Friday, June 26, 2009

The Death of the King of Pop

As I write this, I'm playing Thriller. As I placed the needle down on the record, I paused and couldn't figure out why I was doing it now. As some sort of memorial to Michael Jackson, though it's not as though his music is going to go away. And yet the time is right. As I searched in the crates for it, I laughed a bit thinking what if that were true and on the instant of his death, all those 28 million copies of Thriller (and everything else as well) vanished.

The only way most of us knew MJ was through his music and then, unfortunately, through his increasingly eccentric behavior, culminating in the child molestation trials, which were all hazy and we still have no idea what was true and what wasn't. Jackson was admired and then met with the scorn that so often follows popularity. Do we remember the disgust with which his name was spoken during the trial? The way we laughed when he showed up to court in PJ's? The confusion and anger people felt towards him when he dangled a baby out a hotel window?

Unlike his music, with his death, most of that falls away. Of course the media mentions it, but only to paint a picture of a man who suffered. A man whose life was lived almost entirely in the spotlight. He was working like an adult at the age of ten, is it any surprise his body gave out at 50 like that of an 80 year old? It's tragic but we all took part in this tragedy by being media hungry fans, first by expecting anything at all from a ten year child who could sing and dance then later by snickering at his antics, by talking about him as if he was anything other than a human like us. Of course, he was responsible for his actions as well and perhaps his expectations for himself were too high, were too much for anyone to bear (outselling Thriller would be impossible). But it was our pop-loving fickle society that fed those expectations.

And now Michael Jackson the person is gone. Strange to think that such a distant figure should seemingly impact us all by ceasing to exist. And yet, here it is, he has not ceased to exist. The body is no longer breathing, the mind no longer thinking, but the Michael we know is the Michael imprinted onto vinyl or digitized into MP3's. It is here where we can say and really mean it, the king is dead. Long live the king.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pita Bread

I love figuring out how to make things at home from scratch. A lot of people think it's insane; why make something when you can buy it premade by someone else? Well, cost for one thing, and the sheer joy of attempting something and succeeding at it for another. Also, I really enjoy working with my hands and watching step by step as the thing is assembled. I could wax on about the joy of being self sufficient, but I'll save that for another post.

Tonight I made pitas. This was not my first attempt at making them, but it was the first time they turned out just right. I have in the past prepped the dough and let it sit in the fridge for anywhere from 3 days to a week. And the pitas wouldn't puff very well. This time, however, I only let the dough rest overnight. This resulted in the dough not drying out as much and so the pitas puffed much better. That's my theory at least.

I also attempted making one on the skillet instead of in the oven. It didn't puff nearly as well but got that kind of crunchy crust that you get when you fry bread. I think however, that I'll stick to using my baking stone in an incredibly hot oven. (As an aside, though I'm a bit perplexed by the fact that the weather isn't too summery yet, I am rather glad because I've been able to keep baking without making the house unbearable. Yeah, no AC).

I used the recipe from the Bread Bible, which is truly an awesome book for anyone interested in baking bread. It's basically the same recipe as for pizza dough except that you knead the bread longer and let it rest a bit more. When I say rest, I really mean rise. With pizza dough, I let it rise for an hour or so in the room and with pita dough, I stick it in the fridge and keep a bit of an eye on it to make sure it doesn't get too crazy and rise too much (you just push it down if it does so. It's just air.).

To actually make the pitas, you divide the dough up into about 8 or 9 pieces (this makes really big pitas). I just tear them, though probably you're supposed to use scissors, something about tearing the gluten strands versus cutting them. You flatten it into discs, cover it, let it rest (and by rest here I just mean rest), come back after 20 minutes or so and roll it out. The breads are supposed to be 1/4 inch thick, but I'm pretty sure mine never are. I think this affects their puffing later on, but I just can't seem to get the edges super thin. After you roll them out, let them rest (just rest) for ten more minutes, then one by one toss them (er, place them gently) on the baking stone, which should have been preheating in the oven for an hour. Close the door and wait three minutes, then open it, take out the puffed pita, toss then next one in. Wait three minutes and repeat until you're out of dough.

See, that was so easy. And they taste much much better than any pitas I've ever purchased, even when they don't puff so much. When they get stale (and they will, unless you go on some sort of crazy pita binge. . .which is incredibly easy to do), brush them with some olive oil and sprinkle with some salt (I've been using this expensive Italian sea salt and herb mix that I got from my boss), put them on a baking sheet in a moderately less hot oven and bake for, I dunno, 15 minutes or so. You may want to flip them, sometimes I do, sometimes I completely forget that they are in there and then smell something and run to the oven yelling, oh shit! But they always turn out fine.

Cost breakdown, since we're in a recession and all and people are interested in that sort of thing:
Flour: 3 cups (or about a pound): 76 cents
Olive oil(trader joes brand): 1 oz: 18 cents
Salt: golly, I dunno, let's say 1 cent
Yeast (bought on sale for $1): 14 cents

Yeah, so that's 95 frickin' cents. A bit more if you make them into crisps later on. Which will still be incredibly cheaper than buying a bag of pita chips from the grocery store. And less packaging and all that too.

Here's the first one out of the oven:

Look at that delightful little puff!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Gardening (or, Where's the Neem? I need It NOW)

Sometime in April, I started a container vegetable garden in my boyfriend's backyard. I've been wanting a garden for a while and we were at Lowe's and suddenly there were seeds and plants and container soil in our hands. We planted an orange bell pepper plant, Brussels sprouts, and peas (these were from seed). We watched eagerly as the pea plants sprouted and grew and then watched in dismay as they fell over and died. The pepper plant has so far been reluctant to actually produce peppers. It has one rather big one that hasn't started to turn orange but rather instead seems to have fallen victim to blossom end rot. Ergh! There are finally some little peppers starting to grow near the top and I am hoping that they will be all right. As for the Brussels. . . well, they were doing fine until something came and decided to start eating them! This morning, I plucked a little green inch worm off one of its leaves. And there appear to be little green specks all about the Brussels, which makes me nervous. Is there about to be an insane (or rather, even more insane) infestation of buggies in my garden?

This is my first garden since I was little and my dad did all the work. I grew an oregano plant in the window last year, which came back this year bigger and badder than before, and perhaps that went to my head. But I suppose my gardening skills are no match for the South Philly fauna. Squirrels regularly come by and pick the mulch out of the pepper pot. The garlic/chili pepper spray I concocted does not keep the bugs or the fungus (did I mention that there are mushrooms growing everywhere? I think their spores were in the potting soil we got. I don't recommend Sta-Green for that reason.)

My attitude has completely changed since I started this project. Before, I thought, hey, people have been doing this for thousands of years! I can too! And you know what, I can. There are set backs, just like in any thing you try, and I will overcome them. Gardening is hard work, I've learned that. It's a battle and once you let your defenses down, out come the little green worms and tiny flying bugs and those fricking squirrels.

I have some neem oil in the basement. Last year, my oregano was attacked by leafminers (even indoors) and, after a quick spray or seven of neem oil (diluted down), recovered. So, not that bugs can read, but considered yourselves warned, pests!

The photo at the top is the garden before pests and death got to it. The photos below are, well, pretty self explanatory.

I'm not actually pointing to the rot in this picture, just holding back the leaf so you can see it. Oh, and you can also see the leaves that something decided to eat.

Ah, peas (the dead plants in the back). I'd say you had a good run but you didn't.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Stuff on Other Blogs That I've found Inspiring

I've been meaning to make a skirt for a while. They're so easy, as this tutorial from Grosgrain Fabulous proves: Grosgrain: 20 Minute Simple Skirt Tutorial AND GIVEAWAY!!!!

And I've been really excited to see the film Food, Inc, which opens in Philly Friday (perhaps excited is the wrong word ...). Our City Paper's food blog did an interview with the director.

That's all for now.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Save PA Arts and Culture!

Click on the pretty box below to send a letter to Gov. Rendell!

Save PA Cultural Funding!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Mifflin Square Park Clean Up Recap

The clean up at Mifflin Square this past Saturday was far more of a success than I thought it would be. I had a lot of trouble finding people to come out and help out, for one because I don't know anyone who lives in that area (I myself live about a five minute bike ride away, which in terms of community and parks, is pretty far). Also, I kind of dropped the ball with fliering and only managed to post announcements here, in Parking, on facebook, and on craigslist (I guess no one looks at the volunteer section of CL. . .).

As I pedaled down to the park Saturday morning, I was surprised to see a group of people in blue t-shirts out, sweeping and raking and carrying garbage bags. Maybe they saw the Craigslist post, or read Phillyist!, I thought, and also: they have this organization that just swoops in to volunteer at things like this.
Not quite. Turns out they were from Sysco, which is a giant food distribution company (if you've ever worked at a restaurant in Philly, you've gotten deliveries from them). And it was purely happenstance that they were cleaning up that day. By the time I got there at 10AM, they had picked up most of the litter. I was very glad about that, because Mifflin Square is a fairly large sized park and I was kind of dreading cleaning it (but then, I dread most new and unfamiliar things at first, then end up enjoying them). Our small group, made up of me, my partner, and people from the Dept of Recreation and PA Horticultural Society, set to work on the trees. The Horticultural Society had planted some magnolia trees near the center of the Square. Unfortunately, people have their dogs pee on them, and their kids pull on the small branches, which hurts the trees, so they needed to be pruned. Also, we needed to rake glass clippings away from the base of the tree, because that is the most delicate part of the tree and the wet grass traps in moisture and creates an unhealthy situation.

After the trees were taken care of, we were next going to till an area of dirt that was compacted down because the locals had built bleachers and a bar (ie an alcohol selling bar) over top. The bar was the straw that broke the camel's back for the Dept. of Recreation, since you know, it's illegal to sell booze without a license and to drink it openly outdoors. However, the tiller would not start. And all the people from the community were watching, a bit confused as to what these people were doing, and why their bar was taken down. An explanation was given to them, but it didn't seem to really sink in. There is a large Cambodian population in that neighborhood, so the Dept. of Recreation is making signs in Cambodian explaining that booze is not allowed in the park (empties were a huge litter issue).

Despite the lack of tiller, the clean up was great. I don't have photos right now, but hope to get a chance to take some soon (the swings aren't chained together anymore!). We got a great response from some people who were just hanging out in the park and are hoping to do another one soon, so as always, contact me if you want to help.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Sewing Machine

One of the blogs I read, Sew, Mama, Sew!, is hosting Sewing Machine Month this month and has introduced this sewing machine meme, inviting readers and bloggers to review their machines.

What brand and model do you have?
A Kenmore 385.11608

How long have you had it?
Since I was 15 or 16, so about 10 years.

How much does that machine cost (approximately)?
My nana bought it for me, so I don't know exactly, but I'm pretty sure it was under $200.

What types of things do you sew (i.e. quilting, clothing, handbags, home dec projects, etc.)?
Clothing, bags, pillows, I'm trying to start a line of practical organizer things (lunchboxes, purse inserts, etc) but that hasn't happened yet.

How much do you sew? How much wear and tear does the machine get?
I probably do about 3 projects a month, at least recently. Before that the machine wouldn't see much action for long periods of time, then I would get a show and have to make several costumes over a couple of days.

Do you like/love/hate your machine? Are you ambivalent? Passionate? Does she have a name?
I really like my machine. I like that I've had it for so long and (knock wood) have had no problems with it. I put it through some abuse and it serves me well.

What features does your machine have that work well for you?
It's a very simple machine, it doesn't really have too many features. I like that its shortest stitches are really tight (except when I make a mistake, then I hate it!) I also like the positioning of the stitch and stitch length adjuster dials.

Is there anything that drives you nuts about your machine?
I never know when the bobbin is out until I look at what I'm sewing and see a piece of thread instead of stitches. boo.

Do you have a great story to share about your machine (i.e., Found it under the Christmas tree? Dropped it on the kitchen floor? Sewed your fingernail to your zipper?, Got it from your Great Grandma?, etc.!)? We want to hear it!
My machine used to have two poles to put the spools of thread on. The first one was kind of loose, and would come completely off the machine. One day, I was changing the spool of thread when the pole came all the way off and disappeared. I heard a clanking noise somewhere, but haven't found it to this date. I think it somehow fell into the machine, but I'm not sure how that could happen.

Would you recommend the machine to others? Why?
I would, just because I've had it so long and it still works like a charm. I'm not sure if they still make this model, though.

What factors do you think are important to consider when looking for a new machine?
I have no idea. I don't know too much about the technical side of sewing machines. I would think ease of use would be a determining factor, though. Are the labels easy to read, the knobs/dials easy to adjust? Also, will the machine last and be able to put up with a lot of use/abuse?

Do you have a dream machine?
I'm pretty loyal to this one, and I'd feel like I was cheating on it if I wanted a new machine!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Mifflin Square Park Clean Up!

I'm organizing a clean up of Mifflin Square Park, down in the Whitman section of South Philly, this coming Saturday, June 13 at 10AM. Leave a comment if you want to come out and help!
If you want more info on the park, here is the original post I wrote for Parking on Phillyist.

Hope to see you all there!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Weekend Projects

I promised crappy photos in the sidebar, and here they are.

I occasionally have big project weekends, where I attempt to complete several sewing projects over the course of two days. I was a bit lazy this weekend, and am still at work on one of them (a shirt, which I don't know if I'm going to like). But here are the ones I've completed:

That is a log pillow. I was inspired by this log pillow kit, available over a Home Ec. But I didn't really have $25 to spend on a pillow, much less one I had to make myself. What I did have, however, is half a yard of Joel Dewberry's Ginseng fabric in a celery colored faux bois pattern. . . and so there's my pillow. It may not look as "loggy" as the Home Ec one, but I like it. And it was all of $5.

This is a purse (hanging out with some mugs in this photo) that I've had on the back burner for a while. I was originally hoping to have it done in time to wear with my Easter dress, but then after making my dress, decided I needed a break from sewing for a bit. I got the pattern (for free) from Made By Rae (thanks!). It's really cute, but on the small side, so more for those nights when I don't want to carry around a lot than for every day.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

I Haven't Seen This Show. . .

But I feel this is a lazy review of it. Perhaps lazy is the wrong word. I don't know what the right word is. Theatrically limited, perhaps, judging from this sentence: "Most of the dozens of works Stein classified as plays do not resemble standard theatrical texts at all, even when they are divided — willy-nilly it seems — into acts and scenes." So what is his point here? That Stein's plays don't look like plays? That they are dense? And rarely staged? Has he not been paying attention? Many of the best creators of plays write stuff that do not look like "standard theatrical texts." I would think that by this point in time, the idea of there being a "standard" play text would have been shot to bits. Has he never looked at a Wellman play? Or even a Churchill one with its slashes and asterisks all over the place?

His conclusion to the review is facile: People who like Stein will enjoy the chance to see her work onstage. However, the rest of us, the regular folk who prefer things linear and tidy, will feel "smothered" and "starved for meaning." Oi. I wonder if he chose to review this show, just to intentionally turn his nose up at it (ala those critics Barthes discusses in Mythologies in his essay "Blind and Dumb Criticism"--those critics who reject a philosophy/system of thinking because they don't understand it.) Or I wonder if he was assigned the show by the editor--in which case, clearly there are critics at the Times more suited (based on the other shows they've covered) to review such a show. In any case, it's evidence of laziness (yes, I've determined that is the word) on the reviewer's and the paper's side and is detrimental to encouraging further experimentation in theater.

Monday, June 1, 2009


The other day, I was up on my roof, tending to the compost bin. The roof is completely flat, so that I could simply misplace my foot and fall if I got to close to the edge.

Occasionally, the feeling of being too close to the edge, even when I've barely even stepped out onto the roof, washes over me. The other day, while realizing that the roof was flat, and that I was so close to the edge, I crept even closer until my legs turned to stone and I had to look away, back towards my house. The knowledge, the idea, that I could fall to my death and could do so willingly, if only . . .is so crippling, so disturbing.

It is at these moments that death becomes tangible, a heavy mass, there in the air, a heavy mass that quickly washes over me, twisting my stomach up, and telling me to go over to the edge, just a bit further. . .but I manage to hold myself back.

This is a common feeling--the strange urge to leap in front of an oncoming subway, to hurl oneself in front of a bus as it barrels by. Aside from those rare cases, we don't do it.

I have nothing particularly philosophical or analytical to say about this, at least nothing more interesting than has been said by others (there was a great article in Harper's a few months back written by a man in his mid-70's who has accepted that death is coming. Also, Sartre talks about vertigo in Being and Nothingness, which I, embarrassingly enough, haven't read). It's just unsettling. I guess all of existence is unsettling.