Monday, August 22, 2011

My Inner History Geek is Not Amused*

Once upon a time, I worked at the Renaissance Faire. And when I say “once upon a time”, I mean “back in the days when an accurate portrayal of documented historic events and persons was actually considered important to the overall production”.

Back in once upon a time, we had a wardrobe mistress who had been seen drawing thick-lined black Sharpie X’s on the exposed body parts of performers when those body parts were not supposed to be exposed. We had live chickens that we carried around with us all day. We had ale, not Budweiser. And we had a woman playing Queen Elizabeth I who was actually... a bit homely. At least when she had her full “I Am the Queen” makeup on, she was.

Which was good. Because, you know what? It’s been pretty well documented that Elizabeth I had one foot on the fugly side, and the other on Ye Olde Banana Peele.

Yes. This is a portrait of Elizabeth I, as a teenager, when theoretically she was at her most attractive, painted during her lifetime, when the artist would have had to hear about it from her personally if it didn’t look good

and this was still the best he could do and have it be believable.

As you can most likely tell from the above portrait, Queen Elizabeth I was not pretty.

Flash forward past many a Renaissance Faire where the organizers, for whatever reason, felt like they had to find more

and more

attractive redheads to play the queen, and when I saw this one

taken by a friend at a Faire she attended with her daughter, I finally snapped. And when I snap, I blog. I used to buy shoes, but this is much cheaper.

So let me repeat, with caps lock on because that seems to be the only way some people on the Internet understand that other people on the Internet are serious, QUEEN ELIZABETH I WAS NOT PRETTY.

Striking? Maybe. Regal? Yes. Well dressed? Hell yes. Pretty? Not even close.

Guess what? She didn’t have to be pretty. We should all be so lucky as to ever have such a lack of need to be pretty. It’s like the old joke about not needing a Porsche if you have a big dick. Just substitute “pretty” for “Porsche”, and “control of the British Empire” for “big dick”.

But the times, as Mr. Dylan so astutely noted, they are a-changin’. So, Renaissance Faire Powers-That-Be, let me offer you a small bit of advice. If you insist on hiring progressively hotter redheads to portray one of the least hot women in the history of civilization for the sake of peddling as much cheap beer and mutton curry as is humanly possible in the course of six summer weekends, consider this:

Gia Genevieve is the chase, and you should just cut to it. Put her under permanent contract to play your Elizabeth I and call it a day. If you’re going to do it wrong anyway, you might as well do it wrong right.

*Yes, I know that was Victoria, not Elizabeth I. The difference between me and most of the people running historical reenaction events is I know that.

Gia Genevieve photo by Varga Photography

UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that the woman in the third photo is actually portraying Mary I of Scotland, not Elizabeth I.  But I still think those first two Elizabeths are way prettier than they should be.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

How I Bear the Shame of Total Crap Cooking

Dear Food Television Personalities,

I have a horrifying confession of horribly horrible horror that I simply cannot keep to myself a moment longer. The horror is too great for one woman to bear alone.

The horror.

Please make sure there are no young and easily frightened children standing behind you before you scroll down to read this next statement. I won’t have that on my conscience along with everything else. I can’t.

Because what I have to tell you is... I own and use white truffle oil.

For the longest time, I was under the unforgivably foolish impression that it was just an ingredient. Granted, its liquid state combined with a transparent and decidedly non-fungal appearance had led me to suspect it was not a real truffle, but I was all right with that. Of course, I was also under the impression that it is okay to cook with and eat things for no better reason than you like the way they taste. Little did I know

and I should just count myself damned lucky that I have any friends left.

Apparently, what makes white truffle oil the abomination that it is in the eyes of all who stand for right and good and have any shred of common decency is, according to one well-known food television personality, the fact that “truffle oils are made by perfumists that have no white truffles in them”. Before I read that, it had never even occurred to me to question whether or not my perfumists might have truffles in them. I just didn’t realize it mattered what the people making my oils might have had for lunch.

But once I started questioning things, I found I couldn’t stop.

If white truffle oil is not the same as actual truffles, what other things might not be the same as other things?

Through exhaustive research, I uncovered the astounding fact that candy canes and fresh mint leaves are not the same thing. It explained a great deal about why my herbal infusions tended to be so crunchy and oversweet, but sadly I will now have to find other ways to grow my own Christmas tree ornaments.

Russet potatoes and Creamy Mash are also not the same thing. Thankfully, with this knowledge in my possession I can count on my chips and dip being considerably less indistinguishable from one another the next time I’m invited to a potluck. If there is a next time. I can only hope.

And slowly, as I waded deeper into these terrifying yet irrefutable truths, the real question began to form in my mind, the answer to which might forever change the everything of everything that I ever do with food ever again.

Are all things... perhaps... not other things?

I closed my eyes and mind as quickly and tightly as I could, but no amount of refusal to see would change the truth I could now never un-know. Things are, in fact, not other things. Things are what they are.


I’m not sure how I will proceed from this point, or what I will do with this case of Jell-O instant pudding that I had such high hopes of using in place of Tahitian vanilla beans. It will be a relief to no longer feel compelled to store my containers of white truffle oil in the calcareous soil at the base of my neighbor’s oak tree, since clearly that was never doing any of the good I thought it might anyway. Beyond that, I just don’t know. But if knowing is half the battle, not knowing must be the other half, so perhaps all hope for me is not yet lost.

I really don’t know how to thank you.

An Avid Home Cook Who Has Never Poisoned Anyone Accidentally

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Sleep Well, Cha Cha

I was 9 when I first saw Grease. Needless to say, at that age I didn’t understand a lot of what went on in the movie. But I loved the music, the clothes, the hair, the cars, and, most of all, the attitudes of the women. From Frenchie’s scatterbrained optimism and Jan’s surprisingly unannoying perkiness to Rizzo’s absolute refusal to apologize for being only who she was, I loved those women. The more I saw of them, the more I wanted to be every one of them when I grew up.

Except Sandy and Marty. I never wanted to be Sandy or Marty, and it didn’t occur to me why until just yesterday. Sandy and Marty were products of lack of experience, at that point formed more by what they hadn’t seen and done than what they had. Even at 9, I knew that wasn’t how life really worked.

And then there was Cha Cha DiGregorio.

The best dancer at St. Bernadette’s. With the worst reputation. I remember not knowing exactly what that meant the first time I heard it, but it was pretty clear it made the other girls not like her very much, and equally clear that Cha Cha didn’t care. And I remember thinking, if I could dance like that I wouldn’t care what anybody thought of me either.

I saw Grease again when I was 13. That time, when Frenchie gave her snarky response to Cha Cha’s claim, I knew what it meant. And I remember thinking... yeah, if I could dance like that I wouldn’t care what anybody thought of me either.

Like Rizzo, Cha Cha was who she was. Nothing more, nothing less, and nothing she would ever apologize for. A St. Bernadette’s girl who had no problem walking into the Rydell gymnasium and winning their dance contest with somebody else’s boyfriend. Question her motives and judge her character all you like, you couldn’t fault her execution. Or her hair. She had awesome hair.

I have since seen Grease at least a dozen times, and the lesson Cha Cha had to share only grew more meaningful as I grew older; true happiness is found in knowing who you are, being who you are, and having the best hair possible.

And I guess the good hair is actually optional.

In fond memory of
Annette Charles
3/5/1948 – 8/3/2011