Saturday, May 20, 2017

When you leave cats behind

I am off on an adventure, and leaving T to tend the cats. When it comes to Oskar and Orson, T is the go-to guy for feedings, cleanup, and playtime. I am more of the scheduler and overseer. I've left a large board with reminders to T for the little things he might forget, but he probably wont even notice it. We both know I am a little neurotic when it comes to my two little guys.

When I return, there will be stale water and Oskar will have forgotten to eat a few meals. But neither cat will be any worse for wear, and likely won't even realize I've been gone. Cats and dogs love the ones they're with. Thankfully most husbands don't operate on that model!

I'll return in a few weeks. Meanwhile you can view my adventures on Instagram at nordicfoodgeek.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The return of grill season

Before I met T, every season was grilling season. It didn't matter if it was 75 and sunny or 30 below with three feet of snow on the ground: nothing came between me and my grill.

Since settling into this so-called adult life of marriage, work, and high maintenance-cat parenting, we began saving the grill for not-too-busy nights when exhaustion doesn't pull us to the couch and Netflix binging. On those glorious nights when we do grill, life feels exactly the way it is meant to be.

I noticed a year or two ago that my grilled feasts were beginning to take on a predictable pattern. Grill night became taco or pizza night, with little variance. I'm like a kid who demands ice cream for dinner every night, only there is no one to tell me "No!" Because gosh, I love tacos and pizza! The names might not change, but the stuff you put in or on them can be unique and completely not boring. It just takes a little creativity, and a love of the medium.

T has been off mammals for two years now. All winter I've been adding mushrooms to our meals, and I am ready to shake things up a bit. With a little help from Monterey Bay Aquarium (download the app or print out the pocket guide), I've been reaching for a lot more fish. Grilled fish tacos are the taste of summer.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Biggest Loser: sleepless setbacks

Last year at his annual exam, Orson received rave reviews for his slender waist and feline-proportioned features. This year, we all received a gentle scolding. Obsessed as he is with food and eating, Orson begged his way into a slight weight gain and now faces another round of food deprivation as prescribed by our stern vet.

Orson is a determined guy. He's gotten into the habit of forcefully, violently waking T several times each night demanding a second dinner, early breakfast, second breakfast, etc. Orson can be very persuasive, and nothing we do soothes his nighttime appeals. He wails and whines, he jumps up and down on T, he bites T's ears or plays with the string on his pajamas. He uses T's body as leverage and pushes me with his sturdy legs (and I wake up just about to fall to the floor). Eventually, Orson bullies his way into second dinner, early breakfast, second breakfast, etc.
When we shut the bedroom door Orson throws his body against it. If you've ever thrown a 17 pound bowling ball against a wooden door, you know the sound it makes. THUMP. THUMP. When he tires of that he stands on his back legs and jiggles the door handle with his front paws. WIGGLE WIGGLE JIGGLE. But Orson's favorite way to get back into our bedroom is to slide his paw underneath the door and "boing" the door stopper. Over and over and over and over again. A strong cat can get quite a sound to emit from the stopper.

We've created all sorts of deterrents, stuffing rugs and papers and shoes under the door. Sometimes our inventiveness works and we spend a blissful few nights without being harassed. More often than not Orson figures out a way around the obstacle and the thumping and jiggling and boinging begin again. And again. And again.

As a result of his persistence and our need for sleep, Orson gained a pound this year. We aren't exactly back at the drawing board, but we are looking for ways to ease Orson's hunger and our sleeplessness.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Bus bias

If you spend anytime on public transit in the Twin Cities, you know that every route has its own fragrance. The Green Line has a powdered carpet cleaner odor infused with booze, the 21 smells of cigarettes and cotton candy, the 223 of  Chipotle, while the 5 is all-weed all-booze all-the-time. Bus stops are also distinguishable by their perfume. The stop at 8th and Nicollet in downtown Minneapolis reeks of urine. The stop on Rice and Little Canada Road includes whiffs of fried burgers and cinnamon donuts.

If you spend anytime on public transit in the Twin Cities, you've seen a few illegal activities happening either on route or at a stop. There are drug deals, drunks, and violence. I am often approached by other riders who ask for cigarettes, a transfer, and spare change. We all become the personality of Metro Transit.

At the mall where I transfer from one bus to another, I've experienced an uptick of kids asking me for money and men asking for dates. I've learned to steel myself for the 20 minute wait between buses, knowing that most days I'm going to get hassled when all I really want is to mind my own business and get home.

A few weeks ago I was enjoying a warm sunny day outside of the mall, waiting for my bus. A man with his phone was taking pictures of the restaurants that line the sidewalk. He had a thick accent, and asked me "Take photo?"

I am forever lost in the belief that I am still 19 years old and good looking, so of course I assumed the man wanted to take a photo of me. "No thanks," I answered brightly.

"No, I mean, for me. Will you take a photo for me?" he asked again.

I smiled blankly and looked down at my book.

A moment later the man approached another bus stopper, and the bus stop guy gladly (and kindly) took a photo of the man in front of an opening-soon restaurant where he had recently been hired.

There are many times every day that I feel like a jerk, but that may have been my jerkiest moment of the year. I am so filled with bias, so jaded from my public transit experiences, that I cannot gaze upon reality without my bus stop-filtered glasses. Here I am, supporter of immigrants and loud voice of liberal leanings, and I couldn't even be decent toward an immigrant stranger celebrating his new job.

Last week I attended a sort of theatrical conversation in Minneapolis called "Odd Socks." The evening's topic was Appetites and Bias: Jessica Nordell spoke about gender bias (describing her experiences writing as J.D. rather than Jessica) and Beth Dooley spoke about agricultural bias (and the unintended repercussions of innovative attempts to feed the world). The two themes wove perfectly into my leftover feelings of jerkiness and bus bias.

The smells of transit and the personalities of our collective ridership are just part of the experience. It's only recently that I've put my guard up so high especially at the mall bus stop. I've always felt comfortable mingling with strangers on the bus. Sure, there have been a few interactions that made me nervous, but I have plenty of uncomfortable interactions with strangers, friends, and family alike and usually not while I am on public transit. What on earth is feeding this irrational sense of self-protection and jerkiness?

I wonder if there is a 12 step program for bias. Is the first step like in AA where you admit you have a problem? Maybe the second step is learning to check yourself as you experience the inner dialogue of prejudice. I'm working on it.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Reflections on repose

I've worked hard to make a home that not only makes me feel safe and at peace, but that (I hope) provides the same to my roommates (T, Oskar, and Orson).

We spend a lot of time together on the dilapidated couch snuggling beneath soft warm quilts; watching TV, reading, and writing. Orson likes to watch cat videos with T, either on T's phone or a laptop. Oskar likes to knead his nails into my skin as I brush the snarls out of his long fur. It works for everyone. Our home life is relatively calm and easy.

We also spend a lot of time in our (newly painted) periwinkle bedroom with its butter ceiling and collection of ceramic cats lining the dresser. Sleeping is my favorite. While a lot of successful people I admire claim to sleep a maximum of five hours each night (Rachel Ray, Martha Stewart, etc.) I am an eight to nine hours a night gal. I love the bliss of clean sheets and the hum of a fan. I love the intimacy of T and the boys sleeping next to me, their breathing and purrs lull me regardless of how little space Oskar leaves for me on my pillow, regardless of how hard Orson tries to push me out of bed with his sturdy legs. We slumber together and dream our dreams, and there is such peace.

Lately I've been enduring a lot of nightmares. I'm told this is pretty common right now, a brain's response to the horror of current events. Last night's dozing included visions of neglected and abused animals, a serial killer and rapist, a house fire, and a crooked cop. All in one dream! In the end I managed to catch a ride on a rhinoceros that happened to be hanging out in my backyard and we trampled the bad guys, rescued the pets, and put out the fire. If only it was that easy in waking life to put the nefarious out of commission.

Waking from a nightmare is always weird. There is the panic and adrenaline that remains from the dream and a muddled sense of "Huh?" Sometimes the bad guys lurk in the shadows, like smelly leftovers. I reach for a furry cat,  for T, and for the peace that we build together. Then, back to sleep, hoping for a better dream the next time I find one.  

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Embrace your inner Joan Wilder

This day in history marks the anniversary of "Romancing the Stone," released to theaters on March 30, 1984. Do yourself a favor and watch (or rewatch) this 80's classic. It is filled with ridiculous humor, fluffy romance, a woman who discovers her strength, a cat named Romeo, and hope. And we can all use a little hope these days.

Our protagonist, successful romance novelist Joan Wilder (played by the amazing, beautiful, exuberant Kathleen Turner) narrates the movie's opening scene, reading out loud as she types the final sentences of her latest book. Her voice becomes emotional as the scene crests, with Joan describing the heroine of her book neatly escaping rape and certain death, killing the bad guy, and riding off into the sunset with her man.

Joan taps "The End," sighs, lets out a sob, and dabs at her tears with her sleeves and the waistband of her shirt; overwhelmed at the power of her own words, and moved by the feelings of a job well done. Joan searches her apartment for tissue, toilet paper, paper towels - anything - to wipe away her tears and blow her nose, only to find dozens of Post-Its reminding her to buy tissue, toilet paper, and paper towels.

Joan provides a celebratory meal for Romeo on a fancy dish, finds just the right tiny bottle of airplane booze from a selection of hundreds, and settles in front of a roaring fire; content and satisfied. Then the real adventure begins, but I'll let you watch the movie yourself to learn those details.

I never fully appreciated the Joan Wilder moment until I experienced it myself. I worked for a year on my first book (well, first to be published, anyway) and a day before deadline I was able to effectively close the completed pages for the first time. (I wasn't on a manual typewriter, I didn't type "The End," but you get the point. It was more of a virtual page close.)

As I hit the save button on my laptop I was overcome with emotions: joy, relief, fear, awe, etc. and I burst into tears. My tissue box was empty and the cats rubbed up against me with confusion. I took a cue from Joan Wilder. Everyone got treats, although I had no tiny airplane bottles to celebrate with. Instead, I made an aquavit cocktail featured in my book. Not bad, but I wanted the tiny bottle.

Fast forward a few weeks and I was on a plane from Chicago headed home after a quick stint with Nordic Ware demonstrating their products at an enormous kitchenwares trade show. The flight attendants made their way to my seat, offering guests the obligatory "Coffee, tea, or...?" I reached for my credit card and smiled; finally a chance for my complete Joan Wilder moment (minus the cats)! "Gin and tonic, please."

The flight attendant waved away my card and placed TWO tiny bottles of Bombay on the tray before me. Maybe that's how Joan assembled her collection, procuring multiple bottles from kindly flight attendants. I opened one and will keep the other for another celebration that's time and reason I've yet to determine.

Embrace your inner Joan Wilder. Celebrate those moments as they happen, and then celebrate them some more. We are surrounded by circumstances that remind me of an abusive boyfriend. Politics, current events, cruelty, dead-end jobs, and a general angst breed fear and depression. We are collectively grasping for counsel and hope. Hope is everywhere, but we have to keep our eyes open long enough to acknowledge it. It comes from the completion of a job well done, and the love of a cat, and even in the generosity of strangers and a tiny bottle of airplane booze.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Sacrifice, nostalgia, and a return to normalcy

We are sixteen days into Lent. Almost half-way through it! I'm using these forty days as a way to kick-start weight loss after four solid months of recipes testing (bread! pastry! sugar! cookies! more bread!). After decades of dabbling in diets and reaching for a healthy lifestyle, I know that the only way I can lose a few pounds is by eschewing the stuff I love most: bread, sugar, and simple carbs in general.

Living in this chaotic unpredictable world, the things I've been craving most (since the election and oh god, the inauguration) are these flavors I obsess over, so this particular round of dieting is more painful than it has been in the past. I am grateful that our local Starbuck's is open in the early mornings again, after weeks without them. I'll take a return to normalcy anywhere I can get it.

I've also been feeling rather nostalgic. If you are of a certain age and raised in Minnesota, especially the Twin Cities, you have a history with the department store known as Dayton's. For 100 years Dayton's reigned supreme, a beacon of good taste and amazing customer service. While the store changed hands (and names) a few times since 2001, those of us who grew up with it still refer to the stores that once were as Dayton's. The flagship store was in Minneapolis, and this month the building was sold and we said goodbye to what it represented for all these decades.

The Minnesota goodbye is a well known phenomenon. We start to leave a party about an hour before we actually go, standing at the door chatting, hugging, discussing the weather. Our collective Minnesota goodbye to Dayton's took sixteen years.

A friend of mine recently completed her novel "The Daytonians". Catherine Dehdashti generously allowed me to read her draft before it was sent to the publisher, and it was perfect timing. The plot is plump with characters who revolve around the Minneapolis Dayton's, and it reads like a love letter to our community, and to Minnesota values: friends, family, education, history, relevance, the weather, civil rights, important traditions that unite us, and popovers. (Look for "The Daytonians" in stores and online soon!)

The comfort of the familiar is exactly what I need, what we all need.

And at night I dream of pizzas, pastries, warm crusty bread dribbling with melty butter... a better world for us all.