Monday, February 25, 2019

The Trip to Santa Clarita: A Photo Essay with Q & A

geometric forms, dappled light

What follows is a conversation with Jennifer Reese about her photo essay inspired by a trip to Santa Clarita, California. We spoke to her at her home in Brooklyn.

Q: Jennifer, tell us about your recent trip to Southern California to visit your son, Owen, at college. That’s an extraordinarily evocative photograph of the front of his school (see above), but I’ve heard you found the surrounding scenery gorgeous and inspiring.

A: Yes indeed. It was both familiar and exotic. I’m a native Californian and after six months in Brooklyn I was bowled over by the grandeur of the rugged green mountains, the palms, the orange trees. I saw it all anew. Just staggeringly beautiful, the American West.

Q: How did you find your son?

A: I found him, as I did the landscape, both familiar and exotic. I was sitting in the lobby of the La Quinta waiting for him one evening and I looked up and thought, who is that tall, handsome, self-assured young man with platinum blond hair walking swiftly towards me?

Q: What a sweet moment. I hope you told Owen you thought he looked handsome.

A: Of course. I told him he looked very handsome despite the absolutely ridiculous, embarrassing blond hair.

Q: I’m not sure . . . 

A: It’s an abomination. 

Q: As long as he’s happy. 

A: I’ve never seen him happier. 

Q: Is it true that the swimming pool at CalArts is clothing optional? That even classes are clothing optional?

A: Why does everyone keep asking me about that? Yes. It’s true. CalArts is not a stuffy place. I was just walking around one day and almost tripped over a girl who was rolling across a vast, empty atrium for no apparent reason.

Q: Clothed?

A: Yes. 

Q: Tell us about this next photo. It’s very subtle.

A: I’m so glad you like it! I was idly drinking my coffee at the La Quinta one morning when I decided to try to capture the atmosphere of the American chain-hotel breakfast room. It’s always the same, whether you’re in Anchorage or Austin. Awful food served in a space with the ambiance of a Jiffy Lube waiting room. No one seems to think this is as bizarre as I do. I feel this is a rich untapped subject for the American artist.

Q: Intriguing.

A: The first picture of the La Quinta breakfast didn’t include the TV tuned to political news, so I took another. I find this one more powerful.

Q: It is a stronger shot.

A: Right? I was going to post it on Instagram but I couldn’t think of a clever caption. I guess I’m really just a visual thinker. 

Q: Indeed.

A: I recently read a quote, attributed to John Cage: “If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.” I spent a lot of time each morning drinking coffee and studying the breakfast room which was, I admit, visually boring -- at first.

 But Cage was so right! It’s not boring when you really look. The last day of the trip a very old, scowling woman was pushing her walker — on which she’d balanced a styrofoam bowl of Froot Loops and milk — around and around the room. She was heading somewhere with great purpose and yet she never seemed to get there. At one point a middle-aged woman barked: “Sit down, Mom!” But Mom continued to circle. I could not look at the old woman’s ancient, demented face without experiencing a deluge of thoughts and feelings. How could anyone find that scene boring?

Q: Not boring, just depressing as hell. Jesus. Let’s move on. This is a masterpiece.

A: Wait, I can’t read you. Are you being sarcastic?

Q: Why would you think that?

A:  Good. Whew. I’m so insecure. Where were we? Oh yes. I’ve found that Santa Clarita has become less boring and less depressing the longer I’ve looked at it. On my first visit, I thought that there was nothing here but bland adobe-colored malls, bland adobe-colored housing developments, a lot of chain restaurants, and Magic Mountain. This is my fourth trip and I find more to interest me every time.

Q: How does this photograph illustrate that? What am I missing?

A: Glance at that picture quickly and you see only the Payless. Look longer and you see a marvelous used bookstore called the Open Book. 

Q: I see the Payless, but. . . let me find my glasses.

A: I spent ninety minutes at the Open Book and bought a copy of Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz for $2.95. It’s an incredible shop. Huge selection of books and low prices. I can’t wait to return.

Q: Inside of a Dog is superb. I love dogs.

A: Me too.

Q: I have a pit mix named Gracie.

A: How funny, I do too. 

Q: So what’s the next picture you want to talk about?

A: Next picture?

Q: Yes. We’re going through your photo essay from the trip to California.

A: These are the only photographs I took.

Q: WTF, Jennifer?

A: Excuse me?

Q: You call this a photo essay?

A: I call it a short photo essay.

Q:  Not a single picture of blond Owen or his lovely friends drinking Shirley Temples at the Italian restaurant? No shots of an orange tree or a palm tree or the fried bananas and coconut ice cream at Jitlada Thai? No pictures of the girl rolling across the art school atrium? Of the homemade Ring Ding at Olive & Thyme? The clothing-optional pool?

A: I’m going to have to ask you to calm down.

Q: No picture of your cute father who joined you on this trip? No shots of the towering eucalyptus on the CalArts campus? Of the found-object art in the gallery?

A: Why is everyone so hung up on the beautiful and interesting? Beauty is trite. Interesting is obvious. I prefer to focus on the utterly drab.

Q: That must be the secret to your success as an artist.

A: I’ve often thought it must be.

Saturday, February 09, 2019

My weird visit to Dr. X

Thank you for the sweet comments. In this post, I describe a strange evening that ends with some food but isn't really about food. I still cook, but not as much as I used to, and if I wait to write about cooking adventures, there will be big gaps. 

  As I mentioned in the last post, I have a boring but debilitating ankle injury. Thursday I decided to see a doctor and I chose Dr. X because his office is a quick drive from our house and he’s in our insurance network. How bad could a random doctor be? He wasn’t going to perform major surgery, he was just going to look at my ankle and perhaps refer me to a specialist, so I saw no reason to bother with a lot of fussy research. Or any at all. Off I went to Dr. X.

First thing, the nurse called me in and had me step on the scale fully dressed without even taking off my boots. Good God. That was a blow. The nurse left and eventually Dr. X came in. He was a tiny, bright-eyed, bespectacled man of about my age with an accent from somewhere on the Indian subcontinent. When I say he was tiny, I mean he was considerably shorter than I am and I am not tall. I felt like a volleyball player next to Dr. X.

Dr. X shook my hand and before he had even dropped it said sharply, “Why are your hands so warm?”

I was about to reply that it was probably because the room was hot, but he didn’t wait for an answer. “And why are your fingertips bluish?”

I looked at my fingertips anxiously. “Are they bluish?”

“Purple. You see?” 

I said, “Maybe because I ate a pomegranate a few hours ago?

He looked up. “Do you eat a lot of fruit?”

“Not really. I do like pomegranates.”

“What is your diet?”  

“What do you mean by that?”

“What do you think I mean?”

I said, “Are you asking, like, what do I have for breakfast?” 

He didn’t answer. He said: “Do you drink?”

“Yes.” What did any of this have to do with my ankle? I told him I was here because I’d been walking a lot and hurt myself and . . . 

He cut me off. “Give me your phone. I want to look at your phone.”

“Ah, I know what you’re going to do,” I said. “You’re going to look at my pedometer.”

Dr. X seemed disappointed. He said, “A lot of people with iPhones do not even know about the pedometer.” He took my phone, went into the pedometer, studied it for about 20 seconds. He then informed me that I had a repetitive stress injury because I’d been walking too much and hadn’t been resting between days of walking, he could see it right there on the pedometer. Bodies need rest, something about mitochondria, stretching, cross-training, etc etc, walk 10 minutes a day, no more, and you’ll be fine in two weeks.

I was annoyed. This domineering little man had demanded my phone and hadn’t even glanced at my leg. I said, wait a second, I’ve been resting and elevating my leg and icing it for a few weeks already and it isn’t getting better.

“Oh, you’re worried about a stress fracture,” he said cheerfully. “Stand up. Now jump up and down like this.” He jumped up and down. I jumped up and down. 

“Does it hurt?”


“That means you do not have a stress fracture. You have, like I said, a repetitive stress injury. Do you get a lot of sunlight?”

Huh? “Probably not. I take vitamin D.”

“How much?”

“I don’t know. A capsule.”

“Very strange that someone who walks that much would say she doesn’t get a lot of sunlight.” 
 He began typing the diagnosis into the computer. “How do you spell repetitive?”

I told him how to spell repetitive. 

“That’s what I typed but it’s not coming up. How many words a minute do you type?”

“I type pretty fast,” I replied. 

“I know you type fast because you are a writer, but how many words per minute?”

“I have no idea. I’m still wondering, why did you ask me about my diet? Why did you ask me if I eat fruit?”

“I forget,” he said.

The appointment was over. As I walked out, he said, “Are you limping?”

Why yes, doctor.

It was the weirdest appointment. It was about 7 p.m. by now and I limped across the street to a roti shop and ordered a vegetarian roti for dinner. I had been planning to go to a pizza restaurant, but cheesy pizza seemed much less attractive after that visit. A roti is like a Caribbean burrito, but instead of a tortilla, the wrapper is a sheet of whole wheat Indian flatbread, and instead of carne asada and pinto beans, the filling is likely to be chicken and potatoes, or, in my case, curried greens and squash. Roti are everywhere in this part of Brooklyn but this was my first. It was delicious. What is your diet? Healthy.

I sat there eating the roti in the empty roti shop, thinking about Dr. X. I would never go back to Dr. X, but I realized that while he was eccentric and obnoxious, I had rather enjoyed him. I had found him amusing, even somewhat cute. I had found him amusing and cute because he seemed harmless and he seemed harmless entirely because he was so much smaller than I was. If a tall doctor had barked questions at me and demanded my phone, I would have been nervous. Instead, I had played along, unfazed. I thought, Is this how men feel all the time when they (literally) look down at women? Is it just size that explains the difference between “you’re beautiful when you’re angry” and “you’re terrifying when you’re angry?” 

Obviously size confers advantage. I knew this in an abstract way, but I’d never really felt it before. I enjoyed that feeling. I imagine Dr. X would too.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Waiter! There are raisins in the soup, my son is a blond, and I live in a strange city!

The new house is handsome and brown and my old stuff looks really good here.

        The last time I wrote on this sadly neglected blog, I described the night our dog almost died from eating chocolate. The other day, Gracie ate a large pellet of rat poison in the park and I took it as a mystical sign that I should re-start my dormant cooking blog.

Kidding. I recently took a leave of absence from grad school, which has freed up a lot of mental energy. I also cooked a really strange, delicious soup that I wanted to recommend. So I am typing.

Not that I don’t have a good excuse for the hiatus. It’s been a hell of a year. Both of our kids are now in college and Mark and I now live in Brooklyn. Last spring, Mark’s employer asked him to move to NYC and given that we were about to be empty nesters we said, sure, why not? Why not leave behind family, friends, temperate climate, elderly cats, the house where we raised children and chickens and goats and had happy memories and fig trees and a hand-built pizza oven to embrace, in middle age, a new life in a vast metropolis where we know hardly anyone?
a sad day
Well, I can now tell you why not. Oh boy, can I tell you why not. But I can also tentatively tell you why to. While I can’t think about my old life without wanting to cry, the change of scenery has been exciting and interesting enough that I am able to avoid thinking about the old life for days at a time. My grandfather used to talk about people needing to “repot” themselves lest they stop growing. We repotted. We’ll see how much growing ensues. There have been moments when I have worried that shrinkage and regression will be the result of the move, but today I am feeling optimistic and am betting on growth. Watch this space.

Anyway, last week on a sunny, cold morning, Gracie and I went out for our usual hobble. She walks and tries to run, I hobble. The best thing about New York has been the walking and it was so unbelievably great that I walked and walked and walked — sometimes 8 or 10 miles at a go — until I injured myself (boring old person injury) and now the worst thing about New York is the walking because even a short trip to corner store gives me insight into what it must be like to be 90. 

scene of the crime
We were hobbling around in the park when I saw Gracie eating something that wasn’t the usual denuded chicken bone, but a rectangular green pellet the size of a lipstick. I yelled and she dropped the thing but snatched it up again before I could jerk her away. She swallowed it whole. We hobbled straight to the vet. After a delightful procedure that I was permitted to observe, the startled vet said, oh wow, yes, that’s rat poison. The good news: the rat poison was still almost completely intact and Gracie is fine. The bad news: there is rat poison lying around in Prospect Park.

We hobbled home from the vet to await the extreme weather of the polar vortex and I decided to make a strange, wintry cabbage soup I’d read about in The Dean & Deluca Cookbook. The soup contains kielbasa, cabbage, and golden raisins. Although I have since learned that it is fairly common to put raisins in cabbage soup, this was a first for me. Satisfying my curiosity about the raisins was the whole reason I wanted to make the soup; I think I may be more tempted by recipes that sound weird than recipes that sound good.

To be fair, the cookbook tried to make the recipe sound good. Here’s the headnote: 
“There's a wonderful paradox in this soup (Waiter! There's a paradox in my soup!): it's filled with hearty ingredients and hearty flavors -- and yet, the overall feel of the soup is light and delicate. A guaranteed crowd-pleaser in winter.” 

Guaranteed crowd-pleaser? Not exactly. The first night, I was tempted to throw away both Dean & Deluca and the soup. It was watery and cabbagey and the raisins were just bizarre. Two days later, Mark reheated the soup and brought me a bowl for lunch (my injury means I get served more often) and it was a completely different soup. A soup we both wanted to eat. They always say this about soup and stew, that the flavors need time to meld, but rarely has it been so true as it was with this soup. By day three, the raisins had given up all their fruity sugar to the broth, which was floral and sweet, and yet there was also spicy, meaty kielbasa in there, so it filled you up. For five days in a row I ate the cabbage soup for lunch and marveled at how good it was until finally today I realized the soup was on the downswing. Like the raisins, the kielbasa had finally given all its flavor to the broth and tasted like nothing. When the kielbasa tastes like nothing, the soup’s over. 

You should try this recipe, though let it sit overnight before you serve it. This is a tasty, unusual, once-a-winter soup. I hope I can remember to make it again next winter. 

The other recipe I made recently that went over big was Deb Perelman's beans on toast from Bon Appetit. It felt wrong to serve a dish like this, geared for picky children, to two unpicky adults, but I will probably do so again because it is so easy and tasty. This is exactly the kind of meal Owen would have loved when he was a kid. No more. When I dropped him off at college in August he was a dark-haired meat eater.

He returned to us in December a vegetarian blond. He could not be persuaded to touch meat, even when we went to the most tempting Chinese dumpling restaurant. I respect that. I’m not nuts about the hair, but he could not care less, which is as it should be. Our children have their own lives now and Mark and I are trying (!) to do the same. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

My beloved chocoholic

Deb Perelman: "The landscape of butter-free cookies is usually filled with stories of compromise." 
        Roughly a decade ago, I dined at Prune restaurant in New York City and what I remember most vividly was the craggy chunk of dark chocolate that arrived with the check. It looked like it had been hacked from a chocolate mine with a pick and it was absolutely delicious. I believe the waitress said it was Callebaut 60%, though now I can’t remember exactly. In any case, I went home and ordered an 11-pound slab of Callebaut 60%. That’s a gigantic piece of chocolate but I wanted to be able to hack off craggy chunks of my own. I’ve kept a gigantic slab of dark chocolate in my pantry ever since. I pulled it out last Saturday to make the olive oil shortbread with rosemary and chocolate chunks from Smitten Kitchen Every Day. What a great little cookie. You chop some dark chocolate and stir it into an easy shortbread dough made with olive oil rather than butter, along with some minced fresh rosemary. The shortbread is gritty, slightly salty, and wonderful. I know. Rosemary in dessert. Yuck. And olive oil too? It’s a hard sell. But it works.
That was Saturday. Around 1 a.m. on Sunday I was awakened by noise from upstairs. Thumping sounds, then tearing sounds, then dragging sounds. Then some more tearing sounds, then some crashing sounds. I went upstairs. The dog was racing around the living room and kitchen in the dark looking for stuff to chew and destroy. She was all amped up like I’d never seen her before. I figured I hadn’t exercised her enough the previous day. I talked to her for a few minutes, tried to settle her down, and went back to bed. More rampaging. Odd. I went up again and only then did I notice that the pantry door was open and when I looked inside I saw that the block of Callebaut chocolate had been dragged off its shelf and was lying on the floor, scored with toothmarks. I would estimate Gracie ate a hunk of dark chocolate about the size of a pork chop, one of those big, thick loin chops. 

It’s hard to kill a dog with chocolate — some milk chocolate chips or a piece of chocolate cake won’t do it. But free access to an 11-pound slab of dark Belgian chocolate? Chocolate is toxic to dogs and Gracie was very, very sick. According to the vet, the typical pulse of a dog her size is 100 BPM and Gracie’s was 250 BPM when we got to the pet hospital in the middle of the night. To protect her privacy and dignity, I will refrain from sharing the indelicate details of her detox, but I assure you, it was dramatic.  

It was pretty lonely.
Alone in the waiting room of the pet hospital at 3 a.m., slouched on the vinyl couch beside the Christmas tree, I found myself gazing back, as if through a very long tunnel, at a younger, peppier me sitting at the counter at Prune, all dressed up and enjoying an experience that would lead me here, to a pet hospital almost a decade later. I find those strange threads of connection between events mysterious and fascinating. I don’t know why, I guess because they give a glimpse of the chaotic way life actually unfolds.   
Lessons learned: Life is uncanny. Put your chocolate on the top shelf when you get a dog.
Gracie made a full recovery, thank heavens. 

On another subject, I went to my last-ever holiday concert for the high school band in which Owen has played trombone these last four years. It was poignant and beautiful in that high school band concert way. The gym repurposed as concert hall. All those kids in their formal wear, earnestly performing Handel’s “Messiah” pretty darn well. The jovial music director who somehow taught a bunch of teenagers to perform Handel’s “Messiah” pretty darn well. The middle-aged parents smiling peacefully, enjoying the rare moment when it would be truly shaming to look at their phones. The one small annoyance of the evening was that no one bought the cookies I brought to the bake sale. Fools!

Friday, December 08, 2017

Papers and Pit Bulls

dog ownership

School is over for 2017. When I turned in my final paper and walked out the door of Room 6 the other day I felt like I’d taken off a heavy coat and a tight girdle, both at once. I love the learning part of school, but academic writing is a whole new sport and I’m extraordinarily bad at it. None of the writing muscles I’ve developed over thirty years are useful in the academic genre and it’s maddening not to be able to use them. It’s like I’m a pole vaulter trying to do the hammer throw. 
        I wrote my paper about Sarah Orne Jewett’s The Country of the Pointed Firs, a cozy 1896 novel about life in a coastal New England town. If you haven’t read it, brew yourself a mug of chamomile tea, curl up by the fire, and give it a try. Prepare to be charmed and perhaps a bit bored. I initially loved this book, but there was something about it, something small, that rubbed me the wrong way, and I decided it would be fun to try to identify and explore that small, annoying thing in my final paper. 

dog ownership meets grad school
        It was not fun. I started researching and brooding and rereading Country of the Pointed Firs and I ended up writing a 22-page paper about why I absolutely hate Country of the Pointed Firs which is like writing a paper about why you hate bunny rabbits.
And yet I somehow convinced myself, if not the professor, that Country of the Pointed Firs is a “dangerous” book. Do I really think so? I have no idea, but once I start arguing a case I can’t stop, like a pit bull whose jaw locks when she sinks her teeth into the tender neck of a toy poodle.
That’s a myth, of course, that pit bulls have locking jaws. They have perfectly ordinary jaws. I actually don’t have more to say about school or academic writing, I want to talk about pit bulls.
  When I started idly looking at dogs last summer, the pit bull was the one breed I would not consider. First of all, vicious. Second, ugly. My feelings about pit bulls were shaped by a notorious 2001 case in which two pit bulls attacked and killed a San Francisco woman in the hallway of her apartment building. Except here’s the thing: the dogs that attacked her weren’t pit bulls. They were Presa Canarios. But in my memory for the last 16 years they were pit bulls. Weird how that happens, but it happens a lot with the poor pit bull. The parallels with racial prejudice seem obvious to me.
Anyway, I didn’t adopt a pit bull. I adopted an adorable, scrawny boxer-whippet mix. So it was a little irritating when a kid on the street one day patted Gracie and said he loved pit bulls. I gently corrected him. Someone else pointed out that the tip of her tail was white, typical of the pit bull. I explained Gracie was a boxer-whippet mix. Then, a month or so ago, a woman I talk to all the time at the park said, “You know, Gracie looks a little pitty to me.” My heart sank. She looked a little pitty to me too in some lights and I didn’t like those lights. 

a little pitty?
To settle this issue, I took a swab of her saliva and sent it to a doggie DNA lab. It turns out the shelter hadnt been lying, Gracie has boxer and hound ancestry. But they had declined to mention, or perhaps did not know, that she is half pit bull. Or, I should say, American Staffordshire Terrier. 
I’m ashamed to admit that I was unsettled and instantly my beloved Gracie became less cute to me and for a few days I wondered if her boisterousness wasnt actually worrisome aggression. Then I read Pit Bull by Bronwen Dickey, a book I highly recommend if you accidentally adopt a pit bull. The pit bull hasn’t always been America’s most reviled dog. Helen Keller owned a pit bull and so did Teddy Roosevelt and Laura Ingalls Wilder. The pit was once considered a delightful and trustworthy family pet. But since the 1970s, it’s been the dog we enjoy villainizing, the dangerous Other of the canine world. I wouldn’t suggest anyone rush up to a strange pit bull with a spiked collar and start hugging him, but I’ve gotten to know a whole bunch of pit bulls and pit mixes since I started paying attention to dogs, and they’re pretty much all sweet, a few of them ridiculously so.  
After finishing Pit Bull, now completely woke about dog prejudice, I decided to do what I could to promote pit bull tolerance, like, I don’t know, actually telling people my cheery, petite, ebullient puppy was a pit bull mix?
Shortly thereafter Gracie and I were walking on our favorite trail when we encountered a woman with a gorgeous Australian shepherd puppy on a leash. The woman and I exchanged info about the breeds of our puppies and watched them romp for a minute or two. It was very chummy. We said good-bye and after we’d walked on for thirty seconds, Gracie couldn’t resist and ran back to play some more with her new pal. In the course of playing she “bit” the dog on the neck. I put “bit” in quotes because there is “biting” and there is biting. When puppies play they will “bite” their partner with a soft mouth, in other words, they don’t clamp down, they don’t exert pressure, they don’t truly bite. Gracie has joyfully “bitten” and been “bitten” by probably 100 dogs and never once has she hurt another animal. She doesn’t bite. Ever. I was approaching to grab Gracie’s collar when the woman started saying with an edge of hysteria in her voice: “Stop the biting, I don’t like that biting!” and then she shouted: “GET YOUR DOG!!!”
It was ludicrous. I understood she was anxious, but it was ludicrous. Nothing like this had ever happened before. Did she overreact because I’d told her Gracie was a pit bull mix? I pulled Gracie away and apologized, adding, “This is actually very normal puppy play.” The woman glared at me and walked away. I walked the other direction and thought, I bet she’s going to tell people about how she met this horrible pit bull on the trail who bit her puppy.
Typing this anecdote I really wanted to include certain details that would make the woman look precious and icky, portray her as the type of woman who would overreact to learning a puppy was a pit bull mix. You know, sort of like . . .  me a few months ago? 
       Typecasting is typecasting. It’s all pernicious.
       Dog ownership has been fascinating. I learned a lot this fall in the classroom, and even more from owning a dog.

On another subject, if you want to read a wonderful “unabashed appreciation” of Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen, check this out. I bought Smitten Kitchen Every Day and I’ve made the broccoli melts twice (recipe is also on her blog) and foresee making them a hundred more times. Easy, delicious. Her sausage, kale and crouton saute is also easy and great. Now that I’ve shucked the heavy coat and tight girdle of school, at least for a while, I hope to do more cooking and pole vaulting.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The hermeneutics of batshit dog crazy

I've got it really, really bad. 
My life is very happy right now, albeit at the expense of this blog.

First, school. I’m a lot busier with this than I’d anticipated. Which is great. It keeps my mind occupied and out of trouble and that was critical this fall, given my toxic fixation on Donald Trump and the political situation on the Korean Peninsula, where, as I’ve mentioned, my firstborn currently resides. I don’t have time to dwell on any of that, thanks to school. I’ve decided where I want to teach and what I want to teach when I finally get my degree in 2019, and it will have nothing to do with close-reading Country of the Pointed Firs and learning to casually drop “hermeneutics” into a sentence but meanwhile I’m enjoying close-reading Country of the Pointed Firs and learning to casually drop “hermeneutics” into a sentence. I’m not quite there yet — I can use “hermeneutics” in a sentence, but not casually and perhaps not even correctly. 

Second, Gracie. Our perfect dog. We kept her. Of course. I adore her. Of course. Because she is perfect. She is sitting next to me right now chewing on her beloved furry, filthy squeak toy (thank you Gardner Trimble) and it sounds like a clown car is driving through the living room. But like everything she does, including destroy books, steal shoes, and bark at dogs on TV, I find it utterly delightful. Like I said, Gracie is perfect. I spend every evening at the dog park now watching her play and swim in the bay with her pals Zoe and Atlas and Marigold while I talk to their owners about — what else? — dogs.  

I used to think the library was the best thing about living in Mill Valley. Now I think it’s the beautiful, bayside dog park. 

Obviously, when you’re at the dog park at 6 p.m. beaming at your adorable, frolicking puppy you’re not simultaneously cooking an ambitious dinner and when you’re sitting in a classroom the next morning discussing Edith Wharton with people in their teens and twenties you’re not blogging about that ambitious dinner you didn’t cook.

I’ve been cooking, but not Korean. It turns out that Korean cooking requires a little too much planning ahead for my current dog/commuting/hermeneutics lifestyle. I went to the supermarket on Monday without a list, bought a bunch of random food, came home, and cooked dinner every night this week without looking at any recipes.

I felt like a rockstar.

The dish I want to quickly mention because I love it so much is a beef salad I used to make all the time, pre-blog. It started with a recipe from Marcella Cucina, but once you’ve made it, you’ll never need to look at the recipe again. You thinly slice leftover pot roast, drizzle a layer of  meat with olive oil and lemon juice, sprinkle with salt, repeat with as many layers a you choose. Refrigerate. It’s hard to imagine how fatty, gray pot roast could ever be delicious served cold, but it is. Trust me. I served the beef salad with some fresh tomatoes the day after I served the pot roast and it was so good I couldn’t believe I hadn’t made this for at least a decade.  I just had some of this for breakfast and if Mark weren’t in the room I would let Gracie lick the plate.

But he is, so I will just wait until he steps away.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Never wake a sleeping baby

Korean cooking is still ON, but there were two developments in my life that required some adjustment over the last ten days and here they are:

First, I started a master’s program in English. Back in February when I took Owen to look at colleges it dawned on me that my future might also need attending to. In addition to writing, I thought I might want to be able to teach high school or maybe community college in my golden years. I applied to some programs. I got in. I started. I might actually get to write about cookbooks as part of this program, which is exciting.

I thought because I’m old and settled that it would be easier to do school than when I was young, but I got it backwards. It’s going to be harder. I'm still trying to figure out how I can make it all work.

The second development was so poorly timed it's funny. I mean, textbook idiocy. The geniuses among my readership will have guessed what that second development is, but for the rest of you: A few days after I started school, we fostered a puppy. 

Fostered. If we had adopted, I would be crying too hard to type.

She is the sweetest, squirmiest, most adorable little dog you would ever want to meet and, as puppies go, ridiculously easy. She was one of the animals evacuated from a shelter in Houston during the hurricane and I guess they don't like to keep puppies in the same facility with big dogs, hence the call for foster homes.

She follows me everywhere. She can be sleeping peacefully on the sofa next to me, as she is right now, but should I get up to refill my coffee cup in the kitchen, she will immediately spring to life and trot after me. When we return to the sofa forty-seven seconds later, she feels it’s necessary for us to have a joyful reunion that she initiates by climbing on my lap, squirming, wagging her tail, and licking my face until I acknowledge our deep bond and love for one another, at which point she will settle down at her end of the sofa to chew on Mark’s slipper (she is a slipper/shoe dog, not a ball dog) or go back to sleep. This routine makes me think really hard before going to get another cup of coffee or even walking across the room to retrieve my pen.

She’s wonderful. This was the wrong moment to foster a puppy.