Winter is Coming

Friends, danger is upon us. We are approaching that time of year when brother will turn against brother, sister will deceive sister, and strangers will come to fisticuffs over dwindling supplies of cherished treasure. There’s only one thing that can bring the madness in our society to such a fever pitch. Yes, my friends, I’m talking about holiday shopping.

Get those elbows ready for pushing people out of the way (I hear a sale on elbow pads starts today!) and start brushing up on your bob-and-weave coordination, it all kicks off today, Black Friday, and soon it will be followed by an all-out Christmas merchandise assault. I don’t know what it is about good deals, but it truly unleashes the beast in some people. Maybe it’s mob mentality that comes from being in large, billowing crowds of shoppers. It overtakes rational thought about how to treat your fellow Man and turns them into your worst adversary. Maybe it’s the pressure of finally get the perfect gift for someone you love. Maybe it’s knowing your friends will all be jealous of the fancy new TV/microwave/laptop you have without being any the wiser that you got it at 50% off, or maybe having the ability to pat oneself on the back over such an awesome deal is in fact part of it. Maybe it’s a mix of all these.

All I know is that people who are out and about doing holiday shopping will get downright mean if their mission is slowed down in any way, even by their own kids. On many an occasion I’ve seen seemingly normal parents threaten their children with the promise that Santa will skip over their house Christmas morning if they even think about throwing a hissy-fit in the middle of the store. If I could relive my kids’ childhood, I personally would’ve used the Krampus threat a lot more than I did…that’s the kind of thing that gets kids to sit up and listen.

I’m not sure who I feel for more when I see these parental showdowns in the middle of a jam-packed store…the exasperated parent driven to Santa-related threats, or the kids for throwing the fit in the first place (or at least those kids where you can tell it’s due to stress and being seriously over-tired). Okay, well, that’s actually an easy one…I feel for the strangers having to deal with both of them when all they want is to make it through the crowds to get their paper towels and toilet paper in peace.

Thank goodness I’m not a child (at least not age-wise anyway). I’ve lost my shit MANY times at the mall and would be a permanent name on Santa’s blacklist if the “no visit for you” rules applied to me. Don’t roll your eyes at me. I may be on the no-fly list for Santa’s sleigh, but it’s for entirely different reasons.

In fact, kids have it pretty good, don’t they? They can get away with a fairly good amount before they face any real consequences. But if one of us so-called “adults” yells and screams and stomps our feet in the middle of a store (maybe even knock over a display or two), all of a sudden here comes security to take us to grown-up timeout, which trust me, doesn’t involve cookies and milk afterwards.

I guess that’s what really separates adults from children. We ALL want to bitch and moan, but adults have learned how to keep all of that inside for the sake of appearances, ulcers and migraines notwithstanding.  Most of the time at least. If there’s ever a time when the rage might be too much to control, it’s in these next couple months. So, please, be careful out there. Winter is coming.

 

Free Range Grumbling

Whatever happened to food? In an effort to be hip, chic, “cutting edge,” different, attention-getting, and yes, even pretentious, restaurants and recipes now proudly present their mondo bizarro ideas of new cuisine. Their mantra now seems to be: “If you can concoct it and give it a fancy name, they will eat it.”  And, pay outrageous amounts for it. I’m reminded of a fight between Niles and Daphne on Frasier – where Daphne accused Niles of being pretentious: “You’d eat a worm if I gave it a French name!” Gotta love Niles, he made that show.

“Would mademoiselle care to begin with our house specialty appetizer, Vers de terre pochés served with a reduction of l’eau des marais?” Poached earthworms served with a swamp water reduction.  It’s getting out of hand, I tell you.

The new rage is evident in what can best be called Transparent Pumpkin Pie.  Basically, it’s clear, pumpkin-flavored Jell-O made into tiny pies. They claim to get the pumpkin flavor from its essence. Yes, it’s essence. The essence, or distillate if you will, is extracted in a thing called a rotary evaporator. Usually used in chemistry labs, a kitchen version of one will only set you back a few thousand dollars. That’s a hell of a lot of miniature, transparent pumpkin pies.

click the pic for more info on the restaurant serving this…umm…pie

When I see certain words on menus or in recipes, I feel that Western Cuisine is in a tailspin.  Here are a few of them:

  • Deconstructed – What do they do to the entrée, disassemble it? Why yes, yes, they do. My deconstructed pizza had the green pepper and mushrooms neatly peeled off and stacked on a bed of farm fresh arugula.
  • Essence – I guess this means that they didn’t have enough of something to put it into the meal, so they just waved it over the plate to get that waft of…whatever.
  • Foraged – For example, foraged morel mushrooms…I’m sorry, but I simply don’t envision the chef crawling around in the woods on all fours to find the mushrooms he put on my morel and asparagus salad.
  • Hand Selected – As opposed to robot or cockroach selected. Seriously though, this one is most confusing of all, because if it’s not hand selected, what is it??
  • Artisanal – “Made with loving care by a professional.” If that’s true, this is an artisanal blog! But really, when you think about it, aren’t all recipes artisanal? I mean, they should be unless they’re made by a machine…which I guess is to be expected in mass-produced items, but restaurants, especially of the swanky variety? Not so much. 
  • Foam – I’ve seen this in offerings ranging from new-age drinks to toppings for savory entrees to dessert. Personally, I’ve always thought it was the stuff I spray on my legs to shave them, not a deconstructed essence of foraged lime shot out of an aerosol can.

New restaurants, to remain popular (and open) need to come up with more and more outlandish foods to keep their target audience intrigued. Much of it is driven by two words that I never thought would have any connection to food: Molecular Gastronomy. It is science, chemistry, and physics combined to find new ways to prepare food. Because these types of dishes can take a long time to prepare, they usually come with two things: small portions – as in elf-size portions and high prices.

As cool as the whole process is – from a chemistry-set loving perspective, I’m not sure that I would be happy with a meal of ginger-orange gelatin sheets, pearls made from balsamic vinegar, avocado mousse with soy sauce jelly, a spoonful of tomato water spherification with basil oil infusion, and faux-caviar made from olive oil and ingredients I can’t pronounce that you’d be more likely to find in a science classroom.  Evil things are being done to food to make these dishes, I tell you.

I know, I know. Some people don’t mind paying $250 to $500 for a meal of these things…wine extra. As for me, just give me some plain ol’ kick-ass eggplant parmesan and chocolate molten lava cake and I’m in heaven.

A Brief History of Online Dating

I know I’ve been talking a lot about dating lately, but as I have ventured back into the scene over the past year, I find myself doing what I do with a lot of new subjects of interest – overanalyzing. Hey, what can I say? It’s what I do best.

So, anywho, speaking of dating, let’s take a look at a phenomenon that generates over $2.5 billion in revenue per year: online dating sites. Online dating sites are used by 15% of Americans (don’t ask me to prove those figures, but I swear, I found them somewhere, I didn’t just make them up).  Our society’s demands on our time make the opportunity of finding a dating partner or, heaven forbid, a mate, problematic. Dating sites have become the cattle calls of personal interaction. This is not, however, something that sprang from the loins of the Internet.  The concept has been around for a long time. In fact, for thousands of years. Here are some of the more notable sites from my vivid and bored imagination history, yeah of course, history.

Hemo-tab-ra’s Sphinx Sylphs – Giza, Plateau of Giza, Kingdom of Egypt – 2497 BC

Hemo-tab-ra, an enterprising naturalized Hittite, gained a lucrative contract from Pharaoh Khafre to provide the workers who had just finished The Sphinx, and were now hard at work on the pyramids, with women. For a jar of beer, a worker could attach a short note to the base of The Sphinx that described himself. Local women could peruse the ads for 30 minutes in exchange for a small basket of wheat.  They would take their chosen ad to Hemo-tab-ra, who would set up the meeting at sunset. Egyptologists have even found and translated one of the ads:

“Jaru-al-tep, I am NOT near death.  I have all my arms and legs

and most of my teeth.

 I have eighteen toes and eight and-a-half fingers.

Only three open sores.

I love small animals and crying.

Looking for a woman.  That’s it.  Just a woman. PLEASE!

Balderic’s Beauties – Château d’Ainay-le-Vieil, Cher, France – 1301

Balderic le Lubrique saw an incredible marketing opportunity when the local women complained about the lack of men due to the fact that they were still on their way back from the Third Crusade. For the sensible price of 6 Denier (the same amount you’d spend on a fat capon), village ladies could put up notices on the wall of the Château. For an extra 2 Denier, Balderic would attach a drawing of the lady. In reality, they looked more like French cave dwelling pictures of Mastodons being speared, but hey, whatever works…and this apparently worked. This ad was found in cellar of the Château during renovations.

Angélique la Salope: I am 22.

My parents are worried that I will never marry and remain an

old maid forever, thus draining their finances and patience.

Cuddling in front of the fireplace to read a book would be wonderful

except for the fact that I can’t read or write

since women cannot go to school in our village.

My parents want grandchildren…

As for me, I just want a man who will not relieve himself on the kitchen floor.

“Do You Want Your Ashes Hauled?” – Advertisement in the New York Tribune – 1912

“Hauling Ashes” was a post-Victorian euphemism for “doing the nasty.” This was the first co-ed dating site. Someone would place an ad and ask for a response to a Box at the newspaper…”serious inquiries only.” The New York Public Library Archives reportedly has this ad on file in their vast records:

Proper Gramercy Park woman, widow

seeking discreet gentleman adorned with stately head of hair for social intercourse.

I have my own home that features window shades, and my own Victrola.

I prefer afternoon or early evening tea-time “meetings.”

Of note – a meal of any sort should not be presumed

Only those gainfully employed and with clean finger nails need apply.

Of course, the internet has changed the game. Some modern dating sites require the completion of exhaustive questionnaires. You’re simply too tired to date afterwards…or at least you need a nap first. Others feature the convenient “swipe left or right” feature to secure a furtive assignation. Not that I’m dismissing the whole “swipe left or right” thing outright, but let’s just say spur of the moment decisions in the love arena have never exactly boded well for me. Well, except for that one time…oh, nevermind, I digress.

One thing that has definitely changed over the years is the move away from simple facts and requests, and more towards flowery mendacity.  I mean, I know we all live for the moment when we enter the coffee shop to meet our online date, only to hear them chuckle and say, “Oh, I guess you can tell that my profile picture was taken about 20 years ago. When I was sober. And had hair. And showering was more of a thing.”

Hemo-tab-ra!  Where are you when we need you?

 

Happy-Merry Hallowgivingchristmas

Have you been to the stores lately? Have you!? It was bad enough when the stores were putting out their Halloween candy in July.  July, people. But now, now our treasured holidays of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are being merged into one mega-holiday season. I don’t know if this phenomenon has hit your area yet, but in my town the stores have Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas decorations in adjacent aisles. Really retailers?  Just why?

There can be only answer: money. Retail stores will do 30% of their annual business during the “Christmas Season.” It makes sense to make the Christmas Season last for almost 70 days.  Even though the habit is being dialed back, many large retailers are now even open on Thanksgiving Day, denying their employees anything to be thankful for except overtime pay…and even that is not a guarantee given the existence of sneaky Scrooge-like scheduling gurus.

In a stroke of extreme irony, stores now have mega-sales on what is now known as Black Friday; the day after Thanksgiving. People wait in line all night to be among the first to buy something, anything that is on sale. On Thursday they give thanks for what they have, on Friday they are savagely punching and fighting people to get an X-Box or flat screen TV.  Finishing off the Thanksgiving weekend is White Monday. This is the online shopper’s day to stay planted in front of a computer searching for audacious online deals. Using this logic, I expect to see Magenta Tuesday for people to have their own Holiday Garage Sales.

Although, I will interject here – one of my favorite concepts is Giving Tuesday. Giving Tuesday is the Tuesday after Thanksgiving and is a day of actual GIVING – to charities big and small…so Magenta Tuesday better back the hell off.

I don’t want to sound curmudgeonly, but I really feel that the flattening of the traditional holiday “spikes” turns the last quarter of the year into an amorphous blob of festive displays, shopping guilt, jammed mall parking lots, and a false fear that I might forget to buy a gift for someone.

Someone somewhere is bound to capitalize on this frenzied commercialism by inventing color-coded bins for us to stash our stashes of gifts and decorations: Orange and Black for Halloween; Brown and Orange for Thanksgiving; and of course, Red and Green for Christmas.  This will allow us to keep order in our frenetic final days of the year. Sheesh, I can feel the stress coming on already.

Of course, this begs the question, “When will the madness end?” I don’t want to be forced to buy a brown bin with leaf decor for all the Autumnal Equinox goodies, or a pink bin with red hearts for all my Valentine’s Day gifts.

Am I being unreasonable? I just want to focus on Halloween until it’s time to focus on Thanksgiving.  When that’s over, I can set my sights on getting into the Christmas Spirit.

 

Sally Squirrel’s Great Discovery

So, awhile back, my daughter Sarah was at the dentist’s office and while I was waiting with her in the treatment room for her to recover from the anesthesia, I made a new friend. She was quite witty and intelligent, and has had awesome life, so I thought I would turn over my blog to her for this evening so that she can tell her story in her own words. I’m not sure I believe everything she told me, but what the hell, you can decide on your own after you hear her side of things.

My name is Sally. Sally Squirrel. I promised that I would write my story simply and humbly, rather than tooting my own horn. I’m a squirrel and I don’t have lips, so blowing any kind of horn is out of the question. Also, I can’t pat myself on the back because my arms are too short and I can’t reach my back.

The day that changed my life began as they all do. I woke up in a tree. The people who own the tree also had a bird feeder full of delicious seeds. They recently let me know that they had a problem with me eating all the seeds by putting a large collar around the feeder. I was forced to scrounge for other things to eat. Acorns were fine, but got rather boring. Also, I had a dental problem that made eating acorns problematic. I have uneven buckteeth that make me look like a tiny rabbit that grew up near a nuclear waste dump.

You see, we squirrels have twenty teeth.  They’re pretty tough and allow us to break open nuts. They don’t wear down.  That’s my problem. I’m stuck with my buckteeth. I’ve even tried chewing on metal poles to wear them down.  No luck. Making things tougher for me is the fact that I love birdseed. Having these big, ugly choppers means that I have to jam the seeds into the side of my mouth.

Back to the day that changed my life. I was scrounging for breakfast. I saw a group of sparrows dancing around on a windowsill, gorging themselves with birdseed. Sparrows are notorious chickens…well, not real chickens.  More like scaredy cats…well, not real cats, but you get it, right? They definitely don’t like a scuffle. I jumped up on the windowsill and began a delightful feast as the sparrows took off.

As I was stuffing some sunflower seeds into the side of my mouth, I looked into the window and saw something that, at first, terrified me. A man in a white coat was torturing a girl who was in a reclining chair. Oh the humanity! I described the terrible scene to a group of squirrel friends that had just discovered the windowsill buffet for themselves. They all fled in terror. But me, I was transfixed.

It was then that I realized that the girl was smiling. The torturer was chatting with her. I couldn’t believe it! I almost dropped my nuts. Looking around the room, I saw figures of happy teeth dancing with toothbrushes. There were pictures of people smiling, showing off their beautiful teeth. I watched in utter fascination as the man in the white coat skillfully worked on the mouth of the little girl.  In no time at all, they were done. The girl got out of the chair and shook hands with the Mr. White Coat. It suddenly hit me! This must be one of those “dentists” I’d heard about. They fix teeth!  I began tapping on the window. They both turned and saw me, they also saw my teeth. I mean, how could they not? Maybe he could help me, I thought.

I frantically pointed to my choppers and then to the dentist.  I tried to give him my best sad squirrel look. The two humans looked at each other and nodded. The dentist opened the window and pointed to the chair. He explained that he was going to put “squirrel appropriate” crowns on my buckteeth. I was ecstatic! Everything went as planned and well, here I am…able to eat acorns and birdseed and the occasional French fry thrown out by passers-by with nary an issue at all.

If I had wi-fi, I’d leave a great review on Yelp for Mr. Dentist. As it is, I just hang out here on the windowsill offering up my story to all who will listen. It’s a good life. And the birdseed is worth it.

Yeah, okay. The wait might’ve been a little long, certainly long enough for me to distract myself with squirrel stories. And before you ask, no, I did not help myself to the nitrous oxide. My brain just entertains itself, sort of like an unsupervised toddler.  But hey, squirrels ARE cute…so there’s that.