Tuesday, May 26, 2009


"Rise early, and sharpen your knife."
Czech saying

""I hated the vain turd on sight."
character Billy Leo about con man Geoffrey
in short story "Geoff In Disgrace"

"If you sit beside the river bank long enough,
the bodies of all your enemies will float by."
(All countries have some variation of this)

"You can smell him before you see him."
Lyndon Baines Johnson about his enemy,
conservative journalist Robert Novak

"You should always enter a room in such a way
that your enemy feels the day is not as sweet as before..."
Ernest Hemingway

Above all, "Illegitimi non carborundum" (Latin)
Don't let the bastards wear you down!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Mother's Day Haiku--Late But Sweet

prodigal's sunbrowned hand
wraps mother in flowers--silk
scarf, from Africa

Monday, May 18, 2009

"Eat Me: The Food And Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin"

If you like good food and aren't afraid of hot pepper and sizzling spice, you'll enjoy Kenny Shopsin's book. Shopsin is the most ornery, foul-mouthed, and talented diner cook in New York, and his cookbook/memoir/rant will bust your sinuses open like his Brazilian Chicken Garlic Rice Soup.

As you read, you gradually become aware that, although Shopsin doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve, he's got one. It comes through in the fierce love and care he shows for his family. His book has a huge-lettered dedication to his late wife, the saintly Eve. His children have chosen to work side by side with their often-raging Dad. It's evident in the decades-long devotion he feels, in his own way, for certain customers. (For example, although Shopsin has an ironclad rule that he will absolutely not do takeout, a sick bed-bound customer and friend found that food "came around.") Shopsin treats his good suppliers like precious jewels, and remembers the sins of his bad suppliers with elephant-like clarity forty years after the event.
His attitude toward food critics can probably be guessed.
He can write, he can think, he's genuinely fearless, and judging by his recipes (which are excellent) he can cook like a madman. Toward the end of the book he says this:
"I have a lot of character defects, but reaching above myself in terms of my desires is not one of them. I don't pretend to like things or try to like them because someone told me to or because I think I should like them. I have no problem with my lack of sophistication when it comes to anything and certainly not when it comes to food. It is not necessary to tickle my palate with subtle nuances and exotic hidden ingredients. With food, I don't like subtlety. I like gusto. I think that is why I like Mexican food so much. You take a bite of good Mexican food, and it just explodes..."

Monday, May 11, 2009

Dahlias of the Storm

By early May, when my garden has the promise of green, I've almost recovered from a traumatic scene that takes place during every November's first big storm.
Typically I'll be in the livingroom, peacefully watching a favorite Marx Brothers movie. I'm eating Fritos Scoopers with tahini, and thinking it's almost time to put the three-cheese ravioli on the table. The windows are lashed by icy rain or some variation of huge record-breaking dumpings of snow driven by gale-force winds. I think how cosy it is to be inside, all warm and comfortable.
But as I stare hypnotized at the sleet flowers on the window, very slowly I realize that the storm is sure to bring about the season's first hard freeze. And at these words, the hair on the back of my neck slowly rises. Surely I didn't forget, once again, to dig up the dahlia roots and bring them safely in?
Five minutes later a puny figure can be seen in the garden, through the blizzard, frantically digging. She is alone, since she tried to persuade the family dogs to come out with her, but they were too smart. She spades furiously, trying to separate the dahlia roots from clumps of ice forming around them.
Swags of snow cover this figure and turn her into a shoveling snowwoman, or perhaps there's no snow but only sleety rain under a thunderously swollen black sky torn by zigzags of lightning, striking close. No matter; she digs on, cursing. She has to. Finally the roots are chipped and gouged out, and rushed to the house in a bucket as the snowwoman loudly screams "Shit!" It's painful to recall that only a week before, on a honey-scented, Indian summer afternoon, she had sentimentally admired a late rose.
Six months pass. Spring comes. I put it off, but the day comes, as it always will, when I have to go to the basement and open the bags of dahlia roots I'd sealed shut on that storm-driven night in November. I take a hard look at them. They look dead as nails: dried, shriveled, unpromising. They haven't made it, and it's all my fault. While I was lounging in front of Marx Brothers movies eating Fritos Scoopers heaped with tahini, the fragile dahlia orphans were perishing in the storm.
But then I take another good look. In the cold, dark basement air, it almost seems as though there is a minute red ember on one of the roots. When I keep looking, very close, I gradually see that each root has one or two tiny red fronds. They are sturdy, alive, and seeking the light. And that is all it takes.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Visiting A Smart and Kind Mighty Huntress Up North

Last Fall, during hunting season, we visited my sister Anne who lives close to Iron Mountain. This
is serious deer country. If you drive along the roads at dusk, you'll see deer coming down out of the hills and feeding in the fields like Biblical cattle. You will also see coyotes and black bears whether you want to or not. The wild world is very close up north, and humans live beside all those teeth and claws and bloodlusts without fear.
We went for a walk through the late Fall woods. Anne, who is a mighty huntress with her own deer stand, kindly pretended not to hear my squeaks of terror as a black bear crossed our path."You never have to be afraid of a bear," Anne told me, "unless it's a sow who has cubs. Then, back up fast!"
We walked through a light, pearly fog which turned the snowy woods into an ethereal dreamscape. Anne's beagle Babe added some horror movie elements as she bounded up behind us and proudly showed us the deer foreleg complete with stringy ligaments dangling out of her mouth. Finally she dropped the leg, and I thought to myself, "Thank God we won't have to look at THAT anymore."
But a minute later the fog parted to reveal Babe now running TOWARD us, grinning hugely, the deer leg snugly reinserted in her mouth. She repeated this manuever 70 or 80 times, dropping the leg, snatching it up, worrying loose a delicious morsel of the knee, or crunching up a bit of hoof, weaving and reweaving figure eights to show off her prize. Dogs never quit. This is one of the things I like about them, but not always.
Now, Anne knows perfectly well that I'm a yellow-bellied weinie who can't so much as think of words like Vein or Incision without growing faint and queasy. But she never loses hope that she can toughen me up. Her kind intention is that I'll grow to share her fascination with the natural world, no matter how raw and real. So she showed me where she'd field-dressed her buck, leaving a big pile of guts. Barely a grease spot remained. The coyotes, the black bears, the crows, hawks, raccoons, eagles, and Babe had all had their banquet at the Guts Buffet. But there was a tiny, mysterious, furry little animal chunk of some part or other. Anne pondered over it for several minutes, intrigued, tried to identity it, and finally tucked it snugly in her pocket to take home. She thought it was part of the liver or maybe the spleen, and was going to check it out on the internet when she got home. (My sister has won Best Science Teacher in Wisconsin awards, and I'm never surprised.)
Then we went back to her log home, and in front of a crackling wood fire we had savory, tender venison stew, chunks of delicious meat breathing garlic and caramelized onions and mushrooms. With this we had a swashbuckling red wine from Anne's own grapes, "a bossy wine with shoulders," she said. After this came berry pie with thick cream.
Then Anne went to the computer, intent on checking deer anatomy charts so she could identify the furry animal chunk she'd collected in the woods; while I grabbed my notebook, sat in front of the fire, and recorded impressions. And we were both very happy.