I think I’d rather have had the madeleine.

Has anyone reading this ever had a moment like that famous one Proust had with his madeleine? Where something just hits you and you are suddenly swept up in a torrent of memory and emotion?

I have not, though I have always sort of wanted to; I have wondered what it would be that triggered such a thing for me. The foods of my childhood were mostly processed, and it’s hard to imagine having a huge, nostalgic wave of feeling over a Little Debbie snack cake or a box of what they call Kraft Dinner here. (I mean. Perhaps it’s possible, but my inner aesthete objects to the notion, and my palate has…adjusted…after some years of cooking for myself. I doubt very much I would still enjoy many of the things I used to subsist on.)

I have had a recent incident of something triggering unexpected feelings, though: I listened to a song. Not a favorite, or even one I was all that familiar with; I had perhaps heard it once before, in the kind of “shuffle songs” situation that comes up when you are exploring an artist or a genre.

And, for no apparent reason, I cried for almost an hour as though my heart were absolutely broken.

And then I felt like maybe it would be a good idea to check and make sure people were okay, just in case I was having some kind of premonition. (They were; I was relieved but felt rather stupid for acting on such a thing.)

And then I felt rather confused (and maybe a bit ashamed as well). That was weird.

I have since been advised that perhaps I should consider any such unexpected emotional outburst in a bit more depth. The song in question is, as I interpret it at the moment, about striking out on one’s own when those around you are unable to take care of you; it does not appear to be going well for the speaker, so there is a strong undercurrent of loneliness and of the loss of relationship(s?), perhaps of identity as well, after a fashion. The new world is hard and loud and cold, and in it it is easy to forget one’s name.

Considered with a little distance it is not difficult to see how that might possibly have some impact on my reptile hindbrain, but the degree of the reaction is still a bit of a surprise. I haven’t really been having that bad a time. Things are stressful in the usual areas of adult life (work and sometimes finances and so on, compounded of course by the pandemic and all of the business down south), and yes, I’ve spent almost two years holed up mostly in my house but I’ve worked very hard to reach out to people consistently and to try and keep some semblance of a social life going.

…I do sort of feel lonely anyway. There is a…hunger, I think the same one that for some reason often translates into a craving for cake. (I don’t think I quite understand that, either. Cake is a special-occasion food, certainly, but I do not remember having any particular kind of special relationship to it as a child, other than being happy to see it on said special occasions. Why that particular sweet, brain? Why not chocolate or cookies or ice cream? A doughnut, even?)

This is preposterous, exasperating; I have literally talked to someone, at least digitally, every day all this time, and I live with a partner, who is generally good company and might justly wonder what on earth I meant by that and whether they were chopped liver or what.

I feel the same irritation looking at this feeling as I might watching a little kid have a meltdown because the packaging of the chocolate bar you have just bought them is the wrong color, and no amount of telling the kid that it’s just the packaging that’s different and the contents are exactly the same seems to make a bit of difference and everyone is staring at you and you find yourself perhaps wishing you could invoke a bolt of lightning to end this and all other awkwardnesses forever.

It IS the same chocolate bar, right? Everything is fine. What the hell is wrong with you?

I guess I’ll have to sit with this one for a while and keep thinking about it.

Still hoping to have a bit of a nicer version of this experience some day, though.

At least it’s Friday?

Today hasn’t been a great day for writing. Thanks to yesterday’s snow I had shoveling taking up the morning timeslot, which is great for bolstering my failing attempts to build an exercise habit but less great for building a writing habit. Lunchtime involves…well, lunch…and this evening we’ll be busy with groceries and whatnot, so…yeah. This may not be the best day for something thoughtful and complex.

In the interest of not having it be a complete wash-out, here are some odds and ends:

  • This website collects games that include “dark patterns” – sneaky tricks that are intended to keep a user playing…or, even more sinister-ly, paying. Helpfully, it also explains what a number of these dark patterns are, and lists games that are more healthy – so if you find your favorite game on the “dark” list, you may be able to find a nicer alternative at the same time. Just mobile games for now, but I kind of hope this takes off; we could use more resources to aid in vetting such things. (via BoingBoing)
  • A favorite local chocolatier is doing a Valentine’s Day-themed array of goodies. If you’re thinking of something to send a sweetheart, consider giving them a try (they’re excellent!)
  • Lots of us (…me included) have been playing the silly little word game Wordle. Enough of us, I guess, that there was a little game jam recently to play with the concept, resulting in a bunch of variations on the theme that Polygon has done a roundup of. Check them out!
  • I have learned a lot about Nicholas Cage today.
  • To pick up on the recent theme of emotions and the naming thereof: this is an interesting article over at the Baffler on the subject. Can naming our feelings – and changing the names we have for them – change how we deal with some of the big Things we face in our future?

But who will teach him fear?

So this week we made it through to the end of part three of the Ring Cycle: Siegfried, or as I call it in my head “The Broventures of Siegfried.”

Ok, so, as we may recall from the end of Die Walkure, Brunnhilde gets sent to do the Sleeping Beauty thing, but in the process she rescued Sieglinde and sent her off to live in peace someplace. And she was pregnant at the time. “Call him Siegfried,” Brunnhilde suggests, all eagerness.

Spoiler in the title: Sieglinde does indeed call him that.

Unfortunately that’s the only contribution she’s going to make to this story, as she conveniently dies in childbirth, leaving us to spend almost the entirety of Act 1 watching Siegfried grudgingly engage with the only caretaker he’s ever known: a nasty little Nibelung we may all recall from Das Rheingold: Mime, brother of Alberich.

This may at first seem especially baffling considering that neither of them appear to like each other in the slightest, but Mime does spend a lot of time monologuing to himself, and so it is we learn that this is really just an attempt at a very long game: He’s banking on the idea that Siegfried will become the hero he is prophesied to be, and kill the current holder of that pesky ring of power this whole saga gets its name from: Fafner the giant, who thanks to the Tarnhelm has turned himself into a dragon. (Oddly, he hasn’t really done anything ELSE with either his draconic powers or all that gold, just appears to be hanging out with his hoard, sleeping a lot. Living his best life, I guess?)

Anyway. Siegfried’s super keen to get going on this whole heroing thing, or perhaps just to get the fuck away from his skeevy pseudo-parental figure, but before he can do that he needs a decent sword, and Mime’s been promising for years that he’ll fix up that busted one his Mom had when she died (Nothung, the sword extracted from the tree at Hunding’s place back in part 2.) Problem is, Mime hasn’t been able to mend the damn thing, despite his obviously strong smithing skills.

Cue the arrival of Wotan, not fooling anyone (…in the audience, anyway) by turning up dressed like a Neil Young cosplayer. In this disguise he wagers his head against Mime’s and we get one of those old-school “answer these questions” games. Mime isn’t nearly as smart as he thinks he is, so this is probably not going to go well for him, but we do learn a little something that may point to why he’s never had any luck with that sword: Only someone who doesn’t know what fear is can repair it.

And wouldn’t you know it, we happen to have just such a fellow right over there.

What follows may be summed up rather simply: Siegfried, who has no idea what it means to be afraid of anything, resolves the sword-forging problem himself – rather than attempt to repair a broken blade he files the whole thing down and forges himself a new one. (Whether there is a comment here on artists who are excessively careful in their output, and whether or not it is deliberate, I don’t know – but I do wonder if more of us might not benefit from melting our own swords down, whatever those swords may be.)

From there we’re off to the races – Siegfried sets out to the dragon Fafner’s cave, where for some reason Alberich is hanging out waiting for someone to do something about it so he can get the ring back. Along the way he has a pleasant chat to a little forest bird, who of course just sings wordlessly along.

Taking out Fafner is…not really any big deal at all, in the end; in what feels like just a few bars the former giant is sprawled on the forest floor, his blood already beginning to taint the nearby spring. It’s very hot blood, too; when Siegfried pulls the sword out the blood burns his hand, and he thoughtlessly sticks a finger into his mouth. In our world, this would be a terrifying health hazard, but in this world, it means he’s just gained the power to understand the speech of animals, so from his little bird friend he learns that there are two very particular items of treasure he might want to pick up – the ring, and the Tarnhelm that enabled that draconic transformation.

He has just time to pick them up before Mime makes his appearance, all set to murder him and take the reclaimed ring for his own. Unfortunately for him, Siegfried’s new language-comprehension powers extend to (strangely) the ability to comprehend Mime’s thoughts, and so it’s not that long before Mime joins Fafner on the forest floor, with a general air of “good riddance.”

You’d think this would be Alberich’s chance, wouldn’t you? But…no. Weirdly, for some reason, he does nothing, even as our hero sits there lamenting in an extremely bro-ish fashion that even slaying this dragon thing didn’t teach him how to be afraid and that sucks. (Why it is he wants this knowledge is unclear.)

Oh well. Whatever! The little bird has another quest flag piece of information for him: High on a nearby mountaintop is a beautiful woman he can claim for his bride, if he is brave enough. Sounds like somewhere you could find fear, yeah? So off he goes.

Everything else from here is a foregone conclusion, really. Wotan shows up and (for some reason) puts forth a not entirely convincing resistance to letting Siegfried climb the mountain where Brunnhilde sleeps, and Siegfried shatters his spear (!) in the process. (That’s not going to have consequences or anything.) Siegfried climbs up the mountain, navigates the flames, and beholds the first woman he’s ever seen.

We get a lengthy and somewhat odd scene between Siegfried and Brunnhilde where Brunnhilde realizes that she’s in love with Siegfried (that was fast) but also is feeling the onset of mortality and cue existential crisis but also oh my god isn’t this dude hot, and where Siegfried at first thinks he’s learned fear but wait no actually maybe it was just the onset of his first experience of lust. Oh well, what the heck, now he has a woman!

The end.

This production of Siegfried is a bit more compelling than the last one we saw – possibly because the performers for both Mime and (crucially) Siegfried himself were a lot more into their roles, hamming it up from time to time and injecting humor into the proceedings as our somewhat exasperatingly-self-confident-yet-uninformed hero derps his way through Germanic Mythology-land doing his own personal riff on one of the lesser-known tales of the Brothers Grimm. The effects are also particularly spectacular in this one, with the piles of projected fallen leaves skittering away as Siegfried kicks at them, or a digital version of the little bird whose beak somehow is able to follow along with the singer’s voice exactly.

This show is a beast, though, with a full production running something like six hours. Anyone’s attention span might well be flagging by the end of it, and I admit mine was a bit by the end of that odd little love scene. (Is it a love scene really?)

There is something really sort of irritating in having a hero who is a decent but remarkably incurious fellow who insists on reminding you every couple of minutes that by the way he’s terribly brave, you know, never been afraid of anything in his life. Siegfried’s all right and all, and the performer playing him does a great job with one of the most legendarily difficult roles in all of opera…

But I cannot help but feel that Brunnhilde deserved better. (Then again, I suppose we’ll be getting to that as the cycle concludes.)

The calculus of “and”

When someone asks “How are you?” (or any of its many variants), there’s always a calculus, isn’t there?

Not just of “Well, how am I actually?” – which can be tricky enough, some days – but of “Is it okay for me to tell this person how I’m actually feeling?” or “Is it appropriate in this social situation for me to just spill my guts, and if yes, to what extent?”

I wonder if this calculus happens for everyone, or if it’s just a symptom of my own tendency to overthink everything.

I imagine a flowchart. Are you at work? Do you know the person who is asking? Do you know them well enough that you would speak with them in an un- or lightly-filtered manner about major life events? Follow the lines and arrows and eventually you will come to one of the outcomes that involves sharing more or less of what is really happening.

This is a little ironic, considering how very un-flowchart-like my thought processes tend to be when I am not following them carefully and deliberately. If I do not force them to slow down and write everything through, I more often find myself somewhere without really having much of an idea how I crossed the intervening space. I have an answer before I have really completely parsed the question. I have teleported to the moon unexpectedly.

(This is not to say that the answers I come to by such proto-thought-processes are wrong, necessarily – often they are correct – but more that my brain is a sort of eager street magician, too quick for the eye to follow.)

In any case, my response lately, should the result of that calculus come out to “Probably best to keep it to the surface level…” has been:

“Well, I’m not sick and the furnace is working. So, okay, I guess!”

This usually gets a chuckle, and it’s meant to. Sort of a badge of how low the bar actually IS right now when it comes to our interior landscapes. I am not actually and immediately suffering? Nothing in my house is actively on fire? Guess everything’s fine then!

This is of course not entirely correct. I am not sick right now, yes. In a pandemic that seems like it will never end and that may have upended most of how we do reality, that is definitely a good thing, though I do not think I am entirely comfortable with the notion that the right answer is for all of us to just get sick, the way everyone expects to get the chicken pox as a kid. Unlike the chicken pox, there can be long-term consequences to this, no?

And yes, the furnace is working. And in weather like we’ve had the last few weeks I am grateful for it, to be sure.

On the spectrum of loss in an article like this one I am barely inconvenienced, so far. All of my friends and family are well. Only one person I know with any degree of depth has gotten sick (though that sickness was, to be fair, quite scary.) I appreciate the author’s thesis that the “and-ness” of things is kind of essential to our humanness, that in the midst of the worst times we will sometimes find joy and in the midst of the most beautiful times, sadness.

Certainly if I take any amount of time to seriously consider how things are Outside – the ridiculous convoy, the climate disaster nobody with power to do anything about is paying attention to, the political garbage fire that is the land of my birth, the bottomless desire of Finance People to invade and monetize every instant of my life – it takes very little time for me to go from zero to literal shrieking rage. (I mean that depressingly literally. I yelled at someone yesterday out of sheer frustration with the fucking stupidity of humanity, and I feel terrible about it. After all, it wasn’t that person’s fault.)

But I also listened to a podcast episode about burrowing owls yesterday, and it was fascinating and delightful – moreso because there are people working to make homes and habitats for them in spaces that used to house less delightful things, like chemical weapons. Also, I mean, look at them.

And I Kickstarted a mildly ridiculous little nerdy thing – a page-a-day calendar that is also an RPG, with little dice and everything, and which would have been a feature at my desk this year if I were…well, more at my desk. And yes, it’s a little goofy. But the moment of levity in the mornings is helping a bit, I think. Just a tiny bite-sized chunk of an adventure every day.

So. All of that and.

It makes “How are you” rather complicated.

In which I find out what all the fuss is about

My birthday present this year was a real treat, as it turns out.

I am, as anyone who has spent any time here at all will have probably gleaned, an avid cook. And for many years I have done all of my braising and stewing and so on in a big blue Dutch oven – a sturdy Lodge, because that was in the Overton window of affordability for my twenty-something self.

And it’s been great. No complaints; I can heartily recommend it to anyone looking to experiment with cooking in a cast-iron piece like this. I’ve made all manner of stews and braises and pasta sauces in it; deep-fried things and baked artisan bread and tried out various culinary firsts like bourguignon and so on.

That doesn’t mean I wasn’t still quite excited to try out the replacement for it that I got as a birthday gift this year – the Cadillac of Dutch ovens, a Le Creuset. It’s a tiny bit bigger than my Lodge, but lighter, strangely enough – the walls of it are surprisingly thin, making it quite easy to lift and use. And it is gorgeous. (I shall have to work to keep that finish as pretty as possible as long as I can.)

It’s also still blue. I debated going for the red or the orange, because those are both ALSO lovely. Perhaps if I splurge on one of those enamel-interior skillets one of these days.

Anyway, I’ve now at last got round to inaugurating it – with this recipe for braised Chinese-style short ribs with Soy, Orange, and five-spice powder.

I went ahead and shredded the beef for easy serving and packing-up.

The result is delicious – and, since it’s actually the second time I’ve made this, I got the salt balance right. (If you, like me, only have regular soy sauce around and not low-sodium, this is still quite doable – you just have to go very easy on salting the short ribs and whatever you’ll be serving the meat on top of; in this case, mashed potatoes.)

I feel a bit boring for not having something more interesting to say, but it was pretty fun to make!

Reason # who-knows-what why it is nice to be a regular

That up there is a special sushi tray put together by our local sushi place. In this our era of not being able to dine out anywhere ever, it made a nice birthday dinner, and I find it rather heartwarming that when my husband went to ask them if they did anything for special occasions they basically said they’d whip something up. Sometimes it is nice to be a regular.

(I think my favorite thing was the row of rolls at left, just below the edamame; that’s a lobster-and-crab concoction that was lightly broiled on top and just a bit spicy. It was also delicious.)

At left, my birthday-cake substitute, also from a local place:

Clockwise from top left: Vanilla with sprinkles, chocolate raspberry, lemon meringue, and chocolate hazelnut.

The bakery has a very cute interior, with little tables with cozy seating, and once again I heartily wished I could order a coffee and sit and look out the window for a while. Sigh. Maybe later.

The day itself was pleasant enough: I spent a chunk of it puttering around taking care of business the way one always seems to on the first day of a vacation, before settling in for an evening hangout in an online game I’ll be talking about a bit tomorrow. Got the usual round of text messages (from younger friends and relations) and phone calls (from older friends and relations); got a walk in; took a little time to meditate.

Overall, it was a pretty good day.

My anxiety did show up in the middle of the night to torment me a bit about this and that – some upcoming paperwork, that creeping 5 a.m. feeling of existential meaninglessness, unease about some of the relationships in my world and whether they are okay – but at least it had the decency to leave me alone on the big day itself.

Today, feeling a bit tired from all that, with a nagging sense of longing that doesn’t seem to want to settle. Doing my best to let it go and re-center; I have a loaf of bread to make, and tonight there will be a mildly ridiculous kitchen experiment wherein I saw a recipe for salisbury steak and thought “you know, I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten one of those” followed by “wouldn’t it be hilarious if I reproduced one of those old-school TV dinners with, like, the mashed potatoes and peas and so on?”

And then of course I had to do that. So that will be tonight.

But first, another coffee.

Delightful thing of the day, via Boing Boing: Marginalia, a search engine that focuses on teeny-tiny sites. Its “random” page is quietly charming/addictive, a little peek into the weird corners of the internet where webrings are a thing and people are still creating shrines to their favorite ships.

Hey, I’ve only responded to a work message once.

…so far, anyway.

It’s a day off for me, and I have the house to myself. This is nice, though in a reversal of the usual I find myself rather wishing I could…you know…go anywhere or do much of anything.

But the province is still fairly closed-up, and the weather is pretty miserable (-13, feeling like -19, with the sidewalks still questionably navigable thanks to last week’s massive snow-dump.) Ordinarily, this would be fine. No problem; I’ve got lots of little things I can do around the house, we’ve got all the groceries we might need and everything.

But good lord it would be nice to go out and do…something. Visit a friend, have a coffee, go and eat a cheeseburger, anything.

#firstworldproblems, I know.

Yesterday I listened to the latest of that series I’ve been following on emotions over at the Happiness Lab. This time, it’s about anger, and how to do it better:

This SHOULD be an embedded player. Hopefully. If that’s not working, try this link to have a listen.

My favorite takeaways from this:

  • Anger begins in the body.
  • Anger exists to motivate you to seek change.

So, when I feel angry, the question needs to be: What do I feel needs to change right now? That makes anger actionable, turns it into something I can do something about, at least hypothetically. I like this idea, at least in terms of making things more clear, though it may not be quite so easy to think of a way to execute the change in question once I’ve thought of what needs changing.

The city & the city & the city & …

So, I have a game in my head today, and it’s not actually one I played recently.

I blame this video, which we watched yesterday evening during dinner prep:

It reminded me that even though I didn’t “really” play this one – I just watched someone else do it and offered occasional commentary – it really is a pretty great representative of the video-game-as-art.

An RPG where you may never really meaningfully engage in combat of any kind, where your skills aren’t things like Strength or Dexterity or Intelligence but rather “Visual Calculus” and “Shivers” and “Inland Empire.” Where your skills are voices in your head that literally talk to you, pushing for one course of action or another, making suggestions, informing.

A tale of a disgraced cop who opens the adventure by apparently going on a bender so massive and so intense that he wipes out his very identity and must re-learn how the world works.

A densely-written exploration of a city and all the tangle of stories in it.

An experience that is by turns darkly funny, ominous, emotionally touching, and (at least once) a little awe-inducing, too.

A lot of the rhetoric around the game on its subreddit and such seem to suggest that people think it’s bleak, or depressing, but I’m not sure where they are getting that from. There’s an awful lot of hope in it, too, and stress on the importance of connections and connectedness.

I like the video creator’s suggestion that really, all of us who live in cities live in a different one. This is true, I think, though having been forcibly cut off from it for going-on-two-years thanks to the pandemic has somewhat dulled my sense of what the city is.

When I moved here, someone who would become a very close friend insisted on taking me around on a tour. “I want this to feel like your city.” I’ve always appreciated that; it is one of those memories I like to pull out and consider when I am craving something that feels rather cozy. And I wonder, sitting here, feeling isolated from it, what my experience of the city was, and what it will be again when I can go back out into it.

What I remember: I live in a city that is full of art.

That means art in the somber, stoic ways of the Royal Ontario Museum or the AGO, where I can (could) go to spend some pleasant hours taking things in, a kind of communion where instead of partaking of what someone tells you is the body of a god that died for you it is another human being, giving of themselves across time and space and identity and place. Across that tiny synapse of a gap between selves, vast enough to contain all the oceans and never be truly full.

That means art in the rough edges of surprise, the bit of graffiti where almost nobody looks, the painted doors and mailboxes, the mural around a corner, the mysterious signage on a lamp-post with a story in it. The same impulse, less stately but no less intense.

That means art in the kitchens of cozy neighborhood pubs with worn upholstery and that one little crack in the window that someday someone will get around to fixing, maybe. And tiny little cafes barely big enough for a table and grand modernist food vistas that charge hundreds of dollars for a little ballet of delicate, edible constructions. And, yes, even the mildly exasperating, how-is-it-possible-to-be-this-hipster-and-this-bourgeois-at-the-same-time places, the ones where sometimes I feel I ought to be angry with them but at the same time isn’t it just someone having a dream?

That means art on the stages of grand performance venues where actors and singers and dancers whose names are known to the faithful come to present tales and songs, and also art on the street corners and in the tiny, cramped interiors of local bars where performers of all sorts come to gather, and to do the things they must in order to live. (Because the president of Square is wrong; what yearns for expression will express itself.)

That means art in the hands and on the workbenches and on the carefully-arranged shelves of the tiny shops of local craftsmen and artisans, some who make glamorous things like high-end jewelry and some whose shelves are lined with soap or blends of tea or dainty little candies or…anything, really.

Yes, the city is also, in some ways, bleak and messy and poorly managed. Yes, affordability is a problem. Yes, it, and everywhere, struggles right now with treating its people well. But it is also full of interesting people, making and doing and being and sometimes telling their stories to one another. Humans do that.

It is oddly reassuring to me to think about it still happening, out there, somewhere, even if I cannot go out into it right now. Perhaps someday I will get to go exploring again. I like that idea. I wonder what I will find.

I wonder very much what kind of city the others around me live in. What their experiences are like. What frames them. What they see when they ride a city bus or wait on a subway platform or look out a window onto a wintry landscape. Does the woman on the bus opposite me live in a cutthroat city, where everyone is constantly striving to backstab their way into positions of power? Does the man in the coffee shop staring at his phone live in a tedious city, bland and enervating? Or perhaps it is alienating, cold, spiritless?

I wonder what kind of city I will live in when I go back out into it; when I eventually manage to overcome the constant sensation of too-brightness, too-loudness, too-muchness and the unease of so many, so close. I hope it is as fun to go exploring in.

And now I think I need to read Invisible Cities.

Resisting the urge to title this with a baking pun

So this last week it was a friend’s birthday.

I like celebrating friends’ birthdays, even if it is by doing something little, and happily they were coming round to visit anyway (they’ve been in our pandemic bubble since forever, I think). So I quietly began scheming to try and make a little treat for after dinner that they might enjoy.

No chocolate this time around; noted. Nothing bitter. Fruit flavors, creamy things, boozy flavors: all good.

Somehow from there I hit on the idea: Let’s make cream puffs. I haven’t got a proper piping bag so we’ll need to build them using the “sandwich” method anyway; we can tuck some berries into them along with the filling. (For the curious, I’ll link the recipes I used at the end of this post.)

Once, a few years back, I took a class at a Toronto spot (now sadly closed, at least for a while) on making choux pastry. It’s not something one needs very often, but it’s an interesting thing to have tried at least once, because unlike most other doughs I’ve worked with you cook it before you bake it: heat your wet ingredients (minus any eggs involved of course), then dump in the flour and stir until your dough comes together, leaves a thin film on the pan, and/or (for the food scientists among us) comes to about 175 degrees F.

This part is a bit like making a roux, except of course we’re absolutely not trying to toast the flour – so one does need to stir fairly energetically.

Let it cool down a bit (so as not to cook the eggs prematurely), add the eggs one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next…and that’s it; you’re ready to fill up a piping bag (or a Ziploc-style bag with a corner snipped, in my case) with the resulting dough and go to town. This is pretty similar to the technique I used for the cheese puffs I made for New Years (though obviously in this case I’m not adding cheese to my dough before baking.)

Pipe your dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, and then bake for about 20 minutes or so. The dough won’t seem to do very much for quite a long time, but don’t panic; so far the steam has always eventually kicked in and fluffed up nicely. If the puffs seem hollow and have crisped on the outside, great; pop them back into the turned-off oven, leaving the door open a crack, and let them sit there for about half an hour before removing to cool.

Here we see that my piping technique still needs work. I’ll get it eventually, I’m sure.

Meanwhile (or in my case, the night before), make some pastry cream for the filling. In my case this was classic vanilla, from a scraped and steeped vanilla bean; on the evening of the visit I whipped some cream and folded it gently into the pastry cream base to make creme legere for a lighter, fluffier interior.

Once the puffs are cool, just slice and pipe in your filling. (A warning to anyone trying this with creme legere: the lightened pastry cream IS lovely and smooth and delicious and will also spill right out of that piping bag the moment you snip it and turn it upright. Fill cautiously; the tiniest bit of pressure goes a long way.)

In our case, we then topped the filling with a few mixed berries for a pop of flavor…et voila:

A light sprinkle of powdered sugar helps them feel more “fully dressed.”

I think these went over pretty well – not too sweet, despite the looks (I think the lightened version of the pastry cream really helped here.) They disappeared with a quickness as well, which is always nice.

Anyone wishing to give this a try at home, here are those recipe links:

How shall I find or shape me the free one? (Die Walkure, redux)

The second of the operas in the Ring Cycle is the one that is performed most commonly on its own. This makes sense to me; it’s both the most self-contained of the lot (even though it fits into the larger picture) and debatably the one with the most human-level stakes. (It also introduces a character we can all actually sympathize with in Brunnhilde, though they certainly do her dirty here.)

When last we left off, the gods had just managed to ransom back Freya from the giants, and all those Nibelung handicrafts were sent off with the giants – well, for about ten seconds, before Fafner murdered Fasolt to claim the cursed ring for himself.

But we don’t start with any of that (and in fact won’t be seeing much of anything regarding it). Instead we start off with a harried-looking fellow collapsing at remote forest homestead, having been chased through the forest for some time by rather a lot of angry folks. There, he is tended to by the lady of the house, Sieglinde, whose husband Hunding is, it is hinted, Not A Nice Man.

Naturally, because this is an opera and runs on opera rules, the two of them fall for one another immediately. Like, immediately. As in “the second they look at each other.” And so we get a whole act’s worth of increasing smolder between the two of them as we gradually learn the mysterious man’s backstory (he was raised in the middle of nowhere by his dad after his sister was kidnapped and his mother killed when he was young, then his dad disappeared mysteriously one day), why he was being chased through the woods (after a life on the edges of law/society he tried to rescue a girl from a forced marriage, and it went so badly he ended up killing her brothers, she died too, and now the entire clan is after him), and that Hunding is one of said kinsmen and is fully planning to kill him in the morning, though the law of hospitality forbids him from so doing now. Oops.

Incidentally, we also learn that Sieglinde’s marriage to Hunding was also forced, and that the marriage was attended by a mysterious wanderer in gray with a hat worn so low it covered one eye. Said wanderer jabbed a sword so far into an ash-tree that only the hilt is visible, announced that only a true hero could draw it, and then peaced out, leaving the audience to wonder if Odin really cares about disguising himself at all because really dude come on.

Anyway. Our smolder-y pair decide that the best plan, now that they’re clearly madly in love with one another, is to have him (now called Siegmund) draw the sword from the stone tree and get the heck out of Dodge before Hunding wakes up. And so they do, after a very extended sequence of rapturous ravings about the glories of their love for one another.

Teeny problem with this plan #1: An attentive audience will have noticed by now that Sieglinde’s story and Siegmund’s overlap. A lot. And it looks increasingly likely that they are not only madly in love with one another but also brother and sister.

Teeny problem with this plan #2: Sieglinde is (technically, unwillingly) married. And Hunding’s response on waking up and finding his wife gone is to demand justice from a certain goddess whose portfolio includes marriage and who happens to be herself married to Odin.

Oh boy.

So yeah, cue the divine bickering, which arrives in force in Act 2. Frigga/Fricka insists that Siegmund must die to avenge her honor; Odin is insistent that he needs this guy for…things, okay? And anyway, he’s already told his favorite Valkyrie Brunnhilde to see to it that Siegmund is victorious in the coming battle. Back and forth they go, manipulating each other, until eventually, with great reluctance, Odin caves. Fine. Siegmund will die. He’ll change his order. Satisfied (and more than a little smug-looking), Fricka leaves, just as Brunnhilde returns to check in with dad before heading out.

And here we get an interesting little scene, where Odin explains what’s bugging him so much: That ring. Alberich is still out there, you see, and sure, Fafner may have the ring now, but if a whole-ass army comes after him, Alberich may very well get it back. And then…well…bad news for the world. But he cannot act directly to prevent this possible catastrophe – that has to come from someone else, someone who isn’t bound by the same contracts he is, someone free

Someone like the kid he went off to have and then ghosted a while back, who is even now in a world of shit for being a little too charming to his own sister.

And so, after a moment of despair, he tasks Brunnhilde with a new job: make sure Siegmund dies in the coming battle with Hunding. Feeling more than a little morose herself, she sets off.

…And then, after meeting up with Siegmund and seeing him do the unthinkable by turning down elevation to Valhalla rather than leave Sieglinde, she decides “Actually, fuck this” and helps Siegmund in the battle anyway. Orders or no orders.

It doesn’t work, of course. Odin himself shows up and sees to it that Siegmund is killed, shattering his sword; Brunnhilde rescues Sieglinde (and the sword fragments) before her father can show up to administer her punishment for her disobedience, advising Sieglinde that she’s now expecting a child who will one day wield that sword again, once it is re-forged. She also offers a name for Sieglinde to give the future hero: Siegfried.

And then, the punishment comes. Brunnhilde is to be disowned utterly for her rebellion. Put under an enchantment, Sleeping Beauty-style, stripped of her immortality, and left to the mercies of the first man who happens to wander by and wake her. (I…am probably not the only audience member to detect an only-just-barely-implicit “disobey me? Enjoy probable rape at the hands of some rando!” threat here, am I?)

Only after she points out that her act of rebellion was the thing Odin truly wanted in the first place does he agree to mitigate her sentence by setting her up with a ring of fire for protection. She may end up stuck with the man who comes to wake her, but that man will at least need to be brave, a hero.

I mean, that sentence is still some bullshit even on a second viewing, particularly since one can argue that her only real “crime” is doing what a powerful man wanted to do but could not. (…Kind of like that hero he’s so obsessed with finding.) A Valkyrie is powerful, but ultimately an instrument of the will of Odin; for her exercise of her own agency Brunnhilde must have that agency stripped completely, along with her power.

She must become that most powerless of all things, in fact: a mortal woman.

The horror of this punishment is so great that all of the other Valkyries flee it in terror.

I don’t know much about Richard Wagner’s personal life, but I cannot help but wonder how the women in his life may have felt about all this.

I mean, there’s quite a bit of WTF-ery going on here. We’ve got an incestuous relationship that the participants seem…surprisingly fine with, and the whole shitstorm really takes off because there’s a marriage being violated, though it seems a bit rich that the goddess of marriage doesn’t have a problem with spousal abuse or, you know, forcing people into said marriages but god(s) literally forbid you try to leave such an arrangement.

Then there’s the part where all of this is arguably Odin’s fucking fault in the first place, again, since he obviously has been planning to have Siegmund find that sword, and knew his sister was there (being forced into a marriage at the time), didn’t do anything about it – encouraged her to think of the one who would take the sword as a hero, even! – and then somehow is all shocked-Pikachu-face when it all blows up on him. Again.

Even if things hadn’t gone quite so far south – if Hunding had just decided well, I kind of hated her anyway let’s find another woman – one wonders if Siegmund really would have counted as “a hero that he’d never helped” given that Odin fathered and raised him, then left him a magic sword in a tree and was all set to make arrangements to send a Valkyrie to help him out into the deal. That…sounds like an awful lot of help, dude.

Back to the first major throughline of the whole cycle: The gods are assholes.