June 2006 Archives

Holy Guacamole

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For me to endorse a Mexican restaurant, it has to supply the following:

--Decent homemade chips and salsa, provided free as appetizers
--Savory red enchilada sauce, complex enough that you can taste something besides chili powder
--Spicy red chili made of cubed or shredded (not ground) beef and thoroughly free of filler like beans
--Real cheese, not any kind of processed cheese food or cheese sauce
--Tacos of shredded roast beef that aren't too greasy
--Yummy guacamole

Lots of people think guacamole is really easy to make--and it is. But it's also really easy to screw up, and the main way people screw it up is by adding stuff that shouldn't be in guacamole in the first place.

The primary offending ingredient is sour cream, which people usually add because they are either ill-informed or cheap. Sour cream goes WITH guacamole, not IN it. The proper way to eat a chimichanga, for instance, is WITH guacamole AND sour cream, not WITH guacamole CONTAINING sour cream.

I make pretty damn good guacamole, and as it has been a while since I've posted a recipe, I thought I'd share it my guacamole recipe here.

I Wasn't Even Wasted

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I've never been the kind of person to sit around a hotel room. I'm perfectly happy to sit around private homes, even in really amazing cities--it's not like I have to see all the sights when I go someplace, and of course one thing I want to see when I visit friends is the friends themselves. But even in the least remarkable of cities, if I'm staying at a hotel, I want to spend as little time there as possible. I'm not sure why.... Perhaps it's because hotel rooms somehow strike me as boring, impersonal, and a tad claustrophobic. Go figure.... The same goes for a cruise ship stateroom.

My unwillingness to sit in my room watching television meant I had to find stuff to do on the cruise. It helped that meals lasted a very long time: it took two full hours for all eleven people at our table to finish all five courses at dinner. It helped that I am fond of walking and enjoyed strolling around and around the promenade deck. (Though I admit I realized just how solitary my tendencies truly are when I found it a bit irritating to encounter anyone else who was also strolling around and around the same promenade.) It helped that my sister Lisa twice competed in a trivia contest and won both times, so we all turned out to support her. It helped that my siblings wanted to attend disco night.

The Power Ness of the Adam Bomb

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People sometimes act like the fact that I don’t teach during the summer is due to some amazing con job on my part. Or they think that the fact that I only have to go into campus a few days a week means that I only work a few days a week. I probably work 50 to 60 hours a week during the semester, and while some of my work is highly enjoyable, a lot of it majorly, majorly sucks.

An example of that is grading. Reading good work by good students can be pleasant if not painless, but reading--and being obligated to comment on--bad work by bad students is an excruciating form of torture. As evidence, I offer you a couple of excerpts from what just might be the worst paper I ever received--I saved a copy because I knew, from the very first sentence, that this paper was special. It was written several years ago by a junior majoring in communications and minoring in English, which she insisted meant her work couldn’t possibly be unsatisfactory since OF COURSE anyone who majors in communications and minors in English MUST know how to write. I leave it to you to decide whether or not the prose below--which I transcribe just as I received it (I must note that my spell checker questions nothing but the last name of the author of the essay the student chose to critique)--is the work of someone competent at stringing together intelligible sentences.

Butchart Gardens

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Victoria, British Columbia is pretty damn close to Seattle--near the southern tip of Vancouver Island, at the mouth of Puget South--and thus was our last stop. We docked at 6 p.m. Friday night and had to be back on board by 11:30 p.m. because we were sailing at midnight, for a 7 a.m. arrival in Seattle. It's an odd time to arrive someplace and many tourist attractions were closed, but one that was open was Butchart Gardens, which my mother was all gaga to see. I tend to like fancy gardens and botanical museums myself, so I wasn't at all disappointed when she bought me and everyone else in our family a ticket to the place.

She insisted it was a world famous garden, and the fact that I had somehow managed never to hear of it seemed to little reason to contradict her. Getting there involved a 40-minute bus ride with an annoyingly chatty bus driver, but it was worth it. In fact, Butchart Gardens are amazing.

I should acknowledge what some of you are no doubt thinking: OK, cruises might be fun, but they're not the most environmentally responsible way to vacation. Cruise ships used to routinely dump crap into the ocean (they're supposed to follow rules about it now) but they also used to do things even stupider and more wantonly destructive, all in the name of entertaining tourists.

One day we visited Hubbard Glacier in Yakutak (pronounced "Yak Attack") Bay. As we approached, we were allowed to go up to the front of the bow so we could lean over the railings and stare right at this massive chunk of ice. It's a damn impressive sight: 76 miles long and six miles wide at the point where it meets the ocean, and every so often it will calve off icebergs the size of a ten-story building. If you saw the chunk fall off, you'd shout, "Oh! Look!" as you pointed; if you didn't, you'd look where someone was pointing and say, "Oh, crap." You actually had to WATCH the glacier and WAIT if you wanted to see it DO anything.

And apparently that patience which is now necessary used to be considered an avoidable inconvenience. While hanging out on the bow, I talked to a guy who was on his third Alaskan cruise. He said that the first two times he went, someone would bombard whatever glacier they were visiting with sonar so that it would calve more often and more dramatically. But then someone else pointed out that since 95% of the world's glaciers are receding on their own, it probably wasn't wise to help them, and the practice was abandoned.

A few days ago, Chris posted an entry about the fact that being crappy residents of this planet should motivate us to STOP being crappy residents instead of rushing about space looking for a new home to move to after we've completely trashed this one. (Not that he's opposed to space exploration--he says that about a dozen times and people still seemed to miss it.) But he went so far as to compare humanity to a cockroach infestation, and both his basic point and that comparison pissed a lot of people off. Personally I thought the post was both funny and apt, and the fact that we would speed up the dissolution of the polar ice caps just because its cool to watch, is one more reason I think that.

What I Ate Then, What I Can Eat Now

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I'm sure everyone wants an update on the state of my stomach as well as a report of the gustatory pleasures I enjoyed on the cruise. So here they both are.

Probably the only good thing about forcibly ejecting the entire contents of your digestive tract from any available orifice over an eight-hour period is that afterwards, your stomach is as shriveled and sour as an unripened kumquat, which means you can't put a whole lot in it, which means you lose weight.

There are a limited number of activities you can pursue on a boat, but eating and drinking head the list. Cruise lines make it a point of pride to feed guests often and well. On this cruise, room service was available 24-hours a day, free of charge. The ninth floor of the boat featured a 24-hour all-you-can-eat buffet that didn't exactly stink, though it wasn't up to the quality of the formal dining room, which offered meals like roast pheasant, filet mignon, lobster or lamb chops. I ate more meat in that one week than I'll probably consume for the rest of the summer. I also ate more soup: I'm not usually a soup person, but when it's chilled blueberry soup with champagne, or chilled peach soup with a dollop of creme fraise, or chilled pear soup with ginger, well, then you're just eating a smoothie out of a bowl with a spoon, and who wouldn't go for that?

Supposedly the average weight gain for a cruise is a pound a day. I didn't gain that much, but I didn't diet, either, and I sure as hell always ordered dessert. One of the main reasons I didn't get spectacularly and instantly too big for my britches is the fact that I didn't drink much. I had an occasional fancy cocktail in some lounge while we watched the sun set, but that was it. No one else in my family drinks, and it's just no fun to be the only one at the table ordering wine. Plus it's expensive: you pay extra for fancy coffee (there was an espresso bar in the place), soda (no kidding: a Coke cost $2.89), and booze. The fact that no one drank at dinner quite flummoxed the various wine stewards, who would show up at the table to explain what wines we should be drinking with what course. They'd deliver a spiel and try to hand out a wine list, at which point everyone would turn to me, and I would say to the wine steward, "We don't drink." He would then say, "No one wants to risk drinking and driving tonight, aye?" and again try to give someone a wine list. "We don't drink," I'd say a second time, and he'd realize he wouldn't be earning any tips at our table (a 15% gratuity was added to all beverage orders) and begin dejectedly gathering up our wine glasses. But it was clear that for plenty of people, what really made the cruise a vacation was the fact that they could have not only meat but alcohol at every single meal: I can't stomach a nice plate of bacon and eggs and a bloody mary first thing each morning, but for those who can, well, a cruise is ideal.

Where or When I Was

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Early this morning I had what is for me a very rare experience: I awoke with absolutely no idea where or when I was. At first I thought, "Am I nine? Is this my parents' house?" And then I thought, "Am I in our summer cabin on the mountain? Is that why everything is so dark and simultaneously familiar and a little bit out of the ordinary?" But the ceiling was more than two feet from my face and I couldn't see any exposed two-by-fours (I got to sleep in the loft, which I loved, because it was solitary and strange and I had to climb a ladder to get to it) so I knew that wasn't the case. Next I had to figure out that I wasn't in a college dorm or a hostel in Europe. (The one period of my life I never thought to imagine I was revisiting was anything having to do with my mission or Asia.) I then asked myself, "Do I still live in Iowa?" And I actually worded it like that, with the still, which meant I was figuring out that if my consciousness had me still living in Iowa, it wasn't doing its job properly. Then I thought, "Am I on a boat? Because I was on a boat, pretty recently." And then it all came back, that I'd been traveling but was home now, waking up for the first time in a good while in my little house in the rust belt.

The thing is, I felt no distress or discomfort while I was figuring all this out. I was too asleep to discern immediately where I was, but I was awake enough to feel my mind working, and I was distanced enough from both sleep and wakefulness to stand back and simply watch my mind figure out this situation, and that was kind of fun. I felt fortunate as I cycled through various periods of my life and realized that there had been all these places in the world where I'd slept safely and awakened in the morning to go do interesting things. And I was especially comforted to discover that I was in my own bed in my own house and that I wouldn't have to get up in a few hours and get off a boat or on a plane, and that made it really easy to go back to sleep.

I Love Captain Olav

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As I mentioned yesterday, not every aspect of the my cruise was ideal, but over all, it was pretty darn great. My mom (who made all the arrangements) went with the Holland America Line, known for having nice ships and good service, if also for being somewhat venerable and staid. It was a good decision, we all thought--here's a review of the line and the ship, in case you're contemplating a cruise yourself. We sailed on the Oosterdam, a new and spiffy ship--it really was quite extraordinarily lovely, but the one of the best things about the ship was its captain, Olav van der Waard.

There were a couple of opportunities to meet him, but I never bothered, and I still don't feel I needed to meet him. I was content to let him do his job, and he did it very well. It never occurred to me that in this day of sonar navigation and great big engines, a captain really had that much to do, but I was wrong, and Captain Olav, I soon realized, was really good at his job.

From May to September, there are cruise ships sailing all up and down the Alaska coast. A couple of times we were in port with three or four other cruise ships. But the thing is, Captain Olav always got there first, and snagged the best parking space (or rather, its nautical equivalent). When we cruised up to look at Hubbard Glacier, Captain Olav not only got there first, but got really, really close. We always arrived early; we always left on time, and the journey itself was lovely.

By the way, in case you wondered, I'm feeling better: the puking has long since stopped, though I'm still a little queasy. My friends think it might not have been stomach flu but food poisoning, since I started feeling ill immediately after a meal of fish tacos heavily flavored with cumin. Yesterday I couldn't even say those words without retching, and I don't think I'll ever be able to eat cumin or fish tacos again, but at least the clear liquids and simple carbohydrates I put in my stomach yesterday stayed there.

Post-Sea Sickness

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About half a dozen people, when I mentioned that I was going on a cruise, asked me if I had ever read "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" by David Foster Wallace (who, like me, is a graduate of the MFA program in creative writing at the University of Arizona but who, unlike me, is fabulously wealthy and famous), an essay talking about how cruises aren't really that great after all. I have not read that essay, though I'll track it down now, but I have to say that I had a FABULOUS time on my cruise to Alaska and would do it again in a heartbeat.

This is not to say that every aspect of the trip was ideal: for one thing, I got tired of being expected to pose for photographs, with guys in polar bear or eagle suits, and to then pay $7.95 for said photos. The coffee was generally lousy. The DJ in the nightclub was annoying and played crappy music. (More on that later.) The hot tubs were closed for cleaning half the trip, because a case of stomach flu was going around and the staff was anxious to contain it (more on that later too)--this is also why they wouldn't leave salt and pepper shakers on the table. But those are small things, and I had to sit here and think for a moment in order to come up with that list of disappointments.

I could list a lot of great things about the trip, and I will, eventually. But right now I'm kind of focused on the fact that while I was lucky enough not to get sick on the boat, I started puking my toe nails up around 10 p.m. last night. As I couldn't even keep water down, I had a crappy night. However, several hours have passed since I last vomited my guts out and I just moved up to Gatorade, which I fear may have been a mistake....

I really did have a great trip, and I really would like to do it again, gastro-intestinal distress notwithstanding. But this stomach thing is a bummer, you know, because I was planning to hang out with Jim today, but for obvious reasons we would all prefer that I not pass this bug on to his toddler. That means I'm stuck imposing on my friends H&K some more. They are very gracious and accommodating hosts, but who wants a sick person running from the bathroom to the guest room?

Anyway. I'm going to lie down again.... But expect more about the trip soon.

Bon Voyage

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I'm in Seattle right now--have been since Thursday. I've been staying with H&K, H being one of the few friends from my undergraduate days I'm still in touch with and K being his wife. We actually fell out of contact for, like, a decade, but a couple of years ago I decided to google H, found a phone number that worked, and this is the second time I've stayed in their guest room since then. They're a lot of fun.

Yesterday K & I were at Pike Place Market and I heard someone say, "Oh, look, there's Holly!" I thought, "Huh, so there's someone else named Holly around," and then this woman came up and hugged me and I realized it was my sister.

"How did you recognize me?" I asked. She looked at me for a moment as if she didn't recognize me, then said, "Well, you look exactly like you did at Christmas."

"So do you," I said. "It's just, I don't know; I didn't expect to see you here."

But it's not really all that weird that my sister would be here, because to tell the truth she's here for the same reason I am.

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This page is an archive of entries from June 2006 listed from newest to oldest.

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