Saturday, December 22, 2012

Macaroni and Cheese

1 lb macaroni
14 oz white wine, divided
6 oz chicken stock
8 oz smoked gruyere, shredded
16 oz brie, rind removed, cubed
3 Tbsp corn starch
1 Tbsp dried thyme, or 3 Tbsp fresh 
7 oz dried figs, coarsely chopped
4 oz sliced shiitake mushrooms
6 oz sliced cremini mushrooms
2 Tbsp butter
8 oz diced ham

Cook macaroni until al dente.  Drain and set aside.

Combine figs with 8 oz white wine and cover.  Set aside and allow to macerate until ready to use.  I had a full day of shopping, so mine were hanging out on the counter for 8 hours.

Toss cheeses with corn starch and set aside.

Combine chicken stock and remaining 6 oz wine in a medium saucepan.  Add thyme.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Slowly incorporate cheeses, melting completely before each new addition.

In the meantime, melt 1/2 the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat.  Cook 1/2 the mushrooms until lightly browned.  Repeat with remaining mushrooms.

Pour figs and remaining wine into the same saucepan and cook down until wine has evaporated.

Mix macaroni, ham, figs, mushrooms, and cheese sauce.  Pour into 9 x 13 baking dish and cover with foil.

Put in cold over.  Set temperature to 375*.  Once over reaches 375*, bake for 40 minutes.

Serve hot.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Humiliations Galore

Oh, epic fail!

It all started earlier this week, when I asked this incredibly attractive man if he'd like to go on a date with me.

This seemed simple enough.  I was clear that this was totally casual.  I'm not looking for someone to be my boyfriend (what are we, twelve?), but just a casual date.  Are you interested.

This begs the question, however, of what casual means.

I LOVE this question.  Genuinely.  It delighted me that this was the response I got.  Define the parameters.

I love this question because it is precisely the kind of response I would give.  In fact, it's precisely the kind of response I gave many years ago.

At 26, having never really kissed a man, and on my way home from a holiday party with a friend, as we strolled the streets of Brooklyn to the nearest subway stop, we happened upon a couple of men, of similar age, and my friend being the not-so-shy and very persuasive type convinced them to kiss us.  To those of you who know me, yes, I am actually quite shy in some regards.  Her level of forwardness shocked and horrified even me.

But, there we were, and they consented, so she kissed one and sent the other to me, and he said, "Okay, let's kiss...."  And I said, "Define the parameters."

Actually, I asked, "How long will the kiss last?  Open mouth or closed?  With or without tongue?"  His response was, "Let's just go for it and see."  Not a good response in my mind.  I wanted to know what to expect.

So, fast forward to four days ago, and I asked, "Would you like to go on a date?" and his response was, "Define the parameters," and my response was to do just that.

I've heard nothing since.  Which is fine.  It's either yes or no, and regardless, I'm okay with it.  I took a chance, and regardless of how he answers, though I would prefer he say "yes," I'm proud of myself for doing something bold.

Then, today.  Epic fail.  Oh, epic fail.

I've been concerned, as this is a man I see on occasion out and about in life, that there might be awkwardness, especially if he wasn't interested.

So, when I saw him in passing this morning, and he made eye contact and kind of smiled, I smiled back and gave a small wave.

And being distracted, total klutz that I am, I wiped out.  Stumbled over my own two feet and barely kept myself from falling flat on my face.  I caught myself to be sure, managing to strategically place my hands on a desk to prevent a full on face-plant, and my shoulder has been sore ever since.  Right there in front of this gorgeous man, God, and everybody in the area, I make a complete idiot of myself.  Much to the delight of those directly around me who rather enjoyed it and laughed with gusto.

Humiliations galore.

I have no idea if this experience of witnessing my klutziness and proof that I really do need hazard cones permanently affixed to my hamster ball of personal space is working for or against me in this situation.

What I do know is that I chose to ask a kind, decent, genuine man if he'd like to participate with me in a social engagement in a public arena, and I'm waiting (patiently?) for his answer.  I truly hope he says yes.  I will understand if he says no.

No matter what, I know that I have the ability to choose to act out of a place of hope and grace and joy, rather than fear and pain and brokenness.  I figure knowing this about myself, yes or no, I've already gotten more out of this experience than I ever dreamed possible.  That is a beautiful thing.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Subsumed and Pornified Grief

Much ado has been made lately about me.  I've been referred to as cold hearted, lacking manners, unsympathetic and shameful.

I have never claimed to be a warm or loving person.  I freely admit that empathy is something I struggle with, and more often than not have to talk myself through.

In this particular situation, however, the assumptions people were making about my motives or the condition of my heart when I made a very particular remark are in no way, shape, or form in line with my actual motives or heart.

In the face of great tragedy, there were a number of remarks in my facebook news feed that were extremely disturbing to me.  That two young girls had disappeared five months ago and their bodies were likely found is tragic.  Many of the responses from individuals in the community where these children had lived in support of these families was beautiful.

A large number of the responses in my personal news feed, from people I know, however, were not offering support to the family.  They were status updates about their own sense of loss and grief now that the bodies had been discovered, and there was near certainty by the authorities that they were the bodies of the missing girls.  The vast majority of my friends had never heard of either of these families prior to the disappearance of their children.

There were some disturbing trends taking place in the community, and I responded quite strongly to what I saw as the subsumption of familial grief by a social network "community."  Hundreds of people expressing grief, mourning, and heartbreak at the discovery of the remains of two individuals they had never met and to whom they had absolutely no personal connection.

I have not, however, seen any of these individuals expressing a similar sense of grief, mourning, and heartbreak for any of the other tragedies that happen around the world on a daily basis.  These individuals were assuming grief and heartache that isn't theirs.  While the untimely deaths of these two girls is tragic, it is no more or less tragic than the systemic rape, torture and murder of young girls the world over.  None of these individuals has previously expressed mourning for them.  What makes this different?

Additionally, the families specifically requested, through a police representative, that their privacy be respected during these difficult circumstances.  Here was a group of people claiming this familial grief as their own, and focusing on themselves as they put this family at the forefront of a social networking site, robbing them of any privacy in the digital world.

I was also incredibly frustrated by the disingenuous nature of the dual-messages being spread concerning the case throughout the five months these children were missing.

A few days after these children disappeared, news media indicated the police suspected one of the girl's fathers because he was convicted of several crimes, including possession of illegal substances, two months prior to the girls' disappearance.

There was much speculation amongst most of the people I know about this revelation.  Many people shared their own suspicions that this family was intimately involved their own child's and their niece's disappearance, based on the fact that this girl's father uses drugs.

That those who struggle with substance abuse are regularly cast under a cloud of suspicion is deeply offensive to me, as I happen to love and hold dear a number of people who have struggled with substance abuse.  Even more offensive to me was the fact that these same individuals who were shouting the loudest about dead-beat fathers who use drugs and put their children at risk from drug kingpins were heavy drug users themselves this side of ten years ago.

When these girls were first reported missing, the surrounding communities offered significant support to both families--searching for the children, holding vigils, starting a fund to assist the families in light of the fact that they could not work for some time as they assisted investigators in the search for their children.

Once the news broke that one of the families had a history of drug use, and people began to speculate that this history was connected to the disappearance of these girls, the public support I witnessed in person and on facebook was withdrawn from the family with this history of substance abuse.  Additionally, when fundraisers were discussed, people specifically requested that their gifts be restricted to the support of the family that did not have a history of substance abuse.

As soon as the bodies were discovered, the statements of support and mourning, however, were once again focused on both families.  All speculation seemed to have stopped for a moment, as people put aside their own assumptions about who is acceptable and who is not.  I find it significantly problematic that people are only willing to express sympathy for those who do not fit the mold of social acceptability when tragedy strikes in the most horrific way.

I will also be woefully unsurprised if, in the coming days and weeks, given our cultural notions of worthiness, innocence, guilt by association, the public discourse concerning this case once again primarily focuses on the family that more closely fit the mold of social acceptability.
The role social media has played in the unfolding of this tragedy is also deeply disturbing.  Virtually no one I know has any personal connection to either of these kids, but so many people I know are seemingly devastated by it. They didn't lose anything, it's not their grief, and there is something deeply offensive to me about the pornification of tragedy as unconnected individuals make it about them.

Grief is deeply personal and private. The families have asked for privacy, and people are treating this loss as though they have some right to it.  And I believe this tendency is a result of the over-exposed, tell-all, zero-boundaries, denial-of-privacy, exhibitionist/voyeuristic nature of social media.

Ultimately, this is the families' grief, and the grief of those who know the families. And the sense of ownership over these girls lost lives that has been expressed by those I know is disturbing.

Lastly, I saw at least one comment in which the poster indicated "We will never understand the will of God."  If you've read this far, and take nothing else from this post, please read and understand THIS:

God had absolutely NOTHING to do with this tragedy.  The deaths of these two girls has nothing to do with the will of God.  It is the sole result of the will of the individual or individuals who committed this heinous crime.

This situation is tragic, like many others.  But it is the tragedy of these families.  The grief belongs to those who have lost these children.  It is not my grief, there is no reason for this grief to belong to those who have no connection to these girls.  Subsuming that grief can, in many situations, put the families who were directly affected by a loss, in the position of caring for the feelings of those who were not directly affected by that loss.  This is also deeply offensive to me.

If it's not your tragedy, and it's not your grief, get over it. Because there are people out there who are grieving a loss that is personal and intimate, and they need care and support.

While I was on the receiving end of a significant amount of hate mail in response to my own comments, only two people actually sought to understand my motives, rather than drawing their own inaccurate conclusions and assumptions.  One person sent me a private message asking what thoughts had motivated my response.  The other approached me in person and asked about it because they felt that what was communicated was completely out of character for me.  This second person also requested that I write a blog about why I responded in the very strong way I did, poor timing and all.  (Here you go, H!)  When misinterpreted in the way most did, it was out of character for me.  Which is why it is always best to ask if you ever have doubts.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Filthy Things My Boss Says During Meetings at Work

I have decided, for the sake of pure entertainment, to maintain a list of quotes, taken out of context, of things my boss says while at work.

"I tried three times and I can't get back in,"

was immediately followed by:

"I only have the room for thirty minutes."

And today (12/14/2012):

"I finally got in!"

Stay tuned for more, as I plan on adding additional quotes as he continues making remarks are really dirty and totally hilarious when taken out of context!

*****

12/13/2012

After today, I've decided that I should keep a running tally not only of things my boss says, but of things my co-workers say as well.  This will also include any thoughts of my own that immediately spring to mind, and which I cannot shout out loud at work.

This morning, I overheard our off-center center-fold ask a customer, "Did you get it in yet?"  While giggling a ridiculous amount, I thought to myself, "If you have to ask, you don't want them to get it in."

Later in the day, JDubs remarked, "I can't take anything orally; I have a pounding in my head."

Oh, the dirty things that happen in the world of windows.

*****

12/14/2012

JDubs:  "Where do I put this?"

LF:  "It was sticking up, so I was rubbing it down."

*****

12/18/2012

LF:  "I squeezed the caulk and it kept coming out and I couldn't get it to stop!"

LF:  "It's all hard, and when your done (blows raspberry)... marshmallow."

BD:  "Oh, I took it!  I took it like a champ!"


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Tempermental Candy Thermometers

I had this candy thermometer that got me through grad school. I can't number the batches of fudge, toffee, and caramel this thermometer was used for.  When I graduated and moved, I took this thermometer with me.  I can tell you that after this move, this candy thermometer made exactly four more batches of fudge and no additional batches of caramel or toffee.

The first batch of fudge was off slightly, but I didn't think much of it.  The second batch was off significantly.  So, I checked my thermometer.  Knowing that at sea level water boils at 212*F, I boiled a pot of water and clipped the thermometer to the side of the pot.  176*F.  My thermometer was off by 36*.

I took this into account for my third batch of fudge.  Instead of cooking it to a recorded temperature of 234*F, I cooked it until the thermometer read 198*F.  The fudge was perfect.  My thermometer, however, was no longer accurately calibrated.

The fourth batch of fudge was as bad as the second.  The candy thermometer seemed to be further and further out of calibration with every use.  So it was that I tossed it in the trash and bought a new one.

The new candy and deep fry thermometer made it through three or four batches of fudge and five or six batches of caramel before it was broken by a thirteen year old who was "assisting" but who also fails to pay attention and dropped it on the floor.

So, back to the store I went for yet another candy and deep fry thermometer.  In the past month, it has seen me through six batches of fudge, two batches of toffee, and two batches of caramels.  The joys of the holiday season.

This past week, while I was on a work trip, one of the head members of the company for which I do technical writing asked me how I got started in baking and candy making.  I started baking with my mother as a child, and continued through my teen years, when I also began making candy.  This continued through college.  It was not until graduate school, however, that I understood what it is that I get out of these activities.

Baking and candy making are activities based in scientific principles.  Baking and candy making make sense.

People do not.

Baking and making candy keeps me grounded in the reality that there are things in this world that can be trusted, given the same environmental factors and the same input, to behave in the same way every single time.

People are not like this.

People confuse the hell out of me.  They make no sense whatsoever.  They're like that candy thermometer that got bumped during my move and ended up miscalibrated.  Same thermometer, same altitude, same ingredients.  But due to internal damage, I got vastly different results.  Sure, I could compensate for that damage.  For a period of time.  But then, the rate of miscalibration changed again.

I never know what to expect from people.  I do my best to love them well, and sometimes this works.  Sometimes, it doesn't.  Sometimes people respond with love and grace and kindness.  Sometimes, people respond with anger and bitterness and resentment.  I know that peoples' responses are a matter of how they are calibrated.  It is a matter of the internal damage they have sustained.  But unlike with my candy thermometer, I don't know how to adjust for that, because I never know when people will respond out of their brokenness and when they will respond out of wholeness.

So, I establish boundaries, and make clear my expectations.  I ask questions, and move forward, and seek more open communication.

Unlike a miscalibrated candy and deep fry thermometer, I really can't throw people in the trash because they've been damaged in ways I cannot see.

So, I continue to engage.  I continue to love as well as I can.  And as a result, I end up with relationships that are pretty sweet.  Occasionally, when hidden damage plays itself out, I find myself in the midst of a gritty situation or an all-out fire.

That is when I head to the kitchen, and pull out my trusty instruments that do not lead my astray, and which I know how to compensate for otherwise.  I mix, and boil, and stir, and add, and boil, and add, and stir some more.  And when everything is set and the dishes are done, I package up the results and send them to people who might need a little extra sweetness in their life.  I do this last because I love blessing others.  It brings me immense joy to share this gift with them.

And all seems right in the world once more.  If only for a day.