With Neither Maize Nor Wattle

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I was reminiscing this afternoon and sharing with Henry my most memorable Thanksgivings. It was a broad task for sure. But I tried.

Best Food? 2001 at my sister’s. No one can best her Prime Rib and Brisket. And that year, we also had turkey and oysters and a lot of people.
I was extremely emotional because Michael died just a month earlier.

Most Fun Thanksgiving? 1989 at the house I shared with the anti-Christ. The day stands out because everybody was happy and mingled well. We had moved in two days earlier and I was up all night organizing all our new kitchen. The weather was perfect.

We danced, listened to music, hung out on the deck, and threw a frisbee with our sheepdog.
After folks started to leave, three particular friends, my sister and her husband each fixed a cocktail and secured a seat for ROUND 2.

Most Forgettable?  1974 at my mother’s. My Father insisted on coming over. They had divorced 8 months earlier and he was living in Dallas and in a relationship that he rekindled from 1951. He showed no interest in my sister’s first year in Middle School or my freshman year at UNC. As soon as our utensils were gathered on plates, Polly and I left. It was all just so wrong

Most exotic Thanksgiving? 1958 in DC, but my mother was in Minnesota where she worked for Eugene McCarthy.

Legend has it that my father invited all of his friends who were from Germany, Italy, Kenya, and other points in between. After cocktails, everyone went into the dining room to eat. I was sound asleep on the sofa in the livingroom.

I woke up at some point … and crawled and toddled all around the room. As I advanced I looked into each glass and ate the garnishes. I happily dined on mainly cherries from Manhattans and olives from Martinis. I also finished each drink.

When dinner was over, my father and guests returned to the livingroom and found me sound asleep. Okay. Okay. I had passed out on the previously mentioned sofa.

The rest of the day unfolded as one would expect. Yes, my mother was livid when my Father confessed about a month later.

Finally, my most earnest and better prioritized Thanksgiving? 2011. Jon was recovering from a life threatening illness and I had recently had yet another heart attack.

Life had quickly become fragile. Nonetheless, we celebrated our union and found that, yes, we actually could afford a leg of lamb.

It is now four years later. Jon is much better but ridden with ailments of being almost 70. I’m still waiting for a heart. Henry is almost 13. He is your typically lazy tom but would even “turn pussy tricks” if it meant an entire turkey slice might fall to the floor. Since I am “projecting” with this post, we’ll just say He hopes that the turkey slice cascade to the floor. And that Claudja and Hermione are watching some football game.

We will share Thanksgiving with: my sister and her gentleman suitor, my niece Sara and her husband, my niece Sophie and her husband, and my niece Aubrey. My sister’s ex-husband, his wife, and young son will join us.

I will not try to understand the unfortunate inclusion of the latter nor will I let it interfere with the joyous part of the day. It may very well be the last time we are all together.

I am confidant to assume that we’ve each already endured a questionable, perhaps grossly dysfunctional Thanksgiving.

“Receive” will thus be Thursday’s Groucho Marxist “Word of the Day”. (К сожалению об этом.) I intend the word “receive” to invoke that 70’s and 80’s serendipitous suggestion for welcoming a positive karma.  We’re nonetheless surely due for a Cohen-esque Perfect Day.

And if not? Groovy. Bring it on, My Friend. Bring it on.

(Image: “The Small Village Torzhok” by Konstantin Ivanovich Gorbatov, 1917.)

Commuting Fate & the Daydreamy Mr Tapper

Art AuctionsWhen I was 30 years old, I worked from 8am to 5pm, endured an hour’s tedious commute to/from, and generally worked every Sunday. I did all the cooking, shopping, housecleaning, and gardening. The anti-Christ and I entertained often, the detail of which were left to my discretion and execution.

YET somehow I managed to get everything done on both my work and home agendas. The anti-Christ and I went to the movies each week, attended most of the Kennedy Center events, and made time to go shopping in Pentagon City.

We also traveled frequently and impulsively: monthly to New York and three or four times a year on some indulgent holiday to Provincetown, Martha’s Vineyard, Key West, or somewhere more exotic. The AC got all the airline travel points in the separation decree. I got the playbills.

Today at age 59, I am retired and have given up volunteer work. Jon does all the driving, marketing, and household missions. I spend most of my oddly-configured day on various writing projects and watching CNN. I’ve been an election junkie since 1968, but Jake Tapper somehow makes it sexier and wittier.

I no longer can cook anything substantial … and certainly not a complete dinner with courses. The oven is almost exclusively for heating DiGiorno frozen and self-rising sausage pizzas.

These factors weighed and considered, I still end my day with frustration and self-flagellation because I leave so many tasks incomplete or untouched.
Time now gets away from me and does so rather quickly.

I am never able to reach forward and just grab it.

What I can do, however, is reminisce back to a time when I could do it all. Of course, I am much, much happier with my beloved.

(“Three Studies of Lucian Freud” by Francis Bacon, 1969.)

The Scent of a Virtual Memorial’s Roses

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We always seem to come back to a problem that never has resolve or relief. How do we grieve for the loss of internet friends? Yes, I mean “death”. Yes, I mean folks whom we’ve never met in person but, through time, have become important. Yes, “we” is the collective of modern internet junkies who actually breathe deeply every know and then.

As in our “day to day”, hopefully extant, and certainly three-dimensional world, such sorrow can be debilitating. And it can be pesky: zapping us with a poignant, weepy, and charged bit of nostalgia.

For me, thoughts of departed friends and family can cascade from my memory right down to the table top. Slideshows of faces can stare back and almost challenge me to “go there” and face those losses that are still raw. Within moments thoughts and being begin throbbing with anger, guilt, and melancholia.

So today, I am thinking of three friends who have passed away in the past year or so, the deaths of whom I cannot seem to move past:

Karen G, who was always lyrical, witty, and certain to always react with kindness.
Scott B, who was a gruff, opinionated, and reactionary asshole. But he was an immensely loyal and enlightened egalitarian.
Farrah S, who was bedridden and spiraling into life’s painful denouement. We’d often talk for hours late at night, solving any and all conspiracy theories as well as predicting political trends.

Perhaps, my subconscious honors them by keeping those profiles valid in my heart. I usually reach the same conclusion each time. Such friends are unexpected and blessed gifts from the Universe.

This year, however, I realize that I am thankful for the time I did have with these friends. We shared joy. We poured our “melted” hearts out to each other and allowed ourselves a relationship without pretense.

I do believe that these three friends helped me grow up just a little more.

(Henry picked this Vuillard bouquet just for them.)

Making Angels in the Evening Rain

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This afternoon in the first minutes of Raleigh’s Rush Rush Hour, Jon and I were calmly headed to Chapel Hill for my bi-monthly transplant evaluation and check-up. We had no expectations as to the outcome.

In other words, we had made that medical pilgrimage so many times (perhaps, 75 or so) in two years that any conjecture could, if not “would”, range from the totally obscure to the painfully generic.

My fear was that my extremely wonderful cardiologist, Dr. Briony Peony-Smith (not her real name), was regrettably poised to admit me to the hospital to finish the undetermined wait for a heart. However, despite my essentially bed-ridden limitations, my extreme shortness of breath, and my inability to focus, I am “still, yet, and again” otherwise able to continue depending on Henry and Jon as my caregivers.

I can still hear my eighth grade French teacher, Mr George Bright, enunciating that most general definition of encore. Yes, we love those random nostalgic gems that make us smile. I thank God that I don’t experience any shortness of breath while perusing that mental year-by-yearbook account of my life as a Catholic boy in North Carolina coming of age in the early 70’s.

In addition to a constant unfold of “sentimental journeys”, my immediate prognosis includes: a very restricted diet; extreme and non-stop nausea; an almost absurd inability to stay awake for more than hour or so; and a physical inability to talk. One might add that I can no longer rub my stomach as I pat my head with the other hand. Or perhaps I won’t share such.

I can still drink regular coffee, even though our “K-cup dependent” Koureg gets an F and has withdrawn altogether.

I can still eat ice cream. Hooray. Hurrah. We shall, one day soon, miss Edy’s Grand Gourmet Mocha Chip, Harris-Teeter’s Banana Pudding, and Turkey Hill Peach ice creams.

I still have Wanda, the mega-channeled remote control.

And I can still wake up each morning, glance over at my beloved nestling with our charmed and charming puss, and smile.

Despite all the bleak days, wretched finances, and wellness obstacles, I love my world. My friends. And my family.

I just wish Jon and I had more closet space.

(“The Fallen Angel” by Salvador Dalí, 1950’s.)

The Big Bopper in a Brechtian Adaptation of Götterdämmerung.

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The past few days have rekindled my ponderances concerning ‘an’ or ‘the’ apocalypse. They fuel the closest of Nature’s anti-Christian propaganda. We give them jaw-dropping instruments and clever tools. Curiosity is center-stage, the greediest principle of these discussions. Our innocence, faith, and hope can all be bartered for what might ultimately become shrapnel for a Merry Modern Apocalypse.

We’ll be lucky to escape the days of dramatic, destructive DeMille-worthy Draconics. Our withered, twisted, pallid bodies writhe before both Satan’s messengers and his Middle Managers. I’d be terrified if I didn’t know how to conjure up the ghosts of Dorothy Maguire or Irene Dunne. Hell just cries out for a woman’s touch.

The terms and mission statements differ among all the speculated time tables, outcome, and long-term results, such as the Prodigal Daughter’s election to safeguard that papal orb.

Not everyone buys into the religious implications and innuendos if the Apocalypse is more of an event: a Passion Play, orgy, or skirmishes pitting our inner demons with the professional ones that Dante made poetic reference to. There are metaphysicists, palm readers, New Testament scholars, the jaded Daughters of Perpetual Scepters, and catechism teachers who soon realize the hopelessness and folly of schedules.

While God seems to often function on a broad but focused itinerary, Lucifer embraces streams of consciousness that eventually dry into a sticky, gooey, and pasty ball of evil. The various Mephistophelan minions might perhaps plan a campus wide sex party at East Carolina University, or leak a faulty list of Target’s Black Friday doorbusters to all of the Pilates classes in Western Civilization.

Of course, we have no idea when the Apocalypse might step forward and finally harken: the end of the world. It may actually represent a long, devastating era in which we are increasingly bombarded with ugly visuals, ugly voices, ugly hairstyles, and the ugliest of souls. How did such a beautiful, dignified, and pedigreed word such as apocalypse become the nadir of time and its crush of humanity?

I tend to probably oversimplify my theories. I am always quick to tidy the room of any mislaid emotions, bitter tears, voodoo dolls, spilt milk, and dead insects that suggest little sill cemeteries. I’d pack them carefully into a box that would make Wells-Fargo proud. And I’d place the box in a vault with a short scribbled message: “Dear Pandora, You fill up our senses like the night in a forest. Fondly, the RNC.”

One popular theory in my household is that the Beginning of the End began in the arid, soulless months that led up to 9/11. The events seem to be escalating. Further, we risk the sad reality that our very fears alone may well end Humanity.

The countless predictions have left us all numb to the concept. We laugh. We joke. We try to bury our terror. And venerate our Tenors.

That terror always seems to be the last soldier standing.

With all the theories of the anti-Christ unnecessarily poised for debates, it seems as though they’re, in fact, all the same. They may be drawn differently. Or have a different name. Or a conflicting font of experience. It is the vocabulary that mind-fucks our senses of reason, compassion, and justice. Our homemade religion might be our downfall yet.

That is: if we empower it or Him. Or the ghost of Berthold Brecht. I bet there’s a lost, now found, musical adaptation of Götterdämmerung just waiting to be produced. Such a gross pastiche of melodies, weaponry, and humanist mythology could usher in the Apocalypse. I can see it.

Yes, I do believe we’ve stumbled head first into something big … a jazzy, peppy, and lyrical Apocalypse. I can just hear the soundtrack queuing: Lionel Ritchie and Diana Ross in “Endless Love” or Anne Murray’s entire repertoire. The Big Bopper is not dead.

Perhaps he will save us.

 

 

The Riches of Culinary Peasantry and Subsequent Pleasantry

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As I sat in the sunroom blowing smoke rings against the frosted panes, the kitchen gods whispered to me. Today would indeed be a perfect Wintry day for a cassoulet.

And, yes, like all other such recipes and traditions, mine is borrowed, augmented, and made more appropriate for our odd lifestyle and taste-buds.

What was once a French country peasant staple is now a Marklewood delight, and further one that allows for great freedom of expression. I also find that such a creation allows me the opportunity to “gently” clean out the icebox a bit!

Cassoulets are, by tradition, crocked meals, at once combining meats, beans, herbs, and sauce, although I usually add rice. Rice is my current starch trend as I prefer its texture … and Henry, who adores “people food”, is awfully fond of the saffron variety! As with all well-intended and pragmatic one-pot meals, I begin with selection of the perfect vessel, in this case a ceramic and lidded cooker. Friends, I urge you to verify any such choice to ascertain whether it is indeed oven-worthy, as I have oft let an assumption lead me astray.

Today, I am using a teal hand-sculpted three-quart work of art that my friend Patricia (a dear and rather Bohemian pottress) created for me years ago. It had a domed cover with a peculiar and thus engaging finial. I begin the layering process (I adore creating levels of taste in such meals) by meticulously placing a vegetable along the bottom of the pot.

Although a cassoulet would by tradition call for white beans, I am using Brussels sprouts, as I have fresh ones on hand and, although Jon doesn’t quite understand them, he WILL tolerate them in certain preparations. I ready them by quartering them and sautéing them with butter and garlic, and then line them up like attentive soldiers (back to back or a similar formation).

I then spoon a melange of similarly sautéed onions and mushrooms and make every attempt to cleverly conceal the waiting sprouts. Upon this layer, I add about four cups of rice. I offer “about” as one perk to this concoction is that exactness of quantities is unimportant, as the flavors compliment in any sensible proportion. Henry prefers saffron rice, as it melds mild flavor, texture, and butter, which is intoxicating to an indoor puss.

The final layer is that of substance, or meat if you must. I prefer sausages as they contribute full flavor. Today I am taking Summer sausages, browning them in a skillet, and then slicing them for ease in placement. Sometimes it is ALL about such ease, lest I forget an unfortunate creation of last year. That incident will safely go unposted and unshared.

Once all of the layering is complete and I am certain that there is absolutely nothing else I can add, I place the cover … ultimately cooking the cassoulet for forty minutes at 375 degrees. Again, with such a preparation, there is no need to be exact so even a half hour longer will not overcook the dish … just allow you more time on Facebook before dinner.

What I adore about this hearty meal is that the flavors essentially trickle down: The mushrooms & onions position themselves between the sprouts, sharing in the garlic, and filling any gaps. The rice fills similar gaps thus created by the mushrooms/onions, absorbing butter. The juices and herbed flavors from the sausage similarly infuse the rice.

As I wait for the dish to complete and the timer to chime, I ponder two other reasons for my fondness. First, I can use the same sauté pan for the Brussels sprout, ‘shrooms, and meat, thereby creating only one such pan to wash. Second, the cook time allows me the opportunity to wash and quickly put away that very pan and any utensils or holding bowls. I so enjoy having only ONE cooker to clean after dinner! Je ne regret rien!

One final note, my friends: when spooning and “plating” your cassoulet use the largest spoon you can find. Gently ease it towards the bottom of the dish and simply scoop. Never try to mix the ingredients. Sometimes it is best to allow the flavors and aromas to gently transition on the plate and avoid offering instead just one big ole complex taste! There IS such an effort as “over-mixing” as I have been accused of this on many a night!

In closing, oh comrades in cookery, Jon and I anticipate a warm and hearty dinner, worthy of an Arctic Sunday evening. Someday, perhaps you will join us. Although there may not always be a cleared chair, there is indeed always plenty of food to nourish and savor.

As they say in the South of France, “Bon Appétit, y’all!” And such cassoulets have followed suit and beckoned to be called Cassie. She’s nowhere near as touchy about her casserole roots this days.

(Note: Such a dish goes well with almost any robust wine, although I prefer a Pinot Noir. More importantly, I would put a Karen Akers CD on the carousel and turn the volume a lttle higher than is customary.

(Image: “The Four Temperaments: Sanguinic, Landscape Variation” by Thomas Woodruff, 2010.)