Tuesday, May 27, 2008

the best laid plans

Unfortunately plans are often foiled, no matter how well laid. Just so with my plans on the path to find more joy. There is a long list of all the things that made me sad, upset, and angry over the past week and generally made me forget that I had decided to be joyful. On the odd occasion that I did remember my resolution, I mainly became infuriated with myself for being so irritatingly schmaltzy. Joy? I don’t even like the word! It mostly reminds me of tinny renditions of “Joy to the World” and The Joy of Sex – which I’ve never even seen, let alone looked at, but there you have it.

However. Annoying as it may be, I started this blog and I used the word joy. Nothing to do but grin and bear it. So instead of listing all of the enraging, saddening and maddening things that happened over this week, I will try to salvage a few possible glimmers of joy.

a day off from work
a five-day-long visit from my mother (the reason for the day off)
buying hand-made and second-hand clothes – at a market – on sale!
making roast pork loin with perfect crackling
a delicious dinner out at a beautiful Indian restaurant
trying on my senior banquet (prom/matric dance) dress – it still fits, oh the relief
a family tea party that evolved into wine-drinking as the sun set
my cousins
work! for me! an end to boredom!
happy long-distance phone calls
mist and the fog horn and the harbour on these misty mornings

And, finally, my favourite: successfully making up a light but decadent flourless chocolate orange cake. I had printed a recipe for a Grand Marnier Chocolate Orange Truffle Cake. Of course, if anyone takes a moment to sit back and reflect on the name of this cake, it is obvious that it is a ridiculously decadent cake – enough to be nauseating. Sadly, I did not take the above-mentioned moment, focusing instead on the requisite combination of chocolate, orange and cake (my mother wanted a chocolate orange birthday cake). When it came time to buy the ingredients, I first of all forgot the recipe, had to run back home to get it, and then was aghast. Cream; chocolate; cream; Grand Marnier; cream; oranges; cream; more chocolate; and some heavy cream. I might be exaggerating, but that was the general idea behind the cake. Not much of an idea, in my opinion. It would have to be plan B, except that I had no plan B.
So I randomly tossed a lot of dark chocolate, three oranges, a block of butter and half a dozen eggs into my shopping basket and went home to make up the most wonderful cake. Rich, yes, decadent even, but just that little bit on the right side of the over-the-top line and so much more elegant, into the bargain.

And it wasn’t even in the plan.

Flourless Chocolate Orange Cake
This cake has a mousse-like texture and consistency, creating an illusion of lightness whilst maintaining an intensely deep chocolate-orange flavour. I like the feel of the orange zest contrasting with the smoothness, but if you’d rather have a perfectly smooth cake, leave it out. It will still be orange-y enough.

250g good quality dark chocolate, broken up
250g unsalted butter, cubed
Zest and juice of one orange
3 large eggs, separated
125ml orange liqueur (whichever you like best)
125ml water
50 g caster sugar
Strips of orange peel, taken from one orange, pith removed

To bake in: a 20cm cake tin, buttered and dusted with flour, the base lined with greaseproof paper

Preheat the oven to 180ÂșC.

Place the chocolate, then the butter and then the orange zest in a relatively large bowl and put the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water. Leave it until the chocolate has melted and the butter has half melted, during which time you can separate the eggs – yolks into a small bowl and egg whites into a spotless medium-sized glass bowl. Break up the yolks with a fork.

Now take the bowl off the simmering water and whisk until the chocolate, butter and zest has combined and all the butter is melted. Slowly drizzle in the egg yolks as you continue whisking, and then drizzle in the liqueur, still whisking. Finally – still whisking! – add in the orange juice.

Whip the egg whites until they are stiff and fold a third into the chocolate mixture. You can be quite rough – this step is just to lighten the mixture before you very gently fold in the remaining egg whites with a large metal spoon, using as few folds as possible but making sure the egg white and chocolate is thoroughly combined.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin, slide into the oven and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the cake pulls away from the sides of the tine and has formed a nice crust on top. The cake will not seem completely set when you take it out of the oven; this is fine, it will set further as it cools, and anyway it is a mousse-like cake. Just don’t take it out if it’s still completely wobbly! Once the cake has cooled down a little, turn it out onto a pretty plate.

Note: if you like, for decoration, boil the orange strips till soft, then add the caster sugar and boil for another ten or fifteen minutes. Take the strips out of the sugar water, twist them and let them dry, then put them on the finished cake. I drizzled the resulting syrup over the finished cake for extra orange flavour, but it’s not essential.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

by the age of twenty-four...

“I was really going to be something by the age of twenty-three,” said Lelaina, from the movie Reality Bites. I find myself similarly at a loss when looking at my life which is obviously not yet amounting to a whole lot, and myself, as yet so unformed. Except that I’m not twenty-three anymore – I’m twenty-four. My situation, dear readers, is even more dire than that of Lelaina.

It is raining heavily outside – if the wind was just a little stronger I’d say we were having a storm. As it is, it’s just heavy rain. And I am sitting in front of my computer, at the office, with absolutely nothing to do. I have googled every single thing I can think to google. I have made all possible lists – grocery list, clothing wish-list, plan for my life list, plans for the weekend list, number of boys/men I have kissed/slept with list (there is a secret system of colour-coding for the two distinctions), countries I have visited list and countries to be visited list. I have eaten both my morning snack and my afternoon snack, and it’s still an hour till lunchtime. I could possibly drink more coffee but then I will develop the shakes and will not even be able to type up my own random ramblings for lack of anything else to do.

I realize that there are other office workers doing random shitty work who would love for it to let up a little so that their days wouldn’t be filled with so much random shittiness. I was once one of those office workers, in the not so distant past – a month ago, to be exact. Right now, though, I would give my right eye for a little random shitty work to do. I never thought boredom could be so soul-destroying.

But what I object to more than the boredom itself is the result, which is over-thinking, over-analyzing, obsessing and finally doom and gloom. I could handle being bored if I could empty my mind, Buddha-like, and be filled with peace and tranquility. Or maybe I would be able to handle the boredom if I could at least fill my mind with great thoughts, all ready to take the world by storm and make it a better place. Instead, I mentally whinge and whine about my life – shitty job, shitty/complicated/non-existent (depending on the week) love life, shitty apartment, shitty finances, and so on and so forth. These days, most things about my life are shitty, to my mind.

Eight years ago I assumed that, by the age of twenty-four, I would be happily married. I also assumed that I would be doing something relatively worthy work-wise, although the actual work I’d be doing always remained nebulous. I would be living in a nice house, in a nice area, driving a nice car to my nice job and generally all would be niceness. Vague, but – well, nice.

But I find myself in an ugly cramped office, alternately doing nothing or slaving away at petty and meaningless little tasks. My apartment, although in a beautiful area, is undergoing slow and not-so-elegant decay – it is the best my flat mate and I can afford. Yes, I am at my age still sharing with a flat mate, not a boyfriend or a husband, as the purported love of my life has left. But, fear not, no need to look for anyone else, as the love of my life, despite deserting me, still calls and e-mails, full of love, and generally keeps my hope alive while I know there is in reality no hope. So sometimes I crack and go on a date or dates, only to find that all of the men I’ve dated are a) strange, b) assholes, c) massively egotistical or d) all of the above. Generally, all of the above.

None of which is so awful, really. And it would be amusing, at least in anticipation, if this were the start of some chick lit novel. The depressed, angry, disappointed-in-love office girl, life filled to the brim with drudgery, who with caustic and bitter humour recounts the more embarrassing, dire situations of her current work life, social life and attempts at a love life; only to find, in the process, the amazing job that is her Purpose in Life and along with it, The One for Her. Forever.

However, this is not a chick lit novel, it is not fiction – it is my sad truth. But I am determined to change it, whether or not my actual circumstances change. So, contrary to expectations the start of this post may have created, I will not be writing caustic, bitterly humorous accounts of my failings in life and love. Rather, I am going to use this blog as a conscience to make me change my life and make it more joyful. There is a lot for me to be joyful about as it is, and so much more joy to be found.