Sunday, July 24, 2011

And I go back to black (plums)...

A couple of weeks ago, a girl at my stable found a newborn bird in the corner of a horse's stall. She thought it was dead and tossed it out with the shavings onto the manure pile.

When I was walking back from the barn to put away my tack I saw a pink, featherless body writhing in the grass. Amazingly, it had survived the hooves of a 16h Thoroughbred and being hoisted into the trash. I put it in the crook of my riding hat, and decided to drop it off at the local SPCA.

I didn't really expect it to survive the journey over there, given that driving in my area in the summer occasionally makes me question the value of life.

However, it lived and seemed to grow stronger every moment, blindly open up its mouth for food. I waited a half hour behind a woman with many pets who seemed to find the online vaccination schedule incomprehensible, but finally I surrendered the bird.

I called a week later to ask if he was still alive. "We send the wild birds to Wildlife Rehab after 24 hours," said the woman at the front desk.

"Well, I hope he's more successful than Amy Winehouse," I said, thinking myself terribly witty at the time.

I couldn't have known that in a few weeks Amy Winehouse would be be dead.

While some people seem to have an unusual will to live, others seem to be born with an invisible mechanism, kind of like the old TV version of Mission Impossible I used to watch with my mom: "This person will self-destruct within 27 years.  Good luck!"

It's hard for me to imagine Amy Winehouse clean. In her interviews, she seemed to suggest that her drug abuse was just as much a part of her defiant art as her heavily kohled eyelids and tattoos. 'Clean' was associated with bubble-gum, packaged pop. Being a bad girl in the style of 1960s human train wrecks was the essence of her sense of self.

Of course, you can logically point out that there is no one more bubble gum than the early Britney and look what happened to Little Miss Spears. But you can't argue with an artist like that.

I've never believed that it was necessary to drink and drug to be creative--almost all great artists produced their best works during moments of sobriety, and their art was a respite from their self-inflicted suffering, rather than a product of it.  I guess some people might question this statement who are big fans of the Beats and 60s rock, but I've never been a Burroughs and Kerouac fan, and even the great music heroes of that era tended to produce their best, least self-indulgent music before really getting deep into drug culture.

Despite the fact that the only high I've ever experienced in my life is a runner's high, I loved Amy Winehouse's music and voice.  I even related to the defiance of her anthem "Rehab," as I too am someone who has always been told that she lives in the 'wrong way.'  Who sees herself as an outsider in my own, dorky, early-to-bed and early-to-rise kind of a way.

From my own experiences living in England...I recall once meeting a fellow aspiring actor who was proud of all of the AA-listed symptoms of alcohol that he displayed.  "Drinking before breakfast?  Check?!"  Did Amy's behavior feel more normalized in the culture across the pond?

Anyway, given that I can't tolerate anything stronger than weak coffee and the kind of cold medication you have to 'sign up for' at the drug store leaves me climbing the walls, if drugs are required for creative inspiration, than there is no hope for me.

But they often say that where there is life and breath there is hope, and no matter what awaits us all in the great beyond, on this earth, there will never be a sequel to Back to Black.

It's been too hot to cook, much less bake, so I've been eating lots of fruit, vegetables and nuts drizzled with plenty of good balsamic vinegar.  Truthfully, I could drink the stuff.

Pecan plum salad


1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon (vegan) Worcestershire sauce (I eat fish, but non-vegan Worcestershire sauce contains high fructose corn syrup as well as anchovies, the former of which I try to avoid)


1 sliced black plum
1/2 cup lightly steamed, chilled green beans
1 cup chopped fresh spinach
1/4 cup chopped pecans


Mix the dressing ingredients to make an emulsion, drizzle over the salad ingredients and serve.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

I pierced a girl...


I’ve never quite understood the body art trend, even though I would say that a larger percentage of my friends have multiple piercings than do not. When I was fourteen, I got my ears pierced at the Seview Square Mall in one of those jewelry shops that allow you to be impaled with gold studs embedded with your birthstone. Piercing your ears at a store in front of Deb pretty much qualified as a rite of 1980s suburban passage.

After wearing earrings that were too heavy for my lobes, the holes became enlarged so I eventually had to let them close. I still have two large scars on my ears, which I took as a sign that I was meant to pass from this world as I entered it—unadorned.  I wear a watch. 

Between my junior and senior year of high school, I attended a summer program on the campus of Harvard University, in Cambridge, MA. One of my roommates was Kim, from Berkley, California. Rooming with Kim was one of my first experiences with West Coast culture.

Kim was a pale, waifish creature—tall and barely 105 pounds. She wore cut-off jeans belted with a multi-colored rope, Birkenstocks, and white men’s t-shirts bought in bulk at the Harvard Coop.  About a week into the program she found a thrift store called Dollar-A-Pound. The store might still be there. Every week, a warehouse near MIT would be mysteriously filled with used clothes, all of which would be on sale for...a dollar-a-pound. We walked there together from our dorm. Our other roommate, Mita, was far too grossed out to join us. Our purchases—faded, shapeless clothing—looked good on Kim’s model-like frame, but just made my stocky, short nub of a body look vaguely homeless.
Flick: travis_simon

Kim was given to impulsive decisions, some of which had more costly consequences than Dollar-A-Pound.  At the beginning of the summer she had thick, luxuriant straight red hair down to her waist like a Pre-Raphaelite nymph. Then, she cut it all off, as short as a boy, at a barber shop.  “It feels so free,” she said. I cried inside. Despite the fact that I hadn’t cut my hair in a year, it refused to grow any longer than breast-length.

Flickr: freeparking 

During that summer, Kim briefly dated a boy named Ruskin, also from Berkeley. Ruskin’s parents were hardcore hippies. “They gave him ACID for his birthday,” said Kim.  Even she was shocked. “And it wasn’t even GOOD ACID.”

(Later, in graduate school, I would read the art criticism of the Victorian writer John Ruskin.  Despite being married to a woman whom he met when she was a child of nine and writing monumental volumes of art criticism on works depicting lusty naked bodies, John Ruskin reportedly died a virgin. This proves that the Victorians were weirder than ANYONE who ever lived during the 1960s).

One day, Kim informed Mita and myself: “I want to get my nose pierced.”

“I wouldn’t do it.  What if you don’t like it?” I asked, and showed her the scars on my earlobes.
“I’ll take it out if I don’t like it.”
Flickr: megangoodchild

All three of us went to the nearest jewelry store, in the Cambridge Galleria. There was lots of silver jewelry in the store depicting eyes in the middle of hands and Dungeons and Dragons multi-sided dice.

The scene seemed promising, but the boy working at the shop said: “we can’t pierce noses, it’s illegal for sanitary reasons.”

Collectively, we felt let down.  We had tried so hard to steel our courage.

“But we sell piercing kits.  If you’d like to do it at home.  $11,” he said.

 The logic of being able to pierce one’s own nose but not have it done in-house seemed troubling, but we persevered.

“Are you going to do it to yourself?” asked Mita.

“I’ll do it,” I said.  I knew I’d never have the courage to get my own nose pierced, but piercing someone else’s nose seemed much more manageable.  Mita held Kim’s hand. I squeezed the gun.

It felt like stapling a very large, thick research paper.

“I did it!” shrieked Kim.  “I pierced my nose.”

“I pierced someone’s nose!” I shrieked.  I hardly noticed that the ugly, lumpish metallic stud didn’t look particularly attractive.

Turning the stud was painful. Mita, whose mother had her nose pierced when she was a girl in India, had warned Kim of this. Eventually, the pain, the inability to blow her nose, and the fact that her appearance wasn’t particularly enhanced by the piercing caused Kim to remove the adornment. I felt slightly disappointed that the evidence of my bravery had been erased. 

Sometimes when I see the rings of a sliced olive, I think of Kim.
This is a nice, savory bread and you will enjoy it, even if you have mixed feelings about ring-shaped adornments.

It's not very attractive, but unlike a nose piercing, it's quite useful.  Although it's a quick bread, it's sturdy enough to be eaten with hummus, turkey, or cheese and would make a lovely addition to a Mediterranean meal or appetizer.

Olive Bread

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano (spices can be adjusted to your taste)
2 large eggs, beaten
1 cup milk (I used almond milk)
1/4 cup mild olive oil
1/2 cup pitted black olives
1/2 cup chopped walnuts


1. Preheat oven to 350F. Oil a 9x5 baking pan.

2. Sift the flours, baking powder, spices, and salt. In another bowl, mix the eggs, milk, and oil.  Add the flour mixture until the batter is incorporated.  Fold in the olives and walnuts.

3. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until a toothpick is extracted clean. Let cool before removing from the pan for at least 15 minutes.

4. Serve with olive oil or hummus.