Borders

I’m bad at going through border control. Every time I pass across a national boundary, my passport is checked. I am asked questions. I try to be friendly and truthful. I am nervous. I stutter and stumble and do what I always do when I am nervous: keep talking.

At the border into Canada, the guard asked “Where do you live?” “Boston,” I told him happily. “Where do you live?” I asked back. I was trying to be friendly, assuming he was doing the same. He gave me A Look and said, sternly, “Canada.”

I realized he wasn’t just being friendly.

The first time I went to the UK, I told the lady I was going to Filey. She told me she’d never heard of Filey and wasn’t sure it was a real place. “It’s near Scarborough,” I said. She frowned and after a few moments put the first stamp into my nearly expired passport.

The second time I went to the UK, the man asked me why I was there.

“I’m going to see my boyfriend’s parents,” I said.

“Where’s he?”

“Er, already here.”

“Already here? Why’s he already here?”

“He lives here.”

“Were you a student here?” He paged through my passport, looking for evidence of a visa.

“No,” I said.

“Was he a student there?”

“He’s twenty-eight.” I felt as though this explained everything that needed to be explained.

“So his parents live in Cambridge?”

“No, they live in Cardiff.”

“But your card says Cambridge?”

“Well, uhh, we’re going to Cardiff later.”

“You’re only here until Monday.” It was Saturday morning.

“Yeah.”

“When are you going to go to Cambridge.”

“Today?” I said helplessly.

He smiled.

“Why’s your passport so beat up?” He tried to sound more friendly. I must have looked scared.

“I carry it with me.”

“No other ID?”

“I have a driver’s license too.”

“This is really beat up.”

“I’ve had it for a few years.”

“This much damage comes from carrying it around for a few years?”

“I guess.”

He pages through my passport some more.

“You lived in Korea?” He thumbs the page with my Korean visa on it.

“Yeah.”

“And Russia?” He looks at that Visa.

“No. I was just there visiting.”

“Why were you in Russia?”

“I’d been living in Mongolia. It was a good way to get home.”

He broke. “Mongolia? What were you doing in Mongolia? How was it?”

I told him.

“Do you speak Mongolian? Can you say something in it? Where did you live? Was it beautiful? Did you ride a horse?” His questions came quickly. While I talked he nodded and looked at the other stamps.

“What about Iceland? I hear Iceland is nice in the summer.”

“We went in the winter.”

“Did you see the aurora?”

“Yeah, once night.”

“Is it as great in person as it looks in pictures?”

“Yeah, it’s amazing.”

He looked up at me and smiled.

“I hope you find something amazing here too.” He stamped my passport with a heavy mechanical click and handed it back to me.

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Caramel

For AL’s birthday last year, we made this cake from Everything2. I then made the same cake for my parents over Thanksgiving. It’s a simple, good cake.

I wanted to make it again, but pondered over the veganness of it. The cake part itself–butter, sugar, flour, egg–is easy to manage a vegan version of. It’s the caramel that got me.

Armed with little more than a failed experience of coconut cream and a slow cooker, I looked around the kitchen and amassed my weapons:

Coconut milk (one can)
Coconut cream (one can)
Sugar (some amount)
Arrowroot powder (some amount)

I mixed the first three. The sugar was “to taste.” It was as sweet as I wanted it to be. I let this cook for about an hour. Then I added some arrowroot powder and let it cook for about another hour. The arrowroot got clumpy. I hate the nails-on-a-chalkboard quality of arrowroot (and potato starch for that matter), so I dumped some in rather clumsily. It was ugly, so I poured the whole mixture into a blender and then, once it was smooth, back into the pot.

It got thick and, before I knew it, I had caramel. Gooey, sticky, delicious caramel.

The takeaway here is that cooking is awesome. Experimentation while cooking is even better.

The first time I tried to do this, I put coconut cream and sugar into a slow cooker for eight hours and came out with a slightly thicker than it went in too sweet syrup. I learned that this did not work. I knew a stove would be better, for added head, and that I needed a thickener of some sort. It might not have worked, I consider myself lucky that it did.

Some of my friends tell me I’m a good cook. Unbecomingly, I swell with pride. I put a lot of effort into trying to cook well, but I know I can be better. That effort is shown in the countless things that have failed–the fallen cakes that break apart as they come out of pans, the unmelted cheese (from back in the day), the poorly seasoned everything, the raw on the inside rice, the burnt black beans. The messes and smells that the microwave never quite recovers from. I feel people, cook. Do not bake, do not follow recipes exactly, but cook. Experiment. Understand it may not work. -Read- recipes and learn from them, but deviate so you can see how each ingredient affects the final product and what they do when combined. Use your hands to mix, so you know what it doesn’t just look like, but what it feels like. Smell everything. In the words of Miss Frizzle: take changes, make mistakes, get messy.

Cake, 02

I had a cake vision.

It all started with DH turning 29. When he turned 28, we made him a chocolate and cardamon ice cream cake. I asked him what sort of cake he wanted this year and he made noises about the peanut butter and jelly cake (based on the recipe based on Julia’s.) The pb&j cake involved cutting the sugar and, instead, using the coconut milk as the basis for a coconut/strawberry/maple smoothie which went into the cake.

It’s a pretty dense cake, but it’s moist and fairly good, I think. (The pb came from an icing that was accidentally made and really fluffy and good.)

He also made noises about vegan cheesecake. I have never made a vegan cheesecake that was what I wanted it to be, but they’re still tasty nonetheless. I wasn’t confident in my ability to put together a cheesecake that would feed everyone and taste good and look good. At least, compared to the cheesecakes of Veggie Galaxy.

I considered this, and DH’s love of layered cakes. From this, DH’s 29th Birthday Cake Tri-Level Spectacular was born.

Or, in the words of someone at the party, “Yo dog, I heard you like cake, so I put a cake in your cake, so you could eat cake while you eat cake.”

Step one, make a vegan cheesecake.

SDS passed me a copy of the cheesecake from The Joy of Vegan Baking, by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.

6 tsp Ener-G
1/2 cup water
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
24 oz (690 g) nondairy cream cheese
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

I made it without the chocolate chips. Bake at 350 for about fifty minutes. It took me longer, but I think our oven wasn’t that hot. The cake puffed up and then sunk. In the end, it was a heavily custardy concoction. It was tasty, but, like all of the vegan cheesecakes I have made, not quite what I wanted. Maybe I’ll try some agar-agar next time.

I made the cheesecake Friday night.

Step two, melt chocolate.

I’ve had fancy cakes in the past that involve layers that add textures of creamy fillings, crunchy bits, and cake. I wanted to create something that involved a mixture of layer textures. I wanted to get something a little crunchier into it. I thought about some other ways to manage this, but I wanted to start with a fairly simple, low risk method. Hence, chocolate.

Saturday morning, I melted a bag of chocolate chips using a college student’s double boiler (two pots that vaguely fit together.) If the cheesecake had been a little firmer, I would have liked to coat both sides of the cake with it, but it got gooey when I tried to remove it from the spring form pan. with a sigh, I spread the melted chocolate over one side of the cheesecake and reintroduced it to the freezer.

Step three, make the cake.

I doubled my standard cake recipe and cooked it in two spring form pans. The strawberries failed to shot up, so instead I heated the liquid and used it to brew a chocolate-cardamon black tea to give it a unique little kick. I cooked each of these in a spring form pan.

I like to use spring form pans while making “pretty” cakes because they have nice even (straight) edges that stack well and are easy to remove the cake from.

Then we, through acts of balance involving plates, spring form pan bottoms, baking sheets, and lots of elbow room, stacked the cakes on top of one another. They were then coated in some store brought frosting–that looked more like icing–and concentric spirals of raspberries and blueberries were placed on top to make it pretty.

I think the cake was tasty, but I think the cake parts were a little too dense, and the “cheesecake in the middle” was much more like a layer of custard and much less like a cheesecake in the middle of a cake. Making a less dense cake part is pretty easy, but I’m not sure the best way to try and make the cheesecake part more like my grand vision of the cake.