Sunday, March 30, 2014

Support



To defend against the fireballs launched daily at our vulnerable walls, these are some buttresses that keep the building standing…

The Usual Supports:

  • family
  • friends
  • therapists (psychiatrists, analysts, shrinks, witch doctors)
  • spiritual advisors (priests, ministers, rabbis, imams, gurus, senseis)
  • psychics (soothsayers, astrologists)
  • bartenders
  • 12-step programs
  • self-help books
  • praise music
  • spirituals
  • Bach
  • bubble baths
  • televangelists
  • vitamin supplements
  • furry pets


and here are...

The Less Usual Supports:

  • ex-bosses (the ones we left on good terms with)
  • ex-boyfriends
  • mothers-in-law
  • sisters-in-law
  • hairdressers
  • barbers
  • manicurists
  • Zumba teachers
  • tailors
  • cobblers
  • auto mechanics
  • supermarket cashiers
  • letter carriers
  • disco
  • techno
  • tech support teams at the Soho Apple Store
  • department store make-up artists
  • guided meditation
  • Tom & Jerry cartoons
  • chewing gum
  • non-furry pets


God defies categorization. She manifests in all these.

Tap into whatever supports keep your citadel upright until the fireballs burn out. You can also counterattack with buckets of hot oil.


Did any special supports of yours go unmentioned? Leave a comment so we can pool our wisdom!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Promise

Step outside. Look up. The trees are still bare, the branches unchanged.  Not quite. The tree tops are swelling at their tips. Getting ready.

A child, looking out the window at a snow sky is getting ready too.

A runner at the starting line of the New York Marathon: on her mark.

A crocus pushing up through the earth.

A first kiss.

A child, placing a plate of cookies beside an empty stocking on Christmas Eve.

A roast turkey, just pulled from the oven.

Anticipation of something good to come. This, in itself, is a gift.

What promise does the closed bud hold for you?

It was a punishing winter. Happy spring!


Healthy Hoarding

Picture this: a low-ceiling cellar and 4 walls lined with storage shelving. The shelves are stuffed with: kidney-shaped hospital bed pans, vases from FTD floral arrangements huge pickle jars of duck and soy sauce packets.  Add gallon Ziplocs of medicine dispensing cups, travel-size shampoos and mouth wash.  Throw in, say, 19  gunky-eyed kitties snaking the legs of a de Kooning abstraction of beat up lawn furniture in the center of the floor.


No, this is not my cellar.


Now picture this: a low-ceiling cellar, a clear expanse of indoor/outdoor carpet, and one shelving unit. A bag of unopened cat litter sits under the slop sink, purchased in the hopes of soon adopting one clear-eyed kitty. The shelves are crowded with: chinese take out containers (the “bad” plastic,) styrofoam containers, leaning towers of pizza boxes. Also: aluminum lasagna pans, cardboard cake boxes, lightly used Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts cups, and a rabble of unmatched Tupperware and lids.  Oh and gift bags: Happy Birthday, Happy Purim, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy New Year,  folded and
stored, holiday-ready.



This is my cellar.  Is there a difference?  I think so.


One riotous storage unit in an otherwise manageable basement. Not bad.
My clutter represents short-term, healthy hoarding. Healthy hoarding is saving stuff with the concrete intention of repurposing it. It’s the middle “R” in Reduce, Reuse, Recyle.  I mostly hoard packaging, packaging that has several more lives to live--like me.  I can’t get myself to toss a styrofoam clamshell that only housed undressed iceberg lettuce. Alas there’s not room enough for clamshells in the kitchen storage bench (already home to a family of paper bags) so down the stairs the styro goes, to be wedged between baby food jars and balled up Shoprite plastic bags.  But the clamshell will come back up soon, be filled with meatloaf and mash and depart with a dinner guest.  


Unhealthy hoarding, by contrast, is collecting stuff you’ll never use, for no good reason. Unhealthy hoarding fills subconscious needs; provides the salve to unspoken wounds of childhood. But hey, I’m only guessing.  I’m not going there. Google it yourself.


Two other robust hoarding habits I proudly practice: composting and old clothing collection.
I amass food scraps, and,  because I cook, that amounts to pounds of peelings, parings, egg shells, and coffee grounds, lots of coffee grounds.  Every week.  Luckily, I’ve got Compost 4 Brooklyn nearby, a community composting project  (compostforbrooklyn.org.)
Darning died alongside his evil twin, ironing. I don’t do either anymore.  Holey socks and T-shirts wth split seams go straight into a tattered pillowcase, bound for the clothing recycling bin at any Sunday farmers’ market. Plastic produce bags of potato peels and a laundry bag of long underwear with spent elastic, I co-habitate comfortably with these, along with my passion for packaging.


Why do I do it? Hoarding down to a single square of paper toweling?  (BTW, did you know a Bounty that shines a mirror, will then beautifully mop up the piddle of an incontinent 15-year-old poodle?) I do it because of the black and white film, still looping in the prefrontal cortex, of bulldozers pushing pyramids of garbage: trash = landfill. And setting the right example for my kids. There’s that too.  My boys are Pavlov’s pups when it comes to peeling tangerines. They frisk straight to the ceramic crock next to the sink to off their rinds. Kids follow their mommies leads, good and bad, don’t they? Mine will likely grow up cursing like former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn,  but golly, they won’t ever throw an apple core in a garbage can!  







Monday, March 17, 2014

FEAR

what I fear:


elevators that stop between floors
rejection
meter maids 
missing bill payments
loving too much
finance fees
disappointing my parents (still)
retirement fund statements
disappointing my kids
annual reports
knee injury
making big decisions
being alone with a box of powdered donuts
fundamentalism
bed bugs
humorless people
Martha Stewart craft projects
aiming too high
aiming too low
spreadsheets
getting:
1. old
2. sick
3. infirm
Dying
losing friendships
dull knives
losing opportunities


and I REALLY fear feeding my six-year-old:

Me: “You haven’t been eating your oatmeal lately William.
Is Mommy making it wrong? How would you like me to make it?”
William: “Mommy, make the oatmeal. Then sweeten it by not using sugar. (?)
Then add chocolate chips and bake it. “(?)
Me: “Bake it?”
William: “Put it in there.” (pointing to microwave)
Me (serving it up): “Do you still want a bowl of brown sugar on the side?”
nod
William (heaping brown sugar into his bowl, patting it down, tasting): “Brown sugar mixed with chocolate mixed with oatmeal doesn’t taste that good. I’m full.”


what I fear but face anyway:


elementary school principals
spreadsheets
disappointing my parents
social media
disappointing my children
driving on superhighways with kids and no snacks
making big decisions
baking soufflés
bungee jumping
cleaning artichokes
rejection
cleaning the cavities of raw chickens
Martha Stewart craft projects
losing opportunities


what/who I don’t fear:
needles
spiders
sharp knives
food processors
the left lane
the dark
dogs
people whose job it is to serve the public (politicians)
people whose job it is to protect me (police)
people whose job it is to cure me (doctors)
people whose job it is to fix my computer (IT)
people whose job it is to fill my spiritual needs (priests/ministers/rabbis/imams/gurus)
steep sledding hills
roller coasters
Martha Stewart
a good cry


This morning, I got it right. William ate his oatmeal. Face your fear.


Soufflé Au Fromage
courtesy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking

by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, Simone Beck
This recipe follows seven pages of mandatory reading on soufflé engineering. Skip them and risk your soufflé falling flat. 







Monday, March 10, 2014

Bridget of Bensonhurst

Why would you want your Zumba teacher to be sane?  Mine isn’t.   Let me revise that. Bridget isn’t exactly insane— she’s just got a screw loose, the screw which holds back inhibition.

The over forty gram strides onto the mat Monday at noon, her green eyes naughty beneath blue shadow:  “Do you girls want hip scarves?”  We look at each other, the devotees of Bridget. “Sure,” I say.  Like a peddler in a Turkish baazar, she reaches into her duffel and pulls out chiffon teasers in primary colors. With bells. You’re jingling baby. “What color?” she asks.“Red,” I reply.
Are there other colors? I tie it on, and step through a beaded curtain into a hookah bar in Ankara.
Bridget sets our soft bellies on fire as she engages our abs with her undulating lead, vamping jazz hands over lunatic eyes— I can do that.  She pats her thighs assuredly to show which foot goes forward next. God I love those dumbed-down visual tips to keep me in the routine.  “You like eighties?” I nod, “Good, I’m an eighties girl myself,” and just like that, Bridget goes old school. We move from Turkish delight to Vanilla Ice. I haven’t had big fun like this since I was in skates with lightning bolts stitched over the ankles, and techno group Inner City was pumping through the English muffins over my ears as I traced figure eights in the asphalt in front of my house...

What’s really sane about exercise anyway? It’s a waste of energy when we should be focused on conservation. Aren’t we active enough moving those little playing pieces—named Theodore and William in my home—along the game board of life? Breakfast (rushed and largely uneaten) school drop-off, pick-up, after-school activity (piano/chess/tennis,) dinner, homework, fraternal fighting, brush, floss, gargle, books and bed.  Just getting to work too, that’s exertion enough: standing forty-five minutes from Midwood to midtown. Makes you want to put your feet up and eat a cream-filled, don’t it?

Yet exercise demonstrates one of life’s weird inversions—along with love, generosity and holiday cards—the more you give, the more you get back. Put out on the dance floor or the dinner table, scrawl or send out digital seasons greetings: guaranteed you’ll get killer energy, unmanageable leftovers and an inbox full of yule.   

Beyond the power boost, there are those long-term bennies of raising your heart rate, you already know:

Why Women Over 40 Should Work Out:

weight management
heart health
blood vessel health
bone health
joint health
boob health

Terrific. But I’ll take the short-term perks too. The instant rewards for sweat and spasms in my seat cushion:

Why Women Over 40 Should Really Work Out:

COSTCO 

Hauling spoiled six-year-olds

High school reunions
College reunions
Running into old flames
Running around in high heels

Running around in skinny jeans
Pencil skirts


There’s less time ahead of you than behind: get more hours out of your day.


Bonus: Endorphin rushes that beat back lukewarm depression and those occasional, gaping panic attacks that whisper you are alone in this world -- despite the mountain range of dirty laundry on the cellar floor to suggest otherwise.


But Zumba only starts my week. What about the rest? Given little time and less money, here’s my solution to Tuesday-Saturday (God and I rest on Sundays. Sort of.): dated exercise tapes.  Last summer I rediscovered Tae Bo at the bottom of a tag sale box and I’ve been kicking back with Billy Blanks ever since. Passé push-up drills have their advantages. For one thing, there’s Bllly’s shorts.
Puts a smile on my face every time I pop in the DVD. Then there’s the seven-time World Martial Arts Champion getting deep, real deep, in the cool-down, in those shorts: “Tae Bo Cardio Workout is to do one thing. It’s to test your endurance. Get your heart pumping, get you moving, and bring life into yourself because remember your heart is the big muscle inside your chest that shows love, shows power, shows endurance, strength everything that God has given us, that heart shows. So if you keep that in shape you will have a long life...”

I’m also wearing out Chalene’s tape. No typo. It’s Chalene sans the “r,”  alpha bunny of Beach Body Turbo Jam. It’s a work out for the rods and cones just to manage the contrast between her teeth and her tan. Giggly Chalene likes to punch. Hard.  “Imagine there’s a guy on the floor.. Right there… BAM!!... Is that too violent?” Tee hee.  “No Chalene. Bring it on.”  Turbo Jam: Punch, Kick & Jam

Also worth mentioning, a fab friend recently gifted me with a couple of newer videos by celebrity fitness gurus:  
Physique 57: Express 30 Minute Full Body Workout. Manhattan-based Tanya Becker gets it all done, head to tail, in a New York minute.   Her hotties lead you through strange but effective reps with playground balls.
 


The Tracy Anderson Method Post-Pregnancy Workout
Tracy, Gwyneth’s girl, pushes you through a punishing post-preg workout,  swearing she can tighten up that belly baby flap.  Promises, promises, but I’m starting to see my navel again. 








It’s 12:55. I’m more than dewy. I smell like an Ankara goat.
“What do you think about me getting us some wrist cuffs and tiaras for next time? I can get those you know...”  Bridget’s serious. I am too. “Absolutely.”

Zumba with Bridget, gyrating out of control, and customizing her playlist to whoever’s in class: Mondays at Noon
Midwood Martial Arts and Family Fitness Center
1302 Avenue H
Brooklyn, New York 11230
718-258-KICK (5425)



More Insane Energy Tips...


Eat more of this:
Oatmeal: In our home, only the dog and I eat oatmeal joyfully, but it stokes us both.
Lentils/chick peas/split peas
Chops: lamb, pork veal. Down to the bone.
Fresh fruit by the bushel
Greek Yogurt with granola (see recipe in blog post: “The Great Consolidator”)
Okay, okay, let’s cop to coffee too..


And less of this:
Kiddie carbs (pretzels, goldfish crackers, saltines)
Grown-up carbs (baguettes, croissants, crêpes...Quel dommage!)





Monday, March 3, 2014

Chick Soup

Trite but true, people do resemble their dogs: redheads go for Irish setters, beefy dudes in Mets jerseys walk bulldogs, and shaggy golden boys fling frisbees to golden retrievers. 
 
Holds true in our home too. Our family dog (okay, MY dog, he loves me best) is a petite shelter poodle of indeterminate pedigree.  Strolling Ocean Parkway at leash’s length, his sculpted tufts of fur feed my delusions of Park Avenue glam and springtime in Paris.

But what if the same parallels could be drawn between people and cooking?  What if you could identify yourself not just with Fido, but phyllo? What recipe would you be? And don’t everyone say lasagna. This is not about your favorite food (but you should at least pick a food you like, so we won’t question your self-esteem.) It’s about taking a hard look in the stainless stock pot lid.  What are your ingredients?  Would others agree with your choice? Try it. Run your pick by friends and family.  Mine’s a cinch: I’m chick soup.  Homemade chicken soup:  transparent, nurturing, restorative—and flexible. If there’s no celery in the crisper, substitute parsley or peas. Chick soup, always bubbling on the back burner, ready to ladle up to any drippy-nosed passerby, beaten down by this brutal winter.  
Mind you, chick soup is not the recipe I fantasize for myself. Dans ce cas, je suis mousse au chocolat, with soufflé au citron a close second.  Not original. I can’t be the only femme who pictures herself a fluffy French confection de temps en temps. Really though, man or woman, is there any doubt we’d all like to be dessert? The best part of a meal?  Bananas Foster? Apple tart? Passion fruit baked Alaska? The dish you save for last and savor with a silver spoon?  No, you say? You’d rather be the main event? The stick-to-the-ribs protein course?

Go ahead and take a page from my cookbook. Thumb through those stained index cards. Scroll through your Pins.  Who are you, really? Crock Pot Bratwurst? Tempeh tacos with roasted poblano salsa?  Sloppy Joe? Any takers for stuffed cabbage?  Or are you a Peter Pan, stuck in a comfort food from childhood? Mac ‘n’ cheese? Pigs ‘n’ blankets?  Now daydream: who do you want to be, now and then? Dessert or main dish?  A red velvet cupcake? Angel food trifle?  How about a s’more, all chocolatey melty and unevenly toasted?  Or maybe you’re a Maine lobster in pools of melted butter or garlic-crusted rack of lamb. A spinach protein smoothie.  Prime Rib.  Food for thought….

I’m getting hungry. How about you? Please quell these pangs by posting your comments now. Share the dish you are and the one you’d like to be, now and then.  When you do so, I will reply with my best takes on your two choices. (If I don’t have them in my recipe files, I will consult the alpha cook in the family. Nana doesn’t disappoint.)

I’ll close the fridge door on this post with a shopping list of my observations on cuisine as it relates to human character: (Feel free to comment with your additions or objections.)

  1. Garnish on food and in life is essential.
  2. Chefs who won’t share recipes have missed the whole point of cooking.
  3. Chefs who continue to hold recipes secret, even when threatened with a cleaver, should not be trusted with your children.
  4. Real cooks clean up as they go along; amateurs make a mess.
  5. Taking charge of Sunday brunch is a start. It doesn’t make you a cook (but this behavior should be encouraged.)
  6. People who don’t try new foods don’t try new things in general.
  7. People willing to sample new cuisines are willing to push their comfort food zones.
  8. Under any roof, there is only one alpha-cook.
  9. Betas should ascend once weekly to prepare a main meal, so cooking never becomes a grind for the alpha.
  10. Improvisation in the kitchen teaches survival skills outside of the home.
  11. Shortcuts in the kitchen are all right, but homemade broths do have dimension.
  12. It takes time and effort to add this dimension; the same holds true for character development.
  13. The way to everyone’s heart is through the esophagus.
  14. Technique matters. Voila Jacques Pepin: http://www.kqed.org/w/morefastfoodmyway/
  15. A tin of cookies on the counter and soup on the stove keep the world spinning on its axis.  (Fig Newtons and Progresso chickarina with meatballs make mighty fine alternatives to scratch.)
  16. Aprons are for sissies (unless you’re wearing them for effect.)
  17. Competitive eating and food fights are the sport of non-cooks who have never known hunger.
  18. Feeding the old and infirm yields immediate rewards on Earth for both giver and receiver.
  19. Given two equally promising candidates, the HR director should hire the applicant who can make croutons from stale crusts.
  20. Nutella improves winter fruits, but nothing beats a naked peach in July.
  21. Cook and live abundantly, and serve generous portions.  
  22. Friends and Family are immortalized in the recipes they leave with us.

My deceased friend Mary was a “break up bar,” a Rice Krispie Treat gone wonderfully BAD. Back when I was young and stupid (instead of middle-aged and stupid) she came over to comfort me after the worst, botched romance in my short, disastrous love-life.  We melted butterscotch chips and slowly stirred in peanut butter and puffed rice. Snap, krackle, pop, ahh… that soothing sound…  Between the tears, we ate the whole pan, all sixteen squares.  My stomach sank but my heart lightened.  Rest in peace Mary. Your memory lives on in the ache in that last molar on the left.