Monday, October 25, 2010

A big coincidence, or maybe it was the bigger plan

If I sometimes wonder whether our actions follow a bigger plan, it's because of a strange coincidence that happened many years ago.

It was late spring 1995 and I was studying for my final exams in high school, not exactly with enthusiasm but with a good deal of sense of duty anyway. During my teens I was a big fan of night radio shows, and during those exam weeks every night, at around 11 pm, I would tune in one particular guy. He had enough sense to curate the song selection (staying out of popularity countdowns, a plus in my book then) and a gorgeous voice to read stories.

Those days, as I still do now, I had the impulse to write him a letter (now that would be an email) to say what I liked most about the show and, I thought it was a necessity, to say what I would like to see changed. I wrote the letter and it stood on my desk until it was too late, so I tossed it into the bin and I forgot about the issue.

One afternoon, listening to that same radio but to an earlier show, I heard a poem. "Say who wrote the poem and in which film it was recited and enter a contest for cinema tickets". That very poem had been in my Literature class the previous year, and my parents had rented the film in question during that month, so I knew the answer for certain. Some people's calls were aired, and they were wrong. I phoned, said my answer, and waited anxiously for the drawing.

They drew the winners and my name wasn't among them. I shrugged it off and went on to do whatever I was doing then.

But a couple of hours later the phone rang and it was from the radio, to say that one of the winners had declined the prize and they had pulled my entry. Congratulations, they said, come by the radio from tomorrow 10 am on.

That following day, it was a Friday, I remember, during my self imposed lunch break (I was studying hard, remember that) I rode my bike down to the station to claim my tickets. And I wrote a new letter to the night show guy, having my say, which I left at the reception desk. That night I went to see the movie with my dad, and got back just in time for my favorite emission.

The first thing the man said was Julia, if you're listening... Thank you, and he didn't mention my letter or my name again but he played the songs I had said I liked. That night the show was just for me.

That Saturday I got a package with a long letter and a CD I still treasure. The letter explained that the day before, in the late morning to be exact, he had been summoned to discuss his new contract but he had been fired instead. Nobody cares about your little night program was in a nutshell what his bosses had said, and he was, like, clubbed in the head or elbowed in the gut, but then he was handed my letter and read it and saw they were wrong. There was, at least, one listener who cared and he was immensely relieved, exhilarated almost.

The program lasted a couple more weeks on air, during which he encouraged readers to send mail and seemed to me that he had quite a lot of feedback. And then his time in that station was over.

I tried to track him in other radios but he moved on to other formats and media, becoming more and more visible. I never wrote him another letter and once I crossed him on the street I simply nodded as to say I know who you are, hi. Mainly because I thought, and still think, that there wasn't anything to say and my little anecdote doesn't need to have a follow-up.

Because it was just a big coincidence, or maybe it was the bigger plan of life and things.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Side effects

Many body changes take place during pregnancy in order to nurture and accommodate the growing baby, and to help baby out during delivery. Among other things joints loosen, blood flow increases, sleep pattern may change and something called nesting instinct happens.

Also, there might be some weight gain but in the great scheme of things is usually inconsequential.

After my baby was born in the last day of August, and the tiredness of natural delivery was over, and the episiotomy healed and I started feeling like the person I had been before, I found all those loose joints, retained fluid and stretched muscles a bit pointless. Also, I found that baby care is demanding to say the least and my back and arms are feeling the pressure.

So I joined back the gym next door I had been attending for nearly a decade. To regain strength and flexibility, and to make all those diaper changes and lovely cuddling pleasant way after baby is clean and asleep in her cot.

And who knows, there might be some inconsequential weight loss too. Or so every person I've told about my plans seems to hope for.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Complaining day

Why can't montevideans, government and citizens alike, be less in love with cars and more in love with bikes? Cars are so impressively expensive here, with around 50% of their price made up just by taxes, and the gas... don't get me started. But no, bikers are less every day because streets are too dangerous. Dangerous for bikers, for children, for animals, for other drivers... damn it, when will Montevideo be more friendly to humans and less to machines?

Why can't montevideans, government and citizens alike, be less in love with concrete and tin and closed skylights, and more in love with creeping plants and grass and balconies full of flowers? Grey roofs and facades are so depressing, and hot, and cold, and dead. But don't dream of making green roofs, that's for rich people only. And you might get who knows what critter living up there.

Why can't montevideans, government and citizens alike, try to be more savvy with kitchen scraps and make some compost instead of a big, smelly pile of trash? Trash is so complicated, having to be removed every day from everywhere and taking up so much space. But no, out of sight out of mind. And you need a huge backyard and lot of free time to make some compost.

Why can't we give modern washable versions of hygiene products, such as pads a diapers, a chance? One slimy, darned chance instead of spending so much money for things that lasts the blink of an eye in use, and then go to the trash.

Today is my complaining day. Must be because that "I hope someday you'll join us" that's been on my mind since Saturday, and because I'm on loser/procrastinator mode.

Tomorrow, I'm starting a revolution. Or not. Stay tuned. Maybe.

Monday, October 4, 2010

With the last of winter clementines

Winter is fading and the best part of it, clementines, are going away until next year. It's such a pity... I really like clementines (mandarins, tangerines or whatever name you call them, it's probably not the right one for the citrus I have in mind), and I do think they're the best of the cold season I'm not too fond of.

We've had some rainy days and they found me in the mood for cake. Clementine cake.

2 big juicy clementines, or one juicy orange, or more clementines
1 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of oil
1 egg
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 cups of all purpose wheat flour
2 teaspoons of baking powder

Juice of half a lemon, or 4 tablespoons of water or another juice
12 tablespoons of confectioner's sugar

Chopping board
Peeling knife
Mixing bowl
Tin loaf (Bundt cake's if you prefer that shape)
Butter to grease the loaf
Glass or other small container to mix the icing
Small spatula, brush or finger to spread it

1. Wash the fruit thoroughly and peel. Make sure there are no stickers on them.
2. Toss the peelings in the blender and chop until, ahem, very chopped.
3. Make sure the segments of the fruit don't contain seeds, and if they do, take the seeds off with the knife and the chopping board.
4. Toss said segments in the blender and blend, until you have an even textured mixture.
5. Add the egg, the oil, the sugar and the vanilla extract and blend again.

Put the flour and the baking powder in the bowl, and mix with the spatula. Add the moist mixture and blend with the spatula until you have a (another!) even mixture. Grease the tin loaf and dust lightly with flour, and pour the mixture. You should leave more than an inch to allow rising.

My oven is very temperamental so I can't really say the heat and time, but let's say that medium to low oven for about 45 minutes should do the trick. Maybe checking 30 minutes in is a wise idea.

Once it's done (you can tell by stabbing it repeatedly, if it yells you should give it some more time ;-) ), take it out from the tin and put on a nice dish. While it's still warm, add a mixture of confectioners' sugar and juice and let it cool and sink in.

It takes about two hours to cool completely, and it's virtually Julia proof - I've only managed to ruin it with an oven that actually tells the temperature, or using rather flat tempered glass oven containers.

If I were a good photographer, I'd add a picture here. But I don't want to spoil the charm of it!



The fruit: I've only tried oranges and clementines, but never dared with lemons, limes or grapefruit. When the fruit I'm using is too dry, I add a swish (that being a couple of tablespoons) of orange juice from a carton, or water as an extreme measure. Ah, I once tried with a banana, and it was awful!

The oil: I've tried canola, corn, soy and rice oil. I was told especially not to use olive oil, which I've respected more because it's very expensive but it might be interesting.

The flour: If I and my husband were more adventurous we'd try adding other than wheat. This cake has a moist texture and I'm not very sure it would go down well, but if you try it please let me know of your thoughts.

The icing: I use a cup to mix and whenever I put first the sugar it turns out well, and if I put the water or juice first it turns out bad. My experience.

The containers: For some reason, this cake goes better with tall shapes rather than flat, and with tin better than tempered glass or ceramic.

The oven: A total mystery. I never tried a microwave oven, and a grill doesn't make sense. Just avoid opening before 30 minutes, unless it's smelling like it's burning.

The blender: A non-negotiable.

The touch: ginger, pepper, cinnamon. But I think the texture of the mashed peeling is enough.