Monday, February 26, 2007

Hot Girly Wheels

I need to write a cathartic snarkathon about my Weekend of Suburban Confinement, but I'll need a little time to pull that together. In the meantime, today's news, an LA Times article (shared with the Chicago Tribune) reports that Mattel—those pro-woman geniuses behind the Barbie doll—are launching the Polly Wheels line of toys this June. They combine Polly Pockets dolls with die-cast cars (Hot Wheels–style cars). Each car will come with a doll to drive it, and the chassis will be covered with frosted plastic. (Wait. Won't that crack when the cars crash?) This fall, Mattel will add fruit-scented cars. And just in time for the holidays, a racetrack set: "The winner of the game, the first car to make it up the shopping center's elevator to a boutique, is rewarded with a magnetic shopping bag that 'jumps' into the car."

Holy crap. Did they even consider just packaging some Hot Wheels cars with pink cardboard and painting those cars in "girly" colors? Maybe it would have worked. Instead, Mattel is cramming more "girls love to shop" nonsense down girls' throats. The news article is rife with sexist and patriarchy-laden bilge. One mother with both daughters and a son says, "You always feel bad making the stereotypes, but boys and girls play differently." (Oy.)

The guy from Mattel said the ideas for the Polly Wheels line came from girls themselves: "Girls were the ones who gravitated to this. Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest ideas." A magnetic shopping bag that jumps into a car is simple? No, no, no, no. The simplest idea is Make the same cars and tracks in girly colors, too.

Mind you, I played with Hot Wheels/Matchbox cars when I was a kid. We had a couple orange strips of racetrack, so we could send the cars flying. And no, there were no boys in the house. I also scraped the paint off some of the cars, the ones that had a single color of paint. Die-cast cars look great in plain metal. Sometimes I painted 'em afterwards (solid, non-girly colors, maybe some pastels). And I'd sort out cars by color—the standard play-with-cars business. And never thought to send the cars to the mall or pretend that dolls were driving them.

I'm sure we had plenty of dolls, but toys that do something are innately so much more interesting than toys that sit there. Burger King gave Ben both the boy and girl toys in his kid meal the other day. The boy toy was a wheel launcher that sent a fat tire spinning across the room. The girl toy was a hard rubber doll with no moving parts that could be bent minimally (and emitted toxic plastic fumes). Over and over, the Happy Meal and other kids' meal toys bear this out: Girls get static toys that either (1) sit there and look pretty, or (2) can be put on to make the girl look pretty in pink plastic jewelry. The boys get cars and figurines with moving parts, things that do something.

Is this an anti-girl bias, to grumble about toys that require more imagination to play with? Or is it more of an anti teaching-girls-to-be-inert-fembots bias?

(Side rant: How come the Hot Wheels racetrack sets now all seem to require assembling 20+ parts into a set design and include a battery-operated component? Why don't they sell plain orange racetracks like they had in the 1970s? I liked being able to set up a long ramp heading down from the table, and having the loop-the-loop be a self-directed option. Those battery-powered accelerator things are so noisy.)

Monday, February 19, 2007

Scattershot approach

You know what? If I save a topic for later, I may completely forget it. So: Three smaller posts in one. Or maybe it's two in one. Or four.

Last month, I bought a set of beautiful, beautiful W├╝sthof knives after using the same set of cheap-ass knives for nearly 20 years. The old ones came in a butcher block, which I like, but the knives themselves were of the "never needs sharpening" variety, with sharp little serrated teeth jaggedying up the blades. The new knives are a thing (or really, eight things) of beauty, with a good heft to the handles and razor sharp blades. One of the ickiest parts of cooking chicken (well, aside from the ickiness of raw chicken itself) was always the cutting/trimming. But the new knives, they slice through without effort. This makes me happy. You should see the way I peel and slice an orange with a santoku knife. If you can't afford a whole set of good knives, you might consider buying one high-quality big knife for heavy-duty kitchen use.

So, back on Valentine's Day, I wasn't trying to be wifely or traditional or spoil my man and boy with a home-cooked meal (I don't cook much). I was famished, there was no ready-to-eat food I was in the mood for, and it would have been cruel to order a pizza given the snowstorm. So I cooked some mashed potatoes (with butter, sour cream, and milk, plus some black pepper and rosemary) and chicken. Let me tell you how we made the chicken. (Mr. Tangerine manned the frying pan at the end and concocted a wonderful sauce.)

I joyfully sliced the boneless, skinless chicken breasts into crosswise thirds with my happy, happy knife, and sprinkled the nuggets with Penzeys salt-free adobo seasoning. (If you know anyone who should be cooking without salt, go to Penzeys Spices and buy them the gift pack of salt-free seasoning blends. One of my best friends gave me that for Christmas a few years ago, and it was one of the best gifts I've ever gotten. These seasonings let you cook without a recipe—just sprinkle from the bottle of your choice, and whatever you're cooking will taste terrific.) So, sort of a dry rub of the adobo seasoning. Adobo is a traditional Mexican and Filipino thing, though I think the authentic thing is, like, bone-in chicken stewed in a pot with vinegar and actual garlic. I like this non-stinky and super-easy version.

Dredge the seasoned chicken chunks in an egg batter (an egg mixed with a little water) and coat with bread crumbs (I use the store-bought can).

Heat a good-sized dollop of oil in a large frying pan, enough to fry all the chicken pieces. (I prefer olive oil. Though the cabinet where I keep it is poorly insulated—the cold is giving it a sludgy consistency! It still tastes the same.) Fry on medium heat for about 5 to 6 minutes, flip the pieces over, and fry 'em for another 5 to 6 minutes. Check one nugget for doneness because you can never trust that the outside appearance means the inside's actually cooked through, and you're paranoid about undercooked chicken and salmonella. (Or maybe that's me and not you.) When the chicken's cooked, transfer all the chicken to a plate.

Then open the fridge and take out a bottle with some really sweet wine you haven't finished because you're the only one in the house who likes sweet white wine, and you lose your taste for it after two glasses. (Mr. Tangerine won't drink the wine, but I'm glad he thinks of things like cooking with it.) Poor a good-sized splash of it into the pan, and reduce it over medium-high heat. (Meaning the liquid boils off and you're left with a brownish sauce with a light consistency.) Spoon that sweet, fruity goodness over the fried chicken nuggets, and moan with contentedness.

Tonight, we had no more potatoes, so I made couscous for the side dish. In a saucepan, add a cup of water, a sprinkle of salt, up to a teaspoon of olive oil, and a quarter cup or more of dried fruit (I had golden raisins and Bing cherries). Bring it to a boil. In the meantime, take a cup of dry couscous, mix in a teaspoon of cinnamon and a small handful of slivered almonds. When the pot boils, remove from heat, dump in the couscous and nuts, stir 'em up, and cover the pan while the couscous soaks up the water. Fluff with a fork after 4 or 5 minutes (otherwise it clumps up along the bottom and sides of the pan).

If you don't like sweet fruit flavors in your dinner food, then (1) you may be a deeply unhappy person and (2) you might not like either of these recipes. Me, I think dinner's always improved by fruit (you'll note the blog name is suggestive of a pro-fruit bias).

I've been catching a cold every two months. I have the mildest case of asthma, and just when I think I can wean myself off the Advair, I get another cold and make my airways a little cranky. So twice a day, I use that darlin' purple metered-dose inhaler of Advair. Inhaler instructions generally tell you to breathe the medication in deeply and hold it in...you know, like you're trying to get high off it. It is frightfully difficult to take this medicine in Mr. Tangerine's presence, because we joke around. I inhale deeply, place pinched thumb and forefinger by my mouth, and extend the imaginary doobie toward him. (If I don't, he tells me to quit bogarting the inhaler.) Then he takes an imaginary toke and comments that it is some good shit, at which point I laugh out half the medicine. Yup. Should really tend to my airways alone.

Plus, the Advair container looks like there'd be somewhere for you to put your weed in it, as per the classic Rob Schneider skit on Saturday Night Live. I can't say I've actually seen weed in the last two decades, but I still love that sketch. For my money, those few minutes contain more hilarity than the entirety of either Deuce Bigalow movie.

Bringing this post full circle—I'll bet Rob Schneider's mom used to cook chicken adobo, since she's a Filipina.

Oh! I went to my cousin's hors d'oeuvres wedding reception yesterday. (Thanks to all who chimed in on gift budgets. I learned that I have been underbuying for kids' birthday gifts all these years, but more generous with my cousins' graduations than many of you would have been.) One of the snacky highlights was a carrot/cheddar cheese dip—finely grated carrots mixed into cheese. I should eat more fresh veggies, so this is an ideal cheese dip. It's a Martha Stewart recipe, but I can't find it online. Martha's online recipe search function sucks. If you have this recipe, can you please share it?

Okay, audience participation time. Tell me about your favorite recipe that contains fruit or vegetables in a surprising way.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

It's Freedom to Marry Week!

It really was like any other wedding. It rained all day. The flowers arrived at the very last minute. The photographer, who was hired without references out of sheer desperation, showed up in just a vest, without a shirt underneath. Granted, it was a nice vest, but still, my mother was there and I had had trouble convincing her to come to the ceremony as it was. Just minutes before I was to be married, I was sent to pick up not only my mother, but also the minister, who were at a distant hotel and didn't know how to get to the art gallery–turned–wedding chapel for the blessed event.

But, through it all, I tried to look at the upside of being distracted on my wedding day, keeping the nerves at bay. And, as if a present from heaven, the rain let up just before the event, and a bashful sun sent its rays through a break in the clouds. And once I saw my husband-to-be, in a handsome powder blue shirt and eyes overflowing with love for me, every other care of the day melted away.

The short ceremony went without a hitch (except for us getting hitched at the end of it!), yet surprises still awaited us. At the reception, one of our guests with a severe nut allergy had a reaction to some mole sauce on his appetizer. Doctors were called for, our new-agey minister performed "reiki" over him, an ambulance arrived, and we were asked to return to our meals after our semiconscious friend was whisked away to the nearest hospital, almost 60 miles away. No one could eat, worried as we were. The day which was supposed to be about us, became suddenly about someone else. I felt cheated, but also guilty for such selfish feelings.

We heard late that evening, from a friend who accompanied him, that once our friend was poked in the thigh with an EpiPen in the ambulance, he recovered quickly. They both arrived back at the house we were renting early the next morning, tired and embarrassed. By that point, we were simply relieved and ready to begin married life, armed with stories we could retell the rest of our lives together.

So, you see, it really was like any other wedding, full of hope, love, challenges, and laughter.

Well, that and that the wedding was held in Provincetown, Massachusetts, between two men.

But that was the least significant in my mind of the events of the day...and hope those reading this agree.

Happy Freedom to Marry Week, everyone!

Dave Sullivan

Orange here: I wanted to write something for Freedom to Marry Week and asked my friend Dave if he had any ideas for me. He graciously offered to write a guest post about his wedding. Thanks, Dave, and Happy Valentine's Day to you and the mister!

My oldest and dearest friend—we became best friends when we were 14, lo these many (many!) years ago—is an expectant parent. Her partner is halfway through her pregnancy. Thanks to unenlightened restrictions on who can marry and how "parent" is defined, they must spend two grand so that the non-gestating mommy can legally adopt the baby whose conception she planned and was present for, whose first ultrasound picture she proudly e-mailed out last week. I don't see how it serves society that this baby's parents cannot be married, that they can't obtain the basic family protections of marriage without spending a boatload more money on legal fees. And sheesh, babies are expensive enough as it is without tacking on the cost of legal documents.

I'm resigned to the likelihood that next year's major-party nominees for president will both publicly state their opposition to same-sex marriage rights. But I am hopeful that by 2012 or 2016, support for gay marriage will no longer be considered political poison, and that state and federal recognition of marriage rights will blanket the land.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Introducing the book

Learning a new system can be fraught with anxiety...

Gift budgets

Lemme put it to a vote: How much would you expect to spend on each of the following gifts?

Wedding (nice reception)

Wedding (low-key, reception at home)

College graduation

High school graduation

Kid's birthday gift

(You'll note that Valentine's Day isn't listed. I bought some Tiffany crystal beer mugs. I think they're my gift to Mr. Tangerine and his gift to me. Holiday, shmoliday. I don't even get riled up about expecting a card any more.)

I'm asking about the gift amounts because a cousin of mine got married overseas, and I was not among the relatives who opted to travel to the wedding. The reception, such as it is, is an hors d'oeuvres–only open-house deal at my aunt's house, food made by the bride's mom and sister. My sister and I don't know what the standard expectation is these days. So?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Phobias

When I've got my car keys in hand (or pocket) and I'm walking past a deep storm-sewer drain, I always make extra certain that I won't drop them, and pause mentally to contemplate my reaction if I were to drop the keys down the drain. Am I the only one who's paranoid about this? Omigod! Google says I'm not! I feel better already. There are two of us. At least I'm brave enough to park my car next to the drain in my parking lot instead of steering clear of it.

Centipedes and millipedes (termed hundred-legged and thousand-legged motherfuckers by my sister) also freak me out. Boy, that was a rough summer the year the millipedes infested the neighborhood. And I'm glad my home is small enough that I can generally reach a shoe to squish a wall-climbing centipede. They move so fast! If one skitters down to the floor, there's little chance of finding it. Gotta get it on the wall. (And then use the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser for the resultant smudge.)

I recently found out that scorpions also alarm me. Here in the now-frigid Midwest, there's little chance of encountering a scorpion outside of captivity. But the other week, I had to check the genus and species of a couple scorpions for a paper I was editing. Seeing a couple pictures and reading a couple paragraphs at Wikipedia? I was undone. Ergo, I will never, ever move to the Southwest.

Plenty of people are afraid of heights, snakes, needles, public speaking, or spiders. What's your most unusual phobia?