December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

I know I've mentioned this before, but why in the goddamn hell does time go by so quickly as you get older?  It's so weird.  Sometimes I feel like life really is passing me by.

I'm always glad to see a new year arrive.  I guess because a new year brings hope that it might be better than the year before.  Even if the year before wasn't all that bad.  Point being, there's always room for improvement in most areas.  If not all.  So I welcome 2012 with open arms.

I can't say that 2011 was all that bad for me.  In fact, it's probably been one of my better years in recent years.  Nothing too monumental happened, but that's what made it good.  For me, 2011 was fairly calm and even-keeled.  Stable - just how I like it.  Although there were no major ups, more importantly there were very few major downs.  I thank you for that, universe, it was nice to relax for a bit.  Looking back, I had a lot of fun this year.  I went to a shit-ton of great concerts.  Have I mentioned that Erasure, of all bands, takes the cake as best concert of the year?  Yes, the 80's, synthpop band Erasure.  I went in with semi-low expectations and was floored by how great of a show it was.  And they had the best crowd of any show I've been to all year.  As I expected, every gay male in town was there and the dancing/arm flailing never stopped once the music started.  It was loads o' fun.  This year I also got to witness the most exciting post-season baseball I'll probably ever see, so that was cool.  I reconnected with some old, good friends I hadn't talked to since the late 80's - people I had wondered about regularly all those years, making the reunions extra sweet.  I traveled a bit, although not enough.  This was my first full year at my job, and it has been super awesome to enjoy going to work (mostly) every day.  It's the first time in many years I can say that.  It has done wonders for my psyche.  It has changed me, relaxed me, and made me a generally happy person.  That is a really good feeling, and probably my biggest accomplishment of the year.  Of course, now that I have finally found happiness in that part of my life, I fear it will be yanked from under me at some point.  That's how life seems to work and I'm a glass-half-empty kind of gal anyway, so I'm aiming to not think too far ahead and just appreciate and enjoy the ride while I'm on it.

Let's hope 2012 can somehow continue this upward swing for myself and all of us.  As a whole, it sure feels like we're slowly sinking.  Sinking economically, sinking ethically, sinking morally.  I hope that some of these 2012 predictions are right.  Not the end of the world ones, but the ones about "big changes" and some sort of worldly enlightenment or spiritual awakening.  It couldn't hurt.  We need a boost.  We need some sort of help to get on the upward part of the spiral.  I envision it like the 60's happening again.  Some sort of monumental shift.  Although without the LSD.  I think that could be a hindrance at this point.

Enjoy your New Year's Eve!  To get your party started, here's some video I took of Erasure performing Love to Hate You.  I dare you not to dance.

December 30, 2011

I Hope My Fate Doesn't Suck Ass.

I received a rather unique Christmas present this year from my sister, which has me both excited and a little freaked out.  She got me a 45-minute consultation with a psychic.  I'm not kidding.  She has seen this guy herself at least a handful of times.  She has been a bit over-reliant on him at times, if you ask me.  But then again, she's a control freak and also highly impatient so I think hearing what's going to happen in advance brings her some sort of peace.  Apparently he is fairly well known in her town and beyond, as he does some national radio shows in addition to his good track record.  I will be having a phone session since I'm in another state, which in this case I am told is no big deal as he's reading my energy, not my palm or anything of that nature.  For what it's worth, I will say that I definitely believe there are people who have some sort of unique ability to tap into something most of us cannot.  My guess is that they have an extra sense, or extremely heightened senses and/or a rare type of awareness that allows for this to happen.  That being said, I also think there are a lot of people out there who claim to have this ability, but don't.  Hence, unless I feel a complete lack of connection to this guy, I will keep my ears and mind open but not necessarily plan my life around what he says.  From my sister's experience, this psychic has been very accurate about her past, present, and future.  About the people in her life.  About both good stuff and bad stuff.  This guy is not afraid of sharing the bad stuff either, I guess with the hope that by having a little heads up, you might be able to make choices or moves that will alter the course for the better.  Which is why I'm a tad nervous.  First off, that's a lot of pressure.  Second, I will be spooked if he sees impending danger in my life or someone close to me.  Or anything else bad he might tell me.  Those things very well might never happen, but based on his accuracy in the past and my own belief in this kind of thing, I won't be able to stop thinking about the fact that they might happen.  It will have me worried and stressed out, which is never good.  I'm essentially fearful that the psychic will instill fear in me.  I really, really hope he only has good things to tell me.  Those may not come true either, but choosing to believe they might could only bring hope, which is always good for the ol' mood for a while regardless of how it pans out.

I put in a call today to set my appointment, so I would imagine my destiny will be unearthed here in the next few weeks.  You'll definitely be getting a full report once it's all said and done, whether you like it or not. 

Oh please, please let glorious good fortune be headed my way.

December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Ready or not, Christmas has arrived.  Other than tidying up my pig sty of a house for a few guests tomorrow, I'm ready to roll.  And it feels good.  I look forward to some serious relaxing, eating and drinking in the next 48 hours.  Speaking of which, I shall share with ye blog friends some of my delicious Christmas treats.  Virtually, of course, unless you wanna come over and pick some up.

What you are looking at above are homemade caramels.  It's the first time I've ever made them and I'm really proud of how they turned out.  I'm picky about my caramels and honestly didn't have much faith that I could meet my own high caramel standards, but somehow I fucking rocked it.  The texture, which I thought might take a few trial runs to perfect, turned out exactly how I like it:  moderately firm and chewy with a little stretchiness when you bite into it.  Not too firm like a Milk Dud that you worry the whole time will take your fillings out (although those are delicious); not so soft that there's no pull and it oozes out.  I do not like oozy caramel.  Caramel is meant to be chewy.  Like, when you pull your mouth away those little caramel strings annoyingly end up on your chin.  The first two pics are how they looked naked.  Not to toot my own horn, but I think they look beautiful.  The close-up reveals tiny vanilla bean specs.  Yep, I used real vanilla bean.  I went for the gusto since it's Christmas.  As you can see, they didn't stay naked for long.  I doused them in good quality dark chocolate and then sprinkled sea salt on top.  These will return next Christmas for sure.

Above are my glorious Chocolate Salty Balls.  As you have probably surmised, I'm a big fan of salt.  I started making these things probably around the mid 90's.  Looking for some different things to make one Christmas season, I came across a recipe for "bonbons".  I credit the recipe for my inspiration, but I altered it drastically to make it what I wanted it to be.  If I'm going to make something, it's going to be something I like.  A lot of people make a similar thing called "buckeyes".  Mine do involve peanut butter just like a buckeye, but I'm telling you that the average buckeye doesn't hold a candle to these things.  I spent a few years perfecting this recipe, and 3 Christmases later I had the perfect ratio of ingredients to make this the most delicious peanut butter-based ball you've ever had.  I swear.  Every time I see something of this nature on a cookie tray this time of year, I always have one for the sole purpose of comparing it to my own.  And at the risk of sounding like a snob, mine is always better.  Which countless other people have confirmed, so I'm comfortable taking that risk.  I'm telling you, people beg me for these things.  Every friend and family member expects and anticipates them this time of year.  It's rare I make them any other time.  I do that on purpose, so they remain special.  I'm not going to reveal my recipe, but I will tell you there are rice krispies involved.  That is one thing that makes mine unique compared to most, and the texture they provide is crucial.  Using good quality chocolate is also crucial.  If I see one of these things made with almond bark, I won't even bother trying it.  I already know it won't be good.  Why would you not use good chocolate?  People are strange.  These balls were always a bit salty based on the combo of stuff involved, but I didn't start putting sea salt on top until early 2000's, and wow what a difference that made.  This was before sea salt was all the rage, which is annoying because now they look trendy.  Anyway, for the first few years I never really knew what to call them.  I hated the name "bonbons", and "chocolate peanut butter balls" didn't exactly roll off the tongue.  Then in the winter of 1998 I was sitting around smoking pot with my roommate, and because he had the munchies and because it was close to Christmas he started asking me when I was going to make the chocolate peanut butter balls.  Which turned into a conversation about how I needed to come up with a better name for them, as I revealed this dilemma had been eating at me for the 4 years or so I had been making them.  My friend agreed, and we proceeded to come up with zero better ideas.  As fate would have it, while this chat was taking place, we happened to be watching a new episode of South Park, and lo and behold it ended up being the Chocolate Salty Balls episode.  As soon as Chef said the words "Chocolate Salty Balls", my friend and I looked at each other with wide eyes in excited silence, I heard that "hallelujah" noise in my head, and the name was born.

Without a lot of family here at Xmas anymore, I only make a few other kinds of cookies this time of year, which you will find above.  Gingerbread is a classic, and I think they are a nice, mellow complement to all the other rich stuff you find this time of year.  Plus, if you decorate them they look festive.  I make a pretty decent gingerbread, I've been told, but I find there is a lot of decent gingerbread out there.  They're guaranteed to be flavorful regardless, so I think it's hard to fuck up unless you bake 'em till they're hard as a rock.  Personal preference.  The other treat you see there are alfajores.  I'm pretty sure I've featured these on the ol' blog before.  I make these because they are my favorite cookie of all time.  These are traditional Argentinian-style alfajores.  The cookie has a unique texture - soft, yet somewhat crumbly.  It's essentially a butter cookie but with a subtle hint of lemon courtesy of some lemon zest.  In the middle you have dulce de leche, which is quite possibly the most awe-inspiring delight on the planet.  One reason I like making these is because they're something different that people will not get from anyone else.  And since I love all things Hispanic, I feel like I'm passing that love on whenever I give these to people.  Usually you roll it in coconut so that it's sticking to the dulce de leche that's oozing out the middle, but I skip that simply because so many people have an aversion to coconut.  

Well, that is all.  I hope you enjoyed the treats.  My gift to you this Christmas.  Along with boring you to tears.  Oh, and this weird, slightly disturbing video card, too.  Merry Christmas, my friends. 

December 17, 2011

O Christmas Tree.

Well, I've made some progress since last weekend but haven't even started on the damn cards yet.  It seems nothing could go off without a glitch of some sort that cost me even more time than I planned.  WTF, is Mercury in retrograde or something?  I did get most of my baking done.  All of my shopping is done.  So I'm trying not to stress, although I've still been an irritable mess all week. 

I will say that I am enjoying my tree.  I'm so glad now that I put it up, which I knew would happen and is how I talked myself into putting it up in the first place.  Something you don't know about me which I'm sure you'll find riveting is that I love Christmas ornaments.  If you ever want to buy me a present, you can always buy me an ornament.  It's that easy.  Growing up, my mom always hit all the holiday craft shows in the fall and would inevitably buy each of us in the family a new ornament for the year.  More often than not, they had our name on them.  Quite often they touched on something personal about each one of us - a hobby or interest of some sort, a profession, etc.  After she died and we went through all the Xmas stuff, we each took our respective ornaments and also kept a few of the other classics, no matter how hideous.  So now, I have a tree with about 20 ornaments with my name on them.  It's rather ridiculous and to a stranger might look completely self-absorbed, but I what am I supposed to do?  Those are my childhood ornaments and I can't not put them up.  I'm single anyway, so I guess my tree should be all about me.   

Around my college years, I found myself buying my own ornaments when I saw something cool, even though I didn't necessarily have a tree to put them on at the time.  That continued, and to this day I make a point of buying myself at least one new ornament a year.  Some years it is just one (like this year), others I find several I want.  All of which has resulted in an ass-load of ornaments, which is the main reason it takes so god damn long to put my tree up.  Because, of course, each one is carefully wrapped in tissue paper, bubble wrap, or in the original box it came in.  But that's about to change, folks, because I have invested in an air-tight ornament box!  But I digress.  The ornaments I buy are obviously just for myself and my own tree, and in putting them up this year I realized that my tree definitely is somewhat of a representation of me.  My interests, where I've been in the world, personally nostalgic stuff, and random shit that for whatever reason floats my boat.  I think if a moderately astute stranger walked in and studied my tree, he could probably create a halfway decent personality profile of me.  And then I realized that this method could be applied to pretty much everyone.  My sister's tree, for example, is all about beauty, fanciness, color themes, and matchy-matchy.  This is completely congruent with her traditional, conservative, perfectionistic, orderly personality (she's a lot of fun though, really).  My brother's tree, IF he even manages to have one, basically amounts to a Charlie Brown tree.  Which completely fits his ADD, disorganized, non-creative- but-means-well personality.  This is perhaps a groundbreaking phenomenon I've stumbled upon here, folks.  What does your tree say about you? 

Following I will share some of my favorite ornaments with you fine people.  I wish I could get some photos of the entire thing that would do the tree justice, but to do so would require a tripod I don't have, and if you don't have a tripod, it's hard to get a proper shot.  But, I will tell you my tree has only white, blue and purple lights.  I have it rigged so that I can have all 3 on at once, just the colors, or just the white (which I never do).  My mood changes, and hence, so does my choice of lights.  I'm sure there's some deeper meaning behind all that.  Ready for the ornament tour?  Here we go...

My best friend from college gave me that pickle back when we were in college, so that is an oldie.  The martini I bought for myself sometime in my later 20's, after discovering how delicious martinis are.  It's made of glass and I always worry about it breaking.

Of course you knew that the Muppets would be representin' on my tree.  That one's a Hallmark and I jumped for joy when I found it, because that scene in The Muppet Movie when Kermit is riding the bike is freakishly weird and awesome.  The one to your right is probably in my top 3 of all time:  A weber grill, complete with t-bones and a can of beer on the side (which is not very visible). 

Say hello to Mr. Hankey the Christmas poo!  To his right is one of my Day of the Dead ornaments, along with a Spanish guitar that actually plays Feliz Navidad.  I love ornaments that do stuff.

What you likely can't see here is that Curious George is on top of a turntable holding a record.  And you know how I love vinyl.  Elvis is to his right. That was one that my mom bought me when I was in my 20's, although I was with her when we found it.  She was going to have them write my name on it like usual, but I told her that wasn't right because it was Elvis and that would be weird.  But I like to commemorate the year of the ornament, so I had them write, "Alive in '95".  It's on his leg.  In the bottom right corner you'll find classic Rudolph along with an elf.  The nose lights up on that one.  Lucy speaks for herself.  Every year when I get that one out I curse Hallmark for there being no button to make those lights on her booth go on.  It seems so obvious - why didn't they do that?  Why, Hallmark, WHY?! 

For whatever reason I am drawn to things in miniature form.  Like that tiny weber grill with tiny t-bones.  I love that tiny little globe ornament, which spins and has pretty colors and sparkles, just like Earth should.  The alien in his ufo was added only a few years ago, and it's superbly cliché.  I found that thing at Target, of all places, just months after having seen The Fourth Kind  and being completely obsessed with alien stuff at the time.  In the bottom left corner we have beloved Hermey, the elf from Rudolph who wanted to be a dentist.  That was not a find, that one was searched for and I had to pay some extra bucks for him because he was a previously-released Hallmark, which means Hermeys are not easy to come by.

Ah, this one brings back fond memories of a very fun trip to the Netherlands with my BFF.  I think the trip was in '96 or maybe it was '98.  We took a side trip to Delft, the origin of Delft pottery, and I bought this there.  I'm not gonna lie, we smoked a lot of pot on this trip.

The last gem I'll share is this.  A pinball-playing Bugs Bunny with that zany Daffy busting out of the machine.  When you pull the handle, it lights up as it is doing in this photo, makes pinball noises, and there is an actual ball bouncing around, which you can see in-motion in between Bugs and Daffy's mouths.  This would be the most high-tech of my ornaments.

Well, that is all.  I shall bore you no further.  I bet now you feel you know me better after getting a closer glimpse of my tree, don't you?

December 11, 2011

Preparing for the Holidays.

I'm in the Christmas spirit.  Sort of.  I'm not all gung-ho silly about it.  In fact I've been known to bitch about it here and there to anyone who will listen as of late, mostly about how everything to do with Christmas takes so god damn much time, and how December somehow always goes 4x faster than any other month of the year.  And keep in mind here I don't consider myself one to make a big deal of Christmas anymore, "big deal" being a relative term depending on what you're used to and what you know.  It used to be a bigger deal and a lot more work, but times were different then.  Once my mom passed away and I became an orphan, a lot of things changed, big and small.  One of those things was Christmas.  The holiday used to pretty much revolve around my mother and around the immediate family.  My siblings traveled into town every year with their families and we had various traditions and rituals repeated without fail every year.  After my mom died, my sister understandably decided to start her own traditions with her own family at her own house.  My brother, however, married a Jew, and coming "home" for Christmas was all they knew in their 20+ years together and all he knew his entire life.  It was the only perception of the holiday my niece and nephew ever had.  So for the first few years they came home, as we all still mourned my mom, the many changes in our lives, and together adapted to the reality of our holiday situation as we created our own new traditions, while keeping some of the old ones for balance and sanity.  We made it work.  And then my brother moved further away than he already was, and things changed again.  My sister-in-law got really sick the following year and couldn't travel, so that was my first Christmas without family.  Which happened rather last minute under the circumstances, and I thought would be really hard but surprisingly found it wasn't.  I did what I wanted to do, didn't stress about anything, didn't worry about anyone else, kept a few of the traditions in tact, and spent it with various close friends who are like family anyway.  The last few years since then it's been discussed and decided amongst all of us that we will stay put in our respective hometowns.  It's too expensive and hectic for my siblings and their entire families to fly home for the holidays (driving not an option).  And although they would love for me to come to either of them, or for us all to gather at one of their places, I have no interest.  When the "what are we going to do about Christmases" conversations first began happening, I realized something.  I don't want to be anywhere other than home.  I would love to see my family for the holidays, but being at home trumps that.  Even if it means being home with zero family.  Some people don't understand that (my siblings do).  Some people, I can tell, feel sorry for me because I'm "alone" at Christmas.  But they shouldn't because I'm doing what I want to do, and I'm far from alone - I'm just without family.  But the thing is, my friends ARE my family too so I'm really not without family either.  I was just a kid when my much-older siblings were out of the house and off at college, so growing up my friends were my siblings, and to me those relationships are just as meaningful as those with my blood relatives.  When I think about what I really love about Christmas, the common denominator is being home.  I'm a winter person to begin with, and being in a cold climate is vital for a proper Christmas (my sibs both live in warm climates).  I've spent every single Christmas of my life in my hometown.  If it's not bone-chilling cold on Christmas, then something is horribly wrong.  I love driving back to my house late at night on Xmas eve and seeing the steam come out of sewers as I pass houses with glowing lights and enjoy the quiet streets of the late-night before Christmas.  Another key tradition that relates to home is that several good friends always come to town.  Having them here, all of the gang being together again like the old days (and going the same places, of course) - that is a huge part of Christmas tradition for me.  I can't imagine missing all that.

You see, change is hard for me.  Hard for everyone, but I think I probably struggle with it a bit more than the average person.  I floundered through those first few Christmases after my mom died, but over time realized the one thing about Christmas I love that I have control over and doesn't have to change is my location.  And it's so much more than a location.  It's where it feels and looks like Christmas.  It's the only place where certain key traditions can still be kept intact.  It's the one spot where I can find the largest percentage of the people I love most in this world.  Simply being home for the holidays is a comfort in and of itself.  It is exactly where I'm supposed to be. 

So, back to my original point about preparing for the holidays.  Since I don't have a bunch of family coming to town for Christmas anymore, the nice thing is that this means less work for me and I can commit to as much or as little holiday spirit as I please.  The downside is that there are certain things I always feel I have to do no matter what, and those things still take a lot of time, so I still end up feeling stressed out to some degree trying to get everything done in time even though I have no one to please other than myself.  One of those things is baking.  I used to do a significant amount of baking when the whole family would be around - I'm talking a dozen different kinds of cookies and candies.  Now I've scaled it back to making just a few (2-4) of my specialties that have developed a cult following over time, but they all happen to be labor-intensive and time-consuming so that part sucks.  For whatever reason, I also feel compelled to send Christmas cards.  I used to send them to literally every friend and family member.  It was completely asinine how many cards I was sending.  I scaled that back too, and now I just send to out-of-towners, which are all my relatives mind you, but also a few friends and other random people I don't talk to/see much.  Still, we're talking around 30 cards here, and of course, I also feel compelled to write some sort of note since these are people I don't see often.  I literally feel like I have to, like it would be rude otherwise, even though I don't feel that way if it happens to me.  So my compromise with myself is that I do a personal note, but I type it to save time.  Times they are a changin', but at least it's still a personal note.  The last holiday chore that is also crucial to me is putting up the tree.  Even though I'm the only one who is going to enjoy it, even though it's a ton of work for one female that takes an entire Sunday to complete, I feel the need to have the tree up.  It's non-negotiable.  And did I mention time consuming?  More on this to come (the suspense is killing you, I'm sure), but I'm happy to report that this chore is complete.  But there is a lot more work to be done and today is crucial for productivity if I am to be ready, have stuff shipped off and mailed in time, etc.  Why do I continue to stress myself out about this stuff, especially now that I don't really have to?  It's a mystery.  Or, maybe not.  Maybe some degree of Christmas preparation stress is part of the tradition as well.  Maybe because I feel my current Xmas situation now "allows" me to, I've unconsciously scaled back the stress to an amount that's more tolerable, yet still have enough of it for the Season to feel comfortably familiar.  A light bulb just went off there.  Now I know why I do this to myself.

Clearly I'm doing nothing but procrastinating here.  God dammit, I'm off to get more shit done, even though I'd rather watch paint dry.  I will be knee deep in melted chocolate making my famous Chocolate Salty Balls and homemade caramels in no time, having a love/hate relationship with it all in the process.  And now thanks to this little rant/therapy session, I'll be lucky if I accomplish 2/3 of what I wanted to today though.  Sigh.  Yep, it's Christmas.