Winter baking and sweet treats without sugar shock

The colder it gets, the more my urge to bake crawls up to the surface. It’s very hard to ignore the desire to heat up one’s kitchen and make comfort food. A few winters ago,  I went on a quest to make the perfect oatmeal-cranberry cookie,* and the perfect red velvet cupcake. I learned a lot, gained weight, and had fun, but I spent a lot of time eating ugly, flavorless red velvet cupcakes. I kept eating them by the dozen, dragged in by the addictive nature of complex carbohydrates, even though they tasted like chalkboard erasers.  I’d eat them, wondering what went wrong in the baking process, then I’d have to pass out, then I’d wake up three hours later, and eat more of them***.

The beagle-basset hound in its preferred native habitat.
“I would definitely like a cookie, please.”

This winter, I’m trying really hard to avoid the complex carbohydrate roller coaster. But I still want to crank up the oven, warm up the kitchen, and put effort into something which will result in a tasty comforting treat for my loved ones and myself. Particularly when you write for theater, and you’re putting effort into something with no clear concept of how it will pay off, cooking can be very affirming.  Making batches of cookies is ridiculous, in my opinion. Vince will only eat so many, I’m not a good enough baker to take my cookies to others, and leaving sugary carby snacks around me is like leaving heroin around Kurt Cobain.** But, I have a new tactic.

My dear friend Shelle, who blogs over at BatCookies, recommended Bob Harper’s book The Skinny Rules to me a few years ago. I haven’t followed it strictly, but I like the recipes a lot. One of his easy snack recipes is roasted sweet potatoes.  Through trial and error and negotiation with my oven, I adapted his recipe to suit me. Basically, I chop up sweet potatoes into chunks, put them in a bowl, toss them with oil, garlic salt and whatever else on the spice shelf looks good, and then put them on a baking sheet lined with foil in a preheated oven at 375 for about 20-25 minutes.

Oven-Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Left: Sweet potatoes tossed with olive oil, Goya Adobo Light seasoning, and Indian Curry Powder. Right: Sweet potatoes, buck naked.

Harper’s recipe is lower in salt than mine, and I’m sure his oven has less heating issues than mine does, so if you’re on a weight loss trip, go get his book and read it because it’s reasonably good. Also, at this time of year, sweet potatoes are not expensive, and they’re even cheaper around Thanksgiving and Christmas. I got 5 lbs. for $4.40 a few weeks ago at my local supermarket, but my local produce vendor normally has them for 3 pounds for a dollar. If you want a warm, tasty, crisp on the outside yet soft on the inside sweet-salty-savory snack,  try this.

WebMD has a detailed article explaining not only the nutrient profile of sweet potatoes, but also how they are frequently confused with yams and the differences between them. I thought I was buying yams at the supermarket, because they had reddish skin and were labelled “yams.” I was wrong.  However, from hearing me talk about it, my dogs now put the word “yam” in the same category of understanding as “walk,” “treat,” “cookie” and “bed.”  Trying to explain the difference between a yam and a sweet potato to them at this point won’t work.

ME: Bebe, I need to explain something to you.

BEBE: You woke me up, this better be good.

ME: Okay. Just so you know-

BEBE: Holy crap that’s a yam, gimme.

ME: No, I need to explain something first.

BEBE: What’s to explain, gimme. Yam. Now.

ME: This is to a yam, it’s a sweet potato. Yams are native to Africa, whereas sweet potatoes are native to South America.

BEBE: As long as it emigrates across my tongue, down my gullet and into my belly, I don’t care where it’s from. Gimme Yam.

ME: Yams also are dark brown and hairy and can grow up to 100 pounds. So they usually don’t have them in supermarkets in the US.

BEBE: I’m brown and hairy. Quit accusing me of look-ism. All tasty treats are welcome. I have a very liberal immigration policy in Bebestumistan.

ME: So, you understand, right? It’s a sweet potato, not a-

(SNAP)

ME: Thank you for not chomping my fingers, Bebe.

BEBE: You’re welcome. Thank you for the yam.

So we have to use the word “yam.” That’s all there is to it.

I do make sweet potato treats specifically for the dogs, thanks to Thug Kitchen’s Sweet Potato Dog Treat Jerky Recipe. It occurred to me that maybe letting the dogs mooch off my garlicky, salty sweet potato chunks was probably a terrible idea, so I make them buck naked.

My friends who have kids are falling into the “baking cookies” trap as badly as I have; it’s cold, you have to entertain some bored kids; voilà, bake cookies. Teach them measuring and procedures and chemistry and science and cooking and follow it with tasty tasty sugary snacks. But, I’m wondering baking sweet potato slices or chunks could be just as entertaining. True, you don’t want to give the kids knives, but what I’m wondering is if you cut the potatoes into wide, long slices, bake them for fifteen minutes to soften them, then cut them into shapes with a cookie cutter, then put them back in the oven for another ten or 15 minutes, if that would solve the problem of the cookie trap?

Or would kids say, “Don’t fucking try to fake us out, now come across with the cookies?”

——

* The Quaker Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Recipe. Accept no substitutes. Except that I substituted cranberries for raisins, because Vince doesn’t like ’em.

**Recomended Reading: The End of Overeating, by David A. Kessler, MD. An approachable yet scientifically sound  and fascinating book about the human brain, biochemistry, and how we manipulate ourselves and each other to over-eat, keep eating, and never be fully satisfied.

Also, for what it’s worth, I love Thug Kitchen so much. There is something about those recipes that flip a switch in my brain and I get a level of  satisfaction from flavor and nutrients and mouthfeel that is as deeply profound as scratching a seven-year-itch.

*** For what it’s worth: I tried a lot of different recipes for Red Velvet Cupcakes. Of the best I have ever tasted, which I did not bake, they have come from Philly Cupcake at 1132 Chestnut Street and Cookie Confidential at 5th & Gaskill.  I have not tried Flying Monkey‘s red velvet cupcakes, though I have tried their other cupcakes and they are amazing and delicious.

Of the ones I have baked:

All box mixes I tried were chocolate cake dyed red. NO.

Paula Deen’s recipe was the worst. The recipe called for 1 & 1/2 cups of vegetable oil, but no butter, which seemed really odd to me. But I went ahead with it, and followed instructions. They were rubbery and sad and I hated them and myself for bringing them into this world.

The most successful recipe I used was one which I found online and now can’t find again. However, The Parsley Thief’s Recipe for Red Velvet Cupcakes seems to be the closest to what I remember.

Good red velvet cupcakes, apparently, are supposed to be balanced between sweet and bitter and tangy. They’re supposed to have a hint of chocolate taste to them, but they’re not supposed to be a chocolate cupcake dyed red.  From what I can figure, if it’s a cake recipe which cuts no corners, but also includes unsweetened cocoa, buttermilk, baking soda and distilled vinegar (and requires that you do the vinegar-baking soda trick when you make it) you’re as close to a true red velvet cake recipe as anyone south of the Mason-Dixon line will let a Yankee.  I think the popularity is due to the challenge and controversy of how to properly make one, and how easy it is to get it wrong.

And now, as you can see, I’m still completely obsessed, and will have to content myself with roasted sweet potato chunks.

Cinema studies in a snow storm

Because I’m awesome, I agreed to take the early shift at work on the last day of the semester, so no one else had to. Whoa Nellie, it is off the hook here. I’ve seen a grand total of six human beings in the library today. It is so quiet that it’s creepy. It’s Act 2 of The Shining creepy. It’s also supposed to snow today, but I’m the only flake in evidence. Ba-dump-bump, kissh. Thank you.

Paley Library Media Services Bear  Thankfully, I have my able boon companion, Media Services Bear, to assist me, in case some raving lunatic student  comes in demanding to watch a DVD of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and view microfilm of relevant primary resource newspaper articles so they can finish their paper that’s due today by 5pm. Now that I’ve said that, you know I’ll get someone writing a doctoral dissertation on the early films of Robert Wiene who’s all tweaked out on 5-Hour Energy and decided the only way they can get real inspiration for their paper is to dress as Cesare.

I shelved what needed to be shelved and I cut out new little pieces of scrap paper to go with the miniature golf course pencils so people have no excuse for not writing down the title and call number of the movie they want. Media Services Bear wanted to re-enact the chariot race from Ben-Hur with the rolling chairs around the viewing carrels, but I told him that was unprofessional and we might scare the one lady who’s here watching a movie.

I decided that the Paley Library Media Services collection needed some augmentation, so I decided to request a movie.  There’s an optional section of the library’s form, “Reason For Request,” which I think should be mandatory. Here’s what I wrote.

FN 2011Fright Night has long been considered a coming of age film. However the 2011 remake is a excellent metaphor for white middle class anxiety concerning not only gender and sexuality, but also economic class and immigration issues. Not only would this allow Paley Library to work toward completing their collection of the films of director Craig Gillespie (Lars and The Real Girl, United States of Tara), but also it would allow another opportunity to showcase the cinematography of Javier Aguirresarobe (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Road). Also, it would seem that this is the only vampire movie Paley Library does not have. Furthermore, Media Services Bear is a devoted fan of the great actors of United Kingdom nations other than England, and missing the opportunity to see David Tennant and Colin Farrell in the same film is making him very depressed. He’s a huge Toni Colette fan too, and this would help him complete his thesis on “Toni Colette as ‘Sad Mom’; Reinventing  or Revisiting The Archetype?” 
I’m sure they’ll recognize that this film has tremendous academic and artistic merit and add it to the collection. Then I’ll write an analysis on the movie, and then I’ll adapt the analysis into a chamber rock musical. It’ll be like Hedwig and The Angry Inch meets Carrie, but more intellectual. Then someone will want to buy the film rights to the musical, and the minute that check clears, pop will have officially eaten itself.
Buckle up.

Here’s my punishment.

I realize that there is a long tradition of writers with cat companions.  Ernest Hemmingway and the fifty-five or so who lived at his house in Key West, Rita Mae Brown and her claim that cats will only lie on good finished pages, Neil Gaiman and his furry wandering minstrels, make up only a few. I named our most recent rescue Mo Magee, her surname being after the street on which we found her eating trash she’d extracted from a pizza place’s dumpster, and her first name after what Google claims is the Chinese word for ink.

Mo Magee and writing

I’ve got about nine hours to finish the screenplay before I have to hit “send” on the e-mail to my prof.  She was originally determined to make sure my hands can only be used for petting, and that my laptop can only be used for lying. I’ve offered her a comfy chair, which suits the other cats just fine, and even a heating pad; she’s rejected both.

However, we seem to have reached a compromise. If I type fast enough, she will take that as a good thing, and just watch my hands and be aware of them. If I stop typing, she head-butts me, as if she’s telling me, “while you’re wasting time, human, you could make with the pettings.”

Okay. Back to work. Daddy isn’t going to shoot himself in the eye.

Twins. I’m having twins.

woman-typist-at-typewriter  No, I haven’t been posting lately, although I have been writing.  To say I’ve had a lot on my mind would be an understatement.

Last night I was sitting in an armchair in a hallway at school, waiting for Screenwriting class to start. I was tired and cranky, looking over my script pages and cleaning up some formatting. I saw Bob Hedley, and I said, “Hey, Bob!” he said, “Hey, how’s your semester going?”
I said, “Great, I’m having twins!”
The look on his face was of total shock and amazement.
I realized that because I was sitting down, wearing a heavy baggy sweater, with my coat tucked around me and my laptop on my lap, I probably looked about 18 months pregnant with quadruplet quarterbacks, so I said, “With scripts. I have two scripts to write this semester.”
Relief washed over his face, and mine as well. Sheesh, you can’t kid around with that pregnancy shit.

This semester, I’m working on two scripts, and it is a lot like being pregnant. Before I get a ton of shit from all the mommy bloggers out there, let me give you some examples.

–The mind-body connection is FIERCE.  Can I eat that bowl of pasta, or will it make me too sleepy to pound out more than a couple of pages?

–When I get to be able to sleep, it is Very Important. I have to organize my sleep schedule around what the work wants.

–I only want to wear the baggiest clothes I can find.  More layers means less availability to others, as if I’m trying to insulate my own thoughts. I keep a pile of black sweaters and favorite jeans in a basket next to the bed, so I can grab something to wear as soon as I wake up. One day a week, I wear sweats, and wash my black sweaters and favorite jeans, and hang them on the line to dry. It looks like disembodied hipster ghosts swaying in my back yard.

–I have to plan my day based on how much walking I have to do, and how much I need to carry. If Vince needs the car on a day when I need to carry my laptop and my books in my backpack, I know I need to pack ibuprofen for the extra back and thigh aches later, and snacks.

–I carry these ideas with me like a 40-pound weight all the time. They always want a little bit more.  Does the next scene want more puppets, or more cake? Or I’ll see or hear something which makes me think of something and then I have to write it down, RIGHTNOW.

–Hyper-sensitivity and mood swings.  Oh God, the leaves are so beautiful! Jumpin’ Jesus on a pogo stick, do you believe he said that? The world is ending, I can’t find my earbuds! And so on.

–Stopping what I’m doing to use the toilet feels like an invasion on my time and energy.  Sure, biologically pregnant women feel like they have to pee all the time, because they do. I feel like I have to pee “all the time,” because I’M BUSY.  The bladder does not conform to the schedule I’d prefer to impose.

–I have a due date, at which point, either the scripts will be finished, or from my womb untimely ripp’d. *

Of course, I don’t have the benefits of biological pregnancy that women do. Nobody’s given me a shower and brought me prezzies, no one’s told me I’m beautiful or glowing.  I just hope that when these scripts are finished, plenty of people will want to play with them.

Here’s what’s going on.

I have one play about mental illness, The Wreck of The Alberta, and I’m not ready to describe it much more than that. Okay, it has puppets and cake. This makes me want to a) make puppets, b) bake cake.  The cake is, specifically, a diet soda cake.  I have made this before, and it’s delicious. However, I would cheat the recipe with an egg white to bind it up a bit, because it’s also a messy cake. I’m working with Ed Sobel on this, and it’s made him laugh a few times, so I can confidently say that so far the play doesn’t suck.  His bar for quality is very high, however, and I can confidently say that he is not letting me get away with average work.  One day he said to me, “This scene is clever, and it’s kind of funny. But it sounds like a Lindsay scene. It has all the things you usually do. I know you can do better than this. Go rewrite it.” and I limped away, grateful.  and I rewrote.

When I get this work finished, I am so going to make puppets and bake cake.  I am going to sew and bake like nobody’s business.  I will frigging have a puppet and cake PARTY.

The other script on which I’m working is a screenplay for a Western. This breaks a lot of new ground for me, because I have never written a screenplay before, and I have never written a Western before.  It’s tentatively titled The Legend of Hot Shot Annie, and it’s an origin story intended to have future episodes, about a young woman who goes from being the pampered and well-educated daughter of a Wyoming cattle baron to being an outlaw in the Johnson County War.

To prepare for this, I’ve done a lot of reading. Recommended to me by actress and muse Jennifer Summerfield (aka Trillian Stars), was the book Letters of A Woman Homesteader, by Elinor Pruitt Stewart.  Her story takes place a good 15 to 20 years after the one I’m writing, but it’s rich with detail and compelling. Not only do you get a visual sense of the beauty of Wyoming, but also a diary of this woman’s daily activities. She hunted wild game, kept house, mowed fields, arranged marriages and filed homestead claims in a bureaucratic shark tank. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants an escape and a reality check.  I also read The Wyoming Lynching of Cattle Kate, which has been very helpful in showing not only what women in late-19th-century Wyoming had to deal with in terms of obstacles, but also the political and social landscape of the Johnson County War.

To get a sense of language and pacing, I watched The Quick and the Dead, which I enjoyed more than I expected to, and a lot of Deadwood.  The latter is vastly entertaining, but I’m learning more about how cable dramas are structured than about the Old West. It’s no wonder that the biggest response to this show has been “OMG THE PROFANITY,” because the writers use it to the point that it loses all its power and makes you stop listening. The former was also vastly entertaining, and more feminist than I would expect a Hollywood movie with big-budget stars to be. In terms of gaze theory, especially, it really works: Ellen/The Lady is constantly under the visual scrutiny of the female townspeople, and the way they squint into the camera puts the viewer on edge as much as Ellen feels responsible for their potential future.**

In all this work, I’m breaking new ground personally, because it’s making me push past my normal tolerance for writing. Normally, I love to write, but these pieces have gone to the point where I stopped caring, hated them, but had to keep going, and finally found new reasons to like them. They haven’t quite earned my love yet, but I’ll finish them. I probably won’t love them until I hear them read by actors. Rose Fox  sent me the most wonderful novel writing progress chart, by Maureen McHugh, which I have saved on my phone, and I see it every morning on my way to school and work, and it keeps me sane.

Chili-EXCELLENCE-Bar_main_450x_438092  That, and Lindt Chili Dark Chocolate.  I read an interview with Joss Whedon about How To Be Prolific where he said, “I have a reward system. I am the monkey with the pellet and it’s so bad that I write almost everything in restaurants or cafes [so] that when I have an idea, I go and get chocolate.” I thought, okay, if it works for him. So, I keep bars of Lindt 70% Cacao or Chili Dark Chocolate around and give myself squares of them after every few pages or so.  Writing goes much better with chocolate. I can write without it, but I don’t write as well and I get really grouchy. What’s a bad idea, though, is Ghiradelli Dark and Sea Salt Caramel chocolate squares. Those things are an orgasm in a snack. After one of those, I need a nap.

So, anyway, that’s where I am and what I’ve been up to. and hopefully I’ll have some results soon. I don’t know how much more of this I can take.

*Much like Macduff, but I seem to recall that he did pretty well for himself. Macbeth, Act 5 Scene 8.

** It’s a good thing I work in a library. Librarians are awesome. They are the warrior-poet-guardians of our society.

The fat lady has sung.

Traveling Light closed last night, and finally I can post the photos that would contain the most devious spoilers.  As always, all photos by Kyle Cassidy. Kyra Baker as W.P.C. Foster, Terence Gleeson as Officer MacDonald, Doug Greene as Joe Orton and Bob Stineman as Brian Epstein. Click on the images to view them full size.

recognition

smooch

"what's gotten into you, Foster?"

big reveal

Sad to see this opportunity go, but I’m deeply grateful for the good audiences who joined us, and the hard work, love, talent and skill of the entire cast and production team.  Now, on to the next project: I’ve got two feature-length scripts to write this semester, and the writing elves are threatening a strike.

Oh, one more thing:

Liam's photogenic

Not only is Liam Castellan a warrior prince and a scholar, but he’s the most casually photogenic person I know.

grave matter

I listen for your footsteps, coming up the drive

This production of Traveling Light has a really special set. I haven’t mentioned the crunchiest part yet, but Jessica Foley does in her review for Phindie.

” I could report to you an intoxicating intimacy between Epstien and Orton built around a silk shirt and a deliberate tug at a belt buckle, or you can run up to the very top of the Adrienne and see it for yourself. To quote Joe (Orton): “Print is less effective than the spoken word because the blast is greater.”

L-R: Officer MacDonald (Terence Gleeson) drills WPC Foster (Kyra Baker) on police procedure, as Joe (Doug Greene) and Brian (Bob Stineman, not pictured) keep out of sight, but are they out of earshot? Set design by Kevin Jordan, lighting by Andrew Cowles, photo by Kyle Cassidy.
L-R: Officer MacDonald (Terence Gleeson) drills WPC Foster (Kyra Baker) on police procedure, as Joe (Doug Greene) and Brian (Bob Stineman, not pictured) keep out of sight, but are they out of earshot? Set design by Kevin Jordan, lighting by Andrew Cowles, photo by Kyle Cassidy.

Director and producer Liam Castellan assembled a team of crack shot designers who connected deeply with this piece. Set designer Kevin Jordan spent many years in the military and in England, and knows the science of sneaking up on people. Costume designer John Hodges loves period costuming and clever details, he brought form, function, fashion and fun together for maximum effect. Lighting designer Andrew Cowles knows “too late to be night and too early to be morning,” and the subtle changes that time period has.

Come join us.  You have six more chances to see this show. Click here for information about dates and times.

Mark Cofta’s CityPaper review

Mark Cofta followed up his CityPaper feature piece with a review that makes my heart grow three sizes.

An incisive script builds on an intriguing what-if. 

WE THINK:  Friel’s incisive script builds on an intriguing what-if: not-so-closeted bad boy Orton (Doug Greene) and very closeted Epstein (Bob Stineman) certainly met when Orton wrote his never-produced Beatles movie, so were they friends, maybe even lovers? Were their tragic deaths somehow related? In Traveling Light, they clash in a moonlit cemetery (set by Kevin Jordan, lighting by Andrew Cowles), and the adversaries — Epstein had just rejected Orton’s lurid work as “unsuitable” for “my boys” — soon realize they have much in common.

Friel and director Liam Castellan turn the play’s farcical absurdities, including the intrusions by two cops (Kyra Baker, Terence Gleeson) and the boys’ trading clothes (Epstein’s tailored Italian suit for Orton’s leather jacket and jeans), into affecting moments of discovery. As in Orton’s plays, the silly events are meaningful, and vice-versa.

Baker’s sincere performance reveals the challenges of women invading the man’s world of police work, an effective parallel for the struggles of closeted gay men. The world was changing fast in 1967 for women and homosexuals, and establishment men (as represented by Gleeson’s hilarious yet brutal dictionary-quoting constable), feeling threatened, lashed out. These relationships may never have happened, but Traveling Light makes them feel real.”

You have eight more changes to see this show, so don’t let it get away.

almost caught

almost like being in love

Kyle’s photos have so much depth and detail that I can’t put them up full size; you’ll have to click on them for a full view.  There are a lot of beautiful pictures which I’m hesitant to post, because even though they’re so good, they’ll spoil the story. So, if you’re thinking about coming to see it, and you look at these pictures and you’re still on the fence (I know what it’s like), know that everything you see here is EVEN BETTER when it’s live, 3D and streaming in real time in your face. Much more than this is going to happen, so come join us.

All photos below: Bob Stineman as Brian Epstein, Doug Greene as Joe Orton, Kyra Baker as  W.P.C. Foster, Terence Gleeson as Officer MacDonald.

it's been a rough couple of weeks

have you somewhere to go

how will you get out

 

wait five minutes

almost caught

vigilant

caught?

you say you're brothers?

last night as I lay on my pillow

I can tie a double windsor blindfolded

why should I let her be joe

3 way recognize

Mary

Joe caught

What happened? What’s the transformation? Will Brian and Joe survive the night? Join us and find out! 

I read the news today, oh boy.

You want to come see Traveling Light.  I haven’t been writing much lately, but other people have been, and the hard work of the production team and actors is coming to fruition in a delicate and multifaceted setting.  Fortunately, so far our coins in the wishing well are echoing and rippling rather nicely.  Playwrights work in planned obsolescence; you write and hope that your work will be handed off to others who will include enough of themselves that the piece can live on its own. So far, this theory holds up beautifully.

City Paper’s annual Fringe roundup includes a feature piece about Traveling Light by Mark Cofta. There are a lot of shows mentioned in this article worth your attention, but trust me, the Traveling Light article is there.  Keep scrolling!

The Philadelphia Daily News featured Traveling Light in their feature article by Chuck Darrow. 

Liam Castellan was interviewed by Phindie, and the box office has been notified that Vladimir Putin is absolutely not permitted to attend our show. Sorry, Pooty-Poot, you’re banned.

RepRadio came to rehearsal so we could talk about things. if you like to listen to conversations about theatre, RepRadio should be on your short list of podcasts.  Darnelle Radford is really good at bringing out what’s best about theatre in this area.

Last night, Kyle Cassidy came and took photos of the final dress rehearsal. Having a photographer present seemed to give the actors a strong sense of how they relate to space and each other and remind them of physicality. Kyle has an excellent ability to use light to create texture and palpability in his photos. It also felt like having Obi-Wan Kenobi with us, at the beginning and at the final dress, to bookend the creative process.

I’m going to put photos in a separate post, because they’re big and beautiful and speak for themselves, but for now, here’s a taste:

Clickenzee to Embiggen!
Officer MacDonald (Terence Gleeson) on the hunt for sexual deviants, as Joe (Doug Greene) and Brian (Bob Stineman) try to blend in. Photo by Kyle Freaking Cassidy.

Clickenzee to Embiggen!

Tickets available here, if two is not enough dimensions for you.  And it should not be.

JOIN US!