spooks and rituals

Rituals are funny things - for those who practice them, they seem so commonplace, natural, instinctive even - while for those watching from the outside, well, they tend to furrow brows and raise serious questions. As it turns out, pumpkin carving is one such practice that the unindoctrinated eye with skepticism. While each October we Americans happily empty out gourds, slice scary faces into their squashy flesh and set them aglow, the rest of the world thinks the practice is: odd, reeks of Satanism and is a shameful waste of food.


Kasey and I weren't fully aware of this when we invited a couple Brits, a Frenchman and an Indian (oh, and another American for moral support back-up) to join us in a bit of pumpkin carving fun. Our reluctant recruits had never before contemplated participating in this bizarre American tradition and it took some coaxing to get them started. But once the slimy seeds were scooped out, the patterns traced and incised, and they saw the resulting radiant orange blaze, I think we had some converts.

Kasey and Tom's Tom-Cat.

Tisha's Ghost (done entirely free-hand!!!)

Andy's spider (ingeniously lit by his phone).

A reprise of the cat with mine and Rohit's pirate ship.

The over-carved pumpkin that you see on top of the stack (or shall we call it, pumpkin carving nouveau - or, perhaps, simply [and appropriately] "outside-of-the-box") was Guillaume's addition.

Cute marshmallow ghosts that sustained us during our efforts.

All together now. Happy Halloween!!!

wishing on stars, opening doors, and such

It's nice to see wishes grow up, manifest themselves into tangible things, become solid.

Early last Saturday morning, I was painting the walls in my hall a bright minty green (more minty than I intended) and ruminating on what I should do - and by that, what I mean is thinking about writing writing writing, quandaring about it. When the fed-up depths of me yawned and said, "Really? Where is the quandary here? Just devote each second you can to it and stop all this fuss." To which the sometimes-more-rational me said, "You're right. I should just trust, commit and plow forward."

And with that I put down the brush and plodded off to make a cup of tea while the first coat of mint paint dried. Once seated and sipping, I clicked through the New York Times and then on over to The Wednesday Chef. She hasn't written much lately, but to my pleasure, there was a new post. And not only was it new, it was fresh - usually I arrive to find her posts at least fifty comments old, but this one had none. And not only was it fresh, its topic was about something more existential than food. It was about wishes... and disappointment... and yearnings...and life. I read the post on that quiet morning with the same exhilaration and elating wonder as it feels to look out over new fallen snow.

If I've piqued your interest, here's some back story for those of you who aren't food blog addicts. The Wednesday Chef a.k.a. Ms. Luisa has had a crazy year. A bout of depression, then a surprise engagement in SF - which momentarily cheered her up, followed by the demise of her relationship to her fiancee and their subsequent break up, which seemed to leave her worse off than before.

As she persevered through these highs and lows, Luisa shared her cooking adventures by night, and worked as a food editor by day. She occasionally talked of her work with food writers and photographers, but of course, those who read her blog knew all along that what she really wanted to do was write - simply just be a writer, rather than edit all the thoughts and recipes of others.

Now, with all that in mind, you may proceed to read the post for yourself here. It's lovely and inspiring.

And the fact that I was the first to comment? Well, I trust quite a bit in serendipity, and it was certainly an appropriate punctuation to my own rumination. As I said, it's nice to watch wishes grow up... and sometimes they need a pinch of borrowed starter to get them to do just that.

P.S. Luisa changed the picture on the post from the one that was there when I first found it. Now it's a tree with picnickers underneath, but before, it was the picture of a card on a shelf that somebody had sent her... who knows when. I quite liked it better, for the card read:

"Your journey has molded you for your greater good, and it was exactly what it needed to be. Don't think you've lost time. There is no short-cutting to life. It took each and every situation you have encountered to bring you to the now. And now is right on time." -Asha Tyson

(My tree picture is a painting by Magritte.)

mr. plum in the conservatory with chocolate

This may be it - a brownie recipe worthy of all that incessant and absurd 'death by chocolate' prattle. Yes, as much as I dislike the trite phrase, I have to admit, when I took the first (and second, and third) bite of these brownies the thought "whoa. death by chocolate" was the inane sentiment that went looping through my mind. Apparently, these fudgy bon bons are so densely compacted with the mesmerizing dark substance that they overload neurotransmitters and stupefy the verbal cortex.

The blame for my chocolate-induced brain cell death goes to Miss Alice in the kitchen. That would be Alice, as in, Alice Medrich, who devised this jaw-dropping recipe, and who is often hailed as the "Queen of Chocolate" by foodie types. After this result, I am convinced that her unconventional recipes are sheer baking genius.

In fact, this Alice Medrich brownie recipe may just replace my *other* Alice Medrich brownie recipe with its magical freezer technique since this one only requires cocoa. I know, I know, *scary* how they possibly be good enough without melted chocolate?? But trust Alice and her scant cup of cocoa. I dare you. Especially if you're one of those types who declares you'd fancy a death by chocolate.

Alice Medrich's Best Cocoa Brownies

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cold large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup walnut or pecan pieces (optional)

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.

Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot.

Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Stir in the nuts, if using. Spread evenly in the lined pan.

Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack.

Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares.

* Special equipment: An 8-inch square baking pan

hindu new year

While most of you thought this past Saturday was just a regular October day, the whole of India and a host of Indian expats were celebrating Diwali - the Hindu New Year. The fact that I also ended up celebrating Diwali at the Neasden Temple in West London had only a little bit to do with the fact that I accompanied a Hindu to the to the festivities - I likely would have gone regardless. Not only do I love holidays (I am American) I love, love, LOVE fireworks - and since we don't get them for the Fourth of July here - well, I just have to take them as they come.

First stop was the flower-bedecked temple for prayer.

The men and women are separated on arrival. Without my Hindu guide, I was left to wonder what I was doing/supposed to next while sitting on a platform in the center of a room of idol-Gods amongst 50 Indian women who were also probably left to wonder what a bewildered-looking blonde girl was doing there.

Hurray! Survived the temple ceremonies having committed only minor faux pas. Next up! Food!

Rohit with a delicious plate of ginger and cardamom steeped Chole Puri. Some claim he makes it better... maybe it was just because I was starving, but I'm not so sure... (yes, he can consider that a challenge).

Then, the trek past the temple to the fireworks.

Where we started with trance music and lasers... before...



Ka-bam! Happy Diwali!

This Is Who I Am. Who are You?

"You see, in my view a writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden. In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway."

- Junot Diaz (winner of the 2008 Pulitzer)

I've been suffering major writer's/blog block lately. Not that my half-done fiction writing ever makes it up here anyway - the blog is only a depository for my real-world thoughts and experiences - but it's been a very blah struggle to write about either real or imaginary of late. Nonetheless, I keep on tapping away, warbling out nonsense that will hopefully come together someday. So you see, when I came across Mr. Diaz's words, I found them comforting.


if you can't say something riveting...

Someone recalled of their encounter with the poet, Dylan Thomas:

"Dylan talked copiously, then stopped. 'Somebody's boring me,' he said, 'I think it's me.'"

Oh my, how sometimes I relate.

See? Even the same Eugenio Recuenco photo rut (not that I love him less for it).

I shall return with another post that I guarantee not to dull you - or more importantly me - yes?

Voyage of the H.M.S. Wind-Up Heart

"Surely all art is the result of one's having been in danger, of having gone through an experience all the way to the end, where no one can go any further." - Rainer Maria Rilke

Photo is still Eugenio Recuenco - what can I say? Art/Photography-wise, I'm in a rut. But latey, his pics all seem to perfectly suit my mood.