Monday, October 30, 2006

I Can Bake...Sometimes

If you've ever received a container of Christmas cookies from my mom or celebrated a holiday at my parents' house, you know that my mom is a great baker. She does excellent desserts--cookies, pies, cakes, breads, etc. While I think I'm a pretty decent cook, I'm not that much of a baker. I didn't really inherit my mom's talent. My brothers still like to remind me of the time I made chocolate chip cookies that tasted like nothing. I really have no idea how it happened--I couldn't think of anything I left out--but these cookies were awful. You'd be surprised how bad, as it seems pretty hard to mess up a simple chocolate chip cookie recipe. But I did. I've improved since then, but I don't get too adventurous with my baking. I think the exact nature of it is part of my problem. I like to estimate when I cook...that doesn't work so well with baking. But a couple of weeks ago, I decided to try out a recipe I found for a coffee cake, and it turned out pretty darn good, if I do say so myself. The recipe's below if you want to try it out. It's a good fall treat, especially with the abundance of apples currently in the stores.

3 cups peeled, cored and coarsely chopped apples (3-4 hard, tart apples)
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Zest or grated rind of 1 orange
4 large eggs
1 cup canola oil
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

• Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease and flour a bundt pan or 10-inch plain tube pan and set aside. In a small bowl, combine apples with brown sugar and cinnamon. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and orange zest.
• In a third bowl, beat eggs and oil until thick and creamy, about 2 minutes at high speed on electric mixer or with a balloon whisk. Incorporate egg and oil mixture into dry ingredients, then add orange juice and vanilla extract, if using, and beat just until moistened but blended. Do not overmix.
• Pour one third of the batter over bottom of prepared pan. (I thought it was more like dough than batter.) Cover evenly with half of apple mixture and then pour another one-third of the batter over apples. Use a spatula to smooth batter over the apples. Repeat if you have enough batter, but always end with a smooth layer of batter.
• Bake for about 60 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the cake comes out clean. (Mine only took 45 minutes, but I think my oven cooks hot. Just check on it so as not to burn it.) Remove from oven and cool in the pan for 1 hour. Invert onto a serving plate.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

My New Favorite Bookstore

Last weekend a friend of mine from work, introduced me to what may be the world's best bookstore. Books for America is a nonprofit organization that collects books and distributes them to disadvantaged people in the DC area with the goal of improving literacy. Recipients of the books include children from low-income families, schools that serve high-poverty populations, prisons, shelters, clinics, etc. The organization receives many, many donated books that are, however, not appropriate for these communities. So the organization has a store where the general public can purchase these books. The store is packed with books, and it's exceptionally well-organized (organization being the downfall of many used bookstores, in my opinion). Last weekend I picked up Bill Bryson's "I'm a Stranger Here Myself," Heinrich Boell's "Billiard um Halb Zehn" (In German! I haven't been able to find this book anywhere--libraries, major bookstores, etc!), and Franz Wisner's "Honeymoon with my Brother" for a grand total of $7. What a deal, especially considering the books are in great shape--I'm not even sure some of them have been read. Plus, the best part is that you feel good about buying these books because every dollar you spend goes directly towards buying the books needed by the disadvantaged populations served by Books for America. Everybody wins!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Bike + Wet Leaves = No Good

Yesterday it rained. Overnight it poured. I woke up at 6am and heard it coming down hard. When I got out of bed around 9am, however, everything had cleared, and it was a beautiful day. Blue skies, puffy clouds, and decent temperatures. So I decided to pull my bike out of storage and take it for what might be a last ride before winter sets in. I decided to ride through Rock Creek Park for a number of reasons: it's nearby, it's always busy (when riding alone, I don't like to be in isolated places), and it's pretty. Today it was particularly pretty with the trees changing. A few times, red, yellow, and orange leaves showered down on me. A couple of big puddles got me wet, but for the most part it was a nice ride. Then I got back to the house and decided to ride my bike through the yard up to the front door, as I always do. Ooops. Bikes don't like to go uphill on a carpet of wet leaves topping wet grass. My bike completely flew out from under me, and I ended up laying in the wet yard with the bike on top of me. I've got some "carpet" burn and a few bruises as evidence. I'm fine though. And I'm sure it looked pretty funny.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

What I've Noticed So Far

Things That Are Easier With Jeff Gone
1. Driving. I don't have to fix the seat and the mirrors every time I get in the car.
2. Getting up. There's no one keeping me in bed.
3. Brushing my teeth. It's a small bathroom.

Things That Are Harder With Jeff Gone
1. Cooking. Who wants to cook for one?
2. Going to bed. It's a big bed for just me.
3. Staying warm in bed. It's 98.6 degrees cooler than normal.
4. Remembering to get the mail. That was his job.
5. Cleaning the bathtub. He's got more elbow grease than I do.
6. Changing the light that's flickering in the kitchen. I'm not quite tall enough.
7. Bringing the groceries in. So many more trips now. Same with laundry.
8. Going out at night. I hate coming home in the dark.
9. Watching commercials. Why do they have to put commercials for scary things on during family programming?
10. Having fun. Everything's just more fun with Jeff.

Monday, October 09, 2006

A Quiet House

Jeff left on Wednesday for Sweden, where he will be taking classes and working in the lab until December 2. The day after he left, however, my parents came for a visit. They just left this evening, and now the house seems really quiet.