Monday, November 30, 2009

May the Force Be With You

What exactly does it take to make a Millennium Falcon cake? It being the thought foremost in everyone’s mind, I thought I'd share.

It takes two boxes of chocolate cake mix, a vat of homemade chocolate buttercream and a good amount of vanilla frosting. I'm talking an alarming amount of vanilla frosting—like eight tubs of it. For those of you counting calories at home….oh, never mind. This post isn’t for you.

My sister and I undertook the making of this fantastical cake for my nephew’s birthday. It took hours to create over the span of two days. We whipped up a decadent buttercream frosting for the center, baked off a chocolate cake the size of a hula hoop and tinted a fraction of our otherworldly quantity of vanilla frosting three different colors: metal gray, blue and black.

We cut and shaped our enormous cake into what we figured looked like an approximate shape of the Millennium Falcon, applied a crumb layer of frosting and allowed it to chill. We were so proud of ourselves and downright giddy with anticipation at what my nephew would think. Oh, the glee he’d exude when we revealed the cake!

Unable to wait another moment, we let him take a peek at the cake before we’d done any of the frosting details. My sister pulled the cake out of the fridge. We looked proudly at our cake in-process. We smiled smugly at each other, flashing looks that said, “We should have done the whole flippin’ Rebel Alliance fleet. We are THAT GOOD!”

My nephew gazed upon our frosted cake monstrosity and asked with, fittingly, child-like innocence: “Is it…a dinosaur?”

Undeterred, we forged ahead with our elaborate piped frosting plan—white for all that ubiquitous detail work commonly found on the outside of space ships, metal gray for yet more detail, black for…wait for it…even more detail. And there was some thick blue piping on the back for the smokin’ Hyper Drive. Or is it the Warp Drive? I always confuse the faux technical terms from StarTrek and Star Wars.

Anyway, we thought that all our fancy frosting would surely transform our unidentifiable slab of cake into the Millennium Falcon. After practicing our space-age designs...

...we piped all the details on the cake.

And then we piped some more.

For hours we piped. Literally. Yes, there is such a thing as “piper’s cramp." Inexplicably, some frosting was lost in the process.

What we ended up with was a close facsimile of the Millennium Falcon—or at least as close as we were ever going to get after having consumed a sickening amount of frosting.

The best part? My nephew not only recognized it, he actually liked it. He’s gracious to his elders like that.

It is, after all, the Jedi way.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Come Fly With Me

The perpetual dumpiness of La Guardia Airport is, as ever, an embarrassment to every New Yorker.

The first impression of our city—our vibrant, exciting and modern urban oasis—is an airport that smacks of a flea-bitten motel in a backwater town. It's the kind of place where it's not at all uncommon to come across a dirty wastebasket in the middle of the concourse that’s collecting dripping water from the stained drop ceiling above. Being at La Guardia is like being in someone’s horribly cramped, unfinished, dirty basement, complete with ghoulish fluorescent lighting, stale pastries and iffy plumbing. You never know when a gate agent will be issuing a warning to everyone in the security checkpoint snarl that none of the bathrooms in the concourse is working. Seriously. Only at La Guardia do these types of things happen.

This armpit of the airport world makes travel such an aggravating chore that you can’t wait to get out of town. Not only that, but as soon as you’re on the airplane (delayed for an interminable amount of time on the tarmac, of course), you begin plotting how in the future, for all of your travel, you can avoid the perpetual horror that is La Guardia. Suddenly, driving eight hours to Cleveland seems completely reasonable. Fourteen to Chicago? Not a bad idea. Biking to California? Ideal.

Meanwhile, Chicago’s O’Hare Airport flaunts its air travel fabulousness. Not only does it showcase wide open concourses with soaring ceilings, superb signage and soothing lighting the likes of which are usually reserved for comfy living rooms, but everything is decorated this time of year with miles of evergreen garlands interwoven with royal red velvet ribbon. It’s a veritable celebration of travel.

Those fortunate enough to be arriving to or departing from this most delightful of hubs float through the yawning concourses upon little clouds of fairy dust. Travelers joyfully choose appetizing meals and snacks from a bountiful array of stores. They select reading materials from cozy bookstores and quaint newspaper shops. Perhaps they do a spot of shopping in any number of the luxury stores dotting the concourse. Elves frolick from gate to gate, helping travelers with their baggage. Little woodland animals scurry around cleaning every inch of the airport, whistling while they work in true Disney fashion. Gum drops in every flavor gently float down from the ceiling into travelers' waiting mouths. Ok, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit. There's no cantaloupe-flavored gum drop.

It doesn't take long before you start pondering how all of your trips could be rerouted through O’Hare. Maybe stop over on your way from New York to Sonoma. If flying from Des Moines to Los Angeles, backtracking hundreds of miles to enjoy the treats of O’Hare seems perfectly reasonable. It is the happiest of all air travel places.

Alas, La Guardia remains a roller coaster of discontent; it crams travelers into a tight space, pulls them laboriously up a hill of discomfort, and then plunges them headlong into a black hole of frustration. Maybe it’s fitting. La Guardia is, after all, located on the site of a former amusement park. Figures.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Get Your Glee On

If you haven’t seen Glee, the quirkiest TV show with the biggest heart, you’re missing out on the finest hour of comedy on television today. Bar none.

Take a simple premise—an earnest teacher trying to save a high school glee club—mix in an outstanding cast with an eclectic group of crazy-talented kids, multiple story lines of unrequited love, power struggles of every ilk, a terrific soundtrack and a generous helping of smart, laugh-out-loud humor, and that, my friends, is Glee.

Why does the show sing (pun intended) on every level? Because it’s based in Ohio, the place where all good things come from? (Ok, save football and baseball teams.) No, it’s because of brilliant writing.

The stories are crafted with soul and humor, which is a true rarity in this age of reality-show idiocy (see Jon & Kate Plus Eight, Wife Swap, Rock of Love Bus, et al). It’s a novel idea: Forego the mail-it-in ease of reality programming and make a show that actually pulls on the heartstrings and tickles the funny bone with tight writing and compelling storytelling. I know, it’s a crazy concept.

Watch Glee once and you can’t help but get drawn into its campy wittiness, its schmaltzy fabulousness, its utter brilliance. Why? Because we all went to high school and the pathos of those stories is universal. Maybe you were the jock, the cheerleader, the handicapped kid, the mean girl, the drama club queen, the brainiac, the moody artist or the homecoming king. Maybe you wanted to be popular, not be pressured by your popularity, or were envious of someone else’s popularity. Whatever your story was, you’re a part of Glee.

If you’re like me, you were weaned on The Breakfast Club and all other adolescent cinematic therapy of its time, courtesy of John Hughes. We related his movies, gobbling them up with an insatiable appetite. If we made a meal of Hughes’s films—and we did—Glee is the surprisingly fun dessert that we’re better equipped to enjoy because we’ve shed our teenage angst (well, most of it, anyway) and grown up. Now, we can look back at our high school years and empathize with, laugh at and even get choked up about those situations that at the time were writ so large. And that really gets to the heart of it: When it comes to drama and comedy—and that catch-in-your throat place where they meet—there’s no setting richer in story fodder than high school.

So tonight, do yourself a favor and watch Glee. It’s a toe tapper. A finger snapper. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry…it’s better than Cats.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Phlegm-Free Zone

While riding the bus home the other night, I read a sign that is stuck prominently where everyone can see it:

No Littering
No Smoking
No Spitting
No Radio Playing

No spitting? That’s right. Bus spitting is apparently such a problem that it requires special mention on MTA signage. Granted, it’s not the scourge of public transportation that littering and smoking are, but it’s a bigger issue than radio playing.

Hey, MTA: The 1970s called. They want their sign back.

What He Said

So, I was all set to write something on all the variations of the Snuggie. You know, those ridonkulous blanket-cum-robes that, despite their lunatic premise have sprouted up in a rainbow of garish colors for people and pets alike. Yes, pets.

Many talented writers have opined on this most important cultural phenomenon, not the least of which is Joe Posnanski, who, in my opinion, has written the definitive Snuggie treatise. Surely, I thought, there was something else I could add. In my intense research of the Snuggie, I came across this video. It's not new, but like the classics, it's worth revisiting. I think I'll just leave it with that.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Thanks, but No Thanks

‘Tis the season for hostess gifts—those small, tasteful tokens of appreciation presented to whomever is throwing that holiday celebration/obligatory family gathering you attend. What follows is a collection of some of the, noteworthy.

For that hostess who has everything, there’s the wicker football cookie bowl, courtesy of Neiman Marcus, where all things practical are procured.

For some short-lived enjoyment of your host’s initials, there’s monogrammed soap.

If you want to give a gift that allows your hostess to cut and spear her food with one utensil (and who doesn't?), there’s the knork, which, incidentally, is one of Redbook Magazine’s recommended hostess gifts of the season (kno, I’m knot kidding).

There’s the horrifying and disturbingly functional gift.

As well as the inexplicable.

After all, nothing says “Thank you for having me to dinner” like large pleated bunting.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

You Say Bombe, I Say Bomb

The fiercest and most unruly of forces descended upon Chicago this week. It was a battle unlike any other, perhaps one of the scariest clashes ever recorded in the Windy City. Simply put, a community was threatened, a social order was wrecked, and milk was spilled.


That’s right, students at a middle school engaged in…wait for it…a food fight. Fortunately, administrators were quick to quell the rampant flinging of lunches. They did what any overwhelmed and under-weaponed domestic unit would do in dealing with an aggressor so intense and wily. They called in the police—yes, the Chicago police—to quell the uprising and have the eighth-grade perpetrators arrested and hauled off to jail.

What about detention, you ask? Please, that’s too tame a punishment for such a heinous and serious crime. We’re talking about the throwing of grilled cheesethe flicking of mashed potatoes with a spork! People, we have the community to think about here! What, pray tell, would happen if these hooligans—nay, these cafeteria terrorists—took their fight to the streets? Think!

All I can say is thanks to the just and prudent “no-tolerance” policies of the Perspectives Charter Middle School, citizens of Chicago will never be faced with such a horror.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Boilerplate Redux

Perhaps you’ve wondered what Carly Fiorina has been doing since Hewlett-Packard’s board of directors sent her packing with a lavish paycheck before she did further damage to the legendary company.

Turns out she found a home in politics. She was an advisor to Sen. John McCain during his presidential race. She made the rounds on political talk shows. And today, she announced that she’ll be making a run for Sen. Barbara Boxer’s seat.

Having listened to Fiorina while at the helm of HP and on the campaign trail, I think I have a good handle on her positions and what she hopes to accomplish in public office.

To wit: She would build bridges so people could come together to find a middle ground where they could then forge a compromise—a compromise based on best-in-class practices. She would create synergies, build partnerships and knit together a fragmented electorate. She would find a place for everyone at the table. She would listen to every voice. She would cut the fat, oil the gears on the machine, sweep away the cobwebs. Most importantly, she’ll problem solve and come up with innovative solutions.

Or, as she put it in today’s Orange County Register: “Throughout my career I’ve brought people together, and I’ve solved problems. And that is what is needed in our government today. People who are willing to set aside ego and partisanship and instead work to develop solutions to our problems.”

Somewhere, Sen. Boxer is smiling.