Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Textual Relations

Sometimes I worry about my social interactions, and then I run across somebody so socially inept it makes me feel superept.

One recent night, we were having dinner.  A family I'm acquainted with was also having dinner with their extended family.  The daughter, who is late high-school, maybe early college-age, had her phone in her hands when the family sat down, and spent the meal with her hands in her lap, face pointed down, smirking and giggling, except for the occasional pause to slip a furtive fork of food into her mouth.  When anyone at the table asked her how school was going or about her interests, she'd answer in monosyllabic responses, in a cartoonish, baby-voice and go straight back to tapping out texts on her phone.

I sure hope that girl is more interesting in her surely excessive emoticons LOLs, and textspeak than she is in real life, because at that table, in the presence of her family, she was coming off as a thoughtless, vapid little twit.

Where were her parents?  They were right there.  Were they even noticing how rude she was being to everyone at the table?  It's hard to know for sure, but I'm guessing not.Would they have been as okay with their daughter sitting at the dinnertable with all their family, with her face poked in a book?

On second thought, they might be pleased to see her reading actual words.  Huh.

I guess you could say it really irritated me, seeing this girl ignoring everybody at the table with her in order to keep up with her end of a textual relation at dinnertime.  Her family at least was pretending that she was interesting enough to engage in actual conversation.  She could have stepped up and done the same.  She would have had the easier task in that bargain.

I'm not anti-technology.  In fact, I love technology.  I have my iPhone with me all the time.  I use it to listen to music, keep track of where I'm supposed to be, to make grocery lists, to record Zoe's milestones, to take pictures, make notes, play Words with Friends, check in on Facebook when I'm out and about, find out if I'm heading in the right direction when I'm lost, to check the weather, or read a book or play a game when I'm sitting bored in a waiting room.  Ironically, I rarely get phone calls on my phone.  Texts are even rarer.

I don't always get it right, when I need to be social face-to-face.  Sometimes, my mouth gets ahead of my internal filter.  Or I don't say something I should.  Other times, like when I'm hearing for the zazillionth time the same argument over who had it the hardest growing up, I check out completely.  There's no winning that argument, since the combatants are so committed to the argument itself, that I make an exception to my own rule about not using the phone when I'm around actual people.  But at least I make an effort to be polite and interesting in person, even when there's an inevitable argument brewing.  The more practice you get, the better you get at it.

I don't know what'll become of that girl at the dinnertable with all her textual relations.  I kind of wanted to watch and see what would happen if all of a sudden, the battery in her phone died, or the cell network went down, or somebody dropped hot soup in her lap and all over her phone.  I kind of wanted to stick around and see if she'd be able to form a complete and coherent verbal sentence or if she'd just sit awkwardly silent, an S-E-G pasted across her face as she'd check the blank screen every few seconds.

Kids these days worry me, sometimes.

Friday, January 11, 2013

My Favorite Bubbles

Tiny, Mister, Dubble... Fond as I am of all the different kinds of bubbles, my favorite is the Scrubbing Bubble.

I haven't found anything these tiny, hard-working guys can't do.  They already keep my shower clean, and the tub, sinks, toilet, and fixtures as well. Yesterday afternoon, I set it in my head to clean the disaster area that is the downstairs bathroom, and got out the Scrubbing Bubbles to clean the tile on the walls, and the other porcelain features I mentioned.  It took no time at all.  It's a small room.  I couldn't get past how awful the floor looked, though.

The floor in that downstairs bathroom- well, in ALL the bathrooms, actually, has been a source of upset for me since the day we moved into this house in 2007.  They're white tile, with little black tiles set in, and the kicker: white grout.  That white grout has looked dingy, as though it's had a century of grime mashed in, since Day One.  I watched the fellow who did the tiling put in bright white grout.  I even saw the pride he took in how nice and white it was, and his anguish/ire as the other guys working on the house tracked in on those floors with the beautiful, bright white grout and turned the grout to that disheartening grime-color.  He offered to Dremel out the grout and redo it, and threaten the life of any of the guys who'd dirty up the brand new grout, and in some spots where things were spilled before it was sealed, that's just what he did, but at that point, we just wanted to get out of the Domicile of the Damned and into our own house, so we said we'd deal with the mess later, after the crew was gone.

And I did try.  I tried using baking soda and vinegar and a toothbrush.  I tried using the same mixture and a grout brush.  I tried dumping peroxide on the floor and working it into the grout.  Nothing worked.  All those remedies would make the rest of the floor cleaner, but that grout looked like it'd been in a grimy subway for centuries. 

It's been like this so long, I've stopped caring about the dingy grout.  I've certainly stopped trying to clean it up.  So this afternoon, it was nothing more than a 'can't get any worse' attempt, when I squirted a line of Scrubbing bubbles on the floor, focusing on the grout.  I took a swipe with a microfiber cloth, and mmmmmmwwwwwhaaaaaaaat?!  That dang ol' grout practically sparkled!  I sprayed the whole floor and let it sit for twenty-five minutes or so.  Gave the floor a once-over, in small sections, with a regular scrub-brush (the grout brush was all the way upstairs!), then wiped with the microfiber, and in less than a half hour after I started scrub-brushing and wiping away, that floor looks newer than it did when it was new.  Almost perfect!

I have two more bathroom floors to spruce up, now.  Instead of resenting this, I kind of can't wait to get started. 

Those Scrubbing Bubbles are quite fantastic.  I wish they worked as well on everything else as they do on hard surfaces in the bathroom.  Congress, I'm talking to you.  But that's a rant for another day.  Right now, I'm going to go stare at my nice, clean, sparkling grout, and just smile and smile.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Guess I'll Eat Some Worms!

No one likes me, everybody hates me!
Guess I'll eat some worms!

Remember that little gem from childhood?  Then the narrator of the song goes on to detail all the different worms s/he is going to eat. Somehow, this song got stuck in my head, and I can't get it out.  I've tried all the folksy methods of expelling this ditty from my head, and it's only made it worse.  I think someone out there is sitting with their April voodoo doll next to a speaker with this song on continuous loop, and I'll tell ya what, it's really mean.

First of all, I never liked that song much, and second of all, I never understood it.

Seriously.  Why, if everybody hated you, would you go eat some worms?  I've had days where I've felt like nobody liked me, everybody hated me, so you know what I did?  I went to the store and bought a King Size candy bar.  Eating worms wouldn't make me feel better about being universally hated at all, but chocolate, on the other hand, tastes good and does have happy-pill-like effects when you're down in the dumps.

Think of it.  In the Harry Potter books and movies, did the people who'd had brushes with Dementors eat worms to chase away their depression?  No.  They ate chocolate bars.

I think whoever wrote the song, talking about eating worms because nobody liked him or her, was a master of cutting off one's nose to spite one's face.  "Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, so I'm gonna go ahead and do something spiteful to myself, too!"  Yeah, that'll show 'em!

The song's never made sense to me.  Not when I was a kid, and certainly not as a grown-up, unless it's sung with heavy sarcastic overtones, or sung once as a means of catharsis.  But better yet, I wouldn't sing it at all.  It's a stupid song, even as far as stupid kid-songs go.  You know what makes more sense to me?

Nobody likes me, everybody hates me
Ha-ters gon-na HATE!
I'm goin' for chocolate
I'm goin' for ice-cream!
... What's that, Haters-you want a ride?
Sorry, bitches! You're not invited!
Your behavior disgusts me!
I'm gonna find some new friends,
Some really, really GOOD friends, 
To share my chocolate and ice cream with!
Haters can run off and cry!

This is probably why I should come with a Parental Advisory label.  And also why I don't write songs.  My version's not as catchy as the original, and it doesn't really fit that well with the original score.  I think the underlying message is much more empowering than just sulking in a corner and eating worms.

Monday, January 7, 2013

I Cayenne Do It!

No, this hasn't turned into a cooking blog, although I'm happy to report that twelve and a half years after becoming an adult (graduating from college, where I had a meal plan and getting married and moving out of my parents' house, where there were three squares a day), I'm finally getting so I like to cook!

For a long time, my go-to meal was spaghetti.  I'd switch things up a lot, sometimes having a jar of meat sauce with it, sometimes tomato-basil, other times mushrooms would join the mix.  One time, I got really fancy and found a jar of spaghetti sauce with spicy sausage in it!  Woooo!  It was fancy living in the Blake house that dinnertime! 

Shane always maintained a good sense of humor about all spaghetti, all the time, only melting down once or twice over the solid stream of noodles-n-sauce.  (For Shane, a meltdown means he scowls and says "Can't we have something else for dinner for once?")  He even gave me a clever nickname: Spaghetti Lynetti. 

One thing that hasn't been so funny is my indiscriminate use of cayenne pepper.  I bought a bottle of cayenne pepper from the Acme in the Andorra Plaza in Philadelphia.  That bottle has moved with us from our first apartment, it moved with us back home, and its lasted in our house since we moved here in 2007.  I still have about a quarter-teaspoon left, which is quite remarkable, considering I've ruined more than two handfuls of dinners with that cursed bottle of cayenne.  I'd shake it on food until the food had a nice, rosy, peppery glow.  I've ruined tuna casseroles, chicken, tilapia, and haddock.  Repeatedly.  I don't know how that bottle of cayenne has held on this long, when I count up all the meals I've over-done the spicy-spicy using it.  And I think it's really remarkable how that cayenne pepper has held on to its heat all these years, considering the way other spices start tasting like pencil shavings after a few months of being opened.

Last night, I needed to use cayenne pepper to make "No-Butter Chicken" from the Eat Clean Diet Solution cookbook.  It's a cleaned-up version of the Indian dish Butter Chicken.  The recipe called for a list of spices as long as my arm (and I had 'em all!), including an eighth-teaspoon of cayenne.

To say I was nervous about adding that much cayenne pepper is an understatement.  I considered my bottle of cayenne pepper, shook around the red powder in the bottom, and then I carefully measured out an eighth of a teaspoon and mixed it in with the rest of the spices and was nervous the whole time I stirred the No-Butter Chicken. 

Where I went wrong before, with the cayenne pepper. I used to rely on sight and not measuring spoons to know when there's been enough put in a recipe.  My No-Butter Chicken had some sass to it tonight, but I could taste the other flavors.  It was quite delicious.  It was a hit, in fact!

So I guess I can do it.  I can cook with the hot stuff without turning dinner into a nuclear testing site.  Soon, it's going to be time to buy a new bottle of cayenne pepper.  I'd like to think I've gained some wisdom since I bought my first bottle, back in The Year Two-Thousand!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Cooked Onion Syrup

When I was a little kid and would get a cold, or the first hint of a cold, the last thing I wanted to do was let my Grandma Jeanette know I was sniffling.  It would certainly mean a dose of Onion Syrup.  My stomach would turn as Grandma sliced up onions and put them on the stove to simmer with some sugar and water.  

Onion Syrup has a flavor all its own, and it isn't one I really cared for when I was a little kid, despite its magical abilities to boot a virus right out of the system.  At least that was Grandma's story for dosing my sister and I up with the stuff at the first hint of sniffles.  

As a result of my distaste for Onion Syrup from the stove, I didn't pay a whole heck of a lot of attention to how, exactly, Grandma made it.  I know there were finely-sliced onions and sugar and water, and that the works was simmered on the stove.  I don't think there was more to it than that.  Besides, getting a cold when I was in school meant that it could possibly turn into a Bad Cold, or maybe an Ear Infection, and that meant I could stay home from school for a day or two.  Not that I loved being sick or hated school, but a little unexpected break, a chance to stay home and watch The Price Is Right and whatnot, was always a welcome change from the usual grind.

Now that I'm older, and getting a cold means no such thing as a day off, but instead a week or two of going about my regular daily activities carrying around the misery brought to me by a stuffed-up nose, aching head, sore throat, cough, and any other of a long list of cold symptoms, I will do anything to avoid the Virus of the Month Club. 

I will do anything to avoid getting sick, including making and feeding myself cooked Onion Syrup!

Seeing how I'm only a recent convert to the Onion Syrup scheme, and seeing how Grandma's forgotten how to make Onion Syrup (and a lot of other things- horrible, unfair Alzheimers Disease!), I've had to do some sleuthing on the World Wide Web to see if I can come up with a recipe that's close to hers.  The best I can find are a bunch of variations on a recipe for uncooked onion syrup, made with onions, sugar, and water, and all that is allowed to set out in a jar until needed.  It takes overnight to make.  This version just won’t do. 

After some experimenting, I think I’ve come up with a version similar to Grandma’s.  It isn’t so much a recipe as a bunch of ingredients thrown together.  It tastes just like Grandma’s cooked Onion Syrup (it’s funny how the taste has improved after all these years!), it’s hot and soothing, I’m pretty sure it’s responsible for nipping a budding cold and getting right rid of it, before Christmas, and it’s ready in just a few minutes.  No overnight waiting when you’re fearing a virus coming on!

Here’s my sort-of recipe for Onion Syrup, which makes a single serving in a coffee mug:

1.     Slice a small onion VERY thin.  Do you get fundraiser hoagies, ever?  Have you noticed how thin the onions are sliced for fundraiser hoagies?  THAT’s how thin you’re going for.  If you don’t have a small onion, slice up the equivalent of a small onion.

2.     Put the super-thin onion slices in a small saucepan.  The smallest one you have.  Cover with water.

3.     Add a tablespoon or two of sugar.  The amount of sugar is really up to you.  However much you like.  I’ve never actually measured, but I poured right out of my sugar dispenser, and it looked like I’d used about two tablespoons.  You can use more or less.

4.     Bring the water, with the onions and sugar to a boil.  It won’t take long, especially on low-pressure days.  When the water comes to a boil, turn the heat back and keep the mixture at a lively simmer, stirring constantly. 

5.     Let the liquid thicken a little bit.  It won’t be “syrupy” or sticky, but a little thicker than just water.  If you hate onions, you can strain just the liquid into a coffee mug and drink it.  If you don’t mind the onions, pour the whole works from the saucepan into your mug and drink up.

Now, Grandma Jeanette would never approve, but I added a splash of bourbon to my mug of hot onion syrup.  So if you want to try adding a little of your favorite spirit- not too much- give it a whirl.

I think there’s definitely a placebo effect going on with the Onion Syrup.  I believe it’s going to keep me well, so it does.  But I also think that there’s some sciency mumbo-jumbo going on.  Onions have a lot of vitamins in them.  They’re great for you!  But chowing down on a raw onion like it’s an apple is a feat of strength few of us could really do.  Especially with these sassy “sweet” onions I’ve been getting my hands on lately.  So you mix it with sugar to make it easier to get down, and cook it in some hot water, the steam from which is really soothing if you have or are coming down with a cold, and a little belief in home remedies, and voila. 

It’s worth a try, don’t you think?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Your Attitude Determines Your Altitude

Happy New Year!  It's going to be a good one, 2013.  After the last few weeks of 2012, there's nowhere to go but up, wouldn't you say?  Let's go!

With everybody posting their New Year's Resolutions all over Facebook, it's made me think about a flying cliche.  Go to Sporty's Pilot Shop, My Pilot Store dot com, or even CafePress, and you'll find all kinds of T-shirts with a picture of an attitude indicator and the phrase "Your Attitude Determines Your Altitude!"  These things are cliches because they ring true and they stopped being fresh ages ago. 

An attitude indicator is an instrument on the panel in an airplane's cockpit.  During my first couple flying lessons, looking at that instrument panel would stymie me.  They really do look like a wall full of stupid, weird-lookin' clocks.  But they start to mean something, and that attitude indicator can save your bacon when you're in a cloud or in another position where you can't tell whether your nose is up in the air or pointed straight for the ground. 

In a plane, that's what your attitude means: whether you're nose-up, nose-level, or nose-down, although your actual attitude always plays a part when you're flying, too.  You can either decide you like practicing cross-wind landings and emergency landings and turns around a point, or you can decide to be miserable, in which case, it's a good idea to hang up the flying until the stinkin' thinkin' lets up. 

So, the higher your plane's nose, the higher your altitude is going to be.  Unless you don't have enough power, and then you're gonna stall.  Keep that part in mind.

So that's what I'm going to do in 2013.  I'm going to remember that my attitude determines my altitude.  I'm not going to walk around with my nose in the air, but with my chin up.   I'll make sure I have enough power to stay buoyant, by eating right, getting enough sleep, enough water, enough exercise.  You can't be powered up if you're living on fumes!

"Your attitude determines your altitude."  You can't decide what happens to you, but you can decide how you react to the happenings.  This year, in 2013, I'm going to try my hardest to react with grace and optimism.  Darn it!

Happy New Year, everybody!