Las Vegas By Number, Volume 3

Vegas, baby.

 

1.) S'mores. As told by Las Vegas. (Fulton Hall Food Market, Harrah's)

2.) My little pony. At Caesar's Palace. (Also, there's a guy back there on the roof. Don't jump!)

3.) You haven't lived until you've kissed a guy while under the aegis of the Eiffel Tower. Or a reasonable facsimille of. (The tower, not the guy. Please pick a real guy. Preferably one you know, but no judgment.)

4.) Good kitty. (Caesar's)

5.) My Big Fat Glass Candy Garden. Very Seussical. Very watermelon and lemon drop Big Rock Candy Mountain. Probably Chihuly, though, and glass. So DO NOT EAT.

6.) Night Circus.

7.) Everything beautiful Dale Chihuly ever made and then stuck on the ceiling of the Bellagio. Perfect. Also glass, so again: do not eat. (a. you need a ladder and b. the management gets super pissed when you try. I don't advise attempting it. #LessonLearnedTheHardWay #Oops)

 

Las Vegas By Number, Volume 2

Las Vegas

 

1.) Philip Mullen, Mei’s Fish, 1998. Acrylic on canvas. Painting can be seen at the Rio.

2.) The Pirates of the Caribbean attraction seems a little less peppy than I remembered it. (The Rio)

3.) Mark your planners and run up your credit cards: The world’s ending. I wonder what this guy’s going to do on October 8th? On the off-chance he’s wrong, I mean. Not that he specified the year, so the sign will still be good, I guess.

4.) The Rio: prettier outside than in.

5.) My padlocked voodoo bench at House of Blues, Mandalay Bay. Paging Marie Laveau, I would like my fortune told. And to sit on this bench.

6.) No cup. No joke. And only $1 to get a photo of it.

And a special shout-out to my friend John at the poker bar at the Flamingo, who has made this post possible. (Sponsored by Bloody Mary, who is indeed a girl I love.)

Las Vegas By Number, Volume 1

 

1.) This door at Luxor.
2.) I keep telling the flamingo not to spit in the fountain. He just refuses to behave. Bad flamingo.
3.) If you're looking for your coffee, I found it in the Giada sign outside the Cromwell.
4.) This machine: I can't lose. I put money in. I get money out. Winner!
5.) These giant koi live at the Flamingo. They can eat more than you. They can probably actually eat you.
6.) Pull your pants up. And keep your head on. Mickey and Minnie give absolutely zero shits.

 

Corn Wall. (But no, not *that* Cornwall.)

Indianapolis Architecture

The distance between Cornwall, United Kingdom and Indianapolis, Indiana is 3,835 miles.

Australia, Jamaica, and Canada all have places named Cornwall. The states of New York and Vermont both have cities named Cornwall. So do California, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. But not Indiana. You’d have to think that if any state would have a Cornwall, it would be us. Or Iowa and Illinois. Maybe early Hoosier farmers had no sense of humor. Or disliked the Cornish. Heck if I know.

But at least we have this stone grace note on a building in downtown Indianapolis: our very own Corn Wall, a piece of nineteenth century facade that was saved and incorporated into the walls of the Circle Centre. Indianapolis has plenty of architectural easter eggs like this, hidden on building fronts across the city. There are Art Deco ziggurats recalling Babylon and Sumer; there are buildings with Egyptian motifs in black marble and gold leaf. One can find plaster putti, in white, gleaming on the upper stories of the Murphy Building, and Art Nouveau lilies and iris on the face of the Fountain Square theatre building. The Indianapolis Repertory Theatre is housed in a building based on the Escorial: Spanish Baroque in all its intricate, curving, dynamic scroll-iness right here in the Heartland. And there’s always the Old Trails Building, with its handsome, monumental, and uni-dimensional Native American faces. The carvings are beautiful, the faces noble, dating to the turn of the twentieth century. The ick factor here can be high though; the history is shameful and subjugation can never be attractive.

The corn carries no obvious moral weight, however. The corn is pleasing, simply carved, a humble decoration that isn’t trying too hard. It’s just right. It’s just in place. As is.

Indiana is fifth in the country for corn production (at least, according to the USDA, for 2014), which seems impossible to believe if you live here. You can’t drive too far without seeing walls of corn, high as the sky, mirrored only (depending on the road) by fields filled with soybeans, low and green. But Indiana is, to Hoosiers, partially synonymous with corn, not soy and not mint, no matter how plentiful (and both are very plentiful).

So, even in the big city, just look up. Corn.

There’s Always Enough Time

Surprise Lilies

It's a busy world. And my version of the universe has constrained me lately from much at all except the bare essentials. Time and money: there's never enough. But on August 12th, I took the time to look at these surprise lilies and to take their picture. It cost me nothing at all.

There is always enough time to notice the bee in the flowers (to the left, just there, with wings spread in perfect bee-fashion). There is always enough time to notice that there are tiny blue streaks in the petals of surprise lilies.

There is time enough.

When Life Hands You Zucchini, Make Zucchini Cake.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Let them eat (zucchini) cake!

I do not have any tomatoes from the garden yet. Stop asking. What I do have are squash. And what I have even more of than ordinary yellow squash are zucchini squash. It’s an abundance of riches, so long as by “riches,” one means “zucchini.”

And, what oh what, is one to do with so many zucchini? You can grate them, coat them in bread crumbs and parmesan and sauté them in olive oil with salt, pepper, and garlic. You can slice them and grill them or fry them or roast them. One guesses you could pickle them. Or toss them, gift-wise, into the neighbor’s yard.

But, oh my god, all of these things require effort and none of these things results in cake.

What’s a girl to do?

A girl should do the following: grate two small zucchini, add chocolate, and make herself a cake. Cake!

So, that’s just what this girl did. And as luck would have it, it turns out to be ridiculously good and requires almost zero work (that’s right; like, practically none, and you end up with cake). In fact, this dumb veggie cake is the best cake I have ever baked (in fairness, basically all prior cakes have come from boxes. Don’t judge me, internets.) First, here is the original link for the recipe for this freaking delicious chocolate zucchini cake. As I have made small changes to it, I will give you the recipe here (in translation-ish), with a short description and all relevant thoughts on the recipe to follow, but don’t think I invented this cake. If I had, I would be a genius.

Combine all of the following in a big-ass bowl: 2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, 2 teaspoons baking soda, 1 tablespoon cinnamon, 4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa, 3 eggs, 2 cups sugar, 1 cup oil, 1 tablespoon vanilla, 2 cups grated zucchini, and 1 cup nuts.

Mix well but don’t get too fussy about it. You don’t need the beater for this. You just need to not see big clumps of unintegrated powder. It doesn’t take long.

Pour batter into a pre-greased 13″x9″ baking dish.

Shove into an oven you have pre-heated to 350 degrees (Fahrenheit. Obviously.)

Bake for 50 minutes or until cake passes the toothpick test.

That is literally it.

Here are my personalizations to this cake recipe: (1) Eliminate the nuts. Nuts are gross. Leave them in if you’re a squirrel or if you like them, but I wouldn’t do that if I were you. (2) Grate just a little too much zucchini and put it in the batter anyway. (3) Add just a smidge of chili powder to the batter. Seriously. (4) When you put the cake in the oven, sing to it just a little bit. The cake seems to like it. I recommend the song “We’re making cake” or the very similar song “Hurry up, cake.” (You can shimmy, but like the nuts, this is optional.) (5) You can coach the cake but try not to scream at it or make it feel like it’s taking too long. Remember, you put practically no effort into this and at the end of all this non-work, you still get to eat cake. You can afford to be gracious.

This recipe makes really, really good cake. It is not the world’s most beautiful cake. But it is luscious and the perfect balance of sweet and rich but not too much of either. And if you take a sip of even really bad coffee right after eating a big forkful, you will think you have died and gone to heaven.

Next time I make this really good cake, I’m upping the chili powder and adding a little coffee. I might consider making one with either butterscotch chips or chocolate chips, just for the heck of it. But this recipe is so good, I also think it would be possible to eliminate the cocoa powder and make a version with citrus peel and ginger. And I might just make a zillion more cakes just like this one. Because, as it turns out, this is a damn fine cake.

It’s a good thing I have all this zucchini.

 

Guest Post by A: Homage to Kansas

I am very grateful to my dear friend (we'll call him “A” for anonymous, as he wishes to remain) who graciously permitted me to publish his photos and writing as a post today.


Kansas

Starting when I was two years old, I made one or even two trips to Southern California each year. These continued until I was seventeen, and a few times since then, they have been repeated. Most of those trips were made by automobile. It was a point of pride in my family that we never slept in Kansas, and that is no small feat considering that Kansas is well over four hundred miles east to west.

When I was nineteen, I met a young woman named Ann who proudly identified herself as a Kansan. Being obnoxious even then, I expressed my rather negative impression of her home state. Although I was really just teasing her, I did say something about Kansas being only an obstacle to be overcome on my California journeys. I told her that the scenery was a repetition of farmhouse, barn, one tree, wheat field, massive grain silos, wheat field, start again with the farmhouse, and repeat for most of a day’s drive. What, I asked was there to admire in such a place?

Ann made several attempts over the years to explain her affection for her home, but, though I respected her opinion in so many areas, I remained largely unmoved by her descriptions of the prairie. We became very close for a time, but the currents that flow through time and our lives separated us. Our last contact was an exchange of e-mail messages in 1993.

We had much in common: Family structure, appreciation for literature and music, life goals, and so on. Each of us was able to broaden the other’s interest in or at least appreciation for much that life offers. We assisted one another with academic assignments, and made some classes at least tolerable. For me, though, and despite Ann’s attempts to sway my opinion, Kansas remained a place to be driven through and overcome.

In 2011, I determined to locate Ann, presumably still in Topeka. Instead, I learned that she had died some ten years before, a victim of leukemia at the age of fifty-three. I was devastated. My first and continuing reaction was a keen sense of loss, but I have also recognized the gifts that Ann has given me. In ways that I will not discuss, I believe that Ann has saved my life, or at least has lengthened it, I actually like to listen to Vivaldi, and visits to museums of fine art are no longer seen as a dull waste of time.

I visit Ann’s grave once or twice each year, and always on her birthday. She used to make a big deal of my birthday, presenting me with baked Alaska as a birthday cake. I have not celebrated my birthday since those days. So, if birthdays were once special to her, then hers will henceforth be special to me.

I have also allowed Ann to guide me through her Kansas, and I have discovered that there is majesty about the place that requires no thundering surf, no soaring mountains. The wonder of it is the peace and the solitude of broad prairie, the wind, always present either in a whisper or in tumult, and mostly, just the simplicity of broad vistas. Kansas is solitude out on the prairie, but it is neither truly empty nor lonely.

I travel with my best friend and perhaps with Ann. We stop often just to see and to think. I hate to leave, but I am always refreshed when I return to my more responsible life.

This is my homage to Kansas and to my Angel of the Prairie. It is a reminder that we must always make the effort to look more deeply lest opportunity pass and be lost forever.