HOW TO COOK A MOOSE_COV_hr copyA Tale of Two Kitchens

Right away, when we first moved to Portland, I noticed the large numbers of homeless and mentally ill and drug-addicted and hardscrabble people on the streets. Walking Dingo through our new neighborhood, I saw a lot of strung-out-looking people talking to themselves with unselfconscious intensity as they took refundable bottles from recycling bins, and couples screeching at each other, enraged and incoherent, often many feet apart on the sidewalk. Every time we drove to buy groceries, passing by a series of homeless shelters on and near Preble Street, I’d look out the window of our warm car at the faces of the people standing there, huddled groups of down-and-out men and women, a few black but mostly white, hunched in wool pea coats and hats with earflaps, or watch caps and down jackets, rubbing hands together, kibitzing and standing around waiting for the soup kitchen to open and exhaling cigarette smoke as if it had warming properties.

So I’m at the gym and one of the TVs is tuned to Fox News, which I choose to watch because the other options are all reality TV shows about the hardships of blandly pretty rich white women, and at least the blandly pretty rich white people on Fox have the theoretical potential to talk about something important, and anyway I don’t need to justify this part of the decision. It was on. I was watching it.

Watch this Funny or Die production starring Christopher Walken, Richard Belzer, and some “lovely assistants,” and you, too, will envision Walken spending his days taking close-up phone pics of his nose and sharpening knives with alarming gusto:

Family Guy

By Alan Brouilette

Food

The Ideal:

The alarm goes off at six on Thanksgiving morning. The cook rises and goes to the local greenmarket’s special session, hand-selecting the freshest produce for dinner. There is coffee upon returning, and the work begins. Sweet potatoes are peeled and chunked. The mise is gotten in place. The (home-made) bread is cubed and the (home-made) stock is heated, filling the kitchen with the aromas of stuffing. There is more coffee, light music – Vivaldi – and a very light snack. The best of the wine is decanted, to breathe. Someone laboriously yet lovingly assembles the pan of Grandma’s sweet rolls that are the family’s longest-standing holiday tradition. Dessert work is under way, too — perfect wedges of Granny Smith apples are sprinkled with lemon juice, and the ice cream maker is spinning. The heirloom turkey, which was brined yesterday and air-dried overnight in the fridge, goes into the oven. Family arrives. The children express delight at the smells from the kitchen, and show off the construction-paper turkeys they made yesterday at school. The pans of sweet potatoes and herb stuffing go into the oven. The adults open Champagne and talk about politics (everyone is in agreement), Christmas (everyone is well-prepared) and plans to remodel the kitchen (everyone loves the new island). The turkey comes out, and is moved to the carving-board to rest while the pan drippings become gravy. The sweet potatoes are glazed and returned to the oven, to caramelize, and the foil comes off the pan of stuffing, to crisp the top. The sweet rolls go in. The turkey gravy is lush with bits of fond and shreds of meat. The rolls slip cleanly from the pan, the sides are transferred effortlessly from baking pan to serving dishes, the children eagerly take seats at the table, and someone pours five glasses of wine and two of milk. The cooks change into fresh clothes for dinner. The turkey is expertly carved. Dinner is served promptly at two, and ingested in a leisurely manner. Everyone is delighted by the presentation. There is good hot coffee, and dessert, and a nip of apple brandy to go with the pie and ice cream. The adults team up to do the dishes while the children nap, and then all spend a peaceful afternoon and evening together. There might be a board game, or a walk to look at Christmas lights, or even a small game of touch football. There are turkey sandwiches as a very late snack, and the clamor for the leftovers leads to careful division of all that remains.

Mom’s scalloped potatoes in a creamy grey milky sauce looked like something you’d see coating a Paper Mache monkey, or what I would later realize in an “oh wow” moment, covering the android Ash in “Alien” during his barf and whacking scene (Actually, the scene reminded me of both Mom’s potatoes and spaghetti).

The grey goop sat in a steaming rectangular CorningWare dish with little polka dots of pink spam poking toe-like at every angle. Mom’s cooking was always a sort of building caved in on itself. Splashes of pink in food could have been anything. Anyway, she had cut the spam into brick shapes. Odds and ends. Curves. There was never any real order to her cutting anything. I couldn’t even say her bricks were stackable, which is why they looked like toes.

A big heaping spoonful on my plate meant watching a soupy gooey mess slop off the potatoes, not much unlike flesh caught in a flash fire and falling apart. I figured if potatoes could scream they would. But they didn’t. And neither did I. Not for the first fifteen years of my life anyway.

Seconds, please?

When I think about Stevie Wonder sitting at a grand piano tink-tink-a-tinkling those keys and singing about whatever is on his mind, I imagine he still sees beauty. There’s still a gorgeous world, right? You know, Mary Ingalls, she imagined beauty too while standing at the window in her family’s little house in Walnut Grove, or on a street corner, just gazing, like pretty stars were everywhere (and big angel wings on everyone). It was all beautiful.

I know it’s just TV. But the blind can see beauty. Yes’m.

Then you take something like food. If you’re blind to the nuances of its varied bland tastes practically your whole life (until you’re a teenager) then you’re really messed up. The good thing is, when I was around fifteen, food became epic as the fast-food nation craze in the Eighties saved my ass. And I have to say, thank God my parents’ relationship fell apart in the Eighties. Mom’s cooking disappeared and Carl’s Jr. was the Buddha. And thank God for Asia Market, because as greasy as that little store’s kitchen noodles were, it was my first foray into exotic foods. Moo shoo salvation.

Back to the Seventies.

Sure, those years often revolved around TV dinners. Little foil trays filled with goodies cooked in the oven. There was lots of Swiss steak. Mountains of it. Talk about another soupy gooey mess. Mom made her version of it too. Only, I’m not sure anything covered it but some weird gravy and onions. And the meat was tough and probably ripped right off the cheek of some cow (Pops was always finding a deal, and he carried lots of big knives and a gun).

Come to think of it, Swiss steak was a real delicacy in our house. As plain as it was and as canned as the mashed potatoes were, it was just a fucking treat. I gobbled the shit like it was straight from some old fat European cook dumped right on my plate (I’m a quarter Swedish. Mom was half. So maybe she loved the Swiss! Wa-la! Wasn’t like she was going to get to sleep with one).

And yes, her delicacy smelled a little like dog food. But that could have been because our fat sheltie’s dog dish was always a big splattered mess under the kitchen table. Every dinner smelled a little like Alpo. Or the generic equivalent.

It was great preparation for the years I worked in a dairy.

Now, Mom’s corned beef hash made me gag. I wouldn’t touch the shit. Give me her crummy attempt at chorizo and eggs anytime over that plate of dog crap. I’m half Mexican… Warning: Never let a white Midwesterner from Iowa cook your family’s Mexican food. You will be fucking screwed up for years. Although, why the hell Pops never complained is beyond me. He ate the shit like he was the dog getting a plate of mom’s salty spaghetti. Our dog, Candy? She wouldn’t touch the corned beef hash either. Poor thing. Probably what killed her in her sleep. I loved the little bitch. But I don’t even know what was in the hash mash, and I refuse to describe its texture, so let’s move on.

A real family delicacy down in the south side of Bakersfield where I grew up could really fill the house (and the neighborhood) with a foul smell. You think Mom’s corned beef hash could turn away a starving army? Or that her chorizo was all that could give an entire ghetto of my Mexican cousins the shits? Try a hot steamy cookie sheet filled with hot dogs carefully sliced down the centers (because Mom took care in slicing her wieners) and then heap (I mean fucking heap) mounds of fake mashed potatoes on top. Take that shit and slam it in the oven for an hour, so that no juice is left in those dogs (By this time every particle is in the atmosphere scaring the little cholos back inside their houses). Then, pull those dogs out of the oven and put those bad boys on the dinner table. That’s where we all sat, Pops at the head in his big wooden chair (us on benches). Once in a long while he blessed the food (Don’t remember what he said because I was usually holding my breath). And then chow time.

You’ve never seen such burnt potatoes slide eagerly down so many throats. I mean, we would have eaten that shit raw Mom’s cooking was so bad.

Oh, man, Pops. He sat there in his shorts (never wore a shirt) with his big brown hairy belly smashed against the table, and he would slop on half a bottle of ketchup. Leaning forward, he ate those bitches like they were some kind of fancy French eclairs some fat fucking Frenchman would buy all warm and tasty on the way to the Paris Metro. And there Pops went, eating three helpings, and the dog whining cause she didn’t get any, and me eating my food, trying like hell to crane my neck to see the TV because the “Wonderful World of Disney” was on and this was a bonafide Sunday evening treat.

I can go on. But I just wanted you to know why I boycott spam, or anything that claims having been scalloped, or chorizo from even the best Mexican restaurants, and most skinny noodles (Mom cooked Fideo and it looked like some poor soul’s brains had been cooked with the meninges melting away into a noodle stew).

Ah, the delicacies. I sure hope it’s dinner time for you. Word to your mother.

Following is an excerpt from “Cooking for Gracie,” a memoir with more than 40 recipes that recounts a year in the life of a new parent learning to cook for three.


Just weeks into the experience of parenthood, I seem to experience a fresh epiphany about every other day—moments of clarity, addicts call them, in which the camera lens of life is screwed sharply into focus, and the afflicted suddenly realizes what path he must take.

I’m having a moment of clarity now, alone here in my kitchen at night, where I’m spooning and spooning cold cereal. This is dinner, these days: standing at the kitchen window with a bowl of breakfast. I’m nettled by problems with sleep, and with timing, and with other things. The hour is late enough that even the pointillist panorama of New York, a city I’ve called home for fifteen years, seems almost subdued; York Avenue, five stories below, is nearly deserted, and taxis streak by only occasionally. Summer is barely hanging on, having exhausted itself with hot September. The scene appears tranquil to the naked eye, but it’s really not—if this kitchen were the galley of a Boeing jet, the Fasten Seatbelts sign would be blinking right now, directing all passengers to buckle up and prepare for terrible turbulence. I’ve ruined dinner, blackened it to the pan—the haze hanging below the ceiling is the proof. My wife, Jessica, and I were going to eat six pristine lamb chops an hour ago, but as we sat down at the table our weeks-old daughter, Grace, gave a cry of hunger from her room—and I looked up with the troubled expression of a picnicker who hears distant thunder.

Just weeks in, and I’m already a worried dad. The big questions seek me out after midnight, and apprehend me at the moment of sleep—there in the night, that grand unifier of parental anxiety. Every night I face down the stark information of Gracie’s low birth weight— these are delicate subjects, these subjects of Gracie, birth weight, and nourishment, and when our daughter delivers a cry of hunger we answer it. So an hour ago we abandoned dinner, and just now I blackened the chops trying to reheat them. I’d thought this would be a simple process of applying the flame, the necessary heat, but things moved much faster than I expected and quickly evolved into a Larry, Moe and Curley scene of the highest order. As I heaved the window open, fanning the smoke out into the night, I wondered if it was possible to be mad at a kitchen implement. But no, it’s hunger itself that I’m mad at—I was hungry for those chops, and now I’m having a bowl of breakfast instead. There was a time when I thought of hunger as a useful, instructive thing—not just physical hunger, but hunger for things like success, or romantic love. The idea was that the wanting could teach things about yourself, about your various prowling appetites, and perhaps I was right in that, because tonight’s hunger has propelled me into a moment of clarity, with all of its dreadful data about my situation.

Here is what I’m coming to understand: What is broken in the kitchen is broken elsewhere—the problem would appear to be that life no longer moves according to my schedule. If you’re a writer or a cook, timing is crucial; if you happen to be both, as I am, you’re finished without it. I used to have it, this timing, in the kitchen and on the page, but now it’s gone. I’m a beat behind in everything I do—I go around half the time feeling like an actor who belongs in a drama, and finds himself, instead, in a comedy, where the jokes are all at his expense.

 

********

 

I’ve felt this way for weeks—since September 9, 2007, when I surfaced from a deep sleep around 4 a.m. and found Jessica standing over me in the pale bedside light. Marriage has taught me a few things, among them that you should be worried when your pregnant wife wakes you at 4 a.m. by standing over you with the lights already on.

My confusion resolved itself quickly enough when Jessica told me in no uncertain terms that she hadn’t slept one minute all night, and added that she was pretty sure our baby was on the way, showing me startling evidence to the same. (I’ll not describe it here, but rather note that the condition “bloody show” is very well named indeed, and as bracing as two strong cups of coffee to see. Google it.) I slapped around on the floor for about ten minutes, searching for my clothes, and we phoned the obstetrician. The baby, if she came today, would be five weeks early. At our latest sonogram we were told that the baby’s weight was just north of four pounds. In most cases an obstetrician encourages a couple to remain at home until the woman is through early labor, but the fact that we were five weeks early, combined with other unusual conditions of the pregnancy, was enough to cause him to tell us to come on in, and right away. There were no cars out so early—we hunted down a cab, and the driver seemed to understand everything with a glance. He thundered through intersection and along crosscut, around hairpin and down avenue. Jessica was in that trancelike state women achieve when the biological imperative asserts itself; that is, she was an arresting example of female can-do. If there’d been any time to stop and think I suppose I would have panicked, but I was fully occupied by the events unfolding around me and, anyway, I was still shaking off the anesthetic effects of the martini I’d had at dinner the night before. We swept past the sleepy hospital admitting desk and were fired skyward by the express elevator to the birthing floor, where an IV was inserted into the back of Jessica’s hand. At this point Jessica’s blood pressure swirled upward like a cartoon barber’s pole, and I heard a staffer in attendance use the word preeclampsia. A monitor strapped over Jessica’s navel began delivering data to a printer beside the bed—a measure of the contractions she was experiencing. This immediately began drawing rolling ocean swells, and for a moment the illusion was complete: I imagined that this was indeed an ocean liner, and here were the heavy seas. But then the IV began to do its work, Jessica’s blood pressure eased, and the printout swells subsided into barely-noticeable upticks.

That’s it? I asked, and the attending doctor repeated my question in the declarative.

During the cab ride home I was electric with the cherry high of someone who has been granted a reprieve—every other block I felt the urge to seize the cabbie by the shoulder and say, “That was a close one, wasn’t it?” Now I had time to prepare for this thing I hadn’t been prepared for. I helped Jessica into bed, seared a grilled cheese sandwich for her and watched her eat, then pulled the covers over her head and drew the curtains. After offering a heartfelt plea that she rest, and rest well, I stepped into the shower. What a still moment that was, standing blameless beneath the roaring benediction of the showerhead, nodding to myself, arms crossed, eyes closed, breathing deeply through my nose and reflecting on the near-miss of a five-week ­premature birth. Close, Keith, I said, so close, too close, and then hollering Jessica ran into the bathroom and leaped, fully dressed and exultant, into the shower with me. Her water had broken. The warning shot had revealed itself to be the report of a starting gun.

We stood in silence for a moment—facing each other, hands clasped, like a couple about to recite a marriage vow. Even the most vivid memories tend to fade with time, but decades from now, when Death appears in my doorway and beckons with a bent finger, this is the image that will burn brightly in my mind’s eye—Jessica standing fully dressed in the shower, clothes dripping, wet hair plastered to her face and neck, and the waters that had protected Gracie for the first thirty-five weeks of her life now swirling around my bare ankles.

Here comes the future, at one hundred and forty heartbeats per minute.

 

********

 

I have a funny relationship with pain. The experts tell us that pain is trying to tell us something, that it is delivering a distress signal from a body part that is being misused, and that we ought to listen to that signal. For that very reason I don’t mind small amounts of pain—I’m strongly resistant to taking aspirin, cough medicine, allergy medicine, and other such palliatives for headaches, scrapes, burns, cuts, etc. & etc.—but I just can’t stomach the bad stuff. When it comes to the big-ticket items—knee operations, cavity fillings, room-spinning migraines—I immediately cave, jettison all principles, and request as much painkiller as possible, and the sooner, and stronger, the better. Were I faced with the prospect of eight or more hours of labor, I would surely arrive at the hospital pre-tranquilized, all but holding out my arm and slapping the vein to show the doctor where she should thread the needle. Jessica, on the other hand, has always been a believer in using aspirin and other painkillers to ease the discomfort of everyday headaches, sore muscles, cramps, etc.—which suggests that she believes in using modern medicine to ease pain. I was surprised, then, to learn that she planned to scale what is considered by many to be the Mount Everest of pain: to push a baby out with a drug-free birth. Upon hearing this news, my first thought, selfishly, was to fear that in this extreme circumstance I would be placed in a position that any husband deeply dreads: that of feeling essentially useless.1 There were a number of logical fallacies we employed to mitigate my (and Jessica’s) fear about meeting this challenge. “It’s temporary,” she would say, referring to the pain, “it’s temporary,” and I would nod my head and say, “Yes, it’s temporary”—thinking, But, Jessica, this is a very long temporary, lasting hours (or even, God help us, days) instead of moments. Nevertheless, we stuck with this line of logic, to great success. “It’s temporary,” she would say, and I’d nod my head and repeat the phrase back.

We would discuss this matter of painkillers nightly, sometimes more than once a night, and we even took a weeks-long class on how to survive a drug-free delivery.2 Through the early stages of this, there remained an element of unreality about the whole thing, which helped tamp down the urgency of the discussion—many first pregnancies, after all, don’t begin to show until some time during the second trimester, which means that even as you’re having these hard discussions about things like painkillers, the whole enterprise at times seems almost theoretical, as if you were being rooked by a slew of doctors and baby-gear vendors trying to separate you and your wife from your last dollar. The doctors keep telling you that a baby is on the way, these men and women dressed in long white coats, all busily poking columns of blood test results, a tax­ audit’s worth of facts about height, weight, bone length and fetal age, and the occasional sonogram photograph—but for the first five months you study your wife’s belly region and see no obvious evidence that any of this is true.3 I remained silent through much of the drug-free delivery sessions, thinking, Well, it’s her call isn’t it? But I also remained silent because a significant part of me believed that this would all resolve itself when the first wave of contractions hit and Jessica, duly startled by the size of the pain, would raise her hand and call for an epidural, and perhaps even a martini on the side to hold her until the anesthesiologist had done her work. I had this opinion because this is the way I would have come at the birth4—so I was doubly ashamed by my self-assured outlook when Jessica devastated all parties involved by seeing her way through labor without so much as an aspirin to blunt the edge of the contractions, even though near the end of it the pain was so intense and went on for so long that it caused her eyes to roll up until the whites showed, and forced her to grip me so tightly about the waist for support that she threw out my back.

Seemingly all at once, with the fury of a tornado that had gathered for hours and then dropped out of clear blue sky, here was the moment of birth, and here was Gracie, born at four pounds—her skin alarmingly gray. Just seconds old, the obstetrician held my daughter aloft with a single hand, then carried her over to the heat lamp, where an attending staff-member rubbed her dry with a towel, her color rising now, the staff member suddenly sweeping past me, taking Gracie out of the room in a cart, things already moving faster, and Jessica didn’t bother to remove her oxygen mask when she lifted her head and said: “Go with her.” Then down the hall, through the double doors and into another wing, this one as harshly-lighted as an interrogation room, Plexiglas isolettes lining the walls, each occupied by a tiny baby, and I thought, Ha ha, very funny, joke’s over, the NICU is where Other People’s children go. Isn’t it?

But I was now Other People, the person whose misfortunes you talk about in hushed tones, and the joke was on me. The unreality of the moment was scored by a sort of electronic symphony, alarms sounded by individual heart-rate and blood-oxygen monitors. Gracie now had one around her foot. The alarms are false, a nurse said, grasping my elbow for effect, no need to worry, it just means the baby has shaken the cuff so that it’s not getting an accurate reading—but later that night another baby’s alarm went off, and this time a pair of nurses seemed to materialize out of thin air at either side of the isolette, one with her hand inside going about some sort of complicated business with a baby the size of her palm. When I got it, when I realized what was happening, it was like being dashed with a bucket of cold water: the baby’s heart had stopped or the rate had grown erratic. The nurse was giving it CPR. I watched the nurse bring the baby out of it, my heart in my throat even though it wasn’t my kid, and I reflected that if you’d asked me before Gracie had arrived what emotion I thought I would have experienced in such a situation, I probably would have guessed sadness. And I would have guessed wrong. This was something more like waking from a nightmare long after midnight and sensing, with the decisiveness of a hatchet stroke, that someone was in my room and was here to harm me. Except this predatory force wasn’t here for me—it was here for my baby, and I could do nothing to protect her.

Three days later I was introduced to a diagnosis known as Failure To Thrive. The parents of its victims may feel inclined to ask why the name must be so literal. Perhaps we should rename hypothermia Failure To Keep Warm. I learned about this condition when my Gracie Failed To Thrive, and seemed to waste away before our glazed eyes, her weight sinking below four pounds. First she became too exhausted to eat; and because she was taking in no nourishment she became even more exhausted, the situation rapidly deteriorating from there. During the midday feeding she was nearly unresponsive, asleep in her mother’s arms while all around us babies were crying out for food. I was paralyzed emotionally. It was like trying to feed a plastic doll, and I suppose we were as naive and deluded as children playing house that afternoon. The nurse assigned to us, who had hovered at a distance for a day, now moved in, as if cued by a director with very good timing, and with gratitude I felt control being taken away from us. We were told that Gracie would be fed with a feeding tube that night, and were sent home. The last stage of my grandmother’s life began when she was fitted with a feeding tube. I was helpless to avoid drawing parallels. I found myself thinking, You need to begin dealing with this now. You need to accept what may happen. If you don’t, this is going to send you all to pieces. You will not recover.

My mother: ‘It’ll be okay. Babies are tough.’ But I’m not. At home, seeking comfort, familiar rhythms, I made dinner with ingredients from the cabinet. It didn’t help. She’ll come out of it. You’ll see. Sometimes I’d feel all right, almost human for ten or even twenty seconds. And then I’d picture my three-day-old daughter limp in her mother’s arms, unresponsive, and all at once I’d feel as if the ground had vanished beneath me.

This is how I feel when I fly over water at night—out of control, beyond the help of a higher power, and reliant on nothing but faith I’ve whistled up out of nowhere.

 

********

 

I push the plate of lamb chops aside and set the bowl of cereal on the counter. I’m no longer hungry; not for food, anyway—it’s something else I want, something I’m having a hard time identifying. Gracie is hungry, and I’m hungry. She did come out of it, just like everyone said she would. Our daughter is home with us, gaining weight—but in many ways I’m still back there in the NICU, a spirit haunting the waiting room.

I snap off the overhead light, then wrap up the chops and open the refrigerator door— the fluorescent interior light bathes the kitchen surfaces in soothing lunar shades: ultramarine, cerulean, bondi blue. I’m tempted to remain here, where things are being shown, if only for a moment, in the kindest light. In a little while I’ll have to come up with something for Jessica to eat—I want her to eat well, which will help Gracie get the nourishment she needs.

A simple syllogism that keeps playing its logic in my head:

Major premise: I’m cooking for Jessica. Minor premise: Gracie gets all her nourishment from Jessica. Conclusion: When I cook for Jessica, I’m cooking for Gracie.

Eventually Gracie is fed, rocked, and gentled off to sleep, and Jessica joins me. We watch a movie that makes us laugh, but my attention is divided. I realize what it is I’m hungry for; it is a lack of reassurance that has left me famished. But reassurance is in short supply these day, and it will be left to me to supply my own. Caring for my daughter—cooking for her—helps me cope. And it’s becoming increasingly apparent that when I cook for Gracie, I’m caring for myself.

And I’m doing it poorly. In this situation you don’t make delicate lamb chops, not if you’re wise to the new timing—you make lamb shanks, or braised veal, or short ribs, or a chickpea stew. You make something that can cook away all night, if need be. I must adapt, or we’ll all do without.

Soon I’ll have to learn to cook all over again.

 

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1 This turns out to be a position that fathers-to-be find themselves in regularly. Throughout the many weeks of the pregnancy the father is often, much to his dismay, reduced to following stage directions—and he finds himself, paradoxically, in a key role that has virtually no lines.

2 And here I didn’t exactly earn votes for the title World’s Greatest Husband. This class was important to Jessica and, precisely because it was so important to her, I should have attended cheerfully and without complaint and in fact made a point to tell her that I believed in her and was here to support her—but instead I grumbled about the quasi-new-age aspects of the class, the paltry snacks on offer for pregnant women who were skipping dinner, the hours-long commitment, etc. & etc. In a nicely symmetrical come-uppance, the class turned out to be of great benefit to me: we had planned to hire a doula to help us through the birth, and when Gracie arrived early, before we’d had a chance to locate a doula, it was exactly the practices I learned in this class that allowed me to help Jessica through the delivery.

3 Though I should qualify—although in the first few months I saw no evidence of the baby in my wife’s belly region, I did see dramatic evidence that her body was going through remarkable physiological changes, viz., that this author’s wife, at the late first-trimester period of pregnancy, suddenly blossomed into a striking Playboy-bunnyesque build, one sharply arresting in its perfect recollection of many of this author’s latent adolescent desires, but enough about that.

4 An outlook surely informed by the fact that I am the son of a doctor and a trained nurse, and have developed a engrained trust for modern medicine and its practitioners.

 

People who know me—and therefore know my foodie interests—are often surprised when they hear that I have little interest in eating offal.

Sure, I’ll have a bite of sweetbreads here, a forkful of tripe there, just so I can say I know the taste and texture—but even with my outsized interest in food, I find that when I’m asked to leave the realm of muscle and move into the realm of organs, my enthusiasm withers.

Hello, welcome to “Cooking with Dot… So Your Family Will Love You.” Because things just haven’t been going that well lately, have they? And whose fault is that? I’m your host, Dot Hanson.

Today we’re going to be whipping up a lovely Tourtière, which is a traditional French Meat Pie… Though really, it’s not a very difficult recipe, and you know your husband just loved that wine-poached Salmon you fixed the other day. Maybe he’d like that better? He works so hard, you know, and it’s not too much to ask that he enjoys a nice meal when he gets home. Or at least that you not nag quite so much. But the Tourtière is really a breeze. Just a quick pie crust a few mixes, bake it, and it’s done.

First you’ll need to place your lard in a bowl and add the boiling water to get it nice and melted. See how nicely it’s melting there? Okay, now add your flour, baking powder, and salt, and then mix it all together… You shouldn’t need a mixer. Your hands are strong enough from all the hand-wringing you do over your son, isn’t that right? A fat lot of good it does him, too. Why can’t you just leave your meddling out of his business, anyway? There, the dough’s almost ready.

Now just go to work with your rolling pin, but try not to flatten the dough too much. You will try too hard, won’t you? Like at the party the other day… How long did it take you to tell that story about the lady at the supermarket who couldn’t find currants for you? By the time you had gotten to the part where she asked if “raisins would be good enough,” it wasn’t funny anymore. Your husband certainly wasn’t laughing anyway… God, when he rolled his eyes like that, you thought you’d just die! But anyway, you should know how to make a pie crust by this point in your life, and all this rolling is making my head hurt. So let’s move on to the filling.

You’ll want to set your potatoes boiling first, with some salt, of course. But don’t forget to save the water when they’re done. And for God’s sake, try and time everything out, because you don’t want to be just hovering in the kitchen when your daughter gets home. Things are strained enough as it is without you “How was school”-ing her to death. Honestly.

Go ahead and brown the pork now, but please, not too quickly. The butcher was closed, so you had to buy meat at the market, and that cheap stuff needs extra care. Remember the look your husband gave you the other night, when he had to pick that piece of steak out of his mouth? Haven’t we cried ourselves to sleep enough for one week?

And of course I’m assuming you’ve been grinding your sage and your thyme and clove and pepper, and chopping your celery and garlic while I’ve been talking this whole time. Don’t tell me you’ve just been standing there swinging your arms? Well, that’s attractive.

When everything’s browned and boiled and ground, you’ll take your pastry out of the refrigerator  and mold it in a pie dish and add the toppings and then bake for 15 minutes on 450 degrees and then 30 more minutes on 300. And you can replace the pork filling with a pepper steak if necessary, depending on which one your husband likes better, and that requires only a few added ingredients – some chopped mushrooms and bell peppers and a cup of cubed Swiss cheese.

And there you have it. A cinch, really. But maybe you should just give that old meat pie to the neighbors and make something your family’ll actually like? I suppose it’s too late now.

Oh, but remember to brush the top with butter. The crispiness of the crust is the best part! And just think how the faces of your family will light up when they feel that little crackle. At least they’ll be distracted from the dessert that you forgot to make.

Dear, dear, what are we going to do with you? Here, I’ve got another recipe for you: A large glass of wine and a few hours flipping through the family album, dabbing at your eyes with a tissue.

This has been Dot Hanson, and you’ve been watching “Cooking With Dot… So Your Family Will Love You.”

Smoke Point

By Keith Dixon

Essay

My wife and I are talking about making the ultimate financial gamble: that of buying an apartment in New York City during a recession. Over and above the fears I harbor about committing more money than I can fathom to a place I’ve spent maybe fifteen or twenty minutes in, I’m also having some genuine anxieties about giving up something I’ve deeply cherished about our current apartment: the window in our kitchen.

This week, I find myself cooking out of habit, then eating nothing or just picking around the perimeter of each nicely plated meal before packing the remains in plastic tubs. I have no appetite but am fixing delicious things, increasingly complex productions that fill my dollhouse-size apartment with perfect smells. In an effort to rationalize this situation, I shift from stewing over heartbreak to focus on science. While earning a nutrition degree, I learned we crave fatty things for their esters – compounds that carry smell and impart taste. From smell and taste, we derive pleasure and comfort, and from fats we derive fuel. The stuff that keeps our mechanical bodies going also plumps our hearts like pillows, in the figurative as well as literal sense. Fats are comforting and clogging. I also learned we crave sugar when there is a lack of sweetness in daily life. All I can stomach right now are Pink Lady apples and endless cups of honeyed hot milk. This indulgence and dependence is risky – artificial sweetness is inevitably succeeded by a bigger crash

Couscous

By M.J. Fievre

Memoir

My father is dozing on the balcony, behind the large hibiscus plant.

Papa sleeps better during the day because he’s haunted. Night haunted. And when the spooky things come—memories of his childhood, he haunts my mother. He tells her his nightmares, wakes her up—to pull her into his suffering, to taunt her into saving him.

I know because I’ve heard him.

McPerspective

By Keith Dixon

Essay

The saddest aspect of the many sad aspects of xenophobia is that it’s essentially a plagiarized hatred—a copycat hatred borrowed from someone else, from something one has read or heard—and therefore a failure of the imagination. Xenophobia, after all, simplifies rather than complicates, by reducing individuals to types.

Years ago, my younger brother returned home from a college class and heard someone, in one of the many rooms upstairs, enthusiastically repeating a word: “More! More!”

tears…

You woke up crying. 

“I wish my uncle was still alive.”

“I know, baby.  Maybe he went where he needed to go though?”

 “Yeah, he’s in a better place.”

 

sex…

I couldn’t get it up that first time because I wasn’t sure you really wanted me in you.  The second time, you said I was too big.  I tried to be gentle, came as quickly as I could. 

 

soup…

I cooked matzah ball soup with onions, mushrooms and carrots.  No chicken because you’re vegetarian.  I heard the pride in your voice when you told your sister I was cooking dinner for us.  You said it was odd to smell food in your apartment that you hadn’t made.  I left you the leftovers. 

 

surprise…

dear peter,

I tried calling last night and today, but have not been able to reach you, so email will have to suffice.  Last weekend left me with serious concerns about us.  We did connect, but we need more than that if something romantic between us is to survive.  We live our lives in opposite ways.  You are spontaneous, where I am structured.  You live for the moment, but I plan for the future.  You don’t care about society, yet I take my role as part of the larger community seriously.  You cultivate the internal life, but I exist very much in the outside world. Where you value emotion, I prize logic.

We’re also at different places in our lives.  I’ve begun to establish my career, am pursuing my studies, and have many other responsibilities.  You have focused on art and writing and have not established the kind of responsibility and stability that I need in a partner.  I just don’t think there is a place for a lasting romance between us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve just moved.

Not just houses, but cities and entire lives. It’s exciting and new, a bit like the theme song from the Love Boat, but with no Gopher, no dancing girls and no stopover in Rio.

Bummer!

For posterity’s sake I kept a bit of a journal of my first week in San Francisco and have decided to share it as a peek into the inner sanctum of my life. I’d call you all voyeurs for reading, but in actuality I’m just a hideous narcissist who wants to show you photos of my closet.

Tuesday, July 1st- DAY ONE

Arrive from Sydney, Australia to new home found and rented on Craigslist. A home I have never actually seen yet in person, with room-mates I’ve never actually met. Feel a tad apprehensive but filled with hope.

Arrive at house with five suitcases, tired from an exhaustive flight spent trying to ignore the surreptitious hand jobs being given (and received) in the seats next to me (by two randy college-age fucktards from Arizona who obviously felt the need to join the mile-high club and were too lazy/ignorant/selfish to do so in the bathroom like normal people) only to discover that the keys left out for me do not work in the key hole provided.

Have moment of extreme near-meltdown and decide to sit in the driveway in the sun and relax until a solution presents itself. Discover the word “peace” written into the concrete of said driveway and realize everything will be fine.

Wednesday, July 2nd- DAY TWO

Work. Jet lagged. Fall over a lot. Laugh. Walk home from work jingling keys in pocket and feel really peaceful and a bit like someone has given me a Roofie.

Go pick up gift of beautiful old electric guitar. Stare at it a lot and wonder what the fuck to do with it. Shrug and smile.

Thursday, July 3rd- DAY THREE

Try to do stuff. Jet lag bites ass and bed prevails. Unpack clothes into walk-in closet(s) and feel conflicting emotions of joy and disgust at how many useless dresses I own. Love closet. Hate self for loving closet.



Friday, July 4th- DAY FOUR

Cognizant at last.

Spend the evening of July 4th rearranging my kitchen and nesting (insert chicken noise) (lay egg) (peck at floor) (eat bug) (ruffle feathers) (shit) (squawk).

Cook my favorite pasta- see recipe below- leaving enough for my lovely environmental lawyer room-mate to eat when she comes back from work (because if you’re looking after Mother Nature’s business someone else has to look after you).

Open the doors to the freezing Summer night and let the recently relocated New York City cats out onto the balcony. With wide eyes they sniff the strange fresh air. I sit with them and mutter and coo “reassuring” noises but they pay me no heed.

Put some Bob Dylan on and folk around in the kitchen cupboards for a bit.

The sound of the fireworks echoing between the hills in the deep fog sounds like the wild west. I feel like I’ve been transported back to the Civil War. I’ve never actually heard any canon fire before, but a big fucking boom is a big fucking boom, right?

Saturday, July 5th- DAY FIVE

Get kidnapped in Vanigan and transported to Point Reyes for fresh oysters on the beach. Learn three chords on an acoustic guitar and arrive home happy. Stand outside my pretty house and stare at it a bit before going inside and passing out.

Sunday, July 6th- DAY SIX

HEAT WAVE! Discover concrete slides. Yes, I said CONCRETE SLIDES. Take friend up to top of park at end of street and force her to sit on a raggedy piece of cardboard and project herself down the steep incline. She screams really loudly. Success! Pick plums from the overhang and discuss plans for potential bourgeois-neighborhood anarchy. Pick flowers from other peoples yards as a build-up to said anarchy. Lie in sun and get sunburned ass. Spend evening itching ass in front of people and enjoying their reaction.

Monday, July 7th- DAY SEVEN

Go and pick up key for share car, tune guitar and wonder exactly how many more chords there actually are. Laugh at self. Play with cats. Hang hummingbird feeder. Curse rude hummingbird that ignores feeder. Pick some plums and go to work.

Realize, on way to work, that I have never felt more at home in any city anywhere, despite the fact that I know few people at all.

Grin.

x

Recipe for Zoe’s favorite summer pasta- (for her mom who needs to learn how to make it again)

About 8-10 Green olives, marinated in plain oil NOT vinegar. diced
1 tbsp Capers, in salt not vinegar either. Yuk. squished
1 clove garlic. finely chopped
2 fresh chili’s. finely chopped
juice of 2 lemons
3 zucchinis sliced very thin lengthwise. potato peeler works well.
a couple of big handfuls of arugula
1 large tuna steak, sliced thinly OR 1 can of ITALIAN or AUSTRALIAN* tuna in olive oil, drained.
*This is important. American tuna is revolting. Italian will cost you, but it’s worth it, it tastes like fresh tuna steak not cat-food.
sea salt and cracked pepper to taste
a dollop of butter
a splash of olive oil
1 chunk of imported parmigiana – grated
1 packet thin spaghetti
lots of red wine to drink while you’re cooking.

Lightly saute the strips of zucchini in a small bit of olive oil and remove from pan.

Throw the olives, capers, chili and garlic in a small frying pan, on low heat, in enough olive oil to have them simmer but not swim. You’ll figure it out. I believe in you.

While they are slooooooowly infusing the oil with their tasty goodness put a large pot of water on to boil. Throw salt in to pot. Do not waste your olive oil in the water (common misconception). When it boils put in pasta.

Add the tuna and lemon juice. Let it sizzle for a few minutes.

Add butter, zucchini and arugula. stir long enough for the arugula to wilt a little. Salt and pepper the fucker.

When pasta al dente remove from stove, drain and throw over the fishy stuff. Stir it all together. The pasta should be coated in oil lightly, not drenched in it. Add extra lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Serve with parmigiana all over it.

Eat.

Later on you will poop it out, but don’t let this occurrence freak you out, it’s perfectly natural.