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You Gotta Have Peas

No one is neutral on peas.

In England for a conference a few decades ago I was taken to dinner by a local guy who ordered something the English like to eat. It came with a side of mushy peas (mushy rhymes with bushy). To the eye the peas looked like they had been cooked 2-3 hours, then stored away to languish in  cans for 2-3 decades. They were the color of bile, more texture than taste. 

Aside from a few summers I was sent out to the garden to pick peas, and unpodded them and ate them on the spot, I do not have warm memories of peas.

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The Missing Girl, a review

Jacqueline Doyle’s collection of stories The Missing Girl is beautifully written. And it is, in its own way, a harrowing look at what happens to girls–girls who go missing, girls who become women, girls who become women and are haunted by their memories of what happened, or what might have happened to them, when they were girls.

There is in many of the stories in this short collection an air of inevitability. The boys and men are predators. They are treacherous, they are duplicitous. The women, most of them just girls, have unstable identities, with names like Eula, and Early (“I just bet the boys have called you pretty, Early”), and Molly (who plans to change her name because “she has bigger things in mind”), and Nola (who prefers names associated with gemstones, like Sapphire, Ruby, Topaz, and Amber). These women will be brutalized by boys and men, and will have to reckon with the consequences, if they live to do so. Violence will happen. Like Beryl in “You Never Know,” they live close to danger, in the vicinity of disaster.

Along with inevitability, there is an air of uncertainty in many of these stories.  What really happened? Who did what? Who said what? Is that what he–or I–really said?  In “Hula,” the narrator, named Lucy, tries to sort out what actually happened in a bar in Hawaii.  “He says his name is Philip and he tells you he’s from New Jersey.” That’s what he says, but is it really true? He says he likes 25-year-old blondes. “Already you’re grossed out, thinking it’s loud in the bar, maybe that’s not what he said.” And later, when he says something infantile and coarse, “you think he says [that], but you must have misheard him.”  When she tells him her name, she’s not sure he’s heard. Lucy. Nothing is lucid, or clear, in these stories where men and girls smash together. Nothing except the cost, in unspeakable hurt.  

Eight stories, four from the female characters’ point of view, three from the male point of view, one that’s a combination. Doyle has an unfailing ear for these characters’ voices, for their yearning (“she was used to wanting things she knew she wasn’t going to get”), for their stumbling toward violence (“once you start lying you don’t know what’s going to come out”).  

This is flash fiction at is best, not a wasted word or extraneous detail. These are stories that will leave a mark.         

Do Not Go Fractured

At the edge of our driveway, next to the rosemary bush in our herb garden, is a flat rock, suitable for sitting on. We call it Aunt Fran’s rock, named for a dear soul who used to perch on it when she looked after our three-year-old son.

I was sitting on that rock a few days ago when our six-year-old grandson started showing off his hoverboard. It’s essentially an axle you stand on, powered by an electric motor with a rechargeable battery. Next to each wheel is a flat pad where you position your feet. A couple green lights blink when the device powers up. It emits a series of friendly, robot-y beeps. 

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Baked Tomatoes

Boy, was I wrong.

Wrong about local tomatoes that are coming into the farmers’ markets right now, gorgeous, firm, red, both sweet and acidic beauties that I’m using to bake alla gratinata.  

Wrong because in the off season, I content myself with hydroponic vine-ripened tomatoes that do have a little flavor, that are firm enough to be transported who-knows-how-many hundreds or more likely thousands of miles to get the local Kroger, firm enough to withstand 120 minutes in the oven at 350 F and miraculously retain their shape and make a pretty good graté. But the local tomatoes are besting the vine-ripeneds this summer, blowing them right out of the oven.

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Safe and Sorry

JFK was assassinated on a Friday.  The World Trade Center was destroyed on a Tuesday. 

Coronavirus is every day.

In 1963 I was in the 6th grade. My teacher was Mrs. Kauffman, a sturdy older woman I remember as humorless and purposeful. That fall I had a crush on Mary Pat Frost. On WKNX, the local AM radio station, the Beatles’ “She Loves You” played on 45 minute intervals. The British invasion was well underway. In those days schools were still rehearsing emergency procedures, for tornado and for the A-bomb. I recall taking my place in the hallway, along with every student from every class lined up single file, tight against an inner wall, hands clasped over our heads, our bodies sinking to the floor like so many deflated balls.

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Gross Sauce (Get Rid Of Some Stuff)

The bug bites you every now and then.  Get rid of some stuff.  

We have a couple pantries in our house, one in the kitchen, another over by the garage. Stuff we use regularly we keep in the kitchen, naturally. Stuff that’s not on deck gets stored over by the garage.  Pepper corns, cans of chick peas, back-up jars of marmalade and jams, peanut butter and nutella, tomato paste, boxes of pasta.

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To Your Health

In a saucy Washington Post opinion piece on February 24, 2012, columnist Alexandra Petri made fun of Mitt Romney. Campaigning for the Republican nomination, he was visiting Michigan, a state he’s sort of from (his father was the State’s governor from 1963 to 1969). In a speech he expressed his affection for Michigan by noting that “all the trees are the right height.” Petri let him have it, noting that his comment “bears a resemblance to what on TV sitcoms is called chuffa — something that sounds sort of funny but isn’t an actual joke.” Romney’s attempts at humor she describes as “verbal clockwork oranges.”

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Alt Pizza

We’re having pizza for lunch at our daughter’s house. She says she’s going to do it on the grill.

Not what I expected.

My wife and I often buy a pizza dough at the Italian market when we go for goodies. We have one in the freezer right now. Thaw it, roll it, mark it with a P.  Then put it in the oven, heated to 500F. Our preference is a white-pizza-foccaccia, with olive oil and sea salt and rosemary. Good for sandwiches layered with aforementioned goodies.

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