Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Week of Food - A bit fancier, or "What the hell are chicken marylands?"

What is this that resembles a bruise on a plate?

On Monday, which is now Cooking Day, I tried out three dinner/lunch recipes and one bread recipe.

1. Bread. I bought a bread machine (on sale). It seemed silly to wait to get one when it would cost more money; the one I got cost $50 less than the bread machines at Fred Meyer. I didn't realize that bread machine bread is a lot different from regular bread, using different yeasts and flours and "vital wheat gluten." So I'm learning to use it in steps, rather than trying to jump right into whole-grain non-wheat flour recipes. First, I tried a multigrain bread mix from Bob's Red Mill. Next, I moved on to an easy, basic whole wheat bread. On the one hand, it's not as interesting or tasty as some of the homemade breads I've done; on the other hand, those breads were terrible for holding together sandwiches, and this bread is perfect for that. So, as far as having a basic sandwich bread I can make myself, I've finally found it.

2. Tomato Tarte Tatin I tried to make this New York Times recipe a couple of years ago without a tarte tatin pan. It was a mess. But I didn't have a stovetop/oven-safe pan; now I have a special tarte tatin pan. Instead of cherry tomatoes, I cut up plum tomatoes and other tomatoes very small and drained them to avoid a soggy tarte. I didn't have puff pastry, so I made a very simple rustic tart crust using a stick of butter (minus whatever was used to caramelize the onions in the tarte recipe) 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour (which I use interchangeably with all purpose flour) and 1/2 cup corn flour. Both come from a stand I really like at the farmers' market, a New York transplant who sells fresh fruit and vegetables (including tetragon as well as various flours, cereals, and mixes (like pancake mix.) For anyone who thinks this was overambitious, I can tell you it was really simple. I just mixed these things together, rolled the dough into a ball, wrapped it in plastic wrap and squooshed it down into a flattened disk, and refrigerated it until I was ready to bake the tart. The tart baked up nicely, although it could have used a little more crust.

3. Lentil and Use-Up-Whatever's-in-the-Fridge Salad With the use-up-what's-in-the-kitchen spirit of Clotilde's recipe for apple and cumin lentil salad, I improvised this creation. The apples and onion were fried in butter, with the stems and leaves of the beets (used in last week's roast chicken) added at the end. I found a jar of vinaigrette I'd made for a different salad in the back of the fridge, so I used that instead of Clotilde's balsamic vinegar dressing. This salad's okay. I would try it again, but with less deviations from the recipe.

4. Roast Chicken of the Week Month - M'sakhan M'sakhan is chicken with lemon, sumac, and za'atar. Za'atar is a blend of thyme (or oregano), sesame seeds, sumac powder, and sometimes other spices. Sumac powder is not powdered poison sumac, but it is the powdered dried berries of a relative of poison sumac. After trying Trader Joe's Organic Free Range Chicken and Draper Valley Natural Chicken, I moved on to the considerably pricier pasture-raised chicken from the farmers' market. I can't remember the name of the stand, but I can tell you it's the same one that sells pasture-raised elk and yak. I can also tell you that the chicken was $5.00/lb. Trader Joe's is $2.69/lb and Draper Valley's is $1.29/lb. But every time I reach for one of those chickens at the store, I imagine debeaked chickens, although cage-free, poking around a garage with a tiny door leading to the outside, which they don't walk through because they are afraid of the sun. (I may have been reading some vegan propaganda recently....) I didn't quite follow the M'sakahn recipe to the letter; I kind of read the ingredient list but not the actual recipe, and then made up my own directions. The result was that I had way too much chicken stock. I learned three valuable lessons from this experience.
a. What the hell are chicken marylands, and I don't mean Chicken Maryland! Perhaps someone will come to this blog post from Googling, as I did, "What are chicken marylands?" , after coming across the perplexing term in an Australian recipe (m'sakhan, linked above, is from an Australian food blog) and only being able to find definitions of a fried chicken specific to Maryland. It is a cut of chicken including the leg and the thigh. [ed: The market I go to now calls them "chicken leg quarters."]
b. When things get hot, they expand. This applies to liquids, too. Like chicken stock. I suppose I momentarily forgot the laws of physics when I filled my cast iron skillet (not roasting pan) with chicken stock. In the oven, it got hot (of course), boiled (not surprisingly), and boiled over onto the bottom of the oven where it smoked. Oops!
c. Pasture-raised chicken is great! Worth every penny! Although the other two chickens were also very good, this one was exceptionally tasty. At least I think so. Partly because of the taste, and partly because I feel less guilty eating chickens that are really free range. My new plan is to only buy that chicken. I will buy it once a month and eat tempeh the rest of the month.

Monday, September 20, 2010

On how I am turning into a stereotype

As I was walking out of Fred Meyer* the other day, I heard the woman walking behind me begin telling a story to the man walking with her. The preface was, "At work today, I heard the most horrible thing I've ever heard in my life!" The man's response was silence, the silence of one resigned to his fate. The fate of hearing some gory account of murder, domestic violence, or animal abuse that would not be out of place in a psychological thriller, but is in fact real. The fate of hearing this story as a non sequitur, completely unconnected to all preceding conversation or to his current surroundings. The fate of hearing this story in a public place, where others, like me, think, "Why is she talking about this right now? What is wrong with her?"

My inner monologue began to form those words as I picked up my pace to avoid hearing anything upsetting. Yet as I hurried to my car, a realization stopped me in my tracks, right there in the middle of the Fred Meyer parking lot.

I have done the exact same thing as that lady. Now that I have a boyfriend, I exhibit the same behavior. Sometime during my five months with this kind, patient, attentive audience to my every blathering syllable, I have begun turning into a stereotype of womanhood.

These things have been weighing on me and I just have to confess it to you, dear readers, that I've lately found myself doing the following:

1) Telling detailed unpleasant stories. See above. It is only a matter of time before I begin calling people to tell them, "Do you know who just died? What a sin." My mother does this. She also includes, in her cross-country care packages, obituaries of people she thinks might have gone to my high school.

2) Telling unnecessarily convoluted stories. My boyfriend has met the main characters of these stories perhaps once in real life, but more often than not, they are distant, thrice-removed acquaintances of relatives of my friends. After the stories wind on, going off track as I get distracted by details ("Anyway, so Vito and Anthony &ndash you know who that is! That's the cousin of the fiancé of my best friend back East, who I'm always telling you about and showed you a picture of that one time and said she was prettier than all the other girls in the wedding party! Those dresses they had to wear were so stupid! What kind of friend makes anyone over a B-cup wear strapless? Oh, so anyway, they were at this pizza place in Edison and oh my God, I miss that pizza so much! Hey, what are you doing? Put the ice cream in a bowl. With a clean spoon. I wanted to take that to work! Oh, the pizza place wasn't in Edison; it's in Milltown.") and ultimately come to some inane point like, "So then they find out she's marrying him, and he is a JERK!" Realizing what I've done, I sometimes try to circle back to the present time and place with an epilogue that loosely relates the story to our lives. "I'm so glad you're not like that. You're wonderful." And did I mention that the characters of these stories are all in New Jersey, three thousand miles away?

3) Nagging. This is the most upsetting to me. I have not nagged to the point that anyone would call me a nag, but it's enough to upset me. Because I know that nagging is as productive as saying, "Do the opposite of what I just said, and make an irritated face while you do it!" I once vowed to never be a nag. But recently, I've heard myself say things I immediately regret. For example. "You didn't want to eat my mastic gum ice cream last night, that I made myself from scratch.** You don't like the dessert I make!" or "I'm not coming over if you're playing the zombie shooting game." I feel like a horrible person just writing this.

4) Classifying grocery shopping as a date. Going to the farmers' market and buying each other Sol Pops is one thing. A trip to Safeway, Fred Meyer, or even New Seasons is not that thing.

5) Classifying an evening on the couch as a double date. This could just be a function of the rainy season's onset, but more evenings than I care to admit have consisted of knitting on a couch next to my friend, who is sewing handmade brooches, while our boyfriends sit on a different couch playing a zombie game. Then everyone goes to bed at a sensible hour, because we have to work in the morning.

I have also found myself defending the functionality of throw pillows. Please help.


* For my readers unfamiliar with the chains of the Northwest, Fred Meyer is like Ames or Jamesway, had they survived, crossed with a complete supermarket. (More complete than a Super Wal-mart.) Safeway is just a grocery chain like Shop Rite or Pathmark. New Seasons is like Wegman's &ndash a regional chain similar to Whole Foods. Which we also have.
** that tastes like pine trees and is left over from the dinner party last month and has unfrozen and refrozen enough to collect water crystals, that has a few un-ground pieces of mastic in it so big they got stuck in your teeth for an entire day

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sweden in Oregon

I am working on a couple of more detailed posts about more current things, but I don't feel like doing that right now. Nor do I feel like assembling my red Nostalgik paper-storing box, and I certainly don't feel like filing and sorting papers to put in that red box. So, in honor of my first visit to IKEA in my life, I'm going to write about another Swedish thing in Portland. My favorite restaurant (or at least in my top three), Broder.

Visits to Broder framed my recent trip to Colorado. On the morning of our departure, my boyfriend and I had brunch with two friends. When we got back to Portland a week later, we were too exhausted to go shopping and cook, so we went to Broder for dinner.

There are no pictures of our Broder dinner because we ate it all too quickly. But I can tell you what we had.

Back to that brunch. I took a bunch of pictures of it, because it was so attractive.

This is the lefse of the day and eggs that I had to eat. So pretty! And delicious.

Pictured at the top of this post and below is their house bloody Mary, called Danish Mary. It is made with aquavit. Until that morning, I had never had aquavit. It was a good bloody Mary, but I was more interested in the garnish. I took more pictures of them than appear here. In the background is Kepler's Third Law (or something) on a T-shirt. That stern little man is one of the cards Broder has all over the place advertising their weekend dinner hours. Yellow letters state, at the bottom of the card, "It's dinner time."

Back to the drink. Those are pickled beets! Red and golden!

While it's picture time, I want these shelves from IKEA.


They do not have to be red. They come in other colors. I just really like red. This could mean I have bad taste.

Anyway, our Broder dinner was somewhat magical. It was a Friday night, and I was concerned that there would be a dinner crowd. I fretted about waiting for a table.

The restaurant was practically empty. I was shocked. Shocked!

I still am shocked!

At the counter, one man sat with his laptop. No one else was in the restaurant aside from the staff. We were able to sit at the best table, right by the window. A small candle glowed on our table. An early Yeah Yeah Yeahs album was playing. A friendly waitress came over right away with handwritten menus. She apologized, "We're redoing our menu and we don't have real menus yet." As you can imagine, this just added to Broder's charm.

MBF ordered some Flemish beer (I think) that I've never heard of and is not all that common, or something. My aquavit was buried in my bloody Mary, so I wanted to try it again. We got a flight. I say "we" because it was too much for me to drink on my own.

The waitress chose three for me, Aalborg, which tasted like rye bread; Krogstad, which comes from Portland and tasted like licorice; and Linie, which travels around the world twice in sherry barrels in a ship. MBF thought Linie tasted like rubbing alcohol; I kind of agreed, but still liked it. The other two were clear as water, but Linie was beer-bottle amber.

For dinner, we had a lamb burger with all kinds of toppings (such as chevre) and meatballs with a sherry cream sauce, lingonberry jam, and walnut toasts. We both had the special side, "Scandinavian scalloped potatoes," which seemed to have anchovy or sardine or something like that on it. They didn't taste fishy, but there were occasional tiny bones in our potatoes, so it was subtle. Then we had Stumptown coffee (not Swedish) and split a piece of spice cake with lemon icing.

A few other people came into the restaurant sometime during our dinner, but it was still quiet. It was a perfect date night place; charming setting, great food and drinks, friendly service, and privacy.

However, I'd still go there if it was busy; if there's a crowd and a Screen-Door-sized wait for dinner next time I go, I'll be happy for their success. I'm kind of shocked that more people weren't there on a Friday night, but I'm selfishly a little pleased, like my friends and I have our own secret place.

After leaving Broder, we went for a short walk around the neighborhood as the sun sank behind the West Hills and darkness gently settled down on Southeast Portland, floating onto the streets and sidewalks and nestling into the Clinton neighborhood's crowded flower gardens. When we returned to where we'd parked Stella, my silver car, we were greeted with a flat tire.

We weren't able to change it ourselves because of something with the things that came with my car (blah blah blah stuff I don't understand) and had to call AAA. While we waited, we both went back to Broder to use their restroom. It was slightly more crowded by now, and the staff was exceedingly friendly and helpful, offering us their phone and glasses of water.

If you're not in the Portland area, I guess all you can do is drool over my pictures and be envious. If you are, this is a great place for dinner! And while they are somewhat undiscovered (or something), empty enough for a quiet, nice date. For all of our extravagance with booze and dessert, the bill was not at all high, especially for a nice Friday night. They have brunch and lunch every day from 9-3 (yes, even Monday) and dinner Thursday through Saturday, 6-10. I found them through a Yelp search for something really boring, like "places with coffee and wi-fi" or "brunch open Monday." My only complaint is that dinner is only three nights a week.

As we left Broder, I, perhaps tipsy from the Linie, told the waitress how much I loved the mean-looking man on their dinnertime cards. So she gave me one to take home. He sits on my desk frowning at me even now as I write this. But I like to think that something has softened about his expression, now that he's been in my home a little while. There seems to be a kindly light in his eye.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Recipe Roundup - Eating Carrot Tops and Tomato Leaves

When my life had some semblance of routine and I always had Mondays off (and when it wasn't Adventure Monday), I would take that day to cook all of my lunches and dinners for the entire week, so that I'd only have to cook and clean up after cooking one night a week. Now that I'm done traveling, I'd like to restart this. When it's not Adventure Monday I'm also going to keep track of what I make, sometimes, if not always, in this blog. So here's what was made and how it turned out and where I got the recipe (or if I made it up) this week.

1. Bread. I found this recipe for Sesame No Knead Bread, a more whole-grain adaptation of Mark Bittman's recipe, which I used to make with 100% whole wheat flour once or twice every week. Changes I made were to use semolina flour instead of cornmeal and about half a cup of quinoa flour, simply because I ran out of spelt flour. There are no pictures of the resulting bread. I ate it all. I am still on a quest for the perfect sandwich bread, preferably using no more than half all-purpose/bread flour.

2. Tomato and Fig Soup with Cumin. From Moro East. Ever since I got this book with my credit card reward points, I have been waiting for summer, waiting for tomatoes and figs to be ripe at the same time, to make this soup. The time is finally here. The soup was good and has lasted all week.

3. Pasta. I made this sardine pasta. Boy, it just seems like I have a crush on Mark Bittman, doesn't it? Lacking breadcrumbs, I used semolina flour. Lacking parsley, I used carrot tops. Did you know they were edible? I didn't! More on this later.

3. Roast Chicken of the Week. With Beets, Apples, and Maple-Harissa Sauce. Now that it's cool enough to use the oven, I plan to roast chicken with different vegetables and flavors as much as once a week. Using apples left over from our Cloud Cap Adventure that I still need to write about in its entirety. Sometimes, ideas for recipes start to form in my head, and I fixate on them until I make them or move on to something else. (Note that I still have not made wasabi ginger pear ice cream, although that may have been just a drunk idea.) I wanted to roast the apples with beets, and also maple syrup and ginger, with a chicken on top. On Monday morning, I got the idea to add harissa. The resulting sauce was as follows:
Maple-Harissa Chicken and Beet Roasting Sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
2-3 tbsp harissa (North African hot sauce)
3-4 smashed garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 tbsp ras-el-hanout (North African spice blend, substitute curry powder or a mixture of spices you like)
I rubbed this on the chicken and dumped it in a bowl with small whole beets (unpeeled), apple wedges, and red onion pieces. I stuffed as much of these as would fit into the cavity of the chicken. The rest were smooshed into the bowl around the chicken. I covered it with a plastic wrap hairnet and let it sit in the fridge until I was ready to cook, about 4 hours. I cooked it in a large roasting pan with a rack for about an hour. And? It wasn't like I imagined. The maple-harissa sauce only came through with the vegetables, not the chicken. However, it was really, really good. The roasting pan is a pain to clean, my next roast chicken experiment will be in a tarte tatin pan or cast iron skillet with vegetables in place of a rack. I will risk a soggy chicken bottom to not have to clean that pan.


About those carrot tops. The articles I'm linking to I found as a result of MBF wondering aloud, as we left the farmers' market on Sunday, if carrot tops are edible and how they can be used. One answer is to use them as "poor man's parsley." If you're interested, here are information and recipes from the Carrot Museum. I think next I'll try the carrot top pesto with walnuts. My searching also led me to this New York Times article on eating the leaves of plants from which we normally harvest something else. The article asserts that there isn't really any evidence for the toxicity of tomato leaves (of which I, a botanist, was firmly convinced) and that they are safe, at least in small quantities cooked into tomato sauce. Hmm. There's a recipe, too.

I'm curious about this claim. The NYT article states that the alkaloid in tomato leaves is tomatine, not solanine, the latter of which is the poisonous compound in potato leaves. This isn't in the article, but I thought that solanine broke down when it was boiled anyway. Does this mean boiled tomato leaves are safe?

It's good enough for Chez Panisse, apparently, and cheap enough for partially-employed people like me.

Expect updates on carrot leaf pesto, any cooking that's done with tomato leaves, and actual pictures of food in the future.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Romance

On Sunday night, MBF made me dinner. As we were clearing the plates, I thanked him for dinner. I also thanked him for hanging around me when I had been complaining so much that day. "Not only do these things upset me, but then they turn me into a cranky bitch and I hate that!"

MBF was nothing but sympathetic. "No, you're not being a cranky bitch," he assured me. "And when you are being a cranky bitch, you're just venting about stuff that's bothering you, you're not being a cranky bitch to me."

I was moved, flattered, and awed.

Until MBF's roommate brought me back to reality. He was either appalled or amused. "Wait...when you are a cranky bitch!?"

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

An update

Recently I wrote about my impending fall masthead and potentially not being big-haired anymore. Well, it turns out that Stella the Silver Sunfire needs some work, so a haircut may not be in the budget. On the bright side, my tire just needed to be patched, not replaced, so there's a big chunk of money I didn't have to spend.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Chicken Update

It turns out that my $1.29/lb roasting chicken came with some of the guts still inside. Google searching indicated that I should remove them, and they are now in a Pyrex in the fridge. What should I do with them now? Make a scaled-down version of Mark Bittman's paté recipe? (The benefit of paté is that it kind of disguises what you're eating.) Fry up the heart and feed it to the dog? See if I actually like chicken heart? (I am French, after all. At least my French relatives eat that kind of stuff.)

Chicken Advice

If I have a question that Google isn't helping me answer, I sometimes just throw it out to people I know, on Facebook or my blog. This one gets too many people upset for me to put it on Facebook, where a couple hundred acquaintances could give me answers that don't interest me (like why I should just be a vegan.)

In general, I try to eat pretty healthily, and right now I'm trying to combine this with saving some money. My agricultural school education taught me a little bit about reading between the lines of labels such as "organic," "free-range," "cage-free," and "natural." As far as I understand, "natural" isn't really regulated and can often be a bunch of crap. Frequently I default to "organic," simply because if I'm going to pay more money for my food, at least I know I'm getting non-chemical-laden environment-trashing food for my money.

My agricultural school education also let me know just how bad non-organic food can be, so I experience horrible grocery-store guilt.

However, I am kind of poor.

Anyway, in my own sense of grocery-buying morals, it's more important to shop green when buying animal products, because "organic" and similar agriculture tends to be less cruel to the animals. However, this is really confusing! "Organic" animal products don't always mean that the animals have access to pasture, enough space to breathe, or aren't being mutilated. "Cage free" doesn't mean the animals ever get to go outside. "Free range" sometimes means the animals get to roam around something like a parking lot, not actual pasture. One of the ways to be absolutely sure you're buying from nice farms with happy animals is to buy direct from the small farms at the local markets. But I don't think I can afford to do that all the time. For example, at the market yesterday I saw whole chickens for about $5/lb. The organic free-range chicken I bought from Trader Joe's a few weeks ago was $2.69/lb. Their "natural" chickens from a Northwest farm (I forget which) is $1.29/lb. Today, I caved and bought the latter, because at least it's from the Northwest and the organic chicken was twice as expensive!

Some people might think this is kind of a bougie problem to have. For me, it's more like, I just don't think I'm poor enough to fund animal torture. I can afford to buy less cruel meat, and then eat lentils or tofu the rest of the week. All attempts I've made to not eat any meat have resulted in me getting sick, so cutting it out isn't an option.

So here's my question. Do any of my readers have suggestions for less cruel animal products? (Northwest brands or national brands) Or how to read the labels? I'm not concerned about it being all "organic." I'm more concerned with the chickens not being de-beaked or in cages so small their feet grow attached to the bars.

Thanks in advance!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fall is here

Where I was last week, it was very much still summer. Here in Portland, it doesn't seem to be. The leaves are starting to change. The air is somehow different. More clouds are in the sky. Sunny afternoons aren't hot.

At first, I didn't want to let go. But now, I'm adjusting. I'm looking forward to baking bread, baking tarts and pies and cakes and cookies, roasting chickens, roasting vegetables, staying inside, catching up on my sewing, and watching movies while knitting. I am a good way through my first cardigan.

This means it's time for my one-year-in-Oregon masthead to be replaced by a fall masthead, but I'm not ready to design one yet. I guess I'm not quite ready to let go of summer.

There's a chance I might not be Big-Haired Jersey Girl in Oregon anymore. My shag haircut is growing out in a way that's driving me nuts, so I might chop everything off and start anew. Well, start with the very short haircut I had in 2006. I dream of rolling out of bed and not having to comb my hair at all, let alone twist it and hold it in place with several dozen bobby pins.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Another Dollar-Wording Story: Part Three and a Half - The Letter Continued

"Hi Sarah," I heard Mariott's familiar hiss.

"It's Greta and Mariott," another voice chimed in.

"What do you want?" I demanded.

"We just wanted to tell you that we told Mr. Wilson what you said by the buses today," replied Mariott.

"Yeah, we told him what you called us!" reported Greta.

"You're in trouble," Mariott informed me.

"He said he's going to call your parents and call you into his office tomorrow!" announced Greta.

"You're in big trouble," said Mariott.

SLAM! I hung up the phone with as much defiance as I had thrown the letter, stupidly destroying evidence of the incident that had prompted me to use the Dollar Word in the first place.

Distraught, I pondered my next move. I was in deep shit. Crap! There was another bad word! I was in deep trouble. Mr. Wilson was the vice principal of our school, the disciplinarian. All evidence I had suggested that he was the type to reprimand (s)he who had acted last, the student who had reacted to some instigated injustice. Mr. Wilson, I believed, would always be on the bully's side. Without the letter itself, I had even less to use in my defense.

I saw no other solution. My parents, I reasoned, would rather hear about this from me than from Mr. Wilson. They wouldn't want to be blindsided by a call from the school. So I told them what I'd done.

The phone call from Mr. Wilson never came. The next school day was uneventful. Mariott Kadiddlehopper and Greta Grandcouchon hadn't told Mr. Wilson a thing. They called me on the phone that night to lie.

As punishment, my parents dissolved the Dollar Word Rules. My father could use the F-word all he wanted without monetary penalty.

Furthermore, they fined me $1.50 for my usage of the Dollar Word.

To this day, my father tells me that it wasn't because I swore that I was in trouble.

"'Fuckers' doesn't make any sense," my father explained without explaining, without giving his nine-year-old child any further definition of the F word, which he could now inject liberally into his speech. "Just calling someone a 'fucker' isn't an insult. You have to call them a something fucker. You're in trouble because you used the F word incorrectly."

Another Dollar-Wording Story: Part Three - The Letter

Just as it should come as no shock to my readers that people in my family say the F word a lot, it will probably not surprise you to learn that I was made fun of in elementary school.

I suspect being made fun of in elementary school is something which, as an adult, I'll learn that everyone was subjected to, even the people I perceived to be the ones doing the making of fun.* Or maybe it's just something everyone claims to have experienced once they become an adult.

So, I concede that perhaps my memory distorts things, but in my memory I was one of the people made fun of. I believed myself to be in the category just above kids that smelled bad and kids that picked their nose and ate it in plain sight. I was taller than a lot of other kids and I was chubby; this combination made me big compared to other kids so that I seemed fatter than I really was. Also, I had big hair. No, not like I do now. I did not have cute, fluffy ringlets. I had no idea how to style my kinky hair. I had something between a mane and a cumulonimbus cloud surrounding a chubby face.

At best, I looked like this:

And at worst:

In the mid-nineties, when I was a nine-year-old fourth grader, two of the girls who most often picked on me had rather comical names, but unfortunately I can't use their real names in this post. Well, I can, but I'd rather not deal with them should they ever Google themselves. I will instead give them fake names that somewhat resemble their real names. The one who bullied me the most, who went from my frenemy to my tormentor (so much so that, on the last day of fourth grade, when I learned that she'd be in my fifth grade class after being in my fourth and third grade class, I broke down in tears in front of my whole class), was named something like Mariott Kadiddlehopper. Her sidekick was Greta Grandcouchon. (Or something like that.)

Late one school day, a letter came into my possession. It was a full page, front and back. "Dear Sarah," it began. What followed was a list of sentences. "You are stupid. You are fat. You are ugly." Each paragraph contained a new set of evidence that I was a detestable human being. "You eat too much. You talk too much. You read too much." Still too young to recognize when a search for reason is pointless, I remember asking, "Why would anyone care how much I read?" The concluding paragraph contained the lines with which I had the most contention. "You have no friends. No one likes you. Everyone hates you." All of these quotes are from my memory alone, because I quickly lost the only copy of the letter.

As I walked to my bus that afternoon, Mariott Kadiddlehopper and Greta Grandcouchon waited for me. I heard their jeering before I saw them. "Hey Sarah! Did you get our note?"

I guess I was tired of crying in public or of keeping silent, "ignoring" bullies like grown-ups always said to do, putting my head down as I walked to hide my face and waiting until I got home to react. I wanted to my disapproval to be known. I wanted to voice resistance. I wanted to protest.

But I was inexperienced in this realm, and I did the stupidest thing possible. I turned to face the bullies, my ineffectual weapon in hand. With as much force as I could, I threw it at them &mdash the crumpled ball I had made of the letter. My battle cry was the worst word I could think of, the Dollar Word. Turned into a noun. Pluralized for two people. Hurling a harmless grenade and simultaneously discarding any evidence of the bullies' wrongdoing, I yelled, "You fuckers!"

From all of my reading-too-much, I had not extracted the cleverness that a near decade of bullying would yield. Shortly after dinner that evening, the phone rang at my house.

To Be Continued


* If it's possible to make fun of someone for being a ruthless jerk.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Back from Colorado

I almost wrote, "Back from the West," but Colorado is not west of where I live now. "Back from the East" was already taken by my return from New Jersey. "Back from the Midwest" isn't accurate. "Back from the West-that-is-East-of-here-but-not-Midwest" is too long.

We are back from Colorado today. More on that later. We had a great time. I just got the pictures back and plan to post them on Flickr soon, and then on this blog. We had a very long travel day. One of the results of this was a drawing I did of "Why We Should Just Drive Next Time" (with a lot of emphasis of how much cheaper gas is than plane tickets). After getting to Portland, we took naps. Then we went to dinner at my favorite place, Broder, which I will write about soon. Then we got a flat tire! Well, my car did.

I am very tired. But home, and safe, and content. I had a good trip and a good dinner.

More later!

Part Two of Another Dollar Word-ing Story - The Guard of the Gate

The following is an example of the Dollar Word rules in action.

Has it ever come up before on this blog that I grew up in a gated community? Wait, wait, it's not what you think. While the lake community in question is very nice, it's hardly the highfalutin' assortment of chateaus one imagines. The gate, when I was growing up, was actually a person, usually a retiree or a part-time student, someone for whom this was just a job or for whom this was a way to act out bizarre fantasies of authority. In fact, it still is, except now there's actually a gate for the gate guard to guard, to put down (with a remote control) when intruders approach and to raise when a resident car sticker is spotted.

But back in the late '80's, all the gate guard could do was wave at people, flagging down cars without residency stickers and, when they slowed down, approach them with a clipboard and collect their information: Who are you visiting? What's their address? What's your name? What's your address? And then, instead of asking for a license plate number, the gate guard sloooooooooooowly will walk around the car and slowly, painstakingly, copy down the plate number. They still do this, too, before they'll raise the stupid gate and let you in. Even if you have a resident in the car, who shows the gate guard their membership card or their ID (with an address on it), they will go through this whole extensive process.

You can imagine what a pain this is during rush hour. Because it's actually a BIG gated community. There are probably at least a hundred households, at least a hundred people waiting to go home behind those few people giving their information to the guard.

Now, you might be wondering how this was enforced before there was a gate. If the guard just waved to people, surely it was possible for them to keep driving. Except some of the guards had (and still have) a habit of throwing themselves in the path of oncoming traffic. One would have to choose &mdash stop the car, or hit the gate guard. It was (is) always the mean ones, the power trippers (the ones who are Triple Platinum Elite Frequent Fliers on Power Trip Airlines) who did this.

One summer in the late '80's, a very mean old man was the gate guard. He wasn't merely crotchety or cranky in an old man way. He was, from what I remember the grownups saying, rude and abrasive. (Keep in mind that I was a preschooler in the late '80's.) Perhaps his worst offense was that he regularly stopped cars that had community residence stickers on them.

I vaguely remember what he looked like. It's been more than two decades, so it's a little hazy, but I imagine him looking not terribly sinister. Just like someone's grandfather. A thin, white-haired old man. Except that his eyes were black and soulless. Or maybe it's just that I only saw him with sunglasses on.

One story in particular that I remember overhearing (as a four-year-old) was picked up secondhand from a sociable neighbor who regularly had us all over. Family and friends from outside of the neighborhood were also invited on big events such as birthdays and the Fourth of July. The neighbor had a teenage niece with acne. At the time, I didn't know what "acne" was, but she described to us how it was painful and this niece had to go to the dermatologist; I guessed, as a four-year-old, that it was some kind of rash. Anyway, the gate guard stopped this niece when she was on her way to my neighbor's barbecue. As he was copying her information onto his clipboard, he suddenly looked at her, stopped writing, and asked, "What's that on your face?" He reportedly gestured with his pen, crossing the barrier of her partway-open window and may have even touched her face with his pen!!!!!

"And you know," her aunt added, "acne is painful!!!!"

In my last memory of that gate guard, it was night. It was very late, perhaps midnight. My father was driving my mother and me home from somewhere. We were both bobbing in and out of sleep. As we approached the gate, the braking of the car awoke us both. When I opened my eyes, the mean old man gate guard with the empty abyss-like eyes was approaching the drivers' side. My father rolled down his window.

It is possible that further conversation between the two men occurred, but I do not remember it. Keep in mind that I was only four. In my memory's version of events, when the mean old gate guard's face was visible looming in the driver's side window, his eyes as black as the midnight sky, my father let out a growly shout, "I live here, FUCK!"

Any of his attempts to sound tough were spoiled by what happened next. From the back of the car, behind the driver, floated a high little voice: "Daddyyyyy, you owe me a dollar!"

Monday, September 06, 2010

Another F-ing Story, Part One: The Dollar Word

As my readers may have gathered from reading my writing, from what they know of people from New Jersey, and from the post Homeland Security, my family includes quite a few trash mouths. At some point in my early childhood, my father decided to clean up his trash mouth a bit.

Thus, it came to be that every time my father uttered the F word in any of its various derivatives and forms, I got a dollar. The rules were simple.

1) Dad says the Dollar Word or a variation thereof.
2) Little Sarah hears the Dollar Word.
3) Little Sarah must state that she heard the Dollar Word.

It was never clearly stated in the rules, but I'm sure you know it goes without saying that Little Sarah must never, herself, say the Dollar Word.

This Onion article almost sums up my reasons to move West

8.4 Million New Yorkers Suddenly Realize New York City A Horrible Place To Live

This Onion article also supports the thesis that rural NJ is a great place to live. You get lots of the great parts about the City (such as great pizza and bagels) without the following crap:

According to residents, the mass exodus was triggered by a number of normal, everyday New York City events. For Erin Caldwell of Manhattan, an endlessly honking car horn sent her over the edge, causing her to go into a blind rage and scream "shut up!" at the vehicle as loud as she could until her voice went hoarse; for Danny Tremba of Queens it was being cursed at for walking too slow; and for Paul Ogden, also of Queens, it was his overreaction to somebody walking too slow.

Other incidents that prompted citizens to pick up and leave included the sight of garbage bags stacked 5 feet high on the sidewalk; the realization that being alone among millions of anonymous people is actually quite horrifying; a blaring siren that droned on and fucking on; muddy, refuse-filled puddles that have inexplicably not dried in three years; the thought of growing into a person whose meanness and cynicism is cloaked in a kind of holier-than-thou brand of sarcasm that the rest of the world finds nauseating; and all the goddamn people.

The Yanni Violinist

This post was begun on Friday while waiting to board a flight to Denver.

The Portland Airport has free wireless; the Newark Airport does not. The Portland Airport is a lot of wonderful things that the Newark Airport isn't. On principle, I will not fly out of this airport without first going online. I check my e-mail, update my Facebook status, and do whatever else time permits.

I also have a stash of blog post ideas, things I didn't get to blog about when they actually happened but still deserve to have their story told. The story of the Yanni Violinist at the Farmers' Market is appropriate to be told now, from the airport, because the Yanni Violinist is here...in the Portland Airport. He is performing near our gate. I recognize his hair and his outfit.

MBF just interjected that the Yanni Violinist is pretty good, so I should add that in. He's right; that was something I didn't get to notice during my first encounter with him.

MBF also interjected that his mom would really like this music. So would mine.

Anyway. This story is usually an example of moments when Portland is too much for me, or I am too East Coast (or something) for Portland.

The farmers' market I frequently go to is super hippie-ish. For example, one of the regular vendors seems to specialize in wild-gathered foods (or farmed foods of species/varieties that usually grow wild). He has wild hair and a dazed expression. He's a story for another time. The market also has a performance area where local musicians play. Some days, I like this, especially when it's an unpretentious singer and acoustic guitarist whose songs blend into the background noise, complementing my shopping day.

On this particular market day, I was driven, perhaps in a hurry, with no goal other than buying my produce and being left alone. In the performance area was a violinist accompanied by amplified &mdash I'm not sure if it was actual musicians or recorded music on a stereo. (I keep, for some reason, wanting to type "tape deck" even though it is not the '80's.) Anyway, the violinist was clad in a long white tunic and white, baggy linen pants. He had ample, though neatly-groomed, facial hair, and matching his flowing clothing was long, flowing hair.

"Like your boyfriend!" someone once broke into this story. At that time, MBF did have long, flowing hair and ample facial hair, just like the violinist.

"Yeah," I'd grumble. "Or like Yanni," I'd add dismissively, and resume my story abruptly.

When I got to the market that day, the amplified music was turned up too loud, drowning out even the noise of farmers' marketers. I needed a few things at a nearby store and for some reason thought that maybe by the time I finished shopping at that store, the musician(s) would take a break. But when I came back to the market, it was not to be. Yanni Violinist was still playing, and that's not all. Too moved by the music for the stage-like square of sidewalk to confine him, he had left his post and was wandering around the market as he played. I hurried to the other side of the market, where I could shop in peace and observe as he zeroed in on individual shoppers. These chosen few he would follow closely behind and serenade as they shopped. Yanni Violinist seemed indifferent or oblivious to the harassed expressions and defensive postures that many of the shoppers adopted. As they walked faster, so would Yanni Violinist.

That's right, the violinist at the farmers' market was chasing people.

He was not chasing people at the Portland Airport. Fortunately. But he was there, occasionally wandering, without selecting travelers to play to/pursue, not straying out of sight from the CDs he was selling and the stereo that played backup music to his violin.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Homeland Security - Revised

I recently noticed that the post linked to as one of "My favorite posts" is sort of unorganized; it takes awhile before the reader gets to the part that's actually about homeland security and makes it "my favorite post." It was sort of a mishmosh "things that are going on" post, like some that I wrote last week, with the notes from a never-finished 2006 blog post pasted in at the bottom. That 2006 story deserves to stand alone.
So, originally published in 2007, originally written in 2006, here's a four-year-old story.
Homeland Security
My great-grandmother, who will turn ninety-five this December, has been in the country, legally, for about three decades. She is still a French citizen. She has never broken a law or done anything to give anyone reason to be suspicious of her. She is from France, she is nearly one hundred years old, and she does not do much other than garden, go to Corrado's, and boss around my grandmother. Yet in recent years, the Department of Homeland Security has been making her fill out complicated papers and, at one point, selected her at random as a non-citizen who had to get a retina scan. The only government building in which this mandatory retina scan was possible was in Newark (for my non-NJ readers, that is a busy city with horrible traffic) and had no handicapped parking or access, because of some construction that was going on. What did they think my great-grandmother was going to do? Attack people from bed? Throw magazines out the window? Hurl cutting insults in French at people who don't understand French anyway?
Prior to the retina scan debacle, during my senior year at Douglass College (aka the place where I got my first undergraduate degree), Mima had to fill out some kind of new paperwork for her green card. It was rather complex, so she and my grandparents enlisted the aid of my parents.
I took a break from working on my senior thesis to write the following:

While working on my thesis at my parents' house, my mother and father are filling out some papers for my great-grandmother's green card. They decided to try doing it online. They have since given up and decided that filling it out on paper would be easier; they couldn't even get past setting up a user account.
First, I overheard the following between my father and my mother:
"We have to pick a user name, password, and password question. Which question do you want?" (Reads a list)
"But we already set up a password!"
"I know. We have to set up a password question. What is your pet's name; What is your mother's maiden name--"
"But why are we replacing the password!"
"WE'RE NOT! THIS IS YOUR SECURITY QUESTION!"
"Oh oh oooooooooohhhhhhhh."

A little later, I heard the following:
"OK, I'm going to make the username her first name, and the password her last name."
"Why?"
"Why not?"
"Make her user name her full name, and we'll make a password."
"It has to be 8-15 characters."
"We'll make it the village she's from."
"How do you spell 'Villedieu'?"
She tells him. He enters in "villedieu".
A few seconds later, an error appears on the screen. The password must include a special character.
"ville-dieu," they write. They click OK. The page takes some time to load.
Another error message. The password must include both capital and lowercase letters.
"Why didn't they put all of this information on the page, BEFORE you entered the password?" they both cry. They type, "Ville-Dieu."
The page takes even longer to load this time. Ville-Dieu is a perfectly good password, with three character types...it should work.
"WHAT!?" This time, the password failed because there were two of the same consonant together in the word "Ville". Apparently, you can't have double letters in your password. I have never seen anything like it!
I hear slamming on the keyboard.
"FINE!" exclaims my father. "F.  PERIOD. U-" I hear the pounding of each key.
"YOU CAN'T MAKE THE PASSWORD THAT!'"
"Why not?"
"Because it is for my grandmother! For the government!"
"Who cares? She won't know what it means!"
THE END.

Screen Door for Dinner

Last night, MBF and I went to Screen Door for dinner. Screen Door is the same Southern restaurant about which I wrote in this goofy post about public restrooms, and claimed I would write about again with something more fitting of that lovely restaurant than a post that included pictures of toilets.

Screen Door is probably one of my favorite places to eat in Portland, along with Broder and Whiskey Soda Lounge (which is really more of a place to drink.) Until last night, I'd only had their brunch and never their dinner. Their praline bacon, their chicken and waffles, their Bloody Mary with pickled okra in the garnish, their Gin Fizz which I think I liked better, and the bottomless cup of Stumptown coffee....Can you tell I haven't had breakfast yet?

Anyway, we went because I didn't feel like attempting to cook with the odd assortment of ingredients at my disposal, and when I suggested it to MBF, he thought it was a good idea.

Well, he did at first, but don't think we got out the door without some waffling. (Mm...chicken and waffles.) "Do you think it will be crowded?" "I don't know." "I hope it's not crowded." "Me too." "Maybe we should go somewhere else in case it's crowded." "Where should we go?" "Where do you want to go?" "I don't know, where do you want to go?"

I include a transcript of the waffling, because this is probably what has kept many people from going to Screen Door for dinner. See, Screen Door only serves brunch on Saturday and Sunday, so unless you get there right when they open, you are likely to face a crowd of a magnitude you have never imagined assembling just for brunch.

Unless you live in Portland, where there are actually quite a few places that attract concert-audience-sized crowds for lunch.

Anyway, at the end of a workday, just the thought of a crowd like that makes one want to put on sweatpants, put a movie on a laptop, and go to bed before the twilight has completely faded.

Well, I am here to tell you that Screen Door is not that crowded for dinner. At least not on a Wednesday night a little after seven.

When we arrived, we were told that the wait would be "not more than thirty-five minutes." It was maybe fifteen minutes, probably even less.

While we waited for our entrees, I mentioned this to MBF. We thought we were going to have to wait so long to sit, get served, and eat, and though we were in a very crowded dining room, we hardly had to wait for anything! I was incredulously pleased.

MBF agreed. "Not like that diner place," he said. I realized he was referring to the restaurant with the L-shaped room that I wrote about earlier this week. The place where there were hardly any patrons and we had to wait, and wait, and wait, and never even got utensils.

The point of this post? Go to Screen Door for dinner! I want to go back sometime when I don't have a migraine.