Friday, August 5, 2011

Darling, tomorrow would be a wonderful day for you to all come over. Ah I wish. Well I never know, I certainly didn't then. But the house is all clean, top to bottom, baths too. There are flowers all over the house, thanks to zinnias D brought home for me from a farmstand (awww!), that now grace a mustard jar on the kitchen table and fluted glass vase on the sideboard. I'm just back from the weekly CSA run, too, where I clipped several stalks of sunflowers with enormous heads that now sit in an earthenware jug on the fireplace hearth. I love it when the house is so freshly tidy and there are flowers all around. I was feeling more than a bit Cinderellaish as I went about vacuuming and scrubbing, not so much that I minded the chores - I didn't, I actually got into them, except that I was getting into a broody mood in my mind, over all sorts of things, completely unrelated to the tasks at hand. No matter, I cheered up, maybe just had to let off a little steam, or tears, like the Holly Hunter character in Broadcast News, who allows herself a good private sob once a day, then dries her eyes, adjusts herself, and is off and running.

Beethoven's Eighth Symphony on Tanglewod tonight, if I make it. Do I know that symphony? Probably I do, but maybe not as well as some of the others, I can't seem to conjure any of it.

So glorious at the CSA farm this afternoon, dearest. A spectacular sunny day, the very height of summer. And the produce is abundant and perfect and gorgeous. Today's share: peaches, corn, canteloupe, cucumber, yellow squash, zucchini, tomatoes (tiny plum & a quart of lush ripe ones), broccoli, broccoli rabe, mesclun lettuce, parsley, green pepper, eggplant, sweet white onions. Plus a bunch of thyme that I clipped from the herb garden (with tinkling fountain and sweet cat that abandoned chasing a butterfly to march up miniature path for a pat from me hello), plus the flowers. What a bounty! I was in heaven. It reminded me of Brooklyn days when I used to enjoy going to various farmers' markets around the city, in Union Square, Boro Hall, or Grand Army Plaza. As much as I enjoyed doing that - well, I was younger then, it was always a schlep, on foot, or subway, or bus, with my hauls - but oh the produce and flowers were always glorious. And too, as I was putting away the week's "share", so fragrant all this incredibly fresh produce - I remembered what a revelation foodstuffs were when I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area right after college.

That was a wonderful education for me, the three years I spent there, living in Oakland (across the Bay Bridge from S.F.) and working as a paralegal on an upper floor of Embarcadero Center 4 (actually that came a bit later, that solid job, after I'd done many months of temping at Shell HQ). Growing up, the cuisine in my parents' house was limited, limited to the Polish dishes that evidently my father insisted my mother prepare, the only dishes that were to his liking, and he didn't venture far from the tried and true. I liked those hearty dishes too - golompki, bigos, kotlety, roast chicken, various soups - rosu (chicken soup) and barszcz, and soups with cauliflower & potato, and odd very white dishes of boiled chicken in a white sauce served over rice. There were others too.

But while Polish-American in upbringing, I was interested in all sorts of influences. I discovered lasagna, for example, at the annual Christmas fairs held in the basement of the Catholic church school across the way from us. Oh my goodness! Those weren't even very good lasagnas, by my standards today that is, but then - they were such a revelation, so different! I fell in love, and became interested in cooking - if only to try to duplicate such delectable dishes - as a girl. Which my mother and my siblings appreciated, they loved diverse dishes too - but my father professed to hate Italian food and would never touch it, which would force my mother to have something else on hand for him. What a pain. The thing is, too, that I suspect that my father actually would have liked the stuff - he just had some "idea" about it - what the idea was, I really don't know. It was some form of, I don't know, stubbornness. It doesn't make sense to me. He liked his very narrow, circumscribed comfort zones (in a scary, uncertain, unfriendly world) and his cuisine at home is where he drew a firm line (by no means the only such firm line).

Growing up in the seventies, and going grocery shopping with my mother at the A&P - this was the era when produce - what I vividly now remember - involved cello-wrapped packages of wan hard tomatoes, and iceberg lettuce. The only lettuce to be had, seemingly, was iceberg. And there were plastic lemons, with fake lemon juice. And parmesan cheese shaken out of cardboard containers. And jars of marshmallow fluff and peanut butter, which combined with Wonder Bread, made fluffernutter sandwiches. And there was Shake-a-Pudding. And instant mashed potatoes.

My God, the processed bad food I ate growing up! Put in this context, the hearty Polish fare, made from fresh cabbage or canned sauerkraut, root vegetables, and various meats stewed to a chewable state - probably saved my life!

But it was limited nonetheless.

As I grew older - met 1.0 and his family and encountered such delicacies as (favorites of mine to this day) avocado, acorn squash, boeuf bourgignon, croque monsier, lobster with drawn butter, beaujolais; then went away to college where the dorm food wasn't so bad, though not so adventurous either (though I loved Sundae Nights, on Sundays, enormous vats of all sorts of flavors of ice cream, along with a dizzying salad-bar array of toppings, walnuts, sauces, "jimmies" (because this was near Boston), hot fudge, butterscotch, whipped cream, cherries, bananas)

--- darling the foregoing made me suddenly feel amorous --

After graduation for many wrong reasons I boarded a plane and moved to Oakland. It was a roller coaster time, my three years there, but I so enjoyed the pleasure of encountering wonderful foods for the first time, in Berkeley, maybe especially. The gourmet revolution was just getting underway there, and I was a little too young for it, and also didn't have money for luxury items such as chocolate truffles. Well, maybe I'm conflating periods of time that I lived there, and later for a time, visited. Coffee drinks, for example, so incredibly fantastic after anything I'd ever had before - I quickly formed a 'large latte no foam' habit. And spent lots of times in cafes, writing letters -- alas, not to you. And I discovered, I don't know, romaine lettuce, and Szechuan food, and wonderful California wines, and cheeses, and basil pesto (a favorite to this day), and olives...

oh I could go on and on, but won't for this evening, darling - enough for now
I'm surprised my self that that vein of happy sensory memory opened up like that, and another day, perhaps my writing could do it more justice

for now will run, with many kisses for you
and I didn't even mention that today I also roasted a chicken, and baked chocolate chip cookies from scratch, and stirred together pizza dough

so if you come over tomorrow I could whip up a pizza very quickly
or pissalediere, since I have a good supply of onions, olives, and anchovies
and spinach pie in the freezer
though no cake, in case it's someone's birthday

well, I'm sure we could always prop a candle into a cookie, and birthday person could blow it out

blowing one out now, even though it's not my birthday, shutting my eyes tight, making a wish

love you
hope you're having a wonderful day wherever you are

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