Day 24 – Guest Post: Thanksgiving Edition

I hope you all are enjoying this wonderful Turkey based day.  Currently I am flying over a good portion of the US, to make it to Chicago in time for Thanksgiving with friends.  So this guest post is brought to you by the wonder of scheduled posts and the awesomeness that is my approximate 18 year friendship with David.  And you can tell we have been friends for so long because a) we feel free to post potentially embarrassing photos of each other from middle school and b) we are soon going to be roommates!  

Abby and I go way back, to grade school when her family moved to Goshen and started attending my church. Her brother Jonathan and I became fast friends when we discovered that both of us were interested in computer programming and constructing strange contraptions to shoot things at rabbits in the yard…but since I was spending so much time at his house I got to know Abby as well. At some point we decided that our relationship could be classified as “budder and frester” (I can’t remember where the terms originated but the idea is almost-but-not-quite brother and sister). Since my guest blog post happens to coincide with Thanksgiving, I’m going to give thanks for my long friendship with Abby by reminiscing over some old photos of good times we’ve had together over the years.

In 2000 our Academic Superbowl social studies team won state!

Hiding out from a storm in a tent in the Boundary Waters, ca. 2002.

We were both in the awesome History of the Southwest class in southwest Colorado in May 2004.

Exploring Seattle during one of Abby's many visits before she finally up and moved here.

Checking out the red floor at the central library in Seattle.

On the Capilano suspension bridge with friends in Vancouver last summer.

By the way Abby and Meryl make awesome water buffalo, at least when they can manage to keep a straight face.

Don’t miss the entire series…go here and press the play button: http://www.flickr.com/photos/davisagli/4925982342/in/set-72157624802951052/lightbox/

And finally, a shot from Abby's parents' recent visit to Seattle. (John is blurry either because of my poor phone-camera skills or because he was starting to grab for the cupcake.)

In case you haven’t heard, Abby and I have just rented an apartment together in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, so I’m looking forward to more adventures together over the next year!

Day 17 – Guest Post Thursday

Today’s guest post is a pretty awesome one cause I get to introduce my friend Ruth.  While both of us moved away from Chicago this fall, we got to know each other during our 5 years of shared location, similar outlooks to handling social awkwardness, a mutual interest in exploring fashion in cheap thrifted ways, enjoyment of movies, coffee and occasionally a good bout of gossip {or as we like to call it, discussing community bonds}.

Hello Abby’s friends!

After years of casually discussing style with Abby and admiring her wardrobe and fashion sense, I’m excited and flattered that she asked if I’d be willing to write an outfit post.

Outfit: Thrifted cardigan, jeans, shoes; Shirt from sister, scarf old

I moved from Chicago a few months ago and in the midst of figuring out life in a new place with new activities (Grad school! Internship! Job!) I have discovered that the change in roles and social settings has resulted in reconfiguring how I wear clothes. I find myself often wearing unexpected or new outfits as I figure out who I am and where I fit now. This would be one of them. I wore this primary colored, striped outfit to class a few weeks ago and decided it’s the perfect outfit to wear while out with visiting friends. I love stripes in any form, especially when I can wear them with red loafers! An added plus: all the colors make the autumn and impending winter a little more bearable.

Day 10 – Guest Post (the return of my dad!)

Well this guest post couldn’t be better timed seeing as I am home sick from work today with my second cold of the season (although this one is less congestion more throat on fire, weee!).  But instead of getting to hear me whine about being sick, here is a super awesome guest post by my Dad.  Enjoy!

Hi everyone.

Last year I thoroughly enjoyed writing my first guest blog here about Abby as an infant and small child. This year when Abby asked me again I thought first of writing about our train trip to Seattle to see her in October but then settled on writing something I was more excited about right now.

I’ve been somewhat obsessed about taking care of my body for a long time. I figure I’m only going to get one body and I’m not going to have it quitting on me over something I have some control over. So I exercise regularly, read about health related stuff and try to eat right. When I learned about 6 or 7 years ago that dark chocolate has some health benefits (when consumed in moderation) I started keeping a stash of Hershey Special Dark Chocolate bars at my desk at work.  Most of the time I successfully limit myself to a square at morning break and a square after lunch.  This takes some discipline because for me eating chocolate is among the top carnal pleasures in life.

My children and sometimes my wife scold me about not buying Fair trade but so help me the stuff is expensive. If I buy Hershey’s bars on sale I can get it at about $.20/ ounce and Fair Trade usually runs about $1.00/ounce.  My daily two squares are about an ounce so I’m talking the difference between a $50.00 per year habit and a 250.00 per year when consumed every working day. Somewhere deep in my psyche there is this notion that times could get hard so I better be careful with my money.  I don’t know if that comes from being raised by depression era parents or if it’s something in my Germanic DNA or a combination.

However the idea that I might be enjoying my chocolate on the backs of poverty stricken oppressed workers continued to bother me.  A couple weeks ago we visited Abby in Seattle and she arranged a tour of Theo’s chocolate for my wife and me.

David, Dad and Mom all ready for the Theo Chocolate Factory tour!

David, Dad and Mom all ready for the Theo Chocolate Factory tour!

After a great tour by an expert in all things surrounding the harvesting, manufacturing and history of chocolate we were allowed unrestricted sampling of all kinds of exotic and delicious chocolates. I thought I was in heaven. I also learned that most chocolate is processed using alkali. It says so right on the ingredients on the Hershey bars. This supposedly (yes, it might be part of Theo’s sales pitch) removes some of the health benefits. I also learned since that Hershey dark chocolate is only 45% cocao.  You have to do some research to find that – they don’t advertise it.  I enjoy dark chocolate right up to about 85% cocao and feel the flavor peaks between 75 and 80%.

So I started to search on the internet for some reasonably priced Fair trade chocolate. Most Fair Trade seems to also be organic. That might add some to it’s cost and probably is a good idea as well.  I couldn’t find any significant volume discounts on any of the bars.  But I did find Fair trade 65% cocao chocolate chips at Amazon for $.62/ ounce but you had to buy 25 pounds! I capitulated to the pressure and bought a box.  That comes out to almost $250.00 but they should last me 400 work days.  Unfortunately in my dithering about it I missed them on sale at just under $200.00.

We’ve already had a discussion at our house about what these chocolate chips will get used for. They are not to be used in baking – these are medicinal. 🙂  I’m going to keep them in the cold cellar to preserve their freshness and make it less likely that I will be tempted to consume a half a pound every evening.

One last problem to solve was how to divvy out one ounce a day.  I found out on the internet that 1 ounce of chocolate chips is about 3 tablespoons.  Here’s what an ounce looks like. I’ll take one day’s serving at a time in my lunch. I’m going to try very hard to eat them mindfully one chip at a time.
1 ounce of chocolate chips

Day 3: Guest Post Thursday!!

I am super excited to introduce this guest post by the ever awesome MLE.  While MLE (I like to pronounce this as if it rhymes with plea, but she says you can also say it MLeh) and I have never actually met, I think our mutual interest in books, cooking, cooking, travel and being outside would give us lots to talk about. MLE blogs over at Pantalones del Fuego and she is also doing NaBloPoMo, so head over there and check out her writing (feel free to check out her post on Salted Caramel Apple Butter!!!!)

MLE’s 5 Things I Would Do If Money Weren’t An Issue

Hi everybody! This is my first time guest posting in all my years of blogging, so I hope you find my little addition to Abby’s blog at least mildly entertaining. Here are five things I would do, in no particular order, if I didn’t have to think about money.

My husband and I have mostly been living on savings for over a year now, so we’ve had to be extremely frugal. This was a fun thought exercise for me, because it’s fun to fantasize about things even if I know it will years, if not decades, before I can afford any of these things.

#1 Go Skydiving

I’ve always been an “experience” person over a “stuff” person. On a gift-giving occasion, I will almost always prefer the gift of time or an experience over the gift of an object. I feel like I have too much stuff as it is, and this has only become more clear as we packed and moved all our stuff from Colorado to California, keeping a fair amount in boxes over the past year in anticipation of moving again. This means, for example, our twenty-something boxes of books have stayed unopened, and we’ve used the local library for 99% of our reading needs.

I’ve always wanted to experience things. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a small town, or maybe it’s just part of my nature to desire novelty, but skydiving in particular is something I’ve been thinking about for many years. To my dismay, I inherited my mom’s adult-onset vertigo and get panic attacks just from climbing a few feet off the ground or driving near a cliffside, but I don’t seem to have any issue if I’m harnessed into something. I did a big bungie jump once in Paris, which was fun, but not at all the same thing. Someday, I’d like to be able to spend the couple of hundred bucks (or less, with a groupon!) to spend a few minutes falling out of an airplane and not even think about what else I might be able to do with that money. Plus, it would be a giant middle finger to that pesky vertigo issue.

#2 Get Rid Of This Stupid Body Hair

I’ve got really sensitive skin. No, more sensitive than that. I’m allergic to a fair number of typical cosmetic ingredients, and have to test every new product before I consider buying it. This sensitivity extends to shaving, which was the bane of my existence for many years. It got to the point where I was using this special fancy shaving lotion, a brand new razor cartridge every time, could not shave more than once a week, and had to wait a couple of days post-shave before I could moisturize my skin. It was all just ridiculous. Then, I discovered waxing and didn’t look back. I do it myself, at home, which is OK because it’s not as painful as shaving was, but I still get ingrown hairs and I have to wait several weeks for the hair to grow out long enough to wax again so I find myself timing my waxing schedule around my social life. My husband honestly doesn’t care what I do with my hair, but I do. I don’t like being Sasquatch, and I don’t like how painful every method of hair removal seems to be. So if money were no object, I’d spring for electrolysis or laser hair removal, whichever one is least dangerous and most effective. Then I’d never have to worry about it again!

#3 Get knocked up

I’ve made no secret on my own blog that my husband and I would like to have children, but we are unable to do so without significant medical intervention (read: IVF). If money were not an issue, I’d just saunter right down to UCSF and plunk down my 15 grand and get the having kids show on the road. I wouldn’t have to be concerned about only getting one shot (heh) at having a baby, because if it didn’t work the first time we could just try again. Plus, I’d like to set up a trust to help fund other people’s fertility treatments who couldn’t otherwise afford them; it’s my opinion that people who really want kids shouldn’t have to go without the ability to be parents because they can’t afford fertility treatment or it isn’t covered by their health insurance. Finally, I’d like to donate money to infertility research. I feel that several causes of infertility are woefully understudied and it’s really unfortunate that every couple with unexplained infertility seems to have to pull out the big guns (needles! hormones! stress!), when it’s possible that with a little more research there could be other treatments available.

#4 See the Galapagos

As I mentioned before, I’m an experience-loving kind of girl. I especially love to travel (my husband and I met on a travel message board! we are travel nerds!) and one of my dream trips is to the Galapagos Islands. I’d love the opportunity to get to see the Galapagos in all their weird glory, in a way that was as minimally harmful to the fragile environment as possible. I know that every tourist who goes there damages things just a little further, but I’d really really like to see it all for myself.

#5 Bespoke Boots

The one THING I have despaired of ever finding is a pair of boots that fit exactly the way I’d like them to. I have large calves thanks to a combination of genetics, 15 years of ballet, and short achilles tendons, and I’ve never found a pair of boots that fits well without pinching or making me feel like my circulation is being cut off. I’d like a pair of real leather motorcycle-style boots with a stacked heel, that came up to the top of my calf, with a zipper and an internal adjustment system so I could make them wider to accommodate jeans or thick tights. Right now it’s a pipe dream, but if money were no object I’d pay someone several hundred dollars to make exactly the boots I wanted to fit my feet and legs perfectly.

day 23 – Guest Post from Becca

As you may note, today’s post is not actually the expected “Cooking with Abby” but instead a guest post from Becca, one of my dearest and oldest (in terms of length of friendship, not age) friends.  But seeing as a certain day of major cooking festivities is coming up on Thursday, I thought I would switch my order around and do a Cooking with Abby post then.  Plus as you will see, this post may come in handy for all your pre-festivity pie baking because, trust me, this girl knows her pies!

Pie Crust 101

I have been baking since elementary school.  I don’t remember what my first project was, or even why I began baking in the first place.  What I do remember are lovely afternoons in the kitchen experimenting with new recipes, my first measuring spoon set (brightly colored spoons that came with a kid’s cookbook), the wrath of my parents when they discovered the inevitable mess I would made in the kitchen, and, of course the finished products (or “goop” as my dad calls it).  I had a number of  successes, and even more flops–the pancakes that were so bad they got fed to the dog (my thoughtful and amazing Grandpa also forced some down), the cake with Pepto Bismal-colored frosting, and of course the Jessica Fields Marshmallow Cloud Cookie disaster (ask Abby about that one)–to name a few.

I have always loved making pie.  I love trying new fillings and learning different techniques for making the perfect pie crust.  The first pie I ever attempted was an unmitigated disaster.  I was probably about 9 years old, and I decided that it would be a good idea to make a pie in the middle of July on one of the hottest, most humid days of the year.  Several attempts at getting the rolled out dough into the pie pan proved fruitless.  Frustrated, I gave up and went swimming, leaving my poor mother to finish the pie for me.

Since that day, I have made more pies, most with more success than that first one.  I made a pie the other evening, and Abby asked me to share the crust recipe.  The recipe is from Pie, by Ken Haedrich.  I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in pie making.  There are 50 pages devoted to apple pies alone!

When in comes to pie crust, I am firmly in the all-butter camp.  Using shortening does make for a flakier crust, but butter gives a much better flavor.  If you have access to it/are not a vegetarian/ are not grossed out by it, lard actually makes the best crust, giving both amazing flavor and texture.

A caveat:  Don’t be discouraged by the length of this recipe, I was just super detailed.  Making pie crust really is pretty easy once you get the hang of it!

Single-crust all butter pie dough (with the double crust measurements in parentheses):

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour (2 3/4 cups)
1 1/2 t sugar (1T)
1/2 t salt (1t)
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4” pieces (1 cup)
About 1/4 cup ice water (about 1/2 cup)

Directions:

You can make your pie dough by hand, in a food processor, or with an electric mixer.  The following are directions for mixing by hand.  Whichever method you use, the trick is not to overwork the dough.  Work it as little as possible to prevent activating the gluten in the flour, resulting in a chewy, elasticy crust.

Begin by mixing the flour, sugar, and salt together in a bowl.  Add half the butter, and cut in with a pastry blender or two forks.  The pieces can be fairly large.  (This is a trick I learned from my middle school teacher Mrs. Gleim.  I’m not sure if there’s any merit to it, but she swore that cutting in half the fat, then the other half gives a flakier crust.)  Cut in the rest of the butter.  The pieces should now be about “pea-sized”–basically, you don’t want the pieces of butter too small, because it’s the pockets of unincorporated fat in pie crust that add to the flakiness.

Next, slowly add the water.  This is the tricky part.  You want to add just enough water so that the dough just begins to stick together, but not so much that it becomes sticky.  I usually add about half the water, toss the dough with a fork, then continue to add the water in a slow stream with one hand while tossing the dough with the other.  When you have added enough water, pack the dough into a ball and wrap it in plastic wrap (If you are making a double crust, make two balls, one slightly larger than the other).  Place the dough in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

When you are ready to roll out the crust, take the dough from the refrigerator (if it’s been in the fridge for more than an hour, let the dough sit on the counter for 5-10 minutes to soften a bit before rolling it out).  If you wish, you can roll out the dough on silpat or waxed paper for an easier transition to the pie plate, but I usually just roll it out on the counter because I’m lazy and/or I forget about it until it’s too late.

Liberally flour your work surface.  Place the ball of dough in the middle.  Flour the top of the dough, as well as your rolling pin.  Flatten the dough a bit with the rolling pin, then begin rolling out the dough.  Begin in the middle, and work your way out to the edge in one motion.  Do not roll back and forth.  Always start in the center and work outward, then go back to the center to get a consistent thickness (another Mrs. Gleim trick).  After the first few rolls, pick up the pastry, add more flour to the counter, and place it back down.  Do this a couple of times until it becomes too big to pick up to prevent it from sticking to the counter.

When your crust is all rolled out, you need to get it into the shell.  If you are using waxed paper, pick up the paper, invert it over the shell, and gradually peel it off.  What I usually do is gently pull up half the crust and fold it over the other half.  Then I take half of that and fold it over (so it is folded into fourths).  I then pick up the dough from the counter, place it in the pie pan, and unfold it.  This usually works for me, but you may have your own way that you prefer.

Pat the dough into the pan.  if it tears, you can fix it with a bit of water.  There should be about 1/2”-1” overhang around the edge of the pan.  Trim this overhang with a knife so that it is about 1/2” all the way around.  Next tuck this overhang under itself, so that it is even with the edge of the pie pan.  Bring the edge of the pie crust up off the pie plate so it is standing up.  Flute the crust by placing your left thumb and forefinger on the inside of the crust while pushing the crust inward with your right forefinger.  When this is done, chill your crust.  If you are making a single crust pie, chill in the freezer for 15-20 minutes.  If you are making a double crust pie, chill in the fridge for 15-20 minutes.

If you are baking your filling in the shell, make the filling, place it in the shell, and cook according to your recipe.  If you are making a cream pie, or another pie that requires a prebaked shell, read on.

Get a sheet of aluminum foil (preferably not heavy-duty) and line the inside of your shell, with the excess foil flaring out like wings.  Get some rice or dry beans and fill the shell the entire way up (you can save these and use them over and over).  This is to prevent the pie shell from shrinking.  Bake the shell at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.  Slowly lift the foil with the weights out of the shell (you can usually do this with your bare hands because the aluminum will cool when it hits room temperature).  Take a fork and prick the shell on the bottom 7 or 8 times.

Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees and further bake the shell 10-12 minutes for a partially prebaked shell and 15-17 minutes longer for a fully prebaked shell (depending on what the recipe calls for).  Check the shell occasionally to make sure it isn’t puffing.  If it is, prick the area with a fork.  When you take the pie out of the oven, a partially prebaked shell should be just starting to brown, while a fully baked shell should be golden brown.

When the pastry is cool, fill with you desired filling and enjoy!!

day 18 – guest post from my Mom

Now if you remember last week I hinted that I might be having a guest post by my Mom some time this month and lucky for you that has indeed come to pass.  In this post you get to hear about the fun vacation my parents took to Northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula in Michigan.  If have been wondering where I get my love of photo-based vacation wrap-ups, I think this post should clear up any questions.  I think my favorite photo is the one of my Dad skipping stones, such a great capture by Mom.  Oh and if you want to see the photos she is referring to head over here and as for Tim’s photos I don’t think they are online yet.

Washington Island

As John and I began planning for our vacation of traveling around Lake Michigan we were delighted to find that our family could join us for the first days in Door County, WI. Our children were the photographers during those days and you can see photos on their blogs. When they left to return home, John and I headed to Washington Island for a day of exploring and bike riding.

We were glad for jackets on the ferry ride to the island but the sun soon warmed us up.

The ferries we met were quite full.

We arrived to find a long line of people and pets with their vehicles waiting for a ferry ride back to the main land. Labor Day marked the end of vacation for many people but we were only beginning ours. We found an interesting story-telling man at the information center, filled our water bottles and headed out.

We stopped for a mid-morning snack before heading out across the island.

The weather showed its many faces during the day; bright sunshine to clouds and showers. We managed to ride between showers and enjoyed a variety of shelters during the rainy spells. We bought our lunch at a local grocery store than headed north.

John enjoyed skipping stones at Schoolhouse Beach.

The cedar trees provided shelter during one shower.

We found the one of a kind Norwegian Stavkirke Church.

The day had other stops such as Mountain Park & Tower, but after an ice cream stop during another shower we made our way back to the dock. This may be a place worth visiting again.

day 11 – guest Post from my Dad

Last week I emailed both my parents checking to see if either of them had interest in writing some guest posts for my blog this month.  While having some help meeting the blog every day goal of the month was part of my inspiration, I also happen to think both of my parents are great writers.  Over the years my Dad has written occasional Sunday morning musings out to his children and siblings and while they range greatly in topic, some weekly updates, some philosophical conundrums, they are always full of wit and wisdom.  This past summer during a bike trip to PA with his older brother, my Dad finally started his own blog.  You can find him over at BikerBrother.

As for my Mom, she has a strong creative gift and has written a number of lovely poems over the years, my guess is that my older brother Tim gets a lot of his poetic talents from her.  Hopefully I will wheedle her into coming up with something for this blog too.  Anyways without too much further ado and preambles, here is my Dad’s post:

A Glimpse of Abby’s First Two Years on This Good Earth

I don’t think any of you regular readers of this blog met Abby until we moved to Indiana when Abby was 10 and most of you didn’t meet her until years later. So when Abby invited me to do a “guest” blog I couldn’t think of a better thing to do than to give you a small window into the first 2 years of her life.

First a caveat. On this blog you are used to seeing high quality photos taken by Abby’s fine digital camera. These pictures were taken by a $24.95 Kodak 110 pocket camera. We were not impoverished but chose to spend our money on other things. At least it was convenient in that it fit nicely in Mom’s purse. So don’t try to enlarge the pictures – they only get worse.

This first picture is unfortunately undated but I’m guessing late September 1983. You can tell Abby is going to arrive a fully developed infant. It’s a profile of her mother taken from the dining room looking out the back door at our house on Blue Rock road.

Abby was born a few days later with a fine crop of reddish-copper hair. At her birth the obstetrician said “just because she arrived at 9lb 15oz doesn’t mean she’s going to be a 300 lb linebacker.” To which the attending nurse said “only if she wants to be”.

Here’s some of Grandma Hess’s diary the day of your birth.

    “John called about 4 o’clock. I went over and they left for the hospital about 5 o’clock. Timothy woke very happy and was an excellent little boy. We went to Sewing Circle. I took casseroles. John called at church when we were getting ready to leave. Abigail Marie arrived about 12:18 noon. She weighed 9 lb. 15 oz. She has reddish hair.”

Then this entry the next day:

    “Papa and I went in to see Lois and Abigail. She surely is a nice bright baby.”

At 6 months pulling Daddy’s beard. Look at those curls!

Two year old Abby found her calling to be a librarian early.