Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Heart of Glass

Rehearsal was at my house tonight. A glass was broken. Second one this week.

The first one was my Big Mac glass, which I will be forced to replace on eBay. I accidentally knocked it into the sink when I was washing dishes. It's a shame; I got it for a quarter at a yard sale.

I used to have a set of eighteen matching pint, water, and juice glasses, and only those glasses. I didn't want a cluttered cabinet. Although my apartment was a mess, I made a point of storing them in a very particular way, up down up down. Most of them never got used because it was just me and my boyfriend using them, and he didn't live here. I didn't have friends over. I didn't have many friends. I went from work to home and back to work the next day, and sometimes I went shopping. I let all of my friends drift out of touch.

I was so angry when the first glass in that set broke. Now everything was unmatched. It wasn't even. It wasn't right. And indeed my life wasn't right. I was bored. I was unhappy. Eventually I changed. I made friends. I left my relationship. I found a new relationship. I changed everything.

I lost two of the water glasses when a spontaneous rager was declared at my house after a night at The Burren. A pint glass the night the I'm the Rhoda Advisory Council had a meeting at my house while my basement was cleared of past relationship detritus. Susie Cat has knocked a few off tables. I picked up a few novelty pop culture glasses while cruising yard sales with my boyfriend. He moved in and brought his specialty beer glasses. We didn't register for new glasses when we got married. I've embraced having a life where the drinking glasses don't match. If enough people are over that we can't find a matched set, it's a party, and party guests care more about what's in the glass than what it looks like.

I can't own too much in this small apartment, and I like to use the things that I have. I try not to save things for nice occasions, or own pretty things I don't use. I like to own things that have a story.


I have a set of heavy glass mixing bowls that I love. Glass is impractical, but they're the perfect mise-en-place set for my kitchen. My friend Carly gave them to me. She's the friend I met by placing a personal ad in a local paper, back before social media existed. I helped her pack when she moved from Boston to Phoenix, and saved the bowls from a trip to Goodwill. I think of her every time I use them. I dread the first time one breaks, but I know that when it happens I will e-mail her and she will say something that makes me laugh.

It's only a bowl. Or a cup. Or a glass. Things are used. Things break. Ancient pottery shards tell us how people lived, what and how much they ate, what they bought and sold, what was valuable and what was common. I live a life where glasses are broken during games of Mansions of Madness, or because someone didn't see someone's bag on the dark patio. It is evidence of a life lived.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

YA-Again: Steffie Can't Come Out to Play

Sometimes when I leave the library, I leave with great literature. Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye: First checked it out the summer of 1992. The Count of Monte Cristo: Acquired a huge overdue fine when I borrowed it to use as a prop in an elementary school/Somerville Community Access Television production of Rod Serling's The Girl Who Could Predict Earthquakes. (I had the lead and, already displaying method actress tendencies, insisted that I use the actual book.) I finally read it when I checked it out again in the summer of 1998.

Sometimes I leave the library with this:


I like to re-read books. I even like to re-read horrible books. It comes from the same part of my brain that allows me to watch the VH-1 I Love The Marathons in repeats.

I first encountered Steffie Can't Come Out to Play in my elementary school library. It was a badly designed space, that library with a mezzanine entrance to the gym. At least once a year a basketball would bounce out of the gym and into the library, and the librarian's pent-up rage would erupt into wordless squeals. I spent more time there than most. I ate lunch there because I didn't enjoy the cafeteria's atmosphere. (This should not surprise you.)

It was in the YA section. I had special permission to read things in the YA section before seventh grade because I was a nerd and had already read everything in the age-appropriate fiction section. But this book was rumored to be so scandalous, so dirty, that I wasn't brave enough to take it out or be seen reading it. I read it in furtive bursts when the librarian wasn't looking. I read it so quickly that I forgot most of the details. Years later, when I had a nagging memory of a shocking book with a red cover, it took me a while to figure out the title and find the book.

Steffie Can't Come Out to Play is the story of a fourteen-year-old girl with a sad home situation, from a nothing town near Pittsburgh, who dreams of being a model. She runs away on a Sunday night with nine dollars in her pocket. She arrives in New York City on Monday morning, and immediately upon arrival (page 13) meets a suave and mysterious man at the bus station. His name is Favor, baby. Favor. He takes her to dinner and buys her wine, takes her home, buys her bubble bath. If you watch Lifetime you know where this is going. By the end of the week she's convinced she's in love with him and joins his prostitution ring to prove her commitment. That's the end of Chapter One.

The rest of the book is a cliche montage of Times Square in the 70s. You can almost hear the electric bass when you turn the page. Halter tops. Hot pants. Discos. Steffie gets a pair of knee-high high-heeled silver boots. Favor has other women in his employ and there's as much girl-drama as a Taffy Sinclair book. Steffie falls in and out of Favor's favor. She professes her love for him as he drifts in and out of Cadillacs with shirts unbuttoned to show his chest. Her roommate is attacked by a trick with a knife. Steffie herself is attacked by another girl over a teddy bear before finally meeting up with the jaded cop who keeps appearing in a distracting sub-plot with a third person narrative. He sends her to a shelter and she goes home.

When I was a kid, I was sure this book was for adults and got mixed into the YA section of our school by mistake. Reading it now - 33 years old and having read Portnoy's Complaint - it's not so vulgar. It's a book about a teen prostitute for the Ann M. Martin set. It dances around the subject. No dirty words are ever used. The most graphic it gets is a client who asks her to stand unclothed in front of a window, and she gets a cold. Which is actually a decent and age-appropriate metaphor for feelings of humiliation and helplessness that might be part of forced prostitution, but it's buried in pages and pages of Steffie's screamingly bad judgement, ellipses, and melodramatic pining.

Anyway, Go Ask Alice? Way dirtier.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Et tu, Werther's Originals?

It's come to this: I ordered Life Savers online.
This is after weeks of searching. I finally found the rolls for sale at Hidden Sweets in Harvard Square, but they weren't the right flavor and my craving was not satisfied. I've been craving them for over a month. I had to give in.

And did you hear me? It took weeks of searching just to find the classic five-flavor roll. Did you notice that Life Savers have disappeared from every candy display in every drugstore, supermarket, and megamart within... well, I've really only surveyed within driving distance of my house, but it took weeks of searching. Weeks, I tell you. I didn't notice until I couldn't stop looking for them. Sure, you can find bags of them in the candy aisles, but they're individually wrapped candies, and Life Savers come in rolls. Any idiot knows that. And besides, those bags don't come in the assortment I want.

What I was craving, what I'm still craving, and will crave until Amazon delivers, is the Tropical Fruits pack. When I was a teenager, I always had a roll of them in my book bag. They were one of the few candies sold at the strange little school store that sold Snapple iced tea and gold chains. There was nothing better than a study period with no one who wanted to gossip, a paperback novel, and an entire roll of Tropical Fruits. I remember realizing I actually liked Silas Marner as I struggled to let a Papaya Punch dissolve all the way without ever shattering.

To transition from Andy Rooney mode to Holden Caulfield mode, I'm actually pretty angry that rolls of Life Savers have disappeared. They disappeared because we weren't buying them. They disappeared because we didn't care. They were an American institution, like Coca-Cola or Bounty, and we stopped paying attention. They were such a nice, concise candy, with a minimal wrapper and easy to eat surreptitiously. Nicely portioned. Easy to share. Brightly flavored, nothing to get in your teeth. Now how will teenagers find ways to turn out the lights if not to prove that Wint-O-Green Life Savers really do make a spark when you bite them in the dark? Life Savers have fallen out of favor to gum, and I think that's a perfect example of what's wrong with society.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

(Almost Vegan) Vegan Cold Cut Sandwich


To clarify, it's the sandwich that's almost vegan, not me. I'm nowhere close to vegan. I'm not even vegetarian. I tried being vegetarian years ago, and it's not for me. I have a lot of respect for people who are ethical vegetarians, but it's not part of my belief system.

I acknowledge that, like most meat-eaters in America, I eat too much animal product. It's not healthy, it's not sustainable, it's wasteful. Whether you think eating animal products is ethical or not, sometimes it's a good idea to eat a handful of soybeans instead of feeding the soybeans to a cow and then eating the cow.

This recipe was inspired by the Tofu Cheese one at Serious Eats, but I've played with it a bit. The end result is a loaf of tofu with a chewy, crumbly texture and a salty, savory flavor that tastes a bit like lunch meat. Not a specific lunch meat, but lunch meat in general. When sliced and added to a vegetable sandwich, it adds that essential something most vegetable sandwiches are missing.

Part I - Prepare Your Tofu
  • 1 block of tofu
Step 1: Freeze your tofu - In the container, in the water, overnight. You can skip this step, but it really does improve the tofu's texture.
Step 2: Defrost your tofu
Step 3: Press your tofu - Wrap it in paper towels or a kitchen towel. Sandwich it between two cutting boards or unbreakable plates, and put weights (I use books or cans of beans) on the top layer. I like to press it a full 24 hours so the tofu gets really flat and compact and dry.
Ghostly backlight optional
Part II - Prepare Your Marinade
  • 1/3 cup miso paste - This is the stuff miso soup is made from. You can find it at Asian grocery stores and many conventional supermarkets, near the tofu.
  • 1 tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. mirin
  • 1 tbsp. sake
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. to 2 tbsp. optional additional seasonings of your choice - Minced garlic? Sure. Red pepper? Go ahead. Grated onion? Great idea. I'd advise making the basic recipe once, then going whole hog with experimenting. It's a forgiving process.
Step 1: Mix all of your marinade ingredients in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir until combined, and keep stirring until the mixture begins to bubble. Remove from heat. It will look somewhere between peanut butter and caramel sauce.
Step 2: Transfer half of your miso mix into a container that will snugly contain your pressed tofu block. If you've saved your tofu container, all the better.
Step 3: Put your tofu on top of the miso mix, then cover with remaining miso mix. Make sure all of the tofu is covered, turning it around a few times if you have to.
Step 4: Cover and refrigerate.

Part III - Wait
Let the tofu sit in the miso mix for at least 12 hours, preferably overnight, and even longer if you can stand it. It only gets more flavorful as time goes by.

Part IV - Make Your Sandwich
You already know how to do this, I hope. Two pieces of bread, stuff between. Slice the tofu loaf into slices less than a half inch thick, and put the leftover brick right back into the miso mix. The sandwich in the picture above has mayo (that's why it's not vegan), sliced tomato, lettuce (picked from the garden before it died), and thin slices of onion.

You can also dice the marinated tofu loaf and add it to stir-fries or salads. Or just eat slices straight up while you're snacking out of the fridge.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Tomorrow's Lunch: Wheat Berry Salad with Cranberries and Almonds

A family that was out of town last week gifted us their CSA pick-up. It was great, because we opted not to subscribe to a CSA this year, and I'd forgotten how much fun it is to be assigned food I'd never think to buy. It also reminded me of why we don't subscribe to a CSA anymore, because it fills up our fridge with unfamiliar vegetables that are most delicious cooked when it's too hot to cook, and leads to tense discussions that include statements like "We already have so much food here," and "Fine, we'll have salad."

The lot included a brown paper bag that rattled when I shook it. Organic popping corn? Locally grown coffee? Nope - wheat berries. They look like barley and the internet disagrees as to whether or not they need to be soaked before cooking. I avoided the issue entirely and used the slow cooker, one of the most useful items in my kitchen because it lets me cook things without heating the place up during the summer. (We don't have air conditioning.)

So, into the slow cooker:
  • 3 cups chicken stock (Because we always have jars of chicken stock in the fridge. If you're not in the habit of boiling carcasses, use veggie stock or water with some salt and a big spoonful of whatever dried green stuff you have in your spice cabinet. You'll be fine. This isn't rocket science.)
  • 1 cup uncooked wheat berries (Do heed the warning that they're a natural product that should be looked over carefully because they may contain stems. I found stems.)
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Stir to combine. Make sure the slow cooker is plugged in, then walk away and do other things. I used the time to buy dried cranberries, eat something else for dinner, write a sketch, and watch Sondheim teach on YouTube.


(Best watched at home alone, so you can wear your headphones and sing along without embarrassment.)

After three and a half hours, come back, and add:
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened dried cranberries (Be sure to complain that the unsweetened kind are a full dollar more per pound than the sweetened kind.)
  • 1/4 cup almond pieces (Because pistachios were too expensive.)
Let it sit plugged in another half hour while you watch more YouTube.


(I like the "dolphin, dolphin, dolphin, dolphin" part.)

Drain and let cool. While it's cooling, mix up the dressing*:
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice (Fresh-squeezed if you're feeling like a martyr, but the stuff in the bottle won't kill you.)
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp mustard
  • 7 mint leaves, cut into a chiffonade if you're practicing your knife skills and just torn up into little pieces if you're not.
Toss with the stuff you already cooked. Makes two lunch-sized portions.

*This makes a little more dressing than you need. Save the rest for one of the other salads you're going to have to eat later in the week.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

My Friend, the Hippopotamus

One of the families I'm working with has introduced me to a wonderful book, Sandra Boynton's But Not the Hippopotamus.
The plot is intricate, but I'll do my best to summarize. See, there are all these animals - a dog, a hog, a cat, some rats, a moose, a goose, a bear, a hare. And they're doing all these great things - cavorting in a bog, trying on hats, drinking juice, going to a fair. They're all having tons of fun, all out in the open, loving life and drinking Pepsi. But every page or two, you see this zaftig character hiding behind something, looking apprehensive, and we're told that whatever kind of frivolity everyone is partaking in, there's someone who's not playing - the hippopotamus.

Now - SPOILER ALERT! - on the next-to-last page everyone asks her to join in, and after some deliberation she does. Yes, the hippopotamus plays! (But not the armadillo, seen on the last page looking sad and confused. )

Why the pause, hippopotamus? Why choose to be lonely and not join in the fuss? Afraid if you spoke no one would laugh at your joke? Were you popular once but now feel like a dunce? Worn down by your day and too tired to play? Too busy with your job? Are you just a stuck-up snob?

I've been on many sides of this situation. I've been the cat, out partying with the rats, wondering what the hell is up with the hippopotamus. Why is she standing there glaring at us? If she wants a hat, she should try on a hat. My life is too busy for drama like that. I've been the moose, drinking hard with the goose, so caught up in listening to him rant that I don't notice the mammal hiding behind the houseplant. I've been the bear, out with the hare, expressing to him that I really do care about the hippopotamus. I wish that she felt like she could join in with the lot of us.

Today, thanks to things that are going on around me, I feel like the hippopotamus. There's fun and I'm not part of it. These dozens of words about it aside, it's not really a big deal. It's taken me a long time to learn the platitude "don't take it personally" applies in these situations, though it's going to take me even longer to learn not to take it personally. People don't have fun for the express purpose of making others feel left out, at least not most of the time, not after high school.

Pages will turn and there will be another picture, one where I'm wearing the party hat (not the pity party hat) and drinking a milkshake. The dog and the hog and the cats and the rats and the moose and the bear and the goose and the hare and the hippopotamus and I will be tagged in Facebook photos and everything will be fine. But it won't, not for everyone. Because even when your problem is resolved, hippopotamus, there's still the question of the armadillo.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

I Only Miss the Turtle Food

We got rid of the cable in December. I never thought I'd do it. I loved cable from the moment we got it, back when Nickelodeon only aired until 7 pm and then A&E took over that place on the box; back when the cable box didn't have a remote and operated through buttons and switches:

The few times that I lived in dorm rooms or apartments that couldn't get cable service, I cursed the lack of entertainment and vowed that I'd never be without the Food Network again. I love TV. It has been my friend, my mentor, my pacifier.

My husband grew up in the woods didn't feel the same way. Although he's come to enjoy some nightly staring at the screen, I grew to agree with him that most of what was on was unwatchable crap. Even my beloved Food Network had gone to hell, just show after show about edible sculpture and binge eating.

We got rid of the cable service and switched to AppleTV. For the first week or two I missed the variety, but I have grown accustomed to it and I have seen the light. It is better. Life is better. I watch less, but I enjoy it more. Except for the shows I watch on my laptop (see below), I haven't seen a commercial in seven months. The only one I miss is one for a local business called Pet Cabaret. They carry Turtle Food. (TURTLE FOOD!)


The new system costs less than cable. The device itself was $99. Our monthly subscription to Netflix is about $10, and because it streams on AppleTV I can watch all the reruns of The Cosby Show or Cheers that my heart desires. (My heart desires about a half hour of each every two weeks.) We subscribe to The Daily Show and The Soup for very reasonable prices. I've purchased entire seasons of America's Next Top Model because I find I can watch them over again, marathon-style. I've started following several shows on ABC Family at $.99 per rented episode.

(Yes, I'm 33 years old and still watching shows about teenagers. What can I say? The writing is better than you'd expect. Huge had smart discussions about body image, gender identity and religion; Switched at Birth intelligently explores Deaf culture and features a sex-positive teenage girl who hasn't -yet- decided to become a born again virgin; Make It or Break It is about gymnastics!!!)

I've become more discriminating. When you're flipping channels, it's easy to rest on a show and give it time. It's even easier to waste a full hour with flipping. With this system, I have to commit up-front to 23 or 44 minutes with a set of characters. There are some shows I just won't pay to watch. (Hello, Teen Mom. I find your exploitative/entertaining qualities in questionable balance, so I'll be watching you on my laptop.) A new episode of The Family Guy isn't worth $.99, since the jokes won't be any fresher than the old ones already on Netflix.

It wasn't all AppleTV. LOST changed my viewing habits forever, making me more demanding of the product and less tolerant of crap. I want more quality TV, and I'm willing to pay for it. I want to vote with my entertainment budget, paying only for the shows I watch. I don't want to pay for the Golf Channel, or Fox News, or Home Shopping, or real or fake housewives from any city.

The system isn't perfect. I suspect there are shows I'm missing out on, because there are no commercials to tell me about them. I don't know what I'd do if a good show were airing on CBS or some other no-mans land. I've had to add some shows I enjoy to my Facebook feed just to keep up with the news, thus telling the entire world that I'm a regular viewer of Make It or Break It (it's about gymnastics!!!).

My TV is dark a lot more than it used to be. It is still a friend and mentor, but rarely a pacifier. I don't keep it on for company. Which isn't to say I've grown lonely. I have NPR.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Snap, Crackle, and/or Pop

Some days I make the tried-and-true "simple rustic fare", like roast chicken stuffed with lemon. Some days I bake bread, trying to understand the science of gluten through my fingers. Some days I break out my exotic side and braise lamb shanks studded with cloves of garlic and crusted with garam masala, with mint yogurt on the side. And some days, like today, I make Rice Krispie Treats.
After not eating them for years, I had a sudden craving months ago, and have re-discovered a strong emotional attachment to them. They're not the first thing I ever cooked - I honestly can't remember what that was - but they were the source of one early and important cooking lesson.

I grew up in a family that required I receive confirmation before I could be in charge of my own religious direction, and their church required ten hours of volunteer service as part of the process. This brought me to a weekly dinner for women in need.

The kitchen was off a church recreation hall. (Not my family's church, but a nearby one, of a different denomination.) There was a restaurant-caliber stove and enough counter space for eight people to work at once, though most of the time there were just two of us.

The woman who ran the dinner was named Beth. She was in her early twenties and a recent culinary school dropout. She ran the dinner herself, using food from the church's food pantry and supplementing it with donations and her own money. One night we served thirty women on twenty dollars and a whole lot of food pantry butter. When I questioned the copious amounts of butter we used and if it wasn't unhealthy, Beth reflected and said "This is the only time this week some of these women will eat fresh vegetables, or any vegetables at all. We're serving lean chicken, lentils - it's what we have, and there's enough good to balance the bad. You'll drive yourself crazy if you try to make everything perfect."

When I arrived for my first day at the kitchen, Beth nodded towards a counter. There were three boxes of Rice Krispies, two sticks of butter, and three bags of marshmallows. "Start with dessert."

Smart move on her part. I assume she wanted to assess my kitchen skills, and Rice Krispie Treats are a great choice for the beginner cook. They require exactly three ingredients and don't need cooking to a set internal temperature to kill bacteria. No worrying about leavening. They're almost foolproof except for one thing - the heat.

I'd never made such a large batch before, and stirring the cereal into the melted marshmallow took longer than I expected. As I stirred, I saw patches of browner-than-expected Rice Krispies running through the mass. I know now that my burner was turned up too high, but at the time, I just panicked and yelped "Uh-oh, I think I burned it!"

Beth looked over my shoulder. "Nope. Just take it off the heat right away and press it into the pan. If anyone notices, call them Caramel Krispie Treats." We served them following a dinner of vegetable-heavy chicken pot pie and they were a hit.

That kitchen was where I learned to take culinary risks. Most of the time your cooking mistakes can be salvaged. Over-salted soup can be watered down, or you can add another serving of vegetables. Dry meat can be saved for another day, chopped, and added to a sauce. Broken omelets are just scrambled eggs with stuff in them. If your cake cracks in half, stick it back together with frosting.

I volunteered for several months, long after I'd fulfilled the confirmation requirement, gone through the motions of the ceremony, and after the argument I had with my family about no longer attending their church. After that first Thursday I was given other tasks. Beth was a patient teacher, and she taught me the best way to chop an onion, a half-dozen ways to cook summer squash (it was a bumper crop that year, and cheap), and her secret for non-greasy meatloaf. I eventually quit so I could be part of a school play, but I still think of that kitchen every time I'm teaching someone how to hold a knife correctly, every time I begin to panic about a dish looking wrong, every time I reach for the butter.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Back up. Back up.

My external hard drive took a fall last week and an IT Genius Friend diagnosed a broken arm. I can get the information back, but it's gonna cost me far more than I want to part with right now. I lost almost all of my photos, including my wedding photos, and everything I've written over the past fifteen years - college term papers (shut up, I wanted them), transcripts of the online chats my husband and I had while courting, the pieces I've written for MOSAIC, the short stories I never thought were ready to be sent to publishers, the half-finished novel that dogged me when I told myself I was bored.

I've come to terms with the loss. Maybe someday I'll have a spare wad of cash and I'll be able to get that work out of jail. For now, the loss is almost liberating. I cannot waste time on editing and refining when I have writers block. I'm forced to start over from scratch, trusting that what I remember is what is worth keeping.

The whole reason I had the external hard drive in the first place was my switch to AppleTv last year. Purchasing shows made my iTunes library grow larger than my computer could handle. I thought I'd lost all of my media with the drive fall, but I followed up on internet rumors that Apple will let customers re-download purchased items. If you ask nicely, they will do it, but just once, so learn to back up your files the right way. And they can't re-issue anything once you've changed the item info, so I'll just have to live without my download of Candyman's "Knockin' Boots".

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bookworm

When I was at the checkout desk on Friday, the librarian looked at the stack of books I was holding and asked "You're not baking this weekend?" He doesn't know my name, but he knows what I read. I guess I'm a regular. I go to the library several times a week. Sometimes I go twice in one day, dropping off books before I run errands and picking up replacements on the way home.


There was a time, earlier in this century, that I would have countered boredom with shopping. A lot of us did. A trip to Target and a bottle of nail polish, a trip to Old Navy and a handful of tank tops, wandering around the mall and chasing the blues away. Although my credit cards got plenty of exercise, I'm lucky that I didn't get too deep over my head before I learned my lesson, stopped shopping, and started saving. I'm debt-free now, and I plan to stay that way until the inevitable mortgage.

My mind still confuses "stuff" with "progress". I'm trying to re-program myself, but the itch starts mid-afternoon. Soon after lunch I start looking around and thinking that I have nothing to do, and nothing to show for my time. I've sent out resumes that will be reviewed and may or may not get a reply, the laundry's done and put away, it's too early to make dinner. I satisfy the urge for something new by going to the library and wandering around, getting lost in the musty smell, and coming home with armfuls of books.

Books have always been my friends. I started reading very early, before my third birthday. I was reading chapter books by the end of kindergarten. Around age seven I started picking up housekeeping magazines and the daily newspaper simply because they were around the house. Reading kept me company when I felt completely alone, through grade-school recesses when I stayed in because I was afraid of being a target, terrifying pre-adolescent insomnia, teenage sulking, the boredeom of summers home from college, the commute once I was part of the workforce. They're here for me still - old friends, new friends, always patiently waiting to distract me.

My eyes tear up with gratitude when I think about how many books there are in the world - thousands? millions? The exact number doesn't matter. I'll never be able to read them all.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Oh, that poor girl on Jeopardy.

Did you see that poor girl on Jeopardy?



(You poor thing. I'm not going to use your name, the sooner for people to forget it. It could have happened to anyone. Before you go to college, change your glasses and your hair - color and style. Anyone who bothers to figure it out after that is a creepy stalker.)

In fourth grade, I volunteered to tell a joke at an assembly and told one I'd read in MAD magazine, not realizing just how dirty it was. In high school, I inadvertently had a crass lesbian innuendo printed in the paragraph next to my photo in my yearbook because I didn't realize it was a crass lesbian innuendo. It really did come about from a New Years Eve sleepover held in a house that was being renovated, and a living room full of pulled-up carpets awaiting trash day. I am so glad neither of these events were televised, though the unfortunate slipped-strap incident of 1995 was played in the cafeteria during several lunch periods.

Daily, I cringe to shake my spine about something embarrassing that I've said or done. Sometimes it's right after it happened, but just as often I'm remember that time I was sitting in Law & Government and coughed while resting my hand on my chin, inadvertently emitting a wet farty sound.

I know I'm the only one keeping track. If I could, I'd have one of those Eternal Sunshine memory erase procedures for all of the embarrassing bits. Of course, it would only lead to two weeks chock-full of new social missteps as I re-learned everything.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bread.

I have been baking bread. In one of my last days of employment I was woe-is-me-ing via status update that I didn't know what to do with my time, and my aunt suggested it. She reminded me that it was on the Hundred Things list, and I did make one solitary loaf of bread back then, but it wasn't great. It was mealy, and dried out almost immediately. I'd used that one-pot method that was making the rounds of the food blogs. This time I've gone more traditional, with the french bread recipe from The Vegetarian Epicure.

I've made three batches in the past two weeks, and now I have the recipe memorized. Yeast and water in one measuring cup. Boiling water, butter, sugar, and salt in another. Flour in a third bowl, with the flour canister left open on the counter. Mix, throw in more flour if it refuses to come together. Knead briefly. Put the dough in a buttered bowl, cover, and wait.

Wait. Bread takes time. The first rising takes ninety minutes. I can't stop tiptoeing up to the bowl atop its heating pad and lifting the tea towel to see if it's any bigger yet. If you disturb it, you shake out all of the good gasses that the yeasts are producing and the network of gluten strands that make bread what it is.

Once I've put away the clean dishes and washed the dirty measuring cups and mixing bowls, I've still got eighty minutes to go. Patience has never been my strength. I like to feel busy. I like to know what I'm supposed to do now, and next, and why. I kill time by puttering, rounding up the library books, brushing the cat, washing my hands, putting on hand lotion, checking the employment sites to see if anything interesting has been listed today. I figure I'm still early enough in the game that I can take "interesting vs. not interesting" into consideration. (I declare this knowing history may prove me wrong.)

Thirty-five minutes to go. The clean dishes are dry, so I put them away. The mail comes; I shred most of it. I make a mess of cleaning out my sock drawer. I tiptoe to the bowl again, lift the tea towel, and stare.

Finally it's time for the punching and kneading and shaping. Though the recipe calls for three loaves, I prefer to cut the dough into eight pieces, and use them as sandwich rolls. I'm still developing the skills to measure dough by sight, so they're uneven.

Working at the counter, I listen to the news. There are protests in the Middle East, young people who want a voice in their government, an over-educated population demanding a chance to do meaningful work. In the Midwest there's a governor trying to end collective bargaining rights for unions. There aren't enough jobs.

It's time for the second rising. There may still be live yeast in the dough, so you should let the formed rolls sit for a while and see if they can inject any air into the dough. Wash a few more dishes, watch something else on You Tube. Eventually I decide I've waited long enough, and slide the pans in the oven. I flip the oven light on so I can peek inside. The dough balls lose their shine as they dry out. You can see them harden and become firm versions of themselves. I go to the cupboard and take out the jar of Nutella. Soon there will be bread.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

This is not a New Year's Resolution

Well, obviously. It's almost February. But this was almost a New Year's Resolution, then when I was running short on time I convinced myself that New Year's Resolutions are cliche, and I never stick to them, so I should just start posting a day or two into the month and title that first-in-forever post "This is Not a New Year's Resolution". Then I got laid off, and the next month was a giant sigh. I'd have plenty of time to write later. Now it's later. It's now.

I can't pick up blogging again without justifying why I stopped, even though I know no one was thinking about it more than I was. You may remember me as the girl who nursed a broken heart by making a list of one hundred things I had to do before I'd fall in love again. I met my now-husband a month into the project, and although we took a healthy few months to get to saying "love", I knew I'd found the person I wanted to spend my life with before I got around to shooting a gun or making twenty matchbox collages.

I stopped writing because I was in love and I'd fallen out of steam. No matter how many times I've quoted that John Lennon line about life happening while you're busy making other plans, I was disappointed that I hadn't lived up to the madcap chick-lit heroine of my imagination. I got a nasty anonymous comment that kicked me when I was feeling down one night, and I shut down the blog.

I tried a few more projects. I got a job that I really wanted but turned out to be not at all what I wanted, and it sucked away most of my energy. When I came home at night I didn't want to have to produce anything. I kept productive with MOSAIC, and that's a blast. I stayed in. I wrote on my own time and I kept it to myself. I made cookies. I put up several dozen jars of very good pickles one year, and almost as many jars of terrible pickles the year after. I got married, which was a good idea, and had a wedding, which was a questionable decision, but it was a very nice wedding. I watched LOST, over and over again. I binged on quiet, on books, on thinking about things and not talking about them.

Now I find myself unemployed and as scary as that is, it feels like a blessing to have to start over fresh. In the time since I was notified I imagined my days of waiting and the things I can do while I'm looking for my next job. I am, as ever, a compulsive list-maker and my notebook is full of goals like going to the gym every morning, which I've done, even if I haven't worked out as long as I had planned, and writing every day, although I missed yesterday and had to really force myself today. It's time to do something new.