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Thursday, May 1, 2014

We Made it to May!

Here we are: We have made it to May! I can't believe that after this year, this super long year where I thought I felt every minute of every day, is just about a full notch in my belt. Rob finishes his finals next week and then he's on vacation. We are getting married next MONTH. I guess the most confusing part is that this has crept up on me. How could it creep, when I stared at the calendar every single day? But it did.

I've been too busy just getting through each day -- work, wedding planning, gym, yoga, cooking, cleaning, dog walking, sleeping -- that I haven't written in this blog in awhile, and I feel bad about it. That post about tofu was from March and I was too lazy to upload the pictures until now. That's how busy I've been! I think about blog writing and video game playing and novel reading and then I get to the end of the day and I'm too tired to do any of it. 

Now that the days are a lot longer -- it's light til 8pm! -- I feel like my brain is coming up from hibernation and my consciousness is slowly pouring back in. And with this big school-related milestone coming up next week, I gotta piggyback on the success that Rob has earned and pat myself on the back too, because we made it through year 1 of 4! This was the hard year, where we had to make friends and I had to find a job and we had to settle in and make a home in a remote town that was nothing like Brooklyn NY. And we did it! I am pretty proud of us, and so grateful for the family and friends that have helped us through it. Those that remembered us, flew out and visited us, sent us air-mail treats, wrote us postcards from home. Thank you guys. It means more than you'll know.

One of the things I've prided myself on was adjusting to the slow rhythm of the Palouse. My favorite part of New York was riding that energy wave, knowing what was open when, knowing which bus was coming next and the best path from A to B. It's harder out here with so few things to do and very few different ways to get there. But I've found a rhythm of sort. It's not the same, but it's mine.

Saturday mornings: Sage bakery is open. Only Fridays and Saturdays, but since I work Fridays, then Saturdays it is. If I'm headed to Lewiston, I stop for a soy latte. Or maybe I just go for the sake of it. It's 20 minutes down the road in the two-horse town of Unionville. You blink and you pass it. So it's almost like those bars that were hidden behind fake barbershop fronts. You had to be in the know. And I'm in the know! One of my favorites is the savory scone with pancetta and cheese and rosemary. Their sandwiches are fabulous -- roast beef with gorgonzola my favorite. Cinnamon buns. Macaroni salad. It's all amazing! No table service, just a nice lady or two behind the counter.

You would think that everyone would rave about a BBQ place that was just a few miles away over in Moscow, right? I mean, house-smoked meat! The stuff we would wait in line forever for back in Brooklyn! They have it here in Moscow and no one even freaking notices it. I don't get it. We'll head over on a Friday night and by the time we're done eating the place has cleared out and it's 8pm and they're ready to close up. I don't totally understand it but as long as they're open I don't really care. It's called CD's Smoke Pit and it's just a little tiny bit off the beaten path of Main St./6th St. Moscow. They have beer on tap that they serve in Mason jars. We always get the Animal Farm, which is like a big meat combo with chicken, ribs, brisket, 2 kinds of sausage links. The cole slaw is pretty fantastic too. The dinner rolls are terrible but they're free so I'll forgive it.

There aren't a lot of events out here. Pullman has the Lentil Festival and that's seriously it for Pullman. But if you know the right people, they know when worthy things are happening in the Lewiston/Clarkston area. There was this beer festival that, despite the complete lack of ambiance, had a pretty okay beer selection. I texted this to a friend and she asked if I was at a PTA meeting. It made me drink more beer than I was expecting to. Maybe this was part of the Lewiston brewmeister's mastermind plan all along.

Then last weekend was the Lewiston Dogwood Festival, with artisans on a green and food trucks! Actual food trucks. Sometimes doing things that remind me of home make me miss home more. Snoop Dogg last weekend and all the kids left before the encore so there was no encore and nobody knew it except me and Rob and like five other people. I get on the bus and I get a wave of nostalgia but only 3 other people are on the bus and it cost me a quarter. This is another example. I missed the quirky crafts and funky eats of Smorgasburg and only being in a place like this really reminded me of how much I missed it. But I bought some handmade soap from a girl with an Etsy shop and had a huckleberry lemonade because where else can you get huckleberry anything and I felt a little better about it.

And now we do it all over again. Summer will come and we'll hopefully get to play a little like last year: tennis and basketball and jogging, only with friends this time! Maybe we'll go camping, and fishing on the river, now that we know where to go. I'll show Rob around Lewiston because he's never been, and I'll take him to Sage Bakery, because he's never been there either. We'll hit the Lentil Festival to mark the start of a second year here and start all over again. I'll buy snow tires when winter comes and I'll go the back roads way to town on extra slippery days. I'll keep an eye out for robins in berry trees when spring comes and I'll celebrate at the dogwood festival that isn't anything like the cherry tree fest in Brooklyn and isn't supposed to be. 

All the locals love to tell me that I'll fall in love with the Palouse and will abandon my plan to move home and will never want to leave. They are wrong. But I am confident that we can ride out another three years out here, and I can entertain visitors or occupy myself for a few days when Rob has fallen into another Psychology book. It's a pretty good feeling. So even though I don't have final exams next week, I'm gonna celebrate with the best of them when they're over. One school year down, three to go. It's an accomplishment worth a pancetta scone and huckleberry ice cream, for sure.

Homemade Mozzarella & Hand-Squeezed Tofu

I don't know where I got the idea that I'd start making cheese and tofu and other things out of curds. There's really nothing that appetizing about taking a liquid and turning it into a solid food. Maybe it's all that money I'm spending at Winco and Trader Joe's and at the Moscow Food Co-Op that screams that these items are too expensive and easily enough made at home. 

Well, a few weekends of experimentation has taught me a few things. Making mozzarella is fun and relatively easy. Making ricotta is not easy and not fun. Making tofu is harder work and lesser fun. So, mozzarella wins!

It's actually pretty surprising how easy it is to make your own fresh balls of mozzy goodness. The hardest part is finding rennet and citric acid. Luckily for me, Moscow Food Co-Op had both! But they're both kinda pricey, especially the citric acid, which makes you rethink the whole economics of it. But it's an art! And curdled milk is your palette.

You can get the whole step-by-step right on the Kitchn, which has nice pictures that guides you through the whole daunting process. I'll give the Clif's notes version. 

You warm up about a gallon of milk, which seems like a lot, but it yields very little actual cheese. On the other hand, you end up with about a gallon of whey, which at first you wonder: what the heck do I do with this? I fed some of it to the dog, who loves it, but then she had to pee every five seconds all night. I boiled it and cooked pasta in it. That was a better choice. I also tried using it to make ricotta, but it didn't take. The tiny curds that formed just went straight through the cloth that was supposed to catch them and down the drain.

I'm getting off topic.  

Okay, so to make mozzarella, you warm up the milk with the citric acid, then you add some rennet, and watch the curds appear. When they hit the right temperature, you sift up the good stuff, microwave them, and stretch with gloved hands. Such glee to stretch your own mozzarella! It's easy to get carried away and overstretch them to the point where they get rubbery. That was my problem. But it was still very good baked into lasagna, stir fried in a scramble, and chopped up in salads.

Be warned that homemade mozzarella doesn't really melt very well. The top of the lasagna looked more like roasted marshmallows than cheese. But it wasn't awful.

The tofu endeavor was not as much of a success. And it was way too much work! To do the whole process in its entirety, I started with whole soy beans, which I soaked overnight and then turned into soy milk. From there, making tofu is an exhausting process of blending, un-frothing, heating and reheating and separating and squeezing and in the end, I didn't even get whole blocks of tofu. I got what I guess you would call "silken tofu," or, "watery messed up tofu". 

My neighbor came over for our Sunday night dinner & Girls episodes ritual and asked "is that the tofu?" and I was like YEAH don't wanna talk about that, I'm just gonna fry up some burgers with goat cheese and arugula and honey mustard dressing and forget about the tofu. No one argued.

Later I wound up just scrambling it up with some eggs whites and serving on toast with some avocado. I'm nothing if I'm not being crafty in my nutrition. 

(Says the girl that hides caramels behind dog treats and grabs one at every chance).

The tofu-making wasn't a complete loss, though. On the first sift-through, you wind up with all the pieces of soy beans ground up in the food processor. According to this website article on tofu making -- and I can't vouch for the validity of a site called La Fuji Mama -- this junk is called okara and you can use it to make a sort of granola. Baked with a little cinnamon, agave and vanilla, it's tolerable. I've been stirring it into my yogurts in the morning. I try not to think about how its basically a weird soy cereal. 

I might as well buy some Birkenstocks and call it over. New York keeps feeling farther away. 

But Spring is here, the lease is resigned, and we've almost made it a year! That's a win for sure. Definitely worth celebrating with cheese and caramels.