Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Kitchen experiment #1: Peachsauce?

Most of the people who know me know that I don't eat red meat. A lesser known fact is that as a middle/high school student, I didn't eat white meat, either. I started eating it again when I started college and moved in with my friend Tracy. I'm kind of lazy, and really enjoy food. Therefore, I'm perfectly content to let someone else cook for me (hint, hint). And Tracy's a damn good cook. So, because I didn't want to be a picky pain in the ass, I started eating white meat when we moved in together four years ago.

But since moving back to my parents' house little over a year ago, I've been on my own a lot for meals. There are a couple of reasons for this: 1) I work in the evenings, so frequently miss dinner, and 2) My parents, unlike me, enjoy normal American cuisine (hamburgers, hot dogs, etc).

So I've been living off Annie's mac & cheese. And since I'm so often on my own food-wise anyway, I figure I ought to get creative: spend some time experimenting in the kitchen, and maybe go back to a meat-free diet.

It's not exactly "going vegetarian" because I refuse to give up seafood. (What kid of seafood enthusiast would I be if I did that?) But I still think that it'll be healthier.

And more interesting.

My plan is to make something new every week or so, and record my thoughts here.

Starting right now.

Today I made some peach/ginger soup. It's served cold. I got the idea from my friend Sarah, who made some for a potluck she went to recently. She lives in Stillwater, Oklahoma; it gets unbearably hot there at this time of year.

The recipe calls for the following:
  • 2 and 1/4 pounds of fresh peaches-- peeled, pitted, and chopped
  • 3/4 teaspoon of ground ginger
  • 3/4 cup, 2 tablespoon, and 1 teaspoon of heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon rum
But Sarah told me that she replaced the cream with coconut milk and the rum with white wine, so I did the same. Replacing the cream with coconut milk made it vegan (my whole point in doing this was to be healthier). And wine costs a lot less than rum. Win, win.

I spent a million years chopping peaches. Note to self for the future (because I will totally be making this again): Find a more efficient way to chop things.

Anyway, once the peaches were chopped up, I ground some ginger, and tossed them both into the blender. I have this handy "puree" button, so I pressed that until it turned to mush. Then, I mixed it in a bowl with the coconut milk and wine, and stored it in the fridge.

A couple of hours later, I ate it.

It had the same consistency as applesauce. I understand why people make this in the summertime; it was super refreshing.

The only thing I'm sad about is that I made only four servings-- I was afraid to make more in case it sucked. But it didn't suck. And I want some more.

I'm glad that my first kitchen experiment turned out well (I know, I know, I didn't use the stove and therefore didn't even have the opportunity to burn anything). But I'm encouraged anyhow, and will be back at this again soon. :)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Happy birthday to my tote bag. :)

If you've seen me at all within the past year, you've undoubtedly also seen my tote bag. It has become a staple of my wardrobe and therefore deserves its own blog post. It celebrated its first birthday this week.

I bought it last summer in Yellow Springs, Ohio because I thought it was cute and I love tote bags.

No, really. I fucking love tote bags. I own about a zillion of them, and until this time last year, switched them out pretty frequently.

Some of my favorites:
  • the white one covered in spoons
  • the mustard-colored one with a record on it (love both mustard & music)
  • the Chantal Kreviazuk one (as I said, I love music)
  • the Theodore Roethke one (because I also love poetry)
This tote bag, though, has topped them all. I'm not sure how this happened. Maybe it's that it fits over my shoulders in such a way that I don't feel like I'm carrying it; instead, I feel like I'm wearing it. Or maybe it's that the straps are so wide that there's plenty of room for me to add personality to it with buttons.

Some buttons that have lived on my bag within the past year:
  • a pink breast cancer awareness pin
  • a pin that says "I <3 pro-choice girls" on it
  • a pin with one of my favorite Audre Lorde quotes on it: "Your silence will not protect you."
  • an LGBT pride ribbon
  • a pin with the original cover of _Beloved_ by Toni Morrison on it
  • a silver ribbon "Trust Women" pin
Or maybe I just love it because I don't have to worry about whether it matches my outfits-- the damn thing doesn't even match itself.

It looks a little more tired than it did a year ago, but it's still goin' strong. The zipper's broken and there's a little hole on the front of it. My cats decided that the tassels make good cat toys, so those are pretty frayed, too. And the inside is filthy, thanks to the frequent explosions of mini lotion bottles.

But I still manage to get compliments on it pretty frequently, in strange places to boot. A few months ago, I was walking to work. And I was crossing the street in front of a car parked at a stop sign. The woman driving the car rolled down her window, told me that she loved my bag, and asked me where I got it.

This question often leads to interesting conversations, because Yellow Springs is yarnbombed and wonderful.

I work as a nanny, basically. I avoid using that word because it makes me feel a lot older than I actually am. But it's a more accurate term than "babysitter," because it's a regular, structured gig. I take the four-year-old with me to pick up the seven-year-old from school, feed them an after school snack, cook them dinner, bathe them, and put them to bed-- all before their mom gets home at 9:30.

The tote bag has come in handy on multiple occasions-- usually on trips to the playground. People seem to think it's hilarious that I've pulled juice boxes, children's books, and toys from a bag that's so weird-looking and, thanks to my buttons and pins, loudly political.

Especially in a town like Grosse Pointe, MI.

Maybe this is my way of yarnbombing a town that really needs some color and life and fun and ridiculousness. I do my thing and it's fuckin' weird but people seem to like it.

It's strange, the things that'll end up making your day.

Or entire year, in my case.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Lollapalooza and other Chicago adventures

Aside from the fact that I came home from Chicago to news that my cat had passed away while I was out of town, the weekend was fucking awesome.

Going to Lollapalooza was my friend Toni's idea. She spent last summer campaigning for someone who ended up not getting elected, so decided that this summer, she deserved to have as much fun as possible.

So I spent months being a hermit in order to be able to afford to go with her.
And damn, was it worth it.

Toni was excited for Lollapalooza itself, as was I. But I felt oddly luckier than her, because I had another good reason to visit Chicago. My friend Stephanie lives there. I've written about her before-- a fellow feminist and poet, she has long been a great source of sanity for me.

A few months ago, she started a literary collective called the West Side School for the Desperate, and offered to let Toni and me crash there for the weekend. I'd been really curious to see it; from talking to her, I knew that it wasn't a normal apartment. But I didn't really know what to expect.

As it turns out, the WSSD is actually listed as a commercial property. It used to be a Good News Bible Church (lulz), and before that, was a bakery. Now, Stephanie and her roommates use the main area as a performance space. Near the back of said performance space, there's this tiny door leading to a kitchen. There's a bathroom back there too. And they sleep in what I guess used to be closets. The walls to those rooms don't go all the way to the ceiling. It's hard to explain without a visual. But it's really interesting and open.

The night Toni and I arrived, Stephanie and her roommates were hosting a poetry workshop at the WSSD. So we sat in on it. It was a weird experience for me, in both good and bad ways.

One of Stephanie's roommates Julie (who also went to high school with us) has a background in visual art, not poetry. But she still wanted to find a way to contribute to the workshop. So she handed each of us a piece of surrealist art and had us write poems about them.

I hadn't written a poem in a very long time, and doing so felt really good.

Workshopping others' pieces was another story. Toni realized just how much of a nerd I was in high school, because I explained to her that that's all I did in my free time. But I hadn't taken part in a productive workshop session since early 2009, so when Stephanie put me on the spot and asked for my opinion on someone's piece, I stumbled through a response. It was weird, because that's something I used to feel confident about.

After the workshop, we all wound up at a nearby karaoke bar, and after a couple of pitchers of beer, Stephanie and I sang "Fuck and Run" by Liz Phair together. It's good to know that even though I've not been active on the poetry scene lately, Stephanie and I are still close-- even though our interest in poetry is the reason our friendship developed in the first place.

The next day, Toni and I finally headed off to Lollapalooza. But not before a delicious lunch at a sushi place across the street from Grant Park.

I love hanging out with people who love seafood as much as I do.

That day, we saw The Kills, The Mountain Goats, Crystal Castles, and Ratatat. The last one was probably my favorite. The only group that was sorta disappointing was Crystal Castles, if only because they stopped playing abruptly and disappeared forever and no one knows why or where they went. :-(

I think Toni and I were both surprised at how utterly exhausted we were after our first day at Lolla. Having been on our feet all day, we literally limped back to the West Side School for the Desperate-- arriving, appropriately, both looking and feeling pretty desperate. We slept for 600 years that night. It felt awesome.

The next day, Toni caught a train to Oak Park to meet up with her aunt for lunch. This gave Stephanie and me some time to spend alone, which was nice.

A few years ago, Stephanie and I got together on Christmas Day and watched a few episodes of "Curb Your Enthusiasm." One of the episodes we saw was the one about the Larry David Sandwich. In it, Larry has a sandwich named after him. And he's disappointed, because the sandwich is made up of whitefish, cream cheese, and capers. And who the fuck likes those things?

Stephanie and me, that's who. We were like, "Man. People need to stop hating on the Larry David Sandwich. That shit sounds delicious."

We proceeded to raid her parents' fridge for fish. This was especially hilarious because her family had just eaten Christmas dinner, so there were piles and piles of delicious leftovers for us to eat. But did we want any of it? No. We wanted whitefish.

For the record, we didn't find any, and ended up eating leftover ambrosia instead (mmmmm). But since then, we've said that we'd someday eat seafood sandwiches together.

Soon after that, Stephanie discovered a classy sandwich shop in her Chicago neighborhood. She has been nagging me for literally years now to come visit her so that we could eat delicious sandwiches together there.

One in particular is named after Alice Walker. It contains salmon, avocado, cucumber, feta cheese, and wasabi mayo.

So, needless to say, we officially (finally!) declared Saturday, August 6, 2011 "Sandwich Day," and went to this sandwich shop together. And I ate an Alice Walker sandwich and my life was forever changed.

After that, I met Toni downtown for more Lollapalooza madness. We saw the Black Lips, Death From Above 1979, Ellie Goulding, and Beirut. Again, the last one was my favorite, mostly because they played an encore, which is virtually unheard of at Lollapalooza.

Sunday was pretty intense. Stephanie took us to a classy breakfast place for crab benedict. Except they were out of crab benedict. :-( So we ate various other delicious things instead. And then Toni and I headed off to Lollapalooza, day 3.

We got drenched, and our electronic devices (namely my cell phone and her iPod) were taken as casualties. But it was my favorite day of the festival.

We saw Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. in the blazing sun. They did a rock cover of "I Will Always Love You" by Whitney Houston, which was the most hilarious thing I have ever experienced.

And then the clouds rolled in and the temperature dropped 10 degrees. During that time, I ate a delicious vegetarian wrap thing that completely blew my mind.

All I care about is food. Don't judge me.

We headed off to see the Arctic Monkeys, and that's when it started pouring. It poured for at least half an hour, which was long enough to turn the ground to muddy mush. Also, our clothes were completely soaked through.

I danced in it, because I have no shame. You have not lived until you've experienced an outdoor concert in the pouring rain. Just sayin'.

But that was just the beginning. The skies cleared (there was even a rainbow), and once the Arctic Monkeys finished their set, we wandered over to another stage to see Explosions in the Sky.

After that, the skies darkened again and it poured even harder than it had the first time. The whole park flooded. We watched the Foo Fighters from a distance and then got delicious falafel pitas. (Yeah, yeah, yeah, more food.)

We heard the Cold War Kids playing nearby, but didn't stick around long enough to figure out whether they played "Hang Me Up to Dry." It would have been extremely appropriate.

We found our way back to Stephanie's, where we took turns showering. Stephanie had milk and cookies out for us, which was super cute, and then we went to bed at 11 p.m. because we're old and boring.

And that, my friends, was my Lollapalooza/Chicago adventure. It was both excellent and delicious, even if it ended badly.

I'm not just referring to the death of my cat.

When my mom heard about my waterlogged cell phone, her solution to the problem was to dig through drawers until she found my very first cell phone (circa 2005). She took it to Verizon and got it activated for me.

So until it's time for an upgrade, that's what I'll be using, I guess. Lollapalooza and Mother Nature teamed up to force a reunion between me and my 16-year-old self.

Never thought it would have ended that way, but okay. I still count the weekend as a win.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

RIP Mac, 2002-2011

I spent the weekend at Lollapalooza in Chicago, so had been planning a pretty epic post about that. And maybe I'll still write it. But not right now.

Because when I got back to Michigan yesterday, I received some terrible news. My mom picked my friend Toni & me up from the train station, and of course, the first words out of my mouth were, "How's Mac?" Just a few hours earlier, I'd updated my Facebook status with, "I'm on a train now, headed toward home. Although I would have liked to spend more time in Chicago, I'm very excited about reuniting with my cat."

My mom told me that she knew I'd ask about Mac, and then said that she'd been dreading me doing so. She pointed to a box of tissues by my feet and told me that Mac had died over the weekend.

Although I knew she'd never joke about something like that, I spent a few moments in the "Are you fucking serious?" stage. And once it sunk in that it had really happened, I cried for what felt like ages. I felt guilty for not having been there when he died, of course. And the night before we'd left for the train station, Toni and I had camped out in my basement, watching Bette Davis movies on TCM. So Mac hadn't slept in my bed with me like he usually does. It had crossed my mind to go upstairs, find him, and make him join me on the couch. But I didn't.

So it helps to know that he didn't suffer. My dad found him dead near his litterbox on Sunday morning. It actually looks like he had a heart attack after taking a huge shit. Last night Toni said, "Your cat was a badass. He died like Elvis."

We've actually long suspected that Mac had a bad heart. His breathing has always been noticeably labored. And he lost a lot of weight over the past few months. We took him to the vet back in June, but he found nothing wrong with Mac, and just said that he was underweight and dehydrated (weird, given that Mac has an impressive appetite). But we took the vet's advice and put him on a high-calorie diet of super delicious kitten food that Mac loved.

He was always a very enthusiastic eater, just like me. :)

Waking up this morning was hard, not only because Mac usually sleeps with me at night, but also because I usually feed him first thing in the morning. I'm one of those people whose glasses live on her face unless I'm asleep or in the shower. So Mac knew not to bother me if my glasses were off. But the moment I took them from the nightstand and put them on my face, he'd start begging for food. Loudly.

He was very vocal. When I moved to Saginaw, I took him with me. And he'd howl in protest all the way up and down the I-75. For a guy with a bad heart, he sure had great lungs.

And he charmed my friends with them. Talked politics with people who came to my apartment. At one point, my friend Tracy said, "Dude, you're going to hate this, but I'm pretty sure that your cat is a Republican." She had a number of solid reasons for this, but my favorite was that he was an old man from Grosse Pointe.

Political disagreements aside, he loved Tracy's cooking. And everyone's cooking, for that matter. As I said, he was as enthusiastic about food as I am. My mom told me that he devoured some leftovers from Olive Garden with her the night before he died. I'm glad that he had a great last meal.

I've had many pets throughout my lifetime, and losing them isn't new to me. My dog Wylee died last year. My cats Poe and Smokey both died while I was in high school. And I've also buried two hamsters.

But Mac was my favorite. And I guess that's just because he decided that I was his favorite human, and was loyal to me even during the two years I spent living on campus at SVSU and couldn't have him with me.

I even had my senior photos taken with him when I graduated from high school. And he had his own Facebook page ("Mac the Feline," just in case you'd like to check it out).

People keep telling me that I'm handing this really well. I don't know about that, really. I'm a mess. But even though I wasn't here when Mac died, I know that he was well cared for. My parents and sister had a tendency to spoil him with affection whenever I wasn't home.

And everyone else knows how much I loved him (see the part about the senior picture and Facebook page), and has been really good to me, too. It helps to know that despite how obnoxious I've been about how much I love my cat, people seem to accept the fact that I'm a giant cat lady. Mac was kind of the center of my universe.

RIP, Stinky Head. That was kind of a dick move you made, leaving without giving me a chance to say goodbye. But you made up for it by being awesome in every other way possible, and I just hope that I will someday meet a cat who is as wonderful as you were.