Archive for December, 2009

This is my confession.

I’ve been watching The Sing-Off on NBC. It is so, so terrible. So terrible, in fact, that the rather shrill rendering of an Aretha Franklin hit by the BYU group attracted Keats*, who also comes around to hear The Chipmunks sing their Christmas song.

First of all, let’s try and get my relationship with a cappella straight. Andy, who frequently breaks out in song on The Office, represents a character type that I know well; one of Ricky’s college roommates belonged an a cappella group and had (has?) a tendency of belting out “Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto”  in elevators, hallways, and other confined spaces. Two of my dear friends at Wellesley also happened to be members of rival a cappella groups; I can’t even begin to count the number of concerts I attended during that time. I may never forgive the Tupelos for subjecting me to that rendition of Creed’s “Higher” by some male group from another school. The Wellesley groups often hosted visiting groups—which is how I came to see the Tufts Beelzebubs, some incarnation of which is now performing on The Sing-Off.

In spite of my mixed feelings regarding vocal percussion, I always loved the energy of these concerts. I remember the Beelzebubs as particularly entertaining; it’s amazing how much the group currently performing on NBC reminds me of the one that I saw years ago. I have particularly fond memories of a winter concert during either my first or second year at Wellesley, when K. and I went to hear the U Illinois Xtension Chords. Their version of “Insomniac” has stayed with me since then. I like it better, even, than the Billy Pilgrim recording; it’s one of those songs that has become, for me, so much a part of the feel of college. I wish that I still had an MP3 of that song, but I think that it was lost somewhere on the transition from either my iMac to my iBook or from the iBook to my MacBook.

So, I wasn’t crazy about attending all of those a cappella concerts at the time—some of them went on for three hours or so—but I have fond memories of them now. I think that’s why I’ve been watching The Sing-Off, even though I can’t help but cringe at some of the “ching-ba-da-ching-ba-da-chings” in the background and the rather terrifying things that can happen when a bunch of sopranos really start wailing. A cappella sounds like college to me, even if it doesn’t always sound so good.

Oh, and for the record, I met Ricky for the first time at an a cappella concert.

*The cat, not the dead poet. There are quite a few random things in my basement, but I’m fairly certain that Mr. John Keats is not among them.

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It’s that time again—the time when I start baking like a maniac in order to avoid writing my final papers. Last year, I went nuts and baked dozens of perfect little gingerbread men, all identically iced with buttons and faces. The decorating, I think, really shows my commitment to bakecrastination. This year, my workload is a little calmer, but that doesn’t mean that I should be making cookies right now instead of writing. I’ve clocked out early this year—I think that the reindeer are further proof of that fact—but I still have three days of class, a paper, a presentation, and an exam to take. And grading! Clearly, it’s time for cookies.

I did try today, I really did. I got in my car right around nine this morning, after twenty minutes spent trying to move the heaps of ice left behind in my driveway by the plows. I’m glad they came; I really am. But the end of my driveway is a nightmare, sometimes filled with four or five feet of heavy, icy chunks. But I did it, and set out on my way to the coffee shop where I was finally going to start this paper.

This was not a good idea. It’s been days since the blizzard, but the roads this morning were still thick with ice—very rarely could I even see the pavement beneath it all. It’s been so cold—windchills around -18—that the ice has just stuck around. I realized almost immediately that I needed to turn around and go home, but even that was a frightening prospect. So I made it all the way down Monona Drive, watching car after car fishtail, spin out, and struggle to start again at stoplights atop hills. The beltline was nearly clear, but on John Nolen I watched a car in front of me skid across four lanes (and my car) and end up facing the wrong direction. At that point, I abandoned my plans, made a quick stop for milk and some fresh ginger (you’ll see why in a moment) and slowly made my way home down Willy Street.

Obviously, you can’t just get down to working after a trauma like the one I sustained this morning. No; you must make cookies. These cookies. I love ginger in just about anything, but I will say that the amounts in this recipe scared me a bit at first—four and a half teaspoons of ground ginger (almost half the jar) plus a pretty big piece of fresh—but it’s perfect. The proportions for the chocolate also seemed a bit off to me. To get six ounces, I ended up using an entire large bar of Ghiradelli’s bitterweet plus half a bar of Valrhona 70%. I really had to cram the chocolate shavings into the dough, forcing it past what seemed like the saturation point.

But I am in love with these cookies. If you make them, don’t change a thing, and definitely don’t skip the coating of turbinado sugar. I was worried about having too many of these—I plan to split the batch between a little get-together tomorrow and the department holiday party on Tuesday—but now I’m not sure that I want to share. I might just make myself ill eating dozens of them here in front of the space heater….because I am never leaving my house again.

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My plans for a reindeer army are underway. I’ve made two so far—the first one, on the left, took about five hours because I had to make the pattern, too, and messed up on the antlers the first time around (they were so small that I couldn’t turn them right-side-out). The second one only took about an hour. Stuffing the antlers is the hardest part. I wish I’d stuffed the first one a little more—I like how pleasantly tubby the gray one is. I also love the corduroy that I used for the antlers on that one—the next reindeer will have a body made out of the printed corduroy and solid antlers of some sort. The gray one is wool and the beige one is cotton—I have some other scraps of linen, corduroy, and wool that I’m going to try out to complete the army. I’m kind of wishing that I’d bought this piece of black and white checked wool that I saw at a thrift store this week—I might have to go back and get it. A plaid reindeer would be kind of amazing.

I think I want to make at least five. Making nine seems like madness, but I could probably do it.

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I’m not going anywhere today. Campus is closed. Bus service has been suspended. There’s a nice fellow outside clearing my sidewalks and driveway—I don’t own a snowblower, and it seemed like madness to clean up after this blizzard on my own when I can hire someone to do it for me while I sew reindeer and sip hot beverages (enjoying snow days the way that they are meant to be enjoyed).

So I set out to make this peppermint mocha, a favorite of mine but something that I never order because it costs almost as much as having this guy clear my driveway. I’ve never actually had the Starbucks version, but I can say that the one at Barriques is quite delicious and generally comes with a tiny candy cane hanging off the side of the mug. Last year, I became obsessed with Trader Joe’s peppermint hot chocolate. I don’t remember why, but I bought a little bottle of peppermint extract at some point to attempt turning all things into all things peppermint, so I find myself trapped in my house today with all the necessary ingredients.

I think that this recipe is okay. I scaled the whole thing back to make a smaller mug than the massive serving size it was intended to produce (1/4 cup of sugar in just one mug? no thanks)–about 1 T. of cocoa and a couple of spoonfuls of the peppermint syrup. I found that there’s no reason to boil the syrup for 20 minutes—it started to turn into candy-cane material. I’m not even convinced that the syrup step is necessary at all—why not just add sugar and peppermint extract to the water and cocoa, and then add that to the milk and espresso? I ended up adding a few more drops of extract to my drink at the end to get the flavor without the extra sugar. I think that I’ll keep tweaking this, but it’s kind of a fun snowy-day activity (and treat).

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I really can’t draw. But this is really fun.

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I’ve been decking my halls lately. The cats have been de-decking almost as fast as I can deck—every morning I have to gather the ornaments from under the couch and in the kitchen. It gets dark lately around four in the afternoon, so I’ve been getting a lot of use out of these strands of lights. It was totally worth reorganizing my living room to make room for this little tree. I love it. With snow on the ground now, it’s all quite festive…and it’s going to be about fifteen times more festive after a blizzard passes through tomorrow night. I guess if I’m snowed in, I’ll just have to watch The Muppet Christmas Carol and read YA fiction all day. Maybe even make some gingerbread men—you know, to keep me company.

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From Madison to Franklin Lakes; New York to Tampa; Tampa to Captiva Island and back again; return to Franklin Lakes and on to Chapel Hill; Chapel Hill to Madison.

All in the next month—I can’t wait. Really.

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I would like to paint a zebra.

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Mr. Cat apparently doesn’t approve of my attempts at holiday merriment. I came home today to find a small wooden deer ornament on the floor with one of its legs gnawed and twisted off at a terrible angle. At least they didn’t get the snail.

I love this tacky little tray. I bought it last year at Savers and have been looking forward to using it to… display a ceramic lamb? The lamb is part of a set that also includes another lamb and some sort of pony/donkey/horse thing. They’re meant to supplement a Nativity set, but the pony thing hangs out near my old books year-round. I’m less fond of the lambs, but at 84 cents for the set, it hardly matters.

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