THE BEST THING I EVER ATE

Red and yellow peppers, cucumbers, homemade croutons and tomatoes: these are a few of my favorite things as well as ingredients to Greek Panzanella.

I added “cook something new every day for one month” to my 43 Things because I wanted to grocery shop with intention and really, really wanted to learn how to cook a few really great dishes. At the beginning of the summer, my roommates and I invested in a spice rack and having that available has increased the amount of advanced recipes I can try and has, without a doubt, enhanced the way I taste food.

To accomplish this goal I started with easy vegetable fajitas on the first weekend in July. From there, I moved on to more complicated recipes for Portobello mushroom burgers, guacamole and sweet potato fries all in one meal, all in the next week. The following Sunday, I followed a boozy recipe to make Grand Marnier French Toast (subbing the $27/bottle Grand Marnier for $13/bottle Patron Orange Liquer—which doubled as two ingredients, because the recipe calls for orange zest).

In this month I have easily become more confident and useful in the kitchen. Every recipe has gotten more advanced and has lead me to the greatest thing I’ve ever made and eaten.

Greek Panzanella.

When I chose this recipe, I knew that most of the items that it called for –salt, pepper, olive oil, Dijon mustard, oregano, garlic, onions, cherry tomatoes and feta – were already in my house, and everything that I needed to buy I could easily use in other recipes (or, in the case of the olives, in martinis).

It’s a summer salad, so besides toasting the French bread on the stovetop to make your homemade croutons (the best part), you can breeze through the recipe. When I made the Portobello mushroom burgers, I had to grill them and was dripping with sweat as I stoked a fire on the hottest day of the summer so this fact gets ten million thumbs up. You chop and combine all the cold ingredients, make a vinaigrette with GOOD (emphasis theirs, not mine) olive oil and red wine vinegar and set it aside. Then you cut up the French bread and let it toast in the olive oil on the stovetop.

When the bread is lightly toasted, you throw it in with the cold ingredients, toss in some feta (the recipe says use half a pound, but I just sprinkled some over the mix until it looked like enough to add in flavor), pour the vinaigrette over it, mix it up (they say to toss it lightly, but I sealed the Rubbermaid container and shook it – it’s a salad, not a baby: you don’t need to be gentle) and wait for thirty minutes so it can soak up all the great flavors.

Instead of cutting the bread to tiny crouton-sized, I made them a little bigger and I’m glad I did. The flavor really gets concentrated in the bread and since my croutons were so big, the whole dish was really filling.

If I were to only recommend one dish for you to cook from all the dishes from this past month, I would recommend the panzanella. Especially because all the vegetables are in season, so it’s an exceptionally fresh dish.

You can read the entire recipe over on Rebecca Crump’s food blog Ezra Pound Cake and here’s a grainy cell phone picture of the panzanella I made.

I’ve enjoyed finishing this goal so much I might just keep making new dishes into August.

Greek Panzanella

pariah

Until 3o Rock parodied Precious in the fictional film “Hard to Watch: based on the novel ‘Stone Cold Bummer’ by Manipulate” I never gave that film a second thought. When I did, I could not figure out its point.

Was it about AIDS in the 80s?

Was it about broken homes and child abuse among African-Americans in low-income areas?

Was it about hope?

I don’t think that a well-told story needs to end on a happy note or even needs to have an obvious point, but I think it needs to be sharing something in a human way. In retrospect, I’m not sure if Precious did that.

It made me uncomfortable, it made me feel bad, it assaulted my senses and showed me a terrible environment in which a girl could be illiterate, abused in the worst ways and trapped. It definitely outlined that well and while it seemed assaulting, it was probably necessary to show that conditions are that bad in places.

But the fact that it’s not set in present-day takes away from the setting, because it can make the viewer think that it happened then and doesn’t happen now, removing the urgency and the public-service-announcement feel of the film.

So, if it makes you feel bad, incites reflection on a past time, then what it is doing? Is it just manipulative?

I don’t ever plan on watching Precious again (and I will not be watching The Kid), so I can’t really answer that question or make any solid judgments about it but I just doubt its purpose…although, I clearly am doing exactly that. I just feel a little conned and maybe that means I should re-watch it, instead of letting parodies form the last impression of it in my mind.

Last week I heard about a film that I think will confront pertinent issues and lend a voice to a not-oft heard group. That film is the Spike Lee produced drama Pariah. It’s such a cheap excuse, but any explanation that I could write would just take away from this beautiful, beautiful trailer that I think you should watch.

“And I’m not running, I’m choosing.”

Saturday Night Live could solve all of our debt problems

There. Done. Let’s recess until September.

Okay, but really, let’s talk about this.

Don Pardo: And now the Not Incredible Adventures of the Down and Out Dollar.

American Dollar: Oh, boy oh boy. What a year, it sure does stink being a US dollar. Here it is, 2005, and I’m at an all-time low. I used to be on top of the world, now look at me – good for nothing. Who wants a measly old dollar?

Euro: Dollar? Is that you?

American Dollar: Oh. Hey Euro.

Euro: Oh my goodness Dollar, you look awful!

American Dollar: Oh jeez, here we go again.

Euro: Look at me, look at all my wonderful colors, aren’t they supercool? You like my hologram? Look at it this way, now look how it changes!

American Dollar: Oh boy it sure is nice. I wish I had a hologram.

Euro: Hey Dollar, do you want to hear a joke? Knock, knock.

American Dollar: Oh, who’s there?

Euro: Germany. And France. And Greece. And Italy. And Denmark. And Luxembourg. And Belgium. They’re all stronger than you, hahaha ha! Is that not funny?

American Dollar: Oh come on Euro! That ain’t a joke. Gimme a break.

 

Who is our in-house accountant at the White House?

I guess when they get to that level they’re called economists and the budgets they balance stop being about numbers and start being about parties, but maybe we’re missing out on something because of that.

I mean, shouldn’t there be a group of people sitting at wooden desks in corner offices keeping track of our budget anyway? Imagine them hunched over complicated calculators, reams of paper shooting out one end, pencils behind their ears and glasses perched on the end of their noses while they finally come to the end of one fiscal year and press the equal sign. Now imagine them shaking their heads in disbelief.

“Oh, no, no. This does not add up.”

Unless it’s an actual crisis, I usually let political dramas roll right on by while I focus on more important things like Katy Perry’s smurf dress or Ryan Gosling’s abs. But what I thought was just the dramatic flair of contemporary American politics actually turned out to be the dramatic flair of  contemporary American politics that could potentially create a crisis.  This was made even more interesting to me because I’m in the midst of managing my own budget.

Me and the United States government: twinsies!

Earlier this week, I was cruising Videogum when one of the comments led me to a summary of the debt ceiling debacle by Howard Marks, whoever that is (he works at a capital management firm, as indicated by the letterhead). It was all told in layman’s terms and except for a few digressions into Personal Opinion Time, or P.O.T., at the top of page nine and the bottom of page 10, it’s factually based and stays away from bias—even in P.O.T. he stays away from bias.

“For the last several years as I’ve visited with clients around the world, I’ve described the typical American as follows (exaggerating for effect, of course): He has $1000 in the bank, owes $10,000 on his credit card, makes $20,000 a year, and spends $22, 000. And what do lenders do about this? They mail him additional credit cards.”

He uses this as a jump-off to explain how the typical American’s fiscal health compares to that of our country as well as countries around the world.

What I took away from this article was that we need to balance the budget (OBVIOUSLY) and that in order to get any real, effective and lasting change in America with our budget, we are going to have to hurt for a while.

Real talk. I have been wistfully staring at the large, neon metro tote on MZ Wallace’s summer pop-up shop and quietly sighing to myself because even though I loved it at the beginning of summer, I never actually saved any money so I could buy it without guilt at the end of summer.

“In addition to balancing the budget and growing the economy, I think we have to accept that the coming decades are likely to see US standards of living decline relative to the rest of the world. Unless our goods offer a better cost/benefit bargain, there’s no reason American workers should continue to enjoy the same lifestyle advantage over workers in other countries.”

If you want to read more on the debt ceiling debacle before the August 2nd solution deadline, Pro Publica is constantly updating a reading list here that I am constantly not reading because one really great article is enough for me but maybe you’re interested in more. Kudos, you, people who click on that link!

3/10: hey there delilah

If you don’t recognize this face, maybe you’ll recognize this song.

Years ago in Chicago, Tom Higgenson met Delilah DiCrescenzo at a party and promptly fell in love with her, despite the fact that she had a boyfriend. He told her he’d write a song to win her over and then he did—well, he wrote the song, at least.

He and his band, The Plain White Ts (RANDOM TANGENT: band names like this annoy me for some reason, it’s just so…schticky? Like, I bet one or all of the members of this band own a keyboard necktie that they wear ironically), spent years performing and building a fan base and “Hey There Delilah” became a crowd favorite. Eventually, the song was nominated for a Grammy.

And Delilah?

She kept dating the boyfriend she had when she first met Tom (they’re still dating now) and let the song gain popularity, living her life anonymously and training to compete in the Olympics. Oh yeah, she’s an elite athlete and her event is probably one of the most grueling and ridiculous events in track and field. This is what she does for 3000 meters:

You know who else steeplechases?

HORSES. Big, brawny horses.

Delilah didn’t make the Olympic team in 2008 but she’s still training and will probably try to qualify again next year. Training for her means traveling around the world and doing STEEPLECHASES.

STEEPLECHASES!

Sorry, this event just has me in awe of human beings. People can just do that? Regularly?!

Delilah competed in the Ivy League for Columbia University in New York and had done pretty well but was not enough of a standout to land sponsorships post-college. So, she ran off and on for a couple of months, then moved back home to Chicago where she figured she was pretty much done with running. Then she got a phone call from the Kenyan runner Isaya Okiwaya. He wanted to coach her and like anyone worth admiring she said yes to the new opportunity.

Having a coach allowed her to have financial support for lodging and traveling for races (not to mention biweekly massages—we should all be so lucky to have someone pay for that) but she wasn’t actually getting paid to run. During this time she was not only training, traveling and running, but working full-time at a marketing and advertising firm. This girl understands the side hustle.

After one year and one third place finish in the steeplechase at the 2006 Outdoor Nationals, Delilah decided to commit to her running full-time, crossed her fingers and moved out of the city. That year she trained full-time and worked as an assistant track and cross-country coach at Bryn Mawr. It paid off when she won the 6K title at the USA Track and Field National Club Cross Country Championship.

In 2009, she became a member of the US Track & Field team, where she was able to travel to Amman, Jordan and compete for the United States at the World Cross Country Championships. In 2010, she was inducted into Columbia University’s Athletics Hall of Fame, where she is now studying to get her master’s in Sports Management. She also works as a part-time assistant for the cross-country and track & field team there. Remember what I said about the side hustle? She does not quit!

Delilah is one of only two American athletes sponsored by PUMA, which is such a sweet fact when you consider how close she came to giving it all up after college. As for the song? She says she doesn’t get asked about it much now, a fact that she’s fine with. It was fun and flattering, she says, but she’d like her running to dominate the conversation now, please and thank you.

I think it will. Easily.

If you’re intrigued by Delilah, PUMA is hosting a video series tracking her training in a short web series. I don’t think any video is longer than three-and-a-half minutes and new episodes are uploaded every Monday.

I’m a hustler, baby

I spend my weekdays in a lively corner of what is easily the noisiest building on campus.  Visiting international piano prodigies with straight backed mothers and stern faced fathers roam our hallways in the summer, while students and sometimes symphony conductors bang out tunes on one of the hundreds of pianos in various classrooms year-round.

I work in the School of Music and there is literally music all around me: hours of stuttering versions of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker suite for piano float around the building, embedding themselves in my psyche where I don’t notice they’ve landed until I’m whistling them as I fold my laundry; alto and soprano singers casually practicing their scales on their way out of the building; slight men and women singing robust arias one moment and humming a few notes of their accompaniment in the next.

I see it all from just inside the door of the accounting office where I hand the students their scholarship forms, file travel requests and direct phone calls. I’m in it, but I’m not in it and it’s nice in a way that I can’t articulate yet.

On the weekends, I escort brides and grooms in and out of our campus chapel, sweeping up after them and always feeling like a mix between Cinderella before and Cinderella after the ball – in a good way.

University Archives, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, The University of Kansas

 

University Archives, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, The University of Kansas

 

Last Spring, I was working a desk job in a residence hall, which allowed lots of TV watching and avoiding-homework time but also required late night and early morning hours – even on the weekend. In what would eventually be a blessing, I wasn’t able to work there last summer. The residence hall I was in didn’t need desk workers and the other halls were already filled with senior staff members who had called dibs. So, I spent the first half of my summer taking the bus downtown, selling books and then coming back home and walking to Target to grab a handful of samples for lunch and a bottle of Coke, which I’d finish in the store before I had to pay for it. Oh yeah, that happened. The second part of last summer was when I started working the two jobs I work now.

Earlier that Spring I read an article on Escape from Cubicle Nation which continues to shape the activities that I participate in, workshops I attend and classes in which I enroll. The article was all about the side hustle.  If you don’t know what that is, a few defining characteristics of a good side hustle, as outlined by Pamela Slim, are here:

  • You like it
  • You are good at it
  • You can generate a decent amount of quick cash in a short period of time
  • It will not get you thrown in jail (dealing crack, while profitable and possible from your home, is not recommended)
That post paired with this New York Times article on inventing the career you want based on what you like is a good enough reason to start your side hustle.
So, what’s yours?

my milkshakes

When Oprah decided to introduce The Secret into the world in 2008, I was a little annoyed because a book like that already existed and it was called Excuse Me, Your Life is Waiting. There are probably plenty of other books that have the same premise, but I don’t know about them. Both books endorse lifestyle changes based on the power of positive thinking and both books are a little uncomfortable to talk about in public, because it’s a little hippie-hippie-alternative-shake. They both encourage taking ownership of your life though, which is kind of Oprah’s whole thing–and should probably be everyone’s thing.

After the Fleet Foxes concert Monday and finding a remote writing job through Media Bistro (it involves Yahoo!, their “omg!” entertainment site and getting assignments about balding celebrities and Shannen Doherty – it’s a long story), I am a full-blown hippie-hippie-alternative-shake believer. It’s not surprising though, it’s not like I haven’t been there before.

You know who’s a really good example of positive thinking without actually intending to be a really great example for positive thinking? Tina Fey. In Bossypants, she recounts work stories and admits that she had never written a full length screen play before Mean Girls and had never written a book before Bossypants, but just did it because she knew she could. Both times it worked out well for her.

And look what one of her creations has spawned: an Internet meme!

Was this a fad? Why are there so many variations of this on the Internet? Can we get more of them?

I can’t remember what led me to these videos, but once you watch one you have to watch another. I’ve been watching since Monday.

They’re just all so special and unique and hilarious and ENTERTAINING.

I like the way she butchers that last line.

This guy is actually pretty good? My favorite part is the Buffalo Wild Wings “Winging Beauty” hat behind him as he plays Cady Heron. Plus, his username is Headgaymes. HeadGAYmes.

“Don’t a-stomp your little last season Prada shoes at me, honey.” Anybody else get that vibe? I mean, right?! She was a lesbian!

BONUS VIDEO:

If you’re not impressed by that dude, I hope you’re at least jealous.

Happy Friday! Let me know if you practice (and master) that Puerto Rican booty shake.

And I’m not high, I’m just always like this

There’s a live recording of Joan Baez performing “Silver Dagger” in 1972 and while she’s warming up/trying to remember the song, she rambles. Right before she actually begins to sing she issues the quote above to the audience and it’s just such a wonderful introduction to … anything, really. People should have that put on their business cards.

Don’t sing love songs you’ll wake my mother.

On Monday night I drove up to Kansas City to sit, stand, sway and experience Fleet Foxes at the Uptown Theater before they moved on to St. Louis then my hometown–accidentally—on their way out to Denver. But that Monday night singing and swaying almost didn’t happen.

Fleet Foxes has been around for a couple of years but I only discovered them this year, thanks to Stereogum and the music video for their song “Grown Ocean.” I looked up more info on them and found out that their lead singer, Robin Pecknold, was not against fans downloading their music for free. So, download I did.

Before the album’s release, Spin Magazine gave Robin the front cover and called Helplessness Blues the “Most Beautiful Album of the Year.” They were not lying.

It starts with the lines “So now I am older…” which somehow—and maybe I’m being dramatic here (I’m probably being dramatic here)—captures everything. Like, everything. EVER. If you stop at any time and think about your life how can you not think that line and then not immediately be struck by how true and sometimes scary that is? It’s so simple that it might make you want to scoff at it if you weren’t too busy reflecting on your life – like trying to keep your eyes open when you sneeze: it ain’t gonna happen.

The line finishes with Robin singing “…than my mother and father when they had their daughter, now what does that say about me? How could I dream of such a selfless and true love? Could I wash my hands of just looking out for me?”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve laid on my bed and let this song—hell, this album—play on repeat as I think about all the milestones I’ve passed/am passing/will pass. I can’t tell you because you would probably come find me, slap me in the face and never let me complain about being tired again because CLEARLY I had enough time to listen to this goddamn album a lot. Wait, I’m sorry, you probably wouldn’t curse.

The whole point of the album boils down to one line in the title track.

“And now after some thinking
I’d say I’d rather be
A functioning cog in some great
Machinery, serving something beyond me
But I don’t, I don’t know what
That will be!
I’ll get back to you someday soon…”

I could write thousand word essays on this band, this album and what it all felt like and meant for me to be there, but I’ll spare you the details.

Last year I lost my set of keys and had them replaced with originals. For fourteen months now I’ve been meaning to get copies of my car keys made at the dealer but somehow I have yet to make it there.

On Monday, after the opener, after I had bought a drink and found a great spot in the pit I realized I didn’t have my keys. Cut to: me looking everywhere, asking the ticket-takers (who also served as the lost and found) and them informing me that if I left the venue I would not be able to get back in. The Uptown is in a pretty seedy area and because it’s summer, there was still plenty of light out even though it was near eight. I figured waiting for AAA in the light would be a lot smarter and easier to do while no one was busy leaving and while I wasn’t stranded in the dark. So, I left and figured I’d see them some other day.

Then by some miracle, one of the parking attendants was a locksmith (maybe they all are?), I got a free ticket to go back inside and one of the security guards upstairs had been watching my drink.

The song I made it back inside for, one of their opening songs, was “Grown Ocean.” My first Fleet Foxes song.

“In that dream I could hardly
Contain it.
All my life I will wait to
Attain it…”

Wide eyed walker, don’t betray me. I will wake one day don’t delay me.

What are you waiting for? Go download it and see if it will mean anything to you, too.

Oh, and don’t read too much into that Joan Baez quote, that is one very loose end that does not at all match up with the loose end I just dangled after that last quote. Though Robin Pecknold has been known to perform covers of Joan Baez’s “Silver Dagger”, he did not perform it Monday night.

roses & thorns, but mostly roses: great american women, 2/10


Texas-born model and TV actress Angie Harmon is #2.

As a teenager she won a couple of model-search contests, one of which landed her on the cover of Seventeen magazine, but it wasn’t until she was discovered by David Hasselhoff that her career took off. Oh, and he discovered her on a plane when she was 23.


David Hasselhoff is the original Charlie Sheen. The fact that anyone could have been brought into the entertainment industry by him and not ended up engaged to, then estranged from, Hugh Hefner is worth a round of applause.

Her first television gig was on Baywatch and somehow she transferred acting in a bikini to acting in a suit for Law & Order: SVU. One of her most admirable traits is that she demands to be taken seriously—something every female should do—and so she is.


I appreciate that video for a number of reasons. First, I love that she says “I’m an American before I’m a Republican”—this is something that I wish everyone, regardless of their political views, would take into account. One thing people forget when their preferred political party is not in power, is that our leaders are looking to do what’s best for America (not counting a few people and groups). Second, anyone that advocates unity is doing it right.

On a more personal note, her 2001 wedding to former NFL player Jason Sehorn was not televised but the engagement was:

She’s now starring in the TNT drama series (is it a drama? I know she’s a detective in it?) Rizzoli & Isles.

The title for this post comes from the fact that she’s mentioned that every night she and her family share a list of “Roses and Thorns” which is a variation of a game I like to play called “Peak and Pit” or, sometimes, “Good Shit, Bad Shit.” You share something great about your day, and something not so great about your day. It’s just a little daily reflection, and I’m all about reflection

There It Is

Sometimes, when I’m feeling overwhelmed by Google Reader and my vision blurs staring at pages and pages of words, I refocus for a moment and I’m hit by Zan McQuade.

“I keep thinking I need to write it all down while I’m still here. Everything. Every last inch of curb and gutter stench. Every single person that passes me on the street.

And so I write this moment…

The focus that comes from free writing is tantamount to what you gain from free time. I have always felt that my most thoughtful moments come during the two-hour drive home from school and the blissfully (and so not green) long showers I indulge in when my roommates aren’t around to witness my waste.

It’s there that I’m able to flashback, or forward, for a while. Sometimes these moments take me to a conversation I had that day, other times its imagined conversations in the future or little moments or phrases that I’m able to bloat with meaning. After I arrive at my destination or run out of hot water I’m almost scared by the amount of time that has passed. It always feels as though those moments of introspection have aged me so much, as if my wrinkly hands will now be permanent.

I ran my hands underneath a stream of water for a few minutes to see if those wrinkles that appear distort the little swirls of me at my fingertips and they don’t.

Do you know why your fingers do that when you’ve been in water too long? It’s an adaptation. The wrinkles act as treads for the water, allowing a better grip in wet conditions. It’s a way for us to increase our sense of touch.

To pause and reflect on a moment, to write it out and appreciate it–every aspect of it–is to increase your awareness. You can’t capture it all, there’s no point in doing that, but in the next moment, when you’re just experiencing it, you’ll feel it all. A runner who can’t catch her breath won’t be running long and a writer who doesn’t stop to appreciate what’s around her won’t have much to write, or see. Everyone needs a moment to themselves, to gain some tread and a better sense. Every moment spent with yourself is a good one.

“The pause makes you think the song will end. And then the song isn’t really over, so you’re relieved. But then the song does actually end, because every song ends, obviously, and THAT. TIME. THE. END. IS. FOR. REAL.”

two weeks

courtesy of Ezra Pound Cake

This picture combined with Rebecca Crump’s all-purpose food blog and recipe collection inspired me to add “Cook something new every week for one month” to my 43 Things, which is now up to a respectable 23 things.

Whenever I decide I want to cook, I’ve noticed that I follow a method that involves learning one main dish, one dessert and one side dish—none of which go together. For quite some time, I was all about Tex-Mex bean burritos—which is literally just refried beans, Mexicorn (oh, yes, THAT is a thing) and taco seasoning. Then I made this fried ice cream pie, which was then let go in favor of spinach artichoke dip. I’m still in love with that dip.

All of those recipes came from the College Vegetarian Cookbook, which is full of affordable, easy-to-make recipes.

Becoming a more thoughtful cook and setting (and keeping) a budget are goals that I’ve learned go hand-in-hand. One of the best rules to use when shopping is to never buy anything that you can’t use in at least three different ways. Usually, this just pertains to clothes but recently I’ve found that it does the trick for food, too.

Grocery shopping, like dating, is one of the best worst things. Sometimes it’s exciting, other times it’s tedious. It takes some time to become a good shopper and if you haven’t encountered them before, there will undoubtedly be times you’d like nothing more than to never go shopping again. Call the whole thing off, order in fo’ life, etc. But when you’ve mastered the art—and the aisles—it becomes another fun exercise; making a list, checking things off, adding items to your cart that go with a variety of recipes and then maybe even buying the grocery store cookies or something frozen because you’ve already gotten everything you need and can now afford a few indulgences. It’s also just nice to have a stocked fridge and pantry.

I’ve written about the two recipes I’ve tried this month here and I’ve got a feeling this will last longer than 31 days.