Dinner Music

I wrote this after a trip back east in 2009, but if I posted it then, it got lost in an archive save, because I don’t have it anywhere. I found it when I was looking for a piece of flash-fiction to edit into something else, and decided to post it anyway.  Aunt Molly, mentioned in the piece, died in 2015 at the age of 105.


The comforting burbling of a percolating coffee pot is the bass note to a symphony played by silver, ceramic, and porcelain softly clinking against each other. It’s the kind of sound most people would never notice, but in an Italian family, the dining table isn’t just where food is spread, but where all the good conversation happens, and conversations like that don’t exist without coffee and pastry – cheesecake is preferred, but a crumb cake will do.

Last month, I spent eight days on the east coast, first at my aunt’s wedding, which occurred in a rambling old, cold summer house in Amagansett, NY, and then in and around a small fishing village in New Jersey, which was once mainly populated by summer folk as well, though now most of the homes are occupied year-round.

In both places, while there was singing to be heard, and various forms of recorded music as well, the melodies that mattered were those created as we sipped endless cups of coffee, nibbled on a broad array of desserts (including crumb cake), and chattered into the wee hours of the morning, picking up threads of conversations that had been dropped decades before, or simply starting new ones.

In an Italian-American family, all the good stuff happens after dinner, when the food has been cleared away, and dessert has largely dwindled to a few crumbs. As a child, I would have been sent to bed before any of the really dishy conversation, but I have fond memories of hunkering down on the red-carpeted steps of my grandmother’s house, hiding behind the tall hutch that was set against the staircase, listening to the mix of English spoken in a New Jersey Neopolitan accent and Italian uttered in short phrases and single words, that nevertheless managed to convey images of sunny hillsides, deep red wine, and round, ripe tomatoes.

I remember my grandfather’s voice, belting from the diaphragm as he told a story, or corrected someone else’s version of a tale, or merely laughed. I remember my grandmother referring to my older cousins, as well as my mother and her siblings, as scooch (pest) or scocciamento (pain in the ass – pr. scooch-a-mende), or merely referring to someone as a “miserable wretch.” I remember laughter, always laughter, even on the saddest days. The concept of laughter through tears might have been mentioned in the movie Steel Magnolias, but Italian-American women live it on a daily basis.

As I grew older, I was allowed to have a seat at the after-dinner table – to play my part in the “Coffee Klatsch Cantata,” as it were. I remember rousing games of Canasta and Scrabble, and I also remember hearing stories about relatives who often were only names to me, or faces in faded photographs.

Being back in New Jersey wasn’t just visiting, it was, in many senses, going home. My grandparents may no longer be on this Earth, but my great-aunt Molly is ninety-nine and a half years old, and still remembers every story, every relative, every connection. Sure, she can’t walk any more, but she still smells of Taboo perfume and rice pudding, is always impeccably dressed, and if she falls asleep in her easy chair listening to the Italian-language news on TV that’s okay, because if you put her at the kitchen table and hand her a cup of coffee, she’ll instantly be bright-eyed, alert, and ready to trade memory for memory until the last crumb of cake is gone, and the percolator has grown cold.

As much as the folk music and show tunes I still sing, this is the music I grew up with. The harmonies made not by strings and percussion, but by the rise and fall of voices in conversation while food is being shared around a kitchen table.

Grandpa K’s Turkey, Stuffing, and Gravy Recipe

I originally posted this on 22 November 2006, and I have the original, typed, hardcopy provided by my grandfather, but I like to re-post it from time to time. Therefore, I present this again, in case anyone needs it, and because (American) Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away.

Turkey, Stuffing and Gravy Recipe
by Edward F. Klindienst

INGREDIENTS

  • Turkey and giblets
  • 1/2 to 1 lb. bacon (sliced)
  • 8 medium or 6 large onions
  • 1 bunch celery
  • 8 apples
  • 2 oranges or tangerines
  • 1 loaf stuffing bread (unflavored, pullman size)
  • Salt, pepper, and pumpkin pie spice
  • Optional: Cider or wine for stuffing

UTENSILS

  • Roasting pan (large turkey size)
  • Rack to fit inside pan
  • Aluminum foil (wide)
  • Collander
  • Basting syringe
  • Stock pot, 2qt or larger
  • Large pot (optional, about 6qt)
  • Frying pan with fitted lid
  • Steel skewers (4 inch) [Turkey lacing kit]
  • Knives, peeler, etc.
  • PROCEDURE
    Note: The following procedure, and the list of ingredients are the basic recipe. After you have tried it once or twice, try some modifications – change the flavoring, adjust the quantities, add things like mushrooms, raisins, a dash of garlic, let your palate be your guide…enjoy it.
  • STUFFING MIX
    • Bacon: Lay bacon on cutting board and cut across the slices in 1/4 inch strips. Fry the bacon in covered fry pan over low heat.
    • Onions: Peel and chop all but two of the onions. Place chopped onions in fry pan with bacon. Keep covered. Place remaining two onions in stock pot.
    • Celery: Cut the butt off the celery and place butt in stock pot. Separate and wash the stalks, save the tender heart for the table, chop remainder and add to fry pan. Put leaves and trimmings of celery in stock pot.
    • Apples: Peel and core apples. Add peels and cores to stock pot. Slice apples into fry pan and cover.
    • Flavoring: Add two level teaspoons salt, 1/8 teaspoon black pepper (or less, according to taste) and two generous teaspoons pumpkin pie spice to fry pan, stir well, cover and let simmer till apples reach consistency of apple sauce.

    Note: The less lifting of the fry pan lid, the juicier the stuffing mix.
  • THE BIRD
    • Remove neck and giblets from cavity.
    • Remove skin from neck. Discard skin. Add neck to stock pot.
    • Remove fat from heart and gizzard. Place heart, tail (if present) and gizzard in stock pot.
    • Do not add liver to stock pot, either discard it, or cook it and feed it to the dog (or cat).
    • Wash the beast in cold water, inside and out, both cavities. Remove all inedible items, if any. Remove any pin feathers left in the skin. Set the bird aside, let it thaw.
  • THE STOCK POT
    • Cover the contents of the stock pot with water and place over high heat till it boils, then reduce to medium or lower heat (just enough to sustain slow boiling).
    • Add remaining onions while waiting for the boil.
    • Cut oranges or tangerines in halves, squeeze juice into stock pot, and drop in the rest.
    • Add 1/2 teaspoon salt./li>
    • Add water as necessary to keep contents covered.
    • Cook till meat is loose on neck bones. When cooked, lift out meat (neck, heart, gizzard, and tail) set aside for “picking.”
    • Strain contents of stock pot through collander, pressing out all fluid. Save fluid for basting, discard pulp.


Note: Experimentation with flavoring at this point also pays dividends.
The basting fluids become the gravy.

  • BREAD
    • Cut bread into 1/2 inch cubes, including crust.
    • Place in roasting pan and bake in hot oven till dry and slightly brown, stirring occasionally. (A bag of unflavored croutons can be substituted for the bread.)
    • When bread is ready, pour into large pot, and add contents of fry pan. Mix thoroughly. If too dry, add fluid from stock pot, or a cup of cider, or after some experience, a cup of wine. (Caution is recommended with the wine, but the results are worth the trouble sometimes.) [MissMeliss says: I recommend the cider, actually, but if you do use wine, I’ve had great results with gamay beaujolais.)]
    • Any stuffing left over after bird is stuffed (both cavities) can be baked in a pie pan [MissMeliss says: We make extra on purpose.], etc. When both cavities are filled, close with skewers, and lace with clean string.
  • ROASTING PAN AND FOIL
    • Use two long pieces of foil (long enough to wrap over the turkey and the supporting rack).
    • Lay one piece across the pan lengthwise and press into bottom of pan.
    • Lay second piece crosswise and press down.
    • Place rack inside the foil. Place bird on rack.
    • Pour one cup of basting fluid from stock pot over bird. Wrap foil over top of bird, completely covering bird.
    • [MissMeliss says: By wrapping it this way, the roasting pan (if you’re not using a disposable one) is easier to clean, and the bird is easier to unwrap for basting.]
  • ROASTING
    • Preheat oven to 450(f).
    • Place bird in oven so it is approximately centered.
    • After 1/2 hour, reset thermostat to 350(f).
    • Cooking time on given on wrapper of the beast is usually reliable, if the bird is completely thawed.
    • If not thawed when placed in oven, fork testing is required. Beast is cooked when fork can be pushed into the flesh easily and withdrawn easily. Testing points are at the base of the wing (shoulder), thigh, and carcass under thigh (any place where meat is thick). [MissMeliss says: I know it’s trendy to cook turkey by internal temperature. The pop-up thing in a butterball is a guideline, not a rule, and the turkeys I use rarely have timers embedded. I never cook by temperature, just by fork testing – the juices should run CLEAR, btw – and I’ve never had an underdone bird or killed anyone.]
  • BASTING
    • Basting is IMPORTANT to flavor of bird, more so to flavor of gravy
    • At the end of each hour of baking , open foil and baste. Four or five syringe-fulls of basting fluid should be poured over the bird.
    • All fluid should then be picked up from bottom of pan and returned to the stock pot.
    • Then fill syringe twice and pour over bird.
    • Leave fluid in pan and close foil.
    • Return bird to oven.
    • The fluid recovered from roaster at each basting is what browns the gravy.
  • GRAVY
    • When bird is done, thicken fluid in stock pot with corn starch or flour. Amount of thickening will depend upon amount of fluid.
    • Add a little thickening at a time till desired thickness is obtained.
    • Stir well and be alert for boil-over. As soon as boiling starts, lower heat to point of slow boil. If violent boiling begins, lift pan off heat and stir vigorously.
    • Sneaky Hint: One final basting with gravy will often enhance browning of the beast.
      Sometimes produces a glazed look.

Good luck with your turkey, enjoy your meal.
Bon Appetit!!!

Poem: Monday, 4:05 PM

The reflection of the sun on the water
Is sending ghostly ripples of light
Across my windowpane,
As if I’m being visited by the visual echo of wind,
Or an aurora borealis known only to me.

A cursory glance at the pool
Shows no waves,
No movement at all from the water,
And the trees are not blowing with vigor,
But breathing gentle sighs
As their branches lift and fall
In arboreal shrugs.

In a few minutes,
The sun will sink behind the treeline.
The water will be cool and dead-looking
Instead of sunlit and alive,
And the essence of wind drawn in light
Will be gone from my view.

For now, though,
I’m content to sit here
And watch the wavy lines
Sketch temporary patterns on the glass.

It should be painfully obvious from this piece why I rarely attempt poetry. This is posted unedited, as I originally wrote it on 24 November 2008

From the Vaults: The Rep

Originally written in August, 2006.

He spends Tuesdays at the Dixon Hotel, drinking cheap whiskey and watching local comics at the weekly open mic night. He thinks he’d like to try, but compared to them he feels old, worn, grey. He still has suits in his closet, and wide ties, though he’s forsaken all in favor of business casual button-downs and khaki pants. Secretly, these clothes make him feel like he’s raided his son’s closet.

He spends Wednesdays at Barley’s, the pub on fourth street, because they serve free hot dogs if you order a beer. He’s partial to Becks these days, but he notices that the younger men, the ones who fit the word ‘guy,’ drink Bud and Coors and Michelob. Then he pretends not to notice.

The highlight of his day are the frequent calls to the office, where he greets the women who work his files with “Hi, beautiful,” and teases them unmercifully. He doesn’t know they talk about him after every call, or tally the number of times each speaks with him.

Thursday, he meets his daughter for a glass of wine. They talk about her husband, her kids, her job. He doesn’t mention his own work, or that he’s been threatened with replacement. They share an hour, catching up, and as he leaves, he kisses her forehead and says, “Bye beautiful.”

On Friday, he wonders if the women in the office know that he thinks of all of them as daughters he’s never met.

From the Vaults: In the Heat of the Night

Originally written sometime in 2005

Twelve-thirty in the morning, and it’s still over ninety degrees outside, the night air calm as death and twice as deep. I’m wearing as little as possible – a strappy red tank top and matching panties – and my hair is pulled up into a messy pony tail-knot-thing on the top of my head. Ugly, but effective, it keeps my hair off my neck at least. I’m trying to read, but it’s too hot to focus, so I just sit in bed and watch the dog sleeping on the floor.

The phone rings, and I answer it in a voice laced with sex, “Hey handsome. Coming home soon?”

The voice on the other end, my husband, my lover, laughs softly, and tells me he’s on the way. “Wait for me in bed,” he says, “I’m ten minutes from home.” I smile into the phone, and say I will.

He doesn’t speak a word to me, when he comes into the bedroom, just strips in the dim light from the stars and the street lamps. He kisses my lips, my neck, then tugs at my shirt. Minutes, and several more pieces of clothing, later, we’re moving together to the beat of the music from the bar down the street.

An hour later, we’re both laying in the bed, sweaty, sated, and sleepy. He whispers something about it being really good, and then, louder, murmurs, “Love you, baby,” and rolls over.

I lie there in the bed and listen to the sound of his breathing and the dogs, mingling in the darkness. I close my eyes, then open them, and stare at the moon, shining through the frame formed by the patio doors. Moonlight always seems so cool and serene, that for a moment I wish I could reach out and capture the glow, bathe in it.

Contemplating this, I fall asleep, or at least, I think I do, because the next time I look at the clock it’s blinking 6:00 in insistant red digits, and the air is, if not cooler, at least not as thick.

From the Vaults: The Gravity of the Situation

Originally written for The Alchera Project, November, 2005

Deanna isn’t a novice at singing, really, though she feels like one as this is her first Christmas concert that involves an actual church. Oh, sure, she sang with school choirs, had solos, made her entrance into community theatre at the tender age of ten, but somehow, standing with the other choristers in the cold sanctuary, the music is different, her heart is different.

The mood is broken when the puffy-haired woman next to her opens her mouth. Sure, Martha is a sweet old woman, sort of grandmotherly, and not a little dotty, but some people just should not be able to sing. The notes she offers forth with a flourish are not known to human kind. (Deanna wonders, idly if Martha is perhaps an alien, attempting to communicate, or an exiled mermaid, unable to produce melodious sounds unless under several feet of water.)

Midway through the verse, the director stops the choir, and asks each section to sing their part. When he gets to the altos, he pauses near Martha and makes a face that, thankfully, the woman utterly fails to see, so focussed is she on singing the correct words, if not the correct notes. He glances past her at Deanna, and the two exchange a look, acknowledging the gravity of the situation.

The next week at rehearsal, Martha is positioned at the end of the row, where the microphone cannot pick up her graceless warbling.

By the Numbers

My blog-friend Michael (aka WarriorPoet(2)) died last year, a veteran who fell, not to gunfire or missile blasts, but to cancer, at too young an age.

We used to challenge each other with memes and prompts over on OpenDiary, which also died, just a few months ago, of neglect, mostly – not by the participants but by the site owner who had moved on to other things.

I found this meme while sifting through archives, and thought I’d share it here.

10 words you like in your own language:
brilliant, decadent, fractious, glower, nostalgic, susurration, overzealous, tintinnabulation, zesty, zoetrope,

9 words you like in other languages:
allegro, attraversiamo, ciao, guacala, joyeux, melange, noir, pianissimo, scocciare

8 city names that are fun to say:
Albequerque, Boise, Carcassone, Istanbul, Marrakech, Tehachapi, Tuolomne, Waxahachie

7 words that make you uncomfortable:
autistic, cloaca, can’t, death, fear, truth, war

6 words that relate to your job:
creative, emotional, internal, nebulous, scary, undisciplined

5 words that describe someone you love greatly:
affectionate, forgiving, loyal, silly, understanding

4 words you would use to describe yourself:
improvisational, mercurial, sarcastic, vivacious

3 words that describe your pet:
canine, clingy, quartet

2 words that describe your higher power:
divine spark

1 word to end with:
imagine

Valentine…

valentine coffee

Happy Valentine’s Day. Several years ago, when I discovered this poem, it instantly became my favorite love poem EVER. For many years I posted it in my blog on Valentine’s Day. Last year, I posted a poem by Harold Pinter, instead.

As I write this, my Valentine is away on a business trip, so I won’t see him til tomorrow morning. Still, it seems appropriate to post this rather…earthy…celebration of love.

May this day be full of love and light no matter the status of your relationship.

Valentine
The things about you I appreciate
May seem indelicate:
I’d like to find you in the shower
And chase the soap for half an hour.
I’d like to have you in my power
And see your eyes dilate.
I’d like to have your back to scour
And other parts to lubricate.
Sometimes I feel it is my fate
To chase you screaming up a tower
Or make you cower
By asking you to differentiate
Nietzsche from Schopenhauer.
I’d like successfully to guess your weight
And win you at a fête.
I’d like to offer you a flower.

I like the hair upon your shoulders,
Falling like water over boulders.
I like the shoulders too: they are essential.
Your collar-bones have great potential
(I’d like your particulars in folders
Marked Confidential).

I like your cheeks, I like your nose,
I like the way your lips disclose
The neat arrangement of your teeth
(Half above and half beneath)
In rows.

I like your eyes, I like their fringes.
The way they focus on me gives me twinges.
Your upper arms drive me berserk.
I like the way your elbows work.
On hinges …

I like your wrists, I like your glands,
I like the fingers on your hands.
I’d like to teach them how to count,
And certain things we might exchange,
Something familiar for something strange.
I’d like to give you just the right amount
And get some change.

I like it when you tilt your cheek up.
I like the way you not and hold a teacup.
I like your legs when you unwind them.
Even in trousers I don’t mind them.
I like each softly-moulded kneecap.

I like the little crease behind them.
I’d always know, without a recap,
Where to find them.

I like the sculpture of your ears.
I like the way your profile disappears
Whenever you decide to turn and face me.
I’d like to cross two hemispheres
And have you chase me.
I’d like to smuggle you across frontiers
Or sail with you at night into Tangiers.
I’d like you to embrace me.

I’d like to see you ironing your skirt
And cancelling other dates.
I’d like to button up your shirt.
I like the way your chest inflates.
I’d like to soothe you when you’re hurt
Or frightened senseless by invertebrates.

I’d like you even if you were malign
And had a yen for sudden homicide.
I’d let you put insecticide
Into my wine.
I’d even like you if you were Bride
Of Frankenstein
Or something ghoulish out of Mamoulian’s
Jekyll and Hyde.
I’d even like you as my Julian
Or Norwich or Cathleen ni Houlihan.
How melodramatic
If you were something muttering in attics
Like Mrs Rochester or a student of Boolean
Mathematics.

You are the end of self-abuse.
You are the eternal feminine.
I’d like to find a good excuse
To call on you and find you in.
I’d like to put my hand beneath your chin,
And see you grin.
I’d like to taste your Charlotte Russe,
I’d like to feel my lips upon your skin
I’d like to make you reproduce.

I’d like you in my confidence.
I’d like to be your second look.
I’d like to let you try the French Defence
And mate you with my rook.
I’d like to be your preference
And hence
I’d like to be around when you unhook.
I’d like to be your only audience,
The final name in your appointment book,
Your future tense.

~John Fuller

Image credit: byheaven / 123RF Stock Photo

Dog Days of Podcasting: Sunday Brunch – Mail Call

letterboxes-615

Is it technically Sunday Brunch if I record it at 6:30 PM? Do I really care? The answer to both questions is NO!

The piece itself is the Sunday Brunch piece from 26 August 2012. You can read it, listen to it on SoundCloud, or play it in the applet below.

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/107216257″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

Dog Days of Podcasting

Dog Days of Podcasting: At the End of the Day

Dog Days of Podcasting

Yes, it’s morning, which for most of us is the beginning of the day.
Yes, this is a catch-up post from last night because I spent all day yesterday in the state of mind that Jo March would have referred to as a “vortex” and I call “extreme writey-ness.”

So, listen at SoundCloud.com, or just click the play button below:

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/106671572″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]