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Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Full Basket

A tisket, a tasket, oh bring me a full basket. I love full baskets. My secret dream used to be that someone would give me a basket! One of those huge gift baskets that have pate and pickled mushrooms, Camembert and water biscuits, pickled mussels, tiny onions, and exotic jams. A basket full of things I would never buy for myself.


If I received a basket like that, I used to think, I would leave it on the table with all its little treasures still tucked into the raffia. Then at each mealtime I would dig out a tin of something I'd never eaten, and I'd make a meal of it, eating the whole can of whatever it was.


Or I would invite a friend over to share the bounty one afternoon. But the main thing I knew was that I would never really unpack the basket and put all the items away, because then they would become ordinary. Their charm was that they lay nestled, half-hidden, in that special big basket, just for me.


Well, that was my fantasy. Since then, we have actually had such a basket. My husband won it as a door prize, and it was a whopper of a basket! Because he knows I love doing it, he invited me to open the shiny cellophane and investigate the contents of the basket. It had more jars and cans and packages than I had ever imagined.


We unpacked the whole basket, ooh-ing and aah-ing over each gift, until the basket was empty except for its shredded red cellophane packing. My husband neatly separated the jars and packages into types: cheeses in one pile, chocolates in another, pickled items in another. This was already more organization than I would have wanted, had it been MY basket. But the next morning, nothing was left on the table. He had taken every item to our basement pantry. All the little fancy mustards were now encircling our backup jar of ordinary Dijon, all the fancy jams were lined up with the jars of apricot and rhubarb jam already on the shelf.


In short, my husband's organizing imperative had taken the golden excitement of that gift basket and turned it into ordinary dross. His actions were very practical, but the sparkle of the gift basket was lost.


It felt a little like learning the truth about Santa Claus.


Nowadays, of course, gift baskets have changed. In November we start receiving catalogs from the gift basket companies. You now buy themed baskets. For a baby gift, you can order a basket with a teddy bear and a bathinette complete with a soft little towel. In my opinion, gift baskets should contain nothing but FOOD—very fancy, very expensive tins and jars of food! Anything else is an abomination.

Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor   

Sunday, April 19, 2009

On Sushi

I recently ate lunch alone at our local sushi place. I've eaten there before, but it's always been for dinner, so I've not investigated their overwhelming list of rolls and hand-rolls. After much price-comparing and ingredient-pondering, I ordered the restaurant's specialty roll, with salmon skin, avocado, eel, cucumber, and a topping of pretty pink fish roe.


The fully-packed roll came sliced into eight pieces, with the usual wasabi and pickled ginger on the side. Each piece was at least the size of a golf ball. How was I going to eat this thing? Cram a piece into my mouth? Or try to take a small bite from it, causing the whole thing to disintegrate and escape the (already tenuous) clutch of my chopsticks?


I picked up the smallest of the eight pieces with my chopsticks and stuffed it into my mouth. It barely fit. It was full of delicious tastes, but it completely filled the available space in the cavity of my mouth. If this one would barely fit into my mouth, I knew that cramming in a  larger piece would cut off all access to air. I'd suffocate.


My only choice was to make two bites of each piece. Is that how you do it? I'm asking. And if it is, can you explain to me how you gnaw through the nori sheet with your eyeteeth, while leaning over your plate in anticipation of fall-out? I don't think you can do it, so if you think you can, call me and we'll do lunch together at a Japanese restaurant.


Here's what happens. The nori, crisp when the rice is first rolled up inside it, softens with the moisture of the filling. As it softens, it becomes slightly tough—deliciously tough, but too tough to bite through neatly or gracefully. When you attempt to bite it, you are left with half the roll in your mouth and the other half hanging out, like a cat caught in the midst of eating her mouse dinner. And inevitably the roll breaks apart and falls onto the plate, if you are lucky, or the table and your lap, if you aren't.


Can I blame this on their too-loose rolling? Is there anyone but me I can blame? Do I have to forego these delicious rolls? Do I have to embarrass myself by asking for a knife and fork? (Are knives and forks even available at sushi restaurants?)


Oh yes. A possible solution. I can order these rolls to go, then race home to eat them in the privacy of my own dining room, with no waitresses to giggle behind their hands at my ineptitude.


New country-western song: "Oh, my mouth's too small for sushi, take me back to pork and beans . . ."


Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor   

Saturday, April 4, 2009

To Coax the Birds

If I want the birds to come

I must go to the basement for the stepladder

then find the cord I plan to use

for my pulley contraption

to raise and lower the feeder


I must fill the feeder,

devise a squirrel deterrent,

and then, everything assembled

beside the back door,

put on boots and hat

and coat and scarf

and nimble-fingered gloves

(mittens would be useless

for this job).


Now, prepared,

I must go out the back door

and clear the snow

from the back steps and the deck

and move into the action

that I hope will bring the birds to me.


Birds to see, idly,

until I learn to watch intently.

Birds to hear, casually,

until I learn to listen for—

yes, even the sparrows' spats.


And no more of this "only", please.

No more of wanting just the classy birds,

the rarities, the ones I have to look up

in Peterson's.

There'll be no class-ism

around my feeder this winter.

I've learned the vanity

of preferring one bird over another.

Once this feeder's up and running,

I'll watch and hear them all

with pleasure.


Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor