Monday, May 26, 2014

Secret Recipes

They say the shortest way to a man's heart is through his stomach. Well, I guess I heard that first on some daytime talk show after school, sitting with my mom on our living room sofa, in all its stiff-wool blueness.

So I suppose it's no wonder that Chris romances me with food. He knows that his taking on the household duties always elicits a positive vibe from me. Dishes, floors, sink, counters ... and cooking. There's nothing tastier than a meal someone else cooked instead of me.

So now that Chad has returned from his self-directed journey and my kids disappear every other weekend, we're alone. For the first time in forever, it feels like. Because twice a year is nothing compared to twice a month. It's not as hard as it was the first time around, I suppose becuase Nik and Nat are older; Nik is almost outside the age to be held to a schedule, and Nat, well, Nat refuses to let anyone tell her what to do, so she is getting what she wants.

But it's still darn quiet when they are gone. And that's hard for me. Chris plays music, but the rockiness in our own relationship makes that rarer than it had been. Hopefully over time he will return to it -- because he is right, music is just to the left, in our own heartbeats. (Peter Gabriel said that, and Chris endorsed it.)

So he also fills the house with strawberries, cream, rootbeer, vanilla ice cream, and my favorite, white chocolate raspberry yum Tillamook. Yum! And we have shrimp and butter, but I don't need to tell you how to make that -- well, it's obvious, right? heat the shrimp (covered to stay moist), melt the butter, and enjoy. Microwaving at its finest.

He thinks about me all the time -- he says -- and at times I believe him. Chris worries a lot, though, and it's not always about me. So it's more that he's trying to tell me I've been on his mind, when he says that, rather than his children or an ex or a friend or a work partner ... or the economy, politics, sports, the cars, the house, the yard, the dogs ... yeah, we have very full lives.

I will give him this: he does pay attention. Every time we have Breakfast for Dinner, I know I walk around all bouncy and happy. The dichotomy of turning a day on its head by eating breakfast as a last meal, a startfast rather than a breakfast, just hits me in the funny bone. All those breakfast dishes just taste better at day's end, after I've worked and earned the calorie load, I suppose.

So tonight that's what we had. He made it extra special with his secret pancake recipe. Which of course I wheedled out of him, being a lover of recipes. It starts with a general pancake base... mix your wets, a cup of whole milk, 2 eggs, a tablespoon of corn oil, and a tablespoon of honey. Then mix your dries, 1/2 cut white flour, 1/4 cup whole wheat flour, 1/4 cup masa (corn flour) or buckwheat flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, pinch of salt, and 1/4 cup granola (raw or cooked, muesli, or just oats if it's all you have). Grate an apple into the wet and stir it in. Then Whisk the dry into the wet until just blended. Let it stand 10 minutes while the griddle heats.

Chris and I both love butter, so he melts some on the griddle when cooking pancakes. He pours hungry-man sized pancakes, lets the first side cook until the edges start to look dry, then flips them and cooks until both sides are lightly browned.

These pancakes would have been delicious on their own ... but of course we put more butter on top and real maple syrup. Yum!

And you know what made it even yummier for me? these were yesterday morning's leftover pancake batter. Sure, I'm odd, I get a strange thrill when leftovers actually get eaten in our house rather than delivered, too old to consume, to the chickens to be turned into eggs. Not the most economical eggs, but at least the food didn't end up in the trash. And to have someone else do it -- wow! There was a third bonus here too -- the overnight stay in the fridge thickened up the batter, making the pancakes even fluffier than the breakfast pancakes Chris made the day before, topped with fresh strawberries and whipped cream.

All in all, I am being well taken care of in my child-less weekends. And feeling very fortunate that Chris and I have always managed to resolve our differences -- painfully at times, but we get through it. To be taken care of like this is very meaningful to me, having taken care of my children for 7 years with an absent dad, far from my own parents. No-one takes care of me, I take care of them. That was just a statement of fact, the way things are, or rather, were. It's nice to feel loved, to be taken care of. That's why I'll be making the coffee tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


My childhood home was not a religious one. Because of that, religion always fascinated me. My friends all complained about church, and had wierd pre-meal rituals. At my house, the ritual was simple. Sit and be quiet. Wait. Once my mother took her first bite, we could all begin to eat. Before that, you'd be told "Put your fork down" in no uncertain terms by my father. Despite the total lack of any religion, every year on a Tuesday my father took over cooking the evening meal. And it was a doozy. My mother might be sitting at the table with us chatting about our days, or be somewhere in the house doing a mom thing -- sewing, tidying, reading a book. My dad would take out the plastic mixing bowl with the spout -- which in its later years sported a melted spot at its front where someone ("not me!" we would all say) left it too close to the electric griddle. Which of course was out on the counter, so super-simple for him to turn on medium and get warmed up. We never washed that griddle -- is that terrible to admit to? -- it was wiped with paper towel. Well-seasoned, and seldom needing extra grease because of it, my mother used to say. Whether it was pancakes, hamburgers, french toast, or my least favorite, liver. Just a good wiping was all it needed. He would also take out the smallest saucepan -- oh it might hold two cups of liquid -- and put it on a burner, turning the knob to medium. My father could have been the dad in "Cheaper by the Dozen" -- every move was efficient, both hands in use as much as possible. One hand putting the saucepan on the ring, while the other hand turned the knob to medium -- that was my dad. He would cut chunks off a stick of butter and drop them in -- half the stick had the now-emptier butter paper folded around it, and was pushed back into its lidded cubby in the fridge. He broke 4 eggs into the mixing bowl, cracking their sides on the edge of the bowl and levering them open from the crack, dropping their golden and clear contents into the bowl. He'd wisk them up with his favorite cooking tool -- a fork. He'd take his melted butter off the stovetop at that point, so it could cool. Then he would stir in a cup of milk, and using the same measuring cup, a cup of water; it rinsed out the milk, don't you know, so not a drop was wasted. Then he would stir in the melted butter, pouring it in while stirring in that age-old method of avoiding cooking the eggs by keeping it all moving. Next came the flour -- two cups, and a pinch of salt, stirred in with that fork of his, somehow avoiding lumps. He was a master at avoiding lumps, my dad -- to this day my gravies and batter sport lumps a'plenty. His crepes were always lovely smooth creations. My dad would test the griddle with a drop of water -- it would dance across the surface, showing it had the heat he wanted. He would pour the batter from his spouted mixing bowl, using a circular motion to spread it out in that large crepe round shape. Our griddle would only fit one healthy-sized crepe at a time, so that's what he cooked. Once the first side was done, he'd lift it with his favorite pancake turner and flip it over -- always a clean flip, never folded or ripped. I'm still working on that one, too. Again, a master of efficiency, while crepes were cooking he would get a pair of lemons from the fridge and slice them into wedges. He'd flick the seeds out of each wedge with the tip of his knife. Once done, he'd put the wedges higgeldy-piggeldy on a saucer; some on their backs, rocking as he moved the saucer, and some on their sides, at rest for now. Once done, he would take the crepe from the pan and put it on a plate. Crepe, crepe, crepe -- he'd cook them all up while directing us to set the table. Like all meals, knife on the right, fork on the left, dessert spoon above. Plate centered in between them all. Drinking glass above but visually between knife and dessert spoon. For us, his children, we had teaspoons instead of dessert spoons, and salad forks instead of entree forks -- but to us, they were the kids' spoons and kids' forks, not re-purposed cutlery. He'd remind us to take that saucer of lemon wedges to the table, and the sugar bowl. As an English house, we always had a lidded sugar bowl, half full, in daily use. You could say, "it was always tea time somewhere" was a house rule -- tea and cookies were made available for scraped knees, good news, uninvited guests, pretty much any time something wet and sweet was called for. Funny how our parents' voices echo in our heads -- "wet and sweet" will always mean tea and cookies to me. So, all the crepes done, he'd call my mother "Fan! dinner's ready!" and she would pop up from whatever had kept her busy -- and absent for this cooking frenzy of my dad's. We'd all sit at the table. My dad would take a crepe, and the plate would make its way around the table -- my mother, my brother, me, my sister -- coming to rest in front of my father again. Behind it, the saucer of lemon wedges went around -- my dad, my mother, my brother, me, my sister. And then that bowl of sugar, but more slowly this time. In turn, like a slow wave, we'd each squeeze that lemon onto our flat crepe, shake a teaspoon of sugar onto the puckery wetness, roll the crepe up like a sleeping bag, squeeze more lemon, and shake another teaspoon of sugar over the top. It didn't matter how fast you moved, as you had to wait for Mummy to start. So usually we were just finishing our sugar and keeping an eye on her ... the warm rush of happiness I'd feel as she cut her first piece and lifted it to her mouth was akin to Pavlov's dogs. It meant: dig in! We were not slow eaters in my family, and we would all tuck in to those crepes. Each year I'd ask, and each year I'd get reminded -- this was something we did only once a year. After a few years, the name of this special meal stuck as well "Shrove Tuesday" -- though I really didn't understand that until I walked through the Lutheran rituals during the failure of my first marriage, and had them hammered home with the Catholic rituals of my second husband. To me it was "Crepe night" and I couldn't ask for it, I had to wait for it to show up once each year like Christmas and Easter. I had always wondered where this religious ritual came from, how something that significant had crept into my blatantly a-religious household ... but it wasn't until I was long grown and gone that I learned it came from my mother's family. My father learned to make the crepes from her own father, a dapper and serious Swiss man. I can just imagine why -- he wanted to engage Grandpa Meier in conversation, and what better than to ask about household traditions. And then to bring such a sweet, simple tradition forward into his own family -- surely a tribute to the man that raised his wife, a nod to her own upbringing. I am glad for traditions, and though I started having random breakfast-for-dinner nights in my family's cuisine, this is one that gets reserved for that particular Tuesday.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Grilled Cheese

Each time, it was a conscious decision. Sad, perhaps, that now I had to say each time.

The last marriage was over. It was time to move on.

Chris would later say I jumped too early. Not out of the last marriage -- into his bed. And, he would be right. But what he didn't know yet was that I was repeating old patterns. Using a new relationship to help crowbar myself out of the last one. Using the glee of newness to assuage the gloom of grief over death of the old relationship.

What can I say -- sure, it wasn't the best pattern. But it worked. Oh, I hear you laugh. How can I say it worked, if the new relationship failed as well? Yes, the pattern needs work. Perhaps there should be a cooling off period, man-free, following the failure of a relationship. And we should have nice weather in springtime too. Mother Nature and I both have things to work on.

Those were the thoughts flowing through my head that first morning after. Chris offered to make me a grilled cheese. It was a great suggestion -- I love grilled cheese. He sat me down on the sofa in the living room and walked down the breezeway to his kitchen area at its far end. He had music on -- a mix of Beatles, 70's rock, and newer indie rock. I'd never heard of Death Cab for Cutie before -- now I loved them, despite the odd name.

Chris buttered the bread with the soft butter on the counter. It was that nice, seedy, Poulsbo bread -- not too light, not too heavy. He put one piece on the hot electric grill and then pulled the big hunk of cheddar from the fridge and grated a bunch onto it. The second buttered piece went on top, and he shut the grill so both sides fried at once.

Once he got it started, he walked back over, well bounced, really, on his toes, a grin on his face as he sung along to the song his computer was playing. "I'll have to leave for work soon," he said, "but you can stay as long as you like. Take your time with the sandwich. Would you like some coffee?"

"Sure," I said.

"How do you like it?" he said.

"Make it like yours," I said. See -- I was still using that mimicry form of flattery that had stood me so well in high school. Like what they like -- or at least, try what they like -- if you do like it, go with it. Did it matter that I'd spent years schooling myself to prefer my coffee black, minimum calories and maximum caffeine effect? Heck no. Chris's chocolate flavored creamer and half-and-half went into my coffee and he handed me the mug, chattering about his job that day. I sipped it -- strong, thick from the creamer, sweet from the flavoring. Wow! It was half-candy, half-coffee.

Chris knew exactly how long it took to cook a grilled cheese on his grill -- he walked back over, opened the lid, and there was grilled cheese perfection. He picked it up, ripped a paper towel off the roll, and wrapped the grilled sandwich with the paper towel as he walked toward me. His economy of motion was like dancing -- flowing task into task with an ease of long practice.

"Aren't you having one?" I asked.

"No, I have to get going," he answered.

I sat there, chewing my grilled cheese. It was perfect -- the cheese melted through, not enough to drip out of the edges as the double-sided grill had gotten the edge cheese to sizzle into that hard edge that keeps it all in the sandwich. The rich flavor of the bread played well with the butter and cheddar, there was not a missed note to this sandwich. That was the best grilled cheese sandwich I'd ever had. And the first one a man had ever made for me.

I felt like a princess, sitting on Chris' sofa, listening to his mix list, saying goodbye to him around the bites of my sandwich as he headed out the door. It was a bit odd to be in his house with him not there -- that was another first. I sat and chewed that yummy sandwich. When it was done, I sat some more.

I wanted to sort out the feelings in my head, in my center. I felt off-balance. This was proof -- Zee and I had long since failed, I was moving on. This felt like a good man to me. He was interesting, hard working, and he filled his house with flowers -- vases everywhere. I was smitten.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Chips and Soda

I was thrilled. I'd been walking on clouds since he asked. Sure, I had been working to influence him. I'd bought the Player's Handbook, the Dungeon Master's Guide, taught myself the game. I remember sprawling on the floor by our sliding glass door -- best spot in the house on a sunny cold winter day -- dice, pencil, books, and paper in hand, working through that first sample adventure. Making sure I could play this game that had the smart boys at school so enthralled. It was fun, it was interesting, I was intrigued. I could see why they were interested -- you could control things, to an extent, but also there were variables. So you didn't know exactly what would happen. It was more exciting than a movie, with its static plot that stayed the same from viewing to viewing. More interesting than the local top 40 radio station, with its rock and roll hits that all sounded the same to my tone-deaf ears, singing about the love -- and heartbreak -- that eluded my teenage life.

So, Tee asked me. Would I like to join his player's group? I was thrilled! I was driving, so I could get myself there, as long as my parents let me go. Now, as a mom, I realize how happy my mother likely was that I had friends to go and see. Even boys. Three boys, in fact, and me. How I would check and double check if it was my daughter heading in to that den of boydom. But I went, no barriers, few questions. Perhaps my mother recognized how completely ensconced in my innocence I was. Eventually, that would be my undoing -- but at that point, all Tee and his crew wanted was a fourth player.

I drove there with my Player's Handbook, paper, and pencil. The DM Guide I left at home -- I didn't need to let them know I'd over-prepared, as usual. Not like they wouldn't know anyway, but hey. Pulled in to the driveway, down a wooded drive. Walked up the steps and knocked. "Hey", Tee said, opening the door, "we're down here", he pointed down a staircase in their standard dual-story entry. My nerves had me shaking in my shoes, but I followed him, closing the door behind me and bouncing down the steps to see his friends around the table already.

It was a little, square card table, set up in a finished basement play room like the one in my house. I remember reds, browns -- dark colors on the floor and wall. But I was interested in the game. Okay, I was interested in Tee -- but I knew that the way to him was through the game. So I played my heart out. Did voices, made reasonably sound choices, stayed in character, rolled dice, celebrated good moves and rolls, worked on recovering from bad choices and rolls. Tee kept us all on task and on track in his adventure.

And when we were fading from hours of chatting our way through this game, out came the standard fare -- chips and soda. Tee ripped open the bag and put it in the middle of the table, and handed around cans of cola that we ripped the tabs from and drank down. Munch, munch... "what do I see to the east?" munch, munch "Nothing" munch, munch "and to the west, anything?" Siiiip "hmmm, there might be something in the distance, let me roll and see" ...

The chips and soda kept us going for another two hours. I hadn't had that much social time even with my own friends in years. We had half an hour before classes started, half an hour at lunchtime, but other than that there was no time for play in my life. Funny how when boys became interesting all of a sudden I could spend 4 hours playing games with them, eating chips and slurping soda like one of the boys. I treasured that time and was happy to be there while our game continued in the weeks that came.

Saturday, March 1, 2014


"... and on Sunday we'll just have gravy" Zee sang in his strong church tenor as I ferried dishes to the table and he made his way from stovetop to dinner table. We were having a family staple -- rotinis and freshly made marinara sauce. Zee's song clearly meant pasta sauce, not meat gravy. But it tickled my vocabulary tester, since my strong British roots have gravy as that brown sauce that tasted like the meat it was served with. My mother had taught me how to make gravy pretty much as soon as I could stand at a stove, and for good reason -- it requires pretty much constant attention.

Zee's gravy, on the other hand, was a marvel of cooking. His mother, I'm pretty sure, spent the standard full afternoon over huge saucepans of bubbling tomatoes and herbs, reducing down that fresh fruit into its delightful marinara freshness. Zee, however, has spent half his lifetime figuring out how to do what the able-bodied do as quickly or better. As much as he let his injury hold him back from his dreams, he was a marvel at figuring out how to do what he wanted to do, to have a normal life.

The gravy was a wonderful example. Let's say it's 4:00, dinner's at 5:30, and you have nothing started. That was pretty typical for our house. With two young children to feed, it required balancing their tastes against their nutritional needs. Pasta marinara was one of the sure-fire dishes in my arsenal. Before Zee, the sauce was Ragu -- perfectly acceptable to my British taste buds.

Zee usually started with fresh tomatoes -- he'd buy the least expensive ones, which in winter were Romas. Those are nice and firm, not a lot of extra water in them. We were terrific Costco shoppers, too -- so the pantry was stocked with cases of diced tomatoes, tomato paste, and olives. His homemade pesto was in the freezer -- we grew basil en masse every few years, and he would grind up basil and pinenuts with olive oil and put it in the freezer so we would always have fresh pesto on hand.

Zee's favorite cooking utensil was his secret weapon for fresh gravy and quick meals: a 4-quart pressure cooker. That thing hummed through all cooking. Mashed potatoes, pot roast, stewed chicken, and marinara -- all were instant dinners with the pressure cooker to hand.

So there we would be in the kitchen. Nik and Nat would be working on homework at the kitchen table, I would be helping Nik with whatever new math they were throwing at him that week, or helping Nat with her spelling. Zee would come out of his office about 4:00 and say, "how about pasta tonight, you kids?" They would smile and nod.

Zee would maneuver over to the fridge and bring out the fresh parsley, an onion half if there was one, the romano, and that amazing pesto from the freezer. I'd bring over a can of chopped tomato, tomato paste, and large black olives from the pantry. The bowl of tomatoes was on the counter already, from the weekend's grocery shopping.

It was always a marvel to see Zee walk. He had a cane, and seemed to throw each leg forward with a little shift of his hips for each step. You wouldn't know what his injury was, just that there was something. He always appeared confident, but after our few years together I knew he saw each step as a risk, and that he was in danger of falling each and every time.

When he took things out of the fridge, it was a true concert. First, he'd balance on the counter to pull the door open. Then he'd lever himself so he could reach inside to get out what he needed. Our fridge was never overflowing -- he needed room to get his good right hand on the item and bring it out. Once he'd released the item onto the counter, he could stand up again and shut the door.

I always held my breath when he leaned over to pull out the pressure cooker from its spot under the counter next to the cooktop. When our relationship was new, I tried to do more for him. But he benefited from doing things for himself, and so I had learned to hold back and let him do what he needed to.

However, watching him chop an onion was almost beyond me. So, when I came to the counter with the cans, I would take the onion, the large knife from the knifeblock, and one of the cutting boards, and start chopping it up. Zee would take the other cutting board and a serrated knife to roughly chop up the tomatoes. Every two tomatoes, he would lift his board and tip the pieces and juice into the pressure cooker. I'd chop up half the onion and add it to the pot. Then I'd open the tins and pour them in. If it was Roma tomatoes, the juice from the olives went in; otherwise, only half of it, with the rest disposed of. Zee would spoon out a tablespoon of the pesto into the pot, pour in a glug of olive oil from the bottle kept on the stovetop, and take the bottle of cooking wine from the counter to add a glug of that, too. And last, before closing the cooker, he'd rough-cut the parsley and add a big handful of that.

With the heat on medium he'd get the lid on while I took the cutting boards and knives to the sink for a rinse and wipe down. I'd dry one and bring it back over for grating the cheese. We had lovely blocks of Romano, first from Costco and later from online shops Zee found with even more cheese selections available.

Our favorite pasta shape was the Rotini, but it was fun to have Butterflies or the other shapes -- sure, they all taste the same, but some held on to the sauce just a bit better. Zee loved having a nice loaf of bread with it too -- it made a great plate sweeper for the leftover gravy. As much as I tried to make bread from scratch, we both agreed the local bakers did a much nicer job. So I'd search them out and find good looking loaves to bring home.

While the pressure cooker did its thing, I was busy filling a spaghetti saucepan from our sink filter dispenser. Slow road, but so much tastier than the chlorinated stuff straight from the tap. Zee was getting the latest tasty loaf from the bread box, and chivvying my kids to wrap up their homework and start setting the table.

Pressure cookers are interesting tools...they sit there quietly for some time, and then pop! the little pressure monitor pops up and the pot starts a quiet tootling. This was a sign that it was time for action stations.

Nik and Nat were pulling out pasta bowls, napkins, cutlery, and glasses.

Zee would turn the heat off on the pressure cooker, and put the heat on under the spaghetti water. By the time the pressure cooker had cooled, the water would be boiling. I'd add the pasta, a pinch of salt, and a glug of olive oil to that pot while Zee opened up the Marinara and examine his gravy. He'd give it a stir, and usually return the heat to medium so it could simmer while the pasta cooked. He'd also turn around to get the pasta serving bowl out of the cupboard. Those pivots were interesting -- he'd reach behind himself with his right hand, and once it caught, he'd be turning and bringing his left arm over to rest his left hand on the counter while his right would reach up, open the cupboard, and take down the bowl. It was a lovely, large, light bowl -- large enough for a family's supper, but light enough for Zee to maneuver it from one counter to another when it was empty.

Once it was all cooked, Zee would start heading to the dining table. My kids would be sitting already, Nat kicking her heels at her seat, Nik fiddling with his cutlery. I'd be lifting the pasta strainer out of the spaghetti pot, then dumping the Rotinis into the pasta bowl. I'd pour the marinara over it, and give it a stir. Then it was a bunch of back-and-forths: pasta bowl to table, grated cheese next, bread and bread knife on their cutting board. Whew!

As Zee headed to the table, he'd chat with my kids. It was a year or so before he shared that child's rhyme with us about gravy-and-bread on Mondays, pasta-and-gravy on Tuesdays, ... on down to just gravy on Sundays. We all laughed at the silliness of it, and could recite it back to him by the time he reached his seat. It was a catchy tune.

Funny what sticks -- I remember very well how to make that lightspeed fresh marinara sauce, but the exact words of the gravy tune -- I've lost them.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


Copyright 2014, Amelia Garripoli

My first husband ... you know, the one that was supposed to be forever ... let's just call him Bee. I married him for all his wonderful properties. I wanted love, marriage, and a baby carriage. That was us, k-i-s-s-i-n-g in the tree.

I was willing to work for it, too. So when his accounting career didn't work out, he stayed home, and I worked. It was going to be great, right? I figured, with all that time on his hands, there would be a clean house, meals ready, you name it. That was me, the 1950's husband expecting her wife to take care of her.

It didn't quite turn out that way ... Bee wasn't really wife material. He did still do some wonderful things ... a few years with me taught him how to make the perfect cup of tea. And each morning, when I changed jobs and had to get up waaaay before dawn, he would get up first and make me a cup of tea. I tell you, waking up in the morning to welcome that warm cup on the bedside table was wonderful. I still treasure those mornings, they never returned.

Tea. Boil fresh water in a proper tea kettle -- we searched for years to find one like my English grandmother's. Eventually we did, and purchased it. Only to return to England a few years later to find out she had replaced hers with a newer model. Oh, snap.

Buy your tea loose, as good a quality as you can afford. Bags are okay, if you can find the British brands like Ty-Phoo. For a morning mug, put a teaspoon of tea in a large-ish tea brewer so there's room for it to move and expand. Morning tea was always strong black tea -- Keemum, Assam, whatever was hefty and black but otherwise unflavored. Just the tea, ma'am.

Rinse the mug (mugs are okay for breakfast tea, though my grandmother _always_ had a pot, no matter the time of day) with a bit of the just boiled water to warm it up. Put the loaded tea brewer in the mug and pour the boiling water over it. Let it steep for 2 minutes. Remove the brewer.

Now, this is important ... removing the brewer takes out enough room for the milk you need to add for a proper cuppa. We always kept 2% in the house, and you would pour it into the mug until it swirled down and back up again, reaching the top in an arc. Once milk first returned to the top, you had the perfect amount of milk in your tea -- turning it from a dark rich brown to a creamy strong tan color.

Sugar? If you must. Sometimes I was a teaspoon-er, sometimes a half-teaspooner. But that mug eventually became just tea and milk for me.

After we had children, Bee got me a mug one Christmas -- "Queen of all She Surveys" -- a poke at Hyacinth Bouquet from the BBC shows. That was the mug my tea usually showed up in. I didn't realize at the time that it was likely a portent of what was coming down the road.

You see, Bee was my best friend. He knew me as well as I knew myself. My foibles, my limitations, my fears, my hopes. I thought I knew him, too. But too late I realized I'd asked him to be my knight in shining armor, to bottle up his emotions and feelings and be my rock. A job he tried to do, valiantly. But it overwhelmed him.

So one morning the tea stopped. It had been a long time coming. We were arguing constantly. I wanted to stop working and raise our children -- our little girl was barely a toddler, there was still time for me to mother her 24/7, not around a desk job. Bee had some skills to fall back on. But instead, he returned to college for a new degree. Okay, we would get through that. I had bonuses from working saved that we could live on during his studies. But, we didn't get through it.

The tea stopped. I lost my best friend. I lost my 50th wedding anniversary, my forever marriage, my life partner. We fell apart, and there was no mending it. We're divorced now, and I raise our children by myself. They see him 2 times a year since he moved several states away. The internet and their cell phones give them and him the ability to contact each other when they like, so I don't know how much contact they have. I hope it is enough for them. I do know Bee and I are barely civil to each other -- we fell apart so badly that it only takes a few words to reopen those raw feelings.

I make my own tea now.

Copyright 2014, Amelia Garripoli

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Scrambled Eggs

Copyright 2014, Amelia Garripoli

I don't know where my mother and little brother were that evening. He took the small, copper-bottomed saucepan from the cupboard, the pan that clanged so clearly when I whacked it with a wooden spoon. My sister and I sat at the kitchen table ... the round one he made in the garage. It was covered with a green fleur-de-lis embossed plastic, top and sides. I loved that pattern, but then I've always loved the repetition of patterns.

He had the egg carton and the milk carton out by the stove, and had already opened a can of beans -- Heinz Vegetarian -- and poured it into the second-best saucepan to heat on the stovetop.

I was too small to know he'd turned the stovetop ring on, it must have been electric, and medium, because there was no tell-tale gas flame or reddening of the ring. Not a modern glass-top, those weren't available at middle-class appliance outlets like Sears in those days. No Wal-Mart either, I got my toys at Woolworths.

But when he put the slab of butter in the pan, it sizzled. Didn't brown or burn -- just melted fairly quickly. In quick succession he would break four eggs, cracking them sharply on the edge of the saucepan, opening them with his hands, dropping the liquid of the egg into the pan. Again, moving quickly, he poured a decent glug of milk into the eggs, a fifth egg's worth, perhaps a little less.

Timing was critical. Of course I wasn't to realize that until I started making the scrambled eggs myself, almost a decade later.  As soon as eggs and milk were in, he had his dinner fork -- their size, the big ones, not our size, the little kids' forks -- whisking away in that copper-bottomed saucepan.

The eggs and milk went quickly from clear, white, and yellow to a soft yellow melange; some of the egg whites had already fried in the initial dumping, like the tweediness of my favorite cardigan.

Once they were mixed, he had a moment and some attention to spare -- so as he gave the baked beans a quick stir, he had me set the table ... knife on the right, plate, fork on the left, cloth napkin rolled up in each person's dinner ring. My sister's was a crisp oval with roman tiers on the edges. My own -- floral patterned, chubby round ring. My father's had crenellations befitting his position. He was our ruler -- we understood that before we could talk, there wasn't a day until I was 18 that I even questioned that. Each one had our name embossed on it.

My sister was helping too, she had toast duty -- put two slices in, press the lever, and watch. But before even the first ones popped my father was back to whisking his eggs. He would scrape up the solid scramble from the bottom of the pan, and if I had been fast setting the table, I could watch as the  cleared bottom of the pan would re-fill with uncooked egg-milk mixture and quickly get scraped up itself to make more cooked scramble in the pan. Scrape, flow, scrape, flow ... until there was nothing left to flow. He would stop with the scrambled eggs still looking wet -- not a fan of dried scrambled eggs, my dad.

We would each bring our plate to the stovetop; on it, he would place a piece of toast, pour the warmed baked beans over half and put scrambled eggs on the other half. On his own plate would be two pieces of toast -- one for the beans, one for the scrambled eggs.

This was a dad's night dinner we must have had several times. My youngest memories don't include my little brother -- perhaps he was at a Mommy and Me class with my mother, toddler swimming or something. I remember getting particular about not wanting beans and eggs to touch -- so my slice of toast was sliced in half. Then I didn't want them on the toast at all, making it soggy -- sliced, and pushed to the outer edges, but still wet on its cut edge where it touched the eggs and beans.

As I got older, I'd season mine just like my dad did -- salt and pepper on the eggs, HP Steak Sauce in a dollop on the size to be added with my knife to the forkful of scrambled eggs and beans. That's right -- I'd separate them on my plate, but would build a stack on my fork. First, slice a piece of toast. Then, add a bit of the srambled egg. Top that with some of the baked beans, and then season with the steak sauce.

All the usual rules of dinner applied ... my mother wasn't there to take the first bite, so that role fell to my father. We could have a glass of juice, but once that was gone, if we wanted more then we got water. I don't remember dinner conversation. I remember dinner silence. If we were asked a question, we answered. But not with a mouth full of food. You didn't want to get caught talking with food in your mouth.

To this day I wonder at the terrible power my father had over us. He was a fierce man, and his word was our law. But he wasn't home much; he worked long days, a mechanical engineer designing printers and disk drives -- not that I understood that, then. Weekends were full of projects, after we moved to the big house on Myrtle Street there was always something in the house that needed working on. One stern look from him would bring me to tears. And when I really screwed up -- boy howdy, his lectures still ring in my head. His voice is the one I hear even now when I make mistakes.

But those scrambled eggs ... He really did them well. I looked forward to those dinners. They were sweet evenings when my sister and I knew what was expected and could have some calm, pleasant Dad time.