Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Day For Simmering ...

It is not the fallest of fall days, but I was in the mood to slice and dice and simmer.

So I took myself on a walk to the store to pick up what I needed for chili and returned home and set about slicing and dicing and sautéing and browning and simmering and then simmering some more.

During the first simmer, I ran a few errands – the bank, the post office, the gas station, Redbox – and when I returned home, I exited my car and laughed.

I could smell garlic in my driveway.

The recipe that I use as a general guide more than a recipe calls for two cloves of garlic.

Two.

That is ridiculous.

The Beth Conversion for two cloves = one head.

And I just tried a bit to see how my tinkerings turned out and it's not garlicky at all.

Next time, maybe I'll add two. Heads, that is. We'll see.

Regardless, it was a fine task on a sunny, late-September day.

And tonight, I shall have Chinese food. This shall get portioned and stashed in the freezer to allow its flavors to meld.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Makes Beth Happy, September 27 ...

The Makes-Beth-Happy Word of the Day is:

Rumple!
I just keep saying it, over and over: rumplerumplerumple.

The Makes-Beth-Happy Recipe of the Day is:

Glazed Doughnuts

Part of me says, "Why would I bother making doughnuts at home when they're so easily gotten elsewhere?" And the other part of me answers, impatiently, "LOOK AT THEM."

And the Makes-Beth-Happy Objet of the Day is:

Child's Own Studio

This. Is. Genius. She creates soft toys from children's drawings!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Fall Afternoon ...

Outside, there is a tree that is already almost entirely gold.

Inside, there is a pork roast that has just come out of the oven.

There is also red wine.

Oh, how I love fall.

Monday, September 24, 2012

For The Love Of Baking ...

My online life is schizophrenic. I have two dominant personalities: Political Beth and Baking Beth. (Or Baker Beth, as Angelo has dubbed me.)

My baker self has met some of the most amazing people in the food world and we've become virtual friends. Some day, I might even meet them. (Not surprisingly, many of them can be found in New York. I've been meaning to make a return visit. I am overdue.)

And so it was today that Gail, cookie artist and appreciator of mentions in blog posts, tweeted a link to this post, a brilliant treatise on the space between the romantic notion of a career in food and the reality.

I read it and thought, "I should write a blog post about this!" and then remembered that I already had.

But not fully. There is more to say.

People, very kind people, tell me on a regular basis that I should open a bakery, I should sell baked goods online, I should do something related to baking and that is very, very – no pun intended – sweet.

I appreciate their appreciation. And their encouragement. It's nice to know I'd have a few customers right off the bat.

But as Stella writes so poignantly:

But however much you love it, let’s be clear: this career will never love you back. It can’t. It’s not a person or a puppy, it’s a job.

I don’t mean to say you can’t, or shouldn’t, love your job. Only that love is a feeling and a shaky foundation for a career. You don’t feel love after a seventy hour work week, when a stranger tears you to shreds on Yelp, or after losing everything in a power outage. If love’s the only fuel you’ve got, those moments will defeat you. When I get to the restaurant to face some fresh disaster, my love for homemade sprinkles doesn’t well up inside and lift me above the fray. What gets me through is an ability to set my emotions aside and say, “I don’t mind.”

I don’t mind the heat. I don’t mind the hours. I don’t mind starting over. I don’t mind standing. I don’t mind washing dishes. I don’t mind feeling tired. I don’t mind working on holidays. I don’t mind the madness. I don’t mind repetition. I don’t mind not having a lunch break. I don’t mind scrubbing. I don’t mind getting critiqued. I don’t mind getting yelled at. I don’t mind staying late. I don’t mind the stress. I don’t mind burns and cuts and scrapes and pain.

...

When people send me their love letters to baking, I don’t doubt their sincerity. But to give up a job or an education, you owe it to yourself to ask more than “what do I love?” You need to also ask “where do I thrive?”


And there it is: Where do I thrive?

Also, this morning, I read this stunner of a post from my never-met-in-person, English, male twin, Mike, which includes this passage:

I am a product of a certainty culture. Very early on, my parents instilled in me the unquestionable value of having a job, any job, because of the financial security it brought, and it really didn’t matter what I did as long as it translated into a wage. This applied in a wider sense. Experiences were things to be managed, controlled, nailed down. Chaos was the enemy, and it was to be fought with hard-headed predictability.

Oh, the resonance. The brain-rattling resonance.

My father is surely of the "any job" camp. (Yes, there's a lot to be said for income, I'll grant you.) My mom (who reads this blog; hi, mom!) is very much a planner and, as her daughter, I am a planner, too.

And I like planning. But even my planner of a mom saw, from early on in me, that I take planning to an extreme.

Not even planning, per se, but a thirst for knowing, of figuring everything out before proceeding which is, in a word, ridiculous.

I know that now. I've known it for some time. The understanding is in the doing. There is no way to stand outside of the doing and predict how it will turn out. It is possible to look ahead and anticipate turns of events – I'm rather good at chess that way – but it is not possible to look ahead and anticipate every turn of events, given that I am not the only person on the planet and not everyone plays by the same rules, or, for that matter, even the same game.

(You'd think that my desire to script everyone's lines would make me a superlative screenwriter, and yet, the script that I started writing more than several years ago has been hung up around the 60-page mark for a long time. Apparently, I do not thrive as a screenwriter.)

But the baking. Why not the baking?

Because – and mom and I were just talking about this this weekend – I have no interest in running a baking business. I bake because I love to bake. I bake as an expression of love. That I pinch off minute quantities of dough when forming cookies to ensure that each one is as close to perfect as possible is not just about my obsessive need for order. It is, however perverse it may seem to some, an expression of my esteem for those for whom I am baking. They deserve my best effort, these people who so enrich my life.

And so I cannot hand that off to someone else. I cannot have other people bake for me, for others. Because it's not about the baked goods so much as it is about what the baked goods represent, what I mean for them to convey, my love and appreciation for those for whom I bake.

I have never thought about this in such a concrete way before today.

And so I owe a debt of gratitude to Gail and Stella and Mike today. And mom and dad, too. And everyone who has provided input and helped shape my thinking, one step closer to defining where I thrive.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Making Of The Sauce ...

Every year, we make sauce.

Mom and I procure some amount of plum tomatoes – somewhat easily had at this time of year, and this year, we procured a bushel, in an honest-to-God bushel – and then we procure the rest of the ingredients and then, when we're both feeling ambitious, we convene to make sauce.

The division of labor is as follows: I dice tomatoes. Mom does everything else.

Lest you think that I'm getting off easy, allow me to assure you that I do not.

Have you seen a bushel of tomatoes?! That's a freakin lot of tomatoes!

There are always a few tomato casualties, tomatoes that are far past their prime. But for the most part, I don't have to trim up most of the tomatoes, and so today, I diced the entire bushel's worth and we made half of the sauce that we will eventually make. But now all of the tomatoes are diced, and handily portioned into ginormous Ziploc bags, so the rest of the process will be easy, as the recipe is a snap and all mom will have to do is dice onion and press garlic and measure out the other stuff.

When all was said and done, I diced enough to total 96 cups of tomatoes, which doesn't sound like that much, considering that dice tomatoes was all I did for most of the afternoon.

But it's nice to do once a year and mom has a commercial freezer, so she stashes the tidy pints and lets the flavors meld over time and then, in the middle of winter when the closest thing to nature is a twig sticking out of the snow, she can pull out a couple of pints and boil some pasta or simmer down a couple of pints to use as pizza sauce or defrost a few pints as a base for soup.

It really is delightful stuff. And simple. So if you have a lot of tomatoes on hand and you're stumped for an idea, give this a try.

Beth Note: The recipe below is for a single batch of sauce, but we always double each recipe and adjust accordingly. So the first amount is for a single batch and (the amounts in parentheses) are our tweaks and substitutions for a double recipe.

Spaghetti Sauce

1 cup chopped yellow onion (2 cups)
2 tablespoons butter (3 tablespoons)
5 cloves garlic, pressed (1 head garlic; there is no such thing as too much garlic)
12 cups chopped fresh tomatoes (24 cups; we use plum tomatoes)
2 cups dry red wine (3 cups; we use Chianti)
6 ounces tomato paste (12 ounces)
2 teaspoons instant beef bouillon granules (5 teaspoons beef base)
4 teaspoons dried basil (6 teaspoons dried basil; rub it between your palms to crush it)
2 bay leaves (4 bay leaves)
8 ounces sliced mushrooms (16 ounces; we buy prewashed, sliced mushrooms; save yourself the effort)

Saute the onion in butter until translucent. (We use 16-quart stock pots just to give ourselves plenty of room to stir and to allow a nice amount of surface area for simmering.) Add the garlic and saute until fragrant. Add everything else. Simmer about 1 hour. About 45 minutes into cooking, sprinkle with a bit of baking soda and stir. (It's rather atomic!) Ladle into freezer containers (you can buy sleeves of 'em at food-service stores for just a few bucks). Be sure to leave a bit of room for expansion. When slightly cooler, top with lids and stash in the freezer. Makes about five pints.

Makes Beth Happy, September 23 ...

The Makes-Beth-Happy Word of the Day is:

Fall!
It's here, baby! The best of all the seasons! Sweaters and scarves and leaves and bread and stew and wine and blankets and naps and books and the warm glow of candles and fireplaces and pumpkins and colors and ... .

The Makes-Beth-Happy Recipe of the Day is:

Roasted Tomato-Basil Tart

Look at that stunner. Roasting brings out the best in just about everything.

And the Makes-Beth-Happy Objet of the Day is:

Contarini Palace, Venice by Claude Monet

I love the colors. I love the moodiness. I love the movement. I must have lived in Venice in a past life. I am inordinately drawn to images of it.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Sablé Experiment ...

I've always loved a butter cookie. From the scalloped Salerno numbers that I used to wear like ill-fitting rings to Girl Scout shortbread (they've changed; I don't like them anymore) to sablés, I've never strayed from my simple-cookie love.

But the other day, I was pondering flavored sablés and wondered what kind of extracts I might find at the store.

So I went to the store. I'm clever like that.

I was sure I didn't want any imitation flavors. I was sure I would limit myself to whatever pure extracts were on the shelf. But hazelnut. Oh, hazelnut. How could I not give you a try, even in your imitation form?

Extracts procured, my brain started thinking about combinations:

Coffee + chocolate = mocha sablé!

Chocolate + hazelnut = gianduia sablé!

Ooh!

But then my brain went too far:

Coffee + chocolate + hazelnut = mocha gianduia sablé!

Oh, Beth. Beth, Beth, Beth. Simple. The point of these cookies is that they're simple. You can't cram too many flavors into one cookie. Like three people walking down the sidewalk, someone's gonna have to lag behind.

I don't have to tell you that in a three-way battle of dark chocolate, coffee, and hazelnut, hazelnut hits the mat.

Still, the end result is delicious if not hazelnutty. Hazelnut will be drafted into another batch on another day, maybe to share billing with vanilla or maybe to have the whole marquee to itself.

A word to would-be sablé makers: Turbinado sugar is a lovely addition to vanilla sablés but on the dark-chocolate version, it just ends up looking blingy.

The first tray came out looking a little too much like Vegas. The second tray went into the oven with half the cookies sugared and half just slicked with egg-white wash.

Yep, the plain chocolate are the way to go. A hint of sheen but no sudden urge to listen to Tom Jones.

The recipe for vanilla-flavored sablés and the chocolate adaptation is here.

Ode To Fall ...

I do not call it autumn. "Autumn" is formal. And I am the furthest thing from formal.

Which is why I love fall.

There is nothing formal about fall. Fall is sweaters and jeans, maybe a scarf. Fall is pumpkins and leaves and the world winding down for winter. My part of the world, anyway. Fall is simmering stew and baking bread and red wine and candlelight as the days grow shorter. Books and blankets and fireplace embers. Seriously, what's not to love?

I would live most of my life in fall if I could, if the earth would cooperate and segment itself into seasons. I would move to fall and rarely leave.

Let me know if you need me to come over and rake leaves with you. I'll be happy to help. Afterward, we can drink warm cider. I'll bring scones.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Found In Nature III ...

I've always loved the look of these plums, their painterly quality. If ever there were a still-life staple, these are those.

To wit, the image in the background – not that you can really tell here – is a print of the very same kind of plums, bought by my mom in an antiques shop long ago.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Baking Season Is Here ...

It just seemed like a good day to shoot some brownie porn.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sheesh. Busy ...

Today feels like it should be Thursday, at least, for as busy as the first part of this week has been.

But no. Tuesday night, only. It's only Tuesday night.

Yesterday was devoted to cutting the grass. No, it shouldn't take a whole day, and it didn't, technically, but when one hasn't cut one's grass in ahemsixweeksahem and when one has a punk-ass tree in one's parkway that leafs out in May and starts dropping leaves in July and one has not only a shag carpet of grass to tame but also a solid blanket of crunchy leaves very similar in color and texture to grocery bags, well, one's mower might have been slightly on the verge of overheating.

Still wearing my gas-scented clothes, I made the trek to Portillo's to pick up a chopped salad for dinner, once I'd showered. And once I'd showered, oh man, yeah, it was kind of hard to move. My muscles aren't used to a day of yard work.

Salad was good, though.

And this morning, I was up and at 'em and began to jot down all the to-dos that were running through my head as I was mowing yesterday, all those things that you think of to do but never write down and then you remember them, individually, here and there, weeks later and say to yourself, "Oh, crap! I meant to do that!"

Well, now I have that crap contained in a list.

And even did a couple of them today. Well, the first parts, anyway. Plans first, execution later.

And then I spent the balance of the daylight hours parked in front of a computer, doing a second read/edit/formatting pass on a manuscript which I have since sent back to the author.

I may be a bit of a wordsmithing rockstar. There may be a glowing LinkedIn recommendation coming my way.

Just sayin'.

Ooh, I think I shall give myself a trophy. Yes, I think I shall.

(It's the little loving cup I bought the other day at Goodwill. He's since gotten a bit of a polish.)

And happily, fall is making its presence known this evening, as it is damn near chilly inside my house. And tonight's low might dip to 40! Hel-lo, fall!

And tomorrow is only Wednesday.

I suspect it will be busy.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Good Times, September Edition ...

The September cookie installment for the angelo:HOME blog features Blackberry Madeleines, inspired by a photograph of a room that he posted on his blog. One never knows where cookie inspiration will strike.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Finds ...

I do not brake for garage sales.

I know some folks can't help but pull over every time they see a driveway full of household detritus but I can keep on driving. I really don't need any more stuff.

But mom wanted to stop by the Boy Scouts' "garage sale" today so I went along. For the walk.

I didn't take any money with me. I had no intention of buying anything. I don't like the Scouts' anti-gay stance, though it is nice to support kids locally.

I spied some shield-back chairs that might have been awesome if they were sprayed and reupholstered. But I don't need chairs. And someone was already hovering near them. A good find, I admit.

And then a lamp base caught my eye. We asked a Scout guy its price. "I dunno. Five dollars?" He said the people at the cash table had a list.

So I stepped up to the cash table and the kid said, "I dunno. Two dollars?"

Mom asked, "How much did he say?" And I said, "He said two but I think we should give him five. It's for a good cause."

So she handed him a five.

It's a really cool base. Interesting profile. Brassy, but not shiny brass.

It'll look good with a black drum shade or some such.

I toted him home and wiped him down a little and plugged him in to see if he even worked. I could get him rewired if I had to. But nope, his cord and stuff look fine. And he works.

He needs a new harp and finial. His are rusty and gross.

But I love the profile of the base. And he's heavy, cast alloy something or other. Now I need to find a shade that doesn't cost eleventymillion dollars.

I thought about priming and painting him black but this finish is kind of growing on me, metallic without being too metallic-y. Would you like to see him?


And with that purchase, I was bitten by the browsing bug. He needs a shade, after all, so mom and I hit a few stores and came up empty-handed. I resolved to look online but really, buying a lamp shade is an in-person kind of task. Even following the "rules" of what size shade goes with what size base, at the end of the day, I want to plop a shade on it, stand back, and decide.

Later, I headed to Goodwill. I'm always poking around Goodwill, as you know, looking for props for cookie shoots. But I also keep an eye out for a particular drinking glass that mom collects. They're surprisingly hard to come by but that's the great thing about Goodwill: You never know when one will turn up.

I made my way down the glassware-and-dishes aisle slowly, scanning each shelf. Invariably, I start grouping like items together. I can't help myself. Nope, no mom glasses. I ventured into the next aisle for a quick scan.

And I spied this little guy:


Two dollars? On half-off day? Yes, please. Normally, I like tarnish on silver pieces but his tarnish is a bit splotchy and extreme. (You're not seeing the worst of him in this shot.) I started to polish him, just to see how much effort he'll take.

He'll take a lot of effort. But then he'll be shiny and then I can let him tarnish more evenly.

Making my way back into the glassware aisle for one final pass – I never see everything the first time through – I spied three blue glasses, very similar in hue to the compote I bought recently.

I always press the tops of glasses against my palm and turn them, the glasses, that is, not my palms, to feel for chips. One of the glasses had a flaw so I left him behind and nabbed just two. Normally, I prefer odd numbers, but I'll find other friends to keep these company. They're an interesting shape. They taper slightly from bottom to top. They'll make pretty votive holders, especially around the holidays, intermingled with mercury glass.

Further down the aisle, I spied an amethyst-colored ... glass? Vase? Didn't care. I liked the color and the shape. And on half-off day, he was going to set me back a quarter. So I nabbed him, too.


And my grand total, for two blue glasses, the amethyst glass, and the little loving cup?

$1.87.

So, on the day, a whole lot of loveliness for six dollars and eighty-seven cents.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Report From The Picket Line ...

A friend called me tonight. He's a Chicago Public School teacher. So he, of course, is on strike.

We don't speak on the phone too often but when we do, when he talks about work, he almost always talks about his kids. His students. His reasons to report to his classroom every day. He, like so many teachers, teaches because he cares.

Quentin, I'll call him because I don't want him to face any problems for speaking out, is, more than anything, frustrated.

He did not get into teaching to teach to a test, but that is what he is required to do. But not just one test, many tests. But not just one narrow curriculum, many narrow curriculums, none of which ever have the chance to take hold. "The cement's not even dry on the last one," he says, before he and his fellow teachers are being told, the next year, to do something entirely different.

He is frustrated by the bureaucratic restraints – and there are so, so many restraints – but he is frustrated, too, by the lip service that is paid to the children. " 'Oh, the poor kids,' everyone says, but do they volunteer with the kids? Do they mentor a kid? Do they coach a kid?", he asks. No, they don't. Most don't. Many could. But most don't.

He is frustrated that those who have most likely never set foot in a classroom are setting the agenda for how he and his fellow teachers must teach. He is frustrated that budgets are slashed to the bone and the casualties are music and art and physical education, aspects of school days that are vital to turning out well-rounded kids. He is frustrated that a billionaire board member said, "They get science and reading and math. That's all they need."

"She sneered when she said it," he says. He is more than a little prone to hyperbole but in this case, I can hear the sneer in the billionaire's words. Can you imagine what she'd do if she had her way with school lunches?

He is frustrated that he and his fellow teachers are held accountable for test results even though they cannot control so much of what goes on in the lives of their kids. So many come from unstable homes or homes where parents are working multiple jobs to make ends meet. Some simply don't have homes.

If he is going to be held to standards based on test data, he says, he wants his attendance records to be a factor in the results. His first- and last-period classes of the day are almost never fully attended. Some kids can't get to school on time. Some kids don't try to get to school on time. Some kids get to the penultimate period and think, "Yeah, I'm done for the day" and cut his class.

He is frustrated that Mayor Emanuel scoffs at their request for air conditioning. "You try teaching in a 97-degree classroom on the fourth floor of an old building," he says. I cannot imagine how any teacher can be expected to teach any class in such circumstances. And our weather is only going to get worse.

But air conditioning is expensive, you may be saying.

Yes, yes, it is.

And the schools are so strapped for funds, you may be saying.

Oh, wait just a minute right there.

Do you know what I learned tonight? I learned something tonight that literally left me slack-jawed, that literally left me feeling a bit like I'd just been socked in the gut.

The ACT is mandatory for every Chicago Public School student and CPS picks up the tab. CPS sends all that money to ACT, millions of dollars a year.

It's a very cozy arrangement.

Think about that for a moment: Every Chicago Public School junior is required to take the ACT, regardless of his or her intention to go to college. Now think about all the students who have no intention of going to college. They put no effort into studying for a test that will have no bearing on whether they get into college because they have no intention of going to college.

But their scores are averaged in to the scores of all the juniors who are required to take the test, college-bound or no. And down, down, down the average goes.

And guess what? Teachers are gauged on those results.

So teachers must teach to a mandatory test that a good portion of the students do not want to take but whose results are factored into the average which brings down the average for the school and do you know who wins in that situation?

ACT.

Perhaps CPS receives a volume discount, but let's run the numbers based on the fees listed on ACT's site.

ACT (No Writing): $35.

ACT Plus Writing: $50.50

CPS 2011-2012 enrollment: 404,151 divided by 12 (1/12th of the enrollment; juniors take the test): 33,680

$35 x 33,680 = $1,178,800

$50.50 x 33,680 = $1,700,840

Per year. No matter what.

Something tells me that $1.7 million would pay for an air-conditioning retrofit for a school, don't you think? Or pay for more teachers' salaries so class sizes could shrink to a manageable 25 from the current 36 that Quentin tries to teach.

Moreover, think of the funding decisions that are made based on those test scores.

Giving every student the chance to take the ACT? I think that's a fine idea. But mandating it? That makes no sense to me. Especially if poor outcomes are used against the teachers and the schools.

Quentin thinks that they'll be back in their classrooms on Monday and that soon, this will all have been forgotten. People have short memories, he says. And he's right.

But he'll be there, as he's been there for years, trying to expose his kids to more than just answers on a standardized test.

And he would appreciate your understanding.

And your help.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Eleven Years Ago This Morning ...

I was on the phone. When I hung up, I had two messages waiting.

One was my mom asking where our cousins worked in relation to the World Trade Center. I thought that was odd.

The other was L.A. Dave. His message was simply, "Oh my God, turn on your TV."

I had grabbed a pad of Post-It Notes and used my red Sharpie.

Later that day, I put that Post-It Note on my wall.

I have not moved it since.

The sun has faded it but if you look very closely, you can still see the words "Mom World Trade Center" and "Dave."

Monday, September 10, 2012

Yay, Ribs! ...

I've had a couple of slabs in the freezer and every time I've thought about having them for dinner, it's been late afternoon or early evening.

They take three hours to bake.

Consequently, the ribs have stayed in the freezer.

Until today, when I had the idea to put them on about 1 p.m.

So, yes, they were done about 4 p.m. And yes, I did eat dinner then.

Well, I ate ribs then. Why bother with anything else?

But I hadn't had breakfast or lunch so I didn't worry too much about eating dinner at 4 p.m.

(Though some days, I'm thisclose to being a senior citizen.)

All that aside, they were good. And I have ribs on hand for breakfast!

They're super simple to make.

1. Take 'em out of the freezer. Unwrap them.

2. Plop 'em on a pan.

3. Hit 'em with a bit of garlic salt.

4. Stick 'em in a preheated 325° oven for three hours. (Note: My butcher sells pretty meaty ribs, hence the three hours. If your ribs are a bit more spare, you won't have to bake them as long.) Flip 'em over a few times.

5. At the 2 1/2-hour mark, sauce the bottoms. Stick 'em back in the oven for 15 minutes. Then, flip 'em over and sauce the tops. Stick 'em back in the oven for 15 minutes.

6. You can slice them apart but after three hours, they'll be falling off the bone so you can also be rustic and just pull 'em apart.

I tried this sauce for the first time today. It doesn't have any scary ingredients in it and it's delish! Well done, Two Fat Guys!

Friday, September 07, 2012

Give More ...

I'm thinking about Bruce Springsteen.

Which isn't a rare occurrence. I love Bruce. I love his music. I love his integrity. I love his humanity.

Bruce will be in town for two shows at Wrigley tonight and tomorrow. In Chicago, the Greater Chicago Food Depository is the organization Bruce supports. He mentions them during every show. Afterward, GCFD folks mill about to collect contributions as people make their way out of the venue.

The containers are clear. So you can see the contents. To encourage you to add to them. I always drop in a $20. I figure, I just spent $100 to see Bruce and the band, so the least I can do is help a few folks to have a few meals.

But most of the bills in those containers? Singles. Measly dollars.

And it drives me freakin' nuts.

Granted, giving $1 is better than giving nothing, but hey, people who just spent $50 on a Bruce-branded sweatshirt or $10 on a Bruce-branded plastic keychain or, hell, $10 on an overpriced beer, how about ponying up more than a buck so that someone might know where their next meal is coming from?

I'm not catching Bruce on this swing through Chicago. So if you'll be at Wrigley, do me a favor: When you see a GCFD person wandering around with a container after the show, drop a $20 in for me. Or for yourself.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

7. You Get Defensive When You Read Articles That Try To Wedge You Into A Category ...

I have a love-hate relationship with magazines. I imagine most people do. The prospect of them is interesting but the reality of them is cluttering. They tend to stack up. I pay for monthly deliveries of glossy pages that, over time, convert themselves into guilt.

I have a specific love-hate relationship with O, The Oprah Magazine. I really adore Martha Beck. She has a knack for writing about some quirk – trait, neurosis – of mine that I was sure was my own personal failure, so it's nice to know that there are people out there who are just as screwed up as me. My affinity for the rest of the magazine varies from month to month, but I usually tear up the subscription cards into makeshift bookmarks and stick several of them in between pages to return to later. I don't "pre-read" any other magazine, but flipping through and marking articles in O makes sense to me.

And so it was yesterday. I sat on the couch with a design show playing in the background and flipped through two issues. I marked a feature on fashion. Not for the fashion. Oh, don't be silly. But for the authors who were featured as models. I thought I might like to look into their books.

Most were novelists and I'm not much into novels of late, but two were non-fiction writers and one in particular stood out because her book stemmed from a blog post that had gone viral. (Which this one will not do, but maybe another one will, someday.) Her post, "Why You're Not Married," was expanded into the book Why You're Not Married ... Yet.

Now, I'm not itching to get married. I'm really not. But as a woman and non-married person, I can't help but be intrigued by books that attempt to explain me to me. (I had a little bout of blogging about such books in 2009. My post about Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man still brings the most traffic to this site. And then there was It's Not You, It's Him and then I brought it on home with Why He Didn't Call You Back. They were fun posts to write, I must say.)

Of course, I haven't read Why You're Not Married ... Yet, but I have read the post/premise, and I would just like to say, in the most ladylike way I can muster:

Bullshit.

Apparently, there are six possible explanations for why I – or any single woman who may want to be married someday – is not yet married. You may be one of them. One of us. Part of a collective "we." Are you ready for the insight? Oh, good. (What follows is a mix of commentary and paraphrasing and quotes. I quoted obvious phrases.)

1. You're a Bitch.
Oh, that's right: You're angry. And men don't like angry women. They scare men off. "Most men just want to marry someone who is nice to them."

2. You're Shallow.
You should be looking for a man with character, but you're not. (No, you're not. Don't argue. That'll make you appear angry and you don't want to appear angry. See 1, above.) You're looking for someone rich. Or tall. "This is not the thinking of a wife."

3. You're a Slut.
Stop hooking up with guys already! Also, oxytocin is ruining your life because it makes you want something more from the guy of the moment but he probably lacks character since he's hooking up with you so for the love of God, woman, put an aspirin between your knees.

4. You're a Liar.
You may tell a guy that you don't want to get married but you secretly do but you can't tell him that because he'll freak out and stop calling but then oxytocin rears its ugly hormonal head and you want more but you don't tell him that so you're a liar. And possibly a slutty, shallow bitch.

5. You're Selfish.
Um, newsflash, bitchy, shallow, slutty liar girl: "... a good wife, even a halfway decent one, does not spend most of her day thinking about herself."

6. You're Not Good Enough.
Hope you're not reading this on a bridge. What she means is not that she thinks that you're not good enough or that a man thinks that you're not good enough but that you think that you're not good enough.


So, which one are you?

None of them?

Hey, me either!

I'm not saying every single woman I know, myself included, is a paragon of perfection but what the hell is with the perpetuation of "You're broken, you need to be fixed" books for women in the name of "self-help"?

I appreciated "It's Not You, It's Him" expressly for that reason. Yep, sometimes it's the guy who's the reason a relationship doesn't work out.

Of course, both parties are usually culpable. It takes two to tango and it takes two to be incompatible.

But posts (and ensuing books) that lay the lion's share of the blame at the feet of the women?

Please.

I may get married someday. I may not. I may end up in a relationship but not get the piece of paper. (Though I have friends who have been in a relationship for a long time who got married on the advice of their financial planner. Apparently, having the piece of paper staves off a whole host of legal hassles. Something to consider.)

And I am by no means perfect. But nor am I able to be reduced to an item on a list. Except for the one I added, as the title of this post:

7. You Get Defensive When You Read Articles That Try To Wedge You Into A Category ...

At least I didn't buy the book.

Monday, September 03, 2012

To Paraphrase Tony Montana: Say Hello To My Little Bar Cart Friend ...

He was looking so unloved, sitting there, bare. But I wanted to clean him first.

Thankfully, he didn't give up much dirt. One never knows where something might have lived before it comes to live in a new home.

But his shelves are in good shape (one tiny chip on one corner) and he must have been cleaned before he was put in the resale shop.

So I dressed him with a few things, just to make him look less lonely.

The wine bottles had been living on top of my fridge, a few favorites for their labels or reminders to buy them again. They look happier on the cart's lower level.

And, also: corks!


Saturday, September 01, 2012

And What I Did With Part Of My Saturday ...

Well, as I pondered in my previous post, I did indeed need to return to Resale Shop No. 1 today to buy the little brass cart.

He's not old, turns out. I hadn't really looked closely at him yesterday but I was taken with his handles, and his handles look worn. From wear, most likely. (My deductive-reasoning skills are finely honed.)

But he was $15. And he looks just right in the space. (I set a few bottles on him for a quick photo op but he'll be better dressed once he's clean.)

He could use "new" old casters or maybe he doesn't need wheels. (Right now, Angelo is shaking his head "No," as in "No, Beth, he needs wheels. Everything needs wheels.")

He might get a coat of primer and then a coat of a burnished-brass spray paint. I don't quite know.

But for $15, I couldn't leave him at the store.

Meanwhile, doesn't he look so good with Angelo's chairs?! And the piece of furniture nearest to him has brass hardware on it, so he ties right in.

So much for telling myself that I needed fewer things, not more.

But seriously, FIFTEEN DOLLARS. And the arc of those handles. How could I not?!

How I Spent My Friday Night ...

Yesterday was a good day.

Having concluded a three-month gig with a client, yesterday was my first post-gig day and I spent much of it with my mom.

We ran an errand, we went out to lunch, we tried to buy a piece of furniture (Whew! When did that furniture store start offering dining sets that will only work in gaudy castles?), we picked up some groceries for mom, we took them to her house, and then headed out again.

She wanted to pop buy a couple of resale shops in the ongoing quest for the table she sought. (One never know where one might find something awesome.) So we went to Resale Shop No. 1 where I spied a kangaroo-and-joey lamp that was kinda fabulous and then a small, brass bar cart that was decidedly fabulous. (I am not a "shiny brass" person, but I am most definitely an "aged brass" person.) I didn't buy it, though, because I couldn't think of where I'd put it, and then last night, my eyes fell upon the perfect spot, so I might have to go back and buy it today. Then we went to Resale Shop No. 2, adjacent to Resale Shop No. 1, but without a means to access one parking lot from the other, so we drove. (Yes, we could have walked. But it was sunny sunny and 90 degrees. So we drove.) At Resale Shop No. 2, I spied an interesting little glass dish that very well may end up in a cookie photograph for Angelo someday. So I bought him. He was a quarter. Mom remained tableless.

She needed to run to the butcher shop, so I offered to drive her, but not before first stopping for gas in what, apparently, is the busiest gas station in the Western Hemisphere. A line of cars began to form. We drove away. Had we somehow driven into the 1970s? Is there a gas crisis?

We arrived at the butcher shop (where mom knows everyone, just as she knows everyone everywhere) and I held a basket for her and she loaded it with tidily wrapped packages of meat. We stashed it in my Omaha Steaks cooler in the backseat and then finally hit a gas station where I pumped expensive gas and bought a car wash. I like to slide back the sunshade of my moonroof when I drive into a car wash so I can watch the car wash do its thing. When I was a kid, the undulating straps of black weirdness used to freak me out as we drove out of car washes, but today, there's just the big blow-dryer thing.

I took mom home and we whipped up a salad for dinner later. I brought my portion home and ate it right away. It was already past four. Lunch had worn off.

Not quite done with poking around resale joints, I zipped over to Goodwill to see if I could find any other suitable props. Hmm. Nope. I had one piece in hand but set it down and I was drawn to a ceramic tealight holder but really, I don't need it. (Though if I return for the bar cart today, I'll probably return to Goodwill, too.)

Once home, I was beat. As Doreen wrote upon hearing about my escapades: "I am worn out from getting in & out of the car - just reading your day :)"

Yup, I was worn out by then, too.

So I clacked about on the computer a bit and then tuned in to watch Rachel.

Rachel is always reporting on something newsworthy, so my viewings of Rachel are often paused so that I may return to my computer to find the link to the story at hand and tweet it and Facebook it so other people will know.

It was then that I saw a note from a Facebook friend, one of those friends I only know online, who sent a private message to ask, "Beth it is 9PM on a Friday night. What is a gorgeous woman like you doing sitting at home on the computer?"

I replied that I was watching Maddow. And added: "If I were not 'gorgeous,' would it be OK for me to be home?"

Seriously.

Not that I need to justify my decision to stay home on a Friday night, but here's a news flash: I stay home most Friday nights. Most Saturday nights, too. I like my home. And especially after a couple of busy weeks that were accompanied by hefty doses of emotion, too, plus a day of running around, in and out of the car eleventymillion times on a 90-degree day, yeah, I felt like being home.

I suppose I could have made dinner plans. I suppose I could have gone to a movie. I avoid bars like the plague. Clubs give me hives. And I don't invite myself over to other people's homes. I was perfectly happy to spend the evening here.

But what's with the "gorgeous" part? Never mind that I was feeling decidedly "ungorgeous" yesterday, his suggestion that by virtue of being "gorgeous," I should be out on a Friday night makes no sense to me.

Like I asked him, if I were not "gorgeous," would it be OK for me to be home?

Silly.

I presume he meant it as a compliment, but in the moment, it rankled me.

We place too much importance on looks in this society. Would anyone ever say, "What's a plain-looking woman like you doing sitting home on the computer?"

I doubt it. It would probably be expected. She'd probably be surrounded by her cats, right? While wearing cat-print pajamas.

Anyway.

For the record, I have no plans for tonight either.

By choice.