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Alert! Latte!

19 Apr

A very specific group of potential readers may recollect a joke that this title is based on.  Namely, “ALERT!  WAFFLE!” – a phrase that was coined on a think/dance collective tour of the midwest and refers to, what else, waffles.  We would (for some reason) announce this boldly when the waffle machine would ding in the lobby of the hotel while we breakfasted.  I’m sure we were a real treat to fellow hotel patrons.

Anyway, what I’m here to tell you might not change your life the way it’s changed mine, but I think it’s still worth sharing:  I have discovered a way to make a perfect latte at home.

In the May issue of Martha Stewart Living, there is an article about a day in the life of food editor, Lucinda Scala Quinn that reads like a strange series of facebook updates.  I particularly cottoned to a tidbit I read about Ms. Quinn making herself a cappuccino in her kitchen each morning.  I assumed that since she’s probably very fancy, she probably has an even fancier machine to achieve this am cap, but NO!  A small seed of hope began to unfurl in my latte-loving heart.

Upon further reading, I discovered that she brews espresso on the stove and then (this is the awesome part so get ready) she heats some milk in a cup and, using a whisk between her palms and moving her hands back and forth to swiftly turn it, she froths the milk.  I suspected that, like most helpful tips in MSL, this would probably completely backfire in my apparently success-averse hands.

But the seed of hope remained and for several days, I pondered these things in my heart.  I was so intrigued by the potential to enjoy my all-time favorite treat at a fraction of the cost and with no fancy equipment, that I tried it.  While this usually results in my cursing Martha Stewart and her awful enticement of my hope and subsequent despair, this time was different.  Liz: 1, Martha: not this time, jerkwithexcellenttaste!

I first tried the Quinn Method (a genius deserves her due) a few days ago with whole milk.  That did not work.  The milk did not really foam nicely.  But then, I remembered from my barista days that it was always easier to make a good stiff foam with skim milk, even when I was using the industrial steam wand.  When I applied my whisk with vigor to a microwaved cup of skim milk, magic began!  Foam!  Legit foam began to multiply in the cup!  I seriously cannot remember the last time I was so excited.  I completely understand if you need to get up and try this without delay.  The rest of this post isn’t as good as your homemade latte will be, so go with my blessing!

Anyway, upon having this ecstatic success, I brewed some espresso using my aero press, and poured the milk and foam on top.  It was a revelation of such magnitude that among my first thoughts was that I should share this with the good people at TCoWHRN.  I hope you enjoy!

P.S. another hot tip – if you don’t have a thing that makes espresso, you can easily just use brewed coffee and have yourself a steaming mug (or bowl in the french style) of cafe au lait.



2 Nov

I just got back from Ikea and am in the middle of the world’s mildest home-makeover (read: a non-moldy shower curtain has been installed along with a new throw pillow!  Is the excitement palpable where you are too?!).  I was never nuts about the look of this blog and since I’m on an image-transforming rampage (see below:  Fashion, Crimes Against, and, of course, the throw pillow) I decided TCoWHRN deserved some aesthetic consideration too.  I hope you enjoy the fresh new look!

A Mother’s Day?

18 May

Sometimes I feel invisible.  Most of the time I think it’s fantastic.  I feel like a superhero with my awesome power.  Ida provides a nearly foolproof deterrent to semi-strangers asking me about my accomplishments or current undertakings (let’s just set aside for a moment the fact that this shield is equal parts Ida and rampant sexism that assumes that since I’m a mother of course my kid is my only concern and that money just somehow magically appears in my bank account).

Sometimes though, it feels like junk.  Sometimes I want someone(s) to see how hard I’m working.  Sometimes I want someone who can talk and wipe their own butt to witness my work, the way that they used to when I was running a business or going to school.  Since many of my current endeavors have to do with mothering and homemaking/homesteading, I’m often the only one who knows just what exactly is the work that I’m doing all day.  Since the other things are modern dance………. that joke pretty much makes itself, no?

Anyway, maybe this is a result of too much internet-half-life-site time and my constant impulse to frame my experiences in terms of status updates (just a sec, I barfed in my mouth), but I thought I’d share what my actual days are like, given that it’s mother’s day (or at least it was when I started writing this little ditty).  So here we go: allow me to present a glimpse into this mother’s day.

I have two types of days:  Days when I am teaching and days when I am not teaching.

They all start the same:

I wake up at 6AM without an alarm clock.  I will forever be unable to sleep-in due to my college years working as a barista and always working the opening shift.  I turn on the coffee pot which Nathan or I prepped the night before.  While the coffee is brewing, I check my email (read: diddle around on aforementioned time-waste-vortex).  Once the coffee is ready, I pour myself a cup and settle back into bed with a book which I read until 6:50.  I read everyday – a variety of fiction and non-fiction, reputable and disreputable.  This is one of my favorite parts of the day.  I semi-ferberized Ida in order to get this time.  I don’t feel even sort-of guilty about it.  At 6:50 I take a 5 minute shower followed by 5 more minutes of beautification efforts.  They are half-assed at best and usually come to a conclusion with some kind of encouraging words to myself  like “not great.”

Ida is up by 7AM and I go into her room.  She is usually naked as the day she was born and jumping up and down in her crib singing or screaming depending on her mood.  I get her ready for the day and ask her if she’d like to use the toilet.  Then we go visit our dog Maude who has gone back to sleep in our bed.  I often worry that Maude hates this ritual as it usually involves lots of mauling on Ida’s part.  Ida and I retreat to the kitchen and I fix her some breakfast while she sits in her high chair.  We listen to the radio and discuss our plans for the day.  I usually load and start the dishwasher and sort-of clean the kitchen (excluding the microwave, which is the site of a very important research project entitled “what will happen?”) while she eats breakfast.

Sometimes after this we do some errands (usually groceries or Target).  Other times we just hang out in the living room  – I eat breakfast and Ida plays or creates unsanctioned murals on the entryway wall that is obscured from my post on the couch.  Sometimes we go for a walk or bike ride to the coffee shop and get coffee and a treat.  Sometimes we go to the park, or out to the yard to garden.  On Wednesdays we sometimes go to children’s story time at Women and Children First (you know, the feminist bookstore just up the street.  I heart my neighborhood).

Ida usually takes a nap around 9AM and sleeps until 11 or 12.  Sometimes if I have to teach a morning class, she (a champion of flexibility) skips this nap and goes to one of the wonderful friends that comprise our ramshackle childcare network.  If she is napping I usually clean, cook, do laundry or occasionally do some writing or dancemaking work.  I was in the habit of doing self-led yoga during her nap, but I’ve fallen off that wagon of late.  I’m now doing a self-led cookie eating thing that I find equally fulfilling.

My favorite household work is cooking.  I like to make a giant batch of something and put meal-sized portions in the freezer, or I like to prep all of the stuff for dinner that night.  I also sometimes put together a meal for one of the lovely folks who take care of Ida while I’m at work, or bake bread or make other staples like stock or yogurt.  I’d say on average, I spend at least 3 hours of every day doing some aspect of food work (shopping, gardening, preparing, cooking, cleaning up).  My other favorite is laundry.  I don’t actually like doing the laundry, but I eat candy and watch television on the internet while I fold it, creating an irresistible bribe for myself.  It’s gotten to the point where I feel a modicum of excitement when the dryer buzzer goes off.  Yikes.   Have you recovered from the sadness of that?  Do you need a moment?  Take a moment.

Every monday I clean the whole apartment (I say “whole” because this undertaking is impressive to me.  I used to triage cleaning, employing a “disaster management” philosophy, but of late, I’ve been more proactive.  I feel that this deserves special recognition).  It takes 3-4 hours and I mostly dislike it.  I try to make it as pleasant as possible and to find pleasure in the aspects I can, but for the most part, I just face my drudgery and try to get it over with.  I should say here that Nathan is more than willing to do this – he would gladly be in charge of the cleaning, but his filth tolerance is much higher than mine (see note below re: living in a van) and I find his work to be unsatisfactory in this department.  Since I can’t seem to make a dollar to save my life, this 1950s style arrangement seems (in our circumstance) to be an equitable trade.  I know how it looks, and if you’d have told me this is how it would all shake out I’d have smacked you in the jowls, but here we are.  Truth be told I usually feel like I got the good end of the deal.  I like my life.  I’m not trapped, unfulfilled or lonely or any of those other things Betty Friedan talked about.  I have a number of theories about this, which I will save for another time.  The only thing I will say here is this: if one more badass feminist pal questions the fact that Nathan doesn’t do much by way of cooking or cleaning and assumes that this means something about me or him and our respective views on women, I’m going to blow a gasket.  You’re telling me I’m a woman and I’m doing it wrong?  That’s suspiciously familiar…

When Ida wakes up from her nap, our day goes one of two routes:  If I’m working, we usually pack up our stuff (my teaching supplies and her diaper bag with lunch, snacks, milk, etc.), get in the car and drive to wherever I’m teaching, dropping Ida off along the way at a kind friend’s house (as a side note, working for a few hours in the middle of each day is anathema to finding professional childcare and basically ensures that you will become a major pain in the ass to your friends and family as you try to get someone to watch your beloved kid).  A few days a week, a friend comes over to my place and watches her while I’m gone.  I’m gone for 2-4 hours on teaching days depending on commute and if I have more than one class.  I am almost always astounded by how challenging it is to get where I need to be on time, teach well, and be a good parent to Ida all at the same time.  I can usually do two of these things at once.  I often don’t eat lunch because adding one more thing to the list just isn’t possible.  Correction, I often eat Wendy’s chicken nuggets for lunch and semi-try to hide what I’m doing from Ida (in the back seat).  Should you feel moved to nominate me for a parenting award, remember that my last name is SAND (like a sand beach) BERG (like iceberg lettuce).

Once I’m done teaching I head home (picking up Ida on the way if she was staying with a friend).  Ida used to take another nap at this point in the day, and I’m mourning this loss.  Now she mostly yells, demands impossible snacks that haven’t been invented, and passionately wants the legos to be both in and out of the basket SIMULTANEOUSLY.

If I’m not teaching, Ida and I usually do something fun in the afternoon.  Sometimes we take a bike ride or walk.  Sometimes we do an art project at home.  Sometimes we go visit a friend or go somewhere cool in the city like a museum or a park.  We like to get out of the house and find that just hanging out at home all day results in double-whammy mother-daughter meltdowns.

Nate usually gets home from work at 4:15.  At this point, if Nate isn’t on deadline for a music project, I sometimes leave for a couple of hours to work/make dances or run errands while he plays with Ida.  Every monday a friend and I go out for coffee and do our self-led Heretics’ Bible Study.  This is exactly like it sounds.  Sometimes Nate, Ida and I do something together.  If Nate is on deadline for a music project, he spends a little time with Ida and then heads back to his studio to crank out the tunes.  I have never met a person as productive as Nathan is when it comes to writing music.  I attribute this largely to his having had to complete his graduate degree in writing film music while working and taking care of a newborn.  His threshold for sleep deprivation and chaos are off-the-charts high.  This coupled with his humongous talent means that he is creating a pretty fat composition roster of late.  Which is great, but at some point, he’s going to need to start recreating for at least a couple of hours a week.  And sleeping for more than 4 hours a night.  I worry about him…

Ida begins eating dinner around 5:30 in her high chair in the kitchen.  We’re working on a plan to regularly have dinner together as a family, but we’re sad at the prospect of losing that time alone together (Nate and me).  Nate often does the dinner and bath evening routine while I cook.  I kind-of hate the dinner-bath rigmarole so this suits me just fine.  I don’t know why.  There isn’t really anything unpleasant about doing these things with Ida.  Maybe it’s just that at the end of the day, it’s nice to have a little break from wiping/picking up/dressing/etc.  She also sometimes tries to bite me when I brush her teeth, so there’s that too.

After her dinner and bath Ida plays a little, we read approximately 90 books and she goes to bed at 7.  I finish making dinner and we usually eat around 7:30.  If I’m rehearsing that evening, I usually leave around this time, leaving something for dinner in the fridge, which Nate heats up right before I’m scheduled to get home.  On nights that I’m rehearsing we usually eat around 9:30 or 10.  Nate has absolutely no time-oriented feelings of hunger, which I attribute/blame on the fact that he lived in a van with 8 guys for a while subsisting mainly on gas station foodstuffs (he was in a band that toured quite a lot).  This is convenient.  And messed up.

I’m not totally sure what happens to the remaining few hours of the day.  Reading?  Television?  Conversation?  Your guess is as good as mine.  Sometimes I craft.  Occasionally I go see dance performances.  The time just seems to elapse.  Maybe I’m relaxing?  Unclear.  I go to sleep around 10 or 11 after reading or watching something Stewart/Colbert/Fey/Poehler on the computer, and usually have blissfully dreamless and uninterrupted sleep.  I’m grateful for this – from what I hear, it’s pretty uncommon for the parents of small children to have a 12-on, 12-off work schedule in parenting.  Ida, if you’re reading this, please don’t mess around with this aspect of our lives.

So there you have it, this mother’s day.  Here’s to you having a great one today!

Domestic Badassery, Vol. 2 – Laundry Soap

24 Mar

Based on advertisements, I assumed that one would need an advanced knowledge of chemistry (or at the very least a pristine white coat, an ample supply of beakers, and access to identical garments with vivid grass stains for testing) to undertake such a project.  But no, dear readers!  I don’t have any of those things and I managed just fine!  Take that, March!  Stupid rainy jerk, with your stupid re-runs and stupid ugly face.

Here is what I did:

I googled “homemade laundry soap” and came across the following recipe:

  • 1 cup borax (sodium borate)
  • 1 cup washing soda
  • 1 bar of soap (I used Dr. Bronners, but Fels Naptha is also recommended)

I searched dilligently (read: occasionally perused store shelves when convenient) for the borax and washing soda to no avail, and so I decided to order them in large quantities via the interwebs.  I also contemplated liquid vs. powder recipes, and quickly decided on the powder variety for ease (the liquid versions all involve melting, diluting, and a much larger container for storage).

I made the soap by grating the Dr. Bronner’s bar using a cheese grater into a large bowl.  Then I added the cup each of borax and washing soda and mixed everything with a spoon.  I used a funnel to transfer the powder into a repurposed canister, fished a tablespoon out of our junk drawer, and with a feeling of smug satisfaction, admired my creation.  I always feel like a rock star when I finish a project that enabled me to circumvent some part of the mass-produced consumer/stuff machine.  I use one tablespoon of the concoction per regular-sized load of laundry (which amounts to two tablespoons each load, because I always just cram everything in that will possibly fit).

Not to get too comfortable on my (laundry) soap box, but I feel especially awesome when I can opt out of a product traditionally marketed at women (and increasingly targeted at mothers in particular).  Redefining homemaking and parenting as productive rather than consumptive activities is exciting.  It’s good, honest work that uses my whole self and I’m no longer ashamed to admit how much pleasure I take in my prowess.  I think one of the primary reasons that these domains get such a bad rap is because they’re imagined as being inextricably linked with consumption rather than production – any idiot can buy stuff, but it takes brains and moxie to make things.  It’s more than imagination though – consumption-as-parenting/homemaking is what’s being sold to us through advertising.  We’re reacting to that version of domestic and nurturing work – the version that presents it as little more than merely stocking a set of rooms with the right ready-made stuff – when we devalue it.  The version that depicts a white lady and her (presumable) offspring in a van on her daily errand to big-box-land.  The version that laments the overwhelming choices and our tiny, decision-frazzled brains.  It’s the version that atrophies the creative, resourceful self in favor of a facade of ease.  That’s the version that our mothers had in mind when they pushed us to accomplish more than “just” domestic stuff (not that they were wrong, of course).  It’s the version that taught us that homemaking work belongs at the bottom of the list.

So strangely enough, in finding myself chiefly involved in work as a mother and homemaker (and sometimes educator and artist), I’m discovering new heights of badassery in straightforward and necessary problem solving like this – clothes need to get clean and I don’t want to throw money and chemicals out there in place of a real solution.  I can make a fix.  And it just takes three ingredients!  I don’t mind telling you that I find the whole situation deeply satisfying.  Take that, March!


11 Mar

March can suck it.

With the obligatory trash talk out of the way, let me begin this discussion of my maiden attempt at vermicomposting by saying that I don’t care much for nature.  I’m not really a very outdoorsy gal.  In response to invites to go camping, I often snort and proudly declare that I pay rent to protect myself from that situation.  Having spent my peak years either jumping up and down inside of a mirrored room, or with my nose in a book and my mouth showing a latte a good time, I never gave much thought to my surroundings (when you’re thinking so much about your own brilliant thoughts and how best to bestow them to others, important information often slips through the cracks).

But something happened a few years ago.  I can’t remember what I read or how I got started, but I began a 4-year obsession with reading about various food apocalypses (apocali?), which snowballed into some semblance of a desire to be a responsible steward of the earth’s resources.  Not because I was inclined to care about things, or because I couldn’t imagine the world without (insert beloved nature-y thing here), but, essentially because Michael Pollen and Barbara Kingsolver can crank out some compelling reads.  Since that time, I’ve been slowly reorienting my life around the realization that I need to at least attempt to shape up so as to be able to sleep at night, or at least avoid the stink-eye from my smart, hip friends.  Moving to Chicago aided this process too.  When you live in a heap of so much humanity, sometimes with your face pressed into someone’s armpit on the train, you start to imagine how your behavior might impact those around you.  When you stare down and find your newborn daughter’s head between your legs, the message really hits home.

This brings us to now, and explains (in part) why I am the proud landlord to a writhing pile of red worms.  Several of my friends had started vermicomposting (i.e. keeping a tub of worms, fruit and vegetable waste and other unsavory items).  The great thing about this particular form of composting is that you can do it in a small, indoor space without too much hassle.  This is what I hear, anyway.  Seeing as I am bothered by the fact that each and every day that I want to drink coffee, I have to make said coffee, we’ll just see if I deem this project to be hassle-free.  It is also allegedly odor-free so long as you tend to the bin and make sure the worms are thriving.  With the desire to create free compost for my garden this summer (more on that soon – that’s right March, shit is about to get serious), but with the knowledge that my neighbors would probably not appreciate a stinking heap of food waste in the middle of my front yard, I opted to vermicompost.

Here’s how I got started:

First I readied my bin.  I went to the store and purchased two large opaque  storage tubs, and two clear shallower tubs with the same diameter.   Then I hauled them home, and used my electric drill to poke holes in the bottoms, sides and lids (about every couple of inches or so) of the large opaque tubs for ventilation and to allow moisture to seep out of the bottoms (“moisture to seep out of the bottoms” is perhaps the worst series of words ever and I really hope it’s the grossest thing I encounter in this composting adventure).  It’s important for the tubs to be opaque so as to keep the light out.  Worms don’t like light.  I put one set of tubs (one large and one small) aside for future use.  You know, for once the worms had made more worms and needed to expand their garbage eating enterprises.  Hubris, I tell you.  I set the other pair up in the corner of my basement – putting the shallow clear one on the ground with a couple of  empty, upended tomato cans in the center, and the larger bin stacked on top.  I shredded all of the newspaper that was sitting (rotting) in the corner in our building’s entryway after a few weeks of collection, and placed it in the bin so as to fill it 3/4 full.

I ordered some worms via Amazon.  I could have gotten them here in Chicago from the urban worm girl, but it seemed like a little bit of a hassle to have to drive over there and pick them up.  For some reason, it seemed weird to me to spend an afternoon as a worm chauffeur.  So, I opted to have them delivered to my door.

Fresh worms! Delivered right to your door!

I was giddy with excitement when the worms arrived.  I don’t know why – I think that I was just really glad that the experiment could commence.  So with much fanfare and excitement, I installed the worms, some coffee grounds, a banana peel, some water, and a cup full of dirt from the front yard into the bin.  I had read that the worms would need a drink after their journey, and so the bedding (shredded newspaper) should be dampened with water.  I had also read that a little dirt in the bin would help aid in their digestion.  Since that is their whole function in my world (their digestion), I went for it.  I then covered the wet wormy stew with a substantial layer of dry shredded newspaper (as I had read that this would keep the fruit flies at bay).  I put the lid on and wished them well, heading back upstairs to make dinner.

supplies - a jar of dirt, watering can, and a few scraps

enjoy your new home, fellas!

I went down to check on the worms later that evening and HOLY SHIT they were everywhere!  Okay, well, that’s not entirely true.  There were a few escapees on the floor by the bin, and a few others in the shallow tupperware underneath the big bin, but the majority of the worms were still in their bin.  They were crawling up the sides, on the lid, everywhere!  I guess I just did not anticipate this phenomenon, but luckily my pal who has been vermicomposting for a while was with me (for a worm consult and viewing of America’s Next Top Model – yes, I really do have the coolest friends) and she shared that the worms are, get this, curious!  When they enter a new environment, they like to check it out before settling in and eating garbage.  Huh.  She just grabbed the worms WITH HER BARE HANDS and tossed them back in the bin.  HER BARE HANDS!  I had a fleeting thought as my heart was racing that maybe I wasn’t cut out for this.  I imagine that you are now having similar thoughts.

It became clear to me during that episode that I’m terrified of worms.  A grown woman.  Afraid of worms.  I felt such shame.  I was laying in bed  later that night thinking about the worms and I couldn’t fall asleep.  Their presence was creeping me out.  A floor beneath me in the basement, they were undoubtedly plotting terrible things, I just knew it.  I went back downstairs to investigate and decided to shine a light on the top of their bin to try to encourage them to stay in the bottom with the bedding and scraps.  Having installed this weapon/ mutiny-deterrent system, I felt much better.

The next morning, I took Ida down to visit the worms.  I needed to check on them and feed them our scraps from last night’s dinner, but there was no way I was going alone.  Reinforcements.  I remembered reading somewhere that people used to have kids to help them with farm labor and household chores.  This made perfect sense to me now and I thought about having another one real quick just in case…  But behold, a magical transformation took place.  Ida, upon seeing the worms wiggling around in the bin squealed with delight.  She exclaimed “pup!  pup!” (her word for any non-human creature).  She reached in to touch them.  She smiled.  She loved the worms!  All of a sudden, I reached in too.  I wanted to show her how we could put scraps in the bin for the worms, and how we would cover them up with the dry newspaper when we were done.  In short, I wanted to share in her joy.  I know.  I just got a little misty too.

So now, a few days in to vermicomposting, I’m feeling pretty good about the worms.  I can touch them and everything.  Now let’s hope I don’t kill them.  Seeing as visiting the worms has become a thrice daily event (at the urgent insistence of a certain tiny someone), I have a feeling that a mass-worm-death would be a considerable blow.  I really need to apply myself to not exterminating these worms.  The stakes are pretty high.

Also?  I might go camping this summer.  Shit, as they say, is getting crazy over here.

Domestic Badassery, Vol. 1

21 Feb

I’ve had many bath-toy-holding apparatuses in my cart at various super-stores and have always re-homed them in some unfortunate department at the last minute.  I know, this was a jerky move.  I too worked retail and know just how inconsiderate this maneuver is.  For some reason, I just couldn’t pull the trigger on spending between 3 and 15 unnecessary dollars on more baby crap.  Everybody has a limit, and apparently mine is mesh and/or whale shaped.  But the problem remained, Ida had some bath toys that needed some kind of storage (other than our super-classy solution of just leaving them like permanent debris in the bathtub).

In a moment of inspiration while juicing a bunch of lemons for some cocktails I was serving at a party recently, I stashed a bunch of the mesh bags the lemons were packaged in (you’re killing me with all this packaging Trader Joes – they already come in skins for christsakes) in a drawer.  A few weeks of procrastination and 5 minutes with some scissors and my sewing machine later, and voila!  A storage solution that doesn’t invoke the Clampetts.  I’d say it’s “green”, but that makes me throw up in my mouth (as does localsustainableorganic – all one word).

The supplies - a few lemon bags, some scissors, and a couple of suction cups. The dental floss and bobby pin were an initial plan that clearly never had a chance. I cut the bags along one of the long seams, fitted one inside another and sewed the side seams.

After sewing the side seams with my trusty machine, I did a fancy little move where I nipped the bottom corners under and did two additional short lines with the machine to create a little depth. Lastly, I ran a line around the rim of the bags to stick them both together at the top (after briefly considering utilizing the "compartments" that the two bags inside one another naturally made. I mean, the kid only has like 8 bath toys, so that seemed silly. Mom, if you're reading this - SHE DOES NOT NEED MORE THAN THESE 8.). I hung my creation on two suction hooks and BAM! Guilt-free, crafty, and green (excuse me) bath toy holder.

The that for the sake of which - She who has the bath toys. (Also, Put! A! Bird! On! It! Putabirdonit!)

And now, I shall retire for the evening.  Have a great week, my friends.