Merry Christmas To You All Around The World !
Enjoy this day with your Family and Friends!
Fa, la, la, la, la.
Oatmeal and Ham
Tradition! It’s more than a song from “Fiddler on the Roof.” It is what has us doing things from generation to generation even if we don’t really know why.
“We’ve always done it that way.”
For example: From my youngest days up until this very morning I have always eaten my nice steaming bowl of oatmeal covered not with fruit, sugar, or maple syrup, but with salt. I’ve never known anyone else who does that, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I like it with salt, but why?
I wondered about that for years without ever finding a satisfactory answer. Finally, after decades of eating my salty oatmeal, I asked my Mother. This is what she told me.
My mother was born in 1911, one of nine children in an immigrant family. Oatmeal was a cheap way of filling those tiny tummies before sending them off to school. What wasn’t cheap was enough sugar, fruit, or syrup to sweeten up all those bowls of oatmeal. So, in an effort to give the kid’s breakfasts some flavor my grandmother salted their oatmeal.
My mother ate salted oatmeal in her youth and when she had kids she passed that recipe on to her children. It became an instant tradition in our family. Even though I could afford some sugar or some other sweeteners I still reach for the salt shaker more than a hundred years after that poor family of Lithuanian immigrants didn’t have the money for sugar.
Someone told me, over coffee, about a mysterious tradition in her family.
This is where the Ham enters the picture.
The woman told me that whenever she bought a ham she would cut off a sizable chunk from one end before cooking. She’d been doing that for years…because that was the way her mother always cooked ham. It had become a family tradition.
After a number of years her mother was visiting her daughter who was going to serve ham for Sunday dinner. When the mother saw her daughter cut off the end from the ham and set it aside she asked her why she was doing that.
“I learned how to cook watching you and I always saw you cut off the end of the ham before putting it in the oven. I figured it was part of your secret recipe.”
When the mother finally stopped laughing she explained that her practice of cutting off part of a ham was because she never had a pan large enough to hold a full sized ham. She always trimmed it down just to fit the pan she did have.
Tradition is a shared memory that is passed from one generation to the next. It can serve to teach or to warn by passing on what the older generation had to learn the hard way. Whether it be an oversized ham, a bowl of salty oatmeal, or something equally mundane it is the simple traditions that glue the generations together and make us all Family.
I’M FEELING IN A MAGNANIMOUS MOOD TODAY.
I feel like reaching
out to my fellow bipeds and seeing if I can be of help. So, I have declared that today is officially:
FREE BAD ADVICE DAY!
For today – and today only – I will be dispensing free bad advice on a wide range of topics.
Let the games begin!
WHY I THINK OF SUCH THINGS I DO NOT KNOW. I certainly could find a better use for my remaining brain cells. There are days when I worry that my gray matter is slipping away by the cup full. Those days are usually Mondays.
The substance of my obsessive thoughts for today is: Lunch
Spending a week or two in a foreign land is one thing, but going for seven weeks changes the way you see and do things.
Being in Ireland brings to mind an old quote from, I forget whom – Maybe Mark Twain, maybe Winston Churchill, maybe the Spice Girls,- that noted that, “The U.S. and the U.K. (forgive me if I lump Ireland into that mix) are two great nations separated by a common language.” I say this because, just as at home, there is more than one accent in play. It all depends on what part of the country you are in and your social status.
“Luco. Hi. What a nice surprise. What’s that man doing up on that pole?”
Without taking his eyes from hers, he answered.
“I’d say he’s about to do a half-gainer into the sidewalk.”
“I don’t think I want to see that.”
“No. Let’s not watch. Let me buy you a cool drink. It’s hot out here.”
Marlee had just finished an iced tea, but she didn’t decline his offer.
As they walked they alternated between long minutes of silence and moments when they talked on top of each other.
“Marlee, have you enjoyed the street fair, so far?”
“Yes, I have. I’m not sure that I quite understand it all, but it has been… fun.”
“Good. It can be a bit daunting the first time you experience it. Actually, this year’s fair is rather calm.”
“A man hanging from a light pole, ready to fall into the street, is calm?”
“Well…he hasn’t fallen yet.”
“That’s the standard measurement? If he doesn’t fall to his death, things are calm?”
“Pretty much, but this is The Haight, so the calibration may be a bit screwed to the weird side of the scale.”
“I’m picking up on that.”
Sensing that Marlee wasn’t sharing his blasé acceptance of The Haight’s laissez-faire attitude toward life and death, Luco changed the subject.
“Tell me, Marlee. Just about everyone in San Francisco is into the Arts: Music, Acting, Painting, and so on. What is your Art?”
“I’m a musician. I play the cello.”
“Really? Professionally or just for the beauty of it?”
“Both. I was with the Cleveland Chamber Music Orchestra. I haven’t really played since my move here. I miss it.”
“Have you auditioned anywhere yet? There must be someplace that can use a talented cellist?”
“I need to get back in shape before I audition for anything. The cello can sound really awful if you’re not in top form. I need a place to practice.”
“Hmmm…I know that there are spaces over here on Page Street, at the old Gumption Theater space. I know that they have practice rooms. A lot of rock and rollers use them.”
I wasn’t aware of that, thank you. It would be convenient.”
“I’m a good man to know in The Haight.”
“So I gather.”
“And, I know that Pete, the owner of the People’s Café wants to put on some live music a couple nights a week. Interested?”
“Sure. Why not? It might be fun. Thanks, Luco.”
They shared a relaxed smile.
“Marlee, have you had anything to eat yet?”
“No. Any recommendations for a newcomer like me?”
Actually Yes, Mike Koberski’s ‘Flame Kielbasa’ is the stuff that dreams are made of.”
“Dreams or heartburn nightmares?”
“He’s right over there.”
Luco lifted his hand, using the book of poetry as a pointer. Marlee recognized the cover.
“‘Sonnets From The Portuguese?’ I would never have guessed you to be a fan of Browning.”
“What? Oh, this? I bought this for a friend. It’s not really my style.”
“A friend? I’m sure she is.”
“Actually…,” started Luco, but a sharply accented voice cut him off.
“Luco, my old friend!”
Through a thick pall of white smoke arising from the collection of barbeque grills, Marlee could make out the portly figure of a man, red-faced and sweating.
“Luco, come here,” called out the smoky-eyed chef.
Cutting through the frenetic crowd, Luco, taking Marlee by the hand, guided them over to the busy food stand. They went around to the side, close to where Mike Koberski was keeping tabs on dozens of spicy sausages as they popped and hissed in the flames. Mike waved a large stainless steel barbecue fork in greeting.
“Hiya, Mike. How’s business?”
“Today will be a great day, nice and warm.” He eyed Marlee through the smoke. “How’s your day, Luco?”
“Just fine. Mike, This is Marlee Owens, a newcomer to the street and to the Fair.”
Mike smiled and nodded. A large drop of sweat fell from his chin and sizzled on the grill.
“Welcome, Marlee. I see you’ve already met the most eligible bachelor in The Haight.”
Marlee smiled back and shot a quick glance at Luco, who looked a bit embarrassed, even though he was laughing.
“Nice to meet you, Mike and I don’t think that Luco is all that eligible. I hear he’s going steady with himself.”
“You’re OK, girl. Have a ‘basa, on me.”
One bite of Mike Koberski’s ‘Flame Kielbasa’ and Marlee felt homesick for Cleveland. Both Mike and Luco were taken aback watching Marlee down the sausage without blinking an eye. Most people had a cold beer on the side to douse the fiery spices.
“Mike,” said Marlee, wiping her mouth daintily, enjoying the astonished looks on the men’s faces. “That was great, but Luco said you had a ‘Flaming’ kielbasa that is supposed to be really hot.”
“That was it,” stammered Mike.
“Oh? Well…it was very nice. I’m from Cleveland and we’d call that a ‘mild’ kielbasa. Very nice. I’m sure the little kids love them.”
Mike and Luco looked at each other, not quite knowing what to say. Marlee stood there, smiling sweetly at them, enjoying their confusion.
“One more thing, Mike. Give me a beer. My mouth is on fire.”
He handed her a cup of Bud Light and she poured it down her throat, not stopping to breathe. Both men started to laugh. After finishing the beer Marlee coughed and wiped her eyes.
“I had you two guys going there for a minute, didn’t I? Jesus H., Mike. What do you put in those things, napalm?”
“Yep,” said Mike. “Not far from it. Old family recipe. A fine mix of spices that will make the kielbasa nice and hot or take the rust off of any chrome surface.”
Marlee took a paper napkin from the counter and wiped at her eyes.
“Well, Mike, if I can’t sleep tonight I’ll know who to blame.”
“No matter how chilly it gets tonight when the fog comes in, you’ll be warm and comfortable,” added Luco.
Mike reached out and grabbed Luco’s arm.
“Christ, I almost forgot. Luco, I was hoping I’d see you today. I need your help.”
“You got it. What can I do, Mike?”
Mike turned to Marlee who was beginning to lose the flush from her cheeks as the fiery spices subsided.
“Marlee, you like sports? Baseball?”
“Sure. Baseball is life. The rest is details.”
“Great. Luco, I got two tickets to the Giants game next Saturday. I can’t go. Some family thing my wife forgot to tell me about until last night, but maybe you and Marlee might like to go?”
He looked at Luco and then at Marlee, and back again at Luco. Feeling a bit cornered, Luco finally spoke.
“Well…it sounds good to me. What about it, Marlee? Care to see our beautiful ballpark?”
Her initial reaction was negative. She didn’t relish the idea of spending a whole afternoon with a man she perceived as a depressed lothario, but it was a public place and it had been quite a while since she had been to a big league game.
“Who are they playing?”
“The Cardinals. It’ll be a great game,” said Mike, reaching into his shirt pocket for the tickets.
Marlee let a smile out for some fresh air.
“All right, Luco. If you promise to be a gentleman, I’ll go with you to the game.”
Luco bowed to Marlee. “I will be such a gentleman that you won’t even recognize me.”
Mike handed a slim white envelope to Luco as he winked flirtatiously at Marlee.
“Here you go. Enjoy the game for me. I’ll be sitting in a lawn chair in San Jose, sweating like a pig and eating birthday cake.”
“Thank you, Mike,” said Luco, “And I promise to behave myself, Marlee. I won’t climb any light poles while we’re together.”
“You better not, Bucko, because I won’t catch you if you fall.”
“’Bucko?’” Luco looked at Mike who was trying to not laugh as he turned a grill full of sausages.
Despite all of her misgivings and alarm bells, Marlee had to admit that she was attracted to the dark-haired barista. There was something about him. Several somethings, in fact, that had her emotions caught in a small tug-of-war between her mind and her heart. She was drawn to him on a very basic, physical level, while at the same time there were things about him that told her to walk the other way.
That book of sonnets in his hand was obviously for some other woman. His glibness with female customers and their intimations of breathless, passionate liaisons bothered her.
But, she thought, nothing could be safer and noncommittal than a few hours inside a stadium filled with 40,000 screaming baseball fans. Any smooth moves there would be easily deflected amid the chaos and Cracker Jack.
After a Day to Remember, one filled with music, colors and new friends Marlee walked with the flow of people heading home. Her trek was thankfully only one block. The sensory indulgence was exhausting and she was grateful that her apartment was so close.
She checked her mailbox and slowly climbed the stairs up to her door…which was standing wide open. Her heart skipped a beat as she hurried up from the landing. There was no sound coming from inside the apartment. She moved slowly through the open door straining to hear anything or anyone. She had her keys bristling in her clenched fist. There was no one in her bathroom. A quick glance said the same for the kitchen. She could see that the living room was empty. That left just her bedroom and its closed door. The only sound she could hear were those rising up from the street just outside her windows. She rested her hand on the doorknob. On Haight Street a Diesel bus roared away from the bus stop as Marlee turned the knob and pushed open the door.
The bedroom was empty. There was nobody in her apartment, but she was cringing with the sensation that someone had been there. Nothing seemed to be missing. Everything was as she had left it just a few hours ago. It was all the same, but there was a difference. It wasn’t until two days later that she noticed that her copy of “Leaves of Grass,” the one she thought was missing, was in its place on her bookshelf.
THERE ARE A NUMBER OF WONDERFUL PEOPLE who follow this strange blog and who are into recipes, cooking, and the very creative Culinary Arts. I’m not really all that sure what they are getting out of it, but I am most grateful for their attention. I mention this because today’s blog is about food. Specifically it is about the monthly special at a local eatery.
Every Thursday Dawn and I take our son, Alex, out to dinner and just a mozzarella stick’s throw from Alex’s house is “Charlie’s Pub and Grub.” It is just a neighborhood bar that has transformed itself from a real Punch Palace roughneck bar into a nice place to go for a casual meal.
The other day I was about to head off from home to take care of some errands and chores around town. I’d already had my morning coffee and I was ready to face the day.
I got into the Toyota and headed down the driveway. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed some motion coming my way. “Oh,” I said to myself. “A dog is coming down the street.” I stopped the car out of sheer courtesy. As the dog approached I again spoke to myself. “Oh, that is one ugly dog.” Then the dog passed right in front of me as I sat in the car. It was then that I spoke to myself yet once more – this time out loud.
It is Saturday morning at Gramma’s House. We have all had our tea so our hearts are once again beating.
My wife, the lovely and culinarily adept, Dawn, has put some muffins in the oven and handed me the responsibility of keeping watch on them. Everyone seems to be a bit nervous – no – they are scared. They are fearful that I will drop the ball on this and instead of hot steamy muffins dripping butter or jam we will have charcoal briquettes. I mean – really now! I am a college graduate.
WELL, HERE WE GO – OFF TO TEXAS! Surprisingly our flights were uneventful – which is what you want. Eventful airplane flights make the news and that is never a good thing. Things even went smoothly in our dealings with the TSA aerobic organisms. I think they were having an “On-The Job Slumber Party. They were just waving people through without even looking at them. I bet I could have walked through there toting a Howitzer and Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. It always makes me feel so safe.
Once we got to our ultimate destination (Corpus Christi) we did what any sensible person would do – we stopped for lunch at Whataburger. It’s a tradition that goes back to the days of the Alamo and Davy Crockett I think. A Family thing, you know.
“You may not get out alive.”
Don’t you just love a little Hyperbole? At least I was hoping it was Hyperbole.
I decided to not take any unnecessary chances – so I took my wife, the lovely and ever so courageous, Dawn, with me.
On our first travel day, as we headed off to Georgia, we threw all caution to the wind and – brace yourself – had dinner at “The Waffle House.”
“Employee of the Month – Heather.”
Nothing really unusual about that except that Heather has been the Employee of the Month for two months in a row there. She must be something special. Perhaps she can make tacos faster than anyone else. I don’t know, and to be honest – I don’t really care. Anyway I offer my Congratulations to Heather. I just hope that her obviously superior skills don’t have a negative impact on the other employees. People can be so petty sometimes.
1) Sky Diving
2) Space Travel
The first two are pretty obvious, but the third can be downright deadly.
About a month ago in the town of Decatur, Illinois the pancakes went flat at the local IHOP when some customers became a bit unruly and the Manager stepped in to make everything Fresh and Fruity once more.
THE WEATHER IS BEAUTIFUL RIGHT NOW and I am longing for Springtime. You know what they say – “Springtime when a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of Chimichangas.” No, that’s not right, but then again…
Las Vegas, the Disneyland for Adults, is always striving to top itself. It all started out as a dusty desert gas station and has transformed itself into the tangible definition of “Will you look at that!” It is the only town where Elvis, Howard Hughes, and Liberace all felt at home. And they’re all dead.
Throwback Thursday from January 2015
I SAW THE FOLLOWING news item yesterday and I thought that it might have repercussions beyond just traffic problems.
“ROCKY MOUNT, N.C. — Authorities closed all southbound lanes of Interstate 95 north of Rocky Mount early Wednesday after a tractor-trailer carrying ramen noodles wrecked near N.C. Highway 4.
No other information about the wreck has been released, but boxes of noodles were spilled over a larger portion of the highway.
The state Department of Transportation said the closure could last all morning. Lanes are expected to reopen by 3:30 p.m.”
I thought that when the word of this crash got out all hell would break loose.
My brain created its own little movie of college students all over the South dropping their textbooks and i-phones and rushing to the accident scene.
The first reel, even under the opening credits, would show speeding traffic along Interstate 95, and then the Semi in question loosing traction and slamming into a bridge abutment. Next comes a slo-mo following shot of thousands of those little cellophane packets of the Ramen Noodles spreading out across all lanes like little flavored migratory butterflies.
Music comes up: Paul McCartney and Wings – reunited to sing: “Food on the run.” I can almost smell an Oscar nomination coming for the soundtrack.
The next shot cuts to hordes of skinny underclassmen and women sensing the possibility of free meals, scattering across the landscape, heading toward the Interstate. It is meals just ripe for the picking. An overturned truckload of gold bullion (not bouillon cubes) would not draw such a response.
Those Ramen Noodles don’t grow on trees, y’know. One must strike while the saucepan is hot.
In my collegiate days (Pre-Ramen) we were limited to making grilled cheese sandwiches with a steam iron or instant soups that tasted like flavored sea water. If an accident like this had happened back in the late 1960s I would have been moving with all imprudent speed to scoop up as many free and easy meals as I could stuff into my backpack.
Most days I can look at news stories and just yawn. Things don’t vary all that much from Six O’clock News to Six O’clock News. If you want to get my attention you’ve got to do something original, or at least really dumb. Spreading several tons of Ramen Noodles across an Interstate highway gets my attention. It also makes me hungry.
Talk amongst yourselves for a while. I’m going out to get some lunch.