Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Second Chance - Oakland Mills and the New Columbia

Today, I happened to be lucky enough to experience something new.

My mother is one of the most active and vital supporters of Columbia, of her home village of Oakland mills, and of progress.  A lot of people look at progress in Columbia as the great specter of over-development and the (ever feared) traffic jam.  My mother sees progress as the re-vitalization of her village, as the happiness of my sister, a student at Talbott Springs, as the return of optimism and hope to a place that has been victim to stagnation and to, "that's how it has always been."  

My mother loves her neighborhood restaurant, the Second Chance Saloon.  Not so long ago, the Second Chance was the Last Chance (and how apt the names).  Now, this haven of Sunday sports, good beer, and quality food, is looking for more support - not only in the community but from without.  I love the Second Chance, too - I've been to all the cool new spots in Columbia, and only the Second Chance has staff and friends who know me and remember me.  I love beer and pub food; I love football and shuffleboard; I love friendly faces and good happy hours.  

Tonight, my mother and I went to ladies' pint night.  We got to sample quite a few beers, eat some I-need-bigger-pants onion rings, and sit at the same table with owners, waiters, and chefs.  Our opinions were important - as was our enjoyment.  Very few bars, from here to Philly to County Cork, could brag that they cared for their customers the way that the Second Chance does.  

My mother, her friend, and I.  Three attendees to a fabulous beer tasting.  The three only attendees.

I sat there, thinking.  If Frisco had such an event, it would be easily populated.  If Pub Dog had a beer tasting, I know I would be first in a very long line.  So what's going on, here?  Second Chance has it all - I most certainly have never had better snacks and drinks and company.  Why doesn't everyone go to the Second Chance and have good, local, honest craic?  

I know what people think about Oakland Mills.  People think ugly things.  "I would never go there after dark."  "If only there weren't so many apartments."  "I'm not one of those people."  Well, heck.  I grew up there.  I work there.  My sister goes to school there, and is getting a damned good education.  But people won't go into Oakland Mills - not even for 100 beers, onion rings, and faces so friendly that they seem like family.  I'm there a lot, and when I see kids on bikes, people in the grocery, and people on bar stools and eating dinner, the only thing I'm thinking is - this is my Columbia.  

I'm a pretty avid supporter of progress, myself.  My kind of progress means restaurants, beer, and music.  My kind of progress means going someplace where everybody knows your name.  My kind of progress means local, means honest, means open-arms and open-heart.  My kind of progress means supporting small business.  And I will not, I will not, discriminate based on economy or reputation or race.  Because, let's face it, that's pretty lame.  Is that what we want Columbia to be?  

I won't be a part of that - the easily excused narrow-mindedness.  But I will go to the Second Chance.  I'll go there for birthdays, graduation parties, a Little Lunch Music; I'll go there for beer tastings, for the very impressive bloody Mary bar, for football; and hell, I'll go there just to see some really awesome people who work hard and have fun.  I'll go there for the onion rings - as if the 100 beers couldn't tempt me!  And I'll go there because progress means having a good time.  

Progress, the New Columbia, means having real life experiences.  And it means finding pride in what is local.  And it means loving things without being bogged down by what neighborhood is better than another.  

Progress means sitting down with family, neighbors, waiters, owners, chefs - progress means sitting down with friends.  

Progress means breaking bread, cracking open a beer, and enjoying that golden diversity which is, after all, what Columbia is all about.     

Saturday, June 25, 2011

World of Imagination

I have a very active imagination.

George and I went to the zoo in Baltimore today.  George had never been, and it was really neat to show him this place which holds so many memories for me.  It's not like it was when I was a kid - there are things that are the same, but the travel, the moving around, is a lot different.  No more prairie dogs at the entrance, no more pink flamingos, and most importantly, no more secret and unguarded entrance to the scum-soaked, dilapidated boat lake.  It's more limited now, and the feeling of getting lost in this maze of animals and of parkland is gone.

I remember going to the boat lake with my dad.  We walked around the green-tinged water, and stared off into the boat house, and we imagined what it must have been like - back then, you know, back then when the world was different and a little bit brighter.  The boat house looked as if it were about to fall apart with memories - dancing, picnicking, romance, and quite a lot of wood rot.  Dad and I talked and created the past like wisps of perfume, champagne, and elusive music.

The entrance of the lake was guarded by a white marble fountain, and I used to sit on the rough stone and think about dipping my feet into cool water.  This place was a secret.  This place was death-in-life, and it and its memories belonged to us.  Sweating, beating, soft-sweet-low, impressions of something gone and never to be recovered.

It's very easy for me to imagine the past.  I grew up with hundred year old transferware, and furniture to be perched upon, and pump organs, and choral music.  The past is a known quantity, in some ways - we have artifacts and treasures that give us something so full of dead passion and grace.  I can imagine the past because we, as a community, have lived it.

The future is a lot harder.  Technology beats its own drum, and things change in this uncontrollable way that is both inevitable and unbelievable.  I'd like to think that my life will continue in some known way - just like life is now, but a little different.

I feel like I'm missing something important when I think about Columbia, because when I look at the buildings I have nothing to imagine, or nothing I am capable of imagining.  That music isn't there - the scent of still waters.  We in Columbia are engaging in the practice of creating the future, and I don't quite know where I stand in that process.  I have no connection, no boat lake, no dancing with fireflies.  That doesn't mean that I won't have those things eventually.  New buildings become old, and my life becomes a part of someone else's imagination.

There's an incredible amount of love that comes from knowing the past.  I think I've mentioned identity before, and history creates identity in a lot of ways.  I don't know what it means to be a Columbian, because I don't feel I have an identity that is rooted in trees, parks, architecture, change, and the whispers of the past.  In Columbia, I don't have a boat lake.

But I want to.  I want to take my children, as my father took me, and tell stories of the imagination.  Someday this place will give me the gift of secrets, of antiquity, of the stark People Tree and still waters.

I love Baltimore, but I'm not giving up on my life here because I am determined to be a part of that thing, that soft thing, that means home.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Real Columbia

A woman stands in the grass, the hem of her long cornflower skirt rustling, her dark skin soaking up sunlight.  She has black hair, fine and thick and curled, and a nose that seems to be a story in and of itself.

My fiance and I stop at the light on 175 and Snowden.  I stare at the woman - not at her face, but at what she has in her hands.  I look in my purse for money that I know isn't really there.  Her sign is simple - white with black block letters, and the words, "Please, in the love of God," make me hate myself and feel ashamed.

I hadn't really seen people beg on the streets in Columbia until the recession hit.  It hit hard.  I suddenly saw women - well-dressed, beautiful, mothers - with signs and hunger and bitterness and somehow still the desire, the strength, the need to protect their children.  Women you might meet at work, or at the dentist, or in Target.

Homelessness in Columbia is a shock to me - not because I'm shocked by poverty, having grown up in Baltimore and staring at the pavement and away from the desperation of urban life.  I'm shocked because I - perhaps like many others in Howard County - just don't think it could be true.  We're a community of suburbanites, yes?  Of minivans.  Of good schools and government jobs and computer programming.  How can poverty happen here?

It happens.  I see it, and working in the school system I saw it, and I felt the floor open up under me as my outdated delusions of 'burbhood became irrelevant.  We do not live in paradise.  Maybe some of us do - maybe there are people in Columbia who are living the magical and, to most, unobtainable dream of being financially secure, but I think that there aren't as many of those people as we are supposed to believe.

Columbia was an idea, a vision of intermingling, of wholeness, many races, many religions, and true happiness like marshmallow on a snowball.  But we don't really see it that way - at least not now.  We're trained not to see or not to accept the differences.  The "I don't have enough," or the, "I have too much;" the "I don't speak English," and the, "I think you should;" the "I need help," and the, "Stare at the pavement."  I've lived in Columbia since I was twelve, and it took me at least ten years to realize that there is so much disparity in this community of blind-eyed, candy-coated idealism.

I'm not trashing the original concept of this planned community.  I want us to be multi-ethnic, to have different jobs and names and village centers and identities.  That's great.  That's what a city is.

What I'm questioning is this - why did it take so long?  Why didn't I see before that there are differences in the lives of Columbians, and that we're all not doing enough to be good neighbors?

Why didn't I see that this place is turning into a city?  We've got poverty, and homelessness, and I (so help me) look in my purse because I can't face what's right in front of me.  Columbia is changing, and I think that instead of closing my eyes and maintaining the peace of a child with fingers in its ears, I should look up and say, this is what change means.  Instead of calling for new restaurants and theatres and the glitz of urbanity, maybe I should look up at the beautiful woman, for the love of God, and become a citizen of the real Columbia.       

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Storm

We've just experienced a terrible storm - the kind that makes you think you're going to see Dorothy, and it's not even Pride weekend yet.  Up on the third floor, in our condo, the trees have bent nearly sideways, coniferous fronds dancing violently against the siding.  It's black - the sun hasn't gone down yet, but it seems like the night will go on and on, tossed into dark with the swift crack of hail and the sharp call of sirens.

A storm.  A storm that breaks the oppressive heat.  A storm that makes me think that the world is about to be reborn, pale, naked, and twilight purple.

After the rain comes a bright, strident note - birdsong.  It's like dawn.  I asked George where the birds hid when it rained and we thought that some might fly into it and some might cling to the inner branches of the big pine trees.

The world is changed.  More sirens, more noise, and a shocking quiet like the night about to breathe.

I think that this place, Columbia, must be like that.  Some things need to be broken down into their most fundamental parts - branches and leaves and birdsong - in order to be stitched together into a whole.  I've met people who've lived here their whole lives, and they tell me that change is good - unless there's too much traffic, or not enough parking, or too much development.  I've also met people who are eager for something to break, some great dam bursting forth with promise and wildness.

Plans are made.  Trees are cut down.  Buildings go up.  And I'm looking toward the future, afraid of the storm, and looking into it - looking to something that I can't possibly know, can't imagine.

I can see why that might be scary, especially to those who have known this Columbia for so long, and who see the storm of change as something purely destructive.  And yes, it can be scary - after all, when I'm driving from my condo to my mother's house, I mourn the trees on Oakland Mills that have given way to what I can hardly believe will be "park land."

But I need that storm of change; I, who miss living in the city, who love this school system, who need open air, who need dancing and late nights and art galleries and yes, even that, even the occasional traffic jam.

It's so dark now that the doors to our porch are like golden mirrors in the lamp light.  I don't know what tomorrow's going to look like - if it's going to be hot and hellish like today, with sweaty teachers and children and parents, or if it's going to be cool-blissful as I think June should be.

Either way, I can't be afraid of the change.  I'm going to wake up tomorrow morning and be in a world I know not, and I need to be ready.    

Friday, May 20, 2011

After the Change

Long story short - I'm not a HouseHon anymore, and I don't quite know what that means for my "online persona."  Such as it is!

My current, full-time job fills me with such joy.  I'm working with kids, and I'm learning so much, and I'm absolutely in love with my days.  And G, my fantastic fiance, has been away for work, which means I've been living with my Mom (my brilliant blogger).

I started this blog because I had something to say about my life as a part-time employee and full-time HouseHon. Now, I feel I have a lot to say about other things.  I have a lot to say about being with kids and being surprised and delighted by them.  I have a lot to say about learning how to be in a couple.  And I have a lot, a whole lot, to say about being a big sister.  

In the past week and a half, I have worked on pints and quarts, pictographs, checks and balances, and patience.  At home, I've been watching Disney programming for my ever-too-grown-up super sassy sis.  I've been photographing fashion shows and giggling about boys.  And frankly, this new life makes my in-between stuckness seem - seem, well, ages ago.  Done.  And there is a little part of me - I guess, somewhere, I'm mourning it.

Again, I have to remind myself to return to HoCo.  Well, here it is -- I work in a wonderful school.  These kids are so endearingly sweet and so supremely challenging, and it all happens because I work in Howard County.  What I do would not be the same if I did it somewhere else.  Recently, I attended an event at which the students showed off their own work, and I was stunned by the amount of passion and fun that came with good teaching and great support.  I'm amazed by my colleagues and mentors, and by my students, and by their parents.

And yes, I miss painting my toenails, watching re-runs, and doing dishes.  But when I was doing those things, I was missing a little, aching part of myself that knew that being a teacher was what I really wanted to do.  What I want to do.  I want to do it here, in Howard County, in this home after Baltimore, in this place of grass and no sidewalks and no real downtown.  And that - that's why I'm a HoCo - a HouseHon, a para, a sister, a daughter, and a woman about to get married and make a life.

'Cause if these are the kids that are raised here, I couldn't do better.  

Monday, April 18, 2011

Ch-ch-ch-ch---- you get the idea...

As the above title suggests, things have been changing in househon land.

My househon status may now be in question, somewhat.  I have applied for and received a new job, working in the HoCo public school system.  I start next Tuesday, and along with my elation for a full time job, I am also a bit nervous.  Full time work, plus cleaning, plus cooking and meal planning, plus my dance job - all I can say, is, welcome to being a grownup.

All this aside, I am enjoying the lovely weather in typical me fashion, with an iced mocha (espresso from my Nespresso Pixie and chocolate soy milk, ultimate indulgence), Glen Miller, and cooking.  My current projects are meatballs and a roasted chicken - a little later I will be roasting corn on the cob in the oven.

A lot of people do the "engagement chicken" recipe - a concept which I find hilarious.  I, myself, tend to call that the "stick a lemon up its butt" method!  While this is tasty, if not matrimony-inducing, I tend to favor garlic and butter in my chicken.  Here's the tried and true roaster recipe:

Large roasting chicken
As much minced garlic as you like
3/4 stick butter, divided
1/2-1 teaspoon salt
Pepper, to taste
Bay leaves
Assorted stuffing (like onion or shallots - can also be the aforementioned lemon)

1.  Rinse chicken and remove innards.  These can be used for broth - just let them simmer away with carrot and celery and herbs.  Place chicken in large roasting pan.

2.  Take divided butter and place under the skin of the chicken, as well as in the creases of the legs and wings.  Next, rub salt, pepper, and garlic over the chicken.

3.  Stuff the chicken with your favorite stuffin's.  I really like shallots for this (tender and subtle).

4.  Roast the chicken at 375 for 20 minutes per pound.  Aaaaaand you're done.

The corn can be done at the same temperature for 20-25 minutes.  Just peel back the husk, remove silk, pre-season the corn, then peel the husks back over.  Before roasting, dunk the corn in cold water so that the husks don't burn.  Simply done!

Meatballs, too, are fool-proof.  A little garlic, oregano, salt, and one egg per pound of raw meat - cook them up in some olive oil and pureed tomato and you've got something you can stash in the fridge for pasta and marinara, meatball subs, or even a high-protein and portion controlled snack.  (In fact, I just nabbed one - not bad!)

So, cooking and facing the future - that's what I'm up to on this beautiful spring day.  Also, I cannot tell a lie, reading a romance novel.

But here's my question - one that, I am sure, has been asked by many: how can I be a househon, and a workinghon, too?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Hump Day

Well, tonight's the big Hocoblogs party at the Stained Glass Pub.  I have attended a few of these parties in the past as a reader, but it will be fun to go as a writer.  My wonderful mother, a blog follower and online socialite, will be joining me.  Always good to have a night out on the town with Mom!

Other tasks of import today include cleaning and doing laundry.  I ask you, why can't I just do those things once and have them finished forever?  Gee.

Last night I made Cajun shrimp and rice.  Good news: a very inexpensive dish comprised of frozen peppers ($1 a bag), an onion ($2.99 for a large bag), shrimp (on sale), and rice (from my gigantic bag of Basmati that I bought for $5).  Bad news: I followed a recipe and it was fairly flavorless.  Spicy, yes.  But lacking that certain something - probably bacon!  Everything is better with bacon...

I feel like I've been trying to follow recipes lately, which is almost always a mistake.  I made curried chicken last week from a recipe, and while it was delicious and smelled like House of India it just didn't do it for me.  No improvisation means no adventure!  No risk-taking!  I'm making chicken kabobs this weekend - a chance to experiment and reclaim my creative oomph.

Well, I'm off to see the wizard (otherwise known as the magical mystery washing machine).  See you tonight?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Dinner: Update

Beef stew turned out OK, but 8 cups of liquid is too much!  However, the liquid did produce a strong and tasty beef stock, something that I can freeze and re-use for next week.

G and are taking advantage of the porch - playing Irish music on Pandora and reading.  The sky looks so blue and wide - hard to believe that we're supposed to get thunder storms tonight.  I'm hoping that the weather continues to be as beautiful as it has been today.

I wrote 600-ish words this afternoon of an original short story.  I haven't written that much, that well since college.  Perhaps this writer thing will work out after all!  I have a college degree in creative fiction, after all.

This is the kind of weather that makes me think that anything is possible.  That my brain can take off and burn fuel like a rocket.  That I can feed on the little pieces of myself and explode.

Dinner: Beef Stew

I have a lot of memories of beef stew, which might sound kind of odd - after all, who gets excited about beef stew? - but it's actually one of my favorite dishes, made for me by some of my favorite people.

The last night I spent at my father's house before I went to college, Dad made a big pot of stew.  I loved it when he cooked - the whole house would smell unbelievably good, and he'd have opera or jazz or choral music ringing through the house, and I'd snuggle up under my covers and nap with the whole house pulled around me like a safety blanket.  At any rate, when Dad made beef stew, I felt perfect, at peace.

When I turned 17, by Grandma Joan taught me how to make Irish stew.  Just meat, flour, salt and pepper, and maybe carrots and onions - the simplest dish ever, and the most filling.  That side of the family is direct from Ireland, and cooking a real Irish meal also made me feel perfect, at peace, beautiful.

I've tried to re-create the beefy magic myself, but I haven't quite gotten the knack of it.  However, today I am going for it again - I've got stew meat, homemade beef broth, potatoes, onions, carrots...  I think I can pull it off. I just have to remember to play great music at maximum volume!  

Here's the recipe:

Stew meat (like cubed chuck, or you can use lamb or mutton)
Salt and Pepper
2 bay leaves
1 can Spicy Hot V8
8 cups beef broth OR 6 cups plus 1 Guinness
Onion, chopped
Carrots, chopped
Potatoes, chopped

1.  Place stew meat in a ziplock bag with the flour, salt, and pepper.  Shake until all of the meat is finely coated.  

2.  Heat butter in large pot.  Add garlic and thyme and let cook until aromatic.  Brown beef on all sides.

3.  Add V8, beef broth, and bay leaves.  Stir, bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for one hour.

4.  In a large skillet, melt butter and saute veggies until golden, 20 minutes on medium heat.  Add veggies to stew and simmer, uncovered, for additional 40 minutes.  

5.  Eat it.  Can be served over mashed potatoes.

So that's tonight's dinner!  Wish me well.  I'm going to open all the windows, play some sliding, aching jazz, and make magic.

Weekend Roundup

First of all, thanks to everyone who commented on my posts, and to HoCoMoJo for linking to me. I appreciate all of the tips about the natural cleaning solutions/products.  I'll be purchasing a few things this weekend to experiment.

Next up, the Weekend Roundup.  G and I started the weekend by heading over to The Perfect Pour and taking advantage of their free tastings.  We tasted a few wines, most notably the Spanish Heredad Soliterra Priorat, which (we were informed) is composed of hand-picked grapes grown in volcanic soil.  The overall taste reminded me of some of the sweet, raisin flavors of Port, but with a fairly even finish.  Not a wine I would normally pick up, but interesting nonetheless.

The beer tasting featured beers from Old Dominion Brewing Company.  I really appreciated that they brought along a jar of crystal hops (for smelling) to showcase the hops in their Hop Mountain.  We also got to taste their limited release Oak Aged Millennium Ale - which, like a lot of up-and-coming beers, is aged in bourbon barrels. The brewers also introduced a wild yeast strain into the beer and let it go nuts.  Definitely a unique beer, and a winner - but unfortunately, not available anywhere outside of their brew pub in Delaware.

Saturday was a work day - Williams-Sonoma for a few hours in the afternoon.  It was fun, as always, and I learned that I won an award (basically "Employee of the Month").  Very exciting!  I am glad that I am doing so well there, and I'm excited to keep doing the work.  My next Sous Chef class is on April 30th, and I'll be making chicken croquettes.  Another recipe I've never made before...  Always good to be challenged!

Saturday night was family time - doing taxes, eating pizza, and doing girly stuff with my sister (who is 14 years my junior).  It's always good to spend time with my family.  G and I followed that up with a movie from Blockbuster and snuggles on the couch.

Groceries, dance class, and errands followed on Sunday.  A busy day, but pleasantly so.

So, we're back to Monday, which finds me sitting on the porch with iced coffee (Trader Joe's French Roast made in my shiny new French press), relaxing after a vigorous workout.  Next up: making dinner.  

Thursday, March 31, 2011


Today was my cleaning day - I went to the gym religiously the past three days and didn't get around to a lot of housework.  So, three loads of laundry, two loads of dishes, cleaned the kitchen, dining room, living room, and guest bathroom.  None of this is particularly important, but here's the thing -  while I was cleaning I used the following products:

  1. Clorox bleach
  2. Dawn dish soap
  3. Dishwashing detergent (the kind in the little pack that dissolves in the hot water)
  4. Swiffer wet mop pads
  5. Draino
  6. Clorox toilet bowl cleaner
  7. Lysol disinfecting wipes
  8. All laundry detergent
  9. Disposable sponges
The more I think about this, the more disgusted I am.  First of all, I had to stop cleaning early because I was having tightness in my chest.  Not good.  Second, if I am having problems with all of these products, the environments is probably being affected too.  Third, a lot of these products create a lot of trash - sponges that get smelly are thrown out, etc.  

I will admit, I love my harsh, very effective cleaners.  I love watching stains come up without any extra scrubbing or work.  Cleaning the bath tub is oh-so-easy when I just fill it up with hot water and a little bleach, and mopping is almost stress-free when I can just throw the mop away afterwards.  Oh, and the fun of the squishy dissolving pack, wrapped in some cool plastic that just melts away.  However - 

I don't think I'm being responsible when I use products that are made of mysterious chemicals.  I'm certainly not doing my health any favors.  And all of those chemicals either sit on my surfaces, disperse into the air, or go down the drain - none of which sound like a good plan.  I don't want a side of bleach with my julienned veggies!  I don't want to breathe in the toxic combinations of toilet cleaner and tile cleaner!  I don't want to send these chemicals down to goodness knows where to interact with our water, plant life, and animal life.  

As soon as possible, I'm heading over to Trader Joe's to check out some of their natural cleaning products.  I might go to Harris Teeter, too, and look at the Seventh Generation cleaning line.  Because, heck, I think it's time to be a little more responsible - for myself, for my fiance, and for this place we call home.   

Monday, March 28, 2011

Venturing Out: a Baltimore Weekend

I love bricks, stacked up neatly, carefully smoothed, holding in people and wallpaper and dogs; I love the smell of old buildings, because somehow they all smell like church, or Christmas dinner, or the cracked spines of my favorite books.  I love Baltimore, even though I live in and do love Columbia, and I love the way the sun shines through fine particles of dust and lights up hardwood floors like fire.

This weekend I went to visit my grandmother for our regular Friday afternoon meetup.  I love visiting Grandmere - we always have a lot of fun, good conversation, and at the end, a lovely dinner.  We went to the Walter's Art Gallery's gift shop and did a little poking around, which is always enjoyable.  It was nice to be surrounded by beautiful things, something that I cherish.  Grandmere and I then made a flourless chocolate cake, which was a little bit closer to a chocolate pudding with meringue on top (but delicious nonetheless).

Later in the weekend, George and I went to the Helmand, again in Baltimore, with my parents and sister and a group of friends.  Ah!  Fine dining.  The Helmand is a favorite of Grandmere's and holds many good memories for me.

So why am I writing about Baltimore?  Where's the HoCo?

I'm still a hon.

I think what I miss so much about living in the city is that the city has a feel to it, a distinct somethingness, a character, while being a place of anonymity at the same time.  In the city I can be nameless, but the city itself has a name; a flavor on my tongue; a fierce, sharp beauty; a danger as hard as concrete; a pleasure as crushing as pink magnolias and pear blossoms.  The sweet smell of almost-rot.

I'm not saying that these feelings might be impossible in Columbia.  Maybe I haven't lived here long enough to make those associations.  Maybe I haven't experienced Columbia at all.  But there's something that I'm missing, some little piece of myself that I can't locate.  I guess - it's like going to a shopping center but looking for something else entirely.  I like being close to stores like Target and convenient eateries like La Madeleine, and it's certainly a lot more convenient than having to travel 30 minutes outside of the city for a cheap pair of jeans.  But I'm longing in my heart for something that has a taste, for something alive and vibrating.  Again, I wouldn't trade my life here, my memories with my parents and little sister.  Being here is worth it.  Raising my future children here is worth it.

I hate it when people ask me if I'll move back to the city and then judge me when I say, no.  Everyone has this opinion of Columbia that makes it sound like there's no "there, there."  As much as I hate that attitude, I might be victim to it myself.  Is there something I'm missing because I don't expect to find it?  Or is there truly something, something real that hasn't grown here?

I want nightclubs, and museums, and art galleries, and festivals.  I want convenient public transportation.  I want to see people walking, and I want to walk.  I want to pass people and say, good morning, or how's it going, or how about this weather.  I want to open my windows and let sounds stream in with the sunlight, people laughing, tires spinning, music blasting; I want to walk down the street and see women with little shopping carts, kids on bikes, gardens and iron rails; I want to put on high heels and dance.

I want Columbia to be my home, really mine, and I don't want to feel like there's no life here.  Right now, I'm going to sit on the porch in the ungodly cold, drink peach tea, play jazz, and read a trashy novel.  Because maybe I, maybe people like me, can bring some of that glittering brightness here, and make it home.          

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Meal Planning

I recently discovered that Giant has an online circular which becomes available on the Thursday before the next week.  G and I have been trying to, a) cook more at home, and b) cut down on our food expenses.  I didn't really realize how much money can go into eating - if we just stayed home and didn't order/eat out during the week, we could save a considerable amount of money.  Hence, my new activity: meal planning.

There's a certain point where it hits you that you're not just a college student any more.  Stopping at a take out place makes a bigger impact on your budget because suddenly, money gets a lot more real.  I feel like handling money wisely is a big part of being a grownup.  (I suppose I should say, "adult," now - but I still don't feel like one!)

So, next week, we'll be having:

Curried chicken with Basmati rice, potatoes, onion, and cauliflower (have everything but chicken and curry sauce, might make the sauce from scratch)
Whole wheat/rice pasta with red sauce and Italian sausage (just need sausage)
Shrimp stir-fry (already have)
Sausage, egg, and cheese bagel sandwiches (breakfast for dinner!  Have eggs)

I think if I really consider what I have in the house, I can make a lot of meals without buying a lot of groceries.  HouseHon success!  And if I make big batches of everything, G's lunches are taken care of.

Next up for the day: going to work.  If anyone wants to drop in on Williams-Sonoma today, please feel free!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


When the weather gets warmer - when the sun finally crawls back into the sky with a sleepy stretch of grace - I feel completely alive.  I've always loved spring; it's like everything in me wakes up.  I think about the periods of transition that happen not only each year but in our lives; somehow emerging from the cold is like making a promise to myself to live and be happy.  

Off of our condo, G and I have a small porch.  We have a neat view of huge pine trees and a little playground, and I love sitting out there with a glass of iced tea and a good book.  Anyway, I'm thinking of getting some window boxes/planters to mount on our porch railing.  As may be clear, I'm a cook by nature, and I really want to grow my own herbs.  Herbs I can't live without:

1.  Rosemary: chicken, potatoes, roast beef, infused butter, bouquet garni.
2.  Marjoram: goat cheese omelets, Brussels sprouts with shallots, infused cream for leek soup.
3.  Mint: iced tea, compresses for nasal congestion, mint-cream truffles.
4.  Bay leaves: for just about anything.  It's good luck to get the bay leaf!

Mint is a notorious space-hog (not a hog from space - though that sounds pretty cool - but it takes over everything).  Rosemary tends to get tall instead of wide.  I have attempted a window box before, with limited success.  I'd really like to try to grow peppers, since I've found that most of the food I cook has some peppery element.  Important pepper-growing facts:

1.  Plants need to be 18-24 inches apart.  
2.  It's good for the plants to get some shade in the afternoon, so planting something like geraniums (which help peppers grow) will supply some natural shade.
3.  Soil needs to be heavy on organic matter, well-drained, and watered consistently.  

Now - I just have to find a good place in the HoCo to find herb and pepper plants.  I think I'll be heading to Home Depot for planters and brackets, but I'd prefer to go to a real nursery for the plants.  Any thoughts?  

Now, for some porch-sitting.  Trader Joe's Mint Melange Tea and trashy literature, here I come...

Monday, March 21, 2011

HouseHonning: After the Weekend

I don't know about you, but I am the type of person who just doesn't want to clean during the weekend.  At all.  Especially when I'm teaching two classes and trying to have fun in between.  So maybe take-out containers don't quite make it into the trash.  So the laundry piles up.  So nobody plans the meals for the next week.  I can do it tomorrow, right?

Oh, look.  It's Monday.  Oops.

Well, today I have been very good and tried to catch up.  I'm on my second load of laundry, I've done dishes and cleaned the kitchen.  I also put together my lunches for this week.  I made curried chicken salad, a perennial favorite - mayo, Greek yogurt, hot curry powder, ginger, honey, onion, and diced chicken.  I enjoyed a scoop of that, a banana smoothie, and a few chapters of an Anita Blake book.

I'll be cooking chicken tonight, as well.  It's the simplest recipe on earth, actually, but makes quite a lot and can be used for burritos or quesadillas for G's lunches.  I invented it when I had a lot of miscellaneous things in the pantry and some truly boring chicken in the fridge.  (It's very semi-homemade.  Don't judge.)

3 pounds chicken tenders
1 can black bean jalapeno soup
1 can kidney beans
1 box Spanish rice
1 medium onion, diced
blend of Mexican cheeses


Habanero pepper
Chili pepper
Minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup cider vinegar

1.  In a large bowl, mix marinade ingredients.  This is all really to your taste, but make sure you have enough liquid for your chicken.  Place chicken in the bowl, coating it with marinade.  Cover and refrigerate (less than 4 hours, otherwise the vinegar will break down the chicken and make it mushy).

2.  Pour yourself a refreshing beverage, such as chilled coconut water.  Pick out your favorite CD, such as the Buena Vista Social Club, and play it at maximum volume.

3.  In the mean time, prepare rice as per the directions on the back of the box.  Do not over cook.

4.  Preheat oven to 350.  Place chicken in a casserole dish and bake for 20 minutes.

5.  This is the really easy part.  Pour rice, beans, and onion over the chicken.  Cover the mixture with the can of soup, then sprinkle cheese on top.  Bake for additional 15 minutes.  And you're done.

This is a good recipe for the, "what the heck am I going to make for dinner?" days.  And so many leftovers!

Ok, back to the grindstone...

Weekend Roundup

This weekend held perfect examples of cool things going on in Howard County.  The first is a fairly shameless plug - I taught my monthly cooking class at Williams-Sonoma.  We featured a recipe by Sarah Johannes, Sous Chef to Wolfgang Puck.  The recipe was for Chinese barbecue ribs; we used short ribs for the first batch, which yielded a lot of meat, and I whipped up a batch of the barbecue sauce (typical ingredients like ketchup and dark corn syrup, plus soy, hoisin, and sriracha sauces, as well as garlic, ginger, and scallions).  The sauce was a success, but it got me thinking about a couple of things:

1.  Using caramelized shallots to give sweetness and reduce the amount of corn syrup;
2.  Using red wine vinegar to balance the sugar element;
3.  Using more heat, such as mincing Szechuan peppers and letting them cook up with the garlic, ginger, and scallions.  For this, I think you could use the Garlic Zoom and mince the ginger and the peppers at the same time.

As I told the attendees, I am pretty much incapable of following a recipe exactly.  I did my best to stick to the recipe - after all, I am not a famous Sous Chef! - but I think that these additions might add new depth to the dish.

We had about six people at the class, but once the smell of ribs wafted into the mall, we had a lot more people in the store!

The next cool HoCo event is also somewhat personal.  Abiding Savior Lutheran Church has invited me back to teach a Liturgical Dance class, and we had our first meeting yesterday.  It's great to be working with these enthusiastic young women, and I am really looking forward to our first performance on Palm Sunday, to the song, "Landslide."  I don't know how common Liturgical Dance is, so I think it's pretty neat that ASLC is doing this again.

On to the other events.  My mother, my fiance, and I attended the first in the World Music Series in the Other Barn in Oakland Mills.  We were lucky enough to be able to listen to Kwame Ansah and Fritete Afro-Beat, a group of fabulously talented, passionate, and playful musicians.   They had more drums than I could count or name, and it was truly cool to listen to music that I didn't really know anything about.  I am excited to hear further concerts in OM.  The established Jazz Series is a pleasure, and I think the World Music Series is going to be a hit.

After the concert, we adjourned to the Second Chance Saloon next door.  To sum up the Second Chance is somewhat difficult - for example, they keep up the decorations for every holiday year-round, which manages to be quirky and charming, and you might think that there's something of the "dive" feeling because it is a very casual and low-key place.  However, the food is consistently good (I was really wowed by their authentic beef stew for St. Patrick's Day) and they have large beer selection that both maintains old favorites and switches in (what will soon be) new favorites.  I had Flying Dog's seasonal, Garde Dog, which was sweet and malty and didn't have any overt heaviness.  I was also happy to hear that they had Boh on tap, though I didn't indulge in that particular pleasure.  Our server, Kevin, was friendly and relaxed as always.  I will definitely be heading back for one of their many daily specials.   

All in all, a great weekend in HoCo.  Now, on to the week...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Today's Work

Well, I got up this morning and got right to cooking.  I had a three pound roast, red bliss potatoes, carrots, onion, and a cheap Malbec, so I browned the roast with garlic, pepper, and thyme, deglazed the pan with 1/2 cup water and 1 cup wine, then set it all to simmering in the crock pot.  I think nine hours of cooking time (on low) should make for a tasty dinner!

Wednesdays are a good day.  G and I always plan something special for Wednesdays - it makes the week a lot more fun.  Tonight, of course, is the pot roast, to be accompanied by a glass of wine.  Dessert will be chocolate covered strawberries.  I am really looking forward to it - just a little romance for the middle of the week!

Other house chores that I should have done today: laundry and general tidying.  I feel bad that I didn't get to those, but I have some time over the next two days.  What I did accomplish was some preparation for my second job as Liturgical Dance Instructor.  I created a warm-up to begin with at each rehearsal, and I picked two songs for the first performances.  I also wrote a little about the lyrics and what they mean to me and how they relate to God.  I think it's a good start.  First rehearsal in a week and a half!  

Looking forward to spending the evening with my guy.  I hope he likes the roast!  (He'll probably eat it whether or not it's spectacular.  Definitely a keeper.)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

HoCoHouseHon? What's that?!

What it means to be a HouseHon:

Working part time means that I am lucky enough to be available for cooking, cleaning, and general housework.  As much as I would love to rail against the gender stereotype, I kind of like it.

If my wonderful fiance, G, had most of the week free, he'd be doing the "homemaker" routine.  He'd be happy to scrub floors and bathtubs, vacuum, and cook dinner every day.  It's only fair, then, that I take care of as many chores as possible.  His willingness to help, plus my free time, makes me willing to take care of him.  

I don't think that makes me any less of an empowered woman.  I think being empowered means doing what you like to do, what is healthy and enjoyable, gender stereotypes be damned.  So I clean the house and joke about being "wifey" - so what?  

I'm happy.  I think that my happiness and fulfillment makes me a feminist.
And HoCo?  How does that fit in?

G and I are starting our lives in the HoCo.  G moved here after graduating, and I followed him soon after.  My parents live about five minutes away, and they have been having a wonderful life working, raising a kid, and just enjoying the HoCo.  G and I love visiting great places like the Second Chance Saloon, Frisco Grille, Union Jack's - and Cafe de Paris, Greystone Grill, Diamondback Tavern.  We're having fun.

And yet - there are certain things about Columbia in particular that I wish I could change.  I don't drive, and I hate that I can't walk to a grocery store, or any market; I can't decide to buy flowers for the table because there's no florist within walking distance.  I miss living a city life, sometimes, because I miss walking out my front door and finding an adventure within reach.  I'm not trying to be overly critical, and I'm so proud of my neighbors and friends and the lives we're all living in this rapidly growing and changing place.  But I do miss the city.  I feel sad that the only sidewalks in my neighborhood are to the pizza place, the convenience store, and the Chinese.  

I love living here.  I can't wait to buy a house, have kids, send them to the best public schools.  I love working here, too.  I just want to write about what it's like for a young couple trying to make a life, to find a place, in Howard County.  

Here, you're going to find recipes.  You're going to find stories of the cooking class I teach.  You might hear about the restaurants I love, and the fun details of my weekend, and searching for the freshest ingredients and the best music and the most enlivening experiences - all here in the HoCo.  I'll never stop being a Hon, but I'll continue to love living in Howard County.