Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Joyful surges shining bright

For as surly as I can be, I find myself happy a lot in general.  Like my heart totally filled with a big burst of happy.  Like my little soul downright brimming with glee, you guys.  Simple things tickle me to extremes and I try to hold on to that feeling with both hands and appreciate the guts out of it.  Loads of little things have made me straight giddy with joy the last few days:

·    A perfectly made bed.
·    Creamy polenta with brasciole and broccoli.
·    Whiskey Sours with fresh squeezed lemon juice, super cold.
·    A whole gang of white tulips at The Four Seasons.
·    Yellow, happy sunflowers that last and last and can be moved from room to room.
·    The bookstore.
Bloom boom!
·    Purple and red gladiolas blooming their brains out.
·    Waking up to a chocolate hazelnut surprise treat.
·    Sunny day poolside guacamole, Italian rose and fantastic conversation with dear hearts where I learned my new favorite phrase: “A new broom always sweeps clean.”*
·    Golf carts.
·    Red ballet flats.
·    Sweet, surprise bathroom mirror notes.
·    Sweet cards and emails from pals.
·    Cappuccinos with foam hearts.
·    Fluffy, miniature Yorkie prancing about in the lap of luxury eating teensy rawhide bones.
·    Grapefruit granita.  In mass quantities.
·    A night at Mozza with two of my favorite people that included but was not limited to: multiple quartinos of Italian wine (some crisp, some peppery, some like licorice and love!), burrata with caramelized and pickled something or other, butter lettuce with bacon and hazelnuts and yum, spicy, briny, lemony linguine with clams with thin rounds of garlic and salty pancetta, gorgeous shortribs and my jeans becoming too small by the second.
·    Babies who all of a sudden aren’t babies any more,but little peoples with real words and hairstyles.
·    Bravo.
·    Candles.
·    Lavender.
·    Cheese cubes, dill pickles and Red Vines in rapid succession.  (Gourmand!) 
·    Glenfiddich 12, 15, 18 sampling.  X 3.
·    My people.
·    Sunday morning rain.
Friday night sky light.
·    Sunset at the pier.
·    Mini cupcakes and long, hard (DIRTY!) hugs.
·    Snuggles.
·    Horseradish cheddar, pink bubbles and girlfriends.
·    Hot spicy oatmeal, cold morning.
·    Rodrigo y Gabriela y their guitars.
·    Text messages from you.
·    The longest, (worst) singingest voicemails of songs with my name in them.  From you.
·    Beating your ass at WordsW/Friends.  Again.
·    A perfect bottle of Betelgeuse* sauvignon blanc chilling out in my fridge waiting for the perfect time.
I hope you’re feeling as lucky, too, internet.

*Meaning in the beginning everything is perfect, right?  Shiny!  And then eventually the shine wears off and true colors emerge.  Translation: "Everyone turns in to a dumb a-hole, eventually."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The way we were

I never expected it to end like this but the truth is, expectations have always gotten my big fat heart in to lots of trouble.    I know it wasn’t your fault that you were the prodigal son and the fixer of family messes from early on, and I can see how that kind of pressure wears on a person, I really can.  It’s just that I always thought that this life’s road and the bumps on it were compressing you in to a diamond of a man: a self-made someone so many people respected and admired.  The husband, the son, the uncle, the brother, the friend, the Godfather, the businessman.  I thought it’s what was seasoning the flavor of your character—the one you were always so quick to put forward--the kind of man who touted living by example with integrity and virtue.  But it turns out the twists and turns were more like water torture for you, and even though you always said you never wanted to end up like your father, it’s what eventually broke you.  I saw your shine wearing off and tried to talk to you about it over and over again, but you were never one to use your words.  And then eventually your “I-would-never”s became your reality, your emotional tornado leaving so many of us in jumbled confusion, left to sort through the wreckage and try to make sense of it all.  To pick up the pieces you left behind of the life you worked so hard to create after you thought the grass was greener on that other side.  The hardest part was reconciling whether you were never the man I thought you to be, or if you eventually morphed in to this person so opposite the fa├žade that you couldn’t keep up anymore.  It isn’t ever easy to admit that someone isn’t who you think they are and the truth is that I mourned that you years ago, well before you got sick.  You were instantly my uncle, baptized my Godfather, became my father-figure by circumstance and responsibility when you inherited me as a bouncing baby 8 year-old, and always my closest family blood tie.  And for as much as I have tried to understand it away and that at the end you have made amends the best way you know how, the sad fact remains that you are my biggest disappointment and worst heartbreak.  It seems that even the strongest, most virtuous rocks can crumble.

But today, I will remember everything good.  I will remember the man who instilled in me the importance of friendship, goodwill, of the people you choose to bring in to your created-family being the biggest reflection of you.  I will remember you doing anything you could to help a friend.  I will remember being the 3 year old wondering why the Santa who came over on Christmas Eve had her Uncle Sal’s eyes.  And shoes.  I will remember those quiet pre-dawn, sleepy weekday car rides with you the first summer I moved in when you were dropping me off for the day at Auntie M’s because nobody was quite sure what else to do with me.  I will remember Motown, Chicago and Dean Martin.  I will remember our oddly puzzled-together family of 3 sitting side by side in your El Camino heading to cut down our Christmas tree.  I will remember the rumble of your work truck when you’d park in front of Nonna’s for a visit and the sound of the garage door heralding your homecoming in the afternoons meaning I had 35-50 seconds to get off that damn phone and pretend to be doing homework.  I will remember Feast of Fishes and baked ziti and O’Brien potatoes.  I will remember the look on your face when we were pulling out of the hospital and you knew your mom was dying.  I will remember the look on your face when we sat alone in that red booth the day my mom died, and you realized you didn’t have to worry about your crazy sister’s mistakes anymore.  I will remember you almost shitting your pants when you were teaching me to drive and I thought making a left hand turn at the red light on Golden Springs was legal (whoops!).  I will remember long weekends at the lake.  I will remember your open door policy and your thrill at having people congregate weekend after weekend in the home you were so proud to have built.  I will remember that you loved Frosted Flakes, Crystal Light, watermelon, meatballs, German Chocolate cake and coconut.  I will remember you teaching me: how to dive, how to pour a perfect shot without a jigger by the age of nine (because every young girl should have at least five cocktails she can mix at a moment’s notice!), the importance of a perfect margarita, that V0/7’s should always be tall, not to buy it if you can’t pay for it today, how to perfectly fan bar napkins for a party, the difference between screwdrivers, how to put air in my tires, the importance of looking up and using a new word every day.  I will remember years of late night gift wrapping for you when you’d show up with bags and bags of loot for Auntie on Christmas Eve (sweet, annoying and verging on child labor!).  I will remember dancing with you at my surprise 16th birthday party on a boat with most of our favorite people.  I will remember sitting with you watching the TV in horror as LA rioted and they pulled that man out of his truck and beat him and how you told me to always be aware that actions cause unimaginable ripple effects.  I will remember you trying to figure out what to say to me after I got my heart broken for the very first time and the look of helplessness you had on your face when I burst in to tears.  I will remember the way you carried that huge, heavy dining room table--my very first big-girl home purchase—up all of those stairs to my apartment.  I will remember Culture Club, the way you always got misty at “Harry & the Hendersons”, how we could watch “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Footloose” together over and over again.  I will remember going with you to vote, Disneyland and The Turkey House.   I will remember the way you used to grab Auntie in the kitchen and give her a smooch.  I will remember New York trips.  I will remember my 21st birthday and loving that you guys wanted to spend it with me.  I will remember my college graduation party and how mortified you were the next day that you got overserved...by yourself.  I will remember your National Guard stories, Northwood’s Inn Sundays, that you were always fun at parties, could talk to anyone, loved all of your Godkids fiercely, taught little babies how to give lewd hand gestures and fed them lemons.  I will remember being your flashlight holder year after year while you were up on the roof hanging those Christmas lights just-so and Halloween parties.  I will remember Lakers games, football pools and your USC helmet chip and dip, 4th of July parties with your annual Firework Extravaganza in the cul de sac, the 1984 Olympics.  I will remember your Italian pride and the (gaudy!) Lira rings you had made for us.  I will remember your pride in America and how you hung Old Glory with reverence and respect every holiday.  I will remember Paco Rabane, your hideous perms and muscle pants of the 80's, and that I never, ever in my whole 37 years saw you without that moustache. 
Today I will remember the you from my beginnings with love, respect and gratitude.  We said goodbye and you're with all of our angels now.  I hope that wherever we really end up to rest after we go gives you all of the answers to the questions I’m not sure you realized you always had.  And I wish for your soul and spirit nothing but peace.

Friday, March 11, 2011

If it makes you happy

So, I’ve been thinking loads about sacrifice lately.  Lent is upon us and I’m one of those technically-lapsed Catholics that still tries to give something up every year out of habit and forced virtue.  I usually forget about it until I see the people cattin’ around town with their cute ashed foreheads and then I’ll try to scamper over to the little church and get smudged if I didn’t already miss it all together.  (I know…such commitment!)  This year I remembered, but let’s be honest:   I’m a selfish sacrificer.  You know what I mean, internet.  You’re probably one, too.  We deign to give up something that enhances our lives versus something that is a hardship to go without.  People give up the things that make them happy or happier, right? Like sugar.  Or hookers.  Usually I give something up that our boy JC would straight roll his eyes at all, “Okay, dude.  Thanks for giving up Gilmore girls reruns and crunchy* peanut butter for 40 days.  Yup.  Totally like the desert.  How is it possible you’ve not been nominated for sainthood yet**?”

Cute new bike rack on 2nd Street makes me happy!
What are you supposed to give up?  Is it supposed to make your life miserable and hard for 40 days?  Like electricity?  All food, like some whack hunger strike?  Human contact?  I’ve gotten so used to folks giving up things that are important to them, but not necessarily to their livelihood: caffeine, soda, cheese.  I do it, too, but am pretty sure that’s not what it’s supposed to be. 
This year I also got sucked in to doing something in tandem with the gym because my favorite instructor is bossy and mean and yelled at us to give up four food items*** because that’s  what the neighborhood is doing.  Want to know my four items?  Too bad…I’m telling you anyway!
1.   Thin Mints
Here’s the thing…I can avoid those adorable she-devils on 2nd Street, at the supermarket, out and about in general.  I will look them straight in their quota-chasing eye and say “No thanks!” without hesitation.  They don’t scare me.  It’s when the sweet neighbors come knockin’ on Auntie bacibug’s door with their spiel and their rigmarole that I can’t decline.  Hustlers!  So I have 58349234 boxes to add to my freezer with the 57920373 boxes that are still in there from last year.  But I will not eat them!  Look at me…I’m practically Joan of Arc around here!
2.   Rice
I like the carbs!
3.   White bread
Despite loving it, I don’t eat a ton of this anyway but have noticed being more lax lately so I thought it would be a good one.
4.   Cream****
Okay, really?  As if I’m scampering around town drinking straight cream like a rich cat on a bender.  I don’t.  I rarely use cream.  I think I made a dessert for someone else last week that called for a splash of cream and I decided that I needed to add this to my list because…well, I don’t know because why, but I’m not using it for 40 days, okay?
Virtuous, right?  As my 88 year old Auntie Micki would say if she thinks you're being braggy, “Well, pin a rose on your nose!” I mean, how can I face each day without these staples of life?  I’m totally ridiculous.  Even more ridiculous is that I lasted approximately 24 hours before I broke one of them.  I’m back on the wagon now, but I started this whole regime Wednesday and by 8am Thursday morning ate a croissant.  A delicious, apricot marmalade filled croissant.  Toasted and warmed.  Ooopsieboom, Jesus!  It's technically white bread, right?  Maybe not, but I’m counting it as a FAIL.

*Which means my ass will still eat the creamy PB, but find this a sacrifice nonetheless because crunchy is MY FAVORITE, you guys.  What?! I need my protein!
**WOW!  Jesus sure is sarcastic!  Rude.
***My non-food item sacrifice, unrelated to my gym list, is: people who are assholes.  Just FYI.  PS: I'll miss you!
****Not the band.  Though I don’t listen to them anyway.  This isn’t 1979, internet!  Dang.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Saucy little tart

Last minute Glamour Table by MT Designs!
I love a night that starts out as nothing and turns in to something, you guys.  You know what I mean, right?  Those nights when  you really have no major plans, but then a pal stops by or you get a phone call to “come right over!” and before you know it the candles are lit, the jams are jammin’ and you’re nipping and noshing your little hearts out.  Maya Angelou has said a lot of important and searing things that resonate with me and make me take notice, but this was the first many, many moons ago:  A woman should have eight matching plates, wine glasses with stems, and a recipe for a meal that will make her guests feel honored.”  I believe it!*

So, I make sure to always have my certain kind of essentials on hand in the fridge.  These include but are not limited to:
  • Bubbles!
  • White wine! (A good one for drinking.  A cheap one for emergency risotto.  Or emergency drinking.)
  • Butter!
  • At least two cheeses! (Always a Parmigiano-Reggiano and usually some sort of exciting goat or sharp cheddar.)
  • Sparkling water!
  • Olives!
  • Nuts!
  • Chocolate chip cookie dough!  (In college I was obsessed with always having a frozen pie handy.  Just in case you came over and really, really needed pie.  Y’know…as you do.)

What's black, blue and rasp berried all over?
In any case, it’s pretty much guaranteed that if you show up on my doorstep, I’ll be able to feed you and get you sufficiently pickled.  I can always cobble together a quick dinner and/or some sort of cheese and cracker surprise.  And I can always, ALWAYS throw together a sweet treat.  I keep my cookies handy because, really, is there much better than a freshly baked cookie straight out the oven?**  But I also almost always have the goods to throw together one of my favorites: the tart!  Ah, The Tart!  I love me a damn tart, you guys!  I make ‘em fruity.  I make ‘em savory.  I make ‘em chocolatey.  I make big ones and teensy ones.  I love the satisfaction of popping those suckers out of their little fluted pans so, so much.  Seriously.  I have been on a tart tear lately (again) because berries have been so delish.  So in the last two weeks I’ve made some sort of version of a lemon-berry tart no less than 5 times.  Lemon blueberry, lemon blackberry, Meyer lemon raspberry, lemon blackberry-strawberry-blueberry-raspberry.  You get the idea.  They’re sweet and tarty (DIRTY!) and so, so good!  I think everyone should know how to swank it up with a tarty surprise. So I’m going to share my favorite go-to smart tart recipe with you.

Baby blueberry tartlette!
That link will take you to Everyday Food’s Strawberry Tart recipe.  For years I have used it for the basic springboard to endless combinations.  If I’m making something citrusy, I add zest to the crust and curd to the filling***.  Sometimes I go really bonkers and add curd AND a berry-corresponding jam****.    Apples mean cinnamon and spice and everything nice go in.  Chocolate means cocoa powder and mascarpone instead of cream cheese.  I halve the recipe, I quarter the recipe, I triple the recipe.  I’m not even kidding around.  The possibilities go on and on. 
Make one!  Maybe someone fun***** will come to call!

*Though there has been a casualty recently and I’m down to 7 matching dinner plates.  Dang!
**Yes there is.  And it’s a freshly baked cookie straight out the oven with a big fat plop of ice cream on it.  Testify!
***Until it’s sufficiently puckery.  I like a good sexy muthapucker, you guys.
****It’s totally true.