Monday, August 31, 2009

River Learning

As if the wonderfully cool temperatures brought to us this summer weren't enough to make this city an incredible place to be right now, and as if the Mill City Farmer's Market with its giant onions and Indian spiced mini-donuts weren't enough to keep you coming back for more, you can take a walk along the historic Mississippi River at St. Anthony Main and actually learn stuff! Stroll the cobblestone paths at your own pace and stop at the information signs posted along the way to read interesting things about Minneapolis you might never have learned anywhere else. Click on the photo above to better read something interesting about the Mill City, then get your butt down to the river to learn even more.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Thanks for the Memories

I am continually amazed by Bernice. She's the woman at the care center who bears more than just a passing resemblance to the muppet named Beaker. Bernice is super thin, all of her plaid shirts and long skirts swimming on her narrow frame, with a shock of curly gray hair and a weak chin. Bernice and most of her teeth parted ways some time ago but, oddly, it's not really that noticeable. I don't get to talk to her much anymore because she sits in her wheelchair at the far table from mine and she usually wheels out of there long before I'm finished trying to convince Angie and Mary that eating dinner is in their best interest. But every opportunity I can get to have a chat with Bernice I swear she remembers me, though it would seem unlikely.

Tonight Bernice was rolling out of the sunroom as usual and since Angie was having a nonsensical chat with her little old man boyfriend from across the room and therefore wasn't eating, I decided to call out to her. "Hey, Bernice, I like your autumn sweater!" I said loudly. Bernice was wearing a pretty, green wool cardigan with appliqued leaves on it that I hadn't seen before. She wheeled over and thanked me kindly. I thought that would be about it for conversation, as conversations are usually pretty short on the second floor, but Bernice continued. "I wish I could find that other sweater, you know the one." I was shocked, I knew she was talking about the plum-colored sweater she received from Santa Joel at the care center Christmas party. I had opened the box with her and helped her label it as hers and she has mentioned that sweater to me several times since then, without prompting. I asked her, "Do you mean the plum-colored sweater from Christmas?" She nodded. "Where did it go?" She told me it went to the laundry one day and never came back. She said it with a tone of resignation, like it wasn't the first time and wouldn't be the last for wayward clothing last seen off to the laundry. "Well, I hope you're able to hold onto this pretty green autumn sweater for a long time!" I told her. She hunched down and said with a laugh, "I'm guarding it with my life." And then she was gone, back to her room.

Meanwhile, Rosalie seemed overly happy to see me (she greeted me with a kiss!) and noticed that I had been gone for awhile. It's true, I didn't go to the care center last Wednesday because of the tornado damage nearby. I couldn't believe Rosalie had really noticed. She was all excited and giggly tonight, not confused like usual. While she happily ate her ham and macaroni salad, she kept marveling at how long it had been since she'd seen me, and I was just thrilled that she remembered. Then, after she finished the last bite of her gummy-looking breadstick, she stood up to leave. I was still glowing from all the memories that were swirling around the place and reached out to Rosalie to pat her on the arm as she brushed past me to get to her room. She looked at me, smiling, and told me again how nice it was to see me after so long, then asked me sweetly how my baby was doing. Oh, well, so much for the memories.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Separated at Birth?

Gaira, the weirdly green, violent monster from The War of the Gargantuas, and my weirdly green friend Aaron last Saturday night after the Red Stag Block Party.

Gotta be honest, I watched The War of the Gargantuas with my brother about a million times when we were kids and I always thought the green one (who is a dead ringer for Aaron in this photo) and the brown one were brothers who fought a lot. Turns out my childish memories are faulty and there just happened to be two of the gargantuas, green and brown, evil and good. Thanks, Wikipedia, for setting my addled brain straight. Still, the resemblance is startling.

Friday, August 21, 2009

I Love This Guy

I know a lot of people don't like cats, and I actually understand it. Some cats are very aloof, some self-serving, and some are downright mean. Still, I like them all. I admire their independence, their refusal to play by the rules, and their fuzzy bellies. I like that they don't try too hard to earn your love so the satisfaction of achieving the love is that much sweeter than when it's just handed over.

I've had a lifetime of cats, and they've all been pretty great. It started with Chipper, who I remember as being just big and fluffy but that might be because I was tiny at the time. Then came Pyewacket, black as night and just as mysterious. And then for my tenth birthday my parents gave me Kitty (cleverly named by yours truly). Kitty was a wonderful cat who I adored and lived to be nearly twenty years old. Topaz came along during the Kitty years, too. She was okay.

But when I moved into my small Northeast Minneapolis duplex almost exactly twelve years ago, I was catless. I put the word out that I wouldn't mind getting a kitty, having been without one for several years and ready again to take the plunge. Still, I had enjoyed several years of fur-free clothes and had enjoyed every one of them, so I didn't push too hard to find one and made the conditions pretty hard to fill. I only wanted a cat already neutered or spayed, already declawed, and free. I didn't want a kitten because they can be a handful. I thought for sure my strict list would render a real cat nearly impossible, so I was pretty surprised when a friend mentioned that her coworker had a cat that fit the bill exactly. I was intrigued, but skeptical. It seemed too good to be true.

I drove to North Minneapolis to meet this available kitty and his owner and was surprised at how large the feline was for being just ten months old. He was orange and white with long fur and he never stopped playing the whole time I was there. The woman told me that her sister had adopted the kitten from the Humane Society just a few months earlier but had received an unexpected job transfer out of state and couldn't take the kitten with her. This woman was going to take him back to the Humane Society, but thought he was so much fun that she couldn't. However, the woman already owned an old cat and the playful new orange and white tabby was proving to be too much for the crotchety old one. Still, she thought this kitty had a great personality and couldn't bear to just leave him at a shelter, so she put the word out to coworkers and that's how I came to be there at that moment.

I looked at the cute kitty and played with it, but wasn't immediately convinced. During a lifetime of cats I had never had an orange and white one so it just felt...not quite right. I told the woman I would think about it and get back to her. I went back to my new duplex with its ugly, stained orange and brown linoleum floors and thought, why not? He was fixed, declawed, and even came with a microchip. Maybe I'd fall in love with him eventually. So I went back for him and made the first order of business a name change. He came with the name Bart and that wasn't going to do. Not a bad name, it just didn't fit him. He was more of a Hakeem, named after Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon, a star Houston Rockets center. And, since my brother had recently brought a child into this world (with a little help) and gave his baby our dad's middle name, I thought I'd do it, too. So came to be Hakeem Wallace, the best darn cat ever.

Hakeem recently had his thirteenth birthday and he moves a little slower than he used to. He has a bad thyroid so receives a half pill twice daily, disguised in a treat that he loves. He's never received treats, so it's pretty exciting for him. At one point in his life he topped out at thirty pounds, a weight not usually associated with felines, unless they're of the lion variety. Now, through vigorous diet and exercise (well, not really), he's down to under twenty-four pounds, a little closer to his fighting weight. The vet thinks he's probably best at around nineteen pounds, so we have a goal.

Twelve years later, Hakeem and I have survived a lot together. Several month-long separations while I traveled when we depended on the kindness of friends (his round-the-clock team of caregivers includes my parents and friend Aaron, and recently my brother and a neighbor friend) to get him through, one memorable bout of fleas, two exploded anal sacs (his, not mine), and more baths than my mom probably wants to think about, since she's Hakeem's official bather. She's just really good at it. Hakeem is a constant present in my life. Like Daisy the purple dog from the old Dagwood comic strip series, who appeared in every comic strip frame when Dagwood was pictured at home, so is Hakeem in my life. He follows me everywhere, talks to me, tears up anything made of paper he can get his teeth on to get my attention when he thinks I'm not doing enough for him, and during all but the hottest months he literally falls into me in order to snuggle as closely as possible. Occasionally he'll even walk on me, though that is rare. Thank goodness because it feels like a twenty-five pound boulder on toothpicks standing on me when he does.

This is an homage to a really great cat, the kind that even dog lovers enjoy. He's the kind that books are written for and movies made about. Hakeem will grab your hand with his paw like a human so he can draw it in and lick it. He sleeps on his back, legs akimbo, belly just waiting to be rubbed. He's always waiting for me when I get out of the shower, like he missed me while I was in there. And he is friends with the neighbor's Saint Bernard. What more could a girl want from her cat? Nothing more, that's what.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Unrequited Wave

As I turned the final corner in my car on my way home from work tonight, I noticed my neighbor walking her dog. I love her dog, it's the one that looks like a giant fruit bat and a mini-doberman made love and produced the perfect bat/dog hybrid. I was happy to see her and the dog, so imagine my humiliation when I excitedly raised my hand and waved it vigorously in my neighbor's direction, only to be completely ignored as I passed her. I know with absolute certainty that she did not see me and yet, for some reason, the pain still sears. Thoughts crowded my head about the wasted wave, the opportunity lost, and the fear that somebody saw me wave and nobody waving back. It's almost too much to bear. Oh, how I abhor the unrequited wave.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sweet Cheeks

Apparently my dad's birthday celebration never ends, as much as he might like it to! Tonight the whole family went to Gordo's favorite place for dinner (except for The Wienery, of course), Shuang Cheng in Dinkytown, so we could have the special whole fried walleye in black bean sauce. We also had some awesome stir-fried fresh green beans, sesame tofu, and a few other things to share. My super cute nephew George tried everything, including the tofu and walleye cheeks, and liked it all. We ended the evening at my place with my homemade almond cake with a blueberry compote and some much-enjoyed attention for the Notorious B.F.G. (Big Fat Guy). I'm pretty sure I won't need to eat again until the weekend.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Octopi and Cheese Straws and Pigs, Oh My!

Sometimes I think I know something about food and then I have a day like I did yesterday where everything is a fun new surprise and I realize how hopelessly out of touch I really am. But that's what learning is for! It started out with a Soft Shell Crab Sandie from the Chef Shack at the Mill City Farmer's Market. The whole crab, fried in a tempura batter, was served on a bun with lettuce, tomato, and an awesome pickled ramp tarter sauce. Ramps are like really big scallions and make everything taste better. I dispensed with the bun because I wanted to really taste the crab, which was not larger than the size of my hand, and feel its texture. The legs were definitely the best part, crunchy and salty, and would be a very popular appetizer if they weren't so small and expensive. The Crab Sandie season is now over, so I made it just in time. Whew!

A party invitation from my old friend Doug, who works at the wildly popular local seafood wholesaler Coastal Seafoods, meant it was time to make something to share. I wanted to try something new so I went to one of my favorite food bloggers,, for the answer. I settled on cheese straws, a Southern and British staple that tastes like a cross between a Cheez-It and a breadstick. They are buttery and hot and delicious. Not hard to make, I just grated a bunch of extra sharp cheddar and Parmesan cheeses and blended them with flour, butter, and a variety of hot spices (chili flakes, peri-peri, and crushed chiquilins from Spain, in this case) and rolled them out. Then I used a pastry cutter to cut them into straws. I would have preferred thinner straws, but time was running out and I just wanted to get done! Either way, when you mix cheese and butter together good things are going to happen. They baked up to a pale golden hue and cooled off in no time. The perfect accompaniment to baby octopi and whole pigs, right?

I gathered the cheese straws in a serving dish and headed off to the party where two Berkshire pigs were already grilling away and had been for the better part of seven hours. I'm not going to lie to you, that surprised look the pig gives out is a bit disconcerting, like it was caught forever at that moment in time when his world crashed around him and he became nothing more than a delicious party favor. But let's be honest, you can get over that bummer pretty quickly once you taste pork, especially bacon. The first pig was torn apart without much effort as it had cooked long enough to fall apart itself. The meat was tender and flavorful and the only seasoning that was used was salt. Amazing. They also grilled up a whole pork belly with Mexican spices. I learned that the pork belly is basically uncured bacon. It looks like a slab of ribs, but fattier and without bones. When done they cut up the belly into chunks and we ate it pretty much right off the grill. It was fatty, but in a good way.

In the meantime, as we enjoyed Rush River Unforgiven Amber from the keg, Doug started to grill up some treats he brought from work. First up was a bunch of cute little baby octopi, marinading in a Jamaican spice blend that is no longer available here. That's probably for the best, however, because it almost blew my head off. I plucked an octopus smaller than the size of my palm that had the cutest tiny little suction cups on its tentacles, and used my teeth to tear it apart. It was chewy and weird, but in a good way, until the heat crept up on my palate. By the time I swallowed its head, my own head was ablaze. I love Unforgiven Amber, but it was not helping to cool off my tongue so I just drank it to try to forget the pain. A second baby octopus was not in the cards. Doug also brought a big bag of salmon collars. Did you even know salmon had collars? I didn't. I learned that the collars are the part left behind when the fillet is cut off the whole fish. They are not widely eaten but are good at a party because they're pretty much free. Doug marinaded them in soy sauce and ginger. I've never been a big salmon fan because of its strong flavor but I was excited for the salmon collars, hoping they'd change my mind. They didn't. That's okay, it's not their fault. I wish I did like salmon with all of its nutritional benefits, but I don't.

I'll never know if I like monkfish livers because I left before Doug prepared those. Once again, I didn't even think about a monkfish having a liver much less eating it. They looked pretty much like regular livers, maybe a little lighter in color, but with that well-known liver-y texture. I'm not sure how Doug ended up preparing those, he said he likes to make them into foie gras sometimes. But my Saturday culinary journey ended before then so I may never know. However, yesterday was a wonderful reminder that the world of food is an infinity pool of flavor and experimentation in which to swim and that there will always be something new to learn.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

That Machine That Talks to Him

Today is my delightful dad's birthday. I'll leave you in suspense as to the number of candles that would be on the cake that he didn't get today, but let's just say it's more than thirty and less than a hundred. A friend and I visited my parents tonight so I could drop off my dad's birthday gift from my mom (which I had picked up on her behalf so that my dad wouldn't discover it in their house) – a really cool combination altimeter, barometer, compass and other only vaguely useful toys – something he had been hoping and praying for. I gave him grief that he probably doesn't need an altimeter in the flat state of Minnesota, but my mom interjected on his behalf that he likes these sorts of gadgets and that it will be a nice accompaniment to "that machine that talks to him." My dad quickly clarified that she was referring to his beloved GPS.

Here's a recent photo of the birthday boy using that machine that talks to him to find our way to The Wienery, a place my dad has been to many times, a mere two miles from my home. I told you he likes his toys.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Long Time Coming

I am a spoiled American girl. I am accustomed to being able to get what I want when I want it, except for liquor from a store on Sundays. This is Minnesota, after all. But if I want, say, a grilled cheese sandwich at three o'clock in the morning, that can be done. If I am dying to read the latest David Lebovitz cookbook and Barnes & Noble has run out of it, I can have it tomorrow via And if the Supersuckers release a rockin' new CD, I press a few buttons in iTunes and it's mine immediately.

So imagine my excitement when tonight, after almost six months of waiting, the wide angle lens adapter for my beautiful Lumix camera arrived! My friends and family, in a magnanimous gesture that far outweighed the deed I had done, pooled their money to buy me the wide angle lens and adapter that I had been dreaming of. It was their way to thank me for helping put together our trip to Mexico last February. My dad eagerly ordered the two pieces online and it didn't take long before he knew trouble was brewing. The gorgeous wide angle lens itself arrived promptly, but not so the adapter. And without it the lens was useless, like a glistening, sweet caramel apple displayed in front of a child with no teeth.

The last six months have been harrowing for my dad who ordered the adapter and then canceled the unfulfilled order several times, continually trying to track down the part but to no avail. This particular camera has been very popular and some pieces have been impossible to find, like this one. But after months of trying different unsuccessful leads, including with the camera maker itself, my dad finally got a positive result on eBay from a seller in Japan. Still, up until last week he was on the phone with agents from eBay who gave him no help as he attempted to follow the package online via Japan Post. Then, tonight, as I was running out my door, my dad called and told me to guess what he had in his hot little hands. I didn't have to guess, I knew. The wait was over.

So this generous gift, decidedly undeserved, has come into my life and I intend to make the most of it. I have a lot of practicing to do, but I already love it. As proof of its brilliance, look what it did for my friend Elwood the hound! He's handsome already, but the lens even made him cuter. Don't you think?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Yoga is Hard

My neighbor and friend Angie recently began teaching yoga at a local studio at a remarkably affordable cost, so today after avoiding it for months I finally gave it a whirl. Angie is tiny and cute and kind of looks like the woman in this picture when she does yoga. I do not look like the woman in this picture when I do yoga. Although we barely moved during the entire hour, I lost about six pounds from sweating so profusely, and I'm pretty sure my downward dog pose really looked like a dog, which I don't believe it's really supposed to. My arms quivered and my feet ached and my hips never pointed in the correct direction, no matter how Angie attempted to fix them. I am an official yoga train wreck.

Actually, I was really good at one part. At the end of class we just laid on the floor and relaxed. Angie put a soft little lavender-filled pillow over my eyes that both blocked out the light and filled my olfactory senses with a delicate floral scent that was immediately calming. Then, in a soft voice, she told me to think of a time when I was very happy and when everything felt good. She told me to think about how I felt, both in mind and body, during those wonderful moments. It was so easy to be laying there, smelling the fragrant lavender and thinking about bobbing around with friends and family in the gently rolling, late afternoon waves of the Pacific Ocean at Playa Ventura, the sun slowly drifting lower in the azure sky, golden rays glinting off the water like a million diamonds all around us. I could not have been more relaxed unless I was actually floating in the sea at that minute.

Now I just have to work on those agonizing fifty-five minutes of yoga that occur before the relaxing cool down.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Business as Usual

Two weeks of Wednesday work commitments have kept me away from the care center, but I was back at it last night and happy to be there. I haven't missed two weeks in a row since I started volunteering there over a year ago and I must admit that I was a little nervous because a lot can happen – not all of it good – in just a few short weeks at a nursing home. So it was with great relief that I walked into the dining room and saw that things were running pretty much the same as when I left.

I spent several minutes placing clothing protectors around the necks of all of my regular favorites, telling Eileen that I thought it was her singing when I heard the radio, asking Leola if she was hungry, telling Mary that her purple velour sweater made her eyes sparkle. It didn't take long to get back into the swing of things, teasing Rosie about finishing her food, laughing with Mattie about the song Gudrun was humming over and over, and feeding Angie and Mary their pureed taco salads. Angie was in a good mood, laughing and bowing her head and clasping her hands together in thanks. Mary was talkative as usual, and as always answered my question "Do you want a drink of milk?" in the positive, just not about the milk. For example:

Me: "Mary, are you thirsty? Would you like a drink?"
Mary: "Yes, I think I might like to go for a walk."

When she answers in the positive, no matter what question she answers, Mary is ready for a drink. If she answers more along the lines of "I don't think I'll need that wrench," then I know she won't open her lips to the cup of milk so I might as well not bother. It's fascinating.

It was so nice being back, alternately feeding Mary and Angie with opposite hands so as not to cross-contaminate with any germs I might be carrying, laughing with Rosie and Mattie. But reality always finds a way to interject and Doris, who sits at the next table just a few feet from me and has a pretty good sense of humor, leaned over to me and asked, "Are you my niece?" I gently assured her I was not her niece and she looked a little confused and just grunted quietly and went back to her dinner. I hoped to myself that I'd never not know if my nephew George is my nephew or not. Then suddenly the nurse yelled at Melvin and I looked over and there Melvin was, pants around knees and diaper unfastened. I was back, business as usual.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Don't Mess With a Musky

My brother Dave caught a 38" muskellunge (greatest name for a fish ever) on Lake Johannah in Arden Hills last week. 38"!! Dave and I grew up swimming in that lake and now I find out there are three foot monster fish swimming in it! Yikes. While reeling the fish in on nothing more than a bass lure, Dave got his thumb a little too close to the musky's mouth and this is what happened. Ouch.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Gear Daddies at the Zoo

There are few things better than an outdoor concert on a Minnesota summer evening, when it's unseasonably cool so the mosquitos are staying on the down low, and the band is Spamtown's own iconic Gear Daddies. Add to the mix a great group of cousins, several beers, and several poor but delicious food choices, and you have an evening to remember.

The Gear Daddies have been a part of the lives of many Minnesotans since the late 80's when they melted our hearts in bars all over the state singing their trademark alt-country songs about girls and alienation and getting out of their small towns before they can't. They even appeared on David Letterman once, and their song (I Wanna Drive a) Zamboni is well known in hockey circles, but they never became the super group I think we all expected they would. So now that adorable lead singer Marty Zellar lives in central Mexico with his family, the Gear Daddies only perform for a very few select engagements throughout the year. The Minnesota Zoo has to be one of the best places to see them.

We're all older now, the audience populated with folks in their 30's and 40's, the band members dragging their kids around with them. But when the Gear Daddies play She's Happy, we're all a bunch of kids again ourselves, thrilled to relive a time of our lives when the future was unknown and anything was possible.