I wanted to make soft pretzels and caramels for my coworkers.
Pretzels, because I've been wanting to make them anyway, and caramels, because I've made them before and everyone really seems to enjoy them. I've even had a few people ask to buy a batch! But I don't have the time or the equipment to make more than a single batch at a time, unfortunately.
I made one batch of caramels Tuesday night to get a head start.
Here's a little video sequence of how that goes. Since this is Instagram you have to click on the little arrows to the right of each video to see the next video in sequence.
It starts with sugar, water, a tablespoon of corn syrup, and a little lemon juice in a saucepan. The lemon juice helps to keep sugar crystals small or something, idk. Then you just put that on medium high, do NOT stir it, and watch it until it starts to turn a nice amber color. People like their caramel at varying degrees of darkness, and I lean more dark; if you like yours lighter you can stop the caramelization process when your sugar looks the color of pale honey.
Anyway, Once it's the color you want you carefully pour in the cream, and from this point on you've got to stir continuously to avoid burning and crystalizing and scalding and all that. As water boils off from the sugar mixture, the temperature increases above the boiling point. This time I was trying for 264.
Once my candy thermometer reached 264, I took the caramel immediately off the heat and poured it into a large bowl. Then I added a little butter, vanilla paste, and sea salt. Mixed it all in and poured it in a nice foil tray to cool. Tadaaaaa.
The decorative salt tends to melt down here in FL, I assume because it's so stinkin humid. It was nice to get a picture where you could see it just this once (taken on Wednesday, after the caramel had cooled in the fridge overnight). The touring company manager saw this photo and said, "We've got to get you a hotel room with a kitchen!"
On Wednesday morning I got up earlier than usual because there was just so much to do. I ate a quick breakfast and immediately made a second batch of caramels. While they were cooling I cleaned up, then mixed up a batch of pretzel dough. Once it was kneaded and resting I made a double recipe of the same dough. That batch went straight into the fridge where it will stay overnight to develop flavor, but mostly just to save me time on Thursday.
Also, I can't do three batches of pretzels at once because the fridge isn't big enough.
Also, if I mess up the first batch I've got two more tries with the other two batches of dough.
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This week is craaaazy.
I'm having my last few days at work, and that's one area of life where there's just not a lot to do, so I do what I can and try to kill time the rest of the time.
I've completed a spreadsheet of grocery stores, restaurants, and points of interest around each theater on tour.
It definitely doesn't encompass everything, and I won't get to do everything on the list either.
But it's a good quick reference in case I find that there's limited time to explore in a city.
Other than that my focus has been on the prep for making soft pretzels and caramels for my coworkers.
It is going to take up most of my weekend for sure.
I'm super nervous about it for several reasons, mainly that I've never made so much bread at once before, I've never worked with a caustic chemical like lye before, and I've never made pretzels before.
To kind of mitigate my nervousness I first tried asking a few questions about lye dilution and safety on my facebook bread baking group.
"Well if you're so worried, why don't you just use baking soda?"
(times five, because multiple people felt the need to share this bit of wisdom one after the other waaaay after it had already been said and I had already given perfectly legitimate reasons for not using baking soda)
"The dilution in your recipe is wrong (said about a King Arthur Flour recipe). You need to do it MY way because *I* do it this way ALL the time and MY pretzels are PERFECT".
Followed by umpteen pictures of THEIR pretzels.
"If you're not experienced enough to be making pretzels then maybe you shouldn't be making them."
You get the idea. Never, ever ask questions on facebook unless you want to be beaten bloody with peanut gallery criticisms and commentary about everything EXCEPT what you actually asked about.
One kind soul actually did respond to say that she makes pretzels frequently, and has no problem with handling lye as long as gloves and eye protection are worn. No fumes either at the dilution required for pretzels. This was great to hear, I had been really worried about fumes. I thanked her in a PM and then deleted the pretzel post because I don't need to keep hearing about how I'm not making pretzels the way other people want me to make them.
Listen, if someone will buy me all of the ingredients, I'll make the pretzels however they'd like.
As I was still nervous, I did a lot of my own research and then finally sent a message to the person who'd written the pretzel recipe I'm using. Fortunately for me they are a kind, responsive human being who wrote back explaining and clarifying many steps of the process. I'm still a bit nervous, but at a more normal "doing-this-for-the-first-time" level. Getting reassurance from someone who has done this before was just what I needed. I'm grateful.
On Sunday Jameson took us to Universal Horror Nights!
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Thanks to a "floating holiday" that I needed to spend, I was able to enjoy a 3-day weekend! Yay!
As you saw in my last post, I spent Tuesday evening baking a loaf of wheat bread.
This recipe from Jenny Can Cook bakes up in about two hours, so it's great when you want a nice sandwich bread in half the usual time. I remembered enjoying this recipe from when I first started learning to bake bread, and wanted to give it another try now that I know what I'm doing. I also wanted to try the Tangzhong method on it!
The math involved in calculating how much flour/milk/water was needed for the Tangzhong roux was very annoying, as I'm bad at math. But honestly I think as long as I keep the ratio of flour to liquids for the roux at 1:5 and use 10% or less of the bread's ingredients, it should turn out fine.
And it DID turn out fine. Looking back on my earliest bread posts, I can definitely appreciate the progress I've made.
Anyway, once that was done it was 10pm, so I got to enjoy a whole eight hours of sleep.
Wednesday morning was nice because I didn't have to bake bread. Not that I dislike doing that, it's just nice to have nothing pending first thing in the a.m. sometimes. I enjoyed some fancy siphon coffee with breakfast, then got to work cleaning up the garage. Our garage isn't all that bad, but we've lately been just kinda throwing things against the walls to get them out of the way. I wanted to store my big planter, and needed to ensure that there'd be room for it. I moved everything away from the walls and swept dust and dead leaves out the door, then sorted things according to use and ownership, i.e. Jameson's keyboard and guitar cases and amps and other music stuff went to the corner where his storage closet is, while my gardening stuff and bike and bags of dirt and fertilizer went to the opposite wall where they'll be out of the way while I'm gone.
The planter ended up against a wall and on top of the pool cover, I took the legs off for easier storage and so that we can store stuff inside the planter too. It all looked very nice when I was done, and got the Jameson Seal of Approval.
After lunch I went back out again to weed around the house, especially the front and the pool deck.
I did my best using the leaf blower to clear off the deck, but the extension cord kept dipping in the pool and it was freaking me out so I'll have to go back out again one more time with a broom. Just as well because I still need to scrub the lanai screens.
That was most of my day, it was pretty time-consuming stuff.
In the afternoon I had a snack and practiced trombone. Soon it was time for steno school.
I did end up passing the most recent test that I took (yay!) so now I just need two more to move on to the 120wpm class. It's taking all my self control not to attempt both tests right this minute, but I need to pace myself because with only a limited number of tests available any more than 1-2 failures is NOT an option.
After steno class was GLAAD training for Troika Entertainment.
I learned some things I hadn't known, and had some small realizations that will mean more independent research to ensure that I understand the many terminologies out there. The last thing I want is to offend someone, especially when we're about to do a show about a man dressing as a woman.
And here is a loaf of whole wheat bread that I made tonight....using THE SAME RECIPE.
(Here's that recipe if you're interested: https://www.jennycancook.com/recipes/simple-whole-wheat-bread/)
I owe Jameson big, giant hugs for getting me started on this bread-baking journey!
For my birthday, he gifted me Bonnie O'Hara's Bread Baking for Beginners, a VERY good food scale, and a rustic bread kit including a banneton proofing basket and scorer.
Here is a list of all the bread types I've made since receiving this book:
- Rustic white boule
- Wheat boule
- Lemon fougasse
- Oatmeal bread
- White loaf
- Wheat loaf/rolls
- English muffins
- Chocolate babka
- Orange blossom brioche
- Black pepper parmesan boule
- Cinnamon rolls
- Irish soda bread
- Pretzel rolls
- Pizza dough
- Japanese matcha milk bread
- Tangzhong whole wheat
But it was his encouragement, and the wonderfully helpful instructions in that book, that gave me the confidence to branch out and attempt to make so many things.
It's been an amazing journey, more fun and therapeutic than I could have imagined.
In a few weeks I'll have to stop baking bread for quite a long time.
This is probably the Number Two thing I'm going to miss the most while on tour (Number One, of course, being my Jameson.)
But you know what's nice? I'll get to visit bakeries, and try the amazing breads that OTHER people make!
And when I get back from tour, I'll get to learn how to make SOURDOUGH!
The last two times I went out on tour I experienced a surge in viewership, so this is preparing a little for that.
- As much as I love the little elephant layout I've used for years, it is not mobile compatible, and this new theme is. Plus it's a bit cleaner to look at.
- I've changed my tags to make sorting and finding entries from the circus, the cruise ship, and the musical a bit more distinct. Because tags like "opening day" could apply to any of these performance types, and I don't want there to be confusion. I will probably also reduce the overall number of tags...a lot of them are just for my own convenience.
- I've added a sticky post with links to my other social pages, as well as an "about me" copy/paste of my LJ profile bio. This is meant as a convenience for people who've not been following me and may not be familiar with LJ.
- When I start posting specifically about Tour Stuff, my posts may become a little less personal and a little more PC. You may also see a disclaimer at the top of some posts, like "These are my own thoughts and views, not my employer's, blah blah", so that I'm not creating problems for my tour managers.
- I will continue to post more personal thoughts and things, as this blog is still my "diary". But those posts will almost always be friends-locked.
More weird days at work.
I spent my days poaching captionists to monitor from the Absent Supervisor list, or trolling those who fell behind in their captioning by 120 seconds or more. I captioned as well sometimes, and I did other tasks like walking the floor to check on people and cleaning some cubicles and such.
To fill the lulls between monitors I started a spreadsheet of things around each theater and/or hotel on the tour that I might like to check out.
Some of the things that I like to map out in advance are grocery stores, bakeries, museums/aquariums/points of interest, restaurants, thrift stores, antique stores, and Asian/international groceries.
Many of these cities I've been to before, and looking at the maps and seeing all the old hangs is pretty nostalgic.
Especially beloved cities like Kansas City, MO; Greenville, SC; or Baltimore, MD.
One thing about living and traveling with the circus was that even though we spent some time in the fancy downtown areas, the majority of our time was spent on the train, which was nearly always parked in some noisy dirty industrial area on literally the wrong side of the tracks.
(view of Atlanta from our "home" for the week while performing in the city.)
So we'd do these extravagant shows, and eat out at the fancy restaurants around the arenas, buying expensive drinks and strolling or Uber-ing around town, seeing the sights. But each night we walked or rode the company bus back to our home, the train. And the further we got from downtown, the darker it would get. Until there were no more street lights...until the smooth paved streets gave way to potholes, and gave way again to gravel and dust and rusted rail ties and broken glass.
(an underpass at the train yard in Hartford CT.)
And we stepped over rotting trash and dead animals, and passed quietly by homeless encampments or solo hobos sleeping under the overpasses. And we half-listened as a car backfired in the ghetto (that WAS a car backfiring, right?) and kept a wary eye on the stray dogs wandering the train yard, as we tramped together in the dark, through the dust and rust and stones, and climbed onto our grey-silver train, and felt at home.
(walking back together after a show)
This time will be different.
I loved the circus and everything about it. But I must admit, as romantic as the idea of living on a 1950s passenger train is, there were times when it was Big-Time Inconvenient (not to mention unsafe by nature of the environment.)
Because I spent a solid five years touring this way, and because it was such a huge part of my life, I think I've conditioned myself to think that
"Touring" = "The lifestyle I had with the circus".
And I am finally realizing that that is not true at all.
Looking at where we'll be staying on this tour, nearly all of the hotels are within walking distance of each theater we play.
When that finally sank in, I felt a wave of emotion.
Good God! What a blessing!!!
You guys may never know what it's like to walk miles and miles to get from a train yard to a grocery store, buy all of your groceries for an entire week, and then have to CARRY THEM FOR MILES to get them back home. In the blistering summer heat in Houston, in the cutting cold of a Long Island ice storm.
(no I was not kidding about the Long Island ice storm. There are inches of ice under that top layer of snow.)
I have fought through FEET of snow to get groceries two miles away, and carried them two miles back.
Pretty much any time the train was parked less than two miles from the nearest grocery was cause for celebration.
You guys, on this tour I will be able to walk BLOCKS to get groceries.
I won't have to lug my food and necessities over rocks or through cut fences.
I will be able to buy them and carry them back, maybe not even sweating! Like a regular human being!
Oh my god!
I don't know if I've effectively described what a big deal this realization was to me. But it was a BIG deal.
I've also done a tour as trombonist with the Ruby Princess cruise ship house band,
and spent five years as a circus musician with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Red Unit band.
This blog starts with my very first day in the circus.
Please click the link in this text or look for the tag "first entry" to read about my five years with the circus.
To read about my time on the Cruise ship, click the link in this text,
or click the tag "cruise ship" in the tags menu on the main blog page.
Posts related to Tootsie the Musical can be found by clicking the link in this text,
or clicking the tag "tootsie" in the tags menu.
I hope you enjoy this little peek into my nomadic life.
Thank you for reading! - Megan O
I'm still in a bit of a mood so stole this from spacefem, for no reason.
1. What luxury is totally worth the price?
Speaking from experience: a decent hotel room.
Not crazy-luxurious, just DECENT.
Pay the extra $25-$30 bucks to KNOW that the carpet will not be sticky, and the bed will be clean, and the shower will not have other people's hair in it. It is just not worth the handful of money you'd save to suffer a dirty, unsafe hotel room where you will feel uncomfortable all night. Spend the stupid money and give yourself the "luxury" of a decent space for the night.
2. What is the most unique or silliest problem you have going on in your life at the moment?
Most unique would definitely have to be how and what to pack for this tour.
I'm experienced with living on the road, but this is a type of living I haven't been through yet. So I can make pretty good guesses at what I'll need...but when I get out there, how much stuff will have been wasted suitcase space? What items will I find myself wishing I had brought? I definitely feels like I'm rolling the dice with some of the things I'm bringing, but I'm also intrigued to see what will work out and what won't. Someone should do a case study.
Silliest is probably the bizarre situation I find myself in at work. My employer is more or less acting like I'm not there! I have almost nothing to do, for another two whole weeks! I've been removed from all schedules and all tasks. It's such a weird situation, this has never happened when I've given notice before, and I don't really know how to handle it. Maybe I'll just go home early every day...
3. If you were so wealthy you didn’t need to work, what would you do with your time?
TRAVEL. OUTSIDE THE US.
There are so many places and things that I want to see! I am almost 40 and have never been outside North America.
Hoping so much that I get to see more someday!
4. What is the most tedious and/or the most exciting sport to watch?
I am bored to death by NASCAR. What exactly do people get excited about?
I've seen cars go just as fast and execute more fancy maneuvers on my morning commute.
I don't watch sports much at all, but do find that I like physical and mental combat-based sports the most (martial arts, fencing, archery, chess, pool, &c).
5. What do you think the ideal age to be is?
For me personally, right now is actually pretty good.
Mid-20s was great too, looking back I can wistfully appreciate the enthusiasm, and energy, and relentless ambitions that I had. I could try anything at all, because so many possibilities were open to me. The problem, though, is that I didn't have much experience or perspective or self-confidence. I was a good preplanner, but there were many times I got in my own way with caution or nervousness or self-loathing. I wish I had been less of what people wanted, and more of what I actually am. I probably would have gotten farther.
Which is why now, late 30s, is pretty good.
Sure, I'm bitter in a lot of ways. And I still have strong self-loathing. But I've also learned about WHY I feel bitter about how some things turned out. At this point in life, I've come to accept that sometimes the mightiest struggle, the greatest effort, will be for nothing in the end. And that's OK. It's ok that it happens, and it's ok to accept it. Some opportunities in my life have come and gone forever, and that was a painful pill to swallow. But part of what's good about my current age is I've had time to accept that it's OK not to get what you want out of life. Most of us are going to fall short of what we expect and what we want before we die. Dreams slip through our fingers. Our health fades away. Our hearts are broken, never to recover. And that's all OK.
Most of all, at this age, I finally get that it's ok not to BE what you DO.
It's ok to bake bread, and just enjoy it. No end goal.
I also appreciate that my body is still in excellent working condition. I know that there will come a time when I can't see every ridge on a leaf's edge with my bare eyes, and so I appreciate so much that I can do it now. My back does not hurt, my knees are operational. I still don't even think about whether I'm sitting or standing for the majority of the day, my body mostly doesn't care, and I know that that's a gift I need to savor because someday soon my body will fail me, and that will be a whole new level of struggle and acceptance.
All of these things make me appreciative and grateful of THIS age, and the now.
I am pleased to throw away my stable job and have an adventure, because at this age I can rely on my body to endure the travel, and I know I can probably still find work when I get back. I can appreciate every moment fully, even the bad parts, because at this age I can hear those doors of opportunity slamming shut and the clock ticking relentlessly on, and because I'm 37 years old I know that this moment cannot last, and I must savor it all until it's gone. At this age, I can embrace the fear of flying, and of failure, and of leaving home. Because now I am old enough to understand that there will come a day when flying will be impossible; a day when failure will be my constant companion even in the smallest tasks; and a day when leaving home no longer means an adventure, but the end of my independence.
For all of these reasons and more, now is the best time, and the best age, for me.
Every time I stop to think about what I need to do before the end of the month, the list seems overwhelming.
But then when I REALLY think about it, it's not. It's just a LONG list, of a lot of things, that actually don't take that much time or effort.
I tried to do some of those things this weekend and found that I was trying too early.
Hair appointment: a week too early for booking.
Car detailing appointment: at least a week too early too.
Covid rapid test for the day before I leave: FAR too early, I can only book that a few days in advance.
So I tried to take a step back and focus on what I can do NOW.
Like use up some of what's in the fridge and freezer.
I bought this weird "sourdough yeast" a while back and wanted to give it a try.
"No more finicky starters!" it claimed boldly. "Simply add to your favorite bread recipe!"
Well, ok. I chose an easy no-knead recipe and gave it a shot, following the recipe exactly and adding the yeast as instructed.
What I got was a wet blob of dough that was insanely unmanageable, followed shortly by a flat dense loaf of bread that was gummy inside and somehow completely flavorless (I am 100% certain that I added salt, sugar, and walnut oil). It was not even remotely close to sourdough in texture or flavor. And the yeast was still perfectly fresh, the dough rose just like it was supposed to. I have no idea why it turned out so badly, other than maybe it was just a bad recipe in general?
Eh, whatever. I was disappointed, but the nice thing about messing up bread is you've really only lost the time.
The ingredients usually amount to like $2 worth of stuff going in the trash.
After that I decided to finally attack my basil bush, poor thing.
The amount of basil on that plant was amazing. Bananas for scale.
Deconstructing that took probably 30 minutes, but I finally ended up with a big bowl of fresh leaves.
I didn't have enough pine nuts so subbed in some toasted sunflower seeds, and that was a really nice flavor.
Add to that some garlic and olive oil and lemon juice and parm, and I had a big giant jar of pesto which will live in the freezer until I can address it after this tour.
Next I spent 45 minutes completing anti-harrassment training for my new employer.
Then I allowed myself the luxury of looking up some of the hotels we'll be staying in on tour.
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Here is a summary of what I did this weekend (two days, Wednesday and Thursday):
- Made no-knead bread (epic fail)
- Cut down my basil plant
- Made pesto
- Made dinner on Wednesday
- Went grocery shopping
- Ran the dishwasher
- Took the recycling out
- Took the trash out
- Completed anti-harassment training
- Went to steno class
- Practiced steno (x2, once each day)
- Practiced trombone (x2, once each day)
- Emailed show ticket information to family
- Researched hair appointments
- Researched car detaling locations and appointments
- Researched rapid covid test availability and appointments
- Researched tour hotels
- Made Japanese milk bread
- Meal prep for the week
- Tried to book practice rooms (epic fail)
- Emptied the large planter, washed and stored it
- Swept and weeded some of the pool patio
- Cleaned the shower
- Prepped lunch and work clothing
...I think that's it.
Gosh, I'm such a lazy entitled millennial! Spent the whole day staring at my phone making TikToks!
After a 10-hour drive to get back to Florida, I frantically unpacked and did laundry and cleaned the bathrooms and watered the plants and packed a lunch and prepped for work. That was pretty much the evening, that and catching up with Jameson.
Then it was right back into the work week.
They have already taken my team away from me.
I came in to find out that all of my captionists have been reassigned. Which is good, I mean they would have been reassigned anyway.
I guess I thought they'd wait until I was closer to leaving to scatter them to the winds, though.
Well, I made sure to meet with each of them and tell them they'd be on a new team soon.
Some were surprised, some could care less.
There's really not much to say about the "work week". It was only three days long because of my visit with my aunt.
On Monday, steno class was ended at 7pm for an "assembly".
That just goes to show that some things are meant to be: I had a TOOTSIE production meeting/orientation at 7pm the same day. So I lost no class time, conveniently.
The meeting was very informative, plus I got to see a lot of the people who will be my coworkers and traveling companions as we all popped into the zoom meeting.
The majority of the meeting had to do with company policies regarding covid, anti-racism, covid, anti-discrimination, covid, sensitivity training, media training...and covid.
All pretty normal for 2021.
The main takeaways for me were:
- Any trip over 500 miles is likely to be done via plane. That is somewhat more plane time than I had expected. On one hand I'm glad because we'll get to each city faster and I'll get more comfortable with flying. On the other hand I'm bummed because I'll still have to pack very lightly most of the time, and at the moment I still dislike flying and will have to get over that. Gotta say though, now that I know this, I'm really glad I signed myself up for PreCheck.
- By the end of this tour I will be very used to having a swab stuck up my nose. Not only do we need to be vaccinated, we will also have to complete a rapid test basically every week. Welcome to the new normal!
- There are absolute loads of covid provisions and guidelines that we will be following. I was really impressed at how thorough and thoughtful this company has been about protecting everyone.
- We will still be allowed to visit with friends and family in each city. We're just asked to be responsible and use good judgement. Yay!
My work week ended with working from home on a computer that was lagging like 90's dial-up for no apparent reason. I did manage to complete my work, but not to the usual standard, which was very annoying. I also managed to do some chores and get in an hour of trombone practice, 30 minutes of steno, and reading through some of the information packets we got during the meeting. I got some groceries, but forgot pine nuts for the pesto (it's a rule, I gotta forget one thing and make a wasted trip the next day. Sigh.) We had Bento for dinner, ice cream for dessert, and a few hours to relax.
I feel a lot of pressure to get things done this weekend, but there is still, STILL plenty of time.
Wednesday I plan to make "faux sourdough"--I'll explain this later--and the pesto, then for dinner I'll cook the homemade gnocchi that I made several months ago and that has been languishing in the freezer. To be served fried in sage butter sauce with peas and lemon chicken.
I'll still have steno class that evening, and after that Jameson has rehearsal and I'll practice trombone.
On Thursday I want to empty my large planter and do a little cleaning on the pool patio, and possibly clean the shower too if I'm not too tired. And of course, steno and trombone practice.
There's still loads to do: get my car cleaned for storage, change my car insurance, make a haircut appointment, complete more tour paperwork, look into rapid tests available in Florida, reserve some practice rooms so I can really make a racket. And more.
One thing at a time, and it'll all get done.