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The-Best-Food-Writing-of-2013I made it through 32 years without tasting a McRib. Over three decades spent tasting and eating all other manner of offensive foods—yet a McRib had never passed my lips, until last Thursday. I can’t say I regret my meal. It goes deeper than that: a sense that I gave in, sheeplike, to a national phenomenon whose promises—no matter how meager—were always going to fall short of my expectations.

hochWhich recipes do you suggest for the amateur to try? 

Making hard cider couldn’t be easier. You can even start with the unpasteurized, no-alcohol apple cider sold at local orchards in fall. You need not add any sugar to it and it will yield a sweet and tasty, low-alcohol drink in just a few weeks. Once you’ve learned the basic steps, you can improve the end result with blends of apples for better flavor and adding natural carbonation. Ginger beer is another quick and rewarding drink for novices to learn. Like cider, you can start with readily available ingredients and in a short period of time get a simple drink with fresh flavor and low-alcohol content.

hochAs colorful as the history and mythology of moonshine is, absinthe’s may be even more lurid. The herb-flavored and herb-tinted liquor was known as the “Green Fairy” and developed a following among the artists, writers and other bohemians living in France in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Its devotees claimed that it promoted visions, that it was more psychoactive than mere alcohol. It was reported that Van Gogh cut off his ear under the deranging influence of absinthe.

Carl-Grimes-in-action-The-Walking-Dead
 

Being a parent is hard. We all know that. Sleepless nights, hours spent elbow-deep in vomit, pressure to do the right thing by your kids every waking hour of the day. You love them unconditionally, but you’re never off the clock. Most days you’re lucky if you find a minute to sit down and breathe.

But if you think you’ve got it hard, spare a thought for the characters in AMC’s hit TV show The Walking Dead. Scheduling nap times can be a bitch, but it’s a virtual impossibility when you’re dragging your kids through a violent post-apocalyptic hell, populated by looters, homegrown gun-toting militia, and flesh-eating corpses. You may fret over how much TV your kid should watch, but trust me – you’ve never encountered a true parenting dilemma until your son has helped deliver his baby sister in a prison block, then shot and killed his mother to keep her from turning into a slavering people-eater. Suddenly an extra hour of Sesame Street doesn’t seem so terrible.

freeloading cover imageThe Future, on Repeat

On a January morning in 2010, nervous congregants gathered in a San Francisco auditorium. They awaited revelation, if not rapture. Silicon Valley’s far-flung diaspora joined the revival from afar, holding virtual vigil. With bent backs and glazed eyes, they stared at the live video feed streaming across their computer screens. Soon, the prophet of the information age would reward his followers and offer a new vision unto the people.

Inside the auditorium, eager eyes darted back and forth across the stage, straining to see their digital media savior. There he was! Applause thundered: dressed in his uniform of black turtleneck and blue jeans, Steve Jobs finally entered from stage left.

Ally McBeal vs. Liz Lemon

 

Robin:

Career deadlines, marriage deadlines, parenthood deadlines— all the internal deadlines for adult milestones have gotten later since the Baby Boomers’ day. Traditionally, five milestones have been used to define adulthood— completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying, and having a first child. Millennials pass through all the Big Five, on average, about five years later than Baby Boomers did. It’s become a feedback loop: as the milestones are commonly achieved deeper into post-adolescence, cultural expectations shift even further back.

Today’s young people don’t expect to marry until their late twenties, don’t expect to start a family until their thirties, don’t expect to be on an actual career track until much later than their parents were. So they make decisions about their futures that reflect this wider time frame. Many would not be ready to take on the trappings of adulthood any earlier even if the opportunity arose; they haven’t braced themselves for it.


For the last few years I’ve scratched a meager living as a travel writer. If that conjures images of five-star luxury and all expenses paid cruises around the Baltic, then I apologize. The reality was more like a cut-price buffet at a roach-infested diner, squatting in the ass-end of nowhere. While there have been perks – lots of travel, a few unexpected adventures, some truly global friendships – there were plenty of bad times too. It turns out that travel writers dress like bums for a reason. Those guys you see scrawling on scraps of card at the side of the road aren’t begging for small change – they’re on assignment for National Geographic.

I am having my second miscarriage in a row. I am waiting for my body to expel a much wanted pregnancy that in our sense of joy and good fortune, my husband and I had already announced to family and friends. My first miscarriage this spring was very early (5.5 weeks) and I recovered from it with relative ease. But this morning, suddenly no longer pregnant at 7.5 weeks, I was flooded by a tidal wave of rage.

I yelled at my 5-year-old daughter who was impaling a potted plant with her light saber. I tried to pick a fight with my husband, who wasn’t in the mood to oblige.

And then, it hit me.

1. You are not, and will never be, a mother.

In this age of growing equality – sexual, racial, interspecies – men are still second class citizens when it comes to parenthood. Never mind that your sperm helped make the whole kid and caboodle: your lack of breasts and a vagina will forever be held against you. In fact, if you do grow breasts – or a vagina – it will only make matters worse. Men are still portrayed in the media as cartoonish fools, incompetent diaper-illiterate Stooges who are about as capable of looking after a baby as they are of making a casserole. Women, we are told, have an innate ability to nurture, which includes a genetic predisposition for cleaning up poop with moistened wipes, and a built-in Spidey-sense that detects squalling infants at a range of up to five miles. Men, meanwhile, are quite good at playing games. Or pulling faces. Or, in the case of the truly talented, both at once.

 

HOW TO RIDE AN ELEVATOR

Several years ago when the relationship I assumed was both nearly perfect and my last turned out to be neither and ended car-off-cliff style, I experienced an unexpected and profound personal awakening.

This awakening arrived convincingly disguised as the most miserable and debilitating period of my life; a life which would now be trimmed short from the disease of ruination.

So complete was this state of psychological collapse, it even followed me into elevators.

I am a good friend. If I am your good friend, I promise I will pick you up from the airport, buy you a drink, support your writing, painting, music, IT and accounting skills, and assure you that your hair looks good even after haircuts gone very wrong. I will not save your life by sacrificing my own, loan you books, give you my last Diet Pepsi, or hold your hand during your vasectomy.

I was misled.

Silas asked me to drive him to and from a “minor surgery.” As said “minor surgery” required that I pick him up at 5:30 AM, I suggested that he take the train and offered to pick him up when normal people were awake. He said he wanted me there. He sounded nervous. I did not want to invade his privacy and ask the nature of the surgery (yes, I did), and assumed, when told the surgery would take place at Planned Parenthood, that he had something growing on him that should not, something that required uncomfortable cotton swabbing, or something stuck somewhere it should not be stuck. I thought his vagueness was meant to protect me.

Silas and I dated for about five minutes, then became good friends. Just before we were formally introduced at a mutual friend’s birthday party, I overheard him say he did not want children. Umm, ok, hi, nice to meet you, guy who doesn’t want kids. I’m girl who does want kids. Five minutes was a pretty lengthy relationship, given our respective procreative intentions.

On the drive there, my 6’6” life of the party friend was pale and squeaky. I asked, and learned that I was chauffeuring him to his vasectomy.

Anyone here think a vasectomy is minor surgery? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

The disclosure was followed by the confession that he wasn’t sure he wanted to go through with it. 5:45am on the Bay Bridge. I offered to buy him a box of condoms and drive us both home. He squeaked his resistance. You can’t turn around on the bridge anyway.

We arrived, Silas filled out some forms, and I pulled out my laptop to begin dcumenting. He fidgeted. I tried to distract, noticing his English pallor was paper white; his hands served as a fortress for his offering.  Though he did not want Silas, Jr. to be implicated in the creation of a different kind of Silas, Jr., his reticence was understandable. The choice between having a kid he didn’t want and having someone touch his parts in a way he did not like his parts to be touched was like that one Sophie had. He was not going to win. Not that day.

The wait was long. He got squeakier, whiter. Then silent. I asked if he wanted me to come in. Part of me wanted him to say yes. Not many women – even wives and girlfriends – observe the minor, yet major, snip. The part that hoped he wouldn’t take me up on the offer didn’t care to (a) observe Silas’ genitalia, or (b) pass out, puke, and/or laugh.

He declined. The nurse retrieved him and they disappeared around a corner. Seconds later, he returned and waved me in.

The doctor asked if I was Silas’ wife or girlfriend. We both said no, fast. Bruce got chatty with me. Dude looks at vas deferens all day. And girls at Planned Parenthood are generally there to prevent things or get antibiotics for things, or, you know, to do things a guy doesn’t want to know right away about a girl. I was a mystery who wasn’t afraid to watch.

Silas was not happy with Bruce’s attempts at speed dating. His stuff was getting taped up against his belly. For access. I held his hand. It was limp, too. Doctor Bruce gave him a hand mirror so he could watch.

It was quick.  It was fascinating. I won’t describe: I am a good friend. I will not abuse my power to invoke widespread wooziness. All I’ll say is we both faltered when we saw smoke coming from his boy parts. This was not a he was so turned on his loins were on fire situation. Silas was not experiencing pre-coital metaphorical heat. There was smoke. Down there.

He lowered the mirror. I felt slightly dizzy and put my head between my legs. A few minutes later, he was taken to a room with other limping men for crackers and juice. I didn’t get any juice.

I drove Silas home. Carefully. He called me every day to tell me what color it was. He asked if I wanted to see it. I said I knew what black, green, blue, and yellow look like. The next time I saw him, I gave him a card with a picture of a kid who looked a little like him. The kid was making a goofy face and had French fries stuck up his nose and crammed in his mouth. I wrote “Congratulations. You are not having one of these.”

He asked if I wanted to see it. I asked what color it was. He smiled. I told him I knew what that color looks like. The card is still on his refrigerator.

 

 

A friend of mine is going through an emotional upheaval. She’s in her forties, married, with two children. She is no longer effervescent. She tells me that she is incapacitated by sadness and fear. Things are happening in her life that drain her of her will to live.

“What kind of things?” I ask.

Family things,” she whispers.

Because she won’t tell me, I fear the worst. Though I’ve asked, she refuses to tell me exactly what is happening. She’s painfully shy, secretive about the things she cherishes most. To better cope with her inner turmoil, she’s taken up smoking again. Whatever happened has affected her for months, yet she cannot bring herself to tell another living soul about it.

In an email, she writes about the weight she’s lost since whatever happened happened—“down to [x lbs], my weight at time of marriage–but I look fabulous!” Because I know her to be sensitive about her appearance, I read this as a proud boast. I write back that this is good news, but what I really think is how profound her depression must be to have caused this loss of appetite.

A number of weeks ago, an article on MSNBC.com caught my eye. A woman who survived a lupus-induced stroke tells of how impressed her friends of her resulting severe weight loss.

“The crazy thing was people thought I looked great because I was so thin. They’d ask if I was working out and I didn’t have one muscle. You could see every bone protruding out of my shoulders, my elbows, my wrists.”

She tried to tell people how dire her weight loss was, how much it jeopardized her health, yet her friends prodded her for diet tips.

“It was like the skinnier I got, the more I heard about how great I looked. Men, in particular, thought my body looked fabulous. I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s really sick. I have to be anorexic to make you think I’m attractive.’”

Stories like this get to me. I’ve been writing a novel lampooning how obsessed we can be with false ideas of feminine beauty. Much has been written elsewhere about the psychologically damaging effects that our culture’s focus on body image can have on women, yet it still startles me to see how alarmingly short-sighted people can be. What’s the value of weight loss when it is achieved as a consequence of emotional despair? Or life-threatening medical conditions?

When beauty is concerned, misplaced priorities are rampant.

In August, Jane Fonda appeared in Harper’s Bazaar. The occasion? A new movie by the two-time Oscar-winning actress? A new political cause for this activist who has helped shape public opinion about crucial events for over forty years? Nope. Appearing in a revealingly sheer Stella McCartney dress, the 73-year-old Fonda announces to the world that she is still beautiful.

Fonda, who has an artificial hip and an artificial knee (“I set off as many bells and whistles at an airport as I did [at a Cannes fashion show.]”), freely concedes vanity. She still has the need to show off her figure. “I wear what will show off my best parts, which are my waist and my butt.”

While I have nothing against people taking pride in their personal appearance, it’s appalling that someone as accomplished as Fonda feels she can only assert her continued relevance through brash boasts of youthful beauty. Beauty is confining pedestal. One senses from reading Fonda’s comments that its pursuit has obscured her ability to take satisfaction from other facets of her life.

One needn’t be a cynic to suspect that a septuagenarian’s the outward appearance of beauty is maintained by a fair amount of make-up and, perhaps, cosmetic surgery. Beauty is a wasteful pursuit. Worldwide, the cosmetics industry raked in $170 billion in 2007 (the most recent year for which I can locate reliable figures). Anti-aging facial serums are the most expensive products. A 1.7 ounce jar of La Prairie “Cellular Cream Platinum Rare” will set you back a cool grand at Neiman Marcus.

Do these products work? A 2005 Forbes article suggests maybe not. While the cosmetic industry touts these products as “clinically proven” to reduce wrinkles, their studies lacked clinical control groups to test their findings. As Forbes writes, “If these studies were repeated using, say, olive oil, or even a generic lotion of any kind, it is possible that the results would be the same.”

Dollars are not the only thing that being wasted in the pursuit of beauty. Anxieties and false expectations are being needlessly thrust upon women.

I feel sorry for Fonda.

“I was raised in the ’50s,” Fonda says. “I was taught by my father that how I looked was all that mattered, frankly. He was a good man, and I was mad for him, but he sent messages to me that fathers should not send: Unless you look perfect, you’re not going to be loved.”

As a father of a six-year-old girl, I hope never to wittingly or unwittingly impart that same message. Yet some days, it’s a struggle. My daughter now has longish hair, hair that frankly gets untidy if not brushed. Am I sending her the wrong message every time I brush her hair before she goes to school?

As much as we like to believe that we’ve washed away the blatant sexism that has existed to subjugate or otherwise limit opportunities for women in our society, the expectations we place on women to maintain physical beauty place them at a tremendous disadvantage. Just think of how much time Fonda put in over the years maintaining the comeliness of her butt. Now think of all that she might have accomplished with that time had she devoted it to some other cause.

During the 2008 Presidential campaign, when Hillary Clinton still fiercely contested for the Democratic nomination, Michael Kinsley wrote a Washington Post thought piece about how much time candidates spent each morning readying their physical appearances. Whereas a man can quickly shower, brush his hair, and toss on a suit, greater care is expected from women. Attention must be given to the color co-ordination of their wardrobe. They must apply make-up and style their hair. Sadly, appearances matter as much as policy stances. Should a hastily made-up female politician greet an audience or television interviewer, votes would likely be lost.

These extra preparations, Kinsley conservatively estimated, cost Hillary Clinton twenty minutes more each morning than Barack Obama.

“In most occupations this 20 minutes doesn’t make much difference — especially compared with the disproportionate time that women still spend housekeeping and child-rearing. It will make no difference after the election; no one will care if the president is well-coiffed when answering that 3 a.m. phone call. But in a close-fought election campaign, every minute counts. If you figure 20 minutes a day over a year and a half of 14-hour days and six-day weeks, it comes out to an extra two weeks of campaigning or sleep for a male candidate.”

Just as no one really cares what a president may look like at 3 a.m., I doubt anyone really cares about the state of an actress’s derriere. When a friend emails us at three a.m. with her emotional woes, we don’t really care if she’s lost a lot of weight lately. We don’t ask about the wrinkles that might be crowing her eyes, or the brand of lipstick she might be swishing over her lips. What we want is her emotional well-being, which seems to be the first thing we lose sight of when our thoughts turn to beauty.

It’s three in the afternoon on Saturday. I’m on my second or third double espresso of the day, not because I need it, but because I love it. I got home this morning at six, after a night spent out and about town, went to bed and rose like black magic at noon to get going. Yesterday marked the end of a 60-hour week at a job I adore and now, I’m writing this piece. My energy levels are through the roof, but I promise you I’m not manic. This is the life and I’m still living it, even though I’m not 22 anymore. Far from it. Though I’m not quite Disco Sally, either.

I live hard. I work hard. I play hard. And I just can’t stop. Late nights, strong cocktails, out until dawn… you know how it goes.  The kind of life you told yourself had to end once you hit your mid-twenties, only I’ve never stopped. I fear if I stop, I’ll hit the wall, and when you’re going 100 MPH, you know the ending result will not be pretty.



That’s me in all my green skin glory, about a month ago. It was taken around midnight in a bar with a camera phone, that is, no bells nor whistles, no filters nor airbrushing involved. It’s definitely not the best picture of me, but I think it captures how I look on any given night (rather than, say, my TNB photo which was professionally shot for a magazine). I still get carded and challenged that my driver’s license is actually my own, granted the lighting in most bars is pretty forgiving. Don’t for a second think that I actually believe I look under 21, but I could easily lie about my age by 10 years. My mom does. Lies about my age, that is. But, I think lying is silly. On the other hand, avoiding the full reveal = awesome! It seems that when most women hit their thirties, especially if we look good, we start to conveniently not mention our age. We do have this mystique to maintain, right? Just call me ageless.

I went to a new doctor recently and when she came in the room after the nurse took my stats, she demanded, “OK, what’s your secret?!”

Secret? I started to freak out thinking she somehow knew I had lied about how many drinks I actually consume in a week on the new patient form.

“We were all just marveling over your age!” she continued. “And we don’t believe it.” Relieved, though a bit shaken, I shrugged and said what has become my throwaway answer: “good genes.” But I come from a family that is prone to just as many maladies as any other.

Look, I’m not here to rub anything in your face (except for a good face serum, maybe). There’s nothing to envy. After all, the past ten years haven’t been easy by any stretch and sometimes I’m shocked and extremely grateful that a pre-plastic surgery Joan Rivers isn’t staring back at me when I look into a mirror. Let’s see, there was the excruciating task of opening and running a business that eventually went south and made me financially and emotionally drained, not to mention the end of relationships, falling in and out of love a couple times. You know… grown-up stuff. Who really has it “easy” anyway?

Consider for a moment what I do “right” and I promise not to lecture. It’s not all that impressive: I avoid the sun (easy for night lovers), get plenty of sleep (I don’t get less than 7 hours a night, on average), eat well (vegetarian, non-processed foods, though that’s undoubtedly its own separate subject), exercise like there’s no tomorrow– while forcing myself to enjoy it (I do, really, I do. Perhaps I’m even a bit addicted. Hey, better than crystal meth right?) and I take care of myself, especially my skin, which I don’t take for granted for a second. It may be kinda green, but it’s smooth and other than a few fine lines, wrinkle-free.

Surely, you’ve heard all that before, so what else? What’s my secret? It could be that I treat myself well, because I feel I deserve it. I love to spend money on clothing, shoes, quality beauty products and services. I also love to spend money on good food, books, travel and entertainment. All of this keeps me stimulated, inspired and healthy. Could it also be that I refuse to “settle down”? More like I refuse to settle. Once you settle, then you become complacent and then you might as well die as far as I’m concerned. Call it extreme, but this philosophy works for me.

Let’s get back to the topic of work, though. It’s what keeps me in Fluevogs and good bedding (a sound sleep is crucial to a divine daily existence, so go ahead and splurge on those 700-thread count sheets and luxury mattress), not to mention, earning a paycheck allows me to be able to afford those things I can’t live without. But it’s more than that. I was raised with a really strong work ethic, which sucked at 16 when I wanted to fuck off and just go to the beach on weekends, but now I appreciate that ethic. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a workaholic, if you allow for the other aforementioned good stuff. I don’t sacrifice my own happiness for work and won’t do so ever again after owning my own business and having to make constant compromises with a partner who did not share the same outlook as me. Ever since that ended, I have followed my own rules, worked many jobs, often two or three at a time, and other than a brief hiatus in employment due to a life-changing move to the Midwest, I now have the career of my dreams. I think that once you get there, you should want to devote yourself to overachievement.

I have this thing called a writing habit, too. My recently completed novel may be on the back burner, but it’s warming up quite nicely. Slow cooking means the most enjoyable eating, I’ve found. And I have some hobbies, too.

But the secret, what’s the secret to looking and feeling young? I think it’s the grand sum of these things. For example, without the exercise, I have to wonder if I could sleep as well as I do. Without eating healthily, would the drink make me a lazy lush? Without sleeping a full night, would I still have endless energy and not get sick? If I didn’t sleep, eat well and drink a few quarts of water a day would my skin look this good? Who knows? It’s a life in progress. I do take breaks from the hard living. There may be a week or two of staying in at night, too. Too much of anything can get boring. I guess I just fell into good habits somewhere along the way, to counterbalance the not so good ones. Listen, not trying these days isn’t an option anymore.

The first paragraph of this piece could have easily started differently. I could have listed all that I do “right,” and I do plenty right but wouldn’t you rather have the fact that I do plenty wrong as a frame of reference? I am not perfect. I drink. A lot. I love caffeine. I love late nights and “sleeping in.”  A lot of this I can attribute to two decades of practice. I started going out when I was underage and living in Greenwich Village. I cut my teeth on New York nightlife as soon as I could.

I do it all, all that I want to do, and I’ll stop when I’m dead. But I will try my best to look and feel fabulous all along the way.  Who knows, some day I may even achieve Zelda Kaplan status.

The living hard part? It’s not crucial, nor is it advisable for everyone, but why not gradually make a go of it? You may find yourself feeling better, having more energy and you may just want to pull an all-nighter or two.


 

You men eat your dinner
eat your pork and beans
I eat more chicken any man ever seen

So goes the blues song, “Back Door Man,” written in 1961 by Willie Dixon for Howlin’ Wolf, and later immortalized by Jim Morrison and The Doors.

A “Back Door Man” is said to be a man who has an affair with a married woman while her husband’s away. In the song, the chicken line serves as a double entendre. Chicken-eating was rare in 1961. Per capita, consumption of pork doubled chicken consumption; not until 1985 did chicken consumption surpass pork consumption in the United States.

“I eat more chicken any man ever seen,” then, likely referred to the singer’s boast that married women cooked chicken for him and saved the less desirable pork and beans for their husbands.

I am not a “back door man”-at least not in any blues sense of the phrase. However, taken literally, that chicken line is my personal anthem: I really do eat more chicken any man ever seen.

In 2007, the typical American consumed about 87 pounds of chicken. My yearly chicken consumption equals about 525 pounds-a ½ chicken almost every single night.

Most nights, I eat a ½ roast chicken. I adore The French recipe, poulet en cocotte. I believe chicken should be brined. In Puerto Rico last winter, I ate a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket for seven consecutive evenings. I prefer dark meat. I tolerate people who prefer white meat, though I find this “preference” laughable. Chicken legs are finger-lickin’, robust, Whitmanesque. Dark meat, replete with B-vitamins, is more nutritious than white meat, too. I believe that chicken should be shared.  Sundays, I share a whole roast chicken with my wife. Weekends, I grill chicken legs for friends and family.

This was not always the case. Growing up, I was not necessarily a prolific chicken-eater. Then, at twenty, I became a vehement vegetarian. Firm in my belief that I was nourishing my body (and, obviously, supporting the welfare of the earth and its creatures), I ate whole grains, beans, tempeh, raw fruits and vegetables-but no chicken. Skinny to begin (6″ 150 pounds), I slimmed down to beanpole dimensions (140 pounds). I acquired what Gabriel García Márquez, in One Hundred Years of Solitude, calls “the forlorn look that one sees in vegetarians.”

Some thought I was rigid. A Greek chorus of friends, family, everyone, really, except my supportive and loving vegetarian wife, said the same thing: Maybe you should eat some meat.

Perhaps they saw what I did not: vegetarianism was killing me. Throughout my early twenties, I suffered a variety of health problems. In my mid-twenties, my health issues evolved. At 26, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. One year later, during my honeymoon in Barcelona, I checked into the hospital at 118 pounds, and was diagnosed with type-1 diabetes.

Remembering this time, I think of these lines from Tony Hoagland’s poem “Medicine”:

Daydreaming comes easy to the ill:
slowed down to the speed of waiting rooms,
you learn to hang suspended in the wallpaper,
to drift among the magazines and plants,
feeling a strange love
for the time that might be killing you.

I do not think I was unique in my stubborn will to remain vegetarian. We hang onto to diets, to ways of eating, even when they no longer make sense, don’t we? Often, we become attached to habits that might be killing us. Time, food, cigarettes–why do we maintain this “strange love”?

It wasn’t until my honeymoon in Barcelona, when I was hit by a car, and later diagnosed with type-1 diabetes, that I began to reconsider my vehemence.

Post-diagnosis, I spent 3 days in the ER, another 3 days in the hospital. When I was released from the hospital, equipped with a regime of insulin and needles, I felt my life had been cut in two. I knew who I used to be, but I had no idea who I might become.

That night in Barcelona, I fell asleep next to my new wife for the first time in seven days. Married only a month, we had spent a week apart–me in my hospital bed; her, returning to the flat alone after visiting hours had ended. Catalans are known for their late meals. I awoke around two in the morning, to a crisply delicious, salty smell. I stepped to the window and was hit by a waft of potato chips. I stuck my head out the window into the clear air. Smelling again, I realized I was mistaken. I hadn’t been smelling potato chips. No, a lunatic Catalan family was grilling at two o’clock in the morning. The scent struck me-the scent of grilled chicken, a veritable blizzard of aromatic compounds. Something about that scent struck my soul-it came to me deliciously intoning its simple message: You can change. You will survive. Eat chicken.

Since that time, seven years ago, I have eaten approximately ½ chicken almost every single night of my life.

Diet is the most idiosyncratic trait a person owns. Married people often share religious and political beliefs-but rarely the same diet. I admit, my chicken-eating habit might seem obsessive-akin in many ways to my prior vegetarianism. There is a difference, though: as a vegetarian, in pursuit of a “pure” body, I had viewed certain ways of eating as wrong or evil. Even as I refined my diet to an impossible degree, my health suffered. Today my diet is even more refined-and yet, I thrive.

I’ve abandoned the absurd belief that any way of eating is inherently right or wrong. I do not trust dietary dictums. In terms of food, my experience has taught me that the spirit with which you approach food is as important as the food itself.

How do you eat? In penance? With joy?

Food choices are vitally important to a type-1 diabetic. I had to re-learn my relationship with food in order to live healthfully. Every time I put food into my mouth, I must calculate the effect it will have upon my body, and I must make adjustments to my insulin regime accordingly. I cannot just eat whatever I want, whenever I want. I am bound by diabetes to live my life within proscribed boundaries.

Within these boundaries, though, I’ve discovered joy: perhaps it is a form of compulsion, but I enjoy eating the exact same thing every night. I know exactly how my body will react to chicken. I love the bluesy feeling of mirth, the wild joy of sucking on a chicken bone. I do not mean to be flippant. When I eat chicken I try to remember that I’m engaging in a significant moment–a moment that must be cherished, for it has been afforded to me through a great sacrifice of resources: land, energy, life. I cannot deny, though: to me, chicken is momentous. Chicken symbolizes my return to life.

I’ve posted recipes for my ½ roast chicken and whole roast chicken on my food blog. Here is a recipe for grilled chicken.

Grilled Chicken with Pantry Spice Rub

Over-cooked chicken, like over-cooked steak, is an offensive abomination. A good way to precisely gauge the internal temperature of chicken is to use an instant-read thermometer. Optimal temperature varies between white and dark meat, typically the best chicken measures 160-165 degrees at the breast, and 165-170 degrees at the leg.

4 naturally raised whole chicken legs 
6 tablespoons kosher salt 
2 tablespoons brown sugar 
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 medium garlic cloves, peeled and crushed 
1 teaspoon sweet paprika 
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon chile powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Dissolve the salt and brown sugar in a gallon-size plastic bag. Add the chicken, press out the air, seal, and refrigerate for 1 ½ to 2 hours.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine the olive oil, garlic cloves, and spices.

Remove the chicken from the brine, rinse, dry with paper towels. Rub the pantry spice rub all over the chicken parts.

Light your grill.

If using a charcoal grill, make a two-level fire by stacking most of the coals on one side of the grill. Place the rack on the grill, cover, and allow the grill and rack to heat up for 5 or so minutes. Cook the chicken over the hot coals until browned and crispy, 3-4 minutes per side. Move the chicken to the cooler part of the grill, continue to cook, skin-side up, and covered for 10 minutes. Turn, and continue for 5-7 minutes, until done.

If using a gas grill, turn all the burners to high and heat the grill until very hot, about 10 minutes. Leave one burner on high and turn the other burners to low. Cook the chicken over the hotter part of the grill, uncovered, until browned and crispy, 3-4 minutes per side. Move  the chicken to the cooler part of the grill, continue to cook, skin-side up, and covered for 10 minutes. Turn, and continue for 5-7 minutes, until done.

First, I’ve edited this piece so that even the most dimwitted readers will get my “thesis,” which would be a “thesis” had I not proven it, as below.

Now, why was a prescription database pushed to the hilt by the media? They claimed it was to stop one of Florida’s tourism industries, unsurprisingly allowed to operate for as long as possible: Oxycontin pill mills that existed because of a loophole in the law.  People from all over the South and elsewhere picked up Oxy in Florida to use or sell elsewhere or in Florida, The Comfortable Auschwitz@. Fine: Let’s solve the problem. But, no, a law was passed that now encompasses every single prescription, addictive or not. The state, not concerned enough to pay for the law, located or, more likely, established a private network of contributors to pay for it. Why? Who paid for the database…and why?

At first, it all seems to be about nothing but power. Unfortunately, it’s all about our old friendly combination of power and money… make that money and power.

And now, the incredible story of how Florida’s state pharmacy database came to be.

On January 1, 2010, Florida finally passed The Common Pharmacy Database statute. Before I continue, let me alert you that the following is a mystery wrapped in a conspiracy concealed in quantum semantics saturated by contradictions watering the evil garden of power beneath a sun radiating shadows hiding the black roses blooming by the thousands in the name of profit shrouded by a single over-riding facade of a purpose. Complicating matters is a flood of red herrings pointing to red herrings, only these red herrings have been dyed to appear in every color but red, creating the void in which utterly-arbitrary medical decisions are made by technicians in lab coats who overrule at will the orders of those not much more qualified than themselves, imposing a tyranny upon the entire population of Florida, all to supposedly address a loophole in the law that allowed “pain clinics” to dispense Oxycontin like psychiatrists dispense antidepressants.

In plain English, after my having textually run amok, let me restate the above in one sentence: The Florida Pharmacy Database was never necessary because legislation could have sealed the pain clinic loophole. You won’t read these facts of why that wasn’t done anywhere but here, though they’re lying naked in the Florida sun on I-75.

The database program’s own webpage admits, “The statute authorizing the PMDP [Prescription Drug Monitoring Program] specifically does not allow the use of state appropriations for establishing the PMDP.” Curiously, the statute instead did “authorize the establishment of a non-profit organization, which was incorporated as The Florida PDMP Foundation, Inc., to conduct fund-raising for the program.” In other words, “This is a crucial issue, but not crucial enough to raise taxes.” So how is it possibly Constitutional for a state law to be passed based on funding by a non-governmental entity? Look, a green herring!

Care to guess the The Florida PDMP Foundation, Inc. mission? Third prize goes to stopping “‘pill mills’ that prescribe and/or dispense pain relievers with at best a cursory exam to people who often see multiple physicians for the same ‘ailment.’” Second prize goes to a supposed concern that “nearly seven Floridians are lost every day to prescription drug overdoses.” First prize goes to the bottom dollar answer: “$15 billion is the estimated economic cost of prescription drug abuse and diversion shouldered by Floridians in 2009.” And just who funds the foundation? Let’s look at the three sponsors thanked on the foundation’s site via their super-sized corporate logos.

First, there’s Automated HealthCare Systems, which connects two dots: “Our ezDispense™ medication dispensing software, powered by AHCS, provides the tools to our physician partners to remain in compliance with all state and federal regulations as well as prescription drug monitoring programs. ezDispense™ electronically tracks all pedigree papers, lot numbers, expiration dates and controlled substances with line item reconciliation. Our software also identifies the location, physician, dispenser, cost, profit and date of all medications dispensed.” Holmes, methinks I’ve determined the AHCS’ motivation.

Next, Millennium Laboratories. Somehow, a red herring escaped extermination by Millennium Laboratories, which entirely profits from a single service: “We offer urine testing for numerous drug classes or individual drugs, with the option of several panels or a customized solution.” In Florida, guess who’s watching you piss in a cup?

Finally, Aegis PainComp Testing Services: That’s “Comp” as in “Compliance.” Know where we’re going with this? You got it: Drug testing. It’s all about the urine, folks.

Apparently, however, there’s just not enough precious bodily fluids to go around. Thus, Aegis is currently suing Millennium for “false advertising and unfair competition.” Additionally, Aegis claims Millenium “lured in physicians with illegal kickbacks and defrauded government health care programs.”

But Aegis may not play so fairly, either: “The company owned by the husband of 6th District Congressional candidate Diane Black is suing Republican opponent Lou Ann Zelenik in an attempt to stop a campaign advertisement. In the lawsuit filed Thursday morning in Davidson County Circuit Court, Aegis Sciences Corporation, a drug testing company owned by Dr. David Black, claims that ads run by the Zelenik campaign will damage the business and its reputation and asks for a temporary restraining order to keep the ads from airing. The ads allege Diane Black helped her husband’s company obtain a $1 million state contract.”

These certainly sound like the respectable backers one would seek for an ostensibly government health care program, don’t they? And it all looks like a job for none other than the Real Keyser Söze.

One page deeper into the site and we learn that the foundation is headquartered at the law firm of Duane Morris LLP, which, amongst other activities, boasts: “Our attorneys regularly advise on Stark and anti-kickback issues and have developed unique ways for physicians to share in ancillary revenue in compliance with federal and state regulations.” Another achievement: “We have defended nursing homes, home health agency and ancillary service provider clients under investigation for Medicaid fraud, advising them on appropriate responses to subpoenas and strategizing to minimize the risk of an adverse outcome.” And the law firm proudly broadcasts its having “Represented three nonprofit community hospitals and resulting ‘community benefit foundations’ in connection with the sale of hospital assets to for-profit hospital chains.”

Interesting use of quotation marks around the phrase “community benefit foundations,” obviously mocking such “liberal” causes. But isn’t that exactly the kind of do-good organization The Florida PDMP Foundation, Inc. claims to be? Let’s return to the foundation’s site and check it out.

At first, it seems the foundation at least wants to feel like it has a message of love: “The Foundation consists of both community and business leaders working to save lives through fundraising for the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PMDP) to combat the deadly consequences of drug abuse and diversion.” But without so much as a yawn, this follows, “The Foundation is comprised of a state county sheriff, a President of a Florida-based health care company, an officer of a bank located in Florida, a former director of the Office of Drug Control, the CEO of a company that conducts educational training and an attorney focused on assisting this non-profit. That attorney would be Duane Morris, who, as we’ve seen, normally doesn’t look so kindly upon non-profit organizations. In fact, his motto seems to be, “For the right hourly billing rate, I’ll decapitate Jesus Christ and prove my actions legal, then counter-sue the estate of Jesus Christ.”

As proof, the Duane Morris Institute offers businesses on-site training in a number of areas, one of which includes…”Substance Abuse: Detection and referral; work rules; development of drug and alcohol testing policies; return-to-work agreements ” Relevance? Duane Morris seems awfully involved with drug testing companies, just awfully. For instance, he represented “a drug testing company and its employee, in administering a drug test that found cocaine in plaintiff’s urine and resulted in the revocation of plaintiff’s taxicab operator’s license.” Guess who won, the cabbie or a law firm with enough attorneys to prove the Complete Works of William Shakespeare unconstitutional?

Duane Morris LLP, which specializes in defending the most ruthless business practices conceivable and seems to have a fetish for drug testing, heads the The Florida PDMP Foundation, Inc., funded by drug testing companies, which in turn funded the Florida Pharmacy Database, and without which funding even Republicans would never have passed the legislation. Obviously, through a law conjured to supposedly address Oxycontin pill mills, but which instead is being applied to every single prescribed medication in Florida, the real intention of the database is to shove innocent citizens, including those addicted by proxy due to emotional and/or health issues, into the criminal “justice” system or the rehabilitation racket, both of which will provide plenty of business for drug testing companies. And we know which three drug testing companies will be getting most of that business, don’t we?

Sooner or later, you’ll need a prescription in your state, one without the slightest addictive qualities, and you’ll be denied that prescription for whatever reason the pharmacist may decide. For instance, I recently had to obtain a week’s supply of a newly-prescribed antidepressant, as I couldn’t afford the entire month’s worth. That was standard practice in the old days. But I was told I could not even fill less than the amount prescribed. Why? Because the database gives pharmacies unspecified powers, and pharmacists, believing themselves equipped to do something beyond sliding pills into bottles, love power no less than anybody else with a badge, uniform, degree, or, in this case, lab coat.

Here’s an analogy explaining the supposed logic behind the law: You’re being denied the right to drive — even if you lack a single DUI –  because a certain number of Florida citizens die in car accidents. But by the real “logic” of the law, you’re being pulled over and stopped for speeding whether or not you were speeding or even driving because someone supported a law through a foundation funded by manufacturers of police radar equipment.

Now, if that doesn’t make you piss your pants, read my new 9/11 novel, Airplane Novel, which you can order here. More info at the Airplane Novel website. It’s the only 9/11 novel narrated by the South Tower. In fact, it’s the only 9/11 novel worth reading at all. Just don’t forget to get your Xanax filled before reading this novel aboard a plane.