Friday, November 16, 2012

The Almighty Twinkie

I have never eaten a Twinkie.

I get a lot of grief over this from the boy and various friends. They tell me I’m missing out. I tell them, that’s fine, that’s your opinion; but I don’t want to eat one.

I’ve had Hostess products before.  When I was a wee little tot, my grandmother used to buy me those fruit-filled pies. I remember my mom being agitated about that.

It’s not like we had a super-strict food environment growing up.  When we were back in the States, I ate Smurf Berry Crunch and Lucky Charms, but usually during the time when my dad was home because I may have begged for it. For the record, Smurf Berry Crunch is pretty gross; it turns your milk blue. I was allowed that kind of crap cereal in the house as long as I didn’t eat it every single morning. There were also boxes of Life, Cheerios (the plain, regular kind), and Grape-Nuts.  But we were not allowed soda in the house; it was strictly Verboten. If I wanted a Coke, I could get one with my own allowance, but it was hugely frowned down upon. And guess what? I don’t drink soda now and don’t miss it at all. Water and red wine are my potions, in copious and probably equal amounts.

I have never eaten at an Olive Garden.

I would like to say that I’ve never had a Mountain Dew, but I got dared to drink one a few years back by a bunch of people who were eye-poppingly incredulous that I’ve never drank one before. I had a few sips then had to get rid of it. I don’t see the attraction.

Someone, somewhere, is going to buy a box of Twinkies today “on principal” even though they haven’t had one in decades.  They’re going to have a Proust moment; suddenly time will stop and they’ll be reminded of sitting next to Timmy Smith at recess while figuring out how to pass Alison Kent a note during homeroom without getting caught.  Cherish that moment. It’s insignificant to other people, but moments like that are instrumental to our mental well-being. 

It is depressing that Hostess is laying off 18,000 employees, especially before Christmas (incidentally, why is it that companies do that, right before the holidays? I’m sure there’s some big fat legal reason and all, but it still sucks).  I hate to see any company that’s been around since Hector was a pup go under.  So I didn’t contribute to keeping that company afloat, but I also didn’t go around telling people not to eat Twinkies and whatnot. Other people have done that.  In this day and age of being aware of what we’re ingesting, people probably stopped buying them. I'm sure there are other contributing reasons for the company's demise.  But suddenly my Twitter and Facebook feeds are full of people moaning and crying about the demise of the Twinkie and vowing to buy every box they can find. Where was that devotion earlier?  A little too late, dont'cha think?

Monday, November 12, 2012


My parents were way ahead of the game back in the 70s.  The house they bought in California 40 years ago came with a Jenn-Air indoor grill in the kitchen. I thought it was the coolest thing ever to have a working griddle/grill right smack in the middle of the kitchen island.  Dad was a pilot, and on weekends when he was home, he’d make us pancakes.  That’s some devotion right there; dude was jetlagged for YEARS, and every single Saturday when he was home, he’d wake up early and make us all pancakes. These days when I visit if we want pancakes, my Dad says, “Oh, you want pancakes? Let’s walk down to Fred’s. They’ve got good pancakes”, (which, indeed, they do).  

Believe it or not, that Jenn-Air is still there and still works great 40 years later.

Their kitchen also came equipped with a second oven, right above the stove. That thing is still there too and it still works. I’m fairly sure that one of my dad’s mottos is “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, although he doesn’t have a Southern accent even though he was born in Mississippi and I don’t think I’ve ever heard him say “ain’t”.  Meanwhile, I moan and whine about wanting a dual-fuel Dacor with double oven that we’d have to rip out kitchen cabinets in order to fit the damn thing in, that we also cannot afford mainly because I WANT one.  But also because I don’t like our current stove.

There’s nothing wrong with our current stove. It works just fine. Our house in Baltimore had an electric range; and once you figure your way around electric, works great. But when we moved here, I was happy as shit to have a gas stove top because that meant Adjustable Heating! and It’s What All The Cool Kids Have! But it did take me a long, long time to adjust all the baking times on my recipes for cakes and cookies, and especially meringues.  Gas is not ideal for baking and roasting, unless you want to pull a Sylvia Plath move (but please, don’t try that at home. Get help before that). (Incidentally, just to ensure that I got the cause of Plath’s death right as it’s been a couple few decades since I read The Bell Jar, I googled “Celebrities who stuck their heads in gas ovens”, as one is wont to do, and came across this list .  Can you imagine being some contractor going about your day and tearing down a wall only to find Dante’s decrepit body? Good times. Something to tell the grandkids).

When we moved into this house, all of the appliances were kind of meh, and kind of falling apart and on the verge of breaking down. We made a rule that we couldn’t buy new appliances until they broke. For obvious reasons, we both wishfully hoped the stove would kick the bucket, but it was in the best shape of all the appliances. First to go was the refrigerator; that thing was at least 20 years old and the freezer side had been leaking all over the place for months before one day I got fed up with incessant mopping and we went a’shopping. Second to go was the dishwasher, so we replaced it with a fancy-pants one.  Stainless steel finish, of course, to match the fridge. Then the washer filled up one day and didn’t drain out. Murphy must have been watching that day because it happened when I was washing a full load of towels and jeans.  That shit only happens when you’ve got a full load of heavy stuff going on, then you’re forced to spend a grumbling hour or so bent over the bathtub wringing water out of drenched items that weigh a ton. So when that happened, we upgraded to a front-loading LG that I am still in awe over. I love that thing.

Appliances that work well are like cars that work well. We beat them up and slam their doors and, in the case of cars, drive them like crap and don’t waste time thinking about them, basically take them for granted.  But when something breaks, we’re screwed. We’re isolated and lost. Also, have you ever noticed that when the fridge breaks down, it’s usually right after you’ve done a massive grocery shopping? When your car breaks down, I can guarantee you that you’ve just filled it up with gas. Yes, I’ve been there too.

So the Dacor range. Sigh. I don’t have the money for it, and can’t justify putting it on a credit card that will take me decades to pay off just because I Want A New One. I’m a spoiled little brat, but even I know my limits.

But ain't it pretty?

Friday, November 9, 2012

where my oldest friend in the world comes to visit and we do a lot of eating.

i've known Caprice since i was 19 and she was 17 and still in high school in Miami. she was my roommate's childhood friend (neither one of us talk to that roommate anymore. she was a total bitch). for years we talked about taking a trip together.  so in the fall of 1998, when i lived in Savannah and Caprice lived in Gainesville, Florida, we were to drive up to Nova Scotia and do some whale watching.  pretty laid back, right? my boyfriend at the time called it our "Thelma and Louise Trip Minus The Body Count". i've only seen parts of that movie, and all i know is that one chick sleeps with the Brad Pitt character and then they both go sailing off what i think is the Grand Canyon in a big ass car with shit eating grins on their faces. i don't know what said boyfriend thought we were getting up to, but it was none of that.  for whatever reason - school, money, but probably money - the plans didn't follow through, so lofty ideas of tooling around the Canadian wilderness evaporated.

over the years, we both moved - me to Atlanta, then Baltimore, then back to Atlanta; her from Florida to Pittsburgh to Baltimore. and even though we saw a lot of each other over the years, particularly when we were both up North at the same time, we never got around to taking that girls trip until now.

our goal: one week to tour Cumberland Island, St Simon's Island, Savannah, then Charleston. and no body count.

wild horses, Cumberland Island.

i can't believe in all of my years of living in the South that i've never been to Cumberland Island, especially when i lived in Savannah.  i had some buddies who camped out one weekend and they came home full of stories of waking up to wild horses walking through their campsite. i thought they had dropped too much acid; but sure enough when Caprice and I were on the ferry as it pulled alongside the island, those horses were there. most of the other people on the ferry were part of some bird watching tour and they were all losing their minds over a bunch of ospreys, so once we got off the ferry we immediately rented bikes to get as far away from them as possible.  i didn't come to Cumberland Island to hear them chat incessantly about "What number are you?", "Oh, i'm 301 as of this morning! i never thought i'd get to 300" (birds, that is). if bird watching makes you happy, then i hope i'm not pooping on your parade; but this group of over-eager binoculared folk were annoying us. having said that, i would have loved to see the looks on their faces when they saw the wild turkeys roaming around the ruins of Dungeness on the south part of the island. i'm not sure they contained themselves physically or emotionally.

once we rid ourselves of the bird people, we scooted away on our bikes and saw maybe 4 other people for the rest of the day. and that was freaking WONDERFUL.

Caprice, deserted beach. Cumberland Island.

miles and miles of empty beach. we sat on a sand dune and ate a lunch of Cheetos and soy and wasabi almonds. it was one of the best lunches i've ever had in my life - even though i think Cheetos are gross on principal and i'll never eat them again.

we biked as far as we could along the sandy roads, and wanted to see wild boar roaming around the north part of the island, but we had a ferry to catch so we grudgingly turned around. the next day, we headed into St Simon's; frankly, if you're not into golf, there's not much to see other than the lighthouse built by Charles Cluskey. i happen to know a lot about ol' Cluskey as i did my senior thesis on him, but that's not interesting to anyone but me i'm sure.  an artist by the name of Keith Jennings carved face sculptures into a few dozen trees in the mid 80s, but there's only one left on public display (the other being on private property, so said the old biddy at the tourist desk).  the trees have grown over the sculptures and swallowed them up, which in itself is kind of cool, in a sad way.

tree spirit, St Simon's Island

in Savannah, i may have gotten verklempt because it'll always be, in my book, as the best place i've ever lived in my life. it's way more crowded than it used to be, and probably a little cleaner too since my day.  i had my graduation dinner at the Lady & Sons, and even though i'm right up there with everyone else in the free world as we make fun of Paula Deen, Caprice and I still hit up her restaurant before leaving town. the location has changed since my day; it's down the block and now occupies three whole floors of a building.  and who am i kidding: you know going in there that there will be a pound of butter in everything, but her mashed potatoes didn't suck because of that. since i rarely eat mashed potatoes these days, you can bet i gobbled those up, along with mac and cheese and turnip greens. one of life's greatest pleasures is dipping a piece of hoecake into turnip green pot liquor. bliss.

buffet, Lady & Sons, Savannah.

As much as i love Savannah and will always have a soft spot in my heart for it, the food in Charleston was by far much better.  We stayed on Rutledge, down the street from the Hominy Grill, where we ate a couple of times.  one morning, their breakfast special was a pulled pork omelette draped with red mole, and who am i to say no to pulled pork?  we also ate at Octobachi on the corner of Spring and Rutledge, partly because it was less than a block away from where we were staying, but also because i believe the people we were renting a room from own the place.

pulled pork omelette, red mole. Hominy Grill, Charleston.

while shopping on King Street, some long haired hippie kid behind the counter at some shop was all, "Hey! psst. you into ghosts?", which made me giggle because he acted like he was conducting a drug deal. not that i know anything about those. he mentioned that if we kept walking down King Street, at some point on the right, nestled between two buildings we'd see a gate, and when we walked through the gate we'd find a "haunted" cemetery.  so we did walk down the street, and found the gate, and walked down a little alley or lane until we landed in an overgrown, whimsical cemetery, with gravestones falling every which way and mounds of flowers carefully maintained to keep an overgrown (but not too overgrown) look.  i don't know if it was haunted, but it was actually quite enchanting and very pretty. what got us to leave were not ghosts but mosquitoes and sand gnats that lord over the low country.

inside the Unitarian Church cemetery, Charleston

outside of Charleston, we decided to swing by and see something called the Angel Oak that we'd read about in some guide book. i'm quite fond of old trees, but nothing, and i mean Nothing, prepared me for the Absolute Awesomeness of This:

Angel Oak, Johns Island, South Carolina

those of you who know me know that i absolutely loathe the word "awesome" since it's completely overused of late, and used for all the wrong reasons.  does anybody even know what it means? i'll tell you what it means. it means ANGEL OAK, that's what. i don't know how long we sat there gazing at that tree, but i didn't grow tired of it. i guess no one really knows how old it is (they say between 500 and 1400 years old), but i wonder how many people over the centuries have climbed its branches? or took naps under its leafy shade? when i got back home and tried describing it to an acquaintance, all i got in return was a deer in headlights look.  unless you've seen it in person, you won't understand. so, go.

so i wrote this post as more of a diary entry to myself than anything, because Caprice and I live so far apart and only get to see each other once or twice a year anymore. i want to remember these times, the afternoons in our host rooms with me drinking cider and her drinking Bud Lite Lime - although, yuck, Bud Lite Lime? i made endless vomit faces to her over this, much to my delight (yes, i'm mentally 12). i miss my friend and hope one day we'll be able to do another trip, even if we're 75 and crusty and going whale watching.

if you're interested to see them, i took a few more pictures which can be viewed here.