Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cranky...and Scared

Now that the cat is out of the bag, meaning we've notified our families, I can speak freely about my current condition: Pregnant. That's right, you heard correctly. I am growing my very own human in my uterus. The baby started out as a mere blastocyst, but has graduated to fetal status, meaning that it now tumbles freely in the amniotic fluid, making faces, flexing its limbs and mainlining nutrients straight from my bloodstream.

So far this process hasn't been too difficult. A little queasiness and fatigue in the first trimester, some headaches that continue to bother me, especially in the evenings, and most recently, a stretching and pulling sensation in my pelvis. None of this surprises me. It was all explained in the myriad books and articles I read as soon as I realized my monthly cycle was suspended for the foreseeable future.

As far as I'm concerned, the pregnancy is the easy part. My body pretty much knows exactly what to do. Sure it takes a little longer for me to show, this being a first pregnancy and all, but I have faith that all those hormones (the ones standing around in hard-hats, puzzling over blue prints) will be able to figure out how to get my inflexible pelvic bones and my grumpy intestines and my uptight abdominal muscles to make way for the temporary new addition.

This baby was planned, in the sense that Cranky and I knew what we were doing when we stopped using "protection." That said, we have the usual concerns. Mainly about how parenthood will forever change our lives. Diapers, sleep-deprivation, crying, spit-up and breast-feeding, all packaged with what other parents have described to me as a total loss of independence and a constant sense of worry and, in some cases, even guilt. These things scare the living [expletive] out of me.

Certainly there will be tender moments, first words, steps and smiles, and brief respites of peace while the baby sleeps, and I've heard the experience can be incredibly rewarding, but for someone who gags at the sight and smell of human excrement the thought of being a mom is, well, daunting at best. Sometimes I wonder what exactly I was thinking.

There are generally two schools of thought on the cost-benefit analysis of human reproduction. The first one, (to which I admittedly have belonged for many years) is the hard-nosed, nobody-forces-you-to-become-a-parent, lack of sympathy route. Having kids is over-rated, given the state of the world today. Far better to work on developing oneself, live a fulfilling life, and possibly even give back in some manner. Besides, who needs the "Mommy Wars" when society still balks at extending full equality and civil rights to women, gays and minorities?

The second school of thought is the having-kids-is-the-most-important-thing-you-can-do approach. I've always had problems with this, because I personally felt like my child-free life was quite important (thank you very much), and certainly what could be more important than pursuing one's own happiness? Not to mention, my deep-seated belief that having kids is actually one of the more selfish things a person can do. Sure, nurturing a new life is a tremendous amount of work and sacrifice, and if you do your job well, you'll produce a polite, productive member of society. One who may even go on to greatness. But at the end of the day, the real drive behind human reproduction is to perpetuate the parents' DNA, and thus secure their success as biological organisms. Important to the individuals? Yes. But in terms of impact on society? Certainly no match for a spot on the Supreme Court, or finding a cure for cancer.

Compounding my ambivalence is my belief that the reality in which we live places far more value on career ambitions, personal achievement and the accumulation of wealth than on motherhood, primary education and homemaking. Basically, I've always been suspicious of motherhood. It seemed like a trap for women–a way of committing us to the janitorial, support role, rather than the leadership, decision-making role to which I'd always aspired.

Now, faced with the inevitable, I find that I have good days and bad days. Good days where I'm filled with an inexplicable inner peace. A sense that my life is unfolding perfectly, and that my little passenger is going to expand my world, rather than limit it. That Cranky and I will experience more love than we could possibly imagine, and that we're embarking upon an adventure which will give our lives new meaning and perspective. Then there are the bad days. Days where I feel helpless and filled with resentment, and every bit of well-meaning advice chafes like a painful reminder of the trap into which I've fallen.

What pulls me out of this funk is the realization that motherhood doesn't have to be a trap. All this time I've lived by my own rules. Adopted conventional norms when they fit, broke from tradition when it became oppressive. Why should this new role be any different? I chose a direction, arguably one that is traditional for women, but at the end of the day it's just a general heading and no two people ever reach the exact same destination in life. If I can trust my body to deliver a healthy baby, then why not trust myself to forge a path through motherhood uniquely suited to me?

Friday, July 31, 2009

Cash for Clunkers = Junk

I'm rather amused by the "Cash for Clunkers," or Car Allowance Rebate
System (CARS) program. It's already out of money, and representatives
from Michigan (on both sides of the aisle) are lobbying hard for more
funding. In case you are not familiar with this gem of an idea, CARS
provides consumers with vouchers worth thousands of dollars towards
the purchase of a new, more fuel efficient, car. It sounds good in
theory, right? Get the gas-guzzlers off the road, stimulate new car
sales, give the downtrodden American people a new toy, etc. But, like
most "incentive" programs, scratch beneath the surface and you will
find that this program is only designed to benefit one group: new car
manufacturers and dealers.

Basically, the program encourages consumers who have paid off their
car loans (because one must hold the title "free and clear" to
qualify) to hand over their perfectly functional vehicles (CARS
requires trade-ins to be in "drivable condition") for less than their
market value (trade-in value on the old car is limited to its scrap
value, since all "clunkers" must be destroyed). In return the consumer
gets to assume a new debt on a depreciating asset. Just what we should
all be doing in a down economy.

Then there's the "environmental" argument. CARS will help clean up the
air, and force American consumers to adopt greener transportation
technology. Well, there's a little phrase, popular in
conservation-minded circles, that goes "reduce, reuse, recycle." Note
that nowhere in this phrase are the words "buy new." Truth is, it's
far better for the environment to extend the life of manufactured
products. By scrapping all the trade-in vehicles, CARS is robbing the
marketplace of valuable used vehicles and components. This wastes
resources (just think of how much energy and raw materials are used in
the production of new cars), and robs consumers of affordable product.

And finally, what about all those small businesses who buy, sell and
repair used vehicles? There's an entire industry, called the
automotive aftermarket, which relies on used cars and car parts for
its bread and butter. The aftermarket industry employs thousands of
people, and is supported by a massive supply chain that includes
manufacturing and re-manufacturing, shipping and distribution and
retail infrastructure. Should all these businesses, and their
employees, wither on the vine so that the Big Three and their dealer
networks can blunder onward?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Old Chub: The Not-So-Silver Bullet

Some of you are already familiar with my writings on Old Chub Scottish Style Ale. If not, you may wish to read an earlier piece published by Gone magazine under an erroneous byline (due to the editor's inability to figure out WordPress).

Regardless, the legend of the Chub lives on aboard Kaleviopoeg, a 40' sloop (that's a single-masted sailboat for those who don't know) notorious for its role in off-shore adventures (see SpinSheet pg. 52). Before embarking upon this year's "Sailing Adventure" the skipper suggested an audition for potential new crew by way of a leisurely Sunday afternoon sailing excursion. Seeing as I have a proven track record aboard said vessel, my presence was requested to assist with the "evaluation" process.

As I packed my gear that morning I went down the list of required items: sailing gloves? check; sunglasses and hat? check; sunblock? check; water? check; beer? hmm. Captain Danger, or Cap'n D as we call him, usually lays in a 40-day supply of his favorite thirst-quencher, Coors Light. However it's always wise to bring a little something extra, so that one does not impede upon the captain's provisions...might need to stop at the liquor mart on the way.

Londontown Wine & Spirits, conveniently located a stone's throw from Edgewater, MD's famous Londontown Marina, is a well-appointed package store. They carry all the usual brands of swill, along with a fair selection of micro-brews. Nonetheless, I was quite surprised to find four six-packs of Old Chub lurking under a thick layer of dust on the middle shelf of the "American Exotics" section.

You want to test the mettle of your crew? Arrrgh! The Chub will separate the men from the boys, I chuckled to myself as I pulled out a sixer.

At the register, the cashier inspected my purchase with genuine wonder.

"I didn't know we sold this," she mused. "In fact, I don't think we've ever sold any of it. Is it any good?"

"Umm. Well...I wouldn't go that far," I said, coyly. "I'm not sure how your distributor got you to stock this stuff, but I wouldn't renew your order, if you know what I mean."

She gave me a grim, but appreciative, nod, and completed the transaction.

Ten minutes later we boarded Kalevipoeg, Chub wrapped in a brown paper bag and stashed deep in my backpack. As the skipper introduced the crew I gave them all the once-over to determine who should go first.

We cast off, and were soon under sail. Once things settled down, the captain handed up some cold Coors Light with sandwiches, and I seized the opportunity to slip down the hatch to the galley. Furtively, I extracted the six-pack from my bag and lifted the lid on the ice chest.

"What have you got there lassie?" queried Cap'n D.

"Well, it wouldn't be an audition without some Old Chub," I replied.

"Oh! The Chub! That's a fine idea," he agreed. "Why don't you put some of that right on top, where people can get to it."

We shared a mischievous grin, and arranged the cans in an appealing display. Sure enough, just as we finished, one of the new guys (we'll call him "Phil") climbed down the companionway.

"What have we got here?" Phil asked, peering at the cans, glistening atop a cascade of ice cubes.

"Oh, just some Old Chub that Blanche, here, was kind enough to bring," offered Cap'n D. "If you're nice to her, she just might share!"

Phil turned to me with a big grin. "Really? I can have one?"

"Why sure! I brought them for everyone, but you might want to let them cool down a bit," I said.

He nodded in agreement, and we all went top-side to wait until the magic moment when the Chub reached the perfect temperature.

Forty minutes later Phil had an icy can of Chub in his mitts. He was giddy with excitement and flush with gratitude as he took his first sip. We all stared at him in expectation.

"Umm. Not bad," Phil said cautiously.

"You know you have to finish that," intoned Cap'n D.

"Oh, I fully intend to," Phil replied, as he took another brave swig from the can.

Phil grimaced and set his beverage on the counter. "I'm going to have to drink that one a little more slowly, I think. It's awfully strong."

We nodded gravely, and gave him a look that let him know he wasn't off the hook.

"I'll just take it up with me and keep working on it," Phil assured us.

"Well, that's the test of a true sailor," Cap'n D stated resolutely. "The crew member who finishes his Old Chub. Yes, indeed."

About an hour later the wind picked up, and we were heeled over with the sails close-hauled. Our speed over ground was close to seven knots, and Phil was at the helm. He seemed to have forgotten all about his Old Chub. Unfortunately for him there are only four spaces in the cup holder on the binnacle, meaning one cannot leave a drink idle for long without someone asking about its status.

"Uh, Phil? I know you're driving and all, but what's going on with the Old Chub?" I implored. "Surely you don't mean to tell us that you don't like it?"

"Well, if someone will take the wheel I can try to finish it off," he said, still game for the experiment. "It is very good."

No one believed him, but Cap'n D's son, Evan, was more than happy to drive so that Phil could finish his beer. Phil took another slug of the Chub, and winced as he swallowed.

"Ok. You win. It's not very good. In fact, it's bloody awful," Phil conceded. "Can I pour it out now?"

I sighed. "I suppose you can, but it might well cost you your berth to Block Island."

Phil looked around, shrugged and tipped the can toward the drain. "I give up, nothing is worth drinking this swill. You people are crazy!"

"Arrrrgh, if you be suffering from the grog, you can't possibly stand the watches," growled Cap'n D.

"That's right! 12 hours on, 4 hours off. It's a grueling pace we keep aboard Kalevipoeg," I agreed.

Cap'n D and I shared a look of mirth, as Phil shook his head in a combination of confusion and disgust, and climbed back up the companionway. Needless to say, we never heard from Phil again.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Dr. No and the Sunken Sunglasses (or Where There's a Will, There's a Way)

The other day, while loitering at Edgewater, MD's famous Londontown Marina, I witnessed an amusing spectacle. One of the slip holders, a skipper we refer to as "Dr. No," was anxiously pacing his deck, and peering down at the murky waters of Glebe Bay.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"I lost my $500 sunglasses over the side a minute ago. They just flew off my head and went in over there somewhere," he explained, looking hapless and pointing to a spot in the murk just to the left of where he was standing.

While Dr. No despaired over his glasses, Rosie, his fair (and incredibly tolerant) love interest, voiced her desire to "wrap up" for the day. The couple had just returned from a pleasant day sail on the lovely Chesapeake Bay, and Rosie, not being much for the great outdoors, was ready to head back to civilization and spend a quiet evening with the good doctor.

Little did she realize Dr. No does not give up that easily.

"Rosie! Hand me the net with the telescoping handle!" he ordered. "I bet if I drag it along the bottom I'll be able to scoop them up in no time."

"Do you think they sank right away, or could the current have carried them off?" I asked.

"Hmm. Good point. I hope not. Let's give it a try," he said, and dipped the net in as far as it would go. Sadly the handle was not long enough, and the net didn't reach the bottom.

"Damn it! I'm going to have to jump in," Dr. No proclaimed.

"Mike, this is foolish. I'll just buy you a new pair!" said Rosie, growing more impatient by the minute.

Dr. No, ignoring his gentle companion, began to strip down to his shorts. I turned away for a moment, and heard a splash as he went over the side.

"Oh! It's cold! And I can't reach the bottom," he sputtered, arms flailing as he attempted to tread water.

"Well, yeah. Your boat draws almost seven feet, so I assume the depth is somewhere around eight or nine..." I offered by way of explanation. Rosie and I exchanged a look.

"Good point. Maybe if I use the net now, I'll be able to get them...Rosie! Hand me the net again!"

Rosie, looking downright perturbed at this point, thrust the net over the side.

Dr. No began methodically dragging it back and forth across the bottom. Scrosh, scrosh, scrosh went the net, coming up empty each time.

Just then I noticed a sinister looking disturbance on the water, indicating a school of fish being pursued (and eaten) by a much larger fish, or fishes. The school was heading right for the fearless doctor, but he was so intent on his netting that he had no idea.

"Uh, Mike? There seems to be some activity coming your way," I warned.

Just as he turned to look, a large fin cut through the surface, sending smaller fish skittering in all directions with much flipping and splashing.

"What?! Oh shit!" he cried.

"Really Mike, this is insanity! Can we just go home now?" Rosie pleaded.

"No, no, not yet! I'm going to try to dive for them," Dr. No insisted. "Keep an eye on that activity for me, will you?" he said to me.

He flung the net back on board, raised his arms over his head and took a big gulp of air before submerging. A few seconds later he bobbed back up empty handed. The school of fish were moving away, but a quick look at Rosie's face was proof positive that Dr. No was far from safe.

Undaunted by Rosie's scowl, Dr. No continued to dive for the glasses, coming up at least three more times with nothing.

"Mike! Can we please give up this nonsense, and go home!" Rosie demanded.

"Hold on...just one more try, and then I promise we can leave," he said with conviction.

Dr. No took a big swallow of air, pumped his arms and legs to propell himself out of the water, and dove with all his might for the muddy bottom. He stayed down for awhile. Rosie and I exchanged looks of concern. Suddenly our hero shot to the surface with a triumphant grin...but no sunglasses.

"I touched them! I touched them! I know where they are!" he shouted with glee. "Come on, Rosie. This time I know I'll get them."

Rosie, recognizing the futility of arguing when he was this close to victory, resigned herself for the inevitable.

Once again Dr. No took a lungful of air and dove for the bottom. He emerged moments later with a big grin, clutching his sunglasses.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

How to Weed out the Bad Ones

The Five Points of Success
A few years ago I examined my dating choices, and came to some conclusions about where I was going wrong. Amazingly, after applying these simple criteria, I found (and married) someone very special. This checklist can also help evaluate potential new friends and business partners.
  1. Valid drivers' license. This state-issued, photo ID is the cornerstone of our society. Without it there is no bank account, no voting, no utility accounts, no entry to bars, and worst of all, no way for them to drive you home when you've had one too many (see below). Furthermore, the seizure or revocation of a valid drivers' license is often the result of an arrest, or worse, a criminal conviction.

  2. Registered vehicle. Unless they are European, or living in Manhattan, there is no excuse for not having a functioning, street-legal vehicle.

  3. Place to live that is not shared with a parent, sibling or ex. This one is very important, because, much like the vehicle, you do not want to get stuck carrying out the relationship exclusively on your own turf.

  4. Full-time, or otherwise gainful, employment. If they can't hold down a job, how can they possibly commit to a partner? Then there's the whole money thing...

  5. College degree. This one is optional, as there are many hardworking and intelligent folks who didn't make it through the ivory towers of academia. However, I do find it a good indicator of the person's ability to obtain the other four points.
The Five Points of Failure
Unfortunately, the Five Points of Success are not always foolproof. Many times you'll meet someone who outwardly appears normal, only to learn rather quickly that they are, in fact, broken on the inside. This list is intended to help expand your evaluation of an individual's fitness to be considered for a long-term romantic partnership. Note also that the inability to take responsibility for bad decisions, and a sense of entitlement when requesting help from others (sometimes referred to as "immaturity") are other indicators that one or more of the Five Points of Failure is likely present in the individual.
  1. Substance Abuse. My criteria differs slightly from the standard definition given by orgs like AA, which I find to be far too restrictive and all-encompassing to the tune of "you drink (a lot) = you need help". I look for lying about drinking/drug use, dramatic personality changes during drinking/drug use, unwillingness to engage in activities without drinking/drug use, inability to stop when the situation calls for going to work.

  2. Emotional Problems. People who need multiple prescriptions to feel happy, or classes to keep their fists to themselves. If they are still in counseling, I'd assume they are not ready for a relationship.

  3. Dishonesty. Enough said.

  4. Unresolved Romantic Entanglements. If they are still in contact with the ex, and the situation is such that the ex cannot know about, or ever meet, you, run (don't walk) before you need to take out a restraining order.

  5. Money Problems. Characterized by spending and living beyond their means, requests to borrow money which turn into guilt trips and/or resentment if they are denied, and massive piles of debt resulting from poor decisions. These types often express the desire to rush into co-habitation. Look for an eviction notice or a bounced rent check if you hear an ultimatum like "If you don't let me move in, then it's over, because you don't *really* love me."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Two More From the "Larder"

Orange Julius Martinis
Vanilla vodka
Fresh-squeezed juice of one orange (Valencias work best)
Splash of milk
Splash of Cointreau

Pour all of this over ice in a shaker. Shake, and pour into a martini glass. Sprinkle some nutmeg across the top, and serve!
PS - you can add spiced rum, too, if you think it needs a kick in the pants.

Tex-Mex Tofu Scramble
This little concoction makes for an excellent taco or burrito filling. I usually serve it in a flour tortilla with avocado slices, a dash of hot sauce and shredded cheese. If you like sour cream in your Tex-Mex, "Tofutti" brand vegan sour cream is tasty, and lasts a lot longer than its dairy-based cousin.

Tofu, coarsely chopped into bite-sized pieces (these will crumble as it cooks, so shape and uniformity don't really matter)
1-2 Bell peppers - red, yellow, orange, green - whatever. Julienne, or dice, depending upon how you like them
1-2 Hot peppers - jalapeno, poblano, cubanelle - personally, I like poblanos, because they impart a smoky taste without too much heat
1 small onion diced, or sliced, depending on whether you want the pieces to be fajita-style, or just blend into the mixture
1 ear of fresh corn - use a chef's knife to slice off the kernels
Garlic powder to taste
Fajita seasoning to taste (contains salt, so you don't need to add additional salt)
Mexican chili powder to taste

Heat some canola oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add your onion, tofu and hot peppers. Season with spices, and saute until things start to brown. Toss the corn and the bell peppers into the pan, and continue to saute. If it's too juicy, turn up the heat a notch and let it simmer without stirring for 3 minutes. Check the bottom of the mixture to see if it's browning nicely. Once you get a little crispness on the bottom you can give it a stir to crisp up the other side.

When the tofu starts to brown it's time to transfer everything to a bowl. If you're making burritos or soft tacos, use the frying pan to heat your tortillas with some cheese sprinkled in the center. When the cheese starts to melt, but before the tortillas dry out (you don't want them to crack when you fold them), transfer to a plate and add your tofu mixture, avocado slices, sour cream and hot sauce. Fold up your burrito, or soft taco, and enjoy! This will work with crispy taco shells, too. Just follow the directions on the box to heat them, and add your fillings when they're ready to eat.

Monday, March 2, 2009

W Stands for "What a Terrible Film!"

Here in the mid-Atlantic we are buried in snow. The winter winds howl through the trees, scattering frost and banging the wind chimes against the house. For us, this spells Movie Time! Alas, we were unprepared, and had to choose something from the paltry HD offerings on Verizon FIOS' on-demand service. Fortunately, there was one film in the line up which caught our eye - Oliver Stone's "W."

We popped some corn, and snuggled under a blanket with high hopes for being entertained. "W" promised an embarrassing expose of our 43rd president. We were expecting to see all sorts of outrageous footage depicting his drunken debaucheries, financial failings and total lack of regard for the responsibilities facing him as commander-in-chief. We were also hoping for some juicy insights into his daughters' behavior...maybe some table-dancing and tequila shots, followed by an alcohol-fueled tantrum aimed at their loyal secret service detail.

Unfortunately, what followed was some of the worst movie making I've ever seen.

"W" glossed over all the good stuff, and left us confused as to what really happened in the White House for the past eight years. There was nothing in the film that I couldn't piece together on my own from previously-aired news conferences and media footage. The real reasons behind invading Iraq are merely hinted at, and the wordy subterfuge of W's closest advisers is overplayed.

His early life was what really interested us, and yet Stone's treatment of Bush, Jr.'s formative years is extraordinarily superficial. One minute George W. is offering a half-assed wedding proposal to a blonde in a Texas roadhouse, the next he's shown standing in the middle of a baseball field glowing with pride over his acquisition of the Texas Rangers. There's no mention of the girl again, until his father, George H. W., makes a passing swipe at his son about how he "knocked-up" some young woman, and Sr. had to clean up the mess to keep W on track.

On track for what, we still don't know. Every time we see W talking to his father, the conversation is focused on Jr.'s lack of ambition. Yet, George, Sr. is downright angry when his son decides to run for governor in Texas. Apparently the objections center around the logistical conflicts posed for the elder Bushs, who already have their hands full supporting Jeb's campaign in Florida.

Next thing you know, W is dating Laura Welch, and the only reference to his alcoholism is the morning he wakes up with a killer hangover and bemoans the difficulty of running three miles after a night of drinking. Cut to a scene of him at a Bible study. There's no indication of which faith it is, or of how the faith ties into his sobriety. The only clue that he's quit drinking comes by way of his pastor, who praises W for going six months without a drink.

Jump ahead, and George, Jr. is president of the U.S. of A. There's no mention of the election debacle, hanging chads, Katherine Harris or the Sore-Loserman campaign. The film even skips over 9/11. Suddenly we find ourselves in the War Room with Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, George Tenet, Tommy Franks and Condi Rice.

Powell makes the mistake of speaking out in favor of diplomacy at the initial "what to do about Iraq" meeting. You quickly see that the others are hell-bent on going to war, and Bush doesn't want anyone standing in their way. Why is Bush so keen on going to war with Iraq? Other than providing a vehicle for showing up his dear, old Dad, it's still not clear.

Tenet refuses to give his approval for use of the WMD "intelligence," but he quickly tires of the relentless schedule of speech writing revisions, and hands off responsibility to a deputy. This gives Bush's handlers the lack of scrutiny they need to run with whatever will win public support for an invasion.

Already knew all this? Yeah, us, too. This film doesn't give you anything new.

Bush's inner circle consists of Rove, Rummy, Cheney and Condi, and they constantly disguise their competence in order to avoid angering the president. Bush tells Cheney to "keep it quiet in meetings," but Cheney still manages to run the show. Rove is the image guy. The one who coaches W through his talking points and helps him stay on message, while perpetuating the illusion that W is in charge.

Rummy just seems to have a penchant for taking military action. He is portrayed as a mere puppet, and his dialog consists of convoluted declarations that leave room for retraction if they happen to land on the wrong side of the favored agenda. This isn't the Rummy I saw on the news during the early days of "Operation Freedom." There are a lot of bad things you can say about the guy, but approval-seeking and back-pedaling have never been his trademarks.

Questions that linger: why does Rummy push past the evidence showing flaws in the WMD intelligence? Why is he so gung-ho for mobilizing the troops? At least with Cheney, his oil-lust is on the table from the beginning.

Condi is another one whose identity remains obscured. She dials the phone when Bush needs to talk to foreign dignitaries, and listens quietly on the other line, never offering an opinion of her own. She also dutifully points out Iraq on the map, so the president doesn't look foolish in meetings. But at the end of the film, we still don't know who she is, or why Bush chose her for his inner circle.

The only consistent theme in the entire movie is the portrayal of Bush as intellectually lazy and incredibly insecure about his relationship with his father. Whether it's the oil rig job that he quits abruptly, or the relentless delegation of everything substantial on his plate, W is clearly not cut out for the mental challenges facing a leader. The daddy issues are just another manifestation of his inability to take responsibility for anything. Even George, Sr. can't figure out why his son is so defensive, and out-of-touch with reality.

"What about Katrina?" you might be wondering. Well, there's no mention of the greatest natural disaster our country faced in recent history in this film. Just like the election and 9/11, Katrina is not on the radar. Neither are the Bush daughters. It's as though they don't even exist.

"W" leaves us with many questions, and few answers. The film makes for a lousy, incomplete excuse for a biopic. It relies far too heavily on W's relationship with his father to explain away his shortcomings, instead of seeing the troubled relationship as the symptom of something larger. What is clear is the fact that Oliver Stone did not have access to the Bush family, or anyone in their close confidence, because he does not know "W" any better than we do.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Battle of the Bulge: A Dispatch From the Front Lines

I enjoy eating comfort foods, and frequently fall victim to inertia when it comes to fitness. Like most people, I am prone to rationalizing these behaviors.
"I just can't get motivated to work-out when it's this cold and gray outside; this is the perfect weather for curling up with a good book and cup of hot chocolate, or red wine, or..."

"So what if my last five meals were high-fat, meat, potato and dairy combos? It's winter, and you need a little extra meat on your bones to stay warm."
Rather than face the music when it comes time to put on street clothes, I disguise my figure in "fashionable" designer sweats, with elastic waistbands and drawstrings. A baggy top that hides my bulging gut completes the look. The sad thing is, I do make it to the gym at least three times per week, and I am mindful about what I eat...most of the time. I also prepare the majority of our meals at home, watch my fiber, fat and nutrient intake, and make an effort to get five servings of fresh fruits and vegetables each day. So what gives?

I can only surmise that I do all the right things on top of doing all the wrong ones. So for every 28 grams of fiber I ingest, there are 30 grams of fat. For every serving of fresh produce, there is a double-portion of carbohydrates. The thing is, when I look in the mirror I don't think I look all that bad! My legs are toned and muscular, my back is lean and strong, my arms are...well, my arms have some flab, but they're not terrible.

If it weren't for those pesky jeans that refuse to button, I would have no clue that I am being defeated by my gut. My gut = problem area. Despite doing crunches, sit-ups, core-intensive yoga and a myriad of other things (like a high-fiber diet) that should help, the bulge refuses to budge. So I've decided to declare a truce. I am going to stop fighting my body, and simply embrace the little things that make life worth living. Below are some "little" things that make a big difference in my personal happiness. (note that not all of them will lead down the path to obesity)

Leftover Coffee
Known in fancier circles as an "espresso martini" or a "coffee martini," this little cocktail is a great way to use that last cup of cold coffee lingering in the coffeemaker (a "healthy" alternative is to dump it into a houseplant, since coffee contains plant-friendly nutrients). The beauty of this cocktail is its versatility. You can use just about any type of booze - vodka (vanilla or espresso flavored, or plain...whatever you have on hand will do) OR rum (spiced rum is fun) OR bourbon (if you want to put hair on your chest). If you're feeling creative add your favorite liqueur (amaretto, Kahlua, chocolate or butterscotch schnapps). If you don't have any liqueur you can use flavored syrup (Torani, for example) or chocolate syrup or hot cocoa mix. I like milk in my coffee, so I definitely recommend adding milk to this concocation. As for sweetness, I only add sugar if I don't have liqueur, or flavoring syrup. Basically, you put ice in the shaker, and add your coffee and other ingredients to taste. Shake and pour into martini glasses. Add a dash of nutmeg or cinnamon for added effect.

Hot Coco-Cocoa
The other day I was enjoying a cup of hot cocoa, while chatting on the phone with a friend. She suggested I add coconut rum to my beverage. I did, and I highly recommend this approach to an old favorite.

A "Reece's" Moment
Remember the commercials for Reece's peanut butter cups back in the '70s? The collision between the hapless guy with the chocolate bar and the irritable guy with the jar of peanut butter? Yeah, well I took a bar of milk chocolate and spread some peanut butter on it, and voila! It tasted just like Reece's. No need to pay extra for a processed candy bar, when you've got the raw materials on hand right here at home!

Lemondrop Martinis
Easier to make than you might realize. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon into a martini shaker filled with ice. Add vodka and two teaspoons of sugar. Shake and pour. Using real lemon juice is a great way to get your vitamin C in the dark days of winter.

Bag o' Food
Trader Joe's and My Organic Market (MOM) carry some excellent skillet meals in their frozen food sections. I had an organic butternut squash and sage pasta Alfredo the other day that was to die-for. Only took ten minutes to prepare, and easily fed three adults when paired with a meat. I wish I could remember the brand, but I got it at MOM's...Generally, I avoid frozen meals that include meat. Side dishes are fine, and they've made great strides in preparing frozen french fries...those Organic Valley shoestrings are downright tasty, and Alexia foods makes good sweet potato fries. Other winners are any of the Asian-inspired frozen rice meals at Trader Joe's (just add meat or tofu), and the cheese and green chili tamales. An exception to the meatless rule is the Orange Glazed Chicken from Trader Joe's. It's a lot like General Tsao's chicken, and actually cooks up crispy in a wok, and you can always toss in whatever vegetables you have on hand, like broccoli, carrots or bell peppers. Best thing about frozen food, you can order carry-out or decide to eat in a restaurant at the last-minute, and your food waits patiently in freezer, instead of filling you with guilt as it rots before your eyes.

Motivated by Fish!
We are fortunate to have a very good seafood market right around the corner in Jessup, MD. Frank's Seafood has an amazing selection, is reasonably-priced and always fresh. The other day I got some grouper, which I then broiled and served with the aforementioned butternut squash and sage pasta Alfredo. Broiling is an excellent winter cooking method. It warms the house, and delivers grill-like results. The high, yet indirect, heat locks in the juices and adds a crispy finish to the exterior. I like to cook wild salmon, rockfish and grouper. Red snapper has too many bones. Season with the fresh-squeezed juice of half a lemon (use the other half for your lemondrop martini), a couple of pats of butter (browns and crisps the top of the fish nicely) and sprinkle with salt and pepper or Old Bay.

Vegetarian Cashew Chicken
This recipe will also work with thinly-sliced, boneless, skinless chicken breast, shrimp or scallops. Sometimes, however, I find it's just easier to cook with tofu. It has the consistency of scrambled eggs, or a soft, flavorless cheese that won't melt. It also keeps forever in the fridge (see note above about value of foods you can blow off for a restaurant meal without guilt), is relatively low-calorie and very low in fat content. Since this one is a real recipe, the ingredients are listed below:

5-6 hot, red, Thai chilies (available at Lotte market on 40) with stems cut off, no other chopping needed
2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped or minced
1/2-3/4 cup oyster-flavored sauce (available in Asian section at most grocery stores, but if you gotta go to Lotte for the chilies, pick it up there, as they have the most authentic brands)
1 cup cashews (prefer to use roasted, unsalted b/c the oyster sauce has lots of salt)
1 cup celery coarsely chopped crosswise; try to mimic the size of the cashews, so celery will cook at the same rate as the nuts
1 package of extra-firm tofu OR 1 lb. of chicken, shrimp or scallops
1 bunch green onions chopped any way you like
1/3 cup Canola oil (very important to use a vegetable oil that will not impart its own flavor on the dish)

The meal only takes about 10 minutes to cook once you have everything chopped, so I like to start the rice first, then prep my ingredients. When you're ready to stir-fry, heat oil in a large non-stick fry pan or wok. Add garlic and chili peppers, toss for 2-3 minutes before adding your tofu (or chicken, shrimp, etc). Keep tossing until browned, but keep an eye on the heat, as you don't want your garlic to burn. If things are taking too long, add a tablespoon of the oyster sauce to get the caramelizing effect going. When the tofu is starting to get a little color, add the cashews, celery and oyster sauce. Keep stirring over medium-high heat (can go down to medium, if things look like they might burn) until the ingredients are done, and you see the sugars in the oyster sauce starting to caramelize. Toss in the green onions, and stir to heat through; these guys get over-cooked easily, so you can even turn off the heat at this point. Serve over rice, and watch out for the red chilis.

Hard Times @ Home
Long before Pub Dog there was a Hard Times Cafe here in Columbia, MD. It was never very good (see our posting about the demise of the Columbia branch), so few tears were shed when it closed. However, the chili situation in our area is pretty dire. Fortunately Hard Times has a website (, and they sell their seasoning kits, hot sauces and chili-infused malt vinegar online! I bought two of each, and set about re-creating the Hard Times experience at home. The results cannot be denied...delicious, hearty chili served over spaghetti with shredded cheese tastes just as good at home as it does in the restaurant.