Monday, March 22, 2010

Springar fra Bergen

Men are bending over backwards to do nice things for me these days.  I don't even ask them to.  It is very strange, but I like it so far.  I had an entourage last weekend.  I have never had an entourage before.  After I purchased my car, two men from the dealership drove my car and an extra car 30 miles to Modesto so that I could return my rental car and drive my own car home.  It was not part of the deal to sell me the car.  It was after I had already agreed upon the price (after 3 hours of negotiating in which I told them what I wanted to pay and waited until they met me there.  I was not an easy sell.) and the salesman just was being nice.

When I got to the rental office, the man there didn't charge me for leaving the car at a different place than the one I got it at (though he had said he would).  He was very nice.

Then on Saturday, a guy in the parking lot of the grocery store offered to haul my groceries to my car for me.  At first I declined, but then I reconsidered and told him I'd take his help if it was no trouble to him.  I was perfectly capable of hauling my own groceries, but if a man wants to be kind to me, I guess I can let him be kind.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

No Poker Face

I have started playing the girl card.  It took a lot to get me to pull that one out, but now that I'm using it, I like it a lot.  It started when I had no car and the tow truck driver insisted on  taking me home.  He said he wouldn't do that for a guy, but there was no way he would let a woman walk home at night through a questionable neighborhood.  That was nice.

A couple days later (car still in shop), I walked to the grocery store to get a few things.  The grocery store is only about a mile away and it is a safe walk getting big deal.  However, it was getting dark while I was walking there and there was a big crack in the pavement with raised edges right next to a very high curb.  I didn't see the crack and stumbled on it while I was stepping up onto the curb.  I stumbled on my right foot, but caught all my weight with my left and jammed that knee and turned my ankle.  Nothing serious, but definitely painful.  So the next day, I decided to rent a car.  It was windy and I didn't want to walk the two miles to the rental place but I had no other way of getting there.  I thought about the tow truck driver and called the rental place and asked the guy on the phone to come pick me up.  They normally don't have a shuttle service and he had to close the entire rental office down while he came to get me, but he did it and said he would happily take me home when my rental is done.  Very nice indeed.

There are other aspects of the girl card I like.  It is good to talk to girls about solving problems.  When I tell guys about my car problems, they ALL give me a lecture on the mechanics and requirements of an engine (except Tom, who taught me all of that stuff years ago).  I have told all of them that two mechanics haven't been able to figure it out, but they keep saying it shouldn't be that hard.  So I finally gave up on guys and told some gal pals that I needed advice from a girl (all the guys started to flee until I told them it was about car problems...then they all stayed).  Rather than trying to solve the problems with my car, they gave me advice about how to dispose of my current car most profitably and they told me they'd give me rides to wherever I buy my new car so I can pick it up.  All of the guys started chiming in that my car should be simple to fix and started giving me a lecture about how an engine works and I told them that was why I needed a girl to talk to.

The "girl card" is not the same as the "damsel in distress card".  I can still get stuff done.  The man repairing my -80 freezer has absolute confidence in my opinion.  He was ready to start buying parts for my freezer based on my assessment until I suggested that maybe he should come in and just make sure my assessment was right.  At the end he told me that I'd been absolutely right and he seemed a little proud of me.

Also, my friend Lynda brought her truck to my house and we loaded up all of my old furniture that I don't want anymore and took it to a women who left a violent relationship with one suitcase and then moved across the country.  It was heavy, but we did it.

Monday, March 15, 2010


There is nothing mechanically wrong with my car and yet it won't start.  After 3 days, my mechanic told me that no one could figure out what was wrong (second time in ten years and by the way there is no charge) and that maybe the dealership mechanic could.  Today it is getting towed to the dealership.  Those mechanics there are crooked.  They once told me that they needed to replace a $500 part which would cost $300 in labor because a piece of my air conditioning system they had just replaced wouldn't connect to the downstream part.  I tried to connect them and failed, but my brother-in-law did it easily, which saved me the $800.  Then they wanted to charge me $100 for a spare key which I was able to get from a locksmith for $3.00.  I am curious to find out what they say is wrong with my car. I would be fine junking my car and I would be fine driving it a couple more months and trading it in, but this not knowing is terrible.

Possibly worse than that however has been the disappearance of butter in my house.  I went through nearly a pound in the past two weeks.  As I live alone, I don't even have denial as an option, but I honestly can't account for all that butter.   I was going to blame the bread that is in the freezer (in the spirit of denial), but one loaf is fat free and the other only has two tablespoons. There are a bunch of frozen blondies too (yum!) and those had almost a half pound of butter, but still...... I realized this last night and sincerely hoped my fresh out of the dryer jeans wouldn't be tight this morning.  They are (of course).  Sigh. Not really much of a mystery there after all.  Carrot sticks and celery for lunch this week.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Kitchen Calamities

I would like to say that I made the worst bread on earth yesterday, but that would be giving it too much credit.  I am sure worse breads have been made at some point in the history of mankind.  The Anasazis probably had sand and pebbles in their breads sometimes and while that would not, in an of itself qualify their bread to be worse than mine, a failed, burned, cornbread full of grit would have been worse than what I made.  Bread that fell off the side of a tandoor and got covered in charcoal would probably be worse though that would depend on how much of the charcoal could be brushed off.   I also remember witnessing the removal of a loaf of bread from a bread machine that had collapsed and was so full of salt that it tasted like brine and made my hands sting a little.  (No one ever figured out how all the salt got in there.)  That might have been worse than the loaf I made yesterday, but what I made yesterday was uniquely bad.

I used the America's Best Recipes American sandwich bread recipe because I have found that it's pretty easy to adapt their recipes to gluten free ingredients.  I was excited to try my rice/oat/potato flour blend that has been working so well.  I added more xanthan gum than usual in an attempt to mimic gluten... perhaps I was also curious about whether one could add too much xanthan gum because I added one Tablespoon per cup of flour.  Normally GF recipes are soft and runny compared to recipes made with all-purpose flour. Not this time.  After adding all of the liquid, the dough was dry and clumpy like play dough that had ben left out too long.  I gathered it into a ball and smashed it all together and decided to see if it would rise.  It wouldn't.  As the yeast produced CO2, the dough just fell apart in clumps.  It was sort of a fast forward version of watching the sedimentary rocks in the desert erode.

I added water to it.  The dough absorbed it all and was still dry and still just fell apart as the yeast grew.  So I added more water.  In total, I probably added an entire cup.  This was on top of the cup and a half of liquid already in the loaf of bread which was still very dry, but staying in a ball (albeit  a very heavy ball with all that water).  How something can be made mostly out of liquid and still be so dry is a mystery to me, but I am convinced that one could lower rising ocean levels or drain a lake with a certain amount of xanthan gum.

The dough was starting to smell a little like yeast, the way rising bread should so I formed a loaf and put it in a pan and waited to see if it would rise.  After adding all that water, the size of the dough had grown and there wasn't much room in the pan for it to rise anyway, but I though I'd just see if it would.  After a half hour, not much had happened.  I took a bath. Still nothing much had happened.  I read a few short stories.  The dough was cracking and looking like it might start to fall apart again, but it had risen slightly.  It was 10:30 and I was wanting to go to bed so I decided to finish up the bread and see how it came out.  At 11:30, I pulled a heavy, heavy pan out of the oven and cut into the loaf which was so firm that I didn't even run the risk of smashing it even a little bit while it was hot.  The slice of bread fell apart in clumps as I feared it might.  I tasted a bit of it and the only possibly redeeming aspect of it was that the flavors of honey and milk and a little salt came through and it tasted sort of like normal bread.  

I am scheduled to go to pottery tonight,  I haven't used my sack of clay in a while and it is sort of dried out an clumpy.  I may have had enough of that last night.  I am tempted to stay home and see if I can make a dough that is more like bread than clay.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Kitchen Victories!

I hacked the secrets of gluten free baking.  They depend mainly on 3 ingredients:  Rice, oats and xanthan gum. I mix rice and oats in roughly equal proportions but then vary the amounts to control the moisture of the baked good.  By adding more oats, it becomes more moist. Adding more rice flour makes the final product less moist.  I combine that flour mixture with potato starch in about a 1:1 ratio.  Xanthan gum is the real trick though.  It binds things together, and thickens them a lot.  Gluten free recipes skimp on xanthan gum and the baked goods usually fall.  By adding about two teaspoons of xanthan gum per cup of flour, the consistency of the dough/batter comes out the same as with wheat flour and the final texture of the baked good is also about the same.

 I am still tinkering with flavors.  So far, the biggest complaint about my baked goods has been that they taste a little different than those made with wheat flour.  I am not sure if I can fix this problem and it is hard to play with since I can't eat wheat for comparison, but I am not giving up yet.

Monday, March 1, 2010

All I needed to know that I didn't learn in Kindergarten

I am learning really basic things these days. For example, Marie is teaching me to read literature. As she reads American Gods, she is explaining it to me.  So far she has pointed out parallels with Huckleberry Finn, interesting things about various mythologies, and a lot of humor that would have been lost on me otherwise.  It turns out that reading literature is a lot like reading science.  You have to look stuff up.  Except with science, I usually just have to go to a good dictionary and with literature I guess you look all over, but Google and wikipedia make that pretty easy.  I am tempted to get an ipad to make it even easier.

The second thing that I am learning is humor.  Marie is hilarious.  She started out the funniest conversation I have had in a long time by describing what she interprets as a hat depicting the holy trinity  of Disney (Micky, Donald and Goofy).  There is Donald's bill and then an ear apiece from the other two.  She went on and on about the sacrilege of it.  And then I told her about my Sunday school lesson and how the shyest quietest girl in the class read a verse from Genesis that included something about how Abraham sat upon his ass.  The whole class lost it.  So did Marie when I told her.  When she was finally able to talk again, she said it was like when she was teaching  English and some kid raised his hand and asked whether right then would be a good time to come out of the closet.  She told him that he could go right ahead so he announced to the class that he was gay.  Everyone knew he wasn't, but there was no recovery.  By that point in the discussion, we both had tears streaming down our faces. I don't know how I have gone this long without fully appreciating Marie's wild sense of humor.

Last, but certainly not least, I have realized that I have the romantic prowess of an 11 year old.  That was one of those personal truths that I would rather not have be true.   However, once I was done being upset over that realization, I decided that it is incredibly empowering.  It means that every negative experience I have ever had with males or that is in anyway related to romance or sexuality is no longer valid.  I am letting myself go back to where an eleven year old is and relearn how to fall in love.  I am possibly more confident and independent than most eleven year olds, which I hope will enable me to do a better job at this the second time around.  At present, holding hands and talking about random goofy things are lots of fun.  I think that more will follow in response to mutual trust, kindness, attraction, and commitment rather than by pressure or degradation.