29 Before 29 Or, #3 & #6 – Read Three American Classics and Go Out To Lunch By Myself

Eating with my extended family is a noisy, messy, colorful and delicious affair. There are no pretty place settings and crystal decanters of water. There are no flowers and there are few utensils.

There are plates laden with homemade Indian food, there are hands (or hand, rather — the left one being considered too dirty to use) moving morsel to mouth, there is vociferous conversation (read: yelling because God forbid we use our indoor voices) and there are a multitude of pickles – lemons, jalapenos, mangoes, bitter melon, ginger and carrots. And they’re all really damn good (except the ginger. That’s just gross. What, Mom? It is).

That being the case, dining solo has never appealed to me. It’s weird – you can’t talk to anyone (unless you’re talking to yourself and then, you just look crazy) and whose plate do you reach from when you want to try something you didn’t order? The person next to you? They’d stab you with their fork and would be totally justified in doing so.

But one of my 29 Before 29 goals this year was to put on my big girl pants and eat lunch all by myself. Like adults do from time to time.

So, I grabbed a book (more on that in a bit), headed over to one of my favorite sandwich places, grabbed an egg salad on rye and sat in the sunshine solo for an hour.

It was….different. Not necessarily bad, but quiet. One of the things I disliked the most was the fact that I couldn’t share my delicious meal with anyone. I’m a big advocate of shoving food into people’s faces while saying, “Sweet Jesus! This is amazing! Eat this now!” and the fact that no-one was there to appreciate the house-made potato chips kinda bummed me out a little.

I guess I wasn’t all alone, though. I had Hemingway to keep me company. I’ve never really been a big Hemingway fan. The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber is a great story, but Papa doesn’t speak to me in the way my boy Fitz does.

However, I’m on a mission to read three American classics and since he’s authored his fair share (The Sun Also Rises, The Old Man and the Sea, For Whom The Bell Tolls, A Moveable Feast), I figured I’d give him another shot.

As of this moment, I’m 70 pages into A Farewell to Arms and so far, so good. Tenente and Catherine have just met (“I did not love Catherine Barkley nor had any idea of loving her. This was a game, like bridge, in which you said things instead of playing cards. Like bridge you had to pretend you were playing for money or playing for some stakes. Nobody had mentioned what the stakes were.”) and Hemingway has made some pretty spot-on comments about the nature of war (“There is a class that controls a country that is stupid and does not realize anything and never can. That is why we have this war.” “Also they make money out of it.” “Most of them don’t. They are too stupid. They do it for nothing. For stupidity.”).

The language is sparse but evocative and it’s easy to imagine the dusty, dusky Italian countryside in which the novel takes place.

I’m not enamored with it like I am with Gatsby, but it’s holding my attention and I want to know what happens next. Can’t see myself ever wanting to indelibly ink any Hemingway lines on my flesh, but if nothing else – it will open my mind to the wide, wild and wonderful world of American literature. And anything one can do to encourage more reading is a good thing (unless you’re reading Twilight – a series so banal and ass-achingly atrocious that it makes me fervently pray that Stephanie Meyer gets her period in shark-infested waters. And the sharks are megalodons. With rabies. And frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads).

While I enjoyed the relative peace of a meal in solitude, it was a little too monastic for my tastes. Birds chirping and quiet conversation is all fine and good, but this girl would much rather chow down amidst the cacophonous medley of Bollywood songs, clanking cutlery and a family who has no idea what the hell an indoor voice is.

Seven down (sort of), 22 to go (ish).

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29 Before 29 Or, #12 – Dinner and a Movie Night With The Godfather

The first time I watched The Godfather, I was thirteen. My buddy Joey Reale (thanks Joey! I have no idea where you are now, but I hope you’re doing well!) lent me his father’s ancient VHS copy and honestly, I didn’t get it.

Before your inner film nerd has a stroke and decides to Sonny me next time I’m on the turnpike, let me explain:

A) I was thirteen and living in the leafy suburbs of South Florida. Do you know what the average 13-year-old suburbanite knows? Jack with a side of shit. My life was more She’s All That (pre-makeover) than a sagacious epic about crime, honor and family.
B) The VHS copy was dark. I don’t mean thematically, I mean literally dark. As in, I had no idea what Jack Woltz was screaming about. I thought dude had a really bad nightmare or something.

Now that I’m an adult with a cinema studies minor under my belt, I figured it was high time I gave The Godfather another shot.

But I couldn’t just pop on the DVD on a rainy Sunday afternoon. It needed to be more of an event. So,I figured dinner and a movie would be the only acceptable way to watch this classic. I was planning on ordering take-out from our local Italian joint but since it’s both overpriced and mediocre, I figured why not make like a nonni and make my own Italian dinner.

I kept it simple — spaghetti pomodoro. It’s essentially idiot-proof and I found a pretty cool recipe on Tory Burch’s blog (of all places) on which to riff, so I fired up the Dean Martin station on Pandora and got to cooking.

Pomodoro sauce consists of nothing more than tomatoes, basil, garlic, shallots (I prefer them to onions), extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and sugar (to cut the acidity of the tomatoes).

However, if you’re an illiterate dingbat like me, you’ll pay no attention to the fact that the can says ‘Whole Tomatoes’ on it and then, be forced to smoosh them with a potato masher (which was actually kind of fun).

I wanted to slice the garlic with a razorblade, but I figured that would probably lead to bloodshed. Also, I didn’t want to spend my afternoon explaining to the very nice paramedics that this wasn’t so much a suicide attempt as it was an attempt to emulate Paul Sorvino’s character in Goodfellas.

My apartment smelled a-mazing while this was bubbling away on the stove.

I don’t have an immersion blender, I improvised and zsuszhed (what? That’s a word) it in Not Magic Bullet

And then, spent the next fifteen minutes trying to unscrew the damn lid.

At this point, I was staving off the urge to shove my face directly into the pan.

Finish with a little fresh basil and Pecorino Romano and ta-da! A meal worthy of a Medici…or a cinematic classic. Whatever.

Four down, 25 to go.

P.S. – It was delicious

29 Before 29 Or, #5 – Make Vietnamese Iced Coffee

I prefer to drink my coffee cold. Even in the dead of winter when it’s 15° outside and you can barely feel your little blue fingers clutching onto your frosty little tumbler.

However, finding good iced coffee in the suburbs is about as easy as tracking down a diamond-encrusted unicorn who sings Bette Midler medleys.

As much as I love Wawa’s hot coffee, their iced brew sucks.It’s viscous, artificially flavored and way too sweet.

I’ve never really been a fan of Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee either. Primarily because it tastes like it’s been filtered through a dirty sweat sock that’s been languishing in a locker since 1987. And since a heroin addiction would be cheaper than a Starbucks habit, that’s out of the picture.

So, industrious gal that I am, I decided to make my own. Augs got me a french press and Illy coffee for my birthday last year and since then, I’ve been cold-brewing up a storm. It’s richer, much more velvety in texture and best of all, doesn’t have that bitter edge.

I kept hearing good things about Vietnamese Iced Coffee (ca phe da), so I decided to make some for myself.

It’s actually shockingly simple — coffee, condensed milk and ice.

Drizzle a couple of tablespoons into an ice-filled glass, making as much of a mess as humanly possible.

Add coffee and stir briskly with a long-ass milkshake spoon you’re surprised to discover you even own.

Voila!

The entire process took about 12 hours and five minutes. Twelve hours to cold-brew the coffee and five minutes to add condensed milk and stir.

The final verdict? Good. Refreshing without being overly sweet. I think I’m more a cream and sugar kind of girl, but as far as iced coffee goes — this was pretty decent.

Three down, 26 to go.

29 Before 29 Or, #16 – Start up a book/movie/music exchange program

Last year, my sister and I started YA Fic Lit Book Club. In addition to trading (and snarking on) books from our childhood, it was also a pretty fantastic feeling to go to the mailbox and get a package of goodies as opposed to bills or a thick wad of flimsy paper advertising crap I don’t need.

It was such a good feeling that I decided that I wanted to keep it going, so #16 on my 29 Before 29 is to maintain a book/movie/music exchange program.

The premise is simple — “I love X and think you would love it too! Let me wing it your way.”

So today, I mailed off the following:

A couple of mix CDs, some books and some other assorted goodies. Stuff I dug that I wanted to share with the people I loved. Hopefully, they like it as much as I do.

Two down, 27 to go.

29 Before 29 Or, #25 – Donate Old Books

The public library is the greatest thing to come out of civilized society.

As a child, the concept blew my mind.

“Wait, wait, wait.
I get to pick any books I want?
And take them home?
Then, I can bring them back and pick more?
And it’s FREE?!”

This love affair has continued long into adulthood and today, I’m a proud Friend of the Library. One of the bonuses of supporting the public library is early admission to the library book sale. It’s a biannual affair which culminates in Five Dollar Bag Day — all the books you can fit into a paper bag for $5. I look forward to this more than my birthday, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day and Red Cup/Seasonal Winter Beverage Day at Starbucks.

Every year, I come home tottering under the weight of paperbacks and due to this obsession, we’ve run out of shelf space and have books stacked all over our apartment.

One of my 29 Before 29 Resolutions was to donate my old books and today, I went through the stacks.

Augs estimates that the box of books weighs about 30 lbs.

Of course, we still have a pretty sizable library.

This is only about half of it and in three weeks, I’m going to come home, arms trembling under the weight of a paper bag stuffed with paperbacks.

But for right now, #25 can be crossed off my list. One down, 28 more to go.

29 Before 29 Or, You Are Never Too Old To Set Another Goal Or To Dream A New Dream

Today is my last day as a 27-year-old and 27 was a pretty good year for me — I visited my favorite city in the whole world to see the showrunners of my favorite show in the world world, I discovered amazing coffee and eggplant pizza and I fell more in love with Augs, Big Star, Rob Sheffield, goat cheese and the addition of lemon slices in cold beverages.

Inspired by Drea’s blog (read: ripping off completely), here’s my 29 Before 29 — goals I want to accomplish before March 11, 2012.

Some are silly (#5 consists of cold-brew coffee + condensed milk. A chimp could do it), some are somewhat admirable (#14 and #26) and all will be documented (#19).

1. Make English Pea Soup.
2. Learn how to play more than just Frere Jacques on the guitar.
3. Read at least three American classics — any recommendations?
4. Blog at least once a week.
5. Make Vietnamese Iced Coffee.
6. Go out to lunch by myself.
7. Complete a scrapbook.
8. Stop drinking Diet Coke at work and home.
9. Perfect my pizza recipe
10. Make homemade gnocchi just like Fabio’s grandma (Undoubtedly, this will end in tears and starchy calamity).
11. Travel to anywhere that isn’t Florida, Jersey or Delaware (Dear NYC — I miss you so much. Let’s hang out soon)
12. Dinner and a Movie Night with The Godfather.
13. Learn how to make potato and pea curry just like Mom.
14. See if I can actually run/walk briskly for 5K without having a lung collapse.
15. Finish the short story I’ve been writing for almost two years now.
16. Start up a book/movie/music exchange program,
17. Try Morbier cheese.
18. Make a video for my blog.
19. Revamp the blog.
20. Take a good collection of photographs of me and Augs.
21. Make a memory book for Mom and Paps.
22. Organize my closet — donate clothes I don’t wear anymore, do something with all my shoes and start purchasing clothing that emphasizes the fact that I am an adult and not some quasi-androgynous 12-year-old tomboy.
23. Update my resume.
24. Pick a signature (gin-based) cocktail.
25. Donate old books.
26. Pick a charity to support.
27. Start planning a wedding. Even if we don’t have the cash to do it, a plan never hurt anyone.
28. Dye my hair blonde-ish again.
29. Start watching Glee.