27 January 2006

27. Flowers

Dear flowers,

While I prefer you outside, as part of living plants, even the chant of "look what's dying in a vase in your living room!" from the most sarcastic parts of my brain isn't enough to stop me feeling like you brighten things up a bit even indoors. And while those morbid thoughts are more than enough to stop me ever buying you (also I'm a cheapskate) I've still been known to scavenge through the dumpster by my work when the florist next door gets rid of the less-than-perfect specimens of you at the end of the day, and this week it's paid off with four or five very happy days of thinking, "Yes, they may be dead but they're still nicer here than in a dumpster and unlike the flower place I'll compost them afterwards."

So thanks for being pretty even as you slowly die in my living room, flowers, and though I can't promise I won't cut any of you from my garden this year, I think I can keep it down to a reasonable minimum. Just a few of you are often enough to make me smile.


Title abridged 1 December 2011.

21 January 2006

26. Pasta

Dear pasta,

I love you. My housemate Allison doesn't, which is why I haven't been eating you several times a week as was my usual practice for years. But tonight I was home alone, and that meant I could make whatever dinner my greedy little heart desired, and that turned out to be you, oh yes.

I love many things about you, pasta, but one of my favorites is how I can usually whip up a sauce or sauté of some sort to accompany you in the time it takes to boil water and cook you in it, which is to say quickly. Since I'm the kind of person who gets a little freaky when her blood sugar is low, this particular attribute of yours can be a lifesaver, to put it mildly. Tonight I was a little stupid with hunger, which meant I prepared you with an even more haphazard approach than usual, but the results were spectacular nonetheless.

I love how hunger makes everything taste extra-good, but I think the way I cooked and ate you for dinner tonight would be delicious even under less urgent circumstances. I started by putting a small pot of salted water on the stove, enough to cook what I thought was a smallish handful of spaghetti (more about that in a bit). While waiting for the water to come to a boil, I found a frying pan and used it to heat a few tablespoons of olive oil, into which I sliced slightly more than a handful of cremini mushrooms. Next I added a small onion (diced) and several cloves of garlic (crushed). I also had a green bell pepper and some pesto, discovered in the fridge when I first started foraging for dinner, but I decided against these after I had the idea of using sundried tomatoes.

I love the fact that cooking is one of the few things I'm intuitively good at. My original vision for dinner was pasta with mushrooms and onions and peppers and pesto, probably with some feta and maybe asiago cheese as well, but when I lit on the idea of sundried tomatoes, I threw out most of my original plan without looking back and tossed a big handful of sundried tomatoes into the pasta water, which was now almost at a boil. (The sundried tomatoes I get are cut finely enough that I probably could have gotten away with adding them right to the other sautéing vegetables, but I figured softening them up in hot water couldn't hurt, since they do get a little chewy and dry sitting in their jar on the shelf. If they'd been the oil-packed kind I probably would have just cut them into the sauté, but whole sundrieds definitely require cutting up and usually softening with boiling water as well. Then again, I prefer the taste of sundried tomatoes to their texture, and tonight I was cooking explicitly for my own idiosyncratic tastes.)

I love making impulsive decisions that turn out to be awesome. As the sundried tomatoes softened in the boiling water, they gave it a nice little reddish tinge, and when I fished them out with a slotted spoon and transferred them to the sauté, the water they brought with them turned quickly to steam that helped everything cook (a cheap trick but a good one). Since the water was boiling, I added the spaghetti, and then gave the sauté a generous sprinkling of oregano, thyme, salt, and a fresh grind of black pepper. I also added a little more olive oil, since the mushrooms and sundried tomatoes had absorbed most of the original few tablespoons. Then while the pasta was still cooking I diced up a regular-sized Roma tomato and added it to the sauté. Finally, I crumbled in a few tablespoons of feta cheese (less than a quarter-cup) and used all my self control to keep from stirring the mix one last time, because it was fast threatening to turn into mush. Fortunately, the pasta cooked quickly, so I didn't have to be self-controlled for long.

I love how, if you're undercooked, pasta, and then added to a pan with hot sauce, you finish cooking there and absorb the sauce and get extra-flavorful. Tonight's spaghetti already had a headstart on tastiness because it had been cooked in the sundried tomato water, some of which I added to the sauté along with the noodles when I combined the two (another cheap trick; I just didn't drain the pasta completely). Wham, steam, melting cheese, deliciousness, and a very good dinner was had by me. I'd gotten out some asiago cheese, but I ended up just putting it back in the fridge since the melted feta was more than salty and creamy enough for me (though not unpleasantly so, oh no). Of course, it turned out that I'd made too much food, but I might just be a greedy pig and have a dinner and a half tonight.

I love you, pasta. Thank you for being awesome.


Published 21 January 2006, last updated 22 January 2006. Title abridged 1 December 2011.

20 January 2006

25. 2005

Dear 2005,

I wasn't sure about writing you, what with having already done a year in review letter for your predecessor (and also I could whine on for pages better used in other letters about writer's block and how the dead of winter is generally a slow time for me to put it mildly but I will limit myself to this one parenthetical comment here). Then Merriam-Webster Online released their top ten most-searched words of the year:
integrity, refugee, contempt, filibuster, insipid, tsunami, pandemic, conclave, levee, inept.
I mean, damn. Even given the fact that the south Asian tsunami disaster was actually in 2004, and you didn't produce anywhere near that kind of nasty last-minute surprises, it was impressive enough to rock me for a day. (The taking weeks to finish writing about it, I did that part all on my own, along with plenty of whining about having no motivation to write.) Don't get me wrong --- it's not that the word lists for previous years haven't been sadly telling as well, in a "check out the state of U.S. news and especially politics" kind of way. But even discounting "tsunami" from your list, you've still got Hurricane Katrina and the abandonment of New Orleans, avian flu, a scary new Pope, and in general entirely too much political obnoxiousness of the sort that makes me say "no more stupid please, I am full." Now if only I could say something to undo the resignation of Sandra Day O'Connor from the U.S. Supreme Court, maybe the 2006 word list wouldn't reflect quite so much of that last... but no, we've already had plenty during the Alito confirmation hearings. Dangit.

But of course, life keeps going on in any case, and I'm personally still glad I saw you through, 2005. I traded the best job I'd ever had for an even better one, successfully converted large chunks of my front yard from lawn to garden, and generally lived really well, to judge by the various scribblings on the calendar and Slingshot planner I used during you. I'm oddly fascinated by the contrast between those scribblings and my memories, but if I come up with anything more interesting or coherent to say about this phenomenon, it'll probably be fodder for at least another letter. Speaking of writing, I'm quite pleased with many of the open letters I've finished over the course of a year, and a little intimidated by the number of letters I started but have yet to finish. All of which is to say that it's about time I finished addressing you, 2005, and got on with a new year of living and writing.

Thanks for everything, and goodbye.


Title abridged 1 December 2011.
Started 29 December 2005, published 20 January 2006.