Monthly Archives: March 2006

Random Friday–the "it's a beautiful day and I'm not at work" edition

It’s Friday and you know what that means! Another set of random music, straight from the oddly insightful brain of my iPod. You know the rules, but here they are, anyway. Set your pod or other inferior digital music devise to shuffle/random, and report back the results. There is no skipping, hedging, omitting or rationalizing allowed.

1. The Obvious Child, Paul Simon (1964-1993, Disc 3)
2. Understand, Joss Stone (Mind, Body and Soul)
3. To Lay Me Down, Cowboy Junkies (Rarities, B-Sides and Slow, Sad Waltzes)
4. Time, Mo Mack (New and Used Tunes)
5. Man in the Long Black Coat, Joan Osborne (Relish)
6. Going in Circles, Maceo Parker (Funk Overload)
7. Climbing Up, Cerulean Groove (Over Crooked Tables)
8. Living in the Past, Ian Anderson (World Cafe Volume 18)
9. Playing with Fire, Shannon Curfman (Loud Guitars, Big Suspicions)
10. I Forgot to Remember to Forget, Elvis Presley (The Sun Sessions)

Favorite Song: Time by Mo Mack (my dad). This actually is not a song that my dad wrote, but I’ve always loved it nonetheless. It was written by a friend of his (Hamid Hamilton Camp) and about six or seven years ago, they sat down together so my dad could learn it from it’s source. It’s a good thing they did, as Hamid died last October. His music lives on.

Favorite Album: Relish by Joan Osborne. I particularly love her version of this song as well. Last December while I was in Portland, my sister and I went to the bins (disgusting but wonderful thriftstore in Portland where everything is by the pound), and she kept singing this song in her own, wonderful voice. It’s a good memory.

Seen Live: Mo Mack (my whole damn life) and Cowboy Junkies (last June in Pittsburgh with Ingrid, Cindy and Chris).

Other Random Friday players:

A rustic tart and an inadvertent nap

Yesterday evening, I walked into my local produce market, looking for something yummy. I’ve come to the conclusion recently that things like grapes, strawberries and avocados make my quality of life infinitely better. I had, for so long, rationed these items, citing in my head their high prices as reason enough to stay away. Of course, I rarely hesitate to drop $10 or $15 or $20 on a meal when I’m out with my friends, so it has started to seem silly to tell myself that $3.50 on a bag of grapes is too high a price (I’m also trying to cut back on the eating out, because it IS too expensive, and it stopped feeling like something special. I don’t ever want meals that people prepare for me to loss their gift-like quality, even if I am paying them for the experience).

I entered Lin’s Produce with strawberries on the brain, as I envisioned kicking off an hour or two on the couch with a gluttonous berry binge. I was excited to see several boxes of strawberries on sale, two quarts for the price of one. Granted, the berries were a little smaller than their full-price brethren, but their color was deep and I’m a sucker for a bargain.

I got them home, quickly rinsed the contents of the clamshell plastic container under the faucet and tumbled them into a bowl. I bit into the first one as I took a step towards the couch, and immediately turned back. The strawberry in my mouth was mealy and decidedly past it’s prime. I stuck the bowl in the fridge and settled for some grapes instead. But the question of what to do with the sad strawberries sat heavy in my mind. They weren’t good for eating, but I had a feeling they’d could redeem themselves if I cooked them.

I tossed those berries around my brain during the morning and by the end of the work day, I had developed a baking itch that needed to be scratched. I spent twenty minutes this afternoon reading muffin recipes on, but that wasn’t quite right. As I walked home, I called my mom and asked her what to do with the berries (hoping that she’d suggest some sort of baked thing I hadn’t thought of). She suggested cooking them gently with a little sugar and water, kind of a strawberry compote. Was there any rhubarb available, she asked?

Tossing the mail and my bag on the bar as I entered my apartment, I sat down on the floor in front of the living room bookshelf, to browse for inspiration. I envisioned a rustic fruit tart, one that was freely formed, with half the fruit still poking out of the top. Unfazed by the fact that I was unable to find a recipe that described such a thing made with strawberries, I pressed on.

I made a standard pie crust (For some reason, tonight was the first time in my entire life that the phrase “rub the butter into the flour” made sense to me), rolled it out and managed to center it on top of a circle of parchment paper, on top of a pizza pan. Into the middle of it, I plopped all the strawberries, which I had cut into quarters and tossed with some lemon zest, juice and sugar. The liquid immediately began to run all over the place and I hurriedly patched and folded the crust, until it resembled the thing in my head. I painted the turned up swathes of dough with an egg wash (I have learned a few things while watching the food network) and sprinkled the whole thing with turbinado sugar. I put it into the oven at 350 degrees, set a timer for 40 minutes and went to the library.

When I got home, I sniffed the air and thought to myself, “well, nothing smells like it’s burning” and checked the oven. There was a lot of bubbling juice in the parchment paper, many of the strawberries had donated their color to the liquid, keeping none for themselves, and the crust was nearing a respectable brown. I pulled the thing out and marveled at the amount of juice it had produced. There is a reason why rational people make use pie plates and tart pans. I am not one of them. Despite it’s juicy shortcomings, it was tasted incredible. When my roommate came home, he headed into the kitchen and said, “what’s that?” in a tone of voice typically reserved for appreciating good looking women or Indian food.

It was a moderately successful baking experiment for the girl who rarely bakes (because she hates to measure). Next time, I think I’d toss just a tiny bit of cornstarch into the strawberries, to give the liquid a way to build upon itself.

Unfortunately, after all the baking and library excitement, I was overtaken by sleepiness while reading on the couch around 7:30 and drifted off into a nap, missing a chance to go to the movies with friends. I guess I just can’t have it all in one night.


I own countless cookbooks. I’ve watched hundreds of hours of food television. I have a full file box of recipe clippings and printouts. And yet, most nights, I make things for dinner that I could cook with my eyes closed.

Tonight I had teriyaki chicken, brown rice and steamed broccoli. This was a meal that my family ate at least once a week while I was growing up. In the early days, the chicken would be baked legs and thighs, maybe with honey mustard or jam on there instead of teriyaki. As my sister and I got older, and complained a little more about skin and bones in our chicken, trends slowly veered towards naked chicken breasts cubed and sauteed on the stove with a little Yoshida’s sauce for that sticky, sweet teri flavor.

Often, when I call my mom, I’ll ask her what she’s having for dinner, and before I give her a chance to answer, I’ll offer a guess as to what the meal will entail. Standard guesses include salmon and string beans, salad with chicken or chicken legs and broccoli. I’m often right. In the summer it gets a little harder, as the veggie options are a little more diverse. The garden starts booming and suddenly my parents are awash in zucchini, sugar peas, baby lettuces and spinach that goes from young and tend to seed in the course of 24 hours.

I ate my bowl of chicken, rice and broccoli tonight, while I sat on the couch watching tv. Not a mealtime scenario of which my mother would approve. I slowly ate down through the contents of my dish, until I got to the last grains of rice at the bottom. I picked up each one with my chopsticks, an action that made me flash back to the dinner table in our house in LA when I was five or six. I remember struggling with the last few grains of rice on my plate, feeling frustrated that I wasn’t allowed to use my fingers to push them up onto my fork. My dad stopped me and told me to watch him. He gently rocked the back of his fork over the rice, pushing the individual grains up between the tines of the fork. I observed this action with the frighteningly fast retention ability reserved for children under the age of ten, and started to mimic his actions. In no time I conquered those pesky single grains of rice.

I guess comfort food comes in many forms, and for me this is one.

Small annoyances

Sunday evening I got home just before 7 pm. As I stepped off the elevator, I noticed a large box sitting in front of my front door. I thought it was odd, as I wasn’t expecting anything, and this is not the ordinary manner in which we receive packages around here. I walked up to it, and realized it was a familiar box. It was in fact the same one I had put into the trash room earlier that day. Someone on my floor apparently had objected to the manner in which I had disposed of it, so they brought it back to me. I don’t always love the militaristic manner in which the self-righteous old ladies on my floor take it upon themselves to enforce the rules.

There are complicated policies governing the disposal of trash in my apartment building. All trash must be neatly tied into the small plastic bags you get at the grocery/drug/convenience store (CVS bags are the preferred brand around here) before you can send it down the trash shoot. Pizza boxes must be cut up and bundled into a plastic bag as well, as there is a sign in the trash room that reminds us that “pizza boxes bring vermin.” There is a crate for newspapers and magazines, but people often dig through the crate for magazines they haven’t read, so don’t put anything objectionable or in poor taste in there. If you do, it will come back to you, either physically with a scolding note or via gossip and scornful looks. You are permitted to leave cardboard boxes in the trash room, but they can’t be filled with trash, they must be closed up and empty.

I think that’s where I went wrong. I didn’t close the flaps of my box adequately, and someone else on my floor put an old frying pan in the box. So it went from an empty box, to one that was “filled” with trash. Being that it was “filled” it was no longer acceptable for disposal in the trash room, so it was brought back to my door. The individual who returned the box to my front door left no note, no identification as to who it might have been or even an indication as to what rule they thought I had broken.

When I saw the box impeding my entry, I was suddenly filled to my eyeballs with an overwhelming sense of frustration, annoyance and a little hurt. I felt as if I was being publicly shamed by an unknown entity, my wrist slapped for being a poor participant in my community. I took the box back to the closet-sized trash room, closed the flaps and replaced it, the frying pan now sitting on top of the box as opposed to inside it. It’s a good thing the hallway remained empty for the duration of my errand, as I was ready to kick the first little old lady I saw, brittle bones be damned. I continued to gently steam as I made my dinner, not yet able to let go of the emotions surrounding a 60 second experience. My mom called and I dumped the details of the situation into her ear. Thankfully, she was able to inject a little much-needed humor into the scenario. She reminded me that there are some people who look for situations like that, and that I had probably made someone’s day by leaving the box there in it’s slightly wrong state. After we got off the phone and I was sitting at the dining room table with some stir fried cabbage and chicken, I was able to stop the proverbial smoke from shooting out my ears.

Today, when I got home, there was something even more out of place in the hallway than a cardboard box. A chicken bone, stripped of all it’s meat, was resting on the floor in front of the freight elevator. I looked at it in surprise as I walked by it to my apartment. As soon as I set my bag down, I grabbed a paper towel and headed back out to the hallway to retrieve this misplaced chicken leg. It gave me a chance to feel like I was doing something community-minded, an inadvertent reprieve for the unspoken accusation of the previous night.

Nothing's more exciting than a weekend wrap up

Friday night I got home from work just a little before 6 pm. My roommate was in the shower, so I laid down on my bed to wait for him to get out of the bathroom. I woke up an hour and a half later, totally disoriented, the bathroom empty and my roommate long gone. My body was smart, grabbing that chunk of sleep, because the rest of the weekend moved lightening fast.

There was a wedding, in which the groom choked up during his vows, and the bride said hers with a bubbly laugh in her voice. A reception at which there was kielbasa, ham and Thanksgiving dinner as well as dancing with a Mummers string band trio.

Later came the birthday party, celebrating Shay’s 30th. More food, including V’s fried chicken and Angela’s lasagna. More dancing, this time to a special iPod mix that Erin made. The birthday girl looked lovely in her party dress, socks and sneakers (she couldn’t do the high heels the dress called for more than the first 45 minutes). We were sent home with favor bags full of candy and an autographed picture of Shay-bird herself.

Today has been downright tame in comparison to yesterday. Church and an unfun meeting afterwards. Veggie shopping at Lin’s. A little bit of work. Latihan. A dash into Trader Joe’s (and a friend sighting) for something that resembled protein. Home and dinner and friends on the phone and bed.

Random Friday–Any day's a good day when I'm wearin' my Frye boots

I’m grateful to have arrived at Friday once again, relatively unscathed by the preceeding week, and ready for just a little rest. Or maybe, not so much rest, as I’ve got a potluck and Shay’s birthday dancing excursion (happy birthday Shay-bird!) tonight as well as a wedding and Shay’s actual birthday party tomorrow. I’ll sleep on Sunday.

Anyway, time for the set. You know the rules, but I get a kick out of repeating them, so here they are. Set your pod or other, less aethetically pleasing, digital music player a’shufflin’ and report back the first ten (or 11) songs that it spits out. No skipping, explaining or rationalizing via emoticon allowed.

1. Blackbird, Sarah McLachlan (I Am Sam)
2. I Sleep Alone, Moonlight Towers (Paste Magazine Sampler)
3. You Won’t See Me, The Beatles (Rubber Soul)
4. I’ll Cover You, Original Broadway Cast (Rent Sountrack)
5. Many Rivers, Charlotte Martin (Test-Drive Songs)
6. Section 20 (Together We’re Heavy), The Polyphonic Spree (Together We’re Heavy)
7. Frisky, Sly & The Family Stone (The Essential Sly & The Family Stone)
8. Maria’s Beautiful Mess, Ellis Paul (Live)
9. Lenny/Man on the Side, John Mayer (Any Given Thursday)
10. She, Hummingfish (Love Traktor and Other Songs)

Favorite Song: Sarah McLachlan’s version of Blackbird. I had the fortune of seeing her perform this song live (wow, almost two years ago now). Both she and it were lovely and amazing.

Favorite Album: This is tough today, because there’s a load of good stuff on the list today. I think I have to pick Together We’re Heavy by the Polyphonic Spree. Their live show was THE BEST music experience of my lifetime thus far.

Seen Live: I’ve already mentioned Sarah and the Spree. I’ve also seen Ellis Paul (I actually sat next to him at the Tin Angel that night, he ate dinner and watched his opening act).

Portland/Personal Connection: Hummingfish was a Portland/Pacific Northwest band. I think my sister had some connection to them (camp maybe?) and if my memory is serving correctly, my very first boyfriend, the guy I dated briefly in college before I broke up with him (and crushed him just a little), was related to one of the members of the band. Strange, tenuous strings.

If you need more Random Friday than I can give you, check out these folks:

Benjamin Franklin Parkway

I’ve had a small stack of old postcards, of both Philadelphia and Portland, sitting my computer for at least two months, waiting to be scanned and blogged. I don’t remember where I picked these postcards up, but I have three of them, all scenes of Philly from the 1940’s, all written by “Grandmamma” to her grandchildren, Robert and Mignon, as they spent the summer at Simpson’s Num-Ti-Gah Lodge in Alberta, Canada. They were all written with a fountain pen that had to be dipped in ink every fourth word and mailed from Glenside, PA in late July, 1945.

I try to imagine what Grandmamma was like. Was she a traditional grandmother, one who baked, mended, gardened and put up the fruits of her garden for winter. Or was she ahead of her times, advising her teenage granddaughters about birth control and women’s rights? Did she believe in heaven and hell? How had the recent war treated her? Did she lose any children or grandchildren? Had she been born in the United States, or had she come here as a child? Did she love her husband? Did she learn her cursive in a K-8 red brick grammar school, or had she had the education a one-room school house offered. What year was she born?

I think about my own grandmother, who was a young, bewildered mother living in West Oak Lane when this postcard was written. She had just lost her six week old son Danny to a virulent strain of diarrhea that had swept the maternity ward of the hospital. Her grandmother was still living at the time, although her mother was not. She had yet to leave the country, her first trip to Europe didn’t come until the 1950’s. She did love her husband, and she yearned for more education (which she would get at night during her the years her kids were young).

My grandmother and the grandmamma who wrote this postcard were probably very different from one another. They did have one similarity, which was that they both knew the Philadelphia pictured on this card. One where street cars ran the streets, Wanamaker’s and Strawbridge’s still existed and there was no building in the city that was taller than City Hall.

Being okay with not feeling okay

I sat on a bench this afternoon for about fifteen minutes with my eyes closed feeling a little sad and down. I was trying to find that place inside of myself where I could be okay with not being okay*. Sitting there, trying to breathe deeply both emotionally and physically, I noticed as the sun came out from behind a cloud, it’s rays momentarily illuminating my eyelids. The wind blew, chilling my right cheek and lifting my hair so that it brushed my lips. A person walked by in flip flops, smoking a cigarette and my senses were so overwhelmed by the smack of her shoes and the stench of her smoke, that for a moment I got out of my head. I headed back to my desk, feeling just a little bit better about feeling kinda crappy.

*Being okay with not being okay is the state of mind I search out when all the little things I’ve spent a lifetime not liking about myself mount and become nearly overwhelming. When all the shoulds, seemingly missed opportunities and disappointments become almost unbearable. When the life I lead now seems to be, in my own harsh estimation, dull and unsuccessful. In those moments I can’t do anything but slow down the tape that plays in my head, the one that beats me up for feeling bad and judges me for judging myself. I try to give myself a little space to accept the fact that I feel these things, reminding myself all the while that feelings aren’t necessarily reality. They may feel deeply real, but they don’t have to be. That reminder lights a little spark, which enough to guide me back out and onward.

Must sleep

I am currently so sleepy that it is hard to see straight. As I got out of a friend’s car a little while ago, I stumbled and nearly lost my balance, almost as if the half a glass of wine I had during dinner had taken on the powers of intoxication that the whole bottle normally possessed.

Work has been demanding lately, eating up bits of my evenings, weekends and valuable consciousness that I typically reserve for other, less lucrative endeavors. But the push is over, it ended today, and I am planning on returning to my normal, unambitious 40 hour work week starting tomorrow. Before I’m able to do that, I must pay my sleep debt. It’s the only debt in my life that I can’t wait to start repaying.

The muse

My mother is a poet who has been in the groove lately. For the last couple of weeks, there hasn’t been a day that has passed without a new email from her bearing the contents of a fresh poem. They’ve been insightful, creative, light-filled and beautiful. As she’s been turning out pieces of art, I’ve felt stymied, my fingers unable to carry a coherent thought from my brain to the keys of my little white computer.

On the phone with her this evening, I joked that we only have one muse between the two of us, and right now, the muse is booked solid with the poetic demands of her mind. When she countered with, “what, you think each family only gets a single muse?” I replied that I felt like our family had two. My father and sister had one to share, and my mom and I had the other. That’s the way things have typically broken down in our lives (with the exception of shared bathrooms. I always shared with my dad and Raina always shared with our mom. I don’t know why it happened this way, but it did).

She firmly rejected my theory and stated in her “I’m-your-mother-don’t-mess-with-me-voice” that there was a enough muse to go around. Enough muse to send us all down the creative paths for which we are destined. Enough muse to help us tap into the words we were meant to string together. Enough muse to bring light to the phrases and notes and fragments of sentences our souls crafted before our entry into this life and stored away for future rediscovery.

So muse, as I head to bed, because I love and trust and believe my mother, I invite you into my soon-to-be unconscious brain, and ask you to uncover all those words I’ve written that I just haven’t remembered yet. And help me to remember them well into the morning.