Friday, July 31, 2009

This Morning's Thoughts

1. Spin class is not happening today. Nor is swimming or running. I ran 6.75 yesterday; I'm not beating myself up too much over a rest day today. Realizing that I have no clue how to train for much of anything, and am probably doing everything wrong. When I read advice columns about "what I should be doing" in preparation for various races, I am usually doing not what's suggested. Let's hope I can still walk when I'm 80.

2. Definitely a 2-cup-of-coffee morning.

3. Where's Chloe the cat? Can't find her.

4. Watched Real Housewives of Atlanta last night for the first time. I thoroughly enjoyed the fight between Sheree' and her party planner; was that staged or genuine? Also enjoyed the occasional glimpses of interstate and skyline that looked familiar, like, "oh! Look! It's Northside Drive, where I always get confused getting back on 75 North!" or "this was obviously not filmed M-F from 6:30-9:30 am or 3:00-6:30 p.m.; cars seem to be moving." Where exactly do they live? I heard Buford?

5. Started a new blog designed to help educators of and other people interested in mass communication and gender/communication, inspired by my friend Jennie and her relationships blog, and my friend Anna and her relationships blog. I'm not sharing the address yet. I'm in the test phases, and not sure I like what I'm posting. As soon as I get the hang of it, and some insightful postings, I'll share. It's going to take a lot more energy than this one, as I hope to include, like, citations and theory and such. But, it could be helpful for a lot of people, including myself as I wade through really tough media/pop culture issues. Kind of a way to get academic research "out there" and share with people who don't really know much about academic research.

6. Eventually, the networks are going to run out of metropolitan areas to film/stage shows like Real Housewives, CSI, and Grey's Anatomy. Watch out, friends who live in remote, rural areas: "Real Housewives of Cairo Holler." "CSI: Opelika," and "Decatur General ER" are coming to a television near you. I feel it.

7. Less than two months till I defend my dissertation. 34 days till football season. 23 days till the triathlon. 12 days till I start my new job as an assistant professor.

8. 34 days till football season. :)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Coolest Thing I've Ever Seen at a Concert

I saw this on Feministing, and it inspired today's random story from last April.

Rose and I went to the Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood concert at Rupp, as you may recall from an earlier post in which I berated the people next to me for asking me to sit during Carrie's set. I'm not the biggest Keith Urban fan in the world, but I fell in love with him shortly after he opened his set.

He sang a couple opening songs. And he looked over to his right, and read out loud from a really bright orange sign, "Let Her Play Your Guitar." He stood there a second, and said, "ok. Come on up!" The crowd went wild.

A few seconds later, there appeared on stage a young girl who looked like she was maybe 14 or 15, who had braces and long, bushy dark hair that almost covered her face, wearing jeans and a Janis Joplin t-shirt. She walked on stage looking a little shy and uncomfortable, and in the back of my mind I was thinking, I hope she doesn't screw up and embarrass herself. She said her name was Leslie and she was from Hazard, Kentucky.

This is what happened next:

Keith Urban - Raise the Barn

Girl rocked it out!! The quality of this video doesn't do her playing justice. As soon as they got her plugged in, she started wailing on her guitar. I hope to God she makes it as a world-famous musician someday. Keith was obviously impressed, and his band members stood around looking stunned by her musical ability. I could've listened to her play all night.

And that's the coolest thing I've ever, ever seen at a concert.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Three Food Items I Don't Buy

1. Breadcrumbs. Exception: panko, or Japanese breadcrumbs. Rationale: I never use a whole container before they "expire." It's much more cost-effective in my kitchen, right now, to just make breadcrumbs as needed. Procedure: Toast up a slice or two from the whole wheat loaf you have in the pantry that you use for sandwiches, and throw it in the food processor. Season to taste: salt, pepper, Italian dried herbs, parmesan, you get the picture.

2. Salad Dressing. Exception: Ken's Blue Cheese, if Dean & Donna are coming for dinner, as it's Dean's favorite (D&D are Dave's parents/my parents-in-law) (and they're cool). Rationale: seriously, you still buy salad dressing? When you have tasty extra virgin olive oil and multiple vinegars, mustards, and seasoning agents in your pantry? Homemade salad dressings are so, so so so much tastier than store-bought, and they're more fun, too, because you can make them yourselves. And, they have no preservatives, which equals healthier. And, you are in complete control of the flavor, and amount of fat. Procedure: dressings usually involve a fat (think: oil, mayonnaise, bacon grease) and an acid (such as vinegar: balsamic, red wine, white wine, champagne, vanilla fig balsamic, rice wine; mustard: dijon, grainy dijon, plain ol' yeller mustard; or citrus: orange juice, lemon juice, lime juice, grapefruit juice). Two additional must-have ingredients in ALL of my dressings: salt and pepper. Now, even within the pepper category, you have plenty of options: black pepper, cayenne, chili powder, Chinese five spice, paprika, wasabi, ginger, horseradish.... Next, because I have a sweet tooth, I generally prefer some sort of sweetener in my dressings. This takes the form of: plain sugar, honey, simple syrup, or a jam/jelly (raspberry, blackberry, plum, orange, strawberry). Top it off with any other fresh or dried herb to fit the meal or salad. Whisk together in small amounts, tasting as you go to get the flavor profile just right. And voila. Kitchen brilliance and creativity. Tell me people aren't impressed the next time you serve a salad with your "homemade wasabi vinaigrette" or dip that sandwich wrap in a "homemade Italian lemon and basil vinaigrette."

3. Soups. Exception: Campbell's cream of chicken/mushroom, ONLY for chicken, tuna, or hashbrown casseroles. Rationale: once you start making your own soups, you won't go back to canned soup again. Homemade soups are (a) easy, (b) cost-effective, and (c) simply divine. I hear there are tasty canned soup options these days, but I can't bring myself to try them. Just looking at them in the grocery store kind of makes me cringe a little, and feel bad for people who don't make their own soups. Procedure: think of your favorite soup. Look for a recipe for it, or just ask me; I probably have a recipe to share. Follow the recipe exactly, and enjoy the meal. Soups follow an easy procedure: sautee some sort of aromatic in oil/butter (like onion, celery, carrot, leeks), create some flavor with salt, pepper and dried herbs, add other proteins (chicken, beef, tofu) and vegetables as necessary (potatoes, tomatoes, zuccini, beans), create a soup in which to simmer the vegetables/meats (chicken broth, vegetable broth, beef broth, milk/cream, water, splash or two of wine or vinegar), top with something (tortillas, crackers, sour cream, avocado, grated onion, melty cheese) and eat.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Tastes Like Hawaii

Of all the tasty dishes we ate out "on the island," my favorite one was an acai bowl.

Well, ok. My favorite non-artery-clogging one was the acai bowl. My real favorite was the pound of buttery peel & eat shrimp washed down with a pineapple coconut smoothie we had at Giovanni's Shrimp Truck. Josh Holloway wasn't lying: they were worth the drive to a remote area on the north shore.

I digress. Acai berry is like the new blueberry from what I've heard. We got addicted to the acai bowl at the little coffee shop next to our hotel in Oahu. It was so tasty and cold; basically frozen acai blended with apple juice, served with a sliced banana, honey, and granola in a cute little wooden bowl. It was a smoothie in a bowl. And it was so refreshing on those hot, humid mornings. It also reminds me of the little Italian couple who was always in the coffee shop when we were, drinking cappuccinos and eating pastries for breakfast. How Italian! I wanted to be their friend, but I was shy. I did end up taking their picture at the U.S.S. Arizona memorial, as, ironically, they were there at the same time we were.

Anyway. Acai berries. They have antioxidants or something. They're dark purple. They're tasty. And you can buy them in juice or frozen form in your local grocery store. I've found the juice at Kroger, the frozen stuff I have to get at Harry's, which has an extensive section of organic frozen fruit. I've found that these ingredients:

along with some honey (not pictured) thrown in a blender makes a substantial, absolutely delicious smoothie. I just slurped one down. Yummmmm.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Anniversary Dinner

So many signs led me to conclude that Chicken Tetrazzini should be our anniversary meal.

First, there was this clip that we saw on The Soup a while back. If you are a regular watcher, then you know that's not the only time "chicken tetrazzini" has come up this year.

Then, there was all this chatter this week on my Facebook wall, via sorority sister Critta, about her husband calling Giada DeLaurentiis "Godda Delaurious," and his claiming to have made her chicken tetrazzini recipe for dinner, when instead it was something store-bought. Hilarious. And ironic, since I make Giada's chicken tet recipe for special occasions, like anniversaries.

Then, there was an email I sent to Dave asking if he preferred steak or chicken tet for anniversary dinner. He immediately requested chicken tetrazzini. The first time I made it, I think he fell in love with me all over again. I'm not sure if it's the peas, the mushrooms, or the creamy sauce that did him in. Whatever it was, it worked, and I love the dish too.

Right before the wedding, I purchased a bottle of Moet & Chandon champagne. I fully intended for us to drink it on the Sunday afternoon/night following our wedding, as a little "yay we're married!" treat to ourselves, and a way to relax at home before flying off on our honeymoon. I splurged for the good stuff (as opposed to the $4 Brut I generally purchase when I need to get champagne) because it was what was served at the infamous Bubble-Q we attended in Miami two years ago, where I met all my favorite Food Network stars. We haven't had any since! I thought it would be special. I'd be hailed as a great wife, on day 2 of the marriage even! However, on the day after our wedding, I was (a) still really full from the impromptu brunch we had at Marlowe's Tavern with some of our favorite wedding guests (where I believe Loren made me eat scrambled eggs, something I just don't do, but was glad I did that time because they were quite tasty and Lord knows I needed some protein), (b) still slightly hungover from the night before, (c) enjoying spending time with Anne at our pool until she had to fly away, (d) busy packing for 10 days in Hawaii (e) busy washing clothes, including my wedding dress that got beer spilled all over it, which was awesome - both the funny story resulting from the beer spillage and the fact that I could just throw my wedding dress in the washing machine, and (f) more tired than I'd ever been in my life. I sent Dave out for Firehouse Subs for dinner. I had lost my voice from talking so much over the weekend. And I just laid on the couch for a few hours, staring at the tv. When I lay still on the couch for more than 2 hours, and I'm not watching a movie, it's a good indication that I'm either sick, or completely worn out. Given the circumstances, we figured the champagne would wait until we got back. I figured there was no better excuse to drink it than the four-year anniversary of our first date.

What was our first date, you ask? Dave picked me up at Christy's house (then in Peachtree City). We went to Fernbank's martini's and IMAX event, that still is held each Friday night during the summers. Dave learned that the best way to my heart was to give me a snack, a good drink, and a natural history museum. And a good dinner. We went to Dante's, a Buckhead landmark that I highly recommend to anyone who hasn't been there yet. If I had the chance to pick a last meal, it'd be eaten at Dante's. They're that good. Plan on at least 2 hours of gorging. I'd never had fondue before, but it was divine, especially at Dante's. Melting Pot what? I won't go anymore. It's not Dante's.

So, tonight, four years later, we ate chicken tet out on *our* back porch, watching Chloe chase leaves, drinking tasty champagne, and talking about what we thought life would be like in 4 years. Neither of us could really foresee much of anything different. Just more of Team Dawmilam being awesome.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Loaded Potato Soup

I just did something sublimely soothing. I pulled out my Le Creuset dutch oven (I smile whenever I pull it down from the cabinet, and sometimes talk to it), and cooked with leeks for the first time. I've never had leeks, that I'm aware of; only seen them used on Food Network. I've heard tv chefs fawn over them, and have always wanted to try them out. Thank goodness I did, as they made my dinner, well, LBDelicious.

The soothing part of the night came from first rinsing them, cleaning them of any remaining sediment still in the layers of mellow, oniony goodness of the vegetable. Came second from using my super sharp chef's knife to slice them into thin half-moons. Came third from seeing a pat of butter and olive oil sizzling away in the aforementioned pot. And came fourth from eating big spoonfuls (right out of the simmering pot! I love cooking for this very reason) a potato soup that I finally got right.

It's the third time in my life I've tried to make potato soup. The first time was an epic fail. It was basically mashed potatoes (sorry, Rose; you lived through that one). The second time, it turned into gravy soup. Dave loved it; my arteries did not. This time, I didn't use bacon grease (although that's part of why Dave loved the gravy soup) and I didn't use any thickening agent. I Deee-lish. Here's the recipe.

about 1/2 tablespoon butter
about 1/2 tablespoon EVOO
4 leeks, sliced thinly up to the green part
about 2 -3 cups of leftover mashed potatoes
1/2 cup white wine
about 2 cups chicken broth
splash of 2% milk
salt & pepper, plenty of it

In a large stockpot/soup pot, heat butter and oil over medium high heat. Add leeks, salt & pepper. Sautee until cooked, about 7-8 minutes. Deglaze pan by pouring in wine, scraping up any browned bits that have collected on the bottom. Add chicken stock and leftover potatoes; salt & pepper again. Stir together. Add milk if you want a thinner consistency. Puree in food processor or blender to combine leeks with potatoes. Simmer about 15 minutes. Top with bacon, cheese, scallions, sour cream - whatever you want - to make it "loaded."

We ate this tonight with a piece of crusty French bread and some leftover ham, onion & asparagus frittata that I made earlier in the week. Yes, I usually have things like frittatas just laying around the house. Welcome to my life.

Next up: what to make for anniversary dinner? Our 4-year-dating anniversary is next week, and I always craft a special meal for the occasion. It will probably involve a really expensive cut of meat, and probably some sort of complicated cooking technique. And will definitely involve the bottle of Moet champagne I've been hanging on to for the occasion.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Grilled Pork Chops with Rosemary & Garlic

God bless my mother (who I know is reading this), but growing up, I hated pork chop night. She always pan-fried bone-in chops, and there's nothing wrong with that. I just didn't know pork could be thick, tender, and juicy until I decided to cook it one day myself. (Note: I should admit, in my mother's defense, that I refused to try anything that wasn't Kraft macaroni and cheese, or ground beef tacos in Old El Paso shells with Velveeta on top. Come to think of it, I rarely ate anything that didn't have some form of Velveeta cheese in it or on it, and I only drank SunDrop. My today self shudders at the thought. It's ok. I was quite a picky eater, and it's not necessarily her fault that I didn't like her pork chops. I didn't like anything back then. And I'm very grateful that she placated my horrible palate and always made me macaroni and cheese, no matter what we were having for dinner. When I have children, I'm not going to be that nice. The kids can eat what I make, make something themselves, or starve.) I think my first yummy pork adventure was when I attempted something out of a Rachael Ray cookbook, in which I simply seared the pork chops, threw them in the oven to finish cooking, and made a mustard sauce (similar to the one I made with caramelized onions) out of the pan drippings. It was simply divine. Pork chops are generally inexpensive, they freeze well so you can catch them on sale and stock up, and if you cut the fat off the side, it's a fairly lean cut of meat; a great carnivorous diversion from the usual chicken or beef.

I can't tell you how much Dave and I enjoy grilled pork chops. If done right, they are flavorful and juicy, just as the ones we made last night. What I invented last night sounded like something Giada would make.

Grilled Pork Chops with Rosemary & Garlic

4 pork chops (I used boneless; Kroger was out of bone-in, but whatever you've got will work)
couple sprigs of fresh rosemary (thank you, Christy, for that lovely rosemary plant that I by some miracle haven't killed yet)
one clove of garlic
salt & pepper
extra virgin olive oil

Preheat grill. Prepare a rub for the pork by chopping together the garlic, rosemary, and salt. Mince it into a paste with a sharp knife, or grind together with a mortar and pestle. Set aside. Rub pork chops with oil, pepper generously, then massage the rub into the meat. Grill until cooked through (use a meat thermometer: make sure it registers 170 degrees). Set aside and cover with tin foil, allow to rest for 5 minutes so the juices redistribute and the pork stays juicy.

We devoured these with homemade mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus.

And I know this is random, but if I had all the money in the world, the first thing I'd do is hire someone to go out and buy me all the clothes that Giada wears. I'm sure it helps to have a husband who works for Anthropologie. But still. I love her clothes. All of them.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Cheeseburger with Caramelized Onions, Bacon, and White Wine Dijon Pan Sauce

I just made the most ah-mazing cheeseburger. I would have taken a picture for you, but I ate it too fast. And I'm lazy.

First, you must make:

Caramelized Onions
1 white onion (preferably Vidalia), sliced very thinly
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tablespoon butter
salt & pepper & sugar

Heat a pan (preferably stainless steel; nonstick just doesn't work for caramelizing onions, based on my experience) with the oil and butter over medium-high heat. Add onions after pan is hot; quickly add salt, pepper and a dash of sugar. Stir frequently and cook until the onions are a dark golden brown, anywhere from 25-45 minutes. There will be lots of brown bits on the bottom. This is ok. Leave them, and make the pan sauce, as follows:

White Wine Dijon Pan Sauce
Start out with the brown bits leftover from the caramelized onions. If a few of the onion bits are still there, all the better. Immediately after removing the caramelized onions, pour about 1/2 cup of white wine into the pan, and scrape up the brown bits. Toss in 1 tablespoon honey, 1 teaspoon dijon mustard, and 1 tablespoon heavy cream. Simmer slowly until sauce has reduced by about half. Serve at room temperature on top of grilled burger, or marinate the burger in the sauce before grilling.

To assemble the burger:
Start out with a pound of ground beef. Take a cue from Ina Garten and, before making patties, add salt, pepper, about a tablespoon of mustard, and couple tablespoons of olive oil to the meat. Grill the patties like that, or marinate them in the pan sauce above (this was delicious).

Grill burgers on direct high heat for 8-12 minutes. The last minute of grilling, throw the buns on the grill to warm them, and put cheese on the burgers. What kind of cheese? All I had tonight was Kraft American 2% singles. I ate a tiny corner of one of the pieces by itself, and it tasted like chemicals. Yuck. So, if you have something gourmet and sliced, by all means go for it. I think a nice, sharp cheddar would be fantastic on these burgers.

Top with ketchup, mustard, caramelized onions, and bacon. Drizzle the cooked burger with the remaining pan sauce.

Trust me: it's amazing.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Homemade Iced Coffee

Caffeine. Coffee, especially. I'm sure I could live without it, but why in God's name would I want to? Despite my love of the java, I must admit: when I first heard about "iced coffee," I turned up my nose in disgust. But then several years ago, on a really hot, summer day, in desperate need of caffeine and not thrilled about a hot beverage, I tried a Starbucks iced coffee with vanilla syrup and cream. I was hooked. Love at first taste. Iced coffee is chuggable, in a way no other beverage is for me (save for water). And, it gets expensive, especially when you have a coffee habit like I do.

So I can't tell you how excited I was when I finally figured out that homemade iced coffee is (a) way, way cheaper than coffee shop coffee, (b) something that can be kept in my fridge at all times for instant access/caffeine fix, and (c) more fun than store-bought coffee because of the many customizable, also homemade, sweeteners I add. I've mentioned the phrase "homemade iced coffee" in regular conversation over the past week, and every time I do, I get asked for the recipe. So here you go.

I should note first, that @bobzuercher used to come into the office raving about the massive amounts of homemade iced coffee he drank, made with his French press. Having purchased and used a French press, I agree that it is a marvelous tool that results in a simply divine cup of coffee. It also requires a little more cleaning/maintenance than my Melitta Mill & Brew, and despite what a lot of you think, I am lazy. I save the French press method only for when I feel like I have extra time. The Mill & Brew works perfectly well for this coffee, as will whatever coffee maker you prefer.

Plain Iced Coffee
regular brewed coffee (make it strong, readers!)

Brew a pot of coffee. Let it come to room temperature. Put it in a pitcher/sealed container in the fridge, allow to cool. When you're ready, fill a big glass of ice and pour the coffee. Top with half & half (did you know they have fat free half & half now? I can't taste a difference in mixed drinks). Stir and chug.

Like your coffee sweet? I certainly do. I'm from Alabama. We are born with a genetic code that predisposes us to prefer sweet, and lots of it. Try this vanilla simple syrup as an add-in:

Vanilla Simple Syrup
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a small saucepan over medium heat, dissolve sugar in water, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and immediately stir in the vanilla extract. Allow to cool to room temperature, then add to your coffee; this concoction will keep in the fridge in an air-tight container for at least a week.

Don't like vanilla? Try hazelnut (instead of vanilla extract, add Frangelico or other hazelnut liquor), amaretto (yep, you guessed it, no vanilla/add amaretto liquor), or any other liquor or flavoring you prefer.

Enjoy being wide awake all summer long!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

But at Least I Got this Cute Purse

Anyone who's been around me since this time last year has seen one of my two favorite purses: the purple or teal big-ass bag that I carry everywhere. It really doesn't bother me that they're so big that I can't ever find anything. My cell phone rings and rings, I dig for it, can't find it until it's too late (or I realize it was in my pocket the whole time... a la Shemanski/Olive Graduation Party 2009). Need an ink pen? There's one in there. Good luck finding it. Where's my wallet? Probably buried under the notepad, four tubes of lipgloss, and eyeglass case. Laptop? Check. Fits perfectly.

I bought the bags for $20 each at Target last summer. My only regret was that I didn't also get a yellow one. Well, look what I found yesterday before I got really frustrated with strange elasticky tops!

A Cheap, Cute, Yellow Bag at Target.

I can't wait to use it. The pockets will certainly help with the organization issue of version 1.0.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

An Open Letter to the Fashion Industry

Dear Fashion Industry,

Please stop putting elastic in random, unflattering places in tops and dresses. Letting the clothing hang at a natural waistline has worked really well for a long time. If I want something cinched, I'll put a belt on it. I'm sure the elastic-at-the-bottom-of-the-tank top gives (the probably malnourished, definitely skinnier and taller than most normal human beings) models at your runway shows much needed definition to an otherwise scrawny, scary looking, and just plain unattractive, unnatural and unwomanly frame. But, this look just doesn't translate to anyone who has any sort of figure other than that. On behalf of everyone who doesn't look like a model, I implore you: stop with the random elastic.

And if you continue to put elastic in random places in clothing, would you please just save those items for overpriced boutiques and runway shows? For the love of God, don't send your leftovers to TJ Maxx and don't let the clothing buyers for Old Navy and Target get the crazy idea that just because you say it's in style, that it is. You are ruining my ability to find decent and affordable clothing.

Making it work,

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Mario Lopez Story

Ah, the things you find out via Twitter. @Bobzuercher, a dear friend/colleague, made me aware that @MarioLopezExtra was going to be at the Fayette Mall today in Lexington. I had to resist the urge to jump in Cindy Rae and make the drive back up I-75 to see him. I'll explain why in a moment.

But now, I will pause for a moment for those of you who already know my Mario Lopez story to laugh. If you were to write a collection of short essays summarizing my life, this one would definitely have to go in there. It's classic. My friends still laugh at/with me about it. Bob was unaware of the story, and it's too good to write down and not share with the world. So. Here goes the story in its entirety, for the first time in printed (sort of?) word.

The Mario Lopez Story

It was December, 2001. I was a junior in college, on my way to visit a friend in Columbus, Ohio, that I visited just about every Christmas break since we'd met in 1998. (For the record: I no longer visit this person, which is another story for another day.) I was already distracted for two reasons: (a) I was really, really excited to see the person who'd meet me at the airport, and (b) I was reading, for the first time, Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman. I was enthralled. It's a brilliant book, and it kept my mind occupied during the flight (this is also back before I got motion sickness while reading on a plane or in a car).

My flight that day took me from Nashville to Cincinnati, and from Cincy to Columbus. I made it to Cincy just fine, and boarded my connecting flight, which was on a very, very small jet and a very, very short flight. I had seat 1B - and it wasn't first class! The plane filled up, and right before we were supposed to take off, a very good looking Latino man stepped on board, looking a little frazzled. I remember what he was wearing: dark purple Nike windsuit pants, and a gray UCLA sweatshirt. He had jet black hair and was gorgeous. I looked up from my book, noticed him, and noticed the fact that seat 1A was the only empty seat on the plane. He sat down, and smiled. All I saw were dimples and big, white teeth.

Now, the first thing that popped into my head was, "oh, I bet he's a football player since he has on a UCLA sweatshirt, and he's so big, tall and muscular. Too bad I don't keep up with college football; I'd probably know who he is. I bet I can get him to tell me who he is."

The conversation that followed went *exactly* like this:
LB: Hi!
ML: Hi there. **big smile with dimples again**
LB: Where are you from?
ML: **still smiling** I'm from LA, and where are you from?
LB: Alabama.
ML: **raises an eyebrow** Ohhh.

Still totally unaware that I'm SITTING BY MARIO FREAKING LOPEZ, I feel stupid. I think, "Gosh. I should KNOW who this person his; he's probably like a Heisman winner or something, what an idiot. Why didn't I spend more time memorizing sports trivia in scholars' bowl? Darn." (this is also before I was ADPi president, and subsequently, learned to curse without feeling guilty.)

Being the people observer that I am, I noticed stares. In our direction. At me, especially. That kind of stare that says, "why aren't you talking to him? And fawning over this person?" I'm still oblivious, and go back to Postman. Ten minutes after takeoff, the flight attendant came over, and asked for his autograph. Mario graciously provided his signature on the back of a boarding pass, and was very polite.

Now, I think, I really should know who this guy is. I try again.

LB: **smiles my best, sweetest smile, which is actually quite awkward at this point** Now, I KNOW that I've seen you somewhere before. I just can't place who you are.
ML: **smiles, in disbelief** Well, I've done some acting. And I'm co-hosting this show called "The Other Half" with Danny Bonaduce.
LB: (having never watched "The Other Half," thinks he's a wannabe.) Oh, ok. Well it's nice to meet you.
ML: **smiles and goes right back to reading his US Weekly**

We sit in silence the rest of the flight. He smells really, really good. His arm is touching mine the entire time. He handed me peanuts with a smile. I'm still oblivious.

The flight lands, and Mario bolts off before anyone has a chance to notice him. For some reason, I got stuck waiting on everyone else to disembark, and I was the very last person off the plane. As I left, the flight attendant started this conversation:

FA: Oh my gosh, how did it feel to sit next to someone so famous??
LB: *puzzled* what are you talking about? I had no idea who that guy was. Who was he?
(all the FA's stare in disbelief, start shaking their heads) FA: Um, that was Mario Lopez.
LB: **blank stare**
FA: You know. AC Slater, from Saved by the Bell?

At this point, you could have knocked me over with a feather. I stared out into the jetway, feeling like a complete and total moron. I SAT BY MARIO LOPEZ?! And DIDN'T KNOW IT WAS HIM?! I wanted to run, fast, to catch up with him, tell him I loved him, and his work, and what was Mark-Paul Gosselar really like? And what'd you think about Elizabeth Berkeley in Striptease? And did you ever hook up with Tiffani-Amber Theissen in real life? But no. These, and other relevant, important questions, would have to wait for another lifetime. I missed my chance.

Words cannot express the level of stupidity I felt at this moment. Nor can I offer any explanation for how I never figured out that I was sitting next to a favorite childhood star. But I can tell you this: I promised myself that someday, somehow, I would run into Mario Lopez again. And I would explain myself. And apologize for not knowing who he was. I believe he'd remember me. And probably accept my apology. And then ask me out for a drink or two, and we'd become friends.

Apparently, I'm going to have to check his travel schedule and make that happen this summer.

The End.