Thursday, February 28, 2013

Pressing Issue ...

So I saw this post, My Uncool Kitchen Tool: Cheap Aluminum Garlic Press, and I thought, "Garlic presses are uncool? My garlic press isn't uncool. My garlic press rocks."

A friend once referred to it as a garlic gun. This thing has some serious garlic-pressing power.

And it's been with me for a long time. It's the first and only garlic press I've ever owned, my Zyliss. Newer versions have some kind of weird coating on them that flakes off over time. I know this because my mom had to replace her original Zyliss and she hated the newer version.

So we bought an OXO press for her. We love OXO tools. But the OXO garlic press was a dud.

So I did what any self-respecting kitchen junkie would do: I queried America's Test Kitchen's recommendation and bought her the recommended $40 Kuhn Rikon Epicurean garlic press. The heft of it is nice. I like the curved handles. But as for pressing garlic? Meh. It's cumbersome to use. The perforated portion is hinged to lift out for easy cleaning, but when I open the press, I have to hold the perforated portion in place with my thumb while loading the garlic. Whereas with my faithful old Zyliss, I just flip it open, pop in a clove, press it, open it up again, pull out the skin (yep, you don't have to peel the cloves first), and go on to the next.

There are currently 72 comments on the Kitchn post. People have very strong feelings about their garlic presses. Of all the comments I read, everyone is pro-press. I don't know why anyone would be otherwise. There is a time to slice and a time to chop and a time to mince, but sometimes, I want garlic obliterated into a pulpy mess and my garlic press is the best way I know how to get there.

Now, an egg separator. That's an uncool kitchen tool. Use the egg shells, kids. Or, hell, your hands. Did you ever see "The Hours"? Meryl Streep just cracks an egg into her hand, transfers it back and forth from hand to hand, lets the white drip through her fingers, and dumps the yolk into a bowl. No need to worry about piercing the yolk with the jagged edge of an eggshell. Just toss, toss, toss, dump.

But I digress.

If you ever see an original aluminum Zyliss at a garage sale or thrift store, snap that baby up. Even if you already have one. It's always good to have a spare.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Snowy Gloaming ...

I love this time of day, the dusky light, but it's rendered even more beautiful in the snow.

Ready Again ...

Last week's snow disappeared in this morning's rain and now it is snowing again.

My tulips remain hopeful.

Though I must remember to check their water daily.

The other morning, I woke to slumpy tulips. The jar was dry and their stems had closed up into protective points.

I trimmed the stems, filled the jar completely, and hoped for their revival.

They did not disappoint. And now I am more mindful of the care tulips require.

Especially for all that they bring to a room, day after day, for five bucks.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Ready ...

In anticipation of the snow, I went to the store to pick up some milk, eggs, butter, and spring.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Makes Beth Happy, February 20 ...

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

Especially when spoken as an exclamation: Sheep!

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

Roasted Feta Cheese with Fig-Thyme Compote
I love figs. I love thyme. I love feta. Ding, ding, ding!

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

Spa Stripe Towels
They're just so ... subtle.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day ...

Weary from lack of sun, compelled by sugar, I have happened across a new genre of photography: frosting abstracts!

Also, it bears mentioning that there are brownies underneath the frosting.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Everybody-Gets-A-Trophy Generation Comes Of Age ...

I'm thinking about elementary school. Every year, we had a day that was like a mini Olympics, minus the talent and athleticism. But it was intended to be fun. And, no doubt, to fool us into thinking that we enjoyed exercise.

I remain unconvinced.

But I remember making the "ribbons" for the event, which, if memory serves, were a combination of doily and construction paper. Specifically, I remember using bottles of Elmer's glue to "write" 1st, 2nd, and 3rd onto the doilies and then douse each of them in glitter, shaking off the excess and setting them aside to dry. Blue, red, and yellow ribbons. First, second, and third.

The Olympics, of course, award gold, silver, and bronze. All those years of training deserve more than glitter, after all.

But I'm thinking about our makeshift ribbons because I'm remembering that we used to award them based on outcomes. If you came in first in a race, you got the blue ribbon. If you came in fourth, you got bupkis, kid.

And that seems to have fallen away.

I have been to a lot of soccer games in my day. Not World Cup events, but standing-on-the-sidelines games played in both blazing sun and freezing rain, cheering on kids. I'm sure a lot of people can relate. When I was wee, mom toted me to my brothers' Little League games. Now, soccer seems to be the ubiquitous sport. Which is weird, since so few people in this country follow soccer. But I guess expecting small children to submit to the tackles of football or the wild pitches of baseball would be a bad idea.

What I'm remembering from those soccer seasons, though, is that every kid on every team got a trophy. They were cute, the trophies. And every kid received one. Every kid on the winning team received one. And every kid on the losing team received one.

The message was "Good for you for trying!"

And trying is important.

But if everyone receives the same level of recognition regardless of achievement, what message does that really send?

Some will strive because it is their nature to strive. But I suspect that others will hang back, figuring, "Hey, no matter what I do, I'll get a trophy."

And then they'll grow up.

Yesterday on Facebook, a friend wrote about going to see a friend's band. The musician friend asked for feedback. Critique. Which my Facebook friend, having a bit of a background in music, was happy to provide. The friend in the band shared the feedback with his bandmates.

One of the bandmates was not pleased. He lashed out at my Facebook friend, attacked him personally.


I've been there. Going along, minding my own business, and – wham! – suddenly knocked back on my heels a bit by a blow I never saw coming.

What I learned from that experience is that it's about the person doing the hitting. Their lashing out is about their shit, not yours.

The bandmate didn't like hearing that he wasn't perfect, that he had some room in which to improve.

But that's a good thing.

All of us have room for improvement. If you're at the top of your game, ultimately, the only way to go is down.

Unless you're Springsteen. If you're Springsteen — and only Springsteen is — you're probably going to remain awesome forever. But I digress.

Much is said about this electronic age. It is the great equalizer, right? It gives most everyone a voice. No longer are writers constrained by the whims of publishers. Now, everyone can publish!

Yes, everyone can publish, talent be damned.

Which is not to say that publishers are infallible. They're not perfect at separating all wheat from all chaff. Some books are blockbusters, some books are duds.

Some writers these days just eschew publishers from the get-go and find their audience online. Interestingly, though, those who find success that way are often then picked up by publishers.

Some are picked up because they're truly gems.

And some are picked up because they're potential cash cows.

Fifty Shades of Grey has made a mint for Random House. But everyone I know who has read it – or who has tried to read it – says it's crap. I read a few paragraphs on Amazon. Those told me all I needed to know. Yeah, it's crap.

So why was it such a publishing powerhouse? Because people were intrigued by the topic? I expect so. But bad writing is bad writing.

And I know Twilight fans are very protective of Stephenie but the woman can't write. She can imagine a story, so it seems, but her delivery of that story? I couldn't get past page 23.

Don't get me wrong, encouragement is good. Early on, there's no point in bashing someone's dream before they've really found a footing. But at some point, it doesn't serve anyone to keep piling on the praise if it's not warranted.

Did the offended band member never hear anyone tell him anything other than "You sounded great!"?

Do writers who start off showing their work only to their inner circle do themselves a disservice by setting themselves up to only ever hear "This is so good"?

I am the first person to own up to the fact that I cannot write fiction. Well, no, that's not true. I can write fiction. But I cannot write good fiction. And the world does not need more bad fiction. It has enough of that.

In college, I took a couple fiction-writing classes. They were valuable because having my work read by a varied swath of people, most of whom were total strangers to me on the first day of class, allowed them to be more honest than, say, my roommate would have been.

Most of them were kind, mind you. But some of them were certainly blunt. If they thought something was crap or unbelievable or ridiculous, they said so. And that set up an interesting scenario for all of us: writers who really believed in their work would defend it but they would also refine it. Meanwhile, writers – like me – who were taking the class because it was required, would take our lumps and face the fact that, nope, it wasn't our strength.

Of course, some of us take criticism too much to heart and let it stop us in our tracks. Some of us want confirmation of our talent before we'll proceed. But even that doesn't always matter. Our psyches are fine bricklayers.

But for those who have surrounded themselves with only those who offer praise, the day a voice comes along and shatters that glass house, ooh, that's a bad day.

I feel for the guy in the band, but resistance is good. Having someone tell you that you're not as good as you think you are can make you wither into a place of "Yeah, you're right" but it can also set you up to say, "Yeah? Watch this."

It's not a bad thing to earn the third-place ribbon. It can either fuel you to strive for first place, or it can teach you that your first-place efforts lie in other pursuits.

But treating everyone's efforts the same is a disservice.

I am not a good fiction writer. But you know what? I am a really good baker. But even within baking, I surely do not know everything. I keep finding ways to improve. I've only just recently perfected a cookie I've been baking for more than a year.

I admire folks who persist in pursuits purely for the love of pursuing them. The woman at the open-mic night some years ago who could barely carry a tune was awesome because she stood up there and sang because it struck her as something that would be fun to do.

But I also believe that we've diluted the meaning of talent in a lot of ways. The democratization of the Internet has given a lot of people the ability to put their work out into the world but it has also flooded the field. It's nice to think that good work will always be rewarded but it has to be found first.

Along the way, we've created a culture in which mediocrity is good enough. Or worse, in which bad behavior is rewarded. I flip through channels and see promos of bitchy women screeching at each other and I cringe. Why are we rewarding people who act that way? Why are we sending the message that a reliable pathway to "success" in this country these days is to, well, be the cast of "Jersey Shore"?

Whither talent?

Perhaps I expect too much. Even the Oscars no longer seem a reliable barometer of achievement. Ben Affleck is cleaning up at all the pre-Oscar award ceremonies but he wasn't nominated for Best Director.

His film was nominated for Best Picture. So how can the man who made said picture not be nominated, too?

On Oscar night, no one's going to hand him a "just because" trophy.

But happily, he already has one at home.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Jeff ...

I woke up, having fallen asleep on the couch, very aware of the time.

The clock had ticked its way to just before 1 a.m.

It was today.

Today is the anniversary of Jeff's death.

I made my way through the house, turning off lights, then got into bed.

Lying there, so many thoughts kept coming to me, so many images, so many moments.

I thought about Jeff's laugh.

The dedication of his first book reads:

To my wife, Sherry,
for her love,
her good advice,
and her great laugh

Jeff had a great laugh, too.

There was an intensity to Jeff, ever the reporter, always aware, taking in the myriad details of every moment. It was what imbued his storytelling with so much richness, his ability to recall so much color.

But his laugh was the other side, a burst of delight that was as real a recognition of something wonderful as I've ever heard.

I thought about his office at home, a collage of a room where we would sit in the mornings when I'd be visiting, he at his desk, me perched behind him, both sipping coffee, the world still dark, everyone else still asleep.

I thought about him lying on the sectional in their family room, his BlackBerry on the coffee table, just within reach, his constant need for knowing. It was afternoon, and I'd recently arrived, and he had asked if I wanted some scotch. It was an odd thing to have in common. Jeff never struck me as the scotch-drinking type. But then, most people would probably say the same about me. So in that way, our mutual appreciation for it made sense.

On a previous trip, we had gone to a bar before a Springsteen show and we'd both ordered scotch. It was, as bars go, not scotch appropriate. But then, neither was the scotch. It didn't matter. I was just glad to be there, spur of the moment, as spur of the moment as a five-hour drive could be.

I thought about driving back from Oak Park after he'd done an event for The Girls From Ames. We had a good conversation about work and writing. He was mulling a project. "Your heart's not in it," I said. He could write about anyone or anything, but Jeff's best came from his heart.

When I got up earlier, I went to my bookshelves and took down all of his books that I own. I looked at The Girls from Ames and thought about the dinner we had at his hotel after the event. I couldn't remember if he had signed the copy I had with me that night, which he had sent to me when it was released.

I opened the front cover. He had.

He had written, in part, "... if ever you move to Ames, I promise to move there with you, so our friendship can be assured it will stand the test of time ... ."

That makes me smile now. I'm sure Sherry would have had a few things to say if something had ever taken me to Iowa and Jeff had announced, "Beth is moving to Ames. I promised her I'd move there, too. Start packing."

I shall not be moving to Ames. And Jeff is not here to not move with me.

But I've always known our friendship would stand the test of time.

It has.

It will.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Good Times, February Edition ...

The February cookie installment for the angelo:HOME blog features Tuscan Cookies, not-too-sweet treats with olive oil and rosemary and almonds and wine.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Oh Kevin, My Kevin ...

I will watch Kevin Spacey do anything. I will watch Kevin Spacey wait for a bus. I will certainly watch Kevin Spacey on Broadway. I will repeatedly watch Kevin Spacey sing John Lennon's "Mind Games." I will happily watch Kevin Spacey impersonate Al Pacino, upon request, while seated next to Al Pacino.

Kev is making the rounds again these days, promoting "House of Cards," his original series for Netflix. I am no longer a Netflix subscriber, though if anything could woo me back, it's the prospect of seeing Kevin in something new.

I don't remember when I first fell in love with him, but my adoration goes way back.

In the current issue of Entertainment Weekly, he offers his take on many of his roles over the years. It's a great feature. (And I'd link to it for you if I could find it online. Maybe it'll post next week.)

There are many quotable moments from him – no surprise there – but one of my favorites is: "People ask me, 'What's the most exciting thing about doing theater? Is it the applause? The laughter?' No, it's the silence. It's when you know you have a thousand people on the edge of their seat and they are breathing or not breathing because of something that just happened."

Ooh, I love that. The silence. Awe-induced silence.

And of "Beyond the Sea," he says, in part: "There was some criticism that I was older than Darin. I never understood that. People accept that someone can fly around buildings like a spider, but not an actor who's a few years older than they character they're playing?"

I went to see him when he toured to promote the movie. How can you not love an actor and director who launches a concert tour to promote his film?

And afterward, I wrote a letter to him.

And he wrote back.

Just a very brief thank-you note, but I love that he took the time.

I called a friend the day it arrived, giddy. When I read it to her, she said, unimpressed, "Oh."

And I said, "Oh, I'm sorry, did you get a better note from Kevin Spacey today?"

What's relevant to each of us is relative, to be sure.

Kev is relevant to me.

Someday, I would like to buy him a drink.

Pacino should come, too. That'd be fun.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Snow Clearing: Maybe It's A Gender Thing ...

This morning, finishing my coffee, clacking away, I heard a machine fire up outside. I glanced out the window. It was a guy across the street on a four-wheel ATV with a little snow plow attached to the front. He was clearing the sidewalk.

We had what looked to be about an inch of snow.

When I can still clearly see the delineation of my sidewalks and driveway and grass, there's not much snow on the ground.

I wrote a tweet: "There's a man outside clearing snow with a plow attached to a four-wheel ATV. There's *maybe* an inch of snow on the ground. #oyveyuseashovel" and posted it to Facebook, too.

One Facebook friend in particular got into a good-natured argument with me. A man. He was on the side of all things motorized. I was arguing for manual.

For instance, in the fall, I use a rake to gather leaves. My male neighbor uses a leafblower.

In the winter, I use a shovel. The man across the street wasn't content with a snowblower. No, he needed a plow.

Do I own a snowblower? Yes I do. It is old and cute and one of my brothers got it for free and got it running again with an easy fix. And I have never used it. We can thank climate change and mild winters for that. (I haven't owned it for very long though.) But a couple of years ago when we had the blizzard, it would have been useless to me anyway, partly because it's little, and partly because I would have had to dug a huge path to even get to the thing.

But I own one. It's stored in the back of my garage alongside my lawnmowers. (I own two. I can explain that another day, though I hope you're not so starved for conversation that you want to hear why I have two lawnmowers.)

So there are two ways I could have cleared the snow today.

Option 1

I could have ...

1. ... stepped out of my front door and ...

2. ... walked to my garage (nope, it's not attached) and ...

3. ... compacted the snow with my shoes and ...

4. ... started my car and pulled it out of the garage and ...

5. ... compacted the snow with my tires and ...

6. ... gotten my snowblower out of the back of the garage and onto the driveway and ...

7. ... backed my car back into the garage so I could snowblow my driveway where my car had just been sitting and ...

8. ... snowblowed my driveway and front sidewalk and city sidewalk and ...

9. ... pulled my car back out of the garage and ...

10. ... put my snowblower away and ...

11. ... backed my car back into the garage and ...

12. ... walked back to my front stoop and grabbed the shovel next to it to shovel off the stoop and my few stairs.


Option 2

I could have ...

1. ... stepped out of my front door and ...

2. ... grabbed the shovel next to my front stoop and shoveled the inch or so of snow off my sidewalks and driveway.

I'm pretty sure either option would have taken about the same amount of time.

But with Option 2, I ...

a. ... got a little fresh air and ...

b. ... got a little exercise and ...

c. ... avoided burning any fossil fuels for a job that in no way required me to fire up an engine.

Have you noticed the planet is pretty pissed at us these days? Droughts? Floods? Hurricanes? Wildfires? Ice storms? Blizzards?

A girlfriend on my Facebook page chimed in to say that perhaps some men use snowblowers and the like because they can't exert themselves with shoveling.

And she makes a good point. Even though today's snow was what I call "Hollywood" snow, light and fluffy, like shoveling cotton, not "heart-attack" snow, wet and heavy and dangerous, I grant you.

But the guy on Facebook is my age and from all accounts in fine health so he wasn't arguing that issue. He was just advocating for more power to get a job done more quickly.

So maybe it's a gender thing. I'm fine with taking a few extra minutes to do an easy chore by hand, as it were. (Yes, the aforementioned lawnmowers are gas-powered, though I've looked into getting the electric kind with the rechargeable batteries.)

Yeah, maybe that's it. Mother Nature? Father Time? Women are more nurturing and men like get-it-done tools?

Whatever. I'm happy to shovel.

And when the blizzard struck, I was happy for the three guys who came by in a pickup and offered to help me dig out. We all used shovels. The snow was far too deep for a snowblower anyway.

And that was the best $60 I ever spent.

The Remembering ...

Tomorrow will be four years since he died. (So reads his obituary.) But many of us remember today.

Four years.

I still think about L.A. Dave daily, if sometimes passively. Through his death, I have become friends with many people I would have otherwise not known. Oh, how they enrich my life. Smart and funny and artistic and compassionate people, all of whom were drawn to Dave, some by fortuitousness and some by fate.

Dave was quite a draw.

So much has transpired in these four years. Dave lived to see President Obama's first inauguration. He would have been overjoyed to see the second. The election of our president fueled him with pride and possibility.

If only he'd had more time.

The other day, I was feeling unsettled, and thought through what might be the reasons why and realized that the anniversary of Dave's death was drawing near. The unconscious is a fascinating place, remembering even when our conscious minds have yet to catch up.

I think of him when I make pudding. I don't make pudding often, but when I did, I would call him and we would chat because I couldn't do anything else while standing at the stove, stirring. Dave always hoped I was making chocolate.

I think of him when I want a milkshake. I don't drink milkshakes often, but when I do, I think about a particularly bad day I'd had and Dave prescribing a milkshake. Likewise with the pudding, he suggested chocolate.

I think of him when I bake brownies. Dave loved brownies, though he preferred them without walnuts. It was one of the few things we didn't have in common.

I think of him when I see my neighbor's W flag during baseball season. Dave was the most rabid Cubs fan I've ever known. He would add a W or an L to his blog on game days.

I think of him when I try to decide what movie to watch. Dave was an encyclopedia of knowledge about, well, about everything, but he was very quick to recommend films, usually obscure films or early films, that featured an actor he knew I loved. Before I quit Netflix, I made a printout of my queue. I'm sure at least half of what I hadn't gotten around to watching yet were films suggested to me by Dave.

After the holidays, I sorted through a box of cards I'd been stashing, year after year. I ran across many from Dave. I wish I'd dated them. And somewhere, I have the card that he sent to me that contained a ticket to see Paul McCartney. I had given my pair to a friend who is a much bigger fan and who was shut out of the sale but Dave wanted to make sure that I was able to go, too. As fate would have it, my new seat was in the same section as the seats I'd purchased, though I was several rows closer to the stage.

It's strange to contemplate that I haven't spoken to him in four years, that four years have passed by without hearing "Hi, Beth, it's Dave!" in the way he'd always say.

I wish I'd made more time for him. I wish I'd traveled out to L.A. at least once to join him for his birthday instead of only seeing him when I was there for work.

But I'm glad we had dinner the last time I was out there. I'm glad that we, unwittingly, chose a restaurant with a dessert menu that offered chocolate cake. I'm glad that when I said goodbye to him at the subway, he said, "I love you" and that I said, "I love you, too."

Tell someone you love them today. Don't wait. And if you happen to see it, have some chocolate cake. And a glass of milk.

For Dave.