Month: April 2014

Shirley Jackson and Being in Control

I adore Shirley Jackson. I particularly love The Lottery and Other Stories, which was published in 1949. You’ve probably read The Lottery, maybe in high school English–it’s a deeply disturbing story about how our society might function in the future. People actually sent hate mail to The New Yorker after it was published (in 1948) and cancelled their subscriptions.

The Lottery and Other Stories is a collection of 25 unrelated (sort of) stories. There’s a few themes that run throughout, but here are my two favorites: James Harris and women who can’t control their lives.

James Harris shows up in most of the stories, either as Mr. Harris, or Jim, or Jamie, or James, or an unnamed, shadowy man. They might all be the same James Harris. James Harris might be the Devil’s pseudonym; James Harris was a devil in an old English ballad. However you want to interpret him, he’s everywhere and nowhere and hard to find and wonderful and horrible. As you read the stories and meet him over and over again, you look forward to seeing him again, but you also dread it, because nothing good happens when he’s around (and nothing good really ever happens in a Shirley Jackson story).

The female protagonists in Jackson’s stories tend to have trouble controlling their own lives. In one story, “The Tooth,” a woman travels to the city to have a tooth extracted, meets “Jim” on the bus, and falls down a rabbit-hole of memory loss and madness. In another, “The Daemon Lover,” a woman waits for her fiancé, Jamie, to pick her up on their wedding day, and, not to spoil anything,  but it doesn’t go well. It’s not always James Harris who ruins things, though–it’s often the women themselves. In one story, “After You, My Dear Alphonse,” a little boy brings his black friend home for lunch, and his mother, in an effort to be helpful and kind to those she perceives as less fortunate, overcompensates and treats the boy very poorly. She’s determined that the boy, Boyd, absolutely must be in some sort of desperate need, despite his instance that he is cared for and loved at home. She becomes offended that he won’t accept her help–she’s trying not to be prejudiced, but in her efforts, she is

In short, this book makes me want to take control over my life, because these women are fighting against societal pressures to be dainty, good, young, and perfect. They have to be gracious, and bake a good cake, and be good hostesses at all times (and at all costs). These stories show the horror in the reality of life, especially in women’s lives, and how our interactions can be terrifying on a daily basis.

I absolutely love this collection, and for some reason, the spring is the perfect time to pick it up again.

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Sunnier Days (and Lemon Bars)

It’s been pretty nice here in the West–sunny, warm days and cooler nights. I’m not used to such consistently nice weather. It feels like a trick. Weather is supposed to be awful most of the time, right? It builds strong character (and strong livers).

To celebrate the gorgeous weather, I made lemon bars. They’re one of my favorite simple desserts: custardy, shortbready, sweet, tart. Totally unpretentious and easy. You can also make them into lime bars by substituting four limes for the two lemons.

Lemon Bars

  • 1C butter, softened
  • 1/2C sugar
  • 2C flour

Mix (I used the paddle attachment on my stand mixer). Press into an ungreased 9×13 pan and bake at 350F for 15-20 minutes, or until it’s slightly golden around the edges.

  • 4 eggs
  • 1.5C sugar
  • 1/4C flour
  • zest of 3 lemons
  • juice of 2 lemons (you can save the third, zested lemon for something else)

Whisk these together (I used the whisk attachement on my stand mixer), and pour over the baked crust. Bake for 30 minutes. It’ll firm up as it cools.

You could add a meringue to the top to make lemon meringue bars if you were feeling saucy.

Starting Fresh (and Orange Vinegar Spray)

We’re so so so so close to finding our house. We’ve seen a few that were great, and I think THE ONE is just a few houses away. (Eeeeeeeee.) I’m really excited about having a place that’s ours (so long, upstairs cougher and next-door hammer fiends!). To prepare for taking care of a whole house, something I’ve never done before, I’m making my cleaning routine more intensive. I saw this spray on Pinterest and it’s pretty great for windows, tubs, etc. Plus, if you let the orange peel sit for a day or so, it makes the vinegar smell much more pleasant.

Orange Vinegar Spray

  • empty spray bottle (I used an old Febreze bottle)
  • orange peel (I used four clementines that were on their way out, but you could substitute the peel of a whole orange)
  • white vinegar

Toss the peel in the bottle and fill with white vinegar. Shake shake shake. You can use it right away or leave it for a day to make it smell even better.

Craft Time: Making Pasties

I did burlesque for about two years back in the Midwest. I made all my own pasties (the nipple cover, not the food). They’re easy to make, fun to wear, and make a cute bachelorette gift!

Making pasties | Gainfully Something

The materials you need.

Burlesque Pasties

You’ll need:

  • stiff felt or cotton embroidery backing
  • scissors
  • a Sharpie
  • Fabri-Tac glue (this stuff takes off your nail polish, so be careful!)
  • baking powder tin to use as a stencil
  • two bobby pins
  • gems, sequins, and/or other embellishments
  • to wear: I use liquid latex to adhere pasties to myself; some people like medical adhesive, or you could use electrical tape in a pinch.
Making pasties | Gainfully Something

Make a circle on your felt.

First, make a circle on your felt with the Sharpie, using the baking powder tin as a stencil. Baking powder tins are the perfect size for making pasties. I used to use a paper pattern, but this is so much easier. Cut out the circle.

Making Pasties | Gainfully Something

Make a Pac-Man.

Next, cut out a little wedge in your circle. Cut to the center, then eyeball a pie-shaped wedge. It should look like Pac-Man.

Making Pasties | Gainfully Something

Cut out your second circle and lay it under the first circle so they match.

Make another circle, then match up the edges so you can cut out an identical wedge from the second circle.

Making Pasties | Gainfully Something

Matching Pac-Men.

You should have two matching Pac-Men friends. Wokka wokka wokka.

Making Pasties | Gainfully Something

Glue triangle.

Spread some Fabri-Tac on one edge of Pac-Man’s mouth. Bring the non-glued side over the glued side, making sure you match the circle’s edges. It’ll take some wiggling. Secure with a bobby pin.

Making Pasties | Gainfully Something

Little boob hats.

Essentially, you are making little boob hats. This is what they look like from the side. When you make your second one, check the angle of the first one and make sure they match. You might need to readjust.

Let these dry for 10-15 minutes with the bobby pins on. You can get your embellishments ready while you’re waiting.

I got a tub of loose, assorted gems from the craft store, and then I picked out the ones I wanted to use. You can make pasties look like ANYTHING. I made a pair that look like cheeseburgers; I made a pair with dreidels instead of tassels; I made star-shaped ones. The only limit is your creativity!

To glue on the gems, spread a thin layer of glue on your pastie (start from the outer edge), and firmly place each gem on the glue. It is pretty time-consuming to make a pair of gem-covered pasties, but let me tell you: they have major stage impact. Also, they are really versatile. Super sparkly pasties can go with nearly any kind of music or dance style, so having a pair of these around is really smart. Again, they make great bachelorette gifts, too! For my friend’s bachelorette party, I actually led a pastie-making workshop. Super fun. These amazing ladies who had never even thought about wearing pasties before ended up making two or three pairs. Pasties make you feel powerful.

Making Pasties | Gainfully Something

Super sparkle!

This photo doesn’t even do these pasties justice. They are gorgeous. Imagine stage lights hitting those gems during a sassy shimmy!

Doctors (and Carpet Powder)

I hated my last doctor. She wasn’t an MD (which I didn’t realize until I went to see her), and she didn’t really listen to anything I had to say about my own body or health. My new doctor is awesome. She listened, she made small talk that made me feel at ease, and she actually seems to care about my involvement in my own health.

I have a full physical scheduled for tomorrow. I’m kind of nervous, because who likes getting poked and prodded, but I think it’ll put me at ease and put me on the right track.

This time of year, when it starts getting a little warmer, all of the smells come out. Seriously, spring is a smelly, smelly time. If your house needs a refreshing touch, try this carpet powder. It couldn’t be easier to make or use, and it really works.

Freshening Carpet Powder

  • baking soda
  • essential oil (I used lavender–you could use whatever you wanted. Cinnamon would be nice, too.)
  • a little jar (I used a jar that formerly held chili flakes.)

Fill the jar 3/4 full with baking soda. Add about 10-15 drops of oil. Put on the lid and shake shake shake. Sprinkle on carpet, let sit about 15 minutes, and vacuum.

“Doesn’t Have a Job” vs. “Is a Housewife” (and Frozen Banana Dessert)

Please, people of the world, choose your words wisely. When describing a housewife’s occupation, please do not say, “She doesn’t have a job.” This is insulting, and, actually, not remotely true. Being a housewife is an unpaid, under-appreciated vocation that involves quite a bit of work; you are a cook, maid, zookeeper, child wrangler (if you have kids), nurse, activities coordinator, office manager, and taxicab. We can send a man to the moon, but we can’t invent self-folding clothes or self-vacuuming carpet. Dishes don’t do themselves (but wouldn’t that be fancy?). Get on it, NASA.

Housewife, homemaker, whatever term you prefer, make sure those around you know what you are and what your occupation is called. You aren’t “unemployed,” you’re not “without a job,”  you are someone who works to make the best of their home, family, and life.

/puts soapbox neatly away

ANYWAY.

This is the farthest thing from a recipe, but it’s delicious and actually HEALTHY. I am not a fan of healthy desserts because if you’re going to eat dessert, just eat some damn dessert. However, I make this pretty frequently because it tastes wonderful.

Frozen Banana Dessert

  • 1 frozen banana per person (get a bunch of bananas, let ’em go super brown, stick ’em in the freezer)
  • cinnamon
  • honey

Put the bananas in the microwave for about 45 seconds, or until you can peel them pretty easily. Throw those frozen nanners in a food processor with a little cinnamon. Whir around until they’re mushed up. It should be about the texture of sorbet/frozen yogurt. Scoop into a bowl, drizzle honey on top, and eat.

Taking the First Step (and Asian-inspired Beef & Rice Thing)

Big news: we got pre-approved for a home loan, which means we’ll be buying a house in the next three months! I’m so excited–no more upstairs neighbors vacuuming and showering at 3am! No more weird maintenance guys! MORE KITCHEN SPACE!

We’re meeting with a real estate agent this weekend to start a serious search. This summer is going to be awesome.

Quick dinners can be a lifesaver, especially when life gets crazy. This is one of my favorites. It only takes about 20 minutes to make, and the leftovers are delicious, too.

Asian-inspired Beef & Rice Thing

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1T sesame oil
  • 1/2C brown sugar
  • 1/2C low sodium soy sauce (if you use regular soy sauce, it will be way too salty!)
  • 1t fresh ginger, grated (freeze the ginger for easier grating)
  • 2t red pepper flakes
  • cooked rice (I make mine with some sesame oil for flavor)
  • scallions, chopped
  • sriracha

Brown the beef in the garlic and sesame oil. Drain (I use a colander), then dump the beef back in the pan. Mix together the brown sugar, soy sauce, ginger, and red pepper flakes, and pour over beef. Stir around and simmer, covered, for a few minutes. I usually leave this until the rice is done.

Serve beef over rice, topped with scallions and sriracha.