Month: August 2017

Bok Choy Bad Boy

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I sautéed up some bok choy for my family’s dinner the other night.  In fact, I fried up and doled out that nutritionally-dense Chinese cabbage on two consecutive nights.  Two nights in a row. One after the other.  I talk Bok Choy.  I talk Bok Choy real good, apparently.

How did it come to this?

I did not spring from back-to-back sautéed bok choy stock.  When I was born, my parents and I were living in a trailer park in Central New York. (Yes, I said “Central.”  To me, the “Upstate”  moniker requires a considerable jaunt north along I-81, preferably in a blizzard and under whiteout conditions.)   Growing up in Syracuse, my parents insisted that we eat healthy, but I don’t recall any gourmet shopping trips to any particularly ethnic locales around town.  I’m not sure there were any ethnic locales.  Unless one considers Irish pubs and Italian pizzerias as qualifiers.  And there was nothing exotic about the powdered milk we frugally stockpiled, my boyhood friends’ mumbled complaints to the contrary notwithstanding.  High school introduced me to the wonders of Hungry Man dinners.  I gladly overlooked the always-frozen centers of the turkey portion in order to make my way to the gooey peach cobbler.  At least I think it was peach cobbler. 

In undergrad, one of my freshman roommates, David, arguably enlightened me regarding high cuisine, I suppose. He brought a plug-in hot pot tastefully emblazoned with the words, “Le Pot Chaud.”  (It’s French, you see?) Though in retrospect, the hot pot sparked when introduced to the electrical outlet, dimmed our lights as if an atomic bomb had just hit the power grid, and seemed to churn out only Oodles of Noodles.  Not to mention, the Oodles of Noodles never made it to the fully-cooked state.  Al dente, at best.  (Italian, see?)

In law school, one of my first dates with my future wife (maybe even our actual first date) brought out my inner Julia Child. But the homemade meal was hardly coq au vin (French again, but most assuredly not included in my starving student vernacular).  Instead, I made…catfish. And I think I cooked it in a beat up toaster oven purchased at a garage sale.  And I had a helluva time peeling the dried-out fish from the “well-seasoned” aluminum foil tray with a rarely washed plastic spatula prone to (minor) incidents of melting before my fresh faced date arrived. Honestly, it’s a miracle that a second date ever happened.  In fact, there’s a decent chance that I’ll be served with divorce papers tonight, once my wife reads this paragraph and relives the traumatic episode. Bottomfeeders:  The fish and the cook. 

So how is it that I now prance around a spice rack making mental notes about the need to replace the cumin with an organic strain? And swap out coconut aminos for soy sauce?  Coconut. Aminos.  What?  Wasn’t that the stuff that triggered the steroid era in Major League Baseball? And why am I now finding myself buying only a certain kind of salt mix — insisting on the kind with shreds of fennel in a small brown bag with a red javelina drawn on the outside?

Perhaps more to the point, why do I feel the need to counterbalance all this with odd, Delta Force poses struck next to a 7-foot Star Wars villain? Hey, I can still be a bad man. Someone not to be trifled with.  A guy who won’t tolerate sustained eye contact on the street.  A dude in cahoots with some heavy intergalactic muscle, too, evidently. I can be both, right?

Well, that’s enough existential angst for now.  I’ve gotta run and plan my dinner recipe for tonight. These red peppers aren’t going to stuff themselves.

Thanks for reading.  

I (Allegedly) Cheated on my Wife.

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That's the gist of it this morning.  I don't feel like I cheated, though I have been roundly accused of same.  I have yet to admit the cheat.  The incriminating evidence is inconclusive, at best.  And there is no money in the budget for a forensic examination. So any alleged cheating will very likely remain unproven beyond a reasonable doubt for the foreseeable future.  

And yet, the suspicion lingers in the air.  

To be clear, the current dispute centers not around any sort of romantic liaison.  No.  Something far more serious, threatening the very underpinnings of our 25-year relationship:  Food.  My wife Hilary and I recently took the plunge on a new "diet." I put the word "diet" in quotes because it's not really a diet.  I italicized the word "diet" just now because I want to make sure you read the word "diet" with the intended emphasis and intonation.  This Whole30 thing is, to my mind, not a "diet" or a diet.  It's more about reprogramming your body over the course of 30 days by ruthlessly and mercilessly stripping away all the foods that you have come to love over the course of your entire life.  No cheese.  No pasta.  No Doritos. No croissants or Dunkin Donuts.  No cream in your coffee.  No hoppy beers.  No beers of any hoppiness, for that matter. No rice.  Etcetera, etcetera.  No etcetera, I bet, if I looked that up on the verboten list.  It's a rather spartan existence, the goal of which is ultimately to determine which foods are good for your particular body, and which are not.  And oh by the way, if one consumes a forbidden item along the way, even accidentally, one starts all over again. On Day One.  Back to zero. Thirty more days in solitary. 

Sounds simple enough, and it is if one follows the rules.  Still, without a doubt, it is a long slog.  Objectively, it totally sucks.

I committed to this same month-long program a year ago, and our kids are likely still scarred for life, dragged along for the tortuous ride as they were.  Riced cauliflower induces nightmares without fail.  The boys scratch their eyes out at the sight of sweet potato hash.  I am fairly convinced that my eldest has programmed our Alexa device to automatically dial Child Services if I paw at the insides of a spaghetti squash with a fork. And "zoodles" (deliberately in quotes rather than italics here) is a word that may not be spoken aloud within my sons' earshot.

Despite these atrocities visited upon my family at this time last year, the other day my wife rather casually offered to join me on a second belly-crawling trip through the desert.  We started about a week ago.  Turns out this thing is much easier when accompanied by another glutton for punishment.  ("Glutton" is of course exactly the wrong word here.  No gluttony involved, believe you me.)  We have both been doing great.  Keeping on the straight and narrow.  True believers.  Yes, evenings on the family room couch stir up painful yearnings, frequently spoken aloud, for just one Oreo or a single handful of Fritos.  But these yearnings are not acted upon.  

At least not intentionally acted upon. 

And now we arrive at the crux of it. Yesterday, I may (or may not) have cheated.  Apparently, whilst trying to stuff a commando Whole30-compliant grocery trip into the ten remaining minutes before a pediatrician appointment, I may (or may not) have committed a serious and unforgivable error. The familiar, oblong almond milk bottle I grabbed by the neck and shoved in my bag somehow lists "cane sugar" among the typed ingredients.  According to the Whole30 Gospel, this may as well be marked by a skull and crossbones. A screaming alarm should have sounded on Aisle One at Cal-Mart the moment my fingers made contact with the bottle. I should have been tackled by a cadre of jumpsuit-wearing security guards. With my wrists ziptied behind my back, my panicked pleas — " The font size is too damned small! I was in a hurry! The condensation on the bottle obscured that particular item on the list!" — fall on deaf ears. It doesn't matter; this is a strict liability crime.  Either you did it or you didn't. 

There is no question that the offending and totally illegal item ended up in my family's refrigerator.  Those two little terrifying words — canesugar — quietly and patiently ticking away like a time bomb. The question, the only question that matters, is whether or not I poured some of this radioactive material into my afternoon coffee.  I simply cannot recall, what with the whole coffee thing being such a rote and mindless daily task.  Frankly, if it were mischievously hidden in a container marked "Half 'n Half," I would numbly pour rat poison into my coffee.  And drink it without incident.  Probably do the same thing again the next day.

But again, my actual intention doesn't matter here.  There is no gray area.  Either I drank the cheating almond milk or I did not drink the cheating almond milk.  The former — my wife's favored theory — means I have to start all over again.  So I'm sticking with the latter.  But I don't know how much longer I can withstand this withering cross-examination from my Doritos-deprived partner. Wish me luck. 

And thanks for reading. 

 

 

 

16: Keep On Casting.

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Our first moment together: Sixteen years ago tonight (at 7:51 pm), I caught your slippery little 7.8-pound body with mine own hands, after several hours in totally uncharted territory.  I was terrified.  Shell-shocked from what goes down in these delivery rooms and what had just gone down in this delivery room. How have human beings done this sort of thing for tens of thousands of years?  I was also elated. The enormity of the moment was not lost on me. “Maxwell, we are so happy to meet you,” I croaked, choking back the new father tears streaking down my new father cheeks.  Your future moments — the coming night when I lay next to your bassinet confirming every new breath, and the coming years with everything else — spun through my mind.  All completely unknowable, more or less.  Cast the line out and see what happens. 

I’m still casting. 

How is it possible that you are now 16?  I am terrified all over again.  Not at the memory of changing, give or take, 6,000 soiled diapers.  Rather, at the prospect of not remembering in detail every single moment since the day you were born.  And the prospect of your many moments yet to come.  Increasingly, your moments are just that — your moments.  Not mine.  The fishing rod is planted firmly in your palms.  Not in mine. 

This summer you spent weeks in the Alaskan backcountry wilderness.  Stuffing and re-stuffing your wet and odiferous gear into your heavy backpack.  Mixing up lumpy fried rice and biscuits by campfire cooking stove.  Practicing drills to fjord streams and flummox grizzly bears. Rallying your fellow hikers during a frightening cold snap. Finding out more about who you are and who you might become.  Even today, I could not pinpoint on a map where your legs carried you.  These are your moments, not mine.  

In less than a month, you’ll head off to boarding school.  The once slippery 8-pounder now moving through your days in the general direction of adulthood.  Out of my sight, out of my hearing, beyond my touch. A distance further than I am capable of casting, in fact.  I’ve visited the campus, talked to the coaches, devoured the website and Instagram feeds.  We’ll set up a regular FaceTime schedule, to be promptly ignored.  You’ll likely text with curt requests for this unnecessary thing or that unnecessary thing.  So most of those texted requests, too,  will be promptly ignored. And your little brother may or may not set up shop in your newly-vacant bedroom at home (we have considerable work still to do with him and this whole fishing metaphor). 

And strangely, I’m OK with all of this.  You should be too. Your mom and I will, of course, always be here for you. Nothing could every change that.  Nothing.  And hopefully, we have helped shape you enough along the way such that you are pointed, more or less, in the right direction.  We’ll keep shaping, too; we are nowhere near done on that front. But for the most part, we are reduced to supporting roles.  Supporting roles in the moments that you experience.  You cast.  We watch.  No one can know what the future holds.  What lies just below the surface of White Pond’s still waters.  Every throw of your line opens up new moments. Your moments.  Just know that I’ve still got a small fishing net around here somewhere, just in case you need a little help hauling in. 

Happy 16th Birthday, son. 

And thanks for reading. 

Ride of the Valkyries

My father-in-law and I are locked in an unspoken battle. A battle for control of the kitchen's ambient aura. He, evidently, prefers library-like silence. I, evidently, need music. Any music, really. Audible, if only faintly, in every room. If I walk into a room completely devoid of music, I stop abruptly, bolt upright, ramrod straight, and recognize immediately that something is amiss. No music. I can't hear any music. Must. Have. Music.

On the counter of my father-in-law's kitchen there lies a clock radio. Early ancestor of the shouldered boom box and of the more recent, omnipresent Bluetooth portable speakers. Every summer I recruit the clock radio into the service of addressing my inability to tolerate a quiet room. I know the clock radio wants only to blink the time in blue green digits. Probably it has forgotten any other features. Likely no music has seeped from its speaker holes since I commandeered its control center a full year ago. Someone has slid the volume bar to zero, which always triggers a brief bout of confusion on my part. For a moment, I wonder in panic if perhaps, at long last, the music playing components have fried or fizzled. But I know my opponent's mind by now. I suspect the volume-to-zero saboteur silently (of course) hopes I will leave it at that, and not fiddle with the clock radio again this summer. I am finally defeated after years of waging kitchen counter clock radio battles, he figures.

Hardly.

Instead, I call to mind the "Apocalypse Now" scene of Robert Duvall's character storming a beach with a squadron of helicopters. blaring Wagner's best-known opera piece. The radio dial is more or less always stuck on a local classical music station. So the odds are pretty good that this particular, fright-inducing composition will blare suddenly and distortedly when I accidentally slide the volume bar all the way to eleven. I stomp across the beach with my Civil War era cavalry hat and yellowed ascot. Claiming the kitchen and its environs as my own. The battle decided in my favor, once and for all.

Until I return from a day at the beach or a trip to Dunkin Donuts to find the clock radio inexplicably mute. All evidence of my recent victory gone, as if I had never actually been victorious in the first place. The kitchen has apparently not been captured and secured, after all.

It is of course possible that I am imagining this musical war in my own mind. The wiring or radio tubes or whatever could just be shorting out. A carpenter ant could be raising his or her little family in the radio's innards, for all I know. But I don't think so. I think there is a real conflagration at play for several years now. Writing this sentence, I can hear nothing from the kitchen downstairs, though I am certain I depressed the "on" button less than an hour ago. My father-in-law may have won this battle. But I am resolved to win the war.

Thanks for reading.