Friday, February 15, 2008

Soulwarmer soup

I have been eating soup lately. Not some salty, canned nastiness, but real soup. I used to make it for Marcie and me, and now I make it to feed me for days at a time. It's healthy, relatively light and wonderfully nutritious. I thought I would share the recipe.

The newest incarnation of the soup is heavy on the chiles, but they are not very hot chiles, so don't shy away yet... Also, remember that soup recipes can be modified to remove what you don't want. But don't change the base, if you can avoid it. It's delicious.

-The base-
1 cup water
1 cup tomatillo, sliced and steamed until done (about 5-7 minutes)
1/2 cup pan-wilted white onion slivers (chunks okay, too)
1 Anaheim chile (very mild), charred and peeled, then sliced into pieces
6 Roma tomatoes, chopped or processed to small chunks
2 tablespoons ground, dried chipotle
1 tablespoon cayenne
or (milder):
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1/2 package of "Soyrizo" vegetarian chorizo replacement
Salt and pepper to taste (I use no salt)
1 tsp sage
1 pinch of mesquite salt if available (or flavor to taste)

Mix these ingredients to start your base, then let the whole thing simmer in a big pot of water while you add your ingredients.

The recommended ingredients

1/2 pound mushrooms
3-4 sliced potatoes in large chunks
1/2 bunch kale
1-2 cups beans (pinto, black or kidney, perhaps all of them)
1/4 pound green beans
6 stalks celery, cut into 1" pieces
1 red onion, chopped into large chunks
1 poblano pepper, roasted or charred then peeled and sliced into strips
1 serrano pepper, roasted or charred then peeled and chopped (substitute green bell for milder palates)
1 red bell pepper, sliced

Once the base is simmering, add the vegetables a bit at a time, stirring everything as it cooks and adding water to keep the ingredients covered. after all the ingredients are in, let it simmer, bubbling lightly, for about two hours.

If you are lucky and patient, you will end up with something like this, including the heavily spattered stovetop:

Enjoy. Tomorrow, perhaps I will share some pictures of places we lived.

Night, folks. F.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Pizza Pie of Hearts

I decided not to sit in DiMille's, lest I burst into tears like some kind of freak. I didn't when I ate, and pizza tasted very, very good after so many months without it. Back on the wagon I go, though. I need to be in top form for the trip and whatever comes after, if anything.

Here is a fine example of what we enjoyed as our Valentine's ritual (yes, from DiMille's). I did set two places at the table and I had to shoo Seamus away (and lock him in the room, as Marcie would have demanded):

Our pizza pie, and the last Valentine's heart-shaped pizza I will ever eat of.
Good night, folks. Happy Valentine's Day.

The Valentine Tradition

As is the case with many women, Marcie loved Valentine's day. And though I did a number of things for her over the years surrounding the lovers' holiday, one little thing we saved for special Valentine's occasions.

It was not grand, or expensive, or even overly romantic. In fact, it was inexpensive, inauspicious and simple.

I remember well her excitement that morning as I prepared for school. It was the Thursday before Valentine's, 1994. The holiday fell on a Monday that year, and she was holding an ad up festooned with roses and hearts... and a pizza.

DiMille's was offering a special. Now, neither of us knew about this little restaurant in Normal Heights, being downtown-oriented and bus riders.

"Let's see," I said. "A pizza, heart-shaped, a salad, and a heart-shaped brownie for dessert. Hmmm. That's not sounding all that promising."

She dropped her hands and her lips pursed. She looked up and stepped in close and whispered, "You don't want to have a little evening out on the town and then maybe a big night back here?"

"Well, that's different, then," I said, my ears red as she played her hands up and down my chest with the ad still in one of them.

She laughed shortly and triumphantly, then the excited enthusiasm returned to her voice and she stepped away, manipulation utterly successful. "We can catch the 11 after you get out of school, and then after we eat, we can take a taxi if we're too tired to wait for the bus."

She slapped the ad on the refrigerator with a magnet and grabbed her coat, kissing me on the lips as she headed out for work. I simply shook my head and watched her walk, a favorite thign for me back then.

I thought once would be the limit, a simple experiment that would go somewhat awry or that would taste bad. Either way, I would bring her a gift or two, and she would have flowers, if not See's to go with it. Monday came and we set off.

I was quite wrong. Even the bus ride went well. We played all the way up, kissing and whispering into each others' ears about the people around us. Marcie played at moving around the bus, "avoiding me," calling me a "masher" and putting on a show.

For my part, I would slide into a seat behind her after she moved, ,or next to her and wait a moment or two, playing along behind my dark shades. Then, as soon as she was distracted, tickle her or nibble her neck.

I loved to hear her squeal and playfully say "Noooo, stoooop," in her cute falsetto. It rings in my ears even now.

When we got up to debark across Adam's Avenue from DiMille's, she took my hand. A senior who had observed our shenanigans all the way from Downtown stopped us by the disabled seats at the front of the bus.

"You two are just too cute," she said. "I hope you kids have a good Valentine's tonight. You are such a perfect little couple, it warms a heart."

Her words sank in with Marcie, and she would cite them to me in times troubled and serene. They were innocuous enough, but heartfelt and sweet, and though they are fond in my memory, they were always so soothing to hear Marcie recall in her impression of the anonymous elder.

The bus driver was less interested in it all. "Y'all are rascals," he said in a southern drawl. "Are you getting off here or do you want to have to walk a little?"

Marcie pulled me by the hand to the exit, but I managed to whip my head back and wish the old lady a happy Valentine's Day. We went in and had a seat.

The decor was simple and yet warm, with lots of family restaurant touches and pictures on the walls. We ordered the house Chianti , which was actually very good. Marcie was at first put off but she sipped it and decided she agreed.

"To our first Valentine's Day," she toasted.

"To my redheaded Valentine bombshell," I said, clinking my glass against hers.

The staff were friendly and pretty attentive. The waitress was apparently charmed by us, and commented on how I stood when Marcie left, pushed her chair in and was "such a gentleman."

I witnessed the jealous Marcie for the first time when she returned from the bathroom. "What was that girl saying to you?" she asked.

"She said it was nice that I help you sit and stand up when you leave," I said. "She told me I was a gentleman, nothing much else."

"Uh huh," she said. "She'd better watch it. Do you think she's cute?"

I shook my head "No" as I sipped my wine. "Not my type," I said. "She's way too blonde, way too young and seems pretty naive."

"Yeah, well, she can keep her fluttering eyes and her blond hair to her naive self," Marcie said. "And you better not be looking at her."

I slid out of my seat and into Marcie's bench, moving her over. I kissed her and leaned into her a little and whispered, "I'm all yours, so just either enjoy the wine or you're cut off."

"Oh, ho ho, I am going to be cut off now, huh? You think so? Really?" she said, rather indignantly.

I had already met Argument Marcie, so I just kissed her and whispered, "Of course not, but I am with you, and I have something for you."

I changed the subject by reaching into my jacket and pulling out a little set of earrings I had bought her, made from moonstones. She looked at the vintage jewelry and smiled, and then shooed me to my side of the table before handing me a card. I still own that card, and cherish it.

The salad arrived and was delicious and fresh-tossed, the house dressing simple and light, but flavorful. The pizza won a very enthusiastic approval from Marcie, who found it to have plenty of tasty sauce and, "not too much cheese."

The only miss was the brownie, which my unrefined baking palate adjudged acceptable but Marcie's more exacting tastes panned wholly.

"Honey, it is totally dry like they just cut up industrial brownies and iced 'I love you' on it," she said.

I conceded, but had them pack it, as well, to avoid hurting their feelings. I eventually tossed it when she kept referring to it as "that nasty thing." She made brownies that weekend to "show me" what a "real brownie" was like.

As we waited for a taxi, which the DiMille's hostess called for us, she kissed me on the cheek and said, "Let's come back next year. It will be our little getaway."

I agreed to, and we came back every year except for the two we lived in Humboldt County. Last year, we ordered it in, just the pizza. It was our tradition, and we did what we could to honor it, though neither of us ate much that night.

Tonight, I will go enjoy one last heart-shaped pizza at DiMille's, half cheese and half pepperoni, with a table for two and a couple of glasses of Chianti. Perhaps I will dream of her tonight, and perhaps I won't. But I will never have that heart-shaped pizza again.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Chasing Marcie

*Warning* TASTEFUL adult stuff in this post.

So, when we left off, I was walking away from Marcie's house after our first (if platonic) sleepover with my jacket tied around my waist. Classes went by in a blur. I decided to call Marcie after a quick workout at the gym. When I got no answer, I headed back to my little hotel room.

"Hey, Frank-o!" the front desk clerk called to me as I entered.

His name was Gus and he was a retired Navy man with a drinking habit that had outgrown his pension but not his spirit. He always had a salty comment to make, usually to a greatly mirthful reception. I stopped.

"Somebody left you a message," he said. "Marcie called and said she'll see you in class tomorrow, she's working late at CVS."

"Thanks, Gus," I said, taking the message from him and pocketing it. "She's really cute, man."

Gus looked at me funny. Then he shrugged a little and spit his New York accent at me with a little barb. "Huh. No shit? You like girls, then? Hell, I thought you were a queer."

"Sorry to disappoint, Gus, but I like the ladies," I said.

"Yeah, yeah," he said. "Until one of them finally drives you into bad habits, too, huh? We're not so different, you and I."

Gus went back to reading the Reader's Digest, one of the little lodger hotels' subscriptions, pressing the button to buzz me in as if to dismiss me. He was a quirky old guy.

The night passed slowly, and the morning classes seemed to go on forever. Then, when speech class began, she was not there. Stood up! I knew angst for the first half hour of the hour-and-a-half class, wondering where she was.

She floated in while Ken discussed rhetoric and persuasive speaking. I turned and watched her walk in, shooting her a win. She rolled her eyes and slid into her chair, giving me a critical look.

The class dragged but we were let out early because we had had no break.

"Stop it," she said as I tried to hold her hand. "Hold on."

We were out of sight of the classroom when she finally let me take her hand. But she set her book bag down and slipped into a deep, wet kiss under the City College bridge that doubled as a plaza above B street.

"Come on," she said. "Let's catch the 7 and go to Balboa Park."

I picked up her bag and she held my free hand. We both had passes and within 15 minutes were at the Balboa Park Fountain. We strolled through the park and stopped in various places to kiss. we ended up making out for a long while on the western end's soft, unkempt grass.

"I have to eat," she said.

"What would you like?" I asked. "Some French food?"

"No, no," she said. "Just something simple. Are you hungry?"

I was less interested in nutrition than she was, but I nodded. "Sure."

We covered the ground between her house and the park in no time. She sat me down on her bed and turned on her television to the news.

Within 15 minutes, we were eating Macaroni and Cheese, the Kraft kind. It was a lifelong favorite of hers, thought not mine by any means. Some red wine helped wash it down, and we enjoyed a cigarette afterward. She told me we were being "very French."

She handed me the toothbrush I had used before

"Go brush your teeth," she said. "Close the door, too."

I did, and brushed giddily. There would be more kissing, at least.

I was on the right track. When she opened the door as I still brushed, she was in her robe. She slide it against me and I got the feel of her nipples against my back. She hugged me from behind and whispered, "Go finish out there," before she kissed my nape.

I was completely turned on and just threw the toothbrush into the sink and rinsed my mouth. I half expected her to shower or something, but she came out of the bathroom and turned off all but the nightstand light.

She stood silhouetted in her clingy bright green baby doll, massing her hair on her head with her hands, then clipping it in place.

"Well, do you need a written invitation?" she asked me.

"No," I remember I said. "But I do enjoy the view."

"Oh, that's cute," she said. "But you're sure talking a lot, aren't you. Are you nervous?"

I most certainly was not, but decided to show her, not tell her. My clothes practically flew off me and in seconds, I had slid my hands around her little waist and kissed her.

She giggled in our kiss but broke it and handed me a condom from a fresh pack in her purse. "Now," she said. "Or no way."

"Now" sounded really good.

Marcie was an amazing lover, even the first time. Before we slept, I remember holding her in my lap as I sat "Indian-style" on the bed in a gently rocking straddle as we talked and kissed playfully, somewhere between an afterglow and another go around.

"So now we have to slow down and get to know more about each other," she said. "I don't completely trust you, I just want you to know that."

I nodded and kissed her lips, smiled at her. "Okay, we'll do that."

She bit her lip and shuddered a little, then smiled at me, "But that doesn't mean we stop or anything. That just means there are strings attached, mister."

I nodded, looking up at her with what had to be a pretty sated, stupid, dopey smile. "Uh huh."

She laughed a little and kissed my neck, then set her elbows on my shoulders and nuzzled me. "Oh, my god, this is so fast."

I whispered in her ear, "No, it's ten o'clock. I think we're taking out time."

She laughed and kissed me, and sometime later that night we went to sleep in a tight, comforting spoon. I remember waking up to the smell of her skin, and sex, and golden, dust-stained rays of sun over the building's eastern side.

I kissed her neck and she slid against me. I remember feeling, secretly, that I was in love already, and I remember feeling great comfort in her little studio, tucked away together.

I am grateful that it was not the last time, but the first of many mornings like that, and I am pained that I wake and look for her still, until my mind remembers and my heart, and eyes, burn yet again.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The witch tree

Marcie and I used to often discuss the strange plants and animals that adorn our home and its vicinity in Normal Heights. One element of our landscaping which is a constant source of change and seems permanently out of tune with nature is a tree in our back yard which I take for a flowering dogwood.

Today, as I tried to get outside for some air (bad idea... the air tastes like a cloud of exhaust and made me choke), I noticed Seamus staring into the tree. Mind you, this tree has hosted hawks with fresh pigeons in their claws as they ate them, an owl, hummingbird colonies and even a woodpecker.

Even without those odd visitors, an early lesson in the environs here usually means I take note of Seamus taking interest.

I saw nothing, but then I realized he was watching the petals of the little white flowers on the tree as they drifted down onto the ground. I took a "Seamus' eye view" picture for you:

The cat's eye view of a dogwood

Marcie and I dubbed this tree the "witch tree" because of the creepy things that have fallen out of it over the years we lived here together. The tree, firstly, has a knack for dropping very well-aimed leaves down your shirt, usually the back of the shirt, in fact. It constantly sheds.

The leaves would not be bad, unless you knew what lived in the tree. The tree hosts a multispecies community of spiders. No, the tree is infested with spiders. I am not saying they are social spiders, but they seem to have plenty to eat as they multiply and winter over in the thing.

I can likely be fogiven for thinking, at first, that this lovely 12" construct was a webbed-up bat:

A grim cocoon

That thought, of a small mammal webbed up in that mass of tightly-woven but chaotic webbing, may be macabre, but it is wholly fictional, obviously. However, what is not fictional is that, in the many, many webbed clusters like this in the tree, one runs a good chance of finding black widows.

How do I know? Why, I am glad you asked.

The tree, when we moved in, was one giant nasty collection of leaves in webbing. When one day I decided to water our hanging plant, Marcie asked me to knock some of the webs down and clean the tree up a bit. Bad idea.

As I gleefully sprayed down the nasty chunks of dead leaves and branches, adding them to the growing pile under the tree, something caught my eye. A jet black, fat, lurching body clambered over the leaves from a soggy cluster of gummy detritus. I spray it and the round, clumsy thing flipped over for a moment. A big red hourglass stared back.

Squish. Buh-bye. Black widows are not fun. I don't like small animals which can kill, spider or not, useful or not. I kept working but then saw another. Squish. Then two more, smaller ones, and an immature juvenile whose more colorful pattern I recognized from an article on the latrodectus morphology. Squish-squishity-splorp.

There were other spiders, not all of them black widows, the bigger of which I sprayed away from me, the smaller of which I ignored. I could not believe how many of the widows there were, however, especially in a tree. I believed them to be more interested in being more hidden and near moisture and darkness.

I was rolling up the hose when I noted a black, shiny body nestled between my shoelaces, legs drawn in tight. I sprayed it off carefully and swear it tried to bite me as I did. Squish.

As if this entire experience was not getting unnerving, Marcie chose that time to retrieve some laundry. As she walked out and the occasional branch of deadness and spider fell from the weight of the water, a bag of black plastic fell and plopped onto the ground, scaring her and me both.

It was shaped like a little human.

Now, our neighbors at the time had children who loved to throw each others' toys onto our roof. In retrospect, I had no reason to think it was a baby, except for the meaty, wet splat the bagged form made. In other words, it had me thinking.

"Honey, go inside," I said.

She looked at it and then at me. "Just throw it away, honey." she said. "It's junk."

I checked it anyways. It was a cheap doll with a soft middle, covered in mud and obviously having gathered a lot of leaves. I dropped it back in the bag and went to toss it in the trash, when my grip set off a little wheezing cry.

"Maaaaaamaaa," it said.

I paused and got a shudder down my spine, then dumped it. As if did, I shook off a spider whose thick web was making it hard to shake, stomping it as it finally landed on the ground. Squish.

It was a fat, brown, "golden garden spider." But I was done with the creepy mess. I have never sprayed that tree out since, and likely never will. But Marcie decided that the tree would be called the "Witch tree."

"It looks like a tree a witch would fly out of on her broom," she said. "It's totally creepy, honey."

Or perhaps a bunch of spiders and a soggy, infested baby doll could fall out and cry for mama.

But that tree is just one of many little wild features and woodland creatures our abode sports. I will sprinkle in our experiences in that realm as we go along.

In fact, the white flowers mean that it is almost time for the skunks and possums to make their appearance and move in under the house. That's a lot more fun than spiders, by far. And a lot more story, too.

Home sick

So, I am home sick AGAIN. I started coughing late last night and the hacking just did not stop. I slept three hours and woke with my voice going out, almost late for work, with a massive headache, the pain of which went from my sinuses to the back of my neck. I hate the polluted, Santa Ana-blasted Southern California deathscape we call the environment, I really do.

I seem to have dried out, but I wake up every morning clogged, drain by noon, then just cough and try to stay hydrated. That is hard to do at a school district office where the heat is on even if the building is warm enough for reasonable people. It just dries me out.

I hope I wake up in passable form tomorrow. We are supposed teach a grant writing class at a school. I love that part of my job, actually. We'll see.

This is not today's post, but yesterday's needs a makeup, so I will post later (maybe twice). I'm a tired, sleepy guy right now. I wish Marcie was here to take care of me. She was always good at making the sympathetic noises I needed to hear when I was ill, whether asked to or not.

*Sigh* *COUGH!*

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Chicken Fettucine Alfredo Marcelina

I prepared Marcie her meal with some consideration which you may not find common in a recipe of this type. She told me she liked shrimp, so I cooked her some and added it in. She liked pine nuts, so I integrated those in a couple of ways, too. Finally, I did not use light cream but half and half (with a little added marscapone).

Chicken Fettucine Alfredo (plus shrimp)

1/4 lb shrimp, cooked as detailed below
1/2 lb fettucine, cooked al dente
2 tbsp marscapone (optional)
2 boneless chicken breasts, cooked and cubed
half & half (light cream is okay, too)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, OR Parmesan mixed with Pecorino Romano
1 egg yolk (you don't need all of it)
1/4 stick of butter

Alfredo Sauce: Take a handful of pine nuts and roast them lightly in a dry pan, then set them into a steel bowl. Mash them into a paste with a spoon while still warm. Melt butter in a small saucepan. Put half & half in, add the yolk. Beat until well-mixed. Add Parmesan cheese, reserving some for later, and heat gently, adding a tablespoon or two of marscapone, stirring it all until it melts into a thickish liquid.

Do not boil or bubble the sauce, if you can avoid it. Heat it until it steams a bit.

To cook the shrimp, clean them (if necessary) and toss them into a pan with a good olive oil (say, McEvoy Ranch?) and cook them until they are opaque and firm, adding a squeeze of lemon juice and some pepper to taste.

Toss chicken, noodles and shrimp. You can serve it sprinkled with the extra Parmesan or Parmesan/Romano mix, or step it up a little by broiling it for a few minutes in a casserole dish. Sprinkle the rest of the pine nuts (lightly roasted while you broil the dish) around the plate as a tasty garnish, with a leaf or two of basil to boot.

The recipe above, with all of the richest and most delicious additions, are what I fed Marcie. I recommend adding a wonderful greens salad with tomato and crumbled Gorgonzola and a balsamic vinaigrette.

Wine... Must. Have. Wine. Red is okay, as Marcie demanded that with hers, but a good Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc is good, too.