The Saturday Morning Mirth Makers

12274561_1066983530012330_7503053877539959490_nBy age seven and a relatively new and mature Big Brother, I had tired of most Halloween traditions. The circus always bored me. And those silly physical comedies such as “The Three Stooges”, “Little Rascals”, and “Laurel & Hardy” seemed excruciatingly foreign.

I barely even appreciated any Saturday morning cartoons, except for perhaps a random “Mighty Mouse” and “Fractured Fairy Tales”, which I interpreted as cautionary, allegorical, and rife with symbolism. Of course, I had yet to learn those terms from Sr Edward Patricia. That never stopped me, though, from explaining, deconstructing, and interpreting to/for my cousin Dennis

Yes, I was the epitome of a mid-century nerd, a bookworm, and surely the last one in my class to understand the importance and power of humor.

Of course, now that I am in my fifties (and forever tempted to look back in both regret and resolve), I have finally and safely discovered the types of humor and their forums that “stir both my loins and imagination”.

And while I would fail miserably if charged with the mission, I respect those whose calling it is to entertain, rouse, cheer, and distract.

God bless the mirth makers who, in these difficult times, help us to insulate our hopes. On certain gloomy and desolate Thursday evenings, I am convinced that the impact of the noble clown can be quite profound.

“As I stumble through this life,
help me to create more laughter than tears,
dispense more cheer than gloom,
spread more cheer than despair.

“Never let me become so indifferent,
that I will fail to see the wonders in the eyes of a child,
or the twinkle in the eyes of the aged.

“Never let me forget that my total effort is to cheer people,
make them happy, and forget momentarily,
all the unpleasantness in their lives.

“And in my final moment,
may I hear You whisper:
“When you made My people smile,
you made Me smile.”
(Anonymous)

(Image: Poster by Beppo Lotti, 1925.)

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Holiday Bow Jobs: Supplies Not Included

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I worked with a young designer once who, although she was incredibly gifted in matters of both design and detail, was rather innocent, naïve, and occasionally dim. I say that lovingly, matter-of-factly, and without the slightest iota of measurable judgment, I assure you.

Normally I would disguise her name as to protect her anonymity and honor, as well as shield myself from her scorn and revenge, but her very name is so apt in this situation that I shall no longer take the risk. I shall simply and most-fictionally refer to her as Beauxette. You, dear reader, may wonder most privately as to what proper given name could be so appropriate and quick to incite a blush.

One day at the office, Beauxette was preparing a holiday flier announcing her availability for home decoration and fluffing, as well her fee schedule to which she would gleefully add her hourly rate:

$75 to create a custom wreath (excluding materials); 
$250 to decorate a Christmas tree, or similar plantlife (again, excluding materials); 
$50 to create holiday flourishes intertwined in a chandelier; 
and $100 to create a seasonal mantle vignette (yep, excluding materials).

I think you get the picture, my friends. My friend offered a full-service holiday treatment for the home!

Needless to say, Beauxette knew her way around French ribbon and could tie an effulgent, gorgeous bow like no one I had ever or since met! Further, she adored Christmas and would certainly treat each assignment as if it were special and her only one … offering the job both uniqueness and full attention.

After completing her flier, she summoned me to proofread her rough draft, as I was the official grammarian at our firm. While she took a break, I corrected the few spelling errors, reformatted it a bit (perfectionisto that I am!), and started toying with various ideas for a better heading.

I had the naughtiest of epiphanies, if indeed there is such a mixed moment or sentiment. I typed in my fake title, with every intention of eventually returning to the project and creating a more suitable and tasteful banner!

I printed several copies and placed them on my coworkers’ desks, squelched any laughter, and awaited Beauxette’s return. She indeed joined me a few minutes later, read the “final” product, and was delighted: 
”Beauxette’s Bow Jobs”

She looked at me blankly as I finally let loose in an uproar that only could emanate from one as naughty as I! Oh my God: I was going to have to explain it to her! Reluctantly, I did. She was embarrassed, not because of any vulgarity but instead because it went right over her blonde, well-coiffed head!

She had no realization that she had fallen victim to (let’s say) the “aural” version of a trompe l’oeil moment.

Beauxette corrected the phrasing and we printed one hundred pristine tasteful copies of “Seasonal Stylings by Beauxette”.

She then hurriedly mailed them out, anticipating a flurry of responses, yet her efforts only yielded one such Christmas project. At least, it was for a full house of decorations, involving myriad rolls of festive ribbon and what must’ve been a mile of juniper garland. Beauxette did, however, share with me her reluctant irony in this matter. When she was finished, and her client was writing her a substantial check, she noticed her flier on the counter. As she approached it, she soon realized it was one of the original “gag” ones I had prepared. Neither she nor the client ever mentioned anything to each other about this most glaring of “errors”. She simply got in her car and came back to the office.

I, of course, was mortified: filled with mental images of humiliation, embarrassment, and tawdry discourse! Fortunately all was averted.

It seems as though Beauxette’s client was also innocent, naïve, and dim. In this case, I remark thus not-so-lovingly and perhaps indeed with a modicum of seasonal judgment!

“Beauxette’s Bow Jobs”. We all still smile about it, except for Beauxette of course. Then again, she was never fond of innuendo!

I think of my coworker often. That is especially true whenever I finish preparing a gift, with a particularly spectacular bow, with all its perfect and dramatic flourishes.

Don’t even go there, my friends! Don’t even look for the key to that filing cabinet!

(Image: “Red Ribbon” by David Stoupakis, 2006.)

Community Notes From Miss Lillian Herself

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Oh, woe is … well, somebody other than me!

I hear on NPR this afternoon some curious talk for the unlikely tandem awareness weeks for Genital Integrity and Estonia. Oh, to be uncircumsized, living in Riga, and not listening to NPR on a Sunday afternoon.

And who even knew there was a Liver Community here in Raleighwood or anywhere?

Word of the Year coronation isn’t slated until next week. However, the American Dialect Society has announced a few of its 2015 finalists: deconfliction (John Kerry), unicorn (Investment Narwhals), squad (Taylor Swift), schlonged (Donald Trump).

I could’ve sworn that in the wee hours of the remains of a Saturday night, Henry whispered in my ear: “God bless us, everyone!” However, I might be misconstruing the inflection of his purr.

And finally: in an odd twist of ironic web threads, I have discovered that tomorrow is the day on which one honors Saint Anthony the Hermit. Knowing not what to prepare for such a feast, perhaps we should just dine out.

Oh, you don’t celebrate December 28? Put on a party hat and go find your your Boogie Shoes nonetheless.

Shalom.

Please Join Us in a Jolly “Julsång”

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The holiday is in its denouement, if not wallowing in its aftermath. Such ripe heathenry is the worst that recovering Catholics can expect from a celebration that involves food.

If I were a drinking man who smoked or a smoking man who drank, this hour would be all mine. The dishes would be cleaned and returned to the appropriate cupboards. Guests would be en route H-O-M-E.

The house would be quiet except for our still-convalescing four-legged Henry. Beef energizes him nicely. Say Steward? Steward, is Henry not indeed a family member in good standing, albeit haunched? Does he not deserve some lean rare meat as well?

Of course, his gift this year is that he’ll likely not have to have his right rear leg amputated. He is extremely anemic, as am I, and as is the rationalization for a Christmas Day standing rib roast. A dear friend from New York made the roast a reality this year. And we were all thrilled.

And we were all thankful. Mind you, I don’t mean the type of thanks our parents encourage us to offer when we’re children. Those are niceties and not false by any means. However, it takes years of making mistakes, crying, overlooking a hug-less child, responding in quick judgment or simply studying others suffer as we would weigh-in on our own woes as well.

I am on the cusp of age sixty and finally on the top of the transplant list, a list that Santa is checking often. Jon has just been diagnosed with Diabetes on top of everything else. We lost our beloved Marigold and Hermione, the latter from renal failure it’d appear.

Nonetheless, Jon and I are thankful that we are both home to enjoy a fine dinner. We are thankful further that, knock on wood, a heart will be imminent. The wait nears three years. And we are thankful to have had the times that we did with those two cats who brought us laughter and companionship.

But it’s late and I digress for perhaps the last time in 2015. I am sitting here at my desk, both thankful and sated. While the Ghost of Christmas Past enjoys a Rusty Nail and a cigar, I’ll nurse my tea and listen to his tales.

And I’ll remind myself that with our pets nearby we are neither alone nor in need of nurture. Of course that’ll be just before I catch Henry rounding the corner … for late night red meat.

Shalom.

(Image: A Still from “Fanny and Alexander” by Ingmar Bergman, 1982.)

Forbidden and Low-Hanging Fruit

When I was in primary school at St Thomas More Elementary, in Chapel Hill, I loved fruit. As with many third graders back in those Camelot days, an “old school” snack was always waiting when I got home: a plate with both a cookie and either a pear, banana, or apple.

Its intent was essentially a parental “loss leader” to encourage me to do my homework before going outside to play. My friends all went to public school, except my friend Damian, so we usually hurried so we could catch-up and trade tales of nuns and “other teacher” types.

That routine continued until we moved to Greensboro. I was ten years old and couldn’t fathom why exactly Hal, Margy, Polly, and I had to relocate. Why were the nuns at St Pius X so strict and serious? I avoid using the word “unfriendly” as I have memory of that “pointer” stick punishment that Sr Mary Patrick relished dispensing.

It was also about this time that Polly started kindergarten. The same snack routine fell into place, except for the new choice of oranges, Polly’s favorite. Naturally, being older, I was more flexible and able to understand the concept of compromise. Hal and Margy would later discover that I was also well-versed in the art of “choosing my own battles!”

My sister loved oranges of all types: Valencias, Navel oranges, Clementines, Tangerines, and a few years yet, “Blood” oranges. After one year of my quiet acquiescence, I discovered the beauty and thrill of the deliciously sour and oh-so-mixable grapefruit. Grapefruit became my favorite choice of both fruit and juice, remaining so until my 30’s.

About that time, it was pointed out to me that the ultimate sour “nectar” conflicted with my medication. Disappointed, I basically experimented for the next two decades. Blackberries, Carambola, plums, Kiwi, and peaches, they all gave me joy. On the other hand, citrus fruits essentially piggy-backed with the grapefruit and left my daily regimen. I neither appreciated nor understood the exotic pineapple until a few years ago after I retired.

Now it seems that I have become so set in my eccentric ways I rarely veer from habit. Usually, watermelon, blueberries, and pineapple are the only fruits that can be found in the Marklewood refrigerator save juices.

“Who ever saw that one coming?” It was similar to most “change” in daily life these days: it just occurred without either my knowledge or approval.

Did I mention that I dislike any cooked fruit? That includes: jams, jellies, and pies. And I detest and have never understood the creation of raisons, enjoying them only in animated form..

Yes, I realize this musing may be stretching its relevance to accompany the interesting anthropomorphic Au Bon Marché trade cards above. Let’s just say that I appreciated those past fruits of choice … surreptitiously, quietly, or vicariously.

Vegetables? I have actually enjoyed them all since my toddler years, even the oft maligned broccoli, cauliflower, and okra. However, I passionately dislike rutabagas, snow peas, and beets.

I digress. Actually, that was true before I even began to scribble these humble words.

(Images: “Fruits Animé”, six of eight, Series #28, Bon Marché c.1900-1905.)

“Gotta Meeting in the Ladies Room”

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No. No. No.
Somewhere near the end of a long list of nearly forgotten Psalms, a suggestion unfolds to “Speculate not, lest …”!

Perhaps, my recall of Sr Mary Edward’s inspirational fourth grade class is compensating and full of shaky, incorrect, or imagined details. Let’s just quietly crawl over those Sapphic innuendos that spark from their first mingle … cocktailed or otherwise.

I find it’s always best to avoid such flammable situations. And to drink plenty of water and speak softly.

Oh, Happy Day!

Besides: Marlene, Anna May, and Leni are undoubtedly up to a naughty, naughty evening.

(Misses Dietrich, Wong, and Riefenstahl.)

The Emergence: A Commuter’s Bliss

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To either drive into Raleigh or return, There are quite a few thoroughfares that Jon and I could use. One, however, stands out. It remains one of the few such roads here that is still a simple two lane country road. That is the reason for our motoring bliss and the area’s bucolic charm.

The best aspect is that one comes upon it quickly and without warning … like a gust of wind or noisy bolt. Often, it is not unlike coming out of a treacherous fog or thunderstorm. I might even suggest “orgasm” but I usually avoid going there. For your safety and mine. Just ask Lillian. Of course, she’s likely singing Manilow’s “Looks Like We Made It”.

For half of the last five miles of the leg to Marklewood , one drives through NC State U.’s educational farmland. They test livestock grub, new grasses, different techniques for different crops, and my favorite:

Each year, the agriculture classes build a fence around two acres, experimenting with schematics and looks. They really don’t fence anything in except for a small uncommercial putting green. At the end of the year, the students tear it down for the next class’s academic pursuits and their certain pure enjoyment.

Meanwhile, in spite of living here now for almost fourteen years, the feeling that quickly overcomes me is still fresh and feels still new. I amuse myself with comparisons to the Cotswolds, the French countryside, or just other parts of this great country’s landscape. (I pray that voters will be sensible and compassionate next November.)

During the brightest of wintry days, the many cows seem to all face the sun together. The first time it reminded me, in an apologetically irreverence, of “turning to Mecca”. They could’ve been doing that but, just as with humans, how and why does one fairly assess, assign, and judge another’s religious faith from a form or a quick interview?

We should all ponder that point, eh? Hell, doesn’t the very notion conflict with our Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Articles of Confederation? The cows at least are a mix of many breeds that intermingle and co-mingle in nonjudgmental bliss.

But I digress, just as you predicted. We should promptly get back to those bovine beauties.

Chuckle. Chuckle. Smile. Yes, I even smile when I sit here at my desk and start hopelessly visualizing these nearby pastures.

At least I have never taken to naming them. Except for Heather. She’s the one with a window on her side so that her digestive organs are easily viewed.

No bull!

(Image: “Ajax” by John Curry Steuart, 1936-37.)

Cold Cream (The ‘D’ is M.I.A.)

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Henry has been sleeping under my chin as I lay in bed imagining an improbable but increasingly craved beach romp. He usually has a fresh scent with a hint of lavender. Tonight, though, was different. Weirdly so.

He smelled just like my grandmother Dorothy always did. But that puzzled me and left me theorizing: Henry hasn’t used cold cream in years. And it so defined “Dodie” who incidentally had graduated from Oberlin in the early 20’s and later worked for the Smithsonian Institute. That perhaps was where she learned to neatly archive her secrets.

She was arguably the moistest person I have ever known. I used to mumble to my sister: “Quick! Secure the paper towels. Get the loofahs to a secured location.” I often thought that she could definitely befuddle the Brawny spokesman.

My mother called my grandmother only as Dodie. Just to bug her. Ah the tales of dysfunction always simmer this time of year.

It may just be time to get out the very dusty Pressure Cooker. I shall name it Dorothy Helen in memoriam.

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.)

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.)

Astro-Boy Abandons Red Carpet for Hooked Rug

Not all nostalgia warms one’s cockles or demands a quick sob. Some, sadly fills us with regret, loss, perhaps anger, and naturally frustration. Such is the Sad Case of Our Dear Astro-Boy.

Born in Tokyo in 1952, Ab was very active in the late sixties and seventies. However, while Reagan was President, his thoughts turned to the eventual joys of retirement. He was a still strapping young man. He had already made his fortune. And he would yet excitedly receive royalties ad infinitem.

Astro was ready to either visit his elderly parents, Chad and Debbi Atomi,  and their extended family in Tokyo. Or they’d, perhaps, travel by  souped-up Winnebago to a yet unidentified exotic location.

Or, as Astro-Girl reminded him, the pair could actually relocate to Aruba, a favorite vacation spot. She vowed to apply his sun screen every morning. In the end, though, it was his decision.

Astro and his common-law mistress agreed on one requisite: they had to leave Hollywood. The hooplah, chaos, invasion of privacy, and the sadness of his celebrity sucked the joy right out of them.

The phone was constantly humming for his attention to attend galas or fundraisers. Astro, however, no longer enjoyed the late hours. He no longer wanted to wear a tuxedo. He hated the “bump and shove” of it all. He loathed crowds and long lines.

He and Astrid enjoyed each other and their amenities at home. Their estate was grand and beautifully drawn. The incredible creative team at Hanna-Barbera was responsible for the upfitting and outfitting. Remember: the original designs were supervised by the same crew that had originally built Disneyland.

The mansion was constructed with Quick Draw McGraw’s Wright-inspired showplace to them on the left. To the right was the fabulous 6,800 sq foot bungalow shared by the first true Bel Air power couple, expatriates Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale. Boo-Boo Bear lived across the street with daddy bear Yogi. Yes. You got it right, Irma.

All of his neighbors and the other animated superstars now seemed superficial if not plastic. They all must’ve augmented their appearance with digital makeovers and the much more expensive hand jobs. They didn’t really have much in common with the Quests, the Jetsons, the Addams, or the unfortunate Rubbles, who had died in a tragic and uninsured auto accident back in 1992.

Astro and Astrid today smile whenever they hear of Madonna or Cher. He knew bigger one-named superstars: Josie, Shaggy, his wife and second cousin Velma, Shazam Sr., and that sometimes a-little-too-slutty trollop, Miss Dora. Don’t forget Dora’s scandalous longterm liaison with the slightly older Miss Jane. Theirs was the first “mixed medium” marriage. It was their estate, remember, to which both Portia Rossi and Anne Heche had retreated in the last decade.

Professionally, their was little to keep him from collecting his watch and moving to Florida. Disney had purchased their production company and Oprah had acquired the Astro-Boy merchandising rights. Donald Trump had seized his beloved Atlantic City casino. The mogul spearheaded a hostile takeover two decades ago and elected himself the grand poohbah of “Astro-Boy’s Golden Nugget Celluloid Casino” and its’ Starbucks-by-the-Slots.

These days, the studios looked for someone younger or, at least, redrawn. Producers had tarnished Astro’s powerful name power with gaudy remakes of his classic and pioneering television show and films. Younge wannabes were cast in leading roles in successful light porno fare such as: “I Know Why Your Feet Stick to the Floor!” And Disney’s new Broadway musical “Do Me In the Next Frame”, the Astro-Boynow in try-outs in Branson, Missouri.

As I conclude, I urge you to keep his fire alive and his name remembered. Just think Tetsuwan Atomi, or Mighty Atom.  In Tokyo, volunteers pasted 138,000 metro tickets into a collage of Astro in his iconic flying mode. “Astro-Boy 4.0” has debuted to critical success on the new Pat Sajak Network. And finally, there are several websites now dedicated to all things Astro-boy!

Henry and I have included a few photographs of the early anime star, including a rare baby picture. We both wish the couple a relaxing and fulfilling retirement wherever and whatever they do.

I am nearing sixty and will always remember Astro-boy fondly.

It’s a wrap, Irma. Oh, just watch Mighty Mouse okay?

 

Shake it Off, Irma

.There was a time that I’d hide such an infirmed or cautious state. ‘Twixt slippery lips, a shiny cup, and those “eagerest” of Ears, options start to reel: whether to keep up the conceal or lastly reveal. “Boots don’t walk forever” nor, in my case, dirty dirty bucks. I pant. I huff.

No, silly. I gave up the puff a few years back when my diagnosis seized my life.

Until I finally receive said heart and “le’ go my L-Vad”, my pace belies a caution, a yawn, a whimper. Or its growing need or diminishing timeline.

Please let me breathe or leave me alone.

I’ll join the Underworld’s Orpheus for a jaunty jig or a stolen reel. That is, if I “Can-Can”.

When it actually takes effort and energy to take a nap, that is the time best spent with eyes closed and hearts open. The Universe listens to prayer, no matter what we call it.

In fact, Irma, a prayer doesn’t even require a name, proper or otherwise.