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.