So my family and I are going to visit Africa. When I think of Africa I picture lions, zebras and elephants like any other ignorant foreigner, but I also picture giant anacondas, typhoid fever, and lots of bottled water. In a nutshell, we have to get inoculated. This word sounds harmless enough- perhaps even enjoyable because of its similarity to words like intoxicated, innocence, and inner-tube. But let me be clear: getting inoculated has nothing to do with pleasantness and everything to do with large needles.
The office for infectious disease smells like its filled with them (translation: a too warm grey blue box reeking of latex and dirty people). I check in with a lady wearing scrubs decorated with kittens playing with a ball of string and chuckle at her perfectly executed presentation of the stereotypical hospital receptionist (translation: overweight middle aged she-man who used to care but now just rescues cats and watches reality TV). She’s tucked behind a glass window (I can’t help but notice the fingerprints and dried spit before she slides it open and hands me a clipboard). “Just grab a pen from the jar,” she tells me. I look at the jar of used looking pens and scolded myself for hesitating. It’s just a goddamn pen, I tell myself. I am here for disease prevention…disease prevention. I keep repeating this in my head to drown out my inner chorus of: this place is festering with disease…this place is festering with disease. The paper on the clipboard asks me if I have AIDS, if I’m pregnant, if I’m allergic to anything, if I take blood thinners or anti-psychotics, if I’m depressed, if I have heart disease…
No, I say to myself, but I’m a panic stricken vegan with germaphobia!
My unicorn friend is eating the fake green hanging plant in the corner. I roll my eyes and sarcastically ask him how a plant can grow without light. Green plants can grow anywhere, he argues, while chewing on a plastic leaf. I snort and turn my attention to the wrinkled Good Parenting magazine on the side table. I open it with my fingertips and discover that a few pages have been ripped out. Who rips out magazine articles? I wonder briefly. After learning that the first year of a baby’s life costs around 50k, I pick up a pamphlet on HIV. It takes me about 2 minutes to convince myself that I have it.
The doctor emerges from behind a grey door. He’s just finished up with my sister, who’s in some sort of post traumatic shock (translation: she doesn’t like hospitals or people generally, especially people who tell her to be very still for any period of time and stick her with large needles). I can’t say I blame her. Her boyfriend is smiling and tells us that the needles were “This big!” (gesticulating wildly and giving the impression that the needle was the length of a large cat).
My unicorn friend and I follow the doctor into his small office and I immediately feel claustrophobic. It’s another grey blue box. It has a window that looks out onto more grey buildings, and his desk is completely hidden beneath never-ending stacks of papers and charts cloaked in dust. A few family photos have managed to hold onto the edges of the mahogany surface. The wall opposite the window has a bookshelf lined with thick boring books that no one ever reads. The doctor tells us to have a seat, then launches into a freaking dissertation about the importance of vaccines when traveling to Africa. I want to say, Yeah, I know all this, that’s why I’m here you idiot. No, I don’t want to get Hepatitis from fruit salad or Typhoid fever from bacteria infested water. Yes, I’m fine with getting Tetanus. And Polio. Yes, yes…just DO it already! The longer I sit in this grey blue box of dust and disease, the more likely I’m going to contract a Staph infection! My unicorn friend calmly asks if the scar on his arm from a previous vaccination reaction will be an issue. I groan as the doctor goes into a detailed explanation of the hows and whys of vaccination reactions. I am stuck to my seat with sweat. I need to get out of here. After what seems like a full calendar year, the doctor asks us if we want to watch him prepare the inoculations. “Is it interesting?” asks my unicorn friend. My eyes swell like two glass orbs and I nearly shout, “Jesus, you don’t have the shots ready yet?”
Suddenly I picture a petri dish writhing with a typhoid amoeba monster and our sloth of a doctor coaxing it into a giant needle with soft encouragement. Beads of sweat form on my forehead and I grab my unicorn friend by the mane and drag him to the waiting room. It’s cooler in there at least. The lady with the kitten scrubs beams at us and I’m reminded of the fact that no one else has come or gone from the office since we arrived 108 hours ago. How many shots does this guy dole out per day? I wonder with increasing fear.
20 minutes have passed and I’m eyeing the air vent like it’s a MRSA filled enemy, floating into the grey blue office like the Ebola virus from Outbreak, just when Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo realize that it’s airborne…
Come on in, says the doctor with a toothy grin. I am fairly certain at this point that I am in Hell and this doctor is Satan and all I’m going to do for the rest of eternity is wait for and then receive shots in his infernal office.
The exam room is blindingly bright from the neon light buzzing overhead. There’s a bed covered in stiff white paper and a framed print of one of Monet’s waterlilies. I sit on the edge of the bed with a loud crunch after deciding that I’m getting the damn shots first. Two in each arm, Satan says with a smile. Oh, you sadist sloth! I want to yell. When the first needle goes in, I try to ignore my sister’s earlier bravado about vaccine reactions and subsequent paralyzation of the legs. They hurt like hell, but its pure bliss compared to sitting in Satan’s dusty office or the grey blue waiting room filled with MRSA.
Now that you’ve been to Hell and back and have enough vaccines to roll around in Malaria-infested waters with hippos and anacondas, why not invite them over for some grilled watermelon salad? I was very skeptical about grilling fruit at first, but now I realize that when you grill fruit it actually caramelizes and makes it even sweeter. A punch of balsamic reduction and some cashew cheese (Dr. Cow makes the most delicious vegan cheese I’ve ever tasted. Look here: Dr-Cow | Products | Aged Cashew Nut Cheese.), and you’re in for a serious flavor explosion.
Grilled Watermelon Salad with Cashew Cheese
1/2 (5 pound) watermelon, rind removed and cut into about 8 squares
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
splash of extra virgin olive oil
sea salt & fresh pepper to taste
2 cups arugula
1 container Dr. Cow cashew cheese sliced thin (or “cheese” of your choosing)
Pour the vinegar into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook until reduced to a think syrup and set aside. Heat a cast iron grill pan over medium high heat. Drizzle enough olive oil over watermelon slices to coat and place on hot grill. Grill each side about 3 minutes or until grill marks appear. Season with sea salt. To assemble, put a handful of arugula on a plate and top with two slices of grilled watermelon, a drizzle of balsamic reduction and a few pieces of cashew cheese. Serves 4 unicorns with sore arms and paralyzed legs.
So I’m actually a big fan of grocery stores. Now before you call me a 50’s housewife, let me clarify what I mean by “grocery store”. I’m not talking about the Stop & Shop’s and A&P’s of the world, or the buy-your-furniture-and-get-your-prescription-filled-while-you-buy-groceries mega marts, but the patchouli-smelling-“we-have-a-yoga-section” natural foods stores. I can literally spend hours perusing their essential oils section or filling up on bulk items while listening to Fleet Foxes or something featuring a sitar player.
Whole Foods, though enormously large, is also a haven for me. Most of them still have the warm colors and dreadlocked workers that make me feel right at home. The problem is that I live in Greenwich. And the Greenwich Whole Foods isn’t full of hemp sandal earth mamas or yogi men in capris. Nope, the Greenwich Whole Foods is full of caffeine-crazed blonde mothers of three who are perpetually late for something (translation: mani-pedis with the girls, lunch date with gay friend, zumba class, picking up the kid’s ADD prescriptions, bringing the Range Rover in for a service, etc…) They need their organic food and they need it now. I nearly get run over by an Escalade or Mercedes every time I walk through the parking lot towards the entrance. I try to ignore their stressed-out-I-miss-carbs vibe, but then my toe gets stepped on by a child who’s rushing past me with a cart. After an ear splitting shriek from her mother, I hear the chastising I’m-dissappointed-with-you-so-I’m-going-to-say-your-full-name tone (translation: “Madison something something, I’m going to count to three…”).
This shopping experience, however unpleasant, still pales in comparison to your average supermarket. In fact, the only reason I ever go into these blinding neon light establishments is to purchase something odd or impossible to buy organic (translation: ice and razor blades). I try to make the visit as short as possible, mainly because it’s unbearably freezing and smells of dead fish and Febreze. Everything looks hideously yellow from the overhead lighting and most of the packaged foods are fluorescent and could survive a nuclear explosion. I feel as though I’ve entered a time capsule when I walk past the deli section and see a line of people holding little paper tickets with numbers on them, waiting for the black screen to light up with their number in glowing red. I decide to make a beeline to the check-out line via aisle 3, the detergent / cleaning section (translation: Clorox-laden-chemical-shit-storm). I hold my breath until I reach the cat food section, then join a queue.
So now that you’re never going to go back to a conventional grocery store again, you can easily make the I Want to Live Forever juice. Juicing is incredibly good for your health and should be a part of your daily regimen if possible. When vegetables and fruits are put through a juicer, the liquid is extracted from the fiber or pulp, leaving you with a delicious beverage chock full of live enzymes, amino acids, vitamins and minerals! Popping synthetic vitamins cannot replace what living foods deliver to your body. Juicing is widely known as an important way to decrease your risk of certain cancers and other illnesses both for its nutritional punch and its oxygenating and alkalinizing effect on the body. Remember that diseases thrive in an acidic environment! There are many good juicers on the market, but the juicers most people recommend are the Omega juicers. I have a Breville juicer that works great. Important note: buy your vegetables and fruits organic, especially for juicing! The last thing you want to add to your juiced awesomeness is a bunch of pesticides.
I Want To Live Forever Juice
1 granny smith apple, cut in half
1 inch knob of peeled ginger root
1 small lemon, cut in half
1/2 of a medium sized beet, washed (optional)
Turn on your juicer and press all of your ingredients through, except for the lemon. Simply squeeze the lemon juice into your juice after its finished and stir with a spoon. Makes enough for one immortality-seeking unicorn (actually, they’re already immortal…they just have a thing for fresh juice).
Every time I visit a town referred to as “quaint” or “nestled” in any type of landscape whether sea or mountains or whatever, I become suspicious. These overused adjective’s usually mean one thing only: fudge shops. Small town fudge shops draw fanny-packed Americans into their sugary arms like retired Floridians to egg salad sandwiches. And each of these lame towns always proclaim themselves as having “the best fudge in the country”. Who the hell eats fudge anyway?
These types of towns scare me. They always have that “Truman Show” look about them. The sidewalks are cobblestone and pristine, the shop windows are framed in gingham-checked curtains, and you instantly get the feeling that you’ve entered a time capsule. My unicorn friend picks up a complimentary map from the trolley conductor, but since the town’s only 3 inches long, I tell him we’ll manage. There’s a barber shop with the weird twirly striped thing outside the door, a “country” store that sells peanut brittle and salt water taffy, about a dozen or so antique shops (translation: stores filled with some old cat lady’s weird junk), little benches with bronze statues of small children at play, horse-drawn carriages driven by bearded men in top hats who speak with an accent that suggests they’re from the 19th century, and of course–the dreaded fudge shop. Salted fudge, fudge with nuts, fudge filled with coffee, fudge shaped into dogs, and fudge store novelty items: stuffed animals holding hearts and a small bag of fudge, magnets, teeshirts, and other useless crap that tourists scoop up with exuberance so they can show their friends back home. “We went to this quaint little town and they had the best fudge…”
These towns were probably great a long time ago, before they knew how marketable they could become by exploiting their charm to the point of nausea. All you have to do is clean up your town a bit (translation: add cobblestone, hanging flower baskets, street lamps, and an old cannon or some type of rusting weapon of yesteryear in the main square…there must be a main square). Then add a Life is Good franchise. Tourists love that spindly-legged do gooder. You should also have a “walking tour” of the town, described in a series of plaques every few hundred feet: “This is where Joe-I-did-the-american-dream-thing-Smith first landed” or “This is the oldest tree in America”, etc. The important thing is to make sure that this walking tour isn’t longer than about a 1/2 mile, not only because you’ll end up in the next town but because Americans don’t like to walk. Actually, if you really want to shake things up, open up a Segway rental shop and soon you’ll have fanny-packs zooming around your town like nobody’s business! And you can charge twice as much for everything. As long as it has the town’s name plastered all over it, tourists will overlook the golden “Made in China” sticker.
Now that you’re parched from stuffing your face with fudge and you’ve totaled your Segway, why not sit on one of those creepy benches with the bronze children and have some coconut water? Raw coconut water is the water found inside of fresh young coconuts. It is one of the most naturally hydrating liquids on earth. It’s full of electrolytes and has the same nutrient balance as plasma. The brand I love most is called Harmless Harvest. Unlike most brands, Harmless Harvest’s coconut water is unprocessed and raw, which allows for greater nutrient bioavailability and a superior taste. You can also purchase a young coconut from most natural foods stores and stick a straw in the top and suck the water out for yourself. Either way, it’s insanely delicious. Try it out and give it to your unicorn friends!
So I’m not a big fan of going to the dentist. It’s nothing in particular, just the general atmosphere and post-cleaning stomach ache from swallowing the electric blue mouthwash in miniature paper cups and recovering from the embarrassment of not being able to figure out which button fills the cup and which button cleans the bowl. The waiting room isn’t so bad except the magazines have that used quality about them that tempts my germophobia to come out in full form (translation: inability to open magazines followed by fixation on other frequently touched objects: doorknobs, pens, seats that have recently become available and are still warm, etc). As soon as they call my name and whisk me through the milk toast colored door, I can smell the mouthwash and latex gloves. The chairs are comfortable, but then they shine that unearthly looking spaceship lamp into your mouth while asking you how your family is. You have to time when you’re going to answer because the tools keep going in and out of your mouth and you inevitably have one of those awkward moments when you speak just as their about to put the mirror back in. They wait for you to finish telling them about your dog’s weight problem and you resume your vacant stare at the popcorn ceiling. Why don’t they hang some artwork or a crossword puzzle or a flatscreen on the ceiling instead of forcing you to stare at the air vent while listening to soft rock? The chair comes down and it’s time to rinse. I catch a view of the pastel print of a white chair in a garden and become sidetracked by my preoccupation with judging people who love crappy art. I hit the wrong button and my blue mouthwash overflows into the ceramic bowl. I swish it around and spit, managing to dribble on my stiff paper bib. After the dentist polishes my teeth with bubblegum flavored grit (half of which I end up swallowing), Mr. Thirsty comes out. Mr. Thirsty is the miniature vacuum cleaner that slurps up all the liquid in your mouth before you choke on it. When I was little they used to try to pump me up with excitement by smiling and saying: “Here comes Mr. Thirsty!” I was more traumatized than excited, for by that point I had already discovered that when adults get overly excited about something in a hospital setting, it means you’re not going to like it. I end my appointment with a visit from the big man himself, the head dentist. I’ve been going to the same dentist since I was little, so when he recently retired I didn’t know what to do. A new dentist came in and they said I should go to him. I said fine. My old dentist was a hippie type with a vegan daughter and we got along great, so when the new guy walked in with a crew cut and hungry looking eyes, I became anxious. He’s about six years old and shakes my hand so hard that my bib unhooks. His teeth are blazing white and he looks like he hasn’t seen the sun in a decade. The mirror and the pick come out and he examines my teeth with exuberance. I’ve never had a cavity before and I’ve never had any work done. After he pokes around, he tells me that I have a cavity and need a filling. “Really?” I ask. I wonder what I’ve been doing wrong. He says it’s no big deal. So I get the filling and a few hundred uninsured dollars later, I’m back at the office for another cleaning, and guess what? This time I need a few hundred dollars worth of x-rays and two more fillings. Now I’m getting suspicious. I ask to see the x-rays, but all he shows me is a bunch of light areas and dark areas around my teeth. When he points out the “bad” areas, I lightheartedly mention that he could be showing me a picture of space and I wouldn’t know the difference. He laughs uncomfortably behind a set of magnifying spectacles that actually make him look like he’s from space. I make the appointment for more fillings, then make the mistake of telling my dad (translation: my dad thinks everyone is always after your money and you can’t trust anyone, especially young dentists and car dealers). He tells me what I want to hear. “Your teeth are fine…he’s just trying to make more money off of you.” Solution? I’m switching dentists, and may or may not be suffering from two life threatening cavities.
When you’re worried about cavities, what should you make yourself to eat? A huge crunchy salad of course! This salad is a perfect Big Love style marriage of creamy, sweet, tangy, and salty.
Roasted Beet & Chickpea Salad
2 red beets, scrubbed & ends removed
1 cup cooked chickpeas
small handful of fresh dill, minced
1 avocado, pitted and chopped
for the dressing:
1 T dijon mustard
1 T balsamic vinegar
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
2 T olive oil + more for baking beets
sea salt & pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400. Place beets in baking dish, sprinkle with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil, and cover with foil. Bake for an hour, or until a knife easily pierces the beets. Allow to cool, then remove skins and chop. In a small bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients, then toss with salad and enjoy! Feeds two unicorns with post-traumatic dental stress.