Goals, At Home

Child's Play

As I prepare for tomorrow's departure from Houston, it's natural to look back at the last few years and think about the big picture.  In between packing boxes, playing with the baby and stopping for an occasional deep breath (usually while reaching for an adult beverage), I have had to periodically remind myself that this uncomfortable transition will be over soon and we will obviously make it through.  My thoughts turn next to all of the things that have happened to us here.

Houston has felt to me like a life-sized, three-dimensional game of Chutes and Ladders.  Mostly ladders that have enriched our lives, and made us stronger, happier and more prosperous, but also a few big chutes, where we having been going along and then found ourselves thrown abruptly a few steps backward, scratching our heads in dismay.  It has been a time of extremes and big lessons in adulthood.

Luckily, the sum total is overwhelmingly positive, so while I am hoping for slightly lower number of surprises in the next few years, it would be folly to wish them away entirely.  Instead, my focus is on improving my ability to roll with it when they inevitably come.

On that note, until next time, Houston.  Thank you for the adventures, and thank you for being better than expected.

But You Can Still Be Friends

Isn't it always the case that after you break up, the other party pulls it together and then you can't remember why you wanted to break up?  He gets off the couch, quits the fantasy football league, shuts off the TV, and finally starts the company that he kept talking about while you hung around offering encouragement...he loses ten pounds, he starts cooking, he goes dancing...basically he does all of the things that you had wished could happen while you were together, but he does them with someone else.

Houston is doing that to me a little bit right now.  I have been hanging around, waiting for Houston to come into its creative own, looking for signs of creative life.  Hints of it surfaced here and there, but still it has sometimes felt difficult to actually find people to do creative things with.

Last week, literally weeks before our departure, a new place opened for people to rent space and make things.  People close to me know that I have wanted to try this for sewing; every time I pack up my heavy machines that do not get daily use, I wonder why more us don't share these things.  I have even sketched out a rough idea for a business model.  But the constant moving has stopped me from actually going for it because I was terrified of having to leave it behind.  Anyway, I'm not bitter that someone else did it first; I'm happy it exists because it makes so much sense.  I'm just disappointed that it didn't happen two years ago, when I could be part of it.

Regardless, Houston, you are looking better already, and I'm sure it's not out of the question that I will be back.  Maybe we will make things together at some point in the future.  In the meantime, good luck to Houston Makerspace!

(I couldn't help but add the photo of this cool bus stop bench around the corner.)

You Have to Break Up with a Place

Living in Houston has been nothing like I imagined it would be, way back when I first realized that I would inevitably be moving here.  The last two and half years have been pleasant, relaxing (in between life curve-balls which were not Houston-specific), and a nice time of both connecting and re-connecting with friends.  Getting set up was fast and hassle-free compared to past locations.  It turns out that extricating ourselves is the tricky part.

We are in the process of selling our house, which is a pain in the patoot, as I always suspected doing such a thing would be.  The trouble is mostly due to managing baby paraphernalia and a baby schedule in the face of unpredictable periods of exile, and the fact that our first offer fell through, slowing down the process of finding the correct buyers.  Since the first offer came within days of listing the property, we were faced with wrapping up our life in Houston in a few short weeks, a prospect which left me feeling sad and slightly frazzled.

Then the offer fell through and in the ensuing weeks of house showings and various other low-grade life challenges, I started to feel quite sour at Houston in general.  When I shared this feeling with a friend of mine, and expressed my surprise at my change of heart, she astutely observed that "you have to break up with a place".  She had been describing her husband's growing impatience with some circumstances at his place of work; little things he had been willing to overlook in the past had now become unbearable now that he was planning to begin working elsewhere.  It struck me how much that sounded like what had happened to my relationship with Houston.  I had been feeling good here, and then suddenly I wasn't; my affectionate thoughts and concerns about our departure evaporated in the space of days.  And so, as our house faces its inspection today, I am feeling hopeful for the strength of this current offer and am allowing my specific complaints about Houston to float to the surface.

It probably sounds silly, but one of the things I hate most is the deplorable condition of the streets and sidewalks.  While running outside, or walking the baby in the stroller, I face sidewalks that are broken, interrupted, missing, filthy and in one instance even blocked (for months) by a fallen telephone pole.  Once, I tripped on a broken piece of sidewalk which abutted a huge tree root, and a half-block stretch of no sidewalk.  When I put my arms down to break my fall, my hand and wrist were both gouged by the broken sidewalk and attacked by a swarm of nasty ants who bit me all over. As if all of that were not enough to deter a committed urban pedestrian, I was also recently bitten by a (leashed) dog.  Ugh.

An additional headache day after day are the residents of my neighborhood who park their large vehicles on tiny driveways, blocking any hoped-for passage and forcing pedestrians onto the equally treacherous streets.  People who park this way do it over and over again, never receiving any type of citation from the city.  Luckily I am able-bodied and have a sturdy stroller, but I feel anger in my heart for the challenges that such obstacles pose to wheelchair-bound and other people with mobility challenges.

I will also not miss Houston's aggressive and terrible drivers, who are so bad and scary that I will not ride my bike in the city, nor will I allow my husband to bicycle with the baby.  Lanes are narrow, drivers are fast and careless, and the bike lanes are a joke.  Recently on the radio there was a story about a rash pedestrian and bicycle deaths in Houston, and the spokesperson for the police had the audacity to blame the pedestrians and remark that jaywalking would be in the future more aggressively ticketed.  Shame on you, Houston.

I will not miss living in a place where the air quality is terrible enough to warrant warnings as part of the weather forecast.  I will not miss living somewhere where I am sometimes hesitant to speak my mind in case the other party is trigger-happy.  I will not miss being "governed' by Rick Perry.  I will not miss living without lakes.  I will not miss living in a place which celebrates "freedom" in the name of lawlessness, but is only too happy to deny freedom to women trying to take care of their health.

There are lots of things I like about Houston, and I have spent much energy in the last couple of years enumerating them on this blog.  Most of what I appreciate about being here relates to food and our friends.  As with any breakup, this is a messy decision, pocked with grey areas of emotion.  It is possible that we have put home on a pedestal, and once we get there, we may find it not worth the fuss.  Perhaps ultimately we will have to break up with the idea that there is a "home" for us which can be marked on a map.

In the meantime, Houston, it's not me, it's you. 

Mini Rant

Dear Random Man Who Believes Secession is the Solution,

I frequently run past your truck while you are working in my neighborhood and your "Secede" bumper sticker gets me riled up every time I see it.

I just want you to know that Texas will run out of oil, and therefore its primary means of supporting itself, long before the rest of us will exhaust our ability to govern ourselves peacefully without you.

I guess your expenses will remain low, since your government only convenes briefly once every two years and doesn't believe in raising taxes to maintain infrastructure.  Unfortunately though, your crumbling sidewalks will disintegrate completely, your aging highways will cease to allow the passage of vehicles from far-away ranches to urban workplaces, and your citizens who lack healthcare and education will gradually bankrupt the rest of your citizens who do not see the link between themselves and those who go regularly without.  However, I am sure you will resolve all of that whenever your leaders finally reconvene in a couple years.

Maybe the nation of Texas will have enough water, but I guess if you don't you will figure something out.  I'm sure you won't need any help recovering from any drought, hurricane or fire issues like you have in the past, or any financial aid like the $44 billion dollars you received from the United States federal government in 2010.

Anyway, it sounds like you have thought long and hard about this, and we wish you the best.

Warm regards, and we will see you at the U.N.,

The Rest of the States

Stroller Walking

The sidewalks of Houston are a study in extreme disrepair.  They are broken, multi-level, interrupted, sometimes non-existent, often blocked by vehicles, frequently encroached on by rowdy plant matter, and definitely not wheelchair or stroller-friendly.  As a result, I expected to grow extremely annoyed with my neighborhood while walking with the stroller.  The opposite has happened; I have grown more fond of this area as our daily walks have caused me to notice more features which have further endeared it to me.  Also I feel gratitude for the sturdy construction of our stroller.

I discovered, and later visited, a museum of print history.  It is on a side street and in an unassuming building that I almost didn't notice when I initially passed by.  Eventually it turned out to be a pleasant and stroller-friendly activity while my mom was visiting for the weekend.  It was especially excellent that there was a food truck out front and we were pleased with said truck's offerings.

I have also located two parks previously unnoticed.  One is a young family magnet and has amazing wide flat sidewalks, a big grassy area, and a playground which is quite nice.  The other one is a little tiny pocket park with two benches and lots of trees located randomly in-between two homes on a quiet block near my favorite coffee shop.

I have grown even more fond than I previously was of my grocery store.  In the past I avoided the store in the evenings during the very busy post-work-dinner-hour rush, but lately it has served as a nice window into neighborhood socializing.  Aside from it being a pleasant time of year to be out walking and good for both the baby and I to get some fresh air, stroller walks have become my main tool for powering through the witching hour.  As a result, I have stopped trying to cook dinner in the early evening and instead pick up something fresh to eat from the grocery deli.  Seeing all of the people out on the patio, splitting bottles of wine purchased in the store and enjoying their deli dinners in the fresh fall air, makes me happy.  Even though it is a chain grocery store, it has a friendly, neighborly vibe that I appreciate.  Plus who can argue with a grocery store that boasts a wine and beer bar and a gourmet macaroni and cheese station?

Walking with the baby in these evenings has also given me a more personal link to my neighbors.  I've also been able to meet the owner of the magic yard near our house: the yard in which a family was dining outside last Thanksgiving and it looked so inviting and cozy that I wished for us to be invited to join them even though we had never met that family.  It turns out that he is a very sweet guy with three grown children, and he is also the photographer who makes greeting cards with photos of Houston that I have actually purchased before at the aforementioned grocery store.

Every afternoon I look forward to our stroller outing; I'm thankful for the fresh air this time of year and for the new discoveries that brighten my days.  And I'm especially thankful to have my husband home this month to walk with us.

Another Festival of Quilts

I can't believe it's been a year since I went to the Quilt Festival here in Houston.  Suddenly it's that time again.  I heard on the radio this week that the festival draws over sixty-thousand attendees and that quilters spend more money on quilting than hunters spend on hunting and golfers spend on golf, which kind of boggles the mind.  Regardless of the hoopla, I just go to see the amazing display quilts from around the world.

It is bizarre how everything is different in my life than it was a year ago, and it all started just after the festival last year.  Last year I hung around the festival with my camera for hours, exploring and admiring the art.  This year, I raced around the festival with my camera in my diaper bag and my baby in the stroller.  I held my breath for most of the time and finally did a slower, more leisurely stroll only after I was certain that I had seen the highlights, lest I miss anything if the baby erupted.  But he hung in there, and I enjoyed a decent overview.

I was not as taken with this year's quilts as I was with those from last year, but they were beautiful and inspiring nonetheless.  The highlights for me this year were other details, like the fact that the friendly and enthusiastic ticket-taker at the door greeted me with "You must be from Wisconsin!", which was remarkable since I had never seen him in my life.  Even though I'm not from Wisconsin, from down here Minnesota and Wisconsin are essentially the same thing, so I was willing to consider that an accurate statement. Then I realized that he figured it out because I was wearing a sleeveless top and it was only 72 degrees outside.  For Houstonians, this constitutes a chill in the air.

Another aspect of the festival that amused me this year that I didn't notice last year was the husband's lounge.  It was a walled-off area in the back of the convention hall equipped with a big TV and a bunch of comfy armchairs and lounge chairs.  Pretty smart, and thoughtful, in my opinion.

There was something else I noticed this year that had nothing to do with quilts.  I noticed how many people in the world love babies.  As a person who has always feared them desperately, this fact never ceases to amaze me.  A sleeping baby in a stroller is a grandma magnet, and I was in a convention hall overflowing with grannies.  It's really fun walking past people who reflexively smile and get a little dreamy, giggly look on their faces when they look at your tiny companion.

Regardless, there were also beautiful quilts.  Here is a sampling of what I saw:

W(h)ine To Go

Our son is just over three weeks old now, which I find a little shocking in light of the fact that we haven't yet reached his due date.  The learning curve has been steep and the emotions are intense.  A flood of love and affection, both for him and my husband, who is turning out to be quite the baby-whisperer, but also emotions that are not always positive...fear and worry...discomfort at the loss of my old familiar self and worry for the future of our son in such a messy world.  We are managing pretty well, I think, one day at a time.  Our son has been reasonably accommodating, in my opinion.  Considering that he is technically a preemie, he is eating well and sleeping pretty well and we feel lucky that he hasn't had any other health challenges.

I have had a handful of health challenges which have made newborn care slightly more trying, but the assistance of my husband and several friends has made a huge difference.  The conditions of our son's early delivery necessitated a Caesarean section for me, which kept us in the hospital for a full week when combined with the blood pressure complications that I experienced.  As a result, the last three weeks have involved juggling extra medicine, simultaneous mandates to rest more and pump more and feed more but sleep more, and a also ban on driving.  I feel foolish because I never knew that newborns eat every two or three hours (sometimes even more) and trying to learn how to function as a normal human at the same time as these other tricky things finally built up in a big pile and left me ornery yesterday.  It all would have been impossible without the full-time help of my husband, but still there was no denying that even with his excellent help, I woke up cantankerous.

On paper, things were looking up; I just needed to pause and take a breath.  I had been cleared to drive finally and the muscles in my tummy and mid-section no longer felt sore; I was ready to leave the house on a little mission.  This will probably sound nuts, but the first time I left the house alone (for a short walk last week, on foot), I cried a little.  I felt guilty for leaving, and to be honest it also felt strange being out in the world alone after spending every minute of multiple weeks in private rooms with my husband and the baby.  That's how bizarre all of this is.

So yesterday morning when the urge to drive overcame me, and I had to get out.  It was almost like a jailbreak.  I made a run for the local drugstore after a feeding and a green light from my husband.  When I hopped in the car and cranked up my favorite nineties music station, I felt pretty excited and almost like my old self for a few minutes.  Then by the time I reached the drugstore, a mile down the road, I had tears in my eyes again.  I felt like a terrible wimp and cursed the sappy song playing on the overhead speakers.  I persevered and tried to enjoy my brief and wonderous jaunt through the store.  After weeks of letting my husband be my eyes, ears, wallet, and personal assistant, it felt so nice to just look around and make some decisions on the fly.  After a few minutes, emboldened by my dry eyes and the report from home of continuing infant slumber, I made my way across the street to the grocery store.

You know your life has changed a lot when you are excited to go to the grocery store.  So I ran around in there, grabbing a few items that I knew we needed.  When I was checking out, I noticed some miniature bottles of wine at the checkout, right there next to the bug spray and the chocolate bars.  At first I had the familiar eye-rolling response that life in Texas often provokes.  And since there is a bar in the grocery store, too, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that there was wine at the checkout area.  I was trying to imagine a scenario when while standing in line at the checkout, a person would be overtaken by an impulse to purchase these little travel-sized doses of wine.

And then my attitude changed and I thought of what a lunatic I was feeling like that day, and I began to view that wine differently.  Maybe just a little dose of wine is exactly what a person needs once and a while, while they are on the go.  Maybe that wine was there for me?  I didn't buy it, but I did come to the conclusion that perhaps living in a state where shots of wine are positioned like candy bars is a privilege for which  I should be grateful, rather than another sign that I live somewhere ridiculous.  I definitely live somewhere ridiculous right now, but maybe the convenience wine is a redeeming quality, rather than a disappointing one.

Nice Buns

I can't find a good cinnamon bun in Houston.  It never occurred to me before that cinnamon buns were a Midwestern phenomenon, but I believe now that they must be.  So I finally swallowed my fear and made a batch last weekend.  Truth be told, I am partial to the frosted variety, but in this case, I had to pick a recipe that didn't scare the pants off of me for the first go-round.  This recipe is from Savoring the Seasons, a cookbook produced by the chef of my favorite restaurant in Minneapolis.

I will keep working on them until I can produce a frosted one that makes me stop feeling ornery with the lack of Houstonian baked goods, but in the short-term, we had no trouble eating these.

Sunday Cooking

I did not help my mom in the kitchen very much while I was growing up, unless you count making my own school lunches and learning how to make certain foods that I wanted to eat over and over again, like mashed potatoes and chocolate chip cookies.

So when I was living alone as a younger adult, I soon realized that I didn't know how to cook real food.  Recipes had mysterious ingredients in them, like "stock", and unclear commands, like "cut the butter into the flour".  Obviously I avoided those recipes until I had made all of the other ones with easier instructions.  I even tried once to make soup not only without stock, but also without onions.  I have never liked raw onion, and I hadn't yet realized not only that cooked onion completely different than raw onion, but also that cooking an onion is the beginning of almost everything.

I made a lot of gourmet grilled cheese with tomato soup from a box and relied upon Amy's Organics frozen meals for my lunches at work.  I ate out a lot.  I was not unusual among my peers in this, but I know my parents were confused.  They knew that I should have been on a budget, so my habit of eating out frequently seemed strange to them.  But, that's what we did; as entertainment, as a vehicle for socializing, as a way to feel grown-up, and probably because suddenly delicious food was quite hip.

Over the years, my cooking skills have expanded, in fits and starts.  I have made peace with the mighty onion, although I do experience what I consider to be uncommon discomfort in my eyes when I chop one.  My respect for its capacity to flavor gets me through it.

Today as I was working on my new recipe for the week, a pot pie recipe from a cookbook by the chef and founder of my favorite restaurant in Minneapolis, I was reminded of past Sundays spent in the kitchen.  When I was teaching, and and trying to learn how to make some homemade things, I was not successful at making time or finding energy to cook well during the week.  Saturday was always spent running around, working on my master's degree, catching up on sleep, seeing friends, exercising, all manner of normal Saturday things.  Sunday, the day that I should have been catching up on work, more often than I not, was the day that I cooked things.   Or at least it's fair to say that if I was to cook something healthy requiring multiple steps and multiple ingredients, it most likely occurred on a Sunday. 

Since I should have been working, cooking beckoned, by virtue of it being more appealing than working and yet still providing a sense of accomplishment.  Plus, when I started the week after having worked all day on a Sunday, I felt ornery and worn-out by Tuesday. If I spent Sunday cooking a big pot of chili or a chicken casserole, I was not only nourished for several days, also more refreshed for the coming week.  Maybe learning how to cook taught me what can be good about Sundays, which is a day of the week I had never much appreciated before.

I'm grateful that I don't currently have to spend Sundays working, or feeling guilty for work I'm not doing.  Still, I have noticed that the Sunday cooking habit has stuck with me.  Lately I have even noticed that I enjoy it.  It is a nice way to be both methodical and creative, with a low level of investment.  Today I cooked in the spirit of Michael Pollan, making indulgent foods from scratch, instead of buying the junk-food versions at the store.  The pot pies provided the tasty comfort-food effect I was seeking and the homemade peppermint patties satisfied my raging pregnancy-amplified sweet tooth.  I didn't want to get my hopes up, but both treats went very well, so it was a Sunday well-spent.

I Love Carbs

I have written in the past about how irked I am by the Paleo diet trend.  It seems unsustainable, extreme and controlling, several qualities that do not feel comfortable in my food life.  I should care what other people are up to, but for some reason the Paleo thing gets to me.  Also, I just really love bread and potatoes, so even if the math added up on the Paleo diet, I could still see myself living with the risks of flour, just as people now openly encourage pregnant women to go ahead and have that occasional glass  of wine.

In fact, this year one of my goals is very flour-focused.  After years of hemming and hawing about wanting to make bread after one or two long-ago failed attempts, I have finally made some progress.  I have successfully caused dough to rise, and navigated my way around a packet of yeast.

For my weekly attempts in the beginning of the year, I stuck with one basic white/wheat yeast bread recipe and repeated it several times until it became more comfortable.  But this week, I have cleared a new hurdle: the soft pretzel.

I have never met a pretzel that I didn't like, but these produced an unusually high level of satisfaction.  I veered slightly from the technical requirements of my goal; this recipe was not from one of the books already on my shelf, but rather from a blog that I stumbled across recently.  It was a very simple version, more simple than the versions in my cookbooks, thereby making it a good stepping stone.  There will definitely be more pretzels baked in our house; my husband and I enjoyed these so much that we almost ruined our appetites for dinner.

Next on my list of homemade Paleo-busting recipes: cinnamon buns.  I have yet to find a good one made in Houston, plus, if it's homemade, it's fair game according to my Michael Pollan "diet". 

We Almost Made it To a Food Truck (But Now It's a Cafe)

So food trucks are all the rage these days and Houston is no exception.  Since we tend to prefer fresh and casual dining over fine dining, I imagined that we would be tasting all kinds of goodies on the go when we moved here, but instead we have not really bothered.  To be honest, sometimes it is tricky to know where they will be and when.  Aside from that, we just don't eat out as much as we used to; disappointing and expensive restaurants combined with a tight household budget while we were in Calgary finally pushed my tastebuds to prefer homemade food.  

Pregnancy has reinforced that preference; eliminating all of the forbidden ingredients from a restaurant menu is not only an exercise in patience and sleuthing, but takes out some of the fun out of the restaurant experience.  Even though I try to be relaxed and not excessive while following healthy pregnancy guidelines, when I know that my body might be creating a brain that day, or strengthening a spine, I don't want to have that be the day that I give in to the listeria-contaminated feta, or let myself enjoy that (half) pint that I've been craving.

However, we recently had a chance to sample the goods of one food-truck-turned-cafe that has been getting some attention here in Houston, called the Eatsie Boys Cafe.  We enjoyed some fresh and tasty sandwiches on a sunny patio and it was quite delicious.  We didn't quite get there while it was still a trendy food truck, but at least we didn't miss the good food.


We are three weeks into the new year.  Into our resolutions, goals, promises and lists.  Which means that many people, myself included, have likely reached the feeling of discomfort that occurs from venturing into unknown territory and not feeling great about the results.  Suddenly we wonder if the goal was silly, or if we are not good enough, or if we have wasted our time.  And very often, we slink away to lick our wounds, letting the new goal slide off the table, no harm done.  But why do we feel uncomfortable?  And how do we build that bridge between old familiar skills and new desired expertise?

I have so far been essentially meeting the weekly goals I have set for myself, with some minor deadline tweaking, and with hints of the aforementioned disappointment.  For example, since one of my goals is to learn to bake bread, I am working to accomplish it by baking one loaf per week.  The first loaf I made went mostly according to the recipe and I was tickled when the dough actually rose, just as the recipe suggested it would.  I did, however, forget to add salt.  So, it looked nice, but tasted less than fabulous.  Then last week, I made the dough on time, but it turned out that there was no time to finish the baking process until today.  Since I'm within one day, I will still count it for last week's loaf.  And I am still required to make one this week.  So...progress, but definitely no artisanal bread just yet.  Obviously.  What we forget is that in the beginning, everything feels hard.  We have adult, gourmet expectations, but our skills always begin as elementary.  Time and patience are required.  This is not surprising, but it is easier said than managed.

I have successfully engaged in the expansion of my cooking repertoire by trying at least one new recipe per week, as planned .  The two standout recipes so far are one for tsasiki, and one for homemade (no box, real cheese) mac 'n' cheese.  

So things are proceeding nicely in the food department.  However, I'm disappointed with my performance in the craft, fashion and sewing department.  I loved the illustration class that I took last spring.  I was originally intimidated by the notion of drawing, but as it turned out, I was a strong student and benefited from the teaching of an excellent instructor.  Doing the work that he taught made me feel more confident and more creative.  

For that reason, this year I set the goal of creating one new illustration per week, to also include one new garment per week.  My intentions with regard to this goal are to build my skills, gauge my enjoyment of the process and also to explore my potential as a designer who can move beyond creating occasional and individual garments, into the realm of one who can imagine cohesive looks for collections.

I describe all of this in order to explain my frustration that while this feels like it should be the most important goal on the list for me, since it affects other short and long-term plans, it is the goal with which I am struggling the most.  Which brings me back to this conundrum of how hard it is to get ourselves to do new things that feel fuzzy or uncomfortable.  I have been giving it some thought over the last couple of weeks, and have concluded that it is easier to get myself to cook because I already have strong comfort with cooking basics.  Plus, ever few hours, we have to eat.  Since eating cannot be avoided, it's easier to get started in a timely way, and must be frequently repeated.

So here I am today, with last week's drawings not yet complete, this week's looming ahead, plus this weekend's dough rising ungoverned on the counter.  I'm not employed by anyone else, and yet I'm somehow way behind schedule.  It feels shameful.

My suspicion is that this is how new goals fall off of lists and are forgotten.  In the process of trying to improve the quality of our lives, we can end up feeling inadequate and unsure of ourselves.  It's tempting to pull back and to forget the resolutions, which actually means that this is exactly the moment to keep going, and not throw in the towel.  In spite of a missed deadline, or an inadequate loaf, the goals can still be met.  More importantly, the process of chasing them will still improve the quality of our lives.

In conclusion, it's time to stop writing in order to finish the baking and double down on drawing before another evening sneaks up on me.

Surly and Virtuous

This week I crossed a few items off of my to-do list, which gave me that virtuous feeling that you get when you do those things you know you should do, but that you don't really want to do.  Namely, I voted and I had my teeth cleaned.  I will spare you any images from the dentist appointment, but these images from our local early voting station are kind of interesting.

Afterwards, when it came time for lunch, I realized that I didn't have anything obviously lunch-like at home.  I almost went out, but that didn't feel like the answer.  I reviewed the contents of the refrigerator again, and decided that I had the ingredients for beer-cheese soup.

I should say a few things about this.  First, if you are from Texas, you have no idea what I'm talking about.  Second, really if you're not from Minnesota or Wisconsin, you also might have no idea what I'm talking about.  Third, my favorite beer in Minnesota is a beer called Furious, made by a company called Surly.  I can't get Surly here in Texas, so the last time we drove from Minnesota to Texas, I brought a supply of Surly with us.  However, since I struggle with moderation, I didn't just buy and hand-carry a couple packs.  No, no.  I bought 6 4-packs, or something like that.  Unfortunately, the journey had some temperature changes throughout, and when we finally cracked one open in Texas some weeks later, we found some floating bits throughout that we don't normally see.  It tasted fine, in all honesty, but it was hard to get past the bits.

The obvious thing to do would have been to throw it away, but once you've hand-carried something a thousand miles, it becomes harder to convince yourself that it should be thrown away.  I'm not going to lie, the beer is now in its second Texas home, and is approaching it's first birthday.  Which I decided made it perfect for beer-cheese soup.  The cooking would deal with the bits, and I would still put my precious Surly to good use.

Something else of note is my considerable collection of cookbooks.  If you looked at my cookbook shelf, you may think that I am some kind of exceptional cook.  That is not the case.  I do cook, and I do enjoy cooking, but I am also an admitted cookbook over-consumer.  I have probably cooked at least two to four recipes from most of my cookbooks, which means that there remains many more recipes to try.  However, I do still cherish the cookbooks.  I look at them and through them with some regularity.  What I really love about cookbooks is that while they are obviously about food, they are also about place and culture...altogether, those are three of my favorite things.  Anyway, is why I assumed that somewhere, in one of them, would be a recipe for beer-cheese soup.  I'm still not sure that there isn't one there, somewhere.

You know what they say about assuming things, and this case was no different.  So, I instead, I used a recipe for a Wisconsin cheddar soup from a beloved cookbook, given to me as a birthday gift a few years back, and followed it approximately, substituting beer for milk.  Kind of.

The soup went fine, but if anyone out there has a really delicious beer-cheese soup recipe, I would love to hear about it.  My main problem was that the soup had a slightly bitter taste on top of the good flavors.  I realize that this taste was probably alcohol-related, but I don't understand if I cooked it too long, or not long enough.  Any tips regarding beer-cheese soup would be greatly appreciated, as six large cans of Surly remain in the fridge.