Saturday, January 28, 2012

Eat like the Dead

Nature trumps molecular gastronomy.
I remember the first time I had a pomegranate.  The outside reminded me of a woody pink pear.  I watched as my mother put the dull looking fruit on the cutting board and sliced it into quarters.  The juice was magenta, my favorite Crayola color.  My mother handed me two slices.

“This is messy,” she said. “Eat it outside with your sister.  Don’t swallow the seeds.”

I motioned to my sister to follow me into the backyard.

“Don’t drip on the carpet,” my mother called after us.  “It’ll stain!”

My sister and I hurried into the backyard and examined this new treat.  The beautiful pink was faint.  It didn’t look like an apple or pear inside.  It looked a little like a giant version of the pulp inside of a grapefruit.  Or pink corn.  The rows upon rows of cut white seeds surrounded by dark pink made the kernels look like targets.  My sister and I each picked one out. 

It was tart, bitter, and astringent.

“Don’t eat the seeds,” I warned my sister.

Both of us spat the seeds out over the short wall into the iceplant.  We picked and spat, picked and spat, not quite sure what to make of the fruit except that it was a great deal of effort for a very small pay-off.  But it did allow us to spit, so that was a plus as were the magenta stains on our fingers.

My sister and I both looked at the ghostly rinds.  The fruit looked bigger than the yield.  I went back into the house.

“Mom, we’re done …?” I said holding out the remainder.

My mom looked at us in puzzlement.

“Already?” she asked.

My sister and I were both voracious eaters.  I shrugged and looked back at her.  She stared at the fruit.

“No,” she said, as she took the fruit and held it out for me to see.  “There’s more.”

She peeled off the creamy membrane.  The pomegranate looked very different uncut.  It looked like a pavé of jewels.

“Oooooh,” I gasped as I showed my sister who ‘ooh”-ed as well.

Both of us grinned and ran outside again.  I didn’t want to eat the pomegranate.  I wanted

to admire it.  I picked out a seed and held it up to the sun.  I could see the white seed deep inside, but the fruit around it reminded me of a garnet ring my mother had, which I always admired.  I put the seed on my finger.

“Look at my beautiful ring,” I said in my snootiest voice.

“I have fancy earrings,” my sister said in an equally snooty voice as she held two seeds to her ears.

We put the fruit into our mouths. I felt the crunch as I bit down.  We were eating garnets, rubies, pink sapphires.  My sister and I laughed maniacally at the decadence.  We strutted around the yard, balancing the kernels on our wrists and fingers then ate the “gems,” disdainfully spitting out the pale remains, only to pull out more.

“If you put them on your tongue and push it on the top of your mouth, they pop,” my sister informed me giddily.

I followed my sister’s suggestion and felt the burst of tart bitterness.  We tried to see how many kernels we could fit in our mouths at once.  I peeled off another layer of membrane and raked my teeth against the fruit, feeling the juice drip down my chin, onto my shirt.  Mother had warned that it would stain, but I wore the magenta like a badge.

“Look, there’s more,” I said as I peeled away another membrane and we both admired the fruit all over again.

We tucked the kernels between our lips and teeth and grimaced at each other, unaware that jeweled grills would actually become a trend 15 years into the future.  We laughed at the gaudy and somewhat gruesome effect.  The gems also looked like droplets of blood.  We pretended to be vampires.

And then it was over.

“We’re done!” my sister and I announced with wide smiles, showing the thin rinds to my mother.

She rolled her eyes at the spatters and stains all over us and our clothes.

“Did you like it?” she asked us.

My sister and I both nodded eagerly but then wrinkled our noses.

“But it doesn’t taste so good,” we both agreed.  “It’s sour and makes our tongues feel funny.”

My mom laughed.  “Then why do you like it?”

Tree-ripened pomegranates split open,
revealing the gems inside.
My sister and I looked at my mom incredulously.

“Because it’s like eating rubies,” we said, stating the obvious.

“Ah,” my mom said with a nod.

In sixth grade, we read the myth about Persephone and Demeter.  Persephone, Demeter’s daughter was kidnapped by Hades and taken into the underworld to be his wife.  She’s told that as long as she doesn’t eat the Food of the Dead, she’ll be able to escape.

“The Food of the Dead was the pomegranate,” the teacher said.  “When it’s ripe, the tree is completely bare, so that it looks dead, except for the fruit.”

“She’ll totally eat it,” I blurted out, unable to stop myself.

I smiled at the memory.  Who could possibly resist the joyful hedonism of eating jewels?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sarong, Farewell

Island vacations are great ... depending on the island.
“We should go on a cruise,” my husband announces.

 “Yeeeeahhhhh, no,” I respond.

My husband can see I’m already a little green around the gills.  Despite several successful trips on the Catalina ferry many, many, years ago, my last couple seafaring journeys resulted in me orally chumming the sharks.

“You could wear those ear patch things,” he says.

I hate being nauseous and the thought of being potentially nauseous for days is not an alluring thought.

“My sister says they totally work,” my husband assures me.

O.k.  It’s not like he’s going to book a cruise today, so I’ll play along.

“Where would you want to go?” I ask.

“Well, what about the Caribbean ...?”

My nose wrinkles.

“Or the Bahamas?” he suggests, but already his shoulders are drooping.  “Greece?” he adds meekly to my ever more crinkling face.  “Alright then, where would you want to go?”

“The Baltic?” I suggest, and his face drops.  “Alaska?”

“Those places are freezing,” he says, as if I didn’t know.

As if he didn’t know.

I hate hot weather and by hot, I mean anything over seventy degrees Fahrenheit.  I’d like to say it’s a hormonal thing, but I’ve never enjoyed sunbathing nor fantasized about tropical vacations.  I always preferred temperate or cold climates, although snow is not a necessity.  I like to think it’s in my blood.  None of my ethnic genes drops below 34th parallel, which isn’t as cold as I thought (who knew Hiroshima and Los Angeles were at the same latitude?  The axis threw me off.), but still it’s out of the tropics.  And it doesn’t matter if it’s a “dry heat” or not.  Hot is hot.  It’s just a question of whether I feel like I’m melting or if my skin is shriveling away like an overdone turkey.

My general rule is that I can always add more clothing when it’s cold.  I only briefly experienced “seriously” cold weather (0°F at the airport in Toronto), so I can’t attest to the cold weather lifestyle.  But as far as heat goes, I can only take so much off, and once the weather hits eighty, I’m at that limit.  The day we moved into our current home, it was 114°F and it stayed that way for two weeks.  I was beside myself, especially when the rolling black outs hit.  Uber Hundus and I spent the days confined to one room, the portable air conditioner turned up to 11.  We moved to Northern California for cooler weather.  Who knew one little tunnel could make such a huge difference?  Granted, the winters were colder here than in San Francisco, but I’d compromise for cooler summers.  Thankfully, global warming has done that and the last two summers didn’t see any days over 105°F, and even the hottest days were scattered.  Sorry, polar bears.

It's not just the rolls of "belly fat" that are making me frown.
A more temperate climate is probably why I enjoy the coast.  I like the ocean at winter, when the water turns cold iron grey and the strand is nearly deserted except for the hardcore surfers.   Growing up, it was the rolling fog and distant moan of fog horns that lured me to the beach, not the scent of coconut oil and fried corn dogs.  Beach communities, especially port cities, tend to be a little more tolerant of eccentricities as well, perhaps because they’re accustomed to the variety of people and items that the sea trade brings.  That’s important to someone who looks like an outsider in most areas.

I did actually vacation in Hawaii once, on a paid holiday with my husband.  That’s when I confirmed my suspicions.  While my husband laid out by the water sucking down various umbrella drinks and taking the occasional stroll into the bath temperature ocean, I sought refuge in the jungle, hoping it was cooler, momentarily forgetting that the lack of sea breeze meant swarms of mosquitos would be there to greet me. I returned reeking of DEET applied too late to prevent the multitude of bites on my legs.  From then on, it was hopping from shop to shop, hoping to find air conditioning among the Maui dirt dyed t-shirts. 

That was enough for me.  Having grown up among palm trees and sandy beaches, it didn’t seem like much of an escape to go somewhere else with palm trees and sandy beaches, especially if there's also added heat.  I did, however, fall madly in love with coconut syrup.  Tropical food is delicious.  I’d just rather have it imported.

That doesn’t mean island vacations are off the list.  I’ve visited Newfoundland three times and loved every minute of it.  I’m dying to explore Nova Scotia, especially during the Celtic Colors.  I love Ireland and the UK. I look forward to visiting Iceland and its ponies one day.  The Shetlands would be interesting for the same reason.  There’s even the scattered islands that help make up Denmark.  Locally, I’d like to see the Farallons.  In my fantasy life, we’d spend half the year in New Zealand, strategically timed so that I could live in perpetual fall and winter.

 Yes, I’m definitely an Island Girl.  It’s just that on my islands, sarongs are so wrong.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Hair Goes Nothing

Fear not, Sinéad.
“I’m losing my hair,” I tell my husband as we’re eating dinner.

“Oh, yeah?” he says drily. 

He looks at me, at my hair, and there’s a flash of resentment.  His forehead has been expanding its real estate since he was in his mid-twenties.

“Yeah,” I confirm.  “I’m pulling wads of hair out of the bath drain like, every other day.”

His expression is a little more sympathetic now.  “Are you just losing it, or is it stress?”

“I don’t know,” I say.  “Maybe both.” 

I run my fingers through the hair at the back of my head.  It’s there, but it’s paltry.  Insubstantial, compared to how it was.  I don’t think my scalp is visible, but I’ve always had really thick hair and lots of it, big heavy hanks.  It’s always been an issue when getting my hair cut.

“Wow, you’ve got a lot of hair,” most beauticians moan about an hour into what was probably booked as a 45 minute session while standing ankle deep in my hair.

My hair grows fast, as well.  A few years ago, I finally found a beautician who knew how to cut not only thick hair, but Asian hair.  Because I wanted a change, she cut it really short.  Halle Berry short.  I hadn’t had hair that short since high school, when I had to get a botched trim job by my mother fixed.  Aside from a 4 years in my twenties when my hair went waist long, my hair usually hovers somewhere between chin and a little longer than shoulder length. 

I loved the short hair.  It made me feel sassy, a little avant garde because I used wax to bring out my waves.  But to keep it in optimal shape I had to get it cut every month, and that was too expensive, so I went six to eight weeks, and even that was too pricey. Three months was too shaggy, and not in a SallyHershberger way.

“Could you cut it into something that can grow out?” I sighed resignedly the last time I saw my beautician, almost six months ago.

And now, when I need it to look lush, it’s falling out.  Even my mom noticed it.

“Is it just falling out or stress?” she asked, echoing my husband.

“I dunno,” I shrug.

I comb my fingers through my hair and only a couple strands come out.  That’s not bad, is it?

“Eh, it’s genetic,” my mom finally says breezily, scratching the thinning top of her head.

I’m not sure how I feel about losing my hair.  I don’t think it really bothers me.  I’m pretty negligent with it, brushing it twice a day, once before I go into the shower, then running a wide toothed comb through it when I get out.  I’ve always let it air dry, although when it was really long and ropey, it never really dried since I twisted it into a bun.  For a while I was a little concerned that it would get moldy and turn green like sloth hair.  Then, I thought that might be kind of cool, since I could always cut it off if it got stinky or slimy.  Oddly, dredlocks, struck me as kind of gross.

“You’ll tell me when you can see my scalp, right?” I ask my husband. 

That’s one thing I don’t want.  My grandmother’s hair was a mist of white over vast plains of pink

“Why?” he asks, playing with a narrowing peninsula of hair. “What are you going to do when that happens?

“I’ll shave it,” I tell him.

It’s only fair.  He’s promised to shave the peninsula when the hair bridge fades and it becomes an island.   He doesn’t want to be one of those guys sporting The Unicorn.  I’d shave my sparse hair because I don’t want people thinking I’m undergoing a battle for my life when I’ve just got bad genes.  And I’ve kind of shaved it before, back in the 80s, when I had my sister buzzed the back half of my head as a fashion statement.

“You’re both idiots,” my mom had groaned in exasperation.  “You,” she pointed to me, “for asking for it and you for actually doing it,” she finished, pointing at my sister.

My sister and I grinned.  It was one of those rare moments when we conspired to do something “shocking,” and it was fun.  Later when we highlighted each other’s hair, I rinsed mine with food coloring or Kool-Aid to make it streaked cherry red or blue.  The great thing about hair was that it always grew back.

Except maybe now.  I cleared the drain again.  I don’t think the loss is “serious.” Yet.

Rodent or hair?
On the other hand, I have a large collection of scarves and hats that I enjoy wearing.  I haven’t worn wigs, but the idea always sounded fun.  If I’m lucky, my hair to scalp ratio will hold out until my seventies.  Seventy seems to be my marker point to let my wild run amok.  If my hair goes thin then, I plan to go the route of the eccentric French interior designer Madeleine Castaing, who famously wore her wigs with a party hat chin strap. 

“A wig is just a ‘at made out of ‘air, non?” I could imagine her saying, batting the layers of false eyelashes that surrounds her extravagantly lined eyes.

Many years ago, a friend told me that a person’s hair reflected their personality.

“Coarse and unruly,” I said then.

“You said it, not me,” she laughed.

And twenty years later, how would I describe my hair?

Well, obviously, I’m losing it.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Rat in a Cage

It's just a matter of time before I gnaw off a limb.
Sorting through my stuff, I came across my passport.  Just touching it made me smile.  I thought about the places I’ve been:  Paris, Rome, Cardiff, St. John’s, and the places I could go: St. Petersburg, Barcelona, Marrakech.  Drunk with wanderlust, I opened my passport and was yanked into a vortex.  The universe, the borders, the walls closed in on me.

My passport had expired.

I couldn’t breathe.  My heart raced and I started to have a panic attack.  I was trapped, trapped in a 3.79 million square mile cage.


How could this have happened?  Why didn’t I know?  This is a catastrophe of epic proportions!

It’s not that my work requires me to travel or that I’m a jet setter, but having a valid passport is that last step to complete freedom.  The first step is learning to run, usually willy-nilly with parents chasing behind.  Next, there’s getting that first bike, where the neighborhood suddenly expands with speed and wind.   And then a driver’s license and an actual car with a full tank of gas.  Pedal to the metal and go!  A passport is the ultimate.  It’s access to the final frontier, across oceans and borders, wherever that may be.  There’s something thrilling about knowing that, given the opportunity, I could go pretty much anywhere in the world.    

But not now. 

Now, I’m stuck.  If Colin Firth showed up at my door and said, “Forget my gorgeous italiana wife, I want to run away with you, my chubby delusional hapa.  I know the perfect spot just north of Reykjavik (hey, it’s my fantasy) where we could raise beautiful Icelandic ponies together” or conversely, if my husband had a business trip and invited me along, I couldn’t go.  I’d be making a sad face through the window as I waved good-bye.

Of course, I’m getting my passport renewed.  It’s easier now with the forms online.  I’ll have to get a new official photo, which is always interesting.  I firmly believe that passport photographers consider moving to the DMV a promotion.  I don’t think I’ve seen any smiling passport pictures, which is strange.  Most people are happy when they travel.  Maybe not so much when they arrive after a long journey.  Nor when customs pulls you aside and a big burly bald guy pulls you into another room and asks you to sit down while he glowers and asks questions in what sounds like French, but not really.  Then you actually do look like the picture.  On the other hand, over ten years there’s been some fashion changes. Looking at the old picture, the hair’s not completely awful, but the lace vest is a little questionable.  And then there’s the wrinkles, grey, and pudge that I’ve acquired since then.

Free Flat Cranky!  Print, cut her out,
 and take her along on your travels! 
Meanwhile, I’ve come up with an idea that I saw in a children’s book, Flat Stanley.  I’ve created Flat Cranky.  I’ve included a copy for your own perusal.  Simply cut it out and take it with you on your trips and then, include it in your photographs of famous landmarks and send them back to me.  It’ll almost be like me actually being there, kind of like going to the Paris or the Venetian hotels in Vegas rather than the actual cities in Europe.  But for now, it’s all I’ve got.

Oh, and while you’re taking pictures of Flat Cranky, feel free to include Flat Colin Firth. That’d be o.k., especially if you’re somewhere north of Reykjavik with some Icelandic ponies.  Hey, Flat Cranky has dreams, too.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Coming up Roses

And good riddance!
At 5 a.m. on New Year’s Eve, I jolted awake and made a mad dash to the bathroom. 

“Not today,” I groaned. 

Not that any day is a good day for a urinary tract infection.  The extreme discomfort of a UTI is immediately identifiable, with the obvious burning in the “nether regions,” and an electrifying, strangely metallic pain that glides simultaneously up from my finger and toes to my arms and legs.  Then there’s the urge to go again and again and again when I’ve just gone.

“Awwww, maaaaaaaan ….” I slammed my head against the wall.

I drank all the water in my glass upstairs, then went downstairs to fill another monster-sized cup and drank as much of that as I could handle.  I refilled it and took it back upstairs with me, already thinking of any larger containers I might have stowed away some place.  I emptied out again, and sat for a while with my head against the wall.  I picture the pain chart with the smiley faces and not so smiley faces and try to think where my expression falls.  Is a 10 the worst pain I’ve ever experienced, or the worst pain I can imagine?  I put a nail through my foot once, and that didn’t really hurt, but then when I used to get stuff caught under my hard contact lenses, that was pretty unpleasant, and a UTI is pretty close to that, but not like being burned alive.  And then there’s different kinds of pain, so how does that figure?  I crawl back into bed.

I’m very familiar with UTIs.  It’s an unfortunate circumstance that with each infection it becomes almost exponentially more likely to get another infection.  To make matters more complicated, I’m allergic to penicillin and over several UTI bouts, I’ve become allergic to sulfa as well, taking the two most common antibiotics off my list of solutions. However, I’ve discovered that drinking copious amounts of water and sugar free cranberry juice can clear up a UTI, verified by the swabs taken once I’ve seen the doctor.  So, that’s the route I’ve adopted, saving my $25 deductible and telling myself I’m also preventing the rise of super-bacteria.  Then again, if the current infection doesn’t run its course in 24 hours, because it’s the beginning of a three day holiday, I’ll have to wait two more days before I can even call my doctor, let alone get an appointment.

Drink, drink, drink.

At 8 am I forced myself into the planned routine, feeding the dogs, hoping that if I pretended all was normal, it would be.  It was New Year’s Eve, dammit.  I have a house to clean.  I can’t start the New Year in a dirty house.  And then I’ve got dinner to make.  My husband was running errands to prepare for his New Year honey-dos.

I gave it the old college try, cycling among cleaning, chugging water, and running to the bathroom.  My legs and fingers swelled.  I felt woozy.  I couldn’t do it. I crapped, or rather peed out.  Water drunk, at 3 pm, I popped a couple aspirin, guzzled a half gallon of water, and literally threw in the (dusting) towel.  I changed into my pity party pjs and crawled into bed, doubling up the comforters, a dog curled up at my side and my feet, the t.v. mumbling in the background.

I don’t think it would have bothered me as much if it were another holiday.  My husband and I go out for our birthdays on the weekend.  We do Valentine’s dinner the weekend after to avoid restaurant hassles.  “Christmas” is scattered among visits with friends and family.  Most of our “holidays” revolve around friendships and family, so it doesn’t matter what actual day it falls upon, as it’s the time we spend with company that counts. 

Except for New Year’s Eve.

New Year’s Eve is a day of closure, an actual chronological cusp.  Whole calendars are changed, not just a page (yes, I do still use an actual paper calendar - with cute dog pictures, I might add.  Like a prisoner, I need something concrete to mark my days).  New Year’s Eve is an event in which I’m forced to participate, whether I’m cleaning house or sick in bed.

I watched Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin ring in the New Year as I lay shivering under the blankets.  Firecrackers blasted outside as one dog ran through the house barking and the other, somewhat stoned, stared at me pleadingly.  I got up to go to the bathroom and drank another giant glass of water.

The Rose Parade on any other day is STILL The  Rose Parade.
I woke up on New Year’s Day feeling considerably better.  I went downstairs, chugged more water, and started the coffee.  Following New Year’s tradition, I turned on the t.v. to watch the Rose Parade.

It wasn’t on.


I flipped to all the channels that usually run it, then caught an ad.  It would run on Monday. 


Well, as far as I’m concerned, it’s not New Year’s Day without the Rose Parade.  So, I cleaned the house and prepared dinner as planned and felt much better.  I got a reprieve, a mulligan, if you will.

Happy New Year, everyone. 

2012’s going to be a good year after all.
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The Cranky Cow by Kou K. Nelson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
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