled on was to instead try a variant on the marinade for sauerbraten. Sauerbraten is a German pot roast cooked in vinegar and sugar. I coated my tenderloin in olive oil and apple cider vinegar, and since I can't eat the sugar, I used a splash of balsamic to add sweetness. I finished it with a dash of cloves and ground mustard, also traditonal in sauerbraten, plus salt and pepper. Then I let it marinate in the fridge for six hours.

I wasn't sure of the cook time, so I heated the oven to 350 and stuck the meat thermometer in it, set to go off at an internal temperature of 135. I was kind of nervous while it was cooking, becuase for most of the time it smelled like burning vinegar. I've always been very sensitive to the smell of acetic acid, but I was afraid that meant the whole thing would have a burnt vinegar taste. But after a while the smell went away, and when I pulled it, it was perfect. It wasn't too acidic at all, and was cooked perfectly.

I was very happy with it. I'll have to try that again sometime. But I still want to see if I can do the variation on the marbella marinade I was planning on. I bet that would be even better.
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As I've been going about my packed schedule, I've been using a favorite coping tactic of mine, where I listen to television like radio on my iPhone. I do this a lot, mostly with TV I've already seen and so doesn't require a lot of my attention, but lately all I've been wanting to take in this way are cooking showing. Netflix has a handful of shows I like, but the new one I've gotten into based on the recommendation of friends of Twitter has been the Great British Bake Off.

It's a really adorable show, with talented, enthusiastic contestants who are positive and supportive towards each other, tough but fair judging, and a minimum of manufactured reality-show drama. Everyone's so happy to be there, practicing their favorite craft and getting a chance for critiques from baking experts Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, who they clearly all idolize. Plus I love the panoply of British accents on display. I'm not that much of a baker myself, much more of a cook, but I'm fascinated by the techniques by which they make so many delicious breads, pastries, and desserts. There's only season five currently available, but I really wish there were more.

I find myself also very interested in the differences between American and British bakery terminology. I already knew that "biscuit" tends to mean "cookie" in the UK, while what we call a "biscuit" they call a "bun," but it also seems to sometimes maybe mean "cracker." I'm not totally sure of the distinction there. As another example, they seem to use the term "sponge cake" differently than we do. I'm having a hard time phrasing the question to Google such that it delivers me the answer I'm looking for, but here in the US, I believe "sponge" has a fairly specific definition for a particular kind of cake, leavened with egg foam. It seems that the British use the term to encompass any kind of non-yeasted cake, whether made by the foam or the batter method, which we would call a "pound cake." I'm not certain, though, and I would welcome explanation from someone who knew the specific difference in meaning.

Amusingly, another thing that struck me was the absence of peanut butter. In America, peanut butter is one of the most popular flavors for, well, everything, but especially in dessert making. I can only think of two instances in season five where peanut was incorporated by anyone into anything, and I noticed in the first one it was referred to as "peanut" flavored, not "peanut butter," and in the second it didn't seem to be all that well-received. Judge Paul Hollywood complained it sealed his mouth shut. I've heard that nowhere on Earth is peanut butter as ubiquitous as it is in the States, but I was surprised it seemed to be such a niche thing for them.

I'd watched the Great British Sewing Bee a while ago, which is a spin-off idea from this and which I totally loved. The only criticism of that one I had was that it wasn't quite as creative as, say, Project Runway, the only other reality program I ever followed with any attention. On the Sewing Bee they mostly made thing from fairly standard patterns, and design was not a huge element of the challenge. By contrast, on Project Runway they are expected to design everything from scratch, push for originality, and draft or drape everything themselves. But I loved the positivity and emphasis on craftmanship the Bee had, plus the absence of all the interpersonal bullshit. The Bake Off, though, eliminates that problem by asking the contestant to bring in recipes of their own design, so I feel like the creative element is balanced with the technical. I really enjoy that about it.

I hope they post more seasons. I will watch the hell out of them. And of course it makes me want to bake more. Not the best impulse when one is on a no-processed-carbs diet, and God knows I don't really have the time right now. But perhaps I can do it for other people. I made Alton Brown's puffy chocolate chip cookies for my lit class the other day, and that was fun. Nothing makes people smile like baking for them!
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I am not a fan of owning lots of kitchen gadgets. I am a disciple in the church of Alton Brown, who preaches the evil of spending a ton of money on overly-specialized tools. Also I love clear countertops, blissfully free of any junk that might clutter them and take up space. But food processors, with their varied capabilities and applications, have a special place in my heart. One Christmas I got a big, beautiful, tricked-out one from Cuisinart, which my family has used for tons of recipes, but for making pesto in particular, from the leafy green basil Dad grows in the backyard garden.

The only real downside of the thing is that it's so tough to clean, and sometimes it's too big to make a small amount of something blended. So a few years ago, on a whim, I bought a cheapie two-cup mini-processsor from a drugstore. I think it cost me twelve bucks. And I actually use it all the time. It only has three pieces to latch onto it-- the bowl, the blade, and the lid. Two things I eat a lot of are omelettes, for the quick protein, and meat dishes with chopped toppings. I like to throw, like, a pepper and an onion in there for an omelette, or dice up carrot, onion, and celery for a mirepoix. My dad makes fun of me for how I always chop everything so big-- which honestly I prefer the texture of --but this is an easy way to do it for applications that require it fine. And the device is small enough to be tucked away in a cabinet for storage, so it doesn't ruin my pristine counter space!

So, much as I dislike collecting lots of gadgets, I reluctantly endorse the use of a mini-processor. I've used it literally five times in the last three days, and given it's a little junky drugstore model that's lasted several years, I'm certainly getting value out of it!
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All this past week I've been cooking up all the stuff I've had in my cabinets, fridge, and freezer that I've had laying around unused. This served both to clear out my cupboards as well as stretch my budget to the end of my break period before I go back to my regular day job next week. That plus my various other obligations right now mean my time and mental resources are going to be tight. And how does Phoebe always deal with problems of this nature? WHY, MORE SCHEDULING!

Bernie and I took this opportunity to actually sit down together and make a meal plan for the coming week. I've been talking for YEARS about getting in the habit of making weekly plans like that, going to the grocery store ONCE at the beginning of the week instead of my typical, oh, four or five times for the one or two meals I'm thinking about right that second. I've even prepared for the couple days of week I'll need to use the slow cooker. It will save time, it will save hassle, and I'm hoping it will save money. I'm not sure I have a great frame of reference for what's an efficient amount for two adult to spend on food for a week-- I am good at keeping to a tight budget, but food is my real indulgence --but looking at the receipt, I think I managed to keep things pretty economical for two big eaters like me and Bernie.

I will be so happy if I manage to turn this into a regular thing. I'll save a lot of money and time, two things in short supply for me at this time in my life. I've wanted to do this for years but never actually managed to make it happen before now. I've hoping that by making it a blocked-off part of my calendar it'll be easy to keep up. I'm sure you can tell by now that I'm a very structured person; routine, scheduling, and habit are extremely helpful to my productivity. It's really hard for me to be really productive without it. So here's hoping it serves me in this effort as well.

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I've been using this great website a lot lately by the name of Supercook. It's a recipe database of sorts, but not the typical one. You type in all the random ingredients you have in your house, and it searches through the Internet for what recipes will make the most efficient use of them. You can even choose which ingredients to prioritize, so that you can narrow the suggestions to your taste.

This website is great for me because I have a tendency to buy ingredients for a specific dish and not know what to do with the rest of it once that dish is cooked. Despite it being an old problem for me, I've just never managed to get the trick of planning meals more than just a day or two at once, so I spend a lot of time staring at bits and bobs in the fridge and cupboard not knowing what do with them. I also tend to cook with specific dishes in mind, so I'm not very good at thinking the other way around, starting from the ingredients and working forward, rather than starting with a dish and working back. But it's helped me make much better use of things before they go bad when I can survey my kitchen, enter them into Supercook, and make whatever it pops up.

I still mean to learn how to meal plan better. (On top of all the other things I plan to improve about myself.) But this helps me make up for that deficiency until then.  
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Made a few little pie experiments last night. As you may know, pie is my favorite form of food-- basically, put it in a crust and I'm automatically going to enjoy it --and I like them even better when they're mini. But as much as I love them, I still haven't really figured out how to produce them reliably. I'm still toying with the proper procedure for tiny pies in my slightly-too-hot oven, so I bought some puff pastry and experimented.

For the first one, I chopped up two slightly overripe apples, mixed them in cinnamon and sugar, then put them in a two-cup ramekin. I cut a round of puff pastry, poked holes in it, and laid it over the top. For once I didn't forget to dot the apples with butter beforehand. Bernie tucked it down into the ramekin before I could stop him, so it the dough may have been slightly compressed.

I baked it at 350 degrees for thirty minutes. My oven, which runs hot, has a tendency to burn the tops of my pies, so I gently laid a piece of aluminum foil for the first twenty, which may have had the opposite effect of making it a little too pale. The pastry didn't seem too puff as much as I wanted it to, and there was a lot of liquid inside, but the flavor and texture of the apple filling was excellent.

Then I made some tiny strawberry pies. We sliced two cups of strawberries, mixed them with a quarter cup of sugar, a tablespoon on cornstarch, and a dash of frambroise, a raspberry liquor. This was inspired by the mixed berry pie filling my mother makes. This was enough to fill three of these tiny glass dishes. Again I cut rounds of puff pastry and laid them on top. To bake them I just followed the suggestion on the puff pastry box, fifteen minutes at four hundred, which seemed to work. The tops didn't even burn.

Still, I was more disappointed with the end result of them. They were way too sweet in my opinion, though Bernie liked them. Next time I won't use so much sugar. The interior was a lot less liquidy, though, probably because of the cornstarch thickening it. I never put cornstarch in my apple pies, the full-sized ones never seem to need it, but maybe a small one like that needs a touch to counter the fluid from the apples and the butter.

In both cases the puff pastry didn't puff as much as I wanted it to. Maybe my expectations are off, but I want high, flaky layers over the filling. I'm not sure if I poked too big holes, or didn't handle the dough correctly and squashed it too much for the layers to separate. I'll have to keep trying.

I love pie. I love puff pastry. I'm thinking of making a sautéed mushroom filling, maybe duxelles with marsala, and using it to fill puff pastry. I think that would be delicious.

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Tested out my tiny not-crock pot. As several people suggested, I put water in it to see what it would do. When I first plugged it in (it has neither power switch nor temperature control) there was soon a worrying scent of burning plastic. I got nervous and unplugged it. Still, I didn't want to give up, so I tried it again. I guess all that plastic burned up the first time, because the smell didn't come back. :-) With the lid on and some time, it was not able to boil the water, but brought it up to a consistent point where steam rose up from the surface.

I also tried, rather clumsily, to melt some chocolate in it for the purposes of dipping fruit and marshmallows. I probably went about it totally wrong-- everyone says fondue-type things are much harder to execute than you'd first think --just putting some heavy cream and some chocolate morsels into the crock. They did melt eventually, and there was no burning or boiling or anything, but they didn't mix up smoothly. I probably should have heated the cream first on its own and then added the chips, or something. But I find this encouraging. I think it will be possible to make melty-things in this with a little process tweaking. 
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I am at home in Pennsylvania this week to celebrate Christmas with my family. It is lovely to be hear, and we spent a low-key day today hanging out and cooking. We made our Italian seven-fish dinner, including cheats like shrimp, smoked salmon, crab cake, fried calamari, and our special lobster bisque that we make every year. It's our way of enjoying each other's company and being together, and I like it.

So, after a week of mystery and obfuscation, I'm finally going to tell you about my recent new play. The piece I've been working on is Vivat Regina, the first sequel to Mrs. Hawking. I was rushing to get the first draft at least done this past week because I wanted to submit it in time for the first deadline for Bare Bones, the reading series done by Theatre@First. The first Mrs. Hawking had a reading there to great success, so I thought it would be a good place for the next one as well. Some people at the reading's talkback afterward even wanted to know if there would be sequels, so I think it would be likely to gather an interested audience. I even wanted to have back the three lead actors, Elizabeth Hunter, Gigi Geller, and Ryan Kacani, back to play the recurring characters of Mrs. Hawking, Mary, and Nathaniel.

I was able to get Vivat Regina done to decent results and sent it in, but sadly it was not accepted for the upcoming date. Still, John Deschene, the excellent fellow in charge of the reading series, strongly encouraged me to submit it again, so I think I have a good chance to get chosen later this year. It's by no means the end of the world, but I won't lie, I'm a bit disappointed. I really wanted to get this piece out there sooner rather than later. I mean, I could arrange to have a reading of it myself, but Theatre@First has a sizable audience base that I don't have access to that would come out if it were a Bare Bones reading but not otherwise. I've been struggling to find a good way to get people to go to the Mrs. Hawking website, so its audience base might expand, and I thought directing people who just heard a new reading to it would give it an infusion of interest. It can still do that if I get it accepted with Bare Bones at a later date, but that will be a ways off yet.

This might ultimately be a good thing. I will have plenty of time to edit the script, which, as I mentioned, is still in need of a decent subplot to pad out the length a bit. Maybe with a bit more warning I can ensure I can get Elizabeth, Gigi, and Ryan back, if they are interested and available. I'm kind of bummed about it right now, but ultimately this could be just as well.

If you are interested in reading this early draft and giving an opinion, feel free to let me know, and I will send along a copy of the script. I'd be happy to get new eyes and new opinions, and of course just spread the thing around.

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Shopping at Shaw's the other day, I bought a tiny little thing labeled a "food warmer" that was on sale for ten dollars. It looks like a wee little crock pot but apparently it's not really designed to cook in. I'm not sure why I bought it, except that it was cheap and looked like it might be interesting to experiment with.

It holds about two cups and it's apparently intended to keep things like dips warm during service. I don't know if I have much need of it for that purpose, but I'd kind of like to figure out something to do with it. Maybe melt stuff like chocolate for candy making. Or make homemade chai latte. Sauces? I'm not sure. It's a bit limiting to think it's not really intended for cooking, but I might try and push that a little. It doesn't have temperature control, and it's cheap enough that I'm concerned that its likely to dangerously overheat, but if I break it, so what. It was a ten-dollar gadget I bought to mess around with. I just hope it doesn't start a fire. I'll have to watch it carefully.

Still, I'm a bit stuck for ideas of what to do with it. Any suggestions?

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My parents are driving in from Allentown today, to spend their first-ever Thanksgiving at my house instead of me coming down to there. With my new job I couldn't get off the time to travel, and my brother has to work Thanksgiving proper, so they figured they'd just come up here and get the chance to see us anyway. They'll even be staying with me at my house, since both my roommates will be out of town. That took a lot of convincing, because they are both overwhelmingly polite and rather private. They think it's bad manners for grown people to stay at their kid's house when the kid has roommates that they can get in the way of, so they thought that they would probably be better off in a hotel. And since mine will be away, I'm glad I convinced them to not spend the money. I cleaned the place from top to bottom, but I'm sure they're worrying about every little thing. They'll probably bring their own towels and things like that, because apparently they refuse to believe that my house has any stuff of any kind. :-P

This also means we'll be cooking Thanksgiving in my kitchen. While I've certainly cooked my share of large meals at this point, and I even recently learned how to make a turkey, I hope that my equipment is up to the job. I can see my parents getting frustrated if they don't think that they have everything they need there. But it will probably be okay.

Thanksgiving is always very low-key holiday for my family. We never have company, it's only just ever been the four of us as an excuse to be together and wear pajamas all day. It's been basically exactly the same since I was a little kid. Honestly I like how chill it is, it means we never have holiday drama. But with this weirdness around plans-- and some back and forth about whether Bernie and possibly his family would plan something with us --is the closest we've ever come. Our families are staying separate, for a lot of reasons but mostly because they keep kosher and it's easier this way, but deciding that was a little more awkward than I realized.

Ah, well. Everything will work out. It'll be nice to be together and eat nice things.

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So my first week of life with my new job went by, and I mostly pulled it off. It was definitely a bit rough, as I had a lot of my freelance duties and other regular commitments to fit in around it, and it meant a hell of a lot of driving and frankly less than an hour of downtime at a stretch on any of the last more days, which is for me the highest-stress state of affairs possible. I think I blew the audition I went to on Wednesday due to sheer exhaustion, which is very frustrating, and I went through a tank of gas at an absolutely shocking rate. But I like the job itself-- I'm doing well at providing the essay-writing support the students need, and since the workload ebbs and flows throughout the day, I had a fair bit of time to work on my own writing and other work. That suits me. Also I'm making more money in less time than I was at my previous steady day job, which alone makes it feel like a step up.

So I am fairly certain it will work okay for me, at least if I make a few life adjustments. Since my hours are 11AM to 6PM, my days are back-loaded rather than front, which is very different for me, so I need to learn to make use of the early hours to manage non-work things. If I continue to get up at 7AM like I usually do, I have a fair bit of time before I have to head over to BHCC. I would like to get back in the habit of going in for a workout first thing in the morning, which would be really healthy for me, especially since I won't be able to go to the Wednesday morning ballet class like I have been. I also think I need to get more into crock pot cookery. With all that time in the morning, I can easily put something into the slower cooker before I have to leave and have it ready for dinner when I come home. I've never done it much before, generally I find things cooked in the oven or on the stove to be superior to crock pot methods, but it would be worth it just to have it all ready to go as soon as I walk in the door. I am a creature of habit and routine in the extreme, so it will take a bit of effort to rearrange my ways, but I think it would serve me well in this case.

Also-- and this is a perennial issue I contend with --it's becoming clear that it's time to reevaluate my commitments. Most of the things I'm doing now are things that are important to me and make me happy, but probably not every little thing. I'm sure I could find something to jettison that I wouldn't miss, that would be one less responsibility on my plate. And maybe don't take on anything new for a while. I've certainly got enough to contend with at the moment, and the feeling of being run ragged is encroaching. I want to enjoy the stuff I do that's supposed to be enrichment to my life, not find it all burdensome.

breakinglight11: (CT photoshoot 1)
As you may know, I love to entertain. I've been starting to have people over for dinner again lately as a way to get myself back into being social again, because it's a way I get lots of enjoyment from. It's a combination of feeling good about myself when I show others a good time, and because cooking is not only a creative activity I enjoy, but a way to feel like I have some accomplishment and control-- hey, I can feed myself like a grownup! I won't starve to death! And it's a nice thing I can do for the people I care for.

Unfortunately I'm limited by my resources in how many I can host in what fashion. A dinner party of mine can never have more than a handful of people max, due to my budget and how little sit-down space I currently have, and even a big bash has to have a hard cap on the guest list. One of the advantages of my old place Elsinore, even with as many problems as it had, was that at least I could invite a ton of people if I wanted to throw a party. Here in Illyria there's always the risk of packing people in like sardines.

But if I had the money and the space, I know exactly what I'd do. I would have four major parties a year. Well, I'd probably have other parties too, but the BIG, IMPORTANT parties would occur four times a year, in spring, summer, fall, and winter. And they would be, as they say, THE EVENTS OF THE SEASON. I would have a fabulous seasonal buffet, different for each one. I do a pretty good job with the spread given the constraints I'm under, if I may say so myself, but imagine what I could do with a real budget! There would be different themes for how guests should dress-- casual, fancy, costumed, whatever appealed to me at the moment. I would also love to have the space for a dance floor, something I've never been able to have at a party before. And best of all, I would have the space to invite as many people as I wanted. It would be necessary, after all. People would plan their attendance for months in advance. Because anybody's who anybody would be at these parties, so it would painful to miss. ;-)
breakinglight11: (Crawling Dromio)
So we did end up losing power yesterday. It was strange, though. Around 6PM, mostly everything went out, except that some of our overhead lights were on kind of dimly, and one outlet had enough juice to let us plug in a cell phone. Eventually everything went dark, but I've never experienced a blackout with that weird half-power before. It was only annoying because I couldn't see well enough to do much of anything. I would have been happy to while away the rest of the evening with a book, but it was too dark to read. Fortunately we have a gas stove at Illyria, so I was able to do a little cooking with a firestick to light the burner and a flashlight to look into the pot. I made a soup for the week out of the leftover ham bone with some odds and ends in the fridge, and a pumpkin soup for Jared and I to eat for dinner. We ended up going to bed pretty early, and it was nice to get the extra sleep. All in all it wasn't so bad, especially given how much people suffered in other parts of the country. I said a prayer for them as I fell asleep, and one again this morning. The power came back on around 7AM, almost exactly thirteen hours later. I hope everyone is safe and warm wherever you are, and I'll keep thinking of everyone the storm hit worse than us.
breakinglight11: (Puck)
[ profile] katiescarlett29 organized a lovely apple picking trip this past weekend, which yielded a lovely crop of apples. Despite the fact that I was not permitted to climb up on the trees, I had a very nice time seeing everyone and drinking hot mulled apple cider. I chose tart apples, Cortland mostly, because as far as I'm concerned, the best thing to do with lots of apples is to bake a pie. Here is my haul, displayed in my lovely copper bowl.


And here is the pie, looking so ugly that I have been referring that I have been referring to it as "Frankenpie."


I forgot to put the dots of butter on top of the apples before I laid the top crust down, as I am often inclined to, but it's not as tasty without all the gooey goodness the butter provides. So I decided to perform surgery on my once-lovely crust, quartering it up and carefully peeling back the quarters so I could lay the butter inside. Then I sealed it back up and popped it in the oven. It looks pretty ugly, but I will say it's the first fully lidded pie I've made in a while that didn't suffer from pie dome-- where the crust hardens above while the apples cook down and there is an empty space between the two.

And hey, it tastes just right. Which is all that really matters. And tomorrow for the breakfast, I'm having me some pie.

breakinglight11: (CT photoshoot 1)

I found this recipe on Pinterest. It might be a little too sweet and heavy for my taste, but it looks interesting and I'd like to try it. All these flavors individually are some of my all-time favorites, so maybe I'll like them in combination too.


3 cups whole milk
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 ounces white chocolate, roughly chopped
pinch salt


Heat the milk, pumpkin puree, and spices in a sauce pan until it just starts to simmer and remove form heat.

Add the chocolate and stir until it has melted.

Pour into mugs and top with whipped cream and garnish with cinnamon.


breakinglight11: (Default)

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