Monday, July 30, 2007

and I've been thinking, I've got my reasons

the painted desert can wait til

I’ve had this Dali print for a long time, maybe over a decade. I’m not a rabid Dali fan by any stretch, although I did check out the Dali museum situated in his birthplace just outside of Barcelona back in May, which now seems like a lifetime ago. But when I saw this work, titled Table Sun, I had an immediate reaction to it.

So I’ve had it all this time, but it never quite fit with any place I was living. It is bleak and spare, which you generally avoid evoking in your residence. Still, I held onto it. I would like to say it was deliberate, but really I just held onto a lot. The past week has been a series of discoveries and reconsiderations, scrutinizing belongings on their worth, their utility, their meaning.

I have thrown a lot away (thank you, once again, GoodWill!). But I got to this ancient print, and it hit me anew. Not only that, but the unrelenting heat here actually makes the print apropos in a way that it never was before. And finally, over a decade later, it has found its place to belong.

I think, I hope this will be the last meditation on moving in a while. This is a fairly momentous day for me, but what I really want to write about is a song. And the reason I’m compelled to write of it is: I could really use your help.

The radio stations here, like pretty much everywhere these days, are for crap, but the local hip hop station has a daily show at noon called the Throwback Mixx (why, by the way, has that second X become so prevalent?). The first time I heard it, mostly silly retro rap was played, like that song Mentirosa by Mellow Man Ace (right? I think it’s by him). Of course, I like silly so this was still plenty welcome.

But towards the end of the week, I was driving and thus decided to kick out the jams, and my brain basically proceeded to break. First, Arrested Development’s People Everday came on, and whatever Mr. Wendell, but I love me some Arrested Development. So I was already quite pleased.

But that did not prepare me for the next track on the rotation. When it came on, I kind of wrinkled my nose for a moment- is this song really a throwback? Sh*t, time flies and I am getting old. It wasn’t just that though: the song doesn’t sound like it has aged, not even slightly. Mostly, while hearing it, I wondered why stations aren’t throwing it into the rotation all the time.

The song, as by now you likely know, is Talib Kweli’s Get By. Now, undoubtedly, everyone knows this feeling- you’re driving and the radio is playing its usual tired, generic setlist and then, bam, unexpectedly, you hear a song that reminds you that damn, there is some good music out there. For me, with Get By, it’s that the song has the whole package- it is musically fantastic, it has that catchiness je ne sais quoi, but it also has just stunning lyrics. Even the video is kind of perfect.

It got me to thinking. And that, of course, is usually where I require outside assistance. Let’s just say I am making a mix CD, and Kweli’s Get By is the first track. It sets the stage, it dictates that which follows. What other songs make the cut onto the mix? I could really use tips… there might even be a small musical reward involved.

Friday, July 27, 2007

but it makes me kinda nervous to say so

Oh my. It is hot here. I mean, HOT. I mean, I have avoided leaving the apartment for more than 15 seconds at a time, for fear that my hair may catch fire. This is going to take some getting used to.

In other boring yet comical moving news, I spent the better part of the morning, when it was only sweltering and not quite at brush-fire warnings, smoothing down packing paper. This sounds as ridiculous as it reads- yes, all that crumpled-up paper that movers use to pack dishes and other fragile items (that half the time are broken anyway), I flattened out to sheets again while on my hands and knees on the kitchen floor. Yes, I know you think the heat has melted my brain and I have finally lost the last shreds of my sanity.

But I like to think there was some logic in it. See, earlier this week, I tried to cram one box filled with crumpled paper into the recycling bin, and was quite alarmed that not very much of it fit in there. I started to have crazy-cat-lady visions of having boxes filled only with paper cluttering up my kitchen, as I kept dropping off small allotments of it every week to the recycling bin well into the new year.

But then I started to think of solutions that did not involve me living in a state of give it on up for Homeless-ville for the foreseeable future. At first, I considered throwing all the paper into my car, driving it to the ocean and starting a bonfire. But a mixture of the heat and not wanting to get arrested dissuaded me. So, that's how I wound up on the floor of my kitchen for hours this morning.

Still- I am happy to report that all of it did fit in the recycle bin with room left to spare. And there are only two boxes of crap now sitting in my kitchen. Once I dispose of all the broken down boxes, it may actually start to look habitable in this crack house.

(By the by, if you, like me, enjoy reading about the problems of trash, I highly, highly, highly recommend you check out this deliciously twisted short story.)

I keep wondering why I don't feel lonely. I am starting to get worried that I am too content in this state. I've been rationalizing that it only has to do with the fact that I was inundated with family the week before I got here, and that I am acutely aware that I will again be surrounded by people in a very short while. But I don't know. It's Friday night and I should be a bit blue that I don't know anyone to go have a drink with- yet, all I can think about is that I finally put together the lamp in the living room, so now I can chill out in front of the television for the evening. Perhaps I have made my life a little too comfortable.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

then I get to try to put it back together

One of the problems with living your life somewhat backwards, which is, in a sense, what I am in the process of doing, is that those proclamations of never again, b*tches! come back to haunt you. For example, when I moved to San Francisco, I concluded, nay, I solemnly swore, "I am never buying sh*t from IKEA again."

Yeah. So much for that. In my defense, IKEA does seem to be your best bet if you are trying to be relatively frugal, if you have space issues, and if you have no regard for the quality/longevity of your purchases (which, in this case, were bookshelves and a lamp). I know a lot of people adore IKEA- they find it funky and cute and all that superfurry rainbows-and-unicorns talk. Fine. Enjoy it. I, for one, am feeling a bit defeated that I had to stoop to IKEA land today.

Perhaps some of my trauma to do with IKEA has to do with my introduction to the cult, which was in that most exotic of locales, Newark friggin' New Jersey. I was young, and, for that matter, IKEA was also young. I did not really know what I was getting myself into. I looked around and marvelled, "Ooh! Modestly priced furniture! Kind of modern and sleek!" This was all well and good, until I was dealt the harsh blows of reality- namely, that one has to go to the self-service area, lift unwieldy, heavy boxes, somehow jam them into one's car, only to have to assemble it all at home with directions in occasionally incoherent hieroglyphics.

Honestly, I didn't mind the self-assembly. It was the self-service part that was the problem. Those boxes were heavy, yo. And not in that "hee hee, I'm a girl, can you help me?" way, but rather in a "I could very well kill myself trying to carry this sh*t around" manner. Now- since I was in Newark friggin' New Jersey, not only were there no friendly faces working at IKEA to assist me, but also I had no resolve to actually seek out such aid. So, I recall, all those years ago, being humiliated by the sheer task of trying to get these awful boxes from one point to another.

Today was a completely different situation. First of all, there was no dilly-dallying, no browsing. I've become unusually focused this week. The first sign of major change was when I went into Target, and emerged with less than a $100 bill, and no randomly purchased items. At IKEA, I stomped right over to the bookshelves, surveyed their width options, jotted down information in my dorky notebook, took a deep breath, and braved the self-service area.

I approached the bookshelves. I was kind of a wimp when I was young, so I tried to lift the box. Still just as heavy as I remembered. Still annoyingly flat and long, such that there is no good place to get a solid grip. After a minute or two of teetering around with the box, trying to wrestle it into my cart, I calmly put it back against the other boxes. You see, this is when the old Lethal Weapon adage, "I'm getting too old for this sh*t" comes in handy. One or two hopeful glances and, screw it, I marched over to one of the IKEA minions and asked him to help me. And you know what? He did. And you know what else? Ain't no shame in my game.

It's funny, because, for a girl, I have an awfully unusual quantity of machismo. I despise admitting I can't do something on my own, I hate stopping for directions, and I always have an urge to control the remote. But what's funny is that age has been the balancing factor- I tend to use it as an excuse. This is silly, I know, because anyone who is 5'3" and not on steroids would need assistance lifting these idiotic IKEA boxes (plus I did manage to get the box into the car and into my apartment afterwards without any help). But somehow being older, with my warped logic, lets me off the hook.

Whatever the reason, it made my trip to IKEA much less depressing. And when I got home and put the damn thing together, I felt triumphant. I know that is truly absurd, because any 13-year old can probably do it. It's just one of those weird things that is difficult to explain. Some people have an aptitude for tools and construction, but unfortunately, I don't fall into their lot. Maybe it's because of my lack of aptitude that I tend to consider these (albeit small) victories. When I was younger, I had to suppress thoughts at such moments, these thought filled with weariness that can basically be summed up as: I wish I didn't have to do everything myself. What's strange is that the thought never even occurs to me now, leaving nothing to suppress. With all the whining that goes on in this blog, it's a minor miracle that there are some things I've actually stopped whinging on about.

See, I told you all this moving crap made for a boring read.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

shouldn't I have all of this and

Hey y'all, sorry I have been AWOL. It is not just because I have been buried under boxes and other moving drudgeries (though I have, and then some). It is not just because I didn't have internet access (though I didn't, and now, for the first time ever, I do, at home no less). Most of all, strangely enough, I have not had a whole lot to write. I think perhaps this happens when you are so focused on the present.

Also, who really wants to read about how I'm breaking the laws of conservation of mass, moving from one teeny crackhouse to another yet somehow having too much junk to fit. I find I am too much an extremist. For too long, I hold onto things I do not need, do not want, things that only add clutter to my life. And then, at times like now, I become ruthless and suddenly everything extraneous. must. go. now. But really, who wants to read about this?

I will say one thing. I don't know where anything is, or, in fact, anything about this place, yet it feels like home. It feels like I have a home for the first time in three months, sleeping in my own bed, waking up to the news on NPR, collapsing on my dilapidated couch at the end of a long day. Perhaps home becomes more about routines than location.

Oh yeah, song of the week- due to technical difficulties and ridiculous tardiness, for the two of you that happen to even notice, posting will return to some semblance of normalcy next week, with any luck. I have to qualify everything these days, because I spent so much time just trying to get here that I really have no thought as to what might happen next. And you know what? Though I have never lived my life this way in the past, it feels excellent.

Friday, July 20, 2007

when you're fighting and feeling the winds of change

So. Yesterday morning I came into possession of one MacBook Pro. Now, I imagined when this moment finally arrived that I would, in absolute elation over liberating myself from PC purgatory, enthusiastically rip open the box and dive into the world of all things Mac. And yet, instead, the newly acquired Precioussss sat in its box while I glanced at it anxiously periodically over the day yesterday.

I had to give myself a lecture about how MacBooks are for non-techy doofuses like me. I had to give myself a lecture not to be a pansy and shrink at the word Pro. But finally, I had to give myself a lecture about how I will have enough things to worry about over the next few weeks, so I had to suck it up and open the thing up.

So I finally did it today, and everything in my life seems to have this message of late- what took you so long?!? In classic Apple fashion, the computer welcomed me and held my hand and told me everything would be okay. I'm surprised it didn't serve me milk and cookies and read me a bedtime story when I shut it down to charge. I told my cousin S today that I just had a love marriage with my MacBook, and she is welcome to inform my family. Maybe I can tell everyone I'm registered with iTunes.

Of course, I am still a tech wimp. I'm still writing this blogpost from the crap PC, and it's heating my knee such that I'm pretty sure I'll have to get treated for third-degree burns presently. I still have to figure out how to get all my files transferred and how to make my iPod talk to my new MacBook. Periods of transition are always a hassle. But it seems like I always factor in the transition period pains far more than I ought to. After all, the transition period is really a blink of an eye in comparison to the before and to the after.

And I have a whole lot of after coming up. The transition is almost at its end. And yet, I get the sneaking suspicion that many transitions lie ahead still. Lots of little waves to weather from this stretch of solid ground to the next island.

Oh, and a lot of last minute errands, phone calls, packing, and baking. Alert the presses if I make it to Monday without a meltdown.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

the way that I linger, the way that I lie

Sometimes you have to be careful with what you write. If you write something and it cuts too close, it can crawl under your own skin. You let it get to you and it occupies your mind, coloring everything that happens afterwards. Everything that follows somehow serves as supporting evidence. You can let this happen and fall down a rabbit hole.

But, as my favorite poem goes, one train may hide another. One instant, one feeling, one momentary surge of frustration does not the whole truth contain. I felt myself catching fire today, and then I stepped into the shower and barked, "alright, enough, stop," sternly to myself.

Some things can be fixed and some things cannot be fixed, and while this is often a hard reality to accept, it is reality. If you do not believe me, have a look at The Year of Magical Thinking (it might also explain the rather overwrought nature of my last post).

After I had given myself a firm talking to, I made phone calls, arrangements, appointments. Tomorrow morning comes the lists. The lists are usually a sign that I've stopped all the dawdling and started actually doing.
*

But, in lighter matters, there are the series of unfortunate experiments that needed to reach completion. Ever since Barcelona, I've had it in my head that chocolate and ginger make an interesting combination. Fooling around with an oatmeal cookie recipe, I decided to throw in some chocolate chips with some crystallized ginger. The results were not photographed, because they were consumed rather quickly. Now, that might sound like success, but it was absolute failure. The ginger was so mild that it was undetected, so everyone thought they were eating a chewy chocolate chip oatmeal cookie. I was taking this seriously, so I treated it like a true experiment and kept track of the results:

pulling your puzzles apart

I'm not usually this deliberate when I'm baking. Even though I am convinced I find a lot of solace in the kitchen because of its inherent parallel to the work I did in the laboratory, I usually fiddle with things without keeping much track of what I am doing- not particularly scientific. The broseph expressed his annoyance that I was unable to reproduce anything I made, so I started keeping a makeshift lab notebook that I'd scrawl in when I thought something had turned out alright. But this was the first time in a while that I was working on optimization.

Now, you might think that, armed with these notes, I would be good to go. In that case, you would be giving me far too much credit. I wound up with these:

always so lost in the dark

There is no better example of how looks can be deceiving than the above picture. Looks perfectly harmless. But let's just say that I was so annoyed with the outcome that I didn't even open these up for public consumption. I'd varied the recipe exactly as I'd directed myself to. But I was just plain wrong. Chocolate and ginger may be an excellent combination, but not in my hands, not in cookies, not with crystallized ginger. The chocolate is just too overpowering a flavor. If I was going to try this again, which, hey, you never know with me, I would add fresh ginger. Of course, that would probably end in fiasco too, but there you have it. In the meanwhile, I retreated and decided to revert to my original intention, which was fiddling with an oatmeal cookie recipe. And from that, I discovered that crystallized ginger and pecans combine together just fine:

it's not what you thought when you first began it

There is nothing special about these, but you can taste the ginger, and any time I can make an oatmeal cookie without a raisin, I feel I've done my part in this world. It's funny how this cookie bares no resemblance to my initial desire to marry chocolate and ginger. Maybe I am too quick to give up, to decide they are not meant to be, to find them less troublesome partners. Maybe they will meet again in the future and find a way to coexist peacefully- they just haven't yet determined what can bind them together without discord.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

it's all in the past now you've forgotten

My hands were heavy with groceries. My father’s car was parked already in the garage. As I fumbled for the keys to the door, I could hear them, and I didn’t have to even make out the words. The television would be turned up too loudly, and my father would be recounting the day’s minutiae- how much time he had spent waiting for the train in the morning, what he had for lunch, what tasks his 30-years-his-junior supervisor had assigned him, something self-congratulating about it all. My mother asked questions. “Did you tell her you wouldn’t do it?” or “How did you respond?” If the groceries weren’t of the perishable kind, I would have been tempted to get back in the car and drive away. These were the rituals of a long-married couple, a couple who were always a couple first, parents second. Not a good couple, not a happy couple, but it was always the main event, took center stage.

If there was a reason that I constantly feared I might be invisible, if there was a reason that so many of my thoughts were left in my head instead of articulated to anyone else, it was this seemingly idyllic scene I was about to enter. I was invisible. I was a ghost in the house now, perhaps of my own doing, but I’d always been but an apparition. To be seen required dramatic gestures, required a self-destructive streak that I had (thankfully, thankfully, thankfully) discarded upon separating my life from that of my parents.

There was never a question of whether I was happy. There was only the question of how I was affecting their happiness.

I used to say that I walked through the fog in San Francisco in my early days there and felt myself dissolving away into those wet particles. But it was actually quite the opposite. I was materializing. I was finally coming out of the ether, in San Francisco of all places.

I stopped sleepwalking, came out of the fog there. Not here. Here, I was not here. I only lived in my bedroom. Outside of my room, I did not exist. And to me, it’s the great irony of my life, this strange haunting, because I cannot stand a lie, a fraud, a false note. If I say, “let’s be friends,” it is not lip service, and it will not be good enough that we just managed to let it fade away without a scene. There will be a scene, things will not be left unsaid.

Things will not be left unsaid. Things have not been left unsaid, I’ve thought with great satisfaction, about some of what makes my heart whole. Yet everything has been left unsaid in this case, because it’s too late. Maybe that’s why things have not been left unsaid in all other regards. Because I know what happens when things are left unsaid- when things are left unsaid, you dread the turn of the key and the strangers on the other side of the door.

Monday, July 16, 2007

I never say what I want to say

And if the whole world's singing your songs
And all your paintings have been hung
Just remember what was yours is everyone's from now on
And that's not wrong or right
But you can struggle with it all you like
But you'll only get uptight


So, usually when artists complain about the trappings of fame, it's usually a recipe for disaster. There's inevitably a backlash, and some of it is understandable. For the most part, I'm totally unforgiving about actors who complain about everyone hounding them, because 1) they make an obscene amount of money given their profession and 2) most of the time, they orchestrate their exact predicament, and so the whining has a false note or ten.

Yet there is something universal in what it is artists get irked by. There is some reason we sometimes feel empathy for them. And I think that reason is that they are experiencing an exaggerated version of what many of us feel- that people often want more from us than we can give, that people gossip about what is happening in our lives, and of course, most distressing (at least to me) of all, that we are misunderstood.

I have finally abandoned the notion that it is possible for people to completely get each other, though it requires me to fight rising tides of hope to do that. And similarly, I think I have abandoned the hope that people understand what I am trying to say when I am writing. The latter, however, is a much trickier task, because it always begs a dreaded question- is the writing just sh*t and therefore unintelligible? And most often, the answer is yes, and so it all comes back to my own inabilities.

But it's even more than that. When I first started this blog, and often times thereafter when I went a bit far in a post, I felt exposed, overexposed. I felt I was sharing too much, and there I had vomited something personal and given it to anyone who happened along, and shouldn't I be more internal? And also that once it was out there, it was out in that form, and it could not be represented again, repackaged, reinterpreted, reimagined into something better or something more. Rough drafts that could never be edited.

Now, it's completely ludicrous to relate this to Wilco's What Light, but at this point, the ludicrous has become my area of specialty. Artists, real artists like Wilco and serious writers and painters, they all must struggle with serious frustration. They put so much into their work, you can feel how much of themselves they put into it, and there must be a sense of loss when their work is devoured, digested, dissected by the masses and begins to feel foreign. When a piece of you starts to feel alien, that is a challenging feeling to absorb. I think most people (or perhaps just me) tend to give their pieces, the little pieces of themselves they're willing to part with, to friends, to loved ones. So to be misunderstood by friends or loved ones feels so jarring, because they carry you with them but they don't see you.

That's a lot of rambling for a beautiful, calm Monday, but all I really wanted to say is that there's something deeply satisfying about Jeff Tweedy's resolution, which is really not a resolution at all. It can best be summed up as- it is what it is, deal. But his lyrics say it so much better, which is why he gets to complain, and I get to shut my mouth.

Friday, July 13, 2007

it takes two when it used to take one

Contrary to what I had wanted, I am not in New York at the moment. It is cracking me up that I held, for a long time, a position that required me to maintain plans with tricky schedules. It is amazing that I wasn't fired, based on my utter failure to plan anything of late. After fifteen rounds with the movers over the past two days, I think everything is squared away. I suppose all I really know is that they showed up late this afternoon and took the majority of my worldly belongings. Whether they show up on the other side is anyone's guess, and honestly, at this point, I don't really care. I think if my copy of The Little Prince gets to me and nothing else, that might suit me just fine.

Hopefully, I will actually get to New York tomorrow. Hopefully it will not be a flash in the pan, blink and you'll miss it visit like my last one was. But I'm not sure. I must be the most frustrating person on earth right now for others to tolerate, what with my standard, robotic, "Ummmm, I don't know, maybe" response to pretty much everything. I might be in New York. I might have obligations there, I might not. Who knows. I don't know when I became so averse to commitment and scheduling, but that's my current state. And of course, when you act this way, more often than not, you end up alone, because all your plans fall through and it turns out no one wanted to see you in the first place. But I'm not sure I even care. I just need to get out of here. There's oppression in the air that has nothing to do with the thick promise of rain.

Besides all of that, something ridiculous happened today. Something totally and absurdly ridiculous. I'm really starting to wonder if each of my closest friends has lost their precious minds. Today, in the midst of mover madness and watching my plans to go to New York disintegrate, I got a phone call from RR, and now it turns out I have two godchildren. TWO. How did that happen? This time, it was more serious than the last. In fact, the last time now seems like an episode of Punk'd or something, even though I rationally know that it was steeped in significance and all that blah blah blah. RR, on the other hand, just took archery practice on me and flat out said, "Look, if we passed away, you're the only person I'd want to raise my child."

Since when did anyone find me a responsible adult who could take on these kinds of grave responsibilities? Hello? Did you people miss the part where I quit my perfectly good job? Or the part where I hemorrhaged money carousing about Spain for nearly a month? Or how I have a tendency to inhabit crack shacks? Or how I call small children ankle-biters and agree with everyone who says that a Sunday at Target is all the birth control anyone ever needs? And why, when I bring all of this up, do all of my friends laugh and wave it off as if I am being cute? I am not being cute! I don't think I've been cute since I was the age of these suddenly-thrown-into-my-charge godchildren of mine.

If you don't believe, let's go straight to the source:

    Me: Moms, you're never going to believe this. RR asked me to be his kid's godmother.
    Mom: Why do these people pick YOU? It's so odd.


Oh, and also, please send me any tips about baptisms/christenings/whatever ceremony it is godmothers are responsible for participating in-- being a heathen, I have no clue.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

that solo's awful long

To observe proper penance for the disturbing Coca-Cola baking crimes of yesterday, some biscotti was made today. It looked like this:

I don't think it's going to happen anymore

This biscotti had apricot, white chocolate, and almonds in them, among other things. They need work, but this was the first time I'd even ever made biscotti (I've unfortunately suffered from having not one friend who even likes biscotti, so there hasn't been much of a draw to date), so I can live with it. And (worry not) that is all I will say about baking today.

Instead, I'll assault your other senses, by telling you a little about Transformers. Of course, if last weekend's numbers are any indication, all of you have already seen it so you really do not need anyone deconstructing it for you. But whatever, I shall provide you my thoughts anyway:

  • If you are of my generation and you watched the Transformers television show (which I did because, much to my mom's dismay, I was an utter tomboy at the time), you will be hard-pressed to dislike the movie. I'm not really sure why there were little children in the movie theater, because, conversely, I really do not get how you could truly enjoy the movie without having seen the television show.

  • Shia LaBeouf earned his stripes. I was pretty skeptical when I heard he was playing a major role in the new Indiana Jones installment, because a) River Phoenix, now and forever, b*tches, and b) playing against Harrison Ford in these movies should be left to heavy-hitters like Sean Connery. However, I have to say that the kid did well in this movie. In fact, he might have been the only thing in the movie that made sense at any given moment.

  • Sure, the women in the movie were pretty much window dressing, but let's just all admit that when Michael Bay is involved, the bar is set dismally low anyway. When you compare against Liv Tyler (Armageddon) and Kate Beckinsale (Pearl Harbor), Megan Fox actually fared pretty well.

  • This movie would have been just okay, and maybe even unbearable given the length, if it weren't for the constant parade of "Hey, It's That Guy!" visitations. Jon Voight might be out of his mother-loving mind, but when he pops up in a movie, I always feel I'm in for something amusing. A Bernie Mac cameo, even though it's not that amusing? Absolutely. I will stop and watch nearly anything if Anthony Anderson shows up. And, John Turturro? Acting zany and a bit maniacal? Come on- everyone knows that you don't F*ck with the Jesus.

  • Even given all of this, I still would have preferred to watch Live Free or Die Hard, for a multitude of reasons. The biggest reason is that Transformers would have been better if it had been an hour shorter. A whole hour. No joke.


So there you have it. Moving logistics are currently placing my brain in very real danger of exploding. I understand that things happen, but saying that all of your belongings could arrive in a place any time over a 10-day range and that you must be present at all times during a 10-day range just doesn't strike me as even vaguely reasonable for a normal human being. This may call for a trip to New York. Now.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

it wasn't what you wanted

I swear I am going to write about something other than baking soon, really. One of my cousins claims you can chart my descent into madness directly to how much baking I am doing (which means we must be at threat level firehouse nuclear-meltdown red right now). Of course, one of my cousins also kept telling me that my baking addiction reminds her of some character from Grey’s Anatomy. In fact, she kept telling me this with such enthusiastic cheer that I finally could hold it in no longer and burst out a confession about how every time she says that, the Baby Jesus cries I vomit in my mouth a little more.

In the comments today, Rahul (who really ought to start his own blog) asked me if I was from the Dirty South. Dude, for the record, let me just say that you don’t have to be from the Dirty Dirty to get down with it. Us Northeastern ruffians can be just as trashy as the next person. Plus, we blatantly steal from the Dirty South, which in some ways makes us even trashier.

This is heading somewhere, but before I get there, let me pause for a brief word about my crazy family. I didn’t really start baking until I was in my late 20s, just about the time I was drifting farther and farther from the clutches of EBF. But even as an adolescent, I dabbled in the occasional baking project. Calling them projects is rather generous though- they were mostly sponsored by the likes of Duncan Hines and Betty Crocker. However, no matter what all I have ever baked afterwards, no matter how much I work on my ability to make a cake from scratch, some of my cousins think I can never outdo a cake I made when I was 16.

Now, that cake was horrendous. It was the kind of cake that would make any self-respecting adult gag. If I recall correctly, it was yellow cake mix from a box, followed by chocolate frosting from a can. And then, and this is what put me in the Baker's Hall of Fame amongst my insane cousins, I basically purchased about ten different types of candy and affixed them to the cake. I mean, there was no real estate left on this cake, what with the Gummi Bears and the M&M’s and the Bottlecaps and every other imaginable instant cavity-generator. It was truly disgusting, but here’s the one thing that’s worth knowing- you have to cater to your crowd. And the crowd that day was a set of Twindians celebrating their fifth birthday, and holy sugar rush, did they go mad for this cake.

They still talk about it to this day, and I always find it a bit laughable. If they really remembered what that cake tasted like, I’m pretty sure they would puke. But what they remember is being five years old and getting exactly what you wanted. I think they remember the feeling of someone giving you just what you asked for, rather than the taste of what they got.

So when another cousin, a cousin who is not even a first cousin, but who somehow still respectfully calls me “didi” (it’s really hard not to laugh every time he says it though), gushed about a recipe he’d found for a Coca-Cola Cake, I turned soft as I rarely ever do. I did something I haven’t done in over ten years- I bought cake mix. I grossed myself out by adding a can of Coke to said cake mix. And this afternoon, I made a horrendous looking frosting that is supposed to be flavored with both chocolate and Coke. I have a feeling that my cousin is going to be disgusted by it too, as he is not five years old. But he did get exactly what he asked for (Update: the cousin in question agreed that these cupcakes were cloyingly sweet, but also told me I’d fulfilled a decade-long dream of obtaining these abominations, so I guess it’s a wash).

I got friends in low places

Tomorrow, I get a chance for redemption, as I’ve been invited over to an auntie’s house to make Apricot & White Chocolate Biscotti. Should be a good deal more satisfying, and will be entirely therapeutic after a morning spent coordinating moving companies (blech!).

Monday, July 09, 2007

act your age not your shoe size

Signs that I may be further regressing back towards adolescence:

  • As I currently write this, my hair is in two ponytails and a bandana. Seriously. And I'm so comfortable with it that I'm thinking of keeping this 'do in my arsenal for when I move back to California. How long before my friends stage an intervention, do you think?

  • I creep around the house at night, sometimes to secretly watch the Colbert Report.

  • I made a cake with Coca Cola today. Okay, technically this might not be about adolescence. It might be about regressing back to my trashy roots. It might be a long story. It might be best saved for another time.

  • My 22-year old cousin should shoulder the blame for this, but then again, I didn't put up any much of a fight- I joined the masses that were out to see The Transformers this weekend. I have a lot to say about this movie, and here is where the evident signs of adolescence come into play: most of what I have to say is positive (!?!).

  • I am listening to music like this week's song- Junior Senior's Take My Time. It sounds like something that might be blaring at a rollerskating rink or a high school dance, something that should be accompanied by Solid Gold dancers. Yet I listen to it all the time, in the car, while I'm running, any time I am in need of a spaz attack.


It might be time to make another run out of EBF. Unfortunately, that is easier said than done at the moment, but I am working on it, since my sanity hangs in the balance, clearly. I do, however, think that being unemployed has simply peeled away the charade that I am mature, thus exposing my undoubtedly arrested development. Then again, I suppose we're all childish about something or another. I could probably write a list twice as long outlining why my parents have regressed, possibly all the way back to infancy. It's weird- it's as though all of us just have flashes of maturity, moments of lucid thought, and the rest of time, we may as well be chasing after the ice cream truck.

p.s. If anyone ever snarled at me the way that Rafa does when he's really in the thick of a fight, I am fairly certain my knees would go all wobbly on me. Am I in need of therapy?

Thursday, July 05, 2007

the stillness still that doesn't end

A minor observation:

    Walking around alone at 9pm in any respectable American city: totally chill.

    Walking around alone at 9pm in EBF: totally creepy.


I'm not sure if I thought a killer deer was going to attack me, but what with the dim lights and the disturbing lack of noise, I am pretty sure my blood pressure was higher than it ought to have been for such a short walk.

It had just rained, which compelled me to walk to dinner at A Auntie's house. One of EBF's few saving graces is the smell of the air after a good rain. The pavement steamed, the smell of mulch and earth and hickory charcoal ripe in the air. My father originally planned to walk, but the rain scared him away- he kept saying that he got caught in a downpour while driving home, and he wasn't wanting to risk it on foot. Because that would be scary somehow? I'm not sure, the logic was clearly lost on me. Then, of course, after dinner, my father smirked as he asked if I wanted a ride home. And right on cue, rebellious Bad Indian Daughter syndrome kicked into effect, and I basically pouted, "Whateva, I do what I want!" and brazenly walked home in the dark.

It was so quiet and dark on the walk home that it was unsettling. Why do my parents constantly have their television volume set to 11 when you can hear a pindrop fall in EBF? The only sound that filled the air on my walk home was the sound of crickets chirping and leftover firecrackers in the distance. And somehow the street lamps were so dim that the road felt dark, but for the calm spark of fireflies here and there. Sure, the setting felt eerily similar to those on film that end with teenagers massacred- but in the real world, it was more foreign than anything else. Here is where I grew up, but there, the city, any city, there is where I feel more comfortable. I still can't figure out how that happened, and how it seems to have happened so irreversibly.

There are a lot of thoughts swirling in my head tonight, due to a conversation I had with RR that started with, "You know what your problem is?" You know you're in for it when that's the opening line. The thoughts keep turning in my head, because, in this case, RR was dead-on, sniper-skilled right. And I totally agree, and can see how it's a problem, and yet I do not know how to change it, or I don't know why I don't want to change it. And that has caused me to develop quite a headache all of a sudden. Maybe I can make sense of it and write something coherent about it another time. Maybe not.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

another June has gone by

It turns out the cheesecake I mentioned yesterday went over quite well this evening. But then again, I think there's a secret I ought to share with you about desserts and Indians, or at least desserts and Gujjus- combine pistachio and cardammom, and the rest does not matter. I'm sure no one made use of it, but some years back, I posted a recipe outlining the making of pistachio-cardammom cookies. Well, let me tell you peeps, that silly, simple recipe turns out to be the gift that keeps on giving. I crushed those cookies up, threw in a bit of melted butter, and there began the crust that made the cheesecake irrelevant. As predicted, the mango flavor in the cheesecake was extremely muted. However, those who tasted it remarked that it felt lighter than your usual cheesecake, and I think the mango pulp was the cause of that. Plus, having been hosed before by cooked/baked mango, I had sliced up some fresh mangoes to serve with the cheesecake. Anyway, enough about this- if anyone expresses even the vaguest amount of interest, I will post the recipe. Don't worry- I'm not holding my breath.

*


As the 4th of July approached this year, I was thinking of a lot of negative things, and how much it seems like our liberties are diminishing in this country. I was also thinking of patriotism, and how many aspects of patriotism are completely ruined for me. For example, I got a little knot in my stomach a few weeks back when my parents insisted we go to this small-town pizza place that had a huge "God Bless America" banner posted outside. Some of you know about that knot, the little stomach ache that makes you dread entering such places. And that, in turn, immediately leads to anger for me, because I feel like I've been robbed of my patriotism, like we've all been robbed of our patriotism. Because since when did "God Bless America" translate to "You're Either With Us or the Terrorists"? And is it all in my head?

Oh, so, I was all set to rail against all this sh*t, and ponder these odd feelings associated with patriotism, but then I couldn't. Because you know what? I really do love this country. The life I am living right now, the choices I have had the luxury of making- so much of it is only possible because I live in this country. I am a product of the public school system. I wasn't quite on the poverty line, but I sure wasn't catching any breaks. To think that I just got back from Spain and am about to embark on absolute foolhardiness for the next several years, it's truly humbling, because I know this country has something to do with it.

Not just that, but there's the matter of independence on Independence Day. Today, I was not seized by the temptation to regress to adolescence and whine about staying with my parents at the moment and feeling suffocated. Today, I am well aware that this was my choice, that it is temporary, and that I have had a lot of say in how I have lived my life. It always irked my mother, when I was a kid, how ridiculously independent I always strove to be from such a young age. The idea of being alone, or having your own, distinct opinion was so foreign to a woman who had been raised in India, and here her child was constantly demanding just that. But how did the notion get into my head? It wasn't from my parents- they are both cut from the same do what society would expect cloth, and truly wither away unhappily when they are not surrounded by people. Their strange alien of a daughter? Well, I have to believe it was in the air. It was in the soil, in the water, in the air where I was born- the urge to be free, the impulse for independent thought, the courage to stand alone and face whatever hand life may deal.

I certainly am not going to claim this country is perfect, or that it has not given great cause for alarm of late. Calling it a great land of opportunity nowadays seems a bit disingenuous. Still. America may not offer up the world as your oyster, but it also never says never (okay, I suppose this would be the time when the discerning reader will yelp, very rightly so, about illegal immigrants, so maybe I need to rethink my phrasing on this). America, more often that not, says maybe. And I don't know why, but today, that feels pretty powerful.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

and wouldn't it be so tragic if everything just went amiss

Scheisse, how I would like to tell you that I have been otherwise occupied with deep thoughts, careful ponderings and intellectual pursuits. Alas, in fact, I spent the last twenty-four hours quite in contrast to all that.

Upon returning from Peru, I was seized by the need to get in the kitchen and make myself useful. Back then, it had to do with being surrounded in Peru by caf├ęs and bakeries, and with traveling in a place where everyone seemed hard at work producing something, whether it was food, clothing, or whatever else. While I was in Spain, Barcelona especially, I could not wait to get back to a kitchen to get a little messy. But the impulse originated from something different this time. Barcelona in particular is a place that seems to embrace flavor.

One could make a case that the rest of Spain is not wildly adventurous about food, but Barcelona just struck me as daring. You know, you wouldn’t think you’d find a sumptuous chocolaterie in Barcelona, but you will, mostly because, for example, Cacao Sampaka will pair chocolate with the unexpected. Saffron-infused chocolate, rosemary-infused chocolate, flavors that make you stop and think about what it is you are tasting. After a great meal at a tapas place, you find yourself ordering a dessert that sounds totally absurd- who, after all, believes a dense ball of chocolate mousse should be topped with a thin dripping of (!) olive oil followed by a sprinkling of (!?!) sea salt? Yet, you taste it and you marvel at how it’s perfection. Or you pass a simple enough bakery in the Born, where piles and piles of cookies spill forth in the window sill- you stop in and realize there is not one conventional cookie there, and walk out with a chocolate chip-basil cookie. Which is, of course, wonderful.

Barcelona seems to have this por que no? attitude pulsing through the city. The architecture (of course), that a super-modern building will stand right next to one of the oldest ones in the city, the gamut of women with purple highlights to those who embody perfect elegance, and the food, most certainly, the food. Somehow, there is this spirit of daring, this spirit that suggests that it does not matter if you wind up with a gaudy or disgusting failure- it’s all in the attempt, in the experiment.

I had so many ideas walking around El Born and the rest of Barcelona, but I have forgotten a lot of them. Being in EBF also means that unusual ingredients are not as easy to obtain. However, I have been yearning to follow through, because I’ve been feeling like it would be a shame not to let some part of Barcelona seep into my way of being for now.

So, today, I did not spend the day thinking. I spent the day in the kitchen pretty much. There’s a party at the house tomorrow, and my father asked me to supply dessert. It’s a little bit of a desi overkill, but I decided to throw caution to the wind and the result was this:

tell me that it's madness to want something quite like this

It’s cheesecake, but not really. The crust is not a graham cracker crust- instead, the crust consists of crushed cookies made of pistachios and cardammom. For the filling, I decided to go for some mango, since we had a lot of ripe ones lying about the house this morning. If I was going to fiddle with it again, I might forego the mango (which never really comes through in baked goods anyway) and make a saffron-flavored cheesecake filling instead. Whether today’s experiment was any good remains to be seen- I shall report back tomorrow. But a Catalonian would wave this part off anyway, because, well, por que no?

Before I made the cheesecake, I decided I ought to warm up. My cousin S was to leave town this morning, and probably will not be back before I leave EBF. I did not have much time yesterday, and S was jonesing for ice cream, so I made little pies with chocolate cookie crusts, mocha ice cream filling and whipped cream to top it off. They did not look particularly artistic, but S and her other teeniac friend devoured them last night. I really think it’s a good thing I won’t be here too much longer, because I am starting to feel like one of those aunties that has to feed your a$$ before you embark on a long journey. Actually, I am not sure that leaving EBF is going to cure me of that.

give a little bit

Of course, none of this holds the dimmest candle to anything I tasted in Barcelona. But that was not really the objective anyway. Got any interesting flavor combinations you want to suggest my way?

Monday, July 02, 2007

it's life's illusions I recall

how's that thought for you?

For no apparent reason whatsoever, on Friday mid-sentence in conversation with K at the MOMA sculpture garden, a sudden, aching pang of longing leapt up within me for, of all things, Spain. Later, I tried to explain why an overwhelming wave of familiarity washed over me at that moment, but all my reasons were weak. Now I feel strangely certain it is specific to being on the East Coast.

I think about the two coasts more than I probably should. It is like I have always been so accustomed to a hyphenated identity that this coastal schizophrenia was inevitable. Or perhaps it is just circumstance that bounces me from one side of the country to the other. Whatever the reason, I feel I am constantly in a state of otherness, out on the fray collecting data.

At first, it had only to do with geography, the feel of it. When I initially saw the West Coast, I was blown away by its physical beauty. But when I let it seep in, really down deep, I felt the scale of things subtly exerting its influence. The landscapes are so sweeping and massive that it is hard not to feel very small. The insignificance of a single existence is punctuated by plunging coastal cliffs, ancient forests with towering redwoods, and narrow roads carved into canyons.

It is not that the East Coast lacks beauty though. I will always think of my home state as one of the prettiest areas in the country. But here the beauty lacks hyperbole. Your heart skips a beat instead of stopping altogether. The physical scale of the East Coast, it now seems to me, is strangely human. People fit here. Nature does not announce itself so emphatically that a person would even think to question whether he was meant to inhabit this space.

But now I have of course been overanalyzing it even further, and it seems that people have taken over the East Coast (or at least the Northeast). People have been battling it out with the East Coast for a lot longer than they've been trying to tame the West, and that kind of shows. The East is older and, because of that and its proximity, is somehow more connected to Europe. The West Coast seems newer and more of an elsewhere. I have come to think of that elsewhere as home, but I never seem to shake a feeling of disconnection (not necessarily in a bad way) from the rest of the country or the world.

But here I have rambled, and I have done the thing I always do. When I talked to RR today and he didn't know what a whoopie pie was, I called him such a Californian. But then on Friday, K and I nearly wrote a dissertation on East Coast characteristics that are tiresome- I even concluded that it was a dissatisfaction with New York that had made me think with such yearning of Spain. Maybe I just need to stop trying to fit all these squares into round holes. Maybe there is no East Coast and West Coast; there are only people who share commonalities with you and people who don't. Maybe, most likely, almost definitely, the aching longing for Spain at MOMA had more to do with being at an internationally acclaimed museum than it had to do with anything else. After all, I clocked a lot of hours in Spain at a multitude of museums, and I would note how everyone from all over the world was absorbing art in their own personal manner.

At the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, while taking in a fascinating exhibit of how Picasso reinterpreted Velazquez's Las Meninas, an Indian woman in her 40s or 50s approached me. Out of nowhere, and violating the unspoken pact of silence I always assumed everyone has at museums, she asked me, "Where are you from?"

Normally, such a question would feel loaded and I would get the eye muscles stretched for rolling, but coming from an Indian woman, I responded with what I felt at that moment. "I am from San Francisco, from the US."

She sighed impatiently. "But I take it you are somehow of Indian origin?" she demanded.

I thought it strange, but I nodded, dumbly for a moment. Then, emboldened by Spain and a shroud of anonymity, I decided to ask, "And where are you from?"

She was more flustered than I have ever been in the same situation. After a bit of hand-wringing, she just burst out, "Well, I am from nowhere." And that was it, we parted ways, and I was left to absorb the oddity of the whole experience.

And yet, if someone asked me today, especially if I was from the East or West Coast, I might answer exactly as she did.