Friday, September 26, 2008

Comfort food for uncomfortable times

So La Fab and I had a conversation recently wherein she confessed that she had written down almost every meal that I had ever made for her. I was touched in a way I didn't expect. I don't really feel like my cooking skills are anything out of the ordinary, but apparently some people beg to differ. There are a handful that stand out in the constellation of meals, ones that I can recall the flavor of even now. They are mostly colored by the circumstances of their creation: here the pumpkin ravioli that marked our first family dinner, there the batch of jambalaya V. and I made to commemorate our first year since the Big Easy, over in the corner the picnic lunch of croissant sandwiches filled with swiss cheese and ham and sweet mustard and dreams. I remarked recently to a friend that in my circle, there is no more honest or powerful way to show you care than with food. Breaking bread, sharing wine, tapping through the caramel shell of creme brulee - every bite is a bond.

Not long before she left, Princess J. and I made a meal because she was homesick. I made a batch of pierogi for her, and sauteed cabbage and kielbasa. It was a huge, butter-soaked orgy of comfort, and I haven't made it again since then. (Mostly because there was still cabbage in my fridge from the last time, and that was more than two years ago.) Until tonight, that is. The talking heads were talk-talk-talking about the debate, and I was seized by the sudden desire for potato-filled dumplings. I was also seized by the desire for a stiff drink, but that's just because McCain started talking.
So I made some. Pierogi are a bigger commitment than I would usually undertake on a Friday evening, but I couldn't bring myself to give the debate my full attention, lest it cause vessels to burst in my brain. So I buried myself elbow-deep in sourcream and eggs and potato peelings, and listened to my blood pressure rising. Pretty soon, I realized that even eating a third of the filling wasn's going to cut it, and fried up a pan of polska kielbasa and a half a head of red cabbage, with half an onion and a healthy three shakes of caraway for good measure. Somewhere along the way I had a second stiff drink; soon after that I nicked my palm with my Global chef's knife. To be fair, I think that happened when McCain accused Obama of wanting to invade Pakistan, so the first kitchen injury I have received in several years was due to the Republicans.

I finally finished up right around closing remarks, and I sat down to the post-debate analysis with a plate full of this:
and sour cream. That is onions browned in butter on top of my pierogi over there. And apple chunks in the cabbage and sausage. I feel a little sick now, because this was about a week's worth of saturated fat, and because I listened to/ watched the whole thing. I think we might not win. I pray, desperately and fervently pray, that I am wrong, but I fear that I am right. I hope there is kielbasa in New Zealand, and I hope they need baristas and/or doulas down there come the fifth of November.

La Fab, I am sorry to sully this culinary memory for you. I swear I will make it up to you with some enchiladas or something. Broccoli soup. Barbeque. Something.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Here's your hat, what's your hurry?

HEP: Hip, cool, righteous, in the know.

In the know, worldly wise, clever, enlightened, sophisticated.

HIPSTER: "Someone who's in the know, grasps everything, is alert."

Cab Calloway, actual hipster

Dear Williamsburgians, and associates on college campuses and in cities coast to coast,

We would like our word back. Until you start wearing zoot suits, slicking back your hair, and smoking REEFER instead of WEED, you are unworthy. Find a new word. Also, trying brushing your hair and mustering enthusiasm for something.

Thank you,
Jazz men (aka hipsters, aka the heppest cats around)

Seriously? Maybe they'll go away if we quit paying attention to them.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Autumnal Equinox

The world balances tomorrow, until the dark begins to win for a little while. In other places, the coming of fall is marked with changing leaves. Here, we know that the wheel turns when the fish are in the river, fighting to spawn and die.
When I went walking this morning, the heavy rains had cleared and a rainbow was hanging low over the mountains. Everything felt clean, including me. I could feel the melancholy that had been creeping its way into my head rinsed away. It made me feel light and new.
When I lived in Colorado, there would be fall mornings when I would awaken and the world would have turned to gold. Every aspen leaf in the state seemed to lose its verdancy at the same moment; the sunlight on the aspen stands was twice as brilliant. There is no such drama here. Just the salmonberry leaves quietly shifting to the hue of midsummer's berries.
The rocks were littered already with bones. The river was full of gulls. The air was thick with their urgency; their cries were deafening. I thought back to the first time I saw this scene. It was raining that first day. I had walked from the campus alone, the first time I had been by myself in weeks. I went to the river and listened to the screaming of the birds, and it felt so alien that I cried. I wanted the world to burst into sudden autumnal fire, I wanted snow to dust the peaks that embraced me, I wanted to be far from the smell of death and renewal. Now it is just the lullaby before winter's rest.

Soon enough I will be lamenting the snow and pining for spring's merry dance. For now, though, I will let myself drift with the light.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Athos, Porthos, Aramis

I was going to make this a post about how I bagged on dressing like a pirate today, and caught some flak for it. It was going to be amusing and light-hearted; I was going to make fun of my geekish tendencies again. But when it came down to it, the real reason I didn't dress up today is because I don't have anyone around to appreciate my efforts. The two people who I would put on a corset especially for are all the way across the country. They might as well be across the planet today. Once upon a time, the three of us traveled to a magical city together, and we had some times.

This is Lafitte's. He was a pirate who retired as a blacksmith. This building is hundreds of years old, and feels it. We drank whiskey at noon here, while the heat of the day built around us. Every window and door was wide open; gleaming carriages guided by top-hatted drivers kept gliding past, the horses' tack gently jingling. The first day we went - the first day we werein town - we managed to all dress in shades of purple. This was unintentional. None of us changed, though.
Lafitte's from the inside. When I think of New Orleans, this is what I see in my head. You could feel the history when you touched these bricks; they felt alive.

This is La Fabulous trying to make a Frida Kahlo face. She made this face a lot; when we were reading ghost stories that scared her, when the primates seemed too human, when there were only hours left for all of us to be together. You can see she is wearing the saints in this picture. On our way back to Sitka, we thought she had lost them in the airport. Luckily they had only slipped down into her bag. They never leave her for long.

This is Lady L. internalizing the whole experience. She is doing that by eating pralines in the grass of Jackson Square. There was jazz playing. You can almost hear it. That might well be why she is smiling.

We look astonished because that is a mama elephant. She is pregnant, and we got to feel the baby moving. It's happening in this picture. Lady L. got to touch her, too, but I don't have that picture.

Sunburned, hungover, exhausted, and exhilarated. I don't recall buying anything at the French Market, but here is the proof we were there. Here is the proof that once, we were as inseparable as the Three Musketeers, if that cliche doesn't make you roll your eyes. Here is the proof that two of the best women in the world are my friends.

Dear Ell and Vee,
Happy birthdays, my darlings. I miss you both so much. Thank you, again and again and once again, for all that you are. No matter what, this city is ours.


P.S. - I don't know which of us is which of the musketeers, except La Fab is Porthos. Obviously.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I Came of Age in Rodeo Country

And I still love a cowboy.

I learned the Texas two-step variation to this song, the George Strait version. After the Chattahoochee fiasco.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Happy Holidays!

This is a festive sort of a week, unofficially speaking. Today is the First Annual International Wear-A-Dress Day. Friday is International Talk Like A Pirate Day. And La Fab's birthday is this week, and Lady L., who has just been elevated to a title by yours truly. If we were all in the same place, I would have one giant Pirates and Harlots themed party where we could all wear our favorite luscious corsets and petticoats. And there would of course be cake. Flavored with delicious things. For the last pirate party, the cake was double chocolate with a hazelnut dacquoise and Frangelico buttercream frosting. I might go white cake with berries instead this time. And Chambord, because it seems delicious. And shaped like a TORSO. (Princess Japonski, do NOT click that link. You will regret it to the end of your days.)

Instead, I will celebrate today and Friday separately, and think intensely about my partners in crime on their respective days. Today was low key: I wore a dress. I also wore my silver kitten heels for a while, and then my new platform patent black peeptoe maryjanes from Target. They are not in this picture.

On Friday I will something appropriately pirate-y. I would love to wear this:
but I think 44 stainless steel bones would fry me on pizza Friday. Not to mention the fact that B. would frown at my revealing chemise. So it will probably just be my gauchos and a t-shirt.

Here's a new thing, too: Mr. B. and I are trying out a new thing. He was moved by my watching, listening, eating posts, so he launched a new blog, and we're over there informing the world about our tastes. It's right over here. Let us know if you like it, and if you wanna put your two cents in, drop one of us a line. Well, drop Bryner a line. I'm likely to just ignore you.

Brush up on your arrrghs and ahoys, mateys! I'll be quizzing you.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?

New Orleans was a refuge from desperation the first time I went.

Winters in Alaska are long and dark. This time of year, right before the fall equinox, we lose about five minutes of daylight every single day. That doesn't sound like much; it shouldn't even really be noticeable. Well, except that it's better than half an hour of light lost every week. Labor Day weekend, you're happily throwing brats on the grill at 7:30 knowing they'll be done before twilight; by the first week of October, you're putting on your pajamas during the evening news. It's not as severe here in Southeast as it is further north, but it's still enough to make a sensitive lady feel as though she's losing her mind. One begins to use sonnets and Leonard Cohen as crutches to make it through the shrinking days and the lengthening nights; sometimes these are supplemented with lashings of blackberry brandy in tea and far too many meals based around dairy products. The second winter that La Fab was here in Alaska, we figured out that she would leave but FAST if we didn't take steps to ensure her survival. We planned a trip to a place that was warm and far away. We planned a trip to Maui.

Well, we started to anyway. Until we realized that we couldn't afford to go to Hawaii. Undaunted, and well-motivated, we watched the travel section of the Anchorage newspaper, hoping we could score a deal with a cut-rate travel agent, but to no avail. Finally, one January weekend, as the slush was coming down in buckets, there was a tiny, almost insignificant ad: roundtrip, Seattle to New Orleans, for $199. We lunged. We made reservations to leave on Easter evening. It was the first time I had a vacation without my (then) husband since we had started dating. That in itself caused a few rows; I put my foot down.

It was... liberating. I supposed a good deal of the affection I feel for the city is due to that very fact; I associate the time I spend there with a certain sense of emancipation. With self-determination. With freedom. I love the city all the more for it being mine alone, without compromise. I can't speak for La Fab, or for L., but it looms larger in my memory than a weekend getaway ought.

In celebration of my return to the city that helped set me free, I have been listening to the following:
Louis Armstrong, Basin Street Blues
Bix Beiderbecke, Way Down Yonder In New Orleans
Kid Ory, St. James Infirmary
Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?
Original Dixieland Stompers, Eh! La Bas
Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Down By the Riverside (I have been listening to the George Lewis version, but damn! This woman rocks.)

And of course, although it is not about the city itself:

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Good news, everyone!

The Earth was not swallowed by a massive black hole created when the Hadron Supercollider was fired up! Yay! Okay, well, TECHNICALLY, no atoms were smashed. And therefore no potential dark matter was created. That is tentatively scheduled to happen in October. So there is still a chance that this ball of dirt we call home could still be sucked into another dimension. This has the potential to ruin a really great trip I'm planning. On the bright side, it is far more likely that instead of a black hole causing a dimensional rift that allows the gates of Hell to open and all manner of demons to pour forth, the collider will just produce a bunch of heretofore-hypothetical particles called strangelets, that will render our planet a lifeless lump of inert elements floating in space. Instantaneously, I mean. So we won't know it's happening. Whew! I really hope that when the end comes, it really will be painless and immediate, and before the election on November 11th. Because if the light of this world flickers and goes out, I'll be damned if it goes out with Sarah Palin as the second most powerful person in America.

Where was I... no black hole... dimensional rift... slavering hordes of demons... oh yeah!

I did something rather impulsive. I am not unknown for this; as a matter of fact I am well know for impulsively purchasing everything from candy-red T-strap maryjanes to an upright bass sight unseen. I will put almost anything into my mouth, provided I have been assured beforehand that it is edible. I speak without thinking almost every time I talk. But this is different. I'm not risking $20 on ill-fitting shoes or having a friend storm out of the bar because I thoughtlessly insulted her (admittedly rather ugly) jacket or even accidentally consuming raw mackerel. I'm risking letting myself consider things. I'm risking opening myself up to possibility. Ack. I'm risking more melodrama even than usual, apparently.

What I'm trying to get at is that I made reservations to fly across the country to spend time in my favorite city with someone I barely know. Someone I would like to know better. And stuff. I'm a little worried that I might get... how shall I put this?... stood up, just like ninth grade homecoming. I'm a little more worried that I will come home after not being stood up even more hopeless than I am already.

If nothing else, I will be spending my birthday looking at this while chewing pensively on a beignet with a candle stuck in it:

I wouldn't trade the chance to walk those streets again for anything in the world. And there is no better music for heartaches, the pleasurable and the painful both, than jazz. I intend to let the cradle of it rock me.

Sunday, September 07, 2008


Figs. Fresh one are very scarce in Sitka; it has only been in the past two years or so that I have ever even seen them on the shelves here. We bought two exorbitant baskets of them from the fruit truck yesterday, and one is almost gone. The majority of the ones I have eaten were delicious, but still the close side of ripeness. There is always an exception that proves the rule. I bit into one that was precisely right: succulent, intensely sweet, musky, and complex. My knees actually weakened for a moment standing in the kitchen. I know I made a small noise of satisfaction. The smell and the texture and the layers of flavor were sharply reminiscent of... that very thing that figs are rumored to put one in mind of.

D.H. Lawrence speaks on them:


The proper way to eat a fig, in society,
Is to split it in four, holding it by the stump,
And open it, so that it is a glittering, rosy, moist, honied, heavy-petalled four-petalled flower.
Then you throw away the skin
Which is just like a four-sepalled calyx,
After you have taken off the blossom, with your lips.
But the vulgar way
Is just to put your mouth to the crack, and take out the flesh in one bite.
Every fruit has its secret.
The fig is a very secretive fruit.
As you see it standing growing, you feel at once it is symbolic :
And it seems male.
But when you come to know it better, you agree with the Romans, it is female.
The Italians vulgarly say, it stands for the female part ; the fig-fruit :
The fissure, the yoni,
The wonderful moist conductivity towards the centre.
The flowering all inward and womb-fibrilled ;
And but one orifice.
The fig, the horse-shoe, the squash-blossom.
There was a flower that flowered inward, womb-ward ;
Now there is a fruit like a ripe womb.
It was always a secret.
That’s how it should be, the female should always be secret.
There never was any standing aloft and unfolded on a bough
Like other flowers, in a revelation of petals ;
Silver-pink peach, venetian green glass of medlars and sorb-apples,
Shallow wine-cups on short, bulging stems
Openly pledging heaven :
Here’s to the thorn in flower ! Here is to Utterance !
The brave, adventurous rosaceƦ.
Folded upon itself, and secret unutterable,
And milky-sapped, sap that curdles milk and makes ricotta,
Sap that smells strange on your fingers, that even goats won’t taste it ;
Folded upon itself, enclosed like any Mohammedan woman,
Its nakedness all within-walls, its flowering forever unseen,
One small way of access only, and this close-curtained from the light ;
Fig, fruit of the female mystery, covert and inward,
Mediterranean fruit, with your covert nakedness,
Where everything happens invisible, flowering and fertilization, and fruiting
In the inwardness of your you, that eye will never see
Till it’s finished, and you’re over-ripe, and you burst to give up your ghost.
Till the drop of ripeness exudes,
And the year is over.
And then the fig has kept her secret long enough.
So it explodes, and you see through the fissure the scarlet.
And the fig is finished, the year is over.
That’s how the fig dies, showing her crimson through the purple slit
Like a wound, the exposure of her secret, on the open day.
Like a prostitute, the bursten fig, making a show of her secret.
That’s how women die too.

I do apologize if you're flushed.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Tear It Up

This morning was banner when I left the house. It was fair outside for once, there were no tantrums or storms of emotion on the part of myself or my children, and I was listening to some very fine rockabilly music. I often start my morning with something that shakes or rolls; it just puts me in the right frame of mind for the perils of the day. Anymore, though, my brilliant beginning is stopped dead in its tracks when I walk into work. There are a lot of things my boss and I agree on; music doesn't always happen to be our common ground. Sometimes, like this morning, I'll have spent a good fifteen minutes feeding my head with reverb and thumping bass lines only to get to work and be subjected to electronica from Pakistan or something similarly disconcerting. This was the case this morning; I was rolling along pretty good with the boogie-woogie piano and the hot saxes, and then... Well, imagine the screeching of a tone arm yanked off a phonograph. There were ululations. And something plinky that might have been a thumb piano. And a throbbing, undulating electronic bass. It was also sort of ballad-y. It was the bb piercing the helium balloon of my mood. It ended soon enough, I suppose. There was another one a lot like it just after, and another, but it was only ten minutes or so. It was bearable. Then the CD changed.

My friends, I find reggae tolerable under very specific sets of circumstances. A very hot day, a fence or a wall that needs painting, very cold pale beer - these are acceptable reasons for reggae. Friday morning at a busy coffeeshop with customers barely treading the jagged edge of reason: not an appropriate time for reggae. And, though I may lose friends over this statement, I will stand by it: unless you are very fond of the maryjane, or are in a college dorm room, or BOTH, the Bob Marley Extended Greatest Hits, including the entirety of Legend, as well as FOUR remixed versions of songs off Legend, is never, ever, EVER acceptable. Not a single minute of its 1.5+ hour running time.

Bob Marley makes me fucking homicidal. I spent the remainder of the day fuming and snapping and glaring at people. I thought briefly about stabbing someone, but was on the wrong side of the room from the knives.

I had to come home and listen to the Sex Pistols just to clean out my brain. Now that I have had a nice punk-rock sorbet, I am going to smooth over the whole ugly incident with some Hot Club of Cowtown and possibly wash it all down with the lovely dessert wine known as the Johnny Burnette Trio. That man's shouting makes me shiver in the best way.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Last night almost broke me.

I don't address my personal political viewpoints very often on this blog, for a couple of reasons. One, I am too excitable and easily angered to make salient or even humorous commentary about it. Two, there are not too many people who stumble on this blog blindly, and I'm pretty sure all of my regular readers (all seven of you!) are well familiar with my idealogical stances. Three, there are lots and lots of writers out there doing just this very thing far more eloquently and, frankly, with a good deal more civility than I ever could. I tend to degenerate into foul language and insult slinging. And foaming. Mouth foaming.

Anyway, Governor Sarah Palin's speech to the Republican National Convention and the subsequent praise lavished on her by pundits and people on the street alike has me lathered me up more thoroughly than ever before. Rather than spitting vitriol and becrying the eventual fate of this country, I want to focus on something I can speak to with some authority:

This woman has been styled.

Here is her official state portrait:This is how she often looks. A determined and not altogether pleasant smile glued on her aggressively made-up face, her hair piled up on top of her head to add height, her suit (always a skirt. ALWAYS) an eye-catching primary color, most usually bright red. She is always advancing in a frame, always coming at the viewer.
This is her Wednesday night at the Republican National Convention. Her signature hairstyle, which has cynically been called bulletproof, is softer, as is her make-up. I have never seen her wear a neutral, certainly not oatmeal. It is meant to fade, to recede. Someone has gone to great lengths to make her appear younger, softer, more approachable and less intimidatingly Tracy Flick-like. There are overtones of Jackie Kennedy her collar and pearls, in the sweep of her bangs and the tilt of her brows. This is more deliberate misdirection. She is not an icon of grace and elegance; she is a ruthless politician elevated to lofty heights beyond her abilities by a desperate and reaching GOP. For once, I can say with all honesty that I refuse to fall prey to a pretty face.