Friday, 28 January 2011

French Onion Soup ala Sadie

Welcome to ‘The Chronicles of a Reluctant Housewife’ where I document my love/hate relationship with my current occupation.  Join me as I attempt to find a balance between what I think I want and what I do from day to day.

50g butter
750g onions, thinly sliced (or enough onions that your eyes feel like they are melting out of your head and your husband barricades himself upstairs behind closed doors to escape the same fate)
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp flour (or whatever type of flour you can lay your hands on because you can’t actually read the food labels as your eyes have melted out of your head)
1 litre Beef Stock
Salt & pepper (a little saline tinged with mascara will suffice)
½ French bread stick
50g Gruyere cheese

Serves 4
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour (3 hours)

1.       Melt the butter in large saucepan (a splash of olive oil will keep it from burning).  Add the onions and sugar, reduce heat to very low and cook the onions, stirring occasionally, for 20-30 minutes until they are soft and a really deep golden brown. (Or, if you want to drag it out because you have some chores to get to or you need to go to bed early and love eating just minutes before laying down, cover the onions and after they still haven’t cooked down and have produced a lot of liquid and aren’t even close to brown in 45 minutes, then realize the recipe didn’t say to cover and you just assumed since you weren’t allowed to take Home Ec in high school where you would have learned the basics to cooking and reading recipes because you were college bound and Brit Lit was better training for your life course.  Uncover the onions and let them cook for another 45 minutes until you just say f**k it, and move on to the next step.)
2.       Sift the flour into the onion mixture and cook over a very low heat, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes. (Self-rising flour creates really nice clumps that almost look like onions, so no-one will notice.)
3.       Add the beef stock and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Increase the heat and bring to the boil, stirring constantly.  Reduce the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes.  Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. (At this point your eyes probably have reconstituted, but your tears of frustration will do for the seasoning.  It took three years for me to realize ‘seasoning’ meant salt & pepper.  Again, I blame my high school guidance counsellors.)
4.       Meanwhile, toast the slices of French Bread lightly on both sides.  Sprinkle with the grated Gruyere.  Pour the soup into a hot tureen.  Place a piece of toast in each serving bowl and ladle the hot soup over the top.  (I find any stale piece of white, non-sliced bread works great.  Spread a little butter on each side, throw them on a baking sheet and into the oven, flip after a few minutes, sprinkle the cheese on and let it melt.  Be sure not to forget about them while stirring constantly.)

The second attempt went much smoother, but the onions still never went brown.  I think it might be the olive oil, but as I am much more likely to burn the butter than care about the colour of onions, I’m over it.

Enjoy.  (on a side note, for anyone on Weight Watchers, this soup is only 5 points, including bread and cheese!  Yeah!!!)

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Chocolate Fudge Cake

Welcome to Tuesday Fit-Day.  A weekly meditation on fitness goals, successes and failures.  Thinking about it once a week is a step toward making it a part of everyday.

Today it’s more like Sick Day.  I have been struck down with the circulating flu.  I didn’t make it to my weigh-in yesterday, so I don’t know what the official tally is, but I think I am still chugging along.  Last week was a hard one.  I started out well, regular activity and well within points.  Then I made a startling discovery.  I had been calculating my regular breakfast incorrectly.  It is actually double the points I have been recording for weeks.  This explains my disappointing number from last week. 
On top of the breakfast debacle, we have made some friends that like to go out and eat.  This is a toughie.  We are very excited about our new friends, but going out for drinks and then two days later for dim sum is not great for my points management.  But I shouldn’t complain.  Friends are good.  It just means moving more, which needs to happen anyway. 
I’m starting my seventh week.  I am dying for desserts. Big, gooey, decadent desserts.  There are days when I feel like the plan is the easiest thing in the world.  And then there are days it is all I can do to not go down to the local store and press my face up against the freezer oggoling the Ben & Jerry’s and Haagen dazs.    

A Scene
 Setting: Sainsbury Supermarket, Time: Sunday early afternoon
A woman negotiates the crowd, trolley weaving around the stationary pensioners.  She expertly scans the aisles for essentials.  Suddenly everything stops.  She points. The shopper behind her executes an impressive acrobatic twist to avoid a pile up.
‘OOOH, Chocolate Fudge Cake!’

My thoughts exactly. 

Friday, 21 January 2011

What is a Reluctant Housewife?

Welcome to ‘The Chronicles of a Reluctant Housewife’ where I document my love/hate relationship with my current occupation.  Join me as I attempt to find a balance between what I think I want and what I do from day to day.

I feel I should lay some groundwork here (and it’s going to get a little bumpy, but stick with me).  The title of Reluctant Housewife is in no way meant to belittle those women and men that work tirelessly to take care of their families as househusbands and wives.  The title refers only to my personal feelings of finding myself a housewife after spending tireless years achieving the highest level of academic achievement.  Again, that sounds horrible, like I am saying I am too smart to be a housewife or something, but that is not the case.  That’s like saying that being a waitress is easy, when anyone who has held such a role knows that it is an incredibly difficult job requiring a lot of mental work as well as manual labour, not to mention diplomatic abilities.
My love/hate relationship with my current occupation comes mostly from my lack of choice in the matter.  I currently have no other option.  I haven’t been able to find a job that would resemble a step toward a career and since Pete’s job allows it, I am a housewife instead of a coffee barista.  This is where my pride comes in a bit.  I could be a coffee barista, but I can’t bear it and neither can Pete.  (Although, oddly, if waitressing here was like the US, I would be there in a second.) I am more than willing to pay my dues in a menial job that at least is in a field I would like to eventually have a career in, I am not willing, however, to slough it out in a cafĂ© or shop just to have something to do.  (Plus, those places won’t hire me because I am over qualified and I can’t just leave my degrees off my resume because then there is an eight year gap of employment history that I have no explanation for, and at 32 and that makes me under qualified.)   
There is a lot about being a housewife that I enjoy.  Obviously I love sleeping in everyday.  I love taking my time to get ready in the morning, enjoying my coffee with daily reruns of the Gilmore Girls, catching up on emails.  I have time to write these posts, occasionally I go for a run.  I run errands at my leisure and most enjoyably, I have time to prepare home cooked meals for me and my honey.  I really do enjoy making a nice home and entertaining (the three time we have had people over).  And I love kitchen supplies.  They are my new office supplies (in more ways than one).  Of course, I also get my fix of daytime TV reruns.  I’m addicted, I admit it, but there are worse things in the world. 
Here are the things I don’t enjoy.  The isolation.  There are many times when our cute little nest feels like an isolation unit.  We have limited social contacts in the city and they , in turn, have lots of social contacts, so only really have time for us about once a month.  I can go days talking to no one but myself and Pete and even then it’s not a lot of words.  Pete talks all day, he doesn’t always enjoy the barrage of words that hit him as he walks in the door.  If you know me, you know I’m a talker.  You can imagine how difficult it can be and won’t be surprised that I have started talking to myself again. 
The expectation.  As Pete is working hard, usually long, hours supporting our little family at a job that he is incredibly good at, but doesn’t really enjoy (which as my Dad so elegantly put it, is a noble and brave undertaking) he expects to be able to come home and spend the few hours before he has to go to sleep relaxing and recouping for another day and not having to worry about whether his shirts are ironed, dishes are washed, rooms are cleaned, etc.*   
A very large part of me understands and accepts this and wants to make my husband’s life easier.  I’m not working.  I have the time and energy to take care of these things as my contribution to our family so Pete can continue his Herculean effort.  But there is also a part of me that is incredibly offended.  This comes from the part of me that hopes someday I will work outside the home and worries that when that day comes it will still be my responsibility to take care of all the ‘housey’ type things because I have allowed our family to get in the habit of expecting that I will take care of the housey things. 
This is the core of the love/hate.  I take pride in my homemaking skills but I can’t let myself enjoy them entirely because I fear they are the rest of my life. (notice I didn’t say housekeeping? I hate cleaning. Except when taken on as procrastination activities, but that is another story).  I fear I have doomed myself to forever be the domestic caretaker regardless of whether or not I am working outside the home.  And let’s be honest, it has been a very long time since I have been regularly employed outside the home (at least 8 years) so it is a real possibility that I won’t be able to handle the 9-5, and taking care of the housey stuff on top may turn me into a very grumpy person.  But let’s burn that bridge when we come to it, shall we. 
So there you have it, the groundwork for the title.  As I said, it was a bumpy ride, and I may need to turn the daytime TV up, because I spent way too much time in my head.  But I hope you stay with me as I promise it will get funnier. 
Next week:  French Onion Soup ala Sadie’ and ‘If one more person tells me to have a baby I’ll scream.’    Let the good times roll. 

*I would like to make it clear that Pete is the most wonderful husband ever and is sacrificing a bit of his beautiful soul every time he puts on his suit and goes to work at an investment bank.  He is not, in anyway, forcing me to be a ‘happy home-maker.’  All of my angst about being a housewife is of my own making.  Partially because I would like to someday offer Pete the opportunity he has given me in supporting me while I pursued a life goal/dream and as a housewife I can’t do that.  He is also very good at cleaning the toilet, etc. which I refuse to do, and vacuuming, which I love to do but sends me into a day-long sneezing fit. 

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Chinese Star

Welcome to Tuesday Fit-Day.  A weekly meditation on fitness goals, successes and failures.  Thinking about it once a week is a step toward making it a part of everyday.

Another Weight Watchers sticker day.  This week I got a 5% sticker, not sparkly.  This means that I have lost 5% of my body weight.  It doesn’t seem like a lot, but it is the beginning of a visual difference.  My silhouette is visibly slimmer in a pair of jeans (and let’s be honest, jeans are the hardest piece of clothing to feel good in, topped only by a bathing suit). 
But this is also the place where I would have stopped if I was doing this on my own.  Fitting into jeans that got a bit too tight is usually the goal.  This is the point at which the discipline of Weight Watchers is really going to help. 
There is more work to be done.  It is not as rewarding as it was in the beginning.  I’m only losing a half pound to a pound each week despite doing better on my daily points and making better food choices.  But this change is a sustainable one I think.  Pete and I had Chinese Take-Away for dinner last night after my Weight Watchers meeting.  This could have been a slippery slope.  We usually inhale the entire order in two quick servings. 
Here’s how I know that the habits created through Weight Watchers are sticking.  I made my usual size first serving in my bowl with a few alterations.  Less rice, less artificially vivid red sauce, more vegetables and chicken.  We sat down and I ate slower, chewed a bit more, and before the end of this bowl I was full.  No need to run down to the kitchen to fill up again. 
Chinese take-away is back on the menu, albeit sparingly.  Gold Star!!!

Monday, 17 January 2011

ArielGraphy gets some discipline

In a attempt to keep myself busy and productive I am adding a few regular features. 

Tuesday Fit Day:  Here I will be recounting my Weight Watchers experience, lessons learned, anecdotes, and general fitness success and failures.
Friday will bring a new feature, the Chronicles of a Reluctant Housewife.   These entries will document my love/hate relationship with my housewife status.  Here I will write about how I tried to get a small stain out of a shirt and ended up with a large bleach spot on the brand new and overly expensive shirt, or how I left a mould ring on my brand new tablecloth from a flower vase or my first Thanksgiving for actual guests complete with cocktails, nibbles, main meal & dessert.  Maybe I will even throw in a few tips and hints about living and surviving the Reluctant Housewife life.
I will be continuing the Ariel & Sadie series more regularly.  This started as a look back at the girl I used to be and what she might have to say about the ‘married ladie’ I have become.  It has now become a place for me to look at how the two identities might come together. 
Of course, regular random ramblings, rantings and soul searching will continue between features.

In related news, I will be updating the sister blog, Rummaging in the Attic, at least once a week with memories, scenes, character profiles, ideas and proposals.  I will also be creating new semi-regular features in the Attic.  Be sure to check over there in the next week for updates. 

So keep your radios tuned to this frequency and enjoy.

Airing Out

I’ve opened all the windows today [Wednesday].  It is unseasonably warm.  The smell of the fresh air and the sound of birds singing this morning immediately reminded me of sitting outside and working on my postdoc application and viva review.  Not the best memories in the world, but the fresh air is great to be smelling again.  For some reason when I smell it inside, it is different than when I am out in it. 
The particular memory of the postdoc application is interesting.  This morning I received a Fellowship application and a fairly obvious push to re-do that last failed postdoc application.  Just when I almost convinced myself to leave academia behind, pushed along by two more application rejections in two days, this reminder pops into my inbox. 
I was feeling semi-productive today and then this came through and all of a sudden I can’t be bothered to do anything.  That doesn’t bode well for my excitement over the opportunity.  But then again, what the hell.  I don’t have anything else going on, no hot leads, no volunteer positions.  No motivation to write any of those articles I had so neatly planned out. 
It would only take about two days worth of work to refurb the old application.  It isn’t really what I want to do anymore, but I could still submit it and then work on something else if a miracle happened and I actually got a two-year fellowship.  I’m not holding my breath or counting on it by any means.  But I have a few weeks to get the initial proposal in and nothing on my plate.  I guess I could give it a go. 
Time to open the cupboard and shake out the ‘ole academic writing. 

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

A note on the Royal Mail

I’m not impressed.  Ever.  In the five years we have lived here we have had 3 (almost 4) packages sent from abroad go missing without a trace, even when they were ‘tracked’ (that doesn’t include letters, contracts, bills, etc. lost during reoccurring strikes).  At least two have arrived looking as though they served as substitute balls for an impromptu football match, the broken contents confirming.
Our families always receive Christmas presents late even when we get them in the mail ‘on time’ for international delivery, but this year was a real treat.
In an attempt to get our presents to our families in time for Christmas we started our shopping early.  I mean in October we were buying Christmas presents and were done before Thanksgiving.  We checked the Royal Mail timetable for guaranteed delivery for Christmas.  We made sure every box was under 2kg (so the shipping wouldn’t be equivalent to a month’s rent, but still ended up being over £100).  Then we went to the post office in three shifts over two days.  The packages (10 in all) were all going to either New Zealand or Ohio. 
Here’s what happened.

The three New Zealand packages (which were mailed in the last shift) arrived two days before Christmas.  One large package (mailed on the first shift) for my parents’ house arrived in a week.  Two smaller packages (mailed the second shift same day as the NZ packages) to central and southern Ohio also arrived in that week.  So far so good.  Over half of the packages arrived before Christmas between the 13th and 23rd.  And this is where it all went to s**t. 
There were five more packages on their way to my parents’ house holding gifts for them, my grandparents, and aunt and uncle.  All of whom were getting together on Christmas Day. 
By Christmas, none of them had arrived.  By New Year’s Day, none of them had arrived. 
The post office claimed that the ‘freak’ snow storm just before Christmas delayed delivery.  But that doesn’t explain how the rest of the packages mailed on that day or the day before got to their destination, this same destination.  Just so you know, the ‘freak’ snow storm hit a week after we mailed the packages.  We also received packages from the US within that time frame. 
On January 4th, two small packages arrived on my parents’ front porch.  The following Monday, the 10th, another package arrived.  The next day, the final package arrived. 
32 days after we mailed the first package, all the Christmas gifts finally arrived.  With them came the explanation for the delay. 
The packages were initially sent to OSLO instead of OHIO. 

Geography Matters. 
Especially when presents are involved. 

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Weight Watchers: Milestone

Since beginning Weight Watchers four weeks ago I have lost 7 lbs.  Last night I got a sparkly 7 sticker on my chart.  I guess Weight Watchers understands the need for gold stars. 
The weight lost has slowed down now and it has become harder to not dip into the weekly allowance more frequently.  I’m starting to get tired of fruit and soup and need to start finding low point lunches that don’t feel so diet-y if I am going to maintain this way of eating.  The other possibility is to exercise more.  In the first week I was forcing myself to go to the gym in order to stay within my daily point limit while still going out to eat.  Since then, with the weight falling off, the exercise slowed because I was losing without it.  But now, since I am craving heavier meals (and bread) I’m going to have to go back to the exercise. 
But not to the gym, I think. 
My hatred of the gym is well-documented.  Pete and I mapped out a running route over the Christmas break and I have since done it three times.  I think I am getting a better workout than the treadmill.  I’m running up and down small grades, uneven pavement, against the wind.  Plus it takes up less time.  I’m not pressed for time, being unoccupied at the moment, but the time it takes to get ready for the gym, get to the gym, workout, get back from the gym, shower, is triple what it takes to just go out for a run and do some push-ups, etc after.  To be honest, the getting ready and getting to the gym is what keeps from getting to the gym. 
It may be time to downgrade the gym membership to pay-as-you-go. 

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

New Year, Same Old Yarn

With the new year always comes the resolutions.  Last year I think I copped out and resolved to finish the thesis (completely finish with certificate in hand) and get married.  Both endeavours were well underway at that point.  I also resolved to ‘get fit’ as always.  Amazingly I did get reasonably fit, but it all disappeared by the end of the year. 
So it’s another year started and the ‘get fit’ resolution is being dragged out again.  This year I am going to add some others that aren’t as well formed.  I have resolved to identify, and start on the path of, a career that I will be happy to pursue.  It may be in academia, but I have a feeling that it won’t.  Obviously a job would also be great and hopefully sometime in the next 12 months I will be gainfully employed in some way, but I’m not opposed to volunteering if it feels right.
In a similar direction, I have resolved to pick up a hobby and get a life.  I need to get out of the house.  It’s as simple as that.  So I need to get a life that doesn’t resolve around the daytime TV schedule and household chores.  This may be one of the hardest resolutions I have made, but a year is a long time and a lot can happen.  Who knows where I’ll be when this time comes around again.  Probably still writing on the couch, but hopefully it’s a rarity at that point instead of the regularity it is now. 
Same old, same old.  But now they are in print: Identify career goal (or at least get a job I can live with).  Get a hobby.  Get a life.
Get on with it.

Weight Watchers: Crusin’ along

I didn’t meet my goal of maintaining over the holidays.  I actually lost 2.5 lbs!!!!  How about that?! 
It wasn’t easy.  I could easily have eaten every single cookie and brownie in the house and then washed it down with the newly stocked bar without a second thought.  But I didn’t.  And it wasn’t so bad.
Our isolation was a godsend actually.  If we had to go around to numerous family dinners I would have been lucky to maintain my pre-holiday weight.  In fact, based on previous experience, I probably would have gained 5% instead of almost losing it (I’m about 2.5 lbs away).
It hasn’t gotten any easier, even with the success.  Seeing the pounds disappear is an incentive, but I haven’t really set any goals.  Over the break we took care of that end.  In an attempt to escape the marvellous London weather and finally get some of that relaxation the honeymoon re-negged on, we booked a Caribbean cruise for the end of February. 
A Cruise!!!  I know.  But not just a cruise, a P&O cruise.  Apparently very fancy.  So fancy, in fact that the travel agents tried to steer us away from this particular company.  I guess when we roll-in in hoodie sweatshirts, week-old jeans and beanies, we don’t scream luxury. 
So there is the goal.  I need to be presentable in a bathing suit and cocktail dresses in a little less than 8 weeks.  And by presentable I mean I need to be able to view any photographic evidence of the cruise without cringing. 
Away we go!!!