Sunday, September 28, 2008

I Can't Deliver A Line

At the doctor's office this week, a conversation between me and the nurse:

Nurse: Do you smoke?

Me: No, but every year it's my New Year's Resolution to start smoking. Of course, I don't keep my resolutions.

Nurse: Smoking is terrible for your health, I'm sure you know that.

Me: Yeah, I was joking. Every year I say my New Year's Resolution is that I'm going to START smoking - but since every year I don't keep my resolutions, it's the perfect resolution. Get it? You can use it if you want!

Nurse: I hate smoking, so, I don't think I'd want to start.

Me: Um, yeah - that's kinda my point.

Nurse: [blank look] I'll bring you some anti-smoking literature before you leave.

You can all thank me now for never applying for a writing job for, oh, Friends or Seinfeld. I'm sure you can gather they were breaking down my door trying to access my brainage. You're welcome.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Blobs Of Peace

There are moments when I am transported into the full realization of just how dumb, as a human, I truly am. One such moment is when I look over and catch one of my dogs drinking water from his bowl, his tail wagging FURIOUSLY. He is ECSTATIC over drinking water. And I stand there riveted, humbled, enchanted. I want to drink water and wag my tail, man! I want that kind of living-in-the-moment, that kind of inner peace. Honestly though, I'm just not that great at the inner peace stuff. So then I was wondering, during my day-to-day nonsense, where ARE my daily moments when I'm actually in the moment and/or cultivating some peace? It's a sad little list:

-The first sip of my morning latte. Aka, the a.m. mouthgasm. OH IT BURNS too, and in a good way. There is no better investment than a good espresso machine. It's the first step toward World Peace. They say it begins at home people. Well, I'm telling you - it begins with a latte.

-Here comes the usual freakdom: smelling my dogs' necks, ears, breath. JUST love it. My dogs just smell so damn adorable, it's ridiculous. I should bottle it and sell it. I'd totally make 2 dollars.

-Hiking. I hike 2-3 times a week and this usually helps me actually notice there is nature outside my door and not just cars, laptops, mail, phone calls, and jerks.

-Baking. Because I'm really quite a scattered baker, I absolutely must concentrate when I'm baking - so I'm often in-the-moment while baking, which can be kind of lovely. Unless it goes wrong, which it often does - and then I just feel like a total ass for concentrating so completely yet still failing miserably. Hmmm, so maybe it's not so peaceful? Where am I going with this? Do we even care?

-Reading. I like to read every night before bedtime. Love how it makes me feel cozy and peaceful and sleepy. Except when the ceiling fan above me is turned on high (too early, that is) and it dries my eyes out completely and I can't even read anymore! Then, buzzkill. Wide AWAKE! See, now why did I have to add that last part? This entire post is just going to shit before our eyes, isn't it?

Okay, see why peace is so tough to pursue? What a sucky list indeed. I used to do yoga quite regularly, meditate, and write a little positive grateful-something each night in a journal. I'm just feeling off track here, big surprise. It makes me curious: what do other people do to ensure some dang peace and serenity in their lives? I suppose the first step might be to not call it dang peace. Oh self, how did you think of that?

So with all this thinking about peace, I really could not resist making Dorie Greenspan's World Peace Cookies. I'd been wanting to try them for months and it seemed the perfect time had arrived.

World Peace Cookies

First of all, if you don't own Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home To Yours, I will pray to the Dalai Lama for your souls - past, present, and future. This is, by far, my favorite cookbook for baking - and actually, my favorite cookbook, period. I can't even begin to tell you what a great resource it is for everything baking, how beautiful it is, and how wonderfully it's written - just a fabulous book. These chocolaty cookies are delicious; kind of like a sandy, flat brownie with a bit of soft crunch and nubs of chocolate goo here and there. Now, if that can't foster world peace, what can?

1 1/4 AP flour
1/3 c. cocoa powder
1/2 t. baking soda
11 T unsalted butter, room temp.
2/3 c. light brown sugar
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 t. fine sea salt
1 t. vanilla
3/4 c. mini chocolate chips

Sift flour, cocoa, baking soda together. In a bowl, beat butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla and beat for 2 minutes. Turn off mixer. Add sifted dry ingredients, pulsing at low speed to avoid flying flour. Once flour has combined a bit, continue to mix at low speed for about 30 seconds, just until flour disappears into the dough; dough may be a bit crumbly. Toss in chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.

Turn dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Shape each half into logs that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap logs in plastic wrap and place in fridge for at least 3 hours.

Center a rack in the oven, preheat to 325F, and line 2 baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Slice logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick; if rounds crack a bit as you slice, no worries - just pinch the bits back onto each cookie. Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving 1-inch between them. Bake one sheet at a time for 12 minutes - they won't look done and won't be firm, which is perfect! Transfer baking sheet to cooling rack and let cookies rest until just warm - then serve, or allow to come to room temp. Makes about 36 cookies. ENJOY!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Here I Go Again

On the hiking trail again today. Ahead of me were two women walking a large sheepdog.

Woman 1: You know what I read recently - is that in larger cities like in New York, you can now rent pets. Isn't that great?

Woman 2: [laughing] Are you serious?

Woman 1: Oh yeah! You can rent a pet for while, or a weekend, or rent one for a walk. I mean, I guess in a big city maybe you don't want a pet for life, but it'd be nice for here or there, or for a day.

Woman 2: Yeah, I guess it's a good thing huh? You can sell anything these days!

Woman 1: Yeah, like maybe if you were a divorced Dad and had the kids for a weekend, you could rent a puppy or a dog for the kids. Or if you were lonely, you could rent a dog for the week. What a great idea! Pet Rentals!

YEAH. Because animals don't bond at all, hmmmm? They have no feelings, no separation anxiety, and should be treated as RENTAL PROPERTY, yes? Let's just rent them out to the kind of humans who actually think animals are rent-able and continue to reinforce the notion that we humans seem to think that creatures other than us are disposable. Yes, brilliant.

Next up: how I feel about renting abandoned children! Not sure if you want children?
Rent a Kid! Try it on!

I swear I need a room in my house where I can just smash stuff. I need a fainting couch.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Mountainside With Caterpillars

I haven't been posting as often lately - I don't know what it is really; perhaps a bit of not-much-going-on-ness or even a bit of heaviness in the air. At times, stuff just pours out of me, other times...not so much. Then last week, I read this post and ding ding ding - I finally had a diagnosis: an emotional hangover. Not from anything specific really, just from a lot of little things I've picked up here and there - little pieces of baggage I'm programmed to pick up and carry for others. Emotional hangover, yes. I checked Pfizer's website already, by the way, and there is NO new pill for it. And no matter how many aspirin I take or who I call in the morning, there it is - this lingering emotional hangover.

Luckily, we live right at the base of a mountain (a Phoenix "mountain", that is) near a trailhead of miles and miles of hiking. Upon these trails, I sometimes lose that hangover for a while and - I SWEAR - the "writing" just POURS out in my head, just CRYSTAL CLEAR - and I get home, sit down to type it out - and what comes out is this: bleh, meh, blergh. It's gone. So, either my memory is shit - or my mind is creating its own fish tales. But still, those trails are an inspiring place.

On Saturday, I went on a long hike and about 30 minutes up the mountain I came upon what I can only describe as a "caterpillar migration". These caterpillars were yellow and black, ranging from about an inch long to three inches long - and there were hundreds and hundreds and HUNDREDS of them on the trail. I've never seen anything like it. All headed in one direction - downward-ish, north-ish - but I don't know where, exactly. I kept hiking - well, tiptoeing now, for the next quarter mile - with no visible end to the caterpillars.

Eventually, I decided to turn around because I was just too worried about stepping on the little creatures during their important journey, and tiptoeing wasn't proving especially enjoyable either. It was interesting to notice the other humans on the trail - some, like me, were also marveling at these little creatures - even taking pictures. Many, like me, were stepping carefully. Were the caterpillars aware we were stepping carefully for them? Probably not, but we did it for them anyways.

Am I always aware of those who step carefully around my path? Definitely not, but they do it for me anyways. I just want to say thanks, man - I try to do the same for you, even when you don't notice.

And then there were those who just trampled along carelessly, not bothering to notice whose path they might be trampling, traversing, crushing, altering, obliterating. It was right then I realized where my emotional hangover was coming from, where it always generally comes from, usually.
Human bulldozers. And, until someone makes a good pill for them or for us, we're totally stuck with the kind of humans who trample everyone's paths, you know? Frickin' caterpillar smushers - they are dead to me. And they give me the worst damn hangovers. And by the way, here's your baggage back - because it's just not mine to carry for you - nor for all that you smush out there in that world of yours.

So, I went for another hike today (Monday) and only saw a few caterpillars on the trail, but looked around at some of the foliage - and sure enough, I found some of them hangin' out on the Ocotillos and other desert foliage. Why they were ALL traveling in one spot, on one day, in one direction, at the same time, I've no idea - but it was a pretty cool sight to see, and I kind of cherish it. Man, they can ORGANIZE.

To further "melt away" my emotional hangover - bad pun warning - I decided to make some freakin' perfect looking late-summer cookies I recently saw from Martha Stewart. Tony loves the taste of lemon-lime (IF I can get him past chocolate, that is) - so when I heard the title Lime Meltaways - I was sold, almost purely on metaphor potential.

[See the bit of lime zest inside the cookie? Heaven!]

Lime Meltaways

These are just a lovely, lovely cookie. They are like a meltaway shortbread with a light taste of lime. They're slightly sweet and buttery - yet, they're very light and easy, and they definitely have a "meltaway" quality. Many people suggest this as a holiday cookie as well, and I could envision adding any flavor to this recipe such as almond, cinnamon, cardamom, or whatever. I brought them into work, of course, and *boom* - they were gone and lusted after (guys really seem to like lime, anyone notice that?). They're quite darling little cookies too - great for a party.

3/4 c. unsalted butter, room temp.
1 c. powdered sugar
finely grated zest of 3 limes
2 T. fresh lime juice
2 T. vanilla extract
1 3/4 c. + 2 T. AP flour
2 T. cornstarch
1/4 t. coarse salt

Using electric mixer, whisk butter and 1/3 c. powdered sugar in bowl on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Add lime zest, juice, vanilla - mix until fluffy. In another bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, salt - add to butter mixture and mix on low speed until just combined.

Divide dough in half. Roll each half into a log 1 1/4 inch in diameter. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350F and have baking sheet lined with parchment. Cut logs into 1/4-inch thick rounds and place slices on baking sheets 1-inch apart. Bake until barely golden on bottom of cookie, about 13 minutes, rotating the sheet 1/2 way through. Transfer cookies to wire rack for cooling, 8-10 minutes. While still warm, toss cookies with remaining 2/3 c. sugar in a plastic bag (or bowl). Cookies can be stored in airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. ENJOY!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


So, the emails I receive from readers often contain similar questions, so I'll soon be creating an "About" page that will answer some of these queries. For now, I thought I'd answer THE most frequently asked questions I receive via email:

Why in creation did you
name this place Velvet Lava Cafe? It's so lame.

I know, isn't it? It's because I really couldn't think of a damn thing at the time and just wanted to start writing. So, I took my two favorite desserts - Red Velvet Cake and Molten Lava Cake - and combined them into the disaster you now see before you. I flog myself daily for it.

Seriously, are you the size of a house? With all these desserts?

Well, like which house are you talking about? A doll house? Okay, no. See, I don't eat all the stuff I bake. We eat some individual portions at home - and then I bring the rest in for my co-workers, who now despise me to no living end. Also, I have a treadmill at home - and I get my ass ON IT and run like hell. Also, we go for runs, walks, hikes, and I burn a lot of calories just from complaining about shit. And, I eat pretty well; as in, lots of protein, fiber, and some veggies. If we eat out, it's mainly sushi.

Okay, give it UP. What DO you eat for breakfast and lunch from that ONE post?

Come on, MAN, let it GO! Why are people still on that? It's a good breakfast, but it's a dumb lunch - dumb! Fine. Call me out - caller outer! Breakfast is Light Vanilla Yogurt mixed with PB2 powder (thus, creating heavenly peanut butter yogurt beyond description), then toss in a cup of Kashi GoLean Cereal: consume. Okay? For the DUMB lunch: first, I have about 3/4 cup of low-fat cottage cheese so I get my OCD-protein allotment (sprinkled with Mrs. Dash Table Blend for you hair-splitters); after that, I have a cup of Fiber One cereal (the plain kind, otherwise known as rabbit food). Why? Because I'm scarred.

And all you other runners out there? You know you're just as neurotic as me about protein and complex carbs - so don't even try to hide behind your protein drinks out there, because I've got your number - you OCD nutballs, you. I better hear your support in comments. Yeah, I'm lookin' at you, Manager Mom and Kspinning!

Why do you use the [ - ] dash all the time?

You noticed that? Well, I'm just not satisfied with the current state of acceptable and more ubiquitous forms of punctuation - and the pauses they spawn, or don't spawn, in my writing. So, I often feel I need the dash for the proper break that I'm looking for in my head, as I'm writing. In other words, I have 2 realities going on and this [-] is my little bridge. You should try it. Because the semi-colon, period, colon, and all that? So last millennium.

What kind of camera do you use? And, do you shave or wax your legs?

Isn't that kinda personal, about my camera? Well, as far as the legs go - I shave. I tried waxing and holy hell - remember The 40 Year Old Virgin when he's getting his chest waxed and he screams out "NIPPLEFUCK!" in pain? That's how I feel about ripping hairs out of their follicles, pretty much.

As for the camera, I use the Nikon D40 - which I chose for its small size (it was between the D40, D80, and D200). For lenses, I use the Sigma 30mm f/1.4, Nikon 50mm f/1.8 (doesn't AF on the D40, btw, which is why I bought the Sigma), and my new baby - the Nikon 60mm f/2.8 Micro. The camera came with a 17-55mm kit lens, which I don't use for food photography - but would use for a few other things. I mostly use natural light, but sometimes have to use a flash. Don't let anyone tell you that you cannot use a flash - you just don't want a flash that points directly at the object. Buy a flash that has "tilt" or "bounce" capabilities - play around with it, and you can basically mimic daylight, when needed.

Why is there is no recipe for Lava Cakes?

Yeah, you caught that. Well, you see - I have about 10 different recipes for lava cakes and, therefore, [and this should be no surprise to anyone reading this blog for a while] am paralyzed as to which one to post here. So, the answer - clearly - is to post none at all, because that's how I roll. In other words, I don't roll - I just freeze instead.

You're obsessed with kitchen tools, but what is your all time favorite?

Oh, wow. I feel like I've just been punched. I'm not even sure how to answer this - i.e., favorite aesthetically? Utilitarian? Frequency? Okay, I will have to go with my Global Knives. I JUST love them to no end. They are heaven to use and are simply gorgeous as well - I love their design. I have the Santoku, a paring knife, and a serrated knife. But, it's the Santoku I have the real affair with and often stroke lovingly.

Well, that's all for now folks. If you have any other burning questions, drop me an email - because you guys are damn funny.