Rantings From A Food Critic

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I’m not your typical food critic. I don’t go to restaurants, scare the employees, order several dishes from the menu, and then write my opinions in the most sought after review columns.

Nope. Not me.

I’m the worst kind of critic. I HATE FOOD.

Hate is a pretty strong word, don’t you think? I dislike food – intensely.

I get very little joy out of food. I eat because I have to eat. People have told me they wish they could be like me. No – you don’t. Really. Trust me.

It’s super hard to come up with meal ideas when you don’t want to eat anything. I’m never in the mood for anything. I mean – NEVER.  I never crave anything either. (Except chocolate and caramel.) Not even when I was pregnant. The task of preparing meals for the Noodges and the Coffee King is daunting. I never know where to begin since I don’t care about the result. Food is for survival purposes only.

Obviously, I know which food groups are good for you. I use chicken, fish, and poultry as my base and build from there. But to say I’m in the mood for herb crusted chicken blah, blah, blah with a side of green yada, yada, yada won’t happen.

When I was a kid, my Italian mother would stand above me and shout, “but what’s there not to like? It’s only sausage and potatoes!” My Pop-Pop, (Italian grandfather straight off the boat) often asked when I refused to eat anything with tomato sauce, “What kind of an Italian are you?” The kind that likes cannolis, Italian cookies, Italian bread, and pretty much anything my professional baker Pop-Pop could make.

It wasn’t until I was in my forties that I discovered the source of my problem. I’m a supertaster. I have too many taste buds. (This is a real thing. I’m not making it up.) Lots of foods like broccoli, coffee, anything sour, taste really bitter to me. You should’ve been there when I accidentally ate broccoli rabe at a conference luncheon and needed to spit it out – immediately. It wasn’t pretty. What tastes like normal food to others taste terrible to me. In fact, I’m not sure I know what “normal” tastes like. I prefer to stick to anything bland. Macaroni with butter is an all time favorite of mine. On those Sunday dinners growing up, my grandmother would pull out some of the spaghetti for me and put butter on it before she dumped her homemade sauce on the rest.

So, tell me. What’s your favorite dish? What’s on the menu tonight?

Sweating With the Oldies

 

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I’m one of those weird people who like to exercise. For someone who is Type A, exercise has been a constant companion to me. She cures many of my ailments; such as big mouth syndrome, come down off the ledge illness, and a current favorite; mid-life hormonal combustion.

When my friend, Ella, asked me to join her at a Zumba class, I jumped at the chance. I used to take Zumba all the time, and loved it. I mean, who doesn’t love to dance, destress, and burn a gazillion calories?

The class was filled with everyone from seven to ninety-seven. Okay, maybe not that old, but close. Trust me. I think it’s fantastic to find older people getting up and shaking their groove thing. I plan on being in my nineties, wearing my yoga pants, and doing the hustle across the dance floor. (I also plan on completely turning off my filter, and saying every single non-politically correct thing that comes to my mind! People will think what I say is cute because I’ll be old. That’s what everyone says about my grandmother and her miniskirts.)

There’s a down side to Zumba, though. I can’t work out with my nose pinched closed. I do need to breathe, but with breathing comes inhaling the smell of a skunk in the summer sun. I discreetly checked to see if the skunk was coming off of me, but thank everything that is holy, I remembered to wear deodorant and I had showered earlier that day. I was sweating pretty good, and by the end I was a tad ripe, but the skunk stink was on someone else. And not Ella! Maybe I could do what the ladies did back before showers existed. I can spray a handkerchief with perfume and keep it over my face.

If you’re a single male, and into women, a Zumba class might be a great hook-up place. There had to be forty people in that class and only one of them was a man. Those are some pretty good odds. I thought our guy had to be smart swinging his hips around for the ladies until I found out he stalks women from one gym to another. Then he was just plain creepy. Maybe the skunk was him?

I can’t begin to describe how ridiculous I must look in a Zumba class trying to follow the fancy footwork, but I can tell you this: My lack of skill doesn’t stop me. And when I go to Zumba class I’m Jennifer Lopez. At least in my delusional mind.

About an hour in I felt ten years younger. I thought, look at me, keeping up, recapturing the exercise high I miss because I don’t run anymore, and not an ache or a pain anywhere. Ninety minutes in, I thought, when the hell is this class going to end? The muscles in my back twisted into a tightly woven braid, and my knees ached like a bad tooth. I went from feeling ten years younger to feeling ancient. The ninety year-olds were holding up better than I was.

The class had several instructors. They were all lovely, warm, and friendly. These kooky women wanted to take a picture of everyone together after class. Stinky, sweaty people standing in a huddle was a bad idea. Let’s not forget the skunk! Not to mention, my hair wasn’t exactly picture ready after ninety minutes of sweating with the oldies. I found a clever way to hide, and not touch or get too close to anyone. You know how I sceeve people. Again, not Ella!

All in all, it was a great time. Maybe I’ll get asked to go again. Hopefully, there won’t be anymore pictures. And my handkerchief is ready.

 

 

What if?

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What if your life was on autopilot? You were raising your children, going to work, watching the days fly past you? Life hadn’t turned out exactly as you hoped, but it could be worse.

A note arrives. An anonymous gift of a house needing fixing is waiting for you. Would you take it? Why or why not?

Sharpen Your Knives

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We had some snow here in NJ. My area got hit with about a foot. Maybe eight inches. I didn’t check and I didn’t bring out my ruler. I will tell you however much it was the shoveling wore me out. I tried to focus on the blessings like I’m healthy enough to shovel and I live in a house as opposed to a cardboard box. It’s the first snow storm in March since 1993. 

All that snow means the school closes. Two teens home. And the Coffee King certainly can’t drive to work and we share an office at home. Let’s not forget the noodgy dog. So, trying to get writing done with many distractions isn’t easy.

I’ve blogged about this before, but after about fifteen interruptions and it wasn’t even lunch time I had to take matters into my hands. I had to carve out some time to write.

First, I texted my good friend and writer buddy K.M Fawcett. (Her books are awesome. Check her out.) K.M. and I go to a local Starbucks at least twice a week for uninterrupted writing time. My text said something like, “I CAN’T GET ANY WRITING DONE.” It’s hard to get your mojo going every time someone sidetracks you. She gave me some good advice. Set a timer. Tell the characters in your house no interruptions while the timer is on.

Then I remembered! My red hat!!!  It had been years since I needed that hat. When the Noodges were little and I would try to write they’d interrupt me constantly. My desk was out in the open so I couldn’t shut a door. I instituted the red hat. When I wore the hat they weren’t allowed to talk to me. Unless blood or vomit was involved. I promised to always give them warning before I wore the hat and they could ask me as many questions as they wanted before the hat went on which was very important to Noodge 1. He can’t wait to have his questions answered. He’s still like that at almost seventeen. (I can’t believe that same little boy is almost 17!)

Yesterday, the hat made a revival. I took a picture of myself wearing the hat, and sent it to my family scattered around the house with instructions. I’d wear the hat with a timer going for 20 minutes. Please don’t interrupt me unless blood is involved. (They’re big enough to throw up in a toilet now.) It works.

Finding time to write isn’t easy. We all have lives that work around our writing. Unless you’re Stephen King whose writing can work around his life. Our families don’t always understand that we’re actually working even if all we’re doing is staring at the computer, but our hands aren’t moving. Every time our train of thought gets broken we have to start over and hope to capture the fizzle we’re trying so hard to get on the page. Writing isn’t like doing accounting or sewing.

I don’t blame them for not understanding. In fact, I’m a culprit in the interruptions. I often stop what I’m doing, no matter what it is, to help my kids or walk the dog or talk to CK. The hat creates a nice visual. (I just got interrupted while writing this. I’m not wearing the hat and Noodge 1 can’t find his sweatpants. See?)

The timer is good because they know how long you won’t be available. And anything can wait twenty minutes, can’t it?

Knives are sharpened. The hat is on now. The timer is next. It’s another snow day and plenty of writing to do.

Any questions?

 

Serial Killers Are Everywhere

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I’m sitting in my office, at my desk fretting over what to blog about this week. Coming from behind me, outside my window is either the sounds of a squirrel on crack, the roof coming off, or a drummer on scaffolding because I’m on the second floor. I’m trying to keep my mind away from the possibility of an intruder. Albeit, not a very bright one if he’s making that much noise on a bright, sunny day, at lunch time. However, I trust no one and my first thoughts are always to be careful. Serial killers are everywhere.

You know when you’re watching a scary movie and the character on screen decides to go look outside because they heard a crash or a gun shot and you yell at the screen, “DON’T DO IT. DON’T GO OUT THERE!”? I was compelled to look out my office window just now and thought this might be the stupidest thing I’ve done all day. But, there must be an explanation to the noises outside. We want to reassure ourselves the world as we know it hasn’t changed. We like the status quo, don’t we? And what was I going to do when I saw the rabid squirrel or the crazed drummer suspended in mid-air? Panic, that’s what. Not pretty.

Several years ago, I think before I even had kids, I was home and had somehow forgotten the roofers we hired were going to begin work. There I was home alone, footsteps pounded on my roof. It wasn’t Christmas Eve so that ruled out Santa immediately. I didn’t know what the sound was and then I heard voices! Robbers. Vandals. Serial Killers!!!!!!!! I panicked. Grabbed the phone and debated on calling 911. What was I going to say? I didn’t want to sound ridiculous and I didn’t want to go outside. I did bring myself to look out the window. Saw the roofer’s truck and passed out. No, kidding. I called myself a lot of stupid names for being silly.

I’m going to get a baseball bat. I’ll be right back.

There are disadvantages to having a vivid imagination. One of them is the stories in your head never stop. With baseball bat in hand, I investigated the noise. I opened the window, climbed out onto the ledge below and shimmied up the drain pipe to the roof above. A turkey vulture’s wing had tangled in the weather vane.

Looks like turkey for dinner.

No?

 

The College Essay

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As you may know, Noodge 1 has begun the college search. We are months away from the dreaded application process, but I can see it on the horizon every time I peek out from under my, “don’t send my boy to college” barricade.

I hear the college essay is quite an important part of the application. I’m glad I’m a writer and I can help him. Not that he’ll want my help or even need my help, but since I can’t help myself I will be offering my services.

I’m under the impression it’s beneficial for the applicant to have a moving story. Some adversity they experienced and climbed from the rubble to succeed again. That’s a lot of pressure for a teenager. Haven’t we as parents been trying to keep them from calamity at all costs? It makes me think of that Modern Family episode where Haley is trying to write her college essays and realizes she hasn’t experienced any obstacles in her life. That’s when Claire, her mother, helps her out. Funny episode.

Haley from Modern Family and Noodge 1 have a lot in common. Thank God. So, what’s he going to write about? How he couldn’t get internet while on vacation with his intact and semi-normal family? Or should he try sometimes my mother doesn’t go food shopping and I’m forced to eat the expired pickles in the fridge? How about, several times my mother has forced me to wear clothes from the hamper because she didn’t do my laundry and I never bothered to mention everything I own is dirty? And if they really want to feel sorry for him he could tell them about the times he’s been booted out of the Netflix account.

Maybe I should take him for a ride in the middle of the night, blindfolded (him not me) drop him off at a cemetery without his phone and tell him to find his way home? He could write about his crazy mother and the lessons he learned about survival, trust, and navigating by the stars. Hmmm……It would make for a great essay.

 

 

Where Does Inspiration Come From?

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I am often asked where I get the ideas for my books. All stories start with an idea, right? The idea is the thing that gets you excited about writing. It’s the thing you need to remember when you’re 30,000 words in and you can’t remember why you started that stupid book in the first place. I know, I’ve been there. In fact, I’m there right now.

When my son was about ten he said to me, “Mom, I had a nightmare. I was trapped in Hell and I had to answer math questions to get out.” And the idea for Welcome To Kata-Tartaroo was born. When I wrote the second book in the series, Welcome To Bibliotheca, I wanted to revolve the adventure around a quirky character trait of my main character. He’s a kid that loves the library. And that story was born.

Inspiration can come from something someone said. In 1967, Smokey Robinson was shopping for a Christmas gift for his wife with Motown producer Al Cleveland. Mr. Cleveland meant to say, “I second that motion.” A very common phrase. Instead he said, “I second that emotion.” The men went home and wrote a song around that misspoken phrase. It was a #1 R& B hit.

Inspiration comes from stories on the news or life experience. But be careful about the life experience thing. I hear a lot, “you should write my life story.” Yeah – No. Not everyone’s story is interesting enough. Sorry. Hard truth. That adage, write what you know, doesn’t mean tell your life story in a book. It means write what you know and if you don’t know something research it. But we all take pieces of things from our lives or from people we know and incorporate that into our books. That’s perfectly fine.

Inspiration can come from anywhere. What’s really important is what you do with that spark. Do you breathe life into it or do you let it burn out?

Any questions?