24 November 2010

Experimenting with Pie Crust

My mother came for The Offspring's birthday earlier this fall with two pumpkins. I cooked them up and downloaded a recipe for vegan pumpkin pie, and thus began The Season Of The Pies.

After those first two pumpkins were history, I bought four (4!!) more on a trip out of the city, and it's been pumpkin pie almost every week.

I've been experimenting with gluten-free, dairy-free crust.

This week, I tried 1 1/2 C Bob's All-Purpose GF Flour; 1/2 C almond meal; 1/4 C sugar; 1/2 C Earth Balance margarine; and 1/4 C coconut oil, chilled. (No salt: the margarine already threatens to make the crust too salty.)

I cut the grease into the flour in the usual way, and the coconut oil softens so that it all blends together without needing any water, and then I press the dough into the pie pan: it's too sticky to roll out.

I'm still not thrilled, though. It's heavy and just tastes a little too doughy.

Any of my cook friends out there have any ideas for modifications?

Biker Chronicles Continue

Only one day on campus this week, and it was a long one; doing the bike commute meant it was going to be even longer: I left home at 8 a.m. and got back around 10:30.

But riding after dark in the quiet streets of Long Branch late this evening I was reminded of being on sabbatical, cycling home after a late lecture or a day trip to London.

Anything that reminds me of sabbatical is pretty much a good thing -- it doesn't get much better than a year with no teaching responsibilities and access to some of the world's best libraries, with plenty of time to use them.

Sometimes in New York and New Jersey, I get cranky on the bike ride: I get no respect, and in fact frequent disrespect, from pedestrians as well as from motor-vehicle drivers. But then I run into things like this:
And since I'm on a bike, and not in a car, I'm moving slowly enough to take it in and really appreciate it.

Two and a half weeks of teaching left in the semester, then finals. Might I actually make this public-transit project last through the entire term?

16 November 2010

A Slight Corrective to the Weather Report

According to the weather forecasters, there's an 80 percent chance of rain in New York City today, going up to 90 percent this evening.

But my bike rides to the World Trade Center PATH station, and from the Long Branch station to my office, were dry.

It turns out an 80 percent chance of rain means there's an 80 percent chance there will be rain somewhere in the region at some point during the forecast period. It doesn't mean there will be rain across the entire region 80 percent of the time.

So that leaves a pretty good chance of dry conditions in any given place, at any given time. And this morning I lucked out.

Still -- I brought the rain suit in case it's wetter this evening. Don't need to get drenched.

Lost track of the number of weeks, by the way. But now it's officially a "streak," and it's reached the point where I'm driven by a weird compulsion to keep it up, just for the sake of not breaking it.

Update: No rain on the way home, either. Luck was with me today.

15 November 2010

It's The Little Things

I got far less done today than planned.

I moved the car for street cleaning. I re-read Everyman.

I finished grading a paper -- a graduate student's paper, a smart one, with complicated and unusual issues arising from the student's unfamiliarity with the norms of study in English programs, and so it took an unusually long time to read it, and to write feedback.

I cleaned the kitchen -- at least once. I kept track of The Offspring in the playground after school, and I walked him home, and I fed him, more or less continuously from arriving home until bath time.

I lined up a speaker and started planning a reading of Old English poems for a student event. I wrote thirty-four email messages, mostly in response to student questions about papers and the upcoming event, several about a PTA fund-raising drive, and various other random ones.

I supervised homework and violin practice. I oversaw bath and the taking of medicine. I rubbed The Offspring's back, and sang him to sleep.

The day-to-day routine of parenting doesn't lend itself to a sense of Accomplishment. Yet all the little things add up to Love, Security, Structure. Important stuff.

11 November 2010

Honor Veterans by Working for Peace

In memory of the veterans of war in our nation and others, I'm making a plug today for Veterans for Peace, an organization of which my father has been a member for many years.

Many veterans suffer for the rest of their lives as a result of the traumas experienced on the battlefield. It seems to me the best tribute to their sacrifices is to work to eliminate war so that others will not have to suffer as they have suffered.

Today I salute Willy, Phil, Philip, Carole, Maude, and Paul. (Yes, women are veterans too.)

10 November 2010

Still Chugging Along

It's week eleven of making the bike/train/bike commute happen at least once a week, and I can't quite believe I'm still at it.

This morning I got out the serious winter gloves -- fleece on the inside, windproof/waterproof fabric on the outside. (It's supposed to "breathe," too, but doesn't do that so well.)

This morning as I got on the PATH train, a rider getting off sidled up and told me he has the same bike. There should be some kind of group for Brompton riders where we can share our delight in our wheels.

09 November 2010

Just Do It?

The Offspring didn't want to go to school on Monday.

He did, actually, because he had new glasses he wanted to show off to his friends, but he felt like crud after a night of coughing and a big dose of medicine in the morning.

And so this is what I told him: When you have a chronic illness, you have to keep moving even when you don't feel your best, because the alternative is to miss out on life.

As with many things, he took it in without comment. He's likely to mention the conversation at some point -- in a few weeks, maybe a few months.

Not a conversation I envisioned having with a seven-year-old when I was imagining what it would be like to have a child. Then again, little about life with him is what I imagined.

Is Tofu Processed Food?

Even though October is over, and even though I failed to go a month, much less a week or even a day, without consuming processed food, I'm still thinking about it.

This morning's breakfast was pumpkin pie. Vegan and made from scratch at home, including the crust. But one of the ingredients was tofu.

Which led me to wonder: does tofu count as processed food?

So naturally I went to the Intertubes to find out, and I learned that there are numerous web sites that assure readers that tofu is easy to make at home and doesn't require any special equipment.

There's a recipe here, and another one here, and also here and here.

So ... I could make my own tofu. But unless I'm willing also to make my own soy milk, it would get expensive: the amount of soy milk required to make tofu would cost a lot more than just buying the equivalent package of tofu.

Short answer, then, is no: tofu is not processed food.

The pie is safe.

08 November 2010

New York Needs Marriage Equality

Here's a letter I've written to Andrew Cuomo:
Dear Governor-Elect Cuomo,

It's an embarrassment that the state of New York has not passed a marriage equality bill, and it's an outrage that the reason for this is that Sheldon Silver has buried the bill in committee, not allowing a vote to come to the Assembly floor.

I hope that as Governor, you will press for equality in marriage in the state of New York and get the bill out of committee and onto the floor for a vote. And I hope you'll encourage legislators to vote for the bill so that New York can set an example for the nation, as it has done on other civil rights issues in the past.

Thank you for your consideration.
Please feel free to adapt the letter (or even steal it) and write to Cuomo and other legislators, too. Please let me know in the comments if you've done so. Live in New Jersey or another state? Write to your elected officials anyway.

Thanks, y'all!

04 November 2010

Seasonal Slippage

I cracked open a new package of Xopenex yesterday morning. Made me feel like a junkie.

Years ago, a fellow traveler in the land of the chronically ill came to work in a T shirt that read, "Hard Drugs Changed My Life." We both hooted and guffawed over that one.

For nine or ten months out of the year, I simulate a healthy person. I exercise, I eat well, I sleep more or less regularly, I take my routine meds, and No One Has To Know that I move freely in the Land of the Healthy only as a Resident Alien.

Winter comes, and it gets more complicated. That provisional identity comes under attack, susceptible to sudden revocation at any time.

A couple of weeks ago, I started slipping into a hole. I was catapulted back out by steroids and antibiotics, awed and humbled once again by the power of modern medicine (and its side-effects) -- and beyond grateful for doctors and pharmacies and health insurance.

I'm also trying to avoid looking down into the abyss, trying not to think too much about the fragility of the status quo, trying to go on living -- not exactly in denial, but without dwelling on the possibilities.

03 November 2010

Why I Like My Bike/Train Commute

I like the bike ride to the PATH Station. I like getting work done on the train. I like the ride to campus. I like not having to hassle with traffic.

(Yesterday's weaving text-messenger was a particularly odious instance of having to share the road with actual other drivers.)

I'm not so crazy about cycling from campus back to the train station in the dark. NYC's streets are well-lit at night, but those in Long Branch, not so well lit. Even in my reflective vest and even with my lights, I feel invisible -- and according to a study Planet Green reported on the other day, I probably am.

I'm not so crazy about having to share the Long Branch train station with smokers.

And there's the perennial problem of, well, personal hygiene; it's hard not to work up a sweat while riding, unless I'm completely underdressed and therefore freezing. I've had a spare blazer in my office for some time now; I might add a spare shirt or two for the days when I miscalculate.

(Week ten, and thus far I've kept up with my plan to take public transit at least once a week, starting with the department meeting the week before classes started.)

01 November 2010

October Was Unprocessed Food Month

Eating Rules ran a challenge last month: go for the entire month of October without eating any processed food.

I only found out about it around October 25, but I gamely signed on anyway. (Latecomers could pledge to give up processed food for a month following whatever date in October they started.)

I was curious: I wanted to think about what processed foods I have in my diet. Eating Rules defines unprocessed foods thus:
Unprocessed food is any food that could be made by a person with reasonable skill in a home kitchen with readily available, whole-food ingredients.
Anything else, therefore, is processed. Jam? We make our own. Ketchup? Well, no, but I could. There are jars of store-bought hot sauce and salad dressing in the fridge, but I also make my own.

I was feeling pretty smug about my own diet because I actually do eat mostly unprocessed food. If I'm not cooking myself, I'm eating in a restaurant where vegetarian food is prepared on site.

But almost immediately after signing on to the project, I failed. I realized it was almost time to fetch The Offspring from school, and I hadn't eaten lunch, so I grabbed a handful of cheese slices and some corn cakes and scarfed them down on the way out the door.

Yep, vegan cheese slices. With ingredients like potassium phosphate, adipic acid, and carrageenan. And 290 mg of sodium per slice, so if I eat four or five slices as part of my lunch that's, well, a whole lotta salt.

I checked the fridge. The vegan "buttery spread" probably ought to go, and I'm going to think harder about some of the condiments taking up space in the doors. And though the cheese is a huge convenience, I'm going to cut back.

So the project had its utility: It got me thinking. And today, I opened up two pumpkins, roasted the seeds, cooked the flesh, and baked a pie. And there's plenty of pumpkin left over for another couple of pies.