Thursday, January 31, 2013

Macarons and Memories

I spent this evening trying to figure out what I could do to entertain myself. Finally I landed on trying to make macarons, as it had somehow become a war cry over the last few days on Facebook.
It literally started out as me trying to figure out why "macaroons" were coming up as giant hunks of coconut but I remembered them being these delicate small sandwich-type cookies that I had never seen, but see a LOT of foodie blogs and TV shows and even scented food-shaped erasers dedicated to.
That is because, as a gal who teaches French advised me, I was thinking of "macarons".
Which is an entirely different beast and STILL gluten free. Also mostly cholesterol free, so my husband can have them!
In talking about them and being taunted with pictures, a street artist that I follow on Facebook popped up with a recipe and said "seriously, try these, they are massively easy to do."
So I mentioned I had purchased almond flower during a trip to a new Indian food store that had opened. Same said street artist advised me to go for it.
So I did.
Now, food has been a struggle for me and still is. I discovered this evening that I still don't have my full range of faculties back when it comes to taste. I discovered this, sadly, while enjoying sushi which I have a lot of fond memories about. I also have memories about off-tasting fish, and since it didn't seem quite right, immediately I thought of that. Had enough presence of mind to make it a study in texture, which was fascinating. Rice is still driving me a little batty.
I knew immediately that if I put these cookies together and couldn't taste them that at least for a little while, each time I tried another one I would remember this time when I wasn't well. I hesitated. Drank 3 glasses of wine. Read over the do's and don'ts of macaron baking.
Then I realized I kept telling myself we were living this year with no fear.... a misnomer, as we have already had a lot of fear. We're just not listening to it anymore and letting it stop us from doing things as in days of old.
Cookie making was launched in to immediately, and I know now even if my taste comes back and it changes how these are on my tongue, it will still be a fond memory linked in with the flavor and the smell. I thrilled at making my first ever meringue. When the blender was off, I listened to the sound of the winter rainstorm pounding away at the roof and the kitchen windows with my eyes closed. I stepped over my dog, who was completely intent on being by my side as I was being far more active than the spousal unit... also, there was the potential for dropped food. He was still comforting. The cats even stopped by to see why I kept banging pans on things (hint: trying to get air bubbles out!)
The cookies themselves browned up nicely and smelled amazing. They cracked, every single one, but there was no real ego attached to that. I'd accepted it as likely. And the flavor was amazing, light and airy with a crispy outside and that spongey inside that I now realized was what people kept trying to describe. They weren't pretty, but with a little nutella spread between two and sandwiched together, they were amazing.
Now each time I have a macaron I'm going to remember the rain, the feeling of accomplishment, and the taste of warm vanilla and hazelnut. Proust may have his madelines. I will be happy with my macarons. ^_^

Click here if you feel like it'd be fun to make memories of your own.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Check Out This Thing I Found - Foodie Edition (Let Them Drink TEA!!)

Having not done one of these in a while, and needing badly to refocus on positive stuff and share with others, I have decided to talk about one of my favorite things to enjoy: Tea!

Now, if you go out on the interwebs you'll see that most of the world enjoys a good cuppa tea over a cuppa joe as a matter of cultural leaning. I do remember specifically being able to purchase ice cold oolong tea from vending machines halfway up the mountain at Fushimi Inari in Kyoto. Tea is ubiquitous, moreso even than Starbucks. Personally I hope it stays that way, too, as there is something slightly more refined and gentile about it. Perhaps due to the images of a proper English tea time we have here in the West, that elevate it to something more than simply a drink. Coffee, I think, is more utilitarian in purpose and is very taken for granted as Liquid Go Fuel for loopy office workers. I imagine in Japan it's probably the same way for tea, or thus have I heard stories told.
Also... if you do drink it a lot, you get to look thoughtful when someone asks you if you'd like some coffee then say "Noooooo.... usually I drink tea..." and then they'll start thinking you're one of those people that does decoupage, upcycles clothing, and doesn't ever watch TV.
There are sooooo many different kinds of tea available these days! Most far surpassing the over processed Lipton stuff many of us knew about in our youth. These days you can have organic dolphin free herbal teas, micro-farmed greens, ecologically responsibly harvested mate' teas... and it's all awesome and tasty. Except for rooibos. For some reason rooibos and I just never got along.
I'm not going to do a rundown of every type and subtype of tea out there, as there are some lovely blogs dedicated to that (I'll link them at the end) Instead, I'll share with you the lovely things I managed to discover as a tea lover over the years, and the ones I make heaviest use out of in my tea cabinet. And yes... there is an entire cabinet dedicated to tea and tea accoutrements in my kitchen.

First off, let's see our group, shall we?
Our intrepid group...

These are the teas that I dig for constantly and actually think of as having specific times of days or seasons where they should be drunk. Some of them are favorite every day teas, others are those necessary to sip on after an emotional upset or during a cold. Others still are so reminiscent of the holidays or of memories in the past, that I drink them purely when I wish to feel the delicious heartache of nostalgia creep upon me. And truly, as I have just discovered, it is that way to an extent with all food items. Just some are stronger than others at pulling out memories with each sip.

Let's begin with the Grande Dame of the list, my super beloved Golden Moon Vanilla Jasmine tea.
When I realized I could not taste this last week, I cried. Literally. I love this stuff fiercely. It tastes finely of jasmine and vanilla, and has none of that fake perfumey flavoring you find in so many teas trying to seem "boutique" these days.

I first happened across this at a cafe near my house in Bothell, WA (north of Seattle, since nobody knows where any place is in WA except for Seattle and maybe Tacoma) where I met once a week with friends. At the time it was something that could only be purchased locally -as in THERE WAS NO WEBSITE. Remember what it was like pre-internet??- so that when I knew I would be leaving I found myself actually quite upset. I got together what little money I had left and bought a tin and nursed the hell out of it.
How much have I nursed it? Well... I left Seattle in 2004. I am now having to reorder a tin via their website for the first time since I left.
The leaves can be steeped up to 3 times, part of the reason it can last so long. It is also completely impossible to over-brew this stuff. I have forgotten I was brewing it and left it out on the counter overnight. In one of those "Fuck it, I need a drink" moments I threw it in the microwave and upon exiting it was STILL amazingly light, lacking any bitterness whatsoever, and did a damned fine job of getting my morning started.
If I had to recommend a black starter tea to anybody, it would be this thing. I start out my mornings with a hot cup of this doctored up with some turbinado sugar and some vanilla soy milk. It's also awesome just sipped on it's own with no additions, however.

Next on our list is another lovely discovered out in Seattle. It comes from a teensy weensy tea shop tucked in to the back corner of Pike's Place market behind the famous fish-throwing stand. If you went there, chances are you missed it, unless you were drawn in by the amazing smells that wafted from their doorway while ignoring the hollering fish hawkers tossing about frozen sea life to the delight of tourists.
If you manage to make it in there, you will find floor to ceiling stocked with amazing smelling herbs, spices, teas, some coffees, and every sort of device needed to release the flavor from those gorgeous plants. It is the Market Spice shop, and this was the first tea I had tried in 10 years that wasn't a Lipton tea baggy with a ton of sugar. It made me realize there was more to drinkable things that stuff pulled off generic supermarket shelves. Also specifically... the boy I ended up dating for most of my time in Seattle procured me a cup of Cinnamon-Orange tea on our 3rd date immediately upon finding out I was losing my voice, and it helped keep me talking until we ended our evening looking out at the skyline over Lake Union from Gasworks Park.

Even if I don't think fondly of the boy anymore, I do think fondly on this tea, and STILL use it whenever I have a cold. It is amazingly spicy and complex, smells amazing, and will open up your throat, your sinuses, or whatever ails you. It's also wonderful for cool fall or winter mornings. I used it quite often then as a pick me up. You don't need sugar, either, as it has its own built in sweetness. Should you love more sweet, though, it is of course an option.
As an aside, they also make one of the best chai teas I have ever had, called Spicy Seattle Chai Tea. I drink this stuff with honey and vanilla soy milk at least once a week. As a result, I am damn near out and need to order again. Be warned, it isn't that pre-mixed powdered stuff they try to sell you, or that sicky sweet pour-from-the-box chai out there. It will kick its way down your throat and make itself known, and I highly recommend it if you love your chais strong and peppery!

Next! My god, don't ask me to tell you what the canister says, I couldn't tell you. This is our only green tea in the lot, but it is also my utter favorite of all time. If I can go anywhere and get this type of tea to drink, I will be a thoroughly happy camper.

This, my lovelies, is known as genmaicha, or green tea with roasted rice. It is the proud product of Ippodo Tea out of Kyoto, Japan. If there is an easy way to get it state-side, I don't know of it.
When we got back from Japan I felt like I'd been somewhat cheated out of a long trip around beautiful Kyoto as well as a chance to really get in to some of the good tea they are known for there. So I ordered this directly from them, paid an arm and a leg, and received some amazing stuff.
Genmaicha is the stuff I love to drink during the day, when it is gray out, or when I need a "hug" from whatever I'm drinking. It has a lovely, clean green tea flavor without having the astringent taste of sencha. which is the green tea most people think of when you mention it. It is topped off by the taste of the brown rice, which probably gives off some sort of umami flavor to the whole thing and is what makes it so satisfying to drink. It's also a nice, non-harsh way to start your day.
Another thing of note, Ippodo's genmaicha can be reused 3 times, so you could have a pot going all day of the stuff if you so desired.
To put it in a nutshell, if all other teas disappeared from the earth and I was left with this alone to drink, I would be utterly fine with it.
Ippodo also sells sencha, macha (that lovely green powdered stuff that is used in everything "green tea flavored", as well as the tea ceremony) and Gyokuro, which is deliciously delicate, a bitch to brew properly if you're used to the more easy teas, and something I only pull out on rare occasions when I have 25 minutes to devote to brewing a small pot of the stuff for consumption. It is, though, worth it. They also have pots, cups and items for the tea ceremony if you're interested in that sort of thing.
Fun side fact, their website changes seasonally and features a black cat that wanders by on occasion. I really love that touch.
If you don't feel like having your tea shipped from Kyoto or can't afford it, most places with a decent sized tea section will also sell genmaicha, usually in a small can or box. I believe Rishi makes some.

And actually, you know what? This post is getting ginormous, so I'm going to split it up! Catch you in Part 2!

Monday, January 28, 2013


Watercolors by Red1332
Watercolors, a photo by Red1332 on Flickr.

Just a little bit of artwork I was futzing with at work. It's the size of a postcard, and not bad for my first attempted landscape. ^_^
I think I need to try something a touch more fantastical, maybe some mountains. Maybe underwater! I have a lot of postcards left, so there's so much that could be done yet!

Final Dumb - the Un-Dumbening

Visit with the neurologist this morning, who was probably the nicest guy I have come across in the medical profession i ages. He asked me questions, and at one point I do believe I saw a look of genuine concern in his eyes. He reminded me of a grandfather.
He said the most beautiful words ever, too... "This can all be fixed." He prescribed 5 days worth of prednisone and told me that I would be back to normal once done. I almost cried, actually.
All that's left now is to schedule the MRI (and that can't happen until I'm sure I'm not pregnant... Did I mention we've been trying to get pregnant.) and verify that I didn't have a stroke. Apparently my left side didn't respond when he did nerve testing, which concerned him a bit, but we'll clear that all up.
Besides, if I managed to give myself a stroke at 34, that's pretty much the height of stupidity I'd have to just hang it up right then and there.
I've already taken the first prednisone, and it is working because the world is no longer ear-raping me with every mildly loud sound. Even better? 5 minutes ago I tasted chocolate for the first time in a week. Even better than that? A coworker smiled and said I must be doing better because I was laughing again. I hadn't realized I wasn't.
This is amazing. It's all righting itself so quickly, I no longer feel like a husk. I'm looking forward to tasting coffee again like you wouldn't believe.
At times I wonder if there is any way for me to be more grateful for what I have. As scary as this whole thing was, I now have an amazing sense of gratitude for things I have taken for granted and even swore at all of my life. So what if I'm over sensitive to touch? It is far, far worse to not be able to feel your loved one touching your back or your arm. As far as food, I now understand just how much taste and smell are tied in to memories, and that when we eat food we are recalling every association we had with it, we aren't just consuming it. Rice without flavor and without the comforting associations is just weird and nearly unnerving to consume. Tea without smell is just liquid. Not even water, because water has a flavor.
I am now so very grateful for everything that my body can do and sense.... I needed this. Maybe I even needed to be terrified that it might not come back. As it stands, this incident has left me with a renewed appreciation for what it takes to interact with the world, and how fragile and barely balanced our systems can be.

Further Dumb

I just don't have it in me to going to further detail about all of the craziness. Just a quick rundown.
-I am incredibly sensitive to light and sound currently. Sound especially, as it feels like certain frequencies pierce my skull and destroy my ability to think straight.
-Missing sensation on parts of my body, although it is coming back slowly. I had large portions where I couldn't feel anything, but now it seems like there's more parts that can feel touch again than not. I am grateful.
-my sense of taste was completely gone for 2 days, but seems to be slowly coming back. Asof tonight   chocolate and coffee still taste like nothing but I can discern jasmine, vanilla, sweets, salties, and sort of pick up on spicy. It is sad to say that at one point earlier this week I ran upstairs in great excitement to tell my husband I could taste tomatoes. Tonight when I realized I could taste my favorite tea again,I actually cried.
-I couldn't smell anything, but this seems to be coming back fastest of anything. I could smell my favorite incense as of Friday night. Tonight I could smell the soap my husband used to wash his hands. It seems like the more delicate things are finally showing up.

It was an odd thing wandering around only being able to sense texture with my tongue, o scent or flavor to connect to what I was eating. A bowl of rice was the strangest thing I had ever encountered. I specifically stopped eating anything I liked because I knew it would upset me and right now I am ohhh so very sick of crying. *sigh*
The nightmares have toned down a bit, thankfully. I haven't woken up screaming although they have been somewhat unpleasant. Perhaps those are on the way out now, too.
Now I mostly do my best to keep sensory input at bay, wearing my sunglasses inside if I find things are getting to be too much. (Oddly I have discovered that wearing sunglasses and pulling the hood up on my hoodie or whatever I have goes a long way to cradle my brain. I relax more, and sounds don't hurt. It buys me half an hour before the headaches start up again.)
Now my focus is dealing with the great degree of pain that sound causes me. When we walked in to a Wegman's that was completely crowded today, I almost fled the place in a panic. My ears are still ringing. So now I'm scared that the fact I wear headphones, which funnels very loud sound straight into my ears, will prolong the healing that seems to be going on. Even just sitting here I have a high pitched tone and this is probably what tinnitus feels like. After a lot of sounds hit me,it jumps up toa shrieking tone and my head starts to pound.
Doctor's appointment in the AM to start the process of checking this out. i am hoping he gives me a note that keeps me out of headphones for a week, or however long it takes me to recover.
As far as flipping out.... I still get agitated far more easily than usual. I am worried about the confluence of loud noises, my short fuse to aggression and the ensuing headaches.
There are worse things to be worried about, of course. I could be in a war zone or the victim of white slavery. But for me, a soft and vulnerable middle class American female, walking around like a husk with the loss and magnification of the senses is enough to screw up my world. I felt dead for several days, just going through the motions. It felt nothing like what I identified being myself as, and threw me in to a spiral.
But maybe tomorrow the doctor says rest quietly, take this pill, get your blood flow up, and all will be well. That's what I want. I want to feel sensation on the bridge of my noise, be able to taste coffee, and be in a crowded place without all of humanity grating me raw. It doesn't seem like an impossible thing to ask for.

Friday, January 25, 2013

What I Did That Was Dumb - part 1

This is a head-dump, please be forewarned. Nothing really funny to follow except perhaps some black humor....

So on Sunday night I did a horrendously dumb thing, except I did not realize it was horrendously dumb until well after the fact.
I had been on a streak to clean up and organize the house after the holidays, and that included the very cluttered art room.
It is freezing cold down in the basement this time of year unless you're willing to crank the baseboards up in the other room. Even then, the warmth never quite makes it back in to my little corner of the creative, and I feel bad for using that much energy to heat such a small space inadequately.
I have had a small space heater that was given to me back in the days of living in That Apartment That Had the Constant Gas Leak, which actually even predates dating the man who is now my spouse. It's old, yes, but it would shoot out heat in that old 3rd floor Victorian row house-cum-apartment and give off just enough heat that we didn't get frostbite in my bedroom. Which, given that the landlord hated to actually heat the place, and demanded I see if I was cold AFTER putting a sweater on (BITCH I HAD ON A SWEATER, MITTENS AND A WINTER COAT. TURN ON THE FUCKING HEAT) was actually a distinct possibility.
The only thing is, there were high ceilings and good air circulation, so while I did always initially get a small whiff of something off the heater, it never had a chance to accumulate. The gas leak in the kitchen my landlord refused to actually pay money to fix was far more aromatic and concerning. The small heater was electric, to boot, and labeled as safe for indoor use. I never thought twice about, you know, using it for indoor use, because of these 2 reasons.
I still have this small space heater and it seemed perfect because it was a small space, well, it would work. So I turned it on while I was cleaning to try and keep myself, the dog, and both cats warm that kept wandering in and out trying to see what I was doing.
There was a smell that came off of it, but I figured it was dust burning off because it had been at least a year since I had turned it on, and thought nothing of it.
Except when I stood up 6 hours later, I could still smell the smell, and I realized I was very dizzy and disoriented, and my head felt like it had a balloon expanding inside of it that had smashed my consciousness to the outside. I was giddy, too, and after I turned off the heater and gave myself a few minutes elsewhere in the house, I realized the thoughts were screaming through my head. Literally screaming, as if there was no volume control.
I decided that since it was 2:30 am (actually earlier than I go to bed most days since I work 2nd shift) I should see if it was just exhaustion and go to bed.
When I laid down, the thoughts were still screaming and I had this odd sensation like there were insects ricocheting off the inside of my skull. It was so bad that I shoved a pillow down over my head to try and block everything out and calm all of the motion down. Somewhere in there I fell asleep and proceeded to have very, very bad nightmares. I woke up trying to scream from one.
I felt horrible when I awoke, like I had the flu. I slept in as late as I possibly could, then stood in the shower for an hour. My mouth was completely dry (and had started drying out towards late evening last night) and I thought perhaps I was just dehydrated, although I didn't know why. I drank water, juice, whatever I could get my hands on. It went straight through me, and my mouth dried back out within half an hour. I also noticed I was incredibly dizzy with spaces of completely losing depth perception and being unable to figure out what I was doing.
I hate to say it, but I wrote these off as flu symptoms even though I didn't feel hot or achy or sore. On top of that, I've had a flu shot and this has been one of the healthiest winters in recent memory. Nor had I been drinking, that it might have been a hangover. Even the sudden spells of weakness where I was pretty sure I was about to take a faceplant in to the floor, though concerning, were written off as just being sick. And I decided to go in to work anyway despite this, which was probably the biggest mistake I could've done.
When I got there I felt a headache building the likes of which I have never experienced before. It became so big it felt as if the inside of my skull was pulped and raw and the outside was just an eggshell with hair on it. I was sitting at my seat trying to hide the fact I was crying from the pain and doing a poor job, because my manager very clearly saw it happening.
Four acetaminophen from the hall emergency first aid kit, a cup of coffee and three bottles of water later and my brain had calmed down to a dull roar. The headache had taken to hiding in the back, so my skull felt like a bowl that would just fall off if the headache gave it a good, swift kick. It was unnerving. I spent most of my shift with my head down. As most of the shift seemed to experience chronic headaches, I had the rare opportunity to experience empathy from coworkers and they advised me to get higher painkillers when I could.
I got home, soaked in a tub poured for me by my beloved spouse, then crawled straight in to bed to sleep.
Night 2 of horrible and extensive nightmares ensued. When I woke up the headache was back, perhaps 9/10ths the strength of yesterday but still raring to kick ass.
I was nauseas, still dry-mouthed, and finding that light and sounds were beginning to bother me a lot.
(As I'm sitting here, the loud hum of my computer's fans is actually starting to bore in to my skull and we're 5 days later. I may have to break this off and pick it up later.)
I sucked down water but it barely took care of my dry mouth. I did my best to eat, thinking perhaps it was just low blood sugar. No change. I ended up calling off work sick and curling up in bed for as long as I could.
I did find I was getting agitated very easily now, and spent a lot of time snarking at the cats and the dog, as well as getting frustrated over small things. The strangest, though, was when I was trying to detach the cat's claws from a new-ish sweater I was wearing and smacked my hand in to the countertop. My next movement was automatic, I swatted the cat on the hind end for not cooperating. But I realized what I had done was expect to react out of pain. I didn't actually feel pain. I knew I'd felt pressurem but it never hurt. Oddly, no bruise ever formed either.
Right about that time it occured to me that it had been a bit since I'd been able to feel a few things. I'd run in to a lot of stuff, and not really felt much of it. And that was when I got scared.
After Bob got home and I tried out Gatorade, I realized I couldn't really taste that, nor could I taste the coffee I tried to sip for the recurring headache (at this point thinking perhaps it was just caffeine withdrawal). The food that arrived had a lovely texture, but I couldn't taste the cheese in the grilled cheese sandwich. The salt was the only thing I perceived, like the sugar was the only thing I only really picked up on in the drinks.
Then I started screaming at Bob. It was just a growing anger that would not die down and I ended up on the stairs, screaming down at him while he stared up at me (calmly, bless his heart, he stayed calm and knew something wasn't right) and then gave me room to go upstairs and scream and cry in to my pillow.
I have cried in the past over things, but I have never, ever been that angry in my life. I have never screamed like that. It was like a switch was flipped and suddenly another person was shouting about things I really didn't actually give a damn about once the shouting was over. I cried for half an hour, figured this was when my spouse was going to realize I wasn't worth it after all, and ask me for a divorce, decided not to commit suicide via razor blade (yes. I had this thought while on the bathroom floor eyeballing a loose razor blade I found and logically talked myself down because if I failed, it meant I was probably going to a mental institution and wouldn't that be a bigger burden and far more embarassing? So just let him ask you for the divorce) then I staggered to bed and slept for 3 hours, a string of nightmares waking me up at regular intervals where I found I was thrashing and trying to scream.
The noises of the keyboard and the CPU are driving me crazy, this sensitivity to repetitive sounds has been a big problem as of late. So I'm going to call this good, and really if I don't do a part 2, the major Big Bad is written. I'm going to go hide under some pillows again for a bit and try to let my ears calm down.

Saturday, January 19, 2013


It has been a very long time since I have actually felt that I was living a life without meaning. It struck me very hard this evening, though. That I could do much more elsewhere, and my lack of ability and knowledge to get from current point A to point B is keeping me from helping others or fulfilling some.... I don't even know. At heart I am an existentialist, and have always felt there was no real "plan", per se. Just that I might one day fall in to what I was here for, and all would be well.
Maybe this growing feeling of dissatisfactionis just growing pains as I'm getting ready to move where I'm needed next. Or maybe it's me being petty and childish and failing to understand how an adult world works. There's no map for this stuff.
See, I never wanted to BE anything. When people kept asking me as a child what I wanted, it occured to me I needed to have ~something~ to respond with. I think it also eventually occured to me it needed to be the same answer, because each time I made up something different, somebody pointed out that I'd changed my mind (as if it had been made up). Evidently this made me "precocious". So the question devolved in to an answer of "Veterinarian" each time, because I liked animals. Maybe I really could be one, I thought, but I wasn't really interested in it.
So here I am, past 30, aimless and doing something that I don't particularly like because I'm damn good atit aand it isn't challenging. It also means I'm not using years of skills I've picked up and they're slowly atrophying. I am sitting here getting dumber even as I type this, feeling unfulfilled, battling meaninglessness. Like suddenly after a lifetime of floating suddenly I'll have direction and focus and purpose.
I don't even know where to go. I know what I want to do but not how. My life feels like a very small box that I am rattling around in, wasting precious time.

Friday, January 4, 2013