Sunday, July 27, 2008

Beware of men bearing Italian cookies in grocery stores

I had an odd interaction with the Stella D'Oro Cookie Man man at my local big box grocery store yesterday. It happened as I studied the shelves in search of the perfect cookie for the chocolate creme pie I was planning to make at home.

This started when an elderly woman commented that I seemed to be very serious about my cookies. I explained my intentions, and she chuckled and said, "Well, aren't you ambitious."
The Stella D'Oro Cookie Man, stocking the lower shelves where his sub par cookies lived, looked at me and said, "You don't have kids, do you." Not a question. A statement.
"Uh, no," I replied.
"I used to like to cook, but now I have teenagers and all they want are pizza and hamburgers."
I murmured some words of consolation and began examining cookies further away.
"Hey! Do you want some teenagers" echoed up from the bottom shelf, in a tone that was curiously both joking and imploring.
I laughed and said emphatically that I was childless by choice, a fact which occasionally engenders grief from those members of our society who judge people for making choices different than their own. (I was trying to make him think that not having kids wasn't all that and a bag of chips.)
Mr. Stella D'Oro replied. "Those people are just jealous of you. I mean, the good things about having kids are really great. But, the bad things are just worse." He sighed.
At this point we were about 8 feet away from one another, and I hoped he couldn't see the slight consternation that passed across my face. Who WAS this guy complaining about his kids to a stranger in a grocery store. "Hang in there!" I called as I grabbed a package of Nabisco chocolate wafers off the shelf, and quickly rolled away.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The start of my "culmination" phase?

My can opener is 20 years old. I'm preparing to move and realized, as I opened a can of tomato sauce for my favorite quickie dinner recipe, that I would not need the beloved manual crank can opener at my new place.

I held the can opener in my hand and remembered that it was one of my "going away to college" purchases, bought in the good 'ol days before soup and ravioli came with pop tops. Nearly every can I've ever opened in my adult life was opened with that can opener. My muscles intuitively know the feel of the rubberized handle, which fits perfectly inside my right palm. My eyes know to look for the slate blue handle before I even know what I'm looking for in the gadget drawer where the can opener resides when not in use.

I have moved fifteen times since I was 18 - beginning with that first trip to Washington, DC where I set up my first dorm room. Every time I've moved I've taken that can opener with me. Every time.

And this time I'm not.

Transitions are funny. They stir up such interesting and unexpected emotions. For me, today, I'm reminiscing on an adulthood spent with one can opener, and what it means to let it go. It is more than a utilitarian object today. It represents a step away from the "novice period" of early adulthood (a stage usually over by 33 - I'm a late bloomer). And moving away from novice adulthood means moving into the "culminating phase" of early adulthood which "brings to fruition the efforts of the era". (Middle adulthood ostensibly starts with the same process in one's 40s.)

Does moving in with BMG, away from the City and into the southern, oceanside suburbs represent a culmination of something? I've been talking with a friend about my on-going struggle to find peace in my identity outside of my roles as "employee", "girlfriend", "sister", and "daughter". I'm still sorting out this move and its meaning for me - beyond the obvious - fun with boyfriend, longer commute, less expensive rent, fewer great restaurants within walking distance, more physical and psychological distance from the office. What does it mean for the evolution of my interior life, of my spiritual self, of my psyche? Most of this will emerge over time as BMG and I take our steps towards a stronger and more permanent partnership. In the meantime, I am grateful to have words to frame the experience of holding a can opener in my hand and wondering why it feels so very important.

I'm going to turn back to my dinner now, which is a sort of pasta puttanesca that can be made in about 15 minutes. Here is the recipe.

Cook your preferred amount of pasta - preferably something with ridges that can hold a loaded tomato sauce. Consider cooking frozen peas with the pasta (peas and penne both take about 8 minutes to cook) to add another veggie to the meal.

While the pasta is cooking, heat 1-2 tbsp olive oil in a wide bottom pan.
Brown up to 7 oz. of Gimme Lean (meat substitute) sausage "flavor". If you need more oil, toss in fat free chicken or veggie broth instead.
Add sliced mushrooms, sliced onions and/or finely chopped spinach as you desire.
When "meat" is browned and veggies 1/2 way cooked, toss in one 4 oz can of plain tomato sauce (NOT pasta sauce, not canned tomatoes, not fresh tomatoes)
Make sure all of the faux meat and veggies are coated with the tomato sauce.
Then stir in 1-2 tbsp of soft goat cheese to make the sauce creamy.
Add a handful of capers or anchovy paste, fresh ground pepper and fresh crushed garlic (this can also be added at the saute phase for a lighter touch).
Toss with pasta and enjoy!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Smart Town #6

BMG would like roads in Smart Town to have balusters to help people turn their cars on sharp 90 degree angles, to prevent the lane slippage so frequently encountered on the roads today. I support this because I support the giving of support. Sometimes people need tools to help them do the right thing, and balusters can provide the type of assistance we all need to make clean turns.

Balusters embedded in the roads would complement the mandatory and free Drivers' Education courses required of all drivers in Smart Town - to ensure all drivers an inculcated in the same understanding of the rules of the road.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Smart Town #5

I will judge you if you litter in Smart Town. In fact, everyone will judge you if you litter in Smart Town. And not only will you be judged, but you will have to sit in jail for a minimum of one week - regardless of how innocuous your litter may be. A cigarette butt carelessly flung into the ocean? One week in jail. Period.

Being smart does not mean being being soft on litterbugs. And, by being EXTRA hard on litterbugs, Smart Town residents and their public safety officers will prevent other crime that happens as a result of litter - which represents a general decline in the social order, and disrespect for community and property. Research shows that neighborhoods without apparent property crime swiftly fall into decline the moment one window gets broken and is not repaired. This symbolizes, for many, a general lack of caring.

In Smart Town we care. We care enough to throw your sorry behind in jail when you litter. So don't litter in Smart Town.

Books I've read

I've always felt drawn to the image of Eleanor Roosevelt. (It may be because my Aunt Esther looked just like her.) It may also be because of the mythology of her identity as a strong champion of human rights, and her power and resolve. Knowing nothing about Mrs. Roosevelt I set a goal of reading a biography of the former first lady on my "Books I want to read" list posted conspicuously here on my blog. And I've finally done it (sort of). I just finished listening to No Ordinary Time a biography of FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt during the second World War by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

What did I learn? Eleanor Roosevelt was indeed a strong champion of human rights. She propelled the social reforms of the New Deal forward throughout WWII. And she did it at a cost to her marriage and her social happiness. It is ironic that one of FDR's iconic phrases was "We have nothing to fear but fear itself," but his wife was socially crippled by her fears of rejection (according to Goodwin).

I re-read a meditation this morning by Mark Belletini, the minister of the UU church in Columbus, Ohio. The full text was printed in the latest issue of the UU World. It starts like this:
Let the sky above me unroll like a scroll,
and let me read upon it today’s text for my life:
“You are alive, here and now.
Love boldly and always tell the truth.”

Let the eyes and hands and faces
of all men and women and children
with whom I share this earth
be chapter and verse in this great scripture text:
“Life is struggle and loss, and also
tenderness and joy.
Live all of your life, not just part of it.”

Live ALL of your life, not just part of it. Eleanor Roosevelt did not live her whole life. I both admire and identify with her crusader parts. She is cited as saying, during the period of national mourning following FDR's death in early 1945, that "when you are a national figure, you easily slip into playing your role, and thus can sublimate your feelings and your true nature with no problem. There isn't room for your true nature when you play a role of such prominence." I totally get that - and I don't need to be First Lady to have the experience of being so firmly set into a role that I'm afraid to let anyone see past the smooth veneer of confidence. This may be because I am aware that there are parts inside of me that want to avoid difficulty, ugliness, discomfort even.


I'm also midway through Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. (Thanks to The Colonel!) In reading it I'm waking up my love of gardening, and reaffirming my irritation with zealots. BMG told me yesterday I could start a veggie garden in his (our?) backyard. I'm also fundamentally lazy so need to be careful to not bite off more than I can chew. So, I think I'll plant garlic in the fall and then prepare for peas, beans, and maybe hot peppers, green onions, carrots, and chard for next year. And, of course, BMG's precious tomatoes.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Yum! Yum! Yum!

I started my love affair with food and cooking through the Reading is Fundamental program, when I picked up a copy of The Lucky Cookbook for Boys and Girls. My first recipe? Why my German orientation led me to cook the first thing first - cinnamon toast. I've published photos of the recipe JUST IN CASE you need a refresher on the complex recipe for sugary and spicy toast.

Other complex recipes in the cookbook included "Stuffed celery" and "Party Punch". I've got the recipe for "Party Punch" memorized. Mix 2 cups of orange juice with 2 cups of cranberry juice and voila! "Party Punch!" ("Add 2 cups of vodka," says my grown-up self, "And NOW you have "Party Punch!")

I remember combing through this and my Little Witch's First Cookbook and plotting out the menus and thinking about parties I could have with the suggested menus in the back of the book (stuffed celery, baked potatoes and hamburgers - doesn't that sound perfect!), imagining how impressed people would be with my cooking skill and imagination.

I don't have recollection of ever having a dinner party with my friends or family. And I cannot remember if I ever asked to cook a recipe that I would have needed either help with or special ingredients. Was I too afraid to ask? Too afraid to try? I don't know. It doesn't matter. I still love looking at cookbooks and planning dinner parties which may or may not ever happen. I've moved on to Rick Bayliss, Marcella Hazan, and Madhur Jaffrey. I'm a member of, and reading the Cooking section of the weekly Boston Globe Magazine is a delight.

I don't plan to be a mom. So there is no reason for me to hang on to these cookbooks. Rather than selling them for a nickel at my garage sale this Fall, I think I'll take them with me to Wellfleet tomorrow. There I will visit two of my nieces who are visiting with their mom and my mother. The older folks among us will reminisce and I hope the younger ones will be inspired to sit with Aunt Clownface and learn to make Ants on a Log.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Dream # 8 and Dream #9

Bodies are so amazing. Last night I was freezing - BMC loves the AC blasting at night - so my brain manufactured a dream in which I was jumping out of an airplane that was so high in the air that the plane was covered with ice crystals. I leaped into the icy air on my descent back to terra firma and struggled with the release on my parachute because my hands were so cold. Then the person I was jumping with couldn't get his chute open, so I zoomed down to him and hugged him, so he could benefit from my chute AND we could both be warmer.


The previous night I had a weird anxiety dream. In it I was trying to cajole two cats into doing a very specific, timed obstacle course. One cat was a big tiger and the other was a long-haired black kitten. The two cats could not get the last part of the obstacle course done in the required time. And, if they didn't meet the time line, a horde of monkeys appeared and scared the felines into a kitchen cupboard. After a minute or two the scene would "reset" and the obstacle course would start over. And in my dream we kept doing it over and over again, and the monkeys were becoming increasingly hostile. And then I realized the black kitten was sitting inside a soup bowl in the cupboard, and the soup bowl was now filled with black cat hair and it needed to be washed. In my dream I was trying to figure out when to wash the bowl - hoping I could do it AFTER the cats nailed the trick so I wouldn't just have to wash it again - but I wasn't sure when that would be.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Smart Town #4

In the interest of explaining freedom and independence, I realized last night the fundamental philosophy of Smart Town. It is a place where everyone feels fulfilled through their daily interactions, has confidence that they have enough - enough attention, enough space, enough to eat, enough to buy the things they want to have. It is a place where equality is relative and there is no upsetting inequality. This is my utopia.

Explaining colonialism

While showering this morning I was working on a little project - trying to decide how I would explain colonialism to my seven year-old niece, CMR. Today is the day when we celebrate America's Independence from the British, and I got to thinking how one might explain an abstract concept like national independence to a child. This whole train got rolling last night when BMG and I went to see a fireworks display after a minor league baseball game. I heard myself quietly singing the national anthem during the 30 minute series of colorful & chest rumbling explosions. When I got to the line that sings, "And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night, that our flag was still there." Why do we celebrate the 4th of July with fireworks? Is it to symbolize the Revolutionary War battles fought by our founding fathers (while the founding mothers were wisely at home avoiding the barbarism by making cookies and sewing flags)? Is it merely because fireworks give people joy? Is it because fireworks are Chinese and we're a nation of immigrants? If anyone has reflections on THIS question, I welcome them gladly.

With this as the backdrop surrounding me as I showered, I began to toy with a strategy for explaining the American war of independence. These questions started to loll about in my brain. How do children understand freedom? How do you explain what it means to be a nation of laws? How do you even explain land ownership? How do you convey when it is okay to fight back when you think laws or rules are unfair or hurting other people? What makes it okay for the colonists to fight against the British, but not okay for the Iraqi insurgents to fight the Americans currently perceived to be colonizing their nation? How is war explained to children of privilege versus children without essential rights and freedoms?

Soaking wet in the shower, buzzing from one cup of espresso, I became overwhelmed. I became overwhelmed not by the questions (these I found stimulating), but by the realization that seven year-olds are learning about the rules that create boundaries in their worlds. They are still concrete thinkers who understand their social interactions in terms of black and white. On one side of a line on a map is Canada, and on the other is America. That's a good enough explanation. So I don't need to explain colonialism to her in order for her to understand Independence Day today. I could tell her that we didn't like the laws made up by the British, so we decided to become our own country. And we had to have a pretty long and scary fight to do it. And the first Americans had lots of conversations about the rules they did want to have to keep our country safe and happy. And today we celebrate their decision to make their own country and the rules they created. The end. I wish she were here right now so I could tell her this. But she is 325 miles away, likely playing computer games or Wii with her four year-old sister, getting ready for her Gammy and cousin M and Uncle TK to come for a party at her house.


When CMR gets a little older and can understand abstract thought I'll be able to have philosophical conversations with her about the meaning of freedom and privilege and independence. And that will be fun.

In the meantime, I'm off to make Rice Krispie Treats for a little bar-b-que where we will enjoy eating hot dogs, drinking beer, and being American.

Happy fourth of July!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Thumbs Down #1: Skittles Chocolate Mix Pack

BMG brought these home today after riding to the drugstore on his orange Skittle-colored scooter, appropriately named "Skootle."

I've occasionally seen chocolate mix pack Skittles in the store and been mildly curious. But not curious enough to risk $0.89 on the purchase of said experimental Skittles.

So this was my chance. They arrived in a brown package that easily opened with a gentle tear. The five flavors are clearly labeled on the package, so I knew what to expect - s'mores, vanilla, chocolate caramel, chocolate pudding, and brownie bite. I dumped out the package on the counter and methodically sorted through the Skittles trying to differentiate each flavor via their hardly distinguishable shades of brown. With my five mini samples lined up, I proceeded to eat them slowly, one at a time. And I can say with absolutely certainty that they are all equally disgusting.

They taste like Tootsie Roll curds tossed with badly mixed flavored chemicals and bundled up with a crunchy candy coating. All I could taste was artificial flavor. And in fact, even now, seven minutes after the last Skittle passed my gentle lips, I'm still tasting it in the back of my throat. Blech.

I don't recommend these. Except maybe as a "gift" for someone you hate.