New haircut!

The title of the post really says it all, I suppose.

I love it! I’ve washed it since that picture and, although it doesn’t look quite as nice as it does there (of course), I’m hoping I’ll get the hang of it. I flat-ironed it and that helped a lot, but there’s still one section that wants to be different. Going back on Wednesday to have some highlights added as that’s my natural color of hair and it’s the most boring color ever. It’s like a non-color – it’s not blonde, but it’s not brown either. Actually I don’t think any of you have ever seen my natural hair color before – this is the first time there’s not been any dye in it in years. So look closely, you won’t be seeing it that way again for a while hopefully!

May Daring Bakers Challenge!

So this month was my first Daring Bakers Challenge – very exciting! Basically, the Daring Bakers are a group of bloggers who like to bake. Each month, somebody picks a recipe and makes up rules about how closely we have to follow that recipe (exceptions are made for dietary choices and allergies, of course). Then we all make the recipe and post about it on the same day, i.e., today!

This month’s recipe was an Opera Cake but with a spring twist. Ordinarily Opera Cakes are flavored with chocolate and coffee, I think, but our rule was that we could flavor it with anything that would end up being a springy color. As you’ll see, I tried but did not have much success, so the springiness of my cake is all in the frosting.

This is a more complicated dessert recipe than I usually make in my teeny, tiny kitchen and rightly so. But I joined the Daring Bakers in an effort to broaden my baking horizons and I suppose making adjustments for uncooperative equipment and space constraints is all part of those horizons.

The cake is made up of…five parts? The first is, obviously, the cake.

And the source of the first of my problems. It’s made of a sort of almond meal (or whatever nuts you may happen to have in your fridge if you can’t be bothered going back to the market again) and then baked on jelly roll pans. Large jelly roll pans. The size of jelly roll pans that don’t really fit into my oven. So I had to use two that do. I don’t think I split the batter very evenly, but I don’t think it helped that one of the pans I used was a cookie sheet (the cake on the left) and the other had fairly high sides (the cake on the right). You can’t tell from that picture, but the cake on the right is much thicker than the cake on the left. And the cake on the left is much thicker on the right than it is on the left due to the fact that the cookie sheet it baked in warped while it was in the oven. Also, I think I shouldn’t have tried to bake them at the same time given that my oven is fairly temperamental about its, well, temperature. And I burned my arm on the door because apparently I am unable to remember that my oven is freakishly small. (This was the same day as the steam incident, so I was really on a roll.) But they turned out edible, just not pretty (much like the finished product, actually).

Next, there are two layers of buttercream. And the biggest of my problems. The first was due to an error in the recipe up on the Daring Bakers site. I think next month, I’ll wait until some other people have had a chance to look things over for a while before I actually bake (but I was so excited to get going I couldn’t wait!) – I bake a lot, but I don’t have the real understanding of the chemistry of baking and can’t tell when recipes are weird just by reading them. The second was that I just don’t understand how you make the buttercream taste of anything but caramel and be anything but a caramelly-brown color because you have to heat the sugar up with the water before you beat it into the egg mixture (thus creating a rock hard trail of sugar on the edge of your bowl and in your whisk attachment). Any advice, Janis? 😉

I tried to get mine to taste of lemon, using the limoncello liqueur that I had from the mirror cake, but it just ended up tasting of the aforementioned caramel. And being brown, so technically I didn’t follow the rules, but hopefully I won’t be shunned because I did try to make it a springy flavor/color.

Then there’s a flavored syrup that you use to soak the cakes, but I don’t think that should really count as a part of the cake because you can’t see it in the finished product and it’s not that exciting to make. Actually, the rest of the cake isn’t that exciting either. There’s a white chocolate mousse (I always get excited about white chocolate because it’s chocolate [or at least has the word chocolate in the title, I know it’s not really chocolate] and I always forget that it tastes vaguely of stomach acid [not unlike parmesan cheese, actually]) and then a white chocolate glaze that I thought was going to be like a ganache, but wasn’t (or at least what I made wasn’t)

Then you decorate.

Because I failed to make the inside of my cake a springy color, I decided to focus my efforts on the top of the cake. Initially I was going to make it a plaid, but got tired of having to wash out my pastry bag each time I needed a new color (I have got to get another one) and just ended up sticking with the checkerboard (it matches my kitchen!). So here’s a slice of my finished Opera Cake:

Oh, also, because my jelly roll pans were smaller, the area of the top of my cake was smaller than intended but I still used all the mousse because what else was I going to do with it? Hence the high ratio of mousse to cake. It didn’t taste bad. I thought the cake was maybe a little dry, but actually the combination of the caramel with the nut meal in the cake gave it a sort of sweet/salty effect that I hadn’t intended. You couldn’t taste the lemon at all – what a waste of limoncello! (Don’t worry, it didn’t all go to waste. It gave me courage to make the second batch of buttercream after I had to throw the first away.) 😉

Even though this wasn’t a complete success (or even really a success at all), it was fun to have a go and I think the Daring Bakers will be a fun project to take part in and hopefully it’ll make me a better baker. If you click through the blogroll up there (clicking on the Daring Bakers logo should take you there) you’ll see some absolutely gorgeous, mouth-watering cakes that put my cake to shame but give me something to aspire to!

Help the honeybees!

In response to my latest post about my buzzy…friends, Janis linked me to a cute but worrying website called Help the Honeybees (run by Haagen Dazs). It’s really scary that they’re disappearing like they are. I was glad to see that a few of the plants I’ve got on my balcony are honeybee-friendly (although I’m realising now I don’t know if my huge fucking furry little bumblies are honeybees or not). But you should definitely go check it out – they have some little things that you can do to help the honeybees and local beekeepers, too…

(Eddie starts talking about bees at 2:05…)

Nonfiction: Essays

I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley

Frankly, I’m just glad I’ve finished another book. This one suffered from a similar problem as Candyfreak, I’m afraid. Crosley’s voice reminded me very much of Sarah Vowell’s, but I just couldn’t bring myself to like her. I don’t know if she’s just too hip for her own good or maybe the fact that I suspect she’s not as much like me as she’d like me to think, but whatever it is, I think there’s definitely a hint of smugness about her voice that bothered me. Not enough to make me put the book down, but sort of like having a small pebble in your shoe – you can live with it, but it feels so much better once you’ve gotten rid of it.

I sort of felt like her essays didn’t really have a point to any of them. Quite a few of them had that ‘My point, let me show you it’ feeling towards the end of them. The sudden slowing of the pace, the more introspective thoughts, the serious twist at the end of an anecdotal (but still not really funny) story. And yet I don’t really feel like she had anything to tell me. I don’t think I took anything away with me and, maybe I’m just not as intelligent as I like to think I am, I don’t think she showed us anything honest about herself. Maybe she thought she did – certainly many of the essays ended on sort of – not really poignant but I can’t think of the right word, so think of poignant as though it were used by Fenimore Cooper (holla, Twainies!) – notes that I think were supposed to be giving us glimpses into her crazy-but-aren’t-we-all-in-our-own-way psyche. And they just didn’t feel sincere. They felt like the hipster version of what she thought she should be sharing with us.

Also, for a book shelved in the humor section, it was not all that funny (as Publisher’s Weekly also led me to believe it would be). I was expecting laugh-outloud funny, but what I got was, again, much more in the Sarah Vowell vein (though not as likable). Also, I think one of the blurbs on the back of the book put me off a bit. Someone called A.M. Homes (I also think she’s too hip for her own good because I don’t know any of the names on the back of the book – well, Jonathan Lethem’s, but his is on the front of the book) compares her to a postmodern Mary Tyler Moore, but I don’t think that’s what he (she?) means. I think A.M. Homes meant to compare Crosley to a postmodern Mary Richards. That’s a comparison I can see (although, again, still not as likable), but Mary Tyler Moore? Not so much.

I was about to type that, although I wasn’t thrilled with this, Crosley’s first book, I would give her a second chance, but now that I think about it, I’m not so sure I would. It might all come down to her blurbs. We’ll see.

My rating: C-

Summer blockbuster tally, part 2

Next on the blockbuster list is the new Indiana Jones movie. I liked it, I think. It hit all the points you expect from an Indiana Jones movie – snakes, bugs, danger (but without any real suspense because no one good dies in the Indiana Jones movies), cool action sequences, and stereotypical baddies (the Russians have taken that role from the Nazis here). Although Harrison Ford is starting to look his age, he still has Indy’s roguish charm down pat. I was worried that Shia LeBoeuf would be annoying, but strangely, he was rather likeable. Cate Blanchett was awesome (despite the vague moose-and-squirrel overtones of her accent – but that’s what you expect from a cartoon villain, really, I suppose). It was nice to have Karen Allen back (I always liked her better than Kate Capshaw and Elsa doesn’t count because you can’t very well say ‘Yeah, I liked the third movie, but I wish Indy had ended up with the girl Nazi’).

Overall, it was a fun, mindless summer movie, but I’m not sure the Indiana trilogy needed to become a saga. And because of a major plot point (which I won’t go into detail about here in case anybody still hasn’t seen it yet) it felt more like a piece of Indiana Jones AU fanfiction – as though somebody wanted to turn Chariots of the Gods into an action movie and decided to use the Indy franchise to do it because no one would go see it otherwise. (Don’t click on that link there if you don’t want to know what I’m talking about.)

Summer blockbuster tally = 1-1-0

The bees! The bees are back!

So I was at work today, proofing a set of pages, when I heard a familiar ‘Thwack!’ noise against the window. I looked up and saw a big, round bumblebee flying away.

My first thought – and I’m not saying this for comedic effect, it’s really what went through my head – was ‘THEY FOUND ME!’

In other news, I’m in the middle of what may be the best movie ever: Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter. It has Jesus paired with a Mexican wrestler, fighting vampires in Canada.

And it’s a musical.

It. Is. Awesome.