Kiss the Cook

Apparently hell has frozen over. I've decided I like cooking.

Yesterday I woke up in the morning and moseyed (mosied?) my way over to the kitchen, where I pulled out the latest issues of COOKING LIGHT. You might want to know why they were handy, and I'm going to go ahead and out myself and let you know that I subscribed. Yup, commitment. I leafed through and decided that I would take on the Dijon Pork Tenderloin w/a cranberry sauce. Oh yes, it's true. I was ready to put Rachel Ray in my back pocket.

So anyway, I read the recipe twice to be sure I understood the Order of Operations (for you elementary school math geeks). Then I checked which ingredients I had. I was missing just two. Tarragon and cranberry sauce. Now, the Lilly of a few months ago would have decided that all green spices are the same, and used rosemary or some other Simon and Garfunkely flavoring (damn them for the inadvertant accompaniment I get every time I spin my spice rack). And don't think I didn't entertain using what was left of my sugar free strawberry jam as a sauce instead.

But no, this time was different. I am ready to cook by the rules. I know. I felt possessed!

Last night I got home from the bar and what did I do? Did I head to the bathroom to pray to a porcelein God? Nope. Did I go straight for the chips in the pantry? Well, kinda. But I also had the wherewithal to MARINATE my meat to be cooked today. I kid you not. 3 a.m. found me fully dressed in club gear, shaking a tupperware container with my little concoction.

Today my inner domestic goddess and I got up and went to the store and picked up what I needed. Tarragon, the sauce, and much more (worry not, dear reader, for they corrolate to recipes for later in the week). I came home and made what my sister called my little Thanksgiving feast (ok, I had sweet potato on the side). I did everything as instructed and -- it came out really good! I put it on a pretty plate because I was dining with Lorelai and Rory and the rest of Stars Hollow. It had the makings of a perfect night minus the makeout session, but THINK! -- if I get better at this whole domestic gig, chances only increase actually get one of those too!

I can't get over the fact that I actually ate the whole dinner. What if I outgrow this "I'm the anti-domestic goddess" act that fits me like the perfect pair of jeans? What if, instead of scrolling past the Food Network listing on my tv, I stop? What if I WATCH it? What if I become one of Them? One of those people who knows how food magically arrives on a plate? Then what will I have? Apparently six servings of leftovers. Anyone hungry?

So as I was washing my dishes (I'm the cleanest chef west of the Mississippi, by the way) I had this epiphany -- it was this: every ingredient matters. You can't take shortcuts in the kitchen and expect things to come out as perfect as if you went through all the agony of circling the grocery store six thousand times scared to ask for canned anything because you're at an organic store. No short cuts. So it is in life. Every Ingredient Matters. And then I started to worry that I'm finding my life philosophies in the kitchen. "Every little ingredient matters." "Coffee or death." "Expiration dates are for wussies" and so on.

I'm hoping to cease the cheesy life lessons, but I'm going full-force with this cooking thing. I'm not sure where this adventure is taking me, but I highly encourage my friends and acquaintances to get very busy very soon because I'm looking for tasters, you see...

Let He Who Is Without Sin

Two events happened back to back that are possibly worth discussing.

This past week I met up with Tim, who started, my internet musical playground. Pandora is a site that lets you plug in an artist or band you like and then goes through its records to create a station of songs you are likely to find equally appealing as tested by the Music Genome Project. I know, too cool to be true. It explores the fact that our musical taste might be a touch different if we felt we had complete privacy to explore -- and adore -- music. In discussing this, he brought up the fact that music is very personal to people.

Proving that "All roads lead to Madonna" (R), I was talking with my sister yesterday and she brought up my unrelenting love for all things Madonna (no secret to you, dear reader), and she wrinkled her nose or rolled her eyes or jabbed at her Indian food in a protest of my taste. I realized in a flash of a moment (or it could have been a curry-induced hotflash, but let's go with "epiphany") that I do the same thing.

Ok, so that's about when I started to feel bad. On the one hand, I do believe music is right up there with air and water. I believe music is important and fuels our days and forms a soundtrack that we each live by, that marks important dates or times or experiences. I think everyone should have access to it and that a world without songs would be, well, the gynocologist's office. I love music SO much and consider it such a basic human accessory that when I find people who *don't* have articulated tastes or preferences or feel satisfied to listen to music rather than own it and obsess over it, I get a bit confused. I then have to look at them and think quickly of all the redeeming qualities why I should go on being their friend. And then I have to tell myself "It doesn't matter if there aren't enough reasons. You still have to stay their friend!" It's true.

I'm a self-proclaimed radio-knob-arm-wrestler. If you're in the car with me, the rules go like this:

IF I'M DRIVING: I'm the radio boss. My car is equipped with buttons on the BACK of the wheel (so you don't even KNOW I'm the boss but I am). Totally coincidental, and at the same time, totally convenient. It has been brought to my attention that I will covertly turn up the volume while other people are talking if there's a song I like but then fade out so my own proclamations can be heard. I know, an obnoxious twitch of a habit. But come on, pretty funny. Volume, cd, track, station, it's all mine. It's my car, so naturally it follows that I'm the Music Leader in that situation.

IF OTHER PEOPLE ARE DRIVING: I will wait to hear what's on. If it's objectionable, I will request a music change. Particularly when a group of people are in a car, you'd think music wouldn't matter and you'd, I dunno, TALK to each other. But the awful truth is that I get carsick if I don't have music on in the car. And knowing this, most people prefer to let me be the Music Leader and not barf on their lovely upholstery.

IF MY SISTER IS DRIVING: I will not wait to hear what's on. I think this is more out of habit than anything else. If it's B-52s, we will leave it in peace. But then I will sing along and Susie will shut it off because my singing is apparently that offensive (although fans of The Parish may not agree, and I love you all -- ::mwah::) Then, as she's focused on a task like, I dunno, getting us somewhere in one piece, I will covertly begin tinkering. Susie is one safe driver and so, after a few times, she will usually just shut it off while I look around the car for that damn B-52s cd.

Ok so now that you are fully acquainted with my Musicism or whatever you want to call it, my bossy nature (if you must) about music and my Taste Preferences (see also "Judgmental"), you can imagine how taken aback I was by the mere notion, suggested to me ever so casually, that taking music personally and harassing people about their (poor/pathetic/offensive - circle one) music taste are at odds.

So I'm deciding which one I want to pick. Do I continue believing that music is personal and important and touches everyone in a different way -- which would require me at some point backing down and biting my lovely tongue when someone's eyes grow wide and bright at the mention of a remastered Abba disc? (I'm talking biting til it bleeds, people!) That kinda sounds like the whole thing where you try to find something nice in everyone. I know, I gagged too.

Or do I march forward in my Crusade Against Shitty Music like one of those generals in the Civil War who, I dunno, marched alot?

Don't you love rhetorical questions?

March of the Questions

This one goes out to my roomie (Hi Roomie!).

So my Roomie (who can be identified by the beeping and screaming coming from my car when she lets me drop her off "smartest student at Cal Western coming through! BEEP BEEP! Make way!) and her boyfriend just saw March of the Penguins. I've had mixed feelings about this movie, but given our conversations about it, I thought I'd parlay my thoughts, hopes, and confusions into a post.

When I saw this movie, I left the theater very depressed. The storyline: penguins march across God's frozen earth to hatch an egg that they then roll back and forth in a painstakingly fragile ballet, during which the egg may just, well, die. And sometimes the moms die. And sometimes the dads get sad. And sometimes baby penguins get eaten by seals. The way I saw it, the movie might as well have been titled "God Hates Penguins". What a difficult life. I couldn't see the point.

If you rebut my thoughts with "that's part of the circle of life", please pass me the nearest barf bag.

Don't get me wrong -- the film was beautifully done. In fact, it was such a touching portrayal of the little things that I obviously took it to heart and felt the anguish of their little journey and the toils of their lifestyle.

But this afternoon a few questions came up that I think we need to address, effective immediately. I'm plagiarizing them from my conversation with Roomie. Please respond to us IMMEDIATELY if you have insight into this (yes, Susie, our avian specialist, this means you.)

--> So when the couples all find each other, what do the SINGLE penguins do? Today we bounced around a few scenarios- so do the single penguins hang around and help with anything? Moral support? Someone call Hillary -- does it take a village to raise a baby penguin too? Why would the singles go with the couples on this pain-in-the-ass-ful journey? I can't recall if the pairing happened before or after the trek. I venture to say before, in which case, why do they have to go too? Why can't they be left alone -- like their human corollaries -- to rot in single purgatory? A lil' Valentines spirit for ya ;)

--> What are the possibilities that a penguin would accidentally mate with a sibling? I mean, how do they know who their parents were or that they are related one year later?

Roomie suggested this and I would like to feign disgust, but the truth is, I wondered the same thing when I watched it.

--> Part B to the above: what would an incest penguin look like? (that's all mine)

--> Why do they go so far? We felt this was a stretch, a little dramatic flair.

Sheesh. Hollywood can't even leave the penguins alone.

Fan Mail.

Sometimes when I sit down to check email -- ok, every time I sit down to check email -- maybe I pretend I'm reading my fanmail. Who loves me? What do they think I can advise them about? Am I keeping them on their toes? Clients? Friends? Mom? The spam mail is just a red herring in this quest to connect with my public. A few lines in (or a cup of coffee later, whichever comes first), I'm quick to realize that Abu Kambuzi from Nigeria doesn't *really* need my help transferring millions to his account. I refocus and apply myself to giving useful advice to writers or friends (or completely useless advice and/or obnoxious and unsolicited life commentary, depending on the friend), channeling my thoughts out at 100+ wmp.

And when email fails me, and I'm super-bored and don't want to do my work, I will go back through my blog, beat myself up about typos, and read comments from my TRUE fans. Or obligated friends, as the case may be. Which led me, on this particular evening (it was that or continue reading a book about Mormons that is barely holding my interest) to a few months back when I posted a brief chain letter of sorts. The post I offered had concluded with offering readers to send me three questions which I would then answer.

But I realize tonight that I never did answer them. Oops. With an attitude like that, how do I expect to keep my fans?

Taking a page from the "better late than never" book, I'm going to go ahead and answer them.


1. What’s with this new pink color on your blog?

Answer: My blog, as you, dear reader, must be noticing, is no longer pink. I go through phases when I need change. Expect frequent overhaul of my blog design if I can figure out how to not lose the comments you've all posted ("I" = Jon, my tech guru, friend, client, coiner of the phrase "My agent, my life." and author of THE ROUGH GUIDE TO BLOGGING, forthcoming this summer. How's that for a shameless plug?).

2. Where/what is Mathissexy? I tried; it wasn’t anything interesting.

Answer: Mathissexy is something my sister mentioned on her blog. I don't know what it is, but since it generated from my sister, chances are it's hip and ahead of the curve, and thus something you and I won't be privy to for another 2-3 years, at which point she'll tiredly point out "I told you so."

3. Can you make gobs of money being a literary agent?

Answer: The short answer to this one is yes. The long answer is that one in a million do. But we all agree that I'm special like that, no? Keep checking back. James Frey and his agent have parted ways, so...

Kidding, guys, kidding.

I personally could make gobs of money if you refer up there to #1 and buy Jon's book. In bulk. For years.

B1. Why study French instead of Spanish?


In general -- French is very pretty, but short of living in France, French Canada, certain parts of Africa, or dating Gerard Depardieu (how many blogs can boast his name coming up TWICE?), eet eez maybe not so -- how do you say? -- makeeng of sense.

Personally -- My parents didn't really see the point to us learning Spanish growing up. What was the point? We were in the midwest -- *we* were the only brown people in town. At least with French we could communicate with the family members abroad that we (my sister and I) so staunchly refused to speak Persian with. Plus when they sent us away to language camp in the summer, it just seemed like you'd be better behaved at the French camp. It translated to "less fun, more manners."

Moving to California was a big ass reality check and now my brother, mom and I all speak it.

Truth is, in a country where we regularly massacre our own language (it's English, by the way), I'll support whatever language you'd like to study up on.

B2. How sinful is it to be a closet label whore? Not LV or anything obscene like that, but say, 7 jeans, or Valentino sunglasses.

Answer: In Lilly's Book of Sins, this fit in right between "wearing Tevas" and "not flushing". I thought the whole fun of being a label whore was the exhibitionism?

B3. Overrated, overroasted Starbucks or messy and time consuming but perfect stove heated Bialetti moka?

Answer: Starbucks. I would elaborate on this, but I can't even see how it's a question. Although if they promote anymore crappy albums, I may have to convert.

1. what are you getting dad for xmas?

Answer: Hi Susie. Every year I give dad something that bows to his dismay of all things gifty just a bit more. This year I took a funny investment book from the free books shelf in my apartment complex and wrapped it up for him, labeling that it was acquired at no cost. By next xmas I should be giving him things like homemade coupon books boasting such treats as "free parking at 7366 Fairway Road", "this coupon entitles you to not be given a new tie for Christmas", and "You can walk the dog." Can't wait.

2. what's the grossest thing you've ever eaten while on the atkins diet?

Answer: I ate a hell of a lot of bacon the first time I was on it. I mean half a pack in one sitting. Serving sizes mean nothing to me when I'm on Atkins.

3. name the top five things you miss about south haven, michigan

Answer: In no particular order-- sitting by myself on the grass watching the sunset, Ryan Gardner's cute friends, that feeling of hope as I'd enter the pawn shop looking for cheap cassette tapes, the smell of mom heating a rhubarb pie from Crane's orchard, and getting all the neighborhood kids together to create a whirlpool in the pool at night. (It was harder to limit that to 5 than I thought it would be. Oh South Haven, Michigan, 49090, how I miss you.)

1. Do all the real men migrate to Vegas?

Answer: By "real men" do you mean "greasy chest hair caught in rusting faux gold chains basking in the stink of last night's hookers"? Just checking. Real men VISIT Vegas, find a cute little Persian thing at the craps table, and strike up a witty conversation. WHERE ARE YOU, REAL MEN?

2. What (if any) articles of clothing do you swear help you get lucky? (I have my own sad list)

Answer: If I'd found the outfit, I don't think I'd be sitting at home alone blogging at night, now would I?

3. Is Ocean Beach the Gyro capital of the world?

Answer: I would assume Athens is, but don't quote me on that.

A New Brand of Family Fun OR How We Spent Monday Night

I recently made a little mistake of judgment that I will now share with you so that you never make the same mistake.

Allow me to set the scene: on the eve of my father's 65th birthday, I got the feeling that he wasn't so excited about it after all. I mean, for YEARS he's been ordering senior breakfasts at Dennys and haggling at the movie counter for $2 off. He LOVED all the perks of nearly passing for a senior citizen. But when it came to actually "becoming" one, he got a little bit bummed. "Dad, you wanna go to the casino on your birthday?" Nope. Sad face. "Wanna go to SOUPLANTATION?" Nope. That's when I started to worry.

We quickly devised a plan- entertain him with a funny slapstick movie and a dinner he'd like. Ready, set, go. Short of my brother shaving for the occasion, we couldn't have better laid out our plans.

I arrived at the house and mom was cooking. During dinner we each poured ourselves one glass of wine from the half-empty bottles he wanted us to finish. We ate everything on the table and kept the conversation pleasant. We spoke about how to best wrangle a good deal on the used car Susie and Michael were about to buy. As soon as we were done, I beat him to clearing dishes and made sure the kitchen was SPOTLESS following a meal of his favorite food.

Then came the presents. For once, I did as he said, avoiding big or expensive gifts. He openly hates gifts. But I had to get him something. So that something was the latest John Grisham book. Paperback. With the Target 20% off sticker to boot. (I couldn't strip him of that extra bit of joyful news.) It was wrapped in leftover silvery wedding bell wrapping paper. I had even used one of the 50 cent greeting cards he'd bought for me the week before. He asked me with joy if it was one of those cards and when I confirmed, his grin grew bigger than it has in the past 28 years I've known him. It was a grin that said "this is my kid. Now I am sure of it!"

My brother and sister followed suit, providing him with unwrapped gifts that he loved. A book on the stock market, the Godfather dvd set and a magic dvd. We just had to drive it home.

Now my dad is a guy whose cine-motto is "I don't want to watch something depressing." That's right. Schindler's List can win all the awards it wants, no dice. However, he will watch with delight at Inspector Closeau's adventures in the Pink Panther series starring Peter Sellers. If it involves Steve Martin, it's going to be promising. And my dad has singlehandedly kept Leslie Nielsen in the business. Just in case you wonder why they made "Naked Gun 33 and 1/3".

I had recommended a movie I'd seen for the evening's finale. We'd get dad his jar of roasted peanuts and seat him in his favorite chair. This..... was..... it. Funny? Yes. Slapstick? Surely. Male humor? Check!


Now, I'll be the first to say that I don't have a great memory. I can remember the gist of a movie or book, but very rarely do I remember details or character lines (that memory space has gone to song lyrics, as we all know). So when we sat down to watch the movie, I had NO idea what we were in for. Honestly, the scene that stuck out to me was the chest waxing. Blame it on my middle eastern self. I remember the scene about body hair, and TOTALLY blank on the substance of the rest of it.

Unfortunately, this was the part of the plan that I rigged ALL by myself. My brother nagged that he hadn't seen more than the first few minutes, but went along just to be part of the evening. My mom obviously hadn't seen it because, well, she's a mom. When I suggested it, my sister offered to bring it along because it had just arrived on Netflix. That's right. JUST arrived. As in "she hadn't watched it yet." (Her boyfriend had, though, and for that I totally and completely implicate him as an accomplice in what followed.)

Have you ever watched a bedroom scene with your parents? I generally don't because, back when we were young, my mom instituted the "take a walk" policy. If there was so much as a couple leaning together to kiss (I'm sure we missed many a whisper scene), she announced "TAKE A WAAAALK!" and off we went. Susie and I would march around our old house in Chicago, which was conveniently arranged in a circular course. We'd hurry around the tv room and continue through the house, perhaps banging a few piano keys on the way, sliding across a bit of the wood floor, and continuing on our blissfully happy way until we were reinvited into the room.

Well lemme tell you, I have never wanted to tell my PARENTS to take a walk as I did that night. My mom eventually removed herself from the room quietly, for which I was grateful. I don't know exactly when she left, because I couldn't look at her! The movie began with a conversation about woman-on-horse action and ended with a graphic "ha. You're not a virgin anymoooooooore!" wedding night. Ugh. I get dizzy just thinking about it.

Somehow the entire night, I was immobilized. I had nothing to say for myself. To speak up would be to acknowledge the nightmare I had created for us. And to draw attention to the fact that I had already seen it and found it to be funny enough to recommend. OOPS. So we all just sat there. I'm going to have to organize a Social Institute for Family Film Watching, which will include a total and complete list of movies that are inappropriate to watch with your parents. This just shouldn't happen. I mean, who are all those people out crusading for education and homelessness? Don't they know the REAL social issues pressuring our domestic agenda?

On the up side, Dad laughed out loud, so I knew I did the right thing as far as cheering him up. Despite that glitch, the evening went off quite well, and while I'll be abdicating my throne as "film chooser" FOREVER, I think we made a difference in how he'll head into the next year of his life.

Too bad about all that $ we saved on gift wrapping or cards or expensive gifts though. How much is family therapy anyway?