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Category Archives: It’s the Little Things

Gluten Free Lemon Pound Cake…

As I have struggled with my writing, struggled with feeling burned out and at odds with the way our election has turned out – as I struggled with feeling a deep sense of doom and foreboding, I decided to pick up baking once more.

I baked quite a bit many years ago. Until my mother died, she baked like a mad woman. Cakes and cookies were a staple in my house, and maybe why I still have such a sweet tooth. I baked up until my husband and son were diagnosed with Celiac disease, and then my hands went dormant in the kitchen. It wasn’t until a few days ago, when my husband and I were talking about the expense of buying gluten free bread, that I decided to give it another whirl. Am I ever so glad I did!

We went out and bought pans, and I’ll spare you the goose chase of finding a 8.5 x 4.5 inch loaf pan after buying 9 x 5’s, and all the ingredients. I made my own flour mix from scratch and set about baking sandwich bread. Now, while I can say the taste is great, the height still isn’t there – but during all of this discovery, my husband mentioned how much he missed lemon poppyseed cake. I, naturally, took this as a challenge.

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A preview from Christina’s Cucina

I found a recipe online and for the first time, baked a completely gluten free cake from scratch. I love baking. I can let my OCD run wild as I dote over measurements and hover over the oven. Every bit of my perfectionism can grow wings and soar. And then, the house smells like a wonderful home – warm and sweet – and somewhere deep inside, I feel an insane pleasure at watching my family eat and enjoy what I’ve created. Doing it from scratch is just… well, pardon the pun, icing on the cake. Hah! Baking for me is a pleasure, and I’d forgotten how to feel that way in the past several months. I’d forgotten what it felt like to look in the oven just to check progress and smile at what was coming together, to cross your fingers that the cake doesn’t fall, that it bakes evenly… I’d simply forgotten just how much I love baking.

The loaf came out looking gorgeous, and the taste… oh my goodness, it was just like a regular lemon loaf made with wheat flour (and for something gluten free, that is a feat). Every pleasure center in my brain was alight with this sugary goodness, and when my husband wouldn’t talk until he’d finished his slice – when he wanted to savor the moment of the eating… I knew I’d hit paydirt. All of us sat still, chatting idly for about five minutes, before pronouncing that we were all thinking of another slice and had been the entire time. I’d call that a win!

If you’d like to try your hand at a fantastic cake for yourself, or a friend, or even someone you know that can’t eat gluten, here’s the link: http://christinascucina.com/2016/03/the-best-gluten-free-lemon-or-orange-pound-cake-ever.html  You will need a scale, just trust me and everyone else who ends up with awesome GF eats… your mouth will thank you. It’s different, not cooking with cups, but oddly enough – for me – it was a liberation. Still utterly precise, but a liberation none-the-less. Anyway… make it and be amazed for yourself.

As for what’s next… I’ll be back in the kitchen tomorrow for yet another go at GF sandwich bread, tutting over my bowl of yeast and smiling (I’m being hopeful here!) at what I see rising in the oven, my worries distant and my joy boundless.

 

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It’s the Little Things: Albuquerque Night Skies

If it’s not already plastered everywhere that I frequent on the web, I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  It’s a place that desert rats understand and those with a fear of land-locked places can’t comprehend.  Since this is a tiny slice of what I love about my city, I won’t go into the innumerable things I love, but stick with one of the most powerful experiences you can have coming to the Q… the night sky.

To be fair, when you’re in the heart of the city, the sky is hard to see with all the sodium lights “oranging” up the sky.  But it takes only a few minutes to drive to the foothills of our gorgeous Sandia Mountains to catch a glimpse of what sits in the heavens, and if you drive a little farther, let’s say, to the outskirts of Tijeras, you are looking on a majesty that is almost incomprehensible in its scope.

Milky WayOur night skies are beyond words.  From this little ripple in the fold of the Earth’s skin you can see the Milky Way as a broad swatch in the sky and all the galaxies and dust and glory that it entails.  You can see shooting stars race across the sky, the brilliance of stars winking back at you, and you find yourself contemplating your small space in this grand universe… and you’re just looking at one arm of our galaxy.  Many star-gazers find themselves out here with telescopes staring upward, looking even farther beyond.

It’s hard in our everyday lives to remember just how inconsequential our hustle and hurry truly is.  In the grand scheme of things, it is milliseconds in the life of a universe so much larger than ourselves.  We are like proteins on the surface of a cell in a body: so small, so insignificant, but still so important to the whole.

Yes, I’m a shameless sky watcher.  I don’t know all the constellations, and in truth, I don’t want to know.  I don’t want to see patterns in the skies, I want to look up every night and see the incomprehensible looking back down on me.  I don’t ever want it to be normal or usual or plain… I want it to be awesome and inspiring and serve as a reminder to be humble yet strong, kind yet firm, thoughtful yet… thoughtful.

I don’t necessarily attach to any religious dogma, but when I look skyward at night, I can’t help but feel spiritual.  I am part of something that goes beyond ancient, and I am made of the same stuff as the stars.  I stop a moment to realize that we are only able to say the universe is 14.5 billion years old because that’s the farthest light we’re able to measure.  That means what we consider old could be far, far older than what we say.  It could be far, far larger than we can even fathom.  Not to mention, we have no idea how many times before this same path has been walked before – if, in fact, the universe does expand and collapse, we could simply be the latest iteration in a long line of cyclical continuation.

http://apoc.soup.io/post/9855719/A-Brain-Cell-Totally-Looks-Like-TheThe skies over this city brings me to a fractal understanding as well, as above, so below.  Science has drawn up maps of the universe and when you look at the formations, it’s incredible just how much it resembles our very own neurons.  Is it a stretch beyond reasoning to think that we are part of some much larger entity’s brain?  When you contemplate the vastness of space above, then zoom in closer and closer to everything here on the planet Earth, you find that there is space between atoms… we are a living, walking, breathing replica of everything we look up to when we look into the stars.  I can’t see life as a linear experience when everything around me points to the cycles of everything – living and non-.

I realize I’ve waxed far toward the philosophical here, but that’s a beautiful thing, when something that is free for every human being to see by just looking up can inspire such expansive thought and creative energy.  I heard once that we are the universe trying to understand itself, and I believe it more and more.  We’ve been given this time to live, to learn, to experience.

It’s the little things.  I hope that all of you never lose the wonder and awe with what is above your heads and below your feet.  There is majesty all around you and all you have to do is look.  And, if you’re ever in Albuquerque, take a moment to see what I get the chance to see nightly.  Our skies at night are some of the most beautiful in the world.  Until you get here, however, don’t forget to look up and get inspired.

(Photos from The New Yorker via Kottke.org and Apoc’ s oup via TotallyLooksLike.com.)

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Nicole has written three novels, a feature-length script, and many short stories and short film scripts. Her debut novel, “Carla’s Rivet” is scheduled for release on March 1st, 2014.  Her short story, “Millsburg,” is available on Amazon.com and Smashwords.  Please visit http://nicoleagramlich.com for more information.
 
 

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It’s the Little Things: Music

I think it goes without saying that music has tremendous power.  Imagine Jaws without those infamous two notes.  Imagine Dances With Wolves without that incredibly expansive theme.  How about Star WarsInception?  Of course, what I’ve mentioned is only film scoring (and a tiny sample at that).  Music for the vast majority is part of everyday life – when we get in the car the radio is on, or a CD, or if you’re really old school a tape (though I don’t know that many people are rushing around in car that still sports a useable tape deck).  We tend to make our own scores to our lives… I know I do.

Here is a nearly sad truth about me, a little secret… I don’t write as well without music.  I have playlists for every mood I need to create, and when the music is in my ears, the story spills itself out on the page.  There are some pieces of music (songs included) that when I hear them, I have the incredible urge to write.  The most amazing thing I’ve discovered is that on rare occasions, when I’m listening to something classical, I am typing in time with the music – as if I am playing the music.

I’ve found myself thinking about art in general.  Most people who create art need inspiration, and art spawns art.  Imagine for a moment that all art is a translation of the act of creation: The paintings you see are inspired by music.  The music you hear is inspired by painting.  The writing you read is inspired by music.  The movie you watch is inspired by writing.  Somewhere in time there might have been an original spark of creative energy that has simply been translating itself endlessly, in all variations, over and over.  Perhaps the translation is so vast we can only interpret the information bit by bit through the myriad of minds capable of expression.  Some people might consider it God, some might consider it the Universe, some might consider it simply the infinite fractal design of science laying itself out in natural order.  Whatever you call it, its powerful and ancient.

Back to music, it’s WB_burbank_labeljust part of me.  When I was young we had a hi-fi in our dining room.  I’d play record after record with my chin on the stereo, soaking up not only the sounds through my ears, but the vibrations through my bones.  I’d watch the record spin round and round, company logos – Epic, Arista, Capitol, RCA Victor, and who could forget the beautiful tree-lined logo of Warner Brothers?  I listened to everything from my father’s bluegrass and country albums on one side, learning to love Marty Robbins, Conway Twitty, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Seals and Croft, to my mother’s albums on the other, The Gap Band, Michael Jackson, Karen Carpenter, Barry Manilow, Halls and Oates.  As I grew older, I found rock – AC/DC, Alice in Chains; Grunge with Nirvana; Alternative with Toad the Wet Sprocket, Stone Temple Pilots, Live; Classic rock with Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett; Blues with B.B. King… and it’s only continued to grow as my tastes expand and change (Rory Gallagher – exquisite).  I can go through every genre except death metal to give an example, and I’ve listened to the obscure non-mainstream as well, though admittedly not as much as many of my audiophile friends.

For me, life isn’t life without music.  The movement of vibrations is coded into our DNA – even back to the first star bursting in the universe – albeit in the silence of space.  Still, remnants of radiation can be picked up on earth and heard – the soundtrack to the big bang.  Vibrations, our music, are primal.  We danced around the fires thousands of years ago, clapping and singing, acting out the animals we hunted and the spirits we felt moving over the face of the earth.  It’s spiritual.  It’s deep.

It’s the little things.  There’s no where I can go where music isn’t a necessary.  Even in complete silence, my brain goes about playing music in perfect pitch (though there are times when the words aren’t quite right, but hey, if you sing out loud in your car you know how easy it is to compensate).  My most inspired writing comes from translating the moods and emotions in music.  And nothing can beat sitting in the perfect spot, with the perfect cup of tea, listening to the perfect track, while banging on my keyboard in the hopes of creating the perfect story.

So what is your soundtrack?  I’d love to see what you listen to and check it out if it’s someone I’ve not discovered or heard.  Drop me a comment and send me some good tunes!

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