Saturday, 23 April 2011 § Leave a comment
Well, that was… I don’t even know what it was. It’s over, is the main thing. The exam was a four-hour timed sit-down — thankfully, I was allowed to write on my own computer. Four questions: choose one from the first two and one from the second. I had somewhat anticipated variants of two of them, and felt like I could have answered the third, too. And as for the fourth… well… let’s just say it’s a good thing that I have a week to keep studying between my last exam and the orals. It’s a question I should be able to answer, but, well, I’m glad I could choose not to. The exam itself wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but I was still pretty much useless for the rest of the day. I came home, put on my PJ’s, poured a glass of wine, and watched crappy internet television.
The last exam starts Monday, though part of it is a syllabus I’ve technically been working on for while. And I’m using technically in a very loose sense there. You know, kind of like how everything’s a “technology” now, where it used to be a “discourse” (or ruin, or trace, or topos): books, knowledge, Being, etc. Add to that list: thinking but not actually working. Whee.
As you all know by now, my MO is stress baking. And so this morning, I mixed up a batch of Austrian Easter Bread (Osterbrot). Last year my friend and upstairs neighbor invited me to his Easter brunch, and I made a couple of loaves of his mom’s Osterbrot. Here’s last year’s:
Each of those was a full batch of dough; this year, I’ve made one batch and divided it into four loaves because y’all, that is a lot of Brot.
The bread itself is very similar to a Challah dough: enriched, yeast-leavened, but minus the eggs in the dough. Want the recipe? Here it is. Just don’t tell my dear neighbor that I’m giving away his heirloom, kthanks.
1 Kilo All-purpose four
100 g softened butter
200 g Sugar (or less for a less-sweet bread)
1 tsp salt
½ L Milk
30 g fresh yeast or. 2 Packets active dry yeast
Spices: anise (fennel if you can’t find star anise); zest of one lemon
Optional addition: raisins
Add the anise and lemon zest to the milk and heat gently in a saucepan. Turn off heat, and leave to cool and steep, approximately half an hour or until milk is lukewarm. Transfer the milk to a mixing bowl and sprinkle the yeast over it. Let the yeast proof approx. 15 minutes. Then add 3/4 of the flour, the salt, and the sugar. mix until it forms a rough dough. Then add the softened butter in chunks. Add the last of the flour (and raisins, if you’re using them), and knead either by hand or with a stand mixer until smooth and elastic.
Place the dough in a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a light towel, and place in a warm place to rise (mine likes to rise on top of my stove). Let rise until doubled, gently punch down, and let it rise until doubled again. Since this dough is full of yeast and is sugary, the rise will be really fast. I had to run down to the store [damn you, clogged drains] during the second rise today, and was gone for maybe an hour; when I came back, the dough had nearly tripled.)
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Again, one batch of this makes a HUGE loaf, so I suggest you divide it. Two, three, or four loaves would be fine. So divide your dough into X sections, where x = the number of loaves you wish to make. Now: decide if you’re going to do a three or four-strand braid (I did 4, but I think 3 is traditional for Easter, you know, with the trinity and whatnot). Then, divide each section into 3 (or 4) subsections and roll each out into a rope approximately 1 inch wide. Mine ended up being about a foot long. Then braid them. And repeat for each of your X sections.
Place the loaves on a baking sheet lined either with parchment paper or a Silpat. Let them rise again for about an hour, maybe longer, until approximately doubled. It doesn’t have to be exact. When you figure they’re about ready, preheat your oven to 350 (F). Beat an egg and smear it on top of the loaves, then, if you’re feeling really fancy, sprinkle some turbinado or raw sugar on top. Bake the loaves until deep golden brown on top. Since my oven is heart-breakingly small, I baked them two at a time. For one large loaf, this will be about an hour; for smaller ones, start checking them at half an hour. If you find that the top is getting very dark but the crumb isn’t baked all the way through yet, lower the temperature to 300. Cool on a rack. Then nom. If the bread lasts long enough to go stale, breads like this make a decadent french toast. (Just sayin’.)
Really, this is a super-easy recipe, and a great bread recipe to start with if you’re convinced that you in fact cannot bake bread to save your life. Trust me. It’s really, really hard to screw this one up.
So, now that the bread is risen, so are my spirits, and I’m off to conquer this syllabus. Onward-ho!
Thursday, 21 April 2011 § 1 Comment
When I finally sat down and worked out when I would take my
godforsaken, hateful exams, my planning had mainly to do with spacing them out with enough time between the respective rounds to cram in as much reading as possible. Also, Mercury is in retrograde until 23 April, which, if you’re a Gemini like me, is particularly bad news. And yet, as the math fell, my second exam, and the one I’m most worried about, still fell within the retrograde: it’s tomorrow.
As I inked that into my calendar, I realized with horror: that’s Good Friday. Now, I was raised catholic, but my catholicism has lapsed into a healthy heresy (when I had surgery last autumn, the admitting nurse asked what my religion was; I told her, “Marxist.” She said, “Okay, I can put that.” “There’s a box for that?!” “No, but I can write it in.” “Well, I’m not an orthodox Marxist…”). Exhibit 2: My post-it-note prayer shrine.
The way it works is this: I draw pictures of my (and other people’s) intentions on post it notes, pop them beneath the blessed virgin, and she usually works her magic. The top picture is of me passing my exams. Other prayers in there include job market success for friends, good mammogram/biopsy results for a family member, and funding requests (because the sweet baby jesus is more forthcoming with that stuff than our department sometimes).
But still: it seems like taking an exam literally the day and hour the christian world marks the murder of their messiah is bad news (book plug: read Paul Verhoeven’s Jesus of Nazareth. It’s brilliant and snarky and so fun to read, and I imagine much better than Pope Benny’s book of the same title.). And Mercury in retrograde to boot! So I called my Auntie M, who is a a very liberal sort-of-catholic — the kind who likes the mysticism of the church but thinks the moral of the story is that Jesus pretty much just wants us to love everyone and make love not war. She assured me that instead of inviting god to smite me dead, taking the exam on Good Friday is in fact the epitome of the lenten experiment: taking on and reflecting on the suffering of christ. And oh, will this exam be sufferance. And I very well may descend into hell, but then there’s that whole rising again on the third day — just in time for my last exam — bit. (Have y’all seen the new order of the mass? “Consubstantial with the father?” Farewell, Vatican II.)
Luckily, Auntie M, who has really gone above and beyond in sustaining and supporting me mentally, spiritually, and heretically throughout this exam season, has sent me a couple of very helpful apotropaics in the mail. Not pictured: the maxwell house passover hagadah, a card with a nun (a beloved family trope). And this “prayer rug”:
It contains instructions (the fine print on the bottom, if you will) to kneel on the rug and look into Jesus’ eyes, which appear to be closed, “But as you continue to look, you will see His eyes opening and looking back into your eyes.” It’s a holy magic eye! And, as luck would have it, I got one of these sent to my house directly from the church that sent them out, too!
The envelope contains a prayer that Jesus will “bless someone in this home spiritually, physically, and financially,” “make changes in this one’s life and give them the desires of their heart,” as well as instructions that you’re supposed to kneel on the prayer rug, check off your prayers on a card, and mail it all back to them — because “this very old church loans this to you, to bless someone connected with this home. Then it must go to another family that desire’s God’s blessings.” The lesson: blessings work according to the logic of chain letters.
Anyhow, today’s Maundy Thursday, which was always my favorite day in the liturgical calendar. I do not like feet, but I think the washing of the feet was probably closer to the radical message of love and forgiveness than anything else I ever learned in church. Also, my favorite song in the entire catholic hymnal is one of the two songs that’s almost always sung during the washing of the feet: Ubi Caritas. No mass for me tonight, though, on account of needing to re-read Origins of Totalitarianism and a chapter from Sex After Fascism. Also, colloquium interferes, and I’m footnoted in this week’s paper, a kind and also kind of hilarious gesture from a friend. So maybe that’s sort of like the washing of the feet.
I hope all these sacraments return me to some sort of state of grace, because y’all, I’m despairing, and we all know that despair is one of the deadly sins. These exams are making me crazy. And even though I know the crazy will pass, it’s actually sort of hard to believe it. Because all the hoops I’ll spend the rest of my career jumping through will make me this kind of crazy, too. And when I read discussions like this over at the ever-brilliant Tenured Radical, I can’t help but wonder whether the argument of Prof. X’s book (basically, higher education is wasted on some people [an argument elitist, nihilistic, and dubious and problematic at best in his formulation]) isn’t more applicable to grad school, and maybe I just am just a massive waste of resources. Luckily, I know that now is not the time to make rash decisions. So, with that, and knowing that it is not through grace alone that we are saved in the academic world, I return to my studying. Go: be the salt; be the light, and I’ll see y’all on the other side of exam #2.
Tuesday, 19 April 2011 § 2 Comments
Scene: The gloomy, rainy sidewalk in my neighborhood, this morning around 10:30.
Ethel Louise, carrying a grocery sack over her shoulder, crosses paths with The Absolute Professor.
TAP: “Fancy meeting you here!”
EL: “I know! I should be studying! But I’m having one of those mornings where you pour your milk into your coffee only to discover that it’s gone bad! The kind of morning that will make getting back to the Weimar Republic seem uplifting!”
TAP: “That’s really depressing.”
EL: “I know.”
Monday, 18 April 2011 § 2 Comments
Dear Fancypants University,
Thank you for admitting so many students to your incoming class that for the entire month of April, it is impossible to turn around on campus without taking out at least three pre-frosh and their parents with your bookbag.
Thank you for demonstrating how totally great and so
unaffordable Fancypants U is by having a book sale to coincide with visiting weekends!
But most of all, thank you for taking those students’ [parents’] money, giving it to me in the summer, and sending me to France to learn French. Because when this book was on sale for $6 at the come-to-fancypants-u booksale:
Je l’ai compris. Et —
Oauis, j’ai hâte de faire bon usage de ces compétences linguistiques.
Sunday, 17 April 2011 § 1 Comment
Boh and his human came over this evening to join me and another friend for a study/writing break. The Rooster starts her last exam tomorrow, I take another on Friday, and our third friend is slogging through a colloquium paper. So we took a break and ate donuts. This is how Boh felt about that:
Though to be fair, it wasn’t dinner per se. Not like that time we had stout ice cream floats for dinner. Not like that at all.
Friday, 15 April 2011 § 4 Comments
Briny. Pitted. Dark.
Anyhow, I wrote a whole long post processing the first round of exams, but it was the sort of dark and whiny and wallowingly despairing thing that, at second thought, is not really meant for public consumption. (Insert big melodramatic sigh)
On the upside, I guess, instead of drowning my despair in alcohol, I’ve sublated it through stress baking. Two nights ago after I decided to give up on comprehending anything I was reading, I whipped up a batch of — wait for it — olive biscuit cookies. At first you might think, “quoi? Olive cookies?” But just run with it. They’re the perfect grown-up cookie: a mix of savory and sweet; a little pouty but also indulgent.
I didn’t bake them off that night because I didn’t think any of my cookie cutters were up to the task. I stopped by the kitchen gadget store on my way to campus yesterday, though, and found the PERFECT one:
Yes, dear readers, that is a screwdriver. For Screw This cookies. The end result:
Yeah, sure, they look a little wonky. I blame the olives (which in turn blame me for not chopping them finely enough). And is it not fitting that I sort of screwed up my screw this cookies? (nb: Heidi over at 101cookbooks suggests baking them for 12-ish minutes for little tiny cookies; my screwdrivers wanted closer to 17)
I wish I had time to muse more over the semiotics of screw this cookies, but alas: time to conquer the day and the reading list. With a screwdriver.