Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Old and the Beautiful

Last time on The Old and the Beautiful: Rita offered to lay in a parking spot for Greg, Nicole's husband.


Last night, Nicole returned home to difficult news: Rita had told Greg's father Dennis that she had a little bit of a crush on Greg.  She had also mentioned her desire to adopt him.  Dennis, attempting to prevent her homewrecking ways, mentioned Greg's grandfather.  Rita agreed that there might be room for him in her heart also.

However, Nicole had a little news of her own.  Nick, one of the trio of Nick, Frankie, and Nick who often sit on their stoops in the evening as a de facto neighborhood watch, had given Nicole a nickname.  Because he usually saw her returning from her ghost tours, decked out in a black cape and holding a lantern, he dubbed her Spooky.


Next time on The Old and the Beautiful: Greg and Nicole go to Chicago to see if they can make things work away from the trials of Mercy Street.  They return home Sunday, the day of the Mercy Street Block Party.  Will the simmering tensions rise to the surface?  Will Rita make her move over a hamburger??  Will Nick use his pet name for Nicole in front of Greg???

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

the dog days

With summer winding down, it seems like time for a little review of our first few months here at Mercy Street. 

-The most recent, and most fun, event to be reviewed is the little housewarming party we had for some classmates and coworkers last Saturday.  Believe it or not, we fit 30 people into our house, and most of the time most of the people were standing in the kitchen.  I hope that a great time was had by all--we were certainly grateful to be surrounded be friends in our new home.  The picture above is the roasted red pepper/eggplant dish that I made and garnished with basil from our garden.  Alas, it is the only picture I captured from our party because once that doorbell started ringing, it didn't stop.

-Something else we are pleased about as the summer comes to an end is that Greg does have a job lined up for the fall.  After tons of resumes and close to 10 interviews, he will be staying where he already is.  Considering that he really enjoys his job, this is a good thing.

-For my own part, as usual, summer began with many lofty goals and concludes with few of them being met.  I've got to look forward, though, because bright and early Monday morning I begin my orientation for my first semester teaching.  I'll teach one course of a class called Analytical Reading and Writing.  Yes, folks, believe it or not, I will be entrusted with teaching vulnerable freshman how to think.  I'll let that sink in--and the mad rush of parents withdrawing their children from Temple begins.

-Before that though, we do have a few fun things coming up.  Saturday we plan on taking the only trip to the shore we will get this summer.  Greg will be pleased because I will finally stop whining about how desperately I need to be surrounded by water.  Seriously, though, I always grew up with a pool nearby (not in our backyard or anything, but accessible) or at least taking several trips to the beach, so the fact that I have not been swimming in any capacity since last summer is driving me nuts.  We're also going to visit friends in Chicago over Labor Day weekend, which we have been looking forward to for months.

-A recap of my summer would not be complete without mentioning my job as a ghost tour guide.  It has been the most perfect summer job I have ever had--luckily I can keep going til Halloween.  How cool is it that my job involves walking around a beautiful part of town, telling stories, learning history, and meeting people?  I realized that the great thing about being a tour guide is that people are predisposed to have a good time and appreciate you.  It's the exact opposite for waiters--your customers are just looking for you to mess up so they don't have to tip you.  The best part of my job, though, is how whenever I tell someone about it, they think it's the coolest thing ever.

-And finally, the house itself.  Two months in, I am in love with the house, our neighborhood, our city, everything.  When we planned to move into the city, Greg and I thought that we might be sacrificing some of the convenience of the suburbs for the excitement of the city, but this is so far from the truth.  Everything is at our fingertips, I can get anywhere in half an hour or less, and I don't ever have to gas up the car.  I had also assumed, based on our renovation experience, that during the first few months here, pipes would burst, the fridge would break, there would be an electrical fire, and some walls would come crashing down.  None of this has happened.  We do, however, continue to stumble across unexpected treasures, like the cat toys Greg found buried under the stove just a few days ago.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Last night I watched the U.S. female Olympics team lose to China.  Then I had nightmares about young girls being worked to death.  Literally, death.  It was a terrible dream.  But was it a coincidence?

in which I rant

If the following buzzwords don't interest you, I suggest that you don't read this post, because it will probably bore you: Scrubs, Jane Austen, Emma, feminism.

Here goes:
Greg and I have been watching the TV show Scrubs lately.  I love it for the zany humor, the serio-comic approach to working around sickness and death, and for its depiction of "guy love," a phrase coined to describe the relationship between J.D., the protagonist, and Turk, his best friend.  J.D. is a general medical intern and Turk is a surgical intern; they both work at Sacred Heart hospital where they are often tormented by superiors.

The episode we watched the other night began with a gag where Turk is talking to a cute woman J.D. has never seen before.  (Turk is happily married; J.D. is bad with relationships.)  Turk explains to J.D. that the woman, Kim, has actually been around Sacred Heart for years, but J.D. has never noticed her because she is wearing a wedding ring.  Turk asks all the women present to take off their wedding rings, and J.D. is suddenly surrounded by tons of attractive women.  Then they replace their rings and vanish.

OK, haha.  Cute.  Kind of.  J.D. only sees women who represent potential relationships/mates/fill in the blank.  It's funny on the surface, slightly disturbing if you think about it, but clearly draws on the way some people operate.  It didn't bother me because I don't think we're supposed to root for J.D. here, just to see that he has typical, if unfortunate, tendencies.

As the episode progresses, J.D. finds himself increasingly attracted to Kim.  She is gracious enough to be friendly to him although he has apparently ignored her for years because of that pesky ring.  (To be clear: the show doesn't make a point of her graciousness, it simply shows them interacting in friendly ways.)  

However, J.D. discovers that Kim has opted to forego surgery on an elderly patient because of the risk the patient would die during the surgery.  The medicine is glossed-over, but the point is that Kim doesn't want to risk her surgical stats looking bad.  J.D., who is defined by his commitment to his patients, is disappointed by Kim's decision.  As he has every right to be.  
It is clear that J.D. is especially upset about Kim's decision because he has begun to think of her as more than just a friend.  He learns that her wedding ring is a bluff, as she has been divorced for over a year.  It is at this point that he creepily begins talking about her as though they were in a relationship, when he has never done more than interact with her.  

J.D. finally summons the courage (or self-righteousness, but I don't want to tip my hand here) to chastise Kim about her decision.  As he lays into her, expressing how personally disappointed he is that she balked at the surgery, Kim's face crumples and it seems clear that J.D.'s words are hitting home, a fact which is confirmed when she decides to go ahead with the surgery.  Up until this point, she has appeared as a spunky, driven woman with a quirky but fun sense of humor.  However, in the face of J.D.'s disappointment, she can only hang her head in shame.

Watching this storyline play out, I wanted to scream.  J.D. has no right to play the shame game with a woman he barely knows.  The show clearly wants you to root for him, to think he is right in correcting Kim.  But what irked me so much is that he presumed that his attraction to her was grounds for his disappointment in her.  If she had been someone he didn't find worth knowing (as she was before the wedding ring vanished) he wouldn't even have noticed the surgery.  Additionally, before he approaches Kim, J.D. has a conversation with Turk in which Turk admits that he has done the same thing--avoided high risk surgeries to protect his stats.  J.D. completely ignores Turk's confession.  

Why?  Why can he wag his finger in Kim's face while Turk gets no similar "I'm so disappointed in you" speech?  Turk is J.D.'s friend, someone he actually has a right to be disappointed in.  I may be overreacting (and I'm certainly spending way too much time putting the whole thing into words) but it felt like a very gendered confrontation to me, the kind you would never see between a guy and his buddy, but which people can accept between a guy and the woman he wants to put on a pedestal.

Perhaps one reason this stupid scene from a two-year-old episode bugged me so much is because it reminds me of one of my favorite moments in literature, when Mr. Knightley confronts Emma after she has behaved poorly to a woman of lesser social status.  (Disclaimer--I've read the book, but the movie version is clearer in my mind.)  Mr. Knightley is aggrieved that Emma has been so catty and unfeeling, and he chases her down, explains very carefully to her the nature of her transgression, and then says, "Badly done Emma, badly done."  

At first, the two scenes seem very similar, and one would think that if I take offense at one, I had better take offense at both.  But the difference between Emma and Scrubs is that Jane Austen realized that Mr. Knightley's opinion would matter to Emma.  She respects him, and for good reason, so his dressing down is a serious matter.  (Not to mention that Austen clearly is willing to allow women to give as good as they get--see Lizzie's fantastic multiple dressings-down of Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.)  Kim, on the other hand, has no reason to respect J.D.  On the contrary, she should probably think he's a toad for the way he refused to recognize her as a colleague because he thought she was married, i.e. not available.  And yet, she completely caves in to his blowhard smackdown.  There's just no reason for it.  

Greg was watching with me, and his quarrel with the scene was much more succinct, and perhaps even more significant than mine: it just didn't make sense for either character.  And bad writing is just as offensive as bad morals.

Savory Cannoli

One thing people like to do when they visit us here at Mercy Street is pick up some cannoli.  If you're not familiar with cannoli, they are an Italian dessert, in which a cookie-like tube is filled with a sweet ricotta filling.  You can read about them here.  The problem is, I am not a sweets person generally, and I don't enjoy cannoli the way Greg and others do.  When my parents were here, we stopped by a famous local bakery and I looked at all the offerings but didn't feel pulled to any of the cakes, cookies, etc.  Later, when everyone was crunching into their cannoli, I felt a little left out.

And so, my friends, I have reclaimed the cannoli for us savory folks.  It was actually a two-step savory intervention, because it all started when I decided to make the zucchini-ricotta cheesecake featured here.  It was a delicious way to use some farmer's market zucchini, but the problem was that it left me with some ingredients I don't use often and wasn't sure what to do with: fresh dill, ricotta, shallots and goat cheese.  I also had some zucchini and summer squash left.  Usually when I have odds and ends of veggies, we have an omelette night and clean out the veggie drawer, so that was my original plan for the zucchini.  But that left the problem of the dill and ricotta.  

An idea began percolating...and I have to say I was quite pleased with the results.  I decided that, instead of doing a traditional omelette, I would make very thin, crepe-like rounds of scrambled eggs, then fill them with a zucchini-ricotta filling and roll them up.  I chopped up some fresh dill to put in the egg mixture, and sprinkled the goat cheese crumbles on top.  All in all, it was quite delicious, although it left poor Greg with a big mess to clean up.

This recipe is much more delicate and labor-intensive than much of what I cook, but it was worth it for the feeling of glee at using things up rather than throwing them out.

(A few notes about the recipe: I used minimal oil, low-fat ricotta and some egg whites to make it as healthy as possible.  It still tasted very rich, and yielded 8 cannoli.)

Savory Cannoli
(makes 2 large servings)

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
1 zucchini or 1/2 zucchini and 1/2 summer squash, grated
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup skim ricotta

6 eggs (I removed the yolk from two to cut down on the overall cholesterol/calories)
1 tablespoon dill
goat cheese crumbles

Warm olive oil in a large saucepan.  Add garlic and shallots, stirring until they develop a nice aroma.  Add zucchini/squash.  Saute until the mixture is soft and tasty.  Remove from heat.  Strain off excess liquid.  Stir in salt and ricotta until blended.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with a fork and stir in dill.  Pour a small amount of egg into a small frying pan coated with Pam or oil.  Turn pan so that the egg mixture coats the bottom, as you would with a crepe.  Flip over to other side and leave until the egg-crepe is just cooked on both sides.  Remove to a plate.  Repeat until egg mixture is finished.

Spoon the zucchini-ricotta filling onto the egg-crepes, and then roll them up so that they resemble cannoli.  Sprinkle with goat cheese.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Olympics are here, the Olympics are here!

I thought I'd try my hand live-blogging the Olympics opening ceremony.  It is ridiculous on my part to think that anyone would want to read what I have to say, minute by minute, but guess what: it's my blog!  And I'll liveblog if I want to.*

7:30 -- "The footprints and their histories stretch back 5,000 years...China is welcoming the world, but the question is, who will they  be when this is over?"
  Intro: cool visuals, loaded commentary.

7:30 -- I begged my dad to take me to China when he went once.  He refused, even though I offered to pay my way and work for free.  Watching the footage, I realize that I AM STILL BITTER.

7:31 -- First Karolyi sighting!

7:31 -- Philadelphian or no, I have no use for Kobe Bryant.

7:32 -- Beach volleyball player whose name may be Misty: "To get the chance to defend my gold medal?  I couldn't write a better story."  Really?  What if you wrote about being sucked into beach quicksand in the midst of your comeback game, only to be pulled out by your long-lost coach/father, who is tragically sucked into the quicksand himself, his last words: "Get the gold for me, Misty."  

7:34 -- Intro officially over.

7:34 -- The announcer says "Bob Costas."  Greg cheers from his position flat on his back on the couch.

7:39 -- Tom Brokaw tells us about how important the games are for the Chinese people.

7:40 -- Tom mentions Tiananmen Square.  I remember being in elementary school, the moment when the young revolutionary stood in front of the tank in Tiananmen square.  My mom said, "You'll be able to say you remember when this happened."  

7:41 -- Ping pong diplomacy!  Run, Forrest, run!

7:42 --  The earthquake footage is wrenching.

7:44 -- The whole 8/8/08 thing reminds me of when I was young, driving with my family through Malaysia.  When the house numbers got to 88, they started repeating 88 1/4, 88 1/2, etc.

7:48 -- Matt Lauer is bald!  Perhaps if I watched The Today Show I would know this.

7:49 -- So excited that Zhang Yimou is directing the ceremonies.  I've only seen The Road Home and Happy Times, but I really like his work.  Note to self: put House of Flying Daggers on Netflix list.

7:51 -- The beach volleyballers are talking, revealing that I misidentified the one speaking earlier--it was Kerry, not Misty.

7:52 -- BOO, KOBE.  

7:57 -- Say what you will about Bush, I think it is the right call that he's here.

8:00 -- If I were in grad school mode, I would talk about the semiotics of the human technology of the drums, but luckily school has been out for weeks and my brain is officially mush.  I will say this: it is neato.

8:03 -- I was wondering why they weren't doing the countdown in Chinese numbers, but then they did both once they got to 10-9-8.  So cool.

8:03 -- That aerial view of the stadium looks like something...I just can't put my finger on it.

8:06 -- The predominant colors during this performance are silver and gold--methinks there's a double meaning in that.

[[This live blogging thing is tiring.  Time for a chips and salsa break.]]

8:48 -- Mmm, salsa.  Meanwhile, floating LED screens, and Greg's irritation that the commenter who is not Bob Costas points out that the performers are evoking China's naval history figurally, not literally.

8:51 -- Not to be make light of China's famous pianist, but Lang Lang's demeanor and hair are a little odd.  The 7-year-old sitting next to him doesn't help.

8:54 -- Oooh, I want a light-costume.

8:55 -- Scratch that, I want to float through the stadium pulled by a kite in pigtails and pink dress.

9:03 -- The perfect circles made by the tai chi practitioners are unbelievable.  

9:12 -- Sarah Brightman looks like a corpse.  Greg: "Where's Bjork?"

9:16 -- Parade of nations is next!  I'm going to sign off.  Well done, all involved.

*Not really a liveblog since I am watching a recording.  But who cares.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

ah, the internet

I have a confession to make.  I am not an internet-humor kind of person, for the most part.  What I mean by that is, when someone says to me, either in an email or in person, "Oh my gosh, I found the funniest website/blog/YouTubeclip/etc., you totally have to check it out!" I tend to not do it. My reaction to that kind of statement is usually "eh."  I am not defending this behavior, because if or when I do actually follow the person's advice, what follows is almost always funny, and I usually enjoy it.  But for some reason, perhaps the same [unknown] reason that I hate stand-up comedy, I just don't seek out funny stuff on the internet.

Which is not to say that I don't spend ridiculous amounts of time online, frittering away my life, but it's usually on entertainment, news, or lifestyle (cooking, etc.) sites.

With that said:

Guys, I found the funniest blog today!  YOU TOTALLY HAVE TO CHECK IT OUT.  I'm not sure if it's because I actually for once had a fairly pleasant experience at the dentist today (6th visit this summer, one more to go) or because I am tired, but I have been looking at this site and laughing out loud, giggling, even occasionally whooping with laughter.

What is the site, you ask?  It is this:  The blogger simply posts pictures of cakes that are terrifying and funny, all in one.  For example, you wouldn't think someone would want a cake that looks like a messed-up foot or a piece of raw fish, but you would be wrong.  My personal favorites are the ones that demonstrate egregious misspellings and use of quotation marks by the decorators.

Please please check it out and let me know which is your favorite.  I'll tell you mine in the comments--don't want to ruin anything.  

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


We've been in our house for about two months now, and have been slowly tackling some little projects here and there--hanging some stuff on the walls, adding little pieces of trim where necessary, etc.  One project that makes a big difference visually was recovering the dining room chairs.  They originally came from Greg's aunt, and although we really like them, we thought they could do with a little update.  I hit the fabric section of Ikea (I really need to find a new store someday) and found two fabrics that matched (in color, not pattern) the cushions I had bought (at Ikea) for the futon we bought (at Ikea).

Then I got to work.  The first step went quickly--removing the seat cushions from the chairs and prying out all the rusted old staples to remove the original fabric.  Once that was done, nothing happened for a week, except that we didn't have chairs to sit on.  Finally I hauled out the staple gun and started putting the new fabric on.  We realized instantly that we didn't have the right kind of staple gun, and that we would have to hammer in all the staples.  It was a pain, but not that bad.

It was during this stage of the process that I injured myself.  Explain to me how for months I can go around swinging hammers, using power saws and crowbars and tearing down walls, and not hurt myself in the slightest, but give me a pair of regular, everyday scissors, and I slash up my fingers.  I was simply cutting the fabric when I stopped paying attention and ended up cutting a nice V into the tip of my middle finger.  It bled for a couple hours despite my best attempts to elevate my arm and keep pressure on the wound.  Greg kept threatening to take me to the emergency room, but I refused.  Finally I sent him out for a popsicle (what?  when is a popsicle not a good idea?) and put about 5 band-aids on it.  It's fine now.

Once we had all the seats covered, Greg sprayed them with scotch guard and we screwed them back into the chairs.  That last step is not as easy as it sounds.  I laid down on the ground; Greg placed the chair over my face and then sat on it, and then I maneuvered the drill around upside down and around chair legs, with about one square foot of wiggle room.  

Here are the results!  The color is kind of off in this picture--the walls are not really puce.  

Saturday, August 2, 2008

clear eyes, full hearts, always lose

Friday Night Lights, source of the above quotation (although I modified it a little) is one of my all-time favorite TV shows, and I consider myself personally responsible for introducing it to some other people as well.  It's a sort of verite look at the life of a small town through the lens of its treatment of high school football.  The acting is fantastic, the stories are poignant, and the ratings are terrible.

FNL is based on a book written by one H. G. Bissinger.  A movie was made based on the book, and the TV show developed out of the movie.  If you like your sports stories all Disneyfied and inspirational, this is perhaps not the show for you.  But if you like a little grit with your soap (because there are the requisite teen romances--probably the only reason the show wasn't canceled after its first season) then I encourage you to check it out.

However, I'm not posting simply to praise FNL.  This does connect back to my larger subject matter of Philadelphia.  Because Buzz Bissinger is a local, a Philadelphian, and he has a piece in today's New York Times about how losing is a badge of pride for Philadelphians, particularly in their baseball team, the Phillies, who are the losingest team in all of pro sports history.  Check it out.

Friday, August 1, 2008

quatre vingts huit et douze font shoot me now

The last few sections I did in my French book have dealt with fairly complicated grammatical points, so when I turned the page and saw that I would be learning numbers, I was thrilled.  What could be easier?

Oh. My.  Goodness.

It started off easy enough: un, deux, trois, one, two, three.  Direct correlation.  But then I noticed something funky going on when I got to the number 70.  The number 10, I had learned, is dix. The number sixty is soixante.  70 is soixante-dix, literally "60-10."  

Hey, that's not how we do it in English!  That's addition!

I kept going, and it kept getting worse.  80 is "quatre-vingt," literally "4-20."  That's multiplication!!!  Are you ready for 99?  It's "quatre-vingt-dix-neuf."  In other words, "4-20-10-9."  So first you have to figure out that 4-20 is 80, then add ten, then add nine.  Or 19.  It's all the same.

At the end of each section of new information, there's a section called "Reading Preparation," which is basically like a little quiz where you go through a bunch of phrases and try to figure out what they mean before looking at the translation.  Guess what.  For the numbers section, the phrases are actually Math Itself.  [shudder]  

For example, "Quatre-vingt-deux et douze font-quatre-vingt-quatre/quatre-vingt-quatorze."  Et means and (or plus) and font means makes.  The bold parts are the two answer choices.

SO.  I first have to figure out what the first number is: quatre-vingt-deux (4-20-2 but actually 82).  Then I have to figure out the second number: douze (12).  Then I have to add them.  This takes a minute.  94.  Then I have to figure out which one of the answer choices means 94.  Either (4-20-4 but actually 84) or (4-20-14 but actually 80-14, which is indeed 94).

There were 38 of these problems.  I'm going to go cry now.