Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Warm front

Whew, that was a lonely, sad little episode I had this morning. I don't think I had even fully awakened from my dream. It was so strong and vivid.

That's what's nice about being moody, though: If you don't like the weather, wait an hour and it'll change. The s.o. awoke this morning to find me making a pot of coffee in the kitchen, singing "Escape (The Piña Colada Song)".

I would love to get an inside look at how my brain works, that's all I can say.


Ever since June 2, 2000, there is a draft in the room.

I want so desperately for my dad to see that since then, good things have happened to me. I am happy now, even though my life was in chaos (of my own making) then. At the same time, a part of me is glad that for him, there is no September 11, 2001.

From my dad's record collection: Shostakovich String Quartets Nos. 8 and 15, perf. by Fitzwilliam String Quartet.

Time almost stands still in the opening elegy...
The second movement is heralded by a succession of shrieks from each instrument in turn, these alternating with a macabre serenade which limps along as if it had lost all sense of direction, eventually losing itself in a barely-audible pedal-note on the cello...

Through the plate glass, a square of angular winter light illuminates my dad's face in the downstairs dining room. He is sitting with us, sorting through paperwork. He holds up a business card with a price written on it. It is for an item sold, but not delivered, before his death. "Do you think this is going to screw us when we sell the property?" he asks my grandfather.

Do people know they're dead?

It's not even an anniversary of anything. Why do I keep having these dreams?

Sunday, November 28, 2004


One of the drawbacks of working in a bar is the germs. It's like being a preschool teacher; you show up clean and healthy, and within moments all the viruses and bacteria from a 100-mile radius have glommed onto you. It makes me glad I only work there once or twice a week. But then again, if I showed up more often, maybe I'd work up a resistance.

After coming down with several unusually nasty colds last winter and spring, I became almost obsessive-compulsive about washing my hands at work. If I had a spare moment, I'd soap up with antibacterial cleanser or dunk my hands in the disinfectant sink. But really, you can only limit your exposure, not do away with it. You are constantly picking up glasses people have drunk out of, not to mention handling their money. As much as I like collecting dollar bills, they live up to their reputation as "filthy lucre." They are disease vectors extraordinaire.

For the last three weeks, I've fought off a different ailment each week. I can usually tell it's coming by Monday or so - sometimes sooner, sometimes later. Two weeks ago it was a slight headache and a sniffle. Last Tuesday it was a raw throat. Neither came to anything (I take pride in this, because it must mean I am fairly strong and healthy). But today my nose is running and I'm wondering if this bodes, er, ill.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Be vewy, vewy quiet

Statistically, if you are a rural Georgia woman, you are at the mall today. If you're a man, you're deer-hunting.


(1) No line at the post office.

(2) Grocery store full of guys in camouflage.

(3) Shots ringing out constantly, making me (and the dogs) very twitchy.

That's about all I've got. Not much going on here today except the sudden appearance of school-bus-yellow signs advertising a house-moving company in all the front yards along Rte. 278 east of Greensboro. Do I sense a major road widening in our near future? Lines of orange construction cones stretching to the horizon? A major hassle in the making?

On the other hand, it would be nice to encourage people to move out thisaway. Anybody need a house?

Thursday, November 25, 2004

10 things to do when left alone on a major holiday

1. Watch dog show on TV.

2. Subsist solely on leftovers - no cooking whatsoever except possible soup-making.

3. Work on photo albums.

4. Contemplate favorite idle fantasy: being at the center of a Christopher Meloni and Marc "Sparky" Bartolomeo sandwich.

5. Throw tennis ball for Cairo.

6. Nap.

7. Peruse Hugh F.-W. Meat Book.

8. Listen to howling winter gale (which kicked up, as if on cue, at about 4 this morning and hasn't subsided since).

9. Turn on Christmas lights for the first time this season.

10. Knit.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Early Thanksgiving

The s.o. and I had Thanksgiving dinner today, since he'll be traveling with his dad tomorrow through Saturday.

I suspect I'll be getting a lot of work done in his absence. Either that, or I'll be drowning my sorrows in leftover stuffing and potatoes!

I'll tell you what I'm really thankful for*:

Today I had to drive into town in the pouring rain, and when I was on one of Athens's major streets, a driver in front of me stopped short for no reason at a green light. I braked about eight feet back from her, peered at her quizzically when she still failed to proceed, and briefly honked my horn.

She got out of the car and approached my window. "Did you just hit me?" she demanded.

"No!" I responded, shocked.**

"Oh," she said. "I thought you might have, since I had to stop so quickly."

"I'm not even close to your car. I braked in plenty of time."

"Mmm. Okay."

And then she and her passenger peered at their spotless bumper and got back in their car and drove away.

Was she trying to scam me for insurance money? Or was she maybe taking a break from her medication? It was scary, and I'm really grateful that she didn't do anything even more bizarre.


* Aside from the obvious, of course. I am not one to take my wonderful family, friends, and animal dependents for granted.

**Alternate response that went through my head and was, luckily, caught in the filter before it emerged from my mouth:

"Why? Should I?"

Monday, November 22, 2004

Mighty huntress

Taxi the cat has caught and tortured another small lizard. This one was a Carolina anole (her usual prey are skinks). I discovered it because there was a congregation of domestic animals all staring at one place on the dining room rug. If they were trying to be sneaky, they failed!

I took a rag and carefully scooped up the lizard and moved it outside. It wasn't bleeding. It was breathing hard and deep and infrequently. It looked sort of dry and ragged. What was strangest, though, was its coloration. Anoles usually change from brown to lime green and back again depending on their mood and surroundings. This one looked as though it had acquired the lizard version of a computer virus. It was patchy: brown, green, grey, and silvery blue.

I left it out back by the herb garden. Probably a bird swooped down and ate it the moment the door slammed.

Taxi was a little miffed at me, but she's over it.

Saturday, November 20, 2004


The mail carrier had a package for me today. It was my new Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall meat cookbook. But instead of bringing it to the porch and knocking on the door, she stuck a "Sorry We Missed You!" note in the mailbox, without ever leaving the comfort of her car. She didn't "miss us." She didn't even check to see if we were home. Now I can't get the book until Monday, and I personally have to drive to Union Point to pick it up.

This isn't the first time she's done this to us. This is workplace slackassery of a caliber not even I am capable of.

Unholy bitch! I want my book!

Wednesday, November 17, 2004


• Intermittent cable internet problems. Down for hours at a time. Nobody knows why. The company plans to drop by with a new modem soon because they can't figure out anything else it could be.

• The s.o. has put in hours and hours of foyer-painting time: ceiling, decorative spindles, beadboard. He helped me move the fridge and bring an extension ladder into the kitchen, and since then I've been painting the previously unreachable parts of the mouldings. It's hard to remodel a house when you're living in it...especially the kitchen!

• The realtor's husband, a truck driver, came and hauled away the s.o.'s old broken-down van for us. It really helps the appearance of a property when you don't have junk vehicles sitting around.

• Gorgeous weather--clear and sunny. Very cold at night, though. We have had our first couple of significant frosts, and the coleus plants are beginning to look ragged and frostbitten. We brought in our potted plants for the winter and are now struggling to find nice-looking places to put them, since prospective house-buyers might visit at any moment.

• Not that they are.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Food voyeurism

Inspired by a past post over at Witho's place, I present you with a photo of the inside of my fridge. I believe this proves that I am absolutely unsuited to using a reasonable European-size refrigerator. Indeed, I push the limits of my American one.

An ID on some of the visible contents:

Front: Milk, slaw from a hot-wing restaurant, hummus, yogurt, an open can of cat food, a little can of grapefruit juice, Perrier, unsweetened iced tea
Back: Marmalade, packaged chocolate pudding, Miracle Whip, apple cider, some other things

Cheese drawer: Monterey Jack, bacon, Canadian bacon, Neufchatel
Shelf: English muffins, eggs, cooked Hubbard squash, various pickle-y things, tahini, leftover hot-pepper chicken, flour tortillas

Cabbage, lettuce, cauliflower, orange juice, celery, beer

Not shown
Fruit and vegetable drawers
Door (although you can see a jar of jam and a bottle of tamarind chutney)
More stuff in the back

It's always been like this! And I was over at J. and F.'s place yesterday and theirs was actually worse. I think we should just resign ourselves to it...

Friday, November 12, 2004

The view from my chair

I hung these records over the window that's next to my desk. (Kudos to my mother for giving me really nice LP frames for Christmas two years ago. What a wonderful and useful gift.)

I think maybe I should actually listen to the one on the left instead of framing and displaying it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Black box

I hate to derive amusement from someone else's misfortune, but the Arafat situation has spawned some of the funniest and most bizarre news coverage in recent memory. First, there was an incorrect report of his demise and then a spate of hasty bet-hedgings, which is the sort of news coverage you'd expect to hear delivered by the likes of Chevy Chase.

This soon begat the world's shortest news conference:

*tap tap tap*

*squeal of feedback*

"Monsieur Arafat n'est pas décédé. Merci."

Either Fark or one of the blogs in its sphere of influence dubbed the ailing Palestinian leader "Schroedinger's Arafat." As if that weren't brilliant enough, today Fark has posted an update saying Arafat is on the machine that goes 'ping.'

But for better or for worse, it is inevitable that eventually the gendarme in the natty outfit will appear before reporters to declare:

"Monsieur Arafat est mort. Merci."


11 pm EST

Can I call 'em or what?

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Please stir it with chopsticks

Back in college when I took a class called Religions of East Asia, I remember a Zen monk talking with us about the importance of living in the moment. "Americans are always waiting for something," he said.

That's so true. We should "be where we are." Everything is so much more fulfilling that way. But just because I know it doesn't mean I'm very good at putting it into practice.

I have a bad habit. I plan excessively. Instead of concentrating on what I'm doing now, I often think about how much cooler life will be when such-and-such happens. For example, now that I know I'll be moving to Oregon sometime soon, I''ve been spending way too much time focusing on what it'll be like to have farmer's markets and public transportation and access to snowboarding. I've been shopping for houses online even though we haven't sold this one yet and probably won't for some time.

This kind of thinking almost made me do something profoundly silly today. I was in Athens and had just left the bank. I pulled out onto the street and, out of the corner of my eye, thought I spotted something that looked suspiciously like a Korean grocery store in a small, squalid mini-mall. Another glance revealed that yes, it was a Korean grocery store. One I never knew existed, smack in the middle of a town notoriously poor in Asian food. An oasis in a sea of southernness.

I almost kept going. A little voice in my head was saying, "In Portland there will be Asian food everywhere!"

But wait a minute. What am I waiting for? SCREEEEECH. I hung a quick U-turn and drove into the parking lot. Soon I was loading my basket with Sriracha sauce and spring roll wrappers and bulgogi marinade. I noticed that they carried "my" brand of Vietnamese fish sauce.

I am glad I overrode the decidedly non-Zenlike voice in my head. Just because something wonderful is on the horizon doesn't mean I can't be happy and contented in the present. And y'know, I like the present. I tend to enjoy myself wherever I am, so why doesn't my wandering mind want to stick around for all the fun? The present is a pretty good spot in the fabric of space/time, at least from where I'm standing.

I'll leave you with, as Jon Stewart says, "your moment of Zen." Here are the instructions on a package of Japanese noodles I bought:

1. Please put Noodles into boiling water (1l).

2. After four or five minutes, (at first cook it for two minutes by strong fire and then cook it by moderate fire) Please stir it with chopsticks.

3. The lustrous, bright, soft and nutrient noodles should be poured by cold water after it is recovered from water.

4. The making method is unique and needs short time for cooking it can be cooked into delicious noodles according to your flavor, no matter it is cooked, sauted, soaked or cool mixed.

Monday, November 08, 2004

This is why we threw away the cardboard beer coasters from Munich, not to mention the souvenir coasters from the industrial fabrics convention

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


4 square fiberboard coasters depicting unusual bird species

4 tiny round carpet-sample coasters from a carpet mill in North Carolina: one each in red, blue, green, and gold

1 souvenir fiberboard coaster from the London Eye

4 cast-iron owl trivets that are too small to hold anything except drinks

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Grasshopper mind

The s.o. often accuses me (rightly) of having "grasshopper mind," a phrase he either learned legitimately in his Tae Kwon Do training or picked up watching reruns of Kung Fu, I'm not sure which. Hop! Hop! Hop! Sometimes it's a little bit hard to follow me through a conversation. My mind is all over the place.

That's how I am today, so this post shall reflect it.

First item: It is sunny and in the 50s today. This is notable because only in the last couple of days have we really begun to feel the chill of winter--or what passes for winter here--in the air. Until recently, it's been shorts-and-tee-shirt weather. But don't scoff. There's something about the lay of the land in Greene County that makes it about three times as windy as Athens in the wintertime. We actually have to take down our windchimes every year because of the incessant clanging. And it gets cold at night--sometimes even into the teens. That weather is on its way, mark my words.

Second item: I drove past a Baptist church on the way to the grocery store the other day, and its sign said "THE WAY TO HEAVEN: TURN RIGHT, GO STRAIGHT." Grrrrrrrrr...what a nice, conciliatory post-election gesture.

Third item: Once upon a time I wrote a quiz that asked a question about My Top Five Cookbook Authors of All Time. That wasn't really fair, because of course I've never listed them. But I feel the urge to do that today. The list won't come as a surprise to readers of my recipe blog.


5. Neelam Batra
How can I deny a spot on this list to the woman whose 1,000 Indian Recipes gave me the ability to make my own baingan bhartha and vegetable samosas with deliciousness rivaling a good Indian restaurant? The person who made it suddenly seem not only possible, but easy, to make tandoori chicken on the charcoal grill? The goddess of chaat masala and tamarind paste? I know Madhur Jaffrey is the first lady of Indian cooking in this country, but I cast my vote for Neelam instead, because somehow she seems to understand what I need to know.

4. Anna Thomas
She wrote the original Vegetarian Epicure--a landmark book that has nevertheless become completely useless because of its heavy dependence on cheese, butter and cream. I'm not against using those things, but 1970s vegetarian cookbooks tended to describe food that was heavy enough to sink a battleship, and hers was the epitome of the genre. But in 1996 she wrote The New Vegetarian Epicure, which is absolutely indispensable. The flavors are vibrant and clean. She lives for farmer's markets. Thomas lives in the southwestern U.S., and it shows: Polenta, tamales, chiles, nopalitos, tomatilloes, etc., figure very prominently. When she's not cooking southwestern fare, she's roasting vegetables or whipping up world-class risottos and salads. You can have my copy of The New Vegetarian Epicure when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers.

3. Jamie Oliver
Yes, he is a caricature of himself--maybe even a little bit of a pompous ass. Yes, he is kind of a one-trick pony (dinner at JO's house: olive oil, flaky sea salt, lemon zest, fennel, and a little more olive oil). But his enthusiasm is infectious and his food is simple and delicious. Anyone who roasts ducks with rhubarb and ginger is A-OK in my book. And if it weren't for him, I never would have discovered the Borough Market, nor sucked down a fresh raw Mersey oyster, nor devoured the best focaccia of my life at Fifteen.

2. Deborah Madison
Her Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is a masterpiece. It's one of the few cookbooks that's so trustworthy that I will try a recipe for the first time when guests are coming. It's the source of my oat scones, my migas, my leek and potato soup, my guacamole, the s.o.'s naan...I could go on and on. And what's even better is that the cookbook is organized according to ingredients, so if you have a vegetable that's fresh and ready-to-use, you can browse for something to make with it.
Madison also wrote the America volume of the Vegetarian Table series. There you can find excellent creamed cabbage, spiced quinces, persimmon pudding, cooked greens, Concord grape pie, and the world's only really good vegetarian hoppin' john recipe.

1. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
I discovered Hugh F.-W.'s River Cottage cookbooks in a bookshop in London. We don't get his TV programs here, and the books aren't "translated" for our market. And to be honest, his books are not as across-the-board useful as many I've seen. I mean, when am I really going to bake a casserole of pig cheeks and ears, or make a sausage out of a goose neck? When will I serve Snipe on Toast? But that's what makes him so special: dogged reliance on only the freshest and best-tasting ingredients, plucked from the hedgerows and farms of Dorset. His writing inspires me to go one step farther, to make every meal as special as it can possibly be. He introduced me to the never-ending wonders of growing my own sorrel. He taught me how to make perfect crepes. He showed me how to make REAL batter-fried fish. He gave me a recipe that turns the cheapest, toughest lamb cuts into one of the finest meals I know how to make. Anyone who thinks British cooking isn't any good hasn't read this guy's work. He is the best there is.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Gratuitous photos of the house

Of all the rooms in the house, I'm proudest of this one--the master bedroom. I sewed those velvet pillows myself! I don't know what those weird reflections are in the photo. Hopefully you can see past them.

The bathroom was a special challenge because it came with very, er, interesting tile (you can see a bit of it in all its blue and gold glory at the top). I found a paint and curtain color that didn't clash with it, and off we went. The s.o. built the cabinet from some old shutters he found on the property.

Here's a corner of our kitchen with a current project. I'm taking still more of those spare shutters and painting them up. Then the s.o. is going to hinge them together to make a dressing screen for our bedroom.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004


We get a lot of magazines delivered to our house. The other day I got one with a cover on it that said "Your subscription to Southern Living IS ENDING!" And it quite literally brought tears to my eyes, because, see, the s.o. and I have been doing a lot of talking lately, and we've decided to move.

Yesterday my trusty real estate agent--the one who sold me this property two years ago, when it was uninhabitable and covered in kudzu--came to visit. We did a lot of catching up. She marveled at the changes and happily accepted a jar of pear-citrus marmalade made from the pears that grow on the property. And before she left, she stuck a "For Sale" sign in the lawn.

The s.o. used to be in a touring rock band, but now he'd like to get a 9-to-5 job. There's nothing around here, though, so we started thinking about other places we really like. Portland, Oregon came up almost immediately. It's his favorite city in the U.S., and I have family and friends nearby (not to mention a mother who would like to buy a retirement property there). It's beautiful and surrounded by nature (hiking! snowboarding! the ocean!). So we decided that we'll pick up and move to the west coast. We're not sure when it'll happen, because in this area it often takes months and months to sell a house. But the process has begun.

So I ask you: What should I do about this blog? Shall I just recast it to reflect Pacific-rim urban living? I certainly don't think I'll run out of things to say anytime soon.

In the meantime, I'll continue to enjoy the things I love about this place.

Thoughts that gradually return to everyday matters

1. One of the central problems of the democratic process is that very often, if you give people an opportunity to choose their own leadership, they'll install a theocracy...sometimes a fairly totalitarian one.

2. Tinfoil-hattery? Perhaps. But it has been pointed out that in precincts where paper elections took place, the exit polls matched the results. In precincts where Diebold electronic voting machines were used, Bush seems to have gained about 5 percentage points over the exit polls.

3. In all the hubbub, American news has been too busy to report a major world event: The president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed, has died. My friend who lives in the UAE forwarded me this excellent link that tells a little bit about him. She says the entire country is in mourning, that the outpouring of love and sadness is overwhelming, and, on a practical level, she is unlikely to be able to get her clothes dryer fixed for quite some time.

4. Buying fried chicken from a gas-station food counter is a good idea only in the extremely short term.

5. Something ate my jasmine down to bare sticks! Grrrrrr.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Voting is hard work

It shouldn't be, should it? And actually, it was easy for me. I walked a block, showed my I.D., and touched a touch-screen a few times.

The s.o. was not so lucky. He had registered October 1 (three days before the final deadline), but when he showed up at the polls, his name wasn't in the book.

For the purpose of telling this story, I've decided to reveal more about the s.o. and me. Until now, I've taken pains to avoid giving our exact location, out of fear of stalkers, etc. But stories of voter disenfranchisement are all too often vague and anecdotal. I want this one to be personal and precise.

Here is where we live. We're approximately 90 miles east of Atlanta and 35 miles southeast of Athens. Our county is overwhelmingly poor and black, but Mercer Reynolds, George W. Bush's chief fundraiser and onetime oil bailout buddy, owns a gated community/golf resort/luxury hotel complex on the western edge of the county. The fabulously wealthy people who reside there skew the average income so that the county doesn't qualify for government aid. About twice a year, W. flies in to the county airport and shakes the Reynolds residents down for a couple million dollars. He's very popular there.

Anyway, back to the story. When the s.o.'s name didn't appear on the voter rolls, the officials called the Greene County voter registration office. They found that he was still registered in Athens, where he had lived several years ago. They were very helpful, but they basically told him he'd have to vote there.

That was, as Quentin Tarantino once wrote, "a bold statement." The north side of Athens is a 45-minute drive each way. Imagine if we had day jobs or lacked transportation. Not only that, but we're in a completely different district. The s.o. was to be prevented from voting in several tight local races. His vote would disappear in a sea of other Democratic votes in liberal Athens, rather than potentially making a difference in our rural community.

We walked back to the house, and the s.o. got on the phone with the Georgia Secretary of State's office. He explained the situation, and they told him that the Greene County Library, where he'd registered, would have a record of his name and the date he had registered. They were required to record the name of every person who signed a Declaration of Intent to Vote.

He called the library. The librarian told him they didn't keep any such records--just the number of people who registered.

He called the Secretary of State's office again. The very helpful woman on the other end of the line verified that, indeed, the library was required by law to record the name of every person who registered and the date upon which they did so. To fail to do this was breaking the law. She suggested that the s.o. call back again and verify what the librarian had told him. She also said he should give the librarian her phone number and ask them to give her a call.

He called the library again. He spoke to the same librarian and recounted his conversation with the Secretary of State's office. Suddenly the librarian sounded nervous. "I'm not in charge here," she said hurriedly. "My boss is in charge, but she took the day off."

To make a long story short, the woman at the Secretary of State's office has asked the s.o. to call back next week, when the flurry of activity is over, and she'll walk him through filing a formal complaint against the Greene County Library. Whether they lost the s.o.'s registration or, er, "lost" it (i.e., threw it in the trash, shredded it, or whatever), they are clearly in violation of the law because they eliminated their own paper trail. You simply can't do that. I'm pretty sure vote tampering of this kind is a felony.

And yes, we did drive to Athens, and yes, the s.o. was eventually able to vote (although not for our local races). But he's going to make a lot of noise about this incident. Wouldn't you?

Monday, November 01, 2004

Election eve...

...and Kayle Cowherd, the amusingly named candidate for county commissioner (whom some of you may recall from my now-defunct photo essay) showed up in person at our door. I was cooking dinner, so I didn't see him, but the s.o. says he was a young guy, real nice fella, who was still wearing his work shirt from a landscaping company.

But he's a Republican. Weird. I tend to think of rural Georgia Republicans as people like this intolerant dickhead.

I apologize for the politics. It'll be over soon, I promise. I'm just edgy tonight.

NOW EVERYBODY GO OUT AND VOTE (except all you non-U.S. readers--you can spend your day however you see fit).