Monday, June 22, 2009

Brain Freeze

I split a pint of Coffee and Donuts ice cream with the PG this weekend. It sounded like a heart attack in ice cream form. I am sorry to say that it did not quite deliver. I love coffee ice cream and I love donuts. But somehow the combination did not fly. I keep asking myself why? Perhaps the flavor was not strong enough to stand up to the red wine and the hefty serving of cow that preceded it.

At the time all I could think was that hot fudge would have taken it to another level.

Firstly, the coffee ice cream to taste more like coffee, a little more bitter would have been welcome. Secondly, It now occurs to me, that cold donuts are waxy and frozen donuts are even more waxy. You lose the sensation of fatty donutty-ness softened and warmed by steeping in hot coffee. Ideally, they could, make the coffee flavor stronger, soak the donut pieces in the coffee mixture and then freeze the thing. In this way ice cream would be integrated into the donut pieces.

And then, serve it with hot fudge or affogato style with espresso poured over it.

Still, I love the concept. If it would only sweep the nation, I could walk to the corner grab a pint and drown it in coffee. Ice cream on the brain.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Need a new train read

The gallant older gent next to me on the train got up and offered his seat to a mother of two. One in the stroller and an adorable little boy of about 5 or 6. He sat down next to me and waved and smiled at me. I smiled back and said, "Hi." He was taken aback, "You speak English?!" "Yes I do."

After some discussion of the number of languages that he knows with some amused input from his mom, he went happily on with squirming around, bugging his mom and making faces at his baby sister.

"What are you reading," he asks.

"It's a book about a guy who moves to Italy and learns how to make wine," I say.

He shakes his head and starts making that gesture for crazy, where you point your index finger at the side of your head and start drawing circles. And then, as if this is not enough, he brings up his second index finger to the other side of his hand to make twice the circles to the amusement of all on the train.

And while I do like this book a lot, I would have to admit that at his age, I would have been in complete agreement with him. It doesn't have a single robot, talking animal, ninja or superhero in it. What was I thinking.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

More than parsley

Yesterday was my first CSA pick up. This is year I have decided to boogie down with the local farms, in a more committed way than groovin' at the Farmer's Market.

I have "every other week" vegetable and fruit shares that I am splitting with JB. From the point that I got the notion to do this, I have been waiting in anticipation for this day, like a kid on the night before Christmas, anxiously pestering the main organizers by email and phone to make sure that they got my contract and my check, speculating about what produce would come my way, worrying about whether I'd be able to cook and eat it all. Day dreaming about tomatoes, all aflutter over produce.

Yesterday I picked up:

1 head of Lettuce
2 bunches of Kale
1 bunch of Radishes
1 bunch of Scallions
1 bunch of Chard
1 Kohlrabi
1 Bok choi
4 garlic scapes
2 quarts of strawberries

Split by two this doesn't seem like a lot of food. "Seem" being the operative word in that sentence. For now, I am grateful for this, especially considering how small the fridge is in my new place. As the growing season progresses who knows, who knows. Still, it's clear that a half share won't last for 2 weeks. This was made clear to me by a co-worker who warned me that the product got from a CSA was much like what you get from a farmer's market in that the food is READY when you get it and won't keep passed a day or two without you cooking, blanching, or freezing it.

With this in mind, I ate the radishes and the kohlrabi raw with salt and a little cider vinegar. Kohlrabi crunches like an apple but tastes and smells more like a turnip. If we get more of it, I will have to get my mom's turnip kim-chi recipe and give that a go.

The strawberries are small and tart and sweet and fragile. I am already half through eating them and hoping that the rest not have turned to mush by the time I get home tonight.

I made colcannon, which is basically mashed potatoes with chopped, cooked leafy greens mixed in. In my case, kale, for others it's cabbage. At first I added half of my batch of kale to the taters which made it very potato-y with some green stuff in it. So I boiled up the rest and added that and had something that was more like a blend of potato and leaf. It was about 3 or 4 cups of Kale leaves chopped up and boiled in super salted water for about 7-10 mins. Didn't use the cream, used 3/4 of a stick of butter, some milk, and some of the kale water to keep things from getting too dry. Added scallions to the mix at the end. It was friendly, like having your mashed taters and creamed spinach in the same bowl.

In tackling the chard, I tried just frying the stems with garlic and capers and then wilting the leaves with them. Unfortunately, the leaves and the stems were much tougher than my internet recipe suggested. I cooked them, and cooked them, and added water, a little chicken bouillon, and a bay leaf and cooked them some more. At the end, they came out tough and wilted at the same time. In the less cooked parts, with the consistency of seaweed. A little bitter, so I added some balsamic vinegar and threw them in the fridge. Will have to dig up alternative means of preparation.

There are bok choi, lettuce, and garlic scapes in my fridge, waiting for me. The scapes in particular are of interest. Apparently if you have a lot of them you can make a pesto. But with two I think that is unlikely. Perhaps in an omelette.

And by the end of the week, I will fall back into anticipation and day dreaming about vegetables.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Naps Get a Good Rap

So, after all that huffing and ranting, I run across this article today about REM sleep and the way we process emotion. It would seem that the Universe and the Internet have cooperatively decided to mock me and rap me on the knuckles.
"According to new research presented last week at the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in Seattle, adequate sleep may underpin our ability to understand complex emotions properly in waking life."

This is research from Matthew Walker's lab at UC-Berkeley.

"In the small analysis of 36 adults, volunteers were asked to interpret the facial expressions of people in photographs, following either a 60- or 90-minute nap during the day or with no nap. Participants who had reached REM sleep (when dreaming most frequently occurs) during their nap were better able to identify expressions of positive emotions like happiness in other people, compared with participants who did not achieve REM sleep or did not nap at all. Those volunteers were more sensitive to negative expressions, including anger and fear."

Perhaps last weekend, I was particularly sleep deprived and therefore unable to correctly interpret the emotions of others.
"... in people who were sleep deprived, activity in the prefrontal lobe - a region of the brain involved in controlling emotion - was significantly diminished."

And perhaps my reaction, especially last night, is also in part due to a lack of sleep.
"If you're walking through the jungle and you're tired, it might benefit you more to be hypersensitive to negative things," he [Walker] says. The idea is that with little mental energy to spare, you're emotionally more attuned to things that are likely to be the most threatening in the immediate moment. Inversely, when you're well rested, you may be more sensitive to positive emotions, which could benefit long-term survival, he suggests: "If it's getting food, if it's getting some kind of reward, finding a wife - those things are pretty good to pick up on."

One can't help but wonder how many well rested people one interacts on any given day in a city that never sleeps. And viceversa.
REM sleep appears to not only improve our ability to identify positive emotions in others; it may also round out the sharp angles of our own emotional experiences. Walker suggests that one function of REM sleep - dreaming, in particular - is to allow the brain to sift through that day's events, process any negative emotion attached to them, then strip it away from the memories.

And here I imagine a black tar of negative emotion sticking to and building up on the brain after several nights with no sleep - as if sleep is a mental hygiene issue.
"It's not that you've forgotten. You haven't," he says. "It's a memory of an emotional episode, but it's no longer emotional itself."

This "separation between memory and emotion" quote is so great. It has the quality of a very careful finer distinction. So deliciously scientific. I had always thought that the separation of emotion from memory requires the passage of time, great patience and mental processing. But perhaps really good sleep would do the same. It seems like this would be true of positive and negative emotions, the ability of a memory to evoke a particular emotion can be a stunning and beautiful experience, the gradual muting of which is wistful. I wonder if those studies have been done.
That palliative safety-valve quality of sleep may be hampered when we fail to reach REM sleep or when REM sleep is disrupted, Walker says. "If you don't let go of the emotion, what results is a constant state of anxiety," he says.

Which doesn't really sound like the fun way to live.

Overall this make me wonder whether people who never sleep or less much less, dream more intensely. Whether they just get into the REM part of their sleep cycle more quickly. I have always envied those who don't sleep. The head start that they get by sleeping less, by needing less sleep. They are awake for all that wacky life stuff, that I miss by sleeping.

But perhaps, I should leave all of that glamour to those who can handle it. Perhaps this mere mortal is better off sleeping on it. And for 8-10 hours a night at that.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Testing, always testing

Last weekend I went to a party and was handed a guitar and asked to play a song. I did. Everyone was informed that I wrote the song. Which I did.

I was then confronted by two people in the room who I have interacted with and socialized with in the past in a friendly way. They both insisted vigorously that they had heard the song before, they challenged the idea that I had written it. Which made me pretty much not ever want to sing or play another song for that group of people again. They can listen to the radio.

Later, at the same party someone asked me what I had been doing with myself. "Not much," I said, "a little cooking." He asked what I had been cooking and when I replied he said, "That's not cooking, that's just feeding yourself." Baking a chicken, making some cabbage, making polenta apparently is not cooking.

This is another person who I have interacted with and socialized with in the past in a friendly way.

My impression of these people was that they were pretty nice and reasonable to interact with socially. I'm sure that I will do so in the future. But the day after the party, I pretty much wanted to travel back in time and punch each of them in the face. This is probably why I haven't made a lot of friends since moving here.

This city is full of people doing and designing and creating. They run around and brag endlessly about themselves and how amazing they are. Everyone has a 1-5 minute spiel that is designed to impress and amaze.

It can get overwhelming, even numbing after a while. Reminding me of two quotes from movies set in New York:

Marie in When Harry Met Sally - "Everyone thinks they have good taste and a sense of humor but they couldn't possibly all have good taste and a sense of humor."

And Holly Golightly - "Do you think she's talented? Deeply and importantly talented?"

You keep having to check your gut. Is this person's elevator dog and pony show an accurate reflection of who they are and what they can do? Or are they just really good at the sell. Are they actively lying? Are you or they delusional? Or is it worse, they are sincere but deluding themselves? Or are they the real deal?

People keep asking for your credentials.

A blogger? For who? Does someone pay you to blog?
A writer? What have you published? Who is your agent?
A singer? What label are you on? Where do you gig?
College educated or higher? Where did you get your degree? Who did you study with? What did you study? Do you know so and so?
And so on.

On the flip side of that, it's a city-wide pastime to buy tickets, sit in the audience and to make judgements, form opinions. The best of this, the finest of that, the cheapest this, the most original that, the newest this, the most amazing that. Having opinions, becoming a critic, an expert, an aficionado, can become a full time hobby and in this city in many cases, even a paying job. Professional listener, professional audience member, professional observer. Everyone lives an examined life in that they pass judgments when they go out and pursue urban experiences. The self examination extends to the questions of : Do I like it, do I enjoy it? Why or why not?

I am no different in this.

It's a terrifying place to create. When I am trying to tell the truth or reveal myself, to offer up something precious about myself, there will be someone who is judging my offer as a commodity, a purchased experience to be compared with all of the others that they have encountered. It's a terrifying place to blog. People who I don't know very well, have this url and will judge me based on what I write here. My every pore, neurotic thought, typo and grammatical error.

Many here are brave. They reveal what is precious to them. They show you everything in the process. Every line, every stroke, confident that you will be won over, or get invested in the outcome.

For me creating is a delicate process. It is more like that wine commercial from the 80's, "We will sell no wine before its time."

Inspiration is shy and timid, she needs nurturing and shelter, a feeling of safety. She is a nervous thing to be tamed. Things revealed before they are ready, wilt and die. Things revealed before they are strong enough crumple into a bits.

And some days it's all that I can do to keep from smashing them to dust myself before they are ready. To see them crushed by another hands is unbearable.

I am too thin skinned for life. I am going to die alone and obscure. The glitterati can go F*** themselves.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Salsa soothes the savage beast

Gaaawdddd! I am on the verge of bitchy today. It is a miracle that, I have not caused physical or mental trauma. *knock on wood* The pants are cranky.

I pause from this about to be horrible mood to announce that I am in love with:

this salsa.

Up until recently, I have not been much for Salsa watery tomato puree on my chips to help me choke them down when sitting at a Mexican joint in a haze of hunger.

Until now.

One evening I was over at CK's and she had a bag of lime flavor tostitos and a jar of the Desert Pepper Salsa Diablo.

We never made it out to dinner because I would not be parted from the snacks and there was enough cheap wine in the house to keep her watered. I basically inhaled the jar and licked the lid. To assuage my guilt I brought over another jar when I next visited but could not keep myself from asking if I could crack it open.

Out of sight was out of mind until last night when I walked by display of tortilla chips in the grocery store. I wandered down the aisle, curious to see what kinds of salsa they carried. And there it was. The rest of the evening was spent having one more chip with salsa.

The downside to this is after the burning and the flavor subsides, I am left with a stomach full of corn chips. They settle like a giant rock. But hey, all things come at a price. Perhaps at this time of the month it's not chocolate but spicy salsa that soothes the savage beast. My mood was much better until I ran out of chips and salsa at my desk today.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Regional pastimes

In Chicago, many apartment buildings have a back structure allowing every unit to have a small deck/patio area. Makes it easier to be a smoker. You can just open the backdoor and step out into the open air. You can put out a window box, a couple of potted plants, a funky ceramic ashtray, some comfy lawn chairs and kick it all summer. Have drinks, shoot the breeze, smokey-smoke. Very chill.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Places I want to remember

I have this fear that I am going to forget where I have been and what I have done while living here. Primarily it's been eating a drinking, I think. At least those are the parts that I seem to remember the best. That and the amazing rock show here and the awesome exhibit or other kind of performance there.

As an Aide-memoire I spent a bit of time yesterday creating the following:

The Map of My Stomach

View The Map of My Stomach in a larger map

The Geography of My Liver

View The Geography of My Liver in a larger map

They are works in progress. You can click on the markers, you can grab the map and move the center. There are places I have been that are not included here. Certainly. But these are the ones that I want to remember. Got a restaurant or bar suggestion? Leave a comment, please.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

making a mix

The beauty of having friends in their 20's is the clever applications that they quickly pick up and take for granted as an integral part of their lives. Awesome applications that I am the last to encounter, discovered from passing mention. Most of the modern world would have gone unnoticed, completely glossed over without them.

Recently mentioned in passing by the Amazing AM:

It's a site where you can create playlists of songs.


Big big bowls

Met up with CK and JK yesterday at Shanghai Mong for some noodles.

CK and I were so hungry that we greeted each other in this way:


and then proceeded to chow on a bunch of kimchi and daikon while discussing the fact that we were so hungry that we feared that we were metabolizing our internal organs while sitting at the table.

When JK joined us, it got slightly more social, but only slightly. Appropriately girly topics of conversation were introduced that I scarcely followed while shoveling and slurping the Chajang myun and Cham Pong. Not lady-like but primal and deeply satisfying. I was hunched over my bowl a little to intently to notice whether I was the only one.


Tuesday, June 02, 2009

It's possible that the best things in life are free. But today it feels improbable.