Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Life After College

When I graduated West Virginia University with a bachelor’s in Journalism, I headed south to Charlotte, North Carolina. My plan was to leave West Virginia forever, except for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“You go down and find us an apartment,” said my wild party pal Stephanie. “I’ll come down in two weeks.”

We had spent hours planning our Charlotte lives. We were going to Kelly girl until we found full-time jobs—me in advertising, her in teaching. We’d each find a Mr. Right and be each other’s maids of honor. I’d have a career and she’d have kids.

Alas, Stephanie never arrived. She totaled her car, apologized for destroying our future and we never saw each other again.

“Move to D.C. with me,” my friend Dave said. I had called to tell him the tale of Stephanie standing me up. “We can live with my sister and her husband while we save up money to get our own place.”

I packed my Toyota Corolla for the second time in a month and headed north. Dave’s sister and her husband lived in Alexandria, Virginia. There were upsides and downsides to living with them. Their apartment didn’t have air conditioning. Or did it, and they were just too frugal to use it? I showered each morning then went to work and dried my hair and applied my makeup in the bathroom. It was futile to do it in the apartment where it was 85 degrees by 8 o’clock in the morning.

Dave slept on the couch in the living room and I crashed on the love seat. It was no easy feat getting to sleep every night.

“Do we have to leave the kitchen light on all night?” I asked Dave the first night.

He spoke in a whisper. “Yeah, we do. Otherwise the roaches will go after Jeannie’s dog.” I wouldn’t have minded. The Yorky was a little too yippy, a little too nippy, for my taste.

“What’s with all the signs?” I said to Dave as we walked out to our cars one morning. “They weren’t here last night.”

Dave walked over to a telephone pole. “WARNING! Do not let your cats and dogs roam unaccompanied at night. Pets have been disappearing at an alarming rate in this neighborhood.”

I knew why. Darla, my boss, had told me that certain cultures liked to eat cats and dogs.

“My friend, Ellen and her husband used to travel with their dogs,” she said one morning when I brought her a cup of coffee. “One time they traveled out of the country with their beloved Anastasia. The concierge at their hotel offered to get the dog settled while they unpacked. At least, that’s what they thought he was doing. Later that night they were served poodle pot roast over saffron rice.”

If there was an upside to living with Dave’s sister, other than the fact it was free, it was her husband’s cooking. He was from Viet Nam and had worked as a chef in a Japanese steakhouse before he became a cartographer for the U.S. government. Imagine eating Japanese steakhouse food over perfectly steamed rice every night.

“What’s he doing?” I asked Dave the first time we ate dinner with Jeannie and Sung Te.

Dave shook his head. “I have no idea.”

Jeannie’s husband had taken a large apothecary jar off the top of the refrigerator. It was filled with russet powder. He leaned his chair back, opened a drawer and took out a tablespoon. He dipped it into the jar and withdrew a heaping spoonful of powder. He sprinkled it over his beautiful tofu and veggie stirfry.

Dave and I ignored our own plates as we watched Sung Te eat. His face turned crimson. Sweat ran from his hairline and dripped off his chin. His nose began to leak and snot joined the sweat. He took the napkin from his lap and rubbed his face briskly.

He noticed us staring at him. His eyes disappeared as he smiled at our chagrin.

“Hot is good!” he said.

It was hard to walk away from Sung Te’s suppers but the love seat was giving me a crick in the neck. Dave and I relocated to Fairfax, Virginia. We got an apartment across from Dart Drug, not far from Fairfax Circle.

When you’re in your 20’s and living in the nation’s capital, you join the other yuppies who are eating and drinking and being merry. We didn’t have to buy anything but cereal and milk to eat. We ate lunch out and dinner at happy hour buffets.

“Let’s go dancing,” Dave said one Saturday night. I spent the next hour making myself look like Madonna. I shouldn’t have bothered. No one noticed, no guys anyway. I didn’t mind. The bar was big fun with a dance floor the size of a basketball court.

“Is that a man or a woman?” I said as a towering black person with a platinum beehive headed our way. His/her false eyelashes looked like black awnings emerging from silver eyelids.

“That would be a guy. See how his shoulders are broad and he doesn’t really have a waist or hips? That’s how you tell.”

Dave reached out and nudged my mouth shut but I continued to stare. “She, I mean he, is beautiful!”

“Hey look!” Dave said. “Is that guy wearing a skirt?”

I turned around to follow his gaze. “He is. They’re showing guys in skirts this year in GQ.”

I was bored. “Want to go out and watch the guys play volleyball?”

“Nope,” Dave said as he grabbed our gin and tonics from the bar. “They’re playing Boy George. Let’s dance!”

A few more trips to Traxx and Dave met the man of his dreams. Nico was a petite and feisty Latino. He was a cologne model at Neiman Marcus and an illegal alien. Dave and Nico approached me with a business proposition one evening.

Dave poured a glass of wine for each of us. “Do you think your friend Laura would marry Nico?”

My brow furrowed. “Why?”

Nico leaned forward into my space. “So I could get my green card. She would have to live here a little while. Our toothbrushes would be side by side. She would know my favorite color. It’s important if the INS comes. I would pay her mucho dinero.”

I considered the plan. Part of me didn’t want to help Nico. He was a priss and he bugged me. But, Laura could use the money. On the other hand, it would mean another roommate and things were tight as it was. What the heck? Maybe she’d say no.

I shrugged. “I’ll ask her next time I see her.”

I was reading in my room one night when I heard the oddest thing. It sounded like the smoke detector was going off.

“Whoo! Hoo! New York City!”

I put a robe over my pajamas. “What is that noise? Who is chirping?” I said as I opened my bedroom door.

Dave looked up from the couch where he was watching the news. “Nico’s dancing.”

“No, he’s not. He’s yelling! Make him stop.”

Nico emerged from the kitchen. He was wearing an apron over a Speedo. Typical. “Whoo hoo! Oooh baby!” His hips went round and round. Dave’s blue eyes opened wider. So did mine.

“Nico,” Dave said. “Save it for later.”

I went back to my bedroom. I got a mental picture of Laura and Nico getting married. Him in his Nieman Marcus tux, looking up at her. Her in a white tea-length dress, towering over him. Maybe she’d ask me to be her maid of honor.

One night we were out at a nightclub and Nico ran shrieking over to Dave and me after a so-called trip to the bathroom.

“Vamos!” he said. He appeared to be holding his pants together.

Dave huffed. “We just got here.”

Nico insisted. “I will pay for cab. My pants broke.”

Dave squinted at Nico. “How’d your pants break?”

Nico paused, then answered. “They went kaput when I did a split on the dance floor.”

“What were you doing on the dance floor? I thought you went to the bathroom?”

I went outside to get a cab.

Nico’s pants weren’t the only thing that split.

“Don’t bother calling Laura,” Dave said as he looked out the window on the way home.

“You sure?” I said. “She could use the money.”

Nico reached across me to stroke Dave’s arm. “Novio?”

Dave shook him off. “I’m not your novio, Nico. Not any more. Hasta la vista, baby!”

Nico slept on the couch and his sister came and picked him up in the morning. Dave called to me from his bedroom before I left for Jazzercise. “Hey D, wanna go out tonight?”

Friday, September 18, 2009

When You're Hot, You're Hot . . . When You're Snot, You're Snot

You may have figured out from the post title what this recipe is going to look like.  Yeah, it looks like that but man, oh, man is it good.  It's total tongue bliss when served with Tres Rios tortilla chips if you can get a hold of 'em.  They're made in Pennsylvania and are available in Motown at the Mountain People's Market @ $2.25/bag.  You can't  beat that with a stick!  If you are a true salsa lover, I'm guessing a batch of this salsa won't make it 'til morning.

Salsa Verde
(aka Tomatilla Salsa)
(aka  . . . you'll see)

12-14 tomatillos
1 hot pepper (ie. jalapeno)
1 clove garlic
1/4 onion
3/4 t. salt
1/2 bunch cilantro, stems removed

-Peel, wash and boil the  tomatillos with the pepper until soft, about 20 minutes.
-Drain the tomatillos and pepper and place in a food processor or blender.
-Add the remaining ingredients and blend to desired consistency.
-Best served slightly warm with your favorite chips or wrap.
Note: If you are a hot pepper wimp, make sure to remove the seeds and membranes of the pepper.  If you are gaga for hot pepper heat, try using a habanero.  Booyah:)
FYI, I am told this salsa freezes well.  It's also good to know that when cold, this salsa becomes gelatinous.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I Remember Dad

My father doted on me. It’s no wonder really. I was the youngest child and the only girl. Sometimes Dad called me, “Lil Svester” which I think means little sister in German. Other times he called me, “Honeypot.”

Every Saturday morning we’d run errands. We’d drive to his office at the local college where he taught psychology. He’d catch up on work and I’d whistle at the guinea pigs and rats in the lab.

After an hour or two we’d walk uptown to the bank.

“Would you like a lollipop, sweetie?” the teller always asked.

I’d rest my chin on the counter and look up at her. “Yes, please.”

“We got some new piggy banks. Would you like one?

“Yes, ma’am.”

“What color?

“Pink, please.”

Next stop was The Peanut Shoppe. I loved the aroma of roasting nuts, royal red cherries and chocolate bridge mix.

When it was our turn to order Dad would go first. “I’ll take a fourth pound of Spanish peanuts. Svester, tell the lady what you want.”

I’d point at the glass. “I’ll take a fourth a pound of pistachios—the red kind, please.”

I’d eat them on the way home and my fingertips would be red until the next Saturday. Dad would save his peanuts to eat later. He’d eat them while he drank a couple of Pabst Blue Ribbon beers each night.

Every month or so we’d cross the bridge into Ohio where he could buy beer cheap. He always let me get a couple of plastic mermaids to hang on my glasses of blue raspberry Kool-Aid.

Dad’s office was three miles from our house. He walked to work every day, weather permitting. My school was on the way so he and I would walk that far together. If it was rainy or really cold, we’d drive. He had a little blue Subaru. It was the first one in the state. It only cost $1,500.00.

When we got to the gate of my school he’d put his hands on my shoulders and look me in the eye.

“Learn lots of interesting and useful things today, L’il Svester. And remember, you can learn from anyone and anyone can learn from you.”

Actually, I lied. That’s what I tell my son when I put him on the bus every morning.

Dad would pat me on the back and I’d run up the steps to the playground. Most days I’d watch until he disappeared over the hill. If he looked back I’d wave until it felt like my arm was going to fall off.

My friends thought Dad looked like Abraham Lincoln with blue eyes.

Dad had a hobby. He was a telegrapher—a Morse code operator. It was what got him out of the house at a young age. His father had one idea of what his future should be. He had another. Dad didn’t want to be a banker so he lied about his age and joined the Navy. Off he went to World War II where he worked as a telegrapher. He was just a couple months shy of eighteen.

Every night after supper Dad would push his chair back from the dinner table and say, “I’m going on the air now.”

He’d go down to the basement and spend a couple of hours sending telegraph messages all over the world. Sometimes I’d sit beside him and watch him and his equipment. I liked the dial with the aqua glow.

Dot, dot, dash. Dash, dot, dash. It all meant something.

Sometimes we’d be in the living room and the phone would ring. Mom would answer and hand it to Dad. “It’s for you.”

If I was sitting close I could hear the person on the other end.

“I want to send a message to my grandson. He’s stationed in Japan. Can you do that?”

“Yes, ma’am. I sure can.” Dad would grab a notepad and pen and jot down the message. Then he’d head for the basement. It was a mystery and thrill that my dad, his telegrapher’s key and his Morse code buddies could somehow talk to people on the other side of the world.

I regret not learning Morse code. I think Dad would have liked that. Sometimes I wonder if I could’ve communicated with him in Morse code once he got dementia and pretty much stopped talking.

How do you say, “I love you, Daddy” in Morse code? What about, “I miss you.”

Friday, September 11, 2009

Make your hummus hummmmmmmm!

I'm back.  Writing short stories has consumed me for a week or two but I want to get a post out to you all before the weekend.

I've gotta be honest.  For the longest time, I found hummus to be, well . . .  ho hum.  It didn't help that our 10-year old son suggested it looked like throw up.

Recently though, I found a hummus recipe that changed everything--the flavor, the color and the nutritional value.  The spices in this recipe really crank up the antioxidant content of hummus.  That's why I tried it originally.  You know the buzz . . . . turmeric can decrease chances of dementia.  And cilantro, I LOVE cilantro!  Everything's better with cilantro!

If you have 15 minutes to run to the store and then 10 minutes to throw the ingredients into your food processor or blender, you too can change your attitude about hummus.

Spiced Up Hummus

1 can (15 oz.) of chickpeas, drained, reserving 1/4 c. of the liquid
1/4 c. tahini (sesame paste)
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
1 T. olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/4 t. ground star anise
1/4 t. ground ginger
1/4 t. ground cumin
1/4 t. turmeric (my addition)
1/4 c. + cilantro leaves, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste

-Place everything in the food processor or blender and puree 'til smooth.  Stop the motor as needed to scrape down the sides.
-This is great with whatever you usually eat with hummus but I LOVE it with Blue Diamond Nut Thin crackers.


Note:  Feel free to soak, drain and boil dry chickpeas if you have the time.  Just save 1/4 c. of the cooking liquid if you need it to thin out the hummus a bit.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Sauces of Summer

This was my article that ran in the Dominion Post two weeks ago. 

Summer weather is finally here and no doubt a plethora of produce will follow. My mouth is watering in anticipation of having the homegrown (and/or farmer’s market procured) ingredients for my favorite condiments—a quick salsa, a creamy tzatiki and Udi’s Bliss.

The salsa recipe I’m offering is from Martha Stewart. It’s the only salsa I make. It’s that good. Try it with Tres Rios chips from the Mountain People’s Market.

Tzatiki is a creamy cucumber sauce you may have had on gyros up at Ali Baba’s. I first fell in love with tzatiki in Greece in the 80’s. I’ve combined various elements of Martha Stewart’s and Food Network Kitchen’s recipes to come up with my own version below. It’s awesome on warm pita wedges.

Udi’s Bliss will allow you to enjoy the hot peppers that will soon be coming on. This recipe is named for Udi, a woman from Thailand I met fourteen years ago in Delaware. I was pregnant with our middle child and I ate an entire loaf of homemade bread sliced and slathered with butter and Udi’s sauce. This probably explains the temperament of our middle child.

Udi dictated the recipe while I took notes. In closing she said, “Cook for hour.” I misunderstood and cooked my first batch for four hours. It was thick and viscous and so concentrated you could only tolerate a dab at a time. When I have scads of hot peppers I make multiple batches of Udi’s Bliss and freeze them in small glass jars so we can enjoy it in the winter. It’s great on bread and butter or on cheese and crackers.

Quick Tomato Salsa
(Martha Stewart Living)

1 lb. tomatoes, cut into ¼” dice
½ c. finely diced red onion
1/3 c. finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 t. minced garlic
1 ½ t. minced jalapeno pepper
1 T. olive oil
Juice of 1 lime
1/8 t. salt
1/8 t. freshly ground black pepper

-Combine all ingredients; let sit 30 minutes before serving.

(Martha Stewart Living + Food Network Kitchen)

2 medium cucumbers, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2” chunks (or grated)
2 t. salt
2 c. lowfat Stonyfield yogurt (drained overnight through a coffee filter or clean cloth)
2 t. minced garlic
2 T. minced fresh dill
1 T. minced fresh mint
1 T. olive oil
1 T. fresh lemon juice

-In a colander, toss cucumbers with 1 teaspoon of the salt. Place colander in sink and let drain at least 20-30 minutes.
-Press cucumbers to release additional juices. Transfer to a bowl. Mix in remaining ingredients, adding the salt ¼ t. at a time, to taste.
-Refrigerate at least one hour so flavors blend. Serve at room temperature with pita bread wedges.

Udi’s Bliss

15 assorted hot peppers, washed, seeded and roughly chopped
1 small-medium onion, quartered
1 garlic clove
1 t. salt
2 T. soy sauce (1 of the tablespoons can be fish sauce if you like)
2 T. sugar
1 T. honey

-Puree all ingredients in a food processor.
-Transfer to a heavy medium skillet and simmer uncovered for 1 hour.


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