Tuesday, January 26, 2010

My Secret Shame

Oh, the humanity.
I've made changes in my lifestyle to the point where I rarely buy food products. I do buy canned tomatoes and beans, Mideast coucous, all manner of condiments, and the occasional Trader Joe's flight of fancy. Rebby likes breakfast cereal a lot, so we buy that too, sometimes. For the most part, though, I deal in whole foods. (lower case) I accomplish this largely by staying out of places where food products are sold (namely the middle aisles of grocery stores)
On Saturday, though, I found myself in a Dollar General in McKeesport. We were there in pursuit of Orange hand cleaner. It would have been very easy for me to a)stay in the truck or b)follow Rebby through the store with blinders on, but instead I followed the siren song of the food products aisle. And there, my friends, was perhaps my ultimate nemesis: Underwood Chicken Spread. One Dollar Per Can.
The experience of opening a can of Underwood Chicken Spread is exactly like opening a can of Fancy Feast cat food. It probably IS the same. The label basically insinuates chicken parts (only white meat though!) mixed with fat and seasonings and, oh, you know CORN SYRUP SOLIDS. This is everything I think is wrong with food in America today. Christ, it even has a DEVIL on the label just in case you weren't sure.
I. Can't. Stop.
There was a summer when I was living alone in Greenfield in an apartment designed for four people. I had moved to Pittsburgh from Ohio for college, and was just getting myself sorted out. I worked at Roy Rogers in the Cathedral of Learning basement in the daytime, but I spent a LOT of time alone. And started to go slightly batty.
The most obvious manifestations of the battiness were talking out loud to myself all the time, and adopting a very peculiar diet. I would go to the grocery store and buy the following items:
Underwood Chicken Spread
Generic Cream Cheese
Peppridge Farms Dijon Rye Bread
Generic BBQ Fritos
Then I would eat the chicken and cream cheese sandwiches, BBQ fritos and fresca for every meal (not counting the ones I had at work, and thank the good lord I spent a lot of time at the salad bar) until one element was used up. Bizarre, yes? And why would I want to revisit this battiness in such a Proustian manner? I can't tell you.
All I can tell you is I scooped up all four cans of Underwood Chicken Spread for One Dollar they had on those shelves and I am eating two chicken spread and cream cheese sandwiches for breakfast. And I feel great.
To redeem myself later, I will be making beef stock and a tuna casserole for Rebby's dinner. And going for a snowy shopping trip to the Strip.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Yesterday was my birthday. I turned 43. I've never been one to worry about age too much but I gotta say, my bones are getting WEARY. I took this not necessarily flattering photo in the morning (after coffee but not before trying to deal with the massive cowlick I've developed recently)in an effort to be honest about where I am at this point in my life. I am almost entirely HAPPY. But I am not really HEALTHY, and that has to change. As a birthday present from the gods, I got an email the day before about the new gym opening up three blocks from my house having an introductory special absurdly low membership fee. So I sent in my email. I'm on my way.
I think the key to getting myself in a better place this year is going to be yoga. At various points in my life I have been more or less into yoga and any time I am, I notice an almost immediate 200% improvement in the way I feel. Considering my job involves pretty much 10 hours of standing in one place moving my hands and arms, I figure I could use some limbering up in other areas. So I've got potential yoga dates lined up for the new year. And I'm also really going to take advantage of all that FIOS ON DEMAND has to offer in the fitness selection. And also---those bellydance workout DVDs I bought two years ago and watched from the comfort of my couch. I'll be rolling with those too. This all sounds very ambitious but I think I will make a sincere effort this year because I HAVE to. I feel more like a grown up this year than ever before and with that comes a certain amount of responsibility for my physical upkeep.
OK, stern words done with. My birthday was a beautiful, sunny day which I spent almost entirely by myself. I did a lot of reading both on the internet and in book form (Farm City which my friend Lisa loaned me sometime in the summer---another resolution has to be to make more time for reading because I have a huge stack of books and magazines I REALLY want to get to!) and then I got a call from my gal telling me that Richie Havens is playing at the Carnegie in Oakland on Saturday night and she wants to take me for my birthday. Woo! My love for Richie is so deep and profound and plus he shares my birthday so it's like we're spiritual twins. I went to see him once at Rosebud after finding out that afternoon that he was playing. It was one of the best evenings of my life, and I'm sure this one will be the same. I am totally given to hyperbole when describing my love for musicians and singers but you gotta believe me, Richie Havens has some kind of special power to instantly make me feel better about the world. His voice is soothing in a way that few other things are. Love.
I also had a little bit of frustrating email communication with the hotel we are staying at for the PASA conference coming up the first weekend of February. (I should talk about the PASA conference a little bit. I will, in a different post. This is already getting long winded.) I had made an email inquiry, and the response was to call for a reservation. So I did, and then I received a call telling me to call for a reservation. So I sent another email to confirm that my reservation was on the books, and they sent an email saying my reservation was on the books for thurs, fri, and sat feb 3rd, 4th, and 5th. So I sent another email saying thank you, but lets be clear that we are coming wed, thurs, and fri, feb 3rd, 4th, and 5th. And they replied that was correct. Unfortunately in the meantime I read some internet reviews of the place which cited more than one reservation screw up, so I was (and am) a little worried. I am not too concerned that the place got negative reviews, because I have learned from personal experience that people who post negative reviews normally have some kind of axe to grind. And plus, we're only going to be sleeping there, not hanging out. I'll post my own review once we return.
Anyhoo, the original plan for the evening was to go to Legume, which I have been wanting to check out forever. Unfortunately, even when Rebby is local her schedule is completely unreliable, so I was not too hopeful about making a reservation for a night when she was working in Aliquippa. So after she called to say things were not going according to plan (surprise!) I decided we would go to La Casa instead. Its close, doesn't require a reservation, consistently awesome, and has a bar. Problem solved. I made myself a tuna salad sandwich and got an Edmund Fitzgerald Porter and settled in to watch Julie and Julia on demand.
The movie is cute--Meryl Streep did a great job as Julia and Stanley Tucci was awesome as Paul. I found the Julie/Eric story to be completely true to the book, and as with the book, I was way more sympathetic to Eric than I was to Julie (and for this reason I don't think I am going to be able to read her next book....)
My favorite moment of the movie, though, came in the opening sequence when Julia and Paul are having dinner in France for the first time. Julia's reaction to her first bite of pan fried fish---her inability to articulate, her rush to share, the gamut of emotion that plays across her face as she savors it---it was absolutely perfect. That one moment conveyed what Julia Child was about more completely than really anything else in the entire film. And it conveyed my relationship to cooking and enjoying food better than any of the shows I've seen on the Food Network. (oh, that's a post for another day!) That moment made me really happy, and felt like a blessing on my birthday.
Rebby got home right around 6pm, and we got changed and drove over to Ellsworth (which we affectionately refer to as "little P-town") to Casa. I was a little surprised that there was only one other couple there, and more than a little disappointed that our favorite drag queen waiter Jamar was not working. Nadia was fantastic, though--she remembered us (or maybe she just says that to all the girls?) and treated us warmly, and flirtatiously, without being intrusive. It's a gorgeous little space inside and once you get some sangria in you it is impossible not to feel romantic. We ordered the charcuterie--serrano ham, dried chorizo, and little cornichons with delicious fresh baked bread and balsamic reduction for dipping; and a salad with hazelnuts, goat cheese and rosemary croutons, and a delicious savory balsamic dressing to start. The menu has changed a lot since the last time we were there---its really moving more toward Moroccan flavors and away from traditional Spanish, which is an ok thing for me. For our second round we had the amazing Patatas bravas, and tuna and salmon ceviche. I wouldn't really call it ceviche--more like tartare, I think---but man was it good. The tuna was done with a deep smoky sesame oil, and the salmon with capers and parsley and vinegar. So good. There were at least three other things on the menu I really wanted (can I really go to a tapas restaurant and not get shrimp in garlic? I guess I can!) but we were both stuffed. We moved on to profiteroles and Six Grapes Porto thanks to Nadia's suggestion. Luckily we were just finishing up our meal when a couple of dudes came in to sit at the bar and talk loudly about their problems...that was our cue to get out. We vowed to go to the liquor store this weekend and stock up on spanish wine and get some port for home. :)
Today I get another day off! And this evening I'm getting taken to Embury by my BFF. Birthday 2010 continues!

Thursday, January 14, 2010


I, like most people I know, feel helpless.
It's hard to look on facebook and see people talking about mundane stuff when such an enormous tragedy is going on.
But look I have, all day long. Argh.
I happened quite by accident and out of character to be folding laundry with BBC International news on the TV on Tuesday evening when I found out about it. I almost didn't think it was real, especially when I turned over to local news programs and saw that there was little to no coverage. So back to the BBC I went.
Facebook has actually been a source of much encouragement, though---videos from the president, friends posting links for donations, and then this afternoon, a message from earthship biotecture that they are getting a team together to go and build new housing.
That coupled with the comments (people literally all over the world offering to go and help them!) made me cry a little bit.
For every twisted Pat Robertson saying shameful things in the name of Jesus, there are hundreds of Michael Reynolds doing work that actually brings to life what he taught.
Gives me some hope.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


If you click on the picture in the previous post, it will be ENORMOUS.
Be ready to get very hungry. :)

New Year's Breakfast

It wasn't actually New Year's day---it was the day that Rebby and I celebrated New Years Day. Eggs, bacon, fried mashed potatoes, the best biscuits I've made to date, and bacon gravy. Scandinavian Morning Blend coffee and fresh squeezed tangerine juice.
A good start to the new year!