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Whatever message you want to convey? Whatever love, care, concern, thought, well-wishing, hope, congratulations, whatever you want to say? Do it with food.

Take people out to their favorite restaurant.

Send people fancy baskets of fruit, cheese, wine, chocolates, charcuterie.

Spend time and effort in the kitchen lovingly crafting something with your own hands that has a piece of your soul and all your good intentions.

Stuff gathers dust and it's hard to pick something that will be appreciated. Instead, say it with food. Everyone eats. Everyone needs to eat. When they are happy, food is for celebration. When they are sad, food brings comfort. When they are weary, the gift of it makes it easier to be nourished and grow strong again.

The message of food is baked into its very nature: "I want you to live, enjoy, grow strong." All the well wishes of the world.

Even if you have a crazy diet freak like me, there's nothing like the gift of food. Crudités platters. Frozen steaks and chops in the mail. Fruit baskets. Invitations to dinner, home cooked or eaten out. The one gift everyone has the capacity to appreciate, no matter who they are.

Say it with food.
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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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I've been experimenting with a different diet recently, as I became so burnt out on the smoothies after doing it for like seven or eight months. Honestly it wasn't designed to be a long-term diet anyway, but I stuck to it because it worked for me. I have a fairly high tolerance for eating the same things over and over again, but once I hit the wall, I crash out of it hard. However, smoothies still make for good breakfasts or meal replacements when I don't have time to make something real, so I'm still eating them sometimes even though I'm not enjoying them anymore. And regardless, my body really does feel GREAT right after them.

So today I tried to put together a new recipe for one that I'd like but wasn't so tired of. I actually did a pretty good job! I mixed the standard two scoops of protein powder, half cup of plain Greek yogurt, and half a cup of almond milk with two tablespoons of pure cocoa powder and two tablespoons of coconut oil. It made a kind of bittersweet chocolate flavor with a basically a pudding consistency. Actually pretty good! Like a dessert even without the sugar. The only problem is the texture wasn' great, what with how clumpy the powders got when I mixed it, making little dry bites throughout. I wonder if there's another way to mix it, a different order of ingredients, that would make it smoother. But otherwise I'd say it's a success. I'm really glad, as extending my tolerance of the smoothies will make it easier to stick to my diet.
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At the end of this week, all my enormous commitments for the last several months will be fulfilled. I am going to have a very light summer, which I am incredibly glad and excited for, that even begins with basically a three-week break even from my day job in the gap between spring and summer trimesters. So I practically have a summer vacation, like back when I was in school!

I don’t want to LOAD MYSELF UP WITH COMMITMENTS RAWR. That’s my normal MO with any free time, and I know I need a break from deadlines, responsibilities, and appointments. But though I’d like to get more sleep and spend more evenings at home, I’d would like to use the time to work on stuff that’s fun and meaningful to me. So here’s some ideas of the stuff I’d like to pursue at least on a casual basis for the next three or four months.

STUFF I’M DEFINITELY DOING

Going back on my diet. I felt so good and looked freaking amazing on my smoothie and paleo diet, so I’m going to put myself back on it. It’s tough transitioning from sugar and carbs, but once I push through that I like how it makes me look and feel.

Start exercising again. Like my diet, my exercise regime had me in really great shape and health. I’d like to get back on that regular schedule for it. I may even return to circuit training appointments. I’ll be making less money for the next few months, though, so I’ll have to see if that’s in the budget.

Fix up my skin. My skincare routine has COMPLETELY gone by the wayside, and my acne is worse than it’s been in forever. I really need to get it sorted out. Having the time to take proper care of it made a big difference, and I’m hoping having less stress will help too.

STUFF I’D LIKE TO DO

Journal every day. My blog is really important to me and I’ve been too busy to keep it up. I want to go back to posting at least every week day, to have a record of my life and thoughts, as well as a way to keep present in the thoughts of the people who read it.

Throw a party. I love having parties, and I haven’t done it in forever. Maybe just the “cool people come over” kind or maybe with a theme. Like, a Fancy Party where everyone must dress up, or a Costume Party to make up for how I missed Halloween this past year.

Write seriously. I haven’t been doing much writing and it’s seriously slowed down my output. I want to not let the responsibilities of work or production make it so I’m no longer generating work. Not sure which project to focus on— Mrs. Hawking part 4? Adonis 2? Something else? —but I’d like to make some significant progress on something.

Learn how to do makeup. At least, better than I can right now. I’ve actually gotten pretty okay at basic, pretty, semi-natural makeup, but watching so much RuPaul’s Drag Race has gotten me fascinating with the transformative powers of makeup artistry and there’s a bunch of looks that I’d love to learn how to master.

Rework my Problem of the Protagonist theory. This is an idea I’ve been developing as a literary critic that I’ve recently done some mental refining on. I should do a rewrite of it to reflect the progress I’ve made. I think it’s actually a really useful idea and I’d like to make it as clear and precise as I can.

Write up the GM notes for my latest tabletop roleplay mod. I wrote this recently to run for inwaterwrit and some friends, and it came out better than it had any right to given how swamped I’ve been. Entitled “Silver Lines” and set in New York in 1889, it involved Mary and Arthur from the Mrs. Hawking series, and included some cool characters and interesting history. I’d like to write down the information needed to GM the thing so I don’t lose it.

Finish Lady Got Back. This is my idea for a parody of Baby Got Back about Victorian bustles. I have a lot that I like so far but it isn’t quite done yet. I’d love to finish it and then find somebody to record it in a perfect posh Victorian accent. That would be hilarious.

Rewatch all the Marvel movies. Just for fun. Not everything has to be work, right? That’s what vacation is for!

STUFF I’M CONSIDERING

Changing my hair. I’ve still got this bee in my bonnet, I’m afraid. I was kind of disappointed by my attempt to go blonde, as it seemed to just fade to a light brown after like two washes, so it didn’t really satisfy my craving for something really different. Part of me wants to use the fact that I have no real need for a professional presentation this summer to try something really unusual— an unnatural color, an undercut? –and if I hate it, let it grow out or dye it back or whatever before the classes I’m teaching start this fall. But as usual, I’m nervous about not liking it, as I hate not feeling pretty, and the last attempt was really not worth the great expense.

Drag myself out. Related to my desire to develop greater facility with makeup, I’ve wanted to see if I could make myself look like a boy for a long time now. It might be fun to actually attempt it, with makeup and clothes and all that.

Work on my fashion designs. I know it’s not the best use of my time, because I don’t really have the time or resources to fully realize it in any way, but last October I started drawing up some ideas for a collection as a change of pace from my current creative work. It kind of has a post-apocalyptic aesthetic to it and I think I came up with some really cool stuff, so part of me would love to play around with it more and refine the ideas.

Make a costume of some kind. Don’t know what, but I haven’t been exercising my sewing or design skills enough recently. Maybe I should make something for a Hawking play, or maybe try my hand at a cosplay.

Record vocal diaries. I’ve been thinking about this for a while, like blogging by voice rather than by text. I might start with stuff I’ve already written just to try it, and then branch into doing podcast-like new things on various topics. Maybe I’d review stuff, or just do new blog entries that way.

So that’s all the stuff I’m considering. Almost certainly won’t do all of it, and maybe new ideas will occur to me. But I’m really looking forward to having a lower-key life for a while, where I can do stuff that seems fun rather than just stuff that’s become a responsibility.
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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.

Biting

Feb. 24th, 2016 07:50 pm
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Something that preoccupies me a great deal is wondering if my experience of life and the world is anything like the way other people experience it. Am I like anyone else? Does the skin they’re in make things so very different? And if it does, why? Especially if it’s a person with a problem, I wonder what about their situation means they have that problem when I don’t. Are things really that much harder for them? Or am I just not as sensitive to whatever it is they’re dealing with? Maybe I struggle with empathy— or maybe I’m doing my best to develop some more.

Content note: food issues. )

And I take so much pleasure in food. I love it so much, in so many ways. I love looking at it, smelling it, choosing it, touching it, hearing about it, talking about it, preparing it, cooking it, laying it out, serving it, sharing it, EATING IT, sometimes EATING IT until I’m ready to burst because I can’t get enough of the joy. I want you to send me pictures of the dinner you just cooked. I want you to tell me about the fabulous meals you ate on your vacation. I want to discuss how you cook this and what you made when you prepared it like that. Food means joy to me, joy and safety and strength and security and creativity and hope for the future and LOVE, the most primal act of love one human being can do for another. I get teary-eyed thinking of how much of human connection is forged through food. If I cook for you, I am loving you in the most fundamental way I know how.

And just as sharp as the screaming and biting is? So too is the joy of not only soothing it, but of leaving a feeling of full contentment in its place. Maybe that is what keeps me healthy this way. Maybe this love makes it so I don’t develop a problem.

More on this another time.
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I have heard a rumor that in February in honor of Valentine's Day, Nabisco makes an Oreo with red velvet cookies sandwiching cream cheese frosting. I have never taken advantage of it in the past, for fear that if I do in fact get a hold of such a thing, you may end up having to roll me down the street. But since it's February again, I find myself wondering if they will be offering them this year. I tried Googling, which did not seem to offer any way to buy them except from limited stock on Amazon, which makes me slightly concerned that people are hawking year-old cookies.

But red velvet is quite possibly my greatest dessert weakness, outside of my lifelong addiction to regular Coke. Despite my current state of being on a pretty strict diet, I do get one treat day a week where I can eat anything I want, and more than one in the five or so months I've been at this has had red velvet cake as the centerpiece of the indulgence. I really would not mind having a little pack of these special Oreos for one of those days. But I'm nervous about having a whole pack just lying around my house-- even if, or perhaps especially if, they are a year old!
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In my hero's boast, I laid out everything that I have to do from now until the end of the year.

One of those things was that I wanted to stay on both the smoothie diet and the fighter abs exercise program for twelve weeks. Just around Christmas, I completed that goal. I am super happy, because I look and feel great.



REGARD THE EXQUISITE MACHINE. I love how my body looks, especially my abs. I'm fitter, leaner, and more toned than I've ever been in my life. I'm happy enough that I'm planning on staying with lifestyle as long as possible. Taking breaks for special occasions will happen, but living this way has made me feel healthy, strong, and beautiful, so I want to stick with it.

WITNESS ME.
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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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This past week I tried using the Peapod grocery delivery service for the first time. I’ve been aware of it for a while now, but never really felt like it was economical to use. There’s a delivery fee attached, of course, and it always seemed too much of an extravagance to justify on my budget. But recently I got a coupon in the mail inviting me to try it at a discount. I have been so slammed for time these days, plus the fact that the discount cut out the delivery fee, that it was too tempting to pass up. So I made an account and sat down to give online grocery shopping a try.

With the cost issue temporarily out of the way, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find everything I usually buy. Especially given my diet, I need some pretty specific items, like unsweetened vanilla almond milk and Greek yogurt and they didn’t have a number of my preferred brands. Like, the only sugar-free Greek yogurt they had was plain, which I don’t like as much. I usually shop at Hannaford, and the Peapod service comes from Stop and Shop. I would also say that thing were generally a little bit more expensive per item than they are at Hannaford, which made me feel kind of guilty. But again, with the discount I think this time it evened out.

I was seriously, ridiculously excited for its arrival, like it was some special present, rather than just… my normal groceries. But receiving it made me very happy. I love food and cooking, so stocking up my cabinets to make things gave me a good feeling. They text you when the driver is there, which I loved. I unpacked it like Christmas morning, and I was very pleased with it all. The steaks, for example, were probably not the size I would have selected for myself, but they were very good quality, and the produce like the apples and broccoli were absolutely gorgeous.

Another advantage was that up until a certain cutoff time, they allow you to amend your order. I am notorious for forgetting stuff that I need but aren’t part of my usual buying habits, and this permitted me to just add them in later when I remembered them, or knock off an item if I realized I didn’t need it after all. That’s extremely convenient. I also used this as an opportunity to refresh some of my pantry staples. I’ve been baking more lately, so I made sure I had enough new, fresh flour and sugar to experiment a little.

As much as I liked it, I don’t know if I can make a habit of using it. I feel weirdly guilty paying to have my groceries delivered to me. It feels kind of spoiled, kind of wasteful. I do have a little more cash these days due to my improved employment situation, but I also have fairly serious financial responsibilities in putting on the two Mrs. Hawking plays. But my time has always been my most valued resource, and I am so, so busy lately. Maybe I won’t rely on it every week, but I can hold it in my back pocket as an option when I really don’t have the time to actually go to the grocery store.
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I just heard about this tea drink called a London Fog that’s become popular on the West Coast in the last few years. I think it sounds delicious, and since I can make it with almond milk and stevia, I can eat it on my diet without having to save it for a cheat day!

The directions, from the article:

"① Make the tea. Ideally, this should be Earl Grey, a black tea with gentle notes of citrusy bergamot. Bring water to a full rolling boil and steep the tea for five minutes in a half cup of hot water. Then strain the tea leaves out or remove the tea bag. "It's important to steep black tea in boiling water, not in the milk directly," [the tea master who made the recipe Vanessa] Cubelic advises. "The flavors extract well in water, but the fat in milk inhibits extraction."

② Steam the milk. While you're waiting for the tea to steep, set a small saucepan of almond milk or coconut milk on the stove over medium heat. Don't allow it to boil. Whisk the milk for about five minutes, until it's hot and frothy "for a nice fog-like effect." Add a half cup of milk to the tea.

Regular milk is fine, too, but Cubelic favors almond or coconut milk, because "it has such a beautiful creaminess, which enhances the vanilla and bergamot." Though some recipes call for a higher milk-to-tea ratio, Cubelic is firm about using equal parts: "Milk has a tendency to overwhelm the taste of tea if you're not careful," she says.

③ Add vanilla. Most cafés use vanilla syrup, which Cubelic finds too sweet. "What I do is use a little shot of good-quality vanilla extract," plus sweetener if desired. Swirl a half teaspoon of vanilla along the top of the foam in the cup, then stir it in. Taste and add more vanilla if desired."
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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!
breakinglight11: (CT photoshoot 1)
Cut for diet, exercise, and body talk. )
I also added in a calcium pill and a joint supplement. My doctor recommended the calcium, as all women under thirty-five should be working to build up their bone density before it starts deteriorating, and I thought the joint pill might be a good idea since I've been running so much. I haven't experienced any knee pain, but I have noticed they've started clicking when I do squats and things that involve deep bends. That's not much, but it makes me nervous, as I know runners often suffer knee problems later in life. So maybe the supplements will help stave things off a little.

My skin's kind of a mess, though. I've been so busy I haven't been as consistent scrubbing my face with my automatic face brush lately, and I've broken out a little. It's funny because they don't recommend using a brush like this every day, but apparently my skin produces SO MUCH YUCK it defies conventional wisdom. Sigh. If I get back in good habits it should probably get better again, but I'm only going to get busier from here, so I'm sorry it takes so much dedication to work.
breakinglight11: (CT photoshoot 1)
It's officially been twelve weeks of my current diet-exercise-skincare plan. I've been very happy with the results, as my skin and abs look the best they ever have in my life.

My face routine is pretty much exactly what I want it to be. I love my electric face brush, which I use to wash my face every night before I go to bed. I've read that you're not supposed to use them every day, but I have been because I think it's working for me. That combined with my moisturizer has kept my skin clearer, brighter, and dewier than it's been since I was a kid. So I'm sticking with that for the foreseeable future.

My diet and exercise, however, I think I'm going to change up. While my current plan served me well up to this point, I'm pretty sure I've plateaued. So I'm going to try something new and see what difference that makes. On September 1st, I'm going to switch to this diet where you eat high-protein smoothies two meals a day and eat a large, no-carb, no-sugar meal for dinner, with one cheat meal a week. My dad has been doing it for a while now and he lost a lot of weight. According to my dad, you don't even have to exercise on that plan for it to happen. Of course, he's a sixty-three-year-old man and I'm a twenty-eight-year-old woman, so God knows how different our workings are, and also my goals are only to lose the layer hiding my abdominal muscles.

So what I think I'm going to do is kind of chill out with the eating restrictions for the next couple of days. Hopefully that won't mess up my system too much, or make the transition any harder. Then on September 1st, I'm going to eat the mostly-smoothie diet for a week, without working out. That might make it easier for my body to adjust. Then I'm going to start working out again while on that diet, with a new regime that is how martial artists get abs. Three months is probably the right amount of time to see if it works. I wonder if it will be miserable, but I'm going to give it a shot and see if it works.

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