Cooler Heads

Slate tiles for the kitchen!

Getting back into the groove after a week in the Rockies. It was a tour of climbing up mountains and climbing into pint glasses. Colorado is ground zero for fabulous micro-brews, and we expanded our touring to a very large commercial facility in a golden place. For the record, I much preferred the local suds.

We hiked above the tree line and walked the path through the tundra–which is both hearty and fragile. We zipped our jackets up and huffed our way to the 12,005 foot mark. It’s work just to breathe for us sea level dwellers.

We saw elk and mule deer and these crazy cute marmots who live to sleep, eat and play. Frankly, marmots got it right. We saw bear scat (which is a cool way to say poop). We rafted and hiked and ate and drank with my own, beloved Bear.

The Spouse noted that this was the longest we’ve spent not talking about the house in, like, a long time. Instead we dangled feet in a creek fed by melted snow sheltered by a dappled canopy of willow trees, swatting away pesky yellow jackets and getting sprayed by the water that a trio of golden retrievers shook in our direction.

And, while we were out, the HVAC contractors showed up. They put in ducts that will blow in cool air. We’re keeping the radiators downstairs–there is truly nothing as comforting and warm as radiator heat despite the space they take up, or maybe because of the space they take up? Upstairs the non-functioning electric baseboard heat that we were afraid to turn on is getting replaced. We used space heaters to remove actual frost from the air, and we slept underneath a pile of blankets and quilts while wearing socks. I’d get dressed downstairs.

So we’re augmenting the heating upstairs with a heat pump that will also keep us cool all summer long. We will give up the hum and clank and rattling of the window unit that has kept stifling summer heat away.

Today I walked in the house and saw that the kitchen tile was delivered. I’m happy to replace the cracked, blue linoleum tiles. There was a patch that went missing. I hid that spot with a sisal runner.

The new tile is a cool, greenish slate. I ran my hand along it’s rough surface. It’s solid. It came from the ground. It’s rock. Like the mountains that surrounded us and greeted the sky. The mountains that supported plants and animals and harbored lakes cut by glaciers. I’m feeling like the slate was a good choice.

Splice of Life

A almost collapsed cake with four lit birthday candles. The cake is greenish. With some chocolate cake poking through the frosting. What a mess. We didn't eat this. It's just a picture from the Internet.

Our neighbors moved a few months back. It’s only a few blocks from here, and they really needed more space. Their new house is terrific. The people who moved into their old house are very nice.

But it’s just not the same. It’s like there is a hunk of film spliced out of the reel. Something is missing.

My dog misses their dog. He’s gone up to their porch to check if his pupster uncle is there. He never is. He doesn’t live there anymore. Or maybe The Beast is just waiting for the door to open. One day they were having a party and he pushed into the house and beelined to the brie wheel on the table which he proceeded to eat in a single gulp. The kids were amazed by his audacity. It might have been their favorite story, ever. I know this because they have told it to me more than once. So maybe the dog’s standing on the porch because he wants more cheese.

I miss watching the kids running to the car in the morning on the their way to school. Sometimes they were in a big hurry and there would be backpacks flying and open jackets and someone carrying their coffee in their almost free hand. Sometimes it would be less frenetic and we would have a short visit. The kids would all ask to come across the street to pet the dog. Even though they had one of their own that they didn’t actively pet.  It was always a charming part of the morning. Sometimes I would bitch about The Spouse. Sometimes she would bitch about hers. Always in a loving way. That’s what neighbors do. Listen to each other bitch about loved ones.

I miss the extended family. Grandma’s and sisters and nephews and cousins. After a while, they all knew me. And I knew them, too. I’d get called over for a glass of wine at the tail of a family party. One day The Spouse brought over the leftover ginger ice cream I made. It was Christmas Day. Another day we were all snowed in and they saw that someone made me a fancy mojito. IN THE WINTER. You know how Facebook makes you jealous of your friends? So I sent the Big Guy over with a summer drink to make them feel less envious. The flow of goods and services frequently criss-crossed the street.

My friend and former neighbor had a birthday party. There was cake. There was dancing to favorite music–Hall and Oats and Skee-lo and some 80s music that I must have slept through but that everyone else knew.  And there was love. My neighbors are spliced out of the daily reel, but still have important scenes. I miss seeing them every day. But am glad I still see them.

Pomegranate Seeds

A flight of beer and a bowl of potato salad, beans and pulled pork. It was yum. Also, thanks Prisma!

My dad liked his potato salad with gravy. The potato salad came out of the fridge, especially since it had lots of creamy mayo. It was cold. And he liked it poured over with hot gravy. Like if the potatoes were hot and mixed with butter and milk. But they weren’t. They were cold. With mayo and raw onions and cooked eggs.

Everyone, other than him, thought it was pretty gross.

But it was Dad’s thing. Potato salad with gravy. It got to be so much a thing that when Mom made potato salad to accompany, say, burgers on the grill–served with condiments right from the fridge, like ketchup and yellow mustard and pickle relish and sliced onions and tomatoes–she would sometimes magic up some gravy for Dad. If you cooked, you know that there was some serious magic going on to make gravy when the meat was on the grill. And, by the way, Mom NEVER opened a can or jar of “gravy.” That gummy shit is a poor excuse for gravy. Even for potato salad.

Anyway, today, The Spouse asked me if I wanted to go to the auto store to get the battery for the Mini replaced. It was on warranty, and the Mini was frequently on no-go. I said yes.

The Spouse poked his head in the bathroom–I NEVER get any privacy around here–a few minutes later to admit that the errand was extremely dull and wondered why I would go. I said I’d go because I wanted to hang out. I gave The Beast a treat, and, along with the promise of new wiper blades for my car, we went to the auto store.

Me, being the clever Doc that I am, figured out the correct wiper blades and waited for The Spouse. And, while waiting, discovered that there was a yet to be tried brewery a mere four minutes drive away. Clearly, this was not going to be an extremely dull errand.

While at the beer makery, I spied the BBQ truck. The Spouse left the flights behind to have a tour of yet another set of stainless steel vats. I went to get the grub on the street from the truck.

As I studied the offerings chalked on the side of the truck, the very pleasant attendant asked if I had their BBQ Pearl.

“No,” I said.

“People really like it. It sounds weird but it’s the most popular. We layer mac and cheese with baked beans and pulled pork.”

“I know it’s weird, me not you, but I don’t really like mac and cheese.”

To her enormous credit, she did not make a disparaging face.

“Now, if it was like potato salad and beans and pork, I’d like that alot better.”

“I can make that!”

I realized I was channeling my Dad. The idea of hearty, hot food on top of potato salad was like gravy. And I said, “Yes.” I ate it as my Dad. And it was good.

I miss my Dad every day. Today I felt like I connected across the the lands of the living and the lands of those who have left. Over potato salad. And baked beans. And pulled pork.


Good Forms

Agent (of S.H.I.E.L.D.) Melinda May uses her mad fighting skills to kick a bad guy. She's not hurt. She's boss.

The smell of french fries crossed the street on its own. It was actually the smell that conjures fries. More like the smell of the fryer. And salt. Not potatoes. The potatoes have no smell.

The lurkers on the sidewalk turned their heads in the direction of the scent. Some looked more plaintively than others.

There were two types of yearners. Some were hungry, either because they didn’t eat dinner yet or because every time they smell fried food they wanted it. There was a subset of this group that were both. They were the most dangerous.

Others looked longingly when the door to the tavern opened. They could almost see the outline of the polished wooden bar. The welcoming stools waiting for a perch. The pours lined up and reflecting off the back mirror. They might be interested in the fries, too. Salt to wash down the spirits.

Yet they remained posted up in front of the dual storefront. There were scores of square feet of glass. There were three short rows of metal chairs closest to the doors of each store. Mostly moms sat in. Mostly dads stood outside.

The moms on the inside might spend time on their phones, but as the weeks of class wore on, they knew each other. They spoke about the trials of homework, mismanagement of time and the concomitant fines, inequities at work/home/country and their pride in their offspring. The dads on the inside were primarily silent but observant. They were tracking the progress of their progeny purposely. They knew the color sequence of the belts.

The few women outside were either sitting in strategically parked SUVs or smoking a cigarette. The outside dads milled around. A group discussed the Redskins practice and hopes for the preseason. The sole–and loud–Cowboys fan was there to be razzed. And he was. The outside moms didn’t track the inside. The outside dads would frequently glance over their shoulders and mark their kids.

The inside parents ensured that all belongings were accounted for, stuffed in backpacks or purses or bags. Most outside moms followed up. The outside dads who limousined the kids every week were on top of it. The dads who were intermittent chauffeurs asked the kids if they had everything. The kids always said yes. Sometimes they were mistaken. Sometimes there was a trip back to the storefront. Sometimes there were later recriminations. Less in the summer. More during the school year.

Just the one dad would take his kid across the street after class. The dad would order a beer he liked. The kid would have orange and cranberry juice with a spritz of club soda, a cherry and a single drop of bitters. They called it his cocktail. The dad and his kid would split a fry. And the kid talked up the bartender and learned to tip, too.

Post #214

a guy and a dog walking along a dock in Ocracoke.

I walked the length of our beach road at 7 a.m. Sweat was dripping from the tip of my nose and from the bottom of my chin. Literally dripping. I was walking slowly. This was before coffee.

I finished the milk one day too soon. I thought about going half-rations in my coffee this morning, then I threw all caution to the wind. Black coffee tomorrow morning.

I was lulled to sleep by the ocean and was shocked awake by a silent wave rushing over my legs and quick chilling my torso. Like the wine chilling vat at Whole Foods. But more quicker. This was not an issue. I fell back asleep.

I watched fluffy clouds chug across the sky. One looked like a cartoon alligator splayed on his back, laughing at an unheard joke. Another looked like a train with three cars, white cloud smoke puffing out of its stack.

I heard someone say that there are bumper stickers with a picture of okra and a coke bottle. I wish someone had told me that before I embarrassed myself by mispronouncing Ocracoke. I convoluted those letters every which way. Many times. Never again. A picture in my head is worth a thousand words.

I decided that there were too many male voices on the streaming “radio” stations. So I sought out Icona Pop with Charli XCX. I don’t care. I love it!

I stood in front of the refrigerated aisle at the Food Lion contemplating the choices for the trip’s final six-pack. I went in thinking of the known crisp and slightly fruity Stella and walked out with an unknown Slow Ride session IPA.

I learned that the unknown could be a very good choice.

I found out that monkfish is on the list of the thirteen most ugly animals. First, the list has thirteen? Not ten? Not fifteen? Did somebody get bored? Second, we are having it for dinner.

I was right to try a news diet. I knew I was right when I broke the diet and saw some of today’s news.

I spoke to both boyz today. One is 33o miles away and one is 1,901 miles away. They both needed something. That oddly made me happy. Not redundant, yet.

When I spoke on the phone with the Big Guy, I covered my mouth. I had just eaten some garlicky gazpacho. I apologized for the smell. He laughed. He said he couldn’t smell it. I laughed. I said it was because he had a cold. He said, “no, it’s actually pneumonia.” Uhm, the good news? He stopped smoking. For now. And promised to drink plenty of liquids.

I have a sunburn on my legs. It is the accumulated tan of six gloriously sunny days. I should have been more generous with the leg sunscreen, but there was such a good base. It is the glowing coal type of sunburn–it doesn’t really hurt, but it is hot. I bet it’s just old people skin by morning. I’ll drink plenty of liquids, too. Can’t hurt.

I decided against trying to string this together any better. See it as you will. And, thanks, as always, Loyal Reader, for your indulgence.


Beautiful Swimmer

Maryland blue crabs. So much work for so little meat for so much reward.

I didn’t grow up eating Maryland crabs. This was very obvious to people who did.

Early in my career, I worked for an association. One of our members, Mary, invited me to speak at a chapter event. Since it was at the beach I said, “Yes!”

Ocean City, Md., has a boardwalk with a big ferris wheel that reveals then hides the shore as it circles. It has cotton candy and beach fries and whack-a-mole and t-shirts that say, “Don’t Bother Me, I’m Crabby.” But you don’t get crabs on the boardwalk.

Mary and her husband Chester were from Baltimore. They had a daughter my age, a son a few years older and two grandchildren, so far. They loved the beach and the Eastern Shore where the watermen delivered rockfish and oysters and crabs. There’s also amazing Eastern Shore chicken you can get at a fire house on the way to the ocean. But this isn’t about chicken.

My hosts spent many summers picking crabs (picking is how you eat crabs). They made no assumptions about me, though, and politely asked if I ate crabs. I thought I did, and it seemed like fun. They took me to a favorite spot. It was back over the bridge, heading away from the ocean across some marshy land. It was a crab house.

I knew how to order a beer, and Charlie asked how many crabs I could eat. I didn’t know. And, I really didn’t know. When the waitress brought the platter piled high with steaming crabs unevenly seasoned with red powder, I realized just how over my head I was. This wasn’t lobster. No. It was not lobster at all.

Charlie grabbed two of the crustaceans and dropped them next to his beer. He started pulling one apart and banging a piece with a hammer. I swigged my beer and, following Mary’s lead, I took a crab off the plate and placed it in front of me, on my newspaper tablecloth. I snuck a look at Mary and mimicked her by pulling off an appendage. I used a nutcracker to open it. The use of the tool on the oddly shaped claw did not come natural to me. I did, however, get some meat. And a little shell. The meat was quite good. The shell, not so much, but it did have the flavor of salt, celery, mustard, cayenne, and whatever seventy-three other spices are in the yellow can of Old Bay. Fortified, I repeated on the other side of my crab. Then, I was stuck.

I turned the body of the crab around. It was looking at me. I spun it away, but I couldn’t find a way in. Chester was on his fourth. Mary kindly asked if I had picked crabs before. She didn’t want to embarrass me, but I was obviously incompetent. Or, in her mind, untrained. I looked up, wide-eyed, and she schooched closer to me. Chester knocked back another crab. I could tell because the empty carcasses were piling up on his side of the table. He paused to eat his ear of corn. I think he powdered it with Old Bay before he ate it.

Mary showed me where I had missed some meat on the hinge part of the claw. She pointed at the legs and demonstrated where to pull them off and how to suck out the strings of meat. These were very big crabs, so it was worth the effort. She expertly flipped the crab on his back and lifted the tab on its belly as if she were unlocking a round red box. This exposed an opening at the top for her thumb to wrest it’s body apart.

I clumsily followed her demonstration and attempted on my own crab. I couldn’t get a good feel to separate the “lid” from the body. She helped me. I was now faced with the insides of an arachnid. That I was supposed to eat. But first I had to brush away the grayish gills. Not to be eaten. At this point I was starting to wonder what I could eat. It’s been all prep except for those claws I ate twenty minutes ago. Meanwhile, Chester ordered a second beer and was on his eighth crab. He was licking the salty seasoning off his very messy fingers. I think he smirked at me. Maybe it was a look of pity.

Now, I was supposed to take the body and crack it in half. The body was like a big honeycomb, only thin and fragile. Mary was eating from hers. Mine collapsed in my hands and I learned why it was called picking as I picked hunks and scraps of crab meat out of the debris of cartilage. There was one piece, though, that slid out intact from it’s chamber. It was moist and sweet and significant enough that it was more than one bite and more than two chews for each bite. And I knew, in that moment, that was why we were doing this.

Chester ordered another plate of crabs.

I struggled through another crab, but by the time I got to my third, all the lessons escaped from my head. I couldn’t find the tab. I ate my corn. I successfully extricated meat from the claws. I was dirtied by splashes of crab juice from my forehead through my elbows and, of course my hands. The backs as well as the front. There was blood coming from my thumb where I cut it on the shell as I was trying to find something to eat. I ate my coleslaw. It was good. It was cool. My beer was warm.

I pushed my crab around on my newspaper a bit. Mary started feeding me meat that she had picked, but after a few bites I decided that she should feed herself. I said that I was full. Chester lifted his eyebrows at Mary as he sucked the meat out of his twelfth crab.

Once I had declared my “fullness,” I could better enjoy my dinner companions. They teased each other with the bite of a long marriage but without bitterness. They finished each other’s sentences and interrupted when the one told the story wrong. I had an iced tea to round out my dinner. Chester ate the last of the crabs. He drove us back over the bay and back to our conference hotel. I did have a fun time and thanked them for the adventure.

The hotel was a step or two above a touristy, “family” oceanside motel from the 70s. The towels were very thin, but were more than sufficient to wash off the crab juice. When I had cleaned up and changed my shirt, I thought the coast was clear. I surreptitiously crossed the small lobby–it was more like a vestibule–and walked to my car. Up the strip was a drive through. I got the Number 1 hamburger meal. With a shake. I knew how to eat that.

After that lesson, when we’d eat crabs I’d sit next to somebody who liked picking crabs and let them feed me. Sometimes it was The Spouse. Many times it was someone else’s spouse. I wasn’t proud. Occasionally someone would give me a refresher lesson. I liked crab, just not enough to pick them. In other good news, crabs were usually part of a summer party with an accompanying barbecue. I could always have a hotdog after mooching crab.

One year, the Spouse was away for the neighborhood crab feast. He had the role of walking the boys through their crab consumption. This time, it was on me. But, I knew exactly what to do. I taught them where the meat was in the claws, to open and eat from the hinge side, to suck the juices from the legs, to pull the tab and separate the top, to remove the gills and crack the body. They were much better students than me, but over years of observation I had became a crab picker. So much that people started to think I grew up eating Maryland crabs.

Callinectes sapidus, the Maryland blue crab. It’s part of my language. Hey hon, Chester wouldn’t get all the crabs now.

Bone-weary and Bleary

A slinky (TM)

I am tired in my whole self. My whole, entire self.

My feet are so tired. I can feel every bone and bonelette in them. The bone along the outside, those fifth metatarsals, feels almost twisted. They aren’t. My toes are tired-sore in a way that they are almost sighing. My shoes were cute and comfortable today, but the feet could only take so much. The balls of my feet are piqued and a little numb on the outside.

My shins feel tired, too. I think it was from standing, but the thin coating on the outside of the bone, is it a skinny muscle? I don’t really know anatomy. Anyway the shin wants a massage and a nap.

My knees are pulled up on the couch so my legs can rest. Where my legs connect to my torso in the back, also known as my ass, is droopy and a bit haggard. I am slouched down on the couch and I don’t care. My shoulders are pressing into the back of the seat, their sharp angles cutting the slipcover to shreds.

The space between my shoulders, at the base of my neck, feels like a crooked slinky. You know how a metal slinky gets a crimp in it and then it’s not right? It will slink back and forth okay, but won’t flip down the stairs?  That.

My earlobes are tired. Seriously. They feel like they are almost pulling away from my head. They feel heavy and my left ear has given up on the day in total exhaustion. The skin around the outside of my face is done. It’s hard to smile, to pick up those corners of my mouth and pull the skin back from my eyes as they squinch up. Squinching is a huge effort.

My head, and that which is inside of it, is like I had two Pacificos to accompany the chicken with green mole. Those beers have accelerated the turn of the tilt wand, slowly and inexorably blocking out the day. My brain is so tired that when the atrocious word, inexorably, presented itself it allowed my lazy fingers to type it. We hate that word, but I have no energy to block it today. Apologies.

I am going to drag myself to the sink, forcing one foot in front of the next and, like the slinky, using that energy to pull the lagging foot up and ahead. I need to brush my teeth, even though my ivories are sapped of energy, too. There is only one cure for this tired of the whole. You know. I have to make it so and put this tired to rest.