Monday, July 28, 2014

Don’t Apologize

“A recipe is not as precise as a chemical formula, since ingredients vary slightly, as do cooking utensils and stoves. But a little difference is sometimes refreshing, and so it will not matter if there is a slight change in the finished product. For example, a sauce or a pudding may be thicker or thinner without being a failure. Don’t apologize! Just present it differently – the softer pudding in dessert glasses instead of on a serving dish as you had planned.”
-       Fannie Farmer, The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, Eleventh Edition (original copyright 1896)

I was in a bad mood: I’d been reading the news after breaking up (again) with my mercurial quilting machine. Cooking when in a bad mood can lead one of two outcomes. When it works, cooking can lead to sublime transcendental enlightenment. The risk however, is that as they slowly go bad, failed cooking experiments can generate a gradual accumulation of nameless dread that eventually coalesces so thickly in the kitchen that it triggers the smoke alarm. So cooking while angry is always a risky undertaking - but one I was willing to take on in my dark mood.

Fortunately, I have the key, to escape the nameless dread. Garlic can make all the difference, and I’m not talking about scaring away werewolves. There’s something about the smell of roasting garlic that dispels the dread and summons the sublime. Thus, my challenge was to make something with garlic. Then, there were the other ingredients to assemble like an offering to the gods of anger: I needed comfort food, aka gluten. And obviously, cheese.

I found this cool spicy hot chili oil and I always have fresh basil on the windowsill although these days, my pot is looking a bit tired. So, why not something in the bread machine that will infuse the kitchen with aromas of mental wellbeing and carbohydrates to accompany my postprandial bourbon. So I made the dough in the bread machine, then kneaded it and let it rise on my counter and baked it on the pizza stone in the oven.

Now, I could follow a recipe. But the entire instigation for this cooking effort was the bad mood. And if there's one thing I hate (and there are many more than one thing) I don’t like things bossing me around – especially non-sentient things like signs and recipes.

It was Fannie Farmer who (I think my grandma told me when she gave me the cookbook for a wedding present) first applied the idea of precise measurements to cooking to make the experience more repeatable – like a scientific experiment – and less fraught with pinches of this and handsful of that. Betty Crocker (not to mention Keith Richards) had nothing on Fannie, my friends, when it came to cooking recipes with precise measurements requiring tiny spoons.

So, I consider a recipe to be a place to start cooking, not and exercise in proving a scientific theory about the thickness of a pudding: one that can be repeated with perfect consistency thereby proving the perfect pudding theory.  If I ever write a cookbook, it will be entitled Cooking While Pissed. Unless Julia Child already named one of her books that because it seemed to me that when she cooked with wine she, you know, got baked too. The fact that I was listening to a playlist heavy on the bagpipes had little to do with either the cause of my bad mood or the outcome of my cooking exercise (or with this post, for that matter).

Which was delicious bread, a bit heavy because I may have added too much cheese, thereby proving the scientific theory that yeast doesn’t make cheese rise. So I presented it as transcendently thinly sliced doughy lumps of garlicy cheese instead of bread, and it paired perfectly with my Sunday evening PBS mystery shows. So I’ve got nothing to apologize for. 

And also, by my second bourbon it occurred to me that my paternal grandmother may have given me a cookbook for a wedding present (thereby dramatically foreshadowing the failure of that marriage) but she might have been ahead of her time, slipping in the rather subversive message that a girl shouldn't have to apologize for her cooking. Thanks, Gram!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Lost and Found

I have always known
That at last I would
Take this road, but yesterday
I did not know that it would be today.
 - Narihira, translated by Kenneth Rexroth

I have a car with a programmable audible navigation system and a map.  In theory, I should never get lost. In fact, I do get lost. Here. In this town where I’ve lived most of my life.

Not hopelessly lost where I’d starve to death and be found in ten years by hikers; or even tragically lost where I’d be found slightly decomposed within days - like the bodies at the beginning of an episode of CSI. But I tend to turn left when my final destination is on the right and I should know this by now dammit.

I could make the excuse about the main highway that runs through my valley is Route 8 – an east-west road that goes from Arizona to the Pacific Ocean. When Route 8 goes through my valley however, it is actually going north to south, making a big zig-zag to take advantage of passes leading into and out of the valley. That also means that the dozens of secondary roads that criss-cross the valley also tend to veer from their primary north/south path to east/west in some places. Or I could admit that I’m directionally challenged, which is why I was such a failure as a professional feng-shui consultant that my clients’ homes were being possessed by evil spirits and demons. 

But now with my navigation system, whose voice is named Louella, by the way, I no longer need to fear this lack of directional ability - as long as I can program in the address of my destination.

At any rate, I got lost coming home the other night after I dropped a friend off in a part of town I rarely visit. We used Louella to get us there, but I figured I’d find my own way home without her guidance. Which I did, eventually. I was weak with hunger and dizzy from low blood sugar, and I seriously had to pee. But I found a new scenic route that covered 35 miles to return from a destination 20 miles from home.

Instead of worrying about getting lost, I can now work on developing my latest superpower: using power tools. I promise to only use my power tools for good, never to do evil, or trepanning, or to slice body parts small enough to fit in my compost bin. At least not until I get a bone saw blade for my reciprocating saw. Sadly, Home Depot does not stock them. But I bet Amazon does.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

She generally gave herself very good advice, (though she very seldom followed it).

Little Betty Winkle, she had a pig –
It was a little pig, not very big;
When he was alive he lived in clover,
But now he’s dead, and that’s all over.
Nurse Lovechild’s legacy - Dirge

While I was occupied overthrowing tyrants, righting wrongs, saving kitties stranded in the branches of tall trees, rescuing damsels in distress, and trying to sleep in, June became July.

It’s not like I need to apologize to my blog for benignly neglecting it; or to explain why my life lately has been filled with horrible medical calamities; natural disasters and acts of a vengeful god; exciting adventures involving unicorns and glitter; travels to exotic locals, culinary experiments that resulted in indescribable bliss, pilgrimages to religious shrines where I experienced a miraculous cure for my lifelong chronic athlete’s foot; or that I’ve finally managed to sleep late. Because who cares, right?

I also haven’t been too busy checking my Facebook page hourly to be sure I take the latest stupid test to find out what kind of musical instrument/kitchen implement/implantable medical device/Harry Potter character, or terminal disease I am. Because the internets are the only path to self-discovery through a dozen multiple choice questions yo. Nor have I been too busy reading posts by people who bloviate about something positively banal (or worse, christian extremism or political folly) and then say “share if you agree”. I do admit I’ve spent some time trying to decide which bothers me more, and instead have concluded that, sadly, I have only myself to blame that my FB page is cluttered with such crap because my choice of FB friends has been a bit indiscriminate and over-hasty. Sadly, herein art imitates life.

More importantly, I  decline to succumb to what I’ve seen so many bloggers do when they revive a dormant blog: whinge about how my recent life has sucked  - as if people might possibly give a shit or send me virtual hugs and relevant googled motivational quotes of which I would otherwise remain woefully ignorant.

It’s none of that. It’s NSA, people. They may be on to me. I think they may know what I had for breakfast (despite the fact that I swallowed the last bite as I finished the previous paragraph, and I already can’t remember what was on the plate). I fear that NSA may have discovered my secret identity, or my embarrassing sexual fetishes that involve plush toys and organic produce, or worse, my real weight.

So I’ve been hiding in my fallout shelter – or whatever the kids are calling bunkers today – reading back issues of The Paris Review and eating bloated cans of spaghetti-Os and hoping I’ll drop off the NSA radar and that my latest flare-up of paranoia will subside. Either that or I’ve been in rehab after one too many drunken blackouts where I awoke next to a dead hooker wearing a bloodstained clown costume, and lost the costume rental deposit because I didn’t use my Oxy-pen soon enough to remove the blood. And don't think I'm stupid enough to commit to the internets which one of us was wearing the clown costume.

Or maybe, - just maybe - I’ve evolved. I’ve taken my own advice that the virtual world is a pale shadow of the real world and I’d rather inhabit the 3-D world and enjoy the clover while I still can. 
Maybe I’ve found my inner deity and reconnected with the earth. 

Or maybe (and frankly, more likely)  I’ve had my medications adjusted to the point where I can actually garden a bit in nice weather without having to spend the night covered in flop-sweat while my pulse tops out at 145 before subsiding enough to let me sleep.

Maybe, I’ve decided that blathering online about my life is narcissistic and self-defeating. Maybe I've concluded that I could be enjoying an actual life in the real world, while the virtual world continues its plummet to hell without me.

( Title Credit: Lewis Carroll. Illustration credit: Yuji Kamozawa)

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Believe What You LIke

Jules Verne: The Trouble with scientists is that they only deal with the facts.
Scientist:  And what do you deal with, Mr. Verne?
Jules Verne:  Something much more important (dramatic pause) imagination.
 -  From The Earth to the Moon (movie 1958)

So I may be stepping out on a limb here, spiritually speaking. But I’ve been thinking of imaginary friends again, and I’m beginning to understand that Jesus is a real person. I'm far from sure about his surname or his legal status.

I don’t know bout the walking on water or the loaves and fishes or the raising from the dead. I’m thinking about imagination. Why can’t some people tell themselves stories that comfort them? If stories of violence can beget violence – as science has shown - then good stories might beget good.

And since we all will die, maybe the good we do is all that lives on. If only we could agree on what is good and what is evil. Too deep for me today. All I know is that today is good. That’s enough.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Madder and Madder

My kitty has a brain the size of a peanut. But it’s a peanut with three nuts inside. My dog has a brain the size of a walnut.  Turns out we may be drifting toward some sort of equilibrium, brain-wise. Because my own brain seems to be shrinking.

I lost a Q-tip the other day. Standing in front of the mirror, I dried one ear. but then when I went to dry the other ear, the Q-tip was gone. Only when I had surrendered to the cruel joke of the universe and reached for another Q-tip did I glance in the mirror and notice the first Q-tip where I’d left it.

So, although I am often mad in the sense of anger at the determination of inanimate objects to fuck with me, it turns out I may be going mad in the sense Alice meant. I’ve always said that which does not kill me makes me madder.  Little did I know, and littler still today.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Spring Cleaning Tour Inside My Head

There is something at the bottom of every new human thought, every thought of genius, or even every earnest thought that springs up in any brain, which can never be communicated to others, even if one were to write volumes about it and were explaining one's idea for thirty-five years; there's something left which cannot be induced to emerge from your brain, and remains with you forever; and with it you will die, without communicating to anyone perhaps the most important of your ideas.”

Do I now - or have I ever - had anything worthwhile to communicate? Generously assuming I might have had something to communicate, could I ever have done so? That’s what I’ve been pondering now that my medications have been tuned up enough for me to ponder a while longer.

I have been planning the itinerary for a Grand Tour Slash Spring Cleaning of The Inside of My Skull. The trip might be as perilous as trying to climb an icy mountain as the globe warms and having avalanches of multi sequiters swallow me like the Ocean swallowed the Titanic.  And by the way, the Titanic might still be afloat if the globe had just warmed up a hundred years sooner.

What the hell am I talking about here? Exactly!

You’ve seen animated pictures of how your brain looks like a network of glowing blue fractally branching threads, connected by tiny pink sparks of thoughts. Not me. Inside of my skull there are a lot of quicksand swamps of digression that will distract me quicker than googling the lyrics to the Flogging Molly song The Worst Day Since Yesterday. (Which I just did. You’re welcome.) And the cobwebs and dust - my lord, doesn’t anybody dust or sweep the corridors and skim the hair algae out of the swamps?

My vocabulary - which once grew (because I am a reader) like the oxalis grew in my once-irrigated front yard, - has begun to wither. Not so much from lack of reading and appropriate irrigation, but because my brain can no longer absorb much nourishment from reading - just like my compacted dead soil can’t absorb much water like in the good old pre-drought days.

Before I settled on the metaphor of an unmapped path through a swamp, I was looking for a metaphor to communicate how things inside of my skull work and what needs to be done to clean things up. I was trying to remember the verb for that that thing you do after you delete a bunch of files from your hard drive. Is it reformatting?  Something that organizes stuff more efficiently on the hard drive and fills in all the blank spaces where deleted stuff was. To zoom in on my brain, I picture my brain’s hard drive as a badly scratched LP record, and the deleted stuff like that smooth spot on a record between songs – only wider and slightly warped from being stored at the wrong angle. And a with slightly sticky patch on the B side that might be fossilized Welch’s Grape Jam and that symbolizes unwise use of substances back when mid-century modern was cool the first time around.

Other times, I’d describe great rooms inside the house of my skull like my real house that is not merely suffering from neglect to the exterior. My brain needs to have more stuff cleaned out and hauled to the dump than The Hoarding Room does (keeping in mind that the hoarding room is bigger than inside my skull but that the relative contents are proportionally sized, but equally relatively overstuffed). And to clean out The Hoarding Room, the best idea I have is to open the door and windows, remove the window screens, and run a fire hose through the door until everything drips out the hole where the windows are. Sure, it would require yet another trip to the dump, but it might be worthwhile. Wait, deadly mold growing in the old wallpaper from water left behind by the high-pressure hose. Unfortunate metaphor.

Then what do you call the action that rearranges the icons on your desktop into some semblance of order instead of like the pile of stuff moved from my back patio into the yard so the painter could put off painting for another three or four days every three or four days for going on a month now? Run on sentence? Perhaps. Good metaphor? Perhaps not. Thought of genius, or rhetorical swing and a miss? Totally.

So anyway, back to the journey down the dusty corridors of my skull that, sadly, has neither glowing blue branches nor pink flashes of genius. I just hit the Great Wall of Responsibility that stands between inducing deep philosophical insights to emerge from my brain (like the termites emerging from this post when the contractor disturbed them by using an electric saw to cut it down) and the crap I have to stop putting off because I’m a grown up and not (yet) like my cray cray puppy pictured above

Instead, I’m stuck here lamenting how I should first dredge my neural swamp, or delete worthless stuff from the LP-shaped hard drive inside my skull, or perform a fire-hose lobotomy before attempting to communicate earnest nonsense.

What I really should be doing right now is taking the pictures off the camera and my smart phone (oxymoron alert!) and into putting them into the demonic iPhoto: a process I still have the mental acumen to metaphorize as trying to teach a peach to parallel park in a car with right-hand drive using a radio transmitting to/from the moon that involves an 11 minute delay between each transmission while trying to work out the moral of Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot (read in Russian) and having a mani-pedi performed by an animal without opposable thumbs. 

Hmmm. Trying to organize my pictures from the hash iPhoto mixes them into might be a good metaphor for a brain in need of an upgrade. And also: sometime in the next thirty-five years, I could really use a mani-pedi…