Monday, August 31, 2009

I like to play dress-up.

I don't have The One Big Passion.  I've always thought I wanted one.  To be a Potter.  To be a Weaver.  To be a Writer.  To be a Photographer.  To be a Painter.  To be a Filmmaker.  To be a Singer.  To be a Chef.  I've done or still do or want to do all those things.  But none exclusively.

I've always thought I had some kind of ADD, some deficiency that made me unable to concentrate on just one thing.  Or that I just hadn't found the one thing that would get me to settle down.  I was the Bachelorette of Callings.  No commitments, baby, no tying me down.

But lately I've been thinking it's altogether something else.  I reckon it's not an accident that I loved to play dress-up as a child.  When my parents would go out, I'd go into their bedroom and turn their closets inside out and upside down as I put on one thing after another.  Mom's stuff, Dad's stuff--sometimes combined--and always accessorized with whatever trinkets and oversized shoes allowed me to inhabit and move freely in the faraway worlds in my head.  There were soundtracks in there and smells and furniture and pets and foods.  I would invite my real friends (of which there were few, truth be told, until I got older) to come over and participate, but they got frustrated by my inability to stick with one narrative.  I was in and out of a story before they ever got past "once upon a time" and, really, what was the point of trying to keep up?

In college, my first roommate used to throw her hands up at my habit of sitting in front of the stereo, changing LPs like a short-order cook flipping pancakes, Al Green to Beethoven's "Pastorale" Symphony to Dave Brubeck to Linda Ronstadt and all the time singing along on not one, but ALL the parts.

And now I'm officially middle-aged and on a trajectory toward dotage, I suppose.  I embrace the irony that my depth is my flightiness and I give deep and solemn thanks that I can clap with joy at so many things, all on the same day, and DO.

There's a term for this in German: "Lebensk√ľnstler"--someone who is an artist and whose medium is life.  It sounds much more impressive in German, but really, it's just a fancy way of saying that I'm someone who (still) likes to play dress-up.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

culinary stream of consciousness

It started pretty innocently: ever since I moved to the west coast, 3 summers' worth of time, I've been awed by the fact that I can actually get Real.Cherries and Real.Figs and Real.Huckleberries.  Sure, I'm happy about other things, too, but I got over my Salmon.Euphoria pretty quickly, and the catch in my throat when I round a bend and get a glimpse of Mt. Rainier is no longer accompanied by an audible gasp.

But the fruit?  Still inspires actual hand-clapping.  My latest thing is working up glazes for figs, running them under the broiler and then scraping the fruity, bubbly, steaming goo off onto a scoop of hard-frozen vanilla ice cream and then RUNNING to the couch to enjoy it mid-melt.  If I trip, it's no good--pre-melt and post-melt are not the same experience, and plus, there's the mess on the carpet.

Last night I made some with orange juice and balsamic vinegar, and the flavor took me instantly to a childhood place: 711 E. 17th St. in Little Rock, AR, sitting on a counter stool at a bar with a yellow top and a boomerang pattern, watching my great-grandmother, Nanny, making Lane Cake.

I actually hated it.  My little girl palate wasn't down with vinegar in a cake frosting, and Black Walnuts had some sort of acrid thing going on that alarmed me.  And raisins?  Meh.  Too "lunchbox" to be on a cake.  But somehow the taste memory lingered--like a happy virus lying dormant--and it came alive last night, transformed into something that made sense.

Turns out, though, that Nanny's recipe wasn't at all traditional.  I've been poking around on the internet, and hers didn't have candied cherries or coconut or icing, per se.  It was a vanilla-y, butter-y cake (well, oleo-y), and it had a cooked filling that featured vinegar, Black and English walnuts, pecans, and raisins that oozed out from between the layers and down the sides.

So what to do?  I'm thinking of taking my fig/balsamic/orange thing and some of the other components of Nanny's cake and see if I can't come up with a hybrid.   She was a great experimenter, so I feel certain she would approve.

First challenge: I'm not in the Ozarks.  Where do I get Black Walnuts?


Monday, August 24, 2009

Good sitting weather.

Sometimes it's not enough to ruminate alone.
Sometimes it's not enough to e-mail and tweet and blog and call and text.

It's good sitting weather outside tonight.

A porch would be called for.

A porch and two rocking chairs and creak-able boards.
And chuck-will's-widows in the distance.
Two friends sitting in the dark, sipping and sighing.

Saying nothing.
Saying everything.

And here is a response to this post from my far away friend, Lea, who totally got it:

"If I had a mind to
I think Id like to shuffle on down where
I hear they do hear
Chuck Will's Widow in the air

tinkling icecubes in empty glasses
like soft spoken persuasions of longing
no expectations of flutterings
only constant calling

finally soothing, quieting
knowing the song will always be
for those who need to hear
there, diligent on duty"


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Chris, we hardly knew ye.

My friend Chris is dead. Story is, he took his own life Monday. I wasn't there. Truth is, he was always an enigma. The man could tell a story. He is one of the most intriguing figures I'll ever know. Never at peace. Until now. May he finally have some rest.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

burnt toast and cow butter

This morning I made some toast to serve as a vehicle for a slather of thick Greek yogurt and peach preserves. Naturally, I burned the toast. I took it from the toaster and carried it over to the sink to scrape, scrape, scrape the burned edges off and redeem the otherwise perfectly good slab of Macrina goodness from the countertop compost bucket AKA fruit fly hotspot.

I've burned lots of toast in my lifetime, and, I think of my maternal grandmother, Mommo. When I was a kid, I spent lots of time at her house on E. 17th St. in Little Rock, where she lived with my grandfather and both her parents. I adored the rest of them, but had a somewhat conflicted relationship with her.

Here's an example of why: once I returned from a year abroad in Germany, and when I emerged from the jetway at the airport to see all the waiting throng (pre-TSA) after 12 months away, and sporting a super fab and hip German haircut, Mommo frowned, put her hands on her hips, and screamed: "Jenifer, why do you deliberately sabotage your appearance??? I HATE that haircut!!!" But that's a different story...

Mommo also had a tendency to burn toast, and in my stubborn child way, I refused to eat it. It was SULLIED! It was not PERFECT!!! Never mind that the toast had been scraped, that there were no more burned edges--there were no EDGES!!! At all!!! It was aesthetically compromised, and I demanded a do-over.

Now I understand why she was so frustrated with me. It's not even that she had been raised during the Great Depression and to throw away salvageable toast was unthinkable, it's just that I've learned in the meantime that the good bits of Macrina toast trump the uneven edge.

Even more puzzling was my childhood aversion to "cow butter." My paternal grandparents lived on a farm and my grandmother churned her own butter. It was ever present on the table and accompanied the homemade biscuits or cornbread that she made for crowds of Cecil B. DeMille proportions at every single meal. Oh, how everyone fawned over that butter. Problem was, I had seen the cow get milked--an unsavory process, to my teensy child eyes--had seen the churning process, had seen Mamaw's batwing arm undulate and flap as she churned, had seen the clots separate from the buttermilk, had seen the paddling to get the water out...and none of that added up in an appetizing way to "butter" for me.

So while everyone else clawed and scratched to get a bit of that creamy goodness on their bread or their cob of corn or their grits, I demanded Sherwin-Williams colored Mazola. Oleo! I wanted a stick of oleo on the table!

I think now of all the butter I missed. Of all the sweat and love and, yes, duty and fatigue, that Mamaw put into it. Of the biscuits she made every night and put in the icebox to haul out in the morning to come to temperature while she milked the cows or fed the chickens, of the aunts and uncles and cousins and the splendid table and the cedar chest I sat on, and the singing and laughter, and the red, red dirt of the road in front of the house, and the cow that produced that butter, and the ridiculous stick of waxy, y-e-l-l-o-w Mazola.

I want a do-over.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

signs of life

Between my apartment door and my plot in the community garden--about a block's worth of walk--is the gazebo of the Cascade People's Center. During the day, the benches are empty, and underneath them are plastic grocery bags of stuff, a sleeping bag here, a piece of cardboard there. As soon as dusk approaches, the people who belong to those things return one by one and prepare to stretch out for the night. This is where they live, but they know to be scarce during the light.

The rats, more plentiful, aren't bound by the fear of being ushered away, and they are brazen even in the bright sunshine.

Across from the gazebo is a small grove of flowering trees, under which is ground cover with small, glossy leaves (cool in the heat of the day) and a few rocks and concrete sculptures with mosaic. During our hot spell a couple of weeks ago, the people who are normally gone by day stayed. They didn't sit in the gazebo, but they sat in the cool ground cover under the trees.

Today I walked past that spot and this is what I saw. A Ben and Jerry's container, filled with dried up roses, blueberries, and other flora. Left behind.

I wonder if it was a shrine. Or a memorial.

Or the kind of sign of civilization that causes people to adorn their dinner tables with vases of flowers.

I hope there was once ice cream in that container, and that the people who ate it had good company and together took some comfort from that cold deliciousness.

I thought about picking it up and throwing it away, but on second thought, I determined that it was not trash.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Water, water everywhere.

Let the record show: on August 13, 2009, at 5:30 PM, your blogmistress heard thunder. At 5:35 PM, she was sitting in her car with the rain coming down in torrents. At 5:40 PM, she drove past the garden, and could swear she saw the hollyhocks straining upward, the fruit trees smiling from canopy to roots.

And now, at home, the window is open and the rain is still coming down. Not an isolated shower, this. Not a tease of droplets, after a parched summer. No, this is the rain that is rhythmic, that creates puddles, that rolls in waves down Fairview toward Lake Union, that causes cars to rev and scream their way up Denny Hill.

One might curse it, if it were December and the veil of wet darkness had grown heavy and with months of winter yet to come.

But it's not. It's August, after dry, after hot, and with more dry forecast.

So for this evening, it is simply relief and grace. I'm tempted to go to the garden and remember what it feels like to pull a weed out of sodden ground, but instead, I will sit by the open window--TV off--with a cup of tea.

Eyes closed.

Just the sound of the rain.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Blackberries on Mercer

I stopped to wait for the "walk" signal during rush hour traffic on Mercer. I saw these blackberries, growing clean out of the pavement. I ate a few, perfect, sweet, plump, and I wished I had a bucket with me.

For an instant the whizzing traffic was the wind sweeping across the field, and the seagulls were Eastern Meadowlarks, and my t-shirt was an apron, and I would pick the berries and put them in my apron, and I would walk back to the house and the screen door would whine and slap as it shut behind me, and there would be a pie and strands of hair glued with sweat to my brow, and my sturdy prairie husband, after a long day of toil, would eat it with no words but with eyes closed in savoring, in appreciation.

Then the light changed and I picked my way through the jam of cars waiting to enter the I-5 ramp.

I might go back tomorrow.

Monday, August 10, 2009

"You were moving very slowly."

Look. I don't really like light opera. I'm not much of a fan of musicals, either ("Spring Awakening" notwithstanding). But I'm a season ticket holder at a certain local theater, and this month's performance was, well, I don't quite know what it was. Wagner meets a barbecue meets the Porter Wagoner show meets a tractor pull meets...yeah. I don't know.

Still, I'm down with camp, and I figured it would be that. And so I enlisted my friend W, a Texan and a foodie, to go along. We started off with a fabulous cold, roasted chicken with a lovely mayonnaise, a bread-tomato salad, and a little wine at Café Presse. We sat outside. The breeze was cool, the sun was out, perfect! The evening was off to a great start!

Got to the theater and settled in. Check. Heard the announcement to turn off cell phones. Check. I took out my iPhone and dutifully flipped the little side switch to silence the thing and put it back in my purse. spectacle? hootenanny? started and I found my jaw tightening. Everyone around me was acting like this was the most profound thing they'd ever seen or heard, and I was just starting to analyze how that could be when I heard the tell-tale sign of someone's phone. Sigh.

How TIRESOME. I, and everyone else, started craning necks around in indignant disbelief--I mean, I wasn't so sure I liked this particular show, but it's the principle, people! It was very close to me, and the curious thing was that it wasn't a typical ringtone. It was Pink Martini! Pink Martini singing "Donde estas Yolanda" and that's no shrinking violet of a tune. All of a sudden it hit me. That was my Pandora radio on the iPhone, tuned to the Pink Martini station, and it WAS PLAYING. OUT LOUD. IN SPITE OF THE OFF SWITCH. What the...?!?!

My heart went from a dead stop to pounding out of my chest (oh, great, even MORE noise), and I fumbled with my purse and tried every possible way to turn the phone off without removing it from the muffling effect of its dark home. But, I mean, how do you turn a phone off that you think is already, you know, OFF?

I had to take it out. People are practically surrounding me with torches and pitchforks at this point (in their minds and mine), but I finally managed to turn the thing completely off.

I spent most of the rest of the first act trying to get my core body temperature and heart rate back to "normal" range, and eventually settled back into my low-grade disdain for the Teuto-Texan, Tex-Deutsch, uhhh, hybrid thing unfolding in front of me. OK, it was kind of entertaining, and there were some funny lines and songs, and so all was well.

Intermission came, the lights went up, and people dispersed. I recounted with horror to W what had transpired with the phone, and we had a good laugh.

Until a man and a woman appeared in the row in front of us, standing, looking down at me. "Are you the woman with the phone?" Oh, crap. I'm at Friedrichsstrasse border crossing. It's 1983 and I'm in East Berlin and the border guards know I haven't spent all my 25 East Marks and they're on to me, man. "Yeah, I'm terribly sorry, I didn't think it was mine, since I had turned the switch to "silence" and I..." They stopped me, disapprovingly. "You were moving very slowly." Um, well, yeah, I repeated that I, too was looking around for the perpetrator, since I had turned the switch, and... "We saw you and you were moving slowly. In such a situation you must react immediately and..." OK, now WAIT a minute. I interrupted. "Listen, I understand that. What YOU are not hearing is that I didn't think it was my phone! I had turned OFF the phone feature and somehow the radio app got activated--I don't understand myself--but I.DID.NOT.THINK.IT.WAS.MY.PHONE!" Finally, the woman seemed to get it and said I must have been mortified.

Meanwhile, she and her man friend are still towering over me, still have their arms crossed, are still speaking loudly, are still drawing attention to themselves as The Theater Grenzpolizei and me as the person trying to swim my way through the pan-Berlin sewers.

I think they finally just gave up. There's not much of a narrative arc to "earnest" and so they just shuffled back to their seats and sat down.

Oh, and the musical? The costumes were fun, and I'll never hear the word "hogtied" again without thinking of it.

not a fairytale

My personal trainer at the gym keeps telling me to take a "day off" from time to time, and truth be told, that scares me. I know all the reasons I should: avoid boredom; avoid sense of deprivation; rattle my metabolism; give me tools to learn moderation; blahblahblah.

But the great fear is that I will get off the trail, find some beautiful valley, which will lead me to a mountain, which will reveal this and that and yet another thing I should behold...and, oh, the waterfall! and before you know it...I've lost the trail altogether. I will have eaten all the breadcrumbs I left to find my way back and there I'll be. Hansel and Gretel all rolled into one, reclining on the ground, stuffing her face with breadcrumbs at the foot of a waterfall.