Wednesday, June 30, 2010

It Depends On What The Definition of Is Is

Make of this what you will.

The most salient memories I have of spending time with my father as a child (and mother and brother - so I guess I should say the memories I have of time our family spent together) involve one of three places: Bloomingdale's, Sak's, Macy's.

While other families presumably picnicked in the park, learned to ski, went to the movies, volunteered at soup kitchens, our family hunted. For sales. On things we may or may not have needed. These were frequently Bataan Death March kinds of afternoons. We had to go to everyone's department and we had to try on many things and watch others try on things. While my memory might be exaggerating, it isn't exaggerating by much. We spent more time in department stores than we did almost anywhere other than school. Sometimes there would be a snack, a reward for the hours of shopping and the fact that we were probably walking home to the Upper East Side. Other times there was barely a bathroom break.

This childhood trauma has manifested itself in my adult life in two ways: I hate shopping in stores and I turn my nose up at most "sales."

A sale is only worth something if it's worth something. 20% off is not a sale. In the lifecycle of a season the clothing is only really at full price for maybe three weeks - then come the holiday sales, the three-day weekend sales, the secret mid-week sales, and finally the it's-time-to-stock-next-season's-clothing sales. Since a clothing season only lasts about 10 weeks, the chances of the item you just had to have being gone before it gets to 50% off are slim. Take my favorite, Manolo Blahnik. His New York store runs sales twice a year, in January and July. For the first two weeks of the sale the shoes are 30% off; for the second two weeks of the sale, the shoes are 50% off. Ever since I was able to snag a pair of knee-high black leather boots in my size that I promised myself I would only buy if they made it to 50% off, I haven't even considered walking into the store during the 30% off weeks. Because, in honesty, it's not as though I NEED another pair of shoes.

For many years, I've been a lazy online shopper, hanging out on and and occasionally until big sale season. Then I buy pretty much everything I can find in my size, try it on at home, and send back what I don't like. This has resulted in my owning a lot of dresses made from t-shirts and little else. But a couple of months ago, Amy introduced me to an online destination that is essentially the clearinghouse for brands' old shit that is crowding the warehouses. And some of this shit is really really cheap. Cheap enough that if it gets to the house and doesn't fit or looks awful, I'm only slightly disappointed. I have been stocking up on sub-$50 dresses in an attempt to be prettier on a regular basis (see also hair washing, mascara application, and flossing). Now my closet looks more like the closet of an adult woman (though still with far less items than one would imagine - I told you, I dislike shopping). Sure, some of the stuff is still dreadfully overpriced, and expensive enough that I wouldn't want to make a mistake; and some of it is, in my opinion, ugly. But overall, between the two clearinghouse sites I have joined, I have netted 10 dresses, also known as more than enough to be able to throw everything else in my be-Gapped closet out.

And since I know one or two women read this, and perhaps have not already checked these meccas of saledom out, I invite you to take a peak:

Later on, please feel free to blame me for the fallout from these introductions.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Two Summer Recipes

I have always wanted one of those beautiful food blogs with incandescent light sweeping across my beautifully plated foods. There are a couple of obstacles, sort of surmountable, but which I don't seem to surmount. First, the light in my house is yellow. At times of the day there is some nice natural light through the windows, but those times are not in the evening when I cook. In theory I could take my food outside, set it up on a table, and photograph it, but we're going to eat that food and I'd like for the hots to stay hot and the colds to stay colds, and neither to be befouled by bugs, tree matter, or rain. Second, food bloggers seem to know where the best tag sales are because they all have beautiful vintage-y looking pieces in which to display their creations. Last summer, in an attempt to emulate them, I schlepped devoted partner to a dizzying number of local tag sales where we found precisely nothing I would want to serve food on. I've looked at etsy as well and the long and short of it is, these food bloggers either snatch all the good stuff or they're shopping somewhere else.

This is why you're going to get two summer recipes with zero summer recipe pictures (though, theoretically, I am going to attempt to photograph one of them this afternoon in a simple white footed bowl).

In the interest of not infringing copyright-wise, the first recipe, Honey and Spice Glazed Chicken is from Food & Wine magazine. I subscribe and have subscribed to a plethora of foodish magazines and I rip out the recipes I want to try. Then those recipes sit in a drawer. Untried. I don't know why. Similarly, I have a motherlode of cookbooks which are eagerly paged through and then, well, put on a shelf where I like to admire their spines. I don't have an answer to that either. However, I have a plan. Devoted partner and I do some weekly shopping most Saturday mornings. On Friday evenings, we will look over the list of seasonally appropriate recipes and choose two or three to make in the coming week. Successful recipes will then be copied down into a book of some sort that they can be made again and that they can be found again. Unsuccessful scraps of magazine will go to the garbage. See how that makes so much sense?

Anyway, this chicken dish fit the bill on a number of levels including ease of preparation, quickness of preparation, ample flavor, and not at all bad for you (if you don't scarf down the chicken skin). My one caveat would be that the 25 minutes of cooking time suggested by the recipe was a touch on the short side for us. I would have given it another 5-8 minutes.

The second recipe isn't so much a recipe as it is the simple combination of three and a half ingredients to create a facsimile of a dish I enjoyed in childhood that I do not wish to enjoy so much in adulthood as the main ingredient is sour cream and a lot of it. My parent's friend Kayla made a strawberry soup that I could have quaffed by the vat. It's possible that at one time I asked for and received the recipe, but I'm pretty sure it was just strawberries, sugar, sour cream, and heavy cream. With strawberries in their peakest of peaks at the market, I simply had to come up with an alternative. Using two cups of fromage blanc (which is naturally fat free), one quart of pureed strawberries, about 1/3 of a cup of superfine sugar (this should be to taste depending on how sweet you like things), and a quarter cup of (I know this is disgusting) fat free half and half, I was able to come up with a decent stand-in that I felt not at all bad about eating. Oh, and it couldn't be simpler: puree strawberries in blender, add sugar. Beat fromage blanc until smooth, add strawberry puree, add half and half. Chill before serving and slice some whole strawberries into it if you like.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Send Off

It is official. As of 5ish this evening, I will be short one best friend. And it's for such a compelling reason, I can't even be pretend-devastated about it. Best friend and best fiance are embarking on a year long tour of Asia, commencing with a 17-day tour through Mongolia (cool, right?). You can follow their progress along with me, as their travel blogs are now gracing the sidebar, Our Year in Asia and life logistics.

Obviously there is a huge part of me that is wildly jealous. I mean, ask me what I'd like to do with my life and the answer is endlessly travel (ask me about my Helsinki to Cape Town itinerary sometime), and there's a huger part of me that has no idea what one does for a year sans best friend. You see Best Friend and I talk on the phone. In fact, other than relatives, Best Friend is the only person I speak to on the phone. For hours. About nothing.

In preparation for this telecommunicative tragedy, Best Friend bought me a portable Skype phone for Christmas so that I can keep in touch with him as he rides yaks and learns kung fu, but I think our habitual 2-hour long Wednesday calls about who knows what are going on hiatus for a while.

Also, Best Friend is the only person I really go out to dinner with. The Boy and I used to do so, but he works far longer hours these days and is less thrilled to then spend more time in a restaurant. Devoted partner and I generally reserve eating out for special occasions and put our eating out money towards our travel instead. But I do like a good meal. I may have to prevail upon the other two men in my life these next 12 or so months.

But the real reason I can't muster any ill will about this abandonment is that I think it's just so darn cool. I know there are a lot of people who look at a decision like this and have an immediate proto-Calvinist reaction to it: how irresponsible, what makes them think they deserve this kind of thing, why aren't they being like everyone else; as an aspirer to the non-status-quo myself, I applaud my friend and his future wife for doing something they WANTED to do and not contenting themselves with merely the things that are acceptable to want. They were able to do it, they wanted to do it, and as of this evening they're doing it. It takes balls, people, and I think it's fantastic!

We hope to meet up with them along the way, possibly in Southeast Asia, possibly in Polynesia, we don't know, they don't know, and the fact that their schedule leaves so much room open for whimsy and spurs of the moments leads me to believe they will have a wonderful, unexpected trip. One I'll be plotting how to emulate for quite some time.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Nicaragua: They Tell Me It's Not Malaria

When I'm looking for sound medical advice, I generally turn to the nearest person wearing neither shoes nor shirt, in this case Jeff from Brisbane. Using a distressing paucity of indecipherable Australian slang, Jeff informs me that the island's mosquitoes carry neither malaria nor dengue, a small comfort after my night of compulsively shivering and sweating - two symptoms I felt certain meant I had malaria. And, the thing of it was, I wasn't that upset. Until devoted partner disabused me of the notion, I had thought malaria was one of those things you got once and I was quite pleased to be using up my one time - to say nothing of the automatic immunity to sickle-cell anemia. Devoted partner finds it charming when I conflate sciencey things in a most Mrs. Malaprop way. Or at least I tell myself that he does.

I'm not going to lie: this was not one of our better vacations, and the would-be malaria was merely a small part of the reason why. The pictures from the last post? Someone took them in the location we were, but they sure as shit didn't take them in June. We had a little bit of weather. Every day. Now I'm one of those knows-how-to-use-the-internet-to-discover-such-nuggets-as-the-weather-at-my-destination so I knew there would be rain. But the internet told me there would be about an hour of rain a day which led me to think, not unwisely, that this would be rain of the tropical variety: sudden, in the afternoon, giving way to sun as quickly as the sun had given way to a shower.

Not so.

Had it not been for the discovery that every location in the Greater Caribbean (including Baja and Myrtle Beach) was experiencing the selfsame weather last week, this story might have turned out differently because we would have fled the deluge. But stuck with the inevitability of poor weather, we toughed it out. Until the not-malaria hit. Then we were less tough. I was particularly less tough. My not-toughness lasted several days and the aftermath was that my right ear was unable to equalize on land much less underwater. This made diving not on the agenda.

So back to my room, decorated by the team that brought you pretty much every Soviet-era interrogation cell, to lie on the bed and moan a little. There was some diving done, and some sharks seen - a plus - but, and I'm all for benefits of the doubt, it seems we had chosen a poor season to dive as the visibility on nearly every site was closer to soup than I would have liked. Lots and lots and lots of plankton sex.

I had about a day and a half of non-malarial entertainment, hampered only by the searing pain I experienced as I forced myself underwater, convinced that I was just being a sissy and that merely taking a long time to equalize underwater would be sufficient to forestall any ruptured eardrums. And, seeing as I emerged exactly zero times bleeding from the ears, I'm going to say that was a usable theory (until, say, something unexpected happens and I start blogging from the waiting room of the Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor). After that, I was struck by the more common form of ailment one encounters in southern countries.

That's right, the tail end of our vacation was spent, for me, at least, both prone and prone to rushing to the ladies room. In defense of the truly spectacular drugs one can get once the FDA isn't sniffing around, whatever it was I took (in Spanish, couldn't tell you) worked almost immediately. Would that the chemist had been opened when the trouble started and that I hadn't had to wait out a night of pretty spectacular discomfort for his shop to open in the morning. Once the "outgoing mail" issue had been settled, I was free to clutch my bloated gut and speculate on what we would name the alien baby I was sure was on its way to joining our family. I have decided (because I believe he is still on the way) to name him: Windsock.

So, yes, there will be details of a non-medical sort, because we did manage to have some fun while away, and there will be pictures as well (rainy, plankton-sex-soaked pictures), but right now I am preoccupied with what color Windsock's room should be and if I am really up to eating the heels of bread in my bag. Please don't feel the need to be extra nice to me for I know in my heart of hearts exactly how much responsibility I bear for carting us off to a third-world island no one had ever heard of with spotty electricity, no hot water, and at the start of the rainy season, no less. Next time I'll listen to the part of my brain that says things like, "Hawaii, swimming pool, cabana boy."

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Beep....You have reached Yelena and Devoted Partner. We're not here to take your call right now. We are most likely underwater. Or above water. Sweating. Because the Nicaragua is hot in June. Beep.

Beep...You have reached Yelena and Devoted Partner. We are unable to take your call as it appears we have been eaten by sharks. This was, most likely, my fault. I leave all of my shoes to Charlotte. You can burn the rest of our stuff. Beep.

Beep...You have reached Yelena and Devoted Partner. We will be unable to communicate with you due to permanent beach paralysis, a little known malady we have suddenly contracted. Please send money that we may enjoy more beers. Beep.

Beep...The number you have dialled [redacted phone number] is not in service. No further information is available for [redacted phone number]. Please check the number and dial again or call your operator for assistance. This is a recorded message. Beep.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Shopping (Could Be) Fun

So when you are chaperoning Europeans these days, all they want is to humiliate your weak currency by buying things and telling you what a steal they are. Even though the Euro has slipped slightly against the dollar, we are still the current losers in this battle, and never is this more apparent than when your friends giggle at how cheap things are in comparison to their home countries. As such, we've been doing a fair bit of shopping - though in all honesty, most of it has been window shopping. As someone who has recently been confining herself to online shopping (I know - in addition to not being able to braid my own hair or put on eyeliner I also didn't get the shopping gene) so I can't really remember the last time I actually went shopping, like as an activity.

Here's what I have learned from the past two afternoons.

1. Shoe sales are neither all that great a discount nor all that great a shopping experience. It's very Lord of the Flies right now at both Sak's and Bergdorf's, with piles of seriously expensive shoes being tossed around like flip flops while elbows are thrown. No thank you. I don't like paying full price either, but I might confine myself to the quieter end-of-season sales at the individual boutiques where it's less like a rugby scrum (however, should any of you see this shoe in a size 41 for $250 or less, please buy it immediately and I will reimburse).

2. If you are a size above 8, you should not shop below 14th street. There are some really really really cute things and they are for really really really small people. I am not going to make a bitchy fat-ass-positive rant here because, let's face it: hip, young, shops-below-14th-street people are really never going to buy clothing in greater than a size 8 so it makes no financial sense for the designers to make them.

3. HOWEVER, hip, young, shops-below-14th-street people MIGHT have a size 11 foot. I am continually amazed by the number of other women I meet who are 10s and 11s and it just does no one any good if you adorable shoe places don't conform. I tried on shoes that were so small for their size that it was as if I had asked for a size 8. After being implicitly turned away from all stores selling clothing, I was so incredibly ready to part with my hard earned cash for things like this (but in something more like this color) or this or this. But, no, only midget sizes. Sigh. At least devoted partner will be happy - he'd have hated all of these shoes!

4. I want this belt. Leaving aside, for the moment, that since I own no belts, perhaps my first belt purchase should not be a 350 dollar magenta satin belt (this picture in no way does this belt justice - picture the color much much more awesome), can't you just see my in a black dress with this belt? And by "you" I do not include devoted partner whom, while we have never discussed it, I feel certain is not on Team Magenta Satin Belt.

Which leads me to 5. Perhaps shopping isn't such a good thing. After all, the more things I saw, the more things I wanted - for example a 1300 dollar motorcycle inspired navy blue leather jacket. I do not need this thing, nor should I, at the present moment, even consider such a purchase. Much to the designer's chagrin as he patronizingly told me that he could custom make me a jacket (seeing as my ample charms would amply not fit in the sizes available).

Our guests are at Woodbury Common as we speak and I wish them the best of luck in their bargain hunting, but I'm not that sad that they're on this expedition by themselves. My marginal propensity to consume was getting out of hand!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


It is an unremarkable Tuesday and yet I am wearing a clean dress, high heels, and hair spray. I have mascara on, and lip gloss (with liner) and perfume. My eyebrows are plucked and my underarms smooth. This is not normal.

But something has happened in my bathroom and in my life and I cannot ignore it. A new crop of beauty products have arrived and, once utilized, they shame my lazy ass into shape. They are the beauty products of the beautiful and graceful woman who is staying in our guest room with her husband, the dearest friend of devoted partner. They are merely her travel beauty products. And the fact that her travel products and my permanent products were equal in scope has given me pause. I know I've written about this before and it's something I truly struggle with: how does a girl on a budget manage to do all the girl things she's supposed to while also saving for retirement? Well, I'll admit that after only two days of sharing my bathroom with C, I no longer care how much it costs, I'm willing to join the cabal of adult females who bathe and anoint regularly.

And yet, C is effortlessly beautiful. Whatever it is she's doing in my bathroom she's doing it with a light hand. I have mentioned as much to her and then she pretends she doesn't speak English. But she addresses one of my major concerns with doing one's self up which is that one tends, then, to look done up. And I don't like looking done up. From a vanity perspective, I think it ages me, and from a social perspective, I tend to think it cheapens me. C just looks together. Like someone who just spent an afternoon on a boat and got some color. Like someone who doesn't look at the act of face washing as a chore.

She has also renewed my commitment to spending the summer in dresses. Yesterday she wore, literally, a hoodie dress in a simple grey heather. She looked phenomenal. Perhaps the ridonkulous and covet-worthy red leather jacket dressed it up, but I saw her in the morning, before the jacket came on.

So I'm going to try, even after she leaves (and we are sad), to embrace more heartily the idea that 20-30 minutes in the morning is not going to kill me. After all, I've been flossing, and losing that 2 minutes hasn't radically altered the happiness in my life. Besides, my hair is looking really incredible and that doesn't happen when I just comb it and put it in a ponytail.

Monday, June 7, 2010


We had one casualty.

Don't worry, buddy, by the 20th, no one will remember you booted on the floor of the bar. Several times.

First of all, I'd like to thank all of my former classmates who admitted, without reluctance or prompting, that they read this blog from time to time. You guys rock!

Friday night saw the Class of '95 out in mighty force for our 15th high school reunion. As a member of the planning team, I am really really pleased so many people showed up. As a member of the giving team, let me urge those who haven't yet made a donation to do so before June 30th. As someone who many a giving season was only able to come up with $19.95, please don't let the fact that it hasn't been a flush year prevent you from giving something.

I'll confess that I was not expecting us to look so good. And I say this because after our 10th reunion, I went home saddened that some of you (ok, fine, the male half of you) were not well adapting to adult life. But you've tucked in your shirts, shaved your faces, styled your hair that flatters your new hairlines, and returned to the gym - would that I could follow that lead. The ladies, well, you guys look fantastic - even the recent moms and the moms of toddlers. I found devoted partner talking to a stunning mother of three and confess I looked her up and down more than I did him (and won't be mad if he did the same). I don't know what they put in the drinking water in Italy, but I want some and I'm willing to pay for it if it yields those results!

But besides everyone looking so great, and the couple of oversees and cross-country surprise visitors, everyone sounded so great. I guess it should go without saying that our resident TV star looked and sounded great, but the greatest part about talking to him was how humble he was and how excited he sounded about having found such a great gig. I just hope he remembers how talented I am and what a great team we once made when he gets approached about making a buddy cop movie. By my count there were, including myself, seven people from my kindergarten class - how cool is that? In the group are three moms and one expectant dad, oh, and the conductor of a major international orchestra. I caught devoted partner chatting up the couple of physics post-docs - predictable. My mouth still waters at the thought of the Italian market experience soon to open thanks to another intrepid 95er. To the new bride who will soon be embarking on a honeymoon to Tanzania, Mauritius, and Hong Kong, my excitement for you is, at the moment, outweighing my extreme jealousy. To the reporter headed to Haiti, please don't drink the water.

I was so happy to see you all. From rebels who became lawyers to flirts who became wonderful husbands and fathers. I know I have a highly pronounced nostalgia tumor, but, for me, knowing that the people I spent my formative years with are passing their adult ones with such grace is an inspiration and a comfort. This reunion was different for me because it was the first one where I allowed myself to realize that time had past. That I wasn't actually just a heartbeat away from 17. That the last lingering bits of identity I thought were tied up in a school weren't really that important. And this allowed me to worry less about telling you that I'm adrift right now - well the ones of you who don't read this - and don't know what comes next. It allowed me to listen more closely and feel more enthusiastically.

I'm really glad we do this every five years. I hope you feel the same way.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Oh, You're One Of Those People

Those people that have jobs.

When we moved I was very enthusiastic about joining: the knitting circle, the French conversation club, the bridge group, the scuba dorks, whatever. I was ready to be a joiner. To meet my new neighbors and learn their mysterious suburban ways, buy girl scout cookies from their children, and trade casserole recipes. Except no one told me that the first rule of Greenwich:

Working is for other people.

Now, while husbands may be included in the subset of humanity known as the workers, women certainly are not. Why? You may ask. Oh, ok. Because if you wanted to do ANYTHING in the town of Greenwich you would not also be able to have a job. Knitting circle: 1:30-3:00pm. French club: 11:30-1:00pm. Devoted partner and I wanted to take Spanish class at the high school in the evenings. Yes, well, I don't know how many people you know who are able to be out of work and sitting in class by 5:30pm, but the only ones I know are unemployed.

But the final straw came yesterday when, at 4:00pm I went to Town Hall to get our beach passes. Leaving aside, for a moment, that the amount of documentation needed to get a beach pass dwarfs both the documentation needed to buy a house or, say, gain legal entry to Libya, and come with me to the sign that typifies why I don't think we'll be living here for the rest of our lives. Greenwich Parks and Recreation. Open Monday - Friday 8:15am-3:45pm.

Imagine, for a moment, that you and your living partner are both gainfully employed. Chances are 9ish is the time of day you start being employed. If, like EVERYONE in Greenwich, you work in finance, chances are 9ish is when you are finishing your 4th cup of coffee. Greenwich is approximately 22 miles from Manhattan, or 45-60 minutes to Grand Central by train. People work in Manhattan. When, pray tell, is one supposed to get one's beach pass? Should one take a day off work to do so?

Ahhhhhhhh. Wait. Now I understand. If I am one of those deeply disturbed women who chooses to work despite my husband's massive, throbbing paycheck, thereby preventing me from doing those household chores that Greenwich deems to be daytime chores, I must encourage my domestic to do those chores for me. I send Consuela to Town Hall armed with a dizzying array of personal information and 60 bucks and she gets us our beach passes.


This is how the rest of you did it?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The One Reason I'm Sad We Never Lived In Brooklyn

Last night something unusual happened: I was double-booked. Now I am not an event-attender. Most evenings find me cooking something, knitting something, and staring aimlessly at the magic picture producing box in the living room. I'm trying to be better about that. Yet, the when it rains adage has been proving quite true recently as I will also be double-booked on Saturday. But we're talking about last night.

The evening started (and ended too soon) at an event for Aidan on the Upper East Side. Held in a model apartment in a new condo, it was a terrific event, very well attended, and filled with the kinds of people I may have enjoyed talking to more had time permitted. Also, like an idiot, I left my copy of Aidan's book at home, preventing me from getting it signed (I hope when next I see her she might be kind enough to overlook my hasty exit from her event and sign my book anyway). As penance for skipping out, I just purchased the book of the other speaker, Jes Gordon. Nog and Noggin' will never look the same.

And while I was predictably out of place as nearly the only woman without kids/a JD/a horking huge fingerrock, I found myself perfectly ably to nod politely at discussions about school admissions and apartment hunting. It was the only room I've been in for a long time where, when I told people I lived in Greenwich, I got supportive looks as opposed to giggles (for the record, I'm still a giggler about it).

After a quick cab ride to Grand Central where I met devoted partner, we were off to Brooklyn for Clay's photo show. At Habana Outpost in Fort Greene. AKA my new favorite place that I will be making lots of excuses to visit again. It was a great turnout with a couple of college friends not glimpsed in person in many years, and a high school and college friend. Wives were met. The vibe was decidedly less intimidating even though the room was no less filled with successful professionals and handsome people. Maybe it was the Cuban sandwich. Billed as the best Cuban sandwich in NY, it does not disappoint. And I didn't even order one. Devoted partner, in fairness, asked me if I wanted anything and I demurred only to devour, with little shame, half of the sandwich he ordered. (If I'm being honest, I could eat one right now.)

And Clay's photos looked great. Yeah, I stalk him on flickr and see the photos that accompany his blog posts, but there is, indeed, something different about seeing the photos printed and on a wall. They seem somehow more real and therefore more impressive - and I though his photos were pretty damn good as mere pixels on my screen.

But when we ended up on the 12:25am train headed home, having missed the preceding train by about 30 seconds (you know what is not interesting at night? Grand Central), I realized I was zonked. We had the Amy over to the house for part of the weekend, an event at which a stunning amount of alcohol was consumed, and until we leave next Friday, we are wall-to-wall booked. I know a lot of people live entire lives like this, but boy are we ever out of practice.

At least I made time to floss.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

No Middle East After Midnight

I don't purport to know how all happy families remain similarly happy, but I do know that couples find personal ways to minimize needless relationship tension. Whether it's making sure sex is scheduled, having separate bathrooms, or never ever allowing your parents or in-laws to spend the night, we all arrange our neuroses such that their impact on our happiness is tempered. Which is how devoted partner and I established the rule: No Middle East After Midnight. Back when I thought giving a damn would do me any good, we would argue long into the night. On weeknights. When we should have been rejuvenating ourselves for the next day. Finally, the bleary-eyed and highly irritable pair of us decided that there are just some topics of conversation that should not be part of our pre-sleep ritual.

We have, for the most part, kept to this over the past 8 or so years. I think we ran over a couple of times, but we haven't been up until 4am arguing about it in recent memory. In fact, we haven't talked all that much about it at all. Which is totally attributable to my change of heart regarding Middle East politics. Where I once cared very very very deeply and equally as vocally, I decided after one of the many ridiculous failures of communication/negotiation/weapons discharge that I hoped everyone in the region, more or less, developed amnesia/ebola and we could try again in 50 years.

Recent events have been grappling with my resolve to not give a shit. Which is how we ended up yelling at each other (albeit well before midnight) yesterday evening. Because in the grand scheme of things what we should really spend our energy arguing about is a fight neither of us has any blood or stake in.

But, since I don't want to actually talk this particular breed of politics here (mostly because my opinions in my circle are deeply deeply unpopular and I think if I'm going to lose friends I'd like to do it in a less pointless way), I was trying to come up with some pithy parable that would express my views. And then I realized that was pretty ridiculous too.

So I'll say what I said to devoted partner because I think specifics, in this case, really really cloud the issue - and the issue is cloudy enough as is. I know that capital-J Justice and capital-R Reality are rarely the same. It is a personal failing of mine that I am so fixated on the capital-J Justice issues when I could be seeing how just I could make reality. I'm also hamstringed by a fundamentally Hobbesian view of humanity where, in the end, without threat of repercussion, we're all deeply evil animals of the variety we tsk-tsk at when they're called Hutus and Tutsis (while steadfastly refusing to get involved). Some cliches, such as absolute power corrupts absolutely, are cliches because they represent fundamental truths. It makes it difficult for me to subscribe to the many nuanced rationalizations thrown around because, to me, they're so pathetically transparent.

So while I don't believe in utopia or buying the world a Coke while it links hands, I also don't believe that some people are fundamentally better than others. I think reality shapes us all, and in periods of extreme stress, it shapes us like cancer shapes healthy cells.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Miami: Finally About Cuban Food

Originally uploaded by reallyct
Clay sent me an article when I told him I was going to Miami about a place called El Palacio de Jugos, a Cuban joint run by the same family for some very long amount of time like 30 years. It was the single thing I planned to do besides tan while we were in Miami. The thing is, we weren't really in Miami. We were in Sunny Isles which is an approximately 35 dollar cab ride from downtown Miami/South Beach/Little Havana/anywhere and, therefore, a 70 dollar round trip. Which seems to be a lot to enjoy a 10 dollar meal. But the hotel did offer a shuttle to South Beach (eminently missable) which we availed ourselves of and then took a 20 dollar cab to Little Havana. But something happened in the cab. The cab driver said if we only ate in one place while we were there it should be La Esquisito.

And I seem to remember someone, probably Anthony Bourdain, saying that all things being equal, take the advice of your local cab driver on where to eat. So knowing it would probably be quite some time before I was back in Miami, we scrapped the Palace of Juices and went to La Esquisito. The first, and most important thing, to discuss about the ambiance, was the presence - it being Saturday night - of live music. Now before you conjure images of hot young Cuban salsa musicians, I would like to banish those thoughts. Instead there was a heavyset 70-year old man with a synthesizer and a microphone that was turned up way too high for a 500 square foot room. And he sang off-key. Think Murph and the Magictones from Blues Brothers, but with only one person. If it had been ever so slightly less noisy, it would have been fantastic in the way tacky things sometimes are. Fortunately, it was the low point of the meal.

As the lead-off picture I think ably demonstrates, the people of Cuba are compelled to dance all night every night to fast-paced music. This is because their food is, health-wise, DISGUSTING. The appetizer plate is composed of fried pork chunks (the yummiest), fried and breaded ham and potato croquettes (pretty damn yummy), a tamale (yummy), and some thinly sliced and fried plantains (addictively yummy). The plate you see was an appetizer destined for one person.
Then our main course was brought out and it was a mountain of food. Thank god there had been some sort of language barrier because I think we had intended to order two of these (we each wanted the same thing) but we only got one, which is good because I'm pretty sure the weight of the beans alone was in the 1.5 lbs. range. This was the braised Cuban pork and while devoted partner liked the fried pork chunks better, I could see the benefit of both dishes. This one was richer and ropier and more heavily spiced. With the garlic yucca and beans, it made one hell of a bite. (And here I would like to discuss the abject lack of vegetables available. Rice and beans and yucca are apparently what pass as vegetables. I need to do more salsa dancing, clearly.)

But as you know, I find it difficult, even when full, to refuse dessert. And devoted partner is with me on this, especially when dessert includes the words "arroz con leche." I opted for what looked like the Cuban donut or churro. It arrived, as you see, in a BATH OF SUGAR. Yes. Fried dough in a sugar soup. I'd like to tell you it was too much, too sweat, too eminently repulsive to make it down my maw. I would like to be able to tell you that the bite you see missing in this photo was the only bite taken. That would be lying to you and I do not like lying to you. We had just enough time to catch a cab back to South Beach where the shuttle waited to take us back to our hotel. I know that had I done any research whatsoever before we left, we might have gotten a better map of places to visit, but I was really pleased that we just left it to chance and a chatty cab driver because now we have one of those authentic travel moments - the kind we like to bore our friends with over dinner.