Author Archives: Water Penny

Wrapping the Beer in an Electric Blanket

Cat in a BlanketIt is so cold outside that it is past the level of cold and just dumb. Come on!

One thing that is nice to do on a cold day is to make beer, which Matt and I did this weekend. It involves standing over and stirring bubbly pots in a cheerful warm kitchen for several hours.

However, the next stage involves keeping the yeasties from freezing to death and/or over-heating for a week or more while they sit in a bucket and eat up all the sugars to make alcohol.  While I won’t disclose what temperature we are keeping the house at, I will say it is 35 degrees more than the current temperature outside, and doesn’t that sound luxuriously toasty?

However, the yeasties are fussier than we are; they like it hot! This summer when it was over 100 degrees in the apartment, they were working so fast that we brewed and bottled a beer in 3 days, instead of the normal week, holy cow! You are not supposed to let them get this hot and heavy, but I’m not going to go and buy an AC just for the yeasties.  Conversely, in the cold weather, much like humans, they get very lethargic and don’t want to do their job.

Which is why we’re wrapping the beer in an electric blanket. At first I was going to include a picture here, but while beer is very delicious, it is not photogenic. So instead, here is a cat wrapped in a blanket.

If you are crazy in the two ways we are – 1. wanting to make your own beer and 2. not wanting to heat your house – then here are some handy tips for keeping your yeasties warm and happy, while you sit around and drink beer to keep warm.

Old Poem

I live by train tracks and listening to them rumble by a few dozen times per day had me thinking of this.

Uncle Ben’s Sonnet

Uncle Ben was on the roof, drunk no less,
with a BB gun, shooting up old cans
when he shot my cousin Rick in the face.
The worst thing he ever did though was get
himself hit by a train, dead instantly,
leaving my Aunt Bernice with nothing but
8 kids, breast cancer, and a single wide.

You might wonder if it was suicide,
We say don’t think, what’s done is done is done.
Dad gave a brief but perfect eulogy:
“He was dumb as a shovel but you bet
he could work one for decent pay.
I hope the damn fool had life insurance.”
Forever and ever Amen, I guess.

I wrote this back when I was studying poems in college, and it got published in The North American Review, which was founded in 1815 and is “The nation’s longest-lived literay magazine and among its most distinguished.”  At the time I was quite pleased with myself.

Now though, I am more wary about it. At the time, I had always lived in places with single wides, and it was a sad story that I wanted to tell in the matter of fact way that it happened.  I wanted to try to whittle the whole big mess down to its bones.  And, I did see the irony of setting this story in the sonnet format with the post-modern twisted up rhyme scheme, but more because I thought it lent a kind of grim elegance.

Now, I am more aware of the voices of people who think that rural poverty is funny, and I think that I wouldn’t have written this poem today.

Storing My Stash

It is my untested observation that not having children makes growing up somewhat more optional. Despite my ambivalence towards various things adult, however, I find evidence of adulthood all over my house and habits. Grown-up-ness is a tricky condition that can be difficult to diagnose until it is has a 106 degree fever.

I often run into little reminders that I am not punk rock anymore. Those who have known me throughout my life might question how punk rock I ever was, but I have been in an offensively named band, so I think that probably qualifies me for some level of former claim to the term.  Similarly, the boyfriend and I sometimes debate whether or not we are middle class. Education, yes, lifestyle, sort of, combined salary, um, no, but by choice, so, maybe.

Our apartment in Columbus (which is not in a middle class neighborhood) is smaller than the apartment in Charleston was (yet more for the rent, hmph), and we would get rid of extra stuff except we are thinking about buying a house, and what if we need it then? And also, as an old granny friend of Matt always says, as soon as you throw something out, you are off running to the store again.

However, because we are not punk rock anymore, the piles of stuff, like the porch swing and beer brewing supplies and boxes we haven’t unpacked because what if we move in a few months?, in the living room, combined with the -5 degree weather keeping us both in the house, have been giving me crazy eyes.

Something had to be done, and it wasn’t going to give me any street cred.  So, we drove the Prius to The Container Store, and bought, you guessed it, containers. I spent the evening organizing my fabric collection, taking it out of mangy, dented, overflowing shoeboxes and color coding it into Made in the USA partially recycled snappy shut plastic containers.

The wild cotton mess of used, dumpstered, inherited, clearance racked, and reclaimed fabrics have a nostalgic and artistic anarchy to them, but for now, the stash is sealed and stacked.

How to Transfer Your Pattern Onto Your Fabric

Turtle and Mouse!So, you bought one of these fun patterns online, but how do you make it get on your fabric?

The best tutorial selection (I think) comes from the awesome NeedlenThread.com which is a great place for any kind of information about anything, ever, seriously, related to embroidery.  But crud, there are like, 20 transferring options listed on that website! Which is the best?

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French Knot Apostrophe Tutorial Party!

I like words a lot, and I end up embroidering a lot of words. I have an unused degree in linguistics that allows me to say with no authority that grammar is not actually that important in many situations, but one situation in which it is important is in embroidery. Because if you are going to spend hours writing something in thread, write it right!

So, with my love of correct punctuation in embroidery, here is a tutorial on how I make apostrophes (commas, etc.) using a modified french knot. I know the french knot is a point of frustration for lots of people, and maybe seeing it one more time will help with that, too.

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#Filibernie

#filibernie is the best “Twitter Hashtag” ever, period, and final.  It is such an awesome hashtag that a new category of “Things that Are Awesome” must be created for hashtags, and then promptly retired because the apogee of the hashtag has been reached.

My boyfriend and I often kvetch about how the filibuster is always threatened, but the Republicans never throw down. Yes, Matt and I are made for each other, and yes, we loved the late and great Senator Byrd’s epic op-ed about misuse of the filibuster from May 2010:

A true filibuster is a fight, not a threat or a bluff. For most of the Senate’s history, Senators motivated to extend debate had to hold the floor as long as they were physically able. The Senate was either persuaded by the strength of their arguments or unconvinced by either their commitment or their stamina. True filibusters were therefore less frequent, and more commonly discouraged, due to every Senator’s understanding that such undertakings required grueling personal sacrifice, exhausting preparation, and a willingness to be criticized for disrupting the nation’s business.

Now, unbelievably, just the whisper of opposition brings the “world’s greatest deliberative body” to a grinding halt. Why?

Because this once highly respected institution has become overwhelmingly consumed by a fixation with money and media.

And we are thrilled this Friday evening by Bernie Sanders more or less (a whole day on C-Span at least) filibustering his own party to stand up to a terrible tax plan that would increase both our national debt and the imbalance of wealth.

Take that money and media!

Tofu Stuffed Shells

This recipe was such a big part of my life when I was in college, it was the first thing I made that was “fancy.” I loved this cookbook full of incredibly easy tofu recipes. Probably without it I wouldn’t still be a vegetarian over TEN YEARS LATER. Even though my brother and I made the food throughout high school, prior to becoming a vegetarian I really had no idea how to cook anything that didn’t come from a box – besides cookies and brownies (which I preferred raw, so “cooking” wouldn’t really apply there anyway).

It seems rude to copy over the whole recipe for stuffed shells, click on the link for that, but here is the first tofu ricotta recipe I ever tried:

  1. Mix together:
    • 6 tablespoons minced fresh basil
    • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
    • 1 to 2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
    • 1 1/2 pounds regular tofu, mashed, or 1 pound regular tofu, mashed
      and 1/2 pound dairy-free mozzarella, grated
    • 2 tablespoons onion powder
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

I now add maple syrup and lemon juice, a trick I learned from the vegan boyfriend, and oregano and rosemary, which are basically my two best friends.  Put it in lasagna, on pizza, in calzones, manicotti, or mix it into red sauce for a creamier sauce. And for a new age hillbilly hippie blast, put tofu ricotta in your deep fried corn fritters in place of the egg and cheddar cheese.  For best results, use Spring Creek Tofu, which I am going to marry shortly after I marry coffee which will be shortly after these dang liberals make it legal to marry random things.

The Post Punk Kitchen (PPK!) did a review of this book that gave me epic flashbacks to my early days as a vegetarian in rural Missouri. I left this cookbook behind when I moved to West Virginia (because it wasn’t actually mine) and had completely forgotten about it.  The good lady at PPK  also did a post on “Soy not ‘Oi!'” which was the cookbook that taught me how to make fry bread, and also that our food systems are a toxic mess that support a larger toxic mess that enables and enacts the systematic oppression of people and other living things.

Jerseyville.

My brother posted this map on his facebook page.

The route in this map is how to get to Wal-Mart from my dad’s house; to get there, you drive through a grocery store parking lot. I am from a small town (though it’s technically a city!), whose motto is “Close to the crowd, but not in it!” After living in West Virginia for the last 5 years, I can’t believe how flat it is. Look at the green water lines growing across it like vines, how lovely.

Now that I have lived far away for over 10 years,  in a place where mostly nobody has heard of my town, where no one misses seeing cornfield all the way to the horizon, looking at this picture I feel both homesick as well as an alien fascination.  I know so much about all the little streets in this map, yet, I’m a stranger there.

I love and hate driving home, and I wait for that moment in Indiana when the prairie opens up and you can look out across the cornfields to the curve of the earth. The scenery is silos, the outline of an occasional steeple, gas wells pumping lazily, and of course, the great big sky.

People in Appalachia talk about how exposed they feel under that huge sky, with nothing but nothing all the way as far as you can see. As for me, my eyes crave the sky, and too much time in a deep holler, or in the narrow spaces between city buildings, makes me feel claustrophobic. I’ve always thought that being able to see so much of the heavens and of the earth we live on is inspiring; it makes you feel small, but it also makes the far away seem within reach. If I can get to that horizon, why not the next one, and the next one?  I like to imagine that wide open spaces inspire a certain sense of introspection, a propensity to dream, and a feeling of connection with other humans.

At this distance, that pile of square fields with green creeks creeping over them is almost indistinguishable from the hundreds of other little communities that come together like puzzle pieces across the Midwest.  But when I glance at it, I see hundreds of stories. I know just where all those roads go, exactly what those fields looked like in 1998, and the precise smell of driving through them, of wet soil and motor oil at the steering wheel of an orange and white 1979 F-150.