Category Archives: Food

Interlude: Morning, Kitchen, Willoughby

THERE ARE DIFFERENT kinds of morning light. Today’s is pale, but my kitchen has wood and copper in it, and a new bright orange stock pot, and daisies in a washed-out Bulleit rye bottle on the long prep table from the old apartment that the boys and I sanded and restained a weekend or two after we first moved in. You can do that kind of thing when you leave the city and have a small back lawn. The other finishing touch was a red clock, which is ticking above my head, softly. I think a boy may have just gotten up. It’s 8 a.m.

There’s rice waiting in the cooker and bowls warming in the oven. We’ll be watching anime and eating soon. I think I’m up to four kinds of soy sauce in the pantry, but the good stuff isn’t easy to find around here. I’ll get some at Sunrise Mart, one of the items on the notepaper on the fridge that says NYC at the top. I no longer have cats, including the one who loved to pull everything off the fridge. I’ve had cats my whole life. I don’t really miss them. That was unexpected. And I really don’t miss walking barefoot on cat litter in the morning.

No boy. I guess they’re still asleep.

When they’re at their mom’s, I turn the thermostat off and use a space heater. Then I turn the thermostat back on and can’t figure out why it won’t obey my temperature settings. I wrote to the manufacturer and got a manual for it, but my eyes glazed. I’ll try again when they’re not here and we don’t have better things to do on a Saturday, like try out the local comic book store or see what the “tree festival” is.

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I HAVE NEVER been a good housekeeper, and that has always been a nut of conflict. But this is my kitchen. My house. My daisies. My expensive Honeysuckle-scented all-surface cleaner. My sense of what to teach boys about manhood. Endurance, self-sufficience, beauty, efficiency, cast iron. The cast iron is from my mom, mailed cross-country. I remember using it when I was the boys’ age. The slow cooker is brand-new and I expect it to break next year. In the maelstrom of the separation and move, I wanted a slow cooker, and this is the one recommended by America’s Test Kitchen, whose cookbooks I really like. I didn’t read the Amazon reviews; I should have. I also got the front end of my new bike wrong; the stem is too low, so it puts me into a racing posture. I am not a racer. You can look at me and know that.

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I GOT 1) the slow cooker wrong, and 2) the bike wrong, and 3) I signed a car lease I shouldn’t have, and 4) the old landlord outclevered me and kept a few thousand in security deposit.

But:

  1. About a month into our new life, I handed the boys a cookbook and told them to pick dinner from the slow-cooker section. They came back in ten minutes: Korean Braised Short Ribs.
     
    I’m like—seriousl…uh, never mind, YOU’RE ON.
     
    It was excellent. It was less expensive than processed foods. When the accidentally wrong slow cooker breaks, I’ll get a cheaper one.
     
  2. The too-low stem on the bike means I spend a good deal of time out of the saddle, because I don’t like the position. That would be more of an issue if I were spending any time on the bike at all, which is related to it not being quite comfortable enough, and also related to life being an upheaval—but I got the bike built in time to have a finished one at the start of my new life, and I love it in all other ways. It’s not a particularly expensive bike, but it’s got exactly the tires I wanted, and just the front bag and the very fenders, all of which you’d think would be bolt-ons to any random bicycle, but most bikes don’t have the right spaces to accept them.
     
    I ride it around town on errands. When there’s a little more money, I’ll get a fitting and replace the accidentally wrong stem, and it will be the brevet whip I meant it to be.
     
  3. The car lease was a mistake. I can’t afford it. I really wanted to go completely car-free, but the boys ended up going to school twelve miles away. It’s the cheapest monthly rate I could possibly find, on the cheapest car around, but I should have bought a beater outright and paid less for insurance. And the mileage limit is too low and the term is way too long. But we have reliable transportation, and the accidentally wrong lease will—eventually—expire.
     
  4. As for my old NYC landlords:
     
    The ones before these ones were powerful criminals. (No kidding. I spoke briefly with the NY District Attorney a year or two before they finally broke them up and put them out of business. It was in the news. Too late for us.) These ones…benefit of the doubt. Maybe just dishonest slimeballs. So they get my money and I cut my losses and move on. You can’t pull a victory out of everything.

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NOW I HEAR the stairs creaking and crackling, so I’ll wrap it up. A new familiar sound in this new familiar life. And the light’s not as pretty in the kitchen. Rice and anime await, and noise and mess and bickering and comic books and piano and trombone and cello and cookie baking and fart jokes and farts. And, I’ll cop to it, the work I didn’t get done this week for, honestly, not any good-enough reason. The copper canisters and the orange stock pot are steadfastly cheery, and the red clock—it just ticks softly on, but soon I won’t hear it.

 

 

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Filed under Being a grownup, Bicycling, Bikes, Cooking, Divorce, Family, Fatherhood, Food, Gender, Kids, Parenting

A maturing relationship with Pyrex

WE HAVE THIS lousy Pyrex saucepan.

Purple Pyrex saucepan

It has three problems. The two most obvious are the bileous mulberry hue it casts on food and its passive-aggressiveness in pouring. But those are just physical things. If I loved it, I could get past them; no pan is perfect. But there’s something more subtle, which I find much harder to deal with:

It doesn’t show its emotions.

WE ALREADY KNOW how hard it is to know what’s going on inside other people. We have slogans for it: Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides; You never know what someone else is going through; Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. But it’s something we don’t always think of when we relate to cookware. For the most part I’m glad all that heat and conflict stays inside the pot—but I’ve been thinking how impossible it is for a Pyrex saucepan to understand that all anyone else can get a grip on is its handle.

Which, regardless of maelstrom or meltdown in the pan, remains at room temperature at all times.

So is the pot hot, or is it cold?

Hot, says the pot. You just don’t know.

Cold, says anybody who holds the pot. That’s right, I don’t.

ANOTHER THING ABOUT this saucepan is that—violently and with very little warning, as though it suppresses and suppresses and suppresses and saves up and saves up and just can’t anymore! and FOOM!—the seething stuff boils over, unexpectedly, while it’s over a LOW FLAME, if you can believe it, and then if you grab the burner and turn it down, or yank the pot off the stove, it just KEEPS GOING, eructations of oatmeal all over the stove and the floor, which it does not apologize for and does not volunteer to clean up.

See, says the pot? Hot. Passionate, even.

I HOVER WHEN my kids use it, waiting for the moment when it takes a shot at their confidence. You did everything right, I told one of my boys today after I grabbed it off the burner while he was whisking. It’s not you, sweetheart; it’s the lousy pot. You didn’t do anything wrong. This pot—you just shouldn’t trust it. It’s just a bad pot. You can’t tell what’s going on with it until it’s too late.

Yanking it off the burner doesn’t work. Giving it a little more care and attention doesn’t work. Lowering the heat doesn’t work. By the time it gets to the point where you can see what’s about to happen, it’s sucked up so much energy that a second later, it’s already erupting. You can’t stop it. You can’t soothe it. You just have to wait until it’s done spewing.

What did you expect? says the pot.

Well by now, I expect that.

LIFE GETS MUCH simpler when you accept your cookware for what it really is, and let go of what you wish it was. Especially when it keeps showing you. Especially when your kids are getting old enough that they’re starting to learn to judge temperature themselves, and you don’t want to confuse them.

Much simpler, that is, unless you’re the cookware.

In which case your life’s going to get harder as soon as the economy improves a little more.

Pretty pot

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Filed under Being a grownup, Cooking, Family, Fatherhood, Favorite, Food, Safety, Whatever

Keith’s Jewish Grandma’s Christmas Cookies

I found this recipe handwritten on yellowing notepaper in one of her old cookbooks, which I hadn’t cracked open since taking it from the trim, bare study in their house in California. Metal desk, plain walls. They were frugal people, and he had been a “layout man.” A tool-and-die shop craft. I have a small stack of his ancient job-hunting postcards around somewhere: When Your Layout Man Is Stuck, Trust to “Know-How,” Not to Luck. The cuckoo clock was in that study, too. I remember being shown the clock every time we visited when I was little. And some helixes he’d made out of cardboard tubes, mounted upright on plywood bases with the angles between the cut segments noted in black ink.

Grandma died years ago, and I don’t remember why I finally took down Woman’s Favorite Cook Book (“She should study her guests, as it were; should allot the charming talker to the equally charming listener, and the opinionated person to the passive and yielding disposition…”) and opened it.

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Filed under Baking, Christmas, Cookies, Family, Favorite, Food