My brain is on fire. And not in that good way, like when you’re unfurling a mind-teaser or dissecting a Tom Stoppard play or finishing the Times crossword puzzle. No, the smoke is swirling out of my head because I’m on Twitter.
Oh, I miss the days when you had to sit by a land-line to make a phone call or looked things up in the dictionary or encyclopedia, or watched TV when your show was on or put a stamp on a letter that took five days to get anywhere. That pace seems so much more manageable, and at the time we didn’t know any different so it didn’t feel slow. Now it would be like living in a hell of enforced patience and frustration. We’ve tasted the blinding speed of information and the abundance of choice and how can you ever go back?
Sure, there are those who dig in their Luddite heels and refuse to join the modern age. On the one hand I respect them and on the other, I think they’re annoying. Like those people who don’t have a television. That seems like an over-the-top act of smug defiance filled with judgment of those of us who enjoy a curl on the couch and an episode of Giuliana and Bill, airing Monday nights at 8pm but available anytime if you set your DVR. Luckily the TV-less among us are pretty few. But have you ever had to deal with someone who has no cell phone? There’s no way to reach him after he’s left the house and you need to meet him at the theater but you’re going to be late? No, you haven’t, because you don’t know my father. Dad didn’t own a cell phone until last year. He hates being on the phone and also because he doesn’t believe in anyone being late anyway so why would you need to call him? That all changed after one incident too many where he and my mother clashed over miscommunication that could have been rectified with seven digits and a monthly fee. He finally capitulated although watching him slowly push the buttons and squint as the call goes through is a little painful. As is watching my mother empty her purse on the bus in order to find her ringing phone, open it, also squint, and yell, “Hello!”
At this point TV’s with 2000 channels, DVR’s, Smart Phones and digital music are the base-line for most people, with Tablets and Kindles edging their way into the pack. And I support much of this progress because in many ways life is easier. Speed is supposed to be good because it frees up your time in which to do other things. But that is the dilemma; it kind of doesn’t. There are still only 24 hours in a day, and hopefully you spend some of that time asleep. (Something I find harder to do when my brain is on fire however.) How many of us have DVR’s filled to capacity with things we keep meaning to watch? Emails come day and night and even if you take a day off you are never left alone. Speaking of your job, is it secure? Are you looking for one? You need to join LinkedIn to make sure you aren’t missing out on an improved situation; you have to keep “connecting!” And of course you don’t want to lose touch with that girl you never talked to in the eighth grade so you have to check in on Facebook, several times a day. What of the world? Does the New York Times know to send headlines straight to your e-mailbox or do you go to the home page? And what’s this funny link someone just sent you? (Note: Please don’t send me funny links. They’re usually not that funny and they are just distracting me from People.com) Will you forward it on to 50 of your closest friends? Wait! Your land-line is ringing but you just got a text and your pot of spaghetti is boiling over (you still need to eat!)…what do you tend to first?!
And if all of this isn’t enough to make you feel as if your mind is smoldering like a cheap blender trying to chop ice, there’s Twitter, the worst offender of them all. Here’s why, IMO. I was encouraged (more like, “You’re not on Twitter?! You need to be Tweeting!”) to join by those in the (tech) know in order to increase traffic to and awareness of this blog. Immediately after signing up I was bombarded with followers, it was so exciting! Except they weren’t real followers, they were from companies who must have some chip that alerts them to new members and most were of the “Hot Girls!” or “Dishtowels, $1.99!” variety of spam. Then I felt like a loser because I had no followers. So I followed people I already know and asked them to take pity and follow me back. Then I followed the requisite food sites and food gurus. Still, I had no big following and didn’t notice an uptick on the eyeballs that visit this page. And since I am a terrible self-promoter—I hate asking for favors or screaming, “Look at me!”—I’m probably not engaging in this type of social media in the most productive way. Knowing I wasn’t doing “enough” added fuel to the fire in my head. I was inadequate and lazy. So to make myself feel better I started following celebrities; at least I’d be entertained. What? You don’t care what movie @JerrySeinfeld saw this weekend? Or where you can buy the dress @KellyRipa wore on yesterday’s Live with Regis and Kelly? These are the things I’m learning at a manic, abbreviated pace, in 140 characters or less.
In an attempt to put out the brain fire I decided to go Back to Basics and bake the Barefoot Contessa's (@BarefootCntessa) honey vanilla pound cake. What could be calmer or quieter than a perfect, homey cake? The crumb is delicate without being fragile and the subtle notes of honey and vanilla bring it to life without being over-powering. It is so nice on its own with a cup of tea (I’d better make it chamomile, the last thing I need right now is caffeine) or you can top it up with berries or use it as a base for a trifle or toast it and spread with Nutella. Then force yourself to sit in a chair and open a book. That is exactly what I’m going to do, right after I check what @JohnStamos had for lunch. And ask you to follow me on Twitter. My handle? @sweettreatment
Putting Out the Brain Fire Honey-Vanilla Pound Cake
from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics, Ina Garten 2008
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NOTE: Although pound cake is a basic, making it successfully takes a bit of care. Use COOL room temperature butter--take the butter out of the fridge and in about an hour it should yield a bit but still be quite cool and even break a bit. That is what you want. You don't want it to be completely soft and warm.
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 cups sifted cake flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom of an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper, then grease and flour the pan.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed for 3 to 4 minutes, until light.
Meanwhile, put the eggs, honey, vanilla, and lemon zest in a glass measuring cup but do not combine. With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the egg mixture, one egg at a time, scraping down the bowl and allowing each egg to become incorporated before adding the next egg.
Sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder. With the mixer on low speed, add it slowly to the batter until just combined. Finish mixing the batter with a rubber spatula and pour it into the prepared pan. Smooth the top.
Bake for 70 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes, turn out onto a baking rack, and cool completely.
NOTE: My cake took much longer to bake. Almost 90 minutes. Start checking your cake at 70 minutes and don't be surprised if it takes awhile longer.
Yield: One loaf cake