Healthy cooking class

In between listening to, watching, and absorbing "Lemonade," I took a cooking class at Sur la Table today: the subject was "healthy, whole food." My teammates were a couple of 24-year-olds, one of whom was afraid of the stove. I wanted to assure her that there were scarier things in life but hated to ruin the surprise. We made four delicious and easy-to-do-at-home dishes:

  • Poached Shrimp and Spiralized Cucumber Salad with Chia Seed Vinaigrette
  • Pan-Roasted Chicken with Farro and Spring Peas
  • Curried Carrot Soup
  • Cocoa Zucchini Cake

As you can see I am already on the road to achieving my #1 old year's resolution from 2015, which was "learn to cook." At the same time I have broken it, since I technically did bake something. I don't know what to say about this lapse in judgment. We can't all be winners.

The huge news, though, was that I actually liked soup! Made of CARROTS! Also I was previously convinced that the step of toasting seeds prior to eating them was a load of baloney, but it turns out that is not the case. It's an easy, legit move with a stellar taste/fragrance ROI.

Waiting for Helen Mirren

The line to see Helen Mirren live and in person is long but not embarrassingly so, not of the wrap-around-the-corner variety that encourages passers-by to get nosy about your business. The only thing New Yorkers love more than standing in line is asking people who are standing in line why they are standing in line. As a person who loathes standing in line for more than 30 seconds to do anything, I have never been able to care long enough to crack either of these codes. Yet here I am, for Helen Mirren.

We who arrived more than an hour early to get the good seats press up against the cold stone exterior of the library at 42nd Street—the big one, the one with the lions out front and Bryant Park out back, the one where Carrie Bradshaw and Mr. Big did not get married—and watch those who arrive later scowl over their own poor life choices. Some of them, being elderly, hover at the front for a minute or two, hoping someone will take pity and let them cut in line. But again, this is New York, pops, and none of us care: you made it this far, you can make it a little farther.

Inside it's a mad dash to empty chairs: open seating at public events featuring the famous is a blood sport, in this and any town. There is no mercy. Hostages will be taken. Again the latecomers wander to and fro near the front, prepared to pounce but inevitably ferried backward, back to the forgotten aisles, back to the losers' lanes. The stage is small but bright and there are large screens placed on both sides of it: no one in this room will miss anything, but still. That bare spotlight in the center stays lit for a reason. We are all moths bumping up against its flame.

We wait. They're serving wine somewhere, and coffee somewhere. Cookies. One woman crosses back and forth three or four times carrying what looks to be champagne to her seat. She's wearing a brightly patterned jumpsuit with a dark blazer. Sarah and I agree that no one dressed in a jumpsuit should ever be drinking anything: it's a trap. Another young woman in front of us is sitting with her parents; they talk to one another while she Snapchats. It looks frantic and unpleasant but I long to ask how she learned to type so fast on her phone, understanding that such knowledge in my hands would be useless. We were born in different ages. Our fingers are made for different tasks.

I know before the lights go down that if there is a question-and-answer segment following the interview, both of these women will rise to ask questions. I am not wrong.

The lights go down. Helen Mirren appears, looking especially Helen-Mirrenish. You know what I mean. You all know Helen Mirren. The fellow interviewing her, Paul Holdengräber, is light and loose but very intense, and deeply enamored of pauses. Too much maybe. They talk about Shakespeare, about Peter Brook and Africa and Russia and the RSC and Robert Altman and the business of film, the business of acting and the inspiration of art, of lifelong passions and the Italian cinema. Cell phones. Cameras. Modern-day scourges.

They talk about the queen. You know which one I mean. He shows her this photograph by Thomas Struth and reads a very long quote about this photograph, also by Thomas Struth. It's interesting but years go by. They talk about costumes and duty and presentation, what it would feel like to be dressed the way a queen must dress, to seldom be allowed to wear what one actually wishes to wear. And yet: "Have you ever touched a movie star?" Helen Mirren asks. He reaches out and touches her hand. She shakes her head: she means male movie stars, she says, the really big ones, the ones who can afford to wrap themselves in the insanely expensive cocoons of outrageously fine garments, the thickest cashmeres and the richest silks and, I don't know, Rumplestiltskin's maiden's golden straw. That's what it's like to be dressed like a queen, is the point of Helen Mirren's story. Don't feel too bad for the queens. 

Winning the woman way
Ah yes, the woman’s card.

I have been carrying one of these for years, proudly.

It is great. It entitles you to a sizable discount on your earnings everywhere you go (average 21 percent, but can be anywhere from 9 percent to 37 percent, depending on what study you’re reading and what edition of the Woman Card you have.) If you shop with the Woman Card at the grocery, you will get to pay 11 percent more for all the same products as men, but now they are pink.

Hook up the Woman Card to your TV and you will get a barrage of commercials telling you that you did something wrong with your face and must buy ointment immediately so as not to become a Hideous Crone. Also, you are now expected to spend your whole life removing hair from your body, except for the areas of your body where your hair must be long and luxurious. (Do not get these two areas confused!)

Unlike Man Cards, Woman Cards do not increase in value as they age. In fact, they depreciate. Do not collect Woman Cards. Even in mint condition, they are worthless.
Alexandra Petri @ The Washington Post
You should try it

I listened to a an interview with Ellen Burstyn on Death, Sex & Money last year—which was unexpectedly harrowing and filled with amazing yet deeply intimate details about her life that increased my respect for Ellen Burstyn a thousandfold—where she explained her theory of "shouldless days":

I have what I call "shouldless days." Today is a day where there’s nothing I should do. So I only do what I want to do. And if it’s nap in the afternoon or watch TV and eat ice cream, I get to do it. I had that kind of day yesterday.

Shouldless days, I recommend them. Because what I figured out, is we have wiring, I have wiring in my brain that calls me lazy if I’m not doing something: "God, you’re so lazy." And that wiring is there. I haven’t been able to get rid of it.

But what I can do is I can put in another wiring. I can put in shouldless days. So when that voice goes off and says, You’re being lazy, I turn to the other wiring in my brain that says, No, this is a should-less day, and I’m doing what I want.

I have shouldless days a couple of times a month, usually on Sundays, and today is also one. I took a personal day just because. End of sentence! I made no plans and strode forth into the world sans agenda. I walked and stopped and looked and sat and bought some summer beer (since we have pole vaulted right over spring) and ate my first lobster roll of the year (summer) and then I cleaned out my closet and vacuumed and now I'm probably going to take a nap before it rains.

That's it, that's the whole story.

personalKari GComment
No need to worry, no need to cry

What did I say yesterday about turning back the clock?

Prince was one of the defining voices of my teenage years: he was school dances and long car rides to nowhere, MTV and Friday Night Videos, cassette tapes and Sony Walkmans. I was 14 when "Purple Rain" was released. I saw it in the theater over and over; once with my friends Kris and Meredith and—for some reason—our mothers. (My mother, true to her nature, fell asleep.) This world is out there, too, is what I heard in that music. Also, it's time to grow up.

My favorite thing about Prince was that he kept a home in Minnesota. Minnesota! Land of snow and lakes and Rose Nylund. People talk about the South all the time, or the coasts, as if they are magical, mythical, superior homelands, as if the strength of their pull and the spirit of their people exceeds all others. It isn't true, though. There's so much life and beauty in between.

personalKari GComment
Every day a little death

I went back to the eye doctor this afternoon complaining about how my new contacts keep fogging up during the day: they'll be fine for 20 minutes or a couple of hours and then a film will settle on the surface, like I smeared them with baby oil, and by hook or by crook no amount of cleaning will solve it. This drives me crazy: I want the thing that I paid for to work the way it's supposed to, especially when I am trying to see through it.

She put in some drops and then peeled back my eyelids (not a pain-free procedure, FYI). "How long have you worn lenses?" she asked. "Over 30 years!" I answered, as if expecting some reward. In fact it was a stunning admission, even to myself. Imagine being old enough to do anything for more than 30 years. Of course it's also the root of the problem: what I have developed is "giant papillary conjunctivitis" (barf), otherwise known as "a type of allergic conjunctivitis caused by the chronic presence of a foreign body in the eye." Turns out 30+ years of the "chronic presence of a foreign body in the eye" can sometimes have negative consequences. Who knew?!

Someday I would like to meet a person whose health improved after the age of 40. I'm not talking about miracle cures, either, or prosthetic limbs or plastic surgery or dramatic weight loss efforts, I'm talking about daily small victories of the body. Does this happen? It does for people who quit smoking, I suppose, or drinking or [fill in the bad habit blank]. But it can't all be downhill for everybody else, can it? Where are the good stories and who's telling them? What clears up? What gets easier? What gets better? Something: just tell me it's something.

At the same time I do find it all fascinating. It helps me to remind myself that we're born to decay. Aging is what's supposed to happen; it means we're doing it right. Reading glasses, knee pain, wrinkles, root canals, gray hair, even hair in new places, all of it is earned. I mean, don't be a ding-dong, I'm not saying I love it—it's not fun or easy or anything close to inexpensive, and I would sure as shit turn back the clock if I could—but I don't think denying it helps anything, or that trying to hide it is a way to go forward.

The only way forward, as they say, is through.

personalKari GComment
Happy Patti LuPone Day!

Today's post is dedicated to Patti LuPone, who I love, and to Ravinia Bob, who I also love and who I met because of Patti LuPone and who owes his nickname to both me and Patti LuPone (and Ravinia, I guess, which is where we met. He's lucky I didn't decide to call him Patti Bob, although knowing Ravinia Bob and his own love for Patti LuPone, perhaps he would consider it a step up! Who can say, life is short and I only have so many nicknames to throw around [jk: I am a bottomless source of amazing nicknames]).

>>> Let's yank this buggy back on track <<<

Isn't that a nice way to meet somebody, at a Patti LuPone concert at Ravinia of all places? You know whoever ends up at an event like that at a place like that didn't just wander in off the street: they are where they were always meant to be. I used to consider Ravinia a sort of urban wonderland, although I suspect it has since gone to the dogs (aka "the richies" as Andie would call them in "Pretty in Pink"), and it's technically located in a suburb. But no matter! I have the best memories of driving out there on long, hot, muggy summer days and being so excited about what was coming. It is the dictionary definition of "a pain in the ass to get to," which of course is no small part of its charm. You drive for a thousand years down dodgy two-lane back roads and eventually you hit this section of Highland Park where everything turns to tall trees and wildly expensive two-story homes peeking through the leaves, and that part of the drive was such a clear marker for me of what I wanted my life to be and how it had actually turned out just right for once. 

And surely the best thing I ever found at the end of that drive was Ravinia Bob, a total stranger who happened to be seated next to me during the Patti LuPone concert one random evening at the end of August when the gentleman on the other side of me turned to ask who wrote the song "I Was Here," which closed the first half of the program, and to which Ravinia Bob and I shouted "Ahrens and Flaherty!" at the same time. (I think. I'm old now and some of these details are fuzzy, which is a tragedy I'm happy to say will eventually visit you all.) And god knows I don't believe in god ("God") or fate or unicorns or magic, but I do know a lucky break when I see one, and I knew it that night. I knew that I was lucky.

TL;DR (too late, suckers): SarahB and I are seeing Patti LuPone at Symphony Space tonight. Tonight! Lucky again.

Like all of the best things that happen

I decided to throw some new words up here every day this week. That's my goal for the week. I'm a person who sets goals and announces them proudly to the public (as though the public cares) and then immediately fails to follow through. A Capricorn I may be, but a lazy one. The kind of goat who spouts off with a grand ambitious scheme for getting up the side of a mountain and then sits back on her haunches and waits for others, who are better prepared and more emotionally advanced, to push her along as they go. This is a terrible habit to have, for a Capricorn. Our entire raison d'être is to scale things. At this rate I might as well be a Pisces, or whatever the astrological equivalent of a puppy napping in a kitchen floor sunbeam might be. Cute and cozy and warm and happy to eat anything anybody throws at me between yawns. Or whatever the crab is.

Anyway, what I want to report on today is how over the last couple of weeks I've fallen in love with the television show "The Middle," now in its seventh season on ABC. Do you get me? I am SEVEN YEARS behind the curve on this one. Who ever would have thought I could enjoy a show starring Patricia Heaton, when I hated "Everybody Loves Raymond" to the nth degree x a million billion shards of poison-tipped broken glass? That show made me want to stab myself and every single person involved.*

Yet it happened. Emily Nussbaum (newly Pulitzer-minted TV critic for The New Yorker) convinced me to give it a try and now I love "The Middle" so much. I love every Heck family member and their colorful overstuffed falling-apart house and their scraped-up beater cars and their fast food dinners and Frugal Hoosier chips and no-brand candy and Old Navy wardrobes and Colin Firth (the dentist's dog) and Doris, the inherited beagle with the oxygen mask. I love how fearless the actors are, and how physical the acting is. I love that nothing changes much around them even as the characters have been allowed to grow, and the children allowed to grow up. They've become more themselves, as actual people mostly do. I love how they live lives that I recognize in a place that looks and sounds familiar to me, more real in every way than "Sex and the City" or "Girls" or even something like "Roseanne" could ever be. Big stakes, small wins, the plodding ordinariness of daily life that can be its own reward, however much you may resent it at the time. I love that it feels a little bit like home. And even though I'm 46 years old, I'm still learning from Sue Heck that not being cool is the #1 coolest thing to be. (The eternally exasperated, no-bullshit Frankie is who I identify with the most, but Sue Heck calls to mind that great line from Gus to Lorie in "Lonesome Dove" the miniseries: "You don't duck your head to nobody.")

In chronological order, here's a list of all the shows I can remember that have provided me with comfort during times of acute stress:

  • freshman year of college: Growing Pains
  • senior year of college: Murphy Brown / thirtysomething
  • 1995: Cybill
  • 1997: AbFab
  • 2000–1: The West Wing
  • 2007–8: The Office
  • 2008–9: Battlestar Galactica
  • 2013–14: The Big Bang Theory
  • 2016: The Middle

Upon reviewing this list: have I ever not been acutely stressed?

The end.

* I see that Doris Roberts has just died, unrelated to this post (and, hopefully, yesterday's post). RIP obviously, but she'll always be Mildred Krebs to me.

Been here once before

Yesterday's weather was "flawless," if you like that kind of thing. I'm in the midst of my annual "trying," so I went out early for a walk/run through the park and then rode a Citi Bike back up Central Park West, which is a marvelous adventure to have on a brisk and sunny spring morning. I was so proud of myself. "This shows real personal growth on your part!" I said out loud to no one at a stoplight on 78th Street. I almost took a header into a parked car when I started up again but shook it off. The starting up again gets me every time.

When I got home I showered and had breakfast and went back downstairs for the newspaper, which still hadn't arrived, but since it was so nice out I stood on the stoop for a moment and continued to feel good about how the day was shaping up. It had everything: aerobic activity + fresh air + personal growth + the future of infrastructure AND coffee. If I'd been a man wearing suspenders I would have snapped them triumphantly against my chest and whistled a jaunty tune, so pleased with the universe was I.

It was then that I glanced hopefully up the sidewalk to see if the paper boy/girl/person was in sight. He/she/they were not but I did notice an ambulance sitting quietly at the corner with its lights on. Normally I wouldn't have been able to tell what was happening so far away but my new contacts have gifted me with laser sharp ocular powers, so I could see a couple of paramedics pushing a gurney up the street, on top of which laid a body covered with a sheet, which I assume belonged to a person recently deceased. It was still early and pretty quiet out, so it was just them and me and the stupid birds and a couple of people walking their dogs. And since I'm a fully grown, fairly rational adult who has nevertheless retained a tendency to romanticize just about everything I was all ready to be sad about the loss of an adjacent human spirit or at the very least pen a quick elegy to the rhythms of life on a typical city street, but in the end I just didn't have it in me so I whispered "Peace out, man," and went back inside. Twenty minutes later the paper had arrived and the ambulance was gone.