gray area

Courtesy of friends JE & AC, who moved out of town over the weekend, we now have a new-to-us ginormous TV in our place. The two best things about this TV, other than the mammoth screen:

1. The Fella will no longer need to complain about “the blacks,” i.e., the fuzzy, indistinct gray-to-black range that hampered dark scenes showing on our previous flatscreen TV;

2. I will stop cringing for a split second every so often because my partner has muttered the unexpected phrase “Wow, the blacks are terrible.”

ginger beer: sweet and spicy!

Following up on my summer goals, I recently made another batch of home-brewed ginger beer. Sweet, spicy, with a wicked kick, ginger beer makes a refreshing drink on its own or mixed half-and-half with lemonade. For an evening highball, try a Dark & Stormy: ginger beer with a splash of black rum and a squeeze of lime. Mmm, you can feel that summer breeze drifting your way, can’t you?

This is an ersatz ginger beer; real ginger beer requires a ginger beer plant, a symbiotic colony of yeasts that carbonate the drink through fermentation. I decided not to buy or culture my own ginger beer plant. Instead, I followed Dr. Fankhauser’s instructions for fermented yeast carbonation, which gives a nice fizzy lift to a syrup-and-water base.

For my long-ago first batch of homemade ginger ale, I followed Dr. Fankhauser’s directions carefully. The resulting drink was tasty and fizzy and exactly what he promised, but not spicy and dark as ginger beer should be. For my recent batch, I brazenly modified the ingredients and the prep technique to produce a richer spicier drink, but the brewing directions remain the same.

A few improvements I made: cooking the ginger and spices with the sugar extracts more flavor and also eliminates the need to dissolve the sugar after it goes into the bottle. Adding the lemon zest, cinnamon, and clove results in a more complex flavor profile, and the peppers and peppercorns add bite and snap. Straining the syrup makes a cleaner, less cloudy ginger beer that’s far more pleasant on the tongue — no shreds or ginger to tickle your throat! I also added a bottle-sterilizing step for extra safety. Continue reading

For sale

This is the second weekend selling our wares for the people of Perth, and the people, they just aren’t showing. Granted, we haven’t advertised it well so it’s our own damned fault. Let me back up a bit by telling you that we’re taking to the road again, which is no big surprise, hey? If you know JM and me, you’re aware that we’re never in one place for long. We’ve been married for 11 years and the longest we stayed put in one place was a brief experiment in homeownership in Baden, Switzerland. We’ve been in Australia for over three years which is 21+ dog years of accumulating stuff. Please, please come buy it so we can take off again.

abhor

This will tell you all you need to know about our housekeeping:

I heard a ghastly rumbling whoosh from the upstairs apartment and cast my eyes upward, wondering what the hell was going on up there. The Great Dane scrabbling on the floor? Radiator pipes clattering and flushing? Some new Wii game?

Oh. They’re vacuuming.

the end of any messy tale

We buy a roll of paper towels every few months, whichever roll is cheapest and, though I know it pains the manufacturers and designers, with no attention to the prints — oh, I’m sorry: the “eclectic little ‘story-based’ vignettes that spell the end of any messy tale.”

But while wiping up spilled butter, I just noticed the motto adorning the paper towel in my hand: “You can bury a lot of troubles digging in the dirt.”

I cannot be the only person who immediately reads this as advice on disposing of the body.

gratitude

With practice, it’s possible to find moments of joy and grace in almost any chore, no matter how mundane or tiresome. For example: I hate doing the dishes. I hate it so much that dirty dishes have been the trigger for most of our (rare) household fights.

The height of the counter and the depth of the sink seem almost to conspire, like malevolent creatures, to tweak my lower back and my strained shoulder. The dishes are fragile and haphazardly stacked, sometimes with tiny crusty bits, sometimes a bit slippery. Once in a great while, my tender fingers find at the bottom of the pile the shattered (and sharp) remains of a dish I loved. The metal dish drainer marks the dishes; the wooden dish drainer rots. The water chaps my hands.

And there it is: I hate doing the dishes. This idea,  firmly entrenched in my head, repeats and repeats and wears itself a track in my brain, until it seems absolutely true.

But it isn’t. It’s only a thought. I’m training myself to see other thoughts, to find reasons to enjoy the small necessities of daily life. Here’s why I love doing the dishes.

- The high citrus scent of the natural dish soap makes me smile. With the orange scent sold out, we had to buy apple scent this time. Turns out apple makes me smile, too.

- The soft floursack curtain hanging on a rod over the kitchen sink. The odd positioning of our windowframe made it impossible to use a traditional curtainrod in our kitchen, so I thought and thought and then rigged up a simple solution for a few dollars. The best part: because it’s a floursack towel, when it gets dusty or spattered or tired-looking, I can whip it down and hang a replacement from the stack of towels. It makes me feel like a genius, in a teeny tiny way.

- Bubbles. I love the tiny stray bubbles that occasionally break away from the spout of the detergent bottle, floating in the still air of the kitchen or catching the breeze from the open window.

- Filling the rack and emptying the sink. How many tasks offer that simple visual metric of accomplishment? For the same reason, I enjoy laundry: if you’re doing it even half-right, you’re quickly rewarded with obvious progress.

- The old set of silver flatware, no doubt the wedding silver of a distant great-aunt, passed diffidently on to me by my mother. I love using these pieces, I love the feel of them in my hand. I love to polish them (using the baking-soda/boiling-water method), but I also love to use them even when they’re coated with tarnish. I love to scrub and soap and rinse them, I love to slot them into their little drawer. I love them.

- Breaks. When the dishes are stacked and towering and too numerous to face at once, I wash a batch, then take a break to let them drain. It’s a chance to sit peacefully with a coffee, a book, the laptop, or the phone, but still retain the virtuous illusion of doing the chores.

- A meandering mind. I do a lot of my clearest thinking during a mindless, mechanical chore. A great many of my big a-Ha! moments come while I’m doing dishes. I exploit this for academic writing by scheduling writing breaks during which I can wash a half-sink of dishes; I load up my brain with the subject matter, examine it carefully every which way, then take a break and do some dishes. As my hands scrub and rinse and my mouth hums a song, my brain ticks away in the background the whole time, poking at the dark corners of a thesis and looking for a new path.

I love doing the dishes. I should try to remember that.

dollhouse

Do you ever have that dream where you find a new room in your home? If you have, you know the one I’m talking about: you’re trundling along doing your daily household chores and then — buWHA? — you walk past a door that was never there before. You open it and find a new room, open and fresh and uncluttered. It’s empty, but full of possibilities.

Sigh. I love that dream.

The Fella and I have been kicking around a new floorplan for our dollhouse-sized apartment. And by that, I mean I’ve been graphing out rooms and layouts, and he’s been nodding at them and cheerfully saying, “Sounds great!” and “Whatever you want!” and “I’ll move everything!”

This isn’t as gendered as it sounds, with the suggestion of the fussy little woman who wants to pretty up the house and the gentle lug who silently moves every stick of furniture just a skosch to the left. Indeed, our situation flips some gendered expectations on their heads. I can easily maneuver imaginary items in imagined three-dimensional space and translate graph layouts into actual rooms of furniture, and he cannot, which makes design discussions impractical for us. He’d much rather jump in and move stuff around.

(Of the two of us, I’m also the one with the toolbox, who knows where the hammer is, who got all excited about the cordless drill, who has a nodding acquaintance with the folks at the hardware store, who takes stuff apart to see how it works. When a recent guest remarked that he’d finally got the hang of our awkward bathroom door, The Fella proudly piped up “No! It works now! Elsa fixed that!”)

Still, this new plan does require us to move just about every item of furniture in the place, and by “us,” I mean “him”; even if my back allowed me to drag furniture around, my husband will not. If the new layout doesn’t work, we’ll he’ll have to move every item of furniture back, too.

But for the past day or two, whenever I examine the graphed-out floorplan or look around the rooms and imagine them re-arranged, I get that odd floaty sensation, as if I’m dreaming. As if I’m dreaming the dream of the extra room.