Bringing the Tables of Amsterdam and Paris to the Oregon State Fair

Next month starts the Oregon State Fair, it’s my annual tradition to compete in the “Creative Living” category; this year with vegan bread, and table decorating.

Every year, my friends and I spend hoursssssss at the fair, exploring and doing everything possible. We love the fair! While looking at the multitude of things people entered (from pies to canned meats to calligraphy to pine needle baskets), we always look forward to the table decorating competition. Part of intrigue is that the tables are an interesting departure from the eternal shelves of jams, jellies, and honeys; but the other part is that the judges write up extremely critical narratives that are posted next to each table. It’s like geez – this is the state fair, not the Olympics of table setting – but they are funny to read nonetheless.

Why the hell would I want to submit myself to be torn apart in a category I don’t have any expertise in? First, they cap the entries at 16, which makes it exclusive, and thus appealing to me. Second, you know I like a challenge. I figure why not? Maybe I’ll learn something. I’ve got thick skin, y’all.

Here’s the rubric:

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When I was in Europe, I paid particular attention to the table settings in every restaurant or cafe we ate at, as well as the menus and foods served. Since the menu essentially drives the rest of the table, that is currently my step one.

Here are some of the meals and tables I sat at this month…

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Don’t worry. I still worked out on while we were there 😛

Vegan Banana Bread

This year, I didn’t make a submission to the Oregon State Fair as part of my annual list – but fear not, I fully intend to enter a couple items for judging (can you imagine a life without me participating in the state fair? Perish the thought!). For 2015, I am entering vegan bread and the infamous table decorating category.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my theme for table decorating (and I’ll post plenty about it in the near future), but today I’m going to talk about my vegan bread recipe.

When Thor and I first got married, he was strictly vegan. So much so, the food at our wedding was mostly vegan and we pretty much had a circuit on the only four restaurants that served good vegan dishes in town (can you believe that only 10 years ago it was really hard to find vegan food in Portland?!). I considered his dietary restriction a challenge, and made masterful attempts at transforming normally delicious foods into some semblance of their vegan-version. Some recipes didn’t go so well (damn those brownies!), but I discovered many awesome ways of cooking healthier without losing flavor (frosting made with avocados!).

One such recipe is my banana bread. Ok, it’s more like Betty Crocker’s banana bread, but with my vegan substitutions I consider the recipe my own. I know you’re probably not thinking about cranking up the oven when it’s 92 degrees outside, but this morning Thor left the house saying, “Your job today is to eat some bananas – we have way too many and they are going to go bad.” Considering the fact that I haven’t had carbs for, like, two months, I figured it was a good excuse to make a practice loaf.

It came out PERFECT. Like seriously – I’m giving it my own blue ribbon.

VEGAN BANANA BREAD

2 cups flour (I use whole wheat pastry flour)

1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 cup granulated sugar (sometimes I swap for coconut sugar, but you will lose sweetness)

2 tbsp powdered egg replacement (I use Ener-G)

1/2 cup vegetable oil or vegan margarine (I use the vegan Smart Balance)

1 1/2 cups pureed bananas (I just throw mine in a food processor)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a loaf pan with coconut oil spray.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves (I usually sift it). In another mixing bowl, whisk the egg replacer with 2 tbsp water until it’s frothy. Then add sugar, oil, and pureed bananas. Mix well. Add the banana mixture to the flour and fold until just moistened. Scrape the mixture into the baking pan and bake for 40 – 50 minutes (depends on the size of your dish). Insert a toothpick and when it comes out clean, your bread it ready.

Every recipe always says to let it cool, but I’m too impatient for that – so I just have at it. 

I’ve had sooooooo many people recommend vegan products, claiming how you’ll never know the difference, only to find out that it still tastes like crap. You know that saying about never trust a skinny cook? Well, I’m in favor of never trusting a vegan-only palate. Since I eat everything under the sun, my tastebuds are reliable. I’m sorry – but sometimes you just have to own up that your vegan BLT takes like cardboard, or your vegan brownies are not at all brownies, but more of a dry cake. My vegan banana bread, however, tastes like the real thing.

Judging-wise at the fair, they have a lot more than taste as a criteria. Something about the uniformity of the “dome” on your loaf, and the texture and color. I’m not a professional baker so if I don’t get those things right, I’m ok with that, but you can’t win if you don’t try.

Disasters have been on my mind a lot lately. Oregon has had a wealth of earthquakes off the coast, and it didn’t help when my colleague (an earth science teacher) described how these smaller earthquakes are causing bigger pressure to build up underneath. And with our local Albertson’s grocery store going out of business, I spent my Friday night doing a little Doomsday prepping (canned corn and spaghetti sauce for all!).

But there’s another disaster I think about frequently, as well…….

In Season Two of Six Feet Under, a woman starts choking on her food and throws herself against the corner of her kitchen counter, but it’s useless and she falls on the floor and dies. SHUDDER. I don’t want to be a Mama Cass and die choking on a sandwich, people. All the canned corn and spaghetti sauce I buy for the end of the world  won’t save me from choking alone.

Tonight, my friend, Tricia, posted a video on Facebook that addresses this issue. What do you do if you start choking and there is no one around to give you the Hemlich?

Another fear I have is that the house will catch on fire, and we will be trapped up in our third story bedroom. I’ve added an escape fire ladder (only $30 on Amazon), and I’ve never forgotten a great suggestion from a reader that you can throw your cats into a pillowcase for quick escape – although I’m not sure I can hold three thrashing pillowcases while descending an escape ladder (maybe that will be a practice drill).

And while we’re thinking about disaster scenarios, what the heck would I do if I was at work and things were really bad? Portland is the “City of Bridges” and traffic is horrendous enough on a regular day. During last year’s snowstorm, I literally had to find a hotel because all the roads home were closed. Downtown Portland is separated by the Willamette River, and while there are many bridges to cross, what if they are inaccessible? Even by foot? Should I borrow a hipster’s urban kayak?downtown-Portland-map-enlarged

Well, the good news is that I found this handy map that at least has several points of communication help (with so many close to work!):

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The bad news is that if I’m actually home during a massive earthquake, the nearest emergency center is miles from my house.

We’re all gonna die someday (although I’m still betting on replacing most of my parts with robotic ones later on) – but I plan on at least being informed about how to save myself if I can. Tonight, at least I can sleep better knowing these few tips.

I’ve got the turkey, who’s bringing the pumpkin pie?

It’s been several years since I’ve blogged about couponing – but that’s how this blog all got started. One girl’s quest to live large on a little bit of money (hence the name Couponbomb). Yet, when my one-year couponing challenging was over, I just got lazy and annoyed with how time consuming the searching/cutting/shopping process was becoming. Sure, I saved over $8,000 that year – but my Sundays were almost completely devoted to couponing; I needed a break.

A three and a half year break, that is.

Until last month I heard that our local Albertson’s was going out of business. I popped in and found literally everything on sale, but was sneaky enough to overhear two women whispering about how the store was staying open until July, and that the real sales would be coming up in June. So I took a good look around, mentally noted what I might scavenge for later, and left.

Last weekend, I returned for a weekly grocery trip (and some coupons in hand). It was like old times. Except old times on steroids, since the prices were already starting to get slashed. My husband, Thor, adamantly hates my couponing (another reason I began to lose interest) so I tried to play it cool…but I’ll tell you that my brain was on fire.

10% off all produce

15% off canned foods

25% off hair care products

Whole turkeys at $0.50 a pound

Calculate those discounts on top of my coupons and…andAND…….

But like I said, I played it cool. I bought several items that I didn’t have coupons for, and only bought one turkey despite my inner discount monologue, You could eat a turkey this month AND save one for Thanksgiving! I made a definitive list in my head of the aisles I will be pillaging in a couple weeks, just like those Extreme Couponing shows, and fantasized filling my cart like I was competing on Supermarket Sweep. All this, with a straight face.

When we rang up our groceries and I handed the cashier my coupons, it was just like riding a bike – and when he handed me the receipt that said we had saved $51.55, I imagined my brain was lighting up like a gambler’s when they get a win. (Hey – I haven’t had sugar, alcohol, dairy, or starches for 21 days – I need this).

Tonight I booked another trip to Vegas for the end of the month, but I know that my real gambling will be right down the street at Albertson’s.

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Moving Sideways to Get Forward

In 2014, I initially made one of my “bonus” goals to get hired as an Assistant Principal. I hemmed and hawed, and asked everyone I knew whether I should do it or not. Finally, I said, “What’s my problem already?!” and applied for our district’s AP pool. Then everyday I dreaded the phone ringing, saying I had an interview. While I have no doubts that I could do the job (and learn to do it well), the question really has always been do I want the job.

The phone didn’t ring, and when they finally sent me a “thanks but no thanks” email – I felt completely relieved, not rejected. This year, I was back in the classroom (although I always have my little things on the side) and in February I began to feel the proverbial claustrophobic panic of doing the same old thing for the next school year. Don’t get me wrong – teaching can be super fun, but it’s not enough for me. I want to get out and see other teachers do their thing, and help them get better at doing their thing. I want to advocate for them when the principal can’t remember what it’s like to be a teacher, and temper them when they can’t understand why the principal is so overwhelmed.

This year, I didn’t even think of applying for an assistant principal position, but last week when I saw an instructional coaching position open under a principal I totally respect, I thought, “Ok – I’m going to give it a go.” A few days later, I had accepted the job just a couple hours after interviewing.

So there it is: I have a new job. The IRONY of it all. Why didn’t I make it a 2015 goal so I could cross it off my list??

Just a couple weeks ago I read a quote that said something like, “Sometimes a step forward requires a couple side steps first,” but I can’t seem to find the exact quote, or who said it. But I reflected that I’ve been impatient, and trying to force applying for a different job just because I should. Working at my current school for the last two years has been the biggest “bucket filling” experience I ever could have had. The parents and kids and staff and leadership are pretty much out of a magazine, and everyone has treated me so well. Yeah, professionally it’s a sidestep, but personally it’s been a big step forward. (BTW, Amanda, you’re the one who made all this happen).

Who knows what next year will look like, but I keep reminding myself that I need to do things my own way.

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Breaking the Rules (get it?? LOL)

If I was guy, I’m pretty sure I would look like this:

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And I’m pretty sure I would spend my days like this:

© Naki Kouyioumtzis. UK B-Boy Champs 2012, Brixton Academy, London, UK

You think I’m joking, but I’m not.

But alas, I was born a chick. I hear you saying, “Why do you have to be a boy to be a super fly breakdancer?” And you’re right, you don’t – but as a female it just isn’t my calling. (Instead, I guess I’m chasing a Martha Stewart meets Lady Gaga kind of lifestyle.)

ANYWAY, that doesn’t mean I can fully enjoy the aesthetic of hip hop and bboy style, or be fully entertained by an epic dance battle where dudes contort their bodies and spin on their heads. At the lunch table, I constantly hear teachers talking about football or basketball or any other jock-type sport where the dudes are overpaid and over idolized. Now breakdancing – that’s where you’ll find athleticism at it’s finest…and you don’t have to listen to Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” every time they take a time out.

But as a 34 year old white lady teacher, I don’t exactly cross paths with a lot of dancers or their events. In fact, I have even actively searched for dance battles in Portland and repeatedly come up dry.

But now that I’ve made it an official 2015 goal to attend a legit breakdancing competition (where I might possibly have to travel to get there), I’ve signed up for several listservs and Facebook groups that post national events – and guess what! There’s one in Portland at the end of the month!

It’s ok – you can call me out as a total poser; I know. And you know what? I also like Chris Brown. But at this point, who cares?

9 Miles and counting

This is the first year that I haven’t made fitness goal one of my “bucket list” items. Now that doesn’t mean I’m not exercising, or don’t have goals, it just means I’m taking the pressure off a little bit. Also, now that I officially have 83 push ups all in one set, one mile in 6:23, 5 miles under 35 minutes, and a burpee mile under my belt – I was feeling a bit lost on what my next goal might even be!

A lot of people ask me why I don’t run more races, or shoot for a marathon. My stock answer has always been that my knee won’t make it, and succumbing to reality has been far more challenging than anything else. Two weeks after blowing my knee, I was sent to physical therapy so that I could simply be ready for them to cut open my knee for surgery. On the office wall was a picture of a previous patient crossing the New York Marathon finish line and they had written “8 months after ACL! Thank you!” I thought, Ok, if he’s running a marathon after 8 months, surely I’ll be good soon. About 16 months later, I was limping through six miserable miles.

But last week I was out in Kansas for work and I had to pleasure of talking to an acquaintance about Iron Man. Her goal was to run it before 40, and last year she cruised through the whole thing. I mentioned that I didn’t think I could ever run a marathon with my knee still stiff and sort of crooked, but she said, “No one runs the whole thing! They just run the first half and then walk really fast.” Suddenly I couldn’t stop asking her questions: where did she train? what did she eat? how long did she prepare?

Yesterday when I got back into town, I threw on my running shoes and went outside to run for an undetermined length. A little over an hour later, I returned from 9 miles:

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Let’s just be clear that 9 miles is not my status quo. And 9 miles at 7:26/mile is even more astounding. But as I was running, I was thinking about that Iron Man, and if my knee would actually hold up to something bigger. Frankly when I got home, I was positive I could have powered through a few more miles. (Granted, I took one hell of a nap later).

This is not blog post proclaiming, “I’m going to run Iron Man!” but instead an admission that I can push myself more. I’m not sure if that means signing up for a legit race, or just running an unofficial half-marathon for fun (because I torturing my body is my version of fun).

Sometimes I can get stuck in a mental rut, and seeing that other normal people can achieve monumental goals is a good reminder that my head can get in the way of my body.

And guess what! I not even sore!

I was on the soccer field, actually playing soccer. People were passing me the ball, and while my footwork was terrible, I could run fast, and mostly pass the ball down the field. I didn’t know anyone on my team, and I had no clue what the score was, but I was playing soccer. And then I woke up.

My husband, Thor, thinks I’m nuts for seeing symbolism in my dreams, but I really think that they mean something. For months when recovering from knee surgery, the last thing I would picture in my head before falling asleep was myself out running. I would try to visualize what it would be like when my knee was healed and I could be back to running outside. I would often have dreams that I was trying to run, but my legs wouldn’t move right, or I would uncontrollably spin in circles. After many months, the circles went away and I was plodding along…and then in reality, my legs slowly started being able to run again.

So the soccer dream last night took me by surprise. Mostly, I have sworn off soccer for fear of blowing out my knee again. Yes, yes, I did all the necessary physical therapy and I’m really active again – but soccer is a contact sport. Running on the track or lifting weights puts me in control, but playing soccer adds a lot of variables. I’ve wondered if I could play on a lower division team – maybe there’s even a “recovering injury” league full of people like me who want to play some gentle soccer; just passing the ball around, no slide tackling or full sprint challenges.

Spring has started, and I work out with a group of teachers on the track across the street from our school. Last year, the girls’ high school soccer team had their games at the same time, and I couldn’t take my eyes away. I wanted to charge the field and add myself to a team. Maybe my height and my bouncy blonde ponytail would help me infiltrate them for just a couple minutes.

Which also reminds me how much I miss being a part of a team. Whether we had a rare winning season, or a season where we didn’t even have enough players to fill the field, it was still fun to hang out with my soccer buddies every week. After having to quit the team, it was a lonely place. Every Sunday I knew they were out there playing without me, while I was icing and loading up on ibuprofen – and that sucked.

Before I ever hurt myself seriously, I remember playing a heated game in my women’s division. The women on the other team were pretty catty, making a lot of cheap plays, and one woman (at least 10 years older) was getting particularly frustrated that I kept beating her to the ball. At one point, I snuck in and inadvertently checked her in the hip hard while taking the ball away. She screamed at me, “You could really hurt someone!” I took a cheap shot back and replied, “Maybe you should join the over 40 league, lady.” That really pissed her off. It was a terrible thing to say and I knew it would rattle her. We won the game, but I didn’t feel very good about my comment.

Here I am today worried about someone like me, who enjoyed pushing people around on the field, and sometimes took risky moves to steal the ball. I’m not saying “Oh hey world! I’m going to play soccer again!” All I’m saying is that my dreams are telling me that I’m probably ready…maybe…

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