Tuesday, August 28, 2012

How to Spend a Hurricane Issac Day

Who hasn't heard of Hurricane Issac?

Since I live in Florida, this terrifying hurricane has been everywhere. Not that, you know, I'm scared of hurricanes. We get them all the time, especially during the summer season. What worried me was that yesterday, Monday 27th, was supposed to be the first day of school. Would we get the day off because of the storm or did everyone have to drive through the wind, rain, and RNC traffic to reach campus?

Well, at the last minute, the schools closed. Monday had become a day off.

If you want to know the proper procedure for protecting yourself during a hurricane, you'd better read another blog. Because, like most hurricanes that hit here, the weather is bad enough that you shouldn't be driving, but it's nothing to really worry about. Stay inside. Have some fun. And that's what I did.

Here's how I spent my hurricane day:

1. Watch Dr. Who

When Dr. Who aired on the SyFy Channel a few years ago, I saw a smattering of episodes. Time travel, funny aliens, a lot of running and screaming - Dr. Who was very exciting, but it didn't quite grip me at the time.

I consider myself a fantasy girl. Give me swords over space ships any day. I have trouble engaging in - and sometimes even understanding - the technical aspects of science fiction. So when I was a little high schooler, watching Dr. Who for the first time, I thought it was just like the other sci-fi shows I'd watched growing up (like Farscape). I didn't feel like I was missing out on anything when I stopped watching.

However, I've since changed my tune.

One of my summer goals had been to watch EVERY EPISODE starting with the 9th Doctor. But then the reality of completing my thesis hit me - and I didn't do a lot things I said I was going to do this summer, haha. So when Hurricane Issac gave me an extra day, I turned on Nettflix and started watching. I've seen about six episodes so far, and I'm really loving the show.

Maybe I had to grow up a bit to be able to enjoy it, or maybe now is just the right time for me to start. I already jumped the gun and bought a "Bow Ties are Cool" t-shirt (not because of the show, but more so... because I really believe that). I can't wait to get to the 11th Doctor, but I will take my time and watch in order. I promise, haha.

2. Read Literary Journals

I have a big reading list, but more often than not I cross novels off my list rather than literary journals. There are two journals that I thought would be fun to read and I finally snuggled up on my couch and read them. Weird Tales and Shimmer are both journals focused on publishing speculative stories that are, of course, weird, whimsical, and surprising.

Weird Tales #358

Weird Tales has a long history, having been founded in 1923 (cool, right? I'd love to read some of those really old issues). Issue #358's theme was Hell (I had no idea when I bought it, haha), so I ended up reading about renegade angels and contract-wielding demons. Although the theme wasn't my cup of tea, I enjoyed all of those stories. Another great aspect about Weird Tales is that they also publish academic / non-fiction articles too that have to do with weird or speculative tales. The articles in this issue included a study of "weird" in film and how McQueen's fashion aesthetic could be considered "weird." interesting stuff.

My favorite story from this issue had to be "A Beginner's Guide to Sandcastle Alchemy" by Nik Houser. A group of boys from a specialized school go to the beach during a storm and build sandcastles - all the with purpose of trying to attract the attention of the Mermaid Queen. However, the boys have no idea what the Mermaid Queen is really like and what they are risking by following through with their whimsical sand structures. This story gave me the chills but it was very well done.

Shimmer #14

This issue of Shimmer didn't seem to have a particular theme, but the stories were strange and wonderful. From mud creatures to eerie trash men, I was surprised by how creative and exciting each tale was. Almost every story has an illustration too, made by the artist who did the cover. Very cool.

My favorite story here is "This House was Never a Castle" by Aaron Polson about a boy and his two sisters Rosamond and Olivia (who is ghost, having been eaten by a wolf). They live in a house kind of like a nautilus in that there are many rooms with shut doors - but there's no way in or out of the house without using a bit of magic. The siblings only leave the house to get food because the world outside is a dangerous place, full of soldiers at war, wolves, and disease. The boy struggles with his desire to stay small and protected, but knowing that he has to step up one day and be a man. This story was creepy and I got attached very quickly to the boy and sisters. I want to read more about them!

3. Bake Macarons

Ever since my mom and I started baking macarons, it's become like an addiction! While the trees out back shivered in the rain, we made two new flavors: banana and lilac. They both are delicious.

A note about the lilac: we bought lilac in the hopes of coming close to a flavor like violet. It would be amazing to make violet macarons, but violet anything is expensive and hard to find. My mom and I trolled all the health food stores in the area, asking for violets, to no avail. But one shop had lilac and so we decided to take a chance on that flavor. Thank goodness - it's really good and it does taste a bit like violet.

These are the flavors we used. Left to Right: Banana for the cookie, chocolate for the whipped cream center, and lilac water for the other batch of cookies and whipped cream filling. The Watkins brand of extract is amazing! I highly recommend.

The lilac water is sweeter than rose water... I dunno, I kind of like the lilac better, haha. I wish that the food coloring had been darker - we have to play around with that some more.

4. Play with Misty

Done and Done!

5. Listen to The Midsummer Station

I love Owl City. It's a fact. frankly, the new album, The Midsummer Station, couldn't have come soon enough. I listened to it for the first time while driving to and from orientation, blowing out my eardrums because, you know, I have to turn up the volume in my car.

During the storm, this energetic, cheerful music washed away the worst of the thunder and lighting flashing outside.

This album is better than I expected; typical of any Owl City song, it's hard to choose a favorite. However, I'm singling out "Metropolis" because there's something mesmerizing about it. Every time this song comes up, I have to pause for a moment and daydream. Here's the song and part of the lyrics:

Oh oh, I can't even take it in
Oh oh, I can't even take it in
Oh oh, I left my heart in metropolis

So far apart, I checked but the coast was clear
I feel like a postcard
I wish you were here

Subway through the dark, carriage through the park
Taxi down the street, get out and use my feet
Don't matter much to me what it is that I do
As long as I'm coming home to you

Oh oh oh, as far as I can see
You're the only one, the only one who can get to me
Like a hijacked plane or a runaway train
Or a speeding bullet, there's no stopping this
I left my heart in metropolis

A thousand miles feels like a million years
Like hundreds of postcards that say 
I wish you were here (I can't even take it in)
Airplane through the sky, greyhound racing by
Dirt bike on the beach, sailboat on the sea
Don't matter much to me what it is that I do
As long as I'm coming home to you

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Baking Adventures: Macarons!

So I love macarons, but they're awfully hard to find in Florida. It's easier, I imagine, to find a unicorn than a macaron shop.

Until one opened up at the mall.

When I went to the mall last weekend, I wandered in and out of the Hello Kitty store, tried on a mound of clothes at H&M, admired the displays at Nordstrom's, and ate spring rolls and noodles at the food court. You know, the usual business. This mall is indoors (ironic) and far from where I live, so every time I go to there, it seems like an adventure, a long expedition to an exotic land of overpriced purses and trendy people. But on the way out to the parking lot, I discovered a newly-opened macaron shop. I was enchanted.

The space was very open with wood floors and huge posters of pastel macarons on the walls. The display cases were lit up. For a minute, I thought I was inside Flour House's bakery, Sweet Crumblier.

Just a minute.

Then, I saw the employees and their sneers... and I couldn't leave the shop fast enough.

It seems counterproductive to turn your nose up at customers if you expect to have good business. When I entered the shop, I got chills and didn't feel very welcome. A lady with a power suit and clip board observed the flow of people in the shop (since when do you need a power suit to bake?) and the teens working behind the displays were unfriendly. The price, also, was extremely high for such tiny treats. Normally, such things wouldn't bother me... if the vibe wasn't so strong, you know?

So I left that day proud that I hadn't bought anything from the shop, but also feeling a gaping hole in my stomach where macarons should have been. I really wanted some.

Maybe I could make my own.

This wasn't a new thought - baking my own macarons - but seeing that shop finally spurred me to action. I cracked open the recipe book I had gotten a few months ago, grabbed my mom (the real cook of the house), and embarked on a wild afternoon of trying to create this mysterious French dessert.

Here's how it went:

The cook book I used is called Macaroons: For the Ideal Bite-Size Treat. The outside feels soft, like a baby book, but there's tons of macarons inside to choose from. I couldn't find the edition I have online, so I've linked to (maybe) the same book. For some reason... it's on pre-order. Well, weird. It's the same publisher, at least. The only unfortunate thing about this book is that they spelled macaroon with an extra o.


Come to think of it, Oleander from Flour House had to learn the difference as well between them. A macaron is the French dessert that, for lack of a decent explanation, is usually pastel, has a filling, and is worn as much as a fashion statement as it is something delicious and sweet to eat. A macaroon is the ugly, yet tasty, coconut dessert. Hence, the chart:

Since my mom and I have been enjoying rose water (we've even made vegan cupcakes with it!), the choice of which flavor macaron to make was simple.

Maybe you can read the recipe directions? Hmm.

Almonds, Powdered Sugar, and Egg Whites

Pan Lining Paper

Ah, the basic materials above. We gathered all of this together, along with a bunch of blenders and mixers. I felt like a mad scientist, haha.

Because we didn't have almond meal already, we had to put our diced almonds into the blender. After that, we put in powdered sugar and created a potent concoction, haha. The almonds and powdered sugar had to be blended for fifteen seconds.

But the biggest challenge was the meringue. 

Neither my mom nor I have ever made meringue and so we had no idea what to look for when making it. So, the first time we tried, it ended up looking like this:

Thin, bubbly. Not quite right.

Even after adding a ton  of cream of tartar, sugar, and food coloring, it was still too flat! 

The almond-powdered sugar mixture and the meringue are supposed to combine to make the cookie part of the macaron, so we knew that this watery failure wouldn't work. 

After wiping away a single tear, I flushed this down the toilet and we began again. 

What ended up saving us from a second epic fail was a wonderful site called Food Nouveau. Not only was there a helpful, step-by-step video set to Amelie-like music, but there was also a troubleshooting page that allowed us to find out what we did wrong right away. 

We probably had a bit of yoke that got into the egg whites, overbeat it in the process, and used too large of a bowl. Yep. 

Ah! Much better the second time! Looks like shaving cream, haha.

As carefully as folding a spider's web, we worked the almond-powdered sugar mix into the meringue and then packed it into a pastry bag. As you can see, the almonds left speckles on the cookies - because they weren't finely ground, haha. But it's all good. 

Ready to bake!

Look at that!

Do you see that perfect one? It's like... as real as one you'd get at a store. I almost cried when they came out of the oven ;_;

... but the holes!

Unfortunately, while they were baking, the paper on the tray flopped over - that's why some of them here were wrecked. The cookies are really delicate like that. You have to be careful when even eating them, haha.

As the last step, we had to include a filling for the middle. We went with whipped cream flavored with sugar and rose water.


They're so cute, all imperfect and everything. *pinches their cheeks and cracks them* 

When we finally got to taste them, they were just, again, like ones you'd buy at a fancy store - with the added benefit of being fresh out of the oven. I wouldn't say that macarons are hard to make, but it's just that most of the techniques one would use to make them are, well, not part of everyday baking (at least, for me. I use the microwave). 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Tidying Up

Three days. Four garbage bags. One clean room.

Ah. There's nothing like having a tidy nest. Picking up after myself was supposed to be a priority this summer, but I actually ended up making more of a mess by forgetting to dust and dragging my reference books for my thesis all over the house - and leaving them in stacks all over the floor. Of course, there's nothing like watching an episode of Hoarders to send a shiver a guilt down your spine. Arming myself with a steely resolve and an open windows media player, I tackled every single part of my room in an effort of a huge clean out. The secret recesses of my closet (where the racks and shelves are designed so badly that I can't reach all the way into the back molars of the space, hehe), the drawers packed with wrinkly clothing, and my ever-shifting bookcases. On the last day of cleaning, I sneezed so much from the dust that I had to carry a tissue at all times.

Of course, my room really isn't that messy. It just got sorely neglected during my strict writing schedule this summer.

A friend of mine suggested that I blog about some of the items I rediscovered during my clean out (like video games, paper-bag puppets, and IKEA plushies), so I'll try to make some smaller posts this month and do that. In the meantime, I thought I'd give you an update on what's been going on lately.


Narwhals, swing jazz, lighthouses - oh my!

IT IS DONE! I finished my first draft on July 31st, fulfilling my goal of being done with it before August. I just barely made that goal, but I'm glad it worked out that way. School starts up again at the end of August, and I've got orientation and planning to do before I head back (the logical reason behind my thesis goal).

After reading through my draft again for typos, I'm going to print it and have it ready for my director to read. I'm looking forward to working with her on the future revisions.


Okay, okay, okay, okay, I'm really excited to say this: I have a fan club on tumblr!

*excited scream*

I discovered fans-of-kimberly completely by accident while tending to my personal blog. When I scrolled through my main feed, I saw a familiar sight: a grouping of the covers I've used for my Figment stories. It took me a minute to realize that they were, in fact, the very same covers... and the post originated from fans-of-kimberly. WHUT. That's SO COOL.

I don't know who started the tumblr club or how many people are following it, but I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. I felt like crying when I saw it - so so amazing.

Future Projects

As I promised in my last post, I'm working on the final chapters on Diamond's story, "Becoming a Butler." However, I have been delightfully distracted by a book that's been giving me some ideas: a nonfiction book called A Butler's Life: Scenes from the Other Side of the Silver Salver by Kimberly Allen and Christopher Allen (the butler in question). While Allen is certainly a modern day butler, the story of how he stumbled into the profession is humorous, insightful, and wondrous to read about. I'm usually speedy when it comes to reading, but nonfiction books, for whatever reason, slow me down. So when I finish this beauty... yep. You can expect "Becoming a Butler" to be complete.

I had hoped to get a break after finishing my thesis draft, but classically, a lot of other projects have made their presences known.

In the next few weeks, I'll be working on a few overdue short stories; one of them is expanding my short story "Lookout" (that had appeared briefly on Figment). A brand new lit mag, founded by one of my MFA fellows, Alan, is called Tripod Cat. The neat thing about this mag is that all the stories are published as audio files. If you've got some free time, have listen of Issue 1's poetry and prose - they're so good! After "Lookout" is polished and ready to roll, I'll be recording it - hopefully overcoming my dislike of hearing my recorded voice. I'll do my best, haha.