How Does It Feel…To Be Fergalicious?

This afternoon my husband and I went to see I’m Not There — the new Todd Haynes (director of the brilliant Velvet Goldmine) movie about the myths surrounding Bob Dylan. Six “Dylans” played by six actors. The movie was remarkable in the literal definition of word. And so…I feel compelled to remark.

First, I need to clarify that I do not think I: a) am old enough, b) am clever enough, and c) have ever done enough [read: any] recreational drugs to make much sense of the whole movie. That said, I came away from it firmly reiterated in the belief that music can do something no other art form can fully achieve. Music can transport you to the point where you actually experience nostalgia for a moment and time and place and feeling that you never ever experienced.

You weren’t there, but you’ll believe you were, if just for 5 minutes and 1 second (the playing time of “Shelter From The Storm,” my current iPod-continuous-play obsession).

It’s vicarious living, and it’s seduction is difficult to explain in terms beyond “it makes me feel like…” And similes, while handy, can also be unsettlingly vague to the masses, and particularly the press, when offered up as explanation. If something is going to move people to the point of tears, action, declaration, protest, sex, rage, depression, etc… I think we expect the artist to offer up some kind of explanation for their creation.

Why did you write this song? What do you think of when you sing this song? What does this mean to you? How does it feel to know your music affects people; that your music may actually have consequence?

Subtext: Is the way your song makes me feel, right?

The Scorsese biography No Direction Home: Bob Dylan is also on TV tonight. In it, you see Dylan (real Dylan) in the same confrontations with journalists as the character of Jude in I’m Not There. The reporters get visibly frustrated with Dylan’s cryptic and occasionally caustic answers to their leading questions, to the point where one essentially asks him to explain himself, his music and his popularity. Dylan balks. The reporter presses, with increasing irritation. Nervous titters flutter about the room. From a purely journalistic standpoint, the reporter was looking for the quote, wasn’t getting it, and was getting pissed off.

I think the deeper implication (and desire) in that line of questioning was that there be one indelible answer; an equation that, once plugged in, will make everything clear.

My aim in all this is not to divine that answer. I simply want to know why no one asks Fergie to explain herself when she sings that she is “Fergalicious.”


Pumpkin Buns: Stage One

I promised the recipe for my Pumpkin Buns, and so I come today to deliver…in stages. First, I give you the recipe for Choux Paste, which is the dough that makes the bun-like container for the dessert. These are eggy and not too sweet, and you may know them better as cream puffs, sans the cream.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I would rate these a 3.5 for difficulty for one reason alone — the choux requires a degree of judgment for when the dough is ready, rather than a measure of minutes. Otherwise, this is a silly-simple recipe.

Pumpkin Buns:Choux Paste (the bun part)

1 C milk

4 oz. butter, small piece

7 oz. AP flour

1/2 t. salt

5 large eggs

(water to adjust)

How to:

  • Combine milk and butter in saucepan, bring to a full boil. Butter should be melted by the time it boils.


  • Add flour and salt once milk mixture comes to a full boil. *Flour will not absorb all liquid if not at full boil.


  • Take off heat. Stir until it the dough looks a bit like a limp of firm mashed potatos, or for you Germans in the audience, a kenerdle.


  • Return to heat, stirring, until it steams and just begins to stick to bottom. *It will “crack” like PlayDoh.


  • Transfer to a mixing bowl with paddle attachment. Stir to cool. *Eggs added to hot dough will cook, resulting in no structure for later in the baking process. Dough does not need to be cold…just warmish.
  • Add eggs one at a time. With each egg, dough will first look sloppy and wet, then suddenly the egg will incorporate to form a kind of batter. If dough is still too thick, add water 1 Tablespoon at a time to get it to a smooth state. How do you know it’s at a smooth state?….

Three tests for Choux paste

a. Turn off mixer and you want to see the paste actually slump (no pic as a “slump” is hard to capture)

b. Pull up the mixer paddle, see if it the paste coats the beater and comes to a point.



c. Pull finger through the paste to make a canyon, see if the edges curve in slightly.

Piping the Choux

Fill a pastry bag (or ziplock bag) with choux paste. Pipe from a large-ish hole onto parchment covered baking sheet.

Egg wash ( one whole egg, beaten) *Do not get wash on paper or choux will stick as it rises.

Dip a fork in water and make indents across tops of buns (like with peanut butter cookies) for expansion as the dough rises in the oven.

Place in oven at 375-400° for 15-18 min. for buns piped to the size of a donut hole. (Larger buns, like the ones I made, require about 10 extra minutes.)





Stages of baking for choux:

1) doubles in size in the first 12-14 minutes (!!!Do not open oven at all during this first baking period!!!)2) bakes in pace for next 3-4 minutes*Note.

They’ll pop right off the parchment. You’ll find you can split them very easily to make two halves, and even dig out the guts a little to make a deeper container for when you put things like pastry cream or mousse inside. Or, poke a hole in the bottom and fill them using a pastry tube and bag.

*These freeze nicely in a bag. To defrost, pop in oven @ 300° until warm. They do not make a yield, they are merely a batch depending on how large you pipe them.

Pumpkin Buns

No, it’s not a cloying endearment. It’s the working title of the dessert I made for Thanksgiving.

And since it’s rather late and I’m suffering from a Turducken coma (yes…my father-in-law succumbed to the barbaric bird-within-a-bird-within-a-bird trend, courtesy of Whole Foods), I think I’ll just give you readers the basics of what I made. Tomorrow I’ll write up a better break-down.

Ooh…I like that: “write up a break-down.” Could be a song lyric…

I digress.

Pumpkin Buns
(Choux buns filled with pumpkin-pie pastry cream severed with nutmeg cream and candied pecans)

Your First Compliment Was Complementary.

I’ll be quite glad when this post is completed because that will mean the tedious “intro” phase of this blog is done. Plus, I’ll have happily met all self-imposed deadlines.

My short writing bio: I wrote my first manuscript at age 5 and titled it “The Bears Go on a Picnic.” The first chapter was read aloud over the phone to my ever-patient first-grade teacher Ms. Gamble and she pronounced it “wonderful”—my first brush with the unsentimental eye of the professional critic. To this day, “The Bears” remains incomplete, but I think I’ll leave it that way so as to add some mystery to my early years when the archivists sift through my work. But between you and me, it was Little Bear who ate all the cookies, not Daddy Bear as the narration was beginning to imply.

And I’ve been writing ever since.

Today, I want to share some words that really annoy the bejeezus out of me: homonyms. For those unaware, homonyms are words that sound exactly the same, mean something utterly different or (more annoyingly) embarrassingly similar, and to top it all off, are spelled bass-ackward from each other. Yea, English.

Here are some of my tops, but as I continue to blog I’ll probably sprinkle in these annoying beasts for everyone’s edification. Because, yes, I consider learning the differentiation of words to be an education of moral and occasionally religious proportion. And I can totally start a sentence with “because.” Why? Because.

The worst offender of all:

AffectI will affect your impression of me, as too much writing about linguistics will make me appear pompous.
Effect— Appearing pompous is an effect of writing too much about linguistics.

This comes up in my job all the time:

Peddling— By peddling this blog shamelessly in the tagline of my e-mail, I hope to gain some Web traffic.
Pedaling— Pedaling my bike to work would also be a way to increase my Web traffic, as I’d get hit by a car on my first day of bike-commuting and be forced to telecommute, resulting in me checking my blog all day.

This one can just shove off, too:

Compliment— I consider it quite a compliment that three people have started reading my blog, and only one of them was bullied into it.
Complement— I think adding those readers’ blogs to my list of favorite sites would be a nice complement to what my blog has to offer—which is mostly just me rattling off.

That’s it for now, because after all, three is my magic number. And anyone wanting to check out more miserable brats of the English language can find a great list at Alan Cooper’s Homonyms. And I can totally start a sentence with “and.” Why? And.

G, C and D

About 13 years ago, I plunked out “Desperado” by The Eagles on my mom’s piano until I could play it straight through with no stops, starts and obvious gaffs. And that’s where my musical instrumentation career ended.

Singing? Sure. That was no problem…been doing that since I was old enough to gather I was any good at it. But actually showing some talent beyond the manipulation of my voice? That was another matter entirely.

So it’s kind of a surprise to everyone including myself that at 29…and now 30…I should decide to take up the mandolin. My primary reasons: 1) when people who play it quite well do so, it sounds lovely, and 2) it’s portable. Unlike the piano on which I could only really play one song by an aging hipster band in my parents’ living room.

I’ve had three lessons and can reliably play three chords (thus, reiterating my firm belief in the ‘rule of threes”).

Chords I’ve gotten the hang of without much stopping, starting or obvious gaffs:

Stay tuned for more interesting (I promise) musings on music, MP3s of my mandolin skilzzz, playlists of songs I’m groovin’ to at the moment, and more.

An "Origins" Story

When I was a kid….

Every year, about a month before my birthday, I started my research. I poured over the book….the bookSupercookery!, 1976 edition for hours at a time. Nearly every recipe had a picture. From bread to bunt cake, all in full, four-color glory, so perfectly rendered my teeth would ache from the anticipation of the sugar rush.

I delineated my favorites with strips of notebook paper and whittled away at the choices, making pro/con lists, until I could narrow it down. Down to one, splendiferous cake that embodied everything it meant to turn 9…10…11…12……

One year it was a Bûche de Noël; another, a maple-nut tower; one required a chocolate collar of alternating white and dark stripes. Always the most decadent, complicated one I could find. And always—always—my mom accepted the challenge with a smile.

It’s only now, a decade or two later, that I’ve come to realize her smile was probably closer to a grimace.

My love of baking (or rather, having things baked for me) began in those early years watching my mom wrestle with Génoise, but it evolved over time to an actual love of the labor. (Coincidentally or not, it also happened around the time my mom declared herself done with the hobby.)

For me, baking has become something more than dessert. It’s restful and rewarding; therapy that ends with a big slab of cake. I’ve baked my way through break-ups, job searches and wedding-planning woes. I’ve experimented on friends, family and co-workers. I’ve made wedding cakes for dear friends with fear in my heart and the same smile plastered to my face that my mom used to wear. I’ve even taken and subsequently interned for a professional pastry course.

To what end?

I don’t know yet. I think that’s part of why I’m writing this blog with a third of the content devoted to the combination of eggs, sugar and flour—to figure out where this passion will ultimately fit into my life.

But until I come to some conclusion, I’ll be content making the people I love full and happy. A fine goal, I believe.

And so it begins…

Welcome, one and al—

Well, actually, it’s probably just welcome…one. Maybe two, on a good day. “One-and-all” is a goal to which I can aspire. For now, welcome to whoever stumbles across this blog wherein I intend to babble on three main themes: writing, baking and music making. The rule of three apparently applies to my hobbies as well as to adjectives, ingredients and news sources.

On this blog you can expect to read about what I’m writing about (Mondays), what I’m baking or hoping to bake (Thursdays), and the music I’m learning to make (Saturdays)—which will generally encompass tips, tarts and tantrums. (You’ll learn that I love alliteration. You’ll learn that I love anaphora. You’ll learn that I love a bad language-usage joke.)

All that said, expect the first post when the bell tolls Thursday! (My bad jokes appear to extend into literature, too.) It’ll be Baking Thursday on WriterBakerMusicMaker—I stopped at a chocolate factory this weekend, and where chocolate appears, good things follow.