Monday, November 7, 2016

The Impact of The Breakfast Club on the Presidential Election

Photo courtesy of IMDB

There was a joke in the Breakfast Club about the nerdy Anthony Michael Hall character having a fake ID so he could vote. I always thought that was hilarious and a wildly improbable Hollywood character reveal... that is until I met my daughter.

This year, my daughter is 17 and she is buzzing with anxiety about the fact that she is a few months shy of being able to vote in this year's election.  She wants so badly to be able to have her voice heard in what has turned out to be the one of the craziest, most polarizing presidential races of our history. I know there have been plenty of ugly races before, but with the constant blare of social media and the 24X7 news cycle to fan the fires of acrimony, it feels far worse than any political race of recent memory.  It is in her face and her hands are tied.  I wish I had her passion and conviction.

I must admit that I am somewhat ostrich-like politically.  Everything about politics and politicians rubs me the wrong way.  I am embarrassed by the very notion of political grandstanding (hell, I can't even answer the "tell me a little about yourself" question on a job interview without breaking out in a rash) I feel physical pain when someone publicly insults someone else and the saddest part of all of it is that the good of the people gets lost in the sauce and overshadowed by self-serving rhetoric.

This is the very reason that I have spent the majority of my last 25 years in a corporate job, bristling at the behavior of my coworkers.  In my great distaste for political behavior, I find myself adrift in a sea of people who shamelessly embrace it.  Not to sound too Pollyanna, but can't we just do our jobs and let the actions speak for themselves?  Apparently, the answer is no. Vomit.

That said, I will make absolutely sure that I vote in this election, as seeing the importance of it through the eyes of someone that I care about reveals the privilege and gravity of doing it.  Mind you, this is through the eyes of someone who asked for a copy of the NY State Penal Code for Christmas, so I understand that there is a little bit of a personality slant to that, but it is still a meaningful reminder.  I hope that everyone has someone in their life that reminds them of the importance of taking a big hit of Peptol Bismol (for race induced diarrhea, of course) and heading to the polls. Hopefully the discomfort will be over soon.

And what of that girl who wants so badly to vote this year?  Well, I am going to lock up my license
and hide the keys to the car and try to restrain her until 2020.  At that point, she should be well on her way toward a degree in criminal justice and I could not be more proud...that is, unless she decides to be a politician, then I am going to need a Peptol Bismol IV drip.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A Chicken Walks into a Butcher Shop...

I'll admit it, I get a little intimidated when I go into the butcher shop.  If there is one thing that I know absolutely nothing about, it's meat butchery.  On the very few times that I tried to joint up chicken wings or separate a thigh from a drumstick, it has been nothing shy of disastrous.  I end up with flesh that is shredded at the edges like Christmas tinsel.  I can take apart and dice a bell pepper with the best of them, but when it comes to knife skills in the meat world, I get a failing grade every time.

Everything about the process inside the butcher shop is about mastery,  from the confident way they handle the different cuts to the understanding of which cut to use for what purpose to the blindingly fast use of a knife. So, like the puffer fish of the deep, I puff up my chest and stride in with a Dirty Harry swagger, as to not tip the professionals off to my lack of understanding or skill.  Think Billy Crystal in Analyze This, but with meat.

I confidently approach the counter and tell the butcher that I would like a pound and a half of ground sirloin and a pound of ground chuck.  I am sure the butcher is scratching his head over this odd ratio, but he is kind enough not to ask.  I don't want to have to tell him that I do this out of laziness because if I use all chuck in my chili, it takes too long to skim the extra fat off the top, so I mix in something leaner.

"Anything else?" he asks.  I momentarily seize up as I had not thought past the pot of chili.  "Yes", I blurt out trying to mask the hesitation brought about by my utter lack of preparedness, "I will take a whole organic chicken, cut up". It was the first thing I could think of and I believe that I have managed to convince him that I had planned all along to make chicken.  I laugh on the inside, believing that I have not tipped my hand (clearly a pair of twos) and exposed the fact that I had no clue what else I wanted, that is until he decides to throw math into the conversation.  If I have one Achilles Heel weaker than my knowledge of butchery, it's my knowledge of math.

"Do you want that chicken cut in eight pieces?" he asked.  The look that came over my face was probably something approximating abject fear and constipation as the thought of meat math was binding up my brain.  I started to do an inventory of chicken parts in my head, which is the meat math equivalent of counting on your fingers "Two breasts plus two wings plus two drums plus two thighs equals eight".  Then as if to provide a haughty "Go ahead, make my day" type response, I tell him, "No, make it ten.  I want to split the breasts across the middle so that all the pieces are the same size, and they cook evenly".

He slowly took two steps back from the counter and I could see the mental meat math that he was now doing in his head. Of course, he solved the problem quickly and turned to the butcher block and started hacking up the chicken, and everything was right with the world.  I stood there listening to the solid "thwack, thwack,thwack" of his cleaver against the bird on the board.  I moved toward the register, ready to pay and take the spoils of my chicken victory when he held up the backbone of the bird and asked me if I wanted it.  Shit! How did we end up with an eleventh piece?  Defeated by vertebrae!  I looked down at my shoes and mumbled, "You can keep it" then I paid him and quietly slunk out the door, more Cowardly Lion than Dirty Harry.  Maybe next time I'll make a list.

Friday, October 14, 2016

All Hail the Queen

Life is mysterious and unexpected and sometimes it gives you wonderful things that you probably don't deserve.  In my life, one of my wonderful things was my dog Brownie.  Sainted would be the word that I would use to describe this mild mannered, tolerant, patient and sweet, breed-confused pup. The gumbo of dogs, she was a here-to-fore unheard of genetic combination of German Shepherd, Basset Hound and Labrador Retriever.  The physics of that union do not compute.  But that whacked out alchemy yielded one amazing canine.

She came to us 11 years ago, right after Hurricane Katrina.  Our intent was to adopt a Katrina dog, so we started combing the online adoption services for a rescue.  Though we could not find a suitable Katrina adoption, what we did find was a discarded lab puppy from Tennessee.  Brownie came from an area in Tennessee where purity of breed in your hunting dog mattered and if a wandering mutt got in your yard and knocked up your prized bitch, it was likely that the results of that one nighter would be left off at the night deposit of a local kill shelter, or worse.

Such was the fate of Brownie, or "Vanessa" as she had been named by the rescuers that got her out of the shelter and on to the adoption circuit.  By the time she shuttled up to NY in the back of an 18 wheeler stacked from floor to ceiling with cages and met us at the pickup point (a Target parking lot on an off ramp of the NY Thruway), she was 4 months old, covered in fleas and easily the most adorable thing I had ever seen.

There's no easy way to describe the way Brownie looked.  It was like someone had randomly screwed on parts, like a Mr. Potato Head assembled in the dark.  She had the soulful face of a lab, complete with expressive eyes, triangle shaped, flapped over ears and a black rubber ball of a nose.  From got weird.  Her body was contoured like a Shepherd's but elongated like a Basset's and with a medium length but plush and velvety coat.  At the rear end, she had these long, blonde tufts of undercoat that shot out from behind her like flames from a rocket, giving way to a long, fluffy, flared tail.  All of that sat on top of stubby, stout, Basset Hound legs. In short, she was a freak, but the cutest freak.

And so she came to live with us, where she proved that she had a temperament of gold.  How else could you explain her ability to tolerate a curmudgeonly cat, a couple of kids, an endless revolving door of friends and family and eventually, a neurotic and needy Great Dane/Hound mix named Buzz.  To say that she tolerated us is not a fair assessment at all.  She loved this ridiculous, rag-tag mix of species beyond what we probably deserved and in return, we loved her back.  And though it is cliche to say, it is so very true to say to know her was to love her.

So, sometimes life gives you wonderful things that you probably don't deserve and sometimes it gives you a festering shit-pile that you also don't deserve.  Life gave Brownie cancer and she most certainly did not deserve that.  The best that we can hope for is that the 11 years that we gave her since she came up on that doggie transport from Tennessee were as precious to her as they were to us and that the crazy mixed up life we brought her into gave her the same joy we got as we watched her crazy, mixed up body jump in the pool, run up the hill in the back yard and sleep on the couch like it was her job.

All hail the queen...

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Where Food and Love Intertwine

I put up a post at my sister-blog, The Pedestrian Palate.  This one is not a recipe, but a story of how food and love can intersect.  Not my usual snarky fare...

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Sicily. Your Mother Just Won't Understand

When I told my mom that we were going back to Italy for another visit, she gave an exasperated sigh, said okay and basically hung up the phone on me. I get it, she doesn't get it.  However, she does not have to get it.  She stopped paying for my vacations somewhere south of my 18th birthday.

In spite of my protestations to my mother about the fact that this trip was going to be different, that we were going to Sicily first for a few days to see the country that my maternal grandmother and my husband's paternal grandparents all came from, my mother still assumed that it was a re-do of trips gone by.  But to suggest that Sicily is the same as the rest of Italy is not accurate. Not even close.

Siclily, like all regions of Italy, is very much a place unto itself.  A place with its own jumbled up culture, language and wonderful people. It is a place that has been conquered more frequently than (insert the name of your loosest friend here), and as a result has influences in the food, architecure and culture from the Greeks, Romans, Arabians, Northern Afticans and Spanish (to name a few). Funny, I just realized that the previous sentence reads like my husband's 23 and me results...a topic for another day.

After 5 days in Sicly, we returned to our favorite place in the world - Rome.  Rome fits like an old leather glove, but as broken in and worn as it may be, it never loses its beauty.  Upon review of our pictures from both places, the stark contrast is clear.  Sicily is earthy and the people are expressive and there seem to be few rules.  I have selected some of my favorite pictures from the Sicily portion of the trip that most clearly illustrate the immense beauty and quirky nature of the Sicilian island.

There is so much more to see, so sorry mom, I have every intention of going back.

Walking the dog, Ortigia-style.

Everyone was getting married while we were in Ortigia. Brides a-pelnty. This one arrived in style.

Burrata in a cold tomato soup with croutons. Pure genius.

This was a fish called Spatula.  If we had seen it in its natural state prior to the artful presentation below, we might have thought twice.  What this chef did to that ugly creature was nothing short of magical. ( image of the toothy fellow here, if you dare - )

Grape hauling cart from the old days.  One side had scenes of drunks enjoying the fruits of their labor, the other had saints blessing the harvest.  I related more to the side shown.

It was about 2 weeks from harvest when we visited the Benanti Winery just outside of Catania and the grapes looked ready to burst. 
he winery sits on the slopes of Mt Etna and the volcanic soil produces the most amazing grapes.

Amazing meats and cheeses prepared for our tasting at Benanti.
The cheese with a dark rind on the end? Oven baked fresh ricotta. No words.

 We spent afternoons drinking wine here. Relaxing and beautiful.


We found this guy at 3400 ft elevation on a winding mountain road. He mean mugged us, but we didn't sweat him. We kept on truckin'.

The fountain of Diana in Piazza Archemide at night.

View from the streets of Chiaramonte Gulfi, high in the hills of Sicily.

The sea urchin is so plentiful in Ortigia that there are huge baskets of them hauled into the market every day. I couldn't help but think about the street value of these things in NY. 

Vespas and cats everywhere and usually together, for some reason.

Persimmon.  Never ate one, but it looks pretty.

Greek ruins all over the joint.

Anybody spot Uncle Jun?  He clocked us the entire time we were at that cafe. Must have thought we were there to steal his cornetto.

***These quirky pictures of Sicily are mine all mine and not to be re-published or used for any purpose without permission.***

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Remembering Spike

I was scrolling through my facebook page today.  I do this because sometimes I post things and forget, so like any self-regulating human being, I make sure that I did not drunk-post anything that I would regret.  Luckily, most of my drunk posts weigh in on the side of silly/stupid vs. embarrasing.  I am too hung up as a human being to go the embarrassing route. Both a blessing and a curse.
In any case, in this self-policing moment, I came across some pictures of our cat, who passed away two and a half years ago.  These days, we have two dogs, but back in the day, we had two dogs and a grey striped bundle of cattitude named Spike. There are times when, in my weakness, I consider getting another cat, but I just can't do it.  I feel like I have had perfection and that any other animal would be a let down.  Let me explain.

What you probably don't know about me is that I am what has been described by my sister-in-laws as a "laissez faire" parent.  Which in their lexicon, probably means I don't apply the proper level of Martial Law in the household. However, I feel that it is best that I choose my battles and trust my kids enough to give them just enough freedom to learn from their experiences, yet remain safe.  You say tomato, I say stuff a watermelon up your bum.  Same difference.

The same trust but verify parenting style came into play when parenting my cat Spike.  He was hipper and smarter than the room about 100% of the time.  A child of the streets, he was born outside, chose his owner and exercised a high degree of autonomy at an early age.  He was not about to be micro-managed by some fascist human trying to impose order on him. Who was I to tell him that he couldn't be an indoor/outdoor cat? He and I shared the same impression of litter boxes; uncouth and a hotbed of disease.  And of course, he's gotta be free to survey the flora and the fauna and occasionally make a kill.  When you don't have your testicles, you have to find other ways to assert your manliness...or so I'm told.

Spike was not a snuggler with his humans, but he cuddled with the dogs like nobody's business. If I got to apply a few lightly appreciated scratches behind the ears, I was over the moon. He forged an astonishingly affectionate relationship with his unhinged brother-dog Buzz, who really was the punishment that none of us ever deserved. Yet there was genuine sweetness and love between Spike and this lizard-brained dodo, in spite of his natural tendencies to chase and erradicate the smaller woodland creatures of the world.  And like all of us, Spike adored Brownie the Wonderdog, because only a half-crazed sociopath on crack and off his behavioral meds would dislike Brownie.

So, I stand by my no new cat rule because how many, cool, smart, independent yet loving, outdoor pooping, indoor sleeping, toast stealing, ukulele playing, dog snuggling, look both ways before crossing the street, cats are there in the universe?  I think one, and I had him.  For this laissez fair cat parent, the is no other but Spike the Hotness Monster.  Behold and appreciate...the cat, the myth, the legend - SPIKE!

This is Spike's badass look. It always reminded me of when Snoopy perched on top of a tree or is doghouse and looked like a vulture.

We call this pose "the roast". It's a more effective name when both feet are tucked under him, but he was not one to conform.

Buttered toast stealing a specialty.

Yes, he played the ukulele. You wanna make something of it?

Sharing nap space.  It was always a coup for the kids if they had multiple animals sleeping on their bed.

Yes, he is judging you. You're just going to have to deal with it.

Clearly, he feels that he can take a better photo. "Gimme that thing."

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Sharing a Super Deal To Italy

Let me say at the top, this is not a sponsored post.  I don't know anyone at Gate 1 Travel and they don't know me.  What I do know and what you probably know about me, is that I love Italy.  I always have my eye out for reasonable airfares and deals to get my American tucas on Italian soil.

So, the other day I was scrolling through the emense dumpheap of email that I get every day and a Gate 1 Email caught my eye.  I am too lazy to opt out of anything, so the quantity of promotional email that I get, fills my mailbox to the top about every week or so.

I have a friend at work who told me about the great rates that this Gate l had to Italy, so I have been monitoring it.  What I saw on this most recent email seemed too good to be true.  It had an offer for 8 days in Tuscany with hotel, airfare and rental car for $699 a person.  I re-read it half a dozen times because I couldn't believe what I was seeing.  Airfare to Italy from NY is generally around $1200.  That's airfare alone. With a lot of homework and shopping, you can get a flight for around $1000, and that takes a lot of work. $699 from soup to nuts? It just seems unbelievable.

So, this company had a trip to Tuscany that costs less than a trip to Florida.  The problem is, I can't go due to work and it is burning me up. It seems almost like a crime to miss out, so I am doing the best thing I can think of as an alternative and passing the information on to you.

Below, you will find both the link to the offer.
Link:The Deal

I hope that this helps someone discover Italy and fall in love with it like I did.  Ciao, bella!