Sunday, March 31, 2013

My Misspent Easter Sunday

I've noticed a lot of recipes for Cadbury creme egg brownies floating around the internet lately.

As usually happens when I'm confronted with a horrendous idea involving gargantuan doses of sugar and bad taste, I simply had to try it out.

The results were messy, yet colorful and festive looking.

In case you're wondering what's up with the left side of the pan, that was done for Technomancer's benefit.  He's one of those sadly disadvantaged individuals who doesn't appreciate the wondrous bundle of cheap chocolate deliciousness that is the Cadbury creme egg, so out of wifely affection* I made half the brownies with Cadbury mini eggs instead.

These are surprisingly good, and the eggs seem like they'd work with pretty much any brownie recipe.  This is the one I used:

Swedish Brownies (With Cadbury Eggs)

2 sticks butter
1 1/2 cups flour, sifted
2 cups sugar
5 generous tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 (real, from an actual chicken) eggs, beaten
6-8 Cadbury creme eggs or 1 package Cadbury mini eggs, if desired

Mix flour, sugar, salt and cocoa powder in a large bowl.  Melt butter in a large saucepan; stir in flour mixture and vanilla.  Add eggs after allowing a minute or two for batter to cool down.  Pour into a greased 8 x 8 pan.

If desired, press Cadbury eggs into batter before baking.  If using creme eggs, carefully cut them in half** and place them cut side up.

Bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes.

And thus concludes my so-bad-it's-good-idea moment of the day.

Happy Easter!

*That's fancy talk for "I didn't want to end up eating an entire pan of brownies by myself."

**Cutting a Cadbury creme egg in not so simple as it sounds.  The chocolate shell cracks and warps at the slightest provocation, and the gooey fondant stuff inside wants to go all over the damn place.  Your best bet is probably to use a very sharp knife and cut right along the seam where they fused the two halves of the shell together. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Dr. Seuss Panic Attack: What If God is a Very Gullible and Somewhat Clumsy Elephant?

I never wanted to be an astronaut.

I didn't even daydream about an idealized future career as a death-defying spaceship pilot when I was a kid, though I'm pretty sure plenty of my classmates did.  My generation grew up on Star Wars and the Alien movies.  I had several classmates who owned ET dolls.

I wasn't one of them.  ET creeped the hell out of me.  But that wasn't the reason eight-year-old me wouldn't have accepted a career at NASA if it had been handed over along with a billion dollars, a live unicorn, and a lifetime supply of get-out-of-doing-math-homework-free cards.

The very idea of outer space itself scared me off.

The fear actually wasn't as intense when I was young.  Yes, I really, really disliked the idea that there was a big, black, gaping, lifeless void lurking beyond the comfy little atmosphere of this planet I call home, but I could live with it as long as it continued to stay where it was.  The night sky may have looked dark and spooky, but at least I knew it wasn't going to come down here and try to coax me into a windowless van.

It got worse as I got older and gradually developed the intellectual capacity to fully wrap my mind around how immeasurably huge space is.  How unknown and unpredictable.  How chock-full of horrendous things capable of snuffing out life as we know it on this fragile planet of ours in a heartbeat, without warning.  Sometimes I get to thinking about it, and I end up lying awake in deepening existential horror as my mind uncontrollably crowds itself with images of black holes, free-floating clouds of deadly cosmic radiation, supernovas, giant-ass meteors, and even gianter-ass solar flares.  Then I sleep through most of the next day and have to admit to myself that I didn't get any writing done and the house looks like a disaster area because I spent all night worrying about the possibility that the universe might kill us all with giant space-rocks.  

With all this in mind, what do you suppose child-me made of a certain children's book?

The one about a civilization inhabiting a tiny planet that hurtles at breakneck speed through the boundless ether, without even the small protection of being tethered more or less in one place by the gravity of a dying star.

The one in which a superior being comes to the aid of said civilization, promising to hold, protect and cherish their wayward world for all time.

The one in which said superior being is immediately beset by other, more vicious and small-minded superior beings, who tear the teeming planet away from him and callously cast it into the murky depths like the meaningless speck of dust that it is in their eyes, leaving its people to lie forgotten and abandoned in the darkness for however many years, centuries or millennia it takes for their protector to find them again.

You know which one I'm talking about.  

Yep, that's right.

Dang you, Horton Hears A Who.  Dang you straight to heck.  Not only did you speak to my fear of being an insignificant speck of dust floating through a hostile universe, you also planted the idea in my head that the greater forces controlling this universe may be sentient.  That some of them may be actively hostile.  That they may be DOING THIS SHIT ON PURPOSE.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I might as well take a nap now and get my nightmare about rogue planets out of the way as soon as possible.  I hope you're happy with yourself, you smug-ass, clover-loving pachyderm.          

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Great Mochi Ice Cream Disappointment Of '13: The Store Locator That Wasn't

Yesterday I got a hankering for mochi ice cream.

Unfortunately for me, I live in the United States and mochi ice cream isn't very widespread here.  I used to buy it from a little Asian grocery store in my hometown, but my hometown is now a fourteen-hour drive away and the only Asian grocery near me seemed to be permanently closed the last time I drove past it.  So I searched online for the company that makes the mochi ice cream, hoping to buy directly from the source.

Well, not only does the company's website have an option for direct ordering; they also have a store locator, and it just so happened that it identified a Food Emporium in the next town as a seller of their product.  I'd lucked out!

Or so it seemed.

I found no mochi ice cream at that Food Emporium.  I searched the freezer aisle twice.  I asked people.  It just wasn't there.  Fortunately they did have Cadbury creme eggs and some yummy-looking frozen samosas, so the trip wasn't a total waste of time.

When I got home with my eggs and samosas, I ran upstairs to double-check the website's store locator, thinking maybe I'd managed to write down the address of the wrong Food Emporium. Nope.  The address that popped up on my screen was the same one I'd punched into my GPS half an hour earlier.

Out of curiosity, I then entered my old zip code into the locator, the one I had shared with the Asian grocery where I used to get my mochi ice cream.

That search turned up zero matches.  I expanded it to include a ten-mile-radius, a fifty-mile-radius, a hundred-mile-radius...nothing, nada, zip.  Despite the fact that the mochi-ice-cream-selling Asian grocery was and still is less than two miles from my parents' house.

Then, as I sat scratching my head and wondering if maybe enough people in Kalamazoo somehow buy so damn much mochi ice cream that it's worth the Asian grocery owner's while to bootleg it, a tiny orange SUBMIT button at the bottom corner of the store locator screen caught my eye.  I read the message above it:

Mochi Spotter
Help us track them down by entering the address of where you saw them so we can tell others!


Are these people saying they don't know where their product is sold? Are they actually asking their customers to tell them where their own product is sold so they can tell their customers where their product is sold 

That's some major Catch-22 malarkey right there.

I mean, how does this even happen? How can a company not know where the stuff that they manufacture and sell is going? Unless they just dump big crates of it at the docks in New York and LA and let back-alley dealers sell it like heroin, they must have some sort of distribution department that keeps track of shipments and orders.  

They must also staff this department with former CIA agents who compulsively redact everything they write down.  I can't think of any other reason an actual legitimate business would ask complete strangers on the Internet which stores sell their stuff.  Congratulations, Nameless Mochi Ice Cream Purveyor.  I won't reveal your identity because I'm nice like that, but I would like you to know that you have officially broken my brain.

An injury made more painful by the lack of delicious mochi ice cream.  Which I'm frankly reluctant to order from you because I'm afraid that you'll try to get it to me by asking Internet strangers how to find my house. 


Friday, March 1, 2013

Dr. Seuss Panic Attack: The Once-ler

I've been haunted since childhood by a face I never saw.

Specifically, the face belonging to this pair of disembodied arms:

I imagine the Lorax movie that came out last year brought relief to a lot of people who read the book as children and uneasily wondered why the Once-ler never showed himself.  It brought none to me.  The backstory I'd already imagined for this enigmatic character is cemented too firmly in my mind to be replaced by simple Hollywood fluff, however well-animated that fluff may be.

A teacher read this story to my second grade class.  Like my classmates, I looked at those arms-those scrawny, gnarled, sickly-looking arms-and wondered what sort of person or thing could possibly be attached to them.  But while my classmates probably latched onto the green fur and imagined a creature that resembled the Grinch, my mind went to a much darker place.

I decided that the Once-ler must be afflicted by some sort of horrific disfiguring disease.

The more I thought about it the more sense it made.  The story begins with a flashback of the Once-ler roaming the world, hiding his face in shame beneath the protective canopy of a covered wagon.  When he first encounters the lovely Truffula trees, he is entranced.  Those soft colorful tufts draw him like a moth to the flame; he must have these beautiful trees for his own, every single one of them, for to possess them is to regain the beauty that nature stole from him.

Yet the disease that afflicts him has twisted his mind as well as his body.  His intense love of the trees is inextricably entwined with a fierce hateful envy of their physical perfection.  This darker side of him festers and grows as the Lorax shows up again and again to remind him that the trees do not truly belong to him.  In his rage he defiles as many trees as he can, hacking through their trunks with axes and twisting their tufts into hideous shapes.*  All the while he continues to lurk in the shadows of doorways and desks like a robber-baron version of the Phantom of the Opera, still too ashamed to show his face to his customers despite the growing success of his business.

Then, suddenly, it's all over.  The last Truffula tree is cut down and the Lorax disappears into the sky.  The Once-ler is left alone in the pollution-choked valley, having finally succeeded in re-shaping the landscape into a wasteland as desolate and blighted as his own body and soul.  And as he looks over his work, he mourns.  Something in him has been lost, some pure and perfect and genuine facet of himself he didn't know he possessed until it died in the muck of rotted wood and industrial waste that surrounds his factory...

Then, as the sun sets on the barren valley, something tiny and round rolls from the tuft of the fallen tree.  A single seed.  Hope courses through him as he snatches it up.  The last traces of his shame and self-hatred melt away as he carries the little living seed to his house like a holy relic; the rest of his life will be spent in nurturing and guarding it, awaiting the day when new life will rise from the ashes of his greed and misplaced anger.

And that was the backstory I came up with for the Once-ler.  Looking back, I think it was one of my earliest exercises in trusting my imagination and looking beyond the obvious while building a character.

Or maybe it was just my brain being weird and twisted enough to see a Greek-tragedy-worthy tale of obsession, ruin, redemption and late-stage syphilis in a preachy 1970's environmentalism fable written for children.

It depends on who you ask.

*I've studied that flaccid, creepy, unidentified-decomposing-medical-specimen-looking thing in the Once-ler's hands a dozen times now, and I still can't figure out how "everyone" could actually need a Thneed, let alone keep one in their houses without having nightmares about it.