Archive for June, 2012

I’ve written about it before: the itch to tell somebody something — usually something small, something that would only mean anything to the two of you — that runs deeper than the knowledge that that person is no longer there to tell.
It’s a little weirder when your reflexes evolve. I had a fleeting urge to send my mother a link to this essay, which references a movie that was on HBO again and again when I was going through puberty, busy getting ditched by my friends and leaning on my mother for companionship. Which the characters in the movie sort of were, too.
Mom liked movies full of pleasant spaces that ended happily, and I like movies full of funny, mean people. Nora Ephron’s movies usually met both our criteria. (I recently picked up a cheap copy of Heartburn — Ephron’s first novel — and rather delightedly discovered that not only were some of its best lines recycled in When Harry Met Sally, the narrator was so much angrier than any of Ephron’s on-screen alter egos.) If my mother is anywhere, she’s probably talking Ephron’s ear off right now about how Heartburn — the movie — inspired her to make key lime pie for the first time, or how You’ve Got Mail stayed on as background noise while she wrote her master’s thesis.


As wives are wont to do, mine announced one evening in 1992 that we were going to a movie.

The movie was This Is My Life, the writer and first-time director was Nora Ephron, and within the hour, there we were in the cinema watching the opening credits of a middle-aged-chick flick about a woman (played by the wonderful Julie Kavner) who becomes a stand-up comic, moves to Manhattan from one of the not-Manhattan boroughs and sort of neglects her kids in the process but actually makes everyone’s life better in the long run. Though that movie would be considered only a middling success, it was inexpensive to make, had wonderful, real performances, looked great (though Nora said to me years later, “Why didn’t I move the camera?”) and made some money.

I thought it was much more, an ideal debut film that sparkled with bits of genius…

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“I am a huge fan of diy; I make my own bread, yoghurt, and soft cheeses, for example. I make pasta from scratch. I like making my own food and I adore chances to experiment and play around with recipes and ingredients. I am also under no illusion about the costs of these things, the investment of time, space, and energy required to make them happen. For me it’s easy because of my lifestyle; for someone else, it is not easy. Pretending like it is does a service to absolutely no one.

“There’s a certain sense of smugness in the diy community that becomes rapidly irksome when exposed to it for any length of time, a sort of one-upmanship that seems to consume people as they attempt to prove that they are the best at it. At the same time, they want to tell everyone that it’s effortless and easy and requires no special skills or investment on the part of participants, shaming people who don’t or can’t engage in diy. The message is clear: you will never be good enough because someone will always be better than you, but at the same time, you should keep trying, because it’s so easy.”

– s.e. smith, today at This Ain’t Livin’

Mason-Dixon knitting, ball-band dishcloth, handmade wedding gifts

This dish cloth was part of a wedding present. Making it from scratch sort of saved me money. Sort of.

When I started this blog, I thought I would write a lot about DIY, and created some categories to that effect. I DIY a lot: I knit, crochet, embroider, sew clothes (well, I can, but I haven’t done anything but mend for years), eat at home more often than I go out, and in either setting prefer food cooked from scratch over pre-packaged foods. I haven’t baked my own bread since I’ve lived in Portland (something about living with people who are just better at it than I am). And most of the people I surround myself with are like-minded also insane, many far more so than myself. My household is equipped with a jerry-rigged sous-vide cooker and my housemates and friends do stuff like make their own kimchi, bitters, cast-iron pizza and ridiculously high-concept cookies.

Some of the stuff I make, I make out of necessity, or at least frugality. Cooking from scratch is usually cheaper — at least in the long term — than heating up packaged foods or going out; cutting and re-sewing a dress I’ve owned since high school (I love the fabric, but the cut no longer suits my taste) means getting, for all intents and purposes, A Pretty New Party Dress just for the price of a spool of thread (and maybe some buttons or a new zipper). I like making presents for people as well. It’s not truly economical if I take my time into consideration, and sometimes supplies alone are more expensive than buying a comparable object in a store (in that case, the object is always to make it so much better, or at least prettier or cooler — an object I don’t always achieve, but hey).

That’s really only part of the point, though. I like having something to do with my hands while I watch TV (I inherited this from my mother, who multi-tasked pretty much compulsively) and I just think food made from scratch tastes better.

Anyway, I’m pretty guilty of, “It’s just so EASY to…” about DIY: make your own pasta sauce rather than use the bottled kind!, whip up a cute winter beanie rather than buy your brother a Christmas present!, bake your own bread!, or “Why would you buy ___ when you can just make it?” pretty much since I started making stuff. (That was also when my mother was around to say, “Yeah, you could make something just like that yourself for less than the sticker cost, but will you?” Something I still keep in mind when this stuff starts coming out of my mouth. If I ever made an actual list of Projects I Intend To Do Really Soon, you would know why, but I’m pretty sure this advice applies to people who aren’t necessarily as ambitious or procrastination-happy as I.) If you DIY a lot, it ends up translating to: who even does that?

Which is pretty obnoxious, as rhetorical questions go (and rhetorical questions are usually obnoxious). And it’s not just because the answer is usually, “People with less privilege (or a different background/life experience) than you.” It’s also that sometimes, people just don’t give a flying fuck, and that’s OK.

I mean: DIY has always walked this line between something you do out of earnest necessity (everyone needs to eat, and you might as well do it from scratch!) and something you do because it’s creative and cool and maybe a little over-the-top (I can grow my own saffron, bitches!).But there is also this element not just of privilege but of taste performance, and with that comes this long list of things “no one” actually does or likes that is sometimes even leveled in discussions of DIY projects. Years ago, I was telling someone about drying basil in the food dehydrator at the end of the summer, and they responded, “Who uses dried basil?” I didn’t get clarification on this, but I assume either “everyone” lives in a place where 1) basil plants don’t die in the winter (I have never lived in such a place); 2) you can get fresh basil in grocery stores year-round (I didn’t grow up in such a place, though I live in one now); 3) knows the more “authentic” method of basil preservation is to make pesto and, I guess, can or freeze it.

Anyway, I wasn’t any of those people. The answer to “Who does that?”, in that case, was — not for the first time — me. Because, I guessed, I just didn’t know any better then, though I learned later.

Only in the last few years have I started to consider the absurdity of the whole idea of anyone knowing better when it comes to something so unbelievably trivial. I mean: pointing out that plenty of people don’t have the privilege to DIY or care about whether your basil is fresh from your garden or comes in little frozen cubes from Trader Joe’s, or a plastic shaker from the dollar store, it’s valid. But you know, even if people have the access or they “know better,” they might not feel like bothering at this particular moment or they might not care about what you care about, not enough to even buy into your definition of “better.”

And that’s OK.

Canned mushrooms are indefensibly sick, though. That’s just a fact.

There’s a new episode of Think Again, My Friend up today whose theme, Family Restaurants, prompted more anecdotes than we could squeeze into the unusually long recording. The “Who said it: Herman Cain or Homer Simpson?” quiz did make the cut; on not one quote was there consensus on the source. I’m pretty happy about that.

Here’s an anecdote I saved up just for the Message: I Cariots (as my grandmother always said, just because almost nobody reads your blog doesn’t mean you can’t invent a stupid, cutesy name for those who do). It’s neither about me, nor especially family friendly, so be advised.

This story might make you never want fettucine alfredo again. That would be stupid, though. Unless you’re vegan.

A few months ago I was on my lunch break, in the middle of a volunteer shift at a clinic that mostly provides reproductive health services, and a staff member I’d never met before told us this story, which she said had been told to her on a camping trip that weekend.

The friend from the camping trip had eaten at [family restaurant] at least a few months previous, and eaten fettuccine alfredo. Restaurant portions being what they are, she took leftovers home. and shortly after gone to the doctor with a sore throat. The doc diagnosed her with gonorrhea.Which came as a sufficient enough surprise that the doc had the alfredo sauce tested. Its true contents? The semen of three different young men.

My colleague reported that her friend was receiving a monthly check to keep her mouth shut about the whole ordeal; it’s enough that she never has to work again.

I’d like to skip ahead in time a bit to the part where I think, Wait a minute, what? and wander over to Snopes, where several variations on this story appear in contaminated, semen-y glory. The most recent and prominent of these involved the very chain named in my colleague’s story: the Olive Garden.

In the moment, though, my reaction — largely shared by the others in the room — was more along the lines of:

1) Ew ew ew ew ew I’ll never eat at the Olive Garden again. (I don’t go there often these days anyway, but that’s not really the point.)

2) Oh, but gonorrhea? That’s totally treatable. A sore throat and a course of antibiotics is a small price to pay for never having to work again. (One of the providers pointed out that researchers have found antibiotic-resistant strains of STDs that used to be really treatable, including gonorrhea, bringing all my eat-contaminated-food-and-retire-young fantasies to a hasty, unpleasant end.)

3) Have you read/heard about The Help? (The movie was just a few weeks from release.) Because, apparently, POOP PIE.

It was the story’s tidy, conspiratorial ending (THAT’S WHY YOU’VE NEVER HEARD ABOUT THIS) that made me curious enough to look it up.

What I didn’t even consider was how implausible the story was from a medical perspective. (Yes, I’m even overlooking the fact that semen and alfredo sauce really have distinct tastes, unless you’re my grandmother and you’re reading this, in which case I have no idea what I’m talking about.)I have chronic sinus issues with post-nasal drip, which means at least once every couple of years I get one really horrid, lingering sore throat that lasts long enough to warrant a strep test. Throat swabs for chlamydia and gonorrhea are available, but as far as I can tell, rarely offered unless there’s reason for the provider or patient to believe an STD would be the cause of the patient’s irritation (i.e. she also has symptoms of gonorrhea in the genitals, tells the provider she’s performed oral sex recently on an infected partner).

Absent that, additional testing would happen after strep had been ruled out. It takes a few days for gonorrhea symptoms to appear in the throat — so it could be up to a couple of weeks before the proper diagnosis was handed down. At which point, it’s not impossible the patient would still have had leftovers in her fridge to sample for DNA testing, but it’s pushing the edge of plausibility. Besides, it would take a serious leap for the provider to say, “Oh, well now. Maybe it was just something you ate! We’ll get it tested and everything will be copacetic as heck, lady!”

There’s also the part where I have no idea if the bacteria would live in refrigeration. There’s also the slut-shamey and highly suspect how-could-I-possibly-have-an-STD? mechanism, but I think you get the point, which is that it’s a whack as hell story.

For at least those few minutes of conversation, though, we all bought it, or were polite enough to accept it on its own terms. Even though I suspect we all — even those with minimal training on the subject, like me — know enough about how STDs are actually diagnosed and treated to know better. This isn’t a story about how stupid people are, that they believe stupid things. It’s how a compelling narrative can knock down all you know, if for minute.

On the podcast I asked a question about a toddler at Applebee’s who was served a Long Island iced tea in a sippy cup. That’s not only true, but apparently a Thing there, which I find perversely reassuring. Whether or not bored, disgruntled Olive Garden employees are by turns jerking off into vats of pasta sauce, you can all rest assured the world is still a terrifying place, one hell-bound on poisoning and corrupting the innocent, one sippy cup Margarita at a time.