MAY 2006
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
One thing I have been thinking about lately is kitchen gadgets, and how there are just so many out there. (Bear with me here.) We were at some friends' place for dinner the other night, and they've been on a huge health kick lately. Actually, she's been on a health kick, and he seems to eat whatever she gets. Anyway, they've been eating a lot of mangoes, and they have a mango slicer. Have you seen these mango slicers? Apparently, you just put the mango slicer on top of the mango and push down, and it finds the pit and neatly slices the fruit off of it. It's quite the thing, and my first reaction was along the lines of "neat-o!" But then I thought about all of the apple slicers and pear slicers and nectarine slicers and strawberry slicers and mushroom slicers and egg slicers and banana slicers that you can buy at your local home shop, and how I don't have any of them, and how I really don't want any, because I have a knife and am actually rather good at slicing around the mango pit. (It's one of my knife talents, I guess. I can also slice a bagel perfectly. Gifts I can't explain.)

So this happened just a few days after we had some other friends visit from Moscow. I made some homemade guacamole for all of us to snack on (using a knife and not an avocado slicer) and put out some tortilla strips. They're like chips, but in strip form; they come in a brown paper bag instead of a plastic bag, and somewhere along the line I got it into my head that chips in a brown paper bag are better than chips in a plastic bag. Anyway, we were eating guacamole and chips, and they were so pleased with the strip shape of the chips, and declared that it was the same kind of American ingenuity that would make a chip strip-shaped instead of triangular that makes people all over the world gravitate to our shores. In Russia, they said, the world comes in one shape and size, and you have to find a way to fit to that shape and size. In America, they said, everything is contorted and molded and adjusted to be comfortable for you. In Russia, they said, you'd have to deal with the triangular chips breaking off into the guacamole, but in America, the strips are perfect for scooping it up.

I had been thinking about kitchen gadgets at this point, even before the demonstration of the fabulous mango slicer, and I asked them what kinds of kitchen gadgets they had. They said they had none. They use knives to cut stuff, and pretty much spoons for the rest. Then after the demonstration of the mango slicer, I started thinking that I don't want all of these gadgets, and that I maybe don't want everything to fit me perfectly. (A bra, yes, but maybe not kitchen implements of questionable usefulness.) I don't have space for a slicer for every kind of fruit, and have you seen that thing on tv that supposedly peels your hard-boiled eggs for you? Where the hell am I going to put that?

It makes me think that this so-called American ingenuity is about two things: getting your money and jumpstarting other businesses. Those mango slicers are like ten bucks. And, buy enough mango slicers, and you'll need to redesign your kitchen. I think I will stick to my knives and my spoons.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006
A somewhat trying day, mostly because one of my students was in a horrible accident and is now lying unconscious in the head trauma unit at a local hospital. If you skateboard or rollerblade or do anything over 5 miles an hour, do yourself a favor and wear a helmet.

And then I had to bust another of my students. For smoking! During class! I didn't even know where to begin on that one.

Is school over yet?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006
Amid all the busy-ness and insanity lately (which I think is just about over), we found some time this weekend to get our garden together. We're not sure how things will grow in our yard, and we don't know the first thing about soil pH or anything like that, but we still managed to spend a few hundred on plants and other yard stuff. We figure we'll just see what happens. We planted lots of flowers, including some of those petunias that look like beach balls, which I really like because (duh!) they look like beach balls. And we put in lots of herbs: sage, thyme, basil, rosemary, parsley, dill, and cilantro. And we got 11 tomato plants. 11! I never know which varieties are best, so we just sort of got one of everything with a cool name, with the exception of the yellow pear tomatoes. We got two of those because they rock. And then Paul put in some bean seeds and some cucumbers too, I think. Oh, and fruit! We put in some raspberry and some strawberry plants. I am hoping that they will take off and we will have fresh fruit right in our backyard, but I guess it will take a year to see how successful we are. Which is too bad, because I really want some free fresh raspberries.

It took a lot of work to get everything organized and planted, but I have to say, our backyard really looks awesome. When it starts to get really warm out, I might even want to sleep out there.

Friday, May 19, 2006
Crikey, it's been busy around here. The other night, I caught myself saying to someone that I've been really busy lately. Then I stopped and realized that I say that a lot, and that there are very few weeks/months when I don't say that.

Some of my students were talking today about their jobs at fast food places, and I recalled the following surprisingly vivid image from my childhood:

I am five or six. I am on line at the Friendly's window at the local mall waiting for the adult that I am with (either my mom or my grandma -- I can't remember) to buy me an ice cream cone. I really want something bigger, like one of those four-scoop sundaes or a banana split, but I know that I won't get it. I'll just get the cone, maybe with sprinkles on it, but that's it. We're up near the front of the line, and the person in front of us has just ordered a large sundae. The girl at the counter makes a large sundae and brings it up to the person ahead of us, and the person ahead of us remarks that something is wrong with the sundae. Wrong sprinkles, they didn't ask for nuts, wrong ice cream flavor -- this is another detail I can't remember. But I remember what happened next.

The girl at the counter apologizes for messing up the order, says that she will make the person the right sundae, and then proceeds to throw the entire large sundae, cherry on top and all, in the trash, as I look on in horror. I don't say anything because I don't want to get yelled at, but I am thinking that I would have gladly eaten that sundae no matter what kind of sprinkles were on it.

Not sure why I remember such trivial stuff.

Saturday, May 13, 2006
As you may or may not know, I am a big fan of Japanese noodles. Sometimes I have intense cravings for them. I'm not sure why I like them so much, but I just do. I usually go out to this local Chinese place with a noodle bar and get them, but I also make them at home on a fairly regular basis, like once a week or so. I get packages of soft, shrink-wrapped udon noodles in the international aisle of the local supermegamart, and usually throw in some spinach and maybe an egg white for added nutrition and a few drops of sesame oil because sesame oil tastes damn good, and then it's kind of like a bowl of noodles you'd get at a restaurant. And I like the udon because unlike ramen noodles, they're not fried in palm oil, which means they don't have grams and grams of fat. And, unlike soba noodles, they're not insanely high in calories. (I'm not sure why soba noodles have so many calories, but they do.) And udon noodles are cheap -- less than a dollar a package, which is one serving. It's not as cheap as eight-for-a-buck ramen, but I'll pay a little extra to keep my arteries from getting stopped up.

But recently, the local supermegamart has stopped carrying packages of soft, shrink-wrapped udon noodles. And, the other stores of that chain have also stopped carrying soft, shrink-wrapped udon. (They still have dried udon in a spaghetti-like package, but they aren't even 10% as good as the soft, shrink-wrapped kind.) They've replaced the shelf that the udon noodles were on with this highly-processed, in-the-bowl, outrageously expensive line of Asian foods called Simply Asia. Distraught because there were no udon noodles on the shelf, I figured I'd try one of these Simply Asia products. I reluctantly got a package/bowl of teriyaki noodles and made them the next night for dinner.

Let me tell you something about Simply Asia. Simply Asia is simply disgusting. I'm not of Asian descent, but I think I know a little bit about Asian food and how Asian food is supposed to taste, and let me tell you, Simply Asia is not Asian food. My teriyaki noodles tasted like spaghetti in steak sauce. I'm not kidding. I took two bites, lamented spending $3.29 on it, and tossed it all in the trash.

For the next few days, I was on the hunt for soft, shrink-wrapped udon. I checked all of the other supermarkets in town, I checked the international foods store, I checked everywhere I could think of that might sell soft udon. Except I didn't check the Asian market by campus, but the last time I was in there, I don't remember seeing them. But I'm going there this week just to be sure. If you know where I can get some, please tell me. And for the love of all things Hello Kitty, don't waste your money on that Simply Asia crap that they try to pass off as exotic food. It tastes like table scraps covered in old condiments.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006
You know how when you were little, you secretly hoped that one day someone would just come up to you and hand you a big bag of candy and say something like, I can't eat all of this candy, so why don't you take it and eat it? You know? Please tell me I'm not the only one who hoped this would happen. Anyway, the other night, something like this actually happened to us! All those years of daydreaming about a big bag of candy, and we actually got one! Well, not exactly candy, but close enough. A friend of ours stopped by with a big paper bag full of smaller white cardboard boxes, and inside those boxes were fancy cakes and pies! His mom is a baker -- one of those high-end types who caters to people who have newly-renovated, expansive gourmet kitchens but have no idea how to use them to do anything more than put together a bowl of Frosted Mini Wheats. Anyway, it turns out that our friend's mom baked a lot of fancy cakes and pies for the farmer's market this past weekend but didn't sell all of them, and so he was in charge of giving away the excess! And he came to our house with the big bag of fancy cakes and pies and said, we have too many fancy cakes and pies, so why don't you take them and eat them? Oh man, it was like a childhood dream come true! They're really good, too. Apparently, my friend's mom uses all organic ingredients and no preservatives, so they taste really homemade and yet gourmet at the same time. And the best part is, they'll keep in the freezer, so we don't have to eat them all in two days (although I wouldn't complain if we had to do that). So far we've had a lemon tart and half a carrot cake, and they were both great. We have a double chocolate something-or-other in the freezer, and I think there's some sort of cheesecake in there too.

Of course, now I'm not sure what to do this coming weekend at the farmer's market: buy a cake or a pie from my friend's mom to support her business and say thank you for the freebies, or not buy any and hope that she'll have more excess that will end up in my home. It's a tough call.

Monday, May 8, 2006
Whoa. The garage sale kicked ass! Whoever had the idea to have a big neighborhood garage sale in one of the city's central neighborhoods on the first Saturday in May was a genius. People came from all over, they came in droves, and after having been stuck inside all winter, they were ready to look and look and buy and buy. By the middle of the afternoon, we had sold everything but a few books and some records, and we had over $250. I told Paul that we are doing this every year for the remainder of our lives.

One of the items that sold was a doghouse that was in our backyard when we bought the place. We don't have a dog, and as expected, our cat avoided the place at all costs. We thought we'd try selling it before just chopping it up and putting it in the trash, and we just wanted to get rid of the thing, so we put a price of two bucks on it. Yeah, two bucks. And would you believe, we had like a dozen people ask about that stupid dog house after this one odd lady down the street bought it for her son to play in. For her son! To play in! (If you say that like Al Pacino in the second Godfather movie when he's yelling about how there was an attempt on his life in his bedroom where his wife sleeps and where his children play with their toys, it really has a chilling effect.) The woman was European, so maybe that kind of thing is okay where she's from, but when she told me that, I just thought it was weird. And gross. But it sold. And so did everything else.

What did we do with the money? Bought a lovely bistro set for our deck. Now we can eat out there every day!

Speaking of eating, I love this backhanded slam at mad scientist chef Grant Achatz by Food Network bigshot Tyler Florence. It was in an interview in this week's New York Magazine, in response to the question, What [food] trend do you hate? He said, "I think Ferran Adria sparked a lot of interest in people. In the right hands, that kind of food is mind-blowing; it makes you think about things. But the ripple effect of that, of the guys who are trying to knock him off, some of the scientific dehydrated things in an eyedropper, it's just gross. It's terrible, it's disgusting, it's horrible cooking." He forgot to add what they charge for it. I'm still curious about Alinea, but not enough to drop half a paycheck for dinner for two.

Thursday, May 4, 2006
Saturday is the big neighborhood garage sale. That might not sound like a big deal, but surprisingly, it is. It's the first big garage sale event of the season (I never thought I'd use the phrase "garage sale event"), and after being inside all winter, people are ready to look through other people's stuff and get a bargain. I don't think the end-of-summer garage sales in other neighborhoods do nearly as well as our neighborhood's.

And somehow, everyone knows about our neighborhood's big garage sale. People start trolling the streets and checking out lawns at like 6 in the morning, even though it's not supposed to start until 8. They're ready to buy, too. And, this is the first time I've lived in this neighborhood; in the past, I've borrowed friends' driveways to sell my stuff, but now I can sleep in an extra 15 minutes and just run down stairs. As it turns out, we have a lot of stuff to get rid of: extra furniture, books, odds and ends, the usual garage-sale type stuff. Last year, Paul made $500 selling old vinyls to 18-year-olds for a buck a piece. Hopefully this year will be lucrative too.

Tuesday, May 2, 2006
This morning, the local college radio station was playing this song over and over and over. Apparently, there was no morning dj. That makes sense -- the semester is over, and I can't imagine that the Tuesday early slot is an easy one to get a sub for. Anyway, the song they were playing was "Bob Kringle" by The Creamers, and it was awesome! I'm usually not a huge fan of Christmas music, but this was a kickass punk song, and at the end, with the guitar droning, the lead singer shouts something like, What about me? What do I get? Where's my presents? And then it would end, and in like two seconds it would start over again. It was brilliant, and I hope they do it again tomorrow.

Monday, May 1, 2006
So! I survived the 24-hour shoot with only a 20-minute nap. Not too shabby, especially when you consider that I haven't pulled an all-nighter in like 15 years. The only problem was that I had to spend the whole weekend writing a paper. And now I'm burned out, which is really no good, because I have a final to study for! But jeez, I sure don't feel like it, which may explain why my book is sitting on the table unopened and I'm on the couch watching "Kate and Allie."

Also: I have five more weeks of work before summer break. Not that I'm counting down or anything. But I have five weeks.

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