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All posts for the month March, 2012

Making peace with myself

Published March 24, 2012 by livinggraciously

One of the things I haven’t written about much here is my current efforts to get back into shape. Part of that is embarrassment: I did so well a few years back, then lost the battle, the war, and additional territory. No one likes to talk about their failures. But it’s all part of me, and part of living graciously is being healthy and capable. So I guess I’m going to start talking about it.

One of the most important aspects to me about all this is that I don’t believe in dieting and denial. It’s the perfect setup for failure. I believe in moderation, intentional eating, and movement.

The other night, I sat in the movie theater surrounded by the delicious smell of popcorn, but didn’t want any. A friend brought over home-baked cookies, and I ate only one. We bought my favorite Girl Scout cookies, and they are still in the snack drawer, leaving me untempted.

If I think about these things, the question in my head is, “Does eating this taste better than the progress I’m making feels?” And most of the time, the answer is, no.

When the answer is yes, I do indulge myself. I didn’t deprive myself of one of my friend’s delicious cookies. Tonight I will be attending a party where the hostess is an amazing cook, and I will definitely be eating some less-than-healthy snacks and having a couple drinks. But I am confident that I will be retaining my center and will not just go crazy at the snack table.

I am in a good place, mentally, about my progress. But I can remember that less than a year ago, the answer to the question of “Is eating this more important than my health?” Was “YES! Yes is is! I don’t care about my size, I don’t care how I look, all I care about is the smooth, chocolatey taste of this entire can of frosting going down my throat.” That was the person I was a year ago. I can remember it vividly.

I don’t understand her at all. I can’t comprehend why she felt that way. I am baffled by her complete unwillingness to take a walk around the block, let alone actually work out.

But here’s the thing that I have to remember: she is still inside me. She’s quiet right now, but there will come a day when something triggers her to come roaring to the surface. I’ve made the smug assumption in the past that she was completely tamed, completely eradicated, only to wake up and find that she had taken over and a year’s worth of hard work had been erased and she was completely in control.

I can’t beat her by hating her. She is part of me, and self-hatred is self-defeating. I have to be vigilant for her reappearance, but when she does? I need to look at her honestly, ask her why she is here. What is it that she fears? What is is that she needs? What does she want? I have to take the time to love and understand her, and give her the things that she needs that aren’t food. She is empty and aching, and food is her methadone for what she honestly needs.

She started to surface last night. I’m home alone for the weekend, I’m still not feeling very well, even though I am improving daily, and I was suddenly filled with overwhelming sadness, loneliness, and a sense of helplessness. Part of me said, “eat those leftovers you’re saving for lunch tomorrow, and break open a bottle of wine; it will make you feel better.”

I have to say, it was a real temptation. But I took a deep breath, centered myself, and asked, what is it that I really need? The answer was that I had been up too late the night before, gotten up too early in the morning, and was exhausted beyond the usual measure because I’m still getting over being sick. What I really needed was not to stuff my face and watch maudlin movies. What I needed was sleep. And so instead of inhaling the contents of the refrigerator in an act of defiant self-hatred, I went to sleep.

She is quieter today. Perhaps she will eventually learn that food is not the answer to pain. But she can’t learn it if I treat her with disdain. She’s part of me, and *all* of me deserves to be loved. Love isn’t always giving yourself what you want; it’s taking the time to really understand what you need.

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#9 Cinnamon Raisin Bread

Published March 9, 2012 by livinggraciously

A couple weeks have gone by since I baked. With Ferrett out of town, it would have been rather a lot of bread for just me. Now that he was back, and we had friends coming over for dinner, bread sounded like a great deal.

Like all breads, the first few steps looked pretty much the same: flour, yeast, water, salt. As this is an enriched bread, buttermilk and an egg. Cinnamon. Knead. No reason to clog of the intarwebs with more pictures of that.

Things only got interesting when I had to add a cup and a half of raisins:

That’s a lot of raisins in a fairly small batch of dough. I used Sunkist tri-color raisins, and they were very pretty in the bread. But first I had to get them in the bread. So I started kneading.

The problem with kneading things like raisins into bread dough is that they tear up the gluten strands, which will negatively impact the rise of the dough. Therefore, it’s necessary to take a slow and patient approach to folding them in. Once the bulk of the raisins had been absorbed, about half a cup of escapees were still spread all over the counter. I began rolling the dough around like I was playing Katamari Damacy and giggling like a loon.

Once the dough was ready, the instructions were to let it rise about two hours or until doubled. The recipe also has no degassing, or punching down, phase. But I refrained from adding one and did as I was told.

“Doubled” is a little hard to eyeball at times. I understand why some people use a translucent plastic bucket with measurements: the dough goes only up, instead of outward, so it’s easier to see.

Next was forming loaves, and adding the cinnamon/sugar swirl. The recipe made two loaves, so I divided the bread and rolled each one out, then added the swirly, candy layer:

After that I rolled them as tightly as possible and put them into loaf pans to rise. Forgot to get a picture of them prior to rising, but here is one after:

Clearly, my “divide in half” skills need work.

The loaves took about 10 minutes longer than the recipe called for to get to what I considered “golden brown.”

And the real test of cinnamon bread is how little it gaps along the swirl when sliced:

Impressive looking, n’est pas? Alas, further in the loaf it was quite gappy.

So the real real test of cinnamon bread is how it tastes. And the verdict was delicious! The bread itself was tender and tasty, and deserves to be made again. Next time, however, I think I will try the Cook’s Illustrated method of braiding in the swirl. We’ll see how that goes.

Battle of the bed

Published March 6, 2012 by livinggraciously

The bed is made again this morning. That’s two mornings in a row with Ferrett here, 12 days total.

I have gone back into the bedroom after he gets up and made the bed. We appear to have reached a good blanket detente: his extra quilt being sandwiched between the sheet and the top quilt is working, and makes pulling the bed together much easier than any other solution I’ve previously attempted.

So my bed battle is not with Ferrett. No, it is with fashion.

You see, you cannot buy a bedding set these days without the inclusion of decorative throw pillows. Decorative throw pillows are my undoing. It doesn’t seem like picking up a few pillows and tossing them onto the bed would be that difficult, but it is the place where my brain rebels. They are the appendix of bedding: useless, except as a source for trouble.

Because the throw pillows end up in the corner on my side of the bed. And soft pillows on the floor are seed for a pile. The next thing I know, I’m taking off my clothes in the evening and thinking, “these pants can just lie here on the pillows instead of being hung up; I’m planning to put them on tomorrow morning” instead of hanging them in the closet. Then my workout clothes join that pile instead of being folded up and put on their little shelf until the next day, then I can’t find those shorts I was going to re-wear, so I get out another pair, and then when I get undressed at night it’s easier to think that I will put my underthings down the laundry chute tomorrow.

The next thing I know, I’m wading through clothing shin-deep to get to the bed.

Of course the answer of “just don’t do that” is simple, but completely impossible. I’ve spent YEARS doing this. Every time I clean it all up, I swear it won’t happen again. But it happens every time.

Clearly, tossing the pillows into the corner is unacceptable. And I know I won’t put them on the bed. I am rather allergic to useless items, so that is a further mental block. If a thing has no purpose other than decoration, it better not require my attention for more than an occasional dusting. I don’t do fuss.

So I’ve made the decision to simply throw. them. out. Of course it goes against every grain to toss out something that is “perfectly good.” But they are only perfectly good for being an Achilles’ Heel for me. So they are getting stuffed in a trash bag and tossed. No, I won’t keep them for a garage sale or donate them: as Don Aslett says, you do no good in the world by passing on your trash to someone else. And I will make my bed in just a few minutes each morning and not worry about the frou frou that fashion has attempted to thrust upon me.

Warm and cuddly quilts: No one sees the blood, sweat, tears, and swearing

Published March 5, 2012 by livinggraciously

I owe quilts to many people. Many, many people. Some of them are partially done, some are still just gleams of ideas in my head. And part of my project to live more graciously is to get back to my fiber arts, my creative and giving side.

On Sunday, I attacked my sewing room, the last room in the house that had not been uncluttered in my “Hubby’s out of town, let’s spring clean” week. I got my work table and sewing table all cleaned up and found the fabric with which I intended to back a baby quilt that has been in the works since baby arrived.

He’s walking now.

Go ahead and laugh, but I know crafters who are working on “baby quilts” that might be high school graduation presents. So I’m not that hopelessly behind.

No, really.

Having all the pieces in one place, and being “on a roll,” I decided to sandwich and pin baste the baby quilt. For those who don’t know, a quilt consists of a top, generally pieced in a pattern, a fabric backing, and between these some kind of batting that gives it loft and warmth. In order to get these three layers to stay together, they must be stitched through with a topstitch that can either be functionally placed in the seams of the pieced top or decoratively sewn in a pattern on the surface–otherwise known as “quilting.”

Like the toilet paper.

In order to accomplish this permanent quilting, the layers must be temporarily basted together so that they don’t shift and wrinkle. The easiest way to do this is with safety pins pinned about every six inches all over the surface. Even in a small project, it’s a lot of safety pins. Generally this project is undertaken on large enough floorspace for the entire quilt to lie flat, and the quilter crawling about on her knees, trying not to wrinkle the portions she hasn’t pinned yet. With a king sized quilt it can take two days and hundreds of pins.

If you want to make a quilter laugh, innocently ask her if she has a safety pin handy.

I was almost 2/3 of the way through the pin basting when I realized that I’d misaligned the quilt and half of the top row was pinned only to batting, with the backing laid out too far down. In other words, the top layer of the sandwich had slid completely out of alignment and was not over the bottom layer at all. A hundred safety pins, and all of it was out of whack and had to be redone.

I’m quite proud of myself that I dismissed my first two reactions:

  • Reaction one was, “I’ll just cut off the top half of the blocks! He’s a baby; he’ll never know!
  • Reaction two was, “Kerosene and a match!”

But no, I took a deep breath, sighed, and unpinned all the work I’d done.

I’d like to say that I didn’t even swear, but I can only say that I don’t remember swearing, so it must have been minimal.

Once it was unpinned, I even realigned it and repinned it right. Tomorrow I’m hoping to actually get the machine quilting done. When it’s finished, it will go to a child who will never know the headaches that it caused me.

And almost every hand-made project has at least one headache/heartache moment. You may never learn the story, but when you are gifted with a piece of craft made by a friend, take a moment to consider the soul of the gift. It’s already been the source of joy and frustration to someone who cares enough about you to project their heart through their hands and make something of beauty for you.

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