Smorgasbord of Randomness, Part 1

Mambo: The Original Smorgasbord of RandomnessThere is a particular pattern on my studio’s advanced mambo syllabus that I have taken to calling the Smorgasbord of Randomness, based on the seemingly arbitrary selection of multitudinous elements packed together in one figure. I could not help, however, thinking of this moniker more literally when I hosted a recent dinner party.

Over the weekend, a confluence of circumstances conspired to bring a somewhat unlikely a collection of guests to my dinner table. Among them were Sabrina and Ted, as they are quite frequently the fulcrum of my guest list for parties, be they dinner or cocktail… or occasionally fondue, fellow dance instructor extraordinaire, Roger, who attended in prelude to his five-day belated birthday bar crawl (more on that to comes), and internet maven Saundra Kane, who has the parallel distinction of being my mother.

As with most modern dinner parties, it happens that many guests have dietary restrictions and strong food preferences. With Sabrina being a vegetarian and Ted being an almost, kinda, sorta vegetarian who also eats chicken on occasion, I decided to make Indian food, a cuisine which is perhaps tastiest in vegetarian form. But with the addition of Saundra, I needed to adjust my strategy. As a borderline diabetic and woman of tried and true American/Western European culinary tastes, Saundra would need, I knew, some non-Asian, low-carb additions to the menu. One side dish was obvious… whipped cauliflower, the diabetic’s answer to mashed potatoes, a recipe that is both easy and delicious. Contemplating the menu further, I asked myself, what low-carb food, within Saundra’s culinary realm, would be most like curry? The answer was, of course, stroganoff.

The Majesty of StroganoffFor years I have endeavored to make a tasty stroganoff from scratch, to find a recipe that requires no McCormick dry mix packets or cans of mushroom soup. I researched a plethora of recipes on, taking what I liked from one or the other to create my own stronganoff recipe. The result is a recipe both delicious and versatile. While I made it as a beef stronganoff, it can easily be converted to chicken or mushroom (i.e. vegetarian) stroganoff to fit a variety of diets and tastes.

Finally, I found myself unexpectedly with a supply of pitted dates, and so, despite the fact that Sabrina had taken on the task of providing a cheese tray, I bought a package of bacon so as to make one of my favorite appetizers, a simple and sinfully delicious finger food I learned from my friend Paloma, master of Spanish cookery.

These three recipes would constitute a meal in themselves for a smaller gathering, but in my case, they were only a few random parts of the smorgasbord.


package of sliced bacon
pitted dates
wooden toothpicks

Cut the bacon in half down the center of the package so the slices are half as long. Roll each pitted date in one half slice of bacon and secure with a toothpick. These appetizers can be fried right away or made ahead and refrigerated for a few hours so that they can be made fresh right before serving. Heat a non-stick skillet to medium or medium-high heat and fry the bundles until bacon is crisp.

I don’t know exactly how Paloma did it, but my strategy for frying these appetizers so that the bacon gets done evenly is as follows. I first place each date bundle on its side with the top overlap of bacon facing down and the tip of the toothpick touching the pan. When that side is done, I flip and do the other side (using a spoon or utensil to manipulate the pieces; the toothpick tip will be hot from sitting in the bacon grease), again with the toothpick tip touching the pan. Finally I stand them upright so that the bottom gets done and the toothpicks cool off a bit before I take them out of the pan and set them on a paper towel to drain.


2 (1lb.) bags of frozen cauliflower
1 (8 oz) package of cream cheese
shredded cheddar cheese, optional & to taste
white pepper, to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the cauliflower. Boil at least 10 minutes until cauliflower is tender. Drain the cauliflower in a colander. Use a food processor, immersion blender or electric beaters (the latter makes a more textured or “lumpy” mashed consistency) to whip the cauliflower and combine it with the cheese. Doing this when the cauliflower is still piping hot will help the cheese melt.

The cauliflower can be served hot at this point, but sometimes it can be a little soupy at first. I like to put it in a casserole dish and bake it to give it a firmer texture. It’s convenient to make first and then leave in the oven on low-ish heat while preparing the rest of dinner.


2 lbs beef, chicken breast or wild mushrooms
4 tablespoons butter
1 large shallot, chopped (if unavailable, 1 teaspoon minced garlic)
1 onion, sliced
1 cup beef broth or chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 cup white wine
1 lb portabello mushrooms, quartered (if not using mushrooms to begin with)
1 cup sour cream

Cube meat or slice mushrooms. Melt butter in a medium to large saucepan and use it to saute the onion and shallot over medium heat, about 10 minutes. Add the meat or mushrooms. Add the broth, mustard, white pepper, wine and additional mushrooms (if using). Heat over low fire to desired doneness. I like to stew slowly all day until the meat falls apart, but to each his own. Once meat and mushrooms are cooked as desired, if there is still a lot of liquid left, strain it out of the pan and into its own smaller saucepan or skillet. Bring liquid to a boil and stir frequently until liquid is reduced to a sauce that will coat the solid ingredients like a gravy. Return the reduction to the solid ingredients. Heat through and remove from burner. Stir in the sour cream and serve!

For people who are not concerned about carbohydrate intake, the reduction step can be eliminated by instead removing enough liquid from the pan to make a paste with 4 tablespoons of flour. Return the paste to the pan and heat until it thickens. I do my best to search for ways to eliminate carbs at every turn, which is also why I didn’t serve it over noodles or rice. Either of these options is, of course, your prerogative for a traditional stroganoff.

So concludes the non-Asian portion of my Smorgasbord of Randomness. Stay turned for vegetarian curries.

Pants. Grr.

Today I would like to rant about pants.

To begin: I am fat. Not plump, not curvy, straight up fucking fat. And this is perfectly fine. I have tried to be not fat in the past, but the only way to achieve that was starving myself, which sucks, and doesn’t work in the long term, anyway. In fact, FYI, everybody, diets don’t work. That link leads to one particular study that proves it, as though everyone in the universe’s experience didn’t already, but there have been numerous studies to that effect. The fact that you still see millions of people and products claiming that diets work is because 1) the foundation of capitalism is lying for money, and 2) people are taught to be so ashamed and frightened of being fat that they lose the power of reason when the subject of fat and dieting comes up.

Look, this is a big topic, one I’m not the first to remark upon – there’s the entire fatosphere out there, after all – and I’m sure I’ll bring it up here again. The point for the purposes of my pants rant is: I am fat. I am fine with this. Pointing out that I am fat is like pointing out that I am tall or that my hair is long or that I am, in the words of a dermatologist I saw last year, “unusually mole-less”: it’s just another descriptor, and no matter how badly other people in the world would like to attach a value judgment to that descriptor, they don’t get to, because my body is my property, and my value judgments are my own and not subject to the bullshit spewed out into the world by dudebro trolls on comment boards or companies selling diets that don’t work.

However, there are downsides to being fat, and one of those is one that all marginalized people have in common: the world is not made for us. In this case, specifically, pants are not made for us.

Oh, sure you can buy plus-size pants, and I do, specifically jeans. But look, for one, they are expensive: you cannot get a good pair of fat jeans for less than $40. For two, they are seldom sold in “long” sizes, which I need: I’m looking at you, L.L. Bean and Lands’ End. For three, they are comprised of this very stretchy denim, such that after one day of wearing, the shape of the pants is nothing like what it was when you first put them on. This leads me to a secondary rant: WHY ARE WOMEN’S JEANS, OF ALL SIZES, MADE OF HALF SPANDEX? I do not want leggings, I want jeans. Blue jean denim cowboy motherfucking jeans. NO STRETCHINESS AT ALL. Stretchiness does not help the pants to “fit my curves”: I barely have curves. I am a big fat tube. Also, it fucks hardcore with the sizing – the jeans have completely different measurements at the end of the day than they did at the beginning because of all the stretching out with wear. WHY CAN’T I JUST GET STRAIGHT UP DENIM JEANS?

Yes, you should have read that as though it contained a lot of yelling.

Let me get to the actual incident that drove me to this ranty blog. I ordered three pairs of jeans online: one from Old Navy, one from Levi’s, and one from Lane Bryant. All were at least $40, plus shipping. All had size charts, purporting to offer measurements for each size. I took my measurements and ordered appropriately. One pair was a size 26, two were size 24s. I don’t care about the number of the size, or vanity sizing – manufacturers can call the pants Size Dainty if that’s what it takes to make some people feel better about themselves. But I expect that if you provide a measurement guide, and I take my measurements accurately, your pants should fit.

Well. The Levi’s were a billion times too big in all ways. I clearly needed a size 22, if not a 20. The Old Navy pair was a nightmare in general: the rise was enormous, as though they expected me to be carrying a low-slung fanny pack in my underwear. The waist was too large, and the material was questionable. The Lane Bryant’s seemed to fit well enough, although the waist came up OVER MY NAVEL. The waistband of these pants was designed for Urkel.

I ended up keeping the Lane Bryant pair, basically because they fit (or so it seemed) least worst, and I was in desperate need of jeans, having been reduced to only two pairs after the crotch tore out of a third old pair. Old Navy provides free return shipping on plus-size items – this seems nice until you realize that they do this only because they discontinued plus-size items in their stores, so, natch, you can’t just be fat and go to an Old Navy and try the damn pants on and save yourself the hassle. I presume they didn’t want to taint their brand by having their stores full of fatties – fuck you, Old Navy. Levi’s I had to pay to ship back. (And, of course, I had to pay to have all of these things shipped to me, except for one pair I found a “free shipping” coupon for, so in total it cost $18 to try on three pairs of pants and decide to buy one. This is not something thin people ever have to do.)

As to the pair I kept: I knew the waist was ridiculously, unsexily high, but whatever – I don’t tuck things in, generally, and I need pants. The legs I liked: they were straight leg, as opposed to bootcut or flares, but not skinny jeans, which I’ve found to constrain the calf unpleasantly. I took the tags off, washed them to get rid of that plastic shipping smell, and put them on.

By the end of the day they were much to big. Like, falling down (off my diaphragm, ahem). BECAUSE OF THE DAMN STRETCHINESS. So now, to wear these pants I will have to belt them around my goddamn chest, try to shrink them in the wash, or maybe bribe Sarah into taking them in, if that is even possible.

This single pair of poorly fitting pants cost me almost $60, including the price of the jeans I kept, shipping and return shipping for all three pairs, and that was minus the shipping coupon and another, second coupon I found online. Without coupons I would have been close to spending $80 on one pair of very poorly fitting jeans.

Look, what bothers me is this: I am a human being, with (a little bit of) money to spend. I don’t deserve to spend twice what thin people spend, and at three times the inconvenience, on pants. And I realize that shopping can be tough for everyone, even thin people – clothing in a reasonable price range is rarely cut to fit people who are very tall or very short or very curvy or what have you. But we fats have far fewer options, and it’s just unreasonable that I can’t pay money for clothing I like that fits reasonably well. I thought that was the whole goddamn point of the American economy. And it further bothers me that I’m pretty sure it’s not that the reason I have so few options isn’t a dearth of demand – there are lots of fat folk out there. I’m pretty sure brands don’t make plus sizes because they, like Old Navy, don’t want to “taint their brand” by having it be worn by and seen on fat women. Old Navy pushes us into the ghetto of online shopping to make sure we’re never seen in their stores; other companies just push us out entirely, so that we’ll never be seen in their clothing, period. As an illustration: American Apparel sells plus-size menswear but not plus-size womenswear. Because there’s nothing, according to a particular prevalent bias and stigma, as unhip and unsexy as a fat woman.

That’s bullshit.

I have heard of a number of fats who have just given up on jeans altogether: they wear skirts, and tights when it’s cold. I wish I was femme enough for that, but it’s just not really my style. I suppose I could learn to sew (though see my “Mary Fucking Poppins” post for some thoughts on that), but I’m not sure that even if I could learn to sew, I could manage to make jeans. I’m also considering trying men’s pants, though given the different shapes of men’s and women’s bodies generally, I’m not sure how that will go. Maybe I just will have to learn to de-femme skirts, somehow.

The point is … well, actually, after 1500 words, the point is fuck this shit. Good day to you.

Smethport, Ho!

Smethport, Ho!

Yesterday, I drove Roger up to Smethport, Pennsylvania, for a job interview. Smethport, it turns out, is the county seat — and therefore, the location of the county district attorney’s office, where Roger was interviewing for the job of assistant D.A. — of McKean County. Pittsburghers probably haven’t heard of McKean County per se, but they may have heard of Bradford, PA, home of a University of Pittsburgh branch campus. Also, they may have heard of Wooly Willy, invented and still produced in Smethport

It was a harrowing journey. We left at about 9:30 a.m., heading up 28 North. After 28 gets into Armstrong County, it actually becomes a simple, two-lane road, and after that point, we were never on a highway again. In New Bethlehem, a quaint Pennsylvanian town, we got onto Route 66 North, which in turn led us to Clarion. Interesting thing about Clarion: it may have been secretly invaded and occupied by Canada. Roger noticed that all of the street signs had little red maple leaves on them, inexplicably. I considered that the local college, Clarion University, may have something to do with it, but I believe their mascot is an eagle or something — it’s definitely not a maple leaf. No, we think Clarion, PA, was, at some point, very quietly — it’s their way — taken over by Canada. Furthermore, Canada has engineered it so that once unsuspecting Americans drive into Clarion, it’s difficult to get out; Route 66 just ended on us, without any signage. Though we finally found 66 North again and continued on our way, it turned out on the way home that 66 South actually takes a different path than 66 North, thus disorienting and alarming us (and, I’m sure the Canadians hoped, potentially trapping us in Clarion). Tricksy Canadians

Still, getting trapped in Clarion would’ve meant that we retained a grasp on a degree of civilization. After we drove out of Clarion, it was miles and miles of almost nothing on either side of the car. We drove north through Forest County, which is home to part of Allegheny National Forest (real, not-made-up motto: “Land of Many Uses”). In point of fact, the undeveloped sections of the world unsettle me. Don’t misunderstand: I am a conservationist, and I am aware of the many real physical and spiritual necessities of having wild spaces in the world. I just don’t want to spend my time in them. As opposed to the city, where everything is observed, quantified, and qualified on a daily basis by thousands of eyes, ears, and feet, the tracts of wilderness left in the world make me nervous in the way they go unwatched — anything could exist in all those trees along 66 North, unseen and unchecked. The undeveloped world is potentially full of mysterious forces, and their unknown and unseen nature makes me uncomfortable

Speaking of mysterious forces, Roger and I became convinced that the Devil is in Forest County; specifically, he owns a store there. For miles we drove along, reading a string of periodically placed signs enticing us to visit a store located on “ALT 666” where we would find a “magical shopping experience” at a store that “had everything you could want.” “Turn left in six miles!” and, “Turn left in two miles!” When we valiantly continued past the left turn to Route 666, we saw a sign that said, “You just missed the turn to a magical shopping experience!” We expected there to be, immediately afterwards and despite this, a sign saying, “Make the next left to Rt. 666!” The Devil, like Canadians but meaner, is tricksy.

Many winding miles (and many completely inert but massively inconvenient PENNDot workers) later, we arrived in … Kane, PA. It was still a goodly ways to Smethport (did I mention how far away from anything Smethport is?). We didn’t stop in Kane, but I bring it up so that I can quote to you from the Kane, PA, brochure I picked up in Smethport, titled, “Kane, Pennsylvania: A Star in the Forest.”

“Historically known as the ‘Ice Box’ of Pennsylvania, our summer days are warm and inviting, but leave the air conditioner at home, you won’t need it!

“Fall foliage is the most spectacular array of color that you will ever experience. During the winter months, you will feel like you’ve stepped into a Norman Rockwell print, especially while ice skating under the stars.

“Oh, yes, you won’t sneeze here because our pollen count is one of the lowest in the country!”

Well, heck, sign me up for a vacation in Kane.

In Kane we traded 66 North for 6 North, and another 25 almost completely uninhabited miles later, we arrived in Smethport at last. Our first order of business was lunch at the Route 6 Diner; I ordered the “Cold Turkey Sandwich,” which consisted of white bread and turkey — I had to order, for $0.50, a tomato slice, iceberg lettuce and mayonnaise. I also got sweet potato fries with brown sugar on them, and Roger got the chicken tenders and fries. This lunch, plus two coffees, amounted to $16 — I’m not sure if we got a deal or not.

While Roger went over to the Courthouse for his interview, I walked around the town to get a feel for the place. There is a bar, a coffee shop with wireless internet, and a Catholic Church, so technically, Roger’s bases are all covered. There are also two pizza parlors, a Chinese take-out place called “Food King,” and “The Hub,” a 24-hour convenience store. There is also the Smethport Visitor Center. Really.

At the Smethport Visitor Center, I met Karen and Les, but was mostly led around by a nice old lady who either didn’t introduce herself or whose name I didn’t catch, but I will call her Flo, because if that was not her name, it should have been. Flo was very happy to show me around the Center itself, which has continental breakfasts in the morning, a TV room, a computer, “With DSL high-speed wireless,” she pointed out, and a rec room in the back. It was all very … low ceilinged. They were eager to learn why I was there, and would I be staying there? Visiting? Have I seen the Jail and Historical Society? I got several pamphlets. Allow me share some of them with you here.

First, an introduction to Smethport, from the “McKean County Historical Society Old Jail Museum” pamphlet:

“McKean County was organized March 26, 1804, and was named in honor of Thomas McKean, the second governor of Pennsylvania and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. It was under the jurisdiction of Centre County until 1814 and Lycoming County 1826 (sic). The first purchases of land were made by John Keating in 1796. Early villages were Ceres, Instander and Smethport.”

There is also a genealogy library and a “Loom Room.” Additionally, you can join the Historical Society for the annual fee of $10.00, which gets you 50% off admission to the museum, which would ordinarily be $4.00. There are also periodic programs held by the Society, including, this summer, “Backwoods Bootleggers,” described thusly: “McKean County — A hot bed of activity during prohibition … Step back in time and grasp what life was like during this era. Trial reenactment based on actual transcripts and newspaper articles.” The Bucktail News, the newsletter of the McKean County Historical Society (which you get with a membership, or, apparently, with a trip to the Smethport Visitor Center), goes on to point out that in “Bradford or ‘Little Chicago’ as it was sometimes called, the organized crime units of Bradford used their power and influence to run large operations transporting and selling illegal alcohol.” Little Chicago! Won’t Roger be glad to know, if he gets the job, that it is only a few miles away? It turns out that the author of the play “Backwoods Bootlegging” is none other than John Pavlock, McKean County’s District Attorney, and the man who, as I received this pamphlet from Flo, was interviewing Roger. Small world, ain’t it? Speaking of booze, Flo asked me what job Roger was interviewing for.

“He’s a lawyer.”
“Oh, no,” Flo said, “another lawyer in town.”
“No, no,” I assured her, “he’s a prosecutor. He’ll be keeping the streets of Smethport safe.”
“Oh!” Flo exclaimed. “Will he stop the drinking?”
“Um … no. No, Roger won’t stop the drinking.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that Roger almost always increases the drinking wherever he goes.

After purchasing a Wooly Willy to satisfy Ted’s request for a Smethport souvenir, I continued my walkabout. Smethport’s … small. There were some nice older houses, and a peculiar tendency to elevate the sidewalks three steps up from the street. There was one apartment building, a converted house, called The Colonial, which Roger later told me the D.A. had referenced as “a good place for bachelors.” There was a bar, a coffee shop, and a Catholic Church. So … yeah.

At the conclusion of his interview, Roger and I headed for home, back through the winding forests down Routes 6 and 66. We passed two Hamlin Townships and a Hamlin Lake. (Me: “Who’s Hamlin?” Roger: “I guess he did something noteworthy around here.” Me: “I think Hamlin done dug the railroad factory.”) We also drove past a tiny bar in the middle of nowhere called the Dew Drop Inn, whose sign featured a jaunty turtle; there was literally five miles of nothing on either side of this bar, but about ten feet past it the state had a erected a sign on the side of the road that read, “High D.U.I. Crash Area.” I think we know who’s to blame.

We got back to Pittsburgh in time to get stuck first in the rain and then in traffic. I don’t know if Roger will get the job, or if he’ll be able to survive living in Smethport for two years (they required a two-year commitment, apparently to keep people from leaving as soon as possible). I do know that if he does get the job, he should watch out for the Canadians and the Devil. And Flo. She might be single.

Note: Roger didn’t get the job. But that’s OK, he has another job now, in Pittsburgh.

Salamanca, Ho! Part the Second

As I mentioned in my last blog, I was in Salamanca, New York, over the weekend before last, and while there was much, like magic blueberries and baby goats, to hold my interest otherwise, my primary reason for being there was to witness the marriage of Jennifer and Trevor, as the date of Sarah, the Maiden of Honor.

Sarah’s reasoning in inviting me was sound. On one hand, she could have invited a gentleman friend, but then he (and she) would have had to endure the whole “meet the family” fiasco, not to mention spending two nights in the Trailer/Chalet with Sarah’s parents. Not that Saundra and Neilbert aren’t pretty cool for grown-ups, but still. In lieu of all of this, Sarah decided she’d invite me to be her Plus One, thus ensuring that there would be no awkward “meet the guy I’m sleeping with” moments with her family; plus, I already know and like her parents, and don’t mind sharing a trailer with them at all.

So on Friday I picked Sarah up promptly at 1:00 as she was leaving work, and after fortifying ourselves with giant, fast food burritos from Qdoba (my fast food weakness!), we made great time flying up 79 North and then venturing on into New York, making it to Salamanca in three hours, in plenty of time for Sarah to get to the rehearsal at Holy Cross Catholic Church.

I tagged along, of course, having nothing else to do but take some snapshots and listen, instantly charmed, to the priest, a Polish immigrant of earnest good will who had picked up the verbal tick of asking “OK?” at the end of almost every sentence he uttered. (He also admonished everyone that if he smelled alcohol the next morning before the service on anyone, he would refuse to proceed with the wedding. See, this is why you should go for an Irish priest.)

I realized belatedly that I had walked into Church with a button on my jacket that had a small drawing of a man’s naked torso on it, with a small heart drawn at the end of an arrow pointing towards the penis. Gauche, I suppose, but apparently no one noticed it. Because it wasn’t, apparently, minutes after I left before Jennifer, who already knew the score on Sarah’s call to make me her Plus One, was fielding questions about whether or not I was Sarah’s lesbian lover. Now I realized! At the end of the rehearsal, when Sarah was chatting with the priest, he wasn’t staring at my little penis pin! He was sizing up my short, short haircut and my vintage Communist propaganda pins! Sarah had brought a Communist Lesbian to her cousin’s small town wedding!

The rumor only spread at the rehearsal dinner, hosted by Trevor at the restaurant, Myers, he co-owns. Uncle Howard caught me walking in with Sarah and asked, “Who are you?” I replied, “I’m Sarah’s date.” Pause. “Well that’s just great!” It sure was just great. It got even greater when it got out that I wasn’t just a Communist Lesbian — I was a Communist Lesbian who didn’t eat meat! Trevor, alerted by Sarah and Jennifer that I was a vegetarian, took care to make sure there was a plain cheese pizza on hand amongst the pepperoni. So there I was: a Communist Vegetarian Lesbian! Oh, how the Big City will change a girl …

I didn’t mind, of course, and several of Sarah’s family members were in on the gag. I wasn’t even the only vegetarian. Still, the next day at the wedding, there I was, Sarah’s date. The service itself was very nice. I’ve inveighed before about my distaste for weddings and the way people go crazy over them, but Jennifer is a very down-to-Earth sort of girl, and their ceremony, though bigger than one I would cobble together, was otherwise perfectly reasonable. Perhaps because Trevor is a Methodist, there wasn’t a wedding mass, only a ceremony, though it was presided over by the Polish priest. Trevor’s Methodist minister was there to help, and his youthful bemusement at the goings on of a Catholic wedding, complete with a foreign, heart-rendingly earnest priest, was fun. He looked alarmed when he accidentally made reference, in a jointly spoken prayer, to Original Sin, but otherwise, I think the Methodist God was as satisfied as the Catholic God. Jennifer, of course, looked beautiful, and Trevor looked charmingly excited and terrified, and I only felt sort of ridiculous as the first person to process out of the church after the wedding party. Communist Vegetarian Lesbian, coming through!

The reception was nice, insofar as I was at Table One and so got to hit the buffet first, though upon reaching it, I was greeted by no less than four meat dishes — and no vegetables! Why have green beans, I suppose, when you can have Kielbasa? That’s OK, as the carbs, I’m sure, helped me soak up the free beer. Sarah gave a properly odd toast, which you can see by clicking here and visiting my YouTube page, and I gave a present to Sarah’s cousin Smooth of a warm can of I.C. Light, in memory of his visit to Pittsburgh a while back, during which a good time was had by all.

Speaking of Smooth, if you thought I was done being scandalous, you were wrong. As Smooth was the only gentleman of approximately my age that I knew at the reception, I asked him to dance, and he took me up on it. Later, I heard from Smooth’s mom (who was in on the lesbian joke) that a relative had seen Smooth and I dancing and come up to her to say, “Looks like Smooth is going to get some tonight.” Apparently, if you didn’t think I was Sarah’s lesbian lover, you thought I was the slut from out of town Smooth was gonna get a piece of! I guess that makes me a Communist Vegetarian Bisexual? I suggested a threesome, just to add a little bit of incest to the mix.

We danced away anyway, secure in our scandal, while Sarah got tipsy and Jennifer got a bit tired looking — that dress must have weighed a ton. Lest you think I didn’t put a cherry on the top of the night, though, so to speak, I had one last scandalous encounter before we headed home after a fun day of nuptials. At the bar, I encountered Uncle Howard again, and he had also been partaking of the free beer, it seemed.

Uncle Howard: “You know, you are just lovely.”
Me: “Thank you.”
Uncle Howard: “I’m not hitting on you, though.”
Me: “Why not?”
Uncle Howard (laughing a bit nervously): “Well, my wife’s here for one.”
Me: “Then heaven forbid.”
Uncle Howard: Glances away and then glances back.
Me: Licks my lips.

Saundra says it’ll probably be enough to turn Uncle Howard vegetarian.

Salamanca, Ho! Part the First

Well, this past weekend was a doozy. Sarah invited me to Salamanca, New York, to be her “Plus One” at her cousin Jennifer’s wedding. Sarah was the Maiden of Honor, in fact, at the nuptials of Jenn and Salamanca’s most eligible bachelor, Trevor, but I think I will save the actual events of the wedding for Part Two of this blog.

Because certainly, Salamanca had more to offer than simply a wedding. I was a guest for two nights in Saundra and Neilbert’s Autumn Chalet (as Neilbert calls it) — or, The Trailer (as Saundra prefers). Regardless of its designation, what it is, is a … what’s the correct name for it? It’s not a “trailer,” actually, in the sense of like, an Airstream that you could hitch to your truck. And if it’s a mobile home, it didn’t look very mobile — it looked to be permanently planted in fact, complete with a deck. It’s a foundationless house, that’s what it is, and it is bigger, square-footage wise, than the apartment I lived in for two years in Ypsilanti, Michigan, so. Saundra and Neilbert maintain their vacation abode for weekends away in the scenic ski country of southwestern New York, visiting with Neilbert’s large family. I was generously assigned the big guest room, and Saundra even set out some flannel sheets for me, remembering my unusual aversion to even slight chills.

Using the Trailer/Chalet as a base camp, I struck out with Sarah into the Greater Salamanca Metropolitan Area. It’s wee. The Seneca, a First Nation tribe, operate a brand-spankin’ new casino up there that looks a bit like a fancied-up Borg cube. So there are reservation lands and some tricky politics, but I didn’t get involved in any of that. On Friday night, following Jenn’s rehearsal and rehearsal dinner at Trevor’s restaurant, Myers, us three ladies drove through the dark to Ellicottville, a town designed to cater, I take it, to the ski clientele in particular. There’s a main street with several bars and bed & breakfasts.

We ended up at The Gin Mill, a tidy, bright little bar, where I got to experience a draft from the Ellicottville Brewing Company. Ordinarily, I am opposed to fruity beers — there’s no principle behind it, I just tend not to like them — but in the spirit of my rule to always try the local draft, I ordered the EBC Blueberry. It came with blueberries in it! They were added by the bartender, and they danced around in the carbonation — it was like magic! Also, contrary to my expectations, the beer itself was good — it tasted like an alcoholic blueberry muffin, a bit, and the sensation of drinking it with the dancing blueberries was akin to drinking bubble teas at Asian restaurants, which I have always found to be super fun.

Also, we met a gentleman from Pittsburgh, who had permanently relocated to Happy Valley, another local village. Apparently, there’s a secret, underground railroad between Salamanca, New York, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that no one’s ever told me about. I think Sarah’s family started it, and now it’s spreading. In any case, the guy was standard bar guy — there by himself, talking to the “single” ladies, though we did inform him of Jennifer’s pending marriage. What was great, though, was that he bought us a round — more blueberries! — and then left. We didn’t have to labor through the obligatory conversation with him, and we still got a free drink each. Sweet.

As Saturday was a big day, we headed home after we finished our free second round. Just as well, for all the goodness that was to come on Saturday morning. Because before we headed off to Jenn’s wedding, Sarah and Neilbert and I went to … Pumpkinville.

Pumpkinville had been advertised liberally on small, handmade wooden signs all around the Salamanca-Great Valley-Happy Valley-Ellicottville area. Nestled off some back road, Pumpkinville had plenty of what it was named for: a field of pumpkins, arrayed in the best country fall style, with the rolling hills of New York just beginning to turn red and orange and yellow in the background. I purchased three wee pumpkins for $1.50, on the grounds that you can’t go to Pumpkinville without bringing home pumpkins.

But pumpkins weren’t all Pumpkinville had to offer. For one, they had plenty of apples, and an apple cider press on the premises. For another, they had a tremendous amount of unhealth, which Sarah and I partook in liberally for lunch. In point of fact, the weekend in Salamanca was about the most Carbtastic weekend of my life: as one of only two vegetarians in the entire county (the other one was from out of town as well, in for the wedding), it was a project finding meatless food (Trevor generously made sure there was a cheese pizza at the rehearsal dinner on Friday night, to supplement the pepperoni pizza and wings that made the rest of the meal) and a project, in fact, even finding vegetables. Ah well, I guess vacations are for unhealth. I tried an Apple Cider Float, made with Pumpkin Ice Cream, which was, in fact, an awesome idea. For lunch proper I had French fries made for me — I think I was the first person to order any that day in Pumpkinville, because I got to watch them slice the potato and deep fry the resulting curly fries. Sarah and Neilbert enjoyed the local delicacy of Beef on Weck, which is roast beef on some special kind of bun, liberally accompanied by horseradish.

Oh, and Sarah and I split a pound and a half of fudge. Not all at once, mind you, we bought it and sampled it, and took the rest home. I’m here to say, 1) Pumpkin Spice Fudge tastes awesome, and, 2) I am glad I am not on a low-carb diet like Sarah was prior to (and after) this trip to Pumpkinville.

But Pumpkinville didn’t just have pumpkins and carbohydrates. It had much more. It had … baby goats! They were so cute! Oddly, they were trapped in a large, wooden construction, meant to resemble a mountain, I think (Mountain Goats — get it?), but in fact resembling poorly constructed scaffolding. Some baby goats were sort of wondering from platform to platform nervously.

Other baby goats were down on the ground, over by the fence, asking to be petted. Freaky thing, though: they’ve got long rather than round irises in their eyes, like cats … but sideways! Goats look like aliens. But totally cute aliens. I want a goat. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned before in this space my ambition to one day have City Chickens; the City of Pittsburgh allows you to keep up to three chickens (no roosters) in your backyard, for egg-laying purposes, and I fully plan, upon having a yard someday, to have two yard chickens. But what about a yard goat? I could milk it and make goat cheese! Ted is skeptical. In any case, I am convinced that regardless of what the song says, goats go to Heaven, too.

After we returned triumphantly from Pumpkinville, it was time to get ready for the wedding and the reception, the events of which will be recounted in a future blog. But the fun wasn’t over with the reception on Saturday night. For on Sunday morning, before heading home, Saundra and Neilbert generously treated me to breakfast at Eddy’s, a perfect little small town diner down the street from the Trailer/Chalet.

I love diners, and diner food, and this was perfectly in keeping with the unreconstructed lack of pretense that makes little diners great. We ordered our breakfasts at a window, and waited to be served basic egg fare. I ordered two eggs over easy with wheat toast and hashbrowns — the girl taking my order looked up at me with no little consternation and asked, “No meat?” perplexedly. No, no meat. By that time, I may have been the only vegetarian in Salamanca. Sarah and Saundra, low-carbing it, made up for my lack of meat orders, and we enjoyed out breakfasts heartily, including the self-serve coffee refills.

And with that, it was back to Pittsburgh, to resume our busy lives, while Jennifer and Trevor jetted off to Key West on their Honeymoon. More on Jenn and Trevor’s festivities in the next blog.

Two Fondues

There’s just something about winter nights that puts me in the mood for melted cheese and crusty bread… don’t mind it on summer nights either. Fondue is an alluring feast for any cheese-lover, but most traditional recipes are annoying and expensive. Traditional fondue calls for French-ified swiss-type cheeses like Emmenthaler and Gruyere that can as much as $11 a pound as an ordinary grocery store. Not only are they expensive, but they’re difficult to melt and have a tendency to re-congeal when cooled off.

As an antidote to these difficulties I came up with an alternative fondue recipe, one that is not only easier and cheaper, but it is versatile and lends itself well to a number of creative variations. After you see a few of my specific fondue recipes, you’ll get the gist and see how you can bring your own creative freedom to the kitchen table.

Two weeks ago, I had a eureka moment and came up with another new twist on my fondue recipe. Thinking about a log of goat cheese that had been sitting, neglected in my cheese drawer for a few weeks, I recalled one of my favorite recipes from my vegetarian days and decided it might just be the next big thing in fondue… that is, the stellar combination of sundried tomatoes with goat cheese. This is the recipe that resulted:


1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
3/4 to 1 cup half n’ half or light cream
3oz sundried tomatoes, not packed in oil
1 (8oz) package of cream cheese
4oz log of goat cheese
dash or two of white pepper (optional)
1/2 to 1 cup white wine
1 tablespoon cornstarch (optional)
bread cubes or vegetables for dipping

Process the garlic and tomatoes with a little of the cream in a food processor until they for a paste. Combine the paste with the rest of the cream, the cream cheese, the goat cheese and the pepper in a medium saucepan. Melt over medium-low heat, whisking frequently until the cheeses are melted and well combined. Whisk in the white wine until combined. If the fondue is too runny for your taste, then mix the cornstarch with a bit of additional wine (just enough to dissolve it) and then whisk it into the fondue, heating until it thickens. Serve with bread and/or vegetables.

So, this fondue turned out to be tasty, but I wasn’t a hundred percent happy with it. If I had it to do over again, I believe I would either reduce the number of sundried tomatoes I used (i.e. use perhaps half of the 3 oz package) or increase the amount of goat cheese (double, maybe?) or both. I felt that the tomato flavor overpowered the goat cheese, and why are we eating fondue after all if not to enjoy bread dripping with cheese?

I believe further that this recipe, inventive though it was, also simply didn’t satisfy my craving for fondue. There’s just something about the ever present memory of traditional fondue, that marriage of swiss cheese and white wine, that represents fondue is my reckoning, and this variation just strayed too far from the founding ideal.

This past weekend I sought to sate my unfulfilled craving for fondue with a more traditionally-geared recipe. This recipe is, however, by no means authentic… call it a designer knock-off if you wish!


1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
1 to 1 1/2 cups milk or cream
1 (8oz) package of cream cheese
8oz block of swiss cheese, cubed
4oz sharp white cheddar, cubed
dash or two of white pepper (optional)
1 to 1 1/2 cups white wine or dry sherry
bread cubes or vegetables for dipping

Combine the garlic, cream, cream cheese, swiss cheese, cheddar and the pepper in a medium saucepan. Melt over medium-low heat, whisking frequently until the cheeses are melted and well combined. If cheese does not melt smoothly, use an immersion blender to smooth is out. Whisk in the white wine until combined. If the fondue is too runny for your taste, then mix the cornstarch with a bit of additional wine (just enough to dissolve it) and then whisk it into the fondue, heating until it thickens. Serve with bread and/or vegetables.

Now this recipe neatly scratched the itch for swiss fondue! Hearty and rich with the heady flavors of swiss and wine… I’m already excited about the leftovers.

A couple notes about the flexibility of these recipes. You’ll notice that there is a range of amounts listed for some ingredients. I do this because I know that not everyone’s tastes parallel mine, and hey, depending on the day and the crowd, I might want to make my own recipe differently. To be on the safe side, when trying one of these recipes for the first time, start with the minimum amount and then add gradually until reaching your desired result.

In terms of the garlic, I generally keep a jar of minced garlic in the fridge, and it’s best to use a small amount because the garlic can very easily become overpowering in fondue. Traditional recipes call for merely rubbing a halved garlic clove inside the pot and then discarding it. I can’t be bothered to peel and halve fresh garlic, so I just use a dash of minced. Garlic lovers should feel free to use more.

The amount of cream you use depends on the dryness and melting abilities of the cheese. As the cheeses melt, if the mixture seems too tacky (more of a glue-like paste than a melty sauce), cream should be added as needed to make the sauce more like a thick gravy.

Adding wine is another matter of taste. I personally prefer a heavy wine flavor and fondue that is thinner in consistency. That’s because I like the cheese to soak into the bread. If you’re serving the fondue with vegetables, you probably want a thicker consistency so that the vegetable cuts will “grab” more fondue. Some people have found my fondue to be too heavy on the wine, so again, start with the minimum and add to your tastes.

Zero History by William Gibson

Zero HistoryFamed for his canonical novel, Neuromancer, William Gibson is among the few classic SFF authors still producing regularly today. His latest novel, Zero History, echos my experience with some of his other recent works, including Pattern Recognition and Spook Country. Which is to say, I like it… sort of.

This novel did not start off very strongly for me. The initial build-up and scene-setting was simply too abstract for my taste. I had a difficult time holding on to anything concrete, be it characters, scenes, plot lines, etc. It took me awhile to get a handle on exactly what was going on and who were the major players. Once I got situated in the story, I found some intriguing threads to follow, but the journey there was longer than I would have entertained in a print book (I read this novel on audiobook during my daily commute).

Characters Hubertus Bigend, Hollis Henry and Milgrim from Gibson’s Spook Country are back to find themselves entangled in a new round of semi-covert interactions. Bigend has hired Hollis to research a secretive clothing line called Gabriel Hounds, bringing Milgrim in to assist following a Bigend-funded off-the-grid stint in rehab. The concept of a clothing line so secret that nobody knows where to buy it is an alluring plotline in Gibson’s fashion. The characters of Hollis and Milgrim are appealing, the character of Bigend both larger-than-life and mysterious.

The problem with this novel, and the previous ones, is that it goes in and out of being compelling for me. It keeps my interest often enough for me to continue listening to the audiobook, but my attention fades for stretches and comes back. The characters and plots are interesting enough for me to pick up on for a time, but I feel that ultimately they are not compelling enough to keep consistent interest. This novel reads, perhaps, more like a conversation than a story. There are lots of intriguing bits, but I wasn’t terribly concerned with where they were going. I’d just tune in when the line of thought piqued my interest, and tune out when it lost me.

I’m sure Gibson fans would love this book, and perhaps readers with a better attention span than me.

Moonlight, the Complete Series

MoonlightMoonlight is one of those phenomena you hear about among cult cadres of SFF fans bemoaning the cancellation of a promising show before its time. I finally got my hands on the DVDs the sole season of Moonlight a few weeks back, and while it’s no Firefly, there is some merit to the cult complaints. Still, I think this series is ultimately plagued by the question:

“Do we really need another vampire romance?”

Further, do we need another rehashing of the vampire mythos? Another spin on vampire lore with a slightly different set of rules? Another on screen telling of the pathos of the relationship between an immortal and a human? The answer is that unless it also brings something spiffy and new to the table, then no. The genius and vision of Joss Whedon’s Buffy? Yes. The charm and irreverence of Sookie Stackhouse and Trueblood? Yes. Moonlight? Er… probably not.

It’s unfortunate, though, because this series had a lot to recommend it. The vampire mythos it creates is interesting, just not revolutionary. The writing is good, just not sparklingly fantastic. The actors are appealing, if a bit too “WB” (despite being on CBS!). If fact, this series was almost completely recast, save for leading man and apparently fast track up-and-comer Alex O’Loughlin, who seems to have been in ever new series on network television in the last three years (forgive a gal for some hyberbole?), in order to give the show that “young and cute” appeal.

Leading man O’Loughlin is probably the foremost strength of this show. Not only does he have the young and the cute, but he has gravity and complexity as well as some lighter and comedic appeal. I can see why he’s popping up everywhere in television pilots, because he has a lot of Hollywood star cred. While this show may suffer from not being “different enough” from other vampire fiction, it’s not without novelty in its storytelling. O’Loughlin’s character, Mick, has a couple of standout storylines. One is his quest as an “anti-vampire vampire” to find a cure for vampirism when the mysterious reappearance of his thought-dead vampire wife suggests that it may be possible. Vampires longing to be human, of course, are nothing new (ahem… Angel), but the way this storyline plays out with the ex-wife, the new girlfriend and his passionate resentment against being turned (in a mythos where the biggest downsides to being a vampire are not being able to eat real food and having to sleep in a freezer) makes the plot intriguing and refreshingly character-centered. Mick’s anti-vampire sentiments reach a particularly dramatic pitch when he refuses to turn a series regular in order to save his life. Another highlight is when Mick discovers he may have fathered a son (before he was turned in the 1950’s) and finds himself confronted by his missed humanity and a middle-aged son in a storyline that is peculiarly touching.

It’s not difficult to see why this show was canceled. A rather ordinary rehash of the tried and true vampire storyline wasn’t bound to survive very long on CBS. Maybe it would have had a chance on the WB or another secondary network, and maybe it would have grown into something more unique given some time. It was entertaining, well enough written and acted that there would have been plenty of room to grow, but just not enough of a seed to keep general public watching.

Sushi Delivery from Hong Kong Taste

Hong Kong TasteThere are pros and cons to living on the margins of the Pittsburgh city limits. I pay about a third the rent that I would for a comparable apartment in Shadyside, while living in just as convenient proximity to all East End and North bank attractions. City of Pittsburgh proper is so close it occupies most of the view outside my front window, and yet there remains that one little river in between us, a simple geographical phenomenon that strikes so much consternation into the hearts of city dwellers. Why is it so daunting to cross a river in this city?

The river provides the biggest obstacle, it seems, to food delivery services. Sure, there are pizza delivery places everywhere, but that would entail wanting to order a pizza. My tastes have matured beyond delivery pizza in all but the rarest circumstances (i.e. those where the pizza is free and alternate food options are limited). The City of Pittsburgh is special case in the diversity of food delivery options, as it boasts the (as far as I know) unique service of Wheel Deliver and its more recent competitor/clone Meals Delivered which coordinate the delivery of food from multiple restaurants through a centralized dispatch/driver service. A fabulous service… for people who live within the delivery range. You have to draw the line somewhere, and the Allegheny river is the most convenient place to draw that line. Highland Park? Sure! Across the bridge? Sorry.

The other common delivery option available most places outside the city is hole-in-wall Chinese restaurant food, which has a somewhat dubious appeal. I’m rarely if ever desperate enough for delivery that I would resort to Chinese food (give me almost any other cuisine in Eurasia before Americanized Chinese restaurant food), and so I almost didn’t take a second look when a postcard flier for Hong Kong Taste showed up amidst my junk mail a few months back… but then I caught sight of its glossy photos of sushi.

Sushi… free delivery… in Etna?! Could it be true? While Chinese restaurants that serve sushi are just as dubiously Americanized as anything else, the fact remained, with the advent of Hong Kong Taste, I was now officially a resident within a sushi delivery zone!

Sushi Rolls from Hong Kong TasteIt just so happened over the weekend that a sushi craving coincided with a lazy Sunday. I debated whether I would be better served taking a quick trip to Whole Foods, my usual go to place for eat-at-home sushi, but the temptation of making an easy delivery call on a chilly winter day coupled with the appeal of supporting a local business tipped the scales and I decided to place an order with Hong Kong Taste.

I checked out their menu online and decided on three rolls, the Spicy Tuna roll, the Alaska roll and the Spicy Yellowtail roll. I probably should have opted for some nigri pieces in lieu of one roll, as the different types of rolls ended up being barely distinguishable, but I wanted to make sure I got a fairly filling meal for what I estimated would be about twenty bucks all told. The sushi prices at Hong Kong Taste are comparatively cheap (average of $4.99 for an eight piece roll), but it’s still sushi—you’re not going to get a burgeoning belly for pocket change.

So, I called up Hong Kong Taste at six o’clock to order my rolls and was promised a wait of thirty minutes to an hour. My rolls came on time at quarter to seven along with plenty of wasabi and ginger and several fortune cookies. Soy sauce, too, but I used my own low sodium soy sauce instead.

Finally, the moment of truth… the sushi was good. It’s not the world’s most phenomenal or revolutionary sushi. Nothing especially unique or creative, just good, basic, fresh sushi. As I said above, the rolls proved to be very similar, save for the dusting of roe on the Alaska roll, but that was partly my fault for ordering three such similar dishes. If I had ordered some nigri pieces, I would have had more to comment on, but as it was, I had a tasty and filling sushi dinner that came to $20, inclusive of tip.

Would I order from Hong Kong Taste again? Sure. Will it be my new go to place for take home sushi? Probably not, simply from a price standpoint. If I’m out and about in the city or ambitious enough to drive out to Whole Foods, I would probably opt to get sushi there, simply because I can get just as many pieces of sushi inclusive of nigri and rolls for about the same price and maybe a little less. The clear advantage of Hong Kong Taste is the delivery option, since when you consider tip and tax, you end up paying $20 for $15 worth of sushi, but that’s the nature of delivery, after all. You pay extra for the convenience of delivery, and if sushi’s what your craving, then Hong Kong Taste is a great place to do it.