Thursday, December 29, 2011

You Say You Want A Resolution

Well, you know. We all want to change ourselves. I do too, but making a list for Sunday isn’t going to get me there.

Sure, sometimes you need a symbolic jump start. New Year’s Day is as good a time as any. However – and this is not my standard cynicism talking, this is the jaded voice of having experienced way more New Year’s Days than you have – it’s only a catalyst. You have to keep the change going. Most people don’t.

It’s a gym thing. If it helps to take this as a metaphor, please feel free, but what I’m about to tell you is the literal, factual truth. On New Year’s Day all gyms ooze people. Not ordinary people, mind you. I call them the “January people.” They’re embarrassed and they compensate for that with self-righteous rudeness. They crowd the equipment. Their workout is more significant than anyone else’s because of the extra discipline and sacrifice it represents. They get brownie points for being there. Those of us who were there before and will be there long after they’ve given up are mere impediments to their determination.

The funny thing is, I almost agree with them. It took a lot more will power for them to do one difficult new thing than it does for me to slog in there day after day whether I want to or not. But the woman who blocked the entrance to the Ladies’ Room while she got up the gumption to get on the scale didn’t have to cuss me out for saying “Excuse me” when I tried to get past her last January 1st. I never saw her again, but she’ll probably be back on Sunday.

Make your resolutions. Try to keep them and be proud of yourself if you do. You can even be proud of yourself if you just last longer than two weeks. Statistically, that’s the resolution span of a January person.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Pony Tales

Did you get that pony you wanted for Christmas? Me neither, but I got something better.

As an only child with competitive grandparents, you can imagine how spoiled I was. Plus, I was cute as hell. When I was little, my eyes were violet (I’m told my grandfather called me his “little Liz Taylor”, he died in 1975 so I have no corroboration.) The violet aged to a middling green, the black curls and chubby cheeks are now gray curls and saggy jowls, but I digress. The point is I got lots of stuff at Christmas. The toys were ignored after a week and the dolls gathered dust on a shelf, but I still have a lot of the books. It was fun enough, but not memorable.

Fast-forward to this morning. Robert found me two new books by favorite authors; books I didn’t even know existed! And he got me a beautiful standing punching bag which we’ve already named after a dearly beloved but often irritating friend. I scored, first by marrying a superb gift-giver, and then by extension. But it made me think about the pony.

For all their cuteness, children lack perspective. It’s not their fault, so do most adults. We have expectations un-limned by reality. If I thought about it, I would know that spending an extra $20 for face cream won’t make me look ten years younger. Dark colors may be slimming, but they don’t replace time on the treadmill. Somebody else’s annoying habits are equally annoying when we do the same things. But the trade-off is Christmas.

The adult equivalent of a pony is a new car. None of us expects to see one under the tree, so it’s not a disappointment when it’s not there. A rational adult is happy with a thoughtful gesture. Sure, an electric drill for an un-handy person or a diet book for a fat one won’t delight. But put a moment of consideration into who’s gonna get it, and you’ll make them happy.

I even made someone happy by not giving a gift at all, but he’s the friend after whom my new punching bag is named. Like I said, he can be irritating.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Tree Fell Silently

A mentor once said to me, “If you really need to talk, it doesn’t matter if anyone is listening.” I was young(ish) at the time so I disagreed. I volleyed back with a bunch of platitudes about friendship and understanding and empathy and feedback. He chuckled, once again amused by my naïveté. I should get a Ouija board just so he can say “I told you so.”

You’d think having posted more than 300 times on this blog would have been enough to convince me. Catharsis, like luck, is where you make it, not where you find it. The same goes for venting one’s spleen. The Internet is thickly spattered with bits of vented spleen. For all that, the fact that you’re reading this now means that I am venting and catharsis-ing to you, not to no one. This makes my argument, or so I would have thought had I thought about it.

It was the second dog who proved my dear departed friend right. We are dog-sitting the Baroness of Basset hounds through New Year’s. She is a lovely, floppy, sweet and ungainly little thing who stays at my feet much more than our Jonah does. Jonah considers himself to be the Ruler of the Universe. He has responsibilities. He’s busy with sentry duty in the front window, especially at this time of year when UPS and FedEx trucks invade his territory with increasing regularity. The Baroness has no such aspirations, and is readily available to listen to my ranting. She doesn’t understand a word of it, but she agrees with everything. She knows I’m right. Her universe is whatever room she’s in, and when I’m in it too, she is fascinated by me. It’s an attractive trait in anyone, even an already adorable dog.

But it definitely proves that when you need to vent, it doesn’t matter who hears it.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Ho Ho Ho

Chocolate ain’t my thing. Yes, you’ve finally met someone who doesn’t like chocolate. I’m not kidding. This is as true as your January Visa bill. Please pick your jaw up off of the floor. It’s not that big a deal. Although, from the reactions I get, you’d think it was.

Sure, I like a chocolate soufflé once a year or so if someone wants to make one for me, but the rest of the time, it’s “No, thanks.” Give me a nice vanilla or caramel or strawberry or pumpkin or blueberry or toffee or even raspberry goodie, but not chocolate.

That said, I make a lot of chocolate this time of year. I spent yesterday afternoon stirring fudge and melting bittersweet for gilded brownies. One of the three kinds of cookie dough I made today had bittersweet chocolate chips and chopped cherries.

I do it because I know you all like it so much, but it’s a little weird because I don’t. It occurred to me that I feel a little like a pimp, even if I don’t partake of the product at all. That makes fudge the ho. Ho ho ho!

Oh well. It cracked me up in the car.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Day In The Life

I was standing in the gym, waiting for my friend to come out of the locker room. A muscular young man I’ve never seen before in my life strode up with that head-down mulishness associated with New York pedestrians at rush hour. I started to move out of his way, but he stopped me. His voice was half accusation and half suspicion.

“Are you Carole?”

Huh? How do you know my name? “Yes.”

“I’m [name redacted].” He shoved a hand at me.

Did I ask? Please go away now. I didn’t want to shake his hand but I did because there were people watching and I knew a lot of them. “Uh huh. Nice to meet you, [name redacted].”

“Sara pointed you out to me. You know Sara?”

The only Sara I knew at that gym died particularly tragically two years ago, rest her soul. I assumed he didn’t mean her. “No, I don’t.”

He gestured in a vague direction at maybe twenty or thirty people. “She’s over there.”

“Sorry, I don’t know her.”

His eyes narrowed, like he didn’t believe me. I waited for it. I knew what he was going to say. You probably do, too. Sure enough, there it was.

“I’m a writer. She says you’re a writer too.”

Believe it or not, it went downhill from there. Try not to look surprised. I sure wasn’t. It’s amazing how total strangers get angry or offended when I can’t forward their careers. This one managed both. What the hell, I was stuck. I couldn’t leave until my friend showed up, so I gave the guy some legitimate advice based on my experience. It ended thus:

Him: “If anyone ever tried to rewrite one of my screenplays, I’d hunt them down and kill them and then I’d be a fugitive for the rest of my life.”

Me: “If you’re speaking metaphorically, good luck with that. If you’re being literal, then yes, you will.”

Him: “Damn straight. You’ll see me on CNN.”

What else could I say, but: “Looking forward to it.”

Monday, December 12, 2011

My Pleasure Principle

If it feels good, you’re doing it wrong. That may be my new motto, though it’s not a new idea. Our lives are built on behavioral principles which are often easy to abandon in the heat of the moment.

“What the hell is Auntie going on about now?” you grumble. Actually, I cleaned up your language, but that’s beside the point.

Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, not because you feel good when you do it. You shouldn’t feel anything out of the ordinary because it should be ordinary. The wrong thing should feel bad, but the right thing is just normal no matter how much effort it took. Ergo, the new motto.

Today I outwitted a bully in the gym. I did it with grace, a smile and exquisite politeness. In my heart I thought, “Ha! Take that, you patriarchal sexist bastard!” (I cleaned that up too.) I thought I had done a good thing by not letting him get away with being such a dick. I felt good about it. Triumphant, even. That’s when karma bit me in the ass. It bit me so thoroughly and so appropriately that I jumped on the keyboard to remind all of you not to let this happen to you.

Yes, of course I might have gotten my ass bitten even if I hadn’t had that frisson of victory. But it wouldn’t have had the punitive effect. Without the punitive effect, the principle might have stayed forgotten. And it’s too important to forget, even when facing a thoughtless idiot.

The epilogue is that I changed my plans for the afternoon and baked still more cookies. Because the corollary to all mottos is: “Cookies fix everything.” Karma too, knock wood.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Good Coffee, Bad Coffee

There’s something about a pretentious coffeehouse that warms my heart’s cockles. Don’t even mention Starbucks. I’ll come down on you like an irony cop on Alanis Morissette. Starbucks isn’t pretentious, it’s smug. Ok, fine. It’s pretentious too, but not in an enjoyable way. It’s pretentious in a “leader of a team building exercise at the company’s weekend retreat” aka corporate whore kind of way.

I want that pretentiousness unique to the hipstery coffeehouse. The walls are covered interestingly, the staff is Serious and Earnest yet considers themselves to be wittier than thou, and the quality of the beverages is generally excellent.

Granted (Sis, I didn’t “stipulate” there, didja see?) I’m a writer and I don’t drink alcohol for the most part. So a coffeehouse is my natural habitat outside of the gym. But today, when I had a coffee date, did I go to my current fave, the Bourgeois Pig? No. Did I go to Coffee Fix or even Marie et Cie? No and no. Where did I go?

Yep. You guessed it. I went to Starbucks. Because when all’s said and done, when push comes to shove and the clichés hit the wall, it turns out I’m just a parking whore and Starbucks has plenty of it. So what if the coffee sucks. The irony is that I don’t even drink it after breakfast, and bottled water is the same wherever you go.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hairy Merry

We came home from Vegas to find that the Happy Holiday gods had projectile-vomited twinkle lights and tinsel all over the neighborhood. Call me Scrooge; our house is one of the few that are dark, except for the kind of light by which one sees. The funny thing is, I love Christmas. I keep a few Santa statues on display all year round.

Do you enjoy Christmas or do you endure it? That’s rhetorical. It’s still too soon. Even I can’t get the seasonal spirit in single-digit December.

Part of that is my estrangement from my extended family. I don’t think about them the rest of the year, but Thanksgiving was my late father’s favorite holiday, so it all bubbles up around now. But if I could only keep one blood relative, I chose the right one. My brilliant, adorable and talented mother is worth a thousand Hallmark TV families and a million of the ones who share my antecedents, not that there are a million of them but if there were, Melva would be preferable to the lot.

The melancholy won’t last, it never does. As I said, I love Christmas. There will be a tipping point when Robert will pull the little pre-decorated artificial tree out of its box. I’ll bake cookies and write cards to people I like. If you give me your address, I’ll send you a card because I like you too.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Umami Yo Mama

We don’t have central heating in our house. The weather in Southern California isn’t what you’d call extreme. Still, occasionally in winter, it can get a little nippy. I have an electric mattress heater, which works better than an electric blanket. On cold nights, it’s indescribably wonderful to slip into a toasty warm bed.

That’s what the trip to Las Vegas last week was like: familiar, comfortable and all in all happy-making.

While the food was mostly terrific, you’ve read about most of it before so I wasn’t going to do my usual thing. But we’ve only been back for two days and I’ve already had requests. I give. Put on a bib and here we go. Remember, this is just mine, not Robert’s:

The first night we walked over to Craftsteak. A pile of perfect asparagus and a selection of wild mushrooms accompanied my salmon with garlic cream and chanterelles. Dessert was a butterscotch mousse with slivers of salted chocolate, pecan praline cookies and espresso-chocolate sorbet. Breakfast at Bouchon the next morning started with a basket of the most delicious pastry. Then eggs, of course, and spinach sautéed in butter with whole garlic cloves and tiny geometrically-perfect bits of shallot, sliced tomato and fresh multigrain toast with butter from Vermont. There was so much food we didn’t eat again until a late lunch slash early dinner at Hussong’s Cantina. I loved the fiery guacamole, though the tuna tacos were only okay. Make that mediocre. Nah, they were edible.

After a gratuitous 6:15 a.m. wake up call we were back at Bouchon the next morning. That was when I had the basted egg revelation, but only after an even bigger basket of pastry. Almond brioche, muffin, cheese Danish, pecan sticky bun – luckily by this time we were hitting our stride for eating so we went to Max Brenner’s for chocolate. I had thick Italian dark hot chocolate and a double espresso in an ingenious little cup designed to hold two pieces of chocolate, which I dipped in the hot chocolate then ate. Dinner was at Sage. You’ve heard about the kusshi oysters with Tabasco sorbet and piquillo peppers before. They’re still phenomenal. The butternut squash and pear soup was epiphanic, the carrot and garlic ravioli with wild mushrooms was even better. When the waiter asked how everything was, I told him in all honesty, “I wish I could give some of this to everyone I like.” Then I ordered two desserts (just for me, Robert had his own): caramelized quince clafouti -- which I’ve usually seen spelled with an s, but who am I to argue with something so yummy? -- with vanilla/cognac ice cream, and warm apple fennel strudel with brown butter ice cream. The chef kindly sent out tiny cups of white chocolate and black pepper soup to finish us off.

More, more, more breakfast, so much so that there wasn’t room for lunch but we made up for it with an early dinner on the top floor of our hotel, at Mix. The sea bream daurade with lemon and a mimosa garnish was lovely, as were the seared diver scallops. We asked them to leave the ham off of the mac & cheese, the gruyere melted in glamorous oozy strings that dripped creamy béchamel. Dessert was an apple and quince tatin with green apple sorbet and a frozen crunchy creamy thing – I have no idea what it was, just call it cold deliciousness in a crust. We went downstairs to Fleur for our absinthe after dinner.

Our last day there began with fresh, hot beignets served with Nutella and strawberry jam. It’s sad to think I won’t have basted eggs for three months. Pout. For lunch we went back to Fleur to see the gang and have truffled onion soup and tuna tacos and green gazpacho and burrata and tiramisu and gingerbread ice cream with gingerbread and toffee coffee ice cream with toffee and brownie lollipops decorated with edible gold.

That’s about it. We had such a good time, we even stopped at Whiskey Pete’s in Primm, just to make it last a tiny bit longer. Now it’s back to protein powder, veggies and grains until it starts all over again in 91 days, knock on wood.

Friday, December 2, 2011

What Else Is New?

Maybe it’s my age, or it might be my temperament, but there aren’t many things that I haven’t done that I would like to do. I did a few of them this week in Las Vegas.

Two of them were little. After most of a lifetime and a lot of breakfasts, I found a new way to have eggs. Have you ever had your eggs basted? You should. Nuff said. The second thing is more by way of an inside joke that backfired. Ask me and I’ll tell you, let’s not bore the whole class.

The third thing I hadn’t ever done before was drink absinthe. It was time for my annual alcoholic beverage, and the bucket list of those is pretty short. In fact, it’s basically absinthe and port. When you put Oscar Wilde and Toulouse Lautrec up against a bunch of paunchy rich old English guys, it’s no contest.

The absinthe process is cool. I have pix of the ice water gizmo, the super neato spoons, and the bottles ranging from gold to the virulent green of “la fee verte”. Our friend and absinthe guru David walked us through it all. He told us about every bottle, about the history of absinthe (some of which we knew, but not all,) and about the wormwood. Robert had Pernod, I sniffed it. That green fairy packs a wallop. I had the Germain-Robin, it was fragrant with tarragon and flowers and somesuch. We watched the ice water drip and the sugar cubes dissolve. We sipped. We were enlightened.

It was a fun adventure, but I still loathe licorice.