Stolen Moments

I’ve wanted to write something for Chuck Wendig’s Friday prompts for a long time. During the school year, it’s difficult to eek out something in a week and during the summer I usually have a variety of other work going on. Last Friday, in honor of Anthony Bourdain, Wendig asked us to write about food with the idea that food is almost always more than that. I also wanted to experiment with second person. Hope you enjoy!

Stolen Moments
You sit and say water’s fine. You move the fork, knife, and napkin to the other side. A habit. You hear your palm sliding on the table. It reminds you of pans scraping across the counters in the bakery. You worked there with your mother. She always wore her hair long, but at the bakery she wound it into a top knot that reminded you of samurai or fantasy characters, the smaller ones like elves. You remember seeing her make pigs-in-a-blanket. She stood over the pan wrapping little red sausages in white dough. Plastic gloves. Apron. She looked fragile to you for the first time. You get your water. It’s cold and the glass is sweating. You order. You had moved back home and felt that failure in your core, eels twisting in your intestines.You worked at the bakery to save money, while it was the last time you spent regularly with your parents. You started learning alto saxophone. You learned bebop melodies. “Salt Peanuts.” “Body and Soul.” “Tempus Fugit.” “A Night in Tunisia.” You never played them at bebop tempos. You couldn’t. You would even slow the metronome to forty, thirty, even twenty beats per minute, and listen to how the notes connected. Or how you hoped they would connect. The spaces became larger. Grave, the tempo is called. Slow and solemn. The waitress pours more water with your order. She asks how everything is. You fork your yolk and watch its perfect weep. Everything’s fine, you tell her. Fine, like the end of a song.

 

The Week That Was, or The Shape of Pizza

We celebrated our oldest daughter’s birthday. She was excited that she got to hear her name over the intercom at school. She is still young enough that everyone in her class brings in cards and treats. The youngest was stashing candy and wrappers everywhere, a chaotic flurry of plastic and chocolate. Demanding pizza. Drawing on doors. Then being as sweet as anything.

I had a man express his unsolicited thoughts to me on the state of frozen pizza in Mal-Wart. Things aren’t good, but Red Baron is best. I grew up eating Red Baron and as much as I like a fresh pizza out of a brick oven, I love frozen pizzas, too. I wanted to suggest some of the newer, more expensive ones that are really good, but this wasn’t a conversation.

Lost Chords #6 featured an album I quite like, Screen Memories by John Maus. I wrote several paragraphs about the cover image and mediation that I removed. Maybe I’ll add to those thoughts later.

I also wrote about the profound effect Eraserhead has had on me for The Terror Test: Test Prep.

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A good friend of mine brought Amphibian Man (1962) to my attention. He’s been on-and-off researching the history of horror in Soviet and Russian film and mentioned this. It’s hard to describe, but it’s about a mad scientist who gives his son gills. The son falls for a lady much in the same way the Gill-man falls for one in Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). There are familial and societal roadblocks to their love affair. There are shades of Victor Hugo, Beauty and the Beast (and other fairy tales), and Frankenstein, and it has a look somewhere between Forbidden Planet and Star Trek. An obvious precursor to The Shape of Water, and  possibly to films like Starman or The Man Who Fell to Earth–as told by Powell/Pressburger.  It’s on Amazon Prime if you’re interested.
rumble
Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World (2017)  is a fantastic documentary for fans of rock music, American music, and folk traditions. Highlights disturbing laws and violence against American Indians and also traces the thread of their musical cultures though American vocal music, blues, and rock. I’m hoping to read Like a New Sun, a collection of new indigenous Mexican poetry.

lostatsea
Jon Ronson’s Lost at Sea collects various articles and essays from throughout his career. Indigo children. Psychopaths. Frank Sidebottom. I wanted each chapter to be a book of its own. The audiobook is fantastic partially because he reads it. Hearing this in his own voice is addictive. I wish Zadie Smith would record her novels.

The Week That Was, or I Wish the Shoe Fit

This week included speeding tickets, stomach viruses, the stinkiest, and ultimately most inedible, Brussels sprouts ever, and a white-knuckled trip to work in rain, standing water, and without streetlights, among other slight disasters.

My just-turned-four-year-old got a special present of pull-ups for her birthday because of the stomach virus.

Taking care of sick children did allow for a lot of snuggling, watching cartoons, and some reading.

Getting writing done is another story.

I did write a Lost Chords on the heavy metal art book Hellraisers.

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It’s been two decades since I’ve seen Buñuel’s work, with the exceptions of Un Chien Andalou (1929) and L’Age D’Or (1930). These are strange, beautiful films I revisit every year or so, each containing images seared into my visual memory. Well, aural memory, too. Almost every version of Un Chien I’ve seen uses “Tango Argentino.” It’s a piece of music that I hear in my head on a weekly basis. I’m not kidding. Maybe I should have given a warning before that link.

With Viridiana (1961)Buñuel managed to anger not only film censors, but also Franco and the Vatican. There is a fearlessness to his work, even if some argue that some of his metaphors are too obvious. I don’t know. Those images! These films were uncanny and almost incomprehensible when I was a young viewer. I enjoyed and felt transported by that quality. Now I can see the historical and social implications in his work and the films have taken on multiple meanings.

He was asked to change the ending in order to make it less suggestive. Originally, Viridiana goes into her cousin’s room and it is assumed that they are beginning an affair.  [spoiler here] He reshot it and had three characters sit down to play cards, and suggest the beginning of a polygamous relationship among them. And the censors okayed that ending! Cojones, Buñuel!

There are a several films I’ve missed by him (Robinson Crusoe?) and I’m hoping to dig into his work more formerly over the next year or so.

 

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Tom Hart’s How to Say Everything is a fantastic addition to the art/craft/storytelling shelf. Seriously. I found it as smart and warm as it is inspiring. I’m hoping to take a class at his Gainesville school, The Sequential Art Workshop (SAW), and who knows, maybe I could develop some online classes in literary content that he wants the school to have? I’ve been trying to establish a creative writing class for years and there just doesn’t seem to be money available to make that happen in the public schools where I work. But then again, it would be great to do some sort of film, philosophy, literature, or mythology course for these students. SAW’s website includes some free resources among other cool items.

I read excerpts from Hart’s Rosalie Lightning, his most famous work, several years ago and I just can’t read it in its entirety right now. I had a baby almost the age of Rosalie when I started reading it, and I knew the background story from a friend who teaches at SAW sometimes. What I read was beautiful and painful. The book is about the deepest love and loss that may be possible. I am planning on reading some of his lighter work, though, and I’ll read Rosalie some day.

 

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I ignored Danez Smith’s Don’t Call Us Dead initially because of the oxen-like contrariness I seem to have about something I hear about too much in popular culture. Finally, after so many people I respect had mentioned this, including Ashley M. Jones, I decided to check it out.

Smith’s work is confrontational, political, personal, and can somehow be serious and seriously funny at the same time. Their use of form in this book is fantastic–styles that work against the traditional stage or page dichotomy. These are poems that live on the breath and breathe on the page.

 

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Delaine is awesome. Not My Small Diary is a series that she has edited for more than two decades now, while also doing her own autobio comics series My Small Diary. I was so excited to get this one because I’ve been a fan of the the series and the “unexplained” since before I could read. I had more than one Time Life collection on oddities, and for a brief period I had cable which made Monster Quest a great way to start a weekend.

The bittersweet center of this collection is that within days of getting mine it became known that longtime contributor (he’s possibly in every anthology in the series) and all-around cool comix guy Mark Campos took his own life. Unlike a lot of contributors and fans of this series who knew him personally, I can’t say that, but I can say that I deeply enjoyed his work and his contribution was always one of the first that I read. His work reminded me of some of my favorites from MAD (Aragones, Jaffee, etc.), and while he could be funny, he also took that cartoon style and fused it with so many disparate influences, and wound it through his own perspective, moods, and tones.

He is missed.

 

 

aleatory cooking and Beethoven à la mode

Last night was good for chance cooking. My wife bought tilapia fillets that she then had no appetite for and left them to me. My first thought was to sear each side and make a garlic, butter, and white wine sauce. Serve with a side of some veggies and homemade garlic bread. Simple, but good.

Well, she left out some dried wild yam soba noodles on the counter. When I saw them, the dish came together. The wild yam noodles reminded me of these weird, little sweet potato cubes we had in the freezer. Why would anyone ever need such a thing? I hadn’t had the courage to ask, but looking for them I came across some peas (which I like frozen—peas and spinach both) and then I found an open bag of edamame (soybeans). Soba noodles and edamame seemed like a natural pairing.

(Possibly boring recipe follows, but remember I posted about forgetting these things. Maybe this will help. You could skip to the part below where I briefly discuss a current prepossession with Beethoven’s late string quartets.)

First, I boiled the edamame and sweet potato cubes for about 5 minutes while the soba (in a different pot) went a little longer. Not very long though, since I knew I was going to stir-fry the noodles in a pan later. I love dried pasta to be al dente. That texture is everything to me. I drained all three and kept them in a colander. Next, I breaded the fillets with a little panko and pan fried them with a little butter and bacon fat. Removed them from the pan and left the crunchy bits. Added a little more butter. Added three cloves of garlic (you could add less—-I love garlic). Then added the edamame, potatoes, and noodles. Stir fried for a minute or two and then deglazed with a little white wine. Salt and pepper to taste. Plated the fish on top of the noodle mix.
With few expectations going in, this proved a nice dinner.

(Recipe over. On to Beethoven.)

Lately, between injections of Stevie Wonder and Funkadelic, I’ve been obsessively listening to Beethoven’s late string quartets. I had heard that this was some of the most beautiful music ever written and I’ve found it every bit of that and more. And while irony has seemed to clog many hearts, I’m happy to admit that I’ve been moved to tears by art (films by Kurosawa, canticles of Hildegard von Bingen, etc. Tears full of something beyond sadness or joy. And something completely different from the tears and head scratching produced by ICP’s “Miracles,” which is blissfully un-ironic. But I digress…)

I feel like an idiot championing something like Beethoven. “You know, like, wow, have you heard of this guy? He’s really good.” I’ve always been more into folks like Stravinsky, Bartok, and even Stockhausen. Anyway, this music was new to me and incredible, particularly the string quartet in a minor, Op. 132, 3rd movement. You can watch/listen to it in two parts here:

(If you’ve made it this far, you don’t want to skip part two! This music is way better than any blog post.):

not “sea legs,” but maybe “baker’s wrists” or “dough mitts”

Cottage loaves or Sweet Jesus, look at those buns!
Cottage loaves or Momma Mia, look at those buns!

I love the extra cooking time I get in the summer. I’ve made broths, sauces, breads, and sawmill gravy (The only dish besides jambalaya and gumbo that I learned like oral history—these recipes feel  different when I make them. Maybe I should explore that in another post…).

This week’s output will also include some rolls, French toast (made from aforementioned bread), maybe some pasta and pizza dough. Of course, these are “official” recipes. I improvise a lot in the kitchen and it mostly works. Mostly. It’s like practicing scales on an instrument. The hands and ears work together to help build technique. Cooking technique is similar. How do these tastes/textures/aromas work together? Can they work together? You get better at this the more you cook. Just like you get better at playing an instrument by, yep, playing the instrument. As simple as this idea is, I have had many a good friend who could not grasp this proposition.

And I need to start writing down the recipes that work. Otherwise, the good ones are like playing a great improvised solo and forgetting to hit the record button. I had a great recipe for nachos with asparagus tips and some other foodstuffs (Bacon? Black olives? Green onion? Hmm …)  Anyway, it was good. I promise.

And now I want to make tomato sauce. I used to make it every Friday night. Of course, I never wrote down the refined recipe so it will be like starting over. I know It started with oil, onion, salt, and grated carrots. Yessir, grated carrots. Good for the prostate this sauce was and maybe that’s another post as well.