Saturday, August 30, 2008

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



Bundt Cake Saturday!

Morning: foggy, cool
Mood: mellow
Music: Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue"

The fog rolled in last night after several unbelievably hot Indian summer days.  I have a feeling it'll burn off in a few hours, but in the meantime it's still a cool foggy late August morning, and the heater's whirring, and the world is just waking up.

Today's bundt features a combo of two of my most favorite things: coffee and chocolate.  This recipe is my virgin attempt from Matt's Bundt Cake Bliss cookbook (whoohoo, Matt), and I'm really excited about it.  So brew up a strong pot, settle in with some breakfast, and get ready for a delicious

DEVIL'S FOOD ESPRESSO BUNDT CAKE

Yes, that's right.  Big thick gooey gloppy Devil's Food, combined with actual espresso and a good pour of freshly-brewed coffee.  This shit is going to be out of control.

I'm actually a little concerned because I've had the cake in the oven for nearly 45 minutes now and the batter, pre-baking, was the thickest I've ever seen.  As in, nearly impossible to stir, or to pour into the bundt pan.  So we'll see if this action works.  We may need to try a Round 2.  All signs are pointing to OK right now, but we'll give it a few more minutes in the oven and then check it out.  



And good luck finding that espresso powder.  There are a few versions available online, but I had to check at 3 different grocers before finally discovering some at the great little gourmet cooking shop (specializing in all things Italian) around the corner.  Whew.  You don't want to use ground espresso; you want the actual powder itself, as the granules are finer.

INGREDIENTS

1 box (18-ounce) devil's food cake mix
1 small box instant chocolate pudding mix
4 eggs
1/2 cup strongly brewed coffee
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup plain yogurt or sour cream (I used sour cream)
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare a 12-cup Bundt pan using butter and flour and set aside.  Place the cake mix and the pudding mix in a bowl and mix for 30 seconds.  Add the remaining ingredients and mix well.  Pour the batter into the pan.  Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Let cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

The recipe in this book recommends a homemade espresso glaze, but, being liberal in all things, but especially the use of frosting, I'm going to go ahead with a chocolate buttercream frosting instead.

Thought I'd add 2 teaspoons of instant espresso powder and a few tablespoons of brewed coffee to flavor the icing.  We'll see if it works.  (Experiment, my friends!)

UPDATE: Ok, I've actually got the cake out of the bundt now and cooling on the wire rack, and it's looking fine.  I think my fears about the gloopyness were unfounded.  There was a great whoosh of espresso-scented air when I took it out of the pan.  Whew.  And the kitchen is smelling like a big chocolatey-coffee swirl.  Delish.

Now, onto that frosting.

I only added 1 T of coffee and the 2 t of espresso powder, to keep the frosting thick.  I frosted that puppy and sprinkled a few handfuls of dark chocolate-covered espresso beans to finish.  It's cute!  And you'll get a nice buzz from eating it, too.  

Dessert and stimulants in one.  Sweet.


Friday, August 29, 2008

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


If you've studied any kind of yoga or Hindu philosophy at all, you've heard of the Bhagavad Gita.  You probably, like me at one point, had no idea what the hell it was about, just that it was important and maybe kind of central to some philosophy or other and oh yeah, wouldn't it be great if you actually read it?  And then you'd turn on the TV or head outside and promptly forget that millionth addition to your "should've read" list.

Turns out the Bhagavad Gita - or "Song of God" - isn't so scary after all.  In fact, it's quite beautiful.  And this ancient text, along with being the very root of most yogic philosophy, has also influenced everyone from Henry David Thoreau to Ralph Waldo Emerson to Robert Oppenheimer, creator of the atomic bomb himself.

Do yourselves a favor and read this quick article.  It's an easy introduction to "the first fully realized yogic scripture."  Writer Stefanie Syman summarizes that
While no single thread has been picked up and woven into Western culture by the various thinkers, poets, songwriters, yoga teachers, and philosophers who have been drawn to the Gita, three main themes seem to have intrigued its readers: the nature of divinity; yoga, or the various ways of making contact with this divinity; and finally, the resolution of the perennial conflict between a renunciation of the world—often considered the quickest path to spiritual enlightenment—and action.
Read it and find a rumination on praxis, work, and an Emerson's "inclusive" notion of divinity.  I've always been a sucker for the Transcendentalists, and while I knew their work was often inspired by mysticism, particularly Christian mystics, I didn't realize Hindu philosophy played such an illuminative role in shaping their ideas.  And there's a nice discussion toward the end of the use of the mind and the body as "tools for awakening," via the 4 main branches of yoga: bhakti (love), jnana (study), karma (service), and raja (meditation).  

File this one away in your "good to know" category.  And then please go do some yoga.

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


Slow Food Nation hits San Francisco today!  

I was headed downtown last night just as the sun was starting to set, right past the Victory Garden (which has managed to flourish in spite of its lackluster odds), weaving my way around the many trucks and tents being set up in Civic Center Plaza in preparation for the big event this weekend.  The three-day conference begins today, with events and forums and music and marketplaces and tastings all over the City.

SF usually empties out over the long Labor Day weekend, what with Burning Man and Tahoe and whatnot so close at hand, so I'm thrilled to see that we're due for an influx of forward-thinking foodies for the next few days.  Steven Winn at the Chron has a nice write-up preview of the conference; check it out for basics on the movement as well as critiques that will surely be popping up in other places as people dissect the goings-on here.  Here's a quick blurb:
In its rebuke of fast food, big agribusiness and global distribution and its embrace of local products, biological diversity, sustainability and the sensual delights of the table, food is a touchstone for everything from energy policy and net-roots politics to the ways Americans both seek and sabotage pleasure.
I like how Winn emphasizes pleasure as utmost in this movement.  It's easy to get caught up in the politics and ideologies of the whole thing, so lost in talk of commodification and globalization and environmentalism and poverty that we forget that at the end of the day, it's all about rediscovering the sensuality and the community and the joy involved in preparing and eating some delicious and healthy local food.  It really is a sensibility, a way of looking at the world at large.

We'll see how it shakes out this weekend.  We're due for some great music over near Fort Mason, as a part of Slow Food Rocks.  Sounds like everything's pretty much sold out, but do wander down to Civic Center for a taste of the Marketplace action, which is open to the public.  Last night they'd set up a gorgeous dinner party in the waning sunlight, complete with white lights and beautiful linens; the booths for local gardeners and proprietors were equally classy, complete with descriptions of their products, maps and personal tidbits.  I'm excited.

Read the Chron article, and then head over to www.slowfoodnation.org for all the dish.

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


Ooh, this is a doozy.

This week's Yoga Journal newsletter highlights a great little piece on the 10 Classics of Spiritual Literature.  Written by a former missile engineer-turned-creative writing professor and novelist, the list is an excellent collection of some of those titles you've always felt like you should've read and didn't.

Gerald Rosen writes about the variety of literature that first made spirituality seem "hip and wonderful" to him many years ago.  He includes everyone from Jack Kerouac (Dharma Bums) to Herman Hesse (Siddhartha) to Dostoevsky (The Brothers Karamazov) to Flannery O'Connor (and her Southern Gothic Catholicism) to Doris Lessing (general badass, she; you should read some of her interviews).  All of these, Rosen writes, have written books that he cherishes "as old friends and teachers."

Isn't that the truth?  Some pieces of literature have been more central to my life than people, especially those books that have made me think about meaning and transcendence, spirit and suffering, compassion and purpose.  This list touches on all of those themes, along with existentialism, death, attachment and enlightenment.  (You know, just some light beach reading.)

For all of you who were stressing about how to fill up your Friday nights for the next two months, well, here you go.  This could make for a killer book club.  Think about how blissed out and buzzing you'd be after knocking these out, one after another.  I'd be down for it.

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




B had this old photo on a shelf when I saw her last week.  It makes me laugh.  I wore that perturbed expression in most of my childhood photos, usually next to a toothy B.  Those fat little legs!  And stylish sandals over tights.

And please note that yes, those dresses are made of Strawberry Shortcake.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

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


Our girl Jillian is getting married next week in Hawaii, so the other night we took care of the obligatory bachelorette action to make sure she gets sent off the right way.  Llama and I had been secretly hatching a plan for the last few weeks in preparation for the big ladies' evening.  Once again I employed my serious Betty Crocking skillz in honor of one I love.  And the result was one of, if not THE most, bizarro and grotesque (and sparkly!) cakes I've yet made.

When we were little girls, my mother used to make a variation on this cake with an angel food pan, a quick trip to the toy store, and a hell of a lot of icing.  I decided to expand the Bundt repertoire with a little doll action myself in honor of the bride-to-be.  Also, um, ironic.  So herein, I give you

JILLIAN'S BRIDAL EXTRAVAGANZA BUNDT

(It's actually not a bundt, but whatever.  Semantics.)

Though she's all kinds of Michigan girl, Jill is of Korean descent, so my first mission was to truck on down to your source and mine for Cheap Asian Shit: Chinatown.  I hauled my ass up the hill and down again and started battling the tourist hordes and the 4-foot grandmas along the packed sidewalks.  Within a block-or-so radius, I meandered into store after store full of ugly shit, usually named something like "Oriental Treasures" or some such.  In five years of living 6 blocks away, I'd never actually gone into these places.  Holy shit.  Little did I know there were such rich sources of crap nearby.  Cow bells, swords, librarian action figures, cheap knock-off sunglasses.  My senses were assaulted.

After wading through 3 or 4 shops to no avail, I finally struck the motherlode.  There she was, resting in a dingy basket on the floor: Pocahontas Barbie, all decked out in brown boots and a beaded shift dress and, of course, a bandana around her head, topped off by cheap flowing black hair.  Perfect.  So I shelled out my $2.16, stuffed Pocahontas in my bag (nevermind the ethnic messiness - she'd have to do), and headed out for the rest of my spoils.

Several shops later, and armed with edible glitter, frosting tips and a new angel-food cake pan, I was ready to hit that shit.  I woke up early Tuesday morning to bake the cake.  As you know, angel food cakes can be somewhat precarious.  Since they don't have any fat or grease, you've gotta be careful to whip the egg whites just enough that the cake won't fall in when it's through baking.  I pulled it out of the oven and balanced it on an empty bottle to cool upside-down, per convention, and headed out for the day.



Came home that night ready to give Barbie her skirt.  And, long story short, here's how it went down:

1. Cut off Pocahontas's feet to just below the knee.  Leave mangled limbs on the counter to scare all visitors.

2. Wrap her nether regions in saran wrap and dress her in a bodice made of white lace from the shop around the corner.  Craft a little bow and veil and Krazy Glue that shit on her fake hair.  Rest.  Wash your sticky fingers and curse the day someone invented superglue.

3. Spoon a big dollop of icing into the middle of the cake so that Barbie can stand up properly.  Shave a little from the edges of the cake to stuff inside the hole so that she is secure.  And then, my friends, frost away.

I'd bought one huge tub of whipped fluffy white icing, thinking it'd be more than enough.  Was I wrong!  Barbie Jillian had half of her skirt frosted before the whole thing ran out and I had to make a last-ditch run to Cala for two more (yes, TWO) tubs of the frothy stuff.  Once the fat-free, delicate chiffon angel food cake was thoroughly loaded down with three tubs of frosting, Barbie was ready for her final details.

I sprinkled the silver-white edible glitter all over her skirt (thanks, Sur la Table) to give it a sparkly sheen.  I then whipped out my dangerous new frosting tips and gun and applied a nice little edging around the bottom of the skirt so that it looked like it had a pretty hem.  Finally, I fashioned four little bows out of the leftover white ribbon and stuck those puppies onto the skirt in symmetrical spots (symmetry, of course!  Type-A, who?).

And that was the end of Bridal Barbie Jillian.  I loaded her up and carried her lovingly out to the restaurant (all the way in the Mission, egads!), cursing the stiff wind and the dude on Polk St. who asked me "is that cake a hockey player?".  Barbie Jill made it with few injuries, and a few hours, a few entrees and a few bottles of wine later, we were cutting into her.  That was weird in and of itself.  But she did taste delicious, if I do say so myself. 

Lesson learned: you can never have enough frosting.  Or edible glitter.  And if you ever go looking for an Asian Barbie in Chinatown, good luck with that.

And most importantly: good luck to Jill and Kev!  Whenever I see a Pocahontas Barbie, for the rest of my life, I'll think of you.  And tequila.

Love.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.




Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

~~ Rumi



(And that's more O'Keeffe: "Red Cannas")

Monday, August 25, 2008

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.


All right, friends, there is much to discuss: new musicals and prairies and airports and potential operas and killer festivals in SF.  But can we just talk politics for a few minutes, please?

Because everywhere I turn right now, it's "convention" this and "convention" that.  So forgive the scatteredness - I've been up since 4:30 am PST now, so you're gonna get bullet points - but seriously, let's talk about

1.  Michelle Obama.  Got home tonight and turned on the TV just in time to catch her opening night address at the DNC in Denver.  First of all, if I can just state the obvious and get it out of the way: she is so hot.  Seriously!  Hot.  Green dress, little brooch on the front, strong, confident, beautiful.  Seriously hot.  So once I got over that initial reaction, I sat there on the couch eating my broccoli and found myself enraptured.  The woman can speak.  She's so damn good.  Like a preacher.  Smart and self-possessed, with killer theatrical timing, and the ability to throw in a "see," or "you know," just often enough that it sounds like she's speaking somewhat off the cuff.  I teared up.  Wanted to go join up and wear Obama sandwich boards for the next two months.  And turned into a puddle of mush when she talked about Barack nervously driving her home from the hospital after Malia was first born.  A powerful speech, a powerful woman.  Followed, of course, by the adorable entrance of her adorable daughters clad in adorable matching jewel-tone dresses.  Who then proceeded to say "Hi, Daddy!" over and over to the video feed of Barack watching from Missouri.  Cutest.  Thing.  Ever.  Sheesh.  John and Cindy McCain have no shot at topping this.  Go to msnbc.com to watch it yourself.  And do yourselves a favor and watch Ted Kennedy's moving speech while you're at it.  Talk about tearing up: here's Mr. Brain Cancer himself talking about hope for the future.  Whew.

2. Joe Biden.  Stepped off the plane in Mpls Saturday afternoon just in time to catch the big rally in Springfield when Obama officially introduced Biden as his running mate.  I'd been secretly holding out for Biden, what with the old Delaware connections and all.  He IS a fellow alum of my alma mater - gotta stick up for those big blue chickens - but the guy has always struck me as fairly real and a little bit earthy (he says "hell" a lot, notice?) and has definitely seen his share of tragedy.  And I think his status as a Washington insider with a lot of foreign policy experience is the perfect answer to Obama's perceived weaknesses, even if he won't necessarily be contributing a ton of votes from Delaware.  Point of all that is, though, I stood there in the airport and watched Obama's speech there live on CNN, and was struck once again by what a damn good speaker he is.  The man oozes charisma.  I couldn't walk away.  I wasn't the only one standing rapt there in the terminal, either; small kids and elderly folks had all stopped in their tracks to watch the big announcement.  It made me grin.

3. Liberal Minnesotans.  It was funny to be there in St. Paul as they gear up for the huge influx of Republicans for the big RNC there next week.  Erghh.  Seems like the locals aren't exactly thrilled.  I got a bit of a primer on Minnesota politics from the big sis; love how you can always count on those good heartland Scandinavians to raise a little hell in that sleeper of a blue state nestled up there by the Canadian border.  Warms the cockles of my heart.

4.  The Homeland Security Nazis.  I almost punched a TSA lady today when she confiscated my bag at the security checkpoint because I had - god forbid - a tube of toothpaste not included in my 3 oz. quart bag bullshit.  Started muttering under my breath about georgegoddamnedbush and how we need a new president and American paranoia and oh-yeah-I'm-really-gonna-build-a-bomb-with-colgate-minty-fresh-lady, seriously!  It was ugly and I had to control myself because I noticed the poor Arab-American dude next to me who was also getting specially checked (hmm, racial profiling, what?) started shooting nervous looks my way.  You never know what might happen with this Homeland Security bullshit.  So I shut my mouth, my face turned beet red, and the lady threw out my perfectly good, perfectly new tube of toothpaste.  Thank god the TSA protects us from those dangerous, dangerous terrorists.

We can't elect Obama soon enough.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

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


No bundt cake this Saturday, as I am en route to a quick weekend in Minneapolis, which (coincidentally or not?) happens to be the Bundt motherland, home of Nordicware itself.  Fate, obvs.

Melissa's Matt sent this cookbook along for me in his stead, since he couldn't make it out to SF with her this time around.  Bundt Cake Bliss: Delicious Desserts from Midwest Kitchens.  I'm crazy about it.  (Matt, you're the best!)  Prepare for wild and woolly bundts to come, courtesy of the New York contingent.

Cheers and have a good weekend.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.


Caught Brideshead Revisited on a cool foggy summer evening last week.  Aesthetically, it got me.  Thematically, too.

I confess to not having read Evelyn Waugh's original 1945 novel, so I can't speak to the quibbles some critics are having over what is apparently a vastly reduced plotline.  And I never saw the 1981 BBC 12-hour documentary version starring Jeremy Irons that so many others are comparing it to.  All I can say is this: the film was beautiful.  The costumes were stunning.  The art direction, lush.  And Hayley Atwell's severe Jazz Age Dora-the-Explorer bob made me want to march right down to the hair salon immediately (I still might).  I am also prepared to chuck my entire contemporary wardrobe in favor of the gorgeous drop-waist sheaths Julia wears throughout the course of the film, especially that emerald-green gown.  From now on, it will be t-straps and vintage wear only.

Emma Thompson does strong work as Mommie Dearest, clothed in rich velvets and heavy satins, and the settings in Venice and Morocco are beautiful.  And on a more serious note, the film itself, with its focus on class envy and social climbing as related to love and religion and the messy combination of the two, and the ultimately powerful role that faith (or lack thereof) can have in determining romantic and filial relationships, leaves you frustratingly reflective as you walk out of the theater.

Brideshead struck me with a sense of the power of certain loves to linger in your consciousness, long after they've faded from your life; the scenes of Charles "revisiting" Brideshead over the years, and particularly the last time when he returns to an estate transformed by World War II, filled me with the kind of bittersweet loss that only comes with memories of places that once were and will never again be.  I climbed up California Street with wet cheeks, aching for a short 20's bob, and reminded of the Buddhist maxim that life is change, and transience is all we can know, so let's please savor the moments of youth spent swimming naked in fountains and tasting 27 different bottles of wine while reclining on an English estate with a gorgeous closeted alcoholic poet and an aloof Amelie-lookalike.  Because that shit is gonna change.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

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


Meliss and I were in a boutique the other day and I, being the useless shopper that I am, got quickly distracted by a prop book carefully laid out on one of the cutesy little tables set up in the shop.  I picked it up and settled into the marshmallowy blue settee while Meliss perused the wares actually for sale.

It was a little tome, nothing special, but I loved it immediately, and by the time Melissa'd settled on her favorite clutch, I'd breezed through a good chunk of the book's few pages.  The Art of the Handwritten Note, by Margaret Shepherd, is a little paean to that old-fashioned and nearly obsolete tradition of sending snail mail: the choosing of the perfect card, the carefully addressing the name and street address on the front, the scrawling of a personal message on the inside, preferably in some dark ink and nearly-illegible handwriting, the digging around for a stamp and the walking it down the street to the post office or the nearest mailbox to be sent somewhere across the country where it will pop up in some beloved's mailbox to an audible gasp or an unexpected smile.

I'm a big believer in handwritten correspondence.  One of my favorite perks of living far from so many people I love is that it gives me so many great reasons to send a lot of it.  I wander into the eclectic little stationer's shops up the street and roll out with a bag full of charming and absurd cards, artistic and glittery and minimalist and serious, and keep a stash there on my desk near the window for those moments when a handwritten card or a little impromptu note feels imperative.

I like the process: the sitting down, the settling-in for a good write, the whipping out one of the trusty fountain pens stashed three or four places around the house, the deciding whether to be broad or detailed, the quick scrawl and the quicker trip to the post office to make sure it goes out yet today.  There's just such a heightened intimacy to handwriting in general; something about the materiality of it, the uniqueness of each individual style, the imagined physicality involved in the process of writing a note or a letter.  And it's an intimacy whose intensity seems exacerbated by the modern-day ubiquity of email and typed correspondence.

Shepherd's intro concurs:
Writing by hand makes you look good on paper and feel good inside.  Even an ordinary handwritten note is better than the best email, and a good handwritten note on the right occasion is a work of art.  It says to the reader, "You matter to me, I thought of you, I took trouble on your behalf, here's who I am, I've been thinking of you in the days since this was mailed, I want to share with you the textures and colors and images that I like."  And that's the just unspoken messages, the pleasure anticipated before the reader even reads the words that the pen and paper have inspired you to choose. .... A note can deliver all this for less than a dollar's worth of materials and ten minutes of your time.
So: get down, get dirty, get inky, get handwritten.  Sit down and feel the pen strokes and the wet ink and remember that old familiar taste of the glue on an envelope seal.  Let's not render the handwritten note lost to fuschia flowered wedding invites and memorial thank-you notes.  The unexpected ones are the best of all.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Raw, idiom: 14a. in the natural, uncultivated, or unrefined state: nature in the raw.


My old friend Melissa's been here from New York for the last several days, which means the week has been a whirlwind of wine country and scenic drives and good food and old college friends and bad karaoke and Thai massages and flagship stores and an intoxicating combination of Bailey's and amaretto.  You may get some photos.  We'll see.

Monday evening, twilight-ish, we spent walking around Berkeley, showing her all the old grad school haunts, the classics like Sather Gate and Telegraph Avenue and the not-so-classics, like the secret views of the City tucked up on Holy Hill.  But what struck me, taking in the leafy, deserted campus that night, was Reason #55 that I love living in the Bay Area.  The magnolias are in bloom.  Just opening up.  In late August.  Where else can you find a magnolia that blooms anytime after April or May??

It slays me.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

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


In my personal version of hell, there would be malls.

Erghh. The climate-controlled, suburban American sprawling consumer wasteland that has come to supplant public and community spaces of the past in the interest of consumerism. No fresh air. Teenagers wandering around for hours on end chatting (loudly) on glittery pink cellphones. Middle-aged ladies pumping their arms in mid-power-walk wearing white sneakers and matching capri-cardigan sets. Young mothers aimlessly pushing screaming babies in strollers. The same Bath & Body Works, Victoria's Secret, J. Crew, Abercrombie, and Pottery Barn you can find anywhere from Boise to Boston. Bad muzak. Worse food. Fluorescent lighting. And did I mention no fresh air??

That's not news to you; I've mentioned this before in relation to Carolyn Merchant and her work on commodification and nature (which you still need to read if you haven't yet picked her up). But did you see this article in Salon over the weekend? This couple - a scholar and an artist - decided to squat in a mall in Providence, Rhode Island, and they managed to do so, on and off, for some four years.

The two strike me as silly and serious at once; check out some of their quotes for bizarre and subversive thoughts on malls, public space, and performance art. I love the fact that, after being sold this aspirational lifestyle that we so often see in Pottery Barn and IKEA and Williams-Sonoma glossies, they twisted the "demands to hyperstylize" by building an ironic version of that lifestyle right within the very walls of the mall.

This is the kind of art that makes me grin. Relevant, whimsical, serious, subversive, defiant, with a definite social agenda, while at the same time the artist lampoons himself in the process of creating it. I'm flying to Minneapolis this weekend, and I will most definitely not be spending any time even close to the Mall of America, but I didn't realize that we also have some Minnesotan dude to thank for creating the modern public consumeristic gathering place that is the mall. Mr. 1952 Edina, um, thanks fer nothing.

The Couple Who Lived in a Mall (Salon)

Friday, August 15, 2008

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



Bundt Cake Saturday!

Morning: classic August fog
Mood: content
Music: an old mix CD feat. Joni, Moe, Tony, Louis, Aimee, Ella, etc.

My sweet friends A.J. and Marissa rolled in last Friday night bearing gifts in the form of an enormous Nordstrom bag overflowing with tissue paper. Inside was the fetching little beehive bundt pan you might've seen here before, accompanied by a delicious Vanilla Bean bundt recipe. Made my night!

So we've been looking forward all week to the deflowering of the beehive bundt. And folks, this morning it's happening. So hold on to your horses and get ready for some serious honeybee action.

This recipe involved more experimentation on my part than in the past, so as the cake bakes in the oven for the next 40 minutes or so, I'm crossing my fingers that all of my little test tubes and beakers will not have overwhelmed the cake itself. Marissa's Sweet Vanilla Bean cake mix formed the base of my recipe, but you could easily substitute anything comparable and adjust your recipe accordingly.

HONEY-VANILLA BEEHIVE BUNDT CAKE

1 Bundt Vanilla Bean cake mix
1 cup butter, softened
4 eggs
1 cup whole milk (ew!)
1 1/2 t. vanilla extract
1 t. lemon extract
Squizzle of honey

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Grease and flour your cute beehive bundt pan, making sure you get the little honeybees greased and floured, too. Mix cake mix, softened butter, eggs, and milk in large bowl, folding in the vanilla and the lemon and finishing with a long hard squeeze of that honey bear until you get just enough honey in there. Beat for a few minutes or until you start sweating and your sore baseball-throwing arm hurts like a mo-fo. Pour cake batter into prepared pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until toothpick inserted comes out clean (mine needed 60+ min.). Cool 15 minutes in pan. Invert onto cooling rack and cool completely.

Now the fun begins. I decided to make a light honey glaze to brush over the cake while it cools. This will emphasize the honey flavor a little more in case I didn't add enough.  You can never have enough honey.

My Honey-Vanilla Glaze recipe looks like this:

2/3 c. honey
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. butter
1 t. vanilla extract

Boil honey, sugar and butter; add vanilla and remove from heat. Brush over cake halves while they cool on wire rack.

Once the cake has cooled, stand one half of the cake upright; using a serrated knife, level off the flat side by trimming off the rounded dome; repeat with the other side. Spread buttercream frosting over the cut side of cake; gently press the cake halves together to secure them. I mixed in a 1/2 t. of vanilla extract to give my buttercream a little extra punch.

Place cake on serving plate. Then, whip up ANOTHER icing, this time a honey icing for the top of the cake itself. It looks like this:

1 1/2 c powdered sugar
1 T honey
1-3 T milk

In a medium bowl, combine all honey icing ingredients; blend well, adding milk until icing is consistency of very thick cream. Spoon honey icing over cake, covering side seams.

Whew! And we're still not done yet. Now comes the fun part. Williams-Sonoma makes cute little candy honeybees, but my exhaustive search of two local Wms-Son stores left me empty-handed. Apparently they don't carry the honeybees anymore. So I decided to get creative and see what I could do to approximate edible honeybees instead of turning into a mess and a half by squeezing bad black frosting into a piping bag.

Enter sliced almonds and chocolate covered almonds! Or black jelly beans! Or Junior Mints! Or brown peanut M&Ms! Take your pick: anything little and dark that might sort of resemble an abstract honeybee would probably work. Add a dollop of frosting for adhesion, stick the Junior Mint on, and add two little almond slivers for wings. And then hold your breath that they'll stay on until you get the cake to your destination.

Finally, and last but not least: you know I can't resist the flowers, and we've got a long vase of yellow Gerber daisies in the living room right now. So I cut one off and stuck it on the top for decoration. You could do a million things with yellow and white for this cake, but I like the simplicity and vibrance of the yellow Gerber to complement the whole honeybee vibe.

And now Joni's singing "A Case of You" (I could drink a case of you, and still be on my feet) and the vanilla bean scent is filling the room. Bzzz!

Recipe courtesy Nordicware and Martha Stewart

(And I have to officially dedicate this cake to my favorite little honeybee, Bambino Durbano, whose party manana I am so sad to be missing.  Damn 3,000 miles!  Toni, Jim, and Bambino: I'll be thinking of you.)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

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


The Atlantic ran a piece a few years ago on yoga, celebrity and commodification, cleverly titled "Striking a Pose." The tagline wonders:
Fifty years ago, yoga was the province of California communes and fringy New Agers. Now it’s teetering on the brink of overexposure and commodification. So, is it a spiritual antidote to the upscale Western lifestyle, or just the latest manifestation?

Writer Hanna Rosin chronicles the celebrity-cult status that yoga's taken on in the last decade or so, from Madonna's toned arms to Russell Simmons's conversion to the chaos of paparazzi photographers at the opening of a new yoga studio in Manhattan. Her article questions whether the real meaning or purpose of yoga has been lost in the obsession with great abs and rockstar teachers and name-dropping.

You'd think I'd really dig the piece.   It combines many of the topics I'm especially interested in - commodification of the body and of religion, the melding of secular and religious in a physical form, icon worship and materialism, yogic theory itself - in a smart, critical look at yoga today. Rosin points out the conflation of gym and church that the yoga trend has widely become, a non-threatening, urban chic, vaguely spiritual but not-too-scary answer to a shallow American spiritual hunger.  She argues that popular yoga's become a kind of syncretism, a superficial melding of body-worship and cloudy spiritual notions co-opted by a celebrity herd in the same way that Kabbalah became all the rage a few years ago when Demi and Ashton started sporting red strings around their wrists. She calls out the commercialization and commodification of the practice itself, hinting at the complex historical conflict between the sacralized negation of the body (a la ascetism) and the embrace of the body as a potential means for connection with the divine. And ultimately, she writes, "yoga is at a confused, precarious place, teetering on the edge of overexposure."

Good points, all, and I'm glad someone is making them. But to be honest, I didn't really like Rosin much on finishing the article. Her tone was condescending, snooty, snarky in that holier-than-thou-but-maybe-jealous-too way that you sometimes find in articles on celebrities or religion or fitness or fashion. You can't quite figure out if it's envy or intelligence fueling the critical fervor.

Then I read the companion piece, an interview with Rosin herself conducted by Atlantic staff writer Jennie Rothenberg. And I realized that maybe Rosin's heart is in the right place after all. Turns out she does practice yoga herself, and her pointing out the ways in which "yoga has now shed its foreignness" and settled into a very comfortable place in the American mainstream is perhaps more motivated by genuine concern for the preservation of a rich tradition than mere snark or cattiness. I found the interview almost more enlightening than the article itself, in its discussion of the differences between ancient Indian and contemporary Western manifestations of yoga, the 8-limbed path, and the upper-middle-class yuppie lifestyle with which it is often now associated.

Tone notwithstanding, do give it a read.  There should be more written these days about the  melding of commerce and the sacred.  Especially when the body gets involved.

Striking a Pose (The Atlantic)
Turn Off, Tune Out, Drop In (The Atlantic)

Raw, adjective: 4. painfully open, as a sore or wound.


(I had leftover buttercream icing for breakfast this morning. Very not-raw, but very delicious. It just looked so lonely sitting there half-used in the fridge. And it goes smashingly with french vanilla coffee. So I've got about ten minutes yet until the sugar crash hits. Let's see if I can't knock out a little post before my blood sugar nosedives.)

That's the little bro there to left, rocking the purple goggles from circa 1998, at the Florida house earlier this summer. He'll probably kill me for posting this shot, but for illustrative purposes, it's golden.

So this has officially been the summer of Sporty Spice. I realized it this morning on rolling out of bed and feeling roughly like an 80-year-old grandma whose joints ache and who bitches about her back all day long. Because in spite of the yoga and the hydrating and the stretching and all that, ohmigod. Everything hurts.

I read once that the best way to truly know yourself is to think about what you were like as a kid, before you really learned how to be what society wants you to be. Say, 8 or 10 years old. What'd you do, how'd you spend your time, what was your personality like, that sort of thing. And this summer, with its aching muscles and sunburned brow, makes me feel like I am about nine years old again. In a really great kind of way.

Those were the summers spent in daylight at the pool and in twilight on the softball field or playing tennis on a ratty court or whacking the badminton birdie with B as the prairie sun went down, if we were lucky enough to catch an evening with little to no wind. Brown as a berry and constantly outdoors, wearing out swimsuits and ballgloves like there was no tomorrow.

Somehow as we get older and Real Life takes over, those long athletic days turn into 8-to-5 jobs sitting in front of a computer staring glassy-eyed into a dull screen. So how nice it has been to get back to that feeling this summer.

It started a few months ago with an increasingly intense yoga practice, lots of new classes and styles and asanas and what have you. And in the last couple of weeks, I've been playing baseball (er, softball, really, but doesn't "baseball" sound so much sexier?) with a scrappy team of friends and co-workers, and between Thursday night games in the fog in the Presidio and Wednesday afternoon practices in the sun of the Marina, it's been so fab, you have no idea.

I'm covered with bruises, shins tender and knocked-around, with an especially badass new one extending nearly halfway from my wrist to my elbow. Nevermind the part about it being kind of self-inflicted; I feel like an Olympic warrior already. My right arm's tight and angry from throwing, my left-hand fingernails filthy and black from the old black ball glove I picked up at the thrift store up the street, and my back is crazy achy from swinging the bat for the first time in a few years. And I've been spending waaaay too much time walking in circles at Lombardi Sports, drooling.

Yesterday after a 2-hour practice I walked home up Chestnut Street literally smelling like shit from the fertilizer on the field, scooping out half a melon with a spoon while I walked, peeking out from under an old faded Empyrean Ales ballcap. And I was happier right then, more lived in and sweaty and sunburned and sore, than I've been in ages. And tonight we'll play again at Fort Scott, wearing 3 shirts and a snowcap and trying desperately to keep our fingers warm in the nighttime fog, and I'll think to myself: yeah, this is what it's about.

So my new project, as the baseball bruises heal, is more Phelps-ian. You see, when the sibs were down in Florida in May, I dug out all my old swimming gear from college and the few summers I was living down there lifeguarding. Everything's been stored down there for years, and as I rifled through old trunks full of cheesy goggles (witness above) and ratty old Speedos and my dog-eared old teaching guides, I realized how eager I am to get back in the pool. My friends Tom and Brian are training for a tri right now, and they've been swimming two mornings a week at a nearby pool, and I've been intending to join them for weeks now, but something like yoga or sleep or writing or the night before always seems to get in the way. But in light of Phelps and Co.'s great visibility in these Games, I've recommitted to getting my ass in the pool with them and rediscovering those old forgotten muscles. It's been awhile since I did a decent breaststroke, but I'm itching to get back where I was. And, um, to get those shoulders.

So that's the Sporty Spice update. Seriously, if there's one thing I've discovered, it's how great intramural sports are again after some time away, especially when adult beverages are involved. And team shirts bearing unicorns. Look into it. It's such a lift. And you'll wear your bruises with pride, guaranteed - even when they're self-inflicted.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

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


I've fallen a little bit in love with Shambhala Sun. Infatuated, really. And have been digging through their archives eating up everything I can. They've got an excellent little section devoted to essays on yoga and Buddhism. Go there for a number of good pieces on marrying the two.

I'd especially recommend this piece by Anne Cushman: "Yoga Chic and the First Noble Truth." It's a smart reflection from a long-time practitioner on the current trendiness of yoga versus its true nature as a challenging practice and an embodied meditation. There's nothing quite so annoying as the people who splash out on overpriced yoga gear at Lululemon thinking that carrying a pretty mat and looking hot in spandex is what yoga is all about. Cushman does a nice job of illustrating the ways in which a serious yoga practice is not about being lean or lithe or cute in a sports bra, but about dirt and grit and sweat and breath and being and learning and getting on the mat when you least feel like it or when your kid is biting your ankles or your smoke alarm is going off.

Spend a few minutes browsing. The piece by Mark Epstein is good, too.

(And that's Marin-based teacher Sarah Powers in that beautiful photo of Natarajasana)

Yoga and Buddhism
Yoga Chic and the First Noble Truth

Monday, August 11, 2008

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.


"We throw our parties; we abandon our families to live alone in Canada; we struggle to write books that do not change the world, despite our gifts and our unstinting efforts, our most extravagant hopes. We live our lives, do whatever we do, and then we sleep - it's as simple and ordinary as that. A few jump out of windows or drown themselves or take pills; more die by accident; and most of us, the vast majority, are slowly devoured by some disease or, if we're very fortunate, by time itself. There's just this for consolation: an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we've ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) knows these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult. Still, we cherish the city, the morning; we hope, more than anything, for more."

~~ Michael Cunningham, The Hours

(And that's Edward Hopper, "August in the City," 1945)

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


So far the Beijing Olympics have meant 3 things to me: the torch-running drama in SF a few months ago, the human rights issues wrapped up in these games, and the monkey visage of Bushie and wife in the stands. Other than that, it's been all about trying to drag my eyes from Michael Phelps's torso. These swimming events are pure torture, people!!!

But when I manage to stop thinking about Phelps for a few minutes, I find myself constantly cracking up with nostalgic memories of long hours spent in the cool basement battling smoking joysticks with B over the Summer Games (I and II) on the old Commodore 64. Those were the days!

Don't these screenshots just take you back?

Nothing like it.

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.


Yesterday morning broke clear and crisp, and today it looks like the fog has finally ceded to that old reliable Indian summer. The weather channel tells me we're due for endless days of 80 degrees and sunshine. I sit back and sigh. San Francisco.

My friend F, knowing that I love all things Audrey, surprised me yesterday with this obscure-ish album, full of music from the films of Audrey Hepburn. It's all Mancini and Astaire and My Fair Lady, closing out with a final subtle track of Audrey herself in Breakfast at Tiffany's singing "Moon River" as she sat on the fire escape strumming her ukulele and looking out onto the city.

There were garlic pistachios at the corner grocery store this morning when I went out. Garlic pistachios, my friends. The world does pull through with pleasant surprises when you least expect them.

I've been thinking Big Thoughts lately, thoughts about Life and Purpose and Meaning and all that shit. Seems like many of those dear to me are doing the same thing. We're pushing 30 (or hit it already), our lives are ostensibly quite full (and fulfilling), we're paying the rent and then some, we're in a place we want to be, sometimes even with people we want to be around, and life is good. But there is always more we're looking for, right? Hungry Ghosts are we, say the Buddhists, always looking for more, grasping, clinging, seeking, craving.

There's a phrase that has stuck with me for some time, since my teens, I guess, trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I "grew up." I probably read it somewhere, but I couldn't tell you where. It's simple, really; a mandate, a declaration, a command: Make of your life something you love. It's something that's been modeled to me by the very few people I know who are actually happy in their jobs - rare, yes, we know - who don't dread them, who aren't always bitching about having to go to work, who actually look forward to getting up in the morning and doing what they have to do to pay the bills.

My Pops was one of these. Even in the worst stages of chemo, when he could barely lift his head, what bothered him most was not the being stuck on the couch or the not being able to eat but the not being able to work. I'm grateful to have had a model of someone who was so fulfilled by what he did.

But, to get to that point ourselves, we need to ask: what do I love? What can I manage to do such that I don't dread this livelihood thing anymore, such that it doesn't feel like such a chore to get up and do whatever it is I do to pay the bills? Although life doesn't necessarily look like I'd imagined it might ten years ago, I don't dread my work; I take a measure of joy in it, find myself fed in healthy ways, nourished and nourishing, and feel lucky that I've found somewhat of a balance between being able to live comfortably while doing the things I love like writing and playing piano and practicing yoga and baking stupid cakes and being outside, the real things that make me feel alive, that make me lose hours without even realizing it.

But again, we say: make of your life something you love. I love this mandate because it implies so much agency; it tells us, ourselves, to make our lives such, not to wait for someone or other to do it for us, or to point the way, but to get up in the morning and choose it, be it, live it, just do it. To quit pussy-footing around and just fucking do it. And quit worrying about whether it's the "right" thing or whether it's following the rules or whether it's what society wants or whether it's what your mother would want.

Remember being a high school senior, when you're a kid but supposed to be making all these huge decisions that will determine your life, picking declared majors and colleges and all that shit? My mother was convinced that I should major in actuarial science. I was really good at math, detail-oriented, whatever, and she had already envisioned this secure respectable life of mine that would result: a solid job at some Nebraska corporation, crunching numbers all day with 2 weeks' paid vacation a year, health insurance, blah blah blah. I could marry some farm boy, pop out a few babies, eat Nebraska beef and drive my minivan back and forth from church and work and the grocery store for more beef, and that would be my life.

And then I would have blown my brains out. By the time I hit 30, without question.

Even then, I knew my heart was in intellect, in theory, in sociology, had never taken a class in it and had no idea really what it was, but I knew in my gut it'd be what I loved, and so I moved across the country and did it, and I did love it, and then I moved across the country again and studied it some more, and loved it again, and now here I am and I am not an actuarial scientist and I am not driving a minivan or eating beef and my life in this over-priced aging little flat on Nob Hill is so goddamned fucking good. And I guess the point of that all is, on this Monday morning when I have too much time to think and am sorely lacking an editor to keep me from rambling: jesus christ. People. Do what you love. Figure out what that is. Sit down and think about what makes the hours fly by without your even noticing, because you are so hungry and intrigued and excited and heart-racingly interested, and just fucking do it. Find a way to do it. Even if it means shaking martinis on the side to make up for the low earning potential of doing Warrior 1 for 2 hours every day. Because, jesus. Life's too short to wake up at 50 feeling like you've lived someone else's life.

All of this is because, well, I read this great speech by Steve Jobs from the Stanford graduation a few years ago. Dude never finished college. Dude got fired from Apple ten years after making it bloom. Dude was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and thought it was all over. Dude is now healthy, mad-wealthy, mad-powerful, and most importantly: mad-happy. Doing exactly what he loves. And geez, if that isn't inspirational.

Please read the whole thing. I'd post it all here, but then this post would be 6 times too long instead of just 5. It's full of great wisdom about fucking convention and having hope that the little deaths in your life are actually lotus flowers just beginning to bloom. And then please quit your actuarial science job, unless it makes you really really happy to crunch numbers all day, and do something less bile-inducing.

"You've Got To Find What You Love," Jobs Says (Stanford.edu)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.


Really great interview over at Salon with Susan Squire, the author of the new social history of marriage, "I Don't: A Contrarian History of Marriage."

It's not even that Squire rips up the institution; in fact, according to the article, she's been married for 19 years herself. But she applies a critical eye to the social history of a fundamental societal building block whose function is often superficially overlooked in the pursuit of taffeta and cakes and flowers and rings. And I am always grateful to run across authors who step outside of their own social frameworks a bit and take the long view of things we generally assume to be untouchable.

Um, also, that cover is hilarious. Seriously.

So Squire's analysis dates all the way back to the ancient Greeks, for whom "the highest form of love was cerebral love between men." Interesting. And she describes the early Christian approach to marriage as a "lust containment facility." And then points out the irony that courtly love - a product of adulterous romance between marrieds - in other words, "a code of adultery," has become our contemporary "code of marriage."

The interview touches on Martin Luther's role in this whole evolution of marriage as a love-based partnership rather than as the economic unit it had always been, the revelation of "developing affection" as a part of hitching up coming out of a Christian history that viewed human love as secondary and inferior to the love of God. This is super interesting to me, after having done a lot of work with feminist and queer theologians like Carter Heyward who argue that "godding," the process of interrelationality, the verb that is loving one another in mutuality, is in fact where divinity resides. Many progressive theologians now fall into this camp that eros, the erotic, deep connection, is the locus of the divine, where divinity is made manifest. Soooo, I find this notion particularly fascinating in the wake of Squire's pointing out this intellectual history of love between humans being considered separate and inferior to the love of God. How things change over time, and how little perspective we often have on the mores of our own eras as related to social history.

Anyway, thoughts on marriage and sex and eros and divinity and history this Sunday morning while the laundry dries. Squire gets into some interesting thoughts on sex and lasting romance within the institution, too; I like her worldview - it's a nice mix of pragmatic cynicism and unsentimental realism that carries some kind of hope for the future of marriage as related to romantic love.

Give it a read.

Happily Never After (Salon)

Saturday, August 9, 2008

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



Bundt Cake Saturday!

Morning: foggy, heater cranking
Mood: foxy
Music: Sarah Vaughan

This morning we are joined by a very special guest, Fox Mulder. Fox helps us out from time to time behind the bar as mojito-minder and morale-booster, so naturally when he started begging me for a piece of the bundt cake action, I couldn't say no. Fox is sans his secret agent partner today because, well, I can't find Scully. I think she may be in a closet somewhere in Florida. So this morning it's you, me, and Fox. An ideal threesome, for sure.

Lemony deliciousness comes our way today courtesy of a little lemon zest, a surprising Yoplait secret ingredient, and a delicate summery yellow frosting. This yellow, might I add, takes me straight to Color Association 101. Because this particular shade will always, for me at least, hearken back to that big yellow farmhouse in the first scene of the 1955 Todd-AO version of Oklahoma! when Gordon MacRae rides out of the corn that's as high as an elephant's eye into Aunt Eller's front yard where he proceeds to sing sweet nothings to Shirley Jones about a certain surrey with a fringe on top. Yes, my friends, that is all and only what I can think of when I see this yellow. So in homage to Gordon, Shirley, that surrey and the yellow house that sits on a special plot of land in my heart, I give you a

LUSCIOUS LEMON BUNDT CAKE

1 pkg ( 18.25 oz ) Plain Lemon Cake Mix
1 pkg ( 3.5 ) Instant Lemon pudding mix
3/4 cup Orange Juice
1/2 cup Vegetable oil
1 container Lemon yogurt
4 Large eggs
1 tsp Lemon zest

Oven Temp ~ 350° Baking Time ~ 40 to 45 Min.

Preheat the oven, grease and flour bundt pan. Combine the cake mix, pudding mix, orange juice, oil, yogurt, eggs, and lemon zest in a large mixing bowl. Beat for several minutes. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and place it in the oven. Bake until the cake is golden brown and tests done. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool 20 minutes, then run a knife around the edges and invert the cake onto a rack to completely cool.

I've always had a soft spot for a nice lemon cake. I looked at a number of lemon recipes, but this one jumped out at me because it replaces the usual water with orange juice, giving the cake an extra citrus flavor and rich yellow color; also, I liked the fact that it uses lemon yogurt instead of the sour cream that many recipes use. Between the pudding and the yogurt and the zest, it's dangerously puckery. And as with the raspberry cake from a few weeks ago, my whole house is infused with a lemony scent now.

I made my own lemon buttercream frosting using your usual buttercream, but adding lemon zest and just a few drops of yellow food coloring. Perfect! That yellow farmhouse is right on my plate. Garnish it with some summery fresh fruits. I used raspberries, strawberries, and a few sprigs of mint. Delish.

Recipe courtesy recipes4cakes.com