Thursday, June 19, 2008

Completely OK at Forking

I miss Amelia. I miss her so much. Amelia is the big sister I never had. She fills in all the gaps left by a dramatic teenhood and a funny relationship with my mother. She tells me what I need to hear, and sometimes what I want to hear, but would never sugar-coat something important. She's the only person I know who fully appreciates driving fast down the interstate blasting Bryan Adams ("Summer of 69") and singing along until the third verse at which point we sort of mumble forgotten lyrics (RIP Amelia's car's speakers). She doesn't make fun of me for having too many cats...usually. And she gives the best hugs ever (sorry, Mark). I really miss her.

Amelia moved to Arizona in February, shortly after I moved to Texas. It's great for her - AZ is where her family is, it's her home base, and, as an Army wife and sometimes-single mother (when the hubby is overseas), she needs all the support she can get. But it sucks for me, 'cause it's way farther to her house now than it used to be. You could listen to that Bryan Adams song at least a billion more times.

I love my life here, and as much as I'd like to cut myself in two and have my left hand with Amelia and my right hand with Mark, I hear that science hasn't advanced enough for this to be possible. So I do what I can. I listen to Sunny Day Real Estate and The Appleseed Cast and all that great emo music that was cool before the bad haircuts and black eyeliner of recent years. I keep a loaf of bread she made me in the freezer (we were saving it for sandwiches but then we forgot to get the sandwich meat and then it was Amelia bread so how could I eat it?), I tell anyone who will listen about my fabulous BFF, I chuckle every time I see the flashlight she gave me (inside jokes are awesome), and I bake my little heart out.

Amelia and I both grew up with a love for baking. She is a perfectionist, and rightfully so. I swear, if she weren't such a good Christian who didn't want to show up Jesus, she could make water from wine. She makes the hard stuff look easy. I marvel at the ease with which she makes biscuits - the first time I visited her, last June (it's almost our anniversary), she made me biscuits for breakfast, but had run out of white flour, and used whole wheat. Amelia claims they weren't that great, but I swear, to this day, they are the best biscuits I've ever had.

This winter I was at her house and she pulled from her freezer a bag of rolled peanut butter dough (see how she even plans such simple things ahead? I would never have the patience), and together we made hash marks in them with forks. I told her how this past Christmas, in all the hullabaloo of my mother's baking frenzy (my sister and I counted about 25 different types of cookies that she baked enormous batches of for the neighbors, work, family, etc.) I'd been banned from forking the peanut butter cookies because I wasn't being neat enough. Amelia thought this was funny and told me I did a fine job. So today, as I made peanut butter cookies (an amalgam of several internet recipes, posted below), I couldn't help but to text my best friend and tell her how much I missed her, and her faith in my fork-hashing skills.

In response she called me, my phone showing a silly kissy-face photo of her, blasting a tinny "Summer of 69." She told me she would send me good-hashing vibes, and I guess it worked, 'cause the cookies came out both pretty and delicious. Neither of us really like peanut butter cookies all that much, either. But they're fun to make, and these have extra brown sugar for extra chewiness and pb and chocolate chips for extra yumminess. I know it's summer, but with a little AC, what's turning the oven on, if it reminds you of your dearest amigo?

Amelia-Chip* Peanut Butter Cookies:

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup natural crunchy peanut butter
1 + 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup peanut butter chips

*No actual Amelias contained in this cookie. Mostly because we like Amelia, but also because Amelia would taste gross, even though she's awesome.

Preheat your oven to 350°. In a medium-sized bowl combine the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a large mixing bowl use an electric mixer (or a really strong hand) to blend the peanut butter and the butter until smooth and creamy. Blend in the sugar, and then add the egg and the water. When thoroughly blended, slowly add the dry ingredients. The dough should be soft but crumbly. Stir in the chocolate and peanut butter chips (if you want, Nestle makes some fun "swirl" chocolate chips, including a milk chocolate/peanut butter blend. I used two cups of these instead of one cup of each kind). Using your hands pinch bits of dough from the bowl and form into small 1-2 inch balls. Roll the dough in your palms, but don't over-handle! Set the balls of dough about an inch apart on a non-stick cookie sheet, and using the back of a fork, make hash marks in the dough. This will flatten the dough some, but be aware that they still will spread out by baking! Bake the cookies from 10-15 minutes. Let cool on a drying rack (wax paper on a counter top works just as well) and enjoy with a loved one. Or by yourself. Or send them to your best friend in Arizona (if she likes peanut butter cookies).

PS, Amelia, I made this one after you called, because your vibes helped me hash a heart:

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Morse-Adkins Cat Motor Lodge

Last night being Saturday night, Mark and I were actually going to do the whole date night thing and see that new M. Night Shyamalan movie at the nearest theater. We were about to leave when he realized he'd lost his wallet and after scouring the house for an hour still couldn't find it. While we still could have made the movie, I'm a broke book store employee and can't afford movie tickets for two until pay day (if I want to eat this week). We changed plans, drove out to Waterloo Video and rented some horror films — The Eye (the original Chinese version), Teeth, and Ab-Normal Beauty (another Chinese film). We came home (with sodas from Sonic, of course) still mourning the loss of Mark's wallet, but on our way in heard some noise in the bushes. It sounded like a cat, so we started taking a mental inventory of our animals. All but one stay inside at all times, and that one wasn't out. So we started calling —here, kitty, kitty etc — until out walked a black beauty of an animal, mewling. She immediately flopped over at Mark's feet begging to be loved.

It's hot enough in Texas for people, but, for a domestic animal that clearly has spent most of its life indoors, the summer sun is brutal. We couldn't leave this poor girl outside so Mark scooped her up and we brought her directly into our bathroom where she would be safe, but still separate from the resident population. I wish this was the first time this had happened to us, but apparently there is some neon sign on the front of our house: FREE FOOD. CAT MOTEL.

Two of our other cats are charity cases. Mocha, the irritable Siamese came to me back in New York when a room mate neglected her and I just took her on when the girl moved out. And Turkleton, our big Abyssinian mix, lived under our porch for several months before we deemed it too hot for him to live out there anymore. This is in addition to the two cats we adopted on purpose: my Maine Coon, Telemachus and Mark's three-legged calico, Beatrice. Seriously, we are not wanting for cats.

But people keep dumping their animals, which I guess shouldn't be shocking to me, since it's a crisis in just about every area, urban or rural. The impression I get of Austin, though, is of a caring, neighborly community full of activists and leaders and people who should give a shit about their pets. I've called every veterinarian in the area, as well as the Town Lake Animal Center (where all lost pets in Austin are registered), the SPCA, and the Animal Trustees of Austin. No one has called them about their missing cat.

We really can't afford to keep this baby girl, even though we are already growing attached, so we're hoping to find a friend to take her in if we can't locate her family. I met one family today who were hoping that their lost kitty was the one we found, but it just wasn't in the cards, and they're the only possible family that Craigslist has turned up. My biggest fear is that someone thought it would be a good idea to get a black cat on Friday the 13th - for a prank or a party or just for funsies - then thought better of it and ditched her. Thankfully, she's in good spirits anyway.

I'm pretty sure that my readers are the proverbial choir, but, seriously guys, lets take care of these furry creatures, at least for karma's sake.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Growing Up: Still Just for Old People

So I was reading up on Scott Westerfeld, since I'm currently ensconced in his Uglies series, and in his FAQ he states that while he has written adult fiction before, he is wary to go back because a) adults don't send as much fan mail and b) adults tend to stick to one genre or author and do not venture elsewhere. He said some other stuff, too, but I'm a lazy paraphraser.

It sort of makes me wonder how many great authors I missed the boat on by moving directly from my non-reader phase to my literary snob phase shortly after college. I'm working on that, at the moment reading a lot of teen fiction, and consequently feeling more and more overwhelmed by the day by the amount of adult books that are also out there. I mean, literally, piles and piles of books I'll never be able to read in my lifetime.

It's a dilemma. A coworker and I talked about it today, and it's one of those conversations that always ends like this:

(awkward silence)

I've often joked about wanting to read books by osmosis - simply by touching a book to my face all of its contents would work into my brain and I'd be full of knowledge and pleasure. But of course there's a fundamental problem with this plan, just as with any revolutionary idea: what about the pleasure in the process of reading? In whizzing through books the way I have been over the last few weeks (I feel really smart and cocky and have to keep reminding myself I'm reading stuff written for people whose brains are still developing), I feel myself rushing to get from one book to the next. I used to read in a more leisurely manner, taking in only 20-30 pages in a sitting, usually while waiting for something or riding somewhere, and would stretch a book out over a couple of weeks. And sometimes I'd do this on purpose, just to savor the last few pages of a delectable book (most memorably, Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland).

So here I am, with a hundred pages left of Pretties, both excited and scared that I've got so much to read when I'm done. There's Specials, the third book of the Uglies trilogy, and at some point the follow up, Extras, will come out in paperback. Meanwhile the boss lady gave me a pile of books to read to prepare for the fall season at the store. And, of course, there's my own ever-expanding home library (I swear, sometime soon, I'm going to read Stephanie Klein's memoir, Moose, since, you know, I've got a signed copy at arm's length right now and a girl needs some nonfiction every now and then).

The idea of growing up and giving up on reading (again) scares me. Is Westerfeld right? Am I going to limit myself to one tiny chunk of the literary world (contemporary fiction, authors C through L, perhaps?), or can I fight it, push the boundaries of adulthood and rebel against the tendency toward stagnation? I'd like to think I will. It's not like I'm any good at growing up anyway, and it will be something to do when I'm too old and wrinkly to be seen in public. But only time will tell, and as far as I can see, it will be a while before I let the joy of reading slip away again.