Sunday, October 18, 2009

Having Your Cake

Cake? Cake?! Did someone say, "Cake"??!!

I love cake. My Twitter friend MuchAdo1 has even written about my special affection for cake in her blog.

Of course, anybody who knows me knows I love sweets in general, but I reserve a special place in my heart and in my stomach for cake. There is something about its velvety goodness that not only tempts the taste buds, but settles the stomach. Let's face it: the best part of a wedding is the cake. Even the word "wedding" looks and sounds like "cake" to me. Similarly, birthday presents are great, but the best part of a birthday is - you guessed it - cake. Like "wedding," "birthday" equals "cake" in my world.

The texture of a cake has to be just right. Not too dry, and not too moist. There must be a certain weight to the structure of the cake so it has some substance. Yet there must be a lightness that allows me to forget about chewing and simply let the spongy, fluffy goodness melt in my mouth. This is one reason I detest having foreign matter in my cake. It makes it very difficult for cake to melt smoothly in my mouth when obstacles like nuts, fruit, or coconut stand in the way. They are intrusive interlopers that have no place in a perfect cake.

The requirements that I have of my cake are exacting because they are what make cake the perfect delivery vehicle for frosting. The cake and the frosting combine to create a sugary bliss of taste and texture that can be achieved by no other dessert. The more frosting, the better, as far as I'm concerned. Layer it on thick! As delicious as cake is by itself, it attains its highest calling as a method of transporting frosting from the fork to the mouth.

And, of course, the frosting has to be the right kind. None of that wimpy stuff that resembles Cool Whip for me. And fondant? Bleah! Don't even come near me with it! Yet while a good, heavy ganache or torte frosting is nice once in a while, give me an old-fashioned buttercream frosting or the lovely sweetness Duncan Hines puts in a can. And for the love of all that's edible, don't put any of the aforementioned foreign matter in my frosting, either! A nice, smooth frosting piled thickly on a great cake is melt-in-your-mouth heaven. What else could I possibly need?

Naturally, the frosting between layers of cake should be at least as thick as the frosting on top. Thin, skimpy crumb coats are for wusses! I also find it an unfortunate trend that many commercial bakeries are going to a fruit filling between layers instead of the substance God intended – MORE FROSTING! Fruit filling between layers qualifies as more of that foreign matter I mentioned previously. It stabs a sharp dagger of intense fruitiness between the ribs of the otherwise-smoothly flavored cake that delivers a fatal blow to the whole cake-consuming experience. If I am unfortunate enough to be served such a piece of cake, I will scrape out the offending fruit filling before dining on the deserving part of the cake.

But let us rid our minds of such horrors. I prefer to think instead upon a smooth, velvety cake with piles of sweet buttercream frosting. A great cake built to my high standards is heaven on a plate and ecstasy in your mouth. I am sure to have lots of it at the next wedding or birthday party I attend. If you see me there, be sure to cut me a corner piece with lots of frosting on it. Meanwhile, I have some baking to do.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Celebrating National Punctuation Day

Thursday, September 24 is National Punctuation Day. In honor of that revered holiday, I submit the following:

It seems no one does punctuation properly. Whole industries have grown up around the appropriate use of punctuation, yet despite all the helpful hints and quick and dirty tips we never seem to get it right. Even the experts argue among themselves about the correct application of punctuation. So why not ditch the whole system?

Let’s say we eliminate only those symbols that end sentences. We could save a whole lot of aggravation, not to mention ink. America and Britain could finally stop fighting about whether periods go inside or outside the quotation marks.

On the other hand, we would not know whether a writer is shouting, speaking in a normal tone of voice, or asking a question. Of course, shouting could be easily conveyed by the relatively recent and unfortunate trend of using all capital letters. Perhaps for questions we could make use of another annoying development: that of alternating uppercase and lowercase letters. Leaving a sentence with the standard mix of capital and lowercase letters could indicate a normal tone of voice.

Having solved that problem, how would we then know when to shut up? Without terminal punctuation, sentences would run into each other and soon pile up in a big lexicographical chain-reaction crash. The never-ending babble of words would devolve into nonsense. “I went running. Down the drainpipe . . .” would become “I went running down the drainpipe . . .”

Next, we should consider what would happen if we got rid of those pesky in-sentence indicators of pauses, compound modifiers, and possessives. On the positive side, we would no longer have to agonize over whether to use an em-dash or an en-dash. Disagreements about the serial comma would lose their venom and arguments over apostrophe placement would be a thing of the past.

But without that kind of punctuation, we would no longer know what belonged to whom. Anarchy would reign! We wouldn’t know where to pause, landing ourselves in a suffocating world where breathing is relegated to the status of a rarely-practiced luxury. Worse, we wouldn’t know if a green-legged aardvark had green legs and perhaps a purple body, or if said green legged aardvark were green all over and we were simply commenting on the state of its physical support system. It would be utter chaos.

Of course, there’s the nuclear option: We all stop writing and rely solely on spoken communication. There would be no more misunderstandings over misread tones of voice. Faulty interpretation due to syntactical errors and misplaced modifiers would no longer occur. A golden age of communication would be born and we could all bask in the glow of being perfectly understood at all times.

Then the real world would intrude. Green legged aardvarks everywhere might demand a more exact method of describing themselves, not to mention the poor people who don’t particularly care to run down drainpipes. Maybe our current system of punctuation, even with all its faults and imperfections, is not so bad after all. Whole industries can breathe sighs of relief and purveyors of helpful hints and quick and dirty tips can go right on hinting and tipping.

Perhaps the true utopia lies not in a new age of verbal communication, but in that ideal state where the unlettered masses realize that punctuation enthusiasts are not being annoying twerps after all. Instead, they are holding the fabric of our society together. Let us hope that National Punctuation Day brings us one step closer to that goal.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Visiting Columbus

Usually, when Gizmo and I go somewhere, it is to visit somebody we know or do sight-seeing at some nationally known location. But last weekend, when we went to Columbus, we had no plans to see anything of note and our sole intention was to meet people we'd never seen before in our lives. We were there to visit our Twitter friends.

They treated us like visiting royalty. Our first stop was at the home of @shpef and @UR_AY_GAS. They not only had a wonderful lunch spread (and brownies!!) set out for us, but they invited us to spend the night there. We spent Saturday afternoon visiting with them and @leann_purdy before setting out for the evening tweetup at the Crimson Cup, an excellent little cafe.

The weather was perfect and we sat outside sipping beverages and munching goodies. My drink of choice was the frozen hot chocolate, which I highly recommend. I was amazed at the number of people who came out just to meet little old us! As cohesive a group as the Columbus twitterers seem to be, I was surprised at how many in our little group said they weren't following others who were also there. Of course, they pulled out iPhones and other twitter gadgets to rectify that situation that as soon as they could. There was even one who created a Twitter account on the spot!

Gizmo and I were thrilled to meet @taz288, @leann_purdy, @hesster56, @aharperhess (who runs the @crimsoncup account), @jlh_photo, @cherylharrison, @1datarecovery, @jconley21, @alonglens, @nicolegiaco, @billygiacomelli, and @1grrlrevolution and her family. Seeing how they mixed together made it obvious why the Columbus social media scene works so well.

Sunday morning saw us at Christian Life Church with @rockson and @mrsrockson. People at the church greeted us like long-lost friends (and commiserated wryly about our mutual friendship with @rockson). Lunch afterward at the historic landmark Bun's Restaurant in Delaware was delicious. I actually let some of the others at the table have some of the bread that was served.

Crowning the weekend was our Sunday dinner at BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse with the Mind Bleach crew: @alonglens, @Goodguy76, @jconley21, and @klab. Goodguy's wife and two daughters were there too (the sons were occupied elsewhere), and it made for a great dinner. The highlight of the evening was when a zealous server knocked Goodguy's beverage all over Conley, making for an uncomfortable evening for the poor fellow.

But we didn't let that get in the way of a good time. We talked together as if we'd known each other all our lives, and the capper of the evening was Gizmo and I going to @alonglens' apartment for the live broadcast of the Mind Bleach podcast. We sat in the comfort of @alonglens' living room with a laptop computer typing snarky comments to the podcast's chat room while @alonglens attempted (mostly successfully) to do the podcast with co-host @Goodguy76.

Overall, I'm happy to report that all the people we met are exactly as they seem online: warm, friendly, funny, and willing to do anything for you. In addition to being my online friends, I am proud to now call them my real life friends as well. The residents of Columbus, Ohio are fabulous people and they live in a great town. (It's not college football season yet, so it's OK for a Michigan fan like me to say that.) Thank you for an unforgettable trip, everyone!

P.S. Go Blue!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Remembering the Moon Landing

Forty years ago today, men landed on the moon. I was five years old and I'll never forget it.

We were at Grandma's house in Vincennes, Indiana. She had a black-and-white TV that received only three stations (as opposed to the whopping eleven stations we got at home in Ypsilanti, Michigan), but that's all we needed. Since Neil Armstrong's first step took place somewhat later at night than I'm sure my parents would have allowed me to stay up at that age, what is in my memory must be replays that aired the next day. Nevertheless, I watched in wonder as Walter Cronkite narrated the adventure for the world. I don't specifically remember Neil Armstrong saying, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," but I distinctly recall thinking how funny he looked as he bounded across the moon's surface as if he were on some strange trampoline.

Later that night, Dad took me outside to Grandma's front yard where we could see a waxing crescent moon shining down on all of us. He pointed to it and said, "Those men are up there right now." I strained my eyes and swore I could see little dots walking around on the surface.

Those were heady days. Gas stations gave away Apollo glasses that were fun to drink out of. Anything associated with the space program had a certain thrill to it. Astronauts who drank Tang and used Fisher Space Pens were heroes to a country in desperate need of them. The event became a byword. "We can put a man on the moon, but we can't ______ (fill in the blank - usually reserved for some mundane, even stupid, task)."

The excitement that gripped the nation inspired a five-year-old girl to think beyond the here-and-now to a future that is not only possible, but probable. I learned that pie-in-the-sky dreams are attainable if you but have a craft that can reach them.

To all of today's Chicken Littles who would have us huddle in fear of everything and everyone, I say, "Phhbbbbt." These people cannot possibly have lived in a time when dreams were achievable and risks were worth taking. Or if they did, they did not learn its lessons.

But for the rest of us, the world is full of adventures, and we have only to stretch our hands out to grasp them. Aim high and reach for the sky! What a great attitude. What a great way to live life! What better legacy could the first manned moon landing bequeath to us forty years later?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Untangling Earbuds

They say the only sure things are death and taxes, but I'd like to add "tangled earbuds" to that short list of life's certainties. Like the gravitational constant, I think it must be a physical law of the universe that earbuds tangle themselves no matter how carefully you lay them down.

To satisfy the empiricist in me, I have experimented with this extensively. When I am finished listening to my favorite podcasts, I lay my earbuds flat on my computer desk where they should peacefully wait until later in the day when I load my iPod Shuffle with fresh, new podcasts. During the time I am gone, nobody is home but our lazy cat, who has never jumped on said computer desk. One would think that when I got back, the earbuds would be exactly as I had left them.

But alas, no. When I pick up my poor earbuds, they have tangled themselves into an impossible Gordian knot that takes me more hours to untie that it would take me to solve a Rubik's cube (I'm still waiting on that little stroke of brilliance, in case you're wondering).

It's worse when I leave them overnight. When I go to bed, I take my trusty Shuffle upstairs and lay it carefully on my side of the bathroom counter. Again, no matter how neatly I arrange the earbud cords, they are hopelessly tangled by morning. I have learned to set my alarm early enough to allow time for the inevitable exercise in untangling that I must undergo every morning. I think Earbud Untangling should count as part of my workout routine, but Gizmo is not convinced.

Personally, I suspect the Sock Alien. I think he creeps out of the dryer when he's done playing with the assorted single socks he absconded with on laundry day. He slithers along and, finding no additional socks, is irresistably attracted to my earbuds. It's like gravity or something. See? I knew the gravitational constant figured into this somehow.

I wonder what would happen if I put a nice, clean sock on the floor directly underneath my poor earbuds? I shall have to experiment!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Going to Phoenix

A great vacation consists of good air, good fun, good eats, and good friends. I had all of the above last week when EdGizmo and I went to Phoenix.

Good Air

The first indication that we weren't in Michigan any more was when our plane landed in Phoenix and I spied the palm trees that lined the runway. The second indication was the almost-hot puff of air that blew over us as we left the plane - the kind of hot you'd never feel in Michigan on the second day of March.

What really told me we weren't in Michigan anymore was the aroma. Once we got our rental car (some foreign jobby-sorry, Dad) and were driving down the road, I opened the windows and inhaled. It smelled like spring, yet no spring I'd ever experienced. I could detect some sort of blooms, but it wasn't the overpowering perfume of flowers. There was a gentle sweetness that was citrusy, but subtler than any fruit. I found out later it was orange blossoms. I think I'll forever associate that scent with Phoenix.

My body loved the Phoenix air. My skin is usually oily enough to supply an OPEC nation, but the arid climate turned it into something somewhat approaching normal. It felt fabulous, and I wondered if that's how most people's skin feels all the time. If so, I'm jealous! I quickly got used to needing only one paper towel to dry my hands (as opposed to the two or three I usually used) and my thick head of hair dried in record time.

And the warmth! The ninety-degree temps we had the first day would have been oppressive back home, but felt only a little on the warm side in Phoenix. The eighties we had over the next couple days felt more like perfect room-temperature weather. This feeling was enhanced by the fact that there wasn't so much as a hint of a breeze the whole time we were there. It wasn't until Thursday, when highs were in the seventies that we had to put our jeans back on in place of the shorts we'd been wearing previously.

Good Fun

As if just living and breathing the air in Phoenix weren't enough, I got to see a baseball game! Spring training was in full swing in Arizona, and we saw the Cubs play the Indians at Cleveland's brand new facility, Goodyear Park. It was a great game, which the Indians won, 5 - 4. Indians legend Bob Feller was there, and I shook his hand and got his autograph. We sat in the shade, ate hot dogs and ice cream, and took in the game. What could be better?

We also toured the Desert Botanical Garden, which featured a glass exhibit by Dale Chihuly. It was sometimes hard to tell where the plants ended and the glass began. The same could be said of Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West. The buildings blended in with the landscape so well that I could hardly tell anything was there until we were practically on top of it.

Good Eats

Of course, anytime we go to another city that has a Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, we have to go there. So we did, and it was delicious, as usual. There were a couple things they did differently there than other Ruth's Chris restaurants we've been to. When the hostess seated us, she replaced the white cloth napkins that were on the table with black ones. "So you don't get light-colored lint on your dark pants," she explained. Later, when our steaks came to us on their 500-degree plates, the servers asked us to raise our napkins in front of us so we wouldn't get splattered by the sizzling butter. I don't know if that's just a Phoenix thing, but regardless, it was a good idea.

Another great eatery we tried on a friend's recommendation was the Heart Attack Grill. They have precisely four entrees on their menu: a Single Bypass (a half-pound burger), a Double Bypass (with two half-pound patties), a Triple Bypass (with three half-pound patties) and a Quadruple Bypass (yes, two full pounds of hamburger). Their one side item is Flatliner Fries, cooked in lard, of course. No diet beverages are allowed in the establishment, and even the water comes in the bottled variety. Everything is served by waitresses in scanty nurses' costumes and the men who cook the burgers are dolled up in lab coats.

Good Friends

Far and away the highlight of our trip was getting to meet fellow Grammar Police officer Ruthie Cohen. She was warm, kind, generous, funny, and just a pleasure to be around. She played host for us, accompanying us to the Desert Botanical Garden, to dinner one night (Rock Bottom Brewery), and to lunch another day (Paradise Bakery). We felt so comfortable with her that we felt like we've known her for ages. Of course, I'm sure our acquaintance through the Grammar Police helped that, but she is one reason we definitely would like to go back to Phoenix.

I certainly hope to one day very soon.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Being a Speed Limit


Today is my birthday, and for the first time in five years, I'm a speed limit. For the last time until I hit 55 or 70, I am now one of the most common speed limits on American roads - 45. How cool is that?

Now if I were celebrating any other birthday, it wouldn't be as cool. After all, I don't know that there's anything particularly special about turning an age that just happens to be divisible by the number 5. Said birthdays are even less cool when they're not one of those mile markers like 25 or 75 that represent entire quarter centuries lived. By those standards, 45 is buried in ignominy.

It's different when you're turning an age that is divisible by 10. When your age ends in a zero, you've just finished living a(nother) decade of life and there's a whole new decade in front of you. The first one of these - when you turn 10 - is really neat because now you can count your age using double digits. The decades that follow mark transitions into different parts of life. Not only that, but it helps the increasingly aged mind that the math becomes much easier at a 10-year point.

There's something about the decade that makes those birthdays extra cool, too. We even talk about time in terms of decades. It's easy to refer to the sixties, seventies, eighties, or whatever. But who in the world talks about time in five-year increments? Think about it: while people may reminisce about the seventies, for instance, they just don't wax rhapsodic about the specific period of the late seventies. Of course, that may have more to do with the lame clothes and disco music of the time, but still . . . We just don't talk about fives the way we do tens. This is just another reason that some may be tempted to leave 45 in the dust of passing time.

But there are other cool things about being 45. For one thing, it's halfway to 90. I've got another 45 years before I'm really old. But, by far, the coolest thing about being 45 is that I'm now a speed limit. My age is posted on rectangular white signs for the whole world to see. Granted, said signs don't say "Julayne is 45," they simply say, "Speed Limit 45." But every time I pass one from now on, I'll know it means me.