Life generally... · Misadventures

Curly hair, don’t care

I think it’s fair to begin by saying that, as I write this, my hair is completely slathered in coconut oil and is currently clipped onto the top of my head and wrapped up in an old t-shirt.  It has been this way for the past two-and-a-half hours, and realistically, will probably be that way for another three.

If your gut reaction was somewhere between “That’s an odd way to spend a Saturday night,” and “That is downright bizarre,” you are probably among the 89% of people in the world that do not have curly hair.  (I can give you this math because I just looked it up.  Google is such a nifty thing…) If you are one of the 11%, and therefore among my curly haired sisters, this sounds perfectly normal to you.  Curly-haired folk fall into two camps: they that spend hours and hours trying to make their hair sleek and smooth like the straight-haired people of the world, and they that spend hours and hours trying to get their curls to behave in a civilized and attractive manner, rather than like an Exorsist-style version of Cousin It.  It’s very time consuming.

What you have to understand about curly hair, if you do not have it, is that curly hair has a life of its own, and nothing you can do will convince it to do anything other than exactly what it wants.  Oh, sure, you catch me on a day when it’s cooperating, it’s amazing.  But you don’t see all the mornings when I wake up and look in the mirror only to think, “Oh, why?!”  Straightening it is an involved, forty-five minute process that only lasts about an hour, until I walk into anything even moderately humid (say, past a drinking fountain…) Keeping it curly involves trying to tempt and cajole it into doing what you want, which is dicey at best.  I can do the exact same thing to my hair three days in a row, and I’ll get “Meh” hair on day one, “Smashing” hair on day two, and “I Just Put My Finger In A Light Socket” on day three.  It’s completely hit-and-miss.

Most of  my hair-care habits have been picked up from one of three sources:

  1. A really smashing book called Curly Girl by Lorraine Massey. This was my first soirée into accepting my curly hair.  (If you have curly hair and have not read this book, you should stop reading this and go read it. Immediately.)
  2. My African-American students who wear their hair the natural way.  They come in from swimming in gym class and we talk about how insane curly hair is if it gets wet and you don’t put in product, and they’re always like, “Miss D., what you really need to do is…” I’ve gotten some good stuff this way.
  3. Pinterest.  (Because whenever do you not have Pinterest on a list like this?)

Pinterest tends to be my favorite lately, mostly because I like trying new stuff, and like every curly-haired girl of my acquaintance, I’m constantly on the quest for a miracle produce that will give me cinema-style perfection on a daily basis.  (This is totally impossible on the level of waking up at 3 a.m. on two hours of sleep with perfect make-up, but a girl can dream…)

Segue into the coconut oil and the t-shirt.  A Pinterest find, in this case.  It’s ridiculous and it might not work.  But it might.  And the article had 4/4 tried-it-and-loved-it hearts, so that’s something.  Of course, after I had this all slathered up, I read about how some people are really allergic to coconut oil and get horrible breakouts–with my luck, that will be me, but it will be an interesting object lesson.

My hair has gotten curlier as I’ve aged, but even in my teens, my hair was voluminous.  I came of age in the final seasons of Friends, where there was nary a curl or wave or even a hint of volume to be found.

While it’s nice that curly hair (along with brunettes, a membership card I also claim…) are finally back in fashion, having hair that could never be “cool” taught me a lot in those formative late-teens and early-twenties years.  I made peace with being me.  I will never be able to pull of all those sleek, polished looking up-dos.  It always looks, well, wrong and anyway, it would only last about ten minutes. But I like my curly hair.  It’s kind of crazy and everywhere and only marginally following the rules, which is kind of who I am as a person, really.  I only marginally believe in patterns and instruction manuals and believe top-down mandate protocol is open to a certain amount of, shall we say, interpreation. I’m kind of like my hair.  So I guess it’s no mistake that it’s growing out of the top of my head.

I have started finding a few gray hairs (a total moment of panic that would have been worth getting on camera…) mixed into my mass of curls lately.  They are a million times more curly than my “regular” tresses.  I hope this is an indication of what kind of old lady I’ll be one day–no Bea Arthur coif for me, no sir-ee.  I’m going to be that crazy old lady who is always coming up with wacky ideas and bending rules and doing all the things she wants to do.  That’s what curly hair says to me.  And I say, sign me up. 

Life generally... · Misadventures

I hate romance (and other truisms)

So, tonight, I was conned into going to see the new, live-action Beauty and the Beast with a couple girlfriends of mine, and I was reminded (for about the fifteen billionth time) about how much I hate romance in fiction.  Hate it.  I will avoid it at all costs.  I will make up excuses not to go over when people are watching these movies.  I turn the channel when they are on T.V.  A friend lends me a book that clearly features a love story as a major plot (or sub plot), I’ll let it sit on my table for a month, then read a synopsis and give it back.  The rom-coms I own sit in a drawer, unwatched for I-don’t-know how many years.  I have a love-hate relationship with my darling Jane Austen.  So, let me state that again, emphatically: I HATE ROMANCE.

I hate it so passionately, because at my core, I am a hopeless romantic.  I read somewhere once that “Within the chest of every jaded cynic beats the heart of a hopeless romantic,” and I reckon that’s pretty much dead on.  I hate romance in books and films because it’s like a drug to my spirit–I get high on the idea that somewhere out there, there are men who are well-read and can quote Shakespeare (who are not my college English professors).  I get completely bombed on the reckless abandon with which love happens in fiction–the idea that someone sees the funny, quirky things about you and sees them not only as gems but encourages them.  (I will cite that moment when Belle gets that exquisite library, in the cartoon, in the stage show, in the new movie.  It doesn’t matter.  It is such a part of her character, that to me that moment is magical.  I confess I brushed away a literal tear of jealousy in the movie theatre tonight.)

Unfortunately, I am now too old and smart for this.  My little girl, princess days are long behind me.  I know what reality is–I pay bills and clean my bathroom and use a CrockPot and spend more hours than I could ever count dedicated to raising the children of other people.  I have learned that (let us be real) things that make heroines really awesome in books and film does not necessarily translate to great success to real life.

I recently celebrated my thirty-third birthday.  I know, those of you among my elders are thinking things like, “Oh, you’re such a baby,” and cognitively, I agree with you.  But for some reason, this birthday hit me hard.  I don’t know why.  It’s not a round age.  Thirty slipped into my life with zero doom-and-gloom.  This year, though, I started looking at my life, and began to panic.  I think it’s because I feel like I’m such a static person.  All around me, friends, family, have gotten married and started families, while I remain good ol’ reliable me, ready to help–the good friend, the good sister.  Though I’ve always wanted those things, I didn’t worry.  I guess it’s because I subscribe strongly to the idea that you should live the life God gives you, not mope around wishing for something different.  So I’ve done lots of cool things with my time.  I guess I (stupidly?) just figured that when it was right it would happen.

But, then tonight, I found myself sitting in the movie theatre, with my two friends who live in the suburbs and have their husbands and houses and three kids, and I felt lost.  I’m not a starry-eyed idealist all the time–I know that life is just hard.  You give up the right to sleep for about six years when you have a child.  Marriages are tough and your spouse will annoy you.  I have been a steady shoulder for each of them in some of those tough times.  I have walked with these two women, my friends, through illnesses and cancer scares and miscarriages and layoffs and broken furnaces.  But I have also walked with them through the new homes and babies and good report cards and anniversaries.  And through their list of important life events, I just…am.  Good ol’ me.  Always there to lend a hand.

I find myself under the  pressure of time, and the reality that, no only am I in a profession where a girl just doesn’t meet single men, but no one I know knows any single men.  (The whole online dating nightmare is a post filled with enough drama and mad comedy to fit in with your average middle school dance…that is for another day.)  I feel the rising fear of complications that accompany “geriatric pregnancies” (the phrase “geriatric” alone fills me with unabashed terror.)  It’s horrifying.  I panic about what will happen to me if I get seriously sick–who will go with me to the doctor?  Who will help me make hard decisions?  Of course, I know people do these things all the time.  I know that I’m not totally alone, that I have God on my side, but it’s a hard pill to swallow when you’re tired and frustrated and lonely.

The only way I know to avoid the irrational desire to get weepy and call my mom is to just…put my nose to the grindstone and get on with the business of my life.  If I don’t think about it, I’m pretty okay.  I do my job, have my social life, have my little stresses and little victories.  Life keeps on keepin’ on.

But movies and books (I mean, it was Beauty and the Beast tonight, for crying out loud.  It’s a ruddy fairy tale!) knock me off my rhythm.  They feed me that narcotic of people finding each other, and ordinary, lonely people who do not have to be alone anymore.  It’s intoxicating.    And as long as the high lasts, I imagine that maybe one day things will change for me.  But then the lights come back on, I get into my car, and the crash comes, because I am smart enough to know that it doesn’t work like that–not for me, anyway.

But (and someone else very smart said this) “Hope springs eternal.”  The most frustrating thing about being a romantic is that you can’t kill hope.  You can’t kill that stubborn little flame of “just maybe.”  I guess it’s a good thing.  It keeps life interesting.  It keeps you guessing.  I suppose it’s why God gave it to us–to keep us from giving up.  But, wow, is it tough.  Tough, but unbreakable–it’s the reason Jane Austen sits in a place of honor on my shelf, and why I can’t just give away those DVDs.  I guess it’s also why I love writing fiction–it may not happen for me, but in my fictional world, I can make it happen for someone else.  And that is a high in and of itself.

Life generally... · Misadventures

The Best Dog

Getting a Golden Retriever was a lifelong dream of my father’s ever since he’d met and fallen in love with one as a child.  My mother was considerably more wary, on account of the only other dog in our family history, Cinder, being kind of a disaster. Cinder made a career of escaping from our backyard at every opportunity, which, given that our yard was the hub of neighborhood activity for all six of us kids and our myriad friends, happened frequently.  Basically, my father viewed a dog the way my mother viewed another baby. (My mom thinks of babies and sees first steps and dandelion bouquets and kindergarten plays and homemade cards.  My dad, on the other hand, sees designer jeans and out-of-state college tuition and expensive weddings with ice sculptures. )

Anyway, so the summer I went off to college, my mother finally relented and agreed to let my dad get this dog, and that is how Gracie Ellen came into our family.  We brought her home from the breeder a few weeks before I left for school, an adorable little golden fluff-ball who was ready to love all of us to bits.  She was sweet and gentle from the start, a trait she has never lost.

Being a retriever, she was constantly on the lookout for things to bring you to show she cared.  As a puppy, she would pull the socks out of people’s shoes and bring them over, tail waggling so fast her whole back half looked like it might come off.  Of course, it was adorable, and we praised her for it.  This proved to be a mistake, because she never gave up this habit, and, if you came into the room, she would frantically search around for socks to bring you.  Failing this, she would retrieve anything she could find in the laundry room–dish towels, t-shirts, double bed fitted sheets–and there were more than a few times she joyously trotted over to a guest in the house touting somebody’s underwear.

From her earliest, she was a dog with a radar for small children, old people, and anyone who might be feeling blue.  She’d be perfectly happy roughhousing with my brothers, but just has content to sit next to a stroller to have her ears tugged on by a toddler or be gently patted by a little white-haired lady in a wheelchair.

Gracie has had some adventures–like the time that she ate half a box of raisins and we all thought she was going to die (dogs, by the way, are deathly allergic to grapes and raisins).  The time we threw a stick in Lake Michigan and she didn’t see it behind her, and was well on her way east to the Michigan shore before somebody threw a rock in the water to get her to turn around.  The time she got stuck in gridlock with my dad in Chicago and had a marvelous time hanging her head out the window so other drivers could pet her.  The thirty-six hours in her whole life that she wasn’t with at least one member of our family, and the neighbors watching her were convinced she was dying because she was so violently ill. All the family walks we took and didn’t stay close together, and she would do her best to herd the family attached to the leash toward the stragglers.  All the times people had bad days and sad days and came home, where she’d sit next to them and let them cry on her fur. Her stories are many and live in the family lore and are told time and time again.

Gracie is old now–almost fifteen.  She has arthritis that makes it hard for her to walk.  She’s stone deaf.  Her stomach can’t handle dog food any more, so twice a day, she gets scrambled eggs and chicken and rice with cheese (and salt.  Once my dad forgot that, and my parents both swear she took one bite, stepped back and refused to touch it until he put the salt on it.)  She’s old  and slowing down.

I live near my parents now, and go over there pretty regularly.  I always stop and pet Gracie, who, even now, puts her head against your arm, and struggles up so she can come and sit by you and guard you from intruders (though what an arthritic, deaf dog with the sleep of the dead can do, I’m not quite sure.  But I’m sure she’ll do what she can.)  I’ll sit by her sometimes now, and pet her old, golden coat, brush her, and whisper in the ears that can’t hear any more that she’s the best dog in the whole world, and that I love her.  I do it because I know she won’t be around for much longer. Eventually, the day will come when I will go over to my parents’ house and she won’t be sleeping on the kitchen linoleum.  The old, white face won’t look up when I walk into the house, and the floppy, golden ears won’t perk up whenever I make a move toward the pantry.

I do it because she is my dog.  She saw me through the ups and downs of my college years.  She was a faithful friend when I graduated from college and didn’t know what I was going to do with my life.  She sat next to me five years later when I was longing for my China home, her head on my lap, big, brown eyes that said, “I’m sorry that being back in America is hard for you.”  Gracie has always been around when life got hard for me, so now, I figure I should return the favor.  I know she’s just a dog–she didn’t understand all the things that I went through, but in her own, canine way, she did her best to help.  I do it because she is the best dog.  She’s my dog.  And God let her be part of my life because He cares–even about the little things, like Golden Retrievers.


Kitchen Culture · Misadventures

Impressive Enough

“So, do you know any good dessert recipes that aren’t very hard?”

My roommate (as in “person I share living space with,” not “my soulmate friend with whom I share everything”) walked out of her bedroom and began the conversation without preamble.

I looked up from the solitaire game I was wasting time playing on my phone.  “What?”  I know lots of easy dessert recipes–Rice Krispie treats, blonde brownies, the lemon depression cake that is currently cooling on the kitchen table because am taking it to Easter dinner tomorrow–but the way she states the question makes me think that these would not meet her standards.

“I need a dessert–for tomorrow–I mean, I could make brownies, but those would be too easy, and I’d screw up cookies…” she trails off.

My first thought is, How do you screw up cookies?  You have to sit around forever making all the batches, sure, but they aren’t hard.

My second thought is, Ah, I get it now.

It was the not wanting to take brownies (let’s be real–a party favorite all the time, every time) that tipped me off.  It means that unspoken end to her question “Do you know any good dessert recipes that aren’t very hard…” is actually “…but still impressive so everyone will think I am amazing in the kitchen?”

There is only one contingency my hermit roommate would have for needing an impressive looking dessert–and that is that she must be going over to her fiancé’s parents’ house for Easter dinner tomorrow.  My roommate is not much of a cook, and she has been dating her future husband for over two and a half years, so it surprises me that she’s still trying to keep up the façade around his parents.

Apparently it’s still a thing, though, because the next thing out of her mouth is, “What about a cheesecake?  That’s not hard, is it?”

“Weeelll,” I begin noncommittally, “It’s not really hard–it’s just time consuming.  And expensive, because you have to buy all the cream cheese.”

“Huh.”  This is clearly not the answer she was hoping I would give.  “But what about one of those pudding-y ones?”

“Well, sure,” I agree (what else can I do?  She is clearly determined to have her cake and eat it, too, so to speak), “I mean, if you get one of those Jell-o box kinds, sure.  That’s easy.”

“Okay,” she walks back into her room.  (My roommate is like this.  Conversations begin and end without reason…)

She is apparently going with the Jell-o cheesecake idea because twenty minutes ago her fiancé appeared.  Apparently, they are adding Butterfinger to it.  I know this, because my roommate was telling said fiancé that he should have gotten a bag of the mini-candy bars rather than six full-size ones, because the big ones are more expensive.  He is insistent that he looked and this was the only choice.  (I’m sure he’s right because many Easter Bunnies were hitting all the big box stores and grocery stores today…)  And I’m guessing these bars are to be crumbled, because I’m sitting in the living room, and I’m nearly positive I’m listening to somebody beat those candy bars into bits with a rolling pin.

But I digress.  The whole conversation–needing something “fancy” but “easy”–seems a little absurd to me.  I like to impress people with my skills as much as the next girl–but if you’re going to be impressive, I always think “from scratch.”  Of course, I also think, “If I’m trying to impress the family members of a man I like, I’m sure as heck going to make something I’ve done right before.”  But what do I know?  Maybe this is why I’m the single one in this apartment…

I like people to enjoy my food, but I’ve never really worried about if people thought it was “good” enough.  I figure if it tastes good, if people eat it, if I can make it without going crazy trying to get it right–then it’s good enough.  If people sit around the table a little longer because of it–Mission Accomplished.  I’m not sure if this attitude makes me apathetic, a total egotist, or just a girl with a healthy self-image, but I do know that it means I made a lemon depression cake because yellow and citrus make me think of spring, and I’m not worried.  Because a good cake is always “impressive.”


Kitchen Culture · Misadventures

Captain Kitchen (or, Kitchen Geek-dom)

For the first time since moving back to the U.S., I am going on a proper vacation next week.  I’ve been  away several times over the past few years, but mostly I’ve just been going to visit friends where they live–super exciting places, like Boise…or Huntsville…or Columbia (MO, not SC.)  Not exactly what one may call “tourists hot spots.”

Don’t get me wrong.  It was great visiting all my sundry friends in all their sundry new homes, but I am ready to leave my car in the driveway, my practicality in my classroom, and go on a real vacation.  And next Monday, I’m doing it.  I’m getting on a plane and I’m flying someplace WARM to do nothing for a whole glorious week.

Needless to say, in my zeal to make my Next Week as stress-free and idle as possible (save swimming, reading books of fluff, and getting a sun tan), it has made my This Week pretty hectic.  School is rough–the kids are climbing the walls and it is a constant battle to keep them even marginally engaged (Guess who’s giving every class an assessment this week?). Then, in addition to all the normal things I do “of an evening,” I’m running weird, pre-vacation errands (Such as, but not limited to, hunting all over the place for a beach bag smaller than Texas that costs less than one million dollars.  Going to the scary tanning booth so I can have some sort of a base so my natural alabaster doesn’t turn to fire engine read in the tropical sun.  Trying on ever sandal ever designed…)  I am also trying to clear out my refrigerator.

As I’ve mentioned before, I work hard to try to avoid throwing away perfectly good food because I forgot about it and it went bad in my fridge.  I’ve been doing a pretty good job–making the stuff I buy, eating what I make, and so on.  So when I made up my list of “Things to Do Before I Leave” I flippantly added, Clear out fridge.  It sounds so easy, doesn’t it?  Three simple little words.  Something I do all the time, right?


What I now know is that I’ve never actually had to clear out my fridge since I made this resolution of mine.  I’ve pared it down, sure, when I was going to be out of town for a few days, but I’d always leave a chili or a stew or a pasta sauce that would be good when I got back.  This is the first time I’ve actually (completely) cleared it out.

And it’s hard.  It’s hard because I’m determined not to waste food.  I’ve had to get creative (what am I going to do with that half-bag of spinach before it gets slimy?  What am I going to do with two random little zucchinis?)

I have made (I am ashamed to admit this) a list of the meals I’m eating between now and IMG_0525when I leave.  I have legitimately done this. I actually mapped it all out.  This list is now hanging on my refrigerator in case I try to “go rogue” and make something I don’t need to before the other stuff is gone.  I wrote down everything.  I included when a friend of mine is buying lunch this week because he lost a bet over March Madness and the friend I’m meeting for dinner because I actually have a night free. I have (since taking a photo of this list) decided to make a chili to use those peppers and zucchini–because I can freeze what I can’t finish.  I’m actually contemplating making a grilled cheese sandwich to use up the last of the shredded cheese and the loaf of bread.   I am trying to eek out my coffee to make it last until I leave so I won’t have to leave perfectly good beans to go stale in my absence. As I write all of these things, I’m becoming increasingly overwhelmed by my own geekiness.

I am actually concerned about this.(I mean, a list?!)  I actually took the time to think all of this through.

Yes.  I admit I probably taking it a bit far, but I don’t think what I’m doing is bad.  I’m kind of proud of myself for using forward planning and trying to be a good steward of my few resources. I feel accomplished that I can make the puzzle fit together.  I’m like the superhero of Kitchen Conservation.

Just call me Captain Kitchen–defending refrigerators everywhere from the dangers of mold…Okay, wait.  Stop.  That’s taking it a little far, even for me.  Let’s just leave it with the fact that I made a list…



Stories of a Not-Quite-Right Quilt

IMG_0509I have a confession to make.

I struggle to follow directions.

Patterns, maps, guidelines, recipes–you name it.  If it has a certain way it should be done, chances are I have not done it this way.  Usually, it’s not anything major, and it’s not like I do this for any important reason.  I’m not trying to “stick it to the man,” or prove my frontiers-woman spirit.  No, mostly it’s because I just can’t be bothered. In my mind, it legitimately seems like less work to figure it out on my own as I go along than to take the time to look it up on youtube.

It usually happens like this: I see a [skirt, cable-knit hat, flower arrangement, gift basket] and say, “I bet I can do that.”

Because of this boundless belief in the power of creativity, I have made my own sewing patterns out of brown paper bags by tracing around myself.  I have knitted hats by looking at one, knitting for a while, then holding up what I’ve done to the one I bought.  I have (no joke) given myself first degree burns hot gluing myself into costumes.  But don’t worry.  “I’m sure I can figure this out.”

Take, for example, the quilt I’m wrapped up in right now.  It is a quilt in only the most general of senses (no intricate stitchwork here–it can only qualify as a quilt because every four squares or so, I sewed little x’s of yarn through the layers.)  I made this quilt because of one just like it that a family friend made for my brother.  I snatched from my parents’ house and took it with me to college–no one has ever commented on its disappearance.

I can still remember the day when, randomly, I looked at that quilt and thought “I can do that.”  So, with nothing but the quilt and my conviction I could figure it out, I went to the store and bought a bunch of arbitrary pieces of fabric.  I measured the basic size of the quilt by holding it up to my arm (I couldn’t be bothered with a tape measure.)  Then I cut out the pattern for the squares (again, out of a brown paper bag) eyeballing it from the original.  I didn’t piece it together the way you’re supposed to (one at a time–making four small squares into a medium size square, then four medium sized squares into a big square, and so one.)  I sewed a bunch together in huge strips.  Half the time I didn’t even pin them first (again, too much work.)

As a result, my quilt wasn’t perfect.  The squares didn’t all line up in perfect rows and columns.  Some are a little off-set.  You need to know that I can be a total perfectionist.  But I also didn’t really want to have to rip everything apart and re-piece the stupid thing. I really thought about it–Perfectionist Me warring with the inner-pragmatist that thought, “Does this really matter?”

In the end, I decided that it was okay for my quilt to be not-perfect.

Now, before you decide to hate me for accepting mediocrity, give me a chance.  Anyone who knows me knows that I like to do things well.  I demand a lot of myself professionally, I demand a lot of my students.  I work hard.  I am ambitious.  However, I have also learned that if you have to have every little thing exactly “so,” you will not only lose sight of the end game, you will also drive yourself insane.  We can learn a lot from imperfect experiences.

I work hard to impress on my students the idea that not-quite-right final products mean we’re on the road.  That what we learn from the failures, the flops, the funny looking hat, the out of tune chord, the not-straight quilt are all stops along the way.

I have learned a lot by doing it once, deciding it doesn’t work, tearing it out and doing it again. Sometimes, it’s worth it to me to re-do it–because it’s something that’s important.  Sometimes, I decide that the little foibles of whatever I’ve made are not worth the effort–and that’s okay, too.

And I think to be a healthy person, to live a joyous life, we have to approach it that way–not everything is equally important.  We have to learn to pick our battles.  We have to decide which projects are worth staying late to make perfect, and which we can make the best we can before dinner.  We have to decide which activities are worth making room for, and which are worth skipping.  We have to decide which relationships to make peace with and leave behind, and which to put in the hard work of mending.

We have to decide which seams are worth ripping out and trying again.

Kitchenware · Misadventures

The Saga of the Wine-Holder-Thingy

A couple of months ago, I went over to a friend’s house for dinner.  It was the first time I’d actually spent any time at her place, so I got the nickel tour: bedroom, living room, bathroom, dining room, kitchen.  She’s a big baker (unlike me.  Please see my post from a few days ago…) so I admired her new, fancy KitchenAid standing mixer and agreed that it was the best color.  (I have learned that KitchenAid owners are sort of like new parents–every mixer is the prettiest and the best.)  I also admired her wine rack.  The rack was actually a series of wine-bottle-sized, wrought iron corkscrews that are suspended from the ceiling.  I told her several times what a cool piece it was, and how great it was in the space and forgot about it.

Well, I forgot about it until I saw my friend again this weekend and she gave me an early birthday present, which was (you guessed it) an identical suspended-corkscrew wine holder-thing.

And I was horrified.

When I was recovering from the shock of what was actually in the box with a big, toothy “thank you” (thank goodness I am a better actress than I am a baker…) my friend said, “I was going to get you this other thing [read: something I actually, really wanted], but then you said how much you liked my wine bottle holder so I thought I’d get you that instead.”

Me and my big mouth.  I did admire the wine rack–in her space.  The thing fits in with my friend’s style and is an interesting conversation piece.  It is cool.  I do love it in her kitchen. I just didn’t ever expect it to end up in mine.

I feel a deeply personal attachment to my culinary space–the way many women feel attached to their wardrobes.  You know, that attachment that prompts comments like, “I love that top, but it just really doesn’t fit with the style I’m going for,” or “I know everyone always says I look great in this dress, but I just don’t feel comfortable in it.”

You have to understand.  My kitchen is a series of rummage sale finds and Goodwill treasures that have combined into a vintage bacchanalia that is essentially an homage to the days when homemade cookies were the norm and kids had to talk on the phone in front of their parents because the phone was still attached to an outlet in the kitchen wall.  I mean, I paid actual, real money for a painted plaster wall-hanging of a bunch of bananas and cherries.  On purpose.  I also (though I love wine) seldom have more than one bottle of it in my house at any given time.

But now, I’ve got this giant, super modern-y, suspended, corkscrew, wine-bottle holder-thingy.  And I have to figure out what to do with it, because my friend was so excited to give it to me and so I know the next time she comes over to my house ,she’s going to expect to see it.  I can’t tell her the truth (i.e. “I don’t want to put it up because it doesn’t match anything and I’m just going to keep bashing my head on it and then getting hit on the back since I’ve only got that one bottle of Cab and the thing swings…”) I’ve bought myself a little time, because I’m moving soon, so I’ll claim I “don’t want to hang it up just to take it down again,” but in the interim, I need to come up with a way to use it that won’t annoy me or offend her.

Right now, I’m thinking maybe an herb drying rack?  Possibly storage for my extra dish towels?  (If any of you, dear readers, have some genius, out-of-the-box ideas, I’m all ears…)

Meanwhile, I’ve learned my lesson.  I cannot overemphasize the importance of word choice when praising other people’s belongings.  And let’s just say I’m planning on phrasing my compliments like this from now on:

“This is so different from my style, but I love this Fill-In-The-Blank-Here in this space!”

Cooking · Food · Misadventures · Recipes

Desperation Depression Cake

I like baking in the philosophical sense.  I like the idea of baking–the whole Tollhouse cookie, Pillsbury Doughboy image of cookies and biscuits being pulled out of the oven, a toasty golden brown, fluffy, and identical in size and shape, usually while wildly smiling and suspiciously clean, blonde children stand watching, on the ready.  Me in an old sweatshirt, cursing under my breath when I realize I don’t have any eggs–something I only realize after I’ve creamed the butter and sugar and added three cups of flour–does not fit this image.

Please understand.  The scene of an angry me storming around my kitchen because I have to go to the store now is not a “one time only” showing.  This scenario unfolds with very little variation whenever I am possessed of the random impulse to bake.  I never have eggs.  You think I’d learn to check for them before I start, but I don’t.  I start recipes.  I don’t have eggs.  It’s a universal given on the level of death and taxes.

Then one day, desperately searching the internet for a dessert recipe that didn’t require me to go to the grocery store, I discovered the gem that revolutionized my “Last Names Beginning with A-H Bring a Dessert” life:  THE DEPRESSION CAKE.

Don’t panic!  This cake gets its name from the three holes (depressions) you make in the dry ingredients to pour various liquids into–it does not cause, worsen, or is in any way related to any medical condition (except maybea sugar coma if enough is consumed?)

I honestly don’t remember where I found it anymore, or I would totally give the webpage its due, because this cake is truly amazing.  Not only is it a good “take to a party” 9×9 size, (since nobody wants to look like a pig eating half a cake straight out of the pan when there are other people present,) it’s light, fluffy, moist, and generally delicious.  You also can mix the whole thing in the pan you bake it in, so there are aren’t a thousand bowls to wash.

Behold, the cake! (And now you know why I’m a teacher, not a food photographer…)

And (even better!) no one who eats it will EVER guess that the recipe calls for no butter, no milk, and (most importantly in my case) NO EGGS.  Unless you tell them, and I do, because I think this recipe is genius–and also because then people of the vegan persuasion can’t make everyone else feel guilty for eating dessert without them.
It’s now my party go-to, because, let’s be honest, you tell people you made a cake “from scratch,” and most of them will elevate you to a culinary place somewhere between Julia Childs and Betty Crocker.  They will never know that this recipe is basically one step up in difficulty from a grilled cheese sandwich.  The way I see it, what they don’t know can’t hurt them.   Happy baking!

(If you’d like to try the Depression Cake for yourself, you can check it out under my “recipes” tab.)