25 August 2014

End of Summer Vacation Tomato Pasta

I'm still digging out from weeks old emails and putting away the hiking boots and sorting through the many many pictures we took (on one camera and three phones), so the vacation re-cap is yet to come.

The day we got home, there was - predictably - nothing to eat. Except that the pantry had dry pasta, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, and the fridge had a tired but serviceable lemon, and the garden had parsley and basil and tomatoes! And so, dinner was had: Jack Denton Scott's Spaghettini Estivi.

This is a pasta dish that I grew up with - my mother had ripped it out of the New York Times and pasted it into her black notebook of recipes, with a note that it was from The Complete Book of Pasta. We used to eat it on summer Sundays, when we'd been at the beach all day (and weren't having a grilled London broil and some fresh delicious buttered corn). It's so easy - chop up a bunch of tomatoes, season them, and toss the uncooked sauce with hot pasta. If we're feeling fancy, we'll do a caprese version of the same - adding cubed mozzarella and subbing balsamic vinegar for the lemon juice. In fact, we eat that version more than this one because there's a guy at the farmers market with fabulous fresh mozz, so when we eat this more spare, lemon juice version it feels revelatory each time we decide to have it.

And even though it's called spaghettini estivi, I usually use a short pasta like rotini or orecchiette because I like eating it with soup spoon. But I still call it spaghettini estivi, just because.

You probably have all of the ingredients already, so try it.

Spaghettini Estivi, adapted from Jack Denton Scott

2 lbs ripe tomatoes, chopped
a few sprigs of flat Italian parsley, chopped
a good handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely minced
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 lb spaghettini (or whatever shape you want)
Grated parmesan cheese or asiago cheese (optional)

1) In a big bowl, mix together the tomatoes, parsley, basil, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Do not cook! Put it aside.

2) Cook and drain pasta, and add to tomato mixture.

3) Serve, with grated cheese, as desired.

04 August 2014

Portmanteau Publication

I know I told the nice publicist who sent me the free book that I wasn't going to review the book because I thought it was lame and my ten year old thought it was for babies (even though the press release said it was for kids ages 8 and up) and so I'm not going to review the book but I can't let it go by that there's someone on the masthead whose job is Director of Bookazine Development and Marketing.


Bookazine.

Is it a book or is it a magazine?

It reminds me that my grandmother would call magazines "books". And I've known other people to call catalogs "magazines". And since when do books have mastheads anyway?

It all rather makes my head hurt and I just wish things would stay in their own little compartments.

01 August 2014

Insane Packing

Meanwhile, at home, we have been packing packing packing. I have been setting aside the vacation underwear. My husband has been experimenting with the vacuum sealer; he thought it would help his long underwear take up less room in the duffle. Yeah, whatever. My theory of packing is that you use the long underwear to wrap around the oddly shaped and/or fragile things, instead of turning it into misshapen stiff blue boards.

I was indulgent though, for a time, in the interests of marital harmony. However, I was forced to confiscate the Foodsaver when he vacuum packed some clothespins.

Vacuum packed for freshness!


Clothespins. Those Foodsaver bags cost about 40¢ a piece! I think the bag cost more than the contents.

This is going to be some trip.

31 July 2014

Full of Pique

It was one of those mornings. I had to get up at before the crack of dawn, in order to catch an early train, because I had to get to a dentist appointment at 8:00, because on Monday, I went to the same dentist (at 8 am, same early train, same dark arising) and was told that I had a tiny little cavity. I can't remember the last time I had a cavity. Ancient fillings falling apart, leading to root canals and crowns? Sure. Tiny little newborn cavities? Blech.

On the train, the accursed early train, I discovered that I'd left my wallet home. My wallet, with my monthly train ticket, and my flex account credit card. So I got a bill from the conductor, which he claimed they will waive when I whine at customer service with my actual ticket in hand, but I'm going to have to whine nicely at the conductor on the train home so that I don't get a second bill. I did, however, get a belly laugh out of the dentist's assistant when I told him that I'd left my wallet home and that "of course, I won't be able to pay you". He shrugged, which is one of the reasons I adore him.

My general sense of pique at the ill start to my day was thoroughly exacerbated by the plethora of infuriating stories in the good grey lady, like the one about the trust fund dilettante whose neighbors don't like that she's inviting artists to her eight acre estate in suburban Connecticut. Read it, the whole thing. It's full of gag-inducing gems, ranging from "littered with Mr. Zorn’s charcoal sketches, including one that bore the digestive imprint of a chicken" to "Home-schooled until the age of 14, when her mother, Euphemia Brock Slater, a Mayflower descendant, died from complications of rheumatic fever..."

Then there was the front page article about the dare-devil idiots swinging from natural rock arches out in Moab, UT.

Agency officials say they are always surprised by how fast extreme sports evolve around them. One day, they got a call that someone had built a human catapult from the top of a plateau. They then realized they had no rules about human catapults, for or against.

Right - there are no rules about human catapults because normal human beings never dreamed that anyone would try such a thing outside of a circus!

But the piece that really got me frothing at the mouth was the one about Under Armour's new ad campaign. It's geared towards women, and it showcases a ballet dancer. Great! But:

Advertising for Under Armour tends to feature elite athletes competing on fields, but to promote its women’s line the athletic apparel brand has a new commercial starring a nonathlete....Under Armour says Ms. [Missy] Copeland is the first nonathlete with whom it has signed an advertising contract.

Sputter, sputter, sputter.

What neither Under Armour nor its ad agency (and perhaps the New York Times too) realize is that ballet dancers are passionate, disciplined, fierce ATHLETES. To call this campaign one that uses a "non-athlete" is appallingly insensitive. Just because they're not playing a game in which someone loses and someone else wins, doesn't make them not athletes.

And lest you want to quibble, ask an orthopedist, or read the Merriam-Webster definition of athlete:

ath·lete
noun \ˈath-ˌlēt, ÷ˈa-thə-ˌlēt\

: a person who is trained in or good at sports, games, or exercises that require physical skill and strength

Ballet dancer = athlete. No question.

Tomorrow, I plan to wake up at a normal hour and I hope to be not infuriated by anything I read in the paper.

30 July 2014

When The Fat Lady Sings, It's About Health Insurance

If you are a New Yorker, or an opera aficionado, or a follower of all things union, you probably know that the Metropolitan Opera is on the cusp of a possible lockout: "The contracts for 15 unions at the Met expire on Thursday night."

But here's the little thing in this big sad story that gobsmacks me:

The Met sent its workers a memo last week saying that in the event of a lockout, unionized workers covered by the Met would lose their health insurance, and that paying for insurance under the federal Cobra law would cost $1,255 a month for individuals and $2,793 a month for families.

What the hell kind of fancy pants insurance costs $1,255 for an individual? That's $15,060 a year.

The insurance we have in my office is a "bronze" plan with a fairly high deductible and an out-of-pocket maximum of $6,250. The trade-off for the high deductible and out-of-pocket, is a fairly low premium, of $434.98 per month, which comes to $5,219.76 each year. If you add the annual premium to the out-of-pocket limit, you get a total of $11,469.76 per year. That's $3500 less a year than the Met is paying for individuals. And if I'm healthy and don't go to the doctor beyond my annual physical (which is covered outside of the deductible), I'm not going to invoke any of that OOP - so my overall cost is only the cost of the premium.

Some months ago, I was helping a friend of a friend navigate through the NYS health insurance exchange. What I realized then is that the relationship between premiums and out-of-pocket limits was such that if you are in a situation where you need to use all of the insurance, you're going to pay about the same amount of money no matter what "metal level" plan you pick - that the annual premium plus the out-of-pocket maximum was almost the same for any of the plans. By choosing a bronze plan, you'll have a lower monthly cost but you could have cost spikes through the year as you actually incur medical expenses. Choosing the platinum plan bumps up your monthly fixed costs, but mitigates any later incurred expenses.

You know how your utility company offers "budget billing", where they estimate your annual electric bill and divide it by twelve so you pay the same amount every month? There's more chance associated with a month to month electric bill: OMG I had to run the A/C 24/7 in July and ouch! The platinum plans are sort of like your electric companies budget billing, the bronze plan is like taking your chances and knowing that the A/C is going to run up your summer electric bill.

And here's what's crazy: if you're employed, you don't have any choice! You can get lucky and work for an employer like the Met, where the employer is probably picking up a big chunk of that $15,060 each year and the employees are probably paying next to nothing for their actually incurred health expenses. Or you can work for an office like mine - where the office pays 100% of our premium and we're on our own after that. But really, why should it be employer based? Health insurance ought to be severed from employment.

Why should you have to pay for insurance with post-tax dollars if you work for yourself or for a small company that doesn’t offer insurance, but with pre-tax dollars if you work for a larger company? Why should your employer’s preferences — including, as they do now, their preferences on what kind of birth control you should use — be more important than your own? And why should your insurance have to change if you get a new job?

What are we going to do to make that happen?

29 July 2014

Camp: It's all fun and games, until someone ends up in the clink.

I am beginning to wonder why we never sent the kid to camp before. The first day, there was the horse with the doily on its head. Over the weekend, we got a picture of her jumping! Of course, she was jumping over rails without a horse, but hey! (Or is that hay?)

Hey kid, where's your horse?


I think, though, the letters home may be even better than the pictures. Letter #1: I'm having the best time at camp. Letter #2: Daddy, remember those Tastykakes you bought me? They were confiscated because of "mice". Letter #3:


If you can't read that, it says:

Dear Mommy and Daddy,
Please send poker chips! Our bunk
all made businesses, and I'm
the casino, and we need some chips.
Love,
Miranda

POKER CHIPS.

Horses. Gambling. What's next, rum running?

You'll be happy to know that no poker chips were shipped off to the wilds, given that the letter arrived Monday and we pick her up on Friday. Mama ain't got time to FedEx no poker chips.




28 July 2014

A Rhetorical Pedantic Question

Today, let's complain about sizes. Oh, not the usual bit about how a size 12 dress isn't what it used to be, and size 000 is the new vanity waif size.

No, shoe sizes. Back in the day, like before I had that child of mine, I wore a size 10 shoe. I became resigned to the fact that it was impossible to buy shoes on sale, because they stocked fewer of the big (and tiny) sizes so by the time shoes were on sale, only the mid range, common sizes were left. Gradually, my feet crept up in size (thank you pregnancy and old age), and now they're a comfortable 11. Happily, I'm not the only one, so where it used to be that shoes ran up to size 10 and stopped, it's pretty common to find an 11 these days.

But a couple of weeks ago, I put on my size 11, purchased after childbirth, barely worn, Keen hiking boots, and groaned. Too small, toes hitting the end of the shoe. Not at all good, given that I need them for our upcoming vacation.

I looked carefully at the label, and noticed that they're marked US-W 11 / Euro 42. Huh, I thought, my Danskos are a 43 - I thought Euro 43 was US-W 11. So I started looking online for boots in a Euro 43, and ended up ordering two pairs from Zappos (free return shipping FTW).

The first pair is marked US-W 11 / US-M 10 / Euro 43:


The second pair is marked US-M 10 / Euro 44:


So - the three pairs of boots marked with three different Euro sizes, but two are the "same" women's size, and two are the "same" men's size.

In other words, there is absolutely no rhyme or reason to shoe sizes either. WHY IS THAT? WHY CAN'T THINGS BE STANDARDIZED? An inch is an inch, a kilogram is a kilogram. How hard would it be to standardize shoe and clothing sizes?

Oh, and I ended up with the Merrell boots - in a men's size 10. My next pair of hiking boots are going to be from the clown shoe department. My 10 year daughter is already wearing a woman's 7 or 7 1/2 shoe; I told her that she was going to be shopping for shoes in the drag queen department when she's full grown.

I hope I haven't scarred her for life.