Monday, January 30, 2012

korean stinky meat

It's called Korean braised pot roast and normally I would run away from this one fast. But I am hungry and I am shopping and I am crisscrossing the aisles to double up on the free samples.  And besides my favorite store clerk is handing out the little chunks of brown meat.  She only comes to my shoulder and she walks with kind of a shuffling side-to-side penguin gait and when she smiles her face is a sea of creases.  She's so damn cute I just want to ask her, can I do something for you, anything, anything at all!  She wants me to buy a pot roast and I do and I take her recipe with me.

The ingredients always call for something you do not have in your cupboard. I'm onto their money-making strategies, but I was hungry I tell you and this was the only thing I wanted to eat. I open my newly purchased bottle of spicy hot chili sauce, the one with all the Chinese symbols on the side and take a taste - stupid unassuming American cook that I am.  Luckily there was a half bottle of Dansai on the counter or there would have been a hole in my cheek by the time I ran to the sink.  I mix everything together, an odd conglomerate of ingredients, even a pear, garsh what will these Koreans think of next and put everything in the food processor.  I love recipes that call for electrical gadgetry but I forget about the side opening and there is an explosion and then a sticky orange-brown paste is covering a large portion of the kitchen as well as myself and the stuff is starting to burn the hair off my skin.  Great balls of fire, what sort of devilish substance is this? I never quite trusted those Koreans.  I saw every single episode of Mash and that Hawkeye knew what he was talking about.

It sits in the crock pot for hours and it's just not reaching that fall apart tender stage of cooked meat that my smiling friend offered to me yesterday. I swear the thing is taunting me, its unnatural color and odor not familiar by American standards. The original recipe probably called for dog meat and that would explain why it doesn't smell right.

 Is this what I will offer my family for the evening repast?  Surely, anything would be safer, even those nitrate-filled, salt-riddled hot dogs sitting in the back of the fridge.  I go with the Korean stinky meat and make extra potatoes in case Big Dave snubs the entree.  Before I know it he is sopping up the juice from two sandwiches and his face has not turned green nor is he clutching his abdomen.  I go back to my meatless plate and ask him to pass the potatoes. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

drugs lots and lots of drugs

That's my motto as I slog through my latest sinus infection. I am weary of the endless passage of phlegm through my nasal canals and maybe if I hadn't smoked for twenty years or developed an addiction to those red hot candy antihistamine pills or worked in an office with leaky smelly moldy plumbing I might be healthier.  Oh balls, quit complaining and who's up for a climb on a high Mississippi bluff breathing in that sweet moist air and checking on the flight of a lone eagle soaring above me.

I trudge up a path that once was a trolley car route and I hear girls laughing. My grandmother and her best bud and cousin Violet nudging each other, full of girl secrets, wavy unruly hair held back by huge organza bows, riding the car up the hill for summertime play.  I have the picture of the two of them and it is 1916. What would Nana think of me, I am older than her husband when he died.  I am filled with empty spaces today. Walks always include memories of my mother pushing at me and consuming me. She appears on my horizon when it is quiet and I am alone.

On the top of the bluff there is no noise, animal, human or machine. I turn off my Ipod and listen to this rare sound of nothing.  And then I hear a faraway train whistle and  I have heard them since my childhood lying in bed on a summer night and the chugging of the trains was the sound of the world turning, or so thought my five-year-old mind.

Monday, January 23, 2012

she returns

Yesterday I took one for the team, suffered for the masses so to speak.  I went to donate blood.  I am Type O, most beloved of all blood types, universal donor and I made my way to the little shop of horrors on the corner, the regional blood center.  I have a paunchy waistline but my veins are skinny and slippery. Put a needle in there and the vein will move aside,  smart little fellow.  My poor nurse tried both arms with no results and she was sweating and blubbering by the time we finished.  My arms were sporting golf ball-sized lumps and my bloodletting companions in the other reclining chairs were wincing. There I lay with ice packs the size of bricks in the crook of each arm.  "I certainly would not make a good advertisement for new customers," I murmured to poor Barb, the nurse in this messy story.  Just then that very person, a new customer walked into the circle and her eyes automatically locked on my bruised arms.  Her nurse began stuttering, "oh this is uncommon. This rarely happens. This is most uncommon. It never, never happens."  And wasn't that illogical because the situation was actually happening.

And then I go swimming.  Marge* walks in, that swimmer of goat-like appearance and uncertain sexual orientation.  She struts across the deck of the pool like a horsewoman, all butt and thighs.  She glances over at me but I keep my eyes straight ahead.  I have had enough conflict and complication for the day.  I am eleven minutes from finishing my routine and that means I should be able to shower while Marge remains in the pool.  She always swims a full thirty minutes and she is a religious athlete not unlike myself. 

You don't get out of the pool until the clock says you can get out.
 I won't need to deal with her probing eyes while soaping myself.  My time is up and I shiver my way down to the dungeon locker room and head for the toilet.  And then, what is that, I hear Marge's flat nasal accent. She is in the locker room and this is incredible, does the jury need any further evidence?  I am being stalked by a serious athlete woman who is willing to cut short her exercise routine just to see my naked wrinkled old lady body.  I enter the group shower stall with my Aveeno soap and Marge joins me shortly. The snow storm outside the locker room window is howling and scary and I leave hurriedly.  When I get home  I will eat grilled cheese sandwiches and sip good Kentucky whiskey and it will require more than one.  Cheese sandwiches, I mean, heh  . . .

*see "Marge at Large," November 2011

Friday, January 20, 2012

how Sonny's doing

He's doing well.  And I am glad they are asking about him and not me because I'd rather not talk about my mother's death, those feelings still whirling about my head like a cloud of angry insistent gnats. 

Sonny returned to work the day following the memorial service and none of us were surprised, the man is a stubborn German who pushed work ethics on us kids like they were the ten commandments.   If the end of the day came and you have not completed 47 productive chores then your bedtime is delayed until you do.  And then there's that other thing, my father doesn't allow negative thoughts to take shape in the scheme of his life.  Sitting in his rocking chair gazing out at the summer nighttime sky would be just the breeding ground for that unallowable luxury. 

We taught Sonny how to iron shirts and he never did catch on to folding fitted sheets (but then whom of us can do that?  Me, but I checked on youtube.)  And sewing buttons back in their spots was too complicated what with making knots so those shirts will come my way if necessary.  He has acclimated into his own household schedule and his house smells like bleach on Monday mornings for it is scrub day.

I never expected my father to learn cooking.  It would be like me learning to fix my Chevy Impala, an impossible situation, me and motors.  My brother tried to explain how the air conditioner worked that he installed in my home and I smiled and nodded my head, totally oblivious.

Now he wants to make soup, his favorite bean and ham, and I throw together a recipe for him.  The next day he is at my door, a cookbook in hand and he is noticeably rattled.  "This recipe," he says pointing at a page, "this recipe is completely different from the one you gave me."  There are dried beans instead of canned, vegetables are being cooked for a longer time and a couple of other small incidentals.  He cannot tolerate the existence of another recipe for the same item that is so different. This is crazy and my face shows it and the old man starts talking about my attitude.  I tell him, you can't mess up soup.  Too intense the flavor, add water.  Too bland, add seasoning.  Dad takes the scientific approach and he needs to consider the adventure of it all, but that's asking a lot for an old German.  But his soup turned out fine.

Friday, January 13, 2012

no optimists in Iowa

And so it begins. Yesterday the barometer began falling early afternoon and we farmers know what that means.  Some kind of moisture, something watery will be falling soon. There was still time for a late in the day stroll with the four-year-old girl and her purple-pink Barbie bike. Her winter togs are the same shades and she matched the sunset, an Easter egg sunset. Our jackets were wide open and mittens and hats were stashed in coat pockets, it was a balmy day by Iowa standards for January.

Today it is all grey and white and the sharp black silhouettes of trees. The grandsons are busy pulling on snow pants and new and bigger boots and I have a new pair of boots myself that need a trial walk.  So out I go and a fine skier's snow bathes my face, the soft powder excellent for fast moving wood or is it Plexiglas.  I have no desire to send this old lady body racing at trees and things on two narrow planks at ferocious speeds.  We have been chortling over the amazing good fortune the weather gods have been directing our way since the calendar officially said winter. On the off moment we fantasize, what if this is it?  What if snow never falls?  But we are midwesterners and we tend to expect the worst and if if doesn't happen today, it will happen tomorrow or by Tuesday at the latest.  We are not optimists in Iowa, we are prepared to suffer but we won't talk about it at great length.

And it's a good day to stay in the kitchen thinking of reasons to keep the oven going.  Stewed chicken and vegetables, throw in a little heavy cream and thyme sprigs to keep it interesting and a pie using the last of the September apples.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

she is bohemian afterall

We run into acquaintances at the farmers' market and I excuse myself to buy greens and a rutabaga although I haven't the foggiest what to do with the mud-encrusted vegetable. I come back out and Dave is still talking and his buddy reminds me of an encounter between he and I several months ago. According to him I had parked my car just south of town and got into another car with four women and we were off to go shopping in another city. I smile and nod, I'm only half-listening, a terrible habit of mine and I sense Big Dave shooting me a curious look. Outside I ask what did he say? And then I realize why the husband was so inquisitive.  Me, go shopping, out of town, with a bunch of women?  We laugh and laugh. I would be more apt to sign on for an Alaskan dog team adventure and he knows that. Methinks the fellow was mistaken.

A quick email from my oldest child.  Jason is traveling through the Mideast, has been for a year. He has seen and done things that none of my neighbors have seen or done, and that goes for most of this old Iowa town. He sits on the roof of his guest house and watches the descending sun change the colors on the marble walls of the Taj Mahal. It  was designed with this concept in mind, a grieving emperor's last gift to his beloved young wife, now deceased and she was his favorite in the harem. Most of India is trash and feces but this temple is meticulously and intensely well kept.

Back on my couch in Iowa I look out on a snowless landscape, a rare winter indeed this no snow situation.  In my adult circles I have had heard no complaints that we are not scraping ice off our windshields and slip sliding through snow filled streets. Yes, the children will whine about the unused sleds, but they have those relentless video games, so be still for pity's sake.

I call Susan in San Diego and I am woefully lax in keeping a phone connection going with the girl and she continues to forgive me. A friend of hers, a retired John Deere worker from Columbis Ohio visited Susan in November.  They had dinner with friends in Mexico and met a man who was looking for someone to water plants at his property, an incredibly beautiful and mysterious castle while he traveled the globe. Elizabeth touched her napkin to her lips and volunteered herself and she is now moving away from her Columbus Ohio existence and living in this sunny Mexican castle with the ocean shining past the veranda of her front porch. Do things like this really happen? Yes, they do but then you know Elizabeth, Susan will tell you, she is bohemian afterall.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

kamikaze balloon shapes and laffy taffy

You look like crap says my husband from the safety of the kitchen. Thank God because I feel like crap and would not want to appear unbalanced to the world.  Once again I am spewing over with germs and I woke up in a cocoon of misery, congested and dry-throated, the head a solid block of phlegm. The only solution to this viral invasion is to sequester myself on the couch with Kessler's and Puff's Plus and the Coen Brothers.

And yet being the good grandma I can sometimes be I agreed to take three boisterous boys to a warehouse behind a Walmart on the city limits. The place used to be a strip joint until the good Christian citizens of the community found some legal schmegal zoning ordinances that forced the women-objectifying slobs out of town.  Now it is visited by children and there are large air-filled kamikaze balloon shapes designed to lure kids into their inner chambers and allow them to be pounced and trampled upon by even larger kids. I had to sign a waiver the size of a mortgage contract and I'm not sure just what it all contained but I did need to verify we were all wearing socks.

At any point during our stay a child is crying somewhere and some of them quite intensely.  Trays of ice cream and sliced birthday cake go by, kids are eating  foot-long pieces of Laffy Taffy and the sugar load of each minor child here must be quadruple the diabetic limit.  All that concentrated energy is comparable to the blood levels of methadone junkies and kids are literally bouncing off the walls. I really want to go home.

The boys are fighting again and that is to be expected due to the variables listed above plus the fact they have been in constant company of each other for the whole of Christmas vacation.  I announce, we might as well go home and they quickly become angels with red sweaty faces and innocent expressions that ask, whadda I do now?  Oh hell, here's a buck, go buy some taffy.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

my version of a day off

The new year is upon us and a wind of 65 miles per hour is buffeting around the plastic Santa and Frosty figurines in my neighborhood and maybe that will inspire the welfare recipients to pack the cheesy things away. I don't need to work until 6 p.m. and this last month has been unrelenting obligation.  I have not done any personal shopping since pre-Thanksgiving thanks to the 42 people who depend on me for Christmas gifts.  Not that I particularly enjoy shopping but sometimes it is satisfying to wander around store aisles in a dreamlike state picking up nonessentials and charging them to my husband's credit card.
And I need bras again. I head toward The Minimizer counter, the brasserie that promises to skim off 1 3/4 inches off my overloaded chest and they only come in blah beige and Catholic girl white. They figure the women who want lesser cleavage can't be fun, oh those silly merchandisers.

Once the necessities are in my shopping bag I meander towards my favorite department, bathroom supplies. I am victim to a handful of genetically induced bowel syndromes and I spend a significant amount of time in that afore mentioned room so the decorations are important.  I purr and caress shower curtains sporting teal hummingbirds and giant magenta peonies. There are matching soap dishes and my head is spinning with the possibilities.

Enough of this addiction and I head to the movie theatre.  I am on a first name basis with the staff at said establishment and they know my order at the popcorn counter before I ask.  Today's feature is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the redneck in front of me says to his buddy, I hope there are some good sex scenes, hee-uh, hee-uh.  Outta my way, donkey boy.  I head to the opposite side of the theatre to avoid this Neanderthal  and yes, there are such scenes if you appreciate rape and sodomy and that's what happens to the adult male child molester in this film.  I hope that redneck in the stained hunting cap is cringing under his seat when the debasement happens.  I read the book and it's a clever detective story where good more than conquers evil, it squelches the living bleeding shit out of it.

 I have been nursing a cold all week and my supper is a steaming bowl of ramen noodles nestled against my congested chest.  Everybody goes through a ramen noodle stage.  I just never got past mine.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

the last of the holiday revelers

As of today the last of the holiday revelers will be on my doorstep expecting a hearty meal and strong ale and then they will leave and I will lock the door and the season will be officially over.  Why so long a Christmas holiday?  Too many relatives, I suppose and they just never stop wanting to hug me and pat me on the back and ask, oooh what smells so good?  If the phone rings and today's intended guest says a child is sick, the dog got diarrhea or they have to make some soup, there will be no return invitation.  We are done with you and don't bother coming by for the presents.  That would mean I need to have crackers and cheese or some such thing on hand. Those wrapped boxes will be on your front porch with the newspaper and your dehydrated Halloween pumpkin.

If it were up to me I would have all the combined clans of my multiple families meet at McDonald's on the Thursday before Christmas for egg mcmuffins and I would spring for the peppermint mocha.  The place has lots of wastebaskets for the wrapping paper and don't forget about the playland area. The whole event would take about an hour and then we would climb in our cars with our bucket-sized diet Cokes and the new matching towel and washcloth gift sets and we would return to our quiet clean guestless homes.
I enjoy the idea of Christmas more than the day itself.  I like the glittery sparkly cards and cherry red ornaments on my tree. The holiday music takes me back to a long ago time, egg-sized lights on a real tree, my mother in a homemade apron decorated with felt tree cut-outs.  And I can't forget the sugary cookies, the Homer Simpson Santa Claus talking dolls, the tolerance for more alcohol consumption.  I like that it's old and the biblical quotations describing the birth and the wonderment in that ancient time brings tears to my eyes, imagine that and I have no idea why.

So now I have to figure out should I keep a candle with real cranberries embedded in it or how about the garlic press shaped like an armadillo. It's an amazing thing, Christmas, and we tolerate and are absorbed by it, God bless us everyone.