Sunday, July 24, 2011

Eating Alone But Not Lonely

When my friend, K.C., wrote me that her husband had bilked the bank account and left her and their five-month-old son...well, it was a kick to the belly. Literally, I had to close my eyes and sit back in my chair. Focus on breathing. When she asked for words of wisdom, I had to chew on that one for a bit, because I'm not sure that I have wisdom. The crows feet around my eyes speak of experience, but wisdom...the jury is out on that one. Here is all I have, for you, K.C.

Feel The Grief. Your friends and family love you and hate to see you in so much pain so they will do whatever they can to distract you, to cheer you, to make you laugh, to point you towards a brighter future, to help you "buck up." All good stuff. But stay present. Put on your rubber boots and sink into the mud of sadness, disappointment, anger, and billowing pain. Walk through it. Slog. Eventually, you'll get to the other side, solid ground, but there's no other way around. Mourn. The life you had just died.

Yes, there's reality to think about: caring for your son, paying the bills, hiring a kick-ass attorney. But take time to be completely grief stricken, to not be strong or sturdy, stoic or positive. Be pissed off and sad. And don't let anyone get in the way of that.
Here in this house, on an island, far, far away, I fell apart. Didn't leave the sofa for two weeks. Bagged the tooth brushing, hair combing, armpit shaving. Sat in my underwear and watched every single episode of Sex and the City (twice) while sucking gummie bears and papaya slices. I imagine there was a doobie or two involved. The only reason I finally left the house was a tooth abscessed. The young dentist, I couldn't help notice, was totally Hot. I knew I must be on the upswing. I was lucky; I had resources (aka: family.) You do, too.

Care For Yourself. Whatever that means to you. For me, that meant massages, yoga and good food. Meals that I cooked myself. For one. Here's a favorite comfort food: soba noodle soup with vegetables and tofu. Topped with dried nori and sesame seeds. I ate alone often. And I still do because the Ranger works nights. But I'm never lonely, because I can taste the labor of love from hands to mouth. And I know that whatever happens...I can sustain myself.
Yoga saved my life. And that's not hyperbole. Just the truth. It took me out of my sad head and put me back in my strong body. It gave me confidence and community, a quiet spiritual center and a noisy welcome back to the world. Find your yoga.

Believe In Good Men. After The Surgeon and I split, I spit on the shoes of romantic love. What shit, I told myself. Never again will I share my secret self, or let a man crawl into the deepest recesses of my life, take his shoes off, scratch his balls and call my tender heart home. Meaningless sex...that's the ticket. A platinum card helps, too. And that certainly worked for awhile...even after The Ranger started calling me his girlfriend, and I called him, "this guy I know."

But there are good men. Who wait patiently for your bitter edges to wear away. And help that along by grilling you the most perfect piece of salmon at night and kissing your forehead every dawn before announcing, "good morning to you, sugar pie." Good men who take one look at your grumpy face and know that talking is out but foot rubbing is in. And good men who who say things like, "I will never let you down" and then don't. You'll see, K.C...he may not come in the package you dreamed of as a sanguine young girl (or in my case, he wasn't yet born) but he's there. Somewhere.

He might even show up with a very, hairy dog.

Hopefully, you'll be better prepared to meet him for the first time...not wearing pajama bottoms and bedhead in a fishermen's bar, drinking beer and blogging bitter tomes about your ex-husband in the middle of the day. Learn from my mistakes. Keep the bitter blogging to a minimum.

You are loved. And well on your way to wisdom.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Spotted Prawns...or, How To Make Your Sweetheart Late For Work

Summertime means the end of Sunday Supper and the launch of Sunday Lunch because by 3 p.m. The Ranger must strap on his gear and spend swing shift protecting the campers around Fish Town from overcooked marshmallows, the stench of dead sea lions, black labs gone arwy and City Folk complaining of sand in their new Keens.

Today, one of our favorite food sources, Local Ocean, suggested spotted prawns, simply cooked without fuss or muss. I love it when the Fish Goddess wrinkles her nose and whispers, "no Teriyaki sauce, for Godsakes," with the same hiss usually reserved for chewing gum at the table and men in argyle socks.

We quickly snapped up a pound of the spotted lovlies and turned them on the flame after a brisk rubbing in olive oil. Pink and grill marked, they swirled for a bit in a bath of butter, garlic and cheap Chardonnay (you know THAT bottle a dinner guest brought, hastily procured from the discount bin at Safeway -- good for prawns, but not for palate). Finished with a pinch or two of Piment d'Espelette because it's the crack we put on everything from scrambled eggs to T-bones.

Once, a neighbor, while walking his Akita, stopped by with wrinkled brow, "It seems you people grill every day, rain or shine." True. Even when the maniac cop shooter, David Durham, was on the loose, we broke quarantine and continued to grill. Not even a man in full-body camoflauge prepared to battle aliens (the space kind, not the apple picking kind), with a snapping blue heeler and an automatic weapon can keep us from our hot coals. But I digress.

A chilly Sauvignon Blanc (three blueberries at the bottom of each glass for good luck) and an easy salad completed the circle. As a yogi, I must bow to the many contributors to this luscious mache: The Ranger, of course, for growing the peppery greens and grilling the corn, Gathering Together for the tomatoes and herbs and my Mexican family for inspiring the dressing of fresh-squeezed lime, cumin, splash of apple cider vinegar, garlic-chile sauce, sea salt and olive oil. Ay carumba!

Maybe it was the heat of the day here at the beach, or the heat in the dressing, or the fact that spotted prawns must be eaten with fingers, buttery and salty, garlicy and spicy. But time slipped away.

Those happy campers will have to wait.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

And Then There Was Cake

I've always been afraid of cake. There. It's on the table. Second Edition decided, early on, never to bake because, well...measuring cups are involved. Precision. You can't call it in. You have to show up and do the job without fudging or improvising or sloshing a martini glass to and fro. So I always left baking to others. In fact, just last month I hired a woman to bake the Ranger's birthday cake, a lovely chocolate confection with crumpled toffee and whip cream icing. It was stunning. Before that...let's just say I'm shameless when asking friends to pony up a pie, a cake, cookies or gin. Isn't THAT what friends are for?

But then I saw these apricots at the Farmer's Market and was quickly smitten by their sunny little butt cheeks. So I bought a half dozen, fondled them a bit and pondered the possibilities. Fortunately, I just finished reading A Homemade Life (yeah, I gave it a bitchy review, but some of the recipes are appealing) and the pistachio cake with honeyed apricots looked like something even I could manage. Except I didn't have pistachios so hazelnuts had to do. And I added fresh grated ginger because I do that to everything, no questions asked.

It turned out divine. And made me wonder what I'd been afraid of all these years.

I took it to a garden party where it paired beautifully with a golden Sauternes. Thanks to the Wine Guy. On the way, however, I was stopped for speeding (58 in a 40), but the Nice Deputy merely poked his head in the window and smiled, "Why is my yoga teacher hauling ass through town, may I ask?"

The earthy, sweet goodness of my first cake made me wonder about all the other things I've been afraid of: microwave ovens, swimming in the ocean, cat attacks, my father dying, becoming just another dog-hair covered Coastie in Keens, a tree falling on the Ranger, losing my hair, being laughed at, wrecking my car, losing my teeth, becoming irrelevant, Fox News, hot dogs, forgetting my brother's voice, bee stings, the clown under the bed, grandma panties, Marcel Proust, crying in public, Jeb Bush running for, so much more.

And just when I can't bear the thought of how long my list of fears might become if I truly allowed myself to single them out...I remind myself that I was the girl who, two summers ago, packed her car and drove away. From everything. Everyone. Not because I was lost, unmoored, afraid or on the run. Not because I was searching for something or someone. But because I was found.

Sometimes you have to hit the road to realize where home is. And when you arrive. You bake a cake.

Friday, May 22, 2009

No One Found

Sometimes you have to throw caution to the wind. And Just Go. Even though the timing is less than perfect. Even though funds are depleted. Even though all those vigilant voices in your head whisper, "No, stay the course because this nice black man you voted for wants you to buck up, dust yourself off, be a good citizen and make some sacrifices so that we can all be better people."

Or, you can just spend a ridiculous amount of money to have unprotected sex in the wilderness.

Here's the thing: the Ranger and I work with the public all day long. It's a hard, sometimes joyless slog, even if its work we love. So escape for us means, no whining, no customer service, no sucking it up, no "thank you, ma'm, may I have another." That's why the Ranger's first instinct when he needs to get away is to go camping. Nature. Silence. Beauty. Peace.

Yeah. Yeah.

This time, however, because it's his birthday, the Ranger put me in charge of the camping arrangements. And let me just say, Second Edition Camping is a different mode of transport compared to Ranger Camping. Kinda like Singapore Airlines v. TWA. Lobster raviolis meets dry roasted peanuts.

While I certainly enjoy the character building involved in throwing down a sleeping bag on a bed of pine needles under a starry sky (I was once a Girl Scout, after all), roasting wieners on sticks over an open fire and serving them on a frisbee with cold beer, an Eddie Bauer sleeve as napkin...I chose for us a somewhat different route into nature. Let's call it Wild Spring.

Imagine....500 thread count Frette linens, a chandelier, room service, French press coffee, Persian rugs, chenille blankets on the porch, handcrafted soaps in the walk-in shower, a hot tub, in-room massages, a yummy bottle of Pinot Noir. NOW THAT'S CAMPING. Our hosts, Michelle and Dean, were perfect. They never spoke to us. Not once. Wouldn't be able to pick them out of a line-up if we had a D.A. pointing a gun at our head. We communicated via mail. Left breakfast requests and other administrative tasks in the front porch mailbox and these were mysteriously picked up when we weren't looking and fulfilled to the letter.'s true...I am now at a point in my life where I will pay a princely sum to make sure people do NOT talk to me.

We checked in at a gazebo which hugs an expanse of privately owned old growth forest that would make any good Republican pee his pants. In Drawer #4, we found a cabin key, a map to get us there, a flashlight to light the darker corners and a silver whistle to scare off lions, tigers and bears.

Turn right at Bliss.

Another right at the Buddha.

Past the random hammock.

Left at the Virgin Mary.

And here we are.

Dinner was at a local joint named Paula's Bistro, a surprisingly French little gem smack in the middle of a boarded up Port Orford (the recession has not been kind to this Coastal town). And even though our waitress, Paula herself, was charming and her husband, Random French Dude, was a delight, our experience was marred by having to sit at the bar (restaurant was booked) next to the Town Drunk, Richard.

He is an artist. Of course. His art hangs in the dining room. Found objects off the beach spray painted lime green and glued onto particle board. Yum. He talked. About his ex-wife. Fishing. His girlfriend. His rabble-rousing days in L.A. (everyone in Port Orford is from L.A. as it turns out) His current, unabated rash. And then he talked some more. Midway through, I took a serrated knife and killed myself.

As we approached the end of our lamb chops (me) and scallops (the Ranger), Richard held up his Coors Light and announced to the room, "Well now I guess you'll be going back to your room and making love all night long, huh." Nothing...and I mean NOTHING throws cold, Artesian water on your romantic notions like a staggering blowhard with a bloody bandaid strapped across his bulbous nose and food particles dangling from his scrappy beard. Yup. That night, after dry cheek kisses...we slept a chaste slumber.

So, it's true. I collect Police Blotters from small towns because I think they tell you a good deal about the character of a community. This from the May 13th Port Orford Daily Register:

"Police received a report of an audible alarm at Driftwood Elementary School. Police responded and found an open door. Curry County Sheriff's Deputy also responded, and the two officers checked the building for intruders. No one found. Door secured."

And that right there. The title of my autobiography: No one found. Door secured.

The next day, we explored the Land Of The Lost, the most remote stretch of Oregon Coast we've ever stumbled upon. Miles and miles of no people. Stunning.

On the drive home, we held hands for the first time in a long time. All better now.

Heads UP: Second Edition will be undergoing stressful and time-consuming testing towards her certification, but will return in full force after June 7th. Thank you very much.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Spring of Days

Bill paying Monday. I still write checks that have my brother, Edward's, address on them. I told myself I was being wise with a penny, saving a tree, that really it didn't matter. But now I'm down to my last book of checks and I realize I'm going to have to order new ones, with my real identity, my real location.

When I drove out of Albuquerque nearly three years ago, I needed an address -- Homeland Security doesn't like you checking into a hotel without one -- so of course I chose Edward's because the plan was that when I returned from "clearing my head" (I said three months, Edward guestimated a year) I would live with him and his family until I got my own place. He was an engineer, remember. He liked the future mapped out.

Edward wrote me this email exactly three years ago today. He was helping me get the house fixed up so the soon-to-be-X and I could put it on the market.

"You know, I'm a little worried about the float valve on the a/c unit that sits over the living room. It was dripping ever so slightly. Take a moment to see if that one is overflowing.

That valve got all twisted around and the little lever that shuts off the water got bent in the process. It's dripping and overflowing the drain. It should take a few minutes to replace the thing. All we need to do is remove the copper pipe, remove the nut on the outside of the a/c and it should come right out. It's a standard a/c part. If you want, turn off the water in the basement so it doesn't drip and I'll help you replace tonight after work."

Yeah, I know, kind of pedestrian. Most of our emails back and forth were about daily things. But here's the rub. Edward couldn't fix my broken heart because he knew enough to realize that the big stuff had to find its own way, that it was out of his hands, even out of mine. But the small stuff...that he could fix. He had a tool box. And he'd always make me sit up there on the roof with him and hand him the wrenches while he explained exactly what he was doing and why. Then he'd sit back on his heels, satisfied that repairs had been made and ask, "so what's for dinner?"

It was spring. So no doubt it was something good and fresh. The Farmer's Market was just starting up in Downtown Albuquerque, thin yet optimistic. Just like here in Fish Town. Some details are the same everywhere, because Nature only worries about the dailiness of things.

Saturday was the first day and although my favorite vendor didn't make an appearance, I still scrambled and found a tiny head of kale, delicate spring onions, a handful of fragrant basil, thin sticks of asparagus and the most amazingly tender yet hearty-tasting spinach. It was good to see folks we hadn't seen all winter: organic farmers with dirt under their nails from early morning picking, the pig and sheep growers in the clap-trap circus trailer, the bearded salad lady who's still convinced the world is going to end even though George Bush isn't running it anymore, the Chinese guy with the buckets of tulips, and Katie the bread lady. Mostly, it was just nice to hug our friends and neighbors on a blustery day under a blue sky, the salt air whipping our scarves, tilting our hats.

So yes...even though I've been a bit melancholy lately, missing my brother...May was always the start of rock climbing season...I feel the itch in my arms and fingers...I know that spring always clears the webs. Just ask my 83-year-old uncle who got married yesterday. Yup, the bride wore white.

And we stirred the greens. That lovely spinach topped with steamed asparagus bits, crispy pancetta and shallots, cannelini beans, and chives clipped from the garden. Tossed with a grassy green olive oil, ground pepper and red wine vinegar that had been whisked with pancetta grease. Ooops. Forgot the hard boiled eggs. The mushrooms. But then that's why we do it again.

Other signs of Spring...Mia puts on her backpack and hits the trails.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

It's not easy to live artfully. With grace and reflection. With real imagination. Sometimes, art is simply wishful thinking, a desire to stretch beyond the quotidian rounds of dailiness: working, buying bread, pumping gas, paying bills, walking the dog. When I come home at night, sometimes it's all I can do to be a good wife and ask after the day, stir onions in a pan, fold the laundry. Sometimes, I simply ask, "can we not talk for awhile?" Which makes the Ranger wonder if aliens have taken over my body.

But just when we think art is gone for good, that we will never have enough time or get enough sleep to write something worthy, shoot an interesting photo or cook a meal that will perch in the blurry edges of memory, someone knocks on the door and delivers. Their own art. We have been supremely gifted this past week. For no particular reason. By friends. Neighbors. Co-workers. Moms. A jar of homemade BBQ sauce that transported us to the silky hill country of Tennessee. A pork roast with a savory walnut, raisin stuffing. A surf board with Mexican pesos pressed into it. Cookies shaped like bunny rabbits. Homemade beef jerky. A purple, ribboned blouse that screams, "take me to a party right now!" A tall, lanky bottle of garlic infused olive oil. A CD of MP3s we might have never discovered on our own, a little bit country, a little bit of rock and roll. A pretty, pink camisole that makes my boobs look young again. A silk scarf. A snapshot of a blazing sunset. A story about sheep and cheese making in Northern Spain. A bottle of Malbec.

To celebrate our good fortune, we packed our camera and some sandwiches and took to a stretch of beach we haven't visited in a long time. In the cracking surf, we remembered what it was like when things were still new. And tried to look with fresh eyes. This is what we saw.

And then we kept going.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Sunday Supper: Not Your Mama's Enchilada

Enchiladas in Sunlight

Recently, at Sunday Supper, The Chef and his girl chose a daunting and somewhat risky task: reinventing the enchilada, a kind of New Mexico-Meets-Morocco jamboree. Sans the meat but with plenty of spice. Seemed reasonable. After all, North Africa and Spain did enjoy the same Braun hand mixer called the Inquisition, which is what drove so many Spanish out of the home country and to the sandy shores of Nuevo Mexico. Throw in a pinch of Native American culture (who do you think invented the tortilla?) and you have not only a tasty meal, but a ripe symbol of colonialism.

Remember though, when you approach the enchilada not only are hundreds of years of cultural history at stake, but much family lore as well. The enchilada, at Second Edition's birth place, is nearly mythical. Whenever I return to the high desert to pay homage to Los Padres, the first meal my Mama makes upon my arrival is a large tray of blue corn chicken enchiladas slathered with BOTH red and green chile. Every serving has a fried egg on top. And in the old days...a handful of cornflakes. What can I say. Life-changing delicious. It's how she says, "Welcome home. We missed you. Even though you drive us crazy and by the time you leave, we're exchanging high fives all around. Even though that blog of yours is such a massive invasion of privacy, we can't understand why someone hasn't shot it out like a certain street lamp that made the mistake of peering through your window. Even though we find your taste in religion, food, friends, clothing, books, movies, and pets questionable at best, pornographic at worst. But we love you anyway because Jesus told us to so we're gonna weigh you down with a brick of history. Here you go."

The enchilada has also served as a test for any Man date brave enough to come home with me. My college boyfriend, Brian, got his ear drums blown out by the fire of red chile, heavily laden. And I couldn't help but notice how sllloooowwwwly my mom walked to the refrigerator to fetch him yet another glass of icy water. She enjoyed watching him suffer. Later she told me it was the pink Izod shirt with the snappy turned up collar. So white boy. So preppy. So not-one-of-us.

The X loved Mama's enchiladas, but was a little concerned about the glob of cheddar cheese on top so he'd scrape much of it to the side. A detail that did not go unnoticed. My brother, Bird, enjoying a respite from handcuffs, his chin shiny with grease, would shout across the table, "Hey bro, you want to scoop that cheese over here. It's a shame to waste food." Everybody nodded knowingly. True. Those bastards are always so tight fisted with the prison cheese.

The Ranger, on the other hand, had no such cardiac concerns. And he likes his food hot, without water, only beer. Like a man. After the third helping, Mama nodded approvingly. "After you get done eating, maybe you can put up some fence posts, finish the dry wall in the living room and then corral the sheep for the night." You see...just when you think you've passed, there's always another test waiting for you. They come with increasing difficulty, not unlike Trivial Pursuit.

But back to Sunday Supper. These enchiladas were stuffed with...wait for it. Cabbage and Carrots. What! Vegetables? Fiber? WTF? Cabbage? Oh, Mama Ranger would have been so proud. Those sneaky Polish are everywhere.

I admit, the first bite was a little jarring. The heat of the chile sauce combined with the sweetness of the carrots and the clear smokiness of cumin. Hmmm. Had to ponder that's just not what I'm used to, not how I grew up. Everything I know about enchiladas got thrown into question. But after a third savory bite, they were declared delicious. Evolution always finds its place at the table doesn't it? Life never stays the same so why should the food. Or maybe it's the other way around?

Traditions are good, don't get me wrong. Blue corn tortillas. Cheddar cheese. Shredded chicken. Beans and chicos on the side. Iceberg lettuce and anemic tomatoes for garnish. Marriage to a nice boy.

On the way home from the Chef's Place, I got a call from my Tio Eliu announcing his upcoming nuptials. His second marriage. At 83, I think that shows an incredible amount of optimism. He's marrying a doctor nearly 30 years younger...thinking ahead. Better than a 401K. When he ribbed me about taking the leap a second time myself, I demurred.

Me and the Ranger, I declared, are like carrots and cabbage. A different kind of enchilada. Bite after bite.