Sunday, April 20, 2008

Bitterness for Breakfast and Meatball Karma

Last week I had the honor of presenting at a statewide conference. I was the only one from my district to attend the conference. Luckily, I ran into an old classmate of mine and the group from her district adopted me and let me tag along with them to meals and conference get-togethers so I wouldn't be a total loner. I was thrilled, as I'm not much of an introvert and don't enjoy spending days on end with only my own company (although I did enjoy my alone time at the hotel and found that I could do a wonderful kickline routine in the bathroom with the help of the many mirrors - not even the Rockettes could have done it with more precision!) Anyway, because I had procrastinated in reserving my hotel, the rooms were booked by the time I got around to it and I was thus staying at a Residence Inn by Marriott down the street from the conference hotel. Have any of you ever stayed in one? It was my first time, and it felt a bit like I had invaded a senior citizen's apartment. I kept expecting that at any moment a sweet elderly person would come through the door and stand bewildered wondering who I was and why I was there. Anyway...this is all background information for the two stories I want to tell about my time at the conference. As they often do, these stories both happen to revolve around food.

Story #1: Bitterness for Breakfast
So there I was, the morning of my presentation. I was all dressed up and looking pretty sharp if I do say so myself. I got my materials and headed downstairs in hopes of enjoying a healthful breakfast. (A brief plug for Residence Inn: they have a free breakfast buffet every morning and it is the bee's knees! Waffles, oatmeal, eggs, hash browns, yogurt, fruit, muffins... you get the idea) As I strode into the dining area I glanced down at my watch to discover that it was only 7 minutes 'till 8:00 - the time I had agreed to meet my professor to review our material for the presentation that afternoon. I stood for a moment in a quandary, stuck between my desire for a good breakfast (the conference was to provide breakfast and it promised to be a plethora of stale pastries) and my desire to be punctual. Food vs. punctuality. Two of the things I'm biggest on. Hmmm.... since I was feeling extra professional that day, punctuality won out. I arrived at the agreed upon meeting spot at exactly 8:00, feeling proud of myself for making a good choice. I glanced around the lobby looking for my professor. No sight of him. Knowing that I can't make it without breakfast, I headed over the the stale pastries and waited my turn in line for my empty calories. I settled on a bagel (at least they had cream cheese - everything was going to be okay) and headed back to wait for my professor. There were no utensils provided, so I ended up tearing off a bit of the top part of the bagel to use as a makeshift spreader for the cream cheese. Here's the thing about me: I'm not a picky eater, but I love food too much to not enjoy every bite. Bagels are fine when they're toasted (I would even venture to say that they could be delicious given the right circumstances). But this bagel was untoasted. And DENSE. I glanced down at my watch again. 8:09. Maybe he's waiting for me in a different lobby? I called to make sure I was waiting in the right spot and discovered that he was still getting dressed upstairs in his room. Here's where the bitterness comes in. I did not mind sacrificing my eggs and oatmeal to be on time. I did mind, however, missing my yummy breakfast for no good reason. As I sat gnawing on my bagel and the clock ticked on, I grew more and more agitated. I began to chew to a rhythm, "Could've had oatmeal, could've had oatmeal, could've had oatmeal." I realize oatmeal isn't that exciting, but they had all these special toppings for it - raisins, brown sugar, chopped pecans. It was going to be really cozy. At 8:20 I looked up to see my professor headed my way. Yep - could've had oatmeal. And fruit, and scrambled eggs with syrup, and a glass of milk. But instead I just had bitterness for breakfast.

Story #2: Meatball Karma (don't worry - this one will be shorter!)
So the night before my presentation the officers of the organization hosting the conference threw a meet-and-greet type party in the hotel rooms on the 11th floor. I went with the aforementioned conference friends and made my way around the room. A little wine, a little cheese, a meatball, some 'Lil Smokies from a crockpot - I was livin' it up! Soon I found myself in a conversation with the aforementioned professor. He, too, had indulged in the meatballs and now had meatball sauce spread across his cheek. Not the corner of his mouth - his actual cheek. He kept wiping his mouth with his napkin, but there was no way he was going to fix the cheek smear. I tried to concentrate on what he was saying while debating whether to tell him about the stray sauce. I settled on ignoring it and did my best to focus on his eyes while he spoke.

The next day, I joined my professor for the formal sit-down lunch with several other colleagues from different cities around the state, none of whom I knew. I made small talk while I ate my potatoes and my buttered roll - yay for starchy foods! - and attempted to make my way through a pile of what were, at one time, vegetables. They now resembled something closer to rubber, but with enough salt I was able to get some down. I attempted to be charming and made sure to smile a lot even though I wasn't exactly entertained by the whole event. On my way back to my hotel after lunch, I glanced in the rear view mirror to reapply my lipstick. It was then that I noticed it - a long, skinny piece of very green lettuce stuck to my gums and hanging down over my top teeth. Lettuce from the FIRST course of the very long meal. All that smiling and being charming, and I had been flashing a leafy smile the whole time! Why didn't anyone tell me about this? Why didn't my professor say something? Oh, yeah. Meatball karma.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sugar Coma

Lately I've been on a personal quest for the perfect chocolate chip cookie, with the help of my dear friend, I cannot even explain the excitement that this website stirs in me (no pun intended!) each time I log on - millions of recipes waiting to be tried and enjoyed, ruined and perfected...a world of possibilities!

There are so many things that can go wrong with a chocolate chip cookie.

When Krister and I were first married I decided to make a batch and somehow I got confused by the butter measurements and used a POUND of butter rather than a cup. When they came out of the oven they were laid flat like roadkill and, when pressed with a fingertip, would actually leave little pools of butter behind, filling the holes like rain fills fossilized dinosaur footprints in the ground. It was tragic. I cried and cried, partly because I felt like an idiot and partly because butter is so darn expensive and I had just wasted a whole box of it for nothing. Sweet Krister didn't want the night to end in defeat, so he whisked me away to the store to get more ingredients and try, try again.

Ever since that butter-laden disaster I have had a personal vendetta against the chocolate chip cookie. I picture the ingredients laughing at me, taunting me, laying in wait to sabotage my efforts. And so I search. I try out recipe after recipe, dedicated to finding that one that will have just the right texture, the right flavor, the one that will be truly worthy of accompanying a big glass of cold milk. Thanks to, I feel closer than ever to attaining my goal, to claiming the victory over the ever elusive chocolate chip cookie of my dreams. I'm not there yet, but I am making a valiant effort.

My quest continued this afternoon as I tried my hand at a new recipe. Unfortunately I was left unsupervised in the kitchen with a whole bowl of cookie dough. You would think there was heroin in the stuff the way I was downing it. [Disclaimer: I have never even been in the same room with heroin, nor would I recognize it if I were, but I hear it's quite addictive and thus it works well to give you a picture of my inability to exercise self-control in this situation. Don't do drugs, kids.] What is it about cookie dough that is so irresistible? Part of the problem may be the fact that I have no way of measuring how much I've eaten. It's not like cake where I can see a receding line that marks the damage I've done, or like Junior Mints where I can see the delightful morsels disappearing one by one. Cookie dough just sits there innocently, begging you to sneak just one more spoonful, a pinch here, another pinch there.

But like all good things it is not so innocent once you've gone completely overboard. It's not good to feel sick before the first batch of cookies pops out of the oven. It's not good to see your finger swooping toward the bowl to grab another pinch of dough while your thighs are yelling, "Enough already! You're not even giving us a chance!" It's not good to wonder if you'll be able to eat dinner later after all that cookie bingeing. And, it's not good to eat dinner anyway, then follow it up with a couple more cookies and a few scoops of homemade ice cream. That, my friends, is what you call a sugar coma.

Sunday, April 6, 2008


Yesterday was one of the best Saturdays I've had in a long time. Krister and I had planned ahead to make it a day of sabbath - we did laundry and cleaned on Friday evening so our weekly chores wouldn't get in the way of our restful day on Saturday. The next morning we slept in, drank hot tea and read in our pajamas (okay, only I did this part - Krister hates hanging out in his pajamas, as he's more of a get-up-and-go type guy), made cinnamon rolls (the easy kind), then got ready and headed to White Rock Lake for a walk and some more reading. We laid out our picnic blanket by the water and lounged with our books in the beautiful spring sunshine while the breeze played with the trees and the ducks flitted across the water before settling on its glassy surface. It was the kind of spring day that makes you feel that all is right with the world. I closed my eyes to drink in the moment - the pace, the air, the sounds of nature swelling around us. Bikers rode past on their morning excursions. A young couple cradled their newborn against the base of a tree nearby. It was lovely.

It wasn't long before more families joined us by the water and the lovely sounds of springtime were replaced by screaming children and raucous noises of every kind. It made me chuckle, as the noise level grew like some practical joke come to ruin our peaceful outing. My romantic Jane Austen notions of spending the morning reading in the sunshine came to a quick close, but I was determined not to let the harried scene steal away my former peacefulness. After all, sabbath is as much a state of mind as it is a circumstance.

We spent the rest of the day enjoying various relaxing activities and then finally turned on the television for some good 'ole basketball. It may be the sabbath, but it's also the Final Four, and something not to be missed in our household. We debated about what do to for dinner and finally settled on some Red, Hot, and Blue. (On a side note, if you've never been there, you really must go and order their sweet tea - your glass is an actual pitcher - it's the real deal.) We decided to forego the sweet tea and get take-out so we could enjoy our ribs in front of the game. On our way back to our house, potato salad in tow, we had an incident that did what the noise at the park had failed to do - rob us of that sabbath feeling.

We were less than a mile away from our house when a truck in the lane next to us began to swerve into our lane, nearly causing an accident. Krister honked at the truck, as I would have (even though I'm not a big honker) and the driver proceeded to gesture at us out his window and yell obscenities. I was a bit taken aback, as he was the one who was swerving around. He sped off in front of us and soon ended up on our left side, still shaking his arm in the air and yelling. It was quickly growing uncomfortable. Anyone who's had a mishap with someone on the road knows that the goal is not to see this person again after the initial encounter. No such luck. By the time we reached the light the truck had crossed back over to the far right hand lane and, as luck would have it, we ended up stopped right next to one another. This is the part that really pushed me over the edge and stole the last ounce of peace I had accumulated from the day's restfulness. The man began leaning out his window and yelling at us. He decided to raise the bar a bit on the obscenities and was now yelling words I've only heard in the worst parts of the worst movies. My body went into fight or flight mode, adrenaline rushing down through my arms, my pulse quickening. Krister and I stared straight ahead in an attempt to ignore him. This proved to be a difficult task, as I desperately wanted to peek to my right and make sure we weren't in any immediate danger. I fully expected that at any moment he would get out of his truck and try to drag me out of the car, or more likely would pull a rifle out from under his seat and aim it straight at us. Not looking was scary. I realize that probably sounds dramatic, but you were not there. You did not feel the rage, the unreasonable anger coming from this man in the old white truck. I think that was what made it so scary - the fact that this man was acting like a crazy person, unpredictable and irrational.

During the few heart-pounding moments that we sat helplessly stopped at the light under a constant barrage of verbal abuse, I suddenly thought of Christ on the day of his crucifixion. Let me immediately state that I am in no way comparing this experience with that of Jesus' last day. It's just that, I have never been in a situation in which I was completely innocent and yet had someone hating me from the depths of their being. The man in the white truck was clearly drunk, he clearly had issues, and he clearly goes through life (or at least that day) angry at the world for whatever reason. I knew that we were not the source of his anger, but simply the latest victims to cross his path. I felt transported in that moment to the scenes at Golgotha, to the angry mobs who mocked Christ, who spat at him and hated him with their ugly, seething anger. Never has one been more innocent and more hated at the same time. What must he have felt during his last hours, watching from his shameful perch as the vile cruelty of sin took on life in his mockers at the foot of the cross? Mercy. "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." I think Jesus knew that he was not the true source of the anger that day. There are throngs of people out there who are hurting, who feel kicked in the teeth by life and who lash out in anger at a world they can't understand and can't control, a world that hurts too much and loves too little. But Jesus was able to love them even when the pain of sin turned to burning anger in their bellies. I don't know how he did it. My first instinct at that light wasn't to love the man in the white truck. I just wanted to run away. I wanted to sneak around to the passenger side of his truck and let the woman next to him escape, to tell her "you don't have to live like this anymore." I wanted to go back in time and tell his mother to love him a little stronger. But in the next moment, the truck took a right turn and we continued straight ahead, his voice still ringing in my ears.

The other thing ringing in my ears was the voice of the angry mob yelling "Crucify him! Crucify him!" What an awesome savior we have. One who was loving enough to look down on the hatred and feel mercy, one who was powerful enough to crush the grave, to put sin in its place once and for all, to announce to the whole world that the curtain's been torn, the barriers are down, the captives are set free, that grace and mercy have the last word. I'm so thankful that Jesus was brave enough to come around to the passenger side of the truck, to open the door and tell me, "You don't have to live like this anymore."