Nothing from The West Coast

I’m sorry. I should’ve told you. I went home to LA for the holidays. But I thought I’d write. I usually do. I’ve been doing nothing here. Good old fashioned parental nothing. But nothing in the sun. I almost had to go out and buy a tank top cause it’s so much hotter than i thought it would be. Luckily i’ve got those secret support tank top bra thingies, and no shame. It was either that or buy a touristy Venice Beach shirt from the boardwalk but then my dad, ever The Local, would have been ashamed to be seen with me.

I’ve got no stories from here. I did turn 26 yesterday and happily enough, it did not inspire my third mid-twenties crisis. I think it’s just on hold until i get back to New York though. It’s impossible for me to have a crisis here. It’s just too damn sunny. And if i have a tan i feel like i’m accomplising something. I swear they put something in the water here to make you stop thinking about anything meaningful. (I wonder if i can get a supply for home?)

I got lots of cute clothes from my mom and lots of good food from all sides. I have a few funny stories from the flight over but it’s too sunny to transcribe them right now. I got a tan to work on, dig?

Fresh Food

I was trying to explain a creeping thought I’ve been recently turning over in my head about cooking and food to the sleepy boy at 3 am last night. I wasn’t doing a very good job of it. It goes something like this: In the past few months I’ve been cooking, a lot. In the years previous I used to be the one that all my friends made fun of because I only ate out. And if I ever cooked it was only out of brief and acute bouts of agoraphobia, usually involving soup from a can or a sandwich. Those were the days when I could, one, afford to eat out every meal, and two, when I cared very little about what I was putting into my body. If dinner had to be a hot dog on the street followed by many beers plus many more cigarettes topped off by a slice before bed, so be it. Conversely there were also many nights of tuna steak seared just right accompanied by tangy assortments of vegetables seasoned Asian style. If I was eating crap 3 nights a week, I was a gourmet the other four. And in New York City although eating gourmet requires some money, it takes little or no effort. As an old boss would say, you can’t swing a dead cat in this city without hitting a fusion restaurant.

But in the months since I returned from Paris, food and eating have taken on a much different role in my life. There’s more than one reason for this change. The most obvious is that instead of biweekly paychecks, these days I’m living off sporadic checks from freelance work, New York State unemployment and my savings. That’s the kind of thing that sends a girl to the supermarket while flipping through the “Specials” newsletter. I used to think that half of my cooking problem was that I couldn’t handle grocery shopping. I was not equipped to choose between the two dozen varieties of pasta sauce, not to mention picking out four or five tomatoes from the bin of hundreds. Often I spent 45 minutes at the supermarket paralyzed by all the choices, emerging with two cans of tuna, a loaf of wheat bread, and way too much irritation. Even picking the type of tuna (premium? white? albacore? in oil? vegetable or saffron?) was an ordeal. It never seemed worth it when I was at work until 7 pm every night. And then after all that I’d actually have to make it? You must be kidding. But now my lack of steady work has the flip side of plenty of time. I’m no longer stressed out by the supermarket. If I have to spend an hour and half scouring ingredients labels, and another 20 minutes in line, that’s just that many fewer hours left to dissect where in the hell my sorry life is heading.

And then as cliche as it is, I learned how to really eat in France. It was a welcome discovery that quality produce needs hardly any preparation to taste good. I could make lots of good food at home without so much as a pot. In Parisian supermarkets there seemed to be far fewer inane choices too. Only three types of pasta sauce, but all of them were yummy. And so I also started to lose my fear of grocery shopping. (My fear of lines, however, was multiplied many times over.) So when I moved back to New York I no longer went straight for the Campbell’s soup and pasta aisle. I picked out vegetables and raw ingredients, and am a devotee of where My Recipe Box now requires lots of scrolling. It hasn’t been that long since I’ve been cooking, only like four or five months, but I have a little herb garden in my kitchen, and it was a big step the other night when I wanted to make a barbecue sauce. I didn’t want to buy the bottled variety with it’s 5 types of refined sugar and strange acidic compounds. So I figured I knew the basic ingredients and could improvise by trusting my taste buds along the way. It worked. It was certainly not the best barbecue sauce I’d ever had, and to be honest even the Heinz was probably tastier, but it wasn’t bad. And I know added the molasses way too early, so it burnt, and I was missing cayenne pepper. The next one will be better.

I like cooking now. I like the actual peeling and seasoning and chopping, and basically all those physical parts of the process. I like making things that require precise timing, where the garlic should be ready when the olive oil is just so hot, and the eggplant should have been salted for 20 minutes before it gets added to the simmering tomato sauce. I like all that, where it all feels almost like a dance. But here’s the creeping thought. I’m already getting kind of bored with it. Like I finally learned how to turn an omelette correctly and I’m sick to death of eating omelettes now. The eggplant dish that I’ve finally perfected is fun when I’m peeking under the lid, but a yawn when it’s staring up at me from the bowl. It’s making me think of the endless amounts of food we eat in one piddling lifetime. Three meals a day for 60 or 70 years – ugh. It’s almost nauseating. Does that make sense? I couldn’t make it make sense last night. How many different spices and recipes and fusion cuisines are there out there to master, and then tire of? Are there really enough for a lifetime? And if you’re gonna get bored with orange poached salmon, why not just stick with Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom? So there’s my existential cooking crisis for you. How does it stay fresh? Maybe I need to write a letter to Nigella Lawson.

Lame Ducky

Lately I’ve been writing entire blog entries in my head while riding the train, waiting for a date to show up, spending 20 minutes in an unmoving line at Circuit City on Sunday. And funny ones too. Witty, well written gem-like entries. And then I come home and sit in my pink plastic Ikea swivel chair and come up empty. A partial list of entries in head:

There was something I wanted to say about how at least half the people that board the train at Wall St these days are tourists.

I’ve been filing away a long tirade on the numerous women I’ve waited behind at the checkout counter at Pathmark who have $200 worth of groceries that consist of nothing but packaged, preserved, and refined food; The closest thing to fresh in one woman’s overflowing cart was a family pack of Kraft American Cheese.

Last week I got into a physical altercation (kind of) with an obviously crazy woman who was at least 200 lbs. That was a muse and a half. If it weren’t for the intervention of strangers she would have probably put me in the hospital.

I’m anxiously awaiting word from two very interesting, and well-paid projects.

There’s the new boy, who isn’t really “new” strictly speaking, but with whom I’ve got a very new (and kind of really good) thing.

The other day I saw a photo of a chunk of coal (clever Christmas advertising from Absolut), and occurred to me that ever since I can remember I’ve been picturing the lump of coal that Santa leaves in the stockings of naughty boys and girls as a pile of those rounded rectangular briquettes for the grill that come in a bag from the supermarket. I may have even thought it was found in the mine in that convenient shape.

See plenty of material. No execution.

But I have a theory. I think I’m done with this 2002 thing. That’s it, I’ve already put the year to bed and now I’m waiting for the rest of the world to catch up with me. I’ve always been ahead of my time, it’s a curse really. So the next two weeks are like a lame duck session of my life. I’m still waking up and checking in, but nothing is getting much real attention. Thanks to the pops I’m going home for a week of balmy Los Angeles Christmas weather in a few days. And as luck would have it, once again my incredibly inconvenient birthday falls smack in between Christmas and New Years. I hated it when i was a kid because I’d never get the song and cupcakes at school. No matter what, December 29th always falls during winter break. Then there were all the combo presents. But now it’s a drag because it’s just puts just that added 20 lbs of pressure onto the holiday season. It’s going to be lower than low key though. Just renting out a small little bar and two or three clowns. No no. Ixnay on the ownsclay, and the bar too. I’m just thinking parents and a good looking piece of fish in a well lit restaurant.

In my lame duck session I’ve been reading lots of end-of-year lists which are always fun. Breathlessly I’ve been waiting for my favorite, the LA Weekly’s Top Ten Issue, but it seems like I’ll actually be reading that puppy in print next week. Who knows, maybe in the nowhereland between 02 and 03 i’ll write one of my own.

In The Moment

I don’t write a lot about politics. You know because i don’t feel superbly qualified to write about such things. And there are so many people who can do it so much better than me. Long treatises on my plants, on the other hand, i have a serious knack for. But this whole Trent Lott thing – wow. It has this unreal quality to it. Like deep down we all have a suspicion that this good old boy southern conservative senator is of course racist and of course a bigot and pines for the good ole days where people knew their places. But no one would think he’d actually say such a thing out loud. Ok maybe he would say as much, but only in dark rooms, or way out on the 17th hole where even the caddy was at a safe distance polishing the rods and what not.

But wait – he did say it. On tape. In front of hundreds. And there’s no room for interpretation here.

“When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either.”

Who here doesn’t know what that means!?! I must add the question marks and the exclamations points because it’s just almost too hard to believe.

So he just gave a brief and entirely unsatisfying news conference apologizing several times, saying he was caught up in the moment, and tacking on some patriotic i-come-from-poor-roots-i-was-the-first-in-my-family-to-go-to-grad-school crud to boot (grad school? give me a break.) But i’d like to know if he didn’t mean what it sounded like to everyone with ears, what exactly did he mean? What else was on Strom Thurmond’s platform but segregation and “racial integrity”? And what kind of moment gets you all riled up so that you turn from an open-minded compassionate conservative, or whatever they like to think of themselves these days, to a segregationist? It’s not like forgetting someone’s birthday or conjugating a verb incorrectly. It’s either in you or it’s not.

It reminds me of one ill fated night last spring in Paris. It was one of the first warmer days and i had been eating and drinking copiously on the banks of the Seine with my two good French friends. We ended up, several bottles of wine later, in my apartment drunk and embroiled in argument about the mid-east. And then a stream of anti-semitic and anti-American remarks flew out of my (former) friend’s mouth. My other friend Nils and i were stunned. There was a silence. And she said, “I guess i better be going”. And i said, ‘Yes, I guess you should.” Not surprisingly we never talked again. There was no explaining necessary. There’s no amount of alcohol, or revelry that can turn a person from being not racist to racist. It’s either in you or it’s not.

And i for one don’t care if he steps down as majority leader or not. Most of us know what he’s stood for all along. At least it’s now all in the open and pretty much undeniable. And it’s also an extra perk that many people are actually taking a good hard look at this man’s recent record on civil rights legislation. If only more politicians on all sides would get caught up “in the moment”.


I know, I never thought i’d ever sit down and watch an hour of CSPAN2′s BookTV. But well, i sat down, flipped around and only realized it at the end of the hour when it was too late. It was easy actually because Sarah Vowell was on promoting her new book. That girl’s got the goods. Funny, dry, kinda mean, and jeez funny. I liked that she answered a question from the audience, “What will this time in history be remembered for?” (she’s a history buff), with the snarky, “Ummm [long pause], that it sucked?” It’s good that some people can just be downright honestly negative. Especially now.

Unrelated, twice in the last month i heard the term “PoMo” used. At first i didn’t understand.

Me: How was it? [don't remember what "it" was: club? art opening? movie?]

Him: Ok, maybe a bit PoMo for my taste.

Me: Huh? What’s PoMo? [thinking this is possibly a new packaged sweet i haven't tried].

Him: Post Modern

Me: You DID NOT just say that.

Him: Oh yeah i did.

Me: [Groan, sigh, wince, repeat]

The second time was yesterday, and no the groans and winces did not lessen. Actually i think it started with him saying the word cliche, without the “ay” sound at the end. So it was clich, rhymes with niche. What the fuck is that? The word cliche does not need to be shortened. And look, i know about shortening words. I’m from LA. I commonly complement food as being

delish, and refer to clawing hunger as being rav. But these are fun (and long) words. I mean they have more than three syllables for starters. But the main thing is that partly being valleyish/ironic when complementing the food is funny. Ok ok, it’s not really even funny. No one will openly laugh, but it’s a style. Being that way when talking about a book is, well, nauseating.

I suggested that whenever he felt the urge to say something was PoMo, he should immediately replace it with “retarded”. This will change the direction of the remark from pretension with a super size order of trying-too-hard, to sharp and insightful. Watch:

Girl with Glasses: I don’t know, I mean i can’t help but think the whole show was kind of derivative.

You (before): Yeah, I see that too. I think the thing’s got a PoMo feel to it.

You (after): Yeah, I see that too. I think the thing’s got a retarded feel to it.

You (after and even better): Really? I just thought, retarded.

Well, that’s what i go for anyway. Just in case anyone’s trying to impress me. And i don’t have glasses. I don’t know why i put that in there. Maybe for the opposite effect. Like to say here we are buddy, you and me trying to impress, and possibly see naked, this cute girl with glasses who is clearly not me because i don’t wear glasses which is her defining characteristic. In fact it’s her only characteristic right now. And i don’t even wear contact lenses because i have better than perfect vision. Or maybe i was working on a way to sneak in a brag about my better than perfect vision since the day i started this blog. Woah, was that PoMo territory i just looked upon? No, it was just retarded. See!?

Winter Thoughts

So where were we? Thanksgiving’s passed. It’s December already. Instead of old Stevie Nicks and Neil Diamond there was bland Christmas music playing at The Academy Diner the other night. It’s quite literally freezing balls outside, at least that’s what people with balls have told me. (And now since i first started this last night, it’s snowing.) And it’s time for my winter funk. Yep, there’s nothing to do but bite your lip and run from one heated and dehydrated indoor climate to another. This year, i can count myself lucky on the one hand that i can spend the majority of my day not having to brave the weather by going anywhere crazy like a job. On the other hand, i can feel useless and unloved and mope around while sighing every half hour. Naturally i’ve chosen the latter. I’ve even been given a soundtrack for moping in the form of Radiohead. I never really listened to much Radiohead, despite all their press. Except that my best friend in high school made a watercolor in my, i think, senior year yearbook which had all the lyrics to the song Loser written over in red sharpie. I think it was supposed to be deep. It was cute.

So yes snow. I can’t lie, even though i feel like being thoroughly negative right now, it’s pretty. I’ve never been in this apartment during a snowstorm. So looking out the windows and seeing the white swirls, and the tree branched lined in white, and these particular streets covered with snow is new and exciting. (Not exciting is that i had today pegged for laundry.) There are two little boys outside who’ve been instructed by someone to shovel the sidewalk in front of their house. They keep running down the length of the sidewalk with the shovel and then collapsing in a giggling screaming heap. As much as i’m resisting, it’s warming my heart. I sometimes call my street Sesame Street because there are all these impossibly cute little kids that run around being impossibly cute all the time. There’s even an impossibly cute little dog that copies everything the kids do. Little kid runs down the street and collapses in giggling screaming heap, little kid’s little brother runs after him and collapses in gigging screaming heap, little dog runs after the two and jumps on the giggling screaming heap barking loudly. Several grumpy neighbors, myself included, look out windows and open doors to see what the racket’s all about. Several grumpy neighbors smile and find themselves in a better mood.

Tonight i’m going to make a nice pot of vin chaud for a few lucky folks, which unfortunately requires a trek outside to the liquor store and supermarket. But if anything can lift winter spirits it’s got to be hot booze. I’m supposed to meet another jobless friend to go sledding in the park this afternoon, but i will probably just watch. He’s already called me a no-fun-wuss for balking at the idea of rolling around and getting soaking wet in the 28 deg weather. It’s mostly that i don’t have the right gloves for this sort of thing, but maybe i can improvise somehow because i really might like to make a snowman.