Monday, April 30, 2012

This is the Sound...Of Silence. And Spring!

[A mahogany-and-pink-striped head peers timidly round the corner]

Why, halloo there...

So good to see you, the last couple of weeks have been quite hec--

How long??????

Jumpin' cocoa-covered crickets.

Well, Spring is here and Reformation is at hand, my friends.  The holidays melted into early 2012-- '12' --mind you, and I was still working a LOT, every weekend from New Years to mid-March was scheduled from Thanksgiving and suddenly my head was spinning like a little Exorcist demon.  Several things were wrong, first among them, I was working too much; second, I had accrued what seemed to be a vast amount of angry, as evidenced in my last few posts.

Then I got a cold.  Minor Inconvenience, but laid out for several days under a blanket on the sofa.  Watching TV and knitting.  Until the Unthinkable happened.  I yarned myself into Knitter's Elbow.  So stiff I couldn't knit.  What to do?  I can't just sit and watch TV, drives me plumb crazy, so I did something so rare and arduous it deserved a diary entry:  I read a book.  I downloaded The Karla Trilogy by John LeCarrè, of which Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is the first entry and plunged in.  I read the whole thing in two days.

Back story: Five years ago January, I quit smoking.  The age-old advice states if you really want to make a go of quitting, move house.  It's an undertaking which requires a complete overhaul of your every daily habit, waking to bedtime.  My strongest proclivities led me to believe my car probably wouldn't start without lighting a cigarette first, and the only way I could go to sleep was to sit outside and smoke up to half a pack while reading, depending on the seductive power of the tome before me.  My lifetime propensity was for the full digestion of 3-4 books per week.  Once quit of the coffin-nails, however, my literary bent came to a screeching halt.

I couldn't concentrate.  I tried the many suggestions of friends and family but after a year I was resigned to the torture of passing my 5 overloaded bookcases of former printed-paper lovers without knowing the pleasure of their partaking.

Returning to present, I grabbed my iPad and downloaded these three books.  First book, two days.  Second, The Honourable Schoolboy, was 1100 pages and, due to my return to work, took 10 days.  Then I downloaded several  Terry Pratchett Discworld novels (probably my favorite author ever) and tore through those, especially as I was knocked flat a second time with sinus infection.  Seven books in two months...

The words stick in my consciousness and reading is once again the nearly erotic delight I spent a lifetime devoted to.

Now, what of my difficulties, First and Second, alluded to above?  Man, I was an angry, angry little girl this year.  The politics of womanhood and equality seem to be speeding backwards at a rate of acceleration matched only by the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.  As for work, my Benevolent Employer had twice broached the subject of job satisfaction relating to work schedule, a conversation ironically interrupted both times due to extreme business.

With this moment of sickitude, in which I joyfully reclaimed the printed page, I reclaimed something much, much more precious, but also a bit more vexing as far as this blog is concerned:  Silence.  After the first cold, I had been home for a few days in a row, reading  in quiet solitude.   I returned to work and approached my Benevolent Employer to resume our conversation and cut back on my availability.  B.E. was happy to have the feedback and moving forward began scheduling me with the fewer hours I enjoy.

Then I stopped watching and reading the news.

Yet, in the midst of this, I told a friend that I was quite worried that I was missing something, that I was slow, that there were Things To Do and I didn't know what but I was anxious about it.  She paused and rephrased these things I had recounted for her:  "You were stressed out as usual, then you laid down boundaries to take back your time, you stopped listening to the repeatedly negative, and now your brain is calm and quiet so you can read a book, which you have been whinging on about for the last five years.  Your problem?"

The problem has been the Silence which unwittingly extended to our time here.  Apparently the immediate result of Calming The F*$k Down means I just Shut The F*$k Up.  Truly.  GingerMan spent most of March asking me if I was OK--

"You're just.....really quiet."

Was he concerned or watching the knife drawer?

But for a steady stream of short daily posts on Facebook, I seemed to have lost my voice.  And somehow it's THE LAST DAY OF APRIL.

Now, however, I'm Getting Stuff Done:

I've been cooking some, went to Stitches West 2012 here in Santa Clara (at the end of February, mind you), snuggled my various babylicious nieces and read enough books to double my intake for the last 5 years combined. Last week I went shopping with Mary Kay Carol and finallyfinallyfinally bought a bunch of new bras.  No, chillin's, you have no idea how long I put that off...

 I have suffered some continued knitting/spinning ennui, and I haven't really exercised in what I now realize is over a year.  

Several weeks ago, Jedi Jasmin introduced me to Cat Bordhi's Houdini Sock, which is simply genius and I have since completed two pairs, one of which goes to my Benevolent Employer.  I scoured some sock books and japanese stitch dictionaries* (ooooohhh soooo lovely-they are beautifully concise, charts and photos show multiple repeats; photographs are ample and detailed) and have two sock projects queued up, yarn balled and ready to go in bags.  

This last Saturday I had the whopping privilege of taking Stephen West's Top-Down Shawl class at the fun, funky, wondrous knitting/spinning/sewing shop,  A Verb For Keeping Warm in Oakland, and now have three shawl projects ready to go.  My Schacht Matchless spinning wheel is coming out of exile in my upstairs office down to the living room. This will be a bit more of an undertaking--I feel as though I've forgotten everything about spinning.

Sooooo, Fairy 2012 is, indeed, learning to Lick The Spoon, albeit with a bit less sturm und drang than in the past.
MMMMMMMM--Olive Oil and Sea Salt!

Finding my Outside Voice again seems to take some doing, but I've plans to catch us up and plow merrily through the rest of the year (which already looks pretty nuts, including a trip to Europe, hopefully featuring significant time at The Edinburgh Festival!) and beyond.

Is there anything you'd like to catch up on?  Anything you'd like to cook? Chirp up Spring Chickens! Also, does anyone know the cure for Cadbury Mini-Egg Addiction?  All Posts Welcome.

* Being Laid Low with Plague, I posted that Thursday night: "blarrghh, need Donuts, a Burger and a Japanese Stitch Dictionary." Friday, Jedi Jasmin pings me, saying "What kind of donuts?"  Half an hour later, eight Psycho Donuts appear on my doorstep.  The next day, my doorbell rings again and The Pink One delivers a stitch dictionary, which I read cover-to-cover.  It was oddly comforting.  Jedi Jasmin is The Very Sister Of My Heart.

Revelations:  Chocolate Cake and Roasted Asparagus

So, last winter,  round about Christmas, I made the Cocoa Cake from Joy of Cooking ("Fairy 2012:  Dungeons and Flagons of Joy").  One thing that stuck, sniggling in the back of my head, was that every recipe I had ever seen using cocoa powder of any kind in a baking recipe also used hot water.  And this one did not.  I was puzzled, but remained faithful.  It was a dense cake, and bordered, in my opinion, on dry. Kinda, ya know, moseyed round the fence of un-moistness.  But it was still very flavorful and was great with the cranberry jam in the middle.


While I was down the second time with the stupid sinus infection, GingerMan left for Ireland on a Diplomatic Mission to the Relations, e.g. for niece and nephew spoiling.  So alone and with time to waste, my Idle Hands became Devil's Food Playthings.  The new recipe was Penzeys Aunt Velmas Chocolate Cake.  It is Moist, it is DEEEELISHUS.

They post it in the store a couple times a year and it's available online.  It uses many of the same ingredients, this being a basic recipe common among many cocoa-producing companies and published recipe collections.  Variations depend mainly on slight changes in amounts of flour, cocoa, baking soda and eggs.  But they ALL use hot water with the cocoa powder.  So follow the link and follow the directions EGG-ZACKLY.  Now, after cross-referencing many different recipes on the 'net, I was really nervous, as Aunt Velma's was the only one that had the eggs plunging in right after the boiling water.  I thought to myself, quote:

"Scrambled Eggs.  Chocolate Scrambled Eggs."

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Just do everything right down to the letter.  EXCEPT:  You can make it in a bundt/tube pan by simply adjusting the time to 50-55 mins.  Also, if using a bundt or tube pan, I like to butter/spray the very bottom of it, just for insurance.  Do not do the sides, the cake needs some traction to rise.  There were going to be pictures here, but the cake disappeared before the camera made it to the kitchen.


The Asparagus orgy is on, and for a limited time only.  If you ever see asparagus outside of this season, be suspicious.  This recipe yields a culinary delight to surpass (almost) French Fries.  

CAUTION:  The first time I made this, GingerMan was HIGHLY suspicious, staring  at them as the pan lay on the cooling rack.  Then he tried one.  While my back was turned, half of the first pan disappeared down his greedy Irish gullet.  Score One for Nutrition.

Heat oven to 350F
Time: Prep: 5 minutes, Cook 1 hour*

*In which you need do a) nothing, b) fix all the rest of the meal without having to worry a bit about the veg!


HERBS:  This is your Free Pass To Flavor.  I have used Penzeys Mural of Flavor, which is a blend of just about every herb you can think of, I have used a basic Italian Blend, I have used Mrs. Dash Garlic and Herb at my mom's house and they are all great.  Experiment and enjoy, just make sure you use DRIED, they work better in this long cooking process.


1.  Rinse asparagus.  Hold tip in one hand, hold bum in other hand and gently bend.  It will decide where to snap off.  Do not think you can "save" a lot of asparagus by only clipping off the very, very bum end, you will end up with a lot of fibrous stalk on your dinner plate which you will find hateful and distasteful.  The Stalk Knows.

2.  Lay stalks out on cookie sheet(s).  Ensure they are dry.  Drizzle lightly with Olive Oil to coat, sprinkle lightly with Sea Salt, then lightly with Herbs.  Roll the stalks round in all the good stuff then lay them out evenly over the sheet.


3.  Pop them in the oven for 30-40 minutes at 350F.  Check first at 30 minutes, and see how you like them.  This is a question of aesthetics. The longer they roast with the heat on, the crispier the tips become, the more caramelized the stalks will be.  What this looks like, however, is darkening tops and collapsing stalks.  Be brave, but decide how far you want to go.

4.  At the end of 30-40mins, DO NOT REMOVE from the oven!  Shut off the heat and leave them in the cooling oven for the rest of the hour.  Remove from oven and place sheet pan(s) on cooling rack(s) for a few minutes.  Dish 'em up and watch 'em disappear.

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