Sunday, June 18, 2017

June Garden Update

     After my initial worries about the failing spring garden, some of my plants soldiered on. In the past month, I've eaten garlic scapes, lettuce, peas, and a bit of broccoli. I've also been able to pick several cups of raspberries. Each time I step out in my front yard and eat fruit that I grew, I am still a bit amazed.
     Everything that was scheduled to be planted has been planted, although there is a small bare patch I had reserved for sweet potatoes that will need to be filled with something else. I couldn't get my seed potatoes to sprout, and I couldn't find any seedlings to buy. Nonetheless, I sit out every morning and survey my beds of tomatoes and squash with a satisfied, proprietary air and dream of meals to come.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

On a quest for Brötchen

   Lately I've been craving a proper German breakfast, the kind where you have bread and rolls, slices of cheese (and meat for the omnivores), jam, soft-boiled eggs, and maybe some yogurt. I've found a source for some of the appropriate cheeses, Boursin and Butterkäse, and I'm perfecting my soft-boiled egg. But the rolls have proved quite difficult.
     I've never really understood why French baked goods are so popular in the US, but German breads are completely absent from the country. With some hunting, I can find excellent French bakeries in DC, and Latin American bakeries are everywhere around here. But the chewy rye and wheat breads I love from Germany are rare. I know I've mentioned in the past that I drive to Virginia every few months to stock up on pounds and pounds of dark bread. Unfortunately, that bakery doesn't make rolls (aka Brötchen) so I need to figure those out on my own.
     Today was my fourth attempt. One of the difficulties is that no one in Germany would every make Brötchen, because they're available everywhere, so there's not much information publicly available. Then, the varieties vary by region, and I have a particular, whole grain type in mind. I don't know if I should be using just whole wheat, or some white flour, or maybe rye. Are eggs or yogurt/quark used? An egg glaze? What about the fact that American flours have more protein than European ones? I am definitely baking blindly.
     In the end,  I think this will be a rather expensive endeavor, because the only way I can see to truly verify the authenticity of my final result is to fly back to Germany and eat a lot of bread. That's worth it, right?

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Choosing people

May was a month of interviews for me. I was in charge of hiring two summer interns for our department, and I needed to find a new roommate. Along the way, I realized that finding a roommate, interviewing a possible hire, or even going on a first date are pretty much the same. The main question you seek to answer is "Are you a crazy person?" After you've figured that out, you want to know "Are you a good match for this situation?" and "Are you interested?".
     I have a good track record with roommate selection so far. Since I prefer short-term roommates, I'm already on the fourth since I bought the house. I have a finely crafted ad, a set of questions that I ask during the meeting, and a set of expectations that I share with them. Then there's the application and credit check, which are just enough hassle that the not-seriously-interested don't continue. I seem to do a good job of conveying what living with me is like, and finding people who will like my house and me (i.e. they will not mind I don't talk to them a great deal), because everyone involved has seemed pretty happy.
     Tomorrow the interns start and my newest roommate moves in, and I can find out if my selection processes were successful again.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

IT struggles

     I'm in the market for a new computer, because my current specimen has a large crack in the casing. It's just a matter of time before the entire thing shuts down and never boots again. The only problem is that I don't like computer shopping and I don't particularly care what kind of computer I have, as long is it doesn't cost much money and plays DVDs. This later requirement apparently makes me some kind of Luddite, but the library still loans out most of its movies on DVD, and do appreciate free entertainment.
      My brother the IT whiz is willing to advise and vet my semifinal choices, but not to do the shopping for me. He asks me useful questions like whether I travel with it and how I use my home computer. But I think my answers are probably not useful - it never leaves my house, I don't care how heavy it is or how bad the battery, and because of Google services the only software I use is a browser and a generic video player. I am fairly close to using the shopping strategy of searching on Amazon for the right price range and letting a random number generator to choose my purchase.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Tidy, perhaps fastidious

     I'm transitioning between roommates - for four days, there will be/has been no one in the house besides me. I've been observing myself to see how I behave differently when I know I'm all alone. Mainly, I see that I'm noisier. There's no need to creep down my stairs if I think the roommate might still be sleeping (I live in a house with creaky floorboards) and I can listen to music without headphones and sing along.
     One thing that didn't change is keeping the place tidy. It will probably not come as a surprise that I am a tidy person, but this has intensified in recent years. Dirty dishes always live in the dishwasher, or are washed immediately (usually before I eat). The book bag has a home on a specific shelf in the closet, and keys live in the decorative bowl by the door. When I have a roommate, I am vigilant about being tidy to set a good example. But it turns out when I'm alone, it's now a habit I don't want to change, because I enjoy have a clean, organized, visually peaceful place to live in.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Good, the Great, and the Ugly

The Good: I went camping with friends. The weather was absolutely perfect. Sure, we had 9 hours of rain, but Mother Nature conveniently waited until we had set up our tents and readied ourselves for an early bedtime, then turned on the rain throughout the night. No tents leaked, and by morning it was cool and sunny. I camped with good friends, had heartfelt conversations over the campfire, and did an educational tree hike with interested kids and an enthusiastic dog.

The Great: the trailer works. (See the lights in the picture below? Those lights are the result of five PhD physicists and about twenty man-hours of effort.) A year ago, encouraged by my avid trailer-loving father, I convinced two other families that we should buy a trailer together. We could share the use and the cost. I hadn't counted on the fact that the trailer kit would take days to build, the trailer wiring system would fritz many times over, and the licensing would cost more than the trailer. Quite frankly, I'm lucky some of my friends are still speaking to me. (It's all good now, right, E&K?... Right?)  After eleven months of frustrating, intermittent effort, we have a working trailer, which hauled a bunch of gear to the site.
And there as much rejoicing.

The Ugly: The ticks were awful. We camp on the east coast of the U.S., so regular tick checks, and removing the occasional bloodsucker, are (unfortunately) par for the course. But I must have wandered into a tick playground, and the number of creatures that had to be removed from me was in the double digits. This is (a) disgusting, (b) worrisome, because a small proportion carry diseases, and (c) a total pain because I appear to be fairly allergic and had to dope myself up on Benadryl all week. While I use bug spray religiously, I'll be adding a second chemical to the mix during the next camping trip. In the meantime, I've been extra appreciative of the relatively bug-free city life this week.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Project updates

I just realized that I have finished up a bunch of projects that aren't on the blog. Since it doesn't count if it's not in a picture, I present:

The guest room. This picture doesn't show the two features I am most proud of: a folding luggage stand and a framed list of helpful information. My father loved the luggage stand so much he asked for a second, because my mother didn't have a place to keep her suitcase. (To be clear - I didn't make the stand; I'm just pleased that I thought to buy one.) And the list of helpful information was an idea of a friend's father, with the Internet password, the location of spare towels, and instructions on how to adjust the thermostat. 
My new dressing gown. Technically, this isn't my project at all. I chose a vintage 1940's pattern, my parents bought me the flannel for my birthday, and my mother made it. I love the style - fitted at the waist but with puffy sleeves. I helped only with the yards of hand hemming at the end. I was grateful that my mother put in all 10 buttons - you have to use a razor blade to cut open button holes, and I'm always worried I'll mess it up and slice into my brand-new garment.

 I even had enough left fabric left over to make pajama pants. They're super comfy but not particularly photogenic, so you'll have to take my word for it.

I put the finishing touches on my second Adirondack chair, pictured on the right here. As you may recall, we assembled and painted this in my basement. Yesterday, when I tried to carry it outside, I discovered that the chair is a 1/2" wider than my basement door. My lack of planning provoked both laughter and dismay. Luckily, my friend N stopped by today and together we figured out how to twist it out of the house.