Monthly Archives: March 2015

Blowing the Blue Cheese Whistle

I don’t know if it’s just me, but blue cheese seems to be popping up in places it shouldn’t. At first it was the occasional seasonal dish at the higher-end restaurants. But I wasn’t too worried because we all know those chefs experiment until some other new shiny ingredient pops up to distract them. Plus, let’s be honest. I don’t eat at very many high-end restaurants, so I could eat and let eat. But then blue cheese infiltrated that most hallowed of pedestrian eating places, my workplace cafeteria. There is a pre-made sandwich station and for years there was a decent rotation of the tried and true with interesting variations—tuna salad, chicken salad, Caesar salad wraps mixed in with cranberry, almond chicken salad on brioche or the roasted vegetable and feta wrap. Then there was the occasional diet-wrecking walk on the wild side, an Italian sub with hot peppers.

But something happened on the way to the sandwich station. Suddenly blue cheese started showing up in everything, nearly every day. Roast beef and blue cheese, vegetables and bleu cheese, and the final straw, a BLT with blue cheese—for the love of meat, just leave the bacon alone! Did I mention this cafeteria is in a hospital? I mean can’t blue cheese give pregnant women Listeria or some other kind of infection? And who the hell actually likes blue cheese? Cheddar, that king of inoffensive cheeses, makes sense to include on occasion, but blue cheese? Oh sure, you get that little cup of it next to your Buffalo wings, but more often than not, it’s been stripped of actual blue cheese chunks and there is no mold to be found anywhere. And why? Because most people don’t actually like blue cheese.

Clearly the blue cheese had escaped its Buffalo wings side dip status and infiltrated the cafeteria. I noticed people started hovering longer at the sandwich station. They were looking in vain for an old standby, but failing that, they were trying to land a sandwich that didn’t feature blue cheese. Most left empty-handed and beat a path to the salad bar, which thankfully kept its blue cheese safely imprisoned in the dressing bottle like “I Dream of Jeannie.”

I began to wonder. Did the cafeteria get a new chef who was fired from a restaurant for making too many blue cheese dishes? Did the manager go to a cafeteria sandwich convention? Or is food like the fashion chain described in “The Devil Wears Prada” where the decisions about colors and designs for the season get made on the runways of New York and Paris and those get filtered down to the less-than-couture-clothes you get at discount department store chains? Perhaps there was some haute blue cheese buzz in Paris, and now I was paying the price.

I decided to get to the bottom of this nefarious development and do some research. What I found was too disturbing for me to keep quiet, so I’m revealing it, damn the consequences to my writing career. At the end of 2014, a major food distributor, Gordon Food Service, blogged about using blue cheese as part of offering fancy grilled cheese on restaurant menus. Encouraged  it, even. Then, in January, another food-related blog consulted an expert known only as The Cheese Lady to discern what’s hot in the world of wine and cheese for 2015. The Cheese Lady owns stores in five major Michigan cities—she clearly has control of the food opinions of the entire state. The blog featured a picture of a slice of blue cheese on a sweet cracker with honey and real butter. The cheese was served at—you guessed it, one of the stores. The blogger claimed it was delicious, obviously compromised by this taste making Don. This blue cheese ring was getting bigger by the minute.

This seemed quite serious, but I tried not to panic—I couldn’t stop the big players from pushing their cheese, but surely once the cafeteria chef realized they had piles of leftover blue cheese  sandwiches every day, they’d chalk up the experiment and move on. But it only got worse. Next to the blue cheese sandwiches appeared ones with beet spread.  I’m sure beets could harm people too. They seem like a shifty vegetable. I have no doubt they’d be listed as the hot vegetable trend for 2015. Was there no end to this corruption?

For months the insidious blue cheese sandwiches kept appearing. Then just last week my coworker gave me the bad news: Wendy’s was introducing a bacon and blue cheese burger. There it was in black on white on that pinnacle of food websites, www.bacontoday.com:

“Honing in on one of the hottest food trends of 2015, Wendy’s goes blue-cheese bold to satisfy customers’ cravings with its latest premium offering, the new Bacon and Blue on Brioche. The limited-time hamburger is packed with robust, artisan blue cheese – delivering a bluetiful meal option crafted with tantalizing tastes and ingredients.”

Dear god, what was happening? I only had one hope: the words, “limited-time.” The announcement came out in late January, so maybe the burger has already come and gone. I don’t know because I’m going to have to lay low after blowing this blue cheese whistle. It’s only a matter of time before the Blue Cheese Association finds me, or worse, the dreaded Dairy Foods Association. I have a lactose intolerant friend who still can’t talk about her run-in with those folks.

My only consolation is that I did what I had to do to stop this blue cheese madness. Whatever else happens, know that I did it for you all. And I did it for me, because I really do hate blue cheese.

Photo credit: Cookipedia.co.uk

Jilted by My Hairdresser—Twice

Finding the right hairdresser is harder than finding a mate. I’ve had really good ones for years before they broke up with me—you never see it coming. Terry and I have been going strong now for years, and I trust him completely, but every once in a while I start to doubt. Will he stay with me to the end? It’s not Terry; he’s done nothing wrong, it’s me. I thought I’d found The One before, but I’d been wrong. My coworker’s recent search for a new hairdresser brought back the painful memories of when I got dumped by my hairdressers—twice.

You see, my first was Eileen. After six happy years, without any warning, she ran off to become an electrician. I just couldn’t get over it.  I kept asking myself, what did I do wrong? She stayed with me from my 80’s spiky, bleach blond punk cut to the permed, just-got-out-of-bed look of the 90’s. Right before she left, I got my hair highlighted. She’d been urging me for a couple of years to get it done, and finally, to please her, I gave in. Two months later she was gone.

After she left, I was fixed up with another hairdresser at Eileen’s salon.  She was okay, but we were too different. I liked alternative music, she liked pop. She spent her weekends at the clubs, and I spend my extra time writing.  Eileen and I talked about our relationships and the irony of saving for a house in the Boston area that we’d never be able to afford anyway. Sometimes we didn’t talk at all. We didn’t have to.

“Next time, we’ll redo those highlights,” said the New Hairdresser. There isn’t going to be a next time, I thought. It’s shameful I know, but I don’t remember her name.  I don’t remember any of their names, those who come after Eileen.  I made my way from Newbury Street to Supercuts and every place in between, shamelessly talking about her to them all. All the while I made secret comparisons: Other salons tried to change me and sell me shampoos that my hair “needed”; Eileen always told me how to get the most out of what I was already using. Inevitably, each salon came up short, and I continued my pattern of one-appointment stands.

I wondered about the last time I saw her, as she painstakingly combed out thin rows of my hair and lovingly wrapped them up in foil and hand-mixed highlight. Was she dreaming about tripped circuits and burned-out fuses? If she was, she never let on. Instead she showed me how to scrunch my curls to help my perm last, and she chipped into my fine hair to give it the lift her creative cuts needed.

The worst part was trying to find a hairdresser who could copy the “S” she cut for me. I loved it because it was her trademark, but after she left, it became a cruel joke. I parted my hair on the side and she cut out a section of hair that lifted up, curved down and then out, like an “S”.  No one was able to copy that “S”. Perhaps she got tired of me taking her for granted. I never paid attention to exactly how she cut that “S”. What was the angle? How short should it be? How much hair should be cut? I never paid attention because I thought she’d always be there.

I scheduled another appointment at yet another salon, this time for a highlight. I was nervous because my friend who recommended this place said the hairdresser asked lots of questions about how light you wanted to go.  Eileen told me she would only highlight three or four shades lighter than my normal shade, otherwise it wouldn’t look natural. We argued. I wanted to go as light as possible, my desire to be a blonde blotting out my common sense.  She wouldn’t give in, but she gave me lighter highlights in the front where they would naturally occur. She mixed the colors herself, and of course she was right. How would I know what the right shade was?  The hairdresser was supposed to tell me.  Eileen told me.

My friends told me to settle down with a new hairdresser. It’s true that the sign of many different stylists had started to show on my hair—little pieces were longer than the others. The “S” turned into a flip. I knew I had to forget Eileen, but I couldn’t. I kept thinking she’d get tired of electricity and come back to me. I could feel it in my roots.

At the new salon, the hairdresser asked me what colors I wanted, but then made sensible suggestions when I pointed to the platinum blond sample. She listened to the story of the hairdresser-turned-electrician with interest and sympathy. We talked some of the time and were quiet some of the time. She even had a few ideas about the now forlorn “S”. Her name was Betty, and I fell for her immediately. I was with her for a number of glorious years, and then she decided to sell her salon and get her MBA. I wanted to tell her that if she’d been running her own salon, she probably already knew more about business than the kids she was going to be studying next to. But who was I to stand in her way? Proud, ambitious Betty. Eileen had taught me the futility of hanging on, so I had to let her go.

Luckily, I found Terry shortly after, and didn’t have too many walks of haircutting shame. We’ve been together for more than 15 happy years, and he promised me long ago he had no interest in becoming an electrician or getting an MBA. A promise he’s held to this day. He good-naturedly accepts my decision to not color my gray, laughingly exclaiming at my “blond” hair every time I see him. He gave me a fabulous longer layered cut that I love more than a year later. Still, who knows what lurks in the heart of a hairdresser? Do you ever truly know the one who cuts your hair? Love and hair are fickle.

Photo credit: The Paper Blog 

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, Bollocks!

First let me say, we broke the all-time snow record here in Boston yesterday, and the snow held off until the annual Boston St. Patrick’s day parade was finished. That’s how we roll here in Boston. See what happens when you finally include gay people in your parade? Everything gets better. But on to St. Patrick’s day. This is a post from last year—I still like it, and hope you will too.

I’m only Irish by way of being a Boston area resident, and Irish story telling is a hard act to follow, but what the heck. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, here’s my Irish story. One summer when I was in college, I met a lovely Irish lass. She was in college too and had come to Boston for the summer. We slaved away at the same deli, slinging sandwiches and grilled meat, and always left the place smelling like baloney and pickles. We quickly wanted to learn about each other’s cultures, by which I mean we asked about swear words. I, being a Sex Pistols fan, made her porcelain white skin bright red when I asked her what bollocks meant. Of course, being Irish and a sophisticated Dubliner to boot (she used to make fun of her “bumpkin” Irish roommates here), she quickly recovered. She tossed her glossy short, black curls, looked right at me with her crystal clear blue eyes, and replied, “There’s no translation, but it’s like saying ‘mother fucking cock sucker.’ ”

I was delighted.

From then on we had our pet names for each other: I called her Bollocks and she called me Mother fucking cock sucker. We worked a lot, drank more, and laughed constantly. She even taught me a song called “Young Willie McBride,” a beautiful song about, of course, resting on his grave. She left at the end of the summer, and after exchanging a letter or two (how quaint, I know), we lost touch. So, happy St. Patrick’s day to you, Bollocks, where ever you may be. Ta for a very fun summer. Fondly yours, Mother fucking cock sucker.   

Nerd Nirvana at PAX East 2015

This past weekend was our annual visit to dorky cool nirvana, aka PAX East, the Boston gaming convention. This is my fourth year taking my son who is now 16. When I told friends and coworkers how I would be spending my weekend, I got looks running the gamut from sympathetic, to puzzled, to a blank stare: “What’s PAX East?” Indeed, what it is? It’s short for Penny Arcade Expo, and is an explosion of sight, sound, and happiness all focused on video games and whirling around 80,000 people. “It’s THREE days?” is usually the next question. “What on earth do you do?” Mostly, I just follow my son around and enjoy how happy he is. I don’t play video games myself—my hand-eye coordination was formed before gaming was popular, and I don’t work well under pressure, even when it’s supposed to be fun. However I can do credible damage with Ms. Pac Man.

This year we pulled out all the stops, logging in 13 hours on Friday and 12 on Saturday. Most of that was due to the screening of the Angry Video Game Nerd (AVGN) movie on Friday night and then waiting two and a half hours to have the filmmaker and You Tuber AVGN James Rolph sign the PAX East badge and the movie poster. It was an Olympic-level test for both me and Lucas: I was making a monumental effort not to clock the only annoying person in the line who would NOT stop talking loudly, and Lucas was battling the leg pain from standing for 12 hours (they are called muscles, he should use them more). We both survived.

This year brought more people dressed up as game characters, although I only recognize Mario and Zelda. Other than people watching, there is a main floor of all the gaming companies, big and small, where you can try out new games and buy games and game-related merchandise. The rest of the convention center is filled with all kinds of events and panel discussions—yes, you heard me—panel discussions. About gaming. Some are about the state of the gaming industry. Others focus on specific games. We saw a couple of panels of well-known You Tubers, that is people who actually make a living by making funny and serious videos about video games on You Tube. You Tubers are stopped in the hall and asked for photos and autographs. They are politely swarmed by fans after the panel discussions to chat and sign. And everyone is soooo patient. They will wait an hour for a signature, two hours to play the hottest new game. And no one gets mad, no one makes a scene. They are happy to be there, they are happy to get deeply involved in a conversation about a video game with the person waiting in line next to them. They are just happy.

Which is why I like to be there. Sure, it’s loud, overstimulating, I don’t get the inside gaming jokes, but being a writer, I do get the creativity—serious gamers care deeply about the story of a game, the quality of the characters, and the originality of the game play. And I recognize that while they are a group of people who are gaining acceptance, they are still outside of the mainstream. Ultimately I go to support my son, because that’s what parenting means to me. Some parents spend many hours over a season watching their kid play sports. I efficiently get all my hours logged in over a two-day period. Seems like a nerdy good deal to me.

Top 9 Reasons Why I Love the Gays

In honor of my friend Brad’s birthday today, I’m going to proclaim loud and proud that I love the gays. These reasons are particular to my friends; your results with your gay friends may vary.

  1. They have saved me from home decor disaster. Left to my own devices, my home wouldn’t look that much different from the apartment I had post-college. I’m definitely past milk crates and canvas director chair seating, but not much. Any nice furniture I own has come from the cast-offs of gay men, including a beautiful four-poster canopy bed that wouldn’t fit in a Back Bay condo and stately matching china cabinet and buffet from the early 1900s. I take full responsibility for any other furniture in my home, which my friends are nice enough not to judge in my presence.
  2. They were an important part of how I survived high school. My current friends joke that there must be something in the water where I grew up. Of my high school friends, I know of at least five who came out later. I don’t know if it was water as much as much as me gravitating toward people who felt as different as I did, even if their difference wasn’t explicit at the time. Having a great core group of friends in high school, as any of us who survived it well know, is probably the single most essential ingredient to successfully navigating that fresh hell.
  3. They make bitingly funny satirical commentary on society an art form. I had very little use for convention as I was coming of age, and after the punk movement faded, I was looking for another group to poke holes in the accepted wisdom of the corporate job, marriage, and 2.4 kids. I was rescued by my friend Mike and all the folks he introduced me to. It’s still a joke in our circle the time we were watching the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer special and we all snorted at the comment from Santa to “get the women back to Christmas Town.” Then when Santa asks Rudolph to guide the sleigh after dissing him for the most of the show, my friend Stephen infamously quipped, “On your knees, Kringle.”
  4. The guys who like drag are better at bargain, elegant dress shopping than I am. True friendship is holding back my envy when one friend found a gorgeous sleeveless glamorous pale blue dress. Combined with white bejeweled gloves, he looked better than I would, but that’s OK. Gay friendship is about being just obviously envious enough to make her fake eyelashes flutter.
  5. Whenever I have a gardening or home improvement project, I can count on my friends Becky, Susan, Gloria and Colleen to steer me right. They know everything and they never inquire about whether I have a man around to help me. And there is only the barest hint of safety-related judgment in their voice when they gently suggest I put down my wine glass before picking up the drill.
  6. They invited me to the gay pride parade. You get to go to a parade that’s fun for adults. It used to be a lot of pretty floats and half-naked people enjoying themselves and catching pride beads. Now there are tons of school groups and churches, which is cool in its own way, and they still throw us the beads.
  7. They can dance, and I’m not just talking about shaking hips and moving fluidly. When I am out dancing with Mike, I have been randomly grabbed to disco dance by other dancers more in the last year than my whole life. The only other place I could possible get more partners is a nursing home or maybe a wedding. Most straight men my age and younger never learned how to partner dance, and that is a damn shame.
  8. My gay friends have had to work at accepting who they are and have come out sometimes at great personal risk. They have taught me so much about embracing the negativity the world wants to throw at anyone who is not conventional and turn it into a strength. They taught me that  we create our own families and communities.
  9. They have never questioned my choice of being partnered or not or who I choose to love and how. My choice of accessories on the other hand is open season. And I’m cool with that.

So like an Oscar award winner, I’d like to thank the Gay Academy of my friends for making me the person I am today. I couldn’t have done it without you.