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Fade Out Again

It’s been cold and wet and despairing around here. So, lately I’ve been a shut-in because I don’t feel like putting on 3 lbs. of clothes that will subsequently get wet and gross. One of the things I’ve been doing with my time indoors other than wasting it is making playlists in iTunes. It’s a noble endeavor. In the sorting through GB of files, I’ve come to the conclusion that really great start to finish albums are rare and becoming more and more rare. Of m collection, there are only a few I can listen to from start to finish and back and not get even a bit impatient during it at all, given my brain-on-iPod state of being. These are those albums:

  1. Achtung Baby– U2
  2. Hot Fuss– The Killers
  3. Free All Angels– Ash
  4. A Rush of Blood To The Head– Coldplay
  5. The Bends– Radiohead
  6. OK Computer– Radiohead (…uh, yeah, I hardly listen to them because they’re depressing but these guys are that good)

I pick and choose with the rest depending on my mood, need, the state of the world, etc. But skipping through a track on one of these is like drowning a baby.

Cold Winter Sunset

The summer gets its Dog Days when the tops of buildings are invisible in the layer of humidity, the roaches are loose on the sidewalks like toy poodles, and the air has lost all its lift. Then, there’s the harshness of the winter when even the orange of a sunset has lost all its warmth to the gusts of bone-chilling blasts that tear past the skyscrapers like bank robbers on the run. We’re in the darkest of the winter now, the Three Dog Nights of winter.

2011

I’m not sentimental and years are cyclical anyway so it’s weird waxing poetic about the end of one arbitrary orbit around the sun.

But let me say, just because this is my blog and I can do whatever I want, Happy New Year. 2010 saw me get a minor job promotion, finish two novels, and I finally got to see the world’s best Greek ruins. Hopefully, 2011 will bring Greece itself.

Rock on.

Daring Bakers December: Stollen

The 2010 December Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make Stollen. She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book………and Martha Stewart’s demonstration.

Dear Frickin’ God, I’m exhausted. And I just ruined my blog (I wrote this on 13 December in case things have gone back to normal in the next ten days… not likely). So, I’ll keep this short because I just can’t take it anymore. I wish I was one of those people who can write haikus because then I’d do that instead, but I’m not.

I made the German cake. The recipe made two huge ones. I should have rolled out the marzipan into a sheet and rolled the bread. But it tasted okay…. but nothing to write home about. I took one to the work Christmas luncheon and the other is in my freezer. It was too much work for very little payback.

The End.

As The Year Too Dies

The year’s ending and everyone who’s anyone in media and otherwise is coming up with Top Ten Lists from what’s been most reported to the Top Ten Tweets. I kid not. I saw the Top Ten Numbers on CNN this morning and laughed when the income of the most happiness was revealed. Is that number weighed for region? $75,000 in New York City is a lot different than $75,00 in Kansas City.

While the top ten lists verge on annoying, I always read them since it reminds me of what happened this year rather than all the others and pulls out incidents in the avalanche of time that helps postmark life. I came home and made quince jam, otherwise known as membrillo. Why? Well, I felt bad because I let one of my other quinces go bad and because Spain won the World Cup and four years of bragging started in July. That’s why.

Heard from my fratellino today. I’m planning a Scandinavian foray. I’m proofreading my novel. Life goes on.

I Did Something Stupid

Hey, I thought I was doing something great and ended up screwing up my theme by updating it. It looks like I lost all the customizations I had made in it. I have reverted to an old theme of mine in the meantime. I suck.

This will take a very long time to fix. If ever.

In the Field of Mars

Draft one is finally done.

This was a much different experience than the last. For one, it’s shorter, brisker and there’s less explanation. Not everything gets explained. I don’t know yet if it helps or hurts. I didn’t finish it for days, knowing what I had to write. I didn’t want it to end but unlike the last time, there were no mysteries left. I knew how it would end as if it were written already.

I’m not as heartbroken, either. I don’t know why yet. They were fun to be around but I may need a new tack next time. A new crowd. I don’t know. As usual, everyone has their own agenda and that’s what makes the best parts. An unlikely character actually turns out to be a better one than I thought, providing the best humor and half the banter. I had no idea she had it in her. The villain is probably fairly obvious but I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing.

It’s a less complicated story because there is no framing story, it’s more like a real-time chase scene. Motivations are murky but the actual how-to was almost too clear and that’s why I thought it sucked when I was writing it. It’s less horrid than I thought but there are some beats missing that I thought I had. Scenes I loved since before the whole thing was written will have to be changed to fit the frame. That’s why you should never pre-write anything. It won’t fit later.

I don’t know how I feel about it exactly, except that it’s 30% shorter and I have no idea if that’s good or bad or WHAT.

Christmas List 2010

I never made Christmas lists as a child. I was never one to ask for anything and I still have a hard time asking anyone for a favor. Christmas lists, though, are something I’ve adopted as an adult but to keep with the track record, none of the items are objects money can buy. They’re not even things I can ask for from anyone, not even Santa Claus even if he existed. So, this list is half in jest and half in earnest. It’s in jest because I can do nothing to make them happen. It’s half in earnest because I wished they would all happen because then the world I live in would be just a little brighter.

  • I wish there would be a new attending entitled L—. (This one’s come true when the powers made the exception. I thought I’d start this list one up.)
  • May the two mysterious leaks in the building be found and fixed at our minimal cost. I went to the budget meeting today, can’t you tell.
  • This story needs an ending and it needs to not sound like a second grader wrote it because it does right now and it’s making me question my excuse to live.
  • I could live without another major European bailout.
  • I don’t want to see Sarah Palin anywhere other than a punchline. This wounds my soul. It may be a good thing because then I’m moving to Argentina. You think I’m kidding?
  • I want there to be a new Trader Joe’s in my neighborhood… after they build the coffeehouse of my dreams two blocks away.
  • Out of Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • The end of the Philadelphia mafia called the PCLB. We want alcoholic freedom!
  • A circle line in Center City. Now I’m really asking for miracles.

Daring Bakers November: Crostata

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

The holiday season is around the corner and by the time this post goes live. it would have already begun. I have to admit I dreaded looking at the Daring Bakers site to find out what the challenge would be. Who needs more stress when I’m already dealing with unbelievable timing challenges. But this one was a blessing. What better to lift the blues that stem from the anxiety of a too-full calendar than a classic Italian crostata.

I have my own idea what what pasta frolla should be but since it is a Daring Bakers challenge, I had to follow along at some point, especially given that we could fill it with whatever we wanted. Yes, finally I don’t have to buy cream! There were two versions of the pasta frolla given and I used the second one:

Version 2 of pasta frolla

In this version of pasta frolla, I have played with different kinds of flours, using almond, whole-grain barley and, most recently, coconut flour instead of some of the all-purpose flour. If you want to try a different version of pasta frolla that uses some flours that you wouldn’t normally use, this is a good recipe to try. All the flours listed below (whole-wheat pastry, almond flour, coconut flour and barley flour) are available at health food stores. You may even find them at well-stocked supermarkets.

The preparation for this version of pasta frolla is very similar to the preparation for Version 1.

Ingredients

* 1/3 cup [80 ml, 75 g, 2 2/3 oz.] superfine sugar or 1/2 cup [120ml, 60 g, 2 oz]powdered sugar (see Note 1.)
* 1/2 cup [120 ml, 65 g, 2 3/8 oz.] unbleached all-purpose flour
* 1/2 cup [120ml, 65 g. 2 1/4 oz.] whole-wheat pastry flour
* 1/4 cup [60ml, 28 g, 1 oz] almond flour, or almond meal, or coconut flour
* 1/4 cup [60ml, 28 g, 1 oz.] whole-grain barley flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
* a pinch of salt
* 6 tablespoons[90ml, 85 g, 3 oz] cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
* 1 large egg, lightly beaten
* 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (you can also use vanilla sugar; see Note 2.)

Directions:

By hand:

1. Whisk together sugar, flours and salt in a bowl.
2. Rub or cut the butter into the sugar and flour mixture until it has the consistency of coarse crumbs. You can do this in the bowl or on your work surface, using your fingertips or an implement of choice.
3. Make a well in the center of the flour and butter mixture and pour the beaten egg and vanilla extract into it.
4. Use a fork to incorporate the liquid into mixture and then use your fingertips.
5. Knead lightly just until the dough comes together into a ball.
6. Shape the dough into a flat disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Place the dough in the refrigerator and chill for at least two hours. You can refrigerate the dough overnight.

I used almond flour and white unbleached and substituted the 1/4 c. of barley flour for the same weight of buckwheat flour I had sitting in my cupboard from an as yet-unfulfilled need to make breton pastries of various kinds. Oh, yeah, I also bought it because it was at the farmer’s market and it looked cool. I would be way richer if I stopped buying weird things at farmers markets just because I can. Back to the pasta frolla, I made it by hand of course. All you need is a bench scraper and arm strength. I hate washing dishes and even if I owned a full-size food processor I still wouldn’t use it to make a simple shortcrust.

As for the filling, this was my favorite part of the recipe. I had a jar of refrigerated fig jam I made a few months ago and had been dying to use it in some way. This was the excuse, even if I ended up using all of it. My friend has a fig tree and I harassed her until she gave me a few pounds of them. They were beautiful, perfect Black Mission figs and to think they were in her yard doing nothing broke my heart. I don’t usually can.. I never can or preserve anything but these were too good to pass up. I boiled them with some water, lemon juice, and a liquor of some kind (brandy? I forget), and sugar and then used my immersion blender to grind them all up. I gave my poor friend some and the last of it I kept in a jar in the fridge until the opportunity presented itself. Now I think I should have saved it for Christmas but this recipe was too timely and November is starting to run out.

I never make things you have to decorate since my patience doesn’t exist and other things usually precede making decorated food in my daily schedule. But since I’m working on another project that involves Rome and the challenge of a classic Italian recipe, I went for it with images of the beautiful apricot crostate I have eaten all over Rome like the shop near the Pantheon and then my daily bar near Termini by the school I attended…

Sorry, I just had a moment. Anyway, I rolled out the remaining dough and cut it into near-even lengths with I then rolled to hide that they weren’t exactly alike. I made a bold attempt at braiding them the way people with far more skill than myself do. I had forgotten to save some egg wash so I just sprinkled the whole thing with powdered sugar and stuck it in the ready oven. About 15 minutes in, I sprinkled it with sliced almonds and sprinkled more sugar to help the browning process. I don’t know how long it was in the oven (I don’t own a timer) but I went back to get it when I started to smell it while watching Glee. Browned and beautiful, I left it to cool on the stovetop and then covered it for the night.

I had a piece the next morning which is when I took the pictures. Accompanied by a homemade cappuccino, it reminded me, a little, of the Eternal City.

Grazie mille, Simona.

Lemony Snicket Chimes In

As the year’s NaNo comes to a close, I’ve reached by word count but the story is still only about halfway and suddenly I’m short on words. It’s like the need to get words down for something as insignificant as a word count was more motivation than actually finishing a story I thought I cared about. They’re in Capri and it’s not going well. I just can’t figure out which path to take, it’s like I’m at a crossroads or one of those old Choose Your Own Adventure books. What if the twist I pick is the wrong one and it ends up killing the story? What if…? Well, the Lemony Snicket pep talk is just the thing. It’s in character, it says all the right things, and it’s one of the more motivating things I’ve ever read and I laughed aloud when I got to the end. I have to report it here to keep it for posterity since the NaNo site gets trashed and revamped every year while this blog will not unless my life really takes an amazingly awesome or gruesome twist.

Dear Cohort,

Struggling with your novel? Paralyzed by the fear that it’s nowhere near good enough? Feeling caught in a trap of your own devising? You should probably give up.

For one thing, writing is a dying form. One reads of this every day. Every magazine and newspaper, every hardcover and paperback, every website and most walls near the freeway trumpet the news that nobody reads anymore, and everyone has read these statements and felt their powerful effects. The authors of all those articles and editorials, all those manifestos and essays, all those exclamations and eulogies – what would they say if they knew you were writing something? They would urge you, in bold-faced print, to stop.

Clearly, the future is moving us proudly and zippily away from the written word, so writing a novel is actually interfering with the natural progress of modern society. It is old-fashioned and fuddy-duddy, a relic of a time when people took artistic expression seriously and found solace in a good story told well. We are in the process of disentangling ourselves from that kind of peace of mind, so it is rude for you to hinder the world by insisting on adhering to the beloved paradigms of the past. It is like sitting in a gondola, listening to the water carry you across the water, while everyone else is zooming over you in jetpacks, belching smoke into the sky. Stop it, is what the jet-packers would say to you. Stop it this instant, you in that beautiful craft of intricately-carved wood that is giving you such a pleasant journey.

Besides, there are already plenty of novels. There is no need for a new one. One could devote one’s entire life to reading the work of Henry James, for instance, and never touch another novel by any other author, and never be hungry for anything else, the way one could live on nothing but multivitamin tablets and pureed root vegetables and never find oneself craving wild mushroom soup or linguini with clam sauce or a plain roasted chicken with lemon-zested dandelion greens or strong black coffee or a perfectly ripe peach or chips and salsa or caramel ice cream on top of poppyseed cake or smoked salmon with capers or aged goat cheese or a gin gimlet or some other startling item sprung from the imagination of some unknown cook. In fact, think of the world of literature as an enormous meal, and your novel as some small piddling ingredient – the drawn butter, for example, served next to a large, boiled lobster. Who wants that? If it were brought to the table, surely most people would ask that it be removed post-haste.

Even if you insisted on finishing your novel, what for? Novels sit unpublished, or published but unsold, or sold but unread, or read but unreread, lonely on shelves and in drawers and under the legs of wobbly tables. They are like seashells on the beach. Not enough people marvel over them. They pick them up and put them down. Even your friends and associates will never appreciate your novel the way you want them to. In fact, there are likely just a handful of readers out in the world who are perfect for your book, who will take it to heart and feel its mighty ripples throughout their lives, and you will likely never meet them, at least under the proper circumstances. So who cares? Think of that secret favorite book of yours – not the one you tell people you like best, but that book so good that you refuse to share it with people because they’d never understand it. Perhaps it’s not even a whole book, just a tiny portion that you’ll never forget as long as you live. Nobody knows you feel this way about that tiny portion of literature, so what does it matter? The author of that small bright thing, that treasured whisper deep in your heart, never should have bothered.

Of course, it may well be that you are writing not for some perfect reader someplace, but for yourself, and that is the biggest folly of them all, because it will not work. You will not be happy all of the time. Unlike most things that most people make, your novel will not be perfect. It may well be considerably less than one-fourth perfect, and this will frustrate you and sadden you. This is why you should stop. Most people are not writing novels which is why there is so little frustration and sadness in the world, particularly as we zoom on past the novel in our smoky jet packs soon to be equipped with pureed food. The next time you find yourself in a group of people, stop and think to yourself, probably no one here is writing a novel. This is why everyone is so content, here at this bus stop or in line at the supermarket or standing around this baggage carousel or sitting around in this doctor’s waiting room or in seventh grade or in Johannesburg. Give up your novel, and join the crowd. Think of all the things you could do with your time instead of participating in a noble and storied art form. There are things in your cupboards that likely need to be moved around.

In short, quit. Writing a novel is a tiny candle in a dark, swirling world. It brings light and warmth and hope to the lucky few who, against insufferable odds and despite a juggernaut of irritations, find themselves in the right place to hold it. Blow it out, so our eyes will not be drawn to its power. Extinguish it so we can get some sleep. I plan to quit writing novels myself, sometime in the next hundred years.

–Lemony Snicket

I Can’t Stop

The year’s NaNoWriMo started painfully. I had a good idea, but for the first two weeks I was barely making my word count and only leaving things in for the hell of it to help my total word count. The novel felt flat, listless, dead, drained of all the excitement at its birth last spring. Had it been too long? Did I wait too long? Was it overripe? Had I moved on?

Well, you know what they say about writing your way through it? I used my big sequence earlier than I had wanted hoping something shook out. And did it ever. It wasn’t where I thought I wanted it originally, but it became the catalyst for this steamroller of a story that’s grown up after it. It’s a different story than the one I thought I wanted but maybe I wanted the wrong thing. You know what they say about sculptors removing the extra stone? It was like that. Now it’s incident after incident. The writing is still rough, but the most important thing, the PLOT has taken on a life of its own and this baby is writing itself.

When once I did it like homework, knowing I had to since it would be physically impossible to write the requisite words before the deadline, now I cannot stop. I’ve written over 10,000 words this weekend ALONE and I have off tomorrow and then the Thanksgiving weekend. Not only will I fulfill the necessary count, I’ll exceed it and get a roaring narrative out of it. It is unbelievable.

Finally

John, Paul, George, and Ringo... on iTunes where they belong.

Now on iTunes.

Someone’s Already Said All the Good Stuff

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