A weakness for cheese and a fondness for robots

I joined Facebook recently.  What a strange phenomenon it is.  I appreciate getting to share photos with relatives and friends who live at a distance.  I even appreciate people I knew finding me/being found, and being able to post links and other pieces of errata.  But I am still trying to understand this twenty-four hour news cycle, Twitter-fomatic orientation to the world that seems the domain of a generation younger than I.

Someone passed on the “tell me twenty five things about yourself” irritant that is popular right now.  I cringed.  I did not like the trend when it started, and am not much of a joiner that way.  My first response was flip, “Fingers, toes, eyes, ears and nose”.  When I considered it fully, I finally just said “oh, read the blog you lazy thing” and forgot about it.  Then, I came up with my own version of the challenge.  If you took a snap shot of your life right now, what would you title it?  I don’t particularly mean the micro level of the actual minute, but a more general sense of reality.  I decided mine would be “A weakness for cheese and a fondness for robots”.

Another friend forwarded a photo essay about egregious acts of culinary evil that “make you fat” from restaurants around the US.  Well, they are not responsible for my particular issues, I thought, but certainly having become more sedentary and having a weakness for cheese has.  When we were courting, Husband made a joke about my fondness for fermented milk by sending me the biggest hunk of cheddar (from Wisconsin) I had ever seen.  The man understood me.  The title also reminds me in some vague way of all things Monty Python, with some of Aardman’s Wallace and Gromit series thrown in (and I do like a bit of gorgonzola).   Cheese somehow sums up both the domesticity and absurdity I find myself in right now, and my fondness for it is both my downfall and my pleasure.

The robots reflect my Husband and sons’ fascinations.  This birthday the boys are begging for a robot cake, which I have figured out how to make thanks to many examples from Google images (no, not a cake that walks around- although that would thrill them, and the subsequent active narrative of destroying it).  Robots are everywhere in our home, and I have yet to completely understand the devotion to them.  Which brings up my latest food related idea.  Normally, if I had caught eldest son drawing on paper with one of my exquisite small bars of Madagascar chocolate that he obviously found on the ‘fridge door behind the butter (ok, I should have hidden it better), I would have been angry.  But it was cool in the house, and like a crayon it glided over the paper making an interesting brown robot.  Most chocolates have a high wax content, so this came as no surprise really, but my special bar had a low wax content so in any warmer weather it would not have had the same effect.  I thought about an Iron Chef episode in which a young pastry chef marveled and amazed the audience with his mastery of sugar, food coloring, and heat.  I wondered if such a chef could make a sort of edible rice paper parchment, and a chocolate crayon to draw upon it.  Little cartoons could be quickly sketched, and stuck at odd angles into small mounds of homemade ice creams.   Finally the Chef could respond to his devotees like political cartoonists in dark bars and cafes.  I have never heard of such a thing, so maybe I have actually come up with something new for once!  You “heard” it here first, folks.

When I joined FB and logged in as “trying to figure this out”, one witty person told me to ask a neighborhood kid.  If it were pure mechanics, I might have.  But the statement was addressing the larger issue of cultural context, and the varieties of meanings behind all the applications.  I still have not mastered Facebook, nor any of her sister circles of internet hell.  But I am learning, and to my surprise- am glad.  Maybe I am moving beyond the cheese.  What would robots eat?  What does this mass of circuitry consume other than time?  I wondered out loud.  My son’s reply:  “Metal mom.  Just like Iron Giant.”  Well, I have been a little short on iron lately.  Pass me the supplements. . . or perhaps no.  Machine age steam punk aside, that time has passed.  Wetware and silicon, electricity and bio-projects swirl in my head.  High-energy consumption gray matter, and we are back to a need for glucose doping.  That greediest of organs, our brains.  So maybe I am back to cheese after all, in moderation, with some crackers. 

Shaped like robots, of course.  Such conceptual fractals life seems to be, and I am out of bandwidth to follow the pattern for now.

“See you” on Facebook.

Downsize me-I

Many of us are downsizing.  Many of us never sized up; some for ethical and moral reasons, some for purely financial, some for both combined.  There are entire magazines now devoted to the “movement” of simplicity (as absurd and contradictory as that seems to me).  Eating out as it is called, is one of the first things to be cut from most budgets.  It certainly was from ours, and it happened a long time ago.  Less because we thought it was consuming a hole in our budget and more because we found ourselves just saying, “what the heck was that?” after most meals. 

Case in point:  the boys got to have McDonalds with their great-grandma yesterday, and I ordered a happy meal too (small portions).  It was as I remembered, awful.  Tasteless, oddly dry, and smacked afterward of a floating sense of ick.  The film Supersize Me got mass produced US culture right, but only touched upon the taste issues. That yuck sensation is the same one we get whenever we eat at chains, and why we developed the rule that we would not eat out unless it was a. food we could not cook ourselves (or at least not as well)  and b. that was actually good (ok, this conflates two rules).  After spending several years reading about food industries, as well as high culinary experiences (Anthony Bourdain is a great read for information and laughs) we found our rule was not only practical, but healthy as well.

Accordingly, there are but a few places in town we “eat out” (The second rule is only once every two weeks do we eat out).  Of three Thai restaurants in town, only one is any good.  The food is prepared with fresh ingredients, and the nuances of flavor are not watered down or changed for anyone.  The owners are a wonderful couple and their extended family helps out.  The matriarch has been trained in a variety of skills, and never fails to make beautiful carrot butterflies for the boys and flip to PBS kids on her flat screen when we walk in.  It is always a pleasure to eat at the café Thai Flavor.

There is an equally kind and competent couple who run the Saigon Café, our go to for Vietnamese food.  We can’t go without the boys watching the koi, or without me being amazed by all the framed expert textiles.  Never a bad experience there.

The co-op Little Grill is a funky place that offers live music in the evenings and lots of terrific young people who try to do a little good every week (Mondays all day are soup kitchen day- anyone eats for free no questions asked, and much of the food is locally grown and organic).  Breakfast here is always packed, and on weekends anyone not familiar with needing to arrive early will find themselves with a long wait.  The ambience is decaying 1930’s micro building that has been lovingly patched up with a variety of fun items and colors.  The food is generally pretty good, and while we are not vegetarian or vegan I am told the multiple items for those folks are very good (I try them, and eh- it’s ok).  The juice is always fresh squeezed, and the giant tub of Mr. Potatoes and parts are on a shelf with the monkey-headed Godzilla, available for kids.  A giant Gonzo rides an antique bike near the ceiling, and a paint-by-numbers Martin Luther King hangs next to ancient velvet Bob Dylan.  A small mirror ball hangs a distance from a beautiful antique wooden plumb, and local artists have work that rotate according to the vicissitudes of the co-op members.

With so many Spanish speaking immigrants in this area, you might imagine we have a few decent such restaurants.  Wrong.  Everything claiming to be Mexican or some such are absolutely awful, and several routinely riddled with health inspection notices.  I asked one of son’s preschool parents (She is Honduran, her husband is Mexican) if there was anywhere she recommended and she laughed.  She gets her tamales from an old woman who makes them out of her home for people who know about her, and her aunt makes her flour tortillas the old school way and offers them from home as well.  She promised to hook me up when she places her next orders.  Given my previous post, my dime bag of Garam Masala rant now has a parallel with my procuring of good “Mexican” food.

Four hours from the coast might as well be four days.  The seafood around here stinks (literally), and locally offered trout are incubated in ponds down stream from where the owners’ cows see fit to crap whenever they wish.  In essence, no thanks.

A terrific Korean couple owns Café Jako, and the husband of the two is a fun sushi chef, who is very good to kids.  The food passes the worth-it test, and satisfies our jones for sushi, tempura, and miso.

A new Indian restaurant opened up, and it passed the “worth-it” test.  The Blue Nile owners (Ethiopian food) renovated a building downtown and while not all the complexities of the regional foods are represented, it is fresh and it is good.  The ambience is hip, and in the evenings it becomes a club.  Husband argues for a nice bar downtown, Clementine’s, but I respond that while offering food, it is not where we would take the kids and “eat out”.

There are several other locally owned places.  Most of these are popular, or at least consistently patronized, but the food truly stinks.  They do not pass the “worth it” test.

We do not live in a metropolitan wonder where we could explore the culinary offerings for years, but what we have will suffice.  At least until we cut out eating out altogether, that next step in downsizing.  Prepping for this, we are experimenting with a large garden.  That’s what that big box of compost we have been making for a year is intended to feed.  We’ll see what we learn from this first year of serious gardening training and how it affects our diets.  Oh, that’s another “movement” I hear, Practical Yards or some other title.  If you can do it, good on ya.  As Garrison Keillor so eloquently pointed out, there is nothing better than fresh homegrown tomatoes and corn.  Producing it will downsize your waist, and consuming it will downsize financial leak I am told.  We’ll see.  I know my ninety-four year old grandmother took gardens for granted, necessities of life.  I hope we can tap into that Midwestern gene memory and learn. 

My memories of my great-grandmother’s city garden, which she tended into her late eighties, are some of my best.  The center was a long grape arbor, cool and dark to walk under.  Each narrow row shot off from this center.  The back row was entirely high sunflowers, providing a mask for the fence.  In the front were gnarled but fecund fruit trees, one on each side.  The bees buzzed purposefully, and the sun seemed to warm everything it touched.  The garden was her entire, long backyard.  It was meticulously tended, and beautiful.  When she died, I crept into her stone basement and lining all the cool wall shelves were ball jars of green beans and bacon, tomatoes, and all assortments of vegetables and fruits she had canned.  Husband, when his grandmother died, was allowed to take something from what she left behind.  He took her old ball jars.  They have traveled far and wide, and now maybe they will live again.

A blog I read recently ranted about all the crap we can and will do without (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/keith-blanchard/attention-k-mart-shoppers_b_168273.html).  I’ll add that it is not only tangible crap, but experiential crap as well.  I’ll trade access to all that crap for the old ball jars, and knowledge about how to make our garden work.  It has been said that downsizing may ultimately be the best thing that happened to many of us.  I do not idealize the necessity of downsizing; there are too many folks of all ages (and I lose sleep over how to make sure it is not us) who will be without heat, homes, food, jobs, and the real necessities of life while the rich wave their hands and say it’s good for us all.

But for now, I am hopeful we are getting a bead on one facet of our lives, the food.  How to maintain quality and health and variety on a limited budget.  Grocery store offerings are not getting cheaper, or more healthy, and the collection of cookbooks we have needs more stains. 

More later on how this all plays out.


Calm the waters

Dear Jim;

Good Monday morning. It’s sunny here.  Yesterday it was sixty-eight degrees, and sunny. I got to take a walk with my husband without the kids (the in-laws were here for three days).  It felt great.  I also read about a major international oceanic conference, where key factors were discussed in various symposia (salinity, temp, acidity, and I forget the rest), which are rising at completely unexpected rates, and exponentially.  No one is sure why, and the melting of large sections of arctic ice and the subsequent injection of fresh water has been meaningless.  Given rates measured worldwide, the projection agreed upon was that all sea life will be dead in twenty years.  Worse, it seems there is absolutely nothing we can do about it.

Husband read a science fiction work addressing this issue (extremely prescient) written about thirty years ago.  The book considers what happens if the oceans die.  The outcome is: we die too as a species, and most other life approximately twenty years later.  This total of forty more years would encompass my normal life span anyway, but not my kids.  Not other people’s kids. . .and what would the last ten years of our lives look like in this picture?

I woke up on this beautiful day, the in-laws having left last evening and the visit having gone well.  We breakfasted on banana bread lovingly made by a friend yesterday.  Husband went off to combat ignorance, cup of coffee in hand.  The sun is streaming in, wind tossing the trees around.  Bach flows from the stereo; the boys are playing nicely together.  I howl.  The conflicting emotions of the moment: contentment, happiness; alternate with emotions generated from my reading: fear, desolation.  I howl.  Ginsberg had no idea what howling was about, his grief regarding death was nothing in the face of what the future holds.

I started howling many years back.  Tilted face, open throat, full chested howl.  I teach the boys to howl.  Dogs have that expression down correctly.  I find it cathartic, and the only response I can manage in the face of overwhelming absurdity.

I miss you.  We saw a strange little movie last night- Code 46 (you can see it for free on the net at hulu or fancast.com).  It added to my futuristic unease, and it’s a good little film.  We also saw Nobody’s Fool, again (same sites).  It balanced the sci-fi a little with standard Russo-esque pragmatism.  Sunny days in winter, films, and modofinil as opiates for the masses.  Say, now that bloody Bach is making me think of the screening and gurney room in Soylent Green.

I miss you.  I miss you.  I miss you.  I want you to be happy.  I want to be able to attend your wedding sometime in the future, room full of friends and family, complete with cheesy disco ball and loud music at the reception.  I want to see you in a fabulous tux, your partner by your side.  I want to get silly weepy sitting next to the love of my life while you get to marry yours.  I want my boys to see what a healthy, happy couple you make.   I want you to have all the benefits and pains of being married.  I want you to know you are not only equal in our eyes, but everyone else’s too.  It seems to me irrational, stupid, and grossly unjust that others would want you to suffer.

Hey, it’s ok if you think us soft and boring.  It’s even ok if you make fun of me after all these years for being a somewhat stereotypical “american” wife-person.  I would expect you to.  But I still miss you.  You have been one of a very few best friends for twenty-seven years now.

Here’s my fantasy film: I want to stumble across a bag full of money (say ill-gotten drug money accidentally lost, or the one day I buy a lottery ticket and win) and pay off all our bills.  Send some money to all my friends and relatives, of course. Put some in a box under the bed (it seems the best place for it lately) for the future.  No morality tale attached.  Just a stroke of good luck.  The first non-essential?  Go to visit you. Yes, one of the first things I would do is visit you.  I hope you are well, I am sorry I missed your call last week.  I am sorry life goes by so fast and we live so far apart.  I’ll howl with you in mind this morning.  And maybe soon, I’ll get to visit and we’ll sit on the beach and stare out at the still-living ocean together in that lovely, California weather at sunset.  Keep me updated.

Life goes on.

Love, C