Oddities and Obsessions
Last night as I was walking out of the 1 train on Christopher Street headed home, I saw out of the corner of my eye an elderly woman with a walker who was asking where to find the PATH train to New Jersey. As I passed, I overheard someone tell her that she had to circle back to 14th Street to connect. Knowing that was wrong and headed to the PATH myself, I looped back and stepped in telling her it was in fact in the other direction, that I was headed that way, and would she like to go with me.
As we very slowly crossed Christopher Street dodging shoppers, drag queens, and people hustling to and fro various holiday celebrations, she told me that we were destined to meet and that I was her "angel sent from heaven." She went on to tell me a string of rambling tales including one about her evil landlord, who was trying to cheat her out of money. The conversation kept getting nuttier as she bounced from topic to topic. She told me that her now deceased husband had contracted polio in La Isla Mujeres "doing the Hemingway thing" and that Mrs. Roosevelt ("not FDR") had offered her a job in Washington, DC; but she did not want to live there. She said that she had been homeless (which I believed) and that her people were aristocracy from Latvia (it was plausible). At one point, she started yelling and screaming about the "Fascists" and I thought to myself, "What I have I gotten into and what am I going to do with her?”
I was sitting with my husband in our sorry little kitchen. It’s small. Totally old school with a swinging hinged door that closes you in. No modern open floor plan where the kitchen blends into the family room. I love our little 1700-square foot Spanish Bungalow, but I’m never sure it’s where he feels most at home -- but that’s a whole other story that I may, or may not, get back to.
This night, I had thrown together a meal. I hate cooking. It’s not something I’m that great at. It’s always a struggle. And lately, I have gotten even lazier than the naturally lazy person I was when we had kids at home. So, I might make a “salad” of pre-washed lettuce that I throw in a bowl, and my husband will make fun of the little effort that went into it. I’ll serve it with a large potato that we share -- and he will inform me that for now we can still afford two potatoes – though with retirement looming, we may soon have to cut back to one.
He was deep in thought. We have five kids. We often worry about one or another or sometimes all, so I thought he must be brooding about a child. I love to communicate. I’m a woman. A communicator. So I asked.
“What are you thinking about?”
“My new coffeemaker.”
“Seriously? You’re that deep in thought about your COFFEEMAKER?”
Bear with me for a little (for me) life changing story...
I've gotten pretty used to the poor and homeless outside even the fanciest grocery stores in L.A. asking for money. As someone who never carries cash, it's easy to tell them no.
But tonight, as I left the market, there was this old woman, maybe she was 60, maybe she was 80, and as I walked to my car, I heard her say to the sidewalk, "I'm just so hungry."
I had to stop. "What would you like to eat? A sandwich?"
"Chicken Noodle Soup. I'd love some of that Chicken Noodle Soup!"
"Which kind?" I asked, wondering if she wanted a can of Campbell's.
Her face brightened, "Oh, that wonderful soup from the soup bar!"
Not sure where the soup bar was, I asked, "Can you come with me and show me?"
She said, "Oh, no...they don't let me in there."
In celebration of National Tartan Day (yep, there is such a thing), we are sharing an amazing recipe by Scottish Chef Jeff Bland to help capture the spirit and character of Scottish Americans and recognize their many contributions to our culture and our way of life. Personally we with we were in Scotland eating this at his Michelin-starred restaurant, but this should be the next best thing.
Loin of Perthshire Venison with Wild Mushrooms, Creamed Potatoes and Chestnuts.
Courtesy of Chef Jeff Bland at The Balmoral in Edinburgh
1kg Boneless trimmed loin of Venison
300g Fresh wild mushrooms
650g Maris Piper Potatoes
75g Chestnuts (peeled and cooked)
12 baby leaks
1 carrot (cut into 16 ribbons)
2 cloves of crushed garlic
1 glass red wine
Oil (for cooking)
Butter (for cooking)
My mother had a lot of them. If a knife drops, it means trouble’s coming. If a spoon drops, it means company’s coming... Lila’s mother, by contrast, believed if a knife dropped it meant a man was coming. If a spoon dropped, it meant a woman was coming... Double egg yolks were good luck. And never pass a salt shaker to anyone without setting it down on the table in front of them and having them pick it up from the table – don’t ask me why.
If you bring home a piece of wedding cake and put it under your pillow, you will dream about the person that you’re going to marry. My mother used to bring me pieces of wedding cakes home all the time. I also suspect it attracts ants. - Amy Ephron
So we asked some of our contributors if they (or anyone in their family) had any food superstitions, too.
If you drop a knife into the chest of another person it means that the police will soon be coming. Also a girl shouldn't be the one to eat the last of any one thing that's served on a platter - like the last Brussels sprout or last ear of corn or last bagel - because she'll end up an old maid. - Alan Zweibel
The only one I ever heard was that if someone gave you knives as a gift you had to pay them a dollar. Apparently that was supposed to protect you from cutting yourself. I never did find out why, but "the charm" worked for at least five years. My husband's co-workers were horrified he gave me the knives, but I am pretty sure it wasn't my safety they were concerned about…
- Lisa Dinsmore
In early December, an esteemed acquaintance of mine, Jill Soloway (writer and director of the current award winning feature Afternoon Delight) mentioned on Facebook that her beekeeper friend David Bock had local honey for sale and that it made a ‘perfect holiday gift’.
My first thought was “Wow, locally made honey? There are actually beekeepers in the city? What does that even look like?” My second thought was “hell yeah it makes a perfect holiday gift. I’d sure want to receive it.” The other perk I discovered was that raw local honey can boost your immunity to allergies. Her post on Facebook said he’d be selling the honey at a stand outside his house until 2:00 p.m. that day.
Things came to a screeching halt however, when I saw his address. The street name had a foreboding quality to it. “Division Street”. I didn’t know Los Angeles even had one and I’m a native. Sure, maybe Chicago or San Francisco but for some reason I felt like if you found yourself on Division Street in Los Angeles, you’d be hurled back in time to the Los Angeles Elizabeth Short might have dwelt in.
The last time I’d come this far east was when my daughter Lena was 14 and wanted to see the band Of Montreal in a club called The Echoplex. It should have been called Club Code Violation but man that show was good! On the way back from The Echoplex we drove on a street that was like driving on an inverted “V”. It seems so benign when you type out the words “driving on an inverted ‘v’… believe me, it’s not. It was traumatic, especially in the dark.
First of all, I thought, no, assumed, I was popular, and all kinds of people were going to be asking to take me out to celebrate. I didn’t throw myself a party which I often do, so then I was thinking that some of my party regulars will get that I’m wanting to celebrate with every one of them individually, or in small groups. I’m not popular, I’m delusional.
It started kinda great. Two days before my birthday Robin and Libbie took me for a celebratory dinner at the Palm. Then on my birthday, I woke up to an email from Huffington Post saying the piece I wrote had been posted that day. Which I thought was a great sign because the story I wrote is all about my fear of dying at a young age like my mother. Then a small group of girlfriends met me for lunch on the patio of the Malibu Hotel where I was spending the weekend. We ate, laughed, and I received some lovely gifts and amazing sentimental notes that I will always cherish. Libbie is re-gifting cards to me from our long friendship. So, there was this loving thing I wrote to her in the 1970’s about how beautiful she is and how much I love her, and on the other side she wrote an update to me. Kimberly wrote a card with words that made me cry (Libbie’s card made me cry too). It was going smoothly.
Last year at this time I wrote about eating pasta twice a day every day we were in Umbria. It seemed impossible to think about a lunch or dinner without beginning it with a bowl of spaghetti, ravioli, gnocchi or strangozzi.
Well, we’re here again, thank god, but I’ve cut my caloric intake in half. Well, I don’t know if that’s exactly true — but the intent is there.
My lunch — every day — is made expressly for me by Jill, my newly-inspired kitchen magician on her Italian-version Nutribullet. Yes, every day she brings me a large glass filled with the extractions of various raw vegetables, fruits and nuts. She’s gotten very creative, adding fresh ginger one time, red pepper another, mint a third. It’s a health-conscious festival!
And for dinner, I’m Hoovering in the pasta just like in the old days. The first night we went, as we always do on the first night, to the Palazzaccio, where I had their spaghetti alla benedettina, which is in a wonderfully subtle tomato and fresh bay laurel sauce.
I'm walking with an acquaintance back from a restaurant when we pass a sidewalk news stand, one of those great sprawling things with fluorescent lights overlooking eight or ten bookshelves jammed together.
I stop, naturally, because I can't remember if I picked up this month's Esquire or not and for the same reason that you'd stop if you saw a baby panda wandering the streets of LA; it's endangered, savour the moment. And I'm perusing the shelves (mindful of the MAX BROWSING 15 MINUTE signs written in marker and package-taped to the shelves) when-
I point. On the rack, nestled between a shelf devoted to variations on Guns & Ammo and another comprised entirely of cycling magazines, is a section devoted to Literary Magazines. Lapham's Quarterly. Tinhouse. The New England Review. I stop, for the same reason that you'd stop if you saw a baby panda wandering by riding sidesaddle on a unicorn.
You had the nice. Now here’s the not so nice. I recently wrote about finding peace, love, and deeper friendship through agriculture; specifically, growing tomatoes with my friend Mark. Peace, love and light through Heirlooms. It was a lovely piece. Upbeat and cheery, not too “come to the commune”. Just right for a lazy morning read over coffee.
That was before. Before death and destruction arrived. Before my nightly ritual of spraying Simple Green natural product detergent and decorating the chicken wire fencing with sheets of fabric softener got upped to saving the fort status. Before the arrival of …The Squirrel from Hell.
At first I thought my nemesis was a rat. A canyon rat. Can’t be helped here in the canyons there are actually hill mice (rats to my mind) and we do have to deal with them. So I set about dealing with this one, or two with all of the tools I could muster thanks to Google. SOS aka Brillo pads around every single crevice of my planter that I thought they could squeeze through, was my particular favorite.
The blue grey fat squares mixed nicely with the white sheets of fabric softener which I also was led to believe would do the trick. When our weekly housekeeper came and wondered where her supplies had disappeared to I casually said, forget laundry, forget the dishes, I‘ll take care of you come harvest time!
London - British Isles
by Nancy Ellison