Years ago, I befriended an antique dealer by the name of Kerri. My then-lover, Shane, and I first met her at a rummage sale she was hosting, and bought from her a very-nice, old sofa which we took home and painted green. At first, Kerri seemed just as well-structured. In a conversation or two over the phone, she and I discovered that we had a mutual fondness for collecting vintage fabrics (among other things), and, one day, she invited me to the back of her shop to pick through a pile of her textile-outcasts- and to keep whatever I liked.
That sounded good, didn’t it?
But, unfortunately, I didn’t really care for any of them; I took one piece out of politeness. And then she insisted upon piling a few more pieces in my hand, saying, “But look at these! I’d hate to just donate them. Don’t you like these!?”
A bit pushy, but I was used to that.
When these were bagged and securely-dangling off my arm, she led me to a shelf close at the rear of her shop and flung back a sheet that screened a shelf laden with fabrics priced for sale- each marked beyond their value- but jewels of their woven years with potential to tempt! Though I may have drooled, I declined, and kept fast to my thrifty, thrill-seeking method of hunting for happenstance deals for myself from the major charity-shops and tag-sales of the area. She seemed a bit dismayed for my prudence- just for a second. It was then that I should have known.
But I didn’t.
She would call once in awhile, and I started stopping at her shop more-often- more to talk than anything else. As we stood amongst her latest finds, she kept referring to me as one of her best friends, and I was starting to believe it. On one of these occasions, near the noon-hour, her husband (whom I had, by this time, met on several occasions) arrived to ask his wife for lunch. Kerri pleaded with me to watch her shop while they were gone, and sweetened the deal by offering me access to their computer- promptly opening up an internet-browser window for me as she cajoled. Since I didn’t own a computer, I decided that, yes, OK, I had the time. While they were away, only a handful of customers came into the store: they looked around, they picked up objects now and then to set back down; they left. I had no sales to worry about, and no-one needed my help when I offered.
Two long hours later, the couple returned. In the back of my head, I suppose I kept a bit of hope that they would be bringing me a little something- a sandwich perhaps- for my trouble, but nothing was in tow. For in that while, my own hunger had begun to gnaw, you see. I had even found a fascinating web-page with a written introduction to Maharashtrian cuisine. I asked if she would mind printing it for me. She did. I accepted this as reasonable token for her intrusion of my time, sighed perhaps, said my pleasantries and left to find my own lunch.
It might seem obvious to you by now- her nature, and mine, but I was still fool-hardy, and in need of further abuse, it seems. The building I was renting an apartment in was getting a new roof. The landlord decided he couldn’t afford to spend the 60 thou to replace sections of ceramic tile- damaged by the years and seasons, so he had the lot tossed off of the top of that three-story manse to shatter into a dumpster below.
I had long been intrigued by the convolutions and patina of these tiles. I had often found myself gazing at rivulets of water trickling down their crackled glaze as I stood upon my balcony under a steady drizzle. So I asked the workmen if they would mind setting a dozen or so aside for me. Just for keeps. I brought one of these to Kerri, as a gift of interest.
The next day, I noticed a neatly-stacked pile of tiles taking shape next a tree at the side of the parking-lot. “Are you saving these for someone?” From the workman’s description in reply, I discovered new-found admiration for Kerri’s opportunistic savvy! I asked him if he would mind setting 20 more aside for me as well, and then found myself digging into my wallet when he also informed me that Kerri had added honey to her bowl.
And that was fine.
And I wanted no more of them than these, as they do tend to take up space!
I had found an interesting article in an issue of Vogue- the January ‘93 issue, to be exact- in which the eccentric home of two artists in London was examined in exquisite photographs and poetic prose. They lived in what was termed shabby chic– an aesthetic achieved by the use of distressed finds and a permissive attitude toward the decay of objects and their surrounding, aging architecture.
I was fascinated.
I wished I owned the building that I lived in.
Knowing that these pages would surely interest Kerri, I carefully severed them from the magazine, enclosed them in a folder, and brought the folder to her shop.
She promised to handle it with care.
And then I mentioned the state of affairs with the tiles.
She was furious!
She was so absolutely enraged that I had diminished her haul by making a second request to the workmen for more that I had to back myself shock-faced out the door!
I didn’t understand: I lived under those tiles, and she would likely have gotten none of them if I hadn’t called her attention to their looming demise. As it was, she had now to her name many times more than what I had procured…
Obviously, enough wasn’t enough.
It was at this moment that I began to see why Shane disliked Kerri so much. The green sofa was the beginning and end of his dealings with her. Sometimes, he was spot on like that!
A week or so later, she called. She didn’t mention the tiles, and I didn’t ask. Her temperament had returned to her usual, sugary pleasantness. She needed her best-friend-ever to help move some heavy things out of her shop.
Since I already had plans for that night, I politely declined. And I was still shaken from that last onslaught directed at me- can you blame me? I stayed calm, and I also asked if she was done with the article. Apparently, that was not the right thing to say.
“What kind of friend are you?!” was the last I heard as she hung up the phone.
A month later, after I thought things might have quieted, I called to ask again if she would mind returning the folder with the article I had loaned her. No-one answered (which was odd in the evening on a school-night for her children), so I left a brief message at the tone.
Her shop closed, and I moved away from the shelter of that once-tiled-but-now-shingled roof.
She never did return that call.
Fourteen years later, I sometimes cringe a bit and seeth as I think of her. Maybe I keep too many things.
I still have the tiles, of course.
About two years ago, I formulated a search on Ebay to replace that missing article.
Last week, I finally got lucky, and today it came in the mail.
I’m out 10 bucks with shipping.
Pennies to heal an old wound.
Afterward: Today, in celebration of sorts, I also did a search of the public court-records for her criminal citations. In the years since that final conversation, her husband filed a restraining order against her for domestic violence, and they no-longer live together; she’s also been sued several times for unpaid debts.
Be wary, dear readers, of people who have uses for you, and nothing else.
I just put the cover on some rice to simmer, and thought I’d take a moment to write you with the morning’s revelation…of sorts.
I decided to deal with the problems of our ‘burning-bush’….
Now, it isn’t like the poor thing hasn’t had difficulties in the past. A few years ago, Bob-the-lawn-man talked my mother into allowing him to do some pruning. He promptly lopped off ALL of the lower branches of the ash tree in front- despite my mother asking him only to trim a few, certain branches of a certain limb that were dropping below head-height over the walk-way. And then he attacked the burning-bush: it was about six feet tall at the time, and he flat-topped it down to a two-foot clip-job that any barber might be proud of!
I was aghast. My mother’s mouth quivered when she came home that day; I don’t think she even noticed the freshly-cut lawn.
Needless to say, he hasn’t been allowed to do any pruning since, and I’ve done my best to coax the burning-bush back into shape. But you know such things (as much of gardening) are a test of patience; last year it finally reached a leggy reflection of its former glory.
But this spring, something very unusual has happened: two of the main branches- they both faced the lawn- budded and bloomed along with the rest in the dawn of spring. And little leaves grew from those buds- like the others. And then, they stopped mid-sentence…
…and began to whither and dry. I’ve checked for any sign of disease or pest- there are none. I have never seen such a thing, have you?
The only thing that these two branches had in common were their proximity to the lawn, their closeness to the sidewalk, which makes me wonder. Winter and the wind and Bob played no part- of that I am sure.
So, this morning I cut them off. It is fully a bit over one-third of the plant now missing. And my rice is done now; I will eat it with some dal, of course, as I try to listen to the sound of the wind through the pines- though we have no pines. But it slows my quickening breath.
Brushes a thread-like crack,
Takes a wimpy wipe at the cornice-
Easier to clean than the sky!
And then, in silence,
Rows, rows and rows-
Jars empty fill shelves:
Little ghosts in a classroom-
Not one spoils the silence.
With dust-lipped, open mouths-
Parched, they wait breathless;
Crumpled spiders to swallow whole.
The lucky ones munch dried leaves-
Toothlessly torn from a chill gust:
Tea and gossip-
With a wind that whispered, and then went away.
I’m sitting quietly at home right now, cup of coffee nearby, reflecting upon the past two days. Allow me to share a little something with you: I can be hard-driven and ferocious when challenged. I will even lose sleep and compromise my usually-even temperament to achieve a solid standing when I feel insulted. So, what my overbearing sister began last week, I finished with a cooking marathon and noteworthy banquet.
My sister. She can be a dear at times, but the terms “bossy”, “controlling”, and “self-righteous” have frequently been attached to her. I really have no intention of using this blog-space to vent family drama- we are here to discuss food after all! But food is enjoyed within context is it not? And after all, I am a real person with little problems in my own little world, so in this post I will spew out some excellent recipes for you with just a little “dishing” on the side.
My mother has for many years been the ever-gracious Thanksgiving Day hostess. She will say time and again that it’s her most favorite meal to make. Years ago, most of the close relatives- both sets of grandparents, a few aunts, uncles and cousins- attended, as well as a few family friends with relatives too distant to visit easily. And then, over the years, grandparents left us, cousins were married and formed new families with new traditions- aunts and uncs following; my sister and I grew up, started dating and moved into our own homes. But she, my mother, and I always managed to come together for this time-honoured meal of the harvest.
But not this year. Since the birth of my nephew, my sister has begun taking over hosting duties for the two big holiday meals of Thanksgiving and Christmas. “Mom’s house is too dangerous for little Jack”, she claims. Our mother welcomes the break from cooking I think, finding new pleasure instead by haunting my sister’s heels as she attempts to direct the flow of dishes from her kitchen, giving little helpful hints here and there, and generally getting in my sister’s way to mop up a little dribble of gravy with a damp cloth and gleeful expression. In moments like these, my sister is apt to shoot me wide-eyed grimaces that convey a helpless annoyance at best. I dart in and out bearing plates and platters, my work as “master of sweets” being done the day before and sitting patiently on a counter-top at the far side of the kitchen, they and I staying far clear of my sister’s path.
But, this year, the feasting party had to go without both decently-made sweets and me. You see, my sister doesn’t especially care for Danny, my on-and-off boyfriend of the last four years. She absolutely forbade his joining us for dinner. Which is fine; it’s her house and she has that right. However, I think it’s very rude, so I declined her offer to come to dinner, but thanked her for the invitation anyway. I don’t really see the point in a messy argument. I withdraw and adjust. It was then that I decided to host my own dinner party.
If you don’t know this by now, at the moment I am living with my mother, and her gas oven with digital controls stopped working a few weeks ago. The range still works fine however. And this “handicap” has actually been a blessing because I can no longer bake Danny’s usual food-offerings of frozen pizza, nor am I able to bake for my mother’s sweet-tooth in the name of cakes, cookies, custards or pies…
Or roast a turkey.
But I can braise a turkey. So a menu unfolded…with just Danny and I attending at first. Then the dining-time was pushed later in the evening, and by then my mother would be returning home from my sister’s soire, for certain that would include some schnibbling (as she calls it) from the table by her. So…three was the count now. And then James called. As I told him of the little family squabble and subsequent change in plans and the final menu, I could feel a certain longing on his part. A longing that included an offer of a case of soda and $20 in store-bought desserts from him. His parents are dead and his sister lives in the next state. He despises her anyway. I can temporarily relate. So I invited him, and we had four now. Plus the wandering felines. And with my mother as witness to both spreads of her children, I became determined to outdo my sister at any cost!
So, on Wednesday evening I began cooking, and finally shut the stove off at 6am. Then I woke up at 11am and casually finished the remaining dishes, saving the mashed potatoes and stuffing for last minute. This was the final, accomplished menu:
1)Braised whole turkey breast with gravy- I placed it in a cast-iron pot with some water, a little oil and ghee, chopped onions, a little garlic, black pepper, rosemary, marjoram and thyme. Simmer covered, turning now and then until cooked. Remove the turkey and brown it in another pan if you wish- I didn’t. Reduce the sauce way down over high heat. Add flour mixed with milk to make a gravy. Adjust salt.
2)Mashed potatoes*- a must! Need I say more?
3)My mother’s home-made stuffing/dressing. She donated this as my sister decided to make her own this year. I rubbed some oil in my wok and fry-steamed it. Delicious as always.
6)Hungarian-style lima beans*
8)Lithuanian mushrooms with beets*
9)Anita’s Ruby Pickles– it continued the red-pink theme at the table.
10)Whole-wheat dinner-rolls from a bakery (these were another offering from my mother…kind of her way of saying: yes, your sister is being somewhat of a —–, but I’d like to go and see my grandson)
11)Pumkin pie– from James. Store-bought, but not bad! Gotta have pumpkin pie….
12)Chocolate cake– also from James.
*(I’ll post recipes and photos for some of these dishes soon, and include links from this post to them as they are completed)
And I forgot all about that other table for the most part. And you know what? A good time was had by all! I forgot how much I love playing host; it’s been a few years. And I remembered something else I had forgotten: sometimes, family isn’t so much to do with blood, but with whom you surround yourself with, and who loves you as you are. And that’s enough to be thankful for.
And yes, I have no photos of the table. I was glad when the cooking was finished, I was hungry, and busy having a good time. So shoot me! 🙂
I had a pretty nice birthday weekend: a quiet night in on Friday with the B/F and a rented movie. I made mirchi ka bajis (stuffed with cream cheese, a dab of garlic paste and Shilpa’s shenga chatni pitto– sort of like a Desi-Tex fusion- do try this, extremely good!), cabbage ka pakoras :-D, and alu ka bajis, and after all that deep-frying, popped a frozen pizza into the oven for the main course. Healthy meal, yeah… and, oh… ranch-style salad dressing and ketchup! (The B/F is not as fond of my usual hari chatni as I am, so I let my little green ice-cubes rest for the night)
The pizza was a great one- for frozen that is. For those of you here in the states, I recommend you seek out this brand: Home Run Inn. Out of Chicago. Been in business a long time, and for good reason! Good crust, great sauce, quality cheese… and for vegans, their “plum tomato pizza”- a sort of “reverse” pizza with the cheese as the first layer- is worth every penny. Total yum.
On Saturday night, my good friend Leon and I visited a local haunt for a few celebratory drinks and playful parley with mutual friends. It’s been hot in Green Bay these last few days- 87 F- and that tends to pull folks out of their homes and into the bars (“out of the wood-work”, as we say here)…I may have had 1 or 2 drinks too many, but I’m staying silent, and hey, they were birthday presents! [rubs his slightly-dull-feeling head] I think I’m still recovering…
And today I sat and looked at all the leftover alu ka bajis from Friday night. I made way too many. Kind of intentionally, as they turned out pretty well. I had cut them into lengthwise wedges (instead of rounds) before dipping them in the besan batter. Sort of to convince the B/F that they were very much like the local fare. I also had a plan in mind…
You see, the first frost arrives in Wisconsin at about this time. And there is a dish that I’ve been wanting to make with these:
Yep! Around here, growing these myself from taro-corms purchased from a Thai grocer is the only way to get them. The nearest Indian grocer doesn’t stock the frozen leaves. So, today I ventured outside with sunglasses and a scissors, snipped off 9 beautiful leaves, and proceeded to follow Roopa’s interesting patrode recipe… complete with the casually-fried onions in the the tadke/tempering. Delicious, people! and then I really needed a yoghurt dish to have along with it. Yes, a raitha is probably more traditional, but remember those leftover potato bajis that needed to be used up? And let me tell you: I’ve been having ferocious cravings for a particular little recipe of Anita’s ever since the first time I prepared it. The battered-and-deep-fried potato part was already done… no, not exactly like the usual kind with the finely-diced potato pakoras, but I can’t be the only one who uses up left-over pakoras and bajis in kadhi!
Some freshly-steamed rice, this and my pretty little rolls made for a nice, quiet treat. Just what I needed. And then my equally-quiet friend, James, stopped over for some coffee, likely with hopes of having a piece of now-nonexistant birthday cake. He is recently quite taken with a songstress popular a century ago: Sophie Tucker… We sat and sipped and explored her posted works on Youtube.com… and then I felt a sudden urge to dig out my collection of old 78-speed records. Bing, Mr. Jolson, Big Maybelle, Dinah and Rosemary. We were all together; good food, good friends, what more could I wish for?