Category Archives: Uncategorized

Don’t Wait

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My wife and I are having breakfast one morning in northwest Detroit. It’s a bar/restaurant. On a couple big screen tv’s, highlights from last night’s baseball games play. Sawing on a piece of avocado toast, for which they have given me a steak knife, I look up and admire assorted junk and portraiture on the walls–a few famous locals (Madonna, Robin Williams) and a few famous not locals (Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein). Above the photos and hanging bric-a-brac and do-dads loom the heads of great beasts–elk and caribou, a moose, a few deer and antelope that play no more.. 

“Do you think they vacuum those heads?” I say. Continue reading

Pienza, Pinconning, Santa Monica

evolution of man

“I don’t like the word cheese,” my wife says.

We’re driving home from the grocery store, where we have just bought a couple mozzarella balls to slice and lay over tomato slices at lunch today.

I am surprised and delighted. Forty-two years of marriage and I never knew this about her. I tell her cheese seems like a perfectly good word.  

She shudders just a little.

One syllable, it must have Anglo-Saxon roots, I think, also considering the ch in the word.  “Cheese,” I say out loud, testing it. In Italy, I’ve heard groups of people lined up to have a picture taken together, everyone saying “cheese,” in English.  I remind her of this. “Cheese has caught on in Italy,” I say.   Continue reading

Market, Mercato

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So I had to get something.  Buy something. My wife and I were on the ninth day of a ten-day stay in Italy. She had visited her cousin’s boutique in Pesaro.  And her favorite shoe store and bookstore and her favorite herbalist in Rimini. And a great toy store in Bologna. And her scarf and headband lady in Santarcangelo. She was pretty loaded.

She asked me, “Don’t you need anything?”

“Nope.”

That Thursday morning we were walking through the mercato in Borgo Maggiore, a village ten minutes up the mountain from our apartment in San Marino. It was the end of November. In two days I would be back in the classroom. Continue reading

I Spiralize…

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Meanwhile my life has been permanently changed by the discovery of the spiralizer, a kitchen device that transforms a zucchini into spaghetti.

What joy. What delightful culinary alchemy. In my wife’s family there is a mildly chiding remark employed when someone states the obvious. Hai scoperto america. You discovered America. So, all right, the spiralizer (I will never tire of using that term) is old news. But to me, it’s new news.

It’s lightweight. Its dies are razor sharp. My first time spiralizing I drew blood, my own, twice. The shiny white easy-to-clean appliance wasn’t exactly covered with gore. But if it was, so what. A quick rinse under the tap, and blood’s away. Easy to use, easy to dismantle and clean, easy to mantle.

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I’ve spiralized twice now. Second time, caution was observed and I came away unscathed. Now, to the eating. Spiralizing will reveal new worlds. What to spiralize? What to do with spiralized stuff? This spiralized zucchini, I’m eating it raw, with arugula and chopped tomato. Olive oil, red wine vinegar, sea salt. I used to think, How did we live before arugula? Now I wonder, How did I live without a spiralizer?

A year from now, will it still be special? Or will it fall onto the junk heap of other kitchen devices like the cap snaffler, egg cuber, roll ‘n pour, alli-grater, pancake pen, electric hotdog slicer, Oreo dipr, the one click stick butter cutter, the battery-operated spaghetti twirling fork, the condiment gun?

I predict the spiralizer will last. It will stand the test of time. I spiralize. Therefore I am.

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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

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

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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.