Saturday, April 19, 2014

Squeeze out some breakfast

Last night at about eleven I thought, "Hey, I'm still awake." This is an achievement, because I am old. I also thought, "Crap. I forgot to write anything for Day 18 of 30 Days of Blogging. I failed. I am a failure. I am incapable of meeting goals. No wonder I don't have a boyfriend. Or a pet. Or a plant," and then I took a deep breath and thought, "OK, Norma Desmond, let's reel in the dramatics just a little." To make up for skipping yesterday, I decided to write two entries today.

So, on Part 1 of Day 19 of 30 Days of Blogging, I'm going to talk about the horrifying breakfast I ate this morning, which was inspired by my Alternative Spring Break trip last year. On one of the days of that trip, we worked at the Capital Area Food Bank warehouse, spending a few hours sorting food donations. During part of that time, a few of us ended up sorting baby food to check all of the expiration dates, and that's where we encountered this:

DSCN1528

Liquid beef.

Trey, Eric, and I stared at it in confusion and mild horror.

"That's beef and vegetables?"

"How is that even possible?"

"It feels like jelly. Like, there aren't any lumps at all."

"Do they just make beef stew and throw it in a blender?"

"What do you think it tastes like?"

That's the real question, isn't it? The one you wonder about most of all? Because really, if they can make beef and vegetables into something that you can squeeze out of a pouch to feed to a toothless child, then what does that do to the flavor?

This whole discussion occurred to me again last week in the grocery store. I was out west at the Kroger that has furniture and housewares, not my regular Kroger that just has groceries like a grocery store should, and I somehow ended up on the baby food aisle when I was looking for pasta instead. While trying to figure out how to get to food that I might actually eat, I noticed the pouch of beef and thought, "You know, I could just buy one and eat it."

So I bought it.

And this morning I ate it.

It turns out to be oddly tasteless, but it has a smell, something like cat food. It's not an appetizing smell, but maybe it smells differently to babies. The real issue with this, at least for me, wasn't the smell, the taste, or the slightly gritty texture. It was the visual.

Beef from a pouch looks like poop.

DSCN1529

A lot like poop.

DSCN1530

Like this will look exactly the same coming out of your baby as it does going in.

I'm sure babies like it, though.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Smoke Isn't Supposed to Come Out of That

Tonight, on Day 17 of 30 Days of Blogging, my Little Oscar countertop food processor died.

And by "died", I mean that it made a grinding noise while it was processing. And then smoke started to come out of it. Then I turned it off, unplugged it, and drowned it in the bathtub in case it was smoldering inside. I now feel like it's safe to put it in the dumpster without running the risk of starting a trash fire and burning the building down, so I'll do that later.

Before drowning it, I removed the bowl and saved my food. See, "Mad Men" is on this Sunday, and last week while watching a horribly depressing episode that made me wonder why I watch "Mad Men" I thought, "Wouldn't it be awesome if I had some snacks?" as if those would somehow distract me from the soul crushing agony that everyone on that show seems to live in so far this season. I thought about it all week, and decided that I would like to make a nice Bacon Ranch Cheeseball, and then eat it with crackers and maybe make some drinks while I watch Joan wear fabulous outfits and wait for everyone else on the show to die.

I picked up the ingredients the other day, and when I got home tonight I decided to blend up the cheeseball now, so that it could sit for a couple of days and let the flavors blend a little. I don't remember where I got this recipe, but it barely counts as one. There's not much to it:

Bacon Ranch Cheeseball

2 bricks low fat cream cheese (DON'T get fat free; the consistency is weird)
1/2 cup shredded cheddar
1 packet ranch dressing mix
1/4 cup bacon bits or cooked crumbled bacon
Extra bacon bits or parsley to roll cheese ball in (I skip this step and just put the cheeseball mixture into some Gladware)

1) Place first four ingredients in food processor.

2) Process the hell out of it until it is fully blended.

3) If planning to actually make a ball, put it in the fridge to firm up for a couple hours. Take it out, put a Ziploc baggie on each hand, and use your hands to shape it into a ball. Then roll it in the parsley or bacon until it's covered, put it on a plate, and serve with crackers.

See?

Super easy, until your food processor dies.

I guess I'm going shopping this weekend.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Starfish

On Day 16 of 30 Days of Blogging, I offer a topic a friend sent me in a private message on Facebook:

You were never this vocal about being gay and issues facing gay people when you lived in New York. What changed when you moved to Tennessee?

This is an interesting question. Basically, there's a short answer, and there's a longer and more complicated one.

Short answer: In New York, there were lots of gay people, and lots of gay advocates, and lots of people working on LGBT rights. I had the luxury of being a small part of a large group, and the burden of work in moving LGBT rights forward was already being done by other, more motivated people. Then I moved here, and I was suddenly a part of a much smaller group. This much smaller group was, and is, often overlooked, and it became apparent that if I did not speak sometimes, then sometimes there would be no one speaking. "Sometimes" became "a lot of the time", and I guess somewhere in there I turned into an advocate. I'm not the only one on campus, but there definitely aren't as many of us as there need to be.

Longer answer: This leads to a simple question: Why do there need to be advocates for LGBT people at all?

To answer that question, I have to repeat a story that I never really liked before I moved here. During my first year as a hall director, one of my supervisors was really, really into this story, so I heard it over and over and over, and can now type it from memory:

A man is out walking along the beach in the morning as the sun rises, and sees a young woman walking along the waterline. She appears to be dancing, bending and spinning on the sand, and as he gets closer he sees that she seems to be throwing something into the ocean.

"What are you doing?" he asks.

She bends over, picks up a starfish, and throws it into the water.

"I'm throwing the starfish back into the ocean. When the tide went out, they were stranded on the beach, and when the sun comes up they will dry out and die."

The man scoffs.

"Young woman, there are thousands of miles of beach, and millions of starfish. How can what you're doing possibly matter?"

The young woman shrugged and picked up another starfish, holding it out to him before throwing it back into the ocean.

"It matters to this one."


I always thought that story was crap, honestly. A bunch of huggy, possibly hippy crap that people like my supervisor printed on posters and hung in their offices next to a full product line of motivational decorations from the Successories catalog. It's one of those stories about how little things make a big difference and the smallest action can impact lives in powerful ways, and I was young and cynical and knew everything, as young and cynical people often do, and I certainly knew bullshit when I heard it.

And then, eventually, I moved to Tennessee.

And I met a starfish.

In the time that I have worked here, five students have told me that I am the first out gay male that they have ever spoken to. Growing up in New York, even in conservative "red state" northern New York, this was initially incomprehensible to me, but it's true. They've probably met some closeted gay men, but out gay men are in short supply on this campus.

And why is it so important to meet out gay people?

Because it lets everyone know that we are people.

For years, polling data has shown that knowing a gay person affects your stance on gay rights. It's very easy to discriminate against "those people"; it's hopefully a little more difficult to discriminate against Joel, the guy you had lunch with yesterday. (Unless our lunch was horrible.) It helps us find allies, which we desperately need in order to move forward toward equality. It helps us find support groups, which we also need when we end up moving backwards instead. Meeting gay people humanizes gay people, and moves us toward the day when we can all just be people without another qualifier in front of it.

Getting back to the starfish, there's also a reason why it can mean so much to an individual student. It's one thing to tell people that it gets better, but it's another thing entirely to show them. We set our self-worth and our self-image by the things we see around us. How do you assign a value to yourself as a gay teenager if you never see any other gay people? How do you know what a normal gay relationship should look like if you never encounter one? How do you know that things will be better when you're an adult if you never meet a gay adult? One student told me that, as a gay male who was also an administrator at this school, I was like a magical unicorn that they couldn't believe they'd seen. That student has graduated and now works in college administration.

It mattered to that one, so it matters to me.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Pyrex

On Day 15, halfway through 30 Days of Blogging, I've decided that it's time to talk about the Pyrex.

Several of my friends asked about the Pyrex, some in the serious sense and some in the mocking sense. My friends talk about the Pyrex a lot, because I talk about the Pyrex a lot when I get a new piece or when someone asks me about it. Some of my friends also collect the Pyrex. Some of my friends don't collect the Pyrex, but they look for it for me when they are out and about. And some of my friends crack jokes about the Pyrex and how I will die buried beneath a collapsed hoard of Pyrex, my mummified corpse dried into the carpet beneath a stack of Town and Country or Early American lidded round casserole dishes.

Here's the thing: I was going to write a long, ranting entry about how I don't judge your habits and I don't mock your collections and I don't make fun of the things that make you happy, but that isn't true. I do judge your habits. I judge the hell out of them. If you had a hobby of collecting antique buckets from wishing wells, and every couple weeks there was a new picture of an antique bucket from a wishing well on your Facebook feed along with a two paragraph explanation of how this particular bucket was only available for six months in 1961 and was originally sold with a knotted rope handle and a tin ladle, you can bet your sweet ass I would make fun of you. Even though I'm your friend. Actually, especially because I'm your friend.

So I get it.

Everyone doesn't get the Pyrex.

I didn't always get it, either.

Two of my first three pieces of Pyrex are in this picture:

numbered primaries

The green bowl and the yellow bowl (Primary Colors set #403 and 404, respectively, even though green isn't a primary color), along with a duplicate yellow bowl, were inherited from my father's mother. When we packed her up to put her in The Home, a traumatic day in which my uncle wept, I had to carry a bucket of human feces upstairs, my mom had to clean a bucket of human feces, and my dad encouraged me to do a couple of shots of leftover wedding souvenir bottles (my maudlin, useless uncle, who claimed that those bottles represented people's lives, was assured that I would only drink the ones from weddings which had ended in divorce), she told us between puffs of her cigarette to take whatever we wanted from the house. I was a little light on kitchenware, so I took an entire set of engraved barware, some appetizer plates, a few dishtowels and wooden spoons, and the three Pyrex bowls. At the time, I had no idea they were anything special. I just needed some big mixing bowls, and they appeared serviceable.

I used them pretty regularly over the next few years, and then a few years ago my parents came to visit me, and I took them to all of my favorite places in Knoxville, which included a few vintage and antique stores. At one of them, my mom noticed a small Pyrex dish that she thought might interest her friend Cheryl. When she got home she told Cheryl about it, and Cheryl was interested, but Mom didn't buy the dish and couldn't show it to her. Mom called me and had me go back for it, and then gave it to Cheryl for Christmas.

"By the way," Mom said casually. "If you see another one, I might like one, too."

And so I started looking for another. Each time I went thrifting or antiquing, I would look for Pyrex, to see if they had another dish like the one we got for Cheryl. Every once in a while, I picked a random dish up for myself, a round open baking dish here, a covered hostess dish there, with no real thought behind it. Then I got curious. I started reading online about patterns, prices, and rarity. Cheryl invited Mom and I to a Facebook group for collectors, and I invited my friend Heather, who collects much more than I do. People talked about Pyrex, and posted photos of their finds and their collections, and I started to look at my dishes and think, "Well, I have two pieces of that set. Maybe I could get the rest."

There were two finds that really pushed me from casual to somewhat deliberate collecting.

The first was the "ugly brown dishes":

terra dishes

My friend and I were at an estate sale, and one of the ladies working the sale was trying to sell me the yellow, red, and green bowls from the set up at the beginning of the entry as a group for sixty dollars. Since I already had two yellows and a green, I really wasn't interested, and asked what other dishware was in the house.

"There's a set of ugly brown dishes in the kitchen, and some other stuff."

My friend, who collects certain china patterns, and I headed into the kitchen, and I immediately stopped and gaped.

"Those are Terra. An entire set."

I flagged down a worker immediately and had her mark the set as sold, without hesitation. That set has 14 coffee cups. Right now, a set of 4 of those is selling at an antique store down the street for twenty five dollars. There are five 13 inch chop plates, which normally sell for eight to ten dollars each. I paid eight dollars for one a couple months ago to make this set have an even number. The big mixing bowl is a 403, which goes for ten to twenty dollars by itself. I picked up the entire set for thirty five dollars, and started thinking about how I needed to finish it.

The second piece that pushed me all the way into collecting was the Golden Hearts Casserole:

golden hearts

In addition to patterned sets, Pyrex made dozens of promotional pieces over the years, bowls and casseroles that had a unique pattern or color and were only offered for a limited time. The people in the Pyrex group were forever posting about finding all these unique and exciting pieces dirt cheap, and all I ever seemed to find was parts of sets. Sure, sets are exciting, but promotional pieces were special, and I didn't have any until I found that casserole dish on my way back from Nashville, and it was only five dollars.

And that was it.

I became a Pyrex collector.

I have limits, though. I only collect certain patterns, and I've never paid more than twenty dollars for a single dish. There are a few dishes in one of my closets, waiting to be displayed someday, a few on the top of the fridge, a few in my cabinets because I use them every day, and a few displayed on top of my cabinets:

sets

Those are my full (or almost full) sets. From left to right:

Early American Cinderella mixing bowls - Cinderella bowls have a handle on each side, one of which is designed to also be a spout. The smallest bowl in that set, the 441, is with my parents, because I found it at a store while I was home for Christmas this year and was afraid it would get broken on the plane. They'll bring it in a few weeks when they drive down.

Early American round mixing bowls - I'm missing the largest one, the 404. The last one I saw on Etsy was fifty dollars.

Verde round mixing bowls - The greens are so pretty.

Tally Ho Cinderella bowl and Delphite 401 - There are no other sized Cinderella bowls in Tally Ho, and I don't anticipate ever finding any other Delphite bowls at a reasonable price, so those two are just sitting together.

Pink round mixing bowls - A yard sale find. You know who else used Pink Pyrex? Julia Child.

Terra round mixing bowls - Terra, for unknown reasons, doesn't include a 402 size, so my set has a weird gap in it even though it is complete.

Primary Colors round mixing bowls - Recently completed due to a gift of the red 402 from my friend Heather.

Next to those, I have an empty space. It's being held for a complete round Butterfly Gold set, which my Aunt Geri gave me for Christmas and which my parents are bringing down when they come.

So there. That's the Pyrex.

Now you tell me all about your antique buckets.

Monday, April 14, 2014

We Live in a Society, and There are Rules

Today, on Day 14 of 40 Days of Blogging, I've chosen a topic suggested by my friend Beth:

What's something that other people do that you don't do, and why don't you?

You'll probably laugh, but there's one thing I never, ever do. Once some friends dared me to do it, late at night, with nobody around, and I did and we laughed and I shivered with the rogue forbidden thrill of it all, but other than that time I never have again.

I don't drive across the painted rows in parking lots.

Even when the parking lot is empty and the store is closed.

I can't, because it's wrong. There are rules. The are laws and rules and policies, and we as a society depend on everyone to follow the same rules. I've broken other rules. I speed, sometimes. I burn through yellow lights. Sometimes I turn without using a signal, and once I even crossed in the crosswalk on Red Hand while students were looking, but I just can't bring myself to drive across the rows. It's like I have a mental block or something.

I think part of it is that I find driving in parking lots stressful. I have to watch where I'm going. I have to watch for people backing out without looking behind them. I have to watch for old people, runaway carts, and unsupervised children. I have to see if anyone else is trying to park in the space that I'm trying to park in, and then, out of nowhere... rogue cars! Driving willy nilly across the rows! It's like it's the year 1994, and out of space comes a runaway planet, hurtling between the Earth and the Moon! Chaos! Disaster! Terror!

And sometimes that car takes my parking space!

All around, the whole thing is a nightmare. Those lines exist for a reason, and people should be aware of and respect that reason.

It's best for everyone.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Baker

Remember that time I made bread from scratch and it turned out to be a terrible nightmare loaf of horrors and sadness, and I swore, as God is my witness, I'd never bake bread again?

Well, I decided not to give up just yet, because I saw a commercial for this:

bread mix

"Just add water!", the box says.

"Anyone can be a baker!", the commercial says.

I'm not just anyone, you know. I can screw up a kit or a mix like you wouldn't believe, no matter how hard I try to follow directions. Just ask the (in)Famous Fudge Kit, ruiner of Christmas for four years running. We'll see if anyone can be a baker, Fleischmann's. Oh, we'll see.

According to the directions I needed a large bowl. If there's one thing that's never in short supply around here, it's a large mixing bowl. I settled on my extra Pyrex Verde 403, because it was the right size and it matched the box:

a large bowl

I don't know that matching the box helps, but I also don't know that it doesn't help. Maybe it increases kitchen harmony.

Side note: I have an extra Verde 403 because I bought it separately at a yard sale. Then, later, I got all four of the Verde round mixing bowls for a really good price, so now I have one 403 in the display and one in the cabinet until I drop it on the floor and murder it or I happen to pick up the other pieces and end up with two sets.

Anyway, back to the bread and away from the Pyrex ramblings. The back of the box suggested some mix ins. I didn't want to go all out, but I figured since it was herb bread anyway, maybe some extra herbs would create some more harmony. I want that kitchen filled with good vibrations, damn it. I settled on a teaspoon of herbes de Provence:

extra herbs

because I know from past experience that they smell so effing good, and I want this to be the effing goodest loaf of bread ever.

With everything ready, and a silent prayer to Flour Jesus, I began to bake.

First, I mixed the yeast and sugar in my bowl:

yeast and sugar

I immediately added hot, but not boiling, water and stirred:

yeast, sugar, hot water

So far, everything seemed good. I consulted the instructions again, and was told to let the bowl sit for three minutes so that the yeast could activate. I would know it activated when it was "foamy". I set the timer, curated my social media for a few minutes, and returned to the bowl when the bell rang.

This is what I saw:

activated yeast

Not what I would call "foamy", but something definitely happened while I was gone. There were bubbles, and as I watched the bowl I saw movement, little puffs forming in the water. I decided that it was bubbling, and foam is made of bubbles, so maybe everything was ok.

The next step was to add the bread mix and mix ins, and to stir until a ball formed. I was warned by the box that dough may be stiff, which was an understatement:

firm ball of dough

That wooden spoon is standing straight up. I'm not touching the other end.

I was then instructed to put the dough on a greased baking sheet. Last time I did this I put it on a sheet of parchment paper on the sheet, but this time I decided to do exactly what I was told and to grease a cookie sheet until it God damned glistened in the kitchen light. The box said anyone could make bread, and I want to be anyone.

dough on greased pan

And yeah, my cookie sheets are stained, but it's because they're old. Stop judging me.

The box suggested using a teaspoon of flour on the top of the loaf to make it easier to shape, so I measured out exactly a teaspoon and tried to make my blob round:

shaped, floured dough

I tried. It's not perfect. I then covered it with a dishtowel and left it to rise for 25 minutes.

It did not rise.

Oh, it got bigger:

expanded dough

but it's like me after college. It keeps getting wider, but not any taller. I didn't think I could do anything to change that, so I threw the pan in the oven, set the timer, and hoped for the best.

This is what happened:

baked bread

Also, my kitchen and living room smelled wonderful, like a French bakery. I imagine it's how the village smells when Belle sings "Bonjour" in the beginning of "Beauty and the Beast", although it's much more likely that the village smells like farm animals, overripe cheese, and unwashed French peasants.

I went for some butter, and sliced off a piece:

bread slice

And it's not bad. It's a little tiny bit doughy, and mine isn't nearly as tall as the one on the box. Maybe my apartment isn't warm enough? The box said I should let it rise in a warm, draft free place, but maybe my place wasn't as warm as it should be? Maybe I should have waited for more foam? Maybe my initial water wasn't hot enough? Maybe I should have waited for more foam? Who knows, really?

What's important is that I made bread.

I am anyone.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Saturday Adventures

As I said yesterday, I had plans for today, and I actually followed them. I feel weird saying that the day was kind of a bust, but it turned out to be not very exciting and, in the end, a little annoying.

My plan was to go to the Marble City Comic Con downtown, and to the Rossini Festival, also downtown. Further complicating this plan was the fact that today was also the Orange and White Game, a free football exhibition game on campus that attracts around 60,000 people. I had to drive past campus to get to both of the other things, and figure out where to park. A little planning solved this problem: I left the house early, parked at one of the public garages while they were still setting up the festival, and then walked the couple of blocks back to the convention center for the comic con.

The downside to this is that I might have gotten to the Comic Con a little too early, because it was boring as hell.

Some of the vendor booths weren't open yet when the doors opened, and the ticket booth opened late. There weren't many people in costume when I was there, and really there just weren't that many people in general. Some of that may have been due to the Orange and White Game, but I still think I was just too early. I got a good price on a few issues of "Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane", including one so bizarre that I've read it twice and am still not entirely sure what happened, but didn't find any of the specific things that I was looking for, which was a little disappointing.

I did see some famous vehicles:

land speeder

Batmobile

but eventually, like Wonder Woman, I got bored and left:

wonder woman

I walked back uptown to the Rossini Festival, but I was disenchanted with that as well. There was dancing:

dancers

and singing:

singers

but also a lot of crowds:

Gay Street

and, honestly, the festival is badly organized. Instead of having an area for food and beverage booths and one for craft and art booths, all of the booths are mixed together at random. Even worse, they now have some kind of food ticket system, and most of the food vendors are ticket only even though they have signs that have prices in dollars printed on them.

This culminated in me, thirsty and a little hot, being told by the girl at the Rita's Italian Ice stand even though the sign said four dollars they only took tickets and the nearest booth to get tickets was five or six booths away, but I could totally come back after I had tickets.

You know what else I could do, girl with misleading signs?

I could go in the Union Avenue Grocery and just buy a drink, which I did.

I saw this cute art on my way back to the car, though:

graffiti

so the day wasn't a total loss.

I just feel overall disappointed, like it was a waste of effort to leave the house.