Saturday, February 26, 2011

learn to fly

this is going to be an odd sort of entry after this one, but after thursday, i'm starting to admit to myself that my fear of flying could be possibly debilitating.

[a rare photo taken by me, on a plane, four years ago.]

i wouldn't be the only one, of course. everyone seems to know someone who gets the shakes at the thought of air travel. to me - a person who doesn't really have a fear of flying, but rather a fear of falling from great heights (or, as ace succinctly put it, "i'm not afraid of flying. i'm just afraid of crashing.") - it's just a terrifying idea. i mean, it's a shit-ton of metal -- how can it go up in the air and stay there? and really, if something goes wrong at 35,000 feet, something goes abso-fucking-lutely wrong. i've had people tell me umpteen times that "flying is safer than driving a car", but i always rebut that by stating that people can survive car crashes -- if your plane crashes, you're basically 100% dead.

and so, with all these paranoid thoughts (it doesn't help that i also tend to think the worst-case scenario about everything), it's hard for me to fly. sure, as with anything, it gets easier the more i do it - i've actually flown more than a dozen times in my life, and when i lived in vancouver surrounded by mountains, it was basically the only way to get anywhere - but i have a hard time forcing myself to do it. really, i need to force myself. so i'll get on a plane if i'm required to - say, if it's for a work trip - but when it comes to casual travel, as i found yesterday, i just can't make myself click on "confirm" when it comes to booking airline tickets.

this makes it extremely hard for me to take trips anywhere.

"what do you do instead, take the bus?" people like to ask me jokingly, and actually, they're right. i would rather take a bus for 12 hours than a plane for 1 hour -- and i've done this on more than one occasion. sure, there are fiery deadly bus crashes happening, but the bus environment is not nearly so alien and alarming to me as an airplane is. i know that's strange, but that's how my wacky brain works. i can't stop thinking about the worst case scenario, and i am definitely one of those people who snaps in their seatbelt on an airplane with a feel of absolute dread. (even thinking of taxi-ing on the runway right now makes my palms sweaty.)

and don't think i haven't tried the pharmaceutical or alcohol route, either -- although i've never taken anything stronger than gravol (i have a prescription for ativan now though), i've tried drinking before flights with generally good results. unsurprisingly, a flight i took where i drank two bottles of corona (and took some gravol) beforehand was actually very chill.

so you think that'd be the answer, right? just get hammered in the lounge before boarding? sorry, my friends, but no. because for me, i'm not all that bad in the airport beforehand, especially if i've doped myself up. no, it's the days leading up to the flight that fill me with shaking, nervous dread. and how weird is that -- that instead of looking forward to a vacation, i'm terrified of leaving? makes no sense, right? right. and so that's what defeats me in the end, no matter how much i know i need to get over this fear, and no matter how much i've vowed to travel more.

anyway, regardless of all this self-vacillation, lately i've been kicking around the idea of making a trip back to vancouver for the victoria day long weekend in may -- leave here on saturday the 21st, fly back on wednesday the 25th. about five days in vancouver would do me fine, plus i have three weeks of vacation time this calendar year, so i figured all i had to do was wait until there was a good airline seat sale (a round-trip flight from toronto to vancouver averages $650, which is insanity), then gather up all my courage and take the plunge. face my fears, grab life by the balls, et cetera. do one thing every day that scares you, right?

the opportunity came up on thursday -- a primo seat sale with my favourite airliner, and a round-trip to vancouver on my chosen dates was almost half price. holy shit! so i went through the motions of booking the trip, registering my info and so on...but then when it came time to click the "book now" button, my finger hesitated over the mouse.

one side of my brain said this (paraphrasing): wait. why am i paying $400 of my hard-saved money for something i hate and fear so much? what's the point in that?

but then, the other side of my brain fought back. if you don't get over this fear, you'll never get to travel anywhere. you'll never get to go back to vancouver ever again. is it worth that? plus, you'll never get over your fears if you don't face them. nut up and do it. vancouver is worth it! friends, old familiar neighbourhoods and hangouts, good times!

so, with this on my mind - plus the encouraging of supportive coworkers - i took a deep breath and clicked book now.

the website refused to validate my credit card.

i tried again. and again. and again. each time, the website came up with the same error -- it could not make an "external validation" of my credit card number. which was entirely puzzling, considering that although it was a new credit card, i'd activated it weeks ago, updated all my info, and used it multiple times since.

resigned, i eventually gave up. was it a sign? dunno. the fate-believer in me wants to think so. however, i don't want to give up entirely -- not after i pep-talked myself into going through with it. so i'm going to keep an eye out for more seat sales, and eventually, i'll book that goddamn trip. and then i'm going to survive the days beforehand with a minimum of palm-sweating and late-night terror before heading to the airport, medicating myself heavily, getting on a plane and flying back to vancouver. just like the old days. hopefully, with less panic attacks.

[ music | new pornographers, "crash years" ]

Saturday, February 19, 2011

friday night lights

the boy and i had a date on friday.

after more than three years of relationship and a year and a half of cohabitation, we've definitely reached that point where we have to plan nights out together. it really is true that after you move in's not like you appreciate each others' presence less, but you tend to make less effort to spend time together since, well, you spend most of your time at home together.

but for me, this will not do. after all, one of my favourite parts of being in a relationship is having a companion to do things with; things that do not involve zoning out on the couch in front of the television. and though it's hard to work around our schedules (i may have the predictable 9-5 monday-friday deal, but the boy freelances so he takes what he gets, whenever he gets it -- which almost inevitably screws up plans on a regular basis), i've become more bullheaded lately about at least trying to plan things in advance. i've done this before, with mixed results; it mostly ends with dean having to cancel due to last-minute work or band practice or hockey, thus ending with me in frustration. but this time, i was determined that we both put money down on tickets in advance so we can be sure that we attend something we'd been talking about attending right back to last year:

we went to a toronto marlies game last night.

for those uninitiated in the world of professional hockey, the marlies are the toronto maple leafs' "farm team"; that is, they play in the american hockey league, which is one step below the nhl, and if the leafs ever need more players for whatever reason (sickness or injury on their roster, et cetera), they can call up players from the marlies to take the empty spots. in the meantime, the marlies play their own games versus the farm teams of other nhl teams, and those these games aren't nearly as widely broadcast - or, well, attended - as the nhl, they're cheaper and lots of fun.  so, the boy and i decided it was high time to pay a visit to the farm.  they may be the baby leafs, but they deserve our love.

also, we deserve each others' love.  it's a been a long, sometimes-trying last few weeks.

the game itself was actually much closer than any of the leafs games i've been to see -- kinda dull in the first period, but things really picked up in the second and third.  and although the marlies ended up losing, i really got the sense that there was a hell of a lot more energy in ricoh coliseum than i've experienced at the acc -- even though ricoh was maybe half-full, and a large majority of that half were screaming children.  (seriously, we saw no less than eight school buses parked out front when we left.)

...and then it was back to the duke for brunch this morning, partially to make up for the fact that i was overly tired and cranky and completely out of gas the next before. oh yeah, and the duke has my name on it -- literally:

pretty cool stuff.

in between all of this, there was still stress looming on the horizon -- namely, our apartment unit's wonky plumbing and water pressure. it's a fairly old building - maybe 50 years or so - and we've had some weird pressure problems before, but nothing like thursday night -- when the hot water shut off altogether, followed soon after by the cold water. well, shit.

after a trip downstairs to the laundry-room bathroom to determine if it was the whole building or just our apartment (unfortunately, it turned out to be the latter, but at least i got to use a bathroom) and requesting that dean bring home bottles of water from the tv show set he was working on that day, it was just time to wait and see. it was pretty late at this point - around 10 p.m. - and i didn't have the superintendent's number, so the only thing to do was wait til morning and see if the pipes had sorted themselves out (as they had before).

they sorted, all right -- but only enough to afford me two three-minute hot showers, broken up by bouts of cursing and frustration as the hot water quickly tapered off into freezing cold.

so although i thanked my lucky stars i was even able to wash before work yesterday, i was still apprehensive about anything being resolved. sure enough, the water was back to normal after i got home from work -- but during my shower this morning (which was definitely not three minutes in length), the water pressure slowed and then died altogether.  no more water, once again.

(as i said to dean, "what is it with us and water? we're either getting flooded or else left dry.")

so, as of right now, the water's come back but i'm still giving the taps the evil eye.  we're going to be absolutely boned if the water disappears again tomorrow (the supers aren't around tomorrow or monday, because of the holiday), and i'm starting to wonder if i should stock up on bottled water.  funny how removing one luxury that we think of as a necessity is such a tipping point, eh?  i mean, i think about the countries where they have a hard time finding any water whatsoever, let alone having it conveniently running out of your indoor taps whenever you want.  just shows that you can't take any of this shit for granted, i suppose.

thus ends your lesson for this saturday.  i'm off to bake muffins.

[ music | mgmt, "kids" ]

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

get out of town

i have determined - or rather, long since determined - that i need to travel more.

[image from ligress]

there are a number of deterrents to this plan: my occupation makes it tricky to take any time off (i'm essentially the lynch pin for a number of tasks/operations/responsibilities, and it requires a fair amount of training and debriefing in order to have someone cover for me); traveling is crazy expensive once you calculate travel method and accommodations; i have a close-to-debilitating fear of flying; et cetera. obstacles! curses.

also, this year i really want to take a trip with the boyfriend, given that my last few trips have been solo going (and the only places we've ever been together are montreal and kingston). this creates additional complications in that 1) we have to agree on somewhere to go and 2) we both have to have the money to go. number 2 is always tricky for the boy - he freelances and doesn't always have a steady paycheque - but given that he already tours with his band a few times a year, it's basically like he gets his fill of travel. which means when he's home, he wants to stay home. sigh.

so then, possible solo travel (because i do want non-work related vacation travel this year, whether i can drag the boy with me or not). i know for a fact that many of my blog readers are travelers, or at the very least have traveled a hell of a lot more than i have. right now, two of my good friends (both around my age) are actually planning a huge backpacking expedition across eastern europe. this is the kind of thing i envy, and the kind of thing that keeps making me wonder "why don't i do that?"

but is it "don't" or "can't"? that's the question.

as alluded to in the opening paragraph, i think i get defeated by all the obstacles and details that would be necessary for that sort of thing. maybe i need to be more tenacious; maybe i need to be more courageous. it's sad to say, but for me these days, traveling is less about being adventurous and more about venturing out of my home comfort zone.

when i was growing up, my family rarely took trips together. the only one i can remember pre-divorce was my father, mother, sister and i driving to the east coast by way of the united states, then back through new brunswick and quebec. i think i was six years old, maybe; i recall the little mermaid soundtrack being played on repeat. i was way too young to appreciate the travel experience, too. it wasn't much different seven years later, post-divorce, when my father took my sister and i back to prince edward island and nova scotia (we have family friends there), though it was my first time on a plane, and i don't recall enjoying it very much. especially not when my father insisted on stopping by the side of the road in pei and scooping up a bag of the island's famous red soil.

[image from canada photo series]

so, excepting a class trip to (once again) the east coast when i was seventeen, that was more or less the end of my childhood travel -- but it was just enough to give me itchy feet. however, i neither had the money or the means to do any more traveling myself, and my mother - who hadn't traveled much in her life either - constantly had to tell me, "you'll have all kinds of opportunities to travel when you're an adult." but, y'know...i haven't really. aside from a couple of work trips last year - and i'm assuming that's what my mother was referring to - i rarely take time off to go places. hence, back to the original theme of the post -- that i want to travel more this year.

with that said, a small list:

canadian cities i'd want to visit: montreal. halifax. st. john's. calgary. vancouver. victoria. most all of these would be for a second, third or fourth time, but i can't help it -- i love this country.

american cities i'd want to visit: new orleans. portland. chicago, for the fifth time. boston, for the second time. los angeles, for the second time. however, i want any or all of these to be with the boy, because i've already done most of them as solo trips and i'd like to experience them with a partner this time.

international cities i'd want to visit: paris. london. tokyo. kyoto. glasgow. moscow. (note that my father once traveled about as much as my mother - that is to say, barely ever - but then he married a woman who routinely goes on massive global trips, so now he's been to practically everywhere i'd like to visit. sometimes twice. there are no "family trips" when the kids are adults.)

i don't know if i could ever consider that a bucket list; it's mindboggling to me to consider that i'd ever have the funds available for these globetrotting adventures. but then again, i managed to hit several american states in one two-week road trip four years ago, so who knows what could happen in the future? all i know is that in order for me to get out and experience the world, i really need to push to make it happen. i've got three weeks of paid vacation this year, and a prescription for ativan -- here's hoping i'm ready.

[ music | leafs vs. bruins on tv, first intermission ]

Saturday, February 12, 2011

new skin old ceremony

behold, a shiny pretty new blog template! let's have a cheerful round of trolololos to celebrate:

here's something you may or may not have known about me: i used to harbour aspirations to be a professional web designer. when i was fifteen years old, i was more or less obsessed with having my own website; but because i was/am a control freak, i wanted to be able to create it as well. so i began madly taking as many html courses as i could (i even got my certificate in frontpage '98 -- yes, this was that long ago), eventually getting my meager skills to the point where i was frequently up past midnight, working diligently away on my video-game fanpages on geocities. hey, it was the late 90's -- that was the thing to do back then.

as the years went by and the internet grew up, my skills - crafting websites using wysiwyg editors, or else right in notepad files - unfortunately did not. i was never able to fully grasp flash or css or xhtml - they were too much like math or art to me, and i'm hopeless at both subjects - and because i'm an absolutely terrible math and art student, i would never have qualified to go to post-secondary school for web design. to me, html has always been a language, and i've always had an above-average grasp on linguistics and translation. (i taught myself japanese when i was a young teenager. hey, i grew up in the country -- i had to have something to do for fun.)

see, even now, i can still read html like a second language. although i can't create websites in css and xhtml, i can read and understand enough of the coding to alter it to my preferences. over the years, i've come to realize that knowing how to code basic html in notepad is like knowing latin as well as english -- it may be a dead language, but it's useful for having a basic knowledge of where things come from. and really, when you work in the digital sphere like i do, having a grasp on html - however outdated, however much i still use crappy old notepad to code - proves to be a solid asset.

also, it's somewhat of a testament to the fact that once upon a time, i was actually that driven to learn a life skill. i have no such motivation for anything like that as an adult. sigh.

anyway, it'd always irked me that this blog had such a blah template, and that without xhtml skills, i wouldn't have a choice when it came to changing it. sure, in the past, i'd been able to co-opt a couple of free/simple templates, but once i switched over to blogger's new format, i wasn't able to get away with simple html anymore -- it was all xhtml or css. so i begrudgingly changed over, yet found myself stuck with one of maybe a dozen pre-loaded templates, none of which i was too hot on. add that to the fewer options that blogger gives its users, and i was left with two choices -- find a free blogger template that didn't involve mandatory inclusion of spam links in the footer, or else export everything over to wordpress.

that second option seemed like the most likely: wordpress was prettier, easier to use, and offered a bazillion premade themes in comparison to blogger's tiny handful. (yes, non-blogger-owning readers, blogger really offers that few options for design.) but then, turned down -- blogger doesn't have a redirect function for exported blogs, which means that anyone trying to access my archived posts through google or whatever would come up with 404s. not to mention my seo mojo would evaporate if i were to move blog hosting. bah.

so, with the second option out of the question, i sought out a free blogger template that would be easy to set up and wouldn't require me to leave spam links in. (no "free credit card" link bullshit in my footers, thanks.) lo and behold, i happened upon this one, created by anshul dudeja -- it was pretty without being overwhelming, very functional, and fit the bill for exactly what i'd been looking for.

of course, though, it comes down to the readership and if this template works for everybody. i've done a bunch of browser tests and it seems to look fine on all the majors; it's not mobile-compatible, obviously, so get thee to a computer if you want to view, i suppose. but if you're having issues or else just want to pour haterade on it for whatever reason, let me know in the comments. i'm pretty sure this is gonna stay put, though. (or at least until some fab web designer offers to do me a custom layout for free. wishful thinking, eh?)

rock on with your saturday selves.

[ music | peter murphy, "all night long" ]

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

oh the places you'll go

stop! link time.

while my tumblr mostly exists as a dump for images i love and want to keep around forever, i want to do semi-regular link posts here where i record current favourite websites, fun online finds, and other stuff that i want to keep on hand for wider public consumption. (also, to be completely honest, it's good in the serps for people who are googling to find these websites i list. hello, random interwebs travelers!) the internet is a fun place, and because i'm tethered to it for 8+ hours from monday to friday, i tend to pick up some good tidbits.

here's what i'm liking right now:

jezebel: women's fitness magazines are bullshit
lists off many of the reasons why i dumped reading all conventional womens' magazines for good (and i used to be a huge whore for a new copy of glamour or cosmo). it's all serious anti-feminist bullshit wrapped up in a splashy colourful package that ends up making us feel bad about ourselves, our relationships and our bodies. give me bust magazine any day. (proud subscriber right here.)

your nutritionista
on a more sensible end of that spectrum, here's a very smart health & nutrition blog i've been reading quite a bit lately. the author, while not outright primal or paleo, provides a number of good recommendations and food for thought for those questioning the conventional north american diet. bonus: lots of recipes for delicious healthful meals, side dishes and more. (two words: avocado fries.)

elena's pantry
speaking of recipes, here's a solid cooking blog that i just stumbled upon the other day. it's all gluten-free recipes (and without shit like xanthan gum and brown rice flour), so many of the recipes are automatically primal/paleo-approved. lots of coconut flour and almond flour usage here, which means i finally may be able to bake again! double-chocolate walnut brownies, get in my mouth plz.

voracious eats: a vegan no more
a now-famous admission from a then-militant vegan who suddenly realized the source of her debilitating health issues: her veganism. this is the long blog-post story of how she realized the problem and how she overcame it, all the while struggling with her own personal beliefs and death threats(!) from the vegan community. serious smarts and serious courage.

still tasty
no joke - i use this friggin' site all the time. it's a huge compendium of the shelf life of tons of food products, from fresh meat to canned goods to dairy and eggs. food poisoning from ancient noms (even if they look and smell fine) is serious business, people -- use this site and avoid it.

the kitchn
more from the homemaker front, i've always loved the kitchn. though i can't usually make use of many of their recipes, they've got interesting articles, useful cooking/baking tips (the current "home hacks" series is fantastic), and other general food n' home goodness. if you've ever had any questions about cooking or baking, it's pretty likely that they've covered it in their archives.

the best of hipster little mermaid
sometimes - actually, a lot of the time - i come across absolutely random things that are completely indicative of the internet and its weird, weird sense of humour. this is one of those things. (side note: i'm forever a sucker for macros.)

tom hanks is a lot of animals
see above comments. a seventeen-year-old came up with this on a bet, and it's so bizarre it's actually hilarious. and yes, it's exactly what the page title says it is. tom hanks is a lot of animals.

shit my kids ruined
the internet is also good contraception. some of this is not for the faint of heart (ie. those of us who aren't parents).

and now for another video to ruin my blog's frames (i need a redesign, bad):

if your heart isn't completely warmed after watching that, i can only conclude that you probably don't have one.

[ music | oh land, "something else" ]

Monday, February 7, 2011

in repair

February Prompt: One month into 2011, what question(s) are you living? Are there any prompts/questions that arose during #reverb10 that are still resonating in your life? Are you living new questions?

this is kind of a weirdly-worded question (i'm not sure how one can be living a question or a prompt), but let's swing back to this prompt, which more or less covered off a to-do list that i wanted to cover for 2011. and though i don't think being a month into the year is enough time to have accomplished everything on that list, i've managed to get a few things done, whether consciously or no.

- i've taken it easier on myself as far as cardio's concerned, but i'm still managing to put in 4-5 workouts a week (including saturday and sunday mornings, which i actually enjoy). it keeps me feeling healthy and happy, and many days i'm really glad to have a cathartic outlet for energy.

- i've scoped out some cooking classes around the city, but now i need to pull together the funds for said classes. they don't come cheap here in the big city, and unfortunately, given that i live in one of the ritzier areas, i tend to bleed money all the time. maybe i should have put "stronger budgeting powerz" as one of my 2011 goals.

- plans with friends: still pretty low-key, but i'm managing to shove away my late-night exhaustion (maybe the iron pills are helping here) in order to get in some hangouts. was just boozing it up with amanda on saturday night before a horseshoe show, and i'm heading out for a tea date tonight to catch up with jenna. notable: i will have missed the last two leafs games in favour of these hangouts. friends = important stuff.

- as mentioned above, i took in the horseshoe show on saturday night, and it was probably my first live gig for maybe...three months? four? coming from me, a girl who used to basically live at rock shows, this was epic. i've got two more i'm attending this month - both of which being two of the boy's bands, because i'm one of those proud-soccer-mom girlfriends when it comes to his band/s - so again, here's hoping i can ride on those iron pills to give the beatdown to my anemic exhaustion. if that fails, coffee, and lots of it.

- reading. i do it. i do a lot of it. i'm actually thinking i want to make sure i have more time to read non-internet things, because i feel like there's something about this flickering screen that kills any sort of serious attention span. i think i probably take in more and comprehend more when it's print media, and so i'll never give up my endless books and magazines. they teach me how to absorb and focus.

- speaking of focus, i'm really trying to start unplugging myself more often, and putting boundaries on when exactly i'm available online. i really have to start defining "downtime", because i'm starting to get pretty stressed out by feeling like i have to be plugged in all the time (or else i'll miss something, or else i won't be able to do my job correctly, etc. etc.). the internet is a good thing, but it is also an evil thing, for sure.

and that's kind of about it for now - so far, anyway. it looks like the reverb 10 team is going to be putting out one prompt every month for reverb 11 - i got this prompt through email, which is why there's no hyperlink for it - so i'll try to keep up with them as well as i can. one dedicated post per month isn't a huge commitment.

apropos of nothing, here's a toronto maple leafs donut that i found somewhere on tumblr, and is awesome.

[ music | the damned, "love song" ]

Thursday, February 3, 2011

booze cakes II: pink champagne cake

alright, so. here we go -- booze cakes II. (this is actually booze cakes III; i made the eggnog cream cupcakes back in december for a cupcake contest at my office, and took home the "best appearance" prize for my efforts.) some of you may remember booze cakes I from back in december, when i baked a honey spice beer cake for a friend's holiday party. this time, i decided to bake the booze cakes cookbook's pink champagne cake for coworker brittany's 27th birthday!

(also, yes, take note - booze cakes has an official website! thanks to co-author terry for leaving a nice message along with the url on my last baking post. go check it out - there's a couple of bonus recipes posted there)

mise en place: flour, baking powder, salt, unsalted butter, sugar, vanilla extract, 6 egg whites, red food colouring, champagne, icing sugar, whole milk. additional bonus: decorative pearls (which i won as part of a prize pack for having these cupcakes awarded for best appearance).

this cake was a bunch of firsts for me: the first time making a two-layer cake, the first time using food colouring, the first time using decorations, the first time using an offset spatula (thanks, kitchen stuff plus!), and the first time baking(!) with champagne. because i'm a cheapass by nature, i decided to forgo the cristal in favour of a bottle of segura viudas, a reasonably-priced brut cava that my mother recommended. (it's what we make the christmas-morning mimosas with every year.)

also on the recommendation of my mother - who's had much more experience with making layered birthday cakes, given that she's got two kids and all (i've probably mentioned it before, but my mother is both power business woman and a baking/cooking/sewing homemaker supreme) - i kept a few pieces of advice in mind:

1. flip the top-layer cake upside down before placing it on the bottom layer, so there's a flat layer on top;
2. put the food colouring in one drop at a time, so it can be adjusted as necessary;
3. cool cake absolutely completely before frosting, and do the sides first before the top;
4. cake can be frosted the night beforehand and stored in an airtight container (i wasn't sure if i'd have to frost it the morning of, or if it'd be okay overnight).

of course, it wouldn't be me if there weren't a few moments of slight-disaster hilarity; this time, the notable event was asking my boyfriend to pop the cork on the bottle of bubbly, which he did -- promptly followed by a champagne fountain that showered half the kitchen. seriously, it was like a geyser. there was just barely enough left for the cake and icing (i ended up cracking an extra bottle of henkell trocken i had around so dean and i could get sufficiently buzzed).

whisking together the dry ingredients

butter, sugar, vanilla, six egg whites beaten in one at a time (a painstaking process), and the red food colouring to give it a pretty pink hue

two layers going into the oven (check out the retro disco burners)

fully baked half an hour later!

and then for the frosting, my inner child's favourite part (mostly for the fact that it's pure, delicious sugar -- in this case, very pink sugar):

and then came the fail.

while i was mixing together the ingredients for the icing, i noticed that it was...rather wet. in fact, it was runny. i'd been a little baffled about why a buttercream icing required almost a cup of liquid (all the buttercreams i've done in the past have been strictly butter and icing sugar with a tablespoon or two of liquid to make it sticky/spreadable), especially since i'd have to use it to tack together two layers and then cover the sides. with firm resolve to fix this possible problem, i dumped in the rest of the one-kilogram bag of icing sugar and stirred it together, hoping desperately that it would become solid enough to stick.

no such luck. in fact, the only thing it stuck to was my countertop as it oozed off the cake in big pink puddles. (not to mention one of the cakes was a bit wider than the other - maybe a fault of my pan - and they didn't balance correctly on top of each other. the icing sliding all down the sides didn't help.)

at this point, i was pissed off, frustrated, and defeatedly sad at the thought that i wouldn't have any cake to bring to work, after i'd promised and everything. so i did what anybody would do at 11 p.m. in a kitchen with countertops covered in pink goo and cupboards still dripping with champagne: i improvised.

pink champagne snack cake!

i ending up laying the two cakes flat and cutting out squares of roughly the same shape from each, then adding a bit more frosting to round them off and the little white pearl decorations for an extra touch. i even had enough cake left to cut a few two-bite pieces to leave in the office kitchen for anyone who felt like some cheery pink goodness in the afternoon. salvageable success! (it also tasted far better than it looked, trust me.)

however, the torment from the cake from hell continued when my kitchen sink's pipe sprang a leak because of all the icing i was trying to wash down it, but hey -- one of those nights. i think all bakers have them. (at least, i hope they do.)

so yeah -- take this as a testament that even i fail in the kitchen sometimes, despite all my friends thinking i'm some sort of master at this (which i most certainly am not). i'm still not exactly sure what went wrong - if it was something i did incorrectly, or if that icing was just too runny from the get-go - but i know i'm not entirely dissuaded from trying another multiple-layer cake in the future. when it comes to the kitchen, practice makes perfect, and these days i'm more into learning from my mistakes rather than pitching a fit when something doesn't turn out picture-perfect. i may be growing up, who knows. if anything, it builds character, i guess.

[image taken by the birthday girl herself - she was delighted regardless, so in your face, cake from hell!]

[ music | editors, "papillon" ]

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

bad romance

last valentine's day, i listed off some of my favourite love songs (in music video form). this year, in advance of the big v-day on the 14th, i'd like to do something along the same lines -- making a short list of my favourite love stories.

brief background: in case it isn't obvious, i'm a reader. i'm a crazy voracious reader, to be exact. i taught myself how to read when i was three years ago, and from then on, one of my favourite weekend destinations was the library, where i would check out 5-6 books and read them all within a couple of weeks. even now, i have to have at least one book on the go (even if it's a reread) or else i don't know what to do with myself. our coffee table is routinely littered with at least three pieces of reading material and i wouldn't want it any other way.

but when it comes to narrowing down what genres i prefer, i'm usually at a loss. (well, besides "vampire/zombie apocalypse".) what i can identify, however, is what i look for in romance fiction -- which i can admit is one of my most regularly-read genres. i'm a big ol' mushball.

i don't like the conventional harlequin-novel format (also, i vomit all over nicholas sparks novels) -- i prefer love stories that are sad, usually involving some form of star-crossed tragedy, and that generally incorporate aspects of what's known in fiction as "magic realism" (basically a real-world setting with some fantastical story aspects). i have to really be emotionally invested in the characters and the story, because the love stories i read have to absolutely destroy my heart by the end, or at least partway through. i'm an incurable romantic in real life, and the novels i read have to reflect that. (i mean, unless they're vampire/zombie apocalypse novels. then, not so much.) also, bonus points if the book makes me cry -- i actually want that kind of cathartic reading experience.

that said, here are my picks for what you - single or otherwise - should be reading leading up to the 14th. if you're a bitter nonromantic who's sworn off the idea of love, these books should convince you otherwise. so get a box of kleenex ready, and if you have any recommendations (which i know you do, because my blog readership are a well-read bunch), by all means -- leave 'em in the comments and i'll get around to picking some up.

here we go:

the ground beneath her feet (by salman rushdie)
i received a copy of this for christmas from my father a few years ago, sold it when i moved to vancouver, and promptly re-bought it last fall. it's a seriously deep novel, for sure - it's rushdie, after all - but it can rightfully be described as an epic love story between a pair of indian rock stars (and their best friend, who acts as the narrator) throughout the decades. in between bending of time, space and reality, it's a heartbreaking work that shows how love endures even through death. great memorable characters, too.

the gargoyle (by andrew davidson)
probably the most recent one on this list that i've read (and since reread), and my copy's currently with my mother in hopes that she'll read it in her spare time, but man, i miss it already. it's a really powerful look at a man's redemption through love - and possible reincarnation - when he ends up being burned alive and meets a woman from the psychosis ward when he's recovering in the hospital. key point: woman might not be so psychotic after all, as she claims to have been his lover in his past life -- and she can prove it. the first half of the book has got some pretty intense descriptions of serious burn rehab, so it might be a little too squick for some people, but the narrative pace of the novel is superb. i wasn't expecting to get so choked up by the coda, but man oh man, was i ever.

the time traveler's wife (by audrey niffenegger)
true story: i bought this book in the vancouver airport as a plane read, ended up flying through all 500 pages of it on my 4-hour flight to toronto (i'm a speed reader), and openly started crying right there on the plane when i reached the end. this is probably the quintessential magic-realism romance novel of the last ten years; i picked it up on the recommendation of many, many friends and i obviously didn't regret it. (also, fuck the movie -- it was a terrible adaptation that was barely faithful to the book itself.) obviously, i don't think a lot of us have experience with being married to someone who keeps accidentally traveling through time, but it's a really poignant book that really touches on love and loss and how to hold on when a relationship's out of time -- literally.

horns (by joe hill)
this definitely isn't your conventional love story - it's marketed much more as a horror/thriller/revenge tale, all of which are key themes - but there's an insanely powerful romance at the heart of it, and in my view, it's that love that really drives this novel's narrative. it's about a young man who's out to avenge his lover's murder (which was wrongfully pinned on him), but said young man appears to be turning into a devil, which both aids and complicates his mission. there are flashbacks that pop up during the novel that add a further dimension to the characters, and it's there that the love story is fleshed out, and you start to understand just why things are happening in the current day of the narrative. like i said, it's love that drives this book, even through the horror. and i've rarely seen as uplifting and gratifying an ending as i have to this novel.

lisey's story (by stephen king)
again, another horror/love crossover (written by, coincidentally, the father of the author listed above) that i read for the first time when i was lovesick and lonely in vancouver, and it struck me right in the emotional gut. this was also one of my first king books, and since i knew he was a horror writer, i was surprised to find a strong love story as the backbone of this novel. sure, there's a lot of creepy stuff and violence and otherworldly suspense, but everything lisey does is driven by her love for her late husband and, like the time traveler's wife, the book is an amazing portrayal of an unconventionally complicated marriage when one spouse keeps disappearing to another world. if you're iffy on king because you think all he writes are books to keep you up at night, try this one out.

...and there's my top five picks. as i said before, feel free to leave me recommendations in the comments, if any of your favourite novels happen to fit the same bill as those beloved five of mine. also, again, no nicholas sparks novels unless you want to see me explode with terrible-book rage.

[ music | joy division, "she's lost control" ]