Monday, March 28, 2011

Dandelion and squirrel stir fry ...

Crikies. How come whenever I sit down to recap my week on a Sunday night I can never remember anything that happened between Monday and Saturday, but I can totally remember that time I saw "Scream" in the theater? 

Here is what I made, ate, and read last week, though. So I guess I'm hitting the biggies.

It's a triple threat here, playas. I made Pad Thai Salad with Peanut Lime Dragon Dressing and Red Thai Tofu. All told, this should have taken me no more than 45 minutes and instead it took like forevs. It might surprise you to know that my movements are not concise.

It was good, though. Especially when they all blended together on my little plate. Lately I've been craving lettuce, which I usually find boring but now I put it on my sandwich from Subway EVERY SINGLE DAY instead of Spinach. In case you were wondering what to get me for lunch.

Anyway, the salad is standard, but the dressing has a kick and the tofu, a mix of shallots and ginger and red pepper and curry paste and soy sauce and stuff is good, but pretty mush like everything you mix with with tofu in a nonstick pan.  These came from Appetite for Reduction: 125 Fast and Filling Low-Fat Vegan Recipes by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, who writes my favorite cookbooks in the world.

Cholent: This hearty stew from the pages of Veganomicon feels like the epitome of Minnesota winter food. This one mixes lentils, potatoes and other veggies and feels like it's really sticking to the ribs. Super easy.

Coconut-Lime bars: This week's kitchen lesson: Coconut oil. It can be used on your skin, on the radiator in your car and in your desserts. The oil part is a bit deceptive. It is actually comes in a solid state. It tastes a bit like Crisco on its own. It also can keep in the cupboard for years, so stock up while you're prepping for 2012. You can use it to in your Dandelion and Squirrel Stir Fry  when you're on the lam from hordes of hungry, violent, half-faced survivors.

Between the coconut and the limes, this smells like Malibu Barbie drinking margs at a beach party. This one is from The Urban Vegan: 250 Simple, Sumptuous Recipes from Street Cart Favorites to Haute Cuisine a cookbook by Dynise Balcavage. And this is the big winner from the week.


Pork Wasabi Shumai: These little bite-sized bursts are like my favorite appetizer on Hanabi's menu. I bet they are easy-ish. A pork meatball, sitting in a dollop of wasabi within a wanton wrapper and then steamed. I bet my first through third batches would have too much wasabi.

White Noiseby Don Delillo: One of my favorite scenes to every happen in a book happens in this book. An almost plane crash that is hilarious. I admittedly missed much of the point of this because I'm completely unable to recognized product placement unless it is Bret Easton Ellis'd in my face.

Full review will be here.

I'm still reading Joyce Carol Oates' A Widow's Story: A Memoir and have tacked on Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton. 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Reckless with her thumb strokes ...

If only there was a way to harness the burst of manic that strike between 1 a.m.-3:30 a.m. Dole it out in mini fits throughout the course of the more socially acceptable hours. Late Friday night, or early Saturday morning to people who use clocks and calendars as points of reference as opposed to, say, gut instinct, I was a dizzy mess of ways to spend Saturday. Maybe I would drive to Minneapolis and watch my alma mater play in the Minnesota State High School Boys Basketball Class A Finals. Why the hell not?! I haven't been part of a fan frenzy for years. Glittery signs and purple T-shirts. I'm not even sure which octave I yelp in anymore.

I texted Fannie with the idea.

If I had to measure her BAL based just on her response, I'd put her at .0688. She could probably safely operate a motor vehicle, but she was being pretty reckless with her thumb strokes, between the exclamation points and tapping out the lyrics to the school song.

This affirmative was coming from a girl who refused to join our face painted posse, which hit every game home and away in the early-to-mid 1990s.

"Something about the gym makes me have to poop," she would say.

My excitement for that plan waned as suddenly and mysteriously as it had earlier waxed.


I wake relatively early, coaxed vertical by my bladder alarm clock. During the week I use it as a backup, but on weekends this oblong urine satchel is the only thing standing between me and voluntary muscle atrophy.

Chuck has just returned from a photo walk. I'm desperate for him to play an episode of "The Sopranos." There is nothing more deliciously glutenous than getting sucked into a mafia marathon on a sunny day. Alas, he's put the discs to bed for the morning and then, after a bit of chit-chat, he puts himself to bed, too. I go to Barnes & Noble with designs on the cookbook "The Urban Vegan."


I'm reluctant to share this with the world, lest I jinx myself. But I have this thing, this weird luck, this stars aligning and spiritual symmetry thing going on with the parking lot at the mall. I always, always get a super choice spot right outside of the bookstore. Always. I finally told Chuck about it a few weeks ago and I've continued to have good fortune in this respect so I'm assuming this is just the way it is. That my connection to these four rows is strong and unflappable. Today, on a high-traffic Saturday, I parked in the front row.

I'm sharing a slim subcategory of the cookbooks section with an older woman, 65-70. She's flipping through a vegan cookbook and looks friendly so I take this time to pass along some sage advice.

"Are you looking for a vegan cookbook?" I ask.
"Yes," she says.
I point at a copy of "Veganomicon" that is leaning against the shelf.
"That's the best of the best."
"Really?" she asks. "But does it have weird ingredients in it? Like weird spices and stuff?"
"Nah," I say. "It's pretty normal. It's got a great recipe for Sloppy Joes made with lentils."

I leave her alone to peruse the book without feeling pressured by my creepy expectant look. If I don't check myself I'll watch her flip pages and ask "So you gonna buy it? Huh huh huh?" Probably get her phone number so I can check in with her a few weeks later.

The book has been moved when I return, but not purchased. I wonder if I've completely lost my grasp of where lentils fall on the spectrum of weird or not weird ingredients. Did I scare her away?


I wander around the mall, bored by the way that everything looks the same and bored by the way that I continue to browse here knowing that. At Old Navy an employee's chipper "Can I help you find anything?" reminds me of an idea I had years ago: color-coded lanyards indicating a shopper's interest in being approached by sales clerks. Green=Yes! Please. Red=I guess if I can't find where the cardigans are in this store, I probably don't deserve to own one.


They sell Homerun pizzas at Target.


Back at home I have an overwhelming urge to throw away everything. EVERYTHING! We aren't stuff people, so why do we have so much stuff? I dust. Move furniture. Sweep. Find a corn chip under the couch in a nest of what I don't want to admit is probably leftover cat hair.

"I'm not bringing anything new into this house," I tell myself. "For every new thing I bring into this house, I'm getting rid of two old things."

Markers. Wires. Old cameras. Subscription cards from magazines. Boxes.


Dinner is Black Bean and Hominy Stew.


When Chuck goes to work I read Don Delillo. Then I get sucked into a "Cake Boss" marathon. "Cake Boss" is like "LA Ink" with fondant. Instead of giving me a deep down crave for dessert, it sort of turns me off food. A cake shaped like a toilet. A cake shaped like a snow globe. A cake shaped like a story book or a hot air balloon. Visually interesting, yes. But you never see the recipient's eyes roll back into her head with the first forkful. No one leans over the cake, obsessively pinching at bits of frosting. I get the feeling these cakes are pretty but dull-tasting. At the very least, dry.

I flip through a cookbook. I browse Netflix. I finish Delillo. I drink a San Pellegrino Lemonata. I eat cheese and crackers, giggling to myself when I set the smoked cheddar on the cover of the vegan cookbook. I monkey around with a few words. I go to bed and and start reading "Blood, Bones and Butter," setting it aside when I realize I've just been dreaming with my eyes open.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Nutritional yeast confection ...

 Greetings from Duluth, Minn., where we are in the middle of a blizznado. Thought about shooting some video of that wicked lake and setting it to "Wind Beneath My Wings" and then changed my mind. Pushing buttons is hard.

In other news: Here is what I made, ate, read and watched in recent history. There's some good shit here, yo.


Mexican Polenta:  I can see the future and in the future this will become something we make the shit out of. Polenta baked until it is crispy and then topped with tomatoes and beans and seasonings and other stuff. Gah. So good.

Also: I'm not sure why it has taken 35 years to learn about Queso Fresco, but no joke. This is one of my favorite foods right now. This cheese is like moz, but different. Also a little like feta, but different. It's almost impossible to find a hunk of it that isn't expired at our grocery store, which makes obtaining it a lot like hunting and gathering.

Cheesy Bean Enchiladas: As much as I love real-live cheese, I love the science of making a fake cheese sauce -- delicious in its own right. This one mixes Nutritional Yeast, Flour and Mustard and I even licked the spoon.

Meanwhile, I totally loved these vegan enchiladas in which I used real butter so they weren't vegan. Although I didn't really notice the cheese once it got mixed in with the rest of the beans.


Baked Salmon Mac and Cheese: I ordered this last week at Chester Creek Cafe and whoasy-whoa-whoa. So good. My favorite part is the topping, which is like paprika breadcrumbs or something. Uncheesing salmon-y treasures is also a nice treat. My mouth almost exploded.

CRAZY LOVE: Whoa, dude. This documentary is crazy. Mind blown at the 38 minute mark and then gets repeatedly blown every 15 minutes or so for the rest of the movie. The gist: It's a love story that brings new meaning to the status "It's complicated." It's best to not know too much going into it. Then the stages of entertainment are like this:"Okay. I'm watching this. Why is she wearing those sunglasses. Wait. Who are these people? Why are we hearing about this relationship? Gah. He kind of seems like a jerk. Oh. OH! OH MY GOD!"

Seriously, this is so good. And streaming on Netflix.

Buried While in theory I think it's super amazing that Ryan Reynolds is the only character in this movie and he spends the entire time in a box, it gets a little bit boring that Ryan Reynolds is the only character in this movie and that he is stuck in a box. And when they do throw in an extra visual, in the form of a snake, I pretty much lost feeling in my extremities. So.

We Need to Talk About Kevin: A Novel (P.S.) by Lionel Shriver:
Consider a scab. Picture the raw pink steak-ish part beneath it. Now go down another couple of layers. This is where Lionel Shriver went to write the super-gripping, super honest novel We Need to Talk About Kevin.

This is set in the aftermath of a teen massacre. Eva Khatchadourian is an entrepreneur, a world-ophile, deeply in love with her husband Franklin, independently wealthy, and the mother of a Kevin Khatchadourian, the barely-not legal who took out seven of his classmates in a well-executed execution.

Full review here.

The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffeneger: Audrey Niffenegger has a good thing going on with her lobes. In her graphic novel The Night Bookmobile — which walks like a children’s book, but certainly doesn’t talk like one, Alexandra goes out for a stroll in the streets of Chicago in the middle of the night. She has recently fought with her boyfriend Richard, a ponytailed lover with no time for make believe. She finds a bookmobile blasting Bob Marley and gives the driver a little peek as she walks past.

Robert Openshaw greets her, invites her inside. So many books and she’s read all of them. Paul Auster and Betty Crocker and, gasp, her own diary from childhood. Openshaw hustles her out the door when the sun comes up.

Full review here

Another City, Not My Own: A Novel by Dominick Dunne:
Dominick, Dominick, Dominick. (Shakes head and sighs). What a piece of work.
Here is the precise formula my new bestie used to write his late-1990s Anti-Ode to OJ Simpson, the novel-ish memoir Another City Not My Own:
  • Excerpt from Vanity Fair editorial on the trial.
  • Scene in which Dominick Dunne, wearing the name of journalist Gus Bailey for the purposes of this piece, is conversing with someone along the lines of Nancy Reagan or Heidi Fleiss at a fancy schmancy Los Angeles eatery.
  • Said famous person will ply him for details about the trial, which he is watching from Goldman-family/Brown family-side seats in the downtown L.A. courtroom.
  • He dishes on jurors’ expressions, who OJ makes eye contact with, and some juicy nugget someone told him wherein, for instance, AC Cowlings gets coked to the gills and dishes the real deets to Keith Richards.
  • He returns to his hotel room at Chateau Marmont and receives a telephone call from another source who wants to dish goodies on the key players.
  • If the nugget is a reliable bit of info, he puts it under his tongue for use in his Vanity Fair posts or those moments when he is called upon to perform at dinner parties; If it is whack job hypothesis or hearsay, he tells the source: “I’ll use it in the novel I’m writing about the case.”
Full review here.

Right now I'm crying about reading A Widow's Story: A Memoir by Joyce Carol Oates and listening to The Paris Wife: A Novel by Paula McLain.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Getting lucky ...

Yesterday I broke my streak and set foot in my hometown, Rochester. I think it has been a little more than 2 years since I've been there. It's not necessarily a place I'm purposefully ignoring although I'm also not not purposefully ignoring it. I just tend to not spend more than an hour in the car unless it is absolutely necessary. In fact, when I told Fannie I was going there she texted back:

"Who died?"

My mom corralled us to celebrate Pop Pista's 60th birthday and my niece Mel's 10th. Dinner at this Mantorville mainstay, a place that rewards diners who want surf and turf at 4:30 p.m. with special deals. Pop Pista digs the onion rings; You can't get cell phone service here.

I had broiled walleye and wiped down the toilet seat so I wouldn't catch scrapbooking.

My parents were still at church when I rolled into town 3-discs into the audio book "The Paris Wife." I made a stop at the Super Target to buy something to spray in my hair to make it look like I'd washed it. I stood there in this gigantic building and considered all the ex-boyfriends, high school friends, former teachers and neighbors I could potentially run into in this store. I don't have this scenario in Duluth, where if I run into someone on a Tuesday, there is a good chance I will run into them again by Friday. Anyone I could see in Rochester would be someone I hadn't seen in a decade. I kind of looked forward to hearing a 20-minute life story from the mom version 2.0 of someone I'd last seen draped in yellow silk, weeping over the Lourdes High School pep band's version of "Pomp and Circumstance."

Then, of course, I saw no one.


As we're driving to the restaurant we see this tot come busting out the front door of a house, huge smile wrapped around a pacifier. She takes a right at the end of the driveway and cruises up the sidewalk to the corner.

"I don't think anyone is chasing her ..." I said.

My dad is retired Five-Oh; My mom loves to have entire conversations in baby talk. This bit of biographical info leads to a U-Turn in a residential area. My dad pulls into the driveway of the house of the young escape artist. The front door is ajar. By now the tot is out of sight. She's added a right turn deke move.

My mom knocks, then pretty much just walks into the house and explains to a this harried mom -- who has another younger kid balanced on her hip -- that a superfast child just made a mad dash from this address. The woman does this spastic jazzercise combination of trying to figure out what to do and my mom makes a grab for the baby.

"Do you want me to hold her while you go after the other one?"

The woman passes off a baby Ginger, hops on her son's dirt bike, and tears up the street. We Pistas wait in the driveway. No one says anything. Then finally I declare the obvious: "This is all very weird. Do you not see that this is weird? I mean, this is super weird. And kind of hilarious."

The mom comes peddling back with Houdini under her arm, half balanced on the bike.


Brother Pista, SIL Pista and my niece Mel are already at the restaurant. Brother Pista passes me a preview of the card that Mel made for my dad's 60th birthday, reiterating that she made this card herself. She came up with everything on the card on her own. This card is 100 percent ALL Mel.

On the front it says "Grandpa Pista" in marker. Inside is a picture of a rainbow and her homemade text: "I hope you get lucky on your birthday." Friends, I cried.


My parents have completely DIY'ed their basement into this pimped out pad. A wet bar, two bedrooms and a bathroom. Pop Pista made floor-to-ceiling book cases bookending the fireplace. It's a sweet set up. Obviously, when I moved back in with them when I was 24 I was premature. I should have staved off my regression for another 10 years.

My favorite find: A photo an old boyfriend, a professional photographer, took of me for a Halloween spread in Rochester Magazine in the early 2000s. This is on prominent display downstairs:

I'd link to him to give him credit, but he'd probably prefer I didn't. Hopefully I don't get sued for taking a photo of the photo.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Ask a Former Catholic: Chicken Powder versus Lent edition, Ep. 1 ...

What you are seeing here is a portrait of McDonalds messing with a good thing. Every year around this time I like to indulge in the frosty mintness of the seasonal Shamrock Shake. Just because I haven't done anything Catholic-y since helping float my niece in holy water a decade ago doesn't mean I've let go of all of the traditions of the faith within which I was raised. I still show my support for Lent every year by consuming the Filet O'Fish's best chaser.

I like Whipped Cream. Frothy sugar mixed with air. It is almost one of my favorite foods. On pie. Or my finger. This is like putting a Taco on my Pizza or rolling Jelly Bellys in Lick 'Em Aid. What a waste. Sure it was good. It couldn't not be. And sure I stabbed that extraneous cherry and ate the heck out of it. I'm still mad.

This is not a Shamrock Shake. This is a Shamrock Shake that was Starbfucked.

Speaking of Lent: A Facebook friend posted this two weeks ago on a Friday. I thought it was a legit question and I decided I wanted to be the resident expert on Would The Pope Consider This A Lenten Meat Violation. I didn't want to be the resident expert on her wall, however, because the last time I talked to her was during the 1992 high school track season. Nice girl, though. And the question is a good one.

Practicing Catholic who regularly gave up meat on Fridays during Lent, 1976-1994
Practicing Vegetarian who tripped and fell face first into a cheeseburger one time, 1999, 3 months.

A*: Cooked chicken powder does not count as meat, and not just because if there actually is anything from a chicken in this powder, it was invented in a culinary petri dish and then eviscerated with salt. Mostly I say this because during Lent, fish isn't even considered meat. And since something that actually is meat isn't meat, there is no reason to believe that something that has a negligible amount of meat is meat.

However. If this was a vegetarianism question, then yes. Cooked chicken powder is meat. It has "chicken" right there in the title and chicken is an animal with its soul wearing a cloak of meat. Otherwise it would be called chik'n and it would taste like chicken, except a little different in a way that would become less noticeable the further you got away from actual chicken.

So there you go. Episode 1 of Ask a Former Catholic. 

* Answers are written in a confident way that suggests I know what I'm talking about. They are not to be mistaken with the actual answers as they appear in the pages of the bible. Have a question about Catholicism you'd like to see fake answered by a former Catholic? Email me:

Friday, March 18, 2011

Bed-azzled ...

When Chuck and I moved into our house we learned a few things about 1920s construction decisions versus the modern full-sized box spring. We couldn't jam it around the corner and up the steps. It was like trying to throw a hallway down a hotdog.

We started sleeping on just a mattress on the floor which, at first, felt like camping or, better yet, the aftermath of a poet orgy circa 1968. I wondered aloud how long we would sleep like that -- at eye level with the outlets. Then it didn't feel like anything. It was just a bed. The place where I sleep. I didn't even notice anymore.

Finally, finally, right before we went to Los Angeles we went shopping for a split box spring and the bonus luxury of an actual frame with a headboard. A headboard! This thing to lean pillows against and read! Something to keep the pillows on the bed!

We planned the delivery in a strategic way: It came at 9 a.m. our first morning back from vacation. A single reason to travel in the opposite direction of where the palm trees and Steve Martin live.

After two pretty sweet sleeps, I'm giving life with a bed a super hard thumbs up. It's like sleeping in a hotel. Or on a boat. Or just being people in the latter half of their 30s who have chosen to give furniture a chance.

"I hope this doesn't make us lose our edge," Chuck said.

Please note that this was an exercise in unvanity. I actually took the books off the night stand instead of carefully selecting a seemingly random stack. Or even just leaving the actually random stack. And by saying that, I re-vanitize it.

By the way: Does anyone know if you're supposed to tip furniture mover inner guys?

Cheapos in West Duluth

Thursday, March 17, 2011

An underwear party for contortionists who like Nine Inch Nails ...

Sometimes people ask: "How was your vacation?" And I know they're just being civilized human beings who are politely acknowledging that I haven't been at Subway for like 10 days. So I pardon them from the minutia of a conversation about vacation by saying "Good." Then distracting them with "Is that a cupcake?!" and scurrying away.

Ideally, this is what the transaction would look like:
Friend: "Vacation. Good?"
Me: (The Nod-Shrug Combo Meal)

A few years ago my friend Moccasins told me his secret. He asks returnees "What was the highlight?" to keep the routine condensed. Now every time someone asks me the highlight, I'm extra sure they don't want to hear about my trip so I just say: "Sun. Light. Warm." And it makes everyone a lot more comfortable.

But this is a blog, easily navigated with the skim features on a common pair of eyeballs. So I'm sparing no deets. Meanwhile, in answer to the question of "What was the highlight?" It's the intangibles. The spending of a lot of time with Chuck. The vista. The temps. That awesome just landed in LA smell. 

This is the view from Cath's roof. On the other side are all of these houses where I like to imagine Steve Martin lives. Wanders out onto his patio every morning with a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice and a banjo and surveys his domain. Steve Martin has become one of my obsessions. I don't want to brag, but I'm Facebook friends with a guy who was his roommate in the 1970s. It's a long story, but it's a true story.

Speaking of orange juice, we twice went to this vegan restaurant in Silver Lake where they do just that. Squeeze orange juice and give it to you in exchange for like $5. It was so delicious with fresh fruit and some yogurt. The gloves are coming off and the juicer is coming out this week. 
 We just stopped in a random park and read for awhile. It was like 70 plus degrees. It was awesome. And, H-Crap, I'd take any excuse to spend time outside reading Lionel Shriver's "We Need to Talk About Kevin." The best part of long flights topped with long flights is the ability to finish this book in like two days, which is exactly how it should be read.

You can tell we are tourists because we take the subway places. Usually we take it downtown to Little Tokyo. I point at places I went to when I lived there last May for two weeks. We get a) pissy and b) a backpack filled with Japanese horror novels.

This building looks so damn cool. I saw a play here once. Walt Disney Concert Hall by Frank Gehry. He makes things so neat that even I can catch a cool photo of it. Me! A person who has artistic glaucoma when it comes to photography.

That night we had a little pizza party and a movie. I like to call the one nearest to us The Bayou Blaster! It had crawfish on it. I didn't try the other one. Someone deked me out and said they had seen a mushroom in the same zip code. I didn't find out until the next day that it didn't have mushrooms on it. MORE BAYOU BLASTER FOR ME! We watched "Easy A" on Cath's computer.

On Friday we caught "Re-Animator: The Musical" at the Steve Allen Theater. It was delicious campy goodness that ended in bloody intestines squirting all over the audience. Also: George Wendt is in it. I'm super glad he didn't have a heart attack.

On Saturday we decided to check out Echo Park, which we had only seen in the dark. We've covered most of East Hollywood, touched on Los Feliz and were manhandling Silver Lake. This was the next stop. This trip was punctuated by the fierce desire to pee and finding the worst public bathroom in this history of public bathrooms, and this is coming from a person who has eaten her own gum off of a sidewalk. The seat had wet paper plastered to it, the bowl was muddied. We both gagged and backed away. The urge scared itself back into my kidneys.

Later we riffed on landmarks: "Um, well, right now we're about three blocks west of the dog diarrhea."
We took the bus to West Hollywood. This was supposed to be a photo of Chateau Marmont, but whatevs. Again, I'm consumed with thoughts of Steve Martin. Maybe this is his neighborhood.

It all ended with two In-N-Out burgers. Each. Later we went to a BBQ in Glendale. A man named Mac was going to be making a big announcement. Chuck and I spent the day guessing at this big announcement. Cancer? Gay? Moving away? We don't know Big Mac. We have eaten with him once a few years ago, a dinner where we learned nothing more than that he loves Tupac. The big announcement: Mac got a new grill.

Later we went to Jumbo's Clown Room, where Courtney Love once worked. It's not quite a strip club. It's more like an underwear party for contortionists who love Nine Inch Nails. We ended up at the Smog Cutter, a neighborhood bar where one of the place's more infamous regulars was celebrating her birthday slumped into a C on the bar.

Chuck busted out some Britney. I pulled the ultimate in bad karaoke etiquette and re-sang a song another dude had performed less than a half hour earlier. I didn't improve on it much.

Back at home I busted out my own Jumbo Clown Room gymnastics routine.

On Sunday, everyone was in a Smog Cutter Coma except, oddly enough, this lady. I wandered down to Sunset Blvd to look for brunchy food and found a place called Kitchen where I ate my favorite food of the trip: A poached egg on an English Muffin, with a Red Wine Sauce that bled into the yolk in this super great magic tricky way.

We gorged ourselves on Jamaican food for dinner that night and then went back to Cath's to chill.

On Monday it was back to D-Town by way of Bob Hope Airport, Denver, Minneapolis, Eden Prairie and then I35. We pulled in at 3 a.m. As much as I love LA, I also totally dig our quiet little house which would cost, um, probably more than $700,000 out there if we wanted to drop it where we would want to live. So ...

Friday, March 11, 2011

LOS ANGELES -- A guy came up to Cath and me. He was holding slices of an apple. He explained to us that this was the best kind of apple. Juicier than you find in stores. Best apple ever. He offered us a thick slice. Cath took a bite. Then me. It was good. But there is something a little X-gamey about eating an apple from a stranger's meaty hand.


Karaoke DJ: Belinda Carlisle is a lot like Phil Collins.
(There was a 12 measure break in my song)
Me: Not at all.
KDJ: They were both drummers who sang.
Me: No. Gina drums. Belinda has no music ability at all.
KDJ: are you sure? I think she was the drummer.
Me: Dude. I'm positive. I read her memoirs.
(To punctuate this with how I'm her hugest fan seemed like overkill. And, frankly, sad.)
KDJ: Oh. Well you learn something every day.
(End of 12 measure break.)

Guy Across the Street: Hey! Did you guys hear about Japan?
Us: No ?
Guy: Big earthquake. Tsunami. We have been watching it. You guys, it's so sad.
Us: Oh, man! Oh no!
Guy: Yeah, it's all over Facebook right now.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A gawker's Disneyland ...

LOS ANGELES -- Venice Beach has replaced our couch as my favorite place on earth. It's a gawker's Disneyland. We were immediately bombarded with people trying to book appointments for a mysterious doctor character who was now taking patients. Signs advertising medical marijuana. Adding a layer of authenticiy: A man dressed in scrubs rolled past on a skateboard: "Marijuana for sale," he said, skirting through the card.

It's a tossup. I'm not sure if he trumps a man with a 5 gallon bucket filled with Chicken Cacciatore. He was selling it by the paper plateful: A five course meal, he called it, for a dollar. Another guy skateboarded past plate heaping. He rolled up on some teenagers who were hanging out, playing guitar. "That looks good," one said. He pointed back toward the man. The teens scattered, jumping over shit and making for the pasta.

A guy's dog was wearing sunglasses. A man stood behind a cardboard cutout shaped like a TV. Henna tattoos and piercings. Another guy selling pot. Foot massages. A young girl with a sign indicating that she is helping improve the vista on the boardwalk. "Can I have 75 cents?" she asked some men who looked at her as they passed. Leather bands. Beaded bracelets. Iced Lemonade. Painters and spray painters. Tarot card readers. I could go on all day.

I've always thought that before I could write anything, I'd have to see everything. But then standing there gape-mouthed as I see everything also feels a little rookie. On the other hand, I'd hate to lose that thrill of seeing a man tanned to grilled perfection leaning against a building, not moving an inch.

"He's real," Chuck said.
I thought he was a statue.

Five minutes later he was on a bike doing figure eights, bright clothes and flowers, circling through the crowd.

On the plane between Phoenix and LAX we were sitting behind a woman who is going to be on "Ellen" today. She had been in the audience last week, and Ellen loved her. She made her the fan of the month, or some other 7-minute claim to fame. Flew her back out to be in the audience again. She talked about it to the man next to her for the entire flight. Whooping and giggling. It was her second time on an airplane. When we landed, she checked in with her family in Texas.

"I gotta go," she said into the phone. "The show's on the other line."

Her voice changed. Up two octaves and into a sweet purr.

"This is me," she said and began answering questions about where she worked and he names of her kids and grandchildren.

We are staying in Silver Lake this go-round. Just a few blocks from American Electric, the rival tattoo shop on "L.A. Ink." Chuck found a super cool ring for me in the street. Square, custom-made. A little too big. We ate at one of our favorite stops, Cafe Tropical. Hot pastrami and a Midnight Sandwich.

Last night we wandered around shops in Santa Monica and then went to a bar called Smog Cutter, where I exhausted my entire karaoke catalog. The entire "Footloose" soundtrack, some Madonna and Belinda Carlisle and Stevie Nicks. I met some boys from a local dodge ball league, whose claim to fame is advancing to the championship game at Staples Center last year. They dyed their ironic mustaches pink for the big game. They showed me their Facebook photos and asked me to judge who had more team spirit.

At the end of the night, Cath and I slow danced to something I can't remember.

I've had two modest celebrity sighting: A girl whose blog I've been reading for year's friend. I recognized her from photos and videos. She's a bit part actress. No big whoop. I also saw the kid who plays Dixon on the new 90210. I played it cool in both instances.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Good morning, sun.

I went to a yoga class today. I know, I know. Namaste to you, too.

It's been a long time in the making. Every time I encounter someone with freakishly long and lean arms and ask their secret, they say "Yoga." I should just know by now, but I keep kind of expecting someone to tell me that for two months, every night before bed, they bandied their triceps! Or that there is this fantastic balloon animal specialist from Pike Lake who twisted them into being.

Case in point: My friend Hinz.

Her trick: Internet Yoga. Shhh.

My God. If she doesn't watch herself, she's going to accidentally trip her neighbor's doorbell with that internet yoga wing span.

There were at least three women there who were pretty accurate representations of what I'll look like when I'm in my crakey twig fingered Geritol drip years. The chin-length grey bob, the yoga pants lopped at the ankles. One had brought her own mat, personalized with a homemade fringed blanket on the underside. Probably woven by a former lover.

"You know, Duluth's older arty sect," I said to Chuck later.
He nodded.
"Just got back from a poetry reading types?" he asked.
I nodded.

I'm glad we agree on the direction I'm headed.

It was okay, I guess. I'm not very flexible, but I have stellar balance. While I struggled with downward dog, I can make like a tree all night. Even a tree in the wind. It's all about maintaining a focal point, which in my case was eyeball-to-eyeball with a drape in the corner featuring a Vishnu likeness. 

We did sun salutations and warrior poses and when it was all over we laid on the floor and the class leader named off the parts of the body like she was doing a roll call:

"Temples. Cheeks. Jaw. Mouth. Throat."

After each one, we were supposed in inhale softness and exhale tension. I kept inhaling: "I wish I was on" exhaling: "An elliptical machine." I think I'm more into aggressively attacking my body than slowly Pla-Doh Fun Factory-ing it toward wellness with deep breaths. Pilates might be more my thing.

I gave Chuck the highlight reel when I got home, after which he predicted: "Whenever you hate something this much, it just means that you're going to love it a year from now."

Regardless, the last time I did stretching exercises like this I woke up thinking I had kidney disease.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

On the fast track to a unisex bathroom

Chuck and I have removed ourselves from society for a little R&R. He's been off work for a week and has rearranged his life so that now we wake up and go to sleep at the same time. That's not exactly true. We wake up around the same time, but he falls asleep on the couch every night around 11:01 p.m.

This can't be comfortable. It's like sleeping in the backseat of a car. Last night he was so zonked that I was able to watch 3 hours of squealing hair dus and teenaged misadventures and he was none the wiser. At times his small snores matched my gasps of wicked pleasure.

This has also meant some negotiations over which combination of our four pillows is an equal mix of subpar and par for both parties.

This is the first time in four years of vacation that one of us is totally straight-edge and the other of us is an occasional drinker. Where we once would have spent at least two nights by now with our lips wrapped around a 32 ounce mug of trouble, and three days fixing it with pain relief, Gatorade and Gas Station Burritos, we've now settled into clean living. Lots of listening to music. Lots of TV. Lots of movies, including a day movie, comic books and lots of restaurants.

On Saturday we had fish tacos at a little burrito shack near our old apartment. A few minutes after we got our food, the server came up to us, made this face:

 when she asked "Is the food okay?"

That's what her mouth was saying. But her face was saying: "I can't believe you're eating that, and as soon as I walk away, I'm going to barf in the unisex bathroom." 

Speaking of unisex bathrooms, this is the best text message that I received last week. It came from my friend Cork1.

* He is referencing this post.
** He is also referencing a recipe he sent me that includes stewing vegetables and white beans in tons of beer.
*** Perhaps you had to be there, but I cackled mightily.
**** This actually has nothing to do with unisex bathrooms.

In other news, here is how the past week was spent food, movie and book-wise. 


Baked Ziti: Probably the best thing to come from Chuck's recent "Sopranos" marathon would be the way Carmella Sopranos non-stop chatter about baked ziti seeped its way into his subconscious and landed on our plates.

This was honestly the best food I've eaten in months. Years maybe. Spicy sausages from Italian Village, one of the Top Five reasons to live in West Duluth. Cheesy cheesiness.
Blueberry Yogurt Cake: Oddly enough, we had almost all of the ingredients required to make this dessert, including some weird ones that we wouldn't ordinarily have on hand: Greek yogurt. Grape Seed Oil. We didn't have blueberries, though, so I made it with raspberries.

This was okay. Probably the most interesting part was the science experiment where I turned a boulder of brown sugar into grains by attacking it for a half hour with an electric beater. It was an exercise in erosion. And a lesson in proper storage of brown sugar.

Somewhere This one is like "Lost in Translation" without the karaoke. There are a lot of little things I liked about this movie about a shallow movie star living the fast life at the Chateau Marmont who realizes how empty his life is once his daughter comes to stay with him for awhile. Instead of a thumbs up or down, this one goes horizontal.

Gryphon: New and Selected Stories by Charles Baxter: I believe that Charles Baxter is one of the best writers on Earth. If I had to pick which one should sit at the head of the table during a gathering of my top ten, I’d probably just say “Screw it” and make him arm wrestle Haruki Murakami for honors. Let the loser carve the bird.

Full review is here. 

The Two Mrs. Grenvilles: A Novel by Dominick Dunne: The first Mrs. Grenville is a triplet from the kind of family that the painter John Singer Sargent captured in portrait. The newly-minted Mrs. Grenville is a former showgirl from a small town in Kansas, lying about her age, sexual and marital history. Dominick Dunne's novel The Two Mrs. Grenvilles chronicles a fictional tug-of-war between these characters, based on a factual tug-of-war between the characters on which they are based.

Full review will be here.

Juke box on the hill ...

There are a lot of awesome restaurants in Duluth so there really is never a good reason to go to a place that like dropped from the sky one day fully constructed and all lit up like a juke box on a hill.

Well, unless there is a gift card involved. Which there was.

"For the love ... Let's just hope it's no one's birthday," I said as we drove up the hill. The idea of the wait staff going flash mob -- all that chanting, clapping and jazz hands -- it was too much.
"My pupils are the size of quarters," Chuck responded. We had just spent the late afternoon in a dark living room, eyeballs deep in a "Sopranos" marathon.

It was a quiet night. Not a lot of activity on the roads. We saw two cars, back to back, on the way.
"What's with all this traffic?" Chuck asked.

The song "Friends in Low Places" was playing when we got there. The place was packed. Like this very weird answer to the question "Where is everyone?" wherein everyone is everyone you've never seen in your life.

We had a decent amount of dinero on that gift card and no plans on ever returning, so we started with:
1.) fried bite-sized balls stuffed with liqudized cheese and jalapenos. Like a salt fiend's answer to the Cadbury egg.
2.) We had deep fried slices of pickles, which I was on my way to inventing in the late 1980s when my favorite food was Ruffles topped with Gedneys.
3) I had a house salad.
4.) I had bread rolls with cinnamon-flavored butter.
5.) I had breaded catfish and at heaping mound of mashed potatoes.
6.) Chuck forked me a super meaty mushroom slathered in flavor to see if maybe I've broken through and suddenly like the taste of moldy basements. It wasn't terrible. But I'm probably not going to, like, subscribe to a mushroom newsletter or anything.

Limping out of the restaurant, I wondered if there were enough exits in my body to accommodate what had just happened.

Chuck slipped into a food coma, and I watched "The Towering Inferno" and thought about how the 70s were so much naughtier than the 80s. And I decided to never climb higher than two stories in any building.

I also finished a book. Went to a used book store. And we drove around and looked at some super dismal vistas. It is so gross here in March. Bare trees and dirty snow scabs covering everything.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A little something to get off my chest ...

A few weeks ago I became incensed with the bra industry with very little provocation. I was at Target browsing the unmentionables and could only find one boulder holder that matched my personal specifications and so I decided it was a conspiracy:

"EVERYONE HATES A 36B!" I screamed in my head.

I didn't research this theory. I was basing it solely on what this store had in stock. Plenty of bras in the 36B tier, but only one that didn't have cups padded to resemble hockey equipment. I don't want that. Water bras. Gel bras. I like to be able to feel if a hard boiled egg has affixed itself to my chest as I lean over a salad bar. I want my bras unpadded, demi cup with an underwire. This appears to be a lot to ask.

As you would assume from my B-level ranking, I do not have large breasts. My rib cage, however, has a decent girth. An aesthetic comparison: The whole set up is a bit like decorating a dining room table with tea candles. Adding a padded bra just makes me feel bulky and transexual.


Now this has become a thing. Every time I'm at Target, I wander around looking for 36Bs, nodding self-righteously when I encounter bra after bra that could easily be mistaken for knee pads.

I remember getting my first bra. I had noticed my friend Gina's telltale straps one day at school, and went home to tell my mom the news. "Gina is wearing a training bra," I told her. She humored my elementary school envy and took me bra shopping that weekend, picking up three trainers that looked especially cool when I wore a Polo shirt. That line across my back like a single guitar string. Turns out Gina had been wearing a slip, so the whole thing was a little premature. I remember writing in my diary a few weeks later something like: "Dear Diary, By now I have been wearing a bra for so long that I don't even wear it anymore."

Last weekend I was at Target, picking through the leftover Valentine's Day lingerie and poking through lacy displays. Once again, I found just one unpadded 36B with an underwire, in black. I bought it.

I wore it for the first time on Tuesday, and on Wednesday noticed that it looked strange, broken, laying on the bedroom floor. I picked it up, fingered a flap of material that had come loose, and gasped:

A nursing bra?!

I dug the tag out of the garbage, and sure enough in fine print:
"One-hand easy release nursing closure."

Of all the extraneous features. Of all the bizarre things for me to own. A nursing bra! I slipped it on and showed Chuck the magic trick. "And then," I said, "Viola!"

He covered his mouth and backed away, a giant laugh about to burst to the surface.

Everyone hates a 36B.