Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Musical feels

It's been a rough couple of days. I'm never going to underestimate an unpleasant living situation again, because this one has put me through the mill and it's only been four days. I've been a neurotic wreck in that brief window; even ballet class did nothing to make me feel better. (Incidentally, I started to write about that but it turned into a rant, so I'll put that post on hold.) When I get really upset and I'm far from my family, sometimes I read books that remind me of them, but since my schedule is a little busy I opted to listen to music that reminded me of them instead.

I do that a lot, actually. For instance, at camp over the summer we had really nice Saturday morning breakfasts. It was supposed to be a good send-off for the campers, and everyone did look forward to those breakfasts, but I did not. Everyone's favorite fancy breakfast is a warm, gooey cinnamon roll, so I had to stay up late on Friday night (while everyone else was at the dance party in the lodge) and roll out a hundred-some cinnamon rolls. The next morning, I would get to the kitchen at 6:30 in the morning to proof and bake the rolls, and since that's pretty much a one-person job, I told my fellow cooks to sleep in. It sounds kind of grim and lonely and cold, and it was, but I also kind of loved those mornings when I could ease into the day doing what I loved most, all by myself. As I proofed and baked, I listened to the Avett Brothers and thought about all the mornings I had dragged my mother out of bed so I could get to chorale rehearsals. It made me feel close to her, which turned those solitary mornings into something to look forward to.

This morning I listened to The Roches album A Dove. It's surprisingly hard to find, but the songs are the stuff of my young childhood and that album reminds me of riding in our old red minivan, singing along to tapes. Man that memory dates. It's a really great album, and the Roches truly rock, but it didn't make me feel any less sad. I twitched and moped the day away until after dinner, when I settled in with Songza and my Bio notes to do a little studying. Songza is awesome (and Alice totally invented it) because it lets you choose your music based on what you're doing while you listen. I chose to study to jazz from the 50's and 60's, which is so evocative of my dad that I felt like he was in the room with me, telling me get a grip and identify the sax player. It's pretty awesome that music can have such strong associations, and I have to admit that I feel a lot better.

Friday, January 25, 2013

I think ur a contra

This is such old news, but I did a thing! I went contra dancing last weekend! My friend April who is completely lovely (albeit elusive; she's in the am I, I suppose, though to a much lesser extent) posted on Facebook about a contra dance in Greenfield, and I decided to go. A friend of April's from UMass gave us a lift, and over the 20 minute drive I turned on my most charming personality. Apart from the driver, there were two Smithies who I had never met, one I did not know very well, one who I consider a good friend, and one with whom I would like to be friends, but that's kind of a work in progress. I really didn't get out much during J-term, so these ladies were the first new people with whom I had spoken in quite a while. They were all really nice, and most of them were wearing long, twirly skirts, which made me feel a bit like I had missed a memo, but whatever.

Before Saturday, the last time I went contra dancing was last New Year's, with my mom and Caroline. There was contra dancing at the Smart's wedding, and as a bridesmaid, I felt honor-bound to talk everyone into dancing. I did this at the Unirondack wedding I worked over the summer, too, but that wasn't contra dancing, so it was a little harder. The best way to acquire a wallflower, I have found, is to wear something low-cut, approach with confidence, smile a lot, and when you ask if they want to dance, appear confident that they won't say no. The only people who have resisted my encouragement are people with actual injuries preventing movement. But at an actual contra dance, everybody wants to be there, so that aspect of the evening is unnecessary.

The band was great--there was a tuba! And the caller was pretty good, too, but there was one major flaw in her technique. In case you've never been to a contra dance, when a new dance is introduced, the caller talks you through it, so you and your partner will know what to do before the music starts. It's like marking a combination in a regular dance class. I'm a quick study usually, but in the past, every caller at every dance I've attended has covered the marking parts really thoroughly. I guess all these people were regulars, because the caller kept referencing moves that I had never heard before, and everyone just rolled with it. As a result, I looked like I didn't know what I was doing (and just as the cherry on top, every one of my partners asked if I was a student and what I studied, so I looked extra incompetent). It was fun, but I got kind of frustrated toward the end. Here's hoping my first ballet class in a year and a half doesn't end the same way.

Still, the evening was really fun, I met a lot of cool people, and I think I'll go back again soon.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Die Babys

I'll certainly miss working at Sunnyside next semester. While I've never really been good at devoting five hours of a day to childcare (it's too much and not enough at the same time. I do best when I can focus my energy on one thing or several things in one day, without making any abrupt shifts. A full day or like two hours would have been better.), working with adorable children has always been great. Today I worked from 8 to 4:30 with the 4 to 5 year olds, the same age group I was with when I started last spring. I've been with slightly younger kids this past semester, and it's amazing what a difference a few years can make. I'd forgotten how articulate the 4 and 5-year-olds are, and how freaking energetic. They reminded me of the kittens, only the kittens don't shout "Come and get me, Monster!!!!!" (I earned that nickname in the context of a game of chase, I'm not some kind of tormentor.) They had so much energy, and I had a great time putting my claws up a la Lady Gaga and leering. They weren't great at tag; I was willing to throw in the towel after they made the snow home base, but they still wanted it so I still delivered. The game lasted hours. One kid, when saying goodbye at noon, actually called after me, "Goodbye, Monster!"

Because I was working all day, I was given a break of indeterminate duration during which to eat lunch. Nobody specified how much time I actually had, but I'm not much of a rebel, so I cantered to King/Scales and ate at turbo speed. The highlight of my lunch was the massive sour dill pickles that were provided with cheeseburgers. Seriously, these pickles were big enough to upstage the entree, but they were just in a bowl! Like they were something pedestrian! If my friends had been with me, I would have opened my mouth really wide with enthusiasm and pointed at the pickles, unable to articulate my excitement, but I was eating alone so I had to keep it together. I spent my lunch happily thinking of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and mulling over the many ethnic slurs I learned from said novel.

If the kids' energetic performance had in any way led me to believe that they would be exhausted after lunch and ready to nap, I was wildly mistaken. I've been spoiled by toddlers who actually sleep during naptime. These kids spent two hours whispering and reading every book on the bookshelf. What's worse, the teachers weren't even around for most of it, and at one point the other assistant left to make snack, so I had to contend with twelve raucous four-year-olds all by myself. Maybe four of them were actually asleep. They were my favorites. Quiet hours are from 1 to 3 in the afternoon, and all the kids in the place are asleep, or they should be. Since the youngest kids are literal babies, quiet is really pretty important, and I had to keep scolding these kids for talking too loudly (of course young children aren't great at modulation, so this was a common problem). The only redeeming aspect of this exasperating situation was the kids who were getting increasingly pissed off when I told them I couldn't read out loud, because it was quiet time.  It was kind of funny actually; one kid tore at his disheveled curls but couldn't say anything because, after all, I had a point. It's rare that I'm in that position (being 100% in the right and there's nothing you can do about it), and it's a testament to my pathetic position in life that I sort of relished the experience. That's right, bub. It is quiet rest time.

Little kids are super cute, and they really do say the damnedest things, but they aren't big readers. The only time I've read to one of the younger kids, it turned out to be a book called Goodbye, Papa about kids dealing with a parent's death. I was really not expecting this, so when the kid who wanted to hear the story seriously didn't get it, I was not prepared for her questions. "Where's the dad, Lily?" "Oh, um...he's not around any more. Do you need to wash your hands? Let's go do that." But slightly older kids will park you at the couch and have you read book after book, without question the best part of the gig. And the cherry on top is that Sunnyside has excellent taste in books. I've read books by William Steig (now there's a good potential HoF nominee), Frances books, Frog and Toad, and just today, Lyle, Lyle Crocodile. That finished off a good day. The kids were finally worn out and, like Jinx and 13, they cuddled up to me and handed me one book after another, until it was time for me to leave.

Thursday, January 3, 2013


Here are some bits of posts I drafted but never published. Enjoy!

11/4/12: Today I volunteered for the AIDS Care Chocolate Buffet and Silent Auction! I've done some volunteering in my time, and this was a really great experience. I began the day by writhing in pain (my body does not accept menstruation without a fight) but when 12:45 rolled around, I downed some pain meds and suited up. The email I received said to dress in "nice-casual clothes," but I've had some experience with words like that, and whenever I dressed as casually as I was told, I regretted it. I wore dark skinny jeans that look really nice as long as I sit like a lady, a taupe shirt, a black blazer, my gold cross, and red Converse. That black blazer makes me feel like I could conquer the world, and I left the house feeling chipper in a way that was unrelated to the caffeine I had just ingested.

At the event, my job was to man one of the silent auction tables. I jumped on the food & dining table and proceeded to gently harass everyone that stopped by. Some of the stuff was definitely better than others (artisan chocolate next to Starbucks gift basket. Not so much), but all of it looked good. As soon as the doors opened, one guy came to my table and bought a whole bunch of really great stuff, like a Trader Joe's bag full of organic food and a gift certificate to a steakhouse. This struck me as kind of unsportsmanlike, although he certainly got some bang for his buck. I enjoy selling things but subtlety isn't my forte, so I frequently come on too strong. Despite this, I managed to gently persuade people into bidding on a lot of things, like

12/21/12: I know, I know, it's been a long time, but tech week + Chem finals = no time to blog. I'm home at last, and it feels wonderful, even without much snow. (I believe!) I'm finally getting the opportunity to feel Christmasy: I started reading Little Women on the train home and I finished Christmas shopping today. And speaking of Christmas shopping, I'm going to share my own personal list of things I'm sure nobody will give me but I would love to get for Christmas. For birth of Christ and true meaning of Christmas, tune in next time.


1. This majestic turntable. Even the color is perfect; it looks like it's from a Wes Anderson movie and if I owned it, I would pack it in a messenger bag with a Wanda Jackson side and play music in the park while on a picnic. It's way too expensive, but I can dream. 

2. A really nice tailored suit. I dream of being dapper (especially now that all my pants have holes in them) and on the day when I have enough money to buy a decent, well-tailored suit, I will look outrageously attractive. 

3. While we're on the subject of menswear, a gray silk tie (solid color). That is my favorite kind of tie, which in my mind is sophistication itself. 
4. This is really impractical but I would love the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. Deb Perelman is one of my favorite bloggers and the photos look incredible. 

12/30/12: I must have done something really, really good, because a few weeks ago my parents sent me a box of my favorite Dutch-process cocoa. We've been working our way through a 5 lb bag of Hershey's natural cocoa that I thought would last for the next three years, but we've made a significant dent in less than one semester. I'm a huge fan of cocoa powder and think it's a really underrated baking ingredient, so today I'm going to share some information and a recipe that gives credit where credit is due.

If, like me, you look through recipes when you get bored, you've probably noticed that most recipes that call for cocoa specify either "Dutch-process" or "natural." Here's why. Dutch-process cocoa is treated with an alkali to neutralize its acids. It is neutral and does not react with baking soda, so it must be used in recipes that call for baking powder. It also has a more mild flavor. Natural unsweetened cocoa powder is not treated with an alkali, so it's more acidic and stronger tasting. When natural cocoa is used in recipes that call for baking soda, the acidic cocoa reacts with the basic baking soda to create leavening, so the batter rises when placed in the oven. There you go, you've learned something new! Before learning all about the chemistry of cocoa powder (did I mention that I'm a huge nerd?), I just thought of Dutch-process of being the nicer cocoa, and if prices are any indication, that is correct. But now you know why it's nicer, and to be honest, I've swapped Dutch-process for natural many times this semester and it's worked out just fine.

Many bakers like to diss cocoa powder because they claim its chocolate flavor isn't intense enough or blah bloo blee blah. These people are missing out on a great thing. I'll let you in on a secret: I hate gooey brownies. I like brownies with gumption, with structure and stability. I like cocoa brownies. They're also easier to make because you don't have to stress out if you're melting chocolate and it goes wonky on you. No muss, no fuss.

I've already shared with you my recipe for browned butter brownies, also known as the greatest stuff on this Earth. I've made them with natural and Dutch process, and while they are definitely better with Dutch process, they're terrific every time. Today I'll share another cocoa brownie recipe, because I like fulfilling stereotypes about women.


My aunt has declared that this is to be the year of personal growth, and I've been thinking about how I can encourage myself to grow personally for the past three or four days. I think what I really need to do is learn to walk the line. I've never been very good at balance; in order to achieve my goals I tend to go overboard into "maniacally driven" territory. Anyone who's seen me in the kitchen at crunch time can attest to this: my focus narrows to just the task at hand and I don't waste energy on things like smiling. This may contribute to my reputation for being terrifying.

In high school I didn't really have to worry about balancing personal relationships and work because I simply operated in different spheres. I saw school friends at school and dance friends at dance and those friendships didn't take up any more of my time than the activity at hand when we interacted. Now things are different. It was weeks before I completely adjusted to seeing my friends during the week, outside of classes. But because it's so novel, I'm not used to sharing time between friends and work. I'm good at prioritizing when one thing can take up all my energy, but that really doesn't work in college when you have two papers and a problem set due on the same day, and of course you can't abandon your friends for weeks until you're finished. I have to work on that for sure.

I might just be thinking about this too hard. The personal growth might just sneak up on me. I think that'll be my game plan here.