Monday, July 27, 2015

Comparison ...

I watched "Wild" yesterday, Reese Witherspoon's telling of Cheryl Strayed's hike along the Pacific Coast Trail from the Mojave desert to the Oregon-Washington border.

Sitting there, on my couch in my air-conditioned house, watching Cheryl's struggles, I said, "I couldn't do that."

And then I paused the movie, exasperated with myself.

"I walked the 3-Day," I said, "but that's just sixty miles. And I had someone cooking for me. And a shower each night."

I had had just about enough of myself. So I responded to myself with this:

"Yes, Beth, you walked the 3-Day, which is sixty miles in three days. Do you know how many people don't walk the 3-Day? Most people don't walk the 3-Day. And you walked the 3-Day seven times."

I do believe that comparison is a mild form of insanity.

This summer, I've been working through Nona Jordan's course Get Right with Money.

I'm finding it very helpful on a number of levels, but the most helpful thing of all (so far, at least) may be what I read on the second page of the prologue: "You can do hard things."

Yes, I can. I do. I have.

Recently, when my recently flooded basement was on the verge of flooding again just days later – even as the drying equipment was in place – that simple sentiment was what kept me going as I bailed water out of my almost-overflowing sump pit into any watertight container I could find. Thankfully, a neighbor had a second submersible pump that, in concert with the one I already had pumping, got ahead of the water just enough to prevent another flood.

At one point, it seemed hopeless. I was exhausted. Water is heavy, and I had been hauling buckets of it to empty into my utility sink. Then my circuit breaker tripped – twice – and I had to feel my way to the box to trip the circuit – twice – until it dawned on me to pull all the plugs on the drying equipment. I was running out of containers. After I had filled my utility sinnk, I had upended my totes of Christmas decorations, I had filled Styrofoam coolers, I had filled a plastic garbage can, but I managed to get ahead of the water just enough to run upstairs and grab the phone and call my neighbor.

And with perseverance and help, I prevented another flood.

And then, two days later, as it rained again, though thankfully not as heavily, I had the plumbing rerouted to discharge outside of my house, so, in theory, I should never have water in my basement again.

Neither the 3-Day nor bailing out my basement are the same as hiking the PCT, of course. Because nothing is the same as hiking the PCT. Only hiking the PCT is hiking the PCT.

And I will never do that. Because I don't want to do that.

And I will never go through what Cheryl Strayed went through in other areas of her life, because I am not Cheryl Strayed.

I am me. And my life is my life. And comparison is literally pointless.

I can surely have empathy for others. Sympathy, too.

And admiration and appreciation.

And I do. Every day.

And I know I can do more than I do, improve in many ways, but not to be as good as someone else or better than someone else, but simply to become a better me.

Which is not to say that I find myself lacking but there is more that I want to do. Of course there is. Doing is the point of living.

Being is only the beginning.

But the only logical comparisons begin and end with me: me now, me then, me in the future, however long that may be.

I woke up this morning. I don't take that for granted. I really don't.

Another day.

So much possibility.

And incomparable.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Brownies ...

Once upon a time, not long after Angelo and I had "met" on Twitter, we found ourselves a bit at odds.

He had posted this video and I felt compelled to comment on the unfrosted nature of Baked's brownies. I like my brownies frosted. Angelo replied that he did not.

I tweeted: @AngeloSurmelis Ooh, I think we should have a brownie summit! Embrace our respective brownies' differences. Then, bring about world peace.

(I have an archive of my tweets. Thank you, Twitter, for enabling my accuracy obsession.)

I don't have access to Angelo's responses, but he replied and I felt compelled to respond with:

@AngeloSurmelis Well, honey, my brownies don't *need* frosting. I just like to gild the chocolate lily, as it were. But I'll try one.

He remained unconvinced, and so I added: @AngeloSurmelis Well, the next time you're in Chicago, I'll be happy to supply frosted brownies for you. I'll even throw in ice-cold milk!

Time passed.

Last fall, I shipped a package of treats to him which contained his first-ever brownies from me.

Soon thereafter, this tweet appeared:

Behold, the power of frosting.

Recently, he posted a link to Katharine Hepburn's brownies on his Facebook page.

I commented:

"Kate and I are practically twins! Well, brownie twins. My recipe calls for a bit more flour, but everything else is the same. For the brownies.* Then I frost 'em, unlike Kate. I don't get why more folks frost brownies."

Angelo replied: "... as you know, I was not a fan of frosting on brownies. THEN, I had your frosted bits of crack brownies. Delightful! Share with the folks where they may find YOUR frosted brownie recipe, cause it's awesome!"

To which I replied:

"And I am delighted to count you among the fans of the brownies. But I never have posted the recipe. I shall do that one of these days."

And today is that day.

The brownie recipe is precise. The frosting recipe much less so. But frosting is a subjective thing. Make it as sweet as you like.

So now, Angelo, you can whip up a batch of brownie crack any time you please.

But I'll happily bake for you again. Just say the word.

Maybe we should remake "Citizen Kane" and open it with him saying "Frosting."

(No idea of the real source of the recipe; my family's been baking these forever.)

1 stick butter (I use salted)
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa
3/4 cup flour
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
Walnuts (I toast mine first in a 350° oven for 13–15 minutes then let them cool)

Melt the butter, stir in sugar and cocoa. Add flour. Mix. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix. Stir in walnuts. (I dump some into a Ziplock bag and press on them to break them up a bit first.) Spoon mixture into greased 8x8 pan (I spray it with PAM).

Bake at 350° until done, about 25 minutes. (Start checking a little before then, as ovens vary. You may need to go to 30 minutes. It all depends.)

Cool on a rack until warm but not hot (15 minutes, maybe), then frost with:

Equal parts of butter and cocoa (For an 8x8 pan, you might use 3 tablespoons of each, maybe 4 tablespoons; depends on how much frosting you like)
Powdered sugar

It's hard to give people the recipe for the frosting, as it's just a taste thing. Melt the butter and stir in the cocoa until the mixture's smooth. Dump in some powdered sugar and a little milk and stir. Keep tweaking until you get desired sweetness and spreadability. Add the milk in smaller increments than seems reasonable. You can always add more. If you add too much, pour out a bit into the sink. If you thin the frosting too much by mistake, you'll have to add more powdered sugar to recover the consistency and you may end up with frosting that's too sweet for your tastes. So add milk in small amounts.

Double the brownie-proper recipe for a 9x13 pan. Frosting-wise, though, don't double the frosting. For a 9x13 pan, use 5 tablespoons to 6 tablespoons each of butter and cocoa and add powdered sugar and milk accordingly.

* (She used 1/4 cup. I use 3/4 cup. Hers are described as "gooey." Mine were once described as "cakelike yet fudgy, yet not so fudgy that they're not cakelike," which is spot on. Dan Santow conjured that fine description. Dan, if you happen across this post someday, I hope all's well in your world. Holler if you'd like a brownie.)