Becoming Jill: Adventures in Adulthood

Chapter 7: In Which I Fall Off the Map. People Harass Me.
April 6, 2010, 8:21 pm
Filed under: Food | Tags: ,

So, apparently people actually kind of read this blog! I know this, because I have received several mildly harassing emails in the last week, wanting to know why I haven’t been updating. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside!

Basically, I haven’t been writing because I haven’t had much to say! I am kind of stalled out on further financial progress until Karen and I meet again to discuss how much money I can put towards my credit card payment. Hopefully we are going to do that this weekend!

Ooh, also this weekend: for you Twin Cities readers, my St. Paul VISTA group will be volunteering on Saturday morning for the St. Paul Parks and Rec Department’s Annual Spring Clean-Up Day! We’ll be helping clean all the winter debris out of the parks and such… if you would care to help, just give me a holler, and I’ll give you the details. You wouldn’t even BELIEVE all the crap on the ground now that the winter snow has melted. Socks. Scarves. Mittens. Beer cans. Condoms. (Really?!? You REALLY want to do that outside when it’s below freezing?!?) Shoes. Purses. Small children. It’s insane out there, people.


In my last post, I wrote about my newly acquired baking habit, and people have been asking for pics and recipes, so here you go!

Cherry Chocolate-Chip Scones

Here’s the link to the recipe I used, with some variations. Basically, I doubled the amount of cherries and chocolate chips. I like my scones chunky! If I repeat this recipe, I’ll probably add even more. Also, I left off the last step where you dust the finished scones with powdered sugar and stick them under the broiler. I figured there was enough sugar already. I didn’t miss it.

Unfortunately, I ended up leaving them in the oven about 4 minutes too long… so they are a little crispier than I would have liked!

They were really yummy, and despite the fact that I had to improvise just a tiny bit, really easy! My hands nearly fell off during the part where you cut the butter into the flour. Since I didn’t have a pastry blender, I used two forks, and it took about 20 minutes! Also, I don’t have a pastry brush, so  I just used a paper towel, which seemed to work fine.


Blueberry Buttermilk Scones

Here’s the link to the recipe. Again, I doubled the amount of blueberries, which I highly recommend! I also attempted to add lemon zest, but since I was mostly zesting my knuckles, I quickly abandoned that process… For those of you with proper micrograters, I am sure it would be a yummy addition!

This time, I underbaked the scones by about 4 minutes… Much like Goldilocks, I can’t seem to ever get it just right! They were yummy anyway. Also, I ignored the part where it said to cut out the dough in biscuit-sized circles, and I really wish I had! The dough expanded a ton, and all my pretty triangles ran together. Alas.

My second attempt at scone making was less taxing than the first, due to spending 3 bucks at WalMart to buy a pastry blender (sorry, Karen! I am pretty sure I had enough in my household budget to cover it, tho…). Let me tell you, that pastry blender is my new best friend (again, sorry Karen!). It only took me about 5 minutes for the whole flour/butter cutting business, and my hands didn’t want to shrivel up and die! Neat.  My favorite part of this recipe was stirring the blueberries into the dry ingredients to get them all coated. Apparently this keeps them from sinking to the bottom, and keeps them from bleeding into the surrounding batter! I love learning new things!

My helpers aren't a lot of help, actually


Fresh Lemonade

Here’s the link to the best lemonade recipe ever!

I made this to go along with the blueberry scones, and the lovely Karen came over for a Sunday afternoon snack! It was pretty much delicious. Since I have a freezer the size of a loaf of bread, I never have ice cubes, and I was worried about the lemonade being cold enough. I ended up pre-meauring the 4 cups of water and sticking them into the fridge for a couple of hours to get nice and cold, and then made the lemonade immediately before drinking. It worked pretty well, but I am sure ice cubes would be even better!

Of course, I didn’t bring any pitchers with me, due to the limited kitchen storage. I decided to make it in a large pyrex salad bowl and ladle it out into our glasses! Since I don’t have a juicing device, I just squeezed the hell out of the fruit with my hands, which led to a lot of seeds and pulp in the bowl, but I solved that problem by plunking a mesh strainer on top of the glasses and just ladled into that. I think Karen and I were both pretty pleased with the results! The addition of the orange gave it a really subtle, yet interesting twist. I think I would cut back on the sugar a little bit next time…


Thanks for coming along on this exciting journey into my baking habits! Hope you’ve all enjoyed the ride.

Chapter 6: In Which I Enjoy Domesticating Myself. Surprise Ensues
March 26, 2010, 5:28 pm
Filed under: Food, frugality | Tags: , ,

So, I have spent the last week working on a post about all my different financial goals, but you know what? That post is pretty much boring me to death! Of course, it’s important for me to get that one finished, as it’s a key component of this whole financial reformation of mine, but on this pretty Friday, I find that what I really want to write about is baking.

WHAT, you may say? That’s right, baking.

I’ve never been much of a baker… it’s always required too much attention to detail for me. When cooking, I can pretty much choose to ignore or improvise large parts of recipes, and I pretty much measure by saying, “hey, that looks like a cup!” If you have any acquaintance with baking, you realize that it’s actually a SCIENCE, which probably has a lot to do with why I have never liked it.

Baking and I have never gotten along very well. I think it all stems from the traumatic summer when I decided to master… BOXED BROWNIES. I probably wasn’t even 10 yet, and this seemed like a REALLY BIG DEAL. I specifically remember at least 2 flops in a row– one time, I forgot the eggs, another I forgot the oil. Being greeted by pan after pan of completely flat, burned brownie pancake can really do a number on a young baker’s psyche!

In middle school, I decided I didn’t hate making cookies quite so much if I listened to Green Day on my Walkman at the same time! This led to the disastrous incident in which I used 2 TABLESPOONS of salt instead of 2 TEASPOONS. Details, details. Let me tell you, there is no recovering from that kind of error!

In high school, there was the infamous time I decided to double a batch of chocolate chip cookies, but forgot to double the FLOUR. Those were some really rich cookies!

As you can see, my relationship with baking has been rather fraught, and since my family is filled with excellent cooks and bakers, there’s never really been a need to overcome this slight imperfection in my make-up. However, my financial situation since I started AmeriCorps hasn’t really left me with a lot of money to spend on yummy things! I eventually came to the conclusion that making my own would be cheaper, and healthier too, since I could control what goes in them. I have a lot of free time on my hands, since I can’t really afford to be out spending money all over the place, so I eventually found myself… BAKING. Weird, right?

And here’s the thing– I actually LIKE it! I have discovered a lot about myself in the past year or so, but this has been one of the more unexpected things. Baking (and to a lesser degree, cooking) has always stressed me out, irritated me, and made me feel inadequate. I have decided that this is because I a) set impossibly high standards for myself in all things, and b) treat baking (and to a lesser degree, cooking) like I am competing for the prize in a Top Chef Quickfire Challenge. Why have I always approached baking and cooking like someone is timing me with a stopwatch? I have no idea!

Living in a studio the size of a shoebox with a kitchen the size of a postage stamp has effectively forced me to stop behaving like a Tasmanian devil in the kitchen, and as a result, I enjoy the whole process a lot more! My kitchen is set up in such a way that there are no counters at all (I repeat, NONE) and really limited space to move, store things, or what have you. I do all my food prep on top of the stove (precarious!) or on the small walnut table that previously belonged to my step-grandma. If you’ve looked at any of the pictures of food I’ve posted, you’ve seen this table. It’s pretty much the most useful thing in my apartment! Since my prep space is so limited, I am forced to only do one thing at a time, and then clean it up before proceeding to the next step. This makes the whole process take a LOT longer than I was used to, but I eventually started to relax and realize I am enjoying myself!

Here’s a list of some of the things I have baked FROM SCRATCH(!) in my tiny kitchen:

  • Chocolate chip cookies
  • Brownies
  • Ginger-Molasses cookies
  • Gingerbread
  • No-Knead Bread
  • Banana Bread
  • Cherry-Chocolate Chip Scones
  • No-Bake Chocolate-Oatmeal Cookies
  • Cornbread

There are lots of things I still want to try!

  • Pumpkin Bread
  • Pumpkin Scones
  • Zucchini Bread
  • Flat bread
  • Sourdough bread
  • Buttermilk biscuits
  • Truffles
  • Double-Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies
  • Shortbread
  • Pound cake (for Trifle!)
  • Pizza dough
  • Whole wheat No-Knead Bread

One problem I haven’t been able to overcome is the lack of equipment. I only have 2 small cabinets to store things in, so when I was packing to move, I had to be really careful about what I brought with me. Really useful things like the blender and muffin tins didn’t make the cut. I had to send home my pizza pan and cookie sheets because they didn’t fit in my tiny oven! I definitely don’t have the room (or money!) for wonderful things like a food processor or a stand mixer. I do have a hand mixer, but due to space limitations, it’s kind of a pain to get to. I have to rule out some recipes I would like to try if they involve equipment I don’t have, but I can figure out how to work around it a lot of the time. I just wish I could make pesto and hummus! Alas.

I am proud of one thing, though! I knew I wasn’t going to have any room for pantry goods once I stored all my dishes, so I came up with quite an ingenious solution, I think! Since I am such an insane reader, I have tons of bookshelves, and since my studio is so small, many of the books and shelves would be staying behind. I decided to bring one of those cheap 5-shelf Target affairs and turn it into a pantry! Larry was able to wedge it in next to the stove, and Mom and I used a small suspension rod and the curtains she made for my very first apartment to disguise the contents. It works wonderfully, and I don’t know what I would do without it!

To keep the chaos under control in such a small space, I have to keep everything pretty organized, but I guess that’s good for me anyway. For me, being really poor has had a lot of unexpected upsides! I get lots of free exercise on the way to the bus, I’ve discovered I am much more resourceful than I ever knew, and I’ve found new, useful, and yummy ways to spend my time! I think this year is really going to influence how I live the rest of my life. While I am looking forward to a less-precarious financial situation, I have discovered that it takes a lot less to make me happy than I ever believed.