JUNE 2006
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Florida! I am in Florida! Marco Island, Florida, to be exact. Now you may be asking, why would anyone go to south Florida in the middle of June? Good question. Because my dad just turned 60, and he wanted a big family trip to celebrate, and it ws relatively easy for all of us to get to Florida, so here we are. It is hot and it is humid, and the storms that blow in off the Gulf of Mexico can be fierce, but so far we have lucked out with lots of sunshine. So. Florida.

And I have to say, the plane ride down was very okay. I am not a good flyer (as you may or may not know), so I kind of dread getting on planes. But it was early enough that I was sleepy, and even though I didn't sleep on the plane, I was kind of in this gliding mode and didn't notice the few bumps we hit. And, Paul and I volunteered to sit in an exit row so this lady could sit together with her two little kids; I really didn't care where we sat, so long as I could be near Paul during any turbulence, and when it comes to traveling and hundreds of miles per hour at 35,000 feet above sea level, I take all the free karma points I can get. Want to switch seats? I am there. Anyway, for doing our good deed, the flight attendant rewarded us with a free cocktail! At first, I thought, but it's not even 9:00 am. But then I thought, I'm on goddamn vacation, and a vodka cranberry would taste very nice indeed. I even got it with Skyy vodka -- the good stuff -- and being a little buzzed made the flight tolerable indeed.

So now we're here. The days have consisted mostly of walking around in the sun, lying around in the sun, swimming in the Gulf, and eating -- lots of eating. Dad likes the restaurants. But more tomorrow. All this sun activity and eating has made me tired.

Thursday, June 22, 2006
Busy. Crikey.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006
This week I am taking this workshop for quote-unquote professional development for my job. It's every day from around 8:30 in the morning until around 3:45 in the afternoon. It's not awful, but it's a little strange. When we show up in the morning, there is a little breakfast for us: fresh sliced melon and muffins and that kind of thing. Then we do a little warm up exercise. After that, there are all kinds of activities. We talk about our feelings, and we get into groups and do little dancey skits, and we paint pictures, and then we talk about our feelings some more, and we get gentle lectures about paintings by nice people, and then we write about our feelings in this journal we're supposed to keep so we can reflect upon our experience, and at around 2 in the afternoon, someone comes by with a basket full of bananas and granola bars and a cooler full of juice so we can all have a snack. It's actually a lot like kindergarten. I usually have little tolerance for this kind of touchy-feely garbage, but I'm trying to just be nice and smile and go along with everything, partially because it counts as professional development for my job (which my boss is big on) and partially because I'm getting paid to do it.

If I didn't have so much to do for the stupid history class I'm taking, I actually might enjoy this. I'm getting a few ideas for teaching, but for the most part, it's just goofy artsy activities. The only thing that's missing is naps on little rugs on the floor.

Saturday, June 17, 2006
Back in December, we had a housewarming party, and a lot of our very nice friends gave us bottles of wine as gifts. We like wine. We don't profess to know much about it, and we're not the sorts of people who would spend a lot on a bottle, but we like a glass now and then. One of our guests gave us a bottle of Arbor Mist Merry Berry Merlot. You know: Arbor Mist. That stuff they advertise on tv, and that's in all the grocery stores. It's like a really fruity, girly Boone's Farm. I asked Paul if this person gave it to us in an ironic sense, but Paul said she probably doesn't drink wine, and had seen commercials for it on tv, and wanted to bring something nice, and that seemed like a good idea. We definitely appreciated the sentiment -- after all, no one has to bring gifts -- but we kind of giggled and joked a lot about having a bottle of Arbor Mist, let alone something called Merry Berry Merlot. I know a lot of wines these days try to give off a more relaxed, playful image, but Merry Berry Merlot is pushing it way too far.

So that was six months ago. We had the bottle on a shelf for a few months, and whenever we decided to have wine, I'd joke about opening that one, but we never did. Then when it started to get warm, we thought we should put the two bottles of white on our rack in the fridge, and I stuck the bottle of Arbor Mist in there too. You know -- just in case the mood struck and we wanted it. Just in case.

Last night, it was really warm, and we wanted something to drink. There was no beer, and the two bottles of white were long gone, and it was too hot to drink red, and we didn't feel like booze-y drinks. And then Paul suggested that we actually open that bottle of Arbor Mist! So I took it out, unscrewed the top (note that: unscrewed the top), and poured it into glasses.

You know what? It's really not bad. Of course, it tastes nothing like wine, but if you can make yourself forget that it's supposed to be wine, it's actually a decent refreshing beverage. Sweet, but not so sweet that it's gross. It's's like cran-apple with a little bit of Sprite in it. It's like juice, but with a tiny bit of alcohol thrown in (six percent, to be exact). And that's alright too: usually after two glasses of wine, my functionality decreases significantly, but after two glasses of this Arbor Mist stuff, I was pretty alright. I don't know if I'd buy it ever, but if it were offered to me, I would not refuse it. I wouldn't even make a face, like, you're going to drink that? I'd just take it and start drinking. At any rate, it's way better than any of those wines in a box.

Thursday, June 15, 2006
Last week, we were in a new coffee shop in town, and along with the usual coffee and smoothies and scones and stuff like that, they were selling shots of mangosteen juice for like $2.50 a shot. A shot! For juice! No alcohol or anything, just some fruity-flavored sugar water. I was a little surprised at first, but then I thought about it and decided that it was a really good business move.

A lot of people don't know about mangosteens, mainly because they are not sold fresh in the United States. In fact, they are one of the few foods that is illegal to import into this country (due to concerns about potentially devastating parasites that the fruit are occasionally known to harbor), and as they need tropical climates to survive, they cannot be grown here either. Hence, no one gets to eat a mangosteen within our soon-to-be-fenced borders. You can import canned mangosteen and mangosteen products, but I guess the demand is very low, seeing as how most people in this country don't know what a mangosteen is and are probably not inclined to buy it on a whim. (A year ago, if you asked me what a mangosteen was, I would probably have guessed that it was a Jewish mango. I would have been wrong.)

Anyway, now this company Xango is marketing this mangosteen juice, but it's not like orange juice or apple juice or pineapple juice. Oh no. Not at all. They're marketing it like wheatgrass juice, like some magical cure-all that will make you thinner, smarter, faster, stronger, and generally more appealing to the sex/gender of your preference. At places that sell shots of mangosteen juice, you can also pick up this free newspaper-looking piece of propoganda lauding the effects of mangosteen and featuring articles on "real" "doctors" who use mangosteen products in their treatment of very very sick people, all of whom have miraculously recovered from their ailments (thanks to the magical mangosteen) and have gone on to magnificently great things, they'll have you know. Also insinuated in this PR fluff piece is the idea that pomegranate products are so five minutes ago when it comes to natural remedies, and that all the money you've spent on tart cherry juice as a natural cure-all was wasted -- wasted!

So I am, of course, curious to try this mangosteen juice, since I hear that mangosteens have an unbelievably incredible flavor. But I don't want to be one of those stupid people who spends the rough equivalent of a gallon of gas on an ounce of Kool-Aid. I'm sure I'll break down and try it one of these days, and unfortunately it will have to be in shot-sized portions, as a bottle of this Xango stuff costs the same as a bottle of ultra-clean small-batch vodka. Actually, I just had an idea for a really good and very expensive drink: Belvedere and Xango. Now that I would pay $2.50 for.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006
On Saturday, we headed out to Saugatuck for the Waterfront Film Festival and for some general summer hang-out time. We caught just one film (the second one we had tickets for was oversold), but it was a good one. It was Wordplay, a documentary about crossword puzzles. (Yes. Crossword puzzles.) Will Shortz was in it -- you probably know him from The New York Times, as he is the crossword puzzle editor, or perhaps you know him from Sunday mornings on NPR's Weekend Edition as "The Puzzlemaster." The movie featured a handful of famous people who love crosswords, like Bill Clinton and Jon Stewart, but it also showed regular people who are shockingly good at crossword puzzles. And of course, these people, like every other hobby group, has an annual convention, so you get to see what goes on and find out who wins for 2005. I won't give it away, but it was a real heartbreaker. Yeah, a crossword puzzle tournament -- a heartbreaker! I think a filmmaker has really achieved something special when he can get an audience to audibly react to something as ordinary as a bunch of people doing a crossword puzzle, and that is what happened when we saw Wordplay. And also, the empty spaces of the crossword puzzles are shown big on the screen along with the clues as the person on screen is trying to complete it, so the audience starts to play along with the people doing the puzzle. Very good active-audience grabbing.

Another thought that crossed my mind while I was watching the movie was that it was really cool that Bill Clinton was so into crossword puzzles (he said he used to do the Times crossword in the oval office when he needed to resharpen his mind or just needed a break from stuff), and that our current commander-in-chief has probably never done a crossword puzzle in his life. Probably, I thought, G. W. Bush is a word search man. Jumble at best. Definitely not sudoku. But probably not crosswords either. In any case, the movie opens in New York on Friday and in other major cities a few days later, and if you get the opportunity, I think you should go check it out.

In somewhat related news, we spent some time sampling the jams and sauces and things at American Spoon, a jam-and-sauce type store in Saugatuck, and I am now addicted to their mango butter. Their pumpkin butter is also quite good, but that mango is fantastic. But my favorite name for one of their products is the marionberry butter. It should come with a vial of crack and the phone number of a cheap hooker.

Thursday, June 8, 2006
A few years ago, I bought a cast iron skillet. Nothing fancy -- just a regular old 10-inch pan. It was black, it was heavy, and I knew that if I ever found myself in a situation where I needed to protect myself and I was in the kitchen, I now had a bona fide weapon. The problem is, after I got my cast iron skillet home, I never used it. Oh sure, I had all kinds of intentions to use it, but nonetheless, I didn't use it. Up until a few days ago, it was still in the plastic bag from Bed, Bath, and Beyond, and even though I had thought about using it many times, I never did. It just sat in the cabinets of both the house I currently live in and my old apartment and went unused. It was even pre-seasoned (you can buy them pre-seasoned these days), so I didn't even have to go through the whole oil-in-the-oven routine to create a proper nonstick surface. But still, I didn't use it.

When I bought it a few years ago, I was still in the beginning stages of Alton Brown worship. Alton Brown said that everyone has to have a cast iron pan. Right. I went right out and got one. But what I think Alton Brown meant was that everyone should use a cast iron pan, and not just have on in their cabinet that never feels the heat of a burner.

Why didn't I use it? I think I was just scared. No, wait, not scared. Apprehensive. Yes, I was apprehensive. This whole cast iron thing was completely new to me. Yeah yeah, I know it's been around a lot longer than All Clad, Calphalon, Teflon, Le Creuset, and just about every other kind of pan. It holds heat and cooks evenly, and as long as you have a proper seasoning on the surface, nothing will stick to it. And they last for freaking ever. I knew all of that. But I don't think I had ever actually seen anyone use one. My mom never used cast-iron stuff, and I don't remember seeing my grandmothers cook in cast iron either. And most of the Food TV chefs have lucrative deals with some of the aforementioned kitchenware manufacturers, and therefore use their products. Alton cooked a few things in cast iron, but I think they were all cuts of steak, which I don't eat. So I had nothing to go on.

But then the other night, I was cutting up some veggies for fajitas and thinking about how I like fajitas a lot, and how the fajitas I make at home are never quite as good as the fajitas you get at a restaurant. Then I remembered that restaurant fajitas come out on a hot cast iron plate, which carmelizes all of the onions and just makes stuff taste really good. And then I remembered that -- hey! -- I have a cast iron pan. I should try this. So I did. And you know what? I make some kickass fajitas! And it's all because of that stupid $10 cast iron pan.

Now I want to use it every night. It makes stuff taste really good! It's still a little awkward for me with getting the heat just right, and I'm still kind of weirded out at not using soap to clean it, but I guess I can get used to that. And I am even considering getting a bigger cast iron skillet for when we make big pans of sauteed veggies. Now I feel so stupid for wanting a big fancy expensive Le Creuset enamelled pot for two hundred bucks. Alton was right -- cast iron is definitely the way to go.

Wednesday, June 7, 2006
I was just at the grocery store to pick up a few things, and at the checkout, near all the trashy magazines, was a little yellow booklet-type thing with the title "Living Longer for Dummies." I guess I'm not sure why someone would print that. Why do we want the stupid people sticking around to do even more stupid stuff?

Anyway, I am glad to report that I survived the much-hyped 06-06-06 yesterday, and aside from biting my lip while eating a snack in a hurry, catching my knuckle on a weird corner on the treadmill while I was entering in my pre-workout numbers, and getting a tiny grease burn on my wrist while cooking dinner, the day was more or less horror-free.

Sunday, June 4, 2006
I came home from work the other day, and there was a black bird squawking in my backyard. I could see it flittering around up high in the trees, and I thought maybe it was hurt or something. I walked into the backyard, and our cat was pawing at something. When I got closer, the cat ran back, and there was a seriously wounded black bird at my feet. It was still alive, and I could see that it was breathing really hard, and I didn't know what to do. I didn't want to touch it, and I didn't want to kill it, and it was after 5 and I didn't think animal control was open. Meanwhile, the other bird kept making all kinds of noice and flying from branch to branch.

I paced around the front and back yards for about 20 minutes until Paul got home, and I showed him the bird. He said we should just put it out of its misery, because even though that sounded mean, it was probably the best thing for it. Animal control was closed, and we certainly didn't know how to heal it. So I went in the house and Paul got out a shovel, and in a few seconds the bird was dead. But the other bird in the trees was still making lots of noise.

I'm guess we did the right thing, but it felt awful. What do you do when you have a wounded animal in your yard and it's after business hours? We just didn't know. And I felt especially bad that there was another bird that was upset about losing its child (or umm...partner); it flew over our heads and hopped around the yard and squawked for another hour or so.

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