Lucky?

My new Pharmacist is staring at me like she’s just witnessed the return of Michael Jackson. Ok, maybe not. But she is definitely giving me a very strange look. Clad in sensible shoes, glasses, her dark hair in a ponytail and her white coat, she personified her position in the medical community. Complete with a pen in her pocket and a pill cutter in her hand. She had a nervous tick, I suppose, and constantly pushed her glasses up towards her forehead, although they seemed to be in no danger of falling off. A leftover childhood habit, I guessed. She probably wore glasses that didn’t fit.

Had I been less nervous, I would have most likely amused myself by piecing together her life story by observations. Higher degree, but young. Her parents had bought glasses for her that were too big at an early age. Plain hair, no makeup. Well spoken and definitely educated, but without any pretenses. She actually likes her job. A woman’s shoes are a direct snapshot into her soul. Sole? Super high heels, designer styles, anything providing an escape from her daily wardrobe either signifies a sense of adventure or insecurity. Paired with too much makeup, insecurity. Paired with a sensible outfit that draws attention away from and not towards her choice in footwear indicates emotional bravado. Her? Her shoes indicated a sense of confidence and a preference for comfort and performance over style and emotional jangle.

I had just requested a forty-five day supply of medication to take with me on a vacation to Florida. A camping trip. With my wife and two-year old toddler. I was beginning to wonder if I were insane, but I really feel like we need this trip. My significant other and myself have been tense for a while, we need a vacation: We need some space long enough to acknowledge that we are still human and we do in fact still love one another.

As any recovering addict knows, the scars left behind from years of suffering on both entities don’t go away very soon. Trust issues are still there, despite how much you both try to dig them out. A simmering anger sometimes boils for no reason, often over something as simple as making the bed, or ordering a three dollar movies. There is no reason behind many of the emotions that you go through, and you can only ride the ebb and flow of the emotional currents as they pass. They do pass.

But now, standing in front of this very intelligent young woman who is responsible for providing me with enough medication to keep me alive and just as importantly act as a liaison between my insurance company and my doctors, I’m not thinking of any of that. I’m worried. The Insurance Companies now have the upper hand in these transactions. They determine and interpret the doctors prescriptions so that they can pay as little as possible in keeping you alive. It is a sad truth, but it is truth, nonetheless. For whatever the political reasons, this is where we now are as a society. So, I was a bit antsy in awaiting her questions.

When they came, they were not what I expected. She pushed her glasses up, studied the screen, and then me. Back at the screen. Me again. I quickly began to feel guilty, as if I were somehow stealing the very medication keeping me from fertilizer. “You have cirrhosis?” It was not really a question. She could see that, right there on her screen. I nodded. She read more, pushed her glasses up again, and stared at me. “What I have here,” she tapped the screen,” indicates that you should be dead. Personally, I’ve never seen anyone make it past one year after developing cirrhosis from drinking this badly.” She studied me again, this time tapping her teeth with her pen. I was about to lose my mind with anticipation. Was she able to give me the medication or not? Damn it. I don’t need a prognosis.

“I’d say you are very, very lucky.” She glanced at my running clothes, soaked with sweat and back at her screen again. “You take really good care of yourself, and the medication seems to be working. But diet an exercise, and of course, not drinking are the things that most people are not able to control. They usually feel too bad to start a program of wellness to begin with.”

“I’d say you are really one of the lucky few.” I stared at her for a moment. “How many times have you had paracentisis procedures?” I shrugged. I was thinking, do I get my medication or not? She made sure I had enough, checked my vitals, looked into my eyes and wished me luck in my travels.

The man behind me was horribly jaundiced, with the abdominal swelling so typical of patients like me. His breath reeked of ketosis. Alcohol fumes seemed to leach out of his skin into the environment, as if he were a poison cloud, breaking apart as we watched in horror.

I stepped outside. Out of habit, I looked up. It was cold, but the sun was shining. The beach seemed to be so far away, but a reality. I’m leaving with my wonderful wife and my precious son to enjoy the warmth. I really am a lucky man.

Daddyhood: Children and Expectations

Nolan concerned over the Sourdough Starter's "Death"

Nolan concerned over the Sourdough Starter’s “Death”

I’m watching my son while he watches T.V. These moments of observation will become rare as he gets older and begins to demand his own privacy, mostly likely in his room, then the inevitable abandonment of dependence as he moves throughout his early and later teen years.

At the moment, I’m content to think of none of those troubling thoughts. The future is murky, and best not studied too closely. I live more in the present than most people, I think. It is a result of many years of uncertainty, of poverty as a child and again in my twenties, although the latter was self-imposed and provided me with a sense of invulnerability and confidence in my ability to survive.

Now, I am just grateful for every day. I’m overwhelmed by the responsibility placed upon my shoulders by this gift of a son. I’ve learned to adapt, even in two short years. At first, I swore he would never watch television. I conceded my point and found an alliance: Internet television provided me with the ability to filter movies and shows and disable advertisement, which is mostly aimed at providing empty calories exploited by the remnants of arms manufactures held over past their prime after WWII and the Cold War no longer needed their services to render standing objects into their atomic states.

I am mostly uneasy that these same government sponsored entities are now entrusted with the nutrition of our children through subsidized global farming and the proliferation of cheap food ingredients. So far, I have held fast to my goal of never serving my child processed or “fast” food. Will this last? As long as I can make it my decision, it will. When it is his decision? Of course he will eat McDonalds, Taco Bell and Burger King. Hopefully, these institutions will have attempted to clean up their act by then, but that is only hope.

Of course, these foodstuffs won’t kill him. Not immediately. But what about painkillers? Or mutating strains of virus? What about the legalization of marijuana? I have long been of the opinion that it doesn’t matter – how do I feel now?

What about alcohol? What are my expectations for him? To never drink, not anything, not ever? That is most likely irrational. But, my own battles with addiction make it hard to think of the substance and my son in the same cogitation. The parallels are too great.

My sister says that expectations destroy free thinking and self-discovery. I agree. If my expectations, like my parents were, are for my son to somehow “better” himself in the American dream of increased wealth and disposable income, will that blind him to other paths? Will he simply revolt, as I did? My parents’ expectations of me were finally rendered null and void in a fury of disobedience and wanton self-destruction as I shrugged off the mantel of religion and short-term success. I chose a lifestyle far different than they had hoped, and even today they are somewhat confused by me, as all parents are by their children.

My father says that without expectations, the child will spiral in an endless void, with no goals to lead them or concerns to shape their personality. I agree. Without my parents’ expectations, I would have nothing to strive for non against as a young person. I would have had no direction, no meaning, just adrift in a current not of my own making, riding it through life, obeying the immediate whims of my conscious, as opposed to making my own way. I chose the dark paths at times, just for the experience of choice and the journey more difficult.

Will this impact my son? What will I do for him?

I will just be there, every day I can, teach him what little I know, and pray for wisdom. He is growing and changing every day – I can barely keep up.

I’m going to keep previewing what he watches on T.V. I will give him a tablet device, as it is part of his world, no matter how much I dislike it. I would not raise him to be wantonly ignorant, wallowing in the pride and self-righteousness of religious cults and hierarchy. My great hope if for him to be experienced and wise beyond his years, following his parents in a careful journey of this world.

I want him to be computer savvy. I also hope that he will have the ability to shoulder a small pack, vanish into the world and be o.k., better than o.k. I hope he will be able to tango and split wood. I hope he can speak multiple languages and be at ease in any environment. I want him to be well traveled, yet grateful for home. I want him to be able to grow his own food, harvest his own protein, yet appreciate the sacrifices the earth makes to provide for him.

Is all this too much to ask? I don’t know. I’m just a Dad.

Obituary

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sourdough_0001(Easton, MD) RIP. Gwynevere Sourdough, (August 6, 2014 – January 10, 2015) was laid to rest today in a small tomb in a compost tumbler today. She is followed in life by her three sisters, Mulan Kimchi, Ariel Pho and Belle Kombucha. Her colors were orange and earth, and her grave adorned with Paradise Tea and Christmas Holly, who joined her in the everlasting ebb and flow of the circle of life.

Gwynny, as she was so fondly known by her friends and family, was responsible for many loaves of sourdough bread in her time here with us. Her Father and Benefactor, Hank Sourdough, age 47, offered a eulogy. “She was a hungry and often petulant child, who was meant for the warmth of the sun. It is with great poignancy to know she suffered from cold, but never from neglect. She sorely missed her mountains and the torridity of her beloved hickory stove.”

Her caretaker, Chef Ron, was not available for comment.

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Boots and Baby

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Dearest Son:

I’m proud of how well you behaved today. You drove your end of the shopping cart all over the store and didn’t hit a thing. When the pretty lady behind the counter offered you a cookie, you took it, graciously, even though you really didn’t want it that much. You even ate part of it while she was watching. That is called grace. Sometimes, I have that.

You sat up straight in the restaurant, talked on your phone to some Very Important People. You still made time to recognize the small folk, like your Dad, and the waitress. You chattered away to her and let her know you liked here, though her shoes were pretty and I think you complimented her on her hair. She was blown away by how well you handled your hot pizza and blew on it before offering her a bite. That is called charm. Most of the time, I have that.

You rode your bike, a new one, even though you are barely two. You managed to make me so proud when you coasted a few feet all by yourself. I was also astonished by your ability to jump into our bed, even though it’s low, by just placing your hands on the mattress. You caught a football in the sporting goods store after you threw it into the air all by yourself. I’ve never seen a child do that before. Not age two. That is called natural athleticism. That is from your mother. I don’t have that.

After catching the ball, you played hide and seek with me all over the store. Most of the time, you let me find you. You were also content to wander about the store on your own, not knowing exactly where I was, but not looking for me either. You are already expressing your independence, even at this early age. That is called confidence. I used to have a lot of that.

You were quick to straddle a new bicycle in the store, taking off before anyone could get into position to help you, not thinking of the consequences of falling, or getting hurt, or what other people thought. That is called fearlessness. I used to have a lot of that.

You carefully read your book at dinner, engrossed in all the new pictures, and looked over each page carefully while drinking your milk and finishing your pizza. I was so proud at how you have developed so far. That is called intellect. I have been accused of having that, too.

When you fell off your bike later, you almost caught yourself, but not quite. You managed to turn yourself around, almost impossibly, to break your fall. Your head was too heavy. You still almost managed to stop your journey to the concrete floor but I was there, and I caught you. That is called agility. I still have that, thanks to you.

Just now, you would not stop trying the buttons on my thermos until you discovered for yourself what they did. That is called curiosity. Keep that trait. I have.

You have big feet. The doctor said so. You are tall and thin, as I was at your age. Being naturally thin is a good thing, it means you’ll be healthy later on, if you take care of yourself. I didn’t do that.

You make good decisions, already. You can differentiate between what is right and wrong, what is scary and not, what will burn you and what will taste good to you. You also try to never hurt anyone’s feelings, demonstrating a natural ability to read into a situation and do the right thing. I have not always done this.

You like to brush your teeth, take baths, get plenty of sleep and eat good food. You avoid things that are bad for you. I didn’t do that.

There are lots of things I didn’t do, but that is not what life is about. You already know this, even though you are two. I wasn’t even supposed to be your Dad, but I am. I wasn’t supposed to live long enough to be at your first birthday party, and we just celebrated your second. That is called stubbornness and luck. You have that too. You are my son.

With you at my side, I went through a lot of things these past two years. I had fluid drained from my abdomen twelve times. I had a really hard time with addiction and recovery, which I should not have had to go through, had I been smarter and wiser, like you. I was operated on several times, once by mistake, but I pulled through, knowing that you would be there with your sense of humor, loving smile and with your Mom in tow, even when she didn’t want to be, sometimes. I wasn’t the best Dad, and I’m still not, but I try. That is called being tough. You are tough. You are my son.

Now, as you are safely in bed, I look at your boots and mine, as you placed them side by side before you took your bath. It makes me cry, a little. But I am happy. I am your Dad. You are the best son I could have ever wished for.

I love you, son.

Daddyhood: Frozen and Preschool

I am one of those lucky Dads, through virtue of some creative financial juggling, a terminal illness, some creative talent and an independent and driven wife who happens to be the number one wedding photographer in Virginia, gets to stay home with his son. In a society that still, despite all of our predictions of the contrary, sets an unfair paradigm on couples for the male to be the primary financial provider, it can sometimes be difficult and even embarrassing to be a stay at home Dad. It’s also very edifying intellectually to observe my son’s behaviorisms compared to other children his age, who have been placed in day care in other more orthodox alternative environments.

This is not to say that raising a child outside of day care, in the absence of nannies (except when Mom & Dad really, really need some time alone) and with both parents usually present or more or less equally involved in a child’s development is the right thing. I don’t know that it is. None of us will really know. Children are resilient, no matter what. Toddlers have survived in hunter gatherer societies for thousands upon thousands of years. If not for their survival, we would not be here, right?

But day care can be a very touchy subject. Parents who choose Daycare or Preschool over alternative, stay at home options are often defensive of their decisions. Men who choose, either by virtue of their disposition or financial analysis to stay at home are even more defensive. As one of those men, I feel much the same way.

I’m not accepted, for example, on playgrounds where the majority of caregivers present are women. It doesn’t matter the ethnic or societal of the populace: I get strange looks either way. Most mothers ignore me, with a few notable exceptions who are simply thrilled to find a man occupying their world. In the environment of adolescents, I am either a suspected creeper, a lazy father who can’t or won’t work, or someone for mothers to pour out their hearts to in scenes eerily reminiscent of absolvent repentance.

I’ve learned to mostly nod and listen in those situations, which happen more than you would think. I’m southern, educated and I was raised by some very strong women. The women in my life as a child ruled the house with an iron fist. The man may bring in some money, but the women? They planted the gardens, raised the children, slaughtered the animals, stored all the food, prepared all the nourishment and paid all the bills. I have a lot of respect for women in general and mothers in particular.

There were two events that have really jumped out at me lately. Soon after moving to a new location, I visited a local bakery. It was upscale, and appropriately priced. Coffee was around three bucks, and cookies were about two dollars. Each. That is a bit pricey, but they were really good cookies and cookies are what my son lives for right now. that and Bubbles. both words elicit a very excited state of behavior for him.

We dropped the cookies on the floor. We were both at fault, as I didn’t have him properly secured when I picked up our plate of treats, and he over-reached in a lunging attempt to seize the prize. We stared at one another, my son and I, as we grappled for a decision together. We arrived at the same conclusion: We would pick up the cookies, continue to our targeted seat by the window, and eat them.

So we did. the mothers present, in their full regalia of ultra tight running pants, extremely bright running shoes that had only been to coffee shops and Whole Foods, matching socks with a water and wind proof top, completed by a conservative yet bouncy blonde ponytail, were very disapproving. One mother even dared so far as to raise her voice so that all could hear. “Where is his Mother??

then there was the “Frozen” moment. I released him into the wilds of a very high end toy store. Every single child in the store was planted firmly in front of a large screen T.V., which was relentlessly bombarding them with Disney’s latest financial marvel. Nolan sailed into the room, glanced at the screen, paused for a moment and my heart stopped. What would he do> He shook his head a moment, talked to himself, and proceeded to the trainset and engineers blocks, kitchen set and carpenters bench, where he pretended to build, cook, and destroy lots of things while happily rewinding the train over and over.

For some insane reason, I was so proud of him I nearly cried. Maybe I am doing something right. Maybe.

2015 Food Predictions.

Maybe I’ll be right. Maybe I’ll be wrong. Either way, it’s fun to think of. Here are a few of my food predictions for 2015.

1. Out: Specialty Bacon. In: Serrano Ham.
2. Out: Artisanal Olive Oils. In: Small Batch Butter.
3. Out: Truffle anything. In: Artisanal Salt.
4. Out: Smoothies. In: Kombucha.
5. Out: Gourmet Burgers. In: Classic American Cheeseburger.
6. Out: Duck Fat Fries. In: Deep Fat Sweetbreads.
7. Out: The Chipotle Effect. In: Real Small Restaurants.
8. Out: The Celebrity Chef. In: Cooks.
9: Out: Specialty Imported Coffee. In: Broth.
10: Out: Organic. In: Local.
11. Out: Beer. In: Small Batch Ginger, Sorghum and Tea Brews.
12. Out: Whole Foods. In: Small Local Markets.
13. Out: Crazy Expensive Imported Chef’s Knives. In: Refurbished Military Issue High Carbon Kitchen Blades.

Some other thoughts: Out: Convection Ovens. In: Kitchen Hearths. Out: Pizza Stones. In: Ceramic Pizza Tiles. Out: Crazy expensive designer kitchen appliances. In: Used professional kitchen appliances.

We’ll see! Welcome to 2015. I’m so excited I have to pee. Then I’m going to bed. I’m going jogging in the morning after yoga class, before broth and after sourdough toast with marrow butter.

Christmas Menu, 2014

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The Story of Our Christmas Dinner

My journey into cooking is a long and strange one. I grew up under the tutelage of two Grandmothers and my Mother. In Deep Appalachia, food was one of the few attainable status symbols. Sure, you could take out a loan and buy a car; a Cadillac even! It fooled no one. Everyone knew that it was paycheck to paycheck and one step away from being repossessed.

Food was another matter. Great pride was taken in the harvesting, canning, preserving, pickling, smoking, drying and compiling a larder. The family with the biggest root cellar, often still the only reliable refrigeration when I was a child, won the envy of all the other people in the holler.

As I progressed from the counter to the floor, to the garden and to the yard, my responsibilities grew accordingly. The oldest of seven, I was expected to care for the chickens, keep the critters out of the gardens, barter eggs for honey and my grandfather’s white lightening for pig.

Pigs were harvested once a year, usually just before Christmas, based on the signs and weather. We needed three days of near freezing temperatures to safely prepare two or three pigs for the year. It was hard, brutal work. But oh, so delicious. My grandfathers and uncles would shoulder the task of dispatching, butchering and preparing the young boars for the women to preserve. They canned pork, rendered pork fat, seasoned pork belly, fried everything, made sausage by hand and smoked the rest.

Like all families in Appalachia, ours was full of legend and lies. The truth, though, was for the tasting. I grew up with traditional Mountain Cuisine and Cooking Techniques, but with a twist. My family used more spices, herbs, hot chili peppers and molasses than other families. Our food had an Asian twist.

The story is this: A long time ago, just after WWII, after the Asian-Americans, mostly Chinese, were released from concentration camps in the U.S., a wandering Asian man stopped by my Grandmother’s House. Like all red-blooded Americans at the time, she hated Japanese. This wanderer assured my Grandmother that he was NOT Japanese. We never knew what happened to him, what his real name was or where he came from. His story is lost in the mist of the mountainsides as he hunted ginseng, which was his main source of income.

He stayed with my Grandparents for a time, along with their parents and the Matney, Cochran and Cree families who made up our community. His cooking influences found their way into our food, becoming a permanent mainstay for generations.

As time passed, the old recipes were lost and forgotten, until my sister and I began our own quest in culinary adventures. We found that, amazingly, the tastes and sensations we crave and remember from our childhood were to be found in home Thai, Vietnamese and Cantonese cooking. So, with a nod to my ancestors and their fables, here is your Christmas Dinner.

With much Love, Ron, Laura and Nolan.  

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Menu

Starters:

Duck, Duck Goose. Marinated Duck Liver, Rare Sliced Thai Style Duck and Goose Breast

Assorted Pickles, Southern Style

Antipasto Platter

Marco’s Famous Oyster Casserole

Main:

Smoked Muscovy Duck

Smoked Boar Butt with Thai Molasses and Chai Tea Glaze

Soup Beans

Collard Greens

Chicken and Pork Terrine

Corn Muffins

Deviled Eggs

Desserts:

Red Velvet Cake

Peppermint Ice Cream

Assortment of Christmas Cookies