28 March 2010

Tropical Carrot Cake

I am the self-appointed director of the lido deck at work and one of my duties is to arrange the birthday celebrations for everyone in my division. Other than the mad summer rush when I've got a birthday every week for seven straight weeks I enjoy it. I love baking and this gives me the chance to try out lots of different recipes and (usually failed) decorating techniques. Sometimes there are cakes that I don't like but I'll make them anyway if there's a request. Like the Guinness ice cream cake and the lavender cheesecake. *Shudder* Tomorrow is the first birthday we've had in months and just because the birthday boy has been temporarily assigned overseas we did not see any reason why we shouldn't have cake! We'll send him pictures.

Tropical Carrot Cake:

As always you need to start with your ingredients.

2 1/3 cups sifted all purpose flour
1 cup sweetened coconut
1 cup macadamia nuts (I used walnuts because I think their flavor holds up better)
3 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
A tiny pinch of clove
2 1/2 teaspoons baking power
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 cups sugar
1 cup veg oil
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups finely grated carrots
2 8-oz cans well drained crushed pineapple

Now that you've got everything set out your first step is to preheat your oven at 350 degrees then combine 1/3 cup flour and the coconut and nuts in a food processor or blender until the nuts are finely ground.

Then whisk the remaining flour and dry ingredients together.

Using an electric mixture, combine sugar and oil then beat in eggs one at a time making sure to let them blend in before adding the next egg.

Next, add the whisked flour mixture.

Stir in the flour/coconut/nut mixture. Be prepared to use a little elbow grease because the mixture right now is very thick and dry.

Now we're going to stir in the carrots then the pineapple which is going to help make the mix easier to work with.

Pour the mix equally into three 9 inch pans that have been greased and lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 for about a half hour. I rotated them at 15 minutes since I couldn't fit all three pans on the same rack level. Now you've got a few free minutes to do a mid baking clean.


Now, very important...do not throw away the pineapple juice that you drained. The juice is key. In addition to the ingredients mentioned above you also need this:

Vanilla and passion fruit vodka and cherries. And no you don't mix all of them together. Ew.

Pineapple Martini:
Two parts pineapple juice to one part vanilla vodka. Put a cherry or two in the bottom of a chilled martini glass, shake until mixture gets foamy then pour into glass. Dribble a little grenadine syrup or cherry juice down the side.

Tropical um...Drink:
Not sure if this has a name or not, we decided to see if it tasted good and it does so, you know, cool. Again two parts pineapple juice to one part passion fruit infused vodka. Mix and pour over ice in a tumbler. Passionate Pineapple, that's what I'm calling it.

When the cakes are done (clean toothpick test) make sure to totally cool them before starting the frosting.

Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting:

What you need:
3 8-oz packages cream cheese
1 1/2 sticks softened butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Bare 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
3/4 - 1 cup cream of coconut

Despite how gross it looks, cream of coconut is a glorious thing.

Combine cream cheese and butter until smooth, add the powdered sugar (slowly unless you want it to explode!) the extracts, then the cream of coconut. I love cream cheese frosting and I love cream of coconut so I thought this was pretty genius.

(me tasting the flavor of genius)
Let the frosting chill for about 30 minutes and start to construct your cake.

Place the first cake on the plate flat side up (i.e. upside down) and spread about 3/4 cups frosting on it before adding the next layer (also upside down). Spread on another 3/4 cups frosting and add the final layer, curved side up (or right side up).

Cover the entire cake with a thin layer of frosting and chill for for a good hour or so then add more frosting.

To decorate I powdered walnuts in the food processor. You want to be careful with that and stop your processing before you start getting walnut butter. Then I covered the cake best as I could. If anyone reading knows how people get the sides of cake covered so nicely with nuts please tell me! I resorted to taking pinches of the walnut dust and kind of throwing them at the cake. Which was amusing to say the least but was also messy and not terribly effective.

Now I ended having a fair amount of frosting left over. It is really good frosting but I'm on a diet so I immediately threw out the rest of the frosting and cleaned the bowl.


21 March 2010

Porgy & Bess

Warning Spoiler Alerts!!

It's been a little while since I sat down and reviewed an opera or play I saw and I thought it was about time I started doing that again. I'm a subscriber at the Washington National Opera and last night I saw the opening of its production of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. Now before I go ahead and trash the performance I will be upfront about my biases going into the performance:

  1. I don't like Gershwin. Really not at all.
  2. Opera should not be sung in English. It just shouldn't be. Like Mass should always be said in Latin, opera should be sung in European languages (specifically Italian, German, French and on the occasion, Russian)
  3. It's possible that my seats in the fourth row back and to stage left have some sort of weird bubble preventing sound penetration.
  4. I don't like Gershwin (it's worth saying twice).
The good, however limited I found it to be, was that the set and costuming was appropriate. There wasn't any of that failed "creativity" that annoys me so much. I am generally a purist when  it comes to set and costume design and believe that they should be done according to the period in which the production was written. I do not think that resetting things is always bad if done well (anyone see the Shakespeare Theatre Company's Love's Labours Lost?) but the problem is that often some director/visionary gets too caught up in something and either goes overboard or is done completely half-assed. None of that last night, thank you.

The chorus was excellent, usually the WNO does manage to get at least that much correct. There were a lot of really good (especially female) voices in there. Also brilliant were Eric Owens as Porgy who had a powerful voice and the sweetest face; Lisa Daltrius as Serena whom I would like to hear sing something else-she had an amazing voice that got lost in the ofttimes discordant music; and Eric Greene as Jake. Native Washingtonian Alyson Cambridge (who is stunning btw) was...good. Could not really hear her very well (number 3 above) and I did not care for her vibrato. Sounds like that will become a tremolo sooner than later. Morenike Fadayomi as Bess had some very nice notes. Yeah that's about all I've got for her. Although I don't know, maybe it's really difficult to sign while you're being an alcoholic hyped up on coke. I just don't know.

My absolute favorite part of the entire opera? One of the supernumeraries. The most adorable little girl on earth who must have been about three or four years old. There's a scene in opera in which everyone is marching around and she was the most enthusiastic little marcher I have ever seen. She did not reappear after the intermission, I would guess because it was well past her bedtime, and I sorely missed her.

I would say that the majority of the bad I lay at Gershwin's feet. Anything that is 2.5 hours long (3 hours when you throw in the WNO's 25 minute intermission) should be worth the entire 2.5 hours. The scene with the woman selling strawberries and the guy selling the crabs? What was that?! That's like 3 minutes that I will never have back. Also true to opera written during this period, there was some dissonance and a lot of talking. Like actual talking, not just recitative. I really did not think you could call something opera when there is talking and that is usually what knocks it down to an operette or a musical? Where's my mom with these answers when I need them? And what the heck was that ending? That was the hands down stupidest ending I have ever seen.

The most egregious badness in this production falls on the WNO's head for bad casting. Jermaine Smith as Sportin' Life. I do not know what he sounds like in other productions he's in but if his performance last night was truly indicative then he should never be aloud to sing in public. Ever again. Ever. It seemed to me that the WNO sacrificed someone who could sing for someone who could do a little soft shoe. Although I don't know, maybe Gershwin meant for this character to not be able to sing. I would not put such a thing past someone who included three minutes about strawberries and crabs that was completely superfluous to the plot. Although to Mr. Smith's credit, he portrayed the character quite well and very much disliked and was creeped out by him.

The opera was excellently acted which is not always a given with WNO casts. But with the actors sometimes sacrificing singing for the sake of acting, KMac and I wonder if Porgy and Bess wouldn't be better off as a musical. One of those musicals that is mostly talking with like 3 or 4 songs. Short songs.

20 March 2010

Adventures in Skopje

Skopje was an interesting city. This is the fourth of the former Yugoslav republics I've had the opportunity to visit. While Sarajevo and Belgrade are my favorite cities, Skopje definitely had some things to recommend it. A very nice pedestrian shopping area:

Interesting sculptures

 And very nice restaurants.

(Hehe, 'Amigos!')

My favorite part about the restaurants and coffee houses? In January 2010 Skopje went no smoking. No Smoking!!! After coming from Belgrade and Pristine, which is basically like living in a cigarette, this was awesome.

 Like Sarajevo, Skopje has also retained an old city that harkens back to the Ottoman empire's occupation.

 View from the old Stone Bridge


A hamman which is now a museum

They also have some fabulous dress shops. There are a lot of these in Kosovo too so I know where I'm going for my dress if I ever get married.

They are not very shy about some things.

Even though the weather was pretty crappy while I was there and it was a rushed trip full of far too much working, I enjoyed myself a lot and would very much like to be able to visit Macedonia again. When it isn't snowing and sleeting and freaking freezing cold that is.

07 March 2010

Visiting with Mother Teresa

Already in Serbia for a week and a half with the rest of that week to go and another week in Kosovo ahead of me, I was asked to extend my trip by a few days so I could "stop by" Skopje, Macedonia. I won't bore anyone with the details of why and what a mess rearranging my flight was (although an aside to say I am most definitely not looking forward to my 5:20 AM multi stop flight home in coach). My only tourist desire for my lightening stop in Skopje was to get to see the Mother Teresa memorial and museum.

After driving around Skopje for about 40 minutes trying to find my centrally-located, everyone knows where it is hotel, we finally did find it. If you're in Skopje, the Best Western is a good choice. Squishy beds and pillows (and you don't know how awesome that is) and located right in the middle of the pedestrian area. Right across the way from the Mother Teresa memorial and museum. It was like a sign. The memorial, what was built on the sight where once stood the church at which Mother Teresa was baptized on August 27, 1910 as Gonxhe Bojaxhiu (Gon-zha Boy-a-zhu).




The center has several levels, on the ground is the gift shop, under ground is a small multi-media presentation space, and one level up is the memorial gallery which includes pictures, furniture from a typical Macedonian house of Mother Teresa's age, and other mementos from her life.

First constitution of the Missionaries of Charity, handwritten by Mother Teresa

Pictures of Mother Teresa in her missionary work (left and top right) and with friend Pope John Paul II
Mother Teresa's Glory Be prayer 


The highest level of the memorial is a chapel built in the honor of the Blessed Mother Teresa. I personally do not care for modern churches at all, but this is one of the most stunning chapels I have ever been in. I hope I can finish my meetings early enough on Wednesday to attend the 5 PM service in it.


In addition to the memorial there is a Mother Teresa museum. Behind the memorial stands an old tower left from centuries past in which a room is dedicated to her. Filled with photographs from her early life as well as her life as a missionary, art, and mementos, the museum is a lovely room. It was closed when I got there and of course would not be open on Sunday. However, I seem to have made friends with the guy who was minding the gift shop (which was still open). D. is a local artisan working in pottery. For the gift shop he makes busts of Mother Teresa, crosses, and icons as well as replicas of ancient Macedonian pottery. Because I'm so pretty he opened the museum for me :).



This is my favorite picture-the Missionaries of Charity crucifix against the sari


Examples of D.'s pottery


I was so happy to have been able to visit these places honoring Mother Teresa. She holds such a special place for so many people, Catholic and non Catholic alike and is much admired in her home town of Skopje. I was much saddened by her death, even more so when it was overshadowed by the death shortly thereafter of Princess Diana. On October 19, 2003, Pope John Paull II, her good friend and great admirer, had her Beatified, the third step in being declared a Saint by the Catholic Church.