» Archive for August, 2009

What’s the draw of brightly-colored frostings and cutesy sprinkles?

Friday, August 14th, 2009 by kara

Let’s talk about those wonderful, colorful little sugar cookies sold in supermarkets, coated with 1/4″ of frosting and covered in seasonally-color-coordinated sprinkles.  Also, the teeny, ‘two-bite’ brownies and muffins and carrot cakes which beckon to us from inside their sterile plastic clam shells stacked neatly on the baking racks near the deli.

What exactly is their draw?  I’m asking because I’m frustrated–and I’m also completely addicted to them.  If it’s got any color frosting on it, I’m intrigued.  Add the incredible lure of non-pareils, jimmies, sprinkles, colored sugars, cinnamon red hots, teeny marzipan fruits and even those little edible silver balls that look like BBs, and I’m purchasing the item in question.

But the weird thing about store-bought baked goods that are decorated in frostings and gewgaws is that they are usually devoid of taste.  I just bought some festive little cupcakes from my favorite supermarket (Super Target, duh), which easily expressed half their bulk in red and white frosting and little red, white and blue star-shaped sprinkles.  The frosting was sweet, as expected, and the little stars were kind of tough as well as kind of sweet.  The cake of the cupcake was dry and somewhat coarse, as if the batter had been beaten too long, or maybe had too much flour.

I contrasted these festive little tarts with the banana bread muffins I’d just made earlier that day, and was struck by the difference in taste and quality.  My banana bread muffins were really wonderful, moist, sweet and just the right texture–springy and chewy but not tough or dry at all.  The muffins were hugely better than the little cupcakes, so why didn’t I want them rather than those sad, tarted-up little pretenders?

Is their draw solely in the cosmetic appeal of the frosting and sprinkles?  Spraying air freshener and Pledge around your home makes it smell better, but it doesn’t actually clean anything.  And I know women who ‘frost themselves’ with makeup and hair treatments, and men who ‘frost themselves’ with sporty automobiles and cologne, but they don’t actually taste any better once you metaphorically bite into them either.

Is it because food made by someone else has an air of mystery and is thus more appealing?  My friend Karen says that her husband makes her the BEST peanut butter sandwiches.  She can stand right alongside him and make the same sandwich that he does, and his will taste better.

As a prep cook in my teenage years, I’ve experienced this.  All day long I worked with food, all different kinds of food.  At that time I was obsessed with corned beef, and could probably eat a whole roast by myself if given the opportunity.  But part of my duties as a prep cook was to roast all the meats used for sandwiches and salads that day, and frequently I’d chuck two or three corned beefs (beeves?)  into the oven along with turkeys, chickens, and whatever else we were serving later on.

After roasting and cooling, I’d slice the meats and package them appropriately.  And after handling all that meat every day, it didn’t take long before corned beef in its ‘unrefined’ state lost its draw for me.  BUT if one of the up-front cooks made me a sammich of corned beef and spinach or romaine lettuce on a croissaint with a side of those wonderfully crispy plank fries, well, then I could be persuaded to eat!

I think that having someone else (ANYone else!) fuss over our food makes it more appealing, even if it doesn’t actually taste any different.  Cooking or baking for someone else is a way to nurture them and show caring, and the more time and effort that goes into the dish, the more appreciation we have for it.  An obviously homemade peanut butter cookie with crosshatches in its crispy top from a fork always tastes better than a bar cookie made from a similar recipe.

I guess we can conclude that “caring” is the super-secret special ingredient in home-made food.  Doesn’t it feel good to do something nice for someone you care about?  So go ahead and indulge someone today by making them something special!  Here’s a cute trick for creating little nummies that look special without spending a whole lot of time on them:  Use packaged brownie mix, prepared frosting and sprinkles to create frosted brownie cookies.  You end up with something that feels very celebratory and indulgent without the effort and fuss that would accompany, say, cut-out cookies.  Enjoy!

My name is Kara, and I’m a procrastinator

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009 by kara

I really am a procrastinator and have been since the day I was born, I think.  Funny story that my mother told over and over and over again:  When I was in third grade, she told me straight out “You’re a procrastinator.”  I asked her “What’s that?” and she told me to go look it up.  I said “Eh, I’ll do it later.”  Honest to Pete.  She laughed for about 15 minutes and used that story for chuckles for decades afterward.

THAT story is funny and kind of makes light of the fact that I have delayed, deferred and postponed decisions on everything throughout my life, from weighty issues such as what job I should pursue, to inconsequential decisions like when I should go to bed at night.

I have procrastinated on initiating important home improvement projects in my home, because I am uncertain that I’ll be able to do them perfectly and can’t stand the thought of screwing them up.  I have put off writing as a career simply because I don’t know how to market myself and also because I have trouble finishing a story or novel (although I have to wonder if I have trouble finishing a piece because I dread having to take the next steps of showing others my work and trying to sell it and I can’t handle the inevitable rejection).  I have delayed sending birthday cards and paying bills, so it doesn’t seem to matter if the task is something enjoyable or drudgery.

I’m going to do something about this, however.  I’m planning to learn about the causes of my procrastination habit (it IS a habit, one that I learned early in life) with the help of a really good book by Dr. William J. Knaus, titled “Do It Now!  Break the Procrastination Habit.”

I had originally found this book at the Saline Public Library, and wanted to have my own copy so that I could highlight text and make notes right in the book, so I ordered it from Amazon.com.  That was a while ago–I had put off actually reading the book and doing the work related to learning about my procrastinatory ways because there was always something more pressing to deal with, like household moves and sick dogs and work.

Out of boredom I plucked this book from my bookshelf last night and thumbed through it, and decided that I should stop making a cliché of myself by working through it.  As I paged through, I found the receipt from Amazon.com tucked in the back cover:  I bought the damned thing February 28, 2005.  Honest to Pete.  Go ahead.  Laugh.  Get it out.

Late-night olive craving denied

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009 by kara

So late last night, I got home from work and fed/watered/pottied the dawgs and settled myself down in front of my computers for a little Facebooking and WoW’ing, and all of a sudden I realize that I want OLIVES.  All kinds, and lots of ’em.

This isn’t an unusual craving, although I haven’t had it for a while.  I usually prefer to eat them with my fingers from a little dish, with a side plate of Carr’s Table Water crackers and some cheese, and sometimes I’ll have this combination as a meal.

But I haven’t been to the grocery store for a while and haven’t bought any olives lately.  That’s okay–they’re like a staple.  Everybody’s got olives!

I toodle out to the refrigerator and discover that my entire olive stock consists of four pimiento-stuffed Manzanilla and six of those darling little Niçoise olives.  They’re darling, and I love them, but I was actually HOPING for about a pound of Kalamata and a whole can of extra large pitted ripe olives.  I made do.

And yes, olives are on the shopping list, and yes, I’m actually GOING TO THE STORE TODAY.

E-mail is getting away from me

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009 by kara

I have been a little overwhelmed lately with the “daily-ness of life” and because of that I hadn’t checked some of my e-mail addresses in quite a while.  Along with my five .mac e-mail addresses, I also have e-mail addys at Yahoo, Juno, Gmail, and a few other places which I no longer check regularly because they receive e-mail sent primarily by spammers.

I decided to check some of my satellite e-mail accounts this morning just to see if I’d missed anything.  My Yahoo e-mail address is the one I use for Freecycle.  There were over 400 e-mail messages there, but deleting them wasn’t that much of a chore because I use Freecycle only to give away stuff and don’t bother responding to offered items because I don’t usually get them.  Not that we NEED any more ‘stuff’ anyway…

My Juno account is one I use for my book club membership, online ordering, and the like.  That inbox only held 120-some messages, most of which were handily deleted–except for my “featured selection” e-mail from the book club.  Replied to that just in time.

Gmail is forwarded to my regular e-mail addy, which is checked every day so there’s no reason to actually go to Gmail’s site, unless I need to look through my junk e-mail folder.  Maybe I’ll go see how many opportunities from African royalty I’ve missed in the past few months.

Patch day for WoW

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009 by kara

If you play World of Warcraft, better go start it up right now so you can download and install the patch.  You don’t want to be hit by that sudden urge to play, and then have to wait for the patch to install before you can go adventuring!  🙂

Where is my energy?

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009 by kara

So lately things have been sucking like a 700 H.P. Shop Vac and as a result I’m feeling (all the time!) like I’ve just finished running a marathon.  Those of you who know me know damn well that I’d NEVER run a marathon, but just picture what I’d look like if I ever did.

Can’t seem to scrape up enough energy to do the nice little things that make life easier and more pleasant, like making a meal plan for the upcoming week and the corresponding shopping list to go along with, not to mention actually DOING the shopping part.

And if I cleaned my computer desk, it would make working at my computer so much more pleasant–but then I’d actually have to find a place to stow all the flotsam and jetsam that’s washed up there, and I just don’t have the energeeeeee… Yes, that was a whine.

Of course, this also means I’m doing nothing to further my “writing career” (those quotation marks are there for irony).  As such, my “writing career” is non-existent right now because in order to have a career in writing, one would have to WRITE.  And I just don’t have the incentive to concentrate on anything right now: Not work, not housekeeping, not World of Warcrack, not the dogs, and certainly not anything as important as writing.

(And there, just then–that was my e-mail chime that you couldn’t possibly have heard, but I heard it–and promptly left this entry hanging in favor of some cheap momentary distraction from this task at hand.  Oh, for Pete’s sake, Kara, concentrate!)

The true irony of this is that writing helps me focus in all aspects of my life, and it motivates me to get up off my flat posterior and do some of those things that need doing.  Hence, Gentle Readers, I’m inflicting upon you this whiny and self-indulgent morsel in hopes that it will jumpstart some of the good stuff.  I’ll go chew some No-Doz, too–maybe that will help.