Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: The Year That Was (And Is, For Five More Hours) ...

This year, by every metric I can conceive, was better than last year.

And that's saying a lot.

Surely 2013 was the nadir. Or the realization of the pendulum swinging as far as possible into bleakness. Not that I'm trying to tempt fate to prove me wrong, mind you. I just mean to say that 2013 sucked. Really, truly, awfully, painfully sucked.

So 2014 was bound to be better.

And it was.

I took on some wonderful clients. (I am so pleased to be a part of Michele Woodward's team.) And I took on – and then dropped – and then took on again – and then dropped again a not-so-wonderful client. The people were nice. The work did not suit me. But the on-again, off-again process taught me to trust my instincts the first time around. You know: for the next time.

I helped a lovely doctor with the best name in the world – Starla Fitch – bring her book into the world. What began as a technical exercise morphed into much, much more. I appreciated her faith in me as we tackled some new ground for both of us. I may not know everything from the get go, but I'm a quick study. And my goal was only ever to make her look good, and on that front, we succeeded. Editors are very anonymous that way: If we do our jobs well, no one can tell that we're doing our jobs.

At long, long, long, long last, I met the delightful and charming David Leite. We snuck in brunch at Dillman's right before Brendan Sodikoff shuttered the joint to turn it into Cocello. Happily, though, in recent days the news has surfaced that Dillman's will be back in 2015. Finally, a place to get good deli. Good deli is ridiculously hard to find.

And speaking of Cocello, I was pleased to have dinner there with the only person in my life who may like octopus as much as me. Or maybe I like it as much as him. In any event, it's good to have an octopus friend.

I hatched a plan this summer to publish a wee e-book – a weeebook – or an ebook(let) – of cookie tips. I've been baking for so many years, it seemed like a good idea to gather all the bits of information in my head and commit them to virtual paper. And, remarkably, I actually published it, earlier this month. As I've mentioned to friends, it is the publishing equivalent of wading into the shallow end of the pool and putting my face in the water before mustering up the courage to drift into the deep end and feel the floor disappear underneath me. In real life, though, I've always been a fan of the deep end. It'll be good to return to it in the coming year, metaphorically speaking.

Because now that I've published my ebook(let), I'm more inclined to write and publish again. For as much as I rail against e-readers, though, I really rather like electronic publishing. It suits my impatience.

The aforementioned David sold his memoir this year, which I am very eager to read, as David is a spectacular writer. It's scheduled to be published in 2016 or 2017. I marvel at that. I'm glad to be able to maintain interest in a project for a week. I don't know if I have the constitution to marshal a book through a process that takes years.

Working for myself suits me. And while I'm still getting the knack of the hustle required to find new projects and keep things humming, I am enormously grateful for the freedom this life affords me. Sometimes, it takes me a while to get a message, but I finally have. (Thanks for not hiring me, Mark. Truly. It was absolutely the right decision for both of us. I just didn't realize it at the time.)

I've had some clients return to me and recommend me to others, which is both lovely reinforcement and endorsement. I look forward to building on that foundation and planting new seeds in the coming year (to mix metaphors).

And I am very much looking forward to singing – and recording – in the coming year, too. I've been pondering a return to the voice class I've taken in the past, to get back into the swing of things, so to speak. And was very, very saddened to learn of the recent passing of the woman who taught the class. Gwen was just the teacher I needed when I embarked on taking classes and I'm so sorry that I won't have the privilege of studying with her again. But her passing has only strengthened my resolve to sing and record and maybe even – gasp! – perform. I feel like I owe it to her as well as to myself.

As this particular decade of my life speeds along, I realize every day the truth of "Life begins at 40." For 2015, I decided to choose a word as a touchstone of sorts for the year. I chose the word "become."

The process is already underway, of course. It began the day I arrived on this pale blue dot. But I am more aware of the process now and more ready than ever to steer when I can steer and to let go when I should let go and see where it all leads me.

May 2015 be all that you hope it to be(come).

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Cookie Tips, Past And Present ...

I've been baking through my list of holiday cookies.

I also keep adding to the list.

Which has reminded me of a very key cookie tip:

— Make a list and (try to) stick to it

This was the year I was going to bake only two varieties, but lots of them: Peppermint Sablés* and Snickerdoodles.

But then I thought, "Oh, but I should make Oatmeal Raisin for Bill. And if I take cookies to Bill, I should make Peanut Butter for Donna ... ."

And just like that, the list had doubled.

And then I thought, "But Mom really likes Russian Teacakes. And Paul really likes Toffee Squares."

And presto! The list had tripled.

And then Mom reported that my niece looked crestfallen upon learning that Chocolate Crinkles would not be baked this year.

Well, that won't do.

Chocolate Crinkle dough is in the fridge.

And then I thought of a cookie-as-gift idea for someone for whom I do not usually bake, so, for those of you keeping score at home, that brings the tally to eight varieties.

From two to eight. Just like that.

So, that should be plenty, right?

Except that I've made what I thought was a sufficient quantity of each type of cookie and then realized, no, I really should make another batch of each.

So this year's baking has spiraled slightly out of control.

But hey, butter's on sale.

Speaking of having a lot of cookies on hand, though, one of the other tips I shared on Twitter this week was:

— Enjoy a couple (or a few) with your morning coffee, pre-holidays

We deserve wee rewards for our efforts.

Others that came to mind to share:

– While warm, roll Russian teacakes in powdered sugar to create a "skim coat"; the initial coat will enable powdered sugar to cling when you roll them in more before serving

– Toast walnuts – or other nuts – before using them in cookies; grind for better distribution, chop for better texture

– Baking two sheets of cookies? Rotate them halfway through the baking time, top to bottom, front to back; also, tack 30 seconds onto the second half of baking time to accommodate your oven coming back up to temp

– A stick of butter that's softened enough for baking should bend but not be too soft or greasy

Find more tips in my ebook(let) How to Bake a Better Cookie on Amazon.

* Swap in peppermint extract for vanilla

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Ohmygosh! ...

Oh! In the intro of my ebook(let), I cite the vintage edition of Betty Crocker's Cooky Book as an influence!

What a trip to see myself in the same row with it on Amazon! (This is the Books > Cookbooks, Food & Wine > Baking > Cookies ranking.)

The modern-day reissue is No. 4, as it should be. It's a fab book.

I shall aspire to move up to that neighborhood and appear alongside the new version, but in the meantime, this picture delights me!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

It's A Book(let)! ...

Historically speaking, I completed this project in record time.

I had the idea in July. I started jotting down thoughts on a piece of scrap paper in my wallet in a waiting room.

And then, as with most ideas I have, I let it stall.

I noodled around with it a bit, but not in any meaningful way.

Until last week.

And then, in earnest, on Monday afternoon. And into Monday evening.

And then as soon as I got up Tuesday morning.

And by Tuesday afternoon, it was a thing.

Available on Amazon.

What a trip.

Most publishing cycles take a couple of years.

This one took about 20 hours.

It's a good first step for me, the publishing equivalent of wading into the shallow end of the pool and putting my face in the water before heading into the deep end.

It's also terribly exciting and fun!

On to the next! Whatever that may be.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Crafty ...

Paint chips + circle punch + quilting thread = dotty garland, sample-strand edition. Should I ever make more, I think I'll swipe a black Sharpie around the back of each circle to eliminate the white edge. Fun little project, though. A good way to recycle!

Monday, December 01, 2014

Destiny ...

I had enough milk.

Whether or not I had enough milk was to determine whether or not I baked bread today.

I had enough milk. With a bit to spare.

So I made bread, the bread my Great Aunt Anne taught me to bake so many years ago. I was 8 then. Today, I am teetering on the fulcrum of my 40s.

It's second nature to me, this bread. I breeze through making it and shaping it.

The waiting truly is the hardest part.

But I waited for the dough to rise. And when it didn't look risen quite enough, I waited a little longer.

And then I fired up the oven and later, out came two lovely loaves, with more depth the the crust than the loaves I baked the other day. So I took a picture.

And then I waited for it to cool and then I cut a slice and the crust was indeed lovely. So I took a picture.

And then I set thin slices of butter on it to soften, because it was still warm. And then I smeard the butter into a mostly even layer and marveled at the chewy texture of the crust. These might be the best loaves I've ever baked.

And then I cut another slice – OK, two slices – and put them in the toaster and stood by, waiting for them to take on just the right amount of color, and then I set more thin slices of butter on them and let them mostly melt and I had already taken the two other pictures so I took a picture.

The happiest incarnation of bread is toast.