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Black and white

I think it’s traditional in Thailand for the family of someone who dies to wear black or white for 100 days, signaling that they are in mourning. This makes a lot of sense to me now, though I’m not actually doing it. Would be great if my wardrobe signaled to people that, hey, I’m in mourning, and that is why I am especially mean or tender or humorless. It would be a gesture that offers explanation without asking for forgiveness.

You know, on the one hand I would like to preserve the dignity of my relationship with my father by encapsulating it in a single, crystalline essay that expresses my deep love for him. On the other hand, my grief can be acidic, or sharp and piercing, or a dull ache. A laugh or two can bubble up from the muck. Sometimes I let it stew inside, but sometimes I just want to throw my guts on the wall. I don’t know.

The storm

Grief comes like a sudden storm, rolling in unexpectedly and with great vigor, then dissipating as quickly as it came. I walk into the kitchen at 9pm and think, the blinds are still open. That’s because Pau was the one who closed them at night. I look at his chair, his desk, like a set piece for an actor in the wings. The duffel bag of meds we brought back from my brother’s house sits on the floor, unzipped but otherwise untouched. I pass by his room, trapped in the amber of the dark. The house is filled with clocks, his clocks, second hands ticking loudly and out of sync. Grief drenches me, running down my face in rivulets.

That’s when I reach for my mantra. He died peacefully, without pain. He lived to see his granddaughter, and think of how happy he was. Remember how hard it was last year, how you weren’t sure he would, and he did? He didn’t spend his final days in the hospital, which he always hated. He told you he had no anxiety because he had lived a good life. You moved back home and you spent every night with him, listening to PG-13 stories about his youthful hustle. You got to know how much of your personality you inherited from him. You loved him and he loved you and there were no questions about that. You got so much. You got so much.

The storm passes. Each day there are fewer. Still, I watch for the fallen trees.

In honor of

Pau

Seven days ago, my father passed away peacefully in his sleep while lying next to my mother. They had been living with my brother in northern California so they could take care of my baby niece. I rushed up to be with them, not stopping at home to get appropriate clothes or a portrait of my dad. We had to go to Macy’s to buy a shirt and tie for him even though he has dozens at home. The funeral home went through the mandated itemized list of expenses so we would know exactly how we were spending our money. There is a $20,000 casket that we did not opt for. Embalming is priced at a fortune-bearing $888. My brother and I read through the paperwork before passing it to our mother to sign.

The funeral service was intimate and honest. One of my father’s friends, a 75-year-old, traveled overnight by Greyhound bus to pay his last respects, then took the bus back almost immediately after the service.

I wasn’t sure I wanted an open casket, but I’m glad we had one. In his last few months, he liked to tell people not to bother visiting him until it was time to see him in his tuxedo. As it turns out, he actually had a tuxedo jacket for us to put him in. He looked handsome and at ease in it, and we didn’t regret buying him a new shirt and tie, despite how he would have protested the extra expense.

I touched his chest and his smooth, cold cheek and gave assurances to him. “Don’t let your tears fall on the casket or your Pau will worry about us,” my Mae said.

My niece, Momo, is five months old. Does she notice that her A-Kong, her grandfather, is missing? I snuggle her warm body close to my chest and hide my face in her Einstein hair. She smiles at me, burning away my sorrow with her joy. Doug calls her a “tornado of life.”

I tell my Mae that holding her makes me feel better. “Imagine how she made your Pau feel,” she says.

Today, the seventh day after my father’s passing, we attend temple to make merit for him. It’s hot and muggy. A rooster in the San Gabriel Valley neighborhood crows. Just outside the kuti, bamboo springs tall and green. Feels like Thailand.

Preparing for the 7th day ceremony, we wonder what food we should bring. It is traditional to prepare something the deceased loved. “Make that ginger chicken. Your dad loved that,” my aunt says.

“He loved making it for other people, not for himself,” my Mae replies.

When we tell people he passed peacefully in his sleep sometime in the morning, they say, “Oh, the Chinese say this is good luck for you. It means he left every meal for you, his children.”

We sit in a long line that snakes out the door to pass tray after tray of food to the monks. Mae and I sit together, and I shift several times to keep my legs from falling asleep. As I lift one burden from her arms, another takes its place immediately, the dishes moving from savory to sweet. Nearly everything is homemade, and I see dishes I haven’t tasted in ages. An aunt has made her renowned sakoo sai moo, translucent tapioca sacs filled with a sweet pork and peanut filling. Skeps of kanom jeen noodles pass along with melamine bowls filled with fragrant green curry laden with bitter cluster eggplant. Tapioca and mung bean cakes are blanketed in an aromatic, grayish sand of sugar and black sesame. Trays of cored rose apples and uncapped rambutan pass alongside mini-muffins and donut holes. Styrofoam cups of ruam mit, a dessert whose name means “friendship”, look colorful and cool.

For the first time in a week, I can feel my appetite being called.

After the chanting, people file out to pile their plates high. Some people fill two plates to take home, pouring o-lieng iced coffee into emptied water bottles. It is a little uncouth, but perhaps it’s just as my father would have done if my mom weren’t there to chide him.

We are back at home now. It is at once bereft of him and full of him. I ricochet between wanting to save scraps of paper he wrote on and rushing to throw out his old razors from the bathroom.

I know the physical things don’t matter. He will always be in my hands in the way I hold a knife. He is in my suitcase in the Chinese-puzzle way I pack it tight. He is in my kitchen in the way I cook for others to make myself happy.

Pau left this world as he lived in it, treading lightly but bearing his family on his shoulders. I am so grateful that I came back to LA and got to spend the last year of his life near him. I am grateful for Momo, for the unmitigated joy and tenderness she brought out of him. I am grateful to have been shaped by such an honorable, generous man.

My mom’s friends swarm around her, place her in the center of the flock’s formation. They speak freely of death. This is what we pray for, they say, an easy, fearless end that doesn’t leave a burden on our children.

My brother said it best:

Those of you who met him probably remember him for either the food he cooked, the stories he told, or both. If you have the time and the inclination, please take some time to share your favorite meal or your favorite story with someone who would enjoy it.

 

What is the Eagle Rock?

eagle-rock-landmarkI love the actual Eagle Rock my neighborhood gets its name from. I haven’t been able to find much about it. Some say it’s named Eagle Rock because at high noon, the shadow the overhang makes looks like an eagle in flight; I first noticed it looked like an eye and a beak, and now I can’t unsee the eagle’s head. It’s giant and rises over the entrance to the 134 like an unblinking mythical guardian. It makes me think about what people before me thought of it. Was it considered an omen or message? Did it inspire awe over the science of rock formation? I love that the desert monolith long preceded me and will outlast us all. In its crevices and shadows, generations of locals have and will continue to project their questions onto it while pondering the smallness of their lives.

 

My tiny apartment

When I was apartment hunting, I made a long list of all the things I wanted in a new place. I wasn’t sure how much I’d have to compromise on for the very low rent I was willing to pay. I was hoping for:

  • a separate bedroom
  • a separate kitchen with a window for ventilation and dishwashing view
  • a dishwasher
  • outdoor space
  • a big refrigerator
  • a proper stove
  • a safe neighborhood
  • walking distance to a coffee shop

I wound up in a very cozy 230 square foot “efficiency” in Eagle Rock/Highland Park. It’s a studio with a kitchen area, an IKEA wardrobe, and a roomy bathroom with a shower and a sliding door. There’s no separate bedroom or kitchen; it’s not really a walkable neighborhood for shops; the stove is not quite a full one. However, the place is incredibly well-laid out. There are wonderful boat galley touches I never would have thought of myself — a single towel hook in an ideal spot, a window that opens out with a crank so it’s easy to reach, a single wall-mounted unit that serves as air conditioner, heater, and fan without the noise of a window unit. The place did come with a mini dishwasher! And, of course, I got a private deck with a teeny garden.

This is not my first time in a tiny apartment. My friends and family always remind me of the “studio” I lived in after I graduated from college. It was located in Berkeley off of Shattuck Ave. on the ground floor of a small apartment building. The small, 9′x 12′ space  was directly behind the carport, and I was always frightened by the sound of my landlady driving in on a Friday night with an alacrity that indicated her tipsiness. The water hookups were clearly meant for a laundry room, but the landlord instead rented it out as an apartment. The “kitchenette” consisted of a microwave and a “convection oven” – a plug-in glass pot with a fan that I used to crisp up takeaway katsudon purchased from the nearby Japanese grocery store, Musashi. It always smelled of rancid oil. The bathroom was tiny and expedient—you could wash your hands while sitting on the toilet. The closet was a cutout space in the wall with a bar for hanging clothes, and the room itself barely fit my full-sized futon and not much else. My mother was horrified by the place, but it was the first time I’d ever lived alone and I didn’t mind it. It was only $500 a month.

So I’m fine in a small space. With this new place, I knew I didn’t want to spend a fortune on rent. But I didn’t expect to appreciate living in a tiny apartment as much as I do now. There’s less to vacuum, which means that I actually do vacuum. I can do the whole place with a handheld, battery-powered stick vac while taking a ten minute eye break from my computer. It’s also harder to lose things, as I have less stuff and there are fewer spots to misplace them. Though I’m a person who’s never had much claustrophobia, I think of the neighborhood as my living room, and I hike its rosemary- and cactus-lined roads as the sun makes its way over the hills in the morning. When I take a break, I inspect the plants on my deck under a canopy of giant eucalyptus. Though my abode is small, my world feels expansive.

I think a lot about how to make the most of this space with the least amount of stuff.

double sink

I love this small corner double sink. To save counter space, I got the MUJI adjustable stainless dish rack with an extra slim cutlery basket which is about the thickness of a deck of cards. They drip right into the sink. Behind the sink is this weird triangular space which happened to be the perfect size for this IKEA Rågrund triangular bamboo shelf. I chose the four-shelf version because building up helps me maximize storage in a tiny space.

On the very top shelf is a MUJI stainless wash bowl, which I use to thoroughly clean my greens. I hate trying to wash greens in a tiny bowl — greens want space to be swished around in before a soak that lets the dirt fall to the bottom. When I’m done washing the vegetables, I dump the water into a bucket I have outside; when I’ve collected enough, I use it to water the plants.

On the second shelf are some of the glass containers I’ve emptied since moving into the apartment. I’m trying to minimize the amount of packaged foods I buy, in part because I want to eat healthier, but also in part because I don’t want to bring another jar into my house only to toss it into the recycling bin. So I bought one jar of jam, and now I use that jar to store homemade jam, which I’ve just started making. (Good god, why did I ever give precious artisanal jam makers my money? Homemade jam is the easiest thing in the world, especially if you don’t bother preserving properly. I don’t bother sterilizing because I refrigerate the jam and eat it before it spoils.) Anyway, I’ve been cooking down frozen organic raspberries with chopped pear for pectin and a tiny bit of sugar (1 part sugar to 4 parts berries), finishing with some vanilla extract. It’s better than anything I can buy (because it’s made to perfectly suit my palate), I can cook it while I putter around the apartment, and I save another jar from entering the manufacturing/waste cycle.

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Magnets also help tremendously by lifting objects off the counter and placing them on the walls. I have a magnetic timer which I use constantly for toasting bread in my half-size oven, brewing tea, etc. The oven mitt is a San Jamar Kool-Tek Puppet with a magnet in the tag, and behind that is a magnetic silicone trivet I took from my dad. Under my friend Hee Jin Kang‘s photo of a cherished memory of summer in Hudson, I’ve got my magnetic knife strip. I LOVE a magnetic knife strip. You can see at a glance all of your tools, and whenever you need one, it’s easy to grab. I don’t know why you would store your knives any other way. Also, people who keep knives free in drawers are sadists (or masochists).

The oven is half-size. Before I found this apartment, I thought for sure I’d get a Breville Smart Oven, which I’d coveted since writing about it for The Sweethome. Since my apartment oven is already kind of a like a toaster oven, I didn’t have to. Half sheet baking pans don’t fit, so instead, I bought two of these Vollrath quarter sheets, which I now feel are indispensable in the kitchen—especially if you cook for one or two. I love how easy it is to clean the small quarter sheets, even in my extra small sink. I’d recommend them to anyone living alone. They’re perfect for cooking off just a few discs of frozen cookie dough, or roasting a single head of cauliflower.

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I’ve purchased a lot of brilliant space savers from MUJI. I appreciate how thoughtful the designs are and how they make things that are minuscule by American standards. But my favorite item of all is probably this mini dust box, which I use as a countertop trash can. The most genius thing about it is that it has a rectangular metal ring inside (there’s a picture on the MUJI product page). You take that out, thread any small plastic bag through (I like the leftover bags from the produce section), and snap the ring in place for a super neat, Carmen Carrera-worthy tuck. As you can see, it’s not much bigger than a large yogurt container (which is what I use to collect compost scraps), and given the emphasis I’ve been placing on reducing waste and packaged foods, I find it’s really all I need. I love that I can leave it out on the counter instead of having to lean down and open the cabinet under the sink when I have trash.

I’ve got more to say about the rest of the apartment, but I should probably clean it up a bit before I post pics of the place here. Which may mean you’ll never see it. But, hey, we all need goals.

The constant gardener

mexican limeIt feels indecent, the way I inspect my semi-dwarf Mexican lime tree, looking for signs of happiness or illness. There’s a lone grown lime on a branch, the size of a large glass marble, which I use like a scrying crystal to try and diagnose its bearer’s future. The tree spent a week in one corner of the patio before I made the wholly unscientific and faith-based decision to drag the heavy pot to a sunnier spot. When I find new flower buds on its stems finally, after weeks of wondering whether or not it has responded to its new environment, my devotion surges with a vigor I find a little unsettling.

tumblingOf my three tomato plants, the bushy little Tumbling Tom in a broad terra cotta pot has started to fruit first, its savory-smelling foliage dotted with sunny flowers. I squat down between the two eucalyptus trees whose thin bark is molting in the early summer heat. I lean against the larger trunk to search for the little green orbs at the end of the shriveled blooms. It takes restraint not to rummage through the leaves. I am mad with curiosity.

And my worms! For my worms I save my most devout voyeurism. I am endlessly fascinated by this little environment I’ve made. Though there are flies and beings of all kinds in there, it is the worms I care about. I lift the wet newspaper every day and disturb the nematodes annelids as they writhe and dine and possibly copulate en masse. I got gloves in preparation for digging up their castings, and a special pump-activated atomizer that oh-so-gently moistens their bedding of coconut coir and shredded Korean-language newspaper, reserved from a trip to the local nursery. I wrap the front of the composted with foil to regulate the morning heat. I open the spout to check for runoff. Oh no, I’ve fed too much. I haven’t fed enough.

It ain’t right, and I know it. I worry that these are unhealthy obsessions for a single woman who works from home, typing madly, bathing her face in the bluish light of a computer screen, speaking aloud only a few times a day. My friend Jeanne in Brooklyn sends me a care haiku via text message.

I’m worried about u

Are u spending a lot of time alone

Go to the library

But I am helpless against the power of my infatuation. Surely the tiny flowers that bloom under my intense adoration are an affirmation of something reciprocal. Here I recite the only bit of Shakespeare I still have committed to memory:

I know I love in vain, strive against hope

Yet in this captious and intenible sieve

I still pour in the waters of my love

And lack not to lose still

thyme

The active pantry

photo-2How old is the oldest thing in the back corner of your pantry?

How many times have you brought food back from a restaurant only to have it languish in the fridge for weeks before you throw it, plastic container and all, into the garbage?

The last time you bought cilantro, did you manage to use it all before it turned into a brown, jellied mess?

Anything in the freezer so encrusted with ice crystals that you can’t even tell who was president when it got put there?

If you’re feeling sheepish about the answers to those questions, you’re not alone. My friend Sandy Fernandez reported that most people throw out “12 percent of all the food they bring home and 25 percent of the vegetables.” We all have secrets in our kitchen stashes and bad food buying decisions we’d rather stuff into the garbage and close the lid on.

But over the last year, I’ve become much more passionate and practical about not wasting food.

The EPA says we produced more than 36 million tons of food waste in 2012. And, yet, 49 million people in the U.S. have a hard time finding enough food to eat. They are a pair of skew lines, but surely we can do better to cauterize both.

I’ve long been part of the problem. As a food blogger/writer/editor, I’ve been a member of what I’ll call the “eatertainment” industry for over ten years. I was another voice encouraging people to think of food as an experience rather than a physical need to be remedied minimally.  I bought and received as gifts foods that I knew I’d never get to the bottom of — impulse-buy pickles and tins of rosemary-cranberry salt, cans of beans purchased for days when I didn’t have any food in the house (which, of course, never happened).

I’ve seen so much waste and excess in the various eatertainment jobs I’ve had over the years.

You know those Stepford food displays at Whole Foods Market? They come at a cost. When I worked there (many, many years ago), I was encouraged to throw bruised apples into the trash compactor because no patrons would buy imperfect produce. I was told that organizations like City Harvest didn’t have the means to pick up the high volume of food and there was nowhere to store the food for them for sporadic pick ups.

In food media, we entice people to cook whatever recipes their hearts desire – 2 tablespoons of chopped dill for brightness, 1 teaspoon of walnut oil for earthiness, and 9 egg yolks for richness. But we don’t really teach people what to do with the rest of the bunch of dill so it doesn’t get spoiled before their next trip to the grocery store, or how to find 30 other recipes for the walnut oil so it can be used before it rapidly goes rancid, or a companion dish that will accommodate the remainder 9 egg whites.

We judge poor people for the bad food decisions they make eating processed foods, and then turn around and idolize chefs who plate up voluminous roots that have been peeled, freeze-dried and pulverized into vibrantly colored, unsnortable powders with less of the nutrients or filling fiber that might have satiated an empty stomach in their earlier forms.

We’re no longer hungry – we’re just bored.

And wasting food to pass time feels like a grievous sin.

Since moving back to L.A., I’ve thought much more about my own struggles with class, my eagerness to abandon all that I came from and the inevitable difficulty of escaping it. Moving to New York gave me a sense of entitlement that I had never had growing up. I lived well beyond my means because I thought the best of life might be found in the places I couldn’t afford. The hungry were less visible to me.

But growing up, my family never went out to restaurants.  Eating meals with my parents now, I think more about the conditions of developing world poverty both of my parents grew up in, and how their childhood has shaped their sense of food security. For my father, it manifests in how he buys bagfuls of  groceries for a family of 10 when the refrigerator is already packed to the gills. For my mother, it’s difficult to part with vegetables that are obviously well past their prime.

And because of my father’s health issues, I’ve become more cognizant of the genetic cards I’ve been dealt. Eating whatever I want has consequences, not just for me, but for the people around me who might have to take care of me in the future.

But this year has been one of great change for me. One of the blessings of being somewhat outside of mainstream food media (and pretty far outside of restaurant media) is that I can cook and eat exactly the way I want to. Whereas my diet used to consist of oversalted restaurant meals or elaborate recipes, I now cook on the fly with ingredients I have in my house.

I’ve always been pretty good at eating leftovers, but now I’m hyper vigilant about buying only what I need from the market and using every last bit of it. Since moving into a tiny apartment with a kitchen of my own, I’ve been trying to make sure everything in my pantry is “active” — everything I bring into my kitchen is something I actually plan to rotate into the repertoire in the immediate future. I don’t bring anything into the kitchen that I don’t plan to get all the way to the bottom of. So if a recipe calls for a teaspoon of fennel seeds, I think, will I get to the bottom of that jar of fennel seeds? If yes, I’ll get the fennel. If not, I don’t buy it. If I buy a bunch of beets, I’m prepared to roast the roots, skin on, and stew the tops for a side dish. If I want quesadillas but only have a wedge of Västerbotten cheese from IKEA, I guess I’m having a Swedish quesadilla, authenticity be damned.

I’m also growing my own herbs so that I don’t need to buy and waste bunches. I’ve got some kale going in small pots (though the insects are really enjoying it more than I would like). I try to save the water I use to rinse my vegetables to feed to my plants. I also got a Worm Factory and bought a pound of red wigglers from a local worm grower for dealing with the many scraps I have left after peeling my produce.

My immigrant parents gave me the gift of thrift in the kitchen, and it’s something I want to share more of around here. I’m lucky to be living in southern California, where produce is generally abundant, wonderful, and when it’s on sale, dirt cheap. I’d like to start using this space to share the more economical, lower impact way of life I’m leading these days. I know, I’m a cliché: Woman moves back to southern California, becomes a compost-making, chia-seed eating hippie. But, hey, it feels right.

So my first tip for you is to take stock of what’s in your cupboard as you reorganize its contents. Try to remember the last time each item was active. Take the oldest items from the furthest corners of your pantry and reactivate them with fresh ingredients.

- If you have dried beans from the last decade, give them a long soak before cooking, and once tender (which may take several hours), revive them with piles of fresh chopped herbs and generous glugs of olive oil.

- Take that cup of leftover frozen curry and extend it into a single meal with some stir-fried noodles and fresh basil.

- If nobody wants to eat the stale butt ends of a loaf of sandwich bread, whizz them up in a food processor or chop into cubes, fry in some olive oil with garlic, and add to your next salad or batch of pasta.

- Take your old jar of harissa or sambal or sweet chile sauce or Mexican hot sauce, blend with a bit of soy sauce and oil, and marinate a fillet of fish for a quick dinner.

- Throw a reclamation potluck.

And then the next time you go to the store, you’ll have a better sense of what you already have in your cupboards and what (if anything) needs to be replenished.

Astronomical spring

DSC00564I took this picture this afternoon at La Doug’s house upstate. This is how I feel — a bit of a happy mess, with all drawers and doors and shelves pulled open.

I’ve been in New York for almost two weeks. This winter, I’d been happily bored with L.A.’s consistently temperate climate — 75 to 85 degrees, with the occasional overcast sky and nippy breeze to make my morning jog more comfortable. So perhaps it shouldn’t have been such a surprise that I drove to LAX, sweating through an oversized cowl neck sweater, only to realize upon pulling up to the curb that I had forgotten to bring a jacket. For a two week trip to New York and Chicago. At the tail end off the most brutal winter most can remember.

Have I really been gone that long?

It’s been almost ten months since I moved, and I’m just starting to get to know L.A. But New York’s familiarity is so seductive. It feels like slipping under the sheets with the imperfect but known body of a former lover. Mr. Right Now. I can down two pints of cider, button my coat against the cold, and not get lost on my way to dinner. That’s a luxury I have yet to earn in L.A.

How thrilling to run into friends on the subway, as I have on this trip, and to speak of personal trials in hushed voices so as not to oppress everyone else’s morning commute. The sensory processing that happens on a standard train car was once overstimulating, but now feels invigorating, especially after months of working alone in my parents’ suburban home.

My friends tell me nothing has changed in my absence, but plenty always does in New York.

There are GREEN cabs now, WTF, which only serve the outer boroughs. Mind blown.

I went to the new-to-me Gotham West market on Manhattan’s 11th Ave. to meet some colleagues for lunch, where it seems all of Brooklyn has come to set up shop — Brooklyn Kitchen, the Saltie-related Little Chef, Court Street Grocers, and more. So living in a $10K/month Hell’s Kitchen condo means having Brooklyn come to you? We ate $17 bowls of rye ramen so salty to my adjusted palate that it made me grind my teeth at night.

In Duck Duck bar near the Montrose stop, nursing a pint glassful of Dark & Stormy, I could have paraphrased Wooderson’s line from Dazed and Confused: That’s what I love about these New York kids; I get older, they stay the same age.

One thing hasn’t changed — it costs a lot to live and breathe here. I took a cab from Battery Park City to Bushwick to get to a birthday party. The bridges along the FDR were like lines of can can girls in sparkly skirts preparing to kick up the waters of the East River. I was so dazzled that I missed racking up a $30 fare across the water.

Had a worth-it fancy dinner with my friend Anique at Lafayette, where we got such a cherce corner table for two in the back of the room that we assumed we had been mistaken for more important people. Over baby block-sized cubes of golden and maroon beets and crisp-grilled trout with mustard and apple, we laughed giddily about how lucky we sun state girls were to skip out before the Polar Vortex sucked out our friends’ will to live. The meal ended with a croquembouche mini-tower nested in a halo of caramel filaments, little choux heads with crunchy toupees and vanilla cream brains. Because of course it can be Christmas in Paris on a Monday night in March when you’re in New York.

Dropped $16 on two pints of ice cream at Ample Hills, because they finally had the Peppermint Pattie flavor I’ve heard so much about, and I had to try the completely ridiculous Munchies flavor, which includes, among other things, Fruity Pebbles and Ritz Crackers. I love that their ice cream is more chunk than custard, with a base that isn’t as heavily eggy as gelato or as aerated as soft serve. I’m thrilled that they have a cookbook coming out next month so I don’t have to fly out for a fix.

DSC00557I’m up in Germantown now, at La Doug’s house (wearing a borrowed coat). The snow on the ground makes all the pretty gingerbread houses pop, and the bare mountains against the bluebell sky feel as close as they’ve ever been. It’s such a luxury to be taking Amtrak during the day, looking out at the cobalt of the river, the sunning ducks, and the wheaty skeletons of last year’s cattails. The ice on the water is starting to break up and melt, turning streams into gushers, and the trees are all just dormant, dingy tangles. But spring is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. I’m living like a country queen here, setting the smoke alarm off while roasting a whole chicken; needling Doug and James after dinner with aggressive rounds of Anagrams; sleeping toastily under a quilt that used to be in our old living room for ten years.

New York will always be home as long as my friends are here. But I can honestly say I’m excited to get back to L.A. and get past the first page of this chapter of my life. Two halves of my starfish heart are regenerating from the rift by growing whole in separate places.

Um, okay.

Power outage on the block. Reading manual by flashlight on how to turn on the emergency tank. Well, TIL.

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UPDATE: Power’s back! Was getting a little weird over here, having to actually sit and talk to each other, risking eye contact. My dad started telling my mom about how many wives his grandfather had, lulz.

 

Exit Through the Gift Shop

The hospital’s gift shop is the one gift shop I can think of where its contents are meant to be redistributed within the building’s walls. The refrigerator case with zombified Gerber daisies and the rack of overpriced candy I get, but the other shit in there is straight up cray-cray.

Who buys this shit? Emotionally vulnerable and trapped friends/relatives of patients, that’s who.

Hospital gift shop

These music boxes play “Wind Beneath My Wings” and “You Light Up My Life”. There’s a whole carousel of them. I weep for the relationships that are either too repressed to vocalize such thoughts or too literal for nuanced love. (Maybe I just weep because I’m a cold oyster who’ll never know such unironic, grammatically-tolerant love.)

Hospital gift shop

I want to know why the designer thought to pair “The words you are looking for are, ‘Yes Dear’” with a Mediterranean olive and bread spread. What does it mean?? That Italian and Greek spouses are simpering?

Hospital gift shop

Little Aryan angels not your style?

Hospital gift shop

How about this assortment of Neil Gaiman rejects? I especially like the buxom phlebotomist on the far left with blood dripping out of her mouth.

Hospital gift shop

Or you can buy one of your own smiling, brown Native American babies. Not culturally insensitive at all.

Hospital gift shop

Especially compared to these $15 statues in the shape of your favorite hospital characters, including the curvaceous Latina nurse with sassy eyeshadow and Divine eyebrows. (Like those Homies you used to be able to buy from candy machines by the cashiers in grocery stores, only 60x the price!)

Hospital gift shop

 

Oh, but here’s the one reminder that not everybody’s in the hospital for bad news.