Monthly Archives: July 2011

Cerebral Summer Reading List

For me, summer reading means Jacqueline Susann. It means froth and guilty pleasures and print that can be read through sunglasses. Unfortunately, due to some masochistic part of my personality, my summer reading has not featured any of those elements. In the past I have picked one or two high level novels to tackle as the temperature rises and filled the rest of the time with writers like Susann, Dan Brown, Charlaine Harris, John Grisham, James Patterson, Sophie Kinsella, Michael Crichton, and Helen Golding. This summer I elected to take hours above my masters to pursue professional and educational opportunities. Rather than detailing my reading, I’ll let a picture speak a hundred thousand words.

Of those books, only the top one isn’t for school and it is sadly the most neglected. But, as is always the case when you open yourself to knowledge, the books below it have really informed my point of view beyond academia. Some suggestions for my readers who want the Cliffsnotes version of my reading:

  • Check out Brazilian Tropicialia music. My four year old especially love Os Mutantes and Caetano Veloso. It’s pretty funny to hear her singing Portuguese protest music. (If you are a Beck fan, I especially recommend this because he draws heavily from Tropicalia–see Mutations as a prime example.)
  • Read Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. It’s beautiful, intelligent, and amazingly well-crafted.
  • Watch Hotel Rwanda and Black God, White Devil. The first will remind you of the price of indifference. The second is an example of Brazilian Cinema Novo, which continues to impact modern American film making.

As my history professor suggests in his syllabus: eat well, nap often.



Categories: Let Me Entertain You | Tags: | 1 Comment

The Last Time I Lied to the Police . . .

. . . I was in New Orleans.

So begins the ballad of Matthew and Amber.

It was January 2005 and I had been married for three days. My husband and I had driven all night from Florida, arriving at the river front Hilton at three am. We slept like newborns after a week of the family and friends and chaos that surround a wedding. With one day until our honeymoon cruise, we woke up ready to dance through the city on our cloud of marital bliss. Before the next day dawned, we’d be lying to the law.

The day was a dream: we ate at Cafe Du Monde, kissed in the French Quarter, bought our first Christmas ornament along the Mississippi in a random little shop that celebrated the holiday all year round. Frivolous and drunk on love (we abstained from the devil’s nectar), we wandered the streets of New Orleans, stopping only to buy the occasional trinket or cigar.

Our day was to end at Harrah’s with a few dollars thrown away on luck and chance. But then, then, then my new spouse discovered the horrible truth. His driver’s license had gone astray.

Frantic, we retraced our steps. It wasn’t in the cigar shop, the last place he’d used it. It wasn’t in the car or the hotel room. Again and again we poured over them. For how could we take a honeymoon cruise when my new lord and master had no proof of who he was? (Remember this is before the security beef up).

In desperation we called the cruise line. What could we do if he had no identification?

Was it stolen? They wanted to know.

We didn’t know for sure. Which was true.

Well, if it was stolen, you can get a police report. Does he have another form of photo ID?

Just one it turns out. An expired Six Flags Over Texas Season Pass. With his picture.

If you can get a police report and have that ID, we can let him on.

Our next call was to the police. They would hear our case, but before we could make our report, we had to get an incident report from our hotel.

Our first lie was to the New Orleans Hilton Head of Security. And it went a little something like this . . .

On Bourbon Street we noticed a strange man behind us, but we didn’t pay him much attention. We bought a cigar and noticed him in the back of the shop. After that we didn’t see him again. When we went to enter Harrah’s the driver’s license and twelve dollars were missing.

(Notice this wallet wasn’t missing. We threw in the twelve dollars for authenticity. After all, what driver’s license pick pocket can pass up that tempting sum?)

The security guard sent us out into the New Orleans night, lie still thick on our tongues and scrawled on the green hotel incident report. On the six block walk, we did not discuss what we were about to do. Perhaps we feared voodoo would curse us.

Officer Davis didn’t even take us beyond the lobby of the precinct. He interviewed us at the desk after we waited a few minutes on the comfy coaches, flipping through magazines. We might have been opening a checking account to get a free toaster.

Lying to the police took less then 10 minutes. Officer Davis sent us back into the night with only the slightest smile as he told us that they probably weren’t going to find the guy. How could they? He was such a stellar criminal mastermind. I wouldn’t be surprised if they based a character on him for Treme.

The next morning my spouse and I lied once more to the cruise line check in lady. By then our story had developed a deeper meaning and even a motif or two. It was a little sad that the story was then retired.

And so the lying Andersons boarded a Carnival Cruise with a false police report and an expired Six Flags Season Pass.

The moral? Don’t clean out your wallet. You never know when you might need an expired theme park pass.



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From A Madrid Kitchen

One of the more interesting experiences of my young life was a cooking lesson with my landlady in Madrid. She spoke no English, I spoke little Spanish, and her granddaughter sort of translated. However, her recipes, once I figures them out, are amazing. Here is one of my favorites–old school traditional Madrid Gazpacho. Many households in Madrid keep the concentrated version of this in the fridge, adding water to serve to drop in guests on scorching afternoons. We’re having an epic heatwave in Texas, so this is perfect. Get the freshest, most local ingredients available.


2 slices stale white bread, crusts removed

1 small onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 TBS olive oil (Spanish if at all possible!!)

1 tsp coarse salt

1 cucumber, seeded and chopped, with some of the skin removed

1 red bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped

4 to 5 ripe red tomatoes, skinned and seeded

2 TBS sherry vinegar (red wine vinegar will work if you don’t have sherry)

scant 3 cups ice water

pinch of cayenne pepper

pinch of cumin (This was my landlady’s secret tip)

To Prepare:

Soak the bread in water, then squeeze it out. Put it in a blender or food processor with the onion, garlic, olive oil, and salt. Puree.

Add the cucumber to the mixture and puree. Add red bell pepper and puree. Finally, add the tomatoes and vinegar and puree. Chill mixture for at least 12 hours, preferably overnight. (You can put it in the freezer, but I think it doesn’t taste as good this way.)

When you are ready to serve, dilute the mixture with ice water (don’t use ice cubes!!) and season to taste with cayenne pepper and cumin. Arrange a selection of the garnishes listed below for people to add to the basic soup.

Garnish Ideas:

4 TBS fried croutons

2 hardboiled eggs, peeled and chopped

4 TBS chopped red, green, or yellow bell pepper

4 TBS chopped onion or green onion

Green or black olives, pitted and chopped (Spanish if possible!!)







Categories: Feed the Belly | Tags: | Leave a comment


Last year my uncle sent me a box of old photographs my paternal grandmother had left behind upon her death. Some of the pictures traced my growing up through school shots and snapshots. Those were of little interest to me. What was fascinating, what still is fascinating, is the pictures that allow me to piece together the image of a complete stranger: my father.

In the summer of 1979, my father was mountain climbing in the Grand Tetons. He blacked out and fell to his death. I was born the next October. Those were the facts I knew from a young age, black and white, like the pixels of an enlarged newspaper photograph. It has taken many years of collecting fleeting bits of information in my head to be able to step back, one inch at a time, and start to see the pixels come together to make a complete person.

My father was an athlete (I didn’t discover until my uncle’s package that he was voted Most Athletic). He played baseball, football, basketball, and ran track. At some point he was in a softball league because the dog he and my mother shared stole the ball during a game and wouldn’t give it back. He liked to surf.

My father’s high school girlfriend was named Jill. They were in some sort of car accident together. That’s all anyone really has to say about Jill.

My father traveled through Europe, sending back quaint little postcards. He brought my grandmother back leaf patterned china from Ireland.

My father had strawberry blond hair and a beard that grew in red, apparently the same red as my hair. His hair was short in high school and long, roughly shoulder length in college and wedding pictures.

My father married my mother on December 23. They had a Christmas tree with special decorations.

My father found out he was going to become such at a lunch where my mother threw up.

My father loved the movie Jaws. Whenever he went out on the water with my grandmother he would say “We’re going to need a bigger boat.”

My father would go on long walks when he was angry, like I do.

My father walked on the balls of his feet. I have been told by two of the women who knew him best that I walk the same way.


There is something odd and fascinating and frightening knowing that there are people who see elements in you that belong to someone you’ve never met. Both my mother and grandmother would tell me about my father in jumps and starts: they would tell some tiny little detail, one of the things listed above, followed by an anecdote, and then shift into silence. And so I have been left with this watercolor impression. There is so much I don’t know–his birthday, his favorite ice cream, his favorite book. There is so much I can never know–his smell, the sound of his voice, the feel of his embrace. It is because of this that I cling, like someone drowning, to what I do know and the few items that I can hold to convince that he was once real.


I wore my father’s class ring, Costa Mesa High School 1969, until my wedding ring replaced it. The surviving Irish china is displayed in my dining room. The postcards he sent back to his mother as he traveled through Europe are framed on my living room wall. His travel journal is next to mine in my bedside table.

I love the Lakers. I don’t care if they win or lose, who the players are, who the coach is. I love the Lakers because my father did.

I love Jaws. I watch it every year on the Fourth of July to remember my All-American California boy Dad. I love Jaws because my father did.

I watch my daughter as she bounces along on the balls of her feet. I look at my son, with his strawberry blond hair, and wonder if someday he’ll have a red beard.

I love a ghost whom I have never met. I know he loves me.




Categories: Life and Other Nonsense | Tags: | Leave a comment

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