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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Today On My Counter ...

My apartment is pretty small, so I don’t entertain much. But every once in a while I get into “host mode” and want to show off my culinary skills a little and have a few friends over. So earlier this evening, I held a small dinner party for six friends and myself: my good friend Stacy and her husband, my touchy-feely friends Beth and Richie, and my pals Calvin and Mike.

Stacy came early to help me prep … she can’t cook worth a damn but she can use a knife and a cutting board like a professional chef. I decided to pull out all the stops since I hadn’t seen these guys in quite a while in an intimate setting. I made my cold beef and celery salad which coats tender slices of chilled sirloin, crunchy celery, and grape tomatoes, paper-thin sauteed carrots, and feta crumbles in olive oil, garlic, and various spices. For my entrĂ©e, I selected meatloaf served with steamed asparagus drizzled with cream and lime sauce.

Calvin arrived, greated me with a restrained hug, and, as is his way, grunted a "hello" to Stacy and her husband and then positioned himself in a quiet corner to watch some sports. Beth and Richie arrived next, playfully arguing about whom was the better card player. Mike was last but he had had stops to make … for the wine and liquor he wanted to contribute to the dinner. I think Mike may have a problem! Glug … glug!!

All in all, it was a good evening. I had made some black bean and pineapple salsa from scratch, so I took my time getting the meal on the table while my guests crunched and munched … their oohs and aahs over the spicy salsa like sweet music to my ears. Dinner was full of laughter and lively conversation. Beth told a few outrageous stories about her co-workers, which I tried to match but failed miserably. And several of us had to keep assuring Mike that his vodka "contribution" went equally well with meat or fish. After watching introverted Calvin finish the last scrap of meatloaf, everyone piled their plates on the pass-through ledge and then moved into the living room. For close to two hours we continued our loud get-together by playing pinochle, watching part of an NBA game I had dvr’d the day before, and just reconnecting.

Then I went to the kitchen to get things ready for my showstopper dessert. Step One was warming up my trusty Hamilton Beach 12-cup stainless steel deep fryer. Everyone should have a deep fryer for special treats and occasionally indulging in wonderful homemade french fries. When I was a kid, my parents had this huge fryer model shaped like a big bucket for doing fresh battered fish. It was silvery … not stainless … and dented and dinged up pretty bad. I distinctly remember bands of electrical tape in several places and a few times when the cord actually sparked and sputtered. I even think my Mom blew a fuse or two using that old, clunky contraption. But the meals it helped create … INCREDIBLE!!!!

My fryer isn’t much bigger than a sneaker shoebox. It has a dishwasher safe inner “pot” and an outer skin that barely even gets warm when the unit is operating. The appliance uses computerized temperature controls for added safety and very stable cooking temperatures. It even has a double filtration system so I can get the longest “life” out of my cooking oil, and an automatic shut off system so the chances of me accidentally burning my place down are greatly reduced.

Step Two was getting the batter I had prepared earlier out of the frig and giving it a quick stir with a whisk. It was a standard pancake batter mix (with egg, milk, and a bit of vegetable oil), but when making it for a dessert application like this I always add an extra egg and “doctor” it with vanilla, brown sugar, and a pinch of nutmeg.

Step Three … and my favorite … was to call my guests into the less-than-spacious kitchen and reveal their deep-fried dessert choices. Oreos. Milky Way bars. And Snickers bars. I had them all arranged on a small platter, with the candy bars cut into thirds. I purchased a few extra serving spoons at the “dollar store” so everyone could gently dip their choices in the batter and then carefully drop them in the hot oil. Mike was being an ass. He rushed the process and dropped his coated cookie from several inches above the lip of the fryer. Beth got “sizzled” by some stray oil and she gave Mike a look that could wither a steel beam. He apologized and behaved himself. Once the items are dropped into the oil, the cooking usually takes less than a minute. And luckily, the treats bob toward the surface, letting you know that they’re ready to be “rescued” and dropped into a bowl of powdered sugar.

While I put a few things away, the group retreated back into the living area. From the sounds people were making, they either liked the dessert or had started an impromptu orgy. I made myself a small assortment of tidbits, shut off the fryer, and joined my friends to continue our evening of high-caloric communing.

POINT OF RANT: No one left my party even thinking about food … they probably couldn’t even imagine EVER being hungry again!!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Today On My Easel ...

Back around early November I fell into a weird creative slump. I think the pressures of the Holidays got to me … trying to be festive and upbeat in the midst of tight purse strings and all the hectic running around associated with gift buying and parties and crap.

Anyway, I kept up on my one blog site but my other one just came to a grinding halt. I had tons of ideas but the words just wouldn’t come. I tried all my old methods for working through “writers’ block,” but nothing helped. And my painting … which I dearly love … just brought me almost to tears every time I started shopping for canvas or got my supplies out. The passion was missing.

Well, my two month+ slump is over. And I have a special person to thank and the color orange.

I met someone … a fun and caring individual … who got me thinking about all the things that just make life silly and memorable. And that’s what I write about, after all. I think I just needed a good reminder that it’s okay to look at the world a little differently than others do; it’s even better to embrace that unique viewpoint and share it with others. Suddenly, I had scads of blogging ideas. The dam had burst!!

So I decided I wanted to surprise my new friend with a painting. But I was nervous. Closer to Christmas, I had actually got my easel and work area all set up and attempted three different pieces. Each one was worse than the one before. “Had I lost ‘the spark?’ for good,” I wondered.

While I was building up my courage to try again, I decided to procrastinate and inventory my paint and brushes to see what I needed. See, my new friend loves blues and purples and I wasn’t sure if a big trip to the art supply store was going to be required. And there on the top of my paint bin … almost glowing with a heavenly aura … was a huge tube of Cadmium Orange. I seldom use orange … it’s never inspired me before. But before I really even knew what I was doing, I had unwrapped a canvas and was half way through creating a new piece. And I loved it!

Ever since that “work in orange,” I’ve started five more paintings and even dusted off the notes for a novel (my second attempt) that I always wanted to complete. I even bit the bullet and got a haircut … my first one in nearly eight months. It’s going to be a creative year!

POINT OF RANT: Inspiration comes from the strangest places!!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Today On A Side Street ...

I’m a nervous driver. In the past, I have been in a few minor fender-benders, two accidents where significant automotive damage occurred, and one incident where I myself was badly injured. So when I drive, I try to be very focused. No crazy music. Mirrors in their proper positions. Continual checking to make sure lights and blinkers are only “on” when they are supposed to be. And NO eating while driving … people that fly down the highways fighting with messy tacos or greasy burgers amaze me in their stupidity.

So, of course, the whole idea of cute and clever bumper stickers makes no sense to me. I’m glad that the people who share the roadways with me have political opinions and “Honor Students” as offspring, but I don’t need to read about it while traveling at 65+!

Typically, bumper stickers are labels or stickers … approximately 12 inches by 3 or 4 inches … printed on PVC with a heavy adhesive backing. As the name implies, bumper stickers are affixed to the bumpers of vehicles … primarily automobiles, but the trend has grown to include motorcycles and scooters, golf carts, recreational vehicles, bicycles, and more.

Bumper stickers cover the topics of the day in both serious and humorous ways. Nothing is spared … religion, politics, sports teams, philosophical beliefs, sexual mores, etc.

By their very nature, bumper stickers couldn’t exist without bumpers … first introduced on the Ford Model A in 1927 … but the history of these iconic message-carriers starts shortly before World War II. Forest Gill, a Kansas City printer, started dispersing patriotic flag-like banners that were wired to auto bumpers. This trend spread quickly. Around the same time, a tourist attraction atop Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, started applying similar temporary promotional stickers to all visitors’ vehicles as a promotional gimmick.

The first real use of adhesive to make stickers more permanent was on “country tags,” a program supervised by the United Nations to mark vehicles that frequently crossed national borders. In the 1950s, advertisers began to encourage loyal consumers to display simple messages and logo images in the form of bumper stickers to show their support. Soon schools, churches, and social organizations were initiating similar campaigns. In the 1970s, some vehicle owners joined a fad where bumper stickers became a game of sorts … people collected and displayed stickers to demonstrate the number of places they had visited and other types of accomplishments. Some individuals were actually issued citations for vehicles adorned with more than 500 bumper stickers.

Currently, most drivers with a desire to display their “feelings” on their vehicles have switched to either low-tack bumper stickers (which can be cleanly removed with common household products) or removable vinyl decals that adhere to automotive window glass. But even with a more practical design, the sentiment of the bumper sticker is still as annoying and distracting as hell to me!

And this blogger isn’t the only one who recognizes the “dangers” of bumper stickers. Some psychological studies have discovered tendencies for road rage in subjects in direct proportion with high levels of automotive customizations, including bumper stickers. These social scientists believe that people who “mark” their cars and trucks may feel more entitled and territorial on our streets and highways … like they literally “own the road.”


Thursday, January 6, 2011

Today On YouTube ...

With the economy, the Middle East, drastic cuts in educational funding, the bitter winter weather, and dozens of other "downers," it's always fun to find a piece of silliness like Marcel that just lifts your spirits for no other reason than it's just childish and fun! ENJOY!!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Today In The Mirror ...

The transition into a new calendar year always seems to make people think deeply about self-improvement and reinvention. Diets ... exercise regimens ... new attitudes toward co-workers ... all kinds of changes and alterations seem to come and go during January and February of each new year.

And that is why I'm staring at my hair. It's been nearly six months since I've been to a barber or hair salon. When I comb my hair after a shower, my "bangs" hang below the bulb of my nose. For years I've worn my hair short ... sometimes just shy of bare scalp. But recently I've come to think dudes with longish hair look sexy ... rakish ... like rogues. And I could use a dose of "sexy" in my life. I personally think my longer locks look good, although it does take a good amount of time ... and product ... to prepare them for a long workday or a night on the town.

But my friends, family, and co-workers have been less than kind. I've received odd comments such as "trying to pick up a teenager?" to outright insults like "you look 50" or "do you really think that's flattering?"

But the big question ... my personal riddle of the Sphinx ... is who is my hair about? Do I make myself happy and mentally more handsome by keeping it long? Or do I succumb to peer pressure and crop it short to please others?

POINT OF RANT: Forget the economy, Obama ... we have a hair crisis on deck!!