Monday, April 25, 2011

Lessons from the pantry

I left my realm of comfort today and dove into a wheat-free experience.  It wasn't exactly by choice. After eating a delicious, but unsatisfying, fish dinner, I was rummaging around in my cupboards and emerged with GLUTINO! A gluten-free, "multi-grain" cracker.  Ok, yes, I was desperate. And all right, yes, it did have an expiration date of June 29, 2010. But I thought, "what the heck" and gave it a go.

How did this gem end up on the back of my top shelf? A friend of mine moved away to the mainland and she bequeathed upon me some fine-dining accouterments: artichoke hearts, a huge jar of sun-dried tomatoes, cans of black beans, vinaigrette salad spray, and yes, boxes of various types of specialty crackers; it was obvious that she not only had good taste but that we did NOT shop at the same stores.

I opened the first box. Some sort of melba sesame cracker. I ate the entire cracker before I realized that I had discovered a brand new meaning for "stale".  It had the unique combination of not only being stale but rancid.  I couldn't find a best-by date on the package but needless to say that the coupon I peeled off the box expired on 9/30/09. 

Undaunted, I foraged on.  Ever hopeful that the sealed plastic bags really did seal in freshness. This delectable treat boasted its origins from the vicinity of Mt. Ararat.  But, made conveniently in California.  It lived up to its name: ak mak.  Yes, this was the sound I made as I spit it out into my hand.  I looked at the box a little closer.  In case I forgot how to discern meaning from words, they thoughtfully underlined (in red) important phrases like "whole wheat product", "nutritional value", "wheat", "important part of the diet", "high-protein wheat", "highest quality wheat", "complete whole wheat flour", "nothing added, nothing removed", "full circle", "present pyramid program", "cereal grains", "ancient peoples", "and still counting". I kid you not.  Needless to say I couldn't find an expiration date on this package as I think it was sealed up before the USDA decided to require them.

Lastly, GLUTINO! Feeling like a challenge, I opened the last box (ignoring the expiration date clearly stamped on the bottom).  Let me describe to you as best I can what my mouth experienced: imagine multi-grain to mean corn starch, white rice flour, fennel and poppy seeds.  Now imagine cardboard craftily ground so fine as to make it a powder. Mix all of the ingredients together, held together with guar gum (Guar gum is economical because it has almost 8 times the water-thickening potency of cornstarch - thank you Wikipedia). Yum. 

Lessons learned? Those plastic pouches are not only necessary to prevent critters from chewing their way through your food stores, but they also serve to keep the product from contaminating perfectly tasty food next to it on the shelf.

I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to brush away the reside still stuck to the back of my tongue, but I've learned another very valuable lesson: I love you, Ritz Crackers. I can't wait to start on the canned goods...

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Spring and all that it brings

Ahhh, spring. Birds chirping, grass growing, flowers blooming, nose streaming, eyes itching, face sneezing, and all around misery.  Actually, it isn't as bad here in Hawaii as on the mainland, but spring does usually bring a new pollen into the mix to shake up any normally healthy immune system.

Allergic rhinitis: hay fever.  When I was younger, growing up in Oregon, springtime meant living a life of lethargy and fatigue.  This, of course, was a direct result of having to dose myself with a prescription antihistamine tablet the size of a pinhead that resulted with me in a groggy stupor, unfit to drive vehicles or use heavy machinery.  One day my doctor suggested that I should be tested to see what exactly was causing my malaise.

I'm not sure if they do this now, but back then what this meant was to go to a specialist (I can't even remember what kind, only that they had a lot of needles), and undergo sharp pricks with various types of pollen. They injected this liquid mixture just under the skin all across my back.  I felt like a pin-cushion and looked like a patch-work quilt as each injection site reacted with varying degrees to these sub-lethal doses of venomous spores.

Conclusion: I am most allergic to pollens from grasses and trees.  Okay, that is like saying I am allergic to something everywhere I go in the world except Antarctica. I am pretty sure that whoever thought up the Spiderman comics also went through these tests, because the next course of action was to actually go to my doctor once a week and have these pollens injected into me to "build up my resistance". But, instead of taking on super-human properties like being able to stand tall during hurricanes or able to attract and control swarms of bees, these pollen-injections were supposed to make me immune to their irritating consequences.

Every time, after the poke at the doctor's office, they required me to wait out in the waiting room for 30 minutes to "make sure there was no reaction".  I did not inquire in depth about what type of response they were expecting, assuming they were talking about a puffy, hot, and sore arm (which was the norm).

One day, jacked up on antihistamines and fresh from a "treatment", I wearily sat waiting with the other patients trying to read a two-year-old Highlights magazine.  Soon I nodded my way into a "hidden picture" slumber, legs splayed and most likely drooling.  Sensing that I was not in my bed, and as foreign mutters and sounds came drifting into my subconscious, I jerked awake to find two nurses gathered around me; their faces pressed close to mine with one of them taking my pulse. 

"What is going on?" I asked trying to remain calm.

"Oh. Ahem. We were just checking to see if you'd had a reaction to the injection," they prattled, trying to act nonchalant.  I knew better. You NEVER saw nurses in the waiting room.

"What type of reaction is possible?" I mustered the courage to ask after they had removed me from the gawking crowd and back into an exam room.  

"Coma, seizure, anaphylactic shock," the nurse replied with detached emotion.

Somehow, even at 15 years of age, I determined right there and then that the risk was not worth the reward. I never went back. They never asked why.

I'm much better now.  Newer and better antihistamines have been invented; some that don't even cause drowsiness. I can drive and operate heavy machinery to my heart's content. I even look forward to the nuances of spring and all that it brings.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A revelation of the spiritual kind

The weirdest thing happened at my house the other day.  I explained the whole experience to my daughter.  "I think I have a ghost or something in my house," I told her.

I went on to relay that on Sunday I found a giant dead cockroach on the kitchen floor. I left it there and when I got home from some errands, it had moved into the cupboard next to the garbage can. That was strange.  Did someone stop by my house and intend to put it in the garbage but missed? Did the dogs move it there while sniffing around the open cabinet? It was too gross to touch so I pretended it wasn't there.

The next was GONE! "The only explanation has to be spirits," I concluded with superior intellect and uncanny reasoning. 

"Um, mom," she patiently said, "ants probably took it." She is most likely right. I've seen ants move dead insects before, but I guess I hadn't considered it because I haven't been seeing any ants hanging out at my house lately. And usually their load isn't a big honking 3" cockroach!

This has me pondering all of the wonderful applications of this newly realized phenomenon.  I've been thinking about moving my ginormous sectional sofa out of the house but every time I even think of it I give myself a mental hernia. So, by my calculations, if an ant can carry up to 50 times their own weight, all I'd need to do is smother my sofa in Nutella or peanut butter or something and fly open the sliding door. It will be out in no time! 

Unless they try taking it through the kitchen cabinetry.  That could be a problem.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

How I get things done

I'm taking a brief break from report writing. This is a "working" weekend as I try to catch up with looming deadlines and an overwhelming "to do" list.  I've already had to physically remove myself from my house to a place with less distractions and free internet: Starbucks.  Ahh, all of the comforts of home (comfortable chair, hot coffee, and air conditioning to keep me awake) are provided here.  One would think that this hustling hub of activity might deter concentrated work efforts; people walking in and out, "GRANDE LOW FAT, SOY LATTE" being shouted at regular intervals, music blaring at high enough decibels that even grandma can't help but hear it, the harsh and loud scraping of chair legs on floor tile, and the occasional boisterous laughing from someone else who has found refuge at this safe haven. But actually, there are just enough noises and distractions to be able to tune them out completely as they morph and blend into one continual loud din.  Everything except the music.

I actually wish they had a playlist you could tap into while listening to these tunes. I love hearing new artists; but if I jumped up to ask who is playing every time I heard something new, I'd never get anything done.

In a perfect world, Starbucks would offer intravenous solutions of lattes for regulars who camp here. Ideally it would be a slow-drip solution from an insulated bag, mounted on a rolling hanger for ease during those inconvenient bathroom breaks. We'd all shuffle around in here like escapees from the local hospital ward for caffeine addicts. Productivity would be very high, but the down side would be that combined nervous energy might reach a critical level resulting in internet overload and a long queue to the restroom.

As I casually observe my fellow occupants, one thing is startling clear; MacBooks are definitely in the majority. MacBooks, and iPhones. Either we are an incredibly "chic" and tech-saavy group, or only the cool kids hang at Starbucks. Except the lady next to me. She does have an iPhone but she keeps jumping up and accosting hard-working fellow escapees, I mean Sunday workers, asking for help with various applications that she has somehow miraculously put onto her phone. I am keeping my head down and avoiding eye-contact.

Well, back to the "grind" (pun intended): spreadsheets, reports and another cup of coffee.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The elusive Muse

I think I've lost my Muse. You know, the "thing" that inspires. I try to refrain from using my dogs as muses like new moms that only blog about their kids. Children create a universe all in their own. I'm trying not to replace that universe with a canine one.

What that leaves me, though, is in search for meaning in everything. "Oh, that is interesting. Should I blog about that?", I ask myself while listening about natural remedies for menopause on NPR. "Gosh, my egg-cooker has finally broken after 32 years", I muse, "should I blog about that?"

I haven't survived cancer or beaten an addiction.  My traveling abilities have been severely hampered by an empty bank account.  The most exciting thing that has happened to me in the past month is that my orchid plant has sprouted a new stem (photo to be posted soon).  I dream about work. I guiltily kill crab spiders on my deck because I hate having sticky webs wrap around my face and arms when I go outside. None of these are newsworthy or deserve an entire paragraph all for themselves (although bugs have played a large role as a muse for me in the past).

Did you know that a dog can discern if you are smiling at them? I tried it. I silently smiled at her; she stopped what she was doing, started wagging her tail, and came over to me. Ackk!  Double no-no. Topic: dogs. Length: not even a paragraph.

I may have something to blog about soon. It will be my imminent arrest for "silencing" my neighbor's dogs.  There are now 5 dogs all under 10 lb. running loose with their vocal chords working overtime. They bark at me even when I am looking out the window at them. That is just not right.  To add insult to audible injury, most of them are male and they lift their leg on everything. They all have learned, however, what comes out the end of a garden hose.  My neighbors just think that I like to water my plants. The dogs know otherwise.  If my notoriety hits the newspaper's Police Log, I'll be sure to post it.

In the meantime, I will keep searching for the perfect topics that I know you all are waiting with baited breath for. Cheers, and thanks for checking.