Category Archives: College Years

The Hobbyist

Two weeks out of college, and I’ve discovered that I can do what I want with my time. Week 1 found me packing all my belongings to move halfway across the country, opening a new bank account, purchasing a new cell phone, writing 20 thank-you’s, attending kindergarten graduations and a baseball game, editing html code on this site, designing a logo for a client, and perfecting the art of homemade mayonnaise – twice.

I’m immediately learning the art of pacing myself. Let me explain. Week 1 hogged all the activity, leaving me with only scones, newspapers, and bird-watching with my parents the following week. Doing nothing is exhausting. Really. I’ve never been more tired at 9:00pm than when I’ve done nothing all day. You probably want to slap me through the screen right about now for saying this, but I haven’t felt this lazy since the summer of 7th grade, spending Pizza Rolls & Dr. Pepper infused afternoons with my best friend Arp, while we watch Days of Our Lives and reruns of the Cosby Show.

This week found me either fishing, having a beer with friends, or reading. I can’t say I’ve been cooking a lot, either. (You know enough is enough when your family raises their eyebrows at basil.) The most gusto I’ve shown this week was making a batch of scones for this week’s breakfasts, which have looked a little something like this:

If there’s one person keeping me alert these days, it’s my dad. Informing me as to the bird drama that unfolds (not only in our bird feeder-laden backyard, but also the front yard where a surprisingly nasty dove has been frequenting), explaining taxes (the things they don’t tell you in college), mapping out my upcoming road trip, and ever-so-coolly teaching me about making rhubarb wine.

A hobby man of sorts, never before have his curiosities resulted in towel-covered pails of fermenting liquid in the house. But tangible projects like this keep him going. Loving to dig into the technicalities of things, my dad is the perfect example of the respected blue-collar worker spoken about in this week’s New York Times magazine article titled, The Case for Working with your Hands. By having physical tasks, a sense of a ‘job well done’ is much more attainable. People that do things with their hands are people worth spending time with. They don’t look at the world through rose-tinted glasses. Safety goggles – yes.

My dad’s a hoot, too. While crafting my portfolio and telling him it’s nearly 40 pages long, he smugly comments, “and when they ask for the ‘b.s.’ writing, you’ll give them the other 40.” Never taking himself or anyone else too seriously, he keeps a level head. In an attempt to get a better night’s sleep, he’s taken up the suggestion to drink warm milk before going to bed. Immensely critical of the suggestion, as he walked upstairs he joked about almost dozing off right then and there. 10 minutes later, mom and I hear him sawing logs. Things of that nature, I’ll miss most. (Not the snoring from across the hallway upstairs, but my parents’ wackiness.)

As my bedroom is being taken over by a bunk bed, now outfitted with polka dot sheets, I’ve been thinking about what new things in my new life are going to take place of the old. And my level-minded, hobby-man father, inspired me to make a list:

Goals for an Aspiring Hobbyist

1. write old-school, snail-mail letters
2. bake mail friendly goodies to send to friends/family back in the Midwest
3. tinker with html code (yes. computer geek. I know.)
4. make pastas
5. maintain a stock of homemade a) mayonnaise b) granola c) crepe batter d) compound butter e) soup
6. find out if Mark Bittman really knows how to cook everything
7. Tweet
8. Update these photos.
9. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll start to read fiction.
10. To be determined ….

Any other ideas? Share your hobbies!

Stepping up to bat

2 days until I’m thrown out into the ‘real world.’ It’s about time. These past few weeks have been crazy, and I’m way overdue for an update around here. Right now I’m living out of bags, suitcases, and trunks. Not quite in Seattle, not completely in Minneapolis, I’m in limbo. And being in limbo is not conducive to making very good sense of things and writing a narrative worth reading, so I’m going to share a photo of my nephew Isaac, running to first base.

After stepping up to bat and completing my degree, I’m off and running. Much like Isaac in this picture. Things are crazy, and times are uncertain, but all we can do is go. And I have my nephew to thank for reminding me that its even ok to go ahead in mud boots. We are what we are.

I’m not kidding

It’s not all cream puffs and scones around here today. I’ve got an ugly one for you. Enter – my kitchen ceiling:

No, your computer screen isn’t cracked – that’s our kitchen ceiling undergoing a makeover, as our landlord is replacing the sheetrock, plastering goop into all its wrinkles. As mentioned last week, the final semester crunch has taken my apron away from my wardrobe rotation and has prevented me from allowing my kitchen knife to see daylight. If this college thing wasn’t enough for this ‘let’s keep Melinda from her kitchen’ game, my kitchen itself is now in on the act.

When I cook in the current state of our kitchen, it smokes out our duplex-mate above us because the hole in the ceiling acts as a vent that releases right into his kitchen. Also, it takes nearly a half-hour to find my cooking supplies that are spread out over our living and dining room. It’s like playing ‘Where’s Waldo?’ with skillets and whisks. Alas, this is now how boring my culinary life is:

To make this picture more accurate, place a big red X over that wine glass, as it was the recent casualty of another migration of kitchen goods to the living room floor. My friends were shocked that I’ve added Lucky Charms to the rotation, thinking I’m above all processed foods or something. But little do they know it’s been keeping me afloat these days. That, and the grains and beans you saw last week. And since it’s seemingly all gloom-and-doom over here, I want to share this inspiring photo with you:

This was taken on a recent farm-weekend I had at my sister Amy’s place in Iowa. Shot just after supper and just before going to the Hannah Montana movie with my nieces (where the rest of the movie-ticket line was very glittery and as tall as my waist), this photo reflects my nephew Levi’s love of a good adventure. (He’s been around here before.) A garbage pail, two scrappy pieces of plywood, and an old bike – he knows how to make something out of nothing. And the momentum he feels at this very moment in this photo, I now feel as graduation is inching nearer and my Seattle plans firm up.

At certain points in our lives, there’s no stopping. We can only keep on pedaling and hope our chains don’t break.

(p.s.- Thanks to all those who passed along warm words concerning the Seattle adventure. Your support and excitement means the world!)

An Unlikely End

It’s been all graduation talk around here lately, but ‘what’s next?’ you may ask. A 4 year degree, a range of experiences spanning from pulling weeds to interning in the downtown skyscrapers with the trend-setters of the city, 120 credits, countless articles written, and you’d think I’d have a full-time job with benefits all lined up. Given the grisly economy, to say that college students are faced with a challenge is a gross understatement. The work force can’t sustain its current members, let alone the influx of students entering it in May.

Before the economy and I decide to settle down, I’ve decided to play the game of risk. And the secret’s out. Well, come closer. I’m moving – across the country. Can’t believe I waited this long to tell you, huh? I’ve been given unimaginable opportunities and, as with the remainder of my beans and grains below, I’m faced with the decision to throw them out and sulk at home until a cushy corporate job opens, or stick my neck out using what I’ve got and boil the heck out of ’em. And the trek to Seattle is me turning on the stove and turning up the heat.

Seattle didn’t grow on me until day 3 of my journey. The multi-colored plastic luggage display hovering above the SeaTac airport’s luggage claim area was a bit strange, and I had no idea what was in store for me. The gray skies, ever-present moss, and not-so-Minnesota-nice people took be aback at first. But seeing what happens to the city when the sunlight comes out (a near town celebration), the funky architecture, diverse neighborhoods, and learning that people keep to themselves because they are already living content, small lives, made me quickly reexamine my initial reaction.

Overall, it was the food that got my attention. And most importantly, how Seattleites are crazy about their markets, farmers, restaurants, and home cooking. These West Coasties are serious about food. I wanted in on the action. It’s one thing to love a city, yes – it’s another thing to move there. Don’t think I haven’t thought this one through.

I’ve taken a journey like this before as I moved to a college I had never visited when I was 17 years old. (It was the best worst decision I’ve ever made.) Granted, I turned 18 before the first day of class, but it still felt a bit strange. Even more strange was how old I felt compared to my peers. Black coffee and Tchaikovsky aren’t the typical college freshman thing, I guess. (I still haven’t got the hang of Bud Light and Britney Spears. I’ve never been good at being a typical college student.) My college experience has been worth it for one reason. Not for teaching me the Associated Press style guide, the Cyrillic alphabet, or Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations, rather it has made me elastic and adaptable. One has to constantly reinvent themselves to respond to new challenges. This adaptability makes me comfortable being sent out into an economy in a recession, where flexibility is paramount.

I imagine you looking at me like the all-too-concerned grandparent of a free-spirited 70s hippie, peering over the top rim of your glasses with elevated eyebrows thinking, ‘This girl’s crazy.’ So to sum up the logistics and give you some assurance, know that I have housing lined up and have recently fallen into a paid copywriting and web design project that I plan to take with me and expand upon. There are also countless catering companies, restaurants, and farms that I want to pursue once I get out there. And in my spare-time, I’ll always be looking for publications to write articles for.

So there it is. A diploma, no fancy corporate job, a cross-country journey in my parents’ old Buick (listening to this and this), experience under my belt, a few paid gigs, and a deep curiosity that gets me up every morning.

An unlikely end, that’s for sure.

Never Enough Thyme

Between you, me, and these 12-hour days of tending to the last, lingering 15 credits and various unpaid internships- it’s easy to find an occasional Dorito on my plate and gummy bear on my desk. Happy hour at the Happy Gnome, with two friends I don’t see nearly enough, is just as good of a cure as any – especially when dark beer and baguette are involved.

Needless to say, my energies are not focused on cooking complex dishes, and I’ve temporarily lost the drive to make time to cook. That is, until lemon thyme showed up. I know what you’re thinking, “What a play on words, must be a journalism student, right?” But hang on, I’m no David Sedaris. Thyme is serious business.

Although seemingly boring and mundane, lemon thyme behaves as chervil‘s big sister – a little more robust, mature, and fresh. With chervil – think sundress and Lip Smacker. With lemon thyme – think black fitted baby-T, pearls, and red lipstick. Got it? Good, let’s move to the kitchen. The question always remains, “What do I do with it?” I seasoned my recent batch of tomato soup (thanks to mom and dad’s preserved summer garden) with lemon thyme, but I imagine it making a delightful compound butter (regular butter spiked with flavor by mixing with herbs or spices). I would suggest spooning nubs of this on meat, vegetables (corn on the cob?), or pasta – any savory dish you’d use normal butter with, really.

I may have stooped to an all-time low when I put stewed prunes on a pb&j this week and decided not to write about it, pretending like I don’t do that, but can I redeem myself with this morsel-sized tip? Use thyme (and butter!) to save time. A simple addition to a simple ingredient for an interesting spike in your life. And one more tip, relating to the subject of the day – make more time for YOU. Read, cook, write, knit – something! Treat yourself like a friend. There’s no other person you’ll spend more time with, so be kind! She (or he) will probably like you back.

Herb Compound Butter
(from The Hungry Mouse blog)

Ingredients

1 stick of butter (8 Tbs)
2 Tbs fresh chives, chopped (optional, but highly suggested)
1 Tbs thyme leaves, chopped (use any herb you like)
salt
pepper

Instructions
Soften the butter. (Leave your butter out on the counter for about a half an hour to soften it up.) Place it in a bowl and mash it up with a fork. Add the optional chives and your herb of choice into the bowl, and mix until there’s a uniform consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste. You can use it right away, but it’s best when stored it in the freezer this way for later use.

Hello, Goodbye

This will be quick today (baking takes a lot out of me), but I wanted to drop in and say hi to you anonymous readers that I recently discovered are invisibly perusing this seemingly barren space. (Speak up, why don’t you.) This is especially for the few in particular who say I don’t update enough – you know who you are. Welcome and thanks for reading! Pour yourself a cup of coffee and here’s some cake.

This isn’t any ordinary cake, mind you. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a big fudgey brownie disguised as a cake. Don’t be fooled. It’s from a new book that my new Seattle friend, Molly Wizenberg, wrote. She served several of these little rounds of heaven at her wedding a few years back. For me, the book was more of an indulgence than the cake – I must say.

I have a signed copy of it coming from Seattle by way of another Seattle friend, Mi Ae, who will be promoting her cookbook. On my way to a Lynne Rossetto Kasper event, I realized daylight savings time threw me off an hour, and as I drove by Borders – I just couldn’t help it. Mi Ae’s visit wouldn’t come soon enough. I found the last copy they had, managed to scrounge up the exact change for the thing, and sat in the parking lot for an hour reading until Ms. Kasper’s event started.

And now that exact book sits half-way across the world the apartment kitchen in ‘Spictytown‘ (translated, of course) – a charming city in Bavaria. It is the college-town of my German sister, Tanja, who baked this cake with me for the first time (for our Aunt RoseAnne’s birthday) while she was visiting with her brother over my spring break.

Since we had such a good time baking it (and eating it) we decided we’d let the book connect us through our kitchens. Tanja would take my copy and when I get mine in a few weeks, we will start cooking for ourselves and friends out of it together, sharing our triumphs and failures. I knew there was a reason I had to get my hands on this book so early. Waiting until April would have made this plan impossible.

Although I imagine her European ingredients are far superior to their American counterparts, which I will be forced to use, I anticipate good stories being shared in our future via these recipes. Although the simultaneous occurrence of driving away from the airport after dropping them off and Sarah McLachlan’s Angel playing on the radio made my eyes welled with tears (usually, I am not a crier), it was a little less painful saying goodbye, knowing that we have future experiences together in the book, our kitchens, and our hearts.

Now it’s time to put away the Kleenexes and pull out our aprons. You may know that baked goods are not commonplace around here, and even more foreign are recipes for them. But given the celebration of new readers and the new sentiment attached to it, I’ll give it a shot. If you forgot already, I don’t actually have the book with me, so I don’t have the recipe. Nor did I have it this morning when I baked it a second time. But that’s suffice to say how easy it is. 5 ingredients, FIVE.


(This is from memory, be patient. And send me the remnants if it’s a flop.)

Molly’s Wedding Cake and Our ‘Hello, Goodbye’ Cake

Ingredients
7 ounces 60% bittersweet chocolate – I used Ghirardhelli chips
7 ounces butter ( 1 3/4 sticks)
1 cup sugar
5 eggs
1 Tbs flour (you read corrently, 1 Tbs)

Instructions
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cube the butter and combine it with the chips (or roughly chopped bar) and place on top of a double boiler. (I don’t have a double boiler so I heat up an inch of water in a saucepan and place a heat-proof bowl over it. Place the butter and chocolate in there.) Stir until completely melted. Add the cup of sugar and thoroughly combine. Take the chocolate mixture off of the heat and let cool for a few minutes, until you know the eggs won’t curdle once you crack them in. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, followed by the 1 Tbs of flour.

Line an 8-inch round cake pan with parchment paper and butter the sides, as well as the paper. Pour in the batter. Bake for 25 minutes. Since there are so many eggs, 25 minutes might give you a jiggly center. That’s ok, just work with your oven and adjust the time as needed. When you take it out it should be mostly set, but it’s fine if there is some movement. The book, of course, has a detailed description about when you know it is done or isn’t done – but I forget.

Let the cake hang out in the pan on a cooling rack for about 15 minutes. To get the cake out of the pan, right-side-up, there are two flippings involved. First put a plate over the top of the pan and flip it. Remove the pan from the cake. And then put another plate (or the serving platter) over the ‘top’ (which really is the ‘bottom’) and flip again.