Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Is this it?

Are you a grasshopper or an ant?  You know, via Aesop, upended by Maugham.  I've been thinking about this lately, because I've been such a good ant for so many years, putting a little aside each year, being proud of being responsible, delaying gratification by second nature.  (The ability to postpone gratification is one of the most significant indicators of adult success, if you remember the oft-cited marshmallow experiment).  So, pleased with myself, I go along my ant ways, unwilling to look up, to be distracted by the careless but beguiling grasshoppers around me.

Adhering to the cultural convention that passing time = progress, I have blithely assumed that at some point in the future, I will have arrived.  I will no longer have the financial or emotional need to further delay any damn thing. Just as I believed that age = wisdom and, again, at some point in the future, we will have figured every damn thing out.

Lately I have taken to thinking that there is no logic in either of those premises, nor is there any supporting evidence. Which leads me to my opening question: is this it?  And if this is it--what should I do now?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Taking Measure

J Alfred Prufrock measured his life by coffee spoons.   I measure mine by the gardeners.

Got a few quiet moments for a sit in the shade in the back yard?  If it happens to be 4:30 on a Friday afternoon or 5:30 on a Saturday afternoon, you will be serenaded by multiple two-stroke leaf blowers.
No need to set alarms on Tuesdays through Fridays, the gardeners are eager, hardworking and early.  In fact, mid week they never seem to leave the neighborhood.


All summer with the windows open I've been awakened to the shattering two-stroke engine.  Want to hear something ridiculous?  It only dawned on me last week to use ear plugs!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Re-media-ted Experiences

Saturday night at an at outdoor concert were the ingredients for a perfect evening: balmy weather, talented musicians, a vibrant audience.  During the first set, behind us a group of men were hooting wildly over an app one had shared with the others, followed by a loud and extended discussion on predicting Facebook responses.   To my right a woman tapped at her glowing screen; in front of me another couple checked their photos from earlier in the day.  A number of people were viewing the performance from behind the safety of their video-recording phones.

Sunday morning at a local coffee shop I watched a couple having brunch, their baby parked securely in a stroller.  Between bloody marys and mouthfuls of food, the husband kept reading his messages and texting; the wife tapped at her screen.  At another table a very old grandmother and a mother sipped at their martinis while the teenager tapped beneath the table at her phone. 

As we mediate our experiences via technology, we hold our experiences and each other at arm's length.  Our constant separation of ourselves from the moment at hand is the collateral damage of technological innovations.  As if we're terrified of being alone and still with ourselves.  As if we need a safety valve of distraction while with others. 

During a class this summer a student corrected a misconception of mine regarding the Amish.  "They're not against technology," he said, "they're against any technology that separates them from God."

Sign me up.  Just because it's new and shiny, doesn't mean it's progress.

Thoughts? Quibbles? Corrections?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Quotable Moment

"You have no idea how funny and small you look from my moral highground," said my daughter, after a particularly bristling row.

That will doubtless be in a future novel of mine.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Slinging slaw


 I love cole slaw.  Chop, dress, and eat.  Adapted from an LA Times recipe, ages and ages ago.

Red cabbage slaw:

Shred a head of red cabbage.  Place in large mixing bowl.  Sprinkle with a tablespoon of caraway seed.

In one half cup of red wine vinegar add 3 tablespoons sugar, two teaspoons salt, one teaspoon seasoned salt,  1/8 tsp pepper, paprika, cayenne and onion powder each.  Blend in well.  Add half a cup vegetable oil, emulsify.

Pour ontop of shredded cabbage, mix well.  To deepen the flavors let it sit for a few hours.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The New Epicure's Epicenter

According to Bon Appetit, is the town where I live.  If you click the link and read the story, you will think that Altadena is monochromatic, and filled with hipsters.  Nothing inherently wrong about monochromatic hipsters, but it's certainly not the place I've chosen to live.

Surely the quote "Altadena is our Brooklyn" is a stab at humor?  Has the author ever been to either Altadena OR Brooklyn?

But then again, what am I thinking?  Everything is airbrushed and made commercially pretty for a slick magazine.

If you want to meet a true locavore, visit Christopher Nyerges.

Monday, August 20, 2012


is the title of Ed McBain's 39th novel set in the 87th precinct.  I've immersed myself in the hardboiled world, in order to keep my wits in this heat.

Plot and character driven, this series is a classic. What always impresses and surprises me is how emotionally engaging his stories are.

Why the photo?  It's a clue as to which poison is used.

Where is your book mark these days?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Terror Alert!

A faithful reader sends me a link, here.

I hope to soon return to recipes.  Cooking in 100 plus heat just isn't for me.

Saturday, August 18, 2012


For years I've wanted to live inside the pages of a sleek, glossy magazine, filled with perfectly coiffed people, with all musses and disasters cropped out of sight and existence.

Being a part of a reality show has never interested me. (No, nobody's asked, either). Oh the vulgarity!  The drawma!  The fake eyelashes, heavy makeup and high heels!

I've decided that what I really need is a skilled novelist shaping my story arc, giving it layers, depth, unexpected plot twists, and an emotionally resonant and satisfying ending that brings the house down with epiphanies and spiritual awakenings.  That's right.  But not too much drama, okay? And let's take plenty of time building to the ending, shall we?  In fact, let's have the ending more of a threshold to a whole new adventure.

Mid-life crisis as the new bildungsroman.

Interviews begin next week.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Some Assembly Required

But no cooking!

You will need:
canned artichoke bottoms
canned crab or shrimp
a hard boiled egg (per person)
sliced tomatoes.

Per person:

Place two artichoke bottoms on the plate.
Mix shrimp or crab with a little Russian dressing (a dollop of mayonnaise, and a splash of ketchup for color).
Spoon onto artichoke bottoms.  Garnish with sliced egg and tomatoes.

Classy.  I used to have this often as a first course in France.  Now if I could only remember its name!

You know, the French  really excel at the no-cook dining experiences.  Their charcuteries are marvels of freshly prepared cold salads, waiting in cool cases to be ordered, snatched up, and devoured with a slice of pate, ham, and a crispy baguette.  Celeri remoulade, caviar d'aubergine (took me ages to realize that is baba ganoush).   What are your no-cook go tos?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Can we do it?

More motivational thinking here.  I trend heavily to self-help; my husband is fond of wryly saying I don't limit it to "self."

What are your motivating tools?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Heat Wave Continues

Too hot to cook?  Open a bottle of this, Curtis 2010 viognier/rousanne sip, savor, and nibble on smoked mozzarella, garden grown tomatoes, drizzled with olive oil and dandelion vinegar.  It will help the time and the heat pass, and foster warm feelings towards your company.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Things I do not understand

 Surely, the list is infinite.  But in terms of cultural conventions, here are a couple of mine--
5) Twitter.  Why? Wherefore?  Who?
I love Alain de Bottin's tweets, but even he palls after awhile.  And how many twitter accounts can a human being actually follow? Care about?

4)Unlimited beer, wine, spirits and food events.  What are they thinking?  Everything goes better with a celebrity, I suppose.

3) County Fairs.  In September.

2) The death penalty, particularly for those with an IQ under 75.  (In a recent execution of a man with a 60 point IQ, a Texas spokesman said he had gamed the system, because in previous tests he had scored 70).

1) Chatting on cell phones in public loos.  It startled me the first time I witnessed it, eight years ago at Pasadena's Borders, it surprised me last week at Santa Monica.  Doesn't all that flushing detract from the conversation?

What about you?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Kitchen Nightmares


    I told my son, you pick the restaurant.
We were in an armpit of a town, an overnight pitstop from point a to point b during our family vacation.  The son had been a total trooper, so it was his pick.
     "Italian," he said, fully committed.
The front desk recommended Mike's Palace.
     Mike's Palace's menu was filled with columns and acropolis font.  Nice.   They offered Italian, American, Mexican and Greek, of course.  Olympian flat screen tvs promoted entree after entree.  The owners sat at a table by themselves, ignoring the flustered waitresses, occasionally coming out of hiding in order to seat determined customers, who apparently weren't going to leave quietly.  One owner in particular spent an inordinate amount of time picking her teeth, and startled a diner by abruptly returning a chair to the customer's table.  In short, this was not a promise of cultural fusion but of cultural discombobulation.  I lowered my hopes accordingly.
       The menu had truly remarkable offerings, braised asparagus with brown butter and parmesan, traditional pumpkin ravioli,  an ambitious watermelon and feta salad.  The polpettini were advertised as a mixture of beef and veal. You can't screw up a meatball, right?  I attempted to lower my expectations.
     I requested the polpettini from the waitress, who replied "The what?"
     I foraged ahead.  "Your menu calls them polpettini,  The meatballs."
    Moments later she brought a huge platter of antipasti to our table.  We had not ordered the antipasti.  I ordered a glass of wine, to help me through this travail.  As I waited, I wondered what Gordon Ramsay would make of this mashup.

Out came the wine, the pizza, my son's lasagna and my meatballs.
I took a bite of each. 
Every bite was heavenly.  The lasagna tasted as if the pasta were freshly made, the meatballs lovingly seasoned, the pizza a delight.  We were surprised to have enough leftovers for a cold pizza breakfast the following morning.

We tipped the waitress happily, and passed along our compliments to the chef.  (As we left I scowled disapproval at the still-banqueting owners, but they remained quite oblivious and unperturbed).

What culinary surprises, heavenly or otherwise, have you encountered this summer?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Strawberry Daquiris

In this heat we're sticking low to the ground, and rising only for something cold and frosty.

Hull one half pound of strawberries.  Macerate in a tablespoon of sugar for ten minutes.
In your blender add a cup of crushed ice, the macerated strawberries, and three ounces of rum or vodka.  Blend.

Serve in frosty cocktail glasses and hide near the air conditioner vent.
Or, skip the ethanol and start your day berry berry  happily.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Current Addiction

Uninspired by the same old chicken marinade I tried a new one.  I loved the flavors, and how tender the yogurt seemed to make the chicken.  We grilled it quickly--it's too hot to stay outdoors too long!

You will need:
 one pound or so fileted chicken breasts.  Place in a ziploc bag.  I like to do as Marcella Hazan does, and  turn a single breast into two or three flat filets, depending on the thickness.

Mix: 1/2 cup yogurt, 1/2 cup cilantro, two minced garlic cloves, half a tablespoon paprika and ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Don't be stingy with the salt, as it helps permeate and flavor the chicken.  Smooth with a tablespoon or more of olive oil, pour into baggie, seal, and mush about until it's evenly distributed.

Since I know I'll be cooking it thoroughly soon, I prefer to marinate meats at room temperature, it speeds up the process.  After two or more hours, grill.  Serve on pilaf, with a delightful salad.  You'll love it!

Friday, August 10, 2012


Street vendor Kanheri caves in Sanjay Gandhi National Park

Makes me want to pick up a slice of that star fruit and dip it in the orange colored seasoning.  No, makes me consider traveling to India.  Have you been?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Thirty Day Challenge

Thanks to my buddy I was exposed to yet another TED talk, although this should be filed under TED lite, as it was three minutes instead of the usual 20.  His premise is quite simple, you want to stretch a bit, try something new and keep it up for 30 days.

But what, I pondered.  Try a new recipe each day for 30 days?  I already cook, does that count?
Post 30 days straight?  Hmmm, something new, something borrowed, something blew--

Y'all got any ideas?  The world is our oyster, every now and then.  What new experience would you be willing to commit 30 days to?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Opposite of Schadenfreude

We all know that dank and nasty feeling, schadenfreude,  a gleeful emotional hiss of laughter at someone else's misfortune.  A satisfying sensation that panders to our vanity, and our own misguided view of personal justice. 

The other day, as a read a retraction of the Clinton and the swarm of bees story, I noticed they were quoting Ayelet Waldman, "journalist," who was apparently on the tarmac with Ms. Clinton.    Waldman and I go way back, ever since I fingered one of her published mommy mysteries on a table at Vroman's.  How had she swung that?  I was a mommy, I was a mystery writer, what false step had I taken?   There, on the book jacket, was what I had missed.  Harvard Law School attorney, married to Michael Chabon.

If you don't know him, Michael Chabon, at 23,  was a literary wunderkind.  Twenty odd years later he still makes novels pop, and  in addition is a screenwriter.  Remember the Spiderman with Tobey Maguire? So perhaps, in addition to Waldman's literary talent, she had a connection or two.

Since that fateful afternoon, I have lurked in Waldman's life, shocked to read of her bipolar diagnosis, been amused her tweets regarding her lust for her hubby, informed by her essays on mental illness, motherhood, and marriage.  And now, close enough to Clinton in Malawi to be a source.   I asked my own husband (neither novelist nor screenwriter) what was the opposite of schadenfreude?

He smiled and said, "That's easy.  Old-fashioned envy."

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Waiting Game 

I am waiting for a response.  The answer may or may not be a new fork in the road.  I should have had the answer weeks ago, and, who knows, I may have the answer before I post this, but the waiting gnaws away at me, consumes me, banishes thoughts of anything else.  I find myself sucked of all productivity, living a series of "what ifs" followed by "then, this".  Ugh!!!

The dramatic tone is meant to be ironic neurotic---

How do you wait? 

You can listen (ignore the shlocky image) to Joe Jackson waiting for the verdict here.