Anybody Out There?

Posted April 28, 2010 by idlewanderer
Categories: Life, Media, Rants

Tags: , , ,

I often feel like I don’t have enough time to post blogs on here, what with work 50-60 hours a week, spending time with Mark, keeping up to date on my New Yorkers, cooking, reading food blogs, wasting time on Facebook and what not. But, I do, at least, realize that the way I spend my time is a choice. I chose to do the things I do, to spend my time the way I want, and that—for whatever reason—means not spending a lot of time writing on this blog.

I think that part of it is that the things I would like to blog about here usually require a thought-out argument or some sort. There are many, many things that I read or encounter in my day-to-day that I would like to expound on, but somehow it takes just a little more time to make a cogent argument to present to the world than to relate a food/recipe-related story for Recipes For Laughter. Then again, it takes even less time to not blog at all—and considering my back log of  New Yorkers, maybe I shouldn’t even waste my time writing ever.

I can always just lambaste my friends when we hang out about  men winking at women (so subjugating!)  and other such random arguments. Who needs to blog about it anyway?

Still, I always keep  a running list of subjects for further inquiry and for proselytizing people I know. I guess the nice thing about a space like this  is that they don’t argue back (in real time anyway). But, for now, the most interesting thing to me is the pendulum of history. I think people often forget that everything is a cycle.

As a society, we swing to the right, then to the left, then to the right. Whatever moment we are in, it is somewhere inciting a backlash which will soon gain momentum as people become disillusioned with the present. (People are forever disillusioned with the present–maybe the subject of  another blog post?). And that backlash will soon gain a majority position, which will in turn inspire a counter-movement that will slowly enter the mainstream (Obama’s election begets the Tea Party…) and so on and so forth. Such is history.

Nothing is permanent.

I like to think that each action has an equal and opposite reaction. For each step we take towards a world in which bloggers (yes I am criticizing them here, on my blog; yes, I understand that it is ironic) are given preference over established media sources, I at least hope that somewhere people (like me) are outraged that trusted news sources are being demolished by idiotic amateurs. I, for one, do not want to get my news from Joe the Plumber. I think that he may (or may not) have an interesting point of view that may (or may not) be worth sharing with the wider world, but when it comes to knowing what is happening in the world and making some sort of sense of it, I will always and forever turn to the BBC or The New York Times. Everybody is an expert at something, but how is a person to differentiate the rabble from the experts? One has to know that the level of reporting is to be trusted and that experience and credible expertise contributes to a story. That is something that I will always value. (And I think many other people will, too, though it may not currently seem that way.)

It is my hope that as a society we realize that, yes, citizen reporting is a valuable contribution to the narrative, but that it is no substitute for hard news. I am interested, for example, in what Iranian protesters have to tweet, but I also need to know what is going on above ground. What has led up to the current situation, what political and social factors brought about the unrest? How is the Iranian government responding? How is the rest of the world likely to respond?

We are living in an era of change. Technology is advancing faster than anyone can imagine. We are re-negotiating what newspapers are, what news is, what books are and how we consume them. Things aren’t the same as we remember them in the good old days—but, then again, maybe they never were.

Whenever I think about how—to be perfectly honest—fucked (up) our world seems right now, I like to stop and think: What generation DIDN’T think that the world was moving in the wrong direction? When DIDN’T the end seem near? When DIDN’T people think that they were bringing children into a dangerous and frightful world? I have to imagine that for as long as we have existed, the world has seemed, more or less, pretty fucked. I don’t mean to sound like a naysayer, but I like to keep things in perspective. We are no worse off than we have ever been. Every generation feels that the world is a dangerous place, that it is changing too quickly and not always for the better. That is the way it is.

The one small hope that keeps me going is that with each step, each swing of the pendulum, we (hopefully) move slightly forward. That through each swing, we make a little PROGRESS towards a better place for everyone, though it does not always seems that way in the moment.

And all we can do is continue believing in what we believe in. All we can do is to be true to ourselves and our principles, to pass on our strengths and hopes to those who will follow us.

And the rest is up to them.


Ruth Reichl Has a Cool Beard

Posted October 28, 2009 by idlewanderer
Categories: Life

Tags: , , ,

Oh, wait, no nRuth Reichlo no. No, she doesn’t. But, after meeting her, she’s still one of my favorite people. It’s funny how after reading three memoirs about her life, I feel like I know her. It kind of makes me sound weird and stalker-ish, but I’ve already spent hours with Ruth, hearing about all of the phases of her life. (At the event she told an audience member that she could only write the next installment of her memoirs if she no longer worked for Conde Nast–the publisher of Gourmet magazine, where she was the editor. The weekend after the event, it came out that after sixty years Conde Nast is canceling the magazine, so it looks like I’ve got something to look forward to!)

Anyway, in real life she is just as personable as she is on the page.

I headed down town to The Nines hotel alone one Wednesday night last month. Up to the  swanky sixth floor ballroom. People were drinking wine in the lounge outside waiting for the event to start. I picked up my signed copy of the huge new lime green Gourmet cookbook that Ruth had edited and was promoting.

Tickets were $40, a lot of money to get to see Ruth, but really it’s just the price of the cookbook and the talk is included for free. Except, I was there for the talk and couldn’t really care any less about the cookbook. So, I really did pay $40 just to hear Ruth Reichl talk for an hour. It was worth every penny. I’m sure everyone else there thought so too. But, to them $40 probably didn’t break the bank. It seems that the demographic for such events is comprised almost entirely of rich, middle-aged white women. I felt slightly out-of-place, but who knows, in 30 years that may just be me.

By the time I entered the ballroom clutching my copy of the book, the front row seats were filled. “Damn, I should have gotten here earlier!” I thought to myself as I slid into my seat on the far end of the second row. Luckily, it was the side that Ruth walked down before heading to the podium. Her iridescent blue-green tunic shirt glistened as she walked by. For a foodie in her fifties, Ruth is skinny and a little more petite that I would have imagined–she has such an over-sized personality for someone of her stature. She wore her famously wild hair long, sleek and straight that night.

She launched into her talk. She spoke about why we need this new cookbook, how Americans are cooking and eating in an exciting new way. She noted the changes in the average suburban supermarket, the range of ingredients you can find these days; about her son Nick and his friends and their vegetarian/vegan eating habits, about how people are more conscious than ever of their food and where it comes from.

Ruth Reichl makes chicken stock every weekend. She makes risotto whenever she gets home from work and doesn’t know what else to cook. She is afraid that Nick, who is in college on the East Coast, will move to Portland after he graduates, because “it’s the place all the kinds want to go after college” these days. We are so hip right now.

Ruth is political, which is definitely part of why I like her. She included an article in Gourmet recently about how  slavery in alive and well in Florida’s tomato growing regions. People wrote in letters to the editor that a food magazine like Gourmet should not be involved in politics, but I happen to think that eating is a political act. At the event, she noted that 80% of the cookbooks that she signs for people’s kids lately are for their sons, indicating that we have a new “generation of people who don’t think of cooking as women’s work,” like they used to. She talked about the dire state of school lunches in this country. Ruth pointed out that personal outrage was not enough, that we must complain to our politicians. We need to tell them that good food for our children is important. “It’s got to be political,” she said. “It’s been deemed frivolous, but training people to eat well is going to save us money in the long run.” Yes! It’s common sense, but still so hard to get that point across publicly.

Ruth answered questions from the audience, mostly about boring stuff like what fat does she use in pie crusts (apparently a terribly contentious issue in the baking world, as it came up at a Wordstock baking Q&A, too), or what to call mushrooms that are farmed, but somehow are referred to as “wild” on restaurant menus, much to the despair of mushroom hunters (Ruth had no idea—and why are these people wasting my time with Ruth anyway?).

About three-quarters of the way through, I got up enough courage to raise my hand and ask a question. At first I wasn’t sure if she was going to call on me. She picked a woman sitting right in front of me first, so I thought my chances were slim. But soon enough, she came back over to my side and I spoke to Ruth Reichl. I asked her if she read any food blogs—if so, which ones?!–and how she felt blogging fit into the new food landscape she was describing.

She said that she used to read 20 food blogs a day, but that she just didn’t have time to follow them anymore (of course! Silly question to ask someone in Ruth’s position, damn!). But, she said it is a “new and wonderful world” where food is being cooked and discussed and celebrated. When she started cooking in Berkeley in the sixties, she said no one was talking about food, as I suppose it was considered more of a woman’s chore than a thing to celebrate. Ruth also likes that fact that it makes food professionals better, as their consumers are more informed. It keeps chefs accountable.

But, the best thing that she said all night was about cookbooks. She described how many times Gourmet‘s chefs and home cooks had tested each of the thousand recipes in the new Gourmet Today cookbook. Even the simplest dish with the fewest ingredients was made and remade in their test kitchens. The reason, she said, is that she is continually “shocked at how many failed recipes are in famous cookbooks by famous authors.” And the worst part, she pointed out, is that when you are at home and you try one of those poor, untested recipes, you inevitably think that it’s your fault when it doesn’t turn out. Which is a terrible thing, said Ruth, because how you learn to cook is with courage. You make something, people like it, so you make more.

I couldn’t agree more.

Two Kinds of People

Posted September 15, 2009 by idlewanderer
Categories: Rants

There are two kinds of people in the world—those who re-fill the toilet paper dispenser after they use the last (or even next to last!) sheet, and those who leave it empty for the next person to deal with. (There are a few borderline non-re-fillers who like to push the boundaries and leave just enough that they don’t have to re-fill, but not enough for the next person to use.)

As you can imagine, I am a re-filler. In my life I have lived with a number of non-re-fillers and I have to say, it drives me absolutely insane. I haven’t yet figured out why this bothers me so much. It’s like the non-re-fillers are not pulling their weight somehow. Is it that they are inconsiderate? Forgetful? Being the sole, or majority, re-filler in a household starts to feel like you are picking up after people and nobody likes that. You start to become resentful. Over toilet paper.

Sometimes I refuse to re-fill. The empty roll still up there on the dispenser is the last straw and I just can’t do it one more time. I can’t re-fill it. I make a stand, albeit a small and stupidly insignificant one. I’m pretty sure the non-re-fillers  don’t even notice, because they don’t think of these things. They are not at all troubled by the toilet paper roll location like we re-fillers are.

I can wait days. Silent, stoic, non-re-filling days. This does absolutely no good, of course, and I eventually succumb to my strange compulsion to re-fill the toilet paper. The non-re-fillers always win. Always.


My Facebook Family

Posted July 22, 2009 by idlewanderer
Categories: Life, Media

Tags: , , ,

Oh, the wonders of Facebook. Not only do I know the minutiae and intimate details of my friends daily existence, now my family is in on the fun!
None of my family has yet succumbed to the infectious disease spreading like Swine Flu, something I’ll call the Facebook Infection. You know what I mean–when people suddenly drop off the face of the planet and live almost entirely in the Facebook universe. They stop going out to see their friends, but they never fail to complete a survey about how well they know their “friends.”
Mostly my family has joined F-book, but not really gotten the hang of it yet. My mom and my brother both were “suggested” as friends to me by a third party. “Someone you may know”… Oh hi, Mom!
But, what’s really strange? A friend request from Sandra Baker. I don’t know any Sandra Baker. And yet we had three friends in common. Hmm. She’s from Saginaw, MI. Nope, doesn’t ring a bell. (In fact all that Saginaw recalls, for me, is a Stephen Colbert bit about mascots and the Saginaw Spirit.) After further inspection of her profile, I discovered her hometown is Toledo, Ohio. I’ve got some long lost relatives back there. I haven’t even met most of them. But now we can be “friends!”
I’m a little conflicted about the whole family-Facebook situation. In a way, it will be a good way for me to keep up with my closest aunts and uncles, my cousins and their kids. We don’t get to see each other often enough, so Facebook is helping us stay in touch. BUT, do I really want my distant relative Sandra to see the pictures of me and Christy dancing in Natalie’s kitchen?
Back in the day, you know eons ago, when Facebook was just for kids my age, none of this was a problem. Now employers are looking people up on social networking sites and my “family” in Ohio are going to know what I did last Friday night.
Not sure how I feel about that. Like most technology, F-book is such a double-edged sword.

I want to be Ruth Reichl

Posted May 28, 2009 by idlewanderer
Categories: Life

Well, she’s in her sixties, so I don’t think I’d like to trade her places. I guess more accurately I want to be just like Ruth Reichl. For those of you who don’t already know of her…where to start? She’s the editor of Gourmet magazine (her editor’s note at the start of each issue is one of my favorite things in the magazine to read). Before that she was the restaurant critic for The New York Times. Before that she was a restaurant critic for the L.A. Times and other magazines. Before that she lived in a commune-style house in Berkeley and worked as a cook in a collectivized restaurant. Before that she went to a French boarding school in Montreal. Before that she lived in New York with her manic-depressive mother and her aloof father. This woman has led a fascinating life—most of it revolving around food, or so she would have us believe.

She has three fantastically entertaining books published, all of them what I guess would be classified as food memoirs. I’m right in the middle of her second book, Comfort Me With Apples (having already read books one and three), and there is nothing I currently enjoy more that tucking into this foodie fairy tale as often as I can. It’s better than eating a big slice of really decadent chocolate cake. She writes with such enthusiasm and attention to detail, I end up completely absorbed—-drawn into her world,  like I am at each restaurant with her. It’s as if I’ve shared many meals and stories with her; it is like we are friends. Even her friends are my friends. OK, so maybe that’s a little weird.

I want to write about food the way she writes about food. It’s delicious reading. She’s observant and creative and hilarious. Maybe I do want her life—she has had a love affair in Paris, she moved in circles that include Alice Waters at the height of her fame and Bruce Aidells (before he was the “sausage king of America,” as Ruth says), she goes on a press trip to China in 1981 (well before foreign travel there was normal) and, of course, she writes about food for a living. And that’s just in the first half of the book!

Ruth has a new book out, which I don’t know much about, but which I’m eager to read. In fact, she was at the Baghdad Theater down the street from my house recently on her book tour, but I didn’t know about it until I drove by and it had already started. I’m bummed that I missed an opportunity to see her in real life, but in the meantime I get to have a few more hours with her all to myself. But, I’m always sorry when her books end—it’s usually before I’m ready to part with her…


Posted May 9, 2009 by idlewanderer
Categories: Quotes and Statistics

Tags: , , ,

A quick random thought:

Well, two things. First of all, if you avoid most processed foods, you should never have to worry about your sodium intake. The amount of salt you add while cooking is minuscule when compared to your average package of—well, just about anything. Like the Turkey Pesto Cranberry Baguette sandwich from Starbucks. A whopping 980 mg of sodium in one dinky sandwich! That’s nearly half of your daily recommended value.

Also, on our road trip to California, I bought some sunflower seeds. It’d been awhile since I had them. So delicious and fun to eat! (As Ramon pointed out, also very good at helping you stay awake while driving long stretches.) Randomly, I was checking out the nutrition facts on my David brand Jalapeno Hot Salsa Roasted and Salted Sunflower Seeds. I thought, geez, these have got to be high in sodium.

Not so! Only 55 mg of sodium per 1/4 cup serving! The average-size package I had included 2.5 servings, so if I ate the whole bag (which I think is impossible because your lips and tongue just may start to dissintegrate) you would only consume 5% of your daily recommended value of sodium. Doesn’t that seem odd? They’re so salty, while that Starbucks sandwich doesn’t taste salty at all.

Lesson: Beware the hidden junk in packaged/processed foods! And it pays to read the nutrition labels…

The Great Googlie Mooglie

Posted May 2, 2009 by idlewanderer
Categories: Life

Have you googled yourself recently? It’s pretty interesting. I am in 7 out of the top 11 entries for “Alexis Harmon.” The others include a 5′ 4″ 180 pound African American woman on something called InstantCast, a missing child that happened to be lost on my exact birthday in 2004 (weird!), and some crazy looking blond chic on Facebook. It’s odd to think of the other people who exist in the world with your name. How much of our identity is bound up in our name? Have you ever met someone with your full name?

Also kind of freaky how much of our information is available online. Your picture may be featured on pages that advertise my profile on whatever website that happens to include my “friends.” I’m pretty sure none of you signed up to have your picture displayed when someone does a google search under my name. So much for privacy. In the digital age everything is available to everyone. I think sometimes we forget that it’s all out there, though, and still feel like we have some anonymity on the internet. Not so, my friends, not so.