Thursday, May 21, 2015

Wine Parings (yes, I meant parings)

I'm a restaurant server's worst nightmare. Over the years I've had to eliminate so many foods from my diet that my doctor jokes I'll end up dying of starvation. If anyone's interested in knowing about all the things I can't eat, and why, I'll be happy to share some time. But for now, I want to tell you about Tuesday night.

Every year a friend invites me to a fundraising dinner at an iconic jazz club. This is the friend who, a long time ago, taught me to enjoy good red wine. This year it seemed particularly appropriate to attend because instead of the usual upscale buffet, the event would pair five Italian wines with small plates. But when I heard that, I groaned. Not only am I not particularly fond of Italian wines, which always taste somewhat tart and tannin-heavy to me, but I couldn't imagine many of those small plates would hold dishes I'd be able to eat. "I'll be sure not to arrive hungry," I said.

Because of a mix-up in scheduling, we were the first to arrive. While waiting for the event to get underway, we ordered from the bar: a beer for him and a glass of Argentinian malbec for me. Forty-five minutes later, the first course was served: chicken liver pate along with red peppers, the latter dressed in chocolate balsamic vinegar. It was paired with a dry sparkling white. The pate wasn't something I could eat, and I don't care much for champagne. I would have liked to have tasted the chocolate balsamic, but peppers are a no-no. So I gently moved plate and glass to the left, toward my companion.

The next course paired a chardonnay with a sparse selection of vegetables: a couple of slivers of celery, half of a small potato, more red peppers, two very small button mushrooms, and half-inch chunks of something pink. Lots of white space on the small plate. I asked the server to ID the pink chunks, and she said they were pickled garlic. The four of us at our table were amazed. "This doesn't taste anything like garlic," I said. The others agreed. "The texture doesn't even seem like garlic," one of us said. The rest agreed. We also agreed it was very good. Then someone remembered the emcee mentioning radishes. Aha! Suddenly the pink chunks tasted exactly like pickled radishes, which is what they turned out to be.

The potato half and the peppers were moved to my friend's plate, and the chardonnay followed. I did enjoy the two celery slivers, two embryonic mushrooms, and spoonful of radish chunks while they lasted (about 90 seconds).

All the wines, by the way, were in the $60 to $85 range. The next course featured a 15-year-old red, paired with veal cheeks. Veal cheeks? Looking around at the other tables, it was apparent no one else was on PETA's mailing list. I refuse to support the cruel veal industry. And the aged wine with an orangey cast tasted to me as though someone had squeezed a lemon into the bottle. Both were moved to the left.

An amarone, the star of the evening, appeared in the next course, along with two small raviolis made with chestnut flour and covered with a thick mushroom sauce. I actually ate these, and they were delicious. I tried to avoid the sauce, but managed to eat most of the mushrooms. As for the amarone, it was pretty good. But with an alcohol content of 16%, and considering that I was the designated driver with very little food in my stomach, it was quickly shifted to my left.

The last pairing was dessert: zabaglione topped with raspberries and melon, served with a rock-hard biscotti and paired with a sweet, syrupy wine the color of dark apricots. The wine was delicious, but remembering the alcohol content of sherry and port, I inched it over to my left. We were encouraged to dip the biscotti into the wine, which probably would have made it chewable, but that too, made the clockwise trip. So did the zabaglione.

Before it left, I plucked my dessert—the fruit—off the top. I noticed that while everyone else's custard was accompanied by four or five raspberries, I was given only two. A little passive-aggression, perhaps? Like I said, I'm a server's worst nightmare.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Mascara!!! (I never thought I'd say that word with exclamation points)

This week, for my 72nd birthday, my granddaughter Lizzie (who is 24) gave me some Clinique makeup: a lipstick, lip liner, and black mascara. I'm an admitted collector of lipsticks, and was happy to try the lip liner, although the product was new to me. But my heart sank a bit at the mascara.

I'd never worn black mascara in my life, and hadn't worn any mascara in decades. Back in my 20's, I wore brown/black mascara. I knew most women bought black, but I thought black would look bad on me. I had no desire to channel my inner clown (if I had one).

By the time I turned 30, I'd given up mascara altogether, along with lipstick and all the rest. I admire women who can balance motherhood with the ability to look put together (some of them do it every day!), but I was not one of them. As a mom to young children, I was into arts & crafts and music and books and occasional homeschooling, and that's what I looked like. I didn't mind it then, and I don't mind it now. But somewhere in the middle of grandmotherhood I realized I'd reached the age where I looked better (a lot better) with makeup than without.

I've written about makeup here before, as recently as last October. But one item that was conspicuously absent from my reviews was mascara. I used eyebrow mascara sometimes, but never anything on my lashes. I could see that it looked good on other women, so I tried a few times. But it felt heavy and goopy on my lashes, and always made me want to rub my eyes. Not a good idea.

When I read that Lady Gaga never wears mascara either (serious validation!), I relaxed into my makeup routine. This takes place only when I go out in public, mind you, but I do enjoy it. My face is my canvas, and I get to play with light and shadow, and some subtle color.

So there I was on my birthday, reaching into a small gift bag and coming up with black mascara. I unscrewed the cap and said admiring things about the brush, trying not to imagine the product hanging little lead weights on my lashes. Plus black mascara looks so . . . black. But I adore my granddaughter (and I know Clinique cost her a chunk of money), so I knew I had to give this unfamiliar product my best shot.

Fast-forward only four days, and I love it! I apply it lightly and am unaware of it--until I look in the mirror and start batting my eyelashes (sparse though they are) at myself. I actually look forward to applying it. This is what I wrote to my granddaughter tonight.

I have to tell you I'm totally into my new mascara. I woke up this morning and figured out what I was doing today, and when I remembered a chiropractor appointment and date for tea with Christine, my first thought was, Oh, good--I get to wear my mascara! It's funny, I know, but it's true!

I ended up rescheduling the chiro because I had to go to a memorial service. At the church I encountered several people I haven't seen in years, and they told me, separately, that I never change; I don't age at all. (I think they would all benefit from cataract surgery.) Then a young man introduced himself and said he remembered me from when I was a newspaper reporter. He said, "Around 1999 to the early 2000's." I said, "Right--I started working for the paper in 1999, and left in 2002, but I'm surprised you remember me, because you must have been very young." He replied, "In 1999 I was 11. But I remember you--you haven't changed." How funny is that?!? I felt like telling all these people, "It's the mascara."

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Autobiography in 36 Lines

I swear I remember posting this here--but none of my searches brought it up. So here it is (again?):

Autobiography in 36 Lines

I was born nine months after a Greenwich Village
party--spaghetti sauced with red wine and dried
fruit, Chianti served in painted glasses. My parents
went home early to begin my journey. My mother

made art in those days, and in all her days to follow.
When I was seven, the curse of her illness threatened
to smother me. But I believed she couldn't die.
Two years later, I kissed her goodbye. My father

and I rode in a car without a radio, singing 40s jazz
for our own entertainment, as our own musicians.
By sixteen, I sang with the radio and 45s, and spoke
into a clunky black telephone with a dial. My friends

pored over Photoplay magazines with me, smoked
with me, and professed our (technical) virginity.
I abandoned the piano for the guitar and folk music.
By twenty-one I sang wherever I could. My boyfriend,

heavily educated, stiffly objected, so I quit singing 
and married him. He gave me Tiffany jewelry, trips
to Bermuda; then a little cottage in the country,
a farmhouse, a sewing machine. The dogs and cats

seemed to stay the same age always, as did we for years.
Our children entered school, and I settled to enjoy
what I thought would be the status quo for....decades?
Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Mother, father, three kids

forever. Seeds in the ground every spring, peas to shell
on the porch in summer, school bus in the fall. Winters
never dreaded because we never felt so much as a chill.
We read books by the woodstove. We felt safe. We were

for a time. Frost, when it comes early, unexpectedly,
hits hard. My husband went first, though his strong
body lingered years. Photos, framed around my house,
tell a story: Two of the children grow older; one does not.

I have struggled with clutter, sold off art, battled dust
and fruit flies, evicted dead mice, and rescued spiders.
I have laughed till I cried and cried till I screamed.
I have lost. I have won. And everything in between.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Movie Review: Run All Night

My daughter, granddaughter, and I went to the movies last night. We planned to see McFarland, which stars Kevin Costner as a California high school track coach. It's supposed to be heartwarming, and sounded like a pleasant movie experience.
But when I checked online for the showtime, I found the theater had dropped it. Run All Night didn't exactly look like our usual light entertainment, but its start time worked for us. 
This is one intense movie.  A manhunt with non-stop action. Lots of violence. The three of us spent the entire time in a state of unremitting tension. That doesn't sound pleasant at all, but the movie has some great things going for it, Liam Neeson for one. He manages to create a sympathetic and downright heroic hit man. Ed Harris also does a fine job. His presence reminded me of another dark movie I liked years ago: A History of Violence. But it is probably the complex relationship between Neeson's character and his son that had us saying at the end, "That was a really good movie."

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Big Dig

I’ve been working for over a week on cleaning out my pantry. It’s a small room off the kitchen that I managed to stuff with stuff for years. I kept thinking I should tackle it, but kept dropping the ball. Finally, before Christmas I bought a cedar wardrobe (on Craigslist) to replace the one in the pantry that was falling apart, and knew I’d have to get serious about mucking out before it arrived.

A corner of the room has been inaccessible because of a file cabinet and boxes, so the process was like an archeological dig. I found a German cherry pitter and a green-bean frencher that hooks up to a power drill. I found a corn cutter, a big commercial bread pan (for a 6-lb. loaf), and parts for at least three vacuum cleaners I no longer own. I found Legos my children played with when they were not in their 30’s and 40’s. And I found (and threw out) an embarrassing number of dusty boxes of pasta that had fallen to the floor.

When we set out to do a major clean-out or reorganization, at some point we invariably make a bigger mess than we started out with. At least that's how it always works with me. Every day this week I’ve had stuff all over my kitchen, dining table, and beyond. Even now, a pile of umbrellas (who knew I had so many?) and hangers (ditto!) sits on my sofa. Some of what I pulled out of the pantry will go back in, but much has already gone to the trash or to Salvation Army. 

"Energy comes from knowing what to do," I've often quoted, and the one category that's pulling the plug on my energy is paper. I've always had two filing cabinets in the pantry, but they took up too much room, and I got rid of the one that had been filled with accordion files holding "things to save," as I wrote on some of them. Most are letters: from my parents, from Jill, from my son, from me to my son, from me to Jill, from me to my dear friend Lisa. There are other things in the files, too: clips from my newspaper column, clips of articles I wrote and photos I took when I was a reporter, issues of Woman's World, Yankee, and literary magazines with my stories and poems in them, letters from my Russian penpals, letters from Norman Cousins, singleton letters from various other people I wrote to over the years, printouts of countless journal entries, and more. Paper. Paper.

An article I read on decluttering recently stated that we keep unnecessary things because of two reasons: fear of the future, and wanting to hold onto the past. I admit I want to hold onto the past. I have wanted to hold onto the past my whole life, ever since my mother died when I was nine. I absolutely do appreciate my present, but I'm unwilling to abandon my past. I understand this, but I won't try to change it. If the result is an armload or two of fat files I'm not sure what to do with, so be it.

Meanwhile, tonight my daughter and son-in-law arrived in their uber-pickup bearing the new (old) cedar closet. They carried it inside and set it in place. It needs a little leveling (actually, it's my old house that needs the leveling), but it fits perfectly and looks great. And Peachy, who hopes that the new, cleaner space will attract some interesting residents with tails and whiskers (and I don't mean cats), thinks so too.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015


My daughter Gillian's acrostic poem to me, written April 1998 when she was 22:

Laughter is our way
Uplifting in like
Cleverness, and the
Knowledge that we share.
Yellow garden spiders and
Simple card games are
Ties that bind us.
Older and wiser we
Never forget, best friends

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve

Slowly we sang it

The red-robed sopranos
spread out among us
and the altos
and the basses
all among us
singing slowly

Ivory candles
tapered to halos
on our faces
silver halos
in the dark gold night
lighting the grand
brass pipes
and the worn
wooden pedals

Slowly we sang it
and the silent night
never seemed so holy