Monday, December 21, 2009

2009 Recap (A Holiday Newsletter from Eric3000!)

Dear readers,

As you all know, the Mayan calendar will be ending in 2012. Did anyone happen to pick up the new 2013 Mayan calendar while they were at Target? No? Well, then we’re all doomed. All we can do now is try to avoid international landmarks, such as the pyramids, that big Jesus statue in Brazil, and the city of Los Angeles. Those are always the first to go. Rest assured that some secret organization will save the most important thing on earth: the Mona Lisa.

What a year. My long personal nightmare of having a secure job with good benefits is finally, finally over. Yes, after fourteen years at the Getty, the funding for the research project I was working on was cut and I am at last free to pursue my dream of full-time blogging. I made over six dollars at it this year and now that I have more free time, I’m sure I can make twice that much next year! Still, I wouldn’t say no to a regular paycheck, so if you happen to be in the market for an art historian, keep me in mind. My skills include, but are not limited to, the ability to read magazines for extended periods of time.

Like most people, I started the year standing in line at Sephora. Fortunately, I was standing behind the actress Markie Post. And if you have to stand in line for half an hour at a store with the slowest customer service on earth to buy a small tub of a hair product that costs more than caviar (the product is called Dirt and for that price there should be real dirt in it, am I right?), there are worse people to be standing behind than Markie Post. Stars: they hum along to the music they play in stores ... JUST LIKE US!

But, obviously, being from Los Angeles, I would get the best celebrity sighting when I visit my family in Illinois. This summer I had dinner with my sister and cousins in Chicago and shared a communal table with some of the contestants from one of my favorite shows, Top Chef; I went shopping at H&M with Joan Cusack; and I got to meet TLC’s Doug Wilson at his bar and restaurant in central Illinois. While in Illinois I also got to ride an Amtrack train, which is a treat for someone from a city with close to the worst public transportation on earth. Apparently, all the guys on the train with matching sweatpants were just-released prisoners and I got to sit next to one! Jealous?

My most interesting art-related trip this year was when I visited a friend in Texas and we spent a weekend driving across the state to a tiny town in the middle of nowhere called Marfa, which is a full day’s drive from, well, basically, anywhere. It’s hard to describe how far into the middle of nowhere this place is. We stayed at the Hotel Paisano, which is where James Dean, Rock Hudson, and Elizabeth Taylor stayed while filming “Giant.” The reason we made the trip was to visit the Chinati Foundation, which is a huge art complex founded by the installation artist Donald Judd. It was two days of driving for one day of looking at art but it was worth it. We also spent a few hours in the evening trying to see the famous Marfa Lights, which are either an atmospheric effect, space aliens, or a hoax to see how long tourists will stand out in the cold staring at nothing (answer: pretty long).

In June, Other Eric and I took a relaxing vacation with some friends to Maui. I haven’t been to Maui since I was a child, so it was a nice getaway to someplace new, combined with the familiarity of my home state. We got to swim with turtles, go to the top of the dormant volcano Haleakala, and eat at a local chain called Zippy’s, where I ordered the diet plate: chili, rice, macaroni salad, fried chicken, and SPAM. We also drove the famous Road to Hana. What do you get at the end of the Road to Hana? You get a T-shirt that says, “I survived the Road to Hana.” It is an accomplishment. It’s a very narrow, winding road with over fifty one-lane bridges. It rained the whole way to Hana but the only eventful part of the journey was when construction work closed the road for a while, forcing me to climb into the back seat and pee in a water bottle. It completely scandalized Other Eric but didn’t faze anyone else when I told the story that night. Anyway, we drove right past Hana (and the T-shirts) and went on a four mile hike through a bamboo forrest, which we did in flip-flops. I told Other Eric not to bother taking shoes and after a few miles he was ready to kick my butt, except his feet hurt to much. I remember while growing up we would go hiking in flip-flops (or slippers, as they are known in Hawaii). We wore flip-flops for everything--sports, church, job interviews, fine dining, surgery--I only remember wearing shoes on Easter Sunday. If you didn’t like flip-flops, you were free to go barefoot! The point is, I’ll wear shoes the next time.

But the most amazing part of the trip was the road FROM Hana. We made a last-minute decision not to go back the way we came and, instead, continued going clockwise around Haleakala on the Piilani Highway. The Hana Highway is like Autopia at Disneyland compared to the back road of the Piilani Highway. It was completely closed for two years after a 2006 earthquake and only reopened a year ago; people are warned that they will void their rental car insurance; there is no radio or cellular service; and the dirt sections of the road completely wash out during the rainy season. Fortunately, although it rained all morning on the east side of the island, it was completely dry on the other side of the mountain. So the only thing we had to deal with was surviving the one-lane dirt sections with blind corners, where we were hanging off the edge of a cliff with no guardrail and no way to see if another car was coming in the other direction. It was probably the most exciting thing I’ve ever done. The scenery was breathtaking, driving over streams and lava flows, and we only came across three or four other cars during the entire two hour drive.

Well, that’s what I did this year. I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving. We celebrated the usual way: cooked all day, ate in 15 minutes, and then watched the parade on the DVR while my mom took photographs of the television screen so that it would feel like we were there. The big change this year is that I dry-brined the turkey instead of using Martha Stewart’s recipe that calls for covering the turkey with butter-basted cheesecloth. The Martha Stewart turkey always tasted good but it did have a tendency to catch on fire, which was a little inconvenient:

Martha Stewart: “Well, you probably weren’t using artisanal cheesecloth. And please don’t tell me you bought butter at the grocery store. What type of organic feed did you use while you were raising your turkey? WHAT?! YOU DIDN’T RAISE YOUR OWN TURKEY?! I give up. If you aren’t going to do anything properly, you can’t come crying to me when your turkey catches fire.”

Whatever, Martha. Anyway, the dry-brined turkey was very good and very easy (recipe from the Los Angeles Times). It’s much simpler than regular brining and less trouble than calling the fire department. Here’s what you’ll need: One turkey (if you didn’t realize you would need a turkey, this recipe is too advanced for you); three or four tablespoons of kosher salt (depending on the size of the turkey) ground together with sage, pepper, and bay leaves; and a fire pit tended by elderly French women (available at select Williams-Sonoma stores; alternatively, you can use a regular oven set to 325). All you have to do is rub the salt mixture all over the turkey and let it sit in a plastic bag for three days in the refrigerator. It even works with a frozen turkey; it will brine as it thaws. If you are like me, you may wonder what kind of bag to use. Well, you could do what I did and put the turkey in a tall kitchen trash bag, then do a Google search to find out if that was OK, and then freak out and go back to the store to get a brining bag. But I would recommend just getting a brining bag in the first place.

Happy holidays!