Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

My goal was to blog about once or twice a week.
As you can see that has not happened. I have no good excuse except I am a very busy and important unemployed actress... cue laugh track. Seriously, though, my determination is renewed and I am again setting my goal to blog at least once a week. Please don't judge me if I fail. Sometimes life happens.

On a serious note, for those of you who don't know, my sister was in a car accident last week when she was rear-ended on the BQE. Her car was completely totaled, but we are all so thankful that it did it's job and kept her safe. She's looking on the bright side and thinking about what kind of new and exciting hybrid she wants. As a precaution, my sis did have the EMTs take her to the emergency room where it was determined she was intact. However, if there are any doctors out there reading this let me give you some advice. When a fragile and disheveled looking single woman who has been in a serious car accident has to give you a urine sample, please don't ask "There's no way you could be pregnant, right?" It's just mean. You are implying that she looks like crap (which, of course, she has already been lamenting about because of all the cute fireman who arrived on the scene) and it is not going to help the healing process. Are we clear, doctors? Good. Anyway, my sister has been feeling better and better with each passing day and is receiving the proper follow-up care. With the help of Geico we hope to have her back on the road soon in her new car where she will be the most cautious and courteous driver ever.

So up until this past weekend I had been on a cooking rampage: sausage and peppers, cream of mushroom soup, broccoli rabe, fondue de poulet a la creme and poulet en cocotte bonne femme. That's right. I'm going all French on your asses. I went to the Union Square Farmers Market and did some damage. For you out of towners who don't know this place it the first farmers market in NYC. I would venture to say it's one of our biggest; there are about 140 farmers who sell their locally produced cheeses, veggies, meats and plants there every week. And it's open year round. Lucky for me, it's close to the Buddhist cultural center where I practice, so I've been able to go there a lot lately. Recently, I bought some delicious organic sweet Italian sausage and chorizo, mushrooms, fresh heavy cream, delicious sharp cheddar cheese, a bianca cheese with herbes de Provence, potatoes, onions, broccoli rabe, kimchi and... wait for it... a parsley plant. That's right. I'm trying to not kill a plant. For your information, I have zero gardening ability. I killed my Aerogarden which is supposedly impossible. But I found a way. I have named this parsley plant "Herb the Herb", and so far so good. He gets plenty of morning sun and I'm trying to not overwater. Only time will tell, but I think he looks pretty healthy!

Yeah, yeah. I know there are people in this world who are amazing and can grow food. I mean, I'm reading "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle." Barbara Kingsolver freaking not only has a farm full of heirloom vegetables but is raising chickens and turkeys! CHICKENS AND TURKEYS PEOPLE!!! I did not get that farmy/garden gene. As a kid, I remember my mom looking at her garden and lamenting, "Well, maybe next year the tulips will come up..." Speaking of my mother, she wanted me to clarify from my last post that she is not a terrible mother and that it was really hard to feed a kid who was super picky and only ate salt and vinegar potato chips and occasionally enjoyed a scoop of Jamocha ice cream on Wednesdays. Anyway, she is an awesome mom/wife/music teacher/percussionist/choir director/all-around do-gooder - it's just gardening and cooking are not where her talents lie. Lay. Lain. Laid. Sorry, Mrs. Alban - that one always confused me.

Anyway... so we've got Herb, a myriad of fresh, local, beautiful ingredients and some organic poulets. That's French for chicken. My poulets turned out very delicious (one with cream and onions and one with bacon, onions and potatoes courtesy of Ms. Child) and I was super proud. I felt I had sort of lost my groove cooking meat after a previous roasted chicken fiasco and some overdone lamb in the last month. The lamb really broke my heart. It was amazing, beautiful fresh lamb meat, and when I effed it up I felt horrible. I mean if you think about it, this lamb basically lived so I could eat it. To not cook it properly is just plain disrespectful. I know you're thinking I am off my rocker and besides, what kind of Buddhist eats meat? Well, lemme tell you... this Buddhist does. I have tried to do the vegetarian thing and my body feels like crap after about two weeks of it. So I try to do veggie during the day and allow myself whatever I want at night. But I do my best to make sure all the meat I eat is locally and sustainably produced. My husband, sister and I belong to the Astoria CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and along with getting fresh veggies every week we are also able to order meat, cheese, eggs and other goodness through that - like bacon with pig hair still on the rind!

Cool, huh?

And now is where the giant bout of hypocrisy comes in. This past weekend Sean, his band and I travelled down to my home town in West Virginia where they awesomely headlined the Winter Jazz Fest (check out his music at www.seannowell.com). Have you ever taken a long road trip? Have you ever noticed all the signs for restaurants on the highway? There are tons of options... and by options I mean crap. McDonald's, Burger King, Roy Rogers, the occasional Chik-Fil-A (only in the south)... and we chose Arby's. It was the first beef (if you can call it that) I had eaten in weeks. And then I proceeded to eat fries (of the curly variety). And here's what I learned after I ate it - its not worth it. For me, at least. It really made me appreciate living in NYC where my food choices are abundant and I can eat ANYTHING I want. My home town is filled to the brim with fast food joints and restaurant chains and it's easy to see why many people there are unhealthy. I mean no disrespect to the hard working men and women who make that food or eat that food. I love a Taco Bell gordita as much as the next girl and the queso at Chili's is delicious. (Although, please tell me if you are trying the Taco Bell drive thru diet. I'm anxious to know how much weight you've lost eating their ground beef tacos with Fiesta Salsa. Seriously. I wanna know. Is it the Fiesta Salsa that makes it "diet?") Anyway, back to my point. The main reason people eat like crap down there is because it's cheaper. One of my friends worked in a doctor's office where 70% of the patients were on Medicaid. How can you ask someone like that to buy local organic Swiss chard when she can get a whole box of cereal for the same price that will give her family breakfast for a week? It's a really tough dilemma and one that I hope eventually gets solved. Luckily there are a few strong willed individuals who have started a farmer's market and the idea is catching. Even if some families buy their milk and eggs from local sources that is a huge benefit not only to their bodies, but to the farmers and the local economy. If you can afford it you should do it. Support these hard working men and women so that one day the good food (aka veggies) will be cheaper than the sugar-laden cereal. I read a great saying the other day: Think Locally. Act Neighborly. I am adopting it as one of my own mantras.

Speaking of neighbors, I attended a really inspirational Buddhist meeting in my neighborhood yesterday. It was a meeting for the Buddhist women in Astoria and their guests, and I have to say, we have some really amazing women - smart, focused, and determined to make their world a better place. The woman who was the main speaker was so clear and articulate, and I left feeling like I understood Buddhism a hundred times better than when I came in. I hope to be as cool as she is one day. I won't bore you with the details, but she talked about how we are all interconnected and interdependent, not only with each other but also with our environment. And that every single person is a Buddha - that somewhere inside of them the Buddha nature exists (I'm still looking for mine). And it is our mission, as Buddhists, to make the world a more compassionate and truthful and courageous place - starting with ourselves. In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to admit I have not always had the strongest Buddhist practice. It's a very self-motivated thing - the main practice consists of sitting down in front of our altars at home and chanting morning and evening (we also have gatherings with other people who practice)... which doesn't sound hard. But, for me, it is easier said than done. My first three years of practice were so strong and consistent. And then it was all downhill from there. I would stop chanting then start again. Then stop and start. And then stopped all together for a little while. And then slowly realized how much more fulfilled I was when I chanted. So I started again. And so far so good. My therapist and I used to talk about why I found it so hard to do things that I know are good for me. I never had an answer, but I'm guessing it has something to do with laziness and arrogance. Anyway, I'm back on track and am happily chanting and am determined to "have faith like water" which means it flows through life's ups and downs. I guess that's what Buddhism teaches me. S**t is going to happen, but it is your responsibility to choose how to deal with it. And because of my practice I feel like I deal with the s**t parts better. For example, I had one of the worst auditions of my life last week. It was a final callback for a big old Broadway show. I finished singing and the people behind the table literally just stared at me. For, like, 15 seconds. And then I left. But instead of beating myself up about it, I was able to walk out and let it go. That is definitely something I could not have done a year ago. Plus, it was pretty hilarious. I mean, somehow my voice decided to sound like the Vienna Boys' Choir when it needed to sound like Led Zepplin. How many times does that happen? Anyway, I'm so glad I chose to take it in my stride and avoid the deep, dark circle of self doubt and self hatred. Yay me. Maybe my Buddha nature isn't as buried as I thought.

So this week is full of accents, trumpet playing, childlike behavior, Restaurant Week, baby bok choy, Latin Jazz and some Buddhist planning meetings. It's gonna be hot.

I'll fill you in next week!

I promise!!!

PS - Big props to my Uncle Chris for the WVU Snuggie and to Drew and Chris T. for clearing me up on semi-colons.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Let's start at the very beginning...

So my name is Kirsten.
I've decided to write a blog. I named it "Lights. Karma. Oven." (Well, actually my friend, Roy, named it. Thanks Roy!)
I may regret it later... I would never be so presumptuous to think that I actually have anything important to say; but I figure if Pam Anderson can do it than so can I.

I guess the purpose of this blog is to record all my little successes and failures on my quest to "have it all..." We'll see if I get there. What do I mean by "have it all" you may ask.... let me explain:

1. I'm an actor. Thus the "Lights" portion of the title.
I love to act. I also sing and dance. Which I also love. It's been my honor and pleasure to do that for a living in NYC for about 13 years now. Although my most recent show closed two and a half weeks ago and I am currently unemployed. Ahhhhhh, yes... such is the life of an actor. One day it's kicks then it's kicks in the shins (that's for all you musical theater lovers out there). Anyway, performing fills me with great joy. And, not to toot my own horn, but I think I'm pretty good at it too. I especially like to make people laugh. That's like crack to me. I mean, I've never done crack, but I imagine the feeling I get from having 1100 people laugh at me in a show is how crack addicts feel when they hit the pipe. You just want more and more until you mysteriously end up in the back of a van with a one armed hooker named Doreen heading over the Verrazano Bridge. I digress... I love my work. But as I get older I increasingly feel that I want a little more out of my life. That's not saying I'm not 100 percent committed to my craft (in case any casting directors or producers are reading this). I'm just saying that I don't want to be 70 years old standing in line at the Equity Building for an open call of "7 Brides for 7 Brothers..."
I'm just sayin'...

2. I'm a Buddhist. "Karma."
I've practiced Buddhism for about 8 years now (raised Catholic). Sometimes I've practiced fervently. Sometimes not. But I will say that when my practice has been strong I feel the positive effects in my life. I practice with an organization called the Soka Gakkai International (SGI). We chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo (yes, just like Tina Turner did when she ran away from Ike). Without getting too heady, we believe that we can transform the crappy stuff that happens in our lives into sources of growth and compassion; and that if we change ourselves for the better everything around us will change for the better too. Easier said than done, my friends... easier said than done.

As a side note, is everyone enjoying my use of the semi colon? I know I am. I've used two so far and I'm not even sure if I used them properly, but it makes me feel very literary. Although I have a feeling my 8th grade English teacher, Mrs. Alban, would feel differently.


3. I'm a food lover. Yes... that's "Oven."
I have always loved food. Some of my favorite memories revolve around eating - my Grammy's ravioli (heaven), experiencing Indian food for the first time (in Portland, Maine of all places at a place called Hi, Bombay), Skyline Chili (I love a three-way), making madeleines with my friend Dan (we needed a special pan and everything!?!), my husband taking me to Morimoto in Philadelphia for my birthday (the Iron Chef himself cooked our meal!!)... I could go on and on. Anyway, somewhere between watching "Babette's Feast" and making my first boeuf bourgignon I fell in love with food. I love to eat it. I love to cook it. And I am becoming increasingly passionate about where our food comes from. This is new to me. On top of being a super picky eater when I was a kid, I was raised almost entirely on McDonald's and processed food. Although, sometimes we liked to shake it up and go to Subway for a "healthy" alternative. I'm not saying these things to make my mother feel bad. She and my dad both worked, like, three jobs each to make sure my sister and I had voice lessons and piano lessons and dance lessons. And we totally had our share of home cooked meals that may or may not have consisted of canned green beans and cubed steak. But it wasn't until I moved to New York and really started cooking that I became more interested in ingredients and where my food actually came from. I started to educate myself. Among other things, I read "Omnivore's Dilemma" and "Food Matters." I watched "Food Inc." I've become involved in starting a food co-op in Queens. And I want to do my part and support local and sustainable agriculture in my community. It's better for my body. It's better for the economy. It's better for the earth. Of course, I'm allowing myself to be a big, fat hypocrite too, because I totally squeezed some industrial, third-world country lemon into my mushroom soup tonight. What can I say? Nobody's perfect...

So to me, I guess "having it all" means acting, singing, dancing, chanting, being compassionate, being courageous, eating, cooking and cheering for the little guys all at once! Well, not literally all at once, but you know what I mean. I'm on a quest for balance and expansion and clarity in my life. I'm tired of defining myself as just one thing because I'm passionate about, well, at least three! And, dag nubbit, I'm gonna blog about it all!!! So here I am... in New York City... a foodie actress on the path to enlightenment.

Lights. Karma. Oven!