Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Pintester Movement-The Pin That Shall Not Be Named



For many months now, I have harbored a not-so-secret love for the Pintester and her unfailing ability to bring forth snorts of laughter powerful enough to rouse sleeping babies and cause my dog to look upon me with spite. When the second Pintester Movement was announced, I decided that it was time to get up off my lazy ass and update my blog for the first time since, like, February.

Disclaimer for hungry people: this pin has nothing to do with food.

Since this is kind of a food blog (if making gruel counts as food) and I am a baker by trade, I figured that doing a food pin would be the very worst form of cheating, and no one likes a cheater. So I am stepping waaaay out of my comfort zone here and going straight for the jugular with a pin so wretched...a pin so foul...that the Pintester herself wouldn't even touch it.

(I know, I know, the rules specifically state that it has to be a pin that was tested--however this pin was featured with its own post dedicated to how daunting it appeared, so I'm going to go out on a limb and call this a creative liberty. Everyone loves liberties--this is America, we have a whole statue about it. Plus, spoiler alert, I do a really shitty job of recreating this thing.)

Here is the pin as featured:



I can't sew, which was made painfully clear to me this past Halloween, so the no-sewing aspect was attractive, as was the idea of creating a sassy vest out of an old shirt--a shvest, if you will. 

I was going to buy myself a crisp white shirt like the one pictured, but a.) I'm calling shenanigans on the $3.00 t-shirt claim and b.) I decided that there was a better than 50% chance that I was going to ruin it anyway. So, in true Pintester spirit, I went with Items Found Around the House. Specifically this shirt, which I bought for about two bucks at Kohls and have hated ever since.



             I don't have a fancy-ass dummy, but I do have a proven record of being a dumbass so I figured I'd split the difference and model the damn shirt myself.

I chose this shirt because it is easily one of the most unflattering items I have ever purchased, in addition to the fact that it produces enough static electricity to power a small town for a month. When it's fresh from the dryer visible sparks fly from the hem, frightening dogs and children.

I tried to stick with the original pin as much as possible but, as aforementioned, my chosen shirt was self-destructive, so I probably wasn't as neat as I could have been.

The raw materials:


Ancient shitty scissors and good ol' Firestarter

The first step was to fold the shirt in half to find the middle and then either draw a chalk line or iron a hard crease in preparation for your first cut. I couldn't find any chalk and the shirt was already so wrinkled that a new crease would hardly be helpful, so I did what all creative geniuses do and guessed.

Pictured: the middle

I just noticed that I've put up three pictures of this shirt and it's a different color every time. Pressing on...

The next step was more complicated and it involved the severing of sleeves, necklines and a large section of the back. It also involved spatial reasoning (of which I have none) so I asked my husband to give me a hand in cutting. Also, and I can't stress this enough, those scissors were awful. I needed at least four hands to pull the fabric taut enough to cut, so his presence was essential.



Eventually we found better scissors

After all that cutting it was time to create six one-inch strips of material. Fuck that noise. The table was littered with debris, so I just picked the longest ones and went to tying. I tied one at the top of each shoulder and three along the back to create that cool, racerback effect that ultimately requires an uncomfortable bra.

Then it was time to head to the bathroom studio for some very professional results shots:


I am not in the bathroom. I also make towels in my spare time.

Alright, so from the front I'm not that mad. The right boob sags a bit lower than the left, but on the whole the effect isn't awful. You can tell I used a raggedy piece of crap shirt as opposed to a crisp white tee, but the color pops and it only makes my hips look maybe twice their normal size.


You love my jorts, don't you? You don't have to say it, they're magnificent.

*Before I show you the back I'd just like to quickly mention that I was rained on shortly before performing this photo shoot (i.e. yeah, I know my hair looks like ten shades of shit).

Also, the back? Well, I'll just show you...




I tried to find an angle that didn't make it look like I was smuggling oven stuffer roasters in my ass or sporting a bustle, but such an angle does not exist. This is impressive for a very important reason: I don't even have an ass. My butt is so flat that it has been known to appear concave--a negative ass, really. This is a cruel joke of genetics and one that I have learned to live with, but on the plus side it revealed the true majesty of the shvest. It will give you an ass--a big one--if that's what you're into.

Will I ever venture outside in this garment? Well, that's anyone's guess, except for the fact that it isn't and I won't. A flattering still shot was not possible, even in the comfort of my own bathroom studio, so I can't begin to imagine the havoc I would wreak should I take this to the streets.

But Tony seems to like it.



 






Monday, February 25, 2013

My Drive Down the Road to Rep

Once upon a time, I wrote a book.

I wrote this book with the dim notion that it would someday be published, while carefully avoiding the reality of what that process actually entailed. Rather than get bogged down by what I was sure were mere technicalities, I sat down and started writing. I wrote a lot--sometimes churning out ten pages in one sitting. I wrote and I researched and I wrote some more, and after nine months of hair-pulling and sleep deprivation I had a tome that would kill a man if dropped from even the most meager of heights.

The first query letter I wrote was for a novel (a debut novel, no less) that stood proudly at 264,000 words.

Yup.

I would like to point out here that I wasn't ignorant of this flaw. I was in denial. When I began to query I found myself carefully seeking agents who made no mention of word count in their requirements, foolishly hoping they'd be too dumbstruck by the genius of my book to notice the hernia they received upon lifting it.

After, oh, a dozen rejections (mostly because my query letter was both generic and terrible), I realized that this was going to become an issue. Accepting defeat, I sat down and carefully whittled away nearly 100,000 words, bringing the book to a trimmer, but still obese, 186K. As I prepared to send Chubby out to a new crop of agents, I received word that a local indie bookstore was holding a pitch contest. At this point, I had become less worried about my word count and more worried about the actual nature of my plot. It was, to be blunt, kind of demented--demented as in I felt like I might be arrested for even writing it. I had no idea if it would be well-received by people with minds that were not as sick as mine, and a pitch contest felt like the perfect forum to test the waters.

So I entered. And I won.


This isn't me. But I might have made that face.


To win was wonderful, but better than that was the overwhelming enthusiasm from the other writers in the group. I had tons of people approach me afterward asking if I needed betas, or if I was willing to let them read the manuscript. I was humbled--and relieved--to find that yes, most people are as sick as I am.

I also got some much-needed guidance. Arielle Eckstut of the Book Doctors was wonderfully encouraging, but she gave it to me straight: the word count had to drop. On Halloween morning 2011, I took a call from Arielle in my car (where I conduct all of my important business) and tried to work out a plan of attack. The magic number was 100K. If I could get it to that point, I would have a viable project. I had already cut the book almost in half, and now I was faced with bringing it down to a quarter.

But I wanted this. Guys, I really wanted this.

I wish I could say that it was easy, but it wasn't. I cut a lot of scenes that I really loved, rewrote practically every sentence in fewer words, and after six months of work I was ready to roll...120K.

And 120K got me some bites. A few partials, a couple of fulls. I was happy with that. It was progress. I rolled into the summer of 2012 with the highest of hopes that I was finally onto something.

Then, last September, the other shoe dropped.

**********WARNING****This part is sad...and gory****WARNING*************

I got pregnant. And then I got sick. Within a few days I was so sick that I had to be rushed to the hospital, where they discovered that I was bleeding internally. The baby had gotten stuck in my left Fallopian tube and it ruptured. By midnight I was having emergency surgery to remove the tube destroyed by a pregnancy that was no longer viable.

I had to have more than one procedure, so it was doubly difficult. Initially the doctor tried to perform a laparascopy, but it didn't work. When he got the scope in there was too much blood for him to see, so they ended up performing a salpingectomy by cutting through my abdomen. The pain I was in when I woke up was ridiculous. I was on heavy pain meds in the hospital, but the doctor said that my blood pressure was too low to take anything stronger than Motrin while I was home. I spent three weeks out of work--mostly on the couch because I could barely climb the stairs. I couldn't do much of anything. I didn't want to do much of anything. 

Except work on my book.

It was the only thing that I could focus on, and I stayed up for hours, sometimes all night, whittling it down even further, making edits and tweaks throughout. I did three read-throughs in a row, each one stricter than the last. 

Tragedy is great fodder for fiction; inflict more agony upon your characters than you'd ever endure yourself, blah, blah, blah. I suddenly had a different perspective. I felt wretched, I was in pain, I was sad. And all I could do was try to offset it somehow, distract myself. I would like to say that it was always alive, at least to me, but I honestly feel like those weeks and months of editing while I was in recovery finally put a beating heart in that book.

104K. I started to send it out again. The first batch brought seven requests.

The very last request I received came from one of my long shots. I visited QueryTracker daily, always with an eye on the "New" and "Updated" agents on the sidebar. One day I saw Melissa Sarver's name on top, with the news that she had recently joined Folio Literary Management. I immediately googled her name for interviews, and after reading about her for more than an hour I was hooked. I knew she would be an ideal agent, but I also knew that she only took on selective fiction, so the bar was high--and my book was weird: a conglomerate of literary/women's/sick-n-twisted, with two main characters too young to be called adults. I don't know that I would have had the confidence to query her before my surgery, but something was pushing me to be braver that that, and on January 22, 2013 I hit send.

On February 1, I received an e-mail in return. "I would love to read your novel." Seven words, but I had to read them twice. I ran to the nearest computer to send the manuscript and basked in the 'full request high' that comes just before 'doubt and panic attacks' set in.

I've read a few accounts of immediate gratification responses on requested material--even within 24 hours, but in my experience with fulls, I knew they could take months. I did NOT expect to find another e-mail a week later asking if we could schedule a call.

I had heard tale of The Call. I had always imagined what my reaction might be. I was at work when I got the e-mail, so I tried to contain myself. It didn't work. I started crying. Then I went in the conference room to call my husband and cry some more. Then I ran into the bullpen portion of our office and screamed, "I GOT THE CALL!!!!" which probably sounded like I was off to the nunnery. 

The Call itself was among the best conversations of my life. My voice was pitched way too high and shook steadily for the first twenty minutes, but Melissa was so easy to talk to that I was able to relax and actually enjoy what was happening. She loved my novel! I love my novel! This is the best thing ever!!!

We spoke for an hour and a half about the book and what we could do to make it even better. She told me what she loved, but also what she didn't love, and her impressions and feedback made it clear to me that she really did share my vision for this book and could help me make it great. She told me about herself, about Folio, and I gave her some backstory on how the book came to be. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I wanted to accept her offer, but I still had fulls pending, so out went the "I got an offer" e-mails. I gave a one-week deadline, and it was a VERY busy week, but in the end I called Melissa the following Tuesday to accept.

I didn't have champagne (because I was in my car again) but I did stop for a cappuccino afterward!


It's still not easy to talk about, but I was in a very sad place when I was submitting this book. The surgery took a lot out of me, and the work I did while I was sick made it feel like I was putting some lost part of myself on display. The fact that it worked is more than validation for me, or the promise of something bigger, but rather a happier memory to tie to those long painful hours. I am eternally grateful to Melissa for having such confidence in my work, and for making the effort worth the result.

And now...onward!


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Fired

I've been bereft in posting, I know. Everyone in my house is on a (dirty word ahead) diet and damned if they'll let me get within ten feet of my oven. This has caused me considerable distress, as I'm sure you can imagine.

By rights, if anyone has the right to stop me from baking it's me. If you'd like to gain a large amount of weight in a short amount of time I recommend the following course of action: have abdominal surgery immediately before the holiday season. I was more or less gutted in mid-September and subsequently banned from any kind of exercise for the next three months (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas). It was a glorious time--a time of prolonged periods of couch-lying and eating everything in site. Not so glorious was the discovery that I had put on nine pounds since September.

I lost most of it once I was able to start moving again, but I'm still four pounds up, which means that I have been watching what I eat. I hate that. Everyone else in my house is also watching what they eat, because it's January and that's what people do in January, so I have been cruelly cut off from my first love, my oven.

Fortunately there are ways around that.

My primary problem was that there are precious few tasty gems that you can produce from a microwave. I needed an oven to continue my reignor at least something that could behave like one.

So I hunted for inspiration.


Pg. 199

On Thursday, Rowan made crème brulee for dessert. The tiny torch shook as the sugar browned and bubbled under the blue flame.

Ah...

Midway through my book, while Rowan was having a variety of nervous breakdowns lined with syrup and cupcake wrappers, I realized that it would be criminal not to arm this girl with a torch. I'd never owned one myself, but it seemed like a perfect vehicle for culinary stress relief and I was immediately jealous that she had one and I didn't. I spent something like two years bemoaning my lack of a torch to my family and friends, while making pointed remarks about all of the creme brulee we could have already enjoyed.

Then I got this for Christmas:


Back when I wrote the quoted scene, I had a vision of a culinary torch as something petite and hand-held--it's specifically referred to as a 'tiny torch'. I got a man's torch. And I absolutely love it.

It arrived just in time, because it wasn't long before I was called upon to create something delicious. Brandon and I were entertaining our friends Jim and Jess after we'd had dinner at a local restaurant called Mulberry St. Our collective history with Mulberry St. is brief, but dynamic. The first time the four of us went there we didn't have things like houses or kids, and we were in the midst of a short-lived and psychotic infatuation with Tom Collins' mix. We ordered something like fourteen drinks apiece and ran up a $300 bar tab. (Tom Collins was also the magical cocktail behind the most depraved party I have ever thrown in my life--suffice to say that it started as a murder mystery party and ended with nudity and people drinking in the bathtub.)

The second time we went there I was pregnant and ordered lobster ravioli. When my dish arrived I noted with dismay that the pasta was black and white striped and my pregnant mind morphed them into giant bugs and I got sick.

But enough of that! Let's set some food on fire!

The plan was to go to dinner and then back to our house for dessert. Being in charge of dessert, but not wanting to ruin anyone's diet, I concocted the following, with a strict explanation as to why it was going to be good for us.

Bananas brulee (bananas are fruit, ever so good for you, and it's just a little bit of sugar on top...the tiniest bit!) with dark chocolate sauce (hello, antioxidants!) and fat-free frozen yogurt (for health!).

I also made decorative caramel discs, but it's not like anyone actually eats those.

When we got home from the restaurant--where I had, no shit, the best white pizza I've ever had in my entire life--I prepped my torch for blazin'.

Rowan's torch was tiny--mine is longer than my torso.

I'm not going to say I was scared of the torch, but my body language indicates that I may have been the slightest bit intimidated. It was a very big torch, and it required assembly and knob-turning--things that I was not really prepared for. After a few moments of fiddling--where, it should be noted, I did NOT blow anything up, I was ready to brulee.

If you look at my feet you'll notice that I was standing as far away as my arm span allowed.

Tiny bit of sugar...tiny, tiny bit...

Once torching was complete it was time to assemble, and this is the closest I think I've ever come to a Dessert That You Might Get at a Hotel.

Very healthy!

Seriously though, this was delicious. And all thanks to the not-so-tiny torch. The sugar was like punching through glass, but it melted in your mouth and I can see exactly why Rowan chose to construct a brulee just prior to giving a teenager a painfully awkward sex talk. (I had a joke about penetration and custard all set here, but I'm going to take the high road and just leave it alone.)

Here's what you'll need!

For the bananas:

Bananas and sugar. That's it. Slice the bananas and cover them with sugar--despite my assurance to the contrary, you really do need to use a heavy hand for this step. Torch the sugar until it caramelizes and you're done!

For the chocolate:

I made the sauce myself using this recipe from Sophisticated Gourmet. I went the agave nectar route and used *almond extract instead of vanilla and the sauce was perfect. And full of antioxidants!

*I have a thing for almond extract. If something is chocolate, no matter what it is, I add a touch of almond. It really brings out the flavor, I recommend it to everyone.

For the sugar disc:

Melt 1 cup of sugar over medium heat until it becomes golden brown (this happens pretty quickly, so you have to be on your guard). Take note: melted sugar is hot as HELL and it will rip the skin off your body, so be extremely careful. Using a spoon, drizzle the sugar onto a silicone mat, overlapping until it becomes a solid unit that can be lifted. Let it harden completely before touching. This step should be done fairly close to serving time because these get very sticky.

For the yogurt:

Go to the supermarket and buy frozen yogurt.

I hope I've inspired everyone to embrace the torch and think outside the box during those hard times when your family won't let you near the oven. If they persist in repressing you, you can always make 'em eat gruel.

Happy torching!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Boy for Sale

There were many elements that contributed to the overall wrongness of this particular endeavor, but I place the bulk of the blame on the fact that someone saw fit to air Oliver! at 11 p.m. on December 23rd--a time when many people were up late wrapping presents and tossing back Bailey's and Christmas cookies. At least I was.

I didn't mean to watch Oliver! I'd never seen it before, but being Dickens it seemed festive enough, so I had it on in the background in between yanking cookie trays out of the oven and suffering alarming blood loss at the hands of my metal tape dispenser. Oliver! is basically Annie for boys. Wayward orphan, minus the ginger 'fro, finds a new life away from an oppressive orphanage. The workhouse didn't look quite as nice as Miss Hannigan's place, but the idea was the same. The whole thing is pretty light on food, but since they made such a huge stinkin' deal about it in the opening number, I found myself intrigued by one particular dish: Gruel.

I didn't know that gruel was an actual thing; I always thought it was more of a slang term for oatmeal that had been rolled in dirt or something equally noxious. Imagine my surprise when Wikipedia informed me that gruel was not only real, but came in a multitude of varieties, which, as we know, is the spice of life. I'm nothing if not adventurous, so I decided to hunt me down a nice gruel recipe and get to cooking!

I decided to go really bare bones for the true orphan experience and selected flour gruel, which seemed the grueliest of the gruels. The recipe was frightfully vague, but it basically amounted to making a salt and flour paste and dumping it into some boiling water. I could do that.

I considered my pantry. It was at this moment that I thanked God and all his angels for my vast and fabulous collection of artisan salts, the brainchild of Julie Dworak-Brennan who is the owner/operator of A Deadly Asalt. She makes KICKASS kosher salt impregnated with all manner of herbs and spices, and I am, as you can see, a fan.


Seriously, go buy these immediately.

The first big decision I had to make centered around whether I wanted a sweet or a savory gruel. My initial choice was to go for the roasted garlic, which I use on potatoes with greap aplomb, but Brandon suggested that I go for the vanilla caramel--a dessert gruel, if you will. I have a soft spot for the vanilla caramel, as I was called in as a consultant during its testing phase, so I went with it.

To my salt, I added flour. Please take a moment to appreciate the gorgeous caramel in there (I'm not kidding, www.adeadlyasalt.com, go there now).



Now here's where things started to get dicey. According to the recipe, I was supposed to drip water on the salt and flour to make a paste...so I did that and got this:


It was extremely pasty

The next step called for me to add said paste to a cup of boiling water. As it turns out, adding flour and salt paste to boiling water doesn't do much for either of them. The water was still water, though unappealingly murky, and the paste formed a series of unappetizing blobs that refused to dissolve or thicken or do much of anything, really. I did some frenzied whipping for about a minute and everything got pretty foamy, but that was the only change. Brandon told me that I had indeed caused (GASP!) gluten to form. HIDE YOUR CHILDREN!!!

 Deadly gluten notwithstanding, I pressed on and drained my concoction to remove what the recipe called 'the film.' I saw no film, but after I drained it I had this to deal with:



I was completely at a loss as to whether or not the gruel was the diluted semen-like abomination in the bowl or the tonsil stones that were left in the strainer. It was anyone's guess. I hearkened back to Oliver! and remembered that their gruel did look a lot like soup, so in an effort not to end the evening vomiting, I decided to go with the bowl.


Tasty


I knew that I would need some honest reaction shots, so I asked Brandon to take pictures of me testing out my dish. I wasn't quite sure how one should dress when chugging homemade gruel at ten-thirty on a Thursday night, but I'm pretty sure I nailed it.

It wasn't good.
It left me feeling like I may have overdressed

No amount of caramel could save this dish. In the end, the whole situation made me feel pretty sorry for 19th Century London youth, and hateful toward Charles Dickens' for being such a tool and not letting them eat tongue or bone marrow or some other type of Depression era food. The stuff they ate in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn didn't sound fabulous, but at least it was edible. I would rock some stale bread pudding and a sheeny pickle.

*Surprise gruel bonus! It coats the tongue to be sure, so I was throwing back diet Dr. Pep like it was my job after I tasted it. I'm sure it was the salt, but following my dismal snack, the Dr. Pepper tasted nothing short of incredible. Perhaps it was the ambrosia of my taste buds weeping in relief, but my chaser was a delight.

If you would like to make your own gruel, something I can't discourage enough, this is how I did it:

2 teaspoons of flour
1 teaspoon of salt
1 cup boiling water
Diet Dr. Pepper

Mix together flour and salt and then drip water on it to form a paste. Add the paste to one cup of boiling water, whisk, and drain. Serve warm, with a glass of Diet Dr. Pepper.


Gruel is fo' fools. Yo.