May 28th, 2007

It's my birthday and I had cake

Chocolate cake with chocolate frosting.

I usually use the chocolate cake recipe out of Zukin's _Dairy-Free Cookbook_ (a variation of which is in my online cookbook at http://www.seanet.com/~rla/cookbook/chocolate_cake.html). When I got it out this time, it occurred to me that I could try a couple of changes. First, I cut it down to 1/3rd (it's a three egg recipe, so that's a nice easy fraction). Then, because of the way I make blonde brownies, I decided to replace the solid shortening with oil. Rather than creaming the sugar and shortening and adding the egg, I emulsified the egg and oil and then added the sugar. The rest was as usual (mix dry, add dry to sugar mixture alternately with water). I used King Arthur Flour's Organic All Purpose White flour. I made it a two layer cake, by using two small oval baking pans. This worked pretty well. The frosting was cocoa powder, powdered sugar, soy milk and a little vanilla. Then I sprinkled coconut on top.

This isn't something I want to have often (it is always a shock to realize just how much sugar there is in frosting -- way more than in the cake itself), but it is nice to know that the emulsion trick works so well here. At some point soon, I'll be going through the online cookbook and rewriting the recipes to use oil, rather than solid shortening. That really simplifies reading labels, makes it a lot easier to use the recipes even in places with limited selection at the grocery store, plus cuts back on the saturated fat (or trans fat, if using Nucoa). Given the heavy reliance of many milk-free/dairy-free recipes on milk-free packaged goods, it seems like this serves a useful purpose.

yet another Chase novel, and a Johanna Edwards

_Your Big Break_ by Johanna Edwards is sorta romance, sorta chick-lit. No erotic passages (one kiss with shirt removal, but we're talking taaaaammmme). As I had noticed with Edwards first book (the highly entertaining _The Next Big Thing_), the guy the heroine hooks up with makes me a little nervous.

The heroine, Dani, works at the titular company, a Boston company which ends relationships for you. They'll write a Dear John letter or resignation letter for you, and for a bit more money, they'll even negotiate returning items to an ex-/getting items back from an ex-. They don't do broken engagements or divorces. Dani's parents are (and this is a spoiler) also breaking up, altho they are sneaking around about it, which generates antics. Dani's younger brother is mid-20s, graduated from college, living at home with the 'rents and evading adult responsibilities by working part-time at Blockbuster. With the exception of best friend Krista, the remaining characters are people met through the job, which if you think about it, is both cool and weird.

Why is she working here? Well, her fiance dumped her in a spectacularly evil way, and this is part of her processing/coping. She isn't very good at the job since she's all about letting-the-person-down-easy. Her coworker, Trey, who is a minor character, is a lot better, as is the new hire Amanda. Despite all the chaos she creates/participates in, her charming (she thinks he's a dork; I disagree) boss figures out an appropriate role for her).

Most of the plots in the book revolve around lying. YBB's main client, lawyer Evan, is probably bisexual (it's not clear that Edwards intended this). Dani has lied to her family about what she does for a living, and in the course of doing her job lies even more extensively. Her eventual boyfriend has lied about why he's out of town a lot. Her brother is lying about applying to med school. Mom's lies are many and convoluted. Dad, oddly enough, is _not_ lying, altho the kids think he is for a good chunk of the book, as does his girlfriend. Various other characters tell other lies as well.

Edwards does not just exploit the lies for plot purposes (altho she does do that). The lies say a lot about the character of the characters who tell them (er, yeah, I think that's what I meant to say). And in a few places, the characters have thoughtful conversations about lying, in addition to the appropriate, but less insightful angry outbursts about other people's lies. Best of all, when Dani is blackmailed by a client to tell a bunch of lies, Dani does not do so, but rather takes the opportunity to go tell the people she lied to what she really did and why -- that is, to unravel that web of lies.

Okay, the book is not as serious as I've made it sound. It's fluffy, light beach reading. Goes super fast. Pretty fun. I would read another Edwards book (altho I will have to wait a few more days). It was also fun that it was set in Boston.

_Captives of the Night_ by Loretta Chase, is connected to _Lion's Daughter_ (I'm pretty sure) and _Lord of Scoundrels_ (definitely). However, these connections are a little weaker than the family relationship of the Carsington novels. Chase's Orientalism is in full flower here, which is somewhat irritating. Having just read _Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander_, I have to say that the whole sodomy-in-Regency-England has been handled better elsewhere. That said, she didn't just reproduce that period's official homophobia; Ismal/Esmond has a very consenting-adults-do-what-they-want attitude and there are sympathetic characters who have homosexual experiences.

Our heroine is bourgeois, which is a little unusual. Her father was a criminal, and the events surrounding his death form an important part of the mystery which fuels this romance. Like _Your Big Break_, there's a whole lotta lyin' goin' on, altho the stakes are much higher here. Leila is an artist, and her Evil Husband did do at least one good thing, which was get her training and support her career. Her Evil Husband, Francis Beaumont, and his club, Vingt-Huit are recognizable from _Lord of Scoundrels_ and of course this helps explain why Beaumont dropped out of _Lord of Scoundrels_ even tho he moved to London and looked like he was all set to cause further problems in that book.

Even weirder, Esmond/Ismal seems to be the bad guy from _Lion's Daughter_, which I have not yet read and was not necessarily going to bother with. Hmmmm.

In addition to the sexual orientation stuff, _Captives of the Night_ shares some other motifs with _Phyllida_: various characters are engaged in covert investigations run by spymaster-like-guy representing the government. A club which caters to a variety of sexual appetites crashes-and-burns in the wake of blackmail/trafficking in secrets. Nice people who have engaged in homosexual sex are at risk but protected. Heroine has a successful career and her husband does not create roadblocks for that career BUT the career does create some difficult-to-resolve problems. Hero sexually attracts men and women (but in _Captives_ apparently only has sex with women). Some idiot Englishman exchanges love letters with his (male) love in the army. Heroine lies to hero because she's trying to protect someone from blackmail/investigation/execution. Heroine is warned repeatedly to be discreet and she complies. This discretion creates unexpected problems and emotionally harms the heroine.

One big, big, big difference: the hero and heroine in _Captives_ are very isolated. Ismal doesn't tell anyone anything, until Leila pries stuff out of him (and Lady Brentmor, but that's later). Leila has only one friend, and she is unavailable for a good chunk of the novel. Furthermore, Leila's life has some funhouse-mirror qualities. In addition to Fiona (best friend), and unspecified governess/school (pre-17 years of age, when her father died), and her art teachers, Leila has one guardian, one husband and one lover. All three of them were around the day her father died, and all three of them are lying pretty much continuously to her. Not to mention all the lies her father told.

By contrast, in Phyllida, the hero and heroine spend a lot of time discussing their woes with other people. A lot of other people. The heroine is a little more limited than the hero, but not nearly as much as either Leila or Ismal. This makes for a very different reading experience. _Phyllida_ is a romp, even tho what's happening is quite dire, and it isn't just because the author is cracking jokes non-stop. It's because the characters get to share their pain with others. _Captives of the Night_ is kinda harrowing to read, and it isn't because it's overly serious (there are some very funny moments, especially when Leila is hitting people with household articles) -- it's because these people are really trapped in very small places, emotionally..

I'll keep reading Chase. Probably. But I'm in no particular hurry.