"I've been waking up at sunrise / I've been following the light across my room / I watch the night receive the room of my day . . ." (Paul Simon)
Saturday, September 30, 2006
"May I Explain the Special Tonight?"
Last night I threw together a dish that was so delicious I made it again tonight just so I could take note of the proportions and pass it on here (not to mention enjoy it a second time). This is a fairly typical improvised dinner for me in that it incorporates the vegetable into it -- gone are the days when I would have an entree, a vegetable, and what what some restaurant waitrons might call a "starch." But it's atypical in that I would happily and unembarrassedly serve it to guests. Maybe you someday?
I was going to make this with walnuts, but I didn't have any. An archaeological dig in my freezer turned up pine nuts instead, and I think it's even better with them.
A note on frozen peas: I don't cook mine anywhere near as long as the directions say. For instance, this bag said to microwave them with a little water for 6 to 8 minutes. I did only a minute and a half, and they were plenty cooked enough for my taste. I've found that briefly running them through the food processor makes them adhere very well to pasta and brings out their flavor more.
This could be made with a more pungent, crumbly blue cheese, but I found that the soft, mild Saga blue -- which I happened to pick up on a lark, not even really remembering what it was like -- was perfect.
Amounts are approximate. I like a relative lot of everything in a dish like this; vary the quantities according to your taste.
Saga Blue and Green Pea Pasta (Makes a plentiful single portion)
1/4 pound spaghetti, linguine, or fettuccine (I used Barilla linguine fini, very thin linguine) 2-3 ounces Saga blue cheese 2/3 cup frozen petite peas 1/8-1/4 cup pine nuts 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil Salt and black pepper
Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, toast pine nuts in a small saute pan over medium heat, tossing frequently, until lightly browned, about 3-5 minutes. Cut cheese into small pieces, including the edible rind. Cook peas in microwave or on stove for a little less than recommended time (or a lot less if you're like me), until just tender, and drain; the peas should retain a bright green color. In a food processor, quickly pulse the peas 6 to 8 times so they are roughly chopped, not pureed. When pasta is done, drain it and place it in a large bowl. Add pine nuts, cheese, peas, olive oil, a generous grating of pepper, and salt to taste. Toss thoroughly.
For dessert tonight I had Safeway Select fat-free vanilla frozen yogurt (the only kind of "ice cream" I buy; it's really good) with warm homemade chocolate sauce and salty peanuts. Just about the perfect meal -- and the perfect fuel for two-stepping later.
3: Number of phone calls I received on Thursday in which the caller started off, unannounced, singing "Happy Birthday." 1: Number of these calls in which I mistook the caller for another of the callers. ("Hey, thanks! And thanks for the card too -- I got it yesterday!" Silence. "You sent me a card, right?")
4: Number of red silicone mini loaf pans from Crate & Barrel I received in the mail today from someone who called me on Thursday but did not start off, unanounced, singing "Happy Birthday."
7: Number of tapas consumed at Jaleo Friday with two good, smart, interesting friends who treated me to dinner.
2: Number of these friends I met online. I don't know what the last three years since my relationship ended would have been like without the Internet. (Is there an essay in that? Yes, certainly. Or at least another post.)
2: Number of Toad the Wet Sprocket songs on an excellent mix CD given to me on my birthday by a sweet man I work with who wanted to thank me for "all you do for me." As much as I complain about my job (not so much here, but I do), moments like this exist.
A late-night September breeze is coming in the back door as I type at the kitchen counter and finish off the zucchini ginger cupcakes baked for me by another non-"Happy Birthday"-singing caller from Thursday. P is on patrol in the backyard, C asleep on the armchair. I think I'll make another wish.
Tomorrow -- that would be about 30 minutes from now -- is my birthday. I was going to take the day off, a tradition I started two years ago (actually, last year I took the whole week off), but I'm so far behind at work that it is not to be. If I can, I'll take an extra long lunch and sit outside at one of my favorite restaurants.
"May I Eat Your Tomatoes?": Two Encounters on This Date in History
As I mentioned recently, this is the 25th anniversary of my junior year abroad in Germany (the start of the year, that is). I posted an entry from my journal last winter that showed what a difficult time I had adjusting (though it turned out to be the most memorable year of my life). It's useful to know I had never been out of the country before -- well, if you don't count the first two years of my life, also spent in Germany, which of course I don't remember. I went to college just a couple of hours from home and came home frequently. I had never even been on an airplane before I flew abroad at age 19 (and that does count the childhood period; we returned by ocean liner then -- though I suppose we may have flown from New York to Washington).
Here are two journal excerpts I found amusing from September 16, 1981; I'd probably been there less than three weeks.
A German sat down at my table [in the Mensa, the university dining hall]. I was too afraid to say anything, although I probably should have. I never know how open Germans would be to striking up a conversation with a stranger. When he did say something, I practically lost a mouthful of curried lamb when I said, "Bitte?" ["Pardon?"] He was commenting on the fact that although it was supposed to be lamb, it was too tough to be lamb; it was more like beef. Of course, I didn't understand, and he had to repeat it, and then I was so embarrassed and nervous that my face was sweating (it was very hot in the Mensa, but not that hot). And as a result, I didn't say anything more. Before I left, he asked if he could have the rest of my tomatoes, which I didn't finish. "Ja, bitte!" ["Yes, please!"] Great conversation.
. . .
After class today I went for a beer with a guy from the class [an intensive German class the Americans in my program had to take], Steve. He seems to have befriended me somewhat, at least when we're in class, since we're both about at the bottom of the German-speaking-ability totem pole.* He's nice, and I was grateful for something to do, but we really don't have all that much in common. He's sort of the typical macho-jock type. (He got stoned before class. It was "excellent.") I couldn't finish my half liter of beer (it didn't taste all that good today), but what I did drink really got to me. I could barely think straight to respond to anything he said on the bus on the way home. Then I just conked out on my bed when I got back, for two hours. Never again on an empty stomach. _________
* What I don't mention here -- out of my self-flagellating brand of modesty, I suppose -- is that I was in the highest level of German class offered. My textbook knowledge of the language was very good, but I truly was lost and utterly self-conscious when it came to having a conversation in those first weeks.
Three of the four days I was in Miami Beach, I swam in the ocean. The water temperature was perfectly moderate -- cool enough that it was a refreshing relief from the hot, humid weather but warm enough that I didn't freeze my genitalia off upon entering. I simply waded in.
I hadn't been in the ocean in three years. The last time was in Vieques, Puerto Rico, where I went with my ex on our last trip together. The US military had stopped its bomb tests there just a few months before. One evening, we went on a tour of a bioluminescent bay, where millions of glow-in-the-dark microorganisms reside. When we jumped off the side of the boat, our arms and legs splashed light with every move. A month later, we broke up.
In Miami Beach, I could barely pull myself out of the ocean, so happy to be floating there again.
Sunday’s New York Timescontained a second magazine, on real estate, called Key. In it, seven artists were asked to create key-themed artworks. One of them, Stefan Sagmeister, photographed five rows of keys attached to dogtags engraved with sayings from his diary -- as he puts it, “Things I have learned in my life so far." Here they are:
Everybody thinks he is right. Starting a charity is surprisingly easy. Worrying solves nothing. Money does not make me happy. Trying to look good limits my life. Everything I do always comes back to me. Helping other people helps me. Over time I get used to everything and start taking it for granted. Actually doing the things I set out to do increases my satisfaction. Traveling alone is helpful for a new perspective on life. Everybody who is honest is interesting. Keeping a diary supports personal development. Drugs feel great in the beginning and become a drag later on. Thinking life will be better in the future is stupid. I have to live now. Complaining is silly. Either act or forget. Low expectations are a good strategy. Material luxuries are best enjoyed in small doses. Assuming is stifling. Being not truthful always works against me. Having guts always works out for me.
I'm still exhausted from my illness, though I am officially "better" and have been back at work since Wednesday. I went into the office today for a half-day, even though it's a holiday. When I got home, I was so tired I had to skip country-western daycare; too bad, since I was really looking forward to it, hand sanitizer at the ready.
So how crazy is this? After a post-dinner nap, I vacuumed and dusted the apartment and did laundry, activities that require as much energy as two-stepping. But the place really, really needed it. I hope to squeeze in a bath before bed to make up for the fact that I had to go into work on a holiday.
On Thursday I head to Miami for the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association convention. I'll be there till Sunday. I don't have any responsibilities -- am neither presenting nor attending for work -- so I'll be able to treat it like as much of a vacation as I want to. I'll be staying at a hotel that I normally wouldn't be able to afford at its regular rates. I'll know at least a couple of people there and am open to meeting more. Or just sleeping in and lying on the beach all day. Whatever.
The whole deal is a bit of a splurge for me, but something formless and nameless has been compelling me to go. (I just joined the group's local chapter late last year.) When something formless and nameless compels me like that, I've learned to listen. In a similar way, I felt compelled to go to my 15th college reunion several years ago even though none of my close friends could make it; the night before, I rented a car, and I drove up the next morning for the day. I had a great time -- revisiting, mostly by myself, the person I'd been in college all those years ago and also having some nice conversations with people I hadn't known well back then (including the longest conversation, over dinner, with a guy I hadn't known at all; he had been an unhappy out gay person; I had been a mostly happy not-out-even-to-myself person; we compared notes). I had such a good time that when the 20th rolled around, I made sure my circle of friends did attend (they all thanked me profusely), and I plan to do the same for the 25th.
Anyway, not all of the reasons I feel compelled to go to this convention are clear to me. The ones that are clear to me have to do with things I don't have time to blog about at the moment. (I kept losing my DSL connection last night, the date on this post, and I'm now trying to finish this up before work.) A certain kind of invisibility at work, a don't-ask-don't-tell ethic that pervades not only certain aspects of my life there but also the product we put out. I feel the need to be energized and inspired.