Wednesday, January 30, 2008

10 ways to beat the winter blues

1. Screw the cold. Get out of the house. It was -10 this morning with a wind chill severe enough that they called off school (a very rare event in Madison; Wisconsonites are a tough breed, I guess), but we had to bundle everyone up to drive Stuart to work anyway, so I figured we'd survive the few minutes it takes to drive to a local yarn shop to meet my knitting friends. Good thing we went, because Daniel's little buddy F was there (F's preschool was canceled because of the weather) and they had a ball running around playing hide-and-seek in the classroom in the back of the store.

2. Bake something yummy. This week I made a treacle tart...

...and muhn cookies.

These are both from Home Baking, and are part of the Home Baking Project. I know the treacle tart doesn't look like much, and that's because it isn't! It's just a pie crust (made, interestingly enough, with a bit of lemon juice) with Lyle's Golden Syrup poured on top. But it was delicious. It also takes aprpox. 2 oz of Lyle's Golden Syrup for one tart, and as you may recall, I have 66 oz of the stuff (smallest quantity I could get on Amazon). So we may be eating a lot of treacle tart in the future and/or getting really creative with Lyle's.

The muhn cookies are thin wafers flavored with lemon and poppyseed. Pretty good. That's all I've got to say about that.

3. Listen to salsa music. I know squat about salsa music and salsa dancing (I've tried it, and I look ridiculous), but I do know that it's hard to stay too sad for too long if you've got Giovanni Hidalgo playing in the background.

4. The TeeVee.
Specifically, Curb Your Enthusiasm (huzzah for Netflix!). Watching Larry David (creator of Seinfeld) make a big deal about nothing in particular is surprisingly therapeutic.

5. A decent beer in the evening never hurts.

6. The Public Library. Oh, how I love the public library. You can read anything you want! For free! And there's good stuff for kids, too. I took Daniel to storytime yesterday morning, and afterwards we browsed the kids' section (and by "browsed," I mean I chased Daniel around while he pulled a lot of random stuff off the shelves). I chatted it up with another mom and found out she lives 3 houses away from us (how's that for being neighborly?) and that we had the same doula and that her husband knows the husband of a cellist in the music school who filled in on a recital of mine a few years ago...

7. Make something. This was Katie's suggestion, and it's a good one. I'm always making something, or making several things. It's why I have a knitting blog (I know I am an extreme dork). In fact, my enthusiasm for making things is such that I start more than I can finish. Most recently, I started a blanket for Daniel, which he really needs because it's so cold, and I'm hoping to finish it by his birthday next week. Not that he doesn't already have blankets, understand. Just not any ultra-warm flannel quilts like the one I've got in the works.

8. Read a good book. Hahahahaha like I really have the time for this! Seriously, though, I've been making my way through Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (thanks, Steph, for sending it to me!) and it's really good, even if I only have time for a few pages per day.

9. Sit on the potty.

He's going to hate me for this picture one day, but I can't resist. Oh, but we have a loooooooong way to go before this young man is done with diapers, but he is delighted to sit on the potty, and every once in a while, he actually pees in it.

10. Daydream. If nothing else works, I can imagine myself vacationing in Italy or plan my spring garden.

Friday, January 25, 2008

winter blues

I am so ready for spring. It's cold (-4 this morning), too cold to take the kids anywhere that isn't absolutely essential, and it keeps snowing. And snowing. And snowing. I realize this is just life in Wisconsin, but I'm beginning to understand why all those wealthy retirees buy RVs and run off to Florida every winter.

There's nothing really wrong with me other than a mix of cabin and spring fevers. I really shouldn't complain, because this week I've had some visitors and some good chats on the phone with my parents and various friends, so all things considered I can't claim to be lacking in adult interaction. Still, the never-ending housework and constant baby-holding and interrupted sleep, combined with sucky winter weather, is getting me a little down.

I think part of the problem is that I'm still in that post-partum fog where you barely remember who you are or what you're like. I have a doctorate in...what was it now? When is the last time I even played the piano? What do I like to do in my so-called spare time (besides using my blog as a place to whine, that is - see, I'm not totally lacking in self-awareness!)? What are my goals? Do I have any goals beyond making sure everyone is fed and clothed every day? (For the non-parents, or not-yet-parents out there, please understand that this is a bigger undertaking than you might think.)

So I'm calling for suggestions here. What do you do when you've got the blues? How do you appreciate the moment you're in, rather than longing for The Next Thing?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

some pictures from today

My friend came over to watch Daniel and Anya so I could have my 6-wk postpartum check-up (everything looks good, thanks). Daniel's coming down with a cold, but agreed to a little photo session with me and Anya.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Fruit Custard Tart

There is one simple rule my mom and I have for the Home Baking Project: Do not deviate from the original recipe, even if you think you can improve upon it. The only exceptions are 1) if there are ingredients or equipment you simply can not obtain within reasonable cost, or 2) if the baking time needs adjusting. No point in having an underdone or overdone just for the sake of following the recipe to the letter.

We did have a second rule, and that was to bake everything in the book in order. However, the first chapter is devoted entirely to rich, sweet pastries, and we didn't want to make ourselves sick or gain 30 pounds in a month, so that rule got modified right away. We'll be alternating desserts and breads for a while.

I promised I would begin with the Treacle Tart. I lied. The reason is simple: it calls for Lyle's Golden Syrup, a British product that is, as it turns out, impossible to find in Madison. Lyle's Golden Syrup is something like corn syrup, something like maple syrup, but not enough like those things to use either one as a reasonable substitute. Plus, we have only one rule, and I didn't want to break it with the first recipe. I called several grocery stores in Madison, and I even tried Williams-Sonoma, but to no avail. No one had ever heard of the stuff. Finally, I followed the advice "JFGI" (just fucking google it) and found the Lyle's Golden Syrup homepage (linked above) and a link to Amazon. Dude, if you can't find it on Amazon, it probably doesn't exist. I ordered a six-pack; that's a total of 66 oz, and it will probably set me up for life.

(I also found a whole website devoted to fictional little creatures called Treacle People. They even have their own DVD. The Brits love their Treacle, apparently.)

So while I'm waiting for my lifetime supply of Lyle's Golden Syrup to arrive, I made a Fruit Custard Tart. The recipe wasn't especially complicated. First, I had to make a sweet pastry crust, which has plenty of butter and egg yolks. It had to be baked before the filling was added (hence the pile of pinto beans on the parchment paper; they keep the crust from puffing up):

And then I mixed up the filling, which has yet more eggs, plus sugar, heavy cream, ground almonds, and assorted fruit. I used blueberries and raspberries (which came from God-knows-where since you can't get anything locally this time of year that isn't a root vegetable or a storage apple).

You can see how brown the edge of the crust is. That's because I don't have a tart pan and used a pie pan instead, so the crust on the edge there got overdone. If I had thought of this, I would have put aluminum foil over the edge until the last few minutes of baking. In any case, the final result was tasty, but quite rich. Too rich, actually. All those eggs and butter and cream all in one recipe makes for a very dense, very rich dessert that will fill you up in about 3 bites. If I were to make this again, I think I would make a regular pie crust (no egg yolks) and make the custard filling with part milk instead of all that cream.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

the Home Baking project

Here's the reality of having a toddler and a new baby. You spend a good share of your time, say 50%, either changing, rinsing or washing diapers. You learn how to refill a juice cup, make a peanut butter and graham cracker sandwich, and assemble a wooden train track all while breastfeeding. You find that you can indeed carry both children and a diaper bag across an icy parking lot. You wish you had a dishwasher. You discover patience you never thought you had, particularly when your toddler repeats the same words over and over. And over. And. Over. ("Socks!" "Boots!" "Anya!" "Mom-mom, mom-mom, mom!") Just when you have to use the bathroom, one spits up, the other falls and hurts his hand, and they both start to cry. You are stunned by their beauty and their sweetness.

Such is my life at the moment, and truth be told, I'm fairly happy with it.

But, as if I didn't have enough to do already, I've decided that I need a project, so I've taken one on. My mom called me up the other day with the idea of baking every recipe in the book Home Baking.* (Yes, the idea is somewhat a mimicry of the woman who cooked her way through Julia Child's Mastering The Art of French Cooking, which she chronicled in Julie and Julia, which I recommend as a very entertaining read.) There are lots of recipes in that book, but by golly we're going to do every single one. It might take a while, but that's okay. It will be fun, it will give my mom and me a chance to do something together even though we live far apart (sniff), it will undoubtedly make me a better baker, and if nothing else, it will be, at times, good blog material (particularly when - not if - I screw something up.)

I call this The Home Baking Project, and I'm officially starting this weekend with the Treacle Tart.

*(BTW, I think this is one of the most beautiful books I own. The authors, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, travel around the world photographing people and food, and then they publish these amazing recipe/travel/photography books. I also have Hot Sour Salty Sweet. If nothing else, go get yourself a copy of one of their books from your local public library and look through it just for the pictures and food writing. You won't be sorry.)

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

You may call me Doctor Susan

And this time I mean it for real.

Yesterday I finally had my appointment at the graduate school to "deposit my dissertation" (they actually just take the abstract and title page for DMAs, not the whole project), thus making official what's been true for nearly an entire month: I am Dr. Susan G-------, DMA Collaborative Piano.

I left Daniel and Anya with my parents, who have been here visiting for a week, and drove to campus alone. Before the appointment, I had to stop at a drugstore to buy white-out; one of my forms my committee had to sign read "2007" as the graduation date, and I had to change it to "2008" because Anya's birth made me miss the deadline for graduating last year. Once that was done and I had double and triple checked that I had all the necessary paperwork, I began the long trek up Bascom Hill to turn it all in. It was momentous, walking up that long hill and into Bascom Hall, a rather majestic, cavernous building where all the graduate school administrative offices are housed. Less than ten minutes later, I left holding my bag and a fee card (someone explain to me why it costs 90 bucks to hand someone a few sheets of paper???). I stopped by the Music School to turn in a copy of one of the forms, went to the Bursar's office to pay that fee...and that was it.

For a few minutes yesterday I felt really proud of myself, very doctoral. I would have liked to celebrate a little, treat myself to a cup of coffee, browse a bookstore, enjoy myself for a few hours, but I had to get home and nurse my baby and find everyone some lunch and throw a load of diapers in the washing machine. This will be my life for the next year or two or three or, well, who knows how long.

When people ask me "So what's next?", I explain that I won't be on the job market right away, and the reasons I give are mostly economic in nature: we have two small children, daycare is extremely expensive, jobs in my field pay crap, Stuart is in a much more stable and lucrative career track than I am so it makes sense for him to be the breadwinner, you get the idea. But my deep dark secret (not so secret now, I suppose) is that I'm also afraid, not terrified but a little afraid, of rejection and failure, of not being good enough.

Piling on advanced degrees (I've got two masters and a doctorate to my name) has made me a better musician, but hasn't necessarily done much for my self-esteem in this field. It's kind of the opposite, actually, since I feel like the longer I study, the fewer excuses I have for not cutting the mustard. Don't get me wrong. I've had moments and performances I'm really proud of. But that doesn't change the fact that I will always second-guess myself and wonder if I'm good enough and wonder if maybe I should have done something else entirely, like some area of research science or teaching high school history.

(Mind you, all but the most egotistical and naive musicians experience crises of confidence all the time. The best musicians I've worked with have all said to me at one point, usually after a string of unsuccessful auditions or unsatisfying and low-paying gigs, "Why didn't I just get a degree in accounting?")

2007 was a big year for me. I had several performances out of town, I finished my doctoral work, I had a baby, and I was taking care of a toddler more or less full time. 2008 will be very, very different. Now that the DMA is done, I have to figure out how and when (or if) I will put it to use. In the meantime, 2008 will be a year of breastfeeding, washing diapers, sleep-deprivation, potty-training (I hope), and whatever else comes with parenting a couple of young children.

I'll try not to forget how to play the piano, and I'll try to keep the blog interesting...if you promise to keep reading.