Ku Klux Klams

Ku Klux KlamsClams are, by instinct and necessity of location, bottom feeders. They spend most of their lives buried under the sand, revealing themselves only at high tide, which is when they seem to be happiest, as the saying goes.

Due to a rather unnatural and difficult-to-explain-to-the-rest-of-the-world phenomenon which occurred on or around the 8th of November of this year, millions of clams have simultaneously decided it was safe to come out of their marine and freshwater hiding places.

What, you might ask, can we do with such a surprising and overwhelming abundance? One’s natural instinct is to eat them. But how?

Clams in white wine and garlic are always a treat. New England clam chowder, too. But these recipes feel tainted, like they just aren’t white enough for the current American tastes.

After an exhaustive search, I have found the perfect recipe for Today’s America deep in the bowels of Breitbart.com’s underused and discontinued food page*. I have merely changed  a few of the directions, added a few notes, and given it a catchier name to avoid copyright infringement.

Ku Klux Klams

Warning: Clams are unashamed shell-dwellers and are therefore treif. Sorry, Jews.

Serves: Quite possibly 4 to 8 years.

Ingredients:

For the Steamed Clams:

• 50 littlehand littleneck clams. Do not use Manila clams as they are invasive and tend to steal healthcare jobs.
• 4 tablespoons of butter. If you are avoiding butter for health reasons, use bacon grease. If you use olive oil, your neighbors may accuse you of being Catholic or, worse, Greek Orthodox.
• 1/2 white onion, finely diced. Do not add garlic (see above).
• 8 ounces of clam juice
• 1/2 can of real beer, which is any beer with a proper German name or wrapped in an American flag.

To make White Sauce**

• 2 tablespoons of butter
• 2 tablespoons of white flour
• ¼teaspoon of salt
• 1/8 teaspoon of white pepper (Note: black pepper will ruin the purity of your sauce.)
• 1 cup of whole milk.

Instructions:

1.  Heat butter and/or bacon grease in a large, heavy-bottomed pot (which is accompanied
by a tight-fitting lid). Dutch ovens are grudgingly acceptable. Add the onion and sauté
until transparent and almost ghostlike. Add beer and whisk together.

2.  Add clams and clam juice to the pot, cover, and let seethe for 8 to 10 minutes until they
open. Any clams which refuse to open up should be set aside and commended.

3.  As the clams stew in their juices, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan over
low heat. Add flour, salt, and white pepper. Stir until the mixture smooths and bubbles.
Do not overcook or allow to turn any shade of brown.

4. Stir in the milk and heat, whipping it up into an alarming froth for about one minute or
until it thickens enough to coat anything it touches.

5. Remove clams from their broth and place them in a large porcelain (white) serving
bowl. Enrobe the clams by pouring the white sauce over them in violent, swirling
motions. Do not garnish.

Editor’s Note: To serve, bring the bowl to your guests who have assembled hungrily around your table. Stare down at your handiwork and recoil in horror at what you’ve just created. You are more than welcome to break down in tears at this moment. Your guests will be confused, but they will wait. Apologize to them, stating that no one has to eat this garbage and that you’re sorry you ever brought it to the table in the first place. Remove the clams from the table, place in a heavy-duty garbage bag, tie firmly closed, and throw away immediately. Remind yourself to scrub the hell out of your kitchen in the morning.

Return to the table with cheese and crackers or whatever you might have on hand that will tide over your guests for the next 60 minutes until the Pakistani food you ordered from GrubHub arrives. Pour a round of drinks and wonder what other kinds of crap people will try to feed you over the next few years.

Stock up on more alcohol.

* There is no food page on Breitbart.com. Please tell me you knew that.

** Or, if you are one of my French readers who is a fan of Marine Le Pen, sauce béchamel.

Posted in Rants and Stories, Savories | Tagged , , , | 24 Comments

A Columbus Day Casserole

columbus

National holidays can be hard to get through. Christmas and Thanksgiving might be emotionally fraught, but I’ve found myself especially stymied by Columbus Day. I mean, how exactly does one go about celebrating appropriately?

Because I’m both culturally sensitive and a giver, I have decided to offer my readers a peek inside my own struggle regarding how to properly observe the achievements of this famous Italian explorer by sharing a few passages from my daily journal. May you and your family, whether Italian-American or the inheritors of some lesser heritage, find inspiration from it.

Friday, October 7th, 2016.

As someone who is genetically very Italian and rumored to be subtly Native American, it should come as no surprise that I am conflicted about Columbus Day. On the one hand, it was once a way for Italian-Americans to feel a sense of pride in themselves when the rest of the country regarded them as nothing better than mafiosi organ grinders’ monkeys. On the other, the holiday was and is a painful reminder to the survivors of every Pre-Columbian civilization in the Americas of the dawn of a New Age of genocide, thievery, plague, and slavery.

What then is a reveller to do?

Last year, I went to a potluck.

I thought long and hard about what might be appropriate to bring to a Columbus Day dinner attended mostly by people I’d never met before. After a short while, the answer was obvious: in honor of the great man himself, I decided I would show up unannounced, enslave my host and fellow guests, then kill up to 96% of them with a disease-laden casserole. If all went to plan, I could then force the survivors to remove all the gold from the house. If they came to me empty-handed, I would chop off said appendages, hang them around their necks, and send them off to the building next door to serve as a warning. And if I still had enough energy, I’d consider raping the younger folk while stubbornly calling them by their wrong name: Indians.

It sounded like a good plan, but I made one rather unfortunate mistake: I decided to bring a potato gratin. Potatoes wouldn’t be discovered for another forty years*. And in Peru, of all places, which isn’t anywhere near India. My attempt at cultural sensitivity was instead an exercise in cultural inauthenticity. Not a single dinner guest perished. And, when I announced my plan to force them into bondage, I was met with giggles, dirty jokes, and the pouring of more wine.

Processed with Snapseed.This year will be different. I will make a proper Italian casserole. I will make lasagne. Although it is probably Greek in origin and tomatoes weren’t encountered until the same time and place as the potato, it doesn’t matter because history will be kind to my potluck dish. I will fill it with cheese to stuff up and slow down my unsuspecting and most likely lactose-intolerant native hosts. I will take my concoction to a Marin County Day Care Center to let unvaccinated children cough all over it, then return home and leave it on a warm, humid counter overnight to incubate.

All that will be left to do is find the nearest Taino or Arawak social club, show up, and tell everyone to dig in.

The New World will soon be mine.

Saturday, October 8th, 2016

Bad News. I have just discovered a fatal flaw in my latest plan. There aren’t any Taino people left because Mr. Columbus and his kind drove them to extinction in the 16th Century. I have learned that there are plenty of Puerto Rican people who are genetic descendants, but many have Spanish DNA as well, which means that, after several centuries of European domination, they would probably see through my plan right away. Although they may accept it because their economy is a disaster and they are more than likely fully immune to diseases of European origin by now.

I may try subduing some of the locals from the Bay Area. I know they’re historically wise to the infected blanket trick, but I’m unwilling to chance them falling for a diseased casserole. It was so expensive to make!

Why the hell do people feel the need to celebrate Columbus anyway? To do his work any justice is a tremendous pain in the ass. I don’t even want to get into all the mayhem, murder, and possible jail time which might ensue. Why can’t we find someone of Italian-American heritage more fun and ethically benign to celebrate? What about Frank Sinatra? Mob ties. Enrico Fermi? He’d be great, if one doesn’t mind ignoring the whole “architect of the nuclear bomb” business. Lady Gaga? Still alive. Al Capone? (See: mob ties).

Dean Martin
After much soul-searching, I have decided next year to celebrate the life and achievements of Dean Martin. Everybody loved him. He was much funnier that Jerry Lewis, a better singer than Perry Como, and was never quite as drunk as he led people to believe.

To hell with slavery and pestilence. Next year, I’m going to drink bourbon and watch Rio Bravo while fiddling with my Italian plums. So much less stress.

It’s a pity about my casserole though. I put so much work into making it. I just wish I could put it to good use.

Sunday, October 9th, 2016.

Great News! I have just discovered that tomorrow isn’t just Columbus Day, but Canadian Thanksgiving to boot! If I leave now, I just might cross the Saskatchewan border in time for tomorrow’s dinner. I’ll bring it to the first home I see. I’m certain I’ll be welcomed because everyone knows Canadians are too polite to say “no”– especially on Thanksgiving. And they’ve probably never even seen lasagne because I don’t think Italians have ever made it that far north.

What could possibly go wrong?

 

 

*The Peruvians had been cultivating the potato for several thousands of years, but only Europeans are capable of “discovery”.

Posted in Holidays, Rants and Stories, Savories | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

The Fruitlessness of Hope

peach-loaner-2When I was ten, my father made the well-intentioned error of taking me to see Gone With the Wind on the occasion of its 40th anniversary theatrical re-release. I may have walked into the theater thinking we were about to watch an Irwin Allen-style disaster film about hurricanes, but I walked out four and a half hours later obsessed with Vivien Leigh, faking a Southern accent and, of all things, desperate for a peach tree.

I begged and begged my mother for one. We were the only family on the block whose yard did not bear fruit. The Gerritzes on our left owned a highly productive apricot tree, about  a third of whose branches hung over the wall into our own yard. The Hoffarts across the street grew beefsteak tomatoes and lemons. The Ayers family were the proud owners of an obscenely large fig tree and grew artichokes. And Lyle the bachelor on our right had palm trees, which technically bore fruit, but he was the only neighbor with a pool, so he got a free pass.

Our neighborhood was so fruitful during the summer that bags of produce would simply be abandoned on our doorstep like fructifying orphans in desperate need of a home. Or consumption.

My family’s yard, however, was a place where vegetation went to die. The winter blossoms of our camellia bush seemed to be born bruised. My mother’s rose garden was no more than a collection of prickle-spiked skeletons with sparse, powdery leaves which, when they did flower, seemed so exhausted after giving birth that they drooped for the rest of the year. The only plants that thrived were the oleander bushes which, if eaten, would induce nausea, depression, and death. I figured a peach tree would help our horticultural image.

After weeks of nagging, my mother, who resisted the idea of a tree interrupting the expanse of our back lawn, finally relented. One day, there was a little peach tree laying on its side in the back of her station wagon, buffered by bags of groceries.

I agonized over its placement in the yard, finally settling on a spot where it could easily be monitored from the kitchen door window.

I dug a hole in the middle of our lawn, removed the plastic from around its roots, gently lowered it in, filled the gaps with earth, watered it, and then waited for the magic to happen.

peaches-poachingI had big plans for that tree. It would grow tall and healthy and strong, defying the grim fate of everything else in the yard. As I grew older and bigger myself, I would sit in its shade. A sun-ripened peach might choose to liberate itself from a high branch and drop into my awaiting hand in the hope of nourishing me as I read interesting biographies of Oscar-winning actresses. My tree would bear so much fruit, I could fill bags full of it and leave them on the doorsteps of neighbors. No one would have to guess who left them– everyone would know they came from me.

But season after season, that poor tree barely grew to pubescence, let alone adulthood. It provided no shade to speak of, nor much fruit. Three or four small peaches a year was about all it could summon the energy to produce. I watched and watered and waited, but nothing ever happened. And then I outgrew the thing in every sense of the word, moved away to college, and forgot all about it. My mother cut it down almost as soon as I left. A small hacksaw was all that was needed.

A few years ago on a visit home, the subject of the peach tree came up over dinner. My sister told me how she once hand-pollinated each blossom, which provided more fruit, but nothing to get especially excited about. I expressed my disappointment over it, reminding our mother of my broken dreams of shade and juicy nourishment. She took a little sip of iced tea, gave me a rather pitying look, and said, “Oh honey, it was a dwarf tree. I wasn’t about to have a full-grown tree in the yard. How did you not know that?”

Feeling betrayed, or at the very least duped, I replied, “Because you never told me!”

“Well, you’re smart. You should have figured it out,” she said, taking another sip from her glass.

But I didn’t figure it out. Like so many of my other childhood dreams, the tree never truly came to fruition. But it was a lovely hope to cling to for a while– like peach flesh clinging to its stone until it spoils and rots away in the heat, but much more slowly. Not that I would really know much about such things.

peaches-plated

Honey-Poached Peaches with Ricotta and Pistachio

It might be a little late in the season for peaches, but that never stopped my family. Thanks to the low yield of our tree, we were more accustomed to the flavor of canned peaches in syrup. When I set out to make this recipe, it didn’t dawn on me that I was making a more sophisticated version of them, with ricotta stepping up to replace the inexplicably beloved cottage cheese of my childhood. The pistachios do double duty in supplying a satisfying crunch and an even more satisfying dash of Sicilian-ness to the dessert.

Makes: 8 servings– about the entire annual yield of our tragic little tree.

Ingredients:

• 4 firm, but fairly ripe yellow peaches
• 4 cups of water
• 1 cup of sugar
• 1/2 cup of honey, I don’t care which sort of pollen the bees have rolled around in.
• 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped.
• Whole milk ricotta cheese. As much as you like.
• Even more honey, also as much as you like. It’s to sweeten the ricotta, which isn’t even
really necessary, if you don’t want to do it.
• Pistachios, finely chopped. They’re for garnishing, so as many as you prefer.

Preparation:

  1. Wash your peaches and slice a shallow “x” at the bottom end of each one. The idea is to cut the skin without going too deep, which will make their post-poaching peeling much less of a headache.
  2. Pour water, honey, and sugar into a medium Dutch oven or saucepan– something large and deep enough to allow the peaches to be submerged. Heat over medium-high heat to dissolve the sugar and honey into the water. You may add the eviscerated vanilla bean at any time.
  3. When the liquid starts to bubble, gently slip in the peaches. Splashing may cause injury, or worse, extra clean up. Keeping the liquid at a simmer, poach the peaches for roughly 8 minutes, turning the peaches, which seem more than willing to turn over on their bottoms, from time to time. If the tip of a paring knife slips through the flesh easily, your peaches are properly poached. Remove them from the liquid with a slotted spoon, let them cool slightly, and then peel off their skins. It doesn’t matter where you put them, as long as it’s not directly onto a dirty counter.
  4. Keep the liquid simmering. Though it may have done its duty poaching the peaches, it now wishes to become a lovely syrup. Let it gently bubble away until it has reduced by more than half. When you think it might be sufficiently syrupy, dribble a small amount onto a chilled plate. Is it? If yes, remove from the heat and strain through a fine sieve. No? Keep simmering until satisfied. Then you may strain.
  5. Slice the peaches in half, removing the pits. If you are ambitious, extremely patient, and have the available yard space, you may want to plant them and wait for them to grow into peach trees. I wish you luck. Place peach halves cut side down into a casserole or baking dish, pour over the warm syrup, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
  6. Spoon out the ricotta into a large bowl. Add a little honey. Or don’t. The very least you should be doing is aerating it a bit to lighten things up. Cover and refrigerate until you have occasion to use it.
  7. To serve, place peaches cut side up, spoon dollops– or great lashings, if you’re fans of The Famous Five— of ricotta in the center of each peach half, drizzle generously with syrup, sprinkle with chopped pistachio, and present one to your mother with a slightly accusing look.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

Lime in The Coconut

Lime and Coconut and DrugsI said, “Doctor, is there something I could take?”
I said, “Doctor, to relieve this belly ache?”

He said, “We’ll see, but right now I want you to haul your ass across the street to the hospital for some scans– I think you have appendicitis. And you know I’m your Nurse Practitioner and not your doctor, right?”

I was hoping for an easier, more pleasant response, like suggesting I might add a squirt of bright green citrus to the milky water of fresh palm drupe and consume it there on the spot, but I followed his advice and made my way to the emergency room, which was pleasantly underpopulated.

I was seen immediately, questioned, poked with needles, and scanned. Within an hour, a doctor appeared, introduced himself, and said, “Well, you’re staying here tonight! You’ve definitely got appendicitis, so we’re going to that that sucker out.”

It wasn’t exactly where I had hoped the day would take me.

Another hour passed until he returned and told me he wanted to do an EKG– he saw something besides my appendix on the scan he didn’t quite like. So a bed runner wheeled me back into the elevator and up to meet a gentleman named Lupe who placed a series of adhesive patches attached to wires onto my hairy chest, injected me with a gas solution, and rolled around my sternum the sort of magic wand that shows expectant mothers what’s brewing inside their wombs. Except there was no baby present, just a pumping heart and what looked like the shadows of ghosts inside of it.

He complimented me on the state of my lungs and sent me back downstairs.

Within the next hour, my friend Edward showed up with my computer, phone charger, and a couple of books. Shortly after that, my cousin Ann Marie showed up unexpectedly, having seen a photo I’d posted on Facebook entitled “P.G. [Wodehouse] and I.V.” She’s like that.

It was good to have her there when the doctor came back to announce that, not only did I have a clot on my left ventricle, but that I seemed to have suffered “a myocardial infarction” within the past few months.

“You mean, I had a mild heart attack?” I asked, for clarification. He nodded.

“We can’t do the appendectomy with that clot of yours. But we want to keep you here tonight to run some blood tests and keep an eye on you.” Ann Marie stayed with me until I was officially admitted and placed in a room, only disappearing long enough to return with some basic toiletries and ear plugs.

I can’t say that staying overnight in a hospital bed is a pleasant experiences– so much noise and poking and blood-letting and drugging every four hours, but the staff was uniformly kind. Especially Gypsy, the sexually ambiguous assistant who came in to take my blood pressure.

With so much time on my hands, I got to know my surroundings fairly well– the rolling table I could never quite adjust without ripping out the needles in my right arm; the plastic jug I thought would make a nice iced tea container until I realized it was for urine; the heart monitor, which was made by a company called Aramark, which was founded by my Uncle Hank. How appropriate, I thought. It was in a hospital that he met my Aunt Genevieve– she was the nurse he’d bummed a pack of smokes from while he was recovering from heart surgery. After his discharge, he returned with a whole carton and asked her out on a date.

The 1950’s seemed like such a glamorous time to be sick.

But there were no cigarettes for me. Or food or water, for that matter– I had more scans to perform.

My friend Craig dropped by for a couple of hours to keep me company and keep my mind on happier things.

Lime in Coconut
Since no surgery was possible, I was sent home the next evening with a laundry list of drugs– blood thinners, heavy antibiotics, cholesterol meds, chewable children aspirin. The next several days were spent going for short walks in the morning, napping, injecting needles into my stomach, swallowing pills, and sleeping some more.

I’ve been drowsy and in a general brain fog because of the drugs over the past couple of weeks, but I’ve felt just fine. And I’ve dozed off to far too many videos on Youtube. One episode of The Muppet Show caught my attention especially– Kermit the Frog and ensemble singing Harry Nilsson’s “Coconut”.

The thought of a refreshing glass of coconut water with a kick of refreshing lime sounded marvelous, so the following day I put the lime in the coconut, as lyrically instructed, drank them both up and came to a very important conclusion:

Harry Nilsson was a terrible mixologist. The concoction tasted bitter and slightly metallic. But then again, most things have tasted unpleasant lately. I poured the rest of the down the drain and went back to bed, full of forgiveness for Mr. Nilsson.

But I wasn’t really disappointed in the outcome. Quite the contrary, actually. I knew the drugs were working– the antibiotics were beating my appendix into submission, the cholesterol drugs were doing their thing, and the blood thinners were slowly helping my body dissolve the clot on my heart. I can wait a bit longer to start enjoying food again if it means I get to be alive.

If there was ever a luckier attack of appendicitis, I’d like to know about it. Had that supposedly useless organ not screamed for attention, the blood clot most likely would have been discovered by way of autopsy rather than by a simple scan.

I’ve had so many people reach out over the past few weeks, showing love and concern, which makes me grateful. I decided to write this post simply to let people know what’s been going on.

And to let everyone know that I am fine. My heart is pumping away normally, the brain fog is lifting, my sense of taste is coming back, the clot will dissolve, and I may very well have that appendix out in a few months.

But the next time I put it out there to the universe that I want to lose a few pounds, I should really be more specific about how I hope to achieve my goals.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 48 Comments

Hello, Vandergelder!

Horace VandergelderI’ve never been the sort of blogger who concerns himself much with how many pairs of eyeballs have graced his pages on any given day, but when I noticed my stat counter had reached 500,000 views a few days ago, my initial reaction was of the Peggy Lee-circa-1969 variety– after eight years of writing, IS THAT ALL THERE IS?

I have friends who achieve that in a week.

All those years of writing, creating recipes, and exposing myself. All that time, energy, and money spent. For what? It was like noticing one’s odometer had just ticked off half a million miles and thinking, “God, this car is really fucking old. It’s about time I got rid of it.” Annoyed, I shut my computer down and went to do something out of which I’d derive some real pleasure and satisfaction– washing the dishes.

It was when I was drying and seasoning my cast iron skillet that I realized I was being a complete jackass. As I rubbed a thin stream of oil into the surface of the hot pan with a wad of paper towel, I noticed that the vessel was so smooth and well seasoned that I could see myself reflected with only minor distortion in the thin sheen of hot fat. It was a rusted out mess when I bought it for $2 at a garage sale but, through years of effort and love and care, it has become something I’d be loath to ever part with.

Which, I have come to realize, is exactly how I feel something else. A straightforward bit of housework led me to look at my blog and its 500,000 views in a much more appreciative light.

I didn’t start this blog to become famous. I didn’t start it to become rich or popular or nab brand ambassadorships. I didn’t start it because I felt starved for attention or to keep up with my friends or to broaden my platform in order to get a book deal.

I started it because I thought I had some interesting stories to share and, over years of postings and hundreds of hours of writing, I think I’ve learned to tell those stories more and more clearly.

I started it because, frankly, I had absolutely no direction in life at the time and found a creative outlet both emotionally helpful and amusingly diverting.

I had absolutely no idea how many wonderful things could come from starting this strange little blog. I’ve met an obscene amount of interesting people, I’ve made an embarrassing amount of friends, and I’ve had so many good people guiding and rooting for me that if I mentioned them all by name it would feel like shameless bragging.

This blog has gotten me invited to symposia, conferences, parties, foreign countries, and dinners. It’s gotten me inclusions in anthologies, lots of award nominations, and even one actual award with my name correctly printed upon it. For writing. Which I learned to do right here.

It has also granted me the luxury of getting to choose my own literary agent. And that, dear readers, is bragging at its most naked and shameless.

Like cast iron, I suppose, a blog needs to be used and cared for on a regular basis, or it will turn to rust.

Momentary absence of good sense aside, I do realize that quality is far more important to quantity. I’d rather be nine people’s favorite thing than a hundred people’s ninth favorite thing. My readership might not be vast, but it’s comprised of some marvelously smart people who consistently manage to leave comments composed not only in complete sentences, but with wit and great care. And those of you who have dropped in to say hello over the years make me feel very rich indeed.

Maybe not as rich as, say, a Rockefeller, but rather as rich as Mr. Horace Vandergelder, the well-known, unmarried, half-a-millionaire.

500,000 views. Is that all there is? It would seem so. But instead of weary disappointment, I now choose to celebrate and to do so, I’ve decided to follow Miss Peggy Lee’s further advice, which is to break out the booze and have a ball, if that’s all there is.

Vandergelder Cocktail

The Horace Vandergelder

If you’ve no idea who Mr. Horace Vandergelder is, I understand. He is a character from a Thornton Wilder play entitled The Matchmaker, which was taken by composer Jerry Herman and turned into a hit Broadway musical called Hello, Dolly! starring Carol Channing and then taken by Gene Kelly and turned into a Hollywood musical starring, (inexplicably) Barbra Streisand as Dolly and Walter Matthau (wonderfully) as Vandergelder himself.

He is a turn-of-the-century tightwad, middle-aged grump. Though I am not a tightwad, I find the rest of the description personally apt. And, as previously stated, he is a well-known, unmarried half-a-millionaire. Though I am not exactly well-known, the rest is, of course, true.

This is a cocktail one would not associate with a known tightwad, as its ingredients are anything but cheap. But it would feel right at home at someplace as fancy as The Harmonia Gardens, which also happens to be where our grumpy hero finds himself in the film. And with cognac, champagne, and absinthe as its most notable players, this is a beverage which certainly could have been served in that plus belle of all époques, the turn of the last century. Well, plus belle if you’re a half-a-millionaire, at any rate.

Makes: One (grumpy, middle-aged man feel very happy to) drink.

Ingredients:

• 1 ¼ ounces of your best cognac
• 1 eye dropper’s worth of your deadliest absinthe
• ¼ ounce of your  freshest lemon juice
• ¼ ounce of your simplest of syrup
• Ice, for chilling, obviously
• A decent champagne
• Lemon peel for garnishing. Or whatever you like, really.

Preparation:

Pour cognac, absinthe, lemon juice, and syrup into a cocktail shaker that has been liberally filled with ice. Do as the name of the vessel into which these ingredients have been inserted suggests and do so vigorously until all is well-chilled.

Liberate the chilled mixture into a very cold champagne coupe (you may use a flute if you really insist but they’re not exactly fin-de-siècle, if you understand my meaning).

Top off the glass with champagne, garnish with lemon peel, or cherries and feathers, if that’s what you’re into, put on your Sunday clothes, take a seat somewhere there’s music playing, and say hello to your Vandergelder cocktail.

Repeat as often as necessary until the image of Barbra Streisand as Dolly Levi has been safely replaced with the likeness of Carol Channing or, if that is too upsetting for you, Pearl Bailey.

Or repeat as often as necessary until you stop comparing yourself to others and start appreciating just what it is you’ve got going on.

Posted in Liquids | Tagged , , , , , , | 61 Comments

BRATs.

I haven’t been thinking about food much for the past couple of weeks. In fact, I’ve been actively not thinking about it, which is difficult when one’s job is waxing rapturous about lamb entrails.

While I was putting my shirt back on after being gently poked and prodded, Mark, my nurse practitioner asked me a few questions and then told me he was putting me on what he referred to as the “BRAT” diet. He asked me if I knew what that was.

“I assume it’s an acronym for something” I said, “And by ‘something’, I’m going to guess it isn’t bourbon, rye, absinthe, and tequila.” I was correct.

“It actually stands for banana, rice, applesauce, and toast,” was his disheartening reply. “It’s bland, I know, but they’re all easily digestible. I’m going to put you on that and some antibiotics for a few days. Oh, and no dairy or alcohol for the time being, alright?”

Well, it was nice to know that the pain in my side wasn’t from a bursting appendix. When I first started experiencing the discomfort, I had to examine a children’s map of the human organs to find out where everything was situated. It was comforting to realize from the diagram that my liver wasn’t at risk, but embarrassing to realize that I had no previous knowledge as to precisely where that organ resides inside my body. So high up!

When I returned from the doctor’s office, I mentioned my new diet on Facebook and received a concerned note from a friend that perhaps I should eliminate the toast from my already meagre menu, just in case my trouble could be Celiac’s disease.

It was great to know that my friends should care to worry about me, but telling that my chiefest concern was that, if bereft of one quarter of my allowable diet, I would be left with only a BRA.

Anyway, not to worry. I’m doing just fine. In fact, it was good to slow down, cut out the cheese and the martinis, and really take stock of what I normally put into my body. But it did leave me feeling as bland as my current diet. And although I like to think of myself as easy to swallow, I don’t think I am meant to be easily digestible. I would say you could take that with a grain of salt, but my doctor would probably say that I need to watch the sodium, too, while I’m at it.

So my stomach, which I’ve always thought of as made of cast iron, is having to be re-seasoned. But it’ll be back to fighting form soon. As will this blog.

Just as soon as I start looking forward to eating again.

I recently modified the BRAT diet, substituting the rice for a glass of rosé. I and my stomach both did brilliantly. Please wish me luck this weekend when I will attempt to drink a mint julep in Brooklyn.

In the meantime, I will leave you with a photo of banana, rice, and applesauce sandwiched between two toasted pieces of white bread. Because, dear reader, I know you would wish to suffer along with me.

BRAT sandwich

Posted in Rants and Stories | Tagged , | 16 Comments

E Pluribus Pesto

garlic headI’d originally thought to make a foul, rust-colored dump cake to mock the most divisive political figure to come around in my lifetime, but both the idea and the recipe made me rather unwell. As I prepared and baked off the layers of canned mandarin oranges, sweet potato baby food, and white cake mix, I found myself not only getting sick to my stomach at the thought of having to eat the nasty thing, but angry at its monstrous, little-handed muse.  The longer it cooled on the counter, the hotter my blood seemed to boil.

My rapid increase in body temperature was most likely due to a rather unpleasant and persistent bout of influenza, but the timing of my illness was uncanny.

Every time I dragged myself into the kitchen to get a glass of water or some juice, that revolting orange-tinted baby seemed to stare at me from its place on the counter where I’d abandoned it, demanding my attention. After two days, I summoned enough energy to throw a towel over it and move it some place less conspicuous, reasoning that I’d figure out what to do with it when I felt a bit better. After five days, I’d figured it out– I scooped it into the garbage can where both it and its inspiration have always belonged.

I had spent several days in bed watching news clips and reading articles about this awful man, feeling increasingly helpless in my weakened state and had finally had enough. Even if it was just a disgusting, sugary effigy, it felt immensely satisfying to escort its slimy bottom from my favorite Pyrex dish (which was then thoroughly scrubbed and soaked in bleach) and usher it, sheathed in its own, private bin liner, out the back door and down the trash chute.

Crawling back into bed, I decided that, rather than obsess over the awful news posted in my Facebook feed, I’d console myself with more light-hearted fare, like a marathon of the British comedy quiz show QI. As I listened, eyes closed and half-dozing, I could have sworn I’d heard Stephen Fry say something about America’s former motto, “E Pluribus Unum,” having originated from a recipe for salad dressing. Curious, but rather opiated from NyQuil, I jumped the video back a few seconds to make certain I didn’t dream it.

I didn’t.

“Out of many, one”. How marvelous, I thought, that the aspirational dreams of the United States were once inspired by an Italian vinaigrette. I promised myself I would look into it as soon as I regained full consciousness.

The phrase “E Pluribus Unum” comes from the poem Moretum, for centuries attributed to that bane of schoolboy Latin, Virgil. In it, he (or whoever actually wrote it– no one is certain) describes the making of a meal by a poor farmer named Simylus as he sings and talks with his African slave, Scybale*.

herbsIn preparation, there is the gathering of what reads like salad fixings:

The ruddy onion, and a bed of leek
-For cutting, hunger doth for him subdue-,
And cress which screws one’s face with acrid bite,
And endive, and the colewort which recalls
The lagging wish for sexual delights.

He then pulls up a garlic bulb from his garden to make a dressing, to which he adds parsley, coriander seeds, salt, cheese, and “stiffness-causing rue”.

The bulb preserved from th’ plant in water doth
He rinse, and throw it into th’ hollow stone.
On these he sprinkles grains of salt, and cheese
Is added, hard from taking up the salt.
Th’ aforesaid herbs he now doth introduce
And with his left hand ‘neath his hairy groin
Supports his garment;’ with his right he first
The reeking garlic with the pestle breaks,
Then everything he equally doth rub
I’ th’ mingled juice. His hand in circles move:
Till by degrees they one by one do lose
Their proper powers, and out of many comes
A single colour, not entirely green
Because the milky fragments this forbid,
Nor showing white as from the milk because
That colour’s altered by so many herbs.

To this now-unified mix he adds olive oil, vinegar, and then hopefully washes his hands after touching his hairy groin.

In the meantime, Scybale has occupied himself by baking bread and sharing it with Simylus, the poet going so far as to note that Scybale, at least, has bothered to wipe his hands. They eat what they have made for lunch and then get back to work. The end.

It isn’t what I would call an exciting work, but it is evocative. The poem is pungent with sweat and salt and garlic and groins. And the dressing is no less so.

pesto

E Pluribus Pesto

I imagine you could also call it “Virgil’s Vinaigrette”, depending upon how much oil is added, even though I am fairly certain that Virgil created neither the recipe nor the poem and, judging from its ingredients, it reads (and tastes) more like a pesto than a salad dressing but, like Latin translations, all things are open to interpretation. Besides, I couldn’t come up with a better name than E Pluribus Pesto— I’m still somewhat medicated.

Whatever you decide to call it, I hope you will make it, if only because you like the idea that it in part inspired a beautiful sentiment– one of inclusion and unity and working together. I think we could all use a bit more of that in our lives.

And it’s infinitely more satisfying than trying to make a shitty Drumpf Dump Cake any day of the week.

I’ve come up with something that closely approximates what was made in the poem, minus the “stiffness-causing rue”, because it is rather out of fashion as an ingredient and sadly unavailable here in San Francisco. I find this rather disappointing, since it is said to improve the eyesight and dissipate flatulence, according to medieval herbalists.

Makes enough dressing/pesto/condiment/what-have-you to consume with a friend over a freshly baked loaf of bread.

Ingredients:

• 3 cloves of garlic
• a very heavy pinch of salt
• 2 tablespoons of chopped celery leaf (instead of rue)
• 5 tablespoons of chopped parsley
• 1 tablespoon of chopped chive
• 4 tablespoons of pecorino-romano cheese, for body and a faintly groin-like aroma
• 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
• As much olive oil as you like, depending upon what consistency you prefer.

Preparation:

  1. Into a medium-sized mortar, throw your garlic into th’ hollow stone. On these, sprinkle your salt. Unlike the poem, I prefer to wait a bit longer before adding the cheese. Grind with your pestle until a rough paste has formed.
  2. Next add your herbs a bit at a time, grinding away at them until there is room for all and they break down into the garlic paste.
  3. Now add your cheese and grind some more. Take time to admire how the colors are slowly becoming one. Touch your groin if necessary, but wash your hands before proceeding further.
  4. Add vinegar and drizzle in as much or as little oil as you like.
  5. Serve with with bread, freshly broken with a friend. Or someone you wish to be your friend. You will both smell very much like garlic and cheese and will therefore have much in common after your meal.

 

*The fact that our Founding Fathers plucked a quote from a poem about a farmer with an African slave seems depressingly apt.

Posted in Rants and Stories, Savories | Tagged , , , , , | 15 Comments

The Kraft Singles Bar

CheesytiniIt all started rather innocently, as terrible things often do. A man and a woman were freshly seated at one of my tables at the restaurant on a busy Thursday night. I greeted them as I greet everyone– with a warm smile and two simple questions: 1.) “Is ice water fine for the table?” and 2.) “Would you care for something else to drink right away or would you rather just settle in for a little bit?”

They opted for settling in, so I told them I’d keep an eye out and check back in a couple of minutes.

When I returned, the lady requested a Manhattan. The gentleman said he needed a little more time to think. I sent her order to the bartender and returned shortly to the table with her alcoholic refreshment unspilled and glistening and tarted up with three Morello cherries, stabbed through their hearts with a wooden toothpick like a stack of embryonic vampires preserved in bourbon and sweet vermouth.

The man, still drinkless, couldn’t make up his mind. I asked if he would rather think about food first and get to the drinking part later. No, he insisted that he really needed a beverage. The woman, whose relationship to her dining partner was clearly not burdened by feelings of romance, rolled her eyes and took a sip of her own, quickly-arrived-at libation. “Just give me a few more minutes,” he said.

I told him I’d be back in 45. I wasn’t serious, of course, but hoped it would light a small fire under his ass– the part of his anatomy I was beginning to suspect was the command center for all his decision-making processes. It didn’t.

When I returned about five minutes later, he declared rather proudly that he’d finally made a decision. “You know what I’d like?’ he asked in what I hoped was a rhetorical manner, “I’d like one of your delicious craft cocktails.”

“I almost hate to tell you this,” I replied, “but we don’t have any craft cocktails, delicious or otherwise.” He seemed shocked by my announcement and demanded to know why a restaurant of our calibre didn’t have a menu of elaborate specialty drinks.

Instead of walking him over to the bar in the other room where he could see two bartenders buried three-deep in thirsty guests jockeying for bar stools and cocktails while having to simultaneously take care of the liquid needs of 170 others seated in multiple dining rooms and ask him if he really thought it would be a good idea for them to be taking that extra bit of time out to fiddle with tinctures, mustache wax, and flaming orange peels,  I simply replied:

“Well, we’re a Greek restaurant. There’s really only so much you can do with ouzo.”

I wanted to tell him of the alarming ouzo-based cocktails one of our former bartenders came up with. Like the Santorini Sunrise, a mixture of ouzo, orange juice and grenadine. Or far worse, a concoction of gastrointestinal menace he proudly called the T.O.A.D. which was equal parts tequila, ouzo, amaretto, and Drambuie. But I didn’t. I had other people at other tables who deserved my attention.

When I came back the fourth time, I decided not to even mention drinks, thinking the subject might be too painful for all involved, but he had to bring it up again. “I think I want something with bourbon,” he announced,” but something interesting. I don’t want a manhattan. I don’t like juice in my drinks, but it has to be delicious.”

“Wonderful,” I said as though I was almost proud of him for making such an important breakthrough, “I’ve got just the thing.” And two minutes later, I returned with a fucking old fashioned.

His long-suffering dining companion lifted her nearly empty glass to his said, “Well that only took half an hour,” and ordered a second drink. As I walked away, I heard her continue, “God, no wonder you’re still single, David.”

It was at that precise moment when the idea formed. The recollection of Roberto the bartender’s awful drink recipes, the man’s disappointment in our lack of a craft cocktail menu, and his friend’s comment about him being single congealed into one dubious concept: The Kraft Singles Bar. It’s been on my mind ever since.

And, because I seem to be one of the few remaining food bloggers not working with a brand, I think this might be my one chance to earn some big money and name recognition.

It is my dream to create a safe place where people with as little sense as David would feel welcome to meet like-minded, middle-aged people while sipping drinks specifically tailored to the lonely and bereft of taste. And all underwritten by the Kraft Family of Fine Foods.

Here is a sample selection of what they might have to offer:

1.) The Mac n’ Cheesytini (first image).

If you’re the type of person who thinks “I want a drink, but I also want dinner yet don’t want to be forced into making a decision”, then this is the drink for you.

To make, gently heat two ounces of your favorite, small batch gin in a small saucepan. Whisk in one packet of Kraft Thick n’ Creamy Macaroni and Cheese flavor packet until full dissolved. Pour contents into an elegantly shaped martini glass and refrigerate until fully chilled/clotted. Discard pasta. You do not need the extra carbs.

Garnish with an olive, serve with a spoon.

Editor’s Note: Kraft Singles make efficient and elegant drink coasters while reinforcing our brand.

Zesty Italian Shrub2.) The Zesty Italian Shrub

Forget fruit and vinegar syrups. At the Kraft Singles Bar, we prefer oil and vinegar syrups. Mix equal parts of our delicious blend of herbs, spices, and Polysorbate 60 with your favorite vodka and pour over ice. Put some zing in your otherwise humdrum life with this zippy little number.

Garnish with grissini, rosemary sprigs, and/or whatever else you can fit into the glass and consume without unintentionally blinding yourself.

Editor’s Note: This drink is not only an excellent internal lubricant, but helps promote shiny skin and hair if spilled in sufficient amounts.

Puffy Irishman3. The Puffy Irishman

The Kraft Singles Bar is proud to serve holiday themed cocktails– especially when the holidays in question promote unbridled alcohol consumption. Although you won’t find us serving I Can’t Believe It’s Not Hot Buttered Rum for Christmas, thanks to copyright infringement issues (Thanks, Unilever), you will find us serving one of our most popular and fun beverages for St. Patrick’s Day, The Puffy Irishman.

All you need is 1/4 cup of heavy cream whipped to a soft peak, fold in 1/2 jar (3.5 ounces) of Kraft Jet-Puffed Marshmallow Creme, stir in 2 ounces of your favorite Irish whiskey, a drop or two of green food coloring, and a soupçon of self-loathing to make this bright, festive, unflattering racial stereotype-promoting holiday treat.

Editor’s Note: Substitute your favorite scotch, omit the food coloring, and garnish with uncooked oats to make a fun Burn’s Night beverage.

Parting Shot Cocktail4.) The Parting Shot

On a final note, the Kraft Singles Bar does its utmost to promote responsible drinking (except on St. Patrick’s Day). When your guests have had too much to drink, but insist on “one more for the road”, what can you do? You want to be a good host. You want to balance giving your guests what they want with concern for both their safety and your furniture. When we feel our guests are “in their cups” but still want more, we proudly serve them our Parting Shot cocktail, which is conveniently undrinkable and unspillable.

Simply dissolve one 6 ounce packet of Cherry Flavored Jell-O (a proud member of the Kraft Family) in 1 cup of boiling water in a large bowl. Add 1 cup of white rum (or your favorite clear spirit) and 2 cups of ice water. Stir until ice is melted and pour into cocktail glasses (not the nice ones). Place them in your refrigerator to chill until the need for them arises. Serve to belligerent guests who won’t take “no” for an answer. Keep guests under close observation. Watch for signs of inevitable confusion, which is the right moment to take away their car keys and call them a cab.

Editor’s Note: Unless your guests have discovered they can simply scoop out the contents of the glass with their fingers and eat it, these cocktails are totally reusable.

If you have further ideas for drinks you’d like to see at the Kraft Singles Bar, please contact us! We (and people like David) look forward to seeing you there.

Posted in Liquids, Rants and Stories | Tagged , , , | 16 Comments

NYD BLT

NYD BLTI’ve never been a big fan of New Year’s Eve. It’s hard for me to get excited over cheap hats, $150 prix fixe menus, and drunk blonde women walking the streets at 3am barefoot because they can no longer manage to balance themselves atop their stilettos.

But New Year’s Day is another story entirely. I enjoy waking early to enjoy the strange quietness of the city while last evening’s noise makers sleep it off.

Perhaps I love New Year’s Day because it’s the first day of another year entirely. Fresh calendar. Fresh start. Fresh underpants. Fresh everything. I don’t believe in the magic powers of the New Year’s Baby, but there is a remarkable sort of placebo effect to the whole business, which still manages to work on me despite the fact that I know that time and Pope Gregory XIII’s calendar have handed me a giant sugar pill. I swallow it gladly every January 1st without the aid of water. Because champagne is infinitely more preferable in helping this particular medicine go down.

For the past few years, my friends Sean and Paul host what they call “NYD BLT”– a New Year’s Day Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato party. The sole price of admission is a bottle of bubbly. It is an extremely fair exchange of goods, considering the fact that you are then allowed to consume as much home-cured Chinese Five Spice bacon, hand-made tomato jam, and freshly baked Pullman loaves as you dare.

I’d decided to turned down all party invitations in December, because rooms filled with people filled with Christmas cheer seem downright terrifying when one is in mourning. But a top floor flat filled with daylight and people I know drinking sparkling wine and eating sandwiches feels like a safe place to be when one is finally tired of self-imposed seclusion.

Everything was more or less the same as it was in years past– the seating arrangements, the sandwich assembly line in the kitchen, the guests, the little bottle of poppy seed liqueur on the drinks table. But something seemed markedly different to me, even though it was exactly the same as it had always been– the bacon.

NYD BaconOr rather, my perception of it. As I stood in line in the kitchen waiting for my bread to toast, my attention went directly to the platter of cured, sliced, streaky, crispy pork belly that was just out of my reach. I was reminded how, only a month earlier, I saw bacon in terms of grief and loss, but on the first afternoon of the year, it was the star attraction of a party celebrating hope and bright futures and new beginnings. It felt weird– as though I were about to betray my own mother by eating a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich. On the other hand, it also felt completely natural, like I was ready for a little happiness bacon. Or, as the Germans might call it, Glückspeck. Might, I say, because I think I just made that word up.

I finished my first glass of champagne and decided I was far too hungry and in no mood to feel conflicted about eating a BLT. It gets a bit tiring burdening ingredients with so much meaning all the time. For two minutes, I allowed myself to become one of those annoying people who photograph their food before eating it, then I poured myself another glass of bubbly, and went to town on the sandwich. It felt good going down– not like betrayal in the slightest. The second one tasted even better, washed down by a third glass of champagne. Or whatever fizzy lifting drink we’d moved on to by then.

It felt strangely liberating eating the happiness bacon, though I didn’t share that with anyone in the room at the time. Instead, I felt free to talk about other important things with my friends. Things like the proper way to pronounce “caulk”, why I have a deep fondness for Mel Brooks, and where on earth did all those severed feet come from that washed up on the British Columbian coast line a few years ago? It was lovely to spend the afternoon among people who all seemed to share my happy buzz and when I’d had my fill, I said my goodbyes–which took an hour to do– and went on my way.

NYD Tomato JamI thought I’d take a little walk to clear my head of all the champagne and bread and bacon. I thought about what I’d like to accomplish this year– losing the 20 pounds that’s crept its way onto my body over the past couple of years, shed my status as a hermit by seeing friends more and seeing a bit more of the world, working on my new book idea that hopefully publishers won’t shoot down this time. And to constantly remind myself that my life doesn’t stop just because someone else’s does, that time doesn’t stand still for anyone, and that maybe I do have a future after all after months of feeling otherwise. I was so wrapped up in my thoughts that I’d hardly noticed that my little walk took me the three and a half miles home. Or that I was a little sweaty, but completely sober by the time I’d arrived at my front door.

I have absolutely no idea what 2016 will bring for me. It could be completely wonderful or totally awful or, more likely, a combination of the two. But I have to tell you that kicking things off with a trifecta of good friends, champagne, and Glückspeck is one hell of a way to  turn the page of one’s calendar, bacon-greasy fingers and all.

Posted in Holidays, Meatness, Sandwiches | Tagged , , , , , | 22 Comments

Kummerspeck

bacon fryingMy phone was being x-rayed by airport security when I got the call. There was a voicemail from my sister Lori. I didn’t need to listen to the message– I knew what she had to say. I imagined the best thing to do under the circumstances was to get to my gate and find a quiet spot to sit down before I played the recording back. But I didn’t need to. My sister phoned again.

She was calling from the hospice. Our mother was dead. The mortuary people were already there. Death may sometimes be a slow affair, but the business of death is always alarmingly swift. My father and stepmother would pick me up at the airport and take the two of us to the funeral home to make the arrangements for mom.

I wasn’t hungry or thirsty, but I knew it was going to be a long day. I wandered over to the Peet’s coffee kiosk for a medium regular and the first muffin I saw.

When I returned to the gate, I sat down and picked at my pastry for a minute before I noticed on the receipt that it was called a “Morning Muffin.” I said to myself, “They forgot the ‘u’ in mourning.” I thought about my mother again. She couldn’t have eaten that muffin– it had sunflower seeds on it. She couldn’t eat seeds. In fact, there were a lot of things she couldn’t eat. But she didn’t have to worry about that anymore. I threw the muffin away, sat back down, and played a little game with myself where I pretend that everything is just fine.

I debated exchanging my free drink coupon for a tiny bottle of whiskey on the short plane trip home, but thought better of it. I worried I’d get emotional and become “that guy who cries on planes”. It wasn’t the right moment for self-medication– there were caskets and flower arrangements to select and such things are best done with as clear a head as possible under the circumstances. Besides, whiskey was one more thing my mother couldn’t have. It would have been her 40th sober birthday in February. I asked for water. No ice.

At the mortuary, we discovered that the only time we could book the church for our mother’s funeral services was the day before Thanksgiving. We knew a lot of people would not be able to attend. There was no other choice– waiting almost two weeks was not a possibility we were willing to face. And at the end of the meeting with the funeral director, my father looked directly at me and said, “You’re doing the eulogy,” which sent a ripple of horror through my body. He was right, of course. There was no one else to do it. I’m “the writer” in the family. I’m the one who’s supposed to have a way with words.

But how does one go about writing a eulogy for one’s own mother? How do you compress 82 years of a person’s life into a few minutes? How do you distill an ocean’s worth of information into a cube of essence the size of the cardboard box we’d soon be storing her keepsakes in? I stared at my computer screen for days trying to come up with something worthy. My sister had been there for her every single day for the past two years during her decline. I worried that I would fail in the one important thing I was asked to do.

I also worried that I was no longer a writer.

drying baconOver the past several months as my mother withdrew deeper and deeper into her dementia, I found myself withdrawing more and more from writing. My desire for composition directly correlated with my mother’s declining desire to eat. Perhaps we no longer saw the point in doing that which sustained us.

She had always been so proud of my writing. “You know where you got that gene from,” she’d say. She was the editor-in-chief of her high school paper and was studying journalism in college when she met my father. She was always asking when my first book was coming out. Later, when she started getting confused, she thought it had already been published. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that no publisher wanted it. I felt like even more of a failure that I never got to show her one. Not that it would have bothered her. Not too much.

But as I sat in bed in my brother’s old room on the day before the funeral, I realized there was something that really would have bothered her– that I was sitting in the dark feeling sorry for myself. Or worse, that I wanted to stop writing. She’d frequently told me how proud of me she was for never giving up. It must have been true, because she kept on saying it even after her mind began to go. The idea that I would use her death as an excuse to give up on writing would have really made her angry.

And she was a woman you really didn’t want to piss off.

So I moved out to the family room, which is the one bright spot in the incredibly dark house of my childhood, and took to heart the most writerly of clichés– write what you know.

I understood that there was a lot I didn’t know about the woman we were about to bury. She shared different parts of herself with different people– she was a friend, a coworker, a counselor, a wife, a neighbor and, in my case, a mother. So I started to write a list of all the things I could think of about her life and used that list as the basis for my eulogy:

mom working on the x-15Like how she turned down being a stewardess because the airline wouldn’t let her wear her engagement ring on the job. And how, instead, she wound up taking a top-secret position at North American Aviation working on the X-15– the first thing the US technically got into outer space– where she had to model Chuck Yeager’s fight suit (because they were the same size) and got to fly in a bomber plane with a briefcase handcuffed to her wrist like a Cold War spy.

Like how she was one of the first people to use a primitive form of the internet working for the Anaheim Convention Center, but still found it nearly impossible to send a damned email.

Or how everyone was so convinced she would die when I was six years old that a priest was called in to the hospital room to perform her last rites. And how she was somehow given a second chance at life and grabbed it with both hands.

That she managed to work two jobs, raise three children, and finally get her university degree at the same time.

That she fought like mad to keep my brother alive and healthy for years after he was diagnosed with AIDS. How she did so at the cost of her own health.

And how she still never lost her sense of humor.

That she was smart and loving, loyal, protective, beautiful and giving. That she could also be stubborn and hard and unforgiving at times. That she was as complicated as the next person. That she was wonderfully flawed and beautifully human.

And that, when I hear someone say that people are incapable of change, I always use her as an example to prove them wrong.

I was strangely relaxed when I delivered the eulogy. As much as anyone on the verge of burying one’s mother could be. I think my mom would have enjoyed my speech because it was as free of bullshit and white-washing as I could make it.  It was a small turn out, as predicted, but the people who were there were all important to her. My sister and I were pleased.

There were only eight of us who drove out to Pacific View Memorial Park. It was windy on the hill and the clouds had blown sufficiently apart to give us all an eyeful of the ocean promised in the name of the cemetery– so much so that we could see Catalina as we lowered her into the ground next to my brother. I took a flower off the casket before she was lowered. And then my father offered to take everyone present out to eat.

We lunched at another place with a view, appropriately named The Summit House. When our server commented on how dressed up we all looked and asked what we were celebrating, I responded, “My mother died,” rather bluntly. My father’s best friend Don suggested that the next time I might say something like, “We’re celebrating my mother’s life today.” I took his advice to heart. Our server was unfazed. Without missing a beat, she suggested that under the circumstances we might need a round of drinks as soon as possible. She was marvelous.

iceburg wedge

 

The restaurant was festive and even more dressed up than we were– they were ready for The Holidays. We placed our orders, most of us choosing the prime rib of beef for which the place was famous. For starters, seven of us ordered the iceberg wedge salad with bleu cheese dressing. It’s a dish I’d never ordered before in my life, but I remember how mom loved it– at least, in the days before my brother’s death when she could
actually eat salads without getting sick.

I thought about my menu choices and realized that my mother not only couldn’t have eaten the salad, but she could eat neither the prime rib nor the creamed spinach nor the creamed corn. She certainly couldn’t have had the martini I was drinking. Nor the second one I was planning on ordering. The only item she could have consumed in relative safety was the top of the Yorkshire pudding, which was the lone disappointing bit of food in front of me that afternoon. But she would have sat there with her iced tea and dried out suet pudding and not complained. She’d just have had a little sandwich and potato chips when she got home later– it’s what she liked.

And then it struck me that I would never share a meal with her again when the salad arrived.

The wedge of lettuce placed in front of me was dotted with crumbled bacon. “Kummer specks,” I thought to myself, playing with words to make such an awful moment seem less so. I knew the day I learned the word kummerspeck that I would always remember it, because my brain would never forgive me if I forgot such a marvelously specific German term for the weight gained from grief eating. “Grief bacon.” My wedge was literally flecked with specks of grief. I didn’t know whether to laugh at that or to cry.

I chose to do neither. I kept that little joke to myself. Instead, I decided to eat and drink all the things my mother couldn’t when she was alive. I lifted the martini glass to my lips, finished off its contents, and gave a subtle nod in the direction I’d like to think she headed when she left her body. I hoped that she was now in a place like heaven where she could order whatever the hell she wanted to, knowing that in doing so she would be finally free from all pain.

Then I ordered a second martini to help dull my own.

Posted in Rants and Stories, Savories | Tagged , , , , | 76 Comments