It was Thanksgiving last week and I decided to make lemon-flavored cupcakes, which have jack shit to do with the spirit of the season but I don’t play by your rules, man. These cupcakes were meant to be based on a French dessert called madeleines, which are basically magic. They somehow taste kind of like lemon-scented Pine-Sol but are simultaneously super delicious. These are things that seem like they should be mutually exclusive but somehow aren’t, like reality television stars and high power positions in politics.
Madeleines were famously referenced in Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, when the scent of madeleines triggered a series of involuntary memories for Proust. It must be something about lemon flavor, because the exact same thing happened to me when I bit into my cupcake! I suddenly remembered so many precious, treasured memories from my childhood. Like that time on the Fourth of July when I was 12 and me and my older brother shot a bottle rocket in our little brother Nick’s chest. Or that time we coerced Nick into faking dizzy spells caused by his seizure disorder so we could stay home from church. Or that time we forced Nick to eat an orange rind at our cousin’s birthday party and then wash it down with a glass of milk even though we knew he was lactose intolerant. Or that time we told Nick we had another brother named Milan, but Nick killed him and cannibalized his corpse in a jealous rage and blocked the memory out due to repressed guilt.* Wow, we were really mean to Nick. No wonder he never answers my phone calls.
Anyway, because we already talked about French literature, and because I wanted to shake things up a little, I decided to answer the personality assessment, known as the Proust Questionnaire as it was famously answered by Proust, instead of a list this week. It’s a pretty fun questionnaire that’s been answered by celebrities like David Bowie. (Because I’m, like, totes as important and interesting as David Bowie, y’all.)
Madeleine/Pine-Sol Flavored Cupcakes
First off, I forgot to take a picture of my cupcakes, because I’m an idiot, so here’s a super classy picture of my friends from Thanksgiving instead:
1 and 1/2 sticks of butter
1 and 1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
1 teaspoon of lemon juice
The zest from two lemons
1. Zest your lemons and set aside. (Understand zesting lemons sucks and you’re gonna have a bad time. Also, for those who don’t know, zesting a lemon means scraping off the yellow part of the lemon peel with a cheese grater and collecting the shreds in a bowl.)
2. Mix the horrible, gross flour and the baking soda in a small mixing bowl and set aside.
3. Cream the butter and sugar.
4. Add the vanilla extract, eggs, and lemon zest.
5. Add the flour and milk alternatively, using an electronic mixer to beat the batter on high speed.
6. Fill a cupcake tray with cupcake papers and fill each one 3/4 of the way full with batter.
7. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Great success! I topped them off with a basic lemon glaze (you can use, like, literally any glaze recipe you find online) and my friend Carrie’s verdict was, “I never knew lemon baked goods could taste this fresh!” Big hit at Thanksgiving/Friendsgiving, which was… interesting this year. Here are some memorable quotes:
“I have never heard the c-word so many times during Thanksgiving dinner…”
“This is so much different than Thanksgiving at home! In my family, Thanksgiving is usually when have a preliminary fight to determine what the big, blow-up argument will be at Christmas.”
“Erin… why are you lying on the floor?” “This just… it feels right. This is what I do at my apartment alone. I lie on the floor sometimes and just… think.”
“I’m going to take a warm bath when I get home.” “You know what’s interesting? JFK used to fuck hookers in his bathtub and then, right before he ejaculated, he would push their heads underwater so they would choke a little, which would make their vaginas contract and then he could cum harder!” (Long pause) “Great dinner conversation…”
My friends are fun!
1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Laughing until you’re in physical pain.
2. What is your greatest fear?
Death, mediocrity, and raccoons.
3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Jealousy. It’s really a horrible, useless emotion and all it does is drain me and hinder my productivity. I wish knowing this would make me stop feeling it but it doesn’t. I don’t like that I often can’t feel happy for someone’s success because my knee-jerk response is to feel jealous or inadequate instead. I really am a tremendously jealous person, although I try to repress it as best I can.
4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Jealousy, which is why I dislike it so much in myself. I’ve had to deal with jealous people, professionally and in relationships, and it’s just absolutely draining. You can never give a jealous person a satisfactory answer.
5. Which living person do you most admire?
My mother and my Grandma Ruth. I learned in middle school not to admire famous figures too deeply, because people who seem heroic often do morally deplorable things behind closed doors. I remember learning about FDR and being like, “What a great guy! What an awesome president! What a her…. ohhhhhhh, he put Japanese Americans in internment camps. Never mind!” (Although, I must admit, Stephen Colbert seems pretty damn admirable, but maybe he’s secretly a dick.)
6. What is your greatest extravagance?
I compulsively buy clothing, most of which I never wear. I probably buy some new item of clothing every week, which I end up hating when I take home. Honestly, I maybe wear, like, 25% of what’s in my closet right now.
7. What is your current state of mind?
Drunk. (Was when I wrote this – not drunk now proofreading!)
8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Bowie answered “originality and sympathy” when he took this questionnaire. I tend to agree.
9. On what occasion do you lie?
I lie constantly, but most of my lies are ridiculous and I have zero intention of actually fooling someone. Lies I have told include, but are not limited to, the following: Jon Stewart died of a brain aneurysm, Jon Stewart was an android created in the ’90’s to distract America from the Lewinsky scandal and has been powered down and put into storage since August of 2015, my cat is going to be on Real Time with Bill Maher to talk about global warming, my cat was on Real Time with Bill Maher to talk about global warming and got Bill Maher to admit climate change is a liberal conspiracy theory, Matt Damon is stalking my cat, my cat is running for president, my cat is president, my cat voted for Trump, my cat was possessed by the spirit of Freddie Mercury, a recent study by the University of Michigan found that 60% of people who dislike oatmeal are actually Timothy McVeigh, my older brother’s real father is Fareed Zakaria, I’m at O’Hare airport and someone walked into the bar and handed the bartender a box with a severed head in it. (My friend Carrie actually believed that last one for few minutes, but I wasn’t really trying to convince her.) As for real, genuine lies, I lie very, very rarely. My life is an open book, almost to a fault. Actually, definitely to a fault.
10. What do you most dislike about your appearance?
Not a fan of my stomach. I lost about 40 pounds since April and it seems like none of the loss happened in that particular area.
11. Which living person do you most despise?
Charlie Manson. I just think he’s a monster, devoid of any humanity.
12. What is the quality you most like in a man?
I have absolutely no idea. I guess a genuine nature/genuine kindness? But that’s terribly vague.
13. What is the quality you most like in a woman?
See my answer to number 12.
14. What words or phrases do you overuse?
I use “yolo” ironically far too often. Also I say, “Hello, my handsome prince!” to my cat about 80 times a day. In writing, I tend to overuse the following words: palpable, simultaneously, negate, catharsis/cathartic, bombastic, quantifiers like “wholly” and “all-encompassing”, on par, asinine, and unadulterated.
15. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Entertaining is the love of my life. I’m not one of those “write for yourself” writers. I write to entertain you. Amusing others is, like, crack for me. I would say about 60% of what I do creatively is an attempt to make people laugh, and the remaining 40% is an attempt to be taken (somewhat) seriously.
16. When and where were you happiest?
I think you can refer to question one here. I wouldn’t say there has been one time or era in my life I would identify as my happiest, but I am generally happiest when I’m laughing so hard I feel like I can’t breathe.
17. What talent would you most like to have?
I would love to be able to sing. I don’t have to be, like, Barbara Streisand or anything, but just being passably decent at karaoke night would be nice.
18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
We kind of already covered this, right? I want to be less jealous. I also want to know how to regulate my emotions better. If I could, like, maybe occasionally think before reacting to something, that would be nice. My family once gave everyone nicknames from Mafia films. I was Sonny Corleone for a reason.
19. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I raised two amazing cats. Bringing up a living thing is an incredible achievement. It doesn’t have to be a baby.
20. If you were able to die and come back as a person or thing, what would it be?
I would want to come back as someone who doesn’t struggle with mental illness just to see what that’s like.
21. Where would you most like to live?
Los Angeles, Bordeaux (the TRUE city of lights), and New York City are the geographical loves of my life. I live in LA. So, that’s one area of my life where I’m not failing.
22. What is your most treasured possession?
Cats. If they count. If animals don’t count as possessions, my father’s copy of The Brothers Karamazov (oh, by the way, Dad. I stole your copy of The Brothers Karamazov) and everything my Grandma Ruth has ever given me.
23. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Severe bouts of clinical depression. I have had episodes of mild depression and also episodes of severe depression. Both are incredibly real and debilitating in their own ways, and that’s important to acknowledge, but I was much more miserable during my severe depressive episodes because there were few, if any, momentary lapses in despair. I feel like I’ve been to the underworld and back five times in my life.
24. What is your favorite occupation?
Baking (duh) and long, aimless walks.
25. What is your most marked characteristic?
My eccentric tendencies. Definitely. Ever hear my Vince Vaughn impression? If you’ve known me for more than 10 minute, you probably have.
26. What do you most value in your friends?
Intelligence, a good sense of humor, an aversion to snobbery, and a genuine appreciation for fun and silliness.
27. Who are your favorite writers?
Alice Munro, Linda Pastan, Toni Morrison, Victor Hugo, Maggie Nelson, Joan Didion, Virginia Woolf, Charles D’ambrosio, James Baldwin, Tennessee Williams, Tony Kushner, TS Eliot, the list could go on and on and on and on and on so I’m going to just cut it off there.
28. Who is your hero of fiction?
Jean Val Jean and Jesus (really, I’m an atheist, but Jesus is, like, my favorite superhero. Is that offensive?)
29. Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Definitely Charlie Manson. Kidding. Kidding. Even though we have nothing in common, I have always felt an odd kinship with Keith Moon (if he counts as a historical figure.). I think it’s his tendency towards random destruction. I sometimes feel like I have an unquenchable thirst inside of me for some kind of nonspecific outburst, so I can understand why someone would blow up toilets with cherry bombs and throw television sets into pools just for the hell of it. I wish I could do those things too sometimes, but I’m not a rock star so I would probably get in a lot of trouble. There is something about people like Moon that intoxicates me, and that I identify with in a very deep way I do not fully understand. No matter how hard I try to maintain some semblance of maturity and sophistication, there’s still this part of me that is incredibly amused every time someone does or says something they weren’t supposed to do or say. I still like laughing because I’m not supposed to laugh. I’m not sure where that comes from, but it’s always been there.
30. Who are your heroes in real life?
I saw one of those corny Story People posters once, and it said, “Anyone can slay a dragon. But try getting up in the morning and loving the world all over again. That’s what takes a real hero.”
31. What are your favorite names?
James (objectively the best name ever), Ramona, Rosemary, Rose, Rosa, and you know what? Pretty much any girl’s name that starts with an “R.”
32. What is it that you most dislike?
Going to the pharmacy/doctor. Also, those toilet paper commercials with the cartoon bears. So gross…
33. What is your greatest regret?
My last relationship and some things I posted on Facebook that were too painfully personal even for me. I wish I had more of a filter.
34. How would you like to die?
Peacefully, but not in my sleep. Who knows? It might be interesting.
35. What’s your motto?
Ad astra per alas porci, which is Latin for “To the stars on the wings of a pig.” Steinbeck used the symbol of a flying pig and these words to stamp his personal letters, claiming it meant he was earthbound, but aspiring, possessing not enough wingspan but plenty of intention. Isn’t that all of us? The Apollonian and the Dionysian all rolled into one.
*Yes, these are all true stories.