Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Little Something on the Side

The revered annual Turkey Day has once again passed, and the systemic remnants of tryptophan are rapidly dissipating but are soon to be replaced, once that next big holiday arrives. Speaking of, are you a fan of outdoor LED lights? Ah, that's fodder for another post. Let it be for now.

This year's Thanksgiving dinner planning for our family was cleverly orchestrated by my wife, a chef and baker par extraordinaire, and it included an email survey to our immediate family regarding the meat of choice to be served at the dinner. The main reason for this, as she stated, was that we needed something to go with the side dishes. You see, it's the side dishes that we actually crave, that tantalizing two to four (come on, be honest here) scoops of cornbread dressing, or "stuffing", if you're north of the Mason-Dixon Line, that sit there next to the turkey or ham.

Let us veer off the course into fashion for a moment. I know, I know...but bear with me on this. Consider that you've just purchased the LBD (that's Little Black Dress, gentlemen), a wardrobe staple, but the ensemble is incomplete until you find the perfect accessories. I mean, it would work on its own, but ideally, it needs just a bit of sizzle. Well, the traditional turkey dinner is something like that -- turkey, on its own, is not bad, and in fact, it's a culinary holiday staple of sorts, but without the right accompaniment, it falls just a tad short of its true potential as a feast headliner. You can put some gravy on it, but it is unfulfilled without green bean casserole, cheesy potatoes, and dressing, heaps of dressing. Oh, and cranberry something-or-other. Personally, I prefer my cranberry in martinis, but that's just me talking.

So, we did the Thanksgiving vote, and it appeared to work quite well. We ended up feasting on a turkey/ham combination with all these tasty side dishes and a number of incredible desserts that warrant their own blog posting. I will say that one of the "desserts", a vast array of maple flavored acorn-shaped muffins, has provided me breakfast all this weekend. The side dishes once again ruled at the dinner itself, lending credence to that belief that the best things in life don't always get top billing.

Like lots of males of the species, I confess that I'm already anticipating the next big meal, but I don't know if I can bargain for two cornbread dressing treats in a month. I'll certainly give it that old college try. (By the way, where I went to college, they didn't even have cornbread dressing -- it was "stuffing" -- whatever. Call it what you will, it was still the goods.) And all this kidding aside, I think that what I'll really be looking forward to at that next holiday is actually less about the food and more about just being together with family and friends, because that's what really accessorizes life. What better time to savor it than now?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Trials and Tribulations of a Virtual Farmhand

Hello from a rainy morning at Cafe au Lait coffeehouse. It's nice to be inside on such a chilly November day, I must say.

So this FarmVille thing on Facebook is getting out of hand. I liked the original incarnation of this game, a scaled back SIM-type diversion that I could actually handle. Those of you who know me know that I am not a gamer by any stretch of the imagination, so for me to even become involved in something like FV is a bit of a stretch, but I admit that at first, I found the game strangely fascinating.

But as with almost everything these days, the developers have not stopped with a good thing. Now we have gentrified chicken coops, random storage sheds, animals that are supposed to move but don't, and just plain too much work to do, unless you're sitting at home with nothing else on the agenda. The same thing happened with Microsoft Word back in 2007, when a perfectly good product was dolled up beyond recognition into something that requires an advanced degree to be utilized to its fullest.

Earlier this morning, I saw the most disturbing FarmVille-related thing that I've yet witnessed -- an online offer for a book called "Farm Domination", a step-by-step guide which promises to make you the undisputed FarmVille champion of your county, state, nation, and hemisphere. I don't know about you, but something about that title does not sound right to me.

So FV folks, I say let us have FarmVille Lite, the FarmVille for the rest of us. Oh, and while you're at it, is there a way we can pick our farm's location, maybe add some weather, and bring on a plague of locusts so we don't have to do so much work on the farm? But wait...those would all be enhancements. Forget I said that stuff.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Outsourcing the Midlife Crisis

I stopped to think the other day that I am probably experiencing my third midlife crisis. Honestly, it crept up on me, this one.

There I was back in 2007, minding my own business and getting along from day to day eating chicken sandwiches and watching Giada de Laurentiis on Food Network, when I discovered Bollywood movies. If you're not yet familiar with Bollywood, the main thing to take away is that almost everyone in a Bollywood movie is extremely good-looking, and most are probably no older than 39. In my susceptible condition, I had to face the fact that, all else being equal, I was over 39.

It all started when I rented the Bollywood movie Ek Khiladi Ek Haseena, a movie reminiscent of The Italian Job, but with a Hindi flavor. Upon telling one of my friends (from Chennai) that I had seen this exquisite film, she immediately discounted it as a piece of tripe and brought me two other movies which she said were vastly superior. I noticed that in all the movies, everyone (well, almost everyone) was good-looking and less than or equal to 39. I was fascinated. Who was this Mallika Sherawat, and how in the world had I missed her?

At about the same time, a convergence of unrelated personal events occurred which, coupled with this nascent fascination, drew me to the other side of the world, to India -- a place where song and dance (and a vast railway network) reigned supreme. I absolutely love Indian food, and my friends were all too happy to encourage me to indulge this passion. What I found was that, if you combine the spice of Indian food with India's diverse culture and its wildly colorful movies, you come up with something both entertaining and addictive. Before I knew it, I had complete strangers approaching me in the elevator at work, asking if I'd seen the latest Bollywood release. I reached a pinnacle of achievement in this regard when I obtained a DVD of a new movie which one of my Indian friends had seen in the theater only one week before. Yes, I had arrived -- where, I wasn't quite sure, but I was somewhere.

However, there was a price to be paid. I found that I could no longer be satisfied with mere American fare -- a cheeseburger here and there might not be so bad, but it was tikka masala that I craved day and night. I no longer saw the attraction of Angelina Jolie, not when compared to Aishwarya Rai. My older daughter had become hooked on chai tea several years earlier, and I started thinking that maybe she was onto something. My friends brought me a kurta from India, and shortly thereafter, I danced for hours on end at a Holi festival, where my hair was dyed pink and teal from "Holi colour" powder, the essence of which is still suspect. I don't know what was in it, but the color lasted for almost six weeks. In effect, quite unbeknownst to me, I had outsourced my midlife crisis.

These days, I guess you would say that I have begun to put it all into perspective. I still enjoy the occasional Bollywood movie -- in fact, I have a respectable DVD library of Hindi and Tamil movies, but I'm also getting back into the American way of life. Last Friday night, I visited my friend Jim's house, where we did a guys' night thing, watching motorcycle movies, talking cars, and checking out the new pickup trucks that a couple of the guys had recently acquired. I could almost hear George Strait singing in the background.

One day, perhaps I shall unconditionally embrace the whole North American scene, but my head has always been a bit international anyway, and I think my recent time away has had a lasting effect on me. My favorite restaurant in Atlanta is a cafe down in Decatur called bhojanic (lower-case "b"), which specializes in Indian tapas. My favorite dish is tikka masala, a spicy Indian chicken preparation. One of my favorite movies is Dor, a story about two Indian women who become friends under the most unlikely of circumstances. But perhaps most important, some of my very best friends are from India, and they remind me daily what it was that drew me to the subcontinent. A part of me will probably always be there in spirit, and I thank them for that.

What this experience has taught me is that for some people, midlife may be confusing, but for me, it seems more like an ideal time to truly broaden the mind, to think outside the box, and maybe, just maybe, to see oneself and one's world from a whole new perspective.

Namaste, everyone.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Still Lives

Hello, blogging universe. It has been quite a long while since I've posted, and I offer my sincere apologies to those of you who have made loyal visits here expecting to see new "content". Let's just say it's been a long year.

Of course, one can only assume (rightly in this case) that my return to blogging after such an extended hiatus would open with coverage of a radical issue, and one would not be wrong in that assumption. For the topic at hand is mannequins. Yes, you read that correctly...mannequins, the kind you see in stores and shop windows.

As an employee of a major national retailer and a self-affirmed male clothes horse, I will freely admit that I spend more than the average amount of time shopping, particularly for a guy. This can be a blessing, especially if you're one of my female friends and need to have me tag along while picking up something during the lunch hour, because I guarantee that I'll shop for just about anything, as long as you feel the need. On these forays and others, I've begun to notice an endless variety of mannequins, and before you start with the guffaws, just remember: a lot of your ideas about common things change as you get older. Anyway, here we go.

It all started back in the winter. As you may recall from an earlier post, I was given a small doll in the image of Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra for a Christmas present last year. It took several weeks for the doll to arrive, and it now occupies a place of honor at my office. Well, at least it did, until it was stolen for the second time yesterday, but I digress. The likeness of the doll to the real Priyanka was somewhat questionable, but it was the thought that mattered. It occurred to me that in effect, my Priyanka was a tiny mannequin of sorts, 11-1/2 inches, to be exact.

On Valentine's Day, as Karen and I were shopping at a local antiques store, I noticed a rather aloof, yet strangely attractive, blonde mannequin seated on a chair next to a stack of vintage suitcases. Although I must admit that at first, the figure seemed quite unapproachable, I determined upon closer examination that she was indeed rather pleasant in a quiet sort of way, but possessed of a modicum of social anxiety. Perhaps this was owing to the somewhat absent-minded nature of antiques shoppers who, intent upon finding the perfect side chair, can be quite remiss in doling out compliments regarding one's personal appearance. Essentially, this poor fake fashionista, who looked splendid, by the way, was a victim of sheer neglect.

On an April evening some weeks later, we spotted a scantily-clad mannequin hiding behind a table of tank tops at our local Old Navy store, presumably reaching up to the table to steal an article of clothing. This was quite unexpected. I know the store has security people somewhere on the premises; therefore, I was surprised to see this kind of thing transpiring in the open, not to mention the indecent exposure factor it introduced. As you well know, many impressionable young children shop at Old Navy, and I think this sets a bad precedent. It's one thing to shoplift, but quite another to do it au naturel.

Then in August, we were browsing through a major department store mall location which was closing, and I noticed that all the mannequins had been stripped and sequestered into one area of the store -- females on the left, males on the right, and much to their collective chagrin, they had been separated by a makeshift wall of discarded shelving. I found this rather puritanical, to say the least. Who are we as a society to put up barriers between the sexes? Are there not already enough such impediments? Does an action such as this not strike at the very heart of our personal freedoms (regardless of how much plastic we may contain)?

Perhaps the pinnacle of my mannequin fascination, yea even the mac daddy of all mannequin encounters, has to be my visit to the Hollywood Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, where I was able to sit at a cafe table with a likeness of Audrey Hepburn, who was delicately perched on the front of her chair, eating an artificial bakery product. I must admit that, even though I knew that she was crafted entirely of wax, I was a bit starstruck being in such close proximity to Holly Golightly.

But then to bring things back down to a more earthy level, here we are shopping the other day in a local women's clothing store in a very nice designer shopping mall, and upon entering the mens' room, I found to my great surprise that the rest room was full of half-naked female mannequins. Even though this might not have been appropriate, I just had to take a picture. Folks, this just isn't fair. This isn't the kind of thing you count on seeing in a major retail establishment. The shame of it all.

And so there you have it. Like it or not, we're surrounded by these artificial likenesses of what people think we should look like in new (or in some cases, no) clothing. It reminds me of a Twilight Zone episode that I saw years ago as a child. The episode title was "The After Hours", and it chronicled one night in the life of a shopper who saw mannequins come to life right before her eyes. I must say that at such an vulnerable age, that was scary. And so, perhaps, is this fascination of mine, but for now, I'm going to keep on snapping pictures whenever the occasion arises.