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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.”

Also Minerva

scribble

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

A Celebration Lunch

serravalle-sanmarino

Serravalle, Republic of San Marino

For celebration lunch today we have Greektown of Detroit, Barbuto of New York, and Howdy Richards of Freeland to thank.

What are we celebrating? Being alive. Being together.   Continue reading

Coffee Ma’am

sad

“I’m the coffee man,” I say to my wife.

We’re sitting in the kitchen, enjoying our view of the snow. It’s mid morning, a single digit above zero out there, which is bad; but also bright sun on new snow, a brilliant cloudless blue sky, which is good. We’re well into SAD season, long stretches of short gray days, then dark. Sun is the best antidote to seasonal affective disorder. When I mentioned that to a friend the other day, I said sun or red wine. He smiled and said Florida is the best antidote.

Later today we’re flying to Shanghai, to visit our kids. We’re both a little off balance (cranky), nervous about the long flight (about 14 hours), the time change (12 hours), and the bad air in Shanghai. It will be cold there, damp, gray Chinese cold. China will be almost as SAD as Michigan. Maybe SADDER. Continue reading

Calamari and Seppia: Happiness Plural

calamari-fritti

Is there a more guilty pleasure than a fritto misto (frittura, as they say here)? You can see what you’re eating, sort of–rings of sliced calamari, curled shrimps, spongy scallops, a stray chunk of fish, and, if you’re lucky, some thinly sliced or shredded zucchini–all lightly covered in a crispy brown batter, lightly salted. Continue reading

Poached Cod with What?

cod-apple-radicchio.jpg

Who thinks of these things? In conversations I’ve had with Italians about talented chefs, they refer to “fantasia,” which  translates as something like “imagination.” This cod dish, served as an antipasto at Ristorante La Vela in Pesaro, is an excellent example. And as with most things on the table in Italy, particularly in my wife’s regions (Emilia-Romagna and le Marches), the guiding principle is simplicity. Continue reading

Falsely Badly Bigly

Donald Trump

Donald Trump feels badly for Brett Kavanaugh. He feels terribly for Kavanaugh and his family.

When I hear him say things like this, I feel sadly. In front of reporters with microphones and cameras, which means in front of all the world, when this president says he feels badly, it just makes me feel sickly. Continue reading

T-shirts, Cobblers, Invasive Species

Finishing lunch I turn to my wife and smile big. “Do I have fleas in my teeth?”

It’s a potential danger up north, where fruit flies appear out of nowhere, dive into your wine glass, and drown. In the last ten minutes I’ve probably swallowed a couple of them

“No.”

“You didn’t look.”

I smile, she looks. “No.”

I know what she’s thinking: Peach cobbler. Up here I think water, lake, swim. She thinks dessert, fruit, peach cobbler. And for good reason. Years past we have had late summer cobblers with late summer fruits—to wit, peaches—that are memorable. That’s understatement for her. More than mere memorable, they are shining moments. This year we have come up short. Continue reading

Zucchini Flower Risotto

This is zucchini flower risotto revisited. The one my wife made the other day was with brown rice, which meant a long cook and a risotto that didn’t have that velvety, gooey consistency that makes you consider executing a faceplant.

Yesterday she used arborio rice. Velvet, check. Goo, check. Faceplant, suffice to say I got low. But we had friends over for lunch. Also yesterday a little bit of saffron, which imparts a richer color. But taste, I just don’t know. What saffron tastes like. Further research is required.

Those zucchini chips you see, thin thin thin. And the blossom, faded orange in color, may be one of the most delicate, most appealing of ingredients. Though I would also argue essentially without much flavor. Pure sex appeal. Otherwise little substance.

Tizi also makes a fritter with these blossoms, beer batter. They are to die for, but again, you bite and ask, What’s a zucchini flower taste like? the batter’s the think. Probably a beer batter fritter with paper towel instead of blossom would be just as good.

Where We Are Was Once a Sea

When you get to Pahrump it feels like the end of the world. It’s California desert country, on the northwest edge of Death Valley National Park. Driving into town we pass Bride Street, Gravel Pit Road, and WTF Sand and Stone. Next to the Mobil where we gas up is a storefront church. It might have been a travel agency at one time, Anywhere But Here Travel. Now, in big letters above the door, between two crosses, the church identifies itself: IT IS FINISHED. What, as in end times? Continue reading

Foreward Indies Finalist

March 20, 2018
For Immediate Release
UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS

American English, Italian Chocolate is named 2017 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Awards Finalist

As part of its mission to discover, review, and share the best books from university and independent publishers (and authors), independent media company Foreword Magazine, Inc. hosts its annual awards program each year. Finalists represent the best books published in 2017. After more than 2,000 individual titles spread across 65 genres were submitted for consideration, the list of finalists was determined by Foreword’s editorial team. Winners will be decided by an expert team of booksellers and librarians

“Choosing finalists for the INDIES is always the highlight of our year, but the job is very difficult due to the high quality of submissions,” said Victoria Sutherland, founder/publisher of Foreword Reviews. “Each new book award season proves again how independent publishers are the real innovators in the industry.”

Winners in each genre—along with Editor’s Choice Prize winners and Foreword’s INDIE Publisher of the Year—will be announced June 15, 2018.