Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Great Cupcake Debacle of '07

Fall seems to be officially here, with its siren song of crunching leaves and the "Do I need a sweater or don't I?" gamble (which you invariably lose, whichever way you decide. Utah's evil). I enjoy fall. It's nicer than spring in some ways, namely since it lasts slightly longer. I wouldn't be at all surprised to overhear voiced regrets that "I missed spring this year, I was in the shower." So with the onset of fall it means Baking!

I generally avoid baking in the summer where possible, since I don't have central air and am at the mercy of my swamp cooler--no point making the poor darling work twice as hard because it's too hot to eat pastry anyway. Better to save up those Martha Stewart urges for the time of year when you aren't sitting on the sofa with a popsicle under each armpit, and steaks behind your knees, trying to claim that you're simply defrosting them for dinner. No no; baking belongs to the nip in the air, the chill on the wind, the moment when you step out to fetch the milk from the milkbox on the porch and try to curse in six languages at once because you aren't wearing slippers and your feet have let you know that sometimes cold burns, it burns, dammit, and while you're trying to dance from foot to foot and juggle milk, cream, butter, and eggs, you lose your balance and smack down on all fours, which is when your robe sash loosens and you realize that once again you are exposing enough of a boob that you ought to be appearing on a heart-shaped stage and at least then you'd maybe get a couple of bucks for the flash instead of frostbitten hands and knees and some honks from the cars driving down 9th East.*

*The above-referenced situation is entirely hypothetical, since nobody is really that dumb, right? It is in the spirit of the purely hypothetical query, then, that I ask: Why the hell are you honking? Is it a honk of acknowledgement, hey, look at that lady in the Norma Desmond bathrobe exposing herself on this frosty chilly morning? Is it a honk of puns, because your passenger has just said I can actually see the "nip" in the air this morning? Is it a honk of appreciation, Hey, thanks for the boob shot, you've made my morning, lady? Is it perhaps a honk of information, Hey, lady, your boob is hanging out? Because believe me, I KNOW THAT. STOP HONKING. It doesn't help my--er, the hypothetical situation at all, especially if I also realize that in hypothetically struggling to my feet I have also revealed my hypothetical lack of underpinnings and only my incredibly poor reflexes prevent me from hurling a pound of butter after your stupid honking honkey self. Hypothetically.**

**Also, when recounting this Mensa-level hypothetical query, no matter how hard he laughs, it is NOT funny when my brother refers to it as "Hypopathetical."

ANYWAY, in a veritable baking frenzy I have been tackling...the Mighty Cupcake. This requires a little explanation; I'm not really a cake person. I don't eat a lot of them, since they tend to be sickly-sweet, and shortening frosting kind of makes me queasy. I also don't bake cakes well. There are exactly two cakes that I consider myself to have mastered, and both of them are dense, substantial cakes. With booze. Even when you go wrong, a rum cake is still pretty damn fine, and for some reason the chocolate stout cake has never turned on me even once. They are short, stocky cakes, like their maker, and it is good. The cupcake, however, is uncharted territory.

Unfortunately, the blog sites I visit most with something akin to religious fervor are all...well, food sites. I'm a shallow person. I know that. But the magic, the mystery of is very nearly my great undoing as far as suddenly realizing that cupcakes aren't evil little sugar bombs (second only to snack cakes, which Rachel-who-rolls eats with delight and fervor. I still remember the day she convinced me to eat one. Even the mention of them reminds me of a paraffin-coated tongue). They are breathtakingly gorgeous, with flavor combinations that could make a grown man cry like a girl, if the grown man was a lot like me and probably wouldn't cry except that he skinned his knees only that morning from an unfortunate frozen porch incident.

I've been tackling the basic chocolate cupcake recipe, figuring that chocolate is the food of the gods anyway and most variations on chocolate are the ones I'd want to make and eat. It's a simple, straightforward recipe.

I can't get it to work.

I don't know what I do. I scrupulously follow the directions, I create the delectable batter, I fill the cupcake papers, I put them in the oven, and then they perform their act of betrayal. They puff and then fall, I have a dozen little mini-souffles giving me the hairy eyeball. I tried it twice, figuring maybe the first time I'd forgotten something important. No go. I Got Angry and Did Research. The Cupcake Mistress lives in San Francisco, obviously a much different altitude than Ye Aulde Zion; so it would require some adjustment. Did you know that everyone says something different about how to adjust for altitude in baking? You should add more flour. You should add less flour and increase liquid. You should add another egg, so the protein will help the delicate dainty cake withstand the lack of air pressure. You should decrease the leavening agent. You should bake it at a different temperature, and for different times. No shrinking violet I, I have decided to use the Scientific Method to figure out what will actually work.

The first step was to print out the recipe, distribute it to coworkers, and tell them if they didn't try this recipe to see if it worked for them they would be fired. Following that gross misuse of supervisor power, I retired to my house this weekend to continue the Great Experiment.

Adding more flour didn't work.

Reducing the leavening agent failed to produce results.

On the roster for today: Adding MORE flour AND less leavening agent. Then when that fails, making the recipe exactly as called for, but adding another egg.

In a fit of pique, though, I did make an apricot couronne (go here for the recipe: It was fantastic, and I may have to make another one to take in to work (ostensibly to apologize for my high-handed cupcake autocracism [is that a word?], but we all know I'm not really sorry). Also, James the Archaeologist has gotten me thinking about an apple-curry pie...initially I was toying with mixing curry in with the apples and baking, but another thought was making a sweet curry ice cream and serving the pie with that instead of vanilla. So many options, so little time.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Days of Swine and Hoses

There are pork chops marinating in my fridge. Delicious, healthily pink, succulently nestled into their sea of rosemary-mustardy-garlicky-goodness, pork chops. They have been a meal in the making for two days, counting defrosting and marinating time. They are beautiful. They are good for me. They're right there, just waiting to be pan seared and baked.

I'm not gonna eat 'em and you can't make me.

It's one of those weeks that begin with a bang and end with a whimper, usually yours, because a whimper is all you can manage after the thousand natural shocks which flesh is heir to have finally wound down (I think it's a Taser). It's one of those weeks where had been smart I would have followed my initial instincts and hunkered down under the duvet, armed with trashy fiction and a beer hat filled with Bavarian cream filling from donuts on one side and Diet Coke on the other. I should have taken the time to ponder; I might have finally gotten started on that comprehensive list of my superpowers (does being really, really crabby count? Like, if it's uber-crabby, and so uber that there is even an umlaut over both the u and the a?).

But no. I ignored all of those baser instincts and emerged from my cocoon, reasoning that sloths don't have cocoons and so neither should I. I sallied forth into the world ready to meet the universe; but the universe had been training while I was still trying to find that other goddam black peep toe pump, and the universe kneed me in the soft bits and then rabbit-punched me in the kidneys while I was still bent over holding myself and muttering "No, really, that's okay, I'm sure it was an accident."

Stupid universe.

And it's only Wednesday. It's Wednesday, and I have already suffered the equivalent of an emotional bastinado, performed with rubber hoses to Elton John's Greatest Hits. And for no reason whatsoever; but they are all against me. I can feel it. It's a hundred degrees out there, this afternoon as I realized that while I could answer yet another question about procedure what I really wanted to do was staple something to my coworker's face, and I'm wearing a pair of pants that are of the "Well, they weren't this tight last year but the hell with it" variety. (Don't judge. At least I'm wearing pants.) I could go for a pound of bacon, but then the house and my hair would smell of bacon, and I am Not Emotionally Equipped to deal with that. I could read a book, but I don't want to. I could take a bath, but it's just not worth the effort. And then I'd have to put on pants again. I could knit, which I probably ought to do, but again a sulky malaise has crept over me. I have tired of licking the salt and vinegar off the potato chips and then discarding the used and slightly soggy remaining chip. If I were four I'd probably need to be spanked and set down for a nap.

What brought it on? What? How is it that you can have the work mojo flowing, a good hair day, throw on a pair of jeans and find that you don't muffin top out of them, and in a matter of days have it all be ashes, ashes? Why can I cheerfully, sweetly answer every question put to me at work and the next day discover that they are asshats to a man? How can I take offense at a pork chop because I'm pretty sure it was giving me the stinkeye, and bitterly crunch my way through breakfast cereal served directly from the box, because that will effing show them all? How can I realize almost twelve hours before the event that I would rather be anally probed by a rabid monkey on steroids than have to suffer through another workday surrounded by suckholes who don't realize that I deserve chocolate, new shoes, a pound of bacon, decent hair, a massage, and a nap, as well as absolutely anything else I could possibly want at a moment's notice, with the right to not have to want it after I get it? How can I so easily abandon my mantra in trying to recognize my limitations ("I can't kill everyone") to the earlier and yet far more satisfying "I WILL KILL ALL OF YOU!!!!!"
I could do it, too. Maybe I'm not a planner, but I have a basement full of crap and parents who live in rural Nevada. Just try me, buddy. Just try and see! You'll be getting a beating with a rubber hose all your own, and I'll wear earplugs and YOU will have to listen to the whistle of the hose and the whine of knowing that you're getting beaten by a Tiny Dancer, indeed. Yeah, THAT'S RIGHT.

And just when I have worked myself into primal, feral, monkey-screech levels of rage, I suddenly do some mental calculations, and realize that it will be okay soon. No, really. Maybe every single person I know in the entire world isn't an asshat. I am just in the grip of that deadly superpower, the PMS Avenger. Hunker down, pray for daylight, and this too shall end.

Not before I spend a week killing off a kidney jacked up on ibuprofen and aleve...but it will end.

Stupid, stupid universe.

I'm still not eating those pork chops.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Don't ask me how I'm doin'...

Sometimes moments come together and are as close to perfect as you could make them without actually getting anything that you wish or that would make you really happy.

Ryan Adams concert tonight. Perfect weather, great sound, fantastic friends, the kind of night that makes you wish you were a musician yourself so that you could participate. One of my friends couldn't make it although we had planned this for quite a while, and I felt bad for him; life so often is fraught with the agony of "I Couldn't" or "It's Beyond My Control," when the truth is we make our decisions on who we are and how we respond to others. As my mom so often told me, you can't control how others behave, all you can do is control how you react to it. And so tonight was...well, not an epiphany, but a confirmation, I suppose. Our lives may not be what we wish them to be, perhaps our jobs aren't as fulfilling as we might hope, our knitting may have caused us to cry and throw the needles across the room on Sunday after dropping a stitch and you're going to have to start that effing thing over again for the fifth time, maybe our lives still don't contain that special person that you wanted to be there, but so long as you are able to find joy where you can, it can still be a pretty good world. Not great, mind, but pretty good--which were the words of anonther friend whom I ran into, as he summed up the concert.

I ate my ham and cheese and sugar-cookie takeout from the Paradise Cafe and simply appreciated the fact that I got to be there. I suppose it could always be a lot worse.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

I'm Your Man (Eater)

Being one of those Netflix type people, I recently received a copy of the long-awaited Leonard Cohen's "I'm Your Man" documentary. I don't know how you could make the music of Leonard Cohen boring, Bono a pompous ass, and yet Rufus Wainwright still sucked (that much we know to be true), but this thing managed to do all of that and so much more. Not one interesting thing was told to me about Leonard's life; I did, however, get to listen to the caterwauling of a bunch of Snow Monkeys (Canadians?) performing what they purported to be Leonard Cohen songs.

Now, the average person is going to argue that Leonard is no kind of a singer, and this I might grant you, personal taste being what it is. But these people...these...suckholes of talent, if you will, took an admittedly simple tune and made it completely execrable. If Morrissey got really, really, really drunk and had a night of wild passion with Herb Alpert and his entire Tijuana Brass, with vocals dubbed by that old lady from church choir whose vibrato is only matched by her wattle, then maybe it could communicate just a part of what kind of feculent ear-raping was going on. Even Nick Cave looked like he didn't want to be there. I didn't blame him. I didn't want to be there, either, and it was just the first performance in.

So I was mad, and I sulked, for I had long awaited the coming of this documentary. I even watched the trailers for other shows--U.S. vs. John Lennon I've seen and it was great, but then they had this one about the Bear Guy, and that set me off all over again.

The Bear Guy is some shmuck who spent his life crawling around with the bears and talking to them like he was potty training them, as near as I can tell. I simply don't understand these people. They swim with sharks, and talk about how "amazing" it is. They insist on rubbing up with dangerous creatures for the sake of the thrill, or the beauty of being "as one" with them, or whatever. Being as one with a shark? Yeah, right. They are animals, they are fish, they are predators. Basically what you're doing is desensitizing these animals' fear of humans and are showing them that they could probably eat you.

And the Bear Guy got eaten. Quelle surprise. I always wonder, do you really think you're fooling the animals? "Oh, the wolves have clearly accepted me as one with their pack." I always picture it going like this:

(Early morning. The bears get up. One bear nudges another.)

"Hey, there's that asshole that thinks he's a bear. Let's eat him."

And there is the one mellow bear who responds with "Aw, c'mon, guys, he's not hurting anything. Just leave him alone."

One morning, though, they get up and the bears look around and nudge each other.

"Hey, there's that asshole that thinks he's a bear. Let's eat him."

And they look around, but that philanthropic bear has stepped out to check the fastenings on his panty girdle, and since there is no objection, they eat the asshole that thinks he's a bear.

End of story.

I'm just sayin'.

Friday, July 6, 2007

The Shat sings Common People

Probably one of the most satisfying things in the entire world.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The man who would be exploited

So my friend Jeff has been working on a series of paintings of princesses from fairy tales. One of my favorite things about him is that he doesn't go for the highly sanitized, ever-so-Disneyized versions of the stories (not that there's anything wrong with Disney, mind, it's part of my childhood and that was before we saw the Return of Jafar III straight-to-video fodder. Those were the Good Old Days, my friend, yes indeedy). Not for nothing is he a Bad Man, not one to shy away from a less savory and more accurate retelling of the story. This one is The Little Mermaid.

I always loved this story; I find tragedies to be my masochistic fascination. Why the hell didn't she write it down and tell the prince what was going on? I always wondered. If it were ME, I certainly wouldn't smile and let myself be martyred. I'd TELL him how I felt. If he was gonna marry that princess anyway, then at least I'd know and wouldn't feel so bad about stabbing him through the heart. At least the issues would be clear and nobody would be left saying "Gosh, if only..."
I don't think I'm genetically coded for martyrdom. Silent Suffering is Not A Strong Suit for the women in my family. This is probably an upbringing issue, since my mother was of the opinion that effective communication was the key to parenting. When she was mad, we knew exactly what kind of dilholes we had been, and why, and what she thought of us. The neighbors knew, too. As a drama teacher, she had excellent projection.

This need to tell people things is also probably the reason why I will not be a heroine in a classic novel anytime soon, either. When Newland Archer stopped by for an evening, I'd probably look at him and say "So...what are you trying to do, here?" Jane Austen's protagonists faint and suffer and cry; at no point does one of them, upon seeing the man of her dreams who has broken her heart at a party, say "What the hell is WRONG with you?!" And it is absolutely guaranteed that nowhere in any of Hesse's canon of works will you find someone yelling "You want to know what I think? YOU REALLY WANT TO KNOW?! WELL, I'LL TELL YOU EXACTLY HOW I FEEL..." Subtlety is a lost art on me, I'm afraid. As is tragedy.

So life can suck, accidents can happen, but rest assured if I'm stabbing a prince through the heart to let his blood fall on my feet to turn me back into a mermaid, it's not because I didn't do my best to communicate with him.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Reflections on a midsummer holiday

Another day, another holiday, only this time without adventure. July 4th has never been a personal favorite; I like fireworks, but I hate crowds. My tradition is generally to celebrate the day by staying inside and not watching parades or attending festivals. Then I watch "The Sandlot", because it is cheesy and straightforward and also the closest thing to a baseball game I ever wish to approach, and when the fireworks start I go stand in the street and watch the tops of the trees for the colored glimmering. Sure, it may sound a little isolated...perhaps a titch boring...maybe a trifle sad, and did we hear someone voicing a "pathetic" way back there on aisle six?

Well, as Surly is constantly heard to mutter, "Better alone and pathetic than in a crowd and pathological." There is nothing to strike cranky irritation into the heart of a curmudgeon quite like the thought of the Asshat Brigade forming ranks and having a street fair. Add to that the magic of being out at all in the Evil Daystar with its melanoma-producing rays scorching ala-effing-baster, not slugbelly white, you ahole, skin and, well, let's instead choose to ponder something pleasant, like the time I shut my nose in a car door.

Anyway, it's a midweek holiday and since I am picking my parents up from the airport in the afternoon, not a chance of going anywhere and doing anything. Since I spent last weekend in Idaho Falls, which is kind of like not going anywhere and doing anything only doing it three hours from home, I don't mind so much. Besides, I'm just not emotionally equipped yet for a big trip. Things happen. Prime example from the San Fran trip diary:

2:20 p.m., Wells, Nevada: Opinions given regarding Nevada and its general appearance and appeal to the world at large (nil). I attempt to defend the state by and large, but am voted down despite a heartwarming marketing idea for a line of t-shirts that read "Nevada: it may be a hole, but it's my hole."

8:21 p.m., BART Station by the Orpheum: Am accosted by a transsexual sporting a turban, bared breast, and eleven o'clock shadow who wants four quarters for a dollar and then to read my palm. When I desist s/he fixes me with a stare not seen outside of The Exorcism of Emily Rose and, just as the snot begins to pour from nose to chin, informs me in Highly Colorful and Extremely Graphic phrasing that Satan is going to rape me and I need to get the devil out of my bed.

11:43 p.m., Drake Hotel: The devil in my bed is, apparently, the box of crackers I was eating and just knocked over. No good will come of this.

I'm just sayin'. Sometimes it's just better to shut the door, turn on the movie, and wait for the sulfuric pop of patriotic brouhaha to begin without you.