Archive for April, 2011

Well, there was cake involved . . . . Gluten-Free cake.

April 25, 2011
GF Ricotta Pound Cake

Cake only improves life!

I’ve been on the gluten-free bandwagon for about 2 years pretty hardcore. It’s made a ton of difference in my life (mostly a marked decrease of migraines, and not feeling sluggish and all) but *finding* GF desserts is a pain.  Making GF desserts is even harder (I’m convinced it’s in the flour!!) but Easter Sunday, I hit a home run. I’m thrilled.

Gluten Free Chocolate-Orange Pound Cake

1 1/2 sticks butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 c gluten free flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill)
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 c whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 1/2 c sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp orange extract
2 Tbsp Godiva chocolate liquor (or any other flavoring!) (I also use the ‘airline bottles’ for cooking – so alternatively, one ‘airline bottle’.)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan with butter or shortening (I use the wrappers of the butter sticks!)

2. In a bowl, add butter, ricotta and sugar. Cream until fluffy and butter is completely blended.  Add in vanilla, orange extract and flavoring of choice. Cream in baking powder.

3. Alternately add ½ c of flour and one egg until all have been added and batter is smooth and creamy (about 4 minutes)

4. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until a toothpick comes out clean and the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan, 50-65 minutes. Let cool in pan 10 minutes, transfer to a rack to cool completely.

I found that for GF cakes, often the edges might be darker than non-GF.   Because of the variations ON GF flours, I do the knife test starting at minute 50 as not to over bake – and yes, GF flours have that much variation! This cake is exceptionally moist and holds the flavor of the chocolate liquor and orange well.  I’m in love with my cake. I can’t wait for the next excuse to make it! (and yes, I skip xanthum gum). :)

Mindless tips and other “helpful” suggestions

April 25, 2011

I spent part of the weekend doing the search-for-actual-good-job-hunting-tips. I spent MORE time laughing. I’ve decided that either people are far dumber than I actually think (which is scary. . . given my thoughts around most of the species) or there is a genuine lack of unwillingness of anybody from HR people, to placement agencies, to college career offices to say “yes, the economy sucks. if you lose your job, unless you are a renter with in-demand skills (the great unknown), chances are you are screwed for a bit of time.”

Let’s face it: the unemployment rate is roughly 8.5% in the “official” count.  How is unemployment calculated? Good question. I thought it was social security numbers with money paid in – those who are claiming divided by the number of people with social security numbers who are over 21 (or a similar matrix, let’s face it, we are never going to capture the true number with things like maternity leaves, medical leaves, stay at home parents, people who return to school after working, etc) but a way to get the number that is a close approximation.  Nope.

This is from the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor and Statistics – that is the federal government’s department RESPONSIBLE for determining such things as unemployment. This method they have used since 1940 (or longer than my retired parents have been alive):

“Each month, 2,200 highly trained and experienced Census Bureau employees interview persons in the 60,000 sample households for information on the labor force activities (job holding and jobseeking) or non-labor force status of the members of these households during the survey reference week (usually the week that includes the 12th of the month). At the time of the first enumeration of a household, the interviewer prepares a roster of the household members, including their personal characteristics (date of birth, sex, race, Hispanic ethnicity, marital status, educational attainment, veteran status, and so on) and their relationships to the person maintaining the household. This information, relating to all household members 15 years of age and over, is entered by the interviewers into laptop computers; at the end of each day’s interviewing, the data collected are transmitted to the Census Bureau’s central computer in Washington, D.C. (The labor force measures in the CPS pertain to individuals 16 years and over.) In addition, a portion of the sample is interviewed by phone through three central data collection facilities. (Prior to 1994, the interviews were conducted using a paper questionnaire that had to be mailed in by the interviewers each month.)

Each person is classified according to the activities he or she engaged in during the reference week. Then, the total numbers are “weighted,” or adjusted to independent population estimates (based on updated decennial census results). The weighting takes into account the age, sex, race, Hispanic ethnicity, and State of residence of the person, so that these characteristics are reflected in the proper proportions in the final estimates.”

The federal government says this sampling is effective – reality? As a line from The West Wing (paraphrased): No, there aren’t more poor people, we are just counting them correctly.  Which administration wants to be known as the administration that actually discovered MORE unemployed people.

The site continues to explain how these “highly trained” samplers obtain their data:

“Mrs. Jenkins tells the interviewer that her daughter, Katherine Marie, was thinking about looking for work in the prior 4 weeks but knows of no specific efforts she has made. Katherine Marie does not meet the activity test for unemployment and is, therefore, counted as not in the labor force.”

Wait a minute: in a court that would be hearsay.  Mrs. Jenkins’ doesn’t KNOW what her daughter did or did not do: shouldn’t the correct tag be “unknown status” (let’s put it this way, how many parents really know if a teenage kid put in a job application or not? I’d hope more than I think is probably true. . . ).

Another issue: according to the 2000 census (I can’t find the breakdown for 2010), there were 105,480,101 HOUSEHOLDS according to the US Department of Census

In short? The US Government for the past 71 years has been calculating the unemployment rate in some backwards manner by which they interview (at the maximum) .006% of households in the US. Yup. I feel real secure in the data.  But then again, one of the sites I read said that if you have been unemployed for more than 6 months, you are unemployable.  I think I’ll file that under how the federal government calculates the data.

But since I can poke holes in the data, does anybody have a job for me that uses these sort of skills? I’m sure it’s valuable.

Yup, and the door hit me on the way out. . . .

April 24, 2011

I don’t talk about my useless graduate degree much.  Mostly because it is raw, painful and probably the only real regret in my life.  The worst part of the entire experience happened this week: Holy Week. I don’t talk about it a ton … a lot of it doesn’t have words as much as just powerful emotions that I (very rarely) try to untangle.  I can’t tell you what the exact dates – meh, it was Holy Week and I don’t feel like looking it up on the calendar.

I used to love Maude Thursday: for me, it was/is one of the most forgotten aspects of the Christian story.  For me, it was the part of the tradition that allowed me the deepest point of connection: you know you are going to be betrayed (we’ve ALL been there), you know there is nothing you can do about it and you know the result is going to, well, suck. It’s the car spinning at you that you can’t avoid and you hope that everything will be ok (and in the story, well, it does wind up ok in a few days).  I’ll never forget the planning meeting before Holy Week.  I had an internship that left so much to be desired (an interim minister who didn’t want a student, who was forced to work with 2 students, a congregation that didn’t grasp the word ‘new’ and the highlight was an older woman of the congregation getting into a shouting match with the organist DURING a service).  I kept thinking smile, nod, survive, advance and every other coupling that worked.  Maude Thursday was to be the celebration then the betrayal. Perfect. My absolute favorite time of the church year. When the lights are dimmed and not another word is spoken until Sunday morning, the ‘death’ of the faith.  The leaving the darkened church and the knowledge that the next time the congregation gathered it would be in celebration.  I loved it.  I loved the bad things into something good (hey, I AM a Cubs fan!).

During the planning session, the minister said to me  didn’t have to attend. What? This is the most sacred time, the most important time, the essence of the faith. He didn’t want me there.  I was told 3 looked awkward so I should just skip the service and “do whatever.”  I was stunned. I managed to say I didn’t need to help with communion – he said I really didn’t need to be there.  I went, I took my seat next to the ministerial intern.  And lost every love I had of the church.  I had made a few calls during the week to people in the congregation: the moderator, the chair of my teaching committee, the director of my field education program: all said to go but there was nothing they could were willing to do about my lack of inclusion.

Christianity, and liberal christianity of the UCC type, is about inclusion. It’s about holding the door open and not saying a person is not needed.  And so I sat.  And tried to find a glimmer of something, anything that would remind me why I ever thought this was a good idea.  I was empty. It had been a long year and the actions of a handful were enough to make me walk away.  Easter Sunday, when people gather in churches world-wide, to hear sermons of hope, resurrection, renewal: this guy preached on the evils of alcohol. I still have the sermon.  I still can’t connect the dots; although since some of my friends have a party called ‘Drink Up: It’s Easter!’ I did have a laugh in my head about the stupidity of that sermon. . . .

I finished out the year, knowing I wasn’t welcomed, that nobody would speak up for me, defend me and when I did, I stood alone.  Some people have said I walked out. Maybe.  Maybe the door was held open and I just didn’t have the energy to prove my worth.  I’ve been to church a few times in the past 5 years (never on Easter).  It is oppressive.  I wonder if people are really welcoming; or if it’s merely words.  I wonder every time I make the student loan payment if somebody whose job it was to act as my advocate, advocated if I could at least sit in a church without feeling unwelcome.

And the crazy thing? It’s not my faith that I question. It’s the institution: the one created by humans.

Spring, Easter and Renewal

April 24, 2011

The Easter story has always fascinated me: mostly because of so many parts that are skipped over; the intentional betrayal and it being known the one to be betrayed, knowing that close friends would stand aside and disclaim friendship, the sheer aspect of being alone having lost everything.  Then, at discovery of the empty tomb.  I’m not a Biblical literalist (hey, it has 2 creation stories, a polytheist God in the creation of Adam and Eve. . . and a host of other internal arguments) but the concept, the philosophy of discovering *everything* known about death: a person/animal dies and well, the remains are subject to decay or cremation, is turned upside down. The body is gone.  Fear has taken on a new meaning in the post 9/11 world for most Americans.  You are startled, trepidations abound, and remember: this is the fulfillment.  I’ll let people who are far wiser, more scholarly and frankly, probably much more well versed continue the conversation. 

But stop and think:  what do many Christians believe about Easter (the fulfillment of a promise of being present always).  What is spring? The return of the warming of the earth (ok, in the northern hemisphere but let’s face it, Christianity is a western tradition!), the renewal for most people (based on biological evidence on sunlight and how our bodies react).

I’m not interested in a Jesus debate.  If the story reminds you that somebody/something that has helped you through the hardest days is always with you even if they are not present physically, so be it.  If the warming of the earth and the lightness of spring renew your sense of hope, so be it.  Take some time today to reflect and thank those who have helped you, those who have helped you move boulders by what they have taught you, those whose betrayal, while at the time painful, helped you grow, maybe not in the moment but later.

Take some time today to simply enjoy the bounty and the second, third, fourth chances we have all been offered.  And work to ensure the ability of second chances to continues long into the future.  The story most of us are familiar with is Christian: but the lesson is not unique.  Enjoy the day. Enjoy the new beginning.

so much for 31 and holding.

April 22, 2011

The blog is continuing. It’s the fact that i’m having knee surgery in September, making the title wrong.

More about this as I can think about it. . .

(not so) Extreme Couponing

April 21, 2011
Love the chocolate bargins!

Love the chocolate!!

I admit . . . I caught a few episodes of extreme couponing. First, I don’t get the concept of *needing* to purchase 91 bottles of mustard  even if you could get them for free or .25/each.  I don’t.  I understand buying a few, keeping them at home and donating the rest to charity endeavors like food banks, youth groups for fund-raisers, etc. Some of the people had them in basements (maybe they save them for families when they are burned out of their homes … I don’t know).  Not so surprisingly, I became riveted by watching people spend 30 hours a week, to obtain $800 of groceries for $18.31. I love a bargain as much (or more) as the next person.  Yup, I clip my coupons and combine them with sales – for things I *need*  (8 large containers of laundry detergent? not so much!).  I completely grasp using coupons to save money.  I used them, plus ones that are doubled last combined with sales to receive about 60% off and what was missing? Fresh fruits, fresh veggies.  Some times it IS fun to find the bargains out there …. I’m just not sure that spending 30-50 hours to buy a vast amount of foodstuffs is something to be celebrated.  Honestly? It seems like OCD meets hoarding .
But, for the record, the pic above is my $3.53 candy stash from CVS courtesy of a sale, CVS reward bucks and a coupon.  I’m happy about that! :)

50 Random Things About Me. . . .

April 13, 2011

So, a friend of mine made a list of 100 non-negative statements about her … uh, yeah. I’m not that brave. So, here are 50 random nonnegative (unless we pick opposite sports teams) about me.

1) I love to travel. My must go to before I die list stands at India, back to China, SE Asia circuit, Trans-Siberian Rail, New Zealand and Australia. Winning the Lotto would help this addiction.

2) I’m a good cook. I’m a really good cook when I put my mind to it – pretty rare – but a good cook.

3) I can travel for 3 weeks including a laptop and CPAP in a backpack the size of a carry on.

4) The aforementioned backpack is the only piece of luggage I own.

5) I once got stuck in the Paris Metro gates with the backpack while on crutches after having my hip reconstructed. It was pretty funny.

6) I’m wildly sarcastic and sardonic. 

7) I have Halloween cats named Jackson and Lafitte.

8) I love college sports.  Doesn’t really matter the sport … there is something about the passion.

9) I have 8 friends who are published authors.

10) I’m terrified of the dentist.

11) I’ve had surgery 31 times (hence the blog name).

12) I’m on the fence about the Kindle or other such book readers. Something about the feel of paper.

13) I actually have written a real letter in the past year. And mailed it.

14) My shower curtain has dancing monkeys on it. Ok, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

15) I’m left-handed.

16) I totaled my car while moving cross-country.

17) I recycle.

18) I’m fiercely loyal to my friends … but if you cross me?

19) I vote in every election.

20) I believe in day baseball, the Cubs winning the World Series and Santa Claus. Well 2 of the 3.

21) I go to church, uh, once a year.

22) I try to remember that most things aren’t as important as we make them out to be.

23) I think Oreos and Diet Coke make a perfect dinner. 

24) Occasionally, I like to splash in the big puddles.

25) I prefer tea over coffee.

26) I read just about everything . . . except vampire and romance books. Which is odd because 2 of my friends have published books in those genres.

27) I’ll defend just about anybody’s right for free speech … even if I disagree with them.

28) Casablanca is my favorite movie.

29) I enjoy watching people … we can learn so much by just watching.

30) I’m not as outgoing as most people assume I am; I’m actually pretty reserved.

31) I’m allergic to shellfish.

32) I dyed my hair brown once … it turned out orange. Whoops.

33) I love my 3 nieces and 3 nephews more than anything else on this planet.

34) I love red wine.

35) My favorite item of clothing is my Ohio State hoodie … it replaced my GAP hoodie.

36) I try to laugh as much as possible.

37) I support as many local businesses as possible.

38) When I swim laps, I sing Bon Jovi in my head.

39) I am amazed at my friends and family who can parent, work and find time for themselves.

40) I try to remember my Grandmother’s favorite question “what did you learn today?”

41) I have had bone grafts from cadaver donors . . . I hope I can make the same choice if ever presented to me.

42) I once threw a pan away after a cooking experiment.

43) I have a bobble head Jesus and Moses action figure doll.

44) I’m a slightly rabid basketball fan.

45) My mother’s name is misspelled on my birth certificate.

46) Every year, I really think the Cubs are going to win the World Series. One year, I’ll be right!

47) When I play tennis, I sometimes switch hands with my racquet.

48) I’m afraid of ice storms.

49) I graduated from Hollins College.

50) I’m pretty sure peanut butter is the world’s most perfect food.

Chronically Cranky

April 13, 2011

Today is one of those days. I have a list of things that I must get done (visitors en route!) and it’s raining.  Normally rain is something that is just a pain … today, the rain found every healed fracture line, unrepaired nick in my body and screams out stop.  Four or five days a year I’m like this. I can’t move.  I mean, I can move but every movement is that end of a long work workout feeling of moving a jelly like body through space. Every molecule hurts.

I suppose I should back up. Most days I hurt: hurt like smacking your knee cap into a metal post hurt.  Every day it’s not an “if” but “how much”.  Pain free? Oh, I’d pay. I’d pay. I’d pay for a week of pain-free.  Somebody a few weeks ago told me that “you’ve (meaning me) learned so much from your pain.” Seriously? Yeah, distance worked in this case: the person is still breathing and to my knowledge pain-free.  The entire medical system has not found a good answer to chronic pain.  Right now my very tender knee is wrapped in a brace with two non-narcotic pain patches, elevated and flexed in an attempt at least calm down my knee enough to get something done today.  I’ve had 31 orthopaedic surgeries. Yup. 31.  I’ve been poke, jabbed, prodded more than I care to think about most days (ok, really any day).

And today I just hurt.  The cold rain hurts.  Pain is the way our body tells us pay attention.  And I’m tired of trying to find something to at least make the pain manageable. My body feels mangled.  I really just want a day without pain.

It’s your game; it’s your national championship

April 5, 2011

Title IX, enacted in 1972, required equal opportunity for girls and women in high school and college athletics. In 1973, a young high school coach named Gary Blair started teaching and coaching in Dallas. Initially, he had hoped to become a football or baseball coach: instead, his first opportunity was to coach girls basketball: more specifically a new program (probably in light of Title IX).  When given the opportunity to move on to become an assistant in a high school football program, Blair turned the job down. Make no mistake: turning down football in Texas is, well, like turning down basketball in Indiana.

Perhaps it is more than fitting after a long road in high school and college coaching won his first national title in Indiana with his team from Texas A&M.  Blair took a 9th seeded Arkansas team to the Final Four in ’98.  Tonight, he finally received his ring.

The young women playing collegiate athletics didn’t live in a time when sport wasn’t open to them.  Gary Blair is one of the many teachers, coaches who took a chance and started coaching young women. He turned down the biggest sport in his home state to coach girls – back when that was an insult. His speech was gracious to Notre Dame. His humility is a lesson for everybody. His team gave him the greatest gift they could give their coach: a national title. In Indiana, in the stadium where Hoosiers was filmed, a team of unknown players delivered. It is the stuff movies are made of: tonight, it was magical. Tonight, a person who has given so much to the sport got something back. Tonight the good guy won. Congratulations Coach Blair; those of us who love the sport couldn’t be happier for you and the Aggies.  You reminded us why we love the sport.

Bake Sale for Japan

April 4, 2011

I am the first person to admit that I’m not the best baker in the world. I strive for edible (a complex main dish I can handle . . . brownies from a box? Head:desk!).  I heard about the Bake Sale for Japan via the normal social media outlets (which if you scroll back through this blog you’ll see a post where I was hammered over something on Facebook when I tried to make the point you never know about the outreach impact of social media).

In short, on Saturday, across the country, various communities held bake sales to support Peace Winds Japan which works to help those in earthquake/tsunami prone areas in preparation and recovery. Now, obviously, they are working in Japan to assist those in the heavily impacted prefectures.  I offered to help set up and work a few hours. First, a shout out to the fantastic Ula Cafe in JP which hosted the Boston effort.  Not only did they provide the space but free coffee/tea to the volunteers who battled shade AND a stiff wind!  Brrr….it didn’t feel like April!

For me, the most amazing aspect of this effort was the community outreach.  At one point a group of volunteers started talking amongst ourselves: we realized we had no common link to the organizer except we had seen it on twitter, Facebook or via a friend of a friend.  Every time we’d start to get a bit low on “staples” somebody would show up with a new flavor of vegan or gluten-free cupcakes, ‘regular’ chocolate chip cookies or a new type of bread.  This was the first time Boston had participated in this event (a similar one was done for Haiti last year).  Not only was it fun – it took only a few hours out of my weekend, connected me back to the world outside and was a way to payback for of the kindness that I experienced in Japan.

It took 4 hours from my life: maybe somebody will have a bit less of a burden.  Chances are we all have an extra 2-4 hours a week.  The choice is ours . . . spend it watching mindless TV or doing something, no matter how small, to help another.  The choice is ours.  Go out and be the difference you want to see. And who knows? You might find a passion.

Vegan "Oreo" CookiesBake Sale for Japan - Boston