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Category Archives: Carpe Gaudium

Prendre Plaisir

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Somewhere in my travels this weekend, I ended up at a bookstore and was browsing the sale section – and when I saw a huge, beautiful book with the title French DessertsI immediately walked to the cash register with it.  Hey – that’s two of my favorite things right there in one title.

And it really is beautifully done – the focus is on the simpler dishes that people make for themselves at home rather than the fantastical things you’d find in a patisserie.  There are cakes and tarts and such, but instead of elaborate things like a religieuse or a caneleanything where I’d have to wrestle with piping bags, they have simple fruit tarts or plain cakes or puddings.   It’s exactly the way I like to cook – just pick good ingredients and get out of their way.

And I have some extra time after work and a lot of rhubarb and strawberries, and that means I can make something for my book club tomorrow – and that something will be the strawberry-rhubarb crisp bar cookies from the Smitten Kitchen, something I discovered a year ago.  They’re almost perfect – just sweet enough to feel that you’re having a real treat, but low enough in added sugar that you can get away with telling yourself that they make an acceptable breakfast food.  (I ate my way through one batch last week all on my own.)

I also have some lemon-verbena herb-spiked sugar syrup in the fridge, from when I was trying to cut back my lemon verbena plant; it gives lemonade an extra kick.  And I’ve just finished a glass.

So, I am now about to enter my kitchen, where I will make the strawberry bars, and then make a shrimp and noodle salad to chill in the fridge while I stir up some strawberry-laced blancmange and a French take on a chocolate panna cotta.

Yes, this is as life should be.

State Of The Kim

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I’ve hinted at it, I’ve been all cryptic, finally I can come clean – My last day at my current job is Tuesday, and my first day at a new job is the following Monday.

Now, I like my current company itself.  I also like the people I work with.  The problem is, what I’m doing (human resources data processing) is something I didn’t have any experience in before starting, and am ultimately not that great at.  I wasn’t even supposed to be in that role as long as I was – I was supposed to keep watching for executive assistant roles and apply for them, so I could move into that instead.  And for two years I did exactly that.  However – that plan was kind of like the Underpants Gnomes on South Park: everyone overlooked the necessity of the middle step between my applying for a job and my moving into it, namely that I would have to be accepted into said job.  And that’s the bit that never happened.  I finally started looking outside my current company, and got accepted into a new place within about three or four months.

(Quick note – I don’t think I’ve mentioned the name of the place where I work.  I will not do so, nor will I mention the name of the new place; I don’t want there to be any perceived problem with anything I ever have, do, or will say on this blog.  I will say only that the current company is an NGO and the new company is a small development and housing non-profit startup.)

So that’s why I can’t do much traveling this summer; it isn’t that fair to be starting a new job in mid-June, and then take off for a week at the beach only one month later.  I also won’t have built up enough time off until September or so.  I have since learned that I’m being brought along to the company team meeting in upstate New York during my second week there (and this is the first time I’ve ever been considered worthy of inclusion at a team meeting, so I’m not entirely convinced this is really my life just yet), but any funtime travel is going to have to wait a while.  I knew that would probably be the case when I started my job hunt, however, so I have resigned myself to that.

But – the new job comes with something of a considerable improvement in pay over what I’m making now.  And it’s a very new startup in a shared-work space, so everyone’s walking around in jeans and polo shirts and khakis and t-shirts, so I can dress way more casually than I’ve had to.  And – and this is something I’m unnaturally excited about – I can walk to work.  It is a half-hour on foot from my apartment to the office, and even if I took a bus it would only save me five minutes.  So I have every intention of walking to and from work – I could leave home later, get home earlier, and take little exploratory detours or run errands on the way home (there is a major food mart opening up just a couple blocks off my route, and a Wegman’s will also open up a couple blocks in the other direction within two years).  And that’s also one hour of walking each day, five days a week.  So by the time I finally do go on some kind of trip, I will be richer, better rested, and in better shape, and I don’t know about you, but I’m gonna call that a win.

In the meantime: I have gone into a full-on DIY Home Decorating Mode.  I’ve tried making a couple of candles and I’ve stumbled upon several crafting sites that show you how to make erzatz Moroccan-style colored glass lanterns out of plain glass jars and paint.  That, plus the shibori-dying class I’ve signed up for, has sent me galloping into a plan to give my bedroom a slight “boho chic” makeover (which, really, is mainly going to translate into creating a few candle arrangements here and there, changing a couple lamps and then dumping a gabillion cushions on the bed).

And I’ll be getting back to the movies soon, of course; I’ve just been trying to get through the last couple weeks at the old job.  I’m doing a major cleanout of the file room as my Last Act And Legacy; it’s something I’ve desperately wanted to do for a year and a half (ever since we discovered one day that there was about a two year period when people didn’t actually file things in there, so much as “shove them into corners”), and that’s been a lot of lifting and toting and shoving and sorting and arranging, interspersed with cursing and grumbling.  At least four times now I’ve discovered a whole new pile of un-filed files, and opined to my coworkers that “I really feel like someone needs to die for doing this.”  Wishing others death is tiring work.

Summer Is Launched!

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Okay. We all know that summer technically doesn’t begin until late June.  But for most of us, it is unofficially in the national consciousness that “summer” begins on Memorial Day.  And I did have some good news to launch my summer into a good start (I’ll be able to share later), so I’m already in that mindset.  I’m still not going to be able to do much travel (and the news will explain why, I swear I’ll explain, please be patient), so I’m in a “playtime” mindset already.

And that brings in my friends Colin and Niki.  Or, rather, it brings in a habit the three of us have.  They travel a lot – they’re both freelancers, and Colin’s work in particular calls for a lot of travel – and they own a couple of rental properties so they can move around a bit.  And – they also own a car, which they are not always able to take with them – which means that it is in danger of being ticketed or towed if it isn’t occasionally moved to satisfy New York’s parking rules.  I, on the other hand, haven’t had quite so much of a chance to travel like they do (we will set aside my jealousy for the moment).  But – my being stuck at home means I am the perfect car-sitter.  So for the past few years, they have dropped off their car with me before they take off, and I can use it for whatever I like while they are in Honduras or Costa Rica or Newfoundland.  I’ve brought myself upstate for weekend trips, made big-ass Salvation Army or Ikea hauls, and have even used it for the journey home for Christmas when I had an assload of presents and the idea of wrestling things into a train gave me hives.  And except for one unfortunate evening where I had to visit an impound lot (i swear i thought i was outside the bus stop zone i’m still sorry guys) it’s worked well.

This summer, they told me they’re going to Montana and Colorado. But – they’re taking the car with them.  However, Niki had another idea to soften the blow – was I interested in borrowing her sewing machine?  And Niki used to make candles, but didn’t do it so much, and I’d been saying I’d be interested in taking anything she didn’t use, how about I do that too?

And thus, Niki and I spent an afternoon sitting on a floor as I sniffed my way through the contents of three enormous tubs full of essential oils (Niki had them by the quart, people) and made my various requests and she gave me a super-quick candlemaking 101 as she doled out bunches of wicks into different baggies.  Then she showed me how to thread the sewing machine, and we crammed everything into four bags and boxes and she called me an Uber to get it all home.

I’m going to have a tiny bit of a financial windfall soon (again, I promise, the news will epxlain it) and I’m already looking into ways to snazz up my bedroom a bit for summer. Still on a bit of a budget, though.  However – I’ve already found something from my summer bucket list – a shibori dye class in a couple weeks – and had to get something to be dyed in the class, and went with a couple of pillow cases.  But now that there’s the sewing machine, I’m thinking of just making way more cushion covers and pillow covers and just piling my bed with them.   And I just found a decent source of soy wax, and Niki sent me home with 3 boxes of containers for candles, and long story short, I’m already getting going on what is shaping up to be A Summer Of Making Shit.

Summer Tasks

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So I was thinking I’d be doing some traveling this summer, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen after all, outside of some very brief weekend trips here and there.  And for a while I was pitying myself over that.

But no more!  I am going to enjoy myself, dammit.  I am going to make sure I do things that generate more fun, for myself and sometimes for others.  This is a season of fun and laughter and carefree merriment, and I need to make myself embrace that.

So. Herewith: my bucket list for the summer of 2017; or, rather, my bucket lists, because I this thing has run so long it’s got entire categories.

FOOD GOALS

  • Making my own popsicles.
  • Making my own ice cream.
  • Eating ice cream from a Mister Softee Truck.
  • Making an ice cream sundae.
  • Keeping the fridge stocked with peppermint iced tea.
  • Eating corn on the cob.
  • Making pies and letting them cool on the windowsill.
  • Eating a peach.
  • Eating watermelon.
  • Eating a tomato sandwich.
  • Eating a fried clam roll.
  • Keeping various flavored sugar syrups on hand for funky flavored cocktails and iced desserts.

IDLE THINGS TO DO

  • Run through a sprinkler or a hydrant.
  • Do a cannonball.
  • Skip stones.
  • Build a sand castle.
  • Spend an hour blowing bubbles.
  • Fly a kite.
  • Go barefoot.
  • Read in a hammock.
    • Side goal – reading 3 new books.

THINGS TO WATCH

  • The sunset
  • Fireflies
  • The Perseids
  • A thunderstorm
  • Fireworks

THE WAY I LOOK

  • Make and wear a flower crown.
  • Get a pedicure with bright nail polish.
  • Wear a sundress with a swirly skirt.
  • Wear bright lipstick.

ENTERTAINMENT AND OTHER FUN

  • Go to at least three free outdoor movies.
  • See at least two free concerts.
  • Go to a late-night dance event.
  • Throw picnics.
  • Hold an outdoor tea party.
  • Ride the Cyclone and the Wonder Wheel.
  • Water slides.
  • Mini golf.
  • Make out with someone.
  • See a movie in a drive in.

EXPLORING

  • Explore 3 new neighborhoods I’ve never been to.
  • Take a class in shibori-style tie dying.
  • Go on a road trip.
  • Get more stamps in my National Parks Passport.

OUTDOORS

  • Go on 3 hikes.
  • Try inner tubing.
  • Stay overnight in a cabin.
  • Stay overnight in a tent.
  • Round up some friends and play backyard games like tag or Red Rover for a night.
  • Have a water fight.

 

So whaddya think?  A good summer, yes?

I’m Still Here

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This blog has been sputtering along for a while now. The film project has helped, but I haven’t been writing anywhere near as much as I’d like, and as much as I used to once upon a time.

The fact is that my day job has had a great deal to do with that; I’m doing something unsuited to me, for too little money, and I’ve been trying to do that for too long.  The hopeful note is that I’m trying to do something about that, however, and there are some hopeful signs that things could change for the better very, very soon.  But “very, very soon” is not yet, and that leaves me sort of stiff-upper-lipping my way through the days.  Which gets hard.

My immediate supervisor is aware of, and endorses, my attempt to change – he agrees that I’m not in a job that fits me.  Others I know outside of work have also offered to help.  But someone recently gave me advice that maybe didn’t work in quite the way they thought it would; they implied that I wasn’t being aggressive enough in my search.  Which stunned me, because I’d just told them in the breath before about the list of multiple job interviews I was about to have that very week. But the “advice” he gave me, nevertheless, was “less blogging, more job hunting.”

It took a minute – but I got well and truly pissed.  One of the reasons I told him, long ago, that I wasn’t satisfied with my job was because I didn’t have the brainpower to do much blogging; it was a part of me that was missing and I wanted it back.  And yet, here he was telling me not to do the very thing that was helping me feel most like “me”.

I chewed on that for most of the rest of that day, had a sulky dinner and went to sleep.  And I woke up determined to keep blogging, to get a job even faster and get out of there.  And I had a whole new motto in my head – “I’m me, so fuck you.”  Trying to have fun and trying to do the things I enjoy is just as important. It reminds me that I am not just trying to survive, but I am also trying to thrive.  And that I deserve both.

I’m going to devote some time this weekend to prepping for an interview.  But I am also going to spend it polishing up the house and baking, reading, and defiantly being me.

 

 

Operation Chocolat Goes Trendy

Okay, the fact that I’ve even heard of this is a nigh-miracle.  I’m usually the last person to catch on to anything hip – I discover bands ten years after everyone else, I hear about books and movies well after others do, I’m pretty much the last to know about trends.

But apparently the internets is going bugnuts over a hot beverage trend – combining mulled wine and hot chocolate.

Frankly, it sounds weird at first blush – kind of like a half-assed entry from Iron Chef or Chopped where a contestant had two ingredients left over and just threw them together. But after reading a lively discussion about it elsewhere online, I found myself looking thoughtfully over at my cabinet.  – I have the makings of hot chocolate, I thought. – I have the bittersweet chocolate…I have the milk…and I have a lacing of  Shiraz left over.  …And I’ve had a crappy day.

Now, this isn’t as simple as spiking your Nestle’s.  No, this is the kind of hot chocolate that you have to heat up milk on the stove and stir in chips and whisk it.  And there were a score of recipes, all calling for different approaches to heating the wine – some with spices, some without, some separate from the milk, some together at the last minute.  The one I used actually called for melting the chocolate into the wine first, heating them both together into a sort of ganache-y thing, and then adding the milk.

…Honestly, I don’t taste the wine. It could be because I’m using super-high-end chocolate and kinda-plebian wine (Guittard for the chocolate, Two-Buck Chuck for the wine), but – the most I taste is a faint sort of fruity whisper, which is easy to mistake for a note in the flavor of the chocolate.  On another note, though, I’m sipping this at the rate I usually have hot chocolate – which is at a somewhat faster clip than I drink wine.  And I’m about halfway through the mug and am starting to feel a little…fuzzy.

My family are all wine nerds, especially my brother when hosting family events. I think I may have to introduce him to this custom.

Operation Chocolat – Pungent Spice Chocolate

(For the whole rest of the winter, I’m going to be working through a cookbook devoted to 60 different kinds of hot chocolate. Because why not.)

So, lemme state first that this kind of recipe takes work.  This is no envelope of Swiss Miss or anything, here – this involves heating milk on the stove, steeping things in it, stirring chopped chocolate into the milk and waiting some more.  And that is assuming it hasn’t boiled over or spilled or foamed up all over the stove, and it also is assuming that you have time for this.  This isn’t hot chocolate for the quick hour you have after coming in from work and changing before running out to your book club.

But that’s kind of the point.  This is meant to be slowed down over and savored.  I have still rushed this recipe (see: book club), but I managed to get it done in time to linger a bit.  Calling a cab to the club instead of going by subway will save me time. (It’s freakin’ cold, I was already planning on a cab.)

I went fairly simple first – a basic recipe, with cinnamon and cloves spiking the milk before you stir in the chocolate. There’s a lot of chocolate in this, too – a quarter pound, whisked into the steamy milk on the stove. It’s made the drink super-thick – like there’s someone gently kissing me with each sip.

But I cut corners with the cinnamon and cloves, I think, as I don’t really taste them.  The recipe said to let them simmer in the milk for ten minutes before adding the chocolate, and I halved that to five in my haste.  I can smell them, faintly – just a whisper of them there.  Enough to suggest that if I’d been more patient, waited a bit more, I’d have tasted them more.

An intriguing lesson for next time.