Monday, March 28, 2011

How Does The Universe Work?

I know it’s been awhile since I posted. My life has been traveling at light speed. I find myself questioning the Universe and my relationship with it.


I had a conversation with B (my boyfriend) last night that triggered some very deep questions in myself.

All my life, I have felt that there has been a blueprint for my life. I can make any choice I want, even ones that don’t follow the blueprint. If I choose against the blueprint, I can expect hardship and trouble and only a percentage of a chance of success. If I choose to follow the blueprint, I can expect easier times or at least, to not be hit as hard.


If all this seems very esoteric, it is. I’m sorry if its hard to follow but I just need to get this out. If I still need to explain anything by the end of reading this, please let me know in the comments.


Anyway, I have approached what I call my Universe Theory in a scientific manner ever since I became aware that not all of everything is random. I can’t prove how I know that synchronicity and fated events exist but I believe they do. The scientific method is how I have tested my Universe Theory.

1. Live life for awhile.
2. Make choices that benefit me, increase my happiness.
3. Sit back and wait to see what the Universe brings me.
4. RESULT: I get hit hard, over and over and over again, with trouble and hardship. Almost as though I am being punished.

OR

1. Live life for awhile (or recover from the last round of Christina-cum-Cosmic-Punching-Bag)
2. Make choices that don’t necessarily increase my happiness, but that do seem more in line with whatever blueprint the Universe has in store for me. (i.e. Doing what makes me happy vs. Doing what I’m supposed to be doing)
3. Sit back and wait to see what the Universe brings me.
4. RESULT: I get hit less hard, or am afforded the "coincidences" that seem like "gifts from God" that end up saving my ass. Almost as though I am being patted on the head with "help" as a reward for doing what the Universe wants me to.


Its kind of like Joan of Arc. Being a nun made her happy. But that wasn’t what she was supposed to do. She had to be a warrior (and go crazy listening to the voice of God and angels in her head).


If I want X because it will make me happy, but the Universe keeps throwing choices at me in which choosing X will ultimately cause me so much hardship and strife that just out of sheer say-uncle I choose Y because that is what will stop the cosmic kicks to the ribs.


So the conversation I had with B last night went like this:
C: I want X because it will make me really really happy. But 1, 2 and 3 happened recently that make me think the Universe doesn’t want me to choose X, and instead choose Y. I will not choose Y because that’s not what I want, but now I have to be prepared to be hit hard for choosing X. And I’m scared of that.

B: I also want X because it will make me really really happy. But now that I know that you believe you will experience bad things for choosing X, it makes me want to help spare you that pain and not make X happen. And that makes me sad.

C: X is going to happen. Have no fear. But I want to warn you, as my partner, that you may be taking on a big liability in me if you choose to remain.

B: I choose to remain. But explain to me why the Universe doesn’t want you to be happy?

C: Because what if the Universe threw 1, 2 and 3 at me as a way to warn me: Don’t go through with X because then you will get more (and worse) of 1, 2 and 3.

B: Go on.

C: Or what if the Universe threw 1, 2 and 3 at me as a way to teach me: Here is some practice for what X will be like if you choose it, so that you are better prepared for the inevitable 1, 2 and 3.

B: May I suggest a third option?

C: Please.

B: What if the Universe as you know it is a construct (obstacle) that your fear has built? That this thing that you think is the Universe is really just a succubus controlling your life? What if the actual Universe is nothing but love and light and contains all the freedom for you to find your happiness (and this actual Universe has been trying to get through to you this whole time)? What if the actual Universe put ME in your path to show you that if you face this obstacle-fear-constructed-Universe-falsity with love in your corner, that you might break through and experience freedom from this controlling thought pattern that prevents you from experiencing true happiness? What if I am the messenger you didn’t know you were seeking? What if I am the instrument that can teach you to cope?

C; Huh. I never thought about it like that. And boy howdy, does that ring with truth....
My jury is still out on how this is all going to play out but I have to say B may be onto something. And I will be watching for the signs. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Universe Is Mysterious

I cannot go into detail yet but trust me when I say:  Good things come to those who wait.

If you're old like me, you'll get the reference.  If not, use The Google.

My somewhat esoteric opening of this post does have a point.  I want to tell you, dear Reader, that I've been through some sheeeeeeeee-it.  With a capital -IT.  There were times in my life where it was just one karmic pile of dog crap to the next.  You can read about some of it in my past post "Why Bad Mothers Make Good Mothers."  I even made some art that likened my soul to that of a cosmic lightning rod, magnetically attracting the pain-energy of the world in order to spare ten others from pain.  My pain was so blinding, so sharp, so white-hot I thought, "Surely this isn't normal human pain.  This must be the pain of fiv-- eigh-- TEN people!"

If you don't perish from the sheer heartbreak of it all, you begin moving on.  Into the next minute.  Crawling on bloody stumps into the next hour.  Scraping off the flesh on your face into the next morning.  And almost before you realize it, the worst of it is over.

And then.

AND THEN.

It culminates into a portion of life like what I'm experiencing now.  I don't want to put any bragging energy or gee-I-am-not-experiencing-enough-hard-knocks energy into motion out there.  (My disclaimer to the Universe.)

So don't go getting any ideas, Mister.

I'm just trying to do two things by saying that.

1.  If you're in that pain, it gets better.  I didn't believe it when I was there, but it does.  Even just statistically speaking, if you wait long enough, something has to change.  It will be good.  And it will be better than what you're dealing with now.  And...

2.  I am so so so so so grateful for my life.  I am experiencing good stuff now, but it wouldn't be nearly as sweet if I hadn't experienced the depths of the pain that I did for as long as I did.  I am humbled by the ways of the cosmos and can see how people can get all religious about this shit.

At any moment, my gifts could change.  But good and bad, they are all gifts. 

Be grateful.  Be alive.  I love you.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

How to Make People Think You Are a Cake Genius!


*tiptoes in, sheepishly looks around, clears throat*
I'm back. 
Sorry for the absence. 
Things have been a little, well, nuts. 
The gory details aren't really relevant but let's just say I've been saving asses and my ass got a little saving as well.  It seems things have evened out, at least for the short term so I'm going to keep chugging along here with this little ol' blog.

Today's topic:  THE MYSTICAL ZEBRA CAKE

You may be asking yourself, "Self?  What the h-e-double-hockey-sticks is a zebra cake?"
A:  It is a chocolate and vanilla striped cake of magical powers. 

What's so damn magical about it? 

Well, how about it looks super complicated to make and thusly makes you look like the Albus Dumbledore of the kitchen... but it is no harder than making a cake from a box.  How's that you say?  Read on.


I pulled this recipe because of all the recipes I found, most of them were adapted from it.  Apparently, this Farida lady is the Holy Mistress Of Zebra Cake out there in the intarwebs.  After making the cake, I have to agree.  The recipe I'm sharing is my own modified version of hers and I'll note where my recipe deviates from the original. 


FARIDA'S FAMOUS ZEBRA CAKE (Modified by Christina Boykin)

Preparation time: 10 minutes (It took me 25 minutes but I'm anal retentive.)
Cooking time: 40 minutes
Makes one 9-inch (23 cm) cake


INGREDIENTS

 4 large eggs, at room temperature

(Mine were straight from the fridge and extra-large.  Didn't have time to wait for them to warm to room temperature.)





1 cup (8 oz / 250 g) granulated sugar

1 cup (8 fl oz / 250 ml) milk, at room temperature

(This, like the eggs, was cold too.  Also, I think next time I will use at least 2% or whole milk.  The skim made the batter too thin.)


1 cup (8 fl oz / 250 ml) oil (corn, vegetable or canola is fine)


 


2 cups (10 oz / 300 g) all-purpose flour
1/3 teaspoon vanilla powder 

(I didn't have vanilla powder so I used the liquid extract.  Other than possibly adding to the thinness of the batter, I don't think the change made much of a difference.)









1 tablespoon (equals 3 teaspoons) baking powder
(if not available, substitute with 1 teaspoon baking soda)





2 tablespoons dark cocoa powder (make sure it is not very bitter) such as Dutch-processed.
A word of caution: Sometimes I use Hershey’s natural unsweetened cocoa, but since it is BITTER it takes away from the sweetness of the cake, so it may not be your best choice if you want a sweeter cake. Also Remember! Dark zebra patterns won’t stand out with light cocoa powder. 

(The cocoa I used was semi-sweet like their Special Dark chocolate bars.  It has Dutch-processed cocoa in it blended with other cocoas.  It was the only one on the shelf that said anything about being Dutch-processed -- whatever that means.  Also, I was worried it wouldn't get dark enough to get the good contrast the stripes needed so I added another ingredient to help with that.  Keep reading to find out what it is.)

 ***Also, DO NOT spill this cocoa powder like I did. It is super fine and needs to be wiped up with a wet paper towel to get it all off the counter/floor/etc.  Super fine chocolate powder + water = chocolate-mud-napalm that adheres to EVERYTHING.***

 
 BELOW ARE MY OWN INGREDIENT MODIFICATIONS
THAT MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE MESSED UP THE RECIPE

Extra Ingredient 1 of 3:
Non-stick cooking spray

I used this instead of straight oil to grease my pan before pouring in the batter.



Extra Ingredient 2 of 3: 
Duncan Hines Amazing Glazes in Chocolate (Optional)

I had never tried this before and worried it would taste too sweet or plasticky but it was actually really good!  It is similar to the thick chocolate glaze on Boston Creme Pies.  You have to microwave it 10 seconds at a time, shaking it in between, to make it thin enough to pour.  Otherwise, it just comes out like gloppy brown toothpaste and doesn't look pretty.

Gloppy is too a word.



Extra Ingredient 3 of 3: 
Black Liquid Food Coloring 
(A-HA!  The secret to dark zebra stripes!) 

You can find this either in the baking section or the spices section of your grocery store.  A word of caution:  A little goes a looooong way.  Use too much and your food will taste inky and will stain your teeth, clothes and children.  The secret is to let the cocoa powder do 97% of the darkening of the batter and then add a few drops of this stuff to really give it a POW!


OOPS...
I got so excited to start working on this cake that I forgot to take pictures until I had completely finished the batter striping process.  If you need to get a visual on that you can see it here.



You’ll also need: mixing bowls, electric mixer or wire whisk, 9 inch (23 cm) non-stick round cake pan.

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine eggs and sugar. Using a hand-held electric mixer or wire whisk beat until the mixture is creamy and light in color.
2. Add milk and oil, and continue beating until well blended.

3. In a separate bowl, combine and mix flour, vanilla powder and baking powder. Gradually add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and beat just until the batter is smooth and the dry ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.  DO NOT OVERBEAT to prevent air pockets from forming in the batter. If the mixture is too thin, add a little more flour.  (I think I overbeat it and that contributed to the thinness.)

4. Divide the mixture into 2 equal portions.  Use a large liquid measuring bowl to be sure the portions are equal.  Keep one portion plain. Add cocoa powder and a drop or three of black food coloring into another and mix until blended.  Do not overmix.


Empty bowl of vanilla batter.  It was too thin, even after adding a little more flour.  I think the room temperature milk and eggs would have made a difference and I will be sure to try it that way next time I make this.

The not-so-equal portion of chocolate batter left over after completing the striping process. Again, it was too thin.  Also, I used too much food coloring in my desire to get very black stripes.  I didn't taste the batter until the end and it had a slightly unpleasant aftertaste.  Fortunately, it tasted fine after baking.
But doesn't it LOOK like divine chocolatey goodness? 


5. Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).

This is what an oven dial looks like.  It's round with temperature numbers on it and you can turn it.

/facepalm

I don't know why I took a picture of my oven dial.  I think I was just gleefully frolicking in my tiny apartment kitchen making cake and snapping pictures.  I'll give you a moment to take that visual in.



6. Lightly grease the pan with oil. If you don’t have non-stick baking pan, grease whatever pan you have then line it with parchment paper (baking paper).
(I used canola oil in the recipe so I figured the canola non-stick spray would be just as good to grease the pan with.  I was worried the liquid oil would make the cake too oily. But I think that was the point because my end result was a bit dry. I will be greasing the pan with liquid oil next time around.) 
 

(I should just stop thinking I know everything and follow the damn directions, huh?)







7. The most important part is assembling the cake batter in a baking pan. This is what you do (pictures here). Scoop three  tablespoons of plain batter (you can also use a ladle that would hold three tablespoons) into the middle of the baking pan. Then scoop three tablespoons of cocoa batter and pour it in the center on top of the plain batter.

IMPORTANT! Do not stop and wait until the previous batter spreads - KEEP GOING!
Do not spread the batter or tilt the pan to distribute the mixture.
It will spread by itself and fill the pan gradually.
Continue alternating the batters until you finish them.
This is how the cake will look before it goes in the oven.
The rare Chefbird's-eye view.

8. Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes. Do not open the oven door at least the first 20 minutes or the cake will shrink and will not rise.

Look at the glory of the risen!

To check if the cake is ready, insert a toothpick into the center. It should come out clean when ready. Remove from the oven.

NOM NOM NOM. 


Immediately run a small thin knife around the inside of the pan to loosen the cake, then invert the cake onto a cooking rack. Turn the cake back over and let cool. You can sprinkle the top of the cake with some powdered (confectioner’s) sugar or leave it plain.

Or.....
You can drizzle amazing chocolate glaze all over it.
Candles not necessary.  But FIRE always good.

And now, for THE BIG REVEAL!
Wah, wah, waaaaahhhh....
It's kinda meh.

My batter was too thin and made the layers blend during the first part of the striping process.  Or maybe the chocolate batter was too heavy because of the cocoa in it and it sunk to the bottom.  Either way, I got the stripes on the top half and had I ACTUALLY FOLLOWED THE DAMN DIRECTIONS this maybe would have turned out perfectly.

I made this cake for my boss for his office birthday party.  Even though it didn't turn out exactly perfect, everyone got the idea and were pretty impressed by my culinary wizardry.  I even got called a kiss-ass because I "slaved away on a cake for my boss." 

Heh heh.

Even though this is a good recipe, I'm still a single working mother with zero time.  I think the next Zebra Cake I make will be with a box of vanilla cake mix and a box of chocolate cake mix (with only a few DROPS of black food coloring for that contrast that gives me zings of artistic excitement)!

Let me know if you try this recipe and how it turned out for you.  I would love to see pictures and hear about your experience -- whether you followed the directions or not!  Bon Appetit!
 
P.S.  Formatting this blog post SUCKED.  My OCD is making me itchy with all the spacing, alignment, font size, hyperlink and font color issues.  But I've been working on it for six hours and this is the best it's going to get.  Note to self:  LEARN HTML!


Friday, January 28, 2011

Newest HARD CARDS- Being honest with yourself...and others

Three new Hard Cards, my friends.  Honesty is the best policy.  Buy one of these cheap, original, snarky, clever Hard Cards and spread some honesty today.


"Pause the Damn Game" is for those of us who are in desperate need of more than a grunt of acknowledgement for our existence. Perhaps you know someone in your life who hasn't made eye contact with you in weeks, yet occupies prime real estate on your couch. After all you do for them, the least they could do is follow the directions on this card. If this card doesn't work, may we suggest selling a certain game console on eBay and taking yourself out to a nice dinner?


"I Just Want Your Money" gets right to the point. Does your sugar daddy have the wrong idea? Is your baby daddy trying to get back with you? Are you trying to cultivate a gold-digger persona to get on the Maury show? Try this card. Even if it doesn't get you their money, at least you can sleep at night knowing you're being honest about what you want. Their money.

"I Hate You With Every Fiber Of My Being" is quite the indulgent card. Hate is poison no matter how justified, hence the adorable skull-and-crossbones. It poisons you but in a cruel twist of fate doesn't seem to bother the recipient at all. Use this card at your own risk and preferably as a last action. Then give yourself permission to let it go. You'll be glad you did. And the recipient STILL won't care. But then again, neither will you anymore.
Digging these cards?  Can't get enough?  Check out more here.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

It's Only Abuse If He Hits You...

...or so says the law.  We are at a turning point in legislature, people.  Back in the 60s and 70s, they were at a similar place.  Let me show you:

Pre-1950s: Beat your wife.  Beat your kids.  Do it in public.  We don't mind.  It's how you keep them in line, after all.

     RESULT:  A trickle of people begin to think that this isn't right.

Aren't they just the happy family?

1950s:  Beat your wife and kids but do it MOSTLY behind closed doors.  It's alarming to see but totally necessary to keep them in line.

     RESULT:  People are beginning to step in when they see abuse in public.

You could get beaten for stale coffee.  It's in ADVERTISING.

1960s and 70s:  Beat your wife and kids but don't let us see you doing it in public.  Cuz then we have to fill out all kinds of paperwork...    
RESULT:  Women are beginning to stand up for themselves.  Teachers are reporting bruises and injuries on children.  Laws are passed to begin the prevention of abuse.  Most of the abuse definitions are for show and are easily argued away in court.  Programs are begun to offer assistance to victims.  Legal recourse to abuse is in its infancy.
Wait.  I don't have to cook your damn breakfast? TO THE STREETS!!

1980s:  Beat your wife and kids but don't do it in public, don't let them make sounds your neighbors can hear and don't leave any marks because now people are reporting it to the police and family services.  Keep them in line but pretend you don't.   
RESULT:  It is generally accepted that abuse is not okay.  Abuse prevention begins to be a pet project for some big names.  Family law now has to deal with abuse as a defense or grounds for divorce.  Neighbors report arguments, kids are talking to guidance counselors, authors are telling their survival stories. 

Or writing songs about it.

1990s:  Okay, your wife and kids still need to be kept in line but now beating them is just too risky.  Can you, oh I don't know, mess with their heads maybe?  Read up on CIA brainwashing tactics.  That'll get you started.  Then, just think outside the box.    
RESULT:  It is now law that abuse is illegal.  Courts are very much on the side of victims of physical abuse.  Proven physical abuse can get one's children taken from them, hospitals report it, teachers report it, reported numbers rise.  Abusers now have to get creative.
Damn phones.  They're EVERYWHERE.

2000s: Control the finances.  Control their self-esteem.  Take their innocence.  Trap them.  Cause confusion and uncertainty.  Isolate them from people who might empower them.  Make them dependent on you in every way.  But just don't touch 'em.  There, now THAT'LL keep 'em in line.
Verbal face-grabbing.  Now THAT's creative.   
RESULT:  Physical abuse is very illegal.  Emotional, psychological, economic/financial, verbal and mental abuse is now the preferred method.  Courts usually won't recognize these forms of abuse as ABUSE.  They are hard to prove and easy to weaponize.  Legal definitions of abuse may include verbiage about these non-physical types of abuse but it is more for show.  Just like in the 1960s and 70s.
"But he didn't actually hit you?  .........Overruled."

Victims of abuse today are finding more and more often that the system is failing them.  Legal definitions of abuse are generally interpreted as pertains to physical or sexual abuse only.  It is hard to get a judge to rule on any form of non-physical abuse.  No judge wants to rule that the children go with a parent claiming to be a victim of emotional abuse only to later find out that parent made it up to get custody of the children.  There must be some way to legally define non-physical types of abuse that can be provable, enforceable and difficult to weaponize.


Yeah, it's a cat picture.  Sue me.

I admit I don't have an answer to this except that the courts need to make those early mistakes and get some rulings on the books about non-physical abuse.  The courts need to set some precedents, even if they are shaky, for future cases to build on.  We're going to have to make some mistakes as casualties in the long-run of protecting people who are abused in ANY way.

Preach it, B.

I have watched so many lives and families crumble into a gray muck of bleakness because of abuse where no fist was ever swung, no private parts ever violated.  I would even go so far to say that non-physical abuse makes up the VAST MAJORITY of abuse cases.  But you couldn't find a chart or graph showing that because no one cares to count them.

Insert graphic of
imaginary pie chart showing
non-physical abuse majority
HERE.

A devil's advocate might say, "Prove it."

Pictured:  Smug male privilege.

I would respond, "Give me a judge who will listen and advocate."

                             Justice Sotomayor:  Hey dudes.  I'm a judge now.  Heh, heh.
                             Men Everywhere:    But...but...she's BIASED!!! 
                                                             She might rule in favor of what's right!!!  *GASP*
                             Justice Sotomayor:  /facepalm

What kind of solutions do you have to the problem of non-physical abuse and the prosecution thereof? 
I'd love to hear your ideas. 
Let's begin a conversation. 
Perhaps someone who pulls strings might hear us.

Barry?  Michelle?  Anybody home?

I Vote For Longer Days

There are simply not enough hours in the day.  Or maybe...if there were more hours in the day I'd use them up just as quickly as I use up my allotted 24.

I'm sorry the posts have slowed down.  I'm still here, still working on fabulous content for you, my chickadee.  Have faith.  Stay with me.  It'll be worth your time, I promise.

Oh and....

I love you.