I’m not used to the idea of “favorites.” I definitely have favorites, but I don’t naturally catalogue things that way. As a child, I had to memorize lists of my own favorites for the omnipresent class exercises involving children informing the class of theirs, and only began to find the process natural once I started comparing things in detail, sometimes with written pro and con lists, to suss out the fine gradations of my own enjoyment. Most of the time, I am too aware of things other people put in the same bins as different from one another to try to quantify them with the same measuring stick, but associative games are another talent I have, and I learned to play them with the best.
So, I set myself a challenge, with a joking Facebook meme inviting people to ask for my Top Fives in categories of their choosing. My friends, being my friends, offered up a downright bizarre selection for me, with which I now do what I do best: give needlessly well-thought-out answers.
- Top five tinned foods.
A Briton asked me this, which surprises me only a little less than an American asking me, “tinned” versus “canned” notwithstanding. So, the top five:
Vienna sausages, entirely because they are critical to my beloved arroz con salchichas.
Herring, based on how much I enjoyed śledź sandwiches with sharp Polish horseradish mustard at Ania’s parents’ home on past holidays. It remains an occasional treat, because of its exceptionally strong fish flavor, but one I eagerly seek. This is a bit of a cop out, because it comes in jars rather than cans, but the same preservation principles apply.
Spam. I have fond memories of my grandmother making a breakfast of fried Spam slices with eggs, in the old and honorable tradition of low-income Puerto Ricans extracting beauty from inexpensive cured meats. Spam’s breakfast-sausage-like combination of salt and mild spice will always be attached to those memories, even if my parents disdain the stuff.
Palm hearts, just because I rarely meet anyone else who has so much as heard of them, let alone enjoys their odd combination of salt, crunch, and creaminess.
Diced tomatoes, because they mean customizable pasta sauce.
- Top five songs.
“Favorite song” used to be one of my most dreaded “what’s your favorite?” exercises, because my mental catalogue of what songs I enjoyed was not particularly thorough or well-indexed. I’m better at this now, and hope to introduce some of you to new things here today.
“Together We Make a Promise” by Cori Yarckin has become, by leaps and bounds, my absolute favorite piece of music. It has the exact ascending chords I most enjoy, a female lead, a focus on lyrics rather than background, and an appearance as the ending credits music of Pokémon Ranger and the Temple of the Sea, from which a substantial amount of the lore (and several characters) in “A Better, Shinier World” are either borrowed or based. Whenever I play music on my own, I start with this song. The chorus: Together we’ll make a promise / To never forget it all / We’ve only scratched the surface / Of worlds we’ll come to know / Together moving forward / Even though we’re far apart / So safe and sound inside our hearts / We keep our word until we are together once again.
“Gravity” by Sara Bareilles is a powerful exploration of what it feels like to be in a toxic relationship, where one feels emotionally drawn to someone whom one knows is doing them no good. No part of “Gravity” stands properly alone from the rest, so give the whole song a listen.
“I Can’t Decide” by Scissor Sisters gets a spot despite my initial plan to have only women’s voices here, because it is such a pricelessly funny journey through the violent yet codependent relationships that long-term rivals can develop. It was put to particularly apt use in the Year that Never Was arc in Doctor Who and has several fantastic fan-made music videos.
“Follow Your Arrow” by Kacey Musgraves is, for the time being, my favorite country song. The downright pleading sincerity of her voice, mixed with occasional humor, appeals to the earnest softness in my heart. More importantly, though, “Follow Your Arrow” is loaded with an honestly ridiculous level of the-lady-doth-protest-too-much queercoding (Make lots of noise / kiss lots of boys / kiss lots of girls if that’s something you’re into / If the straight and narrow gets a little too straight…) that I can’t not smile every time I hear it.
“White Wine in the Sun” by Tim Minchin is, as far as I’m concerned, a pinnacle that Christmas music will never exceed, and not just because few other Christmas songs take an explicitly atheist perspective. Tim Minchin is at his best in this song, explaining with deep emotion the importance of Christmas as a cultural institution and as a time for far-flung families to meet and feel each other’s warmth again. As someone for whom this is the primary social value of Christmas, whose family is both far-flung and largely estranged, this is poignant; as someone who also has fond memories of Christmases featuring subtropical outdoor fun, it is a rare example of Christmas music that directly addresses my own experience. There is, however, a positive reference to Richard Dawkins that, these days, I could do without.
If folks are surprised that such gems as Idina Menzel’s “Let It Go” didn’t make the list…I made a conscious effort to pick five that might actually be new to some of my readers.
- Top five pasta dishes.
This is a good one. I eat a lot of pasta, which I honestly shouldn’t because of my dietary restrictions, and it remains something I look forward to. Wikipedia tells me that the term “pasta” doesn’t include East Asian noodle concepts such as bánh phở and udon, which surprises me, but I will abide by the resulting stricture.
Spaghetti with kiełbasa is one of my comfort foods, explored in detail in this recipe.
Seafood linguine is an occasional treat for when I’m feeling especially decadent. Everything is better with shrimp in it, except for the ecology of the Southeast Asian coastlines where most restaurant shrimp in the West are raised.
Ania likes to make penne with marinara or (even better) Bolognese sauce, add a mix of Parmigiano-Reggiano and sharp cheddar, and then bake it. The result is conceptually similar to the Italian-American specialty “baked ziti,” and just as wonderful.
I have a comparably intense fondness for short pasta, particularly radiatori, in marinara sauce with Italian-style meatballs. This simple construction, or something like it, was a Friday treat for myself while I was living alone, and I still occasionally seek out frozen Italian-style meatballs with these variations in mind.
Last but most definitely not least is the creamy deliciousness of macaroni and cheese, whether made with fancy cheese and bread crumbs in a restaurant or with hot dog slices and cheese powder on a low-effort evening. The fact that, up here, it’s called “Kraft Dinner” also pleases me.
- Top five numbers.
I am partial to seven, eight, nine, twelve, and fifteen. Seven, eight, and nine feature in a number of chord patterns and rhyme schemes that I enjoy when I encounter them in music, and eight in particular is the standard count for salsa. Twelve is a number that features as the base of several ancient number systems (including the one that underlies modern clocks and calendars) and is also the set length I used to use for exercise. Fifteen is an age with ritual significance in Hispanic culture and also one of the first sizes for which geometric patterns (in this case, 5 × 3) begin becoming satisfying to observe.
This actually took more thought than either the songs or the pasta.
- Top five Vogon poetry quotes.
Being distant from the land of the Vogons, I can only approximate the soul-hemorrhaging horror of their poetry with a few choice excerpts from what I can only assume are direct translations from the original Vogonese:
“Joy fills her heart like a silent but deadly fart fills a room with no windows.”
“It sounded like a walrus giving birth to farm equipment.”
“With the fiery intensity of a urinary tract infection.”
“Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity’s mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world’s thirstiest gerbil.”
“He always imagined a baby moose being beaten with a pair of accordions.”
- Top five love songs.
Honestly, a random selection from the 14 videos in A Very Alyssa Playlist will land on a decent approximation of my top five love songs.
- Top five fishes.
This again? Y’all are great.
Sea Robin / Flying Gurnard. Look at this animal. If a bat was a fish, it would be this fish. It has tiny bony “toes” that it uses to move around precisely on the seafloor and huge butterfly-like fins for the rest of the time. This is the kind of hybrid creature I would happily turn loose upon my D&D world, preferably the size of a truck. (The real ones are about 1 meter at the largest.)
The ornate bichir, in part because of the contortions people get into to not say its name because of the unflattering pronunciation it invites (it’s bee-SHEER, by the way). The bichir’s major claim to fame, however, is that its very unusual position on the vertebrate evolutionary tree means that many of the features that, in later vertebrates, developed into shoulder and neck bones have not been as tightly repurposed as they have in more ordinary fish, allowing the bichir to turn its head and use its front fins to flop about surprisingly effectively on land. It also retains functional lungs. There is a reason its kin are known as “dinosaur eels” in the pet trade.
The barreleye, because what you all need to see is a fish that apparently decided that mounting its eyeballs deep inside its head, directed upward, and developing a transparent cranium was a solution to a problem it had.
This boxfish, because it looks like a tiny die, is essentially a bone box with eye- and limb-holes and skin on the outside, and also emits poison into the water around it while scared, making the idea of eating one a…dicey proposition.
Miscellaneous Ceratioid Anglerfish. While anglerfish are fascinating monsters all on their own, this beast’s claim to fame is its magnificently strange mating biology. The ovarian morph is about the size of an American football, while the testicular morph is much smaller. When one of the latter encounters the former, it latches onto her body, bores into her flesh, and begins degenerating, ultimately becoming a sac with vestigial fins containing little more than its testes. An old specimen may have dozens of these de facto scrotums sticking out of her face and body in every direction. If a glowing mouth-monster covered in a well-earned collection of degenerate scrotums does not appeal to you, there is no joy in your heart.
- Top five organs.
I see you didn’t specify human, so this will be fun.
The top of this list will always and forever be the clitoris, long may she reign.
I find swim bladders amusing because of my experiences with them during my graduate education. A fish’s swim bladder is derived from a primitive lung, which itself is derived from the digestive tract. While particularly advanced fish have a swim bladder that is separate from anything else and fed gas through the blood, more primitive fish still feed intestinal gas into the swim bladder instead. This means that, if you’re a graduate student dissecting out nearby organs such as the liver, and you accidentally puncture the swim bladder, the fish you are dissecting treats you to a nice posthumous fart. So that’s a charming hazard I had to deal with as a Ph.D. student.
I quite like eyes. Human neurology is optimized for the eyes being a much larger proportion of overall sensory input than is true for most other mammals, and that means that eyes provide many of us, including me, with tremendous pleasure. Eyes are also themselves beautiful and one of the few places where humans can have endogenous pigments other than brown. Cephalopod eyes make more sense, though; our retinas are backwards and waste a lot of light.
Hands perhaps stretch the idea of organs, but I’m quite fond of them, visually and practically. Having such a flexible, manipulable collection of sensory endings at the end of a limb leads to an enormous variety of pleasure, in addition to enabling the grasping of objects for fun and glory.
I would be remiss if I did not include that most undersung of organs, the skin. Skin protects us against desiccation, is riddled with regulatory structures such as sweat glands to maintain overall health, and provides a rich assortment of sensations for informational and…other…effect. The skin definitely deserves more love.
- Top five wardrobe essentials.
There are indeed five specific items no fabulous femme dealing with some variation on Western fashion norms should be without.
A denim skirt of knee-length or shorter. Denim skirts are stylistically compatible with virtually any top, providing enormous versatility. They are particularly useful for incorporating fitted t-shirts, which usually look best with pants, into a skirt-focused wardrobe
Strappy sandals. Nothing looks better than strappy sandals.
A sweater-dress. Look at Lana Kane and tell me that is not a wardrobe essential.
A little black dress. Or five, like I have. From funerals to cocktail parties, the little black dress is a classic for a reason, suited to nearly any occasion where casual attire is inappropriate. Its sexiness is difficult to overstate.
This specific top. I don’t know if it has a name, but this specific top is the single most critical piece of my wardrobe. Everything looks good with it. It is the center of most of my “professional” outfits for interviews and presentations. It is deep black, its back is lower than its front, and it has elbow-length sleeves. It’s also curiously ideal for photography where the only other things I’m wearing are jewelry and underwear, but that’s for another time.
These pieces are nowhere near a complete femme wardrobe on their own, but they are critical components that are tricky to substitute, and that makes them the top five.
- Top five augmented sixth chords.
Um. There is a diagram of a tesseract on the Wikipedia page about this. I am out of my depth. TESSERACT.
- Top five top fives.