Thumb Cuts

“Just the Tip is Enough”

Kate and I had just returned from a splendid afternoon of carousing at a new favorite establishment on the beach, and I decided to make us a healthy snack of blood orange slices.

My choice of fruit should have been an ominous warning sign.

Over the holidays, we were graciously gifted with a trio of new paring knives, and in my zeal for citrus, I snatched one up and began to carve.

By my second slice, I realized that I was using the wrong tool for the job. The blade was both curved and too short for a clean cut across the orange skin. Instead of a straight line, I was being forced to turn to the contours of the fruit.

Any intelligent person would have quickly swapped knives. It’s not like I didn’t have a better alternative – Chun Li was placidly staring down at me from the knife strip, solemnly scowling at my improper blade choice.

I was not an intelligent person.

Even worse, before this incident, I proudly lectured Kate on the importance of knife safety. I showed her my Totin Chip, taped into my beaten and battered copy of the Scouts Handbook. I have chided her for not checking her bubble an annoying amount of times.

Ignoring all the warning signs of improper knife etiquette, I continued my wobbly adventure, cutting the orange into uneven strips. Then, as I was working on the last quarter, the knife zigged when it should have zagged, and I felt it’s German steel effortlessly bite into the tip of my thumb.

I made that sound that I believe most people do when they hurt themselves in a way that they could have easily avoided. It is basically a sharp and quick intake of breath, sucked through your teeth, while still not really opening your mouth.

Then I yelled, “Oh shit shit shit shit shit”

This got Kate’s attention. I ran to the sink, and between bursts of blood, I was able to ascertain that I had sheared off the meaty tip of my thumb. Not enough to warrant stitches, but enough to make me think about what I had done.

I cut off the remaining flap of skin (I had stopped before finishing the deed, which made this part even worse), and then Kate played Florence Nightengale to my injured digit.

The thing about the tip of your thumb is that you don’t realize how much you use it until it’s gone. Typing, cooking, even putting your hands in your pockets can bring a jolt of pain to your system.

Even worse, I had to wear a chunky band-aid to work for several days, and as a 32-year old adult, it’s an immediate badge of “I Fucked Up” when you do something that requires a band-aid, and it wasn’t car repair or construction related.

They say time heals all thumbs. Who has two thumbs (tips and all) and a strong respect for his new paring knives?

This guy, that’s who.

Thumb Cuts – 1 out of 5 

Cats

“The Musical”

At a lovely dinner party last night, somehow I became involved in a conversation about Broadway. The story revolved around how a group of young 20 somethings from Iowa had trekked out to NYC, and got back row seats to see a new musical called “Cats.”

Now, I had heard of Cats. My knowledge (up until last night) was that it was Broadway play about cats. I also feel like it has been a pop culture punching bag for decades.

Last night, after we came home from the dinner party, Kate insisted we watch YouTube videos of Cats. Now I understand why this play gets made fun of.

I think I was able to sit through three or four songs from the play before I begged Kate to turn it off.

Cats, as I saw it, is what happens when a high school drama class is given a massive makeup department and stage budget, and that’s it. The Cat makeup was…good? However, the songs that I heard weren’t sung well, if sung at all.

I understand that this was the first Broadway show to do something like Cats did (dress up like Cats?), but maybe they should have built the show around some good singing.

To me, plays are just small moments of talking between anthemic or funny songs that propel the story along.

Growing up, our house was regularly blasting soundtracks from plays like Les Miserables, Wicked, and The Music Man. Plays are supposed to have good music and singing. Cat makeup is great, but let me hear some pipes.

In an attempt to clear our palette, we began searching for Les Mis videos, but in a classic YouTube misstep, we clicked on a video called “Boss Cats” and lost the next 9 minutes to footage of cats being assholes.

But hey, the video had cats singing, so it was definitely the better of the two Cats.

Cats – 1 out of 5 Stars 

Frying Food

“Oh, So That’s How Literally Every Fire Ever Started”

Look. I’m no Jacques Pépin.

But, I do find myself playing around in the kitchen at least several times a week. I’ve found that the repetitive and rote work that comes with dicing an onion or peeling a carrot is incredibly relaxing after a long day of work.

Working in a creative field, I’m often presented with a blank slate, and am challenged to fill it up with narrative. There’s something about following a recipe, step by step, that is so meditative to me.

Not to say cooking isn’t a creative endeavor, because I believe it is. It’s just a different muscle. Knowing when to add a dash of spice or a zing of garlic (who we kidding, always add more garlic) to make a dish personally appealing to you is something that takes years of cooking.

I probably have between 12 to 20 dishes that I can confidently create without consulting a recipe. Whenever I try out a new dish though, I’m one of those people who follows the instructions, down to the exact timing and measurements of spices. It usually takes me two or three run throughs before I can start iterating and making the dish my own.

Walking Kate home from work on Tuesday, she inexplicably tripped and rolled her ankle. After getting home, I insisted that she lay up on the couch, while I make her dinner.

We had some chicken breasts thawing, so I consulted the New York Times cooking section online (highly recommend, the UI is gorgeous), and settled on an easy Lemon Chicken recipe.

The recipe called for breading the chicken and then frying it in a large amount of oil. Growing up in California, my experience with frying food at home was limited to almost zero. The few times I attempted it while we were subscribed to Blue Apron resulted in spatters of oil everywhere, and tiny burns that we wore to work the next day.

Which is why Kate looked up from the couch and saw me frantically turning on the ventilator, opening the windows, and turning on a fan as our house became instantly smoky when the breaded chicken landed in the hot cast iron skillet.

“What’s going on over there?”

“Nothing, don’t worry about it. Just following the recipe”

A discussion ensued, and it was decided that my clean California upbringing left me woefully unprepared in the frying department.

From now on, Kate will be in charge of all hot oil related matters. I’ll stick to peeling carrots.

Frying Food – 1 out of 5 Stars

Enchiladas

“Just Order The Tacos”

Growing up in Los Angeles, and then going to school in San Antonio, it’s safe to say that Mexican food has been a major part of my life for almost three decades.

Combinations of tortillas, meat, cheese, and beans are almost a weekly dietary staple in our home. When we’re being health conscious, we’ll skip the tortillas and beans, but there are few things more comforting to me then pork or chicken simmered in salsa.

I’m not a professional chef, so please take this with a grain of salt, but nearly all mainstream Mexican food is just various combinations of tortillas, cheese, protein, and vegetables. Burritos are really just food presents with a tortilla as the wrapping paper, while enchiladas create a tunnel of deliciousness, and tacos build a roofless home to tasty bites.

Whenever I visit a “sit down” Mexican restaurant that isn’t some sort of fancy take on authentic Mexican food, I suffer a crisis of food choice. Also to be clear, I’m talking about family Mexican restaurants. The kind that have parrots and guitars hanging on the walls, and with margarita specials. You know the type.

I’m a taco truck type of person. To me, the best tacos come from a place that takes cash only, and someone might try to sell you a pitbull puppy while you’re waiting in line (this actually happened to me). Tacos are sold at a price point of $1-3 and are served in hot corn tortillas, and it’s up to you decide the range of garnishes you want.

At a restaurant where the plates are $15 and come with a side of rice, beans, sour cream, and pico de gallo, I panic. Because really all I want are street tacos, but now I’m in a place that offers more options. Is today the day I eat menudo for dinner?

Which brings me to enchiladas.

I always think I should order the enchiladas. They contain all the things I like in theory. They’re really just tacos that fell asleep and stretched out.

But the second I bring a knife and fork into the equation, the Mexican food magic is lost to me. I feel compelled to eat the rice and beans, when in fact all I want to do is eat the main course and throw the rest away. But that’s wasteful, so instead, I gorge myself, regretting my enchilada choice with every bite.

Skip the rice and beans, avoid the enchilada tunnel. Order yourself a platter of roofless homes, and decorate them how you want. As long as the salsa is Verde, you’ve made the right decision.

Enchiladas – 1 out of 5 Stars  

Eating at Benihana

“A Meal That Sears Into Your Memory”

During a pumpkin carving party last week (more on that later), somehow I let it slip that I had never been to a Benihana restaurant. Martini in hand, somehow plans were immediately made for a trip to the acclaimed Japanese eatery this week.

Which is how I found myself seated around a square grill, waiting not for dinner, but for a dining experience.

I’ve been to Korean BBQ and intimate Japanese BBQ restaurants, but never to a Benihana-style place. I felt confident that I knew what I was in for. Onion volcanoes, shrimp tossed into mouths, and much much more. Also, as a side note, if you are looking for a great read, this article details the sordid life of the CEO of Benihana, Rocky Aoki. The title says it all “Cocaine, boats, and backgammon: The insane life of Rocky Aoki, Benihana’s founder.

Our motley group of six diners consisted of three couples, and we decided to make it middle school dance style, with all the girls in the middle of the table, and the trio of guys in the corner. After getting our drink orders and salads, our grillmaster came out.

On one hand, we got a show, but on the other, it wasn’t the one we wanted?

A diminutive Japanese man, he immediately struck a combative and…weird tone. One of our eaters was allergic to eggs, and the chef made fun of him in the first 30 seconds, using effeminate gestures to show that allergies weren’t manly.

What followed was a slew of one-note cooking tricks – all umbrellaed under the chef’s main gimmick.

And the gimmick was that he was fucking the food.* 

He would cut the chicken and yell “oooo” and “more baby!”

He would take the rice and throw it on the grill, and then spank it with his spatula, locking eyes with each of the guys as he did it, all while cooing.

The first main trick was turning a pile of fried rice into a heart, and using his spatula, he made it beat. But then he made it pulse faster and faster, muttering “harder harder harder.”

Luckily, the women were mostly oblivious to the shenanigans, but our trio of guys were all bewildered.

The famous onion volcano occurred, and that was maybe the most exciting moment of the show.

There were no opportunities to throw food in our mouths because he simply didn’t give one (which given his demeanor, you would think that would be easy fodder for him).

He did drop my bowl of rice though, scrape it back in with his fingers, and try again. Oh, and he also threw shrimp into one of our drinks, and missed plates completely.

I definitely got a meal I won’t be forgetting anytime soon. But If I do ever go back to Benihana, I hope to have a dish that isn’t served with a side of sexual buffoonery.

Benihana – 1 out of 5 Stars

*Sorry for the language, but he wasn’t just having sex with the food. Definitely fucking it.

Death

“A Cold Emotion”

I’ve been told I bottle up emotions and don’t deal with them as they occur. I don’t disagree, but I also think the world would be a wild place if everyone acted on every emotional impulse that took them, that second.

Death results in an instant ice over of feelings. Death, to me, is a cold and frozen emotion. Unlike it’s elder and much more malevolent siblings: grief, anger, and regret, Death exists in a vacuum.

Once again, I find myself examining my emotions from an outsider’s perspective.

Sorrow and guilt roil in the depths of a lake of emotion, but on the surface, everything is calm and tranquil. It’s a binary experience. 0’s and 1’s – there’s no room for emotion in math.

Death – 1 out of 5 Stars 

Writing Slump

“Like a Pitching Slump, but With Fewer Balls”

I haven’t been able to write the J.R.S. for about, oh I dunno, six weeks? For those of you who noticed and mentioned it to me, thank you. I appreciate your words.

Basically, it all comes down to pressure.

Almost everything in my life is driven by an internal pressure in my head. Pressure to do well in my career. Pressure to write the most wonderful words. Pressure to be the best person I can be.

To be honest, the JRS was originally created as a personal pressure release valve. It was a place to write just for me, without any pressure on performance or writing quality.

Then I had to go and share with friends and family, and I immediately developed a new pressure point in my life. I have to deliver a finished product to people I love Thursday morning, come hell or high water.

This is not a dig at you, dear reader. In fact, knowing that I have readers keeps me honest, keeps me accountable. Except when we were traveling in Amsterdam I got distracted.

I’ve done this time and time again in my writing. I’ll start something and go full steam 68% of the way, and then somewhere I’ll spring a leak and the momentum will bleed off without me noticing.

So I missed a week of writing. Then a second week. The first week was excusable – I was in Amsterdam for work. The second one, less so, but hey, I was jetlagged!

The third Thursday I woke up with a dread and guilt. I wasn’t uninspired, in fact, I’ve known what my reviews from Amsterdam were going to be all three weeks. It was the pressure (and guilt) that was trapping me. Not only was I letting the readers down, but now I was another six reviews behind.

Fast forward to today, and the last time I graced your inboxes was August 23rd. That’s 6 weeks ago. I’m now 18 reviews behind.

My goal when I started this was to write one newsletter a week, for a year straight. I’ve missed a week or two here or there, but nothing like this.

Looks like I have some reviews to write.

And some pressure to release.

Writing Slump – 1 out of 5 Stars