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Irritating Words

Everyone has words they hate. The president hates the word “briefing,” and his aides now describe his meetings as “Go Tell ‘Ems.” The pope always skips the ox counting bit at the beginning of Numbers, because saying “quinquaginta” makes his lips go numb.

Now, anyone would tell you I’m a calm and collected person (Jk! I’m a fireball of barely suppressed rage), but there are a few words which make me twitch like I’ve been poked in the ear with a needle. Often it’s not the word itself, but the worldview that comes packaged with it. (Don’t tell me you’ve never heard the word “cleanse” and started inching toward the door.) I have assembled the following words in ascending order, from the least to most likely to make me stab myself in the hand with a pen, just to feel something.

The word itself is fine, it’s just that every time I see it I start to hear warning bells in the part of my brain that enjoys MythBusters. This word is largely employed by people who think anything invented after the Industrial Revolution causes cancer. It joins “pure,” “natural,” and “raw” in the category of words which become more irritating with use. Any food substance described with three or more of these words will taste like bark and bean husks.
Exception: Anthropological journals.

Usually in regard to someone’s child. “Alana Briatta is really thriving at the Waldorf School.”

All food is from a farm. Most meals occur on tables. (Unless, like me, you prefer to eat what you’ve stuffed into your cheek pouch while crouched in a corner.) I like to call my dinner “fork-to-mouth.” Later I’ll be hosting a “screen-to-brain” movie marathon. This evening I plan on spending some time developing a “shit-to-bowl” movement. (BOOM.)

This one is less common, and unless you’re a knitter you may not have heard it. I only started hearing it a few years ago. It means colors. The colors of a yarn. Just say “colors.” You don’t get paid per syllable.

It’s okay if you have nothing to contribute on this comments thread. You can just like something, quietly, on your own. No one needs to know. The world will not end. Nobody will mind.

When you call your pet a “furbaby” you’re pretending it’s a joke, but it’s clearly not, just like when you end your insulting texts with “lol.” (“kathi ur skirt was so short last nite darren wants to date u lol.”)

When you die, your “baby” will eat your lips.

Probiotic (also Superfood)
A word clearly designed to covey great scientific weight but with minimal risk of lawsuits. “Probiotic” is “toxins” less celebrated sister word in the Great Lexicon of Promotional Vagueness. (Before you argue: According to a 2010 Guardian article, the European Food Safety Authority “‘avoids using the term probiotics,’ since it has no proper scientific meaning.”)

Picture this for me: Two lumberjacks finish up a 12-hour shift. That evening, while slamming black coffee at the local greasy spoon, one says, “So… what are you gonna do on your day off?” “Oh, not much,” the other replies. “I’m probably gonna just watch reruns of Worst Jobs and eat Doritos.” The first lumberjack nods, sagely. “Self-care is SO important.”

Also nourishment, nourishing. Nourished. UUUUUUUNNNNGGGGGHHHHHH.
Exceptions: None.

UPDATE: People who call themselves “humans.” (Humans of New York, I’m looking right fucking at you.) This is the one word version of “We’re all just animals, man.” This terminology is employed by two categories of people: anthropologists and sentient granola. For scientists it’s entirely acceptable. For everyone else it makes me want to punch someone in his chakra.


Sei’s Mustard Yellow Dream

This soup may be healthy (or at least, healthier than I usually eat) but you can’t tell from the taste. It’s sweet, savory, tangy and spicy all at once. You may be tempted to switch the cream out for coconut milk, but don’t. I promise you, it’s worth it. Pair it with a crispy spinach mushroom white pizza, and treat yourself to a Friday movie night.

1 Kabocha squash
1 onion, diced
2-3 garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 cup chicken, cut into chunks
1-2 carrots, diced
2 cups water
3 tbsp chicken bouillon.
1 dollop cream
2 tsp yellow curry powder
2 large leaves mustard greens, chopped
Salt, pepper to taste

1. Halve the squash, clean out the seeds, and cook the halves open side down in a tray of water for 1 hour at 400°. Remove from the oven and let cool.

2. Cook the onion, garlic, carrots and chicken in a soup pot, until the carrots are soft and the chicken is cooked.

3. Scoop out the cooked squash and add it to the pot. Add the water, chicken bouillon, curry powder and cream. Dice mustard greens finely, and toss in.

Perfume Review: Narciso Rodriguez “For Her”

The Initial Scent:
Liquid musk, dribbled on the thighs of Venus after she emerged from the sea, if that sea were composed entirely of the pooling sweat of jasmine blossoms.

The Cool Down:
You will never cool down while wearing this scent. You’ll be nude wrestling oiled male models all day.

Wear It To:
This scent plays it close to the chest, so avoid confined spaces in the interests of public decency. Or stay home – that would be safest.

Sei Rates It:
5/5 I Spent Money On It (And plan to do so again.)

Perfume Review: Il Bacio, by Borghese

The Initial Scent:
Like being punched in the nose by a million orange blossoms, fresh from an hour long assignation in a hot car with a particularly amoral Lily of the Valley.

The Cool-Down:
A little like the perfume department of a department store.

Wear It To:
A department store, for the spring sale.

Sei Rates It:
3/5 Would Wear Again (If someone else bought it for me.)


Because I have been, at one time or another, a professional horticulturalist, a person who is actually paid to make plants happen, you would think my garden would be a wonderland of perfection. And you would be right. My green thumb is equaled only by my good taste and God-like creative abilities.

Seeds, for example. How hard is it to sprout seeds? Seeds sprout every day all over the place. Obviously seeds give me no trouble. Here’s a tray of morning glories and moonflowers I planted a month ago, out of a packet I carefully saved from 2007.

Seed Fail

“Mourning” Glory seeds. The pansies have dressed in black for the occasion.

Above the morning glories you can see the small tray of rare Pasilla peppers. They can be tricky to sprout, but they’re really no problem for a professional like myself.

See that mildew? I grew that. Locally sourced, sustainably raised.

Below are my “Thai Roselle” hibiscus seeds. One is really plenty. I didn’t need all ten of those seeds at all. In fact, I’ve definitely read that hibiscus tea is not delicious, and it gives you cancer.

Hibiscus Fail

Hibiscus is overrated.

Here are some sweet pea seeds. These are a variety called “Cupani,” which I’m told is one of the oldest cultivated varieties. Before planting sweet peas, it’s important to nick or scratch the hard seed coat so water can get in and revive the dormant seed. This year I decided that sounded stupid, and naturally I was 100% correct. Those are some beautiful violet weeds.

Sweet Pea Fail

Nicking seed coats is for losers. I can highly recommend violets as a groundcover, though.

I planted four whole packages of sweet peas this way. Considering the time I saved with my new planting technique, I’ve definitely recouped my losses.

Of course, sometimes seeds get a little confused. Here are some beet seeds my dog spilled:

Stupid Dog Seed Win

You win this round, Little Dog.

These beets are wrong. They were disrespected by a small dog, and yet they persist in growing right in the middle of my path. They were not carefully cultivated, watered, or tended. What were they thinking?

And it’s not just beets that are wrong. This potato shoot sprouted just before a massive cold snap. Serves it right. Maybe next time it will think before it starts growing, all willy-nilly, like we’re in Florida or something. You’re in New York, potato. Be smart.

Potato Fail

A dumb potato.

In fact, even the frost was wrong. It completely toasted the above potato, while a foot away a second sprout remains completely unscathed. GET YOUR HEAD IN THE GAME, FROST. I refuse to allow that kind of sloppy work in my garden.

Potato Frost Fail

Apparently, frost is left handed.

Naturally, I have more success indoors, where I have control over all aspects of plant care and growth. Here’s a closeup of my papyrus plant, carefully nurtured through the winter, and ready to be planted out in the water garden, along with about four million aphids.

Papyrus Fail

Aphids – the hipsters of the insect word.

The aphids living on this plant have just returned from a course at a beauty college. They just know that the 80’s are coming back, and they have given my papyrus a fun and flirty leaf crimp. They are also learning how to make cocktails, and have sucked all the juices out of the young stem to make plantinis at their nightly parties. (Aphids are a lot of fun, but don’t give them your email or you’ll have to slog through all the Instagram photos of their band.)

So as you can see, I am clearly a Master of the Garden Arts. You may feel as though you will never achieve the same level of artistry as me, but don’t be discouraged! This kind of skill simply comes with time.

Liveblogging Wuthering Heights

7:45 PM: Everyone is a moron, and they all deserved it.

10:39 PM: But they’re better than the simpering nancies in Pride & Prejudice.

The Neighbors

There may come a time in your life during which you inherit a garden. Or perhaps you will be given one, or find one. Any way it happens, I can guarantee that you will think one thing, and that thing will be, “What the hell were they thinking?”

The Young Couple

I was given a garden by a neighbor when she moved out of our shared building. She and her partner were moving into a yurt; a yurt they built themselves out of organically raised, local lumber, and plaster made from quinoa husks and the tears of vegan environmentalists. I assume.

Our house sits at the front of a strip of lawn, in the center of a 30-acre wood. There is one sunny patch at the end of this lawn, in which squats a large, fenced-in patch of weeds masquerading as a vegetable garden. Along the front and south side of the house is another patch of weeds, through which occasional clumps of irises struggle up. By the time we moved in, two years ago during a particularly hot and humid July, these sunny patches had been claimed by our neighbor, by virtue of her four month seniority.

“There’s 30 acres here,” she snorted, when I ventured to ask if we might share some garden space. “I think we can co-exist.”

“Yes,” I replied, “but I can’t really grow tomatoes in the woods.”

For this she had no answer, but neither was garden space forthcoming.

During the following months I watched, with mixed amusement and furious anger, as she flailed about in the garden. Truckloads of hay were laid down for mulch, until enough oat sprouted to supply a bakery. A gallant cucumber struggled up through the weeds, fruit spoiling on the vine, grabbing at the fence for support like a man who has reached the dead end in which the pursuing zombies will devour him. An aggressive comfrey plant reached out its leafy claws and ate an infant tomato patch. Four large flats of baby kale sat on the lawn for months, until the sun withered them. (The two kale plants that made it into the garden grew leggy, until their moth-eaten heads flopped over.) Every plant that survived to make fruit lay forgotten, unpicked, and unloved. Meanwhile, I turned over a new bed on either side of the sunny quarter, mentally casting the evil eye over all their land, cursing their children, and their children’s children, and the giant black walnut under which my corn and beans sulked.

Perhaps you think I am unduly harsh. It’s hard for me to feel charitable about these former neighbors. She and her partner had moved out from the city, and their inexperience was clear. So, however, was their overwhelming sense of smug superiority. They had read articles, you see. Articles on organic gardening, if you please. If we needed any help, we could just let them know.

But eventually they moved, and they took their ducks with them.

“Chickens are so smelly,” they had sneered when we moved in. “We had chickens.”

“Only when you don’t clean up after them,” I replied, trying to keep my face carefully neutral.

Before they left she took me on a tour of the garden, which she had so graciously given over to my care. “We’re coming back for the garlic,” she said, waving at a patch of grass. “And the walking onions.” Another wave. “But I brought in organic compost for the beds. And everything has been sheet mulched.”

Over the next year, that became my refrain. “It’s been sheet mulched!” I said, as I shoved my fork in the bed, to discover that the compost had been summarily dumped on top of solid clay. “It’s been sheet mulched!” I shouted, as I heaved another head-sized rock out of the dirt. “But it’s been sheet mulched!” Mr. Cloud Ring laughed, as I pulled out yet another grass root as long as myself. Under the cool, moist cardboard and hay with which she had “sheet mulched” the garden, the grass had been having the time of its life. Never have I seen grass roots so hardy and wide reaching. As the cardboard disintegrated I also discovered that she had neglected to remove the packing tape. Eventually the autumn wind began blowing the trash and bits of cardboard through the garden, clogging the fence and creating a visual tableau best described as “blustery Walmart parking lot.”

But not everything could be blamed on our neighbors. The glass, for example. Broken glass is a given in any old garden space, but over the last two years I’ve pulled out enough glass to re-glaze a cathedral. And it’s not just in the garden, either. In the woods, in the chicken pen, along the stream… Whoever used to live at this house, I can only assume a window killed his mother. Nothing else explains this level of carnage.

I’ve more or less got the garden under control now. I’ve smothered the comfrey under a compost pile. I whacked the couch grass into submission. I hauled out enough rock to build a second apartment. Of course, we’re leaving in three months, so I’ll have to turn it over to some other young couple. They shouldn’t have any problems with it. After all, it’s been sheet mulched.