Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Tuesday's Treats


Monday, April 28, 2008

Monday's Makings

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Twice Baked


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Friday Morning Muffin Mania


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Excuse Me While I Master Bake


I had a dream last night that I was making scones. And, inspired by my dream, and proof that dreams really do come true, I spent my day making both the cranberry-orange and strawberry varieties. Of course, unlike my dream, I prepared and baked them while fully clothed in my own kitchen, and not in the middle of an ampm convenience store clad only in my underwear. And while my scone pans are still packed away (which is to say lost) in the garage, there is something to be said for the rustic beauty of the hand cut. Just like grandma used to make. Well, not my grandma, per se, but, you know, someone's.

I find that there is something so seductively tangible about baking. It is so linear. Creative, but precise, it is far more science than art. And in the end you have something to show for your work, a product not just an outcome, something concrete, something measurable. It's all so zen. A plus B equals C. Energy transfigured into form. Elegant in its simplicity.

This is what my life of late has been lacking. I have been alienated from the fruit of my purpose. And, if only for a short while, baking offers a very tangible, fulfilling reminder of a feeling of productivity; that I have something to offer the world.

I was also recently bitten by the need to begin to photograph my food, in the attempt to build a working "portfolio" to show potential customers to Jacob's Kitchen. And while I am neither a food stylist nor skilled photographer, I must say that I have gotten considerable pleasure out of these photo "shoots." It's gratifying, creating something concrete to take away from such a temporal medium. I find myself trying to think of excuses to bake more of my favorite things in order that I might photograph them.

Perhaps tomorrow will be all about muffins, or perhaps my dreams will have something else in store. Who knows, maybe I will close my eyes to find myself naked in a subway restroom trying to make rugelach. Only time will tell.

Until then, happy eating.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Dear Jacob: A know it all's guide to living well

I must confess that, while I might come off as equal parts peace, love and happiness, with just a drop of sunshine, live and let live, I judge no one for anything ever, let's face it, I am a huge bitch.

It isn't so much that I ever make core judgments of people, based solely on external characteristics beyond their control, because that is simply wrong. It is more that I have a deep seeded sense of propriety. Behavior that is simply unacceptable in social situations, period. And while I am all for pushing the boundaries of acceptability, I am never in favor of rudeness for rudeness' sake. So driven am I by this internal compass of decorum that I am often very easily offended. Not only by the behavior itself, but by the fact that no one else around me seems to share in my offense. Have we become so socially anesthetized by visions of flashing celebrity vaginas that we can no longer gage for ourselves the line of appropriateness?

Some etiquette is black and white, and simple to understand. Using the word "gay" as a pejorative, for example, is inappropriate, no matter what the social situation. Your personal intention in using the word in such a way is of no relevance. We can all see by the look of your bemused condescension that deep down you know exactly how harmful your use of this word is. In fact, it seems silly that I should even have to spell this out for you but, the use of any racial or ethnic epithet, even in jest, is inexcusable, and in poor taste, and should never find its way into polite conversation. It's 2008, ignorance is no longer a viable excuse.

Other etiquette is much more situationally based. When is it appropriate to raise your voice, for example. Or how do you constructively criticize, without being catty? When is it acceptable to cut in line, throw a drink in someone's face, or flash your genitals in public?

In an effort to help the world navigate the rocky road to living well and remaining poised while doing so (and, frankly, to fulfill a lifelong dream) I am hereby offering up my services as "know it all" in the form of an ongoing, weekly Dear Jacob advice column here at Beautiful Disaster. Have a dilemma? Need advice? Want to turn in a proprietary offender? Write me. No problem too big or too small. Please send all submissions to HelpMeJacob@gmail.com.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Imaginary friends

Anyone who knows me knows just how difficult it is to get through a conversation with me without having to hear about my good friend Ina. What she says, what she does, how she lives, Ina this, Ina that, interspersed throughout my day to day interactions with the world. And it's been this way for quite a while now. Like, uh, three or four years. I know, I know. I can't help it. What can I say, she inspires me.

We have a lot in common, Ina and I. We share a very similar philosophy about food, and friends, and life, and entertaining, about how to have a good time, wherever it is that you are. I love her house. I love her things. I love her friends. I love the relationship that she has with her husband. So, naturally, it is hard for me not to share this infatuation with the world.

Oh, have I neglected to mention that I have never actually met my friend Ina? That she, in fact, lives on TV.

That's right, Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. Best friends forever, entirely in my own head.

I love her. I adore her. I do. Not in a creepy, stalking, I'm hiding in the bushes outside your kitchen window with a copy of Martha Stewart's Living and a box of kleenex, "I'm your number one fan" (Kathy Bates in Misery) sort of way. More like, in an I love you and want to be just like you when I grow up, sort of way. I have watched every last one of her shows. I own all of her books, and I have read them all cover to cover. I cook all of her recipes. She is my go-to person for everything in cooking or entertaining.

Cooking and baking are very important to me, they are integral to my being happy, and a big way that I show my affection to the people around me. No one will ever know or fully appreciate every little step I take in my making cupcakes, or biscuits, or cookies, or whatever. How could they? But I perform each step, every kitchen ritual, every flourish and garnish, with love, to make the end product that much more enjoyable to whomever it is that I am cooking for. You may see just a plate of cookies in front of you, but in reality that plate of cookies is saying "I care about you."

Setting a beautiful table, pulling out the silver service, arranging flowers, drinking out of crystal wine glasses, is all a continuation of this act of love. While some might think that doing so may be slightly over the top, or that the overall effect is a little bit intimidating, I like to think of it as being luxurious, part of taking the time to pamper yourself and your loved ones. Why not surround yourself with beautiful things? And if you have them on hand, why not use them? Instead of waiting for that special occasion which never seems to come around, why not make everyday special? It doesn't have to be elaborate, or exceptionally fancy. It's the little things, the little touches, that can make every meal feel like a vacation.

And, though I was always well intended, before Ina and I became friends I was often overly ambitious in my menu planning. While I might have pulled everything off, it was certainly to the detriment of my own guests, as, in so doing, I would be rendered completely exhausted, and not much fun to be around. But now, like her, I strive to be a guest at my own party. Anything and everything that can be prepared in advance, is ready and waiting, and in the end it all comes together with ease. A well devised action plan can make dinner for a hundred as easy as any midweek meal.

And while Ina and I have never actually met, and our "friendship" is all in my head, and may ultimately be cause for my being committed, to me our relationship is still alive with everyday inspiration. Lord knows I talk about her enough to compensate for her lack of physical presence, and, you know, her not knowing who I am, or that I exist. So, for now, my other, "real" friends will have to cope with my incessant name dropping, pull up a fork and continue to reap the benefits from Ina's place in my life. And (as Ina would say) "how bad could that be."

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The measure of a man

Thomas Beatie, the pregnant man, gave his first television interview today on Oprah, perhaps you watched it. He and his wife seemed to be extremely loving, nice, well adjusted people, simply living their normal, everyday lives like the rest of us. And like many loving married couples they have decided to have a baby, big whoop.

Contrary to what we have heard from other transsexuals, Thomas didn't seem to have the ubiquitous, epiphanal "I am in the wrong body" moment of clarity. He instead seems to have more decided, over the course of several years, that in order for the world to treat him the way that he felt, he would undertake this transformation, allowing him to freely live in a predefined gender role more suited to his lifestyle. In other words, he describes his transition as being entirely about gender, and not at all about sex. And while this is most likely not the same for all transsexuals, certainly not according to their written accounts at any rate, it felt honest, genuine, humble, unassuming, and effortless. This is who I am, and that's all I have ever wanted to be. No explanations, rationalizations, apologies needed. Shouldn't we all have the right to define ourselves in whichever way that we choose? It seems so simple. So commonsensical.

It didn't surprise me to hear that many in the transgendered community looked unkindly at his situation. People on either side of (whatever) the fence do not take kindly to those who walk the line between the two. I can easily see them feeling like he is trying to have his vagina, and eat it too, so to speak. But again, why do this to each other? As a group they have collectively traversed the unforgiving terrain of the gender/sex landscape and made it to the other side in tact, only to try to once again put themselves in ready made, knock off, little boxes. Playing normative, the way little children play house. It's fascinating the expectations that we put onto other people based on the identity labels that we have assigned to them in our heads.

His situation, however, does seem to beg the question, what does it take to legally change your sex these days? A double mastectomy and some testosterone injections? That is all? Really? Is this all that stands between gay couples and the more than eleven hundred legal rights of marriage? (Which isn't to say that I am necessarily pro gay marriage specifically, as I am, in fact, anti marriage in general. I am convinced that the only path to true equality, and freedom from discrimination, is to make marriage solely a religious institution, and have every couple, heterosexual and homosexual alike, be joined in legal civil unions. That's just my two cents.)

Again, I am left to commend Thomas and his family for sharing their story, in order that we all might better navigate our own lives that much more easily having heard it. The lesson of self awareness. Self respect. Of unconditional love. Cheers to that!

My (not so) Silent Shame

I stutter. Perhaps you've noticed. And while it isn't severe, and in no way impedes my ability to speak articulately and often, it has without a doubt made its impact on my life.

I do not typically speak about it, because, well, like my tongue ring, I can go months, even years without thinking about my stuttering "problem." It is so much a part of who I am, so essential to my being, like the color of my eyes, that it rarely even enters my brain. That is, of course, until some stranger, or loud-mouth bitch friend (Hi, Brandy! Kisses) brings it to my attention. And then, suddenly, it is ah ah ah ah awkward. To say the least.

For as far back as I can remember, I have done this. My mind often works much faster than my mouth, and I find myself always racing to catch up. And inevitably, I trip over a few words now and then. It is always on the first sound, of the first word of a sentence, usually the word "I." And it is, without exception, always the "ah" sound that is repeated. It's hard to describe the sensation. I am fully aware of the words that I intend on saying next, but suddenly, and without any warning, there is a traffic jam, and it feels like someone has shoved a ping-pong ball into my mouth. And the harder I try to push the words out, the faster the ball spins. I often need to take a beat, a half of a second, to stop forcing, and then I am off to the races again.

My Spanish teacher in high school wasn't aware that I stuttered at all until one day, while on a field trip she heard me speaking to one of my friends. Because when translating my English thoughts into Spanish I had never stuttered. Nor did I stumble over my delivery of lines in the many stage productions I was in. Something about being inside of the character, having studied the words in advance, lent itself well to not stuttering.

I hadn't much paid any attention to this affectation until college, when my boss (who also had a bit of a language problem) asked how I felt about my speech impediment. And I have to say that I was just a tad bit horribly offended that he would categorize my little stutter in this way. I certainly didn't. Which isn't to say that it hadn't been brought to my attention before this. In fact, as you can imagine, I have been relentlessly teased about this over the years, although none more painfully than by those about whom I cared most.

Too often, has this affliction been thrown in my face in the middle of an argument, taking the form of a mocking impersonation. It is my one shiny big red button, and when scratching the bottom of the barrel of clever come backs people don't hesitate to push it. And let me just tell you that there are few things in life that trigger in me the flight or fight instinct as much as this mocking. Say what you will about it, rationalize all you want, but mocking someone's stutter is patently offensive, patronizing, and reeks of pompous intellectual superiority. Like interrupting someone to correct their grammar, it is simply rude. Period. My first instinct is to verbally annihilate this person. Like I feel the need to prove to them, and to me, just how capable I am of expressing myself clearly. But, more often than not, I take a breathe and try to let it go. Throwing low blows isn't productive, even in retaliation. It may feel good. But my pleasure should never be dependent on someone else's sadness or pain. Never.

I have often wondered if I would, in fact, wish away this "problem" if given the opportunity. I think not. Like wishing my eyes blue, I fear that this tiny change would alter my entire being. Like the flapping of tiny butterfly wings, it would reverberate throughout my entire life. That the uniquely Jacob quality that I have would somehow be inextricably linked to it, and would disappear into the mist. Too much of a risk I'd say.

Ah-ah-ah-ah-and that's all folks!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Like a Fox

I don't like words, I love them. The music of language is intoxicating to me. Every sound, every inflection, every subtle nuance, strikes a cord inside of my brain.

There are some words that are simply better than others in certain situations. Each word has its own connotations, an insinuated meaning beyond the dictionary definition. Thusly, there are perfect words for every situation. I am sure of it. I may not know all of them, or be able to produce them easily on the spot, but they are there. Collect and hoard, for example, may have similar meanings, but the latter, to me, implies protection or defense. It congers images of people standing behind locked doors with guns before their mounds of belongings, militant, eyes ablaze with the fear of anyone coming too close. Am I alone, do you see it too? Am I crazy?

I often find, with no conscious decision to do so, that words play over and over in my mind like a song stuck in my head. Like mind hick ups. It may last ten minutes, or ten days, and the more I try to redirect my thoughts, the harder it is to do so.

Sometimes they are single words, sometimes phrases, a line from a movie, an especially moving speech. But I am haunted by them, linguistically imprisoned, my mind spasming, slowly examining every small detail of each word, until it is finally satisfied enough to move on. There are times when it is pleasurable, that I garner some joy in doing it. Other times I feel exhausted, and only wish that I could make it stop, like that annoying jingle that you suddenly find yourself constantly humming. This probably makes me sound crazy. And maybe I am.

There is no rhyme or reason about it. No method to the madness. One day the word "cacophony" might find its way into my mental record player. The next it might be "Gerkelnerbigenhoffstettlerfrau" (Rose's mother's maiden name, on the Golden Girls. Duh!). When I was about ten years old I can remember this happening for an especially long period of time with the name "Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis", after I watched a documentary about her life. Earlier today I replayed some of Bette Davis' lines from All About Eve, which I haven't seen in over a year. But nonetheless "her loyalty, efficiency, devotion, warmth, and affection, and so young, so young and so fair. . ." loops over and over, and over again.

Upon retrospect, and in confessing it to you now, I wonder if this isn't some troubling OCD like symptom. It certainly wouldn't be my only one. In fact, in thinking about it, I have definitely had a few strange quirks over the years.

For a long time, almost ten years, I knocked on things. Like people knock on wood, after an especially bad thought, to prevent the world from granting some unintended, extremely destructive wish. I always did it quietly, often under my desk, or on my arm rest, so no one ever really witnessed it, thankfully. In my car I would rub the dash in lieu of knocking, though this was more for bad thoughts specifically geared toward my car's function, or possible impending doom. And even though I knew it was stupid, and crazy, I couldn't mentally rest until I knocked, and so, to make my life easier, I did . To make it truly effective though, I had to knock ten times. Preferably ten groups of ten. God, how I wish I were kidding.

It is ridiculous that some tiny hidden part of me believes that I am in control of the things around me, that I can control the world with my mind, that if I refrain from knocking something bad will in fact happen. I no longer have the need to do this, well, maybe that's a lie. Extremely rarely do I feel the need to do this would probably be a more accurate, honest description. But now it feels more like a superstition than a compulsion.

I suddenly feel flushed and embarrassed, like I have revealed too much.
Maybe I am just a nut case.
No. A whack job.
No. A crazy person.
No.

What's the word I'm looking for?