Saturday, March 17, 2018

Adjusting the recipe

This morning I read an oatmeal tip: add unsweetened cocoa.

Just a little shift in colour and/or texture has a lot of impact,
even on a fingerless mitt

I made a paste with some cocoa and boiling water in the bowl, then added a little honey and stirred it all up before I added the instant oatmeal and more water.  It was okay, but to really shine it would have needed more honey and since I'm trying to cut back on sugar, it's back to plain old oatmeal for this girl.

Eh, I tried.  Sometimes just trying something new is the important thing.

After breakfast I put out a stick of butter to warm to room temperature because lately, instead of writing Hugs, I've been trying to work out the perfect recipe for chocolate cake.

And then it hit me - I'm adjusting the recipe for EVERYthing right now.

Even my endlessly beloved socks are getting a few extra rounds at the toe because you know what?  It turns out I like the wiggle room, even if it's more than is strictly necessary.

My friend Wrona has been nudging me toward more writing, and at the moment we are revising short stories together.  It's been so long since I had a writing buddy, though I was always lucky to partner with very strong writers whose insights were hugely helpful.  Now, with Wrona, it's different.  She can read the same piece endlessly and still have a fresh enough eye to pick out the subtle changes to determine whether they help or hinder the overall story.  And I can look at her feedback and register it not only as a suggestion for change, but as a red flag that says This Part Doesn't Flow.  It's a small difference in perspective, but a critical one, and I find my writing is improving enormously just by acknowledging it.

When I walk anywhere these days I am constantly taking pictures of bare branches against the sky.  I always admired the contrast as I strolled along but now I have no concerns stopping to get the perfect framing; I want the images in my phone to look at when I'm stressed, or thinking about watercolour painting.

I've been reassessing my wardrobe and paring it down too.  Our closet is small and honestly, though I am always swayed toward a sense of public pressure to wear something different every day, the truth is I'm a uniform fan.  Lately I decided to accept that and now my half of our very small closet is centred on simple black T shirts and things sewn from linen.  I love linen so much... you can wear it in every season and it breathes so effortlessly!  And you can just wash it in the machine and hang it to dry.  I don't worry about ironing it, because it reacts to your shape and movement as you wear it anyway.  You can dress it up or dress it down, it lasts for years, and it's compact to boot.  What's not to love?

And time - how I use my time is getting a big overhaul right now.  I had WAY too much on my plate, working and health-caring and managing the house renovation and condo rental.  It bothered me so much that I wasn't writing a Hug every weekday because I did it for - what, five years? - before the reno started and I had to scale back.

Now that I am getting some breathing room, I find I don't want to sit and knit for every break from work.  I'm more comfortable allowing myself to write fiction before a Hug, and accepting that there might not be any Hug time left afterward.  There is a jigsaw puzzle on my dining room table and I put a few pieces in place as I pass it.  I am learning to play with crosswords now that I have access to the New York Times puzzles on my screen (I know, more screen time, but still).

I like that onscreen crossword puzzling is so tidy, with no paper strewn over the table... living in a condo/storage locker for over two years seems to have taught me to hate mindless clutter.  Go figure!  Now, I find I want everything I have - apart from a random jigsaw puzzle - to be necessary, effective, compact, and multi-purpose, so our living space can be as barren as possible while still being homey.

You know what is a good cleaning cloth?  Linen. With water and a linen teacloth or napkin you can clean mirrors, shine chrome, and get rid of water spots.  After you've gotten the gunk off a glass-topped stove, a linen cloth takes away all the streaks.  And nothing dries glassware and plates better either.  I have a tidy little stack of them now, vintage from eBay and not expensive, scattered into the bathrooms and the kitchen drawer.  They get washed together and they don't bleed colour onto each other either. My beloved cotton teatowel collection, many years in the making, is headed for a new career in cushion-covering.  My bulky polyester dust grabber cloths are getting donated.

And cooking!  There was a time when I wanted to try cooking everything and I had particular pots for different jobs.  Now, there is one square drawer to the left of our oven that contains:
a pasta pot with strainer and lid
a big pot with steamer and lid
a covered casserole stovetop pot
and three saucepans, which I could pare down to two or even one.

Those things, plus some frying pans in another drawer and a cluster of cookie sheets, are all I use for cooking meals now.  If you can't make it in one of those things, I am having it in a restaurant.

A different look to replace our formerly casual porch seating
(temporary safety rails just out of the picture):
Emphasis on the seat rather than the frame, so include more people in the space

For desserts, I am making good use of the cookie sheets (cookies), a square cake pan (brownies) and two round 9" pans (CAKE.) And now that I've said that magical word, it's time to talk cake I think, don't you?

I make a fabulous vanilla icing (okay, it's the recipe on the back of the bag of Redpath Icing Sugar - 4 cups of sugar, 1 cup of butter, 2 tbsp of milk, 2 tsp vanilla - or is it 1?). 

It's kinda embarrassing to spoon butter and sugar out of a bowl for dessert, so I have been wanting to make a cake that lives up to it.

Everybody seems to have that same goal.  You can look online and find a zillion chocolate cake recipes with an intro that says "I have spent years looking for the perfect chocolate cake recipe and this is it."  Then when I make one of them I'm kinda Meh.

But now I think I too have the perfect chocolate cake recipe, and here is why:

If you are using cocoa in a cake, you will get a richer flavour from pouring boiling water over it to let the it bloom before you add it to the batter. 

If the recipe calls for white sugar only, you can sneak in brown sugar to take some of the white sugar's place.  You can even reduce (slightly) the overall sugar count if you do this because brown sugar is heavier and has a deeper flavour.

You can get an airier cake if you add an extra egg yolk (assuming the recipe writer didn't already think of that.)  It'll help the rise without adding any more baking-soda flavour.

DON'T OVERBAKE THE CAKE.  Yeesh.  How many dry cakes did I complain over before I realized it was the oven time, not the recipe?

And finally: fold in the dry ingredients rather than beat them to death, because you don't want a lot of gluten in a cake.

And with that, I must leave you.  There is a laundry room I must overhaul and some boxes I'm hoping to shed things from.  Have a wonderful day and I'll see you again soon!

ps: I am writing and publishing this post on a Saturday!  I almost never do that.  Might try it more often, while I'm making adjustments.


Mimi said...

Paring down has been on my mind lately. I'm working on it in all the corners of my life.

You are going to share your cake recipe with us sometime, aren't you?

Mary Keenan said...

Of course I will share the cake recipe ;^) It still needs of work - the last tally of votes indicates that it needs a tiny bit less cocoa and brown sugar, respectively. Also I have to stop making cake for at least a few days, because everybody here is on max sugar saturation, ha!

Unknown said...

It is amazing what living in a small space will do for your tolerance of clutter. Three years ago we moved to another state from a 4 bedroom, 1600 square foot house to a 1 bedroom, 600 square foot condo, on the third floor. We learned very quickly what was essential for how we live. Now after two years in the condo, we "moved up" to a two bedroom duplex and it feels as large as our house did. The funny thing about all of it though is that we are still paring down all the stuff.

Mary Keenan said...

Omigosh Katherine! I lived in a 600 square foot studio apartment for a year once and was so stressed by the end, in spite of a huge window wall that looked onto a unit-wide balcony with trees beyond. And our super cluttered 1600 square foot condo had just two bedrooms, so all the rooms were huge and, in theory, airy... I think walls and defined spaces must have as big an impact as overall size, don't you? If my bed had been behind a door in my little studio apartment like yours was in the condo I would have fared much better I bet :^) Hope you're settling in well after the new move!