Archive for category weird holidays
This one is a bit of a weird one, even for me. I decided to make a form of vegan ice cream while listening to violins, but thanks to the Metrodome collapse this weekend, the Vikings game was rescheduled for tonight. This meant that while I could get away with noisily running the food processor in short bursts, there was no way G could have handled listening to an orchestra as his men got squashed by the Giants.
Anyway, I’ve been meaning to try this VegFamily recipe for awhile. I’m not vegan or even vegetarian, but awhile back I was on a big banana kick. The trouble was fruit goes bad really fast in my apartment, so I was finding myself with an increasing supply of black bananas. So we froze them, and G made a couple of loaves of banana bread.
We still had leftovers, so I found the recipe for “ice cream” made from bananas and tonight was the perfect opportunity to give it a try. Cathe Olson is totally right–it was “better than ice cream,” in its own way. I packed almonds and frozen berries in with the frozen bananas, and food processed the hell out of it. I used coconut milk as the non-dairy milk. (I admit, I may have cheated if I had any dairy milk, but my kitchen it getting pretty bare, so the universe insured my concoction was animal product free.) It came out very creamy with nut and berry bits, and I kept heading back to the freezer for an extra spoonful. I know coconut milk is high in fat, but I’m positive this is a much healthier alternative overall than regular dairy ice cream. It’s definitely worth doing again.
A parting tip: Before freezing bananas, peel them! Otherwise, a vegetable peeler does the trick.
The microwave. No other item in my kitchen is as crucial to my survival. Except maybe the fridge. No, it’s definitely the microwave, which brings life back into fridge items.
My microwave is nothing fancy, one of those basic GE models most college freshmen get. It’s the kind with the buttons for “baked potato” and “popcorn.”
The microwave is often demonized, but really, on a daily basis it’s an item used without a second thought for all manner of things, from heating water for tea and instant oatmeal to defrosting bagels and meat. It reheats leftovers and melts cheese with no fuss.
G and I are probably more conscious of our microwave than most people. We have limited heat in our apartment–though we live in the tropics compared to other campus-area Madison apartments–and we rely heavily on a space heater. The trouble in our small digs is that if the heater is on when we use the microwave, we usually blow a fuse.
So we’re aware of our microwave, but do we truly use it to its full potential? Google “things to do with a microwave” and you will get some really scary stuff. People have put everything from CDs to insects in there. Seriously, why do more of our homes not blow up?
If I’d have better prepared, I would have tried a grape tonight. G has brought up more than once the fact that microwaving a grape sliced in half with the inside facing up will cause sparks. For a physics student, this is ridiculously exciting.
Alas, there are no grapes to be had in my household tonight, so instead I opted to try soap. After all, the microwave desperately needed a cleaning.
We cut off a third of a bar of unscented Dove. This is what happened.
The smell was so acrid, it was awful. Even though the soap puffed up like a mutant marshmallow, the end result looked like a flaky fried egg, sans yolk. I’m waiting for the smell to clear out before my next and final microwave mission of the night: popcorn.
After a hard day’s work of making sachertorte and celebrating Repeal of Prohibition Day with a few friends and beers ala National Lager Week, I figured I’d earned a really nice bath.
I told G about this holiday, and he made it his mission to make sure I didn’t miss out. He drew the bath, adding aromatherapy salts and placing candles in the corners. The scene was complete with a iPod stereo set to Snow Patrol. I even had a rubber ducky. It happened to be painted red with devil horns and is actually a mini squirtgun, but whatever. Close enough.
And with that, my first week of December holidaying was washed away, leaving me relaxed and restored, ready for the rest of the month.
As we have well established by now, I am not a particularly proficient cook, and baking is probably my worst arena. So seeing that today was a celebration for a rather intimidating cake was, well, intimidating.
The sachertorte is a unique Austrian chocolate cake that is supposed to be very light and fluffy, with a layer of apricot spread in the middle. It was invented by a sixteen-year-old under intense pressure from him boss to deliver something great that night for a crowd of hoighty-toighties. Hey, if a kid can do it …
If you can believe it, Wolfgang Puck’s recipe is one of the more approachable versions. Seriously, though, WHY does the Food Network refuse to convert measurements into American standard form? I don’t own a single kitchen item that measures ounces and grams. I have cups and teaspoons, and I hate math.
Anyway, my plan for the day was to run some errands, come home and make the cake, and then head over to a friend’s place for the evening. Not long into my erranding, G called, looking for the satellite radio, which I had taken with me. He’s a Vikings fan living in the land of green and gold. There usually is no way for him to watch/hear the game other than the satellite radio. So even though I was across town with a list to do, I knew it was my girlfriend duty to return, radio in hand.
Thank God I did. Once home, I decided to just put off the errands and start the cake. It ended up taking me about three hours. Three. Hours. If I’d have started when I originally planned to, I never would have finished before our evening plans. Yes, I totally admit it took three hours because I had no idea what I was doing. I had to look up “how to make egg yolks look like ribbons” and “how many teaspoons are in one ounce of sugar.” I had to stare for awhile at my make-shift double boiler (one random pot set in a larger one) and tell myself no, this will not result in melting a pot or mysteriously causing the oven to alight (two things that have happened in my kitchen in the last month).
The double boiler ended up being the least of my problems. For whatever reason I had the darndest time separating eggs, and on egg number four I ended up with a little yolk in the whites. There was no way I was going to waste the eggs and start over, so I just went with it. Sure enough, yolk contamination makes it next to impossible to get “hard peaks.” By the time I finally mixed them to what passed as soft peaks if you squinted, I declared them hard enough and folded them into the chocolate/butter/sugar/yolk “ribbon” mixture.
When the cake came out, it was nowhere near as tall as the recipe probably intended. I’m positive this is because I didn’t do the egg whites correctly, but regardless, it tasted fine and was just thick enough to slice in half. The Puck method calls for slicing the cake into thirds and putting the apricot/brandy puree in between, but there was no way my cake could be split more than once. So I just added the excess to make a super-thick puree layer, replaced the top layer of cake, and covered the whole mess in melted dark chocolate . Voila. Or, however you say that in Austrian.
After I let it set and cool while we were gone, we gave it a try. I have to admit: It’s a pretty tasty dessert. G was ridiculously excited about licking the chocolate out of the bowl, and I realized I could have just melted chocolate over the stove and he’d have been just as impressed. But nonetheless, I achieved a version of sachertorte complete with apricot filling and chocolate glaze. It’s incredibly sweet and rich, and while this cake is not for the faint of kitchen skill, I’d say it’s worth the effort. Once a year.
Today G and I went Christmas shopping, and my plan was to sneak in a little holidaying along the way. Between the toy store in the mall and Barnes and Noble’s respectable game section, I figured there would for sure be a cheap, unique dice game I could pick up. There were a couple, but none that really looked like something fun to play. G even asked around for a dreidel, which I figured would work as, essentially, a spinning die, and after all, it is Hanukkah. But no luck.
So when we got home, I went digging in my bin of life clutter. I came up not with dice, but with a dice roller. When I was a kid, my uncle had a small leather workshop next to the cabin west of Madison he used to own. He made belts, wallets and other items. I guess he even once went to a boot-making seminar in Wyoming. I still remember the workshop’s smell: really earthy, like sawdust, but sweet. I’ve been a leather-lover ever since.
I don’t remember exactly when he made me the dice roller, but I do remember getting to pick out the stamps he used to decorate the roller, which is basically a hard cup covered in tan leather and black stitching. My little kid self selected two teddy bears, a cat, a butterfly, a bunny, a heart and a golf ball. I have no idea why I picked the last one, but it’s funny since I ended up on my high school golf team.
So yeah, the thing is as busy-looking as it sounds. Part of me wishes I’d asked for a wallet, like the one he made my mom, or a belt, like the one he made my brother. But truthfully, I’d probably have destroyed the wallet, and like my brother, I’d eventually have outgrown a belt. Instead, I still have a dice roller that is a reminder not just of my uncle’s leather-making days or my childhood stamp preferences, but also of his kindness toward me then and now.
The best part about my dice cup? On the bottom is another stamp, his personal one: Handcrafted by Grindy.
Hello. Hola. Bonjour. Konnichiha.
See? I just greeted you via an electronic interface. And I did it multiple times. Electronic Greetings Day complete.
When I initially brainstormed ideas for how to celebrate this holiday earlier this month, I had planned to visit a “metaphysical” shop on State Street that offers readings with one of three psychics. I had this all figured out: I’d stop in at Mimosa and meet with Patti Bee for a psychic reading. I figured at some point in the appointment my aura would come up.
However, I am not in Madison this weekend, so I had to look elsewhere for metaphysical inspiration today. (Though I WILL get a psychic reading one of these days–maybe December!) This afternoon, my parents and I headed out to Williams Tree Farm in Illinois. Neither they nor I were planning to come home with a tree today. We were headed out there to walk around, have a cup of wassail, and pick up some homemade fudge. We went out to Williams to cut down a tree pretty much every year when I was a kid, but I haven’t been there in a couple of years.
The place was crazy busy today. Practically everywhere you stepped you were tripping over kids and golden retrievers (the farm has 13 of them that run around and interact with customers). After perusing the extensive ornament shop and sipping down the obligatory wassail, we headed out to the fields of pine trees. It was much quieter out there and not very cold, so we were more than comfortable wandering around the trails between a variety of pines.
Our final turn around the field must have put us directly west, because it was hard to look at my parents without losing them in a haze of mid-afternoon sun. But wait–maybe I was wrong, maybe we were headed north or east. Maybe I wasn’t losing them in the sun at all. Maybe, just maybe I was staring directly into the depths of their auras, at least the auras they were presenting today. It was a glorious moment of looking at my parents’ essence. I had to know what it meant.
According to Victoria Anisman-Reiner,
Your aura, the field of energy around your body, is like an energetic ‘blueprint’ for who you are. The outer layers carry information about a person’s mood and well-being in the moment; middle layers portray your health, emotional patterns, relationships and your strengths and vulnerabilities; and at the most profound layers of the aura, your true self and your life purpose are revealed. (Thanks, Suite101.)
Anisman-Reiner lists aura colors and the characteristics supposedly associated with them. Yellow is associated with energy, playfulness, optimism, and the belief that life is meant to be fun. I’d say everyone had fun today and certainly had plenty of energy to run around those trees. And our happy day most certainly affected our inner psychic selves, which bathed us in a warm sea of yellow that I hope will carry us forward for days to come. (See? I hope = optimism.) How lovely–my awareness of our auras has led to a deeper, more spiritual understanding in myself of our emotional states.
And the western sun didn’t hurt, either.