Veal Feathers

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On the package it says “Plume de veau.” I read that as “veal feathers.” Thinking: Now what have they done to those poor animals?

It’s hard not to feel guilty. The don’t-eat-the-veal campaign in the 1980’s just about ruined osso buco for me. The Wall Street Journal reports that per capita consumption of veal in the US fell from 2.3 pounds in 1986 to just 0.3 pounds in 2014. But now, early in the 21st century, veal has been rehabilitated. Continue reading

Cauliflower: Boil Now, Eat Later

hamlet

If I had to do college all over again, I would probably still major in English. But this time around, I would definitely minor in cauliflower.

Consider the lowly cauliflower, resting on the kitchen counter. I hold it aloft and admire it, like Hamlet lifting Yorick’s skull and addressing it: “a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.” Cauliflower, a vegetable of infinite possibility, of most excellent taste. Continue reading

Yoga, Space, and Bragadin’s Skin

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“I like the albumin,” I say to my wife.

We’re having a light breakfast before going to yoga. I’m one egg, sunny side up; she’s two, poached. I tried yoga with her a year ago, half a dozen sessions, and decided it was too much work. Plus, it’s a full hour of listening and following directions, which is probably good discipline, but still, it’s discipline. I’m trending post-discipline these days. But she’s persuaded me to give it another try.  The mind-body connection appeals to me, or the idea of it does. Today will be my fourth session. Continue reading

Yes, Rabbit

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In the kitchen I originate very little. I’m an homage cook.  I replicate and modify. One dish I’m proud of is a modified arrabiata pasta. Very modified.  Extremely modified. Actually, it has little to do with arrabiata. The story:

One year my wife and I had a long lunch in Montepulciano, the one in Tuscany known for noble wine–literally Il Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. After touring the wine caves we asked 3-4 people where we could get a good lunch and found ourselves served a “bis”–two orders of pasta divided between two people. (You can also do a “tris,” a tris for two, a tris for three or four.) One pasta was light, satisfactory, and forgettable; the other was penne with sausage, tomato, and red pepper.  A bomb. And I mean a bomb in the best possible way. Continue reading

The Red Gold

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We’re talking tomato. Banish the can (or jar). Well, not entirely.  But almost. You can and might and should make the red gold yourself.

We buy a pizza dough from time to time. Flatten it. Stretch it. Roll it. You know where this is going. In my wife’s region of Italy (San Marino, Romagna, Marche) you get something pizza-like or foccaccia-like.  Called variously spianata, fornarina, ciclista, schiacciatina. Okay, it’s a white pizza. Some of them thin thin thin, with a little olive oil and sea salt and rosemary to make them fragrant and even more appealing. Top one of those with a little chopped tomato and arugula, you’ll have something extra good. Stra-good, they might say over there. The tomato matters. So much. Continue reading

Lovely Lowly Leftovers

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Some dishes are better a day later.  A vegetable stew, for example. Or a pork roast.

My father-in-law used to say, “Non buttiamo via niente.” We don’t throw anything away.  I think of him when I make a soup or a rice dish, or when I have sat down to a bowl of ribollita in Florence, a soup that is not really a re-boiled dish, but its origins must have been that–leftover bread, leftover beans, leftover chard and kale. Put them together and what to do get? Something delicious.  And the pleasure of economy.  Waste not, want not.  Non buttiamo via niente. Continue reading

Zucchini Redux

zucchini

I love them for their color, for the way they grace the table. Boiled and sliced, seasoned with a little olive oil, garlic salt, and pepper, available year around, zucchini are simply the best.

Leftover, they are fit for a frittata or omelet. Lately I have been re-purposing them in a rice dish, another almost risotto. Continue reading

Ferguson: A Reflection

“Hang on a second, pal.”

When I heard those words, I knew I was in trouble. I was waltzing past the checkout counter in Pat’s Food Center, probably with my body turned conspicuously away from Jack Reins, a checker I knew; the way I also knew Clem, the checker at the next counter, whom my mother would chat up when she passed through the line with a cart full of groceries. I grew up in a small town. My house was just across the two-lane road in front of this store. Behind my house, the Tittabawasee River was in low flow, lazy, brown, and smelly. My buddies and I were teaching ourselves to smoke that summer down on the river flats.

Minutes before I had been standing in front of the store’s cigar display, within eyeshot of the registers. On another day, a week or so before that, a pal had cobbed a five-pack of King Edward cigars, which we lit up down by the river and puffed on, exhaling the rich blue smoke into the air like riverboat gamblers. This time I lifted a pack of Swisher Sweets. I liked the sound of those words together.

I also liked the idea of a cigar tasting sweet, because, in truth, the King Edwards were nothing if not foul. This pack fit almost perfectly in the right front pocket of the shorts I was wearing. I hooked a thumb in my belt loop and lapped my hand over the angular edges of the box pressing against the fabric.

“Hey.”

I turned my head in Jack’s direction. “What?”

He stepped out from behind the register, pointed and led me over to the magazine rack in front of the store. Looking back, I have to think he wasn’t much more than twenty years old himself. But to me he was an adult, an authority figure with doom at his disposal.

No, I thought. No no no no.

“You got something in your pocket there?”

“Huh?” No no no no no.

“Lemme see.” He flicked an index finger and pointed at my hand.

I pulled the cigars out of my pocket and handed them over. My hand shook, my face felt hot and red and wet. My eyes dropped to the floor, then lifted to his face. He was staring at me, boring into me with a look that was both accusing and regretful.

He held that look for five or ten seconds, letting my guilt and his judgment sink in. It was terrible.

“You were going to steal these,” he said.

I didn’t trust myself to say anything. I thought I might start crying. I shook my head, nodding first yes, then no, neither of which seemed like the right answer.

We stood there another short while, as he deliberated.

“Don’t you do this again,” he said finally. “If you do, I’m going to have to tell your parents.” He held me there a few more seconds. He was letting it all sink in–there was a lesson to learn, I was lucky that day, he was letting me go.

He was letting me go.

More than a few times in the past few weeks, I’ve thought of those cigars and my shoplifting escapade. I thought of it when I saw the black and white footage of Michael Brown in the Ferguson convenience store. I thought of it again when, a few days after Michael Brown’s death, I watched the Youtube video of a mentally unbalanced man being shot and killed in the street.

How grateful I am, not to have been killed back then.

My hunch is there are countless stories like mine, stories of transgression we would look back on now and characterize as “escapades,” stories we are not proud to tell, stories that do not end in violent death. As a young parent I taught my children that stealing is wrong, just as I was taught. Perhaps, like me, they too went through a phase. Perhaps they stole and I did not know. Every so often we heard stories of their friends and classmates, basically good kids whose sticky fingers got them in trouble. It was an aberration. They would learn their lesson.

They were not killed.

I knew nothing of deadly force when I was a kid. Today my students are experts. Many of them can tell stories of violent death, of classmates, friends, family members. It is an ordinary and haunting fact of life.

I do not know the truth about Michael Brown, the full extent of his transgression. There are so many conflicting truths to sort out in this situation. I know this: I will meet young men like him next week in my classes, and I will meet older female students with sons, women who fear for their children’s safety, who try to teach their sons that it is wrong to steal, and who must also teach their sons that, because they are black, they walk in mortal danger every day of their lives.

This is a fact of life my parents did not have to impress upon me: that if I messed up, I could be killed.

 

The Honey Room (from American English, Italian Chocolate)

“I’m taking a yogurt break,” I tell my daughter. She’s come downstairs dressed for a wedding. Six months pregnant, she’s becoming abundant. Her husband is at his parents’ house a few miles away. When they fly into town, out of old habit, they still go to their rooms. The yellow dress she’s wearing is long, diaphanous, and, I won’t tell her this, probably a mistake.

“What do you think?”

“Nice,” I say.

I think she’s dressed for a prom, except for that volleyball, my eventual grandson, underneath the dress. Her mother and I waited to find out, game for surprise. She’s a planner.

I dump walnuts in the bowl. “Your mother won’t eat this,” I say. “She’s impervious to yogurt.”

“I’ve got another dress upstairs. Should I try it?”

She decides for herself, rushing pregnantly up the stairs, leaving me to my snack. Yesterday my wife came home with a quart of local honey. In our mudroom we have a cupboard full of old honey, crystalized souvenir honeys she brought home from trips–clover honey, walnut honey, truffle honey. I break into the new stuff, still liquid enough to stir into my yogurt.

A bedroom door clunks shut upstairs. For twenty-five years there was a construction-paper heart taped to that door, my daughter’s name written in the middle, in red and blue crayon. I don’t remember taking it down, but I know it’s gone.

“A delicious treat,” I say to no one.

My mouth is full of sweetness when they both yell up there. Yesterday I found a hairy millepedey-looking bug an inch long. I hope it’s not one of those.

“Can you help us?” my wife yells.

She doesn’t even eat honey. Flu season, she’ll take some in tea. Otherwise, it’s strictly ornamental, over there in the honey room.

The problem upstairs is zipping the dress shut. It’s black and, if we can get it closed, better than the lemon parachute. The dress looks serious, formal. It takes two to make a daughter; now she’s pregnant, two to get her dressed.

“Pull here.”

“I am.”

“Not there, here. Pull it together.”

“I’m trying.”

“It’s too high. Let me pull it down.”

“I can get it.”

“Does it hurt? Is it too tight?”

“I’m huge.”

“You’re all right.”

I admire her shoulder blades. When she was little, I told her that’s where wings would grow.

“Now try.”

“Hold it together.”

“I am.”

“Farther down.”

“Ugh.”

“It’s all right.”

“There it goes.”

“Stretchy.”

“Got it.”

A few minutes later she’s in the car, going to pick up the husband. My wife and I stand at the window, watching her back down the driveway.

“She should turn around,” my wife says. “One thing your father said I agree with: Never back up when you can go forward.” She thinks a minute, then says: “What’s that smell?”

“Yogurt,” I say.

“Is she sleeping here tonight?”

“A delicious treat,” I say, “with our new honey.” Too good to save.

“I would hope so.”

About the Parsley

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The parsley war continues.

My wife and I disagree.  The question is not whether to use it. We’re both parsley positive. The issue is when, during cooking or added afterward as a garnish.  I’m during, she’s after.

It has not always been thus. For many years we lived in perfect harmony, parsley-wise. Diced parsley was one of those first-things-first things, like diced or chopped onion-celery-carrot. Then one day a chef friend came to dinner.  We must have had something long-cook on the stove, like a braised meat. He raised the lid and lowered his face to the pan. “Always add parsley near the end,” he said. “Cooked, parsley is bitter.” It was a pronouncement. He confirmed what my wife must have always sensed. He named it. And that was that. Continue reading

Also Minerva

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The phone rings at 7:00 a.m. That’s never good.  I make an educated guess.

“Dad?”

“Tom.”  My brother.

They say she’s had a stroke, he tells me. It happened sometime after she went to bed last night. She’s breathing but that’s about it. “She probably can’t swallow,” he says. “There’s not much to be done for her.”  Our mother. Ninety-two years old.

“Dad?”

“He’s coming here first.  We’re going over there together.” Continue reading

Give Us This Day Our Daily Breadcrumbs

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A friend asked once: “Are you one of those people who makes his own breadcrumbs?”

No, I’m not.

I had just pulled a sheet of roasted tomatoes out of the oven. Topped with seasoned breadcrumbs, they perfumed the house, then ravished the palate. Continue reading