Thursday, September 17, 2009

The way I walk is just the way I walk

Sam, Molly (making her mosquito face), and Casey, originally uploaded by your neighborhood librarian.

Other day, a ton of kids (a squirming, complaining, ticklish ton - they get that way when you pack them in to weigh them) were playing at our house. In, out, making forts, playing tag, wearing hats, playing LEGO. The way I like it.

I was working in the kitchen (read: screwing around on Facebook while reveling in the fact that there were six kids at my house, none of whom required direct or constant supervision - GETTING BIGGER ROCKS) when I heard Zhou, who was working with LEGO in the living room, make an exasperated sound.

I heard him get up, stomp to the sliding door in the dining room and slide the screen closed.

"THIS is why there are so many mosquitos in this house!" he groused to nobody in particular.

I related this anecdote to Bob last night as we stood in the kitchen swatting at pantry moths. I said, "He's only six, but you add a couple 'goddamns' in there and that could have been his grandfather speaking."

Bob said, "That's funny, I was thinking the exact same thing, but it wasn't your dad that came to mind first."


Our house came with a lovely wooden screen door. The old-fashioned kind, with old brass hardware. Here's a picture.

First Grade for Big Man

And maybe you don't think about your screen door every day, but in Baltimore, if you don't have air conditioning, your screen door is an important element in your suite of ventilation strategies. In addition, we have a very friendly street, and if the front door's open, I can be in the kitchen and have a straight sight line out to whomever's walking by. People wander in to say hi, and I can keep one eye on the kids playing out front.

Well, that door eventually fell apart. As things do. You can see where it's starting to come apart in that picture, actually. We hired our pal Rich to replace it for us, and he had a hell of a time finding a wooden one that matched the style of the house and fit the opening. Big surprise, we have a nonstandard door hole. Took him a whole day to shave the thing down to fit. The kids played with the curls of wood from his plane. And then it took me a whole day to stain it. I do not like stain. Here's the new door:

first day of school, 2009

Next, the old hardware that Rich had transferred to the new door stopped working. So, next time our friend Jack was over fixing other stuff (god, it is SO GOOD that we know people that hire out their technical skills - my only motor skill is folding laundry, and Bob can usually accurately dig a hole) I asked him to look at the screen door latch.

The latch hardware was totally worn out in one direction. It's brass, it's 85 years old, a groove was worn in the... the thing. But he managed to jam the spring so that the knob would work if you turned it counterclockwise. The opposite of the intuitive way, but I really like that hardware and I didn't want to replace it with new.

Nowadays, we frequently have visitors who need a brief stymied moment before they get the screen door open. Sorry, friends. But the kids and I have gotten used to it. Neural pathways are teh awesome.

The day that Jack and I made the hot sauce (Jack has tried it and says it's great, I haven't opened a bottle yet), we noticed a rent in the screen door.

"Goddamn it!" I exclaimed.

Jack shook his head. "Gotta beat those kids good when they get home, huh?"

"I don't think so," I said. "They've seen all the trouble we've gone to over that door. They watched you fix the latch, remember? One of their beastly little friends, I guess."

When Mao and Zhou came home from school, Zhou was the first one up on the porch. "Hey!" he called out. "What happened to the door?"

"Well, you're off the hook," I thought to myself.

Mao was next up. "What? Oh, man! Who did that to the door?"

Either they were both innocent, or they are much better actors than I thought, and I am in BIG TROUBLE GOING FORWARD.

That evening, I showed it to Bob. "I am really upset about this door. After all the trouble we went to getting it fixed, now it looks terrible and it's going to let in all the bugs."

"Yeah, that's too bad," he agreed. "Mao told me about it when I got home. I asked if he thought I could blame it on Zhou and he told me 'No. She already knows he didn't do it.'"

I looked at my husband, graduate of three of the most prestigious universities in this land, and furrowed my brow. I did. I know it when I do it, and I have lines on said brow that no amount of Jurlique Calendula Cream can erase.

"You," I said.

"I hate that door!" he said. "I'm going out in the morning, and I have my gym bag, and my laptop bag, and my coffee and my keys, and then the goddamn door doesn't open! What the hell is wrong with that door?"

"You have to turn it the other way," I said. "How long have you lived here? When Jack fixed it, the hardware was too far gone to work the usual way - what the hell! I explained this when it happened!"

"Huh." He went over to the door and turned the knob experimentally, watching the latch go in and out.

"Next time I'll try turning it the other way," he said. "Before putting my foot through the door."

Sheesh. THIS is why we have so many goddamn mosquitos in this goddamn house!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

STAY HUNGRY - Hot sauce

Hi and welcome to our program - STAY HUNGRY. Today we're making hot sauce. Although I've posted recipes for hot sauce before on Flickr, today's batch represented yet another variation, and I think it came out really well. Good consistency, gorgeous color, and yeah shit it's hot.

I didn't have a garden this year - not even a little bit, not at all - and so I ganged up with my friend Travelin' Jack O'Dell, monster drummer, expert handyman, improvisational gardener. Jack brought habaneros and little Thai chilis from his garden, and I had some big red jalapenos from the Asian supermarket.

That's Jack. Jack says, "WEAR GLOVES."

The first thing we did was to lay out the habs and the Jalapenos on baking sheets. I figured the Thais were too little, but in retrospect, maybe I should have roasted them too. Dialled the oven to 350° and let them roast until they started to char a little. Roasting the chilis improves the consistency A LOT and I think gives the hot sauce a richer, less acid flavor.

Meanwhile, we cut the stems off the Thai chilis, slit them down the middle, and scraped out the seed clusters. The seeds carry most of the heat, and besides they make the hot sauce hard to pour if they end up in there at the end.

Once the peppers come out of the oven, stem and seed them too. Larger peppers, like the jalapenos, can be peeled at the same time. Why? I had a reason why last time I did this, but now I can't remember why.

ARE YOU WEARING GLOVES? If you're not now, it's too late. Do not touch your eyes, your nose, your children, your hoo-ha, your Juan Pedrosa. Wash thoroughly with soap and water. Maybe rub baking soda on your hands. Rub your hands on stainless steel. Hell, bury your hands in the back yard and say "There's no place like home" over them three times. Won't make no difference. Just pretend you don't have hands for a while.

I dissolved about 4T of brown sugar and 1 1/2 T of salt in 4 cups white vinegar. I added 1/2 t of methi seeds (browned in a skillet and pulverized in the mortar and pestle), and about half an inch of fresh ginger, grated. I'll assert that sugar in some form is necessary, and a little salt, and of course the vinegar, but the rest is up to you.

The peppers went into le blender, with enough of the vinegar mixture to almost cover them. You may have to blend the peppers in more than one batch. Liquefy this until it looks like tomato juice. When the fumes from the blender brought tears to Jack's eyes, I figured we'd better try and back the heat off a little, so we put half a pineapple in, too. I have a sinus infection, so I was no judge.

Pour the puree into a stainless steel pot. Cook over a very low flame for - well, we did 4 hours today, but I've certainly gone longer. The consistency was very good so that's why we stopped. Any thicker and it might have been a problem pouring, although you can dilute with water as you're bottling if things have gotten really sticky.

We strained the cooled puree through a wire strainer, forcing the pulp through with a rubber scraper. Jack poured the sauce into the special little hot sauce bottles, using the special little hot sauce funnel (new this year and worth all 155 pennies!), and all of a sudden we had 10 bottle of glowing red-orange hearts of chili!

I scraped the seeds-and-skin pulp that was left in the strainer onto a piece of tin foil and popped it into a 200 degree oven. Once it dries, we'll peel it off the foil, break it up, and use it on pizza.

*(Linked photos are from a previous hot sauce escapade. Note the horrible old kitchen! Finished product photos are from this escapade. Note swanky new kitchen!)

Monday, September 07, 2009

Portrait of a supervillain as a young man

"What would happen if a chunk of ice as big as the moon fell into the Sun?"

"I don't know. Maybe not much. The Sun is pretty big."

"Ok, what if a chunk of ice as big as the Sun fell into the Sun?"

"Well in that case the sun would probably collapse into a red dwarf."

"... and everyone on Earth would DIE!"

"Yes, that would happen."

"... in a matter of SECONDS!"

"Yeah, ok, listen, don't get any ideas, my friend. I'm not buying you a spaceship for xmas. We're saving to go to Peru."

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Sleeping boys catch no fish

Today I found myself struggling to figure out how we were going to meet up with a friend at a large, crowded outdoor event. I racked my brain to remember who among our friends might own a large striped umbrella that we could borrow, or some kind of flag. I considered big weird hats. And then I remembered that we live in the future, and most of us carry handheld communication devices commonly known as PHONES, and I suggested that he CALL ME when he got there. "Welcome to 1998," he wrote back. Thanks. I hope I like it here.

I think this is my problem with half the vampire shit that goes down nowadays. Seriously. From Buffy on down, don't you think the vampires, who are like 250 years old, should spend
less time getting all emo and experimenting with hair products, and more time going like, "Which one is the television again? The little one you talk through or the big one with the flat front?"

Now I understand that there are some new vampires, hot ones living in Louisiana and tying each other up for sex and shit. That is ok by me. It makes sense - sexy bondage has been around since the Pharaohs. I am guessing. I wasn't there. I must have read it in a book. Or... I bet there are frescoes - the frescoes that don't travel with the rest of the exhibition. I read so much kids nonfiction, sometimes I think I get a skewed view. 75 books about the Aztec, Inca, and Maya this summer and I found myself at one point saying, "You know, it's weird... most cultures have some kind of big iconographic deal around the phallus, but these are some of the least filthy ancient people I've ever read about," and then realizing well, yeah - you don't put pictures from the Villa of the Mysteries in a book for 8-year-olds.

Where was I? Oh yeah so ok I've just read that one of these vampires, one who looks especially nice with no shirt on, is Stellan Skarsgård's son. Making him Orlando Bloom's brother, yes? I would find if very difficult, if I were his co-worker, not to say, "Earth to Meekus!" every time he blew a line, regardless of his prodigious Scandihoovian hotness. Not that any son of Stellan Skarsgård blows his lines, ever. You get the impression that these Scandinavian motherfuckers are extremely professional. Stellan Skarsgård gave us convincing pathos and grim determination even with a starfish stapled to his face.

Speaking of professional, the picture I saw of Son of Skarsgård (no, not the shirt-off picture, another one) made it look like he shops at frickin Barneys. Now, leaving aside that there is no Barneys within 500 miles of anywhere in Louisiana, why is that man (the vampire character, not the Swedish scion - stay with me, here) shopping? Doesn't everything still fit from like 50 years ago, the last time that suit was in style? That always bothered me about Spike, too. Sure, they pinned him in time to 1978, but why? Guy lives a hundred years and then finds his fashion moment?

Bullshit. Let me tell you. I've lived about a hundred years now (ok, 45) and I found my fashion moment when I was FOURTEEN, when my grandfather died and I inherited all his tuxedo shirts. That's when everyone finds their fashion moment (in their teens, not when they discover that their grandfather had been bizarrely well-supplied with formalwear) (although, I gotta say, that was quite a watershed stylistic moment for little YNL. When I saw the top hats, the ruffles, the tuxes, I was suddenly like, "If happy little grandpas fly beyond the rainbow... why oh why can't I?" I wore that top hat until it fell apart ON MY HEAD. Married a man who called himself "Secretly Flamboyant Scott". Divorced him and married a man whose material possessions consisted of one chair, a diploma from MIT, and forty-seven hats. Thanks, Grandpa!).

Anyway. Like a lot of people, my idea of what's cool is still what was cool when I started high school. Which was 1979. Hm. And I was complaining about Spike because...

... wait a minute ...

Ok maybe the late '70's were, in fact, the coolest time ever and that's why Spike and I both like motorcycle boots. More likely, maybe Joss Whedon and I are exactly the same age. Hm. Joss Whedon and I are almost exactly the same age. What was my point again?

At the library the other day, I caught a look at myself in the mirror in the bathroom and wondered for just a second why I had dressed for work as if I were David Johansen, post Dolls and pre Buster. Getting older is strange. Getting older without actually getting older is strange-er. The phrase "arrested development" comes to mind, but then we're back to the handcuffs, aren't we?