Thursday, December 3, 2009

Cassiopeia the Queen


c. July 4, 2000 - December 3, 2009

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

śavāsana

You might not think that there was much to playing dead. There really is. I do think it's funny that lying like a corpse has a specific technique and position involved. The feet need to be a bit apart, the hands turned palms-up, the eyes closed, the breathing shallow and relaxed.

I feel myself sinking, as though into the soil beneath the green tree that decorates my yoga mat. The roots brush my face as gently as a mother strokes her baby's cheek. It is cool and dark. There is nowhere to go, and all the time there is to get there. I sink deeper, feeling in my flesh, in my bones, the destiny of all flesh and all bones: to sink, to dissolve, to begin again.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Cassie update and my new project

Cassie is holding her own. She's not eating as much as usual, and she's been very affectionate; never much of a lap kitty, she seems to always want to be near us. We don't think she is experiencing pain, but she must be nauseated. We are giving her medicine to help settle her stomach. She has another appointment in three weeks, unless she gets worse.

I saw my brother today for the first time in about a month. I love that kid with all my heart. He's still finding himself and his place in the world (and trying to find a job, poor kid). I felt inspired to create a plan for a cute home on wheels for him; built on a flatbed trailer, it could be really cute like the ones at Tumbleweed Houses. I really want to build something like this, and have for a long time. Maybe now I'll get my chance -- better check the salvage ads.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cassiopeia

My cat, Cassie, has lymphoma.

I can't stop crying.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Real Hiatus This Time

Due to increased volume at work, I hardly leave my desk. Because my work involves the use of a computer, I have sustained an injury to my shoulder, which means that I have to limit my computer time to my job. I had a massage yesterday which seems to have helped, but until I'm healed, I think it's best if I don't spend much time at the computer. See you when I'm all better!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Beauty: In Their Own Words

Maybe it's that I'm sugared out from our morning party (o, the chocolate-chili cookies!), but I thought I'd use this SGED Friday to share some words of body-love wisdom, along with links to galleries at The Judgment of Paris where you can see more of these beautiful women. And beautiful they are, inside and out.

"I’ll never forget seeing my fifth-grade photographs, taken at the beginning of the school year. I had just started developing. Just a little, and at the same time just enough to start feeling awkward about my body. I remember looking at the other kids’ pictures and comparing myself to them. God, I thought as I looked down at my reflection, I don’t like the way I look.
"Years later, on a sun-kissed beach in the Bahamas, I felt the same way as the day I saw those photos. I was with Michele [Weston] that day and I was being photographed for a summer issue of MODE. The only thing I had to wear was a swimsuit and a smile. I turned to her as the photographer had finished setting up his equipment, and I said, 'I just don't deserve to be here.' Michele took me over to a full-length mirror and replied, 'Barbara Brickner, you look at yourself. What makes you think you don’t deserve to be what all of us see in you?' I didn’t have an answer, for I could only see the reflection of a girl posing for her school picture. She continued: 'You’re here because we see the beauty in you. Not just the curves, the beautiful body, or the beautiful face, but it’s what comes out of you.' I was awakened."

Barbara Brickner
Barbara Brickner: An Encomium


"When I was thinner, I wasn’t comfortable with my body. Now, I like myself, tummy and all. The problem isn’t with me; it’s with others. When you’re full figured, people treat you like a failure. Even when I was a size 10, they thought I should do more to lose weight, not realizing how much I was doing. There’s so much pressure to be a small size in this society, even if it’s not natural or healthy for you. People should understand that when you’re healthy, it doesn’t matter what size you are."

Shannon Marie
Shannon Marie: Fairest of Them All


"As for maintaining such positive body image, well, I read a lot of books on the subject. As a plus model it's always been something that has come up...meaning the positive influence we are able to set for women. So it's good for me to be well read, right? And the bottom line is, I know I'm worthy and deserving of the very best in life, as we all are. This includes the choice to Love myself completely and totally as I am, exactly as I am. All you have to do is be willing to learn to Love yourself and the door has been opened. I remember recently sitting on the couch with my sister Jen. We had just had a lovely dinner, and my stomach was feeling it! So I looked down at my protruding belly full of good food, and gave it a rub and said, 'I Love you, stomach.' We both laughed of course. It was funny and sweet and true."

Valerie Lefkowitz
Valerie Lefkowitz: An Homage
I Love how Valerie capitalized "Love." Now I'm doing it, too! - MB


How are you loving yourself today? I am wearing one of my favorite dresses. Later, I'll be playing mermaid in the pool and lying quiescent in the sauna afterwards.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Turkish Delight

There was no post last Friday because I took the last part of the day to prepare for and attend a concert by Peter Murphy, one of my all-time favorite musicians. He is one of the most compelling performers out there, a charismatic, limber frontman in the tradition of David Bowie and Iggy Pop, with a resonant, powerful baritone and a mystical bent that manifests itself in his lyrics.


I've been a fan of Peter's since I was about fourteen, when 88.7FM (CIMX) began its switch from adult contemporary to New Wave and alternative. I didn't always know what his lyrics meant, but I loved the mysterious, fanciful imagery ("The djinn men smash the ark/Four guides afloat, four dots of God"). And of course, I loved his strange, rich voice; singing along, I reached for those low notes until my throat was sore. Someday, I hope to tell him about all the little babies I've sung to sleep with snatches from "Huuvola," a lovely song he wrote for his own children. As most couples have a "song," our song is "I'll Fall With Your Knife;" it was our first (and only!) dance together at our wedding (my husband's not much for dancing).

I was lucky enough to meet Peter in 2000; he clasped my hand and said, "How are you, darling?" in response to my nervous "Hi, Peter." At another show on that same tour (I told you he's one of my all-time favorites), he autographed my copy of Coleman Barks' The Essential Rumi, after I handed it to a new friend, who handed it through a van window to Peter. He inscribed the book "To Moe," my nickname (usually minus the "e"), because that's the only name my new friend knew me by. This book is one of my treasures, and I nearly wept with relief when I found it intact after the fire that destroyed my apartment building several years ago. On the flyleaf, in blue ink now slightly smudged by water damage from that awful night, he wrote:


Thanks
to
Moe
"Be as you are
or
Be as you appear to be..."
'Rumi'
Peter Murphy


Peter is married to the beautiful Beyhan Murphy, founder and head of Modern Dance Turkey. They live in Ankara, Turkey, home to all kinds of marvelous sweets. My personal favorite is baklava, but I also like Turkish Delight. Unlike Edmund Pevensie, I can only eat a couple of pieces at a time, as it's very sweet.

This recipe contains no gelatin and comes from GastronomieDominie.com, Liz Upton's superlative blog. Please do go to the site and read the fascinating history of Turkish Delight, then try tackling this recipe. Serve the candy with strong coffee, as is traditional; it really takes the edge off the amazing bitterness of real Turkish coffee.

Rahat Lokum (Turkish Delight)

For 80 pieces (40 orange-flower flavour, 40 rose flavour) you'll need:

4 cups sugar
4 1/2 cups water
Juice of 1 lime
1 cup cornflour (cornstarch for Americans)
1 teaspoon cream of tartar (this stops the mixture from crystalising)
1 tablespoon essence of rose water
1 tablespoon essence of orange-flower water (both of these ingredients are made by the English Provender Company and are available in the UK in supermarkets) [American and Canadian friends, check Indian and Middle Eastern grocers -- MB]
1 cup icing sugar (confectioners' sugar for Americans)
1/4 cup extra cornflour

Begin by boiling the sugar with the lime juice and 1 1/2 cups of water. Use a jam thermometer and remove from the heat when the syrup reaches the soft ball stage (115C/239F).

While you are boiling the sugar syrup, combine the cream of tartar and a cup of cornflour with three cups of cold water. (Using cold water should prevent lumps.) Mix well and bring up to a simmer, stirring all the time. Continue stirring at a simmer until the mixture has made a thick, gluey paste. Stir the sugar syrup into this paste. (If you end up with lumps at this stage, push everything into a saucepan through a sieve with the back of a ladle.)

Simmer the sugar and cornflour mixture, stirring every few minutes, until it's a golden-honey colour and about 120C/248F (this is halfway between soft and hard ball on your jam thermometer, and will take about an hour). Divide the mixture into two, and pour it into two prepared trays lined with oiled cling film (American readers - this is what we call Saran wrap over here). Add a tablespoon of rose water and a few drops of pink food colouring to one and stir, a tablespoon of orange-flower water to the other, and stir. Cover and chill for a few hours until set.

Turn out the wobbling sections. You will be glad for that oiled cling film. Slice the set Turkish Delight into cubes, and roll in a mixture of 1 cup icing sugar and 1/4 cup cornflour so that they don't stick together. Set before the ravening hordes. If, unaccountably, they don't raven their way through the whole lot in one go, store in airtight boxes between layers of greaseproof paper, well-dusted with the icing sugar/cornflour mixture.

Monday, July 13, 2009

"The Honey Pat"

No, the Honey Pat isn't another term for a love tap. I found it in Jeanne Rose's Herbal Body Book and it is really wonderful. You spread honey evenly on your face, and then tap your face all over with your fingertips for a few minutes; the honey will get stickier and stickier. Rinse off with warm water.

Honey is very good for skin. I sometimes spread a blob on my face and neck and relax for a while, rubbing it in to the skin every so often. I wipe it off with a warm washcloth. My skin feels soft and smooth, and looks clearer and brighter. The scent of honey is one of my favorites, and getting to lick my fingers after applying the honey is nice, too.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Waldorf-Astoria Rice Pudding: in memory of Nikola Tesla (1856-1943)

The great Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla spent many years living at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. He dined alone each night, entering the dining room precisely at 8:00pm. As Tesla's eccentricities and exploits have been amply documented elsewhere, I'll refrain from attempting a biography here. If you're interested in learning more, I recommend the biographies by Margaret Cheney, Mark Seifer, and John O'Neill. I also recommend having some tissues handy, and possibly an image of Thomas Edison or J. Pierpont Morgan to thrash.

As he grew older, Tesla became more eccentric and, perhaps, a bit mad. He loved pigeons, for whom he bought seed even when he could not afford to pay his secretaries. As old age and poverty overtook him, Tesla ceased his sumptuous dining and subsisted mostly on warm milk, which he would heat himself in a chafing dish if required to dine with others.

I often think of Tesla, wondering, among other things, what he felt and thought about in his last years, alone in his suite at the New Yorker. Was he homesick for the white house, little church, and animal friends of his childhood? Did he miss the days when he strode into Peacock Alley, dressed to the nines, on the way to his solitary table at the Waldorf-Astoria? Or was he happy, alone with his pigeons?

In honor of Nikola Tesla's birthday, here is a recipe for rice pudding, allegedly from the kitchens of the Waldorf-Astoria. I like to think that the milky simplicity of this sweet would have tempted the ascetic genius enough to take a taste, at least.

Waldorf-Astoria Rice Pudding

Ingredients:
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons short-grain rice
2 1/2 quarts milk
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup raisins
Vanilla to taste
1 cup whipping cream
2 egg yolks

Directions:
Rinse rice in cold running water. Drain well. Combine milk with 1/3 of sugar and salt and bring to boil. Add rice, reduce heat and simmer, covered 1 hour or until rice is soft, stirring occasionally. Add raisins, remaining sugar and vanilla to taste.

Turn mixture into oven-proof serving dish or individual pudding cups. Beat cream until soft. Add egg yolks and stir well. Spread mixture evenly over top of rice pudding. Place under broiler until browned on tip, being careful cream does not scorch. Makes 6 to 8 servings.


In memory of Tesla's pigeon friends, here is a recipe for a cake made of bird seed -- it's part suet block and part seed, for birds to eat (you could try it yourself, but it probably tastes better to our feathered friends).

Bird Seed Cake

1 part vegetable shortening, suet, or lard (or use part of each, or add peanut butter)
2 parts bird seed

Melt the fat slowly over low heat. When it's completely melted, turn off the heat and stir in the seed. Pack it in a bowl or small Tupperware-type container. Refrigerate until good and solid. When ready to turn out, let your hands warm the outside of the container to loosen the cake, then dump it onto a plate or cutting board. Place outdoors (out of cats' reach, please) and watch the birds enjoy it.

"Let the future tell the truth, and evaluate each one according to his work and accomplishments. The present is theirs; the future, for which I have really worked, is mine."
Nikola Tesla

Happy Birthday, sir.

---
Postscript: Mr. John Wagner, a Michigan teacher, has made it his mission to place busts of Tesla in institutions around the world. Below is a fabulous 1989 photo of the bust housed at the University of Michigan, surrounded by members of Tesla, the inventor's namesake rock band, along with Mr. Wagner's students. The band funded the creation of this bust, the first one made, which was offered to, and rejected by, the Smithsonian.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Cancellation, and Perspective

My ballet class has been cancelled due to low enrollment; apparently, I was the only student. The new term starts in the fall, so I have plenty of time to crochet myself a little backpack for my gear. I bought my dance clothes last Thursday from a little shop in my city, and the young lady clerk was very helpful and supportive of my beginning ballet at my age and size (she said nothing about either). There was a large range of sizes available, and mine actually fell somewhere towards the middle, though I did select a "Tall" size to suit my long torso. I tried on the complete outfit last night and it felt very good. I will use the time between now and the start of the fall term to work on becoming more flexible, though, happily, I'm quite bendy now.

My friend Heinrich Saint-Germain at The Judgment of Paris recently posted some new photos of the gorgeous Barbara Brickner. Wouldn't you know it: in one of them, Mrs. Brickner is posed almost as I am in the photo of myself that I thought so lumpy and bumpy and, therefore, ugly. Of course, she is wearing more clothing in her photo than I am in mine...




I don't think that posting my photo here is appropriate, but if you must see it, I'll email you the link to the gallery page.

Anyway, I found my reaction to Mrs. Brickner's image very interesting. First, I was struck by her beauty, of course; she is very lovely. Then my mouth slowly opened as I realized how similar my body is to hers, though at five-six, I'm at least two inches shorter than she is. After a moment or two, I whirled around to my husband and almost shouted into his startled face, "Why don't I see that when I look at myself?!" The very characteristics I like about her body are the ones I feel funny about in my own body. Is it possible to see oneself as beautiful, all the time?

The gaps in self-confidence during which I feel bad about my looks are shorter, though still intense. The difference is that now, I acknowledge when I have those feelings, instead of pretending to everyone, including myself, that I know beyond any doubt how hot I am. I still dress up and wear short skirts and camisoles, even when I worry that I resemble the Stay-Puft marshmallow man more than a vibrant, healthy, young(ish) woman who is lucky enough to be living many of her dreams. Because, really, I am. I am thankful.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Long Hair

As a little girl, I almost always had long hair and heavy bangs. My hair, being long, wavy, and red, made me a target on the playground and in the classroom; my braids and ponytails got yanked hard and often by the little bastards at school. One girl delighted in seizing one braid in each hand and screeching, "Make a wish!" while she pulled hard. When I was ten, my mother cut my hair to about the middle of my neck. My youngest sister was starting school, and my mother didn't have time to brush my hair for me every morning; it was too long and thick for me to take care of myself. So, my hair was cut short. I actually liked the way it fluttered around my ears when I shook my head. My head felt light and cool.

In eighth grade, I decided I wanted to let my hair grow. I had learned to care for it myself and felt able to handle it. The period while my layers grew out is horrifyingly documented in school pictures.

Query: does anyone have a good time in middle school? Why can't we hide our transformation period in cocoons?

When I was fourteen, I began baby-sitting a family of three children, whose mother had curly hair. She advised me to try a little gel in my hair, applied by "scrunching." I did try it, and suddenly I had curls hanging to my shoulder blades. I asked my parents for a "Curly Top" diffuser and was thrilled with the results.

Since then, I've let my hair grow. It hovered around my waist for many years, and now it hangs below my hips. The springy curls I enjoyed when it was shorter are now pulled into S-shaped waves by my hair's weight. I don't wear it down very often, but when I do, people stare. I've found that some people respond very strongly, and positively, to hair like mine. Little girls have mistaken me for a princess.

No matter how I feel about the rest of my physical self, I always love my hair. I love its length and weight and color. If I could change anything about it, I'd like it to be curlier. It could be, if I cut it, but I don't want to do that. I wish it were immune to split ends, too. Someday, I hope it will reach to my knees, healthy and strong and shining deep red.

For anyone interested, here's what I use these days:
Mehandi Ginger/Cardamom shampoo bar
50/50 cider vinegar/water rinse
L'oreal Vive Pro Nutri Gloss Conditioner (long/wavy/curly formula) (I'm looking for an inexpensive, cruelty-free alternative and, since there seems to be no such thing, I am considering making my own.)
flax seed gel
cocoa butter on the ends

Friday, July 3, 2009

Coconut Cake with Lime Curd

Lately, I've been drinking coconut water -- the liquid found in immature coconuts. It's delicious and loaded with beneficial minerals. I drink it straight and also blend it with frozen mango, pineapple, and fresh ginger. Here's a cake recipe that calls for coconut water drawn from mature coconuts, but I think it would be good with water from young coconuts, too. You can use a packaged brand like O.N.E., or follow the directions in the recipe for preparing coconuts.

Coconut Cake with Lime Curd

For cake layers:
3 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup fresh coconut liquid (from about 3 heavy coconuts without any cracks and containing liquid, (procedure follows) or water
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
5 large eggs

For lime curd:
6 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons heavy cream
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 teaspoons freshly grated lime zest

1 cup shredded fresh coconut (procedure follows) or sweetened flaked coconut

For frosting:
2 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 teaspoon freshly grated lime zest
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice

about 4 cups shaved fresh coconut (procedure follows) or 2 1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line bottoms of three buttered 9- by 2-inch round cake pans with rounds of wax paper or parchment paper and butter paper. Dust pans with flour, knocking out excess.

Make cake layers:
In a bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. In a glass measure stir together milk, coconut liquid or water, and vanilla. In a large bowl with an electric mixer beat butter on medium speed 1 minute and add sugar in a slow stream, beating. Beat mixture scraping bowl occasionally, until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce speed to low and beat in flour mixture in 4 batches alternately with milk mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture and scraping bowl occasionally, until batter is just combined (do not overbeat).

Divide batter among pans, smoothing tops and tapping pans on counter to allow any air bubbles to escape. Bake cake layers in middle and lower thirds of oven (arrange pans so they overlap only slightly) until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert cake layers onto racks. Remove wax paper carefully and cool cake layers completely. Cake layers may be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped in plastic wrap, in an airtight container in a cool dry place. (Alternatively, cake layers may be made 5 days ahead and frozen wrapped in plastic wrap and foil. Thaw cake layers in refrigerator 1 day before proceeding.)

Make lime curd:
In a heavy saucepan whisk together yolks, sugar, lime juice, cream, and butter and cook over moderately low heat, whisking constantly, 5 to 7 minutes, or until mixture just reaches a boil (do not let boil). Strain curd through a fine sieve into a bowl and stir in zest. Cool curd its surface covered with plastic wrap, and chill at least 4 hours and up to 2 days.

Assemble cake layers and lime curd:
Put 1 cake layer on a cake plate and spread evenly with about half of lime curd. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup shredded fresh or sweetened flaked coconut and chill 15 minutes. Repeat layering in same manner with another cake layer, remaining lime curd, and remaining 1/2 cup coconut and top with remaining cake layer. Chill cake 15 minutes.

Make frosting:
In top of a double boiler off heat or in a large metal bowl with a hand-held electric mixer beat together frosting ingredients until combined. In double boiler or in bowl set over a saucepan of boiling water beat mixture on high speed until it holds stiff glossy peaks, about 7 minutes. (Depending on mixer and weather, this may take longer.) Remove top of double boiler or bowl from heat and beat frosting until cool and spreadable.

Frost cake and coat with shaved fresh or sweetened flaked coconut.

To extract coconut liquid:
Pierce softest eye of each coconut with a metal skewer or small screwdriver and working over a bowl shake coconut, draining liquid and reserving coconut for shredding or shaving (procedure follows). Makes about a scant 3/4 cup liquid.

To shred or shave fresh coconut:
Preheat oven to 400°F.

Bake reserved drained coconuts in oven 15 minutes

With a hammer or back of a heavy cleaver, break shells and remove meat, levering it out carefully with point of a strong knife or small screwdriver. Remove brown membrane with a sharp paring knife or vegetable peeler.

To shred coconut:
In a food processor fitted with fine shredding blade shred coconut meat from about 1 coconut in batches or shred by hand on fine shredding side (small tear-shaped holes) of a 4 sided grater until you have about 1 cup, reserving remaining coconut meat for another use.

To shave coconut:
With a vegetable peeler shave edges of coconut meat pieces until you have about 3 1/2 cups, reserving remaining coconut meat for another use. Coconuts may be shredded or shaved 1 day ahead and chilled in a sealable plastic bag.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The (broken) heart of the matter

I, with my 44-34-46 body, will begin ballet next week. I now face the purchase of dance clothes, risking the criticism of my body by shopkeepers and teachers. I have another artist interested in photographing me, just as I am, without makeup and without clothing, and right now I can't imagine why anyone thinks I am beautiful.

My eyebrows and lashes are white-blonde, my hair is overlong and wavy red, my skin is freckly in places. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Yet I don't want to change anything, because I know how stupid I would look with shorter hair of another color and that even at my thinnest (and least happy), my thighs were still thick and my tummy rounded and therefore eating even more salads won't make me slimmer. I say "No" to the "obey!" messages I see around, and like myself, in my secret heart, pretty well; I mistrust others and assume they are "just being nice" or that they want to photograph me because my body is abnormal and, therefore, interesting. It's harder for me to admit that I'm still not wholly accepting and celebrating my body than it is to acknowledge that I can't ever fulfill an ideal. I'm too fat for Modigliani and too thin for Rubens. I'm nowhere.

I want acceptance and affirmation so much. I dread being sloppy, stretching the definition of "beauty" until it breaks into two meaningless syllables. I hate the way I push myself and the voice I thought vanquished telling me "no, harder, more, faster, no." I hate that I listen to it and can't make it go away right now. I want to get it right.

Telling you all this probably sounds like I'm fishing for compliments. I'm not and I don't; I used to, sometimes, and no one ever bit.

The enemy isn't in magazines or on TV. It's not "the patriarchy" or another such socio-political bogeyman. It doesn't motivate me to buy products or services to make myself over. I'm still not sure that I have the right to order my life as I choose, to seek pleasure in my flesh, to decide for myself what I will do, wear, believe, and say.

Inside me, there's still a little red-haired girl in a blue dress and oxblood-colored shoes, wanting her daddy to love her, say he's proud of her, tell her she's pretty and perfect just as she is. I am ashamed of her and want her to stop, even as I cry her tears.

"Fathers, be good to your daughters." Please.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Go ahead -- eat the flan!

Because I wish I were in Florida with my husband, enjoying delicious Spanish food, I hunted up a flan recipe that I just might try this weekend, if it's not too hot. This recipe comes from the How To Make Dessert site.

Flan

Ingredients
1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 oz)
1 can evaporated milk (12 fl oz)
14 oz. whole milk (measure in empty condensed milk can)
3 whole eggs
5 egg yolks
Pinch of salt
12 tsp regular granulated white sugar
Boiling water

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 400° F. Ready 8 (6oz) ramekins. We are going to pre-caramelize a layer of sugar into the bottom of each ramekin. Line ramekins evenly with 2 tsp sugar each. Arrange them evenly on a removable wire rack that can go into the oven, giving some space between each other. The wire rack is used for easy-in-easy-out of the oven. This will allow for the ramekins to get equal heat exposure all at once and maintain open airflow, unlike a baking sheet. (If you only have a baking sheet, you may use it instead, but it will take longer to caramelize.)

2. Boil water. Keep on low heat and ready to use.

3. When oven temperature reaches 400° F, place the wire rack with sugar-lined ramekins centrally on the lowest oven rack. Keep a close eye on the sugar and do not go anywhere. (This process is better done with a see-through oven door with oven light turned on so you don't have heat escaping.) When you've got a nice golden brown color, which can occur quickly, remove the entire wire rack with ramekins from the oven. (If your oven has uneven heat distribution, you can remove just the ones which look ready and give the others more time, but again, keep a close eye). Once they turn a golden brown color, they can burn very soon afterward. Your new caramel glaze will start to harden and crackle as they cool. That's all right. Turn oven temperature down to 325° F.

4. Whisk the three kinds of milk and salt together. Whisk eggs and egg yolks in a separate bowl. Then combine the milk and egg mixtures and mix well. Strain the mixture through a sieve to eliminate clumps. Separate mixture into the individual ramekins over the caramelized sugar.

5. Place ramekins evenly into a baking pan leaving space around each one. Fill baking pan with boiling water halfway up the ramekins. Bake in this water bath on the lower middle oven rack for 40-45 minutes until set but still jiggly in the center.

6. Remove and cool for 30 minutes. Individually cover each ramekin with plastic wrap making sure it's air-tight. Chill for at least 4 hours, but better if you give it 8 hours.

7. When you're ready to serve, remove the plastic wrap and loosen the sides of the ramekins by running a paring knife around the edges. Invert and serve. (Inverting may be easier if you keep the paring knife inserted and slightly pulled to let some air in, but be careful not to puncture the surface in the process.) Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What I did last weekend

Now that I've declared a hiatus and don't feel obligated to blog three times a week, I find I have more to say. Funny how that works.

Today I saw prints of the first photos I've had taken in almost four years. Not counting my wedding pictures, of course, and these were just test photos. And I hated them. My tummy seemed huge, my thighs likewise. I looked lumpy and bloated and strange. I sat with tears in my eyes as the photographer and his wife/collaborator (with whom I posed for some shots) praised me and the photographs. I felt shame, disgust, and failure. I was ready to plead illness and help them get everything back down the stairs. It's one thing to prattle on about body acceptance and size celebration, but I learned today that where the rubber meets the road, I still don't like my body.

I don't always have the eyes to see my beauty, or whatever other people see when they look at me that they find attractive and worthy of capturing for their art. When the photographer told me, "Big is beautiful!" I replied, "Yeah, on other people." This led into a conversation about body image and art, and I was told that I am "red-haired, freckled, chubby, shapely, and beautiful -- you're the classical ideal, with your shape." I still felt like not eating ever again and torturing myself at the Y. I love to swim, but I found myself thinking that it might be time to hit the elliptical for, say, three hours a night. I stopped that line of thinking long enough to listen to what the photographer was telling me, and the frantic, crazy thoughts went away.


After all my appointments today (my psychiatrist actually weighed me, so size was on my mind anyway), I met again with the photographer and his wife. We hauled equipment up the stairs and spent four hours making art. I had fun, and enjoyed every bit of it once I calmed down and, as I joked with them, "got my mojo back." Both my collaborators were, I think, making an effort to praise me, which I appreciated very much. Their acceptance freed me to be more creative than I ever have been. I think we got some good photos, and this time, I'm armored against seeing my changed body in the new images.


I wouldn't really wish my sick thyroid back, and my contours have only exaggerated, not entirely transformed; I'm hardly Venus of Willendorf. I have a waist, a big bust, and wide hips. My legs are short and heavily muscled under a moderate layer of adipose tissue. My thighs have texture, and sometimes my tummy does, too.

I spoke with my husband (he's in Florida doing family work) after the photographer left this evening, and told him how I had felt about the first photos. He became quite impassioned, telling me that at no point in history besides our own has skinny been the ideal, and how now the curves that you see in ads are surgically created and digitally manipulated. He reminded me that I am both happier and healthier now than when I could squeeze into size 10 jeans, at my thinnest back in college. He said that if I wanted to give up eating, spend four hours a night at the gym, six days a week, and take $50,000 for touch-up surgery, I could look like a run-of-the-mill Model Mayhem girl, but would still find something about my body to loathe. I know all this, but it did me good to hear him saying it. He said some other things relating to my body, but those remarks are not for public consumption.


I've always been one to worry whether I'm "doing it right." I felt today, when I first saw the prints, that I was doing it wrong, my body was wrong, that I was a fool and a freak to take my clothes off for an artist. Sometimes, I still don't feel that I have permission to consider myself beautiful, that this shape I'm in is lovely and right for me. All I can do is try again tomorrow.

(all images copyrighted)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Fathers' Day




"I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died."
Hamlet, Act IV, Scene v

Friday, June 19, 2009

Hiatus

I won't be blogging for an unknown length of time. I am busy and need to focus on things other than this. To anyone out there, thanks for reading.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Nia Vardalos: What's the Big Deal?

The marvelous Nia Vardalos has written a piece about her doctor-ordered weight loss. Though I would argue that weight loss is not as simple as throwing and retrieving a bag of Doritos (calories in minus calories out does not equal weight loss for everyone), I love her confidence and frankness.

I support all people in their quests for health. If weight loss (or gain!) happens to be part of that, then I support that, too. What I do not support is weight loss for the sake of making one's body fit the deranged ideal we have forced on us every time we wait in line at the grocery store. A woman gains weight, and she's "packed on the pounds." If she loses weight, she's "got her body back." If she loses "too much" weight, she must have an eating disorder.

Our bodies are never good enough. There are people who make obscene amounts of money off the self-hatred they drill into our minds. What's it going to take to get you mad enough to refuse to buy in?

Excerpt:

So, what exactly is up with my weight loss? I get hit with this awkward question daily and have answered it in press interviews, at the grocery store, at the newspaper stand. Why? Because I see their anxious, open faces needing the secret, the new pill, the cure, anything. Just please share the secret. So I hesitantly answer and am always met with the same response: the glaze-eye slack-jawed face.

Because they don’t want to hear the truth: I had a blood sugar problem so my Doctor ordered me to lose weight, it was really hard but I did it through diet, exercise and it took a year.

This is when the boredom sets in on the querying person. I might as well just shove an Ambien up their nostril. The gleam in their eye fades and they get sleepy.

No one wants to hear the facts about weight loss. It’s simple. Take that bag of Doritos and throw it as far as you can. Now chase after it. Pick it up, do it again.

Or don’t. You don’t have to lose weight, unless like me, it becomes an issue of health. I thought I was attractive when I shot ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding.’ Studio executives and movie reviewers let me know I had a confidence in my looks that was not shared by them. In other words: they labeled me with words like, overweight, unattractive, unappealing. Hey, just say fat. I love the word fat. I used it in the title. It’s actually not a naughty word. We give it a power it actually doesn’t have. So, you’re fat. Big deal.

Kansas City Chocolate Dream

This recipe comes from Maida Heatter by way of Kristina, the Theobroma Goddess. Thanks again, Kristina.

Variations of this recipe pop up in many areas of the country under many different names; Chocolate Upside Down Cake, Chocolate Sauce Pudding, Chocolate Pudding Cake, Hot Fudge Sauce Cake, to name a few. In most cases, whatever the name, you will have a square pan of chocolate cake floating in a rather thin, dark chocolate syrup; both the cake and the syrup are spooned out together and served like a pudding with a sauce.

This Missouri recipe is similar, but is something else. It is a small shallow square upside-down cake which, when turned onto a cake plate, covers itself with a think layer of dark chocolate topping that resembles nothing I can think of. The topping is as dark and shiny as black patent leather, as tender and semi-firm as a pot de crème, and as mocha-chocolate flavored as you might weave dreams about.

The topping and the cake are baked together. Sensationally quick/easy/foolproof. This is wonderful just as soon as it has barely cooled, or it can wait for hours, or it can be frozen.


Cake
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ounce (1/4 stick ) unsalted butter, melted
½ cup walnuts, broken into medium-size pieces

Adjust a rack one-third up from the bottom of the oven and preheat oven to 350°. Butter a shallow 8-inch square cake pan and set aside.
Sift together into the small bowl of an electric mixer the flour, baking powder, salt, cocoa, and sugar. Add the milk, vanilla, and melted butter, and beat until smooth and slightly pale in color. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Stir in the nuts. Turn into the buttered pan and smooth the top. Let stand while you make the topping.


Topping
1/3 cup granulated sugar
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
½ cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
2 teaspoons granular instant coffee
1 cup water

In a small, heavy saucepan combine all the ingredients. Stir over rather high heat until the sugars melt and the mixture comes to a full boil.
Gently ladle the boiling hot mixture all over the cake batter.
Bake for 40 minutes until a toothpick inserted gently into the cake comes out clean. (During baking, the topping will sink to the bottom.) Set aside to cool in the pan.
When the cake has cooled, cover with a square or oblong serving plate or a cutting board. Holding them firmly together, turn the pan and the plate over. If the cake does not slide out of the pan easily (and it probably will not), hold the plate and the pan firmly together upside down and tap them on the work surface. Now the cake will come out, and it will be covered with the topping, some of which will still be in the pan; use a rubber spatula to remove it all and put in on the cake. Smooth the top gently or pull the topping up into uneven peaks.
Serve immediately or let stand all day or freeze. (If you freeze this do not cover with plastic wrap; the topping never does freeze hard and plastic wrap will stick to it. Just cover the whole thing with an inverted box deep enough so it doesn't touch the cake.) Freezing diminishes the flavor of all foods, especially this. Although this can be erved frozen, it has more flavor if it is brought to room temperature.
This cake does not need a thing but a plate and fork. However, if you are serving it for a birthday party or some other festivity, ice cream is wonderful with it.

Monday, June 8, 2009

"You Must Obey."

If any of you are Hotmail users, you're probably seeing ads touting a weight-loss "rule" that "You Must Obey!" This same advertisement appears on other sites, too, but Hotmail is where I see it most. The accompanying photos change from time to time, but the message does not.

A photo of a face-forward, moderately plump woman set above a photo of what appears to be the same woman, drastically smaller, standing at the classic size-minimizing angle.

"You Must Obey."

I hit the Refresh button, and the ad comes right back. This time, the illustration is a leggy cartoon woman in a purple T-shirt and panties.

"1 Rule You Must Obey."

Sometimes, the emphasis changes: "You MUST Obey!" "You must OBEY!"

Why?

I will not click the ad. I don't want those responsible for it to be encouraged by site traffic.

Obey. Be good. Get thinner. Work harder. Cut your hair. Wear this.

Don't eat dessert. Don't ask for sex. Don't laugh so loudly. Don't ask for more.

Deny yourself. Deny your Self.


No.

.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Rhubarb Shortcake

For many years, we had a rhubarb plant growing on the north side of our yard. We used to dare each other to bite into a freshly-plucked stalk, knowing how dreadfully sour it would be. Thinking of it now, the inside of my mouth cringes and waters. In The First Four Years, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote of her mortification at realizing the "pieplant" pie she baked for the hired threshers had no sugar in it; one kind-hearted man sugared his own slice, claiming that he liked it that way because everyone could sweeten the pie as much or as little as he liked.

My mother often made stewed rhubarb, which she served with shortcake, ladled over ice cream, and my father sometimes ate plain, from a bowl (or from the jar!) with a spoon. She also made rhubarb cobbler, about which I sometimes dream. It was so very delicious and so simple, just rhubarb in an 8x8 square pan, covered with a streusel of butter, brown sugar, rolled oats, and a sprinkle of cinnamon, baked for 20 minutes or so. Technically, I guess it was a "crumble" rather than a "cobbler," but a rose by any other name...

Stewed Rhubarb

4 cups rhubarb, chopped
2/3-3/4 cup sugar (really, to taste)
1/4 cup water

Put rhubarb and water in a medium saucepan. Pour the sugar over the rhubarb, mixing well. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally (and watching that it doesn't burn), until soft. Serve warm, or refrigerate and serve cold on yogurt or oatmeal.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Projects and Cake

I didn't make cake last weekend.  Instead, I'm going to make it this weekend.  In the meantime, I have several crochet projects to finish: tiny clothes for my sister's daughter.  We're expecting her to arrive at any moment.  My sister is under doctor's orders to relax, in order to delay labor (she's been to the hospital once already).  


In July, I will be playing the harp in public for the first time in four years.  I've neglected it dreadfully, but my beautiful instrument has painful associations now (mostly tied to what I wrote about last time).  This is another thing I'm taking back.  I keep finding things to take back to myself, wash clean, and make mine again.  More heavy lifting.  I am thankful for the help I've been given.

During lunch, I visited the ballet school and obtained a schedule.  The lady I spoke with there had silver hair swept back from her elegantly boned face; she was working on something with a sewing machine.  I told her that I wanted to join the adult introductory class, and she was very gracious and, thank heaven, didn't laugh at my short-legged, heavy-muscled, big-breasted body.  I peeked into the studio itself and oh, the beautiful blond floor and the barre!  I can make this happen.  

I treated myself to a few essential oils, the better to create a natural skin care regimen.  The products I've ordered through the mail has been either severely delayed or stolen, and is more expensive than I'd like anyway.  The sugar scrub recipe from Little House in the Suburbs has been working really well; I used calendula and chamomile flowers instead of basil, mixed with olive oil, turbinado sugar, and tea tree, lavender, and blue cypress essential oils.  My skin feels soft, but not oily (always a problem this time of year).  Tonight, I'll try my herb-infused cider vinegar toner; my hair likes it, so I have high hopes for my skin.  

What are all of you up to?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Coming Out: The Emancipation of Artemis

About The Emancipation of Artemis, created by Jennifer Summer, from Jennifer's journal:

i have been blessed in my life with an extremely large extended family -- my friends.

i realized one day that out of all these women, i can count on one hand the number of them who have not had an experience with abuse in some form or another.

i realized that i had spent a large portion of my childhood in hospital waiting rooms, watching a close family member endure numerous operations and countless health problems due to the acts of one malicious, psychotic attacker.

i realized just how widely spread this epidemic has become.

and then i decided to do something about it.

i don't have the qualifications to assist in a professional, controlled environment, but i do have passion and an ability to express myself artistically, and i began to brainstorm a way in which i could combine those two things in order to make an impact.

and now, several years later, that dream has come to fruition. through the efforts of not only myself but my wide circle of kindred spirit chosen family, we have joined our voices together as a chorus for change.

and, thus, the emancipation of artemis was born. right now it is a single benefit that will be held at the york st. cafe in newport, ky on friday, june 5th (7 p.m. - 10 p.m.) and will feature a photography exhibit, live music, poetry readings, guest speakers and an art sale. the talented people in the 'contributing artists' section have all donated their original work to be sold, and the individuals in the 'performers' section of 'the event' menu will be lending their talents during the show.

every single dime raised will go directly to RAINN so that they may continue to do the amazing work that they do for people all over the united states.

but my dream is for artemis to become a global organization; for artists around the world to hold their own events and raise money for groups such as RAINN that help those who need it most. and, in light of what has been accomplished thus far, i believe that dream is an attainable one.

eight women have bravely come forward and opened themselves up -- they've shared their story and shown their face. they are not victims. they are not dreary, they are not tragic. they are triumphant. they are survivors. they are warriors.

they are living proof that we are so much more than just the sum of our experiences.


---

Since you'd figure it out anyway when you go to the Artemis site and click through the gallery, I'll just tell you: I am one of the eight women whose portrait and story is part of the exhibit. 

I wasn't able to travel to be photographed by Jennifer herself, so she asked me to send her a photo from my portfolio. I selected one taken on my wedding day, by Karen Varnas.  Partly because I didn't get photographed by Jennifer (and therefore, the image doesn't "match" the others), and partly because my story is the longest, I feel like I did it wrong somehow.  It's the anxiety brought on by telling a bit of what happened.  

Reading my own words, my cheeks burn with shame.  I'm afraid for people to know this about me, that it will hang over every time I meet them.  That they will wonder what I did to bring it on myself.  That they don't know that I sometimes want to know that, too; for someone to treat me so badly, there must be a good reason, something terrible that I did.  I used to wonder if there was an invisible sign on me that invited men to try things on me, without my permission. Maybe they could see that I had been wounded while very young, and wanted very much to be loved.  

Please don't misunderstand me.  I am happy beyond what I thought was possible.  I know that the way I was treated was not my fault.  I am lucky enough to love and be loved by my best friend of nearly sixteen years.  I had long since accepted that a gray veil would hang between me and the world -- it's just how my brain works, I thought.  After my diagnosis and thyroidectomy, I knew differently, and I saw clearly that the way I was being treated was wrong, wrong, wrong.  I tried to imagine a good friend in my position, and thought of what I would tell her.  In the end (or is it the beginning?), I did exactly what I would have told my hypothetical friend: called my mom, packed a U-Haul, and got the hell out of there. 

Jenn herself was of immeasurable help and comfort to me while I was struggling with what I wrote about for the exhibit.  I still keep on my desk a photo she took of a single daisy, standing tall in a field. She captioned it: "It doesn't matter where you've been. What matters is where you are now." Looking at it, meditating on it, helps me to re-anchor myself in my joyous present. 

I forget sometimes that the Bad Old Days can never return.  Sometimes, they do still cast long, frightening shadows, but those shadows grow fainter every time I glimpse them.  I am grateful to be out, to be away, to be home.  In the night when I am afraid, I reach out and find my best friend, my beloved husband, sleeping there under blankets beside me.  I feel my own face, my beautiful long hair, the ridge of scar tissue at my throat, and I know who I am, where I am, and I am no longer afraid.  

Getting out, getting away, going home, I had help.  I reached out, and so many hands reached back to me. Among them were Jennifer's hands, loving and fierce.  She is a beautiful soul, a very talented artist, and this work she is doing is of immense importance.

And if you're struggling like I was, or at all, don't be afraid to ask for help.  Or, be afraid if you have to be, but ask despite the fear.  It's worth it, I promise you.

The Emancipation of Artemis:  Artists United to End Violence Against Women
Friday, June 5 2009
7-10pm (music begins at 8pm)
York Street Cafe
Newport, KY

RAINN
National Domestic Violence Hotline
HopeLine - 1-800-SUICIDE

xoxo

Friday, May 29, 2009

Jiffy Mix

While riding in the car from my maternal grandfather's home in Holt, to visit my paternal grandfather in Clinton, I was always excited to see the silos of the Chelsea Milling Company looming up along M-52. It felt a lot like glimpsing a beloved film star.


We almost always had a box of Jiffy Baking Mix in our house when I was a little girl. Invented by Mabel White Holmes about 1930, it was the very first prepared baking mix. My mother made pot pie crust and pasties with it, along with drop biscuits, shortcakes and pancakes. When I was in middle school and learning to bake, I liked to make the cake recipe from the back of the box. It made one layer of delicious vanilla cake that I loved to eat warm, with a glass of cold milk.

One of my favorite food memories is of smelling the warm, cinnamon aroma of a Jiffy coffee cake baking, knowing how good it would taste when Mom finally declared it cool enough to slice and served us each a piece. I still make this cake from time to time (probably not often enough), and it's still simply delicious.


Coffee Cake

Batter:
2 cups "JIFFY" Baking Mix
3 Tbsp. sugar
3/4 cup milk
1 egg, slightly beaten
2 Tbsp. shortening, melted (I use butter - MB)

Topping:
1 Tbsp. "JIFFY" Baking Mix
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. margarine or butter
1/2 cup chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350°, grease 8" square pan.

Blend together batter ingredients and spread into prepared pan. Combine topping ingredients (use cold butter and a pastry blender to keep the streusel crumbly - MB) and sprinkle over batter. Bake 25-30 minutes. Serve warm.


What could be simpler? The recipe doubles easily, too. So delicious.

Here's the cake recipe, too. I plan to make this one this weekend, and to eat it with berries and orange sections. It's such a good, simple treat.

Old-Fashioned Cake
makes one single-layer cake

1-1/2 cups "JIFFY" Baking Mix
3/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup milk
1 egg
2 Tbsp. shortening, softened (again, I always used butter - MB)
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 375°, grease, flour and line 8" round pan, with wax paper. (Cut wax paper slightly smaller than pan.)

Combine all ingredients and beat 2 minutes. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 25-30 minutes. Cool in pan for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool completely before serving.

---

Eat, and be happy.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Running Through

More recipes at Stephanie Tourles' blog.

Little House in the Suburbs is my new playground. It's full of lotsa ideas to keep it cheap, green, and real.

I'm around, just working hard and feeling somewhat uninspired. My sister's baby is due in a few weeks and I'm crocheting my fingers off.

See you tomorrow!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

World War II by Alberto Vargas

Friday, May 22, 2009

Chocolate Mousse

A yummy classic from Elise at Simply Recipes. I have a few very good recipes (Julia Child's in Mastering the Art of French Cooking is rich-rich-rich and yum-um-my), but this one is simpler. Simple is good -- you don't have to wait as long to sample your sweets. Enjoy!

Chocolate Mousse

4 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter, diced
2 tablespoons espresso or very strong coffee
1 cup cold heavy cream
3 large eggs, separated
1 tablespoon sugar
Whipped cream and berries for garnish (if you like)

Whip the cream to soft peaks (cold cream, cold bowl, cold beaters), then refrigerate.
Combine the chocolate, butter, and espresso in the top of a double boiler over hot, but not simmering, water, stirring frequently until smooth.
Remove from the heat and let cool until the chocolate is just slightly warmer than body temperature. To test, dab some chocolate on your bottom lip. It should feel warm. If it is too cool, the mixture will seize when the other ingredients are added.
Once the melted chocolate has cooled slightly, whip the egg whites in a medium bowl until they are foamy and beginning to hold a shape. Sprinkle in the sugar and beat until soft peaks form.
When the chocolate has reached the proper temperature, stir in the yolks. Gently stir in about one-third of the whipped cream. Fold in half the whites just until incorporated, then fold in the remaining whites, and finally the remaining whipped cream.
Spoon or pipe the mousse into a serving bowl or individual dishes. If you wish, layer in fresh raspberries and whipped cream. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours. (The mousse can be refrigerated for up to a day.)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Orange and Beet Salad & Peanut Butter Cookies: in memory of Bunny and Ned

Last month, I became a supporter of The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, TN. I sent my donation in memory of Topsy, the traumatized elephant electrocuted by Thomas Edison in an effort to discredit Nikola Tesla's polyphase (alternating current) system. I sometimes fantasize about getting a steampunk-y group together, donning elephant masks, and rampaging through Greenfield Village, a veritable Edison shrine (Ford worked for the Edison Illuminating Company in the 1890s, so it's understandable). Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum are national treasures, and I've enjoyed visiting both over the years. The kindly old engineer who used to drive the GV train worked on the Michigan Central Railroad where my great-grandfather was a conductor, many years ago; this accorded my father the honor of riding in the engine itself to talk over the glories of the Age of Steam when he visited. But, I digress...

Today, I wept when I learned that two Asian elephants at the Elephant Sanctuary died during the last 24 hours. Bunny passed away from natural causes at 57 years of age yesterday. She had lain down in a pleasant place earlier this month, and received palliative care until her peaceful death yesterday evening.

photo of Bunny from The Elephant Sanctuary

Ned was confiscated by the USDA last fall after he was seen performing in an emaciated condition. The people at the sanctuary tried nursing him back to health; Ned would eat and gain weight, then lose it again. On Wednesday, he lay down and did not get up again. Medicine and fluids were administered to keep him comfortable. He died early this morning at the young age of 21.

photo of Ned from The Elephant Sanctuary

I hope that an autopsy will reveal why Ned failed to thrive, and that if his previous owner's treatment caused Ned's condition (instead of, say, a longstanding, hard-to-diagnose illness of some kind), the owner faces stiff penalties. Elephants truly never forget, and so many of them have suffered at the hands of human beings and bear scars both physical and psychic. That there are kind souls like the people at the Elephant Sanctuary gives me hope.

In honor of Bunny and Ned, here are two recipes. The peanut-butter cookies include the classic elephant treat: peanuts. The salad combines Bunny's favorite food (oranges) with beets, which Ned enjoyed eating.

Peanut Butter Cookies
(makes about sixty 1 1/2-inch cookies)

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla

Sift or whisk flour and baking soda together.
Cream butter, peanut butter, and sugars together until fluffy.
Beat in egg and vanilla.
Stir in the flour mixture until blended. Shape into 1-inch balls and arrange about 2 inches apart on cookie sheets. Press flat with a fork, making a crisscross design on each cookie. Bake, 1 sheet at a time, about 10 to 12 minutes. Let stand briefly, then remove to a rack to cool.

Orange and Beet Salad
adapted from Simply Recipes (and very delicious!)

Salad:
1 bunch of beets, leaves removed - about 4 or 5 medium sized
2 large navel oranges, pared and sliced
1 bunch of arugula leaves, cleaned, and any thick stems removed
Several thin slices of red onion
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Dressing:
In a small jar, mix the following ingredients:
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon dried mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

Make salad dressing.
Cook the beets with their peel on (simmer for 30 minutes or until beets can easily be pierced through with a fork). Drain beets and let cool before peeling.
Slice or quarter beets. Place them in a small bowl and marinate them in half of the oil and vinegar dressing for 30 minutes.

Compose individual salad plates with arugula, a few slices of orange, a few beets, a few slices of red onion and a few chopped walnuts. If you want some added color, gently add a few slices of the orange to the beet juice from your bowl of beets. Let the oranges absorb the beet color and use in your salad. Sprinkle dressing over the individual salads.
_

Be kind to animals. We need each other.

photo of Tarra and baby bird from The Elephant Sanctuary

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Save Wardenclyffe!

Wardenclyffe, Nikola Tesla's laboratory at Shoreham, Long Island, is up for sale for $1.6 million.



The Tesla Science Center is trying to raise the money to buy it and turn it into a museum. At their website, you can donate via PayPal. If you'd rather take the scenic route, you can click the very fun animation below (courtesy of zia_narratora at LiveJournal) to donate. Tea says that if you donate $20, she will do a PG-rated drawing of Tesla for you (hilarious suggestions at the link -- "Tesla inventing Peeps!").









Save Tesla!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Dancer Dreams

This past weekend, my husband and I attended our niece's dance recital. Seeing all the little girls in their tutus, jumping and prancing out of sync, made us laugh; they are so cute. Watching the older girls, especially the ballet and lyrical students, made me yearn to dance. My dance style developed in gothic clubs, so it's a flowing weeping-willow dance, a "sorrowful ballet," as one writer described gothic dance, a bit like the lyrical style. I love to dance, but I always wanted to study dance with a teacher, in a proper class.

When I was four, my parents agreed that I should take ballet. I was thrilled. My mother and I waited for my father to get home so that we could go to the dance shop and buy my black leotard, pink tights, and lovely pink leather slippers. I ran to the window every five minutes, wishing Daddy would hurry home so I could get my real ballet shoes. I practiced leaps and twirls, certain I was a beautiful dancer and looking forward to becoming an even more beautiful dancer.

Daddy eventually came home. In his hand was a piece of pink paper in a white envelope. Mommy's face fell, and Daddy shrugged sadly. It was 1980, and the school district had laid him off. He had no job. We didn't go to the dance shop and I never learned ballet.

It's trite and a little embarrassing to speak of "the inner child" anymore, but mine wants to dance. Today, I learned that a dance studio near my office teaches beginning ballet to grown-ups. I'll be calling this week to check the price. Even if I only take a class or two, I very much want to wear special dance clothes, and real ballet shoes, in a real studio. Wish me luck.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Crepes Kristina

This is a dish that I've helped Kristina assemble for office parties. Unbelievably yummy for any time of day. The recipe is easy to double or triple, if you've got a crowd on your hands.

Crepes Kristina

For crepes:
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter, melted

For filling:
1 jar Nutella
4 bananas (or however much you like)

1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour and the eggs. Gradually add in the milk and water, stirring to combine. Add the salt and butter; beat until smooth.
2. Peel and slice bananas. Set aside.
3. Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each crepe. Tilt the pan with a circular motion so that the batter coats the surface evenly.
4. Cook the crepe for about 2 minutes, until the bottom is light brown. Loosen with a spatula, turn and cook the other side.
5. Spread each crepe generously with Nutella. Lay banana slices, overlapping, down the center. Roll up and serve sprinkled with powdered sugar (or not, as you like).

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Skin-So-Smoothie recipe!

Stephanie Tourles has posted her fabulous "Skin-So-Smoothie" recipe on her blog! Go check it out! Then make it and drink it and love it!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Chocolate Waffles

Chocolate is good for what ails you. Or, more accurately, me. When I eat flavonol-rich chocolate or drink Cacao Royale, I feel endorphins surge through my blood. I feel awake, alive, and very sexy. I hope you do, too.

Chocolate Waffles

1 1/3 cups sifted cake flour (works with all-purpose flour, too)
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1/2 cup milk

Sift the flour together with baking powder and salt.
In a separate bowl, cream butter and sugar.
Beat in eggs one at a time. Stir in vanilla and chocolate.
Add the sifted ingredients alternately with the milk.
Using a measuring cup, dip batter onto hot waffle iron. Close iron and bake 4 to 5 minutes or until steaming stops.

I love these topped with vanilla ice cream and strawberries. Yes, for breakfast. Mmmmmmmmm...

Monday, April 27, 2009

We Built Excitement

Having grown up on the outskirts of the great chief's beleaguered namesake city, I grieve today.


Rest in peace, Pontiac Motor Division.

Photo of 1974 GTO from Dansgarage.net

Friday, April 24, 2009

Amaretti Cookies

Elan suggested this recipe, from The Smitten Kitchen. Sandwiching suggestions are from the original recipe. Let me know how these turn out -- we've got Toll House Cookies on the agenda this weekend.

1 (7-ounce) tube pure almond paste (not marzipan; 3/4 cup)
1 cup sugar
Pinch of Kosher salt
2 large egg whites at room temperature for at least 30 minutes

Preheat oven to 300°F and place racks in the upper and lower thirds of your oven. Line two large sheet pans with parchment paper.

Pulse almond paste, sugar and salt in a food processor until broken up, then add egg whites and puree until smooth. Transfer batter to pastry bag fitted with a 3/8-inch tip and pipe 3/4-inch rounds (1/3 inch high) about 1-inch apart in pans. Dip a fingertip in water and gently tamp down any peaks.

Bake, rotating and switching position of pans halfway through, until golden and puffed, 15 to 18 minutes.

[When you rotate the pan midway through baking, you'll wonder why you left so much space between the cookies. Suddenly, at 15 minutes they'll puff up and you'll be happy you left that space!]

Let cookies cool almost completely in their pans. Once cool, they’re much easier to cleanly remove from the parchment. You can make them into sandwich cookies but spreading some jam (I used raspberry) between them or ganache (3 ounces of semi-sweet chips melted with 1 to 2 tablespoons of cream, then left to thicken a bit would be enough to sandwich the whole batch).

Cookies can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for a day or two or frozen up to one month.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day


You are a part of the Earth.
Honor the Earth.
Honor your Self.

Photo of Meryt Bast by Wayne Swilley

Friday, April 17, 2009

Rice Pudding

Comforting, wholesome, and delicious. We have a winner!

Rice Pudding

2 1/2 cups whole milk
1/3 cup long or short grain white rice
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup raisins (optional)
whipped cream

In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan combine the milk, rice, and salt. Place saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat to medium to medium-low and simmer until the rice is tender (about 25 minutes). Stir the milk mixture frequently using a heatproof rubber spatula or wooden spoon to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
When the rice is tender, remove from heat and add the sugar, vanilla extract, and cinnamon.
Return to heat and cook until the rice pudding thickens, about 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add the raisins (if desired).
Serve warm, or refrigerate until cold.

I'll be using basmati rice in mine and substituting sliced almonds for the raisins. And topping my bowl up with plenty of unwhipped cream. And eating it for dinner tonight and breakfast tomorrow. I hope you like it, too.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Growing Pains

My mother says, "If you're not going forward, then you're going backwards." It's true. Still, growth can be painful. Mine is. I'm considering making my next mascara selection a waterproof formula so I don't involuntarily turn into Alice Cooper in the middle of the day. So many tears.

This is the hardest work I've ever done. I'm about three weeks in, and I want to stop, but I don't really want to stop. I know that I can't. Rather, I can't stop and be healthy. As healthy as I am now, I know that this wound will periodically fester and hurt me and, by extension, those around me.

My dreams are vivid and many and richly symbolic. My joints ache and so does my head. I bounce from hilarity to despairing tears. I don't eat very much or very often. I wish I didn't have to do this, but I think it will end. The way out is through. I keep walking and digging and swimming in the boundless unconscious: here be monsters.

All this is to say, that I don't have much to say these days, besides SGED Fridays. We'll have something yummy tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Susan Boyle

It seems like everyone is talking about this sweet-faced lady from Scotland. Grab a hanky and click the link to watch her dream of singing for a large audience come true.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lp0IWv8QZY

Monday, April 13, 2009

Natural Beauty

Last week, I posted my recipe for flaxseed hair gel. It occurred to me that not everyone is into making their own cosmetics (weirdos, huh?), so here are some links to handmade and/or natural cosmetics and styling products.

Botticelli Botanicals
Minnesota-based Botticelli Botanicals invites you to select from a list of natural ingredients to create your perfect styling product. Check out the huge list of available scents. More products are coming soon.

Chagrin Valley Soap and Craft Company
Widely loved for their shampoo bars, Chagrin Valley has balms, butters, and lotion bars with which to pamper your skin and hair. They've even got all-natural soap for dogs!

Jessicurl
Founded by Jessica McGuinty and well known to regulars at Naturallycurly.com, Jessicurl products are pure, natural, and gentle. The website includes styling videos and hair accessories like the Hot Sock diffuser and microfiber towels.

Mehandi.com
This is where I bought the first henna I ever used on my skin (back in 1994, it was called Tapdancing Lizard and was a much smaller site) and where anyone can learn pretty much everything there is to know about henna. I cannot overstate the amount of information on this site. Every time I visit the site, it seems the product selection has grown: natural soaps, perfumes (including attar of henna blossoms!), balms, Indian herbs, lipsticks, and top-quality henna are just some of the wonderful things you'll find here.

Thistle Farms
A small selection of natural body care products made by the women of Magdalene, a two-year residential program in Nashville, Tennessee, for women healing from lives of prostitution and addiction. Healing women making healing products to help heal other women -- what could be more wonder-full? All profits go to support Magdalene.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Very Berry Pie

This recipe comes from Sunny. When I asked her if she had a favorite dessert recipe, her reply was, "Hmmm...no...YES! Very Berry Pie! It's almost homemade!" She also said, "You can substitute any berries you like. I like blackberries and raspberries. It's not really mine, since I got it from someone else, but I love it...so there!" It looks like a fast, yummy recipe -- good for when you feel like pie but don't feel like firing up the oven. Plus, it's fruity-fresh for spring.

1-3/4 cups whipped topping, divided
1 graham cracker crust (store-bought or homemade)
1 cup fresh raspberries
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup cold milk
1 package instant white chocolate pudding mix (I'd try it with vanilla - MB)

Directions:
Spread 1/4 cup whipped topping into the crust.
Combine berries and sugar; spoon 1 cup over topping.
In a bowl, whisk the milk and pudding mix for 2 minutes; let stand for 2 minutes or until soft-set. Spoon over berries.
Spread with remaining whipped topping.
Top with remaining berries.
Refrigerate for 45 minutes or until set.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Project Updates and Miscellany

Over the weekend, I finished crocheting a dress (mine's dark green) and put a lining in a skirt I crocheted last year. My next project will be finishing a sleeve apiece on the Baby Doll Dress and the Baroque cardigan. Then, I hope to start on the Cecilia chemise and some baby clothes for my youngest sister's due-in-June daughter.

Last week, I cooked up some flaxseed hair gel in my kitchen. It's based on several herbal hair treatment recipes I've found over the years. I have attempted to make flax gel a few times before, but was never happy with the results. Basing the recipe on a good-for-hair herbal infusion seems to have done the trick. It seems to help encourage my hair's curl, which I love; I like my hair long, but the weight of it usually pulls the curl out and makes it wavy, with curls at the ends (still nice, in my opinion). It's a pretty liquid-y gel, so apply a lot of small amounts to keep it from pouring out of your hands. There's nothing in it that will build up on your hair, so don't be afraid of applying too much. If it dries crunchy, scrunch your hair gently with your hands until the crunch is gone. Here's the recipe.

Herbal Flaxseed Gel

5 cups distilled water
2 tbsp each of the following dried herbs:
nettle
cherry bark
burdock root
chamomile flowers
lavender flowers
1/2 cup (rounded) raw flax seeds
1/4 cup pure aloe vera gel (a health-food brand like Lily of the Desert, not the green sunburn-treatment kind)
smidge honey (1/4 tsp or less)
smidge jojoba oil (or other natural vegetable oil - 1/4 tsp or less)
10 drops lavender essential oil (or your favorite scent)

Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan (glass or stainless steel). Add the herbs and reduce heat. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Take off heat and cover. Let steep until cool.

Strain the liquid into a glass bowl, squeezing as much liquid as possible out of the herbs. Wash out the pan and pour the infusion back into it. Reheat to boiling and stir in the flax seeds. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes or so, stirring occasionally (the longer you cook it, the thicker the gel will be). Strain into a bowl. Whisk in aloe vera gel, honey, and oil. Let cool to lukewarm. Add essential oil. Pour into a clean bottle and store in the refrigerator.

Vary the recipe to suit your hair type. Some people say Epsom salts encourage curliness; I've tried adding some and it makes my hair stiff and tangle-prone, but your hair might like it fine. I've also poured some of this into a spray bottle, diluted it with more aloe vera and distilled water, and used it to refresh my curls in the morning. It works!

Looking out the window, I see it's snowing again. Everyone seems crabby about it except me.

Best wishes and good luck to Kristina, who's traveling to China today (and tomorrow, too, probably!). See you in three weeks!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Sachertorte

Saturday night, my husband and I dined for the first time at a restaurant that specializes in central and eastern European cuisine. The place is charming, all tin ceiling, antique fixtures, and framed sheet music. On Saturday evenings, the restaurant features a pianist, so we were treated to Beethoven sonatas galore as we dined. At the end of our meal, I ordered a slice of Sachertorte, a recipe I have often read but never sampled. Here is a version of the famous dessert. I can't claim authenticity (the original recipe, from the Hotel Sacher in Vienna, is a closely-guarded secret); this is just one of many variations you'll find out and about in search of chocolate bliss.

From The Joy of Cooking, including the charming legend of Frau Sacher (I can't claim authenticity for the story, either).

Sachertorte

Makes one 9-inch cake

Frau Sacher, one of the great personalities of Vienna, fed the impoverished Austrian nobility in her famous restaurant long after they had ceased to pay. Today she is remembered throughout the world for her chocolate torte, for which endless recipes, all claiming authenticity, abound. We make no claims but think the following delicious. The extra egg white makes a lighter cake.

Have all ingredients at room temperature, about 70°F. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease and flour the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan or line with wax or parchment paper.

Grate:

6 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate

Beat in a large bowl at medium-high speed until light and creamy about 3 minutes:

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter


Beat in one at a time:

6 large egg yolks

Add the grated chocolate and:

3/4 cup dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup finely ground blanched almonds
1/4 teaspoons salt


Using clean beaters, beat in a large bowl at medium-high speed until stiff but not dry:

6 or 7 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar


Fold one-quarter of the whites into the batter, then fold in the remaining whites. Scrape the batter into the pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 minutes to 1 hour. Let the cake cool completely in the pan on a rack. Remove the sides of the pan and slice the torte horizontally into 2 layers. Should the top be mounded, reverse the layers so the finished cake has a flat top. Spread between the layers:

1 cup apricot jam or preserves

Cover the cake with:

Bittersweet Chocolate Glaze, below

which should retain its glossy sheen. For a really Viennese effect, garnish each slice with a great gob of Schlag, or whipped cream.


Bittersweet Chocolate Glaze or Frosting

About 1 cup

A very sophisticated glaze or frosting to use on rich chocolate or nut tortes. For an even more bittersweet effect, substitute 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate for 1 ounce of the bittersweet or semisweet chocolate.

Heat in the top of a double boiler or in a microwave on medium, stirring often, just until the chocolate is melted and smooth:

6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/ 3 cup water, coffee, or milk
pinch of salt


Remove from the heat. With a rubber spatula, stir in 2 or 3 pieces at a time:

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Continue to stir -- do not beat -- until perfectly smooth.

Optional: Stir in 1 to 2 tablespoons liqueur

For a pourable glaze, let stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until the mixture cools to 90°F. For frosting, let stand until spreadable. If the frosting becomes too stiff, set the pan in a larger pan of hot water and stir gently with a rubber spatula; or remelt and then cool to 90°F for use as a glaze. This keeps for up to 3 days at room temperature or up to 3 weeks refrigerated.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Finished: Lacy Sleeveless Top

From a pattern by Valerie Kurita, published in the first crochet magazine I ever bought (back in 2006), I have made this pretty white top.

I used some shaping techniques learned from articles and books by the marvelous Doris Chan, and it fits really well. It will have to wait for warmer weather to be worn, but I can wait.

I have still to finish (again) the baby-doll dress designed by Amy O'Neill Houck; I am reworking the sleeves to be shorter and puffier. I really love the dress and am eager to finish it so I can wear it again.

This month, I had an unusual amount of bills to pay, with more expenses to come in the next couple of weeks, so buying the beautiful yarn I intend to use for Jennifer Hansen's Cecilia chemise (both lengths!) will have to wait a while. Right now, my money needs to go towards caring for myself; buying pretty yarn is a great way to do that, but the care I need right now is of the inner sort. I am not afraid of heavy emotional and psychological work, but I am afraid to pry this particular monster out into the light where I can work on befriending it. Or slaying it. I'm not sure which it will be.

In the meantime, I will continue to live my happy life...there is so very much to love and to savor.

 
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