Monday, August 6, 2007

A Material World

Today is a national holiday. It's the first Monday in August, a Civic Holiday, whatever that means, so banks/post offices/Government agencies are closed, there is no mail delivery, and some stores are also closed and others are open.

I had to go to the bank machine today (I actually had to go last week, but every single day I went up there the stupid thing was out of service -- another rant entirely), and the route to the bank machine takes me through one of those new Canadian consumer paradises -- the Big Box Store park. You know the ones: they're popping up all over our country in cities and towns big and small. They involve a handful of vendors building stores that are just far enough away that parking in one spot and walking to all of the stores is slightly inconvenient, meaning that people pop in and out of parking spots that are less than a two minute drive away from each other so they don't have to walk an extra five. The stores are always the same, the parking lots are always full, and stores are always busy.

Today, however, things were different. I guess the holiday had prompted one vendor to lock the doors for the day, so one parking lot was empty. The rest, it seemed to me, were fuller than ever. I got the impression that people who were not working on their holiday Monday had run out of stuff to do at home and went out -- and they all went out shopping. They were desperate; they swarmed to the stores, found one closed, and went directly to the one next door, even though they didn't actually need anything. Who needs to buy consumer electronics on a holiday Monday? Are we so incapable of entertaining ourselves at home that we need to go shopping just so we have something to do?

Later, I drove by the shopping mall, and the parking lot was jam-packed there, too. I should add that the weather all weekend has been absolutely gorgeous.

We are such a consuming, materialistic culture. As a critic of it, I am the world's biggest hypocrite. I love my designer duds and trendy gadgets as much as anyone, or maybe more. I love my jeans, but I hate that I love them. They don't make me a better person, and I probably could clothes to wear that look just as good and cost half as much, if I really wanted to, but I don't want to. They make me happy; I treasure them.

It's pathetic.

The other day on the subway, I saw a young girl of around ten or eleven dressed in designer yoga pants, carrying a designer backpack, wearing a trendy MP3 player, and drinking from a bottle of designer water. Now, this really bothered me, and not just because she had a better handbag than me. Again, hypocrite here, but I justify it by saying that I work, and the things that I purchase are with money that I've earned. When I was a pre-teen teenybopper, I had to beg my parents to buy me a piece of clothing that was even vaguely trendy (and they always bought me the cheap and horrible knock-off -- something that will haunt me forever. I hate the knock-off.) This girl does not work. Her parents buy her wardrobe, and maybe some of these things are gifts. I just wonder, if she's dressed like this now, what will she be lusting after when she's 30? And why do I care?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Uh-oh: Food Blogging Entry Numero Deux!

I fear what I'm becoming... it's one thing to blog about food in general; I happen to love the many food blogs I peruse on a regular basis and have picked up many ideas, hints, and tons of inspiration from them in the past. I've been baking lately for various occasions, and my obvious pride is unparalleled.

My first recipe was for an apricot and cherry upside-down cake from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook (gorrrrrrrrgeous pics!), only I substituted for peaches and blackberries, because, well, that's what I had. I also omitted the almond paste and almond extract because I was serving the cake to a nut-allergic person, and upped the butter content instead. As a final touch, I added two split vanilla beans, scraped, to the batter. The recipe was simple but involved an extra step involving the separation of eggs and beating of egg whites to soft peaks. I don't mind this; I acutally secretly adore beating egg whites with my Kitchen Aid stand mixer because it does such a fan-freaking-tastic job of it. It's always a marvel to me... and with that statement, I become a giant nerd. I was just annoyed about the egg whites because I hadn't had the foresight to either 1. combine the rest of the ingredients in another bowl, or 2. buy another bowl for my mixer. As a result, I had to transfer said mixed batter to another bowl, wash and dry the metal bowl meticulously (egg whites won't fluff up in a dirty bowl, remember?), and THEN beat the egg whites. Oh, at midnight.

In traditional upside-down cake recipes, the fruit is first caramelized in a skillet. In our simplified version, the butter and sugar are creamed and spread into the cake pan; then the fruit is layered over the mixture and topped with cake batter.

Martha Stewart's Apricot and Cherry Upside-Down Cake:

Makes one 8-inch cake

1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
1¼ cups sugar
5 to 6 medium fresh apricots (about 1 pound), halved and pitted
12 ounces fresh sweet cherries (such as Bing), stemmed, pitted, and halved
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons fine yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup almond paste (not marzipan), crumbled
3 large eggs, separated
¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon pure almond extract
½ cup milk
to prepare
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter an 8-by-3-inch round cake pan, and line bottom with parchment paper. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat 2 tablespoons butter with ¼ cup sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Spread evenly over bottom of prepared pan. Arrange apricot halves, cut sides down, in pan. Fit cherries into any gaps between apricots. Pack down the fruit slightly with your hands; set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat remaining 6 tablespoons butter until smooth, about 1 minute. Add almond paste and ¾ cup sugar, and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the egg yolks, and beat until well combined. Beat in vanilla and almond extracts. Add the flour mixture in two parts, alternating with the milk and beginning and ending with the flour; beat until combined, and set aside.

In the clean bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites on medium speed until foamy. Gradually sprinkle in the remaining ¼ cup sugar, and beat until soft peaks form. Fold a third of egg-white mixture into the batter with a spatula. Gently fold in remaining egg whites.

Spread batter over fruit, smoothing with an offset spatula. Bake, rotating pan halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool slightly, about 15 minutes. Run a knife or small offset spatula around the edges to loosen, and invert cake onto a serving plate to cool completely. Cake can be kept at room temperature, loosely covered with foil, for up to 3 days.

I was miffed by the grid-pattern left on the top of the cake by my pan, and also by the blackberry juices running everywhere, ruining my beautiful cake. However, I got requests for the recipe (here you go, Cat!) and enjoyed it too, though I thought it was a bit "eggy".

The second baking adventure this weekend involved two different kinds of biscuits (same reference for recipes): Cornbread biscuits and fennel-and-raisin biscuits. Yum.

Now I promise -- no more food blogging for at least two weeks. It seems like a good time to start talking about going on a diet, though...

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Things I Swore I'd Never Do That I Find Myself Doing

Along with Facebook and buying my underwear at Costco, food blogging is one of those things I swore I would never do. I love cooking (and more importantly, I love eating), but it agitates me to no end when everyone has to stop everything to take endless photographs of food at family dinners. It's probably because I just want to dig in and taking pictures takes away from precious eating time. I think I also fear that if I were to food blog, there would be whispers of, "Well, no wonder she looks like that, all she thinks about is food..."

Anyway. We had some lovely friends over for dinner last night, and along with the crab legs, the shrimp, the Korean beef ribs, the mango-peanut noodle salad, and the grilled vegetables, I made this nectarine tart.

The crust was meh; I made it in the food processor according to the instructions in my Joy of Cooking and found it tough, but I probably overworked it and I didn't let it rest, as I was impatient to get on with the day. Also, cutting up 8 nectarines into 1/8" slices and then arranging said slices in a billion rosettes in the tart crust can only be described as, hm, mentally fatiguing and a huge pain in the ass.

However, it was very pretty when it was done.

My compliants are as follows:

1. The tart was very thin because it was only as high as a nectarine slice, so maybe half an inch.
2. I had too many slices to fit into the tart shell before baking; however, the slices got thinner as it baked, so afterwards, it seemed skimpy on the fruit.
3. My crust sucked. A crumb crust with ground almonds in it would have been quite nice.
4. It took way longer than the 40 minutes the recipe called for to be finished.
5. The juices released by the nectarines totally watered down the custard.
6. Have I mentioned that it was a massive pain in the ass to make?
7. I forgot the ice cream.

There you have it! I wonder if you'll find me food blogging again in the future.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Some Things Just Shouldn't Be Allowed

(an ode to the ladies in front of me in line at the grocery store.)

The discount grocery where I shop
Has "No Name" that I dare to speak
The shopping carts are yours with change
But quarters not I had with me.

The store was crowded, full of folks
Short on cereal, juice, and chips
I struggled through with eco-friendly bags
To buy the food that we would eat.

Lineups were long and tempers were short
The ice cream I had was melting fast
But suddenly I saw with joy
The shortest line, in front of me!

I set my bags down on the floor
And breathed a sigh of sweet relief
Then saw with fear the over-stuffed cart
Without an owner, waiting patiently.

You and your friend, in her pink pullover
Arrived with pasta and armfuls of fruit
You used your cart to save your spot
And continued shopping in the store.

You returned to the line and went to purchase
As your friend continued her shopping spree
I waited twenty goddamn minutes
While she looked for Tang Crystals and olive oil!

When she returned again this third time
with bottles of root beer that where on sale
I smirked inside at her dismay
Because I had moved ahead in line.

The cashier was impatient, annoyed, like me
And voided her transaction immediately
Then moved on to my purchases while she waited
Revenge was mine, so sweet, so sweet.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Ooh, Fun Game, Fun Game!

Foxy, my favourite Vain Cookie, has absolutely insisted that I play this game.

I get to pretend that I have $5000 (USD, I assume) to spend at Bergdorf Goodman. This is my loot. By the way, I overspent on my budget by $71, but I don't care. I always overspend my budget.

Diane Von Furstenburg wrap dress, $495

Chloe Handbag, $1635

This entire outfit by Stella McCartney; top $395, pants $595

Jimmy Choo boots, $885

Anna Sui dress, $541

Jimmy Choo sandals,$525

I'm exhausted. I'm going to virtually model all of my new stuff, and then wake up from my lovely dream. Good night!

p.s. I made the pictures too big, so they're kinda blurry, but it's late and I don't care. Much.

p.p.s. Everything is beautiful, flattering, and in my perfect size. This is MY dream, remember?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Clear in Some Ways, Incredibly Fuzzy in Others

It's been eight days since my surgery and things are going well. I had my one-week follow up appointment today and I still have 20/20 vision, though I was secretly hoping to have improved to Superhuman 20/15 or so, just so I could be that much more perfect than I already am. My eyes are no longer bloodshot, meaning nobody's mistaking me for someone just coming off a bender. I can wear makeup again, hallelujah, so I feel more like myself than I have for weeks. Now, without glasses, with perfect vision, with makeup and looking relatively normal, I am bionic! People everywhere are asking me why I am so damn happy, and I guess this is why!

However, do you want to know what's kind of disturbing? I keep getting email replies to messages I sent the day or two following my surgery. I also am getting returned letters/cards in the mail and other indications that I was apparently reaching out and contacting people, ET-style, and I have no idea what I said or wrote in any of these missives. Yesterday I got a card returned to me that I had sent to a couple that we met on a vacation to South America a YEAR ago. We have had hardly any contact with them, and yet I sent them a mushy card and included pictures. What the hell? Someone else has thanked me for the card and pictures I sent, and I have no idea what I said to her, and I'm scared to ask. Apparently I emailed some nonsense to a bunch of family members and friends as well, and I have no recollection of that either.

I also have a vague memory of talking on the phone to someone while I lay in bed and also watching a TV show involving cave swallows, a really big fish, and about a billion cockroaches. The posts I made on my favourite chat forum make no sense to me at all. I had two visits from friends while I was recovering and I can't remember what we talked about.

I blame the Ativan. Oops.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Ah, Clarity

Sometimes it's almost impossible to believe how one little thing can make such an impact on one's life -- like, say, sight. In the span of 20 minutes I went from pretty much blind to having perfect 20/20 vision, and I must say that the psychological terror of that 0.33 of an hour was well worth the trouble.

The way it worked was like this. They herded three visually-impaired patients into a small, dark room. We had nametags so they would know what we'd ordered. We were scrubbed, given caps and booties, drugged, and soothed into a stupor. Neil Diamond was playing the entire time. Then, one by one, we were led into the surgery suite.

When it came to my turn, I was led by the pleasantly sarcastic surgical aide to the room. The surgeon guided me to the chair and I lay on my back. The first part was particularly terrifying. He showed me a clear plastic ring. Then he shoved said clear plastic ring into my eye -- hard. He said, "You might feel some pressure here. And then, more pressure." What I felt was that my eyeball was going to pop out of its orbit in my skull like a grape. And then I felt was that the grape might burst. I started whimpering a bit, I am ashamed to admit. However, the surgeon was soothing and held my head steady. At this point, my vision went black -- and that is when I began to feel like I might lose my mind.

This sensation of pressure and vision loss appears to have coincided with the cutting of the "flap" via intralase laser. Both right and left eye were done one after the other, the pressure was removed, and then he pivoted me in the chair and began the actual LASIK reshaping process.

Each eye was done individually. All I sensed was that there was something on my eye again, the surgeon was waving something gold-coloured around on one eye, and then I saw a flashing orange light. There was a loud clicking noise A soothing voice in the background started counting down the seconds from 37 seconds on my right and 41 seconds on my left. Then the gold-coloured thing again, and clear vision -- easy as that.

From outside the surgical suite, my husband could see what had actually happened and described it to me later. It corresponds interestingly with what I experienced. The gold coloured thing? A metal hockey stick-like device used to ease back the corneal flap (augh!) to expose my raw cornea (augh!) The orange light? Used to guide my pupil and keep me stationary while the laser (clicking thing) did its work. Then the metal hockey stick thing put the flap back on my eye, patted it down like putting icing on a cake, and abra-cadabra, I could see!

The first two days it was like I was looking through dirty glass. My eyes were somewhat sore and burny, but some sedatives and lots of drops took care of that. I spent two days in a drug-induced stupor, but every time I woke up, I was amazed how clear the world was. I've spent five days shaking myself out of the habit of reaching for my glasses. It's a wonderful habit to have to break.

Now my vision is perfect and clear. My eyes still get dry and tired if I try to do too much but it's better and better every day. Why did I wait so long?