Categories
food

Finally Full

“You sure eat a lot of fast food.”

Those eight words killed my appetite – punctured my excitement about dashing into the gas station to grab a couple of sliders at the attached White Castle.

Certainly, I knew how he felt. In the many letters and messages we’d exchanged during our courtship, he’d made it clear.

Yet. Those eight words, a casual observation made by the man I had been dating and was beginning to love, shrank me, a 31-year-old woman, into someone jittery, defensive, diminished.

Those eight words sniffed prissily at my history.

***

In 1982, for my 15th birthday, my dad gave me a 12-pack of Mello Yello. It was a thoughtful gift, one that indicated he understood the teenager lurking in the basement. To be presented with my own, private 12-pack of pop – something I never had to share with my siblings, something I could hoard in my bedroom closet – was a kind of power.

Dad didn’t use words much, but our shared meals, as recorded in my diary – pages of artless divulgences stashed in the same closet as the Mello-Yello – constituted warm communication.

Sometimes, to cap off a lethargic day, we’d drive in silence to Bonanza, the low-end, Old West-themed chain “steakhouse” where we’d order a prime rib dinner, maybe top sirloin, not for a special occasion but because it was Wednesday, no one wanted to cook, and we had coupons.

After ladling Ranch dressing onto iceberg lettuce at the salad bar and peeling the aluminum foil from baked potatoes, we’d return to our booth and sit in vinyl communion, relishing the paucity of demands on our energy and the fullness of our plates.  

***

She spent her youth plucking, pitting, and canning, but my mother never liked to cook. As a woman born in 1935, graduating college in the 1950s, marrying in the early 1960s, her lack of interest in the kitchen smelled of “radical feminist statement.”

She certainly didn’t intend it that way: she just didn’t like to cook.

Dutifully, she would make chicken noodle soup, a Sunday roast, “poor man’s” beef stroganoff, chocolate chip cookies. She loved more adventurous foods, but none of us understood the appeal of her mushrooms and asparagus. “More for me!” she’d puff, fishing around the can, trying to spear another limp spear or soppy button.

For my mom, the day-in-day-out call of the kitchen always chafed. Planning a nightly meal became even more thorny when she escaped into full-time work.

***

A crumpled Baby Ruth wrapper in hand, I opened the cabinet below the kitchen sink and dropped it into the trash. Rustling faintly, the wrapper unfurled inside an empty Campbell’s can. So that was the tantalizing smell permeating the house: pork chops slow cooking in Cream of Mushroom soup.

In the ‘80s, although my dad tried to catch up with the times, mastering a few crock pot meals and the occasional batch of chili, willingly scrubbing the pots and pans, his contributions were voluntary. Failure to plan a meal did not tarnish him.

It was my mother who was on the hook for getting food into her kids’ mouths – even when those kids were old enough to pitch in and figure out food for themselves. Yet, like our parents, we couldn’t be bothered to conceive of a plan that would cover the family. My sister and I might share a box of mac ‘n cheese; my brother would fry himself a couple hamburger patties. But tending to the common interest? Flattening ourselves, we refused the challenge.

***

In the early years, our family would head to McDonald’s after church on Sunday – a righteous reward. In our best clothes, we perched on plastic seats, the paper around our hamburgers crackling as we unfolded it. Carefully, I would scrape the rehydrated onions off the patty and offer them to my dad. After tipping our trays into the swinging mouths of the garbage bins, we’d take a minute to embrace the flame-haired Ronald McDonald on a bench outside.

A decade later, a teen trying to separate herself, already disenchanted with the ritual and community of church, I bypassed the worship and went straight to the reward.

***

Desperate to be liked, always desperate to be liked, I spent hours with my face pressed to mirrors – pursuing pimples, applying eye shadow, sucking in my stomach, admiring the star embroidered onto the pocket of my HASH jeans, angling the curling iron. Fancying that effort could result in popularity, I hit the halls of the school hoping that the height of my bangs would distract from the tenderness of my heart.

Too many days, I lay face down on my waterbed, smudging mascara tears into the pillowcase.

Tests saved me. Essays redeemed me. And when the report card came home – evidence that someone liked me – my mom and I celebrated the results by eating out. A musician, my dad had evening rehearsals. My sister found her place in the world through babysitting most nights. My brother refused to join in, noting that we didn’t have enough money to be eating out.

Saluting my achievement worked for a couple of us. As I plowed my way through a mountain of nachos, my mom sighed about her job as a church secretary. Dabbing at crumbs, she alternated bites of turkey sandwich with tidbits of despair about the pastor’s cruelty. To counterbalance her misery, we ordered the cheesecake.

***

My mother marched to the television and twisted the knob until the screen went dark. “It’s after 9 p.m., it’s a school night, and I don’t think that’s a good show for kids to be watching.”

Lazily, my brother unfolded his height from the plaid couch and skirted our mom’s form, still clad in the belted trench coat she wore to work. Leaning around her, he snapped the television back to life, explaining, “We watch this show every week. It’s called Charlie’s Angels. So what if they’re wearing bikinis. Don’t worry about it.”

Two, three, four, five nights a week, my parents weren’t home. Sometimes they’d swing by the house between work and the choir and handbell rehearsals that were their avocation. Providing music for several churches in town, they would often attend more than one rehearsal in a single evening. My father conducted, and my mother sang. When it came to bells, my mom would conduct, and my dad would ring. Creating music for communities of faith united them.

At the same time, we kids would be home, rattling around the kitchen looking for food, often hopping in the car to grab a single, no pickles, no tomato.

I thought I liked the independence.

***

My first car was a Pontiac, a boat of a thing that felt 40-feet long as it swayed across the asphalt. From the day I earned my license – passing the test even though the man scoring it stormed out of the passenger seat after my sixth attempt to parallel park, huffing “I can tell you’re never going to fit into that space!” – I packed the car with friends who, like me, were in search of an invisible something; we called it “fun.” Cruising The Point, hanging out the windows, whipping U-turns, grabbing Whoppers, trying to buy beer, our collective mobility assured us We Had Lives. And if we had lives, We Mattered.

I careened through my teen years, a lack of structure my sole purpose. Attending school, watching soap operas, winging around with friends, trying to fill the belly – the days were a spin of “Go here, go there, go back, go home, go get, find food.”

Direction came only when I turned a slow left towards the pick-up window after yelling at a stranger through an intercom.

***

Home alone on a Sunday morning, planted two feet from the television screen, sitting on the steamer trunk my grandmother had once taken to Europe, I watched State Fair. During the commercials, I raced to the vanity mirror in the bedroom and pulled my nightgown tightly around my hips, measuring my girth, assuring myself the reflection qualified as “hourglass.” Mostly, I was waiting for my mom to get home from the morning’s services. I was hungry.

Much of my parents’ identities was tied up in church. For years, we all attended the Presbyterian church together. Later, our family switched to a Lutheran congregation. A few years after that, my dad moved, seemingly on his own, to a different Lutheran church. Eventually, my mom followed. Collecting churches, they expanded the places where they made music, my mom driving one direction in her car, my dad the other way in his. Occasionally, they’d rendezvous in front of an altar.

By the time I hit fourteen, I knew: when I was sitting in a pew, leafing through the hymnal, sketching out a game of tic-tac-toe on the offering envelope, I floated in a grey limbo, feeding my spirit with something that felt artificial.

Preferring late nights and late mornings, I asserted myself. Outside of holidays, I didn’t want to go to church. This sent a tremor through my parents. Then, shrugging, they focused more hours on ringing and singing.

***

Uneasily, saliva pooling in my mouth, I stood at the Taco Bell counter next to my dad. If I ordered too much, he might comment on my weight. Hoping it made me smaller, I ordered one crunchy taco and a glass of water.

Perched on a hard, plastic seat, I bit through the shell, my teeth sliding easily through the sloppy fillings. The waxy cheese offered no resistance; the meat plopped onto the paper lining my tray. Deliberately, I pinched it, grasping at every possible bite.

Wadding the empty paper into a ball, I admitted, “That was so good. I could eat more of those.”

Dad’s eyebrows lifted; he was pleased by my appreciation of the food he’d provided. Expansively, he offered, “Well, then, let’s get you another one.”

The food waiting for us under warming lamps lubricated our squeaks, spared us from thinking, sidestepped the trick of a family meal. Unquestionably, going out to eat was a marker of celebration, ease, excitement, socializing, connection.

At the same time, without question, all that was going on inside our bodies – compromised nutrition, stuffing the holes with fries, never having a coordinated plan, lacking energy to make the effort, finding ways to never look each other in the eyes – reflected a festering dysfunction.

I thought we were okay. We were not okay.

***

“Bleeeech!” I spit the sour milk into the sink. I’d covered the Cheerios until they floated, priding myself on eating something before a hot fudge sundae at lunchtime, only to discover as spoon hit mouth that the milk had gone off.

When I was 15, my nose for rot was still developing. I’d given the carton a cursory sniff before tipping it into a full-on pour. It wasn’t until the cereal was fully saturated that I realized I was shoveling spoilage into my face.

It would take decades before I could perceive decay with any accuracy; decades before I could realize, with a quick whiff, that the milk in the fridge had expired; decades before I stopped trusting my well-being to artificial preservation; decades before chemical-laden food prepared by indifferent minimum-wage workers stopped being the safe choice.

***

Upstairs, the walls of my sister’s room were painted a sunny yellow; her curtains danced with flowers. The bright décor was deceptive. A more accurate reflection of our collective teenage mood was the basement, where my brother and I lounged in dark wood paneling, tucking our dirty dishes under the plaid couch, occasionally breaking dried clumps of sauce out of the industrial orange carpet.

It was good that my siblings’ bedrooms occupied separate floors, good that we rarely all sat down to a dinner, good to have distance between them. They didn’t much like each other.

Often, my mom ached for distance, too.

In the midst of the unhappiness, I locked the bathroom door and peeled lengths of toilet paper off the roll, mopping at my face. When I was done, I’d hold my hands under the faucet and splash cold water over my blotchy skin, mesmerized by the bubbles sliding down the drain.

***

Just before 5 p.m., my dormmates and I would line up outside the locked doors to the cafeteria. Uneasy with each other, strangers still, we’d stick to talk of movies, professors, friends back home. When, at last, the cafeteria doors swung open, our pack would move en masse into the huge, light-filled room, the group splintering as each of us hunted down the answer to a specific hunger.

At eighteen, echoing my mother’s yearnings, I left Montana and headed to Minnesota for college. I got away from it all. I got away from the crap. I was mean and spiteful and bitter, full of tears and a desire to be nicer. To everyone.

A boy named Tim always filled multiple glasses with milk and slathered a raft of peanut butter onto his plate. My roommate could be counted on to reach for the spaghetti while a girl from Wisconsin with an asymmetrical haircut reliably went for blueberry yogurt mixed with Grape Nuts. Most nights, Jeff from Michigan would finish most meals by dunking a tea bag into a mug of hot water. Accustomed to the challenge of figuring out my meals, I appreciated both the predictability and the choice – even though many of the entrees baffled me, stumping my beef-geared tastes. Eventually, I became a devotee of the salad bar, often topping off my meal with a bowl or two of Captain Crunch.

After a few minutes of individual wandering, seeking the security of other bodies, we’d converge at one of the long tables. No one had to spend time cooking chili cheese casserole for the group. None of us had to plan the menu. Unencumbered, we sparked with each other for hours, taking breaks to scoop cones of chocolate peanut butter ice cream, to toast a bagel, to refill a bowl with Lucky Charms, to watch Tim drink three more glasses of milk.

Leaving home offered me a novel experience: a nightly family meal.

***

“We’ll split a bread bowl salad,” my dad told the waitress at Perkins. A whole salad for each of them would have been too much. Plus, one was cheaper than two. When the bowl arrived, my mom scooted closer; her arms could only reach so far.

Alone in the house, the nest empty, my parents attended rehearsals, cast about for dinner, moved to a bigger place. My dad watched Jeopardy in his recliner; my mom crowed about the new bathroom that belonged to her, only her. One time, she put my father through a test without telling him: she refused to speak to him unless he initiated the conversation. They didn’t talk for three months. I doubt he noticed.

***

Traveling through Eastern Europe with my sister, flying to Iceland to camp with a friend, I lived for his letters. He’d written them before I left the country, handed over a well-kissed bundle of them, told me to open one each day while I was gone. Every evening, after riding a bus into Romania, marveling at the hard-boiled egg in my Polish borscht, swimming in a warm pool in Akureyri, I capped off the day’s novelty by slitting an envelope and easing his familiar voice out of the folds.

Infatuated, he contemplated the shape of our future. What would our days look like when we were together all the time? How could he be there for me? What would we eat? How would we celebrate life’s joys?

The morning after I returned from my trip, he proposed. A few months later, I married the man who wounded me when he noted that I ate too much fast food. Our years together propelled me into a slow-motion trust fall away from the shaky habits of my youth, urged a blind release into a solid landing. In falling, I discovered asparagus doesn’t come from a can, mushrooms can be transcendent, a wok heaped with bok choy is sizzling beauty.

***

After the birth of our first baby, we left her for a night with my parents. Having smiled at her and tickled her feet, Dad left. Later, without having told us she was already booked, Mom headed to a rehearsal, leaving the toddler with my brother. The next day, not interested in smashing a banana or spreading a handful of cereal onto her high chair tray, my mom and brother took her to McDonald’s, where they were amazed at the enthusiasm the diaper-clad towhead brought to dragging French fries through ketchup. It was amazing: our girl had never eaten processed sugar or deep-fried food before that familial initiation.

***

On the day my father opened the front door, not knowing he was being served, unaware his marriage was ending as it neared the 40-year mark, his eyes filled with an expansive view of the Pryor Mountains, 90 miles away. All he’d ever wanted, outside of a cheap sirloin at Bonanza, was the comfort of a yawning vista.

In the five months between their divorce and my father’s death, Dad spent a short period at an independent living home, a place where men were rare and valued. Surrounded by attentive women, no longer slipping around the edges of unexpressed anger, never having to plan ahead, he looked forward to mealtimes.

For my mom, craving demonstrated affection, the divorce freed her to seek out a new dynamic. Dating around, she moved in with a diabetic who loved Nut Goodies; later, she based a relationship with an unpleasant man on their mutual love of Diet Pepsi, no ice, slice of lemon.

Altogether, she stopped attending church. She was ready to buy her own cookies.

Eventually, Mom remarried. Her new husband, first unwilling and then unable to make himself a sandwich, sits in his chair, baptized by the glow of the television. Together, they watch Jeopardy. Eating out for them is not only a marker of celebration, ease, excitement, socializing, connection. It’s also that no one wants to be in charge of food; again, the responsibility falls to my mother. Fast food is the thing they do together, the reason for him to shower and get dressed. As his memory fades, there are two restaurants he still likes; her messages to us are peppered with the words “In-N-Out” and “Subway.” In this new marriage, life is completely different, yet nothing’s changed.

***

Disoriented by how foreign Turkey felt, our young family clung together. At seven and ten, the kids were still young enough to uproot for the wild hair of a sabbatical year abroad. So there we were: in Cappadocia, pacing our days with the Call to Prayer, wondering how headscarves related to politics. A trip to the hardware store required not only a dictionary but also a deep inhale. Even minor transactions were exhausting.

Then, one evening, at a party of expatriates teeming with wine and shouted introductions, I latched onto a Turkish woman named Eren, a woman who ran her own hotel in the next town, a woman willing to answer my myriad questions about the culture and history of the dusty region we’d decided to call home.

Several days later, Eren sent a car to our 400-year-old stone home. With typical Turkish hospitality, she had offered to give our family a cooking lesson at her hotel. Unused to the idea that a man would be a kitchen devotee, Eren spoke mostly to me, but it was my husband who tracked her instructions closely. I took notes. He asked questions, watched her hands. At the end of three hours, we sat down at a table outside to share the lesson’s yield: dolmas, leeks with carrots, bulgur, kofte, a dip of roasted eggplant.

The meal that afternoon lasted an hour, but the information stuck. Years later, six thousand miles from that hotel kitchen, I come home from a muddy trail run and find him smiling with anticipation as he rotates an eggplant over an open flame.  

***

“The closest thing I have to ‘faith’ is the way I feel about yeast.” An agnostic, my husband explores belief in the invisible each Sunday as he punches dough on the counter. His wedding ring rests on the windowsill, a witness, while his capable hands turn and thump the softness, the movements a conjuring. A calibration of heat, time, temperature, his loaves are hope made tangible.

On the radiator, covered by a towel, the dough rises. The kitchen is a mess, a visual cacophony of sticky bowls and wooden spoons. He wipes the counter, but when the moisture dries, chalky streaks smirk. His back-up crew, I wipe the green laminate again, this time with a paper towel; mournfully, I note that even the sides of the counters are coated with floury dust, that a third rubdown is in order. Worriedly, I remark that a drop-in visitor would flinch at the sty that is our kitchen.

“Mess is part of living life. All this flour everywhere means we’re doing it right,” the baker reminds me.

Later that night, when the house is dark and quiet, I stand in the kitchen, slicing a piece – then another – slathering butter, biting into the remnant warmth, feeling the crumbs dissolve on my tongue.

***

Slowly, the boy’s hand reaches towards the tv tray next to his bed. He is searching for relief, for painkillers, gum, something to swallow that will make him feel better.

Our thirteen-year-old just had his tonsils out. Limp, muffled-voiced, he winces with every swallow. Within a day of surgery, he refuses popsicles. They taste “too fake.” Although his stomach is hungry, little sounds appealing.

Except maybe homemade mac ‘n cheese, and if there’s some leftover pho broth in the freezer, he could sip a mug of that. Also, as long as I’m running downstairs, maybe he could tolerate a glass of the hibiscus Agua de Jamaica that Dad brews.

While the boy recovers, our girl is on a high school trip in Europe. In the days before her departure, she stacked clothes in her room, poured shampoo into tiny bottles, practiced using her ATM card. Feeling nostalgic in the fashion of a teenager leaving home for ten days, she requested a special pre-trip treat: Dad’s cinnamon rolls.

It’s beyond the sixteen-year-old’s scope, but sticky rolls are an integral part of her father’s history, something he made for himself when he lived alone, for roommates when he shared spaces, for friends when they helped him move, for his new girlfriend when she drove five hours north to visit. Setting out heaping platters is an extravagant statement of affection from an otherwise quiet man.

***

My stomach growls, and I heft ceramic plates out of the cupboard. A mountain of dirty dishes rests next to the sink. Next to the stove, a chopping knife lies atop a cutting board, still littered with stems. The mess can wait.

With the grace of passing years, I have arrived at an essential realization: happiness is authentic when someone’s hands have touched it, pressed a knife blade into the sinew, peeled back the surface, diced, tossed, grated the whole, exposing the hidden facets, baring the delicate subtleties.

Minutes later, I lift the fork to mouth, wrapping my lips around a complex bite. I am eating my husband’s questions about that week’s menu. I am eating the shopping list he made. I am eating his hours at the grocery store. I am eating the chopping he did before work, the frying he did after. I am eating the heat of the oven, our day’s debriefing, the intimate conversation we had while he stirred wooden spoon in skillet. I am eating my husband’s cells, sloughed off from his skin as he worked over our food.

With each rich, thought-filled bite, I am eating clean, healthy love.

If you care to share, click a square:
Categories
food grain money pizza the shame

All of Y’all Need to Eat More Whole Grains. ‘Ceptin’ the Poor ‘Uns. You’re Good.

“Wait! What’s that?” asked seven-year-old Girl, catching a glimpse of the email I had opened on the computer tonight.

“It’s just a message someone sent. But it’s time for bed; go choose your book, and then we’ll brush teeth,” I responded, ever task-minded at 8 p.m. I get profoundly more task-minded when my husband has just run to the local brewhouse to pick up a Growler (read: big-ass jug) of micro-brew Stout for us to crack open as soon as the kids are snoring and dreaming of their Webkinz.

“No, but who are those people on the screen? I want to see them,” she insisted.

“Okay, okay, but quickly. Then it’s read, brush, and hop into bed with you, ” I conceded, turning the laptop’s monitor her direction. Quickly, there on the bed, Girl was joined by her five-year-old brother, Dinko, who chimed in, “What’re all those people doing? I wanna see too.”

“Well, the pictures in this message show people from all over the world standing next to the food they ate in one week. Then it tells us how much it cost for them to buy that food. Basically, it’s showing us how different we are in the ways we’re most the same.” As I’ve mentioned before, I’m the parent who’s devotedly working towards turning her children into The Boors in the Corner at future art openings.

For the next ten minutes, after we were joined by Groom (who’d been downstairs frying up onions, peppers, and fajita meat–cost: $5.43) on the bed, our little crowd of family scrolled through the photos again and again, up and down, responding to requests to “see the Italian people again so I can see their bread” or to “show me one more time the ones who live in a tent.”

During this spontaneous family gathering, it was noted that:

–those Ecuador people don’t seem to live in a rich house…but they have the best smiles
–Egyptian people are lucky because they live in Ancient Egypt, where the mummies are
–the Bhutan people have a richy-looking house, but there sure are a whole lot of them in it
–the Germans need to mess things up a little
–the Mexicans drink too much pop
–the Americans eat a shezbang of junk food
–the Polish people have the cutiest stuffed grey elephant in the whole hungry world

Do you see what we saw?

Italy: The Manzo family of Sicily
Food expenditure for one week: 214.36 Euros or $260.11

Germany: The Melander family of Bargteheide
Food expenditure for one week: 375.39 Euros or $500.07

United States: The Revis family of North Carolina
Food expenditure for one week $341.98

Mexico: The Casales family of Cuernavaca
Food expenditure for one week: 1,862.78 Mexican Pesos or $189.09

Poland: The Sobczynscy family of Konstancin-Jeziorna
Food expenditure for one week: 582.48 Zlotys or $151.27

Egypt: The Ahmed family of Cairo
Food expenditure for one week: 387.85 Egyptian Pounds or $68.53

Ecuador: The Ayme family of Tingo
Food expenditure for one week: $31.55

Bhutan: The Namgay family of Shingkhey Village
Food expenditure for one week: 224.93 ngultrum or $5.03

Chad: The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp
Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23

—————————

As we powered down the computer, the kids asked if we couldn’t delete the photo of the crap-eatin’ Revis family of North Carolina and substitute it with one of our family and its weekly eats.

“We’d have to put lots of apples and oranges in the picture,” Dinko noted.

“And for my lunch at school, I’d need five peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,” piped up Girl.

“Then we’d need a bouquet of biscotti,” I continued…

“Plus yogurt, granola, pears, carrots, peas, and a box of Teddy Grahams,” contributed Groom…

before we all shouted in unison, “And a tower of homemade cookies!”

Ten minutes later, after the kids’ ears had been filled, their teeth swabbed, their bladders emtpied, and their bodies strapped to their beds,

I tromped down the stairs towards the Oatmeal Stout in a Jug,

and

I took a happy second to savor

my blessed good fortune.

If you care to share, click a square:
Categories
book party coffee exercise food meme shoes vibrations

Good Vibrations

 

As a teacher of writing, I caution my students against using cliches in their writing. Cliches are hackneyed and trite and require no thought on the part of the writer. For example, I point out to my young charges, the phrases it was raining cats and dogs and I was up at the crack of dawn are empty and hollow–they are dead to me. Please, I beseech my tuition-paying pupils, don’t use the phrase sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll in your essay entitled “The Meaning of College Life.” If you must use a cute little phrase, try reworking the cliche a bit, to freshen it up; give me, at the very least, free love, Yellow Submarines, and Janis Joplin. Go for some gusto, O College Writers of the World!

In the face of my exhortations, they yawn a lot, send a few text messages, and then start zipping and unzipping their backpacks loudly.

Clearly, the cliche battle is mine alone to wage, and, therefore, I do my best to uphold my No Cliches, Especially on Sundays, policy. So I trot through life, whistling to myself: to convey a sentiment with precision in writing, the last thing a writer should use is a worn-out, overused cliche.

But you know what? Right now I need one. Because? The weather this week, here in Minnesota? There’s only one way to tell you: it’s not the heat; it’s the humidity.

It’s so humid, friends, that our toilet is literally wrapped in a bath towel right now; it’s sweating so much condensation that the bathroom floor was becoming slick with toilet sweat puddles. So we wrapped it.

It’s so humid that, during yoga class the other day, I was dripping with sweat to the point that, when I lowered myself from a Downward Dog into a Child’s Pose, my dripping legs failed to actually stop when they made contact with the mat, and I slid right through, off the mat, thereby losing my, um, connection with the center of the earth and, er, all my chakras went out of alignment. And I said a bad word, too.

It’s so humid that, I kid you not, I washed my hair before bed the other night, and 18 hours later it was still wet. YES, I’ve heard of the modern invention called hair dryer, but the idea of willfully and purposefully applying heat–even a dry heat–to any part of this body when temperatures are almost 90 degrees is anathema. Thus, my follicles remain moist. (How’s that for a pick-up line?)

Suffice it to say, this week is not breezing by for me. In fact, my naturally-buoyant spirits have felt oppressed, suppressed, by the thick air and the ongoing sensation that I’m breathing through a wet washcloth. Even staying up until 2 a.m. each night, reading the new Harry Potter, hasn’t gotten my mojo rising (but nice job, Ms. Rowling! I can’t believe you killed off the entire cast of characters on the last page like that!!).

So what, gentle readers, can do the trick for me during this challenging week?

Fortunately, I can answer that question thanks to Jazz , who tagged me some time ago with just the meme I need: to list five things that raise my vibrations. Thinking of these things has provided exactly the counterpoint that my soggy spirit needs:


1. The nightly date with my beau. Quite unconsciously, we fell, a few years ago, into the pattern of tucking in kidlets, having a drink, and plugging the DVD of our tv-show-of-the-moment into the player, which we watch, rapt, while we eat a delicious dinner (tonight: cold sesame noodles with chicken and sugar snap peas). While our days consist of the chaos that can accompany parenting young children, my groom and I have a protected hour or two each night, a time of focus and shared experience, that keeps us, if not on the same page, at least on the same episode. Result? The the love remains in its groove.

2. Speaking of food, there is one meal in particular that is guaranteed to turn my frown, how you say, upside down: a fried egg sandwich. The sheer simple elegance of this dish gives me a big ole case of The Happies. There is butter, egg, toasted bread; toss on some salt and pepper, and I suddenly feel nestled to the bosom of a loving world. Yes, steak rocks. Sure, chocolate saves. But the fried egg sandwich is my ultimate comfort food.
3. My Teva flip-flops. Last weekend, I attended a farewell party for a good friend. While I was grateful for the chance to pay tribute to how much I like this guy, I was put off by the invitation, which asked guests to bring an appetizer (no problem) and their own drinks (what the hell? This is something I’ve experienced several times now in Minnesota, and it just peeves me. I mean, are you hosting the party or not? If you are, howzabout you put out some food and, if you can’t do that, at least provide some drinks? If you don’t want to do that, howzabout you go to a movie that afternoon instead of pretending at some kind of faux hospitality? I was glad, however, that guests weren’t also asked in the invite to come over the day before the party and clean the host’s house. Hmmmmm. As it turns out, I am digressing. None of this has anything to do with my flip-flops, really. Gotcha!). Okay, so at this party, we were asked to leave our shoes by the door, so as to not track Nature into the house. Then we were lead out the back door of the house to a patio. After standing, barefoot, on that patio for a couple hours, it was pure, rabid bliss to get home and slip my aching dogs into my soft, accommodating, saucy little Teva flip-flops. Even if the blood of small hamsters is the highly-guarded secret of Teva’s manufacturing design, I don’t care. These things are that good. Power to the bloodsuckers!
4. My afternoon coffee. Before the age of 35, I had only ever had one cup of coffee in my life (at Mardi Gras in 1991, when I hadn’t slept for some days). But when I hit 35, Groom took a job as a barrista, and I learned the beauties of showing up at opportune times to kipe his free “shift drink,” so long as it was sweet and frothy and basically a dessert in a cup. All of this occurred when I’d just had Kid #2, so once again coffee was used to get me over the hump of not having slept for some days…or some months. Now, even when relatively well rested, I rely upon my 3 p.m. mocha or latte to get me through the mid-afternoon dozies. I also am very good at making the case that a mocha is nothing–nothing!–without a little biscotti sidecar.

5. Exercise. It’s the best of all addictions, this need to raise my heart rate every day. And, like coffee, my devotion to exercise only started in my 30’s. And, like coffee, exercise has been essential to making me a better parent. When I go for an hour run every day, I actually think, reflect, and plan. If I didn’t run, we’d never have a shopping list or take a trip or enroll the kids in camp. I needs me thinkin’ time, and I love seeing the world by foot, up close and smelly. And on those days when I hit the gym instead of the trails, I love reading my celebrity gossip while ticking the minutes by on the treadmill. And at the end of my exercise, I’m all sweaty, which is…
…em…just what humidity does to me, too. So now I’m back where I started. I was feeling better there for my first four vibration raisers, but now I’m just back to sweaty. Dag. What to do?

The good news is that that blogging, as well, inflates my spiritual balloons. And right now, today, my ballooons are blowing in the breeze for my fellow blogger, Diesel, who, as you read, is hosting a little party over at his crib. His Media Office has sent out this press release:

Diesel, the twisted genius behind the humor blog MattressPolice.com, has announced the publication date for his first book! Antisocial Commentary: From the Secret Files of the Mattress Police, is a hilarious excursion through the mind of Diesel. From topics as varied as James Blunt and the Incredible Hulk to global politics and perpetual motion machines, Antisocial Commentary is a tour de force of satire, sarcasm, and just plain silliness. Savor such essays as “The Force is Middling in this One,” which answers the question “What happens to someone in the Star Wars universe who isn’t quite Jedi material?” and “Harry Potter and the Inevitable Slide into Satanism,” which explores the nefarious connection between the works of J.K. Rowling and the minions of the Devil.

Diesel’s book will be published on August 15, but for a limited time we fellow bloggers can pre-order a signed copy at a discounted price, so if you’re a fan of Diesel’s and have ten bucks burning a hole in your birkin, head on over to MattressPolice.com and give him a big ole virtual (and financial) hug. The book is guaranteed to raise your vibrations.

If you care to share, click a square:
Categories
asparagus food recipe

“The New Joy of…Cooking”

There’s no better way to challenge the loyalty of one’s readership than to post a recipe.

I could, therefore, entitle this post something Sally Fieldlian like, “You DO like me, right? You WILL come back, even though I’m posting a recipe? I promise it will be just this once, and I won’t weep hysterically and wipe my snot on your shoulder, if only you promise to return one day, when the recipes have gone away.”

But the asparagus furor that arose out of my last post made me want to provide some specifics about one of the backbones of my springtime diet: nearly-broiled asparagus. If you, too, love that green stuff so fervently that even the funky urine odor an hour after eating it doesn’t dissuade you, then this recipe is for you.

First, you’re going to need a baking sheet, the kind of big ole rectangular pan you could hit Simon Cowell in the chest with terrifically hard and then take away imprints of his chest hair tufts for posterity. Now, this pan doesn’t have to be huge-huge (damage can be done to Cowell even with a moderate-sized pan), but you want it big enough that it could double as a clown shoe in a pinch.

Then you’re going to need at least a pound of asparagus–because, really, who eats less than that? And to tell you true, if you live in the Land of the Wild Jocelyn, you’d do well to start out with at least two pounds. Some fine folks, home after a long day’s work at The Company, standing in the kitchen with good posture, wearing a tailored suit, might look at the stack of stalks and think, “Oh, good, we’ve enough for the whole family. Lovely.” Here in our household of unemployment, slouching and t-shirts, though, we are realists and know there ain’t no way the yowling kids are going to eat, willingly, this particular green food (since it doesn’t say “Shrek” on it), so the prep-chant goes: “Screw their nutrition. More for us!”

Your next step will be therapeutic, as there is snapping involved–from tempers to stalks. Pick up each stalk and, as you did as a child with your Barbies (when witnessing adults would mutter, “Hem, er, Dahmer. Jeffrey Dahmer?”), hold each stalk by its “legs” and then, at the natural breaking point, snap off its “head.” Remember when you decapitated your Skipper doll and never again found her noggin? That’s what I’m talkin’ about. Indeed, each stalk can be gently and steadily bent–violent movements are not actually necessary–until it hits the point of breakage. A man named Peter did just such work on my heart when I was in my early 30’s. The stalk, or the Jocelyn, hardly needs to realized what’s happening to it, until the moment of irrevocable and devastating impact.

Okay, now it’s Artistic Expression time. Discard the tough ends that you’ve just broken off (if you have an enemy, perhaps named Peter, put them in his pillowcase while he’s away on a trip to Vegas for two weeks) and then artfully arrange the lovely asparagus heads/bodies on the baking sheet. I sometimes do a hatchmark dealie, wherein I line up four spears and then lay a fifth across it diagonally; this also helps Groom and me keep a running tally of how many spears there are, so fisticuffs don’t ensue at mealtime. But you go crazy; get creative; make a portrait of your grandmother riding a unicycle out of the stuff.

Somewhere in the middle of all this fun, you can turn on the oven to, honest to Emeril, 500 bangin’ degrees. If you have a smoke detector in the house, this would be a good time to go take the batteries out. I’ll wait.

No, seriously. Go do it. The smoke is going to be hack-worthy.

Okay. So you’ve got them babies on the pan. Now you need to take out some of your really expensive ultra-extra-non-Paris-Hilton-but-rather-still-a-virgin olive oil and, placing a finger over the opening (there are more, really crude, Paris Hilton jokes here, but I’ll spare you. Just think “finger” and “opening.” Yes, my work here is done), drizzle it over all the spears. Or you can just use your cheap, years-old streetwalker olive oil. Whatever you’ve got.

Now comes the philosophical section of the recipe: what is life without spice? Life, and food, are significantly diminished without it, all the less for their bleak, uninterrupted sameness. Translation: add some salt and pepper. If you have any character at all, make it freshly-ground pepper, not just pre-ground flakes from a can. Splurge, honey, and buy some peppercorns. You are so worth it.

Hang on. We’re ready to rock. Open the oven, slam in the pan of goodies, close the oven, lean back against the kitchen counter, and pick up your beer again. If you use a timer, set it for five minutes. If you don’t use a timer, then sing the “ABC” song about 7 times. Or once through the extended dance remix of “Tainted Love” would work.

After five minutes, put on a big ole silicon oven mitt and a gas mask (or, at the least, safety goggles) and open up the oven. Reach in like the hero you are and shake that baking sheet–hokey pokey all those stalks so that their left feet and right arms are in a big tangle. I watched my kids play Twister the other day, and it was pretty much the same–limbs everywhere; all I know is that this step involves some sort of analogy to a kids’ game. So go ahead and liken this process to, em, Clue Junior, and then close the door and back away slowly, reaching around blindly for your beer as you wipe the smoke out of your eyes.

Set the timer for another five minutes, or sing “Stairway to Heaven” while musing about how poorly all those formerly-hot classic rock stars have aged. Ah, Robert Plant, we hardly know ye.

After the final chorus, or when the beeper goes off, put on all your gear again, and head in to the inferno one final time for The Extraction.

Toss the pan onto the countertop or the burners of your stove. Head to the fridge and take out some feta cheese. There are no substitutions here, so don’t even try to sprinkle some cheddar on the Holy Stalks. Jesus Marimba, could you not plan ahead for once in your life and have actually bought the feta? Presuming you want to stay on my good side, you’ll just have the damn feta and won’t dither about in front of the cheese drawer, trying to find something to fool me with. And this is no time to get distracted by those old tupperware containers on the back of the shelf. Yes, that is mold you see; yes, those are the refried beans you opened when Clinton was still in the White–and the dog–house. But there’s piping asparagus awaiting you, so hop to!

Plate your half of the spears, angling for one or two extra when your friend/spouse/partner isn’t looking (“Hey, check out that, er, UPS truck backing up to the neighbors’ garage! Why are they filling it with all their electronic equipment? Could it be a heist? Maybe you need to do something…”). Crumble the feta, liberally (always the best approach, in cooking, morals, and politics), all over your spears.

Set the timer again, this time for two minutes. Or hum “Hit Me, Baby, One More Time.” See if you can beat my record and eat your entire plateful in that time.

By the way, asparagus fangs hanging out at the buzzer DO still qualify as “eaten.”

I’ve also heard of people eating their food in a leisurely fashion. Suit yourself, ya delicate little poncey poodle. The rest of us will just sink our heads into the feedbag and make some indelicate chomping noises for awhile here.

If you care to share, click a square: