made me watch The Great British Bake Off (she flew all the way from Australia to twist my arm until I surrendered!) with two results: (1) I'm now a slightly obsessive fan and (2) I want to BAKE ALL THE THINGS.
So I tried, for the first time ever, to make a proper layer cake with frosting and everything. I was cautious and used a recipe actually designed for the altitude at which I live (7000 feet or 2100 meters, which has big effects on baking). The end result was ( sort of a hilarious disaster and sort of a triumph )
This half-failure half-triumph has whetted my ambitions, so for my next trick I intend to make a variation of the same cake recipe (with the right amount of buttermilk this time!), only with each of the two layers split in half, the whole thing filled with homemade lemon curd and then topped with a light lemon glaze instead of frosting, because the cake and the lemon curd are probably quite rich enough.
I also want to try making biscotti, which held no interest at all for me until the second Bake Off episode. I've always thought of them as nasty stale things that coffee shops overcharge you for, but the ones on the Bake Off all looked really good. I'm thinking of cranberry, orange zest, and (maybe) crystallized ginger for my attempt. I'd like to have hazelnuts but they're awfully expensive, especially for a first try at something.
I only wish you all lived close enough that I could invite you over to help me eat all the cakes, etc. I'd like to bake. And not only out of the desire to share--frustratingly, my baking is still limited to things that will keep for at least several days, as I hate wasting food and bringing stuff to work has limited appeal. I do it sometimes, but I'd rather share with friends
, and plus too much of that sort of thing can give you the reputation of being the workplace mom, which I really really don't want for all kinds of reasons.
By the way, on the subject of baking, can anybody recommend a good book on baking techniques that's preferably geared towards the home baker rather than a professional or would-be professional? I want a book that will tell me how to make basic components like a sponge or puff pastry or a pastry cream and how to combine those components into a variety of tasty things, but that doesn't assume you have a professional oven and so on. It's bad enough that all baking books assume you have a stand mixer. So far the most helpful book I've seen is my old Joy of Cooking
, but it doesn't go far enough, and other baking books I've seen all give plenty of recipes for specific cakes or pastries but don't generalize their instructions or contain much if any focus on technique.
My life has not been entirely consumed by baking, of course. As always I'm reading a ton of things, most of them not especially worth mentioning. I've been wanting to read more history and, of all things, philosophy, for which I blame the In Our Time
podcasts, but the local library system is underfunded and I think has sometimes made bad choices with what funds it does have. I understand that public libraries have to respond to public demand, but it's a bit shocking that there are so many diet books and new age woo-woo books and practically nothing on, for example, German history apart from the Nazi era. And no biography of Frederick the Great apart from one written by a Mitford (Nancy?) in the early 1970s, which I can't imagine will deal sensibly with his sexuality.
A couple of good things I've read, or partly read: I got about a third of the way through Nikolaus Wachsmann's KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps
before I just couldn't go on. It's an excellent book full of first-rate research, and not one of those Holocaust books that are thin excuses for atrocity porn, but by 1938 I was already overwhelmed and the Holocaust per se hadn't even started yet. Knowing it was just going to get worse, I had to stop. But I may go back to it eventually and I recommend it to those with strong constitutions.
I also liked Barbara Tuchman's The Proud Tower
, which is about the era just before the First World War. I picked it up off the new book shelf at the library, not realizing it was a re-release. As is my habit, when I got it home I went to the index for something queer-related and looked up what she had to say about the Eulenberg scandal. I was struck by the homophobia of the language, then saw that the book was first published in 1965. In that context the homophobia looked very mild, actually--more like the sort of standard disapproval anyone would have to express lest readers be outraged by its absence. (I've seen a similar level of homophobia in basically pro-gay books from this era written by gay people.) I thought there was an interesting resonance between the (token?) homophobia and the way Tuchman discusses socialism--when she talks about poverty and working conditions etc. she's clearly, strongly in favor of change, but if the dreaded word "socialism" comes up she has to be disparaging about it, because 1965 was the middle of the cold war and socialism was a very dirty word in the United States.
Apart from that I've been re-reading the best of Reginald Hill's Dalziel and Pascoe mysteries. I might request these at Yuletide, with a focus on Edgar Wield, both because he's awesome and because I want a good proportion of my Yuletide requests this year to be for canonically queer characters. Out of my five likely requests so far, three are for canonically queer characters (Wield, Leonard Finch from Grantchester
and Colonel Tick-Tock from The Thrilling Adventure Hour
, though he's only strongly-canonically-hinted as being queer if you want to split hairs about it) and two are not (York from Hyperdrive
and Tintin and Haddock from Tintin
). If we have six requests this year I want to add another canonically queer character. *thinks*
Shutting up now as this post is long enough already.