When my phone wasn’t a phone

It’s probably my fault. I definitely jinxed myself.

Sunday morning, I was talking to a friend, and telling her that I have outsourced much of my memory to computers. What haircut should I ask for? It’s on my phone. What size dress shirt do I wear? It’s on my phone. That recipe for cake in a mug I make too often? Phone. The temperature and wattage of the light bulbs in my house so I can easily get replacements? You guessed it… all on my phone.

Now, it’s not actually on my phone. It’s actually in the cloud, using Evernote. Which is great, because it’s on my phone, all my computers, and even other people’s computers if I log in.

Where can I go from your signal? Where can I flee from your presence?

So Sunday afternoon, just hours after boasting about how much of a cyborg I am, I make a note about what light bulbs I need, jump in the car, and take off to the hardware store. Halfway there, my phone locks up, restarts, and won’t connect to the network. 

My phone is no longer a phone. It can’t make calls, it can’t send messages. And most importantly, I can’t access the internet anywhere-everywhere-no-matter-where-I-go. I can’t access my shopping list.

After a few minutes of trying to troubleshoot my phone in the parking lot I give up. So I walk into the store, and look at the shelves blankly. I pick something off the shelf, and think it sounds right. 4 feet long, tube light, LED replacement, great. But what color temperature is it? Is it soft white or cool white?

I have no idea. It’s in the cloud, which I can not reach. I walk out of the store with the wrong light bulb (I can not abide incorrect or mismatched color temperature in my house). And I think back to my earlier conversation.

I know 2 phone numbers- Emily’s and my parents’, since it hasn’t changed since 1987. I don’t need to know any other numbers- computers take care of it for me.

Except when they don’t.

Cold brewed chocolate is your new best friend

I was introduced to the idea with a blog post called “I have journeyed to the soul of chocolate and I bring you good tidings“. Well, I am now a convert, so forget hot chocolate. Your new love is cold chocolate.

That’s right. Cold brewed chocolate. It’s even hipper than cold brewed coffee.

The recipe is simple- take some cocoa nibs and grind them. Add some water.

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I used 2 oz of cocoa nibs in a quart of water. Put it in a mason jar, and put it the back of the fridge. A day later, you can use a strainer to remove the cocoa, and you’re left with something amazing.

My first batch was great, but I found I needed to add quite a bit of sugar to make it palatable. I just made a quick simple syrup and stirred it in. Emily suggested adding dates to naturally sweeten it, so I made a second batch using about 2 ounces of dates.

Wow. It worked very well. The dates added sweetness and body, and I didn’t need to add any extra sugar.

Cold brewed cocoa with cream. Pardon the floaties.

A quart doesn’t go far, but I’ve tried it a few ways that have been delicious. Adding a spot of cream to it makes it amazing. I also found adding even just a touch of it to hot coffee is spectacular- it adds a richness and depth of flavor that makes my morning coffee sooo good. Despite being warm, the cocoa adds a certain coolness that makes hot coffee drinkable even when it’s hot outside.

I’m out of cocoa nibs, but I have some ideas. I may try making it with cocoa powder, although I half expect that to be a disaster to strain. I’ve also heard it mixes well with whisky and even whisky and cream. We shall have to see…

Rhubarb pickles two ways

I love rhubarb. Growing up, my grandma had a great patch, meaning spring dinners were often accompanied by strawberry rhubarb jello. The sheer volume of sugar needed to make the tartness of the rhubarb palatable made this sweet tooth very happy.

But what about the savory side of rhubarb? I was introduced to rhubarb pickles via Emily’s side salad at Ommegang, and knew I would have to give it a try.

With a wealth of rhubarb, I chose 2 recipes to give it a try. First up is Pickled Rhubarb with Ginger. My love of rhubarb is only rivaled by my love of ginger, so this sounded amazing.

Basically, chop up the rhubarb in bite-sized pieces, and pour the quick-pickle brine over the rhubarb.

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I used red wine vinegar instead of white wine vinegar, since it’s what we had on hand. I think it adds to the color a bit.

These are exceptionally tart with a strong vinegar bite, and add a great layer of flavor to salads. These aren’t snackable, and have limited uses. But where they work, they work.

I also am a big fan of all things fermented. Okay, most things fermented. So I also sought out a recipe for lacto-fermented rhubarb pickles, and found this recipe from Phickle. It’s a much simpler recipe, since the real star is the flavor brought out by the fermentation. The recipe says 2 weeks, but I tried mine after a week, and decided it was perfect.

These pickles taste like rhubarb. They’re not as crisp or beautiful as the refrigerator pickles, but their flavor is great. By themselves, they are quite salty from the fermentation brine, but a quick rinse fixes that. I’ve enjoyed them with hummus and cheese, in sandwhiches and on salads. Versatile and delicious.

Rhubarb pickles

Judging by how fast they’re going, I think next year I’ll probably just stick to the lacto-fermented rhubarb pickles.

Some thoughts on sound

A few weeks ago, for about a week, I was hard of hearing. Everything sounded muted, I had a hard time following conversations, and I had to ask people to repeat themselves repeatedly.

This was due to impacted cerumen- earwax blockage. So it was thankfully temporary, and had an end date with a doctor’s appointment scheduled.

Some things I noticed about having reduced hearing-

  • Things were peaceful. Background noise often stresses me out or distracts me, and so suddenly grocery shopping and working in a noisy cubicle were less distracting.
  • I budgeted the times I asked people to repeat themselves. Especially in large groups, if I missed something, I let it go and never did figure out what the person said.
  • Communal singing was meh. My church has great singing- unrehearsed gorgeous choruses of 4 part harmony are commonplace. I don’t have a terrible voice, but when the thing I hear most is my own voice, it really detracts from the music.

And then the doctor cleaned out my ears, and a few things surprised me-

  • My jeans were SO loud. Every noise was way too loud.
  • I got used to the background noise quickly. I was worried my brief time without the background noise would spoil me, leaving me grumpy at any little background noise. But the shock quickly faded and things are back to normal.
  • Music does really sound better when other people’s voices are louder than mine.

With any luck, this won’t happen again, but I’ll have a bit more of an appreciation for what people with hearing problems deal with- and maybe I’ll get some ear plugs.

Earthworms & rhubarb

Our weekend wasn’t full of anything spectacular and we mostly stayed at home. But it was actually a really lovely weekend, so I thought I write a little bit about it.

We kicked off the weekend by watching some of the kids from our Jr. Youth group play tennis matches. I managed to thoroughly embarrass one of the 8th graders by cheering for him and yelling his name, so I count the whole thing as a success. After spectating, we went to the Spring for pesto burgers & onion rings, and finished off the evening by watching Mad Men. We are starting the series over from the beginning because we keep getting to about season 4 and then forget to watch it and forget what’s happening and have to start over. It seems fitting that we may actually get through it right after it’s over for good.

Saturday started off with a trip to the farmers’ market for veggies and a few final plants for the garden. We also bought a pound of rhubarb. (this detail will become important later in the post!) It was our neighborhood’s annual yard sale day, so we decided to check out a few sales. Well, to be honest, we’d seen a post on Facebook the night before showing the many dozens of cookies one of our Jr. Youth group members had baked for a garage sale…we wanted cookies! With both chocolate chip & no bake cookies in hand, we did score a few yard sale deals. I learned that a book series I loved as a child had 3 additional books I’d never read, so I had to bring them home. I also bought two new summer dresses for $8 total. And, as we were walking away from a sale, someone from church handed us a bag of rhubarb! She’d seen on Facebook that we were volunteering to take unwanted rhubarb, and was headed to our house to drop it off. So yes, if you’re counting, there are two pounds of rhubarb in my fridge right now.

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After yard sale perusing, we decided to finish our outdoor planting. I’m happy to say that the tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers are in the ground, all the herbs are potted, and the last of the flowers are potted, too. We found at least 3 earthworms in every hole we dug. And I think it has rained at least a little every day since Saturday, so here’s hoping our plants thrive!

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That evening I made a leek & spinach quiche which was delicious…and we watched more Mad Men. Are you surprised?

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We rode our bikes to church on Sunday, and then I went to work at the library for the afternoon while James did various domestic things involving upgrading some of our lightbulbs to LEDs and doing some mysterious beer-making related tasks (well, mysterious to me, at least). I went grocery shopping around 7pm, which was kind of awesome because the stores were empty and kind of terrible because the produce section at Meijer needed a total restock. James made popcorn for me for dinner, and we again watched…wait for it…Mad Men. Sensing a theme yet?

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Like I said, not an earth-shattering weekend. But it was full of so many things I love and reminded me why I love living here. At the farmers market I got to meet my friend’s new 12 day old baby girl, and also picked out heirloom tomato plants. I chatted with folks I know at yard sales and got handed a heaping bag of rhubarb. I dug in the dirt and spent time outside with my awesome husband. Great things happen when you are connected to a community, and this weekend was a great reminder of that.

Mediterranean Beef Tacos with Cucumber-Yogurt Sauce

Tacos are always a popular dinner at our house. My love for all things taco began in my childhood: taco salad, taco pizza, beef tacos, chicken tacos, taco soup, I enjoy it all. As an adult, I’ve enjoyed Asian fusion tacos, breakfast tacos, and several other varieties. One of our favorite recent discoveries are these Mediterranean Beef Tacos. The combination of tangy yogurt sauce, spiced beef, cool & crunchy cucumber, and salty feta cheese is pretty much perfection. They are served in pita bread so all the toppings stay together nicely. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

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First, you’ll mix up some yogurt sauce with some olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

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Then you’ll cook your ground beef with some Italian-style diced tomatoes, and season it with thyme, oregano, salt, and pepper.

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Slice up your cucumber, crumble some feta, and you’ve got a great dinner in 30 minutes! (no Rachael Ray guarantee here, but it is a pretty fast meal)

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This is a simple and easy twist on the standard beef taco with iceberg lettuce and shredded cheddar cheese. While they may not look incredibly beautiful, they are incredibly delicious. In fact, when we looked through the photos we took while making this meal, we realized the photo you see below is the only one of the finished product. We were too eager to eat them to have more patience for a photo shoot. Once you taste them, you’ll probably understand.
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Mediterranean Beef Tacos with Cucumber-Yogurt Sauce
inspired by Cooking Light

1 (6-ounce) container plain 2% Greek yogurt
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon black pepper, divided
1/4 teaspoon sea salt, divided
4 whole-wheat pita breads
1 cucumber
16 ounces ground beef
1 Tablespoon safflower or canola oil
1 (14.5-ounce) can Italian-style diced tomatoes
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
feta cheese

  1. Preheat broiler to high.
  2. Combine yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 1/8 teaspoon salt.
  3. Cut each pita bread into two halves to make pita pockets. Broil until toasted, turning after about 1 minute.
  4. Cut cucumber in half lengthwise. Cut into half-moon slices about 1/4-inch thick.
  5. Heat a skillet/large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add 1 T safflower oil to the pan and let the oil heat up for about 30 seconds. Swirl the oil around the pan; add ground beef, stirring to crumble. Once ground beef is browned & fully cooked, add tomatoes to the pan. Turn down heat and stir in remaining 1/2 teaspoon pepper, remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt, thyme, and oregano. Let the beef mixture simmer for 10 minutes, then remove from heat.
  6. To assemble your tacos, spread 1 tablespoon of yogurt mixture inside each pita half; add beef mixture. Stuff cucumber slices and some crumbled feta cheese inside each pita half.

Lime yogurt cake with blackberry sauce


Alternative title: I heart Smitten Kitchen.

February is my least favorite month. It may be the shortest, but it also seems to be the bleakest. Winter has fully set in, the days are short and dark, snow falls regularly. All in all, it is not a good time. I’ve tried various things to counteract its effect on me, but what seems to work best is to specifically plan things to look forward to during the month. So, one February several years ago (when I lived in Denver and had short hair), my friend Kate and I decided to host an “Unbleak the Mid-winter Feast.”

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We have been great friends since college, and have always enjoyed cooking together. We made a feast of spinach soup with a yogurt drizzle & Parmesan crisp topping, fennel & beet salad, kale chips, roasted veggies, and marinated tofu. But the star of the show was our chosen dessert, Smitten Kitchen’s lime yogurt cake with blackberry sauce.

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The cake is light and fluffy, with a nice tender crumb from the yogurt. It is bursting with lime flavor and is complemented perfectly by the blackberry sauce. I especially like that neither the cake nor the sauce are super sweet. The blackberry sauce has very little added sugar, so it’s a nice tart contrast to the creamy cake.

The cake was a hit that night, and it was a hit again when I took it to a recent small group dinner. It served as a great early spring dessert, when there aren’t any fruits in season, but you’re ready for something light and refreshing. I think the highest praise was from our friend Kimberly who wanted a second piece. This is rare–the woman is picky about her desserts and doesn’t love super-sweet ones. Here’s a picture of my slice. I was too eager to dig in, hence the multiple bites that are already gone.

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I don’t change the cake at all from the original recipe. I will say that straining the berry sauce takes time, but is totally worth it. I always think I’ll make the sauce ahead of time so I can let it sift through the strainer on its own, but then I forget and find myself mushing the sauce through a sieve with a rubber spatula and begging it to go faster.  Any leftover berry sauce is great as an oatmeal or yogurt topping. I also recommend that you make pretty much anything and everything posted on Deb’s site. I love Smitten Kitchen recipes, and I feel safe making them for company without trying them out first, since I know they’ve been tested multiple times.

What is your favorite spring dessert?

What’s making us happy this week, Volume 5

Emily

Gardening

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We got to spend some time planting flowers and fixing up our yard over the past two weekends–things are looking so much better! The soil around our house is too high in lead for us to dig it up, so we can’t really plant anything in the ground, which is a bummer. We do have a garden plot away from the house that is safe for growing food, which I’m really happy about. But, this year I decided we should plant some flowers in pots to pretty up our yard. These three pots are now in front of our porch. Between the flowers and the mulching James did, our yard is in much better shape. I think we have some actual curb appeal now! Digging in the dirt always makes me happy, too.

Goshen Farmers Market

I love to start my Saturday morning with a trip to our farmers market. This week, I bought some pepper, tomato, and herb plants at the market along with my weekly bag of salad mix. I love buying plants at the market because the farmers really know their stuff. I got great information about the various varieties of peppers available, and got the lowdown from Dale on his favorite tomato varieties. At most of the markets we visited in Denver, the person selling me veggies hadn’t actually grown them. Not the case at the Goshen market. These folks know their stuff because they grew it all themselves. Oh, did I mention that there’s a French bakery attached to the market, too? Goshen is pretty awesome, you guys.

Scandal

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Please don’t think that my life is only full of lofty pursuits like gardening, eating locally grown veggies, playing the piano, and making homemade meals. I just starting watching Scandal this year, and I am hooked. Every time I think I know what’s going on, something new happens. What I find most fascinating is that there isn’t a single character on the show that I really, truly like. Each person has some pretty serious flaws, and has made some life choices that I certainly wouldn’t agree with. Nobody has a relationship that I’d want to emulate. Yet I watch episode after episode. Not sure what I’ll do when I’ve finished everything on Netflix. And no spoilers, please–I’m still watching season 3.

The Imitation Game

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I brought this movie home from the library about a week ago and told James we should watch it. He wanted to know what it was and I just said, “oh, it’s called the Imitation Game and it’s about some science-y/math guy?” [you can see why James didn’t immediately decide to watch it :)] Then we sat down to watch it Friday night and James says, “it’s about Alan Turing?!” Turns out he’s a pretty famous guy who we can thank for the modern computer. The movie was fabulous with a slight dose of humor, excellent characters, and great story telling. Both Benedict Cumberbatch & Keira Knightley are excellent. The movie is really sad, too-Turing is arrested for public indecency (he was gay, which was a crime in the UK in the 1950s) and treated horribly. He was a genius who did not possess much in the way of people skills, and this caused him a lot of grief. I found myself incredibly upset with the people around him who treated him badly. The movie is an excellent reminder of why everyone should be treated with respect and cared for.

James

Blessing of the bicycles

The annual blessing of the bikes. #sacrament

A photo posted by James SW (@jamespostspictures) on


Every spring, our church has a blessing of the bikes, half in fun and half in seriousness. A fun time and meaningful for the many bikers in the church.

I just realized some people may think of motorcycles when they think of a blessing of the bikes- our church has a bit less vroom, I’d say.

Gado gado

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I loved this big plate of veggies, tofu and egg covered in peanut sauce. I love peanuts in pretty much every way, and peanut sauce is high up on the list. Speaking of gado gado… I’m hungry, and there are leftovers…

Blueberry Waffle Mild

Last week, I mentioned I brewed a batch of beer at the Big Brew Day downtown. Today, I added blueberries to round it out. I won’t know for a few weeks, but I think it’s going to be good!

What’s making me happy this week, Volume 4

Puns

This was a great week for puns. First, this-

It’s the dawning of the age…

A photo posted by James SW (@jamespostspictures) on


And then we went to the middle school play that a bunch of the middle schoolers we know are in (we are the junior youth sponsors). It was so punny and just a good time. Puns are great, no matter how old you are.

Silence

For about a week, things have been oddly quiet for me- my ears are plugged up to the point where I have trouble hearing. There’s a solution in progress, but in the interim, things are quiet. I’ve loved the lack of background noise at the store, at work, while falling asleep. I’ve also found it interesting to discover how much I rely on sound for navigation, and little things throughout my day. Since it’s made conversations in person a bit hard, it’s made me aware how little I actually talk to people in person at work- relying on instant message and phones.

Big Brew Day

I went to downtown Goshen to brew a batch of homebrew for National Homebrew Day, joining 4 other brewers in Goshen and thousands of others across the country. It was great hanging out with about 30-40 other people interested in making good beer.

You may be part of the problem

“And don’t console yourself that you are the 99 percent. If you live near a Whole Foods, if no one in your family serves in the military, if you’re paid by the year, not the hour, if most people you know finished college, if no one you know uses meth, if you married once and remain married, if you’re not one of 65 million Americans with a criminal record — if any or all of these things describe you, then accept the possibility that actually, you may not know what’s going on and you may be part of the problem.”

You may be part of the problem.

Sure, we may not live in San Francisco or New York, and live in a city with an above average Latino population. Our Whole Foods is 45 minutes away, but we have a co-op doing innovative things within walking distance. And it can be incredibly easy for me to surround myself with people like me, who also match the majority of the descriptors above, and find myself in a bubble.

I remember the day we moved to Colorado, driving on 76, in the eastern part, before you can see the mountains. We stopped for supper at an Arby’s, and a man walked in with cowboy boots and his hands on his belt buckle, and we were out of our comfort zone. It wasn’t unsafe, and there was no indication that he even realized we weren’t from around those parts, but my reaction was to get back in the car and keep moving towards Denver, where there would be people “like us”.

But it isn’t just in the wild wild west that I encounter this. I’ve lived in Goshen off and on for almost 7 years now, and there are so many restaurants that I’ve never been to. There’s the ones in my bubble- the non-smoking bar with good food, the certified neapolitan pizza place, the diner where I worked after college. And then there are the Mexican restaurants- where I feel comfortably uncomfortable.

It’s the ones outside of these realms that I haven’t gone to- the ones frequented by the factory workers who came from Kentucky, the people who wouldn’t feel safe coming in to the places where people know my name.

There’s overlap, for sure. But there’s still a mental hurdle for me.

Given this, how then do I “immerse [myself] in that other country, bear witness to its hopes and sorrows” in order to build a more merciful country?

Well, since I like food, maybe that’s where I start. Maybe I’ll venture into those restaurants and become comfortably uncomfortable.