Friday, September 13, 2013


By no stretch of the imagination could you call me a perfectionist. I'm more like an "imperfectionist" in that I'd rather do several projects that are "good enough" than spend hours getting one thing just right. It's a system that works for me. But last night was an exception…

Every so often, the stars line up and I have a clean house, a well-manicured lawn and a well-stocked fridge all at the same time. It's a Martha Stewart moment for me and I relish it, walking around my house as it radiates with Feng Shui. I was in this Zen-like state last night when a disturbing thought shook me out of my reverie. We had nothing to eat. Oh sure, there were lots of ingredients, but nothing you could call a meal. As much as I hated to mess up my clean kitchen, I knew there was no way out of it, I had to cook. Especially since our boys were home from college, they were always hungry.  

Since I'd have to clean the kitchen anyway, I decided to make several dishes at once: a vegetable curry for dinner, mini corn muffins for breakfast, and a spinach quiche for whenever. I mixed the muffin ingredients together and spooned the batter into four muffin pans. While I waited for the oven to heat up, I defrosted the frozen spinach in the microwave and started chopping vegetables for the curry. 

I have to clear something up at this point. Although my last name is "Venkataraman," you shouldn't assume that I'm Indian. The name came with the guy. And, while I have visited India, I didn't go there to take cooking lessons. Nevertheless, I do enjoy a good curry and I can usually follow a recipe. 

After I cleaned and chopped my vegetables and shoved all the peels, stems, etc. into the garbage disposal, I lined up my beautiful rainbow of onions, peppers, eggplant, cauliflower and potatoes. Just then, the oven beeped its readiness and I crammed all four muffin pans in at once. The muffins wouldn't take long and soon started to smell delicious. Our two dogs, Abby and Phoebe, were already camped out by the kitchen door, hoping for a sample. They were dreaming if they thought I would give them any.

As I heated the oil in the pan for my curry, I poured myself a glass of Merlot. I was sure Martha would've done the same. Then, following the recipe, I poured a tablespoon of mustard seeds into the hot oil and waited for them to pop. I didn't have to wait long before they started popping like popcorn and then hurtling themselves all over the kitchen. Hot oil pinged me everywhere at once. I tried shoving the pan to a back burner to make it stop (splashing hot oil in the process), but it was no use. The mini-grenades kept coming at me while I yelled, "Ow! Stop!" As if they cared. Just then, the timer went off for the muffins. Reluctantly, I put down the towel I'd been using to shield my face and sure enough, as I pulled out the first tray of muffins, a hot mustard seed flew into my eye--all the way from the back burner! The sudden shock made me drop the muffins, which scattered all over the floor. That was all the invitation Abby and Phoebe needed. They raced into the kitchen like they were in the home stretch of the Kentucky Derby to slurp up the hot muffins and cover the floor in dog slobber. 

I was so busy yelling at the dogs that I didn't see the fire raging on the stove where I had spilled the oil. In a panic, I looked for the fire extinguisher. Was it under the sink or in the garage? The hot mustard seeds were still coming at me as I ducked under the sink. Grabbing the extinguisher, I pulled the pin and swung around, knocking over my glass of merlot and splashing it all over my shirt. After the fire was contained, I took the rest of the muffins out of the oven. They were so burnt, not even the dogs would eat them.

I took a deep breath. What would Martha do? She would try to salvage her shirt, I thought. I turned on the water in the sink to wet the sponge and water started to fill the sink. I flipped on the garbage disposal but, instead of the water draining out, food started shooting up! Apparently, I had overloaded the disposal. I turned off the disposal and walked over to the fridge. I knew there was a bottle of club soda in there somewhere. As I reached inside, I knocked it over. Not thinking, I opened the bottle and club soda sprayed everywhere, like a scene from the Three Stooges. Soaking wet, I sat down on the kitchen floor and just started laughing.  I heard the front door open and my oldest son came in the kitchen, "What's for dinner, Mom?"  

I shook my head. "We're ordering pizza." I know that's exactly what Martha would have done.

Thursday, September 5, 2013


Even if you are the most well-adjusted person alive today, somewhere buried deep in your psyche lives an annoying little kid who looks a lot like you and has an irrational fear of….something. Who knows how it started? Maybe you read a scary story once, or maybe you were hurt or almost hurt doing something, but now it is forever imprinted in your brain…to be afraid.

My own fear of lightning (Keraunophobia) is just one of my mother’s many fears, handed down at a susceptible point in my childhood. I know for a fact that my mother was never struck by lightning, nor did she know anyone who even came close, but the minute she heard thunder, she tore out of the house, stopped our game of “kick the can” (even if we were winning!) and herded us into the house so fast we didn’t know how we got there.
And she was “the lightning police” for the entire neighborhood. One day, the kids across the street were swimming in their above-ground pool while their parents weren’t home (!) and it started thundering. With nary a thought for her own safety, my mother dashed over there and made them get out of the pool NOW. While she did not enjoy other people’s misfortune, quite the contrary in fact, she still felt compelled to tell you whenever some unfortunate soul, often on a golf course or a baseball field, had been struck dead by lightning, usually out of the clear blue sky.

Living in Florida, the lightning capital of the country,  helps to keep my fear alive and well and I’m quite sure I’ll never shake that one off.  I am also afraid of bears but it’s only a problem when we visit a National Park where they happen to live, so that fear doesn’t limit me so much.  But, as I grow older, I am developing some new fears including: Catoptrophobia (fear of mirrors), Barophobia (fear of gravity) and Geniophobia (a fear of chins).

My friend’s mother was afraid of riding in elevators, (a combination of acrophobia and claustrophobia) which was quite a manageable fear, and my younger son was afraid of clowns (Coulrophobia) for quite a while after seeing the movie “It.”  As long as he never joins the circus, he should be alright.  My older son suffered from Lachanophobia (a fear of vegetables), but he is slowly outgrowing it.

I know many people who suffer from Ergophobia (a fear of work), Phronemophobia (a fear of thinking) and Gnosiophobia (a fear of knowledge), but they don’t find it debilitating in the least.  Thankfully, I don’t know anyone who suffers from Ablutophobia (fear of washing or bathing) and I personally could never associate with people who had Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia (a fear of long words, of course). 

Luckily, people with Paraskavedekatriaphobia (fear of Friday the 13th) only have to freak out three times a year, at most, and sometimes only once a year, but the ones I feel most sorry for are those who suffer from Panophobia (fear of everything) and Phobophobia (fear of fear). Is that what FDR meant when he said: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”?

Even if your particular fear doesn’t have an official name, don’t feel bad, I’m sure there is someone who feels the same way you do. You could probably even find a support group online, unless of course you suffer from Cyberphobia (a fear of computers) or Anthropophobia (a fear of meeting new people). Then maybe you should just go lie down until you feel better, but don’t look under the bed, just in case.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


Who would have thought this could happen to us? An economic superpower in our day and we never saw it coming. Okay, that last part isn’t true. They did try to warn us:  the botanists and economists, the climatologists and even those pretentious foodies, damn them! But we refused to believe it. So spoiled and gluttonous were we that we couldn’t imagine such a vacuum in our lives, couldn’t imagine that one of our greatest pleasures, second only to, well you know, could disappear so suddenly, leaving us in a glassy-eyed stupor.

At first, there seemed to be no cause for alarm. Sure, a few high-end distributors declared bankruptcy and most of the artisanal boutiques quietly closed down, but that didn’t affect the rest of us. Even as the price started creeping up, we took it in stride, still happily gorging ourselves on a regular basis.  Every holiday was an excuse to buy new varieties created in whimsical shapes or mixed with exotic flavors like hot chili peppers, spicy ginger, aromatic curry powders or edible flowers.                       
People even ate it on insects! Now, why would I make that up? Others drank it in liquid form; some preferred it melted or frozen. Touted for centuries as an energy-booster, an antioxidant, and an aphrodisiac, it was all that and much more. In fact, some of the wealthiest ladies went to luxury spas so they could bathe in it! Isn’t that decadent? The flavors were so rich and complex that no scientist ever managed to synthesize it in the lab. Believe me, they tried. If I told you its name meant “food of the gods,” maybe you could start to understand the depth of our loss…  

In our defense, we had a lot of other problems to worry about. There were no world population councils back then so people could have as many children as they wanted. My own grandparents had twelve kids! The population climbed to 9 billion before we did anything about it. On top of that, the climate was changing and real estate which had been “underwater” due to the housing bubble was now literally underwater. Coastal areas were disappearing, Louisiana was sinking and the popular area known as South Beach was cut off from the mainland forever. At the same time, countries were locked in a massive power struggle over the dwindling supply of fossil fuels.     

Is it any wonder we paid no attention to those whining foodies? I mean, they were always complaining about something. If it wasn’t the shortage of truffle pigs, then it was the ban on pâté de foie gras or the counterfeit caviar flooding the market. Their concerns were so alien to the rest of us plebeians that we tuned them out when we really should have listened to them. Only the Doomsday freaks took them seriously and, naturally, they started hoarding the “food of the gods” because, well, hoarding was what they did best. Always preparing for the world to end, they saw no sense in going hungry while they waited. It was the hoarding that jacked the price up enough for the world to finally notice. 

Outside of our purview, the fragile crops that supplied the delicious elixir were dying from insect infestation, disease, and climate change, and demand was quickly overtaking supply.  Speculators entered the mix and real panic set in.  It became the hottest commodity in the world, even overtaking gold. Financial markets were so volatile that in West African countries, where the crop was cultivated, ripe pods became the new currency, just like in ancient times.  Black markets sprang up everywhere and nobody could talk about anything else. Elected officials were besieged by rabid voters demanding immediate action. Riots broke out and the processing factories were looted for raw materials. Even natural disasters couldn’t distract people for very long…

I’m sorry, where was I? You’ll have to forgive me but ever since I reached my 115th sun cycle, my mind has started to wander. Oh, yes, the governments became involved but, of course, they only made things worse. Truthfully, I don’t know if there was anything they could have done anyway. Our best agro-scientists worked around the clock but, in the end, all they could do was bank seeds in all of the master seed banks and watch it play out. In only ten years, all of the crops were utterly decimated, never to return. Even the hoarders and black marketeers eventually reached their last precious morsels. And, because they had no choice, the people of the world adjusted, but there was a sadness that permeated everything, a yearning that would never pass, a taste that could not be forgotten…

I know you’re wondering why I told you this long story, especially today, when we should be celebrating your 21st sun-cycle and eating a feast of the best synth food in town, but you’re my only great-great-granddaughter and I wanted to give you something really special. Yesterday, I went to my Cryo-storage unit to get your gift so that it would thaw out in time. Here, please take this and remember to savor every bite:  it’s like nothing you’ve ever eaten before and nothing you will ever eat again. Yes, it is a curious shape, it’s meant to resemble an animal that’s now extinct; it was called a rabbit.  I hope you don’t mind if I watch you take a bite, it would give me great pleasure. Oh no, please don’t cry! Like life, chocolate isn’t meant to last. Only the joy of experiencing it lingers on.