Sunday, August 28, 2005

Fair, Fat, and Forty (ish)

Minnesota State Fair Mascot
Eh, two weeks off from the blogging. Sorry about that. How do you follow up a post on feeling cranky and out of sorts except by wallowing in it for a week or so? That's my story, anyway, and I'm sticking to it. And it's summer, and the livin' is easy. Feeling much better, thank you for asking.

So on Saturday, we went to the Fair. The Minnesota State Fair - The Great Minnesota Get Together. 171,503 of us got together on Saturday. Damn, that's a lot of people. Literally everyone in Minnesota goes to the Fair. In fact, judging from the variety of attire and style, I'd say that everyone from the last five decades in Minnesota goes to the Fair. Describing the Minnesota State Fair to someone who's never been there is no easy task. Complicating the issue is that most everyone has been to a fair somewhere, sometime. Other fairs deliver the concept of a fair quite well; like other fairs the Minnesota State Fair will have farm animals and exhibits, competitions and crafts, demos and carnival rides. What other fairs can't prepare you for is the scale - the Fair is massive. Huge. 300 acres of biggity.

Every year, we tend to go with the same people, which usually means we go twice, once with one set, and once with another. I'm still waiting to find the group that will go with me, get plastered in the beer hall and watch the karaoke catastrophes, but that's probably just as well - getting plastered on 3.2 beer takes dedication and some serious pocket change. However, I see evidence every year that it can be done. I do have a group that will go and see the animals, wander through the midway (that's where all the vomit comets and tilt-a-kidneys are located), and see a stupid show or two, and I have another that will go and see the fine arts building, the agriculture/horticulture building (which usually displays flowers and houseplants - go figure), the crafts building, and see a stupid show or two.

Here's what we saw this year:
Crafts - I'm always impressed by the things that people spend their down-time in a Minnesota winter creating. I'm not always favorably impressed, mind you, and that's perhaps why I'm not a state fair judge. Some people make clothes, furniture, scrapbooks, toys, and other items that are pretty neato, and others make things that are frankly terrifying to contemplate. There's often very little middle ground, which is one of the things I like about the fair - everyone bats for the fences. If they hit, they hit big, if they miss, well, they miss big too.

Gladiolus - Very big display of arrangements, mostly on themes. Surprising how many men (and,judging from the names, their sons) are into gladiolus arranging and do it very well. This was the main event in the agriculture/horticulture/bee building. Which we can't seem to approach without muttering "You can lead a horticulture...."

Crop Art - Always a perennial favorite. For those not in Minnesota, crop art is generally representational art produced using various seeds and beans. And, no, I'm not surprised it has its own web site. Be sure to check out the work of Lillian Colton, widely regarded as the premiere artist. We had the honor of seeing Miss Lillian while we examined this year's entries. Nothing really set us afire this year, but we did note that the art form is increasingly used for anti-war and anti-Bush propaganda. No, I have no idea why.

Skank - often one of our favorite parts - the annual summer skank display. Not an official event mind you, but something about the fair always seems to bring out huge numbers of the boys and girls both young and old whose primary response to their developing and/or fading sexuality is to advertise its ready availability. So many skanky boys and girls, that we've had to subdivide the larger category of skank into more manageable divisions, like "tattooed teen love slave", "bad shoes, no shirt, serve this", "mullet and mo' mullet", "tuff with a glimpse of muff," and, of course, the classic "girlfriend in a headlock". If you're not sure what the hell I'm talking about, Google for an image of Christina Aguilera, Aaron Carter, or Tommy Lee (no, I'll not provide you with links). Then just remove the fame and any vestiges of talent, and you've got the idea. Sexy? Sometimes. Appetizingly so? Seldom. And you will need your appetite for...

Food - the Fair is all about food. On a stick. Reportedly, the Pronto Pup was first produced here. Reportedly, mini-donuts were first served here. Cheese curds, well, they weren't served here first, but every year some friend or another tries to get me to eat one. This year the "hot item" (pun only partially intended) was the "spaghetti and meatball on a stick," which only goes to show that the trend is completely over the shark and now swimmin' for the depths. The line was huge, so I passed, as I have previously done for the deep-fried Twinkie, deep-fried Snickers bar, and batter-fried pickles fads that have rolled my eyes in previous years. Some things just aren't meant to be.

Mind you, I'm a lightweight. I routinely see people with gallon buckets of french fries in one hand and two footlongs in the other. On their way to Empire Commons, home of the butterhead sculptures of dairy princesses, and some mighty tasty shakes and sundaes.

I did have a small dish of ice cream, frozen with nitrogen. And a rotisserie chicken dinner with mashed potatoes and cole slaw. Roasted corn. A frozen apple-cider pop. A caramel apple in a dish. Several fresh baked cookies. Washed down with all-you-can drink milk for a dollar. Oh, and a large diet Coke. Because that would help.

Well, I did walk around over 300 biggish acres for five hours. And winter is coming. And then the skank will be buried beneath parkas and mufflers, and the next generation of crop artists will reach for the seeds, and somewhere the daughters of dairy farmers dream of having their heads sculpted in butter. And what else can sustain you except the memory of the day you ate your weight in fried food? I blame it on the climate.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Flight Risk

Apologies, o loyal reader, for the late update this week. I've had a hard time wresting the computer away from Boo, who is apparently determined to plot out his (and mine) genealogy with his usual degree of obsessive attention. Of course, I could always post from work, but that seems tacky, and I do in fact have better things to do. Or at least things that other people value much more highly. So there you have it.

So, this week, I guess we get to talk about depression. Currently, I don't suffer from it, but I have suffered from it in the past. For the past several years, it's been no worse than the occasional bout of anhedonia, which I consider a vast improvement.

This is the part where I should impart my sorry (and somewhat ancient) history of suicidal ideation, over-reaction, two lame suicide attempts, and blah, de, blah, would be in keeping with my TMI title, but frankly, it's a bore, and I just don't want to talk about it. I was never that bad, no hospitalizations, no traumatic door-crashing scenes, just quiet impossible desperation that badly needed treatment, and which I got in talk form in my early twenties (which temporarily relieved the worst symptoms), and again in my late twenties, but with a better therapist and accompanied by an 18 month course of Desipramine, which had a more lasting effect.

So, basically, I get gloomy once in a while, but I haven't thought about offing myself for quite some time. What I do find I think about is flight. As in flee and fled, not fly and flown, unfortunately. Every so often, I just feel almost overcome by these urges to rip myself loose of my moorings; dump Boo, abandon my stuff, leave this place, and state, and everyone I know. Gone, no note. Everytime I see an apartment for rent lately, I'm thinking about how much it would cost, since I'd only need a one bedroom. I contemplate job postings for wildly inappropriate jobs in other cities that I know I would absolutely hate doing. I'm frequently dwelling on the sacrifices (by and large petty, but nevertheless) I make to stay here, and the compromises that I've made over the years that make me feel like a neutered parrot with my wings clipped.

It's not a happy place, but I can't seem to stop longing for the fresh pain of change, the spurt of blood that would result from ripping away of these scabby moorings that I've used to graft myself with increasing discomfort into a life that seems too static and settled and confining.

Ultimately, I know I won't - the biggest problem with my depression when it arises is that there is this all-or-nothing aspect that insists on the extreme response: whether the desire to flee everything that I'm having now, or the bad old days of wanting to flee my life in more destructive ways, like with a fast plunge or a bottle of pills. It's all about the wanting to tear it down, because something right now doesn't feel like it's working. Which, of course, would be me, or to be a little more direct about the cause (and a little less self-blaming), my neurotransmitters. And it's unnecessary. There are some middle-ground ways that I can make changes and stay the course in a happy and fulfilling way. I know that. But right now, those haven't really sunk in, and I'm finding all sorts of ways to talk myself out of half-measures. Depression talk. Head talk. Bleah.

Part of it is relationship crap. 1991 to 2005 is a long time. I'm really good at the new part of relationships. I fell in love over and over again in my 20's, sometimes while still partnered with others; sometimes that mattered and sometimes it didn't. I do love that "in-love" feeling, and the surprises of discovery.

The relationship I'm in now is going on 14 years, easily 3 times as long as any previous relationship. As a result it's much richer, much more familial, with very deep emotions, and very deep connections. But...a little dull. Not too many surprises, pleasant or otherwise. And I sometimes resent the work I need to do to keep it running smoothly. I'm sure Boo does too. No relationship proceeds entirely without friction, and it does take work by both partners (or all partners if you're amongst my polyamorous friends). And that can get old. So yeah, that's part of it.

I really have no intention of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. But it's something I think about once in a while. We could definitely do with some fresh bathwater. It's probably inevitable that people get into a certain groove with each other after a certain amount of time. Sometimes, it seems like we don't even take the time to fight anymore, because we both know where we both stand, and there's just not any new in-roads to be made in that direction.

Which is a shame.

The other thing, that may also be an inevitable part of growing older, is that I'm beginning to romanticize my past. It's easy to do - I had less responsibility, I had more adventures, I had a hell of a lot less stuff.

But the past is not a place you can run to. I may imagine myself running away, being away from the responsibility, the stuff, having adventures, but when I do, I'm seeing myself younger and thinner than I am now, and that just isn't too likely.

It's also, honestly, a stupid thing to want to run to. I was a miserable teenager. I was a miserable young adult. I was depressed, socially inept, financially irresponsible, and, well, sorta clueless. Not stupid, but more than capable of doing really stupid things.

Well, this too shall pass. I wish I had some whiz-bang insight to offer you as reward for reading this far, but I got nuthin'. Change is inevitable, and continual, and that's both reward and curse. Things in my life flow in waves, and while this may be a trough right now and I'm looking down, if I can just turn over a little bit I'll be able to see the top of the next wave, and I'll ride toward it. It won't suprise me if Boo's floating there already with his hand outstretched, wondering what's taken me so long to reach for it.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Family Dinner

MY SISTER wrote:
Hi, I'm having a dinner for two of my good friends Friday night. They both are
pretty saavy in the kitchen themselves. I need to do most of the preparation Thursday so I can feed them at a decent hour Friday night. Any ideas for a menu that will knock their socks off?




I'd probably do this - it's very little cooking, therefore not much heat:
  • Chilled Avocado Soup, garnished with chopped scallion and lime wedge
  • Radicchio and field greens salad with sugar snaps, jicama, and stone fruits, tossed with raspberry, blackberry, bramble, or balsamic vinaigrette.
  • Warm sourdough rolls with dill-herb butter
  • Crab and Shrimp cakes with Roasted Red Pepper Aioli
  • steamed green vegetable, such as broccoli, baby spinach, or fresh green or yellow beans (or a blend) - whatever looks best at the store
  • grilled nectarines with vanilla, buttermilk, or creme fraiche ice cream, or frozen yogurt

The avocado soup is in the Vollstedt What's for Dinner? cookbook p43; it's really easy. For best results, look for organic free-range chicken broth in the store, and use yogurt instead of sour cream. Before refrigerating, pat a sheet of plastic wrap right onto the surface of the soup to help avoid browning.

The salad, use a packaged blend or supermarket green mix, adding up to a head of sliced radicchio to the mix for some added bitterness. Slice some sugar snap peas and add them, and some jicama cut in strips. That could be done the night before. Cut up some stone fruits - apricots, nectarines, peaches, or cherries (slice bigger fruits thinly, halve cherries) - not a lot, maybe just one peach or nectarine for four people, and add to the salad just before tossing. Some almonds or cashews might be nice, too. For the vinaigrette, get a nice fruity vinegar, such as raspberry, bramble, cherry balsamic, etc. Chop a large shallot (or two small) and put in a small cup or bowl. Add a quarter cup of vinegar and let it sit for 15 minutes to overnight. Whisk in a teaspoon of dijon mustard and two or three tbsp of good fruity olive oil till well blended. Add salt/pepper to taste, and maybe some slivered basil, say a tablespoon or so.

I assume you can find some good bread or rolls; toss them in the oven and serve warm with the soup and salads. For a fancy touch, on Thursday combine 1 stick unsalted butter at room temp with a tablespoon of chopped fresh herbs, dill, basil or thyme would be nice, especially dill or basil. Tuck into a crock, and chill until dinner time.

The Crab and Shrimp cakes are also in the What's For Dinner? book, p 124-125. [ed. note: It helps that Mom often gets us the same gifts for Christmas - if I've been given a cookbook, there's a good chance both of my sisters have it as well.] You could do all of the steps through forming the patties, then refrigerate. They only get cooked 4 minutes per side, so would take no time at all on Friday. If this doesn't appeal, you do a fine seared tuna; grilled swordfish would also be nice. Both would be good with the red pepper aioli, also. Pick up a little parsley when you're shopping for garnish - presentation makes the meal!

The vegetable to go with should be whatever looks best in the produce section. Just steam it lightly while the seafood cakes are cooking. Serve with some sea-salt along side, if you wish.

The dessert I'm suggesting needs a grill, if you don't have one, I have an alternative suggestion, too. For the nectarines, combine 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar with 1/4 cup of honey and 1 tsp vanilla. Slice nectarines in half and remove stones. Brush fruit with glaze, and grill about 4 minutes per side. Remove carefully to cutting board, and cut into smaller slices. Serve with ice cream or yogurt, and drizzle with a little more glaze.

If you don't have a grill, get a quart of good strawberries. Slice in a bowl. Add 1/4 cup honey or sugar, and 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar. Just before serving, grind 1/8 - 1/4 tsp of black pepper into the berries, and serve with ice cream or yogurt.

Sauvignon Blanc would be the obvious wine choice, but you could make a fruity Chardonnay work. Otherwise, ice tea would be good.

Hope that helps!

MY SISTER wrote:

Awesome!!!! Thanks so much!!! I do have a grill. This sounds great. Thanks so much for your help!!!!!




Mom called; she suggested you might need some help with the schedule.

Before your guests arrive, change clothes, put on an apron, set the table. Cut up the fruit for the salad, and any garnishes you want, like lime wedges, chopped scallion, or parsley. If using basil for the salad dressing, roll leaves into tubes and slice across into thin ribbons. Put the herb butter on the table. Put the aioli in a serving dish. Whisk the olive oil (and basil if used) into the dressing. Just before they arrive, turn on the oven for the bread.

When your guests arrive, chit chat, serve wine or a beverage, maybe a plate of olives or nuts. Let them kind of linger around while you toss the bread in the oven, and remove the soup, salad, and seafood cakes from the fridge. Saute the seafood cakes, and put the soup in small bowls or cups(have a guest help, if you like). Toss the salad, and put in salad bowl(s). When the cakes are done, turn off the oven, take out the bread, and put the cakes on a plate in the oven to keep warm. Steam the vegetable in the microwave or on stovetop until tender crisp - slightly undercooked is fine since it will sit for a few minutes. Remove from heat - it should keep warm well enough. Take off the apron.

Serve salad and soup with bread. Clear dishes. Refill wine or beverages. (have a guest help if you like) Serve cakes with aioli and vegetable.

Relax, chit chat, clear dishes. When about ready for dessert, put on coffee if desired. Slice nectarines for dessert, and heat grill. If reasonably pleasant, relax by the pool while you grill fruit. When done, cut up about 1/2 nectarine for each person, then top with yogurt or ice cream.

Hope it helps!

MY SISTER wrote:

Cool!!!! This really helps!!!! Thanks again for all your help!


So, how'd it go?

MY SISTER wrote:

Well, I hit it out of the ballpark! Everything went perfect and we all had a blast. Now they are dying to have dinners at their homes to show what they can do. The best thing was this was the first time where all the food was timed perfectly so I could sit down and eat with them and not be constantly getting up. Thank you so much for all of your help!!!! The dessert was especially yummy!

CODA: I love you, too, sis. I know we don't talk very often, or see each other. I know you voted for Bush, and listen to Dr Laura, and I know that you know how evil I think they both are. I know that we've always been very different even though you're only two years younger than I, and that every year we become more different. But I do love you. I know I'm terrible about saying it; I hope that I show it enough so that you know. Bon appetit!