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Posts Tagged ‘inspiration’

This is the latest version of my favorite chocolate cake recipe. It has been used (extensively) for layer cakes, sheet cakes, and cupcakes. Why a new recipe? With tweaks to the fat portion of the ingredients, this version has even more flavor (sorry, Canada, flavour), than the original, and is still simple, easy and quick to make. Oh, and if you happen to forget the butter and coconut oil in the microwave, this works as a fat-free recipe too. Ask me how I know;) I’ve also included an updated frosting recipe, because that’s what friends are for. It’s metric, because these days, that’s how I roll.

I like it. I hope you do too!

Truly Excellent Chocolate Cake, v. 2.0

Cake:
2 C. sugar (400g), half white, half brown
2 C. all-purpose flour (250g)
3/4 C. cocoa powder (88g)
2 t. (11.5g) baking soda
1 t. (4.3 g) baking powder
½+ t. (5g) kosher salt
2 eggs
1 C. buttermilk (or 1 scant cup milk, warmed with 1 T. white vinegar)*
1 C. coffee
2.8 oz. (80g) butter, melted
1.16 oz. (33g) coconut oil, melted
2 t. vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare one 9″ x 13” pan, two 8/9” cake pans, or 24 standard muffin tins, with butter and flour/cocoa powder or line with parchment paper (a lot less trouble).
2. Mix sugar, flour, cocoa, soda, powder and salt in a large bowl.
3. Add remaining ingredients, beat for 2 minutes.
4. Pour into baking pans and bake until tester comes out clean (30-35 minutes for cake pans, 35-40 minutes for large pan, or 22 minutes for cupcakes).
5. Let cool 10 minutes and remove from pan. Frost when cool.

* Note: I usually make a cup of coffee in a 2C glass measuring beaker, then add the vinegar and fill up to the two-cup line with milk. Voila!

. . . . . .

Buttercreamcheese Frosting:
100g butter, softened
160g cream cheese, softened
560g powdered sugar
pinch of salt, to taste
~½ t. vanilla
2 T. lemon juice, or some combination of lemon, orange juice concentrate, milk, cream, and/or Grand Marnier; this is the flavoring portion so tweak at will!

1. Cream butter and cheese together until whipped smooth, fluffy and white (can take up to 5 minutes but it’s worth it).
2. Sift powdered sugar, add to butter mixture in two parts, blend.
3. Add flavorings and beat another ~3 minutes until smooth, light, and spreadable. Adjust liquid as necessary to reach desired thickness.

Works well for anywhere you need a mostly white frosting, and colors well. Just ask my friend Uni the Unicorn!

Uni the Unicorn was a present for a six-year old’s birthday: Six layers of chocolate cake with buttercreamcheese frosting, a little marshmallow fondant for the eyebrows, and magic!

 

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My bird feeder is half full.

It’s an extra large “squirrel proof” version that almost lives up to its name. It’s tall and has a red metal cap and four weight-sensitive perches designed to give smaller birds a chance against the jays and cardinals and squirrels in the neighborhood, and mostly it works. Watching birds come into the yard is fun and satisfying for both humans and felines. Except that there’s a lot less to watch these days.

I haven’t refilled the feeder since last year. And it’s still half full. Where are the birds?

I’ve been wondering this every time Mr. Man and I are out and about. We live in an established suburb and when we first moved into our house the yard hosted raccoons and rabbits and groundhogs and once, a fluffy orange fox. Now only the squirrels and a few birds remain. The city is going through a burst of expansion, so perhaps it’s no surprise that the decline in surrounding farmland is taking a toll on the wildlife. Still, this shift feels new.

* * *

A New York Times article* brought this to a head for me. It’s not the first report I’ve seen on the topic, unfortunately, but we do (with apologies to The Day After Tomorrow) appear to be reaching a critical de-avian-ization point. Agricultural practices in particular have done a number on the insect population. Is it any surprise that birds will follow?

Insects and birds are all part of that delightful staple of elementary school classrooms, the food web. The next obvious questions are, “What’s next?” and “How long until it affects us?”

Public policy is one way to improve the situation. For example, the Farm Bill helps preserve habitat on private lands and provides an often much-needed economic buffer for farmers and other land owners. Don’t have acreage at your disposal? You can still make a difference by creating bird-friendly (and pollinator-friendly) yards.

But before we can make a better world, we need to envision that world.

* * *

“We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”
― J.K. Rowling

One of the best things about speculative fiction is that it allows us to test drive ideas, to spin them into the future, to weigh the potential positives and negatives without actually having to live through that AI or medical or environmental apocalypse.

It reminds me of something I said to a friend facing a life-changing decision: “Whatever you decide, do it on purpose.”

* * *

“We are our choices.”
― Jean-Paul Sartre

Some of the most terrifying words in the English language are “unintended consequences.” Fiction, particularly of the speculative variety, can help steer us through those dangerous waters, between Scylla and Charybdis.

Have a goal, consider the consequences. Then act on purpose.

Making sure that we aren’t on the list of species in decline by protecting the species around us? That seems like a terrific goal.

And maybe next year I’ll have to refill my bird feeder more often.

. . . . .
* tl;dr: Bird populations in France are experiencing “precipitous declines in agricultural regions, even among common birds well adapted to human activity” and scientists point to “the loss of insects, the major food source for many birds, as a likely result of pesticide use.” And before American and Canadian readers breathe a sigh of relief, “A report two years ago said that the problems for about a third of North American birds were urgent.” Ruh-ro!

 

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I love this so much I just can’t even say. The idea that a generation of Potterheads and aspiring Jedi and would-be superheroes are tackling the big issues of the day? Absolutely fantastic.

As Time correspondent Charlotte Alter put it,

“This is not just a generation that has grown up with school shootings,” she tweeted, before building her apt analogy. “It’s also a generation that grew up reading Harry Potter.”

It’s everything I love about storytelling and everything I want for society. To those writing the good fight, from Tolkien to Rowling to all of you working to make the world a better place through storytelling…

Thank you.

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Oh hey, don’t ask me how but it’s the end of October already. This holiday I bring you the winner of The Most Awesome Costume award (as determined by yours truly):

/zomg, now I so want a speeder:)
Happy Halloween!

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I’m getting back to a more regular writing schedule after this summer (ok, year) of nuttiness, but that’s not all I’m doing. Last week’s project was to make a fleece shawl.


The shawl works as a wrap, blanket or pillow. It’s reversible, washable and nigh-on indestructible. It’s good for foggy mornings or chilly hospital rooms. It also has custom embroidery with what could be the motto for this crazy year. I made it for my aunt, a wonderful, free-wheeling, tough-as-nails woman who carved her own path to San Francisco decades ago and never left.

In related news, cancer sucks.

!

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I like making things. Some days that means building worlds with words, some days it just means building. I find the two modes of creation to be complementary.

One of the more useful things I learned about myself in grad school (aside from the fact that I am capable of a great deal more persistence than previously suspected) is that I like understanding the world through concrete objects. Ideas are good, ideas can be great, but it’s harder for me to make real headway unless I’m also operating in the physical realm. It doesn’t have to be all I do, but it is satisfying to create something with my hands as well as my head. (Yep, Mens et Manus right there.)

In grad school that meant following a lifelong interest and taking up archery (hey there, Legolas!). When my shoulder decided it had had enough, I learned how to knit and ran sidelines in bookbinding and baking. As of a month or two ago, it also means woodturning.

What is woodturning? Simple explanation: one “turns” wood by mounting it on a lathe, spinning it real fast, then shaping said wood with a sharp object.

olde thyme lathe

What you can make: many things, so long as they are in some broad sense, round. Think bowls and pepper mills and pens and honey dippers, but also (if you know anything about me at all:) magic wands. What’s not to love?

It’s fun, it’s fast, and it’s exciting (see aforementioned machinery spinning at high speeds!). It’s also strangely relaxing (the word “flow” may have been mentioned). The process is something like pottery, if the potter’s wheel rotated 90 degrees and was used with hardened steel tools and a chance of stitches.

What have I made? A lot of test pieces, a few practice wands not suitable for spell casting, and this little fellow.

This is my first honey dipper. Hello, little honey dipper!

So, not much yet, but I can tell this is a good outlet for me because I’m constantly fiddling with ideas. I can practically feel the creativity overflowing, and that’s a good thing. Not only am I focused on building tangible objects, but new story ideas are popping up all over the place too.

Win win:) I’m hardly the first to say this, but it’s terrific that creativity doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game.

I’m still very much a woodturning beginner but here are a few things I’ve learned so far:

  • An introductory course can be a great way to get started and also teach you how not to end the day bleeding all over your new lathe (bonus!).
  • Online resources are also quite useful. Videos are great for seeing what experts are doing with their hands as they say super helpful things like “Then you just pivot the tool and you’re all set!”
  • It’s good to step gently into a new and complicated habit, but at some point you’re going to have the take the plunge and buy decent tools.
  • You don’t just need a lathe, you’ll also need a grinder to keep your tools sharp. (Tip: apparently fresh-from-the-store tools aren’t actually sharp enough to use. Now they tell me!)
  • Based on the shopscape (shopping + landscape = fun new word!), retailers think that most woodturners are men. This may in fact be true, but leads to a problem for any aspiring woodturners smaller than size large. As far as I can tell (Google helped and everything) woodturning smocks do not come in women’s size 4! Pro tip: chef’s jackets work, if you can find one with a closed neck, side pockets and a zipper. I’m happily using a slightly modified version of this one.

For me, making things is a lot like running downhill. Getting to the top can be an effort, but once I get started every step is easier than the last.

So, creative cross-pollination in whatever flavor floats your boat? Recommended! Also, fair warning to those with whom I celebrate gift-giving holidays:
I hope you like wood!

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In case you missed it this weekend, the winners of the 2016 Nebula Awards for excellence in science fiction and fantasy have been announced.

While none of the winners for best novel, novella, novelette or short story are available to all, check out the list. Some nominees are still free to read. Examples include:

Enjoy!

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If the world feels a bit weighty this morning, grab a cup of something hot, sit back and enjoy Mars.

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