Monday, September 29, 2014

**Please Don't Come Back

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published October 2, 2014] © 2014 

It’s an old joke: if you only ate healthy food, would you live to 100, or would it just seem that way? A close friend of many years, Gina, regaled us at a recent birthday lunch at Sammy’s about the Dinner Guests from Hell whose dietary requirements were so draconian she feared serving her first ever company meal of carrot sticks and water.

Now, Gina is actually a pro at feeding picky eaters. Some five years ago, her son and daughter-in-law decided to transition from being vegetarians to vegans. I wish I had recorded the hilarious stories of her first year or two of disastrous vegan meals which provided endless fodder for lunches at Sammy’s. But five years later she’s a pro.

Her latest story, told over the complimentary birthday “messy sundae” (definitely not vegan) at Sammy’s should have earned her the Vegan Cook of the Century award.
An old college friend had contacted her earlier in the week that she and her husband would be in San Diego for  a few days and hoped to get together. BTW, roommate noted, she should mention that her husband had gone vegan, and she, for reasons involving both practicality and marital solidarity, had joined him.

Gina was thrilled to reply that she was now an accomplished vegan chef. Come on over!

The emails begin arriving soon after. Turns out college friend’s husband has kicked it up a few notches. In addition to being strictly vegan, hubby has electively added numerous other restrictions, including no consumption of added fats or oils, or foods with inherent fats or oils, like, for example, nuts.

Further, the emails continued, wife did not eat bell peppers, husband would not eat cilantro. No coffee. No alcohol.

As Gina had long since learned, a vegan diet is strictly plant-based: No meat, poultry, fish, or seafood. Not even honey which comes from bees. (I find this one puzzling; it’s not like you’re eating the bees.) No dairy (milk, cheese, cream, sour cream, cream cheese, etc). No eggs. And with these guests, no baked goods, no salad dressings with oil. Any vegetables, it was noted, must be sauteed in water or vegetable broth. 

As Gina rejected recipe after recipe from her vegan cookbooks, she began to feel a touch of desperation. But finally she created a menu: ersatz chile rellenos filled with some vegan glop instead of cheese, and a “shepherds pie” lacking anything an actual shepherd might herd but instead containing a textured soy protein base (in lieu of hamburger) topped with butterless creamless mashed potatoes. A fruit salad – no honey! - would add some color. She frankly wasn’t sure how the entrées were going to taste but she was sure her tried and true Vegan Chocolate Raspberry Mousse (melted vegan chocolate chips, silken tofu, raspberry extract, and a little vanilla) would be a hit. In lieu of the now-taboo nuts, she’d top it with fresh berries. Fortunately no mention on the War-and-Peace-length list about chocolate. Whew!

When her guests arrived, it was clear that however supportive the wife was being about this new lifestyle, she was not having fun. In fact, she had the distinct look of a woman taking Valium (which is hopefully vegan). Dollars to donuts, wife has a stash of bacon dip and Little Debbie snack cakes hidden in the garage back home.

Wife mentions that this was a test trip of their new food plan before commencing more extensive travel. Given that they were potentially planning to visit Europe, a place known to have fat, Gina queried the husband over dinner if, while they were abroad, he would consider some flexibility in his dietary requirements. Husband’s answer was instantaneous and unequivocal: No.

I should mention here that these restrictions were largely elective: no allergies to any of these foods. But husband had had a heart scare and had determined that this regimen was his best chance at longevity. And apparently this diet had indeed reamed out his arteries and made him the pride of his primary care doctor’s office. He was now solidly on track to have many more years of a despondent wife and friends who hate them.

Gina clears the table. Dinner had provided sustenance but on the flavor scale had hovered around a two. Or maybe that was a minus two. But she knows the dessert is a winner. As she proudly serves the four beautifully decorated dishes of vegan chocolate raspberry mousse, she is dismayed to see the stricken look on the wife’s face.

“Oh, dear!” says wife. “Did I forgot to mention that George doesn’t eat chocolate?” She adds, apologetically, “I do, but not after 6 p.m.” 

“So,” I said to Gina as we slurped down the last of the sundae, “did you pour it over their miserable heads?”

No, alas, she didn’t. Too nice a person. Good thing they weren’t eating at my house.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Cushy Life Of The Pampered Pet

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published September 18, 2014] © 2014 

For the sixth straight summer, our granddog Winston has summered in La Jolla. We just pretty much expect that Winston will arrive with our younger son when he comes down for the La Jolla Half Marathon in late April and stay until early October. My son and daughter-in-law tend to have a lot of weekend trips in the summer months – weddings, etc. – and it’s far easier for them to just leave Winston here rather than for my daughter-in-law to make multiple trips from L.A. with tiny kids in the car to drop him off and pick him up. Never mind that Winston hates being in the car. He made a special point of that one trip by having a severe case of lower intestinal instability in their back seat.

Aside from the fact that we truly adore Winston and are happy to house him, we just wouldn’t put Winston in a kennel. Not even the Ritz Carlton of kennels. The ostensible reason is that Winston is not reliably friendly with other dogs and we’d hate for him to be on lockdown because decided to eat a Chihuahua. But even more so, if we’re honest, neither his parents nor we could bear for Winston not to have the amenities, the love and attention, and the lifestyle to which he has become accustomed. He definitely gets it at Camp Grammy and Grampy.
We admit it: we are total suckers for our pet (in this case, surrogate pet). This still doesn’t keep us from laughing at some of the sacrifices that other people make for theirs. A friend was recently telling me that she couldn’t wait for the hot weather to be over as it was stifling in her bedroom. She hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep in weeks. But, I said, don’t you have ceiling fan in your bedroom? Yes, she said, but she can’t use it. It annoys the cat.

At a party recently, I spoke with a woman who makes homemade fresh food for her dog (he eschews frozen or dried.) The dog is particularly fond of green beans, but he only likes them cooked in certain ways (not microwaved; he can apparently tell) and with a light gravy of hamburger drippings. She rarely travels anymore, she lamented. No matter who she hires to come in and care for the dog, she’s convinced they don’t make the dog’s food the way he likes it. She’s especially suspicious they’re microwaving.
In our case, Winston likes to play a game that my husband refers to as “reverse fetch.” Instead of our throwing a ball and Winston going to get it, Winston delights in batting the ball under pieces of furniture or in inaccessible corners then whining piteously until we go and get it for him. A minute later, it’s back under there again.

We tell ourselves that we can easily dissuade him from this game by ignoring him. Let him whimper and whine all he wants. But Winston is nothing if not persistent. If action is not forthcoming, he ratchets it up a few notches, instinctively whining especially loudly when it’s a crucial play in a baseball game or a key point in a movie. We cave. And we’re making fun of the friend with the fan-averse cat?
One issue we have with Winston in La Jolla that he doesn’t have at home in L.A. is that he seems to be allergic to a multitude of things here that he is not subjected to at home. It totally baffles us: what’s here that isn’t there? Inquiring minds want to know. Even pumping him full of Benedryl twice a day and regular applications of the Frontline flea stuff, the poor little guy seems to be perpetually itchy. Our vet here (with whom Winston is on a first name basis), has prescribed a regimen of products with which Winston’s ears, skin folds, and toes must be cleaned daily. Preferably two – or even three- times - daily. Cleaning between the dog’s toes the other day, I observed to Olof that it helps that we have no life.

Several times this summer, despite our heroic efforts, the allergies have turned into nasty ear or skin infections. When we had him at the vet again this week, they recommended that we might want to take Winston to a dermatologist. I said, “I don’t think our dermatologist sees dogs.” The vet said, “No, a doggie dermatologist.” I know what our dermatologist charges so I can’t even imagine what the services of the canine version cost. It’s both the good news and the bad news that anything you can do for a person, you can now do for a pet.
Fortunately for us, there’s a cheaper solution: Sorry, Winston. Time to go home.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Making It All Up To The Neighbors

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published September 11, 2014] © 2014 

I think it should be standard practice that after a remodel, you give a party for your neighbors and beg their forgiveness.

The average home remodeler is not living in the construction site but their neighbors are. While the homeowner basks in the idyllic quiet of rental digs, the folks on either side of his remodel project are being subjected to months – sometimes years – of construction noise in the form of backhoes, jack hammers, constant pounding, never mind a realistic recreation of the Kansas dust bowl. There were a couple of years where we had two neighbors doing major remodels producing stereo construction noise, and at one point, when three neighbors were remodeling simultaneously, the equivalent of construction surround sound.

At the moment, there are two huge remodels on our street – one three houses to the north, another five houses to the south. One of them is a total-tear-down three-level (there’s a full subterranean floor) new construction that is scheduled to take two years, which translated into English means at least three. I don’t know why the neighbors on either side of them aren’t suicidal. Or maybe they are. Just the level of noise we get from this, including the constant rumbling of large construction vehicles, is mind-numbing. There’s an absence of street parking within a five-house radius from workers’ pickup trucks. More than a few times, I’ve thought the new house was on fire, such was the cloud of dust wafting from the site.

Of course, remodeling is a pretty constant state of affairs in La Jolla. The Light recently covered Mitt Romney’s much publicized demolition of the family’s $12 million, 3,009-square-foot single family home on Dunemere Drive which is apparently being replaced with an 11,000-square-foot two-story structure. (Is that really neat automobile elevator on the basement level still part of the plans? If the Romney grandkids are anything like mine, I can see them visiting just to make the cars go up and down.) Regardless, this remodel is going to go on for a while. Eleven thousand square feet doesn’t appear overnight (unless it’s 11 badly-built thousand-square-foot houses from my neighborhood which I think did appear overnight in 1947).

I was just starting to feel sorry for the neighbors when the Light further reported that virtually every house on Dunemere is undergoing an extensive remodel as well. I had to wonder: is this some genius cooperation between neighbors – everyone remodeling at once  to minimize the disruption - or a terminal case of My Remodel is Bigger than Yours?

You also have to wonder how the construction crews even keep track of which project is theirs. I would be seriously concerned that my second story could end up in the wrong house. Should there be a mix-up, you can always hope that it was the Romney’s second story that ended up on yours.

The construction to the south of us is nearing completion so it was with some dismay that we learned that our next door neighbor plans to move out temporarily in a few months and do a major remodel on his house. Fortunately, it will be a one-story remodel and therefore hopefully go quicker than the behemoth that is being constructed a few houses north.

Ironically, we’ve already lived through a few remodels of this neighbor’s home. Some house flippers made major changes in 2000 including a new roof; the new owner ended up replacing the flippers’ improvements including another new roof. I pretty much spent two years waving at roofing crews when I’d go outside in my nightgown in the morning to feed our aviary birds.

Fortunately, we adore this neighbor, and he us, so if there are really any issues, we can address those with him directly. But I think my days of sleeping past 7 or taking an afternoon nap will be over for a while. The remodel will be extensive enough that it will require – yes – yet another new roof. I guess it’s time to buy some new nightgowns. Maybe some stock in roofing too.

Now, fair enough: it just isn’t possible to do a major remodel without a certain amount of noise and dust and disruption to those who live around you. Which is why I truly do feel that a festivity expressing one’s sincere apologies to the neighbors for all they’ve endured should be part of the construction budget. In the case of the house three doors north, I don’t think that flying all the neighbors within a 10-house radius to Tahiti first class would be unreasonable.

Personally, the party I’d like to get an invitation to is the one that the Dunemere Drive folks should throw for the one neighbor who isn’t remodeling. They’re going to owe him big time. For the record, I’d even be willing to bring the canapés.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

*Stories Your Grandchildren Don't Want To Hear

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published Sept. 4, 2014] © 2014 

In May, I received the following email from some friends who were doing a driving tour of Israel: “We are thinking about going to the Timna Valley tomorrow to look at the Neolithic copper mines. Totally not sure about it – 100+ degree heat, potentially getting lost in the desert – but it could be something fun to tell the grandkids about at Thanksgiving dinner over the years.”

 I immediately emailed back. Go, or don’t go, but not for the grandkids. No idea where this myth started. I guarantee that every time you start to tell the story, one of them will whine, "Not the Neolithic copper mine story again, grandma! We, like, DON'T FRIGGIN' CARE!" 

Olof and I heard this “something to tell your grandchildren” line a lot from American friends we met during our two year work assignment in Europe a few years ago. Many of them were coaxing us to join them on a post-Christmas excursion to the Arctic Circle to stay in the Ice Hotel in combination with a dogsledding trip. When they came back, stories of misery and injury abounded.
Spending a night in the Ice Hotel is apparently on a famous list of 100 Things You Have to Do Before You Die. I can only wonder: do the other 99 require this much suffering? As its name implies, the Ice Hotel is built yearly entirely out of ice, including the beds. Sleeping on a block of ice in a 23 degree room is apparently just as comfortable as it sounds. Our friends Laurel and Greg reported there were definitely not enough reindeer skins (used for padding) on theirs. Mostly you lie on your block of ice in your claustrophobic full body sleeping bag counting the hours until you can get up and leave. The bathroom and dining  facilities, for obvious reasons, are in another building – OUTSIDE of yours, which means leaving the relative warmth of your 23 degree room and traipsing out into the -15 below (or colder) temperatures. The price tag for this misery: $500 a night.

Immediately after telling you that it was positively the worst night they ever spent, childbirth was more fun, the next words out of their mouths were invariably, “But you have to go!” Um, we said, didn’t you just say… Oh, yes, they continue, it was absolutely horrible. But you’ll be able to tell your grandchildren.

As for the dogsledding part of the trip, everyone agreed on one thing: Do the Ice Hotel on the first night, so that you have a warm comfy place for your broken dogsled body to sleep on the second night. On Laurel’s dog sled tour, each person had to drive their own four-dog sled team – over very uneven terrain. Laurel said the balance was really tricky: you stood on a board on the back of the dogsled, your soon-paralyzed arms in a death grip on the hand rail in -22 degree temperatures. The dogs wanted to go a lot faster than Laurel wanted to go and the tour guide had to finally admonish her to stop riding the brake; it was annoying the dogs. Laurel kept losing her balance on the curves and falling off the sled into the snow. She reported amazing bruises, including one on her rear which she said was an exact replica of Abraham Lincoln. She hoped to eventually regain full use of her shoulders.

Unlike Laurel, Janice and her husband were the only two passengers on a six-person twelve-dog sled driven by a professional dog sled driver. However, from time to time (like every two minutes) the sled would go over some truly treacherous topography and they would barely escape being thrown from the sled. Eventually, they hit a mogul so deep that Janice was ejected out of the sled and landed head first in a snow bank. Boding ill for her marriage, her husband thought it was the highlight of the trip. If only he had caught this on tape, he said, they would have been a lock for the $10,000 grand prize on America’s Funniest Home Video. If you want my guess for someone who didn’t get any for a long time after, this was the guy. From there, they checked into the Ice Hotel for a night of sleepless frozen pain. Worst night she ever spent, said Janice. But, she insisted, Olof and I just had to go. The tell-your-grandchildren thing again. We were already clear “grandchildren” was a code word for “abject misery.”

Our friends did go to the Neolithic copper mines, didn’t get lost in the desert, and loved every minute of it except for the blistering 110 degree heat. But they’ve decided not to share it with the grandkids. Didn’t sound nearly miserable enough to qualify anyway.