I’ve been meaning to make this cake for ages…

…because it is one of the few recipes I’ve come across that uses cocoa powder rather than actual chocolate and it is much easier to substitute carob powder for cocoa powder than it is for chocolate. (This is how long I’ve been meaning to make this cake – since before the continuing chocolate experiment.) But for some reason (probably because it yields an entire sheet cake), I’d kept putting it off and putting it off and forgotten entirely about it.

But I’ve recently had some extra time on my hands and used a lot of it to basically read the entirety of Pioneer Woman‘s posting history and stumbled across the familiar, yet untried, recipe for Texas sheet cake. It looked very easy and I had all the ingredients in my pantry, so I figured I would finally stop procrastinating and make it.

That is the sad remaining piece of this yummy, yummy cake (Again, apologies for the blurry photo – I got my lights back, but have managed to misplace the cord to connect my camera to my computer, so Edward has had to step up and do his best). I think I ate about a third of it myself before I finally said “Okay, I have to start sharing this or I will actually eat an entire sheet pan of cake all by myself. And I really shouldn’t do that, no matter how easy it would be.” It got rave reviews (even though it used carob powder rather than cocoa powder) from everybody – especially the frosting/icing which is sweet without being rich (despite having two sticks of butter in it – I also left out the pecans [surprise, surprise]).

So I highly recommend this recipe – it really is the best Texas sheet cake recipe (not that I would know, never having had any before, but I believe her). Just be sure you have lots of friends to share it with!

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Nonfiction: Autobiography

American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot by Craig Ferguson

I never knew much about Craig Ferguson – I liked him well enough on The Drew Carey Show and every now and then someone would link to an episode of his show which I would watch – usually because he was interviewing someone I was interested in. But I found myself becoming intrigued by Craig instead. His show is on far too late for me to watch, though I sincerely wish I could get by on less sleep so I could stay up for it. Then somebody posted a review of his autobiography, recommending it as a good read.

Helpless to resist, I immediately went to the bookshop. But then I thought “Wait a minute. You know what would be better? Having the silver fox himself read it to me.” Instead of kidnapping Craig Ferguson, though, I did the next best thing. I bought the audiobook!

Now I think I’ve mentioned on here that I do sometimes have trouble with audiobooks. I love my Jerome K. Jerome audiobooks (particularly the one read by Hugh Laurie – shame that it’s edited – and the one read by some guy that I don’t know but features Charles Hubert Hastings Parry’s [whose parents were a bit greedy in the name department I feel] “Frolic” but I will even listen to the one read by Marvin Jarvis even though he makes J and George and Harris sound very snooty and superior with one another and not at all how they do in my head [which is usually the main problem I have with audiobooks in general]) and my Harry Potter ones (don’t make me choose between Jim Dale and Stephen Fry, I just can’t!) and Jon Stewart’s America the Audiobook always makes me laugh. But there are others that I’m not so fond of – The Know-It-All whose author/reader, A.J. Jacobs, who sounds super-scripted which, yes, I know he is, but the others don’t make it sound that way and A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson who has the most passive voice ever (I love you, Bill, but I can’t listen to you!). But also I find them hard to pay attention to – reading is too much a visual activity for me, I guess, and if my eyes aren’t occupied in snatching up the words from the page for me (I know that’s a disturbing visual, but it’s the best way I can think of to describe it), I find myself drifting off and thinking about other things.

Fortunately, not so with Craig. Not only did I get to listen to his lovely, lovely Scottish accent for seven hours, it really felt like he was telling me his autobiography rather than reading it. But all of that could have not made up for poor writing. Not that it had to. On the contrary, his writing! Oh, his writing! He is thoughtful and articulate and thoughtful and funny and thoughtful and honest.

And thoughtful.

Now, I don’t mean thoughtful like kind or generous or whatever – I mean, I like to think that he is, but obviously I have no way of knowing. I mean thoughtful like he has obviously thought a lot about his life and the things that he’s done and the things that he is doing and why he did them and why he thought he was doing them at the time. I don’t know if this is a result of writing your autobiography or just his personality or even a habit he picked up during his time in rehab, but I really, really like it (and he comes across this way on his show, too, so I’m going with it’s just how he thinks). Because instead of just listing off the things that have made his life amazing (and it is – I find him amazing) and adventurous, he obviously is aware of just how lucky he is to have experienced not just life but his life in particular.

And his honesty! Again, I don’t actually know whether or not he’s being honest – the whole thing could be made up for all I know – but I think one of the reasons that I find his writing literally beautiful is that it is truthful (OMG, Keats was right!). I think he has an earnest way with words, whether he’s talking about growing up in Glasgow, his difficulties with drugs and alcohol, his attempts to find his niche, his relationships, or his decision to become an American citizen, I feel like he’s deliberately outlining his experiences and thoughts for the reader which creates a deep and trusting connection between himself and us.

My rating: A

I’m going to have to see if there’s an audiobook version of Stephen Fry’s autobiography, Moab Is My Washpot, because if there’s one thing that I think I might enjoy even more than listening to Craig Ferguson tell me about his life is Stephen Fry telling me about his.

Also, note to Eddie Izzard: I hope you’re working on your autobiography because you are in spot number 3 on this list.

I’m not usually with the random linky-linky…

…but this combines two men that I absolutely adore – Stephen Fry (who I have long admired) and Craig Ferguson (who is newly in my affections). Craig Ferguson is the host of the Late, Late Show on CBS and recently did an experiment with just interviewing one guest and having no audience. It sounds like a bit of a gimmick, but he has very thoughtful reasons for it that he outlines at the beginning of the show.

I think it went off very well – of course, that could be because they’re both such interesting and intelligent guys (honestly, I could listen to them talk – alone or to each other – for hours and hours).

Anyway, I think you should watch it.

A bit of redecorating…

I decided I was tired of the way my blog looked, so I decided to change things up a bit. Do you know how hard it is to figure out a visually interesting way to demonstrate the idea of a blank page?! A blank page is really a very boring thing! So that is Mary up there (I didn’t remember her taking up three notebooks – quite a feat considering I write very small, you know) underneath the blank page of what I’m trying to work on at the moment. Apologies for it being such a dark picture, but since I live in a cave here at Fascist Towers and my new, nifty photo-taking lights are out on loan at the moment, that’s all I have to offer.

I like it. Seems a bit cleaner around here now. What do you think?

“A Scandal in Bohemia” Or, Let the shipping wars begin!

“A Scandal in Bohemia” was first published in July of 1891 and takes place, according to Baring-Gould, between Friday, May 20 and Sunday, May 22 of 1887, despite the fact that Watson explicitly states it as being March 20 of 1888. What nerve, Baring-Gould! As his proof, and in spite of the fact that it is dusk when Watson and the disguised Holmes arrive at Briony Lodge at 6:50 pm which rings true to Watson’s March date, he claims that, were it March, this would mean that Irene and Norton were married during Lent, something that is frowned upon except in certain “emergencies, a subject upon which speculation is perilous” (BG, 363). Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. He also cites, surprise, surprise, the weather, stating that Watson must have gone on his walk on Thursday, May 19, 1887 because according to a weather report in the Times, that day the wind “had increased ‘to a gale in almost all parts of our island…The weather is fine in Sweden and Germany, but squally and unsettled elsewhere…Since yesterday morning, rain has fallen generally…Thunderstorms occurred…over the east of England. Temperature has fallen several degrees…'” (BG, 355) which would have resulted in Watson returning in the dreadful mess that Holmes notes.

This first short story contains Holmes’ memorable quote that he is “lost without his Boswell.” I think it’s interesting that Baring-Gould reads sarcasm here, saying that Holmes is “of course being sarcastic at Watson’s expense” citing Holmes’ complaint to Watson in “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches” that he has “degraded what should have been a course of lectures into a series of tales” (BG, 351) while Leslie, on the other hands, reads affection, choosing to contrast the two statements as unrelated (NA, 13). (Is that perhaps the longest sentence ever written? To also contain the most quotation marks?)

Someone is also a bit forgetful and refers to Mrs. Hudson as Mrs. Turner, leading to great speculation as to the identity of this story’s landlady. One theory, which Baring-Gould seems to subscribe to, is that this is a Mrs. Turner who happened to be filling in for an absent Mrs. Hudson and is in fact the Mrs. Turner who “met Jack the Ripper on the night of August 7, 1888 in front of George Yard Buildings, a group of squalid tenements just off High Street in Whitechapel” (BG, 361). My favorite belongs to Russell McLauchlin who posits that Mrs. Hudson was the landlady of Gloucester Place (only one street west of Baker Street) where Holmes and Watson actually resided and that the address on Baker Street, landladied by Mrs. Turner, was one of Holmes’ “accommodation addresses” (BG, 361).

Watson refers to Irene as the “late Irene Adler” which is often assumed to mean, not that she is dead at the time of Watson’s writing, but in the sense of Irene nee Adler. However, there is some speculation that Watson does actually mean dead and that the King of Bohemia had her murdered, using Holmes as an alibi (NA, 7). He goes on to support his idea by pointing out Holmes’ “apparent relish when he speaks of the late King of Bohemia” in “His Last Bow” (NA, 7). However, he does point out that at thirty-one, there is no real reason for Irene to have retired from the stage – instead, she should have been at the peak of her abilities – and suggests that this hints at a “long-standing complaint” that may have lead to an early, but natural, death (NA, 7).

Holmes’ complex infiltration of Irene’s household – making use of a crowd of people including a group of shabbily dressed men, two guardsmen, a nurse-girl, several well-dressed young men, a carriage and driver, and a lady passenger – leads Leslie to wonder at Holmes’ pool of accomplices (NA, 33). Baring-Gould returns to theories of Holmes’ past upon the stage, believing that “he may have recruited his troupe from persons known to him from his early days as an actor” (NA, 33). As much as I love actor!Holmes, I prefer Harald Curjel’s idea of a “‘grown-up wing’ of the Baker Street Irregulars, with Wiggins, the head of the Irregulars, acting as booking-agent” (NA, 33). I would totally join the grown-up Irregulars in a heartbeat!

Neither Baring-Gould nor Leslie make any mention of the supposed secret marriage theory (that Holmes and Irene were married instead of Irene and Norton) – and certainly nobody mentions Watson and Irene having any sort of relationship (because I was totally right – they never actually met; that Sherlockian was obviously on as much crack as Holmes was in The Sign of Four) – which surprised me because I know people like it (there’s a whole book about that). I guess neither Leslie nor Baring-Gould ship Holmes/Irene (well done, old chaps!).

There is, however, one theory so silly that I can’t not share it with you. Kenneth Lanza, in “Scandal in Bensonhurst,” makes “the whimsical suggestion that Irene had three sons: William Kramden (baptized Wilhelm von Kramm), the issue of the king of Bohemia; Edward Norton, the son of Godfrey Norton [Can you see where he’s going?]; and Nero Wolfe, Sherlock Holmes’ son.  Lanza goes on to speculate that the two eldest sons, “Willie” and Edward, each produced one son – Ralph Kramden and Edward Norton, Junior, half-cousins and stars of the television series The Honeymooners” (NA, 40). Honestly, my love for the Holmes fandom knows no bounds.

And now, a few miscellaneous thoughts [These are my thoughts. There aren’t many of them this week, I’m afraid…]:

  • Holmes Continental Gazetteer, which he picks up to debrief Watson about Bohemia’s particulars, leads him astray again. According to Leslie, “German Bohemians were actually then a minority; the balance of the population was Slavonic, speaking Czech.” (NA, 12) [Moriarty’s erroneous gazetteer strikes again! So far, he’s three for three!]
  • There is a theory that Irene’s Norton is actually none other than Colonel Moran, though Baring-Gould does not give any of Page Heldenbrand’s supporting evidence. [Irene is thus cast in a rather sinister light, imagining her married to Moriarty’s right-hand man!]
  • In response to Watson’s assertion that his marriage has led to his “complete happiness,” Leslie points out that his “conduct in this case, in which he spends two nights at Baker Street with no mention of communication with his wife is hardly consistent with his declaration of marital bliss” (NA, 7). [Oh, Watson regrets The Homewrecker already!]

I think I forgot to mention last week that “A Scandal in Bohemia” means that we’re in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, but if you hadn’t figured it out yet, we are. So pick up your copy of The Adventures again next week to discuss “The Red-Headed League.” (I have to say that the Holmes fandom easily has claim to the most confusing abbreviation system I’ve ever seen – it really is a puzzle to work some of them out! This was SCAN – we’ve already made our way through STUD [appropriately enough] and SIGN. Up next is REDH.)

*Most of my notes, I think, come from the New Annotated simply because I find its format easier to work through and it is, therefore, the version that I’m reading first (I’m only reading the notes in the Baring-Gould). Much of the information is doubled up, but there is some that is unique to either volume, so if you see NA, that’s the Baring-Gould edition and BG is the New Annotated. No, I’m totally kidding – it’s the other way (the logical way) round.

Re: Olympic figure skating

Two Three things:

  1. Why does all their music SUCK?! Seriously! In order to watch the figure skating without actually ripping my ears off of my head, I have to turn the sound down, put on my headphones, and pretend they’re skating to whatever I’m listening to (admittedly, anything sounds better when done to a soundtrack of Adam Lambert [and I’m only half-embarrassed to admit that because, although he was an American Idol contestant (which I most assuredly do not watch), he is actually made of awesome (and now I’m lost in a maze of parentheses and brackets, let’s see if I can close them accurately…)]). I think I got it right. ETA: Okay, to be fair, there is a guy skating to a song from the Amelie soundtrack (no, I lied, he is mixing Amelie with something painfully painful), but mostly I am SO OVER the face paint. NO MORE SAD CLOWNS, PLZKTHNXBAI! ETA2: OMG, a Phantom of the Opera medley?! What is this, 1992?! DO NOT WANT!
  2. WHY DOES NO ONE DO DELAYED AXELS ANYMORE?!?!?! This makes me SO FRUSTRATED! Honestly, I want someone to do a delayed quad (and since when does everybody do quads – I remember when Kurt Browning was attemping to do one and all the commentators were like ‘OH MY GOD, HE’S ATTEMPTING A QUAD!’ in the same tone of voice which would be appropriate for someone attempting to…okay, it’s late and I can’t actually think of something ridiculously, literally, awesomely amazing with which to compare figure skating so please to be inserting your own hyperbole here [yes, I make you work at my blog and, yes, I did have to just go look up the word hyperbole to make sure I’d used it correctly (I did)]) and blow everyone’s minds! (Again with the maze of asides – hope you kept up with me all right…) Now that would be awesome.
  3. Also, and this is not related to figure skating, why did they just hand Shaun White (who I adore) a cabbage on the podium? Okay, to be honest, it is not actually a cabbage, but it is a very sad victory bouquet which really does rather strongly resemble a cabbage. Perhaps cabbage bouquets are more manly? I don’t know.

It’s not all Holmes all the time around here, you know…

…just mostly Holmes most of the time. But this last weekend, I went to see a movie with my friend Liz from work. What did we see?

The Wolfman was…a little problematic. I think overall, we both had fun seeing it, but there were things that can only be described as, yeah, problematic. First of all, I can’t quite decide what this movie was trying to be. I felt like it was sort of aware of what it was doing, especially with the hyper-violence (there is a lot of disemboweling in this movie – A LOT) and kind of over-the-top atmosphere (more on that in a moment), but I’m not sure it knew that we knew that it knew what it was doing. Are you lost? Yeah, so am I. See? Problematic!

We could actually put our fingers on one problem – the pacing. There are three big set pieces of chasing and gore: 1) in the gypsy camp, 2) the rampage in London, and 3) the final showdown. But in between that – and with the film clocking in at only 1 hour and 42 minutes (rather short for a period horror/drama film, I thought) – things seem to fly past. Especially the interactions between Emily Blunt and Benicio del Toro (who is strangely appealing in this role – at least so long as he keeps his mouth shut!).

And just two silly things now. First, after his rampage in London, there is a moment where Wolfie takes refuge under a bridge near the Thames and creeps down to the river for a drink. My immediate thought was ‘Well, forget silver bullets, I think that should take care of things rather quickly for us.’ I mean, Victorian Thames water is probably the worst thing you could ever dream of drinking! But I suppose his wolf constitution is rather stronger than a man’s so perhaps he can be forgiven for surviving a bit longer.

Then, as he makes his way (SLOWLY!) back to the more suitably eerie moors of the beginning of the film, he and Emily Blunt basically make their separate ways through this painting:

Seriously. Indulge me for a moment and just stare at that picture for a while. Now imagine a man staggering through it. Now imagine a woman riding a horse through it. And now some staggering while a tree is being cut down (no, I’m not kidding – DO IT!). And maybe a little more staggering. All set? You have now experienced the third quarter of The Wolfman.

Even though it sounds like I’m pretty down on this movie it was pretty fun – Anthony Hopkins is suitably creepy, Emily Blunt suitably heroic, Hugo Weaving suitably cynical (but awesome), and Benicio del Toro (so long as he remains silent) suitably dashing and tragic.

My rating: Perfectly fun, but I wasn’t kidding about the disemboweling, so be sure your constitution is suitably sturdy (maybe practice by drinking out of the Thames first and see how you go).