Saturday, November 12, 2011

Where The Gin Is Cold (And The Piano Hot).

(I took this picture with a point and shoot. Quite pleased. Quite!)

I just returned from a short trip to Chicago to visit a friend. It was wonderful in so many ways (Garrett's Popcorn - I don't like popcorn too much normally but the "Chicago Mix", a seemingly odd combo of cheesy popcorn and caramel corn was addictive) and not so wonderful in others (the cab drivers). Destiny cursed us with the strangest assortment of drivers I have ever seen - all surly and hellbent on breaking every traffic law known to man.

I am a person that talks too much. Maybe that was the problem. In other cabs around the world, however, this has made for interesting conversations. I love inquiring the drivers about their home countries (always asking them to teach me an insult or two in their language). I just like people, and am fascinated by their life experiences. The ride usually involves a lot of laughter (except in the case of a Chinese driver we had in Sydney - there were some sad stories there). On holiday with the kids in Mexico, my husband consistently shoved me forward, since my Spanish is better than his. I'd always end up in the front seat, looking at pictures of new babies on cell phones, asking if tourists were cheap bastards, trying to figure out where we could eat without being subjected to fluorescent mixed drinks served in foot-high beakers. These rides are always wonderful experiences that culminate in cries of "take care, wonderful to meet you!", a window into the lives of immigrants making lives in places sometimes very foreign to them, and overtipping. (I can't help myself!)

I love public transport in general. I live in a place where it is very inefficient to take the limited public transportation options, making me feel guilty every time I get into my gas-guzzling vehicle. I am always excited when I go to a place where this isn't true. Every major city I have been to excels at some aspect of moving large mobs of people around. Let's discuss!

MOST EFFICIENT PUBLIC TRANSPORT: This is a tie between the London Underground and NYC's subway system. So many stops! So many lines! I could ride them both all day! Although, truth be told, I do prefer to Mind The Gap.

CLEANEST SUBWAY SYSTEM: This is a tie. Only in New York have I been on a truly disgusting subway car, but the cleanest award goes to the Tunnelbana in Stockholm and Le Métro de Montréal. The cities themselves were surprisingly tidy as well. 

SUBWAY SYSTEM THAT SCREAMS "TAKE A VESPA INSTEAD": Barecelona's metro. It doesn't have a lot of lines, and they don't seem to stop anywhere near where you want to go. Maybe that's why everyone is so thin there....

COOLEST PUBLIC TRANSPORT SYSTEM: Sydney. Their trains stink (there is a sign that says when the next train is coming, but the time keeps changing. We were stuck in some outlying suburb forever and I swear I could hear the kookaburras singing in the old gum tree as we waited. And waited. And waited...) But OH, to take a ferry across Sydney Harbor, passing the Opera House, wondering if you fell off, how long it would take for a shark to find you....priceless! Stockholm may have ferries as well, if I recall, being that they are an archipelago and all. Don't worry, only about 1,000 of those over 20,000 islands are populated, so it's not as many stops on the line as you think...

MOST COMFY TAXI SERVICE: Allo Taxi in Beirut. It is a fleet of new, air-conditioned vans that will take you anywhere in style and comfort - even Syria! Try to avoid regular "service" cars, please. PLEASE. Once I was in a private taxi (where you pay for the whole car; it was myself and my family) going to Syria to visit other family and rode in a car that that had a hole in the floorboard the size of a baby's head. It took extra vigilance to make sure not to place anything on the floorboards by accident - especially your foot, which would be sheared off immediately.

Anyway, it was a great trip, except we went to a show, and I got in trouble.

To make a long story short, I was recording a particular song with my cell phone (LIKE EVERYONE ELSE) and was accosted by a security guard, who actually grabbed at it and screamed at me! Hmph! I didn't erase the video, but it sounds terrible. It was an amazing show, but it was general admission, and it made me realize I was too old to be in a venue that didn't have cushy seats and toilets that function properly. Also, my knees are now killing me from standing the whole time!

On another note, thanks to Suze over at Girl Wizard and Analog Breakfast (whom you all already know!) I have to answer this wondrous quiz! And I promised to do so, so here I go.

1. If you could go back in time and relive one moment, what would it be?
Algiers. 1935. The Oasis of Thieves. I can't say more.

2. If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be?

I would have worked harder as an undergrad so I could go on to study at the London School of Economics and Political Science. I don't have a lot of regrets, but that is a huge one.

3. What movie/T.V. character do you most resemble in personality?

It's going to have to be a cross between Fox Mulder, Eeyore, and Sofia Vergara in Modern Family.

4. If you could push one person off a cliff and get away with it, who would you choose?

That's a bit extreme, so I will change it to "if I could allow one person to be whisked off by aliens". It's a toss-up between The Kardashians (come on, they count as one person!). Or any of the Housewives. Or the Jersey Shore cast. Ew. Ew. Ew. If those aliens are stupid enough to take them, they can keep them! And not bring them back! (To any other life forms reading this: I didn't actually say you were stupid.  You are obviously really smart if you can make it to Earth and then go back home. Just saying.)

5. Name one habit you want to change in yourself.

Irrational Exuberance.

6. Why do you blog?

The same reason teens go to after-school programs. To stay out of trouble!

The last question was who do I want to send this meme to, and the answer is anyone who wants to answer it. I don't want you guys to feel obligated, but I would LOVE to read your answers.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Constant Craving.

I wanted to write a post about something important, but I'm too mad at Greece right now (even though they have given us Homer and spanakopita and Athena and lots of cool stuff in the sciences and philosophy.) I guess those who decided a European Union was a good idea never had the experience of doing a group project at school. Anyone who has embarked upon such lunacy knows it never works. Someone always pulls most of the weight, and there is some loafer who never shows up to any of the meetings, because they know someone else will pick up the slack, lest the grade of the entire group plummet into oblivion. Now, I am not calling the Greeks slackers! My Mediterranean cousins are a group of smart, swarthy intellects! However, I think living on the Med makes you a bit nuts in some way. Maybe it's the clear blue skies and the glassy, warm water, I don't know. Anyhow, I am not here to talk about global finance! This week I'm going to write about something else the Mediterranean folk share a passion for (besides loud fights that go nowhere and everyone wanting to be the boss): food.

I have been cooking a lot the last few weeks, and here I will show a few of the fruits of my labors. Just to show off, if I am honest. Also, because it's kind of an easy out, isn't it?

The above: red velvet cupcakes I made for a birthday. 

Roasted Sweet Potato Soup with Spiced Chipotle Cream and Pepitas (Pumpkin Seed)

Polpette for Meatball Subs 

S'Mores Cupcakes (chocolate chocolate chip cupcakes with graham cracker crust and homemade roasted marshmallow topping)

Pina Colada Cupcakes (coconut cake filled with homemade pineapple curd and topped with a coconut buttercream frosting)

S'Mores Cupcakes (again! different party....) and Cherry Limeade Cupcakes (Hello, Girl Wizard!)

Spiced Quince Compote (I bought too many quinces and had to do SOMETHING with them.) The flecks aren't dirt, I swear. They are vanilla bean, cardamom, and clove, along with cinnamon and ginger.

Spicy Red Pepper Jelly

Caramel Apple Cupcakes (with homemade caramel and apple chips)

Almond Joy Cupcakes (coconut almond cake with chocolate ganache and coconut almond buttercream, toasted coconut and almonds)

And, because Suze so kindly dedicated a blog post partially to me, and begged me to post these, here you go. Don't laugh! The above is the outfit I gave out candy in on Halloween. (The package said "Gretchen" on it...)

And here is one I wore to a costume party. And, James Littlejohn, I know you may mock me for it (I think there may have been an Open Letter to Girls Who Take Pictures in Mirrors With Cellphones) but I am taking a chance.