Monday, December 28, 2009

As seen on TV ...

After you have exposed your cuddly Mogwai to bright light, doused it in water and fed it leftover fried chicken after midnight, you will find yourself faced with a rapidly-multiplying, rat-faced, morally-broke creature with a high tolerance for alcohol.

Here is how you exterminate the bastards, as seen in the 1984 holiday classic/horror film/instructional manual by Stephen Speilberg, “Gremlins.”

1. With your butcher knife at the ready, creep into the kitchen where you will find the Gremlin with a golden frosting mustache greedily gorging himself on gingerbreadmen. When he crawls face first into the bowl of the electric mixer, stealthily turn on the kitchen appliance. The Gremlin will spin as though he is on a sadistic carnval ride, his tiny legs aflutter, his head and torso will puree, shooting bits of flesh and squirts of greenish blood all over your panneled kitchen cupboards.

2. This will attract the attention of other Gremlins. They won’t necessarily be angry about the death of a brother, as they seemingly place little value on life. They are angry by nature. Deflect the plates that the Gremlin is UFOing at your head with a common TV tray. Using a stabbing technique popularized by Norman Bates, attack the creature. Three jabs to the Gremlin’s chest cavity should do the trick.

3. A steady mace-like mist of Pam Cooking Spray will disorient a Gremlin. Should this Gremlin be fortuitously standing in your microwave oven, slam the door, and set the timer for about as long as you would for Orville Redenbacker’s Smart Pop Butter Mini Bags. It will only take about 3 seconds for the Gremlin to combust.

4. Your Christmas tree is a known hiding spot for Gremlins. And the tinsel-draped creature will use it as a weapon, tipping the conifer over on top of you. At this point, it is good to have a crime-fighting partner, who can charge the beast with a decorative sword he has yanked from the wall. The common Gremlin can be decapitated with one swing of the sword. Aim for the fences. With a little luck, the Gremlin’s severed head will land near the Yule log.

5. It is not unusual for Gremlins to turn on their own. A card game could get ugly; A Gremlin could shoot another Gremlin in the face.

6. Gremlins are notorious party animals. One lively creature is bound to want to swing from the ceiling fan, jubilant with the mix of tap beer, Marlboro Reds, and the opportunity to just let his hair down. Crank up the speed of the fan and send the Gremlin sailing through the front window of Dorry’s Tavern. Then bolt.

7. When the Gremlins converge on the local movie theater for the late night showing of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” adjourn to the boiler room of said theater. Crank on an unspecified valve, emitting a steam of an unspecified gaseous substance. Ignite a few rags, and set them near the homemade bomb, allowing yourself enough time to evacuate the premises. You should be able to get a safe distance from the theater before it explodes, killing hundreds of Gremlins in one shot. This mass-murder will be your most successful extermination.

8. With a little luck, the one remaing goody-good Mogwai will rev up a Barbie car and come to your rescue.You’ve been shot in the arm with a crossbow and now the leader of the Gremlins has turned a firearm in your direction. The aforementioned Mogwai will be able to open a giant skylight, scorching the last of the Gremlins just seconds before he dove into a fountain, intent on, again, multiplying.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Rough draft ...

Christmas was a do-over on Sunday in my brother and sister-in-law's living room in Eden Prairie. My mom brought the leftovers of what we would have had for dinner on Friday, had the world not looked like it barfed up Slurpee.

Chuck and I made a pretty sick haul. Lucky bastards.

The next time I see my family, they will be in Duluth. That means my share of the commitment is simply to wear two socks that are roughly the same color. Out of respect.

In other news, this is how I spent the past week:


Perfect Potato Latkes: Well, these certainly were delicious. And they only cost me one Cuisinart. RIP food processor, Dec. 2008-Dec. 2009. I'll miss that thing you did with hummus.

Cauliflower Soup: I was trying to recreate a really great soup that Chuck ordered at Lake Avenue Cafe, but my version turned out bland. It was a good kind of bland, hearty with good texture, but it took a level of salt (assault?) that I felt self conscious about adding to my bowl. But it was a start in the right direction. I may have to go back to Lake Ave., and do another taste test. I think they had a carrot in there somewhere.

Anyway, 4 cups of cauliflower, 2 leeks, milk, cheese, some flower for thickening and a squirt or two of lemon. I can't find the recipe anywhere.

Julie & Julia: Man. Julia Child was one plucky broad.

The Hangover : They did a great disservice to this movie by making the trailers a kind of funny that the full-length movie just never matched.

(500) Days of Summer: I like the world a lot better when Zooey Deschanel isn't singing. Especially when she isn't singing THE SMITHS. This movie was the most fine movie I've ever seen. It was a lot like every other rom com in the world, with a twist. Post-spoiler spoiler alert.

Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession by Julie Powell: When we last saw that saucy Julie Powell, she was a sweaty rosacea mess of marrow-crusted fingernails and damn-near oozing butter from her pores at the finish line of a year-long Julia Child marathon fraught with self flagellation, hard liquor, and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” quotations.

Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession, is what happened after the book deal: More restlessness, in the key of the restlessness that prompted her first project-turned-blog-turned-book-into-movie Julie & Julia. Our spirited heroine is back — and she’s gotten naughty.

Full review here.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

While you were sleeping ...

I woke briefly, at about 8 a.m. on Christmas morning. I had no idea where I was. There was a door to my right that I didn't recognize, and I wondered if we had moved and I'd just forgotten. As I became more awake, I realized that I had turned myself in my sleep. I was perpendicular to the way a normal person sleeps in a normal bed. That phantom door I didn't recognize was the closet, which I had never looked at from this angle. On top of that, I was flat on my back, with my knees pulled in toward my chest.

I recognized this as hilarious.

"Chuck!" I called out, not moving. He hadn't gone to bed yet. Different sleep schedules and all. "Come look at how I'm sleeping!"


Turns out I do variations on this yoga somewhat regularly. He said he has come how and found me sitting up, with my legs crossed. Kind of like I was sitting in a lawn chair and it tipped over backward. But I usually only do that one if I'm Halloween-drunk.

How I spent my Christmas, by Christa L. Pista ...

I hate winter driving. Living in Duluth's East Hillside basically means balancing my Honda Civic at the top of a hill, tapping the accelerator, and then letting it quadruple lutz its way to flatter ground -- preferably stopping before it hits the world's largest freshwater urinal.

On Christmas Eve day, I opted for the bus for a bus that never came. (Whenever I say to myself " ... waited for a bus that never came ... " I think of it as a song, set to the tune of "Horse With No Name.") I was waiting with a kid who works in the food court at the Miller Hill Mall. I assumed, from the jagged black gaps in his dental work, Sbarro, as I'm pretty sure that Steak Escape and Taco John's have hygienic standards. But he was nice, and I did that thing where I stand in the middle of the road and squeal "Here it comes!" every time headlights came over the hill. He provided a running mantra of "Nope."

Eventually, I ended up driving downtown. The roads weren't bad at all. My new friend skipped work that day.

I'm not sure when I became afraid of driving in the snow. Years ago I had this winter wonder car, an early 1990s Corsica that pillaged snowdrifts like they were merely confetti. The heater didn't work in -- in a good way. I could crank it up to about 120 degrees in that old car, sweat out toxins and prepare for my vision quest. I also had to pull over every 3 miles and fill it with coolant. This wasn't necessarily efficient, but it was fun as hell.


Late into Christmas Eve, I didn't know if I would be driving to Rochester in the morning. The last-minute decision was no big deal to me. But not knowing if I could crank my spoon into Tom & Jerry's batter was a big deal. Did I dare cut loose? Let my hair down? Get crunk on Hot Toddies and the episode of The Brady Bunch where Cindy asks Santa to cure her mother's laryngitis so she can sing at Christmas mass? Or would I need to actually be able to sit upright for a 4 hour drive without marinating in a stew of brandy sweats.

I dug into the batter.


Chuck and I celebrated with our annual Christmas Eve tradition: Cheese plate and "Gremlins" -- my pick for the best holiday movie of all time. In the middle of the night, the entire world looked like a black and white postcard from the 1930s. And so I had a couple beers.


I slept until almost 2 p.m. on Christmas Day, then called my parents to make sure they weren't expecting me. Standing in the middle of the road, my mom checking out every pair of headlights that come over the hill, my dad repeating "Nope."

I read a book. Made French Onion Soup. And, really, that's it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The one where I throw the Cuisinart at the wall ...

I decided to make latkes for dinner. Peeling the potatoes was a mess. I sent slivers of skin flying in the general direction of the garbage can, but mostly paper mached the side of the stove and the floor around it. I broke two fingernails, imagined what it would feel like to snag a hunk of meaty palm flesh, and decided peeling potatoes is the danger no one ever talks about.

Instead of hand-grating the potatoes, I decided to use a yet-untested grating blade attachment on my Cuisinart. I'm not one for reading directions. Usually I think to myself "All sorts of idiots everywhere [do this thing I'm about to do.] I'll treat it like a pop quiz."

I managed to get the grinder stuck in the bowl -- about two cups of potatoes shredded to the consistency of V8 were trapped beneath this plastic attachment plate, about one cup was on sliced and diced on top. I scooped out the mess.

First I jiggled the contraption. Then I tried to pry the grater loose with dueling forks jammed into the side of the bowl. I pushed and pulled it. I googled the phrase:

"Cant remove the grater attachment on my 3-cup Handy Prep Cuisinart" -- purposely omitting an apostrophe to maximize results. Not even an empathetic "I don't know" from Yahoo Answers.

Apparently no one else in the world has ever had this problem. I found the instruction manual online, though, and it told me that I shouldn't have this particular problem. That I could try gently wiggling the grater, then give it another tug.

Back in the kitchen, I tripped over a broom. Jammed my finger putting away some flour. Got Tofu in my bangs. Our counter space was covered in dishes. I balanced some dirty forks on the mouth of a box of crackers. I kept dropping things: measuring cups, ingredients.

I tugged at the bowl of the food processor. I banged it on the counter. I set the Cuisinart on the floor, stood on the body, and yanked upward on the stubborn piece of plastic. I started talking to myself. I gave myself permission to cry, but didn't take myself up on it. I imagined throwing the fucker at the wall, through a window, off the deck. Ramming my own head right into it. I sliced myself a hunk of cheese and ate it angrily.

"I'm just going to throw the damn thing away," I decided.

By the time Chuck woke up, my face was on fire and I could only scream "I'm going to throw this fucking thing at the wall!" over and over, each time like it was a brand new thought, each time a little more calmly, a little more diabolically. He tried using his strong mail-sorting fingers. Then he tried pliers. He went google-fishing for answers. Nada.

We decided to let the bowl sit, dry out, maybe it will become magically unstuck. Or maybe I'll lift some weights between now and the next tug.

Perhaps you've never noticed that "Latkes" rhymes with "eff these."

Then, suddenly, I became reinvigorated with that competitive surge that has been curiously missing since about ... 2004? I decided I was going to continue making the latkes, using what I could of the potatoes. I had nothing left to lose. So I started chucking ingredients together, not even measuring things out. For awhile I was making half a recipe; then I forgot and started acting like it was a full recipe. I finished about a dozen pancakes about 15 minutes before Chuck went to work.

They were actually pretty good. We had them with applesauce and sour cream.

Pop and seal ...

Whenever I back my car into something -- and I back my car into something often enough to feel comfortable starting a sentence with "whenever I back my car into something" -- I always spend about five seconds staring straight ahead contemplating the damage:

1. Did I just smear my Civic logo into a Smart Car?
2. Is this going to require a trip to the tail light store?
3. Am I going to have to squirt out a replacement toddler for some strangers?

Today it was just a beam in a parking ramp that I rammed into at about 5 mph while trading colorful phraseology with JCrew on my cell phone. It was the same beam I kicked like a tire when I'd parked about 9 hours earlier, thinking "Huh. It's gonna be a bugger to get past that."

A gaggle of men heard the crunch of impact, turned around and went back to their conversation. I got out of the car to consider how much this cliche was going to cost me. All the lighting was intact. My bumper was bruised. Part of the back side rear was dented.

I whacked at it four times with the palm of my hand, and it popped right back together. Either I'm a mechanic, or the 2002 Honda Civic is made out of Tupperware.

"We're gonna be okay over here!" I called to the men and waved.
They seemed pretty disinterested.
I drove away.

Monday, December 21, 2009

minus cheese, plus egg ...

I learned that my new favorite thing is turning off every single light in the apartment and then going to bed.

Your welcome, earth.

In other news, here is how I spent the past week:


Vegetables in Thai Red Curry: It surprised me how much I liked this one. The red curry is really easy to make, and then you can throw down whatever veggies trip your trigger. I stuck with the recipe right up to the point where they said "mushrooms," and substituted baby corns. Totally the right decision.

Red Lipstick's Egg Whatever: One of my half-dozen or so roommates in college, Red Lipstick, showed me how to make this one. Butter bread. Cut a hole in the middle. Crack an egg into the center. Cook until egg is done. It's like grilled cheese, minus the cheese, plus egg. So good.

I don't have this often, and obviously it isn't hard. I've learned a few tricks in the years I've spent putting my own touch on this:

1. Use the cap from a spray can of Pam, or whatever pan-unsticker you use, to cut the hole in the middle, in the absence of a cookie cutter.
2. Don't discard those butter circles you remove. They are good for dabbing at the yoke.
3. Make sure you use nonstick spray in addition to buttering the bread.
4. Don't ever make this for anyone, unless you want to make it again and again and again.
5. Make a big effing deal about this on the Internet so everyone knows you are a one-trick pony.

But whenever I have it I think of Red Lipstick. This was perfect because today is her birthday.

Happy Birthday, Red!

Millions Chuck summed this one up pretty well: "This is the kind of movie you're allowed to watch in the gym on the last day of school." Not so hot, but super hokey.

[Rec]: Here is another flick from the Blair Witch hand-held horror genre. This one stars a plucky pigtailed reporter who is doing a series on people who work at night. In this episode, she and her cameraman Juan are following firefighters. Things are slow, and her subjects are playing pick-up hoops or sleeping when they get called to an apartment building where a reclusive old woman is losing her shit. Once they get in, they aren't allowed out. The building is quarantined, and one by one, everyone is attacked by a fresh zombie with herculean strength. Awesome.

The Republic of Love by Carol Shields: Whenever I open a book by Carol Shields, I prepare myself to walk into a folksy Midwest version of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood, starring sassy old biddies who turn scrapbooking a full-contact sport.

I’m not sure where I got the idea that she writes Hot Flash Fiction, but I’m always wrong, and I’ve never been more pleasantly surprised by a book than I was by her 1994 novel The Republic of Love.

Bits of the lives of the two main characters, Fay and Tom, are revealed in alternating chapters. Fay is a folklorist with an emphasis in mermaid-ology, who has recently broken up with another in a long line of longterm boyfriends. She wakes up one day and realizes she doesn’t love Peter anymore, and ends things amicably. She relishes the idea of making just a single serving of toast.

Tom, a popular third-shift DJ, half-assed runner, frequent cafe diner, is thrice divorced, which he blames on a string of bad luck. He’s been attending newly single classes for two years.

Full review here.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Money bags ...

I barely had my check card in my hand when one of those super moms -- eyes afire like the tail lights on a minivan -- was handing me a plastic bag filled with my groceries. For her generosity in bagging 1. a can of Classico Four Cheese pasta sauce; 2. Mini shell noodles; and 3. a chunk of Merlot cheddar (spontaneous purchase after I dripped drool on the sample table) I had the option of contributing to a local high school's fundraiser for a choir trip to NYC! The Big Apple!

Pockets of teen-aged blue-shirted tenors and sopranos were hanging out, awkwardly, in bagging satellites. (I was almost leveled by one earlier when I had tried to leave the woman's bathroom, a sterile chamber of soft rock music with narrow stalls, loose toilet seats, and unflattering lighting. I almost caught a buzz from the Noxema and hormones when the bony body, a victim of aggressive flirtation, stumbled in my path.)

When I walked past the donation jar, I pushed a single dollar into the slit. A less-enthused mother gave me a wary look, and I kept walking.

It's true that the thumb on my right hand is permanently damaged from an incident involving the pay phone at Last Chance Liquor and a misstep on a curb in, whatsay, aught-two. And while I may be horseshit at Tetris, I've always been able to bag my own groceries. I hate guilt donations. If super mom had asked me: Paper, plastic, or don't-care-about-our-choir-trip, I'd have opted out of the whole experience. I have a feeling that the choir will get to NYC, regardless of my single George Washington. I am confident that there is a parent in that high school who would see the fundraising tally had fallen short, and instead of telling Hannah and Sarah that they weren't going to be able to stand outside of the Today Show with a big glittery sign written on tag board, would pull out a check book and go apeshit with dollar signs. Maybe, in the process, get a wing of the school named after him/her.

You don't tell kids that they are taking a spring trip to NYC, and then say, "Sorry. You didn't make enough money. I told you that you should have had a car wash."

Meanwhile, less than 20 paces from that donation jar: The Salvation Army bell ringers. Annoying in their own tuneless right, but a tried and true organization. Where, if you don't donate, someone who needs warm clothes might get jacked.

"Sorry, ma'am. We only had enough to buy your child a single mitten. But that's better than none. She can just shift it to the other hand when that one gets cold. Plus, it looks like she has pockets. So ... she should be okay."

So what do you do? You can't walk past the bell ringers, give them a frowny face and say:

"Sorry. I already gave at the high school choir table."

And you certainly can't donate the same amount to the Salvation Army as you did to the high school choir.

"I see what you're doing, Salvation Army, and it means exactly as much to me as getting those poor high school students to NYC. Enjoy this dollar."

This whole set up just seemed so tacky to me. Or maybe the whole thing was a huge psychological manipulation, and everyone involved is a real genius. Me? I just felt dirty.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The rowdiest rally of all ...

When we walked into the Rustic at 1:30 a.m., the place was empty and the floor was covered in cashed pull tabs -- shin-deep piles of a slow failure, bought for $1 a pop. The bartender and one customer were at the corner of the bar watching TV, the volume at living room level. A nature show, or maybe it was hockey. Chuck and I walked in first, and the others filed in one at a time.

"This," I thought, "is about to get really ugly."
I settled into a table to watch the show.

Whomp. Helicopter guitar. Subject No. 3 had pushed cash into the juke box and decided that right here (at the Rustic) at this time (1:30 a.m. Friday, Dec. 18, 2009) he needed to hear this song ("White Wedding," by Billy Idol). Tongue out, head back, eyes squinched, he was either playing air guitar against his belt or he was clawing at a rash. It was loud, the volume still set on party-mode from earlier, when there were more customers than just one, intent on learning more about the mating habits of the meerkat.

By the end of the night, nearly every reveler had face planted, a fact that was less of a bar floor construction problem and more operator error.

"Huh," I said to Chuck, as another bar stool clanked to the ground, execution style, "someone must have turned up the gravity in here."


Thursday night was the 37th Annual Birthday Rally in Spirit Valley, which holds a prominent position on the Advent calendar. It's the day that Chuck and Chuck's Fannie celebrate their birthdays. This year's event was held at a Grandma's in West Duluth -- the 37th birthday obviously being the one you celebrate at bar located between H&R Block and, I don't know, Baja Tanning, in a strip mall.

It was largely attended. Gifts were given, including a practice head from a cosmetology school. The head was shaved on the sides, longer on top, a had a pristine goatee. It looked like George Michael.

Jcrew affectionately referred to the night as a "shit show" in a conversation today. I'd say that is pretty accurate. And at the end of the night, one of the subjects kept growling "sloppy! sloppy! sloppy" before bear-hugging and tackling one of the guests of honor, reaching down the back of his pants, making pinching grabs that looked like an attempted snuggie.

I'm going to say it was the best one I've been to in four years. And that's saying a lot. One year Chuck's Fannie took a lighter and burned a pair of decorative goalie pads off the wall of the bar, and helped me strap them to Chuck's legs. That was a pretty good year, too.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The what if-skies ...

In an effort to feel like I'm moving in the direction of almost starting to write something, I spend a lot of time asking myself "What if?" in hopes of shaking lose a million dollar plot.

It's a tried-n-true method by this sorta well-known writer Stephen King, who has apparently asked himself things like:

What if there was a sematary (sic) where buried dead things came back to life, but came back to life with PMS?

Yesterday Toonses followed me downstairs to the front door. He doesn't do that often. He may have Alzheimer's, but he seems to remember how to avoid most cardiovascular activities. I thought "What if a person's cat ran away. And then they went looking for it and didn't come back?"

I was riding that wave for as long as it took me to get to my car and realize I'd just written "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle."

My current status: Still not a published author.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

she's my shepherd's pie ...

I've decided that house shopping is like dating in your 20s. And that's about all I have to say about that.

Here's how I spent the past week:

Roasted Root Veggies and Polenta: We eat this, like, all the time. But I think this is the first time I found a recipe to associate with it. I take 3-4 of my favorite root veggies -- carrots, parsnips, beets, turnips, sometimes rutabaga, onions, garlic -- toss them with olive oil and garlic powder and roast them.

Meanwhile, I make polenta and mix in cheese. The key here is using veggie broth for the polenta, and Parmesan cheese is a nice touch -- although gouda is gooda.

No photo. I singed the veggies this week. It was still good, but reveals me as a person who cannot be trusted to run an oven.

Southern Red Velvet Cake: I think I covered this harrowing tale pretty well already. I should mention, however, that the Waldorf Astoria Red Velvet Cake required that I purchase Crisco. CRISCO. I wanted to post something on Twitter about only buying Crisco because it was Chuck's birthday -- but there is no real way to do that and stay classy. Anyway, so now we have Crisco. I can't think of why I will ever need Crisco, unless I want to pull the old door knob prank on April Fool's Day.

Jodi's Beer Cheese Soup: This dish always reminds me of Sundays when I was growing up. My mom would make beer cheese soup, sprinkle it with popcorn, then we'd watch football or do math homework or whatever it is people do on Sundays. Good times.

Recently Jodi mentioned on Twitter that she had found a good recipe for beer cheese soup, so I asked her to pass it along.

The most surprising thing to me: Not a lick of Cheese Whiz. No MGD. The two fundamental ingredients in the soup of my childhood were nowhere to be seen. Jodi is using Gouda, and a dark ale. Wha?! I had no idea this was possible. So I'm guessing Jodi didn't invent this version of the recipe, but she gets a name credit for it because I used one of her substitutions, adding green peppers to the mix. Thus, Jodi's Beer Cheese Soup.

This stuff is yum. My tongue's muscle memory totally recognized this soup. Love love love. And when it got all cold and clumpy later, I ate it on Tortilla chips.

A general idea of how to make it
* melt a stick of butter in a big pot
* add veggies (I went with carrots, green peppers, garlic)
* add flour to make a roux
* add chicken or veggie stock, keep stirring
* dump handful after handful of grated gouda into the soup, making sure each batch melts before you had more
* add dark beer or pale ale
* turn down heat, add half and half
* dump it straight down your throat
* write about it on the internet

Sweet Potato Shepherd's Pie: This is not the recipe I used, but it is close enough. The gist is to cook up some veggies, put them in a casserole dish, then cover them in Sweet Potato mash and bake for a bit. So. Darn. Yum. Except that I used Cannellini beans, which I always forget I hate.

The Rachel Papers: I have a few theories on why this movie missed out on pop adulation. Mostly because it was released too soon after "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," so instead of being merely derivative of that movie, it came across as a cheap knock off. But from the early scenes of parties, shoulder pads, and dance music, this is a walking-talking museum of 80s culture. And damn if it isn't hilarious. The filmmakers definitely jazzed up the character of Charles Highway's brother-in-law. And you can't really go wrong with Ione Skye in the title role. Based on the book by Martin Amis. I really wonder what he thought of the film ....

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher: Long ago we called this sort of thing an After School Special — television programs that featured timely topics and life lessons for a school-aged audience. Titles included: “What if I’m Gay?,” “Please Don’t Hit Me, Mom,” and “My Dad Lives In A Downtown Motel.” But they were cooled-up with familiar teen faces: The teen alcoholic hockey player in “The Boy Who Drank Too Much” was Scott Baio. Helen Hunt, Malcolm Jamal Warner, Mary from “Little House on the Prairie” all did time. The stories were grainy, the stars had feathered hair, straight-leg jeans, and clunky tennis shoes. In the final moments of an episode, a young boy’s blue collar father would realize that he was proud of his son, the ballet dancer.

Jay Asher’s pulls out the print edition of the ASS in his piece of young adult fiction "13 Reasons Why."

Full review here.
The Replacements' Let It Be (33 1/3) by Colin Meloy: Colin Meloy’s greeting-card sized contribution to the 33 1/3 project is more of a music memoir for the Decemberists’ singer/songwriter/guitar player. Briefly: The series asks contributors to write about an influential album. From what I’ve gathered, Meloy took great liberties with the task — more than most — writing about the Replacements within the larger context of what it meant, music-wise, to grow up in the 1980s.

So. What was it like being Colin Meloy in the 80s: Hand-me-down TDK tapes from his super-cool uncle, playing broom-guitar, combing MTV’s 120 Minutes for new music, the “college rock” genre, staring at album covers, those clunky plastic CD holders in music stores, going to see the Nylons in concert just because it was live music and it was in his own town. Namely Meloy’s story is very similar to what it was like to be me — and probably you, and you, and you — in the 80s.

Full review will be at Minnesota Reads. I think.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Red Velvet year ...

Traditionally, and by "traditionally" I mean three years in a row, I've made Chuck a birthday treat in the spongy styling of Angel Food Cake. It started as a cutesy contrived little project in 2006 -- Angel Food Cupcakes -- a ruse to show my new boyfriend that contrary to my predilection for Super Potato Oles, I could in fact wrangle an oven mitt AND use a tube of green frosting as a writing utensil.

That went over well. Turned out his mom used to make him Angel Food Cake, which Chuck referred to as "Football Cake." Nothing says "Happy Birthday" like reminding a dude's tongue of when it was 6.

So I made this cake again the next year. And the next.

This year Chuck had a request. He wanted to buck tradition: How about a Red Velvet Cake?

I've never had Red Velvet Cake. In fact, I've only heard of Red Velvet Cake in recent years of scouring food blogs. If I had to guess, I would have assumed it was a kin of Rum Bundt Cake. I believed it was saturated in something flammable, giving it a velvety texture. Like licking an Elvis wall hanging, one that had been doused in the king's actual sweat.

I found a recipe online for something called Waldorf Astoria Red Velvet Cake. A brand-name cake. Sort of like using Prada pans, and Jimmy Choo eggs. This recipe has an associated urban legend: Customer seeks recipe for delicious cake, it costs $1,000. You've certainly heard a similar story about some famous chocolate chip cookies. The expensive recipe legend is the hook-hand, lover's lane, story of baking.

So I made it. I forgot a crucial ingredient, per usual, but the three mini cakes turned out red, so I kept going with my project. The frosting was a mix of butter, sugar, and vanilla. Not at all the cream cheese frosting Chuck envisioned his cake slathered in, but I accidentally stumbled on the recipe for hot buttered rum. Not a bad mistake.

This cake was a disaster. It was dry. I bit into it, and a puff of flour from an un-blended pocket burst in my mouth like I'd detonated a smoke bomb. Sure, we tugged at it a bit. Fake ate it through fake smiles.

Not to mention that it looked like a cartoonish drawing of the Hamburglar.

Eventually, I heaved the screw up into the garbage can. Thud.

Last night I tried again with a new recipe. Something with the word "Southern" right in the title, and the call for an entire pound of cream cheese for the frosting. I made this one while Chuck was at work, double-checking the ingredients, mixing for longer than the recommended mixing time. By the time I finished making the frosting, I'd seen the light: Ah. This is Red Velvet Cake.

Of course, I spread frosting like a palsied finger painter, so it's still an ugly cake.

One of the best things about Chuck is that, after a bit of hinting and deep sighs, he gave me permission to have a piece before he even got home from work. Unfortunately, I couldn't get myself to do it. That seemed a little rude.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Sigh ...

Last week I suffered my first three day hangover in the history of my life. And let me tell you, the whole thing was very disproportionate to the amount I drank. I drank, over the course of seven hours of dinging around in the apartment, watching TV and putting words on the internet, about as much as your boyfriend drinks during the first half of a football game.

Then I slept 20 hours.
Two days later I finally ordered the medicinal pizza.

I'm either a geriatric, or else I found the perfect disguise for a flu: Sam Adams winter pack.

So this is how I spent last week:


Gouda Mac and Cheese: This is such a satisfying meal when it's cold. Easy enough that I committed a case of improv, by taking this recipe and adding chopped Prosciutto, tomatoes and bread crumbs to the top before baking. Now I'm just getting cocky.

The Rachel Papers by Martin Amis: I totally liked this book, but I'm still making words about it. So far, all I've got is that the hero -- at least in my head -- looks like a young and skeezy Rick Ocasek. At some point, when I can string two words together without my head hitting the keyboard, my nose making infinite lines of zzzzz's, a full review will appear here. Keep checking every day. You should be anyway.

Slumdog Millionaire: Is it just me, or is this movie a lot like "Home Alone" meets "Bend it Like Beckham" meets "Goodfellas"?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Adventures in babysitting ...

My belief is that if you ask someone to do a favor for you, you should be so happy when they agree that you should let them grant you the favor on their terms. This is not the case with my former landlord.

Once you make a verbal agreement to help him out, you are his bitch.

The bastard did a sneaky call on Thursday night. I was just starting a run on a treadmill when my phone rang. I didn't recognize the number, but the first three digits of the incoming call ranked on my personal do-not-decline o'meter. So I jumped off the machine, went into the hallway at the Y, and answered.

My former landlord wanted to know if I could babysit Taquita, his 9-month-old, a laid-back lass with an easy disposition and a gummy smile. The usual babysitter was unavailable. The backup, a clinically-drunk tenant at his duplex who babysits away her rent debt must have been busy, too. He obviously went with the next best thing ... me?

This gig would last from 9 p.m. to about 3 a.m. FL knows I don't like to watch Taquita at their house, because I can't remember what the last awful thing I said to FL's baby mama when I was hammered, but I'm sure it couldn't be described as "superficial." For awhile we talked about bringing Taquita to our house, where she would end up sleeping overnight on a mound of Lourdes High School track paraphernalia with a wheel of brie for a pillow. But there wasn't really a plan, per se.

The details were sketchy: FL and his brother wanted to go to Black Bear Casino for the seafood buffet. FL's baby mama wanted to go out with friends. "I'll do it," I told him. "But I need to work out for the next hour. No matter what you do, DO NOT CALL ME FOR AN HOUR!"

Two minutes later my phone rang, this time FORMER LANDLORD popped up on the caller ID. I kept on truckin', mildly annoyed that the dinging was interrupting Scarlet Johanson's awkward attempts at charm and questionable taste in music on a Celebrity Playlist she hosted with Pete Yorn on iTunes. I hit "Decline" without any sort of treadmill incident. He called back immediately. I declined again. Three minutes later, he called back again. This time from his brother's cell phone. Ignore.

When I was done, I had three messages.

"Yeah. I think we're gonna have you watch Taquita. Call me back."
"Yeah. I was on the phone and didn't know if you tried to call back. Call me again, if you did."
"Yeah. Call me on Ratshit's phone when you get this."

I plugged my sweaty head with a super absorbent toque, dabbed at my pits with a towel, and wrapped myself in a sweater. It was better than what I consider "showering" on most days. Then I called him back.

This is what he proposed:

1. That I should come get Taquita from their house.
2. That I should bring her to my house.
3. That I should return her to their house at midnight.

I decided to suck it up, and watch Taquita in her own environ. This would mean some weird small-talk with baby mama. But I knew they had cable, and I whenever I visit my former landlord's house, I always indulge in one of my favorite foods that I cannot find else ware -- slabs of processed American cheese.


I just happen to be talking to my mom on the phone on my way to my former landlord's house.

"I gotta go. I'm babysitting Taquita," I told her. "[Former Landlord] is goin' out."
"HE'S GOING OUT DRINKING EVEN THOUGH HE HAS A BABY?!" Ma pista asked incredulously.
"Yes," I said. What I didn't say is: "Sometimes mommies and daddies who work 40 plus hours a week need a day off to cut loose. Even, surprisingly, one's with illegitimate children."
"WHO'S GOING TO TAKE CARE OF THE BABY WHEN THEY COME HOME DRUNK!!!" Ma Pista wondered, passionately and a little Catholicly.
"I guess that's not really my business," I said. I didn't say "There are a lot of adults and a pretty smart dog living in this house. They'll figure shit out if they have to."


My former landlord's house is a museum dedicated to its previous owners. The doilies still hang in the window; the walls are covered in a weird pink quilt-like padding that would make the dining room an ideal location for gay ultimate fighting. You cannot walk inside without thinking "how bazaar."

The weirdest thing is that you can smell the place from the sidewalk. Not necessarily potpourri, but maybe Glade Plug-Ins. Like, a lot of them. Drenched in Bath & Body Works. It's nice. Baby mama, whom I usually refer to as Scrubs, had her hair did and was prancing around in one of those cute little outfits, popular with people who weigh less than 90 pounds.

I immediately picked Taquita up off the floor, where she was busy sucking on a bottle and watching Nick Jr.

"I cleaned her butt so she should be fine," Scrubs said.

I asked a lot of questions, not being accustomed to the ways of negative year olds. I was told:

Taquita was fed.
She goes to bed whenever.
She has food in that bottle.
Don't set her down, or she will scream like its the first Wednesday of the month.

Scrubs blew Taquita a kiss, popped a ciggie into her mouth, and was out the front door.


Taquita had been positioned on a blanket on the floor, surrounded by plush stuffed animals and toys. The TV was a mix of primary colors and people talking in very soothing voices. Like watching a golf tournament hosted by a rainbow.

I finally got to see this thing called Yo Yo Gabba. It. Was. Hilarious. The episode featured Jack Black. I LOL'ed.


My former landlord has a prominently place plaque in his home that says: "I take life with a grain of salt. A pinch of lime. And a shot of Tequila."


I was starving. I'd brought the fixings for a simple meal, but realized quickly that I couldn't balance a needy child on my hip, deflect a randy dog's nose from going bloodhound on my crotch and sweat socks, and saute green peppers, tofu, and onions at the same time. I combed my former landlord's refrigerator for the semblance of easy-to-make, low-sodium food and got blanked. I ate some stale Cheese Puffs and a slab of processed cheese. I raided the Halloween candy. I wondered who he hell was drinking so much Monster that it necessitated its own shelf.


As the night went on, things with Taquita got progressively weird. I, for one, was exhausted. Chuck and I had been house hunting at the crack of ass. I could barely keep my eyes open. Taquita found me laying prone on the living room floor, and stuck her fingers up my nose, slapped my face, and dug her little mini appendages into my eyeballs. For real. I started plotting a story about a vicious 9-month-old who kills babysitters and afterward dines on their organs.

Taquita can stand by herself, shakily. She can clap. She likes to pucker her lips like a fish. She can say words that sound like "mama." "da" and "Auntie Christa." She owns one book, a book about sleeping that is four pages long and features the nameless, vaguely distorted faces of real children. She thinks this board book is delicious. I encourage this. I figure that the price of having laid back parenting is having a babysitter who encourages the eating of a child's only book by repeatedly saying the word "Yum."


Taquita grabbed her pacifier, plugged it into her mouth, and keeled over onto a mound of blankets. Just when she looked like it was lights out, she made a resurgence. Crawling like an injured war hero across the floor. Her eyes were heavy. Conk. She was back again. Clapping and dancing on her haunches. Conk. Out again.

I took her upstairs to bed. I came back 10 minutes later and woke her up to make sure she was breathing.

Then I went downstairs to watch a Jersey Shore mini marathon.


Her father was pissed that I didn't double check her diaper. Meanwhile, I'm buying her books for Christmas.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Back alley pan flattener ...

"As soon as we finish that cheesecake, I'm going to take the pan out into the alley and run it over."

-- Chuck, verbalizing why no one should ever make an entire cheese cake for two people. Eating it became a job. A job where you feel yourself growing jowls.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Ten years (not-quite) gone ...

For weeks I've been planning a real thinker post on what it means to have lived in Duluth for the past 10 years. It was going to include that first glimpse of cresting the hill on I35, and seeing that big ole lake, and the houses set into the hillside and how it all looked a little like a hamlet, a post-apocalyptic hamlet.

Then I would settle into my first memory as a Duluth resident, living in a secure building with no way to know if I had a visitor unless they did a cop knock on the front door. My good friend Hank, who paved the way for my move, came over to welcome me, or rather heckle me, to the 'hood.

I was at about .25 and spooning a bottle of whiskey, a reserve I kept in my freezer for my then long-distance boyfriend. Hank stood in the street yelling my name until I went downstairs and let him in. He laughed as I bumbly fumblied all over my shittastic apartment, dripping snot and beads of booze sweat.

Soon after he left, I barfed up a bunch of grapes on my box spring.

After a recount, I realized I've only lived her nine years. Granted, this is still seven more years than I planned to live here, and about 50 shy of how many more years I plan to live here. I moved here at the end of November, 2000. So this post will have to wait until next year.

I'm so worthless at math.