Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Shift to Full Tilt; Trying to Stay Sucka-Free

Here are a couple things I've picked up for the family in the last few months:

A solar phone charger! It can also charge the iPod and the Gameboy. And it looks like it could be used in place of a Ninja Star if I found myself in a fight.

At first I thought it worked too slowly. Then I realized that I'm so used to insta-anything by way of an electrical current, and I just needed to chill. The charger likes long, lazy stretches of full sun and then it works like a (slow) charm. I'm digging it.

And I got this. A kitchen composter. I was very nervous about using this at first, but it's amazing what nature can do when left to her own devices. It doesn't smell when the lid is on and it's not as bad as you think when the lid is off. Kinda vinegary-mild throw up, but never worse than that. It actually goes through cycles of smells, some better than others. I've been using the juice in the plant water. I love this thing and it has cut down on a tremendous amount of trash.
I don't want to frighten or preach (try to stop me!), but I'm moving to become a full-tilt environmentalist. Like, I'm not fucking around. It started a few years ago when I became vegan. Then slowly I made easy changes, but now I just look at everything wondering how much oil, water and energy it took to get to me. On who's backs, with who's blood am I consuming/wasting stuff? I'm not sure why everything seems so precious to me now. Obviously the more one reads and learns, the more you can't honestly put up with certain things anymore. I've kind of freaked myself out, but on the outside I just want it to be a positive thing, y'know? Just do stuff because it's the right thing to do without slapping someone in the face or trying to out-environmentist anyone. Or even if it looks kind of funny. Like when I hid the styrofoam cups when I first started working at my job a couple years ago. Everyone was like, "Where in the hell are the cups?" And then they'd find them behind the refrigerator or shoved in an odd crevice. Orange County seems many, many years behind this apparent hippy-freak environmentalist movement, but styrofoam? Why don't we just drink our coffee out of a handful of diapers? They still give me shit about that one, but they didn't buy styrofoam again. Wait, was I just face-slapping and one-upping? Maybe it's impossible to talk about this shift without sounding like a preachy fanatic. Sigh. One of my coworkers jokingly begged me not to become a Freegan. And then he got a ten minute speech on why freeganism isn't a bad idea. Nope, no in-your-face-slapping here! Eesh.

The girls and I participated in this International Coastal Clean Up Day on September 15th. We were stoked to go out and clean our part of the beach and we were prepared to find horrendous, dirty things. But our part of the beach was spotless. No lie. We were sifting through the sand to find the tiniest pieces of plastic or bottle caps. We were disappointed and encouraged all at once. We went home and decided that every time we walk the dogs, we'd pick up trash along the way so it wouldn't end up in the storm drains. There is way more trash, surprisingly, on the sidewalks. Everyday we're picking up much more than we did on the beach. A few days ago, I read that the combined efforts of the Santa Monica Coastal Clean Up collected 980lbs of trash. Whoa! I was like, where? Local divers did an underwater clean up off of the pier and collected most of it there, unfortunately. Up and down the coast, 2,000 spray paint cans were found as well as a 357 magnum air gun and a wedding dress. If all those items can't be used in a novel in the context of floating in the ocean, I'm not sure what can. We've already come up with a hundred stories of how the wedding dress made it into the sea.

Like many voracious young readers, I fell in love with the physical touch of a book when I was a kid. I loved the smell and the feel of a page. I'm a sucker still for a good looking cover. But unlike most of my book-loving friends, I have always been in love with a bookstore where brand new books are sold. I shunned the library as a kid because all I wanted were crisp new books to call my own, to write my name in. Eventually I believed I would own a house with a large library. There is no better decoration than shelves and shelves of books. Interestingly, I've always taken the girls to the library and had them check out books, but I've been a snob about my reading still. I couldn't let go of that crisp crack of a book's back. But this has changed in the last couple weeks. I know to be full-tilt, the constant consuming of stuff has to slow to a dead crawl. Even with books as much as I like the idea of supporting writers. That's important to me, but for now, I'm an Only to the Library girl. Monday is our day to go to the library and last time I actually checked out a book for myself. It's been a long time. I checked out Jorge Amado's The Two Deaths of Quincas Wateryell. The stamp on the inside read "Date Due July 2, 1998."

My other most recent shift has been with clothes shopping. Clothes shopping was once a source of joy for me in a way that shoving an entire piece of cake in your mouth is joyful. It has been laced with guilt for me for as long as I can remember because in the back of my mind I know paying retail is not the best use of my hard earned money. Oh, but it did make me feel high and giddy, if temporarily. Glutinous consumerism is played, and it feels stale to me especially as I read more and more about the evils of the garment industry. Marigoldie had been agonizing over the same, and it just solidified how I've been feeling as of late. Organic and fair trade clothing is so expensive and I believe worth the investment now and again, but it seems thrift-store shopping is the solution for now. I used to be the best thrifter, in high school, out of necessity because the only way I was ever going to dress cool was by paying Salvation Army prices. But since becoming an adult, I've been turned off by the process, which takes patience and vision. I had also grossed myself out by (maybe imaginary) germs in shoes and on fabric. I've started back slowly. I been perusing the higher-end thrift stores since I've been back home, and over the weekend I made one conscientious, anti-mass production thrift store buy for myself. A Corey Lynn Calter satin bolero. It wasn't exactly the Salvation-Army pricing I remember from decades ago, but I found out later it was still a fraction of what it goes for in the sucka's pit called a department store.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Pie Friday

Vegan cook extraordinaire Emilie deemed on her blog that Friday was Pie Day. This stems from a great story about how her tiny college town's hardware store proclaimed the same: Friday is Pie Day. And though I'm probably butchering her story, I love imaging golden and ballooning homemade pies amidst the hammers and wrenches and two by fours.

I've wanted to perfect vegan fruit pie for a long time. I've made a handful of attempts that produced a weak result. The crust was chewy, inside runny. I'm not saying I didn't eat the whole thing still. That's how much I love pie. But I didn't understand how something so conceptually simple was eluding me entirely. My ultimate dream is to eat fresh pie for breakfast. Is that too much to ask?

To destress, I crawl into bed after the house is calm and asleep and watch the Food Network. Nothing's vegan on the channel, but I like to feel as though I'm absorbing technique and strategies for cooking well. I also ignorantly believe anything can be veganized since I'm always after the sabor, the flavor, of food no matter what the TV chefs are using as the base of the dish. I have a secret crush on Bobby Flay and I was watching one of his smackdown shows where he throws down the gauntlet to an unsuspecting civilian who has perfect one aspect of cooking. The show is sometimes embarrassing and painful to watch; however, I often find myself making mental notes, and more often scribbled ones. Last week’s show was a Pie Throwdown, and I figured if this was going to be a battle between two great pie makers, I was gonna take notes and ride their coat tails to fresh, perfect pie.

I suppose pie making is like anything; the secret is in the details. That's what I learned from the pie show. Bobby Flay and the Pie Experts skimmed over quickly the points that would make the difference between flakey, perfect crust and chewy, nasty crust, but I knew enough to pick up on the subtle pointers. Things like: When not to handle the crust too much and Roll the dough with a flick of your wrist, don't put your back into it. Later, I went online and pulled the ingredients for Bobby Flay's pie. I was just after his crust because I had another plan for the filling. I did note that he had used a couple tablespoons of peach eau de vie in his filling, which after looking up I learned was a fruit brandy. He said it helped do "something" to the fruit. I didn't catch what. I knew it was probably a good enough suggestion to try it though. I didn't want to buy peach eau de vie, so instead I used a grappa that Ma had brought me from her trip to Italy. The grappa had been decorating my counter for that last month in the tiniest, sweetest bottle plugged with a wooden cork.

My end result was a Black Raspberry & Strawberry Pie. I gotta say it was out of this world. The crust was amazing. It has an embarrassing amount of earth balance and vegetable shortening in it. Sigh. None the less, I am over the moon that autumn is dawning a new season of pie making for me.

Here's what I had for breakfast:

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

El Hablar de Los Orishas

Half my life ago, when I started dating The Congero, I was baptized in a heaviness of brilliant music; jazz, salsa, complex and earth-moving drumming both secular and religious. This music was The Congero's entire world professionally and personally, and he lived his life in the fray of all things African-Caribbean while I, before him, lived in the fringes, tiptoeing with mixed blood and an uncertainty of my belonging within those things. The Congero called me into this world. As a dancer I gladly plunged -- arched in with a swan dive -- because I knew this much: Rhythm was the catalyst to movement.

The people we hung out with regularly were musicians of legendary proportions. They had played for Miles Davis, Hector Lavoe, Herbie Hancock, Eddie Palmieri, Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, Dizzy Gillespie, Mongo Santamaría and a million more. Jam sessions spontaneously erupted in The Congero's tiny living room back then, and I would watch or listen as I cooked or puttered while trying to wrap my mind around what they were creating. It was often a controlled freefall of genius.

My favorite sessions were when batá drums were played. Batás are double-headed religious drums. They are played in a trio, one large, one medium, one small, and drummers rest them across their lap, playing both sides. Each size has a distinct sound, the large being bassy; the smallest producing a cracking sound, but the remarkable thing is that each drum plays a different rhythm concurrently. The rhythms then converge together at the most surprising and harmonious places. Bells that lace the largest rim of the big drum chime as beats clock out. The rotation of the different rhythms creates one that is three-dimensional and heart-bursting. And with this complexity, the batás develop a voice. They are able to call down the gods.

To write about these things knots my stomach I'm realizing. I'm writing about things that I believe in private shadows. Things that get easily ridiculed and misportrayed in movies and conversation. The things of the orishas or santos shouldn't pass casually across the threshold of one's mouth. I know this because I feel it. I've mentioned on the blog before that I am watched over by the mother/ocean deity, Yemayá, and by the lovely Oshún, but that's all I'll say about that.

Though I think frequently about the orishas, I hadn't talked about them at all in years, until Saturday. A local theater was showcasing an African-Caribbean performance. I knew I had to go. I knew I had to take the girls too.

There were no other children present when we arrived at the intimate theater. In the casualness of general seating, we sat in the first row of six, at the same level as the stage. On a large screen in front of us played a DVD from Cuba of orisha dances performed in a forest. Eight dark dancers were smeared in white clay. They were barefoot and naked shrouded in a sheer white sheet. I whispered to the girls, "I want no comments about nakedness. Take this in as art. These are dances to honor nature and god. I'll answer any questions you have." They watched with eyes wide and backs erect. Then the veiled forest deities disappeared from the screen and in their place was a chorus of singers in white clothing standing behind three seated batá players. The drums began and a lead female sang in Yoruba. The chorus responded to her. She and the drums were calling out Elegguá, who is always called out first because he opens the door that stands between humans and deities. When honored first, he'll let prayers be heard. He appeared from the forest wearing red and black, smoking a cigar, slinking out playfully. I whispered details to Maya and Mina.

One by one, the singers and drummers called out the line of orishas. When Oshún revealed herself by a river, the girls gasped. She wore a yellow head wrap, a flowing yellow dress and a tall crown of gold. She fanned herself and smiled brilliantly. At this point the girls were whispering things to me. "Oh, she's beautiful!" Mina said, "I like Oshún." The batás then played a song for Yemayá. The screen showed the calm sea by the shore and when the singer began, Yemayá rose up out of the water wearing a similar dress and head wrap but in blue. My skin rose up and I teared a bit. When she danced on the beach, Maya said, "Her skirt looks like waves." And I knew they got it. They were engaged and flying solo on their intrigue, hooked in by the drum's call and the beauty and power of it all.

Later in the show, live dancers performed dressed in white and backed by a tiny chorus and three batás. They didn't have the same impact as the film in the forest. The amateur batá players lacked a touch of god, it seemed, but the girls loved every second, and so did I. Wow, really I did.

I've thought about the show ever since. Salsa and latin jazz fill a void, for sure, on a top level, but hearing the batás and the orisha names in the rhythms again has weighted me, like sustenance would.

Friday, September 07, 2007

NY Was Fly - *Updated with a Couple More Photos*

During the year, Husband and I maintain a whicked schedule. It's too much, really, but it's the way it is. But when we go on vacation, we are great relaxers. We feel no pain.

NY was great. The weather was perfect, pleasant and warm. We took it easy spending three nights at Husband's parents' house then just he and I escaped to Manhattan for two nights, leaving the kids behind. And we did get to the U.S. Open. My original hook up never did come through but my good friend Kim exercised her ticket connection and gave Husband and I killer passes to opening day for our birthdays. Great!

If you are a US Open fan, Flushing Meadows is much more intimate in person. And my appreciation for the event deepened for sure. As I watch the rest on TV, I feel I can see it in 3D.

Here are some highlights:
The entrance. I call him Old Man Husband:Best match we saw was with my new favorite up-and-comer, 18 year old Donald Young. He is exciting to watch and he struts the court with an all-round athlete's swagger.
Instead of boring you with the million Henin and Federer photos, here we are watching them, cockeyed sunglasses and all!

At lunch time, we went to one of the restaurants tucked in the guts of Arthur Ashe stadium. We were prepared to pay a zillion dollars for a salad, possibly a sandwich. The restaurant was pretty, but we could hear that the service was falling apart all around us. "Where's the cheese?" "I asked for chicken." And on, all echoing around us. When the waiter came to us, Husband ordered a cheeseburger (whatever) and announced, "I want no lettuce or tomato. I don't want any lettuce or tomato even touching the bread or burger. If you accidentally forget back there in the kitchen and you take it off the bread before you bring it to me, I'll know. If you bring me a burger that has touched a tomato, I will totally flip out. I will make such a huge scene up in the restaurant. You do not even know." My hand was shading my eyes at this point, though he was making me laugh, but I could see the motion of the waiter's pencil frantcially against his pad: NO TOMATO. NO LETTUCE. He probably wrote some other things too, but I'm not certain. Twenty minutes later, a server brought a bacon cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato and onion. Husband looked at me. The waiter saw the plate and I said, "I don't think that's our order" and the guy's face glowed bright pink. "No, no, that's not his!" Husband just stared at me the entire time and I giggled as the plate was swept away. Husband cracked a smile. "See?" He said. The rest of the lunch and the Open went off perfectly.

On the way into the city, we stopped at Babycakes Vegan Bakery. It was an adorable spot though more dingy than the online photo captures. I ordered a vanilla cupcake, a slice of corn-apple bread, a slice of cinnamon bread and a few mini corn muffins filled with a dot of "cream" and topped with strawberry jam. The cupcakes were pretty good, kinda greasy and grainy, but the breads and those mini corn jammy jam things were FANTASTIC!
This is the view directly across the street from the bakery. These are my favorite type of views of any city, alive with expression and grind.

One night out, we made it to Candle 79, one of the most well-know, high-end vegan restaurants in the NYC. My husband is a fan of my cooking, but he is not a fan of most restaurant vegan food. He does not like Real Food Daily at all. When I told him I wanted to eat at Candle 79 as one of our dinners out in the city -- we only had two! -- he said, (Silence) "Okay." If he says ok, he means ok. We don't waste time with "are you sures" and all that bullshit.
The food was great, even by Husband's admission. I took pictures of our meals, but my camera does not perform well with a flash. All the food looked the same through the lens, and that's not fair. I'll tell you instead: I started with a watermelon saketini (hello!) and the live heirloom tomato-avocado tartare with quinoa crackers and jalapeño dressing. SO Good! Husband ordered the smoked hummus appetizer and went bananas over the parata bread. For the main course, I had the moroccan spiced chickpea cake and Husband had the porcini-crusted tofu with mashed potatoes and caramelized onion-wild mushroom sauce. I gotta say that Husband's dish spanked mine, but mine was still pretty damn good. We ended by sharing a strawberry pie slice topped with dulce de leche ice cream. Fantastic.

After dinner we visited a friend that lived near by and then around midnight we started walking along 2nd Ave back towards the hotel. Husband ducked into a bakery and bought some old school east coast butter cookies while I enjoyed the city night. Two men were talking near the curb, one straddling a bicycle. The guy on the bike was Ilan, the winner of Top Chef last year. I embarrassingly did a double or triple take, which caused him to look at me and slow his conversation with his buddy. I thought, Uh oh, does he think I'm checking him out? I felt a urge to say something and quickly, wisely, squashed it. Big ups, Ilan!

Our other night doing up Manhattan was spent with Titi Jen and her boyfriend. We met in the Meat Packing District near SoHo that is no longer about packing some meat. The last time I was in that neighborhood was about 15 years ago when the streets smelled like a shit-garbage cocktail. My friends and I braved the stench at three in the morning to get the best bagels in town. Only bagel buyers and tranny hookers shared the streets that night. While we stopped at a light in my friend's car, an 8-foot tall hooker turned from his group and looked at me sitting in the passenger seat; his wig was red and high. We stared at each other. He and his co-workers looked brightly and colorfully illuminated on the dark, dead corner. He then blew me a kiss as his friends laughed. I meant to wave back, but didn't. Now, the Meat Packing District is giz-entrified, ladies and gentlemen. It has been transformed into what looked like a movie lot. Sassy restaurants every few yards, crusty bagel shops gone, fantastic designer stores in their stead. It was gorgeous, but it made me feel like I always do when I see the lava-like creep of gentrification: Where the poor people at? Where did they get pushed to? It was hard to like the new look entirely.

We went to a brand-new, beautiful and dark-wooded spot for dinner called The Spice Market. Before we were seated, I drank a cherry mojito at the bar and watched candle-lit patrons as Husband and I tried to guess where they were from. The drink was sparkly and delicious. I dug out infused fruit. The actual food served at The Spice Market was not note worthy, though the surroundings were divine. Our table stood against ceiling-to-floor windows that were pushed open letting a summer breeze cross through the floor. Long curtains billowed a bit. I kept looking out to the newly glossied street. I noticed a boy of thirteen selling chocolates from a cardboard box at the restaurant's entrance.

After dinner, we headed to a dance spot called Link Lounge that features salsa on Tuesday nights. Husband was ready to test his newly-aquired skills and I was ready to see what the NY salsa scene was into, especially since the iconic Copa sadly closed early this summer. Before we got to the club, Titi Jen leaned over and said to me, "These dancers at Link dance on the Two." She meant they pretty much start dancing, or break, on the second beat of the rhythmic measure. It's a more syncopated way to dance and I remember it been associated with very early Mambo. I've never been a big fan of the Two and it wasn't ever as popular in the West. I've always hot stepped it on the One. Entering Link was like jamming ourselves into a crowded gym steam room. I felt sticky before even seeing the dance floor. We squeezed our way through to the edge of the floor, and what I saw made my jaw slack. I was thrilled by the action. These young dancers were not dancing what I remember as Mambo on the Two. They were revolutionizing salsa into something new and hot even though it clearly stemmed from an older style. They were dancing on the Two for sure, but it was spiced with a hiphop flare yet based in the very origins of African-Carribbean salsa; it was grounded to the earth, completely in sync with the drum-and-base brilliance of a salsa from 30 years ago. That's what the DJ played too, old music that kicks off with a base line, follows with the clave, gaps filled with congas, punctuated by horns! It makes you want to lower your head and let it impale you. Titi Jen and her boyfriend, trained in all their Arthur Murray ballroomness, turned their noses up to the perfect evolution that was happening before us, but I turned to Husband and said, "See these kids? THIS is salsa, Papi. This is the feeling you want in your dancing; grounded, gritty, real." I don't know if I would've been able to get out there and hang. I would've needed some time to adjust to the style. Oh man I wanted the time, but the dancers were so honed and muy cliquey. I was dejected that I haven't seen anything like this on the West Coast. Husband said, "Go ask someone to dance," but I pulled his hands to me and said, "No, you practice with me." And we went to the corner of the bar, away from the high-level twirling and gettin down, and we danced together on the One, laughing and basically getting down ourselves.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Let's Get This Party Started

We just got back from NY last night, but before I get all into that I wanted to post more pictures from the party. Mina is a great photographer and there are not a lot of things more fun than viewing her pictures at night's end after I've told her to have at it.

Here's the official corsage pinning ceremony pre party:

Hey, check out my three-tiered vegan cake from Manni's Bakery. This was Ma's birthday present to me, like organizing the party wasn't enough. It was chocolate with white frosting on the bottom, carrot cake in the middle and apple cake on top. The chocolate was ok. I've made better. I heard the carrot cake was really good, but I didn't have any. I took the whole top part home and ate apple cake for breakfast. It was great. I learned later that apple cake is Manni's specialty.

Flanked by beauties, Maya and Ma.
Here's a picture of my friend Barry the Photographer. Mina and he snapped pictures of each other at the same time, and some a little staggered, like dueling cameras. I love this one:
Here's how Barry's came out:

Irma, Me and Betsy. Can't go wrong with a boa.

Lovely Quaniesha:

I love this pic too. Mina capturing Barry at work, and a bit of the crowd conversation.

Here are a few pictures taken by Barry. Titi Jen giving the quick lesson:

There's no better picture than this one. I now have documentation that Husband has the salsa bug.

Mandy, Melissa and Mina. Mandy and Melissa were voted best dressed for prom night.

While cutting the cake, one of our wise ass friends yelled out, "Cougar!" which was hilarious. I had to strike the cougar pose since I am now officially a member, apparently

Ooo, but cougar got back:

Mina took this photo of her and Maya's TaeKwonDo coach cuttin' a rug with me. He's Brazilian and if he hears music -- even senses that it's playing somewhere, anywhere -- this man has to dance. Notice Mandy and I side-bar screaming at each other. This is why Mina's so good.

Maya's turn to dance with Master N. So sweet. By the way, Maya is turning into an excellent salserita.

Mina's great portrait of our neighbor John.

Mina packed it in an hour before the party ended. Pulled up some chairs and a pillow and slept through the rest.
There are many more photos, but Barry's working on them. Just wanted to throw you a little evidence that we did our finest jobs to having a good time.