October 31, 2011

October 31, 2011

Is there a third option?

Hey, look, it's time for trick or treat. What will you be doing tonight? Handing out full-size candy bars? Passing out raisins and pennies? Religiously abstaining from heathen revelry?

Good for you.

I’ll be watching tv quietly and avoiding anyone who knocks on my door. It’s not because I dislike people or sharing my food*. It’s because I have nothing good to share. Seriously. A quick inventory of my foodstuffs reveals the following “treats”:

1. Sugar-free hot chocolate packets: approximately 50.
2. Applesauce cups: 4.
3. Twinkies: 2.
4. 100-calorie guacamole packets: 5.
5. Mint Chap-Stick: 23.
6. Diet Coke cans: 15.

Of those, only the twinkies could reasonably be called treats, right? I only have them because they’re leftover from the mummy cakes I made for TheBoy’s Halloween party.

But if I give those out, I can satisfy all of two kids. Not acceptable. I imagine the rest of the children would form a horde and egg my apartment door.

So I have chosen to binge eat the twinkies myself and pretend to not be home. Win-win!

*Though I totally do.

October 27, 2011

October 27, 2011

Pop the Cork

I’ve written before about the show Good Eats, and its unique blend of science, food, and humor. The show recently stopped production, but that doesn’t mean the world has seen the last of Alton Brown. He’s now finished the third and final book about the making of GE (Good Eats 3: The Later Years) and is on the matching book tour. Though I haven’t yet read the book, I knew I had to see him when he swung by DC.

Technically, he swung by McLean, Virginia, which is sort of DC’s richer, boozier uncle. The people of McLean are the 1%. I wasn’t sure that they’d let me in, despite making sure my shirt was yogurt-free. Thought about taking copies of my master’s degree and the literary analysis papers I wrote in college, but that turned out to be unnecessary.

As I settled into my seat, I was surprised to see a stage that was frankly bedecked with apparati:

I was expecting a stool and a glass of water. It appeared that I was in for some actual cooking, despite the fact that we were in a theater-like room definitely not designed for fumes. M…kay.

Alton started the show promptly on time, then noted a group of four empty chairs right in front. Markedly irritated, he proceeded to heckle the people when they came. That’s right: he heckled them. He sat on the freaking stage and interrogated them about their tardiness.

For those of you wondering if the arrogant “The Next Food Network Star” persona is just schtick, I assure you, he’s just as bitchy in real life.

Once everyone arrived and was suitably slandered, Alton began showing us some wine applications. It being a wine festival and all.** First, how to chill your wine quickly:

Yep, you need a power screwdriver and a bucket.

Also, how to make wine caviar (really a mixture of wine and gelatin).

Then, how to open a champagne bottle with a sword. That’s right: sabering!

(Sorry I lose the cork at the end. It was really dark.)

Finally, champagne sorbet. Chilled with liquid nitrogen, obviously.

I’m not the hugest fan of science, but even I can’t resist edible chemistry.

* He prefers that term to “recipes.”
** I don’t drink at all (I have this), so the irony of my attending alcohol-focused events is not lost on me. I make up for it at the food-based ones.

October 26, 2011

October 26, 2011

Spooky Scary Werewolf Bar Mitzvah

Forgive me if I’ve written about this already, but am I the only one who grew up with a trick or treat that involved coat wearing on Sunday afternoons?

Those of you who grew up in the Midwest, Northeast, or Alaska know that by the time the end of October rolls around, you’re more likely than not to have wind chills in the 20s and some snow on the ground. No matter how phenomenal your costume is, it’s going to be covered by outerwear. I’ve given candy to “SWAT team member wearing coat,” “Jeff Gordon wearing coat,” and “princess wearing coat.” Heck, I’ve *been* “princess wearing coat.” I never thought a thing of it. (Plus side: coat pockets mean more candy-carrying capacity.) The only time you got my costume’s full effect was in my own living room. I'm the one on the left.

Here, in solo glory:

(I still have that outfit.)

(It no longer fits.)

Anyway, I always envied the kids who lived in multi-family buildings (not a ton of those in Milwaukee, but a few 8-apartment buildings exist), because they could possibly hit several places without their down jacket, scarf, and gloves. What luxury!

To add insult to injury, Milwaukee doesn’t hold trick or treat on Halloween. Halloween’s usually a weekday, you see, so it would have to be done after school. And that far north, after school means after sundown. Hundreds of children walking around in the dark? Not so much. Hence why you’d find me dutifully taking my “princess wearing coat” schtick to the streets on the Sunday before, usually from 1 to 4ish. Houses with candy would turn their porch lights on. (I admit that makes a lot less sense when it is already light out.) When my dad was a kid, Milwaukee had trick or treat at night (as, apparently, the rest of the freaking country does), but that was Back in the Day. Now we have to check for razorblades in our gluten-free apples and whatnot.

It’s just one of those things you never think twice about as a kid, because that’s the way things are. And then you meet people from other lands and realize that they do things differently. (Or-the horror—not at all.) It is not a small world after all, Disney. It’s a large world where some people got to collect candy in fewer than 5 layers of clothing.

October 25, 2011

October 25, 2011

In My Opinion: The Trip

Overseas flights are good for several things. (1) They’re one of the best ways to get from here to there, if an ocean exists between here and there. (2) They’re a great time to remind yourself never to have children. (3) They provide an opportunity for serious media consumption. When flying abroad, I take advantage of all three.

Hence my recent viewing of The Trip, starring British comedians (personalities? performers?) Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon playing versions of themselves. The plot is pretty simple: Steve and his girlfriend plan to take a food-focused tour* of the Lake District and write about it for The Observer. Just before the trip, girlfriend decides the relationship needs a break. Steve can’t find any friends to go on the tour with him, so he takes Rob.

Now, I’m an American who knows Steve Coogan as “the other guy from Around the World in 80 Days” and Rob Brydon not at all, so I’m sure I missed a ton of references, in-jokes, and the like. But some things are universal. The buddy road trip. Small-town tourism. The crises of middle age. One-up-man-ship.** When Steve and Rob discuss the career of fellow Brit Michael Sheen with thinly-veiled jealousy over appetizers at a teeny place in Whatevershire, no sound track or special effects are needed to make it a great scene. So much of this film is funny, and poignant, and sad, often all at once.

Plus the backdrop of the breathtaking Lake District, where I’d love to retire.

Plus plus spontaneous quoting of Coleridge, Wordsworth, et al.

Plus plus plus several scenes involving the difficulty of touring places off the beaten track. I could write an entirely separate blog about the hijinks I’ve gotten into trying to tour places that can count their monthly visitors on two hands. I’ve been personally guided through historic homes. I’ve gotten lost in their construction sites. I’ve locked myself out of them. Wandering lonely as a cloud is all well and good until you need a clearly-marked restroom.

* The best kind, innit?
** One-upmanship? One-up-manship? One-upsmanship? This word turns out to be incredibly difficult in written form.

October 24, 2011

October 24, 2011

London, Day 7: Spending the Last Pence and Heathrow

(Day 6 can be found here.)

Day 7: Saturday, October 8

My 28th birthday. I started off by finally ordering the full English breakfast at the hotel. (I’d previously been getting bits and pieces of it, or just opting for the continental offerings.)

No pancakes, alas.

The train to Heathrow was surprisingly crowded. I suppose this is why the Tube runs so frequently. No matter when or where I rode that week, I had company.

Airport security at Heathrow seemed no worse or better than in the US, though removing shoes appeared to be optional. I’m so used to being scanned and groped that I took them off anyway.

Once at the gate, I had about £4 to burn. I bought a sandwich, a Diet Coke, and some Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. Final tally: took £300 to London and came back with 31p.

The flight home was about 7 hours. I watched Bridesmaids, a great little British film called The Trip, and finished my book. I had foolishly read quite a bit of it on the train to Heathrow, so I found myself bookless for a good part of the flight. (My reserve book was in the overhead compartment. Poor, poor planning, I know.)

There appeared to be a large contingent of young British men on our flight coming to America for a visit. No idea whether they were staying in the DC area or what. Wondered what they were planning to do, and whether the amazing water pressure of our sinks and toilets would befuddle them. I myself was missing it very much. Never have I been so glad to see a Dulles bathroom.

I had a touch-and-go moment at customs when the official remarked on my “difficult” last name and I just agreed with him instead of pronouncing it. Was that a test? Did he think I was impersonating Heather Mrockosockwiczkashavicz? Who can say? (I got a similar test at Heathrow. Just look at the picture and stamp the darn passport, people. No small talk.)

Came home to a pile of mail. I really need to start resisting free magazine subscriptions.

And now I’m back. Spent the next week waking up at 4:30 a.m. and walking around tired most of the day. But it was totally worth it.

My top 5 notes from the trip:

1. Britons love lining up for things. It’s a whole field of etiquette.
2. In Britain, arugula is called rocket.
3. Piccadilly Circus is a great place to people watch, a la Times Square.
4. Every bus should be a double decker bus.
5. Britons see no need for air conditioning anywhere or elevators in their hotels. Prepare accordingly.

October 20, 2011

October 20, 2011

London, Day 6: Books, Elgin Marbles, and the Eye

(Day 5 can be found here.)

Day 6: Friday, October 7

We started day 7 at the British Library. It took longer than expected to get there because our nearest Tube station, Victoria Station, was evacuated for some reason. Then our bus aborted its route (no reason given) so we had to transfer. A catalogue of errors.

Anyway, we finally made it to the Library and saw various ancient documents, including a Magna Carta, Gutenberg Bible, and original Beatles lyrics written on an envelope. Don’t get me wrong: these were all super-cool. However, living in the same city as the Library of Congress and the National Archive gave it a bit of a “been there, done that” feel. (Sounds terrible, I know.)

Before we caught the bus for the British Museum, I went rogue to check out nearby King’s Cross and find platform 9 ¾. No true Harry Potter fan could do otherwise.

After weaving my way through the commuters to platform level, I walked the length of both 9 and 10 and found nothing. Then I saw the sign:

Yes, why wouldn’t you relocate a platform-related attraction to A RANDOM EXTERIOR BUILDING CORNER?

I exited King’s Cross incorrectly and had no idea where I was, nor how to find either York Way or Euston Road. Pulled out my compass and everything. Really needed a “point me” spell. Luckily, I chose the right direction and found 9 ¾, which (I think you’ll agree) was underwhelming at best.

The British Museum, though, was much better. I can’t think of anything comparable here, though I suppose New York comes closest. Does it, though, have the freaking Elgin Marbles?

The upside of ruling the waves: you get to keep a lot of awesome stuff.

Our group was having a farewell dinner that night, so TheBoy and I dedicated our afternoon to one thing: the London Eye. We were prepared to invest some time in waiting, because it seemed like something not to miss. Luckily, the lines for both ticket purchasing and riding the wheel were quite manageable. Yes, it’s pricey and touristy, but they really know how to keep the lines moving, and the views are great.

At the farewell dinner, our group gave guide Gillian a few gifts and read a poem composed by one of the group members. I had lamb, duck, and fudge cake; TheBoy had soup, pasta, and ice cream. Sorry to see it all end, but I was also missing America.

Tomorrow: Spending the last pence and Heathrow.

October 18, 2011

October 18, 2011

London, Day 5: Windsor and War

(Day 4 can be found here.)

Day 5: Wednesday, October 6

We began bright and early so as to catch the train to Windsor. It’s about an hour the way we rode. On the plus side, we passed some lovely countryside.

The town of Windsor was a bit too quiet for my taste, though the local establishments looked promising.

Windsor Castle itself is HUGE. It’s good to be Queen. TheBoy and I joined a guided tour of the grounds, and then walked the State Apartments, several of which I had seen on the many documentaries I’ve watched about the castle. We also walked through St. George’s Chapel, where I got to see the graves of Henry VIII, Jane Seymour, and Charles Brandon (palm raise for The Tudors).

I also got a picture with a royal guard. He appeared to be about 12.

That afternoon, TheBoy and I went to the Imperial War Museum. He because he wanted to see it, me because my dad has been talking about going to this thing as long as I can remember.

It had lots of heavy equipment in it.

On the plus side, we didn’t get mugged, despite being on the South Bank!

We had considered going to the IMAX, but it turned out to be pricey and unimpressive. Some things are best left to the Americans. We went to Covent Garden instead, a great market of retail and restaurants. Watched a mime, browsed some trinkets, ate a great Italian dinner.

For dessert, though, we went to Harrod’s instead and finally got our £15 ice cream creations (Travelcard for scale).

We were pretty tired after that, so we went back to the hotel and enjoyed some British television. Turns out their game shows are ridiculously hard, and screamingly funny.

Tomorrow: Books, Elgin Marbles, and the Eye.

October 17, 2011

October 17, 2011

London, Day 4: St. Paul’s, More Museums, and Another Round with the Beefeaters

(Day 3 can be found here.)

Day 4: Wednesday, October 5

Our day began with a guided tour (by a friend of Gillian’s named Brian) of St. Paul’s Cathedral. As a great fan of Mary Poppins, I searched high and low for the birdwoman selling feed for tuppence a bag. Alas, I found neither birdwoman nor birds. As I later learned regarding Trefalgar Square’s lack of pigeons, the birds have been ushered out of a great many parts of London. Sanitary concerns or some such. Bah, I say! Bah!

I preferred St. Paul’s (no interior pictures allowed) to Westminster Abbey. Though it had fewer famous burials and shrines, it was brighter, more colorful, and calmer. When I learned that Queen Victoria had once ordered the altar painted pink, its status as my church of choice was cemented.

Lunch was with the group, at a bank-cum-restaurant called The Counting House. On the way, Brian walked us through the financial district. Think Wall Street, but sans bull statue.

I had bangers and mash. Bangers were no good; mash was fantastic.



The afternoon was free, so we went to the History Museum and the Science Museum. They are conveniently located next to each other.

The History Museum, as with any natural history museum, holds one main attraction for each of us. TheBoy goes for the dinosaurs. I go for the sparkly rocks.

The Science Museum was a hodgepodge of interactive exhibits and weird memorabilia (Thomson’s brain, apparently). I enjoyed learning that the UK once had a lottery whose numbers were chosen by a robot named ERNIE. Those crazy Brits.

Now here’s where I brag a little. During my studious research for this trip, I learned that you can get tickets to watch the nightly Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London. The Beefeaters make a bit of a show of locking up the Tower and handing over the keys. There are bugles, and rifles, and so on. The catch is that you have to write at least 6 weeks in advance, and enclose two international reply coupons—the global equivalent of a self-addressed stamped envelope.

Well, I did it, and we went (no pictures allowed once the Ceremony started), and it was pretty cool. Except the bugler who had obviously learned to play only for this assignment. As a lifelong band member, it was pretty painful to hear. Here is someone else's video:



I proudly note that OUR Ceremony of the Keys was presided over by the world's tiniest Yeoman Warder. I was at least a head taller. Pocket size!

Also on the plus side: we did not get mugged despite being near the East End after dark!

Tomorrow: Windsor and war.