Thursday, April 30, 2009

finally, a use for my jar of turmeric

Recently I had a rather nice experience: somebody came to my house and cooked for me. Wow! I have had people prepare me meals before (although not many, because I'm something of a kitchen hog), and I do cooking with groups, but it was so nice to relax on my own couch while somebody else did all the work.
She prepared indian food, which was also exciting. I have to admit, I don't branch out into different genres of food anywhere near often enough, and I've never made anything more complicated than the most basic of curries before. But E brought out a recipe she found on a website that I can no longer remember the name of and made me chana masala, which was freaking delicious. And fast! Enough so that I made it for myself again this week, and now I'm sharing it with you, adapted slightly from the original to coincide with what I actually did.

Chana Masala


1 15-oz can of chickpeas
olive oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbs gram (chickpea) flour (most cheaply available from middle eastern markets)
1 large tomato or 1 15-oz can of diced tomatoes
1 tbs grated fresh ginger
1 small serrano chili, seeded and diced (more or less to fit your spiciness tolerance, E used half of a chili and I later used 3/4 of one)
1 tsp garlic powder or two cloves fresh garlic (the original recipe called for a stinky potent spice called asafetida that you actually have to store apart from your other spices because it will infect them, but garlic proved to be a decent substitute. If you use asafetida, add it with the cumin seeds.)
2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garam masala (a spice mix available from stores or I suppose you could make your own, although from what I read the mix varies wildly depending on who you talk to. I used storebought.)
1 tsp fresh chopped cilantro (optional)
thinly sliced tomato for garnish if you roll that way

Drain the chickpeas and tomatoes. Into the open can of tomatoes (or in a bowl with the fresh one) add the ginger and diced chili. Heat up the olive oil until a single cumin seed pops when it's dropped in. Add the rest of the cumin seeds, let them pop for a minute, then add the gram flour and fry for a minute. Add the tomato mixture, coriander, turmeric, chili powder and garlic; mash everything up a bit with a potato masher or etc. and cook for about four minutes on medium heat. The mixture should start reducing. Add the chickpeas and half a cup of water, cover, and let cook for seven to eight minutes. Mash a little more with the kitchen utensil of your choice. Let the mixture cook until you like the consistency (you can always add more water). Add the garam masala and cilantro. Serve with rice or naan bread.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

a political statement against the lack of joy on the planet

I really don't know what this is about, but it's fun to watch and I like the song a lot. And the lipsynching young-looking background singers. And Amanda Palmer.

Also, here's a note i found on a street corner last night, which I picked up just for the weirdness factor:

"It's so nice to be a dove chocolate melt a-way. Missing you like the diamond out of my ring. The Bible is the most eloquent writing, most impower sofa need pile."

I might be misreading that last part, but that's my best guess. I like how a bunch of seemingly random thoughts (chocolate? the bible?) are just strung together.

Monday, April 27, 2009

gravity works slowly if you notice it at all

"'Love is like butter,' Mom used to tell me, 'it goes well with bread.' What she meant, basically, was that love wouldn't pay the bills. True, I had been in love a lot, and the power was always getting cut off, but I sort of liked it that way. 'Happiness is being sad and broke and in love' is what I liked to say."
-Aaron Cometbus, from Marta--A Library Love Story

When I woke up this morning and glanced in the mirror, after laughing at my fuzzy strange sleepy hair the first thing I noticed was that the lines running from my nose to the corners of my mouth were far more pronounced than normal. I bore a remarkable resemblance to a ventriloquist's dummy, or perhaps a monkey. It was a little alarming, frankly. It's calmed down a bit now (and yes, I did just pop into the bathroom to check), but my reaction is what was the most interesting to me.
In general, I wouldn't say that I'm afraid of getting old. It will happen, so why would I worry much about it? Besides, I'm only twenty-seven, and it seems a little excessive even to me to spend a lot of time worrying about something inevitable. But there are moments, mostly related to physical signs of ageing, that make me re-evaluate my stance. My god, when I started getting silver hair in grad school (hello stress) it was a massive weight on my mind for a while. I think there were several reasons for it--a relationship that wasn't going as well as I'd hoped, the extreme stress and pressure I was under at school and work--but I became, for a while, convinced that I was going to get old and unattractive and die alone, watching all the young dykes hook up at the bar while I downed a double pint of Blue Moon in solitary misery. That's an exaggeration, of course. But the first thing I thought this morning was "Wow, my face just got older." Does this matter? Am I still afraid of dying alone and unhappy because of some wrinkles or silver hairs?
Short answer: No. I know that really, it doesn't matter. Change is what happens, and to consider something like this good or bad seems... illogical to me. That doesn't mean I don't think about it sometimes, but it does mean I think I'm a little more objective than I was at twenty-four. To put it another way: I'd rather not look like a monkey for the rest of my life, but I'm not afraid of dying alone so those things aren't so tied together anymore. My ideas of what "happiness" consists of are changing.
As I do, in fact, get older, it is becoming increasingly evident to me that relationships between people can take so many different forms that I could never document them all. It's easy to whittle them down to a few categories (single, relationship, open relationship, slut) but those words each have so many different meanings that they become pointless placeholders that stand in for real descriptions of connection. It's also evident to me that, although I have experienced a few of those placeholder connections ('single' briefly and 'relationship' at great length), I haven't found the balance, the unlabeled form of connection that will make me the most happy. It's all butter, or all bread, or something completely different, a cracker or a mango. I don't give a shit about finances really, but if I change that homily to mean that bread is a solid base, a sense of self to be occasionally combined with someone else's butter (or jam, or cream cheese, or olive tapenade, or...), it makes sense to me. For now, I'm concentrating on baking bread, on making sure I am the strongest and best and happiest version of myself that I can be, while I explore what my connections to other people actually consist of. I think I'm making headway. If I someday find a person or persons who will butter my bread without overwhelming it that would be great, but if not I think I could be happy with who I am without the label of "relationship." Being single doesn't mean a lack of connection, it just means a different sort of connection. For now, I'm at peace with it.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

why is everything so hazy?

I'm super fuzzed out this morning from not sleeping well for several consecutive nights (perfect timing for the first rehearsal of that piece in the post below, sigh... and tonight is likely to be no different), but here's something I learned last night: following directions makes a difference. I learned it a few weeks ago when, with my second go-round with chocolate sugar cookies, they didn't spread during baking as planned, presumably because we melted the butter instead of having it at room temperature. And this week? It's crispy salted chocolate chip oatmeal cookies that schooled me.
I made these with Rose-Anne a few weeks ago, and I mis-read the recipe: instead of creaming the sugars and butter together until "fluffy and light" I just creamed them together. The resulting cookies were good (pretty awesome the next day, actually) but not in the way they were described in the recipe. We were going for "thick and shattery" because that sounds like an awesome thing for a cookie to be, and instead we got "very thin and crunchy." So it goes. But last night (with my brand new electric hand mixer, OMG) I made them again (using bittersweet chocolate chips because I didn't have white chocolate) and thick and shattery they are! They look very substantial but they are feather-light and explode in your mouth. And beautiful? The prettiest damn cookies I've ever made.
Live and learn. Time for more coffee before I head to rehearsal and get my mind blown.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

i was thinking last night about elvis

I've actually had a lot of downtime this week, due to both my efforts to not overbook myself and a number of cancellations (I'm up to three now, I think). But I'm not complaining. It's giving me the time I need to practice this new music piece I'm playing, one that is so full of details and unusual notations and sound effects that I'm having a hard time working my way through it. The most frustrating part? No matter how thoroughly I prepare (which is a matter that is still up for debate, most definitely), the first rehearsal will suck. Playing something by myself is so completely different than playing it with other people that it's not even comparable, and (for me, at least) there's no real way to be ready for that. I just have to prepare as much as I can and hope I can keep it together when other people are involved.
Actually, scratch that. With this piece, the most frustrating part is how it's printed. Each page is 11x17 and sits on the stand horizontally; ordinarily we'd have pages that were somewhat larger than normal but still sitting vertically. I'm supposed to have three of these pages out at one time. That's going to involve two stands per person and a lot of squinting. Why? At home, because I only have one stand, I have to practice it on the table. If I hadn't bought that rolling cart last week I suppose I'd be on the floor. Grr.

And then there's the actual part. Check this out: staves! I normally look at one line, and here I have three. I am no pianist, sir.

And here's an example of the many things I'm reading at once. The top stave indicates where my bow is in relation to my bridge (the piece of wood that holds up my strings) and the squiggle indicates how I should be vibrating with my left hand.

I mentioned I write a lot in parts, right? There's a whole section where I'm alternately plucking, plucking and using my left hand to damped the sound, tapping with my left hand fingers, and tapping one finger while dampening again with the remaining fingers. Oh, and sometimes I bow, and sometimes that's with the hair and sometimes it's with the stick. Hot damn.

Did I mention that I also have to tune all of my strings down a half step? Oy.
But actually, this wasn't what I meant to talk about at all. I meant to write about dal niente's last concert, which was wittily entitled Hard Music, Hard Liquor and was supposed to take place at a local bar. Except the bar double-booked us with a band, and so we ended up in a viewing gallery of a tattoo parlour next door. Imagine: a large group of contemporary classical music fans have turned out to hear some of the hardest music we've ever seen performed live. (The saxophone solo was called Asphyxia, just to give you an idea.) We sit in a large room, surrounded by paintings of mostly-naked bikini-clad woman (the one behind the performers actually appears to be fondling her own breasts in an orgy of male imagination) and--wait for it--the second-largest painting of Elvis in existence. (Or maybe in North America or something. I don't know.) It was at least 12x12, very possibly larger: Elvis, in profile, had visible sweat on his hairline and a big, blue, cheesy tear running down his cheek. Priceless.
Oh, and the concert was pretty awesome too. And then we all lived up to our self-prescribed title of "a drinking group with a music problem." Good times.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


I feel like I've been writing a lot lately, so here's my very first ever video posting! I didn't know of the existence of fail blog until recently; I just thought people I knew said "fail!" after silly things happened and that it was really funny. I'm so behind the times. (It also took me quite a while to figure out how to embed this video, another way in which I'm behind on things everybody else seems to know how to do.)
Anyway, this is a pretty famous viola soloist, Yuri Bashmet. I'd cry if this happened to me. Or maybe I'd do just what he does.

Monday, April 20, 2009

so i turned myself to face me

In my more egotistical moments, I think that I am sometimes able to witness and even help people close to me begin to realize aspects of their potential that they would maybe not access otherwise. People I date or befriend start playing their instruments again or more seriously, they change their eating habits and stick with it, they read more and different books, they begin using new words. It's not so much that I do anything as that I just try to fully support what seems to be happening anyway; this can sometimes become an enabling behavior (since my full support seems to know no boundaries sometimes, and that's bad), but sometimes it's positive and I love feeling like I was there for somebody doing what they wanted to do. (But it's not about me! I swear.)
With my ex Tabitha it's been a little more complicated. The enabling was a major issue between us, and a large part of why we eventually had to break up, but there have also been positive changes from our interactions. Here's the approximate story (from my side of things) of my very small participation in recent events: a few months ago, I got a text from Tabitha saying that she had been reading Stone Butch Blues, Leslie Feinberg's highly recommended novel about a transgendered narrator's experiences coming into hir own identity. The text didn't contain any explanation, but I knew that that can be a very upsetting book to read (a lot of sexual abuse and assault, and a lot of ideas and experiences surrounding gender that can be very intense to read about, and it sure upset the hell out of me when I read it) so I followed up on it. We talked, and I told her to read Kate Bornstein's Gender Outlaw, one of my absolute favorite books and one that changed the way I think about gender forever. That's all, really.
Tabitha is going by Peter these days, and using masculine pronouns. It seems, in the grand scheme of things, like a small change and in a lot of ways it is, but on other ways it's been absolutely awesome to see. I've never watched someone I was so close to go through a personal transformation like this, and what amazes me over and over again is how different it seems to have made everything. It's not like the pronouns have switched and that's the end of the story; his whole life seems to be coming together in new and good ways. He's getting his shit together, reading and writing and creating more, talking in a whole different way, and positively on fire with ideas and passion. I feel like I'm watching somebody become who they are really, truly supposed to be, and it is incredibly gratifying to me as an observer. (Of course, I only know my side of things and he might think completely differently, but from here that's what it looks like.) I'm truly proud of him, for taking on his own life and making it what it needs to be.
One of the offshoots of all of this is that he's started a genderqueer activism group along with a bunch of the people who he works with at one of Chicago's feminist sex toy stores. (We have two! Both within walking distance of my apartment. Score.) They have a blog (and a facebook group, and a twitter), and although right now it's basically just a mission statement people in the group are hopefully going to start posting things soon. I went to my first meeting last night. It made me realize that I've been so busy dealing with life that I've become complacent in my views on gender, and also made me think extra hard about my own gender thoughts and what those mean. That's been pretty fun too. It feels good to get excited again, to remember that there's more to life than the day-to-day shit that I waste so much of my brain dealing with. Change and growth is in the air for everybody, I guess.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

circle of fifths

Lately my orchestra rehearsals have been full of music I first learned when I was fourteen or fifteen, which is kind of crazy. It feels kind of circular. I spent all afternoon yesterday playing Brahms' Academic Festival Overture (a very fun piece based on German drinking songs, I believe, and which I first played at All-State when I was a freshman in high school) and then moved on to a Civic rehearsal where we played Dvorak's 8th symphony, which I'm pretty sure I played the last movement of in 8th grade. Seriously. I'm also playing Tchaikovsky's 4th symphony right now (sophomore All-State and at Interlochen when I was 18, and maybe at least once more that I can't currently remember) and Strauss' Don Juan (which I abhor because I've been playing it for auditions since I was 19 or so, and which we played in Civic last year). The only new piece I'm playing is Stravinsky's violin concerto. What the hell? There are so many pieces I haven't played, and I seem to be stuck on repeat.
It's not all bad, because every piece is weighted with the memories of when I played it before. It's so much fun to play, say, the last movement of the Tchaikovsky because I totally kicked that piece's ass when I was 16 and the memory of being joyously in control of it is still powerful. Being completely down with a piece, knowing how it sounds and where I play and how to make it good, feels great. It's one of my favorite parts of being an orchestral musician. It's also amazing how much I remember. I know I've played the Brahms overture since I was 15, but I'm still surprised at how well I just... know it. I know exactly what should be happening pretty much all the time, how things fit, what I should be playing. It's kind of weird, like somewhere in my head there are zillions of orchestral pieces just hidden away in their entirety, waiting to cycle around and back into my life.

Friday, April 17, 2009

sugar in my bowl

You know when you've been thinking about something (like food, or sex, or a movie or book) for a long time and building up anticipation and then you have it and sometimes it's not all you had hoped? (I think the only time that really has a chance of success is with sex, and even that can be iffy.) That happens to me a lot. It happened yesterday with some cookies, although I have high hopes for the future.
I had been thinking on and off about this Austrian Raspberry Shortbread ever since I first read about it a few months ago. I love me a good shortbread, and I liked the idea of a sort of lighter shortbread-y bar. And jam? Yum. But there was always something getting in the way of my making it: I didn't have time to let the dough sit in the fridge for two hours, I didn't have a good jam around, not enough eggs, no reason to make a large batch of hard-to-transport cookies, something. But last night we had a work potluck, and I decided it was time. (Also, frankly, I thought I'd have some raw milk butter hanging around, but that didn't work and wouldn't have been enough for the recipe anyway.)
The recipe was pretty minimally frustrating, as such things go. The dough was a pain but only because I don't have an electric hand mixer (yet! one of the good things that came from this was that I bitched about creaming butter by hand on facebook and now an acquaintance is giving me her brand-new unopened hand mixer), and grating said dough takes a little muscle, but it wasn't so bad. The end result had a lot of positives and negatives.

-Not very good for you, what with the pound of butter and four eggs and two cups of sugar
-Irritating to make without an electric mixer (or a food processor with a grater attachment, although that was far less of a problem)
-Not as fluffy as I'd hoped
-Tasted mostly like sugar

-A good place to use my homemade raspberry-blueberry jam from my Canadian friend Emma
-Got raves and impressed looks from my co-workers
-Tasted mostly like sugar

They were good, just not as good as I wanted them to be. The shortbread, frankly, seemed a little uninteresting; I can only eat so much of a cookie where the primary taste is "sweet." I'll make these again (after all, people ate and loved them), but I think I might just use another shortbread recipe. The grating technique was a great idea, but what about doing that with some sort of variation on my Orange Shortbread Cookies sans chocolate chips but layering in some marmalade or jam? Or even just adding the lemon zest Smitten Kitchen suggests as optional. Or just using a whole different recipe.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

if you don't go get what you need/something's going to break on the inside

Spring is the time when I usually make my resolutions, and this year is no different.
There's a post-it note on the inside of my current journal. It reads: "Don't forget: the crux of my problems is that I believe (and fear) that I am an inherently bad person and that by extension my needs don't count. These are NOT TRUE."
I know that those beliefs are not true. But there are times, when I am under a lot of stress or very unhappy, when my actions become based around that one thought: that I am a bad person, that if the people around me aren't happy it's my fault, that if things in my life aren't going well it's because of something that I am doing. And when that cycle begins, it is nearly impossible for me to escape from and everything tends to go to hell shortly afterwards. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy, a self-defeating mindset that comes from someplace inside of me.
Seven months ago to the day I had a personal epiphany that radically changed my life. I was in a hotel room in Colorado; I'd lost yet another audition that day, I'd been running the gauntlet of a weekend with my rather dysfunctional and stressful extended family, and I'd just survived one of the worst weeks I'd known in a while. But in the midst of a long ranty journal entry, I realized that essentially I'd been subsuming my own personality for the sake of the people around me. Here's what I wrote:

"Wouldn't it be better to act like I really am?... I don't have to be wonderfully nice and make people feel good all the time, if it's not the real me. I can have contradictory opinions. I don't have to break my back to save someone else a slight inconvenience. I can be smart and sharp and accomplished and really good at things.
"I'm starting to realize all I may have abandoned... I need to be the best me I can, not just a me that makes other people feel good. That doesn't have to be the reason behind everything I do."

There's more, of course, about the various ways in which I had been hiding my true self. Acting dumb (it hurts to realize you've been doing those "girl" things that statistics are always talking about), not believing in myself enough to hold forth actual opinions about things, and perhaps most importantly (to me) not getting excited about ideas as much as I used to. I've always valued my brain, and the realization that the ways I was hiding were not only hurting my interpersonal relationships but also my intellect, my joy in knowledge, was particularly painful. I realized that night that I wasn't helping myself, and I wasn't helping the people around me. My friends and lovers were not being helped by my vanishing act, they were being dragged down by it and so was I.
Some epiphanies seem hollow after they happen. You re-visit the thought, and it seems so obvious that really it's just embarrassing that you didn't think of it before. This one was different, maybe because it was so fundamental to my very being. As I read that entry again it still hurts and amazes me, and for a while, it actually stuck. I flew back to Chicago, and as soon as I started believing in myself and acting for myself my life changed pretty dramatically. I made a lot of new friends who seemed to think I was pretty awesome, and my relationships with my old friends became revitalized and took on whole new levels that had been missing before. There was a richness in my interactions with other people that had been missing, and I felt like I had truly found my niche in Chicago. I was so unbearably happy that it was like I was living a whole different life. I even started to shine in a whole different way at work. There were setbacks, but on the whole I found myself sticking by my resolution and it was so much easier than I would have imagined.
This is what I regret the most about my last relationship: I lost that feeling. I could tell it was happening and it terrified me, but I couldn't seem to fix it or even talk about it. (I couldn't even articulate it to myself clearly until tonight.) It started slowly, and I thought for a while that I could regain my footing, but instead I declined and became the old me again, the one who couldn't articulate her own desires no matter what the cost. There were a lot of other factors, reasons why things happened the way they did and why I lost my grip on myself, but that's the main thing that lingers for me: regardless of why, I lost myself again and I hurt somebody else because of it. I wish I could have found myself in time, but I couldn't. Now I'm beginning the long slow climb back to the person that I can be when I'm at my best, the person that I truly want to be.
So this is my resolution: to be the best me I can be, and to believe that that person is worth what I am worth. To pay attention to my own needs, and to not subsume my own self to bring others a hollow sort of comfort. To be happy with who I am, to use my brain and my hands and my joy to benefit myself along with the other people in my life.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

nighttime poetry impulse

Finding the title for the last post led me automatically to this poem and reminded me how much I like it.


after Allen Ginsberg, 1988

by Demetria Martinez

America our marriage is coming apart
I've done everything right got my degree
Now you tell me my English won't do
America I'm not good enough for you?
Better my Spanglish than your smooth talk America
No I won't sleep with you not now not ever
Ah come on America all I wanted was a little
adobe house in Atrisco a porch swing
two ninos some democracy
Now I read in the Albuquerque Journal you left me
for a younger woman
Bought drugs for guns guns for drugs
Destroyed Managua in order to save it
Spied on communist Maryknoll nuns in Cleveland
America your face is on wanted posters in post offices
And I'm on sleeping pills again America
Last night I dreamed the Pentagon was a great
Ouija board spelling out REPENT REPENT
In half sleep I reached for you love but got
only a scent of amber waves of grain
I got up for a hit of caffeine the Book of Psalms
And whoosh I saw the promised land
You don't need citizenship papers there it's colored
and smells of refried beans
Remember remember who you are America
Purple mountains majesty above fruited plains
worked by mejicanos
America call off your dogs
America give me a green card though I don't qualify
America forgive me if I gag your memory
at La Paloma bar on South Broadway
America I'm twenty-seven and tired thanks to you
And thanks to you I found God on a stoop on Arno Street
America you claim crime's fierce in the neighborhood
I tell you it's nothing next to your crimes
The wars we fund start at the package liquor store
and end twice a year at confession
America I don't want progress I want redemption
Cut the shit we could be lovers again don't hang up
America I'm your dark side embrace me and be saved
Pull yourself up by your bootstraps I know you can
America I'm not all bitter I'm a registered Republican
At parties when friends ask America who? I introduce
you explain you've had a difficult upbringing
But I can't cover up for you America get that straight
Honey it's not too late it's not too late
America the ball's in your court now

In half sleep I reached for you love but got only a scent of amber waves of grain

In all honesty, I'd rather have moveable tetris bookshelves. But this is an impressive example of... something. Work ethic? Excess patriotism? A good case of the crazies?
Furniture is on my mind, because I spent a good chunk of yesterday moving it. Over the weekend I bought a used wooden cart with wheels to use as an extra cutting and storage surface, and my apartment is so small that finding a place for it involved moving multiple pieces of large furniture. But now I'm pretty well set up, with one wall that consists entirely of bookshelves and a desk. Cozy, you might say.

Monday, April 13, 2009

the christians and the pagans

Well, it was a busy week. One of my very best and oldest friends, Emily, was in town from Wednesday until Sunday morning, so I got to spend some good time with her. We spent a great deal of time trying to avoid my apartment because her cat allergies, which I had been hoping to lessen by vacuuming and doing lots of laundry, were totally out of control. She actually slept in the hallway outside my door one night, which is a funny story but not very comfortable for the sleeper. But other than that, it was a good trip: good food (oh, Hopleaf... I had the CB&J and it was amazing), good shopping (I gained a cheap ring and a $10 rolling cart that triples the amount of usable countertop space in my kitchen, and she got a beautiful peridot ring and a funky pendant shaped like a miner's head with gems as the eyes and headlamp), and a good movie (The Wrestler, which I expected to like but kind of exceeded my expectations, even though I had to not watch the wrestling scenes).
After Emily got on the bus back to the airport Sunday morning, I made a quick grocery run and started in on my contribution to Easter dinner, three different spreads intended to be eaten on small slices of bread as an appetizer. (More about those later.) When we got to her house, Rose-Anne told Anna and I with a smile that she never anticipated hosting a dinner celebrating a christian holiday. But really, we weren't, although Ian (our fourth guest) brought some delicious bunny-shaped shortbread to share. We were just celebrating eating together, on a day when many people eat together, and there was no discussion of anything remotely christian-themed. Mostly we discussed the ways that medical research and music go together (or could go together), because Rose-Anne is a scientist, Ian is in medical school, and Anna and I are performing musicians. It was a highly intriguing conversation, but it was difficult at times for me to pay attention because I was so full I could barely bring myself to continue eating.
Here's the menu:
*Mushroom Walnut Spread, Spinach Artichoke Dip, and Olive Tapenade served on bread, made by me from the Chicago Diner cookbook
*Salad with greens, cucumber, raw sunflower seeds, tomatoes, and bean sprouts that she sprouted herself (I love my friends) with a delicious lime-y dressing from Anna
*Quiche courtesy of Ian's wife Daphna. I usually don't like quiche much (too eggy for me) but this was pretty freaking delicious.
*Asparagus and Pesto lasagna from Rose-Anne. So good! A creamy pesto sauce, sauteed asparagus, and pasta baked with cheese, it was to die for.
*Bunny shortbread cookies :)
*A buttermilk pie with oatmeal crust and strawberries, also from Rose-Anne. Buttermilk pie is one of my mom and grandma's staple holiday foods, so it made me happy to see it at our spread.
So that's a ton of food. And it was all delicious. Wonderful. I left stuffed pleasantly to the gills.

And here are the two most successful recipes from my side of things. These were both definitely good enough for another go-round.

Artichoke Dip

This was suggested to me while I was extremely jet-lagged in Alaska last year. I got picked up at the airport by some friends of Erica's who were positively slaphappy for some reason, and so we talked (or they talked and I nodded and grunted) about many things, and one of them was how good this dip is. So I made it. And it was pretty freaking good. The crushed red pepper is just the spicy touch needed to move it from pretty yummy to pretty delicious.

1 15 oz can artichoke hearts, drained
1/2 cup mayonnaise, eggless or regular
1 tbs fresh chopped dill (1 tsp or so dried)
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound (or a six oz bag) spinach, rinsed, cooked, and chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup shredded mild white cheese
2 tbs parmesan cheese
1 tsp hot pepper flakes

Food process or blend the artichoke hearts until they are semi-smooth. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the rest of the ingredients. Spread the mix into a flat baking dish (a pie plate worked just fine) and bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes for some gooey goodness. (You can also broil it, but broilers make me nervous. If you go that way, just get it brown and bubbly and call it good.)

Olive Tapenade

This seemed unusual for me, in that it incorporated ricotta cheese into something that I think of as just consisting of olives and oil and spices. But it was actually the big winner for the evening, spread-wise.

1/2 cup black olives
1/2 cup green olives
1/4 cup kalamata olives, pitted
1/2 cup sundried tomatoes (if they're in olive oil, reserve it to use later)
1/4 cup chopped green onions (optional)
1 cup soft tofu or ricotta cheese
drizzle olive oil

Put all of the ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor and process until fairly smooth. Drizzle in the olive oil (perhaps retained from your tomatoes?) for a creamier consistency.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

a tiny, cute distraction

Because I'd rather not talk about myself any more right now (at least momentarily), here instead is a picture of my adorable second cousin, Eve! I can't wait to meet her.

(Second cousins are your cousin's children, right? I can never remember all that family connection crap beyond immediate family, which is another reason I could never be mormon. In fact, I remember getting extremely worked up and perhaps crying while visiting my great aunt in Oakland when I was maybe seven, because the family dinnertime game was to say to a child something along the lines of "So, Susan is your second cousin's great aunt's sister's child, what does that make her to you?" And those children, whose relationship to me I actually have no idea of, would think for five seconds and then respond "She's my sister!" or whatever she really was. Man, I hated and dreaded that game.)

Monday, April 06, 2009

the shining black stars that circle my heart

Yesterday I did one of the hardest things I've ever done: I broke up with somebody. With Shana. There were a number of reasons for it: massive communication issues that kept building up on themselves, some differences in needs that seemed fundamental and incompatible, a fair amount of sadness and anxiety as we approached the three-month mark. The final straw was an action (far too personal for an online forum) that made my trust falter and then crack in two, and I suddenly realized that I just couldn't continue. It was nobody's fault, really. Sometimes things just stop working.
I've never been the breaker-upper before. It is a terrible feeling, to make somebody else so sad and angry. I think it will be a while before I attempt to date again. But today, in the aftermath, I can breathe for the first time in four days and I know that I made the right decision, no matter how painful. I appreciate the time we had together, and I wish that we could have enjoyed each other's company for much longer, but we couldn't. I couldn't. So it goes.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

the sworn enemy of man

Last night I went and saw the Mountain Goats, which as it turns out is just one very dorky and incredibly funny guy. Seriously, maybe the funniest onstage monologues I've seen at a live show. I wish I could remember some of them to pass on to you, but alas that is not a way in which my memory works. However, just as an example, he did sing the following song:

I get letters telling me since I moved away
you've taken to hanging out on that rock about a mile from shore
given what I know about that rock mainly that it's populated by seals
I strongly suggest to you that you not hang out there anymore
'cause the seal is a wily and a vicious creature
and the seal will bite you if you give him half a chance
yeah the seal has a mind set on violence
and the seal is the sworn enemy of man

now when I say that the seal is vicious I use the term advisedly
according to webster's 9th new collegiate definition 4b.

which states that vicious means marked by ferocity
and offers as a synonym...savage
'cause the seal is a vicious and a wily creature
and the seal has a mind full of evil designs
and the seal will harm you and laugh about it
yeah the seal is not a creature you want to toy with
yeah the seal is not a creature you want to toy with

Many of his other songs are more somber, about growing up in an abusive household or the inevitable heartbreak, but man, that one is funny. (Jesse, he also sings the Golden Boy Peanut song! I wanted him to play it last night so bad, but he didn't.)
Anyway, not the point. After the concert Shana and I were waiting for the bus and a man, staggering slightly, came around asking all the hipster emo kids for change. When he came to us we both declared our lack of change, but he somehow decided to stay and talk a while. Which was fine, but he really focused on me (maybe because I was wearing the panty jacket? it is rather eye-catching). We were having a pretty normal interaction, nothing much was happening, and all of a sudden he tapped his forehead and said he could feel me "up there." He said he could feel me in his head. It kind of freaked me out. Then he went back to telling me that if I just shook my hair out and put some lipstick on I could take the world by storm. It was a disconcerting interaction, and afterwards I felt like if I were in a movie I'd be discovering my psychic powers right about now.
It seems like a day for unexpected interactions. Riding the bus home this morning, I was just bopping along in my own head when all of a sudden right behind me at the very back of the bus this woman screamed up at the bus driver, asking if the bus was going to a specific stop. I turned and told her that the bus would pass a block or two away from the stop and gave her general directions. She nodded brightly, looking kind of overly alert, and asked a few clarifying questions, also continuing to have a screamed conversation with the bus driver. I told her that probably lots of people on the bus (many of whom were nodding and making gestures to imply this) would be able to give her directions. She said, loudly, "I don't trust people to give me directions. I don't trust them. I don't like people." After a beat of silence, she said, slightly more softly, "Sorry."
I didnt respond, because really what would I have said? I stared out the window and thought unformed thoughts about people and how strange they can be. But two minutes later as we were stopped picking people up, one of the oncoming passengers informed the driver that she could see someone running for the bus and he paused to let the person catch up. Yelling Woman said, again rather loudly, "It's okay, she probably doesn't speak english anyway." I froze, totally confused by what these two things, running for the bus and speaking english, had to do with each other. Someone faster than me said "Why does it matter if she speaks english?" The bus was quiet after that, and I was relieved to get off a few stops later. I had spent the remainder of the ride thinking uncharitable thoughts about how maybe she didn't like people because they didn't like the way she acted and let her know it.

None of these things have anything to do with each other. I feel unfocused this morning.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


I'm often intimidated when I try cooking with certain ingredients for the first time. (Examples: eggplant, yeast, fish.) I'm positive that I'm going to under-or-overcook them, use them incorrectly, have no idea what the hell they should actually taste like, and so on. It's kind of a challenge, to take something relatively unknown and see if I can follow directions well enough to turn it into something at the very least edible and--in my best-case scenarios--delicious.
I've never been fond of beets. I know they're incredibly good for you, and I've always been kind of intrigued by the color, but they usually give me a stomachache. The only time I've ever been able to happily eat beets was when I was in Poland and I tried barszcz, the polish version of borscht. I'd always thought of borscht as cold and full of sour cream, pretty to look at but carrying the same threat of bellyache that all beet dishes do for me, but barszcz was absolutely delicious, hot and sweet and salty and savory and a beautiful clear red color.
This winter, I've been dreaming of making my own barszcz. And yesterday, a chilly blustery day following on the heels of an early spring snowstorm this weekend, seemed like the perfect chance to try. The recipe I chose actually differed quite a bit from the barszcz I remembered from Poland; instead of a clear broth with few ingredients, this one was chock full of veggies like potatoes, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, and cabbage (another vegetable I don't often use). And, of course, beets.
When I was in my undergrad I took a general ed class called "Plants and Our World" where I'm pretty sure I was forced to give a brief oral presentation on beets, but aside from that I'd never looked too closely at them. The ones I bought were brown and red, slightly hairy, with long rodent-like root tails that kind of grossed me out. I read some instructions online about preparation and set about my work: I cut the leaves and most of the stems off, removed the tails (it didn't say to do that but I was glad to be rid of them), and put them in a pot with water and a little vinegar to preserve the color. As they boiled I prepared the rest of my vegetables, and as the beet water slowly turned pink I assembled all of the other ingredients (veggies, stock, and spices) in my big soup pot and waited. When I was able to stab a potato peeler all the way through one of the hairy roots I put on my rubber gloves and set to work. When beets have been boiled (or baked, or roasted, or microwaved) you can remove the skins by running them under cold water and rubbing them between your hands.
Beets are surprisingly heavy. They feel potent, dense, tightly packed. The bright reddish pink juice was something I knew about but it still surprised me, the amount of it. Holding these warm (almost too hot), heavy, dense, firm but slippery vegetables in my gloves under the water, I couldn't help but think of hearts, human hearts, organs and blood; I almost expected them to pulse. It's been a hard week or two here in so many ways: some friends of mine lost a family member this week and it had been on my mind, my personal life had been feeling chaotic, my alone time was starting to feel increasingly necessary and I was worried about its sustainability, and here I was at my kitchen sink holding these hearts, massaging them and rubbing them, sometimes scratching and sometimes gently rinsing. The beets in my hands felt a little bit like I felt inside: tender, bloody, raw and slippery. I was feeling a sense of loss and potential and sorrow for things that sometimes had nothing to do with me, sorrow for people I don't know and sorrow for myself and hope too, and then I'm holding what feels like a warm human heart. It's hard to describe how sad and sweet and beautiful, visceral, this moment was to me. I had no idea beets could be so poetic.
But of course they weren't hearts--too small, for one thing--they were beets. Even as I made up poetic metaphors in my non-creative-writing way, I was slicing the rest of the stems off and chopping the beets into chunks and throwing them into the pot. I mixed everything together, let it simmer for an hour, and lo and behold, I had barszcz. Sweet and salty and delicious, with lots of good vegetables. And it didn't give me a stomachache, much to my relief. (If it had, who could I possibly give so much barszcz to so it didn't go to waste? That had been on my mind too.) And so here is the recipe, modified slightly from this recipe, and now I'm going to go drink some more coffee.

Barszcz (pronounced "Bar-sh-ch")

1 Tbs butter
2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped (I imagine peeling is optional)
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 portabella mushroom caps, chopped (it helps to use a large knife to cut the stem and some of the gills off at the bottom of the cap before you chop)
4 cups veggie broth
4 large beets, cooked, peeled, and chopped (wear gloves and watch your countertops if you don't want stains)
1/2 head red cabbage, shredded
2 tomatoes, chopped
1/2 tsp dried (1 tsp fresh) dill
1 tsp salt
1 bay leaf
4 whole peppercorns or ground pepper to taste
dried or chopped fresh parsley

In a large soup pot, saute the potatoes, onions, and mushrooms in the butter for 5-6 minutes. Add the veggie broth, beets, cabbage, tomatoes, and spices and simmer partially covered over medium heat for about an hour until the vegetables are tender.
You can add sour cream this way: beat some sour cream in a bowl until fluffy, add some soup broth and mix well, then add this back into the soup. Don't boil it again, but serve hot. I didn't have sour cream or I would have done this, but it's good without as well.
I also had to add considerably more salt to my finished product, but I also didn't measure the initial tsp so that might be why. But season to taste, at any rate.
Also, I think next time I'll find one of the strained recipes, where you end up with a clear broth at the end, as that is more what i remember from my experiences in Poland. And if I'm really ambitious, I'll try the more traditional kind where you allow the ingredients to sour and mix over the course of days instead of cooking them on the stove.

Incidentally, the last post brought my total count up to 600. Crazy! And I'm not doing too badly on my "200 posts this year" goal, although I'm not quite a quarter through right now. Thanks for reading.