New Year 2012
Featuring Phinnaeus, the newest cat in my family, may you all have an exciting year filled with economic prosperity and civil freedom.
Or, on the other hand, have a year like the ones we've been having.
Let me know if you like any of them.
On Sunday, I brought Phinnaeus home from the local Humane Society. Abandoned and near death from starvation, worms, and fleas, he had been rescued several months ago.
This afternoon, he played in the sun with his many cat toys and his two new cat friends. He slept in my lap while I worked, he purred when I just looked at him, and he ate delicious cat food with gusto. Like his new brother cat Gabriel, he loves shredded sharp Cheddar cheese; like his new sister Matilda, he loves having his belly petted. Like both of them, he has no clue that I might need to see my computer monitor without a cat in front of it.
Phinnaeus will now be happy all the days and nights of his life.
You should go to the Humane Society. You'll probably be lucky enough to find someone like Phinnaeus there.
Recent Graphics and Posters by Dark Wraith
I encourage you to share the graphics you like.
Finally, given that my students call me "Professor C" and know me well as the lovable but uncompromising Professor from Hell when it comes to Old School academic standards, I made this one in celebration of this past summer semester and its rather troubling emphasis on disturbingly scanty attire worn by some students.
My traditional Christmas card to all the readers here at The Dark Wraith Forums. I took the photograph for this post late this afternoon in the countryside, where a snowstorm was making the roads treacherous and the landscape starkly beautiful. I hope you like it.
I didn't get a picture of the sign where some Romanians were selling deep fried Coca-Cola smothered in Cola syrup and whipped cream (with a cherry on top), but I did get other good pictures, mostly of performers, vendors, and other wonderful contributions to the tapestry that is Midwestern America. I even got a couple pictures inside the Democratic Party tent before I introduced myself as the Dark Wraith, who just wrote perhaps the most scathing of my attacks on President Obama and his lackeys. The lady in charge was not at all impressed by me.
I tried to talk to the Libertarians at their booth, but they were being too weird, and I forgot to take the lens cap off my camera. It's just as well; I'm not sure what would have shown up in the shots.
I didn't bother to go into the Republican Party tent because standing outside the entrance were what appeared to be some Teabaggers handing out stuff, and I was afraid of getting cooties on my Nikon.
I took lots of other pictures, though, and as I noted, above, I might eventually share some of the good ones here.
In the meantime, please think about the chocolate covered bacon. I was given a sample. It was actually pretty darned good... for about 15 minutes; then the effects of 98° heat with 60 percent humidity, mild dehydration, a previously consumed sample of home-made root beer (Lord! but that stuff was strong), and the walk by the farm animals exhibitions all kicked in.
Fortunately, I made it to the air-conditioned agriculture and crafts building before I ended up hosing my groceries. I saw many great displays in that building, but the greatest of all was the tribute to Spam.
Simply awesome: All things Spam in a display case.
It was a good day.
Especially now that I've carved some emotional distance between the flavor of chocolate covered bacon and my used food hurl trigger.
Recent Graphics Fun
Enjoy my stuff, below. Some of the graphics are timely commentary, and some of them are less so. (If some of them don't make sense, it's probably because they are aimed at some specific group, like the "Call of Duty" motivational poster.) Be sure to click on a picture and vote for it if you like it, and definitely post anything that appeals to you at your own site. You can also see my complete set of Cheezburger Network graphics (some of which are of a slightly racier variety and thus not quite suitable for The Dark Wraith Forums) by clicking here.
For Men Only (and It's about Women)
The incident to which I am referring was a comment I made to a post made by a woman. I took what in retrospect was a downright fresh, unsolicited attempt at humor, which is, even as I write this, swirling away from the wellhead and into the Cloud as yet further evidence that I am no less than an insensitive cad, a veritable dolt.
In a meager but honest effort to contain the spill of unintended indolence I displayed, I herewith offer a few gems of true and useful advice to men, that they may not tread the ground that I have found to be littered with the bodies of men who foolishly went before me. Without further ado, this is a compendium of some of my best advice:
• When women are joking about their weight, don't join in the fun. Just don't. Let it go. You have nothing to say.
• Never use synonyms when it comes to weight, either. "Husky" is a real no-go. Ditto for "healthy." Double-ditto for "ample" and anything that involves the word "pelvis."
• If you can't figure out what a woman's tattoo is, that probably means it has sagged a whole lot since she got it. Just drop-kick your questions over to the trash can and leave them there.
• If you don't know what something is in a woman's bathroom, don't ask. You probably don't need to know, anyway.
• Glance but do not look at a girl wearing ultra-short shorts. She's not wearing them for you. For every other man, possibly; but not for you.
• If you do more than a quick glance at the short-shorts, you're a pervert. If you're over the age of 25, you're a pervert, anyway. (But you're still not allowed to ogle.)
• Never use the word "cougar" to describe a woman over the age of 30. I don't care if she's walking on all fours and stalking deer. Women have words to degrade men that will make Viagra turn to dust before the dope clears your cake hole. Don't start a war where your BB gun is up against a nuclear arsenal.
• Whatever she wears, say, "You look great," even if she looks like upchuck after the all-you-can-eat fried Spam buffet at the Presbyterian Ladies' Relief Festival.
• Your body's out-gassings are not funny to her. Even if she secretly thinks they are, she's not going to let on for one second. You're a pig, and that's on your better days, especially the ones when you're dead.
• Yes, you really do have to belch and fart, and sometimes you have to do so when a woman is nearby. You do not have to turn your burps into the "Star-Spangled Banner," and you most certainly do not have to embellish your flatulence by whipping your hind leg off to the side.
• In a related vein, your body functions do not need your post-blast commentary and analysis. You do that, and someday you'll end up being one of those old geezers who tells people about every bowel movement he's just finished.
• If a lady is kind enough to give you a kiss, try your very best not to think it's an invitation to face lunch. Give the woman a few minutes to have her way before you go all cannibal.
• Look at yourself in the mirror. If you're like 95 percent of the men out there, you are not a couple of sit-ups away from having super-models peel their thongs out from between their supple cheeks for you. Consider that when you whine about out-of-shape women.
• Speaking of out-of-shape, do you have any idea what it takes to look like one of those guys in a men's health magazine? It hurts like Hell, you can never stop doing the workouts, and hardly anybody is going to care. Don't bother fantasizing that you'll look like that when you get around to it. As the direct corollary, why would you expect more out of most sane women, especially considering the complexity of their hormones, genetically predetermined adipose layers, and the fact that a lot of them have carried one or more giant chuck roasts around for nine months (and then pushed them out while the guys stand around wondering why they don't hear the sound of detonating ass)?
• Here's some personal advice (mostly for the noobs, but that's part of my penitence in this post). Take it or leave it, but be sure to take umbrage if I offend your sensibilities.
• Wash. That makes you look good. You don't have to be a Greek god to be a fine prize.
• Try a little cologne once in a while. Not buckets. Just a little. Put it on your shoulders and just below your neck, front and back. And don't dab some on your crotch, you oaf.
• Wads of body hair have been going out of style since the Neanderthals. You don't have to wax, but it doesn't hurt to trim.
• Wearing dumpy shorts and silly-ass T-shirts might make you all comfy, but it also makes you look like you don't care. Maybe you really don't, but I'll bet you actually do.
• Look at details: nails, nose and ear hair, even navel hair. We're men; way too many of us are conditioned to ignore personal details, especially as we age and get too set in our ways. Does the thought of a gross, naked guy standing close by offend you? Think about why. Seriously, get past the homophobia and think about exactly why men are gross to other men.
• Even if you already have a partner, never assume she or he will take you however you decide to be. Make as many days as you can the special occasion to look great. Even if you don't have money, you can still carry yourself with an air that makes you different from the average caveman.
Now, back to a few last main points.
• Don't complain about a woman's cooking. If you don't like it, go out to eat. If you can't afford that, learn how to cook food yourself. You might find out her cooking is pretty darned delicious compared to your own Barf Teaser Blue Plate Specials.
• Don't just look busy; be busy. If you're sitting in front of a television, you're wasting your life. Don't be surprised if you're not earning any respect living your life that way.
• And do responsible chores before someone has to bitch at you. Don't give a woman the chance to bring her nagging mother side out. You should hate it if she does that. (If nothing else will motivate you, think about how much it will piss her off if she can't find a good reason to play the role of mother superior to you.)
• You don't have to be a hero to be heroic. Practice the art of being the good guy. If a woman doesn't appreciate that, she's not worth your time, anyway. The same goes for your work life: if your company punishes the good guys who do the right thing instead of the most profitable or the most obedient, then your company is bad. You won't get any medals for doing what's right, but you live a good life long enough, and you'll get the most coveted honor of all, respect from yourself.
• Stop thinking about a piece of ass all the time. If you're stuck on porn, for cryin' out loud, get a life. You're living in a lie that doesn't really exist, and you're wasting that awesome life you could have. If you don't like to be used, manipulated, lied to, and demeaned, walk away from things that do exactly that to you. Trust me on this one, it isn't some conservative religious thing. Most of the girls who take off their clothes do so because they like attention. They don't like your attention, though. You don't matter. You know how I know this? No, you might be just be a little annoyed if you knew how I know this.
• That doesn't mean you can't like the thought of bare women (or men, if that's your thing). Some of the best times in life are with naked folks. Just don't let impossible fantasies on the other side of a magazine page or computer monitor turn you into a zombie.
Finally, a few parting words of wisdom. A while back, I wrote a few of these things to a friend on that social network, and I got a response from another friend accusing me of declaring that men were all wrong, and it's all our fault. I shot back a fairly sharp response (inappropriately defensive, in retrospect) to the effect that, no, it goes both ways. Regardless of my personal dedication to staying out of striking distance of women for the rest of my life, given the sustained, nearly unstoppable domestic violence that was visited upon me by a woman in our culture where the laws and the courts chivalrously have no quarter for men as victims, I most decidedly do not think there is any bias whatsoever in the oafishness department. What I know, however, is that the only behavior I can control is my own, both that which arises from my own personality and that which comes by way of my enculturation.
"Fight the system" and "rage against the machine" ring hollow if such clichés apply only to our political lives, which are nothing but the mirror of our society at large. To turn from the wrongful path of our harmed and hurting political culture, we simply must start with its foundations in a flawed way of seeing ourselves and the world around us.
The difference between the desirable and the desired is such a chasm. I am firmly convinced that the toughest, most important duty an honest person has is to close that gap as much as possible, knowing full well that it cannot be closed all the way and that it might not be the best idea to close it completely, anyway.
But we have to do our best. Fight extremism with strength; fight lies with honesty; and fight corruption with decency. If you're going to be a little judgmental, make sure to qualify your finger wagging with plenty of references to your own failures.
Avoid like the Plague ending up like those Christians who think they're "saved," which gives them license to judge others and kiss their own, precious backsides. On the other hand, avoid just as much ending up like the Muslims who think every generation since the first couple after the Prophet have been trash by comparison.
It's a weird, tough, scary world out there, and the one out there isn't even close to being as weird, tough, and scary as the one in our own heads.
Just don't forget my advice earlier in this article when it comes to what you say and do around women. Start by keeping your pie hole shut when the ladies are having a conversation about weight or maybe even sex; otherwise, you might find out the hard way that it's one thing to make it to the finish line of your life, but it's quite another to make it there with your head still attached.
Minor Notes for February 6, 2010
High on the agenda tonight is a speaker-melting rant about the arrest of a 12-year-old girl in New York City. Her crime? Making two little doodles on her desk expressing her love for her two best friends. She did it in erasable marker, no less.
Zero tolerance? You haven't heard about zero tolerance until you hear my flaming condemnation of this madness and the people ramming it down kids' throats like New York City Public Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and his buddy, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. God! but I'm looking forward to tearing into those fiends this evening.
In other minor matters, readers may recall my January 2 article, "Personal Journey and Red Velvet Cake," which I began with a rather long-winded exposition on my personal revelation that, if I am going to bitch about other people's moral hypocrisy Sarah Palin and a whole bunch of other Republicans come to mind, but so do some of Obama's disgraceful appointees, as well I had best start working on cleaning up my own slothful life, first. On the physical side, my personal journey has included putting my health in order by losing weight, eating better, and dispensing with the woe-is-my-sorry-life attitude. I am not at all sure how the reparation of my mortal soul is going. On the bright side, in the next few months I will be formally announcing that I have at least secured a deal with a mainstream publisher for my first book. On the health side, I feel better now than I have in many, many years. As far as weight is concerned, from 190-some pounds, I now weigh 138 pounds.
Does that sound too low? Click here to see for yourselves. No, that isn't a Photoshop job. Photoshop was used, but only to render the original photograph black and white and to add graininess and more light gradient for artistic effect. Getting to this point wasn't easy, and remaining here never will be.
I cannot change the world, but I do presume to offer some advice, if perhaps only to an unusual breed of progressives: Republicans on the modern political stage of theatre and folly will not change; they are wholly committed to hypocrisy in their own lives and madness in their public discourse. Trying to reason with them is no more productive than accommodating their core of meanness. Stop wasting time. Find their weaknesses and feed them to the dogs of mainstream media's obsession with drool and scandal. More Republicans of the same ilk will come; they are locusts. Just keep wrecking their leading lights. They'll make it pretty easy for you; but you must have the guts to take glee not only in watching their self-immolation, but also in finding the accelerants of their demise.
But as much as you should rightfully take no quarter in wrecking any and every Republican, even those who pretend to some form or other of moderation, you are wasting every bit as much time hoping most Democrats who pretend to the call of leadership are anything other than craven shills for one or another parochial interest. Stop wasting your time thinking the salvation of this once-promising Republic is in the hands of Barack Obama or virtually any Democrat now in Congress. It is not, and the sooner you understand that, the more quickly you will look to truly progressive leaders waiting to be heard, to be elected, and to be trusted.
Tell me I am wrong, and I will tell you exactly what I think of anyone who continues to support a party that wants health care "reform" that includes fining me and putting me in prison because I will not be forced to buy the defective products of market-distorting, failed oligopolists. Neither will I support a President who feigns to competence by appointing and retaining demonstrably failed men and women.
Contrary to what millions believed in November of 2008, change begins within. Once it takes hold there, a person starts losing his or her fear of bad leaders, no matter how big their fist, no matter how attractive their promises.
Trust me on this. No matter how much the world around us needs to be reformed, change starts inside. From there, the rest might not be easy, but the road ahead is fairly clear.
So, too, are the roads that will lead to nowhere.
Featured Grousing, Installment 1
Oh, stop it with the "How cold is it?" comeback. I'll tell you how cold it is.
It's cold enough to make me grouse. Never mind that there's nothing unusual about something making me grouse. Today, I groused about a driver in front of me who spun her car 360 degrees or so. She looked pretty shaken when she came to a rather sudden stop on the road where there wasn't any ice, so I decided not to share my annoyance with her.
Normallyand this is especially true if it's a younger, male driverI'd go around the person and yell out the window, "Is that yer momma's car?!" I cut this lady slack, though. She didn't look too well after rotating in a big metal object that, I'm pretty sure, had never before so utterly disobeyed her.
I was grousing about my fellow shoppers in Walmart, too, today. It was the people who were on cell phones, completely oblivious to their random, meandering paths and the fact that they were slowing down to almost a stop as they engaged in what were not crucial conversations with their phone raconteurs.
I want one of those air horns, the ones that make an unexpected and thoroughly rude honk that snaps the heads of unwary people within 50 feet.
And that reminds me: have I mentioned lately how annoying those Website ads have become? First, it was the blinking, jerking, twitching ads trying to get my attention; those were bad enough. Now, it's that whole thing with those Flash ads that have something race into the picture, then slowly float around, then race back out of the picture. There are all kinds of variations on this, and they're all just infuriating. I've taken to the habit of simply leaving a Website where these ads are posted.
I go to a Website for content, not to see some ad embedded in the code by a hard-up Webmaster who actually believes he or she will make some money distracting visitors from the real reason they went to the site in the first place.
Hardly anyone in the normal cyber-universe makes money off Web ads. The few who do generally start talking about porn ads. That's really irritating because I won't post porn ads. The closest I've come is having affiliate status with Playboy and its sister company, Playboy Bunny, which sells degradingly skimpy women's apparel. I don't want to sell thongs and bust-lifting bras. They make me hurt just thinking about what they do to tender parts.
See? I can't even bring myself to post barely naughty ads.
Maybe I should sell posters of myself. Yes, that's going to sell like hotcakes.
So what ads do I run? Amazon.com, for one. And I try not to think about why on Earth anyone would click through to Amazon.com from any of my Websites when just about everyone knows how to get to Amazon.com without going to my sorry sites to do so.
"Oh, I'd better go to The Dark Wraith Forums today so I can click through and buy what I need at Amazon.com." Sure. That's going to happen.
Now I've forgotten why I even bothered to start this article because I'm fully out on the tangent about Websites, ads, and revenue therefrom. This is where I get to mention my supreme annoyance with the people who actually do monetize their Websites.
Did you ever wonder how the guy who's behind Wikipedia is so filthy rich, even though there seem to be no prominent ads on Wikipedia pages? Did it ever make you wonder how those first-tier bloggers have gotten rich, even though the ads they post aren't really all that different from the ads you'd see on some loser's site?
You know how those people get all their money? Well, I do, and if you ever figure it out, you might be pretty bothered. Unless, of course, you're a blind Republican or an equally blind Democrat, in which case reality is a thing of beauty crafted from the whole cloth of fevered opinion without the complication of noticing that far too many of the leaders of the Right and the Left are nothing but sell-outs to the very institutions and people you loathe.
Most of you aren't stupid, though. I'll bet you're just tired: tired of the liars who sucker you into voting for them only to find out that your lives aren't getting any better, your rightsespecially your rights to be left alone and not to be watched like you're a criminal waiting to happenaren't coming back, and, even worse, this country isn't going to get any better. The Right-wing mobs cry for policies that benefit the rich even though the members of these mobs are working-class stiffs who are considered nothing but trash to the elite; and the Leftists still cheer Barack Obama even though he has demonstrated his willingness to continue prosecuting unwinnable wars, even though he caves to corporate and Right-wing interests, and even though he retains the services of failed and venal men like Timothy Geithner, Ben Bernanke, Robert Gates, Arne Duncan, and Robert Mueller.
Look hard into that darkening twilight: the sun is setting behind you.
No, big city Main Street and corporate media newsrooms aren't the only places where the commerce starts with a wink and ends with a meeting of minds and parts south in the company of ugly strangers and their fat wallets.
I've been pretty sure it wasn't always this way, but I'm beginning to suspect I've been wrong about that.
Yes, I'm just being overly cynical, though. It's not like that at all.
The world is good. First-tier, liberal bloggers are straight shooters. The government isn't still spying on you, and it deleted of all the databases you were in that were created during the Bush II era. Conspiracy theories are nonsense. The Democrats care about you instead of K Street lobbyists. The courts side squarely with the rights of the citizens over the claims of police and the privileges of corporations, and that promise of health care reform is about to be realized beyond your wildest hopes.
It's all good.
It's the 21st Century, we have a progressivenay, a veritable liberalin the White House, and our nation is at peace.
Yes, it's all good.
Personal Journey and Red Velvet Cake
I had become old before I should have, I was fat, and I was depressed. My health was poor. I was planning for my untimely death. Notwithstanding my defiant denials to the contrary, I was scared, scared of the world around me, scared of myself, what I had become, and where I was headed.
Not a person around me, even among those who might have cared, few as they are or should be, saw how bad off I was.
This is nothing new. It's been going on like this, off and on, back and forth, my whole adult life. With occasional bursts of vowed rectitude, I could always imagine that the side trips were the main road, but they weren't. The highway I was really traveling was big, wide, compelling, and most obvious if I hadn't been too blinded by self-excuses, fantastic voyages of delusion, and attempts at judgmentalism that didn't even fit my rather more live-and-let-live personality.
You've heard the terms, I am sure: "manic depression," "bipolar disorder," "obsessive-compulsive disorder."
I have a better one: "me."
How do I reach into the world of prominent people to make accusations of greed, hatefulness, and self-interest when I cannot bring my own house to persistent and self-evident order? The hypocrisy I see as others' glaring flaw parades in front of me as nothing other than the reflection of my own magnificently obvious defect.
I have lashed out in literary fury at people like George W. Bush; Richard Cheney; Sarah Palin; Al Gore; Paul Krugman; and now, with increasing frequency, Barack Obama. Their hypocrisy stuns me; yet, from what moral ground do I stand to cut through their false representations about themselves, their political positions, and their decisions?
This chasm between the desirable and the desired carves a broad scar through me every bit as much as it does them. We have our ideals that we wish for everybody, even for ourselves, but we cannot help but act out our lives at some lesser or greater difference from our expectations.
I am not sure of how much personal, emotional injury this causes any individual, although I suspect that I am not alone in suffering greatly inside for this hypocrisy; but I am most certain that the way we conduct our own lives at odds with our public expressions is of great harm to those who must suffer and fight their own battles in the shadow of social disapproval, laws, and other devices that project the desirable upon those acting for their own part on their desires.
Surrendering to license is no answer; I still have the call to a better nature in myself. Others do, too; but vows to be a better person, to live a cleaner, more genuine life are just so much talk in the few hours when the ill effects of living hedonistically become too obvious to ignore.
In some old languages, so-called "state of being" (or "copulative") verbs could be used in such a way that they became something like "action" verbs. In English, the classic state-of-being verb is "to be" since what comes after the verb is nothing but a description of what was put before the verb. "I am hungry," merely gives a description ("hungry") to the subject ("I"). Imagine how a verb like this could be made to convey a sense of action. It's not easy for speakers of languages that strongly distinguish what the subject is from what the subject does; but that's what could be done in some old languages. Translating into modern English what an ancient person had said when using this tense would be quite difficult and probably wouldn't be attempted at all. Most likely, the subtlety of that old sense of a copulative verb in active mood would be simplistically translated as some weakly related action verb.
Consider that when you hear the rather famous young rabbi from several millennia ago quoted as saying, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature."
"Go"? Try thinking of the quote instead using a state of being verb with the directive to action as that state. It helps bridge the chasm between the desirable and the desired. Whatever I intend to preach, the scar is first, foremost, and always in me, not in those whose hypocrisy is a parade that runs over my life.
The men and women who have inspired religions, sects, and cults have their moments, some more than others. Given that they have died, even they have passed the time of their actions, and only their lives matter much, if at all. State of being is, in itself and without even so much as the quality of animating life of the person, the entire action.
That's how it is with everyone, so I should get down to work. The world is becoming less free in the countries that preen themselves on their dedication to freedom. No matter what we do, this age of authoritarianism is pressing forward. From the Right, it wields the fist of ever-mounting, increasingly oppressive laws to replace individual choice with the fear of state violence through fines, imprisonment, and even death to ensure security against real, falsely magnified, and imagined enemies. From the Left, it wields that same fist of ever-mounting, increasingly oppressive laws to replace individual choice with the fear of state violence through fines, imprisonment, and even death to ensure compliance with group norms established beyond the counsel of individual conscience.
Nevertheless, my long walk to war with modernity must be from the inside out. That large highway of self-decline is so easy to use, but it leads at least for me to nowhere I need to go and to be.
A few months ago, I got rattled by several personal events that happened in short succession. I am hopeful that I am mature enough, now, to have seized those painful opportunities to put myself better and more permanently on a road that is good. What I know is that, with each cycle like this through which I have gone, I have stayed longer and found my way back more quickly when I drifted perilously away.
I have resolutely set aside my eating habits that had really been at the heart of some of the worst of my health problems. Instead of running to the medical establishment for promises wrapped in pills, procedures, and surgeries, I am eating well, in small portions, and without the obsessive glee of stuffing myself almost exclusively with meat until I am in sick pain.
I am still working on my addiction to nicotine, but in this cycle, I have brought it down to an allocation of nine ultra-light, short cigarettes a day. I will get it down further in the months ahead.
Instead of the random, miserable bursts of grueling exercise, I'm doing a moderate, 20-minute workout every day.
Within, rather than trying to will myself to stop obsessing about matters of loneliness, want for abiding and lasting love, greed for things, and want for expressed sexuality, I am thinking about creative ideas and the ways I can make them happen more consistently than I have in the past.
What is the payoff? As of today, I've lost 36 pounds. Gastrointestinal problems that had literally torn me up for years for decades, in fact have all but disappeared. Terrifying spells of what might be described as "silent heart attacks" that had been gripping me almost every day (at their worst, sometimes several in short succession) for the past three years have completely disappeared. My hair has gone from an old and elderly, lifeless look of almost gray to something much better, and my face looks noticeably better. You can see for yourself with this picture I took last week. (Those who know how my recipe posts work can click to see another at the end of this article.)
How long will all this last? Permanently, I hope. I'm sure I'll have setbacks, but it feels so good to feel better that I don't think the alternatives are all that attractive anymore. I still have so much work to do, though; but that's part of the journey, and this is the kind of road that is best because it is as long as the life lived traveling it.
It's almost time to start writing with fury, again. Readers will see that soon enough, but you will also see other kinds of writing, too. Only very rarely did I publish works of fiction, here, but I'll do more of that from now on. I like metaphorical narrative. I also like humor, and I will write more that is not so serious. I will also write more short articles, especially ones involving political and economic analysis. No normal person can frequently endure my detailed, gruelingly long-winded economic expositions, and I promise not to do those very often from now on.
I'll also be publishing some video work. Editorials, mostly, but I cannot promise that I won't try to get creative in a medium that is still quite new to me. Be patient; if the first couple aren't particularly good, that doesn't mean they won't get better as I master the craft and its technologies.
I've bleated long enough. It's time for the cake recipe.
Although I can usually remember all the details of how I make something, given that I had not made a red velvet cake in years, I had to go to one of my old recipe magazines to jog my memory. I have a nice little collection of recipe publications, mostly the ones you see on the shelves near checkout lines at grocery stores. I don't buy them there, though, because they used to show up all the time at flea markets, used bookstores, and places like that. They're not worth much to anyone else, but my collection is an invaluable resource, even though I have few opportunities to cook ambitiously.
This red velvet cake recipe, modified as I recalled from my version, comes from the November 30, 2004, magazine, Southern Living: Our Best Recipes (Birmingham, Alabama: Oxmoor House Special Editions). While the magazine version might take a little more than half-an-hour, rest assured that, unless you are a very efficient cook, the total preparation time will be more like an hour. In my case, the time is somewhat longer than that because I clean pans, dishes, and utensils as I go along so there's no big mess to clean up at the end of the food preparation phase of the project.
Here's what you'll need for this recipe.
• 1 stick (½ cup) of softened butter
• 1½ cups of sugar
• 3 large eggs
• 2½ cups of cake flour
• 1 teaspoon of baking soda
• ½ of salt
• 2 tablespoons of cocoa
• 1 cup of buttermilk
• 1 tablespoon of distilled white vinegar
• 1 ounce of red food coloring
• 2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract
• 2 greased, 9-inch round baking dishes
• 1 cup of milk
• 1/3 cup of regular flour
• 1 cup of softened butter
• 1 cup of sugar
• 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
For those of you who are not familiar with ingredients for making food from scratch, let me tell you a couple of things about the ingredients, above. First, cake flour is not the same as what is commonly called "all-purpose flour." In the first part of the recipe, notice that you'll be using cake flour; in the second part, for the frosting, you'll be using all-purpose flour. Your cake will be a little sorry if you use all-purpose flour in that part of the recipe.
Second, when I write "softened butter," that means you should take the butter out of the refrigerator and let it set for about an hour so it warms up and mixes well with the other ingredients. No, leaving butter out of the refrigerator for that long will not endanger your health as long as the butter was good when you put it in the fridge. When I was growing up, butter was left out for much longer, and I don't recall any of my people dying from gastrointestinal upset.
Third, you might have noticed the two greased, round baking dishes in the ingredients. Yes, you can grease the dishes with that spray-on stuff if you like, but I won't do it like that. For one thing, I like to use butter; for another, I have this thing against inhaling aerosolized, fake grease into my lungs, where it will form a nice seal against efficient transport of oxygen to my bloodstream. (But that's just me.) The way I do it is to take a stick of butter and run the end side of it back and forth all over the inside of the baking dish. I do this until I see the dish become somewhat opaque from the layer of butter laid down. Later, not only will the cake come out of the dish intact, but the surface of the cake will be smoother and easier to frost.
Fourth, when I tell you to use "pure vanilla extract," I mean don't go using imitation vanilla. Just don't, okay? You're making good food; avoid using phony chemicals unless you must.
Fifth, when you buy sugar, buy cane sugar. Make sure it says that on the package; otherwise, you might be buying beet sugar. That's right, sugar can come from beets, but that doesn't mean you have to abide the nonsense.
Sixth, "baking soda" is not the same as "baking powder." Baking soda comes in those yellow Arm & Hammer boxes that people used to put in the backs of their refrigerators to absorb bad smells. It's used in recipes, too, like the one here. Baking powder is used in recipes, as well, but not the one here. You will be most disappointed if you use baking powder when a recipe calls for baking soda.
Finally, a word about using salt in recipes. I have to avoid salt as much as possible, and I would love to encourage you to do the same. I cannot eat even small amounts of fast food anymore because the salt content is so high that I will become incapacitated from swilling water starting about an hour after I've eaten the fare at McDonald's, Wendy's, Arby's, Burger King, and any other fast food restaurant. Sometime in the past couple of years, some grocery stores started selling their "fresh meats" laced with salt. The salt is ostensibly being put in as a "natural" preservative, but it has the effect, at least on me, of making the meats inedible unless I soak out the salt before cooking the food. Again, my aversion to salt is far greater than most people's, but you might be surprised at how good food tastes once you've stopped using salt to burn microscopic fissures into your taste buds to cut through the desensitization caused by all the previous salt you've run through your mouth. Try it sometime.
This recipe calls for some salt, and that's not unusual in cakes and pastries. I use it quite sparingly. Although I don't think it's necessary, salt added to batters is old, old tradition, and I'm not the kind of person who dispenses with an ingredient when I don't understand exactly why the tradition of using it first came about and then endured so tenaciously. Hence, in this recipe, I add half-a-teaspoon of salt. Why? Obviously, it's because that's how it's always been done, alright? (That's why I shall never be a liberal, even though most of my readers are, and I love you all more than I care for just about any conservative. But me? a liberal? Never. Progressive? Sure. Liberal? No. Life is too random as it is. Mostly, I blame quantum mechanics.)
Where was I? Oh, yes: making a cake.
The Cake Batter
Cake Batter Step 0
Preheat the oven to 350°
Cake Batter Step 1
Once the stick of butter is nice and soft, combine it with that half-cup of sugar and beat at medium speed. When those two ingredients are blended together, add one of the three eggs and keep beating until that egg is blended in nicely. Add the second egg and beat until you again have a smooth mixture. Add the third egg and beat until what's in the bowl has a nice, creamy look to it. This whole process shouldn't take more than five minutes. Once this step is finished, set the mixture off to the side while you get Step 2 finished. You might as well leave this in the mixing bowl with the mixer because you'll be running it again in just a few minutes.
Cake Batter Step 2
Take the two-and-a-half cups of cake flour, the baking soda, salt, and cocoa, and stir these dry ingredients together in a bowl. Use a big spoon to do this; it works well to lift and gather the separate ingredients.
Cake Batter Step 3
In another bowl or pan, pour in that cup of buttermilk, along with the tablespoon of distilled white vinegar, the red food coloring, and the two teaspoons of vanilla extract.
Cake Batter Step 4
This is where we bring everything together. You'll start with that mixture in the mixing bowl from Step 1. Put in a portion (maybe a third or a fourth) of the dry ingredients from Step 2, then run the mixer at low speed just long enough to get the dry ingredients cut in. Stop the mixer, put in maybe a third of the wet ingredients from Step 3, and run the mixer again just long enough to cut these ingredients through. Stop the mixer, put in some more of the dry ingredients, and run the mixer again (always on low speed) just long enough to get what you've just put in cut through. Stop the mixer and put in some more of the wet ingredients and then run the mixer just long enough to get it blended through. You should do this alternating addition and blending until everything from Steps 1 and 2 has gone into the mixing bowl. Make sure you begin and end with the dry ingredients from Step 2. Four additions with the dry and three with the wet is plenty. You will notice with each addition that what's in the mixing bowl gets redder and redder, but the resulting mixture looks more and more like an actual cake batter. By the time you've gotten everything mixed together, the batter will be quite red and fairly thick.
Cake Batter Step 5
Pour the batter into the two greased baking dishes, making every effort possible to get equal amounts in each because you're about to put them in the oven, and the baking time will be dependent upon the volume of batter in the dish, and you want the two, separate dishes to be done at the same time.
Cake Batter Step 6
Put the batter-filled baking dishes in the oven. Give them 18 minutes before you start checking to see if they're done. Put a toothpick in each, and when it comes out clean (it can look greasy, but no batter and no sticky cake should be on it), take the dishes out. My experience is that they'll need about 23 minutes, but this is highly dependent upon the oven and somewhat dependent upon the type of baking dishes (clear or colored) that you're using. Overcooking will be as bad for your results as under-cooking, so be diligent in this step.
Cake Batter Step 7
Once out of the oven, put each dish on a cooling rack for ten to fifteen minutes. At that time, take a butter knife and run it around the inside edge of each dish several times, pushing slightly in at the bottom to detach the cake at the edges of the underside. Once you've done that, put each rack on top of its dish and flip the contraption over. Pat the cake until it lets go onto the rack. Allow the cakes to finish cooling bare on the racks like that.
Frosting Step 1
In a smallish sauce pan, put the one cup of milk and the third of a cup of all-purpose flour. Using a whisk, stir the flour thoroughly into the milk. With the pan on a stove burner set to medium, keep whisking the mixture until it gets quite thick. It will get to the consistency of mashed potatoes as it approaches boiling. Take it off the burner before it actually boils and put it in the refrigerator to cool. It should take maybe 45 minutes for it to get properly chilly. You don't want it cold, just chilled.
Frosting Step 2
When the mixture from Frosting Step 1, above, is getting to just about the right temperature, put the two sticks of softened butter into the mixing bowl with the cup of sugar and the teaspoon of vanilla extract, and run the mixer on high until the ingredients have a nice, creamy consistency. Stop the mixer and put in that cooled mixture from Frosting Step 1. Run the mixer on high, but only long enough to get the ingredients well mixed. Avoid over-beating.
Put the Cake All Together
Put one of the cake layers, both of which should now be cooled to room temperature, onto your cake dish. This layer should be flat side up (in other words, the side that was at the bottom of its baking dish should be up). Spread the top and sides of this layer with frosting from the mixing bowl.
Now, put the other layer, flat side down on top of the layer you've just frosted. Spread the top and sides of this layer with the rest of your frosting, making sure to generously cover the seam between the layers with frosting.
You have now finished your cake, and it is ready to serve.
Be sure to cover and refrigerate whatever is left over of this cake from the first helpings. You can warm it up to eat some later, but be aware that this cake won't keep very well, so you should eat it all within 48 hours or so of preparation.
It also tastes better if served by the cook; so, for those of you familiar with the tradition of these recipes offered here at The Dark Wraith Forums, you may click here to see the proper serving manner of the gentleman who has made this wonderful, colorful dessert for you.
Enjoy your cake, good readers.