Saturday, December 20, 2008

Raw, adjective: 10. not diluted, as alcoholic spirits: raw whiskey.

Bundt Cake Saturday!

Morning: freeeeeezing
Mood: rosy
Music: old-skool Indigo Girls

Yeah, so I'm sitting here listening to the "Best of" Indigo Girls and it feels like the aural equivalent of wrapping up in a big ratty cozy old blanket and curling up by the tree drinking hot chocolate with serious amounts of marshmallows melting in it.  While wearing sweatpants.  In front of a fireplace.  I'd forgotten how comfortable and tight their harmonies are.  I could wail along to these chestnuts on perpetual repeat.

Tried to hook it up with a somewhat-holiday-inspired recipe today, since it's really the last Saturday before Christmas.  And after doing a little research, I managed a melange of a few recipes that I think will sufficiently echo the feeling of the season.  So, pour yourself a hot brandy and let's make a


Mmm, yes.  I'm not so much for eggnog, but you know, when in Rome; and it's definitely that time of year.  So I picked some up yesterday, figured out how to throw in some extra rum and spices and whatnot, and added some fruit flavor to the recipe.  It's somewhat cobbled together, but it's in the oven by now and everything's looking fine, so we'll go with it.


1 (18 ounce) box yellow cake mix
1 box instant vanilla pudding 
1/2 cup vegetable oil 
2 eggs 
1 1/2 cups eggnog 
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons rum extract
1 can cherry pie filling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour your bundt pan.  Combine dry cake mix with required oil, eggs, eggnog, nutmeg, and rum extract.  Mix for several minutes; pour half of the batter into the greased pan, top with a layer of cherry pie filling, and cover with remaining batter.  Bake for approx. 1 hour; remove and cool on a wire rack before turning out to cool completely.

I baked this in the spiral heritage pan, so am just going to make an eggnog glaze to emphasize the shape.  Your glaze looks like this:

2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon rum extract
3 tablespoons eggnog

Just combine in a medium bowl and drizzle on top of cooled cake.  Sprinkle with a little more confectioner's sugar for a snowy feel. I sprinkled a handful of chopped dates and dried cherries on top for effect, and added a few sprigs of lunaria and eucalyptus, as well.

And there's yer holiday cake.  Cheers.

Recipe courtesy (in part) this cooking message board.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Raw, adjective: 9. disagreeably damp and chilly, as the weather or air

Odds and ends for you on a chilly Thursday morning.  

Bartended last night and it was a veritable testosterone wonderland.  All tall strapping dudes at the bar buzzing with holiday brews, with two very happy chicks slinging drinks in the middle of the cacophony.  I couldn't believe my good luck.  Would that every night was like the last.  I think it was the fresh mistletoe that I wrangled from our doorway and brought along with me to christen the bar after it served us well at our holiday party the evening before.

Ice skating action is in the stars for today, and I feel like an 8-year-old kid strapping on the skates for the first time.  They've got an ice rink set up in Union Square this year (in addition to the usual one that graces Justin Herman Plaza), and my, how things have changed from the days when you used to just go skate on the bumpy frozen-over lake on the edge of town.  Check out this site, where you can buy tickets, reserve skates, and get your own chunk of time all before you even leave the house:  Union Square Ice Rink.  Hello, convenience.

Love it.  And only $12.  I'll be there every day through the new year.  Did any of yous college types take the ice skating curriculum offered at the University of Delaware when you were there?  So, UDel had this major ice-skating training facility, where Olympians like Oksana Baioul used to train.  And as a result, they offered excellent beginners' courses (for college credit, no less!).  In lieu of taking something intelligent and theoretical, I did some killer coursework in how to fall gracefully on the ice, and how to stick my leg 45 degrees in the air while skating.  Money well spent, fer sure.

That's the extent of this mid-winter, pre-solstice round-up.  Holiday season in the air.  Cocktail party's come and gone, chocolates fully stocked on every countertop, Christmas cards arrived from the printer and ready to go out in the mail.  I'll take it.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Raw, adjective: 6. ignorant, inexperienced, or untrained: a raw recruit.

Just read a review of this new book this morning, and I'm totally charmed by its conceit.

In the throes of a mid-life crisis, this guy, Jasper Rees, decided to pick up his old French horn 22 years after abandoning it, with the goal of performing a Mozart concerto at a public festival.  In the process, he did all kinds of research on this notoriously-difficult instrument; his book sounds like a veritable love song to the French horn, albeit one rife with the frustration that's often a part of any good love affair.

[This strikes me as brilliant, btw.  Why do we leave instrument-learning to 10-year-olds, who quickly abandon them when they realize they'll get more chicks playing on the soccer team than hauling a trombone around??  Are we so afraid of looking a fool as a beginner again at a late age?  And why don't we tell those kids that trombone will be a chick-magnet in 10 years if they just stick out the band-nerd phase?]

Maybe it's because I've been flirting with the idea of doing the same thing with my old silver trumpet, but I just loved reading about this book; something about the condensed musical goal, this very tangible little mid-life adventure that has nothing to do with red Ferraris or 22-year-old trophy girlfriends, is so endearing.  Lately lurking in the back of my mind has been a similar urge to wail on the old horn again and wear some sequins and pearls and front a little jazz combo, singing "Just In Time" between toots on the trumpet.  One of those things I want to check off my list before getting wrinkly and decrepit, fer sure.  (Um, let me know if you know any standing bass players looking for a chick to stand up front and look cute.)

Anyway - here's the link to the Chron review.  Check it out.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Raw, noun: 13. unrefined sugar, oil, etc.

Bundt Cake Saturday!

Morning: coooold
Mood: sugary
Music: Nina Simone

So suddenly it's bundt cake Saturday, and bundts are the last thing I've thought of this week.  After a rather intense one, I needed something fast, easy, and preferably smack in front of my face.  Luckily, the little sis read my mind, because she intuitively sent a quick and rich recipe yesterday just in time for me to scramble to come up with a bundt.  Thanks, Mari.

My thoughtful friends Jay and Sylvia surprised me last week with a bundt-o-ganza holiday package, bursting with glazes and mixes and a bundt thermometer (!) and, most excitingly, a little gadget called the Tunnel of Bundt.  (Yes, my life is pathetic.  You don't need to say it first.)  It's actually this metal insert that you bake with the cake, and once removed, it leaves a "tunnel" in the cake which you then fill with something rich and delicious like custard or pudding or ice cream or what-have-you.

So I knew I wanted to break that little puppy in, but I needed a quick recipe to make it happen, so I combined a few things and whipped up this chocolate overdose.  It should succeed in making anyone who eats it immediately diabetic.  (Great, Rach, just what you're going for.)  In the meantime, it was fast, easy and it looks kind of cute all wrapped up with a bow.  So without further adieu, let's make a


Yes, I said "tunnel of fudge."  It's not officially fudge; it's more like frosting with chocolate chips and edible glitter, but whatever.  It'll work.


1 box yellow cake mix
1 box instant vanilla pudding
1 box instant chocolate pudding
1/2 cup canola oil
1 1/2 cups water
4 eggs
1 bag chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour your pan.  Mix cake mix, pudding, oil and water for two minutes.  Add eggs and mix for one more minute. Fold in chocolate chips by hand. Bake for 1 hour; cool for 10 minutes in pan and then remove.

Mine didn't need to bake that long; it was done in about 45 minutes.  It also overflowed the pan because of the Tunnel of Bundt insert, which resulted in burning cake on the bottom of the oven.  Nice.

Anyway, so I removed the cake and did all the cooling and inverting and whatnot, blah blah blah.  It's a little fragile because of the insert, but it worked fairly well (make sure to grease it, as well), and after the cake cooled I filled the tunnel with the above-mentioned combination of frosting, chocolate chips, and edible glitter.  Ridiculous.

Frosted the finished product with a whipped milk chocolate frosting, sprinkled a few mini chocolate chips on top, and wrapped it up with a red holiday bow that I had sitting around the house.  And that's that.  Easy.  Cute.  Sugar bomb.  What more could you want?

Recipe courtesy my sista.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Raw, adjective: 6. ignorant, inexperienced, or untrained: a raw recruit.

Dishy stuff from the folks over at Newsweek, and just in time for the holidays.  You can bet your britches that the "Christian" conservatives have got their panties in a bunch.

We can usually count on these mainstream mags like Time and Newsweek putting out a satisfactorily-bland religiously-themed issue around the holidays.  Slap a pretty picture of the Virgin Mary on the cover, write some inoffensive crap about how Jesus was maybe really born in the summertime, the issue sells reliably, and the writers get some time off for the holidays.  This year, not so much.

You've gotta give Newsweek serious credit for having the balls to publish this piece, and on the cover, no less, knowing it'd be popping up on subscribers' coffee tables across the country.  Lisa Miller's straightforward piece (no pun intended) arguing that the Bible in fact supports gay marriage is about as rational and non-inflammatory as you can get when discussing this topic; she so ably discredits claims at biblical literalism and moves right on to the real heart of the issue that you hardly even realize she's written off the vast majority of Prop 8 supporters whose faith is misguidedly and blindly rooted in a backwards belief in biblical literalism.

Of course this has set off a media firestorm.  And you've gotta know that Newsweek anticipated that, too.  What I love is that Miller makes the same arguments here in this mainstream rag - the same one that millions of people will walk by and ruffle through while they wait in line at the grocery store and the gas station - that tons of progressive theologians have been making for years, while those supposedly inflammatory arguments sit collecting dust on bookshelves in obscure libraries and bookstores where the only people who actually read them are dorks like me and people who already believe biblical literalism is bunk.  So here's Miller putting it in easy-to-read layperson's terms on the cover of a mainstream national magazine.  Killer pulpit.  I love it.  Bring it.  Any way you can.  Period.

Read the article.  I appreciate its ultimate emphasis on inclusion - "The practice of inclusion, even in defiance of social convention, the reaching out to outcasts, the emphasis on togetherness and community over and against chaos, depravity, indifference—all these biblical values argue for gay marriage," - which of course strikes at the heart of the hateful exclusionary motives behind conservatives' fight against gay marriage.  Miller does well to point out the parallels between this current issue and the civil rights and race-based exclusionary arguments of the past.

People want to love each other, in the context of a societally-approved institution.  That's it.  Really not so difficult to understand, or affirm.  I'll be interested to watch the firestorm continue to develop.  This issue is not going away anytime soon.  (And thanks to MLS for sending.)

Our Mutual Joy (Newsweek)
A Religious Reaction to Gay Marriage (Newsweek blog collection of responses from The Crazies)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Raw, adjective: 10. not diluted, as alcoholic spirits: raw whiskey.

Yup - it's officially cocktail season.

The Chron and the NYT seem to agree, as they keep running cheesily superficial (albeit interesting) articles on cocktail action.  More interesting to me is this piece about the increasingly hot champagne cocktail.

This is true.  Definitely the way to go right now.  Beyond the basic champagne cocktail (sugar cube, bitters, and bubbly with a lemon twist), which is pretty much classically stylish, that is.  You've got creative ways to run with it, interesting liqueurs, fresh juices, local bubblies.  Check out the stash of recipes they include.  We've been making the one with elderflower and ruby red grapefruit (ahem, that would be "The Raquel") for awhile now.  But I could really go for the one with pomegranate and Cointreau, too.

The NYT made its attempt to hit up the seasonal cocktail buzz with last week's round-up of the supposed 8 types of bartenders.  Now, I don't know about all that - reads to me like a desperate attempt to shape a trend piece out of, well, not much - but the various regional shout-outs are interesting, and the comments about general bartending trends right now do hold a few nuggets of truth.

Read up to prepare for your holiday cocktail tippling.

Raw, adjective: 8. brutally harsh or unfair: a raw deal.

Saw Milk last night.  Wow.

All those glowing reviews you've been reading?  Yeah, well, there's a reason for them.  It's stellar.  Compelling.  Heart-wrenching.  Inspirational.  And Sean Penn should definitely be walking home with a Best Actor Academy Award, if there's any justice in the universe.

Beyond the eerily-relevant political topicality of the whole thing, it was entertaining to see some local haunts popping up onscreen now and then.  Gus Van Sant and crew did some nice work in incorporating the real SF into the making of the film.  

Please go see it.  Take Kleenex.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture

Ode to the Velvet Tubetop

We're hosting our annual holiday cocktail party next week, so I got up this morning and started checking projects off my list for the big to-do.  It was quiet, other than the unfortunate alto wailing upstairs, and I sat at the kitchen table and did a little mending before dropping a few things off at the dry cleaner's in preparation for the party.

Debussy's Clair de Lune - one of my all-time favorites, despite the fact that after seeing "Ocean's Eleven" I'll always associate it with Carl Reiner and the Bellagio fountains - came on, and I sat there threading my needle, and realized that in my constant effort to find true-blue real earthy forms of moving meditation, I'd forgotten about sewing.  How fucking calming is that.  I realize now why the old matrons in antebellum movies are happy to sit on the veranda and mend socks.  Because, damn, is it zen.  

So the needle went in and out and up and down and I thought about time passing and how funny it is on a Monday morning in early December how much life can look like the past and how little it can, all at once.  I've got this regular holiday get-up, see; it's this sort of vaguely-catsuit-ish little velvet number that I bought for a formal in 2000 - yes, that would be 8 years ago, and MFord, you were there, if you remember - and I've worn it ever since, once a year, really, for some holiday function or another, as there's really no other appropriate occasion for a ridiculous black velvet piece with some boning in the corset and a tight skirt and a little black feather ruffle around the hem.  (Yeah, I told you it was campy.)  It's so Julie Newmar, I can't even tell you, especially when you throw on a wide black belt (or red, like one year) and some black pumps.

Like Sasquatch, like Nessie, the black velvet tubetop dress sneaks out once a year for its token annual appearance, and then it gets thrown back into the closet to be trotted out again the next December.  And for having seen as much champagne and brie and pine needles as it has, it's holding up remarkably well, other than the little feathery trim that needed to be sewed on again this morning.  Not bad for having survived quite a few holiday parties, a wedding or two, one Halloween, and exactly one choreographed performance of "Oops, I Did It Again."  

So this morning I just sat there, Debussy on repeat, needle up and down, up and down, and felt so sentimental about this stupid little velvet thing.  It could tell a lot of stories, this little black dress.  (Thankfully, it can't.)  But here it comes out of the dusty corner of the closet again, and it'll do its duty again this year, and in spite of all the transience that is simply being alive, and in spite of the skin and the cells and the muscles underneath that will change across the years, it's still this consistent thread drawing itself across time, beginning with that first hasty purchase in preparation for a surprise Britney Spears performance.  And how often can you really say that about something?

Do you have things like that?  Frivolous, insignificant; cheesy or campy or definitely not in good taste, but endearing and enduring, consistent across the changing houses and hombres and hairstyles?  There's something to be said for it.  A secret little relationship you've got with this trifling little thing that's quietly witnessed so many moments of your life.

I may not be able to squeeze into this sucker when I'm 60, and it'll probably be hopelessly out of fashion then anyway, but I'll be damned if I don't go down trying.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Raw, adjective: 1. uncooked, as articles of food: a raw carrot.

Bundt Cake Saturday!

Morning: Christmas-y
Mood: cozy
Music: Ellington

And it's an Ellington kind of morning, in every way.  There's a saucy, sauntering version of "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" swinging on the stereo right now, and the light's still weak.  I dig it.  And am feeling pretty ready to get the buried old trumpet out of the closet, mute that sucker and get my lip back.  Ellington was such a badass.

Thought we'd do a little December-y recipe this morning, something a little lighter and more simple than last week's heavily-frosted German Chocolate cake.  And I wanted to try out the Bavarian mold again.  So, inspired by thoughts of sugar plums, I did a little digging for an appropriate recipe, and though I did eventually find a sweet little plum recipe, it gradually morphed into something else equally fruity and particularly seasonal.  So let's go ahead and make what I hope is a delicious


Mmm, yeah.  The cake is nearly ready to pull out of the oven and I'm liking the way the ginger makes the house smell like gingerbread cookies and Christmastime.  It's a good combination of fruit and spice.  This is certainly not your frou-frou Martha Stewart version with fresh-cut pears and a hunk of ginger that you bought in Chinatown at dawn.  Erm, no.  This is more like, what can I make half-asleep that will taste good and not be high-maintenance and sit on my countertop ready to be made with minimum drama?  Also known as: lazy.  So that's what you're getting.


1 (18.25 ounce) package moist yellow cake mix
1 small package instant vanilla pudding 
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
2 (4 ounce) jars organic pear baby food
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
1 cup raisins (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour your Bundt pan.  Combine the cake mix, pudding, vegetable oil, eggs, pear baby food, and spices. Mix for 2 minutes.  Stir in raisins and pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. 

I didn't expect it to really take an hour to bake, but so far, it's been about 50 minutes.  I think instead of sprinkling it with confectioner's sugar as recommended I'm going to make a little brown sugar/ginger glaze for the top.  

Combine 1/3 cup brown sugar, 2 T melted butter, 1/4 tsp ginger, and a little water and stir on the burner just until it liquifies.  Drizzle the glaze over the cake as it cools.  And you're all set.

I had a few rosehips yet on their last legs (this is it already with the rosehips, I promise), so I stuffed a little bouquet in the center of the cake and placed a few dried peony petals around the outside to finish it.  Must. Be. Pretty.

(Oh, and in keeping with last week's somewhat creepy German Chocolate martini, I found another alcoholic version of this cake: the Ginger-Pear Martini.  Holy syrup.)

Recipe courtesy (in part)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture

I got all soft and smiley this morning reading Christoph Niemann's twee little art blog on the NYT.  Check it out.

It's a memoir of his coffee history, created on paper napkins and drizzled out in pen and coffee stains.  Totally charming.  Read the blurbs underneath and appreciate his quiet yet funny voice.  Even better, read the many, many comments that follow, all from various readers throwing in stories of their own coffee amor.

I found this while sipping on my own morning brew, reading the news in the shadow of the twinkling white lights on the Christmas tree and listening to the radiator spew hot water to my left.  A pretty great December morning.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Raw, adjective: 5. crude in quality or character; not tempered or refined by art or taste: raw humor.

Oh, wow.  This is hilarious.

Check out this latest video from Funny or Die, "Prop 8 - The Musical," featuring Jack Black as Jesus Christ, John C. Reilly, Maya Rudolph, Margaret Cho and Neil Patrick Harris.  It nails every aspect of the local community theater production, right down to the overzealous piano player and the hackneyed choreography.  And the lyrics are so smart, you'll want to watch it twice to catch them all.

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

You've gotta love the way this emphasizes the cynical spin on the whole issue; i.e., not the fact that the passage of Prop 8 represents a denial of civil rights, but that it effectively eliminates the huge local economic windfall that would come from expanding the wedding industry to include a new chunk of eligible betrotheds eager to throw down for some china plates and lavender streamers.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Raw, adjective: 1. uncooked, as articles of food: a raw carrot.

Saw this article in the NYT last week, and after a weekend heavy with stuffing and feta cheese and bundt cakes, it was the first thing I thought of on waking this morning.  Now all I want is a nice counterbalance of greens and veggies and simplicity.  (This whole "season structured around consumption" thing doesn't do much for me.)

So I revisited this short recipe for fennel and celery salad, and it looks super easy, refreshing, and incredibly healthy.  I mean, even I can make this, painlessly, and with no cooking involved.  Read the quick article (including excellent suggestions for additions and alternatives) and take a few minutes to watch the accompanying (and surprisingly funny) video.  You might learn a little something about a gadget called a mandoline.

(Also, did you know fennel is on the list of WH Foods?)

Fennel (WH Foods)