Monday, April 23, 2007

jogging my memory

Flipping through my notebook, I found the word "Schistosomiasis" scrawled on a blank page. What was this word, so hastily scribbled opposite "The Chastity Belt of Venezia"? Why was it standing there, lonely and afraid, without a definition or context?

And then with one Google search, I remembered.

Thank you, Simon, for ruining my breakfast not once, but twice.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Inexplicably Much-Awaited Post on Hot Cross Buns

My mother used to make hot cross buns on Easter. Since I did not spend Easter with my mother this year, I thought I would make them myself. Being an atheist, it seemed like the least hypocritical way to observe the holiday, or whatever it is to me now. Heathen that I am, I always liked Easter. It's a good story, there are nice flowers, it involves a lot of chocolate, and comes at one end or the other of a school vacation, meaning we usually spent it in a more interesting place than home, such as . . . Missouri. Or Connecticut. But whenever we were home, my mother made hot cross buns.

Hot cross buns are not difficult to make unless you are a timid and paranoid baker, which I am. And with good reason. Recipes are full of trickery. They want you to fail. It's like I'm Deborah, and the recipe is Marie Barone. It hates me. The hot cross bun recipe in particular hated me via yeast. "1 package of yeast," it said. My mother does not have packaged yeast. Ever efficient, my mother keeps it in a jar in the fridge. Therefore I find myself wondering:

1) How much yeast is in a package?
2) Is this the same kind of yeast as packaged yeast?

Since I was at my parent's house, i.e. civilization, I was able to look it up on the internet. The internet told me that active yeast does not need to be "activated" before adding it to the dough. You can throw it in all at once.

The internet lied.

The first batch of dough I made did not rise. It sat there. And sat there. And sat there. It lurked. It mocked. It stuck out its tongue. It did not rise.

So I tried again, activating the yeast first, then adding it to the rest of the ingredients. The second batch rose. And rose. And rose. Like Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout's garbage. Perhaps someone misread "tablespoon" for "teaspoon"? I absolve myself of blame because it is totally unfair that the universe should expect me to know what to do with refrigerated yeast, and this is precisely the sort of cruel culinary curveball I am faced with every single time I cook. As a result, the hot cross buns tasted very much like yeast and not very much like hot cross buns. Matt lies when he says they were good. The frosting was good. Because I bought it.

In a related story, I made a cake for my mother's birthday over the weekend. It is The Birthday Cake, the cake we know and love, the cake I have myself successfully made two or three times in the past, and although I followed the recipe exactly and even remembered to whip the egg whites before the butter so the oil from the butter wouldn't make the egg whites fall, it wasn't quite right. It tasted fine, it was actually rather good, but it wasn't the same as usual.

It turned out that I hadn't put in enough chocolate. My recipe from The Joy of Cooking ("unchanged since 1931!" it boasts) called for two ounces of chocolate. My mother's recipe, the same recipe from a different edition of the same cookbook, says two-to-four ounces. My mother puts in three. I didn't know that was an option. Now you are all witnesses to the fact that it is the recipes that are incompetent, not me.

Nevertheless, I think it turned out handsomely . . .

. . . although in the interest of honesty I have to admit that it has numerous structural flaws and is being held together, no kidding, it is actually being held together by copious amounts of frosting. Because, of course, even though I greased and floured the pans, both layers stuck like glue. Why? Why? Why do these things happen?

Please note in the background the mammoth red KitchenAid, which is the most beautiful piece of machinery I have ever seen. It was a hand-me-down from my grandmother. No doubt it will be the scene of many angst-ridden experiments with yeast in the future. I can't wait.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Apparently winter and I need to have another chat about what constitutes appropriate seasonal behavior.

April last year:

April this year:

Once, at Vassar, when spring was once again letting winter walk all over it, one of my professors gleefully told my Dickens class how there was one summer in 1872 or something when winter went on and on and summer didn't come until the next year. That brief and harmless anecdote WILL HAUNT ME FOREVER.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

My Little Broken Kitten

Gil has always been unusual. Terrified of humans, eats french fries, will play with raw penne pasta for hours... unusual. But nothing is less cat-like than his refusal to jump. Counters, tables, fridge-- all cat free because Gil won't tackle any leap exceeding twelve inches. I haven't pursued this phobia because I don't like cat hair in my food, but with The Window Issue I can no longer ignore it.

Before I moved my bed, there was a big open space under one of my windows, and there Gil would sit with a look of longing in his eyes-- sniffing the fresh air, dreaming of all the humans he could watch from behind protective glass. Life could be so good! And when I moved the bed under the window, I figured his dream would be realized. Barely a foot between the bed and his own portal to the world! Gil would be in the window all the time! And it turns out he is in the window all the time-- but he refuses to jump there. No, he balances his back legs on the bed, front legs on the sill, sinks his claws in to the ledge, lets go with the back legs leaving himself dangling in mid-air and then hoists himself up and over. I have never seen a less graceful cat in my whole entire life.

I think we're related.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

When the Work to Sleep ratio isn't quite right

**apparently the fact that I am wearing two different shoes is not obvious. To be fair, I didn't notice either.

all it took was the proper motivation

A mere two months and twenty-six days after my first "I'm going to finish all my furniture and blog about it" post I can proudly tell you "I finished all my furniture!". I lost a little momentum after I dyed my fingers "hobo brown" and the whole thing didn't seem quite as romantic when the electric sander turned on me and took a chunk out of the table. The negative thoughts came pouring in after the second coat of polyurethane got a little tacky. And at my lowest point all I could think was "I will never be a master wood worker, why am I bothering?" I finished the table a week after posting and decided the rest of the furniture would function better as a fire hazard than additional seating. And then the call came. THE call. The one from my mother. "I'm coming to LA!" she says. and internally I went "oh shit, she's going to think I'm living in hole and I can't take care of myself and she's not going to love me anymore because mothers only love daughters with quality furniture and a decent sense of decoration!" She tends to bring out my rational side.

I hung up, unpackaged the bed and said "you're from IKEA, do you really need TWO coats of stain? Is that really necessary? Think about it." and the bed thought and thought and finally said "no". Then I said "SANDING BETWEEN COATS? Seriously?" And the bed said "You're right, your time is better spent wadding up tinfoil for the cat, or perhaps watching television." So with the bed's permission, I cut some corners and finished in about a day and a half. I was on a roll, time to tackle the chairs. I slapped on the coat of stain and returned fifteen minutes later to find the chair was still its original color. Same style, color, brand as the table, but it didn't want to turn brown. To this I said "Fuck It" and drove to the hardware store where I purchased the prettiest purple paint I could find. The chairs must have talked it over and decided they liked this color better because it took beautifully.

Then came the assembly. I highly recommend putting together IKEA furniture with TWO people, but if you're a hermit like me you can use a stack of books, four screwdrivers, a butter knife, packaging tape, a dime and a bottle or two of wine to achieve the same result.

So that's the story of my IKEA furniture. My mother arrived and said "Oh, how cute!" promptly followed by "You're going to need a rug..."

I refuse to purchase one at this time, but if I happen to find a "Do It Yourself Rug Kit" I'll be sure to post about it in a timely fashion.