Home - is where I want to be / But I guess I'm already there /I come home -
she lifted up her wings /
Guess that this must be the place...
- Talking Heads, "Naive Melody"

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Cinnamon Puffs (King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion)

In my fantasy life, I throw quirky dinner parties and brunches where no one wants to leave, spend mornings piping perfect rosettes on tiny cakes, and make my own candy, which I hand out freely in whimsical, hand-decorated containers. (In my fantasy life I might be Molly Wizenburg, except even in my fantasies I'm not crazy enough to actually open a restaurant.)

In real life, I might have a half hour free in the morning before meeting friends for a too-rare lunch out. A half hour that will also involve reviewing notes for a meeting and rescuing the baby when she crawls under her playpen/chair/busy board.

So I decide to make muffins.

And forget to set the timer. And realize that there's a typo in this recipe, but don't remember which of the two values they give I used last time I made these. I peek at them often, recall the old guideline that they're ready when you can smell them, and hope for the best.

I am a devoted fan of quick breads, and (typo aside) I consider these muffins to be pretty near to perfect. For one thing, they taste like snickerdoodles, which is awesome. For another, they call only for ingredients I always have. That stops Fantasy Me from taking over the grocery shopping and loading up the cart with various strengths of cream, which then languish sadly, watching their expiration dates recede in the distance. (Fantasy Me uses everything she buys, and never lets a leftover go to waste. Unfortunately, Real Me has to clean the fridge.)

If Fantasy Me ever opens a bed and breakfast, these will go on the menu. It sounds like a lot of nutmeg, but it's great. Trust me.

Cinnamon Puffs
3 c (12 3/4 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 c (7 oz) sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
3/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 1/4 c milk
5 1/3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

1/4 c sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. In another bowl, beat the eggs slightly, then add the milk and melted butter. Add the wet mixture to the well in the dry mixture. Stir just until moistened. Line or lightly grease 12 muffin cups. Fill about three-quarters full. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until muffins are golden and springy when touched.

While the muffins are baking, mix the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.

When the muffins are done, let them cool just enough to handle. Dip the tops into the melted butter, then into the cinnamon sugar mixture. Serve warm.

Makes 12 muffins. Try not to eat them all yourself. :)

Fantasy Me never has to clean up cat puke while typing up a recipe....

Monday, June 27, 2011

New England Tour 2011: Portland, Maine

Last weekend we were in Newport, RI for D*'s cousin's wedding. This past weekend we headed north for a long-anticipated visit with old friends. They moved into their house nearly three years ago, and we still hadn't been to see it.

Mission accomplished! The day did not start out promising--it looked pretty much the way it had for almost a solid week.

We piled into the van and made our way out of the city. The baby was not happy about being trussed into her car seat practically as soon as she woke up, and made her annoyance known before finally falling asleep. It rained the entire way up. We arrived just around noon, which meant that after a rapid tour we piled back into the van (hooray for passenger space) and headed into Portland, a city D* and I hadn't been to in ages, and which the kids have never seen. Goal: Lunch.

It was Lobsterfest. Despite the rain and low-60s temperatures, there was something resembling a turnout for it, which meant that we had to search for parking. The first restaurant we tried had a half hour wait, so we went around the corner to The Dry Dock. I had the crab melt, and it was delicious. L ordered chicken fingers and fries, and proceeded to eat one bite of each, alarmed by the unpeeled potatoes. J had a graham cracker. The baby ate her cereal and jarred veggies enthusiastically, in between turning around to stare at everyone else in the place.

Since it wasn't actually raining, we poked along the pier.

Then we decided to check out the Lobersterfest, two piers down. Unfortunately, if you weren't going to eat lobster, there wasn't much to see, but we did encounter some mild drama. A bunch of men were fishing off the end of the pier. One of them cast, and managed to get his line wrapped around a seagull. We figured the bird was done for, flapping hopelessly about in the water as it was, but wait! A fellow in a small launch motored over and after a couple of attempts, herded the critter over to the gangway (a word it has taken me 24 hours to bring to mind). The fisherman and a friend waited there. With commendable dexterity (and nerve), one of them grabbed the gull by the neck, and they got it disentangled and sent it on its way.

I'm not sure if this speaks to the human capacity for empathy with even such a useless creature as a seagull, or if he just really liked that lure.

We strolled about a bit longer, then headed back toward the car.

L had taken immediate note of the number of ice cream opportunities available even on such a short journey through Portland, and her behavior had been acceptable. A stop at Beal's was in order.

Then back to the house for Wii, catching up on life, and a lovely pasta dinner.

On the way back... it rained.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Heart of the Blogging Problem?

It may be that I don't have enough problems! I have the usual challenges of anyone with kids and a life, but there's nothing specific that I'm dealing with to provide a focus. I don't have to live on a low budget, cook gluten-free, avoid allergens, or get dinner on the table in 15 minutes or less (though it's always nice when I can). I know what I'm doing in the kitchen to a degree that satisfies me, and I don't want to be Thomas Keller.

I need more goals.

Friday, June 24, 2011


I have read Idoru before. I could not tell you when that was -- probably shortly after it came out, since I have it in hardcover. I realized recently that I remember nothing about it, so when it came time to put a fresh book in the backpack, I plucked it from the shelf.

Reading fifteen-year-old SF is a great way to make yourself feel old. Remember the nineties, and what we thought the future was going to look like? Things never work out quite the way we thought they would, and not only in the jet-packs and household robots department. One of the most anachronistic things about this book is the idea of a fourteen-year-old who doesn't know what a love hotel is, not to mention an Internet so tame and compartmentalized, so disconnected from other people, missing most of its inter-ness. There are beautiful virtual landscapes everywhere, but with the exception of Walled City they are sterile.

Today, he would probably not feel compelled to define otaku, though he also might not set the book in Japan, which seems to have lost its place as the lodestone of the technoculture. He uses the word "fractal" several times. In the now that the imagined future turned into, we don't seem to be interested in the immersive virtual reality idea that so much SF of the late 20th century dealt in, though you can bet that I sat up and took notice when this story ran in Gizmodo during my reading.

Anyway. Turns out that the reason I don't remember what happens in the book is that for 200 pages, nothing much happens. Laney is immersed in mystery and Chia in a vague sense of threat; meanwhile, Gibson indulges in stylistic riffing, scattershot, fragmented moments of sensation and image that reflect a world sad and lost and confused, a world that doesn't know what it looks forward to any longer. Often, he can't be bothered with a complete sentence; I am left uncertain as to whether this was a choice, reflecting the characters' incomplete perception and experience of the world, or simple laziness.

I do feel compelled to mention that the name Slitscan is perfect, combining the clinical, invasive, and vaguely obscene, and is a stroke of genius, even if the character of Kathy Torrance is of dubious believability, given less depth than the titular idoru.

Or perhaps that's the point. It's difficult to tell purposeful from unintended irony any longer. Perhaps the book's overall thinness is part of the effect. Because after those first 200 pages, there is a flurry of activity, and then... next to nothing actually happens. The conflicts that barely appeared on screen are resolved with a negligent handwave. The characters go back to their lives. The point of the whole business remains hints whose fruition lies elusively in the future. The book reads like a lacework of notes draped across a scribbled skeleton of plot; like something that could have been reduced to a few chapters of another story, or even to a poem, stripped down to its images and feelings, a meditation on modernity and celebrity without the burden of narrative.

I'm likely to forget about it now that I've read it again.

Belay That?

I've given it some more thought, and I'm going to try to continue to keep this blog live after all. It doesn't cost anything, after all, and if no one reads it... oh well.

This has been a strange spring. It's been chilly and wet far more often than not; today I wore a jacket to work (it's almost July!), and I suspect that many of us are considering a change of career, perhaps something in the slug-farming field.

I am bored out of my skull at work, restless with the lack of challenge in my days, and less than happy with the changes that came with the acquisition. Outside of work, I seem to be exhausted all of the time, even when the kids sleep, and frequently grouchy. My usual optimism is nowhere to be found; I consider projects as a means of reviving my spirits, but stop short of undertaking them, because really what's the point? The world has no need of anything I am likely to produce. I am ambivalent about the entire Internet and seem to have lost faith in the whole idea of the world-wide conversation. Wary of engaging, alarmed by conflicts, and finding the entire business more a source of stress than of interest and pleasure, I dropped Twitter, dropped blogging, scaled back my Facebook activity. I switched my playlists to all-soothing, all the time. Work on the current novel has been reduced to occasionally opening the file and staring at the opening scene I was in the middle of rewriting.

I don't really like myself when I get like this. Even in a funk, I feel something of the problem-solving itch, which I suppose is all to the good. I'm trying to drink more water, taking some extra vitamin D, and if the weather hasn't improved by the time of my next paycheck, I'll buy a sunlamp. If that doesn't help, a trip to the doctor may be in order. Previous experience suggests that the thing to do when you're depressed is to the things that you enjoy when you're not depressed, and I have not been doing much of that.