Friday Night Dinner 4

What We’re Eating: Chicken Cutlets

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Ahhh, the cutlet. A fatty, fried comfort food that my grandmother taught me how to make. Every year for our Christmas Eve dinner celebration, she lugs out her electric fry pan and fries up 80 of these yummy treats. In addition to the Cheese Run, these Christmas Eve Cutlets are a running joke on the Italian side of family. They are everyone’s favorite, but time consuming and very messy to make, so despite their lack of culinary sophistication we consider them a luxurious indulgence. That said, the twenty-two of us usually devour the entire batch in one sitting. Indulgence, indeed.

Cutlets can be made in a variety of flavors–chicken, veal, beef, eggplant–and served naked (with just a little sprinkle of salt), or alongside a bowl of pasta and tomato sauce, or smothered in mozzarella cheese and then baked in the oven. No matter, the base of all of these dishes is a crispy, meaty satisfying fillet of deliciousness.

To make cutlets, dredge thin slices of the meat or your choice (or eggplant) in flour and then in egg and then in breadcrumbs (flavored with salt, pepper, parsley and, um, parmesan cheese). Fry the breaded slices of meat (or eggplant) in a single layer in an inch of hot oil, turning them once, after the edges start to brown. Cool on paper towels to soak up some of the oil. My grandmother uses a brand of oil called Gemma for frying (she buys it in gallon-sized tins in the same store she that sells her the cheese) but I use peanut oil, which tastes a little bit lighter.

Cutlets are succulent when served hot, but equally satisfying eaten at room temperature (after dinner, as you’re doing the dishes) or even the following morning for breakfast!

Gina: This sounds like just the thing for after skiing! Another thing I love about this sport is that heavy meals are the norm. Supposedly, we need all those calories!

What We’re Talking About: HAPPY BIRTHDAY GINA!

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Our celebration of Gina’s birthday last year.

Last year we got to celebrate Gina’s birthday with her in person. I can’t remember what we ate or drank or talked about, but I can feel the warmth and love of that evening just by looking at photos of it. Ahhhhh….This year, instead of fêting her in person, we’ll have to make do with a trans-atlantic party. So…obviously I want to talk to Gina tonight about…HER! What a busy  year it’s been–exciting, exhausting and transformative. I want to know about her vision for the upcoming year. What dreams will she be chasing? What is she looking forward to? Are there any worries or concerns?

I also want to hear all about the Alps and skiing. The photos from the week are magical. The mountains look like something out of a dream and the color of the sky…well a blue that is indescribable in its, well, blueness. Somehow the snow there looks soft and inviting, too. What does the air smell like at 10,000 feet? Did your shoulder agree with skiing for five days straight? How did the kids do? What did you eat?

Gina: Look at all that hair I had just a year ago! Unfortunately, I have just a bit of time to spend on the blog today, so I’ll have to tell you all about Switzerland next week! My birthday was lovely. Sebastien, my brother in law, made a lovely dinner for us that started with fondue and continued with a “mille feuille” mushroom pasta, that was delicious. He and Stefan had planned to have cake and drinks at a local game room/bar/disco. Unfortunately, that went a bit awry due to a mix of snowy weather, exhaustion, and a bit of sadness (see next door for more on that.) It also felt off because you and the rest of our little tribe weren’t there! I missed you all very much.

What We’re Drinking: Bell’agio Chianti

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I think I chose the wrong wine to (virtually) toast Gina’s birthday tonight. (Don’t you & Stef have an aversion to chianti?) Luckily, she doesn’t have to taste it. This is an inexpensive wine that my grandfather used to drink a bit of with his dinner each night—that is on the nights when my grandmother let him drink wine. He’d pour a bit of it into a short jelly-jar type glass and sip it slowly. As kitschy as the wicker is, it’s surprisingly drinkable. Ray and I enjoy a bottle of it from time to time, too, especially when we visit my family upstate.

Gina: I’ve never tried this, so I will not pass judgement! Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Night a Dinner 4

What We’re Eating – When
in Switzerland…Raclette!

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We love this dish so much, we bought our very own Raclette (a salty Swiss cheese) machine years ago, and we’ve hosted at least one Raclette dinner each winter since. Slivers of this melted cheese are served individually, along side communal plates of small boiled potatoes, cured meats, cornichons, other veggies, and small onions. The idea is to top one or a few of these with the cheese, pop it in your mouth, and enjoy! The crispy bits of cheese are my favorite! Tonight, someone else will be melting the cheese at La Camuse.

Christine: One of the first group dates we went on with you and Stef (once we had spent a sufficient number of evenings just the four (seven) of us to confirm a suitable attraction and compatibility) was a Raclette party for Stef’s birthday. I remember being seated between some pretty shady Garrison characters that night, but it didn’t matter BECAUSE OF THE CHEESE. Seriously. Ray had partaken in Raclette celebrations when he lived in Switzerland in the early 90s, but I had um, (shhhh….) never heard of the stuff before that night. At any rate, the fact that I had my own little trough with which to melt my cheese over my bowl of tiny soft potatoes and cured meat and then was instructed to wash it all down with salty pickles and tiny onions and plenty of crisp white wine…well, I was hooked. Who ended up with that Raclette machine of yours, anyway? Whoever it was…I need a name. And a number. It’s time to plan a stateside cheese dinner. Maybe next weekend?

What We’re Talking About – There’s A Lot to Say Tonight

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Have you ever met up with friends for dinner, and one in particular seems to have been waiting all day, or maybe all week, to open their mouth and let it all tumble out? That would be me today. You see, someone who’s been very important in my life died yesterday. He wasn’t a relative or even someone that I was personally very close to, but he was close to my father, and he had a hand in shaping who I am now. A chunk of my identity was informed by his words and even more so by his actions. When someone has touched your life in this way and passes, there is no better place to be than around a table with friends who care about you and would be interested to know more. I won’t go into it here, because if I start, I could fill pages. Maybe a whole other blog. I’ll just say he was a great man, patriarch of a lovely family, and a compassionate leader. For more, google Huber Matos Benitez.

It was also my birthday this week, and I’m dealing with being over 40. There’s a few hours of conversation with Christine right there. It happened to fall within the days we spent skiing in Switzerland. (What an incredibly odd recreational activity is the thought in my head every time I strap slippery, sharp-edged metal objects to my feet, and send myself hurling down a mountain, yet I love it!) On the day of my birth, I had the chance to try a particularly difficult run (for me ) with my son by my side (or more accurately in front of me), and it was such a gift to witness the fearlessness (and good technique!) with which he took on the challenge, stopping only to cheer on his mom, and offer some pointers on how to get past the trickier parts. I can’t wait to share more about the trip with you next week!

Christine: Oh, Gina. This is when the physical distance between us feels insurmountable and I want to slip on a jet pack so that I can propel myself across the ocean and sit at next to you and soak up the stories of your friend and of his life and his purpose (while simultaneously feeding you melted cheese and chocolate and whatever booze is close enough to pour). I remember the first time I met your parents–it was Leeloo’s birthday I think–and we sat with them at the table on the deck of your house in Garrison and drank 10000000 glasses of wine and listened to the stories of your family…of how your parents met, of the Cuban Revolution, of chickens that were sometimes (once?) cooked on car radiators en trips from Miami to Philadelphia. Despite their hardships (which doesn’t seem like an exceptional enough word for what your family has been through) your parents are two of the most magical, mystical, heartfelt, sumptuous people I know. I can only imagine who their friend, Huber Matos Benitez, was. We send our deepest sympathies to you and to your Philadelphia family.

Also: Happy HAPPY Birthday. (See my post for more of that.)

Also: that photo…you and Zo look like you’re on top of the world. 

 

What We’re Drinking – Fendant

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Perfect with Raclette. In the mood I’m in, it might have to be followed by some grappa or whiskey. Wish you were here!

Christine: Me too. XOXOXO

 

Monomyth

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When Noah got home from school the other day he asked me if I had ever heard of “something called the Hero’s Journey.” He’s at that age when he’s started to suspect my fallibility–worried that I might not actually know very much more about this world that we inhabit than he does–though he’s not quite ready to relinquish the ideal that a parent of his is unassailable.

Quite often he hits me with questions & nuggets of information that would be insulting coming from a peer, but are downright endearing when they emerge from my 11 year old’s mouth. (Other recent queries: “Mom, I don’t know if you know this but Pluto isn’t really a planet…it’s a dwarf planet…it used to be considered one of the real ones, but scientists your age had it wrong.” And, “Do you know why there are seasons?…I mean the real reason; the scientific reason…” And, “I know who invented they wheel. Do you?” (OK. For that last one, I haven’t a clue.)

He’s been discussing The Hero’s Journey with his reading group at school and is talking about it at home because he’s hooked on the arc. During class time he and his mates (and teacher) have been discussing the Artemis Fowl series and, at home, kids are choosing to read Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings for book projects. He is also studying Greek and Roman mythology in Social Studies, tales which have a natural similitude to this monomyth pattern. Like many of his peers, Noah has all six Star Wars movies (nearly) memorized and when you add on the several dozen or more viewings of The Lion King and The Little Mermaid during his formative years, this is a kid who has been steeped in The Hero’s Journey for most his life–though not until recently did he realize that the kinds of stories that he likes best have a name and an archetype all their own.

They are my favorite, too.

In case you don’t know, this Hero’s Journey/monomyth theory is a narrative pattern in stories identified by mythology & religious scholar Joseph Campbell, who describes the cycle in his book The Hero With A Thousand Faces like this:

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

Campbell designates 17 stages of this journey that are divided into three parts: Departure, Initiation and Return. There are books and websites dedicated to its explanations and critique, so I won’t bore you with a history lesson, but I haven’t been able to get this theory out of my head for the past several days, as I try to make sense of my own journey.

Departure. Initiation. Return. How many times have I done that loop? What does it mean that this journey of mine has begun to feel like a ferris wheel stuck on repeat? Departue. Initiation. Return. repeat. Repeat. REPEAT. A pattern especially obvious now that I’ve decided to post parts of (said journey) here, on a blog, for the whole world to, ostensibly, see.

Not that blogging is a Hero’s Journey. I recoil at labeling myself a blogger because, well, I think our blog has about 3 readers (who we APPRECIATE and we LOVE) but an audience which barely constitutes anything more than me sharing my journal during happy hour. And, also, instead of taking part in some magnificent excursion, blogging feels more to me like a hustling than anything else….hustling for an audience, hustling for more website hits and for more shares on Facebook. I’m a part of this blog mostly because of my affection for my friends (who, you know, broke my heart a little bit when they moved across the ocean) and not to satisfy any literary aspirations I might have. (Though I harbor some of those, too.)

Departure. Initiation. Return.

Participating in the production of this blog, especially this week–when I’m attempting to write solo and am obliged to gauge the appropriateness and appeal of what I’m saying without my Cuban curator by my side–has made me consider what I’m doing here (Here) all the more. And thinking about why.

Truthfully, I don’t have any answers. This entry today is as much to lay out a few of the questions I’d like to consider as we move forward with this thing, as it is to conclude something in particular.

The fact is that part of the Hero’s Journey is embracing the questions. Questions such as:

  • What are we doing with this thing?
  • Is anyone actually reading it?
  • Does it matter if they do?
  • How much of myself do I give away in the words that I type? In the stories I tell?
  • How much of Noah? Of Ray?
  • What about my my ex-husband? How much kindness do I owe him? How much of my annoyance/disgust/anger with him do I want Noah to see? How much actually remains?

I’m not sure which stage on the Journey this getting-used-to-blogging-thing is–perhaps the Refusal of the Call stage? Perhaps the Belly of the Whale moment? Or maybe I’ve reached the Ultimate Boon. Whatever the case, this philosophy is jiving with me at an interesting time…as I question my passion and purpose. As I wonder what, if anything, I’m doing right or wrong.

Departure. Initiation. Return.

What I know is that I’m looking forward to Gina joining me over There again tomorrow. (And tomorrow. And tomorrow.) I’m excited to hear about the glorious minutiae of her adventures and I can’t wait for her to tell me about each detail and then for her to write about each detail and for me to respond and for us to continue to mold our discussions into a purpose and an art.

Perhaps the Hero’s Journey is just this. Life. My life. Her life. A general pattern of adventure that regular people encounter during their living.

Blogging might not be a Hero’s Journey, but putting one foot in front of the other on days when you’d rather stay in bed and not ski or write or shower or cook certainly is.

I like to think we’re all heroes. Anyway for today, when Noah asks, I’m going to go with that.

 

Gone Skiing!

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Still enjoying our time in the clouds and on the slopes. See you tomorrow for dinner!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tricks

Immediately after I clicked “publish” on my post yesterday, I knew I had made a mistake. Attempting to live a wholly inspired life? (and letting other people know my intention to do so)…who was I kidding? It’s a preposterous and, quite frankly, arrogant sentiment. Who gets to live like that?

The truth is, I stopped feeling inspired years ago. Or, perhaps, I’ve never really felt inspired. Often the act of life becomes what it is. Predictable. Mindless. Automatic. At any rate, this old dog can’t learn a new trick in one week.

trickydogThis contemplative living thing makes for a complicated existence. What I realized (after I clicked that ‘publish’ button and the adrenaline of significance dissipated into terror) is that there isn’t a binary system of living: inspired *or* insipid; remarkable *or* inconsequential.

Life is a massive, intricate, unsolvable algorithm.

So here’s what I did learn today:

  • There are things that I do each day, not because I’m answering some deep, motivational call to do them, but because I need to do them: taking the dog on a 40 minute walk even though it’s 22 degrees outside (so he doesn’t poop on the carpet); planning & purchasing & cooking & cleaning up after a tasty & healthy dinner (so my kid stays healthy); paying bills; picking up the dog’s poop on said walk (so I don’t get a ticket, also, poopy sidewalks…ew.); and laundry (…laundry sucks, but so does an empty underwear drawer and an 11 year old with dirty drawers). My motivation to do these things is responsibility, obligation and untethered love for my family.
  • There are things that I do not do each day, even though I could root out a deep motivational call for me to do them: stay in bed until noon; eat a (medium size) bag of Cool Ranch Doritos; smoke a few cigarettes; buy shoes; the guy from my writing class who smells like rain. My motivation to NOT do these things is (also) responsibility, obligation and untethered love for my family.

also…

  • I don’t like to read as much as I like to say that I like to read. I wish I could download stories and the contents of textbooks to my brain. Reading takes too long.
  • Watercolor painting is hard.
  • It’s nearly impossible to silence the ratty, chatty, judgmental, clamorous and nervous voice in my head, so when I need some auditory peace it’s best if I read poems out loud, hum, or try to identify a birdsong. (At the moment I can barely discern the song of the dove from the caw of a crow but we’ll get there.) No matter, the contrasting noise helps.
  • Sometimes it’s best to not come to conclusions too soon.

 

 

 

Going Solo

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Gina has Gone Skiing in Switzerland this week, so I’ve been left to my own devices over Here on the right side of the page. Part of me considered taking the week off, too. I thought about putting up a Gone Hiking sign (or, a more truthful, Gone on a Law & Order: SVU Marathon one), but then I decided that I’d dig deep and just Keep Posting (and if that saying is not on a sign yet, somebody should go make it). But the truth is, it is so so so much easier to get motivated to write when I know that Gina is waiting for my draft to show up on her Dashboard. It’s like having a gym-buddy. Or being a henchman.

I’m the eldest of the siblings in my family. So: hyper-responsible. Achievement-oriented. Anxious and oftentimes tense. Probably decent traits for a writer–and a writing partner–to possess. Gina’s the oldest in her family, too, so this blog is golden when it comes to accountability. I want it to be golden when it comes to creativity and innovation, too. And that means I have to hold up my side of the page–even when I’m flying solo. Even when I’d rather watch Benson & Stabler kick some rapist’s ass.

So, here I am. Looking at the far side of a week without the conversations with my friend that this blog bestows. It’s not a coincidence that, for the first time since we launched this thing last month, I’m forcing myself to write today. I’m not inspired by a Skype conversation or an email exchange with my friend. I don’t get to bounce my ideas off of hers, looking for truth in the tea leaves of our collaboration. I feel unmoored. Uninspired. Guilt-ridden.

This despondency has made the words of a poem that I love dance through my head like sugarplums. The poem is titled so you want to be a writer? and was written by Charles Bukowski (I imagine he’d abhor that I’ve likened his word to something so sweet). Anyway, here’s part of what he says:

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

(to read the full text of the poem click here.)

In his poem, Mr. Bukowski is talking about writing. The whole piece pleads with a fledgling writer to not write one line of a poem or sentence of a story or, perhaps even, character of a Tweet, until the words are pushing so hard against your gut that, eventually, they come bursting out of you…out of your soul, like a rocket.

Whew.

In addition to that all sounding a little bit hot (sorry mom), it’s a pretty compelling way to not only think about writing, but to think about living…waiting until you are certain of an idea or an argument or a purchase or a job or of ANY decision you need to make before you act or argue or buy or say ‘yes’.

So, in homage to the poet and to my friend Gina who is careening down a mountain in the Alps, here’s the experiment I’ll be conducting this solo-ish week on the HERE side of Living Here and There (-ish because Gina might be popping in and out with photos of fondue and fun from time to time). In the midst of this job search of mine, in the midst of this cold, snowy, endless, no-other-choice-but-to-soul-search winter (and of my writing-poetry experiment) I’m going to commit to, for the rest of this week, only acting and writing and arguing and living when I’m utterly moved to do those things. And because I’m pretty weak-willed and trash-TV-prone I’m giving myself strict parameters for permissible activity during the sure-to-be immeasurable hours of not-acting (not-writing/arguing/living) that will make up the next seven days.

When I’m feeling ambivalent about how to act and what to be, I will choose to only do one of the following three things: take a walk outside, play with the watercolor paints I’ve purchased but never wet or read one of the dozen books that are waiting to be opened on my desk. I guess staring into space is something I will allow myself to do, too.

That’s it.

I’m a little bit nervous that this is going to quickly turn into an internet/email/Facebook-trolling fast as well, but I’m game for it if it does. After all, it’s only a week.

[Geez-us! How I wish I could check in with Gina about all of this right now.]

Anyway, I’ll keep you…ahem….posted.

At last, snow.

“At a certain point, you say to the woods, to the sea, to the mountains, the world: Now I am ready. Now I will stop and be wholly attentive. You empty yourself and wait, listening.”               –Annie Dillard

20140224-001119.jpg Les Collons, Switzerland.