SILENCE HAS A NAME - Poetry Chapbook and CD, with Music by Mark Hanley

Friday, December 31, 2010

A Memoir of Delinquent Repasts

I don't know any family that matches mine when it comes to our relationship to food. There simply was no comparison, no one came even close. As an 11-year old, I would cross the street from St. A's to Breslow's Stationery Store every day and buy my first snacks of the afternoon -- a Slim Jim and a cherry pie. I absolutely had to have the experience of the chewy salty meat, and then the burst of syrupy cherries. The only question was -- which first? Once home, I mixed Cheetos in a large mixing bowl with mayonnaise and strawberry jelly, and downed that concoction as if it was bliss itself.

We were a ravenous household of teens. Ale used to eat cans of tuna, and, disturbingly, leave the empty cans like carcasses, under her bed. After a night of partying, she'd come home and lay her mitts on whatever big dish sat in the fridge. Once it was a pot roast, and you could see her teeth marks and the gnarled missing sections, evidence of her ravaging, the next day. I don't remember what it is my sister Mar used to gorge on -- besides pot. My brothers were known to each down 36 to 40 clams easy at a clambake and could each devour their own Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket. Ale was known to go through an entire Sunday breakfast box of Dunkin' Donuts, and, I heard, after school, used to panhandle in front of the local Baskin and Robbins, and sometimes hold up kids for their change, just to get her daily fix -- a banana split.

Mind you, we were a slender, athletic bunch then, but this is how we ate. Besides consuming alcohol in unholy quantities, my brother John could devour just about anything. There were times we all sat to dinner at the kitchen table, and noticed knives and forks missing from our place sets. I wonder now if my mother wasn't just trying to scrimp on the silverware, knowing it might well dissappear into somebody's gullet for good, or even be used as a weapon. We were like that, and our mother went so far as to lock the kitchen snacks' cabinet. No question about it, without that lock, all the bags of Cheetos and Fritos, the Planters' Peanuts and Nestle's Crunch bars that were meant to be used for lunch snacks and as hors d'oeuvres at the cocktail hour would have been downed in a day.

In college, I found strangely disgusting combinations comforting -- Mateuse wine with saltines and fondue; Vodka and Tang; strawberry ice cream filched from the school cafeteria dipped in fondue. I made sure my mother sent emergency boxes of Slim Jims and cashews. As a runaway on Cape Cod, I am convinced I single-handedly emptied out every Seven Eleven of its bags of cashews. One winter night, I went everywhere and simply could not find a single bag of those nuts. My hors d'oeuvres were Spam and Tavola Red, the cheapest wine there was -- at under five bucks -- then.

After I quit drinking in my early 20s, I spent a whole year consuming about a pound of cheese and a pound of nuts a day, and only nuts and chocolates on the weekends. I believe this was my own version of the Atkins Diet. Then I passed two or three kidney stones and started rethinking my diet. I haven't stopped thinking about it since then and trying to refine it.

When I look back, I can't figure out who or what to blame for not knowing how to eat properly. I remember being an eight-year old in Key Biscayne, when we first arrived in the states, opening up the fridge and kicking back with a box of Velveeta cheese and a fat sausage of liverwurst. Once I'd finished digging into the Velveeta and processed meat, I would step outside in the one-piece bathing suit I wore everywhere but to bed. If it rained, I planted myself under the roof gutters to shower blissfully in nature. I felt so free, alive and lucky to have everything I wanted. Ah yes, I must have thought to myself, thinking of my new friends, Velveeta and liverwurst, I do so love the U.S.A!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Winter's Yellow Split Pea Soup

Know that shelling out a recipe is not easy for me. I'd much rather philosophize about food, or relay a culinary read or adventure. But tonight's repast was so right, so perfect for the moment, so apropos, I simply had to pass it on.

Late this afternoon we went out into the blowing snow and frigid temperatures to shoot some pictures and video, and after we returned, in the heels of lightning and thunder-- even as it snowed -- nothing seemed more of a respite, or more perfect to concoct at the stove than old-fashioned pea soup.

Thank god I had some yellow split peas left, which by the way, I prefer to the green variety.

With no time to let the peas soak, I simply tossed what was left of the bag -- about two fistfuls -- in a colander -- and popped them in a quart of sea-salted boiling water. Personally, I prefer a thick soup, so this recipe is about that.

While the split yellow peas in water perked on low, I brought out my trusty cutting board and my big Tramontina chef's cutting knife, what was left of some vegetables in my frig -- the heel of a celery bunch, an organic carrot, a quarter of a sweet onion, a couple of portobello mushrooms and a couple of strips of Fully Cooked frozen Oscar Mayer bacon. I chopped these up and a couple of garlic cloves and threw them into a pan with some olive oil, sauteed the blend, and finally, added a splash of Tamari. I waited until the soup was thick, near ready, then scooped out three or four heaping serving spoons of the sauteed mix and dumped it into the soup, setting the timer for half an hour. I placed the remaining healthy portion of veggies into a container to store after they had cooled -- to add as garnish to scrambled eggs, to a salad, or even to eat solo, rolled into a pita.

The split pea soup served four. You can garnish it with Turkish paprika. It was just what this wickedly cold night called for.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

My Failed Fondue

Very little can make one feel like more of a failure than a foiled recipe. Such was my fate this Christmas day. I failed at making my first fondue. It's not even that complicated. Particular, yes, but not complicated.

On the bright side, I know now what I did wrong. You need real wine. The fake stuff just doesn't do it. You simply can't replace the bright, tart taste of dry white wine with any other ingredients. Not lemon juice, not Fre de-alcoholized white wine. You must use the real thing.

Secondly, not only did I place too much faux wine in the pot; after placing handfuls of shredded Swiss Cheese, Brie and Gouda, I let the mixture boil.

You're not supposed to let the wine with cheese boil.

It was not the cheese I was supposed to use, and because I let it boil, it also clumped. These were my third and fourth mistakes.

I wasn't even sure of the other prescribed touches -- the added nutmeg, pepper and lemon juice. And the two tablespoons of flour. Was it too much nutmeg? Should the flour have been cornstarch?

Fortunately, I have learned a few things. If I can find Ementhaler Cheese, which I never heard of before researching fondue, I must add that to my concoction, along with the Gruyere I also couldn't find at the local A & P during my late night search. Cheese is a delicate substance in its way, as are the best foods, like chocolate, when you start playing with them in extreme temperatures.

I'm simply determined to find this Ementhaler Cheese of which I've never heard.

And determined to include dry white wine. And to find an interesting, yet simple fondue recipe, and try again.

Ƈa va. Such is life. I turn the page on my foiled faux fondue!

Christmas Wishes

Some of us woke up this morning asking, what happened? Did I drink that much? Did I really say and do that? Oh, I remember the days. And boy, did I sublimate last night at the wickedly fine party I attended. Delicious fun. More of everything that I can recall in years. Not just pastas and dips -- even vegetarian ones, made of guacamole -- and cheeses galore, and olives, all favorites, but choices of pies. A brilliant hostess, Ann, part genius mind, part genius cook and mother, laid out chocolate cream pies, pecan pies, cream puffs, gingerbread cookies and chocolates as if for Santa and his elves. Children unwrapped gigantic gifts and adults unraveled with laughter and drink.

I have very funny friends. They always make me laugh. They can be counted on to make a party. They are really remarkably talented that way. On special occasions, they also drink. All the stuff, the best of the best I used to drink, and some stuff I wish I had tasted when I could. Every time they downed a shot, I had to remind myself of what I might feel like tomorrow if I drank that. Ninety proof Padron Tequila -- where was that in my drinking days? And that bourbon whose mere scent put me over the edge. It's OK to enjoy vicariously what I can't have. I learned long ago I can't have everything. That's what makes me not a child.

My friends drink and party like there's no tomorrow. Like I used to in my 20s. None of us are that age anymore. And one of us is gone this year. We toasted to him. Dear Joe, someone else you could always count on for a laugh and smile. We toasted to him. He too used to eat like the best of them, and he actually drank less. But life took him anyway. Took him so fast, he surely didn't know what happened. He probably went out laughing or smiling over something in memory.

It's great to have friends who, when you think of them, always make you smile or laugh. My friends always make me do that. But some also worry me. I'd love to see them live a long time, full of happiness and love to give and also to receive. Maybe it's a thought I shouldn't dwell on, but it dances in the back of my mind, behind all the merriment every time we get together and dive over the edge into cascades of endless bliss and good times.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Big Christmas Questions

I don't know about you but I develop strange impulses around the holidays. Suddenly, just as everyone seems to be looking cheerful and happy -- even about eating more than twice their weight in food and gaining many extra pounds -- I get the impulse to fast and join a nunnery. It's really how I often feel about the holidays. The "what do I cook?" dilemma sometimes brings me to the point of imagining serving celery stalks, dip and your basic red Hawaiian Punch instead of all the usual brouhaha. Of course I won't do that, of course I wouldn't, I tell myself. And yet, I am my mother's daughter, and my mother, one holiday, when dad was expecting a big fat turkey and stuffing yet again, my dear mother, a Latin American, who was obviously -- on that occasion anyway -- fed up with the idea of having to serve up yet again another North American traditional meal, wheeled out a silver tray under which was no turkey, no stuffing, no ma'm, but arroz con pollo, chicken and rice, that savory, familiar South American staple. Woah, you should have seen the fallen expression on my daddy's face, on all our faces. Then a few of us laughed, those few who saw the humor. But not daddy.

So, I have my fantasies. I'm sure it will probably be turkey or ham again this Christmas. Maybe fried turkey. A new friend informed me that he fried an 18-pounder this past Thanksgiving in about an hour and a half! Ladies consider. This man did the frying in a big pot in the backyard. He did the cooking!

The trouble with this fried turkey idea for Christmas is primarily that at the moment we are experiencing temperatures the likes of which would probably prune the dick of a polar bear. My friends or neighbors would probably have me committed if they saw me making a fire in the backyard and placing a bald chicken, turkey or capon in the pot, while nordic winds whisked snow all around.

Ain't gonna happen this year.

Maybe next Thanksgiving.

Which brings me back to the Big Question, the one that has me alternately wanting to fast and wanting to flee -- What will I cook this Christmas?

Maybe I should ask myself, what would I feed hungry multitudes who came to my door, starved, really hungry for lack of having had a proper meal all year? What if once again this holiday, we opt to invite those who have nowhere to go over to our place for a meal? What, I should ask myself, would they want to eat, besides a big, traditional feast -- Turkey, potatoes, squash, gravy, string beans, stuffing, pumpkin pie. Who doesn't like this? Who doesn't dream of the best family moments they ever had or those moments and the family they wished they'd had when eating this stuff.

Of course this is what I'll make and serve this holiday, while the carolers sing and the tree twinkles bright. But you can bet in the back of my mind as I pull the turkey out from the oven, I'll be thinking of my mother and smiling big.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Call to Digital Responsibility

I'm beginning to think that owning a computer is akin to owning a gun. And maybe a license should be required before we're allowed to launch relationships with our PCs. It's what I'm thinking after reading Douglas Rushkoff's thoughtful and thought-provoking Program or be Programmed, subtitled Ten Commands for a Digital Age, a punchy paperback just shy of 150 pages published by O/R Books.

Wiry and high energy, clad in a leather jacket and wire rims, Rushkoff looked like a young Woody Allen dressed as James Dean the evening I heard him read from the Intro to his book in a Manhattan bar. A columnist for The Daily Beast (one of my online staples), Rushkoff has written numerous best-sellers on the subject of media, made documentaries, aired commentaries on NPR, published opeds in The New York Times, and appeared on television's The Colbert Report. This is not somebody whose pages one scans like a Web site or whose words on media one tends to dismiss.

Rushkoff challenges us to think about the way digital technologies affect us and claims that to date "we have very little understanding of what is happening to us and how to cope." We are not dealing at all well with "the digital tsunami" in which we are immersed.

While much of what he states has been said before -- digital technologies depersonalize, for example --Rushkoff goes further and deeper, as he both understands and can explain technology. The reader is left with a quavering sense that we are in the midst of a technological high alert, a crisis only few recognize.

We must challenge ourselves with questions like: Digital technology demands immediate responses, but are we aware of our choices? Rushkoff isn't saying technology and the Internet are bad, but they require us to put our values on the line, and we need to recognize their power over us.

It's true that those addicted to the Internet seem to be in a constant state of stand by and react as if the virtual world in which they participate is somehow real. This isn't so. The Internet can't replace life or relationships, although it can create illusions about both. According to Rushkoff, recent studies involving young people, for example, indicate there's definitely a blurring line between youths' sense of what is real and what is virtual.

Computers are easy to learn. Programming is powerful. Communication is extraordinarily delicate and nuanced, and technology is changing its nature as well as who we are and what we do. We would be wise to better examine our relationship to our digital world.

Rushkoff's book is a wake up call. If we don't look at our digital technologies more closely, if we fail to deal with them more consciously and responsibly, they will own us and determine our futures. We have a choice we must make about who, or what, takes the lead in our evolution.

A note about O/R Books, a progressive book publisher that doesn't (alas) accept unsolicited manuscripts. It publishes about two elegant books a month by writers as diverse as Chris Lehman, Eileen Myles and Gordon Lish, all of whom are names immediately recognizeable if you are tuned in at all to technology, culture or media. Check out the OR Books Web site: http://www.orbooks.com/. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Eloquence and Beauty

We attended the New York Women in Film and Television (NYWIFT) MUSE Awards Luncheon at the Hilton in New York City today only to have our collective breath taken away by the extraordinary loveliness and eloquence of actor/activist/director Marsha Hunt, who received a MUSE Award this year for her courage, dedication and inspiring work on behalf of so many causes, including that of world hunger and poverty. A stunning, vital and unbotoxed beauty at 93, she is the epitome of my idea of true success, a model of integrity, the honoree that shone most boldly and brightly for me.

In her speech, Hunt called women directors to be more compassionate in their vision and to help end the "sclock and shock" trend of current filmmaking. She received a standing ovation and was virtually swamped afterwards by women of all ages in the media and entertainment business.

Hunt, who signed on with Paramount Pictures in 1934 at the age of 18, starred in more than 50 films before being stopped short by McCarthyism in the 1950s. She was among 30 well known Hollywood personalities that included Danny Kaye, John Huston and Lauren Bacall who flew to D.C. to protest Congress and were asked to denounce their activities. Hunt refused -- not in order to support Communism, but to defend her basic rights of speech and freedom. She remains a concerned activist on issues such as poverty, peace and global pollution, serves on numerous Boards, including a board of mental health center in San Fernando Valley and has been aligned with the United Nations helping communities around the world for years. Since 1980, she has been the honorary mayor of Sherman Oaks, California. Marsha Hunt's Sweet Adversity, a documentary about her life by Zelda Can Dance Productions has just been completed, and we also met director/producer Roger C. Memos, who flew in from Los Angeles for the NYWIFT event.

For more information about Hunt or the documentary about her life and work, see http://www.hollywoodandart.com/zeldacandance.html