Recipe: Orange Spice Cake (gf)

My parents have two orange trees in their backyard and had to start dripping up the branches with two by fours before Halloween to keep them from breaking under the weight of the fruit. Thus, we have a box of oranges. So this week is one big brainstorming session on how to use up oranges in stuff.

71k8umh3vsl-_sy679_Since I happened to find a Pamela’s gluten free Spice Cake Mix in the clearance bin at Raley’s, I decided this would be a prime opportunity for some experimental baking.

The recipe on the back of the bag calls for 1 cup of milk, 3 eggs, and 1/2 cup of butter. I substituted orange juice for milk (hand juiced, tra-la-la-la-la) and olive oil for butter, since I was vaguely sure the citric acid might do something unpleasant to the dairy. Then I added an “I guess this looks good” amount of cocoa powder, because who doesn’t like chocolate, and half a cup of chopped almonds for texture. Poured that in muffin tins and popped them in the oven at 350 for what ended up being about 35-40 minutes.

Instead of frosting I made an orange glaze with 3/4 cup of orange juice, one cup of sugar… and a splash of water to get the rest of the stuck-on sugar off the inside of the measuring cup. Let that simmer for a while until it seemed less runny, which I loosely defined as “kinda leaves a residue on the spatula.”

When the cakes were done, I popped them out of the pans and into a foil-lined baking dish and dumped all the glaze over them so some would soak in on the bottoms and give it some extra moisture. (I didn’t use muffin papers, and actually forgot to even grease the pans. Lol, whoops! But they popped out fine.)

End result, they are delicious little cakes of goodness. The spice of the spice cake mix comes through stronger than the chocolate and the orange, but it’s all in there, and the almonds give it a nice texture. And that glaze? Good. Good glaze. I’m not sure if it was the gluten free or the not using milk, but the cakes would have been very dry and dense without the glaze, which is both sweet and tart at the same time. Would make again.


 

Cake Ingredients:

2017-01-24-00-01-11
Not the best picture ever, but they’ve all been eaten now.
  • 1 bag of Pamela’s gluten free Spice Cake Mix
  • 1 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 3-4 tbsp cocoa powder

Orange Glaze Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • 1 cup sugar

Makes 10-12.

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  2. Combine all the cake ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly.
  3. Pour the batter into large muffin tins, each cup about 3/4 cups full.
  4. Bake according to cake mix instructions, or possibly longer until it’s done in the middle.
  5. When the cakes are done, set them out to let them cool.
  6. Combine all the glaze ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.
  7. When it starts to bubble to the top of the pan, reduce the heat to a simmer and let it go for about 15 more minutes or so, stirring occasionally.
  8. Line a baking dish or shallow pan with tin foil.
  9. Pop the cakes out of the tin into the foil-lined dish and pour the glaze over the tops of them.
  10. Let soak at least until the glaze on top has cooled to more sticky than runny, then eat at your leisure.

Writer You Rather

The first several questions are from Rachel Poli, and then I found some more here because I was bored. Feel free to answer these questions on your own blog if you want. Link back to me so I can see your answers, though. 😊


Would you rather go on a writing retreat in the middle of nowhere with no wi-fi, or in your home office being interrupted every so often by friends and family?

That depends on the length of the retreat. The middle of nowhere sounds kind of nice. Is it somewhere picturesque? I could deal with no wifi for, I dunno, about a week. (I once explained being an introvert to my mom by saying, “I could be shut up alone in my room with a stack of books and my laptop for a week and I’d be fine. You’d go stir crazy within a day or two.”)

Any longer than a week and I’d take the home office option. At least that way I can get some kitty snuggles in too.

Would you rather publish one best-selling novel and never write again, or publish multiple novels that either don’t sell well or sell average?

Multiple novels that sell average. I’m not in this for the money, I figure I’ll always have a day job one way or another. If I don’t have something external to influence my schedule I tend to drift toward nocturnal and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Would you rather be a best-seller with your real name and people stopping you everywhere you go, or a pen name no one knows who you are?

Real name. Don’t get me wrong, if you stop me on the street I’ll be awkward as hell, but I want my name on my work. If only so my parents can finally brag about how cool I am and send copies to everyone they know.

Would you rather teach English/creative writing high school classes, or college classes?

College, because ugh teenagers. Plus it’d be nice to teach people who aren’t just there because they have to be.

Would you rather only be able to write during NaNoWriMo months (April, July, and November), or only be able to write five days per month?

Mathematically, the NaNo option would give me more time to write, 90 vs 60. But… realistically, I probably work on my creative writing about five days a month right now anyway. That’s a low I’m working on changing, but for now I’ll go with the second option. Slow and steady wins the race is more my forte anyway.

Would you rather read your writings to an audience of ten people who love you or to 10,000 people you don’t know?

Ten people who love me. I’m not a crowds person.

Would you rather do a cross-country book store tour or blog tour?

I’m not entirely sure what both of those entail, but I guess I’d take the book store tour. It’d be a nice chance to get out and about, see bits of the country I’ve never seen before, all that jazz.

Would you rather write in a rooftop garden surrounded by city noises — or in a quiet studio with cows as your neighbors?

I’m going to go with cow neighbors, just because living in a city would up my general anxiety level more than I’d like. I can’t imagine not having a car, but I know that living in a city would either be murderous parking fees forever or murderous attempting to parallel park forever. Also, I’m not so naive that I don’t realize it would be both. Forever. I get nervous just being a passenger in city traffic. That kind of stress is not good for the creative juices.

Would you rather teach writing in a high school or go back to grad school for a Creative Writing degree?

Creative Writing degree. I’ve considered this, but don’t have the money or quite enough motivation available to actually do so. Also, see above where one of my answers included the phrase “ugh teenagers.”

Would you rather bravely share your writing or sit on the writing sidelines forever?

Brave. I’m writing to get these stories heard, what’s the point if no one ever reads it? Otherwise I’m essentially just doodling around in a private journal. I know I’m an anxious person, but I’ve been sharing my work in creative writing classes since high school and sharing fics (at varying levels of polish and read by beta readers) online since college. I can deal with that part of it.

Review: The Martian

 

41dnujfahyl-_sx322_bo1204203200_
My advice for books that have a really strong voice (either character, like this one, or narrative/author, like anything by Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett), check out the audiobook at least once. It cranks the personality of the story up to eleven. 

I just finished listening to and subsequently restarting The Martian. Audiobook, of course, and I highly recommend it.

 

 

When I first heard about the movie version of The Martian I figured it would be fairly similar to Apollo 13, one of my favorite movies growing up. (I was raised by computer engineer sci fi nerds, what can I say.) Nothing I heard past that point really convinced me that this movie would be a comedy. Then I got my hands on the novel, and oh my god. I have never misjudged a book by its cover so much in my life.

In short, it was hilarious. What I was expecting, and tbh what the movie provided a lot more than the book did, was your basic scramble-rescue mission story. What made the book wonderful was that it was really more the story of one man surviving, using humor to cope with the facts that he’s most likely fucked, Murphy’s Law is a thing, and he’s the only person on the planet.

Some (non-spoiler) examples:

  • “Maybe I’ll post a consumer review. ‘Brought product to surface of Mars. It stopped working. 0/10.’”
  • “Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.”
  • “I guess you could call it a ‘failure,’ but I prefer the term ‘learning experience.’”
  • “I started the day with some nothin’ tea. Nothin’ tea is easy to make. First, get some hot water, then add nothin’.”

Continue reading “Review: The Martian”

Gender & Writing

When I was in high school, there was this one creative writing assignment that drove me up the wall because the responses were all pretty much the same. The idea was to write from the perspective of someone of the opposite gender seeing your bedroom for the first time. Long story short, it was always either about a boy being surprised a girl’s room could be so messy or a girl being surprised that a boy’s room could be so neat.

Gag me with a spoon. I don’t even remember what I wrote, but it probably fell into the same category. Of course, back then I was in a bubble of gender non-discussion where my creative writing teacher made lame jokes like”words have gender, people have sex.” (This was in 2004-2006. Like, a million years ago.) By now I’m aware that:

  • Gender is either some sort of continuum, 3D puzzle shape, or asymmetrical puddle of self-definition.
  • Man and woman is a separate thing from masculine and feminine, which is a separate thing from male and female. (There might be better words for that. Let me know if I should adjust the phrasing anywhere in the post.)
  • These are all social constructs anyway, and you do you.

It helps that I went to a very liberal college and met all kinds of interesting people. Lots of new thoughts happened. Sexuality was questioned. You know, young adult growing up stuff. As a writer, it introduced all sorts of new thoughts about my writing, as well.

In retrospect there was a writing phase I went through for a while that was actually pretty interesting. I wrote a lot of short romance stories with ambiguously named characters and without using pronouns, then asked readers to describe what they’d assumed about those characters and their relationship. My original reason for doing this was to question assumptions about sexuality, but it works for gender too.

I don’t feel that men and women are all that different, or that much different to write. Not on their own, anyway, and anyone who falls outside of those two (very broad) categories seems to be an indicator of that. We’re just very socialized to fit into two (pretty narrow) classifications, right down to the separate toy aisles that are color coded blue or pink.

Recently I read a blog post that raised the question of how to write characters from the opposite gender, which is a pretty timely question for me. The main character in the novel I’m working on now is a guy, and his actions are mainly determined by how he was raised, the expectations placed on him by everyone in his life and particularly his father. I’ve found that being a guy is not what makes him difficult to write… If I can brainstorm the conditions and expectations the character was raised with, that helps. Having his head up his ass is what makes him difficult to write.

However, I do like to have my partner read over things and do socialization checks for me to see if my characters seem realistic. It always helps to get a second opinion, one that isn’t quite so wrapped up in the story.

Where I do stumble over writerly gender-ish problems tends to fall closer to my side of the fence but with personalities that are different from mine in particular ways. I find it hard to write women who, for example, consider makeup important because I never really “got” makeup. Mostly it’s a texture thing, I hate the way it feels on my face. Also I have a thing about touching or poking my eyeballs that makes me extremely bad at mascara, even if someone else tries to do it for me. My mother just didn’t get why I refused to wear any except when I had my arm twisted to look nice for prom. If I had to write a character who wears makeup regularly and considers it a source of confidence and empowerment, that would be a major struggle regardless of pronouns or their gender identification.

So I’m curious. What are your stumbling blocks when writing your characters, and do they fall along or against stereotypically gendered lines?

Short Story #01, January — Dear Diary

One of my goals for 2017 is to write at least one short story a month, and here’s the first one! It was the fourth one I started in the new year but the first one I’ve finished.

I wrote it for the record-breaking challenge on TheProse.com:

Together, we are going to break the world record for longest book. 100 word minimum. When this challenge gets 15,000 entries, it will expire, and we will turn it into a book. Each entry will be its own chapter. The plot? It’s the first day of a zombie apocalypse, write a diary entry. Each contributor should share this challenge prompt with as many people as possible. If we break the world record, this will be read by people for generations to come.

If you like what you read, feel free to like it on TheProse as well! Continue reading “Short Story #01, January — Dear Diary”

No plan survives first contact with a flood warning

It’s been raining a lot around here lately. A lot. A lot.

On one hand this is good. California has been in a drought for a while and we could use the water. On the other hand, my mom sent me a photo of the Mercury News front page at some point mid-week…

2017-01-08-10-46-30
This is the next street over, just north of where I live. 

When I moved up here, I left my 2+ year full time position at a flatbread bakery down in Gilroy. Last week, I got an email asking if I would be willing to do some store demos in my area for (a) old time’s sake and (b) $20 an hour. Naturally I said yes, but as this week progressed I started to realize that the only way I might be able to get out of my neighborhood would be by boat.

Luckily, our house is on a hill. That’s not the problem. The problem is that all the ways out are downhill. The road we’re on floods at the creek, right before a postage-stamp sized town, but there’s a back way out. That back way, however, is mostly flat. To either side of the road are vineyards and those flood. It’s not much lower than the road, so after a while the road will flood too, although we’ve yet to see that actually happen since we moved up here. All of this would be less of a problem if it hadn’t been raining for most of the end of December, leaving the ground pretty saturated. Flooding this weekend and into the week will probably be the worst we’ve seen yet.

Yesterday was fine. I arrived in Petaluma for the demo on time, because the main road out had not flooded yet. Once I was at the store I was delayed for another half hour because I had to find where the heck they kept the olive oil and buy some, find an outlet for the toaster oven, find an extension cord to plug into the outlet because the bakery had accidentally sent me a computer cord, and borrow a step ladder so I could plug in the extension cord to an outlet above a refrigerated display. From that point on, I spent three and a half hours in front of the refrigeration unit, keeping warm by holding my hands over the hot toaster oven.

img_5157
Surefire way to look like a dork: take a selfie in a Safeway.

Side note, I am not a salesperson. I’m not a people person. But I can sell this bread, because (a) I did marketing and sales support for 2+ years so I know all the talking points, and (b) it’s genuinely good, so I don’t have to try and fake my enthusiasm. If you’re like me and ever get stuck doing demos, here’s a tip: Some people are going to ignore you. You can recognize them by the way they keep their eyes totally averted from you and your table as they approach and pass. Save yourself the time and social awkwardness (on all sides) by not asking if they want to try some. At most, say “Hello.” This saves you from rudely ignoring them back and also from pestering anyone dead-set against being interested.

Also, here are a few food safety rules to keep in mind. If someone doing a demo doesn’t follow these, maybe you want to not try what they’re sampling. Take it from someone who was, at one point, officially certified as a Food Safety Manager.

  • You’re not supposed to touch your face, hair, phone, etc. while wearing gloves. If you do, you have to change them.
  • You’re not supposed to eat, touch your mouth, etc. while wearing gloves. If you do, you have to change them.
  • Seriously, the point of wearing foodservice gloves is to avoid possible contamination, people. This also includes picking up and sipping from a Starbucks cup.
  • No earrings or other jewelry. They might fall into the food. Do you want to feed someone a hook or a stud backing? I don’t think so.
  • Per the USDA, the “Danger Zone” for letting food sit out is between 40°F and 140°F. Below 90°F, perishables can only stay out of cold or hot storage for 2 hours. Above 90°F, that’s down to 1 hour. Basically, use a cooler or a heat lamp if the demo is longer than 2 hours. (In my experience, most are usually 3 to 4 hours long.)Why? Because bacteria.

… Anyway.

This morning I set out for my second demo. The first road out was flooded, so I tried the back way. The first leg of that was okay in the sense that it had not flooded, and if it did probably wouldn’t flood very badly, except for some low spots where puddles were already starting to form.

The next leg was a disaster, and I almost didn’t even have to drive on it to know that. It hadn’t flooded yet, but it was going to. When you see bodies of water starting to form on either side of a nearly level road, it’s not a good sign. There were a couple spots where it was already on the road, but not deep and only on one side or the other. There were several spots with thin sheets of water flowing across the road, though these mostly weren’t near any obvious puddle spots. I checked the weather forecast — not only was it expected to rain all day straight, but it’s supposed to rain for the next three days as well.

I called off the demo. Luckily, I’d already warned my friends at the bakery earlier in the week. They’d tried to reschedule them for me to a safer weekend but it was a no go, so they understood when I texted in today saying I wouldn’t be able to do it. While I was out, though, I took the opportunity to stock up on some groceries really quick.

In the time I’ve been typing this, my phone received an emergency alert flood warning for the area. Who called it? This girl.

IWSG Post #05

JANUARY QUESTION: What writing rule do you wish you’d never heard?

Oh… there are a couple. Some are just on the list because I’m a slightly obsessive person and knowing these “rules” makes me pretty annoying when reading over someone else’s work. But I have to say that the rule I genuinely wish I’d never heard is…

Write every day. 

I know, I know it’s a good habit. It’s a good goal, but I beat myself up a little on the inside whenever I don’t meet it. The discouragement of not living by the rule outweighs the benefits of living by it successfully, for me. I feel weirdly as though I’m constantly competing against myself. That said, participating in NaNoWriMo has kicked me into a higher gear than usual lately and I do want to try and keep that up. Maybe just not mandatory every day.

And now, the rules I do appreciate but obsess over more than I should:

  • Only use said, with limited variations such as whispered or yelled. Don’t get into “he grated out” or “she snorted” territory, because you don’t talk literally through your teeth or your nose. (I think the gist of this is something I picked up from Stephen King’s On Writing.)
  • Use any “-ly” words as sparingly as possible because it’s telling rather than showing. (Also from On Writing.)
  • Consecutive sentences and consecutive paragraphs should not start with the same word or phrase. (Not sure where this came from, but if I see two sentences in a paragraph start with the same words I start counting how many nearby sentences do the same. It’s exhausting.)
  • If you have back and forth dialogue and then descriptions of what different characters are doing/thinking/etc., it goes in the same paragraph as what they’re saying. Someone else does something? Separate paragraph. (Not sure if this is real advice or just a thing I do. I can’t remember if I got it from anywhere besides just generally being a bookworm.)

Wanderlust is a pretty way to say Run

I finished this poem and posted it on The Prose a few days ago, but it’s a culmination of an idea I picked up from an open mic night in high school. After some concerns about accidentally plagiarizing, I shelved the idea. Now, ten years later, I finally feel like I’ve taken the basic concept and made it uniquely my own. 

Although all of this was written in December ‘16, in some ways it’s a tribute to the way I wrote in high school. Back then I had a habit of leaving the identities of the speaker and their love interest intentionally vague, so the reader could make their own associations and assumptions. (Btw, if you read it I’d be very interested in hearing about those.) I did this all the time in my writing in high school, and after a while the indecision of it started annoying me — but in retrospect that was just slightly before I started questioning my sexuality, so I guess that makes sense.

Continue reading “Wanderlust is a pretty way to say Run”

Monday Musings #16 – Writing About Relationship Problems and Families

I love my family. Really, I do. I’m lucky enough that my grandparents and aunt’s family on my mom’s side have lived nearby since I was a year old. But at the same time, I don’t have a lot of patience for family drama. Add that to one of my favorite people in the world while I was growing up kind of being a drama faucet at just about every available opportunity and, well…

In lieu of actually ranting, though, I’d like to turn this into a writing exercise. Might as well turn it into something potentially productive, right?

Everyone who has been in a romantic relationship has had some amount of relationship hurdles. Even if it’s just small but frustrating stuff like “for the love of god if you finish a roll of toilet paper and don’t put a new one on one more time…”

Anyone who hasn’t is lying.

But here’s something I didn’t fully appreciate until recently: those hurdles can affect the people around the couple, and when they do it can be a significant effect.

Say you have two couples. Couple A has their issues, even serious ones, but they keep it behind closed doors. Their friends and families aren’t particularly aware that they’re having a rough time, and therefore no one ends up dogpiling in with their two cents. That’s not going to have much of an effect on anyone around them, except eventually they might break up and it will come as a surprise to everyone.

For better or for worse, couple B is not as discrete. There’s a lot of different ways that could manifest. Maybe one of them is the kind of person who wants the people around them to pick sides. Are their friends and family the kind of people who would…

  • Take one’s side and be nasty to the other just on principle
  • Take one’s side and offer support, while remaining non-confrontational
  • Take no one’s side, at least not officially, but stay out of it and on okay terms with both
  • Take no one’s side, at least not officially, but privately think they’re both in the wrong and gets more and more pissed at whichever one is more responsible for dragging everyone into their drama but will never say so because ugh, confrontation
  • Just really try to ignore it and not take sides, with minor exceptions when one of them is being totally insufferable
  • Not say anything to their faces but casually try and defend the underdog when the meaner one is really laying into them about something

Other factors to ponder:

  • Does the couple have kids together?
  • Are the in-laws drawn into the fray?
  • Does it become a factor at family gatherings like birthdays and Christmas?
  • Who’s sad, who’s angry, who’s both?
  • Who accepts it as just something that’s happening, like whatever?
  • Who’s frustrated and wants everyone to just shut up?
  • Who has a lot of feelings but has no one in the family they feel like they can discuss it with, rather than just telling/venting/dumping and getting no response back?

Families are complicated organisms. We all know this, and we’re frequently counseled to write what we know.

What family dynamics would you add to these lists of possibilities?