This weekend's cake...

...is frosted with Rose Levy Bernabaum's Caramel Silk Merinque Buttercream, which is both fucking complicated and fucking delicious.

Can I get a What What?

1. Kenneth: I dreamt I was roommates with Barack Obama.
Erk: How was that?
Kenneth: He was so busy it was like you never saw him.

2. I'm working on a chapbook by that name: Imperial Fruit Leather.

3. Erk: There's always frozen peas.
[I know it's not the most sustainable of foods, but boy do I adore m'peas, and the pea season is so short here and the sweetness turns starchy so quickly that I can't deny the import of m'frozen organic peas.]


Salad Nicoise (Detail)

Celebrating a sliver of purple basil plucked up in the backyard.
As it's asparagus season here, I substituted accordingly.


Just Between You and Me,
or Notes on Emily Gould, Discourse Community, and Intimacy


I read Emily Gould's NYT Magazine piece "Exposed" following Kenny's recommendation, and in turn, I recommend it to you. Kenneth identified it as a compelling read. I agree, and I'll add that it's dishy and awful and nauseating and say what you like about Emily Gould, the chick can write. Her prose seems effortless, plain, and yet it's riveting. She's tremendously though quietly deft.

The whole shebang makes me want to write a post about why I blog. Maybe I will. But for now, I'm interested in picking over and fiddling with a couple of details, neither of which is necessarily central to her story.


As a writing teacher, I often stress the idea that there's no single correct form of English usage but rather that we all speak and write multiple Englishes and adhere to different levels of correctness, different sets of rules-- each tailored to the particular situation and particularly to the discourse community we want to identify ourselves with. In addition to debunking the notion that "English class" English is an ideal (an ideal, incidentally, which most students find unreachable and thus irritating), the concept emphasizes the social function of language and the politics of inclusion and exclusion which are inextricably woven into language (note the unreachable in preceding parenthetical expression for more on in/exclusion; see also DFW's essay "Authority and American Usage"). Each discourse community has its own set of grammatical rules and understandings about what content, what inflections, are appropriate. Or inappropriate.


Emily Gould writes,
Once [on my blog], I made fun of Henry for referring to “Project Runway” as “Project Gayway.” He worried that “people” — the shadowy, semi-imaginary people who read my blog and didn’t know Henry well enough to know that he wasn’t a homophobe — would be offended.
In blogging about "Project Gayway," Gould shifts the context and, importantly, the audience of Henry's remark. The public readership of her blog is a very different discourse community from the one that existed, as I imagine it, in their apartment when and where Henry made the comment.

I, personally, find "Project Gayway" to be undeniably inoffensive, capturing as it does a facet of the show that's irrefutable even when we discover it in the most homophobic of minds and mouths. I don't care to emphasize this particular comment but rather the fact that, in closed company, innumerable discursive understandings about acceptability are constantly in play, are constantly being negotiated.

Kenneth and I regularly say awful awful things when we're alone together: our intimacy is defined by-- among many other things-- viciously sharp language, multiple forms of biting caricature, sarcastic mocking, and hideously rude comments, most all of which are directed outward, not at one another. Directed at one another in our lovers' discourse: numerous special voices (which I, borrowing from a friend of a friend, secretly call doll voices), quotations from shared texts and friends, cryptic phrases, and exuberant nonsense syllables.


I'm fascinated by the fact that in a recent interaction-- in which I was chided by a colleague who characterized my assertion of cultural difference between Mexico and the US as racist-- he declared, "I think it's fine for you to say that just between you and me, but I think that we should be on the vanguard of debunking racial stereotypes." For the record, I simply suggested that Mexican culture is different from American culture without prioritizing the latter, I never invoked race, and I think the racist component of our exchange was his conflation of race and culture, but I digress... It's the "just between you and me" that interests me. It's that place of language that I find fascinating and terrifying and all.


Emily Gould: "I still felt unmoored in the way you can only feel after a breakup, as if you’re the last living speaker of some dying language."


My mind is pretty much blown by Gould's suggestion that the loss of an intimate engenders the loss an entire language-- or the ability to speak actively that language. She structures the idea as a simile, but I think she's onto something much more direct and real. The end of or abrupt shift in an intense relationship shatters all kinds of habits causing multiple uncomfortable difficulties, but, for someone like me if not for everyone, surely much of the pain is the slow death and decomposition of a discourse. Discourse, after all, being at the very heart of what holds any two people together. And after a break up, as I imagine it, the brain slowly, diligently plows under millions of linguistic paths which mapped out all that former closeness. Or, eventually allows them to fall into disrepair, grow moldy, broken, and indistinct.


If I sound maudlin, it's only the counterpart to the lush intensity and wildly fecund liveliness of discourse in my humble understanding of things. It's because I cherish so dearly the intimacies of language.


Informal Inversion in Cake

My interest in Dobos Torte originates with Lindsey Remolif Shere's recipe in Chez Panisse Desserts, which explains that the "cake can be baked on baking sheets or on the bottoms of 8-inch layer cake pans." How could I not be titillated and hooked by a recipe that directs me to invert cake pans and liberally butter their bottoms?!

Shere writes, "The Dobos Torte is a handsome, rather formal cake made of seven thin layers of vanilla sponge cake iced with chocolate-hazelnut butter cream. The top layer is characteristically finished with a thin later of caramel marked into the cake's sixteen servings--often the wedges of caramel are lifted and tilted to produce a fan-like effect."

My informal first go at Dobos Torte consisted of five measly layers (internets [sic] research encouragingly indicates there's no clear seven-layer standard) and was uncharacteristically topped with icing. I baked after a long bike ride, and the caramel top would have either pushed dinner to an uncomfortably late hour or prevented the cake from being available for the evening's dessert.

Shere's recipe is sparse. Too sparse. For instance, unfamiliar with Dobos Torte, I had difficulty imagining what she has in mind regarding this "fan-like effect." I didn't understand that the layers would be propped up by something (butter cream or, now that I get it, perhaps hazelnuts). Now that I think of it, there may be info to this effect in the section about assembling the cake-- a bit I didn't read carefully having already decided that there'd be no caramel this time around. I was, btw, happy with the top of my cake which looked rather like a pond during a storm. Without clearer directions from Shere, I ended up with uneven layers. Or maybe it was just my lack of common sense.

A highlight: Kenneth, seeing the layers on the cooling rack, exclaimed devilishly, "You made pitas!!"

Should I continue to work on my Dobos Torte or just roll forward with Shere's amazing hazelnut chocolate butter cream recipe in my cake arsenal? Not sure. The night I made the cake, I was convinced it was a disaster. The night we ate the last pieces, I was rather fond of Dobos Torte. Kenneth and I agree that the 1:1.2 ratio of cake to icing is delightful. If I do work on formalizing my Dobos, I might use a jellyroll pan to help ensure the uniformity of all layers. This, though, would result in a rectangular cake with no potential "fan-like effect" and would abandon the notion of inverted baking which I initially found so scintillating.


Spot Sequence - Update







From the Market

Yesterday, I brought home a rhubarb turnover from the Saturday farmers' market. A massive mound of rhubarb wrapped in a thin envelope of pastry. One of the several ways I like to celebrate rhubarb season in Wisconsin.


Top Four

During Friday's lunch, I selected my current four favorite pages in Moving Through the Universe in Bare Feet: Ten Circle Dances for Everybody by Deborah Hay and DonnaJean Rogers. Later that afternoon, I returned it to the library.


Words and Phrases from
the Record of the Minutes 1674-1703

smut in wheat

the impression of being undigested

like Whistler or Packer or Oliver Hill

to whales, to strange herbal decoctions, and their use as antidotes

propounding an aetherial explanation for its properties,

worms found 'in the head and brains of some creatures'

an account of hurricanes brought in by

his digester

the recent discovery of various kinds of 'phosphorous', including true phosphorus (the element)

they should speedily read

a new kind of wind-fountain of his own contrivance

in vacuo

not that he had as yet performed 'hundreds' of them

comparisons of the effects of condensed and rarefied air on birds, a much-tried subject by this date

Papin as an amanuensis.

Poisons were always a popular subject

to prevent the presence of 'strangers' at meetings

Brake the mercury glasse in the Parlour

followed by what the Diary calls 'much discourse'

viviparous snails

from Chain

The credits of more films should include bibliographies.





Fake It 'Til You Make It?

I constantly have anxiety dreams about marching band.

Last night, I began with being late for a pre-graduation ceremony. I knew I'd dreamed about this ceremony before and I had: I had dream memories several times during the dream (last time, there was a parking garage there, etc.). There's a hazy scene of my mother patiently driving me to the school ground. As usual, I'd forgotten I was in the band. And thus forgotten that I needed to attend the ceremony. When I finally got off the band bus-- the last trip transporting stragglers to the field-- I realized I'd forgotten my horn. Somehow, I picked up a flute and a saxophone with no mouthpiece; I figured that by carrying these I would at least look like I was playing-- better than marching with no instrument at all. Kathy Jenkins-- harried but incredibly focused-- hustled past me. To get to the field, all band members (in full uniform and carrying instruments) had to go through an obstacle course including a window wrapped in sheets of rubbery plastic which we had to squeeze through. This course was an annual ritual, but we agreed that this year they'd taken things too too far. It was now dark, and I think I set down the flute and saxophone, forgetting them on the other side of the window. I would probably fail band for the semester and would look like a fool in the ceremony when the senior band members were called forward to be honored. But, I gloated that I didn't have my horn with me-- it would have been dented in all the confusion. Maybe everyone would just chuckle at me without my horn-- chuckle at the creative type. The marching formations were unrehearsed and communicated to us only by a series of numbers printed on our hats in red. Still, everyone else seemed better informed, more aware of what they were doing and where they were headed than I was. I could hear a member of the school council delivering a prayer. I knew what teachers and parents didn't: he was a nocturnal beast. It was afternoon and things were less hectic as we sauntered toward the field. Katina Allen was there and chirped pleasantly to me. I knew I would fail band for the semester. Night had fallen and I was racing to spot #23 amidst emotionless band members. Were we even on the field? It looked like a hill way off to one side.

Jump cut to the blazing bright afternoon immediately following the event, and I'm strutting down the sidewalk next to the high school which had the look of the Stanford campus. I had gotten into Harvard, I'd just learned, and couldn't wait to go, even though I knew Rory Gilmore wouldn't be there with me. Maybe my band grade didn't mean anything at all??!?


Pornographic Truth

"We may say what we please, but those we can be the easiest and freest with, are ever those we like, not to say love the best."

-John Cleland, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (1748-9)


From the UW Archive:
Mr. Negus, I Presume

1946 Fred Negus poster- if only college football were more affiliated with the above aesthetics and sensibilities (and less tangled up in aesthetics and sensibilities like these or these), if only...

Miserably Normal

Look how sad the normal looks without its cornbread.
Life without the oven is sad. Although, without the wedge
of bread, you can glimpse more of the cauliflower than usual.


Oven's on the fritz.

No hot water in my gym's showers all this week.

Life is hard.


My new one-woman show

I can't decide whether to name it

Erk is Judy is a Punk

or just

Judy Judy Judy is a Punk.

PS - Sorry for the delay in responding to some of the comments on recent posts. I've been a little busy. I haven't forgotten about you, gentle readers.


From this year's first trip to market

meaty spring asparagus in sorrel cream.


Still Rollin'

more of the same from Corvette Summer:

Office Stillife

Circulus Universalis

"First therefore, among so many noble foundations of colleges in Europe, I find it strange that they are all dedicated to professions, and none left free to the study of arts and sciences at large. For if... any man think that Philosophy and Universality are idle and unprofitable studies, he does not consider that all arts and professions are from thence supplied with sap and strength. And this I take to be a great cause, which has so long hindered the more flourishing progress of learning; because these fundamental knowledges have been studied but in passage, and not drunk deeper of... Neither is it to be forgotten that this dedication of colleges and societies to the use of professory learning has not only been inimical to the growth of the sciences*, but has also been prejudicial to states and governments. For hence it proceeds that princes when they have to choose men for business of state, find a wonderful dearth of able men around them; because there is no collegiate education designed for these purposes, where men naturally so disposed and affected might (besides other arts) give themselves especially to histories, modern languages, books of policy and civil discourse; whereby they might come better prepared and instructed to offices of state."

-Francis Bacon, De Augmentis Scientiarum (1623)

*Bacon's use of the term sciences refers to all branches of knowledge, not the specific disciplines that we today understand to fall under the umbrella of science.


Ma mère

My favorite feature of the film: the subtitle for Isabelle Huppert/Hélène's aaahh.


No-Wait Training

At the gym, people often ask me if I'm still using a piece of equipment just when I've finished with it. I have a terrible habit of saying, "I'm all set." Terrible because most figure weight training exercises in sets. I'm all set sounds a great deal like I have another set or somesuch. I get a lot of blank looks in response to I'm all set. I'm trying to train myself to stop using this locution. I believe a response that prioritizes the enquirer is ideal: "It's all yours" or "You go ahead b/c I'm done."



tiny recipe amidst tiny fingers

tiny fava beans in waiting

tiny fava beans on the plate

Hot Skillet

[5/12/08 UPDATE: Bored and fed up (in the mildest manner possible), I erased the flare up. Thanks to all who voted.
Original post begins here:]

OMG: check out the weird flare up in the comments on the video I posted ages ago to youtube. Is this for reals??


Isn't this year's Wisconsin State National History Day tee just terrific!?!? I'm wearing it as I type.

I judged junior group exhibits on Saturday. Highlights included a project on Title IX and one on the Flambeau Mine in Ladysmith, WI. Actually, the biggest highlight is always seeing tons of kids engaged in history and creative scholarly endeavors. Even though it makes for a long day, I love going to the awards ceremony and always weep briefly during the announcement of the first few winners. Something about watching smart kids being celebrated, seeing them strut awkwardly (or elegantly) onto the stage. It's intense.

From the UW Archive:
If We May - Part III

An undated image of May Fete on Bascom Hill.
I, of course, imagine that the X marks the virgin who was sacrificed, or something.


New Joy: Spring Cake

Miss Christine Tooknap convinced me to invest in The Joy of Cooking as a baking resource. What great advice. This weekend's cake is JOC's white cake and (in order to use up all the leftover yolks) classic buttercream icing. The light green layer is pistachio marzipan from a recipe in Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Cake Bible, a much applauded and much criticized book. I'm thrilled with the colors of this cake. I'm not sure the above pic accurately captures the hue of the icing, which is the color of butter.

I've only just begun to figure out how to convert recipes appropriately for my 6" pans. Here's where I ran out of icing, had to make more, and became whiny and disgruntled. If the cake ain't so prettily iced in the end, this is why.


From the UW Archive:
If We May - Part II

May Fete, 1915

Base Notes

What I've most held onto from My Mums Used To Be Men is Sarah's testimony that her sense of smell improved and intensified when she began taking estrogen.

I will always be a smelly man, until I'm not.

Looking at images of Louise Jarvis, though, brings much more of the docu back. She's really a stunning, beautifully complex person.

Also, I have a cousin by that name.


From the UW Archive:
If We May - Part I

Undated, but I believe this card is based on images from the 2nd or 3rd decade of the 20th century.