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January 2014

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Meatloaf with Hemingway

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The essence of a thing is always there in front of you she thinks as she wipes up the dirty paw prints the dog has just tracked onto the floor.

He closes the door and stands on his porch. Moonlit quiet echoes down the street across the ice and dirty snow banks landing on his boots, a sly seductress. A few deep breaths. He kicks a chunk out of the way down the steps into the stillness, tiny minutes ring in his ears as it chips away the silence. It’s January already.  Two things hammer on his mind. One can wait. But the other thing, the other thing is working its way in.

Her sleeves are falling down too far; she laughs at herself as she tries to pull them back up with her chin and nose, then resorts to grabbing the material between her teeth. There. She pushes her hands deep into the meat. Wet and cool. The other ingredients push to the side. It takes a while before everything begins to mix together.

Dark smooth movements at the corner of his eye. Chelsea’s cat has come from behind the bush and is rubbing against his legs, back and forth, around and around, circling for attention. He bends down for a minute rubbing the cat between her ears; the cat circles one more time like a silky scarf wrapping him in, then darts away toward some distant call.

The table isn’t set, but that can wait she decides. Besides… she never sets the table, why was she even thinking that…  she’s always been more comfortable leaving things loose, letting things fall into place at the right time, the right moment. A few hours more and things should be ready enough. This afternoon she and her daughter had gone to the music store and together picked out some new music. She’s going to be such a pretty girl she thought that afternoon looking at her young daughter in the bright milky light of a late January afternoon outside Starbucks. And we’ll have new music to play at the party tonite.

The car is just down the block but he decides to walk. Pulling up his collar, he lets out another long breath then pulls needles into his throat. I’ve gained a few pounds he thinks going down the steps and smoking again too. Well, hell, if he’s admitting things, he’s never really quit, just says he did, meaning to. She knew, but lately, well, what does it matter.  There’s a pattern in everything, isn’t there he thinks watching as a light snow starts to fall.

On his block the windows are dark, curtains drawn, but on Bank St. the neon blinks and traffic passes the corner store. Slush from car wheels sprays the air. The stop light turns green.  He crosses. The light from the bar blinds him for a minute, but inside it’s warm and the music wraps around the tightness in his chest. His friend waves him over. It’s over. But it never feels over he thinks again as he calls out to his friend, rush of talk fills the space around him.

“Listen,” he says a few hours later, a few drinks later, two decisions later, “I’ve gotta get going.”

He knocks on the door with a soft rap then goes on in knowing people are already there. He stands in the doorway, the long table in front of him filled with the familiar Friday faces. She jumps up, “I made meatloaf for ya, baby!” and goes and hugs him tightly. “Meatloaf” he raises an eyebrow, “my favorite.”

“I know,” she says walking off to get him a plate.

He takes up my guitar and starts singing. The Friday night dinner party again. Hem and all of us still changing our stories every week, sharing the jolts, the hollow parts too, enemies of ourselves sometimes…

But the old habit of estranging ourselves lightens in the light evening banter…

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Lunch for Dinner

We’re 27 days into an extended Christmas holiday and can I just shout “This is awesome, this is fantastic!” even if we seem to have adopted a swaggeringly decadent lifestyle. Like one of those family pop bands, up til midnight (even the 9 year old) gorging on movies, swimming in the night pools then hot-tub hopping, stealing saltwater taffy from the sales desk, little white waxy wrappers strewn around the apartment along with piles of wet bathing suits. Boxes of pink strawberry yogurt coated O’s and chocolate for dinner at 10. Beautiful!

All this to say, it’s fairly clear that all that should be expected from this post is a sand bucket filled chocolate induced haze of a recollection on the beach of the meals we might have had…

From Canadian blizzards to the milder temporary snows of the mountains of Virginia then onto the acceptably warmer sands of the Carolina coasts, traveling for a month with two children, a puppy, a husband, lots of devices with extensive amounts of cabling and sometimes various extended family (cabling not included) is a crazy thing to do, but like they say, sometimes those unconventional ways which at the time seem farfetched, are the events you remember most fondly later on.

On the road, we let our expectations of a meal and what a meal can mean – expand. Breakfast becomes lunch, lunch becomes homemade tomato soup at a cozy diner where the adorable waitress sits down and chats with us the whole time. Dinner becomes a spontaneous group of Mom’s longtime friends around plates of rice and every vegetable in the drawers with a sauce made from a dressing with lots of extemporaneous salad topped with berries and nuts. The children enjoy the nonsensical rhythm of these traveling meals where they never know what they are going to get when (though it better be familiar or at least have cheese on it) and with whom they might sit beside to get it.

It’s the morning of our last day and the ocean is roaring and the wind is wafting through the windows and like all good things that must end, the sting is the weather is only going to get better when we leave. When I ask the children what meal they remember most from this trip this is what they have to say:

Eldest: who favors the familiar in food, but prefers happenstance, remembers a sunny day outside on the patio bowls of macaroni and cheese for lunch hearing the girls just up the street playing outside running over to their house inviting them over then a hike along the river trail altogether chatting with her local friend through the forest trail.

Youngest: who favors the fancy but not the unfamiliar remembers “9” – a new restaurant in Wilmington, North Carolina where we had a New Year’s Dinner at 5pm. We were the first ones there when it opened, the decor warm and pretty windows and couches. The waitress brought foccacia bread with swirly butter and there was a sign saying homemade doughnuts for dessert. Guess what was for dessert to celebrate the New Year?

Andrew’s favorite was an impromptu holiday dinner talking with a surgeon who had lived on a submarine for 40 days outside Russian waters tell about the process to acclimate an injured diver and lots of other complicated things which I can’t understand well enough to write here, but which were riveting in detail.

My favorite meal was the beginning of the trip at the Zees Grill in Niagara on the Lake in the twinkling forested dining room while the children were brought room service, Andrew and I dined on truffled potato angnolatti’s with cauliflower puree with garlic confit, toasted almond and black pepper crumble with crispy kale and soba noodle with house made miso and sweet chili sauce with sliced garlic, bok choy, cauliflower, mushrooms and pickled ginger with toasted cashews, shaved cucumber with a cilantro and daikon salad. Every mouthful was unbelievable! And from my leather seat and bark place mat, I could anticipate our upcoming holiday and do what I love to do: oversee all the possibilities.

But now we are at the end of this holiday journey. Next week we must get snapping… into this 2014 New Year chop-chop-lickety-split, get out the door in your snow boots on time!

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Republic of Dinner Parties

When we were young, and our parents were so big and loomed large over our every landscape, it was with curious jealousy that we watched as they descended the staircase on Saturday nights in bright orange dresses, green shirts, artificially stiff hair. Their usual pointed attention was lightly diffused as the cologne and perfume that mixed in our nostrils, like some foreign food market, shocking our systems into caution. Their usual eagle eye now blind to our indiscretions. Why weren’t they telling us to stop eating the cookies that we were munching on leaving crumbs along the carpet? We weren’t even in our pj’s yet. The truth was – they were looking forward to something. They were going out and we were to stay in… Life was so unfair. We wanted to go too!

As a kid, I often fantasized about picnics. Especially if I was in school and the day was dull and life felt monotonous. A soft pretty blanket, a bright red maple tree, maybe a meadow. Definitely a big basket full of cheese and mayonnaise sandwiches, several frosty bottles of root beer with swirl straws, and slices of chocolate cake with high frosted peaks. Me and a friend, a sunny day. Best of all, under that maple tree sipping our soda drinks, we would be laughing like hyenas. Did a dog just scare a flock of geese into the sky? It was some little occurrence that we both caught, that we both recognized. My cheeks would get hot and red the closer and more detailed the images rolled through my head.

Picnics seemed to be a big metaphor for friendship.  The same way the air was charged with anticipation when the parents were going out in the evening with friends, was the way I felt about picnics. The basket of food was window dressing for the possibility of laughter, secrets, a few shared dreads over bottles of root beer. It was the potential of the story unfolding, the relief of laughing at it all…

To me, the dinner party is the ultimate expression of being cozy in a community of friends. But for many years, up to my mid-30’s, I lived all over the place. My community was the person I met that day. It was excellent fun even if my friends & family thought it was crazy that all my belongings could fit into the back of my car. I never felt that need to settle in with nice sofas and real bed frames. So I roamed around and spent a year here and a year there. I lived with a musician in a studio apartment in the Back Bay of Boston and took writing classes. In L.A. I lived with filmmakers and worked on commercials way out in the desert. In Maine, I lived with a local family and roamed the coast making photos and making friends of lobstermen and novelists.

So, now, here in my 40’s, with the devoted husband and young kids, we’re back full circle. The Republic of Dinner parties. Not much changes. We all want to be invited to the party. We all want to be in the warmth of the glow of glamorous friendship and the effervescence of the dinner table conversation… The ultimate fun is being invited, is getting to go out, and often it’s making the party yourself.

Dinner Party Blog On!

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