Baking my way through the snow & cold

toasty brown oatcakes cooling on parchment paper

I hate being cold. Hate-hate-hate-hate-HATE it. But I also hate heating a whole house full of rooms to a comfortable temperature when I can only occupy one at a time. It isn’t a rational objection, nor–thanks to circumstances I am daily thankful to live in–is it a financial problem. It’s strictly a philosophical reluctance of the “NOOOOOO, THIS IS RIDICULOUS!” kind.

In practice, this philosophical struggle results in me turning the house thermostat way down & finding ways to heat small parts of it to toasty, tropical levels. Some methods are straightforward. For example, due to the way the house is ducted, closing my office door will keep it 10º to 15º warmer than the rest of the second floor. And the gas insert in the living room fireplace makes it the world’s most decorative, highly-efficient space heater.

But when the outside temperature drops into negative numbers (negative in Fahrenheit, yikes!) I have to get really creative to keep things warm without cranking up the heater. Keeping the oven going is my go-to method for raising the temp in several neighboring rooms.

Warm rooms AND hot food. It’s a win-win.

Below, is a list of my favorite foods for cold, snowy days, chosen as much for their cooking requirements as for their tastiness. Listed in no particular order, most with links to past blog posts where I did recipes & suchlike. Looks like I should blog my soup & baked apple experiences and make this a complete list of Greatest Recipe Hits. Something for the future.

  1. Kitchen Sink Biscotti. These require TWO bakes at moderately low temps. Twice the baking, twice the warm. They’re fantastic for dipping into hot drinks too, so it’s a triple win.
  2. Ham & bean soup. From scratch with dry beans. It cooks in a dutch oven at 250º for hours & hours. The house will fill with mouth-watering smells. This year I tested out a BBQ baked bean variant too. It is delicious.
  3. Oven Eggs. Like scrambled eggs with cheese & veggies, only poured into a baking dish & cooked in the oven for a long time.
  4. Oatcakes. Add milk, oil, salt, baking powder & a little flour to oatmeal to make a smooth batter, spoon it onto baking sheets, and bake until the rounds are dry and crisp. It takes an hour per sheet or more. And they’re yummy.
  5. Breads. All kinds, any kind, but no-bake loaves with an overnight cool rise and second proof after shaping is the BEST kind. First, there’s the no-fuss “just let it rise” part, then the “proof in a warm oven” part, AND the hour of baking part. My fancy new oven even has a proof setting, which makes it all delightfully easy & indulgent.
  6. Pantry casseroles. Vegetarian-style shepherd’s pie & chicken-rice pan-bakes are super easy to whip together from on-hand frozen & shelf-stable ingredients in less than 15 minutes. But they COOK for an hour or more.
  7. Swedish butter cookies. Another sliced bar cookie like biscotti, only even simpler.
  8. Baked apples. SO EASY. Peel. Quarter. Core. toss with cinnamon & cook in a covered dish at 300-325 for an hour-ish. This fall I had too many apples to cook or process, so I threw a bunch of peeled & quartered ones into the freezer. Turns out that they bake up EVEN BETTER after being frozen first. Kinda like an apple version of casseroles or soupos being better the second night, after cooling & reheating.

That’s it for the main post.

In Other News, I’m implementing proof corrections on my manuscript this week, then files go up to Ingram & Amazon, and then pre-orders go live!

FINALLY The First-Ever Official Dawnrigger Email Newsletter will be going out soon. Once pre-orders are live, in fact. Newsletter subscribers will be extra-special spiffy exclusives like early peeks at character art, so you’ll definitely want to sign up for it, if you haven’t already.

That’s all for now. Until later!

Squirrel gardening: a tale of time lost

This is a thing I’m writing while most of my brain is occupied with uncooperative idea pieces I need to weave into a different post.

It’s a story about a day earlier this spring when I had two simple activities planned. One: salvage vintage hardware from three, nasty old interior doors that were cluttering up my screen porch, so I could toss the panels into the trash. Two: plant some flower bulbs I’d purchased.

Here’s how that went. <cue Law & Order sound effects>

First I put on my headset and started my music. That part will be important later, so make a note of it. See, my endurance is about two hours, but once I get going on…well, anything… it’s easy to ignore the passage of time, data from senses not directly engaged in the task, and yes, even pain. And if I push past three hours of physical labor, I’m physically wrecked for a couple of days.

I lean on audio input as an attention filter, so my solution is a 2-hour playlist with a short catchy jingle that repeats at half-hour intervals and plays 4 times at the end to assist in breaking hyper-focus. It isn’t perfect, but it works better than an alarm I can turn off without ever noticing. If nothing else, the silence eventually nudges me back to reality.

So. Out I went, rocking my tunes, tools at the ready.

The door part went as well as I could hope. Doors were wrestled out of their winter storage corner in The Screen House, bashed with hammers, scraped with razor blades and liberated from four generations of screws by four different screwdrivers. All manner of knobs, screws, backplates, and hinges were collected into bags for unspecified future crafting project fun.

I brought in the hardware, announced victory to Spouseman (working from home) then went out the front door to check the dirt in the front yard. The clay was soft enough for digging & also a flower was blooming! I pulled out the phone & went down on one knee to immortalize the momentous occasion. Then remembered I was wearing new jeans & would get filthy dirty planting bulbs. Time to go inside & change into old clothes from the wash basket.

Outside again, retrieved shovel & gloves & digger tool from the garage, can’t find bulbs. Moment of doubt. Did I buy them or just consider doing so? (This happens.)

Wait. I have the receipt on my phone. YES. I bought bulbs.

Went to the back door so I could to go inside and find Spouseman, who might remember where I put the bulbs. Multi-tasking win, right?  I could also ask where he thinks the bulbs should go.

Except the back door was locked. And the keys were in the pocket of the jeans I took off.

I went around to the front door. Removed dirty shoes to go through the house to the office at the back. Minor win, on the way, I remembered where the bulbs were & consulted with Spouseman anyway to discuss placement.

Back on track. Outside again. Dug into the untouched flower bed against the back of the house. Hit root. Not unexpected; upon moving in, we removed three large suckering trees that had been unwisely allowed to grow RIGHT UP AGAINST THE HOUSE. The stumps are too close to the foundation to grind down, and the stump-killer didn’t actually soften things, just killed them.

So I tried a new spot. Dug in. Hit root again. Moved to a different section. Shoveled. HIT BIGGEST ROOT YET. Muttered expletives, went back to the garage in search of loppers and pruning saw to aid in the digging process.

Loppers and pruning saw are both MIA. A bunch of gardening stuff went into The Screen House in the fall. Search for loppers & saw continued in new location for some time.

You may think the whole planting plan was well off the rails at this point, but no. THIS was where everything really went over the precipice into the Chasm Of Distraction.

A LOT of Things went into the screen house in the fall. More was added when the basement had to be emptied for renovations. Here’s an incomplete list: sofa, loveseat, folding picnic table plus benches, multiple coolers, metal trash can, multiple 5 gallon buckets of gardening tools, all the yard ornaments and solar lights, three vintage wood panel interior doors in various stages of disrepair, and sundry other bits of flotsam & jetsam.

I’d braved the clutter zone earlier when I moved the doors, but that was early on, when I could still power through the Valley of Temptation by using the “Ignore All The Things, Stay On Task, Stay On Target,” mantra.

Concentration failed this time. I just HAD to move the couches. And then organize the garden tools. And put out the bird feeders. And place the bird bath. And…and…and…

Three hours later, the screen house was cleared, organized & swept, ready to enjoy, the loppers and sundry other tools had all been located and given summer housing, the gardening-related shelves in the garage were clean, and I’d found the seed packets I bought way back in January & promptly lost…along with the loppers I’d originally wanted.

But the bulbs were still in their bags. And the music was over.

(I told you the music would come up again.)

I had no business opening up those bulb packages & seeds, or spending another hour or two digging & planting. I should’ve gone inside & washed up. But I didn’t, because I really am a squirrel sometimes, and there were holes still to be dug!

Yeah. I did use the big shovel and the loppers instead of the little digger tool I usually use for planting. And yeah, I was wrecked by the time I finished, but it also started raining as I was wrapping up, which is kinda like the universe saying, “Good job, you did a right thing.” All in all, it was worth the aches & pains.

And there it is. That’s my tale.

Eventually I will write about the Black Lives Matter rally I attended yesterday. That’s what I originally sat down to write today, but it was not to be. Every sentence was gibberish. See, sometimes my thoughts and feelings are so big and so knotty I need more time and better tools to cut them into wordable forms.

What I’ll do is keep writing other little posts while my squirrel brain hunts around for its figurative loppers. But make no mistake, I never stop thinking about the important stuff.

Until later!

Living the Quiet Online Life (sorta)

Followup 2 to my “Imma stop feeling guilty about dodging the gotta-be-visible-gotta-react-gotta-be-involved 24/7 noisefest that is modern life” post. Followup 1 is here.

The why of it all is simple: the choice had to be made.

I can interact, manage life’s material necessities, or ideate and create. Not all three. And the world is not forgiving of missing work shifts or failure to pay bills, so it’s the interaction I must trim back.

Each of those activities uses distinct, competing parts of my brain.  Think of them as differing fighting styles or building skills. Each one requires a different set of weapons/tools and protective equipment.

I can clank through my day using two full tool sets at once, but all three? Not happening. (With construction in my basement right now, the analogy could be that plumbers and carpenters can work at once, or HVAC and plumbers, or HVAC and the carpenters, but all three? No one would have room to move!)

Also, switching from one mentality to another is a process not unlike taking off one set of weapons and armor and donning a new set. It takes time and energy to put away all the discarded equipment  properly and get all the new buckles done up right. It’s more efficient to pick which set (s) to use and stick with them for longer timeframes.

Interactive Communications is the skillset that takes the most time and energy to use and maintain.

My non-writing professions all demand extensive, regular communication. I got into them because I’m drawn to learning difficult things over easy ones. Plus it’s much easier to handle interaction in a structured system when I have a clearly defined role. Counselor. Teacher. Retailer. Trainer. Public Service Staffer.

So I’m good at communicating and interacting with people in a variety of environments. Humility not being one of my virtues, I would even say I am VERY good it.

I take pride in being able to readily talk with acquaintances and strangers, to share, inform and persuade–but I do NOT enjoy it.

No, seriously.  The number of people in the WORLD with whom I can interact comfortably–no filter, no forethought before every word, no constant conscious processing of pitfalls and consequences–is a small number.

Writing is work too. HARD work. But it’s work that lets me create, so it’s worth the effort. Hanging out with friends is worth the effort because friends ( yes, that IS a reason.)  But those things are both hard and also two different KINDS of effort.

I can’t do the creative writing if I ALSO have to be ready and able to write or to talk my way through interactions AND have to be able to remember things like eating, dressing, paying bills, and getting to important appointments.

So. Less Interacting. MOAR WRITING. That’s the plan.

Everybody wins.

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Image by gadost0 from Pixabay