Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Baked Goods

It's been unusually wintry in Las Vegas this month, and wintry weather (even when the sun is nearly always shining) puts me in mind of stews and casseroles and baked goods. I rarely admire photos of stews and casseroles, so I never take any. Somehow, all that lumpy, molten deliciousness looks disgusting in two-dimensional form. So you'll have to trust me that the beef stew, chili, chicken tetrazzini, and barbecued pulled pork were everything you might hope for in warming winter food.

Baked goods, on the other hand, manage to look as mouthwatering in two dimensions as they do in three. Photos of bread just pulled from a super-hot oven evoke the fragrance of the yeast and the cracking sound a crisp crust makes as it cools (the French call this "singing," which I love). Go ahead - try it. Can you smell the whole wheat and olive oil in the rustic Italian boule? The semolina in the scored loaf? How about the cinnamon, raisins and oats in the second boule?

 My first attempt at homemade bagels a few months ago (sorry, no pix) was a huge success, so much so that it made me wonder why it's all but impossible to get a decent bagel out in the world. Time and patience were the main ingredients; the tangible ingredients and the process couldn't have been much simpler. Buoyed by that success, I decided pizza crust probably wasn't overly difficult either. And it wasn't! I'm not a big fan of pizza (shocking for a Chicagoan, I know), but I do love a crisp, brown, chewy, slightly charred pizza crust.

You can absolutely smell the pizza, can't you?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Maine, Boston, Perspective & Hindsight

Last summer, we spent a couple weeks in Maine and Boston. We like to travel to cold climes in the summer and, although we knew it wouldn't be exactly cold in New England, we figured being right on the ocean would make it pleasant. Wrong. It was disgustingly hot and humid all but a few days, which made everything we wanted to do less fun than it should have been.

The trip wasn't a complete disappointment. We enjoyed extraordinarily delicious lobster - my favorite food and one I planned to, and did, eat daily - along with a few other local delicacies (including Ipswich clams in Ipswich and tender, rosy roast beef sandwiches in Boston), some excellent boating, lots of nice people with highly entertaining accents, and the stirring historical thrill of the Freedom Trail (made no less stirring, but a lot less comfortable by the triple-digit heat and humidity index the day we walked it). Still, the trip was not what we'd hoped and it left us wishing we'd gone somewhere else.

That sense of disappointment clung to the photos I took.  When I looked at them soon after taking them, they, too, struck me as pallid. Culling through them today, however, I realized that there were some lovely moments amidst the disgruntlement and general stickiness.

A lobster pound where I lunched on an enormous lobster so bright, so fresh, so altogether delectable that rays of sunshine seemed to brighten the piles of gloomy gray clouds surrounding the open air patio on which we ate:

One of the northeastern edges of the United States, at Acadia National Park (these aren't bad photos; the water and air really were this foggy:

Different northeastern edges and a bluer Atlantic on a much nicer day:

An American eagle in her aerie (she's just above and slightly to the right of the center of the photo; click on it to see her more clearly):

A ground-bound bird ready for its close-up:

One of many evocative headstones in the venerable Granary burying ground adjacent to the Park Street Church on the Freedom Trail in Boston:

Sign of the times, also on the Freedom Trail: the Old Corner Bookstore is now a Chipotle Grill:

Boston from the water (the only tolerable place to be when the temperature is nearly 90 and the relative humidity is even higher):

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


I can't decide if I want to resume blogging or not. I reread old posts and am pleased with them, and also with the memory of what fun it was to craft them, usually out of an explosive kernel of an idea that niggled and prodded until I gave it its due. The habit of blogging was so infectious. Once I got going, ideas piled up and popped all over the place, begging to be chosen, pinned down and expressed in words. It would be good to experience more of that particular pleasure. And to take on more of that kind of short-term, quickly gratified intellectual challenge.

I didn't deliberately turn away from blogging. For a few weeks after my last post in January 2012, I thought often about posting. After a couple months, I thought less often (and more guiltily) about it. After a couple more, the idea flitted vaguely through my mind every now and then. I took pictures on trips and composed descriptive paragraphs in my head, thinking to write travel posts, if nothing else. But the inspiration was never sufficiently compelling to prompt an actual post. Not even when it got to be November and December and I had to see that accusing January 2012 date looming at the top of my blog whenever I checked it to see if the bloggers I follow had posted anything new. (They had. Often. See "Interesting Blogs" in the sidebar to your right and look them up.)

Twitter was the same. When I tweeted regularly, my brain developed a whole Twitter compartment, a bustling, observant mechanism that parsed the world into 140-character bursts of revelation. Twitter, too, was fun. It, too, was infectious and challenging. And it, too, fell by the wayside in 2012.


It could be laziness or a sense of diminishing returns. It could be that I got busy with other, more captivating, things. Or maybe it was merely the end of a natural life cycle. Hobbies, interests, even passions come and go.

I spend the bulk of my time crafting words. For a time, a long time, the challenge of crafting blog posts and tweets complemented my writing work. It was hugely entertaining, it made me some great friends, and it honed my skills. Ultimately, though, blogging and tweeting stopped complementing and started distracting. At first, the distraction was a welcome diversion. I was at a difficult juncture with my book; expressing myself pithily elsewhere served as a needed outlet and a reassuring relief. But eventually the distraction was only a distraction. It lost its enticing appeal, and I turned to different side dishes.

 I rediscovered two former passions in 2012: baking bread and cooking. Like all good hobbies, neither of these can ever be entirely mastered. There's always something to improve on or something new to learn. They offer a constant challenge, and one that, unlike blogging and Twitter, is not verbal. You decide what you want to create, assemble ingredients, apply techniques, and - presto! - you very shortly have what you wanted and it's a tangible thing. This may be a metaphor for novel-writing, but it's the antithesis of writing an actual novel - and not only because you get to eat your results.

It's been cold and cloudier than usual in Las Vegas this winter, and the clouds make for gorgeous sunsets. As I was uploading photos of a recent beauty to my computer, it occurred to me that a sunset is a worthy and enjoyable phenomenon whether or not it precedes a sunny dawn. I may blog or tweet regularly again; I may not. For now, here's the sunset: