Thursday, October 11, 2012

The meaning of penúltimo

Once upon a time, I lived in a magical land where it was warm all the time and people planted olive and palm trees for fun. I picked pomegranates and oranges from trees. I sometimes stayed out until the absurd hour of three in the morning. I sneakily eavesdropped on English speakers as I pretended to not understand.

Well, actually it wasn't warm all the time. In fact, I froze in my unheated places of work and home in the 40 degree weather. 40 degree Fahrenheit, folks, Fahrenheit. 40 degrees Celsius would have been scorching.

It was magical, but as in all good stories, there was a problem. I was lonely. As a means of solving this problem, I signed up on a website that connects people from all over the world. You just type in a city, town, or region, and other member's profiles pop up. You can ask to sleep on their couches if you are visiting the area or you can ask them to show you around. I decided to see if anyone wanted to be my friend.

One of those people, let's call him Ignacio, said sure, let's be friends. Have you been to the zoo here, I asked. Not for a long time, he said. And just like that, we decided to go to the zoo. I told him the intersection where I lived, and he said he'd pick me up.

As I got into his small SUV, I thought to myself, "I am so glad my mother doesn't know what I'm doing right now." It was a thought I'd had many times before, like when I was biking along the highway after getting off at the wrong train stop. And I had the same feeling many times afterwards, like when I was lost at midnight in Paris with no phone and only a very creepy man trying to make me get in his car.

This time, however, the man was slightly less creepy, we spoke the same language, and I was willingly getting in his car. As I opened the door, I realized I was violating several rules from childhood. Don't talk to strangers. Don't get in their cars and ride away with them. Always tell an adult where you're going.

But this time, I was the adult, and I sort of knew Ignacio, right? Right? I had met him on the website. And people you meet on websites are always safe... right?

Fortunately, we did exactly what we said we'd do. We went to the zoo (See picture above). Then we picked up a friend of mine and went to the movies. We saw Up in the Air with George Clooney. George Clooney's voice should never be dubbed. It's too weird. Then we dropped off my friend and Ignacio asked if I wanted to go get dinner. Eek. I wanted to say no, but he was offering to pay and take me to a I have a hard time resisting when in foreign countries. We found out that we exercised at the same gym. Oh no, I thought. I hope he doesn't walk by when I'm in my belly dancing class. I might hide.

After dinner, I was ready to go home. After all, we'd met at 3, and it was now close to 10. That's a long time to spend with someone you don't really know. Then, Ignacio suggested we get drinks. No... I said. I'm pretty tired. "Venga," he said, come on. I know a


Now, two years later, older, wiser, I know how to put my foot down. How to say, "Heck no, techno. I'm tired and want to go to bed." But then, I was just learning. Plus... not my culture. And heck no techno doesn't really translate.

And so we got drinks. And then he asked if I wanted another drink. I said no. He said venga. Come on. El penúltimo.

Now. I didn't know what penúltimo meant, but I heard the word "último"  and I was on board. "Okay," I told him. Último means last. As in the last one. No more. Fin. The end. Ellen goes home and goes to bed. You know, Último. Nope. he said PENúltimo. Penultimate. It's a cognate, but that didn't help me when I didn't know the English word to begin with. It means the second to the last.

Thus, I sat and drank two bottles of water while he drank two more (the second to the last and the last) of whatever he was drinking. All the while, I was cementing the meaning of "penultimate" in my head. Not last. Second to the last. I will never forget it.

Might I have a cookie? It will be my penultimate.

For times of transition...

This is quite an interesting time in my life. Someday I will write about it. Maybe when it's over. For now, suffice it to say that I have some pretty great friends and I spend a lot of time around my house. And it feels like it's moving toward something good, most days, but other days it feels long and endless and I just want to buy new things as a means of making myself feel different. But I don't. (Was that penultimate sentence a run-on? Probably.)

As I make my way oh-so-slowly toward the new and different, I am encouraged by a sermon emphasizing these parts of 2 Samuel. I wanted to share.

From 2 Samuel 7:8-11

‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.

I took you.
I have been with you.
I will provide a place for you. 
I will give you rest.

Monday, October 1, 2012

What to do when your cake falls apart...

A few weeks ago, my roommate and I were assigned to bring desserts to a party. Sweet! 
She made a very amazing trifle with chocolate cake, pudding, and whipped cream. I planned to make a light and fluffy lemon cake. Alas! I did not line the pan with parchment paper (always read the recipe BEFORE the cake goes in the oven...). My cake overflowed in the oven and then came out like this.

It was so sad when my cake looked like this. The second half came out in crumbs.

I looked up various solutions online. It appeared my options were cake pops, frosting the heck out of it, or making a trifle. 
But woe to me, for my roommate had, an hour earlier, cut her beautiful cake into squares and made a trifle. 

Not that trifles aren't delicious, but one seemed plenty. And I didn't want to go buy more ingredients so I took a break and went to my room to think about something else. This is a vital step in any mini kitchen crisis. (Except when you've spilled butternut squash soup everywhere. Then you just have to clean. But that's another story.)
I then looked through my cupboards and found the can of powdered egg whites my mom once bought and then only used once. I had confiscated them when I moved.
Meringue was born.
I pushed the cake into a springform pan

... and whipped up a meringue from powdered egg whites

...spread it on top and baked it!

It was so good. And who'd have thought meringue would freeze so well?

Do you have any unusual suggestions for fixing a broken cake? This trick worked especially well because this was a very, very moist cake. I'm not sure how well it might work for a more dry cake.