Thursday, January 28, 2010

Feeling Fragile

A sharp pain has decided that the small of my back is the perfect place for it to settle. A constant throb, it spikes anytime I bend. My mother's "Momentum" only helps for a little while. My heating pad is my best friend. And, while Chris offered to massage it out for me, it's apparently not THAT kind of pain. (Ow!)

Time is slipping away from me. I seem to have forgotten how to manage it. Oh, not at work. There, everything is smooth as can be--something I was worried about having just come back from vacation. No, it's as if everything else in my life is moving in slow motion. 

I can't concentrate on my homework. Maybe its the medium: to save money I bought an e-book version of the novel I'm supposed to be reading. Then again, it could just be that the adventure novels of the 1800's are simply not capturing my imagination and I have to force myself to read for class. I'm not letting myself read for pleasure until my classwork is done, but that's not making me go any faster.

It's taking forever to wind down to bed. I'm not falling into sleep. Hours pass after I lay myself down where I just lay in the dark. Waiting. Then I fight my alarm in the morning because I'm not well-rested.  Yes, I really do argue with it, bargaining for just one snooze more.

And finally, while I'm wrestling with all of the above, I'm simply not feeling creative. Yes, I realize that most of the time the hardest part is showing up and parking your butt down until something happens. But what are you supposed to do when nothing happens until just before the alarm goes off? Obviously, I stop at that point. My little alarm clock separates my creative space from the real world I live in, and I can't afford to slack off in the real world.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

When Life Gives You Lemons...

...cupcakes can be much better than lemonade.

I have a very pregnant younger sister with varied and assorted cravings. The other day it was lemonade and cupcakes. Several days of hinting led to an outright request.  Bear in mind that this was during what has been the coldest week of the season so far and I typically think of that particular combo as being very summery, but it's generally a good idea to get an expectant mother what she craves. Besides--I was heading to the store anyway.

Later, as I was beating the eggs, oil, and water by hand into the packaged cake mix, I actually started to enjoy myself. There's something very relaxing in that repetitive motion of the fork whipping through the batter. The bright yellow color of the yolks and mix were surprisingly cheerful after the grey and cloudy gloom of the road outside. I felt like a kid again as I scooped batter into cupcake tins, dripping messy globs on the table. I even let myself indulge in licking the spoon once everything was in the oven.

Once the cupcakes cooled, I got to play with the lemony frosting, stirring it quickly before generously spooning it on. I even dug out some sparkly sugar and sliced up a lemon to make just a few of my cupcakes look extra-special.  I had fun! And then I was rewarded with a citrusy-delicious desert. Yum. And I'm pretty sure my sister liked them too.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Taste of Miami

Traveling to my grandmother's house in Miami is forever tied to the taste of flaky cuban bread and pastries from the bakery around the corner.  I remember sitting in Abuelita's kitchen staring into the pristine white box and debating which piece I wanted, the savory pastellitos de carne or the sticky-sweet guava. I would perch in the booth of her 50's-style diner table and trace the outlines of orange and yellow boomerangs printed on the top of her overcrowded table. I struggled not to get crumbs on her piles of newspapers and magazines, her bulk boxes of cookies and crackers, or her repurposed coffee tins filled with odds and ends.

From second grade through fifth grade we lived close to Miami and I could look forward to fresh pastries every week or so.  Once I actually got to spend an entire week with just my abuelita and my uncle and we walked to the bakery together so I could pick out my own box from the tiny room's glass-covered display. 

Then we moved.  Oh, when she visited, my abuelita did try to bring a box of treats with her on the plane, but cuban baking doesn't travel well. Instead of crisp and flakey, the bread and pastries were soft and flat.  The taste was the same, but the texture just wasn't.

It was over three years later that we managed a trip to Miami and everything was just as wonderful as I remembered.  But over the years those trips have become very infrequent. The one consolation is that anytime anyone in my family makes the trip, they bring home an assorted box of pastries and a loaf of bread and for a brief time I have that taste of Miami.  

This past December my mom went to Miami to celebrate my abuelita's birthday. She went without us because, as adults, my sister and I do have jobs and responsibilities of our own.  Sadly, there were no pastries to be had on that trip for my mother.  Abuelita can't walk as much as she used to. The one-stop convenience shopping that all of us are used to at a giant super-store is simply more practical for her now.  She and my mother did plan a trip to the little bakery down the street, but time ran away from them. They never made it before my mom had to head back to the airport, back to her daughters and work and normal life. When I picked my mom up from the airport, I was just glad she made it back safely. 

A part of me was disappointed that I couldn't have that taste of Miami this year.  Eventually, I searched the web for a recipe that I might be able make. I'm no cook! Oh I cheated big time: prepackaged puff pastry dough and prepared guava paste are my new best friends.  But there is no cheat for the savory meat filling, for that I had to bite the bullet and just make it from scratch.  (For the curious, I chose this recipe by "Three Guys from Miami") And it worked!  Why did we never do this while I was growing up?  OK, so the taste isn't quite the same and I overstuffed the guava pastries, but it was so close. And I did it myself!

I'm wondering now if I have the guts to attempt to bake a loaf of bread.

Three Guys from Miami Cook Cuban