He sent me, seemingly out of nowhere, a Wikipedia link to “the blue plate special.”
He said something to the effect of, “I have a feeling you need to know this; I think you can do something with it.”
I had been struggling for a way in to write about myself, because it does not come naturally to me. He had pushed me: “Everyone has a blog about themselves, you write one too!”
These are now extremely painful memories, since my friend committed suicide, and I only found out about it six months after it happened.
There are endless questions, some guilt, some blame at him, at me, at circumstances, at life, and a lot of anger. I have never before known someone near my age—he was only in his 50s—to commit suicide, and now I am even more ambivalent than ever about writing this blog. One could say that perhaps I should continue it in memory to him, since it was his idea, but in fact, one of the things he and I disagreed about was the interest anyone can, or should, have, in the day-to-day ramblings of irritation that this blog too often became.
If you know someone who has committed suicide, and you felt close to them, as I felt to him, then I think you’ll understand. His belief was that people are interested in what other people have to say about aging and getting older, and how one handles that. I can’t tell you how bitterly ironic that thought is to me now. It has taken me almost two months to be able to write about his death, because to write about it is to make it real, it is to inscribe it, it is to be forced, by the action of my own words, to believe it’s true. I have been in denial ever since I found out. I still find it hard to believe.
So, Henry…. these thoughts are for you, but I can’t continue this blog without you, my friend. There is very little point, since you will never read it again, you will never critique it or give me praise, you weren’t alive to read any of the hidden messages I left for you about Paris or Hemingway last summer. It is dreadful having to write on these subjects without you as my reader and my audience.
Regretfully, I will stop, and go back to writing the other subjects that irritated him so much when he was alive, about the things of interest to me, that were not of interest to him.
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest….
my dear friend…
Henry Edmond Sauvageot, 1955 – 2011
- Army jawan commits suicide in Pathankot (indianmilitarynews.wordpress.com)
- More Soldiers Committed Suicide Than Killed…. (unbiasedtruth.net)
- What I Think About Suicide (Part 2) (vmoller.wordpress.com)
- White Pedophile Commits Suicide (innerstandingisness.wordpress.com)
- Want to be Time Explorer, Two Students Committed Suicide (socyberty.com)
- 16-Year-Old Forced to Marry Her Rapists Commits Suicide (haleybehre.wordpress.com)
- Soap Star commits suicide (bazaardaily.com)
- Moroccan girl commits suicide after being forced to marry her rapist | The Raw Story (aboriginalpress.wordpress.com)
- Maid Commits Suicide After Attack Video (theroot.com)
- Youth commits suicide (nation.com.pk)
Here’s a good recipe I made up tonight, and since it has no real name, I have given it the name I think is most appropriate for the way I live, which is to cobble stuff together and hope for the best.
During the important process of naming it, I tried ‘leftover soup’, but that was too boring. It makes you think you’re getting something that should have been thrown away two days ago; ‘steak soup’—too grand; it’s got some steak in it, but not much; ‘spaghetti sauce soup’—too weird; you shouldn’t mix your food forms when creating a recipe name. For example, when I hear ‘baked potato soup’ my culinary toes curl.
My daughter, upon seeing the picture of the soup taken with my iPhone-wannabe, dubbed it Maggot Soup, but that’s just mean. She’s always been dubious about my cooking. I don’t know why. She’s still alive, after all.
So, as soon as I sat down to type out the ingredients, it became the Blue Plate Special Soup, a mulligatawny stew of delightful ingredients inspired by Italian wedding soup, one of my favorites.
This particular soup sums up my approach to cooking on a day like today, when it’s cold and grey, I have no desire to go out to buy ingredients, and I have plenty of compatible-enough ingredients waiting for some imagination on my part. This is not as difficult as it sounds. You just have to know what likes to be with what, and for how long they can tolerate each other’s company.
So here goes. Try this idea when you’re stuck with leftovers (but not just any leftover; the ingredients have to at least have something to offer each other, otherwise you really will end up with Maggot Soup).
6-8 cups of homemade broth. Mine was made from leftover Thanksgiving turkey, a large lamb bone, vegetables, and herbs. Then this is strained, everything but the broth is tossed, et voila, you have homemade broth to do with what you will.
Broth goes well with certain things that want to be thrown into it. One of the things that won’t mind being thrown into broth is a half-bag (or so) of leftover navy beans (or other white bean). I had a half-bag from some stupid earlier recipe which didn’t require an entire bag of beans. So I left this half-bag (approximately one cup of white beans) to soak overnight until they plumped up, and mixed them into the simmering broth this morning.
Then, there was the approximately 2 cups of thick organic spaghetti sauce leftover from a few days ago, which wanted to become an Italian-inspired wedding soup (or minestrone), but didn’t quite know how to pull it off. This was comprised of chopped up and then sautéed chicken-mozzarella sausage; whole organic sun-dried tomatoes in oil and herbs; a jar of organic heirloom tomato sauce, one cup of some red wine or other (doesn’t matter what, really), plus sliced shallots and garlic sautéed gently along with the sausages, and lots of virgin olive oil to sauté in.
At the end of the spaghetti-sauce-making process, which takes somewhere between a half-hour and hour (let’s call it 45 minutes to stew properly, so all the flavours become friendly) you might end up with a very thick sauce indeed, and if you haven’t made sufficient pasta, you can count on left-over sauce. There’s always too much to throw away and not enough to bother making more pasta for.
So you throw this conglomeration into your stock with the beans, and let them all simmer together while the beans soften. This will take awhile; probably a few hours, since we’re not going anywhere, it’s cold out, and where are you rushing to, anyway? You could throw in a bay leaf if you like, but if you’re using leftovers that were adequately seasoned, you probably won’t have to add any new seasoning to this soup. It will be very flavourful on its own.
At this point in my soup-making process I had a decision to make, but it wasn’t difficult. I had a leftover grilled steak bone with plenty of meat remaining from an enormous 22 oz. T-bone steak dinner. I had had the foresight to include in my doggy bag the steamed spinach and leftover oven-seared potatoes as well (restaurants serve way too much food a lot of the time), and so, after chopping the leftover steak and throwing it and the entire bone into the soup, the vegetables followed, giving the soup some necessary greenery (and a little more starch to thicken it).
At the point when the soup starts to thicken and the beans soften, you can add approximately 1-2 cups of elbow macaroni (I had, inexplicably, two mostly-empty boxes with a cup of macaroni each sitting in my pantry). You let these simmer until they’re done, about 20 minutes or so (any more and they get mushy) and then you eat the soup, which should be done by now, with grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese on top.
If the soup becomes too thick, just add more broth to it.
The soup is now divine, but it only attained this state of perfection because it comes from a long line of previously cooked food, all of which could have been thrown away, but was instead rescued and put to work.
So here are the real ingredients:
- 6-8 cups broth
- Tomatoes, herbs, red wine, chicken-mozzarella sausage (chopped and sautéed), a jar of heirloom tomato sauce, all cooked together, leaving you with a thick sauce or paste, if you will.
- Cooked and seasoned T-bone steak, the meat cut into pieces, bone included for added flavour and because there’s still meat attached to the bone, but the only way to get to it is to let it simmer in the pot.
- One cup steamed spinach, drained, obviously.
- One half-cup (or more, if you like) oven-roasted vegetables (I had potatoes, although you could easily use green beans, chopped up asparagus, anything that will hold up over hours of simmering and won’t become mush).
- One cup (approximately) dried navy beans, soaked overnight and drained.
- One to two cups (approximately) elbow macaroni pasta noodles.
- As much grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese as you like on top.
- Green Chili Chicken Soup (fitnessfoodandwhateverelse.wordpress.com)
- Minestrone Soup of Winter (zeldalifeatthetable.wordpress.com)
- Chicken Salsa Soup (littlelotusblossom.wordpress.com)
- Classic Pasta e Fagioli Recipe (thedailymeal.com)
- Soup’s On… Tortilla Soup (azdenek.wordpress.com)
- Corn Chowder with Bacon & Cheddar (thedailymeal.com)
- Easy French Onion Soup (thedailymeal.com)
- Country Style Ham & Potato Soup Recipe (averagebetty.com)
- Italian Wedding Soup (spicecreekcatering.wordpress.com)
- Turn leftovers into a comforting turkey soup (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
America is, apparently, unique in our institution of The Diner, aka The Wayside Canteen.
According to the British, the closest they get to the diner experience is at the pub, although the only real similarity I can think of is the quality of the food.
A ‘diner’ is not, however, synonymous with ‘bad food’; it has more to do with enormous quantities of meat and potatoes served quickly, all day long. Haute cuisine it is not, of course, but with the reputation for the ‘bottomless cup of coffee’ and huge American-size portions, I suppose comfort might be implicit.
The British are as fascinated by our lowly diner as we are with their Queen, it seems, since they have begun a BBC Four Radio show discussing the history and meaning of the diner, from a cultural perspective, of course. This might sound like the highbrow version of trying to give universal meaning to a slab of meatloaf and a scoop of mashed potatoes served on a plate, swimming in brown gravy; but in fact, commentator Stephen Smith manages to ennoble the diner, giving it a place of importance in American history:
…[T]he diner is the last vestige of a vital part of the American psyche—the frontier. Like the Dodge City saloon it is a place where strangers are thrown together, where normal rules are suspended and anything can happen. And it is this crackle of potentially violent and sexual energy that have drawn so many artists to the diner, and made it not a convenient setting but an engine room of 20th century American culture.
On a more prosaic note, the British explain their obsession for American culture, and, specifically, the American diner, by providing historical facts (very helpful for my purposes, but written in British-speak, just FYI):
So why are these kerbside kitchens a landmark of US culture?
The first such establishment opened in 1872 in Providence, Rhode Island – a “night lunch wagon” to serve those who worked and played long after the restaurants had shut at 20:00.
Its mix of open-all-hours eating and cheap, homemade food proved a hit, and the formula has been repeated ever since.
Today the diner occupies a place in the American heartland. The closest British approximation is not a retro-chic replica diner where hip patrons eat gourmet burgers, but the local pub.
You can listen to an ongoing radio broadcast about the history of the American diner here, but be warned; BBC Four doesn’t leave their broadcasts up for very long, so if you’re interested, you have to listen to them now, since soon they will be gone.
Also, if you want to cook “American style”, the British have been collecting recipes for our most mundane foods, like pancakes. When I’m in the States, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how pancakes are not a global food, but they aren’t, so other cultures end up revering them and, presumably, missing them when they can’t get them in their own country. I don’t remember ever being able to get a pancake in England, actually, so maybe American-style pancakes are more important to them than I knew, and they pine for them when they can’t get them, just like I pine for bangers and mash and the occasional haggis.
Five typical diner dishes (not all fried, surprisingly):
- Pancakes with sausage
- Eggs over-easy with home fries and toast
- Cheeseburger deluxe
- Turkey club
- Meatloaf dinner
“It’s comfort food, made from recipes like Mom used to make,” says diner owner Otto Meyer (you’ll have to look at the BBC site for more from Mr. Meyer).
A cup of joe
(It can be helpful having other cultures explain our own history to us, n’est-ce pas?)
- US colloquialism for coffee
- Origin unknown, says the OED
- First recorded use in Jack Smiley’s 1941 book Hash House Lingo on the slang of roadside diners
- Other diner lingo included “dog soup” for water and “sea dust” for salt
- Why the diner is the ultimate symbol of America (BBC) (gunnyg.wordpress.com)
- The simplest haunts tell the most complex stories. (platedialogues.com)
- Frankie and Bennys a modern approach? (amzwood.wordpress.com)
- The interior of Frankie and Bennys (amzwood.wordpress.com)
- Britain’s biggest restaurant throws open its doors to 2,100 diners a night (dailymail.co.uk)
- Brad Rubin Brings Passion and Comfort to Chicago’s Eleven City Diner (prweb.com)
- Sunny Side Up (gastronomy-aficionado.com)
- Waffle House Called One of Best Crisis Response Businesses (parkercorpcomm.wordpress.com)
- Diners offer presidential candidates a taste of America (guardian.co.uk)
There was a time, which lasted far too long, when I was in denial about the impact my weight was having on my health. I used to say I was the healthiest fat person I knew. Ha. I was an idiot.
Maybe there are people who can cruise through their entire life looking like the Michelin Tire guy, without at least the threat of a medicine cabinet full of pills to keep them company through their waning years. I was not one of them. At the first sign of trouble, as with most things, I ran shrieking to the canebrake, because I had no intention of dying before the age of 50 from a heart attack.
So, I mended my errant ways, got off the hard drugs—the processed sugar and other white substances put here on this earth to tempt us to madness—and started loving vegetables in a way I did not know humans could feel for legumes. Yes, of course I dropped a bunch of weight, but the best news is that I might be healthy during my remaining years, until I’m hit by a bus, when none of my efforts to reform will amount to a hill of edamame.
The point is this: even though I was in almost complete denial, I was, at the same time, extremely embarrassed. I had not always carried extra rolls. At one time, I was quite svelte, actually, and my mother, her skinny ashes now scattered to the four winds, used to remind me of this fact often. So when I read that there are women vying for Fattest Mother of the Year Award, I was, to put it mildly, aghast. What happened to shame?
I spent many years feeling ashamed of what had happened to my body, and those were years when if I’d understood what sugar and carbohydrates do to my system, if a doctor had said to me “you are now officially on track for a heart attack and diabetes,” I honestly would have paid attention… but no one did. I wish they had; I wish a doctor had smacked me upside the head and gotten my attention, but in fact, it took a long series of mishaps involving broken bones and not being able to walk for a year, to teach me that I could do better than be a lard butt for the rest of my days.
There is such an enormous premium placed on thinness in this society—it’s more than a health issue. It’s also a matter of self-esteem. I can honestly say that there were days when I didn’t want to leave my house due to my adipose tissue buildup. I was raised by a couple of relatively thin, narcissistic people who, like most in their generation, grew up ingesting whole milk, butter, eggs—all things people of my generation were taught to avoid.
When it turned out that in fact, what we should have been avoiding was the crap scientists added to perfectly good food, I think most of us started to figure out a) we’d been lied to by our parents’ generation, but that was nothing new and b) green beans taste pretty damned good if you’re going to die any minute from an embolism.
You’d be amazed how motivating being faced with a heart attack can be. For one thing, heart attacks hurt. Then there’s the Afterlife Social Stigma, which you can carry with you to the grave and beyond if you have an imagination and shame. You have to understand that in my imagination, I’m listening to gossip between the nurses after I’m dead. They’re rolling me off the hospital bed, onto the gurney, preparing to take my rotund form to the morgue. The scene goes something like this:
First nurse: (One of those thin ones you figure never ate a Snickers in desperation, not once): “Do you know what she died from?”
Second nurse: (Skinny, but she buys a box of Krispy Kremes after work every single day, the bitch): “No, what?”
First nurse: [Emits grunting noises from exertion of lifting dead weight; sighs, rolls dead weight onto gurney]: “She was only 52, and she keeled over from a heart attack!! At 52!! God, can you imagine?”
Second nurse: “Well, what do you expect? With flab around the middle? Everyone knows flab around the middle is a heart attack waiting to happen!”
And then the judging, knowing looks, the rolling eyes, the pointed reference to undue quantities of Krispy Kremes, the snide comments about my saggy breasts; the snickering. You get the picture.
Now, the women vying for the title of “World’s Fattest Fatty” apparently do not care about heart attacks, nor must they spend their time imagining nurse-vultures pecking over their bodies once they’re dead. I guess they live in the moment, because it only takes a moment to find something else to eat. Please do not send cards and letters; I know not all fat is about food, but come on. Most is.
I know fat-bashing is not politically correct, and I do not expect to be forgiven, but this is not about that extra 15 lbs. you can’t get rid of no matter how hard you (or I) try. I think we can admit, this is more serious than a few extra pounds that society will never quite accept. This is pathological behavior; it’s much more than odd. Their patent denial of everything we are taught to revere in this society, all the standards women are told to aspire to, makes me wonder what motivates these women, and what we might have to accept about fat, for those standards of thinness to nudge a little bit. These women claim not to be hurting anyone, but the extent to which they are hurting themselves is disturbing, to put it mildly.
I didn’t know you could be happy being fat, or that it was something to aspire to, and I’m left wondering if they will change the face of self-acceptance, or whether they are just rather obviously in denial, avoiding their very own elephant in the room.
- After a Heart Attack – Making the Most of a Second Chance (everydayhealth.com)
- Is It GERD or a Heart Attack? (everydayhealth.com)
- What to Do When Someone Has a Heart Attack (everydayhealth.com)
- How Heart Attack Treatment Saves Lives (everydayhealth.com)
- Angina treatment ‘increases heart attack severity’ (telegraph.co.uk)
In my younger years, I came across the term ‘brutti Americani,’ which means those horrible Americans who have such a terrible reputation in the rest of the world, for good reason. If you travel, you know who I’m talking about. They’re loud and they’re proud.
I encountered this dynamic repeatedly this past summer. Summer is the worst possible time to travel, because everyone, including people who don’t know how to travel, comes out of hiding from their boring suburban lives, equipped with Rick Steves’ guidebooks and sturdy walking shoes, ready to tackle the Unknown.
The Unknown includes basic etiquette you should have learned prior to leaving home, like: adapting to dress codes, learning how to modulate one’s voice, developing the ability to share seats that don’t belong to you in a crowded airport that is not your living room; not being shocked that other countries are possibly just as, if not more, advanced technologically, than we are, and my all-time favorite Ugly-American-While-Abroad Hobby, Giving Strangers Advice, aka: Telling Others How To Live Their Lives.
These skills are all apparently a huge challenge for those who have been insulated from the world since birth. Americans are uniquely good at remaining insulated, and when we leave our front porch, we want the rest of the world to provide us with only the challenges we’re ready for. This doesn’t leave the rest of the world a lot of wiggle room to be who they are, of course, but we don’t care. We’re here on the planet, like missionaries of old, to educate Foreigners in the error of their ways, and to reform them, so they’ll come around to our way of thinking about the supremacy of shopping malls and fast food.
American brutishness takes different forms, but it boils down to a pernicious inability to fit in to the culture you find yourself in. Now, this is an attitude I utterly deplore, as I have always lived by the tenet I was taught as a child growing up overseas: you are a guest in someone else’s country, behave yourself accordingly.
How do I deplore Americans when they’re abroad? Let me count the ways.
The woman in Paris at the corner of Des Invalides on Bastille Night during the fireworks who was dressed like she was about to roll craps in Vegas. I think she honestly believed she rivalled the simple elegance of Parisian women, who, when they are well dressed, don tailored clothes that adhere to their forms, but are never flashy or shiny. The overall impression I got in Paris is that if you’re wearing glitz, for god’s sake, keep it small and low to the body, and do not shine all over like a traffic light. Or a fireworks’ show, for that matter.
Another woman, this time at my lovely hotel in Paris, informing the staff, loudly, after the televised state funeral earlier that day for seven French soldiers who had given their lives for their country in Afghanistan and Iraq, how they had no business there, and should never have gone to war in the first place.
The woman in the airport in Dublin who, when I needed to sit down in a communal area, said, loudly to her husband, “Just look at that Steven! Would you just look at that!” I had pulled a seat toward me and sat in it, and when this woman started shrieking, I looked up from filling in my customs’ forms to see who was committing a federal crime in broad daylight, only to discover it was me.
Shocked at my own rudeness for needing to (briefly) use a communal seat in a communal area that was not in any way marked as “theirs,” since we were not actually in their living room at the time, I cried out, “Oh, is this seat yours? It was not in any way marked as ‘taken’, since we are not actually in your living room right now!” (Actually, I didn’t say that about the seat being taken; anyone with a brain could see the seat was not taken, except in their minds, which are small and narrow as the suburbs they come from in southwest Idaho or somewhere close to a pumpkin patch).
So the husband, as charming as the wife, mutters, with great forbearance and tolerance of my overweening rudeness, “No, no, don’t worry about it,” and pulls another seat into their magical circle, this time being smarter and wiser, marking it as “taken” with a suitcase. Good for him. He learned something new that day about how to comport yourself while traveling, something the rest of us learned in kindergarten.
Then the happy married couple muttered loudly about the third party they were waiting for, wondering, loudly, where she was. Within a few moments, I had filled out my customs’ form, and was on my way, as is typical in an airport, where nothing belongs to anyone and it’s no one’s front parlour and a chair is just a chair, it’s not part of the set of your personal drama.
Then there was the woman with a head scarf in the five star restaurant seated in the booth in front of me the night before I left Paris. I now know, from being forced to overhear her far-too-loud conversation with a quiet mouse of a dinner companion who kept her voice low and modulated, being from Europe and all, that the woman in question
a) lives in Paris, an expatriate who deplores loud Americans;
b) survived cancer, hence the headscarf;
c) survived a divorce, hence the cancer;
d) has no intention of ever returning to America due to deploring loud Americans but
e) has trouble making ends meet in Paris, so boy this five star restaurant is a wonderful treat, said with a large dollop of bitterness at the way her life has turned out.
I wanted to cry out, in umbrage: But you get to live in Paris, for god’s sake, shut up!
But I didn’t, because if I’m going to share my opinions with anyone, I prefer for it to be here, in private where only you can read my thoughts.
These are all things I didn’t need to know, but now I do, and I’m passing this knowledge on to you, because you know full well this blog is about umbrage, and traveling gives me plenty of it. Others get heartburn while rolling their suitcases over cobblestones; I get umbrage.
Then there was the woman traveling with her son in Gamla Stan who decided that their Italian waiter isn’t living the life she wants him to, and so he should move back to Italy. She told him this while he kept pouring glass after glass of some nice wine for her, allowing her to become ever more voluble.
I know all of this because, once again, I had the grave misfortune of being seated far too close to Americans abroad. I leave the States to get away from you people, and I wish you’d stay home, where you belong, since you bring far too much of yourselves with you when you travel. But I digress.
So the waiter is defending himself against this unwarranted attack and rude speculations on his life, his beliefs, his financial situation, his family history… he was very polite and countered all suggestions about how he really belongs back in Italy, and why wouldn’t he want to live there, it’s such a beautiful country… oh, except for those who actually are Italian and have to live in an economy that cannot support them.
As he said to this woman, in English, possibly his 3rd or 4th language, “I belong here in Sweden, where I can make a living. And all my family lives here.” You’d think that simple reality would shut her up, but no, the zeal of righteousness was fueled by copious amounts of alcohol, which he poured for her liberally. The irony was lost on her, but not on me, a casual observer. For her, Italy is only beautiful country, since she’s American and on vacation and all; his reality is of little importance to her. For him, she is yet another brutti Americani to take advantage of, since all that wine cost her a tidy sum, a fair amount of which went into his pocket in the form of the large tip she left him.
Then there was the overly zealous American on the train from Stockholm, who was shocked and amazed (“oh these guys!,” he expostulated, all shocked and amazed and condescending, but so fond of them and their cute little minds!) to find that Sweden a) has pull-down tray tables ON TRAINS! Who knew the Swedish could be so clever? and that b) the seats on trains can face toward the front OR the back of the train! Gosh these Swedish people are AMAZING in their ability to come up with innovations, aren’t they? Cause we all know that only Americans are innovative, right?
In fact, the plastic bag, those ubiquitous shopping sacks we are now trying to do away with here in the States, originated in Sweden back in the 60s. Just FYI. In other words, Sweden has been at the forefront of some innovative designs we in the States take completely for granted, and we should stop thinking we invented everything, cause we didn’t, and you have to stop having high-pitched epiphanies about how amazing and modern! other countries are, cause you’re making my brain tumor throb.
And here’s some history, written in Italian by an Italian person, who lets you know that the history of Italians in America has been no cake-walk. There’s a reason they leave their native land to live in places of economic prosperity, just like your forebears did in days of yore.
Here’s why overhearing other people’s conversations will drive you crazy. Now read all of this quietly, and if you’re reading this alone in some airport, for god’s sake, keep your opinions to yourself.
- Aberfeldy and Pitlochry, Scotland (nanhann.wordpress.com)
- European Travel Expert Rick Steves Offers Tips for Exploring Paris (prweb.com)
- Paying homage at Hemingway’s Paris shrines (collaborativewriter.wordpress.com)
- The First Time I Saw Paris (growingyoungereachday.wordpress.com)
- Paris is still the top city destination for the British (travelnews.britishairways.com)
- Paris hotels airport (ebookers.com)
- Paris Nightlife (ebookers.com)
- France soul-searches over treatment of homeless (telegraph.co.uk)
- Bon Jour Paris – Paris, France (travelpod.com)
- Fundamentalist Christians Protest at Paris Theater (foxnews.com)
- All about Paris – Paris, France (travelpod.com)
- Start Spreading the News… (weekendinparis.wordpress.com)
- We make our way to Paris… – Paris, France (travelpod.com)