Sunday, August 30, 2009

Foodies of the World Unite!

I’m an unabashed foodie, something I’ve yet to delve into at length on this blog—probably because I wanted to appear well-rounded, interested in other subjects. And I am. To a point.

But once talk turns to truffle-making technique, salt (with which I have an intense and ongoing love affair) or olive oil, all bets are off. I become a singularly focused conversational missile, only able to talk about all things culinary. Tuna steak preparation, that new restaurant downtown, my latest green market find—I can offer a more learned opinion on any of these topics than I can about health care reform, which I realize is nothing to be proud of.

I started thinking about the power of cooking and great food last night after dinner—two of our dear friends cooked an amazing, thoughtful meal and brought it to our home. (Everyone should have friends like these.) Food, like sports or even politics, has the ability to stir up passions within people. It offers connection and comfort, and sometimes, near-death experiences.

Take salmon. Back in the mid ‘90s, I lived in an Oompah Loompah-sized studio apartment that had a cramped galley kitchen outfitted with appliances made by, I think, PlaySkool. In this fraction of a kitchen I attempted to make a fabulous-looking salmon recipe, which involved successful broiling, glazing and proper ventilation—all of which I failed. Miserably. Fast forward 10 years to my folk’s backyard grill in Cleveland where I tried to grill an entire side of salmon. Never mind that I’d never grilled before (living in Manhattan might afford you a lot of things, but access to a barbecue isn’t one of them). I slathered it with more oil than the Exxon Valdez spilled (my first mistake), put it on a blazing hot grill (my second mistake) and then left it there for much, much too long. Like 45 minutes long. That was my third and final mistake before the neighbors called the village fire department because they thought my parents’ house was ablaze. It wasn’t, but I still haven’t been allowed near the grill.

Ok, so maybe cooking salmon isn’t exactly my strong suit, but the point is that cooking can bring happiness, tether people to one another and even mend fences.

That is, provided a team of burly firemen doesn't intervene first.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Anything You Can Do...

The other day I opened up the latest issue of Martha Stewart magazine to find a calendar listing everything I won’t be doing in the month of September. It’s uncanny.

Take, for example, Sept. 8, a day I won’t be picking hot peppers or stringing them to dry. On Sept. 13, I won’t be taking a horseback ride (don’t even know how). Nor will I be picking apples or making applesauce. And I won’t be taking fall sweaters, coats and boots out of storage (I keep everything smushed in one closet). Not only that, but on Sept. 21, I won’t be scrubbing porch floors, ceilings and walls (don't have a porch to scrub). I also won’t be sowing greens in cold frames. I don’t even know what that means. Finally, on Sept. 26 I won’t be touching up indoor paint while the humidity is low and the windows can be opened.

See what I mean? It’s like Martha is a mind reader or something. I won’t be inspecting deer fencing, harvesting potatoes or adding the last of the tomato plants to the compost pile. All I can say is I’m awed by her insight into my life.

Hang on—this isn’t a calendar chronicling everything I won’t be doing. It’s Martha's 30-day organized list of domestic insanity: a.k.a. what she'll be doing.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

This Month in World News

In case you’ve been away in August and missed the biggest news stories of the month, I’ve encapsulated them below.

– Peru and Bolivia moved to the brink of international crisis, with both countries crying foul, accusing the other of committing unthinkable theft and reaping economic devastation. A trade agreement gone awry? A serious diplomatic breach? No. The subject was bigger than Peru’s never-ending reshuffle of its presidential cabinet, more alarming than the uptick of coca shrub cultivation in Bolivia. I speak, of course, of the Miss Universe pageant costumes. Seems those of Peru and Bolivia looked alike. This horrifying development stoked the ire of both the Peruvian Congress and Bolivian diplomats, prompted a protest in front of the Peruvian embassy in Washington D.C. and caused the Bolivian government to run commercials defending its ownership of said costume. There was talk of going to The Hague for resolution. Seriously. In the end, it was Donald Trump, he of all things classy and diplomatic, who settled the dispute: Miss Venezuela was crowned the winner.

– In order to curry votes, German candidate Vera Lengsfeld took a page from the playbook of Italian Prime Minister/Top European Horndog Silvio Berlusconi. Lengsfeld erected humongous signs of herself in a low-cut number next to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who, in her photograph, donned an even more risque and revealing top. The billboard's tagline: "We have more to offer."

– Every now and again there's a story so dramatic, so heart wrenching, so utterly crucial to the global community's welfare that it captivates the masses. Yes, I speak of Paula Abdul's departure from American Idol. For those who thought Ms. Abdul's relevance faded in the 80s after she danced her way through a video with a cartoon dog and Arsenio Hall, you couldn't have been more mistaken. For the past however many years she's happily gurgled her encouraging platitudes to hopeful stars, offered up countless excuses for odd behavior (including that well-worn chestnut "The manicurist did it!") and...well, I'm having trouble thinking of a third thing. Although a third accomplishment remains elusive for Ms. Abdul, obviously she was worth more than her $5 million-a-year contract. It’s a loss we’ll be mourning for years to come.

– Finally, in news that’s bigger than the ongoing slugfest over revamping US healthcare or Iran’s continued march toward developing nuclear weapons, Tyra Banks announced that she’s going to reveal her real, weave-free hair on the Sept. 8 broadcast of her eponymously titled talkshow.

I'll end the roundup here, because news doesn't get bigger than Tyra's hair.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Lessons Learned

I've been fortunate this summer to visit several different beaches (all in the name of good reportage, of course), and I've learned there are certain immutable truths when it comes to that hallowed place where sand and water meet.

1. Kids are impervious to extreme temperature and the amount of sand stuck to them. In the course of a month, I've witnessed intrepid toddlers wade into the icy waters at the Cape to frolic unflinchingly while adults looked on from the beach, teeth a chatter. And I've seen kids at Long Beach, sand stuck to every inch of them, eat snacks from a sandy towel in a manner that can only be described as anteater-esque.

2. Potato chips taste better at the beach. There's a direct correlation between one's proximity to salt water and the number of Ruffles consumed. No sense in fighting it--you might as well try to defy gravity. At least that's what I keep telling myself.

3. I am the only person slathering on Coppertone SPF 60 for Babies like it's my job. While everyone else is getting Bain de Soleil beautiful, I'm acquiring the ghostly pallor of Casper. I am officially the only person on the East Coast who's actively getting paler by going to the beach. This is not an exaggeration--Guinness has phoned me. Ditto for Weekly World News.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Sheer Madness

It’s T-minus 5 until the season premiere of Mad Men, which, I can safely say without a hint of hyperbole, is one of the best shows on television on any planet, in any galaxy.

Like any good Maddict, in preparation for the Big Event, I’ve made a computerized Mad Men character of myself, courtesy of I’ve submitted pics to an open casting call for a walk-on part in an upcoming episode (fingers crossed!). I’ve picked out an appropriate 60s-era style outfit for Sunday’s televised extravaganza. And I plan to watch the marathon of last season’s episodes so that I’m fully prepared for every plot twist and boozy innuendo that may arise on Sunday.

I know. This isn’t normal behavior for someone older than 13. DuranDuran might evoke such insanity in a seventh grader, but Don Draper prompting such lunacy from a…well, someone considerably older?

Here’s the thing though: I’m not alone. There are Maddicts everywhere—thousands, nay, millions of us. It truly is a mad, mad world.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The News from Long Beach

It’s a steamy 86 degrees here at Long Beach, a place where all the women are tan, all the men are buff and all the children are excellent surfers.

The beach is pure peace in the early morning. True, everything has a certain calm to it at 5:45 a.m., but when you’re standing with your toes in the sand and can look for miles and see nothing except for beach, surf and sky, you feel like you’re smack in the middle of serenity. And that’s a nice place to start your day.

Today, the baby stroller brigade power-walked up the boardwalk in its usual purposeful way. Everyone knows to stay clear of the swarm of spandex-clad women pushing their most precious cargo and squeezing their hind quarters. Once, in August of 1989, someone didn’t heed the call, “Comin’ Through!” He walked with a limp for a month.

Tanning begins early here. It’s a sport for some, a job for others. The locals have a range of sun-kissed skin tones—cocoa, caramel, bronze—all of which are well-developed. You can tell who lives here year round by their degree of tan, and who is riding over a bridge into town with their SPF 60 that’s the consistency of glue. The locals abide the tourists, but that’s about it.

Parking in Long Beach isn't so much a chore as a crusade. Spots near the sand are hard to come by and expertly managed by local residents. Some move motorcycles from their garages to hold a space on the street if their car is being used. Others jump to move their car from their designated space to an open spot if company is dropping by. It's part Survivor, part Seinfeld.

Tonight is the annual Sun Dance, a time when everyone in town holds hands on the beach and bows three times: Once for the sand and sea, twice for the invention of surf boards and thrice for those squat, aluminum beach chairs that fold up to the width of a pancake. So, if you’re around this evening, by all means head to the beach for the festivities. And if you’re coming from that craggy rock to the west, one recommendation: Get a spray tan first.

My regards to Garrison Keillor.

Water from the Rock

The other day, water started gushing from the sidewalk in several spots near my apartment—kind of like an urban geyser. Since Manhattan is not Saratoga Springs, I thought something was probably amiss. Not that passersby cared—they merely walked around the Second Avenue sidewalk spring system. Some jumped over it.

Then the water began pushing through the sidewalk with greater force. Shortly thereafter, five fire trucks and one fire chief SUV screamed to the scene, transforming Second and 55th into the set of Rescue Me. Firemen strode to and fro around the spring system and eventually began circling in the street in front of it. A frenzy of activity commenced, including chopping pavement, pounding a big metal rod into the street and threading a fire hose into the underground labyrinth of aging pipes and infrastructure upon which everything on this island is built. Then the red ConEd truck arrived: the ultimate harbinger of utility doom.

By this point, the Second Avenue Springs had attracted quite the crowd of onlookers. Word quickly spread that the water sprouting forth from the sidewalk was said to have curative powers. Others said that it was the fountain of youth that the Manhattoes (the Native Americans who reportedly sold Manhattan for a couple of MetroCards and a street pretzel) used to bathe in. Soon throngs were rushing to the Springs with empty water bottles, filling them up by the dozens. Finally, folks said, there was a cure for deep vein thrombosis/joint pain/sinus headaches/acne/stress/hair loss/the common cold!

The businesses near the Springs wasted no time: The antiques dealer hurriedly hauled out 20 carpets to display in front of his store; the gelato place started handing out free samples of gelato; the Chinese food place rolled out a dim sum cart. A kid selling “I Drank From the Second Avenue Springs” t-shirts angled for room next to a bearded preacher who cautioned against turning away from the Lord to the Springs. Then a fight broke out between two deli owners over who actually owned the Springs. Donald Trump declared that he intended to purchase the air rights over the gushing water, which brought community activists to the Springs to protest any and all development around this natural wonder.

Suddenly, the water stopped gushing. The Springs just went dry. The firemen high fived each other, another job done—and just in the nick of time because there was a sinkhole on East 38th Street to tend to. The crowd, having got word of the magical earth crater that had revealed itself to Murray Hill, headed south.

It was, in other words, just another Tuesday.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Easy Rider

As I write this I'm in a car, cruising along 495, a banged-up bit of pavement that will bring me (traffic willing) to Long Beach. I'm in the passenger seat, typing, surfing the Internet and doing it all without wires. The words, they just cannot be held back!

That I'm utilizing such technological wizardry is the real wonder here, considering that up until a couple of years ago I still had a VCR, a walkman (yes, with cassette tapes), a TV the size of a Kia and home phone with an actual cord. When I first moved to New York back in '94, I lived too close to the Empire State Building and my cordless phone picked up the top-40 station whenever I used it. Conversations had their own built-in background music. I talked with friends and family to Counting Crows, argued with my landlord to Ace of Base and called for pizza to Sheryl Crow. Two weeks after I moved into that apartment I couldn't take it and gave up on wireless telephony entirely. For more than a decade.

Then I married an early adopter--a term for tech-savvy folks who gobble up the latest and greatest technological whiz-bangs like M&Ms. Shortly thereafter, I had all manner of iPods, televisions and wireless gadgets everywhere: phones, computers stereo systems, books. If Captain James T. Kirk were to walk out of my kitchen, touch his communicator and request to be beamed somewhere, I wouldn't even bat an eye, because when you live on the Starship Enterprise, see, these things happen.

There is one thing that all this technology can't do: prevent car sickness...gotta post this thing before I ralph.