Saturday, June 28, 2008

haven't seen you in ages but it's not as bleak as it seems

The heat and the smoke and the uncus and Pemphigus- we needed to get away from it. So we piled into a car and went to old favorites, unearthed a new treasure (a scoop of cinnamon with snickerdoodles!?!), disrupted hipster-haven, and sat in Dolores Park watching the preparations for a tranny march. Hot by San Francisco standards, cool, breezy perfection by my new ones.

Those I had brought along said foolish things in Dolores Park, the sort of foolish things uttered by people who have not lived in San Francisco, somehow have no understanding of it. Then they balked when I had not been to some deli in North Beach. It did not bother me though, since I was sitting there on such a beautiful day, watching the Twin Peaks tower shrouded in fog. And later, they no longer questioned me, when I found them a parking spot downtown where no tourist would have thought to look.

They only asked, "Did you love living here?"

I said, "Of course I did."

But I didn't explain. I didn't wax nostalgic about it. I can see now that I sort of don't have to anymore. There are things about San Francisco that I love that have stayed with me. A friendly man walking his dog stopped to take our picture when he saw us fumbling around. I stopped to give directions to a pair of clueless out-of-towners huddled by a hotel with a map unfolded in front of them (note to other visitors- while SF is safe, this is still a very foolish thing to do in any city). In the mission, the usual hilarity- an old white man dressed up like Juan Valdez (not on purpose) and a white woman wearing a sari and a poncho. Seemingly punk-rock hipster men with piercings and tattoos carrying... a baby Bjorn with a little hipster-in-the-making snugly inside.

Other things about San Francisco change. Old landmarks give way to new places to experience. What seemed like it would never finish does. Murals are repainted, re-imagined. The music list at Aquarius Records has a new set of bands you ought to hear.

It's what keeps me warm and, in my current home, keeps me cool. The thought that, while I change and San Francisco changes, I'll always carry a little bit of it with me, the little bit that will, hopefully, remain there always.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

these words in shadow play

Yesterday I was annoyed for a variety of reasons, but this morning some maniacal birds woke me up. And for some reason, it did not make me grumpier. For some reason, it humbled me a little.

Beginnings when they are not really beginnings are a little tricky. The beginning of a chapter vs. the beginning of a book, if you will. You know you have to keep going, and it is a beginning of sorts, but it lacks that excitement and energy that the first word held. But if I kept starting anew, and chased every shiny trinket, I suppose I would forever be wandering about in a circle. Although sometimes that feels inevitable too.

As most already know, George Carlin passed away this week. If there is one thing Carlin made clear in all of his performances, it is that he would not want people becoming maudlin on his behalf. So instead, I'll just say that it seemed to me that Carlin's humor was of the best kind. While you were laughing hysterically at his very funny insights, his comedy was of the type that also hit you somewhere in the gut. You found yourself laughing, but at the same time you got the feeling you could have an entire, very serious discussion about the topics he discussed.

I find that extremely valuable at times like these, when often I find the need to laugh about things that are actually not very funny, when you really think about it.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

this is not a romance with the road

This might end up being a little bit like one of those ‘what did you do during your summer vacation’ reports you’re required to give on returning to school. I was thinking, when posing that question to myself, that I have not done a whole lot. I have not gone anywhere really, have not caught up with all the people I might have thought I would, have not trained for a 5K, have not written a research paper. I barely kept up this blog.

But then I considered that I did not feel like I had particularly missed out. It’s not that I squandered my time. It’s just that my notion of happiness has changed. I spent a month in Spain a year ago, and was it wonderful? Indeed it was. Was I buoyant and unbelievably happy? Absolutely yes. Would I go there again some day? In less than a heartbeat. But would the going, would the being there, would all of it make me happy? No.

I loved Spain, and I will always love it. I will always think of it fondly, and I will remember the trip as one of the best of my life. But part of the reason it will be so memorialized for me is that it came at a time when I was happy. Just happy.

But then I wondered what had happened, where had that happiness suddenly gone? As much as I complain and kvetch, school did not do anything to assail my feelings. It began to dawn on me that I was happy in Spain because I was, maybe for the first and only time in my life, extremely, acutely present. I didn’t dissect or dwell on the past and I did not worry about the future. I just started to see, more clearly, what makes me happy. The feeling of the spray of water from a fountain on a sunny day in Madrid. The cool shade and cracks of light provided by the dark wood door on the Mezquita. Drinking white wine and sherry with an old friend to the point of taking those ridiculous camera shots where one person is holding the camera.

And then, of course, Barcelona. There is all the grandeur of Barcelona, the things you are told to see- Parc Guell and Sagrada Familia, the Miro museum, Las Ramblas and the Boceria. But I have a feeling that is not what I will hold dear. What I will hold dear is going on a search for saffron and in the process finding a bakery that mixed all manner of flavors together in their cookies- coffee and basil, shortbread biscuits with bacon.

I will be tickled by the night I stayed out late to go to the only bar that sells absinthe, where a British man spoke such crap Spanish that I cut him off and asked, “Do you speak English?”.

To which, he replied, “Yes,” and after a long and deliberate pause, asked, “Do you?”

And I will remember all the walking, the quiet walks on bustling streets and the feeling of life pervading all corners. Vibrancy. It kept me happy.

While all of this was lovely and in some ways can only be found in Spain, the underlying fact is that what really makes you happy (or me happy, at least) are little things. Little, blink-and-you-miss-it things. Like this IM chat RR and I had this evening:

    RR: Your first boyfriend, that guy from high school?
    me: No, I don’t count him- he was ultimately too boring.
    RR: I like him already.
    me: Yes, you really would have- he went to West Point.
    RR: Army. But not bad. Hmm.
    RR: Guess being all he could be wasn’t enough for you.

And then later:

    RR: Big T was betting all these blokes in a bar in Windsor when we were in the UK.
    me: Oh man. Knowing him, he probably wound up in a debt.
    RR: That’s what I would have guessed too, so imagine my surprise when the poor sod came over with 20 quid for Big T.
    me: Holy crap! Maybe T does better abroad.
    me: He’s like the Hoff!

Yes, we act like 12-year olds, but it occurs to me that this immature behavior of ours, well, makes me happy.

Other things that make me happy:

  • Given the spontaneously-combustible weather here of late, making tank tops of linen or cotton by hand, and finding they fit better than what I would have wound up buying at some clothing store.

  • Inexplicably, soaking mung beans in preparation for cooking them for dinner.

  • Walking to the market every few days, partly to save money, partly because it felt luxurious to have such time at my disposal.
  • Learning to roll out dough in a proper circle, which translated to learning to make empanadas from scratch, and figuring out how to do that twisty foldover thing that somehow eluded me previously.

  • Cake disasters, followed by leftover cake that turned into a pseudo-truffle idea that worked out to be a good hit with a certain sweet friend.

  • Making strawberry sorbet from scratch, making tart Greek frozen yogurt from scratch, and toying with the ice cream maker for the past month, which included several crash-and-burn episodes with caramel.
    a little something to make me sweeter

So you know. I may not have traveled to distant lands, or had radical shifts in my life. I may not have accomplished anything of note. But I find, in reviewing how I spent my time, that I was, by and large, happy. Really, I cannot have asked for more than that.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

because my country is all I know

All that complaining about the heat? Well, it got way worse. Today, I got home and the heat actually caused me to break into hives. Either that or a swarm of mosquitoes descended upon my arms without me noticing, in which case, maybe the heat has melted my brain.

Of course, I didn't get home from a hard day's work or anything, so I suppose I ought not complain at all. I was over at a friend who has air-conditioning, watching an entertaining soccer match between Germany and Portugal, part of the Eurocup. Yesterday, I had waxed all cheesy about basketball and the silly meanings we derive in such sports, but I completely forgot that nowhere are sports more hyperbolized than in European soccer.

This time I was watching as something of an observer rather than an active participant. I was hoping Germany would win, simply because the friend who had invited me was German, and extremely engaged in the match. If she talked about the win incessantly (which she did), she would have talked about the loss to the point that I might have had to run away screaming. When the Germans won, she let out such a high-pitched squeal, I could have sworn that dogs in the neighborhood seemed suddenly agitated.

Still, it was fun to watch with someone who really enjoys the sport and has some allegiance to a team. Thinking more about it, I find that sports walks this fine line. There is something beautiful, and I noticed it when I was visiting Spain last year. AL and I were walking along the river in Sevilla while a soccer match was ongoing. Each bar we passed, everyone was gathered around cheerfully watching the game together, no matter how small the television in the establishment. When Sevilla won that night, you could hear synchronous cheers from either side of the river, and there were cars honking in celebration well into the morning. The town, which had seemed rather sleepy and calm the night before, had transformed into a ticker tape parade instantaneously.

And that's beautiful, the banding together of an entire town around a team. And then, with soccer, consider this- all these individual regional rivalries are set aside for tournaments like the World Cup and Eurocup, where suddenly players are on a national team. An unfortunately faux-hawked/mulleted wunderkind from Manchester United is suddenly playing for Portugal. And now the entire country joins together to cheer for their team. There is something really inspiring about that unity.

Yet, something frightening and scary too. It's like patriotism carried one step too far. Just as fanaticism can lead to riots on the streets, brawls and bar fights, so can patriotism that has gone one step too far lead to limits on free speech, lack of tolerance, violence, blind faith. And perhaps the most disturbing part about it is how easy it is to get swept in all the vigor and frenzy.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

this is that new song I told you about twenty years ago

Just checking in to do a little trash talking. This week has been a little crazy, even besides the subject on which I'm about to waste time writing, but there will be a respite soon enough.

You had to know that I, being a New England native, would have to write something about the business of the Celtics. If I had the time, I would go link-crazy offering up evidence of the whys and hows. But for now, I was thinking, strangely enough, about the importance of sports.

Because really, professional sports are not that important. We're basically watching a bunch of overpaid people scramble to win a game that is being won mostly for entertainment purposes. But still, sports do seem to mean so much to people. Especially in Boston, where I would daresay they mean entirely too much to people. I know why so many people outside of New England cannot stand Boston-based sports teams- the fans might be the basis of the word fanatic.

Still. Last night was yet another example. History itself got turned on its head. I'm old enough to remember the last time the Celtics won a championship. And though that championship was lovely and memorable, I recall feeling, even at that young an age, that something was over. That team would never play together that way again. The Garden, the decaying, uneven parquet-floored Garden was torn down in favor of a more typically flashy venue. And then there was the matter of the Celtics pretty much sucking for years and years.

I recall sort of shrugging when the Celts started to truly stink, and just thinking, well those times are over. Larry Bird and Kevin McHale and Robert Parish would never be resurrected. Still. Last night was something to see. They are not the same team. Those days will never return. But when you watch a series like this, you realize it's okay that those days will never return. New days come along and give you something new to marvel.

That's, I have to think, why sports matter. You watch the unexpected happen, and you see a group of fans go crazy in support of something that, whether it's stupid or not, matters a lot to them. Maybe my cynicism melts away a little when I watch a series like this, think that perhaps change is possible and good.


On a separate note, though, Kevin Garnett's reaction to winning was some of the most simultaneously hilarious and heart-fluttering of all time. The dude lost his shizz on court at the end of the game, but oddly enough, it was kind of touching to see. There was no sense of entitlement or pre-canned speeches. Later, in the locker room, when asked what happened out there, all he yelled out was "We won!" That kind of enthusiasm from someone who has been in the league for years- sorry, but there is no other word for it but cute.

Also, on chat, my friend VL and I were breaking down the win, like so:

    VL: Oh, no. They just doused the coach with Gatorade.
    Me: I didn't know they were still doing that.
    VL: They probably don't, but it's been so long since they've won anything that they aren't up on the latest.

Finally, I am much amused to think that the man that was once got into a tousle with a 7'+ Tree Rollins and wound up with a bitten finger and a tetanus shot is now a General Manager for a championship team.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

you miss too much these days if you stop to think

Oh boy. I charged my camera this morning in dizzy anticipation of the slideshow I would have to post of the beautiful cake I had pieced together throughout the week. The idea was so perfect- a chocolate layer cake, but to cut the chocolate, dulce de leche ice cream in the middle. And to top it all off, a helping of caramel cream cheese frosting. Each individual component had come together despite their little issues. I had worried, making ice cream from scratch, that it might not harden properly when frozen. Not so, it set beautifully over the past two days, as I checked it along the way. The cake had its issues. It wasn't very sweet, but that was intentional. I had cut the sugar considerably and added almond meal, and tinkered with the recipe as I always do. But it had come out a little crumbly, and I worried it would be too dry. Not to worry, I made some chocolate ganache, and coated the cakes with it, and it drank in the sauce perfectly and transformed into moist cakes. The cream cheese frosting was just what it ought to be, not too sweet, not too tart, and of the right consistency when chilled to frost a cake properly. Everything was settled.

Except today, everything conspired to go wrong. I blame the ice cream. It was the truly disastrous component. It sat beautifully on the cake for about 60 seconds, and then proceeded to start to melt rapidly. So rapidly that the cake quickly started to slant. I tried to throw it all in the freezer, thought perhaps it needed some time to all freeze together. Not so much. I tried to frost the cake while it was in the freezer. Bigger disaster still.

Finally, it was time to admit defeat. Out went the ice cream layer, into a plastic container. The ice cream would have to go on the side. The chocolate ganache wound up making the middle layer. The cake became more amenable to being frosted. All seemed salvaged. Still, the cream cheese frosting was unhappy about being left out without air conditioning,, and the chocolate ganache started to mingle outside of its middle layer. But I chose to ignore these things temporarily. The cake stayed in the refrigerator until I was ready to leave.

I was walking out the door with everything in hand when, quite without warning, splat! The ice cream container inexplicably shattered. It's made of plastic, people. This was truly bizarre, but now there was a big blob of ice cream sitting on my porch, and a quickly deteriorating carton of ice cream. I stared at it for a second and then rushed back inside. I saved the ice cream I could, put it into a bowl in the freezer, and then looked around bewildered. If one more thing went wrong, I concluded, I'd have to take it as a sign and just call off going to this dinner party altogether.

Luckily nothing else went wrong and I went off to the party, looking every bit as frazzled as I felt. Oh, I had brought some from-scratch empanadas, which distracted the guests from the dessert disaster. In the end, the dessert was fine. The ice cream was still tasty, even if it had turned the consistency of soup. The cake tasted fine, even though the frosting sloppily tilted about this way and that. I was mighty annoyed with it, mostly because it had not come out exactly as I had envisioned it in my mind's eye. Certainly, if I didn't know everyone at the party, I would have felt apprehensive about even serving it. But the good thing about dessert is that you can wait until everyone has had a couple of drinks before offering it up for consumption. At that point, they either no longer want for dessert, or their taste buds have dulled.

At the party, a dude that could have become Abhi and Ashvin's fast friend spent at least 35 minutes explaining to me the physics that explain the show Lost. He was talking about wormholes and apertures, y'all. I told him that I think he gives a bunch of Hollywood writers way too much credit, but he was adamant in his disagreement.

And I came home too late to do what I was supposed to do. And in some ways, all of this was subterfuge from what I was supposed to do. I was supposed to have a conversation, and I didn't have it. I was supposed to go away tomorrow, but I very likely won't. I was supposed to take the harder path, but I chose the easy way instead. I'd tell you it's just that I couldn't bear another defeat today, but I think the overly ambitious cake plan was designed to fail as a perfect distraction.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

we leave just before it's gone

There's a gentle breeze blowing through the window, keeping the place from becoming stifling. It occurs to me today that the summer is really just starting, and yet, for me, it is coming to a close. And I am rather ready for it.

I am feeling rather paralyzed. I have to finish making the cake. The frosting is finished, the ice cream that goes in the middle is finished. And it's hot and I don't feel like getting started, but I know I ought to suck it up. That's what the end of the summer, and the end of things in general, feels like-- so close to complete, and yet I am kept from finishing because of weariness, laziness, or just the passing of time.

There is a good chance a rift will finally be acknowledged this weekend between me and my oldest friend. We are both avoiding it, passive-aggressively leaving phone calls unanswered, using other things- school, work, children, cell phone reception, gas prices- as excuses. But I think we both know, and I think we are both holding ourselves back.

I don't really know how people live like this for an extended amount of time. The broseph and I recently had a long chat about a significant impasse he has reached with his SO. To me, it all seemed awfully painful, to know there is this disagreement that can neither be resolved nor be set aside. All the more painful when you do not otherwise want an exit route. I know that some people live lifetimes with these kinds of disagreements between them, but I suppose I never appreciated what a major undertaking it is until recently.

It's really rather unbearable. The easy route is to vilify the other, congratulate yourself. But easy is not right in all cases. And really, I don't see how it would make things all that much easier in the long run. If you have known someone for so long, cared about them so much, what good is it to think that this whole time, you were attached to a scoundrel? It's no better than the reality, it seems to me, and the reality is that suddenly, who knows how, this wide and halting chasm spreads out between us. I don't know how to cross it, I don't know how to make it right. It's like my arms used to be longer, and I used to be able to reach out across the great divide and pull us closer together.

And now, unexpectedly, it's not just that I can't stretch like before. It's more that I am afraid I am grasping for nothing but air. The cheesy songs sometimes get it right, and today that seems especially true: hold on, hold on to yourself, because this is going to hurt like hell. Indeed.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I'm just standing in a doorway

Y'all, it's SJM's birthday! You could go wish him a happy birthday (well, for the next 1.5 hours or so), but fair warning- he might yell at you if you do. I got an ear-boxing for not visiting in a long time, or, well, ever, actually.

But let me tell you, it was the kind of scolding I needed today. That whole when it rains, it pours phenomenon took over recently and I suddenly had this wave of emotion this week, this questioning of whether I have anyone really on whom I can rely, or anyone that even welcomes my company. No worries, no pep talk required. I know I was being irrational, but that's the whole issue with emotions, after all-- they don't really respond to quit being crazy.

You just feel them. And sometimes, like today, I needed to just admit to the feeling. I think I had been exhausted by the constant fighting, the constant internal correction. No, that's not really how it is, I kept telling myself. But today I just stopped fighting. Because once I let myself really feel it, really feel sad and lonely for a little while, suddenly it was a lot easier to let it go, to be convinced that it would all be okay. Sometimes you just have to get reacquainted with sadness and loneliness, realize it's not the end of the world. And sometimes you have to push towards hyperbole in order to get back down to normal, or whatever passes for normal when it comes to me.

And then, under such circumstances, the gentle rear-kicking from SJM translated to a hug. I don't have an answer for him, of course. Going to the east coast may not be in the cards for me for some time (thanks, rocketing fuel prices!). But boy, who would have thought that on his birthday, SJM would wind up giving me a present?

Monday, June 09, 2008

let me stand next to your

Things I learned from my apartment being over 90 degrees at 8:30 in the evening:
  • A run outside can serve as a way to cool down in this situation, unbelievably enough.
  • My neighbors are super wasteful. While I was running, I noticed that every other house not only had the sprinkler on, but had the sprinkler on in such a way that a solid 50% of the water was heading out into the pavement or sidewalk or anywhere not resembling life whatsoever.
  • People like cats in my neighborhood, sort of. While running on one block, I encountered no less than 8 cats wandering around on the sidewalks. These cats were also not of the skittish variety; they sat on the sidewalk glaring at me. Sure, you think this is a sign that I live in catlover's paradise. Except, if you really loved your cat, would you let it wander around outside after dark?
  • I am out of shape.
  • And I hate running.
  • And yet I kind of like it at the same time.

In other news, I am making frosting. I'm doing things a bit out of sequence, but there's logic here. I am trying to assemble a rather involved cake, if you will, and therefore, I am trying to knock the easy parts of the recipe out first. Plus, since I, again, came home to an apartment that was sweltering over 95 degrees this evening, I don't have to wait very long for butter and cream cheese to soften. Living in an oven has its perks. I pulled out a frozen bagel a second ago, and it's pretty much defrosted already.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

she once believed in every story he had to tell

This morning I learned that myself and white wine need to go on a break. This marks me as a bit of a snob, but I have a habit of only drinking alcohol that I myself bring to a party. And while this makes me a snooty jerk, the alternative is the headache that I got this morning. Because the difference between good wine and bad wine is not always the taste-- more often, it's the headache. Of course, for most of the people at the party, this is not an issue. They're young and don't really know the meaning of hangover yet. And that is probably the only thing I miss about being younger.

Because yesterday turned into a bit of a blur, I forgot to take pictures before I took off. Yesterday I made double chocolate cookies in the morning, and then later in the afternoon, I suddenly was seized with the inspiration to make empanadas from scratch. Teach a girl how to roll out dough into a circle, and all kinds of havoc follows, apparently. Because it turned into a bit of a rush job, the empanadas were not as petite and cute as I'd planned them to be. Instead, each one was the size of an entire meal. That didn't seem to bother anyone yesterday, as they disappeared pretty rapidly. But I had a lot of filling left over, so I will be making these empanadas again, and then there might even be photographic evidence that I really suck at making those pretty folds and crimps that some people can manage on empanadas (or samosas for that matter).

When I bake these days, it has to be a carefully orchestrated plan. For example, I make cookie dough at night, and then bake first thing in the morning, when the apartment is actually cooled down from the night air. Sometimes I wake up, turn the oven on to preheat, take the dough out to soften back up, and go back to sleep until everything is ready to go. Similarly, if I am baking later in the day, I have to plan to be out of the house pretty much minutes after the baking is done, because it otherwise heats up to an unbearable extent such that I have to stick my head in an ice bucket. I know anyone foolish enough to read this is wondering why I don't just turn on the air conditioning. But here's the thing- if I'm going to be wasteful enough to turn on my oven in the summertime, then I have to give up the A/C for the timebeing. If I'm not baking anything and it's very hot, I might make allowances.


I know I haven't stopped writing of being in the kitchen lately, and for that I apologize. There's something else occupying my head, but it's really bothering me so much that I am having trouble putting the words down. I have reached a crossroads with someone, and I have been avoiding that reality for maybe over a year now. But it's in my face now, and it's getting increasingly difficult to turn a blind eye.

When you have known someone for a long time, you are willing to make a lot of allowances for them. Whereas I usually assume the worst intentions when I am wronged, I tend to optimistically rationalize into never-never land with people I have known for a long time. I know why. Until a person crosses that invisible threshold, I know I can live without them. I know that I have lived without them, and that I can do without them again should the need arise.

But afterwards, they've become so close to me that they have become a part of me. Afterwards, the idea of losing them is like losing an artery in your body. You know that you may survive, but you also know there will be damage, there will be a scar. It's going to hurt.

So, as long as I can, I have tried to ignore it. But the other day, I realized that I was feeling like a complete failure and f***-up in life, and I realized that it was solely because one of my closest friends in the world was making me feel that way. Now, I had to give this a lot of thought. The whole reason I value having close friends is that I want someone in my life to call me on my sh*t. I want someone to be honest with me. And honestly, I can be intimidating, and thus acquaintances or recent friends do not have the stones to take me on sometimes. So, when I had been repeatedly derided by someone who means the world to me, I had to really sit there with all the facts, sift through it to see what was warranted and what wasn't.

And this time, it wasn't very warranted. It was hurtful. It was even more hurtful than anyone else could be. When someone knows you really well, they know your Achilles' heel. They know which parts of your history to cite that will strike doubt into your heart, make you question everything.

Suddenly, I realized that our entire dynamic had shifted. I hadn't returned calls, I hadn't sent long, idle emails. It was my feeble way of fighting the situation, but it's not a mature way of dealing with things. I know now that I have to face it head-on, and yet I dread it. I can't imagine actually facing it, but I can't imagine not either. I have never been so scared of a confrontation, because, for the first time in a long, long while, I feel I have something very precious to lose.

Friday, June 06, 2008

I know it don't thrill you, I hope it don't kill you

Warning: crappy photography to follow.

I almost fell asleep today while I was in the middle of a mundane task. That was not a good sign, although maybe it was. What I am doing at the moment has little to do with what I want to be doing in the long run. And I always find it hilarious when people fall asleep in our classes. First of all, there is no reason to be sleep-deprived on a normal day in medical school. Secondly, everything we are learning ought to be interesting to you if you are interested in medicine. Thirdly, if it isn't, hardly any of the classes are mandatory, and therefore, there is no reason to go to class if you are going to chat online with others or nod off during lecture.

And yet today I almost fell asleep in the middle of watching a technique someone else was doing. I can laugh at myself about it, but I think it's also a clear indication that my life has moved past the era of loading columns, magnetic stir bars, and argon balloons. If I'm going to be mixing things together these days, if I'm going to be experimenting, it's only going to be happening in the kitchen.

Remember I told you that I wasted 2 cups of flour the other day? Yeah, I wouldn't remember that either, it's fairly dull. But anyway, I was angry. I was trying to make lemon snaps, and the first batch came out horrible. It felt like biting into a rock. I thought I was going to break a tooth. On top of that, hardly any lemon flavor, and overall, just plain bland. It made me fume, mostly because, normally, if I am trying a new recipe, I have the good sense to not waste 2 cups of flour on it. So there I was, two batches of crappy cookies staring me in the face, and a ridiculous amount of raw dough taunting me. Throw it away? Would that be the Guju thing to do?

That's when I decided to just throw caution to the wind. I slapped the whole sucker into a pan and topped it with fig jam. Because, in my experience, figs make everything better. Try it, it's kind of true. Now, in this case, figs can only do so much. But they did keep me from throwing everything away:

Now these are still nothing I would give to another human being, but they serve as good snacks for just me, myself and I. The fig jam gives the whole thing enough of a kick that it doesn't feel like you're eating a sugar-free biscuit, and at this thickness, the cookie part is much softer and less like a brick.

That's nothing to get too worked up about though. So then I had to go back to basics:

Half of these cookies are for me, myself and I also. That would be the half with the chocolate chips in them. Alright, fine, I might share them, especially if I make ice cream this weekend, as I think they would serve quite well as part of an ice cream sandwich extravaganza. In the meanwhile, the plain oatmeal cookies got embellished:

Those might be headed to a dinner party tomorrow night. I'm not a huge fan of oatmeal cookie pies, but I know a few people who like them.

Oh and then to prove to you that I am really losing my mind, here's what I had for lunch yesterday:

I swear to you, six months ago, had I looked at this picture, I might have thrown up in my mouth a little bit (well, except for the wilted spinach, I am like Popeye when it comes to that stuff). And yet I ate it, voluntarily, for lunch. I think I might be pregnant. Just kidding. I hope.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

suppertime in the hole

Maybe I wasn't bitter about politics at all. Maybe I was actually bitter about wasting 2 cups of flour on something that didn't turn out as I'd wanted it to. Don't put it past me to be more worked up by that than anything else- as I already stated, I can be quite self-absorbed.

It's unusually cold today, and by cold, I mean it's in the low 80s. Such has become my frame of reference. Just a little over a year ago, the low 80s would have been characterized a heat wave by me. Nonetheless, I am taking advantage of this. Right now, there is a pot of mung beans (yes, I'm still on this odd Gujarati vegetarian food kick) simmering on the stove. Later, there will, with luck, be a reversal of fortune where cups of flour are concerned. And I get the feeling that everything will be alright.

That's what the kitchen has become for me, I can see now. It's a place to make things okay. I surveyed the refrigerator this morning and saw something that made me a bit sad. Last time I was at the farmer's market, I bought a 5 pound bag of tangelos. Yes, a 5 pound bag. Yes, I live alone. Yes, I am an idiot. It was cheap, I love tangelos, I could not resist. This morning, I saw three forlorn tangelos still sitting in my refrigerator. The last time I had one from this bag, it was soft and showing signs of losing its freshness. Something about the three leftovers just seemed to indicate that they would not withstand being peeled. But to waste tangelos seemed horrible to me. I juiced them, thinking that, if the results were questionable, I would bake the juice into something. But they tasted just fine, and made a very nice addition to breakfast, I must say.

The kitchen seems one of the few places under my control these days. I can save things here, rescue them from bad decisions or salvage them from the edge of decay. I can be mindful in ways that elude me in other parts of my life. And most of all, I get the urge to try. It seems like, in so many ways, it's one of the few places where I don't simply throw up my hands in weariness and declare the damage done and beyond repair.

I'm starting to think that sometimes I spend so much time in the kitchen just because it's a first step in a routine that never happens. It reminds me of what Sunday evenings used to mean to me when I was gainfully employed. Regardless of what foolishness had passed over the course of the weekend, I would go to the market on Sunday night and it was like a reset button, the sign of a new week, the chance to do things properly and right this time around. In the same way, I think a part of me believes that being industrious in the kitchen will lead me to be industrious in all the other neglected aspects of my life. It does not really happen, just as the reset button on Sunday evenings rarely led to anything impressive. But it's nice to think it might.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

just where to put all your faith and how will it grow

Thanks to SJM, you are spared my lack of eloquence on the subject, and instead I can just refer you to Richard Cohen's diatribe against the Democratic campaign this year. He sums it up disturbingly well, and actually, is strangely the only thing that has comforted me regarding this election cycle. I have been completely shocked at how polarized people around me have become regarding the nomination, and have been feeling oddly sad about how not polarized I felt about it. Instead, I just felt bitter, and I think reading Cohen's article finally gave me the feeling that maybe I am not the only one.

I wonder if this is just a sign of age. I can't help but think about this because my little youngblood classmates are sincerely, earnestly excited about the election. They are fired up in that way that only youth can be fired up- with the blinders on and with no acceptance of how much of what is said is rhetoric and not real.

In some ways, I love to see it. It reminds me of how passionately I, too, believed in my youth in change. I remember how unreasonably exhilarated I was when Bill Clinton won the DNC nomination. In some ways, it wasn't that different a time. The economy was circling the toilet, Bush the First had his head buried in the sand, and the country was coming out of a war in Iraq. And it's probably hard for people to believe who have seen him in recent months, but Bill Clinton was talking some good voodoo. He was talking about change and hope, and I was buying what he was selling. I remember how convinced I was that things were going to really change when he became president.

Unfortunately, I remember everything that came afterwards too. And so now, I'm left to ponder whether there has been a steady decay over the last several years, or whether all of this has happened and will happen again. Maybe it was always like this, and I'm just older now and realizing it.

Maybe the decay was actually in me, and the hopes that I had in my youth have been eroded. Obviously, I prefer not to believe that. I get nervous when people talk about big change, I suppose, these days, because I do not believe in that anymore. Big changes are usually bad news. Maybe that's just science talking, but I tell you, most of the time, big changes are too much of a shock to the system, and are not tolerated particularly well.

What I've come to believe in is homeostasis and entropy. Everything tends towards chaos, physics dictates that it must be so. But the body maintains order, sets stability for itself, regulates. What can happen is that set point can shift. It shifts subtly, with small, barely tangible moves, and slowly, there is a shift. That is the kind of change I believe in. Science, I suppose, has taught me two things- patience and insignificance. Change comes slowly, and our best attempts are often thwarted by entropy, by the natural order. But that we still have hope, that we still make the effort, I think there's something to be said for that.

I guess that is what I don't like about politics. It's too much emphasis on someone else. Placing your hopes in other people is great, but it's far more important to spend some of that hope inwardly, I should think. So, perhaps (perhaps?!? bwahaha) I am extremely self-absorbed, but: while I have some hope that Obama will win the presidential race and change the course of the country, I am hoping much moreso that I will find some purpose in life and be of some use, that I will be a better person and do a little more for someone beside myself.

Oops. I guess you got the ineloquent diatribe just the same.

Monday, June 02, 2008

I don't belong to you and you don't belong to me

It started with me thinking about why I knit but don't sew (bear with me, I promise not to talk about arts & crafts for the entirety of this post). I have wanted to learn how to sew for some time. Well, I should modify that- I knew how to sew, once upon a time, but I have wanted to refresh myself on the subject and actually do it well. But then again, I have been saying that for some years now and have never actually put my mind to it.

But there's actually a big difference between knitting and sewing. I couldn't figure out knitting when I was younger, and so I never even really got started. Sewing, on the other hand, was easily learned, especially since we actually had to learn it in middle school as part of class. When I was younger, sewing appealed to me. Have a plan, lay it out carefully, tend to it with precision and detail, execute and there you have it.

Knitting has never gone that way for me. Technically, you should be able to approach it the same way, but there is always something that I haven't accounted for with knitting. There is always something I am tinkering with along the way, always something that turns out differently than I expected. And it's fine, because you can almost always go back with knitting. It's a forgiving thing- you can unwind and unravel, clean the slate, start from scratch, approach it differently until you get it right.

Not so, for the most part, with sewing. You need a clear, focused vision, a full understanding of all the components and how they will play together, before you ever turn on a sewing machine. When I was young, I had all kinds of grand plans for sewing, and it was both a triumph when the plan led to fruition and a tragedy when it all went awry. But either way, it was fairly irreversible.

I did not mind that so much when I was young. I sort of thought I would just do better next time, learn how to reliably achieve perfection. And now. Well, now I do not have such delusions. I still believe I can be better, that I can learn. But I don't believe in perfection anymore. And that's why knitting is so attractive to me. Nothing need go to waste. If it goes to waste, it's because you gave up on it, and in that case, you have only yourself to blame. And best of all, even if you do give up, you can go back. You can come back to it later, it will be waiting for you.

Yes, it's a lot of work, in some ways more work than sewing, but the amount of flexibility and reversibility it offers makes it attractive to me. And I came to see that means something in my life. I had, a few months ago, remarked in passing to classmates that I'll likely never buy an apartment or house. They looked at me with pity and tried to assure me that I certainly would some day. What they failed to see is that my prediction had nothing to do with means, and everything to do with permanence.

I am trying to figure out how I got from there to here. From there, where I yearned for roots and a sense of belonging, to here, where I am forever unraveling myself from seams that sometimes form, always calculating the manner in which I can unshackle myself should the need arise. I suppose that back there, I made a lot of plans, and they sort of never worked out. I suppose also that back there, permanence and commitment were dangled in front of me, and every time, I would step just this close to it, and then balk. Every time someone tried to bind me, something inside me said it wasn't for me. I do not think I was running away. I think I was running for my life.

Even medical school, in a strange way, is more like knitting than sewing. Sure, it is a commitment. But nothing's set in stone. I remarked to W, it seems a long time ago now, that I might be the only person on earth to go to medical school to figure my life out. But such seems to be the case.