Monday, March 31, 2014

When Recipes Lie

Yesterday, I made a really good recipe I found on, for a “wild mushroom and beef stir fry.” But it illustrates one of my pet peeves re recipes: when recipes grossly underestimate the amount of oil (or butter) necessary to sauté or, in this case, stir-fry, something. I think recipe writers do this because, then, their nutritional information comes out looking better. In this particular case, the recipe called for you to drizzle one teaspoon of oil into the wok. Woks are huge; a teaspoon of oil, or even a tablespoon, doesn’t begin to cover the surface.

Another pet peeve: recipes that grossly underestimate the time it takes to make the dish. You’ll find a recipe that calls for you to zest and juice several lemons, shell and devein multiple pounds of shrimp and mince about a dozen different things – and the prep time given will be “15 minutes.”  Yeah, right.

Some recipes get gratuitously fancy. In one of my newest cookbooks, which actually does have some nice recipes, every time the author calls for allspice, she doesn’t just call for allspice, she calls for allspice berries which she then instructs you to grind yourself. Really?

Or the recipe author will instruct you to keep that turkey carcass or the muddy outer leaves of your leek, and “use them to make stock.” That makes me feel guilty when I do what I do: I take all those weird organs out of the chicken and I throw them the hell out.

I don’t mind if they tell me I could do something with these things or I might want to try using a mortar and pestle, but don’t make out like it’s the only option.

I’m trying to get dinner on the table here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Irritating Drivers

Let’s just say it’s a good thing I can never find that place on my steering wheel that blows the horn. (Does anyone else have this problem?)

I’ll start with the ones my father-in-law calls Courtesy Nuts. These drivers stop unexpectedly in traffic to allow someone to go first. Even though I’m sometimes the one looking to pull out, I think everybody should just follow the rules. And if you don't go when a Courtesy Nut stops for you (even if going would cause you to be creamed by that truck they're oblivious to), they'll get all huffy.
However, Intentional Blockers refuse to let other cars merge when they clearly have to get over, like their lane is ending. Missed the day the rest of us learned turn-taking in preschool, I guess.

Ass Draggers aren’t 100% sure they want to make that turn, so they make it very slowly. Listen, buddy, commit to getting your ass off the road.

Louis CK talks about drivers who insist on going their “favorite way.” Like the Favorite-Way Driver who cut me off to take a left she – oh my God! – almost missed. I didn’t hit her; the tailgating driver behind me, however, hit me and totaled my car, because FW Driver couldn't go up half a block and do a U-turn.

Tail-gating is one of the most dangerous driving habits you can have, causing up to 40% of all accidents. The worst Tail-Gaters are the ones who ride someone’s ass to bully them (and all the cars in front of them, I guess) into going faster. How dare they and Weavers, slipping in and out of lanes to gain a few seconds, endanger everybody else?

 As my grandfather used to say, “Hurry up! Or you’ll be late for your accident.”

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Space, The Final Frontier

My daughter likes to quote “The No No Square Song.”

This is a song meant, wisely or not, for young children. You can see some renditions on YouTube here and here. (The performers couldn’t help adding some of their own lyrics.)  One of her Catholic high school theology teachers taught this, in a required class called “Sex, Love & You.” (Let the jokes begin. One mother noted that the entire textbook for that class could be summed up in one word: “No!”)

Anyway, when my daughter sings it, she stretches her arms out as far as she can above and around her while she belts out, “Stop! Don’t touch me there! THIS is my no no square!”

I know what she means. One of my dog-park buddies once pointed out to me that I don’t like people in my personal space. “See, if I step toward you,” he said as he did, “you step back,” I already had. He did it a few times, till I was like, “OK, OK, stop!”

I don’t like people breathing my air.

Other people don’t seem to mind.

I am often reminded, on an almost daily basis, of something I didn’t even read, my friend did, years ago, in a book on city design. The author explained that he had done observational studies of traffic flow on sidewalks. He was looking for physical bottlenecks holding people up. What he found instead, and to his great surprise, was that people go out of their way to create bottlenecks. If they stop to talk and aren’t blocking traffic, people will, he found, actually move until they are.

Think about that the next time you are wheeling a cart around supermarket aisles or are at a party where everyone is jammed together in the kitchen.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Tall Tales

My daughter met a boy online.

As she was studying his pictures on Instagram and Facebook, I saw her zoom in and out, tilt the screen this way and that.

“I’m trying to figure out how tall he is,” she explained. “What if he’s shorter than me?”

 I’ve never taught her that – because I know it makes no sense and is unfair.

However, as my husband, who is 6’1”, likes to remind me, on our first date, I told him that he was “a nice height.”

Was I actually concerned about how we might look while dancing? How stupid. I can’t even remember the last time we danced.

It doesn’t just affect men romantically. Studies have shown that tall men, on average, make more money than shorter men. And there’s an interesting study that showed that it wasn’t just how tall the men ended up being as adults. Men who are tall, but were short in high school, earned less money than men who are their same height but were already tall at 16. Something about the experience of being short affected the men’s confidence, for the long term, the researchers speculated.

I suspect, in romance, the man’s actual height doesn’t matter, as long as he is taller than the woman. (Concerns that a man be tall are intertwined with concerns that a woman be small.)

If I could go back in time, boy, would I have a lot to say to my younger self. Including – though, let me stress, I am perfectly happy with the guy I got – don’t worry about superficial things like height.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Your Lying Eyes

I sometimes take a flight that uses very small planes, 6-8 people on board. When you check in, the person at the counter will, before God and everybody in line, ask how much you weigh.

I have to admit, for a split second, I’m tempted to lie.

I’m not even overweight. And I'm not particularly concerned about my appearance: I don’t wear dresses, don’t often bother with make-up, don’t care about clothes. But, still, my first impulse is to round down. (Then, my inner worry wart kicks in and I answer honestly.)

The other day, my teenaged daughter and I were getting her a belt. I could tell that something was bothering her. When we got to the belt rack, she sourly grabbed an extra-large. When I said, “Buddy, you don’t take an extra-large,” she argued with me, upset, that she did. I convinced her to try on a medium, which fit with room to spare.

I am reminded of a scene in the very good novel I am reading, The Last Days of California by Mary Miller. The teenaged narrator constantly tells us that she is fat and not pretty, especially compared to her sister. But when the family stops at a flea market, she notices a caricature artist drawing a picture of two teenaged girls. She says, “In real life, one of the girls was fat and the other was thin, but in the drawing they were the same size.”

Many years ago, while wasting time on the website urbanbaby, I saw someone ask, “What is your biggest regret?” Several women responded: “Not realizing how beautiful I was.”

My goal: to convince my daughter that we all, even we females, deserve every bit of the space we take up.

The question is: how to do it?