Saturday, April 24, 2010

Needle in a Hairstack

My first occupational goal wasn't actually paleontology. At least two aspirations of similar fervor preceded my dinosaurs obsession. They were a hair dresser and a country singer, respectively. I don't remember when or why my country singer dream dissipated- I certainly viewed myself as a young Dolly Parton for at least my first seven years. But I renounced hair dressing for good one Saturday morning in front of the television. My eyes glued to Tom and Jerry. My mouth chattering away about my future salon. My hands leafing through the brides' and débutantes' pictures in the Greenville News. My parents informed me that sometimes hair dressers have to WORK on Saturday mornings and can't watch cartoons. Appalled, I abandoned that plan and never looked back.

If only I could have made such a clean break. I nearly swore off haircuts myself, maintaining a 12-inch mane and primly insisting "just a trim" each time I found myself at Cut Ups (or the Hair Cuttery, or Cost Cutters) until I was 18. Not only did I swear off haircuts, I swore off style, too (albeit unintentionally and unwittingly). As soon as pink foam-roller curls, huge barrettes, and French braids went out of fashion (which is universally fourth grade), I was done. Now I have short-ish hair, because that way it's less noticeable when I don't dry it or brush it. It's hard for me to even articulate the kind of haircut I want when I do get one, so I always take a magazine clipping of a supermodel and hand it to Kiki*, my stylist. Then we have the same conversation we've had twice a year for the past five years:

KIKI- This would look good on you. But you can't just wake up and have it look like that. You have to use product you know, for the bangs, or they will fall in your eyes.

ME- Yeah, I can do that!

When actually I'm thinking, "I'll just wear my glasses and like a shield, they will keep my bangs from falling in my eyes."

KIKI- Ok, look at this picture of my son!

All of this is glaring evidence I am not meant to be trusted with styling my own hair, much less anybody else's, much less with actual scissors. Which is why it baffles me that I frequently find myself in situations with someone insisting I cut his or her hair.

Soon after I learned to use scissors on paper and stuffed animals, my mom would "let" me trim her hair each time she got angry at it (hence the numerous photos from my childhood in which my mom sports an uneven bob with varying degrees of volume and layers on top of her head). This became more and more of a habit. One Sunday morning as we should have been walking out the door for church (in order to arrive reasonably late instead of cause-a-scene late), she beckoned me to the bathroom. All dressed and ready, brandishing the tiny sewing scissors at me. "I need a trim! We can't leave until you trim my hair! Hurry up, it's just a trim!"

Similarly, Shawn has asked me twice to cut his hair. The first time it was on the assumption that I was skilled at it because his ex-girlfriend was. Unlike my mother, Shawn could break up with me if he didn't like the results. Instead, he just buzzed his hair after I'd finished with it. This instance apparantly faded from his memory, and a year and a half later Shawn asked me again to help cut his hair. At least this time it was only to "help." Armed with the fine-motor coordination and attention span of a golden retriever, I did some haphazard snipping punctuated by checking my email and roasting a chicken. And Shawn looked fabulous afterwards!**

One day I will work up the skills to maintain to Good Hair, or work up the courage to shave it all off. Until then, I'm thinking I'll pick up a Jazzy Jewelry kit and make myself some nice big shiny barettes.

*Kiki is Greek and her son was my boyfriend in second grade. We go way back.

**FULL DISCLOSURE: Shawn cut most of his hair himself this time.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Frugal Alcohol Consumption in Foreign Countries

At any given moment, you can bet that 60% of the UK is drunk. If it's after 8:00pm, that percentage doubles. Out of all the Anglo/American cultural differences*, Alcohol as an English Institution is by far the awesomest. Wine at every school or professional function. Pints cheaper than soft drinks. Store-brand gin. Cider sold in two-liter plastic bottles, presumably for serving at 7-year-olds' birthday parties just like the similarly packaged Fanta. Come Christmas, mulled wine and whiskey hot chocolate for sale in street markets and on street corners. Once my friends and I went to an American-themed diner/bowling alley, and there were alcoholic milkshakes!

I jumped right on this cultural bandwagon (can one fall off the wagon and concurrently jump on a bandwagon?). Idiom confusion notwithstanding, my only fear of embracing this English tradition was the cost. Financially-speaking, not liver damage-speaking. Despite worldwide economic crisis, Great Britain is doing JUST FINE, in my humble American opinion, with a ruthless currency exchange rate of £1.00 = $1.70. I resolved to test the hospitality of this Christian nation and only drink when someone else was picking up the tab.

The months that followed were a shameless shitshow of crashing staff parties (PITCHERS! DANCING!), lingering at wine and cheese receptions (EXAGGERATED INTEREST IN THEATER-RELATED ACADEMIA!), befriending barmen at local pubs (FREE AND FREE-POUR! AND SOMETIMES FREE CHEESECAKE!), and sneaking home as many Globe Education wine bottles as I could fit in my bookbag (REASON #87897 NOT TO CARRY A TINY PURSE!).

Of course I broke my own rule pretty frequently, me being a sucker for supermarket 3 bottles of wine for £10 sales and all. On more than one occasion I walked into a bar or pub carrying my own drinks for the night in the deep pockets of my Lands End Kids coat, having just finished one off on the walk over (NO OPEN CONTAINER LAWS!). The only time this got me in trouble was when I set down my off-brand cider so I could dance with my friends, and a surly bartender snatched it right up and confronted me:

SURLY BARTENDER- Is this yours?
ME- Nope! I've never seen that before!
SURLY BARTENDER- How come I saw you drinking it?
ME- Oh, I'll drink anything!

Surlily, he confiscated my drink-not-purchased-on-the-premises. It was fine, there were only a couple of swallows left. Although I should have answered his first question with "I don't know, let me taste it and see." The moral of this story is, for safety reasons, just hang on to your drink when dancing.

Ever the desperate spendthrift, when I traveled abroad I couchsurfed. This meant I got in touch with people via internet who agreed to let me crash at their places during my visits to their cities. My mom still thinks couchsurfing is a school-sponsored study-abroad organization. When I emailed her from Berlin, she responded with hopes that I was "having fun and that my teachers were nice." The point is, although England can drink any EU country under the table, I had some equally memorable alcoholic experiences on the Continent.

On a horse farm in Tuscany, I bottled the local wine my host, Nicola, purchased in tanks for about €2 a liter. He took it for granted that I, like all Italians, drink half a bottle of wine with every meal, and I didn't have the heart to prove him wrong. Nicola also introduced me to grappa and, on the opposite end of the adult beverage spectrum, Italian coffee.

When Mom, Jaci (my delightful 16-year-old sister) and I visited Rome together**, we shared the most fantastic bottle of chianti at a small, gaudy little restaurant whose décor is best described as "stone archways, Christmas lights, and a roaming Nigerian immigrant selling African handicrafts". Our kind of place! I say "we" because our waiter served Jaci without batting an eye. That act alone made her a little drunk. When she bravely brought the wine to her lips, her whole face immediately turned red as a Roma tomato. Hahahaha! Mom and I split her glass. We all scored a free limoncello for dessert, Mom taking care of Jaci's because she'd sworn off alcohol by then.

I had Guinness in Ireland, Leffe in France (it's actually Belgian, I KNOW), and Becks and Helles in Germany, all enjoyed with generous couchsurfing hosts. But my favorite beverage (and drinking experience) during my seven-month stint across the pond was in fact English: Brothers toffee apple cider. I discovered this candy apple gem of a drink at this knitting shop my friend Maura and I frequented. They had community knit-and-drink nights!!!

I bet by now you're thinking, "Breanna, how on earth are you holding up back in the US? You and your freeloading skills seem so well-suited to life abroad!" Oh, don't worry about me. I've been successfully reacclimating myself with the one thing available in the US and nowhere else (outside of North and South America, that is): delicious, cheap Mexican food.

*Fries are chips and chips are crisps, underwear is pants and pants are trousers, bumming a fag is acceptable in polite conversation but DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES jump the queue. Or order an 'Irish Car Bomb'. Just, don't.

**We did not couchsurf. We did stay in a dive-y motel. But il Colosseo, la Basilica di San Pietro, and this dinner totally made up for it.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Things I Hate

My dear sweet fourth grade teacher greeted us, her class of little angels, every morning with a fun and interesting journal topic for us to respond to in the three ring binders she personalized for us with paint pens. Although I usually chose to ignore the prompts and make up my own (usually resulting in acrostic poems of my name), this one was too good to pass up:

"A pet peeve is a little something that annoys you, like faculty meetings, snotty noses, or when misbehaving kids sit at the teacher's table in the cafeteria. What are some of YOUR pet peeves?"

I responded with a list of all the boys in my class. Except Sam, of course. Now, however, I've decided to readdress this prompt from a broader, more adult perspective. THINGS I HATE:

potato salad
email forwards*
the utilization of FAKE LARGE WORDS
detox products
Pat Robertson
the smell of Bath & Body Works

Given my penchant for comprehensive list making, you can look forward to these gripping pieces of work on Hungry Lion in the future, for your blog reading pleasure: my favorite childhood books, funny acapella group names, famous people I've seen, my favorite kitchen gadgets (with commentary), fun things to do when stuck at an airport, winning screen names, theme party ideas, and notable illnesses of my childhood!

*With the exception of that really useful one about how to unstick a zipper with a bar of soap. And the one informing me I'm a genius because I can raed wrdos lkie tihs, and the one with those amazing 3D chalk murals.

**These gauchos, not these gauchos.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Most women who blog spend 78% of their entries chronicling their cats. Today I'll follow in that vein and write about a pet that is precious, keeps me company, craves my love and attention but can also survive without me for weeks: my sourdough starter.

A sourdough starter is a colony of live yeast that that live in a jar in the back left corner of your fridge. You use some of it in place of (or in addition to, YOU WIMP) commercial yeast when baking bread. Depending on how old your starter is, it gives your bread a distinctive sourdough flavor.

I bet you are still thinking about cats. Like a cat, you have to feed a sourdough starter every now and then. You feed it flour so the bacteria (lactobacilli) have something to munch on, and water so they have something to swim around and multiply in. Like sea monkeys, but with a much higher purpose. Unlike a cat, you can dehydrate your starter, grind it to a powder, and keep it in a Ziploc bag for easy storage and mobility, which is exactly what I did recently when I moved to London for several months. (My first exercise in starter transportation resulted in a yeasty pool in Shawn's floorboard during one hot, lengthy drive to SC. To this day I regret sopping it up with his copy of Green Mars. Darling, I'm so sorry.)

I'll spare you the details of how to start a starter, how to use it*, what to name it, etc., because there are multitudes of internet resources on these very topics, and I'd hate to cheat you out of that Google search. Though most instructions are incredibly specific and involve weighing your ingredients on a digital scale, resting your creation on the top shelf of your attic by the window, and stirring it counter-clockwise every nine hours, really all you need is flour and water. And your starter will consume pretty much whatever starchy matter you put in it, bubble up in satiated gratitude, and excrete a thick layer of grain alcohol for you. Just ask mine, who loves mashed potatoes and even disgusting whole-wheat flour. Next I plan to feed it crunched-up spaghetti noodles.

If you're wondering if the history of sourdough starters extends any farther back than the 70s when your aunt Judy kept one, it does. (My aunt Judy quit sourdough because the stuff was taking over her house, and it's safe to assume yours did the same.) According to online lore, sourdough was the earliest form of leavened bread, accidentally discovered by ancient Egyptians. Accomplished brewers, they were probably drunk when it happened. And (fast forwarding a bit) apparently it was a staple during the California Gold Rush. This raises the question, why wasn't "sourdough starter" one of the items you packed in your covered wagon along with bullets, wagon axles, and spare parts purchased at the General Store when playing Oregon Trail?

By the way, my sister's cat just had kittens so if you want something to cuddle while watching your starter activate, let me know. They are adorable and free for the taking.

*Though I will say sourdough starter makes a SUPERB onion ring batter. Just saying.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Indian Hop

You might think I achieved this graceful, coordinated physique from a childhood and adolescence of playing organized sports, but you'd be wrong. Despite growing up in the South where college and high school football dominates the local news, children grow up thinking the four seasons are baseball, football, basketball, and golf (or, in my house, Nascar), and ALL the other kids in your neighborhood do either church basketball, Little League, or YMCA soccer, I have never played a legitimate team sport. I don't know why. I was a spaz (glad those days are over!), but I figure most kids are and that didn't stop them.

I took things quite literally as a child. Once I was at my cousins' (two boys who have since grown into stellar college athletes) house. My mother, aunt, and grandma carefully explained the rules of baseball to me so I could play with the boys in the yard:

"You have to keep your eye on the ball and when Stephen throws it at you, SWING THE BAT."

I should clarify that this, our version of the Great American Pastime, took place in the front yard. The swingset was located in the backyard. After I wrenched the baseball from Stephen's fingers and held it up against my eye (yes, that's how my four-year-old self interpreted "keep your eye on the ball"), when the poor kid was finally able to pitch it to me, I took off running to the backyard where I proceeded to "swing the bat" in one of those old rusty swings. I would rather have been swinging there myself, or floating in my cousins' new above-ground pool, not playing baseball. It had to have been 987498 degrees outside.

And thus began my absolutely bewildered relationship with baseball. Not understanding the game, I rarely understood baseball metaphors (and American English is FULL of them!). I didn't know what the "bases" meant, for example, until well after I grand slammed my way through them all.

I did do other normal kid stuff- Vacation Bible School, ice skating lessons, Zoo Camp, modern dance class, Space Camp, babysitting your sister, Church Camp. My fondest memories of forced participation in organized athletics (sparse though they are) take place at Church Camp, AKA The Middle of Nowhere. At Camp we had Olympics. My favorite part of the whole enterprise was decorating my team t-shirt in the arts'n'crafts cabin. But though I dreaded the games, this was the only time I ever remember when the rules of the "sports" we had to play were slightly skewed in favor of wiry, timid little kids like myself.

For example, baseball at Camp went like this: there was no limit to the number of people on the bases, no limit to the number of strikes you could get when batting, and best of all, you could hit the ball in any direction you wanted! I liked to bat into the woods, away from the field, so the other team would have to run through trees, briars, poison oak, and hornets' nests in order to retrieve the ball and carry on with the game. Hahahaha!

And I don't know if this counts, but I was particularly skilled at a game called Indian Hop. In Indian Hop, everyone had a balloon tied to one foot, and you had to hop on that foot with your other foot held high off the ground, and stomp on and pop the balloons on the opposing team's feet. I wonder if they've changed the name of Indian Hop in the past fifteen years. Come to think of it, I also wonder if they've changed the name of Kill the President, another terrific Camp game.

My moment of glory, as far as Olympics were concerned, was always during the epic relay race that ended the games. I would start in the cartwheel race, then bolt across the field in time for the wheelbarrow race, then dash to race's final segment where I would sit upon a twin mattress, clutching it for dear life with my sweaty little fingers as my teammates lifted me above their heads and shot full speed ahead towards the finish line, smirking at the other teams who had normal sized kids on top of their mattresses, not scrawny little midgets like me.

I remained a scrawny little midget right up through high school gym class, where I spent a good amount of time amusing my friends by fitting my whole self into a locker. And I was one of the most athletic girls in the class, unencumbered by pregnancy, a heart transplant, or a flat to refusal dress out.

The moral of this story is if you are a non-athletic child like I used to be, but still feel compelled to run around making a fool of yourself, do what I did. Go to drama school. There your physical education will be gruelling but will likely involve swords. I may be hopeless at shooting a lay-up, but if you attack me with a rapier and dagger (provided I'm also armed with a rapier and dagger), I WILL CUT YOU DOWN.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Breast of Chicken Kiev

Since sitting down to write I have:

-Donned my NEW VINTAGE RAY BANS that were my FATHER'S. Over my own prescription glasses of course.
-Found a pair of tweezers in my backyard (thanks, New Brunswick)
-Considered going back inside because this picnic table, in addition to hosting a nation of termites, is so evenly splattered with bird shit that finding a clean space the size of my notebook and my elbows is nigh impossible
-Used my new tweezers to dislodge some bird shit! Then I carved my initials onto the table.

I'm outside because Shawn is in the process of cleaning out his iTunes, which is what organized people with new Macs tend to do. Really it just means listening to everything awful before deciding to go ahead and keep it. The following exchange occurred during one of Matchbox 20's most darkly intense power ballads:

SHAWN- Hmmm, when does it get to the good part?
ME- That is an EXCELLENT question.
SHAWN- I meant in our relationship.
ME- Excuse me, I think I see a perfectly good pair of tweezers glinting in the sunlight in our backyard!

Although I came out here under the pretense of working*, really I plan to spend some time perusing a cook book I found called Cooking With Audrey. This is one of those zillion recipe collections like your mom probably has. Flipping through the 762345 chicken recipes, most of them calling for a cream of __________ soup, I wasn't very impressed. That's when I landed on Breast of Chicken Kiev. Now here, I thought, is an authentic Eastern European recipe for what promises to be a hearty, stick-to-your-bones-even-in-this-harshest-of-winters dish. The name showcased its authenticity- in an otherwise exclusively English language cookbook, employing all conventional English grammatical structures, this ethnic gem is titled not "Kiev Chicken Breast," but "Breast of Chicken Kiev." Hahaha! Take that, all y'all who expect adjectives to come first!

Turns out Breast of Chicken Kiev is an almost unthinkable concoction involving flattened chicken breasts rolled tightly around logs [read: LOGS] of mushroom herb butter, doused in vodka, coated in breadcrumbs, and deep fried. In butter. Serve with more butter and a pitcher of vodka. Perfect for your next Serfs & Babushkas-themed dinner party.

Now, as I do hail from the deep South and am a passionate connoisseur of the region's cuisine, perhaps you are thinking, "Now ain't that the pot calling the kettle black." To which I reply: Yeah, I'm curious. I might very well try Breast of Chicken Kiev at some point, perhaps in the dead of winter when I feel there's nothing to live for. The only substitutions I might make are moonshine instead of vodka, and probably some ranch dressing seasoning in place of the mushroom and herbs in the butter.

*planning my summer geology camp, writing lists, thinking up ways to get really rich really fast

Title Search

When Shawn says, "Let me help you think of something," it typically yields terrific results with minimal effort on my part. So of course I accepted his input regarding the title of my brand new blog. He suggested the following:

Southern Comfort
Peanut Butter Jelly Time
You Care What I Think?!
Silly Face
Monkey Fart

I decided to consider other options, drawing primarily from Things My Friend Tom Always Says. Including, but not limited to:

Truly Something
Your Gay Ass
I'll Save You, Brea Foister!
Hungry Lion... Hungry Lion... HUNGRY LION!!!

Hungry Lion it is, folks.