Friday, September 29, 2006

Fuzzy Math: A Rationalization in Three Parts

Part One: Cheap Pants

I hate buying pants. I like *wearing* pants, don't get me wrong. It sure beats walking around only half-clad, and sometimes a skirt just doesn't do the trick. But for how difficult it is to find pants that actually fit me, you'd think my body was so freakish that people would gasp in horror and sympathy when I walked down the street.

Well. They might, but I've never noticed it, and I certainly don't feel like I have a freakish shape. I just can't find a pair of pants that feels the same way.

The effect of this situation is that I found myself the other morning realizing that I only own two pairs of pants: Jeans and Black. And of course, both were dirty. The days of summer-skirt-wearing were ending, and I needed a little wardrobe-development-expedition. Also known as:

[dun dun dun] Shopping. For. Pants. [tortured scream]

I girded my loins and set out. If I have time, I generally start at the bottom of the price-scale and shop my way up until I strike gold. Last time I shopped for jeans, I went to six stores, and probably tried on thirty or forty pairs. I ended up with some good jeans, but they were expensive (even if I didn't factor in the cost of all that time). Now do you see why I only owned two pairs of pants?

But today, somehow, the planets aligned and I found two pairs of jeans at the Salvation Army, for a grand total of $14.00. They're maybe a little more hootchie-mama than I was looking for, but not so hootchie-mama that everyone gets a gross little peek down my drawers every time I sit down. And they are actually the same length as my legs. In other words, unprecedented success.

Part Two: Luxurious Cookware

I've been wanting a particular pan for a year or so now. It's sturdy, thick-bottomed and great looking (and I bet it has a hell of a time shopping for pants too).

It can go in the dishwasher, it can go in the oven, and it has two loop handles, so it's easy to sling around and easy to store. And it's gigantic. I really like to make stew and meaty tomato sauce and braised chicken and stir fry, all of which are much better if there's enough very hot surface area to really brown the food, and not just make it sweat. Our existing large pan does have a lot of area, but it's not very thick, so there's only a six-inch circle of actual hotness in the center of the pan surrounded by a large, lukewarm doughnut-shaped territory.

So the new pan sounds great, right? Sounds like just the thing? How about for two hundred and thirty dollars? Still sound good? Yeah, that's why I've been dreaming about it and not buying it for the last year.

Part Three: Dubious Conclusion

But today, fresh from The Triumph of The Pants, I did a little math...

Two pairs of jeans that fit me: $68 each, $136 total
A just-adequate large frying pan: $85
10 morale-boosting fancy coffees because I'm chronically depressed by the quality of my cookware: $25

Total: $246

Two pairs of Sally Ann Special jeans: $7 each, $14 total
The Best Frying Pan Ever: $230

Total: $244

So, look at that! I can buy the pan and actually save two bucks! I think I'll treat myself to a fancy cup of coffee to celebrate.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Kitchen Brain

Food is one of my favorite things. I love to eat good food, I love to cook, and I even get a dorky little thrill out of grocery shopping. But food is not the only thing I like. There are things other than recipes, menus, and kitchen trivia that I want to store in my brain. So I made myself a whole separate brain that I can just set down and leave in the kitchen, to free up room in my original brain for some of that other stuff. It's like a room-specific pensieve (if you don't know what a pensieve is, then congratulations; you're not a huge geek, and here's a link if you're curious).

Since I'm not Dr. Frankenstein (Little Miss Frankenstein doesn't count), I don't keep my extra brain in a big jar of formaldehyde next to the toaster. It's more like a binder.

Here's what I have in there:

Dinner Ideas:
"What should we have for dinner this week?" is the question that no one wants to hear at nine o'clock on Tuesday night when it's time to make a shopping list. So The Brain has a list of things we like to eat. It makes planning meals feel more like ordering takeout, which is a task at which we're naturally quite gifted.

There's a page in there for all the numbers I can never remember: ratios of water to rice, quinoa, oatmeal, barley, lentils; how many cups of fruit fit into our big baking dish before the cobbler will boil over and start a fruit-flavored fire; what temperature is pizza temperature; how much rice makes four servings; stuff like that.

Shopping List:
In a pocket in the binder (so I can pull it out and stick it back without the tedium of wrangling rings) is a list of all the groceries we never want to run out of. I update the list every year or so as our tastes, budget, and eating habits change (the pile of twelve years of obsolete lists is a revealing survey). When I'm getting ready to go to the store, I look at the list, look around the kitchen, and see what's low or missing. Then I go over the menu plan we made for the week, and add meat, produce, and odd ingredients to the list. I used to make a shopping list from a master list without also planning menus, but I finally figured out that that's a good way to never run out of mustard and brown sugar and capers, but it's not necessarily a good way to end up with something you can actually have for dinner.

Easy Recipes:
If, upon an evening, I have a sous chef cooking, I can point him in the direction of the binder, and say, "It's all in there! While you cook, I'll be upstairs blogging about cooking." Gosh, which reminds me...


Okay. It's under control. The best laid schemes of cooks and sous chefs are often knocked awry by forgetting to defrost the day before.

Anyway, some people have an easier time than others deciphering cookbooks, and that is not enough reason for them not to cook. We have a few dependable recipes translated into English as actual human beings speak it, and they're in The Brain too.

The Section That Must Not be Named
Takeout menus. For when all else fails. They're stuffed shamefully into plastic pockets at the back of the binder, but they actually function more like a last resort than as an actual resource. Whenever I'm feeling doubtful about the success of a cooking experiment, I can reassure myself that whatever happens in the kitchen, dinner can still be piping hot on the table in half an hour. That usually helps me muster the courage to persevere, and we haven't yet had to throw dinner onto the compost pile and call in the pros. But there's always a first time.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Sex and Death in The Summertime

Fruit flies are a fact of life in summertime, and I'm enough of an uptight American that they really gross me out. I am not, however, American enough to solve the problem by refrigerating all of my produce. Tomatoes get mealy and wooly and mushy in the fridge. Peaches are meant to be eaten when they're ripe, juicy, sweet, and at body temperature. This is a family blog, or I would further explain how I feel about eating really excellent tomatoes and peaches. Suffice it to say that I'm actually blushing a little bit right now. See? American enough to be embarrassed by sensuality, but not American enough to stop.

Where was I? Oh, fruit flies. Right. There is a fruit fly trap that you can buy, which I did buy, which worked great. It works for a month, and it costs $7.00. Is freedom from fruit flies worth 23 cents a day? Is it worth $28 per summer? Well, yes, probably so. But can you do it cheaper? Yes! Definitely so! Read on!

The place I bought the trap describes the bait as "a vinegar solution." They would have been better off describing it as "a proprietary blend of acetic acid and other natural ingredients," because then it never would have occurred to me to make my own and save seven bucks.

I had a bunch of those disposable food containers that I think of as salad-dressing-size. They hold about a half a cup. I put a couple tablespoons of High Tech Fruit Fly Attractant (see above) in each container, covered them with foil, and poked a few fruit-fly sized holes in each foil lid. Then I strewed them about my kitchen and waited for victory. It worked like a charm. If I really wanted to prove it to you, I could take a picture of one of the traps that has what looks like about fifty little corpses, but it's really gross, and I like to have a pretty blog. So here's a nasty little drawing instead:

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Alchemy of Crap

There are two rooms on the main level of our house. The Food Activities Room and The Reading/Napping Room. There is no Peeing Room or Washing Room or Boot Room or Craft Room. I know. My life is unbearably difficult. Can you imagine the suffering?

Anyway, there are a lot of things that we find ourselves wanting to do down here that aren't strictly Food or Book Related, and in the interests of not living in a landfill, we have to figure out where and how to stash the things that we need and use, but that do not Strictly Belong. One thing we are blessed with is an embarrassment of bookcases. So my plan is to Turn Stuff Into Books.

I am a saver-of-containers. It's practically a diagnosis. I have containers that have gone through three moves without being used yet. I have containers that I bought at yard sales from former savers-of-containers who have wised up. Their mental health and profit=my growing collection! So I'm going through my containers, looking for the ones with the most book-like dimensions, and they are becoming Stuff Filled Books. They have labels on their spines, they blend into the scenery with all the other rectilinear objects, they will be easy to find when needed, and we don't have to exert ourselves running up and down the stairs all day (we might get all sweaty and die).

So far, I've made or planned:

First Aid Book (bandaids, rubbing alcohol, etc)
Mending Book (buttons, safety pins, thread, needles, scissors)
Sick Book (painkillers, antihistamines)
Candle Book (extra tealights, matches)
Cook Book (torn out recipes to try)
Toy Book (kid diversions)

My main dilemma now is whether I should shelve the "books" with similar content books (food with food, health with health), or in a distinct Books That Aren't Books section. Yes, I know. A real thorny one.