It has not been a very happy year so far and it shows no sign of getting better any time soon. I know I’ve been off the radar for two years now and I can’t seem to get back on the horse. I am putting a link that will tell the tale for me in the hopes of getting some help. Here it is http://www.gofundme.com/bm047c
I never thought it come to this but desperate times call for desperate measures. Thanks for reading, and to any who used my work for term papers and such. I hope you got good grades.
Category Archives: Family
It has not been a very happy year so far and it shows no sign of getting better any time soon. I know I’ve been off the radar for two years now and I can’t seem to get back on the horse. I am putting a link that will tell the tale for me in the hopes of getting some help. Here it is http://www.gofundme.com/bm047c
Well today marks the third year of my writing this blog and finds me staying at home instead of heading into New York. The nor-easter that has come out of nowhere has shut down my plans to see Rasputina tonight at the Highline Ballroom, it would have been nice to finish the year exactly the way it started back in Feb. But with snow, high winds, and a cold biting rain coming down I just can’t face the prospect of standing outside waiting for the doors to open. Tomorrow is supposed to be really nice and sunny in the fifties as well as all next week, this is a freak storm so doom on me I guess. I will make the best of it by writing and painting and later I will be making a beef stew over noodles for dinner. I have been thinking much about my writing this year and about the changes that I might want to make to it. In some ways when I look at the body of work I’ve written I am disgusted by the amateurish style of some stories. While on the other hand there are some passages that I am genuinely proud of and see as readable in magazines. I expect the best from myself and get discouraged when I don’t measure up to my expectations, but with only one college course in English to my credit I think on balance-I write well.
The tough reality is that the only way to get better is to write and study writing, and maybe also to read, but without more schooling I feel like I’m never going to make it as a writer. I need to take classes at the Gotham Writers Workshop in NY and beside the fact that I don’t have the money, I also can’t make it from my job in Suffolk all the way to Midtown by the time class starts. I would be an aggravated, sweating, stressed out mess with a headache by the time I got to class. I’m not one for taking online classes either, my brother is pursuing an online degree and I find too many distractions would keep me unfocused. Personally, I don’t know how he does it, but he is doing very well!
I am however starting to feel as though I have to change, this blog is not a blog in the usual sense, it is not a few short paragraphs written hastily each day, but a blog of short stories for readers. If you read my about me page I call it “a selfish venture” and indicate that it is at it’s core an open diary. While that is true I find myself wishing I had more fans and more comments. I see with an app added to my page that people from all over the world are visiting, some multiple times. I can even extrapolate that a few high school or college students might be hijacking my words for school papers, why else would I see people logging on from the same place over and over again sometimes a few hours or minutes apart? I don’t care as long as no one is getting paid for it, but it’s a shame that kids are so lazy these days. The change I think I have to make is to write more to an audience and less to myself, while I thought I was doing that already I think now that some stories are too cookie cutter too much the same basic story I wrote the last time. The fact is that not every trip is that interesting or noteworthy, some trips cool stuff happens and I’m cooking on all burners and others I’m too absorbed in what I’m doing to gather all the stimuli around me. It’s a tightrope but I have to try and do it better in the future, if I ever want to get published I must walk that line.
So tonight I will start writing a new piece about the city trip I took last week, and an editorial about this whole Occupy Wall St movement that’s so controversial and so confusing. I must again give thanks to the people that got me here. Thanks to Professor Wigetow for your teaching and for believing in my potential, to W.B. Wilkins whom I owe this blog to for giving me the key to being a good writer, hopefully I will use it to unlock all the right doors, to J.R.R. Tolkien for the obvious, to Jack Kerouac for teaching me to write in the moment, to William Burroughs for showing me the way to color my words, to Anthony Bourdain for infusing my imagination with his words and especially for turning me on to Graham Greene, to Graham Greene for igniting my desire to be a better writer and for creating some of the most unforgettable characters ever, to Maureen for being my friend and my number one fan, to my mom Alyce for teaching me my A B C’s while still in the crib, sometimes it’s the little things that matter most. No matter what happens I will keep writing and keep painting and strive as I have all my life to do something with nothing, I will keep hoping, planning, wishing, praying and insisting that life can be what you want it to be with a ton of hard work and a little luck. The work is hard, it’s the luck part that I find is so much harder.
Long Island N.Y. 2011
I sit and write this on an unexpected day off thanks to a blizzard which has crippled much of the tri-state area, with 20 inches of snow on the ground overnight. Everywhere people are trapped in airports and in relatives homes unable to leave. The end of my street left looking like a bulwark nearly twice the height of the fallen snow, the unwelcome by-product of the plows as they free up the main and secondary roads before the residential streets. I won’t be going anywhere by car at least until tomorrow. The past week has been a blur of unexpected work and worry, and it is only now that I look back on the whole experience with a fresh pair of eyes and a new positive outlook.
To say that my father and I have not seen eye to eye would be an understatement, we get along as long as I play his game on his team and if I don’t we don’t get along at all. While it is true that I have inherited his love of animals and nature, as well as an appreciation of collectibles, trains, antiques, and coins from him and have also his get-there-on-time attitude, that’s where we part ways. My mom and I have very similar tastes in food and adventure, and watch the travel channel with rapt attention hanging on every word and scene, wishing we could be there with Anthony Bourdain and eat the same food, and it’s my mom who gave me my lust for books and writing as well as most of my artistic talents come from her too.
So, that’s the bare bones of our dynamic which is of course very complicated in real life, but the fact is that in the last three years especially the house has been a battlefield. My father is a neat freak Felix Unger type, although he doesn’t mind his English clutter which drives me right up the wall. The way I see it if you’re a clean freak, you just can’t have piles of stuff laying everywhere and people with a double standard are my enemy. When my brother moved back home in 2007, dad was forced to give him back his room downstairs much to his anger. My dad didn’t want to give up his room and repeated over and over again”Where am I gonna put my stuff!” Apparently his stuff was more important than his son. Later in that same year my father had moved out of the bed he shared with my mom citing irreconcilable differences. Which is to say, he got tired of being woken up in the middle of the night and told to turn over on account of his snoring. This resulted in my dad annexing the dinning room and living room as his own personal space and a hallway leading to them became his too. I really resented this and told him so, and many pitched battles resulted in ours becoming a house divided, my dad often alone and ignored as the rest of us had no other space except the kitchen; where my mom sits and works on the computer, my brother in his room and me upstairs in my room. To me this is a very dis-functional household and always has been, but this was the last straw and I often said “I don’t want him dead but I don’t want to live with him either”. Unfortunately, we are all financially co-dependent on each other and no one wants to lose the house and wind up in a miserable small apartment with no garden, patio, or pool. That gives you about as much back story as you need to understand the situation, the last couple of years especially have been very frustrating. I have tried to get both my parents to eat right and follow doctors orders, my mom does about 2/3 of what she should do, my dad however does next to nothing. He is the only hold out that hasn’t quit smoking except my brother who started later in life, and my cousin,whos mom died of cancer. Yeah I know …but you can’t tell her either. We have to try to make the best of a bad situation. This would change from bad to worse in a heartbeat on the morning of Dec 16th when my dad requested to be taken to the emergency room at 6:20 when I came down for work. My dad had been suffering from a heavy cold that went into bronchitis and although we told him to go to the doctor, he insisted that he had to wait until he got his blood drawn and then go on the 20th for his already scheduled visit. Prior to this I argued with him that if he was sick he had to go now and not wait till the 20th but he wouldn’t budge. He had also been complaining about having trouble breathing at night, he said the house was too hot and dry. But it was he who would put the heat up because his blood thinners made him cold and no amount of heat except summer weather is hot enough for him. This is another bone of contention because of the uncomfortable situation for the rest of us especially my brother who has the room right next to the furnace room, so he combats the situation by running an air-conditioner on cooling, sick situation and costly too!
I called an ambulance and they came and took my father to the hospital where he was already receiving oxygen and fluids by the time I arrived. Then and after settling in and starting to ask questions I found out what I already knew, dad had Pneumonia and a fever, heart failure, edema and blood in the stool, but there were more tests to do-other things were not kosher. So I searched out his doctor and I found out that he had a low blood count and would be getting blood, liquid iron, magnesium, antibiotics, nebulizer treatment and steroids, I warned the doctor about his hearing loss and his possible Alzheimer’s or senility. The doctor questioned me extensively about my fathers medical history and I filled in blanks left during the examination and corrected wrong information given by dad from lack of memory. Later I went home and filled in my mom and brother on what had happened, then we all went to see him that night. He was still in the ER, they were waiting for a bed for him. Dad would remain in the ER till late, then finally they moved him to the ICU.
When we visited him in the ICU the next evening it was apparent that things weren’t going well, he was restrained for trying to leave and my dad was angry at us, acting strange and seemed confused. He imagined that dust was falling from the ceiling tiles where earlier in the day the staff had hung Christmas streamers, he also told of a World War I army truck moving through the halls. My dad called every day while he was there, saying that he was being released and gave us a list of what to bring to the hospital. But when we didn’t bring these items he was mad, he also insisted that we bring his wallet. He was scared that he would have to pay for food or starve to death! it made going to see him each evening a gut-wrenching experience after a busy day at work.
I remembered that his own father had signed himself out of the hospital years ago against doctors orders and imagined my dad would do the same, and we had been advised by his doctor that if he did so-he would resign as his PCP. When he was well enough they moved him to PCU and put him in with another man who was dying and had Alzheimer’s Disease, he was also angry at his son who came to see him, and was also given to outbursts. The last straw was when he called at 3:45 in the morning to tell me to come and get him, again going through the list of items he needed me to provide, he told me that the man in the bed tried to escape and it took three security guards to wrestle him back into bed, my dad was afraid and begged me to come and get him but I had to refuse, he was not well enough. I hung up with my dad and called the nurses station and asked what was going on but his night nurse told me dad was in no danger.
The indication of internal bleeding was explored but after an endoscopy in both directions and a few scans, there was no reason found for the blood loss or for his increasing confusion. They put him in a regular room as he graduated to better food and was getting stronger and more restless, and finally a cute little nurse told me what no one else could, that the steroids my dad was on could cause steroidal psychotic behavior, but his doctor; after a conversation with me about my dads behavior over the last few years, scheduled a neuro consult with tests to see where he is now and in future tests that will determine if he is getting worse. So, they released him after 6 days and he signed himself out, even borrowing physicians paper pants to come home by taxi rather than wait for me to come after work with his clothes. I was of course exhausted after days of working, driving my mom to the hospital to see dad, pushing her around in her jazzy because she can’t walk well enough, and trying to shop for Christmas, buy food and decorate the house to boot.
Then finally it all came together, I ran around like a nut and tried to finish my shopping, put up the tree and do shopping for my mom who was in too much pain to shop for her own gifts to give. I maintained constant contact as I tried to find the right things for people, even to the point of shopping Christmas morning for forgotten gifts to bring with us for the relatives on Christmas Day. My dad was still a little confused about many things. When he asked if we paid the bill at the hotel where he stayed, I just told him quietly there was no bill, it went on the insurance and he was relieved. Yes, he would ask me that same question three more times… but as we sat and had our usual Christmas Eve dinner… assorted hot appetizers. It didn’t matter anymore, I just stopped getting mad at these lapses in memory, and stopped resenting him for not taking my advice in the first place.
By now dad was on the nicotine patch that they started in the hospital and admitted that he screwed up, his doctor told us he was a few days from death if he hadn’t gone to the ER, this would have been the Christmas dad died. We listen to the Yule Log carols on DVD while we eat and dad will get a little teary eyed tonight and on Christmas Day too when talking about how happy he is to be able to spend the holiday with his family, instead of six-feet under. Then we would spend a wonderful day with the rest of the family at my cousin Donna’s house, and thank God the snow stayed away until the next day and didn’t spoil our family gathering. We didn’t put up 90 percent of the decorations in the house or on the tree, and we didn’t spend hardly any money on gifts like we usually do. But the real gift was life, the overspending and the overindulgence in food or drink and the covering of every available space in decorations of all kinds was not necessary. In fact it will make the heart grow fonder for the wonderful keepsakes we have been given if we miss them till next year. It’s five days later and dad is discovering the joys of eating and wanting to eat, but also the boredom of being stuck in from the sickness and the snow, as well as the extra free time one finds when smoking ceases to be important.
Now as we try to maintain a fragile peace with dad, and he with us. There has also been a peace established with our neighbor, for years we had many arguments and mis-understandings, but it was her mother’s death a week before my dads hospital stay that found me and dad going to the funeral parlor to pay our respects. It was where we found some common ground, the last years and final rest of parents on which to anchor a truce. It was also my neighbors experience that Pneumonia took her mother, not the cancer. My neighbor urged me to get him to a doctor and told my dad to his face to go as well. In some small way she helped the situation, dad always needs to hear things from someone else before he would ever believe us. Why…I don’t know, I guess it’s just his way of handling life. The one thing I do know is this, I grew up a whole lot in five days and it’s possible to be much happier with less than I ever knew. I still wish I could have given everyone a ton of gifts and filled everybody’s stockings with money, instead I gave them all kindness. A better gift by far than any I gave before.
Next year I’ll fill the stockings with money! How will I be able to do that? I don’t know, I just have this feeling…
Christmas Peace and happiness to all.
Those of you who read my BLOG know that I am no stranger to cooking, I do most of the cooking in the house, my mom is disabled and I cook something decent at least four nights a week. But flash back and by the age of eight I was coming down early on Sunday mornings and making bacon and eggs with a pot of tea before my parents were awake. Then I would set the table and lay out the food before going to wake my parents up, my folks groggy eating half cold food and wondering what to do with me. So flashing forward 40 years later and I decide in December of 2009 to teach myself classic French cooking. I armed myself with a set of JA Henckels knives and added to the armload of cookbooks we already had and dove fearlessly into the unknown. My first dish was the ubiquitous french Navarin D”Agneau, lamb stew with spring vegetables. It came out OK but I moved on. By the time I made Blanquette de veau, veal stew in cream sauce. Coq au Vin, chicken cooked in red wine and pan roasted trout with fennel I discovered a few things about myself and about cooking well. I was blooded by a pairing knife (1st time) and wore a forearm burn proudly till it healed. Granted, not all the dishes came out great but the experience was, I learned a little about butchering meat, to look a fish in the eye before I buy it and to read a recipe carefully. I also found out what to do when you get “in the weeds.” This is where rum and Coke helps tremendously.
Most of the men at my job wouldn’t be caught dead cooking French food, and at least one thinks that canned gloppy soup over rice or giant frozen boats of mystery meat swimming in unlikely gravy is Haute cuisine! They are all caught up in typical American attitudes towards the French and their food. Which as we all know, has been increased exponentially by the former Bush Administration, why? Because of the lack of France’s support for George W. Bush’s war for oil and profit. Even the guys that do cook would not go to the trouble and expense that I do, and I would be kidded no end by my interest in all things French.
So…why do I do it? Because I have to, because I love it. The research in my books, the planning, the shopping and the execution. The proof however is when your family, friends or guests begin to eat. Sometimes the silence is worrying until you look up to see bulging cheeks and nods of approval like some bobble head dolls on a dash-board. That makes it all worthwhile, and just like any art form you can look upon it and say “I made this …and it’s good, very good.” For me the accomplishment of feeding a dozen people Thanksgiving dinner from a kitchen the size of a NYC food cart is enormous, although it is tinged with a little sadness that my mom who taught me a great deal, because of her disability, is forced to sit on the sidelines and watch me do what used to be her job. But at least I have a prep chef and coucil.
In our current “post traumatic economy disorder” many people are finding it harder to feed the typical family of four. Television commercials are touting large TV dinners as the answer to all our problems, serve it up with a salad and call it “restaurant night!” These commercials show happy middle class families excited to sit down to such fare as an alternative to going out for a nice dinner. The sad thing is that many families are doing just that because they can’t afford a meal out for four unless it’s fast food served on plastic trays, and guess what-that’s not so cheap as it used to be either. But on the flip side the many chain restaurants are offering two-fer-one deals to try to lure people out of the house with the promise of good food. How much healthier it is to cook from scratch, a few basic techniques, some herbs and spices and you got it. Then get the kids or your friends involved and make it fun! It’s not hard, anyone can do this if they have the guts and the desire. You don’t need a cooking degree from Culinary Institute of America or the French Culinary Institute ( but I would still like one if I could afford to go) to be able to make a few great dishes. I have cooked as a hobby for many years before it became a passion and a necessity in recent times, but this year I feel that I reached a new milestone in my cooking. I have mastered a few techniques, taught myself to cook many things I never tried before and developed a sense of how to cook a dish just from observing it being made on TV. There is a lot I don’t know and more that I want to do, I need better knife skills for one and I need to learn to cook fish and meat better, and I need to graduate beyond stews and casseroles. I may have my critics and that’s fine, most people do.
All I know is that I may not be a great chef, but at least I cook well.
The weather is cloudy and overcast but I am in good spirits as I drive towards the nearby Town of Huntington to the Barnes and Noble book store for an early breakfast. I am off today and tomorrow and have already started my Christmas shopping a few days ago, but today I am doing something I used to do all the time but stopped for lack of funds. The weather is warm as I cross the parking lot and enter the store. The warmth of the colors hit me as I enter, it is like a second home to me a bookstore; any bookstore feels the same way. I make my way to the loo, it seems that these days I need one everywhere I go, guess I must be getting older.
But soon I find myself standing in front of the section on international foods, there is an awesome array of books on French cooking, the ones that appeal to me most are the bright color photo jobs with a picture of each recipe, but the pièce de résistance is a huge volume put out by the French Culinary Institute in New York City whose web site videos I watched and marvelled at the relatively cheap cost of a six month course. The five-day a week daytime course is 46,500 dollars and they place you in your first job, I think they also give you a set of chefs knives to boot. The same course taught at night takes nine months and cost 36,500! The teachers are all very experienced and they take you from how to chop carrots to working a shift in the restaurant attached to the school L’ecole. I would love to go if I could, if I could afford to quit my job I would go just to learn classic French cooking, but that’s a lottery win dream. This book is for those who are not going to go to school but are more advanced than me, as is the same sort of book put out by a French School similar to FCI in NY, the pictures are beautiful and each lesson is a three to four course meal, starting with easy stuff and getting into very complicated meals half way through.
I take both books to a table at the Starbucks Cafe inside the store and order a Cafe Au Lait and a Caprese Panini sandwich, toasted cheese,tomatoes, and pesto on ciabatta bread cooked in a press toaster to melt the cheese, it’s pre-made but good and I munch as I flip through the volumes, my mind swirling with unfamiliar food, phrases and techniques. I put the books back and look around for gifts for others, but find little that would interest them, I do find a cheap book on Alice Waters and Chez Panisse, the story of one of the most famous restaurants in the country. I know her name but nothing specific about Alice herself so I buy it and walk back to my car and set off for the Fairway market in Plainview, just a town over from mine and a place that will become my Mecca for my new venture. I plan on teaching myself classic French cooking just like the new movie “Julie & Julia” based on the book of the same name; which I got for my Mother but at this time still haven’t seen. I’m prepared to go to a lot of trouble to do just that, so I have already bought my first real chefs knives at Macy’s department store that I got on sale for 40% off plus an extra 25% promo which ends today, I bought a small pairing knife and a large chefs knife but I am going back to get the others I left behind. I have the money from my 401k which I’m paying back weekly from my paycheck so I can afford to splurge a little, with my bills caught up and deals made for lower monthly payments and interest rates I have come out on the other side of my financial disaster of a few months ago, in fact we also got a nice bonus this year as opposed to last year but half of what we used to get back in 2007. I didn’t know that yet with Christmas being 20 days away but it was a shocker when I found two envelopes to open on the 22nd! I pull into Fairways parking lot and find it a madhouse as usual, it is the largest food store around here and shopping here can be a hassle.
I can only imagine that this is a taste of the open market experience that you get in other countries, when you walk in your senses are hit with dazzling color and to your right a huge produce dept, to your left the cookware and the catering desk, opposite catering is the café area where a salad bar, sandwich bar, and hot food waits in large stainless steel chafing dishes for people to dish up for themselves, every kind of food is here. Fresh made lemon chicken, asian style ribs, ox tails in gravy, pork chops stuffed with fruit, sautéed vegetables, butternut squash puree, mashed potatoes, filet of sole stuffed with crab swimming in lemon and garlic butter, flank steak in barbeque sauce, garlic string beans with almonds, broccoli rabe in garlic and oil, an ever changing array cooked each day from about 11:00 to closing or until the food runs out, whichever comes first.
If you walk past the food area you come to what I call the maze, an area where cold prepared deli food awaits and here the vegans and vegetarians have a field day! The selection of humus alone will kill ya, roasted red pepper, plain, garlic, lemon, babaganoosh, antipasto, cheese salad, vegan General Cho’s Chicken, fire roasted veggies in olive oil, marinated cauliflower, eggplant, tomatoes and basil with fresh mozzarella, couscous galore!, multigrain with vegetables finely chopped, couscous with fruit and grains… combos that will just make you insane there a sooo good. There is an olive bar where you can pick out from 16 different types from all over the world, and around the corner is a fresh hand-made mozzarella ball stand, an olive oil tasting bar where fresh bread is available for dipping, turn another corner and your in the biggest cheese market I’ve ever seen, with samples and tastes of anything you want to try! There is a cold case with French delicacies from goat cheese to pâté of all kinds to duck confit and crème fresh, and very expensive truffles! The next aisle over is a coffee lovers paradise, fresh roasted on the spot! I mean you gotta smell this section, it is beautiful with teas from around the world in tins, boxes, or loose as well as coffee of all kinds to indulge in your caffeine cravings. The back-drop for all of this is the back of the store beginning with the end of the produce section where the deli starts, all kinds of cold salads that were not in the other sections are here, potato salad, macaroni salad, cole slaw, egg salad, all the picnic stuff Americans crave and more as well as sliced meats and cheeses, always busy as hell with a wait. Next to that is the fish market, and let me tell you they have it all here, live lobsters and crabs, clams and mussels and slabs of bacalau still packed in kosher salt, and every kind of fish you could want or need. Then next to that is the meat market; a haven for meat lovers with dry aged steaks, Angus beef, and every kind of sausage you can think of…chicken, lamb, pork, beef, spiced in every possible way with cheese or fresh herbs added and ground meats of all kinds arranged in a beautiful display of neat clean rows, very clean and very fresh and cold. This makes the back area into a chaos of people bumping and jostling each other (especially with a holiday weekend) like roller derby for food.
I am making a traditional Navarin D’Agneau, which is a spring vegetable stew using a few cheap pieces of lamb tenderloin I found in the regular store we shop in for a discount. These are pieces of meat which have been pre-seasoned and are cheaper cuts cast off from better ones that sold for more money, but as Tony says on his show often, poor people discovered good food by taking cheap cuts of meat and cooking them just right … to make them delicious. I will need some lovely small white pearl onions which I pick out one by one from a large bin, a bunch of nice big carrots, turnips, peas, small fingerling potatoes, garlic, and parsley and thyme for a bouquet garni; which is a fancy French term for herbs tied up in a piece of cheesecloth. I finish my shopping and go home for a short break in the action before I start my meal, feeding my fish and talking with my brother briefly about our tanks and things before I start setting up my mise-en-place, which is another French term meaning having everything ready ahead of time. This means you get all your ingredients out and all the pots and pans you will need as well as the dishware your serving the meal in and for me a Rum and coke!
So as I assemble my “mise” my mom sits at the table using her laptop to chat with her friends on the Neil Diamond Fansite “Sweet Caroline” which she now is in charge of greeting new members daily. I’m absorbed by my task and after getting everything out I start to peel the little white onions, let me tell you this is a pain but the little pairing knife is a godsend, I cut through a paper plate like it was nothing just to show the quality to my family, who were very impressed by the way, then start cutting up the other vegetables. I can’t believe how easy it is to cut the carrots with this knife. I bought J.A. Henckels cookware from Spain, and I can see now that we never owned a really good knife before this, I am happy to have made what I consider a shrewd buy that I will have for years. I quarter the large carrots and white turnips, and I cut one large onion into eights ( expecting it will render down and flavor the gravy), and peel the small potatoes (covering with a damp towel) before I address the meat.
Now I take the pieces out of the packages and wash off the herbs and turn them over, very fatty on the back side so I have to trim all of that off before I can cube it. I don’t enjoy butchering meat, I like to eat meat very much but don’t enjoy handling it, I guess it’s the guilt of knowing you’re a carnivore and things die so you can live. But the trouble is that plants are alive too, we just can’t communicate with them yet, and fish-what about them. I am just starting to like fish when I have to go and get interested in keeping freshwater fish, so now the thought of cooking a whole fish in the beautiful long copper fish pot I got my Mom for Xmas is not as appealing as it was a few months ago. Still I have to be realistic, I’m not turning vegan any time soon so I brown off the meat and removing it for a while I toss the onions in the pan, let them cook for a few minutes (but not browned), add the garlic (cooking till aromatic) then adding the meat back in I sprinkle with a tablespoon of flour and stir to coat, finally putting in two cups of brown stock and the bouquet garni and covering to cook for 1 1/2 hours.
The rest is really simple, just adding the peeled and sliced potatoes, carrots and turnips into the pot and adding frozen peas at the end cooking till tender. But I am a little unhappy with the gravy, it’s like water so I mix up a little cornstarch and add it in to thicken the pot. The problem is I have to overcook things for my parents who can’t chew vegetables the way god intended- a little resistant . So I am basically forced to kill the meal a little for their sake, next time I will make some for myself done right and separate it from theirs so all will be happy. We sit down to a very good meal but it doesn’t look like the picture in the book, too much gravy comparatively, but that’s us Americans for you. I don’t feel like I made a major foray into the French gastronomy because I have made regular beef stew many times so this wasn’t a great challenge. The flavor however was very good and no one else was disappointed in the outcome, so I’m my own worse critic, what else is new.
I sip my glass of wine and think about the next meal, the next challenge, around me my family enjoys the meal. In the end what mattered is that they ate heartily, and enjoyed it and that is after all…the only thing that matters to a cook.
A nice warm sunny night after a hot muggy day. I haven’t been to Manhattan since June 6th when I saw the P J Harvey show. My plan was to leave work early and have dinner in the city. But the best laid plans of men often get dunked in the loo and tonight was no exception. First I should tell you about my busy week and the surreal events that transpired since last Friday as it has a picture to paint of my life and typical problems I face.
I got off work Friday last with great joy, I was off for two days and had plans to work in the garden and cook some meat on the grill on Saturday night, and that is just what I did. I spent Saturday cleaning out weeds and brush along “Le Petit Chemin” or the little path I’m building around my pool in an area that used to be very wild back when my garden vision was to live in an overgrown forest like a hobbit. My tastes changed with age and my cousins Chrissy’s serenity garden that was part of her anti-cancer therapy, inspired me to do more with my yard. Sadly, Chrissy lost her battle with cancer but her family continues to maintain her garden, it lives on so she does too in spirit.
I made a lot of progress, pruning, tieing up branches, cutting down a bunch of old half-dead shrubs and vines, and weeding too. I ran some errands and found myself happily sipping a rum and energy drink (a tasty way to take the edge off without losing energy) while eating anchovy stuffed olives while cooking steak and chicken. I was quite pleased with the work I’d done and admired the new rambling rose I got while I cooked. It was scrawny and half dead with disease when I bought it at the supermarket, but now it was happy and getting big with my care.
Mom came outside to watch me cook but soon went in, complaining of mosquitoes and to oversee the cooking of the roasted veggies in balsamic vinegar and olive oil we were having as a side dish, despite all that I was doing to destroy the population of mosquitoes with my zapper and spraying the garden with lemon water to repel them, Mom always gets stung.
That would lead to a chain of events that would result in a very hectic three days for me, but I didn’t know that yet. I should also explain that my Dad had taken himself to the doctor to find out he had a UTI and his heart rhythm was messed up despite his medication that he takes to keep it in sync. So with Dad on doctors orders to stay in and rest I had the grill and garden to myself.
We ate our meal and after goofing off for a few hours I watched “Saturday Night Live” with my Mom who was putting anti-itch cream on some skeeter bites and complaining about being hot and tired. I went to bed about midnight and the next morning I got up late. I was really cross with myself that I wasn’t up with the birds doing more work, but I was however really knackered from the previous days work anyway.
I couldn’t sit outside to have breakfast like I usually do in the summer months because it had rained overnight and everything was soaked, so I had cereal with banana with my Mom in the kitchen while Dad sat in the living room sick and unhappy and watching home improvement shows on TV.
By about nine o’clock my Mom said she felt like she had the Flu, she was weak, feverish and shivering on the inside, but… not cold. I was getting annoyed because I thought Mom was just being a hypochondriac, she does have a tendency (all her life) to imagine that she has every dread disease on the planet but I have to admit I was cranky, but when she showed me her leg I knew this was no joke.
I told her to get ready to got to the hospital, my Dad got all dressed to take her but I insisted he stay home, he was already sickish and would make it worse. So off Me and Mom went to the ER just down the road, thank goodness it’s so close…Mom feels really bad. The fear was this Swine Flu thing that is in the news every other day, and I didn’t know what to expect, I mean my imagination is already starting to run away a little.
We arrive at North Shore University Hospital at Plainview, an all too familiar place in recent years, between Mom, Dad, and my brother we had darkened it’s doors all too much for my liking but at least I knew my way around the place. I got Mom out at the ER and parked the car, then joined her in triage. The process was long and maddening, filling out papers, answering questions and waiting, waiting, waiting. Eventually, we moved to a second waiting room , then to an ER area where Mom was finally examined. There was an entire cadre of people who looked at my Mom, poking and prodding, collecting blood for tests, which was done again because the first time the sample was compromised because the lab was “backed-up” and spoiled the blood. My Mom couldn’t eat or drink anything until they knew what they were dealing with so it was water with ice for a while. So I ran outside and called Dad to let him know what was going on, even though I didn’t know a thing yet. Being hungry out of nervousness I walked to the cafeteria on the main lobby and scanned the offerings, no hot food unless you wanted a burger or a press sandwich, not really very good. Then I decided to go down to the employee cafeteria and find the food to be lacking there as well, so I settle on a coffee and a bran muffin, I’m not hungry…just keeping body and soul together because I need fuel. I can’t tell you how many times I had to oversee what’s happening to make sure everything is going OK.
They are pumping antibiotics into my Mom like there’s no tomorrow and she still hasn’t been seen by a doctor! We are worried about the Flu but still only have a vague idea whats wrong with Mom. Finally he doctor comes in and tells her she has cellulitis, caused by scratching the skeeter bites the previous day. Apparently the germs are right there on our skin, scratching just grabs then to the open wound and PRESTO your sick as a dog.
I mean you gotta see my Mom’s leg, it’s dark red and swollen and they admit her without hesitation, she will have to be on intravenous medication and fluids for at least two days.
We have been here now almost eight hours by the time she is in bed in her room, her roommate is a senile woman who is always cold, You gotta feel it, it’s like a blast furnace in here, my Mom is hot and so am I.
But I get her set up as comfortable as possible, order her dinner and wait for it, she has had nothing since breakfast, finally with a tear in my eye I leave her, I know she is scared and so am I, her condition is actually very serious.
The time is now 8:00 PM and I go home to fill my Dad and brother in and make dinner for Dad and myself, he often forgets to feed himself, so after cleaning up and watching a little of the Travel Channel, I take a call from Mom who already has a phone set up before I fall into bed unable to sleep knowing that if I don’t call into work, my Dad will defy doctors orders and run around like a nut trying to do too much. I guess it’s his nervous reaction to problems, cleaning like mad, fussing over small details, running to stores to pick up things we need or to bring to Mom, even though he was told to stay down and rest. So I lay in bed and worry and fall into a disturbed sleep.
When the alarm goes off in the morning, I feel as if I haven’t slept at all, I am spent and I call into my work, get dressed and go down and get a coffee going before washing up, Dad is already up fussing, nervous and making me more so, too many questions too early. We make up a possibles bag of things she wanted and a few things we thought she might need to bring with me when I go to see her today after nine o’clock. We put her slippers, magazines, makeup, etc into a bag and I leave to go to the several local places looking for a small portable fan to bring to her, it’s hot…I mean scorching so as I go across the parking lot to go into a CVS and find her a small battery operated fan. I find one with a water reservoir attached so she can spray her face and fan it whenever she needs to cool off, this is just what I need so I pay for it and go speeding off fighting the mid-morning traffic to see her. The parking lot is full and so are the streets surrounding the main parking lot, so I have no choice but to park Mom’s car on a side street well away from the hospital and walk in the heat. I am sweating buckets by the time I get to her room, and start fussing over her getting her cold water filling the fan with water and batteries so Mom can cool off and start asking questions about her condition and walking to the nurses station to talk to the staff and ask even more questions. This is what you have to do, you have to make sure the proper meds are being given, you have to insist that needs are met in a timely fashion. My grandmother was almost killed in the hospital when a nurse almost gave her a bag of blood for no reason! You gotta cover all the bases all the time, my Mom is a lousy patient for me but doesn’t want to “bother” the nurses.
This is the way it goes for the next two days , a blur of running to the hospital, foodstore, cooking, cleaning, making sure Dad is OK and doing what needs to be done as it occurs. In between all this I take a break and get a few shrubs and perennials and put them in the ground while I’m home and have the chance between visiting hours. I bring Dad to see Mom and after work my brother joins us, he brings a hand-held quiz game for Mom to play in bed. We try to make the best of it but she hates hospitals and wants to be home. So by Tuesday I’m totally “cream crackered” which is the English way to say exhausted, I want only to bring my Mom home. I’ve used the last two vacation days I had for the year and don’t want my Dad to have to bring her home tomorrow, he gets himself so nervous over things he will be a wreck and turn a simple trip into a military operation. The worst part is that at his age and with just a touch of Alzheimer’s, he can be very forgetful and also get very confused and my Mom is a very impatient person, this is a cocktail that can result in explosive arguments in the car just going to the store, and I don’t need a phone call at work saying Dad wrecked the car or worse, a call from the cops saying they both have been in an accident. My Dad already wrecked his own car in 2007 and almost killed my brother, all because he insisted on going out in the dark rainy night to pick up my brother instead of letting me do it, he sneaked out in defiance while I was getting out of my work clothes, even though he knows he has trouble seeing at night.
So on Tuesday with Dad suggesting over and over that he can do it, I sneak out and take her car and go to the hospital to get her and hopefully bring her home, she really can’t leave till the doctor sees her and no seems to know where he is, so we wait and wait. well, as you might have guessed this takes all day. I mean I ate breakfast with Mom and then lunch came and went and we still waited. Finally, the doctor shows up with a few scripts and gives her the green light to continue convalescing at home, although he really wants her to stay he agrees to let her out. The list of do’s and don’ts is extensive, elevate the leg, soak the leg, stay out of the sun for three days, wear long pants and insect repellant at all times after that, come back in a week to the office for a looksee of the leg and take all the medication till it’s finished.
We wait some more for the paperwork to be filled out and I pack up Mom’s stuff and take it out to the car, bringing the car to the parking lot from it’s far away location (again) to make it easier when we leave. Then after waiting for an orderly and a wheelchair we get to go down into the heat wave and I bring the car around and off we go homeward bound, of course the first thing Mom suggests as we pass the Old Country Creamery is a scoop of ice cream!
When we arrive home Dad has got the house on pins, he has the living room set up like her hospital,even though he was told to take it easy he does what he wants. But she will have to sleep downstairs because her leg hurts too much to walk upstairs. We settle Mom in and I go to the pharmacy and wait for her meds to be made up and then come home to make dinner, finding them bickering as soon as I walk in the door.
I guess it’s back to abnormal, which is normal for them, I don’t understand but I guess some couples love each other but don’t really like each other. Does that make any sense? …I’d rather be single than wind up like that, but maybe that’s better than being alone. I thank God that Mom is okay as I lay in bed so tired I can’t sleep, I think about work tomorrow and the concert on Thursday night and work again half a day on Saturday too. I’m gonna feel like someone whooped my ass by Sunday, oh wait a minute…I already do!
Well it’s an auspicious occasion for me tonight, I am six days away from my one year anniversary on WordPress. To coin a well-worn phrase it’s “been a long strange trip” but really not so strange and actually it has been wonderful! When I started this BLOG a year ago I was home sick from my many wanderings in New York City, burning the candle at both ends as it were. But when I wrote my “About” page and my first post “Now with Subtitles” I couldn’t have imagined where it would lead and how it would change me as an artist and as a writer.
While I always knew that I could write pretty good at least as far as my school teachers grades indicated, it wasn’t till I attended college that my English 101 teacher Prof. Wigetow told me when asked that I could be a writer, he said it with conviction and without hesitation. But it was on a cool night on Oct 22nd 2008 that my world was changed when I; waiting for Duffy to take to the stage, was questioned by a woman asking what I was writing in my notebook. While I told her she was joined by her brother W.B.Wilkins, Wilkins (a former english teacher and actor) upon finding out that I intended to wait until the winter to start writing, gave me a lesson I’ll never forget. He covered how one goes about writing, but more importantly how I should go about writing about my experiences. He told me to do this in two days not two months!,and to try to convey what I’m feeling and what others are feeling. If I can write a piece that speaks to 80% of the people then I turn writing into saleable art.
But he warns me not to expect to make money at it, just like painting the pleasure is in the doing, the experience of the work and the love of the written word. If you are very lucky, people will pay you for it! This is all punctuated by light taps on my chest, a rub to my arm and a squeeze of my bicep. It’s done in a fatherly reinforcing way and with a handshake he and his sister who is also a teacher, moved off to get a good spot for the concert that was starting.
I left that episode out of the Duffy piece because I thought it broke the flow of the story but now give the credit where it is due, I have tried to convey in all my NY travel stories exactly what he said, how it feels to be there at that moment. To give my readers the sights, smells, and tastes around me and also the people moving around me and how they might feel too. I feel as if I’ve done a good job of this but there is always room for improvement. I also have to acknowledge the influence of Jack Kerouack, his hand written notebooks and in the moment style have had immeasurable influence on me. The sheer brilliance of his raw novelist as reporter approach to his writing have served me very well and I really don’t think I would be this far along if it wasn’t for him. But I also have to give as much credit to William Burroughs, his loose yet careful words have shown me how a writer can be like a jazz musician, light and dark, fast and slow, all at once or each emotion on it’s own terms. There is also room to mention Tolkien and James P. Blaylock both created antediluvian worlds that made me want to live there, where good quiet folk found themselves fighting evil and having adventures. They are still favorite reads for me and the work never gets old even after multiple readings of Tolkiens “The Hobbit” and Blaylocks best “The Disappearing Dwarf” and “The Elven Ship” they will be read again and again till I am gone from this world.
The influence of another figure who is not only a writer but also a well-known former executive chef and star of two hit shows, one for the food network (which is no longer on the air) and currently an Emmy Award winning show for the Travel Channel. I’m talking about the loveably snarky and iconoclastic Anthony Bourdain. He has been my mentor, my man-crush, and my pick-me-up on Monday nights at the beginning of a long week of work. I listen closely especially to the voice over at the end of the show where he tries to sum up his experience in a particular place or country. While images of the trip flash by he recites his words, the liquid wisdom he has written in the moment. Very often the insight about the world and the human condition become (for me at least) the best part of an already excellent show. These programs have fired my imagination and along with my trip to England and France in 2005, have given me a wanderlust that right now…I can’t satisfy. The lack of expendable cash and responsibilities on the home front have kept me from journeying away. But I know that someday Tony, I too will swing in my hammock on the edge of the lake in Indonesia, in my little house and wait for “pancake man” to come in his boat on a sunny morning to give me breakfast. Yes, this at least I’ve promised to myself.
But since I will probably never get to meet you face to face and tell you this story I’ll write it now, and maybe you’ll read this someday. I have never been a great lover of seafood, even though I have Swedish and Norwegian blood and my Great Grandfather was a sea capitan I have never much liked the water and could only stomach a few kinds of fish even into my twenties and thirties. In grammar school of course I ate tunafish sandwich and I liked fish sticks as long as it was all white, no discoloration please! Frozen deep-fried Howard Johnson’s clam strips or shrimp were a favorite too…thanks Mom.
But I could not stomach the real hardcore seafood, I’m talking about the shellfish. On a good day I could handle a lobster tail (when I was older) but drew the line at a whole lobster or even crab legs, I had no desire at all to perform an autopsy on my dinner! The humble Mussel was enough to make me hurl, the sight of the chambered form inside with its Lovecraftian appendages, bubbling and blaspheming in a pot of Cioppino at my cousin Chrissy’s house, could send me screaming about the “Old Ones” into the night, and don’t even get me started on snails! But in 2006 things would change in a special way.
My aforementioned cousin Chrissy had been battling cancer since 2003, and had survived an operation that would have killed most people, they are probably still studying her case. The cancer had spread from the intestines to the liver and ovaries, kidneys, stomach-the lot. They removed so much tissue from her body it was a miracle she lived, but live she did. She would live to vacation in Jamaica and take many other trips away with her husband and two girls, and I living nearby would drop in to see her without notice just to sit and tell her of my adventures or problems, you could always count on honesty with Chrissy, even if she didn’t always tell you what you wanted to hear.
We had a special bond as painters but had gone to only one art show together since I started to paint in 1999,she was raising a family and I was busy with my own life. So in 2006 Chrissy and her husband Bruce decided to host Christmas for all the family, these were always happy times for me, I loved sitting at the table with my cousin Chrissy and her sister Donna, Bruce and Pat their husbands, my cousins daughters Sharon, Michelle, and Jennifer and my brother Chris as well as all the parents of our tribe. We would go off telling war stories and riffing on each other in a friendly way that would be punctuated by the raucous laugh of Chrissy and high-pitched guffaw of Donna and my own explosive laugh. So on this night things were a little more subdued but not much and when the hot food was served I saw that there was many seafood items to be eaten tonight. I realized that this may be Chrissy’s last Xmas with us and when I had already tried the other dishes of chicken, various pastas, eggplant, zucchini, roasted peppers and mushrooms. I went to the table of freshly laid out seafood and scanned the offerings, there was Cioppino, small snails in tomato and garlic tapenade, crab legs with butter, stuffed clams in garlic butter, seafood stew, a feast of garlicy tomato Italian tradition.
I took it all back to the table and bravely tucked right in with my cousin sitting across from me beaming as I discovered that some of this was actually very good! I ate and talked with her enjoying the face time with her and for a while it was not very obvious that she was sick. There was no way I wasn’t going to do so, like Tony says on the show when people are giving till it hurts, even if you don’t like it-you eat it and you smile and you ask for more, to do anything else would be an insult.
My cousin died eleven months later in November of 2007 and it was touching that she seemed to wait until Stanly Kramer, her old art teacher in grammar school, now the school principal. Had to come to see her before she would let go, that’s how strong her bond was with him and with her art. We get together now without her and it’s cool to see how her daughter Jennifer has taken over Chrissy’s role as the raucous storyteller, regaling us with her tales of working in the fashion industry in New York City and Donna too seems to have joined her as well filling the gap left by Chrissy’s passing, and Chrissy’s other daughter Michelle, (a photographer who looks like her mother) quietly takes embarrassing pictures of all of us-yes we will get you for it too Michelle just wait.
I did some growing up that night and since then I have found myself trying more foods that take me out of my comfort zone, even though I might not like them at least I try them now, veal, seafood, unfamilair meats, blood sausage, lagastino lobster, and anything else offered to me I eat without hesitation. I no longer sit on the sidelines and watch as others enjoy and encourage me to do the same and refuse, too caught up in myself to be polite and join in. I learned there is a big difference between taking a stand against a certain type of food for health reasons or moral obligation, and not trying a certain food out of immaturity.
So thank you Anthony Bourdain for helping me to grow a lot, and for putting a smile on my dying cousin’s heart. Indeed with your own writing not just for your show (and it’s accompanying books) but also your fiction, which I have also enjoyed very much. You have informed my writing too, just like the master writers of this century and I hope you stay here in New York and keep doing No Reservations for many more years to come. This viewer will never grow tired of it.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the one thing that my writing has given me, the most important thing…a friend. When I started reading others work I came across the blog of Maureenj aka White Orchid and after commenting on something she wrote, found her also looking at my page and since then we have become good friends. The fact is that only a few other people have bothered to comment on my posts and the comments have all been good, but no one follows my blog like Maureen. This past year we have weathered many storms in our own life but still find time and energy to encourage each other and comment on each others blog posts. She has become the older sister I was supposed to have in many ways and although I have not shared some of my deeper problems and fears with her, (especially since she had a medical scare this year and a death in the family) I have come to realize she is my true friend. We talk of our desire to meet one day and I often find myself day dreaming about my trip to Australia or hers to New York, where I would undoubtedly be the personal tour guide for her that I want to be in the near future, and was with my relatives from England in April of this past year.
Mark and Sharon came over and changed my life without even knowing it at the time, the days spent showing them the Village and Midtown Manhattan were the happiest this year, and led to my realizing that this might be my true calling. This was reinforced by meeting Robert Fogelnest; a former tour guide and Village authority whose book I bought and study along with many others on all things good and bad about New York City.
So right now while I weather the storm of debt consolidation and zero credit available to me I cannot indulge in the finer things in New York City. I have to learn to write about other topics anyway, still have some story’s to tell about New York and some experiences I had before all this blogging, theater-going, tour guiding study and hardcore foodie stuff started. The very first story I wrote as an intentional piece of journalism was a story about street art that I wrote in 2007 when I was so wrapped up in my story that I didn’t even review the food I was eating in a now closed Sri Lankan restaurant, which is strange because I remember it was good. The story of our trip to England and Paris is all a blur now but I can try to look at pictures and piece it together to make it live. I also have the hope of coming into some money soon, by legal means I assure you which will be enough to pay off a few bills not covered by the debt consolidation in which case I could be in a few months very close to breathing a sigh of relief and able to continue my adventures.
So right now after watching Paradise Found with Keifer Sutherland last night I am also trying to become an artist again, and trying to meld both my writing and my art into switches I can throw on or off depending on my mood instead of one or the other, which is the way it’s been since early 2007, I haven’t painted a thing in two years,why…I don’t know.
I am grateful to Word Press for their support and presence on the web, and to Cheru Jackson of Alphainventions for helping me to promote my page, and to my Mom, whose diary writing, and her repeatedly showing and speaking aloud the first three letters of the alphabet to me as a baby, have undoubtedly had a lasting effect on me as a writer and reader. As always it’s the little things like this that mean the most.
It has been a great ride and I hope to continue this for the rest of my life, even if I never make it as a writer or an artist it’s OK. The most important thing is that while I write or paint I’m alive, doing what I enjoy and not wasting time with mindless activities or destructive behavior. Thanks to all the cast of characters in my life, which is my work of art, as I am in others casts…so may all of us grow. Thanks for reading and influencing my life and art, and if your ever in New York City drop me a line and we’ll have a drink or two, and one more thing…try the veal at Le Rivage on W. 46th St…it’s really good.
Long Island, NY 2009