Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Throwing Poems and Seeing What Sticks

Hi, y'all.
I'm glad to report that for the moment I look normal. And I'm wearing a bit of lipstick for the third day in a row, over some cooling lip balm. Let us just say that the situation is being monitored closely, especially as I also had the worst face breakout I think I've ever had on Sunday/Monday. That, too, is diminishing, however, and I am guardedly optimistic.
I am also wet, because it is raining. Hard. Don't you hate that feeling when the bottoms of your pantlegs and the top of your socks get wet and you just have to deal with it? Fortunately I have some slippers in the office that are like booties, and they will help me be cozy. I think I might drink a hot chai today, too.

Currently, I am preparing to be productive and send poems to magazines. I figured out what is going where, and all I need is to get packets together...and attachments. Since I last sent work out, a bunch of magazines have gone to online submission systems and email. No doubt they think this is easier, but to be frank it's frustrating, because all of them are different. Some want all poems in one attachment. Some are okay with multiple attachments. Some want poems pasted into the message (which is begging for trouble). Some have their own submission systems. And then you have the ones who still take snail mail. I am a little disappointed in all of this; it shows disorganization and, in an attempt to get more "tech-savvy" it is actually more difficult for submitters. And what about poets who don't have access to the internet on a regular basis, or at all? I like to think of poetry as a democratic institution, but some of these places have become too restrictive simply by their submission process. The best are the ones who will take snail mail or online stuff...that seems more understanding to me.
So, I'll be toeing all of their individual lines, but with more than my usual deflation at how complicated it is when you are uber-detail-oriented and finding it more difficult to make sure records and packets are just so.
The good news is that getting packets together encouraged me to "finish" up a few new pieces so I could send them out. We'll see what happens.

Friday, June 20, 2008


For the last month or so, I've felt a little sensitivity around my lips. Couldn't figure it out, and just applied more topcoat or gloss or chapstick to soothe the area, thinking it was too dry. The area particularly under my bottom lip would get red and a little swollen. This happened off and on for a few days at a time. Sometimes the lips would also look chapped, or felt sunburnt. The Whitestrips I was wearing aggravated the feeling, So I quit using them. I worried a little about the wedding I was in, but when I wore chapstick to bed and lipstick the next day you couldn't really tell anything was going on.
This changed dramatically Monday night. That curious itchy, tingly feeling was back, and by the evening I had tiny blisters, of which I will spare you the icky details. My lips were sore and I looked awful.
Fortunately, I got into the doctor the next morning, because my lips were now cracked in the corners and looking like I'd been punched in the mouth. My doctor has a tendency to be sold on one thing, which can be both comforting and disconcerting. He decided within a minute that it was an allergic reaction to something, possibly parabens, because his friend had the exact same appearance once, and that's what she had. He gave me a scrip for oral steroids and a referral to the dermatologist across the hall...only it transpires that they couldn't get me in until August...and the second doctor I tried couldn't until September. They didn't even look at my referral form. I cried most of Tuesday, which was not helped by the two Lifetime movies I watched while I was hiding my hideous face from the world (I know---my melodramatic side was kicking in).
Wednesday, I was angry, sore, and still looked like a victim of violence. When I called the dermatologist (when I was calmer) to ask some questions, and to establish a better appointment time (July 25) she said, "Oh, well the doctor will take a look at the symptoms, and then if he thinks it's called for he'll do the test right away, with a followup Monday or Tuesday.
Excuse me? A-baking powder? You honestly expect me to look like this still in July? I'm so glad I decided to take pictures of this whole process (again, which I will spare you...they're gross) because I do not plan to look like this for another month.
To make a long story short (Too late) it's been a depressing week, and I've spent not a little time frustrated with the medical establishment. The good news is, my lips seem to be healing up, only this involves pretty much all of the skin on them flaking off little by little, and was told not to put anything on them at all. Not even chapstick. It's infuriating. I've stopped jogging because the wind aggravates them. I have to eat little bites of food. I am currently being proactive, printing off lists of ingredients and doing skin tests of a few lipsticks and topcoats for lipsticks on the inside of my arms. It looks silly but I honestly don't care. If this does turn out to be my favorite lipstick I'm going to pitch a fit, so I'm rooting for a reaction in the one I got recently, which has a different formula. When my lips have healed, I'll cautiously try a product or two. Hopefully, I'll have the answer in July. Through all of this, my mother has been a champ, fielding phone calls and emails and looking stuff up for me.
All of this is just to say that I am kind of embarassed about my appearance right now and might not see you for some time over the next month or so, but I'm hoping to look normal next week.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Culinary Adventures: A Terrine Story

I am now quite convinced that my oven needs to have its jets cleaned, which my landlady does for me, but due to circumstances I can't officially relate yet, that is going to have to wait, so this will probably be my last oven-related adventure for a while.

Anyway, the terrine. There was quite a lot of prep involved with this recipe, like cutting and cooking the asparagus (Michigan asparagus, which I get as often as possible, purchased at Meijer on sale) and getting all the ingredients together. I did something I should probably always do with fussy recipes, but which I don't do all the way generally, and got nearly all my chopping and gathering done in advance. For instance, while the asparagus was cooking I had time to chop the dill and chives, separate the eggs, and portion out flour, cream cheese, and the other dairy items. Especially with a gas stove like mine this is a good idea, because when you have butter that pretty much melts on its own from a warm pan, then add flour over a low heat, it's going to turn into "a thick paste" pretty darn quickly. Like, immediately. I think, really for the first time, I appreciated the role of a sous chef in the kitchen. It also gave me a festive cooking show feeling to have my little cups and bowls all arranged with stuff in them.

Things came together fairly well after that. The egg mixture, when completed, was maybe a little thicker than it ought to be, before the egg whites were added, but I think in the end this worked in my favor.

Also as an experiment in willpower, I beat the egg whites by hand. There were only two, and it made me very took forever, but they came out all right. I still favor my mixer for this job, but I was glad I did it myself this once.

Anyway, the terrine process (you can also use a loaf pan, but I heart my terrine) involves layering asparagus, then egg mixture, asparagus, egg, and asparagus. Then, foil over the top, put the terrine in a roasting pan half full of hot water (mistake 1--water not hot but merely lukewarm), and put in the oven at 350 degrees ("mistake" 2--I actually bumped the temp up to 355, but I'm still pretty sure it didn't keep that temperature long during the ensuing time) for 45 minutes, then ten more, then ten more...because, you see, the terrine wasn't quite done. It's supposed to stay in until it's just firm to the touch. Eventually, the edges seemed firm enough, and it had really been in the oven for a long time, so I took it out.

You're supposed to let the terrine cool, then chill it. I did this and then made the's an "orange sauce" which weirded me out, but actually there is very little orange and mostly butter. I'm really bad at making hollandaise sauces usually, or sauces of any kind, but this one went pretty well. I used white cooking wine instead of white wine vinegar because I really do not have that much kitchen room and you have to choose what you keep on hand wisely. The best part about the sauce is that it used up the two extra egg yolks left over from the souffles, which I had under cold water in the fridge.

I wasn't patient enough to chill the terrine all the way, because I wanted to taste it. You're supposed to turn the terrine out and slice it from there, but my terrine dish is very pretty and also convenient for the fridge. I also have my doubts as to whether it would stay in terrine form, because while the first slice never comes out easily, the terrine ended up being almost mousselike around the asparagus. Not as firm as a terrine should be. You can see the messy "slice" I made:

Fortunately, it tastes good. Today, I tried again with the slicing and had little more success. It simply isn't firm enough. But that's okay. As I said, it's a bit like egg mousse, and it's for me to eat, and I know what to improve for next time: Firmer cream cheese (I used tub cheese because the recipe calls for herbed cream cheese and it only comes in tubs), a hotter and less temperamental oven, a tiny bit more egg white whisking, and warmer water in the hot water bath.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Culinary Adventures: Crab Souffle

I've had some cream in my fridge that is a few days shy of going off probably, and have been trying to figure out what to do with it. Likewise, I have a new terrine dish that I got for Christmas and have wanted to play with. So, I pulled a cookbook my aunt gave me off the shelf--it's the one with fancy meal elements that might work particularly for guests, like several types of deviled eggs, a beautiful potato and leek pie with phyllo dough, a whole chapter on brunches and fork get the idea.
My notion was that I wanted to do the egg and asparagus terrine, so I looked it up and copied out the ingredients I didn't have onto my shopping list. I'll do it as soon as I have the asparagus and fresh herbs. But, flipping around, I ran straight into crab souffles. And I think for the first time with this book I had every ingredient already in the house, including the cream and crab meat (canned).
So, this afternoon I made some souffles. I only had four ramekins rather than six, but I found two small cake tins and used those for the extra. The mixing and cooking went okay. There was quite a lot of prep involved, but not terrible. I had trouble with burning the scallions, but simply picked them out again. I don't think I put quite enough curry powder in, either. I also think I did not quite whip the egg whites up enough. I used my hand mixer since I suck at whisking eggs (and cream. I use a whisk only for things that won't matter if I don't whisk properly). I got them pretty near, but I suspect maybe not quite, and I overfolded the whites into the sauce a bit. However, it looked all right and smelled awesome.
My oven has been kind of temperamental again lately, not keeping the proper temperature, and after the eight minutes baking time, the souffle tops were not brown. I had to leave them in longer, so the souffles got a bit overdone, I'm sure. Nevertheless, I pulled them out when they were golden and poofy, and they looked exactly like the picture. I know they were overcooked because they fell faster than they ought to have sources tell me that 3-5 minutes is all you can expect from a hot souffle, and I think we made it about 2, maybe 2 and a half. Anyway, the picture above is post-fall. The good news is, I had one for my lunch and it tasted very nice. Obviously you're supposed to eat souffles right away, but the rest had to go in the fridge.
All in all, it was a noble experiment and for my first time making a proper souffle, I think it went rather well. I shall need to practice, but I was pretty pleased. It's sort of like the first time I made crepes...possibly it will never go so well again, but at least I had a good go.
Tomorrow I shall probably do the terrine.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Crash and Burn

I feel special hearts toward this video, and as it's on the mix tape I'm currently rocking out to in the car...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Why TV Sometimes Depresses Me Regarding Our Culture

American Gladiators and Circus of the Stars.

You may remember old-school American Gladiators--big, tan people in red, white, and blue costumes, with fabulously feathered hair and big smiles. They sometimes answered viewer mail and always did so with compassion and encouraging voices. The contenders were generally very earnest people, strong and fast and forever giving messages of love to their families. They had steady jobs and smiled almost as much as the gladiators. The announcers were dressed like ESPN guys, in suits and neat haircuts. They were nice people, and the theme of the show was to do your best, and stay positive. You got the feeling that you should stay in school and work hard, and be nice to people. You should be a good sport.

I find the current American Gladiators completely unwatchable.

Everyone looks so angry. It's all about power and performance, about winning and looking mean. These people look scary, not like people I'd want to hang out with at my local public house. On the old AG, if someone lost his or her temper, that person would take a minute, shake it off, and then shake someone's hand. I get the feeling that if anyone now lost his or her temper, a joke would be made and no effort would erase hard feelings. I could be wrong about that--as I said, I find it unwatchable, but it's just a feeling, and that is more important to me that what actually happens. It's the attitude of meanness and punishment over clean fun that bothers me the most, and I find that change both epidemic in our culture and disheartening. I don't want to watch a show where I'm just being yelled at for an hour.

Then there's Circus of the Stars. I don't know if anyone else will remember this. In the past, it was a two-hour circus made up of celebrities past and present, all learning interesting and artistic or funny circus acts. The fun of it was watching these actors and musicians learn the type of thing you'd see at Barnum and Bailey, watching them adapt and put their own spin on it. The show would often show clips of the stars learning their act, with all the spills and chills and injuries resulting from the process, but they would always work hard and put forth an optimistic effort. And they were glamorous and excited in the show, much like a kid at a dance recital. I will never forget the "listo" (ready) call of Mario Lopez and Jennie Garth on the trapeze, or Karen Black's dynamic elephant act. It was good TV, and I looked forward to it every year.

So, I was excited when I saw ads for what looked like a resurgence of the show. Imagine my irritation and frustration when I found out that it's actually a reality competition. Why must there be judgment involved?Why can't it just be fun to watch people do something fun? I hate the idea of competition leaking into everything we do or enjoy. This is part of the reason I don't watch dance reality shows, and certainly not these God-awful pick-a-Broadway-star competitions. I want to enjoy an art, not have that gnawing feeling of "who will win?" and "someone will feel like less of a person after this" lurking in my gut. There is enough angst and worry in the world without trying to prove you're better than someone else. And I say that as a competitive person, but one who is tired--tired of watching everyone have to get mean or antagonistic before anything gets done.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Wedding: How it happened version

I haven't posted in a while, and it's unfortunate that I'm having a day full of aggravations and concerns, but I wanted to do a write up of the wedding I was in this weekend.

As many of you know, I'd been worried about the dress fitting. Fortunately, my "diet" leading up to the weekend worked and the dress was fine. Snug during dinner, but fine for dancing. I did unzip it for the drive back to the bride's house after, and changed before eating again. Also, the hemming issue became a non-issue...our dresses all ended up pretty close in length, and I didn't do mine at all, so that worry was gone.

Anyway. Rehearsal was on Friday at the Henry Ford Museum's Lovett Hall Ginger Meyer Sculpture Garden. I was there first, and was able to answer a few questions and names for the coordinator, Carol, and officiant, Fred while we waited for the party to come from the tux place, where the fitting ran late. The rehearsal went really well, though, and we ran through things twice in the hot sun. I got to know my fellow wedding party members, and they are all exceedingly nice people. I was looking forward to hanging out at dinner with them.

Obsessive as I am, I printed out scads of directions for the whole weekend, so I was followed by several cars to Musashi in Southfield. Now, it transpires that in addition to doing the flowers for the wedding, since she has floral experience, the groom's mother also owns a popular restaurant, and since she is Japanese, she knows a heck of a lot about food. Having looked at the menu I wasn't sure if we were having a served dinner or picking stuff ourselves. Then plates started coming. This is what we had, though not completely in order and I might be forgetting some...really, I had no idea what I was eating much of the time:
Asparagus "amuse bouche," with cream and roe
Sashimi, with two slices each of three fish
A tuna cube in a fish broth
Salad of greens and lobster or crab pieces in raspberry vinaigrette
Several pieces of sushi--two lobster/avocado rolls, and two other pieces I couldn't identify
Tenpura--giant shrimp, a slice each of sweet potato, Japanese pumpkin, and Spanish onion (my favorite dish)
A slice of Sable fish wrapped in a banana leaf or something (my least favorite dish, but also one of the prettiest)
A giant cake each...seriously, only three people of thirty-some finished theirs.
There were also a few leftover non-sushi plates that were spread around, like chicken on a stick and some steak, which we shared. There was also sake and beer, though I stuck with water.
Needless to say I was pretty full, and I didn't eat everything in the later part of the meal but did taste everything. Then I drove home to BG.
Saturday, I drove back up, dropped my stuff off at Mila's (Mila is a cousin of the bride's, and all three of us went to Italy in 2001...she invited me to stay with her and her fiance, and better hosts you couldn't find. They are amazing), and headed up to Rochester Hills to a luncheon party/open house that some aunts/cousins were giving. I had some food and hung out with the bridesmaids, groomsman's wife, and bridesmaid's sister for a bit, and then we six went to see Sex & the City. I'll save my commentary about that for another time. After that we went to the bride's parents' house in Sterling Heights area, hung out for a bit, and then snuck upstairs to look at the dress. It was the first time I'd seen it, and it was exactly the kind of gown I thought Jelena would like...strapless satin, no beading or lace, but lots of pickups in the big skirt. It was HEAVY. We girls consulted about jewellry and hair and shoes, just like you'd expect. Then, I left to get back to Mila's, and we stayed up chatting for quite a while, and I finally met her finace.
Sunday, I was running late. I was alone in the house, which is probably good, because I was tearing around in hot rollers and had to do my foundation twice. By the time I got to the venue, I was definitely on time, but later than I wanted to me...and I was still in rollers. I'm afraid a lot of the prep time was me finishing my hair and makeup. Not good for the Maid of Honor. I never did get my hair to where I wanted it, but at least it was acceptable. Fortunately, the lengthy list of things we had to make sure were done were already being done by the excellent staff at the venue, and Dina the aforementioned groomsman's wife was amazing at checking up on things.
At last, we were all ready. And I lost my phone. Show must go on, though, so I put it out of my mind and the wedding began.
It was a short service, but the officiant did a great job, I read a poem, another bridesmaid sang Ave Maria, and it was a beautiful day in the garden. The bride and groom looked perfect. As we proceeded out after the ceremony, the Best Man informed me that we were not required in the receiving line, so he loaned me his phone and I went out to my car to call myself...sure enough, it had fallen under the passenger seat. At that point, I felt amazingly relaxed. Everything was finished! We did pictures, which was fun, especially since I think my smile during the ceremony was ridiculous. I hope the pics turn out and I can get some prints, especially of the "high fashion" one we did...the Best Man and I were clowning around and the photographer said, "When we take the shot in a few minutes, I want you to do that exactly." I don't know if anyone else did it, but the photographers were trying to get them to copy us. It was hilarious. Can't wait to see it.
The pictures took place during the cocktail hour (I had root beer). Then we went up to the ballroom for dinner--a lovely salad, a duet plate of chicken and beef with rolls, and of course some wedding cake, all served. During dinner, the band played, but then some Serbian dancers came out and danced for, like, fifteen minutes. They were all teenagers, and were very fun to watch. Then we had the real dancing, and of course as a member of the wedding party I danced and tried to get others involved. Not too many people danced, but as half the guests were Japanese, and the Best Man informed me that most wouldn't dance, I think we did pretty well.
We closed up the reception early and headed over to the bride's parents' house...I fulfilled my last MOH duty by helping the bride change and zipping her voluminous dress into its bag. Jel's parents had a tent set up in their yard and at the open house offered roast pig and lamb, a groaning table of salads and bread, and another groaning table of desserts, all handmade by the aunts. There was also a Serbian quartet (which Mila's dad is in) playing and singing in blue vests and red bow ties. It was peaceful to sit with the wedding party, chatting to them and the cousins, and when it got dark they turned golden lights on in the tent. It was a beautiful night and, even though I felt like I'd never eat again, I felt really good about life and the state of love.
I ended up back at Mila's sometime between midnight and one, I think. The next day, I had the morning to slowly wake up, again alone in the house, get ready to go, and then head to Somerset mall to go to Lush. I walked the whole mall, bought some fun stuff, and decided to end the adventure.
It was a pretty great weekend. My least favorite part was probably driving around Detroit, especially since there are some parts of 75 closed, but I managed with my directions, and kind of got the hang of it.
Hopefully I'll have some time to post pictures soon, but if you're on Facebook, you can also go there.