Monday, June 25, 2012

Holy hills...

Yikes.  Been over two months since I last graced the internet with my presence (other than the embarrassing number of hours spent on Pinterest).  But you know what?  I make NO apologies.  Mostly because… well, I doubt anyone noticed.  THANKS, FRIENDS.

And now, here I am in San Francisco.  I’ve been here a lil’ over three weeks now, and the two most important things I’ve learned so far are:

1)    I sort of forgot how overwhelming it can be to move to a new city, and
2)    I do, in fact, know Eddie Izzard’s San Francisco routine by heart.  And it runs through my head constantly. Saaannn Fraannncisco… town, city of gleaming spires, people live here… Golden Gate Bridge!  Ahh, the Romans came here…

Here.  You should watch the first half.  Then keep reading.

But back to the overwhelming thing –
Favorite bathroom graffiti so far
I don’t know where things are (What the f*** is with the million different neighborhoods?  And why do I always feel like the Tenderloin is just around the corner?)
I don’t know how to get anywhere (busses, trains, light rail, cable cars – CABLE CARS?  I haven’t been on one yet, but every time I see one go by I go back to Eddie: “ Cable cars, they’re fun!  Everybody gets on board and becomes a rhesus monkey. No one talks on a cable car, they just haaang and staaare...")
I don’t know as many people (although I do adore the few exceptions) 
Crashing on couches is lame (but thank you, Mom)
There’s just lots of mooching in general, off the generous and sympathetic. 

Until I find my footing.

Not having my footing annoys me. 
Van Halen in San Jose.  What?
Of course, I mean that in the proverbial sense, but it’s also hard to find your literal footing in this city.  Somehow I’m even clumsier here than I am elsewhere (hard to believe).  I’ve definitely had a few nail-biting, near-ankle-breaking moments already.  I mean, between the vision-obscuring fog and the hills that appear out of nowhere and just keep going up… into the sky… forever...  and never seem to come back down... HOW does that happen?  Sort of like that story every grandfather tells about having to walk 5 miles to school in the snow, uphill both ways.  It’s like that.  But in fog. 

So I’m still feeling a little iffy.  I’ve been yelled at a number of times for doing MUNI wrong, was asked by a panhandler if I was “one of those Teen Moms” and then told to “stay thick” – thanks – and I have learned that finding an apartment here is going to be a million times harder than finding a job.  May need some Jedi mind trick action to knock out the competition... these aren’t the roommates you’re looking for…
Picnic table overlooking vineyards.  CHyeah.

But I also think I’m still just in the mourning period, missing Boston.  I do know how much this city has to offer.  And I have admittedly had a lot of fun so far.  I went wine tasting in Napa, I went to a Van Halen concert in San Jose, I explored Golden Gate Park, I saw a girl running down a hill in very high heels, jeans, and an open Giants jersey with nothing on underneath (what?), I walked down Haight Street and got an immediate contact high, I got sunburned in Dolores Park, I saw many a naked old man at Pride (expected).

Dolores park and cityscape
Just takes some getting used to, I suppose.  In any case, I intend to commandeer some empty houses and apartments for the month of July (with or without permission, BITCHES!*) so it’ll be nice to have my own space for a bit… and then, perhaps, I can follow the trail of organic breadcrumbs to Whole Foods and even start cooking again.  Since we all know how well that goes for me.

That’s all for now.  Here’s the rest of Eddie’s SF routine, in case anyone would like the full version of what runs through my head day in and day out.

*…lie.  With permission.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The One With A Golden Gate Bridge and Chinese Food

Whatever.  I'm still a tourist.  Sue me.
A brief update whilst I gather more interesting blog fodder:

I just got home (a few days ago) from 10 days in the Bay Area, and I can safely say that I’m puuuumped to move out there.  I got to explore the city, see my lovely and hilarious friends and family, and start the ball rolling (or at least give it a nudge) in terms of job contacts, so we shall see how this experiment goes.  As of now, I have a lot of confidence in the idea… not to mention the fact that I’m TOTALLY STOKED to rediscover San Francisco more thoroughly.  What an awesome city.

I guess hoards of angry seagulls are a given after Giants games.
In the meantime, six very busy weeks await, in which I will try to accrue as much of a financial cushion as possible AND try to get as much out of Boston as I can… perhaps mutually exclusive goals, but I have faith. 

I actually have a “Boston Bucket List” of sorts, which includes – but is not limited to – the following:

1)    Freedom Trail.  Never walked an inch of it.  At least, not intentionally.
2)    Walden Pond.  Always been a fan of Thoreau.  And ponds.
3)    Harpoon Brewery.  Cuz I like beer.
4)    Sam Adams Brewery.  See above.
5)    Swan boats.  Boring but classic.
6)    Duck Tour.  Don’t ask me why, just always wanted to be one of those idiots that quacks at the locals.

Anything huge I’m missing?

I’ve also been horrendously out of my healthy-living kick for the last week-ish, so I’m hoping that this busy busy schedule won’t further destroy my progress.  Regardless of the imminent time crunch, it’s time to return to yoga and eating my vegetables.

Consequently, I’ve been ravaging Pinterest, in the throes of a healthy food-finding frenzy.  I’m thinking some lightened-up Chinese and Thai recipes will be showing up blogside soon, since really any style of Asian cuisine can be categorized under “My Weaknesses.”  It's such.  A.  Problem.

A non-sickly sweet sauce
Breaded in whole wheat panko and baked.

That said, I actually made a very successful attempt at a healthified version of General Tso’s chicken a few weeks ago, courtesy of Rocco DiSpirito’s cookbook “Now Eat This.”  

No deep frying or sugar-loaded sauce required, but it still turned out way delicious.  

And, as with any good Chinese food, made for excellent leftovers.

Hokay, that is all for now.  More exciting entries coming soon.  PROMISE.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Time to Change My Tagline...

...Because in a couple months, the current one will cease to be relevant.

I’m movin’ to San Francisco, baby.

I spent several maddening, decision-oriented days going back and forth and back and forth and rationalizing staying and rationalizing leaving aaaand my brain tied itself in many knots.  But after a few days of hyperventilating at the idea of picking up and moving 3,000 miles, I realized – why the hell not? 

Your twenties are the time that you can kinda just… go.  And do something totally different. 

And my momma’s out there, along with the rest of my crazypants / wonderful family.

And my mom and dad lived out there for many many decades, and she still knows lots of people in the area… sooooo hello, Networking.  I’m Marty’s incredibly charming daughter.  Nice to meet you.  A job, you say?  Why yes, I AM in the market!

And so many good friends out there.

AND I love San Francisco.

So there are plenty of good reasons behind it.  But all those said – it’s still sort of a leap of faith.  I don’t have a job lined up.  I don’t know where I’m going to live yet.  I just had a gut feeling that it was time for a … I don’t know, a shake-up of sorts.  And after the panic phase simmered, I started getting super excited.

So, seem reasonable to everybody?  Yes?  Great.

My prediction is that the following two months will be a little bonkers… with three part-time jobs, lots of packing, and seeing all mah buddies so much that when I’m finally out of here they’ll go, “Thank GOD, I thought she’d never leave.  Like seriously, WHY was she sleeping on our couch for the last six days if her lease isn't up for three weeks?”

OOOH, good news though!  I JUST got an email with a totally exciting job opportunity from one “Coral Gilreath.”  Ready?

Good Morning.    [it’s 10:30 PM]
Don't miss superb career opportunity.   [I would never miss superb career opportunity.]
The Firm [sounds legit to me!]  is seeking for [close enough] self-motivated worker in United States to help us spread out our business in the North America area.  [Seems like a reasonable goal.  The North America area isn’t too hard to cover.]
Free instruction possible.  [Like… in anything I want?]
Admirable profit ability.  [Thank god.  I only accept jobs with admirable profit ability, so I’m glad we covered that.]

- 18+ age  [Hey, that’s me!]
- Only basic knowledge of Internet & computer.  [I have a blog, I can work a keyb oard oKayllksgjin0??;]
- 2-3 free hours per day  [Wait, does that mean I’ll be working 21-22 hours?]

Those who are interested must be fair and commerce motivated. Working only some hours per day.  [Now that’s just uncanny.  I’ve ALWAYS said that the best way to describe me is commerce motivated.]
Everyone living in the United States can be our representative.  [Well jeez, Coral, now I don’t feel so special.]
Thank you for your attention.  [You’re welcome.]

I think I’ve found my calling.  …In what, exactly, I couldn’t say.  But I have a good feeling about it, don’t you? 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Marika Goes Giggin'

A harrowing journey.  A raging stuffy nose.  A moderately enthusiastic group of 30 senior citizens.  A girl and her karaoke tracks.

That, in a few short sentences, sums up my gig last week – my 10-song set for the Military Officers Association of America’s monthly meeting.

Actually, it was pretty fun.  But before it got fun, I had to negotiate some treacherous territory to make it to the restaurant, which was in the damn boonies.  The hour spent on the T was fine.  The half-hour bus ride was where it started to get iffy… as the minutes passed, and as, one by one, my bus riding compatriots reached their destinations, there I still was – heading deep into the Weymouth wasteland – until finally, as the last one left on the vehicle, I reached my stop.  Which was literally an intersection in the middle of nothing.  As in, surrounded by dirt.  The end. 

Only moderately creepy.

So I got off the bus, looked around, pictured what I must look like standing in the middle of nowhere in my cute little dress with my makeup all done, and just started laughing… I mean I was like, 80% sure I wouldn’t get kidnapped.  I just started down the pseudo-sidewalk and hoped I was heading in the right direction.  God knows there weren’t any street signs to offer assistance (it’s still the Greater Boston area, after all).

Eventually it became clear that I was on track, but the best it got in terms of civilization along the way was a rather dingy shopping complex, which was actually sort of bumpin’ – apparently, it’s the place to be in Weymouth.  Fair enough, though – it had everything a hip, modern American might need!  A store called BLDG #19 – GOOD STUFF CHEAP, a Dollar Tree, a… uh… “restaurant” called “Frank’s Place,” and a rockin’ arcade that looked like it hadn’t been renovated since the mid-80’s.

Anyway.  On to the gig itself.  Everyone was very sweet, but apparently the turnout for this month’s meeting was about a third of what it usually is – according to the wife of the man in charge, “everyone is still in Florida!”  Which made me giggle.  Again – senior citizens.

So I chatted with everyone, they bought me dinner, and then Mr. In Charge introduced me – “All right everyone, this is Marika.  We met her when she was our waitress on the boat… the Boston— the Spirited— the Boston Spirit?  What was it?  Oh that’s right, the Spirit of Boston.  Anyway, she’ll be singing a few songs for us tonight.  And don’t miss next month, when we’re going to have Miss Massachusetts come and speak!”

… You know how sometimes you forget to think before you talk?  You know.  Like when you half-shout, “Uggggghhhhh REALLY??  I’m SO SORRY, everyone!!!”

To which someone responded, “At least you don’t have to follow that act.”  Fair point.  So, they may forget about me next month as they gaze upon the beautiful face of Miss Massachusetts, but what can ya do. 

In any case, I got up, stuffy nose and all, and did my little half-hour show.  Mostly jazz stuff (duh), but I DID throw in one of my mother’s originals (which was very well received) and closed out the set with the entirely incongruous choice of Dusty Springfield’s “I Only Want to Be With You.”  Which I decided to throw in because my father always said it was the greatest rock song ever written.  Out of place given the jazz-centric set, perhaps, but I dedicated that one to him. 

Overall, it was an entertaining experience.  And people seemed to enjoy it.  Always a plus. 

Also, upon reviewing the recording, I learned that:
1) Head colds and notes at the top and bottom of my range are enemies,
2) I make a lot of really awkward faces when I’m nervous, and…
3) I have no idea what the F*CK to do with my hands when I don’t have a mic.  Lots of weird arm movements, flapping fingers, opening / closing hands for no apparent reason.  Gotta get my stage presence together, that’s for damn sure.

But I did it!  First solo gig ever.  And I didn’t get kidnapped on the way there.  Two big wins in my book.

Just for funsies, here's my mom's original, "Serves Me Right."

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Literary Failures and Musical Procrastination

Baahhh… EPIC fail on the reading-and-writing-more endeavor.

I mean, I wrote something every day... if, of course, you count talking to my friends on Gchat.  Sigh.  Other than that, it was a very lame attempt.  And I got about 5 pages into an incredibly old copy of A Farewell to Arms on the first day of the “challenge” and have not, as of yet, reopened it. 

SOMEONE save me from my computer addiction.  Any thoughts on kicking the habit?

I did make one (rather expensive) effort to tempt myself into reading more – a few nights ago in very sleepy, half-lucid haze, I thought it would be a brilliant idea to buy a Kindle Fire.  Like an iPad, but half the price (which, if you do the math, is still pretty pricey for someone who makes her living on tips). 

That said, I am very pleased with my new toy.  The first thing I did was download all the free books I wanted to read!

…And the second thing I did was install my email and download a bunch of useless apps.  We shall see which element proves more captivating.

This week I’ll read a book.  Cross my heart. 

Other than an expensive new gadget, the big news of the week is that I have a GIG tomorrow.  Yes, a gig.  Like, singing.  For people.  By myself.  For 45 minutes.  And they’re paying me.  What?

The elegant, high-profile event for which my talents have been requested iiissss…. ready for it?

One of the monthly meetings of the MOAA – Military Officers Association of America!  30 people!  70 years and older!  At a bar in Weymouth!  Just me and my iPod!

All right, so it’s nothing huge.  But I’ve certainly never done this before – a whole set of just me?  Ought to be interesting.  True to my procrastinatory (yes, it’s a word… or it is now, anyway) roots, I waited until abooouutttt 15 minutes ago to finalize my set list.  Standard.

I also, of course, woke up with a totally stuffed up head yesterday – so as of  now, my first song will come out sounding much like “Iiii’ve got by loooove to keep be waaarb…”

Luckily, one of the regulars at the Bistro gave me some advice as he watched me sniffle through my shift:

Rob:  You should make a drink, I swear it works – hot water, lemon, honey, and a lot of brandy.
Me:  So then what, I drink it and I’ll just feel better instantly?
Rob:  Well… you’ll be a little drunk.
Me:  But then I’ll wake up in the morning and feel better?
Rob:  Well… you’ll be a little hungover.  But THEN you’ll feel better.

Sounds promising.  Wish me luck tomorrow…

Monday, February 27, 2012

And We're Back...

Aww jeez.  So easy to fall off the blog wagon.

First of all, it’s been a bit of a busy couple weeks.  But more to the point is the fact that I kept looking at my last entry and going, “Well, kind of hard to follow this with an I-went-to-the-gym-today post…”

But, gotta keep it going somehow.  So we forge ahead with a quick summary of the last 11 days –

–  I’m on the job hunt.  Had an interview at a digital advertising agency – which was awesome, and went well enough… but, as tends to happen, my lack of experience is making it difficult for me to find somewhere to get experience.  Love that.
–  Consequently, I’ve been working the “connections” angle, pestering anyone I know that might know someone that might know someone.  Because it is clear, after many applications sent in online to no response whatsoever, that “knowing someone” is the only real option.  Some of those job sites are cruel enough to tell you how many other people have applied for the job you just applied for... REALLY??  I wish you’d told me that 1,000 people had already sent in applications before I spent two hours perfecting mine.
   And along with the blog wagon, I also fell off the healthy eating wagon a bit last week… far too much food that I did not make myself.  I am shamed.

HOWEVER, I got back in the game a bit this weekend.  I made a pizza, with – are you ready? – a crust made out of – wait for it…


Indeed.  Cauliflower.

Grated cauliflower
After yet another battle with the oven (with Noah to the rescue once again, teaching me how to reignite the pilot light), and far too much time spent bent over a cheese grater shredding my cruciferous dough-substitute (time which would have been cut down significantly had I known how to operate our food processor… it really is a wonder how I function in a kitchen…) I emerged with a surprisingly delicious product.

Skeptical... looks like a pile of fried rice...

The crust is only cauliflower, shredded mozzarella, an egg, and spices.  Smashing the seemingly flimsy concoction onto a baking sheet, I was dubious… it seemed highly unlikely that this would cook into something substantial enough to bear the many toppings I had planned for it. 

Looking better after baking, but still skeptical...
Okay, fine.

But since when have I had any culinary intuition?

As per usual, the recipe was right.  I was wrong. It worked and was suuuper tasty.
Recipe wins again.


I also made whole wheat banana muffins!

Blurry and health-tastic
Not quite as decadent as my favorite white-flour-lots-of-butter-full-fat-sour-cream-sugar-loaded-chocolate-chip banana muffins… although I guess they really can’t be compared.  A different beast entirely.  But they’re still way yummy.

So that was the last couple weeks. 

Coming up – I wanted a less-computer-and-TV challenge, wherein I’d limit myself to an hour of TV / recreational internet-ing a day, or something.  But I decided instead on the following – for the month of March, I’m going to make myself write SOMETHING every day (whether it’s blog, journal, or Harry Potter fan fiction… I meeeaannn… what?) and read one book a week, which will, I’m assuming, automatically mean less time being a slug in front of my computer.  So basically, time to add mental wellness to physical wellness.  Because I do not.  Need to watch.  How I Met Your Mother.  In its entirety.  Again.

Backing away from the computer…

PS –  I do not – I repeat, DO NOT – write Harry Potter fan fiction. 

But if I did, it would be awesome.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

If You Were In A Room With Jim, You Were Smiling

We, as a culture, are hardwired to commemorate various anniversaries.  The day we were born and the day we married are to be celebrated.  Other anniversaries are more somber and reflective. Sad, even.  But we recognize them nonetheless – maybe not with grand displays, maybe we don’t verbalize them at all, but we know they’re there. Those dates stick with you.

I didn’t really want to give this day power.  It is what it is, and it feels pointless to pay homage to the pain year after year.  Buuuuttt like I said – I can’t help it.  Hardwired.  And we haven’t gotten to year after year yet – this is the first one.  A year ago today, my dad died.  Though it’s obviously still crushing to think about, that’s the case any day – the year anniversary is also proving to be just… weird.  Surreal.  It feels like it happened yesterday and a million years ago.  Which is not an uncommon feeling, I guess.

So I debated for a while on whether I wanted to, in fact, commemorate the day via blog.  Like I said in my first post, I don’t mean any of this to sound self-pitying, or aggressively melodramatic, or like I’m trying to collect condolences.  I just figured that everyone experiences loss at some point, and so everyone can connect to this in some way. 

And also, my dad was always so proud that I followed in his literary footsteps that I felt I had to post something.

But I decided that what I really wanted to do was bring some levity to the remembrance (which I am 100% certain he’d want) by sharing some of the hilarious anecdotes / heartfelt thoughts that people wrote about him and sent our way last year, highlighting what a brilliant, ridiculous, sweet guy he was.  I laughed and cried my way through reading these again – they are awesome.  So, without further ado…

As Jim was the soul of humor, smarts, wit and ironic insight, it would be hard to pick just one memory.  So saying, what instantly sprang to my mind happened probably 20 years ago.  I was walking in your front door for what would be (I knew) a delicious Jim-cooked feast.  You and your father were on the floor in front of the TV set watching the Evening News and President H. W. Bush was speaking.  As I entered Jim turned to me, eyes alight, absolutely beaming with pride and recounted, “Marika just said, 'Daddy, the President is a pin-head!’"  No father was ever prouder of a three-year-old daughter.

After being dragged up to a cabin in the woods by my family, Jim reluctantly emerged from the car, looked around at all that nature and announced, "I don't trust air I can't see.”

I am a pretty good cook, and Jim once made the mistake of suggesting an alternate way to prepare something.  I did not say anything, I just looked at him, and then he said, after his characteristic pause for greatest effect,  "I never believed in channeling someone, but your mother has just gotten into your kitchen."  My mom was not known for her patience and gentleness.

It was truly beautiful to see the sublime love that he expressed for you and your mother every time I was around him.  I've never seen a man with such a total dedication to family and friends – really connecting with them on the most heartfelt level.

Last summer, your parents came to visit us in LA.  The only condition – set by your father – was that he would cook dinner for us.  All we had to do was round up the usual suspects and provide the kitchen.  They arrived at about 4:00, LADEN with grocery bags  – no doorbell ringing – just them and bags of food.  And not just food from ordinary grocery stores.  No – they had stopped at an Italian market for rice for risotto, some Thai or Vietnamese place for shrimp, an exotic bakery for cheesecake, was it?  Who remembers – at the time, none of stopped to remember each detail.  It was just Jim – his generous, abundant, warm, funny self doing what he always did – feeding us and making us so happy.

Upon seeing Jim’s name as contributor to a food blog while reading a restaurant review on that blog, I asked Marty, “What else does this mysterious man do?”  That helps summarize my never-ending awe, respect and astonishment at his continually appearing facets, layers and interests.

Jim always made me feel better being around him; expressed understanding of my point of view – even if he didn't embrace it; and created a peaceful balance among disparate and feisty friends when we gathered together – all topped with the impish smile of a knowing and benevolent rascal.

If you were in a room with Jim, you were smiling.

Several years ago, we were having dinner and discussing the war in Afghanistan.  We got quite serious discussing the plight of the refugees fleeing over the Kyber Pass and into Peshawar.  Quietly at first and then building, Jim started humming, "My kind of town, Peshawar is... my kind of town.”  That ended the erudite discussion and all descended into fractious frivolity.

I always think about what a supremely unique combination of characteristics Jim had – gentle, thoughtful, intelligent, funny, caring, and quirky.  He was his own man, and not one who met our culture's ideals necessarily (and I doubt he or any of us who cared for him would want him to), yet he still managed to operate with grace and fluidity within our strange and sometimes cruel world.

The thing I loved most about Jimmy was his equanimity.  He could cook rings around me blindfolded, but was so very graciously complimentary about my cooking, even when I naively served Italian to him and Marty.  Then, after my first meal at his house – rigatoni, meatballs, sausage, peppers in a heavenly red sauce – I knew it would be Chinese take-out next time he visited us.  By the same token, Jimmy was patient and generous when he played in our poker game.  I don't think any of us realized how skilled he was, but still he didn't win every time and let others at the table take home a few bucks.  Occasionally.

I remember vividly the goodness in his smile, the merriment in his eyes and the optimism flying off the slope of his nose, the warm and loving feeling he wrapped us in, the blissful comfort foods he cooked for us, his impish laughter and hilarious storytelling, but I cannot remember any of the words...

He was such an incredibly kind man – it's unbelievable the kindness he showed to me.  He went way out of his way to help me, and I was just this kid he barely even knew.

One bit I heard from him at dinner one night was that the only regret he had about living in California was that Marika had never gotten to experience the joys and subsequent well-embroidered stories of sitting at the dining table with all the "old girls" in the family. Marika was sitting right at the table with me and my sister, and then Jim looked around at us, waited a beat and said, "Oh my God!  You guys ARE the old girls!”

The day I met Jim he did the most stone cold, spot on imitation of Mervyn Dymally I've ever heard. Then he said, "Never trust anyone with three Ys in his name."  I knew our friendship had a future.

Thinking back over my fund of Jim stories, the one that I recall most vividly related to the horror movie he wrote for a friend back in the day.  I may have the words wrong but he said something like, “I was watching the movie that I'd written when the fucking mummy started spouting Nietzsche.  I wondered who the fuck had written those lines, because I sure didn't.”


And here’s one of my own, which comes from a home movie of ours.  My dad decided to videotape the preparations for my first Halloween… well, not my first, but the first for which I had any idea what was going on.  I was two and a half, dressed as a tiny pirate (or, as I said with my horrendous speech impediment, “piwate”).  As I was playing with the candy meant for trick or treaters, and I asked, “Daddy, are we going to take the candy with us?”  To which he responded from behind the camera, “No sweetie, because the point of this holiday is to extort candy from other people.”

He could make me laugh just by saying the word “fart.”  He invented characters and voices for each and every one of my stuffed animals, as well as a sock puppet he named “Barfy.”  He spoiled me rotten without actually making me rotten.  He was my mentor and my friend.  And in my 14 years of almost year-round soccer, much of which was played many hours from home, in pouring rain, in scorching heat… the man missed two games.  TWO.  IN 14 YEARS.

I could not have asked for a more supportive, loving, witty, brilliant, generous father.  So this hasn’t necessarily gotten easier over the last year, but we press on.  My dad had faith in me even (and especially) when I didn’t have it in myself – and that’s what has kept me going. 

So, that’s that.  I appreciate anyone getting all the way through any of my posts, but if you made it through this one, special thanks.  And now, my final word on the subject will be the first and greatest lesson I ever learned from my father, and one not to be forgotten –

Never eat anything bigger than your head.

Monday, February 13, 2012

At Least I Don’t Have to Be Picked Up In the Middle of the Night Anymore…

Sleep and I have always had a love / hate relationship.  By which I mean, of course, that I love it and it hates me.  It’s heartbreaking.

Sometimes sleep enjoys leading me on – we’ll be happy for a few weeks, and then out of nowhere… it tells me it wants to sleep with other people.  Ba-dum-CH!

…Sorry.  I’m done.  GOD, I’m a nerd.

Point being, I’ve had sleep issues for as long as I can remember.  I’m sure anyone from Hermosa will remember those countless nights that my parents had to rescue me from sleepovers after I’d tossed and turned in a friend’s bunk bed for hours, finally dissolving into hysterics and sobbing into my stuffed animal that I needed to go home.

Yeah.  High school was a weird time.

…… Juuuust kidding.…*cough* … Moving on.

As a kid, it was the idea of not being able to sleep that sent me into a tailspin.  Ten restless minutes and I would lose it entirely (I was a sensitive little flower…).  Several years later, the causes of my sleeplessness have changed (as have the reactions… mercifully, I do not call my mother in tears at 2:00 AM anymore), but the sleeplessness itself remains.

Nowadays, the problem stems largely from a brain that won’t turn off.  Instead of drifting peacefully into unconsciousness, I start planning for the day ahead.  What I’m doing, when I’m doing it, when I have to leave, why is this song stuck in my head, what I’m wearing, what I’m eating, what’s on my grocery list, who do I have to email, will I have time for the gym, WHY IS THIS SONG STUCK IN MY HEAD??  Aaaand so on.

Then a couple days ago, I stumbled upon an article on entitled “12 Steps to Better Sleep.”  It didn’t address the “active brain syndrome” specifically, but it offered some decent advice.  A few highlights:

   1)    Unplug.  I.e. – turn the freaking computer off.  I have a big problem with this.  I usually fall asleep watching something.  If I can’t sleep, I’ll put something else on.  It’s an issue.  Especially because, according to this article, the glow of electronics mimics daylight.  Which makes your body stop producing as much melatonin.  Which makes you not sleep.  Awesome.
   2)    Ease Up On Caffeine.  I learned my lesson on this on.  No Dunkin’s Medium Iced Coffee with a Turbo Shot after 4:00 PM.  May make work more tolerable, but it makes trying to sleep veeerrry upsetting.
   3)    Don’t Over-Hydrate.  Excellent tip, as anyone who knows me knows it doesn’t take much to make me have to pee every 5 seconds.
4)    Hit the Gym in the Morning.  Workout in the morning – good for sleep.  Workout at night – bad for sleep.  Noted.
5)    Get Up on Days Off.  Getting better at this, but it really is hard to maintain regular sleep patterns when you’re on a server’s schedule.  One of these days, when I have a big girl job, I’ll work this one out.

I may not spend my sleepless nights in a bleary-eyed hysteria anymore, but it still might be time to give some of these tips a shot.  I can’t tell you how many times in the last few weeks I’ve forgotten what I was doing halfway through doing it, and I’m guessing that it’s thanks to overtiredness rearing its ugly head.  In a very slow and groggy way.

And if anyone has any advice on getting your brain to turn off (or at least on getting it to stop playing the How I Met Your Mother theme song on repeat), please feel free to share your glorious nuggets of wisdom with the world by posting them in the comments.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Restaurant-Free Challenge: Complete

Yep.  Thus endeth my two-week foray into a restaurant-less world.

I had one minor transgression – a few bites of (freakin’ incredible) bread pudding at work yesterday – but otherwise, I was totally clean.  Much to my own surprise.

I’m not kidding.  I really thought Thai food would haunt my dreams.  I thought the free / cheap food I have access to at work would be nearly impossible to resist.  I never would have guessed it, but… this really wasn’t super hard.  After a few days of eating well, cooking for myself, and bringing dinner to work instead of waiting until I was so hungry that I HAD to eat there, the cravings that used to overwhelm me so often simply subsided.  Suddenly, I was content with whatever half-ass meal I’d made for myself.  Why, a peanut butter and banana sandwich, you say?  Sounds amazing!  The same turkey burger I’ve made four days in a row?  Absolutely!

(Okay.  That’s a slight exaggeration.  Obviously I did some mildly interesting cooking, and learned how to work with the basics a bit better to add some excitement to my go-to meals.  But it’s not like I was whipping up feasts on a daily basis.)

In any case, I stuck it out.

Maybe it worked because I had the blog to keep me accountable.  Maybe I’m just in the right mindset now.  Or maybe I’m just so damn stubborn that it was almost fun to be the obnoxious one responding to dinner invitations with, “I’ll sit with you, but I already ate.” 

Doesn’t matter.  Now, I finally have to admit it – contrary to everything my inner-fat kid tells me, eating better really does make you feel better.  Less sluggish.  More alert.  Less cranky.  Yadda yadda.  Fine.

Not to mention the fact that I dropped five pounds in what felt like ten seconds and probably spent way less money than I would have otherwise.

Sidenote: my last official dinner of this self-imposed challenge was actually NOT half-assed!  Not difficult, really, but not a peanut butter sandwich…

Boy, do I take an awful picture.

Voila.  Lightened up chicken parm with whole wheat spaghetti – or, as I used to refer to it as a child, “sticky-up noodles.”

Mmmmmm… sticky-up noodles….

So, of course, I can’t keep this restaurant-less business up forever… nor would I want to, because
a)     I love food too much, and
b)    I would really start to annoy the crap out of my friends

That said, it’s definitely good to know that I don’t, in fact, need to hit up every other day to be satisfied.

Curry Thai will be devastated, of course.  But such is life.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Squash Explosion Imminent

I was told that spaghetti squash was the perfect low calorie substitute for spaghetti.  Mild enough in taste that it could pass for noodles – particularly once drenched in pasta sauce – with a texture that would faithfully mimic that of spaghetti.

I was lied to.

I’m sorry, but if you’re eating spaghetti squash covered in tomato sauce and you think it tastes like the real deal, you clearly have not met real spaghetti.

It doesn’t taste like spaghetti.  It tastes like squash.  Very stringy squash.

Fortunately, I happen to like squash, so no taste buds were harmed in the making of this meal.

Some squash-cooking research led me to decide that the best method was to bake it whole… but not before violently attacking it with a knife to prevent a squash explosion.  Miracle I made it out of this step with all my fingers, really. 

Then, since everything in this building enjoys f***ing with us, the baking idea was foiled by an oven that decided to give me the finger and take a nap.

(For context: our apartment is full of clunkers when it comes to appliances – heaters that make the electricity short out, stovetop burners that fill the kitchen with gas but never turn on, overhead lights that spontaneously combust… yes, that has happened… and, of course, an incredibly finicky oven.)

In any case, I decided to microwave the little sucker.  For about 15 minutes.  At which point it cracked open (not supposed to happen), so I figured it was about done.  I scooped all the stringiness out – about 2 cups’ worth – and topped half of it with sauce and chicken. 

Not spaghetti.

So, fine.  It wasn’t spaghetti, but it was damn tasty anyway.  A new favorite f’sho.

Looks like a bowl of mush.  But a yummy one.

Another new favorite of mine (and I think I’m a little late in the game on this one) is quinoa.

Quinoa.  Pronounced exactly as it’s spelled.  I promise. 

Yet again, slightly blurry.  This camera freakin blows.
Seriously.  Go into Whole Foods and ask where they keep their quinn-oh-ah and you’ll get almost as fun a reaction as when my mom tries to order something containing the word “chipotle” at a restaurant.

I use it in the place of rice, obviously, but ALSO discovered a recipe for “Breakfast Quinoa” – boiled in milk instead of water and topped off with some brown sugar, cinnamon, and blueberries.  I used WAY less sugar than Martha Stewart suggested and it was still a little too sweet for me, but other than that I was a fan.

And last but not least in this week’s kitchen crusades waasss… pancakes.  Heck yeah.

But not just any pancakes.  Whole wheat pancakes – high in protein, fiber, and deliciousness.  

Disaster looms...

Of course they’re not going to come out looking like the big, fluffy buttermilk pancakes I crave so regularly – I have flipping issues, so many times I wind up with double-deckers after having flipped one on top of the other, or they’ll have that gentle slope that comes from being tossed into the side of the pan – nor will they taste quite like restaurant pancakes.  But they were, I’ll admit, a really solid (and healthy) Option B.  

Crisis averted!
And, bonus points, if you make the whole batch, you can freeze the leftovers and they’ll actually microwave to pancake perfection at a later date.

And pure maple syrup.  Yyyyyes.
Nothing particularly groundbreaking, it’s true, but this is coming from the girl who has, in the past, been too lazy to microwave canned soup.  Any meal that contains more than two ingredients and / or touches a stove...?  I count that as a win.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Yoga: It's Not the Worst.

Okay.  Fine.  After giving it a try a few times, I will begrudgingly admit that yoga does not suck.  In fact, I kinda like it… under the right circumstances.

I’ve been to two classes in the last week – both billed as vinyasa yoga, but with two different instructors.  And what I’ve learned from this two-class wealth of experience is this:  not all yoga instructors are created equally not douche-y.

Instructor number one:  laid-back British lady.  Focused on teaching and helping perfect poses and sequences of poses.  Walked around the room and offered assistance.  Complimented my form twice (maybe that’s why I liked her…).  Referenced the spiritual side of yoga but did not harp on it (no, THAT’S why I liked her… but also the compliment thing).

Instructor number two:  spent an hour and a half lecturing the class about the spirituality of it all.  Very few actual poses.  Mostly just a series of movements while balancing on one foot at a time.  Compared us to flowers, various animals, and the wind.  He told me to “relax my cell membranes.”  I told him to shove it.

…I didn’t actually.  But I wanted to.

Now, I understand that half of yoga is the spirituality of it, and many many people swear by it for that reason.  I absolutely respect that, although personally I’m, uhhh… noottt super spiritual.  Instructor number two was (duh), but that wasn’t the problem.  I’m sure every yoga class is going to have a spiritual component to it. 

But I’m sorry, I really can’t help myself – when someone starts taking about letting your energy flow through your fingertips, imagining you’re a flower who needs to detox after hibernating all winter, relaxing your cell membranes… my eyes just start rolling uncontrollably. 

Luckily, I was in the back corner of the room where no one could see me being a douche.

That all said, there are some things beyond the physical aspects of yoga that I can appreciate.  Centering yourself, being in tune with your mind and body, a certain degree of meditation – this I can get behind.  Even after the class I didn’t like as much I left feeling better and calmer.  I think all fitness classes benefit the mind because they have that element of focus, but somehow the atmosphere of a yoga classroom lets you relax even when you want to die because you should NOT have tried that backbend.

Sooooo fine, all you yogis.  You win.  Consider me a convert.

Sidenote:  During class #2, I spent an hour and a half doing quite well in various one-footed positions.  When we finished, I stood up to put my shoes on aaaand immediately toppled over.  Because I am nothing if not graceful.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Culinary Adventures

Today, I begin with four heartfelt words – f*** you, Whole Foods.

To be fair, I mean that less towards the establishment itself and more towards the inevitable end result of my trips there.

Every time – every DAMN time – I walk into Whole Foods simply intending to buy, oh I don’t know… some apples and a carton of milk… I walk out many tens of dollars poorer, but with many pounds of organic-y goodness in tow. 

Today, for example, on my way back from the gym (took my first “cardio kickbox” class this morning, and consequently hate life very much), I strolled (hobbled) into Whole Foods with the aforementioned apples-and-milk grocery list in mind.

Aaaaand this is what I walked out with:

That big yellow thing on the right?  Spaghetti squash.
Stoked to try it.
Don’t look at me like that, it’s all health-tastic and I felt a range of good ingredients would help me refine my budding cooking abilities in this restaurant-free challenge.  

(I also bought an organic kitty, but he wouldn't pose
with the rest of the groceries.)
Incidentally, the restaurant-free challenge is four days in and going strong (much to my own surprise).  I mean, I haven’t done MUCH cooking yet other than my daily breakfast…

Scrambled eggs, baby spinach, grape tomatoes, avocado.
Occasionally wrapped in a tortilla if I'm feelin' carb-y.
I did, however, also made a contribution to my friends’ nascent club, currently identified as “Food Group,” in which each participating chef is given the monthly “mystery ingredient” – yeah, we’re all Iron Chef and s*** – and assigned a course in which they must utilize said ingredient.  This month’s ingredient of choice was vinegar.  I was assigned the hors d’oeuvres.  And while the rest of my very organized friends had their recipes planned out several days in advance, I, the eternal procrastinator, decided on my plan of action the morning of the dinner – spring rolls, with a rice vinegar-based sauce.  Minimal cooking.  Loves it.

The spring rolls were easy enough, other than those little douche spring roll wrappers being occasionally feisty.  The sauce looked simple enough as well, so off I went, boiling peppercorns in vinegar until it reduced and then adding some ketchup, just like the recipe told me.  I let it simmer.  I tasted it.  And my reaction was essentially this:


And so Noah, my lovely chef of a roommate, swooped in like a curly-haired Superman and saved the day with ginger and garlic.  Et voilá – delicious sauce. 

And then there was today’s dinner, which was actually rather miraculous.  Miracle number one was that I turned down going out to a restaurant. 

Actually, that’s a lie.  What happened was this:  boyfriend wanted to get dinner, to which I gave a shaky response of, “Ehhh wellll I kiiinda want to stick to this no restaurant thing, buuutt I also don’t want you to go hungry… so, we can go out.”

Why yes, that IS a blurry picture of me cooking.

Thankfully, he decided to brave my cooking.  What a nice guy.  Didn’t stop him from giving me nonstop crap during the process, of course.

Stew portion
So what I decided to attempt was a healthier version of a childhood favorite of mine – chicken and dumplings.  It used to be my #1 request for my gourmet chef of a father, up until just a few years ago.  It was… just… awesome.  Stew-y and gooey and delish.  Such fond memories of helping him make it.  And of course, of eating it.

Enter: dumplings.

Today's culinary adventure began, unsurprisingly, with half an hour of badgering Noah with yet more cooking questions.  But while he talked me through the beginning stages, I actually did the rest of it on my own – and I am delighted to say it did NOT crash and burn!  In fact, it was pretty solid.  I cooked it a little long so there wasn’t much actual stew left, and the dumplings were just a tad dry, but taste-wise it was pretty on point and overall I think it was a damn good first shot.  And it was Noah and Devin-approved, so… that’s a success in my book.

A little brown on the bottom,
but a lot delicious everywhere else.

Thanks for the inspiration, Dad.  I think you woulda liked this one.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Challenge Accepted

One of my favorite pastimes is reading article after article about healthy eating.

I subscribe to a newsletter entitled “Eat This, Not That.”  I frequent, I’ve read hundreds of accounts on the healthiest foods in the world, foods you should eat every day, breakfasts that flatten your belly.  Which foods will speed up metabolism, slow down aging, give you energy.  I read ‘em all.  I absorb the information.  I get inspired.  I vow that tomorrow I will take the first steps on the road to ultimate health food-ness.

And then tomorrow comes.  I wake up determined.  I roll up my sleeves… aaannnnddd never implement any of it.

Okay, that’s not an entirely fair assessment.  I’ve definitely tried to be better about making my meals at home healthy ones.  My grocery lists are always very wholesome, but I’ll keep up my determination for two days… then maybe one more lunch… and then by the following dinner… disaster.

All.  I want.  Is Thai food. 

Yeah.  I found a random picture of pad thai.
Don't tell me it doesn't look delicious.
Peanut sauce beckons to me.  What I wouldn’t give for just one drunken noodle.  My palate aches for subtle citrus and creamy coconut flavors of tom kha gai.  And Grubhub – that fiend, that little devil on my shoulder – makes it horrifyingly easy satisfy my cravings.  Why, Grubhub?  WHY?

So now, I feel it’s time to back away from the curry and embark on my first self-imposed challenge – ban the restaurant food.  Because Thai isn’t the only culprit.  In general, eating out is standard for socializing.  My roommates and I have an alarming weakness for wings.  My boyfriend and I order pizza all too regularly.  There are culinary dangers around every freakin’ corner, and what am I supposed to do, NOT eat them?? 

…Challenge accepted. 

No restaurant food for… I don’t know, what do you think?  Two weeks sound reasonable?

Not too hard, right?  But of course, here’s the truly challenging part about this – I work at a restaurant.  Two, in fact.  Which means a few things:

1)  I generally leave for work at 4:00 and get home anywhere between 10:00 and midnight.  Tough to get in a nice homemade dinner with those hours.
2)  I get to eat food at said restaurants at little or no cost, which makes my frugal side suddenly veeeery hungry, even if the rest of me is not.

To counteract all that, I guess what I’ll have to focus on – beyond healthy cooking for myself, of course – is timing meals / snacks appropriately and cost-effective grocery shopping.  Yes?  Yes.  Time to put my wealth of healthy-eating knowledge to use.  We shall see how I fare...

Cards on the table, I was going to start today, but after working all morning on an empty stomach I decided to get just a little something at the Bistro. 

So naturally, I had a giant bowl of linguini bolognese.  Like… GIANT.