Monday, August 29, 2011

The Missing Piece Meets the Big “Oooooh!”


So wow, this summer has been fast.  I’ve been a bit quiet here as I thought I’d take a little time here and there to get things done, celebrate the unreasonable number of birthdays, etc.  This last week has been the culmination of a huge decorating/clean out effort--New Sofa is here, Under Stairs Cupboard of Doom has been cleaned out, re-packed *very* efficiently by GingerMan and roughly a mazillion tonnes of stuff was delivered to the highly efficient Goodwill donation and distribution centre very near my house.  
They are a drive-in Goodwill.  Stuff your car, drive through the lane out back of the shop, pull all the way forward, hand them the goods and zoom off.  Ta and Da.  Four huge bags of clothes and shoes, a chandelier, a suitcase and a couple of whatnots.  Suddenly the household universe is a more spacious situation.
Then my new Schact Sidekick travel spinning wheel arrived. Bringing my total number of wheels to four.  Four. If you are interested in an Ashford Joy double-treadle or Elizabeth II single-treadle, both in excellent condition, feel free to contact me here.
So pieces fall into empty spaces.
Back in the day, I was technically enrolled for my senior year at a high school in Boo-Freakin’-Foo, Northern California, but after a rocky first semester in which a drunken English teacher accused me of plagiarism and was proven wrong, I was rewarded with independent study for the remainder of my stay.  Which I spent zooming round anywhere my older friends had matriculated to, sleeping on dorm floors, saucing up and living bohemian on a parent’s Chevron gas card. Not a movie, real story.  Ah, the 80’s.
My greatest regret has been I did not actually complete the maths and science requirements.  I had been taking Physics, which was mostly maths-centred and based on modules where the end product was building something that proved the overall theory and provided a fun competition-- trestle bridge building, the egg astronaut, you get the idea--Physics is Phun!  I didn't finish the final project or end-of-term exam.  I wasn’t even taking maths that year, so I’ve only ever finished Algebra 1.  I’ve tried Algebra 2 FIVE TIMES in college and never finished.  Never touched Chemistry.
I repeat these things over and over to myself and others, like a mantra.
“...OOOOMMMMMMM....I’m lacking...I’m stupid....I couldn’t....I can’t.....OOOOMMMMMM.....”
During my Navy Wife stint in Norfolk, I had a great time at Old Dominion University, where I took Astronomy and LOVED it.  Mr Hannah, if you are still out there teaching, you are the best science instructor EVER.  He even had a red Corvette with a license plate reading “REDSHFT”.  It was endlessly interesting.  I understood.  I got it.  Two-hour classes in the planetarium, where I would, in pavlovian fervor, wait for the lights to dim and the stars to illuminate the black ceiling.  And the lab time...lab time?  HA!  I lived for lab time!  Lab time was fun! I showed up early!  Then, like Pretty Woman, I followed a jerk far, far away from it all...
As a lifetime habit, I still watch a huge amount of educational programming, including (write these down and go Tivo  them now):  

**NOVA: Science Now with Neil DeGrasse Tyson 
**Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking (narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch)...
                                      ...And, most certainly, 
**The Wonders of the Universe and The Wonders of the Solar System with Professor Brian Cox.

Science has come a looooooong way, baby.  It is hot.  And seeeexy. Brian Cox is a Professor of Physics and a People Magazine Sexiest Man Alive. 

Dr. Brian Cox
Is it hot in here?

Uh-huh. It’s a bewildering juxtaposition of randiness and ignorance that chafes me more than ever.
Except for last week, for approximately 12.2 seconds. An event occurred which will forever alter not only my comprehension of the universe but my willingness to perpetuate this useless mantra of inability. 
You see, light is both waves AND PARTICLES.  I get the waves bit.  Got that right away--like sound, light travels as waves, shorter and bluer the faster it travels, longer and redder as it slows.  Doppler Effect!  Fire engines!
Right? What girl doesn’t like firemen?  But particles?  Really?  Haven’t we grown so far past the charming ancient Greek philosophers who posited that the Ether of the entire universe was filled with Celestial Spheres that held heavenly bodies and acted upon each other etc etc?  What I remember about science class included laughing at this theory till we wet our 8th grade pants.


I mean, I see the particles bit as far as the Sun throwing them off and space being full of it, but it all goes fuzzy in relation to Terrestrial contact--is the atmosphere really full of light particles?  Is my lightbulb giving off particles?  Am I walking through my lit-up house bonking into this stuff at every turn????  I feel like a four-year-old jabbering on about dragons while twirling round the living room in my Disney Princess costume (complete with matching shoes, wand and tiara, thank you).
Meet the First Day of Physics Class:  The Double-Slit Experiment.  Keep reading that Wiki-link.  Allllll the way down.  I passed out after the second paragraph.  I revived at the first bibliographic reference name--the late Nobel Laureate, Professor Richard Feynman.

Mr. Hotness of Quantum Physics  

He was a Quantum Hottie at Cal Tech (I look him up for some Quality Private Time.).  
Stephen Hawking included the Double Slit experiment in the first chapter of his book A Brief History of Time, which I tried to read three times. The link goes to a new, improved version I will soon be diving into. Here is my Fairy-fied version:  
You have two pieces of cardboard.  One is plain and solid.  Stand it up like a wall and leave it.  Take the second one, cutting two rectangular slots in it, then standing it up parallel to the first one, and several inches in front of it.  So you have two parallel walls, one with holes in it.  Easy.  Then go across the room, position a light to aim right at the centre of the hole-y cardboard and turn it on.  

This is the way it’s always been presented to me--the next sentence is the Triumphant Finish:  If you could see all the light particles hit the solid board after passing through the slots in the first board, well gracious! They’re not two tidy stripes as though the particles all crowded right through the two slots you cut, it’s an uneven spray all the way across the back board! Yay!
Wait, WHAT?????  Here you see the inception of my insecurity, paranoia and constantly-reduced-to-tears-anxiety about Science and Maths.  Everyone Else got The Punchline.  I did NOT. 

Until last week, when a program, which I’ve sadly forgotten the name of, inserted one teensy, tiny little extra clause into the last sentence and suddenly freed me: SOME of the particles bonk against the slotted board and go through the slots at angles, OR break up, go through the slots, then **SMOOSH BACK TOGETHER ON THE OTHER SIDE, GOING ANY DIRECTION THEY WANT**!!!!!  Therefore creating a spray of particles against the solid back board.
“Like water around a boulder in a river” said the presenter. you can watch in that water’s path round the boulder, waves moving through the water as well as the individual particles.   Frakkin’ Waves and Particles.  
Okay, so there’s a lot more to it, but I need it really quite simple. My tiny brain is now transported back to Ether and Celestial Spheres like some ancient philosopher literally grasping at air for answers to The Universe. One who then awakes in the Quantum Age to find it might once again be true, but in bizarre and unimaginable ways. 

...And ya know, all these lightbulbs are still looking rather shifty, if you ask me...

Thus, a Contest! And a Community Learning Project!
So I started on my pissy little litany of ignorance “I didn’t/I couldn’t/I don’t know...Ahhh-Menn--”... Jedi Jasmin dutifully pointed out, with an admirable self-discipline which allowed her to let me get that far, that for much of the world, cooking is the same seemingly insurmountable obstacle.  It doesn’t come naturally to toss beans in a pan, know when they’re done, dump on an appropriate, unmeasured, amount of curry powder and squeeze on some orange.  I read this and it sounds possibly snooty the way I’ve said it.  But I just did it last night and I cannot recall a time when it did not occur to me how to do things like that.  So I propose an Exchange:

1)  CONTEST!!!
>>What is your Cooking Bete Noire? Your Culinary Waterloo?  What seems like you should get it but seems to be missing that little piece of information that obscures the entire operation?  Tell the Fairy and I’ll answer to the best of my abilities, try it and see, or go hound someone smart till I find out.  
      >>Caveat: I know nothing about bread and any answers would be conjecture at best.  Anything else is Fair Game. The best question, being the one that may stump me the most or bestow Universal Enlightenment upon us all, wins a copy of Joy of Cooking!!
      >>Time Limit:  Contest starts Today, Monday, 29 August 2011.  Entries will be accepted until Midnight on Monday, 12 September 2011.  Judging period is two weeks, Decision Day is Monday, 26 September 2011

      >>Entries:  As always, post your entry as a comment to TODAY'S blog post.  Good Luck!!

2)  COMMUNITY LEARNING!! I need your suggestions for getting hip to physical sciences and maths.  Books? Online courses?  Anything else?  Where would I find a reliable tutor?  What subjects, in fact, would you recommend checking into?  Clue me in!
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Friday, August 5, 2011

Food Brain, Colander Mind

We spent a weekend in Vegas and had a great time.  Saw Russell Brand, Penn & Teller, and  Cirque Du Soleil’s Love.  We went to the BodyWorks Exhibit, the CSI: Experience and Madame Tussaud’s.  We ate at some really fabulous restaurants, including Marion Batali’s Otto, in the Venetian resort.  Twice.  The first time, we ate Squash Blossoms 

Fried with Spicy Cheese Filling, Salty Rice Tempura 


And The Perfect Pizza.  Dark, savory deeply sun-roasted tomato sauce, perfect thin crust, gorgeous cheese and just the right pepperoni.  I swooned publicly. The second time our server, The Sensational Suzie, found two spare signed copies of Mario’s books for me after we had discussed, in depth, the existential necessity of olive oil gelatto with sea salt on top.  GingerMan pointed out there was no room in our luggage for two cookbooks.  Suzie, whom I had apprised of the fact that should she find herself in a foreign berg she should hie herself to the nearest fibre establishment and ask for dining recommendations as fibre fanciers are big eaters.
Short end of a long story, Suzie personally shipped the two books and I’m knitting her daughter a hat.  Tragedy?  I’m not close enough to teach her Girl Scout troupe to knit.
An Act of Closure:  At BodyWorks, I finally, FINALLY got to see the backside of a bellybutton!!!!!  Didn’t you ever wonder?  Ever?  Looks like a tornado.  I’ve been wonder for over 30 years, and now I rest easy.
However.  There be not, apparently, enough olive oil gelatto to assuage my current existential untidiness.  In Cirque’s Love, an ode to the Beatles, Sergeant Pepper drags an increasingly massive pile of broken band instruments behind him as his life progresses.  Huger, ever more ungainly, a ball of Past Things.  
In the middle of the Pacific Ocean lies the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  In various estimations, it is now comprised of three parts stretching from here on the west coast of North America to the east coast of China or one great roiling mess the size of Texas, and deep as an iceberg. 

Great Pacific Garbage Patch Logo
The State of Me
I am twisted up in these seemingly inescapable mental images, tied up in Things I own and Things I’ve lost in the vast ocean of life.  A life of chaos meant leaving people was easy, but Things are precious.  Things never left until they broke or went missing, at which point the loss was devastating, and the penalty twofold.  Scorn and disappointment from the parents.  Things and Grades Mattered.  But more crushing was the deep sense of grief at losing a Friend, as these Things were my closest friends.  
Lately I have experienced what I feared was early-onset dementia.  I do not claim that blithely, I truly thought I would have to seek evaluation from my doctor, I was loosing words, sentences, whole ideas, directions and abilities to do things I could usually do blindfolded.  And I started losing things.  It started in March with the Purple Shoes.  They were beautiful lilac colored suede loafers with a dark lavender velvet lacing tying in a bow on top of the foot.  I wore them with everything nearly every day for two weeks.  The day I went up to Spice Heaven to accept the job offer, GingerMan and I went to lunch in Menlo Park after, then he drove me down to knitting.  Whereupon Brass Needles and Jedi Jasmin proclaimed we would brave the heat and walk from the coffee house to the shoe warehouse across the parking lot to find me some of them fancy toning trainers.  So we did and did.  And I wore them out of the shop, placing the Purple Shoes in the trainers box.  And immediately forgot I owned these beautiful shoes.  Forgot.  I returned home that night, and every night for the next two months wondered, with ever-growing panic, as my memory slipped away, what went on that slot in the shoe rack???
The shoe box went in to the recycling, unchecked.
I cannot tell you, even now that two months has passed since this discovery, four months after it happened, how painful this is to think of.  
It turned out that a medication was causing the memory problem and the dosage was reduced.  I once again feel (mostly) human, remembering where I am, what I’m doing and keep track of stuff.  Through all of this, I believe this is why food has always been so important to me.  Yes, I am an emotional eater. Duh. And I do love me some processed junk food.  I believe I have extolled the virtues of Kraft Dinner here before as well. And Donuts.  And Nachos.
But food is always here. Food can always make life livable, better, happy.  Feeling adrift, panic-stricken and chaotic, believing I truly had early stages of Alzheimer's, cutting up a bunch of white peaches and tossing with an experimental dressing is truly therapeutic.  It tastes sweet and fresh.  It is full of vitamins and sunshine and color and happiness and well-being.  Meatloaf is full of protein and fresh herbs, flavor and comfort, it feeds you for three nights and therefore quells some small part of the panic  for a week. 
And Food extends me back out into the world.  I somehow cannot create anything that will feed a number fewer than the 5th Army Infantry Regiment.  So I have to reach out and share it.  And share a bit of the crazy, and share some wine, and then share a bit of a laugh and feel...sane again.  Like the Things don’t anchor me in this world, that the life full of People and Love that I have created in the last several years now ground me.
Except for Vegas.  I’m fairly particular about traveling protocol, especially when decamping, but I managed to lose a pair of pants and a Bare Minerals foundation.  
0-:-D  ~~Now it’s hot, simmering August, so grab some White Peaches or Nectarines and have some fun!  First, how to cut up a pit fruit all pretty without significant injury to self :

1. Fruit: IMG_3529 

2.  Hold the Nectarine in one hand on the cutting board, knife in other.  Remember from here on out, you will turn the fruit, against the cutting board, NOT in the air in your hand, NOT moving the knife a whole lot. Stability Saves Digits!

Haha, this looks like I'm lying, but it was the only way to photograph the next  two steps:

3.  Stand the Nectarine stem up.  Start slicing into the flesh, rotate the fruit all the way round so you have cut it in half.

4.  Stand the Nectarine stem up once again, but turned 90 degrees so when you make these two vertical cuts you will have made four quarters of your fruit.  It will start to loosen from the pit.

5.  Turn the Nectarine on it's side and place the knife near the stem end again.

6.  Start slicing in and rotate the nectarine all the way round again.
7.  You will be able to make 2-3 radial horizontal cuts  from top to bottom before:


8. The bite-size pieces start to loosen and come right off.  Ta-Da!
6-8 medium White Nectarines
1 box Blueberries
1/2 cup Grapeseed Oil (Or Canola/other neutral flavor oil)
1.5 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/4 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
Zest of One Lemon
1-1.5 teaspoon Greek Seasoning (Penzey’s is best, or Cavendar’s)
1/2 teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes (or more to taste)
1. Cut up Nectarines into bite-size pieces, place in a lovely bowl. 
2. Add Blueberries
3. In another bowl, thoroughly whisk together all other ingredients
4. Pour dressing over fruit, toss gently
5. Cover and refrigerate for half hour or more
6. Eat until you feel a sunny well-being overcome you once more.

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