Sunday, December 21, 2014

Country crock. . .

I like a good crockpot, because there's nothing more idiot proof and there is such a good flavor when it gets its simmer on. I've totally improvised many a soup. Thrown in some French onion soup as a base along with pieces of chicken, cut-up potatoes--sweet, regular Idaho, russet, whatever--fresh vegetables and a package of frozen mixed vegetables. I've topped it off with red wine.

For seasoning, I've taken basil from my garden and even mint, or just experimented with the spice cabinet. Salt and pepper to taste. Give it a couple hours and, inevitably, it is delicious.

I've even got a Pinterest board called "What a crock." I've got 149 dishes pinned, from homemade macaroni to fajitas to Indian food to, gasp!, bread. Here's the board if you want to peruse recipes like "Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala."

Now I haven't cooked a damn thing off this board, but I've decided this is my year. I'm going to be a cooking mom. Vegetarian dishes, dishes the whole family will love, which smuggle vegetables into hungry bellies, comfort food and crockpot berry cobbler. It's not that I'm only going to use a slow cooker. But I believe this timeworn, make-sure-you-put-it-on-your-wedding-registry will be the epicenter of my culinary peregrinations.

Holy shit! It's crockpot smothered beef burritos!

Now, before you say, "Oh yeah, I bet you're going to cook all of that stuff. In your dreams. And why don't you pin some more things you're never gonna make". . . (I'm not sure why the hypothetical you is so mean!) I want to tell you something. I believe I am on my way.

Because this last Friday, I turned into an adult. I know, I'm 40. It should have happened a long time ago. Long story short, it didn't. But anyway, my daughter turned one and I decided I would have something very low-key and season-appropriate called "an open house." From 6 to 9 p.m., any number of people were invited to stop on by and admire my baby, present her with some belated frankincense and myrrh, and sample some goodies.

Savannah and her daddy on Halloween

Due to my not getting the word out until the last-minute and because everyone was holiday-partied out, only my immediate family and Brian's came to pay homage to Savannah's first year on earth. But I prepared enough food for two-dozen people. What I am most proud of is that I made really good homemade chili and really good spinach artichoke dip in two dual slow cookers. It was a truly housewifely achievement. Next thing you know, I'll be making ambrosia and bundt cakes and jello in molds.

It was tasty as all get out. And I discovered that, given a lot of leftover spinach artichoke dip, you can get pretty creative. It tastes good on bagels. It tastes good on a slice of pizza. It tastes good on pita chips. And I bet it would taste really good on a baked potato. (I think I'll try this tomorrow.) There seems to be a theme here. It's called carb-on-carb action and it's hot!

Of course, my next step will be to start my diet, and I'm not sure how that will dovetail with my going down the crockpot rabbit hole. (I think you can even ferment your own beer in a crockpot. Perhaps that's a good way to earn a crock potbelly.)

But really, it is a true achievement, the kind that tells me, I'm not just faking it. Oh no, I'm making it.

Here's the recipe I used, from the Six Sisters Stuff website.

Want to join me in further reconnaissance into adulthood? Last one in's a rotten egg!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

You handsome brute! . . .

Feeling sexy because I just "liked" Robert Mitchum on Facebook. It's the sheer orneriness of the guy that gets me: "People think I have an interesting walk. Hell, I'm just trying to hold my gut in." Oh yeah, and the charisma. As my late Great-grandmother Marcia used to say, "Dimple in chin, devil within."

Everybody's got a laughing place. . .

Okay, done with the goth. Onward and upward, mood. . 

P.S. I interviewed Scotty McCreery for the Reno Gazette's Best Bets entrainment section a couple of months ago, and he was A-dorable.

I wear black on the outside. . .

I've got a miserable cold and am feeling sorry for myself. Time to get my goth on.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

On a political high horse. . .or hobby horse. . .

Sometimes, I think so many of us are divided by partisanship.

We think we only respect Republicans or only trust liberals. I just don't like so much of the feeling of us and them. Ultimately, if aliens were to invade (not illegal, gallactic), we'd all band together to make it happen. Didn't you see Independence Day?

Please don't take this a shaming finger, because I only half-know what's right half the time. But I think we Americans are more diverse than we think. We don't have a hive mind. And while we effectively have a two-party government, we do not have a two party country. Not all liberal-minded people (I prefer that to liberals) are Democrats. I'm a member of the Green Party. Not all conservatives (let's change that to conservatively-minded people or, better yet, "thoughtfuls," are Republican. 

I have known many a libertarian and I have also known at least one person who has voted for both a Republican and a Democratic president. I won't try to make myself so hip as to call myself a "post-partisan," but I do feel weary of political conflict.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

True story. . .

I don't like politics much, but I consider myself a patriot. And it's paid off.

One time, I was walking in a shady part of town when this guy tried to mug me. I thought fast, put my hand over my heart and began saying the Pledge of Allegance.

Well, you can guess what happened. We've all been indoctrinated in the k-12 school system.

The guy put his hand over his heart and joined me in the pledge. He actually knew more of the words than me.

It was suddenly just us, two Americans trying to navigate a messed up system, each in our own way, but hanging onto a sense of national unity. We had a moment. We hugged. And then I hauled off and clocked him and ran away.

True story.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

I love that feeling. . .

when you find a beautiful new song.

I was on Pinterest when one of the pinners I follow posted this tune "Stay Forever" by Panama.

 Be prepared for models in this video whose swimsuit figures you covet, but also for a transcendent jam that is a mix of modern ambient music and '80s epic-ness a la Echo and the Bunnymen, When in Rome ('The Promise") and Alphaville ("Forever Young)."

Taking a stand. . .

Punish the deed, not the breed.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Flash fiction, for when you want your story quick. . .

Here is a story I wrote several years ago when I was advising a literary magazine at Citrus College and experimenting with the new-to-me concept of flash fiction.

Are you familiar with the term? Just in case you aren't, I've lifted the definition of flash fiction from Wikipedia: "Fiction of extreme brevity. There is no widely accepted definition of the length of the category. Some self-described markets for flash fiction impose caps as low as three hundred words, while others consider stories as long as a thousand words to be flash fiction."

Anyhow, here is my first attempt, a little piece called "The Sweets." I think it holds up well, particularly since this is the season of Christmas cookies and all manner of sweet things, not to mention "The Nutcracker Suite.

flickr photo by Aljabri

The Sweets

She liked to fill the coffee filter full to brimming with sugar, brew it and then bitter it up with a spoonful of coffee grounds. He had a sweet tooth, too, and though her cooking—particularly her elaborate preparations of crepes, ganaches, tarts and brule—was legendary, often he would excuse himself, saying, "Sorry, dear, I had a heavy lunch," and go to the garden where he would indulge himself in a light liquid dinner of red-dyed sugar water sucked straight from the hummingbird feeder.

Miraculously, neither Mr. or Mrs. Sweet had diabetes, but they tested their blood sugar twice a day, almost religiously, one might say. If Mr. Sweet's vital sweetness ever fell too low, then Mrs. Sweet knew what to do. She would make a brew of the finest liqueurs—chocolate, orange, anisette and poppy seed—which, witchlike, she would ferment and bottle herself.

"A strengthening tonic is what you need," she would tell her husband in a brisk tone, "and some hot butterscotch pudding, and never mind that carrot I saw you surreptitiously reaching for in your coat pocket." (For, like most wives, she always saw what tricks her husband was about.)

"Alright, dear," Mr. Sweet would say sheepishly, knowing, after all, she was right. For though he was old enough to have licorice-whip-thin traces of hair as white as Devonshire cream in his moustache, he'd never been sick a day in his life. And the Sweets, in general, were models of good cheer, their tempers only threatening to fray a bit, as is the case of the best of us, when their blood sugar dipped precipitously.

—Sarah Torribio

Monday, December 1, 2014

First world problems and the Suburban Lawns. . .

So life is hard sometimes. For me. For everyone.

People like to make fun of any struggle that isn't a life-or-death situation. We discount things.  #FirstWorldProblems, we write ironically.

By the way, despite the supposed irony of the little girl's tears in the above meme, she is actually heartbroken. Didn't you see "National Velvet"?

And a lot of times, it turns out that us ironic folks are having third-world problems--stuff like struggling to pay rent or buy groceries.

And as for us sweating the small stuff, like losing your keys when you're planning to head out early for a holiday door-buster sale, it isn't indicative of a privileged attitude. It's indicative of human nature.

A problem is a problem. And someone in a third-world country, whatever that means nowadays, is likely to be upset if she breaks a nail.

Yes, it is worse to sever one of your fingers in a tree-trimming fiasco than to stub your toe. But still, stubbing your toe still hurts like a mo-fo. Like you are dying. The only thing that keeps me from not yelling out curse words in front of my children (I can usually boast this restraint) when I stub my toe is that I've made up new words to express my pain and outrage: "Floop you!" I admonish the offending object into which I've bumped.

So ironic as may seem for well-fed people with a roof over their heads, our problems trouble us. They bug us. They drive us crazy.

Yesterday, I went a little crazy.

After a hard week and a Thanksgiving celebration to prepare for, Brian and I planned our son's 6th birthday party with a tight budget and schedule. And for a moment, when we had 20 minutes to decorate for a Minecraft-themed party, I almost lost it. I felt like I might go into hysterics.

My headspace was hovering somewhere between that of Cathy of comic strip fame and the mental patients in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

I guess it's all the stress. The general parenting craziness.

Did you know that when you change a year-old baby, no matter how angelic they look, they squirm and fight something powerful? It's literally like you are trying to land a fish. And not just some puny river trout but some kind of giant sailfish. It's a total Old Man and the Sea situation.

Of course, the chaos doesn't just apply to parents. This applies to all of us "adults." Between work and family and social lives and whatever goals we are striving for, we really have to fake it till we make it.

I know, it's a cliche, and an '80s cliche at that. Kind of like saying "No pain, no gain." It takes me back to the days when my mom used to exercise not while watching a video, because we didn't have a VCR, but by listening to a record. (I used to love the part of the record where  Jane's friendly, encouraging voice instructed listeners to lift and tuck over The Jackson 5's "Can You Feel It?")

Yes, the saying "Fake it till you make it" is a cliche. But axioms continue for a reason. Just because we dub them cliches doesn't mean they aren't true.

So with this whole parenting thing,  I often feel like I'm faking it until I make it.

For Alex's Minecraft party, I didn't make my jello, representing water or lava, in time for it to set. We now have a dozen cups of jello in our fridge.

I had licorice representing TNT and pretzel sticks representing logs, but I couldn't get my computer to print digitized labels. And I forgot to put out the Rollos, representing gold, at all. If it sounds like I'm speaking another language, it's because you don't have a relative who plays Minecraft.

Speaking of another language, have you seen this meme? As a non-math person, it makes me laugh.

But we had tons of pixelized blocks and minecraft characters the kids could play with. I brought a lot of crayons and we used the leftover paper bags I used for gift bags to make puppets. There was pizza to eat, courtesy of my dad, and everyone loves pizza. My sister-in-law made a beautiful Minecraft cake. It was raining, but Brian's grandparents, who hosted the shindig, have a nice covered patio. Alex played with kids and had fun and the adults talked. It was a whole thing.

But back to my crisis, which I glossed over. Trying to achieve maximum decoration festivity in 20 minutes, I felt in over my head. I thought I might scream for a moment. I cried. And then I decorated. And it turned out alright. But I truly had an existential night of the soul, for about 15 minutes.

So what's the takeaway from all this?

The party was a success, proving that it is the thought that counts. And I've decided I'm going to embrace the jury-rigged nature of existence. Imperfection. Moments of near-hysteria.
Balls dropped during the big juggling act that is life.

I also have more appreciation for my folks. My mom helped me plan a couple of elaborate Halloween slumber parties when I was a kid and they turned out great. I bet at the time she was stressed as all get-out right before a gaggle of girls arrived ready to party. She probably wanted to make these event magical with limited time and a limited budget. For the record, they turned out great.

And you've got to be able to laugh at it all, in retrospect. Woody Allen once said "Tragedy plus time equals comedy." The big stuff takes a lot of time to marinate into humor. I think it's still too early to crack Titanic jokes or 9/11 jokes and it probably always will be.

But sometimes the little stuff takes just a few hours to recover from, or even minutes. Like the case of a thrown-together children's party. My freak-out was a little internal earthquake. The ground stopped shaking pretty quickly.

And as always, my pondering has brought me back to my favorite subject: music.

I would like to share a song, maybe you've heard it, from 1981. "Janitor," by the Suburban Lawns. The subject matter is seemingly profound: "All action is reaction. Expansion and retraction. Man the manipulator. Underwater, anti-matter. Does it matter? Nuclear reactor. Boom, boom, boom, boom."

But despite the implied threat of nuclear destruction, the song is fun and funny, with a great, danceable beat and surfy guitar.  (This is the same band who had a minor hit with a tune called "Gidget Goes to Hell.") Lead singer Sue Tissue's voice ranges from nearly robotic to a spot-on imitation of Betty Boop. The song was a party on vinyl, and translates just fine to digital.

As soon as I caught my breath and realized I wasn't going to die if my party wasn't perfect, the song began to spin on my mental record player. Call it musical OCD, but it gave me a moment of perspective in which I could ask myself—about the lack of jello and printouts and the terrible weather—"Does my current lack of togetherness matter?"

Nah. It doesn't matter.

—Sarah Torribio