The ladies at Dungeness Valley Creamery run a tight ship—I’m guessing the trio above brook no nonsense!—but are friendly and generous nonetheless, as Juliet here will happily tell you in exchange for a little bit of cheek-petting and conversation. Bonus points if you let the calves and cows suck on your sleeve for a while when they pop by to say hello.
This is dark and sticky and chewy and heavy and spicy and a zillion other adjectives that end in y that are so overused, they border on hackneyed, but you know what? It is not this cake’s fault. It can’t help being awesome, and fragrant (our living room smells like Christmas), attention-grabbing (nobody puts it in the corner) and totally respecting of your busy schedule (because it tastes even better on days two and three than it did out of the oven).
Gramercy Tavern’s Gingerbread [Sparks edits bolded here]
The only snafu I ran into with this recipe is that the cake sank a bit. Since it was in a bundt pan (flipped upside-down for serving) no one will be the wiser, but I suspect if the problem is anything like the sinking honey cake, there might be too much baking powder in it. You’ll only want to consider dialing it back a pinch if you are subdividing it into a pan that you won’t serve upside down.
Speaking of, I have successfully divided bundt pan recipes into two full-sized loaves before, but haven’t tested it with this recipe yet. If you do, let us know.
1 cup dry-style hard apple cider
1 cup dark molasses
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon of ground cardamom
3 large eggs
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup peppery olive oil
Diced/chopped add-ins for 2nd loaf: preserved soft ginger, TJ’s candied orange slices, candied citron, dark chocolate, and toasted piñon (whole) and walnuts (chopped).
Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter pan and dust with finely powdered decaf coffee and/or Dutched cocoa powder, knocking out excess. (She is not kidding about this. I used a nonstick pan with a butter/flour spray and still lost a chunk of cake. I will be more generous next time.)
Bring cider and molasses to a boil in a large saucepan and remove from heat. Whisk in baking soda, then cool to room temperature.
Sift together flour, baking powder, and spices in a large bowl. Whisk together eggs and sugars. Whisk in oil, then molasses mixture. Add to flour mixture and whisk until just combined.
Pour batter into pans and rap pans sharply on counter to eliminate air bubbles. Bake in middle of oven until a tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs adhering, about 50 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack 5 minutes. Turn out onto rack and cool completely.
Douse with dark rum, wrap, and store in a cool dark spot until serving.
Eat up, everyone! And don’t blame me for your lack of self-control; I did warn you about mine.
I was negligent. Richard has some lovely concert stuff still ahead before finishing his academic years at UNT, and if you have the slightest chance, you should come on over to the university (or show up at the Boston Early Music Festival!) for the performances, or at least tune in to the live streaming. In his words:
“I should also say that the evening before the show (Friday night [March 22, 2019]) my Collegium Singers perform the great Buxtehude masterwork, Jesu Membra Nostri. A fantastic piece . . . and if you’re not from Denton, you can still watch online, since it’ll be live-streamed: https://recording.music.unt.edu/live so you can watch a high-def broadcast on your own computer.”
Since I last published regularly here, in fact, there have been a number of other swell performances of his with his (and others’) University of North Texas students and colleagues posted on YouTube. Look these up when you have a chance. Just search UNT + Richard Sparks there and most of it should pop right up for you. Their Vivaldi Gloria performance has apparently surpassed 2 million views by now! My own top picks are probably still the Monteverdi Vespers (enriched with the requisite and marvelous period instrumentation, a superb UNT resource few music programs anywhere can match), the exquisite Victoria Requiem, and the magnificent St. John Passion.
Happy listening. I’ll be back with further news…sooner than two years from now. I kid you not.
Am I awash in a crashing sea, or drifting in limitless space? I’m rarely certain.
And this is an excellent thing. It’s just that, like everyone else I know, I find my own life filled with at least as much busyness and foolishness not genuinely germane to any practical reality that I can go for months—no, years—between times of what seem fully meaningful and joyful purpose. Still.
Once more, I’m on a giddy slide from the apex of the last big adventure, hurtling onward toward the next. Breathless, dizzy, overwhelmed, and kind of thrilled. I say kind of, because after all, it’s my nature to get a bit caught up in the usual doubt-a-palooza that grips my always tenuous sanity and gripes my innards. When I finally capitulate and admit that either I’ll be killed outright by my own overdoing or, surviving, will realize that all of my deeply-felt imperfections won’t keep the earth from rotating or my path from going forward, I’ll likely get back to my more standard style of laissez-faire living.
The new push is, thankfully, all toward good and desirable things. The obstacles, mostly of my own manufacture and therefore not terribly significant in the long run. Goals: wrap up a wildly busy decade of living in North Texas with my beloved and jamming our time with good friends, great students and colleagues, and lots of marvelous gigs, classes, rehearsals, conferences, concerts, and the making of many meals, messes, and artworks.
My partner managed to get enough help and encouragement from his publisher and editors and supporters to push through and see his new book come to print. I, while I’ve been less of a scribbler lately, am still closing in on the print version of a catalogue of the artworks from my November 2017 Dallas exhibition and the one straight ahead, the 23rd of this March, in Denton. And I still have about 40 other books in various states of undress in the cupboards and files of my mind and media. All but the catalogue will have to wait, however, as I have 2 scant weeks of actual work time left before installation of the next exhibition.
So I’m plunging ahead, keeping both of us tripping through the apartment over heaps-in-progress of painting, sculpture, framing, and assorted other pretty disasters related to the life of an artist. I hope those of you within shouting distance will show up to help me enjoy my gasps for air post-production when the real party happens.
Which party, as it does happen, will be a true farewell-to-Texas gathering since my spouse is preparing to return, at the end of this year’s university contract, to a freelance life as well. Let’s get this show on the road!
A month ago, my head was spinning. I was days away from my first art exhibition in an age, and every detail I’d been trying to finesse into place was either going to come together as planned on November 18th, or it wasn’t going to happen at all. No matter what the event, we’ve surely all gone through this last-minute frenzy of self-doubt, focus, impatience, list-making-and-demolishing, and edgy excitement. In my long-ago backstage days, the knowledge that what was weeks and months in the making would often be a one-night stand of performance and then an all-nighter of striking the sets and packing it all away was no more intense and intimidating than this latest. But those early forays into the public eye (albeit mostly from the comfortably hidden perspectives of various stage crew or directorial positions) were likewise no more cheering when I came out the other end of the production relatively unscathed and mostly relieved—even delighted.
In the present case, I will simply say that the enormous amount of support and kindness and generosity shared with me by a stalwart group of friends, advisors, and laborers made the event a grand success.
Mind you, all success is relative. This show was planned and executed as the latest in a long series of steps intended to keep me moving forward as an artist not only in the practice of my visual and writing skills but eventually, also, as a business practice in the long term. So it needed to feed not merely my already sizeable enough ego but also the ambition and invention necessary to keep some momentum and motivate further growth and progress in my sojourn. That meant risking the investment of more than the obvious monetary expenditures that can’t be immediately recouped, the art supplies and printing, the framing and publicity, the shipping and handling, and the long inventory of other tangible and commodity-based sorts of items necessary to create and present an art exhibition on any scale. It also meant taking the greater risk that an introvert with an inborn fear and loathing of business and all of the complexities Making a Living entails must dive into if she’s to succeed in anything larger than surreptitiously showing her latest scribblings to the members of her own household.
And I am here to tell the tale. That alone is ‘worth the price of admission’ in my book.
Yes, I did make back a bit more of the monetary investment than I feared I might, with a great boost from my managerial spouse (and cashier) and the generous attendees at the show who made purchases. And I certainly gained valuables other than strictly dollar-based ones, too. The advice and physical assistance of those who helped to plan, install, pack, and move the entire exhibition were essential to this success. The attendance of friends, loved ones, and acquaintances who kept me company and peopled the pop-up gallery of my marvelous venue was a tremendous boost in confidence. The further kind encouragements of those unable to attend on the day who have so graciously nudged me onward keep me moving forward, too. All of these gifts continue to be just as valuable resources as the growing belief that I will not only be able to recoup the money spent on this single, singular adventure before I’m a centenarian but will also continue to find further pleasures in the process.
I can’t remember anymore what anthology story program on TV had the episode that comes to mind just now. The tale was that of a sleepy small town whose residents felt underappreciated—maybe unnoticed entirely—and decided that what they needed for a jolt of attention was a good ol’ natural disaster. Not a real one, mind, just something that seemingly put them in jeopardy and therefore brought the attention and (most importantly) big bucks of the agencies that offer rescue and succor to those who suffer. This tale being, of course, an entertainment and a very silly comedic one at that, the town’s geniuses made a little film documenting their tragic miseries, complete with deeply unconvincing special effects and some acting that, while it did evoke horror, did so only in the sense of its rich incompetence. The highlight of their marvel of a movie was a scene where a group of people did a stupendously fakey shaky act while accomplices waggled objects on the shot’s periphery to simulate a massive earthquake and one of the would-be actors shouted “it’s an EARTHQUAKE!” to another who looked straight into the camera and yelled, “This is really happening!” Spoiler alert: the government aid agencies being courted with this tomfoolery were not fooled.
And I feel, lately, that I might be reenacting those village idiots’ little cautionary tale myself. While I’ve been genuinely working hard and keeping busier than I can easily do on a long-term basis, and I’ve gotten a lot less sleep than this sleep-fiend ordinarily requires per night, I know that the run-up to my art exhibition is only a finite project and I’m not even remotely experiencing what any sane person would call suffering! So I try not to whimper and whinge too loudly or I’m quite certain I’ll get called on the same kind of specious pity-party as those fictional townsfolk were throwing themselves. But as the day of the show approaches, I do succumb a bit more frequently to the weaselly wiles of tired self-absorption.
And then I remember that this is really happening, and soon. And truthfully, it’s been a very long time coming. So when I can snag a few hours of semi-sound sleep and get a moment to sit down and reflect while not madly framing and making art and all of the accoutrements of a carefully planned exhibition, I am in fact very happy that I chose to brave the adventure of a solo show again after a long hiatus from the scene. And I’m enjoying the uplifting responses of all who are cheering me along the way and even lending their capable insights and hands to make it go as smoothly and joyfully as possible. In honor of that kind of support and to encourage myself to get out of my own crowded little head a bit more, I took on and continued some side projects. Helps with the whole perspective thing.
One ‘side’ project is simply a longtime ongoing one in which I’ve been designing a whole group (well over 60 in number by now) of scarf and shawl designs that I will be selling. Many of these I hope will eventually become part of a line of fundraiser items for research into the treatment and cure of Parkinson’s Disease, Diabetes, and Lupus, some very real trials suffered by large numbers of people (who deserve far better, and number among them my two mamas and my beloved niece, respectively); they are available online at my Art of Where store and will evolve for their higher purpose when I’m able to recover a little from the show.
Two angel artworks came alive recently, both resembling but not entirely copying previous iterations of those otherworldly, nondenominational guardian creatures who do frequently seem to appear on my paper, canvas, or alternate substrate whenever I’m approaching both a show deadline and an exhaustion meltdown. It seemed apropos that these two avatars of support-staff excellence should serve a wider purpose than only my own, so the proceeds of their sale will be combined and shared equally as gifts to two choirs my husband conducted in different past interim positions here in Dallas.
The third and quickest project was getting to make a wreath for a charitable auction that will happen in early December. It’s a fundraiser selling one-of-a-kind custom wreaths made by local artists to raise money for a wonderful health center in town for at-risk and underserved populations. I chose to use a mental health theme for my ‘From Dark to Dazzling’ non-seasonable wreath, and I had a great time planning and making it, not least of all because it took me away from art-exhibition wrestling for a little while. Coming back to the show work again became a bit easier to face after those diversions and a few outings to see and hear great friends performing in concert and opera around here.
Coming back to the show work again became a bit easier to face after those diversions and a few outings to see and hear great friends performing in concert and opera around here. Ticking a few more items off the lengthy exhibition prep list each day doesn’t hurt. And having an evening to sit down with my remarkably unflappable spouse and work out a few of the other lurking puzzles is beyond helpful. Tomorrow seems slightly more approachable and manageable than yesterday or even today. And the Thing That Is Happening will happen one way or another, but how much better that I will be able to welcome it when the time comes!
Which time is, by the bye, next Saturday. It’s 4-9 pm on the 18th of November, 2017, at 5656 North Central Expressway, Villa #100, Dallas, Texas. And I like to think it’ll be quite the fun shindig for all of us who show up there. Betcha I won’t even have time to feel tired or distracted or worried at all anymore.