The Art of Eating Sunflower Seeds

The first thing you need to know is that the drive between Lake Havasu City, my home town, and Barstow, the city you have to drive through to get from Havasu to Los Angeles, is about two and a half hours long. It’s not a scenic two and a half hours that go by fast because it is such a pleasant drive with lots of pretty things to look at. Its two and a half hours of desert and sun and the occasional small cluster of houses that look abandoned, but aren’t... And when it’s dark it’s just a long drive of darkness with the occasional headlight. I have driven this long long road about one hundred times in my life. That’s right, the drive between Barstow and Havasu was so long and boring that on the way to Havasu my sister and I actually took the time to figure out how many reasons we have had in our lifetimes to drive this route and then crunched the numbers to come up with about one hundred times. It is, unfortunately, pretty accurate.

Well, this time I was all by myself and I had already listened to a Jim Gaffigan CD and was bored with all my easily accessible music. As I sat there, wondering what I could do to amuse myself, I looked over and saw the bag of sunflower seeds that Ashley had left in my car from our drive home. I don’t normally enjoy sunflower seeds, but seeing as how I was still a good hour/hour and a half from Barstow, I decided to try something. On the drive home I had seen Ashley eat them by the mouth full, spitting the seeds into a paper cup. I’d never done this, but it looked easy enough, so I thought I’d give it a shot. I honestly thought it was going to be very simple. Why wouldn’t it be? It’s just sunflower seeds, for crying out loud. A good way to keep myself occupied while I was driving with nothing else to do plus, I’d get a snack!

So, I grabbed the bag of seeds and poured a bunch into my hand. They were covered with a yellow, cheddar flavored powder, which then got all over my hands and jeans. Great start. As I tossed the forty or fifty seeds into my mouth I briefly wondered if that was too many. My thoughts were immediately confirmed when I realized that to break one of them open I had to shove the rest of them to the sides of my mouth, out of the way. There wasn’t enough room! Seeds that I had moved between my cheeks and my teeth on both sides of my mouth kept falling out and getting in the way as I tried to break open a miniscule seed with my teeth (Have you ever noticed how small those things are?).

As I tried to gracefully maneuver a single seed into position, get out the itty bitty edible part, and swiftly spit the shells into a cup I noticed a car coming up on my passenger side. It was also at that moment I realized that I was doing these things neither gracefully nor swiftly. I felt like a young cowboy trying to impress his older peers with his tobacco chewing and spitting skills, but failing completely to do it even half as skillfully as they could with their years of experience. I was getting the shells all over the place and I looked like a chipmunk with his cheeks stuffed to bursting with nuts. Not wanting anyone, even a complete stranger driving past me, to witness my messy first attempt at eating Sunflower seeds, I quickly lowered the cup and tried to suck my cheeks in as much as possible. I think I stopped breathing too and I can only imagine the plastic look on my face as I tried to look normal. I’m sure I failed completely.

Out of that first mouthful I think I ate a totally of ten seeds and twenty shells. The rest escaped into the cup every time I spit. For my second attempt I decided to put about ten seeds in my mouth. That worked a lot better, but I still had trouble separating the tiny seeds from the shattered shells. In the end I decided that I don’t like my food to be such hard work to get to. And also, I don’t like the taste of shells. Laugh at me if you want, but this is an art, people. Eating Sunflower seeds by the mouthful is not just a pastime, it is a skill. Try it. It’s not as easy as you think.


A Pleasant Stink

My sister, Ashley, and her boyfriend, Adam, were in town earlier this week and they decided that they wanted to try the Stinking Rose. A whole menu made around garlic sounded a little bit overkill to me but Adam is a big fan of garlic and I, being somewhat of an amateur I-think-I-can-make-anything chef, was interested in trying it as well.

Walking into the Stinking Rose, on La Cienega in Hollywood, I was surprised to see that it was rather dark. I had only seen it from the outside before and I had assumed, from the nondescript, white building, that it would have a normal amount of light, like most restaurants. There were tables and booths that had canopies of draped, rich cloth and snakes of garlic adorning the walls. The colors stayed close to the dark theme, being deep shades of red, green, gold, and blue. The whole place had the feeling of coven being taken over, the original decorations remaining intact, and shielded from being taken back by the previous occupant with a plethora of garlic. I liked it.

Our pleasant waiter smiled his “I know I’m being overly nice, but I need your money” smile and took our drink and appetizer order. We went for simplicity for the first part of the meal with a small, cast iron skilled filled with roasted cloves of garlic in oil. They were caramelized and soft enough to be spread over the soft dinner roles that come with every visit. Delicious. There was a little dish on every table filled with a spread of what tasted like diced fresh garlic and parsley in oil. The raw garlic made it a little spicy and it paired wonderfully with the caramelized garlic appetizer. As we enjoyed the beginning of our meal, Ashley and Adam talked about how the smell of garlic seeps out of your skin if you eat too much. According to them, you can’t get rid of the smell for days. After telling them to stop being disgusting and that it is not true, I decided I’d had enough garlic appetizer and that I was going to wait for my food. Purely coincidental.

Ashley, who is not a very big eater, got the shrimp Caesar salad; Adam, who eats everything, got a huge seafood platter with mussels, shrimp, and crab, all of it coated in a very garlicky butter (with more on the side, of course); and I got Gnocchi with asparagus in a garlic, gorgonzola sauce. In case you are not familiar, Gnocchi is a small potato dumpling, most often described as potato pasta. It’s very good, but can be heavy and doughy tasting if not made correctly. Their Gnocchi was actually called Gnoccheti, which just meant that the Gnocchi was smaller than the normal size, and very light and fluffy. My asparagus was a little overcooked, but the sauce was to die for. It was thick and rich with just the right amount of garlic and a hint of gorgonzola, which can be an overwhelming cheese. I would definitely order it again (on a calorie splurge day).

Ashley got a Caesar salad, so how much can I say about that? You can never go wrong with a Caesar salad. Adam’s mussels were a little burned, but the crab was superb and the shrimp were cooked just right (he let me try some).

I wouldn’t recommend it as a date place, if only for the high garlic factor, but I would love to go back with a group of friends or on a night that I need some alone time, sit at the bar, order some seafood and a glass of white wine, and just be. And no, I did not smell like garlic the next day.


A New Happy Place

Anyone who has known me for more than a day knows that I am in love with sandals and flip flops. Exclusively. My mom once grounded me from wearing sandals for a whole month because Sunday after Sunday I repeatedly wore flip flops to church even though I was told to wear real shoes a hundred times. It was the worst month of my life. Another time she forced me to buy a pair of ballerina flats (of which I picked the softest, most flexible ones I could find) because I was wearing sandals in the middle of winter. I asked for a basket filled with sandals for my birthday last year and I got it! Feel free to repeat that present every year, Mom and Dad.

When there is fear of frostbite I will wear my Uggs (I could not care less if they are in style or not, they are really comfortable) and I will, of course, wear heels if the occasion demands it, but I am never happy about it and you will find a pair of sandals in my purse or car.

Knowing my love of shoes that let your feet breath, paired with my love of a good deal on sandals, Kendall took me to her favorite shoe store yesterday. It is called Top Shoes and from now on that is where I will be if you can’t find me. This store is ridiculous. There are hundreds of shoes, ranging from flip flops to spiky hooker heels, 90% of them priced from $10-$20 with a few thrown in there for no more than $40. Browsing the shelves of trendy, not so trendy, unique, and traditional sandals I was so happy I felt a little silly. I do not enjoy shopping, but I easily spent an hour and a half in this tiny store in Westwood, taking my time looking through the vast selection.

If I was not so uncomfortable in heels (and not so awkwardly tall in them) I would have gotten at least a few of the stylish options they carried. From platforms and wedges, to traditional stilettos and rocker looking, spiked heels, there was a style for every girl you know. Kendall, however, picked three especially hot pairs:

In the end I decided on four pairs if sandals, even though I wanted about twelve.

The store itself is not impressive looking. From the outside you would probably think everything in it is crap. Actually, walking in you would probably think everything in it is crap. It’s not wonderfully organized and it is small and crowded and at times a little smelly. But all these things together make for an amazing place to find a treasure that you will wear with a secret pride at the way you found it for years to come. Plus, it always makes you feel special to answer a question like “Where did you get those shoes?” with, “This little place I found…”. And believe me, people will ask.


Two Dreams In One Place

I was greeted to the Larchmont Farmer’s Market by a dozen small dogs of different ages, all looking for someone to love them. Some were full grown and others had the distinctive, sleepy look of a baby on their tiny, fuzzy faces. One little, black dachshund jumped up and down against his wire enclosure. Wagging his tail delightedly, he seemed equally impressed by every person who passed by. “Which one of you lucky people gets to take me home?” he seemed to say. Wishing I could have the honor, but knowing I can’t, I tickled a fluffy puppy’s head falling asleep in the arms of a child standing next to me, and forced myself to move on toward the rest of the market.

“Ok. So, there are certain people we go to for each thing we want to get. This guy here has the best lettuce”, Kendall said to me at the first stand. She was acting as my guide to this particular farmer’s market since it was the first time I’d been to it and she had gone many times before. After selecting the plumpest head of lettuce and a moderate sized red onion we strolled along, getting bright red tomatoes on the vine from one guy and dimpled, juicy oranges from another. We worked our way through the covered booths, picking the best of what we wanted along the way.

Passing by one stand, we stopped to taste the different types of homemade hummus that vendor was selling. There was sun dried tomato and basil hummus, artichoke hummus, spicy red pepper hummus, and a few others with crispy, light pita chips for us to dip with. While the sun dried tomato and basil one was truly fabulous, I decided on the artichoke because that’s the kind of mood I was in. I threw in some fresh, whole wheat pita and started to look forward to my lunch the next day.

Even though this was one of the smaller farmer’s markets I had been to, the whole place buzzed with activity, conversation, and fresh smells that perked up your senses and made you feel awake and energized. Adding to the pleasant aroma and general pleasant feeling of the day were the flower stands at both ends of the market. As I looked at the colorful array of options, I pictured myself walking back to the car, arms full of giant, golden sunflowers and deep purple irises (wrapped in brown paper like you see in the movies, of course) to be arranged in a big, clear vase, displayed on the mosaic table in the kitchen, and enjoyed all day long. I quickly remembered that I am rarely home and when I am it is usually dark outside. Those gorgeous flowers would be wasted on the cats. So, resignedly, I filed my flower buying dreams away in the back of my mind with my dreams of owning a dog, in a folder called “3-5 Years From Now”.

The entire excursion was short, about fifteen minutes, but I have yet to be disappointed by an outdoor market full of fresh fruit, vegetables, and flowers and this one was no exception.