Thursday, May 12, 2016

My Superhero

This is my friend Natalie.  Natalie has been through more shit in her life than you'd ever know just by looking at her.  When I first met her, we were in our early 20s, listening to music in a bar.  This was before I lived in Memphis.  I didn't realize at the time she would become one of my best friends.  I didn't even know that I'd soon be living in Memphis.  I do remember her being strikingly beautiful, with the most gorgeous locks of brunette hair.  The next time I saw Natalie she was wearing a wig, hiding a trach scar, and sitting in a wheelchair. What could have possibly happened to her in 3 months?  She was so young.  So healthy.  So vibrant.  So full of life.  And here she is sitting in a wheelchair.

LUPUS happened to Natalie.  LUPUS tried to kill Natalie.  After trying to shut down most of her major organs, Natalie looked LUPUS in the eye and said, "Nope. Not gonna happen." I had heard of LUPUS before I met her, but didn't really understand it.  It wasn't until we started becoming good friends that I took the time to look it up and find out what this thing living inside my friends was.  If you know Natalie or anyone else with LUPUS, you should learn more about it here. The best way I can describe it to people who don't know, is this...

Natalie's immune system is an overachiever.

When I get sick, my body sees an infection as a foreign invader and my antibodies attack it and kill it.  End of story.  When Natalie gets sick, her body sees everything in its wake as a foreign invader.  Her kidneys, her liver, her heart, her lungs, her skin... Natalie has the Terminator living inside of her.  And it wants everything to die.  So in order for her to keep the Terminator happy, she has to take a lot of meds. One of these medications was an antimalarial drug.  And it was great in the fight against the Terminator.  But it has side effects.  One of them being damage to the retina.  So when Natalie looks at things, she has a bull's-eye pattern of blindness.  Meaning your face will be blurry when she sees you until she is able to get you in the perfect spot of her bull's eye to where you aren't blurry anymore.  So when you see her and wave to her and she doesn't wave back, know that Natalie isn't being a bitch.  She literally can't see you.

Natalie has to take a lot of steroids. This has caused her to have osteonecrosis.  Which means the blood flow to her bones is decreased, causing her bones to die.  Natalie has had both of her hips replaced and her ankle fused due to osteonecrosis.

Natalie has many scars. Natalie has had many surgeries. Natalie has spent a lot of time in the hospital and in doctor's offices. Natalie has a lot of pain and discomfort. Natalie walks with a limp. Natalie gets rashes on her face. Natalie has to walk with a cane. Natalie has to take a lot of medicine. Natalie has had to give up driving. Natalie has had to quit working jobs she loves because she can't see as well or move as fast.

What Natalie DOESN'T have is a bad attitude about having LUPUS.  She has the highest threshold of pain I've ever seen a human being have. Natalie is a real live superhero.  Instead of curling up in a ball and crying and saying, "why me", Natalie wakes up every day just happy to be alive.  You think Natalie can't do something?  Think again.  Natalie can and will do whatever Natalie wants to do.  Natalie will not let LUPUS control her life. Natalie doesn't like talking about LUPUS all the time.  She lives and breathes LUPUS every day. So it's my hope that you understand what Natalie has gone through and continues to go through so that when you see her, you don't have to ask her about it.  You will know.  Natalie doesn't want you to feel sorry for her.  She wants to talk about music, her dog Wrigley, her amazing boyfriend Logan, her beautiful sisters and niece, her love of travel, her thriving garden, and her love of life.

Natalie is not alone.  There are more than 5 million people with LUPUS.  There is no cure for LUPUS.  Natalie would love for there to be a cure for LUPUS.  You can donate to help find a cure for LUPUS here. May is LUPUS awareness month.  So I wanted to tell the story of my amazing, courageous, beautiful, friend Natalie.  Please help spread awareness so we can find a cure for Natalie.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Cream of Chihuahua

Image from Google Images

Kids get attached to things.  A stuffed animal.  A toy.  Whatever.  

My sister had a blanket as a kid that she LOVED.  It was (as I recall) a light yellow blanket, soft as can be, with a silk edge.  She called it her "Spotty blanket".  And it was the only thing that she wanted when she was sleepy or sad or sick or just needed a moment to herself.  She would suck her thumb and rub the silken part of Spotty against her nose and it would calm her. I had my sister.  She was my attachment.  Much to her dismay!  

Well, we had a babysitter who lived across the street named Sally.  We loved Sally.  We loved her kids, we loved her house and we loved her dogs.  She had these 2 chihuahuas.  Chico and Muffin.  Chico was like the Taco Bell chihuahua and Muffin was a black and white chihuahau. They were cute.  We always like them.  But they were ALWAYS getting busy.  I mean all the time.  Gettin' it on.  

When we were bad, Sally would punish us with cream of mushroom soup.  She would force us to eat it.  That was our punishment.  And it worked.  I never wanted to do anything stupid enough to be fed that crap.  

But of course, one day, we did something stupid.  I'm sure it was me.  My sister was usually the good one.  But she ended up having to also be punished for all my wrongdoings.  Sorry sister.  Anyhow... one day I remember sitting at the table, unable to move until we finished our bowls of soup, whining because the last thing I wanted to be doing was eating this horrible soup that tasted like a dead skunk.  

Next thing I know (or remember), Leigh is kind of freaking out and trying to get away from the table.  She noticed that Spotty had become a third party in the Chico and Muffin love fest.  A Chico, Muffin and Spotty threesome if you will.  But we were being punished.  So Sally wouldn't let her get up from the table. And that was very unfortunate for Spotty.  Because Spotty ended up getting some cream of chihuahua soup all up on her.  When we finished our soup, we were able to leave the table.  Leigh rushed over to save Spotty.  But it was too late.  The damage had been done.

Leigh had to give up Spotty that day. It's impossible to get the smell of cream of chihuahua out of anything. She was devastated. There was no replacing Spotty. And still to this day we have a sour spot in our hearts for Chihuahuas and Cream of Mushroom Soup.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

MTV, GN'R and other ramblings

Me as Axl, Halloween 2009 with one of my favorite partners in crime.

I've always been a fan of music.  You might think it's odd to say that, because who doesn't love music?  But there are actually people out there who don't.  My parents named me Jessica after the Allman Brothers' song. My sister and I used to hang out with our babysitter's older daughter and stand around a record player singing Funky Town by Lipps Inc. at the top of our lungs. And then, we heard about Music Television aka MTV.  Our neighbors told us if we turned the dial on our tv enough, we could tune in MTV.  So we rushed home, took over the television and began turning the knob round and round and round and round and round, for what seemed like an eternity.  It was probably only a few minutes in reality, but to a 4 and 8 year old it seemed like a day.  But eventually it worked and music television would be on our tv all day long.  I mean ALL DAY long.  We would sit in front of the tv, enamored by all these musical geniuses and their video creations.  I would study these songs.  I would write down the lyrics.  I would make dance routines.  I wanted to be each and every one of them.  In fact, I was Madonna or Cyndi Lauper interchangeably for practically every Halloween.

When I got a little older, I would hold singing competitions in the neighborhood.  I invented The Voice.  You had to be able to sing (on perfect pitch) Sheena Easton's part in U Got The Look by Prince to be in my special club.  I was a little tough on all the kids, but team Jessica had to be the best.  And we were.  I continued my love of music and all things music when hair bands became popular.  I knew every word to every Motley Crue, Skid Row, Guns N' Roses, Cinderella, and Poison song.  Then I got into rap.  Dirty rap.  The dirtier the better.  The more vulgar, the better.  And my mom was ok with me blasting Easy E and 2 Live Crew when I was 14.  Thanks mom!

Then came grunge.  Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Pearl Jam. Then I went back to Classic Rock.  Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, The Beatles.  Then I moved away to college and discovered Phish, Dave Matthews, Widespread Panic.  Then came my chick phase... Indigo Girls, Natalie Merchant, Tracy Chapman.  I got my ass kicked at a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert and I kicked a girls' ass at a Phil & Friends show.  You tell me a time we were together and I will tell you what kind of music we were listening to. And I haven't even touched the surface of all the music out there.  There is so much!

I'm rambling.  The point is, I love music. I will pay a lot of money to see music.  I am sad that I have missed the opportunity to see some of the greats. So when I heard that Gun N' Roses were going to play again, we jumped at the opportunity to go. Guns N' Roses was the backdrop for a big chunk of my high school career.  I would sit in a friend's bedroom and listen to both Use Your Illusions for hours on end while they played video games. And so we found ourselves in Las Vegas. And when our plane landed we heard that Axl had broken his foot.  So our hearts dropped.  Because Axl has a reputation for being a prima donna.  So we worried that he was going to bail on the show and our trip would have been for nothing.  But yay Axl!  You finally took some responsibility.  And you showed up on time.  And you fucking rocked it!  We had a great time. We met people from Germany, Belgium, Sweden, New Zealand, Brussels. And you know how I know I had fun?  I didn't take a single picture.  Nope.  Because I was tuned in. Just like I tuned in MTV all those years ago.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Big Dreamin' in the Big Apple

Smoked Salmon Everything Bagel with Scallion Cream Cheese from Best Bagel & Coffee, 
225 W. 35th St.

I'm actually surprised that it took me 39 years to get to the Big Apple. So when my mom wanted to do a girls' trip to NYC, I was ecstatic. I am so lucky to have experienced it all with my mom, sister and niece.  And I must say, it was built up in my mind to be this big, beautiful, fast moving, multi-cultured, unforgiving, chew you up, spit you out, hard core city. And half of that is true. It is big. We only touched on two boroughs... Manhattan, and a smidgeon of Brooklyn. It is beautiful. The people, the parks, the architecture, the smells, the tastes... all beautiful (well ok, there were a couple of smells I could have done without). It is fast moving. There are people (a lot of them, around 9 million of them), cars, buses, trains and boats constantly working on getting to their destinations. It is multi-cultured. You will find people from all walks of life in NYC. Every nationality, language, religion and color. They all live here. And they've all brought their culture with them to share!

But what shocked me most about New York, was how friendly, helpful and accommodating people were. You think big city and you think head down, ear plugs in, don't talk to me stature. And that is  true of a lot of people, but most of them are quick to take out their headphones and press pause to give you directions or shoot you a smile on the subway.

Pastrami Sandwich from the Carnegie Deli - Best Pastrami Sandwich I've ever eaten
 854 7th Ave.

My dream when I graduated from college was to work as a writer at Rolling Stone magazine.  I was going to move to New York (on the zero dollars I had saved), get me a job writing about music (cause no one else wants that to be their job, so there wouldn't be any competition), live in a nice little apartment (preferably one with a washer/dryer and no roommate of course), and walk around like Mary Tyler Moore every day.  Yeah.  That was the dream.

The reality was that I would have to have 2 other jobs to even afford an apartment that would most likely not be in a good area.  And with 3 jobs, how was I ever going to find time to see the music I was going to write about? So at least I was able to finally play out my dream.  I went where the Rolling Stone offices are.  Pretended that this was where I would commute to every day.  Walked around talking to myself as though I was a very important NYC music writer.  I even told some kid to go fetch me a cup of coffee (I kid).

But my life today isn't so far from my dream.  I get paid to see live music.  I have the luxury to take off work whenever I want to travel for more music.  I have a nice townhouse in the birthplace of Rock n' Roll where I don't have to share laundry with others and I chose my roommate and he's pretty awesome.  He even takes out the trash.  I wouldn't change my life in a New York minute!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Lamb and Laminate

It's been kind of a joke in our house that when any of our friends went to the bathroom we'd say, "Don't pee on the carpet!" We decided after 3 years of people peeing on our carpet (yes, there was carpet in the downstairs bathroom- why oh why people think that's a good idea, I'll never know) that it was time to rip out the old and lay down the new.  So we bought up a bunch of laminate flooring from Costco, ripped out the existing 1990s-esque carpet and made the executive decision to put the flooring in ourselves to save a few bucks.  Of course the week we chose to do said project was the week it rained all week, forcing us to make cuts with powerful saws in our kitchen, spraying sawdust everywhere.

And you would think that I would not make meals during this time, and you would be wrong.  I made the shit out of some meals.  This delicious lamb and pine nut-stuffed eggplant was one.  And it was amazing. They just had an added flavoring of formaldehyde (did you know that formaldehyde is a naturally occurring substance in all wood products?  Me either, until now). It didn't really taste like formaldehyde, I promise.

Anyways, this recipe comes from a cookbook I've been dying to use, called Jerusalem: A Cookbook.  I can't wait to cook more out of it.  Just thumbing through the pages makes me drool.  Of course, since our house was in shambles, I had to find the recipe online.  But luckily it wasn't hard.  Here it is.  I didn't have sweet paprika, so I used regular, and I didn't have any parsley that wasn't covered in sawdust, so I left it out.  And I also didn't have the patience to look everywhere for tamarind paste, so I used lime juice instead.  And don't worry, you will see more recipes from this book.  Haven't met one I didn't like yet.

We still have to remodel the actual bathroom.  Decided to also get rid of our seashell sinked vanity and our old, falling apart cabinets. 

Here's what I learned in doing our first home DIY remodel:

1. Walking into Home Depot with a vagina is like walking into a casino with a million dollars. 

2. When your man walks into Home Depot he all of a sudden knows this weird language you've never heard him speak.  

3. Big powerful saws are scary.  To me and to cats.

4. The person who works the least hard is the one who ends up needing a tetanus shot and antibiotics.

5. Installing laminate flooring isn't easy.  And you spend a ton of time making it look perfect only to then need to buy a rug to cover up all your hard work!  

Try this lamb recipe.  It's really good and good for you.

Friday, March 04, 2016

A Few of my Favorite Food Things

Apparently, I like lists.  Here's one for ya. A few of my favorite food things:

1.  Sitting on an ocean dock somewhere with a box full of blue crab and some icy cold Corona.

2.  Getting to the choke of an artichoke.  Letting it bathe in some melted butter and then eating it up.  Not sharing a morsel. (By the way, have you ever seen an artichoke flower? Holy gorgeous. Google that shit.)

3.  Sharing a chocolate milkshake with someone you love.

4.  Having the patience to let a Lindor Truffle melt in your mouth until the hard shell diminishes and your mouth fills up with that velvety, creamy, smooth chocolate from the inside.

5.  Chargrilling oysters.

6.  That moment when you discover that tomatoes are at their ripest.

7.  Hovering over a table with close friends at a shrimp and/or crawfish boil.

8.  The decadence that is butter cream icing.

9.  A good hot n' sour soup. (You'd be surprised at how rare it is)

10.  Having the patience to fire roast a marshmallow to the perfect golden brown.

11.  The flavor of perfectly ripened fruit.

12.  Dipping a good piece of chocolate into a jar of REAL peanut butter (not that sugar laden crap) and then chugging it down with some super cold milk.

13.  A perfectly cooked pasta.

14.  Dipping pretzels into hummus.

15.  The smell of freshly ground coffee and that first sip of it in the morning.

16. The flakiness of a croissant.

17.  Turning butter into lipstick.

18.  Homemade whipped cream

19.  Rolling a hard boiled egg on a napkin that has been pre-salted and peppered.

20.  Pulling out a honking piece of crabmeat from its shell and dunking it into lemon butter.

21.  Teaching someone how to get the honking piece of crabmeat from its shell.

22. The smell of bacon in the air.

23. A really good blue cheese dressing

24. Pulling off a perfectly cooked steak.

25.  An olive oil so tasty you could do shots of it.  And want to drizzle it on everything.  Ice cream included.

26.  A sip of a really big, bold red wine.

27. Punching down freshly risen dough.

28. Biting into buttery hole-filled English Muffins.

29. When you finally perfect the meatball.

30.  Biting into cold watermelon on a hot day.

31.  Freshly baked bread. The smell, the taste and the way it feels.

32.  The way a glazed doughnut melts in your mouth.

33.  The popcorn kernels that didn't quite reach their destiny.

34. Eating whole peanuts.  Shells and all.

35.  Opening a beer with a lighter.

36.  A cheese that smells so bad you couldn't imagine eating it, but when you do, it tastes so good!

37.  All things bread.  Eating it, making it, kneading it, buttering it, toasting it, grilling it...

38.  The smell of toasted coconut.

39.  The amount of energy it takes to catch a fish.

40.  The smell of garlic on your hands.  Also, walking into a home that smells of garlic.

41.  Honey.  Cause bees make honey. (inside joke - when my niece was little we used to ask her, "What color are Aunt Jessie's eyes?" and she would always say, "Honey.  Cause bees make honey."

42.  Eating something straight off the vine.  Gardens. Planning them. Planting them. Tending them. Harvesting them. Gardens are awesome.  They remind me of saltwater fishtanks in that you can watch them all day and you will discover that they do so many amazing things throughout the day. Wow.  There are many wow's in gardening.

43. Trying new foods and wondering how you've lived life thus far without them.

44.  The way foods from your childhood make you feel all warm and cozy.

45.  Homemade lemonade

46.  The crispy, fatty pieces of a ribeye.

47.  Charcoal grills.

48.  Experiencing someone experiencing raw oysters for the first time.

49.  The first time you pull off a gourmet meal and don't burn anything.

50.  Watching someone else enjoying eating.  Like seriously enjoying it.  So much so you can see the passion.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Sleeper Menu Item

(Hamachi Kama at Sakura - Memphis)

This, my friends, is hamachi kama.  Hamachi kama is the collar of the yellowtail fish, aka Japanese Amberjack. It is my favorite thing to order at sushi or Japanese restaurants. It's usually listed on the menu as Hamachi Kama or Yellowtail Cheek.  If I see it on a menu, I order it. And so should you.

In Memphis, I have seen it on the menus of Sakura (Midtown), Robata, and Sekisui (Midtown).  Sekisui only orders 2 cheeks/day (or so the wait staff has told us) so get there early if you want to try it there.  Robata only sells theirs during dinner (I believe anytime after 5pm).  Sakura knows the awesomeness that is hamachi kama and they don't hold back.  You can order it for lunch or dinner.  And if they think the collar is tiny, they will give you two!  

It is fatty.  But not fatty in a bad way. This is delicate fat that melts in your mouth. It's also very meaty. You will be surprised at the way each nook and cranny yields a big old honkin' piece of fish meat. You will think you have finished this delicious cut of fish and then you turn it over and there's a whole other side of hidden meat crevices. You will find yourself eating the fins and the skin as if you've been stranded on a deserted island for the past year. But you won't care what others think. Because you are picking at your hamachi kama like Edward Chopstickhands, as if there's hidden gold inside. Because there is. Fishy, oily, skin-y, fin-y gold.