Thursday, April 27, 2017

The world really has been shaved by a drunken barber



Saturday afternoon, Owen said, “What are you making for dinner?”

I said, “Nothing. I’m not cooking anymore.”

Owen: “I haven’t had a healthy meal since the last time you cooked.”

Me: “Maybe you should have thought about that when you made gagging noises every time you walked through the kitchen and saw me cooking.”

Owen “I didn’t make gagging noises when you were making meatloaf. I always like when you make pasta.”

Me: “Are you saying you want me to start cooking again?”

Owen: “You’re just trying to get me to say that.”

Me: “Well, if you asked me to start cooking again, I’d be really happy.” 

Owen: “I’ll see how long I can hold out. I don’t want to give in.” 

Me: “Oh, come on.”

Owen: “Does this mean you’re not going to write down all your good recipes for me when I leave home so I won’t starve?”

Me: “I’ll still do that.”

Owen: “What about the ground beef with fish sauce? I love that. I never complain about that. You could make that tonight. What ingredients do you need?”

Me: “We don’t have the ingredients and I’m not cooking tonight.” 

Every now and then, I stop cooking for a while because the family narrative around my cooking — “Mom and the crazy stuff she makes that no one likes” — becomes too tiresome. Also, I can be lazy. Conveniently, I can justify the laziness by reminding everyone (and myself) about the lack of appreciation.

This has been one of the longer strikes.

But I couldn’t keep it up. I never can. I started to feel like I was betraying something important to my identity, not to mention my body, when I found myself making a meal of some black olives, a spoonful of peanut butter, and a mini Mr. Goodbar.

And Owen’s daily queries as to what I was cooking for dinner began to seem plaintive. I do actually sort of like that boy.

Strike over.

Monday, I made the fish fingers from Alton Brown’s excellent EveryDayCook. You chop up some white fish (I used cod) and mix it with breadcrumbs, egg, mustard, mayo, and seasonings, form it into fingers, fry these in just a little oil, and serve with homemade tartar sauce. Solid recipe here

Owen had to leave for a school play before I officially served dinner and he hovered over the pan, trying to get me to cook his fish fingers faster so he wouldn’t be late. He wolfed them down in about 90 seconds, no gagging sounds or complaints, and when he left half a fish finger on the plate he said, “The only reason I’m not finishing that, Mom, is that I really have to go.”

The kid was trying. 

Last night, I picked Owen up at his ceramics class and on the way home we stopped at Safeway so I could buy ingredients for Alton Brown’s breakfast sausage carbonara. Brown calls for whole wheat pasta in this recipe and I told Owen that while whole wheat spaghetti was healthier, he might not like it and maybe we should get regular pasta. He voted for whole wheat. Not sure why.

I made the carbonara, which is very similar to other carbonaras, but a bit eggier and subs breakfast sausage for pancetta. Mark took one bite and pushed the bowl away on account of the whole wheat pasta. Owen had seconds. He didn’t say the carbonara was “great” because it wasn’t, but neither did he treat it as something I’d cruelly inflicted on him. 

Whole wheat spaghetti really is pretty bad. 

The recipe is here, though I don’t recommend it. I prefer this carbonara.

If I keep playing my cards right, I think the cooking narrative in this family is going to change for the better.


****

And now a weird little story that has nothing to do with food

The other day I went to a matinee screening of Frank Capra’s 1941 Meet John Doe, which I’d been wanting to see for years. The film is about cynical plutocrats and the pure-hearted John Doe, played by Gary Cooper, who inspires downtrodden, divided Americans to start talking to each other and unite around their shared suffering. 

My fellow moviegoers were very elderly, which is always the case when you go to a matinee in the suburbs midweek. I was probably the youngest person there by twenty or thirty years — and I’m not young.

About five minutes before the end of the film, two old women came in, not realizing that there was another half hour before the showing of the next film. One of the women was talking very loudly in a growly old lady voice and she did not lower that voice even when it should have been obvious that there was a film in progress. She had reached the age of obliviousness. She was leaning on her companion’s arm as they walked slowly down the aisle and she kept saying, “I can’t see anything. Where are the chairs?” 
This inspired a barrage of fierce “Be quiets!” from the audience. 

The women paused at the row behind me and the loud one began fumbling around trying to find the flip-down seat, issuing full-throated instructions to her ancient companion. She was flustered. I got up and helped her into her seat because I am, as everyone knows, an angel.

The woman kept talking during this painstaking process. Just as I sat back down, another old woman from elsewhere in the theater stood up, walked over, glared at the woman behind me, and said furiously:  “You need to be quiet!” She returned to her seat.

I could have sworn I heard the woman behind me say “cunt” but I simply can not believe she really did and prefer not to. Plus, an instant later she remarked with innocent delight, “Look, it’s Gary Cooper!” She pronounced “Gary” like “Harry.” 

This last, happy outburst inspired an old man now to get up and walk over. “Stop talking!” he hissed. It was as if he’d missed his first opportunity to issue an in-person rebuke, goddamnit, and he wasn’t going to let this one go by.

I really can not convey how bizarre this was. 

Two minutes later, the film ended. I ran out of the theater.

If you haven’t seen Meet John Doe, you should. Gary Cooper was impossibly handsome and the film is sweet and uplifting and made me cry. It is particularly poignant given how everyone seems to hate each other in our country right now. The film delivers a lovely message about showing charity and generosity to our frail fellow humans, a message that at least two people in the audience with me seemed to have missed completely.


It really does seem like people are suddenly meaner. Whether this was an anomaly or a sign of the times I have no idea, but in my many thousands of misspent hours in movie theaters, I’ve never before seen anyone — let alone two people — actually get out of their seats and march over to scold someone.

39 comments:

  1. Your post made me laugh... always a good thing. I enjoy your non-food-related posts as much as the food ones, so please don't stop posting just because you're not cooking!

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  2. So glad you're back! Thanks for an entertaining post.

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  3. I also recently fell out of the cooking habit but am getting back in. Maybe it's spring, the cruelest month, etc. You inspire me in many ways, but especially to think more about the strange things that sometimes happen around us.

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    1. It's so easy to fall out of the habit. I used to be compulsive about cooking, but once I stopped being compulsive, I sort of stopped doing it. I'm not very good at doing things in a mellow way -- it's all or nothing.

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  4. Ha, oh my gosh! My husband and I go to the orchestra on the cheap 40-and-under tickets we barely qualify for. The average and median ages of the audience are high, hence the cheap tickets for young folk. At the last concert we went to, a man who had been somewhat noisy for a while said "give me your binoculars!" very loudly to his companion during a quiet moment in the music, and the older man in front of us angrily turned around and shushed him, then made quite a show of storming off to new seats during intermission. I'm not sure his huff was even noticed by anyone but my husband and me. We laughed at it all. Then a woman had her cane caught up in the seats, and my husband was the only one to offer help even though he wasn't the closest. She was very appreciative and thanked him profusely, which felt nice. Did your ladies thank you at all for helping them with their seats?

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    1. No, my ladies did not thank me, which I'm sorry to say, I noticed. I think they were too out-of-it even for that.

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  5. Wonderful tale of aggravated moviegoers. Once, a long time ago I was at a screening of Trash at the Times theater in SF and a viewer kept chatting and various members of the audience loudly compained untill a a man walked over and punched the talker. I like to think your aged gent was that man. The timing is just about right.

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  6. Wait, Gary doesn't rhyme with Harry? I pronounce them both like hairy. Or Mary or Sherry, for that matter. Are these different for you?

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    1. I am very interested in the answer to this question! Wonderful post; weird movie experience.

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    2. I wonder about this too! My name rhymes with both (at least to ME it does), but when I met my Scottish-born parents they said to me "Do you pronounce it Kari or Kari" (that's the way I heard it), and I just said "yes."

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    3. d'oh, I didn't meet my parents, I met my in-laws.

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    4. Hmm. I was thinking about this. There's a certain way of saying Gary that sounds more like Harry to me -- and does NOT rhyme with Hairy. I wish I knew the terminology for pronunciations. I guess it was just a very New York sounding way of saying "Gary."

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  7. I have almost completely stopped going to live theater in NYC because people simply do not know how to behave in a theater anymore. On one particularly awful occasion, the people in front of me dashed out during intermission and bought take out salads in clamshell containers, which they proceeded to crunch on during the entire second act. The people next to me on the right were texting continually and the people on the left kept up a whispered dialogue. I was almost in tears. The last time I was in a movie theater was Christmas Day 2015, and that was a religious occasion {preceeded by Chinese food, of course, for the orthodox among us}.

    I've missed you, glad you're back.

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    1. I hate hate hate when people eat outside food in movie theaters. It's so awful to smell it.

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  8. So glad you are back, and please don't disappear for so long, cooking or not! I totally get taking a break. No one who isn't slamming out meals regularly gets how demanding it can be. Currently my kitchen is dismantled due to a long over-due renovation, and I am forced to take a break. So far, I'm happy, but still find myself marking recipes, etc. Are you through with the Korean phase? I was hoping for a lot of posts on that.Just hope you will post often, regardless of content.

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    1. I'm just out of the rhythm. Also, life is different these days, don't have so many stories from the household. Everyone is much more dignified and less funny and half the time there's no one even to cook for!

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  9. So happy to see a new post! I have now gone back and read every post in the archive -- all of which I thoroughly enjoyed -- and was about to start all over again. As with everyone else, I love reading your posts, cooking or non-cooking. If you are writing elsewhere please tell us where to look.

    What a bizarre thing to happen in the movie theater! I feel as though people are meaner, as if they feel they have been given permission to let their inner mean selves out. And yet I have also seen more random acts of kindness too, maybe trying to counter the meanness. /Gretchen

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    1. It seems like people are meaner lately. But maybe I'm imagining it.

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    2. Perhaps this is universal? ..an Italian official has protested tourists eating on the steps of a famous church, calls it disrespectful and promises to hose steps down every mid-day to discourage sitters and lunching...

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  10. I agree with Gretchen: People are meaner. The White House is making people crazier. Yet one see acts of random kindness. And it is good to hear from you again. You could write a lawnmower repair manual and I'd happily read it, just for the enjoyment.

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    1. The White House is sure making me crazy, but I actually think I'm getting nicer as a result. Like, there's so much grossness in our public life I'm not about to make it even worse.

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  11. As usual, thanks for the timely post Jennifer. For the past several months, the refrain to the old Neil Young song "Human Highway" has been like an ear worm, "how could people get so unkind . . . ."

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  12. The level of uncivil discourse in this country is appalling, IMHO. I truly hate it. I find I don't want to be out among strangers as much as I did in the past for fear that it will begin in my presence. And the level of discourtesy is just as bad. People will run over you to get to a parking place, talk loudly on their phones in areas that make everyone listen, ignore traffic rules while talking on their phones, and rarely, if ever, just let something go. However, I am one of the ones who is trying to kill everyone with kindness these days. If they are disarmed, all the better, if not, then at least I feel good about my response. I think most people are very stressed out, too connected, and are not handling it well. I find it mentally healthier for me to try and connect to my compassion than my anger.

    And I certainly agree with everyone above, Jennifer, you can write *anything*, and I will enjoy reading it. It was fabulous to see a post!

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    1. That's funny, Beckster, I hadn't read your comment when I replied to one above -- I'm actually getting nicer too. All the ugliness in public discourse is making me want to be better and I actually think about that sometimes when I'm "at large" in the world.

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  13. So glad you are back! Hearing Owen soften up gives me great hope for my not so little ones here. Below is a link to a great article about how baking for Others is a therapy of sorts.
    Happy trails,
    http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/us_58dd0b85e4b0e6ac7092aaf8

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    1. amber o -- that is fascinating. I had never heard of culinary art therapy, but it makes complete sense. I loved this passage: “Baking is thinking step-by-step and following the specifics of the here and now, but it’s also thinking about recipes as a whole, the dish as a whole, what are going to do with it, who it’s going to, what time are you sharing it, so baking is a really good way of developing that balance of the moment and the bigger picture,” says Ohana.

      Thank you so much for sharing that!

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  14. I haven't been cooking much either (other than for work, obviously.) I haven't even made any pizzas in over a year :(
    I find most people are pretty friendly in my daily environment, with the occasional jerk thrown in for flavor. Like the people on the train who play music out loud on their phones, or, worse, bring portable loudspeakers for extra volume. They are obviously doing it to impose their music on others just to annoy them. And it works. I'm always annoyed by it. But then again, taking the subway every day is not likely to improve your opinion about humanity. I've seen people pee in the corner of the platform or on the elevator more times than I can count, and several times there's been a giant human turd in the elevator at the Hollywood and Vine station. I've been propositioned by a man while he unambiguously fondled himself, hand and entire forearm down his pants. Once, a truly tragic, handsome, unhinged young man screamed in my face in such a fit of violence that the man behind me forced himself between us. I've seen entire families finish their Jack in the Box meals and drop every piece of their trash on the floor.
    But, then again, most of the people are courteous, and smile if they catch your eye. They hold elevators and swing-gates open for the people behind them. One man even carried my bike up the stairs for me, just to be nice. It's just a mixed bag, I guess.

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    1. Those are some nasty stories. Ugh. But it really is sort of amazing that those are the exception, not the rule. That we basically get along as well as we do. I've had that thought sometimes while riding the subway in New York, that it's a miracle things function as smoothly and civilly as they do.

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  15. It is always such a treat to click on the Tipsy Baker icon on my desktop and see a new post from you. Makes my day.

    I'm much older than you, kids long gone with kids of their own, but I well remember that if one is expected to put at least one well-cooked meal on the table every day, 365 days a year, it can become almost unbearably tedious. I used to make up secret rules for myself, such as "every dish tonight must be the color purple," or "everything on the menu must contain carrots," or something equally arbitrary, and then would wait to see if anybody noticed. Nobody ever did. I also had a bad habit of critiquing (denigrating) my own cooking while we all ate, and at some point, my husband and kids rounded on me and told me to stop doing that, that my cooking was great, yada. The very next night, taking that to heart, I said something nice about the meal I had myself produced, and my oldest child (then about 16) replied to me: "It's not that great, Mom." It was a very funny moment for everybody, most of all for me.

    Now that I don't have kids to feed, I sometimes (often) go on strike in the kitchen and announce that it's Refrigerator Madness night, indicating that we both dig around in the fridge and find something acceptable, perhaps one of us eating a grapefruit and an English muffin and the other fixing a grilled cheese sandwich. What freedom!

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    1. I love that you had those challenges. I think this whole blog was sort of a challenge, helped me keep things interesting, gave me a reason to try new things. I do "Refrigerator Madness" quite a bit -- like last night. If I don't, I end up throwing stuff away so why not?

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  16. I just watched "High Noon" and really enjoyed it. Tried not to remember how I wouldn't like Gary Cooper's politics in real life. Your posts make me appreciate my own sons a bit more -- they don't complain all that much about dinner, and I do a fair amount of what they call "wacky Mommy recipes." WW pasta often tastes as though there is dirt mixed in -- Barilla is okay, though -- although I was boycotting them for homophobia until they apologized.

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    1. Also -- did you make what Alton Brown calls "custard" for your tartar sauce? I'm not warming to that idea, but wonder if I'm just being narrow?

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    2. The custard is just the tartar sauce -- it's not really custard at all.
      I've realized recently that Owen has a nervous stomach and that's one reason he is such a picky eater. He really doesn't eat that much most of the time and he eats even less when he's stressed out, which is always these days.

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