Saturday, February 28, 2009

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


Did you catch this thought-provoking little piece in Thursday's NYT Styles section?

Some of the many casualties of this economic downtown have been the small locally-owned niche businesses that have sprung up in gentrifying urban neighborhoods.  This particular article highlights the shifts in Los Angeles, but we've seen it just as much here in my little corner of SF.  The charming stationer's shop up the street shuttered its doors last month, my favorite hole-in-the-wall used bookstore moved out last fall, and an excellent trend-setting vegetarian restaurant folded not long ago, as well.  Disappointments, all.

It's especially interesting when you consider the "bourgeois bohemian" lifestyles these places help to sustain.  When economics become the determinant, what happens to the aesthetic edge??  The NYT article "poses a rattling question of identity: What happens to bourgeois bohemia when the bourgeois part drops out?"

I'm lucky enough to live in an area that balances tenuously between hip/safe and edgy/dangerous.  The gentrification that comes with that is a mixed blessing; good for the locals who want a charming coffee shop and a cute used bookstore, not so great for the more marginalized types who used to run a drag bar where that new bookstore has moved in, and have since been displaced.  

Read the article.  It raises some interesting questions about gentrification, urbanity and where boho values/lifestyles fit into these tough economic times.

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



Bundt Cake Saturday!

Morning: not really
Mood: sattvic
Music: the memory of RR's dulcet tones

Yoo-hoo, yahoos.  It's actually not Saturday at all, kind of Thursday, a little bit of Friday, something for everyone.  I've got a crazy-loaded weekend this week, what with an Upanishads workshop all day Sat. and Sun. and evenings shaking martinis, which means zero time to bake.  But as I learned from the last time I ditched Bundt Cake Saturday for a yoga workshop, the MASSES will RIOT if I fail to bring a circular slab o' sugar and flour for their dessert pleasure.  And since I'm not willing to endure any more bundt-less abuse, I decided to plan ahead this week and knock out a cake a day in advance.

So, Thursday night I found my way home after my last seminar on the history of yoga in the U.S., mind swimming with thoughts of Vivekananda and the World Parliament of Religions and commodification and ashrams in Rapid City.  Our teacher is a Very Big Dude in the yoga scene, and thus naturally, as I have come to discover, he has this supremely quiet and humble and mellow spirit, which tends to rub off on you when you're sitting listening to him for a few hours.  So, while RR's wisdom resonated in my cells, I quietly set out to mix a few eggs and some sugar for this weekend's bundt.

I'm a few days late with this idea, but thanks to the keen suggestion of Jason and Alexis the other night (thanks, guys!), we're having a little Mardi Gras action this week.  Now, I know very little about Mardi Gras.  Growing up Protestant in the Heartland, we were always much more focused on the Ash Wednesday rituals than any of the pancake-eating, liquor-swilling festivities that precede it.  (You know, skip the decadence and get on with the asceticism and the self-flagellation, already!)  So in terms of Mardi Gras, I'm a relative neophyte: I know it involves beads and breasts and pancakes and parades, but that's about it.  But apparently there's this traditional treat called a "King Cake" that accompanies all the NoLa celebrations.  

Thanks to some highly legitimate Wiki research, I quickly discovered that this cake is usually some form of breaded cream-cheese danish flavor, with fillings, ugly green/purple/gold sprinkles, and a little plastic baby baked inside.  Yes, I said "little plastic baby."  Apparently, this descends from an old French ritual in which whomever found the bean in their slice would be treated like a king for a year and then - gulp - be ritually sacrificed to Saturn.  Read the full details in this charming article.  

So it seems the modern-day incarnation of this is that, instead of being sacrificed, whoever finds the little baby is responsible for bringing the next King Cake.  I can be down with that.  The upshot of all this is that I spent a hilarious few hours in perpetual giggle the other day tracking down little plastic babies.  Thanks to the insane SF Party Store on Post St. and the cute scruffy hipster dude behind the counter, I found a plethora of plastic (racially diverse!) babies, along with various tacky beads, masks and streamers.  (See very professional photo illustration.)

Six hours later, after I'd finally stopped laughing, I came home from class to bake the cake.  (Are we not even to the recipe yet?  Sheesh, shut up and get on with it.)  Because I am far too lazy to actually deal with yeast and bread-rising and whatnot, I made a somewhat amalgamated recipe based on a cream cheese cake from the past, added some homemade cinnamon streusel, and devised my own version of a King Cake.  I think it'll actually be delicious.  So pour yourselves some bourbon and let's get on with a belated

MARDI GRAS KING CAKE

No guarantees that this recipe will work, but it's got enough sugar and alcohol in it to keep your fairly comatose, so hopefully you won't really notice if it doesn't turn out so well. 

INGREDIENTS

1 yellow cake mix
1 large package instant vanilla pudding
3 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 (8 oz.) box of cream cheese, at room temp.
1 teas vanilla
1 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup bourbon
1 plastic baby!

The first thing you want to do is soak your raisins in bourbon.  Pour the 1/2 cup into a Pyrex measuring cup (or similar bowl) and soak the golden raisins for several hours.  I dumped them in at 4, ran to yoga and then to class, and came home to use them circa 11.  That seemed to do the trick.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and grease and flour your bundt pan.  Blend the cake mix, pudding, eggs, vegetable oil, vanilla and cream cheese for several minutes with an electric mixer.  Drain off any excess bourbon from the soaking raisins and mix that in as well.  Finally, fold in the drunken raisins and stir gently until mixed well.  Pour half of the batter into your greased pan.

Now you're going to layer in the simple streusel mix.  I've come up with a nice little melange that has worked well in several cakes over the last year.  It looks like this (but you can get away with adding or subtracting any of the minor ingredients):

6 T raisins or currants
4 teas unsweetened baking cocoa
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
4 teas cinnamon
a few dashes of nutmeg
a few dashes of cloves and/or allspice

Mix the streusel in a small bowl and set aside.  Return to your bundt pan and layer the streusel in over half of the batter.  Insert the plastic baby at this point, somewhere in the middle of the pan.  (Don't forget!)  Pour in the rest of the batter to cover the streusel.  Bake for 45-50 minutes or until the toothpick comes out clean.  Cool for ten minutes on a wire rack, and then invert and remove from the pan until it cools completely.

I let the cake cool overnight and frosted it with a simple cream cheese frosting the next morning.  You're traditionally supposed to sprinkle three sections of colored sugar on top (purple, green, and gold, naturally), but I honestly really hate that look, so I just went for the cheesy shiny beads and masks instead.  I also added the last bit of my edible silver glitter for an extra-sparkly touch.  

Whoa mama.  Cake's ready.  Should taste fine.  And there's a little baby waiting in there for some unsuspecting fellow to bite into.  As for the ritual sacrifice to follow, well - we'll see about that.

Happy Mardi Gras.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

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


Wrap yourselves in tie-dye and slip on your Birkenstocks, because oh baby, are you in for a long-overdue, super Goji-licious edition of 

COOL HIPPIE SHIT YOU SHOULD REALLY KNOW ABOUT

And I mean it this time.  All disclaimers apply.  Herein you'll find talk of maca and synergy and antioxidants and pure love, baby.

So, in honor of my turning into a Very Old Lady over the weekend, I've been on a renewed kick for eating well.  Seven days ago, I completely cut out sugar, wheat and dairy, and holy zonkers, Batman -- do I feel fine!  Ask my friends and co-workers; I've been pretty cracked out on enzymes and prana and dates and grapes and raw cacao.  The mental and physical benefits are astounding.  (But that's another post entirely.)

To support my re-upped crack addiction, I dropped $83 at Whole Foods the other day on various and sundry raw food treats.  This is weird shit you'll never see in your local Wal-Mart, trust.  (Another notch in the "Why I Love Living in the Bay Area" column.)  One of the products I picked up comes wrapped in a bio-degradable (naturally) bright yellow bag and goes by the name of "Chocolate Goji Treats."  And, my oh my, loves - they really are treats.  After one bite, you'll forget about sugary chocolate truffles forever.

Just look at the ingredient list (100% organic and raw, obvs):
*Agave Nectar, *Goji Berries, *Ecuadorian Cacao (Nacional Arriba Fino de Aroma heirloom variety), *Walnuts, *Hunza Raisins, *Coconut, *Dates, *Sesame Seeds, *Black Sesame Seeds, *Maca Powder, *Truly Raw Sun-dried Vanilla Powder, *Cinnamon, Raw Hand Harvested Himalayan Crystal Salt, *Cayenne Pepper & Love.
Please note the all-important, carefully-calibrated measure of LOVE included there.  Ahem.  (I warned you!)  The wrapper also brags that these are "synergistically balanced."  If you know what that means, please shoot me an email, because I'd like to know.

But in spite of the cheeze, all I can say is: the goji berries and raw cacao and maca and whatnot are certainly doing something, because I've never tasted anything so delicious.  And healthy.  And energizing.  Sans sugar crash.  They're ridiculously overpriced, but certainly worth every penny.

Luckily, even if you don't live around the corner from 16 natural food stores, you can still buy these online to be shipped straight from the hippie motherland in Hawaii.  But please take a minute and a half to watch this YouTube marketing video first.  Words cannot describe the hilarity, my friends.  Bonus points if you can pick out the two misspellings and the one improper use of an apostrophe.  (The grammar and punctuation nerd in me doesn't cohere well with the hippie raw foodist in me.)



I'm off to bounce off a few more walls.  30 is the new 8!

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


Leonard Cohen's hitting the road!

I first discovered LC in a roundabout way from Jeff Buckley's killer cover of "Hallelujah."  You know him from one of the other bazillion versions out there.  Rufus Wainwright?  Check. Imogen Heap?  Check.  

But one of my other favorite run-ins with Leonard Cohen came when he was quoted in a yogic theory book I read years ago, and have since never forgotten: "There is a crack in everything.  That's how the light gets in."  How do you not love that??

Curious guy.  The NYT has a little interview with him.  Not only is he older than John McCain, but he's dabbled in Zen and Judaism and has written a fair amount of poetry, too.  I dig it.

Monday, February 23, 2009

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


Striking interview with one of my favorite writers in this morning's Chron.

John Robbins has a fascinating story. He grew up an heir to the Baskin-Robbins fortune, which he rejected fairly early into adulthood in favor of being an advocate for vegetarianism, the environment, and sustainability. His books like Diet For a New America were fundamental to me in my early twenties as I sought to understand the connections between the politics of food and economic/environmental disparity/damage. I've always respected his ability to reject the certain material wealth that would've come with his inherited lifestyle and instead to commit to a life of something he really believed in.

Robbins lives in Sebastopol, which makes him one of the many health progressives (like Dean Ornish, etc.) who are based in the North Bay. I think I may have even glimpsed him in a few of my yoga classes over the years. Obviously I have an activist crush on the dude. So I was saddened to find this sobering news in David Ian Miller's latest "Finding My Religion" article.

Turns out Robbins, along with several other local writers I've read about recently, lost 98% of his net worth in the Madoff Ponzi scheme. Now, at 61 (and after building up a long career as a successful activist and author), he's scrambling to pay the bills. The interview is an unexpectedly thoughtful reflection on spirituality, consumption, and the meaning of "success" in contemporary America. Robbins says:
We have defined the good life in terms of accumulating stuff. In our society, if you say somebody is a success, what does that mean? It doesn't usually mean that they are an emotionally balanced, loving human being. It doesn't necessarily mean that they are creative and artistic and adding beauty to the world. We reserve that word for people who have made a lot of money. I find that to be illustrative of a way of thinking that has caused us great spiritual impoverishment and has caused the planet massive devastation; it has also pitted us against each other by breeding a hyper-competiveness out of which we have exploited other people and harmed them for financial gain.
I couldn't help but find myself thinking of the notion of "non-attachment" here. It's experiences like this that remind us how foolish it is to get too attached to any worldly notions of security. Process theology (and quantum physics, and Buddhism, and yogic theory, really, too) emphasize that life is one process of constant change. The never-ending cycle of gain and loss and attempting to find one's feet again seems to me a perfect representation of how important it is to not place undue attachment in ephemeral things of the world.

(So I'm sorry, but I don't give a shit about your hot cars or fancy watches. Because they can be gone in a second! And then you're just left with yourself. So why not focus on making that empty self someone you can sit with once the material trappings are stripped away??)

What's Left When the Money's Gone? (SFGate)

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


Did you see this profile in yesterday's NYT spring theater special?

You should read it, because, really: how can you not love Jane Fonda? The woman - I mean, the "radical vixen" - is starring on B'way again at 71 in the wake of a life that's taken every twist and turn you can imagine. Charles McGrath writes that
"While the rest of us have just about managed one life, she’s had half a dozen. She has been a sex kitten, a fashion model, a radical and war protester, an Oscar-winning movie star, an exercise impresario and the consort of a billionaire."
All true. She's complicated, interesting, curious, and ever-changing. She nonchalantly said "c@$t" on morning television, which I kind of loved. She's done mad political work, married Ted Turner, performed with Eve Ensler, run an aerobics industry, pissed off right-wing warmongers and worn some seriously badass legwarmers. All in all, she's the kind of fascinating and and lived-in and many-pronged creature I'd like to be when I'm 71.

Read the article. See the show. She's great.

A Radical Vixen Retakes the Stage (NYT)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

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


Sharp article in the morning Chron with a sobering update on Bill Niman's labor of love.

If you've perused a menu at any Bay Area restaurant in the last few decades, you've seen the "Niman Ranch" label affixed to various meat products.  The Niman name has serious cache around these parts; Bill was an early pioneer in the sustainable farming and "humane" ranching biz, emphasizing grass-fed beef and anti-hormone policies.  Yes, it's still ethically questionable in a fair number of ways,* but as animal husbandry ethics go, Niman and Co. have always been at the top of the list of socially-conscious entrepreneurs.

So I was disappointed to read this article and find that there's discord in the Niman legacy of late.  Seems that, after having to bend to shareholders in the wake of ongoing losses, the eponymous rancher won't even eat his own products anymore, because of the policy changes that have accompanied the shift in leadership.

It's a sobering look at the uneasy marriage of profit and sustainability.  I hope for Niman's sake that his newest pet project does turn out to be more of an, um, cash cow.**


*"Humane" slaughter?  Really??
**Can I please get a shout-out for not just one, but TWO bad puns in that last line?? God I'm brilliant.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

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



Bundt Cake Saturday!

Morning: sunny
Mood: sunny
Music: The Killers

Hello and good morning.  Feeling a little baking-skittish after last week's strawberry debacle.  Yesterday Anna surprised me with a little early birthday action - a big box just delivered from UPS that held within it a heavy-duty grey Nordicware "Elegant Heart" pan.  It's pretty fantastic.  Thanks, Anna.  So thoughtful.

I'd already set aside an easy recipe for today.  Feeling more cautious after trying a little too hard to be creative last week, so we'll do something light and easy and fairly harmless.  I don't know if it's the longer days, or the welcome sunshine after a week of rain and wind, but I'm really feeling spring coming on, and this recipe seems like a good light introduction to the season, a little harbinger of good things to come.  So let's get on with it and make a heart-shaped

LEMON POPPY SEED BUNDT

Matt's Bundt Cake Bliss provided a quick reliable recipe this time around.  I switched up a few things, but having learned my lesson last week, didn't go overboard.  Hadn't baked with poppy seeds in a long, long time, so I enjoyed hitting up the spice aisle and stocking up.  That combination of lemon and poppy seed always does well.  We'll pull out the Meyer Lemon fondant glaze from Jay and Sylvia to finish it off.

INGREDIENTS

1/4 cup poppy seeds
1/4 cup milk
1 box lemon cake mix
2 small boxes lemon instant pudding
1 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup sour cream or lemon yogurt



Preheat oven to 350 degrees; grease and flour your heart-shaped pan.  Soak poppy seeds in milk and set aside.  Stir together cake mix and pudding mix in large bowl, making sure to break up any clumps.  Make a well in the center of the floury mixture and pour in water, oil, eggs and vanilla.  Beat on medium speed for 4 minutes.  Blend in poppy seed mixture and yogurt.  Pour batter into the prepared pan.  Bake for 45 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.  Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

I just pulled the cake out of the oven and it's lovely, really perfect.  Kitchen smells great, fresh.  I feel like this would be a good breakfast or brunch cake.  Super easy.  We'll let it cool and then add the fondant glaze.

I whisked and drizzled the quick fondant, and realized the cake needed a little something more to finish.  So I turned to my pantry, which offered up a few dried cranberries and cherries.  Perfect.  I sprinkled the dried cranberries over the finished cake and into the drizzled fondant. It has a decidedly "rose petal" kind of effect.  I really love it.

Now that's more like it!  I think the mojo's back.  Cheers.

[And those would be poppies above, naturally.]

Friday, February 20, 2009

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


Sign of the times?

Next week is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent (one of my favorite seasons of the church year).  Not only is Lent  generally a quiet winter time for reflection and renewal, but it's always a good chance to step back and practice a little renunciation - an exercise consistent across traditions as a vehicle for revelation and deepened understanding.

There's a lot of interesting shit out there about the notion of renunciation, whether it's consumption-related (Jesus and the 40 day fast, etc.) or just more attuned to the practice of simplifying your life.  Some of my favorite subversive theologians use the Christic model as proof of the inherently Marxist inclinations of the Gospel: they see in Mark a call to renounce possessions and the family and heteronormative authoritarian structures and live like a commie vagabond hippie, man.

I've always liked to practice renunciation now and then, that simplifying exercise that really strips your life down to the bare bones and makes you aware of what it really is that you're living and doing.  But the WSJ ran an article this morning that just made me laugh, and cringe, all at once.  Seems that a hot Lenten trend is to be like Christ and suffer by ... giving up Facebook.  For 40 days.  Hilarious.

Felt like I was reading The Onion as I tripped through the interviews with various middle-aged Christians who were anticipating the great floggings they'd receive on breaking their Facebook fasts.  Check it for a good laugh, or a good cry, or some combination thereof.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

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


Slate has a report from the most recent yoga championships in LA. Yes, I said "yoga championships."

If you're not familiar with the Bikram world, but perhaps you've heard of the bizarro existence of yoga competitions, this is the center of that phenomenon. Bikram and Co. hold several regional competitions in the fall of each year, and these culminate in the "international championship" every February. As you can imagine, Neal Pollack's article is at once snarky and awed.

I don't want to get into whether I'm a fan or not. I think most of us who are at all interested in the classical roots of yoga realize how antithetical the idea of a yoga competition is to the entire philosophy of the practice. Because yoga is so much more than asana. At the same time, I've been practicing Bikram's athletic series for over 5 years now, and in spite of the commodification and commercialism and whatnot, from day one it has never failed to rock my world. So, in terms of this competition thing, I exist in some grey space between the black and white of sheer condescension and admitted awe.

Anyway, read the article. It's a fair treatment of one of the weirder aspects of the Bikram world. Several of the former winners have taught at my studio, and I have to admit, their bodies do possess the kind of elegance and grace Pollack highlights. Though I think the competitive aspect of asana is kind of ridiculous, I do think there's merit in having a goal to work toward. And if this provides that kind of purpose for these yogis, then more power to them.

Top Yogi (Slate)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

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

It's a rare day that you'll see me link to Fox News, but this one just can't be missed.

Bristol Palin did her first-ever interview tonight with Greta Van Susteren, and it's pretty heartbreakingly sad.  The first thing you notice is that she's so shy that she can hardly make eye contact with Greta.  Then she opens her mouth, and you realize: holy shit - this is just a kid from the sticks who got herself in a pickle, and now she doesn't know what the hell to do about it.

It's the most painful 12 minutes you've ever watched, but you'll want to hang on through the end, past the descriptions of Piper helping with diapers and Grandma Sarah telling Bristol and Levi they'd have to "figure out a gameplan" and Bristol herself being so afraid to announce her pregnancy to her parents that she made her best friend do it.  No, you'll want to stick around till the last minute or so, when Bristol admits that abstinence is "unrealistic" and repeats for the third time that if she could, she'd have waited 10 years to have this kid.  Governor Sarah must've been squirming - according to Bristol, she didn't tell her mother she was doing the interview until the day before.  

Monday, February 16, 2009

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


Fascinating read over at Salon in Laura Miller's review of Simon Critchley's newest work.

"The Book of Dead Philosophers," just out last week, gathers the death stories of a few hundred of history's most famous philosophers, and, in the process, says a little about mortality, its inevitability, and why we fear and/or disengage with that reality.  I dig the conceit.  What a clever way to structure a heavy, dark philosophical venture into some of the more sobering questions of existence; I for one would much rather delve into those thoughts when bracketed by stories of Plato's death by lice infestation and something-or-other about someone being scraped to death by Christians bearing oysters (no, really).

I've always preferred sociology to philosophy not because I don't have a certain fondness for philosophy, but because sociology always seemed to offer the same kind of theoretical mind-wandering but with a social agenda, not just for the personal pleasure of losing a few hours sitting under an apple tree discussing the meaning of life with other blowhards.  But the question of death and its centrality not just to philosophy but especially to religion seems to me one of the most valid conversations to be had, and not just when you're old or terminal or ready to pull the plug.  

We don't talk enough about death; this is obvious, American culture is all about glamorizing youth and denying mortality, blah blah blah; we know this.  Part of what has always drawn me to Buddhism has been its refreshingly matter-of-fact and unrelenting insistence that all beginnings end in separation and that, in that process, life is suffering; how honest and lovely and frank this awareness has always felt, as opposed to the rose-colored otherworldly views offered by some other traditions.  Life always manages to remind us of the plodding approach of the Grim Reaper whenever we find flighty distractions that allow us to, however briefly, avoid that truth, whether it's in the form of surprising "too-soon" deaths (a la Heath Ledger), personal losses of those dear to us, or the annual reflection on death that is the dreaded/beloved birthday.  

Maybe it's because in the course of the next week I'll be turning into a Very Old Lady, but I've had time and death and aging and her bedfellows on the mind lately.  Perhaps that's why Critchley's book strikes me as so fascinating, so clever, such a good read.  Even the review itself offers tantalizing teases of philosophical truths.  Miller writes that 
the great deficiency of modern life lies in our too-common unwillingness to fully acknowledge our mortality. Frantic to "deny the fact of death," we "run headlong into the watery pleasures of forgetfulness" -- namely, traditional religion and New Age claptrap promising us one or another form of immortality. 
She later goes on to discuss Montaigne and the fear of death, in a paragraph that froze my breath in my throat.  Here we see flashes of consonance with those old Buddhist and yogic themes of being present in the moment, rooted in and blossoming out of meditation practice:
Fear has an uncanny habit of fulfilling itself, and so the overwhelming fear of the end of life can make life itself nearly endurable, as it becomes entirely consumed by the fear of death. How much better, Critchley writes, to seek in philosophy "the stillness of the soul's dialogue with itself" (a lovely turn of phrase) and the "calm that accompanies existing in the present without forethought or regret." The ideal philosophical death, then, is peaceful, accepting and dignified.
And so on.  Read the review; read the book.  Keep thinking about death.  We can't pretend to be concerned with the question of what it looks like to live well if we don't also take into consideration the full-stop that awaits at the end.

How's that for a happy Monday?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

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



Bundt Cake Saturday!

Morning: bright
Mood: pink
Music: Alexander Desplat

Hello and good morning.  So 2/14 falls on a Saturday this year - how convenient for our cheesy seasonal bundt purposes.  As you can imagine, today provides ample opportunities for rolling along with the artificial chug-a-lug that is the Valentine's Day train.  Earlier this week I revisited last summer's chocolate raspberry red velvet recipe for a little birthday surprise for T, so I decided I couldn't go with that one today, as much as the deep red color felt appropriate.  So we'll head in the other direction: seriously pink.

This recipe is pretty disgusting.  I mean, I hope it won't taste disgusting, but making it reminded me of the pink walls of my little girl room and endless pink fairy daydreams and Strawberry Shortcake played on the living room floor on a blizzard-y February day.  So, cheesy in that disgusting manufactured PINK! kind of way.  I threw together this recipe based on a model of another I'd had success with before, so we'll see what happens.  No matter what, it's sure to be an aesthetic experience quite, uh, fitting for the contrivedly sappy holiday that Hallmark reminds us to celebrate today with sparkly red cards and Russell Stover candy heart boxes.  So let's tread carefully, cocktails in hand, toward a 

STRAWBERRY CREAM CHEESE BUNDT CAKE

Yes.  A veritable pink explosion, my friends.  Get ready for the ugliest of the ugly, the fakest of the fake.  If it's artificially strawberry flavored, you can be sure as hell that I dumped it in.

INGREDIENTS

1 package strawberry cake mix
2 small packages instant cheesecake pudding
4 eggs
1 cup strawberry yogurt
8 oz. strawberry cream cheese, thawed to room temp.
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp. vanilla
16 oz. sliced strawberries, fresh or frozen

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and grease and flour your bundt pan.  In a large bowl, combine the cake mix, pudding, eggs, yogurt, cream cheese, oil, water and vanilla.  Using an electric mixer, beat for two minutes at a medium speed.  Fold in the sliced strawberries and stir gently.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then invert onto wire rack to cool completely.

Adding the sliced strawberries made the batter a little more runny, so it might take longer to bake.  Just play it by ear. 

I'll frost the finished pink bomb with cream cheese frosting (dyed pink with a little food coloring, naturally) and maybe throw a little edible silver glitter on top.  And there you go.  A cream-cheesy cake perfectly suited for this cheesy day.  Xoxo.

UPDATE: Total failure!  I think this turned out to be my first official disaster.  I mean, just look how ugly that is, first of all.  After baking for nearly an hour, I took the cake out of the oven too soon, because it fell in immediately (and almost fell apart).  Then, I frosted it while it was still too warm, because the obnoxious pink frosting melted all over, eventually dripping off the cooling rack.  I tried to salvage it by adding more, but that only made things worse.  I just cut into the finished cake to test it, and it's cool and clammy on the inside, far too runny and jiggly.  I can't feed this to people I care about without worrying that their insides will rot with unbaked cream cheese-yogurt sickness.  So, it's in the trash can she'll go.  

Next time: less cream cheese, less strawberry juice, more time in the oven, more time on the cooling rack.  In baking as in love, I guess they can't all be winners!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Raw, Idiom: b. Informal. in the nude; naked: sunbathing in the raw


Discord Thursday!

Everyone's buzzing today about the news that the people behind Bay to Breakers (read: famously drunken and costume-clad SF footrace, characterized by nudity, rolling kegs and running Elvises) have banned booze, floats and bare asses. I'm honestly shocked. Didn't this melee always seem like one of those quintessentially zany "Only in SF" events? Sounds like the uproar has already begun. Details here.

Next, drama on the opposite coast. Long after he stopped serving as Nebraska's Democratic (!) Senator, I've continued to keep a curious eye turned to Bob Kerrey's work. You might have heard that he's been serving as President of the New School in NYC for several years. (Great social theory action there.) There's been discord for some time now over his leadership, but it sounds like the anger has really swelled. Check out this NYT coverage of the latest efforts to boot him. It doesn't sound pretty for our Bob.

Beer, nudity banned in Bay to Breakers race (SFGate)
New School Faculty and President Still at Odds (NYT)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

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


Ok, I'm all for pop sociology, but this piece really takes the cake.

MSNBC's trying to plumb the causal relationship between beards and the recession. Um, really? Aren't we about 5 years behind the 'stache trend at this point? The article tries to draw a flimsy line between job loss and increasing hirsuteness, but then just generally uses it as an excuse to explore the vast theoretical depths of kiss-scratching, trimming, and fu-manchus. It's light journalism in a marshmallow kind of way.

The best line has to go to this dude:
“Girls were a little bit nicer to me at first, but as I let the beard grow out, people began to gravitate away. Although at work, people seemed to trust the guy with a beard more. I was working in the lumber department at Home Depot and customers would seek me out.”
So let it be known, friends. If you work in the home improvement world and want to be Mr. Popular, definitely go for the Bob Vila beard.

Hairy Economy Trend: Beards are Back (MSNBC)

(Update: I had to switch out the shot of my man Giorgio in lieu of this killer one above. Because, really. Bob. Yeah.)

Monday, February 9, 2009

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


Yesterday, noon-ish, ten or so incredibly interesting and traveled and experienced and open-hearted fellow yogis and one very lucky me tramped over to the Asian Art Museum for a quick bite between workshop sessions.  

The AAM sprawls grandly on a corner of Civic Center Plaza, situated on the edge of the Tenderloin.  Unless you're looking for some killer Vietnamese fare on Larkin St. there in Little Saigon, it can sometimes be hard to find a nice place to sit with a book or a friend for a few hours without worrying that your purse will be stolen if you turn away from it for too long.  The excellent Library Cafe next door has recently closed (disappointing!), so I was pleasantly surprised to find a little gem of a cafe there in the AAM.  It's Pan-Asian, minimalist, healthy, and high-ceilinged.  And for a bunch of healthy-ish yoga wonks, it offered a ton of great choices not loaded with refined sugars or beef.  My green bean/tofu and seaweed salads were light but nourishing enough to head back into another round of asana without the usual post-lunch food coma.

Check it out for a little oasis amongst the cement and grime that is Civic Center.  They've got an outdoor patio that looks tempting in the right weather, and given that the AAM is opening a new exhibit on the art of Bhutan later this month, you owe yourselves a trip.

Friday, February 6, 2009

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




At a Viniyoga workshop with Gary Kraftsow (!!!) all weekend, so alas, no time for a bundt.  Sorry, doves.  Happy Friday.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

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


Did you happen to catch this article in the NYT the other day?

"Yoga and the Missing Boutique" makes the valid point that, tough as it sometimes is to be the lone dude in a yoga class, it can be even tougher finding something appropriate to wear that won't be at once too revealing or too bulky.  As you know, one of my pet peeves is when yoga practitioners place more emphasis on attire than asana; nothing gets my goat like a $75 pair of Lululemon workout pants that's hardly lived in because the wearer doesn't want to sweat.  Talk about the commodification of yoga!  And misplaced priorities, too!

But this article made me realize how much I take the ease of dressing for yoga as a woman for granted.  Throw on a sports bra or a tank top and a pair of capris, and you're all set (although the market is certainly out there if you want to spend major money on frou-frou yoga duds).  But for men, it's not so easy; there's a fine line between comfort and self-consciousness, and the regular gym short might not suffice.  Finding that "just-right" clothing option matters so that a guy can focus on his trikonasana instead of worrying whether his pants will fall down when he stands up.

I'll quibble with the accompanying slideshow's offerings, which feature, among other treats, an $89.50 pair of Polo Ralph Lauren sweatpants and a $30 cotton tank top from American Apparel.  Really??  $89.50 for sweatpants?  Those kinds of prices just might make that Speedo seem like not such a scary option after all.

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


And now, a mid-winter ode to cauliflower.

In the ongoing quest that is my attempt to live well, cauliflower has secured a place near the top of my "most-beloved" list, right up there with spinach, cantaloupe and kombucha.  Not only is this fiber- and phytonutrient-rich vegetable easy to chop up and carry along for a day's rations, it's also surprisingly available at a time of year when most other fruits and vegetables are in short supply.

Without exception, when I eat a bowl of cauliflower florets, within 30 minutes my skin has taken on a certain rosy glow.  That might just be an individual reaction, but I recommend it for the skin health factor alone.  Beyond that, cauliflower's health benefits are similar to that of its better-known brother, broccoli.  Along with the folic acid and Vitamin C, its butter-nutty taste is especially delish.  

Favorite snack of late?  Chopped up cauliflower dipped in marinara sauce.  It's raw, it's fresh, it's fairly easy to tote around, it's filling, it's flavorful (and, most importantly for anyone who tries to avoid wheat/gluten, it gives you the vague sense that you're eating pasta without the accompanying glycemic lows, lethargy, and brain-fog).  Even the most veggie-averse of my friends and co-workers don't mind it.  Give it a whirl.

The NYT featured a few quality cauliflower recipes last month that I've been meaning to highlight.  In particular, check out their Cauliflower Salad with Capers, Parsley and Vinegar (which is only lightly steamed, so still retains a fair amount of nutrients), and read up on the benefits of this in-season veg.  Finally, head over to WH Foods for the full lowdown.

Monday, February 2, 2009

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

Did you catch Obama's latest interview with Matt Lauer?  The man is so effortlessly charming.  Bonus points for the on-the-nose football prediction and the Inspector Gadget jokes.  Swoon.