Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Adventures in Culinary Bravery

I've never been what you would call an adventurous eater. The list of foods I hate/refuse to eat is embarrassingly long. Sadly, the foods I eat quite regularly tend to be the kinds of things that aren't particularly good for me -- my love affair with cheese alone should be proud of the jiggly thighs. I've always wished I was more adventurous, but then I'm faced with some foreign or "icky" food and I dive right back into the potato chips. Face it -- I often have the appetite of a seven year old, right down to my belief that chicken nuggets just may be the perfect food.

As I've dug into my summer resolution to develop healthier eating habits (and hopefully lose at least a fraction of that thigh jiggle), I've had to face some foods I've always swerved around at the grocery store and give them a whirl. So far, I have to say that the courage has paid off in that I've found myself eating and enjoying some foods I never imagined I would.

Like zucchini. Before this summer, I'd maybe had zucchini once or twice without much enthusiasm. Suddenly, it seems like every recipe I'm making lately calls for zucchini -- and I love the stuff. I put them in fajitas last night with some red pepper, freshly diced tomato, and steak strips, and it was out of this world. They were also good in quesadillas we made over the weekend.

Another "discovery" was an affection for asparagus. Asparagus was a beloved feature of many family meals growing up -- well, beloved by my dad. I always thought that asparagus was disgusting -- until I roasted it over the weekend with some sliced garlic and a little basil balsamic vinaigrette. Delish!

While there will still be foods that will always be outlawed from my plate -- I'm looking at you, pickles -- it's nice to see my culinary repetoire expanding in a healthy direction rather than towards foods that will only add more jiggle. My challenge to you, dear readers, is to find the time this summer to break your own eating ruts and try something healthy and new -- whether it's a new recipe or a new menu item at your favorite restaurant. Your horizons will be expanded, and your tummy just may thank you.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

You're My Best Friend

One of my students recently posted this article from the New York Times. He was horrified by the Orwellian overtones of the piece -- the notion of Big Brother stepping in to discourage kids from developing significant "exclusive" friendships.

On initial reading of the article, I have to admit there was a part of me that could see the logic of encouraging kids to socialize in larger groups. I've often struggled in larger group situations, particularly if there are people in the group I don't know well. It may come across as snotty or aloof, but it's really just about me not being comfortable. Maybe if I had been thrown into these larger group situations as a kid, I'd be more comfortable as an adult.

And yet, there is a whole lot to be said for having that one special person. My childhood is a bit littered with best friends. Many close friendships were extinguished by people moving or being stuck in different classes -- ultimately opening the door to new friendships. I was an awkward, nerdy kid, so it was nice to find fellow nerds with whom to bond as a child. Even though the friendships didn't necessarily last for decades, I am filled with warm memories of riding bikes, slumber parties, secret sharing, and crazy adventures. I can remember sitting in the backseat of my 6th grade best friend Alicia's mom's car refusing to speak anything but Valley Girl speak. (This was the year Moon Zappa's "Valley Girl" came out -- and the year Square Pegs was our favorite show on tv.) I think fondly of sleepovers at the home of my freshman year best friend Keri giggling for hours because we thought they were singing "I like it kinky" in Simple Minds's hit "Alive and Kicking." I think of the excitement when my friend Jenny (best friend sophomore year) got a VHS copy of Top Gun -- and we would watch the volleyball scene over and over and over again. And don't even get me started on the beauty of breakfasts and dinners spent in the kitchen of my high school best friend Caity -- I've never met a better cook than her dad.

For the past twenty-one years, though, I have been blessed to have one best friend. We met on my first day of my freshman year of college. We bonded over a shared love of James Dean. I remember thinking that I wanted to be her friend but was sure that someone so cool would never, ever give me the time of day. Danielle seemed like one of those girls I had admired in high school -- the girls who seemed smart and funny and totally cool and usually pretty nice but not the kind of person with whom I would be good friends. Thank the stars I was wrong. Over the course of the years, Danielle and I have grown closer and closer -- this despite the fact that we've only shared the same zip code for five of our twenty-one-year friendship. Danielle inspires me on a nearly daily basis -- whether it's to be brave and try something new, to take better care of myself, or just find the good in any situation.

True, I am blessed to have many friends -- friends from college, from work, from theatre -- but there is nothing like that one best friend who knows all the secrets, who knows where the bodies are buried, and has the photographic proof that will always keep you from running for office. I feel sorry for this new generation of kids, for while they may have the ease in groups that I still lack at 38, they don't have that soul mate who is that first call you make in triumph or tragedy, the best friend who for some reason seems to love you no matter what. I wouldn't trade that friend for anything.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

... And the Livin' Is Easy

In honor of summer, I've decided to go with a little re-design here at the Files. Enjoy!

It's shaping up to be a bit of an odd summer. We've had days and days of rain here, which has made getting outside a bit of a challenge. I know I have tons of work to do in my little veggie patch that's growing away outside, but whenever I even think about setting foot out there, a deluge of rain falls from the skies. Today, in about 20 minutes, we got 1.5 inches of rain. Seriously!

One thing I do really love about summer, even when the weather is perpetually dreary, is that little bit of extra time I get. One of my big goals for the summer (as is true of just about every summer) is to eat healthier. I know what constitutes healthy eating, but sometimes it's just easier (and less time consuming) to drive through and get a burger or throw a frozen pizza in the oven than to cook a truly healthy meal. All this week, I've been making a concerted effort to cook truly healthy meals and to try a bunch of new recipes. Sunday, I made a delightful chicken marsala and had the most amazing mushrooms ever. I sauteed them in a little red wine. Even my sis who is frequently a little iffy where mushrooms are concerned (she does not share my love affair with the fungus) was in awe of these things. Last night, I made a delicious balsamic pork dish that again had my sis in heaven. Tonight, for the very first time, I made meatballs. I found this recipe that "hides" carrots and zucchini in the meatballs. I popped them in the crockpot with tomato sauce and let them cook all day. I'd only ever had meatballs as a kid, and I hated them. My mom was not the most skilled cook -- a fact I'm becoming more and more aware of as I get older and become a more talented cook myself. So because my mom's meatballs were, frankly, pretty gross, I always thought that all meatballs were so vile. WRONG! As my sis said tonight, too, it's nice to get a feel for what recipes would work during the school year so that we don't slip back into the pasta-hot dog-frozen pizza rut we often get into when I'm in the midst of speech and theatre season.

One thing that continues to strike me as kind of funny is how, when you're making the attempt to eat better, food becomes kind of the center of your every thought. It seems as if I'm constantly thinking about eating, planning what to eat, or getting ready to eat. As I made the meatballs this morning, I was pondering what I would eat for lunch, what snacks I would schedule in and when I would schedule them. When I'm not paying attention to what I eat, food fades more to the background of my thoughts because I just kind of eat whatever whenever. Somehow, it feels like it should be the other way around.

(PS -- Today's picture is dedicated to my friend Debbi who introduced me to this classic documentary when we were in college. I saw it as a delightful drinking game -- take a chug of Boone's Farm wine every time they say, "Wave!" She saw it as a serious documentary ... and maybe a life to which she aspired. I hope she's finally forgiven me for laughing through the whole movie, particularly the warning about the stone fish. Step on one, and you're dead in 15 minutes!)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Tag! You're It!

Friends, I am a fan of the Facebook. We know this. I could waste hours chatting with friends, tending my farm on Farmville, playing games. I often wonder how we functioned without the ability to write on each other's walls for so many centuries.

Recently, though, I've kind of felt a certain level of discomfort with the lack of privacy Facebook presents. Now, I'm not complaining about the ever-changing security and privacy settings the company has. Instead, I'm talking about the power we have to violate the privacy of our friends without even batting an eye. We can post secrets, create groups, and put embarrassing photos up with the click of a button.

I woke up this morning to an email from my best friend with the subject line, "OMG!" It turns out that during the night, a Facebook friend had posted a group picture that included me -- a picture in which I look dreadful, a picture I would have burned if I had a physical copy. I'm not a particularly vain person, but I also hate the idea of pictures that I'm not comfortable with how I look being out there for the world to see -- that my best friend in Ohio was able to see the picture before I did and realizing that any of my friends would be able to see the picture since I had been "tagged". My students would be able to see it! My co-workers!! I have to admit that part of me was really angry that this picture had been put out to the world without my permission. I guess you could argue that I gave my consent by posing for the picture. But what if I hadn't posed? I confessed to my friend that I felt a little violated that the picture was out there without me knowing it. Luckily, she told me how to untag myself, but many mutual friends (and my sister) are tagged in the picture, so there's still tons of access for people I know to see this picture.

The Internet has been a real blessing in our society. We have access to so much information, and I truly believe deep down that this access will eventually make us a little bit smarter. The problem becomes the many pitfalls that the Internet poses. It becomes important for us to make some choices about what we put out there. Before I post a status update on Facebook, I think long and hard about what I'll say. I censor myself as carefully as I can. I'm not perfect. I've certainly posted things that I've regretted later (including a really unfortunate joke about being bi-polar that offended FB friends dealing with that disorder). When I post pictures, it's typically stuff from school plays and the kids know that the pictures will be posted so they can have access to them and their permission is clearly implied. (I should note I also try to be careful not to post pictures that would make the kids look bad or embarrass them.)

In the end, it all comes down the the wise words of Uncle Ben -- with great power comes great responsibility. The Internet gives us tremendous power. We just have to be responsible in how we use it.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

My New Passion

Now that American Idol is over for the season, there is a new object of my affection -- hockey.

Yeah, seriously . . . hockey.

I'm not much of a sports girl. I've talked here before about how I tend to know quite a bit about sports thanks to my dad but that I just don't get all that into it. Yeah, I watch the Super Bowl every year -- for the commercials. My ears prick up a touch if the Cubs or Bears are having a good season, but for the most part, I would much rather curl up with a book than watch sports.

So why hockey?

Well, first of all, in case you didn't know this (and considering how few people tend to actually follow hockey, I bet there are people out there who didn't know), the Chicago Blackhawks have made it to the Stanley Cup finals. It's a Chicago team . . . doing well . . . um, gotta pay attention to that! It's kind of thrilling to see Chicago on the cusp of success for the first time in a long time. So yeah, go ahead and call me a fair weather fan or someone who's just jumped on the bandwagon. If I'd known how freakin' cool hockey was earlier, I would have been here sooner!

Part of it, too, is about hockey itself. The funny thing is that, as crazy as my dad was about sports, hockey was one sport he never really followed. He was much more content to watch a basketball or baseball game. There's something kind of thrilling about feeling I'm "discovering" a sport rather than it being the product of my upbringing. I'm learning the game as I watch, so it's a really new experience for me.

Here's what I love about hockey:
1. I love that it is a game of tremendous skill. Think about it -- the object of the game is to take a stick and hit a "puck" that's really not that much bigger than a bar of soap into a net that is being fiercely defended by a guy with a stick while others guys (also with sticks) try to stop you. And you're doing it all on ice skates.

2. It's really fast moving -- and the game itself is not tremendously long. One of the things that's always frustrated me about football or baseball is how slooooooooooowly it moves. Hockey is more like basketball with a lot of movement. It's harder to get bored because something is always happening...and it's usually violent.

3. From a purely girly perspective, is there any uniform cooler than a hockey uniform? Those hockey jerseys are so generously cut and so comfortable looking. I would say a soccer jersey is a warmer-weather peer, but I would far prefer a hockey jersey any day!

4. I'm not gonna lie -- the violence is kind of entertaining.

5. Two words -- Dustin Byfuglien.

6. Two more words -- "Chelsea Dagger."

7. It's kind of nice watching a winter sport in the midst of early summer heat. Just watching a game and I feel my body temperature plummet.

Will my love for hockey endure? Who knows? It wouldn't be the first time I've discovered a new passion and quickly tired of it, but I will say that last night, I chose game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals over an Always Sunny marathon. There's something there, friends.