Sunday, August 28, 2011

Oh, We're Moving, All Right. Backward!

TEASER: The Wanderlust Darling has found a new direction. As the post title suggests, I'm taking a jaunt backward. What could this possibly mean? Don't worry my intrepid readers, let me explain.

Thus far, I've been rather pedestrian in my conceptualization of "wanderlust." Despite earlier claims of exploring the depths of personality and the Self, I've largely focused on my transcontinental journeys. The time has come for me to drastically redefine "wanderlust," not by traveling through space, my friends, but through time. Yes, you read that right; my next adventure will take me back through several generations in history.

Have I gone mad? Well, not any madder than before, anyway. Stay tuned, for all shall be revealed in due time.

Hint: It's probably less Sci-Fi than some of my more visionary readers may imagine.


Wake and Bake: Chronicle of a Cake Foretold

Yesterday was my near-and-dear sister's birthday. Months ago, she requested a couple ingredients for a cake, which I planned and couldn't wait to bake. I like baking. In fact, I should mention that just one week ago was my brother's birthday and I baked him a cake, too. The only reason I'm posting about my sister's cake and not my brother's is that my brother's was a box-ready mix, compared to my sister's, a from-scratch pursuit.

I'm not stranger to baking from scratch. My parents got to reap the rewards of all my scratchery goods last year. Baking tames the savage beast within. (Cooking, Baking's close cousin, is also a good time. I made beef stroganoff this week! woo-woot. Alas, there were no pictures.)

Anyway, to the point. Yesterday, I finally got to create my sister's cake. Chaos ensued.

Cake Recipe: Hershey's Especially Dark Chocolate Cake
Frosting: Fluffy White
Special Add-ins: Cherries (jarred Maraschino and fresh Morello)

I woke up early in the morning, a regular happenstance for me now, and straight away began work on my sister's cake. First, I got out all the ingredients.

The Ingredients. Give or take.
(Turns out, no butter. That was a separate recipe entirely.)

Before I got to anything else, I did a little ingredient prep work. I chopped up some jarred maraschino cherries, then sliced and diced the fresh morellos. Protip: a melon-baller is a great tool to use for removing cherry stones. Then, I grated 1/2 a dark chocolate bar with a vegetable peeler (to use as topping) and chopped the remaining half to mix in with the batter.

The next step is critical. For me. Banish everyone from the kicthen until such time as the cake is safely stowed and baking in the oven. I don't know about you, but my family members have this way of hovering and piping in every once and a while. Look, I'm a competent baker. I do plenty of research through Food Network. If I've planned a tag team baking effort, that's great, but when I'm embarking on an intentionally solo culinary endeavor, it's best to stay out of my way. I'm self-aware. I know what stuff I'm made of and I don't mince words when expressing these cold, hard truths to my parents. Luckily, they know when to steer clear. The above does not apply to my sister. She's not a bad baker/cook, despite what we all say. She's had some flubs in the past, but has grown since then. Still, she doesn't have confidence enough to tell other people what to do in the kitchen. As a result, she's a perfectly fine kitchen companion. 

Okay, next up-- further prep. Turn on the oven and grease your pan(s). I'm a big fan of the round, two-layer cake, pans permitting, but if you only have a 13 x 9, that's the bitty you use. Now, it's not essential to flour your greased pan, but it provides a little added insurance for later cake retrieval. Plus, years ago, I used to be friends with a girl whose mom was a professional cake decorator and she always touted the virtues of greasing and flouring. I was an easy sell. Of course, you end up with floured cake edges, which is sometimes off-putting. So, I took it to the next level and instead of using flour, I dust the pan with cake mix (or brownie mix, etc). If you're using a box mix, just spoon out a little of the mix. With the from-scratch method, I combined all my dry ingredients, and used the resulting mix. 

 + =

Physics and a ton of pan-patting are key here.

P. S. Despite appearances, sugar is not a dry ingredient. Let's not argue the semantics. I personally favor a two-bowl method. You mix your dry in one, wet in the other, then you can combine the two. The thing about this is, when you start dropping dry ingredients into wet, it becomes a bit of a slurry. If you've already mixed all your dry ingredients together, the distribution should be fairly uniform. But, if you add one dry at a time, you might get little pockets that don't break up when mixing. So, you could have a big pocket of baking powder, which didn't get incorporated evenly, making your cake flat and dense. Nobody wants that. Of course, nobody wants to deal with cleaning two bowls, either. Solution: Make a crater in your dry mix, and fill it up with the wet ingredients, like so:

Oh yeah, if you've made a colossal error in measuring, this would be a great time to notice. Really, you want to catch these mistakes as early as possible. Say you've mistaken the half cup measure for a full cup, or something, you'll want to realize this before throwing the mess into the oven. The fun thing about baking is that it's a precise art, with little give. If you know exactly what you've done wrong and can easily fix it, go for it. If you only have a slight inkling, but don't really know how deep that rabbit hole goes, just toss the mistake and start over. Really. It's better that way.

When you've got your ingredients right, beat it into smooth silk.

Essential: Finding some intrepid soul to lick both
the beaters and the bowl once the batter has been panned.

I've made cakes without beating them. It can be done, but the consistency of a beaten-batter cake is lighter, which is especially important for a dark chocolate cake. I'm resisting the urge to type, "just beat it." I guess I failed.

Here's the hour for add-ins. Marshmallows, chopped up candy bars, sprinkles, fruit, etc, should be added after the batter has been poured into the pan. In this case, I added cherries and dark chocolate pieces. I was a little too conservative with the cherries, I think. I wasn't counting on the dark richness of the cake. 

Devil's Fruit Cake?
While the cake is in the oven, I like to clean up a bit. Also, make any necessary frosting prep (maraschino juice plus fluffy white icing plus red food dye makes Barbie-pink, cherry frosting.) Also, have your dad take an impromptu photo of batter splatter.

There's cake on my face.
The worst part is waiting for the damn cake to cool when all you wanna do is decorate. And fending off the circling vultures.

Baking from scratch? No big deal.

Finally, the decorating. Protip: The cake will probably be moist or even a bit sticky on top. If you dive right in with the icing, there's a chance you'll tear up the cake. To prevent this, lightly flour the top of the cake before spreading on the icing. 

Bit of a mess.
I had envisioned a much classier result in my head, but like all things Reedy, chaos took over. My sister assures me that she prefers an explosion. She's so sweet. Happy Birthday, Seester!

P.S. From start to finish, that cake was completed by 11 AM. Not eaten until 4-ish, though.

Margarita candles.

In case she forgot what age she was turning.

Not even wearing makeup.

The cake is straight up black. Darkest cake I've ever seen.



Monday, August 22, 2011

Coming to America

Thus concludes a year in Korea. I don't want to mince words, so I'll just affirm that yes, I'm glad to be back. There's diversity, familiar, meaningful foods, and all the appropriate people are excited about my return. In a short couple weeks, I'll be moving into my shiny new apartment in Brooklyn and getting on with my life.

Do I have any culture shock? No. Am I glad I did it? Of course. Would I do it again? Absolutely, although one year is definitely my limit.

If there's a future for this blog, what will it be? No idea. Maybe I'll expand on other topics. Maybe I'll give it up entirely. That remains to be seen. The Wanderlust Darling sure doesn't seem so pressing when I'm hanging out in my parents' spare bedroom. If I find a new direction and this blog picks up again, you'll be the first to know. If not, well, we've had a good run. Thanks for tuning in.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Top 5 Cutie.Adorables

Okay, you may have noticed me mention this a couple times in the recent Facebook album, which photographically lists every student in my Summer Camp. The camp is split into two groups, the AM classes and the PM ones. They're all about the same age, but the PM classes have any of the slightly older kids.

Anyway, like any good group of teachers might, my fellow waygooks and I love to discuss the students during our breaktimes. A particularly common thread of conversation revolves around the camp's cutest kids. Technically, all the kids are eligible, but the boys at camp have been unanimously omitted from the rankings. Don't get me wrong, there are some cutie boys, but they don't come anywhere near the cutie girls.

Each teacher has their own opinion on the cutest, though we all agree on a couple. The factors I like to consider include not only physical cuteness, but also an enthusiasm and energy that serves not only to boost their cuteness to the next level, but also leaves one feeling they would do absolutely anything for said child. Trust me, there are a couple.

Now, we haven't compiled official rankings. I think we all plan to arrange our Top 5 choices for AM, Top 5 for PM, and then our Top 5 overall. We'll debate and discuss the Top 5 Overall and possibly calculate some kind of average to see who lands each position. It's quite possible we won't get to this at all, but I've already prepared my lists. So, I will present the Top 5 Overall, unofficially.

(5) Girl on the Left
She's even cuter than the picture suggests.
Not everyone agrees on her for Top 5 Overall, but I'm sold.

(4) Cheongok Dream Center Veteran
Very talkative and friendly.
Also, uh, just friggen look at her.

(3) Otherworldly Cute
This one is generally considered by all a lock for Top 5 Overall.
Some, however, are not convinced she should be as high as third.
But. Come on.

(2) Hardest to Decide.
This girl is Number One in the AM Finals. She's a total sweetheart.
I want to give her Number One overall, but I can't. The Number One has a total lock.
She marks the beginning of levels of Cutie.Adorable that cause acute pain.
It's too much. She's too cute and sweet and melts the whole heart with her little, toothy smile.
It hurts me to reward her with only second place, but I have to.

(1) The Natural Choice
We all talk about her non-stop. It can't be helped. She is too much.
It's generally agreed that we all want to take her out for ice cream,
crawl over puddles for her, eat her cutie puppy face, we'd even
hop off our deathbeds to dance for her. Best part? She has
no idea that we all find her this damnably cute.
All five of us foreign teachers have been ever so
 delicately wrapped around her tiny fingers.
Whimper-inducing adorable.

There you have it, my selection for Top 5 Overall Cutie.Adorables. If you managed to survive this entry without any heartstrings touched, then I suggest you cart your ass over to the morgue. You're done for. Really. I mean, talking about these kids in particular caused one k-co to say "I think you really like kids." Anyone who's familiar with my general pedophobia can tell you that this is not something they could ever have predicted. Neither could I, friends. Neither could I. Truth be told, I can no longer say with resolute conviction that I don't like kids. I just hadn't met the right ones. I still don't want any of my own. Meeting these Cutie.Adorables has only reaffirmed that particular opinion. I could never produce something that could compare to any of these kids. A vain effort to try. Look at these kids again and tell me I'm wrong.


A Small Note on the Eve of the Ultimate Day

Tomorrow is my final day as a teacher in South Korea. I'll finish up Summer Camp, then the following day, I'm off to Seoul. I'll spend the long weekend in a ritzy hotel (it has a real tub!), the Tuesday afternoon, I finally set off for home. During the year, time seemed to drag so slow. I never thought my term would be over. Now that I can count my final K-days on one hand, I can't believe it. I won't exactly say that from this vantage point, the year seemed to zoom by. I'm not crazy. And if there's anything I inherited from my family, it's how to hold onto a grudge  memory (just kidding, love you). I can vividly recall the way the lower points felt. Oh yes, my friends, I can tell you I still feel every moment like they're etched into my bones. Still, there were plenty of good times, and I'm leaving on a high note. I feel I can give Korea a fond farewell. I'm glad I did it.