Have you ever been watching an NBA game or the Olympics and thought to yourself “I wonder what it would like if a normal person was shown competing next to these people? You know, like some regular dude (fine me) who just ate half a Domino's pizza and is about to start clipping their toenails and then suddenly they’re thrown into the game and expected to not even defend LeBron but just, like, keep up with him?” I think sometimes we don’t appreciate these long jumpers, tele skiers, Serena Williams-s of the world—what have you—because they make it all look too easy. We need some perspective. This is also how I feel about cooking.
Example: below is a photograph of the finished polenta I made for my boyfriend last week, while cooking a Real Simple recipe I found called “Pork Chops with Sauteed Apple and Polenta.
And here’s the magazine’s photo of the final meal, below. Our polenta looks somewhat different, right? Just a little? (I’m still unclear on what polenta actually is by the way, but I suppose that’s a different issue entirely.)
Basically, food styling is the death of me. I really think all our lives would be better if a) Donald Trump doesn’t become President and b) every cookbook/blog was forced to update their content to also contain a “real meal prepared by a real person who still isn’t that good at chopping shallots yet and whose boyfriend is better at making the bed then she is” photo. Just to, like, lower our expectations a little. We don’t all need to see the Simone Biles photo of the pork and sauteed apples Real Simple! (Though I suppose the argument that if they ran the photo of my hack-job polenta in the magazine people would probably gag and throw the Real Simple down and vow to never cook again...but still—maybe something halfway?)
Anyhow, I solved the problem of the ruined grain (I think I just bought the wrong kind? Like, it wasn’t instant? Seriously, what is polenta?) by taking a cue from my girl Ina G. and just straight up lying to my boyfriend. You know, that whole “never let them see you sweat!” thing, or whatever. Like, if you’re holding a dinner party and you burn the roast for six people you just say it was planned all along with a “throaty” laugh and then hand everyone a martini and a handful of stale nuts and tell them a pizza is on its way? I feel like I read that somewhere once...but yeah, I just lied to my boyfriend and said we were pulling a Tom and Gisele-like cleanse and eating only meat and vegetables for dinner. (Later, when he saw the left-for-dead polenta floating aimlessly on the stovetop he yelped and asked me “what was I going to do with that thing.”)
Known non-polenta eater
The truth is I do really want to get better at cooking and not ruining recipes. So I recently signed up for Home Chef, aka one of those meal delivery services that send you three meals a week in a box and everything is prepackaged into perfect portions and there are step-by-step guides as to how to prepare everything so you barely have to think about what to make for dinner and can focus solely on how terrified you are of Donald Trump Jr. becoming Secretary of the Treasury. (And no, this is not a #sponsored post for Home Chef, though, believe me, I would LOVE nothing more than to ever have the chance to write #sponsoredcontent for this blog. Like, all I want to do is pose in front of exposed brick somewhere in Beacon Hill while holding a latte and wearing a pair of Chico's chandelier earrings and be like “guys, you should totally shop at Chico's, look at these earrings, they’re such a good transition day-to-night item!” and then get paid seventy-five cents for it.) Alas, I’m just writing about Home Chef because I’m trying it.
And so far, so good! I’ve made two of the first three meals and they’ve both been quite tasty! And I will say it's sort of trippy to find yourself standing in your kitchen stirring a “cajun remoulade” and thinking like, “I would literally never have made a cajun remoulade in my entire life but some Stanford grad realized how lazy I am and just took my money and sent it to me in the mail and now I’m making air-mailed cajun tilapia? Like what?”
There is one major drawback to the service so far, which I will illustrate for you through a conversation I had with my mother on the day the first box of food arrived. She was over, helping me unpack some books. The following unfolded as I began to take the food out of the Home Chef box and put everything away in the fridge:
Mom: “Um….wow, this is a lot of packaging.”
Me: “No it’s not. It’s normal. Think about my carbon footprint of, like, going to the grocery store, and then you buy a huge jar of horseradish sauce you only use once and then you throw it out three years later? And like, who isn’t always finding moldy broccoli in their fridge?”
Silence. The mother continues to inspect the box.
Mom: “No no... this is not….there’s too much foam-look at this!
She proceeds to pull a foam pad the size of a husky toddler out of the cardboard box.
Mom: “This is so much foam!”
Me: “Well, chicken from the supermarket comes in a foam container!
Mom:“Not this MUCH foam!”
The concerned mother continues to reach into the box and pull plastic things out Mary Poppins-style.
Mom: “I mean, what are you going to do with all these ice packs!”
Environment-hater quickly googles “home chef ice packs” and sees that the goo in them is “safe” and that the packs can be cut open and the goo poured down the sink.
Me: “Um, duh I’ll just cut them open and pour the goo down the sink! And I’ll save one to use for when I burn myself cooking! The goo is good for the environment, Mom! Get with the times!”
The daughter cuts the packs open. Soon the bottom of her sink is covered in a sludgy, creepy goo. It feels like the beginning of a sci-movie where the villains are lazy millennials. The mother turns to her daughter.
Mom: “I just...I personally wouldn’t be comfortable getting this every week-”
Me: “MOM PLEASE STOP YOU’RE RUINING MY HOME CHEF HIGH!”
Mom: “Sorry, sorry.”
Then we turned on the tv and watched Sweet Home Alabama, which I haven’t seen in forever, and can I just say, how completely RIDICULOUS is that movie? Poor Reese having such a hard time choosing between two incredibly handsome, rich, nice men, just one is dark-haired and the other is blonde. Decisions, decisions! I did note, however, that this off-the-shoulder top trend that just won’t quit may have begun with this movie?
It's a mystery. Anyhow, I’m making pork medallions tonight. Maybe I’ll post a picture.
The other night I couldn’t sleep, and it was because of plastic surgery. Or, more specifically, it was because I had recently seen a photo of a celebrity (actually not Renee Zellweger) and it had made me feel all sorts of strange inside.
Okay that sounds kind of creepy. But you know what I mean. The photo I had seen—of a beautiful famous woman who’s about fifty—was of a face I didn’t recognize from my childhood years, when I had watched this lovely woman on tv: she now had those lips that looked puffed and cartoonish and duck-ly, and those very open fake-looking eyes. Staring at the picture I felt a weird combination of confused, embarrassed, and sad. What is that, I thought. Meaning both this woman’s face, and my strong reaction to it.
Now, right off the bat, I’ll admit that I probably shouldn’t be writing anything about plastic surgery. I’ll be 30 in a couple months. It’s probably unwise, and a little tasteless, to discuss famous women twenty or so odd years older than me messing with their faces. But alas, I am not wise, nor do I have taste. Plus, this isn’t even about “older” women, anyhow. Tons of women in their thirties (what the hell Mary-Kate Olsen!) seem to be doing it too. And it freaks me out on so many levels. The first of which is not P.C. at all to say.
Because it just looks, awful. Right? Sometimes, I feel crazy thinking this. I don’t know, maybe there is something different in L.A. and New York, something they put in the water that changes what people think looks good, but I just don’t understand how having a look that screams “this is all completely fake, and also my unmoving forehead is actually a baby’s ass I bought on Craigslist and then rubbed with Crisco and attached to my skull” is supposed to be sexy. When I see these women I just think, wow, you not only ruined your beauty, but you ruined your face! I mean, your face, man! YOUR FACE. And honestly, every single time, I think, you just...really don’t look younger. (Which was the point? I think?) Instead, you look crazy. You look worse, sitcom star I once loved! It makes me sad. Do these women think they look better? Do they look better? (They don’t, right? I remain seriously confused.)
And of course to think I have a right to talk about plastic surgery at all, never having had any, is again, probably stupid. I do want to be clear that I’m not talking about the kind of plastic surgery (often done earlier in life, it seems) that truly makes someone feel better about a specific thing. I’ve had a friend get a nose job, and being a woman blessed with the gift of barely having an A cup (true story) the idea of getting breast implants has passed my mind many times. For example, it passed my mind when, as a freshman in college in Virginia, I was standing by a keg in a striped halter top from H&M that I thought I looked super fly in, and a guy walked up next to me and told me he was cutting in front of me for a beer “because I had no tits.” (The only plus side to this story is that he was a pale white dude wearing a sleeveless Celtics jersey, so even though I was on the verge of bursting into tears, I at least didn’t feel homesick!) But honestly, if you’re unhappy with something about your body, and you have the means to do something about, and you’ve thought about it a decent amount and also hopefully talked to some people about it who love you, then “you do, you!” right? I do think that. Or I want to think that. I really do, because it seems open-hearted and feminist and 2016 and all that other important shit. But at some point a line should be drawn. Like, if I ever get breast implants (which I probably won’t because they’re expensive, and also surgery is scary, and also that 2004 guy standing by the keg SUCKS) it’s not because I don’t think I am a mortal human. Likewise, if someone is unhappy with their nose and would like to change it, that doesn’t mean they now think they’ll never die. But when I see a woman who’s changed multiple parts of her face, in what appears to be a (failed) attempt to look like a younger, bionic steel-cheeked-boned version of herself, it starts making me think all these Dr. Phil-ish thoughts. Like, last time I checked, isn’t life a blessing? (It is, right?) Isn’t it a good thing to make it to 50 or 60 or 70 or 80? Isn’t it nice to have a face and be alive?
And even beyond feeling sad when I see these photos (and scared of what aging will ultimately do to my psyche one day) I feel kind of embarrassed, too. Because these women are just putting their vanity on display so God damn openly. Now, believe me, I am a vain person too (potentially very vain if I’ve been doing a lot of yoga recently and just had a bikini wax and a blowout and am avoiding my usual diet of frozen pizza, breakfast tacos and seven Babybels just for fun) but that is something I like to try to keep in the dark. It’s tacky. It’s the same reason selfies weird me out. I understand the idea behind them, but why do you ever want people to know that you’re by yourself, sticking an arm out, and then pursing your lips, and posing for a camera phone. Again: BY YOURSELF. It’s so embarrassing! Frances McDormand would vomit all over you if she saw you doing that, and she’s the best! The BEST! If one must, pose alone in the mirror while putting on your firming body cream and dancing to “Check Up On It” or whatnot, but otherwise, lock it up. I can only imagine what it would be like to walk around with an entire face screaming to everyone “I am so vain!” at all times. I look at some of these stars, and it feels both so personal and so public, like you can feel all their self-loathing about themselves and about how confusing fucking life is and then they’re in the parking lot in front of the plastic surgery place spilling coffee all over their pants and muttering about their mothers. (Do stars spill coffee on their pants and mutter about their mothers?)
And of course this isn’t just about women. Nor is what I’m talking about anyone’s “fault”, especially not the famous women who feel pressured into mauling themselves in order to get roles or stay relevant. I don’t know who’s fault it is. (The founders of Instagram! Kim Kardashian!) I do know I’m part of the problem. About a year ago, I was sitting in a restaurant with my father, doing the same song-and-dance I’ve done for about five years now. You need to lose weight. You need to drink less. You look tired. You look really tired, Dad. At one point, my father just stabbed his eggs with his fork and looked up at me and shrugged his shoulders and said, “Yeah. I’m getting old.” (Subtext: Fuck off and let me eat my breakfast.) I remember in that moment feeling very foolish, and selfish, and of course, sad, too. I mean, my father is getting old. He’s 63. His hair is 100% grey. We’re no longer stopping in the parking lot of a Fleet Bank so that he can check his beeper on our way to go see D2: Mighty Ducks. Likewise, I no longer am capable of feeling that all my happiness in life comes down to the fact that I own a baby blue lava lamp. (Life, man, am I right?) But, what are we going to do? Be constantly giving any one who openly displays the fact that none of us will live forever tremendous amounts of judgement and ridicule?
Which brings me to my boyfriend’s grandmother. She’s 80. And she looks amazing. This is partly good genes. A lot of it is style. A lot of it is care. She takes the time to put together amazing outfits. She wears make-up and jewelry and scarves and perfume. So of course, there’s vanity, but to me, it’s the healthy kind. She doesn’t have some fake, distracting, semi-terrifying plastic face. Mostly what makes her so attractive though, is who she is. I’ve known her for six years now, but I know when she’s sitting across from me and laughing until she has tears in her eyes, it’s the essence of who she’s always been—at 15, at 45, and today. She’s a riot. She’s fun. She’s the opposite of invisible. She’s happy to be alive, to have a vodka tonic and listen to a joke and make conversation, which is not an age thing. When she is in a room you want to be near her. I don’t think you can implant that in your face.
There’s no way to write about this stuff without pissing someone off. I’m pissing myself off writing this. I should be writing about the dangers of texting while driving or whatever. But, alas, this is what happens when you’re on People.com at two a.m. in the morning and you can’t fall asleep. And who knows, maybe I’ll win the lottery and get a new forehead in ten years because I can’t stand looking almost forty and then I’ll finally get boobs that look like Blake Lively’s (le sigh) and I’ll just be walking around with my giant Kylie fish lips (OH KYLIE) and perfect boobs and my hypocrisy. But I hope not. And seriously, Meryl Streep if you mess with your face, well….I don’t know I’ll probably just write a rambling blog post about it. But then I’ll cry.
Hi! I'm Caroline.