Posts filed under ‘Other Treats’
As most college deadlines draw near (January 1st), the flurry of college applications is drawing to a close. One of the coolest things about this entire process has been watching my friends go through it – not because I like to watch them agonize over their essays or anxiously stress over early decision emails. No, I like seeing my friends pick out the colleges that are right for them based on their unique interests.
In middle school, we were generally the same. Some of us were more inclined towards English and social studies, whereas others were more talented in math and science (I knew right away that I was not a math or science person). But when it came down to it, we were interested in the same classes, depending on how cool or funny the teacher was.
But now, after four years of high school, we aren’t so similar anymore. Slowly, quietly, I’ve watched my friends develop their real joys and callings in life. I’ve seen their passions burst forth like the cherry blossoms in spring, and I’ve seen the unfiltered pleasure on their faces when they are doing something they love. And even though I don’t share their interests, I know exactly how they feel.
One of my friends, M-, is an amazing artist. She loves the beautiful, the romantic, the optimistic, and her art is visual poetry. She uses soft, bright colors and gentle swirls of paint to compose half-opened flowers, graceful ballerinas, and sweeping landscapes reminiscent of Thomas Kinkade.
When I look at her work I can’t turn away. Her paintings seem to fill me with liquid sunshine from my shoes up, they’re so light and dreamy. The beauty and inspiration on her canvas reflects what a beautiful and inspiring person she herself is. Every work of art is a confession, and every confession is exhilarating to see.
Another one of my good friends, C-, has found that he was meant to play the cello. Although he was technically “late” to the music scene, not starting when he was very young, his gift is undeniable. C-’s dedication is astounding – some days he goes to orchestra during school, attends two cello lessons outside of class, plays at a symphony in the evenings, and then practices again upon arriving home.
As I don’t play an instrument myself, my ear is untrained and naive. But when I hear him play, even if I cannot recognize the composer or identify any incorrect notes, I can feel the emotion. It runs up my spine in slow, deliberate waves, totally at the command of his bow. He closes his eyes when he plays, and I have a feeling the music envelopes him completely – mind, body, and spirit. [It was he I made the Cello Birthday Cake for.]
I could go on and on. The talents of my friends would fill up not one, but many long winded posts. My friend M- is a skilled badminton player, A- makes gorgeous dresses out of trash bags (as well as art of all mediums), K- is passionate about math (MIT, congratulations!), and E- finds peace when she runs.
I guess it’s not hard to conclude what I’ve found my greatest enjoyment to be too – baking, of course. While I could never work on a piece of art for hours, or play a musical piece over and over until callouses formed on my fingertips, I can spend an entire afternoon in the kitchen. As a matter of fact, it took days and hours of work even with help (thanks, E-!) to complete this Gingerbread Igloo for the Daring Bakers.
But it was a labor of love – from cutting out every one of the individual gingerbread bricks, to making 3 pourable fondants because they all failed, to piping out the pine trees. And I don’t know how many of my friends could stand doing that.
But for me, the best things about these passions my friends and I have developed is this: they do not solely define us. I don’t want to walk around school being called “The Baker” without any more dimension to me. I have dreams and ambitions that go beyond the kitchen, even though a piece of my heart will always rest between the KitchenAid and the sugar bin. I am a writer, a poet, a photographer, a thinker.
M- is not simply the artist. She is considering a career in medicine, she leads the school through student government, and she likes working with the school district. And C-, though he plans to go to music school, plays frisbee and can’t deny his interest in chess and cross country.
I love that we have found something that helps us discover and understand who we are, something that brings happiness and relaxation. But I am also grateful for how rounded and open-minded my friends are. They are multifaceted and flexible, and I can’t wait to see how far they all go in college and in life.
The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.
This morning I woke up to Tilly and Otis. They were both sitting on top of me. Otis was staring at my bedroom window, eyes locked on a fly buzzing on the glass, and Tilly was lying on my stomach and gazing intently at me. Ever since we got Tilly back, I appreciate every moment with her more than ever and she seems to appreciate it too.
Although it’s been a week since Tilly came home, Dad still gets calls from people who think they saw her. While most are mistaken, a few have been right, and we’ve been able to piece together a bit more about what happened to her that night. Once again, I’m utterly amazed by how compassionate people are. Tilly was smack in the middle of a four lane 40 mph road, at night in the rain. A woman saw her and actually parked her car at an angle across multiple lanes to block traffic. Then she jumped out of her car to get Tilly.
Tilly ran, but this woman chased her between houses and through neighborhoods before finally realizing she couldn’t grab Tilly. She walked back, sopping wet, where a police car was parked, lights flashing, and an officer was directing traffic around her car. I honestly can’t believe it! Knowing people like that exist make me feel all warm and soft inside. Warm and soft as… a fresh bagel.
By the time I got out of bed, the house was warm and smelled like flour and yeast – one of my all time favorite smells. Dad was in pajamas too. He had already made the dough and it was rising in the microwave, one of my mom’s tricks. The kitchen counter isn’t warm enough in Seattle, so she microwaves a small cup of water for 3-4 minutes. This makes the microwave warm and humid, a great place for the bread to rise.
“Bagels?” I asked, seeing the open cookbook. “Can I help?”
The first thing I helped do was punch down the dough. As some of you might know, I have no bread experience at all and get a little nervous about it. But I’ve always wanted to make bagels, and I love the feeling of the dough. It’s soft and firm and elastic all at once.
Even though I mostly bake cakes, cookies, and sweets, there’s something about baking breakfast that brings me unique happiness. It’s something about the soft natural light, streaming in through the windows, and the birds making their first rounds around the yard. It’s the warmth of the kitchen in comparison to the cool wood floors of the rest of the house… And the fact that I’m in pajamas still and there is no stress whatsoever.
I watched Dad separate the dough into 8 and then we started forming the bagels. He formed each 1/8th of the dough into a ball by cupping the bottom between his palms and squeezing together. He rotated the ball and kept cupping and pressing together, so that it formed a smooth sphere. Then he floured a finger and made a hole in it, pressing straight through. Then he worked the entire thing, using more fingers, to expand the hole and smooth the sides.
The bagels rise a bit longer, then you boil them and bake them. And wow… there’s really something about pulling a rack of perfect, golden, puffy bagels out of the oven. It makes your heart flutter a little bit. It makes you wonder why you even bother with cinnamon raisin or chocolate chip or blueberry when you can make these simple, delicious ones all by yourself.
Of course, I have yet to make them all by myself. But my Dad is a good teacher. He mostly cooks dinner, which may or may not interest me depending on my mood. He bakes a little… not as well as me :) But his eclairs are always delicious and he will always make me a birthday cake if I want one, even though it’s admittedly not his thing. But the one thing I always like to see him make is bread. Challah, parker house rolls, Italian flatbread, spinach rolls, it always fascinates me and makes me suddenly forget all about chocolate and vanilla beans.
We ate our bagels outside with the dogs, and it was perfect. I went pretty simple. I spread some slightly cold cream cheese, which softened right away on the warm bagel. Then I topped it with some homemade blackberry jam that our friend A- made for us. The bagel was chewy and soft and puffy, and the jam and cream cheese was perfectly sweet and tangy. I think I ate the whole thing in record speed.
But Dad is a bit more sophisticated. He went for cream cheese too, but added some capers. Then he grabbed a Mr. Stripey tomato that he grew himself in his own garden and sliced it into thick, juicy rounds.
I was starting to wonder whether I should have forgone the jam.
He topped the bagels with the tomato and pulled out some of his very own homemade lox. If there’s one type of fish I can’t resist, it’s salmon, and his lox is the best.
How can any day go wrong when it starts like this?
Has your heart ever dropped so fast, you were too shocked and jolted to even cry?
This is Tilly. She is… indescribable. She is solid sunshine. She is warm, real comfort… friendship, beauty, and unfiltered goodness. She is the neediest, sweetest, most skittery dog I have ever met. She is family and I have loved her like family from the moment my dad brought her home, a pound puppy of unidentifiable breed, ten years ago.
I found out at work, a few hours before my lunch break. The heat wave in Seattle has been replaced by a pouring of rain, real rain – dark skies and fat drops that fall like bullets. We think something must have happened to Tilly as a puppy, something awful, because she is frightened by the strangest things… the sound of ripping paper, fireplaces, motionless soccer balls… Rain is one of her more ordinary fears. And in the torrent of rain on Wednesday night, Tilly vanished.
At first, I was so worried I could hardly keep working. But deep down, I felt certain that Tilly would come back. Dad was looking for her, and she was smart enough to know her way around the neighborhood. But the whole day passed. Dad spent hours calling her name, not even eating. He put up hundreds of posters and received two calls, both false alarms, not Tilly but unfamiliar dogs roaming the neighborhood. His calls and texts grew more and more hopeless, and as his outlook deteriorated, so did mine.
I’ve seen lost dog posters before. Everyone has. You look into the dog’s eyes a moment, read the phone number, tell yourself that you’ll keep an eye out. “Poor thing,” I always think. “His owners must be so worried.” But unless your own dog has ever gone missing, without a collar or chip or source of identification, it’s impossible to understand how worried you really can become. How guilty and pessimistic.
I imagined Tilly slinking, still frightened, in dark alleys and shady neighborhoods. I imagined her streaking through the rain between speeding grey cars, barely avoiding them. I couldn’t bear to imagine her hit by a car. I thought about Tilly injured, scared more horribly than she’d ever been in her entire life and never so alone. It was physical pain to want to hold her and I tried to remember the last time I’d hugged her, whispered to her.
Suddenly, for no reason at all, I thought about an image that I’d always wanted to photograph. After dinner, we always clear the table and mom washes the dishes, humming. Tilly stands at her side, ears perked, tail wagging like a metronome, waiting for the moment when a scrap might accidentally fall. I love the way Tilly looks at that moment and every time I think to myself, “I ought to get a photo.” But I never do. Driving back home, as I realized I might never get that photo, I started to cry for the first time.
It was late, maybe 9 PM, when I felt my phone vibrate. It was a text from my dad – “I have Tilly!!!!!” And the relief was so overwhelming that I sat down and nearly cried again because I was so happy.
When I saw Tilly again, I just wanted to hold her and never, ever let go, to make sure she was really there and really just fine. Tilly seemed to know too that she was the luckiest dog in the world, because she had been rescued by the nicest people.
We don’t know what happened to Tilly the whole night, but at one point she was seen by a family driving by in the rain. They said Tilly looked terrified (understatement) and “out of place.” Amazingly, they decided to turn around, go back, pull over and pick her up. I mean, I am a compassionate dog person, and I wouldn’t have done that for a strange dog.
Tilly was so freaked out and distrusting that she turned and ran. They chased her into an open garage, where she tried to claw through cement to escape. They scooped her up and took her home. They even gave her a bath, so that when I hugged her for the first time, she smelled good. They were planning to take her to the shelter the next day when they saw one of my dad’s posters. And just like that, it was a happily ever after, after all.
I’d wanted to make dog treats for a while. In fact, I’d thought about blogging them so I’d have an excuse to show you my dogs Tilly and Otis. But I never did, and it might have never happened. But with Tilly in my lap, I knew today would be the end of stalling. The first thing I’d do was make some yummy dog biscuits and the second thing I’d do was bake a killer cake for the family who took care of Tilly.
And tonight, after we polished off the bread and meatballs and cucumber salad, as mom began to tackle the mountain of dirty plates by the sink, Tilly took her place by the dishwasher. And me? I took out my camera.