cooking · food · home · neighborhood · people

When a Bee Sees a Flower, Legs Ready

My order is wrong, but I don’t exactly mind. I always order the tonkatsu with double dumplings, which at this point is an extravagance for me. You work with animals long enough, you start residing in the right-hand section of the grocery store longer than you used to, actually remarking the leeks and the raddichio with a reverance once reserved for the particular marbling in a ribeye or cullotte. You start to understand sentience, and even as sentience is extended fastly to plants (!), it just feels better having flesh be something you scoop from an avocado. Julia is the night manager at the ramen house, and she tells the nearby server: “I was expecting the ruckus anarchism tonight.” In between slurps of noodles (down a few dumplings), I can’t help but quip, “Excuse me Julia, did you not notice my particular ruckusness? I’m currently ruining your establishment as we speak.” I’m sitting and enjoying the lava stone fires, and she laughs as I rearrange my chopsticks, my bookbag contents spread around me. I DID have two ladlings of ghost chile sauce in my bowl, so there’s some whiff of mischief. I work on the egg–it’s really sweet–and experienced in eggery, I know there has been some kitchen mischief as well. Trick#1: braise the egg in soy and brown sugar, crack the shell with back of a spoon mid-simmer, and let the egg absorb both salt and saccharine. Madhur Jaffery, who cooked James Beards’ hospice meals threw in rosemary as good and strange measure; also shiaoxing. Trick #2: slow-poach the egg in its shell–takes twenty minutes at sous-vide temp–then rest the egg in a marinade. Either way, you get an egg you won’t find at Denny’s. If you think about it, the drive-in, diner shit is a hundred years old; global cuisine is much older. Michael Pollan makes a point: eat Old World stuff. Tomatoes and olive oil, as example. Basis of Mediterranean food culture–the combination of ingredients are symbiotic, meaning one ingredient heightens the other in health benefit. It took a co-evolution of plants and people to figure this out, which is why Old World food is better.
I push aside my bowl–too much meat in it. I’m at a corner stool, and Julia is still floating around, tamping down the apparent ruckus that has yet to demonstrate itself. I ask for the check, and I thank her. “Hey–first full meal in a while.” She smiles, “You fasting?” I look down at myself, then back at her. “No,” I laugh. “It’s just been a rough week, so thank you. It’s actually been a fantastic day.” I draw from my reserves and from how I thoughtfully cook as a philosophical thing. “Julia I’m great,” I say. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, and I know that you are what you eat. The bill comes back, and it’s a fraction of what I owe. I tip big and duck away. Julia writes me a note on the receipt, which I tuck into my pocket, and I smile at her on the way out.
Tomatoes make EVOO healthier, vice versa. There is the mutualism of butterflies and plants. There is echanged acknowledgement, like when a bee sees a flower, legs ready.

Cayden · childhood · cooking · food · home · parenting

Fidgetery

Through the kitchen window screen, I hear the neighbor, and he absolutely sounds like Billy Crystal, just in the most annoying Billy Crystal way you can imagine. (“I would be proud to par-take of your pee-can pie”, if I remember ‘When Harry Met Sally’ correctly).

“Go potty! Go potty!” he tells his brood of papered dogs, these puppy farm terriers he walks too early in the morning. I prefer coffee in the a.m.; he prefers imploring his dogs to pee on command.

Maybe I shouldn’t complain.

The neighbor that used to live in his residence was an absolute tweeker. I’d leave for work early to find the guy Windexing his windshield in exactly one spot, over and over and over, like he was wiping away pretend spiders. His car was some tricked-out Beemer that he’d sliced down to low-rider status. It had a matte paint-job and tinted windows. The neighbor did this all—all this custom work—in his shuttered garage, usually at two a.m. If nothing, he was productive. Except when it came to polishing away those damn spiders. Then he was like a stuck record, needle skipping.

“Go potty! Go potty!”

I’m with Cayde in the kitchen, not cooking, and Cayde’s on a step stool managing his own microwave dinner, the microwave being that thing I’m not exactly fond of perched high atop the refrigerator.

Finn fell asleep an hour before, in his brother’s lap, exhausted from school and therapy and general Finn-ness.

I’m compiling food for tomorrow, which I get excited about, imagining a day of here and there small plates. It’s mostly veg. I eat mostly veg these days, and the little meals are like stepping stones to guide my hours. I get excited finding an avocado in the back of the fridge. It will be my lunch, with labne, cilantro and my one helping of cast-iron chicken. Then it’s apples, carrots, fennel, hummus, barley, eggs and salsa.

“What’s your favorite Mexican food?” Cayde asks munching on <gasp> dino nuggets. “A Benny’s bean and cheese, right?”

I’ve always told him to not engage me in the game of favorites, because life is too big to single things down to one choice, and one choice only. Don’t make me pick my last meal.

But I indulge him. And the questions move to French food, Indian food, Chinese food, then Swiss (?) food (I pull Gertensuppe out of some wrinkle of the brain). We keep talking while the terriers apparently have finished their piss. It’s quiet outside the kitchen window, and Cayde is in his mismatched outfit of stripes and flannel, with a flat-brimmed cap. He’s sitting still(ish) on the step-stool, chatting about German food, then Hitler, then Dude Perfect, then batting practice, and I do my best to keep up. He’s an admitted fidgeter, and his sentences match accordingly.

We’ve got the radio on, we’ve skipped Jeopardy. He obliges an early bed-time after I’ve congratulated him on choosing Kewpie mayonnaise as THE proper condiment. For once he uses a napkin as appropriate sidearm, not the cronch of his pants.

He crashes into me before disappearing to bed.

“Good night, Daddy! Love you!”

It’s quiet in the kitchen, and I smile while chopping vegetables, all the busyness done. All the busyness gone, but missed all at once.

 

 

cooking · food · grocery · neighborhood · people · wife

Compounding Earths and Angels

“You doing anything fun today?” the checker asks as he swipes bundle after bundle of produce past the PLU scanner.

“This!” I say, because I love grocery shopping, and Findlay and I are on a mission to pick up food for the week while Mama’s out.

“HAT!” Finn says loudly as interruption, signing the brim of a cap, the checker mid-swipe.

“What’s that, Little Man?” Finn signs ‘cap’ two more times while pumping his legs in the grocery cart.

I translate as an aside: “Yes, Finn—he’s got a hat!”

The checker has a proto-Iron&Wine beard and a fuzzy embroidered skullcap. He smirks and glances up: ‘Cool little Dude there.”

“The best.”

I’m in a good mood. The sky’s post-rain and the light’s bouncing off the undersides of whitening clouds. I got the front parking spot, even.

The grocer and I continue chatting.

“Yeah, this kid grew up at Whole Foods. My other one, too. Been coming to this store for eighteen years, I think?”

“That’s awesome, Man.” The guy looks up for a second, flashing a smile, then down again as a sizeable jicama rolls across the scanner. The little whorls of his moustache work themselves into a twist as he ponders the knobby root.

“Got me–dammit!” He thumbs through the PLU code bible next to his register, looking up‘J’ for ‘jicama’. I imagine it’s a source of pride for any checker to know every code for all the things.

I tell ‘Fuzzy Skullcap Guy’ that I used to run every obscure produce item past my old favorite checker, Jessie, sometimes as sport. Jessie would’ve paused on the keys of his register sometimes, but he never got anything wrong. Except:

“He missed on lemongrass. It was my one victory. And I fucking STILL didn’t get it for free.”

Guy laughs as he punches in the proper code.

Meanwhile, Findlay waves while the septuagenarian that we met in Aisle 3 walks her cart out. She was deliberating canned tomatoes and I pointed her to the San Marzanos.

She squinches her eyes, hunkers down against the push-bar of her cart, and claps a one-handed wave at Finn.

“He has such beautiful red hair, such fair skin,” the lady remarks, while gripping my shoulder.

“He is beautiful, ma’am. Thank you.”

As soon as she walks out, it’s then the guy with the toddler who gives Finn knucks.

“Nice talk, Friend,” he says to Finn, he and Finn having had a good convo by the quinoa.

Finn was talking more to the guy’s daughter, to be honest. (Everyone approximating the size of a breadbox merits Finn’s instant and undivided attention).

Finn knucks the guy four times, and Guy says ‘Whoops,’ while trying to keep up with Finn’s particular handshake.

(It’s: two knucks forwards, two knucks sideways, then one back-and-forth light-saber swoop. Zhwoom, zhwoom. Cayde and I have been doing this for years, and Finn’s picked up on it).

The grocer and I swap names for the remainder of our exchange:

‘You know Kyle?’
‘Maybe?’
‘Dre?’
‘Oh, she’s over at ‘Tiger, Tiger.’
‘James?’
‘Not sure. Probably by face. You know Erik? I totally dig that guy.
‘Yah—he’s great. Receipt?’

We don’t need a receipt. I don’t care what I spend on food.

Jenn’s doing a challenge at the gym she’s an ambassador for. She mentioned liking to use this particular avocado salsa as dressing for her greens. That clicked a switch for me. I know I have to pick up bread and tomato sauce, but everything is else ad lib.

There’s an amazing joy if, and when, walking into a grocery store, the foods become potential ingredients, not just stand-alone items waiting to be bought. Like when I used to very purposefully arrange my watercolor tubes and drawing pencils years ago, fastidiously and in a fishing tackle box. THAT cerulean is going to work out well in this next thing I’m thinking about, and—oOo– I love that conte crayon.
Avocado salsa? Well, hmmm…

The guy figures out the jicama PLU code, and then Fresno peppers make their way to the conveyor belt. He sighs.

“Dammit,” he says again.

Jicama
Rainbow carrots
Red cabbage
Cilantro
Mixed Greens
Tomato petals
Scallions
Arugula
Spiced pepitas
Goat cheese
Avocado
Hanger steak
Squash
Avocado salsa

I continue chatting up the grocer, which is strange because my palms sweat like mad at the idea of FORwarding a conversation.

(Wait—that’s a lie. Jenn and I used to talk all night, every night, until we finally co-signed a lease and would eternally entwine our ankles come bedtime).

You realize how much I love her, right?

I have to walk down the street to Baron’s to finish the groceries. A nice mile.

I try to call both Ryan, then my brother on the way down the street, with no answer. So I pocket my phone, and—wow–the things you see.

“Oh, my poochkie,” says the lady, in an antiquated blouse, and she haunches down with her probably 50% spandex skirt, approximating a fleur-de-lys with her backside while unleasing a shivery Chihuahua onto the sidewalk. The dog is brown, with buggy eyes. He spills out, like wet laundry. The dog had been knapsacked into a pink canvas tote thing before being unfolded onto the concrete.

“Auch, Poochie, poochie.”

Lady’s wearing heels, the dog wears the embarrassment of being an accessory. These are perhaps mutual things. The dog shivers.

I walk on.

This woman slows while crossing the street in front of me, leans against the light post, sweating, then bolts down the avenue! She is awesome! And wires of her ear-buds swing back and forth like while she hitches at her clothes. She is a resolution happening, and I want to prescribe her yoga pants exactly one size less.

She looks great.

I ask the produce guy if he has squash. He doesn’t. But I buy up up everything else in the section.

“You got shallots?”

“Not the best.”

Shallots
Mushrooms
Thyme
Lemon juice
Cream
Squash

I like cooking stuff. I pass by the ‘Compounding pharmacy’, which is next to the Baron’s, and they’re inexplicably blaring ‘Earth Angel’ out the front door.

Compound ‘earth’ and ‘angel’, you’ll get something.

On the way back home, oh that couple kissing. It was caty-corner to a porch, and he had his hands loosely draped on her hips. The hedge was blossoming red, as were my cheeks upon passing.

“Take me to a hospital!” the man down the street yelled. The police had him pushed against a low fence, and the lesser officer held in his hand the man’s thrift store purse, embroidered and with a silly clasp. The purse was quilted.

“Take me to a hospital!”

There was a nearly-full beer poised on the curb, an avalanche of personal items.

“I was sleeping!” the man sobbed.

“Please,” he continued, “I want to kill myself.”

“Please, Sirs…”

“We’ll get you to that hospital, Guy,” the officers say. Guy had his hair neatly combed into two sections, one partitioned section formed into a bun and particularly arranged.

No one combs their hair before nothing.

I’m walking by with a bag of groceries, and I catch Guy’s glance.

“It’ll be ok, Man.” (I have proof).

“I wanna go to a hospital,” he says, looking at me.

And I didn’t say anything more because the police were in the middle of an arrest, and I had to keep walking. Goddammit. Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything, but that’s most likely inaccurate.

Then I’m passing my friend down at Thorn St., Cory having a smoke on the stairwell. We slap hands before he has to go back to pouring draughts, while I shoulder my groceries.

“How’s it going, Thom?”

“Fantastic, Man,” I turn. “How’s it going it with you?”

“Crazy beautiful sky,” he gestures with a cigarette.

“Indeed.”

The food truck is vaporing out cholesterol-laden perfumes, and there’s the hum of the generator.

The sky was so gorgeous yesterday, with a light perfect. Gulls like pristine white thumb-tacks on a grey sky. I mean, c’mon.

cooking · family · favorites · Findlay · grocery · neighborhood · politics · wife

‘Wahples’ on the Night Fidel Castro Died

“Wahples,” Finn announces as he wedges himself in between the arm of the couch and my thigh, nestling in to the cat’s usual nighttime nook before placing a thumb resolutely in his mouth. The cat lowers her ears and endures the trespass, her fight-or-flight reactions having long since been dulled by a half-life of toddlers running amok. Finn’s in his dinosaur pajamas and was asleep—honestly, he was asleep— tucked in with his brother not ten minutes prior.
“Wahples. Ee ehggs,” Finn elaborates, this being his particular manner of ordering breakfast, despite the contrary hour.
“Waffles. Eat eggs.”
We have a candle burning, most lights out. Jenn and I were cuddling on the sofa and working our way through ‘Stranger Things’ (always a few months behind everyone else on the TV trends), but shruggingly make room for Finn. He can watch Episode Six, I guess; Daniel Tiger will just seem that much more comfortable come morning. ‘Meow-meow-meow demogorgon.’
“Wahples.”
“Waffles?”
“Tay.”
‘Tay’ is this new contraction of Finn’s, somewhere in between ‘Yes’ and ‘Ok’, and I don’t make an effort to correct his speech. Cayde’s recently confided to me that he likes knowing what Finn says, even when others don’t. It’s a secret language of sorts, and a brotherly understanding. Cayde’s ears remain precise even when Finn’s language is sometimes lazy. When I seem them snuggling together beneath an afghan and whispering to each other, it’s the best thing. It convinces me more and more that language needs lesser volume and lesser exactness than we pretend. And I say this as a fan of the Oxford comma.
“Wahples.”
The breakfast order has been summarily placed, though it’s nine at night and there’s a full sleep to be had before the kitchen re-opens. Meanwhile, I don’t blame Finn for the confusion—I’m drinking evening coffee and all of us have been sick this Thanksgiving holiday, napping at crooked hours. Jenn exercised her way through a stuffed head this morning; Finn and exorcised our blahs by enjoying a midday Nod. My fault, probably, that he’s awake.
Episode Six credits and Jenn goes to lay down with Finn—“just for a minute”—to have him settle. I already know these to be famous last words. The cat couldn’t be happier, kneading her suddenly extra cushion-space with outstretched limbs. While waiting for Jenn to reappear, I hear her begin to breathe in tandem with Finn the next room over. Maple-coated dreams, everyone.
Scrolling through my phone, I read on Al-Jazeera that Fidel Castro has died. This strikes me. I rouse Jenn briefly.
“I’ll be out in a second,” she says, which I know to mean she’ll soon be out cold. The cat’ll ultimately win her nocturnal roost; surely I’ll be up for a bit. Episode Seven will have to wait, in part because I can’t navigate the television remote.

Castro is dead, fifty-three years and three days after Kennedy. Also, ‘wahples.’ These are facts.

I shoulder into my peacoat and slide on flip-flops—such are the contradictions Southern California allows—and leave to get eggs. We’re out of eggs and the cornershops have since closed. A half-mile up is the late-night market and it’s a nice walk. I don’t look at any more news tonight.
There’s that nice phenomenon when you take a stroll and witness the streetlights wink on, that little bit of synchronicity where you can pretend for a second you’re the reason why the sidewalk is suddenly lit. A similar and more modern phenomenon is seeing news the second it breaks, when you’re at the top of the media micro-cycle, and opinion hasn’t yet formed to churn up the wave and eddy things. There’s just a simple fact, a declaration that something has occurred, and it’s history happening before everyone has had a chance to say what that happening means. With great volume, always, and with pretend exactness. ‘Tay.’
Castro was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2001. He also had scores of human rights violations on his record. Kissinger won the prize back in ’73, as precedent to irony. I don’t look at any more news tonight, though—it would all make as much sense as peacoats and flip-flops, or coffee before bed. There’ll be arguments tomorrow. There are arguments everyday.
This time last year, Jenn and I were looking at houses, which seemed a bankrupt idea considering 2008. On the way to the market, I pass by walk-ups and bungalows—enviable, sure—and one Craftsman has a water element that runs even into the after-hours, a recycled waterfall lending nothing but noise to the xeriscaped chaparral along its borders. Jenn and I don’t know any more. What does equity mean, what’s a house, what future is about to slouch its way toward Bethlehem with demagogues dying, but with others soon to take their place. Today we pondered a new vehicle, a trailer, more attention to date nights and weekends, urban walks, travel! Turning on the streetlamps with our footfalls.

I get eggs at ten-thirty before the market closes and the store clerks say: ‘Oh, yeah, yeah—the Castro thing. What difference does it make though, no?’ We exchange monies.
I like it when Finn is meanwhile declarative, if even at the wrong hour. It’s language and meaning to me, and informs my tomorrow. Waffles—they’re best when the eggs and buttermilk are at room temp, so I leave the eggs on the counter upon coming home and let the coffee go cold.

Cayden · childhood · cooking · Findlay · home · parenting

Boys on the Double

Jenn goes to GFit more evenings than not. When the car leaves the driveway, Cayde inevitably announces–‘it’s ‘Boy Time!’ while Finn toddles the house and creates new and geometric sculptures out of his toys, stacking cars and dolls and otherwise plastic pieces into the shelves and hollows of our home. He’s very determined in his task, always, chin down and lower lip protruding. The entire house gets decorated in Hasbro. I try to play records on the stereo, but Finn stomps the rooms straight-legged and diplodocus-like; meanwhile Cayde cannot contain his urge to spontaneously back-flip into the couch cushions. The records always skip in time with the boys’ seismic mismanagement of things, and I wind up just having to stop the needle.
“What’re we gonna do, Daddy?” Cayde asks, upside-down on the orange recliner, his hair all fanned out.
Boys. Jeezus. I rarely was one, or maybe I’ve just been grown-up for too long.
The other day I took Cayde to the park for pitching practice–Friday–and the field was abandoned. I had new bifocals, and the mound was freshly manicured. I told Cayde to wait a sec, and leveled my shoe against the rubber. I hadn’t been on a mound in thirty years, but threw five straight strikes before attempting a side-arm curve-ball that went way left of orbit.
Way left.
Cayde laughed at me. We practiced and wound up running into some old SeaWorld friends who were there to do hitting practice with their son. We relinquished the mound and shagged balls till near sun-down, this kid pounding flies relentlessly to center and Cayde pumping his legs in attempt to get them before they bounced over the fence.
“I shagged fourteen!” Cayde announced, only three having skipped the boundaries of the diamond, over the chain-link and into the grass beyond the home-run line.
I’m not usually this energetic. Cayde’s near nine; I worried I’d have broken him by now. Eight was the age I was irrationally scared of, age eight being the diving board quivering over the fact of nine and ten, that hesitation before the teenage years, before the drop into the acerbic and chlorine-blossomed world of adolescence. I panic over losing my boy. Meanwhile, my eyes are noticeably older.
“What’re we gonna do?”
I snap on the burners and harbor the kids into the kitchen. Finn wants some grapes and gets them: “Tank you da-da-daddy-pa-pa.” He doesn’t know when to stop the syllables. He cuts the grape in half with his teeth and it’s the best sound.
I make a molé quesadilla for Finn, throw some pans around and do a black bean chicken burrito for Cayde. This I’m good at.
I let Cayde pick out some songs on the iPad and Finn wanders away from his dinner to jump–his new-found joy and ability–and Cayde follows suit, dancing in the kitchen. I’m still flipping tortillas on the range and browning what needs to be browned. I stop at saying, ‘Stop.’ I forget sometimes being a boy. I don’t tell them to get back in their seat.
We resume, we happen. We stomp and air guitar, forever high on the neck, playing our trouser legs like Les Pauls, occasionally thrumming an always low-slung bass–too cool to play it high and to the chest–just being boys, boys on the double, and  before Mom gets home.

anxiety · city · cooking · depression · family · favorites · food · home · neighborhood · penguins · wife

How to Make Tomato Soup in the New Year

When dragging in the fire hoses, I knock over a penguin and penguins—being like bowling pins—are easy to knock over. Also like bowling pins, they’re not quick to right themselves. They make instead a display of their frustration with flailing pink feet and wings doing snow-angel things in the ice.

“Goddammit.”

I right the Adelie, tugging on his flipper and setting him upright.

“Get up, Kid. Sorry.”

The Adelie chaws his disagreement, eyes widened and head feathers splayed while I ready the hose.

I like this particular penguin. He certainly doesn’t like me currently, and says so.

I’m not caffeinated enough.

When properly righted, the Adélie stretches to his full length, blue and gleaming-bodied. He defiantly pins his wings to his sides and begins a reprimand. His crural feathers are in disarray when standing on tip-toe, with a head gigantic and eyes big.  The rest of his body is evolutionarily trained to look compact and impenetrable. He’s mad and fisticuff-ready.

The bird chatters a long discontent and I say again, attaching a nozzle to the length of the jacketed hose, “Sorry, Dude.”

Also: “Oh, shut up.”

I’m agitated.

I’m in the penguin exhibit and needing to thaw out the ice that I laid down yesterday for the birds—a few tons of it—needing to erase things down to concrete before laying on more snow. There’s always this process of whitening the exhibit. ‘Rinse-and-repeat’ and ‘do-it-again.’ The birds are goldfish-like, rediscovering the castle every time. They bury their heads in the fresh laid drifts as if the snow were something irretrievably new.

The Adélie’s still mad with white eye-rings dilated. He menacingly snakes his head back and forth in a prolonged and disgruntled filibuster.

The bird’s equal to my boot-stop, somewhere mid-calf, and remains the source of many bruises. A long time ago, he memorized the start of my calf—just north of where the boot ends—and has capitalized on his discovery. He’s a small and angry creature, growling with what sounds like a bone in his throat. His beak is a weapon. My purpled calf can be submitted as evidence. I start the hose and work on thawing the ice.

(It’s said the Inuit tribe has forty different words for forty different types of snow. I appreciate the lexiconical thoroughness. Snow certainly has different forms. There’s ‘aput’ and ‘piqsirpoq’—’pack snow’, ‘drift snow’).

Meanwhile, we have a machine that creates ice for the penguins, a gigantic set-up, with these digital read-outs that analyze conductivity within the briny wellspring, probes that measure salinity and temperature. The snow collects upwards in a large silo before finally being delivered into the exhibit.

The Adélie settles, folds his feathers back upon his ears. Our standoff is temporarily over. I continue thawing the ice and need deal with the snow machine later–more hoses, unfortunately. Always the lugging of things back and forth in this penguin neé goldfish forgetfulness game.

Thawing the ice takes a few hours. It’s time enough to think, which can either be good or bad dependent on ‘aput’ or ‘piqsorpoq’, those specific Inuit words for snow. It could also be good or bad depending on whether or not the pillow was kind the night prior.

My mind wanders. I remember this article I read regarding the fast-melting glaciers, the ice caps that have been disappearing for years. In recent times, the thaw has been more sudden. Everything is in quick-dissolve it seems. The guano-stained snow I’m currently flushing down the drain entertains a currently dumb and nascent parallel.

Bodies and artifacts are unearthed with the glaciers melting, leathery corpses the color and wrinkle of dates.  The bodies are sometimes big as mastodons. Also exhumed are the long-hibernated pathogens—these needling and small things—,which can suddenly aerosolize, becoming renewedly dangerous after eons of rest. Long after we’ve lost immunity.

(Jenn asked me over dinner one night: ‘What happens when it comes back?’ which ruined the cheese course. It was, however, an important question. Things have a way of returning).

While finishing the thaw, the once-buried herringbones collect over the drains. They are later the things penguins will pick at as items of both morbid and culinary interest. Meanwhile, the Adélie is no longer agitated; I lug in the snow hose to blow snow, hopefully to keep things frozen.

**

The light’s streaming from the east, the sun arcing higher now in the New Year. I’ve always disliked the easterly light. Its shadows cast westward, reliably short beneath the front and east-facing windows. Shadows get stuck in the gable and beneath the plants.

It’s a stubborn circadian thing, my dislike of the morning. I’m not synched up to the dawn. The sunrise to me is exposure, never a new beginning. I prefer the deep and bas-relief a setting sun instead provides. It carves new places to hide comfortably.

When Jenn and I moved in together, there was a particular homesickness that accompanied our living situation. It was our first run at adulting, us trying to afford a futon, a bed, groceries even. There were weeks when the bank account was whittled to $3.95. Less than a fiver to last us until the following Friday. Jenn would often retreat home on the weekends to do laundry in a house peopled by her brothers, her mom and her dad. It was light there most hours. Our apartment, meanwhile, was always dark, even in the daytime. Sandwiched between two neighboring buildings, the apartment was forever in a constant and concrete eclipse. Even the fern died, though I watered it religiously.

The real dark was best, come 6 p.m. or so. Out the front window, the step-stairs disappeared and the next-door lights clicked on, visible only between slats in the fence.

The under-girding of the upstairs balcony partially blocked the front window, so the view was minimal: picket boards, two erstwhile hawthorn shrubs and an anemic bougainvillea snaking its way upward from our doorstep to the second-floor railings.

Nighttime was relief. Always the stereo on and a record spinning, shallots and garlic hitting the pan in my first attempts at cooking. The kitchen was stubbornly ‘Harvest Gold’ though it was 2001.

(I won’t mention the cockroaches–the ones that had made their way into the oven displays, eventually getting stuck there in the little windows, unable to get out, regardless looking comfortable).

Get old enough and you realize there may be only certain intersections of time and geography where you feel comfortable. All this while  your chemistries require accordance to a specific set of spatial and circadian demands.

Is it just me?  I’ve historically disliked 3 pm. I dislike eastern light, too.  Also flat places–those cursedly flat streets with houses graded on the equal. I become agitated, almost agoraphobic, without walk-ups and the cover of trees.

When first looking for a rental house, Jenn increasingly pregnant, Jenn called me at work and said she’d found a place. THE place. It was on Greg Street, and the house was nice enough, but with a pink ceramic bathroom and a screened-in back porch needing repair. The house was on a horribly even street, one block up from where an airliner had crash-landed the year after I was born. The plane: it scraped the street greater than level.

(This is my particular, but historically accurate, embellishment. A PSA airliner crashed and left a memorial plaque on the sidewalk. A friend of mine lived a block east that exact year. Coming home from a shift at the local hospital, she found body parts on her front lawn. Her shift had already been burdened with body parts so the forearm on her porch was something superfluous).

I expressed my particular and neurotic, “No,” a quiet shake of the head, and Jenn cried in frustration because we’d been looking a long time for a house in this neighborhood. It should’ve been a ‘yes’ from me, pink toilet regardless.

We did find a house, though, on Herman Ave., and only a mile up. It had a hundred year-old sycamore overhanging the roof, also a minor walk-up to the front door. There was a gable, and the house was elevated. Had there been a pergola, some florid cover, it would’ve been perfect. In absence of a roseate bathroom,we signed the lease. Eight years later, it remains our home.

**

Jenn and I switch seats at breakfast. Jesus–this glaring window, the insufferable east light again, and the kids all  ramped up. This was supposed to be the easy and enjoyable part of the day. A Benedict at ‘Great Maple’ before managing a drive through the neighboring hills. North, and slightly east. Finn is wrapped around my neck, Cayde’s something non-stop. There’s also the fact of banging spoons and cutlery on the floor.

Last night, I lost the Great Book Debate. For the nineteenth time, Cayde read ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ in lieu of anything new or substantial. It’s a calorically empty book, and I’m aggravated at myself for being aggravated. Cayde puts down books in speeds I can’t fathom. Cayde’s sometimes like me, other times remarkably not. I’ve gotta stop expecting to see me in him all the damn time.

Shut the fuck up, Thom. Cayde’s Cayde.

(Still, I got him ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’ especial and he seemed so excited when I talked it up as much as I did…)

I’m devoting myself fully into hating ‘Wimpy Kid’ while I should instead be enjoying breakfast. There are forkfuls of chèvre-stuffed zucchini blossoms, balsamic tomatoes. Goddamn ‘Wimpy Kid’ and all its stick figure drawings. Now every kids’ book has fifty percent fewer words. I try to focus on the plate in front of me. I’m not doing myself any good.

The potatoes have herbs d’provence and the Benedict is built atop a pop-over, so there is something lavender and airy about the plate, the poached eggs neatly trimmed of their egg-white tails. The tomatoes are roasted properly, but I’m in disagreement with the strawberry reduction.

Cayden, meanwhile, has taken up a coloring book and his crayon is cherry wax-flavored; Finn is tucked into a pancake, and it’s simply got maple syrup, a pat of butter.

I think the pop-over too eggy, the window too bright. On a Saturday morning, this is just way too much grey cloud thinking. Over the top. Arrogant.  Because I find the reduction a quick and neat approximation, not an actual reduction,  my cloud takes on a funneling under-shape. I’m an asshole for judging the line cook. He didn’t reduce the sauce thick enough to properly coat a spoon. Strawberries aren’t even in season.

(There’s only a 180 occupant load currently overspilling the leatherette booths, also the constant and tintinnating sound of forks against plates. The waitress is in training and the coffee–which I’ve had too much of–makes me anxious. I’m sure the line cook has to be hustling back there behind the swinging aluminum doors).

I’m restless. We’re going to look at houses to live in.  I have to switch seats because Finn’s pressing against my face now in his idea of a hug. His breath is something different with new and soft teeth—all puppyish—with his mouth awkwardly open-mawed against my cheekbone and lower-eyelid.

Jenn and I switch seats. I eat my food while the kitchen hastens dishes to the front of the house. I continue to hate eastern light. I continue to be a jerk. I hate myself for this weed of agitation that keeps springing up, this goddamn agitation goddamn.

**

Tierrasanta translates roughly to ‘Holy Ground.’ It exists back and behind the community where I grew up, on the northeastern slope of Cowle’s Mountain. To be more specific, Tierrasanta lies north of both Cowles’ and Fortuna, nestled in the upper plateaus south of the naval airfields. Tierrasanta overlooks a valley that was long-ago both dairyland and floodplain. It’s now an unwisely-engineered interstate with a parallel and adjunct business district, a thoroughfare lined with big-box outlets and mixed-utility complexes.

There’s a murmuration of birds over the Best Buy. We see this from a ridge at the last town home community we’re both visiting and ranking, and the birds do their thing, approximating the respiration of bellows, seeming to displace air when they needle in tight, the flock reducing itself to a line. Best Buy is neon at ten o’clock in the morning, which is absolutely unnecessary in the daylight.

The townhouses are ok. Nice. The brass tacks about living in San Diego: it’s downright unaffordable. We have monies passed down in that guilty thing we call inheritance; and while we meantime make a decent living ourselves, we still can’t buy 800 sq. ft. in a place we want, and really we don’t want much. It’s a certain brand of obscene. The only available option is to buy a house with a shared wall, and with paid-for maintenance; a shrunken patio as excuse for a backyard; and with communal pathways that approximate a front yard.

It could be convenient, and something you might want as a forty year-old, if unwilling to do the fixer-upper dream and while having a severe adversion to mowing the lawn. It could also be just a bummer, depending on how you convince yourself.

It’s this mid-life compromise, when you ask: does it really come down to this? Peggy Lee singing, ‘Is that all there is?’ while you hope the wall you share with your neighbor involves laundry or the kitchen, not the bedroom because keeping things at half-volume seems an unfortunate concession. To be forty and fucking on the quiet seems something adolescent, not something belonging to a responsible homeowner with a mortgage.

“The walkway’s nice.”

“You don’t have to do maintenance, at least.”

“From here it’s an easy drive to Mira Mesa.”

“All the good food’s there.”

“Yeah, true.”

The birds do their thing over the ‘Best Buy’ and the cottonwoods are grown up enough, also the sycamores. The chapparal is relegated to the valleys, the buckwheat repeating its uninterrupted seven-year bloom.

**

When I was younger, all the news coming from Tierrasanta involved kids finding live artillery shells while exploring canyons, exploding themselves—just horrible news—and now Tierrasanta is houses upon houses of development, an implosion of living spaces.

We drive around and there are exactly four strip malls: a pizzeria and a Hawaiian BBQ and a haircut store. It makes me weirdly nervous that there are so many houses and so few storefronts. What would it mean to be stranded in a crowd with so few facilities, and so few people you can greet at the counter by name? A guy at the last complex walks out of his garage with a white beard and a cigarette, and he waves amiably.

Jet-washing jets land across the way and I get the growing sense that I don’t want to live here, but I wave back to the white-beard guy. He seems nice.

**

As a kid, I used to sit on my neighbor’s roof and watch the jets carom over Tierrasanta during practice, the annual air show. At night there were sonic booms, unexplained, because we lived near the airfield and there was the constant and midnight rumbling of secret planes taking off. The B-1’s they wouldn’t tell us about yet. ‘Nighttime planes’, I remember calling them.

(This dream I had. I was in a fuselage, without wings. A metal tube flying low over the ocean, and the ocean below dark save for whitecaps. The whitecaps were in a messy diamond-pattern justfrom the wind’s interference. The ocean was certainly Atlantic, not Pacific. I could tell by nature of its mucky gray-brown color. Suddenly the water threatened the plane, rising, me in a seat trapped. I heard the water hit the undercarriage of the plane in a metallic slap before the pilot finally elevated the fuselage upward. Afterward, there was the sound of an ocean arguing against itself before a welcome subsiding. The plane then rose and rose and while still wingless).

**

At work, the snow is wet and coming out of the hose all wrong. Too much salt in the brine, else too many clouds on the horizon. The humidity throws everything off when making stuff frozen. The penguins don’t care and just revel in the newfound ice. The Adélies bury their heads in the snow and they’re characters: running, hopping, sliding. They wriggle around in the slush, upsetting the snow before it freezes proper to the concrete. Super-alive, they wave their heads back and forth in agreement with this all.

When I clock out, the snow is messied, and an Adélie barks.

I put my bags down and Jenn looks anxious in the kitchen. She wears an apron, which I never do, wooden spoon in hand. I kiss my kids in turn. Finn tromps up and down in place while exclaiming, “Dah-dee!” He always hugs me from the side; Cayde meanwhile hugs me square in the chest, nowadays too hard, and I have to remind him that I don’t like it when he pile-drives me in the sternum, not exactly.

“Gentle, gentle, Dude.”

I sense something is wrong, though the kitchen smells nice, like garlic or browned butter.

I cock my head.

“You okay, Babe?” and she says she just needs to tell me something, ushering me into the room.

(For the longest time, Jenn couldn’t furrow her brow; currently it’s that biggest tell that she’s lost an admirable amount of weight: that she can now perplex her forehead. It’s also a tell that we’ve grown older together, worries like strata finding places just north above the eyes).

The apron she’s wearing is ‘Hello Kitty’, which is cute. She puts her spoon down.

“Thom, Karina  died last night. In a car accident.”

Karina was the girl who opened the front door when we first looked at this house: a cherubic ten-year old with pretty brown eyes and a hint of belly showing, her shirt having ridden up. “Hi!” she said. Her sister was sleeping in a carrier on the table, blanketed in crochet, and with her nose as big as the divot underneath her nose, that being how disproportionate infants are in their disproportion.

“Hi!”

As it would be for years, with Karina smashing her face into the window-screens of the back-rooms: “Hi, Cayde!” “Hi, Finn!” She loved those boys, and her smile was big, her voice bigger. She would hug them with her mantle of dark hair.

The dark eyeliner of her under-lid grew longer and more curlicued as she got older, Amy Winehouse-like, and last I saw of Karina, she borrowed Jenn’s curling iron and fixed her hair in a hurry in the stand-alone laundry-room, the door shut behind her. She said, “Thanks,” and handed me back the iron, still warm.  She ran, ducking down the driveway, secreted by the cover of parked cars, running into the street forever and far away. .

**

It’s on the news, the tail end of the car distant from the streetlight that separated the front of the car from the back, the chassis otherwise crushed upwards with seats against the ceiling. The news was stupid reporting that the kids were alive when they were checked into the hospital. No, they weren’t. God bless them, no they weren’t. They had no idea what happened.

How will our pulses end, how will they; I get scared they end with spines and teeth and things red-colored.

(I get frightened, really frightened for my kids, and that everything moves in near misses and that collisions are sometimes expected; that things are frozen, then dangerously thawed out; that there are extinctions upon extinctions, but also the not-extinctions, when days go maybe according to plan; when it’s sunny out, when the leaves are in  unfurl or could otherwise be crisped).

Cayden: “Daddy: can you make me some tomato soup?”

It’s a simple request.

“Sure, Bud.”

I harbor my bangs into a messy knot. I concentrate–and this is beyond important—I roast the tomatoes, San Marzanos, with Muscovado sugar and thyme. I caramelize the shallots to a purple-brown, I reduce the stock to half; I chiffonade the basil, make a roux. I add cream, white pepper—everything I can that’s a halfway relevant ingredient—while still pretending this is all basic. Carrots.

“Daddy?”

“Yes, Cayde.”

(We sit in the nook, which is white and simple, and I’m in love with my kid—something also simple).

“This is the best soup in the world, Daddy. Can you teach me how to make it?”

“Of course, Cayde.”

I say this, knowing I exactly can’t, nor ever won’t. This soup, it’s not simple.

Cayden · cooking · family · home

How Things Just Are

Organizing the fridge is calming to me, which is dumb, and otherwise there’s a frittata going on the stovetop. Jenn’s away at the gym, I being a sortuv-Crossfit widow, and I miss the gym myself but prefer her going, since–during the entirety of our twenty years of us-ness–I want her to be happy with what she sees in the mirror, even though I’m happy with the ‘her’ that I don’t need a mirror to see, and never have.
I’m arranging the produce drawer when Cayden breaks our agreement. We were supposed to have a game of Battleship, and caveat to the agreement is that he would have six ships, me five–but his friend is outside because it’s still light out at bedtime–and I let him go. The frittata breaks upon de-panning and Cayde’s late checking in.
We don’t have our game, and it’s bedtime.
He’s new on the new top bunk of a new bunk-bed. He has a T-Rex pillow.
“Daddy–Mommy says you’re not allowed up here. We can’t snuggle anymore.”
But I’ve read the weight specifications.
“Nope–we can still snuggle,” and were that not true, I’d still danger breaking the bunk.
“I still can, Dude. Mommy’s wrong. The bed’s pretty strong.”
(We together don’t weigh enough to break the crossbeams, even though I have this extra ten pounds recently, which bugs me despite that I’m this punchline of being too skinny, with too long of a neck, and with too tremendous an amount of hair).
Cayde snaps on his light, him reading now.
I parse out the parsnips in the produce drawer, separating them from the leafy greens, and to change the laundry I have to walk out the front door and circle to the rear. Birds have nested in the hollow porch light above the back door–there being no bulb and the sconce being hollow. If you open the back door, the birds immediately flush with a particular thrumming of wings. I’ve actually never seen the parents, but the fledglings sit in this mess of twine and leaf litter and make their particular noise. To disturb the nest would be wrong. Instead I hear the kids, wishing I could see the parents. But the parents retreat, and probably to a tree across the way when you swing open the door.. And they rearrange leaves in their nervousness before flying home.
Cayde asks for a glass of water; the birds fly back to an unlit light, and this is how things just are.

anxiety · cancer · Cayden · cooking · depression · family · favorites · Findlay · food · grandma · grocery · parenting

Hungry

Fresh-Thai-Basil_FreshThaiBasil-1Norah Jones is singing ‘Happy Pills’ and last night I weathered things ok. My chemistries are able to drive Cayden to school.

When you receive bad news, there’s sometimes the fact of not eating.  As you get older, blood sugar becomes something more of a thing.

Cayden and Finn are both in the backseat and I’ve decided bahn xeo is for dinner. It’s good I’ve decided on food this early. Breakfast is that thing everyone seems to skip, me included. Lunchtime often requires a reminder. Funny, this all coming from someone who reads cookbooks as if they were paperback novels.

(No, really. Chang’s ‘Momofuku’ is one of my favorite reads–there’s that plot device on page 52 where eggs are slow-cooked in their shells. When you crack the shell, out comes a perfectly poached egg. That’s way the hell better than ‘David Copperfield’).

Cayden used to say: “Daddy—I feel the burps in my tummy that tell me I’m hungry.” A two-year old’s logic, yet it applies. I’m bodily relieved when I’m hungry. If there’s a craving that accompanies the hunger, I’m at its whim. This is why, more than once, I’ve made soup in the summertime while it’s measuring ninety degrees outside and the broiler’s meanwhile set to ‘hi.’

One time Kat and I drove an hour in what Google Maps insisted was a twenty-minute drive. This all involved a craving for Singaporean food and a strip mall in Pasadena. The place didn’t have a liquor license so we bought Asahi from the market next door even though Kat doesn’t drink. We ordered the Hainan chicken rice (which is actually Malaysian); we also ordered the calamari even though I’d just heard an episode of ‘This American Life’ claiming most calamari is just up-sourced pig rectum. You are what you eat? We had salad just in case.

Kat, typically, picked out the onions.

Cayde’s in the backseat. He has on untidy hair and a uniform polo I’ve finally convinced him to not button up all the way. There are wardrobe rules, like how you never button all three buttons on a three-button suit. He layers like a clueless seven-year old, or maybe some sartorial genius, with interesting sleeve and color combinations.

Cayde has the habit of shaking the hair out of his eyes even when it’s not in his eyes, and who cares if he has a part. He’s a boy. To prove it, he’s wearing scabbed knees and mismatched gloves. Michael Jackson’s his current thing, so usually he sports the one trademark glove round the house. In Cayde’s repertoire, though, he has two gloves to choose from: the black one with the skeleton-fingers all done up in dimensional paint, or the other one with the sequins and gossamer threads (the one that got taken away from him in class last Tuesday; oh how he cried). Cayden wears both gloves today as if school were all just an elaborate bank heist.

I drop Cayde off at the curb and there’s always the certain gymnastic involved in him getting out of the back seat. It’s a negotiation of straps–seat belts, backpacks, drawstring lunch bags. Like father, like son, getting all tangled up. I can commandeer a sauté pan and set off a contained fire–I can do all the restaurant tricks. Seriously: hand me the brulee torch. Give me a car seat, though, and finesse is something absent. It’s a wonder I got the brassiere off when making Cayde in the first place.

The Norah Jones song is over. 91X is playing ‘House of Pain’ and I manage to continue listening. It’s a reminder that we grow more tolerant as we get older.

Cayde climbs out the car and–with mittened hands–grabs my face and gives me a peck on the lips. This is something that’s become scarcer of recent; I don’t know why we kiss in different ways as we get older. We just do, while the ‘Y’ chromosome does its near radioactive decay into an impassive mid-life. (One time as a kid I refused a good-night kiss from my dad and he slapped me so hard on the ass that it left a stingingly-red handprint beneath my pajama bottoms).

“Bye, Daddy! I love you!”

Finn has snot caked in his nostrils because he’s teething and everything is leaking. He waves bye to his brother: ‘By-ee!’ Everything ends in the ‘double-E’ these days. I wave to Cayde while idling at the curb. I used to walk Cayde to class and wait as he climbed the stairwell to rm. 7. Every morning, I’d hope for him to turn around that one last time to blow me a kiss. The entire first month of kindergarten, the school bell was Pavlovian and I welled up every single day atop the hopscotch squares.

Cayde turns around and blows me a kiss, touting an oversized backpack and with tousled hair he refuses to have combed. He’s wearing a sky-blue polo and a red graphic tee, all of which are un-tucked.  I figure the mismatch  a sign of good parenting, in which case I’m not being the slightest bit ironic.

I submit to traffic. It’s departure from the norm, but bahn xeo is for dinner and that means I have to drive north to where the Asian markets are. Let’s see: I need Thai basil, I need daikon. I’m suddenly nauseous because coffee disagrees with me of recent. It’s alright, though. It’s ok, even, when that guy cuts me off on the 163. Finn and I were conversing; I give the white truck a curt honk of the horn and we keep driving on this freeway which used to be our freeway before we moved to the other side of the mesa.  Now we have the 805.

Finn tells me a story from the backseat. Spoiler alert: it involves drooling. That tooth on the right side is coming in which will finally even out his smile. People on the Down Syndrome website say: ‘Ok—what’s with the shark teeth?’ Finn sports a few jagged incisors and it used to bother me. You get more tolerant as you get older I think I already said. I like Finn’s little jagged teeth and he smiles with eyes winced. It’s the goddamned cutest thing.

The slowing trafffic is only convenient because I can turn around in my seat now, continuing the conversation that otherwise would’ve been interrupted by uninterrupted motion. Finn’s hairs are kinduv long, in need of a trim. Similarly, the palm trees decorating the roadside have recently been debrided. They look like the arboreal equivalent of shorn sheep. It’s a slow crawl past the Cabrillo Bridge but the commute becomes faster once the palm trees disappear into the rearview and as we pass through the Valley.

There’s the Children’s Hospital and Mary Birch, where we spend a good amount of time. Jenn’s getting an IUD inserted currently, at the campus I’m now passing, and I consider I need daikon. Can’t forget the daikon. Also, I’ll probably get oyster mushrooms because I’m not a fan of enoki.

There’s this fact of a perhaps other kid. But there’s also the meantime. In the meantime we don’t predicate a lot of sentences.

Pulling into the 99 Ranch parking lot, I think the store’s closed. It’s 9am. ‘Closed’ is certainly a possibility. The backside of the store, though, is lit with a neon sign saying: ‘Open.’ The backside is where the produce lives so we push through in a dilapidated grocery cart and Finn is momentarily surprised by the turnstiles. We pause at the nmgaio bin which looks like daikon but is not.

Anything can and should surprise us. Turnstiles. Cancer. Things. The goldfish swimming in his bowl is most likely surprised by the castle every time.

My grandma is 89. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by the the malignancy suddenly cancelling her voice.

I ask the guy for Thai basil because Thai basil is important for bahn xeo and that’s why I sat in traffic. For fucking Thai basil.

He checks the same shelves I just checked, the shelves I already checked because I know where the Thai basil is supposed to live. (We do this thing where we make superfluous gestures, to rid ourselves of guilt).

“Sorry,” he finally shrugs.

In line at the meat counter, I’m guest number ‘00’. Says so on the red digital read-out thing. I’m usually ‘87’, or ‘323’ and usually I have to elbow my way in alongside the Laotian grandmothers, while wishing I understood Cantonese. But it’s still early.

I wish I was at least ‘1’ though. Being ‘00’ is fucked. up.

I need a pound of ground pork because I’m changing the recipe in my head. My order is pretty unremarkable. Sometimes I order ten pounds of bones and I get a smile which is affirmation that I’m hungry, that the butcher knows I know how to cook. You can make stuff from bones. I’m not as fond of the aquarium displays down the aisle. Fish are far less substantial.

Finn destroys the receipt in front of the smiling cashier since everything is metaphor these days. We go home and, since we are hungry, I later make lunch.

cooking · family · food · people

The (non) Maillard Reaction

I’m talking to my friend Lara at work and we’re ‘behind the mountain’, the mountain being the Penguin Encounter’s central geography, where the wind is recycled and where it’s colder than the requisite 25 degrees. We’re tending to a penguin and we say ‘What!?’ a lot because there’s a lot of white noise with the air handlers recirculating, but also because I mumble.

We decided a while back that the ‘what’s’ are not accusatory: we just talk in frequencies that our respective ears don’t exactly register, so it’s “What?” “What?” a lot when we converse. I like Lara.

I mumble. My grandma has always said so.

I mention how unfortunate it is to sometimes know, upon awakening, how every minute of the day will transpire–sunrise to sunset–and how that’s a bit of an anchor. We agree this is true. She has a long drive home (mine is relatively short) and you just know you have time that’s gonna be spent in unwanted ways–that time is time–and wouldn’t you rather have it not relegated to something, and something all the time.

(Spontaneity is a word where I get the vowels all switched up, and I’m fairly ungood at it).

I have this meeting I’m supposed to attend after work. I want to go, but I wish 7 o’clock could just be 7 o’clock somedays and without obligation.

I go to the meeting, which is at a steakhouse. And, from the parking lot, you can smell the grill marks on whatever three-finger cut of meat it is that Bully’s Tavern is tossing beneath the salamander. I’m with my buddy Dan; we agree that steak is most likely what we do not want although there’s that Maillard reaction thing that smells delicious. We’re here to talk about our kids, and with other dads.

The inside of the tavern is leather and low-light, jerseys and posters on the wall. You may as well just slap aftershave on the wood-panelling. I have on a beard and a riding cap whose brim thankfully shields me from the big-screen UFC that’s broadcasting from one of the three televisions above our table. I have no interest in well-planted elbows or pained, bloody faces. Sports fail to interest me. This is the 7-8:30 bloc of time I have allotted to 7-8:30, and ultimate fighting is not part of the plan.

But there’s a framed portrait of a girl on the table and she has Down Syndrome. She belongs to the guy who shrugs some opening words, the leader of this meeting. The girl is lovely to me in that she shares a face with my child in much the way I don’t share a thing with the hockey game playing on the second screen, nor the P—- jersey encased in a shadow box above the foyer. This is a charter group so we go around the table and introduce ourselves. We are interrupted only by drink orders and the call for food (in which Dan and I keep to our word and order the fish).

We talk. This is time for talk. And it’s eight disparate dads getting together and sharing a combined something. 38 minutes beyond the expected time that I have allotted to this portion of the evening’s festivities, the bill is finally paid. It’s also been eighteen hours since I knew exactly how the day was supposed to go.

It’s nice going home, me and Dan riding in the car.The ahi was a good grade and for all of nine bucks, even.

Dan and I both have kids with too many chromosomes and we both liked the fact that the fish-plate was something complete though labelled as appetizer. I dropped a chopstick on the floor while navigating the dish and had to eat my field greens and sashimi with a fork. The wasabi was something experientially less because tines were involved. But you make do.

I have no idea who won the hockey game, or whose temple got the elbow in whatever chain-linked death-match. There was that self-admittedly ornery guy at the table, though, who said his thirteen year-old kid had just voiced his first crystal-clear word TODAY; I heard this as assuredly as he heard his son utter those first stitched-together and magic syllables.

Ornery Guy was having a gin and tonic and I was supping a beer. I’m assuming the UFC match was dwindling to a slow choreography of poorly-landed punches, and while in the meantime the kitchen was cranking out perfectly browned rib-eyes. It remains that the Maillard Reaction is a chemical event involving matrices upon matrices of aminos and sugars, of disintegrative and re-integrative flavor compounds. Time and temperature are important factors, and time being as it is, the Maillard is tricky to master. I opted for the raw fish, which goes to show we don’t know how the day is supposed to end after all, do we.

Cayden · cooking · favorites · food · grocery

Salad, deferred.

144_TomatoAvocadoSalad_019Ruth Reichl writes in her memoir ‘Tender at the Bone’, ‘I learned to cook in self-defense.’

Reichl is a staple in my house. She’s the famed editor of the now-exeunt ‘Gourmet’ magazine, the food critic so feared and so recognized, that she had to dress up in varying levels of disguise to remain anonymous on the NY food scene.

Her curated tome—‘The Gourmet Cookbook’—sits solidly on my kitchen shelf. 1000 pages of culinary how-to. It shares borders with books by French culinaire Madeleine Kamman, Korean-American impresario David Chang, the heralded four-star hound Thomas Keller. My copies of Ottolenghi have broken spines and there are dustings of sumac in the page creases.

I devour cookbooks as if they were paperback novels.

Recipes can read as short stories if you don’t mind the enumerated steps and the often dull, tradesmen language. Occasionally a cookbook author will work some prose—Frida Kahlo tells us to begin a rice pilaf by frying rice until it sounds like wet sand in the pan—but usually ‘salt a pot of boiling water’ begins the story, ‘garnish with herbs’ most likely closes it. Still—there’s drama to food, the act of transformation. The Maillard Effect informs the searing of a steak and the browning of bread; creating a swirling typhoon within a pot of simmering water is conducive to perfectly poached eggs: swimmy proteins wrap about themselves to become the seductive stars of eggs Benedict. Hell—even the simple addition of olive oil to a quartered tomato results in a more perfect food, the classic Mediterranean combo being the prime example of one ingredient elevating the health benefit of the other. Larder to dish: there’s always a story.

Back to the idea of cooking in self-defense. I first heard Ruth Reichl on NPR where she’s been interviewed often over the years. Reichl’s mother had gusto for food, but notoriously lacked a palate. Not that she was a philistine, as Reichl has defended—just that she literally couldn’t taste the spoilage she was serving. Apple pie and questionable meat would go into the same pot for a Friday stew. She would buy rancid goat from early-morning New York vendors in hopes of showcasing an exotic centerpiece for Saturday-night dinner guests. It was culinary fail after fail, but not for lack of trying. Little-girl Ruth became accustomed to standing sentry at her mom’s exhaustively prepared buffet tables. ‘Don’t eat that,’ she’d whisper to unsuspecting eaters. ‘No. Seriously, don’t.’

People ask me, often: ‘How’d you learn to cook?’ (I’m that annoying guy on your social-media feed who can’t help but post pictures of food. It’s my passion; I daydream about asparagus and—yes—a poached egg on top of any plate necessarily makes it better). Tongue-in-cheek, I often paraphrase Ruth Reichl–that I, too, learned to cook in self-defense. By saying so, I’m perhaps being unfair to my upbringing because spoilt food was never an issue, and my nightly dinner never provided an impending threat to my immediate gastronomic health. Still, a lot of what I ate as a kid was processed, canned and/or bagged: the inheritance of mid-century’s ‘better living through chemistry’ credo. On my particular plate, vegetables were in a food group subterranean to sugared cereal. I did, however, have multi-vitamins with my morning breakfast, something Casimir Funk had invented to compensate for America’s growing fascination with bleached grain and twice-synthesized corn. Calories were fast becoming empty, food marketing even emptier. White bread, white lies. It was the great modern experiment and it could’ve worked had it not actually failed miserably.

Processing food is not necessarily a modern thing, though. Hundreds of years before Cookie Crisp colored a bowl of milk, the sixteenth-century Moghuls in Kashmir fetishized white food: white rice, white yogurt, white meat, pale coriander and bleached cardamom. Some centuries before Wonder Bread, we were already changing food to match a palette, and not the palate. Being healthy is very much a choice, often counter to the culture.

When I moved out of my parents’ house with my then-girlfriend, now-wife, I did so with a copy of the ‘Joy of Cooking.’ At the time, I knew how to cook exactly two things: fried-egg sandwiches (Kraft singles and deli-meat FTW) and enchiladas. I declared I was going to change everything, re-define our eating. A friend scoffed: what? —more varieties of pasta and steak? His cynicism was not unwarranted. Truth being, I did not eat a salad until I was 25. Lettuce had never passed my lips as a kid. Greens were those over-boiled peas and powdery lima beans I surreptitiously dropped on the floor. Thank goodness for, 1) shag carpet; and 2) cooperative pets. But I was determined. And—yes—for the record it began with beef and noodles. Always mushrooms and then experiments with different herbs. A friend served my first greens to me: innocuous leaves of baby spinach that I nibbled with trepidation. They were fuzzy, but ok.

I got a copy of Madhur Jaffrey’s ‘World Vegetarian’ by accident, belonging to a cookbook-of-the-month-club I was remiss in paying. I never sent back the cards in time: I wound up with a strange assortment of tomes. Books on chowder, pork-cookery, New England-style quahogging. I bought a set of All-Clad pans on thin credit, and—with a shrug—started cooking out of Jaffrey’s book exclusively. Indian food, Indonesian morsels, Sri Lankan eggery, Vietnamese fare. My first kitchen was a poorly tiled claustrophobia of a room (and I really shouldn’t mention the cockroaches). Then again—the kitchen isn’t always about registering a restaurant grade; conquering a kitchen is about technique and prowess and savoring every ingredient in a trajectory towards health. I overloaded the garbage disposal a few times over in the process, broke the spine of Jaffrey’s book as well. But I learned to eat as much as I learned to cook.

I started eating salad before becoming a dad and then re-inventing salad before my wife became a mom. (It’s my favorite thing now to make: a well-composed salad) But—hey—I still cook out of self-defense. Margarine is always on the offensive and chicken nuggets menace the horizon. My kid asks for McDonald’s on occasion, and I give a polite re-direct. ‘Something else, Cayde.’ Then he asks me a thousand questions regarding ‘what’s healthier—this or that?’ A bean and cheese burrito or a smoothee? He pretends(?) to like broccoli a lot; but regardless of him perhaps or perhaps not liking it, he at least wants recognition for choosing something healthy. He’ll choke down some broccoli in lieu of a cheeseburger because he wants to be a healthy son to a #HealthyDad. That he has the ability to even identify and ask for rapini in a store has me thinking I did something okay.

‘Rapini’s better than broccoli, Cayde. Try it.’ And he does, and the fact of him trying at five versus twenty-five is a positive.

‘I like it, Daddy!’ he’ll sometimes say with a grimace, other times with a grin.

Once, he jumped up and down in front of the produce section begging for asparagus. A near-by patron bent at the waist to be at his level: ‘Little Boy: I’ve never heard any child beg for vegetables.’ And she patted his head.

Food remains a journey. Cayde’s eating new and green things as I’m still changing the family palate. I char broccoli to a carbonized other-form on the grill; I treat lima beans to a drenching of lemon-juice and za-atar. Certainly chicken still exists in the repertoire—boring boring chicken—but basted in yogurt and jeweled with pomegranate seeds. Had we a dog, he’d at least be fed well under the table. Atop the table, we’re doing pretty well.

I chose the name Daddymediumwell as the tongue-in-cheek name of my blog: a reference to the self-effacement we provide ourselves as parents, but also reference to my life in food. Most every entry I write references the kitchen. It’s where I feel healthiest, most centered. It’s where I serotonin-up, work the knife, and have my best conversations with the kids.

This is a sponsored post and I thank Anthem Blue Cross for the compensation. I was invited by the XY Media Group to write for the HealthyDad community and it was a fit seeing as it dovetails well with my passion for food and nutritional health for my kids. There’s a reason I’m in the kitchen everyday. I encourage you to visit the HealthyDad community at https://www.facebook.com/healthydads. Currently they’re promoting a contest and if you have your own manner of being a healthy dad, post a video. I hear they’re passing out Amazon gift cards. I’d use one to buy the new Ottolenghi cookbook. Meat and pasta is fine. But try out lemons, chickpeas and sumac. Add a new spice to your rack and labne to your vocabulary. Boil a pot of mograbiah: the water, it turns out, is just fine.