A weekend of happy birds

This weekend the Philosophe turns 40, and for several months I’ve been scheming about what cake I could bake him that would be truly memorable. I have found NOTHING cooler than this playable angry birds cake that a lucky six-year old got for his birthday. How cool would that be? (Go check it out in action, the birds are awesome, and there’s a proper slingshot for total destruction.)

Alas (as one of my friends says way too often), with the last few months occupied mostly by getting through three burglaries, sino-bronchitis (ugh), finishing off one book, starting (and very soon finishing) another, oh, and teaching/marking/invigilating/attending meetings, I have regrettably failed to get it together.

But birthdays are no time for regrets. If he can’t throw birds at pigs, he can at least enjoy a solid Danish birthday breakfast (because nothing will stand in the way of me channelling my inner Viking):

These are kanelsnegle, or cinnamon snails. Did I go all out and make proper puff pastry? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But the dough does contain an essential, if little known, ingredient for Danish pastries, which is ground cardamom (any “Danish” that does not contain cardamom is an impostor – could even be a Swede!). And with the leftover dough, this:

This does look pretty Danish, and it would be if it was full of stuff like raisins, cinnamon, and if we’re going to get really fancy schmancy, marzipan. Instead it’s stuffed full of Dairy Milk Whole Nut chocolate (for which there incidentally exists a very silly advert). To be honest, I don’t know if such an un-Danish thing has ever been pulled off before, and I have no idea how it will go down.

But how bad can cardamom-scented bread full of chocolate (for breakfast) really be? Pain au chocolat and all that. I’d sure rather eat that than a stack of double chocolate pancakes. There are limits!

Besides, we wouldn’t want to spoil our appetites, or dampen our fighting spirits. Imagine if a flock of angry birds suddenly pulled in and darkened the birthday sky…

Its name is wedding

This morning the Philosophe gifted me this card:

I never thought I would get a fourth birthday card again, but this was a stroke of genius. See, just over four years ago, we had a little impromptu gathering with a few friends, telling them we had some important news. Thinking that we were oh-so clever and funny, we told them that we’re having a baby… and its name is wedding.

There were more than a few minutes of extreme awkwardness as our friends tried to figure out what the hell we were talking about, and how to respond. Or rather, they (all!) first understood it to mean that I was pregnant, and that we were going to call our child wedding. For some reason, both of those possibilities seemed to them silly/preposterous/insane, but they did what friends do and played along. I think a full half hour passed before someone was brave enough to ask if we were serious, and the truth finally came out: We were getting married (duh!).

Today Americans are going to gorge themselves on turkey and all manner of pies – some to ridiculous extremes – in the name of giving thanks (and good luck to them: I’ve attended one such shindig, and it was truly terrifying). Here, we give thanks to our wedding, which has finally grown out of its nappies and screaming fits and into something that’s old enough to be left in front of the television for a couple of hours a day. And since no birthday is complete without cake, I give you:

(Inspired by this banana cardamom cake with browned butter frosting: I added fresh ginger to the cake, substituted pistachios and coconut for the walnuts, and rum to the icing, because that’s how we roll.)

Recently spotted in the Doctor’s kitchen

Magic, really. I thought I was marking exams, but suddenly there was a brownie occurrence. Specifically, goat’s cheese fudge and smoked almond brownies:

The best part? You can do this too!

All you need is:

1 good brownie recipe waiting for a new identity;

1 batch of goat’s cheese fudge lurking in the freezer (preferably homemade, and preferably blessed by Norwegian angels);

120 exam scripts to mark;

An oven.

In the approximate words of the immortal Nigella Lawson (or the Barefoot Contessa, or that Italian babe with the big head [GdL], or that annoying Brit who keeps annoying people whose job it is to involve themselves in childhood nutrition [JO], et al.), See how easy it is?

Thank God It’s No Longer #FollowFriday

Warning: another soapbox moment Twitter rant.

I like Twitter. I like it much more than Facebook, its evil not-so-twin. I particularly like the fact that, unlike Facebook, Twitter doesn’t force you to take part in social politics, like be-“friend”ing someone you went to school with two decades ago and never spoke to, and suddenly you are “remembering” when it’s their birthday and joining their other 500 “friends” to say Happy Birthday! Have a wonderful day!, to which they respond the next day with “Wow! Thanks all for the wonderful wishes. So special to be remembered!”. Yeah right.

#FollowFriday/#FF seems to me to veer dangerously close to this type of inanity. (For those of you with your heads in the sand not on Twitter, go look at How #FollowFriday works).

I understand the endorsement factor. Being included in a #FF tweet tells other people who might not otherwise find you worth following. But like the “friend” situation on Facebook, it messes with natural selection. I don’t want to follow someone because someone else says that I should. I choose to follow people based on discovering that their Twitter activity somehow adds value to my life. Sure, sometimes I’m wrong, and I may miss someone important, but I would rather miss someone important than end up following a bunch of people who haven’t earned my attention.

The beauty of Twitter is that by paying attention, you end up finding the people you want to follow without silly “traditions” like #FF. Like a particular columnist? Start following them on Twitter, and it’s likely that soon enough they’ll re-tweet someone else who you then discover is also worth following, and so on. Or if you retweet them, they may start following you, and so on. It’s the activity of attention that makes Twitter worthwhile – not attention for the sake of attention.

Which is why I also don’t like this “tradition” of welcoming new people on Twitter and asking your followers to follow them. I have good friends in real life who I enjoy having a glass of wine and a natter with. Chefs whose food I happily pay good money to eat. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to start following them just because they join Twitter. Show me that you’re worth following, and you’re in.

And if I then retweet or mention you, please don’t bother thanking me. I get that it’s polite to acknowledge acknowledgement, but can’t we just let the subtleties of interaction be without all the extra noise (“Thank you.” “No, thank you!” “No no, it’s you who must be thanked!”)? My mention of you is (perhaps) an endorsement to my followers to follow you, and you can thank me by continuing to add value to my life by tweeting interesting things. That’s it.

I am by no means a Twitter celeb, and neither is that my aspiration. But I guess some people who read this might get irritated by the grump I’ve got on. Maybe they will even unfollow me. That’s too bad. But if you’re following me for any reason other than the fact that you enjoy what I bring to the table, then you’re following me for the wrong reasons. Sorry, that’s it.

All I hope for is that Twitter doesn’t turn into Twitbook. So #TGINLFF. (And don’t get me started on #woofwednesday.)

Everyone’s a critic now

An older piece by Neal Gabler in The Observer, where he observes that the Internet has just actualised a very old idea:

‘ It is certainly no secret that the internet has eroded the authority of traditional critics and substituted Everyman opinion on blogs, websites, even on Facebook and Twitter where one’s friends and neighbours get to sound off. What is less widely acknowledged is just how deeply this populist blowback is embedded in America and how much of American culture has been predicated on a conscious resistance to cultural elites. It is virtually impossible to understand America without understanding the long ongoing battle between cultural commissars who have always attempted to define artistic standards and ordinary Americans who take umbrage at those commissars and their standards.

…  We live, then, in a new age of cultural populism – an age in which everyone is not only entitled to his opinion but is encouraged to share it. Nothing could be more American.’

Interesting take. Read it here.

My Bree moment #chocchipcookie

I’ve never been much into making biscuits, as we call them in this part of the world. (Apart from biscotti, of course. Those who know me well know that my own biscotti are the only ones I will deign to eat.) I like making biscotti because they keep for long enough not to go stale. And I like making brownies and blondies because they can live in the freezer, ready to provide sugary goodness at any given moment.

Anyhoo. Needed a gift for a dear aunt(-in-law), and needed to make something different. So I did what any good American housewife did, and I baked chocolate chip cookies. Not just any, of course. Only the best will do, which is apparently this number from the NYT. (They really are the best. All the bloggers say so.)

I’m usually intimidated by the sheer size of American-style things (those muffins: seriously?), but I must say I quite enjoyed scooping golf-ball size globs of batter onto the baking tray.

(That’s a sprinkle of salt on top, by the way. It’s the secret!) And then watching them turn into jumbo cookies:

Of course I tweaked the recipe. I added two teaspoons of ginger powder to the mix, and a handful of chopped preserved ginger. An inspired tweak it was!

But as good as these are – and I mostly hope aunty will think so too – I reckon my most important revelation was finally understanding why Americans confuse raw cookie dough with something that is appropriate for ice cream. I mean, just look at it. It’s suddenly an easy confusion to understand. Shame (as we say in this part of the world).

Getting smarter

So “they” came back to rob us a third time, and this time yes, they did take a shit on the floor (courteously enough, just outside the kitchen door). And they took pretty much everything else they could get their hands on. Third time lucky? Not so much. It’s been a pretty sordid five weeks.

On the bright side, while I remain mostly technologically defunct until we get all our stuff “back”, I have stepped up in the world of mobile telephony. Not only do I finally own a smart phone (and now I finally get What’s [TF?] App), but apparently the *best* one in, like, the world. (Apple geeks, back off):

No, I am not in Barcelona, and those are not my peeps. My own phone is of course much cooler, being kitted out with the weather for Cape Town, and some wavy grass instead of children playing on the beach.

So now I shop at the Apps market, and my phone can do pretty much everything except give me a massage. But if it had been really smart, it would also have been able to weigh up the odds of enjoying a night out yesterday by a comparative analysis of

1. all the user-comments from that (ridiculously expensive) restaurant in the last year or so,

2. my unpredictable mood swings thanks to having been burgled three times in five weeks, and

3. my bank balance.

Had it performed that (com’on!) basic little service, it would have saved me going to bed feeling ripped off and grumpy (which is no fun for the Philosophe either).

But we learn. So tonight I will keep my wallet off the streets of Cape Town, and look forward to a delicious bowl of stew that comes from my own freezer, and probably some dessert from in there too (I have a memory of making black pepper ice cream not so long ago. Impromptu apple crumble?). And when I’m not eating, I’ll be an angry bird on my “smart” phone.

Don’t mess with my re-tweet

Warning: soapbox moment

I woke up early today to get some work done before the “other” work took over the day (going to campus, teaching, marking). As usual, I spend my first cup of coffee trawling through my Google Reader and Twitter to catch up on the night’s news. Among these tidbits I found news that Heston Blumenthal et al. were now pledging to save the world. This is (interesting/odious/ridiculous) news, so I tweeted it.

A few hours later, paying attention to my Tweetdeck as I do, I noticed that two people whom I follow, and who I know follow me too (“disclaimer” [?]: one of them was my husband) tweeted the exact same piece of news.

Now the Philosophe and I have had numerous (philosophical) conversations about the business of re-tweeting, and the irritations that follow when people don’t observe the “rules”, which are really just the best-practice norms that we should be observing all the time: acknowledge your sources.

So I of course immediately thundered down on him that he had violated the code. To which, in his (just) defence, he said that he hadn’t seen that I had already tweeted it.

Fair enough. I imagine the other person hadn’t seen my tweet either. So it wasn’t a case of anyone not acknowledging their source, because that source was clearly not me.

But no. This is what irks me. For all the glory of Twitter as the news feed where you can filter out the crap and only pay attention to what you find worthy of your attention, what’s the point if you don’t actually pay attention to the people who you choose to follow? If there is “too much” out there, or if you are following too many people, then doesn’t that defeat the purpose?

Am I whining because I didn’t get my two minutes of re-tweet glory? Perhaps. But I’m much more concerned about this as a confirmation of the fact that social media platforms just encourage our narcissistic tendencies. Tweet tweet: as long as I’m making noise, who cares about the fact that someone else may be saying something which just may be worthwhile? (Or even the same bloody thing?) Is anyone actually stopping to think along the way?

From Neal Gabler’s very good, but depressing, essay on living in a post-idea world:

‘We have become information narcissists, so uninterested in anything outside ourselves and our friendship circles or in any tidbit we cannot share with those friends that if a Marx or a Nietzsche were suddenly to appear, blasting his ideas, no one would pay the slightest attention, certainly not the general media, which have learned to service our narcissism.

What the future portends is more and more information — Everests of it. There won’t be anything we won’t know. But there will be no one thinking about it.

Think about that.’

On living in a post-idea world

By Neal Gabler, in The New York Times:

‘We prefer knowing to thinking because knowing has more immediate value. It keeps us in the loop, keeps us connected to our friends and our cohort. Ideas are too airy, too impractical, too much work for too little reward. Few talk ideas. Everyone talks information, usually personal information. Where are you going? What are you doing? Whom are you seeing? These are today’s big questions.

It is certainly no accident that the post-idea world has sprung up alongside the social networking world. Even though there are sites and blogs dedicated to ideas, Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, Flickr, etc., the most popular sites on the Web, are basically information exchanges, designed to feed the insatiable information hunger, though this is hardly the kind of information that generates ideas. It is largely useless except insofar as it makes the possessor of the information feel, well, informed. Of course, one could argue that these sites are no different than conversation was for previous generations, and that conversation seldom generated big ideas either, and one would be right.’

Read the full (sad) piece here.