Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tales From The Kitchen & Anza Observatory

Funny how one thing always leads to another and suddenly you're planning an adventure and wondering how you ended up here at 4am (or how you're even still awake).

Tonight I tried to bake for the holidays. I had a plan; I was going to light a nice fire in the fireplace, don my festive, red "Naughty or Nice?" apron (I think I've worn it twice in the decade I've owned it), play Christmas music while drinking hot chocolate & Kahlua, and bake at least three kinds of cookies if it killed me. Sounds like a real Norman Rockwell evening, doesn't it? Well that's what I was going for. Those Hollywood moments don't create themselves ya know.

Apparently the cookies (or the Universe) saw it as a challenge. How many monkey wrenches does it take to screw up a Rockwell-inspired evening?

7:00pm. I light the fire, press Play for the Rat Pack, don said apron, make hot chocolate, and proceed to pull ingredients from cupboards. Hey wait... where did all my butter go? I swear there were three sticks in here!

Wrench 1 from Universe: No butter.
Counterfire: Close glass doors on fireplace, press Pause on Rat Pack, remove apron, don coat, head to store for butter.

Forty minutes later I have TWO POUNDS of butter (heh, let's see the Universe get past that one!) and a can of whipped cream for the hot chocolate (extra points!). I hang up the coat, poke the fire back to life, press Play on the Rat Pack, re-engage the apron, re-heat my hot chocolate (add whipped cream! woo!) and proceed to dump ingredients into a bowl.

Oh crap... that's ALL the brown sugar I have left? At least it's enough for this batch but... ::rummaging through pantry:: Darnit, I guess that WAS the backup. Hmmm.

Wrench 2 from Universe: No brown sugar.
Counterfire: I'll just make the things that don't require it tonight.

I continue making chocolate chip cookies. The fire is really going now (I can hear it in the other room even if I can't see it), the oven is hot, the chinchillas are all staring at me from the breakfast nook like I've been abducted by aliens and replaced by a domesticated replica, which is fine with them as long as the replica intends to give them treats. I taste the cookie dough because God knows a quarter of it will never make it into the oven the way I do it, and...

WTF? It tastes weird. Not horrible, but weird. Maybe it's just my imagination? Nope, definitely tastes odd. I go over the ingredients and decide it's either the gluten-free flour I bought at the organic grocery store or the eggs which I now see are expired because they're organic eggs and since I don't eat eggs unless they're in something they rarely get used fast enough. Arg. Okay, well, I'll take my chances that it's the flour, not salmonella, and maybe the icky taste will cook out.

Wrench 3 from Universe: Bad batter.
Counterfire: I'm baking it anyway so sod off.

While the first batch is in the oven, I decide to start mixing the Sand Tarts (read: sugar cookies with almond extract) that my grandmother makes. The dough has to sit in the frig overnight, and does not require brown sugar, so this is probably a good thing to embark on next. I start blending the butter and sugar in another bowl.

15 minutes later: the bell rings but the icky taste has not cooked out. Grrr.

Maybe I can donate these somewhere - like the post office. Make a nice gesture AND get rid of icky cookies AND don't waste all those ingredients. Sounds like a win-win. Except the cookies practically fall to pieces as I remove them from the cookie sheets.

Oh yes, gluten doesn't just taste good, it also holds things together so when you use gluten-free flour, guess what? (I have no idea how I knew that, but I did. Probably that Home Ec class back in 9th grade.) I glare at the expensive gluten-free flour that will probably be in the trash if I can't find another use for it aside from baking. (Okay, not really, I'd more likely give it away on Craigslist first.)

As a last resort, I ask the roommate to try a cookie (which crumbles like the Republican Party as he tries to pick it up). I figure if a guy will eat them, then a post office should have no problem disposing of my mistake (one way or another). He says they aren't bad, but they don't taste like my normal cookies, which means others will notice the weird taste too. CRAP.

Open trash can - insert cookies.

It is now 8:30pm. Score: Universe 1, Traci 0.

I decide I'm going to Vons (a "real" grocery store as opposed to the smaller local one I went to for the butter) and I will try again this whole cookie fiasco when I get back. I'm a late-night person - I can bake until 2am!

I actually consult all the recipes I've pulled out and make a list this time. Yay for thinking ahead! I remove the apron, turn off the music, close the fireplace doors, don the coat, and go to Vons. I spend SIXTY DOLLARS on ingredients. Okay, maybe Peppermint Schnapps and Baileys don't count as ingredients, but one of them is certainly going into SOMETHING I'm making when I get home.

10:00pm. I return with (among other things) brown sugar, new eggs, and attitude. I stoke the fire and put the apron back on but skip the music. I finish mixing the Sand Tarts and get the dough into the frig. I wipe down the counters - three times because Gods, where does all that dirt come from? It's like the counters just make it fresh themselves. I clean the bowl and measuring cups I used so they're ready again. I clean the cookie sheets. Then I clean the sink because it's porcelain and anything aluminum (like the bowl and sheets) makes horrid marks all over it wherever it touches.

11:30pm. I decide to just check email and say hi on IM to the boyfriend before continuing, and you know what happens next...

That's it. I surrender. After 4 hours I have NOTHING to show for my baking efforts. Not ONE cookie. I'm too tired to face the kitchen again so I will live to bake another day (like tomorrow). I decide to just surf the net a bit and go to bed.

Except then I see my mother's CDs sitting by the desk. I had promised I would load them all onto iTunes and send her the files so she doesn't have to deal with it. The CDs have been there at least two months now. I decide since I'm sending her a box of stuff for her birthday, and I've just reformatted the Mac and not yet restored my own iTunes, this is the best time to do it. So I load a CD and grab my book (which I had intended to read by the fire while the cookies were in the oven... HA!!).

I'm currently reading Malcolm Gladwell's What The Dog Saw. It's a great book and I really enjoy Gladwell's writing style. He's talking about late bloomers vs. precocity... comparing prodigies to people that become successful later in life. One of the stories relates the difference of how two authors became famous. One took 18 years and 30 trips to Haiti before he had a bestseller. The other was in his 20s (I think) and took one trip to Ukraine (3 days) to inspire the book that made him rich. I realize I am more like the Haiti guy (the late bloomer), where I need to gather lots of experiences before I can write about them.

In thinking about this, I realize one of the good things about being unemployed is I have LOTS of time to go experience things. (And isn't that how Jen Lancaster wrote her first book as well?) The bad part is I haven't been taking near enough advantage of my freedom. I've been on quite a few trips in the past several months, which has been awesome, but they haven't really been explorations I would want to write about. They've provided very little new experience. So I get to thinking about taking a trip just for experience, but it cant be too far away as the money is running low.

The BF has mentioned before a place about 2 hours from here called Idyllwild. Unfortunately it's a place he went to with a former girlfriend (ew), but if I can get over that it sounds like a cool artist community up in the trees. Perfect for new experiences, yes?

So I pull up the map to Idyllwild and print it out, then go about finding out what's there that I shouldn't miss. I'm already thinking I'm going TOMORROW (I mean, why wait?) except I have cookies to bake. Damn the bad luck. And Thursday is Christmas Eve, Friday is Christmas. And I AM looking forward to them this year even though I feel like a total hypocrite celebrating a Christian holiday when I am so NOT that (except it's really a Pagan holiday that was warped by the Christians, so that makes me feel a LITTLE better). Hmmm. Guess this will have to be Saturday or Sunday.

Nevertheless, one click leads to another and I end up at a web site for Anza Observatory. I'm thinking AWESOME - you gotta love anywhere that wants to watch the stars watching us. Except the more I poke around this site, the more I find out that it's just a guy in a house out in the middle of nowhere AND now he's moved because society has encroached on his little hideaway and polluted the sky with light. ::SIGH::

The good thing is, he has built a page with the pictures of comparisons of star sizes that I've wanted to put together for a couple years. It's not quite as polished as I'd make it, but it works. Awesome! Now I can share it! And here it is:

You may have received this (in part or whole) in email before, but it's always amazing to me to see how small we are in this big ol' Universe. And how TOTALLY insignificant that makes cookies in the scope of things. And I have to wonder how in the world the Universe has time to screw with me over kitchen antics when there's ALL THAT OUT THERE.

Incidentally, and totally off the subject, I also discovered this organization from one of my mom's CDs called Metamusic - Gaia:

From their "About Us" page: "The Monroe Institute provides experiential education programs facilitating the personal exploration of human consciousness ... The Monroe Institute also serves as the core of a research affiliation investigating the evolution of human consciousness and making related information available to the public. The Institute is devoted to the premise that focused consciousness contains definitive solutions to the major issues of human experience and a greater understanding of such consciousness can be achieved through coordinated research efforts using an interdisciplinary approach."

I find this stuff fascinating and lately I've been pointed to a lot of info on brainwave research and such. Wonder where THAT'S going.

So I guess that's finally all I have to say for tonight. Now it's 6am and I have yet to sleep - AGAIN. You gotta write when it strikes I guess.

Have an awesome Wednesday. :)