Posts Tagged 'food'

Walter

Walter in high school was not voted most likely to.

Walter in college did not distinguish himself.

Walter as an agent in his father’s insurance agency fell asleep in front of the green blinking data entry screens that measured out his days one blink, then another, then another.

Walter as a fiancée was comforting but not hot.

Walter slept well and drove a 4 door Buick when he was 22.

Walter’s hairline began to recede, slowly, at 27, but never blossomed into full-on male pattern baldness.

At 35, Walter’s wife, Elaine, left him for a slightly younger version of himself. Walter was mystified but not furious about this. They had no children, and Elaine disappeared back into the lake of his undistinguished youth without a ripple.

At 38, Walter went to his neighborhood Whole Foods market, where he bought a pint of black bean, corn and red bell pepper salad. Walking to the men’s room on his way out, he passed the community bulletin board. He read all the ads, in order, from left top to right bottom. At the far right corner, almost expired per the store’s 30 day policy, was an ad for International Cooking Classes, to be held in a home some two miles from the store. Walter pulled the tab with the phone number and stuck it in his wallet, where it stayed for months.

Around Thanksgiving, Walter, reflecting that he was almost 40, divorced, childless and uninterested in himself, found the tab in his wallet and called the number.

“No, no international cooking classes any more. I didn’t get enough people signed up. I’m teaching homeopathics now. You could sign up for that, it’s here at my house,” said the woman, whose name was Reina. No, Walter told her, he didn’t really want to study homeopathics. He wanted to learn to cook. Did she do private cooking lessons?

There was a short silence on the phone, and a brief negotiation about the cost of private lessons.

On the following Thursday, Walter went to Reina’s house. He brought with him an apron and a chef’s hat, both virginal white, and a set of hot mitts. Reina promised to provide the cooking utensils and the food.

That first week they sat at the table looking at cookbooks, identifying utensils by name, defining some basic cooking methods – dry heat, baking, braising, sautee, and so on. Walter took notes.

The second week they met at the Whole Foods in the produce department and they talked produce – quality indicators in different fruits and vegetables, seasonality, local growing patterns. They touched and smelled, they looked at prices and they looked at weather. Walter took notes.

The third week they met at Reina’s house. Walter brought pancetta, walnuts, chard, goat cheese, baguette, wine, beets and olive oil. At 7 p.m., they began.

Scapegoat

I’ve been a scapegoat more times that I can count. Many’s the time I found myself tangled in some ridiculous, false, absurd accusation. Frankly, I believe that scapegoating is hard wired into human interaction.

At least that’s what my grandfather always said, and he was something of an expert on the subject. Jungian fellow, always looking for the archetype. What we have here, he said to me when I was 8, is a classic example of scapegoating. I was crushed, the ridiculous sad clown of the third grade, smacked down and beaten up by every fifth grader and even a few fourth graders every time the teachers turned their backs.

It was interesting the first time he talked about it. He told me half a dozen examples from his own case histories, each one worse than what I’d just experienced. By the time I’d heard it again and again, in 6th grade, 8th, 9th and on throughout highschool, though, it wasn’t interesting anymore. Grandpa had started to grow hair out of his ears, which I took to mean he could tell me whatever stupid Jungian story he wanted, but couldn’t hear anything I had to say back to him. Like, that’s fine in the abstract, but what does the scapegoat do about it?

This occurred to me around 17, last year of high school. I’d been a dumb suffering brute up until then, but suddenly this voice came to me — hey hey heeeeey, what about this, what about this harassment, there are plenty of other doofus 17 year old guys with skin worse than mine, worse social problems, why this relentless singling out of me? Me?  I can see myself, 14 years old, helping my mother make mayonnaise for her Sunday afternoon card game, and it doesn’t  look so bad, the white are raising, the yolks are blending, the lemon is lemony but not oppressive. Somehow, by Monday morning every jock and every cheerleader in Cherry Hills Middle School knows I’ve been making mayonnaise with my mommy. Mayo Clinic, they called me for three months.

Maybe that’s why I went to cooking school instead of medical school. I had a rich, complex, unusual relationship to the tongue, which I processed and served mixed with conventional ingredients that were presented in fantastic, grotesque shapes at the Madison Food Orgy, a three-day food festival event held in Madison in the early 90s. My tongue won 2nd place for best presentation two years running. This was a terrific first challenge.

There is a lot of disgrace in the food circuit; almost everybody has taken short cuts from time to time, but in cooking, with its small but powerful judges, it’s easy to underestimate the impact of the special foods section. I forgot, for two or three years, but I’m back now.

mayonnaise

Zuzu

 

“Behold, anonymous omelet goddess,” Dmitri smirks and brushes the hair off her neck, giving her a friendly post-coital kiss. Goddamit, she thinks, shouldn’t he remember my name? He hands her a plate of sliced orange. Civilized gesture, she thinks.

Respectable women do not do this tightrope dance, do they, this retrograde zipless fuck – do they? Does anyone still do this? Dmitri puts a slice of orange in her mouth and slides his juicy hand netherward. She jumps up and writes her name on the white board magnetically attached to her fridge.

Zuzu DeGraib, she writes in red dry-erase marker. That is my name. She cuts the omelet in half and takes hers outside, shutting and locking the door behind her. She smokes a cigarette, without any coffee, picks at her toenails, listens to the whining buzzsaw of her neighbor’s conservative talk radio, and eventually goes back inside. Dmitri is gone. There is a smell in the room, of unfamiliar sex, eucalyptus oil, a lingering scent of orange. There are seeds neatly piled in one corner of his breakfast plate.

Later that day, Zuzu leaves the house, wearing her waterproof khaki jacket with the boy scout patches, and her favorite shoes, with the rhinestone horseshoe buckles she’d affixed with gorilla glue. Zuzu is deeply afraid. She reads the dictionary every day, looking for words to help her describe how she feels. Desperate. Delirious. Repetitive. Like someone who eats zeroes and ones for a living. Like someone who lies, and lies down with dogs. She looks up words for history, for memory, for moments of change. The Smithsonion. She looks it up. How much money does it take to go to the Smithsonian? How far is the Smithsonian from this town, this old Lithuanian town tucked into the northern woods near the Canadian border? Why isn’t there a fence between us and the Canadians? She asks her imaginary mother, who is long gone into a macabre alzheimer’s fog, from which she periodically yodels out Zuzu, Zuuuuuu Zuuuuu, raising Zuzu from the dead, from the heavy short sleep she sleeps when she sleeps at all.

She sits on the stairwell on her back porch, pictures her toenails decorated and painted in tiny pointillated miniatures. She sees starry starry night on her left big toe, a little Matisse with lady and umbrella on her right big toe. She thinks about DaVinci. She thinks about cutting off her own ear. DeGraib, you are pathetic, she writes on the white board. She uses a Sharpie, permanent, to remind herself.

Rules: These are the strict and unbending rules of Zuzu DeGraib, starting today, she writes:

  1. No gratuitous sex.
  2. No breakfast with strangers.
  3. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
  4. Clean your blender after each use.
  5. Donate to the Save the Lemur foundation.
  6. Change lip gloss every 30 days to prevent bacterial growth.
  7. Character counts.
  8. Answer your mother when she hoots at you, whether you like it or not.
  9. Stop smoking.
  10. Spend money instead of groveling around begging for attention from people you don’t care about anyway.

Later that day, she throws the magnetic white board away. She orders a new one online.

Lemurs are only one of thousands of animals facing extinction. It is hard to know which dying species to save on any given day, so her method has been to work alphabetically through the endangered lists. Anteaters, buffalo, koala, orangutan, zebra. She dreams in Noah’s arks, she dreams two by twos, she dreams four by fours, she dreams that nothing is meaningless and that all things are possible. When she sleeps her heavy short sleeps.

The spotted owl and the brown trout are also on the endangered species list. Brown trout taste especially fine grilled outdoors and served shortly after death, with friends and fruit salad. Zuzu is very fond of fruit, but less fond of strangers eating omelets with her without remembering her name. She is sensitive that way, she supposes.

At work, she catalogs and sorts, sorts and catalogs. There are amazing numbers of categories to be found in books, CDs and games. Even more when seasonal variations are considered. Like most book sellers, she is willing and in fact eager to answer questions about books: reference books, fiction, history, books of endangered species, self-help books, books on sex, books that reference obscure saints and books about the Smithsonian.  Books about religion have recently started getting on her last nerve, although when the trend first started she nibbled at each of the major religions in turn, some sweet, some sour, some bitter and some strictly rancid. She spit them out, but couldn’t help hearing the nastiness continue in the trash talking god on her neighbor’s radio. Too bad he was deaf. Maybe she should cut her ear off.

ear


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