Recipe: Birthday pudding with rainbow frosting

Sometimes I like to put my apron on and make a mess of the kitchen, or as some people call it, “bake.”  (Please note that I have not yet broken the oven in my second flat.)  Today I would like to share with you a favorite recipe.

Here’s how to start.  Plan to host a few friends for dinner.  Find out a few hours before the event that one of these friends has his birthday and “you should really bake a cake.”  Try not to panic.  Luckily, of course you have a stock of the staples dark chocolate and raspberries, so decide to make raspberry brownies.  Google “raspberry brownies” and go with the first hit, because time is running out.  The recipe description is:  “Squidgy and super moreish, these gorgeous foolproof fruity chocolate bakes will be snapped up in seconds.”

Try to get over the way the words “squidgy” and “moreish” make you think of squids and Othello, the Moor of Venice.  In fact, try to get over that whole sentence with its bubbly British English.

Nickelodeon vs. Shakespeare

Shakespeare and Nickelodeon. I get them confused sometimes.

(Also, foolproof?  Just saying, have you ever met this fool?)

Follow the recipe.  It’s pretty simple, really, except that simultaneously you should also be trying to use a rice maker for the first time ever and chopping veggies for the stir fry.

Check the brownies after the allotted 30 minutes.  Discover that they’re still molten.  Replace in oven.  10 minutes later, they are a bit more magma than lava.  Take them out and let cool.

Now, “let cool” to you means “let cool for five minutes.”  And you’re impatient to get those birthday candles affixed, so stick ’em in.  Then realize they are melting into the brownies.  Remove.

Once actually cooled, reinsert the candles and light.  There are 26 candles; the friend is turning 27.  26 is still a lot of candles even if it is a lie.  Use approximately 10 matches and nearly burn your hands trying to light them all.  The candles are mere fluorescent stubs by the time you sing the birthday song and the wish is made.  When extinguished, the candles make a lot of smoke.  Luckily, you don’t have to worry about setting off smoke detectors, because you don’t have any.  And the birthday candles will provide a colorful layer of frosting.

After the fire.

Now wait for all the wax to be picked out, leaving the surface of the brownies pockmarked.  When it comes time to serve the brownies, they are, well, squidgy, which you now know means “floppy and pudding-like, refusing to maintain any shape.”  One of the friends inquires politely, “Are these fully cooked?”  They are.  They’re simply mislabeled, because you billed them as “raspberry brownies” when in reality it’s chocolate pudding with paraffin enhancements.

Thank you for joining me for another baking lesson.  There will be more to come as I pursue a truly “foolproof” (Layli-proof) brownie recipe.

I heard it’s your birthday

My boss returned from leave a few weeks ago.  It’s good to have him back.  He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the world, spanning everything from international relations to how to make the perfect cup of hot chocolate.  His mind works in surprising ways–he concluded a conversation on space exploration and extraterrestrial colonization with,  “I wonder how Bahá’ís living on Mars will know where the Qiblih is to face when they pray?” And of course he knows all about archival matters as well.

I arrived on Sunday to find a note on my keyboard in the handwriting of one of my officemates: “Sunday is Ted’s birthday.”  My immediate reaction was concern.  As his assistant, am I the birthday planner?  Should I have baked a cake?  Made a card?  I proceeded to put his birthday on my Outlook calendar so that at least next year I’ll be prepared.

It turned out I needn’t have worried.  One colleague, at our office devotions, wished him a happy birthday, leading to the group singing to him, leading to his reaction:  “Thank you.  Everyone needs to turn twenty-five at some point….and I’ll let you know when that happens to me.”  And then she went home for lunch and baked him a cake.  And then another colleague sent an email inviting everyone to the break room at 3:30 for a surprise party.  So that’s how it’s done, I thought.  But I noticed a problem.  How would we ensure he came at that time without directly inviting him?  I asked her, and she recommended that I take care of that.

Now, I’ve coordinated surprise parties before, but never on such short notice.  And never for my boss.  So I found myself getting a stress tummy ache trying to figure out how to get him in the break room without letting the proverbial cat out of the bag.  Finally, utilizing yet another of Outlook’s many wonderful functions, I sent him a meeting invitation to “work on correspondence” at 3:30.  But he didn’t reply.  And didn’t reply.  He was away from his office.  Finally, slightly panicked, I bumped into him in the hallway and we agreed on the meeting time.  But the hardest part was yet to come.  Once we met, how would I get him to the break room?  “Um, can we maybe discuss the space allocation of the break room cupboards?  Can we go do some fieldwork there?”–or, stagger into his office, pallid and weak–“I’m actually super hungry now, can we go take break first?”

The fateful hour arrived.  I heard his footsteps go into his office, then out–wait, what…and then from the break room, a collective shout of “Surprise!”  It turns out Ted, probably in innocent pursuit of a drink of water, surprised his surprise party.  He kindly came to fetch me, inquiring, “Well, are you ready for our ‘meeting’?”

The best laid schemes of mice and men, eh?

A whirr of iridescence

You know, that last post was supposed to be about the dinner I attended this week.  Perhaps you’ve noticed my writing strategy: I start with an anecdote, then transition to my bigger point.  The formula I’ve advocated to many applicants to grad programs in the humanities struggling to hack out a personal statement, in fact.  Occasionally, however, that anecdote drives me to distraction.  (Hm, I wonder if I could take a sherut there?)

Here goes.  After lunch, I step out of the building into the bright heat of noontime, and spot a glimmer before me.  It’s a whirr of iridescence: a hummingbird, purple and green, dipping its beak, then settling on a branch only to ascend once again, frenetic, gorgeous.  If I had my camera, I would have stood there snapping away like I did upon finding a veritable flock of colibrís on Cerro Santa Lucia in Santiago.

But I don’t, so I just stop and stare.  It’s just the two of us for this moment.  Then a group comes out behind me, loud and gregarious.  I start, then depart.  I can hear them exclaiming at the hummingbird–oh, look!–and also wishing they had their cameras.

This may come as a shock to you, but I’m not much of a socialite.  Put me in a room where I’m expected to mingle with a bunch of acquaintances and strangers, and I will keep an eye fixed on the nearest exit.  Even slightly formal dinner gatherings pose a series of challenges, particularly the threat of mistakenly feeding my lap instead of my mouth.

But even I couldn’t help but get a little excited at an invitation to dine with a large group of colleagues.

So, after descending the terrace stairs down to Ben Gurion street (which perturbed my leg muscles, making them tremble in protest), with a sheen of perspiration over the makeup I’d applied eleven hours earlier, I found myself in a tastefully appointed flat in the company of about thirty coworkers.

After we finished eating with plates delicately balanced upon our knees (I am proud to say that the only food that escaped me was a shred of spinach that jumped onto my foot), it was proposed that we go around and introduce ourselves, and say how our position contributed to our common mission of preservation.

I listened to the professional, expansive responses of a few veteran staff members, racking my brain as to how to shape my sundry jobs into a coherent statement. I came up with a simple response, and several days later, I’m still trying to figure out what exactly it is I do!