Author Archives: Gretchen

The Cookiest.

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It has recently come to my attention that I have readers. Readers! And here I thought I’d been jacking off with the window open all this time but that no one was looking. I’m not nearly as funny as Miss Doxie and I cuss way too much; I also famously have no life. (I’m beginning to get one, and it’s freaking me out.)  But I can tell you about my Cookie Rat.

I started getting into pet rats in what, February? because Tony wouldn’t let me get a dog, and I needed a familiar, a companion. My life is a very lonely one. I started with the pet-store variety: you know, the white ones with the brown hood and stripe, usually — that’s called a hooded agouti. They are meaner than hell and do not much like people. One of them, Sprinkles (Boolie named her), got loose in the house a couple of months ago and remains a problem. She outwits all traps, both humane and kill; we leave the front and back doors hanging open and she never leaves. She does, however, enjoy using my jeans drawer as a toilet, which makes me homicidal, and as you know it takes a lot to do that. Toward a non-human, anyway.

But then in mid-May I adopted a trio of breeder-produced hand-raised pet dumbo rats from Cup of Tea Rattery. They are peaches and cream; they are cookie! My kids used to use cookie as an adjective; sadly, they’ve outgrown it, but when something was really great they would say Wow, that is so cookie! And these rats are really, really cookie. I adopted the mom, Olive, a black self (meaning all-black), whom I’ve sort of renamed Olivia. I’m always singing her the theme song from that stupid cartoon Olivia that Boolie used to watch.

Second is one of Olivia’s babes, whom Sam named Fudge. She’s a black self like her mama, and as she gets bigger I have trouble telling them apart. The stupid song I sing to her is Fudgie Wudgie was a rat; Fudgie Wudgie wasn’t fat . . . Fudge is a crazy little ratty, can hop super high and fast like a mini kangaroo, and she loves me. As does Olivia.

And then there is Cookie. Olivia is her mom, too.

Of course, I named her Cookie because of the three ratties, she is the absolute cookiest. She’s a mink self (meaning a solid sort of lustrous gray color), and it’s Cookie you see in the picture above. She adores me! She’s my love, my new little baby, my familiar. When I cry, she sits on my shoulder and drinks my tears. She takes my lonely home life and makes it cookie. And for that I will love her forever.

 

 

So Busy I Forgot To Jack Off.

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Keeping a blog is like jacking off with the window open. You’re not necessarily ensuring that anyone will watch, but you’re not certain you’re not alone, either; clearly you are rather hoping someone will watch, else you’d have shut the window. All blogging is self-indulgent, hence Self-Absorbed Twat. I like to think that being honest about blogging’s masturbatory nature makes it somehow less narcissistic — but even I know that’s bullshit. It’s just jacking off next to an open window.

There. I daresay we’ve taken that particular metaphor quite far enough.

Anyway, my jacking-off time of late has been considerably inhibited by the spectre of gainful employment, which will one day suck the last of the life from me but which remains necessary if I desire luxuries like auto insurance, bread pudding and telephone service. Which is a pity, but it doesn’t mean I’m not geeking out in my little windows of spare time. Tony assures me that my little obsessions are fascinating only to me, but for those as Poindexter as I, and in the interest of a quick topic, my current pursuits include:

Bitchin’ Sourdough Starter. I’ve gotten into yeast breads lately, which is an offshoot of the soft pretzel project. I baked up some farmer’s white bread and was unhappy with the texture; the Mafia could have used that loaf to put wiseguys to sleep with the fishes. I turned it into bread pudding and resolved to find something better. I adore sourdough bread — love it more than pie, so of course it became incumbent upon me to learn how to make it. Sourdough starter is one of those mystical baker’s things which is meant to be passed on; the recommended method of obtaining one is from a “known” starter, one which has been nurtured and also used with proven success. But of course I don’t know a soul, much less a baker dedicated enough to keep a sourdough starter!

So I am starting a couple of starters, and it’s ever so interesting. Basically what you are doing is mixing whole grain flour with water and allowing it to ferment in a sealed container. I’ve got one started with whole wheat (Gold Medal, sadly, so it probably sucks and won’t work) and one started with cornmeal just to be a wiseass. The really cool thing about sourdough starter is that you have to feed it. Yes, just like a little organic Tamagotchi, it will grow ill and die if you don’t keep it fed. Meanwhile it is meant to bubble and sprout odd patches of liquid and develop that distinctive San Francisco smell. It’s like a science project in my kitchen! I’m in dork heaven.

The Reproductive Cycle of the Malaysian Trumpet Snail; Aquatic Genetics. Recently a snail appeared as if from nowhere in my aquarium. He is small and has a pointed shell, like an ecru ice cream cone with golden brown dapples. I wondered and wondered about him — he was very hard to spot visually at first, as Malaysian trumpets like to burrow into the gravel, and by the time I spotted him for the second time I was firmly convinced I’d hallucinated him the first time. It took me a bit to get the search right, but Google finally led me to his identity and how the fuck he got into my aquarium: he’s the Malaysian trumpet snail, and he probably came in when only a couple of millimeters long on a live plant or in some gravel or water from new tank residents. Now that a few weeks have gone by, Boolie and I have recently spotted a tiny Malaysian trumpet in addition to the original. Come to find out they reproduce asexually! I got to thinking I have no idea how that goes down; my apple snails have been multiplying, but they’re egg-layers who fuck the old-fashioned way. (See Facebook for several photos of apple snail penis. It’s fascinating.) So it’s off to read up the reproductive process in the Malaysian trumpet snail. I want to find out the physical process, and how the heck they’re built. How is it that I’ve reached the age of 51 and can’t even tell you how asexual reproduction works in logistical terms?

While I’m at it, the guppies have been breeding as well, and I’ve been studying the colors of the juvenile guppies and apple snails, because they are of known parentage and their parents are of contrasting colors. Apparently no one has really studied the genetics of apple snail shell color; I’m certain in guppies it’s been studied half to death. The whole genetics thing is sort of at a standstill unless I’m prepared to start extracting snail DNA, but it makes for lots of entertaining observation time.

Buddy Holly. I’m so ass backwards about music: I didn’t even discover Elvis Costello until 1991. Buddy Holly’s music was burned into my brain, as it is into the brains of all baby boomers, but I had never really sat down and listened to the guy until after the night The Buddy Holly Story happened to pop up on cable. As a movie it was nothing to write home about, but suddenly the music knocked my feet out from under me. The guy is, after all, the source of absolutely everything in rock, a musician’s musician if ever there was one. And you knew that, and I knew that, except that suddenly in 2012 I am listening to Buddy Holly, everything he ever did. Amazing. And the recordings are so charming — one day I heard a noise I couldn’t quite place, and suddenly realized That’s tape hiss! And I love the sound of tape hiss.

Next Time: Of Dumbo rats and El Niño probabilities.

Recipe: Constitution Day Cookies.

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People react in wildly different ways when they find out I’m Tea Party. Many are surprised. A few unfriend me on Facebook. Others say something along the lines of Good Christ, you finally snapped out of it. About time. On that topic I will just say that my heart is liberal, but I learned long ago that pragmatism has got to trump idealism every time. My conservatism is fiscal first, and Constitutional second; I do love me the Constitution. Lawyers take an oath to defend it. (I wish more of them would remember that.) I am opposed to government having too many of its tendrils infiltrating my life, with the result that I am pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, pro-gun, and pro-Capitalist. What I really am is a libertarian in the most literal, rather than political, sense of that word.

But I digress.

These are called Constitution Day Cookies because they didn’t have any other name; Tony and I invented them, or more accurately I riffed off a number of other recipes as I am so prone to do. He added the crowning touches, being my number one taster and critic. And the first time we made them was on Constitution Day 2011, September 16. This recipe makes about 72 cookies — and uses six eggs and over a pound of chocolate (not counting the chips!), but less than two cups of flour. That right there should tell you something of what they will be like.

Two bits of logistical advice:

  • (1) Be sure to use the parchment paper. You can find it in the area of Target or the grocery store near the tinfoil and waxed paper and such, and it really makes them come out so much better and not stick. Spring for the pre-cut sheets of parchment if you can, because trying to cut the shit makes you want to kill yourself. Silicone liners or silicone cookie sheets also work perfectly for this purpose.
  • Get yourself a cookie scoop, one of those mini ice cream scoop looking things, and use it. These things are a real pain in the ass as drop cookies because of the texture of the dough, which is so much like a certain strain of baby shit I don’t even want to speak of it shit, I spoke of it. It gets all over your hands and makes you want to generally die. When I stopped using a tablespoon and started using the cookie scoop, I was able to lay down my batches in a third of the time.

Okay, okay. Finally: recipe.

Constitution Day Cookies

18 oz. unsweetened chocolate
12 tbsp. (1 ½ sticks) butter

¾ tsp. baking powder
12/3 cup flour

6 extra large eggs
4 cups sugar
1 tbsp. ground espresso powder (optional)
3 tsp. vanilla
dash salt

3 cups any combination of white, butterscotch and chocolate chips

melt together chocolate and butter in 4-cup Pyrex measuring cup or bowl, or top of double boiler, and set aside. combine dry ingredients and set aside. Blend together eggs, sugar, espresso, vanilla and salt thoroughly. blend in chocolate/ butter mixture. fold in flour mixture. fold in chips. allow to set in refrigerator for as long as necessary to reach drop cookie consistency.

drop with cookie scoop or by rounded tablespoonfuls onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper or silicone. bake at 350° for 12 minutes or until tops crack. cookies will be soft; allow to set before removing from pans.

Recipe: Butterscotch (Or Not) Bread Pudding.

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I’ve been so remiss — I put up the recipe for the instant bread pudding only, which is a sad, mousy cousin of real home-baked bread pudding.  For about 120 days I’ve been working at developing the ultimate bread pudding recipe based on concepts culled from dozens of recipes I’ve pulled from absolutely everywhere.

My theory of bread pudding is that it mustn’t ever contain cinnamon; cinnamon just makes it taste like apple pie custard, and if you want apple pie, what are you doing fucking about with bread pudding? What you want, instead, is lots of vanilla. (Me and vanilla are getting to be quite an item.) And the best bread pudding I’ve made contains Nestle’s butterscotch chips. But leave them out if you want; the whole idea of bread pudding is to make it your own. Just avoid fruit and cinnamon like the plague, and you’re on the right track.

The other thing you need to know is how to properly chunk the bread. I always use a sourdough or French for texture. If you chunk it too finely, all your butterscotch or chocolate chips or whatever will sink to the bottom and form a dispiriting mass. Chunk it too large and you’ve got a mouthful of custardy cardboard.  The key size for soughdough and French is a chunk about 1″ in diameter; crust pieces should be chunked about half that size.

So, now that you’re educated and without further ado, I give you:

Ultimate Basic Bread Pudding

  • 12 oz. day-old sourdough or French bread, torn into chunks
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 0.5 cup butter (1 stick), melted and cooled
  • 2 cups sugar: I use about 1.5 cups brown and 0.5 cups white, but you can use any mixture of white and brown
  • 4 cups cream (I use 2 cups heavy whipping cream and 2 cups half & half)
  • 0.25 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons Singing Dog vanilla extract; or 1 teaspoon Singing Dog vanilla paste

Chunk your bread into a large bowl and allow to sit uncovered for a while and get a bit dry. While the bread is sitting, beat 3 eggs in a large bowl; beat in sugar, cream, salt and vanilla; beat in butter last, because if it’s too hot it will partially cook the eggs.  When this entire mixture is well blended, stir in the bread chunks. Your mixture should be about the consistency of thick oatmeal. Then stir in any add-ons: semisweet or milk chocolate chips and butterscotch chips are my favorites.

Butter one of those oblong baking pans and pour in the pudding mixture. Set pan of pudding on a cookie sheet in the oven in case of overflow. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Cover pan with tinfoil to keep top from getting too dry, and return to oven. Bake for another 40-60 minutes or until pudding looks done and is sort of a “jiggly thigh” consistency. Allow to cool for at least 15 minutes. May be served hot, warm or cold.

How to Serve: Screw that “serve cold” crap. The only way to eat bread pudding is piping hot — I reheat mine in the microwave in a shallow bowl — with half & half poured over it and then whipped cream over all that. I will waive the whipped cream if I absolutely have to, but eating bread pudding without a cream product poured over it is like eating cereal without milk or popcorn without salt: a hollow, empty experience.

How to Rationalize: Bread pudding contains eggs, milk and bread. So there you are with all your wholesome food group basics, except for vegetables. And fuck vegetables anyway — they’re not a real food group. Everyone knows the four basic food groups are dairy, grain, animal protein, and coffee. So you can live on a diet of bread pudding with impunity, and I swear to God, don’t worry about fat content. I have lost about 15 pounds since I stopped eating lowfat placebos. This bread pudding will not only warm your heart and your soul; it will make you thin.

Recipe: Homemade Soft Pretzels.

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Seriously: these are super easy to make, and fun — even when you’re in a hurry; even when you’ve got three kids underfoot.  This is a basic bread dough, really. What makes a pretzel a pretzel is the key step of boiling them in baking soda water, so don’t skip it.

Soft Pretzels

  • 2 packets active dry yeast (0.5 oz. total)
  • 2 cups warm water (110-115 degrees)
  • 1/2 cup + 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 egg
  • 6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • sea salt

Dissolve yeast and 1 tsp. sugar in warm water until bubbly, about 10 minutes.  Beat together egg, butter, salt and sugar.  Add in 2 cups flour and yeast/water solution and blend well.  Gradually add in  remaining 4 1/2 cups flour, switching from spoon to hands for mixing when necessary.  Knead for 5-10 minutes or until sort of rubbery and flexible: bread dough tells you when it’s ready.  Allow to rise 1 hour in large bowl covered with a dishcloth.

When dough has doubled in size, punch down and divide into 16 equal portions.  Roll each portion into a 20″ rope and twist into pretzel shape.  Boil 6 cups water with 1/2 cup baking soda added in.  Toss each finished pretzel into boiling water until it rises to the surface, <5 minutes.  Remove each pretzel and sprinkle with sea salt.

Bake pretzels 4 at a time on oiled baking sheet on top rack of oven, or various bits will burn, for 10-15 minutes or until nicely browned.  Transfer to rack for cooling. Makes 16 awesomely delicious soft pretzels.

The Olfactory Thing.

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Tony is usually hovering around while I’m in the kitchen dicking around with sugar scrubs, and his reaction brings to mind the reason I don’t use commercial perfumes and only anoint my body with natural substances: Men can’t stand the smell of perfume.

Women often don’t get this.  You walk through a department store — I tend to pass through at more of a trot, when I’m forced to do it — and synthetic scents pelt you from every side. It brings on a faint and instantaneous nausea, and the smells swirling about do not comfort or please.  They are intimidating smells.  They have the smell of ladies, and that is not a good smell.

You know what I mean by ladies, or at least you do if you grew up in the ’50s and ’60s in small-town America.  Ladies were your mother’s friends who came over for bridge or Tupperware or whatever the hell women were gathering to do in those days.  They carried pocketbooks and used hankies; the latter were often embroidered and scented.  And they smelled like . . . ladies.  That confusing smell of aerosol hairspray and Chanel No. 5, with a dash of hairy twat thrown in.  It wasn’t a smell that made you want to come closer.  It was a smell that obfuscated any kind of home truth, if you know what I mean. Those women didn’t smell like women.

The men of my generation remember what those ladies were like, too.  They didn’t represent anything sexual.  If you want to not attract a man, to not arouse him, then go ahead and smell like those ladies.  Douse yourself in artificial scent. He’ll recognize the smell as a signal that you are available, that you are sending out a message.  He will just be confused and disquieted by that particular message.

So what do men want us to smell like?  All available data points to vanilla.  Vanilla, with the boring reputation and the rich lavish bouquet.  Vanilla can come dressed up like a duchess, but she can also roll in the hayfields like a whore.  She’s the smell of the kitchen, of the sugar cookies at Christmas,  of creme brulee and warm sweet things.  And men are drawn to it like bees to honey. Unlike the chemical scent of those ladies, the smell of vanilla makes men feel warm and secure, as if they’ve encountered something familiar and beloved.  Now that is a far better way to kick off a sexual relationship, wouldn’t you say?

There’s more.  Men want us to smell like baked goods! I remember hearing anecdotally that the smell of pumpkin pie trumped out all other scents for male appeal.  I can totally dig that.  It’s why I used to use the Philosophy Pumpkin Pie shower gel back when it still existed, back before I refined my nose to the point where Philosophy products are just too synthetic to bear.  I can still handle their Cinnamon Sugar Icing shower gel, though.  It smells like French toast and syrup! Tony loves it, of course.

So long ago I started tying the things I put on my own body to the natural world.  In winter I smell like cinnamon and vanilla and chocolate.  In summer, when the natural world’s perspective shifts, I smell like coconut, mango and pineapple.  I’ll indulge in a floral or two in the summer, but it has to be of the utmost quality: there is nothing as gag-inducing on earth as a synthetic floral scent.  Annick Goutal’s Gardenia Passion smells exactly like real gardenias, but it comes from Paris and I absolutely cannot afford it.  Jasmine is another candidate, but again only if it’s a true jasmine.  Anoint yourself with cheap jasmine and you’ll smell worse than a French whorehouse: you’ll smell like a Harbor Boulevard whorehouse.  And I am here to tell you that is all kinds of bad.

So that’s why these days I am up to my elbows in vanilla.  Does anyone really remember what vanilla really smells like on a woman?  The market is inundated with synthetic vanilla scents, some of which smell quite nice but none of which approach the actual smell of real vanilla.  So I’ve been making vanilla absolute in my kitchen.  Two beans of Singing Dog vanilla, a little coconut or olive oil, some indirect heat and a few weeks to steep, and I’ve got a gorgeous little vanilla scent that just doesn’t quit.  And me in the kitchen, marrying it off to maple and brown sugar with one hand and to coconut with the other.

And as I walk away, the smell of real vanilla clings to me, as it always does.  It makes my kids hug me and draws a kiss on my cheek from Tony.  You want to be a lady?  Go on down to Bloomies and pick up the latest designer scent with all the other unlaid wallflowers.  But if you want to be an earth angel, a domestic goddess, the source of comfort and good, the sort of girl who gets laid at the drop of a hat — be warm. Be comforting. Be vanilla.

Startup.

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Doesn’t everyone want to go into business for himself? God knows I always have.  I’m a little too unconventional for the law firm environment, and just when I think I’m blending in I use a word like draconian in conversation and everybody starts looking at me funny. The problem is that I’m too yellow and too spoiled to go into business.  I see what Tony goes through with his receivables and his hired divers and so on, and I just don’t have the strength to sign on for it. I like having that steady paycheck and health insurance, even if it means I die a little bit every day. It’s only a little bit. I can handle it.

I’m back in the law firm environment after two months of unemployment, but while I was out of work I was one busy little beaver. I think I mentioned I was making sugar scrubs in my kitchen.  Those sugar scrubs have taken on a life of their own.  The first couple of weeks back at full-time employment, I could often be found in the kitchen at 1 a.m. concocting scrubs.  I couldn’t keep up that schedule for long, of course, so most of my unemployment projects have gone by the wayside.  But the sugar scrubs are going strong, and I think I may have developed my first keeper, the prototype.

And I’m thinking about trying to sell them locally on a small scale.  The marketing would have to be geared toward quality and economy — department store bath and body products at food co-op prices.  Something like that.  I have a package design in mind, and a brand name: Beach Hippie Botanicals.  Made by a hippie in a kitchen, not a corporate researcher in a lab! Something like that.

It’s a tempting sideline, because it’s pretty much a no-cost startup. The scrub I’m starting with is made from brown sugar, raw sugar, a touch of maple sugar (that shit is expensive), coconut, olive and hazelnut oils,vanilla and maple syrup.  Stuff from my kitchen.  My first batch was just too subtle as far as scent, so I boiled down my maple syrup and vanilla until it was thick and dense, and that made the difference. (Caveat: mix the syrup into the scrub as soon as it starts to cool, because it hardens into something like taffy and you’ll break your arm trying to blend it.)

So I have my first product: Beach Hippie Maple Blondie sugar scrub.  It’s named for my friend Tina, who is blonde and Canadian.  I’ll slap a maple leaf on the jar if I can afford it!  So now I have to develop some other varieties.  Pure vanilla, of course, although I have to make my own essential oils and it’ll be a while before they’re ready.  (I can make vanilla absolute for about $5 a fluid ounce; it costs about $15/ounce if purchased commercially.) Coconut.  And an all-purpose skin oil called Boolie Oil, because I dream big.  If this ever gets off the ground, it’s all for Boolie to have someday, so I want our little trick product to have her name.

And when they’re all perfected, I’ll get some packaging and start making ’em up — right here in my kitchen.  I have the jars all picked out; they cost $0.80 each, less if you buy in bulk.  The labels I believe will be in black and white, to keep costs down, and I have a vision of what that’s going to look like, although I will probably have to hire someone to do the actual artwork.  I have to get some brochures together or whatnot. I’ll probably start with the swap meets and Fish Fry, local stuff — I hope the tables don’t cost too much. For swap meet sales, I’m imagining a “design your own scrub” option — choose your sugar (white, brown, raw, turbinado, coconut, maple), your oils (coconut, hazelnut, jojoba, almond, shea) and your scents.  Come back in 15 minutes and pick up your custom scrub.  Ah, hell, it might sell.  Sugar scrubs are the best thing on earth for your skin, especially if you live in So Cal and are forever bombarded by the sun.

It’s a no-lose situation.  I’ll start out with small batches and keep it simple.  I’ll try a few tricks to get them to sell: see if a few of the local New Age or health food shops will carry the stuff, go to a few bed and breakfasts with free trial size scrubs they can leave in the guest rooms. Quaint local products: tourists like that. And if no one gives a damn, I’ll stash my stock and have enough sugar scrub to last me the rest of my life.

If, on the other hand, it was to take off — oh, I dream of it sometimes, although I don’t dare to dream very much. Getting out of the legal business couldn’t possibly be that simple.  But then I look at a number of other small local businesses: Hurley, Volcom, Urban Decay. They all started out the same way, and now they’re huge. Nationwide. It can be done, and if I don’t roll the dice, I can’t win.

Now to find the time to finish working on the damned things. And take out a fictitious business name. And run my little product up the flagpole. Maybe someone will salute. Project! I’m stoked.

Baby Snails!

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They are hatching as I write, plopping without a sound into the water from the egg sac above.  I can’t even post a photo; the tank has way too much algae, result of me insisting that no one disturb the snail eggs.  Or the pregnant guppies.

The baby snails are a translucent white, all of them; their colors won’t come in till later.  I think they’re the progeny of a gold snail and a black one, so it will be fun to see what sort of rainbow we get.  They’re about the size of a matchhead.  They remind me oddly of tiny toenails; that was what popped into my mind when I saw them scattered about the glass.  And then I noticed that they were moving.  New life!  Mazel tov.

All this unfettered reproduction in the house makes Tony a bit edgy, and of course I have no idea what to do with a slew of baby snails.  So far I count eight snaillets, but there were three egg clusters in all, laid at different times, so you can bet there are more to come.  In fact, just this evening I suddenly thought There are a hell of a lot of snails in that tank, and went on to count five full-grown snails.  We started with three.  So the shtupping and the toenails have been going on longer than I thought.

We have three pregnant guppies who have looked on the verge of popping for over a week, but the guppy fry have yet to be born.  The silvery guppy mama is so swollen she can hardly swim, so it won’t be long now.  And I have thirteen guppy fry, born on New Year’s Eve, in a little fry cup.  One of them looks like a cull — meaning a runt, one which probably won’t survive.  But the rest, if I let them get big enough before I put them into the main tank, look like keepers.  The generation of fry previous to that (of which three survived) included one little girl, who is of course pregnant already.  And did you know a guppy can get pregnant again within a few hours of giving birth?

Meanwhile, the snails shtup on the glass as their toenail babies glide past so slowly you have to really stop and look to see the movement.  To be honest, there’s something a little obscene about all this fertilization and birth going on in my tank.  Imagine running an analysis on that water!  Twenty percent snail semen, ten percent placenta.  But I sort of like it.  Through all the bullshit of daily living, there is always fucking.  There is always birth.  There is always life.

Journeys.

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for Behan and Boolie

I want to get Boolie involved with Girl Scouts, if she’s willing; Erika, already very much herself at a very young age, refused to have anything to do with them. But I was a Girl Scout for years and years with my mom often as the troop leader, and those are some of the best memories of my childhood. More importantly, Girl Scouts does a great job teaching girls the practical skills they will need as adult women. When I was a kid, those were things such as sewing, cooking and needlework. Today, they are teaching them such things as financial competence. I’ve been thinking a lot lately that Boolie will inevitably assume the role of female head of Ben’s household — hell, I think in a lot of ways she’s assumed it already. So I’m setting out to teach her practical life skills. I hope the Girl Scouts didn’t go completely insane after Women’s Lib and stop teaching them housewifery.

Looking through the Daisy Scout summary, I noticed a new feature that didn’t exist back in my Scouting days: the girls each choose one of three “journeys” for their Scouting experience. Those are It’s Your Planet — Love It! which involves conservation and animal life; It’s Your Story — Tell It! which explores personal identity along with writing and storytelling;  and It’s Your World — Change It! which is . . . a little scary.

Do I really want my strong, smart, loving daughter to set out to change the world? It paints rather a depressing picture of strident Right to Lifers and sullen Occupiers, people who are perpetually discontented with everything. Oh yes, there are people who have changed the world, but they never do have a very easy time of it and quite frequently end up dead before their time. Not the life I would choose for my beloved girl.

Wouldn’t it be amazing to see a program more like It’s Your World — Live In It? If Boolie’s personal contentment and fulfillment are put first, I’d like to see her learn to live gracefully in the world, to learn to look inside for answers, to accept other people for who and what they are, and to be a responsible and loving citizen of the Universe. Changing the world — well, that’s a tall and rather miserable order. I find more and more that being truly content involves getting your Tao on in a big way.

But then my mind turned to my friend Behan, who played the corporate game and played it well until the day she and her husband and their children chucked it all away to live on a boat sailing around the world. You can read about their life on the Totem here. Isn’t that the most wonderful thing you have ever heard? Everyone has daydreamed about it. Behan, ever the captain of her own ship, said Make it so. This makes her one of my heroes right then and there.

And of course, going from living in suburban consumer heaven to living in the middle of the South Pacific takes a lot of simplification: getting rid of unneeded possessions; learning to economize, improvise, make do, and do without. Behan’s kids are getting a taste of what most American kids could never imagine: a life not informed by consumerism and personal ambition. The way the Gifford kids are learning to live on the Totem will bless them with the twin traits of pragmatism and perspective. That’s an incredible gift to give to anyone’s kids.

Behan didn’t change the world, except for the bit where she totally did: she changed her world. Who doesn’t want to run off and live on a boat instead of in the tedium of everyday American working life? We say it as though it’s an impossible dream. Behan made it happen. She knew what she wanted and what she valued, made an intelligent plan to bring it about, and was strong and true enough to actually follow the plan, make the changes, and grab the dream. Behan isn’t occupying anything other than her body. She’s not protesting anything. She’s not strident. She simply knows that the only way to gracefully change the world is to change oneself.

So that’s what I want for Boolie, and I hope I’m a good enough mom to give her at least some of it; I can’t see doing what Behan did, but the values and lessons Behan is imparting to her kids through her choices and their family life are the ones I want Boolie to have. This doesn’t help me whatsoever with the Girl Scout question, of course, but it surer than hell made me stop and think. And now I think of the Gifford family on the deck of their boat at nights, with fireworks over Sydney Harbour above their heads and the world at their feet, and I wish them the very sweetest of journeys.

O Brave New World!

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I have recently developed a bit of a dietary fixation on bread pudding, much as a toddler might eat nothing but Cheerios one week followed by nothing but Barbie shoes the next.  I think unemployment brought it on; I was baking a lot, sometimes two or three complete projects in one day, and decided I was sick of cookies.  I forget the exact thought process that brought me to bread pudding, but it was a flash of genius, because I’ve always loved it. Unfortunately, my mama and my mama’s mama have passed on, so I hadn’t been running into a whole lot of bread pudding. So finding myself with a lot of free time and suddenly remembering bread pudding!!! was a bit of an epiphany.

Dude, I practically live on the shit.  I bake a bread pudding about every three days and usually give some to Ben, although I’m usually sorry I did afterward when I run out of bread pudding.  The part of the pudding I don’t give away lies in state in the fridge, awaiting the hour for the midnight snack.

Last night I headed to the fridge in the small hours and suddenly remembered there wasn’t any bread pudding left.  This is a lot like a junkie discovering he already finished that bindle after all, I’m betting.  I paced around for a few minutes in a funk, determined to have bread pudding or starve to death where I stood.

And this is where the deus ex machina comes in, because isn’t the Internet a bit of that? I adore the Internet, research junkie that I am, because I can get the answer to any question in seconds anytime, anywhere.  And any recipe.  So I Googled instant bread pudding and came back with a nearly perfect recipe which took me 10 minutes to throw together and which was perfectly serviceable. And then I marched my satisfied ass to bed. And here is the tweaked version of the recipe. Don’t skimp on the vanilla. Trust me.

Microwave Bread Pudding

  • 1 cup cubed bread, preferably sourdough or French (1-2 slices)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 half & half or cream (use milk only if there is no cream and you are absolutely jonesin’)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar (or you can skip this and use 3 TB of white sugar instead of 2)
  • Chocolate or butterscotch chips if desired; cinnamon if you must; fruit at your peril

(1) Put the bread in a fairly shallow, single-serving, microwave-safe bowl.

(2) Whisk together the egg, milk, vanilla, and sugar. Pour over the bread in the bowl, stirring gently to combine.

(3) Stir in chocolate chips and/or other add-ins if any

(4) Microwave for 3 minutes, uncovered. The very center can look slightly wet, but it shouldn’t be liquid.

(5) Remove from the microwave. Unless you are a complete oaf, serve piping hot in a shallow bowl with half & half poured over top and/or whipped cream.

(6) Put that fucking cinnamon down. I can see that.