Scarlett’s Letter February 20, 2014

Life is like a hamburger.

An Effort to Evolve

When I was a wee little girl, the only “fast food”, chain, burger place around was McDonalds. We lived in Oakland, California. My mom would take me to McDonalds for a treat and I’d have the audacity to order my hamburger “plain, with nothing on it”. No mustard, no ketchup, no pickles. Nothing. There were always questions, and my mom, my dear, dear mom, who has always been so worried about what other people thought, was absolutely mortified by my unusual request. There were usually some clarifying questions as to what I “really wanted”, and, to be sure, I wanted a hamburger, plain, nothing on it. Some time later, I’d receive my burger and we always, always, always had to check it before we left. More than once we left McDonalds, returned to the car and drove away before I discovered mustard, or catsup or pickles. Icky.

If the burger was, indeed, to order, I’d peel the patty off the bun and eat it, then throw away the buns. This was long, long, long before the Atkins or Paleo or gluten free or low carb craze, or my current preference, “no enriched flour” (as in white, bleached and fortified).

As I grew older and, myself, became somewhat concerned with what others thought of me, I modified my eating habits. I ate the bun. But it was still a hamburger, plain, nothing on it. This continued into high school. We were living in Napa and McDonalds was still pretty much the only game we played. There was a Foster’s Freeze, a Wendy’s, a Nation’s Giant Burger and a Dairy Queen, but my family seemed to be McDonald’s people. Heaven help me. In high school, Burger King came to town and I was so excited! Hold the pickles! Hold the lettuce! Special orders don’t upset us! Remember the jingle? I was a convert, plus one of my best friends worked there. Why would we ever go to McDonalds? Special orders kind of freaked them out.

I was a Whopper fan clear through college and I even matured a little in my order; hamburger, just lettuce and tomato. They’d smile and prepare my burger fresh and hot, right off the flame broiler. I’d still have to check it before leaving the parking lot, just in case there might be condiments where there shouldn’t be.

A few years later, well, after college, I was working full time as an accountant. My lunch hours were often devoted to what could only be classified as “cardio, flash mob, mall shopping”, on a miniature scale. A few of us ladies would pile in someone’s car, drive twenty minutes to the mall, park, shop, purchase, drive back towards the office, grab something from the Taco Bell drive thru, and be back at our desks on time, both fashionable and fed. One day, however, the folks in the car wanted to go to McDonalds instead. We were in the drive thru and really cutting it close, time-wise. I ordered a Quarter Pounder with just lettuce and tomato. There was a long pause from the order taker, some discussion with someone in the background, a manager perhaps, and we were told to pull up and park off to the side. Someone would bring the order out when my special order was ready. We should’ve gone to Taco Bell. Or Burger King. We were fashionably late that day.

I still love hamburgers. I will, if I must, eat them with condiments, but, if I have the opportunity to order my own, it will most def be condiment free. I just don’t like slimy burgers. I can’t help it. I like what I like, and that’s my point.

An Effort to Evolve

Now burgers are the big thing! We’ve still got the “fast food” versions; McDonalds, Burger King, though they flame broil a bunch of burgers, put them in a warming drawer and nuke them when you order. Hey, Burger King, want to avoid another bankruptcy? I have a solution! We, here, in California, and in a few other western states, have In N Out, which is my personal “fast food” fave. There are a whole slew of newbies, not quite “fast food”, but, fast enough; Habit, Smashburger, Shakeshack, Five Guys, just to name a few, and they have really interesting burgers, like Smashburger’s 940 calorie NorCal with brie cheese, applewood smoked bacon, sliced balsamic marinated tomatoes and grilled onions, and worth every calorie, every so often.

An Effort to Evolve

My point. We all like burgers and we all like them unique! Maybe I started it all, maybe not, but these days, like people, no two burgers are likely to be alike. Remember the Nora Ephron movie, “When Harry Met Sally”? And Sally always ordered everything off the menu, modified, with very specific detail? We are all Sally, now, we almost all special order our burger. And, if we don’t, by golly, if we make our own burger, I’m just guessing here, based on my own experience, we’re getting more creative. Are we? I am. Why have a hunk of ground cow on a bleached flour bun with slimy condiments and nutritionless iceberg lettuce and a waxy, store bought tomato? Ugh. Hell no! The burger has every right to be a high art form! So do our lives.

An Effort to Evolve

We can create any kind of burger we want. We can create any kind of life we want. Now you see where I’m going with all this. There may have been an era when the all American ideal was to live in a cookie cutter house, and Mom stayed home and raised the kids while Dad went to work. There were two kids, two cars in the driveway, a cat and a dog, maybe a goldfish, and a perfectly manicured lawn. That was America, at least according to the syndicated sitcoms we watched on TV, that’s what we were led to believe was the “norm”. McDonalds hamburger.

An Effort to Evolve

There is so much more to life; places to visit, different places to live, travel, culture, careers, adventure, sports, the arts. There is so much to see and so much to do, we can’t possibly eat all the hamburgers. We have to choose. My point is, make it a really good burger, don’t settle for what they’re willing to pull from the warming drawer, nuke and pass through drive through window. Build a better burger, Sally!

We have choices, right down to the burger itself. Will it be ground beef, bison, turkey, chicken, moose, salmon, vegetables, or maybe just a portabella mushroom cap? Then, toppings! Wow! Where do I even begin with toppings! There are more varieties of cheeses at the Whole Foods cheese counter than burgers I will eat in the rest of my life, I am certain! And greens? I would never, ever, ever, in a million years consider putting iceberg lettuce on my burger, voluntarily, given all the other choices out there! Have you cruised the condiment aisle, lately, assuming you’re into slimy stuff on your burgers? There are whole arrays of mayos and mustards and catsups, some spicy, some mild, some made with beer, wine, wasabi! I’ve actually taken to, occasionally, adding a really creative condiment to my burger. Though, in my heart of hearts, I prefer mashed avocado to any kind of condiment! Then, the “bread” choices, if you still eat bread! I often have my burger in a leaf of butter lettuce, though I am quite fond of “sprouted grain” buns, these days.

An Effort to Evolve An Effort to Evolve An Effort to Evolve An Effort to Evolve An Effort to Evolve An Effort to Evolve An Effort to Evolve

Life offers the same dizzying array of choices. Truly. More. On any given day, on any given evening, there are so many activities and events available just in our communities and most of us are largely unaware. There are events and activities to suit anyone’s liking; fine arts, performing arts, community groups, hiking, walking, cycling, fishing, movies. Why are we settling for TV? Like McDonalds, we’re kind of missing out. No, I know, there’s nothing wrong with TV and a Big Mac, now and then, but a steady diet of either, or both, is nothing less than tragic.

Beyond our communities, the big bright world. We’re a part of it! There is so much to see, to do, to experience! But, like our choice in burgers, we just need to think about what we really want and then, build it! Do you want a life of travel and adventure? Well? Get started! Do you to live in the country? By the sea? In a different state? Nothing is beyond our means, only beyond the current amount of creativity and effort we are applying. We are capable of making any kind of burger we desire, and, we are also capable of building the life we desire, too. True, it may take a little longer and a few more resources to travel the world, if that’s your desire, but it can be done with effort and the passion to follow your desire and your dreams. Thirty years ago you could never go to a burger joint and get hooked up with a burger with bacon, brie, grilled onions and balsamic marinated tomatoes. Someone dreamed it up and made it happen. So, your life, dream it up and make it happen. Hold the mustard.

Everything BUT mustard!
Everything BUT mustard!

Scarlett’s Letter October 16, 2013

Two glasses of wine. Well, maybe two and a half. Maybe my glass is large. I awoke feeling like I’d drained the whole bottle. Oh, wait, maybe I did. I gave Mom one glass in her demure little goblet, and I know, for a fact, I poured myself two glasses, and a splash, but, bottle equals empty. I felt like someone hit me over the head with the bottle when I awoke this morning. Dues = paid.

I, for whatever contrived excuses, did not work out yesterday. I had hoped to go to the gym for a core workout, cardio and yoga, but failed. Today, I planned to run, and per my training schedule, I was to run eight miles.

I got up, slowly. I ate breakfast, slowly. I answered emails and did a little work, slowly. And, slowly, I came to the realization that if I didn’t do my run today, I’d likely not get a long mid-week run in, and I will have let myself down. I have my first full marathon coming up in December, I need to stay on track. I have some busy travel weeks coming up, so, now is the time. Slowly, I pulled my running tights on, wiggled into my Victoria’s Secret hot pink, tiger striped yoga bra, which, by the way, is way easier to put on than to take off, especially when all sweaty. All of my upper body fitness, strength and tone is attributable to the high intensity interval training that is removing one very sweaty Victoria’s Secret hot pink, tiger striped yoga bra after a work out. In case you were wondering. My running shoes and socks were in the car, so I found matching flip flops, a miracle, filled up my hydration pack with water, fuel, ID and insurance card and headed out the door. Honestly, I didn’t feel like walking to the car, let alone running eight miles.

I know myself pretty well. I will cheat myself, I will wimp out, if I can justify it for even a moment. Last night’s missed work out being evidence. I have a six-mile loop that I run routinely. Last week, I was to run seven miles, so, after completing the sixth mile, I ran right past the parking lot at the park where my car was, and ran an additional half mile down the road, turned around and came back. Today, weak in spirit and head throbbing ever so slightly, I knew, knew, knew, without a doubt, I’d wimp out at six miles. There would be no running past the car for another mile, turn around and come back. I know me.

This is where it is a good thing to have a somewhat deviant mind. I told myself we’d do six miles, then see. At nearly mile four I round the third corner of my rectangular route. My deviant mind concocted an evil plan to trick my wimp out mindset. I decided to keep going straight, for an additional mile, turn around, and then finish the remainder of the loop. The result being, eight miles and no possibility of wimping out at six, because, well, I’d still be two miles from my car! Brilliant, I know. Right?

I ran every last inch of eight miles, and then some, my calculations were off by nearly a half-mile, but, you know, it didn’t kill me. I felt accomplished for the day. My self-esteem and self-respect were in tact, perhaps even inflated a little. I headed home for a shower, lunch and the rest of the day to do with whatever productive endeavor I chose. Bliss.

Lending "race day" authenticity to my mid-week training run.
Lending “race day” authenticity to my mid-week training run.
I have become a GU snob. This is the shiz.
I have become a GU snob. This is the shiz.
Yes, as a matter of fact, I am running through the vineyards.
Yes, as a matter of fact, I am running through the vineyards.
Wine embryos.
Wine embryos.

As soon as I walked in the door, though, all I could think was “HAMBURGER!” I wanted a hamburger. And maybe even fries. I wanted a high quality hamburger, not some fast food, cooked earlier today, kept in a warmer drawer and micro-nuked to a sickening shade of gray and soggy limpness upon order. I wanted a gourmet burger with an exotic cheese and a unique sauce and some rare ingredient mixed in. This is Napa, there are no shortage of places I could drop twenty bucks on the burger of my dreams. I may have mentioned, I’m on a money diet, I’m being more mindful of my money consumption and my restaurant food consumption. My spending and my waistline need a little whittling after the past few weeks indiscretions. So, I’m proud to say, I did not go out and get a gourmet hamburger. I ate leftover salmon salad, open-faced sandwich style. Such self-discipline, I know, adding even further to my self-respect and my self-esteem.

I was good, I had leftover salmon salad for lunch. Not a burger.
I was good, I had leftover salmon salad for lunch. Not a burger.

After a few more hours of work, HAMBURGER! was still on my mind. I had some Whole Foods, happy cow 85/15% burger, frozen in quarter pound chunks, in my freezer. I decided to get one quarter pound lump out, thaw it, and make myself a burger. I also decided, as a treat, to go to Whole Foods and get some sprouted grain buns. I could eat one tonight and freeze the rest for later enjoyment. Oh, and sweet potato fries would be super duper yummy, too. And maybe one large format beer. We’d see. I hopped in my car and headed for the mecca of mealtime ingredients, Whole Foods. I actually found a parking place, at 5:00 PM. I was astounded, I didn’t even have to circle the lot or follow grocery-laden shoppers down the aisle from the store to their cars. There was just an empty space, sitting there, just for me. Okay, so it was across the shopping center and I had to walk fourteen rows, but, hey, I can run eight miles, I can certainly walk fourteen rows.

Once inside my favorite place on earth, next to any shoe store in NYC, I grabbed the smaller, double decker cart. I usually use a basket, but in Jillian’s latest Audible book I’m listening to, “Slim for Life,” she says we tend to buy more crap food when we use a hand basket over a cart. Okay, I don’t really think so, but I’ll give it a try. I always figured you could only buy what you could carry if you used a hand basket. But, I’m freakishly strong when it comes to being able to carry desirable purchases in one hand, to the cash registers. Years of practice, my friends. If it were an Olympic sport, I’d win.

I shop at a lot of different Whole Foods, and, unlike Target, who has precisely three different floor plans, every Whole Foods is unique. As I travel around the country, it is my unspoken mission to visit every Whole Foods in the nation. So, that I don’t totally know the layout of my local Whole Foods is not really a reflection of my intelligence. I swear. The Napa store is chopped in two, it really seems like two different retail spaces connected by an opening between at the front of the store and another at the back. I usually stay to the left; produce, meat, wine, dairy, done. I do know that frozen pizza and beer is immediately through the portal to the “other side” at the back wall, and, ingeniously, displayed immediately next to each other. This is my Friday night wall. Pizza and beer.

For whatever reason, tonight, I head directly for beer. Something was beckoning me, an unseen force. OMG! A sale! I knew it! I can sense a sale on just about anything from quite a distance. The sale aura was very strong in the direction of the large format beer. I chose three. They were on sale. I had to.

Bread happens to be near beer and I quickly located my sprouted grain burger buns. Check. I decided to check out the cheese aisle. I love cheese, and have actually 95% given up cheese because I lack control. But, what is a homemade gourmet burger with an exquisite, and on sale, large format beer, without cheese. I settle on two interesting looking cheeses. I buy cheese a lot like I buy beer and wine; the label. If it has a cute label, is organic, locally grown, fair trade and sustainable, I’m fucking buying it. Was my list complete? Something nagged at me from the depths of my mind. I’d forgotten some staples when I was here the day before yesterday. I pulled out my phone and consulted my perpetual Whole Foods shopping list in Evernote. Ah, yes, canned, organic fire-roasted tomatoes and tomato sauce, both of which go really good in my homemade macaroni and cheese recipe. I’ve been lusting for macaroni and cheese and have made Herculean efforts, successful, by the way, to NOT order it from every appetizer menu I’ve glanced at in the past two months. But, Friday is carbo-loading night, perhaps I can make my homemade macaroni and cheese instead of having pizza! I’ve got cheese! So, I stop in the pasta aisle and buy a really cool looking package of organic, whole grain, locally produced, fair trade and sustainable bag of macaroni noodles.

On to canned foods. I load up my cart with cans of fire-roasted tomatoes, regular tomatoes, and tomato sauce. May as well stock up, I seem to keep running out. At last I head to the checkout. I pile my purchases onto the belt, along with the one reusable bag I’ve brought along. I size up my purchases and, in retrospect, I probably should’ve brought another bag. Or two. I swipe my card and wait for Tatum to scan my purchases. Fifty-six dollars. How did I spend fifty-six dollars on buns and beer? I could’ve gone to the best restaurant in Napa featuring gourmet hamburgers and exquisite large format beer and paid less. Oh, but, I do have ingredients for Friday’s dinner. And beer for a few nights. And a whole fucking lot of canned tomato products. I sign my name, unintelligibly, on the screen with the blunt tipped stylus thing, my signature has become, pretty much, a 72-point wavy line, for whatever it proves, for whatever it’s worth. It would be interesting to see if it held up in court, my electronic signature. Not so interesting that I actually aim to find out. But it looks nothing like my real signature. Whatever.

I schlep my purchases fourteen rows out to where I thought I’d left my car. It was actually sixteen rows over. I only looked a little like a dork lugging my canned food and large format beer laden grocery bags to row fourteen, pausing, perplexed, doing the parking lot pirouette, trying to spot my very small, low profile, non-descript Civic amidst a sea of exotic cars and high-end SUV’s.  I heft my bags into the trunk, the Civic squats a little from the burden. I climb in, and at eighty degrees, I open the sunroof all the way and silently pray that a hawk with a snake in its talons doesn’t fly over and let go of the writhing snake just as it passes over my car. I know, a weird phobia, but this scene I have actually witnessed, and think about, every time I open my sunroof all the way. Except, on that fateful day, my sunroof was closed and the snake hit the ground, on the shoulder of the highway, immediately next to my car, mere feet away. And as the snake landed, unceremoniously, and pissed off beyond belief, all I could think was “What if it landed on my windshield? What if it landed on my roof? What if it landed on my sunroof and it was open?” That scene is forever, indelibly, etched in my mind, and plays out over and over again every time I reach for the sunroof button. That’s why I usually tilt, instead.

Say "Cheese!"
Say “Cheese!”
Tonight's large format beer, on sale for 20% off at WF! Speakeasy Butchertown Black Ale!
Tonight’s large format beer, on sale for 20% off at WF! Speakeasy Butchertown Black Ale!
Tonight's large format beer, on sale for 20% off at WF! Speakeasy Butchertown Black Ale!
Tonight’s large format beer, on sale for 20% off at WF! Speakeasy Butchertown Black Ale!
Tonight's large format beer, on sale for 20% off at WF! Speakeasy Butchertown Black Ale!
Tonight’s large format beer, on sale for 20% off at WF! Speakeasy Butchertown Black Ale!
My burger.
My burger.

A life of “what-if’s”. What if we squandered our entire lives thinking of all the terrible things that could happen, so much so that we were too afraid to do anything and life escapes us before we know what it is? That, I think, is the worst “what if” of all. Life is a collection of risks, and whether you think you’re assuming any risk, or not, you are. There is substantial risk in staying home, sitting in your worn out recliner, remote clenched in hand, flipping through the channels, watching other people live. So many things could happen, the least of which is that your life is passing you buy, opportunity is fleeting and you’re sitting there, oblivious, because the news broadcast has you terrified to venture out into the world and live your life. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I’m not saying go out and court danger, I’m saying, take risks. Go out into the world and have experiences. In risk lies opportunity. In the guise of safety lies mediocrity. Open that sunroof and drive. Hell, if you’ve seen a snake fall from the grasp of hawk in flight, and it missed you, barely, what are the chances of that series of events ever unfolding in a similar manner? That, I like to refer to as the “Garp principle.” If you’ve never seen “The World According to Garp” with Robin Williams, this may be lost on you. But, Garp and his wife are looking to purchase a home. As they stand in the driveway of a house for sale, a small airplane crashes into the house. Everyone is horrified, especially the realtor, knowing for certain the sale is lost. Garp is thrilled and says, “We’ll take it!” His wife looks at him incredulously and he explains, “What are the chances of that ever happening again?” Take it. Take the risk. Open the sunroof.