The Hearty Boys

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The day is almost here … when I bring my new heart home. We can make merry, make mirth, and make blueberry margaritas.
Until then, however, please remain patient and and remember us in your thoughts. My rehabiiation lasts about a month. And my beloved’s stress is never-ending.

Shalom

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A New Season’s Hark to Last Season’s Heart

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This calm and still Wednesday morning has become quite the glorious herald to the new spring, hidden from view just around the corner. Like my recent nausea, the clouds have reluctantly dissipated, as relief peaks through a nebular porthole as if to softly whisper “I’m here!” The most critical of change is often slow to root and even slower, to soothe.

I know better than to foolishly tempt or tease fate, or (more importantly these days) allow it a loop in which to slip one of its “holy” bad or cruel jokes. To welcome blind change, without direction or guidance, is often destructive, self-defeating, and certainly foolish.

For that reason, today I celebrate patience and compassion, and the intertwine of the two. It saddens me that so many Americans have given up on the “honorable” and decent path. They prefer a quick fix. They want answers. And, most of all, they want to bolster their assets and checking account now.

To many of those, any change is indeed a better alternative. But is it? It frustrates me that, yet again, this nation is on the verge of yet another potentially foolhardy “throw the bums out” tirade, antsily stomping its feet. May I remind you it was one such repercussional tantrum in 1972 that first plucked Jesse Helms from obscurity as he appealed to voters’ sense of xenophobia and bigotry.

Not to fear, my friends, I will stifle my partisan leanings and neatly tuck my soap box away,for now. We all will be bombarded with such messages and images over the coming weeks. But I am scared. There are simply too many loose cannons and over-armed gamesmen out there.

Today, I shall celebrate what is good in the world, as I mourn what we have killed. I will definitely smile with relief as my mind’s eye catches Jon fumbling in the kitchen and reclaiming control over his own health.

But I will cry at the thought of the children that were callously thrown away by society. I will cry for their tormentors who were taught by their parents to hate. I will cry for my peers who say “oh, how awful!” and immediately turn the television to “Dancing With the Stars” to learn of Marla’s fate.

Today, I shall celebrate the still and bright skies, as I mourn those who wade through flooded streets. Or those who wonder why there are no birds circling the feeders, while air raids circle above.

Today, I celebrate Jon and the Twelve Noble and Apostolic Pusses of Marklewood, as I mourn those who are alone or isolated. I shall cry for children whose fear and isolation is so profound that they jump to “safety” from a bridge. I shall cry for those many, many individuals who go for days without human contact, and suffer the worst of society’s disconnects.

Trust me, I am neither a naive, cock-eyed, or a short-sighted “pollyanna”! I am broke and unemployed; follow politics far too closely; and have recently succumbed to these damned maladies of mortality. But I am a happy person.

I am comfortable with myself. I attempt to almost always do the right thing. And I have a partner, family, and friends who are nurturing, compassionate, and like-minded. “Like-minded”, by the way, has little to do with religion or politics, as it is more clearly defined by both reveal of our souls and our over-simplified levels of compassion.

So as I shall soon flip my desk calendar, I take a deep breath. I’ll look ahead in grand manner. October is always a grand month, illustrated by cascading leaves and previews of the season’s “sweater wars”. It is a handy month for both catching up and getting an ample head-start.

First things first. Let’s get through spring and the ever tardy April showers. Autumn’s harvest will gladly make a housecall in its own sweet and due time. By then, surely it will be the appropriate time to trade in “last year’s heart”.

And I love Thursdays! And I love the rain! And I love the Universe’s snappy unfold of the passing seasons!

It’s all good, Lillian.

May all of us have a lot to smile about this evening and tomorrow. Proceed with kindness and grace. And remember: being happy and content never means that you must forget how to cry. It is often tears that cleanse a nation’s spirit.

(Image: “Marinero” by Femke Hiemstra, 2012.)

A Holiday That Evolves With Time (and Hormones)

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Easter has always been a complex and inconsistent holiday for me. When I was a relatively wee lad, the day was filled with baskets of fine chocolates, books, and ensembles perhaps better befitting a young dandy. We would attend church service and return home to a celebratory meal and a day of family bonding.

The imagery and explanations confounded me, however, as I struggled to link the Resurrection with a rabbit in a dinner jacket. Upon over-ponderance, I’d face the weary truths of kickball, grass-stains, and parental over-compensation.

As I approached the twitch of pubescent hormones, the treats were offered, naturally, far less frequently. We did, however, still go to Easter service which was always joyous and offered triumphant music. I realized at a young age that this day was the only one that, being Catholic, the hymns would be upbeat and melodic.

We’d return home to again share a special lunch and to reminisce about relatives I had never met. I would soon-after rush outside to join-up with my neighborhood cronies. I could always frolic until dark, since North Carolina was yet the only state that honored Easter Monday. The next day was another holiday!

As I became a young man, Easter became less of a special day, except that stores were closed. Many folks either went to the beach or spent the day with visiting relatives. Or savored moody independence, like I did.

I usually slept late, stayed in my robe, and spent the day either fervently reading or watching some Easter classic film that was hopefully neither “The Ten Commandments” nor some cloying Jeff Chandler chestnut!

Then as I started my journey of drifting toward and away from serious romantic relationships, the day always meant some spectacular meal: a festive brunch or elegant dinner party with perhaps a dozen guests. Certainly it was a festive day but no one really thought of Easter, its history, or its intent.

We made merry and indulged, and nursed a wretched aftermath.

Of course now I am in my reflective dotage and the day has further evolved. Like all my peers, I am prone to embrace nostalgia and share tales. Jon and I usually fix a special meal, nothing extravagant, but something out of the ordinary. 


This year, perhaps the hospital kitchen staff will make good on their vow to prepare something indeed special. If not, we can enjoy the richly and serene imaginary from equally imaginary open windows. And dine separately together.

We both have such fickle appetites and limitations, that “n’er the twain doth meet!”

Jon will play his sacred music most of the day as he swoons with the swell of the chords and the organ. We will savor a few treats. And we will reminisce about friends and lovers who have passed away and relatives that the other has never met or probably even heard mention.

It’s just the two of us, the cats, and of course the Easter bunny. I doubt I ever stopped believing in her. Yes, I learned long ago that the bearer of such sweet sentiment, gentle nostalgia, and special delicacies had to be a woman: a gentle, patient, and motherly type.

But alas and alack. I will sadly not be playing kickball this year, although it is not for lack of want.

Happy Easter, my friends. 
The Easter bunny is an angel; it’s an unwritten law of nature and divine order, at least at Marklewood and in #3702.

The Enclosed Card

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Henry. Henry. Henry.

That silly puss! I awakened from my early afternoon nap and, in a jolt of jubilation, discovered that a virtual bouquet was resting on my hospital table.

Today is a gusty and balmy 78 °F. Yet my skepticism, if not reason, sought proof that Spring was indeed in the Green Room waiting for its fifteen minutes.
Our host suggested otherwise but it was alas time for good tidings of gardens.

Tightly bound buds. Easing effulgent blooms. Proud firm stems. Oh. Those floral town criers!

Henry sent me flowers. I can now see for myself.

You, gentle reader and Ye of Green Thumbs, may scoff at a puss’s folly of such a curated image.

But Henry curls up in a cock of feline righteousness. Whiskers permitting, he’d surely feign a grin.

Correspondence and greetings of all types are now all but fully replaced by the phenomenon that offers E-cards.

I’d share other tidbits of this new web-world, but I am late and need to redirect.

Forgive me. It’s time for Henry and me to Skype. He’ll soon settle in for another viewing of Sunday’s Downton Abbey.

Courtesies of the Ladies Crawley, Doodle is now painfully aware of etiquette.

(Images: “Lilies” by Irma Stern, 1944.)

Prodigal Soon Seeks Passage on That Midnight Train, Georgia

Full title: The Story of Griselda, Part III: Reunion Artist: Master of the Story of Griselda Date made: about 1494 Source: http://www.nationalgalleryimages.co.uk/ Contact: picture.library@nationalgallery.co.uk Copyright © The National Gallery, London

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I am loathe to admit that, after a month in the hospital, I am cranky. Worse yet, my gratitude is shaky.

Cabin fever? I should only have that much room.

I am dizzied and speechless that I face another six weeks on IV antibiotics, backless hospital gowns, lack of privacy, and using a portable urinal.

My beloved and Henry are home refeathering the nest without me. Now that each hour has become so precious, I’d rather spend them in “my” world, “his” world, our humble Marklewood.

Please, don’t misjudge my tone to be depressed, desperate, or, at the very least, a bad sign of something a-brewing.

At 1:00am in 3702, my rant is now passing, at least for a few more weeks.

If you stop by, please try the Black Bean Soup, London Broil, or the Shrimp/Grits.

Fondly,
Raleighwood’s Reverse Prodigal Son

Wee Hour Ramblings

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It’s just shy of 4am and here I ponder. I obsess. And I explore the metaphysical haze that rises from the February dew and the balmy breezes that stage my fictional village settings.

My beloved and I usually watch television at night. Downton Abbey, Call the Mid-wife, Doc Martin, Sherlock Holmes, Elementary, Mr Robot and an increasing roster of guilty pleasures. I enjoy crime shows (Criminal Minds, Law & Order: SVU). Jon enjoys science fiction dramas (The 100, Expanse, Extant) that follow absurd storylines and Telenovela-like spaceship shows.

Oy. We both mumble a bit and slip into a hoarse Sotte Voce derision of each other’s choices. Why don’t murder victims stay dead? Half the time we are told ludicrous backstories.

It must be hard out there for an assassin. It happens so often that one of us always predicts: Oh, he’ll be back. Years ago, on One Life to Live, there was once a long-lost brother to a Llanview Grande Dame.

Half a year into his storyline, he was killed off. He drove his sport scar into a the side of a big “Big Rig”. His fate? He was decapitated, reminiscent of Jayne Mansfield’s end. A few years later, that very character just rolled into town to liven up those lost scenes.

Yes, I must be strong. I best avoid CNN. Those 10pm shows of yesterday still prompt my viewing:

Monday was Medical Center Night. Tuesday brought Marcus Welby MD. Oh, how I am indeed becoming my parents with their Hal/Margy peccadillos. Sure, I claim all the differences, improvements, and more recent popular trends. But Polly and I are so much like our parents … except for social skills and temperment.

So, in closing, I confess my more casual trespasses. But I’ve already deeply-analyzed my issues. And that’s when I fall into the Persian Blue abyss that holds my dreams.

I may study the sky … imagining a kingdom of clouds. I seed turrets, fountains, and windows. I find myself trying to peek in. And therein my blog post begins to take form.

And as I stand up erratically, I see faces in the turret.

(Image: by Alan McDonald.)

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.)

It’s My Shadow’s Schedule, Not Mine!

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It is a sad, sad state of assorted sordid affairs when one identifies and defines each distinct day of the week. Labels in life are often dangerous, judgmental, or misused. Life and our thousands of traditions, thoughts, reactions, and answers come with neither constructive instructions nor a wee-set of warnings.

Yet, over-simplifying one’s explanation can actually lead to over-simplifying one’s life. I am there and have been since May 22, 2013.

Nonetheless, I build each day with those entries that are either distinctively crucial, meaningful, or entertaining. Yes, they can skip across a continuum from absurd all the way to crucial. Thus, my week here at Marklewood has become an illustrated collection of Zeniths and Nadirs.

Every Monday, my home health nurse Michelle stops by to: check my IV and re-dress its entry area, take me vitals, and conducts the quickie INR prick. She forwards her reports to the UNC Transplant Team, most notably to both of my cardiologists.

My beloved and I schedule all of my doctor visits for Tuesdays and his for the remaining days. Since mine usually involve driving to Chapel Hill, we make a day of it. And we almost always make every effort to stop by Merritt’s Grill for the very, very finest BLT in the Americas. To say “world” would be expressing gross exaggerations and might skew an analysis or two.

On Wednesdays, I usually sleep quite late. Preparing a manly supersized iced coffee, I then take it, some rye toast, and my iPad into the living room. I rarely then ever leave the living room, that is until Jon and I watch Jeopardy together upstairs.

After we eat dinner, we usually continue with the TV on, while we separately “type away” on our iPads. His Siri can be described as a submissive and easily confused man. Mine is a headstrong woman who autocorrects with incorrect spellings and responses. Education is so important even within a fictional narrative.

My Thursday is usually unstructured: a day of writing, reading, and posting. Kindly add to that an evening of Big Bang Theory, Mom, How to Get Away With Murder, and Elementary. Also, I see my therapist on every third Thursday … if I am up to it that day.

I define Fridays simply as SciFi Fridays. JON’s SciFi Fridays. On the other hand, I’ll listen to music, watch videos, or engage in more interactive web activities. Bless the Beasts and the Earphones!

Saturdays belong to National Public Radio and its roster of witty chat, games, and stories. Programs include: Car Talk, Wait Wait .. Don’t Tell Me!, Dinner Party Downloads, and Prairie Home Companion, among others. They flow seamlessly well into “after dark” TV programming, on PBS.

Surprisingly, Jon and I vary very little in our Sunday activities. It can be a make-up day for any missed NPR shows from the day before. Fast forward to 9:00pm. It offers a rough and tough battle between Downton Abbey, The Good Wife, and The Walking Dead … or any combination therein.

Spoiler Alert! On these ambient, dim (not yet twilight) days, the weekdays unfold quickly with ne’r a variance. Yes, it is shocking and usually excruciating to admit. Time tends to heal itself, while my beloved and I unsuccessfully court change.

I shall update you after my heart transplant. But only after I’ve gone to the Outer Banks, submersing myself in the divine salty water. I always find such swims are not unlike Naval Baptisms, of course with a hologram of Monsignor Dolan officiating.

I shall update you when my sins and illusions have been washed away.

But yes. I guess. I have digressed.

Shalom.

(Image: “Young Napoleon at the Military School of Brienne-le-Château” by Jacques Onfrey de Breville, 1908.)

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.)

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 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.)

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.