Saturday, November 29, 2008

Daring Bakers: CAKE!!!

This month's Daring Bakers challenge was a caramel cake. So Jen and I (mostly her) decided to make a night of it. An afternoon of baking and a night with friends to eat it. Sounds great, don't it?

Like last time, we're going to do a tandem blog with Jennifer in italics. I'll start, but I'm going to start by telling to story of cake in animated .gif rather than words. I'll add some words later and let Jen take it from there...

I may have had a lot of fun with this image documentation from ingredients to cake.


My favorite part was the Macgyver action I had to do in our baking. First thing's first: Jen's mixer didn't so much work when we plugged it in, so it took a lot of arm strength and about 4 or 5 different mixing tools, from forks to spoons to hand-beaters to silicone spatulas...but that was just the start of it. Having nothing to strain the browned butter (Jen's colander had very large wholes), I took a piece of foil and put it in and poked it. It worked surprisingly well! Also with the butter: I didn't want to wait for it to cool, so I made a cold-water bath in order to cool it quickly so we could get to the cake.

There were a few other moments like that, but those are the two that stick out.

Anyway, Jen, take it away! (again, Jen is italic, I am normal.)

I was very worried about making this cake and recipe work. I thought we might screw up the caramel sauce-- don't ask me how, but if there's anyone who can screw up a concoction of sugar and water, it'd be me. I always get apprehensive when in the kitchen. Printed, the recipe was six pages!

I had confidence that we could do it, I just didn't have confidence that I could do it without burning myself. I ducked down below the stove when I poured in the water to avoid burning.

For prep for this month's challenge, I knew we'd need round cake pans, a thermometer, and a sifter. Bought the first two, didn't have time to grab the sifter. Thanks to Rhea and her sifter, our team of two turned into a trio. Also thinking ahead, because this cake was unlike our last challenge (crackers), it seemed like a prime opportunity to throw a social night. And thus, "Cake and Cocktails" was born. While buying more sugar, I also bought $50 of mixers from Pathmark-- cranberry juice, grenadine, seltzer, tonic water, etc.

You know what happened when we were actually baking. Had to go get more confectioner's sugar, the hand mixer broke... I think that was the only real surprise. Mixing entirely by hand is a pain! (And how is it that my mom's hand mixer still works after twenty years and mine breaks after one or two?)

Because she probably didn't buy her's for $5...and pain? I was VERY sore the next day! I did the bulk of the mixing, though Jen certainly took over when I got fatigued...and then I went back to doing it once rested...and so on and so forth.

It's interesting that for a "Cake and Cocktails" night, most people went for the cake and asked for milk. (I think it's safe to say we had a success on our hands.) Heck, instead of sitting in the living room, we moved chairs into the kitchen to sit closer to the cake. I still have caramel sauce in my fridge, and leftover heavy cream. Last weekend, I used both to make a rather incredible ice cream sundae. Still wondering what else I can do with all the caramel. It's kind of a smoky wonderful flavor compared to the jarred caramel you find in stores.

There's always more ice cream!

If we have the time, I'd like to go back and make the caramel candies. (And also figure out how to make caramel decorations for the cake-- our experiments w/ the sauce were more of a mess than anything else. The cake looked decent, but it could have looked amazing if only the caramel would hold shape!)

And there you have it!

Until next month!

Friday, November 28, 2008


I'm home for a few days for Thanksgiving. It's less painful than usual, yet there have still beem a few awkward moments.

Some, shall we say, flashbacks. Nothing more than a moment or two, but flashbacks to Thanksgivings past and trips home of yesteryear.

Some good moments, some bad. All just flashes.

These moments make me realize that, while I'm more comfortable coming back here than ever before, it is also less home than ever. Perhaps that's why I'm more comfortable here -- I've managed to make it into a place I just go and not a home I should feel emotional connection to.

I mean, I, of course, feel emotional connection. This is my past. This is my childhood. And more importantly, this is the now of a majority of my family. I've gotten over hating here for me and replaced it with liking here for them.

I'm still not ready to even consider living here again, so I'm going to update my resume and start sending it out, but that's neither here nor there.

And I guess, in a weird way, so am I.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Mirrored Existence

I was in the Union Square subway station today and someone was walking around with a mirror.

I was fascinated by this. I mean, when we think of mirrors, it's in our bedrooms, our bathrooms -- perhaps even the all-glass office building we walk by to get to work -- but not in a subway station.

I couldn't stop following this person around. I wanted to see what everyone else sees of me when I'm out in public. I wanted to have an out-of-body public-place experience.

But most of all, I wanted to see if anyone else noticed. I wondered if I was the only person who saw this place-based anachronism (is there a word for that?) -- as an opportunity, as I did, or even merely noticed it.

It almost makes me want to get a mirror and just stand on a street corner and see what happens.

Maybe when it gets warmer...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Brown Shoes

My "About Me" section is quite simple: I'm a pair of brown shoes stuck in a world of tuxedos.

I stole this from a Johnny Carson clip of George Gobel, a not-exactly funny comedian. He, of course, was making a joke, but I took it for myself in a serious way.

I love the image of me as a pair of brown shoes looking for my non-black-tie event.

At the worst of times, this is the story of me not fitting in wherever I go. At the best of times, it's me being myself wherever I go. They are two sides of the same coin, but a very different feeling.

The first is isolated and lonely: We call that Tuesday Night (when I can stay up a little later than the rest of the week and have time to reflect, which is always scary...). It's the feeling I have had in the social past of my camp days: too young to hang with the older crowd, too old-acting to hang with the younger crowd. It's the feeling I've had in certain employment situations when I'm not quite staff and not quite student, so I fall in between. It's the feeling I get at parties where I don't know anybody or at restaurants when I'm the only singe one -- and sometimes it's the feeling I get walking through the park with the gittery inability to keep one song playing on my MP3 player for more than 18 seconds.

The second is that liberating time when I feel free and liberated from the world around me. It's those moments when I pull out my earbuds and dance to the music in my head, twirling in the rain. It's the times when I sit in a park or a coffee shop or a book store with my pad of paper, pen, and words flow from my brain to my pad so quickly I don't know if my brain or my hand is doing the thinking. It's those moments when I'm in front of a band, conducting my music, controlling the fate of the instantaneous creation that comes with live performance. It's the feeling of versatility -- brown shoes can be casual or dressy, depending on what they're going with -- while those around me are stuck in one setting -- a tuxedo never sends a mixed signal and cannot be shifted from venue to venue with the mere change shirt.

Good with the bad, I'll take my chances in life as a pair of brown shoes.

Especially the ones that are slightly warn, snug, and nearly as comfortable as bare feet.

And now, the clip of the Carson show, which may completely ruin everything I've stated above...but then again, the metaphor of a pair of brown shoes is, in fact, a pair of brown shoes: good for many meanings and contexts.

Here's the comedic one:

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


It seems I'm happiest when I'm sitting at a near 90-degree angle with my fingers sitting on keys. That is to say: typing (writing this, poetry (for which I have a newly rediscovered love/hate relationship with thanks to my poetry class), short stories, emails to friends, cover letters, resumes, scripts for radio segments...) and playing piano.

The funny thing is my fingers work in completely different ways in those two settings.

I type 100 words a minute, (90 on a day when I'm a little slow or my left hand is faster than my right, which happens once a week or so, and closer to 110 on a good day...and, incidentally, later at night. like right now, I'm typing closer to a 105-WPM pace. It could also be this new keyboard which sits very comfortably, though I would prefer a chair about 2 inches higher) which is faster than most everyone I know and has gained me the title of "Captain Transcription" at work for my ability to transcribe interviews at a pace of 2.5-3x real-time, which may not sound fast, but actually is.

Playing piano, I can play lines at around 100-120 BPM which is, well, slow by comparison to those around me. I have no chops. This confused my boss at work when I told him this. ("I can only imagine how you play piano with the speed of those fingers!" "Y'know Monk?" "Yeah..." "Imagine that, but more inside, more clusters, fewer lines, more silence, and slower whole-tone scales.")

Of course, you could argue that I get about the same keystrokes per minute with the two since I'm rarely hitting more than one key at a time at the computer (only exception to the one-at-a-time is the shift key) and am rarely hitting fewer than 3 notes at a time (and I've certainly done 10 or more...) on the piano.

And yet, I feel both incredibly self-confident and terribly inadequate at both. (I'm the rare over-confident, dare I say cocky, completely self-conscious self-hating artist. I'm simultaneously a gift to the world and a black hole sucking up the energy of those around me making all space around me devoid of value. Yeah; it doesn't make much sense to me, either.)

I'm like the shy stripper who says 'look at me' and 'look away' at the same time...

And I really need to work on my metaphors. (For those of you who are about to say 'but you used 'like', it's a simile!' similes are a kind of metaphor...)

I think where I meant to go with this is that I like to create. And as much as I like creating for those around me to enjoy, I enjoy creation for the sake of creation itself and for the journey I go on. The collection of journal entries and short stories that I have never shared with anyone is vast -- and at times, depressing -- but they weren't made for sharing, they were made for transforming.

And the improvisation sessions I've had at a piano when nobody else is home number in the weeks, not days or hours, and I always feel incredible after it's over and wish I could reproduce it when people are around -- or even when I have a tape-recorder on.

Yet if art were created only so it could be reproduced identically, then oral culture would not exist. Story-telling, fables, history, jazz, folk music, folk tales, and religion, would merely be figments of our imagination and memories of a distant past.

I guess with that in mind is how entries like this happen -- entires whose start and finish is connected through a thin thread that barely holds together, yet because it happened in real-time, one right after the other, it stays -- no editing, like the spoken word. Once it's out there, you can't go back and retrace your steps and make a new transition and a line of thought that makes sense.

Instead, you're stuck with this.

Circular art with the intent to transform -- yet it's left me right back where I started.

I guess I better quit while I'm only slightly behind...

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Final Semester

Next semester is my final semester. So why, on November 1, am I writing about it when it is November 1 -- seven weeks to go in THIS semester?

I register on Monday. That, of course, means that I've had a mock-up of the schedule I'll likely have since Tuesday.

It's kind of scary and weird. Next semester, I'm going to have at most two classes on campus, with a very real possibility of none. Quite simply: That whole "it's a full-time job to find a full-time job" crap? I, unfortunately, have the time to make that my full-time job.

I'm scared of unemployment. I'm scared of debt. But more than anything, I'm scared that I'll have to leave New York City before I'm ready.

I know it's a city not for everyone, but all I need is a weekend away to fall in love with it again.

(Now why can't I find a women I feel like that about?)

So yeah -- that's it for now.

Later in the week, I'll share some of my adventures from collecting materials for my podcast.