Julia

Some of the happiest moments of my childhood were helping my dad–in his workshop or in the kitchen. I love and respect my father, and always have, with that childish hero worship that seems to only exist in television shows and adults. I always wanted to be just like my dad. His second toe is longer than the first and as a kid I even tried to will mine to grow longer so I could be more like him. Some days, I still look down at my feet with a wistful distaste.

I remember all sorts of things my dad cooked. One year he made the Thanksgiving turkey. He took out the rib cage and stuffed the whole thing, carefully sewing it back up so it looked whole again. Once we made this cake that was built of levels and layers of chocolates and creams, rich and dense and light and fluffy. One time he made beef wellington. I don’t remember this, but I do remember him spending days working on a single project one time. That project, my parents told me when I most recently saw them, was the beef wellington.

Beef wellington is a cut of beef tenderloin coated in a pate. The whole thing is wrapped in a flaky pastry shell. It is cooked over a period of three days. At least, that’s how Julia Childs made it.

My dad has a special respect for Mrs. Childs. His respect doesn’t just stem from how she became a famous chef–though he loves little anecdotes, like how she learned to chop onions. He respects not just that she was famous, or that she respected the food she cooked (one of my favorite points in her garlic mashed potatoes recipe is where she notes to “serve it as soon as possible.”) He respects the food she cooks. He told me that whenever he wants to make something–the implication being something new, something he hasn’t made before or lacks special designs on–he checks to see how Julia made it.

With this advice in mind, when I decided it was time to make biscuits (something I used to do at least once a week), I didn’t follow my standard tried and true recipe (half a stick of butter, two cups flour, 1stp baking power, salt, sugar, milk to consistency bake at 400 until done) that I had gotten from a World War II era cookbook. No, I looked up to see how Julia did it and then made a recipe of my own.

I made herb biscuits. They smelled really good. This recipe, should you want to try, worked like this:

-3 cups flour
-2 tsps salt
-4 tsps baking powder
-1 tsp baking soda
-2 tbsps spring onions
-2 tbsps parsley
-1 stick butter (8 tbsps)
-1 1/2 cups almond milk
-1/2 cup chopped spinach
-fancy Vermont cheddar

Mix everything except the cheddar. I used a potato peeler to make little peels of cheddar that sat on top of the biscuits and baked in. I also made some without cheddar because I am veganish these days (hence the almond milk–didn’t have regular milk around.) Bake at 425 for about fifteen minutes. I took them out a bit before.

Then, I made another batch of biscuits with a different recipe. Also based on Julia’s. Also using almond milk.

-2 cups flour
-1 2/3 tbsp baking powder
-3/4 tsp salt
-1 tbsp honey
-12 tbsps butter
-1 cup almond milk

Again, mix. Bake at 425 for closer to ten minutes this time.

In both cases, I rolled them out using a ton more flour.

In short, I traded three sticks of butter and a whole [small] thing of flour for four batches of biscuits. Let’s see if I can trade those biscuits for happy people. Making food, the process of baking, is the best part in a personal sort of way. I get pleasure out of feeling like some mix between scientist and artist. Ask me about my escapades with Guy Fawkes Night cakes sometime. Shirking my selfish joy, the second best part about baking is when I get to trade things for smiles and being around happy people.

I like when people are happy.

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>Checklist

Some of my friends came up with a relationship theory. It attributed to each person three qualities. They have a binary function, meaning you have them or you don’t. No maybe.

They are as follows:
1) Good Looking
2) Smart
3) Not a crazy loser

People have ‘yes’ or ‘no’ values in these qualities. Generally, my friends theorized, if people have equal numbers of qualities, their relationship can work. If they have unequal numbers, then it can’t work.

This isn’t to say both parties have to be good looking, but if one is good looking and smart, and the other is smart and not a crazy loser, there’s potential for success. If one person is good looking and the other is not a crazy loser, there is also potential for success. If, for example, one person is smart and good looking, but the other is just not a crazy loser, failure is in their future.

The assumption was is that there would be imbalance in the relationship–too much imbalance–if the people were of uneven relationship worth. Like all theories, this doesn’t hold in every case. I’m sure there are plenty of cases where it doesn’t work. I am trying to think of one, but I’m not coming up with very much. Affectionately, I would describe one of my parents as being good looking and smart, and the other as good looking and not a crazy loser, but the truth is that both of my parents are all three of these things because they are super people above and beyond normal man. So they’re not a good example. Two of my best friends are both good looking and smart (and engaged). They’re not a good example either.

The values of these qualities are entirely subjective. I find tall, lanky guys with distinctive facial features to be good looking. I generally don’t like pony-tail length hair on boys. I have friends who love long hair on boys and that gives like +5 to attractiveness right there. I think girls who are pretty are good looking. For some reason, “gorgeous” girls don’t seem very good looking to me. I can pick out the traits that say they are supposed to be, but the total image just isn’t appealing to me. So, for one of my friends, gorgeous girls are good looking. Some of my friends like full figured women, some like skinny girls. It’s all variable. ‘Not a crazy loser’ also offers up a wide variety of traits. I think most people are inherently crazy, but being able to recognize and deal with that is pretty important. If you can say ‘I am being crazy and irrational, I need to not do X right now,’ I’ll probably give you a check for ‘not a crazy loser.’ Not everyone agrees with me.

Today, unintentionally, someone proposed a similar checklist, but for projects and getting work done. Their checklist read like this:

1) Competent
2) Useful
3) Not a crazy loser.

There seemed to be a suggestion in this that depending on the project, the role, or even who was working, equal numbers of traits needed to be required. For example, I’m not especially competent, but I can be useful and not a crazy loser. I would be unable to work with someone who was just useful or just competent–in a small, selective kind of way–but if someone else had two of these traits, we could probably successfully work together. People “in charge” of you in projects have to have at least equal numbers of traits as you do. I could easily listen to someone who has all three of these traits, but I have more

Graffiti

The Carnegie Public Library recently repainted their bathroom stalls and added a pleasant “Please keep our library beautiful sign,” or something to that effect. There had been graffiti covering the walls before the most recent repainting in a series of graffiti fighting repaintings. I say, they’re destroying what’s beautiful.

Some graffiti is gang related. I won’t deny that. But this is different. Bathrooms in public spaces–and sometimes even in private ones–become public spaces. They’re covered in graffiti. The comedic and common in television depictions of public bathrooms show writing of “Mikey wuz here” and “For a good time call Suzie 555-5598.” This does not reflect reality. Bathroom stalls have become sacred spaces. Confessionals. People use these spaces, these walls, to share. You have people who write things that they hear, phrases that inspire them. People write down worries and concerns. People write down advice. This creates a place of anonymous social change and connectivity. A place people feel safe to have these discussions, and since no one is directly communicating to anyone else, there is no fear of immediate judgment. This is what’s great.

I propose that the Carnegie Library, and other similar institutions facing this situation, instead find a removable substance they’re okay putting on the walls. Giant magnetic sheets, for example. Then, people can write on them without anyone getting too upset. These can later be displayed as testaments to how the library is not just a place people can physically and intellectually come together, but emotionally as well. It will remind us that libraries aren’t just about books, but they’re about community. Community isn’t just about your neighbors, it’s about a sense of connectivity with the people around you.

Death

In this year, three people I know have died. One was a student. One was a friend from my childhood. Wednesday was Doctor G. Alec Stewart.

Like everyone else who knew him, I have stories upon stories of the man. Every interaction you had with him could become a story. Every moment he spent with you became a story, a noteworthy moment of life and interaction. True existential bliss. Most days, someone I knew would say something: they would share something he said or did. Minor things, a comment he made about lunch, him bumming a cigarette, or those big moments where something happens.

I was in love with Doctor Stewart and I made no move to hide this fact. I have countless stories that extol the extent of my love for this man. I’m selfish. I don’t want to share these stories. Most of them I want to keep to myself, hold within me and cherish them as mine. My moments. My experiences. Another part of me says that these are things other people will do in bounds. The combined forces of everyone he affected have better stories than I do, better things to share publicly.

But then I remember the last thing he ever said to me.

I’m not good with good-byes. I don’t understand them. I don’t try to or want to. They’re this separate thing I can happily live in the absence of. Instead, I write letters. I say all that I left unsaid, usually in awkward, overly in-depth ways with too much self-deprecating exposition. I wrote him a letter before I left Pittsburgh. We hugged and he made me promise I’d see him again before he let me go. We talked later, after he read it. He told me that some people are worthy of a good battle. He told me, in so many words, that how and what you think and feel is important in and of itself, without external vindication. He reminded me that thinking and feeling is enough. That sharing it is enough. That it will always be enough.

In our last communication he reminded me of this. He told me he still carried the letter with him. He signed off “Alec.”