It’s All About the Gravy

I was watching the semi-finals of a children’s cooking competition show this morning, when a small ten-year-old boy began to make gravy for his roast pheasant.  I realize that the fact that a ten-year-old can roast a pheasant is the real story, but for me the story is always about the gravy.

I saw him pour the drippings directly into the pan and “Oh No,” escaped my lips, “He can’t…” I whispered.

An older boy nearby stepped over and asked him, “Are you starting with a roux?”

“Yes, a roux, say YES,” I willed him as he up-ended a bag of flour straight into the pan of drippings and the older boy backed slowly away.

“NOOOOOOOO!!” I howled alone in my living room causing the cats to both exit to somewhere quieter.  Even they knew this was considered a high crime against the culinary arts to create gravy in this manner.

Growing up my mom made gravy every Sunday to go with our Roast Beef and mashed potatoes.  That was Sunday Dinner, a large chunk of meat, a potato dish and a veggie dish. Sometimes the vegetable was green beans and sometimes carrots.  I always felt cooked carrots were only edible with gravy – most food is.  And if I didn’t want to eat them, I could bury them in the mashed potatoes.

As a child of six my part in the gravy making was a small one.  Being eye level with the stove created a safety issue so I was given what tasks I could do that kept me busy and out of trouble.  It was my job to shake a baby food jar of flour and water.  This was the thickening agent my mother would use–a thoroughly shaken (not stirred) flour and water mixture.

The meat would be removed from the pan and set aside to rest.  Amid the drippings of fat and broth, bits of cooked onion, my mother would add water and stir to remove any stuck bits from the bottom of the pan.  As she deglazed the pan, and I don’t know that she ever even knew this term for what she was doing to flavor our gravy, I shook the baby food jar.  I would shake and shake as I danced around the kitchen.

“Is it enough?” I would ask stopping several times to have her check it before she would finally say, “Yes, now.”  The lid would come off and it would be stirred into the simmering base.  The color would shift from a dark brown to a light tan as the flour-water was fully incorporated and began to heat.

“It’s bubbling!  It’s bubbling!” I would announce indicating that I felt it was nearly done.  My mother would stop stirring it with a fork and turn the heat off.  I would hunt for a ladle in the drawer of utensils while she got a medium sized bowl out of the cupboard.  The gravy boat was for holidays.  On everyday Sundays, a bowl was good enough for the gravy.  

Only then, once the gravy hit the table, was everyone called in to eat. Inevitably, my father would recall the first Sunday dinner my mother made just after they were married in the late 1950’s. Friends were invited and there was an uncomfortable pause prior to eating.

“Which one is the gravy?” my Uncle Tom had asked.  Apparently, it was far from obvious that it was a liquid.  Oh dear!  No worries, she continued to make Sunday dinners and over the years the gravy improved greatly.

I don’t know what my mother’s method of gravy making was called, but when I was in college, I learned to start gravy from a roux: equal parts butter and flour.  I learned to melt a stick of butter (that’s universally a half cup) and then add to it a half cup of flour.  This would be blended together with a fork until a thick paste was created.  It was a beautiful dark caramel colored paste.  Slowly, very slowly broth would be poured into the pan and stirred quickly with a whisk.  The whisk made a scraping sound against the bottom of the pan like a whisper.  “Stir, stir, stir,” it said.

When my roux-based gravy was complete, it had a silky finish and coated a spoon perfectly (the doneness test).  It was not chunky or lumpy and never so solid that it required verbal confirmation to differentiate it from the meat dish.  After making it once at home, I became the official family gravy maker and we never saw the baby food jar again.

When I moved out on my own, my first solo Thanksgiving dinner included my roux and the silky result.  I was impressed that somehow, I had managed to get each dish to complete at the same time.  That my mother could do that always amazed me.

I have never been one to entertain and now, being gluten free, my old friend the flour roux was no longer an option.   Being single at the holidays leads to inevitable invitations from well-meaning people to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas with them.  Sometimes you get to help with the cooking, sometimes you don’t.

I used to offer to make the gravy but I don’t anymore.  One woman saw me using an entire stick of butter and seemed to feel that I was attempting to kill her family with fat. I was unaware how afraid of wonderful things like butter and bacon she was.  It’s really very sad.

What was her preferred method of making gravy?  With the giant turkey resting on a platter in the middle of the kitchen island among dishes of cranberry jelly and sweet potatoes and stuffing, she opens a cupboard and pulls out a bag of flour.  She up-ends it into the pan of drippings and starts to stir the dry powder directly in.

I nearly fainted the first time I saw this.  Now my stomach just flip-flops a little as I thank God that I am gluten free and won’t have to eat it.  Yes, it clumps. Yes, it lumps.  After it bubbles and thickens, but never enough to coat a spoon because that would mean patiently waiting for the flavors to develop and the broth to reduce, she pours the watery liquid through a strainer to captures all the lumps whether flavorful or flour.  Into the gravy boat it goes, where it stays until long after the meal is over.  That is one thing that is remarkably different from my home growing up.  We never had leftover gravy.

The gravy the little boy served to the judges on Top Chef Junior had been allowed to thicken, perhaps a little too much.  The camera zoomed in on it being poured from the spout of the gravy boat and it wouldn’t.  It wouldn’t pour.  It was coaxed out onto the plates and the judges very kindly told him what a nice flavor it had.  He went home that episode.  He was a lovely, kind, sweet little boy and one day he will learn that all gravy should start as a roux.

Others will never learn.

 

#cooking #gravy

Blogus Postus – Look at the Photo

God creates things.  Man labels them.  Man labels them and classifies them and organizes them.  I think it gives man comfort in controlling some aspect of his surroundings.  I’ve never been much of a fan of labeling, though I am an ace sorter and organizer.  I think labeling leads to most of the issues we have between humans.  I can see how it helps us make sense of the physical world around us – all the pieces parts, animals, plants, movements, sounds, physics – all that.  When the labels seek to separate, that’s when problems arise.

When I was little my older brother would catch butterflies and bugs for his collection.  He would pose them on a straight pin piercing their stiff little bodies and carefully mount a label containing their common and Latin names underneath.  I recall him telling me once that I was a very frivolous person, not having the same interests as he in more intellectual pursuits.  I read fiction, I liked comedies – what a waste of time!  To him.

I have attracted a recent follower on Instagram who feels an intense need to go through my nature photos and identify not only their common name but their Latin name, origin, family (those are the wrong labels, I am sure).  I admire that he has all this information in his head.  My mind simply does not retain it.  It is far too cluttered.  But what about the photo?  Did he like the photo?

He is nice about it.  He adds the comment with all the proper information. I took the photo for a reason.  I used that angle and that light and that subject for a reason.

I can’t even remember the name of my favorite TV shows or bands.  “You know the show with Sheldon.”  It makes me laugh.  “You know that band that sang that song about potato chips.”  I can’t even remember the song name but I love the rhythms.  I probably only remembered the potato chips because I was hungry.  I can usually remember the lyrics if the song is playing.  (That isn’t very impressive though, is it?) It isn’t that those things are not important to me. I just can’t lay my mind on the information in my brain to recall it at the moment it is needed.  I can remember it later, sometimes.  Faulty wiring, I blame on a medication I was given over twenty years ago.

I said to the doctor, “I am missing words.  Easy words like…you know…a pet, four legs, barks.  What is the word for that?”

The doctor said it was stress, not to worry about it.  Then a week later took me off the medication saying that it was contraindicated that I remain on it this long.  I think I could have drawn upon the words for a response to that.

I now find myself feeling guilty that I do not know exactly what type, among the million or so, mushrooms I took a picture of yesterday.  I hesitate before I share it because I sense that this follower would like it to be named.

If I waited until I identified officially from the many handbooks I do have for mushrooms, wildflowers, birds, etc., I would never get a photo posted.  I learned early on that it is almost worse to incorrectly identify on platforms like Instagram or Facebook.  There is always someone out there lurking in the dark shadows of the network that is waiting to correct you.  It’s what they need to do.  And they do it with a sick sort of enjoyment as though it were a contest that they won.  You know them.  The grammar ones have been round to your place, haven’t they?

What if when I stop at the woods today, there are more I do not know the name of? (Grammar Police just ignore that preposition, it’s also something I do.)  Do I stop taking pictures?  Probably not, it’s what I need to do, much like it is what this fellow needs to do to name everything. I suppose these are our roles.  I take the photo.  He identifies the photo.  If he is incorrect, someone else corrects the label.

Look at photo, though – that angle, the depth of field – you love that fuzzy background, don’t deny it.

Look at the photo.  Label it, but tell me how it makes you feel.

 

 

 

Blame the Sixties

I am often glad the my mother died when she did.  I remember just two months after she died, was September 11, 2001.  I couldn’t locate one of my brothers who I knew was either in New York City or Washington D.C. on a rare vacation.  Phone lines were so jammed they all went down and it was difficult to communicate with anyone the first day or so. Everyone walked around in a stunned silence.  I was glad in the months following that my mother never had to experience all of that.

I am glad she isn’t experiencing what we are now.  There are a lot of things I thought would have changed since I was growing up in the late sixties and early seventies.  I thought we would be “further along” in our progress in a lot of areas.  I suspect we could be but there are mechanisms in the way keeping us from it – money, power – those things often prevent illnesses from having cures, lives from being lived, freedoms from being enjoyed.

I know people who exhaust themselves running about on social media railing at injustices and the horrible state of our country and the world.  Mom would have shaken her head at them.  She would know how little change they are going to bring about by ranting and raving and only looking at the negative. She would only have to glance around in her own community to know what to do and how to help – quietly, locally, personally.

There are so many things that the shouty people obsessed with newsbytes fail to notice.  Things that are going on right in front of them, the things they really could make a difference at if they reached out and touched the living in their communities instead of only believing in the ones on their screens.

I am not a shouty type (I am like my mom in that way) – it takes a lot to get me to that point.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve written my rants to the newspapers way back when that was what you did.  I still have a couple of the clippings. My mom did not agree with my point of view at the time, but she accepted that I had it and was proud of me for speaking my mind.  I’ve changed a lot. I don’t speak my mind as much as I used to.

I absolutely believe, perhaps naively, that if you keep an eye on the negative, but promote positive alternatives, positive solutions, positive events, that the love and kindness inherent in the positive will grow and the negative will shrink away.  There is far too much over-sharing and over clicking on the negative in the world today.  It deepens wounds.  It infects and it corrupts and it fails to really provide a forum for the good that is out there if one is willing to look for it, stand by it, lift it up and shout about it instead.

Good can heal.  Bad can heal, but it heals in a twisted, stunted manner.  Good can heal and continue to spread and grow.  Over time my world has become very small for many reasons.  Perhaps that limiting feeling has actually been a plus for me.  I notice the world closest to me in minute detail.  I feel the sounds, taste the colors, listen to the sensations….It’s the physical world closest to us in which we can affect change. (I wanted the verb there to be “effect” change, it feels more powerful, but the grammar gods say no….)

I think overexposing yourself to the negatives eats away at your soul (or your character if you don’t think souls are a real thing).  Look at anyone who has had to live with an overly negative person.  It feeds on them.  It hurts them every second they are exposed and they grow into a life where they share the same negativity.  We learn from those closest to us.  I think obsessing over the negative is eating away at the core of people and when they share the negative it is as though they are sharing a nasty disease with their closest friends.  Why would you want to make your friends sick?

The worst thing you can do for an enemy is validate them by constantly thinking about them and worrying about them and saying their names.  Stop speaking to the negative, the evil – speak about the good, shout about the wonderful, only voice peace, love and kindness.  It’s okay, I heard you groan just there.  I heard how kum-ba-yah it sounded myself.  (Blame the Sixties – I read a lot of Flower Power propaganda and listened to a lot of pop music.)  But it is true.  You attract what you put out there.  The more negative you put out there, even if you are only sharing “news” with others, is going to come back at you.  Don’t you deserve better?  You do, you deserve better.

Sure, when I do this, when I walk around trying to get people to smile, I get knocked down once in a while, like last week when I tried to connect with the clerk at the ticket counter at the movies.  I walked away and could not participate in her hate, her anger, her negative speech.  It hurt my feelings quite a bit that I extended a smile and words of kindness and they were essentially spat upon and ripped to shreds in seconds right before my eyes.  But it is her loss.  I won’t accept her negativity.  It’s catchy and best for me if I am not near it. I will move on to the next person and try again.  One person at a time.  We can make a difference one person at a time, because of the ripple effect.

What if people tried, just for one day, to ignore all the bad news and be with those closest to them connecting over the laundry or walk in the park?

What if people tried, just for one day, to experience their community instead of their politics?

What if people tried, just for one day, to share  their spirituality instead of their religion?

What if people tried, just for one day, to connect their souls and not notice skin color?

Everyone has an identity  and that includes their politics, their religion and their race.  Those things are important.  But as we move about the planet, couldn’t our identity be less about the labels and more about what’s on the inside and our mutual hopes for a brighter day?  We really only have today.  Not one of us is guaranteed tomorrow.

 

Excerpt from “Every Kinda People” written by Andy Fraser, sung by Robert Palmer  (I really miss him).

“It takes every kinda people
To make what life’s about, yeah
It takes every kinda people
To make the world go ’round

You know that love’s the only goal
That could bring a peace to any soul
Hey and every man’s the same
He wants the sunshine in his name

It takes every kinda people
To make what life’s about, yeah
It takes every kinda people
To make the world go ’round”     (from https://goo.gl/eACQHY )

 

Maybe listen to it here:

The Pain of Others

Anthony Bourdain has committed suicide.  I don’t know when or how.  I do not need the details.  The news is enough.  He follows so many others.  I can’t think of anyone who would have seen this coming.  But we didn’t know him. We knew only his persona.  We knew only the personality he created for television and that wasn’t likely a good reflection on the real man.  Who was he when he was home alone with his thoughts?  We can’t know that.

We can’t know the pain of others. That is the statement we hear most often in these situations.  Some of us do know.  Rarely can we even share our emotional pain with others in words they can comprehend.  I know I can’t put it into words and I actually enjoy putting things into words.  But to put into words things that are bothering me or setting me off can feel embarrassing because of the emotions that escape along with the words.  I don’t like people to see that emotion because I don’t want it to be interpreted as weakness.

I allowed what I will call the “concept” of suicide into my brain when I was in my late teens.  I was experiencing a roller coaster of emotions that I now know was far more attributable to hormones and diet (gluten and processed sugar) than any insurance coded mental illness.

After several years of trudging back and forth from class and work to a community mental health center, I remember asking a therapist how other people were able to claim disability while I continued to acquire a degree and work full time through my constant cloud of depression and pain.  She said I was “too high-functioning” to be considered disabled.  I was better off without the label, but I lived a lot of years with the cloud and pain.  I glad at this time in my life that I never accepted that label or any of the others from the psychiatric community.  I wasn’t disabled by this problem for which I had sought treatment for decades.  This was not me.

I kept moving forward, the pain beside me, a constant companion.  Once in a while it would sleep in and I would have the unique wonder of a day without it.  Then we would meet up again and I would be reminded.

Most people would say they didn’t know that I battled with this for over twenty-five years.  It was not who I was.  I was creative and smart and thoughtful and curious.  I was a reader and a writer and an artist.  I was getting things done and making more lists.  I was high-functioning.  I wasn’t just depressed and emotional and sad and in pain.  It was there, but it wasn’t who I was.  If you have your own companion, you know what that feels like for you.  It is different for everyone.

The problem is that once that concept of suicide was allowed into my brain it never goes away.  It’s like that idea that once you are an alcoholic, always you are an alcoholic.  I am always going to be suicidal…because I once was.  It was once an option, it will always show up in the options list when I run down the numbers and see what might be.   It just doesn’t get chosen.  (I will admit, it is a little haunting.)

I saw a lot of different therapists and some psychiatrists.  I have had so many different prescriptions over the years that I can’t even tell you all of their names.  Currently I have no therapist and take no prescriptions to support that old companion.  Here is the advice I would offer to someone with a pain companion.  If you don’t seem to be making progress towards a prescription-free, mostly positive existence without the cloud of pain/frustration/depression, perhaps your therapist or the chosen therapy isn’t the right one for you.  If you have doubts, move on. Keep looking.  Keep trying new things.  Something will eventually give you the life you deserve, one with some smiles and laughs and peace in your mind.  There is something or someone out there who can help you.

 

Be kind to yourself and your friends. You don’t know what they are experiencing.

 

#depression #mentalhealth #suicideprevention

 

Moisturize More

I look at the backs of my hands and wish that I had used more moisturizer.

I noticed in my thirties that the tip of my index finger on my right hand was permanently turned in from years of school work and my own extracurricular writing in spiral notebooks full of stories.  Crayons, pencils and pens. Today the first knuckle on that same finger seems to have a knot on it even though I switched over to typing everything twenty years ago.  I could not write as fast as my mind strung together words, thoughts and images.  I could almost type that fast.

The tall finger on my right hand was stoved twice in one week in failed attempts to learn to catch a football in high school.  The swelling in the first knuckle never completely left that finger, especially after that wasp stung the very same joint on a visit to Notre Dame College in South Bend, Indiana years later. I’d driven over to visit with a man about a magazine project we were trying to get off the ground.  It was a beautiful Spring day to sit outside at the college and chat.  I hadn’t even seen the wasp.  But I felt it.  Poor finger turned to stone and would not bend.  For several weeks it appeared I was flipping people off indiscriminately.

I can still see the scar from the tiniest cut right at the base between the middle and ring fingers on my left hand.  I was putting away a bowl of tuna fish salad.  I had too many things in both my hands and was trying to hold the fridge door open with one foot when the salad bowl began to tip.  I hated to clear the table and I hated to make extra trips.  I was always carrying too many items at the same time.  I flipped my hand to catch the bowl against the door and the slight impact caused the glass to break and one piece sliced my hand.  I didn’t feel it, that is how slight it was.  Suddenly there was just blood mixed in with the mayonnaise, eggs, onions and tuna.  That certainly isn’t appetizing.  The scar is that slight too.  No one would ever notice it, except me and my memory.

There is some arthritis in both hands, I suspect.  When I clench them into fists out of frustration, I feel it, the fluid that builds up in the joint and keeps the fingers from closing into an effective fist.  Not all of them, just the two pointers.

I once had my palms read in a booth at the Renaissance Fair.  It was not what I expected sitting down at her table the wind blowing my hair that I had just had braided at a booth nearby.  The braids were too tight and starting to pull on my scalp, but I loved braids, so the headache later would be worth it.  What had I expected in a palm reading?  I was thinking there would be identification of lines and projections based on them.  That is not what this was.  She took my hands in hers and started to rock back and forth.  She looked at them and began to mutter over and over the same words.

“You never done nobody no harm.  You never done nobody no harm.”

It started to freak me out a little and I wanted my hands back.  I got them back and thanked her, getting up and moving to the other side of the fairgrounds as quickly as possible with her words echoing in my head.  They still do.  I think I feel I have done people harm, but then, my idea of harm could be a negative thought.  Perhaps she was right.

My mother’s hands were soft and caring, but misshapen from decades of hard work. She helped

when my father built our house in the fifties: a two-bedroom cape for a large family to come.  She helped him build the garage the year I was born: 1961.  She worked inside and outside the house nearly every minute that she was awake from before the sun came up until long after it had moved beyond the horizon. She gardened vegetables that her hands cleaned and canned for our table.  Her fingers organized three meals a day, every day, then cleared and washed the pans, dishes, silverware and counter-tops. Her fingers managed all the typing work she did on a used and very heavy old Royal manual typewriter.  Her typing supplemented our family’s income especially when my father was laid off.  There was laundry, sewing, mending, painting, scrubbing floors and walls, weeding the garden, cleaning fish, peeling endless piles of potatoes. The list goes on.

Hers were soft from constantly moisturizing with a heavy though luscious looking hand cream called Pacquins Hand Cream.  “For Dream Hands, Cream Your Hands” read the ad from a late 1940’s magazine I saw on eBay.  It sounds a bit suggestive today, as all old advertisements have a way of sounding.

My mother was very specific in her preference for the original one in the jar with the purple lid– not the Pacquins Plus one or the fancy one with Aloe (both of those had “funny” textures to her).  They just didn’t work the same. She was constantly washing her hands, so the heavier creamy lotion was essential.  It became hard to find as the beauty industry exploded in the eighties and nineties and it wasn’t considered hip enough for the shelf space at local drug stores.  Then it disappeared altogether.  The only product I ever found that was comparable was the Lubriderm with the pink cap.  Well, it was pink at the time, they may have changed it.

My hands do not look like hers, like my mother’s.  I took in typing to make money during college.  I sewed until I realized I would never be as good as she was. I have not done nearly as much work as she had to do to raise a family, keep a house. I don’t do either.  I worked in offices.  I have always lived alone and was never quite as concerned with clean walls and food stores for future as perhaps I should have been.

I look at the backs of my hands and wish I had used more moisturizer.  The cuticles around my nails are always worried into sore spots and callous.  I picked at them with other fingers during classes and presentations and meetings and parties.  I picked and drove hard nails into them to remind myself where I was and that there were specific ways to behave and think. I rubbed them to calm their bloodied tips as assurance that whatever event would soon be over. I hid them embarrassed in my pockets or wrapped around each other so that no one would see.

I have been obsessed with hands for some time now. I have a file on my computer with images of other people’s hands.  I like to capture their hands at work. Hands are creators, engineers, artists, musicians. They are comforting and connecting and they can be angry and defensive.

My work was fear and discomfort and anxiety.  It has shaped my hands the way housework shaped my mother’s hands.

They could all use some Pacquins.