May. 1st, 2013 06:02 pm
northwestmagpie: (Default)
Well, it's May 1st - International Worker's Day and Beltane, among other things. (Yes, I know all about Jonathan Coulter.) Have fun, enjoy the day (hopefully, the East Coast and Midwest are all thawed out now, although I hear Colorado is still in a deep freeze), and let's hope none of the idiocy that blighted this past April shows up this month.

I intended to write a lot more than I did, but after the Boston Marathon bombing, I wanted to crawl into a hole. I hate April. Have I mentioned that yet?

So, welcome, May.

Here's hoping it's a damn sight better than last month.
northwestmagpie: (Default)
The Westboro Baptist Church, described as having a "Derp du Soleil" traveling circus.

::crying with laughter::
northwestmagpie: (Default)
The Branch Davidians committed mass suicide in April 1993.

The Alfred Murrah building was bombed in Oklahoma City in April 1995.

The Columbine High School shootings took place in April 1999.

And now the Boston Marathon bombing will join these events as historical April disasters.

# # # #

I have watched very little coverage of the bombing itself. When I found out it happened, I made certain two friends in the area were safe; I then clicked on a news link and saw the photographs of what had happened. The first photographs were the worst in a way: blood lay in swaths on the ground, as if pieces of flesh had been dragged over it, and there were no signs of injured people.

That changed after the first five pictures.

I've seen a lot of horrific events in my life, and I have no taste for the way the media drag these out for public consumption, as if they're offering up teaser trailers for the latest blockbuster--albeit one meant to incite our collective anger and grief. Coverage of the OKC bombing ran for days; Columbine, for nearly a month; 9/11 has, it seems, finally lost steam as the Great National Mourning Glory. Bad enough that I can go to a news site and see the pictures of people with limbs hanging by threads. I've seen Nick Berg beheaded, people leaping from the Twin Towers, coverage of Iraqi civilians with horrific burns and lacerations. At some point yesterday, my brain said, Okay, I'm done. No more. I'm going to go out of my mind if I see anything else.

But what struck me more than the shots of men and women bleeding and in agony were the shots of men and women helping the wounded. Two bombs exploded, one erupting into a fireball present in many of the pictures; yet as people ran from the blast, others turned and ran back toward it. Many, many others. Some were veterans taking part in the Boston Marathon; some were civilians; many first responders also rushed onto the scene. They were living reminders that not all of the human race is composed of bloodthirsty goons and cowards.

One man, Carlos Arredondo, has become famous as "the man in the cowboy hat." The picture shows him running alongside a young man in a wheelchair. The young man's legs have both been severed below the knees from the blast; he is in gray-faced shock. Arredondo was holding the young man's mangled artery, cutting off the blood flow and likely saving his life.

A peace activist, Arredondo had a son, Alexander, a Marine lance corporal who died in Najaf, Iraq, in 2004. He got the news on his 44th birthday. On hearing it, he went into his garage, grabbed a torch and a can of gasoline, climbed inside his van, and set it on fire. He survived. In 2007, he was severely beaten at an anti-war protest. In December 2011, as American troops were withdrawing from Iraq, his other son Brian killed himself. Arredondo says of himself and his wife, "We are broken people." And yet he came to the Boston Marathon to support a group running for fallen veterans--and kept a man from dying.

No one would have blamed this man for running to safety. I certainly wouldn't.

There will always be those who want to destroy and maim the world around them. Finding those who will reach out to strangers in dire need, no matter what their own straits may be, may seem like a miracle these days. I'm beginning to wonder if it's really as rare as we think. It would, to paraphrase Tennessee Williams, be pretty to think otherwise, but would it necessarily be untrue?
northwestmagpie: (Default)
Cooking is a joy for me. I grew up eating a rather monotonous diet that revolved around the cheapest stuff we could buy at the store, which tended to be hot dogs, bologna, ground beef, the occasional canned ham, instant potatoes and Kraft macaroni, and cans and cans of green beans, corn, and spinach. When I started learning how to cook, and discovered there was more to food than hamburger and Oscar Mayer, I fell in love with food. I developed an appetite for food quite like a swinger's libido; I wanted to try things at least once. (And some, once tried, never tempted me again. Menudo, longaniza, hominy . . .)

So I live in the Pacific Northwest. You might have heard there's a lot of fish caught here. I had some idea about using local fish to make clam chowder. And I foolishly mentioned this to my beloved, Stefan, who promptly introduced me to the geoduck.

Stefan loves my cooking. Stefan also loves fish. And finally, Stefan's an alumn of Evergreen State College, located in Olympia, WA . . . and this is their mascot.

The geoduck, a hard-to-catch mollusk, is renowned for the fact that it looks like exactly what you think it does. Stefan told me what he thought happened when the trustees of Evergreen had to come up with a mascot for the school. Somebody threw out the idea of the geoduck. "Oh, because it's a native creature?" one trustee replied. "Because it's tasty?" another asked. "No," the first trustee said. "Because it looks like a horse's prick, and because we can."

Yeah, you didn't think I was going to back away from cooking it after hearing that story, did you? Seriously, anything that looks that bad must inversely be insanely delicious.

It turns out that geoduck has a flavor described as resembling that of scallops--firm and sweet. That's if you use the body meat; the siphon meat tends to be firm and chewy, and should be fried. I found out how to clean it and prepare it, located a couple of recipes, and then took Stefan off to the Uwajimaya market in Renton this past Sunday to find geoduck.

That's where we ran into a problem.

Geoducks are notoriously hard to catch. See the shell? It looks blunt, but people have complained of having their hands sliced by those things as they attempted to catch geoducks. (Stefan caught one once, purely by accident. He had no choice but to cook it; he killed it when he stepped on it, and catching geoducks without a license is illegal.) The difficulty in catching them is reflected in the price: $27.99 per pound, and the geoducks Uwajimaya had for sale started at 3-4 pounds.

Dejected, I started to give up on making chowder, when Stefan said, "Hey. Here's an idea: why don't we get some scallops and razor clams, and make that into chowder?" So we got some small bay scallops, some pre-packaged razor clams, and headed for home.

Now we share home with Stefan's adopted little sister Annika, her husband Jason, their two boys Sebastian and Griffin, and a recent addition, Charles. (The house is huge. The housekeeping is disastrous.) We unpacked, and I found an earthernware pot of Annika's, one I thought would make an excellent dish in which to make chowder. We'd used it for a number of dishes before, from goulash to beef stroganoff to lemon chicken with orzo (I'll share that recipe later). So I prepped my ingredients and started cooking. First in was chopped cottage bacon; after the fat rendered, I took out the meat and added chopped shallots . . . and wondered why I could hear the gas flame hiss. But I paid more attention to my shallots, making sure they didn't burn, before I tossed in clam juice, then the bacon, and then cream.

And that was when I heard the gas flame sizzle against the pot. I looked, and to my horror I saw cream beading on the bottom edge of the pot.

I got a metal pot, put it on the stove, got potholders to grab the earthernware pot . . . and as I raised it, it broke loose from the bottom. Cream, bacon, and shallots went everywhere. It was an ungodly mess, and brought the boys, Annika, and Stefan to see what happened when I started cursing. The mess took half an hour to clean, and I wanted to cry the whole night.

Well, fine, I told myself. I'll try again tomorrow night. I've got to cook the damn fish before it spoils, anyway.

Stefan got more cream, bacon, and shallots. I prepared potatoes when I got home from work on Monday, and started my chowder-making all over again. Bacon? Check. Shallots? Check. Leeks? Yep. Cream? Oh, yeah. Razor clams--wait, why the hell are these all in one sheet? Unsliced razor clams look bizarre, and I knew very little about what should go into the pot and what should be tossed. Nevertheless, I set to trimming the clam meat. In short, I took my eye off the pot.

And far too soon for my comfort, I smelled something burning.

I took a spoon and stirred the contents of the pot, cringing when the stench of burned potatoes wafted up. In desperation, I added more potatoes. I turned off the burner, set the pot aside, and ran to the computer to see how to fix a pot of burned chowder. Worcestershire sauce and peanut butter were highly recommended. I can now say that 1 to 2 tablespoons of peanut butter added to chowder does not add an awful taste of peanuts to it--but neither did it help. I finally turned to Annika and Stefan and asked for their opinion: how bad was it?

They tasted it. They didn't spit it out.

"It can't be saved," Stefan said.

"I'm sorry, hon," Annika said. "But it smells like burning. There's no salvaging it."

I almost cried. Out it went, down the garbage disposal. I added water and dishwashing liquid to the pot, with its layer of black, crusted potatoes, leeks and bacon. Stefan hugged me and told me, "You can always try again. Next time, keep the heat down." I felt like an idiot, especially considering how much food I'd just tossed down the drain.

Moral of the story: Always watch the pot. Sometimes, you don't want the damn thing to boil.

Stefan washed the pot and told me I'd come up with a new dish: clam chowder carbonara. I'm going to smother him in his sleep.
northwestmagpie: (I Can Work With That)
I've found harpists who tickle me immensely with their ability and interpretation of some of my favorite songs:

Camille and Kennerly have a YouTube channel, websites, and MP3s on Amazon as well as iTunes. I love their versions of "Paint It Black," "With Or Without You," and the featured video "Judas." (Have I mentioned I love the original video by Lady Gaga as well? Trippy as hell, it was, and hugely entertaining.) Stefan found them first, and was entertained and creeped out by their constant swaying. I can see his point: they look like they're either attempting to charm king cobras, or hamming it up for the camera, and I don't care for it myself. Still, the music's pretty. And the harps are lovely. I can't wait to get down to Phoenix to pick up my harp; I want so badly to learn to play at that level.

I've also started reading some of Tanith Lee's early fiction. I love Lee's Flat Earth series, and some of her later stories give me chills; however, her Vis novels were written to compete with the guys writing pulp epic fiction in the '60s and '70s, and The Storm Lord is a prime example of what happens when a lady of great talent and evocative descriptive ability decides to give the typical tropes a spin. You get scenes of palaces, landscapes, and people that cause your spine to want to curl up on itself set beside some of the hoariest, most sexist tropes created. The first rape occurs in the first 3 pages, and the men and women are cardboard figurines--the heroine is literally tabula rasa, except when the hero/love interest comes on the scene. Of course. I'm finishing it so I can say that I've read the worst book Tanith Lee ever wrote and still was able to get through it without hurling it against the wall. Laughing at it, yes. But not hurling it.
northwestmagpie: (At Peace)
Well, I made it. I got out of Phoenix, moved to Washington, fell in love, went through several jobs, settled into a home life with several other people and my beloved, and survived the entire chaotic mess I made of it all. And then I started putting myself back together.

Some people call it therapy. I call it finding the reasons behind my screw-ups, nailing them up on a board, and then beating them to death so I'm not driven to follow them again.

It's always been hard for me to admit when I need help. Some of you are nodding right now; too much pride, too much self-reliance. But when the voice in your head is that dark, dreaded whisper that tells you that asking for help means admitting you're stupid, a failure, incompetent, helpless--well, killing that voice is my new task in life. I plan on stomping it into the lower levels of Hell. It's made my life a misery and a hell of a lot harder than it's needed to be. I'm done with it.

I've had help, though, and I'm grateful for it, because without it I would never have lasted long in Washington. Having a place to stay while finding a lasting job gave me a chance to actually accomplish that. And Stefan has made it clear that he's going to be there for me when I need him. It's humbling. It's . . . gratifying.

So you're all probably wondering why I've changed my account and stayed here on LJ?

In many cultures, it's appropriate to change your name to reflect the ending of one stage in your life, or the beginning of something new. As for the name itself? Those of you who know my love of shiny things know why I'm the Magpie. [personal profile] xanath is done. Gone.

I'd write a longer post, but I recently rewarded myself with a refurbished ASUS all-in-one computer. I've missed having a decent desktop computer; laptops, I've found, are great for portability, but don't offer much in the way of being able to lose oneself in a particular atmosphere--not unless you buy one with a 21-inch screen and all the bells and whistles. The ASUS does have a nice-sized screen (23.6 inches), and it's staying on my desk. Even Lucky can't find a way to get around it (although I suspect he'll try to lie down in front of it). So I'm enjoying toying with the screensavers (yay, Webshots!), setting up my music library, organizing my files . . . gazing at the screen . . . **ahem.** Yeah, I'm playing with my new toy. I heartily recommend Newegg.com, by the way. The price was low enough for me to save up from two weeks' pay.

So, like I said, I'll write a longer post when I'm through squeeing and playing.

northwestmagpie: (Default)

Happy April!


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