I need to start thinking of my birthday the way I think of my blogiversary. Now that I’m on the scary road past 40, I’m not sure what it is I’m supposed to celebrate on birthdays anymore. But as I mark four years of this blog’s existence, the reasons to celebrate are happily clear: another gratifying year of exploring, sharing and growth at chinese grandma – and one more year with you, my kind readers, who cook, laugh, cry, wonder and learn with me here.
Four years! I created this blog in the spirit of giving, but I had no idea how much more I would get back. (There’s probably an enlightening Biblical reference there, but I don’t know what it is.)
To heck with the age thing, I want to see birthdays this way too: pausing to acknowledge the persistence and effort it took to get to this day, appreciating another year of connection and communion with this world, celebrating the relationships and personal joys that sustain us in this life. If we’ve done well, we’ve earned a few badges of maturity and wisdom. They don’t come easy, so it’s nice to take a day to polish them and be glad that we’ve made it as far as we have.
In the past, I’ve celebrated my blogiversary with an annual giveaway of some favorite item or other I’ve written about during the year. This year I can’t really think of any, so I’m just going to give away $25 Amazon gift cards: four winners, one for each year.
Leave a comment below – a favorite recipe or something you found interesting here, or a suggestion for improvement, or an idea of your own to share – and you will be entered to win. I’m on a road trip next week with the family, so I’ll pick winners a week from Sunday, August 3. It’s random selection, because I cannot pick favorites among you wonderful people.
Oh, and my fun discoveries for today…a hilarious app you gotta try, non-flopping Havaianas, summer reads, Apple tech tips, and a peek at food 4000 years ago. I waited too long again and have too many, but you guys know how to scan.
Funhouse makeup mirror…Hilarious amusement for adults and kids, Makeup Genius (free; by L’Oreal) is like a funhouse mirror, except instead of distorting your body it uses your smartphone’s selfie camera and puts makeup on your real live face (alarming, I know!). The girls love to put together a crazy look and then have unsuspecting aunts, uncles or boy cousins look into the phone to see their unexpectedly made-up faces. Occasionally the app will slip and put lipliner on your nose, but overall the technology is eerily good.
90 seconds…This minute-and-a-half dance by an amazingly talented married duo will make you feel better about life. Seriously, I could watch this on repeat all day…and I want to throw my shoes in as appreciation too (you’ll see what I mean when you watch it).
Non-flopping Havaianas…I live in flip-flops all summer, but this year I’m not flopping thanks to these T-strap Havaianas Freedom sandals. I never minded the gum-snapping sound of flip-flops, but these are still easy on and off, and a little more urbane without the thwack.
Roger Ebert’s ode to Steak ‘n Shake…Steak ‘n Shake was founded in the late Roger Ebert’s home state of Illinois in 1934, and in 2009 he wrote a fond meditation on this childhood love. I especially love the part in the piece in which Ebert has a knowing moment of Steak ‘n Shake brotherhood with Dave Letterman, who hails from Steak ‘n Shake’s headquarters city of Indianapolis. (Thanks to Saveur’s Helen Rosner for this link.)
My Buckeye peeps will have a special appreciation for this essay, as Columbus, Ohio takes pride in its two hometown fast food empires: Wendy’s, founded in Columbus, Ohio in 1969 and still headquartered here; and White Castle, founded in Wichita, Kansas in 1921 but headquartered in Columbus since 1936 (and, oddly, no longer to be found anywhere in Kansas at all).
Kiddie hotel mixology…The kids and I discovered this variation on hotel-packet hot chocolate last summer, which I’m sure we’ll use on our upcoming road trip: mint tea bag + hot chocolate packet + hot water = minty hot chocolate. We thought it was pretty awesome.
I’m not a coffee drinker but (inspired by Molly) you could also try steeping a mint tea bag in the hotel coffee to perk up your brew.
Offline mobile maps…If you are traveling out of your home cellular network this summer, you can download maps from Google to your phone before you go and use the cached maps offline even when you are out of range. Saves a bunch of roaming data charges and still keeps you from getting lost.
Wise words…Shout out to Psychology Today for this five-lessons-for-living article, especially the parenting guidance of benign neglect. I like to learn by doing, and I know my kids are the same. So I stay out of the way – and just peek.
Science of happiness…Not one of those annoying, fluffy lists, this Inc Magazine piece, “10 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Incredibly Happy”, is surprisingly solid.
Summer movie…A true story about art, science and obsession, Tim’s Vermeer is a cool documentary about a man who spent five years of his life investigating a theory on how 17th-century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer produced his lifelike paintings. Surprisingly fun to watch, and it’s like, whoa…really?
Summer books…I was mesmerized – and half horrified – by the story of Korean-American food truck chef Roy Choi in his memoir/cookbook L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food. It’s a well-told and fascinating insight into the highs, lows, divides and temptations of Los Angeles. Choi, inspiration for Jon Favreau’s recent movie Chef, is a lucky cat with nine lives.
In a completely different universe, I also loved Jacques Pepin’s memoir, The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen, a story of Pepin’s childhood in wartime France and his journey to becoming one of America’s most-beloved food personalities. A star talent, Pepin tells his story with great humility and shows how perseverance makes its own luck.
My head just exploded last night when I found out that Chris Colfer, author of the bestselling Land of Stories series – best books ever, according to my kids – is the same Chris Colfer who plays Kurt on the Fox series Glee. The kid is 24 years old – sings, has a Golden Globe award for acting, and has written three bestsellers in as many years. Phenomenal.
Blog love…The Saveur food blog winners I met in Vegas have become my favorite blog reads. The 20-somethings are fun, whimsical and outrageously creative: Josh, profane, brilliant and utterly unique; Molly, crazy cute but smart and sharp; prolific Stephanie and her stunning blog; Cynthia’s and Valentina’s evocative photography.
The freshness of the younger bloggers makes me happy and nostalgic, but the circa-40-year-old bloggers have soul. I love Cheryl’s wonderfully creative writing, Naz’s California take on beautiful Persian food, Maureen’s Midwestern approach to fresh Lebanese food, Sarah’s uplifting introspection. These are women who live with care and thought, and they have so much to share.
Why I’m done with iTunes…It’s no secret that I’m an Amazon fanatic, but it took me a couple of iTunes song purchases to realize that my kids, who share my iTunes library, cannot sync songs I’ve purchased on iTunes the way they can with songs I’ve purchased on Amazon. Amazon downloads, on the other hand, are just like songs I’ve ripped from my CDs – I can share them with others.
A better way to use iPhoto…If you use iPhoto, all your camera and iPhone/iPod pictures get dumped into a giant library file, making it hard to access individual photo files. In order to get a single jpeg, you need to export it out of iPhoto. Fortunately Apple includes a free program that is much better for transfering photos from your camera/phone to your computer. Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t tell you about it.
Image Capture is a nifty little application. Just use the search for it in the upper right hand corner of your screen (the magnifying glass) to pull it up, and it looks like this when you open it:
Image Capture allows you to import both photos and videos, selected or all, and put them in your Pictures folder or anywhere else you specify. Then you can get to them whenever you like, to copy, transfer, etc.
iPhoto is still a great way to view the pictures, but instead of hiding your photo files in a monolithic iPhoto library, it can simply view the photos you’ve already filed away with Image Capture.
Food…4000 years ago
I keep meaning to share these pictures from my trip to New York City last fall. I was giving my sister-in-law a quick spin through the Metropolitan Museum of Art when these remarkable models from ancient Egypt called us to stop and linger.
It’s always fascinating to think about life thousands of years ago, but the Egyptian artifacts that remain (eg mummies) are more often related to the rituals of death. These incredibly well-preserved models give a rare insight into daily life in ancient Thebes, where the production of food was not so different from the farm life of our near past.
These models, dating back to 2000 BC, were discovered in 1920 in a small chamber hidden in the floor of a long-plundered tomb of a royal chief steward in Thebes (current day Luxor). Of the 24 models found, 11 are in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and the rest are at the Met. I love the artistry in these figures, and the stories they tell.
Here’s the cattle stable, where cattle are being fattened for slaughter. One is so fat he can barely stay upright, and the cattle are being fattened with grain – perhaps not so different from corn-fed cattle today.
This is the slaughterhouse, with cuts of meat hanging to cure.
The granary, where some workers measure the grain into buckets, and others tally the harvest on wood tablets and papyrus.
Here workers pour grain into bins.
This is the brewery and bakery. In the brewery they grind flour, make mash, ferment the grain and pour it into jugs. In the bakery, they grind grain into flour, make dough, shape it into loaves and cakes, and put in oven to bake.
Food here is being prepared for death offerings. In this model, bearers on foot carry offerings for the afterlife of the deceased. In Cairo’s Egyptian Museum, there are awesome models of boats bearing the deceased to the afterlife.
Food is eternal. As it turns out, so are sandals. These from ancient Egypt aren’t so different from my T-strap Havaianas. A style that stands the test of time.
Four years – thank you so much for being here. Take a minute to tell me something, and I hope you win a gift card to buy yourself a summer read, or some shareable mp3s, or eternal sandals in modern-day rubber.