Tuesday, February 23, 2016

In Memoriam

If you can possibly avoid it, don't be pregnant in San Francisco.

Every able-bodied man on the evening train will remain seated and looking at his phone while you stand in the aisle, huge on swollen feet, for thirty minutes.

If you fall down while crossing the street, a sea of young professionals will part around you and keep walking while a homeless person offers a hand up.

In public discourse, you will be described as a "breeder," and people will deplore your horrible child -- ruining restaurants! airplanes! -- even before it's born.

Your only consolation during all this will be -- what else? -- the food.

Thus at lunch, I would often end up at the Miette patisserie in the Ferry Building, mentally working out how many cupcakes I would need to survive the day.

Between stress and prenatal hormones, I was turning into a hoarder: I could eat one cupcake now, but what if -- back at my desk -- I wanted another one? And what if, after that one, I desperately craved another one? I had better get three. But what if . . . ?

"Four chocolate cupcakes to go, please."

Even now, years later, I am occasionally seized by the instinct to collect as much food as possible, like the industrious ant in the fable. This explains why, the other day, I found myself ordering an entire pizza topped with tater tots and bacon.

Arriving at Whole Foods at 10 a.m. ablaze with purpose, I was informed they no longer served breakfast pizza by the slice: It was "not popular."

Turns out, the kombucha-buyers at Whole Foods were not too keen on breakfast pizza: everything on a Denny's menu baked on a thin, crispy crust.

As I struggled to recover from this news, the nice young man behind the counter offered to make me my own breakfast pizza for pickup the next morning. Would it have tater tots on it? 

It would.

Would it have bacon, scrambled eggs, cheese, onion, and bell pepper? 

Yes, of course, whatever I wanted!

I glanced over at Dave, who had the distant, slightly troubled expression of a man watching his future wife order a 16" tater tot pizza.

Fifteen minutes later, we were playing Scrabble after a non-pizza breakfast. A terrible clarity descended on me: I was no longer hungry and could admit my folly.

"I need you to go over there and cancel that pizza I just ordered."


Even the counter boy seemed relieved: Both of us had been temporarily caught up in a swirl of madness. Tater tot pizza?

Back in San Francisco, the other thing I loved to get at the Ferry Building was a spicy beef curry, served daily over white rice at a Japanese cafe called Delica. I owe a lot to this curry, which many days was the only thing standing between me and a mind-shattering insight into the pointlessness and misery of human life: "I just can't possibly. . . It's just too . . . Wow, they have once again achieved perfection with this curry. Bravo!"

I can't say a slice of breakfast pizza ever helped me out of a tough spot, per se.

But I will always remember it fondly.

(Image: Baby Shower Cupcakes by Clever Cupcakes from Montreal, Canada [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

Friday, February 12, 2016

Rough chop

I've been cooking more lately: chicken parmesan, egg custard, shrimp scampi, roasted broccoli and pancetta, shepherd's pie, and chocolate-cherry muffins.

It's pleasant to putter around the kitchen while the kids are in screen heaven, recovering from the school day and the demands of reality in general.

My signature move is the rough chop: hacking things into large pieces, throwing them in a pot, and describing the resulting dish as "rustic."

With spices, I am generous and imprecise. (A quarter-teaspoon's worth doesn't seem worth the effort.)

I carefully time and monitor the oven. I am afraid of BROIL and avoid it.

My favorite ingredients are pre-washed vegetables in a bag.

I enjoy assembling simple things, like a decaf chai latte with a slug of Irish whiskey, a few drops of vanilla, and a cinnamon stick. (So delicious that once you try it, you will kick yourself for all the wasted years . . . )

Cookbooks are like the Internet: With no particular plans, you flip through them until something catches your interest. And the Internet is a like a cookbook: Recipes for every imaginable food are a Google search away.

Always looking for ways to alleviate the boredom of winter nights, I'm glad to have hit upon cooking as a minor hobby.

Plus I'm so new to it that, every time I take a rustic, Internet-sourced casserole out of the oven, I feel like I'm being amazing.

"Am I amazing you, kids? Are you amazed that your working, single mother has lovingly prepared this meal for --"

"Can I be excused, Mom?"

"Me too?"


Friday, February 5, 2016


It's the middle of winter, and all our standards have gone out the window.

In other seasons, we bike, read, swim, and play Sudoku.  But in February all we want to do is curl up on the couch, in the flickering light of some trash or another, with a bowl of pretzels.

Here's what we're staring at, slack-jawed, on any given night:

1. Animal Crossing. In this video game, the player (my son) is the mayor of a town of animals. He walks around, buys and sells things, and decorates his house. For a long time, I  tried to figure out the point of all this. Then it dawned on me that there is no point: The player is plunged into an existential nightmare of terrifying inanity, and that is all.

Heads bobbing, the animals interact with the mayor by chirping frantically, like gerbils on speed. The mayor goes from house to house, buying baubles from his constituents. To pay off six-figure debts, he is reduced to selling fish, insects, and his own clothes. On the upside, his house contains a jukebox, a bubble machine, and a replica of the Statue of Liberty, and the animal mafia have not (yet) broken his kneecaps for outstanding loans.

That my son can play this game for hours is perhaps the most disturbing development of my adult life. And yet, I'm hardly one to talk, because . . .

2. Married At First Sight. Three seasons into this "groundbreaking social experiment" -- in which couples are blindly matched by relationship experts, meet at the altar, and remain married for six weeks before deciding whether to divorce -- I've learned a lot about the dos and don'ts of marriage.

It is helpful to be a burlesque dancer who falls for a fireman on sight and instantly devotes herself to being the best wife in the world.

It is unhelpful to maintain a contemptuous expression at all times and then sign up for a TV show in which you are paired with a male stranger who will, inevitably, repel you.

For men, it is unhelpful to be (1) a psychopath, (2) a guy who, honestly, wants to keep living with his parents, and what's wrong with that? and (3) on this show, because unless you are the specific fireman mentioned above, your marriage will crash and burn faster than Bart Simpson in a soapboax derby.

Each season, the relationship experts -- one from Harvard! -- achieve the impossible, turning hopeful newlyweds into bitter divorcees in six weeks.

Almost every contestant would be better off getting a dog. Which brings me to . . .

3. Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3. If you put the worst dog in the world in the worst town in the world in the most unnecessary sequel in the world, you get Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3: Viva La Fiesta!: a film suitable only for seven-year-old girls whose families are in February Neglect Mode.

Passing through the living room to get a snack, I try to neither see, nor hear, nor speak of Viva La Fiesta!, though it's in its sixth or seventh run, and my daughter seems to know all the words. These days, Papi and Chloe may be more real to her than her own brother (off selling his shoes to a chipmunk for a candelabra) or her own mom (deep in a fug of schadenfreude).

I have resisted the knowledge that these dogs and their litter are now living at the Langham Hotel, and that Papi has been relieved of his homeschooling duties. I have blocked out the snooty chef and all the talk of one pup's QuinceaƱera -- though I have wondered whether my daughter could have a QuinceaƱera. If a talking dog can do it, doesn't that open the door, culturally, to anyone? Any human at least, who isn't just turning 15 in dog years?

In March or April, we will all peel our brains off the floor and resume living.

Until then, we're drawing the shades and hunkering down.

Don't call us. We'll call you.

(Image: Duck Hunt Video Game by tympsy (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons)