*GAMEBOY & THAI GASTRONOMY

While quirks and questions outweighed things I liked, it didn’t seem like reason enough to end it. I figured I’d date him until he did something that was reproachable and warranted a breakup or until we fell madly in love and got married. He was okay, so I decided I could cook him dinner.

——————————————————————————————————————————

In the spring of 2003, I was living the Hopeless Romantic life. Joe Millionaire and The Bachelorette catered to my thirst for love. I would watch both regularly on my T-VCR. It was the days when those AOL dialup discs were everywhere, enabling us to get online for free. It was also a time when many didn’t multi-task like watch TV and surf the internet simultaneously, neither did I. Like many things at that time, Yahoo Personals was also free. I did my searches before or after these two shows.yahoo personals Yahoo Personals did what it promised; it provided prospective people that could be The One. Overall many people were leery of online dating, probably because of the newness of it. Despite people still relying on traditional dating modalities, there was still a good assortment of potential future boyfriends.

I guess this is the benefit of living in a city as large as Los Angeles.

Among the assortment, I met Gameboy, a Scientologist. He was witty and smart (enough). It wasn’t until a couple dates, I learned he liked Halo, a military first-person shooter game. I’m  not sure what the object is besides shoot stuff. Gameboy loved inviting friends over for a multiplayer Halo Party. This was before flat screens TVs were readily available; most TVs still had a picture tube, which made them bulky. People would load their TVs and gaming consoles into their cars and schlep across town to play video games. I suppose it was more interactive than staying at home and logging on at a specified time, but barely. All the effort to play video games seemed ridiculous. I would have been okay if he didn’t invite me, but since he extended an invitation, I thought I had to accept. While it was interactive for them, it certainly wasn’t an interactive date. Gameboy made a half-hearted offer for me to play. I declined; I was already getting motion sick, besides I didn’t want to make him lose. I didn’t care if it was a dating faux pas, I turned down future Halo Parties.

microsoft-previewed-a-new-halo-game-out-next-year

While Gameboy’s love of first person shooter games is the thing I remember most, it was our first date that won me over. We went for Thai food in Pasadena. Similar to what I did with the Redheaded Italian, I met Gameboy at the restaurant. It was raining in Los Angeles, but we braved the big spring storm. (As I came to learn, to the local population, driving in rain is a big deal and shows you like a person.)

Gameboy didn’t change the plan like the Redheaded Italian. I didn’t need to translate like I did with Mucho Gusto. And, as far as I knew, he didn’t take comicbooks like Comicbook Crook. We drove our own vehicles to the restaurant and had a conversation in English while we waited for our dinner to arrive. It was perfect. Then the restaurant lost power.

He wished for a Mini Maglite. I hadn’t been out of college for a year and was still giddy on TV production advice I received, “If you want to work in TV production, the two things you should always have are a Mini Maglite and an 8 inch crescent wrench.”

I have both in my purse.

I rummaged in my purse and pulled out the Mini Maglite. Gameboy was pleasantly shocked. Then, he disassembled it, turning it into a candle.

maglite_candle

It was unique and romantic. I was enraptured by his ingenuity. (I didn’t know at the time, that this is a well-known feature of the Mini Maglite.)

The first date was great. The subsequent dates, not so much. Prior to the Halo Party, parts of future dates included watching him play video games with his roommate. I thought I could learn to love the quirk.

His gaming was chronic.

While quirks and questions outweighed things I liked, it didn’t seem like reason enough to end it. He didn’t care I attended church regularly and I didn’t care he had separated from the church of Scientology and that his parents and sister still attended. The me of today would see that lack of compatibility is reason enough, but again, I was an unskilled dater. I figured I’d date him until he did something that was reproachable and warranted a breakup or until we fell madly in love and got married.

He was okay, so I decided I could cook him dinner.

During dinner, somehow Gameboy and I started talking about a future family. It wasn’t our family per say; it was an amorphous family. Since he had disconnected from the church of Scientology, I didn’t think twice about letting him know what I thought about the religion he was raised with.

“If I have kids, under no uncertain terms,will I raise them with Scientology. Further, I can’t get behind a religion that started based off a bet some science fiction writer made.”

To my surprise, his hackles went up. “L. Ron. Hubbard is a great man. I don’t care that he used to write Science Fiction; his writing helped develop a lot of concepts that are important to Scientology. I might not currently practice, but it’s important to my family. I want to raise my kids with the same religion that made me me. Besides, if it’s so bad, why do so many people practice it?”

He left shortly after dessert. We hugged each other goodnight. He said he’d call, but he didn’t. I didn’t even need to break up with him. I just had to offend him.

I was so excited about my first Thai iced tea from our memorable first date, I wanted to recreate the memory. In lieu of a pre-dinner cocktail, I  made Thai iced tea. I’ve tried different recipes since then, but my favorite is from  Thai Table.

THAI ICED TEA

INGREDIENTS 

  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1 teaspoon milk
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sweetened condensed milk
  • 1-2 tablespoons Thai tea to taste

STEP-BY-STEP DIRECTIONS
1. Add sugar and sweet condensed milk to a glass or cup.
2. Put one tablespoon of Thai tea  in a tea sock or lose tea bag.
3. Place the tea  directly above the glass.
4. Pour hot water over tea.
5. Set the tea aside.
6. Steep for 5 minutes and remove.
7. Stir until the sugar and sweet condensed milk are dissolved.
8. Add ice and top the tea with milk.

Thai Iced Tea

*THE BIG SANDWICH – A CAMPING ADVENTURE

Cosby SweaterMost people would not continue to date this guy. But, our relationship was like eating bad chocolate. You eat it because it’s chocolate. You’re disappointed it’s not great. You hope the next bite will be better. So, you take another bite, certain it will be better than the last. And, when it’s not, you keep eating until that piece of chocolate is all gone and you have a bellyache.

———————————————————

I dove into the deep end dating Cosby Sweater and did the best I could with my limited dating experience. I wasn’t sure I was ready for all the “norms” of an adult relationship. But again, I had no hymen and harbored the desire to make sex with him special. Even though there was something “off” about my first sexual experience, my conscious mind did not make the connection that it was date rape.  I had planned I would give my virginity to my husband or the man that would be my husband, so I tried to rectify this sexual experience. And yes, I now realize this was insane, but mind you, I was thinking I was going to spend the rest of my life with this guy…

…or at least make it more special than a one night stand.

There was a month left of school before Cosby Sweater would graduate. One month to organize the chaos. One month to make something happen. In that month while dealing with all this new stuff, I gladly took on the caregiver role he was seeming to require. I was twenty and it seemed like the appropriate thing to do.

While we worked through early relationship kinks, we got to know each other in the traditional where are you from sense.

What was your childhood like?

“One time when my dad was beating up Mom, I had to call the police. The cops came and took him away. After he moved out, Mom divorced him. I saw him on weekends.”

Even prior to Cosby Sweater interceding on his mom’s behalf, it seemed he had always been a target of his father’s criticism. Calling the cops only further complicated their relationship. Anything in Cosby Sweater’s life was up for critique, including me.

Cosby Sweater was 5 feet 7 inches, 126 pounds; I was 4 feet 11 inches, 135 pounds. I was happy to still be shedding my freshman weight, but not happy to outweigh my boyfriend. Body image issues continued with his consistent reminders of his father’s potential criticisms, in addition to my writing major being a poor decision, my complexion was a favorite topic. Pointing out zits, Cosby Sweater gave them sound effects, like the sound of popcorn popping.

Seriously?

A boyfriend is supposed to give you complements, not point out shortcomings that are out of your control.

His observations (and sound effects) hurt my feelings. But, I rationalized and put it under “Idiosyncrasies I Need to Get Used To.”

Cosby Sweater

Most people would not continue to date this guy. But, our relationship was like eating bad chocolate. You eat it because it’s chocolate. You’re disappointed it’s not great. You hope the next bite will be better. So, you take another bite, certain it will be better than the last. And, when it’s not, you keep eating until that piece of chocolate is all gone and you have a bellyache.

I kept hoping moments with Cosby Sweater would get better. The twenty-year-old me was thinking he was preparing me for judgment of his father. I’ve since realized he learned how to judge and communicate the way his father did. I thought I could love him into the man I knew he could be. And while loving him into the man I knew he could be, the pride of having an honest-to-goodness boyfriend I could love outweighed any critique he could dish out. (Besides, I was still trying to make my first sexual experience mean something.) Cosby Sweater accepted my love and affection. He seemed to think he was justified in his actions. I was not perfect. My skin was not perfect. I was a poor example of quality girlfriend. Cosby Sweater seemed to worry that his father would think he wasn’t perfect either.

Sure enough, when I Mr. Cosby Sweater and step-mom during Graduation Weekend my “poor choice” of major and bad skin came up. On some level I respected Mr. Cosby Sweater wanted the best for his son, but was more hurt that he was as critical as predicted. I was still in college and needed time to prove I was good enough for the family. Cosby Sweater’s mom, however, did not criticize— She appreciated who I was, what I was doing with my life and where I wanted to go. She was also wowed by my kindness. At the family dinner, I met more relatives, including his cousin and her husband.

His cousin invited us on a couples-only camping trip. I felt so grownup.

It was just like the movies!

Camping

I was still nervous about sex and emotionally reeling from my first sexual experience. One night while laying in our zipped-together sleeping bags, Cosby Sweater leaned over and kissed me sweetly. He said, “two weeks after we met, I knew how I wanted to propose.”

Um. Gulp!

Counting my church camp boyfriend, PK, this was only my second relationship. I wasn’t quite ready for marriage, but the idea of a future proposal helped me reconcile the sex out of marriage; it made me feel like this relationship was heading somewhere… Even though I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to marry Cosby Sweater. In fact, I was pretty sure I didn’t want to marry him. Being very curious I asked him how he was going to propose. He said I would have to wait until it actually happened.

Damn!

I guess I better see if I can  actually be okay with this sex thing.

Marriage CartoonWhile erasing the bad from the my first sexual experience, this non-proposal piqued my need to understand Cosby Sweater more. It’s not real life, but I was hoping that with love he would be the man I needed. Some may consider our one month of dating would qualify him as a stranger, but I had a large emotional investment and had figured out ways to love him. Besides, a couples-only weekend was a way for us to get to know each other better. We talked to the cousin-couple about relationships, food and cooking. More importantly, I was introduced to Cosby Sweater’s Big Sandwich. Rather, the recipe was his cousin’s. As she explained her method of constructing this gargantuan sandwich, she winked and said, “it is a two hand job.”

Maybe, her husband was a two-hand job. Nothing about Cosby Sweater required two hands.  

The best thing I got from this relationship was the Big Sandwich. As with most recipes I learn, I typically find a way to make them better. I’ve tested different assembly orders of the contents, but the order below gives proper flavor balance. Some reasons are for practicality (you don’t want cheese next to tomatoes due to a chemical reaction that can happen), but the rest is for taste and presentation.

INGREDIENTS:
Round loaf of bread (about a pound; I prefer pumpernickel since it has more flavor oomph for this recipe)
Pesto
Black pitted Olives (sliced on horizontal bias)
Roasted Red Pepper
Tomato
Meat** (can replace with cucumber cut on vertical bias)
Cheese
Sweet Onion
Lettuce

ROASTED PEPPERS

Grateful I had a stash of roasted peppers!

THE REST:

1. Slice the top off the round loaf. (It’ll become a lid of sorts, so you don’t want to make it too thin/thick/uneven.)

SLICE TOP(Rather than slicing the top straight off, I turn the loaf, making a perforated cut around the circumferance of the top. By doing this, it helps to ensure that your top is even.)

2. Hollow out the bread, leaving some room for the walls.

IMG_3847(To help with hollowing out, take a cerated knife and cut along the edges. It is more efficient than grabbing fistfuls of bread innards.)

3. Layer your ingredients it the same order they’re listed above. (Don’t do more than one layer each, if you’re too generous with your ingredients, the sandwich will fall apart.)

4. Slice the sandwich like a pie. (You should be able to get 8 pie-shaped pieces.)

MIDDLE
5. Skewer each piece with a large toothpick.

IMG_3855

Featured Bread: Artisan Beer Boule

6. Keep the sandwich wedges in their circular shape; wrap the whole sandwich in aluminum foil.

7. Refrigerate. (Tastes should have time to commingle and get to know one another before having a party in your mouth- 24 hours is ideal.)

TIPS:

You can typically preorder your bread boule from your local bakery. When you do this, you can specify the size.  (You’ll want a loaf that is 1 pond or more.) Also, pumpernickel is often overlooked, and I’ve often had to special order this flavor.

Budget about 1.5 hours for prep, assembly and cleanup.

FALLING APART

While slicing, sometimes, one wedge falls apart. That’s when you eat the evidence.

*A STOLEN FIRST KISS

In spite of the “unconventional” beginnings, I continued to date Cosby Sweater. I hoped that by pouring out love and affection, he would mirror my actions and love me the same way in return. I was hoping that this would not only make him into the man he could be, it would make him into the man I needed. —————————————————————————————————————- I had a crush on a friend freshman year of college, but he had a crush on Michelle Kwan. Despite all our study sessions and meals together, we did not date. Darn! Michelle Kwan I left that school, transferring to a college in Boston. Prior to beginning my new college, there was camp. I always felt at home in my skin there, and the summer of 1999 was no different. Even with my weight-loss and now shared senior-staff status with PK, my camp boyfriend from the previous year, he was not interested. Despite his aloofness, camp as it always did bolstered my confidence. That summer, The Kid from Long Island was on first year staff. His affection was obvious, as he followed me around like a puppy and babbled cute little things to me. Not only was he still in high school, at barely sixteen, he was the youngest member on staff. He was such a child. But, yay! Someone has a crush on me! Camp buoyed me and allowed me to step into more of myself in the outside world. I was still inherently shy and I still had difficulty walking into a room of strangers, but this confidence shot in the arm made transferring colleges easier. It allowed me to walk into those rooms with strangers and feel less awkward. During the first week of my new school I made friends and immediately found a home with the TV production people. I was and forced to be more outgoing than I ever was. We gorged on war stories of the entertainment industry and spent long days working on set or late evenings in pre-production meetings. To recharge, before or after these meetings, in solitude, I wrote. We further satiated our appetites by reading things like The Mail Room, The Hollywood Reporter’s annual “Women in Entertainment Power 100” (I would constantly re-read mine until the following year came out), Is That a Gun in Your Pocket or Hello He Lied. I wanted to be like Nora Ephron, Sherry Lansing, Nancy Meyers, Lynda Obst… Naturally, when the opportunity came to go to Manhattan with my school and meet working entertainment alumni, I was there. The weekend was an intensive networking/career building event. On a tour of the Late Show with David Letterman, I met a guy in a Bill Cosby Sweater. I shared self-conscious flirty smiles with him. He sat next to me during one of the lectures, we shared an elevator ride and dinner that evening. I learned he was a senior getting ready to graduate. His best friend was attending New York University. He invited me to have drinks with them and some of her friends at a dive bar in Greenwich Village. (How grown up.) Even though I was only 20, I accepted. This was the closest thing to a date I’d ever been on. I sat next to Cosby Sweater. The friends talked about their first presidential election they voted in. I realized I was only in junior high while they were having this milestone. They taught me how to order drinks when you’re underage. I felt incredibly out of place. Cosby Sweater squeezed my knee, and I knew I was going to be okay. I had one drink because I didn’t like breaking the law and I didn’t want to be out of control. I drank slowly and enjoyed this very adult moment. Times Square Cosby Sweater and I went back to our hotel in Times Square. He even walked me back to the mini suite I was staying in with my weekend roommate. I was expecting maybe a kiss goodnight, at the most. He came in and we hung out with her in the modest living room until she went to bed. I was attracted to Cosby Sweater and had those great nervous butterflies, but I wasn’t accustomed to the attention he was giving me… flirting, touching… He gave me a back rub and I politely fended off his advances. We kissed some more and I told him I was tired. He asked to join me. My emotions were sitting between dizzying panic of sleeping next to a boy and an extreme worry of not wanting to be rude and make him sleep in his own room. I agreed. The bedroom was a standard hotel room two full-size beds, and a nightstand assigned to each. No sex until marriage. It was a solid plan. My “no sex decree” wasn’t inspired by my time working at church camp. It certainly wasn’t inspired by mainstream media. It was an idea set forth by my public high school Humanities teacher: “Wait until marriage. Your virginity is the only gift you can give once.” It was incredibly romantic. I loved giving gifts. THIS was the ultimate “I like you” gift. While my weekend roommate slept soundly in the bed next to me, Cosby Sweater took my “I like you gift.” I felt detached, like I was watching myself in the third person. I was scared and frustrated I didn’t have my gift to give. I scrambled to make the misstep out of marriage ok. The crazy thing is, is: This wasn’t making love; it was date rape. But, I didn’t know that at the time. When Cosby Sweater and I woke up the next morning, the roommate was already gone. Cosby Sweater walked to the window and peeled back the shade; it was a window to nothing. It was as if the building had folder over on itself. House keeping came by. The sheets were ruined. Shit! It was an awkward morning. I’ve never had sex before and wasn’t entirely clear how we should act. Do we hold hands? Do we not hold hands? Do we pretend like it’s not a big deal? I don’t know how people act after they have sex for the first time. All I could think of was Tom Hanks in Big and how he gave everyone high 5’s and started drinking coffee and went as far as to take it black. I did not feel that way. But Cosby Sweater and I sat next to each other in the remaining weekend lectures and even on the bus ride home. I was embarrassed and frightened. My brain went into overdrive to rectify everything. I wanted to erase what Cosby Sweater did and worked to reconcile the events of New York. By making a relationship work, everything would be okay. I’d visit Cosby Sweater in his dorm room. If things got too heated (and they often did), my nerves sent me fleeing back to my room. I was on a seesaw. I wasn’t ready for an intimate relationship, but here I was hymen-less. I had to make this relationship work. That’s what people do, right? Marry the first person they sleep with? Part of my inability to see that it was date rape was my naïveté and part of it was the vitriol that women were fed, and it was always some permutation of NO: “no” and “no means no.” Other phrases like “stop” or “get off me” were not part of the “say no to rape” catchphrases we learned at a time before the rule of “Yes Means Yes.” I cordoned off my first sexual experience and locked it and the miserable memories associated with it in a room to wither and die. In spite of the “unconventional” beginnings, I continued to date Cosby Sweater. I hoped that by pouring out love and affection, he would mirror my actions and love me the same way in return. I was hoping that this would not only make him into the man he could be, it would make him into the man I needed. We dated all through my junior year and broke up in the summer going into my senior year. Boston Public Garden Senior year was transformative. It was also the year where other media students and I were involved with a group that was collaborating with the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC) and the Boston PD to produce a rape awareness video. The video would be shown to incoming college students in the greater-Boston area. The message was twofold: educate them about available resources and teach them they’re not alone. Doing this work, I learned that one in four college women are raped or sexually assaulted. Holy shit! Those are some crazy statistics. Holy shit! That’s me! I submitted a script pulling from my experience. The three members of BARCC, who were liaising between the center and the college told me the script was too dramatic. Really? My script was essentially a cry for help. Now, the very people whose duty it was to assist rape victims through their work at the Rape Crisis Center were telling me my script was not accurate. Their inability to see the cry and listen to my explanation of camera movements showing how the victim would feel detached from everything after a rape made me feel like my experience was invalid. I knew if I confronted Cosby Sweater to tell him he raped me, he’d cry. I’m sorry I hurt your feelings. It’s okay you raped me. You didn’t know any better. After he’d be done crying, he’d say it wasn’t rape and then blame me for not wanting to have sex. He is one of those Accidental Rapists, one of those people who admits to having sex with a person against their will, but doesn’t view their actions as rape. The article points out if the R word isn’t mentioned, more people are willing to admit to doing it. Cosby Sweater’s misconception of rape doesn’t make him any less culpable and it doesn’t make him any less rapey. I do not want to even consider confronting him. For a time after the incident and moments since then, I felt I could no longer connect to things that were enjoyable. Food on occasion became more of a necessity— Fuck what am I going to eat? I have to eat something. In the weeks and months after the rape, life started becoming filled with more moments of yawning indifference. I even became fed up with long-distance dedications on the radio and witnessing the smallest romantic gesture in other couples made my stomach turn. Sex for may years was an enigma, often times scary, un-enjoyable and even one of those duties one must subject themselves to (like doing dishes). To my soul, the rape was like taking a crystal vase, dropping it on the floor and trying to put it back together. There really isn’t an amount of glue that will repair it. Talking about rape is one of those things that people push off. It’s taboo. It makes people uncomfortable. It’s one of those things that shouldn’t happen. A dialogue needs to happen. But, people’s inability to have an open discussion or burring a discussion within a blog shows how uncomfortable the discussion of rape is. While not admitting it was rape right away, I knew there wasn’t something right about my first sexual experience. I couldn’t deal with it. Admitting I was raped seemed inaccurate. A dream. How can I be the victim of rape? Over the years I’ve tried to rewrite history, to talk myself out of it. Then, I reread things like Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Cage Bird Sings or Patricia Lockwood’s “The Rape Joke,” and I’m thrust back into the reality. No, I’m one of the four. Somewhere in my dating life, I was able to get back to enjoying romance, making other people happy and even cooking for them (out of affection). But, while traveling I still can’t and won’t stay in the same brand of hotel where the rape occurred _____________________________________________________________ SIDEBAR The issue with rape and sexual assault among college students is that the crisis is large. Many victims remain silent. Their silence and the lack of help from their college or university goes beyond resources, college-sanctioned alcohol consumption, state laws and sexual mores. In trying to find contemporary material while making peace with my past, I found many articles on the subject. One that really spoke to me and helps shine a light on the many angles of the problem is  an editorial by Jed Rubenfeld. In his editorial, “Mishandling Rape,” (published in The New York Times, November 15, 2014), Rubenfeld takes time to carefully unpack the elements of rape among college students. In it, he looks at historical social mores and current trends while calling for a transformation of colleges. As an outsider who is over 10 years out of college, I can see that colleges have come a long way. It’s not enough. Cultural change won’t happen over night, but we need to keep advocating change.

*A SECOND YEAR, A SECOND THANKSGIVING (Part 1)

“Sonodoro’s letters had the same perfect grammar & spelling.  But, instead of being filled with kindness and blatant romantic plagiarism, they were now filled with disappointment and to-do lists…”

——————————–

Sonodoro changed. He was not the same sensitive poet he was when met. Oprah told us to write daily letters to each other because we weren’t communicating well. We took her suggestion to heart, hoping it would help.

It did not.

3-21-14 Starbucks

The Starbucks where we met and everything was wonderful.

Sonodoro’s letters still had the same perfect grammar (and spelling) they had two years ago. But, instead of being filled with kindness and blatant romantic plagiarism, they were now filled with disappointment and to-do lists.

The butterflies I once got when I saw his name on the caller ID were replaced with palpations of anxiety or feelings of crushing despondence. He was angry a lot. His grand ideas of getting published lost their magic when I slowly realized they were merely dreams.

I thought I could love him into the man he could be.

I introduced him to my church, figuring he’d love the Sunday night service as much as me. After all, the service was geared towards young professionals and it even had praise rock band. That church and  my friends there were important to me. But, I turned down joining a single women’s small group so I could spend more time with Sonodoro. Rather than accepting my faith and encouraging me to grow it, he gave me a pouch of gemstones and started carrying one of his own. Each had different healing and metaphysical property. There was malachite to protect from evil, hematite to help balance body/mind/spirit, tiger eye for good fortune, rose quartz for peace and calm, the list goes on. . .

I didn’t believe in the power of the gemstones, but I started skipping church every now and then. Eventually, the gaps in my attendance grew larger and larger until I stopped going all together. Now, instead of having time apart, we had cranky Sunday nights together.

Sonodoro slipped into an angry and depressive state, which he often pushed on me. The natural consequence of his actions made me angry, depressed and self-loathing. I wrote some, but was stifled by the toxic living environment.  If it weren’t for weekly meetings with my writing group, I probably wouldn’t have written at all (or left the apartment).

After Sonodoro lost his translating job, getting and holding work was difficult. Miraculously, he found  jobs in food service and was working semi-regularly.  I worked Monday-Saturday. If we both had Sunday off, he often wanted to spend it with best friend, Shaggy. (Perhaps the allegiance came from when Shaggy bonded him out of jail, but I think their friendship is why Shaggy found it necessary to help post bond.) Since our hours together were mainly regulated to sleeping, I wanted Sonodoro to spend Sunday with me. He could always see Shaggy while I was at one of my jobs. Sometimes he did.

Often, he did.

And, often, I’d come home to an apartment filled with smoke from cigarettes and pot. The rationale was that Shaggy’s fiancé didn’t want them smoking in their apartment. Apparently, the very same feelings I had weren’t nearly as important as her’s.

10-10-14 Shaggy w Sandwiches

Sonodoro was growing increasingly harder to love. His managers thought so too. He usually lasted just over a month in his food service jobs before they found reasons to decrease his hours and eventually fire him. The job he held down the longest was working at a pet crematorium. In twisted irony, sometimes, he would pick up jobs as a dog walker.

10-10-14 Pet Cremation

By the end our two and a half years, I was working one full time job and one part time job. He was occasionally working. When I’d come home from work and ask how his day was, he’d respond, “It’s just a day.”

I stopped asking.

Sonodro and I broke up multiple times in that last year. In one of our breakups he told me  it hurt his feelings I stopped asking how his day was. In the most measured tone I could muster, I explained, “why would I ask? All I get is, ‘it’s just a day.’ It’s like touching an electric fence.”

In spite of our difficulty to live harmoniously,  Sonodoro pushed for me to spend more time at home. I watched Super Bowl XXXIX with my writing group. He called 10 minutes after the last touchdown. He kept calling until I picked up.  We had a short conversation. I went home. When I got there, in a less measured tone, I yelled at him.

This relationship was unraveling fast.

10-10-14 Unravel

We had another breakup fight a couple weeks later during an El Nino storm. Sonodoro was going to walk and spend the night at his mother’s, which was over 10 miles away. Compassion outweighing anger, with tears in my eyes, I suggested he stay the night and wait ‘til morning (when it wasn’t raining).

Morning came and it was like the breakup didn’t happen.

Shit.

We continued in our toxic relationship. I called my now divorced sister, who reminded me, “if things are bad when you’re dating it only gets worse when you’re married.” Sonodoro and I had gone well-past the expiration date, but the idea of leaving was difficult.

He didn’t hit me or anything. . .

Is dissatisfaction a good enough reason to leave?

*THANKSGIVING TAMALES

“While out of our New England norm, it WAS culturally relevant to eat tamales… With all the tamales I ate on previous visits, I knew my favorite were the ones  wrapped in banana leaves. As I ate through my tamale that Thanksgiving, I got something unexpected…”

Banana Leaf Tamale

Banana Leaf Tamale

Sonodoro’s arrest put a big strain on our relationship. Sure, he was bonded him out of jail (using the car of his best friend’s fiancée). He was able to stay out because the judge gave him community service. But, somewhere before the kidney stones or after the arrest he lost his decent-paying full time job translating and transcribing Spanish commercials to English. His “I hate the world and all my managers are idiots” attitude didn’t curry favor with his supervisors and his inability to keep these jobs put added stress on the remaining “relationship” we had. I was growing increasingly frustrated he wasn’t committing to turning his life around and be the man I needed. I kept trying to fix him and love him into the man I knew he could be.

He was growing harder to love. . . and fix.

My friends who were vocal about their dislike remained steadfast in their dislike, but supported me as I dealt with his undesirable behavior. I maintained mild optimism I could fix this, but my baby sister advised me, “If there’s something you don’t like when you’re dating, it only gets worse when you’re married.” She should know; she was separated from her husband after a year and a half.

I contemplated an exit strategy.

That fall, Nature Chick, my baby sister and I decided the best thing to do was celebrate Thanksgiving together. She and her husband drove 14 hours from Salt Lake City, UT for a visit.

Despite Nature Chick and I holding our unhappiness in, we made the most of it. We still giggle about my cupboards. She marveled I arranged them by nationality. I thought it was an extremely intelligent way to organize. She thought it looked like segregation.

I had a lot to be thankful for that Thanksgiving— Sonodoro was not in jail and I had my sister with me. For dinner, the four of us piled into my SUV, with Nature Chick hiding the secret she knew about Sonodoro’s arrest. When we got to his mother’s apartment, the doors opened revealing the world of glitter and tchotchkes from quinceaneras, trips around Southern California (like Universal Studios and Sea World) and to Latin and South America. My brother-in-law’s reaction was priceless— His face was filled with wonder and fear all at once.

quincera tchotchkes

Even though Sonodoro was growing harder to love, I still loved him and I was thankful to celebrate Thanksgiving with him and his family and not by visiting a jail.  Sonodoro’s mother had a lot to be thankful for too. She thought Sonodoro and I were close to marriage, especially with the visit of Nature Chick and her husband. With the blonde hair and light complexion I looked like the All-American girl and I was her American Dream.

Despite mismanaging her diabetes and poor parenting skills, Sonodoro’s mom was a master at entertaining. She was able to turn her one-bedroom apartment into a comfortable place to feed many. Grandma’s bed was still off her corner of the common room and a banquet table took up the rest of the area. Sonodoro’s brother was there with his family of four and the15 year old sister was there with her boyfriend. All totaled, there were 12 people over the age of 15 and two kids, one seven the other eight.

The guest of honor lounged on the table, looking like the love child of a Thanksgiving turkey and Hawaiian ham. The turkey may have well just come from a Hawaiian Tropic photo shoot. The sugar glistened like it was lacquered for optimum photographic excellence and it wore accouterment of pineapple rings and maraschino cherries. This was slightly (sarcasm) different than the New England Thanksgiving Nature Chick and I grew up with and only served enhanced the deep homesickness we were both feeling.

hawaiian tropic

Sonodoro’s niece and nephew ran amuck and their parents didn’t seem to care. Nature Chick and I were appalled. Not only did the parents not encourage the children to eat with the family, they ate chicken nuggets. ON THANKSGIVING OF ALL THINGS!

Chicken nuggets were not special. They were not culturally relevant to my Guatemalan boyfriend his Mexican sister-in-law or my Jewish brother-in-law. They are boring and something you pop in the oven when you need dinner but are too tired to cook.

Eating chicken nuggets on Thanksgiving is sacrilege!

There’s something about the holidays that makes one a little more optimistic. That Thanksgiving the kernel of optimism spoke through my despair. I told Sonodoro that when we had kids they would not be permitted to eat chicken nuggets on Thanksgiving and they would eat dinner with the rest of the family. He was cranky that I was criticizing his brother (which miffed me), explained that it was easier to feed the kids first, but ultimately agreed with me.

While out of our New England norm, it WAS culturally relevant to eat tamales. I had eaten multiple tamales while visiting Sonodoro’s family and knew that my favorite were the chicken ones wrapped in banana leaves. As I ate through my tamale that Thanksgiving, I got something unexpected–

I found it to be  as empty as my relationship with Sonodoro and my aversion to continuing the relationship was renewed. Instead of finding chicken, I found an old chicken bone that someone decided to reuse after eating the chicken off.

I almost lost my dinner.

I composed myself  and pushed the rest of the tamale to the edge of my plate. Wary of what I may find if I had another tamale, I asked for a helping of turkey. Sonodoro said he thought I liked banana leaf tamales; I tried to quietly explain to  what happened, but nothing could be quiet in that family. Sonodoro was upset which made his older brother  (33 years old) upset and then the brother yelled at the mom (in spanglish), asked her where she bought the tamales and how could she buy from someone who would do that. With my high school level Spanish, I understood that she bought them from someone locally. That person needed money and she wanted to help. Sonodoro gave his exasperated, “Ma,” that he always used in situations like this (when she would use her money to help someone even though she was struggling). The family insisted that she get her money back and not buy from them other again. I tried to defuse the situation giving a “No te preocupes. Todo esta bien.” (Don’t worry about it. It’s all good.)
Thank goodness! The kids wanted dessert and we could get this conversation over with. We had pastry and sweet bread from the local panaderia.

PanaderiaIn addition to being introduced to tamales and sweet breads, Nature Chick discovered the unpredictable personality of Sonodoro’s mother. We both cleared our plates to the kitchen (while her husband and Sonodoro stayed at the table). I left, expecting her to follow me, but Nature Chick stayed in the kitchen to help. Now, many hostesses would playfully banter with their guests or use soft language if they didn’t want help. Even with a language barrier, a simple, “no thank you” (which I had her use on occasion) and gentle push out of the kitchen would suffice. Not Sonodoro’s mother. She yelled at my sister and hit her until she left the kitchen.

We left shortly after.

BANANA LEAF TAMALES WITH CHICKEN (and not just the bone)

This recipe is inspired by Joe Pastry.

INGREDIENTS:

DOUGH
1 1/3 cups Crisco
1 ½ tsp salt
1 ½ tsp baking powder
3 ½ cups masa harina mixed
2 ¼ cups warm water, vegetable stock, or chicken broth

FILLING
4 pounds tomatillos husked and washed
2 chilies (optional/to taste)
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ TBS olive oil
2 cups low-salt chicken broth
4 cups coarsely shredded cooked chicken
2/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

And of course…

2 pkg banana leaves

CHICKEN FILLING: (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.)

Preheat broiler. Line heavy baking sheet with foil. Arrange tomatillos on prepared sheet. Broil until tomatillos blacken in spots, turning once, about 5 minutes per side. When done, transfer tomatillos and any juices to processor and cool. Add chilies and garlic to processor and blend until smooth puree forms. Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add tomatillo puree and cook on boil for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add broth. Reduce heat to medium; simmer until sauce coats spoon thickly and is reduced to 1 cup, stirring occasionally, about 40 minutes. Season with salt. Mix in chicken and cilantro. *As an alternate filling, homemade refried black beans works well.

 

DOUGH:
Using electric mixer OR heavy spoon, beat Crisco with salt and baking powder, in large bowl until fluffy. Slowly beat in masa harina. Reduce gradually beat in 1 1/2 cups broth or stock, forming tender dough. If dough seems firm, beat in enough broth, 2 tablespoons at a time, to soften. (*If using an electric mixer, reduce speed!)

banana leaf

THE REST:

1. Cut banana leaves into pieces about 10″ x 10″ (discard stiff stems), then pass the pieces slowly over a gas or electric stove burner to soften them. They’ll become shiny as the waxes on the leaf melt — that tells you they’re done. (Please hold them with tongs so you don’t burn yourself.)

2. With one softened leaf cut strips that are 10 inches long by about 1/4 inch wide. Set strips aside. You will need these later for securing tamales.

3. In a large pot, put your steamer basket. Fill with 2 cups of water.

BUILDING EACH TAMALE:

1. On a flat work surface, place leaf.
2. Spread ¼ cup dough in 4-inch square all the way to one side.
3. Spoon heaping tbs filling in stripe down center of each dough square.
4. Now, like giftwrapping a present: Fold sides of leaf over filling and then fold top and bottom sides to cover.

 

Tamale tied

Tie with strip of leaf to secure. Stand tamales in steamer basket.

 

 

Steamer Basket SmallSteamer Basket Large

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Repeat.

*Point to note- Banana leaves are not uniform and sometimes have tears and holes. Be creative using your leaf.  To be green, I try to use only the leaf, but I often see tamales wrapped in aluminum foil.

If necessary to keep tamales upright in steamer, insert pieces of crumpled foil between them.

Bring water in pot to boil. Cover pot and steam tamales until dough is firm to touch (about 45 minutes on a medium low heat). Given that each stovetop is different, at 30 minutes check water level. Add more water if necessary. Let stand 10 minutes.

Tamales can be made 2 days ahead of eating. If you’re going to use another day, Cool 1 hour before chilling. To reheat, re-steam tamales until hot, about 35 minutes. Otherwise, ENJOY!

dancing tamales

 

*A SECOND FIRST KISS

Junior High is the worst period of everyone’s life. If anyone tells you, “I loved junior high;” punch them. They’re lying. To make this terrible benchmark of my young life worse, Health Class was morose. You’d think teaching health topics like, “good nutrition” or “ advances in the medicine” would be a priority. Not a chance. For three years straight, it was all about Sexual Transmitted Diseases. We watched movies like “Captain Condom” and learned how to catch/not catch herpes, gonorrhea, chlamydia, hepatitis (A, B, & C), Bacterial Vaginosis, HPV, syphilis, crabs, scabies, Trichomoniasis, HIV/AIDS. (Contracting some of the disorders is as easy as sitting on a toilet seat.) If we were lucky, we got a reprieve and learned about teen pregnancy and alcoholism.

2-21-14 Captain Condom

Welcome to Health Class in the early ‘90s.

I had my second first kiss during this time.

When I was 14 (and in the eighth grade) my friend Evie invited me to go camping with her. I was dismayed when I arrived and found out “camping” meant going with her on her weekend visitation to see her dad at the trailer park.

2-21-14 Trailer Park

We barely saw him.

She hung out with five highly-unsupervised boys and the chosen activity was Truth or Dare. Dares involved, up the shirt (sometimes under/over shirt), down the pants, kissing, French kissing, and any sex act the boys could think of. It never involved eating something nasty or doing something crazy. My kissing experience was limited to Robbie Nelson when I was eight. Aside from my extreme shyness, I only knew Evie and this heightened my anxiety about not knowing how to kiss on the lips. What if I did it wrong? What if they laughed at me? I don’t know these boys; do I really want my first kiss to be with someone I don’t know? I was near tears. I refused the first kissing Dare, but was told I couldn’t pass. I refused any kind of Dare that involved some derivation of sex. (They were okay with it, but it didn’t stop them from giving me the dare again a couple turns later.)

It was a cards-on-the-table kind of game and we performed the dares in front of each other. I did kiss incorrectly. And, they did laugh. My “friend” recited her step-by-step kissing manual. It I was beyond miserable and hated every moment of the weekend. I was “busy” for every future “camping” trip.

Even though all I did that very terrible weekend was awkward junior high making out, with the heavy-handed dose of sex-education we received in school, I was convinced I contracted something, or worse, was pregnant. I wasn’t thinking clearly; I hadn’t even had my first period. Let alone have sex. It took time for me to rationalize myself out of the panic:, but I eventually breathed a sigh of relief after deducing I dodged the teen pregnancy bullet. Later, I learned one important fact in Health Class, “you’d have to drink a 5 gallon bucket of saliva from an infected person to get an STD.” I’m not sure how scientific that statement is, but I breathed a little easier.

Between Health Class and that weekend, it no wonder why my fear of boys was reinforced. And made me keep a good distance for years to come.

Sexless STDs:

Drink a 5 gallon bucket of saliva from an infected person.

2-21-14 5 gallon bucket

*FIRST KISS SURPRISE

It probably won’t be a surprise to you, but I was quiet in elementary school. My sweet and quiet demeanor endeared me to teachers, and some boys (I was clueless at the time), and my short stature regulated me to the front row. Often, misbehaved boys shared the row with me so teachers could keep an eye on their shenanigans. Robbie Nelson was one of these boys. He played ice hockey in a local pewee team and is probably why for many years I was drawn to men that were tall and broad. He was a good foot taller than me and was incredibly strong.

Robbie is an October baby. He invited me to every party since Kindergarten, and by the time his third-grade birthday rolled around, I knew the benchmarks. His birthdays were organized chaos. We played in leaf piles, his dad taught us how to make paper airplanes, his little brother would get stuck in a tree and we would watch his dad coaxed him out. I was usually the only girl.

When my dad came to pick me up from his eighth birthday, Robbie walked me to the kitchen. His mom cajoled him, “Don’t you have something to give Sarah?” He gave me a Trapper-Keeper folder with a neon-heart (this was the 80’s after-all) and a kiss on the cheek.

 Image

Holy smokes! It was a magical as rainbows and unicorns. My dad being a good man didn’t say anything about this kiss. During the car ride back, he simply asked me if I had fun.

 Image

Of course I did!!!

Then, I went into my head, reflecting on the most contemporary media I was watching at the time: The Flintstones. After meeting her actor-crush, Betty Rubble was vehement to Wilma that she wouldn’t wash her hands. That’s how I felt; I didn’t want to wash my cheek. Being dutiful, I didn’t question my parents’ authority when they told me to wash my face before I went to bed.  Oh well.

Since then there have only been a few men that have given me a kiss that has elicited the same excitement I felt that day.

POPCORN BALL RECIPE:

As part of the birthday delicacies, there were always popcorn balls.

Popcorn balls are one of those foods that are often over-looked. Making your own for hostess gifts etc. gives what might be considered a mundane gift a little extra panache.

I find that being generous with the marshmallow (and using mini marshmallows) makes for an easier popcorn ball making experience and on the whole a more flavorful popcorn ball. I like the Kraft Foods recipe and have modified it only slightly to suit my cooking preferences.

INGREDIENTS

¼ cup  (1/2 stick) butter or margarine

4 cups mini marshmallows (or 40 large jet-puffed)

½ tsp.  vanilla

¼ tsp.  salt

3qt.  (12 cups) plain popped popcorn (air popped or stove popped)

OPTIONAL: A squirt of dye.

DIRECTIONS

MELT butter in large saucepan on low heat. Add marshmallows, vanilla and salt; cook until marshmallows are completely melted and mixture is well blended, stirring constantly.

PLACE popcorn in large bowl. Add marshmallow mixture; mix lightly to coat.

SHAPE into 10 (3-inch) balls with lightly greased hands. Place on sheets of waxed paper; let stand until firm.

*To make mixing easier, separate popcorn into 3 large bowls and evenly distribute marshmallow mixture between them. This way all the popcorn will be coated evenly.

Image

Special Thanks to The Party Animal Blog for use of the picture.

*IN THE BEGINNING

There was loneliness. 

I was painfully shy growing up and had major body image issues that made me feel like Quasimodo. These insecurities led me to being nearly mute around people I considered close friends. My friendship circle consisted of people I barely spoke to, people that made me feel like I was on a rollercoaster and my sister. Even though I felt close to those I was nearly mute around, we didn’t hang out beyond school walls. Through it all and despite typical sibling disagreements, my sister was my closest friend. It was hard enough for me to make friends, the idea of making myself vulnerable to date was incomprehensible.

When I was in high school, the contemporary version of Sabrina was released. I immediately connected. I wanted that beauty, class, and for men to see my full potential. (I subsequently saw Billy Wilder’s version and fell in love with the food.) When I was younger I desperately hoped by traveling away from my hometown I would magically transform into a sophisticated woman men would fight over.

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From Paramount Pictures’ 1995 Remake of Sabrina.

I first moved to Boston (where I have the esteem of being the subject of a drunken bar fight…), then I moved to Los Angeles (no bar fights yet). The internal me still sees myself as squatty (I’m 5 feet tall) and painfully shy. Genetics doomed me to being short, but, like Sabrina, life experiences changed and matured me (like a fine wine).

Nonetheless, dating has still been a challenge.

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From Paramount Pictures’ 1954 Sabrina. Here, the baron explains why Sabrina’s souffle did not rise.

I almost went to culinary school, but didn’t want a career cooking for strangers. I realized my inadequate dating skills could benefit from my love of cooking. I’ll be the first to admit that my favorite part of dating is cooking, and I’ve probably overlooked some early incompatibility signs all for the excuse to get into the kitchen. Going on dates with the goal of it leading to the kitchen gives the experience a unique shape. I like learning about people and using food preferences to steer the conversation. “You like Mexican. You don’t like bell peppers. Oh, you have a peanut allergy…” These are important points to know when you’re preparing your first meal for the object of your affection. While many practice the “traditional 3 date standard” before they give up the goods, it’s usually 3 dates before I cook.

I had one long-term relationship in college, followed by another in my mid-twenties with a third in my early thirties. Sprinkled around these three questionably long relationships are men. Some got to my kitchen (and only my kitchen), and some stories are included because the early dates were such a fantastic disaster it’d be criminal not to include them.

When you first like someone, you look for the smallest thing to connect to: “You breathe air, oh my God, me too! We’re meant to be together.”  It has been a work in progress, but I’ve figured out what I need (and it’s more than the similarity of breathing air).