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This one will be short, I think. I only have two lectures left to give this quarter, and that's exciting. It's good because I feel spread a bit think addled with worry, etc. #firstworldjuniorfacultyproblems.

I'm sitting, in the middle of the night, on the bench in the little walled-in garden in front of our townhouse. As a counterpoint to all of my vague concerns, there's something very refreshing about the elongated cool spring this year. There's something very nice about being to go out and sit in this protected little patch of greenery in the middle of the South Side, even if it is just 25 feet on a side.

Meeting the Fiancee

Isn't it a relief when you meet a dear friend's new serious romantic partner and find nothing to complain about? Or maybe that's just me. I will reluctantly concede that I may be prone to a certain streak of jealousy, or at least possessiveness, in these matters. At least, I seem to have a certain track record, leaving social events grumbling that so-and-so's new boyfriend or girlfriend doesn't seem to appreciate the best things about them, or doesn't get their jokes. Or has the wrong kind of genitalia. Y'know, that sort of thing.

So it was pretty great when AJS came to visit me this past weekend with his newly-agreed-to-be-married girlfriend, just because she seemed like such a perfect match for him. She's witty and acerbic and quick on the uptake. And as an added bonus, when I introduced her to my cat, it was as though it awakened her inner 9 year old. She held him in a tight hug in the couch and spent quite a long time fashioning kitty jewelry for him using KC's set of magnetic metal balls. Monk the cat managed to tolerate this rather admirably, resulting in a series of photos of him wearing bracelets and magnetic neckties and headgear etc. She even managed to (temporarily) get him to wear a rather S/M-ish item consisting of a collar and a loop around his tail connected by a strand of beads running along his back. No, I'm not including one of these images in this post. Just what do you think this blog is, anyway?

Anyway, we went out on a minor double date. Walking from Neptune Oyster in the North End (where we shard an impressive variety of shellfish) to Drink in Fort Point. With horror, I realized that we had essentially executed a significant chunk of the New York Times' 36 Hours in Boston column. How bourgeois.

Oh, a minor side note: I realized (or rather KC pointed out to me) that the remarkable pacifying powers that Drink's mint julep (the proper kind with a bouquet of bruised mint leaves sitting in a mound of crushed ice in the top of the cup) were largely due to aromatherapeutic effects. That is, you stick your nose right into the bouquet of leaves with every sip and are thus forced in to inhale whatever motley assortment of volatile organics are oozing out of the mint. I'm sure the ice cold bourbon and sugar probably help too, but she's certainly right. Maybe I can improve my general level of anxiety by huffing mint leaves on a regular basis (minus the alcohol, say). World, you may make a dirty hippie of me yet.

The Hurricane Party that Wasn't

About that homemade "Inner Beauty" hot sauce I mentioned last time: I made it when Tropical Storm (erstwhile Hurricane) Earl was threatening the New England coast. It was a spate of typical food insanity from me, where I have barely repressed desires to do a lot of overly complicated cooking, but I need some trivial and largely meaningless excuse to actually set things in motion. A classic example is how I insist on making big stacks of waffles when it snows (but never at other times—I suspect many people have breakfast "rules" like this too). For another example, stay tuned to this journal, and you'll probably get another semi-disastrous food story this time next week.

Anyway, I convinced KC that we should cloister ourselves in my apartment against the (non-existent) hurricane force winds and driving rain. Since it was in reaction to a hurricane, I thought we should pursue some sort of island theme for the food and drinks, and this is where things started to go downhill in terms of reasonableness.

My first impulse was that we should make piña coladas, and I proceeded to quickly convince myself that the right way to do this was to go out and buy pineapples and coconuts. The bulk of the "Island Party" then turned into me juicing pineapples, draining and then roasting coconuts, cracking open the husks, peeling the coconut meat and pureeing and straining it to get coconut milk. All of a sudden it was approaching 10 PM and becoming clear that the storm wasn't going to be much to look at. This anticlimax combined with the huge mess I made in the kitchen perhaps dampened the festive atmosphere. Not that I would wish tropical storm destruction on the city or anything.

Actually, the biggest mistake I made was that I forgot that I only had dark rum, inappropriate and overpowering for the delicate coconut and pineapple flavors. I like to think of myself as reasonably competent when it comes to cooking and baking, and I tend to assume that that background knowledge will translate automatically into making mixed drinks. But it doesn't*. Clearly I need to practice with some basic cocktails to get a feel for what the final product is likely to be.

The rest of the Island Party menu was fried plantains (plátanos maduros, or some approximation thereof) with the aforementioned Inner Beauty hot sauce (remember from way back in the first paragraph?). This was more straightforward but also had its elements of absurdity, since Russo's, usually a reliable purveyor of overripe plantains was all out. Market Basket is a good alternative, as I'm sure all good Somervillains know, but they tend to not have the extremely far gone ones with totally black skins.

And then we made some pineapple fried rice with shrimp and crab. One could argue about how island-appropriate this dish really was, but it was tasty nonetheless with its seared scallions and grape tomatoes and a splash of fish sauce. In an ideal world, what would the protein component of an Island Party meal be? Jerk chicken? Conch? Oh the horrible difficulties of dating someone who does not eat meat.

*An exception might be the beverage I made during the hot part of the summer when we had EG and QJ over for dinner. This involved making lemonade** and then watermelon juice by pushing the flesh of a whole watermelon through a strainer. (Unsurprisingly, this process destroyed my strainer—it was probably a job better suited for a food mill. See discussion above about ill-conceived food craziness.)

The lemonade and watermelon juice got mixed with tequila and served very cold. It was surprisingly effective at getting us all drunk and produced a variety of interesting conversations. So maybe there is mixology hope for me after all.

Pro lemonade tip: incubate a couple of sliced up lemons in the lemonade for 12-24 hours while its sitting in the refrigerator, then remove, lest the hint of bitterness from the pith become obnoxious rather than pleasant.


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