The Almost-Travel-Blogger Goes on an Almost-Vacation

I’ve never quite come to terms with the calculus of adulthood.

Guys, why do I have to load the dishwasher, run the dishwasher, unload the dishwasher, and then repeat when I have more dirty dishes? Forever? Side note, guys, did you know cooking for yourself involves a lot of dirty dishes?

Team, I get it. 401Ks. It’s important to plan ahead for retirement, but also…what if I didn’t? What if I kept that money, and really fleshed out my colorful scarf collection? And then bought myself a burrito? Or even just a new set of tires? That seems fair. (If you are reading this, and you are my father, don’t worry. I still contribute to my 401K, and only pout a lot of the time about not having more colorful scarves and a shrimp burrito.)

And HEY! Student loan stink-nerds! I’m talking to you! Do you know how many vacations I could take if you guys would just chillax about payments for a minute??! Answer: a lot of vacations.

Obviously these are the words of someone who is either profoundly lazy, or aggressively spoiled. Or both! I can multitask! I know I have it pretty great, and I promise guys, I’m fine. But that doesn’t mean “the usual” doesn’t get old.

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Milwaukee Chronicles Part 2: I am a person with a hat.

Hey team. Welcome back.

It’s been awhile! Unfortunately the job that pays me takes precedence over the blog that doesn’t, but I’ve missed you guys.

Some news! And before we go any farther, let me say, this is going to be a very important blog post. This is basically breaking news.

I am now a person who owns a hat!

Milwaukee is home to local millineries, the Hen House and Brass Rooster, two connected shops that make hats for women and men respectively. After two years of perusing the hats as a curious shopper, thinking they were too expensive for that particular trip, snapping a picture for Instagram, and running out the door, on my recent birthday extravaganza, I decided it was time to make a purchase.

 

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Milwaukee Chronicles Part 1: How to Exhibition Review

This weekend I went on my very first completely self-funded vacation.

I had really grand plans for this trip. At one point in the planning, I was just going to go for it. I was going to spend my entire tax refund on a plane ticket to Scotland, a dream of mine for years now.

And then I remembered my student loans.

And then I was going to spend a little bit less, and buy a train ticket to California! Stopping in cities along the way, seeing the best of America’s national parks.

And then I remembered my student loans.

And then I decided to spend the night in Milwaukee, a little over an hour away. And when I get back sit very very still as to not spend any money.

Yeah, that sounds about right. I could even listen to a whole episode of Fresh Air with Terry Gross on the drive, and not have to spread it over three commutes like I usually do! That’s the dream right there!

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Justice Pesto: When Pesto-Hipsters get too Big for their Skinny-Britches

When I moved to Wisconsin, it was still Winter and this thing called the Polar Vortex was still very much a concern.

For those unfamiliar with the Polar Vortex, all you need to know is it was crazy cold, and some meteorologists gave it a cool name so people wouldn’t be so sad about how crazy cold it was.

For years later, Wisconsinites could say to newcomers, “you think this is bad? In 2014 we survived a Polar Vortex.

It was not what I would call the finest chapter of my life. It hurt to go outside, and one doesn’t realize how much a person needs fresh air until you are robbed of it.

I, of course, thought it was my civic duty to tell everyone how much it hurt to go outside- a foolproof way to make friends in a new state is definitely complain a lot!- but because Wisconsin people are pretty much the nicest people, they tried to make me feel better about the seasons that were coming, instead of roll their eyes and walk away. Which I couldn’t blame them for doing if they had.

One of the main arguments people made for enduring Winter and staying for Spring was the Farmer’s Market.

Now I’d been to Farmer’s Markets before, both in my home state of North Carolina and during my two years living in New York. So what was so special about this one, guys? If we’re judging by the markets of my past, they’re mostly crowded and expensive and it’s cheaper and easier to go to the grocery store.

What’s so special about this Market that I would forgive Wisconsin for this wintry torment? 


My three-year report: The produce is reasonably priced. If you get there early enough the crowds are kind of fine. The flower vendors don’t judge me too harshly for Instagramming their merchandise (I buy stuff. It’s fine). And there’s cheese. Lots and lots of cheese. Personally, I think it’s worth the hype.


Mostly.

For you see, I was wronged this week. Farmers’ Market betrayal!

And I think if we’re ranking betrayal, Farmers’ Market betrayal is pretty high up there. After drug store betrayal, but before pizza delivery betrayal.

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Snow Day #2: Same song, second verse, more flames

My current job is the first experience where I’ve ever had to log time.

Log when I’m in meetings. Log when I’m checking emails. Log my morning hour of wistful sighing, or “admin”, as I like to call it.

It’s a weird process, and I hate it, and am also very bad at it. (“Why should I log my time?! I’m a free bird! Like a steel horse I ride! You’re never going to bring me down! I’m defying gravity!”) But talk on the streets is they’re cracking down on accurate time logging, so it’s something I’m trying to be, at the very least less bad at doing. So much so, without thinking too much about it, yesterday morning as I was trying to build momentum, still in my pajamas, and trying to beat one of the pirate levels of Plants vs. Zombies 2, I thought to myself, “how am I going to log this time?”

Then I remembered it’s Saturday, and my job has ruined me. It occurred to me though, there are worse things than being accountable for your time.

But only on weekends. During the week, I’ve gotta make my own kind of music! If I want to sing out, I’ll sing out! Nothing left for me to do, but dance! Or something…

After thinking that, I actually got out of bed. Yes, be proud of me.

So having hypothetical HR might actually be pretty handy. Especially when it snowed for approximately 29381209 hours, and you’re stuck inside. Would my imaginary HR approve of 6 hours of Plants vs. Zombies 2, even if you are really determined to topple the piano playing zombie that makes all of the zombies faster and jazzier?

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Unshrinky-Sink: That Time I Became a Sweater Wizard

Like any person who has devoted 8 years of her life to the study of textiles, I am very bad at taking care of textiles. Naturally.

Simply: I am bad at laundry. Not in an active, “this sweater will probably be fine, so I’m going to throw it in the hottest dryer cycle!” way, but more in a lazy “I was day-dreaming about a music video to the tune of “Mr. Blue Sky” by ELO, and wasn’t watching what I threw in the dryer” way.

And then the righteous anger that floods me as I pull my now child’s sweater out of the dryer dies quickly when I remember that A) I am to blame as I have no roommates and have not yet been able to summon woodland creatures to do my chores for me like I saw in the documentary Cinderella, and B) I should absolutely know better.

It became an issue this week, however, when the temperature plummeted, and I started to unpack all my winter clothes. The first sweater to emerge was my ski-man sweater. I shrank this one hard.

Sigh.

I metaphorically laughed in the face of the care instructions, and this sweater now appears to be for the new hipster American Girl Doll. (She also comes with a  collection of plaid blanket scarves and a box of tissues for when you want her to cry about her student loans! Her story is about writing her young adult novel in a coffee shop in Brooklyn.*)

I didn’t want to get rid of it because I was sure when sweater weather rolled around again, we would have the technology to fix this.

I kept pulling out sweaters, and they kept being weird.

I have, what is logically and reasonably described as: the longest torso on any human ever by roughly three feet.

My actual proportions:

Believe it or not, this is a pencil sketch and not a picture of a real human.

When I packed up these sweaters last Spring, I don’t remember saying to myself, “these will be perfect when I have my torso-reduction surgery.” I do remember hating to get rid of my sweaters in bulk, when the fact was, through various laundering methods, they were all a little too short for my Godzilla-torso. I guess I kept them.

Who knew you’d get to read so much about another person’s torso today?

But here we are again. On the cusp of another winter, and I’m still in Wisconsin. Conclusion:  I need sweaters that fit.

I’ve also been on this crazy kick of not spending money when I don’t need to. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it. I think it’s technically called, “saving money.”

Exhibit A: I mended all my socks yesterday. I’m basically a pioneer. A pioneer who isn’t very fun to be around. My past times include talking about fiscal responsibility over the butter churn and drinking water, but not being happy about it.

So, as God as my witness, I do not want to buy more sweaters! I needed to find a way to unshrink these guys.

And as it turns out, the technology to do so has been around for awhile.

Being a serial sweater-shrinker, I’d heard mention of the fabric softener unshrinking method (letting a sweater soak in lukewarm water and fabric softener and then stretching it out) through various friends and Pinterest boards, but in my trademark reaction to things found on Pinterest boards, I sighed, said “that probably doesn’t really work,” and moved on.

And then, unpacking my sweater collection, I remembered that new clothes are expensive. A quick Google later, I realized a person can also use hair conditioner!

See!? Totally different than fabric softener. I can continue to resent Pinterest for always trying to make me download their app and making me forget my password to my account I made that one time and for my friends suggesting it all the time which is never something I take kindly to.

But we’re not here to discuss my weird aversion to Pinterest. The question: can you unshrink a sweater?

Let’s try it, and if we’re careful, we just might learn a thing or two on the way!

Don’t worry. I hate me too.

Supplies:

  • A sweater
  • Hair conditioner
  • A sink or basin
  • Two towels

1.Start by filling up your sink or basin with lukewarm water. If sink is your water receptacle of choice, consider the really hilarious name of “unshrinky sink”!

It’s funny because it rhymes with shrinky-dink….eh, I give up.

2. Add half a cup of hair conditioner.

Warning: Conditioner doesn’t naturally mix with water, and 
will initially look like alien. 

One can only assume this is an absolutely accurate representation of alien larvae.

One can only assume this is an absolutely accurate representation of alien larvae

3. Add your sweater to the water, and soak for 20 minutes.

Textile fact #1 coming at ya!: Wool is naturally water resistant!
You’ll have to help submerge the sweater because wool is just too good at its job and will float on top.

See you on the side, sweater.

4. When you’re pulling your sweater out of the sink, gently squeeze out the
excess water. Don’t wring  it. Why? Get excited…

Textile lesson #2: Wool has a couple natural factors that allow for shrinking and stretching. Wool fibers are covered in tiny scales that lock on to each other when heat is applied and the fibers are agitated (like in a dryer!). Shrinking happens when the scales lock onto each other. (In extreme cases, sending a sweater through the dryer can felt the fibers, and there’s no hope for unshrinking) As you dry it, wringing it puts too much pressure on fibers that are still currently locked together and could potentially break the threads. Squeezing gets the excess water out while still being gentle on the fibers.

Are we having fun yet?

It already looks like it’s made for adult humans again, even if those humans are tiny and also probably pretty boring. Also, that towel is owned by a grownup.

5. Lay the sweater flat on a clean towel, and roll up the towel with the sweater inside to absorb excess water.

6. Once the sweater is damp-not-dry, lay out another clean towel on a flat surface, and place your sweater on top, gently stretching the sweater as you flatten it.

Textile fact #3: Wool has a natural “crimp.” That just means there is a waviness to the fiber that allows for stretching and resiliency. Since we’re stretching the fabric as we flatten it, there’s less pressure on the fibers, and we can take advantage of the stretch that comes with the wool’s crimp and the sweater’s knit.

Living in a tiny apartment, my flat surfaces consist of kitchen table (covered in folded laundry) and an aerobic step next to a box from Amazon.

7. Keep the sweater flat as it dries. I returned every few hours to stretch it out again.

Did this method fix everything? For my ski-man sweater…not everything. It still feels pretty snug, and doesn’t quite cover my torso like it once did, but I can wear it! And I don’t  feel like I’m dying. Which, let’s face it, is an admirable goal for all sweaters. It looked like it was almost felted though, so it was asking a lot for a full return to normal.

Before and after

Early on in the process, I saw that the worst that could happen here is the sweater doesn’t un-shrink, so I went through the same thing with one of my other sweaters I didn’t wear anymore (still technically fit but seemed to only shrink vertically, like a weird winter crop top), and it was immediately successful. That sweater was never sent through a full cycle in the dryer, however.

So I guess the takeaway is: soaking a sweater in hair conditioner to undo shrinking is not a science, but it is relatively successful depending on the sweater.

Optional takeaway #2: pay more attention to what you throw in the dryer.


*I call dibs on this idea! I could totally see hipsters who don’t know they’re hipsters buying the dolls to make fun of hipsters. They’d sell them at Urban Outfitters.

Recipe Review: Ovenly’s Stumptown “But I don’t want to” Shorty

Tonight at roughly 6:30, I got the classic “Tomorrow is Monday” stomachache.

The pit in your stomach, knowing that tomorrow you have to pull yourself up, wear clothes that aren’t sweatpants, and do things that aren’t first, second, or third on your list of fun things for at least ten hours. And then repeat that four more times.

Make no mistake, she just finished openly wailing.

When you experience the “Tomorrow is Monday” stomachache, you have a couple options on how to tackle it:

  1. Openly wail until you get to your office the next morning.
  2. Realize that having a job is just part of growing up, and accept the fact that pouting won’t help or change anything.
  3. Fake your death. Go on the run.

Considering my neighbors that have expressly asked me to cut it with the open wailing, my refusal to believe that pouting won’t eventually do something, and being out of fake blood, I had to figure out option 4.

I went with the always healthy method, distraction. I decided to make the “I just cleaned my kitchen, so I’m not burning sugar, but there’s no time that’s a bad time for shortbread” version of Ovenly’s Stumptown Shorty.

Who can be sad about Monday when you could bake instead? Yes, you’ll only postpone the weeping by an hour, but you can weep into your baked goods.

The regular recipe calls for tiny burnt sugar bits mixed into your dough. Having made this recipe once before, the caramelized sugar adds a nice flavor/texture combo, but like I as the title of my recipe says, I just cleaned my kitchen. I’m not burning sugar. Sorry, team! No house-fire-potential this time!

The thing I always forget about shortbread is, at its essence, it’s flour, sugar, and butter. That’s a hard sell in the health department, but as I was kerplomping (the actual sound a stick of butter makes when it lands on other butter) THREE sticks of butter into a mixing bowl, I was a little horrified.

The building blocks: (You could follow the ingredients included in the previous link, OR you could follow these. Ingredients for normals, I say.)

  • 3 sticks of unsweetened butter, plus some other butter for greasing the pan
  • 1 cup + 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar Basically a cup of confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons cold-brew coffee (We’ll learn soon that “cold” is up for debate)
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons very finely ground espresso  half a cup of coarsely ground coffee that you already have in your kitchen

Yes, I sure did avoid messing up my clean kitchen.

What should have happened…

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix together the sugar and the butter. Keep an ear out for the aforementioned kerplomping.
  3. Slowly mix in the cold brew to the butter mixture
  4. Whisk together the flour and the ground basically-espresso
  5. Mix in half of the flour mixture until incorporated. Mix in the other half.
  6. Spread the dough on a greased baking sheet.

What happened…

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. (YES! DONE!)
  • Mix together the sugar and the butter. (Kerplomped as promised!)
  • Realize that you haven’t made the cold brew, so you throw some coffee grounds and water into your french press. Don’t check the ratios! That’s for squares! Put the french press in the refrigerator, and decide that it will be cold enough by the time you whisk together the flour and the ground coffee. (Yes. This is fine.)
  • Whisk together the flour and the ground coffee. (DONE! I AM GREAT AT THINGS!)

I’m just really great at baking.

  • The cold brew isn’t ready. You then make space in the freezer, and decide the time it takes to grease the pan will allow it to get cold enough. (I crunched the numbers. It pans out.)
  • Grease a baking sheet to use once the dough is ready.
  • The cold brew still isn’t ready. It’s actually still hot. It’s hot brew. I have hot brew coffee. (Basically the same as cold brew. As Paul Abdul says, “Opposite attract are the same.)
  • I decide to just go for it, and add the hot brew to the butter mixture. (Nope. Nope. This is not fine.)
  • Watch as the butter mixture loses all structural integrity, and say to yourself, “this will be fine.” (I wonder if I should worry about how easily I lie to myself.)
  • Throw the flour mixture in there before you actually have to look at the disaster your butter has turned in to. (This fixes everything!)
  • Slowly mix the flour and butter mixtures.
  • Once mixed, spread evenly over the baking sheet. (This actually looks pretty good.)

And that, my friends, is the designated spot for the snowman spatula.

  • Scrape the batter back into the mixing bowl so you can work in the extra, while also not at all extra, but in fact very required flour.
  • Spread dough over baking sheet. You’re really good at it from that other time where you go to practice.
  • 16. Pop it in the oven!

It couldn’t be easier!


Review: Even my cliff-notes version of this recipe is really very tasty. It’s a nice dessert or an afternoon snack. With my last batch, I crumbled it and served it on ice cream.

I do kind of miss the burnt sugar, but isn’t that a tale as old as time? Made coffee shortbread to distract myself from having to go back to work, but because I don’t want to dirty more dishes, I didn’t burn the sugar for the recipe and now I regret it. If I only had a nickel….


Bonus: If we’re being honest with ourselves, my blog is 80% driven by recipes that go wrong. Earlier today I made what might be the prettiest thing my kitchen has ever seen.

Most food bloggers take beautiful pictures that can be easily pinterested (pinned? I don’t know. At 28 I’m almost 75). As a more nebulous blogger, I like to think I bring an extra element of dirty stove and trying my best to the table.

If you need any dinner ideas, may I recommend one pot lemon chicken and rice?

  1. It tastes fancy.
  2. It looks fancy.
  3. You can cook it in one pot.
  4. When you’re working with these ingredients, the recipe is yours to ruin.

These are beautiful things.