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 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."


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