Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.


Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Pink Microscope, concluded

Gong finds him sometime later, slumped over the desk.
"I find something," Gong announces.
"Not now."
"I find. You look."
"Gong, can't you understand English? I said not now."
"I understand English fine. You look what I find. You look now."
Allan turns. Gong is standing with his arm outstretched. Flat on his palm are a pair of small, dark rimmed spectacles, their temples slightly askew.
Missy's glasses.

Betty, it turns out, really is in Italy. She told him the Tina story to buy enough time to get out of the country. She has apprenticed herself to Marcella Hazan's son. She has also retained the services of an excellent lawyer, who will shortly serve Allan papers.

Gong has accepted a junior faculty position at Oregon Health Sciences University.

Gordon Knaffler's wife finds out about Sabine. She, too files for divorce. Gordon and Sabine, jubilant, are planning a July wedding. They tell Allan they hope he'll be well enough by then to attend.

Allan only nods. Later, driving home, Gordon says it's tragic that Allan must be so heavily dosed with lithium. "That brilliant mind," He says in his sonorous voice. "ruined."

Sabine winces, recalling the day Allan was removed from his office by the University Police, raving about tutu-wearing microscopes, Marie Curie, and unsolved murders.

Time passes. The pleat in everyday reality smooths. People begin to forget what happened.

In Korea, at Seoul National University, a box arrives at a scientist's office. Soon wondrous claims are emerging: cloned dogs, stem cells created from twenty-odd clean cell lines. The possibilities for alleviating suffering cannot be ignored. So much, it seems, is suddenly within reach.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Duck Confit!

Moments after being ladled into a sterilized jar.

Below, the home confiting experience.

Friday, July 28:
Used a little over four teaspoons kosher salt on six legs. Refrigerated at 12:25 p.m.

Saturday, July 29:
11 a.m.

I took legs from fridge, rinsed them, patted dry, left them to come to room temp.

While the legs warmed, I took out four pounds of duck fat. One pound was mine, collected over several months of duck dishes. The rest was the aforementioned Grimaud's of Stockton.

After a spatula failed to extricate the fat from its plastic container, I used my (clean) fingers to pry the stuff free. Dumped it into my Le Creuset Braiser (see above). In mere moments the entire kitchen was spattered with duck fat. It made me think of all those pretty cookbook photos of garbure in yellow crockery bowls and duck nestled invitingly againt purple cabbage. Wouldn't it be great to see some photos of kitchens mid-prep? Every available space taken up with dirty bowls and wooden spoons and the hubby's breakfast dishes? I would have taken some myself, but my hands were too slimy.

So while the duck fat slowly melted on the stovetop, I washed up. Worried about clogging my sink drain, I put the empty fat containers in the recycling bin.

Judy Rodgers advises heating the fat until it is warm to the touch, then adding the legs and bringing everything to simmer point. I misread, heated the fat to 190 degrees, which took a half an hour, realized my error, and took the pan off the stove to cool. I Waited. Cleaned up some more. Waited some more. At one p.m., the fat was finally lukewarm. In went the legs.

Once stovetop, temperature became the challenge. Rodgers calls for a "steady near simmer". She keeps her confit between 200 and 210 degrees. On my electric Sears stove, 190 degrees was more like deep frying. As the fat grew hotter, I had to keep turning down the heat to prevent boiling.

Reasoning that slow and low would be better than hot and ruined, I turned the burner way down. My burners are numbered from one to nine, nine being boiling point. I found equilibirum at the "two" setting.

At 2:15 I tested the meat. Rodgers says it should be resilient but not fork-tender. Done.

After ten minutes I transferred the meat to my new canning jar with tongs, then ladled the fat over all.

A few notes....Paula Wolfert says any fat leftover from the confiting process can be frozen and used for other confiting projects, which leads me to wondering about that tall jar of fat. What happens to it once the duck is eaten? Do I have to toss it? Or can it be reused to for another confit?

I found I needed to skim more than Rodgers recommended. In fact, I skimmed constantly.

Wolfert says confit should be sealed with a layer of lard; Rodgers says nothing about it. Nor does Fergus Henderson. To seal or not to seal?

Finally, once the three week curing time has passed and we can chow down, must we finish the opened jar within a week, or does it indeed keep a while, provided I use tongs and not my dirty fingers to extricate the legs?

The truth is out there. Suggestions and/or answers appreciated!

This was quite a project, one whose outcome remains unknown. A significant difference between American and French Southwestern cookery is time: Americans are always rushing. Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals. Rachael Ray's 30 minute meals. Sandra Lee's Semi-Homemade (This woman really frightens me) everything. A search on the Powell's Books website for "quick and easy cooking" elicited 748 matches!

In contrast, duck confit has, thus far, required an eighteen-hour salt cure, about ninety minutes given over to washing the duck and allowing it to come to room temp, ninety more minutes of cooking time, then several hours of cooling before refrigeration. Now we wait three weeks for the duck to do its ducky thing. Here is what Paula Wolfert has to to say about aging confit:

"As with other preserved meats, a certain amount of time is necessary to allow the chemical changes to take place that will produce the husky flavor of true confit. People on rushed schedules can taste their confit within a week or so, for that matter, as soon as it finishes cooking.....But....True confit requires at least two to three weeks to begin to develop its character."

Notably, nearly every recipe in The Cooking of Southwest France calls for preparation several days in advance; almost all the dishes are to be eaten the next day, or the day after that. Make the confit above, the berries in Armagnac, or the Rillettes of Shredded Duck, and be prepared to wait anywhere from one week to a month.

Why am I attracted to such complex, time-consuming recipes? It's not as if I have nothing better to do...I work full time. I like a clean house. Somebody needs to do the laundry.

But here I am typing away, logged into the net with nary a cord in sight. Even more alarming, in the three weeks since acquiring this laptop and the wireless internet access that came with it, I have become addicted to it. I want my New York Times online. I want to know what's happening in the world. Now.

I find myself roaming the internet, skipping from blog to blog. Me, the book lover! The confirmed luddite!

Even worse, each day I check out Google Analytics, which is to blogging what reader reviews is to the newly-published author.

It's so easy to get sucked into the endless stream of information, instant feedback, and my own (small) role in it.

Making confit got my hands (and everything else) dirty. It made me think on my feet. And now, after all that work, I have to wait, because confit-making comes from a time when year-round meat was a gift, not a given, and preserving methods answered a need, not a desire. For an everything-all-the-time American, with my Mac Airport Extreme and 748 options for quick cookery books, waiting is instructive. Waiting is enforced slowdown. And the end result will be far better than anything I might have purchased, simply because of the time that went into making it.

Time well spent.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Linkie Winkie

[Hockeyman here. I was looking at the site traffic stats (yes, there are stats! Thanks, readers!) and I noticed that it had been crawled by Linkie Winkie. You may be wondering, as I did, what 'the hell' that is. Click, and you'll know as much as I do. Barking Kitten objected to posting this on the grounds that is is a form of 'Blog Whoring' I told her it was more like fishing - get the bait where the fish are, and maybe they'll bite. Anyway, my wisdom and brilliance are not the point. The point is that Barking Kitten, the artist around here, is pure. I am the blog whore. - HM]

Pink Microscope, continued.....

Night comes. "What did you do?" He asks Marya.

She is sitting in the wooden chair he reserves for undergraduates. Not sitting; floating, as if an approximation of sitting were somehow necessary for his benefit.

She smiles, displaying those bright teeth. Is Allan only now just noticing their needle-sharp tips?

"I don't know what you're talking about. Let's get to work, shall we?"
Must push against this smiling thing. "What did you do with Missy?"

But suddenly she is changing color, a steely gray that begins at the ends of her hair, working toward the roots, then her skin, flooding down over her body, the cape-tutu thing. All of it, in an instant, a glassy gunmetal, an new-age architectural material sheathing an already impenetrable edifice. "You're forgetting what I am," She says. Gone is the sweetly musical lilt; in its place is a hoarse growl, barely comprehensible, an unutterably strange sound with undertones of grinding machinery.

"You're a microscope," Allan says in what he hopes is a reasonably level voice. He is terrified.

Marya's cheerful pinkness returns. "That's right," she agrees, and her voice is a concatenation of music and femiminity and that awful machine sound. "I am a microscope."

She produces the disk, and Allan blissfully forgets himself in the wondrous experiment opening before him.

Driving home that evening, he reassures himself that this will soon be over. Marya has promised him the material is nearly ready for release. Missy will likely return, or at least contact him with her resignation. (Maybe he should purchase a Palm Pilot, or a Blackberry. Put important dates into it. He imagines himself briskly tapping into the tiny machine, elegant little stylus in hand. Tina and Betty and Missy, all recalled, all showered in remembered roses. Knaffler admiring his nifty gadget.) He would hire another manager, somebody equally organized, but less aggressive. Maybe an Asian woman with a head for numbers. The University's accounting offices are filled with these ladies, tiny women with limited English, subservient smiles, and terrific accounting skills.

Yes. Changes were afoot, but hadn't he longed for change?

The house is dark, not even the usual porch light left on. The bulb must be out. Allan jabs the keys blindly at the doorknob. It's late, it's dark, and though his neighborhood is an exclusive one, in these unstable times, nobody is completely safe.

Success, the key slides in, the knob turns. No light in the foyer, either. Power failure? Tentatively his fingers find the wall switch. The light comes on. Allan feels a surge of irritation. Is it so much for Betty to leave a couple lights on? He drops his keys on the small table in the foyer, an antique writing desk now used to hold mail, keys, sunglasses. Betty has left him a note. She is tired of his lies. She is staying with Tina and Robby.

Allan restrains himself until seven a.m., then dials his daughter's telphone number, convienently written on the whiteboard beside the kitchen phone.

Robby answers, sounding surprised but polite. Robert Harnack is always polite to his father-in-law. Before marrying the surpassingly dull Tina, Robert made a discreet trip the County Assesor's Office. Allan Nyman bought his house on Scenic in 1965 for $42,000. Since then it has quadrupled in value. And Tina, praise God (something Robby does, each Sunday, in various churches around the area. It's wonderful way to meet clients), is an only child.

Allan asks to speak with his daughter.
"I'm sorry, Dad, she's at yoga class."
"Betty, then. Is she awake? Can you put her on the line?"
"Mom's not here, Dad. She called Tina yesterday. Said she was going to Italy. Some Italian Farmhouse cooking thing."
It crosses Allan's mind that his son-in-law may be lying. But it is wishful thinking and he knows it. Further, there is no way he can extricate himself smoothly from this conversation. "Sorry to have bothered, you. My best to Tina."
"Sure, Dad."
"I'm not your fucking father," Allan says into the dead receiver. He could check their joint bank account, look up recent credit charges, find the plane ticket, the reservation for one at some charming little castle outside Rome.
But he knows he won't find anything.

How did he get to work? He does not recall leaving the house, the short drive to campus. But he's here, unshaven, still in yesterday's clothing. Standing over the box. She's in there, he can tell. The slats move slightly, regularly. There is the occasional rustling sound as she shifts in her sleep. Is it sleep? Or some state of suspended animation?

Allan closes his door. It's a Sunday at year's end. Even Gong is gone. The lab, indeed the entire building, is deserted. The building manager has turned down the thermostat. The air is chilly and dark.

Allan sits in his desk chair. He does not turn on the computer or poke through the endless drift of papers on his desk. He waits.

He is determined to sit here until night falls, to confront the thing in the box. He is afraid, yes, but he is also a scientist, a man of inquisitive mind. And he must get to the bottom of this.

Such thoughts march through his head, stiffening his spine, filling him with righteous resolve. Until, chin drooping into his chest, he falls asleep.

He wakens confused, back and neck aching from sleeping upright. How long has he been out? Hard to say, though dark has fallen. Six hours? Eight?

Time, it's time to talk with her. He clears his throat, looks at the box--

It's empty, the lid carelessly tossed aside, trails of shredded pink paper tissue strewn about, as if a child had been playing in the packing material.

Allan turns about the office, even looking in the tiny coat closet. He searches the lab, the darkroom, Missy's office.

Marya, the microscope, is gone. As are Missy and Betty.

Must not panic. Must not become hysterical.

Allan stumbles back to his office, almost tripping. Dropping to his knees before the box, he plunges frantically through the torn bits of paper, God there's so much of it, does a ton of shredded paper weigh as much as a ton of feathers?

His fingers close on a square of hard plastic. Truimphantly he pulls it free, sending paper in every direction. The office looks like a shredder exploded in it. Allan doesn't notice. Jamming the disk into the zip drive, he waits for the icon to appear on the desktop. There, there. Allan double-clicks, forcing himself not to jimmy the mouse. Breathe. Slow down. His heart is pounding, he can feel the blood rushing through his eardrums.

It's garbage. Gobbledygook. Meaningless strings of letters, numbers, with occasional bolded bits or randomly italicized chunks of text. For one tiny second Allan wonders whether this is some sort of code, a further safety device installed by Marya, something the programmers could figure out.

He stares at the screen, mind racing. Something must come to him, was he not a Keck Fellow, a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator, second in his class at the University of Washington?

Absently he swiped his upper lip with the back of his hand. So hot, he's always so goddamned hot, like a menopausal woman.

Focus, he commands himself, then laughs aloud at the injunction, a bitter short bark.

But look at this sequence of numbers. He leans closer to the screen, nose nearly touching it, as if proximity will lend clarity.

7 18 5 5 4 2 4
6 15 15 12 9 19 8
13 1 14

The numbers are scattered throughout the rest of the mishmash--pages and pages of garbage. But those numbers always appear in the same order, sometimes bold, sometimes italic, sometimes a jagged mixture of fonts and sizes.

Allan has always been adept at puzzles. This one takes no time at all. Each number represents a letter of the alphabet: a child's code. He scrawls each letter with its corresponding number on his desk blotter.




Friday, July 28, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging

Hockeyman took this shot of our child substitute last night. Note how he sits on the couch instead of the throw above, intended for him and his shedding. Note also the extended paw. Though he appears enormous, he is a mere nine pounds, most of that fur, which can be found all over the house.

Cats. What can you do but love them?

Sorry for the blur factor.

Ducks and Bunnies

I had today off and spent it preparing for a weekend cooking jag. The confit adventure begins!

Berkeley Bowl, alas, had no duck fat. They did, however, have duck legs. I bought six, then stopped by Market Hall's Enzo's Butcher Shop, where, in the furthest corner, hiding behind a freezer full of fancy stocks, I found Grimaud's Graisse de Canard Clarifiee, product of Stockton, California.

Stockton, the United States' answer to Landes. Who knew?

I bought four containers--four pounds--at $7.99 a pop. I tried consoling myself with the notion that I'd saved money on gasoline and BART fare. That lasted about four seconds. The truth is fancy cooking is an expensive hobby.

Once home, I pored over The Zuni Cafe Cookbook. Judy Rodgers demystifies the entire process, so I set about trimming my duck legs of "ragged bits" of fat, which I rendered. Rodgers' recipe calls for a scale. I don't own one, but noted the package weight (a little over two pounds) and went from there. I rolled the legs in a bit over four teaspoons of kosher salt, laid it all in a pyrex baking dish, and tucked it into the fridge. Tomorrow I will rinse the salt and carefully cook them in all that pricey fat. Stay tuned.

Once the duck was safely salted and cooling, I turned to the bunny, cleavering it into pieces: front legs, back legs, saddle. My cleaver technique would make Masaharu Morimoto shriek. Fortunately, my sole audience was the kitty, who wasn't interested. More Zuni Cafe: salt, rinse, pour millk over all.

Shabbos and I am seething bunnies in mother's milk . Not really, but.....

Never mind. Into the fridge!

A quick check on last Sunday's raspberries in Armagnac revealed nothing scary growing in the jar. I tasted a spoonful: some fruit, still mostly brandy. It's turning a pretty deep red color.

The heatwave has receded here. I am hugely grateful and simultaneously upset to read about the toll the weather is taking on humans, crops, and livestock. Read it and weep.

Remember those bumperstickers that read "Friends don't let Friends vote Republican?" How about friends don't let friends buy SUVs. Especially those damned Hummers. Why, why, why does ANYBODY need a pseudomilitary vehicle to get the kids to soccer?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Pink Microscope, continued.....

Three weeks later, Missy disappears.

It takes a few days for Allan to register her absence. He's tired, after all, and there's so much to do at semester's end, giving finals, turning in grades, critiquing theses. But a strange quiet hovers over the lab, gradually creeping into his office.

"Has anybody seen Missy?" He asks one morning, addressing the lab at large. A few heads look up, regarding Allan with complete lack of concern.

But then Gong speaks up. "I not see her four days." His voice is surprisingly loud and firm.

"Did she say anything about a vacation?" Allan feels foolish. In three years Missy has taken exactly one vacation, to tend her ailing mother. Not really a vacation, Allan thinks now. Where in hell is she?

No answer. He must appear in control of the situation. He strides down the narrow hallway toward her office. The door is ajar. Suppressing the urge to knock (it's his goddamned lab!), he swings the door wide and walks in.

The office is empty (as he knew it would be), looking, he thinks, as it always has. Not that he comes in here much; she comes to him. Papers are stacked in tall piles on the desk and side worktable, journals are arranged chronologically along the bookshelves.

Feeling like a snoop, Allan circles the desk, searching for information. A note, a post-it, an indication of something, anything. But the desk reveals nothing.

The computer is on, the screensaver weaving its fractal shapes in endless, meaningless webs. A photo is taped to the monitor's lower corner, a blond, smiling child of perhaps three. To his knowledge Missy has neither husband nor child. Or does she? is she even heterosexual? Allan realizes he knows nothing--nothing--of Missy's personal life. Does she wear a wedding ring? He has no idea. He's not even sure what her hand looks like. Long-fingered and elegant (like Marya's)? Sturdy and practical, short-nailed? How could he work with her all these years and know so very little?

Only this a nameless child, smiling up at him.

His hand reaches down, of its own accord, and moves the mouse. The screensaver evaporates.


Password? Fuck! Fuck!

Betamyloid, he hears from his office. The password is betamyloid.

The sticky protein fragment that fractures the axon-dendrite connection, fraying neural communication. Resulting in Alzheimer's, the disease killing Missy Wolf's mother in a nursing home in Long Beach, California.


And he's in. His heart is pounding, he's sweaty and a bit dizzy. Must must must take up the gym again.

Missy's virtual desktop is as tidy as her real one. Program icons line up along the screen's right side like so many ready soldiers; a slide of the mouse brings the Mac Dock bobbing into view like a dolphin in one of those horrible sea parks. Allan took Betty and Tina to one of those places years ago, in Florida, watched as the trainers put those poor beasts through hoops and bounce balls off their noses. Tina had gorged on cotton candy and vomited blue puke in their rental car--

Concentrate! Look!

But for what? He trolls through Missy's hardrive, through her email in-box (same password), finding nothing but her scrupulousness, her ruthlessly organized professional self rising up through text messages to Carolina Biological Supply, to the National Science Foundation, to her colleagues across campus.


He gives the inbox a final quick scan. He's eager to get out of here. Anybody might walk in and catch him rooting around.

Missy, for example.

An email from SLazarus, dated 12/13. Subject line: Lunch today?


Free for pizza at noon? G's wife is driving me mad!


So Gordon is in bed with her. Bastard.

Allan follows the conversational thread. The next email, again from Sabine, reads "Where to eat?"

How about Neptune? Dark and quiet, can talk in peace.


Below that, Missy's original reply:


Love to. Also being driven crazy, tho different reason. Why why why is Nyman sitting on a $550,000 piece of equipment he never takes out of its box? I swear I'm sneaking in over Holiday break and returning the damned thing. 550k means computer upgrades, a working laser printer, hell, a better microscope he might actually use.
I don't know what's gotten into him.
Where do you want to eat? Is 12:30 okay?

12/13/04. Four days ago.

I not see Missy four days.

Cold sweat trickles from Allan's armpits, dampens his undershirt as it rolls down his sides in nasty little rivulets. He gives a small, involuntary shiver, highlights the Sabine/Missy email exchange, deletes it. He shuts down Missy's computer, takes final look at the smiling child, then leaves the office, shutting the door behind him.

The day is suffused with anxiety. He half-expects to be questioned--by Sabine, by Gong, even by the police. But nobody seems especially rattled by Missy's absence. That is, nobody but Allan.

Rabbits and ducks and braces, oh my!

Yesterday afternoon I had three small, innocuous rubber bands jammed between my back lower molars and on upper left side of my mouth....and felt as if I'd been punched. I gummed polenta while Hockeyman happily ate his steak. Next week I am getting "resets", doubtless some insidious form of orthodontic agony. Burkhard Bilger wrote in the New Yorker that orthodonture is still barbaric. No shit.

Today I am nearly back to solid foods, having eaten a turkey sandwhich by disassembling it into component parts: meat, shallot (it was a catered luncheon), pickle, tomato, lettuce. Each went into my mouth individually. Fortunately, most of the guests were colleagues accustomed to my atrocious table manners.

I did buy a rabbit. Twenty-four bucks! Why? I mean, it's not organic, artisanal, or free range. I'm sure it's from very far away, violating the Bay Area imperative to eat locally.

After consulting the Zuni Cafe cookbook, I plan brine the bunny in milk and salt. Hopefully this will leave it tender as filet mignon when I braise it Sunday.

My other weekend cooking project is to prepare duck confit. The thing is, I have to score enough duck fat to do so, and I really don't want to haul into San Francisco's Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market for a zillion-dollar jar of fat from Boulette's Larder. I am hoping to find some either at Berkeley Bowl (it's amazing what the butchers there can come up with from the back) or, if I have to, Oakland's Market Hall, that always-jammed, insanely upscale emporia of edible exotica.

So the confit, for the moment, is just a maybe.

Yesterday's other grand find was Jane Grigson's Food with the Famous. It's hardcover, the American first edition, but missing the dust jacket. The binding is a bit frail.

I've long been keeping an eye out for her books, but like Elizabeth David's, they almost never appear used. I tried to order Good Things and was informed it will be appear in an American edition in November, just in time for my birthday.

The book is a discussion of various famous folk and their food predilections, complete with recipes. I've never heard of Parson James Woodforde (1740-1803), but his diary details every morsel he put into his mouth, along with asides about the help:

"Betty, both the washerwomen as well as ourselves. say that our maid Molly is with child, but she persists in it that she is not." (50)

His description of the pigs becoming drunk after getting into the leftover beermakings had me lauging hysterically at my desk, which is never a good way to draw attention at work.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

More Pink Microscope

She is already out of the box, in fact perched upon it, her pink cape moving lazily about her, as if a slight wind were blowing through the office. "Let's get to work," she says.

"Wait a minute." Allan wants to ask a few questions, questions he's pushed back all day. Where is she from? How did she come to be?
She only waves a dismissive arm. "You're wasting time," she says, disapproving.
"What's your name, then? Surely you can tell me that."
"A name? I'm a microscope. Does your centrifuge have a name? Do you name the cameras?" Scorn sends flashes of raspberry red through her pink cape-stuff.
But Allan persists. The scientist in him must name things. Including this female whatever calling herself an instrument of science.

"Marya," He says. Marya Sklodovska, the woman who later became Marie Curie and discovered Radium with her beloved Pierre. He wanted to give Tina the name; Betty refused, calling it old-fashioned and ugly. Tina, living in the hills with realtor-Robby and her varnished nails: she has lived down to her name. If she had been named Marya, or even Iréne, would she have a thought in her head today?

No matter. Allan looks at the apparition seated before him, swinging one iridescent leg impatiently. Finally he will be what he has always wanted: Pierre. Dashing, brilliant, adored. The pink microscope will be his Marya.

Again, they set to work. Again, the magical sense of transcendance, of ease. Allan is a neurobiologist. For the first two decades of his career he studied synapse formation and function. Lately, just lately, these topics have begun to bore him. A midlife crisis of sorts. Instead of acquiring a Sabine Lazarus, or driving a sporty automobile, Allan has been casting about for a different scientfic direction, something sexy and new and exciting. Something hot, that will attract lots of funding. First authorships in Science, in Neuron. To the frustration and puzzlement of his students (Missy, it must be admitted, is at her wits' end with what she views as his childlishness), Allan has picked up, then discarded, a few intruiging paths: mammalian visual systems, neurological imaging. Then he ran into Charlie Katz at Woods Hole. He'd known Charlie a bit in grad school; now he taught at U Chicago. Over a vinegary Pino Grigio the two hatched a plan that revisited synapse formation while incorporating studies of proteins. Proteins are very big just now, folding them, splicing them up and sticking them into foreign hosts, mice, bunnies, kitties. Missy is suddenly burdened with animal subjects protocols, paperwork so odious she demanded, and received, a raise for placating the University's stringent Human/Animal Subjects Committe, lovingly known an the Animal Nazis.

But the work, however compelling, moves slowly. The NIH dawdles over their grant proposal; Allan's lab community remains bewildered. One young woman, a second year student of great promise, has sought a new thesis advisor. The rest plug along, reading the literature, trying to grok out a sense of what Allan is looking for. He and Charlie write one another daily, bashing their way toward a thesis, feeling their Korean and Chinese and Stanfordian colleagues breathing down their necks, femtoseconds from scooping them.

But now, with Marya, the knotty questions smooth out, resolving neatly into words, sentences, paragraphs that set out not only the hypothesis but potential experiments. Allan is alive with joy. How had he gone along before, so numbed to existence? He can hardly wait to email this draft to Charlie. Then he will hold lab meeting a day early to explain the experiments to the group. He'll order sandwhiches and beer, his dime, then everyone will happily set to work.

(Gordon, damned him, will be so jealous!)

(Missy will be thrilled. She'll tell Sabine all about it--Allan has noticed the two are friendly--and then, perhaps, Sabine will approach him, timidly, and ask for a transfer to his lab.)

(Maybe Stanford will finally make an offer.)

(Maybe, maybe, he'll get a telephone call from Sweden.)

"Bedtime," Marya says, rising up on her toes. Allan watches, still entranced. What lies beneath the pink folds? A woman's anatomy, in all its seashell mystery? Or is Marya more like a mermaid, cold and scaly? She smiles at him, as if reading his thoughts, then climbs into her nest. "Allan?"
"Don't tell anyone yet."
"The work. It isn't ready yet. Keep still about it for just a bit. Until it's ready."
One long finger rises to her perfect lips, which pucker, heart-shaped. "Shhh. Shhh. Be patient, mon Pierre."
He melts. He nods. And she pulls the wooden lid over herself, waiting out the daylight.

Weeks pass, and still Marya demands he wait. To placate the lab, he starts them on a set of synapse experiments. His small group is relieved: they consult him with carefully worked, resolutely tested results. They speak of manuscripts. He nods, agrees, barely paying attention. He writes Charlie, hating having to hold back, longing to open his files and cast a look over the previous evening's efforts. But he cannot: each night Marya transfers their work to a zip disk, which she tucks into the drapey folds of what he's come to think of as her tutu. She must hold on to the disk for safety reasons. What if his computer were hacked? If one of the grad students rummaged through his hard drive? Allan protests, faintly: firewalls, passwords, responsible students.

"Missy." Marya says in a voice of onyx, of brilliantine. Missy.

Marya protects the work.

"Your're having an affair," Betty says. It's a Saturday evening, actually, an early Sunday morning. She confronts him in the foyer, fully dressed despite the insane hour. She's been waiting for him.

"Nonsense. I told you, I've been working."

Betty sputters, composure dissolving. A litany emerges. Late nights, uneaten meals, forgetfulness (Worse than usual: Tina's birthday. Their anniversary.). Doesn't he realize she notices he’s lost weight? And that they haven't, well, been together in months? (Betty has never been able to utter the following words: lovemaking, sex, fucking. Nor was she ever much for performing them.)

Allan stares at his wife. He considers explaining. Betty wouldn't understand a word of it; no harm would come. She might even be placated.

"Let's sit down," He says in his professor-talking-to-a-failing-student voice.

Betty sits. Allan begins, in a carefully surface way, to describe his amazing new project, how rejuvenating it is, its implications not only for research, but for his status. He has always lectured skillfully, been evaluated favorably by the undergrads he is occasionally forced to teach. The words flow easily from his mouth. Betty's eyes, predictably, empty as he speaks. When he finishes, her tears resume.

"But I'm so lonely," She cries.

At this, Allan cannot think of a single thing to say.

Sometimes you just want a burger

No rissoles, daubes, or delicate bisques. No organic roasted chicken nestled on a bed of heirloom veggies. Just a burger, a nice fatty one mooshed up with worcestshire and tabasco. And (gasp) frozen Cascadian Farm french fries, oven baked beneath a shower of salt.

Have you given up on me? Admit it--sometimes you just want something plain and maybe not exactly high up on your doctor's healthy foods list. I sliced some cucumbers on the side. A nod to green things, okay?

Tomorrow I see the orthodontist (pushing forty, with braces...could I be LESS cool?), meaning Wednesday dinner will be soft. A nice risotto, some polenta, a dish of pasta. Our cupboard is nearly bare, so I will stop in the posh grocery conveniently located near my ortho and get Hockeyman some chewy animal protein. I will also buy a rabbit, because this particular store is the only place I've been able to find them locally. I plan a rabbit adventure over the weekend, when I will have time to fuss.

This will be my second go-round with bunny, the first time being fairly successful--Peter was a bit overcooked. He was a frozen fellow, quite expensive at twenty bucks (hence this being only the second time). I got some odd looks when I asked the counter guy for a rabbit, especially from the extremely pregnant woman next to me who had a toddler in tow. Both mother and child looked horrified, as if I'd asked them to hand over their pet. The shrink-wrapped carcass the butcher gave me looked nothing like the fuzzy pink-eyed guy the kid had at home, I assure you.

I am posting more story, but H-man says I should put it up as a separate post. Still learning the etiquette.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Eggplant, Gourmet Magazine, and more story

In many ways I am easy to please. Hockeyman would object to this assertion, but I speak of the small things--the cold beer beside me on this hot night, the arrival of the August Gourmet Magazine, with its "special reading supplement". Some great writers are in here: Jane Smiley, Ann Patchett, Nicole Mones, Monique Truong. I am restraining myself from opening it this very second, thus abandoning this post and dinner preparations (I am woman. See me multitask.).

Before leaving you with the latest installment of "the Pink Microscope", I bring happy eggplant tidings, this time courtesy of Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. This excellent cookbook is in constant use in my household; a sort of vegetarian Joy of Cooking, the book offers a wealth of preparations for just about every vegetable likely to cross an American table. Well, okay, she doesn't cover ramps. But then again, unless you live in New York, ramps are neither abundant nor cheap.

Last night, with Hockeyman acing as sous chef, we prepared Eggplant and Summer Vegetable Gratin. Modified, of course, to accomodate what we had in the fridge. The recipe takes some time, but is easy and well worth the effort: I never thought I'd hear Hockeyman rave about eggplant. And he did.

The orignial recipe, from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, Deborah Madison, Broadway Books, p.280, called for the following:

Globe eggplant
Olive Oil
salt and pepper
2 large onions
3 garlic cloves
1 large red bell pepper
2 large red ripe tomatoes
10 large basil leaves
1 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated parmesan

To abbreviate, you brown the eggplant, then cook down the onion, garlic, pepper, and tomatoes into a sauce. You then line a gratin with eggplant, then the sauce, etc. Bake, covered, 45 minutes. Add grated breadcrumbs and cheese on top with a bit of olive oil. Bake uncovered 25 minutes. Eat.

What we did:

Sliced and browned one eggplant
diced a small onion and one shallot
hacked up some garlic

Lacking peppers, with only a few Sweet 100 tomatoes left, I opened an 8 oz can of Muir Glen tomato sauce and cooked that down with the onions, garlic, and some fresh basil leaves. Meanwhile, Hockeyman sliced three purple Peruvian potatoes.

We layered all this in a gratin smeared with a bit of olive oil.

Baked in a 325-degree oven for forty minutes.

Added torn-up fresh breadcrumbs from a sourdough baguette, grated parmesan, olive oil. Cranked the oven to 375, sweated madly.

The result was, as I say, good enough to make H-man rave.

Just snuck a peek at the Gourmet supplement only to find David Rakoff's essay "Some Pig" about Jews and pork. File under nothing new under the sun. Hmmph!

Continuing "The Pink Microscope"....

He fetches a few things from the lab, his own notes, and the two sit side by side in his office. Time vanishes, and with it hunger, exhaustion, memory. He is an undergraduate again, aflame with passion for science, able to work with clarity as the hours pass from early evening to full night to morning.

And how do they work? He cannot really say, does not care to think to deeply of the evening, even when she suddenly pushes back her chair and folds herself back into the box, telling him to go home.

"But what about you? Don't you need a place to stay? Something to eat?" He imagines driving her home to Betty. Betty! He runs a hand through his thinning hair. She'll be frantic by now.

"I'm fine right here." She smiles. "You go home now."

He does, dreading what he'll find waiting. But Betty is asleep on the couch. A note on the table reads "Soup in the fridge."
Suddenly he's ravenous. When did he last eat? Can't recall. He finds the container and pops it into the microwave, trying to be quiet, but as he's pouring the soup into a bowl, Betty comes in. "Let me do that," She says.

He relinquishes the bowl. The kitchen is her territory, and besides, he needs all his remaining energy for apologizing, which he does, profusely. "I was working," He says, which is of course the truth, if not the entire truth.

"My new microscope arrived," He babbles on. "It's magnificent."
Betty looks blank. Once upon a time he tried to explain his work to her, simplifying it so she could understand. But she only nodded and smiled, making no effort to comprehend. He gave up.
"This is great soup," He says. "What is it?"
"Nettle," She says, yawning. She doesn't seem angry, just sleepy and resigned.
"I'm sorry," He says again, wishing she would respond, get angry, forgive him, something besides looking at him with those cow eyes.
"Just call next time so I know what to do about dinner."
Call. Yes, of course, he meant to. But he thinks of the Pink Woman rising from the box, how reality fell away. He forgot to ask her name. Or whether she would be there tomorrow.

She is there, grumpy when he pushes the lid aside and peers in. "Ugh!" She cries. "Let me sleep!"
She is vampiric, if there exists such a thing. Irritably she shooes him off. "Come back later!"
"But when?" Allan is crushed. He's been rejected, anew, by pretty Alisha Scolnick, who refused to attend prom with him thirty years ago.
"Night! Come back at night!"
Thus disimissed, Allan carefully slides the lid back into place. There's a firm knock on the door. It's Missy, pad in hand.
"Can we go over a few things?" She demands. Everything emerges from Missy's mouth a demand. She cannot help it: she is doomed to be one of the world's organizers, a duty thrust upon her by unwanted ability.
"Sure," Allan agrees. Must be easygoing. Or be found out. He will not, will not, look at the box, now butted up against the wall beside his enormous desk.
Missy runs through a list. A grant renewal, meetings, a luncheon with a visiting scientist. His collaborator calling from Chicago.
He listens, nods, agrees, denies, then she gets to the thing eating his concentration.
"What happened with the microscope?" Her eyes are brown, so dark they are nearly black behind little wire-rimmed glasses.
"It's right here," Allan says vaguely. How to get her off the subject? Missy is a terrier: once something is in her teeth, she'll work it until it's chewed to her satisfaction. Normally he appreciates this quality; today he must check his rising anxiety.
"I see that. Shall I get Mischa and Dave to set it up?"
"No...I took it out last night and had a might not be what I wanted. I...I think I might want to return it."
Missy pounces. "Return it? Is it broken? If something's wrong I'll have to contact purchasing, re-invoice it--"
"There's the warrantee--"
"Missy, forget about it. Forget you ever ordered it. I'll let you know what I decide."
"But nothing. Is that everything? I haven't even looked at my email yet."
God, there's that icy eyebrow again. Spinning on her bootheel, Missy departs.

Chortling behind him. A lazy, drawling yawn. "Very nicely done, Professor. Nicely done."

Allan shivers. How will he concentrate? He turns his attention to the computer, opens his email. Launches into his day.
And the microscope moves to the back of his mind, taking up a pleasant residence there, an anticipatory tingle of future pleasure. He works on his grant renewal (the NIH will kick it back, he can tell already), lunches with the visiting colleague (a terrifically pretentious bore), attends a meeting where the secretary (adminstrative assistant!) takes notes whilst blowing large bubbles of chewing gum. Whatever happened to secretarial colleges, where girls learned typing, steno, shorthand, and how to wear those sexy little A-line skirts? Betty had been such a one, once, so captivating, with a petite figure and large dark eyes. She had acquiesced to his advances at once. Allan understood himself unequipped to deal with women. He was not handsome. He did not speak well about topics other than science. Betty had not minded. She watched and listened and nodded. When the cooler weather arrived, her cheeks flushed an appealing red. He had fallen in love with those red cheeks and narrow blue skirts. Only after they married did he understand that beneath Betty's sweet nature there lay no native intelligence. A year into their marriage, Tina was born. Allan had hoped the little girl might exhibit an inclination for science. But she took after her mother, growing into a dull child. Now she was married to a real estate broker, a glossy man fond of large watches and pin-striped suits. Allan had retreated into the only world that understood him, devoting himself to his research. He did not sleep with other women. When the microscope arrived, he had not slept with Betty for eight months. Somehow he was no longer able to bring himself to bed her. It wasn't her softened body or lined face--given how he looked, he could hardly fault her those. But those begging eyes shriveled him.

Tonight he remembers to call home. "I'll be working late," He says, hearing her intake of breath at the other end of the line. "with the microscope."
The woman (really, what to call her?) inside the box giggles.
"Who's there?" Betty asks.
"When will you be home?"
He thinks of the way time passed last night. "I'm not sure. No need to wait up."
"But what about dinner?" Her tone is nearly a wail. In recent years Betty has become a devoted cook, obsessively reading recipes, scouring small shops for expensive imported ingredients. When he notices them, Allan is not impressed by her efforts. Betty's food is often odd-tasting, too much cumin, sun-yellow with saffron, overloaded with anchovies.
"Keep a plate warm, if you want."
"I won't be too late," He lies. He has no idea how late he'll be. Nor does he care.

He has a final bit of business before opening the box.
Darkness has fallen, and the lab lights are all burning, casting an artificial glare.
Gong is tapping away into his computer. He jumps at the sound of his name. "Yes, Professor?"
Allan has given up on being addressed by his first name. "Go home. Right now."
Gong looks at him uncomprehendingly.
"Home? Understand me? You work too much. You're exhausting yourself."
"You not like my work? I do something wrong?"
Patience. Patience.
"Alllaannn....." He hears the voice and starts. Gong does not react. He must not hear it.
"No, nothing wrong. But you work too much. Here in America people rest. Take breaks. Watch tv. See movies. Read magazines. So go on. Leave. Rest."
"But I like it here."
Allan looks into that inexpressive face and suppresses to urge toss the man out bodily. Instead he points to the door. "Gong, out. Don't come back until morning."

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Pork report and a short story honoring our President

Barking Kitten, Hockeyman, and the blog's namsake are sweltering in their unairconditioned abode. Unlike our neighbors across the country in Queens, we do have power, and are thus able to run two fans continuously. Still, we're soft, accustomed to gentle seventy-degree summers. We feel flattened.

Last night's pork turned out well. Hockeyman thought it was a tiny bit dry, but a few spoonfuls of pan juices remedied that nicely. The one thing I will do differently next time is up the spice ratio. The recipe called for quarter teaspoons of tumeric and cayenne, and while it was pleasantly tangy, it brought no burn to our jaded palates.

We were originally planning to make pesto from the farm basil for tonight's meal. Hockeyman is a pesto-maker extraordinaire. Where I am a toss, pinch, eyeball-it sort of cook, he's quite precise, measuring carefully. His prep is always a still life of neatly chopped carrots, diced onions, microscopically minced garlic. My prep produces decent results but is never as pretty.

But it's so damned hot. I may just roast chicken breasts with some vegetables and be done with it.


I wrote the following short story last November/December, just as the whole Korean stem cell debacle broke loose. I post it here, in honor of our President's inability to separate his religious views from scientific progress. To quote Brad DeLong, why oh why are we ruled by these morons?

On the advice of Hockeyman, I will spread the story over a few posts.

The Pink Microscope

When the microscope arrives, Professor Allan Nyman insists on opening it himself. His lab manager, Missy, raises one expressive eyebrow, then returns to her office, that lair of oppressively bureaucratic paperwork. Allan pays Missy to wade through it for him; each knows he would be lost without her. It was her adept financial wrangling that allowed him to charge the new microscope to an obscure grant. He was too brusque with her, even for him. Must buy her a bottle of wine, order some flowers.

Allan eyes the enormous box holding his new toy. Wooden, perhaps six feet by four feet. He feels drawn to it, irresistably pulled, as if the box contained especially fine chocolates, or revealing photographs of Sabine Lazarus, Gordon Knaffler's luscious postdoc.

How the box draws him! But it is almost two, he must attend a thesis meeting. After that, a committee meeting on the new admissions policy. The microscope will have to wait.

And wait it does. Students pass the box on the way to class, oblivious, their ears plugged with headsets, jabbering into cellphones. Missy and Sabine stand beside it for ten minutes, Missy nodding sympathetically as Sabine rails about her married boyfriend's inability to leave his wife. Both pretend the boyfriend isn't Gordon Knaffler. Gordon, whose lab is next door to Allan's, also passes the box. And though he prides himself on his keen observational powers (he knew Sabine wanted him even before she did), he fails to notice the box's slats expanding and contracting regularly, as if the box were breathing.

It's six before Allan finally has time for his new toy. Normally he would be departing just about now, looking forward to a scotch rocks and an evening reading in his comfortable study. Betty's face crosses his mind, the carefully prepared meal she will have waiting when he arrives home(he's going to be late tonight, he should call her). Her pleading expression as he eats, forgetting, again, to notice the food and compliment her on it.

But here's the box, still sitting conveniently on carpeted casters, easy to move. He rolls it into the lab, toward his office. Gong leaps up to help. Gong is a postdoc, a Chinese whose brilliance at the bench is nearly overwhelmed by his stultifying shyness. Gong never goes home. The rest of the lab has a bet going: whoever arrives to find Gong absent will get a free round of beers. Allan has begun wondering whether Gong has a place to live.

Must remember to speak with Missy about it. Find out what Gong's salary is. Maybe he isn't being paid enough? Must ask Missy.
Here's Gong now, rocking a little bit, looking alarmed. "I help," He offers, pointing.
"That's okay. I got it. I'm fine."
Gong scurries back to his desk.
"Why don't you take a break?" Allan calls after him. "Get yourself some dinner."

No answer. Allan bends down, places his hands on the crate, feeling a sudden woozy rush. For a while he spent his lunch hours in the gym, gasping on the treadmill, lifting weights. Then his work took over and he stopped. He should start going again, try to get a little wind back. (Not to mention the gut...Gordon is his age, but looks better. No belly.)
In the office now. To get the box through the door Allan must move aside piles of Science, issues of Cell predating the sequencing of the human genome. Fifteen minutes later, sweating and covered in dust, he wrangles in the box in and closes the door, setting off a miniature landslide of student papers.

He's going to need a crowbar, something to pry the top free. Shit! Where in hell does Missy keep crowbars? All this effort and he won't be able to get the box open after all. Disappointed, he runs his hands over the box's top, seeking--what? Latches? A keycode?

To his surprise, the top slides aside easily. Maybe Missy pried it open for him earlier? (Flowers! She deserves them!) The microscope is wrapped in transluscent sheets of pink packing material that glimmer beneath the flourescent lighting. Plunging his hands in, Alan begins tugging.

"Wait!" A female voice says. "Stop pulling!"
Allan jumps. He opens the door a crack, peers out. Not a soul.
Where, then--
"Over here, silly."
A woman is rising from the box.
No, not a woman, really. She's tall, taller than he is, with a shimmery, green-tinged skin. Her narrow face is crowned with long hair that makes Allan think of his daughter Tina's Barbie dolls. The pink material he'd mistook for wrapping paper flows about the woman-thing's body like a protective cape. It glitters and shifts in the light, patterns rising and fading, whirling kaleidescopically.

Allan cannot tear his eyes from that pink stuff.

He hears his dry scientist's voice. "I think there's been a mistake," It says. "I ordered a microscope."

She laughs, a high musical giggle, rather like the gentle tap of an orchestral triangle. "That's me. You're so silly." She laughs some more. One long leg gracefully places itself on the floor. Her bare, prehensile feet are tipped with sparkling silver toenails. She stands before him, seemingly alight, and says: "Let's get to work."

Saturday, July 22, 2006

porcine dalliances in a heatwave

Why am I planning to braise during a heatwave?

A. I am an idiot.

B. I enjoy suffering.

C. I have a frozen piece of boneless pork loin that should get eaten.

D. All of the above.

So tonight's foray into the pig comes from Molly Stevens' All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking. Pork Pot Roast with Apricots, Cardamom, and Ginger.

I loathe fruit in savory preparations. I always have; even as a little kid the presence of cranberries on the holiday table stumped me. Though I did enjoy cutting that cool jellied cylinder into slices. Therefore, no apricots in my pork. I did go out and buy an orange--the recipe calls for zest--and some cardamom. I can deal with fruit peelings in my food. After all, they come out before serving.

Idiosyncratic, I know.

The recipe:

Boneless pork shoulder roast (I have boneless loin)
salt and pepper
extra-virgin olive oil
one medium leek (I have cipollini onions from the farm, and will substitute one)
2 carrots
one yellow onion (see above. And recall Hockeyman's onion aversion.)
6 cardamom pods
orange zest
bay leaf
apricot brandy or cognac (cognac)
white wine or vermouth (white wine)
chicken stock
1 cup apricots (nope)

So it will be spicy but not too sweet. I plan to serve it with...what DO I plan to serve it with?

The farm tomatoes, naked in a bowl. Baby squash--we have tons of it. Rice to soak up any yummy juices. Lots of beer so we don't puddle into the floor.

Today's other cooking adventure comes courtesy of Paula Wolfert: Raspberry Liqueuer. Buy a bottle of Armagnac--French Brandy--at the local posh grocer. Try not to faint dead away at the price of the cheapest bottle ($40). Buy organic raspberries. Make sure they are from California. Assure yourself the pricetag must be some kind of mistake ($6.99!!?). Realize, once home, that you lack the kind of quaint glass or earthenware bottle necessary for the concoction. Find a glass canning vessel under your sink. Wash vigorously. Carefully clean each berry. Drop into jar. Cover with 1/2 cup superfine sugar (recipe calls for 3/4 c, but you aren't using a bottle). Cover all with the incredibly expensive brandy. Seal. Show Hockeyman. Find cool, dark place in your overheated about that high closet shelf? Push jar far back. Pray experiment does not result in moldy berries in vinegar. Wait two months.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Tomatoes and French literature

Cherry Sungolds from the farm. Also the first ears of corn, basil, and more squash. After a week of entertaining guests (lovely) and numerous restaurant meals (not always so lovely), Hockeyman and I are suffering major vegetable withdrawal. Tonight's dinner will feature mostly veggies, with a small strip steak acting more as a side dish than a centerpiece.

George Bush makes me embarassed to be an American. Israel makes me embarassed to be a Jew. To quote Rodney King, can't we all just get along? Simplistic, I know, but beats blowing each other to bits. And our Administration is finally sending Condi Rice over? Gee, the original humanitarian. She'll fix everything.

Right, okay, this isn't supposed to be a political blog. Check out Daily Kos: , The Washington Monthly: , and Brad DeLong: for congent discussions of the current disastrous state we're in. [Hockeyman here (probably so named because outside of IFC, that's all I'll watch on TV). For straight, inside national security dope, also look at Laura Rozen and Steve Clemons. They are not just some schmucks. -- HM]

On a final bitchy note, I received my summer reading issue of Tin House today. Tin House, those Portland folk tripping over themselves to create a literary cabal, somehow managed the following corker in the Editor's Note:

"Similarly, Steven King, overlord of the horror genre..."

Mr. Spillman, fire your copyeditor.

Continuing with yesterday's French lit discussion, anyone out there in the blogosphere sharing my fondness for French writng should read Irene Nemirovsky's Suite Francaise. Begun in 1941, as Nemirovsky and her family sought refuge from the Nazis in the French countryside, this unfinished book describes the effects of the Occupation on a loosely connected group of French citizens. One of the many stunnng things about this work is Nemirovsky's ability to pitilessly describe events as they occur, along with the behaviors, good and bad, of the individuals enduring them.

Nemirovsky was arrested before she could complete the novel; her notes, in the appendix, leave no doubt she knew the fate awaiting her. Even more heartbreaking are the letters her husband, Michel Epstein, sent to her publishers, the authorities, anyone he hoped might save his wife. These imploring notes that continue after her death on August 17th, 1942: Epstein did not know she died. He was arrested soon afterward and gassed. Their children, Denise and Elisabeth, survived, saving their mother's notebook for decades before mustering the strength to read it. To conserve paper, Irene wrote in print so tiny her daughters transcribed the manuscript with a magnifying glass. Kinda puts Sophie Kinsella to shame, eh?

I am still trying to figure out how symbols work on blogs, so please forgive the lack of italics, proper accent marks, etc. I know they are missing. Hockeyman and I are on the case.

I began this entry and then went off to the doctor, where I distracted myself trying to figure out what it is about French writing I find so appealing. As a nurse poked me with any number of needles, I realized it was a certain concise elegance.
Consider these sentences:

"He knows she doesn't love him--yet--but he's confident that this will change. It's like music, he tells himself. Passion is nothing without diligence, patience, hard work...but little by little, it starts to happen. It will happen in their marriage, too. He can't conceive of it not happening. Up until now he's acheived every single goal he's set for himself in life, without exception. That's why he sleeps so well at night. "

That final sentence, just like Gavalda's cell phone disaster. In Yiddish we call this the zetz--the little nudge. The writer is Nancy Huston, Canadian-born but a longtime inhabitant of France. She writes in French and does her own translation (Gosh, I feel like a worm.). Alas, not enough. More, please!

Here's another one, from Catherine Texier's terrific novel Victorine:

"She was a good woman, they'll say after she passes away, she went to mass, she gave to the parish, she cared about the poor. She had a passion for the ocean."

Again, that final devastating sentence, the teaser that sums it all up: there is more to this woman than her impeccable exterior.

Of course there is Colette. And Simone de Beauvoir. Judith Thurman's biography of Colette is excellent but rather depressing, as this amazing sensualist was a decidedly unkind woman. Hazel Rowley's Tete-a-Tete, about de Beauvoir and Satre's bizarre relationships, is also a fine work. de Beauvoir was no saint but nicer than Sidonie Gabrielle.

Off to shuck the corn.

Nancy Huston: The Mark of the Angel. Vintage International, 1999, p.40

Catherine Texier: Victorine. Pantheon Books, 2004, p.21

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Eggplant and Anna Gavalda

Well, Hockeyman ate the eggplant not only for dinner, but again the next day for lunch. I still have one eggplant left in the crisper, and the next veggie delivery is tomorrow. So more creative Eggplantage to come.

Leaping from food to literature.....

I am currently reading Anna Gavalda's I Wish Someone Were Waiting For Me Somewhere. I found this elegant little collection of short fiction in a used bookshop. I read her novella, Somebody I Loved, last summer. An quick internet search turned up Hunting and Gathering, a French bestseller just translated into English. In an effort to avoid the Amazonian monolith, I will stop by my favorite bookstore, Oakland's Pendragon Books, and ask if they can order it for me.

Yep, I'm one of those annoying independent bookstore shoppers. The closure of Cody's on Telegraph is yet another indicator of how fucked up things are these days. In case you needed further proof.

Back to French literature.

My French is limited to ballet and culinary terms, a deficit I am increasingly finding a hindrance. I am also a fan of Nancy Huston's writing, but only a few of her books are available in English. Annie Ernaux is another writer who can be tricky to locate; I found Cleaned Out the same day I nabbed the Gavalda.

All three writers share an economy of prose, a focus on interpersonal relationships, and a lack of pretension. In fact, all seem to enjoy skewering the status-minded. Their work does not rely on verbal trickery, footnoting, or characters slogging through some ruined metaphysical landscape. Instead, the ringing of a cell telephone is sufficient to ruin a seduction. Look at this, from Gavalda's "Courting Rituals of the Saint-Germain-des-Pres:"

"Horrors. His cell phone just rang...all eyes in the restaurant fix on him as he deftly switches it off....those damn things. There always has to be one, no matter where, no matter when.

The boor."

The meal completed, the aroused couple is about to depart when:

"He hands me my black coat and then...
I admire the work of the artist, hats off, it's very placing the coat on my bare shoulders...he finds the half second necessary and the perfect tilt toward the inside pocket of his jacket to glance at the message screen on his cell phone."


I am also reading Paula Wolfert's The Cooking of Southwest France. Suffice to say I want to make everything in it, but the idea of cooking with or eating duck fat in this weather is dizzying. I hate the heat.

Anna Gavalda: I Wish Someone Were Waiting for Me Somewhere
Riverhead Books, NY: 2003. Quotes from pages 10,11, 12.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Eggplant Voyage 2006

Before beginning my carefree yak about eggplant, it must be said that while we are reading and writing and eating, people--people just like us-are suffering terribly. In Lebanon, in Iran, in Iraq and Israel. Innocent people, unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Across the world, women who know more about eggplant than I can ever hope to have lost their kitchens. Or the sons and husbands they cooked for. It is impossible to write about this staple of middle-eastern cuisine and not think about that.


I spent this morning over the stove. Saturday night's chicken, reduced to meaty bits and carcass, was tossed into the stockpot. To soothe my non-Bourdainian belly, I prepared a small pot of jook, which is Chinese rice porridge. My mother says that while pregnant with me, she ate mostly Chinese food. Perhaps this is why when I am depressed, or suffering from tummy woes, I crave Chinese food. So I ate the jook, stirred the stock, and turned my attention to the eggplant in the fridge.

Hockeyman and I are lucky enough to belong to Full Belly Farm's CSA. This means every Friday, on the way to work, I stop at a nearby house and pick up a box of organic vegetables.

Belonging to a CSA means being introduced to a lot of new veggies: easter egg radishes, daikon radishes, Tokyo turnips, yellow beets, fresh edamame beans. And we like most everything....except eggplant.

I am convinced our dislike of eggplant is the result of culinary failure on my part. It was in that spirit that I wrote "Fear of Eggplant", which appears below.

So today, commencing eggplant voyage 2006, I am preparing Molly O'Neill's Tuscan Marinated Vegetables. Here is O'Neill's recipe, from "A Well-Seasoned Appetite", Viking, 1995, p.115

Tuscan Marinade

2 cups red wine
2/3 cup olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons grated orange zest
2 tablespoons minced sage leaves
4 teaspoons minced rosemary leaves
4 teaspoons black peppercorns, crushed
2 teasoons kosher salt

Combine all ingedients in glass or ceramic bowl. Refrigerate up to three days.

I sliced eggplant, yellow squash, and shallot into a glass baking dish. The original recipe calls for onions, which Hockeyman hates. ( Fortunately he has other good qualities. Like masterminding this blog. ) It also called for tomatoes, which we don't have yet due to the heavy spring rains. Anyway, I poured said marinade over all. It smelled nicely of herbs and red wine. It is supposed to marinate in the fridge for eight hours, with one turn. You are then supposed to grill the vegetables, assuming you live in a place where grilling is possible. I do not, so will broil.

Will provide follow-up report tomorrow.

Fear of Eggplant

It is mid-June. The weekly veggie box I receive from Fully Belly Farm is, finally, beginning to feature the wonders of summer produce: the first zucchini, slender carrots, new potatoes, soft, intensely fragrant garlic. The farm newsletter, only recently full of weather-related laments, now promises the first cherry tomatoes. Last Friday brought the year's first batch of basil, promptly turned into pesto.

But the plethora of vegetable wonders will soon include the one farm standby whose appearance, in generous brown bagged quantity, elicits apprehension.

I am talking about eggplant. Or, as Elizabeth David calls them, aubergines.

I don't know why it is I cannot master this beautiful vegetable. I have faced down okra, cabbage, brussels sprouts, and knobby, dirty celery roots with equanimity, paring and scrubbing and cooking them all into delicious dishes. But the eggplant, with its bitter skin and slimy seeds, is just plain unfriendly. It does not take well to butter, white wine, or simple salads. Feed it a drop of your expensive artisanal olive oil and it demands half the bottle, repaying the cook by becoming sodden and inedible.

Last summer the farm sent eggplant for weeks: Italian, Asian, Thai. White, green, striped. I roasted a few in the oven, splashed them with olive oil, and promised myself I would eat them--in sandwiches, over pasta, mixed with rice. I did not, and guiltily avoided them until they spoiled. My husband, normally an adventuresome eater, refused to finish my maiden attempt at ratatouille.

I have consulted my cookbooks. Laurie Colwin wrote an entire essay devoted to eggplant, calling it "the stovetop cook's greatest ally." In Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, Deborah Madison devotes seven pages to eggplant and its fellow travelers in cuisines Mediterranean and Italian. Elizabeth David, of course, adores the aubergine. An intrepid cook might spend a lifetime apprenticed to her countless aubgerine preparations. My 1997 edition of The Joy Of Cooking offers a gentle selection of recipes--caponata, eggplant parmagiana, ratatouille. Paul Bertolli, in Chez Panisse Cooking, advises a preliminary baking in water, allowing the bitter juices to leach out before preparing the final dish--in this case, baked eggplants and tomatoes with bread crumbs and basil.

So as the sun breaks through the fog layer permeating the San Francisco Bay, bringing with it tomatoes, basil, and piles of eggplant, I will set myself the task of mastering this mysterious vegetable. I will overcome my trepidation and prepare Bertolli's dish. I will make Deborah Madison's Eggplant Rounds with Cheese and Red Wine Tomato Sauce, perhaps sneaking in a bit of ground lamb to pacify my meat-loving husband. I will roast eggplants in the oven until they collapse upon themselves in silken heaps, mashing their softened innards with olive oil and roasted garlic.

And I will be richly rewarded, for eggplant represents everything wonderful about cooking. There is the challenge of the new, of overcoming resistance to create something wonderful. The acquisition of knowledge. The sense of accomplishment that accompanies mastering the unknown, an experience that can only make life richer. And, of course, more delicious.

Works Cited:
1. Colwin, Laurie. Home Cooking. Harper Perennial, New York. 1993: 27.

2. Madison, Deborah. Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. Broadway Books, New York. 1997: 368.

3. Rombauer, Irma S., Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker. The Joy of Cooking. Scribner Books, New York. 1997.

4. Bertolli, Paul, with Alice Waters. Chez Panisse Cooking.
Random House, New York. 1988: 94.

Monday, July 17, 2006

More Discerning eye

Hockeyman created this link for the novel....we are still ironing out formatting, but now the story isn't going to be mixed in with other things. So read on here:

Thanks for checking out my blog.

My Porcine Dalliances

Last night Hockeyman and I took visiting relatives to Oliveto, Paul Bertolli's Oakland restaurant. After the salumi starter, Hockeyman and Rose shared a steak with potatoes and olive butter. Stan ordered the lamb chops. BK ate saddle of rabbit stuffed with sausage, pine nuts, and artichokes. As Hockeyman was driving, he stuck to one whiskey sour. Rose, Stan, and BK all ordered second drinks, but lacking the constitution of Anthony Bourdain, were unable to finish them. Instead we ordered dessert--bittersweet chocolate cake, summer berry pudding, zabaglione with fruit--and attempting to regain our faculties with strong coffee.

A magnificent meal. But I can't imagine eating like that all the does Frank Bruni do it? Or the famously slender Amanda Hesser?

Anyway, in honor of Oliveto and their handmade salumi, I offer my paean to pork.....

My porcine dalliances

Last Saturday I prepared pork roast with tomatillos. The recipe comes from Rick Bayless, and can be found in Corby Kummer's wonderful The Pleasures of Slow Food.

While I am an experienced and enthusiastic cook, I had never made pork roast. Prior to last week I'd never bought one, either. I made my way to Berkeley Bowl and conferred with the butcher. I allowed that my Jewish background led to confusion in matters porcine. Loin? Chops? Bone in? Boneless?

She suggested a bone in roast and hailed one of the senior butchers. He vanished into the back, returning with what looked to me like four pork chops stuck together.

"This good?" He barked.

I nodded. I thanked him. The woman suggested olive oil, lemon, and garlic. She wrapped the meat in butcher paper and handed it over. I thanked her, too.

Once upon a time, in the last century, I was a nice Jewish girl from Detroit. Every week I accompanied my mother to Shopping Center Supermarket, a store catering to the city's Jewish community. Though the market wasn't kosher, I have no recollection of ever seeing pork for sale. It must have been someplace, stored in a dark corner where it wouldn't offend.

My family was not religious. We did not keep kosher. But pork had little role in our lives. Once in a great while my mother purchased bacon, which was considered a rare treat. The occasional package of Oscar Mayer sliced ham passed through. My father worked near a German bakery that produced seven-inch round chocolate cakes. These neatly frosted moons were immensely appealing until sliced, allowing the smell of lard to permeate everything. The cakes gave everyone in the family digestive troubles save my father, who ate them alone, doggedly, until they were chalky dry.

If we were not religious, my family was certainly culturally Jewish. We lived amidst other Jews, many of them Orthodox. Every Wednesday, for years, we ate dinner at the Stage Delicatessen: pastrami on rye with mustard, chicken liver, towering corned beef sandwiches with sides of potato salad and dill pickles, all washed down with Dr. Brown's Cream Soda. On Fridays we piled into my grandmother's tiny apartment and ate roast chicken with potatoes, matzoh ball soup, kreplach, and noodle kugel. We bought challah, rye bread, seven layer cake, and babkas from Zeman's bakery, where all the ladies behind the counter were Eastern Europeans with blue numbers tattooed on their arms. In these places it was normal to hear Hebrew, Yiddish, Hungarian, Russian. My mother and her parents spoke Yiddish to one another; for years I did not know whether some words--maven, tsouris, takeh, yutz--were English or Yiddish. I did not need to know, for everyone I spoke with understood me.

Pork had no more place in this world than possum or venison or rabbit. Those were foods eaten by the goyim, people who lived in the Upper Peninsula, hunted recreationally, and got around on snowmobiles.

In other words, nobody we knew.

In this milieu, our occasional brushes with bacon and ham notwithstanding, pork was viewed with horrified disgust. It was dirty, unclean. It was the food of lesser peoples.

I am ashamed, writing this now. How xenophobic we were, how narrow. In my case, I was simply ignorant. The minimal interactions I did have with non-Jews were with people who lived in our neighborhood. They were used to us.

When I was sixteen I acquired a Catholic boyfriend whose favorite restaurant was a chain known for sausage-heavy breakfasts. He took me along one morning, where I sampled my first sausage links. They made me ill--literally. Of course the food was neither high-quality nor well-prepared. Twenty-two years later, I distinctly remember the blackened pool of grease the toast, eggs, and links swam in.

At some point it was decided I should meet his parents, who lived some hours north. We drove up in time for lunch and were served sliced ham. I ate it. For dinner his mother produced a pork roast, then watched me carefully. I did not eat it. The message was clear. To this day I marvel at the woman's cruelty--not only to me, but to her youngest child.

The relationship ended soon afterward, and with it, my porcine dalliances.

When I was seventeen, my family moved to Los Angeles. We were completely unprepared for what we encountered.
Apart from the small group of Orthodox Jews living in Los Angeles' Fairfax district, we found California Jews to be entirely different species than our Midwestern brethren. Tall, tanned, their noses bobbed, they enthusiastically consumed Mexican, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai food. A college date took me to a Japanese restaurant, where I sampled the unimaginable: raw fish.

But there were no delis, no bakeries, no kosher butchers. What corned beef we did find was a pale imitation of the Stage. "It's the water," A woman advised us. "The meat doesn't cure the same way out here."

Still, my mother endeavored to cook as she had in Detroit. We had brisket with potatoes. Come April, when our local supermarket brought in a tiny supply of Passover foods, we loaded up on stores of macaroons and sugared jelly candies.

Slowly I came to enjoy the cuisines of my new home, tasting and enjoying Mexican and Japanese foods. I stuck to beef, chicken, and the occasional fish. Then I met the man who became my husband. Because he was always hungry, I learned to cook.

My repertoire was limited: boneless chicken breasts, hamburger, chicken livers. Fearing the oven, I tended to coat everything in layers of egg and Progresso breadcrumbs, followed by frying in a bath of olive oil. Still, my dishes were reasonably edible, sometimes even good. My husband, still then my skinny boyfriend, ventured to ask for pork chops. Would I make them?

The request gave me pause. Centuries of racial aversion pressed upon my head. But my husband is not Jewish. My grandmother's milchig and mleischig silverware lay entangled in my kitchen drawer. To refuse him would be plainly hypocritical. On my next trip to Vons I bought some boneless pork chops.

These were my maiden cooking days. I had yet to learn about lemon, garlic, fresh herbs, or stocks. Nobody knew anything about organic. Humanely raised applied only to veal, as in not eating it. So I brought my inhumanely raised, antibiotically stuffed, cruelly slaughtered chops home, where I subjected them to my usual egg/breadcrumb dip, then (likely overly) sauteéd them in olive oil.

I wish I could say I remember the moment I presented them to my husband. I don't. I am almost forty and losing brain cells with every passing second. But the pork chops must have been okay, because they entered my stovetop cooking pantheon.

My mother was appalled. I pointed out my husband’s Catholicism. Pork chops? she said dubiously.

It is a funny but true fact that marrying a non-Jew is considered acceptable by many, but eating pork or shellfish whilst married to said person is still a grave sin. Of the numerous Jews I know with gentile partners, I am the only one who eats pork. When I point out the inherent hypocrisy in this stance, they shrug. Well, pork. You know...

We were friendly with one such couple. One day the wife left town to attend an academic conference. I invited the husband to dinner. What would you like me to cook? I asked.

Pork chops! He cried. His wife wouldn't allow them in the house. He confessed to missing them terribly.

You cannot control who you fall in love with. You can, however, control what you put in your mouth.

My kitchen prowess gradually increased. I became bold enough to use the oven, cooking the chops--still boneless--in white wine and Japanese mirin, which gave them a nice zingy flavor.

In graduate school I befriended a woman who was an extraordinary cook. She used lemons and garlic and fresh rosemary, which she grew in a pot on her porch. I followed suit. My pork chops, indeed all of my cooking, improved dramatically.

At this point--a decade ago--I did not cook with any other pork. I considered bacon the edible equivalent of Pall Mall Reds-delicious, addictive, fatality-inducing. I thought ham was okay, but neither of us were big consumers of cold cuts. Prosciutto, like steak, was too expensive to even contemplate. I still felt uncomfortable with the remainder the of the pig, the hocks and roast and belly. It was treyfe, garbage. It could make a person sick.

It made me sick when I decided to be adventuresome.

I'd found a meatloaf recipe calling for equal portions of ground pork and beef bound with catsup. I have no idea what possessed me to make this, but at the time mushing two kinds of ground meat into a salty tomato base seemed appetizing. I was inexperienced enough to mistake the meatloaf's red hue as the effects of all that tomato product. Woe unto me: I landed in the hospital with a massive dose of food poisoning.

My husband was fine.

Fast forward: graduate degrees in hand, we moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. We weren't foodies yet. But as our income increased, so did my cooking habit. I began buying cookbooks, subscribing to Gourmet, hankering for expensive kitchen equipment. My husband gained forty much-needed pounds.

Our new neighborhood had a large Latino population, meaning the local Safeway carried an excellent selection of pork products. One day I bought a ham hock, thinking it might be nice in lentil soup.

The hock freaked me out. It was ugly--really ugly, a mean reddish pink, tough to the touch, with a nasty band of fat around what looked to me like the drumstick. Warily I dropped it into the soup, a recipe I'd adapted from Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking: lentils, potato, carrot, garlic, canned chicken broth.

Soon the entire apartment filled with a compelling scent. The hock began looking less menacing and more edible. As soon as I could I pulled a shred of meat free and popped it, boiling hot, into my mouth.

Salty, smoky, meaty. All the best attributes of ham without the slimy wetness. And the soup! The hock had taken a pedestrian dish to a new level, albeit a nitrate-laden one. We all know nitrates are awful for us. I haven't found a source of all natural or organically cured ham hock. I have a day job. I cannot spend all my time sourcing pork.

But the soup was wonderful, and I haven't been without a hock in my freezer since. One of these days I'll buy some greens, dump them into water with a hock, and let everything cook down. Writing this now, I wonder why I haven't yet.

By now I've read Elizabeth David, Julia, Alice, Paul Bertolli. I subscribe to Cook's Illustrated. And I cannot help but notice how many savory recipes call for some form of pig: lardons, proscuitto, salt pork, chopped smoked bacon. For these cooks, pork is like the maligned anchovy, a small yet essential component of a dish, adding depth without overwhelming the recipe. There is Paul Bertolli's recipe for brussels sprouts leaves with bacon and mirepoix. Another, for cabbage with Reisling and bacon. There is the Provençal Beef Daube from Cook's Illustrated, calling for a chunk of salt pork, an item that invariably reminds me of the Little House books. Anthony Bourdain's pork chops with shallot mustard sauce. I have made all of these dishes, and all are delicious.

But back to my Pork Roast with Tomatillo Sauce. Borrowing from Judy Rodgers, I defrosted the meat a day ahead and salted it liberally.

I heated olive oil in my Le Creuset dutch oven and browned the roast, enduring spitting oil in the process. Broiled the tomatillos and two jalapeño peppers. Pureéd said tomatillos and peppers in the blender, creating a gorgeously green sauce. Poured this into the pot where the pork had recently browned, stirred in garlic, cilantro, salt. Enticing smells began filling the house.

I tucked the roast in its green bed and slid it into the oven. A half hour later I added parboiled baby potatoes.
Ninety minutes later we were tucking in. The sauce, which called for the entire pepper, was on the razor's edge of too spicy. But it tasted so good we kept right on eating, taking long rests between bites to clear our sinuses.

Later I contemplated this dish and realized neither chicken nor beef would have worked. Chicken's delicate flavor would have smothered beneath the sauce; beef would have clashed with the tomatillo's acidity. Pork, with its firm yet giving texture and mild, amiable flavor, was the perfect foil. We finished the leftovers the next night with beans and rice. A day in the fridge made it even better.

As with most culinary discoveries, it feels a new world has opened. There is chile verde, rillettes, Richard Olney's French country terrine. There is ground pork, which merits revisiting in Tamasin Day-Lewis' meatball and guacamole recipe. There are countless sausages to be cut up and tucked into soups and black beans and stews.

In eating roast pork with tomatillos, I don't dismiss Judaism or leave a culture I never really belonged to. The truth is I dismissed those things long ago. What I leave behind is my family, who find my forays into community supported agriculture, free-range meats, and refusal to shop in box stores annoyingly Berkeleyesque. Cooking with pork is an outgrowth of where I live, who I've become in this peculiar place.

My porcine dalliances, then, are not about realizing I cannot not go home again.

It is realizing I don't want to.

Still, something is lost. I was thirteen when my grandmother died. She left no written recipes. I never learned how to prepare her knishes or kreplach. I have no idea what made her roast potatoes taste so good, or what went into her poppy seed cookies. Nor do I have children to prepare them for.

Instead, I make pork roast, a postmodern Jew, hopelessly polyglot, moving forward even as my past fans out behind me.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging

Thanks to Hockeyman's stunning technical prowess (he took the photo and figured out how to upload it), I am proud to present Barking Kitten's namesake, shown here in one of his favorite places: atop my Grandma's afghan. My Grandma hated cats, and I ask her forgiveness from the beyond.

Boshko is half-Siamese, half mutt. He is black with brown-tipped fur, and can be difficult to photograph. As is evident from the shot, he rules the household.

For the orginial cat blogger and excellent politcal commentary, see Kevin Drum, Inkbot, and Jasmine, at the Washington Monthly.

More book, as promised

I'll divide commentary from novel and other entries as soon as Hockeyman, my technical assistant, is available to work his magic. Until then, more book.... [the first part is down here]

A shuffling of chairs while I shrug off my jacket. "Have some sake! Warm you up!"
The sweet liquid makes me salivate. I press my fingers into the cup, enjoying the warmth.
"You know everyone here?" He juts his chin, introducing people by their surnames. The students nod, wide-eyed. The great Josef Staski's daughter, huddled over a tiny porcelain cup. "And this is Daniel Marat."
I glance up in time to meet a pair of sardonic green eyes. He has a large bottle of Asahi in one long-fingered hand. Elegant hands. He must draw.
"Daniel is an old student of mine. I talked him into teaching up here for a year."
He's sizing me up, he must know who I am.
"Welcome to Bluestem," I say. Then the waitress arrives.
At the end of the evening, when everyone rises to leave, he is suddenly behind me. "Would you like to go for a drink?"
We walk to MacFee's, a popular school hangout. The wind has picked up. I can hear it whistling through my hoop earrings. "What brought you all the way up here?" I ask, to be polite, to get him talking. I need to know if he's a starfucker. An art starfucker, anyway.
"Melzer, mostly. He said the change would infuse my work with fresh air."
He has to be capable of basic drawing, they wouldn't have hired him at the school, but God knows what his work looks like. "And has it?"
"Maybe. Too soon to say."
Inside we find a booth. He orders a shot and a beer. I order white wine, cautious. Too much alcohol and I'll get a headache.
He tosses off his drink. "So. Josef Staski's daughter. He's one of my favorite artists. Blue Midday. When he died I stayed in my room for three days."
"He wouldn't have approved."
"He was hardly in a position to comment."
Bastard. "Can we change the subject?"
"I thought it would be better having it out front. It's important to be clear about things."
"And what would you like to clarify?" I shouldn't have come. My father's fans are always creepy.
"That I respect your work on its own terms. I saw your still life show last year. You make lovely paintings."
My throat unclenches a little. I swallow some wine. "Thank you."
"What about your sister? Does she paint?"
The moment of calm evaporates. How does he know about Emily? He must have followed the news closely. "No."
"Can she?"
Time to talk about something else. I shrug. "We don't discuss it. What are you teaching?"
He smiles lopsidedly. His teeth are aligned and extremely white. "Drawing 1A, Intro to Clay, Life Drawing."
"You sculpt?"
"Only a little. Enough to teach largely untalented teenagers. What are you working on right now?"
"Jesus, you're direct."
"Why waste time with empty niceties?"
"I don't like to discuss work in progress," I say. "it's bad luck."
"Fair enough. Planning to have a show any time soon?"
"No. Robert--the guy who exhibits my stuff--is laying hints. Maybe next fall. Will you be involved with the school show?" Carondelet exhibits student work each spring. Sometimes profs will include work, sometimes not. Richard puts a drawing in occasionally.
"Oh, yeah, that got dumped in my lap. Low man on the totem pole." He's turning a cigarette in his fingers, glancing around with nervous, darting movements.
"You want to go outside?"
"You smoke?"
Migraineurs should never smoke. It constricts the blood vessels. "No."
"You an anti-smoking Nazi?"
"Come outside?"
Waves of damp are riding on the wind; rain is in the air. Daniel Marat huddles over his lighter, cupping his hand. I step in front of him, acting as a windbreak.
"Thanks." He says, dragging deeply. His lighter is a beautiful old Ronson, the kind you refill with lighter fluid.
"Nice lighter."
"Thanks. My old man's." His eyes are slitted in the wind. He leans against the wall. "So, can I come see your work sometime?"
Dispensing with niceties again. "Can I see yours?"
"Sure. When would you like to come over? Friday?"
"In the evening. I work during the day."
"The evening," He agrees. "Come for dinner. You a vegetarian?"
"Seven, then."
"Seven. I'd better go home now."
"Good night, Anna Staski."
"Good night."
I just make it to the car before the rain begins in earnest. Taking up with Daniel Marat is likely not a good idea. I have never seen two artists able to make a relationship work. Jealousy wrecks everything, it's worse when the woman is successful, the man just gets crazy. Male artists want helpmeets, women with bound brains who will genuflect before their canvases, the only sort of female tolerable in a studio is the naked kind, arranged and vulnerable on a pedestal. Better to find a welder, a doctor, somebody expert at gluing broken pieces together.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Edwin Starr said it best

Edwin Starr - War

War! - huh- yeah-
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing
War! – huh – yeah-
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing
Say it again y’all

War! – huh – good God
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me…

Ohhh… War! I despise
Because it means destruction’
Of innocent lives

War means tears
to thousands of mothers eyes
When their sons go to fight
and lose their lives

I said - War! Huh – Good God y’all
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing
Say it again

War! Whoa, Lord
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me…

War! It ain’t nothing but a heartbreaker
War! Friend only to the undertaker
War! It’s an enemy to all mankind
The thought of war blows my mind

War has caused unrest in the younger generation
Induction then destruction-
Who wants to die?

Ohhh… War – Good God Y’all
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing
Say it, Say it, Say it

War! Uh-huh – Yeah - Huh!
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me…

War! It ain’t nothing but a heartbreaker
War! It’s got one friend, that’s the undertaker
War has shattered many a young mans dreams
Made him disabled bitter and mean
Life is much to precious to spend fighting wars these days
War can’t give life, it can only take it away

War! Huh – Good God y’all
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing
Say it again

War! Whoa, Lord
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me…

War! It ain’t nothing but a heartbreaker
War! Friend only to the undertaker
Peace Love and Understanding;
tell me, is there no place for them today?
They say we must fight to keep our freedom
But Lord knows there’s got to be a better way

War! Huh – Good God y’all
What is it good for?
You tell me
Say it, Say it, Say it

War! Huh – Good God y’all
What is it good for?
Stand up and shout it.

I'll post more of the novel tomorrow. Until then, our thoughts to the innocents everywhere caught in the crossfire.