The relatively shitty woodworker!!!!!

Redoing furniture has been on my life list for I think, like, ten years? (When I was very little I thought it would be really cool when I would someday be able to say things like “that happened fifteen years ago” or “we’ve known each other for more than twenty years!” Actually it is kind of cool. I’ve been living and wanting and thinking for so long!

My lovely friend has been redoing her entire apartment in small DIY bits because she is bored, and she mentioned that I could perhaps do this as well, and possibly even very slightly more easily than she could, as I do not have a toddler. (I have two plants, though, soooo…) But I decided she’s right, I have time and opportunity and I should do an Exciting Project.

Back when I used to work at a publishing company that will remain unnamed, I spent an enormous amount of downtime reading design blogs, mostly about furniture restoration (Better After is my favorite). I have NO IDEA why I started doing this. I think it was in between reading food blogs. So anyway I had it vaguely in my head that I could redo my Jokkmokk in this style I really like, with a dark stained top and vintage-y looking green/blue legs.

So I spent the evening learning everything there is to know about stains and sanding and polyurethane and brushes and power sanders, and now I am an expert in everything. I also found this person to model my project after.

I got:

  • Oil-based stain in “Honey” color. I got this partly because of the color and partly because of the name. It was between that and “Early American” and I was just like nooo early american noooooo.
  • Water-based polyurethane. This is annoying because it’s weird to do oil-based stain and then water-based poly, but it seemed better based on how you’d be able to clean it?? And it’s better for the environment? And it dries faster, so weird stuff won’t get stuck in it while it’s drying. I dunno. I just have to let the stain dry for like three days before I can poly it.
  • Two super fancy paintbrushes, one for oil-based and one for water-based things.
  • Sandpaper in 60, 120, and 220 grit. I gave up on the power sander and am doing it by hand. I will make up a romantic story about how I did this on purpose to make a true connection with the wood and feel with my own hands the transformation from blah blah to blah blah.

Then I put down a drop cloth, put on my sunglasses because they are larger than my regular glasses, and put on two masks (they were used so I couldn’t use them to go outside, don’t worry) and sanded for like two hours.

Actually first I googled “how to sand” because I realized I had no idea how. I liked this guy very much, although I ended up sanding along the grain because I made some weird gouges when I tried to go diagonal.

Then I sanded for two hours.

IMG_3284 2

After several hours of hand-sanding.

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For Hillary

This is just going to be a personal post. It’s not going to be inspiring (though, links at bottom) and it will definitely sound super selfish. Commiserating today has been helping me. So, this is where I am at for now.

I still feel sick. I’ve been crying for two days straight. My heart—and you know I mean this, because I hate talking about my heart—is broken into a million, billion pieces. For me, for Hillary, for our country, that we don’t get to see her as president. I wanted that more than anything.

On Tuesday night, before I went to sleep—around midday in East Coast time—I had never been so excited in my life. I’ve been waiting for this since the 2008 primaries. I’ve loved and admired Hillary for a really, really long time. I honestly don’t remember how I decided on her back then. I remember how excited and proud I was, standing in a New Haven library and filling in my ballot for her, to be voting for a woman, a strong, progressive, feminist, just fucking awesome badass woman. And I’ve been with her ever since—just, really quietly, because of all the times I’ve had people (mostly men) tell me I was wrong. And then. Well.

In my Russian conversation class today, when we were talking briefly about the election, my teacher said to me, “All the students have been in bad moods today, but you seem really upset. Why is this so close to you?” I just kinda mumbled, “It’s hard to say.” Partly because I didn’t want to start crying again, partly because many of the reasons were things I wouldn’t have felt safe saying while I’m living in this country, partly just because it is hard to explain.

I’m a Jewish, queer, slightly mentally ill woman. That’s not really why this scares me so much. I’m white, and I can hide the rest of it, which I do, most of the time, which I’m ashamed of. So, hi—here’s the truth. This election will change me. It’s hard to say “home” right now when I think of that place, but: I will do everything I can to change this country when I get home.


I made baked ziti tonight (sort of). This post was going to be about it. About how it’s my home, but that sounded stupid. And it’s not MY home that matters. But this is how I am trying to make myself stop being so tired and sad and despairing and get up. It didn’t work, but I’ll try again.


I’m also collecting links to YES LET US GO FIGHT articles:

Ask Polly
Daily Kos
Leslie Knope (Vox)
Man Repeller
Medium 1
Medium 2

Further adventures in instant coffee: a warning to you all


Last week I was in Russia (Pskov and Petersburg AHHHAHSDFHAD) on a study trip, and when we were in the most amazing supermarket of all time that was exacty like the Home Depot of food I decided I had to buy this instant coffee, which I surmised would be astoundingly and fantastically terrible. (The company is MOSCOW COFFEE. And then some more words that I don’t understand.) There were a lot of other kinds, including one that had the Eiffel Tower on it, but I decided to go for the less-good-looking one. So.

My hand is in this picture in a very awkward way.

My hand is in this picture in a very awkward way.

I’m writing this before tasting the coffee, because I’m a little worried that things will Never Be The Same, and not in a good way, after I drink it. The coffee particles look a lot like dried wood chips, a la the ending of Fargo. They are a very strange color. Some of them look like coffee, some of them look entirely not like coffee. The smell is not un-coffee-like, however. It has that slightly acidic smell that some kinds of coffee have. (I am hesitant to compare it to anything because that just seems mean.) Fuck, the water finished boiling. My fate is nigh.

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Instant coffee taste test, part one

There are a bunch of instant coffee taste-test posts floating around online, so I’m going to ignore all of them and conduct my own. It will probably depend on which one is cheapest at the supermarket that week. I am not bothering to buy a drip machine because last year in Glasgow I did, and it sucked (it was like ten pounds and it came with a German plug, which was weird, and sometimes it would just open by itself while it was coffeeizing), and the ground coffee was too expensive, and sometimes they didn’t have filters in stores and I would have to go to like three or four supermarkets and finally only found them in WAITROSE (omg too many good Waitrose links). So I’m going instant this year. I did it all summer in Russia and didn’t even mind, so this means: 1) I’m way less of a snob than I thought and 2) I have terrible taste in coffee. Café Bustelo 4 lyfe.



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Russian food (maybe?) in Estonia

HI FROM ESTONIA! I got here almost a week ago and have been subsisting on: “Mexican” wraps from a very small store on the main square where they sort of speak English but which is also unfortunately frequented by loud American teenagers; cheese and Estonian black bread; Nutella, spread with a steak knife because my apartment came with all utensils except butter knives; frozen vareniki and smetana (well, I cooked the vareniki first and the smetana was not frozen); instant coffee (I will totally do a taste test sometime); and овсяная каша с малинами. I bought that last one over cheaper options because the main label was in Russian and I was homesick. Or something. In a land where the main labels are in Latvian, Lithuanian, Estonian, Polish, Finnish, German, and Spanish (in more or less that order), anything Russian is friendly and comforting.

So now it’s a late Sunday afternoon, exactly cooking time according to my habits the last time I regularly updated this blog, and I have an Estonian cold or maybe allergies, and I finally finished washing the pots and pans that came with the apartment and the dishes I bought for fifty cents each from a departing graduate student, and I’m going to cook something.

My green kitchen!

My green kitchen!

I’m going to cook something my Russian host mother made for me at the beginning of the summer. Whenever she made something I really liked and I asked what it was, she would say, I don’t know! I just made it up. I haven’t even tried it yet. I don’t know if it will come out. And it always did; but I never got her to teach me how to cook. So I’m making it up, channeling my inner Russian babushka (who may or may not exist), and we’ll see. I thought during this summer that I wanted to cook more without recipes, just inventing with whatever vegetables I wanted to eat, so we’ll see how it goes.

This is going to be a vegetable soup/stew/mixture/thing of cabbage, beets (I like beets now!), potatoes, onions, and carrots, since that’s more or less what was in the one she made, as far as I remember; and I have some vegetable broth things (identical to the ones I bought in Glasgow except in Polish … so actually I don’t really know what they are); and I have salt and pepper, and that’s all. Oh, and some bread, and some cheese that’s in Estonian. It’s called maasdam. I would Google Translate it, but that’s not fun.

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Since three people read this blog and they all know that I moved to Glasgow for grad school, I will not update you about how I moved to Glasgow for grad school. But I did. And THEY DON’T HAVE BAGELS HERE. They have most other things that are necessary, but I am, for lack of bagel, starting to become a small, weak, WASPy white-bread of a former human being. So this shit is happening.

me: should i make bagels
Jeff:  Absolutley.
why haven’t you started
me:  because of fear and also because the kitchen is cold and smells weird
Sent at 6:54 PM on Friday
me:  it’s happening AND I AM GOING TO BLOG IT.
Jeff:  “the relatively Jewish cook”

I am watching Master Chef Australia. It is Friday night, and I feel pretty good about that. Oh no, Master Chef Australia just stopped working. Pause. Never mind, it’s back. Anyway. I measured warm (???) water, barley malt (which I actually HAD IN MY POSSESSION ALREADY because the spirit of bagel is strong within me), yeast, and salt with my beautiful kitchen scale that came from home with me.

Bagelmaking commences. Master Chef Australia in background.

Bagelmaking commences. Master Chef Australia in background.

And it’s in my one and only pot (not even a bowl) because I just like didn’t buy cooking supplies when I moved here. And then I measured in the bread flour, and then I mixed it with my pink wooden spoon that is falling apart such that bits of things get stuck inside it and it’s disgusting. And now the dough is resting. Now it’s time to knead. Hold on.

Jeff: Oh, it would be very hard to deal with the shame of making bagels in front of 82 invisible people.


Do you remember your first chocolate chip cookie? I don’t mean the one from the grocery store or the one from the bake sale or even the one your granny had waiting for you when you came over. I mean your first chocolate chip cookie. I definitely don’t remember mine, but I’m pretty sure it came from the back of the Toll House chocolate chip bag. I loved baking cookies when I was little, but they were always way worse than the ones I could buy at the store or, even better, the ones that came from a mix so people still gave tiny me the baking credit. This battle over how to really make a good chocolate chip cookie continued into adolescence. My mom tried to teach me, my grandmother tried to teach me. I bet even my sixth grade home economics teacher tried to teach me. I probably made hundreds (thousands?) of cookies, but they all had this weird taste that sang amateur as you bit into their crumbly bodies. I say crumbly because they weren’t crispy like Tate’s and they weren’t thick and chewy like Levain, and they definitely weren’t anything like the massive cookies you get at Bouchon or Jacques Torres that are basically 33% butter, 33% sugar, and 33% chocolate (1% love?).

Back to basics.

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Pie Forever

Pie is easy to make. Anyone can do it. It’s the classic American dessert and you can put basically anything between two crusts and call it pie (see: Waitress, the movie). Unfortunately, I am an utter failure when it comes to “easy” things. I cannot make rice. I over-steam all veggies. If you can think of other “easy” dishes, I’ve definitely screwed them up, and probably multiple times. I’ve been making pies for years. It’s sort-of what my family knows me for – they always expect me to bake up an apple pie for every occasion. My apple pies are delicious. Hideously ugly, sometimes with a too-chewy underbaked crust, and usually with icky pieces of peel hanging around with the “pure” pieces of apple, but delicious.

Drip drip.

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Under Pressure

In the spirit of the last few posts, tonight I’ll be going into a bit of minor detail on how to deal with a pressure cooker when making Indian style lentils. My household recently acquired one, after many weeks of deliberation over the huge range of styles, sizes, and brands. We were finally able to bust it out tonight and give it a spin. Luckily, it didn’t actually do any spinning, but we did duck for cover just in case.

Here is a picture of carrots, since it was requested of me to not include the picture of someone literally ducking for cover. I don’t like carrots, unless they’re candied, in pancakes, or, apparently, highly pressurized.

Our recipe for Curried Lentils came from a book we found at the NY Public Library called The Easy Pressure Cooker Cookbook. The ingredients were simple:
2 cups lentils (we used green)
1 cup coconut milk (we used light)
1 cup stock (we used vegetable)
2 tsp. madras curry powder (we used “hot curry” powder)
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
3 medium carrots, chopped
2 tbsp oil (we used olive)

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aux Anything

There comes a time when a young lady needs to graduate from cakes and cookies and move on to more exciting endeavors, like pastries and breads (or a convenient combination of the two, as this post demonstrates). I’ve always wanted to make Martha Stewart’s Babka recipe, but jumping right into one of the most complicated (and expensive!) yeast cakes just didn’t fit my rational personality. The solution- a brioche recipe from Joanne Chang’s FLOUR cookbook. This recipe is in no way quick. I started it on a Friday and didn’t totally finish the dealings until the following Sunday– as in, over a week later. The entire experience brought immense joy and satisfaction into my kitchen, and according to this blog’s owner, the brioche aux chocolate that came out of the big mess was “the best thing [she] ever tasted.” This blog post is meant to offer some beginner warnings for those of you thinking of trying this out. I have absolutely no natural baking skills- so every success of mine is a true wonder and thanks to a detailed recipe. Hopefully, other amateurs can learn from my mistakes.

Everything should start with your basic butter foundation.

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