Total Clarity. Then You Fall on Your Ass: Cheese Bikkies

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

-The remedy for both bruised butt and ego.-

I am not Michele Kwan. Let’s just be clear about that. Hell, I’m not even one of the Peanuts Gang, who all seem to be able to glide across the ice with ever fluid, though somewhat repetitive motions. (I am, however, a far better dancer than any of their lot.)

No, rather my ice skating is as awkward and clumsy as a first date. My knees shake and swivel like a teetering toy top at the end of its run while my arms flail about in unstable gyres. There will be stops made only by the fact that there is a dependable wall - one of Gods of the ice rink that all beginners prostrate themselves on time and again - in front of me.

Yet, I never fall.

Or, well, rarely. I rarely ever fall.

-I'm not clumsy. I just have an endearing lack of self preservation.-

Thing is for all that tottering around the ice and almost taking out a few small children who have no concept of one-way rink traffic I actually have good enough balance to keep my rubber-boned ankles vertical. I blame it on years of gymnastics in college carefully running balancing beams and flying through the air where having a firm understanding of my center of gravity meant the difference between a solid landing and dreadful tumble like a quail shot out of the sky. I can stay up and, given a few minutes to recall my younger years in the 90’s on roller blades, can eventually move with enough grace (for lack of a better word) to look like I know what I’m doing.

Frontwards and backwards, none of it becomes a problem after a good twenty minutes of finding the steels on my feet. You won’t see a lutz or spin, but you won’t see me falling face first.

So, like every year, I had arranged some time to go ice skating. Fiance’ stayed behind on account of, “I don’t want to spend an hour falling on my ass,” which meant I would go alone with my friend Mike who was better on the ice than me and eager to bundle up for a bit of weekend winter sport.

We walked many blocks from Mike's place to the rink allowing the stroll to warm us up. The air was crisper than a wafer cookie and each puff of hot breath hung long in the air like small persistent ghosts following us down the street.

Too Much PC: Curried Popcorn

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

-Happy *Insert Proper Holiday Here*-

"Do we need to put stuff up for Ramadan?" asked Pamela. We were putting up the various holiday decorations at work and while she began to string garland through the big Spruce tree I tried my darndest to remember which symbol was which on a dreidel. It was my first job out of college and after four years of spinning the darned thing I still could barely remember which was which.

"No, it was in July and August this year. Lunar calendar, I think," I replied.

"Still, don't we have to represent it?" she asked.

"What? Why?" I tossed the toy onto the table and listened to it playfully whir against the tabletop before teetering over with the symbol for Nun face up.

"To be all PC and all that," she replied.

"It was months ago. That would be like hanging your stockings and breaking out the nog in May. There's no point. Plus, anyone who came in who was knowledgeable about the holiday would realize that it was misguided PC. Or, well, just think us idiots. If we wanted to honestly represent it we should have done so at the right time. I didn't know when it was and we don't celebrate all the holidays anyways. It's not like we lit candles for Diwali or anything this year."

-Totally dropped the Diwali ball. My bad.-

"Well, at least we have a Christmas tree so people know what we celebrate," she said in most self-assured way, as if setting herself stalwart against imagined throngs of people bashing down our door to declare a War on Christmas. "I'm so tired of hearing Happy Holidays, when people mean Merry Christmas."

Pamela is the heavily religious type. Rather liberal on many social issues (you generally are if you work in social work as we do), but still strictly religious. She was the type who wore tacky holiday sweaters with fashionable abandon, pulsed with the thrum of her beliefs, and would lecture you about cursing if you said, "Oh Jesus," in her presence. Still her plump face, blond hair that fell to her waist in wheat-colored wave, violin chord voice, and amber disposition made her endearing to almost everyone.

"But not everyone here does celebrate Christmas. I think that, well, Christmas has evolved into a family holiday for a lot of people. It doesn't have quite the religious connotation I think it had," I replied as I tried to get pencil thin candle to stand straight in the menorah.

"What do you mean?" asked Pamela.

Just. Stop.: Eggnog Upside-Down Fruit Cake

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

-Because sometime venting helps me...-

"So how did the parsnip recipe work this time?" asked my friend and cookbook partner, Stephanie.

"Not so good. The first was too rich. The second was tasted like nothing at all. The third actually set off the smoke alarm." I sighed. "Honestly, if this recipe goes any farther south I'll be cooking in Mexico. I am beyond stressed right now."

"Mexican Mac and Cheese? Hmm..."

"Oooh. Yes. Jot that down. But, anyways, Mutual Friend X keeps bugging me. He can't cook at all. At. All. He wants to help test and to be honest I don't think he can handle it."

"Mutual Friend X couldn't handle a shot of raspberry schnapps."

"HA! Awesome. But yeah, when you come up I want your help working on this one because I am about to seriously go apeshit with these parsnips and club a bitch in the throat with one. I highly doubt the publisher wants that sort of PR."

"All press is good press, right?"

"Unless you're a despot or being profiled in People magazine for stretch marks or something."

"Indeed," she concurred.

-In this issue of People: celebrities who need your undying attention.-

Favors: Cranberry Jam

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

-A bit of thanks for everyone.-

"So what kind of ceremony were you planning to have?" asked Kate, my and Fiance's friend and wedding planner. A tall brunette with librarian's glasses and a designer's wardrobe poignantly market with Kate Spade (natch) I watched her mentally tick off various aspects of the big day as she took stock of what then, depending on our answers, needed to be done.

"Um, just a short one I think?" Kate gave me a rather concerned glare. I looked to Fiance who had conveniently turned away and proceeded to examine the rather impressive and near-to-scale and intimidating recreation of Stonehenge that our host, John, had built a few years back on a gardening whim so as to appear unaware of the question. I turned back to Kate, "Like, ten minutes long. Or so?"

"Yes, but what kind? Like a sand ceremony or what?" she queried harder, hoping her example would spark some kind of flame in my nuptial noggin. Sadly, her flint was weak. Or, more likely, I lack the tinder.

-Or a bit of both...-

"Kate, I have no idea what the words you are saying mean."

"Okay, how about a chocolate and wine ceremony?" The C-Word got Fiance's attention but he didn't know the question. We met her, this time together, with blank stares. She sighed and rubbed her temples. "Okay, it's a ceremony that uses chocolate to symbolize the bitter times and wine to celebrate the sweet times. Very fun, very unique, very foodie. I'd think you guys would like it."

Fiance and I exchanged looks, nodded, and gave our assent to the planner that yes, that sounded lovely. She then began to talk about processions (we'll have a short one), corsages (just for me as Fiance will be in military dress), wedding party (none, it's a guest list of 50 for Christ's sake), and so on. The bulk of the exchange was poor Kate lobbing darts at the board of our collective likes and dislikes and seeing what stuck.

I began to suspect that my lack of answers to apparently the most basic questions about various wedding considerations was beginning to exasperate her. The entire concept of planning a wedding to us is probably more confusing to us than reading sanskrit, contemplation of the universe and our place within it, and Michele Bachman. Still, she just mostly smiled through the whole thing and like a mother leading a toddler through a crowded place delicately made sure I knew what I was doing and that Fiance and I made sound decisions that would be right for us.

Who knew so much went into one of these hooplahs?

Social Graces: Eggnog & Cranberry Scones

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

-Social filters are so lame anyways. Not like scones which are never lame.-

I was raised right and generally like to think I'm with rather decent manners. I never push my way through a crowd, but rather gingerly shoulder my way past to with the appropriate "Pardon me. Excuse me," as is expected. I feign timorousness when the situation is proper and speak out when it is expected or necessary. I hold doors, always smile, and genially try to be cordial to everyone.

Then again, we all have our bad days. I've been that person who gets in the car and takes personal offense when the person behind me thinks I'm going to slow - which I probably am - and decided to go around and get in front of me. I respond with anger, taking this pass as an insult to my ability to drive, and speed up determined to prove to EVERYONE that I am not the slow, inattentive driver I am.

I'm also the type who detests poor phone skills and will deliberately make my revulsion apparent. For example, I may or may not have been taken aside at work and told that it is not appropriate to chastise one of our more annoying vendors for always every. single. time. interrupting me on the phone.

Then there are the days where I don't just completely toss all sense of propriety out to the wind, I club it in the back of the head with a shovel and then throw it in the back seat of my car to be buried in a train yard.

This is what happened yesterday. When I told a baby to go fuck itself.

-Yes, I'm a model human being.-

Now, it wasn't the baby's fault. I admit that he was innocent and not really the problem. His father, who was an ass and whom I did tell to go fuck off, was.

It had already been a bad day. I mean a really bad day. The kind where you a negative energy of pure bitch fury just radiates off of you like heat from fire. Everyone knows to just leave you alone and the obvious scowl is enough to deter questions and well-intended comfort which would only add fuel to the flames.

Yes, it was that kind of day. Thank God, the work day was over and I only had to run to the market for some mussels so I could test a dish for the cookbook. I had called ahead and checked if they had any mussels.

"Two pounds? Yeah. We have plenty."

I asked if they were sure and if they could hold some for me. They explained that no, they couldn't do that for seafood but that it shouldn't be a problem. I told them fine and that I would only be an hour and that they would please just try to keep me and two pounds of mussels in mind.

I arrived, earlier than I had told them and walked up to the fish counter where there were no mussels.

Roommate Hunting: Coco-Banana Bread

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

-That one time in life where you have to let strangers into your home. And then live with them.-

"i am would liking to know if te room is still 4 rent? please send picture, address, phone number, full name to me so i can do need some research on the place. please consider the House mine. -Jessica"

Reading it I could actually feel a small part of my brain wretch as small blood clot formed from pure frustration struck it. In fact, I'm pretty sure I lost some grade school algebra in a small grammatically-induced stroke.

I deleted the e-mail that was most likely a scam anyways. I then edited the Craigslist ad I had put up, and with no dramatic rapidity or concern added the word "intelligent" into the description of the would-be roommate Fiance and I were hunting for.

I'm sorry, but if I have to live with someone then that person better have a firm grasp of syntax and punctuation.

The search for a new roommate - a situation brought about through fiscal necessity as Fiance and I were eager to start scrimping away more fervently for a down payment - had never been this hard before. Then again, the last time I was hunting for a roommate the economy was good and Bravo had yet to start airing anything starring an attention-whoring housewife. There were simply far fewer ads on Craigslist to compete with for potential roommates.

Of course, those who did seem to read the ad weren't exactly the ones who fit the description. In fact, I imagine that none of the potential applicants had actually read it in full. I use the word "potential" rather literally. Only one person have I actually deemed to meet and that one was more out of desperation than anything else. For the most part many of the applicants are failing to get past the preliminary phone conversation or e-mail due in part to grammar so blunt you could club a horse to death with it; or phone skills that demonstrate a third grade education, a drinking problem, or both.

-It's what happens when teacher drinks too much before class.-

The ad reads pretty darn simple. Clean gay couple with two cats. No drugs. You pay rent on time. Clean neighborhood. Attic and a washer and dryer are available. So on and so forth. Overall, it's the place I would have loved to live in but couldn't afford seven years ago. Thus, by my standards, it's a room in a house that people should be knocking down the door for.

Instead, I get people who call and ask about thier pet dog.

"The ad did say no pets," I replied. "I suppose if the dog is trained..."

"Well he's an inside dog, but he only poops on the floor every so often. He also hates cats."

"Everything you just said is a problem," I replied.

"The pooping or the cats?"


"You have cats then?" he asked.

I sighed audibly. "It's in the ad that I do. They are indoor cats."

"Can you put them outside?"

There are times, in fact, when it is perfectly acceptable to just hang up on someone and it not be considered rude.

Chill and Warmth: Chocolate & Ginger Cookies

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

-Something toasty on a crazy cold day.-

I'm sitting on the floor next to my oven right now typing this because I am frozen. The pilot light has yet to be lit in the new place (and by pilot light I mean odd fuse-like device that needs to be installed in the electric heater; oh if only it were simply striking a match). The only source of heat right now is the layers of sweaters bulking up my wiry frame.

I mean, what else do you do when it is under 40 degrees Fahrenheit in your dwelling?

I am also somewhat relying on the ambient heat given off from my cantankerous oven. It's as senile as the average Floridian retiree and puts out heat based on similar whims. It's something that must definitely be looked at but right now it's at least reliably baking my cookies (double entendre that all you want).

I actually did buy a space heater, though. Some giant ceramic tower device that puts out more heat than an alley cat in August. Unfortunately, it's more intelligent than I am as programing it correctly is more difficult that setting the clock on the VCR my mom had in the 90's.

The whole situation has left me only the teeniest bit absolutely livid right now.

-I would be more upset if I wasn't buried under quilts.-

As I shivered in my new place the only thing that seemed to make any sense was to bake cookies. It would force the oven to (hopefully) grumble to life and heat the kitchen, which luckily has a door to it and therefore I can trap the heat and hotbox myself.

But cookies have another function - that of comfort. What other food turns a house into a home? Indeed, chocolate chip cookies are the first thing I ever learned to make. I have great memories of my mom teaching my brothers and I how to bake them. We'd always do it in fall and winter when turning on the oven and hot cookies was the only sane way to warm us up in our brisk 50 F Southern California winters. (It doesn't sound bad, but when that's what you grow up with that, well, 50F sets the standard of tolerable cold. Now that I live in Northern California where it hits an arctic death of 20F.) We would carefully crack eggs and beat butter, and my mom would pretend not to notice me and my siblings sneaking fingerfuls of cookie dough.

A more innocent time before salmonella scares and kids learned by making mistakes and hurting themselves and not being protected from every little thing, and parents were terrified that the entire would was out to destroy their young.

Settling In: How to De-Seed a Pomegranate

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

-A simple meal during a complicated week.-

Moving day is the worst. It’s heavy, tiresome, expensive, and frustrating. The result is a bad back and a strained bank account, neither of which recover quickly and require at least a few days of rest.

But no rest for you! Oh no! Those boxes must be unpacked. Walls must be painted. Nails must be secured and pictures hung for all guests – because you want to show off your dazzling new place as soon as possible – to admire.

It’s tough work. No question about it. Yet it’s probably the part of moving we all actually enjoy. With each box emptied and broken down a small piece of your life comes back into order. A shelf organized brings calm. Clothes hung in the closet means you aren’t hunting for underwear out of stray boxes like some real estate blessed vagabond. The TV unloaded means movies and background noise when you unpack everything else. Let’s not forget the reconnection to society when the cable guy, a veritable angel walking amongst humanity, comes to hook up the Internet. And, of course, what home cook doesn’t love invoking order upon a spice cabinet?

Each little task brings you closer to evolving your house to a home. New adventures, memories, etc., and the fervent hope that things in this space will go well. It’s that time when you can make statements like, “This is where I will be happy forever and nothing bad will happen,” and you can almost believe them.

Though who knows?

-Hopefully, no more disasters.-

As it stands the house is transforming into what Fiancee’ and I want it to be. The living room is inviting with therapeutic bamboo green walls and personal bits of decor that range from framed post-it notes with cryptic dime store philosophy and homemade rorschach prints to the antique Remington Rand I wrote my college applications on. (Oh god, I just dated myself).

The furniture has all been smartly arranged though there is still that corner we’re not sure what to do with. The bedroom is tight; not in square footage but in how eloquently it has been arranged for functionality. Our bathroom is glittering white, almost sterile – which is something I prefer in a bathroom – with hints of azure blue here and there.

Some things are still standing issues. The pilot light still needs to be lit, and, dear landlord, please hurry on that as the air is beginning to chill. A door jam needs to be added in the front room before someone (i.e., me) accidentally pops a doorknob through the drywall like a small wrecking ball. We need another smoke detector because Jesus Christ I will not be almost burned to death in my sleep again.

Writing a Cookbook: Sauteed Persimmons

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

-Something without pasta. Thank god.-

Writing a cookbook is an interesting venture. Things are often unpredictable, which is both exhilarating and somewhat exhausting.

Take, for example, the speed at which things move in the publishing world. Sometimes things go achingly slow like the near year it took to cobble together a proposal that Stephanie and I were proud to put our names to. At other times things move at breakneck speed like when we actually sold the book during a hurricane three-day publisher bidding war that literally kept me tied to my phone and e-mail for a good 72 hours.

Details are insane. I'm learning publishing slang. I'm doing my best to go over each recipe with a fine tooth comb only to come back the next day and find new details I forgot to include. I'm familiarizing myself with copyright laws. The contracts are so long and confusing they practically cause vertigo and require steady footing, not to mention reliable people at your back to prop you up and hold a magnifying glass for that print under the dotted line you're so eager to sign. Lucky, the peeps at Little, Brown and Company and my agent, Janis Donnaud, are all kick ass people who I know have my back.

Organization is key. Numerous spreadsheets have been crafted, accounts created, and documents shared. There are notebooks. Literally notebooks. Plural. To keep things in check.

In fact, this organization has been crazy especially when it comes to the many and beloved testers I am so happy to be working with. When Stephanie and I put out a call for volunteer testers we expected a humble number of emails to eek their way to us.

We definitely did not expect 300+ volunteers.

-Words cannot express my shock and gratitude.-

To all the testers out there who are currently testing or waiting to test a recipe, know that we adore you. You guys are the heroes of this book. The organization is stressful but worth it as I've had an amazing privilege to get to know many of you personally as you share stories with me and we converse about cooking, cheese, and our families. We love every typo you find, every recipe quirk, and we adore the great feedback were getting (almost all of it positive).

I know many of you have sent e-mails to us wanting to test a recipe and are still waiting for a response! I beg your patience. Between blogging, my day job, moving, the wedding, and cooking and testing it's been hard to get through the deluge of e-mails I have coming in like a digital tsunami. Know that it's a current I am slowly swimming against and that I will address each and every one in the coming weeks.

And the testing itself!? What a whirlwind! There have been some amazing things coming out of this kitchen. Ingredients like persimmons, truffle oil, arugula, vanilla beans, shallots, and guanciale have all had a place here and each one warmly admitted to the fold like a new member marrying into the family (Ack! The wedding similes are creeping in!).

Admittedly, there has been one or two recipes that have given off an indolent thud as they hit the bottom of the trash can, never to see the light of day. The good with the bad and all that noise.

Oh, but the cheeses. *Sigh* The cheeses...

Sure, my cheese bill may have been more than my rent this month, but it is so worth it. Dolcelatte, Keen's Cheddar, Abbaye del Be'loc, Feta, Nicasio Square, Gruyere, Point Reyes, and chalk-white slabs of Monte Enebro have all had a chance to dance on my plate.

Moving: Maple Pumpkin Cake + Giveaway

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

-The only thing I could make amidst the chaos.-

New house. New house.

No, sadly, not my own house. Finances aren't that perfect. Yet. Fiancee and I are renting a house. Our first actually. It feels like we're moving up in the world a bit.

Since this crazy flood-slash-mold issue isn't getting resolved properly anytime soon and the (now ex) roommate is stuck in legal battles with the complex owners, Fiancee and I have decided to finally just cut bait from the whole thing and run.

And running, it seems, usually comes to be a good thing rental-wise. I seem to land in better and better places every time a disaster destroys the last one. When God closes the door in your old apartment (or burns it down, or floods it, or infects it with mold, or buries it under a roof collapse, or explodes it in the neighbor's meth lab explosion), a window in a much better property opens. Or so it seems to be for me.

Maybe I'm just jinxed when it comes to real estate?

-I know I'm not jinxed with maple syrup at least. (Image from The Federation of Quebec Maple Farmers.)-

Either way, the new place is bigger. Huge kitchen with more light than a glow stick factory, a gas range, and a new fridge. No dishwasher (ick) but washer and dryer (yay!). Yard big enough to have - dare I say? - a dog. Or better yet, a lemon tree?!

Unfortunately, the only problem with moving is the move. I frickin' hate it. And though with age comes the luxury of no longer relying on friends with trucks and finally being able to just hire movers everything still must be carefully sorted, boxed, labeled, hauled, unpacked, and reorganized and I just hate hate HATE it.

The back and forth from house to truck? Lord, I practically wilt at thought of it. I may have kitchen hands that proudly bear scars from peeling flats of plums with a pairing knife or boiling sugar, but damn if they aren't dainty things that simply detest carrying heavy loads.

The other thing I loathe besides all those boxes is that they have imprisoned within them the things I need. Particularly my kitchen; all of it properly wrapped in the daily paper and smartly stacked. A few exceptions exist: two plates, some forks, a large bowl, and a baking pan I found under the bathroom sink for whatever reason I can't figure out why.

The Engagement: Persimmon Spice Cake

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

-Persimmons announce the arrival of fall, amongst other things.-

I'm told by many of female friends that most women have been planning their wedding since they were little girls marrying off their Barbie dolls. Many of them admit they are, in fact, some of these women. They know the china pattern, the first song, how they'll dance with their father, and what the dress will look like down to a sequin-sewn T. Some women already have their favorite florist on speed dial just in case. I know bakers who attest that some brides in question have called them about cake flavors before even informing the parents about the big news.

The fairer sex may just be a tad crazy, it seems.

Men (well, maybe most men, I can't speak on behalf of my sex or sexual preference) never think about this. I certainly never have past the fact of, "Dear Lord, if I ever want to do one of these giant circus weddings with 300 people please let the flower-and-glitter-laden gazebo I take my vows under collapse on top of me." Because, honestly, I'm not a wedding fan; and though I have been to some rather lovely ones and enjoyed myself I have had no desire to really take part in the whole affair.

Now, apparently, I have to do another wedding. Mine.

Because BF proposed.

And I said yes.

-Tungsten with an abalone shell band. Because I know 99.9% of you want to know. The other 0.01% are my straight male readers.-

So BF Fiancée, has done the deed, the family members on both sides have been called. Cheers all around because I'm the happiest boy in the world right now. I got the Masters, the travel, the book deal, and the boy. Life is good. Like hardcore, knock-on-wood, finding $20 in your pocket, thank you baby Jesus good.

Fiancée and I were having our first night to just sit down and unwind since I had returned to China. We had a lovely night at home watching movies and eating a dish I was testing for the cookbook. Eventually we retired for the night. Suddenly he grabbed me close and he told me he loved me and that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me.

Then in the comfort and warmth of our home he got on one knee and asked me to marry him.

Never have I met someone who matches me so well, who can make me laugh, who can charm my parents, who can calm me down when I panic, who thinks about my needs, who sets me straight or humors me when I need it and knows which response to give, who takes out the trash without being asked, who can make a fine cocktail, who supports me in everything I do, who makes my rockets fly, and who enjoys cooking and eating an epic meal.

Scent and Spice: Figgy Chai Muffins

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

-I so rarely ever start with lists...-

Some things you may not know about me:
  • I hate when people call me Gary. Given, I’ll use the name Gary when the kid at Jamba Juice asks me for it as they always mishear me and shout the name Derek when my order is ready. Other than that, no, please do not call me Gary. I will have to punch you in the throat.
  • I don’t have a type. When I was dating my only pre-reqs were that any potential mates had no criminal history and didn’t do drugs (if it was a hookup then these rules were negligibly a bit more lax). Things like race and body type aren’t huge factor to me; personality is. Points if potential mate can pull off a well-tailored vest.
  • I would go straight for Lucy Lawless. Unquestionably. BF is aware of this fact and has made his peace with it.
  • I lick the salt off chips before I eat them. It's a very strange habit and I have to remind myself not to lick my chips in public otherwise people look at me funny.
  • I find the following distasteful: grocery store tomatoes, Ann Coulter, tabloid magazines, people who read tabloid magazines, western novels, repeats of 80’s comedies, overly aggressive drag queens.
  • I find the following to be rather enjoyable: repeats of Xena: Warrior Princess, Lucy Lawless (see item 3), the 10th Doctor, Kit Kat bars, Jane Austen novels, overly aggressive drag queens.
  • I love a fine cologne. Preferably with hints of citrus, sandalwood, raspberry, or any number of spices such as clove or cardamom. Gush.

-Also, I love a good back rub, but that's not the topic of this post.-

The latter is particularly true about me. Combined with item number 2 in that list any man wearing the right cologne can simply cause me to ride right off my wagon and go tumbling into the sheets. It’s rather embarrassing though I can’t say I mind it. Consider Happy for Men my slutty kryptonite in a smart orange-glass flask.

One particular friend knew how to smartly apply cologne using techniques that probably required more forethought than a home loan. He would spritze the air leaving a perfumed cloud of mist to hang momentarily and, before it began to descend, he would briskly walk through it. A quick spray on the wrists so that in case hands went roaming later in the night with some unexpected someone a hint of nutmeg would entice. Lastly, and quite clevery I might add, a small amount on the back of the neck. When dancing closely with said unexpected someone their nose would be enticed by a spot of scent, the prey engaged and caught.

Throughout the night I could smell him and I must say his technique was rather effective.

BF learned from him how to properly apply cologne. He uses the knowledge to its ultimate. Simply enough, cologne, particularly the spices within them, drives me bonkers.

The Cookbook and a Call for Recipe Testers

Friday, October 7, 2011

I was at a blogging conference attending one of the sessions entitled, "From Blog to Book." I was there mainly out of curiosity as my authorial leanings usually tended to sway more to literary than culinary instruction. I listened as friends and colleagues discussed how they made the transition, the pitfalls and challenges they faced, how they overcame them, and so on. It was all quite interesting and I took it all to heart but felt that, really, none of this pertained to much to me. After all, I had zero desire to write a cookbook.

I explained as such to my friends. I told them that no, I did not want to write a cookbook, nor did I ever want to. It seemed like too much work. Too much hassle.

Until, suddenly, one day it didn't seem like a bad idea. In fact, the project sounded riveting. Still, I realized I didn't want to go it alone. I called my BBFF (Blogging Best Friend Forever), Stephanie Stiavetti, and talked to her about it. We synced up immediately.

We found a subject we wanted to explore. Something that no one else had done. Something that would kick quite a bit of kitchen boo-tay.

It was cheese. Really amazing, artisanal and farmstead cheeses and how to cook some truly modern and epic recipes with them.

So we started drafting a proposal. Then we found an insightful agent with a good eye and plenty of experience who loved it, and who we developed an immediate and genial rapport with. She then found a publisher who was as excited about the project as we were.

And, so, suddenly, it seems I'm writing a cookbook with my BBFF.

Who would have guessed that this would ever happen?

The book's working title is called, Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese and it's been picked up by Little, Brown and Company. The concept behind the book is to present a variety of macaroni and cheese dishes that embody a modern, minimalist approach that allows each recipe to focus on the cheeses utilized and how the other ingredients compliment and are complimented by them. Fine cheeses truly are amazing on their own, but cooking with them brings out new personalities and flavor profiles that are rarely ever experienced. This book presents the chance to do just that. It'll even have pictures by the infamous duo of Matt Armendariz and Adam Pearson.

It's going to be a crazy ride filled with plenty of laughter, excitement, exhaustion, and probably a break down or two (much future thanks to BF's patience on the latter, but he'll be eating well this coming year so I figure it's an even trade off) and I cannot wait.

Recipe testing has already begun and I'm waist deep in notes, cheese, pasta, and far too many dirty dishes. The thing is, though - and readers, this is where you all come in - Stephanie and I need help.

We're looking for recipe testers. Lots of them. People who are interested in trying hand-crafted cheeses, unique recipes, and providing crucial feedback. We can't reimburse and compensate anyone as it's just not in the monetary stars, but we can give you acknowledgement in the book and you can certainly note in your resume, "Professional Recipe Tester." It's a nice start for anyone looking to get in the business.

Anyways, huzzah! I'm so excited about this project I almost pass out!

We're already quite a few recipes in and ready to just go nuts. Fresh produce, special meats, and an array of amazing cheeses from Stilton and Red Hawk to Keen's are all going to be featured and given the star treatment. We hope you'll love these recipes as much as we do.

I'll keep you all posted as things advance. Until then if you're interested in becoming one of our recipe testers and getting a bit more information e-mail Stephanie and me at We hope to hear from you!

Adventurous Eating Starts at Home: Grape & Lavender Galette

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

-Adventurous eating doesn't always mean roasted grasshoppers and 1000 year eggs.-

“So I think I’m going to make a grape and lavender tart. I found a recipe on Martha Stewart,” I nonchalantly told BF.

“Grape and lavender? Why?” BF seemed curious about this one. It wasn’t the most straightforward recipe to be sure. In fact, I doubt he had ever seen or conceptualized a grape dessert before. It wasn’t like they were on the menus of every restaurant.

“Well,” I sighed, “to be honest it’s because, One: I’m intrigued by the idea of it. Two: It sounds kinda terrible to me but also sorta tasty. See, the idea of cooked grapes to me actually seems rather unpleasant. Grapes have a flavor that I think is best cold or even frozen -” I love to freeze grapes as a snack, “-and the idea of them being served hot just sounds groady. I imagine them tasting rather sickly sweet and having a texture of hot boiled mash with nasty strings of curled grape skins.”

“I assume the lavender is a part of this, too?”

“Exactly. Lavender is a tricky food. Few people can cook with it well and fewer even know how much to use when they do. I’ve had great experiences when it was used on a turkey as part of a salt rub and enjoyed some whipped cream touched with lavender, but other than that… I dunno. It’s quick to go from floral fragrance to being snuffed out with the fume of a grandmother’s panty drawer.”


-The grapes I used were Flame, Black Emerald, Champagne, Obsidian, and Concord.-

“Yeah, I thought you'd like that comparison. So, this is just a grand experiment to see if I can get myself to like both cooked grapes and try lavender in a new way. Hopefully it’ll be awesome. It may just be alright. Possibly, it may taste like the sins of a used up, overly made-up, tranny hooker baked in a pie crust.”

“Nice,” he said and turned to leave the room.

“Ha ha! Man, I am on a roll today.”

This wasn’t my first stroll down this particularly unusual avenue of cooking. I had traveled this route many times, mapping out my various culinary distastes and challenging them in all sorts of ways. Too many jaunts down lima bean alley left me to realize that I simply don’t care for them in any way, and that I had my mother’s terrible and overcooked turkey soup to blame for this. A surprise run-in with Brussels sprouts and its retinue of Parmesan cheese and garlic showed me just how much I enjoyed the little cruciferous’ company on my plate. I have had enough encounters with spaghetti squash to know that given the chance I would lock them all up in a cell and throw away the key, the nasty little things. I attempted cooking with eggplant once years ago after being more than a bit nervous of them. These days we’re the best of friends.

So I would try with grapes and lavender.

Guest Post by Stephanie Stiavetti: Crème Fraîche Stuffed Asian Pears

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

For the next few weeks I'm taking a long overdue vacation. This is also my first vacation from blogging EVER as on previous escapes I always took my computer. It's one that is soundly needed. I'm touring China and Tibet with my mom and enjoying the sights, sounds, and flavors of locations such as Shanghai, Lhasa, and the Yangtze River. I cannot wait.

As beautiful as China is I cannot blog while there as blogger sites are blocked by the Communist Party of China (as is Facebook, my e-mail, Twitter, etc.). As such, I'm proud to announce Vanilla Garlic's first ever guest posts.

This second of two guest posts was written by my partner in culinary crime Stephanie Stiavetti. Her blog, The Culinary Life, is one filled with Gluten-Free Recipes and plenty of wit. She's also a well-known expert on the subject of SEO and an amazing freelance web and tech guru. So much so she's spoken on the subjects at many blogging conferences and has been hired by many big name bloggers you've definitely heard of.

Now, Stephanie and I agree on a lot of things. However, one of the few things we do disagree on is the subject of pears. I think they kick ass. She wants them expunged from human taste.

Except, that is, for one particular exception...


-Delicious pears and dairy.-

My name is Stephanie and I'm a sugar addict.

My family is bred of fine, sugar-obsessed stock, and as a result, I'm one of those people who finds themselves elbow-deep in a bowl of M&Ms before consciously realizing there's candy in the room.

As I've gotten older health issues have forced me to seriously scale back on my sugar intake, and this unfortunate fact has put a damper on my culinary enjoyment.

Avoiding sugar has been a struggle, especially with tempting blogs (such as this one) occupying my attention every day. Yet summer is an easy time of year to avoid refined sugar because we're surrounded by so much fruit that it's impossible to ignore the bounty of fresh stonefruit, berries, and jams that dominate produce displays. As summer turns cool, though, our natural sweets selection changes. White nectarines give way to apples, and root vegetables start replacing the colorful berries that monopolize local farmers markets from June through August.

While I find it terribly depressing to see summer fruit season end, there's a shining light piercing the early dusk of these chilly September evenings: Asian pears.

First, a confession - I hate pears. HATE them. Their gritty texture makes me want to rip every tooth out of my mouth and hurl them across the room. When I was little, my mom would try to feed me pears and I'd projectile spew them straight into her lap. So, as you can imagine, I was a little trepidatious about trying Asian pears.

I remembered seeing Asian pears at the grocery store as a kid; the produce manager would wrap each individual pear in a stretchy foam sleeve to keep the delicate flesh from bruising as the fruits sat stacked in shoulder-high mountains. I can't tell you how many times my grandmother smacked me up beside the head for stealing those sleeves, sliding them up my arms and running around the produce section like I was the ninja protectress of our local Safeway. As a staunch pear-hater, that was the only pleasant pear memory I had filed away in my mind.

Guest Post by Irvin Lin: Black Garlic & Vanilla Bean Marble Brownies

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

For the next few weeks I'm taking a long overdue vacation. This is also my first vacation from blogging EVER as on previous escapes I always took my computer. It's one that is soundly needed. I'm touring China and Tibet with my mom and enjoying the sights, sounds, and flavors of locations such as Shanghai, Lhasa, and the Yangtze River. I cannot wait.

As beautiful as China is I cannot blog while there as blogger sites are blocked by the Communist Party of China (as is Facebook, my e-mail, Twitter, etc.). As such, I'm proud to announce Vanilla Garlic's first ever guest posts.

The first if from my buddy, Irvin Lin. His blog, Eat The Love, has only been around a short time but already possess a cult following for his inventive recipes, engaging voice, and sense of style.

Irvin has done something I've never been able to do: actually combine vanilla and garlic into a unique and musky-sweet dessert.

Bravo, Irvin. Bravo.


-Chocolate, vanilla, and garlic. Together at last!-

I woke up on a sunny bright day in Maui on the sixth day of my month long stay with my partner, AJ. Through saving, planning and a little bit of luck, we had been able to do an extended trip to Hawaii. My partner is a teacher and had the summer off and, for the first time in I don’t know how long, I did not have a day job and could freelance wherever I wanted to.

I logged onto my computer and sitting in my inbox was a message from Garrett, both flattering and pleading, asking me if I would consider writing a guest post for him, as he went off on his own extended trip to China and Tibet. I immediately said, “Of course,” and then went into a minor panic about what to write about.

It’s easy when I’m writing for my own blog (I have no standards there, I just ramble about my own life stuff) but a guest post for someone else should probably be a little more… ahem… well put together. However, I went about the rest of the day in my usual vacation way (going to the beach, laying in the sun, getting slightly sunburned) with that email in the back of my mind, not sure what I was going to write about, but hopefully I would think of something.

-Marbled goodness.-

That day in paradise did not go well. I had a rather adventurous evening the night before, with my partner and I ending up in a new friend’s hotel hot tub and there were large plastic tumblers of wine involved (it all sounded like a good idea at the time, and not the least bit sordid as it does now, in retrospect). I was not feeling so hot at the beach, which of course, was one of the more difficult beaches to get to (why do the gay beaches have to be the ones that you have to climb over treacherous terrain to get to?). When I told my partner I was having gastrointestinal issues – something you really don’t want to have on a remote gay nude beach with no restrooms (did I not mention it was nude?) – we left shortly before what I’m sure was a spectacular sunset. I was too concerned about my stomach to pay any attention to what I might have missed.

I spent the next six hours curled up in my bed, fading in and out of consciousness, while my partner fretted and came in with various beverages and medications for me. Perhaps it was the wine, the not-so-sanitary hot tub, the strong tropical sun that I still wasn’t use to, dehydration, or a combination of it all, but I pretty much felt like I was going to die.

When I woke up right after midnight, exhausted but very much happy to be alive without any real urgency to run to the bathroom, I knew exactly what I was going to write about for Garrett. Black Garlic Dark Chocolate and Vanilla Bean White Chocolate Marble Brownies.

Murderlicious: How to Boil Crayfish

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

-Yeah, the title lets you know that these guys met a very unfortunate fate. In my tummy.-

"So did you hear that Sacramento passed an ordinance that lets you keep three chickens in your backyard?" I beamed as I informed my friend Adam of the news. "Sure, I mean, I still need a house to keep them in, but when I finally get one that means I get to have egg laying hens!" For years I had been hatching plans on having hens. I had spent a little time researching various breeds; everything from reading up on their temperments and grooming habits to color of eggs and rate of egg production.

Adam just looked at me as if I had told him I planned to flap my arms and fly to Mars. "Really? I just can't picture you with animals like that?"

"What?" I was practically incredulous. "How so?"

He just stared at me with a wide and knowing smile that said it all. Those birds will kick your ass.

"Oh, I don't plan to kill them. I want their eggs. And when you go for them the worst they do is give you a peck. I mean, Christ, they're chickens. You walk up and say 'Boo!' and they flee for their lives. Plus, I've killed plenty of them before."

"Wait, what?" He seemed confused. Me being pastry person with a penchant for cheese and a reluctance to eat a lot of meat it was understandable.

"Oh, yeah. Plenty of times. You walk in grab one - or, well, catch it with a net or stun it with a pipe to the head - and then grab it by the neck and swing it around your head," a motion I then demonstrated, "until you hear a cracking noise."

-"Oh God, where am I?"-

Adam just stared at me a bit horrified. I gathered he had a mental image of me decimating a chicken's life swinging it over my head like gay cowboy with a feathered lasso.

"After that," I continued, "you drop the body in boiling water and pluck the feathers. Chop off the head, drain the blood, and then break it down. It's pretty easy. It smells and personally I'm not the biggest fan of doing it all, but it's simple enough. And hens are easy. Roosters are assholes who'll fight back and have gnarly talons that'll fuck you up but good given then chance. Seriously, it's a hospital visit for some stitches."

"Really? You do this?" he sat stunned.

"Well, not all the time. Last time was with my friend, Hank. His neighbor has some ancient roosters that needed to be put down, so we went over and killed, plucked, and broke them down. The meat was crazy tough and almost black from being so strong. Here, wait, I have a picture..."

-Yep. This one. Please no cock jokes.-

"Wow. That is you with a naked, dead chicken."

"Rooster," I corrected.

It's true. I don't have a problem killing an animal for my own food. I say a little prayer for the animal and thank it for it's life, and then I do what needs to be done: butcher the begeezus out of it. I eat meat because I like the taste of it. I like the energy it gives me. This is how I choose to live my life.

I just rarely ever cook with meat since I find good meat to be rather out of my budget (a vegetable-focused diet is simply a more fiscal one) and, due to using so little of it, I don't know how to cook it all that well.

Not that I can't get creative with a pint of pig's blood or a good wild duck if my buddy Hank throws some my way. It's odd. I actually know how to cook wild game and chickens better than pork or beef.

Still, most people don't have the gall to kill their own food. It's too personal. We have to accept the fact that when we take a life that we mean to eat we not only devour the flesh but absorb a bit of its anima. We connect to the spirit. I don't mean to sound new age. I simply mean we connect to the fact that we are taking the life of another living, moving, vocal creature.

Though, admittedly, it's probably a lot easier when it's not cute and fuzzy. It's why I think so many "vegetarians" eat fish and shellfish.

And little, angry, hotheaded crayfish.

Cheese and China: Mahon Macaroni and Cheese with Zucchini and Chili Oil

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

-How can something so delicious be so divisive?-

“What is that you’re eating?” asked my coworker, Mai. Her hair was popped into a rough ponytail tied too high giving her head a slight pineapple appearance that may have looked silly on anyone else but, somehow, seemed to only further accentuate her demure Hmong features.

In fact, her figure was one of the great mysteries of life. During the course of the day I would watch her finish off an entire meal from McDonald’s, a few bags of chips, half a steer of beef jerky, and an extra large seafood pho that she would horrifyingly sweeten with six or seven sugar packets and made me wonder if she in fact had any sense of taste at all. All this and she would not gain an ounce. I eat a french fry knowing I’ll have to use my lunch break to take a healthy two mile walk in exchange.

Mai also ate a smorgaborg of Hmong food that she prepared herself or with her family the night before; finely minced and chili studded larb hotter than a California heat wave, pickled and roasted pig knuckles, face-scrunching bitter melon stuffed fat with pork and ginger, fermented cabbage redolent with the pungent odor of fish sauce, roasted chicken rubbed with lemongrass, soups filled with herbs and eggs.

-I'm horribly spoiled.-

Even better, in traditional Hmong fashion she always brought extra to work. Since most of our co-workers were unfamiliar with her food and, therefore, more often than not afraid of it I was usually the only person she was feeding. In exchange I brought her homemade pickles, jams, and breads. It was this alimentary connection that ensured we would become good friends early on.

The only thing she didn’t care for in our food exchanges was the copious amount of cheeses I brought in to snack on. Her face would wince as if she has just given herself a paper cut when she got a good smell of them. A particular run-in with a particularly ripe and oozy slab of Taleggio actually cleared her up and out of the room so fast she forgot all the files she had brought with her to my desk. When she finally reclaimed them she made a particular note how the pages now stunk like her husband’s old work shoes.

Today she looked at the offending piece of spoiled milk in my hand and gave me another paper cut wince. A particularly bad one as if she had sliced herself along the fingernail.

“It’s Piave," I said.

“It smells. How can you eat that?”

“Oh, come on. You’ve never even tried it. Plus, this has a mellow scent. It’s not a smell. It's an ah-row-MA!” I pulled out the last word like taffy in an effort to get her to really take in the cheese’s nutty, hay-like perfume in hopes she would deign to try a bit.

“I don’t like cheese,” she mewed.

“All cheese?”

“Well, there is a cheese I buy at the store that comes in a tube and –“

“STOP! No! Stop. That’s not cheese.” I said with only slightly exaggerated exasperation.

“It’s not?” she asked, her pineapple leaf spikes of hair bounced atop her head.

“No. That’s processed cheese-like product. There’s probably little dairy in there. More flour and thickeners than actual milk.”

“But I like it!” she said. She laughed as I sighed in defeat and popped the rest of the classic Italian cheese in my mouth.

The Baby Urge: Pear Coffee Cake

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

-Cake accompanied by coffee and the sound of your biological clock running down.-

As it stands now, and much to the never ending dissappointment of my parents, neither BF nor I have any desire to have children.

My parents still see me as the most likely of their three children - all boys - to provide them with grandbabies. They have made this extremely clear to me. The last time my mother came up to visit she was polite enough not to bring it up around BF, but the moment he left to take out the trash?

"So, have you two considered having kids?"

"What!? No. Not yet. I don't know. We still want to finish our educations. Get our careers started. Buy a house. Travel..." I replied.

"I bought my first house when I was twenty-three, and I had your older brother by then. Plus, I was going to grad school," she explains matter of factly as she sips her iced tea.

My Mom: high school track star, debutante, honor roll, and general perfectionist. Currently, in her mid-sixties, she's now retired, traveling the world at least twice a year, and a marathon bicylcist. Incredibly admirable, but she's one of those excrutiating perfect examples that is nigh-impossible to live up to if you're in any way related to her as my siblings and cousins have lamented about her and her brother with his three Ph D's.

-It's the main problem with having successful parents.-

"Traveling with a kid is hard, mom. You know that. You took children to Spain and we were little nightmares."

"No you weren't!" she lies to herself, or maybe she really doesn't remember it that way. "It's hard, but if anything I proved you can do it," she firmly asserts.

"Well, that was you. Plus, I'd probably rather adopt."

"But sweetie," she pleads, "you have such good genes!" It's an semi-narcissistic compliment and argument both my parents make whenever I bring up the adoption idea.

"We're gay. Doing the turkey baster thing is expensive and the mother has rights so it doesn't always work out. Plus, there are plenty of older kids in foster care who need a home. If we adopt it'll be a kid around six to ten. Plus, YOU adopted! Remember?"

"That's true, but you don't get to name the child!" mom wails.

"So?" I say. I've named a few cats and they never come when you call them. From what I hear children are the same once they go past the age of seven.

(Given, if I could, I do have baby names picked out just in case. Aaron or Noel for a boy. Claire or Viola for a girl. Family names for middle names, of course, those being Michael, Brandon, or Suzanne. Else the family string me up for neglecting tradition.)

"Doesn't BF have a sister who could provide an egg?"

"MOM! No! Lord, dad, asked the same thing last week. It's not like asking for a cup of sugar."

"But, honey, you'll miss the best part. The baby stage," she sighs and I can tell she's remembering the days when she was a new mom three times. I think she's mentally blocked the parts where my older and younger brothers were tiny terrors. (By her admittance I was the perfect child.)

Storytelling: Fig & Blue Cheese Galette

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

-Something to get teary about. For joy, of course.-

When I was younger I never understood how adults could cry at movies. It seemed so strange to me that some fictional story and people who never existed could emotionally touch a person so much. It was an action I attributed to adult life and gave it little other thought than that.

The first story I cried to was actually from a video game. The lovers were forcibly parted: he would fade into non-existance and she would have to live her life without him. She runs to embrace him one last time but he suddenly fades away and she sorrowfully passes through him falling to the ground where she begins to cry on the floor. My heart absolutely broke in sympathy for her; this girl that never was. I called in sick to school that day and refused to leave my room for the next few hours.

After that, I found that I was easy to emotionally sway. A somber violin chord, the right words, well placed pathos all pulled me so far in that when things came to their teary conclusion I simply cried my eyes out. It happened when I watched the final few moments of Six Feet Under where I bawled and my boyfriend at the time had to come out and comfort me. In fact, those last six minutes still make me misty when I watch them as I think about my own family and mortality.

When I read Yiyun Li's book, The Vagrants, the ending left me almost hollow. It was as if the author had tapped me like a maple tree and drained every bit of happiness out of me - leaving only poignance. The characters had reached out of the pages and into my chest tugging them apart like bits of string from a frayed cloth. Every word was memorable and the book still resonantes with me.

-A good fig does, too.-

Recently, I've become horribly addicted to watching the most modern seasons of the BBC's, Doctor Who. In one of the episodes, Billie Piper's character, Rose Tyler, is forever separated from her love, The Doctor. After two seasons of watching them grow so fond of each other only to be forcibly thrown apart by the universe itself I must admit I was more than a bit melancholy.

Excuse me a moment. I have something in my eye...

Why is this sort of story telling so rare these days? What happened to characterization, story exploration, and plot?

No, these days we get this.

We drown in a deluge of raw sewage that is reality television and poor storytelling. Bad Girls Club, Hell's Kitchen, seasons 2-4 of Heroes, the list goes on and on, and - even worse - gets renewed season after season.

Generally I don't watch a lot of television. Given, I have a few guilty pleasures. True Blood is one, but that's more softcore porn that anything thank you Ryan Kwanten being naked in every episode. I do watch The Real Housewives and The A-List, but only after I've had a glass of wine or two and I've finished a thirteen hour work day. In these cases I don't want to use my brain anymore and, in that regard, reality television certainly has a place in my life. The Daily Show for sure, though I wish John Stewart would take a note from True Blood and get naked every episode as well.

Catch Up: Watermelon Sorbet

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

-My family often complains that I never talk to them and am too private (he typed on his blog), so I'm trying to take the initiative to call them more.-

Call No. 1: Brandon McCord. Younger brother.

Garrett: Hey Brandon. What's up?

Brandon: I'm cooking beet greens! They're steaming!

Garrett: Oh so?

Brandon: Did you know you could eat these?

Garrett: Yes. You can also eat carrot greens. Stir-fry them, toss them into salad, or make them into a pesto.

Brandon: Oh, okay, cool. I'm learning to cook more for myself more. It's really fun actually. I have a chicken marinating right now.

Garrett: Very cool. Good for you!

Brandon: What are you doing?

Garrett: Unpacking a yellow watermelon that unf-

Brandon: They come in yellow?

Garrett: Yes, the flesh is. And, unfortuneately, it's not pink. The yellow ones have a slight cantaloupe flavor that I find somewhat distasteful, but this one is mild, so it's fine.

Brandon: Oh. Hey can I call you back? The greens are burning I think. Maybe?

Garrett: How on earth do you burn something steaming? Is this like when you burned jell-o? Did you actually forget the water aga-


-That would be a yes.-

Call No. 2: Steve McGee. Uncle on father's side.

Garrett: ...Yes, we're a litigious state. Yes, California has traffic that slows down if there's a ratty boot abandoned along the pullover lane. And, yes, California has to rework immigration laws so workers can get here easier. I agree. Yes.

Steve: So how is not Kansas better?

Garrett: It's Kansas. You have tornados, snow, all and all just terrible weather, and the corn outnumbers the state population. Your only claim to fame is Dorothy Gail and that's because she's famous for leaving. Plus, she's not even real.

Steve: Alright. I'll give you that. But the people are nicer.

Garrett: Only in manners. You're a red state. They hate the liberals. "You don't belong here," they would cordially say before berrating my sexuality and support of Planned Parenthood over Kansas-style BBQ and a slice of pie.

Steve: Okay. Probably. But-

Garrett: Steve, can I call you later? I'm chopping up watermelon for sorbet. I'm gonna lose a finger.

Steve: Alright, call your dad.

Garrett: Will do.


Manners: Pistachio & Vanilla Sables

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

-Delicate and proper snackie bits.-

When it comes to manners in my family one is expected to be au fait in the subject. They won't make or break you with us, but by god if you want to rest comfortably in our subconscious opinion of you then knowing soup spoon from dessert spoon is critical. (The egg spoon, too, if you know what's what.)

Both sides of the family have a history of strict etiquette training. Cotillion for two years is a minimum. Children should be able to properly foxtrot at the age of six, Cha Cha at twelve, and god help you if you can't Charleston by the time you've graduated middle school.

Furthermore, manners classes are mandatory. I recall spending far too many Tuesday nights learning how to properly seat a lady, make introductions, and tie a tie (bow and straight; always Windsor).

All of it was so boring I would have killed to learn how to half-Windsor a noose and kick the chair out from under myself. Unfortunately, propriety demands that one do this in the privacy of your own home and not in front of classmates.

-For god's sake, kill yourself in private! We're not savages!-

The pinnacle of all the training was table manners. Prim, proper, precise. We didn't simply learn which side the fork goes on, but to differentiate the forks; salad, dessert, dinner, shrimp, fish, even snail forks and their proper places at the meal and when they could be served according to ancient custom was all part of the strict curriculum. Indeed, some of the laws were so odd and arcane (i.e. Brandy glasses must always be placed neither on left or right side of the dinner plate, but the side closest to the host) that one wonders if all this ritual might exist to summon some dark pagan god to brunch.

The instructor, a dour woman with a genteel mien and canckles thick enough to dock a ship to, was thorough to say the least. Not even fourteen, I was able identify nine various types of wine and spirits glasses through her tutelage. Furthermore, she wisely took an international approach and trained us in the proper handling of chopsticks and insisted that we never eat Indian food with our left hand.

Refinement was tested in a final exam: high tea at the Ritz Carlton. Our carriage was graded over steaming cups of Earl Grey and crustless cucumber sandwiches. Still a finicky eater at this age, I was sure that the vile offerings were a test of our vigilance because who on earth would actually want to eat any of it?

-Thank you, miss. May I have another?-

I passed with flying colors, though my acerbic wit in response to the food wasn't appreciated. Sadly, there was no place to escape and work on that double-noose Windsor.

In the end, of course, comes the day we all dread when we realize our parents were right. (Not that we would ever admit it.) So it was with all this training in social behavior. The dancing lessons paid off astoundingly well throughout high school, college, and beyond. Leading a sweet gent to the dance floor for a graceful lesson in the waltz is a fantastic way to sweep him off his feet and take him home. My impeccable manners ingratiated me to the parents of any boy I dated. Damn if a bartender doesn't appreciate the fact I know my port glass from brandy snifter.

Naturally, I don't hold others to these standards of near-ridiculous refinement. Not everyone went through such rigorous training. As long as you chew with your mouth closed, say please and thank you, and veer away from any conversation topics focusing on what you read in People magazine, well, we're just dandy.

Fever: Summer Cheese Plate

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

-Perfect when you're healthy, not so when you're sick. I wish, for your benefit, that you are currently the former.-

So there are a few things I hate about being sick. The first is that sickness always seems to happen when your husband, wife, partner, boyfriend, mom, whomever that person in your life is who is by nature of your relationship the designated person to love and care for you when you're a hot mess of viral plague is out of town. It's always a conference, work, family thing that takes them away from your bedside leaving you to stew in your piles of used tissues and to hack phlegm across the stove top as you warm up your canned soup.

As I sat groaning in bed I muddled this thought in my congested head. Once again, BF was away and I was sick. Even worse, I was homeless as my apartment - once thought to be fixed from the water leak - was now a hotbed of mold and remnant water vapor. Furthermore, I was unable to move due to being trapped in a lease with a bullheaded witch of an apartment manager whom the universe had - for some unforeseen reason - not yet seen fit to drop a house upon.

BF was away in Dublin, California, a forgotten armpit of the state that no one has ever heard of. Its location being so far away and so secluded from modern civilization the United States has of course seen fit to put a training base for the army there and bring in BF to learn how to set up the plumbing for a field hospital because, you know, why not?

-He also knows how to set up air conditioning, which will be handy when he has all that government cheese on hand.-

Lucky for me, I have friends who care and who live nearby. The bed I was groaning in was not my own but was that of my friend, Elise Bauer. My personal Florence Nightingale. Her home was once again my halfway house after a disaster.

Even more lucky, she and her charming boyfriend, Guy, a renaissance Frenchmen who knows everything from rental law to how to fix a an old shower head, were kindly keeping an eye on me. Elise comforted me with tea and clean, cotton sheets of a thread count higher than my rent. Guy kept me laughing and roasted marble potatoes and tomatoes into a simple, filling, but easy on the stomach meal.

As I sat in bed watching every episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (which, by the way, is an outstanding show to watch in a fever haze) and coughing up my ribcage whole they spent some of their time picking up homeopathic medicines and whipping up batches of pancakes for me to eat to gain some strength back.

I am truly blessed.

-Guy also encouraged that the French drink a lot to help ease sickness. I think the French are probably on to something with prescribing a shot of brandy to help your sinus headache.-

Now, the other thing I hate about being sick is that I generally can't eat dairy. At all. It just churns my stomach. Yogurt, ice cream, quark, or cheese; it all just makes me want to hurl like a runway model after she eats a potato chip.

Stress Addict: Green Tea-Peppermint Popsicles & Raspberry-Yogurt Popsicles

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

-Better than cocaine, right? Plus, it's a natural high.-

I’m addicted to stress.

I only recently figured this out. I was looking in my mailbox freaking out over why a new kindle hadn’t arrived yet. Did the mail lose it? I needed it soon! What if it doesn’t show? It’s hot outside, so what if the heat breaks it? The roads are bumpy and so it could shake apart. I’ll open a box of shattered glass and plastic! How do I even use it when it gets here? It seems so complicated! But?! Oh no!? AUUUGH!

Oh God, I think I’m gonna die…

-I am Anxiety Man. Able to leap to the worst conclusion in a single bound. (I hope I didn't stain the tablecloth for this photo.)-

My friend, Janelle, who was on the phone with me as my poor little heart ran so fast you would think I overdosed it with ecstacy and Pixy Stix, finally brought me back to earth. “Garrett. Stop. Why are you stressing this? It’s not solving anything and nothing can be done right now. Just stop." Her voice was so firm and each word given so much importance and stacatto she sounded like a female version of Allen Rickman.

I paused a moment, more because my heart skipped a few beats and caused me stroke out for a bit than because of what she said, but I thought about it.

Why was I? It was in the mail. There was nothing to be done except wait.

I realized then that I wanted to stress out about this. The adrenaline would flood my body. A neurotic electrical storm would rip through every memory and thought to find any shred – any damnable hope – of a solution. Muscle cells would fire like pistons raging against whatever dilemma was at hand. Stress, for me, was my power. Fuel for destroying my enemies be they human, situational, or, apparently, the United States Postal Service.

You see, in my experience stress brings about solutions.

The saying goes that you shouldn’t sweat the small stuff. The people who say this, usually have a gross excess of time and money, or a sugar daddy. When you sweat the small stuff it’s because the small stuff usually has a solution. Something can be done to remedy the problem at hand.

-Like have a panic attack. I hear mint calms those down.-

For example, when your flight gets cancelled you go into overdrive. You run like a greyhound after a mechanical bunny to the next information booth. You fight everyone else at the airport. They are your enemies; competition for a limited number of seats on the next flight out. They must be destroyed. You plead, yell, cajole, seduce, bribe the poor kiosk lady for the shittiest, leftover seat. Simultaneously, you’re on the phone with a booking agent looking for a backup to that as you e-mail a competing airline for an opening just in case. In the end you might get a flight out and still get home in time to watch a new episode of True Blood.

Sweating the small stuff gets things done. It gets results.

Many of you might not call something like missing a plane small stuff. My belief is anything not world ending is small stuff.

My house burned down? Screw it. I’m going to Mexico. Nothing to be done about it. (This is an example my own personal world ending.)

A meteor careening towards Earth? The end of the world is inevitable and no Bruce Willis on a shuttle with an atom bomb to save us all? Screw it. I’m spending my time at a drug induced orgy and having unprotected sex with strangers. Not like I have to really worry about the long term consequences, right?

Brouhaha: Sautéed Nectarines

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

-Sometimes a little inspiration - and frustration - comes knocking at your door.-

Some Mormon missionaries just dropped by the house. I was bemused and excited. Mormons! We hardly get them in these parts of Sacramento. Curious to interact with them outside their native habitat of Utah, I opened the door.

"Hello!"I said, chipper as ever. "I assume you're selling religion?"

The two of them stood there and beamed in their pressed white shirts. Their matching backpacks fitted neatly and neither one wore them carelessly slung over one arm. Their pocket protectors and neatly printed name tags identified them right and proper.

The one of the left, a blonde teen who possessed a nostalgic aura of All-Americanism that was up there with apple pie, smiled back. "Well, not selling. It certainly doesn't cost you any money," he said.

"It's totally free," said the one on the right. His skin was tan from so much bicycling in the sun, in a clear bag he had a bunch of nectarines and a few extra copies of The Book of Mormon.

-Peddling faith with fruit. How novel!-

I smirked at the bag of nectarines. Farmer's Market preaching; Joseph Smith, you clever devil.

"Mormonism, yes?"

They nodded and began their spiel before I could really stop them. I decided to give them a chance to get it all out. They must, I assume, get the door slammed in their face plenty so why the hell not show a bit of sympathy?

To be honest, I have respect for missionaires. Being sent somewhere strange and told to march up and down each and every community preaching faith can't be easy. It requires chutzpah and a type of dedication I'm not sure I can say I've fully ever given to many things, let alone God. The closest thing recently was my thesis, though, when I was young, the desire to know everything there was to know about Power Rangers instilled a certain dedication within me. We all have our priorities.

Still, after two or three minutes I decided to stop him. I didn't want the two getting their hopes up. "You know, I'm sorry, but I'm Lutheran and very, happily, gay. I also know the church isn't too keen on that - the Lutheranism or the homosexuality - so I'm gonna have to pass."

"Oh, no, that's totally not true!" said Apple Pie.

I perked up and wondered if suddenly there was a new form of liberal Mormonism spreading across the land. Had I missed this piece of information somehow?

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