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Monday, March 31, 2008

There's One Born Every Minute

I hate grocery shopping. Okay, that's not precisely true. I actually don't mind the shopping part, especially if it's a fun store like a Whole Foods, or a farmers market, but I always hate the checking out. As more and more grocery stores add Self Checkout lanes, it seems there are fewer and fewer lanes open where someone will actually help you deal with the PLU#'s on your produce and bag your groceries for you. Not that I don't like the Self Checkout, and I can bag my own groceries like a big girl, if that's the most expedient thing. Only, I buy lots of fruits and vegetables, and I don't have their code all memorized the way a trained professional would. So I don't know that it's any faster.

Anyway, the point of all this is, last week I was standing in the checkout line, waiting for my turn. It didn't take long to get tired of reading and rereading the headline at Hello! and In Touch and whatnot, all about how sweet Suri and shy Shiloh are turning two and about to become big sisters. So I turned my gaze to the candy (because I'm a masochist) and what did I see but a Snickers bar in white packaging. Quoi? I thought to myself. What's this, a Snickers with almonds or something? I looked more closely. (I'm a sucker for almonds.)
And what do you think? It's a Snickers bar called Snickers Charged! And it's fortified with caffeine, taurine, and b-vitamins.

Jeepers. Like Snickers could get any worse for you--now it's got caffeine in it? And what the hell is taurine? Further investigation (thank you, Wikipedia!) reveals that taurine is an "organic acid", and a "major constituent of bile". Yum! I can only assume the good folks at Snickers have included it in their limited-time-only version of a Power Bar because it's been shown in diabetic lab rats to decrease weight and sugar levels. Awesome! B-vitamins, though, that's something that's actually good for you, though, right? Except, since there are like, 22 different b-vitamins, it's kind of hard to know exactly which ones the Snickers people mean. So who knows what you're getting, there.

I almost picked it up, just to see if it would kill me if I ate it--or, conversely, make me super energized, or whatever, because presumably they fed it to lab monkeys and didn't kill any of them. But in the end, I chickened out. Which is another way of saying my common sense asserted itself and stayed my hand. There's a fine line between adventurous and stupid.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Open Letter to My To Do List

Dear To Do List,

It's been a while. I know the number of items has become cumbersome and annoying. But I've got to tell you, I wouldn't drag my feet so much if you'd do your part to make sure that those items didn't each take about five times as long as they need to. Right? I mean, today. I have all these errands to run, and rather than borrowing $5 from my wallet, as he meant to, my husband accidentally threw my whole purse into his car and drove to work with it. Which necessitated me first searching all over the house for my purse, then panicking, thinking I'd left it at Panera yesterday, before finally twigging to the most probable location--Nick's car.

Once I'd driven all the way to his office to retrieve it, I attempted to get back on schedule by picking up the dry cleaning. Should be a quick, easy one, right? Wrongo. The dry cleaners had lost my laundry. After much one-fingered typing by my overly manicured helper, it was discovered that they'd merely been labeled as belonging to a different customer. Great. Good thing that guy didn't come to pick up his dry cleaning in the last few days! See what I mean, To Do List? Bush league.

The last item I attempted today was to remove the ancient, enormous steel freezer from the basement of our old house. Okay, okay, to oversee the removal of the freezer (like I'm going to haul it out of there myself, get real) by several professionals. Only the professionals turned out to be more like a Marx Brothers routine than anything else, and the entire thing dragged on for about two hours. One freezer. Four guys. The freezer almost won.

So you see, To Do List, it's not my fault that *Buy a dry erase wall calendar and some staples from Staples (ha!)*, *Make a decision on upholstery for couch*, *Buy tickets to Virginia for Mama's retirement party*, and *Finish novel* are yet to be addressed. But don't you worry; next time I have a spare nine hours with nothing planned, I'll be sure to get back to crossing things off you.

Hugs and kisses,

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Happy Feet

So, I went to this church service last night where we all washed each other's feet. It was one of those auxiliary church services that I don't normally manage to attend, called Maundy Thursday. Maybe you've all heard of it; I wasn't real familiar with it. Anyway, it's the first night of the three holy days before Easter, and it celebrates the story of Jesus washing the disciples' feet, setting an example of service to others. Nice, right?

But what it meant for me was a) no pantyhose, because how awkward would that be do remove in front of the whole congregation? b) some near-stranger would be touching my feet and c) I'd have to touch theirs back. Yikes. And this wasn't an optional service, I should point out before I start to seem unrecognizably pious--the choir was slated to sing an anthem at the end, so I had to be there. Our choir is small, the sort of group where there's one strong leader in each voice part, and I seem to be it for the sopranos. Poor things. Anyway, it was warmish last night (low 40's seems balmy to me now, can you believe it?) so I just left of the hose and damn propriety. It was pretty chilly, but the water was warm, so that was nice. To combat anxiety over b), I got a pedicure (pic, left) yesterday afternoon, so at least I knew that if someone was about to wash my feet, they were clean already. And then it turned out that I was the last one, so there was no one for me to wash! Which I swear I didn't plan; God was just watching out for me.

No, seriously, it was actually a lovely service. I liked the stuff about helping people and doing nice things for them, and allowing them to do nice things for you. Jesus was a pretty cool dude.

Anybody got any fun Easter plans? We gave up sweets for Lent, so we're thinking about having an all-dessert Easter dinner. I saw fresh rhubarb at the store the other day...

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Blast from the Past

Facebook is a strange and wonderful thing. Since I joined a few weeks ago, at the urging of several friends, I've been contacted by people from high school that I don't even remember. Which is kind of embarrassing. But we didn't have a ten-year reunion, at least, not one that I knew about, so it's been a legitimately long time since I've seen or thought about most of my high school class. But I've gotten back in touch with some of my closest girl friends, as well as the freshman boy we semi-adopted and carted around everywhere with us and it's all been very nice. Then this morning, I got a friend request from the first boy I ever kissed.

Wow. I haven't thought about this guy in years. I was (shamefully enough) 14 before I got my first real kiss (defined as "with tongue") and although we exchanged phone numbers after and struggled through a couple of awkward conversations, it was clear that whatever spark we'd had that one moonlit night had run its meager course. The story goes like this: we were auditioning for the school musical, which, at my high school, was a serious big deal. Many of the cool kids were involved in theater; it wasn't just a dork thing to do. I was still working on finding my self confidence, and I thought maybe I'd look around for it onstage. Unfortunately, it turns out that in order to do well in an audition, a smidge of self confidence is necessary up front. So I didn't do all that well, and didn't make it into our version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. What I did get out of it was Ernesto Lasen taking me out behind the school and kissing me. Ernesto was a good guy (still is, I'm sure), although I have no idea how much experience he had before me. Some, at least, because he was much struck by the idea that he was my first kiss. I remember he thought it was cool, because it meant I'd remember him forever.

And, with a little prompting, I do! Enough to be fascinated that his Facebook profile lists him as living in Hawaii and married. There are also several indications that he might be a bit of a stoner.

So that's my first kiss. Anyone want to share your story?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

New Leaf

I'm turning over a new leaf. I know, I know, how many leaves IS that, at this point? But past leaves don't matter! They're dead to me! I'm starting fresh, and part of that is willfully forgetting just how many times I've started fresh in the last five years.

As of today, I will eat less and exercise more. This is the big dieting secret, by the way. All the Weight Watchers and Jenny Craigs and South Beaches are gimmicks built around one simple equation--put in less fat, work off more calories, and you will lose weight. The gimmicks are supposed to help you achieve that, but I find all that counting points and whatnot distracting. None of them have really worked for me before (although I know they work for many many people, and are scientifically proven, so I'm not knocking them or calling their validity into question, so Jenny, call off the lawyers) and this time, I'm going with a simple plan.

I will be active for two hours a day (which can include things like walking the dog) and I will watch my portion sizes carefully, trying to load up on vegetables and fruits and scale down the meats and carbs. And I'm going to try to eat real food, a la Michael Pollan. In Defense of Food is a very convincing argument for traditional diets (in the sense of a larger cultural tradition of eating). It's essentially eating only things our great grandmothers would recognize as food.

So I'm following this advice: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

(Don't worry, I'm not becoming a vegetarian. I just can't see that happening--I'm sort of morally and common sensically opposed to it. Plus, how can anyone just give up bacon like it's nothing? Unreal.)

Anyone want to add any diet advice? Tips, tricks? Things that have worked for you?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

You Fool, You Really Thought That Was The End?

Actually, so did I. But, unbelievably, I forgot to mention the final two celebrity sightings of our trip! They happened bam bam, one right after the other as we were leaving the hotel. First Josh Lucas, of Sweet Home Alabama fame, was having a serious-looking meeting in the lobby with some faceless person who totally paled into the background beside Josh's rugged, boyish good looks. Although I'll admit I couldn't remember his name right away. I sure recognized those dimples, though! Yowza.

The second sighting occurred after we got into our car with all our luggage and started driving down Mercer. Like every other semi-fashionable street downtown (and some uptown--I once bought two fabulous silk pashminas for $5 each right outside Bergdorf Goodman, where I'd just been inside bemoaning the $600 price tag on the wrap I wanted), Mercer is dotted with street vendors selling everything from hats to handmade jewelry to knockoff designer bags. Glancing out the car window, I noticed the young, pretty girls behind a table of wire bracelets and necklaces grinning like mad and waving. I looked to see who they were waving at, and it was a husky young man in a funny, beatnik hat, all scruffy and kind of Sunday-morning-after-a-rough-Saturday-night, who turned and smiled and waved back. Then it clicked. It was the fat kid from Superbad! And Accepted! I love that kid! Sadly, didn't know his name, at the time, although now I do, so I won't call him "that fat kid" anymore. Especially since he's only four years younger than I am. Jonah Hill, I love you, don't ever change. Wear that goofy hat, and make lots more movies, because you totally rule.

And that (finally) concludes my adventures in New York. But we'll be back again in May! So stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

SoHo Rocks (End)

Nick spent all day Saturday holed up in the hotel room reading a Christopher Moore book and (I assume, based on prior evidence) laughing out loud and nearly falling off the bed every five pages or so. I, on the other hand, pulled a social butterfly and headed out in the drizzle to meet a couple of college/publishing friends for brunch at the Tasting Room. Despite its being a short, simple five-minute walk from the hotel, I got lost (SoHo is super confusing to me--I'm used to the clear, well organized grid uptown) and wandered for a bit before finding it. But eventually, after a helpful point in the right direction from a nice salesgirl at Lush, I found it. The brunch was fantastic (a perfectly fried fresh hen egg with celeriac, salsify, and spinach over grits) and the company was even better than that. We dished and gossiped and got caught up, and it was lovely. I then headed up to midtown to visit with another friend (used to be a sci fi editor, and now works for DC Comics, so he's always full of interesting, weird insider info, not to mention tips on the best video games and upcoming movies and stuff). The hours flew by, until finally I decided I'd better head back to the hotel if I wanted to have any chance of getting cleaned up and changed before our early dinner reservation before the opera. When I got there, Nick was finally feeling relaxed enough to want to go out (plus, he'd finished his book) so we took the opportunity to check out a wonderful independent bookstore, McNally Robinson. Big, beautiful, great, idiosyncratic selection. I found a couple of good research books, and Nick got the new Steven Pinker. They played good music, too! Nina Simone.

I wore a pretty dress, got my resuscitated heels back from the hotel folks, and hopped a cab up to Dovetail, a new local market restaurant on the Upper West Side. Tasting Room was a local market restaurant, too, by the way--check out the photos. Notice anything in common? Yeah. And it's not just the two of them. Every local market restaurant (meaning a place that promotes fresh, local ingredients and seasonal preparations) I went to in New York has an exposed brick wall as part of the decor. There must be some interior designer out there that thinks exposed brick symbolizes a back-to-basics way of relating to food. Or something. Anyway, Dovetail was very nice (I had a brussels sprout salad to start, continuing my campaign to have brussels sprouts every day in NY) although we didn't end up loving it as much as Telepan, another new market restaurant on the U.W.S. The vibe at Dovetail is a little colder, a little more formal, a little more--how to put this nicely?--a little more gummer brigade. We were the youngest diners by twenty years, at least.

The opera crowd, as always, was more diverse. I love how you see anything and everything at the Met, from jeans to floor-length satin. Not as many little kids attended Otello as we saw at Die Zauberflote, however. Otello isn't one of my favorite Verdi operas, but the voices in this otherwise fairly mundane production were phenomenal. The ever-luminous Renee Fleming sang Desdemona with heartbreaking humanity, while Johan Botha was a very pleasant surprise as Otello, with a strong, resonant tenor. Iago, always the best character, was a baritone whose name escapes me, but he was plenty sly and clever, lots of fun.

And that's Saturday! Sunday was the first pretty day we had, bright and sunny and cold, quite windy. We skipped church and met Meg for brunch at Jane, where I had a BLT & E on brioche with lemon ailoi. Meg had the most horseradishy Bloody Mary I've ever tasted! Oh, by the way, I finally found a great homemade from scratch Bloody Mary recipe. Remind me later, and I'll share. That's really about all--we made our plane on time (despite some dicking around with which terminal we needed and so on) and finally arrived home--only to find we couldn't make it into our driveway because of the massive snow that hammered Ohio while we were gone. Snow plows had collected all the snow from our street and deposited it in front of our driveway. There was at least a four foot wall between us and home. But a few shovels and a little help from our neighbors, and we were in. And that's the March '08 NY trip!

Monday, March 10, 2008

SoHo Rocks! (Friday)

Friday dawned overcast and foggy, in a very atmospheric, moody sort of way that actually made the city look kind of great. The forecast was for rain, and I'd cleverly brought my rain boots, so of course, I decided to wear heels out to lunch and gallery hop. *smacks forehead*

This turned out to be a bad decision. After Meg joined us for a fabulous, warm, friendly dining experience at one of my new favorite places, Cookshop, (I had a gorgeous, surprising little salad with chicken, green olives, golden raisins, toasted almonds and a flawless zinfandel vinaigrette--as well as two Gin & Jersey cocktails, yes, it was that kind of lunch) we started hunting around Chelsea for art. There's about a 10 block stretch there that's just littered with galleries, and the walls in our new house are looking very empty, and I'm kind of sick of buying framed posters. So. Real art! Like grown ups! This was the plan. The first gallery we stumbled upon was really the best. Almost more of an art dealer than a true gallery, they displayed art from several artists rather than featuring a single person, and had in stock many more pieces than were out on the floor. They were helpful and knowledgeable, and we loved two of their artists. Both from Maine, weirdly, and it turns out they know each other. Charlie Hewitt (left), who does these extravagant multi-media pieces in bold colors, and Tonja Hollander (right), a photographer whose work is all very dreamy and romantic, which is just what I want for my office. We didn't buy anything yet, but we got a bunch of catalogues, a couple of business cards, and headed out to see some more galleries. We encountered many crazy things, some great, some not, but nothing else that I'd necessarily want to have in my house and look at every day. One gallery we saw was filled with criss-crossed black wire, like a spider web. I'm not kidding, you could get maybe three feet inside the door before you'd be caught in it. Another place featured still from the movie Grey Gardens, which I'd never heard of but which is evidently quite insane. Just when my feet were starting to hurt, and I was reaching the level of fed upedness with the post modern stuff that made it start to look like neon vomit on canvas, we got caught in a torrential downpour. Like someone upended a bucket over our heads. We hid under an awning for a while, hoping it would ease up, but it didn't, so Nick valiantly sloshed out into the street to throw himself bodily in front of a cab and pray that it would stop. Did I mention it was 5:00, and all the cabs were going off duty? Whoever came up with the system where the cabs switch shifts right at rush hour should be SHOT. At any rate, we finally scored a cab and went back to the hotel, where we dried off (my heels were dead, and had to be resuscitated) and had MORE cocktails (this time a strange cucumber martini concoction that didn't really work) before heading out to meet Meg's brother Jeremy and his lovely new bride, Miriam, for dinner at Momofuku Ssam Bar, David Chang's tiny, dark Lower East Side take on Korean Nouveau cuisine. If you don't like pork, you will not like this place. The menu says straight out, "We do not serve vegetarian-friendly items", and it's no joke. Since I happen to love meat (insert dirty joke here), I was thrilled. The menu is packed with tempting options, and since there were five of us, we ordered a big mix of them and tried everything. Meg's and my favorite dish turned out to be the Banh Mi, a traditional Korean sandwich that Chang does with three unspecified kinds of terrine involving offal. It was amazing, rich and flavorful, with bright spots provided by cilantro and chili pepper, and the satisfying crunch of good baguette. But really, everything was good. Everyone else preferred the steamed buns with pork belly, hoisin, scallion, and cucumber (right), which were pillowy and light, stuffed with wicked fatty pork belly that melted in your mouth. The service was a little L.E.S.; the sort of service that prompted Jeremy's "I've got better things to do with my time than be treated like shit by you", but mostly we'd killed several bottles of wine and sake, and didn't really mind. And from there we headed over to Death & Co., where we crowded around a booth in the back and had, you guessed it, more cocktails. I stuck with the champagne drinks, neither of which blew my hair back (one had bourbon in it, which seemed like a good idea when I ordered--I love champagne! I love bourbon!--but turned out to mainly be odd, and the other tasted like it was half bitters, which was just nasty) but the conversation was excellent. When we finally staggered home to the Mercer, it had stopped raining--or maybe I was so happy, I just didn't notice it anymore.

Friday, March 7, 2008

SoHo Rocks!

I'm in New York! We made the flight last night with no delays (goodbye LaGuardia, hello Newark, my new bff) and settled into our hotel on the corner of Mercer and Prince. The neighborhood was buzzing, even on a Thursday night, the narrow, cobble-stone streets clogged with the painfully hip and trendy, everyone out looking for a bite to eat and a cocktail to soak up the day's frustrations.

We found ours at Mercer Kitchen, because we're just lame enough to eat in the hotel long as it's run by Jean-Georges Vongerichten. It was loud and fun, our waitress was darling, and we started things off right with a cocktail involving champagne and passion fruit, and a ginger margarita. (Bonus points for guessing who got what!) For dinner, I had sweet pea soup (must be the first pea shoots of the season, God only knows what J-GV had to do to get them) and slow baked salmon with brussels sprouts and truffled mashed potatoes. I know. Yum, right? It was. Nick had glorified steak frites, with some sort of caramel soy glaze that got all over the steak and the asparagus bed it was served on, and made everything sort of Frenchy-Asian, in that fun Jean-Georges way. A wonderful time was had by the both of us, made even better by the fact that we didn't have to fight our way to a cab at the end of the evening, just stagger upstairs to the elevators, and into bed.

Today we plan to hit Cookshop for lunch with the beauteous Meg, whom we've convinced to skive off work for the pleasure of our company, and from there it's up to Chelsea to troll the art galleries for stuff to fill up our bare ass walls. Wish us luck!

Oh. Wait. One more thing about last night. As we were heading down to dinner, I happened to glance over at the front desk, and who should be standing there in serious conversation with the concierge, but Clive Owen. In the rumpled, work-out-clothes-wearing, still-sexy-as-hell flesh. Yes.

SoHo Rocks.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Home Office

I'm in business! My home office furniture was delivered this morning, at long last, and I'm typing this post from my aerie at the top of the house, behind my big, beautiful new desk. Here are a couple of pictures, one overview, one detail. Don't expect my desk to ever look quite this clean again.

Yes, that IS a startling blue on the walls, isn't it? I've since learned that paint colors look darker when they're spread over an entire room than they do on the chip. I'd sort of heard that before, but I guess I didn't believe it, or something, because my attempt to paint my office a light French blue ended up like...well, as you see. Not so light. I decided to keep it, though. It's cheery and bright (very bright!), and the furniture is dark, so the contrast is nice. And if, after a few months, it starts to drive me slowly insane, I'll change it. As my mama always says, it's only paint. If you don't like it, paint over it.

Which is actually decent life advice, too, when you think about it.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

BBC America

Is there anything more wonderful? Reruns of Coupling, brand new sci-fi Dr. Who spinoff, Torchwood, and my new obsession, Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares. Let take them one at a time, shall we?

Coupling. Often mimicked, never equaled. The incomparable Jack Davenport leads a talented ensemble comic team through a much more realistic look at a close friendship between three men and three women than Friends ever accomplished. I don't hate Friends, or anything, but Coupling is funnier. If you haven't seen it, DVR the reruns--or netflix the DVDs. The first few seasons are the best, because they feature Richard Coyle (center) as Jeff, one of the most hilarious tv characters ever. Completely over the top crazy guy, legendarily bad with women, and all of it played with this disarming, endearing innocence by Coyle. He steals every scene he's in, which is saying something, because the rest of the cast is pretty brilliant.

Torchwood. A spinoff of the phenomenally popular sci-fi series Dr. Who. Torchwood is less campy in sensibility, although not necessarily in terms of special effects, which are typically TV-dopey looking. But since I'm not a fifteen-year-old boy, I don't care too much about that. I care lots more about the fact that the show is based around the mysterious, dashing Capt. Jack Harkness character, BBC's first openly bisexual hero. And not just bi--Capt. Jack will do pretty much anything that moves, girl, boy, robot, alien, whatever, as he and his team investigate supernatural occurrences around Cardiff. And he doesn't have trouble getting dates, because, hello! Adorable. But you know who's even more adorable? Capt. Jack's general factotem
and tea boy, Ianto Jones. Jack and Ianto have an on-again, off-again relationship that the show mucks around with by flogging the possibility of unresolved sexual tension between Jack and the female lead, a sweet but uninteresting girl who has less chemistry with Jack than almost anyone else in the cast. Unlike Ianto, who sparks up whenever Jack is onscreen. Look at that face! And he's got this lilting Welsh accent to go along with it. Yum. I'd smooch him.

And then there's Gordon Ramsay. Ramsay has a reputation as a bit of an ass, which is typical English understatement, because what people generally mean to say is that he's a lunatic bastard. But I actually disagree. On Kitchen Nightmares, he goes to a struggling restaurant each week, and attempts to turn it around by monkeying with the menu, mentoring the kitchen staff, and browbeating management into having the balls to run the restaurant without him. He's extremely frank and forthright, yes. If something is unacceptable, he doesn't pussyfoot around, he says it. But he really works to make these restaurants self-sustaining, and his leadership in the kitchen is not exclusively of the screaming diva variety. He draws out the best in the young cooks with talent, and whips into the shape the ones who think they know it all. It's amazing to watch. Life lessons in every episode, even if you never intend to own a restaurant, just on how to deal with people and how to get the best results. Plus, he's entertaining as hell.

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