Archive | November, 2011

Time to Rename Sesame St. Sesame Highway?

30 Nov

Sheesh.  I love Sesame Street.  It’s one of the few shows that both my almost 2-year old daughter and I can sit through (or dance, get up and run around, come back to sit in front of) together.  It seems, though, that the opening segments are getting longer and longer.  I’m able to read lengthy appellate decisions without a break but have a hard time getting through some of the endless openings on Sesame Street lately.  The one that appeared today, the story of a Jack be Nimble who lost his jump, was especially painful.  They pulled out a kangaroo, then the cow who jumped over the moon, then even serenaded him with an inspirational song to try to get him to jump.  Do we really want to be coddling this white dude fairy tale character who isn’t even a regular on the show while the crowd who gathered to watch him, including the real-life girl in the wheelchair, have to sit through his emergency therapy to get over his candlestick fright, which in the end isn’t even explained (or maybe it was but I was writing this by then)?  Exhausting!  So, although I know Sesame Street has spent decades trying to make up for the fact that it (rightfully, probably) was blamed for birthing the first short-attention span generation, its reparations are, in short, too long, and if you can judge by me – a member of that first ADD era – too late.


Check ME

24 Nov

Hey, all.  I was moved to post this by an anonymous, and fair, comment/request I got from a reader.  It was part of a longer letter that was very positive (which I appreciate — thanks for the feedback!) — so, I don’t mean to take it out of context, but the relevant part for those of us who can get carried away with thinking Thanksgiving is about giving thanks for our awesomeness, and luck at being more fortunate than others, is well taken, indeed.  I’m not saying it best.  It goes, in short, something like this …

” . . . before you go plastering all over Facebook all the great food you’re making and eating this Thanksgiving, think twice before you begin bragging, unless you can follow it up with … ‘in a soup kitchen.'”

Noted, Revel Reader, noted.

Dr’s Office Mags: the Twist

23 Nov

So I was going from the waiting room back to one of the exam rooms at the podiatrist’s office when I was stopped at the door by the assistant of Dr. X (not his real name but it’s shorter). She asked me nicely to return the New York Magazine (a most recent issue covering the Zucotti Park bust up) to the rack in the waiting room. I was sure they were on to me, and that Dr. X had seen my post on “is taking magazines from your doctor stealing?” debate. I was a marked woman. Dr. X is nice but this is a solo practice. He might not look kindly on his best magazines disappearing every time I’m there. A young doctor, X is known as much for his chattiness as his steady surgical hand (which he attributes to a Donkey Kong obsessed youth). A quirky conversationalist, he can hold his own from stock market talk to sunspot philosophy. To date, he’s the best foot doctor I’ve met (and I’ve been unfortunate to know quite a few). We were raised in the same era, so I don’t mind when he points out I’m still wearing this boot (I’ll tell you that story later) because no matter how young at heart we are, the rest of our bodies are not (trust me this was far less disconcerting than being told by a male gynecologist before giving birth to my second child that I should be prepared, and that I’d been “spoiled” by having my first by c-section).

Dr. X’s office has huge windows overlooking frenetic Canal Street. I’ve seen him peering out them before. Maybe he saw me coming and put his staff on red alert (“the magazine thief is back. Hide the Harpers! Set out the People” – even a thief has pride). Whether that happened or not, I dutifully returned the NY mag to its place on the rack as requested, but couldn’t stop myself from asking the assistant, as nonchalantly as possible, why. She explained, economically enough, “contamination.” (I’m guessing the staff has learned that single word sentences are the best fit, edgewise). I didn’t know if it was a canned response, prepared specially for the periodical thief, or if there was some truth in her word. I pondered whether the new New Yorker tucked under my arm might also be at risk (it was obtained legitimately at a nearby newsstand and was swiftly stashed in my bag when I beheld the array of competitors on the magazine rack my doctor made with his own hands back when he first opened the office – like I said, he’s got the gift of gab, and with the fate of my f#<k~d up feet in his hands, who am I not to listen?). But my magazine was no typhoid Mary. It had come in with me. Sure, it would be in the back room where shoes and socks are tossed off, and toes are touched, and toe jam exposed. But, more importantly, it would also leave with me.

It occurred to me then that sticky fingered patients are actually doing others a favor by removing magazines from the ground zero of germ breeding grounds, a doctor’s waiting room. Conceiving, as I now did, the latest Harper’s as a weapon of mass influenza, rather than a beacon of free press passed freely to me, I suddenly acquired the disincentive I’d previously been lacking. And this disincentive (nearly) resolves the dilemma whether it’s morally, technically, legally, and ethically wrong to take magazines from your doctors’ offices. Nearly.

Back when Dr. X was busy doing Nintendo pre-med, I spent weekends getting bleary eyed watching Saturday Night Live. My favorite segment was Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey, who is a real person, at least according to Wikipedia (which reminds me, would everyone please hurry up and donate because the dude staring out over every entry with his creepy Great Gatsby eyes really makes my skin crawl. He’s worse than a Sally Struther’s baby because you can’t turn him off.  True, though, if it weren’t for Wikipedia entries dedicated to the topic, I wouldn’t know that I’m not the only one who finds his picture unnerving). But Jack being a real guy is rather reassuring since I remember his wisdom more than, say, the French philosophers. (Come on, don’t judge! How many of them can you even name? Now, quick, what did any of them say – without looking at Wikipedia, people! So there.) Now, regarding one of Mr. Handey’s more memorable observations, which I suspect may have some relevance here …

If you ever fall off the Sears Tower, just go real limp, because maybe you’ll look like a dummy and people will try to catch you because, hey, free dummy.

So maybe all we’re doing by swiping our doctors’ magazines is taking home disease-riddled dummies.  But, hey, free disease-riddled dummy.  Then again, maybe here’s a real disincentive (since I don’t honestly think that New York Magazine from Dr. X’s rack was any more dangerous than the New Yorker in my bag): what if when we take magazines, it makes doctors think we come there in part for the impressive periodicals assortment, and they don’t feel so bad if they make you wait long for an appointment, and they just order more magazines to replace the ones you’ve swiped.  Those being likely consequences of getting your news at a five-fingered discount, perhaps the following Deep Thought is the more appropriate one to end on…

If trees could scream, would we be so cavelier about cutting them down?  We might, if they screamed all the time, for no good reason.

****** This post is dedicated to Jack Handey and Dr. X, whose material I’ve shamelessly stolen.

******Jack, your website makes you look like someone who was on SNL in the 80s.  Update it, man.  I am assuming, btw (that’s by the way) that your prohibition against reproduction or posting them on websites is indeed another Deep Thought.  Right?  I’d ask you but you have no “contact us” button.  Don’t be such a loner, bro.  Gosh darnit, people like you.


How I Trick People Into Thinking I Can Cook

20 Nov

I don’t know what came first — the free range chicken or the organic egg.  Either way, it seems television reality cooking shows and indeed whole channels devoted to nothing but food (not to mention websites such as chowhound, epicurious, Food 52, and blogs like Smitten Kitchen, Urbanexpansion,* It Starts With Pie,* or Two Dads Cook*) have spawned minions of haute cuisine obsessed newbie foodies (and, of course, those fashionable fans of rustic fare too hip for high brow).  I cannot say I am above the fray.  Indeed, whether it’s from a sincere desire to trim my dining and entertainment budget (which, admittedly, saw a good share eaten by pizza, Chinese, and Thai deliveries before I married a serious cook) or if it’s because I’m just not cool enough to let this bandwagon pass, I, too, have heard the siren call ringing out from Chopped to Food Network Star and for crying out loud even that special by Jamie Oliver that landed with a thud when it tried to convince Americans the truth that what public schools feed our kids is crap.**  I hear these shows, just like everyone else, whispering in my ear that I could be the next Julia Child or, better yet, Anthony Bourdain (he’s got more swagger and gets paid to motorcycle the globe sampling the best the world has to offer all the while bemoaning the grand banality of it).  Okay, now I’m lying.  I don’t really aspire to be them and I have no desire to teach people to cook, via TV or otherwise.  But, I have been inspired to dust off my apron and see if I can’t replicate some of the artisanal delights that abound on FoodCrafters, the more local Food Curated, and, when I’m lucky enough to catch it, the offbeat Food Jammers.  Some things are easier to master than others.  No decent home in 2011 should be without homemade (now called handcrafted) peanut butter.  Our home’s not always decent but you can usually find it here.  I take care of the simple stuff like peanut butter (peanuts + food processor = can’t go wrong), while my husband, working like a mad scientist, roots out the perfect ingredients and technique for his out-of-this-world ice cream.  So, whatever the reason, practicality or artistic inspiration, I have gotten my feet wet (quite literally) since this wave has swept our country and beyond.  The home cooking part, along with selecting sourcing foods from local and organic growers (or “alternasourcing” as one popular blogger* puts it), is core to what some call the global food movement, which finds Brooklyn at its crest, and is now beginning to occupy the populist protest that is Occupy Wall Street.  So just how does one jump on this bandwagon?  How does one give the illusion of being a deft food crafter without forking out big dough for culinary school?  If there’s one thing this movement has taught us, DIY is A-OK.  Applied, this translates to: fake it till you make it.

Below are a few tricks of the trade I have picked up along the way.  They represent the best of the opposite of my old approach.  In my twenties, I was the only of my friends to be parenting while also exercising the extended lease of childhood, which we took for granted as the god-given right and patriotic duty of every young American.  Loathe to become the de facto den mother, I insisted my kitchen skills were so egregious that I’d singe hot dogs just walking them past the stove en route to the microwave.  While this won me no adulation, it did get me off the hook of becoming kitchen servant to my wayward and largely vagabond assembly of associates.  As for the following, if you don’t know this stuff already, you obviously haven’t been watching enough Food TV.  But that’s okay.  I have (in case any doubt remained).  Only some of these things I’ve learned from the boob tube.  Others I’ve stolen elsewhere along the way.  Here they are to use and abuse, as you wish ….


1.  Wear an apron.  Not a chef’s jacket because that’s just pretentious (unless, of course, you went to culinary school or it has some special significance like coming as a gift after you were featured in an Essence Magazine feature on men who cook – not that this is anyone I know, of course.  But, honey do let me help you taste test that ice cream).  The only chef’s attire exceptions are if you simply have the burning desire, or if you pair it with fishnet stockings and stilettos or those really cute boxer briefs (your pick – who am I to tell you what not to wear).  Why does it matter what you wear?  As the ancient Greeks said, “the garment makes the man.”  As Mark Twain said, “the clothes make the man.  Naked people have little to no influence on society.”  (This, Mr. Twain, has been reversing itself in the years since your demise).  And, as Dorothy Parker said, “brevity is the soul of lingerie.”  (Thus my suggestion you don’t over-accessorize that stiff white jacket).  With all this in mind, an apron should keep most of the rest of you clean.  A large part of the illusion of being a great cook is to make it look like it required no effort at all.  Not only is it definitively unsexy to complain (in words, gesture or appearance), it fails to induce others to want to do what you do, which is an essential ingredient of success, in the kitchen and beyond.  Think about it.  If this were not the case, why would there be so many chefs on television now.  You have to make this stuff look good, like fun, and that you could’ve done it handcuffed and blindfolded (mind you,  don’t overdress the jacket with trinkets and toys).  Case in point: compare  Martha Stewart (on the air for 11 years) or the Barefoot Contessa (first aired in twenty-02 and still running) to Dirty Jobs or Ice Truckers (okay, admittedly I don’t know the stats for these shows but tasty food beats smelly boots by far more than a nose).

Wearing an apron reminds you (and others) of what you are doing.  I have a hard time doing just one thing at a time (I even just accidentally wrote “things”).  I’m not a multitasker.  “Multitasking,” itself, is a misnomer since there are few things one really can do well simultaneously.  Notwithstanding, laundry remains a favorite chore because at least I feel like I’m getting more done than I actually am.  While the laundry’s going, I’m off doing something else at the same time.  As for multitasking, some machines do make it possible.  Cooking, on the other hand, is a jealous lover.  It demands constant pampering and, when that’s not present, passion.  Faking it till you make it means frequent tasting (just ask any contestant on Chopped, whose team of judges regularly castigate anyone who dares put a plate before them without having tried it themselves).  Also required is your undivided attention to presentation.  Case in point, Chopped, which is my favorite of all food shows  for reasons one blogger has done me the favor of articulating, judges on the trifecta of taste, creativity and plating, with contestants preparing one “beauty plate” in addition to plates for each of the three judges.  Your food’s gotta look good, and so do you.  Not only does wearing an apron make it look like you belong right where you are, it reminds you of what you are doing.  More importantly, it reminds other people.  It’s like a big neon sign that says, do you really want to yank me away from what I’m doing to change that dirty diaper, take out the trash, clean the toilet, or pick up the dog poop, only to return to preparing your food?  (Careful, though, they might catch onto you if you abuse this philosophy and start wearing an apron to bed, though that could serve other purposes, see above).

Before I got first-married, my mother gave me an apron as a shower present.  Knowing I was a self-proclaimed kitchen klutz and, in deed and fact, a feminist, she gave it to me as a little side rib.  I donned it for the first Thanksgiving dinner I cooked nearly eleven years ago (shortly after my first-husband and I separated).  I’ve worn it frequently, and with stubborn pride, ever since.  (The apron, and I, survived the divorce but it’s unlikely to outlive the friendship that replaced the marriage).  Although I’m no Betty Crocker, I can’t think it pure coincidence that my hate-hate relationship with the kitchen transformed into a respectable love affair in the time I’ve been wearing the gift my mother gave me so many years ago.  (Although it could be said, too, that being in the kitchen keeps me away from less attractive places such as a poopy diaper or backyard – but let’s just agree that it’s the love of cooking I’m acquiring, more than my innate laziness, that keeps me in the most popular place in the house).

So don your apron and roll up your sleeves.  Now, let’s step into the room where the magic happens.

2.  Keep a clean (but not overly pristine) kitchen.  I worked with a professional clutter-buster several years back.  I went out to California to see him once and saw that, as expected, he lived what he taught.  His apartment was sparse but the things in it really shined, in a spiritual sort of way, like they were given enough space to really stand out.  His kitchen, however, was not the cleanest I had ever seen.  It wasn’t dirty per se but it could have used a good scrubbing in the corners.  That surprised me.  Some time later he happened to tell me that he hired a feng shui consultant to come in and assess his surroundings.  Rightly, he considered it a good thing to turn the tables on himself and experience being the client in a field akin to his own.  This is much the way that when you cook, you should invite people whose opinions you respect to eat your food, and take to heart what they say.  After she left, he scrubbed every corner and said it felt better immediately.

So why not perfectly pristine?  Simple.  If you’re trying to make people think you can cook, you better have a kitchen that’s been broken in.  My husband and I renovated our kitchen earlier this year.  It was sorely overdue.  I still occasionally catch myself opening and closing the cupboard doors because I like how the new gadgetry slows the door right before it closes.  Shortly after the work was done, and we were cleaning up from a dinner we hosted in the new space, I accidentally banged my cast iron skillet onto the divider in the brand new farmhouse style double sink that was my pride and joy (and one of our more indulgent splurges).  It nicked the side, leaving a half-inch smudge-like stain.  My disappointment was apparent but my husband was unfazed.  He noted that at least people will know we use our kitchen.  I recalled various home renovation shows we watched when our reno was underway (yes, I go through TV phases, becoming obsessed with shows that mirror what’s happening in my own life — I’ll spare you details of my Twilight Zone/Hitchcock Hour period and when I was DVRing a Baby Story but you would be surprised at how many times you can watch a stranger give birth and still feel completely incapable of doing the same thing).  My husband and I would critique the various styles we’d see and, while he tends toward clean lines and basic white, we never were drawn to the kitchens that were totally sterile and completely sparse.  They were uninviting and felt unloved and unused.  When I think of the more serious cooks I know, their modest kitchens are stocked with a few basic, organized items, and there is always evidence that the kitchen’s been put to good use.  Clean, but not overly pristine.

Have a few simple rules to keep your kitchen in its optimal state.  My aunt-grandma Jeanne used to say, “Leave your kitchen in dying order.”  I always wondered if the people who made Thelma and Louise heard that somewhere along the way.  When Thelma and Louise are getting ready to go on their fateful road trip, there’s a shot of (if I recall this right) Louise’s (Susan Sarandon’s) kitchen, which is so neat that no one would have to clean a thing if she never came back, leaving it, as she did, in dying order.  Leave your kitchen in dying order.  Clean but not fussy.  In our household, we have a few simple rules that we bend but don’t break: the dishes are cleaned before we go to bed (it’s as golden a rule as not going to bed mad); all foodstuffs are kept in closed containers (I will spare you the story an exterminator once imposed on me about a pepper grinder left in open air and why he will never eat pepper again); sweeping is good for the soul, and the soul needs as much good as it can get.

In sum, the kitchen should be organized enough to rebound quickly from the messiness of life, sanitary enough to be safe for young and old alike, and comfortably clean to host the occasional unexpected visitor.  Most importantly, the kitchen should be organized and inviting enough to embrace you, a glass of wine or seltzer, and your favorite cookbook without distraction on a quiet night.  Speaking of, ….

3.  Read cookbooks – many, varied, and often.  I used to use cookbooks just for the recipes.  Man, was I missing out.  Slowly, I started uncovering the stories hidden in them, and eventually my interest in food and, even more, the source of our food, brought me to important works like In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan, and Food Matters by Mark Bittman, as well as many entertaining tales about what goes on in other people’s kitchens.  One of my favorite cookbooks of all time (and which is no longer on my shelf because I have loaned it out and lost it more than I can remember), Nina Simond’s A Spoonful of Ginger, is as much about the way food affects our bodies, and how we can use that knowledge to heal ourselves, as it is about preparing the specific recipes it contains.

Although I know time is short for all of us these days, you should be able to take away some helpful hints or basic food knowledge from even a quick perusal of your favorite cookbook.  Also on my shelf and frequently referenced are the standards: Pillsbury Kitchens’ Cookbook (the first cookbook I got when I was around 12 years old – yes, the same copy), The Joy of Cooking (left behind by a manny who I hired for my older daughter — the work relationship didn’t pan out but, to my delight, when he returned to the midwest, he was one book lighter), and, of course, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (which is my husband’s but which I have every intention of making my own, although I do appreciate one chef’s cynicism on the matter).  There are others I get a lot from even with little time: Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg’s The Flavor Bible and Sur la Table & Rick Rodgers’ Tips Cooks Love, for example.  I have inherited my mother’s love of antique books and small local publications, and for this I have the pleasure of reviewing rare artifacts such as Packer Wives Cookbooks from 1971, and Wisconsin Gas Company’s The Best of Festive Foods from 1965 (although, admittedly, I’m more likely to giggle over some of the items — countless cheesy casseroles and Christmas-colored fruit molds — than rush to whip them up).

One of the most romantic presents I ever saw was a cookbook.  It was from a man to his wife on her sixtieth birthday.  He was the president of my college alma mater.  I lived off campus in my undergraduate years.  I started out at a two-year campus but then transferred to a small, liberal arts college in my home town.  Since I was there only for two years and just on campus when I had to be for classes, I didn’t get to know a much of the staff or students.  I didn’t know the president of the college hardly at all.  When I decided I wanted to go to law school, however, I decided to seek his advice.  When I went to his office, he seemed pretty busy.  After I told him what I was there for, he suggested I go meet his wife.  Feeling I’d been given the brush-off, I nonetheless trudged to the edge of campus over to the Presidents’ house.  There, to my surprise, I was warmly welcomed by one of the most vivacious and generous women I have ever come to know.  She sat me down, offered me pastries and hot coffee, and provided sage advice culled from years in a top flight law firm and as an experienced law professor.  When I started law school (at my top choice) the following fall, a copy of Black’s Law Dictionary inscribed by my former college president sat on my shelf.  Years later, after the two of them helped ease my transition from the heartland to the Big Apple, a book showed up at my door.  It was a cookbook he sent to their friends.  It was her culinary notebooks comprised with love and care, and surrounded by photos of them with friends and family over the years.  The passion that went into each recipe, perfected through years of repetition, and the dedication that went into compiling them into this gorgeous book nearly made me want to cry.  It makes for good reading, and good cooking.  (In fact, if I ever finish this post, I’m going to hop online and get his latest book, Liberal Arts at the Brink – if you have an interest in the state of  education, which we all should, I suggest you do too).  The Culinary Notebooks was a fitting tribute to a beautiful and talented woman from her loving and equally gifted husband.

Cookbooks can change your life in unexpected ways.  Witness, a recent encounter I had with the author of one book that had been on my shelf for years — her name, Crescent Dragonwagon, happened to catch my interest one day.  I Googled her to find that, although she previously spent years running Dairy Hollow House, one of the first bed and breakfasts in Arkansas from which two very good cookbooks emerged,  she now was conducting Fearless Writing workshops in Vermont, which, I later learned, happened to be taken by one Julia Child and which I fearlessly took in August of this year, and whose lessons I have been savoring since).  The cookbook that took me to Vermont was the Dairy Hollow House Soup and Bread cookbook, which my long culinarily accomplished sister gifted me many years ago.  From it have sprung many warming bowls of hearty soup and lots of really good bread.  Which reminds me ….

4.  Bake bread.  It is so easy.  And it’s really impressive.  We all know there’s nothing like the smell of baked bread to make you feel warm, comfortable and, simply, home.  Try on a few different recipes, collect a few you like, then keep on doing it until it’s like tying your shoes (assuming you weren’t raised in the eighties or later on Velcro alone).  There’s another reason to bake bread.  Do a search online for items that are cheaper to make than buy.  If bread’s missing from the list, you’ve probably just found Wonder bread’s site.  Before I was second-married and adopted my husband’s stand-alone mixer, I had a bread machine someone had given me as a gift.  This did the job but left a little hole in the bottom that was always kind of embarrassing.  Regardless, it was still home made bread, and you just can’t beat it.  Sans the mixer or bread machine, it might be a little harder to make it but probably still worth the effort.  Bread’s just sexy.  (When I was still single, I happened to take one of those hole-in-the-bottom loaves to a gathering my husband had one summer — we were married by September.  You see what I’m saying?).

5.  Take your tools seriously.  Two of my favorite people of all time were carpenters.  My grandfather was one of them.  He died, young at heart, at the age of 90.  Having assisted my grandmother in delivering each of her 13 healthy babies at home from 1939 to 1958, he helped create a large family.  In part due to its sheer size, and also because my mother moved to my father’s hometown to raise her bi-racial kids (out of the white glare of the North Dakota tundra), I barely got to know my grandfather as I was growing up.  I was lucky, though, to spend some time with him in his later years, and to have a full week alone with him after he was diagnosed with bone cancer.  He pelleted me with stories of his life.  It was like an exercise for him.  He’d pick any random category, like smoking or girls or movies, and find a story on each topic.  When I would interrupt with a story he might relate to, he calmly hushed me, and assured me it would be my time to tell my story soon.  But, for now, it was his time.  (I look back on that now, by the way, and am just as impressed as I was then with his matter-of-fact, no nonsense talk).  In that week-long marathon of the stories of his life, we stopped only when he ran out of canned sardines in mustard (which I would promptly replace from one of the only grocery stores in Grand Forks), or to watch World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, which Grandpa followed religiously.  Grandpa talked easily about death.  Knowing he was dying, he told me, he had to decide what to do with his tools.  He explained that it’s the carpenter’s creed to hold onto their tools: they don’t give them away and they don’t sell them, if they can still use them.  More than that, the tools must be treated with respect.  This reverence extended to tools of his other interests.  A lifelong, and self-taught hobbyist musician, he picked up his accordion one final time to play for my cousin, Kari, and me on that visit.  He was already crippled with cancer and against the wishes of his son, also a musician, his son followed his orders, and gently and lovingly strapped the instrument on him.  He played and we danced just like when we were little.  His spirit was creative and artistic, his personality pragmatic.  About his tools, he said that he wanted to live till the spring so he alone could sell them since he alone knew their value.  Suffering from bone cancer in the coldest months of winter, and nearing the end, he sold his tools, getting good value, and died one day after the spring equinox.  At the end of that week long visit with him, he gave me his typewriter.  It’s in mint condition.

Love and respect your tools.  They work hard for you.

6.  Get good ingredients.  It’s no surprise the latest food craze is no craze at all but really good, common sense.  Use the best, freshest ingredients you can get.  Within reason.  Not everything needs to be organic or locally grown.  Sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to spend the money, especially if it’s naturally pest-resistant produce (onions, asparagus, cabbage, broccoli) or fruit and vegetables with thick skins that protect the the flesh from chemicals that might be used (e.g., sweet corn, sweet peas, eggplant, bananas, avocadoes, pineapples, watermelon, mangoes, papayas, kiwis).

7.  Take stock of what you got.  Don’t let your fridge become a wasteland.  The same rules on clutter busting your house apply to your fridge: clearing clutter out of the way makes way for new and better things.  So use it up or toss it out.  I’m not gonna lie.  I am cheap.  Throwing away food to me is as good as throwing away money (i.e., PAINFUL!).  For this reason, I don’t “save” food; I gobble up the good, fresh stuff quick.  I freeze what I’m not going to use right away.  I try to employ every part of what I’ve got (whole chicken is cheaper and it always gets used for stock, vegetables that aren’t quite good enough for roasting but still ain’t compostable go in a freezer bag for veggie stock).

Culinarily speaking, nothing rivals the simple beauty of unadulterated, spanking fresh fruit or vegetables, be they a meal unto themselves or proudly playing a supporting role.  Conversely, not much is less appetizing than flacid fruit or aging veggies on the plate.  So don’t hesitate to eat your best stuff, and, for your own health and safety, live by the simple rule: when in doubt, throw it out.

8.  Try a lot of recipes — perfect a few.  Every great cook has a signature dish.  You know, this is the one we wistfully recall from our childhood.  Depending where you landed, it might be boeuf bourguignon.  It might be SpaghettiOs.  Most likely, like me, it’s something in between.

My mom made the best goulash I ever tasted, known simply as “hot dish” when I was coming up in ’70s and ’80s Wisconsin.  Her chili also had little rival (cinnamon being her secret ingredient – sorry Mom!).  Mom was good, but she was no master chef.  She is the only person I’ve ever known to try to microwave a turkey for Thanksgiving.  I don’t recall – or have blocked out – the circumstances that inspired this.  Suffice it to say, we skipped the bird that year.  Forever imprinted in my memory is the day I came up the stairs into the kitchen to find my mother bewildered in the middle of the room while popcorn rained all around her.  She had forgotten to put the lid on the pot, and kernels burst all around her like white fireworks.  Though she may be no Alice Waters or Alex Guaranschelli, if all you had was her chili or goulash, you might not know it.

9.  Remove obstacles to cooking.  I’ve picked up good habits cooking with my husband over the past several years.  I still have a long way to go, but I can see the difference these changes have made.  One of the first things I noticed was that when he is done cooking, the kitchen is spotless.  When I was done, it looked like a train wreck.  His secret?  Clean as you go.  Recently he noted that if he does (washing, drying and putting away between tending to pots on the stove), it makes it easier to get back in the kitchen.  This made a lot of sense to me.  I’m more likely to want to pick up the phone and call Korner Pizza or Yummy Taco if what I remember most about my last kitchen stint was facing a heap of dirty dishes at the end of it.  It’s different for each of us: maybe your obstacle is not having the right tools.  My kitchen skills (and more importantly my desire to cook) improved ten-fold once I adopted a stand-alone mixer (see item 4 above for the difference the machine makes), and the now indispensable Cuisinart food processor.  Don’t feel like you have to get it all at once.  One carefully researched and selected chef’s knife (preferably purchased on sale because you’ve been watching it for awhile) is far more valuable than all the cheap cutlery you can toss into a kitchen drawer.  Maybe it’s time that keeps you from cooking.  If that’s the case, figure out a few quick and easy meals, and don’t be afraid to employ some shortcuts.  Grilled vegetables tossed in a quality store-bought spice rub (a la Dean & Deluca’s Mediterranean Rub) will shock your guests with your new found abilities.  Intimidated by past missteps in the kitchen?  Recognize that getting it wrong is the best way to learn how to get it right.  So pick yourself up, brush off that apron, and get back in that kitchen.  But if you need a break from it, there’s something else you can do…

10.  Garden.  I never came to appreciate food so much as when I started gardening.  Not only does it help me identify the best produce to pick (at a grocery store or farmers market), it gives me a new respect for food.  Now when I look at a bright red tomato or a big juicy cucumber when I’m picking up my CSA shares, I can begin to appreciate all the work that went into growing it.  I know what it’s like to eke time out to tend to the earth’s young ‘uns.  I know what it’s like to keep my fingers crossed a seedling will make it.  I know what it’s like to curse the cars that blast fumes on my edible native plants.  Now, I’m less likely to waste food, and I put a little more love (the most important ingredient) into my dishes.  There really is no garden too small.  If you’re apartment bound, there’s nothing like the wafting scent of fresh mint or basil growing in your kitchen windowsill to calm an otherwise hectic day in the concrete jungle.  Plants are our friends.  They give us good things to eat.   Take care of them, and they’ll take care of you.

Gardening, and all these other tips may just be smaller parts of a bigger whole.  Largely, they boil (or simmer) down to one humble suggestion.  May you always…

11.  Revel.  The Joy of Cooking starts with this, from the Bard of Avon, “Joy’s soul lies in the doing.”  Truer words are seldom spoken, and to that there’s not much to add, except that, as with all we do in life, it’s better to revel.

* Shameless plug of people I know whose websites I love?  You bet.

**The irony, by the way, is not lost on me that our food-obsessed public has placed in the longest-running lists shows like Good Eats (14 seasons), Emeril Live (10 seasons) and Talk Soup (11 seasons – just checking if you were still reading), and has given top billing to shows like Top Chef (top 100 most watched), Rachael Ray (whatever you think of her, she does boast 2.6 million viewers), Iron Chef (Iron Chef America on its own has hosted 141 battles and been visited by the First Lady), and one I’ve never seen, Yan Can Cook which is touted as the most-watched cooking show ever, while we turn up our noses at a guy that tells us we can eat better and feed our kids better, and here’s how.  I applaud Jamie Oliver for his effort, and am embarrassed at what the failure of the Food Revolution really says about America, as a people: that we would rather sit on our sofas watching Hell’s Kitchen than get our butts in our own to make our families healthier.

Ads Against Co-Sleeping Causing a Stir

16 Nov

I always perk up when I hear news from my home state, so of course I had to chuckle earlier today when watching the video where Herman Cain squirms after being asked by a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter what he thought of Obama’s approach to Libya.  I do have a heart, though, and got equally uncomfortable as I had been smug a few minutes earlier when the interview wore on, and Cain looked like he was about to just start wildly flailing his arms.  So though I’m no Herman Cain fan or out and out hater, I like to catch Wisconsin news here and there.  I, therefore, was ready to click Yahoo’s link to coverage on a controversial ad running now in Milwaukee that features a close-up on a peaceful looking baby sleeping on a bed, even if I had not seen the ominous teaser “see what’s next to baby.”  The City is running an ad campaign to discourage parents from letting their babies sleep in bed with them in response to a steep incidents of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), which is often linked to what is commonly known as co-sleeping.  The City’s ad campaign has two ads running, one with a black baby, one with a white baby, and next to the babies a large butcher’s knife under a caption that reads “Your baby sleeping next to you can be just as dangerous.”  The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has reported shocking statistics showing the city has a higher infant mortality rate than thirty countries (developed and under-developed).  Even more staggering is the racial divide: according to the Journal Sentinel, in 2009, there were an average 10.4 deaths for every 1,000 live births with 5.4 being the rate for white babies, and 14.1 for black babies.   Although there has been some backlash to the blatant use of shock in the ad campaign, city officials point to such statistics as demonstrating the need to wake parents up to the unfortunate reality.

What remains unclear, however, is why Milwaukee?  Not to make light but, I know Wisconsin’s cold but we didn’t all bundle up in mom and dad’s bed for that reason.  Is it true that there is more co-sleeping going on in that cold city?  I’ve noticed, admittedly anecdotally, that co-sleeping has had a surge in popularity among parents eager to bond with their babies, and also those who just aren’t ready to let the babies cry through the night.  We kept a bassinet next to the bed when Izzy was an infant so that we could switch from bed to bassinet.  I was more comfortable with her in the room with us than in a separate room, alone in her crib, in part because I’d heard that some experts recommend having the baby closer to the parents to prevent SIDS because SIDS is more likely to occur when babies fall into a deep sleep.  Since the parents would be right there in the room, making noise (we both snore), the infant does not fall into that dangerously deep sleep.

Although I understand Milwaukee’s need to draw attention to the problem, I hesitate to condone ads so heavily dependent on shock value.  Here’s the test I use to analyze whether ads go too far: would I be uncomfortable with a four to six-year old seeing this, and would I feel the need to explain it?  I mean, wouldn’t it be nice if young children and their parents could just enjoy leisurely strolls through the city or flipping through magazines together at the doctor’s office without parents having to explain to their children that this is the stuff the world is made of?  And here the ad fails the test.  I would worry about a four-year old seeing this ad and being scared.  I would feel the need to explain it to the child.  I would be uncomfortable doing so — as much because it’s complicated and I feel I would have to talk about the marketer’s use of shock, as I would be annoyed at spending precious time with my four-year old explaining it. Ironic, given that this ad is one that is supposed to help parents of young children.

My advice to Milwaukee: find out what’s behind those statistics and put your money into fixing that problem, and educate parents on the dangers of co-sleeping as well as safe ways to do it since some parents will ignore your ads anyway.

It Just Doesn’t Get Any Easier

14 Nov

than this … homemade applesauce, using what is sure to be some of the last CSA (community supported agriculture) goodies. Slow cooked on the stove with just a touch of honey and nutmeg, and generous sprinklings of cinnamon.



5 Nov

I like it.


Are You Stealing From Your Doctor?

3 Nov

Speaking of greed, capitalism, and copyright infringement (not that the following is at all related but having already been speaking of those things, on to something else)…..

Is taking a magazine from your doctor’s office stealing?

Is it wrong?

Aren’t you kind of doing them a favor if they have too many as it is?  (Not sure this would hold up in a court of law but there might be something to it, no?)

Does it make a difference if your doctor and insurance company are fleecing you?

If it’s stealing, and technically wrong, isn’t it a victimless crime?  If not, who gets hurt?

If you saw someone stealing a mag from your doctor, would you say anything?  What if it’s the one you wanted?  Does that change your answer?

I’m not taking any positions here or advocating theft or suggesting you beat that b*tch to the Marie Claire, I’m just curious.  See, I have this friend…

OWS Gets Funds, Gets Organized, Gets Infighting

2 Nov

OWS protesters have money woes — what to do with the steadily rolling in donations, and how to divvy up the funds among the different Occupy localities.  Recent tallies count the funds in the coffers anywhere from $400,000 to $500,000, with the majority coming from New Yorkers, but donors also representing more than 35 countries, with large donations coming from Finland and Canada.  According to HuffPo, efforts are underway to get 501(c)(3) charitable organization tax status.  Hopefully doing so will help bring a  bit of formality to the process of collecting and funneling funds.  It would be a smart move for a group whose fragmented causes are both its allure and, potentially, Achilles’ heel.

For more, see…

It’s Happening … Capitalism Gets Its Greedy Hands on OWS

1 Nov

A few days ago, I started wondering when companies might start trying to co-opt the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Ask and ye shall receive…at least that’s what the people who have applied for trademark ownership of some OWS slogans and anthems are hoping.  Check out a list of applications with the USPTO on this blog.

Now, (hoping still that ask [a question] and ye shall receive [an answer]), what I really wanna know is, just what are those companies gonna do with the money?  Are they working their way toward that slender category of America’s wealthiest, now monikered the 1%?  Or are they gonna honor the spirit of OWS, and put some of the proceeds into any of the many causes the protesters are advocating?

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