Life, 2.0.05

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

New house, new job, new town…

No, even newer than the move I made a little over a year ago.  Everything is different again, but it’s a good different.  I’m comfortable, I’m happy, and I’m relaxed.  Well, I’m as relaxed as I can be when I want to give the best work possible at my job, but in the end, it’s all details.

We’re ripping open boxes.  Family photos are going up on the walls.  B has been making soup stock from scratch, and it smells kinda awesome (the other part of me can’t figure out if chicken stock smells slightly like urine).  We can’t decide on paint colors.  We carved a jack ‘o lantern (after buying pumpkins for the past five years and never carving them).  We want to replace the windows in our bedroom.  We’re figuring out how to operate both fireplaces.  We’re pretty much marinating in the new house and enjoying every single quirk and surprise that comes up.  B lights candles at night, and we’ve been cooking together each chance we get.

Me?  Now that I’ve had a little time to breathe and get over the shock of leaving my beloved New England, I think I’m starting to, dare I say it?  Maybe thrive, a teeny bit?  Just a little?  Can I say that?

Anyway, most importantly, I’ve started on my Chrismanukahwanza presents.  This year is all about embroidery, bitches.  I’d much rather make presents than buy them, so that’s what I’m doing this year.

Various family members read this blog, so I’m not about to post photos of my works-in-progress.

However.

I never make anything for myself.  I guess I honestly like working hard on something and giving it to someone I dig.  I get so excited about how much love I put into it; I feel like the recipient will  know the care I’ve stitched into it when they see the work.  I think.  Point is, I give everything that I make away.

Except one thing.  I began work on a tote bag for myself well over a year ago.  It’s been pushed aside for projects for friends and family.  It’s been bugging me.  I’m stitching it now, and well, here is the result of the ongoing work: 

So yeah, I know it looks totally weird.  I don’t know why I grabbed the pattern.  In fact, this bag became mine by default, since I didn’t know a single soul who’d want a tote with a crazy tiger-headed rockabilly chica holding a gravity-defying cupcake, surrounded by what I assume is an admonishment from Zeus.   Because, well, that’s bizarre, yo.

Still, I stitched it.  And I must say that I’m kind of proud of my work.  Which is why I keep stitching.  I don’t mean to brag, but I’m pretty excited about how the head came out.  Check out the closeup:

I know how odd it is, but I totally dig the varied stitches.

I came up with it as I stitched, and well, I think it came out ok!

The Mix Tape, a Eulogy

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

I’ve been trying to keep my digital music collection to a manageable size.  I think I’ve done a decent job.  Right now it numbers 6, 323 songs, or 34.21 gigabytes, which, if played continuously, would span 16.8 days.  This mass is mirrored by my cd, cassette tape and (yes!) vinyl collection, which I assume is roughly the same size, though not compressed into ringtone form.  Keep this in mind as I shift topic for a few.

(By the way, let me add that I love my cache of records.  I received my first 45 at the age of one and a half, when I started expressing that my favorite part of day care was the top 40 radio our teacher kept on blast constantly.  I’ve been meticulously cataloging my favorite music since.)

I noticed something on an Amazon.com review of a popular Nick Hornby book that read something like this (and I paraphrase): “I can’t say I’ve ever made a mix tape in my life.  I have iTunes and can download all my music.  But the idea of a mix tape seems pretty cool.  For shizzle.”

(Ok, I blatantly added that last part.)

Upon reading the above, I sucked in a deep, shaky breath, leaned back into my IKEA chair and howled.  I babbled to the uncaring laptop screen, entreating it that I had read wrong, praying that there was some cruel typo that mistakenly informed me that today’s youth somehow functioned without the ubiquitous relationship ambassador, the mix tape.

In high school, these were the things of social currency, at least among my friends.  The exchange or gifting of a tape was anything but a simple token.  Each song was painstakingly picked to match the taste of the intended, or to introduce the recipient to new music that the tape maker loved.

I enjoyed Paradise in Me by K’s Choice when I was sixteen.  But it was the mix tape of the band’s earlier songs that Daphna Hoffman made

for me that cemented my loyalty as a fan (and I still love them at the age of 31).  And when Lanie Harmon ended her mix tape with James Taylor’s You’ve Got a Friend, I knew she meant it for me.  She even recorded her own voice on tape, telling me so.

I’ll never forget the mix tape I made for the road trip that my newly-ex-high-school-sweetheart and I took (it was an obligation that we signed up for when we were still dating, and my heart was still broken).  It was a decidedly upbeat, lovesong-devoid mix that clearly stated, I’m not here for drama, you poop. I think he got the hint.  It set a pleasant tone for the trip, even if didn’t say what I really wanted it to.

I made the most mixes among my peers.  The songs were important.  The order of songs was important.  My friends seemed to enjoy the cassettes, with the exception of what I can now see as my infuriating habit of getting bored with the fade-outs of the songs and cutting each one off early on the tape.

Anyone I counted as a confidant received a mix.  I was on the constant prowl for new songs, lurking in the aisles of record and tape stores, picking some albums at random and finding others based off recommendations of store employees.  These tunes found their way onto cassette tapes, slipped into the hands of my friends in an attempt to make them understand how UHMAZING a newly discovered track really was.  It was my way of saying I cared.  It was cheaper than a Shoebox Greetings card, and infinitely more personal.

College ushered in the noticeable domination of the cd, but I still made mix tapes, though they were mostly for me.  I still have a box of old Memorex cassettes with paper labels such as “Super Study Mix 1999,” “Geology Lab Trips 1998,” “Break Up Extravaganza 2000,” (that guy was a jerk), and “Use this on the Running Track Mix.” When I occasionally can get my hands on a Walk Man, I not only get a kick in reviewing my taste when I was 19 years old; it brings me back there, too.  I can smell my old dorm rooms.  I can almost see the craggy cliffs I cataloged in my geology field guide as I listened to a particular Tori Amos song.  Hearing a certain Guster tune brings me back to a particularly rainy day on Tufts University’s quad, and I can almost see the exact shade of grey that washed out the sky.

And now there’s iTunes.  And digital music collections.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love it .  I love it all.  But I can tell you that the mix cds that I make for my car lack soul.  I miss the slight heft of a tape in my hands.  I miss the careful craft invested after an hour and a half of playing songs recorded in real time.  I miss the witty liner notes my friends and I wrote and then dutifully tucked into plastic cases.

I hate the fact that it took me less than fifteen minutes to select cohesive content for, and burn an 80′s music cd for my nieces.  It felt cheap.

And here’s the thing.  The accessibility of digital music is a both a boon and a waste.  When I bought albums, real albums, I listened to each one  from start to finish.  The songs I liked best made it onto tapes for friends.  Now, I have complete albums I’ve barely listened to, thinking I’d get to them at another point in time, since they were only a mouse click away.  I scan through my already downsized digital collection, sometimes not even recognizing the names of some artists.  In a way, I’m more divorced from music than I was when I had to hunt it down in physical form at Sam Goody.  And there’s no way to painstakingly cobble a collection of songs for friends and family, when burning cds seems like an afterthought.

Is it a harbinger of an increasingly disconnected social age?  Are we tuning out on interaction with our peers to tune into the next Big Digital Thing?  Is the art of the mix tape, a once revered kind of social covenant, truly dead?

Sadly, I think it is.  But that doesn’t mean that I won’t wade into the murky depths of my basement to grab my old Walkman and bliss out to “Geology Lab Trips 1998.” I will do that.  And it will beat my 16.8 days worth of digital tunes in spades.

Buffalo Gals (and Guys)

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

“People here are such assholes,” joked Brandon, after the babyfaced boy behind the Quick-Mart counter engaged us in some good natured ribbing about the Red Sox.  “Jerks in Buffalo; all of ‘em.”

I admit that Buffalo residents’ general demeanor is quite different from what I’ve known in Boston.  I’m still not used to it, after four months here.  I find myself constantly surprised. It’s been a slow acclimation, and I’m sure I have a way to go.

What best contrasts and accentuates the differences between Buffalonians and Bostonians is very simple – snow.

I was assured that snow in Buffalo didn’t live up to its reputation.  “Relax,” Brandon had said.  “Buffalo gets a bad rap, but it doesn’t really snow that much more than you see in Boston.”  With those words of assurance, I blithely packed up my things and moved 500 miles to Erie County.  Note the name.  Yes, it’s close to Lake Erie. This is notable because apparently, living close to one of the Great Lakes, which by the way, are really more like inland seas, means that yes Virginia, yes there really is a lot more snow here.  Take it at my word. I’m not saying Brandon was lying, though I do think that a decade away from this place softened his home-spun memories.

View out my front door.

The view out my front door, during the storm. The grayish blob in the middle of the photo is our mailbox.

I haven’t seen the sun for the past six weeks.  With the exception of a few days of (blessed) rain, Lake Erie has dumped snow on us every day.  Usually it’s just a couple inches, but late this past November, we had a three day snowstorm that bombed us with over three and a half feet of snow.  Though we had our share of Nor’Easters in Boston, I had rarely seen weather like this.

And I do remember the snow in Boston well.  I remember shoveling a lot as a kid, followed by a good couple hours of sledding at the nearby golf course as a reward.  I remember misshapen snowmen and writing my name in the soft powder with yellow food coloring, as a joke.

Memories from my 20′s are less pleasant.  Parking in Boston has always been at a severe premium (no really, check this out).  Most folks in the Cradle of Liberty lack garage parking, and there are never enough street spots to accommodate the population anyway, much less take care of residents when snow plowed piles take up the majority of street real estate.  There’s a sort of unwritten code that specifies that once a resident has shoveled his or her car out (which, in reality, does take hours, considering the way the plows pack the snow around civilian vehicles), that spot belongs to them, at least temporarily.  Short term ownership is established by the placement of sawhorses, chairs, parking cones, and various other large, found objects in said spot.

N00bs to Boston parking may remove these obstacles from potential parking spaces and naively leave their cars there unattended.  They shouldn’t be surprised then, when they find their tires have been slashed.  Upon explaining the situation to locals, they’ll also find they’re not met with much sympathy.  “You shoulda known.”

Bostonians take a very Darwinian point of view when it comes to snow.  Survival of the fittest and of those with the most weather-friendly furniture, my friend.  Don’t like it?  Move somewhere further down Route Nine.

Personally, I find the whole thing pretty distasteful.  But that doesn’t mean I haven’t taken the occasional recycling bin and tossed it in the spot I spent two hours digging out.  I think my space was taken only once, and the worst I did to the car that usurped it was hurled a couple muttered obscenities in its general direction.  I really meant it, though.  Totally.

Buffalo has proven different.  We woke up early to shovel out the driveway on the second day of the enormous storm.  We hadn’t bought a snowblower yet, as we had only owned our first home for less than two months.  The task looked daunting.  I almost cried when I saw over a foot and a half of snow impeding our way out of the driveway.

Our hero arrived in the form of a neighbor we hadn’t met yet – he saw my husband in the meager predawn light, armed with only a shovel, and decided to introduce himself.  Oh, and he also introduced the plow he boasted on the bumper of his truck.  He had our driveway clear in minutes.  This kindness left us flabbergasted.

Eight hours later, the drive looked untouched from the earlier plow job.  Husband (I call him B) and I battled the white stuff with our shovels yet again.  I felt the muscles in my lower back begin to cinch and pull.  I stood my shovel upright on the pavement and rested my chin on it, wiping the ice off my eyelashes.  Suddenly I noticed our neighbor across the street (whom, like the previous plow driver, we had yet to meet), take a sharp turn with his snowblower.

Two minutes later, said neighbor was in our driveway, clearing out the snow with this Wonderful Machine.  He ran out of gas about three swaths in.  He took the stall as a chance to introduce himself and shake our hands over the sputtering motor of his snowblower, and then excused himself to borrow some petrol from another neighbor.  B and I stood, transfixed at all the damn nicety.  A stranger helping us was weird enough, but then asking yet another person to aid us was absolutely alien.  He returned with a full gas container, and cleared out the entire expanse of pavement.  He even tried to rid our front walk of snow, but the white stuff proved too much and we politely asked him to stop after watching him struggle.  We bought a snowblower that night.

The next day tossed another foot or so of snow on us.  I hadn’t had my snowblower tutorial yet, so I used a shovel to dig out enough room for B to park his car before christening the new blower.  This time, another neighbor, whom we had only met once or twice, appeared out of the storm, and took care of the majority of the mess.  Again, I was agape at the bonhomie. This kind of genial mitvot seemed bizarre, but I shook the man’s hand, thanking him.

In Boston, I only got to know my neighbors by watching warily from my front porch as the day care teacher from next door rummaged though my recyclables on the curb (and sometimes on my porch, which wasn’t so cool).  I never really minded her taking my discarded cans and bottles to redeem at the supermarket, though I would have appreciated her returning the occasional wave or ‘hello’ I threw her way as she went through my stuff.  Common courtesy, in my opinion.

Never.  Never.  Ever.  Ever would a neighbor had offered his or her services helping B and I remove the snow back in my home town.  In fact, that one courtesy would have only been extended to steal a car, or one’s wheels or hubcaps (no really, it’s a singular experience to walk outside and overhear a bunch of youths discussing which car to jack – and subsequently scaring them off).  Darwin, baby.

I read a book about my newly adopted hometown, and it mentioned that Buffalo is called the “City of Good Neighbors” for a reason.  People here apparently, are willing to help others out of a jam.  As a native Boston gal, I may not get it, but I like it.

And I guess all I can do is try to extend kindness to others in the way said kindness has fallen in my weather-chapped hands.  Karma, in a sense (I believe in the whole ‘passing it on’ thing).  I hope I can do as well as the natives around me.

Buffalo people, man.  Wow.

Another Direction

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

Soooo…life has taken some dramatic turns here at the Staycation lab. Actually, the Staycation Lab has been relocated altogether, which is part of said massive changes.

I had an idea of what I wanted this blog to be, which morphed and shifted over time. With the Staycation lifestyle (heh) so dramatically in upheaval, this blog is undergoing a facelift of content.

Stay tuned. Wanna hear about life in a new town? The perils and terrors and ins and outs of home ownership? Puppies? Really, really BIG PUPPIES? Bookmark this page, my lovelies.

Revenge is a Dish Best Served Cold

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

And by revenge on certain persons, I’m talking about all you publishers in 2010 who thought ducks in bonnets were en vogue, suckas. Let’s get some Lady Gaga, Ziggy Stardust,  and Iggy Pop into this, yes? No no, there’s no real revenge, here. But well, read on. I’m proud of how far we’ve come. Ch-ch-check it out.

In part of our effort here at mystaycation.com to find better DIY projects, we’ve taken to the needle.

I mean the embroidery needle.

I used to cross stitch when I was thirteen or so.  My fingers moved fairly deftly with thread, and I happily bedecked various textiles with silly Beatles’ lyrics.  I even moved on to needlepoint in college, creating a pillow embellished with violets for my mother.  Of course, I knew nothing about blocking (a process that ensures that the canvass or medium is stretched into the right shape, as it shifts with each pull of the needle), so Mom received a misshapen throw that she’s spent the last ten years desperately trying to hide beneath a knitted afghan without insulting me.  It’s a delicate balance.  It’s amusing to watch.  She has the leaf/petal/blanket ratio down to a science.  Mom’s always been a sweet supporter of my crafting habit.

I hadn’t thought much about needle arts since the days of the flower bedecked pillow and the early morning hours spent stitching it while watching MASH reruns in my Boston apartment.  To this day I still think of Alan Alda when regarding threaders.

Still, some twist of fate recently introduced me to Ms. Jenny Hart, embroidery guru of the 21st century.  Her postmodern, funky designs took the bonnet bedecked ducks we see so often on table cloths and tossed ‘em back into the 1800′s where they belong.  Have you ever seen a duck in a bonnet?  Have you even ever tried to put a bonnet on a duck?  That cannot work out well.  There’d be much…pecking, I’d assume. I bet ducks are vicious.

When I was sixteen, I was followed by a group of ducks along a dirt road for about half a mile (this was in the country, and yes, this happened).  None of them wore bonnets, though I suspect they were about to jump me for the peanut butter crackers in my pocket.  There was nary a ruffle on these avian waddlers.  No one likes bonnets.  I freakin’ hate bonnets. I’d rather get a home perm than wear a bonnet (ooh, that’s bad – I’m still living down that perm I gave myself when I was 20 after my seventh shot of tequila).

So yes, I was thrilled to see a set of embroidery designs devoid of ducks, bonnets, baskets, and other forms of country kitsch.  I was smitten with Hart’s patterns, for their slight Vegas-meets-riot grrl flavor.  I’d never embroidered (think freestyle cross stitch with more room for error) before, but it seemed fun.  And well, if it was good enough for my Great-Nana Grace, it sure as hell was worth a shot on my end.

My first project was a tea towel for my best friend.  Cat deserved a tea towel worthy of her name, so I purchased Hart’s funky kitty pattern and went to work.  The result was pretty damn impressive, if you ask me.  Sadly, I forgot to take a photo before I gave the towel as a gift.  Oh yeah, here’s my downfall – I almost never keep a work I’ve created.  They go to friends and family.  I get so much more out of handing it over and seeing the expression on the recipient’s face than I would keeping my efforts to myself.  To this day I’ve only kept one tea towel for myself.

Next was an apron for one of the matriarchs in my family.  I went with a Hula design, and embellished with the occasional sequin.

Embroidery Gwen Feldman.  Pattern Jenny Hart of Sublime Stitching.

Embroidery Gwen Feldman. Pattern Jenny Hart of Sublime Stitching.

I think she dug it.  I hope so.  Who couldn’t fall in love with a blue haired hula chick doing her thang between a couple of palm trees?  Pass me the pineapple daiquiri, pal.

My mother turned 29 (so she says) last January, and as a birthday gift I promised to embroider a couple tea towels.  I couldn’t deliver on the day because I needed a consult with the birthday gal to figure out what she’d want on her towels.    Mom went with a critter friendly theme.  With some sketching, I planned out her tea towels.  One of them looked like below, along with various acoutrements that made the piece complete – what I like best is the navy-tattoo-inspired bluebirds adorning her piece:

Embroidery - Gwen Feldman.  Pattern - Jenny Hart, via Sublime Stitching.

Embroidery - Gwen Feldman. Pattern - Jenny Hart, via Sublime Stitching.

What I love about Jenny Hart’s company is that it’s based in our zeitgeist.  Jenny gets the fact that not all of us are into country kitsch, or shabby chic, or whatever terms are used by designers today to mask a half-assed effort to stay current. Some of us have a little funk, a bit ‘o style, and we want that reflected that in our work.  After all, does a gazebo bedecked in flowers scream who I am?  No.  Not that that kind of thing is always necessary.  It’s not.  But anyone armed with a needle wants to inject a bit of their own selves into it, and well, I’m anti-duck.  Let’s add a couple skulls, a guitar, a pinup babe, and (oh, dare I ask?) a zombie, and we’re rolling.

Hart has worked her magic.  Finally I can humbly provide my friends with the gifts they deserve.  After my mother’s critter towel is finished, I’ll be preparing a piece for a guitar playing pal of mine (and maybe something just as nice for his wonderful girlfriend).  Maybe I’ll whip up something nerd-related for my fellow Staycation Lab inhabitant.

Until then, I’ll leave you with what was a work in progress (it’s now done, but I lack any decent pics of the finished product).  When I found out that Cat got into veterinary school (which, by the way, is super hard) at Cornell (!), I had to grab a tote bag (to carry her text books!) and make it totally hers:

Patterns copy - Jenny Hart.  Work - Gwen Feldman

Patterns copy - Jenny Hart. Work - Gwen Feldman

Ignore that it’s rumpled.  Oh, and yes, this design is critter-friendly, but what can you expect with a future vet?  This woman is going to be caring for MY fur-babies, and I want to remind her just where her interests lie.  I keeed.  She’ll be great, and I want her to know how much confidence we all have in her.  She’s a superstar in my eyes.  I adore her.

*wipes annoying moisture from eye*  What was I saying?  Guh!  Go!  You!  Go out, check out Jenny Hart, grab some canvas and thread and try your hand at embroidering coolness!  Go!  I command thee!

Total Eclipse of Teh Awesome

Monday, May 10th, 2010

Chances are that you’ve seen this once or twice, as pretty much everyone loves this video. Still, the two friends I had visiting from out of town this weekend hadn’t seen it, and I totally love it, so I figured it’s worth posting here. It’s always good for a repeat viewing or eight.

Sweet Jesus.

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

So, yeah.  As a reasonable human being, I was a little taken aback when I learned of Kentucky Fried Chicken’s Double Down. If you’re not familiar with this (what I might call an) abomination, the description reads as thus:

This one-of-a-kind sandwich features two thick and juicy boneless white meat chicken filets (Original Recipe® or Grilled), two pieces of bacon, two melted slices of Monterey Jack and pepper jack cheese and Colonel’s Sauce. This product is so meaty, there’s no room for a bun!

No room for a bun?  NO ROOM FOR A BUN?  Do you understand what this implies?  A bun itself is superfluous in most fast foodwiches, any way.  When you’re scarfing down the 700 calories, and 35 grams of fat in a Mickey D’s Steak, Egg & Cheese Bagel, is there room for anything in that sandwich equation that your body is ok with?  Is the bagel even necessary?  I say nay  nay.  It may taste good and come cheap, but it’s an exercise in masochism.  Ouch.  And no room?  If there’s no room for something, something else is wrong, kiddies.

Feel your heart flutter.  Photo from CityRag.com, all credits to them.  I couldn't bring myself near the thing.

Feel your heart flutter. Photo from CityRag.com, Broward New Times and John Linn, all credits to them. I couldn't bring myself near the thing.

The Double Down appears relatively harmless at first.  Despite the fact that it looks like a deranged prison chef pretty much just fried everything in the pantry and piled it into a sloppy, sadistic mess, KFC assures us that:

It’s 540 calories and 32 grams of fat.

It can’t be sooo bad, you may think.  What’s 540 calories?  You may say, that’s like, a little less than a third of my FDA certified recommended daily caloric intake.  Lemme skip breakfast and I’ll be golden, much like those crunchy, savory breasts holding my pig and cheddar sandwich together.

Again, I say nay nay.

City Rag checked out the Double Down and did some research of their own.  Apparently they got their hot little hands on KFC’s nutritional information and a basic calculator, and I’ll quote their math as follows:

2 fried chicken breasts at 360 calories, 21 grams of fat each, comes to – 720 calories and 42 grams…

2 x 1 oz slice of “Monterey Jack and pepper jack cheese” at 100 calories, 9 grams of fat each, comes to 200 calories and 18 grams fat…

1 squirt of sauce 100 calories and 10 grams of fat (even by KFC’s calculations) and the Double Down is hit twice as you can see in the picture, comes to 200 calories and 20 grams fat…

2 strips bacon, equals 70 calories and 6 grams of fat…

For a grand total of 1190 calories and 86 grams of fat!

(I kept all the original links because well, it’s their research and not my own.  I’m too lazy to attempt like, calculations and stuff.  I retired my TI-82 when I got to college and the batteries corroded and vomited the nasty all over my little prized machine.  I was sad.  Just not sad enough to buy a new hundred dollar calculator.)

(Can you imagine if some mathematically gifted MIT undergrad attempted to turn the nastiness in this sandwich into an equation?  I’d imagine it would look something like:

lard

photo credit: all Gwen Feldman, baby. It's my special MIT-approved equation.

Oh, my internet friends.  Why?  What is the point?  Why do we do this to ourselves?

Image courtesy of vegansaurus.com.

Image courtesy of vegansaurus.com.

Okay, I get that maybe it’s tasty.  I wouldn’t know.  But here it is; I slap you in the face with a riding glove and challenge you to try fruit for a full week.  The fat in the Double Down might just appall you once you’ve acclimated to healthier living.  It scared the crap out of me.

The funny thing is that when I initially read that the sandwich wasn’t so bad, I found the vegan take on it, and figured it might be fun to attempt a PETA-friendly fry up of the thing.  I may not be a vegan myself (I’m a vegetarian who cannot live without cheese), but well, I didn’t have to do the work to come up with the recipe.

Vegansaurus.com explains the recipe clearly:

Start by getting your kitchen stocked with vegan substitutes.

  • Gardein Lightly Seasoned Chick’n Scallopini
  • Lightlife Smart Bacon
  • Follow Your Heart Vegenaise
  • Energ-G Egg Replacer
  • Earth Balance Natural Shortening
  • Follow Your Heart Monterey Jack

You can replace the shortening with canola oil or even Crisco, if you feel like taking your life into your hands. Before doing anything else, I fried up about six pieces of Smart Bacon, and thinly sliced the Follow Your Heart Monterey Jack using a mandolin. If you don’t have a mandolin, a cheese slicer will do the trick, or a sharp kitchen knife if you’re really patient. You should also thaw out the Gardein patties, which are usually kept frozen.

The Colonel’s Sauce
No one has any idea what’s in this stuff, so I basically went for “yellow”. 

  • 4 Tbsp Vegenaise
  • 1 tsp mustard
  • 1 tsp agave nectar
  • 1 tsp turmeric

Mix it up until it looks yellow. Adjust as needed.

KFC’s 11 Secret Herbs and Spices
The actual recipe is a closely guarded secret, but this is close enough. I adapted the recipe from KFCChickenRecipe.com with vegan substitutes where needed.

  • 1 Tbsp sage
  • 1 tsp ginger root
  • 1 Tbsp rosemary
  • 1 Tbsp oregano
  • 1 tsp marjoram
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp chili powder or cayenne
  • 1½ tsp thyme
  • 2 Tbsp garlic salt, or mix 1 Tbsp salt + 1 Tbsp garlic granules
  • 2 Tbsp onion salt, or mix 1 Tbsp salt + 1 Tbsp onion granules
  • 3 Tbsp dried parsley
  • 3 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp powdered vegetable bullion from Rapunzel, or any vegan “chicken-flavored” bullion.
  • 1 pack of McCormick Thick & Zesty Spaghetti Sauce Mix (available at Safeway), or 1 packet of any vegan tomato powdered instant soup.

Grind into a fine powder using a food processor or blender, and set aside.

Making the batter and deep-frying it all up

  • 3 Tbsp Ener-G egg replacer
  • 4 Tbsp water
  • 1 Tbsp canola oil
  • ½ cup unsweetened, plain soy milk
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

In a mixing bowl, beat together the egg replacer, water, canola oil, and soy milk. This is your “eggs and milk” batter.

Now is a good time to get your deep-frying apparatus into gear. If you own a deep fryer, you know what you’re doing here. For everyone else: melt the whole box of Earth Balance shortening in a wok or cast-iron pan on medium heat. Top it up with canola oil if the pool of oil isn’t deep enough.

Next, thoroughly mix together the flour with the “secret” herb and spice mix that you made earlier. Spread out the flour mix onto a long sheet of baking paper.

You basically want to coat the living hell out of the Gardein patties, then deep fry them until your kitchen smells like KFC. So: take a patty, dip it in the batter, then roll it in the flour/spices until it’s completely coated. Then take the same patty and repeat; you want to coat the coating.

Finally, drop in your patty and deep-fry it for a few minutes, until golden brown. You can test out your oil beforehand with a small glob of batter and flour. You really don’t want to cook them for too long!

Putting it all together then nomming the shit out of that
Now you’re ready to assemble your Vegan Double Down: two slabs of fried fake chicken, stuffed with fake bacon, fake cheese, and fake “Colonel’s Sauce”. Make it look pretty.

You will eat about half of this before realizing what a mistake it’s been. But until that moment, it will taste like sweet, deep-fried heaven.

(by the way, all images in the above quotations (except my equation) were ganked directly from Vegansaurus.com.  They get all credit.  You may have noticed this, but no image in this entry is mine.  They all come from very nice, hopefully reasonable and non-litigious sources.  Hey, I try to give credit where it’s due.  Please don’t sue me.)

Believing that a vegan version would only be a healthier incarnation of this (and I hesitate to call it a) sandwich, I was set to try it out and blog about it.

I dunno.  After reading about the gravestone-friendly stats on the amended version of the Double Down’s nutrition list, I can’t bring myself to try even a milder version with fake meat, as it’s still an exercise in yuck.  See, I’d have to eat the thing, just so I can relay how it could still taste like it was dredged out of the delicious depths of a thirty year old, lard seasoned deep fryer, and I just can’t do that.  It would hurt me, I think.  I love my readers (apparently there are many of you, though you rarely comment), but I don’t love you enough to justify a stroke at the age of thirty-five just because I choose to play a game of tennis and it’s taxing enough to kill little ‘ol me.  If the actual Double Down is that bad, then the vegan play on it couldn’t be too far behind.  Just…no.

Soooo…have any of you tried the Double Down?  What do you think of it? I won’t judge, I promise.  It ain’t my place.  Let me know.  Photos are strongly encouraged.


America, I Feel You

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

This is not a personal blog by any means, but part of the reason for its origin is my own kind of special horror I experienced last year, watching the economy tank.  Part of seeing the good though, is trying to channel the scrappy ingenuity we all have, and that’s another reason why this blog was published (next entry is about our newest DIY venture; embroidery, which I stopped practicing in 1993, but I’ve got some funky designs up my sleeve, so we’ll see – hula girls, anyone?).

Me, I’ve come off a lengthy time on the dole after being laid off from my job at an Allston design firm.  If you haven’t guessed from the previous entry, I’ma workin’ for the U.S. Census Bureau.  Which brings me to my next two points.

As a recruiter, it’s my job to help staff the troops that will hit the streets come spring to make this decennial’s Census an awesome one.  It’s my job to be out there too, telling pretty much anyone that I see that if they need a job, Uncle Sam is ready and willing to hook them up.  You might see me or someone just like me giving a talk at your church, posting flyers near Ben and Jerry’s, or pretty much doing whatever it takes to spread the word.  If you take us up on it, you’ll see me and my kind passing out sharpened pencils and government exams as you embark on the beginning of the hiring process (don’t let the test intimidate you – ask to practice!).  If you’re over 18 and fit the general requirements, I want YOU.  Yes, you.  This is all about our community, natch.

Credit: U.S. Census Bureau

Credit: U.S. Census Bureau

The above is my job, and I’d say it anyway, but I believe in this.  My work isn’t the easiest, but I’ve started to fall a little in love with it.  It’s the single most inclusive thing I’ve done, and especially after today I feel pretty connected to my city and its residents.  I left work this evening feeling good.

I have to be careful about protecting the privacy of the people with whom I interact, so I’ll say what I can but I must apologize if I sound vague.  I’ve met a ton of people from all parts of my community.  I’ve spoken with Ivy League doctorates, spiritual leaders, single moms, veterans, college students, hipsters and geeks, teachers, skilled laborers; pretty much everyone.  I love the fact that I can offer them a job.  I love that I can tell them that the pay isn’t just fair – it’s great (yes, the wages rock).  I love telling them that the hours are flexible.  What I love best is letting others know that while things might just plain suck right now, there is opportunity out there.  And it’s thrilling to know I can help make that happen.  So while yes, it’s my job to recruit for the U.S. Census, it means something to me.  It’s activism.

Guys, if the above doesn’t move you to check out Census work, I don’t know what will.  But I do mean it.  If times are tight right now, try it.  You can dial the national office at 1-866-861-2010.  If you live in Boston, you can always contact me right here and I’ll walk you through it.  To reach the Suffolk County office you can always call 617-848-3260, too.

I was always pretty infatuated with my field of study in college (anthropology).  One thing I’ve loved best is the stories I get to hear from well, everyone.  I like tucking each tale in the back of my head and digging it up later like some rich archaeological find.  I still think about the people I’ve interviewed in the past with affection.

So far, what floors me is that the stories I’ve heard in the field doing RA (recruiting) work are all the same.  The ex waitress who was laid off last February (no, no such person exists – she’s an amalgam of some of the people with whom I’ve spoken – I really can’t use any specifics), has the same recent history as the out of work ER doctor (again, not a real person here), and both of their tales aren’t really much different from my own.  This giant economic mess has been equal opportunity in a sense, stretching across all societal strata.  I’m here in the thick of it.  I want to hear the stories.

I want to hear them because I can empathize.  I get it.  I think it makes us all feel a little better when we can see that our economic woes aren’t ones that we need to hold close to our chests.  We’re all going through it, to some extent.  And even these last few days have served as testament to that.

In short; America, I feel you.  Keep it coming.

(Please note that the above are my own thoughts about working for the Census.  It is in no way associated with official U.S. Census Bureau outreach content.)

2010 Census Jobs: Earn Extra Money, Serve Your Community

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

Local Census Office Accepting Applicants for Temporary Employment to Support U.S. Census Bureau’s Goal of a Complete Count

While the economy continues to create uncertainty, the U.S. Census Bureau is providing opportunities for individuals to supplement their incomes with flexible, good-paying jobs – hiring hundreds of temporary workers in the local area to ensure the 2010 Census is a success.

Census takers, also known as enumerators, are needed to conduct in-person interviews with community residents who do not return census questionnaires.  These positions need to be filled by individuals with flexible schedules as work may occur in evenings and on weekends.  Some positions may involve shift work.  Bilingual workers are needed in many areas.

2010 Census job applicants must be at least 18 years old, have a valid Social Security number, be able to pass a background check, and complete a 30-minute, multiple choice employment test that measures knowledge, skills, and abilities required to perform a variety of census jobs.  More information, including a practice test, is available at www.2010censusjobs.gov.

In most cases, workers will also be required to possess a valid driver’s license and have use of a vehicle.  U.S. citizenship is required to work for the 2010 Census except in rare occasions when no qualified U.S. citizens are available.

All temporary census employees must be able to attend training, for which they will be compensated.  Most training sessions are held during the day on weekdays; occasionally, a session may be held in the evening or on the weekend.

For more information on temporary employment with the U.S. Census Bureau, or to schedule an appointment to take an employment test and submit an application, call the toll-free 2010 Census Jobs Line: 1-866-861-2010.  TTY Callers: please use the Federal Relay Service at 1-800-877-8339.

*Content provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.

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Readers – I highly suggest you look into this.  With flexible hours and great pay, you won’t get another opportunity like this until 2020.  Give them a call!

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

We Feel Fine hits stores today!

I’ll see you on page 164. I think.

I hope you get a chance to pick it up. It makes a great coffee table book, and content is generated by bloggers!  I’ll be writing a review when I get my copy, which will probably be in a couple weeks. wefeelfine In the meantime, here’s the product description at Amazon:

“In this dazzling exploration of contemporary human feelings, digital whiz kids Sep Kamvar and Jonathan Harris use their computer programs to peer into the inner lives of millions, constructing a vast and deep portrait of our collective emotional landscape. Armed with custom software that scours the English-speaking world’s new Internet blog posts every minute, hunting down the phrases “I feel” and “I am feeling,” the authors have collected over 12 million feelings since 2005, amassing an ever-growing database of human emotion that adds more than 10,000 new feelings a day. Drawing from this massive real-world stockpile of found sentiment, We Feel Fine: An Almanac of Human Emotion presents the best of the best — the euphoria, the despair, the passion, the dreams, and the desires that make us human. At turns touching and thought-provoking, humorous and heartbreaking, We Feel Fine combines the words and pictures of total strangers to explore every corner of the human experience. Packed with personal photos, scientific observations, statistical infographics, and countless candid vignettes from ordinary people, We Feel Fine is a visual, fiercely intelligent, endlessly engrossing crash course in the secrets of human emotion. Are men or women happier? Does rainy weather affect how we feel? Is beauty the bridge between happiness and negativity? How do our emotions change as we age? What causes depression? What’s sexy? What’s normal? What’s human? We Feel Fine finally provides a way to answer these questions that is both quantitative and anecdotal, putting individual stories into a larger context and showing the stories behind the statistics — or as the authors like to say, “bringing life to statistics and statistics to life.” With lush, colorful spreads devoted to 50 feelings, 13 cities, 10 topics, 6 holidays,5 age groups, 4 weather conditions, and 2 genders, We Feel Fine explores our emotions from every angle, providing insights into and examples of each. Equal parts pop culture and psychology, computer science and conceptual art, sociology and storytelling, We Feel Fine is no ordinary book — with thousands of authors from all over the world sharing their uncensored emotions, it is a radical experiment in mass authorship, merging the online and offline worlds to create an indispensable handbook for anyone interested in what it’s like to be human.”

If you get a chance to check it out, let me know what you think!