Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Blursville and The Beauty

Every night when I climb into bed at around 11, I am completely spent. My feet throb. The muscles wrapped around my spine are squeezing, dying to unclench. I switch on the Food Channel and let the laces out. I ooze onto the pillowtop. Husband has been asleep for hours as have the children.

This is the moment of my day that I remember the most. Everything else is on fast forward, a race from one thing to the next. A contest to get a monumental amount of things done. I'm a top competitor in this type of contest, but what the fuck. Where is it all going.

My next door neighbor, a nineteen year old that used to babysit the girls, sports a bumper sticker on her jalopied volvo stationwagon that reads Stop the Killing in Darfur. She's on her way to Africa, on a mission to Tanzania to lend a hand. I like her a lot. She wore a button the other day -- as did her mom -- that read Help Darfur. I thought, I better keep up with what the kids are into these days. I better read up on Darfur because oddly Sudanese massacres aren't really covered on cupcake blogs. The news wasn't much different than the last time I checked up on a genocide though the estimated numbers are higher. It's hope-crushing and makes me draw a blank.

Speaking of Africa, I've taken control of my iPod. I used to leave the iPod management to Husband who has somehow collected 2,500 songs, which is staggering to me considering I have been listening to the same 20 songs for over a year. I pulled up our family iTunes account and the songs to be found were almost exclusively hard-core rap and R&B. There were hints of me in there; some salsa, some blues, some international. I reclaimed my own list, swapped out my 20 songs for 20 newly downloaded ones that are more my flow, including a few assorted cuts by Fela Kuti, who was a Nigerian musician and revolutionary. I used to be obsessed with Fela in the 80's, signing petitions to free him from jail and listening to his vinyl records nonstop. I saw him in concert once when I was about 17, and stood at the edge of the stage, locked down by his blanket-like intensity. I was face to face with his female dancers who were on all fours arching and contracting their backs to the never-ending rhythm. The dancers were far from kitteny and coy about their sexuality. They wore expressions that dared us to even look at them. Fela spent the entire show without a shirt, without shoes, tight polyester pants, chain smoking and bullying his massive band. He berated the American audience asking why we only come to concerts for two hours? "In Nigeria, we play ALL. NIGHT. LONG." His smirks and stares created real fear; his singing put us all under his spell. One of the songs I downloaded over the weekend is ten minutes long with just one sentence sung, an Ashanti proverb: It is because of Beauty that women hold them breasts when they run not because they might fall. Most all of Kuti's music is trance-like, heavy on organ and horns and drums and his dark droning. I still love it so.

I went to a gourmet shop two days ago. I'm not sure if I've actually been in a gourmet shop before, but this was definitely the first time I've been in one with my eyes open. I bought two small items that may change my life. Vietnamese cinnamon is one. I've been reading the praises of this over the last couple months. I use cinnamon every day, sprinkled in my coffee grounds before brewing. I shake a little here, little there. And I report enthusiastically that Vietnamese cinnamon is the motherf'ing Sophia Loren of cinnamons. The other item I bought was ground lavender powder. Tonight, I made a lavender cream frosting that was almost stunning. I used soy creamer instead of soy milk but, predictably, I got a little overzealous with the lavender. Husband couldn't even eat it, but I feel big potential here especially when I made if for an agave clove cake. OOoo, it's so close.

Look what else I tried. Flawless vegan cook and baker QuintanaRoo demystified this chocolate sculpting process for me and I gave it a shot for my coconut cakes.

And then the chocolate became room temperature . . .and she's down . . .

So, I laid the remaining chocolate hearts right on top. This worked out better because then one didn't feel inclined to pull out the heart and eat if first. This way, you ate it like an open-faced cupcake sandwich, which was so much better. I mean, what's better than coconut and chocolate all mashed together? Except Vietnamese cinnamon and crushed lavender and. . .holy shit, it's my decompression/bedtime. Peace.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

24/7 is Temporary

Mina said to me today in a small voice from the back seat, "Is Frankenstein dead?" Looking in the rear view mirror I said, "I think so." She said, "What happened to him?" I said, "Oh, I think the villagers went after him and I think they killed him. The villagers were scared because Frankenstein was different from them. Out of ignorance, they killed him." And Mina said, "Was Frankenstein black?"

Whoa. But I understood what she meant. We've started our Black History Month talks early and it's been on her mind.

She said, "I wish I could bring back dead people. Do you wish that?" I really thought about it. I said, "I'm not sure. I don't think so." She said, "You don't want me to bring back Martin Luther King Jr.?" I wondered if Mina had enlisted in some revolutionary group at recess. I said, "Yea, that would be a good idea to bring him back. But maybe not all dead people." She said, "I'll just bring back 5-10 heroes." It was brilliant of course, but sad that she had to bring some back from the dead.

Maya called me immediately after school yesterday sounding beat-down. A rumor had been started insinuating that she was bisexual, which, by sixth graders, seems so half-hatched nasty in a forced-adult and TV-fed way. The first Rumor Carrier had said smugly to Maya, "Are you Bio? 'Cause I heard you were Bio." (Can't you hear her bitchy tone?) I interjected. "What's Bio?" Maya said, "Y'know, bio-sexual." I said, "First off, these lame brains have the wrong word." She explained the rest of her day fending off other inquiries about her Bio-ness. She told me that she thinks the rumor got started by a girl named Tatum that used to "date" Maya's best friend Solomon, and when Solomon and Tatum broke up, Tatum started raining nastiness on those in his circle. I, of course, gave my strong and still-bruised 11 year old a firing squad of pep talks that dismissed the small-minded; telling her to be sad for those that need to tear down to make themselves feel temporarily better. I told her all self-assured, athletic girls at some point in their lives get a low, lame jab referring to their sexuality, me included. And lastly I told her that I loved her even if she was, in fact, a Bio. She laughed and I saw her mind release the tension caused by the attacks. By today the rumor had bounded, like a flea, off of her and on to some other poor middle schooler.

In baking news, for the record I used to think that cooking was a monumental waste of time. So much work to be gobbled down almost thanklessly. There were dishes and shopping and the shortage of ingredients. It was frustrating. My perspective has changed. I mean, obviously, since I've been baking 24/7. I savor all steps now, the sensuality of pulling it all together and the fleeting moment of joy it brings people. There is a tradition in Tibetan Buddhism where monks make huge, beautiful sculpture out of colored butter. They spend hours shaping them into the likeness of religious symbols, creating a pleasing and powerful impact as does most Tibetan Buddhist art. Butter is used for such elaborate and painstakingly beautiful work as a gesture that everything is temporary. You offer up your best, creating an artistic and profound impact -- in symbol and in living -- and then it is gone. The offering dissolves, but the impact lingers. The thoughts of compassion will last and do more work than anything physical. Our vehicle melts away and we come back to try again.

Maybe cupcakes aren't that deep. But I offer them still in love. I bake for temporary goodness. Is any suffering alleviated? Minimally I'm sure, but I'm working on that.

Maya's bake sale is on. It has been long work especially since I bake after the paying job and in between my 24/7 parenting gig. But surprisingly baking is not resentful work. It is rich and pretty and fulfilling, and they will all be gone tomorrow.

Speaking of a temporary, artistic impact: The girls and I went to a free gallery on Olvera street over the weekend and caught Joe Bravo's show. Joe Bravo paints on tortillas, y'all.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Maya is back in serious training this month. She has a huge tournament coming in February in Florida: The U.S. Open, a black-belts only tourney. She's fighting in the fly-weight division. Fly has been her weight class, but I just like to say it. What do you fight? I'm Super Fly. Maya's been working out six days a week which means Mami is also going to Taekwondo six days a week. I don't mind. Sometimes I'm there for over two hours watching Mina's class then Maya's training. There's a treadmill facing the spar mats and I've been knocking out my workouts there too. I'm gonna be in Ms.-Fitness-World shape by the time Maya makes the Olympics.

I booked the trip to Florida two days ago after much trepidation and gnashing of teeth about allocating such a good chunk of money for a cross-country tournament. But then I stopped stressing and just booked it. Maya is an amazing talent. I'm simply clearing a path for the greatness of both my girls. The money will come. It's gonna have to come because I played myself by not fundraising earlier. But in a last-minute smart spark I made a bake-sale flyer where friends and family and coworkers can order cupcakes. I'll deliver them over the course of a month. Today was the first day pimping the idea, and I am very, very hopeful now. It's also perfect practice for the cupcakeria. I looked into all kinds of ways to ship the cupcakes to you guys, but shipping perishables would have to be sent overnight (as expensive as the cupcakes themselves) and I just don't see how the frosting would stay pristine and pretty. But I'll work on this.


The Cupcake Bakeshop has a great recipe for Churro cupcakes. I tried to make them the other night. I didn't follow any of the actual cupcake idea making instead a vanilla cinnamon cake with a cinnamon-chocolate buttercream. I did, however, convert her churro recipe into a vegan one, and they came out unbelievably. Tiny little churritos all crunchy but soft and cinnamon-sugary . . .lord have mercy. I was clicking my heels over the churritos and didn't notice that my oven took another temperature nose dive and ruined all the cakes.

I called the landlord about the oven the next day. I am convinced he is a member of some Russian mafia outfit, possibly in exile here. He's about 75 years old. He is dapper and intimidating. His wife is a lovely mess. She has lost track of her hygiene and short term memory. She has recessed deeply in her mind and mutters when she walks the couple blocks from her home to our apartment building to collect quarters from the laundry room. But when she sees the girls and me, she lifts her hands to her silk-scarved head that can't seem to contain her greasy dark blonde shag and she tells the girls they are the most beautiful girls she's ever seen. Her teeth have been on their own for decades, brown and partying in jagged lines, her glasses are crooked and dirty -- she wears no bra -- but she is full of love. "When something is beautiful, I must say it!" She says this every time. I once dropped off the rent at their apartment and in the living room there were oil paintings from floor to ceiling; three and four atop each other vertically, and endlessly hung across all the walls. Portraits and paintings of flowers and landscapes. My landlady had painted them all. This is when I first loved her.

So, I called the smug and cold landlord about the oven and didn't expect much because he's also known as miserly -- the long-time residents have said -- but the wife answered the phone and she said she'd call the handyman. The handyman, named Uras, is Russian also, in his 50's, and seems to be the whipping man of the landlord. He wears suspenders and white-paint-splattered jeans every day. His full hair is white and it goes super with his light-splattered eyes. I don't think Uras has always been a handyman. I think he was an artist in his past Russian life because he paints the apartments only according to how the color matches the lighting of each room. He will paint stripes of color on a wall after an apartment has been vacated and he'll soak in the feel for a few days, until he decides. His English is busted with extra helpings of liquidy Russian. But he always smiles when he talks and he waves his hands and talks in circles like an artist does. Sometimes if I mention Landlord, he closes his mouth and says nothing. Too much history for me to swim through.

Uras looked at my oven and said he'd be back. This is a man who fixes things with wire and duct tape, which I can respect. Once when he unclogged my garbage disposal he said, "I will get you wire [meaning a drain-food-catcher] because this disposal it is only for . . . background music." Meaning these pipes are too old to put chopped-veggie residue down them every single day.

When Uras returned he said in a sing-song way, "Good things come from bad things. I have new oven for you in three days, yes?" I was genuinely shocked and gushed my gratitude over and over. I may have bowed a few times because I tend to do that when I'm speaking to people with heavy accents. I saw the wife this morning on her quarter-collecting run and I expressed it all again. Bowing, I said, "Thank you so much for the coming new oven." She said, "You are beautiful. When something is beautiful, I must say so! When they are not, I keep quiet."

Friday, January 12, 2007

Still I Rise . . .Like a Cupcake

Feh, I'm better, thanks. And the Cupcakería plans are still in the works.

Two nights ago, the oven magically started working again; at least for 20 minutes anyway which was all I needed to finish the Red Velvets, my 3rd attempt thanks to Mr. Grumpy Oven. I did not sample or taste a thing, but worked more from feel and sight. I was a baker that had lost an important sense only to have the other senses heightened. I was like Jedi Baker in training; a master martial arts baker, sniffing the air for the exact amount of ingredients needed or the exact time of readiness. It did feel Next-Level to bake like this. It felt so much more intentional. I was all doing Tai Chi movements to pour soy milk and I sifted the dry ingredients balancing on one foot. I will say it was just as rewarding to complete the cupcakes without eating them.

It turned out, according to my many samplers, that these may have been the best ones ever. By the by, I used beet juice "red" natural food coloring for these. They did not come out the usual red-velvet radioactive red --which I think is a good thing -- but a pretty dark burgundy.

One more cupcake thing, I'm in love with cupcake baker Cheryl Porro over at Cupcake Bakeshop . She is not a vegan baker, but she is so creative and she bakes so beautifully. I'm going to try to convert some of her interesting recipes to vegan versions. Check her out.

I haven't talked about my dogs in a while, which isn't right because we don't do much without them. As Maya says, I have four daughters. Pug quality time includes long conversations --they listen really well -- and intense snuggling sessions and long walks on their double leash and frenzied welcome-homes even if we just went down stairs to throw out the trash. The girls drag them around like the-most-loved stuffed animal in the collection and dress them up in party clothes and now, Mina's new favorite, she puts eye shadow on them. Wherever we are, they are. Tripping us up, pawing at us for yet MORE attention. We just discovered last night that when I do entire scenes from Westside Story for the girls in my An-ee-ta or Mar-ee-a accent, Lupe goes crazy. She tries to paw my face and she squirms around on her back. She couldn't get enough of, TELL ME IT IS NUT TRRUU. PLEESS LET IT NUT BE TRRUU!

Most nights, I chop vegetables for our lunches the next day. Here's a little taste of what life is like with Sisters Pug. This is my view most evenings:
They will eat ANY vegetable and most fruits. They wait and wait for me to throw them something or for something to fall.

Look at Carmen trying to play it off, like she don't care if something gets dropped, but she's all tense and ready to pounce.

I'm under a lot of pressure from them.

Look, they're burning a hole in the cabbage.

Lupe will bite your fingers off for some kale. It's her favorite. Carmen loves cucumber best.
Have a good weekend, mi gente.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

It was sometime last week when my mood packed its bags and went south for a vacation. I can't seem to coax it back no matter how many pleading calls I make. She hasn't even sent a postcard.

During the last couple days, I've been flirting with panic. I stuff it down and keep it shackled behind my breastbone because I really am trying hard not to worry about anything; I've given that up a ton of times on my weekly/monthly/daily resolution lists. Also, I don't know what to do with worry when it's outside of myself. I don't even know what I'm worried about, exactly. I've been working on a new Project Team at work where I've had to pull my broker-ball-buster skills off the shelf. I throw these skills around half-heartedly because I'm rusty and because I just don't like to be so damn aggressive like that any more. Customers want A Miracle every hour on the hour. They want things before work and after work. It doesn't ever stop. Their demands gush through a spigot with no stop value. I used to love that kind of pressure. It's just draining and seems pointless now; near ridiculous.

It's at night when I feel the worst, just the last few nights. Panic dulls and hopelessness swirls in a freefalling spiral below me. Awake, I try to shake it off, but the room looms and contracts in eggplant-charcoal shadows. My mind slows and becomes heavy in my head, pressuring my eyes. All the lists and plans and strategies cease; I don't know what I'm doing. The desperation to make a career change seems to have reached a point of hysteria. I picture myself baking and baking myself into a frenzy until I've collapsed on the kitchen floor with matted hair and lipstick spread across my face, not a dime made, not a future in sight. What am I doing? I rarely cry. But I let tears relieve me a little today.

Not to simplify my feelings, but I realized last night the major source of this recent doom. It's the sugar. Sugar from frosting, sugar from cakes. I haven't been gorging as much as one would imagine, but it's been enough to throw me into this ditch. In my Escape-Through-Baking high, I suffered sugar amnesia; I forgot that I have never done well on sugar. It always --100% of the time -- leads to this exact feeling of mild depression. I'm so sadly desperate that I thought I could just overlook it. How much does that suck? Does this thwart the cupcakeria plans? I tell you when I claw my way out of this hole. I mean, it certainly changes my cupcake-eating plans.

I used to work with a girl we called Epiphany Tiffany. She was in her early 20's and fantastically wide-eyed. Her enthusiasm fell just short of infectious and stayed on the side of entertainment for us. Every month, she had a brilliant and drastically new Life Plan. The range of ideas was spectacular:

Bangs make her face look better/Growing her hair out is really what's best for her look. Quitting her job to waitress and go back to school is really the only way to follow her dreams/Cooperate American knows where it's at; the structure and security is important. She's moving in with friends to save money/Getting her own place is better to find independence. Skirts made her feel feminine and pretty/Pants really are the only way to go. Smoking is terrible and she's giving it up!/Ah, she's young and has time. She needs a pet, a cat would bring her happiness/A cat deserves more time and love. Forgiveness is key to happiness/No one is gonna shit on her anymore!

The best part about Epiphany Tiffany was that each life-changing announcement was so solid, so robust and bursting with intention. Each announcement was a shock to us because we really believed her during the last epiphany. "You go, Tiffany. Find your bliss, girl." We meant it too because good for her for right-angling her way all over life's map to find out what had meaning to her.

As I mount age 40, I've turned into Epiphany Tiffany. All my grand ideas to skyrocket me into Change and Realness and . . . blahblahblah. It's embarrassing to type it out. Let's recap:

* I'm gonna be a successful vegan baker when I've had no past experience or past passion for cooking. And sugar slips me deep into Funk, so deep my butt's asleep. What a rich idea! Oh and my 1970's apartment oven took a dump on me yesterday mid red velvet cupcakes, which is not helping the discouragement.

* I was going to have a successful bangle business. I gave that a go for a bit and the bangles were brilliant and lovely -- and it took 6 hours to make only one, and I was too embarrassed to ask for 6-hour/bangle high-end assessory money. My inner Tiffany told me to try something else, again.

* Hey everyone, I'm an athlete/runner/active type at 40. (I've actually been sticking to this one.)

* Hi, I went back to school to study holistic nutrition because, y'know, 50 billion things to do in a day is really not enough for my inner soul. (Ok, I've kinda stuck to this one too though it's slllooowww going. I'm not giving up on this yet, Tiffany! However, all the lofty plans revolving around My Nutrionist Career has to do with volunteering up the information. Ok, so volunteer work and selling $2 cupcakes really doesn't sound like a plan to make rent, does it?)

* My writing epiphanies limp along loyally. They ebb lowly and rise violently. But I can't seem to abandon them entirely. Writing was my first and true epiphany. Or was that basketball?

*'Member when I loved yoga a lot. That one time?

* And let's not rehash my countless religious epiphanies . . .

There's more, I'm sure, I'm just too tired to remember them all.

So, anyway, I'll be fine. The sugar levels are going down, and making fun of myself made me feel kinda better. My mood called and she'll be on the next flight home. And you know what that means . . . more epiphanies and realizations to come!

P.S. In the mail I just now received a batter dispenser that I had ordered last week. I suppose it's a good sign that I can't wait to try it. Maybe if I kick the oven a few times it will work better.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

It's Not the Wind

The soul scouring? It's going well. Too well maybe. Why do we not easily accept happiness when it's consistent? It's not just that. It's that I have made such a concerted effort to be happy and to Follow Bliss and shit that I now feel a little boring; like I have nothing interesting to say right now. I'm one big positive affirmation. Which, y'know, is great. . .

Has baking cooked all the dark, interesting bits outta me?

A few nights ago, the wind kept us up. It was a destructive wind threatening to rip hinges away and crack grown trees; it sounded like an uncontrollable destructiveness. And I was scared, actually, which is a first because I have always loved the wind. It has been a life-long favorite of the weather systems. Growing up, I would not have minded if the wind blew it all away, me included. Blew it all clean; I felt new when it swirled around me. And now I fear things getting blown away; I want it all to stay as it is. The wind makes me nervous now and I don't like that. That same night, my sleep was fitful and I half-dreamed of odd and true past details like when I was a kid I once walked barefoot on the sidewalk outside my apartment and I stepped on an empty peanut shell to see how it would sound and feel, but hidden under the shell was a dollop of dog shit that I hadn't seen. The shell crushed and shit squeezed out and smushed between my toes. Details of catholic elementary school also randomly came to me, like how my classmates would write JJM at the top of all their test papers which stands for Jesus, Joseph and Mary. I wanted to do that too -- I wanted a dose of divinity -- but I felt like I'd be totally faking that. Even in third grade I knew that would be poseurish of me.

The morning after the wind-ragey night, I walked the dogs. Fences and garbage bins were down. Abandoned, tan-green christmas trees that had been left in the alleys were blown around like large and misshapen tumbleweeds. But my life was still intact. My happiness and my family; my resolve and self-assuredness. I stepped over littered debris and I used my mind to settle myself; told myself it was all ok. I am not only interesting when I'm misfortunate and dark. I've given myself this pep talk every morning since though the windy nights are long gone.

Did you want a cupcake update? I baked some Coconut Lime ones. The recipe called for coconut oil and coconut milk and I think the cake came out heavy, almost greasy. Husband liked them a lot though he's the only one who did. I love coconut and decided to change the recipe to make a simple vanilla-coconut cake and frosting. They came out really, really good. I was trying to replicate the taste of the three-layer coconut cake that I love over at Real Food Daily. I put one dark chocolate chip atop of each. It was so good.

I've been doing reconnaissance missions to local bakeries and cupcake houses in Cali and checking out websites across the U.S. for prices and hours and flavors. I also looked into the rates of a local commercial kitchen and other costs of starting a small vegan baking business. I was going to call it Rivera's Vegan Cupcakería, but after some feedback and a big veto by Maya, I'm going with (My First Name's) Vegan Cupcakería. I just like the "cupcakería" part. I'm all proud of myself for that one.

I had to add this photo. Mina cut a hole in the crotch of some old pajama bottoms and made this awesome blouse.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

self portrait - Resolution Theme

I'm gonna do my best to not turn this into a vegan cupcake/baked-goods blog. But bare with me; it's all that's on my mind as of late. I'm like a zombie following baking orders from on-high. Yipee for escapism, or yipee for following ethereal directions. I'm not questioning it

Oh, I may have my first cupcake order for Valentine's. It would be from my good and kind friend, Kim, but an order nonetheless! I'm on my way, kinda sorta. A handful of dollars closer . . .

Here are a couple recent self portraits:

Chocolate Chip Cinnamon Cake with Mousse Topping. Notice I'm practicing my decoratin'

Here are the pride of the Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World book. These are the Rose Water Pistachio cakes. They're so good it kinda hurts.

More portraited resolutions