Wednesday, July 27, 2011

July, 2011 Daring Baker Challenge

Jana of Cherry Tea Cakeswas our July Daring Bakers’ host and she challenges us to make Fresh Frasiers inspired by recipes written by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson in the beautiful cookbook Tartine.

This was a beautiful (the picture doesn't do it justice), delicious, and surprisingly light summer dessert!  I served it chilled, straight from the refrigerator.  On a hot day, after much time out the whipped/pastry cream filling would start to soften quite quickly.

This is definitely a do-again-er; a chocolate variation is tempting, but I really loved the clean flavors of the vanilla and berries.  Maybe in the fall....  And I will definitely test different kinds of fruit next time, as well as my arranging technique!

Monday, June 27, 2011

June 2011 Daring Baker Challenge

Erica of Erica’s Edibles was our host for the Daring Baker’s June challenge.  Erica challenged us to be truly DARING by making homemade phyllo dough and then to use that homemade dough to make Baklava.

It started out innocuously enough.  This looks like a friendly, harmless packet of dough, right?  Try stretching it into 18 sheets of super-thin dough, and see how friendly it REALLY is....

The recipe had a link to a YouTube video of an old Macedonian woman, speedily rolling out the dough around a wooden dowel while chatting away to her friends.  I tried rolling the dough around a wooden rolling pin...but it kept sticking to itself, no matter how much flour I added.  So, I started by rolling it out, then draped it over my arm and pulled in all four directions.  I don't think it got thin enough to read a newspaper through it, but it more or less worked okay.  The directions had estimated 2 minutes per sheet...I was nowhere near that fast.  More like 5!!  I learned my lesson to not begin these things at night on the last possible day.  Until next month's challenge, anyway....

The scene of the attempts at rolling.
Fully baked, with syrup poured on top.
I did not know the difference between "looks like way too much syrup but will soak in and is really the correct amount" and "looks like way too much syrup and IS, in fact, way too much syrup."  Unfortunately, I ended up with the latter.

Overall...not a success!!  I don't like baklava, and do not think my baklava tastes very good.  And it's way too syrupy.  So I will probably definitely throw it out today, since there is just enough sugar and "stuff" in it that I would most likely end up eating it anyway.  

Oh, well, live (and bake) and learn...!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Daring Baker Challenge: May, 2011

The May 2011 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Emma of CookCraftGrow and Jenny of Purple House Dirt. They chose to challenge everyone to make a Chocolate Marquise. The inspiration for this recipe comes from a dessert they prepared at a restaurant in Seattle.

This dessert was a ton of fun to make! There were four main components: (1) a tequila caramel sauce, (2) spiced almonds, (3) a toasted meringue "pillow," and (4) the chocolate marquise itself. I made all four components. The below photos show the plating process from start (tequila caramel sauce) to finish (all components including the chocolate marquise).

Caramel sauce

With spiced almonds (btw, these are TOTALLY addictive!)

Untoasted meringue

Toasted (with a kitchen torch!) meringue

The final product!!!

Friday, May 13, 2011


Today felt much better than yesterday. I had my second (and final!) oral exam of the semester, and now have only one paper to write before the first year of my master’s program will officially be over. My first oral exam, for my canon law class, had gone disastrously – or so I thought. The class was titled “Marriage and the Sacraments”; we had spent the last half of the course covering marriage, and the first half covering everything else with the exception of sacred orders (ordination to the priesthood), which the professor covered in his other canon law class. We spent a significant amount of time on baptism, Eucharist, penance, and the fascinating (I am being completely serious, it is really interesting to analyze!) Canon 844…and maybe one day on anointing of the sick, if that. Guess what the professor asked me about?

Yup…anointing of the sick. I would have been better prepared to discuss anything other than anointing of the sick! Penance, great; ecumenical issues, great; marriage, bring it on. But anointing of the sick? Really?! So I groaned inwardly, and muddled through the next fifteen minutes sweating like crazy and feeling like an idiot. When I left his office, I was convinced I had failed! And of course I was kicking myself, because I had known everything was fair game – I had just bet on the wrong horse, so to speak, and was not as prepared as I should have been. Totally my fault, which really made me feel even worse.

But then, when I checked my grades yesterday – not really thinking anything would be up, but it becomes a compulsion for me this time of year – lo and behold, I had received an A in the class! Disbelief, then elation. Not that I had thought I would FAIL fail the entire course…but I had thought I would get no higher than a straight B, since the exam went so poorly. But I guess I did better than I thought; and that made me less worried that I was going to fail everything and lose my scholarship, as I feared yesterday.

When I talked with my sister last night, she asked if I had ever heard of impostor syndrome. I had – and I had already diagnosed myself with it! According to Wikipedia, it is “a psychological phenomenon [though not an officially recognized psychological disorder] in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments…. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.” Yup, that’s me. It is especially common in graduate students – yippee! I wonder if I will ever grow out of thinking I am an idiot. Probably not. But at least I have reached the point where instead of me drawing the curtain on my dreams and aspirations because I feel as though I am not capabale, I am now determined to push on and keep trying no matter what. If I am not good enough or smart enough, someone is going to have to tell me that – I will not initiate the giving-up process!

However, this syndrome, “in which competent people find it impossible to believe in their own competence, can be viewed as complementary to the Dunning–Kruger effect, in which incompetent people find it impossible to believe in their own incompetence.” I must say that I would rather be competent and not realize it than be totally incompetent and not realize that!

In any case, now I need to write my final paper -- before I leave for Maine tomorrow morning. Ten pages stand between me and "freedom" (a weekend away, followed by summer classes). Wish me luck….

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Ah, the end of the semester. That painful time of year when I invariably feel terrifyingly unprepared and in possession of mental faculties that are woefully inadequate for the task of a career in academia. And those feelings come on the good days, when I am not kicking myself for not starting to study and write papers much earlier in the semester, and convince myself I am going to fail everything and lose my scholarships.


About this time of year, I also usually have a recurrent fantasy of running away to Wyoming. I have never been there and don't know anyone who lives there; I think it's the "cowboys and open spaces" thing that gets me. But I have to say that though I definitely wish it was Sunday already, by which time everything will be done one way or another, I have not been as tempted to flee to the airport. Something has shifted for me in these last few months. Though I still feel inadequate, no longer is that something from which I want to run away. I have quit before, in life. I have run into hard times that caused me to hide in bed, use drugs, or just plain ignore the problems in the hopes that they would just go away. Sometimes it worked, to be honest. Given enough time, most problems will eventually fade away. But they will not be resolved or surmounted.

In my end-of-year terror, I could pack up my things and go home to California. Then I would not have to deal with these papers; but that would not solve my problem. It would not enable me to push through the problems, learn from them, and gain resources to cope with them the next time they occur. I have a life now that is worth fighting for, and a potential future that will never be transformed into act unless I fight.

I have a bad habit of being a quitter. I used to smoke more than a pack of cigarettes each day, and grew disenchanted with the habit long before I ever seriously thought about quitting. I just thought smoking was part of who I was. The thing that kept me from trying to quit for all those years is that I didn't think I would succeed. I thought it would be too hard, and I didn't want to try because I was convinced I would fail. And I didn't want to admit to myself or others that I failed at something, or that I wasn't capable of doing something, so I just didn't try -- and I convinced myself that it didn't matter.

I frequently find myself tempted to do the same with academics. I don't think I'm smart enough, and I don't want to admit to anyone that I am not smart enough, so I change my goals to something I know I can achieve. I am afraid to test the limits of my abilities; afraid of failure, afraid of looking stupid, afraid of realizing that I'm not all that and a bag of chips. (To clarify, I don't really think I am all that and a bag of chips.)

Last week at my Olympic weight lifting class, a girl was trying to find her maxes for the snatch and for the clean and jerk. When she hit a snatch weight that she could not successfully lift, she became very upset -- to the point where she stormed out of the gym and did not return that night. I remember thinking, 'How silly! The point was to find her max, and you can't find your max without failing! Now she has something to work from, so she will be able to improve.' The thing is, while it is so easy for me to think that way when it comes to weight training, for some reason it is not so easy for me to think that way when it comes to intellectual pursuits. Analogizing to the weights situation, of course I need to try things at which I might not succeed; how else will I know my limits, then surpass them?

One of the big components of this, though, is that I also tend to be very undisciplined when it comes to academics. I will spend hours emailing, on Facebook, looking things up online, cleaning my room, organizing my desk, making lunch, taking a shower, stocking up on groceries, etc...without sitting down and studying for any sustained period of time. I think intellectual pursuits and sustained intellectual efforts will help me be a better person, and I think they are higher goods than wasting time on other things; but my actions do not reflect this. I am not sure how to justify this to myself or anyone else. I feel as though if I put in the work, I will learn and I will "get it"; but I don't put in the work.

Hence my stress at this time of year.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Oh, Mothers' Day.

The one day each year when we take time to explicitly express our appreciation for our mothers, and for all the things they do for us the other 364 days out of the year. I think of Mothers' Day like a birthday; one's appreciation does not remain confined to one day of the year, but setting aside dedicated time for appreciation helps focus our attention on the things we often take for granted.

I also always associate Mothers' Day with spring; this is usually when the days are already getting long, and summer is just around the corner. It is a time of new hope, of lightness of being, of fresh chances. For me, days of appreciation are just that: fresh chances. Opportunities to be more reflective and mindful of the things I too often take for granted, like hitting the reset button on life, or on one aspect of life.

My mom and I did not get along when I was in high school! Let me rephrase, actually, because that previous sentence makes it sound as though we were two skirmishing teenagers. To say 'I was a self-conscious, self-centered brat, and made some poor choices that affected our relationship negatively' would be more accurate. Ten years after high school (holy moley, it has actually been exactly ten years since I left high school at the end of my junior year!), we have a fantastic relationship. The only negative thing about it, as far as I can tell, is that I live so darn far away from her now! :(

I sent her a card, but don't think it arrived yesterday; hopefully it will tomorrow. But I will call her this afternoon to say hi, and to take time to think about her and let her know how much I appreciate her presence in my life. Twenty six (almost 27!) years of love, support, and devotion...that is impressive. Much, much love to my mother and all mothers today.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


In keeping with my recent mindfulness about being a good example to others, and to deliberately choosing how I want to live my life, I have been thinking about the significance of being seen as a representative of some group. Two recent examples come to mind, but I will start with my experience as one of six American students at an international school, some ten years ago. I never gave much thought then to how I acted, and scoffed that people should understand that we are all individuals and not weigh us down with the baggage of acting as a representative of an entire country. How could I, a then-seventeen-year-old from California, represent a country of 300 million? So, in my adolescent surliness and self-centeredness, I did my own thing and never gave it any thought.

Fast forward to now, ten years later, and I still have vague feelings of discontent when I think of people from Malaysia, because my Malaysian roommate made common life, let's say, challenging. (Let's leave aside for now the fact that I'm sure I made life challenging at times, too!) And I still get warm, fuzzy feelings when I think of people from Singapore, Colombia, Denmark, Canada, Lesotho, etc...because the students I met from those countries became some of my best friends.

Is this fair? Not really. And I shudder to think of the impression I gave my fellow students of Americans -- though thankfully, I think my failings were balanced out by some of the other American students there. At least I wasn't the only one! My point is that it is natural to base an opinion of a group on whatever information one has. Sometimes, that information comes only from one person -- a representative -- and even if the person forming the opinion knows full well that an entire country or group of people cannot be fairly judged by just one person, at least some instinctive feeling will generally remain.

Someone, I don't know who, said to be careful the way you live your life, for you may be the only Bible a person ever reads. I think of this often when I hear of Christians being hateful. Will people recognize us by our love? Or by our hate?

A few weeks ago, I was at a gym class, wearing a NorCal SusCon t-shirt. I attended the first annual Northern California Suspension Convention a few years ago; it was an occasion for people to engage in body suspension and meet others also interested in the same thing. Body suspension is heavily related to the body modification world, and it is a pretty fringe activity. Some would say it's downright weird. In any case, I know that whenever I wear the shirt, which has logos for various piercing shops and hook manufacturers, people may ask questions and I should be prepared to give intelligent, thoughtful answers. That day, a man who was also in the class and was probably in his 50s, asked me what a "SusCon" was. I answered him, then he asked, "Oh, that's like an S&M thing, right?" It's not -- though there's no reason it couldn't be -- so I explained that it was more related to the piercing world. To be honest, I did feel a bit uncomfortable at his S&M question -- but he was asking from a place of honest curiosity, not any malicious intent. And when I step forth into the public sphere wearing a shirt like that, I have an obligation to respect the questions of the people I encounter. One of my favorite professors in grad school continually inveighs against obscurantism of any kind. So I have to entertain people's legitimate questions. Otherwise, how will they learn? What would have happened if I had thrown out a flip answer, or treated this man like he was doing something wrong by asking questions? He would likely have come away from our interaction feeling like people who engage in body suspension are pretty rude, or weird, or just not very welcoming. That is not the face I want to put on the body modification community.

Similarly, I received a message yesterday from one of my Facebook friends, who had noticed that I was recently confirmed into the Catholic faith. He asked if I would mind sharing with him my decision to become Catholic, why I chose the Catholic Church, and something about my reasoning and faith journey. He ended his message with a remark to the effect that he knows we are relatively casual acquaintances and that religion is a highly personal matter, so he would understand if I did not feel comfortable sharing that information with him.

Of course I will be happy to share that information with him! (Probably after final exams, when I have time to sit down and write a proper, well-thought-out email.) If I believe in the value of the Catholic Church enough to want to become a fully participating member, I should darn well be able and willing to explain it intelligently to people. Who knows, maybe it will make enough sense to him that he, too, will seek to learn more about the Church, and maybe even become a member himself. Or, maybe it will inspire him to learn more about Christ; or God and religion in general. At the very least, he will hopefully come away with the impression that the Catholic Church has many things of great value, and will think more positively of its members. If I don't respond in an intelligent way, maybe he will think the Church is irrational and only for unthinking people.

Be attentive. Be intelligent. Ask questions to grow in understanding. If I am called to do all these things, so too must I respond to others positively when they do the same.