29 Before 29 Goals Or, A Follow Up On The Past Year

Last year, I made a list of 29 goals I wanted to accomplish before I turned 29.

Here’s how I did.

1. Make English Pea Soup – Goal Quasi-Accomplished. I didn’t make pea soup…but I did make really good pea puree – peas, black pepper, a little olive oil and some crushed red pepper – and served it alongside pan-crisped gnocchi for dinner one night. It was delicious. I figure if I added a little water, it would be soup, right?

2. Learn how to play more than Frere Jacques on guitar – Goal failed. Didn’t happen. I need a guitar teacher. Preferably one that I don’t have a crush on because that didn’t work out so well a decade ago.

3. Read at least three American classics – Goal failed. I read This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald, got about halfway into The Last Tycoon by Fitzgerald and read about a third of The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway. I highly recommend This Side of Paradise. It features one of my favorite lines in all literature – “I knew you’d come to-night,” she said softly, “like summer, just when I needed you most.”

4. Blog at least once a week – Goal accomplished!

5. Make Vietnamese Iced Coffee – Goal accomplished!

6. Go out to lunch by myself – Goal accomplished!

7. Complete a scrapbook – Goal failed. My supplies are sitting by the side of the TV just waiting to be finished.

8. Stop drinking Diet Coke at work and home – Goal failed. My office ritual every Friday is walking to the breakfast joint in the next building over with some of my favorite co-workers (Hi Dennis!) and getting a frosty cold fountain Diet Coke. It’s goddamn delicious and you can have it when you pry it out of my cold, dead hands.

9. Perfect my pizza recipe – Goal accomplished! I just forgot to document it. Pre-made dough, homemade pomodoro sauce, good mozzarella (not the pre-bagged, pre-grated stuff), cherry tomatoes and red onions. It’s really damn good.

10. Make homemade gnocchi just like Fabio’s grandma – Goal accomplished! I said it would end in starchy calamity and tears and it did…but I still did it.

11. Travel to anywhere that isn’t FL, DE or NJ – Goal accomplished! Dear Los Angeles: Let’s be best friends.

12. Dinner and A Movie night with The Godfather – Goal accomplished!

13. Learn how to make pea and potato curry just like Mom – Goal accomplished!

14. See if I can run/walk briskly for 5K without having a lung collapse – Goal accomplished! Just not documented because do you know how hard it is to walk briskly on a treadmill and take a good picture at the same time?

15. Finish the short story I’ve been writing for almost two years now – Goal failed. Primarily because I vacillate between thinking the story is brilliant and thinking it is utter garbage.

16. Start up a book/movie/music exchange program – Goal accomplished! I traded books and music with both McGillis and D — two people who have pretty stellar taste in music, books and movies.

17. Try Morbier cheese – Nope! BUT, I did eat a ridiculous amount of Trader Joe’s Sharp Cheddar with Chocolate. I regret nothing.

18. Make a video for the blog — Goal Accomplished…but it’s not going to see the light of day. Here’s the deal. I made a video (McGillis bet me that I couldn’t eat Vegemite without having an averse reaction. He was right and we filmed this little experiment) BUT it features some wildly inappropriate dialog and a shot of me that I really wish hadn’t been captured on film, so while I made a video for the blog, it will never actually be ON the blog.

19. Revamp the blog – Goal Quasi-Accomplished. It looks marginally better than it used to and I’ve added a series of recurring features (Adventures in Culinary Assembly, Real World/Road Rules Recapstasy, Texting With Paps…) but it’s nowhere near as pretty as I’d like it to be.

20. Take a good collection of photographs of me and Augs – Goal failed. This didn’t happen at all. Primarily because when Augs and I hang out, there’s TV to be watched and burgers to be eaten and dancing to done. I’m usually laughing too hard to think about picking up the camera. BUT I need to get better about this.

21. Make a memory book for Mom and Paps – Goal failed.

22. Organize my closet – Goal accomplished…kinda. I donated clothes and I bought a shoe rack. BUT, I still have no idea how to dress myself as I adhere to the “pants go on bottom, top goes on top” logic. So, anyone who wants to play Cher to my Tai (ha! My Tai. Mai Tai. Get it? Oh, whatever) — step right up.

23. Update my resume: Goal accomplished! Need a writer or an editor? Hire me!

24. Pick a signature gin-based cocktail: Goal accomplished! I was at a restaurant a couple of months ago and asked the server what kind of gin they had. He rattled off the standards and I asked, “No Bluecoat?” The server responded in the negative and I replied, “I’ll have a Diet Coke.” Yes, I am that kind of asshole because life is too short to drink bad gin.

25. Donate old books – Goal accomplished!

26. Pick a charity to support – goal accomplished!

27. Start planning a wedding – Goal accomplished! In that I’ve started a Pinterest board. Actual planning requires actual money and we’re kind of light on that at the moment.

28. Dye my hair blondish again – Goal accomplished!

29. Start watching Glee – Goal accomplished! I watched the first season and am all about Team Santana.

29 Before 29 Or, Goal #10 – Pick A Charity to Support

This was probably my toughest 29 Before 29 goal because there are so many worthwhile organizations out there.

There are organizations that strive to make diseases like Parkinson’s and cancer nothing more than a distant memory.

Great organizations that work on behalf of veterans, protect civil and First Amendment rights and animal rights organizations whose commercials just make you cry and cry and cry.

There are ones who are fostering cultural understanding through music and art and ones that serve as guardians of history, remembering tragedy so it never happens again.

These things are all crucial to the betterment of humanity and the world around us, but my mind kept coming back to one thing – food.

If you can’t feed yourself, you really can’t do much of anything else.

I have been stunningly, shockingly lucky in life.

I have never been hungry. I’ve never gone without food and I’ve never worried where my next meal was coming from. But there are millions of others can’t make that claim.

So, I did a little research and decided to support Heifer International – an organization that basically adheres to the notion that if you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day but if you teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for life, make a little scratch on the side and one day, maybe send his grandkid to college.

Heifer International was started in 1944 by Jack West, a farmer who realized that children don’t need cups of milk so much as they need a cow to milk. So, he started this organization and 65 years later, had fed millions of people.

I’ve got no skin in the game. I’m not affiliated with the organization and I receive no compensation from them. I just really believe in the work they’re doing.

Everyone’s gotta eat – man, woman, old, young, rich, poor, black, white, brown. It really is the one thing that unites us all.

So, if you have the means — donate to Heifer International and invest a little in the world around you.

29 Before 29 Or Goal # 10 – Make Gnocchi From Scratch

I have a wildly stereotypical view of Italy.

I blame this on the books of Frances Mayes, commercials for espresso machines and the Italian World Cup Squad.

In my imagination – Italy is cathedrals and cascading hair. It’s all zippy little scooters and red wine that flows like…wine, ruggedly handsome men who call you, ‘bella’, mounds of cacio e pepe eaten al fresco and Black Marias.

You know, teeny Italian grandmas, clad in all black. Rosary in one hand, wooden spoon in the other and the evil eye glaring out at you from a second story window.

I never understood why they were so grumpy. How could one possibly be cantankerous when living in Italy – a magical wonderland of gelato, glowing cherubs and glorious cheese?

Then, I tried making gnocchi and I understood that special level of pain.

Goal # 10 on my 29 Before 29 was to make gnocchi from scratch. How hard could it be? After all, it only has four ingredients – potatoes, flour, salt and olive oil.

The list of ingredients might be short, but making gnocchi is a painstaking process that takes all afternoon, swallows up every ounce of your patience and leaves your kitchen in abject disarray.

No wonder the little Italian Mee-Maws are perpetually cranky. If this was how I spent my life, I would be too.

Good gnocchi is a thing of beauty – light and fluffy little potato dumplings, pan-crisped until golden brown, served with a shockingly verdant pesto and lush curls of parmesan cheese.

Our gnocchi was not this ethereal. Our gnocchi consisted of starchy, leaden lumps that carpet-bombed my stomach and announced squatter’s rights for days before succumbing to digestion.

They were so bad that not even garlic could save them…and garlic is pretty much the Superman of the culinary world.

So, Goal # 10 to make gnocchi like Fabio Vivani’s grandma?

The jury’s out on it — I made gnocchi…but I can say with relative certainty that it was nothing like the gnocchi Fabio’s grandmother made.

And if it was? Man, she was a lousy cook.

29 Before 29 Or, # 13 – Learn How To Make Potato and Pea Curry Just Like Mom.

Potato and Pea Curry is the dish I associate most with home. Every time I come home, there’s a 99% chance that I’ll be eating it for dinner. It’s Indian comfort food — simple, relatively easy to prepare and appealing to pretty much everyone.

Lucky number 13 on my 29 Before 29 list was to learn how to make this dish because waiting year-long stretches for it was making me cranky.

I also think this is a fitting tribute to my grandmother who made it for me all the time. Mine isn’t nearly as good, but I think she would have approved.

Now, let’s get down to business.

Most important is the music. In honor of my family, I decided to crank up the Lata Mangeshkar for this one. Definitely a far cry from Gaslight Anthem, Biggie and Bruce — but I have to admit, it made my apartment seem more like home…minus the family who doesn’t understand the concept of ‘indoor voices.’

To make Potato Pea Curry, you will need:

A mom/grandma/aunt who will kick your ass out of the kitchen and tell you to watch TV while they handle dinner. If you’re not in possession of such awesomeness, you might want to grab:

Crushed tomatoes

and the following spices:

A word about measurements. I’m pretty sure Mom thinks they were invented by Satan and therefore, doesn’t believe in them. When I asked how much mustard seed I would need, she responded, “A chupti.”

That’s a nebulous measurement somewhere between a pinch, a teaspoon and a half and the square root of pixie dust.

When I asked how much tomato I would need, she huffed, “Jemmy!” in her best ‘my kid is a moron’ voice. Also known as her normal speaking voice.

For the record, that’s not a measurement. That’s what Mom calls me.

So, for all the people out there who don’t think actual measurements are akin to devilry, you’re going to need:

1/4 teaspoon of mustard seed
1/4 teaspoon of whole cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon of red chili pepper (obviously, this can be adjusted to taste – less if you’re a wuss, more if you’d like your colon to liquefy)
1/4 teaspoon of tumeric
Seven tablespoons of crushed tomatoes
Two 1/4 cups of water
1/4 teaspoon of sugar
1/4 teaspoon of salt

Crank the heat to medium. Coat the bottom of your saucepan with vegetable oil. A couple of tablespoons should do it

Once heated, add the cumin and mustard seeds. They will crack, pop and sputter so be careful.

Then, add your tumeric and give the pan a quick shake.

Add your tomatoes. This is when the mixture will rear up like hellfire itself so be careful.

Add your chili powder.

Add the potatoes and give the mixture a quick stir.

Add 1/4 cup of water and be sure to reuse the same bowl that you used for your tomatoes because otherwise, Mom will yell at you for using too many pieces of crockery.

Let this mixture simmer for fifteen minutes. At around this time, your kitchen should smell pretty amazing.

After fifteen minutes, add the peas. Being English, I love me some peas so I added a whole cup, but you can add less or more depending on your personal tastes.

Add another 1/4 cup of water, the salt and sugar.

Simmer again for fifteen minutes and then, you’re done!

Around this time, you start wondering what the hell you’re going eat with your curry. Since I don’t like rice, I figured I’d make flatbread.

Flatbread or chapati is a staple in Indian households. When I lived at home, I hated the stuff but now that I’m thousands of miles away – I kinda miss it.

Being woefully underprepared, I only had 3/4 of a cup of flour in the house so I stuck that in a bowl and added a couple of tablespoons of oil and a generous sprinkle of salt. It was a bit of a mess, so I called Mom in a panic and she recommended I add cornmeal.

Then, this happened.

Eff you, stupid lid of stupid cornmeal container. And yes, that is a stepstool in my kitchen. What, dudes? I’m 4’11”.

So after you finish cursing and clean up the cornmeal (whose sand-like properties ensure that it gets in every crevasse ever), you add about half a cup of the stuff to your sticky, doughy mess and all of a sudden, it looks less like garbage and more like something edible. Hooray!

Take your dough and work it into a circle. You’re supposed to use a rolling pin, but I didn’t have one.

Yes, Mom. I know. I should have taken yours when I was at home. No, you don’t need to mail me one. Yes, I will listen to you from now on.

Slap that sucker onto a hot skillet and flip every now and then. If you’re brown, use your hands. That’s how we roll, dudes.  In a related story, I no longer have fingerprints.

When brown spots appear, you’re done.

Serve immediately. Eat with your fingers like the locals do and try to determine what’s more delicious – the meal you just made or the sense of self-satisfaction in which you currently bask.

Final verdict? Shiva H. Vishnu, it’s delicious! Not as good as Mom’s or Grandma’s, but a damn fine effort.

If you make it, I hope you like it as much as I do.

Eleven down, 18 to go.

29 Before 29 Or, #11 – Travel to anywhere that isn’t Florida, Jersey or Delaware

There are places in this world that I’ve never visited, but I’m sure I’d love if I ever found myself there.

Austin, Texas (fried avocado tacos and Stevie Ray Vaughan – come on. What girl wouldn’t love that?), Casablanca, Madrid, Seattle, Rome…the list goes on and on.

For the longest time, Los Angeles was one of those places. I was mesmerized by the city with the pretty name and all those twinkling lights where movies became reality and reality became a movie.

So last week, I hopped on a plane and headed to the place I had been dreaming about ever since I was a little kid. I can’t remember who said it but apparently, you never forget the first time you fly into the Los Angeles basin. All those lights and the sheer size of it, spread out as far as you can see. It’s gorgeous. Especially after you’ve spent the past six hours of your life trapped on airplanes filled with kicking, screaming children and gassy seatmates who don’t even have the common decency to look embarrassed.

We went to both major theme parks – Disneyland and Universal Studios – where we waited entirely too long to go on Star Tours, ate the world’s most delicious vegetarian gumbo at the Royal Street Veranda, rode rollercoasters, giggled and screamed my way through the Tower of Terror, saw numerous feral cats, came to the conclusion that the castle in Orlando beats the castle in Anaheim, took the studio tour, rode The Simpsons ride three times and lamented the fact that Doc Brown has been relegated to hawking fried chicken.

We spent the afternoon in Santa Monica where I spent the entire time humming the eponymous song by Everclear and discovered that the Pacific Ocean doesn’t smell as salty as the Atlantic. Is that weird? I grew up about ten minutes from the beach in South Florida and it definitely smells different there than it did here.

I also hiked to the Hollywood sign. I have never been on a hike before and the notion of lugging 2.5 miles up a mountain intimidated me a little. Especially when coyotes, cougars, bears and big-ass eagles that could claw your eyes out live in California’s mountainous regions. But, I put on my big girl Pumas (like I said – I’m not a hiker) and hit the trail.

Dudes, it was the best thing I have ever done. Don’t get me wrong, there were moments when I felt like paramedics might have to be summoned to bring me down the mountain, but once we reached our destination – I felt incredible. The view was stunning and if you live in Los Angeles county and haven’t done this yet – do it. It’s breathtaking.

Oh! And the best thing I did was help celebrate Raj’s birthday. I wore big heels (although they did nothing to foster  the notion that I am, in fact, a grown-up), I drank champagne and vodka cocktails, I remembered why I don’t drink vodka, I hung out in the Ganesh Room at the House of Blues, I laughed a lot, I listened to great music and I had a fabulously festive time.

And I ate. Like, a preposterous amount.

The world’s best Mexican food and margaritas at El Cholo, Animal-Style fries from In-N-Out Burger (part of me is really glad I didn’t  go to college in L.A. because this is the greatest drunk/hangover food ever conceived) and a glorious veggie burger from Counter Burger which totally made up for the garbage burger I ate at Lucky Devil’s. In addition to this, Brad also made cookies, bread pudding, chocolate cheesecake and a strawberry-peach-lavender pie. The man belongs on Top Chef: Just Desserts.

I also saw the Hollywood Walk of Fame which is actually pretty lackluster and grimy, I ate a truly terrible and overpriced veggie burger at Lucky Devil’s, finally got around to seeing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II (liked it, didn’t love it), saw Cowboys and Aliens at the Arclight (greatest movie theater ever), played with puppies, watched Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (again), got really tan, saw where Jason Priestley lives, saw a coyote run across a suburban street (terrifying), watched episodes of Angel, made new friends and took a lot of pictures – a majority of which feature me looking like a total dipshit.

I’ve been dreaming of this place for years and it was exactly how I pictured it to be – a heterogeneous tangle with both the best and the worst that humanity has to offer. But I can definitely understand why people love this city.

Even though the bread is almost as bad as the traffic and they don’t have a pro football team, I will always be down to come to the coast, get together and have a few laughs.

Thanks again to “Brandley” for making my trip so much fun and so memorable. I love you all and hope to see you soon.

29 Before 29 Or, #24 – Pick A Signature (Gin-Based) Cocktail – Bluecoat and Tonic

Every adult beverage has a stereotype attached to it.

Beer – Nectar of the common man. Best served at a ballpark on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

Whiskey – The bad-ass’ drink of choice. I associate it with my buddy Pepe who rides a Harley, majored in math and waxes philosophical about Li Po.

Vodka – What people drink to get drunk.
Flavored vodka – What annoying girls drink to get drunk
Cotton Candy flavored vodka – What assholes drink to get drunk.

Tequila – What you drink when you’re already drunk.

I am a gin girl, through and through. Don’t get me wrong – a well-blended margarita hits the spot and nothing accompanies nachos and football better than a Bud Light (I know. I know. Stop yelling), but gin?

Well, to appropriate the words of Galileo — gin is light held together by water.

And what kind of people drink gin? Dames – those lovely ladies who are quick with a quip, perpetually amused and likely to break your heart. Also, alcoholic writers who’ve had their hearts crushed like the dame was putting out a cigarette on the sidewalk.

One of my 29 Before 29 Goals this year was to pick a signature cocktail. I figure now that I’m a blurry approximation of an adult, I should have a standard.

My qualifiers were pretty simple:

A) Gin-based. See aforementioned slavish worship of said beverage above.
B) Simple. The half-caf, extra foam, three pump nonsense flies at Starbucks, but not at a bar.
C) Universal. You can find this cocktail everywhere from Berlin to Bombay.
D) Cool. As in served ice-cold. As in refreshing. As in understated. As in something Don Draper would drink. As in doesn’t make you look like an asshole when you order it. Because let’s face it – no-one looks cool ordering a Pink Flamingo or a Rumple Minze.

So, paying tribute to both my English upbringing and my currently home in the Philly suburbs, my signature cocktail is a Bluecoat and Tonic.

Spirit snobs will appreciate that it is a small-batch dry, aromatic gin made from organic botanicals, is distilled five times and blended with triple-filtered water…

….But if you’re like me and just looking for a really damn good cocktail – all you need to know is this.

Bluecoat Gin tastes like magic (if we’re operating under the premise that magic tastes like citrus, rosehips and juniper berries) and you should do everything in your power to procure some right now.

Seriously. It doesn’t matter that you’re at work. Your boss will understand. Especially if you make them a G&T with it. Hell, you might even get a promotion.

Nine down, 20 to go.

(FYI: Bluecoat Gin did not pay me to write this post, but if they wanted to send over a bottle? I’d have no complaints)

29 Before 29 Or #28 – Dye My Hair Blonde-ish Again

There’s this old Appalachian folk song called Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair. It’s been covered by a bunch of different acts like Joan Baez, Nina Simone, Pete Seeger and The Twilight Singers (amazing cover). It’s good. You should check it out.

Black is also the true color of my hair and I kinda hate it, so for the past decade – I’ve been actively working against it.

My hair was looking rough. Black roots, brassy out-of-the-box color and over processed tips. Yuck.

Luckily, my girl Ali at the fabulous Calista Grand Salon and Spa in West Chester hooked me up big time. I walk in with a couple of pictures of Eva Mendes, mention caramel hair with honey blonde highlights and three hours later — magic!

No more terrifying roots! How does Shakira pull off that look, anyway?

Hooray for new hair!

Mom, stop shaking your head, rolling your eyes and clucking your tongue. It looks cute.

Eight down, 21 to go.