Most Wonderful Time?

My bluebird of happiness ornament

As hard as I try, I can never entirely avoid a good cry or two during the holiday season. I call it the “Christmas Cry”, and I had a couple good ones this year. December stirs up a lot of emotion for me, and I know I’m not crazy for, or alone in this in the slightest. I don’t like the pressure to be anything other than what I am, or to feel anything other than what I feel. And I’m terrible at pretending otherwise.

Christmas is this huge deal to a lot of people, and it’s built up for weeks-and-weeks-and-oh-the-shopping-and-the-gifts-and-the-parties-and-the-cookies-and-the-blah-and-the-blah. It’s a little too much for this low-key introvert. Every time I hear that carol that starts with “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”  all I can think is “Geeze, the pressure…”.

I’m no Grinch though. I adore the real tree I have – the one I get every year from The Maher Garden Center. Each ornament has meaning, and I love unpacking them and hanging them. I love the lights around Newport, strung all over trees and boats and storefronts. I love the food, and the wine, and the time shared with friends and family. I love making cocoa and watching “Elf” and, please don’t judge, “Love Actually” (though that triggered an early Christmas Cry this year.) I even like some of the music.
In the past few days, I decided to put aside a few hours alone for myself on this Christmas day. When people asked me what I was doing today, I didn’t expect the looks of pity I received when I mentioned the plan for some solitude. I guess that sounded sad to some people. But the truth is I really just needed a long walk, and a nap, and to rest after a busy couple of weeks. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised by the looks, since this holiday is engineered for moms and dads with kids. But me? I’m childless (by choice), and single (by fate) at  forty. And while I’m comfortable with my life, I’ll admit that it’s tough not to feel a little sting about it, now and then, and especially at Christmas.
But I’m not the slightest bit lonely or sad today, save for missing my dad a little. I spent Christmas eve and part of this morning with the family I was born in to – 5 brothers and 2 sisters, my mom, some nephews (lost count, 5?), one awesome niece, and a few in-laws. They are all strong, unique, smart and, well, totally annoying people. But they crack me up endlessly, and I am so grateful for them.
And then I have the family I chose – friends, who know my every quirk and flaw, every strength and weakness – who’ve held me in their arms and hearts through very tough times, and who keep me laughing every day. I’ll be spending time with some of them tonight, and some of them tomorrow night, which means that the only Christmas Cry-ing I’ll be doing is laughing until I cry.

I am obviously counting my blessings here. And that is a holiday tradition I am totally fine with.

Peace and love to you all.

Oh, also: more food, less pain,
xoxo -L

Local Woman Survives Dangerous Self-Pity Spiral

This is my first blog post in 4 months. A few people, especially Favorite Niece, have been asking for a post. Favorite Niece even offered up some fodder from her own life. For instance, she fainted this summer while eating a sandwich. She was completely sober, hydrated and well rested. The doctors never figured out why. The sandwich had bacon on it. There’s a post in there for sure, and I should have just handed the blog over to her for a while.

Depressed cat.

I didn’t write because I lost my sense of humor this summer around the two things I blog about most: food and love. Food poisoning and getting dumped, within the span of one month, will do that to a person.

I lost half of June to the food poisoning. It landed me in the ER, and caused me to miss a week of work. It left me weak, and actually quite anemic. It took me a month to feel strong and normal again, which was just in time for getting dumped mid-July. Luckily, my iron levels were approaching “normal” range by then, which the FDA recommends for single women my age who are at risk of experiencing a surprise break up. In truth, I was neither surprised by or opposed to the end of the relationship. But I was disappointed that it came in the form of a monologue, instead of a discussion. There was no Q&A session offered. The “unilateral” approach he took (his word, not mine) left me stunned, and deeply hurt.

In short, my funny bone broke. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find one interesting or humorous thing to say about being a recently dumped, slightly lonely, never-married, plumpy 40 year old who doesn’t even have a college degree.

And that’s a level of self pity I prefer to spare you from. In fact, it is reserved strictly for my closest girlfriends, who allow it, though only briefly. We have an understanding about this, and have a routine in place for such occasions: Go ahead. Rant.Cry.Get it out. But don’t forget your punchline. It’s a nod to this scene, in When Harry Met Sally:

Mine is the college degree bit. Another girlfriend prefers to end her speeches with “And I’m a renter!” Ridiculous? Yes. But it’s a clever trick that breaks the spell. Without fail, the mandatory punchline sends us into giggle fits. It reminds us to laugh at ourselves. And laughter, of course, brings relief.

Despite the shaky start, I made a point to enjoy the rest of the summer. I took every Friday off in August to hit the beach, and the resulting tan was the best one I’ve had in years. And because it is unconscionable to let a summer in Newport go by without a Del’s on the beach, or a Tallulah’s taco at the The Shack, or a sunset drink on roof of the Vanderbilt, or a drunken kiss on the street with a stunning Brazilian man, I made sure to do all of these things, most more than once. (Okay, maybe that last one isn’t requisite, but come on?)

I’ve always loved the months of September and October the most here in RI. But I probably welcomed the new season with more enthusiasm than usual this year. I wasn’t sad to see that summer go. One day in September, life just felt easier again. It’s been mostly drama free since, and I know not than to take this for granted. We had an amazing Indian Summer, and I made sure to enjoy every warm, peaceful, sunny day I was given.

And now we’ve had our first snow, and next month brings us into winter, and I say bring it on! Sure, winters here can be rough. And, yes, I’m still a never-married, plumpy 40 year old without a college degree. But I’m no longer sad, or lonely. And my doctor says my iron levels are pretty good. I even feel a little inspired to write again. But if I can’t think of anything soon we should totally take Favorite Niece out for a BLT, cross our fingers, and hope she faints.*

More Food. Less Pain.
xo-L

*My treat if she does!

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Scraping the Bottom

Do you see the dust & grossness?
Last night, at 10:30pm, I ate candy that I found on the bottom of my purse. Haribo Raspberry candies. They were not individually wrapped. They were covered in purse dust. And they were DELICIOUS.

My excuse? I was dumped 10 days ago.

My friends don’t want me to say “dumped”. They keep pointing out that I wasn’t in love with him. They remind me that I’d been talking since May about possibly ending it, and that he only got to it sooner than I did. But I’m going with the “dumped” story for now. Because it allows me to say things like this:

 “Fuck it, I’m gonna eat this unwrapped, dusty candy at the bottom of my purse.”

Truth be told, what I actually wanted to say last night was this:

“Fuck it, I’m going to the bar ALONE to drink a Scotch. Then I’m going to smoke a cigarette. Then I’m going to text men that are bad for me.”

But I didn’t say or do any of the latter. Instead I dined out with a couple of girlfriends, and went home where I drank a very small, very diluted Old Fashioned. Then I ate the purse-candy, drank a glass of water, counted my blessings, and went to bed.

So if you think about it, eating candy from the bottom of my purse is actually PROGRESS.

Redemption, indeed!

I mean, check out these low points, and I think you’ll agree:

Day 1: Cleaned my apartment. Ever sob while Swiffering? I did.
Days 2, 3 & 4: Very few calories consumed. Very little sleep. Walked 15 miles in 3 days.
Day 5: Croissant. Giant prosciutto sandwich. Chocolate cake. Cheese and bread for dinner. A whole bottle of Rose.
Day 6: Completed a marathon of Prosecco drinking in just under 6 hours.
Day 7: Omelette. Pizza. Beer. Gyro. Loukoumades. Sleep.

On that 7th night, I slept for 10 hours.

After that, things got better.

Yes, there has been pathos, and gyros, and pain. And purse-candy. But there has also been the relief and the excitement that comes with a fresh start. I’ve had more time for walks and meals with my girlfriends, who are thoughtful, and fair, and loving with their support. I’ve had more time alone too, which, as an introvert, isn’t an unwelcome thing.

And now it’s summer, and I’m single and if you’ve read my blog before you know how awful I am at dating. Which is good news for you, since I’m sure I’ll write about it, and you’ll get to laugh at the horrors. Sigh. At least the eating is always good.

More Food, Less Pain,
xo-L

How Foodies Get Sick, Part 2

Today I’m writing out of boredom and desperation. I have no excuse NOT to, as it is day FIVE of being confined to couch by The Mystery Illness.

I can’t have visitors, and really shouldn’t leave the house. I’ve watched 8 movies, and my Hulu queue is empty. I even organized my dresser drawers. (There were 12 single athletic socks with NO partner! TWELVE! How is that even possible?) I tackled this monumental task on the floor of my bedroom, drenched in a fever sweat. I had to take breaks, which involved lying down on the floor and mopping my forehead with the spare socks.

I’ve even exhausted my capacity for solitude, which I didn’t think possible.

The Mystery Illness is likely food poisoning, or a stomach bug. Whatever it is, it’s terrible. Stabbing stomach pains for 3 days, followed by a fever and all the lovely symptoms that accompany a fever, which seems to have finally broken.

Right before starting this post, I got so bored that I tried to do some data entry for an ongoing project at work. I lasted 15 minutes. I might be bored, but that task borders on torture, and the pain I suffered when cold, damp air hit my 102.7° skin Monday night was torture* enough for one week.

Welcome to my dum-dum fever brain.

It didn’t take long for the obligatory Googling of The Symptoms to take place. Those who know me won’t be surprised by this. As an amateur diagnostician and hobby anatomist, the challenge of staying objective during self-diagnosis can be very exciting indeed.

In all honesty, I’m not as hypochondriacal as my friends might lead you to believe. I had an experience in my early 20’s that taught me to pay attention because it scared the bejesus out of me. For nearly a year I had intermittent pain that I knew wasn’t right, but the docs kept saying it was normal “woman stuff”. I passively went along with them, which, no joke, nearly killed me.

So I like to have some idea of what is going on in there, and I’m totally into that medical blood-and-guts stuff too, so there’s a curiosity about it as well.

Though I will admit that, when my fever went from 100° to 102.7° in the span of an hour late Monday night, I got a little spooked. Maybe even delirious. I was alone, shivering, unable to sleep, and my thoughts got away from me. I was terribly worried, and made a deal with myself that if my fever hit 103° I would go to the ER. Since I had no hope of real sleep, I took my temperature every 30 minutes. When my arms had enough strength, I used my iPhone to research my predicament. (See screen shot above. I don’t even know what prompted the Lepto search.)

And then I did what everyone else does in this situation (right? right?!) and started an ER plan: what to pack, who to call, etc. Then I started to worry about the fact that my dresser was so disorganized.  How would someone find clean underwear for me in there should I end up being admitted? And what if I die? They’ll think I’m such a slob.

The ER trip never was necessary, and my symptoms are fading, thankfully. My dresser is in good order should an actual emergency arise. And should it, please note that the clean underwear is in the top drawer now.

More Food. Less (stabbing stomach) Pain.
xo-L

*Uh oh. I’ve used the words “hostage” and “torture” and “confined” in this post. NSA? Are you listening? If you are, please note that of the 7 movies I watched, the last one was Argo and my language is probably just influenced by that. 

Birthday Cake!

I made my own cake for my 40th Birthday this month. For some reason, this exasperated a lot of folks. Clearly those people have never eaten a cake I’ve baked. Because if the did, they’d know it will be better than any cake ever made before. Like. Ever.

Maybe they felt sad for me. Maybe they were worried I’d be sitting at home alone, singing “Happy Birthday to Me.” As if. The fact is, I have plenty of friends who would make me a cake, if I asked them to. (Though the truth is I only have one friend that I trust with the task, and she was already organizing a cooking class/party for me.) I also have friends who would gladly buy me one, without hesitation.  But I am of the opinion that a homemade cake, made with a little skill, and a lot of love, ALWAYS tastes better than one from even the best bakery.

A homemade birthday cake should not be too composed. It should be slightly crooked, and there should be a few stubborn crumbs in the final layer of frosting. Despite these flaws, it should be oohed and aahed over, while the baker coyly rejects the compliments. Any leftover pieces should be wrapped and sent home with the guests, but one piece should remain, and should be eaten for breakfast the next morning. If you bring the cake elsewhere, the plate it was served on should be left behind at that person’s house for months.

I made Lora Brody’s “Best Birthday Cake”, from her beautiful cookbook Chocolate American Style. I picked it because it’s a fail-proof, delicious recipe, and also because my favorite cake/frosting combo is chocolate/vanilla. This frosting recipe has cream cheese and white chocolate and butter. Do I even need to explain what that means?

It means it’s rich and delicious, dummy. 

Here’s a link to the recipe, if you’re so inclined. It looks like a lot of ingredients and instruction, but don’t be afraid. It’s actually a good cake for a novice baker, as there is no creaming stage for the butter and sugar, and no tricky folding in of the dry and wet ingredients. If you do your mise en place ahead of time, it’s as simple as putting together a boxed cake mix. Even the frosting is tough to screw up.

And by the way, it’s still technically my Birthday Month, so if you want to buy me a gift it is not too late! Here’s a link to my Amazon Wish List*:

Louise’s Amazing Birthday Wish List **

More Food, Less Pain,
xo-L

*Not a real wish list. Though if you buy me the 60lb wheel of provolone, I’ll share. Promise. 
**Special thanks to The Ninja for the creative assistance. Only a mind as warped as yours gets why this was fun. And thanks for the b-day tart. 

Row

Bladderwrack & Stone, Cliff Walk, Dec 2012

One day, back in December, Favorite Niece told me how excited she was for a visit from a guy. She was counting down the days, and, like anyone falling in love, could not contain her enthusiasm. She was grinning a lot back then*, and was obviously happy.

Her happiness did not resonate with me that day. I was feeling blue, and I remember counseling her to temper her anticipation, and to be careful with her expectations. I’m sure I thought I was being helpful, and probably believed that the 10 extra years of “wisdom” I have on her meant my advice was sound. I offered no positive encouragement, just a grim warning. And, like most unsolicited advice and criticism, it came from a place of unhappiness.

I regretted it instantly, and have ruminated over my reaction since. I started questioning why it was so difficult for me to just be happy for her. Had I completely lost faith in the idea of romantic love? Would I ever feel that it’s worth the risk again? Do I really even need that particular kind of relationship, when my life feels rich enough already with the love of my family and friends?

I still don’t have the answers, but I do have moments of clarity here and there. A poem I came across recently, “West Wind # 2”, by Mary Oliver, helped some, the way a good poem should.

This poem reminded me that, despite my bruised and hesitant heart, I still believe the risk is worth taking. I desperately don’t want anyone, especially my niece, to be as hurt and as disappointed as I was when my relationship ended. And yet, I honestly have no regrets. Of course I wish I could take away the pain it caused, but then I’d have to take away all the years of joy and love and growth. Why on earth would I want to do that?

And the fact is, her heart might break. Mine might again too. But most hearts do, at some point, and usually more than once in a lifetime. Despite this, I still agree with what Ms. Oliver wrote – that life without love is “not worth a bent penny or a scuffed shoe.” It’s worth the risk, and I’m glad she’s rowing towards it.

West Wind # 2
You are young. So you know everything. You leap
into the boat and begin rowing. But listen to me.
Without fanfare, without embarrassment, without
any doubt, I talk directly to your soul. Listen to me.
Lift the oars from the water, let your arms rest, and
your heart, and heart’s little intelligence, and listen to 
me. There is life without love. It is not worth a bent 
penny, or a scuffed shoe. It is not worth the body of a 
dead dog nine days unburied. When you hear, a mile 
away and still out of sight, the churn of the water 
as it begins to swirl and roil, fretting around the 
sharp rocks – when you hear that unmistakable 
pounding – when you feel the mist on your mouth 
and sense ahead the embattlement, the long falls 
plunging and steaming – then row, row for your life 
toward it.

-Mary Oliver

More Food Love, Less Pain,
xo-L

*And still is, I’m happy to report.

How Foodies Get Sick

Like I said: sexy.

On New Year’s Eve, near the stroke of midnight, a girlfriend treated us to little toasts topped with creme fraiche and caviar. They were delicious. We are not regular caviar and champagne eaters – but some New Year’s cliches are good ones, and it did not go unappreciated by any of us.

Upon tasting it I knew it was very good, very special caviar. It was clean tasting, not at all fishy, a little sweet, a little salty. Beautiful, shiny, black – yup, it was sexy. I couldn’t tell exactly what kind it was just from tasting it, so I made my way to the kitchen to take a look at the empty jar. It was D’artagnan’s Ossetra caviar, farmed in France. I felt a surge of love for my friend who treated us to this. She is always generous, and I know it gives her joy to share good food with us.

When I looked in the tiny jar, I noticed there were a few little eggs left in it.

You know what happened next, don’t you?

I licked that jar. I licked it clean. I licked it for America. Stuck my tongue into it and got those last little eggs into my belly, where they belonged.

Then, because I have no shame*, I went out and told everyone. They giggled a little, not at all surprised of course. But my friend who brought the caviar laughed harder than the rest, and admitted to also taking her tongue to the jar. (I LOVE HER.)

She then informed me of a third “licker”: her man-friend, who had just recovered from a week in bed with THE FLU.

I had enough Champagne in me by then to not give it much thought. Midnight arrived just a moment or two later. My cute date motioned me over to his cute lap, where I sat and kissed him. And since the bubbles and caviar were from France, I suppose we decided to stay with the theme, and kissed in that style too.

By Thursday my throat was scratchy. By Friday, a full blow fever took over. My caviar-sharing/fellow licker of a girlfriend contracted the plague also, and our illnesses matched almost exactly, symptom to symptom, hour by hour. We updated each other periodically during the 48 hours our fevers burned. As for cute-lap guy? Turns out he’s more than just a, um, cute lap. He’s also got brains, and got a flu shot. So he’s fine. Whatever dude.

In a way, I’m proud I contracted the flu this way. It seems like a good omen for 2013. Or a bad one. Is there a lesson here? Get a flu shot next year? Don’t lick things unless you can know for certain they haven’t been licked before? I don’t know. Those lessons just seem too obvious, and so boring. So I’ll probably just overlook them and continue to search for a deeper meaning in it all.

In closing, I ask you this, my dear Bleaders:

Have you EVER known anyone to get the flu from licking a caviar jar? Nope. Didn’t think so. Things like this, and this, and this just happen to me. Which is why I get to be the ruler of this funny food blog with 54,000** readers, and you don’t.

More Food, Less Pain,
xo-L

*Not true. I have some. Just not enough to measure.
**Give or take 53,080 or so.