Saturday, January 27, 2018

It's Possible I'm a Dingus: A Review of Jen Sincero’s “You are a Badass”

I am capable of really poetic, beautiful sentiments. Supportive of other women, encouraging to all. A nice person.

Except when I see a self-help book titled “You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life” and on the back is a photo of what appears to be a glowing 27-year-old wearing lip gloss, cheeks abundantly funded with circulation because she is young and optimistic and has never, ever had anything bad happen to her in her life. So why would I take her thoughts on self-development seriously? Life will crush her one day and then we’ll see what kind of perky mantra she comes up with for it. AH HAHAHAHA!

I’d normally keep nice thoughts like that to myself, but there *is* a punchline here.  
As I began reading, Jen Sincero quickly drew me in with humor. This lady is genuinely funny, and she is filling the niche of self-help for people who don’t like boring, unamusing books that cause carpal tunnel syndrome. Her principles are, on the surface, potentially generic. Love yourself. Believe. Make the jump before you can see the landing pad. Vibrate at a higher frequency. But as I began to do some of the exercises she suggested, as I began writing down my worst self-deprecating thoughts and then inverting them into affirmations, as I put some thought into how I keep myself down, and (wait for it) began BELIEVING that life could be different…well, I really started to get into the book, appreciate Jen Sincero’s point of view, and will probably buy this book as a gift for my friends (just as a loved-one gifted it to me).

I began to forgive her for what I was sure were Millennial one-liners, chapter titles like “Fear is for Suckers” and “Lead With Your Crotch.” I started to look forward to the ending line of each chapter: Love yourself. It’s not anything new, but it’s a biggy, and everyone needs to be reminded of it, no matter how together their life is.

The book is not a doctoral thesis. It has 253 pages of very readable prose, and you can easily skip around, thumb through, open the book randomly and let your eyes land on one of the many bolded statements that will give you pause. The biggest one for me, in the entirety of the book, was this: 

So often, we pretend we’ve made a decision,
when what we’ve really done is
signed up to try until it gets too uncomfortable.”

She is challenging us to get those crazy warrior eyes, stoke the fire of pure determination, and hit the gas pedal. But she does it with humor, and in a way that does not seem overly macho…like Tony Robbins in a cardigan, without the testes or the helicopter. Total commitment would be another way to say it. She is challenging us to bring total commitment to the things we’d like to create. 

The punchline to this review is: That 27-year old with the lip gloss and the glowy cheeks who cannot possibly have experienced anything in life? It turns out, she's my age. And I'm no spring chicken. Yeah, I feel like a dingus. If you visit her website, you’ll see she has her share of laugh lines, and by her own admission, was still feeling like a pretty big failure when she was forty, struggling with money, and living in a garage. Now she has three books out, one of which is a New York Times bestseller. 

Why do I tell you this? Don’t let the cheery yellow cover or the glowy cheeks, or even the use of “Awesome” in the title stop you from taking this book seriously. There’s a lot of wisdom in it, and you will only profit by spending some time in Jen Sincero’s mindset. I recommend it as an engaging, humorous, encouraging read that will leave you energized and ready to get going on that dream life you always wanted.

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Poop Cake and Other Holiday Disasters

All was jolly and bright...before I started baking!

I am quickly garnering a reputation for inciting some vortex of kitchen disaster in the 24-hour period preceding major holidays. Thanksgiving...ah, who can forget Thanksgiving. Not only did I fail, and fail miserably at making a cheese ball that looked like a turkey, I was also the would-be mistress of the vegetarian gravy for this event. The gravy tasted fine, but it was not quite silky smooth enough. So I poured the hot gravy in the blender, put the little hat on the machine, and flipped the can imagine how that ended. I spent the two hours before Thanksgiving enrobed in aloe vera, frozen packs of peas, and lavender oil. Well, after enough champagne and Advil, such details fade. I looked almost perky in the family photos.

Queue the triumphant Christmas music. Although this year my town was threatened by catastrophic flame (google Thomas Fire) and many people, including me, evacuated, my family still pulled together a fantastic Xmas celebration in Los Angeles. Keen to redeem myself from Thanksgiving, I volunteered to make a chocolate bundt cake filled with cheesecake and cherry filling. Rolling into the checkout, eyes bulging at the realization that it was going to cost $40 for this cake, I thought "Christmas happens once a year, it's worth it." And for once, I didn't improvise. I followed the instructions with the precision of a watchmaker. Every step attended to, done correctly. But by the time I had put everything in the pan, I did have a little worry wiggling at the back of my mind, as it seemed rather in, full up to the very rim of the cake pan. Queue hysteria as I watched the cake slowly rise in the oven a good inch above the rim of the pan as it cooked, and remained steadfastly jiggly, well past the appointed cooking time.

So far, so good....

Ah ha ha, you fool!

Yeah. Wrong size bundt pan. Didn't even know there were different size bundt pans. I do now. With the top of the cake well overcooked, it tested clean with a knife, but I didn't think to do a second check toward the inner funnel of the cake....which was not even vaguely cooked. When I unmolded it, the insides of the cake slithered out, collapsing into a coagulated mess. I was obliged to put a bowl over the entire thing, invert it, and pretend that I'd *meant* to make a trifle. But there was no way I was bringing that to Xmas dinner. Nuh-uh. So, Plan B. I grabbed the tree-ring pan, a box of Duncan Hines, and read the instructions...which said, explicitly, that the pan could be dusted with cocoa instead of flour. And it being a chocolate cake, I thought that sounded reasonable. But I now know that if you flour the pan with cocoa too heavily, it fills in the details of the trees, so that what emerges, although quite tasty, looks like it was baked by the poo demon of Golgotha.

The poop cake

And that, dear friends, is how I ended up buying an obscenely expensive buch de noel on Christmas Eve from a very good patisserie in town. I will happily report that the buch de noel was a big hit, that it looked quite charming with meringue mushrooms and some Lindt truffles scattered about it. I would share photo evidence of its grandeur, but the photo itself was so dark that no amount of Photoshop could save it...almost as if the universe was having one last Christmas chuckle at me. But I did manage to take a passable photo of one slice...

What is this strange holiday cooking curse? The other 360 days a year, I can be relied on to show up with a perfectly decent casserole, a bowl of mashed potatoes, cheese enchiladas, cupcakes....I mean I'm not Anthony Bourdain, but I can cook basic things basically fairly well. Just not in the 24-hours leading up to Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter....

Next year, I bring a bottle of champagne and a carton of ice cream.