September 29, 2009

Second-rate 'taters

"You go back to Brakebills. You graduate. You spend your life as a second-rate magician. Many do. Probably you never realize it. Even the fact that you failed is beyond your ability to comprehend."

Quentin had no intention of letting that happen to him, though it occurred to him that probably nobody actually set out to have that happen to them, and, statistically speaking, it had to happen to somebody. The hash browns no longer tasted quite so scrumptious. He put his fork down.
--The Magicians, Lev Grossman

The above is a photograph of the exposed innards of a sandwich from Murray's Cheese Shop. It does not look like a second-rate sandwich. It was. But I ate it all anyway. Story of my life.

Quentin's right: Nobody intends to live a second-rate life. It just happens, even to the best of us. That thought alone is enough to make even the most bangin', sizzling hash browns into unappetizing fare.

September 28, 2009

Survival food

"There was some orange-coloured juice in the freezer, so Amanda mixed up mimosas with the champagne that was left. We opened some salted soynuts, and microwaved a pack of faux fish, and all five of us sat at the bar. The three boys -- I still thought of them as boys -- practically inhaled the food. Amanda made them drink some water, but not too fast. They weren't starving --they'd been breaking into supermarkettes and even into houses, living off what they could glean, and they'd even snared a couple of rabbits and broiled the chunks, the way we'd done it back at the Gardeners in Saint Euell Week. Still, they were thin."
--The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood
Believe it or not, faux fish can actually be pretty tasty if prepared correctly—no bones or scales to worry about, just loads of flavorful flesh. OK, so that might sound about as appealing (or unappealing, as the case may be) as rabbit chunks, but trust's good.

This book had the frustrating quality of ending right when I thought it shouldn't have, but I'd recommend it anyway, just because there's something so enjoyable about reading a Margaret Atwood story. Here, she proves two things: 1.) That she can work with obvious elements of imagination and fantasy, and 2.) That she can gross us out (Do you dare guess what's in a SecretBurger? One hint: It's probably not beef.) However, she's still doing the same thing as she and other great writers have always done: providing an outlet for us to think about how things stand, versus how things could be. A daunting task, but she's done the job quite well.

September 27, 2009

crumbs of cummings

here is little Effie's head
whose brains are made of gingerbread
cried the third crumb, i am should
and this is my little sister could
with our big brother who is would
don't punish us for we were good;
--e.e. cummings

By the way, doesn't e.e. cummings look like Bruce Willis here? Wowza. I guess it's probably the bald head thing.

September 25, 2009

Burgers and cupcakes

Burgers and Cupcakes might be the name of an establishment, but those happen to be the main foods I consumed today. The burger was good, but the real stars of the day were the sweets...

Matcha Green Tea Cupcake, made by Kyotofu but sold at Dean & Deluca. Most awesome cupcake ever, because of: 1.) the lack of frosting, and 2.) a high degree of moistness that is often absent from cupcakes, but more commonly found in cake.

Lemon Vanilla Bundt Cake from Magnolia Bakery

I had only the most excellent pastries today. Magnolia definitely deserves acclaim for its Bundt cake rather than its cupcakes.

September 24, 2009

Atlas Shrugged of Unknown Selfishness

"Linno thinks of the time she taught Anju how to swim by a stone footbridge that spanned the Meenachil. Anju clung to her like moss to stone, hands fastened about her neck as small silver flecks of poonjan fish went slipping around them. Anju's watery weightlessness, her primal need stripped of pride, these made Linno feel strong and loved in ways she would never admit aloud. 'Don't let me go!' Anju begged, over and over. And though Linno laughed to reassure her sister, she answered without a trace of teasing to her voice: 'No, never.'"
--Atlas of Unknowns, Tania James
It seems to me that human relationships can be founded on our worst and most pathetic fears, out of the abrupt instances when we are reminded of how weak and helpless we would be if left to cope with this world alone. I don't know if that's a reassuring thought or not, but I do know that everything we do is in some way selfish, and there's no point in pretending that things would necessarily be better otherwise. Almost 99 percent positive that Ayn Rand would have backed me up on this. In much more eloquent language.

September 20, 2009

Sunshine in a pan.

It may have looked like cornbread...
but (thank goodness)...
it definitely tasted like cake.

Yellow cake is like the sunshine of cakes. I have fond memories of standing at my kitchen counter, eating Pillsbury yellow cake straight from a 9x13 inch pan. (Fatty alert!) But I always wondered in the back of my mind if the "moist supreme" taste could be duplicated or improved upon in a from-scratch recipe. Maybe it's just me, but I've noticed that people bake chocolate, vanilla, chiffon and pound cakes from scratch, yet they hardly ever make a plain old yellow cake. Le sigh. One of the great mysteries of life, right up there with: "Is Earth really the only planet that hosts life? Sometimes I wonder."

An online search confirmed my suspicions. Finding a yellow cake recipe from a blogger or chef I trust (where are you Ina?) is like searching for a needle in a haystack, and the needle becomes even narrower when you don't want to make cupcakes or a layer cake.

Nevertheless, my first time making yellow cake from scratch turned out better than I had hoped. I went with a Martha Stewart Weddings recipe. I was pretty happy with it overall, except that my cake baked about 10 minutes faster than stated in the recipe, and it was a tad too sweet. It could also do with the addition of some dried strawberries (my sister's fine suggestion). The recipe below reflects the edits I would make next time around.

Yellow Cake
Adapted from Martha Stewart Weddings Basic Yellow Cake recipe
Yield: One 8-inch square cake
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup soy milk
  • Smattering of add-ins like chocolate chips or freeze-dried strawberries, if desired
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

2. Cream butter and sugar for a few minutes until light and fluffy. Add in vanilla and eggs and mix until combined.

3. Mix cake flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Add to butter/sugar mixture in thirds, alternating with the soy milk (beginning and ending with the flour mixture).

4. Pour into greased pan and bake for 40-45 minutes until golden like cornbread (or yellow like yellow cake!).

September 17, 2009

Unoriginal origins

Yes, decorum; if a proper diffidence and decorous lack of originality have been universally accepted as the essential characteristics of a practical man and a gentleman, a sudden transformation would be quite ungentlemanly and almost indecent. What tender and devoted mother wouldn't be dismayed and ill with terror at her son's or daughter's stepping one hair's-breadth off the beaten track. "No, better let him be happy and live in comfort without originality," is what every mother thinks as she rocks the cradle.
--The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoevsky

September 12, 2009

Sweet relief

A fat slice of moist vanilla cake with dried strawberries can instantly make it possible to shed the memory of a long, hard day like today.

September 10, 2009

Idiotic insomnia

I haven't been sleeping so well lately, so I decided to read Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Idiot in hopes that it would put me right to sleep. Maybe it would've put the high-school me to sleep, but post-college me rather enjoys this book so far. Drat.
The young ladies drank a cup of coffee earlier, in their beds as soon as they waked, at ten o'clock precisely. They liked this custom and had adopted it once for all. At half-past twelve the table was laid in the little dining-room next to their mamma's apartments, and occasionally when the general had time, he joined this family party at lunch. Besides tea, coffee, cheese, honey, butter, a special sort of fritters beloved by the lady of the house, cutlets, and so on, strong hot soup was also served.
--The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoevsky
Coffee upon waking! Fritters! Excitement! No sleep.

September 5, 2009

Apples to Dumplings

"Poetry lies, in its adorable wicked way, and what I say is truer than a slice of bread and tomato."
--The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon

"Once, in my father's bookshop, I heard a regular customer say that few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memory to which, sooner or later--no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover, or how much we learn or forget--we will return."
--The Shadow of the Wind
For me, that first book was Gertrude Chandler Warner's The Boxcar Children, which still holds a very special place in my heart—for many reasons, one of the minor reasons being those apple dumplings that the children get to eat once they (caution: spoiler alert!) find their grandfather at the end of the book. I imagine they look somewhat like this?:

September 1, 2009

Our mobile lives

"My life, like all our lives, is made up of so many other lives . . . all of them rearranging themselves, all the time. . . ."
--Palm Pre mobile commercial
This Palm Pre ad is a nod to the Olympics welcoming ceremony. But an alien-like pale woman stars in it—all the better to contrast with the red Chinese dancers? Still...why so very Robert-Pattinson-pale? I could not help but feel somewhat alarmed.

The script, however, is noteworthy. What's excerpted above makes me think of tesselations (remember drawing those in junior high?). I like the idea of all our lives interlinked, rearranging themselves in unison: Even in periods of rapid motion, when we feel like everything is changing, we're never truly alone. That's important to remember, I think.