I hope next week will bring some Kids in the Hall

Wow, you guys sure were starved for a soft-hitting exposé of a decrepit mall fad! Who knew? Thanks for all your enthusiastic feedback, it has very slightly lessened the psychological blow. Here's a fun/terrible game that Regan and I have been playing, if you want to join in: every time you contemplate a major purchase, calculate it in terms of photo books ($2,125) and almost anything will seem like a justifiable expense. ("I got out of Target for only 1/20th of a photo book today!")

So anyway, uh, back to recipes now, everybody! (If you are thinking of my life in terms of televised sketch comedy from the 1990s, as you should always be doing, consider last week "Bad News Jeans" and this week "Lowered Expectations.")

First, some recovery pasta. 

BA#22: Spicy Cavatelli with Zucchini and Leeks. I ordered fresh cavatelli and it was a superlative decision on my part. I EXERCISE GOOD JUDGMENT SOMETIMES.

Next, a three-ingredient dinner for a still-exhausted soul.

One ingredient of which is burrata, due to its cream-containing properties. Soul cream! BA#23: Classic Caprese Salad.

Then, I don't know, kind of a cleanse, I guess?

BA#24: Crispy Brown Rice "Kabbouleh." I keep reading and re-reading the list of ingredients, and it makes no sense, but somehow this is delicious. (Lowered expectations.)

BA#25: Spinach Salad with Dates. This should be called Spinach Salad with Dates and Lime I Just Keep Noticing Lime It's So Distracting That There's Lime In Here But It Tastes Fine I Guess.

BA #26: Spinach-Honeydew Cooler. I just don't have it in me to generate commentary for spinach water at this point.

Except to say that it kind of goop-ifies your fridge, so do with that what you will. Hey Green Stuff, who's your dark handsome friend over there?

Somewhere in my lengthy list of regrets regarding last week's shoot is my failure to hire Anna as a personal posing coach ahead of time.

This would have helped a lot. 


So You've Decided To Get Glamour Shots in 2014

A handy guide to help you make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime experience. (Warning: experience not recommended more than once per lifetime. Consult with your mental health care provider and financial advisor before attempting experience.)

Congratulations! The confluence of two of the most highly-regarded business entities of our modern world, Groupon and Glamour Shots, has lured you into making a purchase. You are probably nursing some vague nostalgia for your participation in the Glamour Shots craze of the early 1990s, as well as a misguided belief that doing foolish things ironically is very funny indeed. That's great! Hold on to that. Your sense of humor is all you have in this world. Soon that will be even closer to literally true.

Setting Things In Motion

  • One of the most important assets you can possess throughout this adventure is a solid reason for doing it. Amusing yourself, as noted above, is a timeless and versatile motivator. Other driving forces might include a desire to escape your children for a few hours and a friendship that is essentially built on a series of escalating dares.
  • Call to book your appointment. IMPORTANT: When the woman on the phone announces that you have purchased a boudoir session, do not clearly indicate to her that this was never your intention. If you must, mumble something about "maybe just head shots, though?" This question will be ignored. Practice not being heard. Embrace it as your fate.
  • As you are unprepared to discuss ideas for a boudoir shot, your best option at this point in the conversation is to begin flailing: mentally, physically, and above all, verbally. When she asks what sort of activities you and your husband like to do together, for example, pause for long enough that she starts to suspect that you do not in fact have a husband. Keep pausing. Say "Um" so that she knows you are still on the line. Eventually ask, "Camping?" The woman will stop petitioning you for ideas after this.
  • Now comes the first minor test of endurance as the exasperated employee starts offering up possible scenarios for your sexy photo shoot. The physical element of your flailing is going to come into play here. Pace, flap your free hand, pull silent-movie-grade faces of horror: whatever it takes to get you through "maybe just wear your husband's work shirt and favorite coffee mug" and "sexy sports jersey and undies while holding a football and everything is black and white except the football." Kneel to the ground, if needed. Pressing your forehead against cold tile can have a surprising calming effect.
  • If you are feeling generous, warn your friend in advance about the potential content of her booking phone call. Remember, though, that technically this was her idea in the first place and you owe her nothing.

The Approach

  • Now that you have your assignment, it's time to get serious. If you are able, focus your stress into a single majestic zit directly between your eyes. This will serve as a clever and impressively dedicated visual callback to the first time you had Glamour Shots done at age 13.
  • Every time you contemplate being photographed in your underwear, eat something. Think of it as a fun drinking game, but with pretzels and taffy and crippling anxiety instead of booze and Bob Newhart. Wash that food down with more food.
  • Assemble your outfits and your props. Don't forget to keep this whole thing at arms-length by out-ridiculousing the inherent ridiculousness of the situation. In glamour, as in life, earnestness will be your downfall. You cannot fail if you do not try.

  • This is where you are going to face some hard decisions. Dig deep.

  • If you are feeling uncertain about the direction of your shoot, explore some lingerie shops in your area. This will, at the very least, engage the mental component of your flail-dance, especially if you find one with a parrot that will squawk from an unseen perch and frighten you half to death. Now things are getting exhilarating!
  • Shave your legs. Paint your fingernails red. Say softly, to no one in particular, "I consider myself a feminist."
  • Take a moment to feel gratitude that your usual buzz of existential unease has been eclipsed by real, concrete dread.

The Night Before
  • Spend at least a couple of hours scouring the internet for reviews of other people's experiences with Glamour Shots. FLAIL. Flail yourself into a brief and troubled sleep.

Your Big Day!
  • Experiment with several different mental justifications for what you're doing. Eventually cast yourself in the role of fearless investigative journalist. You are doing…you know, not the Lord's work, exactly, but definitely work of some type.
  • As you drive toward your destination, consider what would happen if you just kept driving. Picture what kind of fresh start you would make with a guitar-shaped spatula, a plastic Darth Vader head, and ten of your husband's t-shirts. Live in this world for several minutes before deciding to follow your intended route.
  • Arrive at Glamour Shots. Feign good-natured excitement. 
  • You will immediately be offered a line of credit for all your Glamour Shots needs today and in the years to come. (The publishers of this informational pamphlet cannot recommend that you apply for a line of credit at Glamour Shots, even in jest.)

But you are a grown-up and should follow your bliss.

  • Now that you're through the paperwork, it's time to fully commit to your character. When the make-up artist asks what kind of look you want, use code words such as "dramatic" and "bold" to indicate that you wish to look like a fifty-year-old fan of hair metal.

  • Spend the next two hours being lulled into a false sense of security. Begin to believe that you were worried for nothing. Start thinking about which editing features might be worthwhile, keeping in mind how many otherwise-beautiful photos of you have been marred by drool.

  • Assume that this is what your mother-in-law-had in mind when she gave you that apron.

  • Get involved in your friend's shoot, too! An experience like this is a great chance to bond or possibly decide that it's best you never see each other again. Assistant photographer duties may include: holding the Eve Online book while she changes position, returning the Google Glass to her bag, carefully balancing Lord Vader on her feet.
  • Your make-up artist and photographer will both be very pleasant people. One of them will heroically break his finger in the course of his duties. This is as it should be, because when practiced effectively, glamour is a blood sport. Enjoy your time together, but do not be fooled: they are a part of this machine. Trust no one.

The Living Room

  • Having wandered around a public space in your undergarments for a good portion of the afternoon, it is natural to feel a sense of relief when you are back in your street clothes. It will seem, for a brief and shining moment, that your long journey is over. DO NOT LET YOUR GUARD DOWN AT THIS TIME. The real test is about to begin.
  • Option one (recommended): leave the building immediately and never return. Claim you are just taking your bags out to the car. Change your phone number, address, and legal name.
  • Option two: see it through. You are owed one retouched 8x10 and you will have it
  • Based on your due diligence the night before, you will already be aware that you are now walking into what is known as "the hard sell." It will still surprise you somewhat that the woman who directs you to "The Living Room" makes no attempt to mask her overtly sinister tone. "You can leave your bags out here or take them with you into The Living Room." "Time to go into The Living Room now." When this experience ends, you will vow never to reside in a home with any space that could be described in this manner. Nothing but dens, parlors, and sitting/drawing rooms from here on out.
  • There will a 15- to 20-minute wait in this small room. There is a large monitor and several examples of the types of products available for purchase scattered about. This brief, quiet confinement is unnerving and you will (not for the last time) be very grateful for the presence of your comrade. You are in this together. At one point your photographer will poke his head in and ask if you want water. When your friend jokes, "Are the prisoners allowed water?" notice how legitimately startled he looks. He knows that you know.
  • The Woman who ushered you into this cell will now bustle in with an Associate. It will be two against two; theoretically a fair fight. Your opponents, of course, are on their home field. At this time it may occur to you that in psychological warfare, being made-up as a clown is a slight tactical disadvantage.
  • The Woman and her Associate will pull up the results of your shoot. There will be a surreal and terrifying moment when they show you a close-up of your face "untouched" and the corresponding "edited" version. The before version, however, is too harrowing to be effective. This is a bold gambit, but it reeks of desperation: whatever issues may exist with your skin in reality, you will retain your reasonable certainty that it has never once looked like it was about to start falling off of your octogenarian visage in chunks. Smirk slightly as you regain your footing at this time.
  • It is time to make a digital "yes" and "no" pile of pictures. It will likely be more of an "I guess so" and "no" pile, but one way or another you will end up with a number a photos that were not outright rejected. There will be patently inauthentic flattery as you peruse the proofs. There will be highly unpleasant brusqueness when you say no. The Woman will indicate that you are not looking at the photos correctly. It's okay, though: you are.
  • When you have reluctantly consented to placing a number of pictures on the "maybe" pile, the dance will truly begin. "How are you thinking of displaying these?" will be the first question. "On the inside of my eyelids, projected from cringing memory," will be the honest but unspoken answer. "I don't know," will be the lie.
  • There will be a long discussion in which you barely participate wherein a photo book is hypothetically compiled, engraved, and sealed with a kiss for your lucky husband. There are many words volleyed between The Woman and her Associate, but it is all a dull murmur in your brain until a number is produced. This will take a very long time.
  • Now you should implicitly ask them "And how much will the fancy black photo book with the discrete cover and the personalized message be costing me today?" by tiredly raising your eyebrows. "Two" the Associate will say, and there will be a fleeting sting of disappointment, because two hundred dollars is not a hilarious figure. "…thousand, one hundred twenty-five," she will finish. Nod slowly. Work very hard to arrange your face into an expression that does not betray howling amusement. You are only getting started.
  • The Associate will work the phrase "as a consumer" into about half of her sentences. As a consumer she would want the package with the best value. As a consumer she would not want to miss out on the incredible deal. As a salesperson she will be coy; when your friend explicitly asks her to describe the packages on the lowest end of the price scale, she refuses and instead will take you "to the middle." The middle is where she is more comfortable as a consumer.
  • The Woman, who will have settled in between you and your friend on the couch, will be audibly disapproving of every concern you raise or price drop about which you ask. There will be sighing. There will be grunting.
  • The various approaches of The Woman and her Associate will betray their deep misunderstanding of almost everything about you, your husband, and your life, including but not limited to a bizarre assumption that you and your spouse have separate closets and a belief that said spousal closet would be enhanced by an enormous acrylic picture of you wearing a Wayne's World hat.
  • Throughout the ordeal up until now, you should have been quietly but frantically attempting to contact the outside world on your phone. Some good options are beseeching Twitter to send help and begging your husband to tell you exactly what to do via text message. Your phone will die at this time. It will be the closest thing to living in a horror movie that you have ever experienced up to this point in your life.
  • Remember all your flailing practice? Now is the time to tack hard in the other direction. Become very, very still and silent, even when addressed directly. Go dead in the eyes. Let the only tension in your body be the muscles that are pulling you up and across the arm rest, as physically far from The Woman as you can get.
  • Your friend will type something into her phone. The Woman will blatantly lean over to see what she is communicating, and to whom. You can now release the belief that social niceties are what keep you in this prison. This is not society as you know it. There are no rules here.
  • You have now been in this room for over an hour. Refuse to look at or speak to anyone but your friend. Ask her what she is going to do. Radiate despair and hopelessness. Feel a rush of gratitude like none you have ever known when your friend asks if they can pull up her pictures before you make a decision. TEAMWORK.
  • Use her turn as an opportunity to start applying some of the techniques you learned in your natural childbirth class five years ago. Attempt to focus the pain. Aim for a dissociative state.
  • Having some mental space at this time will allow you to accept the fact that you are going to give them money. You miss your life and your family. You miss the sights and smells of the outside world. You must now decide how much your release is worth to you. As a consumer.
  • Purchase the smallest package. It is an appallingly bad deal. It is an absurd amount of money. You will be haunted. You will be free.

After Care

  • The hours following your appointment will be a time of difficulty. There are several potential approaches to dealing with the lingering stress. The first is to lean into your suffering by calculating various desirable items that could have been purchased with your lost funds (Ex: 45.6 bottles of nail polish at MSRP, 1.95 manual espresso makers, 15.52 individual compression socks). This is a good option if you believe that pain is a bracing reminder that we are alive.
  • The second approach is the "It Could Be Somewhat Worse" model, wherein you try to think of dumber ways you could conceivably have spent that amount of money. It's hard to get a lot of mileage out of this one, as it is likely that your single example will be "Playing Kim Kardashian: Hollywood."
  • The third and most surprisingly effective option, according to our research, is to consider how glad you would be to give that sum in order to deal with a crisis, such as a minor medical emergency involving your child. Of course you would pay that in exchange for a safe and healthy kid, and look! You do in fact have a safe and healthy kid. Two of them, possibly. It helps to repeat the following to yourself, like a mantra: "The important thing is that she's okay."
  • Any of the above approaches can easily be supplemented by consuming a hamburger with Fritos on it.
  • Lastly, remember what The Woman and her Associate told you: these photos are an investment. Right now you may feel that the pictures are too bad to be good and too good to be hysterically funny, but you are forgetting that Glamour Shots, like a fine wine, take time to come into their own. Your photos may not seem brilliantly atrocious to you today, but recall that twenty years ago, this looked pretty good to your eyes:

Their day will come.


I'm pretty sure Anna won, though

It's definitely July now. For real.

We are a scant one month out from the solstice, meaning that there are…let me check my almanac…yep, eight more months of summer ahead of us. No choice but to beat the heat for a while by barely tolerating a trip to the splash pad.

Very refreshing! At least we enjoyed the company.

Meanwhile, Dan is out of town, so I searched the Bon Appetit for a recipe I would be willing to make for just myself and came up with BA#21: smoked salmon on toast.

This might not seem very ambitious until you consider that my menu plan for tomorrow night is "pretzels."

It was tasty. I highly recommend putting smoked salmon on toast and then giving yourself credit for cooking.

With Daddy gone, we're stuck entertaining ourselves, what to do? Anna has a lovely new stack of thoughtful and engaging birthday gifts, so obviously the girls spent four hours yesterday playing a game called "Pillow Head."

I am not 100% clear on the rules.


Permanent (almost) midnight

I generously instructed Dan to pick out any recipe he wanted for his birthday as long as it was located within the Bon Appetit through which I am currently making my way and several days later I totally came through, because I am right on top of things.

BA#18-20: Nashville-Style Hot Chicken, Classic Coleslaw, and Banana Meringue Pudding.

An exhausting number of kitchen-hours later, I have learned the following: I should leave the fried chicken to the professionals, all coleslaw tastes the same to me, and I should leave the pudding to the professionals.

At least everyone was pretty impressed by my effort.

Also impressive: Anna and I constructed our very first big-kid Lego set! I found many things about Cinderella's castle tiny and delightful. I found many other things extremely stressful. Here are the castle-related issues I have concerns about, in order from least to most anxiety-provoking:

5) The wisdom of a defensive strategy that involves plugging up your murder hole with pink crystal hearts;

4) The crushing amount of cultural pressure to stay traditionally princess-shaped it must take to drive someone to sleep on a treadmill;

3) The Rorschachian implications of how much these necklaces look like a noose to me;

2) The current state of Tom Servo's career; and

1) The fact that it is constantly, constantly JUST ABOUT TO TURN MIDNIGHT RUN CINDERELLA HURRY HURRY HURRY HURRY HURRY HURRY you know what I'm just going to take the clock off and see if Anna notices.


Still only the second most distressing birthday cake I've made her

You probably don't realize this, but while I was off galavanting at the beach and barely, barely enduring my current existence, I was also making all the progress in my summer Bon Appetit. Ran into a hurdle or two! Couple of hurdles. And one puddle.

BA#11: Green Minestrone. Ingredients I had never heard of and also could not find anywhere: fregola, ditalini. Thing I used instead: orzo.

BA#12: Cured Salmon with Fennel and Carrot Salad.

Way in which I chickened out: opted for gin over aquavit. My concern was probably unfounded, as this fish tastes entirely of salt. (That was a recommendation, by the way.)

BA#13: "Caprese" salad with peaches, burrata, and tarragon.  Ingredient I have definitely heard of but still couldn't find anywhere: fresh tarragon. Thing I used instead: dried tarragon. Ingredient that made that trip to the third store of the day worthwhile: burrata, which is cheese soaked in cream, surrounded by more cheese. VERY GOOD, ITALY. NICELY DONE.

BA#14: Scallops with Hazelnuts and Warm Sun Gold Tomatoes. Ingredient I have heard of but could not find anywhere: Sun Gold tomatoes. Thing I used instead: regular tomatoes.  Ingredient for which I have fresh appreciation: toasted hazelnuts.

BA#15: Sorrel Rice Bowls with Poached Eggs. Ingredient I have never heard of and also could not find anywhere: sorrel. Thing I used instead: chard. Reason I forgive this dish anyway: poached eggs.

BA#16: "Caprese" salad with melon, scamorza, and mint. Ingredient I had never heard of and also could not find anywhere: scamorza. Thing I used instead: mozzarella. Thing I should have used instead: burrata, always.

BA#17: Summer Fruit Crisp. What on earth happened here Erica why do all of your desserts liquefy: I do not know. Possible gypsy curse.

Way in which I managed to make it worse, somehow: friendly wave.

Hey, SPEAKING OF! Yesterday, Anna turned this many:

She requested solar system cupcakes.

I didn't really think to change out the red tablecloth, causing our universe to take on a very unsettling atmosphere.

Probably didn't help that the black frosting made the children look like plague victims.

Or at least Robert Smith fans.