Dear men who use public restrooms,

(Click to embiggen)

My hands are starting to hurt from all the bleaching I give them after I clean up after you.


Cute Mom?

My old elementary school, in addition to being just a quarter mile from my house, also has a paved track on which I run sometimes. Today was a gorgeous, breezy sunny day so I decided to forego the gym and make that track a part of my route.

Five laps equal a mile, so it’s a nice way to keep track of my progress. It was that upon which I was concentrating, and I was also rocking out to this, so I did not hear or see the little girl when she addressed me.

“Hey you! Hey you!” Her shouted words eventually filtered through the music.

I don’t react when cars honk at me anymore. I’m not startled when I get catcalled or shouted at. I don’t jump when people come tearing up behind me on bikes or cars.

But I jumped clear out of my skin when I saw this little towheaded girl running beside me. I even yipped a little.

“How are you doin’?” She asked without ceremony or prelude.

My heart, having slammed to a stop and then leapt forward at a gallop, robbed me of my breath. Which was good, because I needed a moment to collect myself. I was already shaken by her presence, but when she took it upon herself to strike up a conversation like we’d known each other for, well, as long as she’d been alive… imagine you’re a goldfish in a plastic bag. You’ve just been won as a prize by a young boy for tossing a ring around a stick in the ground. You are handed to him. He proceeds to jump with joy, swinging his arms, caring naught for you in your rubber-banded prison. I was trying to work through the mental equivalent of that. I spluttered to a walk, stuttered, “I’m doing well. How are you?”

She grinned a baby-toothed grin. “I’m doin’ jus’ fine.”

Dear Yankees, your children will never be as cute as ours. They don’t have adorable Southern accents. Love, North Carolinians.

“How are the girls doing?” she asked.


The few times I’ve been addressed that way, the phrase “the girls” has always referred to my boobs. Such as: “The girls are looking great today, Kate” or “Looks like the girls are trying to come out and play”, etc. This is what first crossed my mind. I glanced down. No, I told myself. She couldn’t POSSIBLY mean those.

But I had my doubts. She was an outgoing, precocious child, and if TV and the internet have taught me anything, it’s that kids these days are growing up WAY faster than they should. I couldn’t assume she wasn’t talking about my tits. Remember the fish and the boy? Well, the boy just dropped the bag and there I go, rolling merrily down a hill.

I let my mouth hang open like a village idiot for a little bit, then gathered wits enough to ask, “To which girls are you referring?”

For some reason, Grammatically-Correct Mode engages when I’m speaking to small children. I think it’s a defense mechanism.

The little girl pointed ahead of us to an eye-searingly colorful plastic jungle gym, where two other little girls, one younger and one her age, were monkeying around.  “Those girls,” she announced. “Are they yours?”

We’re past the fish-in-a-bag metaphor. It’s amazing how far such a small piece of humanity can chuck me outside of my comfort zone. I did some more gaping and some more stammering, trying to form my words so they didn’t sound like me being affronted that she thought I was that old, which I was. Affronted. Not old.
“No,” I ended up with. “No, they’re not mine.”

“Oh. Which ones’re yours?”

I blinked at her. Those big, pretty blue eyes and that big, face-eating smile she had on disarmed me and flustered me at the same time. There were so many things I wanted to say (“Do I look THAT old?”), so many snappy, sarcastic jibes I wanted to make (“None. Mine disobeyed so I ate them.”), but… that face…

After furiously asking myself what the hell I was supposed to say or do, I committed. Words came, halting and piecemeal, like passing a large kidneystone. The psychological pain and strain were about the same too. “None of them are mine. I don’t have any children. I’m here by myself.”

Her face changed, as if an image of it had gone through a CG morphing machine. A comically-exaggerated expression of confusion now sat on her face, making her furrowed brow positively thunderous.

“But you looked like such a cute mom!”

My brain, spinning so fast smoke came out my ears, threw its hands up in defeat. All thought ceased. I sagged. “Thank you.”

“Well, I’ve gotta go to the car. Have a good day. Bye!” The girl launched into a sprint toward the parking lot, tossing a goodbye-wave back over her shoulder. I lifted a limp hand, but she didn’t see it.

Needless to say, it took me a long time to work up the energy to start running again.

On one level, I enjoyed her guileless, unaffected honesty and curiosity. I’ve known kids her age who have already lost a measure of their innocence and it’s just about as depressing as when people are dumber than their dogs.

But that same innocence threw my thoughts into disarray because it’s been so alien to me for so long. Call it a function of the world we live in and the hardships of the past few years, but a great many of the people in my pack are jaded, cynical, misanthropic and/or pessimistic about the future. Some, including me, are all of the above.

Lesson learned: be more like that girl before you really are as old as she thinks you are.


Text-based baking adventures

I'm just going to blame my lack of updates on the Republicans. And the Democrats, so as not to leave anybody out.

And this webcomic.

But I have been baking, and though I have been woefully unable to acquire any photographs of my efforts, I will attempt to placate all both of my readers who have been waiting, breath bated, for an update.

So I give you the text-only version of two of my most recent recipes: Cinnamon Roll Cookies and Kate's Phe-nom-nom-nom-enal Key Lime Pie.

Cinnamon Roll Cookies

Unlike most of my other recipes, I didn't deviate very much from the original (found here). The main thing I changed is, of course, the sugars. And some proportions here and there.

For the dough:  
2 ½ sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter, softened 
4 oz softened cream cheese 
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. dry active yeast  
3/4 cup granulated sugar 
1/4 cup honey 

3 ¾ cups all-purpose flour  
½ tsp. salt 

For the filling:  
½ cup brown sugar  
2 tbsp. cinnamon

For the glaze:  
3 Tb. soymilk (because we didn't have dairy milk)
1 cup powdered sugar
dash cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
The process:  
Mix 2 tsp. cool/room temperature vanilla extract with 1 tsp. of dry active yeast. You don't want it to be warm because we're not trying to activate the yeast. You just want that yeasty flavor that makes cinnamon rolls so yummy; you don't want these cookies to puff up like them.  

Cream the butter, cream cheese, vanilla with yeast, and granulated sugar until smooth. You can do it with an electric mixer for about 2 minutes or with a fork like me because you're a BAMF. Add the salt, then slowly add the flour. Mix until combined. You'll end up with a nice malleable dough. Dump it out onto a clean flat surface and press it into a flat disk. Wrap the dough well so it doesn't dry out and pop it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375*. Mix 1/2 cup brown sugar and 2 tbsp cinnamon together in a small bowl. Pull your dough out of the fridge and cut it in half. Leave one half in the fridge while you work with the other half. Flour a clean workspace (or a piece of wax paper) and roll the dough into an 8-by-18-inch rectangle (1/4 inch thick). Cut the dough in half. Sprinkle half the filling mixture over each half of the dough, leaving an inch bare along one of the long edges. Starting with the long edge covered by the mixture, carefully roll the dough toward the bare edge. Press the seam firmly. Repeat this process with the half of the dough you left in the fridge. You should end up with four logs of cookie.

These will, if wrapped well, keep in the fridge for days or in the freezer for weeks. But why would you do that?

Cut the roll into half-inch slices and gently place the slices on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper (or greased with butter; not Pam). Bake for 10-12 minutes, depending on your oven.

While these are baking, whisk the powdered sugar, (soy)milk, vanilla and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Once your cookies are completely cool, dip the top of each cookie into the glaze and place them on a rack to set.

Kate's Phe-nom-nom-nom-enal Key Lime Pie

This recipe is a bit more original than the previous, and several times simpler.

For the crust:
1 inner sleeve of (cinnamon) graham crackers (about 1.5-2 cups)
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1/8 cup water
some vanilla
some cinnamon

For the filling:
2 cans sweetened condensed milk
1 cup lime juice
zest and juice of one lime
1/2 cup sour cream
some vanilla

Make the crust! First, crush the graham crackers. The quickest way is to crush them in a food processor, but the fun way is to toss them into a gallon-size plastic bag and go to town on them with a rolling pin until they're ground to a coarse powder. Melt the butter and mix it with the crushed graham crackers in a bowl. Toss in the water, vanilla and cinnamon and stir until the crust is sticky but not difficult to stir. If 1.5 cups of grahams makes the crust too wet, add more grahams a half-cracker at a time. If the crust gets too crumbly and won't stick to itself, add a slash of water. Stir well. Press the crust into a well-greased 9-inch round pie dish. It won't be perfect; that's kind of the point.

Next, make the filling. Zest the lime, then cut it in half. Chuck the condensed milk, sour cream, lime juice, zest and vanilla into a bowl. Squeeze the zested lime into the bowl; it's okay if a bit of pulp gets in there. Gives it character. Stir until well-blended and smooth. Pour that limey b*stard into the prepared pie dish and bake for 7-10 minutes or until small pinhole bubbles pop on the surface of the pie. Do not brown the crust. Let the pie cool for 20-30 minutes before placing it in the fridge to chill for another 2-3 hours. Serve this piece of heaven with freshly whipped cream. Nom nom nom nom.


The Moors

The beginning of this dream is lost. The first thing I remember is dark, cold moors. There isn’t a house around for miles. No lights. I have a job to do, but I don’t want to do it. Oh god, I don’t want to do it. But I have to. If I don’t do what I set out to do, my life will be forfeit.
            I smile in the darkness, even though he can’t see it, and grasp his hand. I hope my grip is steadier than it feels. The smile feels traitorous on my face. He drinks more. Good. He’s drunk. Not drunk enough to stumble and fall. I have to make sure he doesn’t drink that much. He’s bigger than me, so if he goes down, I have to do it the hard way. The mere thought of it sends my stomach pitching and rolling like the hills over which we walk.
            Darkness coats the moors like paint, but I look up and read the thick spray of stars well. I know these moors and I know where I must take him. It’s not far, but the bitter wind slices through to my bones and slows me. Neither of us has a heavy coat, but that doesn’t bother him. Alcohol is his coat.
            I stretch out the hand that’s not connected to his and brush something hard and rough. The tree.
            I tell him that we need to wait a minute, but I don’t let go of his hand. Don’t dare. I can’t lose him in the darkness. I lean against the tree, wrap my free arm around it and press my cheek to its crusty, craggy bark.
            It’s warm.
            I know what it looks like in the light: Gnarled and twisted, dark and blasted. Its limbs do not reach for the sky anymore; they’re arthritic fingers, curled into knobby claws by time and age. It’s shedding its bark; it falls off in musty-mossy chunks. Wind and water and day and night have worn away the ground around its roots. They rise from the earth like the backs of sea serpents. He trips over them and almost falls. My heart leaps into my throat. But he leans on the tree to get up again.
            “Don’t touch it,” I almost scream. “It’s not yours!” I screw my mouth shut against the scream pressing against the backs of my teeth.
            Technically it’s not mine either, but I bare my teeth and snarl at him silently. He doesn’t notice. He spilled his beer on the roots of the tree. I want to force his head down and make him lick it off, but there are more important things to get done.
            I don’t want to leave the tree. I draw no comfort from its crumbling existence. Its peeling, pointed bark pierces the bare flesh of my cheek and arm, but I grip it tighter anyway. It is still warm, and that’s what I cling to.
            It’s time to go, I say to myself. You have to. Now.
            I let go of the tree gingerly, feeling like I’ve left my heart impaled on one spiny piece of bark. It’s connected to me only by strings, which spin out like thread on spools as we make our way over the moors.
            It’s downhill now, and I know we’re getting close. I don’t hear it yet, and I hope he won’t hear it until it’s too late.
            There is no moon, which is good and bad. Good because there isn’t enough light for him to read the land and, more importantly, to read me. He’s always been good at that, and I’ve been bad about keeping my heart hidden. Bad because I love the moon. I miss the moon. It anchors my heart. It is my eye, my satellite, my safety, my blanket of light in this always-night.
            He doesn’t notice when I begin to hum. He still holds the empty beer bottle and tips it back from time to time, trying to drink from it. We still hold hands. I try desperately to keep my grip from mimicking the clawed branches of the tree.

                        To my dearest forsaken
                        Who the earth now has taken
                        Empty, the bottle drains no more

A rushing, hushing sound begins to drown out my quiet hums. I’ve been down here dozens of times, but that doesn’t matter. I must be still. Because to most, the sound has no source. It creeps and surrounds, blankets and disorients, makes you scared and dizzy. The very air makes the sound, it seems, and it’s warning you like a rattlesnake.
            But I know better. I know how to find the source of the sound. I close my eyes and remove myself from myself. It used to be a lot more difficult than it is now. I throw my consciousness out wide in front of me like a net and find what I’m looking for. Close. Not even a football field away. Relief and trepidation muscle into my mind and I am sucked back into myself.
            Awareness begins to clear the cloud of drunkenness around him and he asks where we’re going. I squeeze his hand in reassurance, which he seems to accept. We walk. I feel the strings attached to my heart begin to pull. I hum.

                        It is true that I loved you
                        Despite the harm now on you
                        Wash us; the river has you, boy

As we get closer, the sound does not grow or change. It gets colder, though, as we pick our way through the blasted moor grasses, down, down. I glance up. The fog kicked up by the water is separating us from the stars. That’s okay. It’s not them I’m wedded to, not their tiny needlepricks of cold white light. I urge him deeper into the mist.
            We may as well already be underwater. It’s bone-cold and dangerously black. The air, the fog, the sound presses on us like silt on a riverbed. Here is where it gets tricky for me. I don’t know precisely where the drop-off is, so I have to tread like a frightened child, reaching out to test the ground with one foot before I take each step. I tell him not to step ahead of me.
            Even though that would be easier.
            But I still have hold of his hand; if he falls, he’ll grip me tighter instead of letting go.
            I can’t let that happen. I can’t fall with him. I can’t.
            The heartstrings, connected to my heart still at the tree, are nearly taut now.
With my next step I reach out, step on nothing but air. I find the edge of the bank, orient myself along it so that we stand side by side facing the yawning crevasse the river has cut into the flank of the moor.
            Despite how close we are to the roaring rapids, the sound is not deafening. That’s because the water has spent millions of lifetimes carving this never-healing wound; it’s cut so deep into the earth that the sound works so hard to reach us it’s tired and weak when it gets here.
            “It’s warm,” he says.
            It is. The poisonous cold is less here, right at the bank, especially when you lean out over the emptiness. The river ran so deep it must have struck the earth’s vital warmth, which it was now releasing. I look down, even though it’s still too black to see even a hand an inch from my face. The water must be boiling down there.
            I let go of his hand.

                        Here on the eve of too long
                        Where you’ll think I have done wrong
                        Waking in fear of you no more

I am scared. I feel the triphammer-pound of my heart through the strings, which thrum and vibrate and send out a frantic, skittery song.
He is quiet. Still. He’s sober now and beginning to guess why we’re here. I have to do it before he realizes how deeply I violated his trust.
            I have to do it.
            I wonder if he can feel the terror and anticipation baking off me in waves.
            I have to do it.
            I will the soft soil under his feet to suddenly crumble and pitch him into nothingness.
            I have to do it.
            I put my hand on his shoulder.
            If he decides to fight, he’ll win. He’s bigger and stronger than me. What will I do then?
            If I move another inch, the taut strings of my heart will snap.
            I have to do it. Now.
            I take a shuddering, painful breath and push.
            There is a terrible ripping from the center of my chest. The pain is blinding. It tears the breath out of me and I fall back onto the bank coughing and gasping. I clasp the sucking hole in my chest, expecting to plunge my hand into gouts of hot, thick blood, but feel nothing. Not even a hole.
            I feel nothing.
            I lie there for a moment and catch my breath. Gazing up into the stifling blackness, I begin to hum again.

                        To my dearest forsaken
Dearest vow I have broken
Afraid of your angry hands no more
River may help me later
                        Sleeping my lost love for you, boy

Song: "Dearest Forsaken" By Iron and Wine


Link Dump: Horses!

This link dump is very relevant to what has been consuming my thoughts and energies as of late, which is part of the reason why I haven't been posting in a while. Without further ado:

The Kentucky Horse Park. This is pretty much what it says it is: the Mecca of Horsedom. I've only been to the Kentucky Horse Museum, but as the friend that went with me can attest, I spent most of the time in a paroxysm of geeked-out bliss. On the museum grounds they house some ex-racehorses like Funny Cide and Cigar. Once upon a time, when Cigar was top dog (around 1996-1999), they made a Breyer model of him, which my mother duly bought to quiet my incessant clamor for it. It has occupied the place of honor on in the shelf in my bedroom at home since. Now that you have that perspective, return to the stable at the Kentucky grounds and watch me as I reach out a hand shaking not from fear but from joy, and actually pet the horse that brought in millions of dollars of winnings over his career, raced all over the world in every kind of track, every kind of weather. The only reason he doesn't get as much recognition as Secretariat or Seattle Slew is because he never won the Triple Crown, but he was the better athlete, hands down. Okay. Done geeking out. The website itself does a good job of giving the reader the huge breadth of what the Horse Park is about, and the sheer number of different things you can do there: carriage rides, museums, walking tours, trail rides, etc., etc.

Horse Photography:
Photography by Faith-- This woman focuses more on the western/cowboy side of equine photography, but she has a mind-blowing gallery of pictures that show the natural beauty of the horse.

30 Amazing Examples of Equine Photography-- I was enthralled by this because it shows you the whole range of emotions a horse has and can evoke in people: exuberant energy, unbridled (yes, pun intended) strength, quiet, unconditional love, brotherly camaraderie, childish play, endless patience, etc., etc.

Google image search for George Stubbs-- George Stubbs is my favorite painter besides Salvador Dali. I'll let you figure out why.

Matthew Seed-- I found his name as I was browsing through some of George Stubbs' work, and I was quite impressed. He seems to understand that it's not just the horse, or the lighting, or him or the camera. It's the confluence of all those things. And luck.

Other horse stuff:
Jean-Francois Pignon-- the god of horse training and tricks. He's also hilarious.
Google image search for Bashkir Curly-- Try to find a picture of a curly foal in full winter coat. You'll giggle. Promise.
Marwari horses-- the main reason I want to go to India.
The best for last: The perfect horse.  I could not take a deep breath until after this video was over.


Rant: Girl pants!

Warning: rant ahead.

Up until now, looking like a girl was never high on my priority list. Neither was it something I particularly wanted to achieve. Let me put this in perspective: my first job was at a horse barn. I would call my mother 15 minutes before I got home so she could put on her containment suit and be ready with the hose when I arrived. My shoes were stored outside in a biohazard container. The fronts of my shirts had a permanent green tinge from horse slobber. And I LOVED IT.

Ten years later, I cut my hair. Very, very short. As was proven the last time I cut my hair into a pixie cut, if I am not careful about my appearance, I am frequently mistaken for a boy.  Not for lack of trying; I favor t-shirts and men’s jeans. You’d see Lady Gaga without makeup before you’d see me with it. I never saw the appeal of going with a gaggle of girls to get my hair and nails did. All that artificial enhancement is false advertising. Like fast food commercials. Or push-up bras. Or this.

That’s still my attitude. But I had an epiphany in the form of a lecture from my mother: looking like a cocker spaniel who’s lost a fight with a weed whacker won’t get me very far at this point in my life. I’m a young college graduate in a transitional period in life with the whole world in front of her and if I want to get where I want to go, I need to start looking like I care about something other than everything else but my appearance.

Plus, what are transitional periods for if not experimentation and self-discovery?

So I began a quest for women’s clothing that
1) Would fit me
2) I'd look reasonably good in
3) I'd feel comfortable wearing.

I had NO IDEA what I was getting myself into. NO. IDEA.

Let’s back up. It’s not like I’d never shopped for women’s clothes before. But my method was much like how you’re treated when you get a pelvic exam. (Gentlemen, I can’t say this with certainty, but I expect getting a prostate exam is much the same). There’s no dawdling. Nobody browses the merchandise. One does not stop in the middle of the aisle and chat. It’s in, done and out.

But, since I didn’t know what I was looking for, it was going to take some… hunting. And patience. I decided to start with pants, since I knew they would be most difficult.

Dear women’s clothing companies: You are the only entities on this earth who can make a 115-pound girl self-conscious about her body with a piece of cloth. Come here so I can whup you upside the head.

Let’s be honest about this: I understand I have no reason to be self-conscious. I keep my body fit and I eat right. But I am simply not built like the women who are supposed to fit in those jeans. One size fits my waist and hips but the leg hem is about six inches too long. The other size is the right length but in order to fit into them I’d have to remove my entire pelvis and a few feet of my intestines. So what? Either I’m too short or not hourglassy enough. Okay, I say to myself. Before I generalize, I should widen my sample size. Go to another store. Even I know that sizes vary from company to company.

Speaking of that, guy’s pants don’t do that. A size 30 is a size 30 is a size 30.

But I digress. I expected a little bit of variance, but not at ALL in the degree I found. At one store a size 2 came the closest to fitting. So at the other store, I took a size 1, 3, and 5 off the rack (crap, even the numbers change). As it turned out, it wasn’t until I pulled a size 7 on that I felt any degree of comfort at all. I don’t think I need to tell you that I looked like the bastard daughter of a seal and a mermaid as I flopped around the dressing room.

Why does this happen? I have no idea, but the phrase “vanity sizing” has been tossed around on the internet, and this article explains the phenomenon. For those of you who can’t be bothered, the bottom line is that today’s size 6 would have been a size 12 or 14 ten or twenty years ago. There has been no standard of measurement for women’s clothes, so sizes have been creeping up year by year. The result: women feel better about themselves because they’re able to “fit” into “smaller” sizes than they were ten years ago, even though the scale says they gained 15 pounds.

This does NOT make me feel better. This makes me feel worse, because now I have to spend that much more time hunting for a size that fits every time I walk into a new store, and I have to restart the challenge of finding a balance between waist/hip fit and leg length. There is no regulation. There is no standard. There is just chaos. Denim chaos. Everywhere.

I know I’m not the only one. The graph to the left of the text of this article shows exactly what I’m talking about. The article itself is worth a read too. It mentions a new sizing and labeling system called Fitlogic which makes much more sense than anything else out there right now. That’s probably why nobody’s ever heard of it.

Two hours and four stores later, I was ruing the day of my birth and casting longing, wistful looks at the men’s department. I had found nothing, absolutely nothing, that fit. I had come closest with a pair of 7s (short), but made a horrible, horrible discovery. One that would topple the fragile framework of my sanity and self-esteem like an earthquake in a liquor store.

These pants…

Brace yourselves.

These pants…

Are you sure you’re ready?

These pants…

…had no pockets.

I’ll give you a moment to grab your inhaler.

Then let me clarify. It’s actually worse than that, because they looked like they had pockets, but they were in fact sewn shut.

Oh the inhumanity.

I was lost. Struck dumb. Literally, I gaped at my reflection in the mirror. It, as dumbfounded as I was, consternated back at me (yes I just verbed that noun).  How could I live? Where would I put the crap I carry around with me?

That I didn’t immediately think of a purse shows you how far away from the bell I am on the curve.

But then I did think of it, and grumble like an old man. I may have actually said “razzafrackinkidsandtheirstupidjeans”.

I did emerge triumphant, but at a great cost. I’d spent the past three hours systematically and repeatedly jamming my self-esteem into a food processor set to “liquefy”. It took three hours with my dad’s dog, two and a half glasses of wine and half the kitten pictures on the internet to dig me out of the funk.

Perhaps that’s just a function of the place I’m at psychologically, but I still get an arrow of grief through my heart when I reach down to put my cell phone in my pocket… and there’s a half inch of pocket there. So I sigh, hold my keys, cell phone, iPod and purse in one hand, my jacket, groceries and sanity in the other, walk five steps, and drop everything. Guess which is the first thing to crack open and spill its warm gooey contents like a broken egg?

Like I said: grief.

As soon as my hair grows out, I’m going on a men’s department shopping spree. Low loose boot cut guy jeans, I’m watching you.



Since I did two cookie recipes in a row, it's time for something different. I took a poll on Facebook. Honestly, I was expecting requests for cakes, more cookies, maybe a pie... but what did I get? Croissants, tiramisu, souffles, and baklava.

 I'd never made baklava before. Baklava has never been my favorite dessert, mostly because I'm picky about how and when I eat nuts. Also because I had the pleasure of spending a week in Greece and partaking of authentic Greek baklava almost every day, and nothing I've had since can compare.

Naturally, my next thought was to make something that could compare.

So I pulled on my thick black gloves, my mad scientist goggles and channeled the long-dead fictional ghost of Dr Frankenstein. And by that I mean I took parts from different recipes and put them together to create my own. No I did not exhume dead bodies and dismember them and use their ground-up intestines as filling or use layers of their skin in place of the phyllo dough. Nor did I boil their cerebrospinal fluid with a stick of cinnamon and a dash of bile for the syrup. Why would you even think that. You sicko.

The first thing I did was thaw my phyllo dough. Since it's so thin, it won't take but 2-4 hours to thaw. But you may need to leave it out overnight. Once it's thawed, roll it out onto a clean, dry surface and cover it with a damp towel so it doesn't dry out and break when you breathe heavily.

Next I gathered my nuts. Pistachios were the only common thread across the board. Other options included walnuts, almonds and, oddly enough, Brazil nuts. My recipe ended up using one and a half cups of nuts. Half of that mix was pistachios. The other half was split evenly between almonds and pecans. A big soft spot exists in my heart for pecans. I have this incredibly vivid memory of my little sister and me gathering pecans from under the trees at my grandparents' house. And fighting over who got to roll around with the pecan picker-upper.

They say to pulse the nuts gently in a food processor to get a nice, chunky, even mix. But a blender worked just fine for me. After the nuts were, on the whole, evenly chopped (and I'd eaten the big chunks), I added my sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves and allspice. None of the recipes online called for allspice or brown sugar, but if you haven't noticed by now, white sugar is not my favored sweetener of choice. Whenever I can, I substitute either honey, dark brown or light brown sugar for part of the white sugar. The honey is a bit better for you as a sweetener, and both it and the brown sugars add another subtle layer of flavor as well as sweetness.

We're all mixed nuts here.
 Next, I melted a cup of butter in the microwave. I took the time to ponder the rumor that the Greeks have a very healthy diet. Then I gazed at the golden delicious puddle of fat in the bowl I'd just removed from the mic, gazed at the sugar, the nuts, the honey...

Phyllo in the foreground and a demon in the microwave.
 Aw, screw it, I said to myself. I'll go eat some olives later.

So now, my nuts are mixed, my butter's melted and my phyllo is thawed. Time to start layering. This is where it gets time-consuming. For this part I would recommend collecting a friend and duct-taping them to a chair in the kitchen so you can have someone to talk to while you work.

Preheat your oven to 350, lightly grease a glass 9x13 pan and gently line the pan with a sheet of phyllo. Using a pastry brush, brush the sheet with butter. Do not fret if your first couple sheets fall apart or wrinkle; this will just add texture. Repeat this process seven more times until you have eight sheets of phyllo in the bottom of your pan, all brushed with butter.

I washed that paintbrush. Whatever's left on there will just give the baklava a little zing.
Next, spoon a layer of your sugary mixed nut deliciousness over the phyllo. After that, spread two sheets of phyllo over that, brushing each with the butter. Repeat this process until you've run out of the nut mixture.

This part took me almost two hours because I kept getting distracted by cartoons.
Lastly, spread eight sheets of phyllo over the top, buttering each one. Sprinkle the top with cinnamon. Pop that sucker in the oven for 30-35 minutes. Again, this varies by the temperature of your oven. I didn't go strictly by time. When the edges of the phyllo start curling up and getting lightly golden brown, I pulled it.

While your baklava is baking, make the syrup. This calls for sugar, honey, water, vanilla, lemon juice and a cinnamon stick. If you don't have cinnamon sticks, half a teaspoon of cinnamon is all you need. Chuck all the ingredients into a saucepan over medium-high heat, bring to a boil and then simmer for about 7 or 8 minutes, or until reduced by about a third. It should be slightly thick when you're done. Remove the cinnamon stick and let it cool for the remainder of the time that your baklava is in the oven. Resist the urge to use the cinnamon stick as a straw to drink the syrup.

Makin syrup. LIKE A BOSS.
Once your baklava is out of the oven, pour the cooled syrup over the hot baklava so it can sink in and the flavors can blend together. Let the baklava cool for about an hour. It really should be longer because you want it to be completely cool before you start cutting it. If it's not, layers go everywhere. I found this out the hard way so you don't have to. You're welcome.

It looks like a bed of deliciousness that I want to crawl into.
The numbers:
For the baklava:
  • 1 1/2 lb. chopped nuts (I use pistachios, almonds and pecans, but most recipes call for walnuts)
  • 1 lb of phyllo dough
  • 1 cup of butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice
For the syrup:
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 1/4 cup of honey
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • dash vanilla extract
  • 1 cinnamon stick
Several recipes have the option of garnishing this with some ground pistachios. I eschew garnishes simply because I'd rather spend the time eating than garnishing.

I will warn you: this recipe goes a little heavy on the sugar. The joy of baklava is the balance of flavors: the nuts (I used salted pistachios for this very reason), the cinnamon and spices, the delicate flavor of the dough, and the hint of honey, lemon and vanilla in the glaze. I would actually recommend easing up a little on each sugar to give the other flavors a chance.

Some alternatives I've seen: a teaspoon of orange zest in the syrup; a teaspoon of rose water in the filling; completely removing the syrup and instead using honey in the filling.

Please post questions, alternate recipes or changes in the comments section! Happy baking!