Friday, August 27, 2010

On Getting Carded and Turning 30

My 30th birthday may still be two months away, but I'm well aware of it. It's looming on the horizon, a significant milestone on the highway of life. The thing is, I'm not scared of it anymore. If you would have asked me a year ago, I would have denied that it would even happen. Last year I threw my "first annual 29th birthday party," with every intention of having the 2nd annual party this year. I'm still calling it that (or "29th Birthday 2: Electric Boogaloo"), but I have - without a doubt - come to terms with the fact that I'm going to be 30.

I'm actually kind of excited about it now. With age comes wisdom, right? And I'm finally starting to feel "grown up" in other aspects of my life, so why shouldn't I embrace the new decade of my life? I have no reason to resist and every reason to welcome my 30s with open arms.

As for now, I'm twenty-nine and I have a very low tolerance for any person under the age of 25. Even worse is when people think that I'm younger than I actually am, and then they refuse to believe that I'm rapidly approaching 30.

In particular, I hate being carded to buy alcohol. I'll admit that I do look young for my age, but if you look closely, some of those hairs on my head are silver. I am aging, just like everyone else.

They say I should be flattered. I never am. It's more of an annoyance to have to dig in my purse for my wallet and remove my driver's license. I'd rather you assumed I'm older.

I understand that there are laws in this country, and I accept that establishments have to abide by those laws. They err on the side of caution. Generally, the guideline is to card anyone who looks like they're under 30. Great. That means I'll be getting carded for at least the next 5 years, probably longer.

There's a reason this topic is on my mind. I went to a ballgame at Target Field on Sunday. Beer was consumed - it's a part of baseball, in my mind. At the concession stand, I ordered a $7 Bud Light (I didn't have a lot of options at that particular stand), and immediately the woman taking my order asked to see my ID. After inspecting it (front and back), she looked at me and said, "There's no way I would have guessed you were born in 1980." I think I rolled my eyes in response. She obviously thought I was younger. All Target Field vendors are told to card anyone 30 and under. If she thought I was born earlier than 1980, she would not have asked for my ID.

In the stands at the game, I was sitting on the aisle. A vendor selling Mike's Hard Lemonade came by, and I bought one from him. As he's opening the bottle for me, he says something along the lines of "I don't need to see your ID, do I?" To which I respond, "I'm 30." He chuckles and starts to count out my change. "Actually, I'm 29." I'm not a good liar, even when it's a little tiny lie.

"I'm supposed to card you if you're under 30," he responded with a smile.

"I mean I'm 31!" I corrected. The vendor laughed. It was a good exchange, and I think he understood my mentality on the subject.

Sure enough, when he came back around at last call at the end of the 7th inning, I bought another Mike's from him. He's a good salesman.

Really, getting carded isn't that bad - and it doesn't really happen to me all that often. But I think that's why I find it so annoying. But I doubt I'll ever long for my youthful days when I was carded all the time.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

All-New Food Adventures Part 2

Previously, on "Things You Really Didn't Want to Know:" Becky went grocery shopping for some exciting new recipes, made a salad with mango and collard greens and managed to do a load of laundry. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion.

After finishing the salad, which I admit took longer than I was expecting it to (I blame my poor mango-slicing skills), I decided it wouldn't be a good idea to start the Sloppy Bombay Joes before my laundry was done in the dryer. I don't iron (don't even own one), so all my clothes have to be promptly dealt with after coming out of the dryer so that they don't wrinkle to death. Believe me - death by wrinkle is not the way you want to go. Being unfamiliar with the recipe, I didn't want to have to stop in the middle of it to take 10 minutes to hang up my clothes.

I decided to wait for the laundry to be done. I knew there was about a half hour left on the dryer, and I conveniently had a half hour show saved on my DVR that I still hadn't watched. I sat down with my not-kale salad and ate that while watching the show.

All right, let's skip ahead to the next round of cooking. The Twins game was starting, so I put the TV on that channel and turned the volume up a bit so I could hear what was going on as I cooked.

For starters, I decided to do what the TV chefs always tell me to do first: prepare my mise en place. This meant that I had to mince some garlic and ginger, dice and onion and red bell pepper, and get everything else ready that I was going to need. In hindsight, I probably could have done this step while waiting for my laundry to get done, but it worked out all right for me in the end.

In my adult life, I've only ever owned hand-me-down knives. They're not very sharp, and they're not that great. I'm sure that 20 years ago when they were new, they were fantastic knives, but now they're crap. As an aspiring home cook, this really didn't help my chopping skills. Now that I've got this fancy new set of knives, I got to experience what it's like to use some actual sharp knives. Like the pros.

Not wanting to get into anything too messy just yet, I started by coarsely chopping some pistachios. Piece of cake! Only took about 30 seconds. Beautiful. However, if you look at the recipe, it never says you have to chop the pistachios. I think they were supposed to be kept whole. But that's ok. I chopped them anyway. (I think I was confusing this recipe with the one for the creamy pistachio pops, which does call for chopped pistachios).

Next adventure: ginger! Most of my experience with ginger is in dried, ground form (for gingerbread cookies) or pickled on my sushi plate. I've never used fresh ginger before - but I've seen TV chefs deal with it loads of times. I got out my vegetable peeler and got rid of the... skin? rind? whatever that outside layer is called on ginger. Sliced it, minced it and had a little tablespoon-sized clump of ginger. Beautiful! Garlic was more of the same (excepting peeling it is much easier). Beautiful!

The onion was on deck. (Since I was listening to a baseball game, I figured I'd go with a baseball metaphor for this paragraph). The previous 3 ingredients all got base hits (actually, the pistachios just walked), so the bases were loaded for the onion. Onions make me nervous. I always strike out with them. With a new knife (bat), could this aromatic veggie finally hit a grand slam? The knife comes down, and... well, it was a bases-clearing double. Not out of the park. Turns out I just don't know how to properly dice an onion, but at least it was fast with the super-sharp knife. And it didn't make me cry!

Next up was the red bell pepper. Those of you who know my culinary tastes are probably surprised to see this ingredient. I did buy a small one. I've always hated red bell peppers (and yellow and orange ones, but the green ones are ok). There's just something about them that isn't right, and their flavor always infects anything they touch. But it seemed to be a major part of the flavoring of this recipe, and I couldn't just leave it out. It also didn't seem right to replace it with a green pepper, so I went for it. Red pepper. That was way easier to dice than the onion.

I don't really need to give a play-by-play of the actual cooking for the most part. I just followed the recipe and did what Aarti told me to do. Heating up the raisins was funny - they really did plump up, and I was afraid they were going to explode! I was surprised at how little of the Indian spice, garam masala, went into the sauce. I was terrified that the flavor wasn't going to come through when the whole dish was put together.

So I was happily cooking along, step-by-step. Everything added as I'm told. I got to the point where the ground turkey was done cooking and I added the sauce to the turkey, red pepper, and onion. I want to tell you that it smelled amazing, but it really didn't. It just smelled like food, nothing special (yet). The last step on my recipe print-out was: "Stir and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the mixture has thickened slightly, about 10 minutes."

"Wait a minute," I told myself. "There's something missing here. Where's the half & half, and the honey? And when do I add the raisins and pistachios back in?"

I read through the recipe 3 more times, and confirm on the ingredients list that those items were actually supposed to be used. It all seemed good. Then where was the rest of the recipe? Thankfully, my phone can use the internet (I didn't have time to wait for my laptop to boot up), and I found the recipe on the Food Network website in record time. I was missing a bit of the recipe! I felt like such a fool. Why didn't I check to make sure the whole recipe was there when I printed it out?

In any case, I added the half & half, honey, raisins and pistachios as directed, and finally, my dish was complete.

It still didn't smell special.

Tentatively, I took a bite.

It tasted fantastic. Freaking fantastic. It was rich and flavorful - it really came alive inside my mouth. The honey and raisins added a nice sweetness to the dish.

The best part? I even liked the red bell pepper. It didn't infect the whole dish! I actually LIKED it.

It was a bit more spicy than I expected. I did keep the jalapeno in longer than the recipe suggested, so that could be the source for the heat.

I really didn't need more than that teaspoon of garam masala - I could taste it.

I was fully prepared to "dress up" the dish with some more spices and flavors, but in the end I'm glad I didn't. It really tasted excellent and I probably would have ruined it. A sprig or two of cilantro would have been nice, but there wasn't much I could have done about that.

And that, loyal readers, was my first adventure into Indian cooking, even if it was just one step into the culinary realm. It was fun, exciting, and I'll certainly keep the recipe on hand so I can make it again.

Oh, and here's a picture of the finished product. I didn't buy any buns because they tend to go moldy before I can eat them all. I just ate it out of a bowl. And it was tasty.

All-New Food Adventures Part 1

I love to cook. But more than that, I love to watch TV. For someone like me, what's better than the Food Network? I watch it all the time. The current season of "The Next Food Network Star" recently finished. For those of you who haven't figured that one out yet, it's a reality show competition where the prize is your own show on the Food Network. I was rooting for Aarti the whole way, and she won. This last Sunday, her new show aired for the first time. I decided I wanted to make everything that she made.

Aarti is Indian (that's from India, not Native American), so naturally she cooks with a lot of Indian flavors. Something she does well is to take typical American dishes and recreates them with Indian flair. In the first episode of her show, she made Sloppy Bombay Joes, and I decided that I just had to give them a try. I also wanted to try the other things she made in her debut: Massaged Kale Salad and Creamy Pistachio Pops.

Monday I went to the store. Because my roommate works for Target, we always do our grocery shopping at Super Target. There's a longer story in there, but I don't want to get into it now. I was afraid that Super Target wouldn't have all the crazy ingredients I needed. I needed kale. Ginger. Cardamom and garam masala. A Serrano pepper - I didn't even know what one of those looked like, and I couldn't remember what it was from when Aarti cooked the recipe on TV. I needed cumin seeds, when I only had powdered cumin. I needed shelled pistachios and pumpkin seeds. I wasn't even sure if they'd have a mango.

Monday night is apparently not a good night to go shopping for exotic (for suburban Minnesota) produce. The label underneath a bunch of leafy greens said "kale," so I picked up a bunch. I didn't bother to check the label that wrapped up the bunch. When I got to the checkout counter, I noticed that the lady rang it up as collard greens. I figured she just had the wrong item number. Turns out it said "collard greens" right on the little label that held the leaves together. I bought the wrong main ingredient for my salad. Never mind. I'd make it anyway.

They were out of cilantro. Completely out. I even asked the produce guy. They were also out of Serrano peppers. I picked up a jalapeno instead. Knowing absolutely nothing about Serrano peppers, I had no idea if the jalapeno was even close to the intensity of a Serrano, but I was familiar with a jalapeno. Looking at this chart, I wasn't too terribly far off, and I erred on the weaker side. Considering my Minnesota taste buds, this was probably a good thing. I also couldn't find pumpkin seeds, shelled pistachios, or cumin seeds. In the end, I decided to leave out the pumpkin seeds, shell my own pistachios, and use the cumin powder instead of seeds. "It'll be fine," I told myself.

I also couldn't find Popsicle molds for the Creamy Pistachio Pops. I decided I'd just make it in a bowl and eat it like ice cream. The recipe even says I can do that.

My roommate also bought a set of knives for me - it's an early birthday present. The reason she bought them now ties into the reason we shopped at Super Target on Monday, and - again - not worth getting into it now. Let's just say that I got some new knives and I'm really excited about them.

Tuesday was cooking adventures day. It was also laundry day. I probably should have just stuck to one domestic endeavor, especially considering the experimental nature of the first domestic task, but laundry needed to be done. I got the first load of laundry into the wash, then started preparing my kitchen for the adventure ahead of me. I had to unpack and wash all the knives since they were new. I also had to clean a few dishes and put the weekend's dishes in the dishwasher. The Creamy Pistachio Pops had to freeze overnight, so I decided against cooking them - I'll make it another night. Instead, I washed the collard greens and removed their stems. By the time I was done slicing the collard greens, my laundry was ready to be moved to the dryer. Took care of that and got back to the salad.

The first thing after chopping the greens was to "massage" them with lemon juice, olive oil, and salt. I've never massaged a vegetable before, so this was a new experience for me. I gently caressed the greens, taking care not to tear them or break them. On TV, Aarti said it would start smelling like bananas after a minute or so. I never smelled bananas - it must be something to do with the kale.

Have you ever tried to dice a mango? It's not easy. Those buggers are slippery once the peel has been removed.

I've never made my own salad dressing before. This one consists mainly of lemon juice, olive oil, and honey. Now, I have a confession to make. I'm not really a big fan of olive oil. I hate the way it smells. The taste is all right, but I can't eat it without smelling it. This dressing has a lot of olive oil in it. A lot. I think that if (when?) I make this salad again, I won't use quite so much oil. It was too much for me.

Overall, the salad was quite tasty (except for the whole olive oil thing), and it would have been nice to get a little crunch from the pumpkin seeds that were supposed to be in there, but it wasn't bad. I'd really like to try it again with kale.

Here is a picture:

Since this post is now the length of a short novel, I'm going to make you wait for the next installment.

To be continued!

Next time, on "Things You Really Didn't Want to Know:" Becky learns about the usefulness of sharp knives and the wonders of ginger. Find out what happens when disaster strikes and Becky realizes that the entire recipe didn't print out. What will she do???

Monday, August 23, 2010

Say Hello to My Little Friend

That's the Samsung Vibrant, my fancy-pants new phone.

I'm already a little bit in love with it. Although I have to say - it did come with quite a few features that I didn't care about at all. For example, to show off its amazing HD video capability (seriously, the screen on this thing is awesome for a hand-held device), it came loaded with the movie "Avatar," which most of you know I have no desire to see. I watched the first 30 seconds of it to see what the picture was like. That's about the extent of it, though. Now I just have to figure out how to delete it.

I wasn't planning on getting this phone. I wanted something cheaper. Instead of top-of-the-line, I wanted the top-of-the-line from last year. You know - the phones that have dropped in price to a place where they're affordable. No, I wasn't planning on picking up the most expensive phone in the store. But there was one thing that swayed me: included pre-loaded in the phone was an Amazon Kindle reader.

I've been having an internal debate about the Amazon Kindle (or the Nook from Barnes & Noble) for months now. Is it worth the money? Would I actually like it? Will I stop reading paper books if I get one, making my entire book collection moot? Is it really worth the money?

For this one, I didn't have to pay a dime (well, I had to pay for the phone, but I probably would have gotten it anyway). How could I say no? I already downloaded a bunch of old classics that are available for free. Even better, using the application on my phone doesn't seem to have too much of an effect on the battery level, which seems to be the main weak point with this thing. The battery barely lasts all day if I use the phone too much. But from what I understand, that's common with smartphones - so if that's my biggest complaint, I think I'm satisfied.

So I have a new phone. I love it. It's so pretty.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Thinking About Phones

For some reason, I'm getting the itch to finally upgrade my smartphone to something actually current.

For those of you who aren't up-to-date on the Saga of the Smartphone, at the beginning of the summer I decided that I wanted a smartphone. After some shopping and reevaluation of my budget, I decided I could do it, and conveniently, my dad had an extra Android Google G1 phone laying around. It's an excellent introduction to smartphone technology, and I've really been enjoying using it. Plus, it was free!

But it's old. It's kind of slow. The camera is only mediocre and doesn't have a flash.

In the post I made before, I broke down a lot of the phones T-Mobile had available. Now a lot of those prices have come down, and there are newer, state-of-the-art phones available. I'm thinking of stopping at a T-Mobile store after work to see what I can afford these days. It seems to change quite frequently.

In other smartphone news, they finally started charging me for the data plan. I thought it would have happened last month, or even the month before. But I got the first 30 days free... except it was more like I got the first 80 days free. Oh well. I'm glad they finally added it to my bill, though. I was afraid I was going to get stuck with a huge charge for the data usage once they finally realized what was going on. At least now I'm paying what I was expecting to pay all along.

Edited to add: Friday. That's when I'm going phone shopping for real. I'm doing summer hours this week, so I get out of work at 2, I get paid, and there's no reason I should stop myself. This is something I've wanted to do all summer. Why not Friday? It also gives me something to look forward to.

Friday, August 13, 2010


Thanks to a post from Grammar Girl on Facebook, I learned that Penguin Books is accepting unsolicited manuscripts until the end of October.

I've wanted to be a writer since I was a little girl. Dig through a box of my memories, and you'll stumble across a spiral notebook with a blue cover. Inside, on the first page, you'll see the title of the first novel I tried to write: "The Planet Ruled By Dogs." After the obligatory chapter designation, you will see (most of) the first sentence: "Once upon a time in a gala." That's it. I'm assuming I meant to write "galaxy" there, but I had no idea how to spell it, so I stopped writing.

In my youth, my writing adventures also led me to write a novel about my Lego pirate characters (way before pirates were cool), and the story of a female TV reporter who became a detective. I also tried my hand at sci-fi and wrote about an alien space vessel running from the evil alien overlord Gorgaxx.

At one time, I even created a pen name for myself. Not sure why I needed one, but it seemed like a good thing to do at the time. For a while, all the stuff I wrote included a "by Michelle Hamilton" tag line. I'm surprised I remember that one. I think I really wanted to be a Michelle when I was a kid.

The January after I graduated from college, I made a New Year's Resolution to do some writing - real writing, not some silly email I had to write for work or anything - every single day. I stuck with it until about September. I actually made some significant progress in what I considered my "real novel." That one even has an outline, and a title. "Tragically Flawed," it's called. It's a semi-autobiographic novel about a woman a lot like me who goes on a lot of first dates trying to find a good guy. She also has other challenges to overcome - at one point, she makes a life-changing career move. But after that year, I didn't really work on it again. It remains unfinished.

I've written since the downfall of "Tragically Flawed," but nothing serious. National Novel Writing Month comes and goes every year. Sometimes I finish, sometimes I quit. But I've never created anything there that's worth working on or polishing. Certainly nothing I could bear to submit to a publisher.

You could say that I am a writer. You're reading my writing right now. And I really enjoy writing in this blog. I guess I just always pictured myself to be a fiction writer. This blog is far from fiction, and I don't really know how to translate this kind of writing (the kind I'm best at) into something as lengthy as a novel, or with any kind of plot. My hairstylist once told me I should write essays like David Sedaris. I do like David Sedaris, and I could likely fill a book with all the stories I can tell, but if that's the sort of book that I want to submit to Penguin. I think I lack the necessary confidence. And experience. Maybe even talent.

But at the same time, wouldn't it be great to tune into NPR and hear me reading one of my essays on "This American Life?" I would enjoy that very much.

Perhaps the best thing for me now is to keep doing what I'm doing. I'll keep up the blog and you'll keep reading it. Fun for everyone, even if it's not NPR.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Deja Vu All Over Again

Why do I feel like I've written on this topic before? I really do. Maybe I just put it in a status update on Facebook or something, because I looked and didn't find it in my blog history here or in my notes history on Facebook.

If I have written on this topic, I apologize for the redundancy. If not, then please disregard this disclaimer.

Dating websites. That's nothing new. We all know that I use the internet to meet men. If anyone is surprised by this, you must be a first-time reader. Name the dating website and I've probably used it at some point in time.

My favorite dating website is still OK Cupid, mainly because it's free. Today I went there to just check and see how things are. I clicked the button to "roll the dice" for a random match's profile to be displayed.

The guy who appeared is reasonably good-looking (if a bit thin), seems nerdy enough but not too nerdy. The profile was mostly well-written except for a misused "your" in one section (he should have used "you're"). He's 30 years old and lives in Minneapolis. But he's in a wheelchair.

Now, I like to think that I'm progressively-minded and that I take people for who they are, not by their physical limitations. Don't judge a book by its cover and all that. But there's also part of me that wonders if I'm just too shallow to date a guy in a wheelchair.

Suddenly, another thought rears its ugly head in my mind. What if I'm only thinking about contacting this guy because it means that if I end up dating him, I won't have to walk up any stairs while out on a date? I get really sweaty, and it's sometimes embarrassing while I'm out with a man and my back starts sweating because we climbed a particularly large flight of stairs. Is this a lose-lose? Am I shallow AND an awful person?

I don't know. Maybe I'll hold off and try to figure out if I'm actually interested. Or maybe I should figure out if he's interested in me. I saved him as a favorite on OK Cupid, and the site will notify him that someone has done that. If he contacts me, I'll give it a shot and we'll see what happens...

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Personal History Tidbit and Things I Learned on the Internet

I originally intended to include this Personal History Tidbit in my post last week about cooking and cooking competition TV shows, but I totally forgot. I remembered when I was watching Master Chef last night.

When I was a kid, I hated the idea of cooking. My step-mom could tell you a story about how I once said that cooking to me was putting a piece of lunchmeat between two pieces of bread, or something along those lines. I also remember telling my parents (probably when I was even younger) that when I grew up, I wanted to either marry a guy who was rich so that we could eat out all the time or marry a guy who liked to cook so that I didn't ever have to.

I was really resistant to learning in the kitchen. I didn't want to cook, so why did I have to learn? I knew how to make a sandwich - how much more complicated did it need to get? I could live off sandwiches.

As you know, I'm still single. But somewhere along the line, I learned that cooking is fun, that I really do like it, and that I want to do more of it. I don't need a man to do my cooking for me, and I can get rich on my own if I play my cards right (which means I probably shouldn't be updating my blog right now - I should be working instead).

To tie my two subjects together, I'll admit here that I'm still a complete novice when it comes to cooking. I'll call my aunt for tips on how to cook things, sometimes my parents, or I'll pick up a few tricks from the Food Network if I'm actually paying attention. But if none of those sources work out, I turn to the Internet.

Before a few weeks ago, I had no idea how to bake a potato. That's right. 29 years old and completely clueless about basic cooking. I had made a "baked" potato in the microwave before (but that's gross), but never in an oven. How long was I supposed to cook it? What temperature? Do I need to flip them over or poke them or anything? Thanks to the magic of the internet, I was able to quickly find step-by-step instructions. Lo and behold, about an hour later, I had piping hot, delicious baked potatoes.

However, I didn't retain this knowledge. It left my mind shortly after I finished washing the dishes that night. Last week, I wanted to make a baked potato because I realized I had all the fixings for my very own loaded baked potato (bacon, sour cream, cheese, and chives). I couldn't for the life of me remember how to bake a potato - I remembered that it took a long time. I also remembered that I had to poke holes in the potatoes. But what temperature and for how long? Thank you, trusty Internet! You always come through for me.

50 minutes later, I checked on my two potatoes that were in the oven. I had poked holes in both of them. The potato on the left (let's call him "Horace") looked beautiful - golden brown and tasty, just like a potato should look. His buddy, on the other hand (let's call him "Maurice"), looked as if he had fallen victim to a zombie attack: the top of his skin had split open and his innards and brains were splattered all over the right side of the oven. Maybe Horace attacked Maurice to make himself look better. Maybe Maurice couldn't take the heat and got out of the kitchen by taking his own life. Maybe it really was potato zombies. Whatever it was, it was total carnage.

In the end, I ate both Horace and what was left of Maurice. They were both delicious. I think the problem was that Maurice was a bit too small and I cooked him too long. I probably should have gone for 30-40 minutes and then checked on them. Next time, I'll do that. Or I'll just choose bigger potatoes. (I picked smaller ones because that way I didn't feel guilty about eating two).

All right, that story was considerably longer than I was planning. I was also going to talk about the Kanye New Yorker Tweets, where my favorite comedy-music duo Paul & Storm decided to take Kanye West's tweets on Twitter and use them as captions for New Yorker cartoons. They're funny. Check them out.