Monthly Archives: June 2015

Foodie Fail 3: A Lentil by Any Other Name Will Ruin Your Recipe

It’s summer time and my food thoughts have turned from wintery crock pot soups and stews to salads with beans, grilled vegetables, and lentils. Should be easy enough, right? I dug into the recipes from last summer and despite my memories of having made a number of salads with beans, all I found was a lentil salad recipe. Hmm, maybe I am drinking too much. Anyway, no problem, I really like that recipe, and I know there is no limit to online bean salad recipes that I can look for.

Off I went to the store to get the ingredients. As a non-foodie, I go with lowest priced, most recognizable foods, so I always make this recipe with the Stop and Shop brand lentils. Don’t judge, I come from Depression-era people. But I aspire to be more of a foodie, so this time I remembered something my coworker said about always using French lentils because they were better. I’d never seen French lentils at Stop and Shop, but no matter. I can be a grocery store tramp and when I was having a one-day stand in a different store, I saw red lentils. My English major brain said, oh, that must be like French lentils and I bought them. Why I made this illogical leap, I can’t tell you, except that making these kinds of leaps always seemed to work when writing essays for English class exams, so I blame the education system.

When I consulted my recipe, I was excited to see that it said I could replace the French lentils with red lentils. Ha! I was right! Even better, it said the red lentils only require five minutes of cooking. Now, I’ve died and gone to heaven. The Cheez-Whiz girl in me found a way to make her meal even faster, and still healthy! But then I referred to the package of red lentils, which said to cook them for 20 to 25 minutes. Hmmm. That seemed odd. They are smaller than the lentils I usually buy, so they should take less time. Plus my recipe said red lentils take five minutes. But I’m a foodie newbie, so what do I know? Surely the packaging would be correct, right? I mean, why would it lie?

Why indeed.

So there I was, letting the sanctioned-substitute-for-superior-French-lentils cook as I chopped the other ingredients, happily excited about the first lentil salad of the season. I had everything together and then checked on the red lentils, about 13 minutes into cooking. I peered in and my hand holding the pot cover hovered and froze. The pot contained yellowy mush, formerly known as separate lentils. The recipe had been right. WTF? How could this happen?  I was betrayed by packaging. Was there nothing left to believe in?

Everything else was ready, and I didn’t have any more lentils, so there was only one thing to do: I made lentil mush salad. I put all the ingredients together and mixed them with a heavy heart and a big spoon. I might as well have been mixing muffin batter for crying out loud, which is kind of gross if you were going for a salad. I persuaded myself it would be like eating flavored mashed potatoes. And the thing was it did taste like the usual lentil recipe; it just looked like a high school cafeteria accident. I ate the mush all week, but by Friday, I just couldn’t take it anymore. There was only a small amount left, and I had to send it down the disposal.

So what’s a foodie failer t like me to do? Stick with my Stop and Shop lentils, that’s what. I clearly can’t trust the red lentils, and the French lentils are way too coy. I can only imagine what sort of trouble the beans will get me in–red, pinto, navy, white–there is some serious bean shit out there. With any luck, they will be blog worthy.


Happy Man Day

Last year I wrote about my dad and mentioned how growing up with him wasn’t exactly a picnic. The cool thing, though, is that he went from being an unhappy man who yelled a lot to a man who recently  sent an email to his kids saying this: “The unity and bond in this so diverse family is exceptional [read more about how god played a big joke on us] and mirrors to me the beauty of the timeless, indescribable Unity of the Life Principle which is the foundation of all living things, and what is most important, it goes beyond the differences of individuality! So, thank you all for that wonderful family gift.” Sweet, right? Plus, I can still tease him about the difficult childhood—win-win.

This year in addition to wishing all the dads a happy day, I’d also like to send a shout out to all the non-dads who are just as important to families as parents. Raising a kid really does take a village and the Village People, and it helps no one when our culture celebrates individual independence, which is the exact opposite of what parents need to practice. Believe me, being alone with a toddler having a full-on meltdown tantrum is akin to dropping off a lone soldier in enemy territory. In fact, I’d probably choose the enemy territory. At least I’d have a chance of being captured. Toddlers take no prisoners.

As a society we have been doing a better job of making sure there are enough female role models for girls, and that’s great. Kids need male role models too, and need to see men doing all kinds of interesting things and defining success in different ways. Hell, we all need to see it! So thanks to all the teachers, uncles, nephews, brothers, cousins, in-laws, out-laws, friends, mentors, next door neighbors, kind strangers, coworkers, and many others who have engaged in some way in a kid’s life. Handing back a runaway ball with a smile, a fun game on a long plane ride, playing dress up, sending entertaining snail mail as a novelty, sharing a passion, being a full-on caretaker. Thank you, and never underestimate your impact on a kid, even if it’s just a few minutes. They are the original media for downloading content and for better or worse, you have been scanned.

And I also want to say thank you to diverse group of non-dads who have been a part of my son’s life, and made us richer for it. And if he takes a bad turn, I’ll do the right thing and drag you all down with me and blog about it.

Happy Gay Pride from Boston

I’ve been going to the Gay Pride Parade for about 26 years since my friend and guide Mike first introduced it to me. This year was the 45th anniversary, so I feel privileged to have been to more than half of them.

You see, then and now, I never really wanted the things most straight people seemed to expect me to want. They tolerated my punk wannabe years in college and my post-college pursuit of low-paying, yet highly rewarding nonprofit jobs in the city. But the “you should get married, have kids, and move to the suburbs” track never seemed far from the collective mind, and sometimes it felt as if they were simply waiting for me to come to my senses. Meanwhile I was making friends with unconventional people and plotting how to never, ever make that kind of sense.

And then Mike took me to the Gay Pride Parade, where I saw thousands of people being unconventional and creating new families out of like-minded friends, and forging their own paths. They were forced to, of course, because society discounted them. In a much smaller way, society discounted me too, and I found strength and inspiration in their courage. I would merely get looked down on for my choices, while they lived with the very real risk of persecution or worse every day. How could I refuse that call to find my path and to support the cause of gay rights? And, how could I possibly resist the fabulous creativity of the drag queens?

So, I signed up, and have since met a great circle of friends and have been there every year since—to be an ally, to be a cheerleader, to be inspired, and to be reminded of the courage and strength it takes to live the life you need to live. I did end up falling in love, getting married, and I brought along my then husband. And when I had a kid, I brought him along too. If my son decides to have a kid someday, I’ll bring him or her too, and bore the poor kid to death with my grandma stories: “Back in my day, everyone was half-naked and covered in glitter and pasties. Nowadays, people just look normal. It’s a damn shame.”

It’s true that every year the parade seems to get bigger and more, well, conventional, with school groups, and churches, and big corporations all marching. It’s very cool, and I’ll also admit that I kind of miss the outrageousness, but being accepted is the point. As I watched with my friend Becky this year, she recalled the earlier years when the parade pointedly went by the state house as a protest and political statement. We are here. You can’t ignore us forever. And we were right. Gay marriage laws continue to pass, and the ultimate form of acceptance has also arrived—there are gay characters and gay relationships all over TV.

Or you could judge it from kid’s point of view. A friend of mind was a kid living in Boston where he witnessed the first Gay marches, and they scared him–they were angry protests in response to the raids on gays in the Stonewall Inn in NYC. Fast forward 40 plus years and my friend Gloria’s young daughter was with us and having a grand time gathering up all the candy and the beads and Pride swag being thrown out by happy, smiling people, some in drag, many in street clothes, and a few sporting strategically placed stickers. It reminded me of when my son was that age doing the same thing, perhaps about 10 years ago. She got twice as much stuff as he ever did, and she saw a lot more kids her age than my son ever did. And neither of them were scared by what they saw.

That’s the kind of outrageousness I can get behind.

Tokophobia, or June Is Bustin’ Out All Over

I don’t know if it was the long winter all on its own that did it or that the long winter delayed people shedding their layers, or both, but something made me forget the hallmarks of spring—pregnant bellies. Suddenly I’m surrounded by them, and there seems to be waaay more of them this year than usual. I’m not one of those women who looks wistfully at a pregnant woman and trots out an out-of-focus montage of memories fit for a Hallmark channel movie. Nor do I wish I could go back there again. No way. I had one and done, and since then, I think I have become tokophobic, that is, having the fear of pregnancy—I love that there is even a word for it. I was going to make up gestationphobia, but tokophobic is way better.

As my son gets to be an older, more independent teen, my fear also seems to be getting worse. Or is it really just that the bellies are everywhere I turn this spring? Curse the nice weather! I look up on the train, belly in the seat across. Walk from the station to work, three of them are bearing down on me. The third one is even more frightening—she’s pushing a stroller with a kid already in it just ahead of the belly. Dear, god in heaven, have mercy! A walk at lunch reveals the same. I was lulled into a false sense of security when I walked by the river after work, and was blissfully accosted by leagues of runners, all of them non-gestating. But then I rounded the curve in the path and saw the belly and her partner talking to another pair, post-belly, with their offspring in a stroller. I nearly jumped into the river to keep from getting pregnancy cooties.

I don’t have anything against pregnant woman, as I was one myself, and procreation is generally the way to go from an evolutionary point of view. It’s more like I have an irrational fear that I will catch it from them if I get too close. This happened once before when my son was only about three and three women in my office got pregnant, one after the other. In an office of only 25 people, it was kind of alarming, and those of us who weren’t pregnant nervously joked that there must be something in the water. I switched to bottled beverages. I knew I was a prime target for a second child, and I had my hands and heart full with one, so I didn’t need any extra risk, thank you very much.

And the truth is I am the kind of person who would also have been fine not having a kid. I’m glad I did, just as long as you don’t ask me about the baby and toddler years, or when my teen hasn’t taken out the trash….again. I have no nostalgia for the pregnancy—five months of fighting nausea with my only weapon: eating and ultimately hating every cracker known to mankind. Meanwhile the pregnancy books mocked me with their grossly small and unfair estimates of how much weight I should be gaining and when. Those books ain’t for women who are nauseous morning, noon, and night—“morning” sickness, my ass. You eat to keep the feeling of puking at bay and then you gain 30 pounds out of the gate. I looked for the pregnancy book to validate that little fun fact for me, but I couldn’t find it.

But it’s more than the pregnant bellies that terrify me. They remind me of the countless stories of the “oops” baby women have later in life. Although I imagine you can only have an “oops” baby if you’re not as phobic as I am. But still, it’s the proximity and the idea. Here I am, happily post-divorced, and on metaphorical Boylston Street in the Boston Marathon. I can see the finish line, where my offspring will head to college and find life at-large way more interesting than at home. And I can do all kinds of interesting things beyond ensuring my kid is interesting. And cue a … baby? Sleepless nights, spit up as a permanent accessory, and the cuteness that can kill.

And that’s the thing, isn’t it. Mother nature knew babies can be a royal pain in the ass, so she made them like crack or meth. The highs and lows are insane. One minute they are wailing as if you are trying to murder them and the next minute they smile and giggle and you’d do anything for them, including accessorize with spit up and not sleep.

I prefer my no-talking, easy-going, game-playing teen, thanks very much. So, pregnant women of Boston, don’t taking it personally if I dodge you or move away. I’m just embracing my tokophobia and saying no to pregnancy.

Dead Squirrels and Killer Bees

I recently posted this picture on Facebook, shortly after it appeared in my front yard. I’m not against such things—after all I planted silk tulips in the snow banks this winter—a classy broad, I am not. And my neighbor across the street has a similar decoration that is just a straight-on pinwheel. That’s simple and a classic, so I’m cool with it. But this thing in my front yard…presumably my upstairs neighbor put it there, but it looks to me like a drunken demented garden gnome has come to life to build an army of clown bicycle-riding killer bees, and this one is the prototype. What? It could happen. Although I also can’t deny the plausibility of another idea my friend posted–that it was an alien monitoring device. I’ve watched enough X-Files to know that is exactly the way aliens would try to hide in plain sight. You’ve been warned, and you’re welcome.

But it was another comment a friend made that brought rushing back a memory that I clearly have put out of my mind. He wrote, “Whatever it is, it’s better than the ‘taxidermied’ squirrel.”

Oh, god, that squirrel. Stuffed in a not-professional, but home-made kind of way. Nailed to the tree branches. Be glad this was before cell phone cameras.

About 15 years ago my then husband and I bought a condo in Revere. It was four blocks from the ocean, was affordable, and featured a mix of contractors, ice cream truck owners, recent immigrants, old-school Italians, and good old fashioned white trash. OK, so maybe the white trash label is a little harsh. With my own lack of housekeeping skills and love of Cheez Whiz and crock pots, I could be accused of it in certain circles. There were some neat, winterized seaside cottages in the neighborhood, but my condo seemed to be surrounded more by tumbledown dwellings with swayback rooflines. The one next door, which housed the people responsible for the stuffed tree squirrel, produced a scent of ode to feline piss, detectable from the street.

Actually now that I think about it, most of my friends reference that squirrel at least once a year or so, and to them I send out a group apology—clearly they can’t forget about this thing, and it seems maybe to even have scarred them some. I’m not sure why I can forget it— maybe I was still trying to cope with the loss of my gentrified, cool neighborhood in Somerville where we could no longer afford the rent. I was already far away from writer-infested coffee shops and over-priced bistros, so a taxidermied squirrel just seemed like one more thing to endure. The squirrel was also quiet and didn’t impede my daily activities, so I could cross it off my list of “Neighborhood Things to Be Concerned About.” It was kind of a long list, but here a few highlights:

Plant killers. My downstairs condo neighbors were a couple in their 50s, working class, and chronically underemployed. At first I felt sorry for them because I assumed their situation was due to age discrimination. The constant stream of perfectly healthy plants that showed up on a weekly basis in the trash cans, however, should have tipped me off that there might be other forces in play. More on that later. The woman worked at a Home Depot, so when the plants first started showing up, I thought maybe she got the extras from work, and couldn’t say no because they were free, and then realized she didn’t have the room or the right sunlight, or something. See, this is the occupational hazard of being a writer—I can make up shit about just about anything, and that is not necessarily good. Any normal person would have said, “Why is she throwing away perfectly healthy looking plants? What’s wrong with this person?” OK, maybe not the first time, but after a few times and establishing there was a regular plant massacre, most normal people would have decided there was something amiss.

Something amiss. So yes, the plants were just the tip of the iceberg with those two. Being chronically underemployed also meant they were chronically late with their condo fees, at one point for more than a year. Even though she worked at a bank as a teller before taking early retirement and becoming a plant killer, my neighbor didn’t want to “be responsible” for being the condo trustee. Like leaving money and numbers to the word girl here is a better idea. They had the smallest condo and paid the smallest fee, but they were the first ones to complain about any increase, even though we all paid more, some of us twice as much. I’ll give them credit, though; they had sad stories about why they couldn’t pay, but they never tried to hide their incompetence from me. I was the one who kept thinking, they couldn’t possibly be this fill-in-the-blank—incompetent, mean (to plants), irresponsible, bad with money, etc. It took me 10 years, but I finally came to realize, despite my best efforts to think it wasn’t possible, that they were truly stupid. I don’t use that word lightly—people say that word all the time, when they really mean lazy, or did not make the most of an education, or “you’re not acting the way I want you to act.” For 10 years I pulled out my hair trying to figure out how to get through to them and kept changing my approach. Surely it must be me; people have different communication styles and I just hadn’t found the right one. But since I went through every possible way to say, “condo owners must pay their condo fee,” I finally had to admit defeat and declare them stupid. And to this day, they are the only truly stupid people I have ever met.

Welfare mother. You think this is just a republican fabrication? I sure did. As a lefty liberal who worked in a social service agency, I saw firsthand how poverty creates obstacles to self-improvement. We offered free English classes for who didn’t speak it, but the “free part” didn’t help them with an unpredictable multi-job schedule, having to depend on unreliable busses that take hours to get anywhere, and having kids who are sick a lot, because being poor is very bad for your health. But I’m sorry to report welfare mothers are a real thing, and one moved in next door to us. She had five kids, but only one small one lived with her. The rest were farmed out to foster homes. She had babies with different men as a source of income. Not really a career choice I had considered, and I couldn’t say it was working for her. She spent a lot of time getting into screaming fights with the neighbor across the street. The only good news is that these people are naturally transient, so she didn’t stay too long.

Yelling in the streets. All I will say about this is that before I moved to this neighborhood where people had yelling fights in the street with each other or sometimes simply stood outside to have loud arguments on their cell phones, I would have given you a long detailed discussion about why keeping dysfunction behind closed doors is detrimental to people’s mental health. There’s a reason why the majority of fiction, plays, and movies feature the dysfunction that middle and upper class people hide behind their well-groomed, picturesque closed doors. That’s good drama. Turns out the real thing in your streets is not so good. Got problems? Take a note from people with money and keep it in your house, please.

A sign on the telephone pole saying: “You park in my space, I breaka you face.” No explanation needed.

That taxidermied squirrel really didn’t seem so bad.