Rainbow Cake

My friend Brenda and I decided to write complementary blog posts about a lovely, intimate, low-key Friday night dinner to celebrate her niece’s recent wedding.

Brenda posted weeks ago, and I’m finally catching up. She wrote about the special evening hosted (and home-catered!) by her brother Jeff and his partner Gayle, but I wanted to focus on dessert – the pièce de résistance – a stunning homemade rainbow cake.

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A slice of rainbow cake [Maddy Kadish photo]

Gayle followed an online recipe that she said was fun to make. Six round layers, each a different colour of the rainbow, were separated by the same cream cheese icing used to frost the entire creation. She dusted the top of the cake with round rainbow-coloured sprinkles, a hint at the the multi-hued creation concealed by the white icing.

The cake was a surprise for the newlyweds, and we all oohed and aahed to see the inside. This is definitely a special-occasion dessert.

Somewhere in my files, I have a recipe for a rainbow cake, which I’ve been saving for years. It has only three layers; the icing in between provides three further colours. But now that I’ve seen and sampled the wedding cake, I think I’ll retire my old recipe before I even use it.

Brenda’s blog is here.

What’s that word?

I was out walking last week, and noticed a familiar plant, whose name I couldn’t recall.

It wasn’t until a couple of days later, when I passed another garden with the same plant, that I realized the word still hadn’t popped into my head. I knew it started with “h,” I knew we’d had one in front of our old house, and I knew I’d used the word in an article I wrote in 2007 about Berlin.

Disconcerted, I mentioned my memory lapse to my walking partner, who wasn’t familiar with the plant. A few minutes later, the word came to me. Hosta!

It’s not a word that’s part of my everyday vocabulary. Forgetting a word I use all the time would be more of a concern. But it’s interesting to me that I remembered the exact article I used it in. I like words, and once in a while, when I have occasion to use a word or phrase that I don’t use often, it makes a long-lasting impression.

Hosta – I think it will stay fresh in my mind for a while.

 

 

Everyone Makes Mistakes

Persnickety: “Fussy about small details,” according to Merriam-Webster online. It’s not always a compliment, and one of my copy editors has used it on occasion to describe me. I don’t deny it, but I like to think it’s a positive quality, at least professionally. I do believe that spelling and grammar are important, and can affect journalistic credibility.

I’m fortunate that spelling and grammar come easily to me. They were drummed into my head when I was a student, and I read a lot as a kid, so I picked them up partly by osmosis.

But everyone makes mistakes. A friend of mine caught one or two on this blog. Often people don’t even notice written errors, but I find they tend to jump out at me. Sometimes, when I’m reading, I get the urge to edit. It’s become more frequent in recent years, likely because of a tendency toward over-reliance on Spellcheck, and also because of publishers cutting back on proofreaders.

In elementary school, one of my teachers had us read the sentence, “Paris in the the spring” out loud. Most of the students didn’t notice the extra word. I didn’t.

I believe it’s important – in life even more than in writing – to know which details to be persnickety about. Sometimes I have to remind myself. But nobody’s perfect.

What I learned about speech-writing, in Grade 8

I promised myself that this is my year to declutter, and I’ve been pretty consistent about chipping away at my stuff. Every so often, I get a little “reward,” an item from my past that I’m excited to rediscover.

Yesterday, I found some handouts from my Grade 8 English teacher, Mr. Dutcher, including his guidelines for making a speech.

As an adult, I’ve learned how to speak in public, but in school, there were few things that I found more intimidating.

Looking at the typewritten guidelines, I wondered how relevant I would find them  now, and whether I’d internalized any of the advice without being consciously aware of doing so.

“Speak about your points in a conversational manner.” Yup. That’s a big one for me. I do write a “script” for longer speeches, but I always try to make it sound like something I would say if I was just talking off-the-cuff. No one likes to be read to, at least not when they’re listening to a speech.

“Choose a topic of genuine interest to yourself and your audience.” No argument there.

But the next tip gave me pause for a moment, because I’m writing a memoir on the year I lost my dad. “Avoid subjects that deal with death and similar topics.” No, not a problem. I’m not in Grade 8 any more.

The guidelines touch on eye contact, humour, how to illustrate points and deal with nervousness, even how to walk across the stage before beginning (“crisply, thinking only of your speech.”)

Given that I became a writer, it’s strange I struggled with English all the way through high school. Even though I was an avid reader, it wasn’t until I was in university that I became adept at writing essays and papers.

But I have fond memories of Mr. Dutcher’s classes – learning how to speed-read, expanding my vocabulary with words like “triskaidekaphobia” and “ennui,” and – best of all – studying the lyrics of Simon & Garfunkel songs.

Even though I don’t remember making any speeches, I must have – otherwise, why would he have given us the guidelines?

I can’t bring myself to get rid of them just yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being productive without a deadline

One thing about freelance writing is that it tends to go in spurts. Some days you have no assignments pending; other times, you don’t know which story to tackle first.

I’ve been trying for a while to figure out how to stay focused and productive when a deadline isn’t looming. Working at home means there are a lot of distractions. It’s easy to delay work because you know you can go back to the computer after throwing in a load of laundry, or cooking a pot of soup, or cleaning out a drawer, or running an errand, or… the list is infinite.

I love the flexibility of freelancing. I like being able to work coffee dates, appointments, and household tasks into my schedule no matter what time in the day they take place.

So I’ve resisted scheduling consistent work hours. I know there are advantages to having them. Family and friends will be less likely to interrupt your work, and scheduled hours impose discipline. Productivity is bound to go up.

I was relieved to learn at the most recent meeting of my freelance writing group that I’m not the only one who struggles with time management.

Yesterday, I decided to try something new. Not only did I slot “writing time” into the calendar on my phone, but before I left the computer at the end of my two-hour morning session, I slotted a second session for the afternoon.

It’s like going to the dentist. I book my next check-up before I leave. That way, I don’t lose momentum, and I don’t leave it too long.

I had a very productive day, and I’m back at the computer this morning. Could it be that simple?

Getting unstuck

I’d like to say that I’ve had writer’s block lately, but I think it’s more honest to say I’ve been stuck, or just busy with other things. However, I think the universe is conspiring to unstick me, or at least point me in the right direction.

Earlier this week, I found a post on Gretchen Rubin’s blog that included this quote from author Eric Hoffer: “When we do not do the one thing we ought to do, we have no time for anything else.”

A side note – Rubin is the author of The Happiness Project, a book about finding more happiness, and why it’s important to do so. I found it so interesting when I first read it on a plane, that I pulled out a notebook and started making notes.

When I read her post this week, I knew immediately that the one big thing I ought to be doing is getting my house organized, as I wrote in November after reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo.

Even though I didn’t make a formal New Year’s resolution this year, I decided that 2015 would be the year I tame my black holes, purge items I no longer need, and go through the last few unopened boxes from our move ten years ago.

And even though it’s only February, the decluttering and organizing have been calling my name more loudly than the writing projects have. Sigh.

I’ve been fairly consistent about decluttering, but there’s still a lot to do, and I’ve been reluctant to blog about it. My two main focuses in this blog have been writing and food. Decluttering would be a whole other blog. But, especially when you work from home, life tends to seep into your work, and vice versa.

I do have a freelance assignment that I’ll be working on this weekend, so that’s one thing that will move my writing off the back burner.

I also ran into a colleague the other day, and we talked about freelancing. I was curious about how he structured his day, and was inspired by his productivity.

This morning, I read Judith Timson’s column in the Toronto Star about “our stuff,” which made me feel better about my own stuff, and spurred me to write this post. The truth is, I haven’t put off writing this post  just because it’s outside the scope of my blog, but also because I’m a bit embarrassed by how long it’s taking me to deal with the “stuff.”

But one of the lessons I’ve learned since I lost my dad in 2008 is that things take as long as they take. Grief, for example. Decluttering, too.

I’ve found that getting rid of stuff isn’t actually hard. Deciding what to keep, and what not to, is the real difficulty, and sometimes the slowest part. Kondo’s book has helped me think differently about some items that I might have kept for sentimental reasons in the past, but the whole process is still a challenge.

When the one big thing you need to do could take a whole year, you have to figure out how to make time for other things that are also important.

Progress isn’t necessarily linear. You move forward, you slip back for a bit, and then you move forward again.

 

 

 

 

 

Chocolate Sunday – a bit of decadence

This is my first Chocolate Sunday post in a while. After my blogging hiatus in the summer, I found it hard to get back in gear. I also realized over the ensuing months that I preferred a looser blogging schedule, at least for a while, so that I could post four days a week if I liked, or less often if it suited me.

But I’ve been hoarding ideas, and I’ve got three chocolate-related items on my desk that have been begging to be blogged about – reminders of why I like to blog about chocolate in the first place.

These are real treats. A bit of decadence, even to read about.

hedonist chocolates1. My son brought me some coconut curry bark from Hedonist Artisan Chocolates in Rochester, NY, last year. What a great mix of flavours! And not too much heat. Delicious.

 

 

flagrants desirs2. A few months ago, at a Montreal dépanneur, I discovered French chocolate bars called Flagrants Désirs. The name just hints at the description on the package, which promises “a sensuous gourmet moment in every bite.” Dark Caramel & Sea Salt was especially tempting. But I think it sounds more decadent in French – Caramel et Fleur de Sel.

 

chocoMe3. I was at Toronto’s annual Gourmet Food & Wine Expo in November, and swooned over ChocoMe chocolate, a high-end brand with unusual and quality ingredients. I took home a square of dark chocolate topped with crystallized rose petals and freeze-dried sour cherry pieces, and another with crystallized violet petals, pistachio, and freeze-dried sour cherry pieces.

I’m enjoying them all vicariously just writing about them.