Tuesday, December 20, 2005

What have we learned this year?

Sometimes you can't escape your obligations to the legal system.

But you can always dream. And dream. And dream some more.

You can get your friends to start their own blogs. Or, if they already have one, you can give them one of yours to play with.

Then you can start a podcast. Then get a couple of girls to start one. (And totally not get jealous when it becomes more popular than yours.)

You can work on developing a caffeine dependency. Really make an effort. Seriously. Then worry that your wish has come true, and cut it out cold turkey for a week. This may be difficult, but at least resuming caffeination has some moderately interesting results.

Of course, you'll get back into it a little too much, and have second thoughts (or are they third by now?), and try another detox week.

Oh, but it's much harder this time. So hard that you have to learn to cook just to distract yourself. One day you're amazed that you can add stuff to scrambled eggs; but it won't be long before you're on to stuff that almost destroys both your kitchen and you. And a kick-ass knife always helps.

In the meantime, there's always time for quiet reflection upon stuff you bought at Ikea.

And lots more adventures in caffeination, and returning produce.

Throw in a new haircut and Netflix, and you've got a year.

Now, as long as I've got a couple weeks left, what were those resolutions again?

Monday, December 19, 2005

What's in Alaska?

Dreams are a lot like movies in that you have no control over their content and just walk into each one hoping it will be entertaining. Plus, the ratio of good ones to bad ones isn't very promising. Fortunately, last night was one of the few that actually didn't disappoint. Bear with me as I attempt to describe it in as non-surreal terms as possible.

I'm in Alaska. Not sure why. Internship? School program? That part never got answered, or I forgot it. Anyway, it's the late afternoon and I'm wandering around the Alaskan streets. They don't look like Alaska (to the best of my knowledge), but more like L.A. In fact, they look like a studio backlot. I'm standing on the sidewalk and a bunch of police cars start tearing around the corner. More, and more, and more. Some of them are regular cruisers; others are unmarked cars. They just keep coming, and some of them start pulling over a couple blocks away. Eventually I realize they're there to block off all the streets ahead. I try to walk up towards where they are, but signs start appearing telling me that I can't go any farther. They're not even real signs; they're painted into the streets and sidewalks.

I walk back in the direction I came, and the streets start getting crowded with people heading in the same direction. It's like the whole place is being evacuated. At one point I follow some people into a big old-fashioned building, and some people are heading upstairs. I go a different way and find a marked door that says "Official Mapping and Planning" or something like that. Inside are three people sitting in chairs holding maps or blueprints. I ask them what's going on, and they tell me there's been a big earthquake. I get out of there and find myself inside this giant cruise ship type of thing. Apparently it's a safe place to go to get away from the earthquake. The whole middle of the ship is a giant pool, and I'm in the pool treading water and talking to other people. I ask them if they're sure we're safe in here, and they say, yeah, of course, we'll be fine. About a minute later another earthquake hits and the whole ship tilts way down in one direction, plunging lots more water over us all, and people are frantically trying to swim back to the edge to climb out. Some smaller people and children are being helped out of the pool by adults, and as the adults toss them out of the pool they tell the children's names to the people up above -- I guess so they can be recorded as survivors, or something. I climb out by myself, and find out that the earthquake was so big that it hit L.A. too. There's some kind of hotline to call so you can be listed as being okay. I consider calling it but then decide to call my parents instead, to see if I can get through or if the lines are too busy with other people calling home. (Luckily, my cell phone stayed in my pocket the whole time I was in the pool.)

I get through to my parents and ask them if they know what's going on. They don't; they haven't heard about it yet. I tell them this is a pretty big deal and will be all over the news by the end of the day. As I'm talking to them, I walk out onto another street, and a whole section of wall from a storefront falls in my direction; however, it's light enough that I can stop it with the hand that isn't holding the phone. I go across the street to a little bar/restaurant and see most of my friends from college inside. I get off the phone and go inside the bar and talk to my friends to make sure they're all okay (though I never question why they're with me in Alaska). Two of my friends who basically haven't seen or spoken to each other since college (because of bad blood which I won't get into right now) are hugging each other, and I realize that I had always wondered if a life-threatening incident like this would be enough to get them to reconcile and forget about their little feud, and I now have my answer. Then I feel guilty for thinking about that, because it's such a trivial thing in light of what's going on around us. One of them comments on my new haircut and glasses, and interestingly she's now turned into teenage actress Michelle Trachtenberg (who played Dawn on "Buffy" and was also in "Eurotrip").

Then it's over.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Christmas Letter

Although much has been written about my Jewish tendencies, there is still one aspect of goyish -- even WASPish -- culture that I count myself extremely privileged to have a connection to. And that is The Christmas Letter. I feel very sorry for anyone who has yet to experience one of these, because they have the potential to turn otherwise boring, obscure relatives into unintentional comic geniuses on a level you can't imagine.

But first, a little background. Long before blogs, MySpace, or mass emailing ever existed, The Christmas Letter was the undisputed method of describing the important events of your life to a lot of people who didn't really give a shit. And even in the face of those new exciting technologies, The Christmas Letter survives thanks to scores of people throughout the Bible Belt who still chuckle to themselves at all the "neat" things you can do with Print Shop and a four-color printer.

I am related to some of these people. I don't see them regularly (or in some cases, ever in my life), but once a year I am reminded of their existence via the treasured letter that makes its way to my parents' mailbox. What a letter it is. The whole year is encapsulated in two to five pages, sometimes with embedded photographs. Without even looking at it, I can already list the topics that are sure to appear within:
  1. Job promotions and/or layoffs
  2. Travel (usually within the continental U.S., more specifically anywhere reachable by car)
  3. Attempts at home carpentry
  4. The brand new niece/nephew/grandbaby, and the mischief he/she is already getting into
  5. Health issues and/or death (always sandwiched between lighter things, of course)
  6. Community/church activities
Other stuff pops up from time to time, but this is usually the crux of it. And as varied as these categories are, they're inevitably united by a central theme. That theme, of course, is Jesus.

If you read these letters without knowing who Jesus was, you'd probably imagine him to be a charitable great-uncle, a helpful Human Resources manager, a sperm donor, a ruthless mafioso, or some combination thereof. Regardless, you'd sure come away with the notion that Jesus had one hell of a busy year. Jesus blessed the family with a baby, Jesus helped find us a new job, Jesus gave us some great weather this summer, and Aunt Lucille passed away but that's okay because it was the will of the Lord (who, we understand, signs Jesus's paycheck).

And then the letter ends, usually with "Warmest Wishes for a Blessed New Year" or something like that, and I'm left pondering what kind of crazy hijinks Jesus has in store for the coming months.

The weekend in dumb haikus


it's not hard to make
cheesecake factory's salads
with stuff from whole foods

podcasting is fun
especially when you are
tres caffeinated


party city has
lots more goyish than jewish
stuff. what can you do?

2 floor Target is
fun; it has the escala-
-tor just for your cart.

made grown-up mac and
cheese (see link); it's really good.
used parsley this time.

sort of semi-watched
what's eating gilbert grape, which
was a decent flick.


I owe the city
of west hollywood twenty-
nine bucks; hence, they suck.

(that's because I parked
on a hill with my wheels not
turned right. whatever.)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

I love my car, part 2

(Click here for part 1)

Anyway, I could wax probably poetic for another 200 pages or so (except the middle 75-80 would just be pages full of "I bet you didn't read this far"), but I won't.

The car is dead. (Or traded in, same thing. Non-wastefulness issues notwithstanding, I kind of don't even want to think about someone else driving it because it just feels very wrong.)

Long live the car. Brand new Civic with all the fixin's. Still on its first tank of gas, having yet to be driven anywhere outside of the Westwood/Palms/Santa Monica area. We're definitely still in the honeymoon stage, so let's talk about the good stuff before I've driven it long enough to have things to complain about.

First of all, electronic gadgetry. I'm not going to start listing off specifics, because that would be boring, but let's just say I could pretty much drive around until I died of natural causes and still not run out of music (granted, I'd really be scraping the bottom of the barrel by that point... I'd have to save some good stuff for the end so I didn't exhale my last breath with, like, Kenny G in the background).

Then there's the navigation system, which made The Sparkler wonder if having that would force me to change the name of this blog. No, I replied, the car may be good with directions but I still royally suck with them. At least now it'll be fun to get lost because I just have to hit a couple buttons to get me home... then make a wrong turn, hit some more buttons, make another wrong turn, drive into a ditch, call AAA, get pulled out, hit another button, accidentally turn on rear defroster, finally find correct button just as HOLY CRAP I'M IN THE WRONG LANE and I veer off onto the sidewalk and hit an L.A. Weekly display case (this week's headline: Are You Edgy Enough? Here's Why Not) before finally realizing that I was only going out to get groceries and should have just walked. Plus the whole thing is voice-activated, so I don't really need to hit any buttons at all. Unfortunately, the voice-activation girl has a bit of an ironic streak because when I say "Display Audio" she says back, in her perfect your-call-is-very-important-to-us voice, "Display Hospitals" and proceeds to pop up a bunch of hospital icons on the map. Sometimes when I give her an order she just does nothing, which I think means she's giving me one of those "Eeeeh" faces usually exchanged by opposite-sex siblings. I'm sure we'll work out our differences, though.

Incidentally, my long-term linguistic project is to find some kind of trace of a provincial accent in the voice activation girl's voice. I think I can do it. Like I said, it's long-term. But she has like at least a several-hundred word vocabulary, so she's got to slip up at some point and reveal her regional upbringing. And when she does, I'll be there to blog about it.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

I love my car, part 1

I should be doing cartwheels over the fact that I have a brand new car, but for the moment I'm wracked with guilt and thinking about Toy Story.

Some people think that humans are set apart from other animals by nature of the depth and meaning of the bonds we make with others of our species. I don't think that's it; I think what sets us apart is our ability to make deep, meaningful bonds with inanimate objects. And I'm not just talking about the stuff we personify as kids (stuffed animals, action figures) or mementoes that represent one specific thing (security blanket, first dollar earned, ticket stub, etc.). I mean that it's possible, and probably inevitable, to form a lasting connection to something that's been in your life for a very long time, even if that something can't talk, meow, bark, or gurgle. Not that this is all that earth-shattering of a point to be making; I think we're all pretty well aware of it. But I'm wondering if that concept works in reverse. Tyler Durden told us that the things you own end up owning you, but the more heartening (and potentially guilt-inducing) message of Toy Story was that the things you get attached to end up getting attached to you. Did my 1995 Honda Accord get attached to me? (And hey, isn't 1995 also the year Toy Story came out?) Is a machine capable of feelings? Well, now we're getting into Terminator 2 territory. But I digress.

I had the car for about ten and a half years. At the risk of introducing yet another metaphor, I guess it was kind of like having a pet -- first in the sense that its entire life was encapsulated in a relatively small period of mine, and then in the sense that it saw me through a lot of very different stages in my life without much obvious reaction. Wherever I was, it just did its car stuff. Clearly I needed it to come with me when I moved here, because living in L.A. without a car is tantamount to living in Utah with only one spouse, but really, I didn't just need a car; I needed that car. As much of a disconnect as it was to be driving down Sunset in the same vehicle that used to require regular de-icing for 3 months a year, it also made everything sort of make sense. I was protected from the forces of external change by this light blue metallic forcefield with bumper stickers strategically placed to cover up scratches. The CDs that used to be the soundtrack for getting lost down one-way streets in Boston just switched over to being the soundtrack for getting lost on the way to LAX or the Valley or wherever. (Not that that happens anymore.) So even though things were a whole lot different in the world outside the car, on the inside they were pretty much the same.

Another digression, and then I have to go to bed. Here's a partial list of places the car was, at some point or other, driven around in, skipping the obvious like Boston and L.A.:

Vermont (most of the state)
New Hampshire (probably just a little)
Rhode Island (Newport and environs)
Connecticut (drove through)
Montreal (because you can drink and gamble when you're 18)
New York (but not NYC, sadly)
Georgia (mainly Savannah)
Florida (Daytona Beach and Orlando)
every state between Massachusetts and Florida
San Francisco
Vegas (twice)
England (well, the New one anyway)

Part 2 and so forth later.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

I give life the middle finger, then life gets my finger back

November 15th: Scrape knuckle of middle finger on car door, or maybe somewhere else -- it's a little fuzzy at this point (my memory, not the knuckle; thankfully, I don't have gangrene or anything). Develop minor scab. No big deal.

November 18th: Wake up to find tiny laceration on side of same finger. No idea how I got it.

November 23rd: Scrape area behind knuckle on same finger while packing luggage. Wonder what kind of bad karma my middle finger stirred up.

I should take a picture of the finger to illustrate the uniqueness of each injury, because it really is pretty remarkable. Actually, I think it's possible that my middle finger was the right side of my car in a previous life. (See the right side of my car for reference.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Whole Foods Redemption

Fair enough, Whole Foods. Your vegan lasagna with tofu and soy cheese is really freaking awesome. You're not off the hook for the burrito yet, but throw in some good free samples and I'll consider forgetting that whole ordeal.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Christmas in November, Bad Burritos Year Round

The last couple weeks at Starbucks, there've been these stacks of mysterious-looking boxes (and by "mysterious" I mean "obviously containing holiday crap, based on the outer decor") with the words "No peeking! The holidays begin November 10" written on them. Needless to say, I was peeing myself with anticipation over what these magical containers were holding. Peeing, I say! Because sanitary concerns always take a backseat to corporate holiday cheer.

Anyway, this morning -- the morning of November 10th! OMG! OMG! -- I stepped inside the door and found myself transported into a wondrous world of "season's greetings" and "happy holidays" and "blah blah trufflecakes other bland sentiments to pretend to include Hanukkah, even though it totally wasn't all that big of a holiday until corporate America realized they could make some more cash by trumping it up." Truly, I was overwhelmed. And in the pastry shelves: new holiday-related snacks! Lots of stuff with cranberry, and frosting, and reindeer meat! I had to get in the spirit of the season, so I got a low-fat cranberry muffin and wow, was it ever mediocre; I mean, Christmas-tastic; I mean, season's-greetings-tastic! Then I sampled the Eggnog Chai Latte, which was actually pretty good and would be even better with some booze content.

But let's move on. Whole Foods. Yes, it's pretty much made me its bitch the last few months. I've fallen under its spell like it was a bespectacled Dorothy Parker-quoting Jewish girl. I figured it could do no wrong, and particularly assumed that the umbrella of infallibility would at least cover the burrito/tamale bar next to the bakery, so today I tried a veggie burrito (made before my eyes) for lunch. Not good. Crunchy rice. Bizarre guacamole. Probably day-old cheese. Not good at all. It wasn't so bad that it warranted a throwing-out, but if any more grains of rice had gotten stuck in my teeth it would have in the running. Don't quit your day job, Whole Foods. The idea of outsourcing the smoothie-making to Jamba Juice was a good one, and it might be a good plan to apply that same principle to the burritos. How about Chipotle?

Monday, November 07, 2005

Starbucks and their damned full pastry shelves

Here's something I realized today. Under many circumstances it's completely possible to avoid buying a muffin/scone/whatever from Starbucks, or from any similar caffeine dealer that runs a carb-loading business on the side. This is because most of these places have too much space and not enough food, and that's not an attractive combination. It's like going into somebody's kitchen cabinet and finding one can of soup way in the back. Are you going to want it, even if it was just purchased yesterday? No. But the Westwood Starbucks negates both of those things by having a very small set of pastry shelves that is usually at least 90% full. I'm standing at the counter ordering my drink and my eyes wander 6 inches or so to the right, to the pastry display looking like it's ready to burst open under the stress of all the freshly-baked crack contained within it, and it's not like I have any other choice but to shell out the extra $1.65.

Friday, November 04, 2005

This is the shirt of the Lord

First off, there was this dude outside wearing a shirt that said "Wanna get high? Take a hit of this:" and it had a picture of the freaking BIBLE on it. Multiple possibilities here:
  1. The shirt was one of those ironic Urban Outfitters-type things, and was therefore being worn as a joke.
  2. The shirt was produced in earnest but was being worn ironically (hey Tiago, I used the word correctly for once).
  3. The shirt was produced in earnest and being worn in earnest.
  4. (By far the funniest, and the one I really really hope is true) The shirt was a joke, but the wearer thought it to be genuine and proudly displayed it in the hopes of spreading the word of the Lord in a hip and edgy manner.
Regardless, I'd have to say that it's somewhat of a failure because the shirt is simultaneously way too offensive and nowhere near offensive enough. I'd like to see another shirt in the same series that says "Wanna get high? Light some Jesus powder in your Holy Spoon and shoot the Lord into the one spot between your toes that isn't already plagued with track marks!"

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Mo' elephant garlic mo' problems

Less than an hour after I pounded my usual iced grande nonfat latte, I'm already coming down from it. This confirms my suspicion that (a) there was fat in that there "non-fat" milk and (b) they skimped on the espresso. I think this entitles me to compensate with a modestly sized glass of diet Coke. Be right back.

Okay, that's better. Oh, wait. Drinking that extra beverage has left me with a rather urgent need to, as they say in Australia, see a man about a wallaby. (My source on that is Finding Nemo. Don't dispute me.) Be right back again.

Where was I? Oh, right, elephant garlic. I bought some for the first time on Sunday, figuring I could do all kinds of cool stuff with it. Why they call it "elephant garlic" I haven't figured out yet; yes, it's enormous, but there are plenty of other words you could use to indicate that fact without resorting to speciesism. Elephants (the African ones anyway) know they're the largest land animals in the world, and I'm sure they already have enough of a complex about it; they're probably sticking their feet down their throats at the watering hole after every meal, hoping in vain to drop enough pounds to put them in second place behind the rhinoceros. For my part, I'm just going to refer to it as Really Big Garlic (or RBG) for the duration of this post.

Anyway, as I said, I had big plans for my RBG. Mainly, I was stoked by the idea of making garlic chips, which I imagined to be both easy and rewarding. But when I got the garlic home, the problems started. I pulled off one of the giant cloves only to find a lot of disgusting grey fuzzy stuff inside; truly, one of the nastier food-related surprises I've had in recent memory. I was reminded of why the whole idea of fresh produce used to pretty much scare me off. If you are at all squeamish, please for the love of God do not click here. You've been warned.

But no matter how atrocious the garlic was, I was not going to throw it out. No, that particular hunk of RBG was destined for a return trip to the Whole Foods from whence it came. Nobody sells me grey fuzzy produce and gets away with it; I mean, I've killed men for less. Okay, just the one time, but it counts. So last night I marched back over there (yes, on foot) and dropped the offending item on the Customer Service counter and told that green-aproned mofo just what was up. But he was all, "Y'all paid for that janky garlic already and we ain't takin' it back, so bounce up outta here fo' I mess up yo' bizness!" To which I retorted, "Bitch, I got homies five deep back there in the cut, so don't be makin' them introduce yo' triflin' ass to their Teks... feel me?" It was then that he finally comprehended the veracity of my incipient tirade, and he happily wrote me up a refund slip and sent me on my merry way. (Fine, I took some artistic license with that story. His apron was black, not green. Happy?)

I thus exchanged the bad RBG for a good one (this time, I verified its non-fuzziness before paying for it) and brought it home to fulfill its garlic chip destiny. I put a clove on the cutting board, sliced it up, brushed each one with some olive oil, and put them all on the cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven for what seemed like an appropriate amount time, flipping each one halfway through the process. Then I pulled them out and tried them. Let's see, how best to describe the taste? I could embellish for a few paragraphs, but I think "awful" will do the trick, or "virtually inedible" to throw in an extra word. Or more to the point, bitter, with an aftertaste of extremely bitter. I tried dumping on some grated peccorino romano and drizzling a little more olive oil on top. Yeah, didn't help. Either there's a secret to making good garlic chips that I haven't caught onto; or, perhaps, there's a secret to being able to tolerate the flavor. I think I should have taken the grey fuzziness as an omen and aborted the whole thing right then.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Your tax dollars at work

Generally speaking, UCLA is pretty stingy with stuff. They charge you an arm and a leg for parking, ticket you every chance they get, and good luck trying to find an affordable lunch on campus. However, as seen below, sometimes they do throw us lowly minions a bone.

Old Pepsi machine...............New Pepsi machine

Perhaps this is to mitigate the fact that they recently upped the beverage price from $1.00 to $1.25. No, that's just needlessly pessimistic thinking. They love us. They really, really love us.

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Ikea Chronicles, Chapter 3

Unstained solid wood nightstand ($99), no picture available

It was early 2001, and I was buying my first actual furniture from Ikea. I was still sharing a bedroom and charging the purchase to the parental credit card, so I wasn't quite in the position to be unequivocally excited about anything; but nonetheless, bringing home a couple of big, heavy boxes full of fine Swedish craftsmanship was pretty cool. One box contained the rickety $50 clearance computer desk (which remains rickety to this day, and perhaps will get its own chapter in the future); the other held my nightstand, which gets its own chapter right now.

There were plenty of cheaper nightstands available -- plastic nightstands, metal gym-locker-looking nightstands, and so forth, some for as little as like $25 -- yet somehow, for reasons that remain elusive to me, I decided that $99 was a worthwhile investment [of my parents' money] for a nice-looking, high-quality model. It wasn't going to serve any purpose other than supporting the weight of my alarm clock and holding random crap in its drawer and small cabinet, and it never did. At this point I'm not even sure why I thought it looked nice, being that it's not stained or otherwise gussied-up, but at least for a time it was the nicest, least-likely-to-fall-apart piece of furniture I owned.

Current status: taking up valuable space. In my present bedroom configuration, I'm using my 3-drawer dresser (guess which brand) to hold my alarm clock and don't really have room for an additional piece of furniture for that purpose. So the nightstand sits, listless and mostly useless, in front of the dusty second-hand Casio keyboard on which I'll occasionally bang out a Belle & Sebastian song or the intro to "Don't Stop Believin'."

Monday, October 24, 2005

Abandonment issues

First of all, a bizarre trend at the Cheesecake Factory. This didn't actually happen to me the last time I went to Cheesecake Factory, but going there on Saturday (and watching it happen to someone else) reminded me. The deal is this: they have a marked tendency to switch horses mid-race, figuratively speaking (maybe literally too, but I'm not familiar with that aspect of their business). You get your waiter/waitress/serve-bot at the beginning of the meal, and you pretty much assume that he/she/Tobor will be around until it's time to pay the bill. It's not like you devote a lot of thought (if any) to that assumption, but it's up there in your head somewhere, probably in the same general area as the knowledge that eventually you're going to need an oil change.

But then halfway through the meal, or while you're looking at the dessert menu, or right before they fill your water glasses for the second time, the original guy/girl/cyborg approaches your table with another dude/chick/artificially-sentient-being at their side, and they tell you that for the remainder of your meal, you're going to be served by the Replacement instead. It's always done in this super-genial way that's designed to make you think this is all perfectly normal. "Steve here's going to be taking care of you for the rest of your dinner" is usually more or less how it sounds. And no, it's not as bad as something like "This is Bob and he's your new daddy," but still, it's a little on the strange side. Or, it's a little on the strange side the first time it happens; when it happens three, four, five, or twenty-seven times, it starts to make you wonder. I'm not taking it personally or anything, since like I said, I just saw it happen to someone else last time I was there, but I wonder if the Cheesecake Factory brass should start looking into hiring servers/waitstaff/self-aware-meal-carts that are a little less on the commitment-phobic side.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Well played, Paula.

Well played indeed.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Ikea Chronicles, Chapter 2

(Can't find a picture of this right now, so bear with me. Maybe I'll put one up later.)

Yellow Plastic Popsicle Maker Kit (approx. $2.99)

I bought these at some point last year. It wasn't because I really like popsicles; I mean, I don't hate them, and I'll usually accept one if offered, but under normal circumstances I'm not going to go out of my way to acquire one. My mission, rather, was to create my own line of boozesicles. (Not to be confused with boozecake, since I could never hope to penetrate that market.) I figured I could start off by making some Bailey's Irish CreamSicles and move forward from there. But that didn't exactly work out. As it turns out, unless you have some kind of laboratory-grade absolute-zero freezing apparatus, it's pretty much impossible to get Bailey's to solidify into any kind of popsicle-like formation. All I ended up with was Bailey's Irish Slush, and somehow I doubt that would sell. I could have tried to make other alcoholic frozen treats, but the thrill was gone by this point.

Current status: Strewn about in the lower cabinets that I barely ever open, waiting (possibly in vain) for the day when I either (a) get really excited about making nonalcoholic popsicles or (b) get a night job in a cryogenic laboratory.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Gauntlet

Making risotto tonight for the first time since beginning my mostly self-taught master chef class was like shipping off to Normandy after a few months of basic training. Sure, you can be ready in theory, but once you're really in the shit it's a whole different ballgame. No, I'm not actually going to compare stirring rice into broth with the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, but I will say that if Spielberg had filmed me with a high-shutter-speed handheld camera from 7:00 to 8:00 this evening, he probably would have won an even bigger Oscar.

I'll now do my best to recollect the course of the proceedings. Kind of a live-blogging after-the-fact thing. Here goes.

Yesterday: Walk over to Trader Joe's and pick up box of Aborio rice, carton of vegetable broth, and mushrooms. Think to self "this should be fun," unaware that the Fates are thinking the same thing but grinning much more devilishly.

6:45 P.M. tonight: Look up risotto recipe online and take notes on the back of a page-a-day calendar page.

6:50 P.M.: Prepare ingredients. No burners turned on yet; kitchen still comfortably cool. Chop onions, measure out broth, rice, white wine, etc. as makeshift kitchen stereo plays preselected cooking mix. (First song on said mix is "Hell" by Squirrel Nut Zippers. Fates continue grinning devilishly.)

7:00 P.M.: Turn on burners to heat up 2 pots: a 2-quart containing broth (herein referred to as "Thing 1"), and a 3-quart containing olive oil ("Thing 2"). Slap a lid on Thing 1 so it simmers a little faster. Add chopped onions to Thing 2 and begin sauteeing.

7:05 P.M.: Add garlic to Thing 2. Some of the onions have sunburns by now, but so be it, I'm not a master chef yet.

7:07 P.M: Add rice (all 2 cups of it) to Thing 2. Begin stirring with large plastic serving spoon ("Skippy").

7:09 P.M.: Dump wine into Thing 2. Continue stirring with Skippy.

7:12 P.M.: Wine has absorbed into rice. Dump 1 cup of broth from Thing 1 into Thing 2. Stir, stir, stir. Everything still fine. Approximately 10% of rice remains blissfully unaware that it has less than 20 minutes to live.

7:15 P.M.: Still stirring, but occasionally setting Skippy aside to do other things. Dandy Warhols play on kitchen stereo.

7:20 P.M.: Add more broth to Thing 2. Take out some mushrooms to add to the mixture later on. "You're gonna fall behind me," sing The Donnas. "You're falling behind on stirring me," sings the rice, who, not possessing quite the same lungpower as a bunch of hot girls in their early 20's, goes mostly unheard.

7:28 P.M.: Add a little more broth and continue stirring Thing 2 with Skippy. Some rice is sticking to the sides. Oh well. See previous comment about not being a master chef yet.

7:33 P.M.: Notice unpleasant, smoky, decidedly un-risotto-y smell coming from stove area. Pick up Thing 2 from the burner and discover fallen bits of onion and garlic. Remove said bits, congratulate self on job well done, move on.

7:35 P.M.: Except...

7:37 P.M.: ...those were totally not the things causing the smell.

7:38 P.M.: Snap self back to reality and realize that Thing 2 is smoking worse than pregnant Britney. Turn on overhead stove fan. Not doing it. Watch smoke travel up towards ceiling, possibly towards smoke detector (still not exactly sure where it is). Remove Thing 2 from burner, open apartment door, watch smoke continue coming out. Consider aborting entire project, but figure that it's still salvageable at this point.

7:39 P.M.: Empty remaining non-burned rice into new pot ("Backup"). Take Thing 2 to sink and turn on faucet, sending good portion of rice to a watery grave.

7:40 P.M.: Put Backup on stove and resume heating. Add some more broth from Thing 1, who has managed not to complain or otherwise cause any static.

7:42 P.M.: Cooking playlist has ended, leaving me in silence. Want to put on more music but have learned lesson about leaving rice unstirred for more than 5 consecutive nanoseconds. Reach compromise by stirring with right hand while picking up iPod with left hand. Silence finally broken by Flock of Seagulls.

7:45 P.M.: Somehow, sautee mushrooms and butter in skillet while still diligently stirring Backup with Skippy. This does involve putting Skippy down for a few seconds at a time, which of course results in more rice sticking to the side, but not enough to cause apartment to go back into Defcon 2.

7:47 P.M.: Add mushrooms, butter, and some truffle oil to Backup after finally adding the last of the broth.

7:50 P.M.: Dump a healthily unhealthy amount of grated cheese into Backup and stir vigorously with Skippy.

7:52 P.M.: And so on.

7:55 P.M. And so forth. And add some salt and pepper.

8:00 P.M.: Taste some of the risotto and decide it's done. Want to rejoice at having made decent-tasting risotto without entirely losing security deposit, but lack energy to do anything more than sit down and eat. Relate earlier trials and tribulations to Paula and Rossanna via phone.

8:10 P.M.: Consider saving some risotto for a future meal.

8:15 P.M.: Nix that plan and finish eating it, figuring that cooking the risotto has already burned off more calories than could possibly be contained in it.

8:30 P.M.: Start cleaning.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Ikea Chronicles, Chapter 1

Rusch plastic wall clock ($1.99)

I bought this shortly after moving into my current apartment (sometime in 2002). Figured it would be nice to be able to see the time in the bathroom, and it was a thematic match to the Dekad wall clock I had in the living room.

Current status: strictly decorative. Weighing in at roughly half an ounce (maybe one full ounce with battery), the clock has a marked tendency to fly off the wall and land in the sink whenever I shut the bathroom door to take a shower. After enough of these incidents, the battery holder came a little loose and the battery would inch its way out at random intervals, thus stopping time and causing me to frequently wonder if my roughly 6 foot x 6 foot bathroom were some kind of temporal singularity (like that book Singularity I read when I was 11). I'd reposition the battery, it would come loose again, and the battle would continue. Eventually I let the clock have the victory, and it remains on the bathroom wall showing the permanent time as 6:45. Whether that's AM or PM is in the eye of the beholder.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Ikea Chronicles, Preface

If you didn't know me, you'd probably describe my apartment as an unintentional shrine to Ikea. If you knew me, you'd be aware that it's fully intentional.

I could start an entire blog discussing the ways in which thousands of my hard-earned dollars have gradually made their way into the hands of a few well-manicured men in Sweden, but instead I'm going to try to confine my musings to the more questionable purchases.

Read and learn. Starting tomorrow.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Fresh coffee, multiple wives

On the fair morn of the day after yesterday but just before tomorrow, somewhere between the French Revolution and the colonization of Mars, after Jaws but before the release of the 27th installment in the "I Know What You Did Last Summer" series ("I Think I Remember What You Did... Um... Fuck, It's Been A Long Time Now... Well, I'm Still Going To Try To Kill You At Any Rate"), I headed off for Starbucks for what I can now call "the usual."

Or did I? No, as a matter of fact, I didn't. A co-worker directed me to Peet's Coffee, where apparently they were giving away free quarter-pounds of beans. And even though my plan to start exclusively home-brewing coffee never quite took off, it's still nice to give the Mr. Coffee a workout every now and then so he stays in shape. So I moseyed (mosied? is there an actual past tense of mosey?) on over to Peet's, located conveniently right across the street from Starbucks, and took in the surroundings. I don't go there often, so I'm always kind of taken aback at how nice it is. Starbucks may have set the standard for the non-dirty coffee shop, but Peet's definitely takes it to the next level. You kind of want to take off your shoes when you step inside there, and if your phone rang you'd be sort of embarrassed.

Then there's the service. Dear god, these people are too friendly. Honestly, I think they wake up every morning just about ready to burst into song over how excited they are to work at Peet's. They probably have choreography and everything. ("Now I'm grinding the beans / Oh you don't know what it means / To have such a career / Well you might think it's queer / But I'm in love with my Peet's / From my heads to my feets") I don't think it's possible to get them mad. They're like Mormons that way. Do you know any Mormons? I've known some. You can't get them mad. I think once you join the religion you get your own dedicated ray of sunshine beaming down on you at all times. Plus, you get extra wives, which in the real world would more likely lead to multiple child support/alimony payments but in the sunshiney Mormon world just means even more happiness. Yeah, I know that officially they say the polygamy is a thing of the past, but I'm sure that once you really get your foot in the door -- say, to the Mormon equivalent of one of the higher Operating Thetan levels -- they tell you to go ahead and start picking out 3 or 4 extra wedding rings from Zale's and trade in your queen bed for a California king.

Anyway, I had my Peet's version of an iced latte and it was pretty darn good. I think the secret ingredient is love [of extra wives]. And I have my complimentary bag of Tanzanian Kilimanjaro ground beans! I heard they lost 3 people on the expedition to collect it, but the dark roasted, slightly acidic taste will more than make up for that.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

L'shana Starbucks Tova

The year 5766 is upon us -- and I say "us" to mean the Jewish people, of whom I am absolutely in no way a part, but like to pretend I am because it's fun. I have no religion (anymore) and probably never will, but the Jews have cool stuff like the evil eye and, well, the girls. So I'm okay with them.

But enough about that! 5766 shall forevermore be known as the year that I became a regular at the Starbucks in Westwood. Not a regular in the sense of going there sort of frequently, but rather in the sense of going there every single weekday and getting the exact same drink at more or less the exact same time, and building up enough of a streak so that the barista girl actually spots you in line, addresses you by name, and asks you if you want your usual iced grande nonfat latte. If 5766 was a refrigerator, this is the kind of event that would be magnet-ed to the door. And don't even try to fight me on this -- you can save a bunch of telegenically starving kids from malnutrition, discover the cure for asian bird flu, and broker a Middle East peace accord in the same day, but if you pop into your local Starbucks on the way home and you have to actually tell them your name and drink order, then I'm sorry but YOU'RE JUST NOBODY.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Whole Foods addendum

OK, I still love Whole Foods, but I'm a little more scared of them than I was five minutes ago. I was idly browsing their website (shut up) and reading their "History" page, which more brings to mind the ancient times when you'd display the severed heads of your enemies outside your castle as a reminder to anyone else who might fuck with you.

Basically, they start off with a quick little history of Whole Foods itself. Then they start listing off all the other natural foods stores they've acquired over the course of the rat race. And it's quite a few.

Oh crap, now I'm hearing that they just bought out the rights to the word "fresh" and I'm going to have to pay them royalties every time I write/say/think it.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Natural Foods Smackdown

Once upon a time, I'd buy groceries from anyone who would sell them. In college, we'd sometimes drive to the Market Basket in one of the hoodier parts of Somerville to save a few bucks on the total bill. Otherwise we'd hit the nearby Star Market -- not exactly regal, but at least it was clean. The times, they have changed.

I went into Ralph's last night to buy some mojito supplies and, frankly, I felt a little dirty about the whole thing. Mind you, that place is cleaner than a hundred Star Markets put together, about as nice as a giant soulless supermarket can be, but it's got so much wrong with it that I don't even know where to start. Do they think the stuff they're selling is good? Could any of the people working there actually tell you which brand/type of Product X is the best for what you plan to use it for? Ah, what silly questions. You can't hold Ralph's up to that kind of standard. C'mon, they don't have a single bottle of olive oil selling for more than $10.

But Ralph's isn't in the running anyway. The smackdown in question is between Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, both worthy contenders in the arena of places actually worth buying food from. I might as well say right now that I can't really declare a winner. At this point, if either one of them dropped off the face of the earth, I'd probably drop with it.

In this corner, Trader Joe's, with about 200 stores -- approximately 190 of them in greater Los Angeles. I'm not even kidding -- if you stood on my balcony and swung around a 2-mile long bat, you'd hit no fewer than three. Anyway, TJ's kicks some serious ass when it comes to bang-for-the-buck. They're very committed to not letting you go broke, which is why they usually only sell one moderately-priced brand of everything (generally their own brand). You can pop in there, buy all your stuff with the confidence that none of it is crap, and pop out having spent less or the same than at Ralph's or Albertson's or any of those other evil empires. Then there's the shopping experience, which they manage to make enjoyable but not in that try-hard commercialized kind of way. The chalkboards with their little pitches about why you should buy this kind of beer for your 4th of July cookout, and so forth, are pretty infectious. At mine, they even have jokes and quotes and stuff written in front of the checkout lines so you have something to amuse you while you're standing in line. Where they kind of suck, and I don't feel disloyal in saying this because it's the truth and they probabyl know it, is in fresh produce. Sure, they have it, and what they have is good, and they bother to tell you where it's grown and whether it's organic. But they don't have as much as they should, and they don't sell anything loose -- you have to buy it in a package or box or bag with more of the same thing. If you want one red onion, sorry, you're getting 5. Come in for two avocados for guacamole and you end up with double that amount, and you know those other two are ending up mush before you can figure out what to do with them.

And, in the blue corner, Whole Foods, with around 175 stores in America and the UK. Unlike Trader Joe's, Whole Foods will happily steer you towards spending your every last dollar, then selling your mom's antiques to pay the rest of the bill. Yep, you have to be careful there. Nonetheless, if you like to cook (even if you're as much of a novice as I am), the place is your absolute fucking mecca. To paraphrase Trent in Swingers, the hottest 1% of foods from all over the world come to Whole Foods' gene pool. Their produce is fucking great and you can get as much or as little as you want. And they have everything -- all that stuff you thought only came dried in little spice rack jars, they have nice fresh bundles of. In a lot of cases you can even choose between organic and non-organic versions of the same thing. Basically, they exist to indulge every possible cooking fetish a person could have. If you're only willing to use unfiltered olive oil harvested from a town in Italy where the grass grows upside-down, you can either get some serious therapy, or buy said oil from Whole Foods -- and actually buying it is probably cheaper, though only by a small margin. Then there's the samples. Trader Joe's tends to be pretty consistent with them, offering 1 or 2 things regularly, but on a good day Whole Foods can have as many as a dozen throughout the store. Free lunch! (Then, when you buy all the stuff you just tasted, free second mortgage!) Also, let's not forget all those little extras like the cheese shop, salad bar, catering service, bakery, and so forth. All awesome, but every one of them a little cash vacuum waiting to lock onto you.

Oh, and one last thing -- apparently they're opening a 75,000 square foot Whole Foods in London in 2007. No, I don't think you appreciate how insane that is. The Santa Monica Whole Foods is about 27,000 square feet and, I kid you not, it is already approximately the size of Missouri. The salad bar alone has 3 congressional representatives. And they're going to build something almost 3 times the size of it? WTF? You just know they'll have an entire aisle dedicated to, like, marjoram. So on an unrelated note, who wants to plan a trip to London for 2 years from now?

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Respect the knife... and tame the vegetables

I hope it comes with replacement fingertips. Actually, for what I paid, it really should.

Friday, September 30, 2005


Haze is what I drove into last night as I headed north into the Valley to pick up Eti. Haze, and the overpowering smell of those pesky fires. There aren't many other places where you can enjoy bits of ash floating down onto your windows while you're pumping gas.

Haze would also be a good description of how I spent a couple of hours last night in Silver Lake. Those two girls might appear sweet and charming (well, because they are), but they can put away the booze pretty good. So good that the mojitos and ouzo they promised me and Eti were long gone by the time we got there, and I had to raid the Sparkler-fridge for wine instead. The haze that followed included, I think, pizza and Coldstone and Apprentice and blog/pasta sauce consultation and all the stuff that makes the spider-filled uphill hike worth the while.

Haze is also what I was in (albeit a different kind) for the first few hours of the day, having gotten no more than 6 hours of sleep in a way-too-hot apartment and still feeling stuffed from the pizza and Coldstone. I'm gradually shaking it off, but I probably need more caffeine. The green tea-boosted Jamba Juice doesn't seem to have done the job 100%. I was hoping to try out the Acaia Eye-Opener, a mixture of naturally caffeinated Brazilian berries and other stuff, but they were out of Acaia so I had to settle for the usual Protein Berry Pizzazz. The green tea boost gives it a kind of dull greyish-tan color, making it look more like it was created in a nuclear power plant than the local branch of a pseudo-hippie smoothie empire.

It's still too fucking hot in here, even with the California taxpayer-sponsored air conditioning running at full blast.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Bluetooth or crazy?

I discovered a new game today at Starbucks. (Yes, I went to Starbucks again this morning. I am the most fucking unpredictable person on the planet and I realize it.) But it's not Starbucks-specific or anything. It's a simple game with very few rules.

Here's the deal. First there were cell phones like these. Then we got more advanced and got them a little smaller. Then the earpieces came along with their long, dangling cords and they were somewhat more convenient but had a tendency to get wrapped around things, cut off circulation, strangle infants, etc. Now we're living in the Bluetooth age, and you can pop in a wireless earpiece, leave the actual phone in your pocket or whatever, and go on your merry way.

However, technology comes at a price. As these earpieces get smaller, it becomes harder and harder for other people to even tell you're using any kind of phone-related device.

Thus is born the game: Bluetooth or Crazy?

Like I said, it's very simple. You see someone apparently talking to him or herself, and you must decide whether he or she is using a fancy Bluetooth device or is simply Crazy. Sometimes it's easy: if they're wearing a fancy business suit and carrying a briefcase, the chances of Bluetooth are good -- but you never know, it could be a big mislead. He/she could have wrestled that suit off the body of an unconscious subway passenger the day before and snatched the briefcase from an office parking garage. Conversely, the shabbily dressed unshaven dude talking a million miles a minute could easily be a very well-paid Rolling Stone journalist trying to cajole Coldplay's manager into letting him publish that one juicy quote where Chris Martin admitted he eats a dozen raw eggs and a bucket of turtle shells before every concert.

Bluetooth or Crazy. It's the new black.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Starbucks' lattes are made out of people!

Or probably not, really. But I did see something kind of disturbing there this morning. Sitting next to the register was a medium-sized shipping box labeled "STARBUCKS UNIVERSAL BEVERAGE BASE" and inside were all these big bags of nondescript powder.

I'm pretty sure I wasn't supposed to see that. And I have questions.

1. Ew?

2. What do they need that for anyway? I thought their drinks were mostly just espresso and some kind of milk product.

3. Is it such a "universal" base that they use it to make tea, lattes, frappucinos, and so forth?

4. Eeeew?

I'm sure one of the Starbucks spooks is reading this right now and will have my memory erased by the morning. Spread the word while you can, people! The barista girls may seem sweet and perky and genuinely concerned about how to spell your name on the cup, but they are up to NO GOOD.

Version 2.0

Refusing to let something like this scare me off from throwing random stuff into the blender and eating it, I made another attempt last night. This time:

1 blast of Hershey's chocolate syrup
1 scoop Cadbury chocolate powder
2 spoonfuls of ricotta cheese
1 small handful of walnuts
a little sugar

(No Godiva liqueur this time -- it's good for drinking with vodka on ice when you feel like getting drunk in a more chocolate-like manner, but it's not great in everything else.)

Anyway, I "blended" it all together, but sometimes to this blender, "blend" means "just let everything sit there," so that's pretty much what happened and I ended up mostly just mixing it up with a spoon once I put it in a bowl. Then I ate it and it was actually pretty good.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Hut saray-al

Most people only know the broad strokes of Boston/New England accents -- dropping the r's, stuff like that. But there are other subtleties that only those who have lived there are usually familiar with. Like randomly changing o's into u's. So "hot popcorn" becomes "hut pupcorn." (Like I said, randomly -- note that the second "o" in "popcorn" remains intact.) There's an occasional tendency to drop the second "u" in museum, resulting in something like "muzeem." And I think this more of a northern New England thing, but some kids I knew growing up would say "saray-al" instead of "cereal."

And now I've explained the title of the post, so let's move on. I already discussed my dislike of overly grainy hot cereal. It just doesn't do it for me. Mushy hot cereal is the way to go. I discovered this particular kind of mushy hot cereal sort of by accident a few weeks ago, when I was in Whole Foods looking for other things. I went through a box of it in about 2 weeks, and after a week-long interlude of that crappy grainy stuff, have now started on my second box. Seriously, it's awesome. This morning I had a bowl with chopped walnuts and raspberries mixed in (plus a little sugar), and of course, 2 lightly toasted crumpets with butter. By the way, I think the trick to creating successful British euphemisms is to make sure they include "crumpets" and "if you know what I mean." For example: "Oh, they were married for a bit, but I hear he's buttering his own crumpets these days, if you know what I mean." Or, "That bloke's a few crumpets shy of afternoon tea, if you know what I mean." Yeah, you get the point.

Monday, September 26, 2005

They can't all be gems, right?

Around 8:30 tonight, a couple hours after finishing up a couple of $2 Margaritas, I really felt like some chocolate. Technically I had chocolate in the house, but not really in any kind of readily consumable form. Specifically:

1 small box Cadbury chocolate powder, previously used to line the glasses for chocolate martinis;

1 partial bottle Hershey's chocolate syrup; and

1 partial bottle Godiva chocolate liqeur, also used in the chocolate martinis.

Like I said, nothing readily consumable. I could have mixed any of these with milk, if I had any. Yes, the days of master chef training are strange ones indeed. I have stalks of fresh dill, imported feta, and hand-gathered sea salt at the ready, but a plain old carton of milk is harder to find than a music video on MTV. Anyway, my iron-clad reasoning went as follows: who needs milk when I have a blender? And here we have yet further proof that a little bit of knowledge, combined with a little bit of kitchen implement ownership, is a dangerous thing. I put all 3 ingredients into the pitcher, gave it about a 30 second spin, poured the results into a cup, and started to drink. Then stopped. Then started again. Then stopped again. Meanwhile, my brain and my tastebuds were having a conversation something along the lines of "Do we like this?" "I don't know... it's chocolatey, right?" "Yeah, but is it good?" "Well, it tastes like chocolate, I guess." Finally, both parties had to concede that whatever the substance in the glass was, it was not in any way intended for human consumption. Also, since the blender kind of sucks (I could have used the food processor, but even prior to mixing the ingredients I had an inkling that the final product wasn't going to be worth messing up my nicest cooking gadget), the powder didn't get mixed all that well and ended up pretty lumpy in places. I suspect that anyone who's tried cooking or any kind of food preparation has ended up with stories like this one, and I can understand wanting to keep them a secret.

In hindsight, I probably should have done the same thing.


I haven't eaten cereal in weeks. I used to love cereal. I used to love cereal so much that I'd eat at least 2 different types mixed together in the same bowl every morning for breakfast. So much that, for years, until I realized how not-especially-healthy it was, I used to eat 2 bowls every morning. I still love it, and I'm sure I'll go back to it in the near future. But for the time being, while I'm being all rigid about cooking as much as possible, I've been having oatmeal or hot cereal or warmed-up couscous with milk or other such things for breakfast.

Then this morning I really went fucking nuts. I was at Trader Joe's last night, on foot since I'm trying to drive as little as possible (both because of gas prices, and because my car kind of sounds like it's going to lose a couple wheels at any moment), and my initial goal was just to grab some mushy hot cereal to last me through the week. I tried one kind of hot cereal from TJ's which looked cool on the package but turned out to be way too whole-grainy. The only way to make that stuff mushy would be to throw it in a food processor for 30 seconds or so. (Yeah, I do have a food processor. What the fuck's your point?)

Where was I? Oh right, mushier hot cereal/oatmeal. Anyway, I stopped near the entrance to TJ's, where they keep all their bread products. I was idly thinking about grabbing a bag of corn tortillas when a bunch of tall British guys in fuzzy black hats blasted me with a horn fanfare and alerted me to the package of crumpets a couple of shelves below. "Thanks, British guys," I yelled over my ringing eardrums, and I picked up the crumpets and bought them (along with a few other random essentials). Because why not? I never tried crumpets before. And I figured I might as well, if for no other reason than because I'm sure there will come a time when I'm sitting in the middle of a random conversation and someone says "Has anyone actually ever had a crumpet?" and everyone kind of laughs for a second and says no and there's a general lull in the conversation and people are starting to get up and leave but I save the day by saying "Yeah, I've had one!" and suddenly the evening has gotten its second wind, and the drinks start flowing again and people are in awe of my crumpet-having experience and, yes, my existence is finally validated just because I heeded the advice of some imaginary Redcoats and spent $1.50 on a package of starchy little English muffin-looking things.

But that's all sort of beside the point. This morning for breakfast, I had scrambled eggs and two crumpets lightly toasted with butter. That is the point. Oh, I had orange juice too.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Defeating a really sucky enemy

Right now I'm living through a pretty shitty termite infestation. Except I don't mean shitty for me, but rather that it really is a shitty infestation. As in truly pathetic. Imagine if the insurgency in Iraq consisted solely of throwing smelly gym socks and keying the occasional Hummer, and you'll have some idea of what I'm dealing with.

But let me back up a bit.

In the fall of 2002, a few months after I moved into my current apartment, swarming termites showed up in my bathroom and kitchen. Individually, they were no smarter than any of the present offenders, but there were so many of them popping in on a regular basis that they quickly became a genuine nuisance. I'll be honest: at that point, I was sort of scared of them. They can't bite you or give you any kind of disease that I'm aware of, but nonetheless. Eventually they were either exterminated or just went away on their own, and I didn't hear from them for quite a while.

Then last year, there was a brief incident which I partially chronicled in the Unemployment Blog. I was prepared for a full-scale war and even brought in a specially selected army of one, but the conflict ended up being over before it began, with the termites beating a hasty retreat within a few days. I think Stuart (i.e., the army) just scared the hell out of them, even though he never ate a single one. (Apparently, sometimes shock and awe does work.)

Which brings us up to just about present day. The termites are back! Sort of. Not really. A little. This time they're choosing to squeeze in under the sliding glass patio door, wander around on that part of the floor, and await their death. Which, it should be said, is really all this kind of termite is capable of. And fighting them is insanely easy. We're talking about a bug so stupid that it doesn't even move out of the way when you're about to smack it with a rolled-up magazine. You're all set as long as you don't try to be all smart about it and kill a whole bunch at once by spraying some 409 on them. (No, 409 doesn't turn out to be some mutating agent that turns them into Buick-sized monsters, although that would be kind of cool. It's just that they're attracted to moisture, and therefore spraying some liquid in the area where they're gathering just brings more of them.)

So once in a while (maybe once a week, maybe not -- they're not really on a schedule) I'll see one on the floor, kill it, dispose of the corpse, and continue about my business. Yes, they still have the power to freak out certain people, but not me. I saw one on my shirt last night (not even crawling up it, just sitting there, because like I said, stupid), and I didn't even flinch, just flicked it off and smashed it with a tissue.

I think someone needs to remind them of why they're called swarming termites. Swarming. Two or three meandering around: not a swarm. Anyway, this is what the war has come to; I'm sure the spirit of Sun Tzu is cringing at the thought of it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


After a solid 3 weeks or so, last night I finally stumbled upon the realization that there actually are some nights you don't really feel like cooking, even if you really, really love it. However, I didn't want to throw in the towel and just microwave something (like the Trader Joe's black bean and corn enchiladas in the freezer, the ones I used to eat 2 to 3 times a week and have no doubt experienced quite a comedown from the culinary superiority complex they once possessed).

So I figured I'd scramble some eggs and then put stuff in them -- as opposed to an omelette, which would involve sauteeing which I didn't feel like doing. The "stuff" ended up being the remainder of my crumbled feta, a little scoop of pesto, some baby mixed greens (in lieu of a salad) and some diced garlic (just raw; remember, no sauteeing). And hey, it wasn't bad. I don't know what to call it, but whatever it is, it's copyrighted to me.

Then I went to Target and blew $61 on future kitchen supplies. In fairness, I didn't even own a rolling pin, and I clearly need one of those because it serves the dual purposes of flattening dough and self-defense (mainly in 1930's-era slapstick comedies).

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

A new drink

As y'all know, my afternoon diet Pepsi is a thing of the past. A relic of the more caffeinated (but ultimately less energized) days. An ex-soft drink. But its relentless absence has created an afternoon drink vacuum. And powerful be this vacuum -- powerful enough to suck in just about any food/drink item in its immediate radius. So, in an effort to limit its destructive (i.e., gut-expanding) powers, I decided to try the only other diet caffeine-free beverage in the drink machine: the Sierra Mist Free (another Pepsi product). First of all, I think the "Free" part is kind of cool -- a nice callback to the days of Pepsi Free, which as we all remember provided a crucial joke in Back to the Future. Second of all, it actually tastes pretty good. It's almost good enough to make you forget that you live in a world where Sprite, 7-up, and Sierra Mist really need to be three distinct products.

Friday, September 16, 2005

315? Make it a 370

This morning, as I sat in my metaphorical Starbucks hospital bed with the caffeine IV tube comfortably affixed to my arm, I decided to crank the dosage up one notch -- three shots instead of two. It doesn't make a huge difference financially (55 cents extra) and I figured, hey, maybe it'll make the buzz a little more fun.

Yeah, a "little" more fun. In the same way that Katrina was a little rainstorm.

Seriously, this was like five hours ago. And it still feels like it just kicked in. Even when I was singing the praises of the morning iced latte a few weeks back, and thinking there was no way a line of the best coke in L.A. could outdo the rush, I was still coming down by 1:30 or so and needing a Diet Pepsi to avoid crashing. Well, not today. I honestly think there's a decent chance this will never wear off. The Starbucks girls may have inadvertently put some kind of special creation in my drink, like the caffeine equivalent of an Everlasting Gobstopper... something they were trying to keep under wraps because, while brilliantly effective, it would ultimately mean the end of repeat customership. Yeah, that's probably it.

Anyway, I also went over to Whole Foods today to browse their salt. Yeah, you read that right. I was looking for grey salt -- which according to Google, is "moist and unrefined" and "considered by many to be the best quality salt available." What could one do with this salt that wouldn't be possible with other salts? I'm not exactly sure yet. But cooking is all about experimentation, and apparently it's also about spending $3.29 on a dinky little spice-rack-sized bottle of salt.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Not writing about coffee or food... uh, wait

I had a Jamba Juice for lunch. What's not to like about Jamba Juice, apart from the diabetic level of sugar in their drinks? It's not just a meal in a cup. It's your meal, your drink, AND your dessert in a cup. It's like the smoothie equivalent of that crazy Willy Wonka gum, except it doesn't turn you all bloated and blue. At least, not any of the ones I've tried. I don't know about that Razzmatazz.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Hey, remember the Unemployment Blog? It's under new management now. Check it out.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Power outages are comedy gold

In this case, at least.
Lee Sapaden, a spokesman for the county's Office of Emergency Management, said the massive power failure was caused after an employee "inadvertently cut a power cable" at a DWP substation in West L.A.
Does everyone who works for DWP end up with a story like that if they work there long enough? "Here, cut this one..." "Nope." "OK, this one." "Nope." "OK, that one." ... ... ... ... "Oh, fuck."

Thursday, September 08, 2005

You really need to try harder

Is the average person actually dumb enough not to notice when a very official-looking email contains all kinds of grammatical errors? Apparently, the scammers really think so.
Dear Amazon member,

We regret to inform you that your Amazon account was been suspended for a period of 3-4 days,after that it will be terminated.
During our regularly schedule account maintenance and verification we have detected a slight error in your billing information on file with Amazon.
This might be due to either following reasons:
Or how about this...

Your identity just stopped being an easy target.

Dear Customer,

Our Credit Union has been recently target of a phishing scam.
University Credit Union Corporation is standing up for our members by offering ID theft education, resolution, monitoring and prevention services.

We’re serious about security.

Ten million U.S. citizens are victimized every year by identity theft.
University Credit Union is dedicated in keeping your personal information protected.

Maybe they're trying to make it look like the institutions in question are so committed to getting out this important information that they don't have time to grammar-check their emails. In any case, I find it fairly disturbing that anyone's being fooled by these.

Then again, some people just can't be dissuaded from entering their personal information online. If I sent out a mass email saying "Whatever you do, don't click on this link and type in your credit card number, social security, and driver's license number," I'd probably end up, statistically, with at least a few hundred results.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


Isn't polenta great? I think it was the staple food of the aboriginal tribes of the eastern Peckinaw valley in Northern Mondavia... or, like, Italy. Anyway, it's awesome. It's hard to screw up and all you need to make it is a pot with water and, well, polenta. But it's really fucking versatile. First I had it for dinner with sauteed onions, goat cheese, mushroom, and avocado. Then there was still a bunch of it left so I put some in a cup with chocolate syrup and Godiva liqueur and had it for dessert. This morning, still no cereal in the house, so I busted the remaining polenta out of the fridge and microwaved it with some butter and a little salt, and voila, breakfast. If I had any left over I could probably use it as replacement weather stripping for my sliding glass doors, or to plug up holes in the wall. Seriously, polenta = bomb diggity.

Otherwise, I'm still detoxing, and I think I'm through the withdrawals. The caffeine gods further teased me today when I went to get an Aquafina (ew, but no alternative) from the drink machine and a complimentary bottle of Pepsi popped out behind it. I just gave it away to the first taker.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Here I am again, out of the zone

No withdrawals today, but I really want some caffeine. Diet Pepsi, iced latte, epidural... whatever. Anyway, there's today and then 3 more days. At least this time I started the fast on Saturday, so as soon as the weekend starts I can get back on the chemically dependent horse. Maybe this time around I'll do something crazy like limit my intake to 1 drink per day. I wonder how long that will last. Probably about the amount of time it takes for the first one to wear off.

In other news, I made some angel hair pasta with fire-roasted tomato chunks and sauteed red peppers with peccorino last night, but it turned out a little soggy. Apparently the master chef title is still slightly out of my grasp. I did make some decent caprese, but it's pretty hard to screw that up.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

But why does it hurt so much?

See, the first time wasn't bad at all. Maybe some decreased alertness and blogging capacity, but that was about it. This time is a little different. First there was the onset of sleepiness a few hours after I got up (and I got a decent night's sleep). I didn't try to fight that; I just hoped I could nap it away. Then the headaches started. Nothing resembling migraines or anything, but still, who the hell wants those? Not me. At Barnes & Noble around 2:00 or so, I strongly considered relapsing and even made it as far as the Starbucks counter. I even justified it to myself: (a) it'll make me feel better and (b) I can do a hilarious blog entry about the miniscule amount of time it took me to break. But I thought better of it and just got a diet IBC Root Beer instead, which was clearly labeled "No Caffeine" to eliminate any doubt. Later on there were some more headaches, and another bout of napdom, and now I'm pretty much feeling okay. A grande nonfat iced latte does sound more appealing right now than the most spectacular creation from Cold Stone Creamery, but I'm going to have to stick with the latter.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Some random bits of tid to alleviate my boredom

I guess I'll start the caffeine detox week again tomorrow. I mean, I did say I was going to, and I hate to welsh out on something I announced on the blog. And it's true, there's not much point in continuing to blow $3.15 a day on iced lattes if they're not thrusting me into the illustrated pages of a Lewis Carroll book the way they used to. It's not even 2 hours since I drank my last one and I already feel kind of sluggish again, even though I'm not sleep-deprived or malnourished or overly depressed over the fact that 7th Heaven and Charmed are somehow still on the air. So, with much deja vu, after today I will say goodbye iced lattes, goodbye diet Pepsi, and goodbye all other caffeinated products, until we shall meet again in half a fortnight's time. Or something.

I'm cooking now. There's only so long you can keep up a diet of microwaveable Trader Joe's products without going crazy. Plus, I'm tired of feeling inferior to people who make their own stuff. Am I not capable of doing all that on my own? Well, I'm not really sure yet. But like a lot of things in life, I think interest and willingness make a lot more difference than innate ability. At least I hope that's true. If I end up being a complete failure as a chef with nothing to show for my efforts but scarred hands and intestinal damage, then I'll re-evaluate that thought a little.

In a callback to the unemployment blog, the termites came back (briefly) last weekend. They started popping in under the sliding glass door to the balcony, but eventually backed off when they realized that I was actually willing to sit there and kill every single one of them individually until they had to call up the Strategic Reserves for reinforcements. Or maybe they were worried that I was going to bring in another Stuart. Because I wouldn't hesitate to do so, and this time I'd make sure he actually ate some of them.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Leisure time in general

Having no obligations and nothing you really should be doing is pretty cool sometimes. In fact, sometimes it's just plain awesome. But not always. Sometimes having the complete unquestioned authority over what to do with your time, and then exercising that authority, can lead to pretty disappointing results. Example: I have nothing to do for a while, so I figure I'll watch a DVD. Sounds reasonable. What DVD? I'd like to think that every one I own is decent -- can't really go wrong, right? In theory any of these should provide more than enough entertainment to fill a couple of hours. Which is true, to a point. By which I mean, as long as you don't overanalyze the situation too much. Naturally, that's exactly what I end up doing. I get about 30-45 minutes into the movie (really doesn't matter what movie it is) and I start thinking, "This is it? This is what I'm choosing to entertain myself with? Of all the basically limitless fun-producing options available to me, I really thought this was the best possible way to go? As good a movie as Adaptation is, does it really trump every single other activity I could have involved myself in right now? Should I have watched something else? Would that have made any difference? Isn't sitting on the couch watching a movie a pretty lame activity anyway?"

And so forth. I mean, I'm sure if you took all my leisure time away I'd go crazy in no time. But I'm not sure having it really keeps you from going crazy, either.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

They said it couldn't be done... or was that "shouldn't"?

I think it's time for another detox week. This decision doesn't come as the result of a whole lot of soul-searching and reading of philosophical texts or anything, but mainly from two points:

Point the first: Caffeine isn't providing me with the thrilling rush that it used to. I don't even know if it's doing anything at this point except taking money from my wallet.

Point the second: As not-that-much-fun as my last detox week was, it had one huge upside. Once it was over, every iced latte from Starbucks was like some kind of spectacular wonder-drug -- I'm talking borderline-psychedelic levels of euphoria. If I can get back to that point, and save money in the process, why not?

I'll probably start on Saturday morning.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Upping the dosage

I don't know if self-medicating has lost its sheen or if I just haven't been getting enough sleep. I feel fine, but the "zing" factor is somewhat diminished. Today I've had:

1 fairly concentrated cup of Manhattan Mud coffee from Urth
1 grande nonfat iced latte from you-know-where
1 20 ounce Diet Pepsi

Maybe getting hit by that series of tranq darts earlier had more of an effect than I realized. I guess next time I should pick some place to go jogging where they're not trying to capture a rabid wolf. Speaking of which, those things are totally not as cuddly as they look. You can't even play "got your nose" with them! No sense of humor whatsoever. And now I can't even swallow water.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Me: 1, Addiction: 0

Sure, I like to throw around fun phrases like "caffeine addiction" and "chemical dependency" and "3 AM trip to the methodone clinic" but as it turns out, I don't think I'm quite there yet. Right now caffeine and I have more of a friends-with-benefits thing than an actual committed relationship. Okay, sometimes it's friends with a lot of benefits, but be that as it may, I consumed zero caffeine for my first 8 hours of wakefulness on Sunday and even then only had an Ultimate Ice Blended from Coffee Bean -- and that was it for the day. Yes, I have the coffeemaker in my house and it would have been incredibly easy to brew up a cup with the usual near-lethal dosage of Sumatra Dark grounds when I got up, but I chose not to.

Did I get a headache? Did my body twitch relentlessly? Did my brain become hopelessly muddled, incapable of making any decisions more complex than whether or not to pee? Well, in the words of Modernist poet William Carlos Williams, hell to the no!

So I really don't think there's much to worry about. I guess growing up in New England automatically instills you with some of those everything-good-is-bad-for-you values, which is why I might be inclined to think that something horrendous is going to come out of all this, but clearly that just ain't the case.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Mr. Coffee could be a medical doctor in England, because they still call them Mr. there

But it's still only brewing about 1/4 the amount of coffee it's pretending to. Where does the rest of the water go? I never have any extra to pour out. I think my coffeemaker has a dehydrating parasite -- well, it was made in China, and you never know what it could have picked up there. Either that, or there's a very small, very thirsty person living inside the coffee reservoir.

I'll give it some more practice this weekend and get it into shape. If anything, the coffee seemed a little weaker today than yesterday. I'm a stickler but I can't help it. I want my coffee so fucking black that the room gets a little dimmer when you pour it, and when I taste it I want to forget that water is even a component of it. (1 sentence essay, "What Coffee Means To Me," copyright NJR 2005.)

In lieu of the Diet Pepsi today, I had a Matcha Green Tea Boost in my Protein Berry Pizazz from Jamba Juice (fuck, that's a lot of silly product names for one sentence). I don't know if it gave me the same level of kick, but seeing as how my trip to the dentist only afforded enough time to drink my lunch with a straw, I thought I might as well use one $5 stone to kill two birds, one of hunger and the other of addiction. Tomorrow I'll get back to the mystical 20 ounces of aspartame and artificial color that I love so much.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Behind caffeinated doors

I wasn't just whistling dixie last week; I actually brought home a coffeemaker last night. It's a Mr. Coffee model, which I'm still not sure how they ever got away with such a generic name for a product (Mr. Car? Mr. Stapler? Mr. Supercolliding Semiconductor? I don't think any of those would fly) but I don't really care because it seems to at least partially work. I mean "partially" quite literally there. I set it up overnight to brew me 2 cups in the morning (yeah, it's got the fancy programmed-delay thingy) and when I woke up, it had brewed (or is that brewn?) a grand total of half a cup. Maybe that was my fault for actually going by the printed numbers on the side of the coffeemaker that show you how much water to put in. After that, I put in enough for about 3-4 cups and it brewed me about a cup. So I did at least get a cup and a half in all. That whole situation does call into question the validity of referring to it as a 12-cup coffeemaker, since if you extrapolate the above quantities, you'd have to put in the full 12 cups worth of water to make about 3 actual cups. Or maybe in the coffeemaker world, just putting the number "12" on the water level meter gives you sufficient license to market the product as such. I'm not too familiar with the ethical standards of the hot beverage industry.

Anyway, the coffee I chose for my first brewing was Sumatra Dark from Coffee Bean. I don't have a grinder yet, because coffeegeek.com has mindfucked me into a formless oblivion about all the different types of grinders and their various pros and cons, so I had the Coffee Bean guy grind the beans on the (presumably) fancy Coffee Bean machine. I realize this means they won't last very long, but so be it. The coffee tasted pretty good and I'm sure will get better once I really turn the coffeemaker into my bitch, rather than standing by timidly as it does whatever the fuck it feels like.

Monday, August 15, 2005

It's over!

Oh yeah, I'm so far off the wagon that it's a tiny speck in the distance. But I did my week and now, thank god, it's over. If I had it to do all over again, I think what I'd first change is the part about not drinking caffeine for a week. Because caffeine is awesome, and that's just stupid. But the other main thing I'd change is the way I broke my fast. Did I wake up Sunday morning a little groggy and head out for a nice tall iced latte from Coffee Bean? Um, no. I grabbed a handful of dark chocolate espresso beans at 12:30 A.M. and chowed down. Consumption of plenty of booze prior to/after that enabled me to fall into a blissful sleep at about 3 AM, but the catch was that I bolted awake 3 hours later; the alcohol was fully digested by then, leaving those concentrated caffeine nuggets to hop in their El Camino and go cruising through my blood/brain barrier. I got a couple more scattered hours of sleep and spent Sunday mostly in a haze. Thus, ironically, the relapse was more difficult than the detox. How about that?

Today was totally different, though. Got a good night's sleep, felt pretty much awake the first couple hours of the day, felt, in fact, like I didn't really need to go to Starbucks. I just went because I could. And holy fucking shit, did I ever feel great after that. Even 2 hours later, as I was walking back to my car to go home for lunch, I actually said to myself, "Damn, I feel fucking great."

I've never done any recreational stimulant drugs, but I don't see how they could be any better than caffeine. Plus, as I understand it, they're expensive. Caffeine = cheap and comes inside a tasty drink (as in the case of an iced latte or diet Pepsi, both of which I've had today) or a delicious snack (as in the case of Trader Joe's dark chocolate covered espresso beans, which I've also had).

So in conclusion, no, I'm not a caffeine addict. I could quit at any time, and I even proved it. But I don't plan on doing it again anytime soon.

Friday, August 12, 2005

When all is said and done, this may be proven stupid

But so what? That's how a lot of things in my life end up. I just make sure that enough things are proven smart so that I end up being seen as relatively intelligent. I won't bore you with the whole process.

Yeah, so I'm pretty sure that once I'm done with this caffeine fast I'm really going to dive even farther into the habit. Nothing's off limits anymore. I'll get my coffeemaker and grinder and fancy-ass coffee beans, and maybe I'll even have a cup in the morning IN ADDITION to a Starbucks trip around 10:00. And then a Diet Pepsi later. And right before I go to bed, I'll brew a double espresso and snort the leftover grounds after I drink it. Why not? Coffee and caffeine are everywhere. We're obviously supposed to consume as much of them as possible. Is there anywhere you buy food of any kind that you can't get a cup of coffee? Is there any square block in America that doesn't have at least one Coke or Pepsi machine? Someone once told me that at most Hollywood industry parties, it's easier to get a line of coke than a glass of water. I think the same is true of capital-c Coke everywhere else.

So let's embrace the poison, people. We'll run out of fossil fuels, we'll destroy the ozone layer, and we'll cut down all the trees in all the forests in the world, but the caffeine rush will remain even when cockroaches and Janice Dickinson's face are the only ones around to appreciate it.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

In the home stretch, sorta

I had a dream last night where I was pouring myself some coffee from two different containers and mixing it together and drinking it. Then a few sips in I realized that I wasn't supposed to, that I was breaking my vow. But I looked at one of the containers and it was decaf. Saved! And the other one... at first I thought it said decaf, but then I saw that it wasn't. And I said, goddamnit, I only made it to Thursday. That's really pathetic. Barely half the week.

So is this rock bottom yet? Having dreams about sort of accidentally drinking coffee and then feeling crappy about it? At least, since it was a dream, I could have just gone nuts and sucked down an Extreme Ice Blended from Coffee Bean chased with a double espresso and a handful of Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate-Covered Espresso Beans (watch out for those on Saturday, people).

Time for another non-caffeinated beverage. Joyful, joyful, we fucking adore thee.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Caffeine-less for a fourth

I don't have headaches or nausea or hallucinations. Thankfully. Except for the last one -- hallucinations would be kind of fun. But I do want my goddamn caffeine back. I really, really do. Honestly, I'm not sure how caffeine has escaped being classified as a recreational drug and criminalized. But let's not talk about that anymore.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Still no caffeine, still not dead

Drinking a venti passion iced tea with lemonade (as I just did) might turn me into a girl, but at least it's not violating the rules. It's also not doing much to spike my neural activity. That's why I'm pretty much stuck after writing 2 sentences.

Where was I again?

Monday, August 08, 2005

Day 2

I assume that by now there is no caffeine in my system (as you may recall, yesterday was my first caffeine-free day). Surprisingly enough, I don't feel like crap. I'm having a caffeine-free passion iced tea from Starbucks right now, because it would be fairly selfish of me to allow their business to cave in just for the sake of my silly experiment.

On the plus side: grande iced latte = $3.15 whereas grande iced tea = $1.70. That's a whopping $1.45 left over to spend on hookers and 8-balls.

I don't think this is going to be all that difficult, really. If I had to give up booze for any length of time, that would be much harder. Especially mojitos prepared by certain people. I think those are just about the pinnacle of anything that can be served in a glass. Or bowl, trough, or cupped hand; I'm not picky.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Caffeino Ultimo

This is it, my last day of caffeine consumption for the week. Um... last weekday caffeine consumption for the week. Can I still drink it tomorrow? I guess so, but then I'd have to go Sunday through Saturday, whereas if I stop at the end of today I can start again next Saturday and -- yeah, see, this is the whole reason for the detox in the first place. That sentence was just the Diet Vanilla Pepsi taking the reins on my neural activity.

So. Caffeine tomorrow, then none Sunday through Saturday. There's the plan. And as an extra added sign that it's time to take a break, the Starbucks girl actually fucked up my order this morning, putting me down for a decaf iced latte with whole milk when I wanted a nonfat with caffeine. I can't remember that ever happening before. Sure, they're known the world over for screwing up people's names on the cups, but at least they usually get the beverages right.

And it seems McSweeney's has rejected my work again, so it's once again time for a bit of self-publishing. I submitted this to the Reviews of New Food section, which I don't read religiously but can be entertaining. I tried the Trader Joe's brand of vegetarian sausage patties a couple months ago and felt something needed to be said on the subject.


There they are, side-by-side in the freezer case: Morningstar Breakfast Patties and Trader Joe's Breakfast Patties, competing for your hard-earned fake sausage dollar. "Sure," Trader Joe's subliminally imparts to you, "the Morningstar package is flashier and prettier, but look here: with our product, you get more patties to the box for almost a dollar less. You know you ridicule your friends who shop at Whole Foods because they pay significantly more for essentially the same products. Do you really want to turn into one of them?"

Shamed, you immediately grab a box (or even two) of the Trader Joe's patties lest your mere hesitation turn you into one of those yuppie Whole Foods sheep with a Prius parked next to a Hummer in their air-conditioned garage. And why not? Aren't Trader Joe's-branded products inevitably just as good as, if not better than, those of any competitor? Did you even bat an eyelash when they switched from Crystal Geyser to Trader Joe's Mountain Spring Water?

But once you've gotten the patties home and into the microwave, the triumphant mood takes a drastic turn. What's that smell coming from the kitchen? It sure as hell isn't the Morningstar smell, the one so convincingly meaty that nobody walking into the room would ever believe you were a vegetarian. It's some very different kind of odor, bad enough to make you hope that it's coming from somewhere else. Sadly, one bite of the finished product confirms your worst fears. This is not an acceptable substitute for a Morningstar Breakfast Patty. This is not even an acceptable substitute for some kind of freeze-dried high-protein nutritional supplement for soldiers or astronauts. It may, in fact, be the worst thing you've ever tasted, ever.

The next day, you actually take Trader Joe's up on their famous "return it if you don't like it" policy, the policy you always found endearing but never thought you'd take advantage of. A few weeks later, the Morningstar Breakfast Patty once again rules the freezer case unchallenged, and you and Trader Joe's try to put the whole unpleasant incident behind you.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Caffeine the Penultimate

I don't think the caramel macchiato was a drink meant to be iced. I had one a few minutes ago and the caramel ended up in 3 places: (1) in a glop at the bottom that I sucked down with the first sip, (2) stuck to the inside of the lid, and (3) running down the outside of the cup, where it was wiped off by a helpful barista. (Then again, the same barista didn't see anything wrong with handing me the drink completely un-mixed, with the top half of the cup completely brown and the bottom half completely white. I had to shake it myself. What would Gordon Ramsay say?) So it ended up being effectively an iced latte with a few random instances of goop.

Anyway, I decided after this week I'm going caffeine-free for a week. Sure, I may have waxed poetic before about developing a caffeine addiction, but I don't really want one. I'd rather be addicted to something more interesting, like cardamum or soybean oil or challenging squirrels to staring contests. Hopefully my blogging won't suffer, and it may actually become more interesting once I start hallucinating. (Sample sentence: "Don't you hate those purple-skinned demons that keep running past your desk and singing unreleased Fiona Apple songs?")

But as committed as I am to the Week of No Caffeine, I'm also looking beyond that week to the day I finally get myself a coffeemaker of my very own -- the kind with a built-in grinder, so I can seek out the strongest, darkest coffeebeans known to humankind and home-brew them at double strength. What kind of twisted thoughts will emerge from my hyperstimulated brain? I don't know, but I'll try not to die.