Monday, November 30, 2015

What I've Been Up To (After the Marathon) (Part I)

Baking. Lots and lots of baking. Within the last ten days...

Birthday cake for G's birthday party. Vanilla cake with vanilla frosting, covered with fresh blueberries and strawberries. Utter and complete hit with my guys. Me, I'm not wild about buttercream frosting, I may need to do more experimenting if I'm going to keep baking them cakes.

Cowboys Cookies for Monday Night Supper, to fulfill a pledge towards my Chicago Lights marathon fundraising. These are a favorite in our house: oatmeal cookies with pecans, coconut, and chocolate chips. I make some without chocolate chips for G, who's not fond of chocolate. Though he keeps trying it, bless his heart, since he doesn't like feeling left out.

I wasn't planning to bake again until Thanksgiving, but we all happened to be home on G's birthday, and he asked for cake. What? You just had cake! But that was for the party and now it was his birthday and he wanted cake (and we'd eaten nearly all of the first at the party). And it was early afternoon and I had nothing pressing to do and so I looked through my pantry and looked through my cookbooks, and I improvised a gingerbread cake with lemon glaze. The flavors were a little strong to start with, although G liked it just fine which was all that really mattered, but in subsequent days they mellowed and I think we may have a new holiday favorite. I've made a note for next time to be sure to bake it a day ahead of when I want it, to give the flavors a change to settle.

Then it was Thanksgiving and I made pumpkin pie. And we all enjoyed it, and then enjoyed having it for breakfast, and then again the next day. And then it was gone and we all felt we hadn't gotten enough pie, so on Saturday I made another one. Because, why not? And also, was I really going to make another pumpkin pie later this year, when there are now Christmas treats to be made? I didn't think so. Better to just make that pie now.

And then it was Sunday and I had a brownie recipe I wanted to try out (since I haven't found a completely satisfying plant-based one yet) and a colleague at work to bake for (another marathon pledge). That one, alas, was an epic fail. Well, maybe not epic - it tasted good enough - but it didn't hold together well enough to even consider presenting outside of the house. It will work very nicely at home for brownie sundaes at some point though, so I froze a portion of it and we'll nibble on some this week. And I didn't sacrifice really good chocolate or cocoa on it (just because I didn't have any of the fine stuff in the house) so I'm okay if we end up tossing whatever's left at the end of the week...

...Since clearly I'll be baking again next weekend. I've already made my schedule for December...

With sugar and spice and everything nice,

Monday, November 23, 2015

Snow What?

It was the first day of running on snow and ice today. I can't say I was thrilled about this as I got ready but once I got started I enjoyed myself.

Between the music I was listening to  and the intense focus on my footing, there wasn't any room in my head for thoughts of time, pace, or the like. Just noticing the sun on the snow and being grateful it wasn't colder.

I think the only way to approach running on Chicago sidewalks in the winter is to treat them as trail runs. You never know what kind of surface you'll be running on; it can switch from clear and dry to carefully packed down to icy knee-high caverns in the course of one block. It all depends on how the individual property owner maintains their stretch of sidewalk. So I step lightly and quickly and practice "monkey walk" when it looks icy (a technique I learned in kung fu years ago: keeping all joints slightly bent and sinking my center of gravity a bit lower).

And layer, layer, layer.


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Some Leftovers

And, as mentioned, we managed to get in a couple more movies before declaring Scary Movie Month officially over...

House on Haunted Hill (William Castle - 1959, with Vincent Price)
Funny, both of our last two movies centered around a group of people stuck together somewhere - no way in, no way out - and then people start to die... This one was nicely creepy with some scares without being too disturbing.

Identity (James Mangold - 2003, with John Cusazk, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet)
We watched this based on a recommendation from my aunt, and for the first half hour we were united in thinking that we wouldn't be taking her advice again any time soon! It just didn't seem to make any sense and there were so many characters. And then it started to get a little more interesting... and then a lot more... and then super creepy. And that character count went steadily down... Unlike House on Haunted Hill, however, this one was disturbing and stayed with me into the night (and the next morning). A good one to go out on!

And some scary books this month too!

Nnedi Okorafor's Lagoon

Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot

And I'm currently reading Stacia Kane's Sacrificial Magic, Book 4 in her Downside Ghosts Series.

I don't bother finishing books I don't like (unlike movies) so these all get my recommendation.

I'm particularly interested to see what Nnedi Okorafor does next in her adult fiction (prior to this one she wrote for young adults) - I read her Who Fears Death first, and then this one, in opposite order from how they were written, and could quite clearly see that her writing was more sophisticated in the second book. Both books struggled with the pacing, I think, and both had endings that surprised me and tore at my heart and stayed with me. So I'm eager to see how her writing develops if she continues to write for adults.

I've read a sampling of Neil Gaiman's works over the years, mostly some of his graphic novels and then works for children. I find his "allusiveness" in the graphic novels a little overwhelming (this was a new word for me, it means the degree to which he alludes to other sources, in his case mostly fairy tales and myths from a variety of cultures plus classic British literature), which is why I've stayed away from his longer novels. But after reading The Ocean..., which had a very clear writing style and had me believing in his characters, I think I might be interested in reading more.

In between working my way through Stephen King, that is. I have no interest in reading everything by him (unlike my husband who is an SK completist), and in fact take a fair bit of time in deciding which ones I'm willing to read - with the result that everything I do read of his, I love. Plus I love his writing about himself. He is definitely on my list of people I would invite to a dinner party. Except in my experience of dinner parties you never get enough time with each person and I think I would be too intimidated to meet with him one-on-one.

And the Stacia Kane is just spooky sexy fun with some very deep ideas anchoring all the shouting and witchcraft and kissing.

And now into November,