you say ‘hilarious’, i say…less so. yeah, still got nothing.

Not exactly like this. But close.

I like to think it’s possible to walk outside and not make myself ridiculous on some days, and yet all evidence and Magic 8 balls point to the contrary.

I arrive at the Dayton airport last week and, because I have finished my novel on the plane and have a little time to kill before my shuttle departs, I stop in one of the book stores by the gate. This is one of the stores that carries a mix of things – magazines, t-shirts, candy, shot glasses. I don’t see anything that appeals to me on the bestsellers’ shelf, so I wheel myself out and start down the hallway toward Ground Transportation. As I’m walking out of the store I notice, distantly, an echo-ey cackling noise; sort of a high-pitched giggle, but over and over; a hilariously, insanely, spookily funny laugh. It’s not a person. It sounds vaguely canned or mechanical. Someone’s ring tone? I look over my shoulder as I walk – who knows, there are dozens of people passing me staring at the phones in their hands.

But several steps more and I still hear it. I stop, look up. Is it from the announcement speakers? I don’t know why they would be broadcasting crazy laughter, but it’s so close by! No? I keep walking… and hear it again. Where is it? I stop again. What IS that? Now I’m looking frantically in all directions. NO ONE else seems to be hearing this. I start walking. I hear the laugh. I stop. Now I am starting to doubt myself. DO I hear this? Am I having a breakdown? Is this how it starts? The Voices cackle evilly before they start to form sentences? I set my suitcase upright while I ponder the implications of insanity right on the eve of attending a humor conference. Perhaps this is the right career move after all.

But the suitcase doesn’t sit evenly, and when I look down I solve two mysteries at once. A cackling, wriggling mechanical dog, which I now vaguely recall noticing writhing around on the floor of the bookstore, has caught its tail around the wheel of my suitcase. I have been dragging this ridiculous animal down the hallway of the Dayton airport as it sways and screeches hysterically behind me. Awesome. This might be worse than going insane.

I untangle it from the wheels and pick it up, not without difficulty because it writhes back and forth and I only have one arm since I still have my shoulder bag and suitcase to carry with my other hand (sudden flashback of wrestling an armadillo named Irma several years ago…don’t ask), and start back to the store from which I accidentally shoplifted this screechy little monster. Outside the store sit a row of about 8 airline crew – pilots, flight attendants – studiously gazing at their handheld smartphones, until I pass them, and at once all 8 of them break out into giggles.

“That was hilarious!” one of them tells me with glee.

“I was going to stop you,” adds another one, “but you figured it out pretty soon.”

Thanks a lot, schmucks. Pretty soon? 30 yards! At what point were you going to intervene? “At least I’m not crazy,” is my halfhearted response. It’s lame, I know. I got nothing. I’ll just be off to baggage claim now to track down some dignity.

excitement

Off to my first writers conference ever tomorrow – the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. Can’t wait!

yogurt, part one

Leading with a success story.

I’m feeling confident these days, chiclets, what with the tremendous success of the Honey-Lime and Brown Sugar-Red Wine Vinegar mustards, and not-terrible almond butter, and the shakshula (poached eggs in a spicy tomato sauce from the recipe at Smitten Kitchen, which was yummy AND looked super pretty). Then I made scones and lemon curd last weekend, which were fab. (I’ve been informed that this is the secret to awesome scones: 1. Use buttermilk instead of water. Ok, well, I’d say 1. Use a mix, if you don’t happen to keep all those dry ingredients in your kitchen, which I don’t, and 2. Use buttermilk instead of water.) I made the lemon curd from scratch, which involved squeezing a lot of lemons and cooking it with sugar and eggs and butter, and I did not mess it up! Though I did cut the recipe in half, because it originally called for 12 lemons to make 2 cups of lemon curd, and WTF? am I running a bakery now? Who can eat 2 cups of lemon curd in a week? I only finished 1 cup because I took some to my book club and then the rest to a family breakfast. I got a general thumbs up from those people, however, so it goes in the Win column.

It’s true these were mitigated by the middling successes/general failures, if one needs to use labels, of the marshmallows* (all three of them, which DID taste like marshmallows but with the chewy consistency of, say, octopus) and the Burned Walnut Brandy, which Other Half supportively agreed “tastes like alcohol”, followed by supportively questioning, “what’s that aftertaste? Some kind of nut?”

But there’s some kind of analogy about horses and getting on them again after getting thrown off, not that I would do this literally because I don’t like horses anyway and I don’t think I could be held responsible for what I would do if one actually threw me off, but the point is you shouldn’t be permanently put off by your middling successes/general failures and face your fears. Also, stay away from horses.

To wit: for some time now, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of trying to make yogurt, other than the fact that I’m scared of poisoning myself.

Other Half is adamantly against it. “We can just buy yogurt, and no one has to die or waste milk,” is something along the lines of his argument. People who make their own yogurt, however, are always telling me how it’s so much better than store bought yogurt, and “it’s so easy! Anyone can do this, trust me.” (I’m a little concerned these are the same people who can make apple butter in their sleep, but I’m not going to be put off! See above re: getting back on horses.)

So last Sunday, I pour a quart of milk (and I used whole, because the recipe said whole milk was best) into a saucepan, heating to an almost-boil, then poured it into a bowl and added the candy thermometer so I could monitor the point when it reached 110 degrees. Meanwhile, I turned on the oven for 10 minutes, turned it off, stirred in the starter yogurt when the milk reached the right temperature, covered it with a damp towel, and set in the oven overnight.

The next morning I opened the oven door with an excited flourish! to find: a bowl of cold milk. Yeah, it didn’t work. At all.

I email two of my friends who make their own yogurt all the time. What did I do wrong?

“Oven was too hot,” said one. “You killed the starter yogurt cultures. Next time, leave it on for only a few minutes.”

“Oven was too cold,” said the other. “You need warmer weather in general. Also, make sure you use organic yogurt.”

“You don’t need organic yogurt,” said first friend. “Any kind works. But did you use plastic wrap? Plastic wrap is key.”

I didn’t use plastic wrap, the recipe only mentioned the towel, and I still don’t understand how many minutes I’m supposed to leave the oven on for before I turn it off. In fact, my recipe specifically says, “Don’t get hung up on the temperature of the warm place.” But apparently I DO need to get hung up on it, because it’s VITALLY IMPORTANT. If it requires warm weather, how do people make yogurt in the winter? If it can’t get too hot, does that mean you can’t make yogurt in tropical countries? Why don’t cookbook authors explain these things??

Here’s my compromise: I’m going to wait to try again until this weekend, which is supposed to be warmer. I’ll think about the organic thing. I’ll turn on the oven for exactly 4 minutes and then turn it off. And I’ll break out the plastic wrap. Updates soon.

*(I do have another recipe for marshmallows, but didn’t get around to trying it before spring and now it’s too late. I don’t drink hot chocolate in warm weather. It’s just not right.)

sorry, sloth

You’re totally right.

why, what are you using your conscience for?

Just like this. I tell you, they were real.

It’s a 12 hour flight from Hong Kong to San Francisco, my entry point to the U.S. this time around, and it’s time for the Ambien question. Specifically, if I want to risk it again after last year’s minor episode.

“Is this going to end badly, IB?”

Nope, silence. He has no opinion preemptively. Could go either way.

I have a voice in my head. Some might say it’s my Conscience, or Common Sense, but I call him Internal Bartender, because his main job, at least for a certain portion of my adult life, has been to intervene when I’m drinking. He always knows when it’s time to cut me off, and warns me when I’m approaching the next level. “You ought to be considering some water at this point,” he might remark, conversationally, “before embarking on your third mojito, if you still plan on walking home.” He’s a good sort, Internal Bartender; doesn’t judge or nag much, so I pay attention when he gets all snotty, like, “Bitch, what did I just say? UnHAND that jello shot.”

(Hmm. I never thought about this before, but IB sounds just like Samuel L. Jackson.)

I’d always been a little worried about taking something on flights because I wasn’t sure if I would react well with it. But I don’t sleep well on planes, if at all, and it always makes the first few days of vacation a grim experience as I try to recover from the combination of lack of sleep + jet lag. The last straw was a flight to Norway, when I was somehow moved to a middle seat in the last row of the plane (these seats do not recline, it turns out) and stayed up all night talking and playing trivia with my two other seatmates (admittedly very cool people, with an admirable range of knowledge about geography and European pop culture) and then spent the next 10 days struggling to catch up on my REM by falling asleep on every flat surface I could find. I didn’t actually get back on a normal pattern until 2 weeks after I’d returned to the U.S. After that, I took the prescription from the travel doctor the next time she suggested it, and now I adore the fact that I can count on a solid 6-8 hours of sleep on long flights.

I’d never had any trouble! Until the last time – also a double-digit-hour long trip home from Asia. I pulled out the bottle and asked the flight attendant for water, then stood confusedly in the aisle. I realized I’d failed to pay adequate attention to my travel doctor’s instructions, and now couldn’t remember if I was to take one or two at a time. IB had no recollection either (as I said, he’s not good with preemptive advice), so I decided to start with one and add another if it didn’t seem to be working.

Well, this turned out to be a wise decision overall, because the other item suffering from my inattention was the fact that I had accidentally brought the old bottle of expired meds from a previous trip instead of the recently filled prescription. 15 minutes after swallowing it down I began admiring the very nice pink and yellow plaid taffeta curtains American Airlines had recently installed along the walls of the cabin – as recently as the last 15 minutes, perhaps, since I did not remember it before. So pretty! What a good choice! Coincidentally, I happened to look down and see fluffy white bunnies hopping along the floorboards, heading up toward the cockpit. “Fluffy bunnies!” I squealed in my head, reaching down to pet them.

Internal Bartender screeched like I’ve never heard him. “JESUS CHRIST, Angela, you are on a plane! THERE ARE NO &;@*!# BUNNIES HERE.”

I scowled. There are clearly bunnies here. So cute, fluffy bunny rabbits. Look! I turned to my left to alert my seatmate.

“NO!! Shut the HELL up, do NOT SPEAK TO ANYONE. Do NOT pet the bunnies, do NOT speak to anyone. You GO TO SLEEP now.”

I was dimly aware he might be on to something…though I was dead certain about the bunnies.

On the other hand, IB has never been wrong about the jello shots.

I said nothing to my seatmate and tried to get comfortable, making the mistake of attempting to slightly adjust the pretty, pretty curtains first so I didn’t crush them with my neck pillow. “WHAT the &*@% DID I JUST SAY?! You BEST be asleep, forthwith.”

I did go to sleep, forthwith, and when I woke up several hours later I felt both amazing and grateful that IB had prevented me from telling anyone about the bunnies at the time (though, naturally, I felt compelled to tell everyone I knew about them later).

Now it’s six months later, on another flight from Asia, and I have the bottle in my hand. Risk it? I check the date. No, I got the right bottle this time. Surely it was an expiration issue. I take…one.

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