Monday, February 28, 2011

February recipe challenge: baking bread

I love to cook, but I'm no baker. I don't have the patience for it, or the attention to detail (as in strictly following the recipe and not experimenting). So, I decided that baking bread, something I had never done before, would be a perfect challenge. I used Julia Child's recipe for French bread in the second volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

My final assessment is this: how can only four ingredients lead to such frustration?

only four ingredients
The dough was supposed to rise the first time in about three hours. But after five hours with less-than-stellar results, I knew our house just wasn't warm enough to let it rise on the counter. So, I warmed the oven for a few minutes, turned it off, and let the bread rise in the warmed oven, which worked better, but it still didn't rise as much as it should have. In the picture below, the dough should have been about double the size that it was.

after the first rise
I gave up, kneaded the dough, and put it back into the warmed oven for a second rise.

ready to rise again
The second rise went better, and by the third rise, I felt like I was finally getting the hang of it. My three French loaves turned out a little smaller and denser than they should have been, but they still tasted good.

not pretty, but still tasty
I applaud people who bake bread on a regular basis. I am fairly confident in saying that I will never do this again.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

when and how to will

Gentle Reader, do you have a will? Not to be morbid or anything, but Brad and I have talked about getting wills since we married, nearly nine years ago, but we still haven't done it yet. The urgency just wasn't there in the early years of our marriage when we had no financial or material assets other than our wedding gifts and were solely focused on paying off debt. But now obtaining wills feels more pressing and I've decided that we must mark this task off our list in 2011. (Is it too late to revise my 2011 goals?)

So, where do we start? Those online programs and advertisements for "free wills" make me nervous. I'd rather just pay the $1,000 (or more?) to hire a lawyer and do it right the first time. But, I've never hired a lawyer in my life. I don't even know how to hire a lawyer or where to find the right type of lawyer to make a will. Suggestions? Does anyone know a good lawyer in the DC area who can help us with this task?

I appreciate all suggestions and advice, and I'll post again on this topic after we make some progress, just in case anyone else is in the same boat.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

the vision-part II: check!

I accomplished the first part of my grand vision for the front yard last summer when I made the wasteland between the public sidewalk and the curb into a flower bed. Part two of my vision included ripping out the old, crumbly, cement front walk and replacing it with a new brick walk.

Here is the before picture: not pretty at all. 

See the footprint in the cement (see closeup below)? Classy, huh? This footprint has bothered me since the moment we moved into this house.

We hired a mason to rip up the concrete and install a brick walk as well as a brick border around the front yard (to keep the mulch from spilling out). I love how it turned out! Take a look.

It's exactly what I had envisioned. Once spring arrives, I'll move my tiny evergreens to the back and replace them with urns overflowing with flowers.

And here's the border around all three sides of the yard. I hope it will help keep the mulch and dirt looking tidier.

The yard is bare today, but now that the walk and border are done, I will turn into a planting and mulching queen come April. I'm already brainstorming part III of my vision: beautifying the front yard and giving it a more permanent look.

I wish I had a grand vision like this for the inside of my house; even for a minimalist like me, too many bare spots and blank walls remain.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

here we go!

It's begun.

We bought two copies so we wouldn't have to fight over sharing one book. We chose the Penguin Classics unabridged version.

This way, we can both lie in bed side-by-side, holding up our tomes. How romantic!

1,312 (x2) pages of goodness. Let the fun begin!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

love continues

Remember last fall when I mentioned the lovebirds in my class? Well, they both work for me this semester. I'm a softy and hired both of them; I couldn't help but consider them a package. Thankfully for all of us, they still appear to be in love. They arrive at and leave from staff meetings and class together. They sit next to each other at staff meetings. But, I haven't spotted any handholding yet unless they're doing it under the table!

My sophomores must be a loving bunch because I spotted another student in love just recently. On Monday night, Brad and I went to Bistro Italiano, one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants and our Valentine's Day tradition. Imagine my shock when I saw one of my sophomores cozied up at a tiny two-top with a cute girl (who I did not recognize). My student and I looked at each other in shock, said hello, and then promptly avoided each other. But, Bistro Italiano is a tiny restaurant (only about 10-12 little tables) and Brad and I ended up sitting very close to my student and his girlfriend. I was dying to accost him and find out what on earth he was doing at a restaurant that I assumed only Hill residents knew about, but I exercised utmost restraint and left him alone. Hoping he would stop by to chat on his way out, I watched for him to leave. But, after he paid the bill (and yes, I was so proud so observe that he paid), he stood up and practically ran out of the restaurant past me. I guess he felt a little awkward, too.

On Tuesday morning, I emailed him as soon as I got to the office to ask how he ended up at Bistro Italiano. He said he wanted to take a girlfriend to a restaurant in DC and she likes Italian food, so he researched Italian restaurants in DC that were reasonably priced and chose Bistro Italiano. I already thought highly of this kid, but my opinion of him skyrocketed when I found out that he had put time and thought into making the date special for his girlfriend. He planned in advance. He did research. He paid the bill. He just needs to upgrade his outfit of a ratty t-shirt and tennis shoes and he should be set!

I delight in seeing my book-smart students in these situations. They're socially awkward sometimes, but just like the rest of us, they need love, too.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

meeting my birthday twin

Personalized dessert
Did I not say on Friday how I rarely met anyone who shared my birthday? And sure enough, I met my birthday twin at Marcel's that night.

She was the only female food server on a crew of 12 that evening. She wasn't Brad's and my attendant, but our server realized the coincidence when he picked up my personalized dessert from the chef and she saw it and remarked to him, "Is that for me?"

Yes, she not only shares my birthday, but her first name is also Rebecca and we were born the same year! Can you believe it?

Brad and I enjoyed dining at Marcel's. The lighting and atmosphere perfectly suited my taste (whew!), which is always my biggest hurdle with dining out. The room was dark, intimate, and cozy. Our table had a tiny candle. The service was stellar. I appreciated how diners could choose among a three-, four-, five-, or seven-course menu, making selections from any of the five "tiers" on the menu. The chef gave me a free, personalized dessert.

The only downside is that while the food was good and they had a wide selection, most items that Brad and I selected just weren't memorable. They were good, but not outstanding. For food alone, I would choose other restaurants before Marcel's. But, taking into account the entire package, I would definitely recommend this restaurant and I would go there again.

Friday, February 11, 2011

birthday twins

Have you ever noticed how some birthdays are more popular than others? I know at least four people who were born on April 14th. I know a similar number of people born on September 19th. This year, I was surprised to notice that two of my facebook friends shared Brad's birthday. I had never considered January 25th to be a popular birth date before.

I have met very few people in my life who share my birthday, which is today, February 11th. I've combed through my church's directory, looking for birthday twins. When I meet someone with a February birthday, I eagerly ask the day.

Of all the celebrities who share my special day, I have two favorites:

Jennifer Aniston, who I can see myself being friends with in real life, you know, if she weren't famous and all,

and Taylor Lautner, who is a perfect Jacob in the Twilight movies, but even his sweetness (and abs) could never sway my loyalty from Team Edward! I do love having Taylor as my birthday twin, even though he is nearly half my age.

Who are your birthday twins, celebrity or otherwise?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

two days of joy!

Newsflash: The National Book Festival is scheduled for TWO days this year, September 24-25, 2011!

I will love every moment. But one day of this bliss always wipes me out. Two days just might kill me.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

like candyland

Remember the people who live four doors down from Brad and me, the owners of this?

Well, we haven't spotted the pepto-pink mobile in well over a year. Perhaps it broke down at a rally or something. But, I think that what these people have done to their beautiful, historical, Capitol Hill row house is much worse.

Capitol Hill Restoration Society, I have a project for you.

Monday, February 7, 2011

all i need is love

I recently finished reading Jane Eyre, and I loved it. Thanks to all who encouraged me to read it! And I read it just in time to watch the newest version of the movie when it releases this spring. (Who wants to see it with me?)

Finishing this book got me thinking about my favorite books and why I adore them. Most of them possess a common thread: love. The romance doesn't have to take center stage, but it needs to be there. I need the longing, the chase, the conquest, and of course a happy ending. Smooches and terms of endearment aren't bad either!

I don't love all romances, though. Discussion about The Time Traveler's Wife nearly caused a divorce among my book club a couple years ago. People either loved or hated it. (Unfortunately, I was in the latter group.)

To me, it's all about the characters. If I don't love a character, I'll never like the book. Mr. Rochester, Mr. Darcy, Edward Cullen, and Rhett Butler have as little in common as their counterparts Jane, Lizzie, Bella, and Scarlett do, but I love them all. I identified with some aspect of each character. They became real in my mind, sometimes too real.

What's your common thread among the books you love?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

slow start

My first class last Thursday was canceled because of snow. How is it February already and I haven't met my students yet? I have 144 rough-around-the-edges freshmen just waiting to be sculpted and polished into something beautiful. I'm ready!

There are worse days to miss than the first day of class, though. What gets accomplished on the first day anyway? I'd rather get right to work, which we'll do tonight. And after class tonight, only six more classes until spring break.

Not that I'm counting.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

winter blahs

Every time I see this

and this,

I remind myself of this

and this

and this.

Occasionally, I even allow myself to dream a little, and to think of this.

Only two months until planting season begins! Who else is ready for spring?