The Ham Sandwich from Heaven

Sandwich

Tammy and me at the Wild Horse Saloon.  This was after we ate the sandwiches.  Obviously.

 

Do you remember the best meal you ever ate?

I do.

Summer, 2000.

My friend Tammy and I decided to pilgrimage to Nashville, Tennessee, Music City itself, the capital of country music.

We were in college (read: broke) but that wasn’t going to stop us from going to the Country Music Festival to see all of our favorite stars, including JoDee Messina, Tim McGraw, and Billy Ray Cyrus. (Miley who?)

We hit the road early to begin the ten-hour journey in Tammy’s Honda Civic. At first, it didn’t seem like a big deal that the Civic didn’t have air conditioning.

For the first hour, we chatted excitedly about the trip ahead—all the music, the stars, the autographs, the concerts. We rolled down the windows and hit the interstate, blasting Trisha Yearwood’s Wrong Side of Memphis on the radio.

In the second hour, the world started heating up, and the reality set in.

We were traveling south in July, on a bright, sunny, ninety-degree day.

In a car with no air conditioning.

And by the way, when we arrived at our destination, there would be no air-conditioned hotel room waiting for us. We would be camping in a tent and sharing what turned out to be a spider infested outdoor community shower.

We started to sweat. We started to burn.

The third hour we got cranky.

The fourth hour is best forgotten, as our friendship barely survived it.

By the fifth hour, we were as wilted as a bouquet of week-old grocery store flowers. We didn’t even have the energy to snipe at each other anymore.

When Tammy grew so dehydrated that we worried she couldn’t drive the car anymore, we pulled off the interstate into one of those rest stops with only bathrooms and vending machines. Not another human being in sight.  I had never been hotter, sweatier, or more delirious in my life.  We were like characters in a movie wandering through the desert, when the screen goes hazy.

We bought two Cokes from the vending machine (you know I’m a Pepsi girl, but this was life or death), and slid down the concrete wall into a patch of shade outside the building. We opened the cooler we’d packed and there they were.

Two ham sandwiches.

Eighteen years later I remember every bite.

Fresh potato bread. Thick slices of real ham, not lunchmeat.  Two slices of American cheese.  The whole thing slathered with mayonnaise.

And it was cold. The mayonnaise was cold, the cheese was cold, even the ham was cold.

It was rain in the desert. It was manna from heaven.  It was the closest I’ve come to a miracle.

I’m not sure we would have made it to Nashville without those sandwiches. You might’ve just found an abandoned Honda Civic, the seats wet from the puddles of sweat we’d dissolved into.

But we made it, and we had the time of our lives.

Tammy and I still talk about those sandwiches. The vacation too, but mostly the sandwiches.  We just talked about them last weekend.  They saved our trip, our lives, and our friendship.  I’m not sure I will ever eat anything in my life that tasted as good as that sandwich.

If I wind up on death row I know just what I’m ordering for my last meal.

(Though if I didn’t kill Tammy during hour four of that car trip, it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever kill anyone.)

Advertisements

You Can “Adult” Today

adulting4

Last weekend at Target, I saw a t-shirt with the words I Can’t Adult Today printed across the chest.

Have you heard adulting used as a verb yet?  It describes the completion of a normal adult duty, like cooking dinner, or washing a load of laundry, or even, yes, putting on pants.

It’s an internet word, like squad goals or FOMO.

As the kids on the internet say, I can’t even with this idea of adulting.

Some real-internet examples:

  • I drink coffee because adulting is hard.
  • I’m done adulting today. I’m going to have a bottle of wine and watch Netflix.
  • Made a dinner with a vegetable. Now I need a nap. #AdultingIsHard
  • I can’t adult today. (Usually accompanied by a picture of a cat or dog stretched out on their back and covering their eyes with their paws)

I don’t object to coffee, wine, or Netflix. But I hate the implication that adulting is inherently a drag, an endless Groundhog Day of going to a boring job, washing dishes, paying bills, cooking dinner, and doing laundry.

Also, it is only used to insinuate that the person is not doing all that great a job of being a grown-up. I mean, since when do you get a trophy for cooking dinner with a carrot in it?  Nobody says, “Just got a big promotion. Can’t wait to stuff my kid’s college fund full of money like a boss!”  Now that’s adulting.

Can you imagine if some of history’s biggest heroes had this attitude?

What if John Wayne had said, “There are some things a man just can’t run away from. Unless it’s early AF and I’m still in my yoga pants. #ApacheComing

Rhett Butler: “Frankly, my dear, I literally can’t even with you today. And I totally get where Arie is coming from.  I never should have given you the final rose. #PullingAMesnick

Patrick Henry: “Give me a strong WiFi signal, or give me death! #LibertyFromDeadZones.

JFK: “Ask not what your parent’s basement can do for you, but what you can do for your parent’s basement. #RenovateBeforeYouInhabit.”

Scarlett O’Hara: “As God is my witness, I’ll never go hungry again.  Unless the battery is dead on my smartphone and I can’t order takeout.  #CerealForDinnerAgain. #OopsNoMilk  #MakeItDryCereal.  #AdultingIsHard.”

Martin Luther King Jr: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin or the fact that they called in sick to work to binge-watch Game of Thrones all day because spoilers! #WinterIsComing

Ronald Reagan: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!  Wait, what?  He already tore it down?  Oops, I missed it.  I was playing Candy Crush on my phone. #Awkward.”

But let’s be honest—being an adult is great. Sure, it doesn’t have the carefree lightness of a great childhood, but it’s got choice.

And choice is never a drag. So let’s all buck up, put our inner child on ice, and remember the difference between minor modern inconveniences and real problems.

Unless my cable goes out during Outlander.  Then prepare for #EpicMeltdown.

 

From Page to Screen

Skeeter

The Help

 

Sooner or later, it’s going to happen: Hollywood is going to adapt your favorite book into a movie (or a television series).

If you’re anything like me, a familiar cycle ensues: a thrill of excitement, followed by a rush of fear.  What if they don’t do it right?  Who are they going to cast?  Will they include my favorite moment?  Will they change the ending?

In other words, will it live up to the hype?

Spoiler alert: it won’t.

If we truly love the source material, the movie is likely going to disappoint us. Sometimes it’ll be minor, forgivable transgressions, like casting five-foot-seven Tom Cruise as six-foot-five Jack Reacher.  But sometimes they rip the soul right out of the movie, butchering My Sister’s Keeper so badly the author disavows it.

Worse, no matter how much you hated the movie, you’ll never get the actors out of your head, even when rereading the book.

Why then, do we ever watch movies made of our favorite books?

Because sometimes they get it right.

Harry Potter. Keira Knightley’s Pride and Prejudice. Gone With the Wind. The Help.

I loved the novel The Help, by Kathryn Stockett.  And the movie is so, so good.  When I heard they were making a movie, I was nervous.  But as soon as heard that Emma Stone would play Skeeter Phelan, I was hopeful.  (And yes, I know Skeeter’s defining characteristic is that she is plain, perhaps even ugly, and Emma Stone is anything but.  This is Hollywood.  If you hold showing beautiful people on the screen against them, you might as well stop watching movies for good.)

Octavia Spencer is sassy Minny.  Viola Davis as the wise and world-weary Aibileen Clark.  Jessica Chastain as the gold-hearted white trash Celia Foote.  Allison Janney as Skeeter’s mother.  And Bryce Dallas Howard as the mean girl queen bee Miss Hilly Holbrook.

And the men? Well, I don’t remember who played any of the men.  But that’s as it should be. The Help is not a novel about the lives of blacks and whites in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960’s so much as it is about the lives of the black and white women in Jackson, Mississippi.

So the movie is perfectly cast. But that is only step one to a great movie adaptation.  The second step is knowing what must be included, and what can be left on the cutting room floor.

I’ve never made a movie, but this has got to be the toughest part. Satisfying a fan base that knows every inch of the source material, while facing the reality that adapting a three-hundred-page novel into a two-hour movie is going to necessitate cuts.

And yet The Help doesn’t feel like it has cut much of anything.  What it does cut, you don’t much miss.  I won’t give examples as to keep this spoiler-free.  Most importantly, it captures the heart and soul of the book, which is all you can ask of a movie.

If you haven’t yet seen The Help, I highly recommend it.

But do yourself a favor and read the book first.

Why Does the Easter Bunny Bring Eggs?

 

lapwing-006558-howard-stockdale

The Lapwing Bird, layer of the first Easter Egg

This is something I never wondered as a kid. Why look a gift horse in the mouth, right?

As an adult, it haunted me. Well, maybe haunted is a bit strong considering I could’ve googled it any moment, except every time I thought about it my phone was out of reach.

Seriously…why does a bunny bring us eggs on Easter? (And I won’t even begin to contemplate what a bunny bringing dyed eggs has to do with the religious significance of Easter.  We’ll leave that for another day.)

A few weeks ago I was reading a blog entirely unrelated to Easter and came upon a story that must be related to the mystical bunny who brings us eggs.

In the English countryside, beginning in March, folks would search the tall grass in open fields for eggs. (Kind of like an Easter egg hunt, no?).  They would often find these eggs in shallow, muddy scrapes in the ground.  Oftentimes, there were hare droppings in the scrapes.  And in March, the spring hares are bouncing around these same fields with boundless energy.

Is it any wonder people believed the hares laid the eggs?

But it wasn’t the hares, of course. It is a bird called a lapwing, who lay their eggs in the open fields in March, just when the hares appear.  If they can find the slight protection of a muddy scrape dug by a hare, all the better.  Easily spooked, if people approach their nest, they take off, leaving their eggs alone with the hares.

And thus began the legend of hares laying eggs, that eventually led us the Easter bunny.

As to the origin of Peeps, you’re on your own.

 

This One Hurts

cutch1

As Bryan Adams would say, it cuts like a knife.  But it doesn’t feel so right.

Good luck Cutch, and thanks for the memories.  See you on May 11th.

I wish you nothing but the best.*

 

*Except on May 11-13 and August 9-12. 

Are You Certain?

The-Big-Short-Epigraph

How do you know what you know?

Everyone has witnessed a couple arguing over some inconsequential detail of their vacation. The wife will say their waiter told them about a fabulous deep sea fishing hole, and the husband will interrupt to say that, no, it wasn’t the waiter but the valet who gave them the tip.

Depending on their personalities (and perhaps how much they’ve had to drink), they’ll either fight it out or one will back down, saying that yes, honey, you’re right, it was the valet. But make no mistake—each one believes they are right.

It happens at the office too—many times in corporate America a decision is made to follow the person who has no doubt what to do, who shoots holes in alternative suggestions, and swats away any objection to his solution.

Even if they are dead wrong.

Overconfidence is part of the human condition.

But we are as susceptible to our own overconfidence as we are to the charming hot shot in the office.

We know what we know, even if we’re not sure how we know it. You know?

But do we?

Back in 2011, I read an article by David Brooks in the New Yorker called “Social Animal.”  In it, he discusses a study about how much people know—and how much they think they know.

To quote from the article:

“Human beings are overconfidence machines. Paul J.H. Schoemaker and J. Edward Russo gave questionnaires to more than two thousand executives in order to measure how much they knew about their industries.  Managers in advertising gave answers that they were ninety-per-cent confident were correct.  In fact, their answers were wrong sixty-one per cent of the time.  People in the computer industry gave answers they thought had a ninety-five per cent chance of being right; in fact, eighty per cent of them were wrong.  Ninety-nine per cent of the respondents overestimated their success.”

That quote has stuck with me for over seven years now, and I often think of it when I see someone confidently spouting off answers to complicated problems—politicians, corporate managers, journalists, pundits, the guy at the end of the bar.

I try to remember it most when I am the one doing the spouting off. That I, like most people, don’t know what I’m talking about even when—maybe especially when—I am certain that I do.

Later in the article, Brooks writes:

“…stressed the importance of collecting conflicting information before making up one’s mind, of calibrating one’s certainty to the strength of the evidence, of enduring uncertainty for long stretches as the answer becomes clear, of correcting for one’s biases.”

The more I learn the less certain I am of everything I think I know.

Maybe this is wisdom.

Then again, maybe not.

And by the way, that Mark Twain quote in the picture is from the opening credits of The Big Short, a film all about overconfidence before the 2008 economic crisis.

Only there’s no record of Twain ever saying or writing it.  It’s a bogus quote.

How’s that for irony?

Mushroom Soup

 

 

mushroom soup1

The secret to my success.

 

During the blink of an eye that I was on the Whole30 diet, I found a recipe for mushroom and chicken soup. I’m a fan of mushroom soup, so even though my Whole30 is over, I decide to get adventurous in the kitchen.

The Whole30 mushroom soup calls for coconut cream.

Not coconut milk. Coconut cream.

Of course.

I feel like a contestant on Survivor looking for a hidden immunity idol as I search through Giant Eagle.

Is it in the dry goods section with the powdered milk? No.

With coconut milk? No.

In that weird aisle by the produce with strange “healthy” drinks like acai energy juice, pre-mixed smoothies, and kombucha juice? In the dairy aisle with real cream?  With the almond milk?

No, no, and no.

(Side note: Whole30 loves kombucha juice.  Just another reason why my Whole30 was a Tortured5.)

I don’t want to give up, but I don’t know if Giant Eagle even stocks such a thing. I mean, looking for a needle in a haystack is bad enough, but what if the needle isn’t even there?

Finally, I look it up on my phone (“where is coconut milk in the grocery store?“) and find it by the pina colada mix, just where google said it would be.

(Another side note: You can tell a person’s age by how and when they use their phone.  If I’d been under twenty-five, I would’ve googled it the moment I walked through the door.  If I’d been over sixty, it never would’ve occurred to me to google it at all.  But I’m in that no man’s land between millennials and gen-exers, where it only occurs to me to google something after all traditional search methods have been exhausted.)

Coconut milk looks gross. I think about putting it into my lovely mushroom soup, and I have flashbacks of plant-based coffee creamer and no Pepsi.  I tremble.

Then I remember: I’m not on Whole30.  Just because the recipe calls for coconut milk doesn’t mean I have to use it.

I go on the reverse-substitute hunt. Instead of finding a healthier ingredient replacement, I’m looking for the full-fat version.  After reviewing my options, I settle on heavy whipping cream.

The next morning I wake early and get to work. I wash and slice three pounds of mushrooms, then scrape the leaves off twenty stalks of thyme.  After browning onions, mushrooms, and the thyme, I add the cream.

So far, so good.

The next step is to blend the mixture until smooth. When I pull the blender off the top shelf of my pantry, the glass carafe slips from the base and hits the floor.  Fortunately, the glass doesn’t shatter.

Unfortunately, a piece of the plastic base broke off.

This is a problem. But I’m in too deep to stop now.

I spoon the mushroom mixture into the blender and hold the carafe steady with both hands while the machine chugs along but doesn’t truly blend. I try everything:  taking some of the mixture out and blending it in smaller parts, turning up the speed, turning the setting to liquify, then to breaking ice.

mushroom soup2

The plot (and soup) thickens…

But since the bottom of the carafe no longer fits snugly into the base, it won’t work quite like it should.

The recipe called for “blending until smooth.” I settle for grainy-chunky.

After some final heating, I sit down to a steaming bowl of mushroom soup. I take a spoonful.

I barely believe it, but it tastes wonderful. It is creamy and smooth-ish and filling.

This I know: It might have been better with a properly working blender, but it wouldn’t be anywhere near as good with coconut cream.

#Whole30Fail

20180310_103005

Yes, this tastes as revolting as it looks

I try to eat healthy without being fanatical about it.  I’ve got my vices, Pepsi foremost among them, and I usually eat whatever I want at restaurants.  Otherwise, it’s a lot of salads, fruit, rice, and veggies.

Recently, my coworkers were talking about the Whole30 diet.  The general gist of this rigid diet is that you eat from a restricted list of foods for thirty days to give your body a “reset.”  During the rest, your body purges toxins, and you determine if certain foods are making you bloaty, achy, and tired.

One of my coworkers was on it and said he had more energy, less colds, and less achy joints.

Well.  I don’t have any problem with colds or achy joints, but who wouldn’t want more energy?

On the spot, I decided to try it.  It was only thirty days.  How hard could it be?

I went back to my desk and called up the Whole30 website.  It didn’t seem like one of those bizarre diets, like raw food or a thirty-day juice cleanse or ones that encouraged you to take a bunch of high-priced supplements.  I wouldn’t be down for any of that.

This was just a list of foods you should and shouldn’t eat for thirty days.  It seemed like it was primarily encouraging eating more vegetables, and who would argue with that?

I started reading the detailed banned list:

  • No processed foods—things like McDonald’s, Hungry Man TV dinners, and potato chips.
  • No junk food or baked goods. Double-duh.
  • No added sugar. This would be tougher, as it would mean abstaining from Pepsi, but not a surprise.
  • No alcohol. For thirty days?  No problem-o.
  • No legumes. No beans?  I thought beans were healthy.  I love beans.  This would be a crimp in my beans and rice lunches, but I was keeping an open mind.
  • No dairy. Wait, what?  No cheese?  Okay, I guess.  But no half and half in my coffee?  (The Whole30 practitioners stress that you cannot have cream in your coffee, not even a little bit, not even one time.  It’s a hazing—you prove your commitment to the diet by giving up your coffee cream.)  At least, I told myself, I wouldn’t have to give up coffee itself.
  • No grains. Excuse-ey moi?  No grains?  No bread, no oatmeal in the morning, no rice, no pasta.  No wheat.  No wraps.  Gluten-free does not count.  Out, out, out.  Gulp.

Here’s what you can eat:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Meat and Fish
  • Ghee, aka clarified butter, aka butter without dairy
  • Nuts
  • Eggs (thank God)

But, as the website kept reminding me, it was only thirty days.  After that there is a reintroduction phase for things like grains and dairy, and I’d cross that bridge when I came to it.

The first two days went off without a hitch.  Despite not preparing meals and grocery shopping for the plan (as strongly advised), I woke up early and made myself a spinach and egg omelet for breakfast.  Lunch was salad with pecans and berries, no dressing.

Dinner was harder.

Morning coffee without cream was impossible.

Whole30 stipulates that if you are an absolute weakling with zero self-control who lives like an out-of-control slob and therefore cannot go without coffee cream (guilty!), then they have an approved substitute called Nut Pods.  Nut Pods are a dairy-free coconut and almond based creamer.

This was veering dangerously close to bizarre expensive supplement diet territory, but by this time Whole30 had sucked me in.  The authors repeatedly state that if you eat one morsel of a non-approved food:  one splash of half and half, one stick of gum, one bite of toast—you have to start your thirty-day period over.

Typically, this type of extremism is a red flag for me.  But there’s an addictive and fanatical quality to the diet’s instructions that starts to get in your head and equates everything not on the approved list to rat poison.

So I ordered the Nut Pods and a jar of ghee (clarified butter) from Amazon since I doubted my local Shop N Save stocked them.  I could last the two days it would take for Prime to deliver.

The first Friday that rolled around was my fifth day of the diet.  I woke up with a headache that even an extra cup of coffee couldn’t cure.  Sugar detox, I told myself.  This meant things were working.

But I was hungry.  Crazy hungry.  Hungry that a bowl of spinach, no matter how big, couldn’t satisfy.

I was jonesing for carbs.

I told myself to stay strong.  Only twenty-five more days to go.  Bad pep talk.

I was out of food at home, and I knew better than to stop at a restaurant in my current state of mind.  Finding a Whole30 approved meal in a restaurant is difficult under the best of circumstances, and my willpower was running on fumes.  Better to go to the grocery store and fill my cart with fruit and veggies, then go home and make myself a nice salad.

I still couldn’t cook anything because my ghee hadn’t arrived from Amazon and I’m not allowed any butter or oil.

I walked into Giant Eagle and blacked out.

When I came to, I was sprawled out on my couch, Blinker pawing at my face.  Scattered around me was a half empty bag of tortilla chips, six granola bar wrappers, and three empty vanilla pudding Snack Pack cups.  I also had a vague memory of two—okay, three—pieces of toast.

That was the end of my Whole30.

The next morning, I had a glorious cup of coffee with real cream.  Then I drank a Pepsi.

The morning after that my ghee and Nut Pods arrived from Amazon.

Coffee Overboard

dunkin pic

I treat myself on Friday mornings with a Dunkin’ Donuts dark roast coffee.  It’s a boost of caffeine and goodness to start the weekend.  (Or at least get me through the final workday before the weekend.)

I hadn’t yet pulled out of the parking lot when I reached for the cup to take that first, wonderful morning sip.  I’d ordered a small (indulgence in moderation), and the cup was buried to the hilt in my car’s cup holder.  I was driving, and I couldn’t get a full grip, so the cup lifted about an inch before the lid came off in my hand and coffee went flying.  It spilled out into the cup holder, onto the parking break handle, and most critically, onto my hand.  It was scalding hot, just like I like it.

Just not on my hands.

Cursing and blowing on my burned fingers, I pulled into the nearest parking spot to survey the damage.  I’d lost about half an inch of coffee, not a disaster, but necessary to clean up before I continued.  I opened the glove box where I always keep a stack of napkins.

Of course, now there were no napkins because this was my new car and I had neither transferred any over from my old car nor accumulated new ones from fast food restaurant stops.

I went into the Dunkin’ and told the ladies at the counter what had happened.  They graciously gave me a roll of paper towels to use instead of eight thousand tiny paper Dunkin’ napkins.  Back in the car, I set the cup on the console between the front seats and started soaking up the cream-filled coffee from the car.

The damage wasn’t too bad.  I balled up the sodden paper towels and took them inside the Dunkin’ to throw away.  I got back into the car, pulled the door closed, and immediately bumped the cup—still on the console instead of back in the cup holder—with my elbow, knocking it over backwards and spilling its entire contents onto the floor of the back seat.

Eight in the morning and this was obviously not my day.

So back I went into the Dunkin’ for another roll of paper towels.  I had just installed rubber all-weather mats in the back, so it was a fairly easy affair to mop up the spill.

But now I had to face this day with a car that smelled like coffee and no caffeine to boot.

This might have ruined my morning, but when I went back inside to again throw away the used paper towels, the lady had a replacement cup of coffee waiting for me on the counter, no charge.

So maybe it wasn’t such a bad morning after all.

But just to be safe, I secured that coffee in the cup holder and didn’t touch it until I parked at my office and used two hands to pull it free.

Two times and I’ve learned my lesson.

For now.

My New Car – Part II

car3

A few weeks ago, you may recall I bought a car. After being overwhelmed by new car technology, I realized that the only thing I wanted was the one thing new cars didn’t have—a CD player.

So I picked out a used Subara Impreza with said CD player, and wrote about how much I loved it.

When I tell you what happened next, you’re going to think I made it up. But as the old cliché goes, truth is stranger than fiction.

Immediately after writing and posting the blog, I pulled on my flip shades (Maren Morris has flip shades, right?), gathered up a stack of classic CDs and headed for my new ride. Even though it was freezing out, I planned to ride around the neighborhood with the windows down and the radio blaring in my new ride.

I slipped the CD in and…nothing.

Nothing!

No sound at all.

Here is where I am forced to admit that although I made the presence of a CD player my number one requirement in a car, I did not test to make sure said CD player actually worked!

Oops.

I told myself I could get the CD player fixed. Car Sense would repair it for free under their six month bumper to bumper warranty.

But the Subaru had bad juju, and it had to go.

Fortunately, Car Sense has a five-day no questions asked return policy. So the next morning, I drove the Subaru back to the dealer and told them I wanted to take the red Chevy Cruze for a second test drive.

The salesman was surprised, but he didn’t argue. He brought the Cruze around—it was even more stripped down than the Subaru.

No backup camera—think of the mailboxes! No all-wheel drive—think of the snow!

But when I pulled that CD from my purse and slipped it in, Maren Morris’ voice came through every speaker loud and clear.

And just like, it was love. My new 80s Mercedes is a Chevrolet.