Tuesday, February 2, 2016

February?!

It feels like 2016 just GOT here! The biggest news in these parts is home improvement!

I got air conditioning installed in my house yesterday. It felt scary deciding to do this - it's a fair chunk of change, and people are doing Things to my house that I don't totally understand, and Something Could Go Wrong - but I contacted four companies, met with the two who got back to me, and chose the bid I liked best.. and here we are. AC-having.

The good news is (and it's worth stating) - I have the money to pay for it. I HAD been saving for a deck but decided this would do more for my summer comfort, and is probably better for resale too. It's weird - traditionally Portland wasn't a place that needed AC but .. climate change is real, and we've had way too many 90+ and 100+ degree days these last few summers. The other good news is that I got 2 new credit cards to charge the project to, so I'll pay for the project AND get two 50,000-mile chunks added to my flight plans.


Other home improvement projects: finally finishing a paint job on a wall in my office (though my friend is advocating I paint a second wall too... will it never end?!?) (and yes.. there is more progress than in the above shot); swapping out some light switches and outlets (under my boyfriend's experienced guidance, but he did a great job telling me what I was doing and letting me do it all myself); next up: light fixtures.

Do you KNOW how many light fixture options there are in the world??? ....

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Reflections on 2015

My goodness, 2015 went SO quickly! I am surprised I did as many as 18 blog posts this year! Let's see, what can I recall off the top of my head?

Health:

  • I stayed healthy! Not something to take lightly! (I did get my first cold in 2 years at the end of the year, and it sucked, but big-picture - I'm pleased)
  • I kept running. I ran about 220 miles this year, I don't know the exact amount but I was slightly below my goal of doing 250. I participated in some organized runs! I did a 5k in March, another one in August, and a 10k in October. I didn't run the whole 10k but I averaged 12-minute miles which is my regular pace, so I was faster than usual when I was running, and did run the vast majority overall. 
  • I also hiked a lot! I did more than 100 miles of hiking while training to do Mount Saint Helens with friends - and we did it, and it was epic. 
  • I biked some but not a lot. I walked a lot. 
Home:
  • I'm about to hit 3 years of home ownership. It's still so great. I joined the board of my neighborhood association, I joined a gardening group (where we meet to talk about our gardens and share information and tour some people's yards) and got to meet a handful of neighbors, and just last month a new neighborhood knit night started up, and I've gone to three of those. 
Job:
  • I started a new job in April. It's kicked my butt but it was a good change to make. I still work remotely and would like to have in-person coworkers, but the flexibility is pretty terrific. 
Money
  • I got a raise with my job, and continued to save one mortgage payment per quarter in a stock fund. My mortgage rate is super low (3.5%) so prepaying the mortgage doesn't seem like the absolute best return on investment - my theory is that putting the money in the stock market will be worth more after a few years, and barring any catastrophes, will let me pay off my house many years sooner than the bank plans for me to. This year hasn't been all that great for the stock market though, so we'll see how it goes. 
  • I'm still saving aggressively for retirement: 18% before taxes and 5% after. 
  • Giving back: needs improvement. I did find a cause near and dear to my heart that I was able to contribute to this year (a small family that is so great and can use support), but I can do more. 
Travel:
  • It was a big busy year! I spent a week in Puerto Rico on the island of Culebra. I spent a week in Paris. I spent two weeks in Canada - one week in Toronto & one a couple hours north at a cottage with friends. I also went to San Francisco at least four times - for work and for play. And I went to Ashland twice, and to RI for Christmas, and to Walla Walla for a long weekend for a friend's big birthday, and to Hood River for a weekend with my book group, and to Hartstine Island with friends, and I even got to spend an unexpected 2 days in Boston with my former roommate when I couldn't get home as planned after Christmas.
Life:
  • I have a boyfriend now, for the first time in a super long time, and that's been a nice adjustment - but an adjustment nonetheless! 
  • I have a niece now, who is the absolute cutest and best and squishiest two-month-old you ever did see. I got to meet her over Christmas and it made any travel hassles (which were rather epic, actually) so worthwhile and forgettable. 
  • I got crazy and joined a THIRD book group - we'll see if I can sustain that pace! 
Goals
  • Like last year, I slacked off on running in December (even more this year than last) but I see that I was back to running 3x/week in January - that's something to live up to! 
  • I want to focus on connecting better with the people already in my life. I have to figure out how and where to wedge that in, but I think social dinners will be a good starting point - I've already promised to set something up with a long-time friend and his girlfriend, so I'll start small and will see what I can accomplish. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Niecey goodness

I have a niece! She's a month old now and I can't wait to meet her at Christmas. She's super expressive in all the photos I've seen, and looks like she's got a lot of opinions - definitely one of us!

So I've been getting my craft on a bit for her. In addition to the blanket and burp cloths I made, I've also been in Hat Mode. I made a very cute small hat:
But, alas, it was TOO small (though the picture of it wedged on her head is classic and makes me laugh). Fortunately I'd made a second, larger hat, which is a bit too big but will at least go on her head. But now I'm making a bigger version of the above hat, and perhaps a little sweater to go with it. It's December 1st! I gotta get on it!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Onion jam update!

A couple of people have asked how the onion jam turned out, and how the swap was.

The jam was SO SO GOOD. I highly recommend making a batch. Make sure you really cook the onions for a long time - you want them soft and brown and sweet. There's no need to process the jam - I'd say after adding all of the post-caramelizing ingredients, stir a lot for maybe 20 minutes, fish out the rosemary if it's still intact, and put the jam in a container in the fridge. It will probably keep fine for about three weeks and would be amazing on turkey sandwiches, or dolloped on pork chops.

The swap was a fun success! There were 10 people there, and I brought 7 jars to swap. Everyone had an open container of their goodies so people could sample, and then the selection process began. We were each assigned a number from one to ten and took turns choosing what we wanted to take home; the selection process went from 1-10 and then backwards from 10-1, and was repeated until we were all done. The first two choosers chose my jam!

There's an honor system in place - since I brought 7 items, I got to choose a total of 7 things, but no one was tracking me. I took home a great haul: beer, limoncello, that quince paste called membrillo that you get on cheese plates sometimes, German mustard pickles, tomato jam, and TWO jars of a BBQ sauce I really really liked.

I liked that some people thought outside the box in terms of offering size - the beer was actually 3 bottles of a homemade IPA; one couple brought small containers of three different things and if a person chose their items, they could have two items count as one selection

All in all it was really fun and well-organized. It was over in an hour, and I'm looking forward to the next one in about six months... and I'm already pondering what I might make!

Crafty goodness

I know, I've been on a bloggy tear. Don't worry, it won't last!

My brother & sister-in-law are expecting a daughter very soon - the family betting pool spans October 30-November 10. I knit her a couple of hats, but they live in a warm place so it's hard to know how much use she'll get out of anything else. I will probably do a sweater at some point, but I'm not in a huge rush.

I DID want to get her some crafty goodness, though, so I asked some super-crafty friends for very (VERY!!!) easy sewing projects I could do. I was counseled to do a very simple blanket, and some burp cloths.


Blanket directions:
1. Cut two squares of fabric of the same size
2. Line them up face to face
3. Sew them together, leaving a four-inch gap in the stitching
4. Turn the bundle inside-out through that gap
5. Hand-sew that hole closed
6. Do another round of stitches around the whole thing
7. Do some stitching in random spots in the center area of the blanket so the two sides stay attached to each other.


This took me a LOT longer than it should have, but I got it done and am pleased with the results. The cloudy side is flannel and the pink side is cotton; I thought I pretty cleverly made the stitching-down bits look like rain.


Burp cloth directions:
1. Cut a skinny strip of fabric the approximate length & width of the center of a cloth diaper
2. Hem the strip all around
3. Sew it to the center of the diaper

This was faster, and not really as satisfying. Maybe I need EVEN CUTER fabric if I do this again. (See that? I'm already forgetting the teeth-gnashing involved in this project...)

I mailed the crafty goodness off to the expecting couple and they were quite pleased. These were their first burp cloths, so they promptly draped them all over their shoulders as a test run. We were on a Skype video chat and it was quite fun to watch!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Onion math

I'm going to a food swap next weekend - organized by some foodie people (women, I assume, but I don't know for sure!) and so of course I wanted to make something delicious, not too hard, not too common, not too expensive... which wasn't an easy task!

In the end I decided to make Caramelized Onion Jam using a recipe I found online. Then I doubled it - and it's a good thing! Onions get very very small when you cook them!

Take 12 onions, chop them and saute until they soften then put over low heat, stirring regularly, for a few hours. I think mine took about 3 hours to fully caramelize.

12 onions - in two pots!


12 onions, 3 hours later, consolidated in one large skillet


Add brandy, vinegar, honey, sugar, salt, pepper, and rosemary.


In the end you'll get six 8-ounce jars. That's two onions per jar! 

The way the swap will work, we'll let everyone sample what we bring, then we draw numbers and take turns picking what we want to bring home. If you bring six items, you'll go home with six, in theory. 

I made another smaller batch of the jam, so I have a total of nine jars. One will be for sampling, one I may hold back, and that means I'll bring 7 to the swap.. I think. We'll see!

Want to know how the jam came out? Check out this later post

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Pomegranate goodness!

I know, I've been HORRIBLY lax! It's been a super busy year - I got a new job that requires a lot more focus and brainpower than my last one did: I traveled less and worked more and cooked less and all in all - not a lot of blog-fodder.

But, I was going to a ladies' dessert & drinks night this past weekend, and I was trying to think of something seasonal, and appealing, and easy, and not too dish-intensive. (what has become of me? so sad!)

Out of nowhere I recalled that I'd seen pomegranates at the grocery store, and I wondered if anyone had put them in brownies before? I turned to the internet and indeed they had.


Very easy recipe:
A. melt together: 170g dark chocolate, 70% and 1/2 cup butter
B. while that cools, whisk together: 3 eggs, 1 cup white sugar, 1 tsp. vanilla, 1/2 tsp. salt
C. stir A into B, then stir in 1/2 cup all purpose flour
D. Finally, stir in MOST of the seeds from 1 pomegranate - reserve about 1/4 c  (see note below about seeding a pomegranate). Then you sprinkle the rest of the seeds on top and push them in a little. I should have been more careful about where I sprinkled mine, but oh well!

Put the batter into a prepared pan (sprayed or parchment paper-lined or greased/floured) and bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes. Mine came out more fudgey than cakey and I possibly should have baked them a bit longer, but oh well. I'd done a 9-inch square pan and thought since they were skinny they might be getting dry inside... nope!

I had a bunch of the brownies left over, unfortunately - mine were among three other brownie-type dishes brought to the event. Next time I will be more creative!

Note: While I was at that internet searching business, I watched a video about how to seed pomegranates. I find it really annoying that so many blogs are turning to video content (I just want to read!!!) but I did watch a video for this technique, and then I tried it. It works! You cut the pom in half, pull the edges apart to loosen up the pith a bit, turn the half upside down over a bowl, and smack it repeatedly with a large wooden spoon. This seems to shake the seeds loose from the pith without making a giant splattery mess.