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.