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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Riffin' in the Kitchen

I like to riff in the kitchen. It is true that when I'm giving a dinner party I plan and schedule and shop, I pore through the recipes in our forty linear feet of cookbooks, plus my dozen large binders of collected recipes. I allot two days to the preparation of a company meal, and I enjoy every minute of it.


But what I really like to do is to riff in the kitchen. Mealtime comes. I pull out every leftover in the refrigerator, I inventory what's on hand, and then I play with my food until it becomes a meal. I must acknowledge here that cooking became a lot more fun once the three children had left home. My dear husband will eat anything, even my mistakes.


Recently I was on my own for dinner. My husband was at some gala tasting that would overfeed him with too much protein, too much fat, and too much wine. What would I fix for myself? Well, my supper was nothing fancy--but it was more to my taste than a banquet.


Here's what I had on hand: some unbaked pastry dough; a little egg-and-milk mixture left from that morning's French toast (I never throw anything away); half a cup of liquid from a creamy onion soup; a large handful of uncooked spinach; five tablespoons of heavy cream left from the weekend's party; and about two inches of a goat cheese cylinder.


And here's what I made. I rolled out half the dough and laid it in a small pie pan. I heated the cream and wilted the spinach in it, then roughly chopped the spinach while it was still in the pan. I mixed together the egg and milk, the milky soup liquid, the goat cheese, an extra egg, and the spinach and cream mixture and poured them into the pie pan. This was a quiche-like creation that can never be repeated.


Now, because you can never have too much pie, I lined another pie pan with the remaining dough and spread it with apple butter. I sliced an unpeeled apple and laid the slices in concentric circles on top of the apple butter, then topped the apples with a mixture of ground almonds, a tablespoon of sugar, and a little melted butter.


Nothing fancy. While everything baked I sat on my chaise in the living room, reading, while the gas fireplace hummed. And when the meal was ready I ate it, still sitting on the chaise, still reading.


My favorite way to eat: warm, comfortable, with a book in one hand (and we wonder why I spill so much food on my clothes). But nothing fancy.



Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Feast on Your Life

feast on your life

make a meal of it

gorge yourself on half-remembered hurts

stuff your mouth with half-forgotten shames

eat until your body is fully filled

            with your self


feel your hunger

when you approach the table

to feast on your life


look before you eat

eat first with the eyes

see the scars

see the encroaching, familiar, inevitable

(who would have believed?)


even as you compensate for them 

with (and thanks for this)

your glasses and your hearing aids


but look beyond these surface signs

search for trauma and joy

seek out the highlights of your life


and after you revel or cringe

or wallow in sorrow

begin to uncover the parts

hidden in shallow shadows

forgotten until this day

when you seek them

for the feast of your life


the sunny day in May when you were 12

the slippy slide of a newly nylon nightie

(oh, the novelty of nylon!)

when you were four


look deeper and you might

remember bird chorus in the park

just after dawn


feast on the sight of snow

the rambunctiousness of arms and legs

making snow angels


make an hors d'oeuvre platter of summer evenings:

those darkening warm outdoor nights

alone or with friends

and mosquitoes


add spice to your feast

with the joy of hand-making:

think of fabrics spilling over the worktable

and scrambles of paper on the desk

that shift color as you riffle them 



now enrich your meal  

with the music of the feast

and know that, however great its beauty,

what you hear is but a pale imitation of

the music of the spheres


Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor   

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Mr and Ms. Communication: Miscommunication

Our first argument, some 28 years ago, was about the Niagara Escarpment. We were driving into Ontario (I was driving, my  husband was navigating). I saw the Escarpment for the first time and asked him what it was. I couldn't understand what his answer meant, so I kept asking questions trying to clarify it. He couldn't understand what I didn't understand. We argued for a lot of miles. And that argument was prophetic. From then until now, our disagreements have always stemmed from a failure to communicate.


Now, this is pretty ironic, given that we have both worked in fields that require good communication skills. But I complain that he can't talk right and lacks nuance. He thinks I'm so nuanced that my real point gets lost.


Over the years we've learned to deal with this. Something that in the early years of the marriage escalated to a three-day silent treatment, with its concomitant tension in the gut, is now resolved within the half-hour. One of us will cool down, make an approach, and the other accepts it. We talk about what happened and we reach a resolution. This is a definite improvement. In fact, I think we both deserve a Great Achievement Award.


A defining characteristic of each of us has always been not just the need to be right but the need to be acknowledged as right. We both want it to be clear that "I" am right and "you" are wrong. No wimpy win-win situations for US. But that too is in the past. We both still feel the urge to be right, but we know it isn't worth the emotional pain of demanding our due. Each of us has learned to say, with relative good grace, "You're right." Sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's hard. No, I'm lying. It's never easy.


Over the years my husband's bad hearing (too many rock concerts in his youth) has become worse, and mine has become bad enough for me to notice how very bad it is. Neither of us wears a hearing aid around the house, so those tricky falling-off ends of sentences get lost.


He says, "I'm going to go check the flamdoodle."


Now, do I say, "What did you say?" Or do I pretend I know what it is he's going to check?


If I pretend, then I may get into trouble later when he asks what I think of the whatever and I don't realize that the whatever was actually the flamdoodle under its real name.


But how many times a day can one ask to have a sentence repeated (or even more confusingly, the end of a sentence, or the beginning of a sentence, which gets you into explaining "I heard the subject and the verb of the sentence, but what was the objective complement?" All these complicated maneuvers, just because both of us are pretending we don't need to wear our hearing aids around the house.


It isn't vanity. So what is it? Well, if we knew what it was, we could begin changing the situation. Laziness? The expense of the hearing-aid batteries?  It's hard to talk on the phone when you've got that thing in your ear. So that's one valid excuse. Also, if I play the cello while wearing my hearing aid, it whistles (the device, not the cello). But there's really no valid reason not to wear the hearing aids. Last year we both included in our goals-for-the-year an intention to wear our hearing aids around the house. When we reviewed the goals this year, we realized we had failed completely on that item. So it's on the list again.


And yet here I sit at the computer, bare-eared, and he sits at his computer, also bare-eared. Maybe we'll change tomorrow. It's definitely time to bite the bullet, admit that we're both deaf as posts, and do our bit to overcome the Communication Deficit of the household.


As we tell the children, marriage is a terrific vehicle for encouraging self-knowledge and the knowledge of human relations. You just have to be prepared to work at it forever.


Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor   

Sunday, September 6, 2009

It's Embarrassing

Embarrassing. As I write that very long word, half a dozen embarrassing scenarios run through my mind. Shall I pick one? Shall I embarrass myself by revealing my embarrassment to a wide audience?


It's embarrassing to admit that I used to watch soap operas. In fact, I've lived through two separate addictions to soap operas. The first was in Alabama, when I had three children under four. I remember watching "The Secret Storm" and "The Edge of Night." I would iron my husband's shirts and my daughters' little puffed-sleeve cotton dresses. (There was a right way and a wrong way to do those tiny sleeves, both ways led to burned fingers.)


In the living room of that rented house on Buena Vista (pronounced "beeyuna vista"), while the TV fed me its dramatic stories, I stood at the ironing board making my family smooth and cared-for. The three children were scattered around the room in various occupations, depending on their ages. I can picture the scene, but I can't remember any of the characters or stories from those soaps.


After we left Alabama, I stopped ironing and stopped watching the soaps. But the early years after I moved to Toronto were very lonely. It took me a long time to begin to make friends, and in the interim I rediscovered soap operas.


Our house is the perfect size for two people, the two of us who live here now now. But when we moved into it there were the two of us plus three large teenagers. The only space I could find for sewing was a tiny corner of the almost-unheated, almost-unfinished basement. I spent most afternoons alone, sewing, perfecting my skills by making the same Vogue pattern over and over in different fabrics until I was perfectly familiar with it.


As I sewed, I kept the TV on in the one little finished room on the other side of the basement. I couldn't see the TV, but I could hear it. For two years I listened, several afternoons a week, to those stories, without ever knowing what the characters looked like: "All My Children," "One Life to Live," "General Hospital," and "The Young and the Restless." For two winters my hands and feet froze in the unheated basement as I sewed, listening to the disembodied and overwrought voices of soap opera stars.


And then I found myself drawn to the basement soaps even when I wasn't sewing. No longer at the sewing maching, now I sat in the room with the TV and was finally able to see the characters whose voices I'd been hearing for two years. To ease my conscience as the soaps eased my loneliness, I knitted.  


Eventually, my own life became more interesting and I let go of my soap operas, one after another. It hardly hurt at all, because they were being replaced by the odd sensation of living my own life.


But there was one exception. I stayed hooked on "The Young and the Restless," with rich and handsome Victor, pig-faced Nikki, the grande dame Mrs. Chancellor, and Ashley (played at the time by an actress who was rumored to be a man in drag).


I watched the Y&R two or three times a week. Because of the glacial speed of soap-opera action, you could miss three days in a row and not feel the slightest confusion the next time you tuned in. Then one day, for no reason, I asked myself why I was watching this junk, and I didn't have an answer. So I stopped, cold turkey.


I had always watched the soaps avidly but with a derisive and critical eye, so my quitting wasn't because I suddenly became aware of the vacuous story or the random changes of behaviour designed to fit a new plot (the formerly good guy becomes evil, the sweet teenager turns into a slut). I had tolerated this all along. But one day I just said, "Enough." What a relief that was!!


I think that no one can tell just by looking at me now that I was once addicted to soap operas. How embarrassing it is to admit it!



Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor