Some find inspiration in the wilderness. Others find themselves hopelessly lost.

Category Archives: Silly Stuff

According to their website, 4-H exists in rural communities, cities and suburbs across America.Image

Maybe that’s true now, but when I was a kid in suburbia, 4-H was nowhere to be found. We had the 4Ts: Tennis, Trumpet, Tetris and Test prep for college admissions.

How I longed to raise a pig! Milk a cow! I had to content myself with the hamsters on display in the mall pet store.

The 4 Hs are Head, Heart, Hand, and Health. As a kid, I would have guessed Horses, Hares, Hay Rides, and Happy Kids. I didn’t quite understand the full breadth of the organization, but I had the gist of it.

Every year at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, I get a little peak into the magic that is the 4-H club.  The farm show does, in fact, have plenty of horses, hares, hay and happy kids. Not only that. They’ve got fainting goats, adorable chicks and even ducklings that they send down slides into a giant bathtub.

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A girl and her cow. Photo from 2013, courtesy of the Pennsylvania Farm Show.

Those 4-H kids are bee-keeping , mushroom gathering, and making dioramas about pesticide health impacts.  They knit. They bake pies like nobody’s business. Well, okay, maybe that’s their parents, but you just know they eat home-cooked pies on a regular basis. Basically, they are living the dream of the Brooklyn rooftop farmer and urban anti-chicken ordinance fighter. I wouldn’t be surprised if those kids  butcher esoteric meats and home brew in their free time.

Plus, now the 4-H kids are making robots. Really! They’ll probably build and operate a spaceship next.  Of course, they’ll get to bring a horse and rabbit with them on their mission to mars. Me, I still don’t even have a goldfish at home.

Alas, I am not in Pennsylvania at the moment and so I won’t be visiting the farm show this year.  No vicarious 4-H fun for me.  But, if you’re in a two hour vicinity of Harrisburg, it’s well worth the trip. Check out all those smiling 4-H kids.  Plus, you can experience the butter sculpture, the sheep to shawl contest and the maple cotton candy.

Feed a horse and stroke the softest rabbit you can imagine.  Live the 4-H experience.  I’ll be jealous.

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What your barista won't admit: It's oh-so-easy to make an entirely respectable cup.

What your barista won’t admit: It’s oh-so-easy to make an entirely respectable cup.

A $5 cup of filter coffee.  Shocking? Yes. But so many people told me the new filter coffee experience could be transcendent, so I tried it.  Twice.

Both times, the brew was carefully timed, the water temperature perfect (checked with a thermometer), the surroundings tastefully shabby. My handsome barista assured me I’d be impressed.

“Don’t use sugar,” he warned.  “You’ll want the pure experience.”

Um… tasted like filter coffee usually does, no better than the stuff at the local diner.  I tried it again at a different café in a different city (different country even).  More disappointment.

In fact, my high end filter coffee experiment pushed me over the edge, away from gourmet coffee altogether. I’ve gone instant.

For the past few years, mine was a French press kitchen, and before that we rocked a vintage Chemex. Now I learn all that equipment and effort was unnecessary.  I’m surprisingly satisfied with instant coffee.

OK, admittedly, I’m currently living in the U.K. where instant coffee is better than that on offer in the U.S.  But, still, I’m buying pedestrian stuff: Tesco brand coffee granules.  About as un-snobbish and un-foodie as you can get. I’m both a snob and a foodie, so I’ve truly shocked myself with this new allegiance.

Here’s what I love about instant coffee:

  1. It truly is instant.  Boil water.  Spoon in granules.  Coffee’s ready.  None of this grinding and measuring and waiting for miniscule drips to accumulate. Easier than tea, even.
  2. No clean up, no waste. No longer do I have to buy and trash filters, dispose of grounds, wash a coffee pot, take care not to shatter the French press while I wash it…
  3. It doesn’t taste bad.  In fact, with sugar and milk, it’s pretty delicious.
  4. Still caffeinated.
  5. Instant has retro charm. Forget filter. Instant coffee is 1950s stylish like deviled eggs and molded gelatin. (What? You’re not into deviled eggs and molded gelatin?)

My grandparents drank their liquor neat and liked their coffee instant. They worried more about the cake that accompanied their caffeine, the dinner that preceded it, and the card game that followed, than the act of coffee preparation.  I’m thinking they might have been on to something.

Thanks, Vincent Van Gogh, for the public domain artwork!  "The Night Cafe" 1888

Thanks, Vincent Van Gogh, for the public domain artwork! “The Night Cafe” 1888


I’m fascinated by organizations and governmental entities working to bring farming and rural life to city folks. I love reading about beekeeping workshops in Manhattan, and itinerant greenhouse grocery stores.

My novel, Drowning Cactus, features an organization that teaches organic farming to inner city kids. Even my daughter’s “in town” preschool has a school garden. We’re not in the city (in fact we’re biking distance to a small chicken farm where we buy our eggs), but everyone seems very concerned that my kids have an opportunity to delve into agricultural life. Probably a good idea.

But what about the rural folks missing out on the urban experience?

The time has come to bring city living to the country. I’m thinking about opera, or maybe mediocre street performers, on farms, and food truck conventions in orchards. Said food trucks must serve bacon-laced dessert items. Let’s relocate the Central Park roller skating party spot to a 4H Fair venue. Could one of those critical mass bike rallies overtake a tractor pull or small town Memorial Day parade?

I’d like to start an organization dedicated to sharing the reality of city life with America’s rural youth. Anyone interested in an unpaid internship? Applicants must be sharply dressed in dark, slim fitting clothes, generally in a hurry, extremely ironic, and deeply skeptical, but fully committed to current food and music trends. A mind-your-own-business attitude and in-your-face speaking style are expected. Grittiness preferred.

To apply, submit your qualifications through the comment section.

 

Look out for my short story, The Break-In, available as a free download only the weekends of July 26-28 and August 2-4 on Amazon.com.


TheJoyOfCookingCover.jpg

Big news: I packed away my beloved Joy of Cooking today.

I’m clearing my house out for renters because I leave in about two weeks for a year away. As I reluctantly sealed the box of cookbooks, my husband teased, “We’re in for a year of joyless cooking, aren’t we?”

For just a second, I panicked. We are in for a year of joyless cooking.  Maybe a joyless year entirely. Fortunately, the thought and my anxiety evaporated almost instantly, replaced by a cracker jack idea.

You’ve probably read the book Julie and Julia based on Julie Powell’s blog, or seen the movie. It was fun to read about Ms. Powell’s attempts to tackle aspic, but aren’t you dying to hear about my free-style hard boiled eggs? Simmer or boil? How many minutes? Fourteen, right? I totally have this under control. Wait! Is that for large eggs or medium? You just know I’m going to end up with some hilariously green-tinted yolk rings.

Yes, I think the world might be ready for Carrie without Irma (Marion, and Ethan): My Year of Cooking Joylessly.

I can already predict that my homemade mayonnaise is going to come out runny.  I’ll almost definitely rush my frittatas without my J of C’s warnings to cook them low, slow and steady. All those disasters and I haven’t even thought past the chapter on eggs! Oh, Joy of Cooking, I miss you already!

Sure, I could look recipes up on the Internet and I can probably improvise a frittata, but that would be boring. If I try hard enough, I’m almost certain I can come up with some disastrous culinary experiences–perfect fodder for a blog on joyless cooking.

Foodies have been hip for a while.  Kitchen klutzes are poised to hit the big time. Who better to fill the role than me?!

Now, excuse me while I attempt an impromptu zucchini/barley flour/dried porcini casserole.  I won’t blog about it though.  The world is so NOT ready for posts about the meals I’m creating as I attempt to use up the remains of my pantry. You guys want humor, not horror, right?


I’ve pretty much kept quiet all week because, with terrible things happening in the Boston area, it seemed frivolous to post something jokey.  Seeing what’s getting forwarded on facebook and twitter, though, it’s obvious that people are eager for some levity.

So, without further ado, I bring you:

The Top Ten Lockdown (and for those in PA: Power Outage) Activities

  1. Turn away from your screens and hang out with your cohabitants, be they friends or family.
  2. Turn the screens back on because what are you going to talk about all day?  Refresh.  Refresh.  Refresh.
  3. Don’t cook but eat, especially the old candy you stashed in a cupboard out of your kids’ reach.
  4. Rearrange your furniture then look through that catalog from the Pottery Barn and take note of all the things you need.  Don’t feel guilty about obsessing about something as shallow as throw pillows.  Throw pillow collecting is your right and maybe even your responsibility.
  5. Pick up some work reading.  Shuffle the pages.
  6. Drink heavily.
  7. Half-heartedly clean your kitchen until you find more candy.  Sure, those B-list Halloween treats aren’t as fresh as the Easter stash, but maybe malt balls have their appeal on days like these.
  8. Look up the status of medical marijuana legislation.  Listen for approaching SWAT teams.  Pull out your pipe anyway because the police really don’t care about pot smoking today.
  9. Post a heartfelt wish for your friends’ and family’s safety.
  10. Post something inane to keep them distracted and entertained.

 

*This blog post should not be construed as an endorsement of any of these activities.  Especially malt ball consumption.


Arranging a trip to Washington, D.C. to see the cherry blossoms is like standing out on your deck late into an April night hoping to see the Aurora Borealis, even though you live near the Mason-Dixon line and you know perfectly well that light pollution has ruined sky viewing for most of the country, including your own neighborhood.

Okay. I’ll admit that I’m guilty of all kinds of nature voyeurism, including some pretty desperate attempts to find natural splendor in unlikely locations.  Yes, I looked for the elusive Aurora Borealis this past weekend in Pennsylvania.  No, I didn’t see anything and, yes, I should have known better.  Those seeking the wonders of nature at the Cherry Blossom festival, though, have exceeded even my delusive hopefulness.

First, the festival planners can’t predict when the cherry tree blossoms will open.  This year, hordes descended on the city to admire closed buds.  Last time I was in D.C. for the festival, most of the petals had been trampled underfoot days before the tour buses pulled in.

Second, and most importantly, even if the conditions are perfect, it is nearly impossible to appreciate the blossoms in a sea of tourists.

If you live in D.C. or if you can get down there during the week when you know the trees are in bloom, by all means, check out the cherry blossoms on the basin.  If you want to celebrate the friendship between the United States and Japan, go, show your support.  Awesome idea.  If you want to do something else in D.C., consider going some other weekend.

Otherwise, just come see the cherry tree in my front yard.  There’s plenty of parking.  And, who knows, if you time your trip right, you might see the Aurora Borealis.

Then again, since I’m such a curmudgeon about crowds, you should probably skip the trip to my front yard and visit Cherry Springs State Park instead.  Cherry trees and an international dark sky park!  Nature nerds take notice: http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/findapark/cherrysprings/.


More Hipness– This Time at Gettysburg College

I’ve just learned a witty group of college students, inspired by my blog on Somerville and hipness, decided to publicize their college’s hipness— as a vacation destination!

Check it out in the link above!

And while we’re talking about hipness, my thanks go out to the following blogs for reporting on my “study” of hipness.

Now, please, don’t go telling them that I’m actually more of a dork than a hipness expert. We don’t want to call their earnest reporting efforts into question.



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