frogg files

"She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick." --Flannery O' Connor

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Gingerbread House Saga: The Conclusion

So, on Saturday night, right about the time the cowgirl and I were kicking back with our drinks, a much-anticipated storm finally hit the area. It started snowing, and while we were still relaxing in the living room, the power went out.

The next day, the power was still out, AND we still had to assemble and decorate the gingerbread house we'd been working on for the competition the cowgirl wanted to enter.

(Actually, the power being out was no big deal, since we had a generator, and since the only part of making the gingerbread house that required electricity was using an electric mixer for the frosting, but I mention it on a vague principle of trying to be dramatic. Shocking, I know.)

Well, we got started on putting the house together around 10a.m., then "painting" on the windows and icing the roof. I personally cut about a million little chocolate discs in half to simulate roof shingles. Granted, it was my own fault, because it was my own idea, but I'm just saying.

The cowgirl, meanwhile, tapped into a previously unrealized talent as a sculptor, fashioning Santa's legs out of almond paste. Yes, just his legs. (These were placed inside the chimney; the ol' boy must've had a few eggnogs too many to try diving in headfirst.) Encouraged by the fact that the legs turned out pretty good, she went on to try her hand at an entire figure skater, who would eventually be skating on the pond we were going to make.

We changed our minds about both skater and pond when the skater couldn't be made to stand. Plus his/her head had a tendency to keep falling off, so.

Anyway, we were having lots of fun, and joking about how there was no way the gingerbread house was going to win, but hey, at least people might get a good laugh when they passed it by on their way to ooh and ahh over the full-on gingerbread villages that some people apparently feel compelled to make. "Who has the time for that," I asked.

"Oh, you'd be surprised," said the cowgirl. "People plan ahead all year for this."

Not for the first time during my visit, Los Angeles felt very far away.

Sometime in the afternoon (and yes, we were STILL hard at work decorating the house), a neighbor came over with her two kids to "admire" our creation. As we were chatting, we all started wondering whether or not there were different categories that you could enter, or if everyone — village makers and total beginners alike — get judged in the same (slightly unfair) arena. The cowgirl dug up the entry form, and in the process of reading through it, alighted upon the rather important information that the entry form was supposed to be turned in no later than November 19th.

A rather tense moment ensued.

After it became clear that neither the cowgirl nor I were going to break down, scream, or cry (though I've no doubt both of us were considering each and every one of those options during that tense moment), the atmosphere relaxed. After all, if nothing else, we'd learned a lot of valuable lessons during our 20+ hour adventure in gingerbread house-making, including but by no means limited to the following:

1) Unless you are a highly skilled gingerbread house maker, bigger does not necessarily equate with better.

2) Roll out smaller sections of gingerbread dough to bake the pieces from, instead of giant slabs the size of placemats that barely fit on your baking sheets (assuming you are able to move them onto the baking sheets in the first place, and good luck with that).

3) Have a healthy supply of whatever your version of strong drink is on hand. This is for you, not the house. And trust me. You will need it.

4) Fondant works better than almond paste for making figures. But in my opinion, it doesn't taste nearly as good.

5) The little beads on those gummy raspberry and blackberry candies can be picked off and used individually in the decorations. For example, the red beads can be used to decorate a green-frosting wreath on the gingerbread house door. The black beads, on the other hand, look like deer poop when dropped on a gingerbread crust driveway. So, don't do that.

6) Check the due date on your entry form BEFORE you finish building your gingerbread house. You'll thank you. And so will the sister who spent all weekend helping you. (Love you, cowgirl! Wouldn't have done it for anyone else...)

UPDATE: Here's a picture of the house:



I know it's a little small, but if you look closely, you might notice that Santa has been joined by an elf up there on the roof. I can guess now why Santa "fell' headfirst into the chimney...

Also, notice the chocolate discs. Please, for the love of God, notice them.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Adventures in the Cowgirl's Kitchen, Part 2

When I left off my last post, my sister the cowgirl and I were taking a break from the gingerbread house we were making so that she could help her husband put hay into a barn. This took a lot longer than I anticipated. I resume the saga a few hours later...

3:15 p.m. With help from the cowboy, the cowgirl remeasures the cardboard template pieces for the house and scales everything down. Way down. The goal, as I understand it, is to avoid having to make another whole batch of dough—a goal that I very heartily support. Not that making gingerbread dough from scratch isn't more fun than a barrel of monkeys, but I'm ready to move on to the next part of the process, whatever that might be.

The cowgirl lays out the cardboard pieces on the three giant slabs of gingerbread we've already prepared. A few moments later she says, "We have to do another batch."

Maybe I shouldn't have sampled so much dough when the cowgirl wasn't looking.

4:00 Round 2 of dough-making begins. For the record, my right arm still hasn't forgiven me for all the whisking I had to do in the first round.

4:05 "No wonder they sell kits for this," the cowgirl says.

4:15 - 6:15 A lot happens, including the preparation of a butternut squash soup while we are still in the middle of baking what are starting to seem like an endless parade of gingerbread pieces. I feel like I've fallen into some surreal dream, or maybe a Disney's Fantasia! segment, where kitchen implements come to life and dance around and food bursts into song and the whole world trips out. Worst of all, I can't stop myself from snacking on scraps of gingerbread, which is giving me a stomachache. Plus, it taste weird when eaten while the scent of the sauteed onions fills the air, which it does because of the soup.

At some point I realize I have not left the house all day. At another point, I pour myself a stiff drink.

The cowgirl wonders who first had the bright idea of making gingerbread houses. I suggest—or blame—the Swiss. I'm wrong, as it turns out, but I don't care.

6:15 If I never eat gingerbread again as long as I live, I'll be fine.

6:20 The cowgirl valiantly keeps trying to give me tips on making the butternut squash soup, so I can do it on my own in the future. Her confidence in my potential for domestication is rather endearing, really. Especially given her close proximity to me in the kitchen all day today.

6:55 The butternut squash soup is nearly ready! I think we are also still baking gingerbread, but I really have no idea anymore what's going on. Everything's a bit of a blur. And no, it's not because of the stiff drink. Even though I had another one.

8:00 Dinner's finished. The gingerbread house pieces are all cooked and laid out on racks on the dining room table. Are we almost done? No. We still have to make frosting tomorrow, once again from scratch. Why, I want to say, or, more accurately, scream. Why why why, when someone so cleverly invented ready-made frosting in a little tub that you can buy from the grocery store! (I'm sure it comes as a big surprise that between the two of us, the cowgirl is the one who's married.)

9:00 After cleaning up the kitchen, vacuuming, and starting a load of laundry, the cowgirl mixes a pomegranate martini for each of us. At least one of us has earned it.

9:10 I show the cowgirl what I've written here, before I post it to the blog.. When she gets to the part about the frosting, she says, "It's a different kind of frosting." Of course it is.

"And you earned it too," she adds, referring to the martini.

I laugh. "No, I didn't."

"You were standing up almost as long as I was!" She pauses. "You didn't drag hay into the barn, but..." I laugh again. A few minutes later, she asks if I want a refill. I say sure. Then she realizes there's only enough left in the shaker for one more drink.

I tell her to go ahead.

Adventures In The Cowgirl's Kitchen, Part 1

10:00 Since I arrived at my sister the cowgirl's place last Sunday for a visit, she's been talking a lot about a gingerbread house competition she wants to enter. Today is the day that we are going to embark on this project. I told her I'd "help" but we all know what that means. (Hey, someone has to make sure everything tastes the way it's supposed to, right?)

10:15 The cowgirl turns on the stereo and the soundtrack from O Brother Where Art Thou starts playing. The cowgirl begins trying to tape together the cardboard skeleton of the house, which has been designed and cut out by her husband the cowboy before he left to pick up some hay.

Apparently the house is going to be a mansion. The cowgirl hopes the gingerbread sections (which "we" are going to make from scratch) will fit on her baking pans. I hope so, too, if for no other reason than that it will be a lot more peaceful around here if they do.

10:25 It turns out that cardboard is less cooperative than you might think.

10:29 The cowgirl is taking measurements, making drawings, and trying to get the house to stand up. "The roof is going to be the bear," says the cowgirl. My thoughts exactly. Or something like that.

10:47 Not for the first time, the cowgirl expresses concern about how big the gingerbread pieces will have to be. In the background, I hear voices singing a mournful chorus: "I am weary, let me rest." I suspect it's an omen but for once I keep my opinion to myself.

10:55 I am given the job of whipping some cream and vanilla together until it develops "soft peaks." Not being experienced in these matters, I'm not sure what this means, but figure I'lll find out. The cowgirl says I can use the handheld electric whisk, or just do it on my own power. I opt for the latter because "I need the exercise" but in reality it's because I'm too lazy to put together and plug in the electric whisk.

11:04 Whoever invented the handheld electric whisk deserves a medal.

11:15 I get in trouble for pausing the whisk so that I can sing along with the last song on the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack.

11:25 Finally, the whipping cream is done, which is good because my right tricep is about to go on strike, electric whisk notwithstanding. R.E.M.'s Automatic for the People album is playing now. Ever so subtly, the atmosphere changes.

11:37 The gingerbread dough is all mixed! The cowgirl starts rolling it out. She stops, looks at the dough sticking to the rolling pin. "I can see this is going to get really obnoxious," she says. She's right. And what's even more obnoxious is how it takes both of us to try to lift the (giant) gingerbread pieces and move them to a baking sheet, and yet we still can't prevent the pieces from tearing.

"How does anyone do stuff like this by themselves?" I wonder aloud.

"I don't know!" the cowgirl wails. I pick up some of the scraps and eat them. Mmm, the sweet taste of silver lining...

12:05 Looks like we have a choice between making another batch of gingerbread dough or making the house smaller. The cowgirl and I glance at each other. She gets out her measuring tape and an X-acto knife.

12:15 The cowboy's returned with a truckful and then some of hay. The cowgirl has to run out and help him unload. I'd join them, but someone has to eat, I mean guard, the gingerbread dough. Besides, it's raining out there. Brrr.

More to come, I'm sure. Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Communion

Last night I had communion in a pub. I didn't plan to, it just kind of happened. And I have to say, it was pretty awesome.

I get together at this pub every couple weeks or so with a few friends to have drinks and discuss various culturally relevant topics of interest to all of us. We call ourselves The Philosophers Club, I guess because we couldn't come up with anything much nerdier than that. (I mean honestly, could you?) But inevitably, no matter what topic we start out with — the evils of Facebook (that's usually my idea), the nature of truth, the pursuit of happiness — we always end up talking about church and Christianity. And last night was no exception.

Confession time: I haven't been to church in several weeks now, because my church is in my black books lately. It's hard for me to articulate exactly why, but basically I'm annoyed at the whole programmatic aspect of the endeavor. Church isn't a place to be anymore, if it ever was, at least in America. No, it's a whole new To Do list, especially when you add up the myriad of activities beyond the Sunday sermon to help you get "plugged in" or "connected" (and notice the terminology of mechanization).

As if we weren't busy enough already in our lives.

Here's the thing. I don't want to join a "small group", or lead one. I don't want to go on a missions trip. I don't want to go on my church's annual retreat, a decision that people simply can't understand when I don't offer up a good excuse along with it, such as, "I'm dying." And so help me God, if I hear the word "community" or the phrase "doing life together" one more time, I'm going to puke on someone's face.

What I want is rest. I want silence. I want mystery. And I want communion. But I don't particularly want church. At least not right now.

I said some of this to my fellow philosophers (all two of them) last night. Not in so many words, but that was the gist. At least it must have been, because the next thing I knew, one of them was flagging down the waitress (who, I thought, was already a tiny bit annoyed at us for not buying beer or food this time, just coffee and dessert) to tell her, "We'd like to do communion. Can we have some wine and a side of bread?"

I felt a little weird about it at first. Praying over the bread and wine when it was brought to our courtyard table, while some sports event played out on the big screen TV behind me. Passing the elements around and trying not to look at fellow diners to see if they were looking at us. But after we prayed, after we read the Passover passage from the Gospel of Luke off of my friend's iPad, after we broke the bread and shared the wine, we sat back, looked at each other, and said, 'Wow. That was really nice."

And you know what? It was. Really, really nice.

An interesting little addendum to this story: Today I found out that last Sunday the topic at my church was... the meaning of communion. Weird, right? Maybe God's trying to tell me something. Maybe I'll try not to think about what it might be. Because I have this sick feeling it involves the word "community." Ugh.

Monday, November 01, 2010

NanoWriMo 2010!

Well, it's November and that means it's also National Novel Writing Month. Somewhat to my own surprise, my friend Drew managed to talk me into participating this year. "It works out to 1,667 words a day," he said. Which sounded doable.

Until today, of course, when NanoWriMo officially begins. And of course my mind is blank.

Soooo, anyone have a first sentence lying around that they don't need? Just curious.