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? πŸ˜‰

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.) πŸ˜‰

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.

The garden is complete!

Look who also showed up yesterday!

Alas, it is not the ailing lemon plant… It’s a new lemon plant! A Meyer lemon plant! It is very exciting. I will be spending the day being a good garden owner and reading up about how to take care of all my plants. After I watch Doctor Who, of course. πŸ˜‰

Eddie and Maddie FTW!

It was Eddie day yesterday and he was fantastic, as per usual! I think the only trouble is that he tends to revisit topics that he thinks are interesting (e.g., history, religion, technology) and things that he thinks are funny (e.g., ducks, Jeff, jam, toasters, and squirrels), so because I know his standup so well, sometimes he talks about things that he’s talked about before. Which is not to say that I don’t love him. I do! In fact, the only reason I’m able to say that about his show last night is because I adore him and have almost all of his standup memorised (Yes, I’m lame. So what?).

Also, I’m thinking that since a lot of people might know him from The Riches and go ‘Oh, hey, it’s that guy from The Riches doing standup – let’s go see him!’ and not know that he’s a comedian first that he’s sort of trying to do a kind of version of a ‘Best of’ as an introduction for them.

Which is not to say that he wasn’t funny and charming and lovely as ever – he was! And he was in ‘bloke’ mode, so no skirt and no makeup, I’m sorry to say, although he looked equally yummy in his jeans and tail coat. πŸ˜‰

Some highlights:

  1. Squirrel + toaster = elephant
  2. *cough* Tiger. *cough* I think that’s a tiger.
  3. Dinosaurs in church.
  4. The myserious contents of iTunes agreements.
  5. Oh, just everything the man says…EVER!

So…yeah. Eddie rocks.

Know who else rocks?

Madonna.

Know who’s going to see her in October?

I AM!

Nonfiction

Candyfreak by Steve Almond

I have finally broken my 3-month reading drought! Let there be rejoicing! But…it was only an okay book. Let there be…party hats and maybe a noisemaker.

Okay. Two chapters in I decided that his premise was all very well and good, but I just didn’t really like him. I managed to overcome my initial distaste for the author and there were parts of the book that I liked very much. I liked his visits to the various candy factories (his descriptions of the candies really made me wish I could have chocolate…like reeeealllllyyyy wish I could have chocolate) and the musings on nostalgia and what it means to be a small business in this era of global domination by giant retailers.

But mostly I didn’t like him. Mostly for two reasons, one of which is not really his fault, he’s just the straw that broke my back, so to speak and the other one is something of a surprise, actually. And I’ll start with that one.

So, I should have started with this, the premise of his book is that he loves candy. No, seriously. He loves it. And prides himself on having eaten a piece of candy every day of his life (I’m not going to be pedantic and start arguing with him over that, I’m going to be the bigger person and let it go). So he decides to visit small, independent candy factories that produce regional treats (as opposed to the Big Three: Mars, Hershey, and…one other one, I suppose, Nestle?). And I know it’s sort of a memoir/travelogue/foodie talk/cultural observations sort of book, but all of a sudden he launches into a full-on Bush rant. Now I am as fond of Bush ranting as the next person, but for some reason, this one really bothered me. Maybe it was because it seemed so unsubtle, although one of the main themes is the problem of the giant corporations monopolizing the market and the evil of capitalism (or something like that, whatever) or maybe it was because I was in the middle of a nostalgic reminiscence, picturing these candies being made in copper kettles and chocolate flowing down, enrobing the sweet caramel or nougat or whatever and that was rudely interrupted by a subject about which I don’t like to think most of the time (Does that make me a bad person? It’s just so depressing!) because one person CAN’T change the world (There. I said it. I’d say it again if I had to.) and Homer Simpson is probably right – democracy doesn’t work (That ought to get me on some no-fly lists, huh?) – but it annoyed me to have to read about politics in the middle of my sweet daydream.

Or maybe I was extra-grumpy because I was daydreaming about something I can’t have, I don’t know. But still.

And the other. I am TIRED of people describing the midwest as being populated by sad, fat, uneducated, dead-eyed, ignorant people towing long lines of screaming, fast-food-fed, badly-behaved, fat, uneducated, dead-eyed, ignorant children. I live in the midwest and I’m almost positive that we are not all fat, uneducated, dead-eyed, or ignorant. And I don’t know any children, but if I did, I’m sure they wouldn’t always be screaming and badly-behaved (or the other stuff, but I don’t feel like typing it out all again). This shows up time and time again – Bill Bryson does it, Will Storr does it, Steve Almond does it, I think Dave Gorman does it, even the lovely Eddie Izzard does it! Maybe, Eddie, the reason the midwest doesn’t ‘get’ you is because you don’t COME to the midwest. You come to Chicago (which, uh, hate to break it to you, IS IN THE MIDWEST!) and then everybody between there and California who loves you has to drive to Chicago to see you! (I don’t know why I’ve turned on poor Eddie all of a sudden – he’s really not meant to be the target of my ire here.)

Back to Steve, the target of my ire. For the most part, the candy part, I really liked this book, but I sort of felt like he felt like he had to be more socially relevant or something instead of just writing about the nostalgia of candy and what it’s like to be a candyfreak (although, that said, if I see the word ‘freak’ one more time…) or just to have such an overwhelming obsession/love for anything, which would have been a much gentler, softer, chewier, gooeyer…sorry, I seem to have gone off the track there.

So read it if you want to, don’t if you don’t. But if you do read it and you’re not allergic to chocolate (which, by the way, Steve, does not make me a boring person), I think you should probably empty your house of all chocolate products beforehand, otherwise you WILL end up eating them all, probably in one sitting.

My rating: B-

Summer blockbuster tally, part 1

I forgot that it was May which means it’s time for the summer blockbusters to begin, so let’s kick things off with Iron Man!

I went because I adore Robert Downey, Jr. (I don’t know why, but I saw him in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and that was it – I love him!), but it turned out to actually be a pretty good movie, especially for a comic book one. The only problem was that it sort of felt like this whole movie was just setup for the sequel (no, I don’t think it’s official, but if you go see it, stay to see the little tag after the credits and tell me that you don’t think there’s meant to be one). There was a lot of backstory, which was to be expected because they have to explain how he becomes Iron Man, but it seemed to be ALL backstory.

I really liked Gwyneth Paltrow, too, as Pepper Potts (awesome name, no?), but I wish she’d been in it more because she and RDJ had really great chemistry. Also, I hope for her sake that those shoes she’s wearing in the big, final showdown were CGI or something because I have no idea how she ran around in them otherwise.

But mostly it’s down to RDJ. He has this great sort of casual, kind of sardonic delivery that’s just great. Plus he has those big soulful, cow eyes and that’s not hurting anything. πŸ˜‰

I have to say, though, that, even though I liked it, I’m reserving final judgement on this one until I’ve seen the second one, so for now, the summer blockbuster tally is at 0-1-0.

Up next, I think, will be Indiana Jones – yay!

Come and get it!

It was a beautiful, sunny day today (well, for most of the day today – it’s raining and chilly now), so I decided to get planting! Remember my seed experiment? Well, all that’s left is one of the sunflowers, so planting also entailed a trip to the plant nursery.

Or two trips.

Or, if I’m honest, even three trips.

But it looks very nice at the moment. We’ll see how long it lasts before the squirrel comes for some nibblies.

I’m very excited about the corn, mostly for its comic potential. I live on the third floor of an apartment building, so I’m hoping that, once it gets tall enough, people will drive by, look up, and say ‘Is that…corn?’

And that’s actually a hanging basket of flowers there in the corner, but it’s filling the lemon plant’s empty spot until it comes back again.

Did I tell you what happened with the lemon plant? I don’t think I did! Well, it went to winter at my parent’s house and, long story short, it’s dying now. Or trying to, anyway. It got these big, shiny, unsettling leaves on it and the man at the garden shop said ‘Oh, that’s what they do right before they die,’ but reports from my mom are that it suddenly has a few new regular leaves now. So it’s lingering.

But we’re going to buy a new one once the shop gets them in and then I’ll hang up that hanging basket…

The bees were out while I was planting these with my mom and they really are bizarre. It’s like they hover around going ‘Whatcha doin’?’ ‘Whatcha lookin’ at?’ ‘Can I see?’ It is very odd behavior for a bee, I feel. But there you have it So…

Do your worst, squirrel and three bees!