Driven by film – at least it isn’t Danish

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When actors die suddenly, à la prolific and talented-beyond-words Philip Seymour Hoffman, I want to spend a lot of time focused on watching films – whether they include that actor or not. Just to enjoy the performances that exist.

When I get sad – for good reasons or no reason at all I am also tempted by sad movies (believing while watching the stories unfold that things could always be worse).

Yesterday, apart from watching a documentary on Mitt Romney (and see his whole Mormon family pray together), I watched The Hunt (Jagten). Great film – disturbing, great performance from Mads Mikkelsen and, in keeping with my preferred theme of “it could always be worse” – I can see that the story of a man falsely accused of child abuse is one such strand. Speaking and listening to Danish is the other such strand. Any language one speaks, s/he can console him/herself that at least it isn’t Danish.

I’m coming to find you if it takes me all night – baking begins

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Soundtrack of the last two days has been a mix of stuff like The Cure’s “A Night Like This” and The Jam’s “That’s Entertainment” – as well as a few songs from The Aislers Set and The Dø. There is a melancholy and nostalgia (I think nostalgia implies melancholy).

I am going to start baking and see where it takes me. I made a plan and made a list but these lists easily get well out of hand with more than 20 things on them. Is this excessiveness necessary?

My dreams last night were weird. I was living at least some of the time in France, but nothing seemed at all like the France of reality. I spent most of my time in a cafe (that was a lot more like cafes I frequented in Iceland) that served coffee in French presses (which of course is what Americans call coffee presses… and French people call them Italian – and they ARE an Italian invention. Aussies and Kiwis call it a “coffee plunger” and Icelanders call this a “pressukanna”…). In the dream people went to this place specifically for the coffee, and then one day a law passed that forced all places to serve coffee in the same way (not French press). Another law was introduced at the same time that required all EU countries to harmonize car license plates!? I don’t know where any of this came from.

The anxiety and annoyance of the US election will finally be over on Tuesday. Hearing Mitt Romney speak just makes me sick. The latest global prosperity index knocked the US out of the top ten countries for the first time. Not surprised to hear that. Norway is number one (not surprised to hear that either), with Denmark and Sweden right behind. (And lands of plunger coffee and Anzac biscuits, Australia and NZ, round out the top five.) Not surprising in the least. Confirmation that I made the right choices about where to live and work (not that I had any doubt).

Romney – Please learn to speak clear English in complete sentences

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I wish Romney were capable of completing his sentences, even though I do not necessarily want to hear whatever he is driving at. I also wish he could complement most of what he says not just with facts but with specifics and details. I think we are out of luck on both fronts.

I was struck most starkly by Obama mentioning a contextually appropriate story about a girl he met at Ground Zero. He was quite specific, knew the girl’s name and fit the story into the topic. Romney, on the other hand (as usual), jumped all over the map, straying way off topic, trying to throw in stories of “real people” – but was totally non-specific. He met a woman in Wisconsin (or something) but did not finish. What was the point of starting but not finishing that thought? He met unemployed people before. But he is not good at, because he is not sufficiently human, to weave individual-level stories into his shtick. He should steer away from it entirely.

Not surprised about the lack of specifics since he has never produced specifics at all. “Come on our website…” and you will see how we reduce the deficit. And if he does cite specifics (like his apparent “fewer ships than 1916” detail), they are so off-the-wall.

And that plastic face. Oh, god.

Calling candidates out on their nonsense, failures and condescension

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Romney’s condescending comments on letting women go home and have flexible hours (as if that is what is going to help women achieve economic parity with men!?) and lying about his endlessly shifting positions on reproductive rights and women’s health care (and ultimately family issues) and his euphemistic and slimy answer about immigration (“self deportation” to where there are “better opportunities” for you once you cannot get the benefits you want in the US?!) make me want to vomit.

I am still not pleased with Obama’s not calling Romney out on some things – quite a few things, he has been on the attack more notably. But what about Romney prattling on about how he would give a bunch of “tax relief” on things like… interest on your savings, capital gains and dividends? How the bloody hell is that going to help most of the middle class (who are often living without any savings and don’t even know what dividends are)? It just proves how out of touch he is.

Linguistic tipping points – Double down bust

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I hate the term “tipping point”, but it is everywhere.

Years and years ago, when I sometimes went to a local casino, one of the blackjack dealers, an older guy named “Ted”, liked to say, in a gravelly voice, almost unintelligibly, “Double down bust.”

I have noticed, particularly during the US presidential campaigns that are overwhelming international media at the moment, that there is an unfortunate spike in the use of the term “double down”. This gambling term, which means to double one’s bet or risk, has enjoyed much greater mainstream application as candidate Mitt Romney has flip-flopped on his positions but has often “doubled down” on factually inaccurate information. The use of this term has spread throughout the media, though, and I rarely hear a news story now that is not putting this expression into play.

Needless to say, I don’t like it – especially because everyone is using it. If it were just one guy’s (or one network’s) signature phrase, it might not bother me this way. There is no controlling the way expressions and language spread like wildfire, but certain expressions just do nothing for me.

(I won’t even get into the naming of the dubious KFC Double Down sandwich (“the bun” being replaced by two slabs of chicken), which strikes me as doubling down on clogged arteries.)

Political debate analysis, losing sight of the big picture, frustration, transportation difficulties and dulce de leche bundt cake

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Sometimes I can be so forgetful. When “staging” the baked-good offerings in my office (which involves a considerable amount of labor that goes well above and beyond the mere baking of these things), the process involves packaging, packing, transporting and then somehow getting everything from the car into the office, which is on several floors with varying levels of available space and quality for “preparing”, and then hopefully feeling motivated enough to take pictures of the final products. Sometimes I do this during the baking process, but sometimes I cannot be bothered, leaving me to at least photograph things just before they are eaten, but sometimes, while I manage to take a few pics, I don’t get to the point where I cut a cake or cupcake open to get a good view of what the inside looks like. I wish I had pictures of, for example, the inside of the dulce de leche cake, in order to display the ribbon of dulce de leche that is baked into the subtly dulce de leche-flavored cake.

But, as I wrote, I can be so forgetful. Or maybe even just lazy. This week I took the baked bounty to the office the night before serving and spent most of the night carrying the baked stuff from parking garage to the various floors of the building (I distribute the baked stuff to several floors so people can more easily access it) and setting everything up on plates as well as frosting the cupcakes (which I don’t do until I get to the office, making them far easier to transport). I wanted to make sure I would get to see the entire US presidential debate. My debate viewing was a leisurely affair, alone in the office in the middle of the night spreading blobs of frosting onto cupcakes while listening to Mitt Romney go on an aggressive attack – which strikes me as both uncivilized and unbecoming behavior in a potential president, particularly when lying, bluffing and playing fast and loose with the facts. (But we already know how little facts matter.) When it was not the facts, it was just disingenuous bullshit – him stating with false concern in his voice that he is running for president to help the middle class and because people are suffering. Suffering? What would Romney understand of suffering – either in reality or conceptually? After his “47% of people are freeloaders who do not care about their own well-being (and who believe they are somehow entitled to food!?)” comments (which sounded very real and sincere, particularly since he did not know he was being watched or filmed), I do not see how anyone can trust him or regard anything else he says as honest.

While I fully understand that Obama did not roll out his best debate performance, I think most pundits and commentators, and indeed people, lose sight of the fact that these debates are merely that – performances. A 90-minute event, hitting an imaginary ball back and forth. What does the behavior of each candidate in the debate tell us about how he might govern? Maybe nothing. Maybe it will tell us that Romney will continue to flip-flop and change his mind and pander to whomever he is speaking to at any given time. (The “Etch-a-Sketch” presidency to which various media outlets are constantly referring.) Beyond which, we never heard a single specific thing Romney might do other than throw Jim Lehrer (as well as Big Bird) out on his ass by cutting funding to PBS (as if that would contribute so much to deficit reduction).

I feel that the incumbent president, despite needing to fight for his job, has an obligation to be a bit less aggressive and more sober. After all, he is the sitting president. He is still doing the job of the president. He needs to be a bit less defensive and more reflective. That said, Obama may have done well to refer to some of Romney’s gaffes, tying the extensive talk about Medicare and health care to Romney’s careless and heartless comments on the “freeloading” half of the population for whom Romney supposedly felt such compassion on debate night. (And maybe only on debate night. And even if we give Romney the benefit of the doubt and assume that he does actually care about people and their suffering, the idea that he talks about them in disparaging terms in certain company but paints a totally different picture in other company, illustrates clearly how he will say whatever he needs to say but never just stands his ground and, more broadly, lacks character and conviction.)

In another broad sense, I am constantly amazed – but somehow not remotely surprised – by how basic political conversations (like the debates, including all the debates in the last few election seasons) are surface level and not at all substantive things. Worst of all, the commentators and media idiots follow the debates with opinions that claim the debate/discussion was “heavy on policy” and “wonky” … are people so lowest common denominator that just mentioning the word “policy” or “plan” in a debate somehow makes people edgy and bored and makes them think they are hearing something complex and in-depth? It pains me, and perhaps it always has, to think that the media feed this kind of opinion to consumers, in part because American consumers ARE fast-food and surface-level in their approach and in part because they have been conditioned to be this way by a crumbling, uneven education system and a media that focuses on entertainment, sound bites and the short-term game over real analysis and long-term views (and yes, facts). The debate was disappointing to me not because Romney, in media review, “kicked Obama’s ass” but because the American media and American public actually view the debate process this way at all – a win-lose competition as opposed to an exchange and debate of ideas and differences between two candidates (and parties). What we saw was one desperate man who would have said anything he had to to “win” and another man who just did not seem to want to be there at all.

-End of rant!-

By the end of the debate, the baked goods had been redistributed (what a socialist I am!) to three floors of the building, and freely available (even to those who share the building with us but do not work in our company). One day perhaps I will identify an easier, more streamlined way to bring the baked goods to work, but for now, it remains a challenge.

Dulce de leche bundt cake
1 1/2 cups dulce de leche (for an easy dulce de leche recipe, click here)
1 cup softened butter
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt (if you used unsalted butter)
3 cups flour

Preheat oven to 350F/175C.

Butter and flour a 12-cup bundt cake pan.

Whisk dry ingredients together and set aside.

Cream butter and brown sugar together until light and fluffy. Add one cup of dulce de leche. Mix well, then add the eggs one at a time, scraping the sides of the bowl after each addition. Mix in the vanilla.

Turn mixer to low speed and alternately add in the dry ingredient mixture with the buttermilk.

Mix until just combined. Put about half the batter into the prepared bundt pan. Using the other 1/2 cup of dulce de leche, add the dulce de leche to the cake, making a ring of the dulce de leche in the center of the cake batter in the pan. Once this is done, carefully add the rest of the batter evenly on top of the ring of dulce de leche. Smooth it out.

Bake about 50 to 55 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center of the center comes out clean.

Allow the cake to cool in the pan for about 20 minutes before inverting the cake onto a wire rack to remove from the pan. Allow the cake to cool completely.

You could create a caramel sauce for the cake before serving, or do as I did – simply sift vanilla sugar on top of the cake.