Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The beautiful and talented Lara Morgensen (you might know her as Hollywood Party Girl) has written a book! If you like life on the party circuit, you simply must invest in Party Confidential. Congrats Lara!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Lost and Heroes Recaps by Dr. Anna Graham

3.1: "A Tale of Two Cities"
3.2: "The Glass Ballerina"
3.3: "Further Instructions"

1.3: Chapter Three
1.4: Chapter Four

Friday, October 13, 2006

A Tutorial for the Fast-Food Generation: How to Get Started Cooking at Home for Frugality and Health

After reading Get Rich Slowly: Is eating out cheaper than eating in? and Ask MetaFilter: Is eating in cheaper?, I realized that even though, yes, of course, eating at home is cheaper, the primary obstacle for most people is that cooking at home is about as familiar as Abu Dubai. It takes a long time to get up to speed if you weren't raised to be a cooking adult; I grew up on McDonald's, convenience-store ice-cream Snickers and bagels (through no fault of my mother's--she was an awesome cook, but I was stubborn and unteachable).

In my late twenties, after I got a kitchen and garden of my own (free with purchase of fiancé), I started exploring cooking as a way to save money and get healthier. It's been a long, strange trip, but one of the best journeys I've ever taken. Here, in no particular order, are some of the tips I've picked up along the way.
  • KNOW WHAT'S FRESH: Learn to identify foods at their freshest. Cremini mushrooms, for example, should have the cap nearly closed over the stem with as little of that brown filter stuff showing as possible; good heads of broccoli should have closed florets of a uniform greenness; fresh fish smells like the ocean and has clear, not cloudy, eyes; et al.

  • SLOW FOOD, OLD FOOD, GOOD FOOD: Learn about what foods were like in their original form. A good way to reconnect with O.G. foods is to watch Alton Brown on the Food Network. Compare Quaker instant oatmeal to steel-cut oatmeal with real maple syrup; compare Taco Bell tortillas to stone-ground corn tortillas; compare Pop-Tarts to strawberry preserves on a thick slice of whole-wheat toast.

  • HAVE A GREAT REFERENCE ON HAND: Have a cookbook on a hand that is organized by ingredient, rather than by meal or type of dish. That way you can cook based on what you have on hand, rather than going out to shop for new ingredients. I recommend How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman.

  • USE OF FLAVORINGS SEPARATES GOOD COOKS FROM GREAT COOKS: Grow a window-sill herb garden, or plant herbs in your yard if you have one. Start with mint, basil, rosemary, thyme, tarragon, sage, parsley and cilantro. Mint is invasive, so keep it in a pot. Parsley and cilantro are a pain in the neck, but try these recommendations from Sunset magazine and see if it helps.

  • PANTRY ESSENTIALS: Keep a well-stocked pantry. If you're planning to bake, that's all-purpose flour, white and brown sugar, confectioner's sugar, baking powder, salt, shortening, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, yeast, eggs and milk. If you're planning to cook, that's olive oil, vegetable oil, salt, pepper, the herbs mentioned above, a variety of vinegars, nuts and seeds, dried pastas, rice (white and wild), olives, honey, frozen chicken breasts, canned broth, canned tuna or salmon, frozen ground beef or ground turkey, potatoes, onions, garlic, shallots, beans (canned and dried), tomato paste, canned chopped tomatoes, raisins and other dried fruit, and all the usual condiments (mustard, mayo, BBQ sauce). These are all inexpensive staples, but they can be combined into an infinite number of dishes.

  • GOOD SUPPLIERS, PART ONE: Find a independent produce market or farmer's market in your area. Patronize it once a week for fresh fruit and vegetables. Avoid produce from convenience stores or low-end supermarkets or megamarts, which is more likely the product of industrial farms and is often limp, pathetic, flavorless and disappointing.

  • GOOD SUPPLIERS, PART TWO: See if you can find a good fish market in your area. I find the wild-caught fresh fish at the local Asian market to be superior to anything at the grocery store, and much less expensive as well. (It's an extra trip, but I have a thing for omega-3 fatty acids, so it's definitely worth my time.)

  • THE GOAL IS NOT JUST TO EAT, BUT TO NOURISH YOURSELF: Read a book like SuperFoods Rx and learn about the phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals and overall nutrition content of truly nourishing food.

  • THE MIRACLE OF THE MODERN: Consider buying a Black & Decker steamer and a George Foreman grill; with just those two appliances you might not even need a stove. Working George Foreman grills are increasingly available in thrift stores, so shop around.

  • ABOVE ALL, KNOW YOUR KNIVES: Obtain a full-tang, well-balanced, stainless-steel chef's knife and paring knife, and learn how to use and maintain them. Many local cooking schools have knife-skills classes for beginning cooks. Learning how to use kitchen knives properly is a profoundly transformative experience.

  • HEAVY, BUT WORTH EVERY OUNCE: This is the pan your great-grandmother used: Obtain a 10-inch cast-iron skillet and learn how to "season" it properly. This one pan can be used for almost everything, can go from stovetop to oven, and once you grok cast-iron cookware, requires almost no maintenance or cleaning. (The other pot-pan essentials are probably a large cookie sheet, a 10-inch non-stick skillet, a medium-size pot for heating canned goods and possibly a larger pot for pasta and making stew.)

  • FOR TO BE FLIPPING, STIRRING AND GRABBING: Obtain a spatula, wooden spoon and tongs as basic cooking implements. Build out your collection of other tools as needed. (Don't rush off and invest in a KitchenAid stand mixer before you've ever made muffins from scratch, etc.) This article (PDF, 1.4 MB) from Cook's Illustrated is a Consumer Reports-style guide to what you really need and what specific products are the best value.

  • GET A FRIDGE: No, not a house fridge. Get a work fridge. What's that you say--the office kitchen has a fridge? Okay, yes, but is it slimy, crammed full of plastic bags and a target for lunch thieves? If your office is anything like mine, yes. I bought a barely used, stainless-steel Magic Chef minifridge off craiglist for $50, and it's changed my lunch habits at work. I can now bring in a week's supply of grilled salmon, steamed broccoli, Diet Coke and fruit and reach for whatever I want without having to confront the distinctly unappetizing aroma of the main kitchen fridge. And there's plenty of room left over for my friends at work to store their salad dressing, ice-cream sandwiches and Hot Pockets. A good deal all around!

Good luck!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

I had a full set of dental X-rays this morning. It was horrible--like being fucked in the mouth with a broken chisel. And radiation.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Losanjealous linked to the L.A. Coroner's all-too-graphic unidentified bodies site. Overwhelmingly populated by indigent males, many of whom tried to walk across the freeway, and most of whom long ago lost their sobriety, teeth and dignity.

A collection of stray body parts--a torso found gumming up the works of a sanitation processing plant, a human jawbone found on Zuma Beach.

A few women, mostly indigent; a handful of newborn babies.

Are shallow graves inherently foul play?

Anyway, because so many of these deaths seemed almost pre-determined by race, class and addiction, I was intrigued by two outlying lost souls: upper or upper-middle class white males, apparently otherwise healthy and well-maintained, their lives almost certainly ended at their own hands--cleanly and tidily, without shotguns or leaps from high floors or naps on railroad tracks.

In 1993, this man killed himself in a hotel room on Century Blvd. That's right near the airport. Did he fly in from parts unknown because he wanted to die in Los Angeles? Why? Where's the car that matches his BMW key? Why did he have that and no wallet? Did he pay cash for the hotel room? He was wearing a gold wedding band. Where was his wife? Was she dead? Was he all alone in the world?

The palpable loneliness of Attractive Well-Groomed Healthy Middle-Aged Middle-Class White Adult Male #1 is apparent also in A.W.G.H.M.A.M.C.W.A.M. #2. He was found in a park on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, sitting up against a tree, gazing out at an infinite horizon. He, too, had a gold wedding band. And momentos of a person named Michael, who I feel must be a dead son. He and his wife--named "Ma Jose" since some long-ago delirious conversation in the first flush of their love, I think--gave him an Omega watch as a present in 1997 on a trip to Madrid. Was it their anniversary? How did he come to the Palos Verdes Peninsula? Were he a native, certainly the various agencies of the government would have put his pieces together, so why did he choose that park for his end? Does the crowned lion tattoo speak of a tie to Britain? Is the cross and the sword a testament to his religion? Could he be a religious man, married and then divorced from God? Why the stars--on his necklace and on his knee? Was he an astronomer? Did his child love the sky? Is there no one left in the world who would look for him? His preppy moss-green fleece vest and New Balance shoes speak of a venture capitalist, a captain of industry--at the very least a California professional. Where did the money go? How was his property disposed of? There are no typos in the description of his unidentified body, and the catalog of his relics is recorded with care. The same cannot be said of many others in the database. Perhaps the coroner looked at him and saw something he recognized--the parts and parcels of a familiar life.

I think the first man was hollowed out and empty, utterly bereft of purpose and meaning and joy. Death was relief.

I think the second man wanted to be reunited with his family and 35 more years was just too long to wait. Death was passage.