Here’s to Mt. Fuji

Standard

‘My favorite “Nope-I-Don’t-Eat-Sushi” Sushi Place’

I was in the Liquor Store Next To The IGA the other day, looking for my bourbon—”Hey, where’s Jim? Are you out of Jim?”—when Maureen Who Works There, after directing me to the spot on the shelf where Jim Beam now resides—”You moved Jim?”—remarked that she had recently been to Zakura.

“Zakura?”  I asked, thinking this must be some sort of Buddhist retreat or something. “What’s Zakura?” “You know,” she said. “The sushi place.”

“Oh! You mean Mt. Fuji.” Another customer in the place nodded along, “Yup, she means Mt. Fuji.”

Hungry for sushi stories? Here’s a yummy Ad World story: “Radio Days

Maureen was actually right; the sign outside this place does indeed say “Zakura,” and has for fifteen years or so. But, before that—ages before that—it was called Mt. Fuji. And that’s what everybody who goes there still calls it, “Zakura” sign be darned.

Could this be a sign that sushi’s for dinner?

Now, Zakura/Mt. Fuji may not be the best sushi restaurant around—or maybe even the better of our family’s two fabled sushi haunts. The late, lamented Shabu Shabu, the very restaurant where The Dude and I had our first date (and where I polished off a plate of sashimi for the first—and only—time in order to impress him) was probably better. (He said he loved sashimi, so by gum I was gonna order sashimi, not actually realizing that I was about to be confronted with a whole platter of raw fish without even any rice or little wrappers to kind of mitigate it.)

My prize for being a good sport and polishing off that sashimi: Dude Man on our honeymoon

Well, “Mt. Fuji” is still in business, though takeout only these days. But Maureen said it was pretty good so we’ll probably give it a shot. You know, to help things keep going—though it won’t be the same till we can sit there by the fish tanks and order up some gold flake saki.

Gold Flake saki. Yup, it has actual flakes of actual gold in it. They keep a stash of it at Mt. Fuji (excuse me, Zakura) just for us

But just talking about Mt. Fuji, though, unleashed a whole passel of pre-pandemic memories.

In the Before Times, we would go there almost every Sunday night. His Dudeness—and eventually, when she got older, The Child—would polish off huge platters of sushi and/or sashimi. When she was little, Her Childness would order the same thing each and every time: beef teriyaki with no sauce, white rice on the side. The staff knew her—and her order—so well, they would have it in the works before we even sat down. And you who’ve had little kids know how important it is to get them their food—and fast.

Speaking of getting food into hungry children fast, sometimes, on our drive out to Amagansett from New York City, which can take anywhere from 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours, I kid you not, we would have to stop at Mt. Fuji’s Southhampton outpost (still called Mt. Fuji) in order to tank up. There too they would have that beef teriyaki in the making before we even scored a booth.

Mt. Fuji was The Child’s very first restaurant. Though she didn’t have the beef teriyaki that time. That’s the glow of the sadly-departed fireplace in the background

Mt. Fuji is a real locals’ place—hence my spotting of Maureen Who Works at the Liquor Store there on more than one occasion. You will find no glitzy entourage-encumbered Hamptonites within, even though the place has gone through three or four attempts to gussy it up. It had a fireplace when we first started going there. Then the rustic interior was scrapped for a minimalistic vibe, which eventually made way for rows of tropical fish tanks. Which I like a lot, though it’s somewhat disconcerting to watch people eating raw fish next to live fish—just think what it’s like for the fish.

The Child and I at another East End fave, Gosman’s Dock. It’s a lobster shack. No beef teriyaki, so she ordered the pork chop

In fact, locals frequent the place so much that the entire menu of rolls is named after the “regulars.” There’s the Ted Roll, the Roger Roll, the Sam Roll. By golly, I bet there’s even a Maureen Roll.

The Child, ordering dinner. It must be pizza, since we never ordered sushi. It was more fun to go out for it. And we could

I doubt if I’ll ever get a roll named after me, “regular” though I am, since I never order rolls—or even sushi, for that matter. I’m strictly a chicken yakitori and steamed shumai girl. Sometimes, if I’m feeling wild, I’ll get an inside-out California Roll. Yes, for a person who lists a sushi restaurant as one of her faves, I don’t like sushi. But I do like everything else about Mt. Fuji/Zakura. Including the fact that one time I asked them if they had a raw egg I could take home.

And you betcha, like any wonderful local hangout, they were happy to oblige.

The Egg and I. I’m ashamed that I didn’t take them some of the brownies. But, heck. They got “gone” real fast

New York City. January 2021

 

 

 

“Pop” goes the weasel

Standard

‘My popovers? Not so much.’

First, full disclosure. The popovers portrayed in the photo at the top of this post are not of my making. They were produced by The Dude’s talented Cousin Christine, who is the daughter of the Best Cook — and Popover Maker — on the Planet Earth, Dude Man’s Aunt Eleanor.

Aunt Eleanor too busy enjoying a toast at her 90th Birthday Party to make any popovers

Why, back in the Olden Days, when I had first met The Dude, we would look forward all year to an Eleanor Christmas, when we would gobble up not only perfect popovers, but sublime roast beef accompanied by some crazy-good potato dish that was sort of like scalloped potatoes but on some whole other level of deliciousness.

(I could go on and on, but I promised I would write this post before lunch, and this is torture.)

I knew I couldn’t replicate the whole menu, but, silly me, I thought because Eleanor said that popovers were “easy” and that she “just threw them together” that I could make them too.

Dude, scanning the horizon for piping hot popovers. Er, make that piping plovers

Hah. I tried every recipe I could find, including — yes — Eleanor’s own. But my popovers flopped. They were wimpy and chewy and blech. Lucky for me, The Dude eats anything and everything so he didn’t really notice that my popovers were less than fantastic. Well, except for the time the oven caught on fire because the butter I’d greased the pan with overflowed onto the gas jets and burst into flames. That batch he noticed.

Popovers were not a Peterson Family Food Tradition. Lutefisk, yes. But I felt no compulsion to master that dish. See ‘Krampus is Coming to Town’ for deets

I stowed the popover pan in the cabinet on top of the refrigerator (where all sad utensils go to die) and tried to forget. It was actually pretty easy after Aunt Eleanor moved to Kentucky to live with her daughter, since no one else we knew made popovers. At least not when we were their dinner guests. Oh, I heard a rumor that her son Jack made a mean popover, but never got to taste any evidence. He lives in Florida most of the time; for all I know he’s whipping them up every night for his Palm Beach Pals.

Now pie I can make. After years of experimentation, I finally found the Holy Grail of Crust. And yes, Dude Man is having pie for breakfast here

So why, after all this time, did I try making popovers? Eleanor again. She moved away, true. But lo and behold, her daughter Christine turned out to be the apple that fell not far from the Culinary Tree. According to Eleanor, with whom I have frequent phone chats, Christine bangs out that roast beef dinner — complete with that heavenly potato concoction — on a regular basis. And makes stunning popovers to go with. (Again, see perfect examples in that photo up top. If you can stand it, that is.)

Something else I do know how to make. I can whip up a great batch of chili with my eyes closed. See ‘Paradise by the Kitchen Light’ for my secret

Eleanor: “Do you still have that popover pan?” Me: mumbling noncommittally E: “Well, you should get it out and make some popovers for The Dude (only she didn’t call him ‘The Dude’) for Christmas dinner.” Me: “I’m not sure I have your recipe anymore.” (Notice Lutheran Lie here; “I’m not sure I have the recipe.” Not “I don’t have the recipe.”) E: “Oh, don’t use that recipe. Christine found the perfect popover recipe on Cook’s Illustrated. I’ll get her to send it to you. But, oh. It won’t get to you in time.” (Aunt E still believes in clipping and mailing. She is an absolute dear, but doesn’t believe in technology like my internet-savvy mother.)

My Mom, not making popovers, but wielding her iPad and iPhone at the same time

“No worries, Eleanor,” I say. “I’ll google it.” “You’ll what?” “Never mind. I’ll find it. And I’ll text Christine when I do.” “What?

After some chat about books and politics and whatnot, we wished each other “Merry Christmas,” and after we hung up I set about googling.

Well! Turns out that one can find the Cook’s Illustrated popover recipe — and even read tantalizing portions of it — but one must get a subscription to get access to the whole thing. So I did. Signed up for a free trial subscription, downloaded the recipe and printed it out.

My beloved Garland Stove. Julia Child had this stove. Not this specific one, but still. Note two, count ’em two, ovens. One for the pot roast, the other for the popovers

I can’t ethically reprise it here, but suffice it to say that, even though Eleanor had sworn it was “easy” and had “only three ingredients,” this recipe reads like a chemistry experiment. The butter must be melted and “slightly cooled.” The milk must be “low-fat” and heated to “110 degrees.” (Who takes the temperature of milk?) Bread flour is called for, which my IGA does not stock. (Well, not true. In theory they stock it; it’s just never there when I am.) One must whip eggs till “frothy and light.” One must let the batter “sit for one hour.”

Well. I did it. Made those darned popovers. For insurance, I also made pot roast. I know how to make a fabulous pot roast. See “This Christmas is Going to Pot(roast)” for my method

The popovers turned out so well that I decided to make them for New Year’s dinner too. I swear I did everything just the same but, you guessed it, they were flops. (I would say “flopovers”, but they didn’t rise high enough to flop.)

Another shot of the successful popover batch — before they got devoured

And, to add insult to injury, when I tried to cancel my free Cook’s Illustrated trial, I had to do so by phone. And the wait time on hold — I kid you not; they told you this — was twenty minutes. Hah. Was I daunted? I put that phone on speaker and spent my hold time finding photos for this post. So there! And when the Nice Lady asked me why I was canceling my free subscription, I told her the truth: That I wanted that popover recipe, got that popover recipe — and that’s all she wrote.

Lunch. At last.

Amagansett, New York. January 2021

 

 

 

Silver linings in a Covid Cloud

Standard

‘I count my blessings instead of sleep’

According to my new Apple Watch (which, incidentally, does everything except the dishes), I slept 10.1 hours the other night. I mentioned this dubious figure to Dude Man the next morning.

“I didn’t go to bed until around 2, and then I got up before sunrise. So what’s with this 10.1 hours of sleep?” “It’s counting all the sleeping you do during The Crown,” he said, going on to explain that good ole Apple can tell when I “nod off” on the couch and adds that time to my total sleep. I, like my mother before me, am rather famous for my ability to “sleep read” or “sleep watch” without spilling a drop from the glass of wine clutched in my somnolent paw.

Latest creation-in-progress. Yes, I can do this while Crown-watching

And while I think Apple counting upright sleep is totally cheating, I suppose I should feel somewhat comforted knowing I’m getting more shut-eye that I thought I was. Ever since The Corona Craziness, I, like many others, have had trouble getting adequate Zzzzzs. All that wondering what the heck to cook for the 269th straight dinner, not to mention when in heaven’s name I’ll get to hug my Mom again will do that to a person.

Sometimes when tossing and turning, I try to think of some good things that have come out of this time of Conflict with a Capital C. Now, with New Year’s coming, it seems like a good time to count them up.

Here, in no particular order, are some silver linings, the first of which is actually silver:

(sings) Sil-ver Hair…silver haaaairr…it’s Christmas Time in the City

Embracing the Gray. Oddly enough, when I couldn’t get to my Hair Person anymore, and let it go, Dude Man didn’t even notice. So even when the Hair Care Ban was lifted, I decided to skip coloring. Which is awkward because Colorist Girl is married to Haircut Guy. Oh well. So I look like a silvery shaggy dog. No one sees me except on Zoom.

Embracing the Guy. I used to dread the time when Dude Man would retire and we would be Spending More Time Together. I had my life pretty organized, and couldn’t imagine how he’d fit in on a more-or-less 24/7 basis. But I’m happy to report that he doesn’t get on my nerves too much. Besides, he’s awfully entertaining. Mostly unintentionally so. (See photo of him at the top of this post blowing leaves in his wetsuit.)

Dude Man ignoring Danger Man while on one of our many Covid hikes

No more excuses. As you may know, “Lutheran Lying” means that you never lie; you edit. Back in the Before Times when a person I wasn’t particularly interested in hanging out with would ask, say, to have lunch, I would respond with something like, “Oh, I have plans that day.” Said plans could be eating a sandwich at home while reading a book. Now I don’t have to Lutheran Lie since nobody makes dates to do anything anymore.

Typical scene from our Family FaceTime calls. Thanks, Scott!

Last, and definitely not least, I’m spending more time with my family than ever before. True, this is not in-person time — see wish for Mom Hugs, above — but it is real. We five sibs gather on FaceTime every Sunday night to chat with our mother. At first the conversation was somewhat stilted; the technology was glitchy, the cameras pointed oddly, sound cut in and out. But as time went by, we relaxed to the point that we’d talk while cooking, while knitting, while walking down the street or riding in the car.

Well. I must say that wasn’t a very long list. But I bet if you think hard — sipping a glass of wine at the same time helps, though do try to stay awake — you’ll come up with a few silvery side-effects of your own Lockdown Life.

Staying inside has its upside

In the meantime, from my isolated little heart to yours — best wishes for a Happy (and Better) New Year.

New York City. December 2020

 

 

This Christmas is going to pot (roast)

Standard

‘It’s high time to bring back that classic.’

As I wrote in my sort-of-whiny and somewhat-navel-gazing post last week, I’ve practiced a rather opt-out attitude toward the Holidays in the past few years.

Some years my “decorating” consisted of switching the turkey napkins for the reindeer ones

I remember only too fondly and well the famous Marilyn Christmasses celebrated at my late great Gramma Peterson’s when I was a kid. Nat King Cole on the stereo. Gumdrop tree on the table. A luxurious evergreen so bushy and tall Aunt M would often have to crop it so it’d fit in the living room. (We believed her when she told us the top, complete with angel, was in the bedroom overhead.) 

A Marilyn Christmas Classic: The Cousin Lineup

After that, during Dude Man and my Early Married Years, there were the amazing Aunt Eleanor Christmasses: lobster, shrimp and, if you saved room, an incredible roast beef dinner complete with popovers. Gramma Whitmore, who made it till a week before her hundredth birthday, would hold court while Eleanor cooked, champagne glass in hand.

Festive Whitmores live it up at an Eleanor Christmas

Then, when The Child entered our lives, we marked the Season with our Tree Trim Party. (See “(N)o Tannenbaum”) Where, like Tom Sawyer, I tricked my friends into doing something I didn’t enjoy (substitute tree decorating for fence painting), then rewarded them with a pot roast dinner with all the trimmings. This Seasonal Highlight was repeated for nigh on 15 years.

Christmas Crackers were deployed — and crowns worn — at Tree Trim

Time, as is its wont (a favorite word, “wont”) marches on. And those Christmasses are gone. With all those wonderful traditions haunting my memories, it’s hard to muster the proper spirit to establish a new one. So, instead, we’ve focussed on Thanksgiving, and sort of glossed over Christmas. Some years Dude Man and I even fled the country.

In a rare year that we did not flee the country, we got Chinese Takeout for Christmas Dinner

Last year, though, I managed to rustle up some pot roast for The Child and the BF (now The Beau, praise the Lord) before we left for Christmas on the Amazon. I hadn’t made pot roast in years — had to call my Mom to remind me how to do it. But it turned out so well that The Beau begged me to make it again when they (safely; pandemic precautions having been made) visited this summer. Me: “Sorry; I adore you, but pot roast is just not happening in August.

Last Christmas, when we had a tiny tree and a large pot roast

In fact, The Beau loved the pot roast so much that I “gifted” him my cast iron pot roast pot. (I just had to say “gifted,” a term I find vaguely hilarious. Why not just say “gave,” a perfectly good word that already exists?) He likes to cook, and, besides, we were downsizing. Now, ironically, that same cast-iron pot, after having been lugged to Boston in a backpack on a train, got lugged right back here this summer and stored in our attic for the time when The Affianced Couple is no longer living in an RV. (See “Her Personal Truck” for cozy details.)

Before the pot roast pot got stored in our attic, it did pandemic duty as a no-knead-bread pot

Incidentally, The Child just texted me wanting my pot roast recipe. She’s up in Canada chez Beau’s Clan after having successfully quarantined and I guess she wants to impress them. Fingers crossed she can locate a suitable pot. The one in the attic is way too heavy to ship.

Meanwhile, guess what I picked up at the IGA just this morning? Yup, a nice chuck roast that I plan to “pot.” I decided it was high time to resurrect that Holiday Classic. Who cares if it’s just the two of us? The leftovers taste mighty fine. If we have any, that is.

We will certainly have no leftovers of this

Amagansett, New York. December 2020

 

 

It’s beginning to look a bit like Christmas

Standard

‘I Holiday Cheer myself up with a (very) little decorating’

I flunked Plank.

“No no no! my indefatigable PT instructor Jennifer cried, while Zoom-watching me flounder on the floor demonstrating my form, such as it was. “The Plank is not for everyone,” she added, hoping to soothe my fragile ego as she deleted it from my program.

Toned-by-Jennifer Me, decked out in Tracksmith duds

I may have flunked Plank, but still I’m set to graduate from PT at the end of the month. I should be thrilled that I have made such fantastic progress. I can now rock a pair of Tracksmith tights like nobody’s business. (And my back? Oh, it’s better.) But I have bonded with Jennifer the PT Girl; she’s seen me sweat and “squeeze my bootie.”

The Dude shows off his Holiday Bootie

“I already miss you!” I cried at the end of our session last week.

There’s was only one thing to do: decorate.

Let’s start in the kitchen, where I dragged out the Christmas Plate. And put the one remaining almond rocha on it to drive The Dude crazy. (I hid it last week after he’d polished off the rest)

Those of you who’ve followed me over the years know that I hate to decorate. So much so that I used to have a party where I would treat friends to champagne while they decorated the tree — then reward them with a big ole pot roast dinner when they were done. (See “Deck the Halls with Bough of Holly” for scrumptious details.)

The reward for decorating my tree

That’s how “I” decorated until Her Childness left for college. Then I basically didn’t bother. She didn’t get home for Winter Break until basically the Night Before Christmas, and no, I didn’t want to have one without her — either the Party or the Tree.

Candle(s) as Tree. A theme repeated many times

So we got by with slapdash decor for years, reverting to our Little-Tree-in-a-Pot formula we’d followed before The Child’s advent. Honestly, the Amagansett property, which belonged to the Whitmore Parents back then, is studded with ex-Christmas Trees in Pots.

And in the City? Well, some years it was just Bowls of Shiny Objects or maybe, just maybe, Lights on The Mantel.

Last year’s decor was particularly spare. The apartment was Being Shown to prospective buyers, and it had been staged beyond all recognition. (See “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” for sordid details.) When I mentioned to our real estate agent that I’d bought a tree, she asked, “How big is this tree?” Then went on to suggest rather strongly that we do no further decorating. (“Twist my arm,” I thought, but did not say.)

Can you find the Christmas Tree in this picture?

I must admit that all those years of bare bones stripped-down Christmasses didn’t really bother me, partly because (again, as you Readers know only too well) Thanksgiving is the Holiday I really love. (See “Turkey Shoot” for irrefutable reasons why.) In fact, some years we even skipped Christmas by going on a trip. (The Child was fine with this arrangement once she met The Beau and had his family to celebrate with. See “I’ll Be (at Somebody Else’s) Home for Christmas” for *sniff* details.)

Christmas on the Amazon River. Yes, fish was served. But also turkey! (And champagne)

But this year Thanksgiving was rather a wash. Oh, it was lovely, what there was of it. After all, what’s not to like about a turkey dinner with all the trimmings? (Turkey trimmings being much more my style than Christmas ones.) But it was, well, kind of sparse.

Last year’s extremely non-sparse, extremely fun Thanksgiving

I think The Dude felt the same way; he came home last weekend with not only a Christmas Tree (small, in a pot, but still) but also a poinsettia of rather monstrous proportions.

Holy poinsettia! No decorations needed (!)

So I went up to the attic and dug out the lights and some other festive stuff.

There’s that bowl of ornaments again. (Oh, and the Christmas Tree — there in the distance)

Voila!

Oh, and lest we forget. The Ken and Barbie House got its own small (but festively effective) infusion of the Christmas Spirit. And we didn’t have to lift a finger — except to turn it on.

Thank you, Elf Theresa, for a much-appreciated surprise

Amagansett, New York. December 2020

 

Where I grew up, fish came in a stick

Standard

‘Not that my palate is all that sophisticated now’

I had fish for dinner last night. Which means that I ate in a restaurant. (Yes, I was masked. Except when I was actually eating said fish.) See, now that I am a grownup — and a rather broken-in grownup at that — I can handle eating fish. Certain kinds of fish. Once in a blue moon. But I still can’t cook it.

Me, after having not cooked fish for dinner

See, fish was not something in my Mom’s meal rota. We had pork chops (which came with mashed potatoes and canned corn), and “Swiss Steak” (which came with mashed potatoes and peas), meat loaf (ditto), chicken (double ditto) and sometimes — because it was “good for you,” — liver (which came with creamed potatoes and green beans.)

And fish was generally not found on Midcentury Midwestern restaurant menus. I can’t remember fish appearing, like my salmon last night or my branzino last week, even in “tonight’s specials.” No, fish mostly came in a stick, battered and fried — and was primarily eaten at school lunches on Fridays as sort of a penance. Or during Lent. Ditto.

I don’t have a photo of fried fish sticks. But this one of fried chicken is much better. In many ways

In all my growing up years, I can’t recall anyone of my acquaintance — certainly not anyone in my family — saying, “Gee, Mom. Let’s have fish for supper.” No, fish was what you ate as sort of a default option.

Oh, sometimes a Dad would head out with his buddies and “go fishing.” But this wasn’t an Abercrombie & Kent sort of brook trout fly-fishing excursion. This was a “let’s pile in the bass boat and go get us some crappie” sort of deal. (Incidentally, “crappie” is a real fish, and pronounced “croppie.”)

Youngest Younger Brother Doug proudly displays his crappie catch

If you made the mistake of going along on one of these trips, the Dad(s) would delegate either hook-baiting and/or fish cleaning to you, as the lowest man/girl on the totem, er, fishing pole. Ugh.

This sort of chore effectively ruined your appetite for the possibly-delightful crappie feast to follow. Eating the results of a Dad Fishing Trip was right up there with eating the results of a Dad Hunting Trip. Except you hardly ever found buckshot in the crappie. Bones, yes.

This “fishing trip” was an excuse to screw around on skates. Trust me, no one had to clean fish after this excursion

The other fish one might find in the waters of Clinton County were gar, big long bony creatures that floated on top of the river — or catfish, big fat creatures that hung around on the bottom. No one I knew ate gar, though they were purportedly fun to catch and throw back. Catfish were served in a few Clinton County restaurants, and weren’t so bad if you put it out of your mind that they are, quite literally, bottom feeders.

There are catfish in these waters. You can’t see them because it’s so muddy. Which is, erk, just how catfish like it

Speaking of fish, once in a while as a special treat our family would eat at a Howard Johnson’s. I’m not sure if they exist any more, but when I was a kid they had these orange roofs and served pretty fancy food. They were kind of the restaurant equivalent of not just a motel, but a motel with a pool.

Me, when I was graduating from grade school to high school, and from fish sticks to fried clams

I remember I would always ordered the fried clams. I thought I was very sophisticated. Then, when I went off to college, I got really fancy. Sole Veronique! (Basically, a frozen white filet with grapes on it) And the piece de resistance: surf ‘n turf. (A frozen lobster tail paired with a steak) Hmmmm…I could go for surf ‘n turf right now.

No surf on this menu. Digging the Cowboy Steak in Upstate New York

After The Dude and I got married I was introduced to all kinds of new fish. Like bluefish. All I can say about bluefish, which was a Dude Family Favorite, is that is an acquired taste that I, um, never acquired. I used to push it around my plate and hide it under some lettuce. That is, if I couldn’t sneak it to Sam, the Dude Family Dog. (Sam loved me.)

Dude introduced me to sushi, too. Why on our very first date, which was my first time at a sushi restaurant, I consumed my first — and last — plate of sashimi. Where I grew up, fish came in a stick, and raw fish was bait. Or what you ate when you were the main character in The Old Man and The Sea.

But now, many years later, I happily consume many, but not all, kinds of (cooked, please) fish. Last night’s was salmon, and it was pretty delicious, if huge. There is a leftover chunk in the fridge right now. Seemed like a good idea last night to save it, but today it’s reminding me of leftover sushi, about which I wrote a pretty hilarious story once. (See “Radio Days.” You won’t be sorry.)

Turf. With no surf. It’s what’s for dinner chez Barbie tonight

I still don’t cook fish — much. The Child went through a lemon sole phase, so I dutifully complied to her wishes by putting it on our menu. Thank goodness she tired of it. See, I can cheerfully handle raw meat, but there’s just something about raw fish…well, I won’t go on. Except to say that tonight I am cooking dinner in the Ken & Barbie Kitchen. And it’s not gonna be sole. Or even reheated leftover salmon.

New York City. December 2020

 

 

The Imaginary Kitty

Standard

‘Few people saw Wombat. Now no one ever will.’

My Oldest Younger Brother Scott swore that Wombat was an imaginary cat. He and his sons stayed with me in Amagansett a whole week and never saw her once. Oh, maybe one of the boys glimpsed a little black shape slinking down the stairs in the middle of the night, but not well enough to establish that it was an Actual Cat.

Can you find the cat in this picture? Wombat was notoriously good at hiding. Sometimes in plain sight

Well, I’m sorry to say that yesterday Wombat left this earth and went to Wherever Good Animals Go. Perhaps she is hanging out with Mango. (I would say Mango and Tuna, but Tuna had issues. (See “Tuna finds the Baby Jesus Sweet Spot” for details.)

Once in a while Tuna would deign to play

Tuna wouldn’t sit on your lap or even let you pet her. Which is really all you ask for in a cat, yes? But even though she didn’t do her Cat Job, Tuna had her fine points — for one thing, she loved The Dude’s playing so much she would sit on a pile of music books next to the piano — so I’m betting she’s Up There teaching Wombat some bad heavenly habits right this very minute.)

Mango was like a large stuffed animal that purred. For three different families

Mango, on the other hand, was everybody’s best friend. He was so indiscriminately affectionate that he “belonged” to no fewer than three families — all at the same time. (You can read more about his shameless exploits in “Lost Cat: Answers to the Name Mango.”)

But this piece is about Wombat.

Wombat demonstrating her Doorstop Pose

Dear little Wommie may have been elusive and slow to make new friends — she once famously bit The Beau so hard that he had to take antibiotics; in her defense, Beau’s approach to patting her head was the same approach Dude Man made when he wanted to “play,” which usually involved biting — but when Wombat decided to befriend you, well, you were befriended for always.

Wombat displaying some Catitude while “guarding” a needlepoint project

Wombat making like a meme. (That pillow is the finished project from the previous photo)

Wombat remembered all the people she spent quality time with when she was a kitten — all, like, two or three of them — and, no matter how much time had passed since she’d seen them, she would refrain from hiding when they visited. (Julie and Reva, I’m talking about you.) But with everyone else — no matter how nice they were — she would hide. Usually in the bottom of my wardrobe.

Wombat’s preferred hiding place. She would nudge open the door on the right and hide among my shoes

Once, when the apartment was being shown, a prospective buyer was measuring the wall where the wardrobe was and Wombat popped out — just like a cat-in-the-box — and scared the guy so much he dropped his tape measure. (He didn’t buy the apartment.)

Wombat at an impressionable age

She may not have cottoned to outsiders, but Wombat sure as heck loved her family. The Dude called her “The Creature” and, when he didn’t think anyone was listening, talked baby talk to her in a high squeaky voice. If she was sitting on my lap when he came home, she would immediately run to the door to greet him. (To this day, I don’t know how she knew it was him getting off the elevator and not our next-door neighbors. But she knew.) Dude Man was the Play Parent. He would engage in horseplay (see above biting note) and when he said the words “laser light” in a certain tone, she would run right into his office to chase the little dot around — even if he didn’t have the laser pointer out.

A boy and his kitty, less than a week ago. Sigh

Once in a while, she and I would play games, too. “Fetch” and “Hide and Seek” were our faves. (Yes, she would fetch a toy and bring it back. And yes, she loved it when you peeked around the furniture and said “boo!”) But, most of the time, with me, it was all about my lap.

Sometimes she’d chase me and bat my legs so that I’d sit down and make a lap

As for The Child, well, Wombat was actually The Child’s Kitty. When her Childness was a sophomore in high school she begged for her “own kitty,” so we went to Strawberry Fields in Montauk and picked her out of a rescue lineup. We almost took her brother too, but we had Tuna and (sometimes) Mango at the time and I drew the line at three cats.

The Child and Wom sharing beauty tips

Even though The Child disappeared soon after into the World of Higher Education and then Grownup Life, Wommie didn’t forget her — perching on the end of her couch and even (sort of) keeping her company in the tub.

Want me to wash your back?

But the person she adored the most was, well, me. It would be easy to say that her adoration was due to the fact I was the One Who Fed her — but she ate kibble pretty much any time she wanted, poured by all and sundry.

Perhaps if the others had been around her as much as I was, I wouldn’t have won this particular popularity contest. Who knows? All I can say is, whatever her reasons for fixating on me, I sure did like it. There really isn’t anything quite like being absolutely and unconditionally adored by a furry little animal.

I bought her a perfectly good cat bed. But guess where she slept?

Well, it’s getting late, and I’m getting sad. It was almost exactly 24 hours ago when I said good-bye to her Womness, stroked her cashmere-like coat, and patted her silky ears for the very last time. It’s time to wrap this up — and go mix myself a stiff Manhattan.

I miss you, sweet dear little cat. Sleep well

Amagansett, New York. December 2020

 

 

How on earth did THIS happen?

Standard

“The Child is about to become The Bride”

I was all set to write a crabby-yet-funny post about Whippersnappers having the nerve to change my copy when I was a freelance writer and how annoying that was. But then this happened:

Ruby with pavee diamonds. And yes, he picked it out himself

So, heck with that! Maybe next week, if my feet are touching the ground by then and my fingers have recovered from hitting “love” on Facebook, like, nine zillion times in reply to the scads of congratulatory comments this news has inspired. (What the World needs now is you-know-what sweet you-know-what. Most definitely.)

The News. As announced on Instagram. Of course

One of the comments was from a Great Friend and “roommate” from those freelancing days. Dear Renee posted “Alice. How did this happen? I clearly remember you letting me feel her kick around in your tummy just yesterday.”

I hear you, Renee, I hear you.

First day of preschool. Just yesterday, in Mom Time. Oh — I could never get her to wear those amazing blue loafers after that. Sigh

A quick footnote on “letting me feel her kicking around in your tummy.” Renee was a Good Friend Indeed if I let her do that. One of my Pet Peeves When Pregnant was when people would pat my tummy to “feel the baby kicking” — without being expressly invited to do so. When this happened, I would reach over and pat their tummies. Touche.

Another shot of The Child from ten minutes ago

But yes. Renee is right. It’s pretty darned amazing that a person to whom I dispensed nourishment and bathed and dressed and diapered and burped and carried around hither and yon both inside and outside my “tummy” should now be (gasp) getting married. Now I know why people cry at weddings.

The Child. Taking The Plunge with her Dad years ago. They were jumping off the houseboat into Lake Carlyle. (Or is it Carlyle Lake?)

Quick note on weddings. I adore them. I honestly have never ever not had a fabulous time at a wedding. I even like those really long, really religious ones. (Yes, I’ve written of my Wedding Love, here in “I Do, I Do Really Like Weddings.” Read it and weep.)

The Child and her Beau have assured me that, yes, they are going to have one. A wedding, I mean. I can hardly wait. I wonder if they’ll let me wear my tiara.

Child and Beau looking gorgeous as all get out a couple of summers ago

Incidentally, everyone loves The Beau. He is Canadian and handsome and smart and sporty and loves adventure. He is the one The Child has been traveling around the country with in their Ford F350 with the camper shell on top.

Child and Beau the day they left on their RV Adventure

In fact, when The Happy Couple FaceTimed me to inform me of their Happy News, I remarked that everyone who is thinking of getting hitched should hitch up an RV and go live in it together for several months. Then — and only then — should they be allowed to get married. Ultimate Road Test for a relationship.

The Beau on a typical workday, tormented by The Child

In addition to the Patience of a Saint Test, The Beau has passed the Mom Test and the Dad Test and the Aunts and Uncles and Gramma Tests as well. In fact, he took time off work last fall so he could attend my mother’s 90th birthday celebration.

I need to wrap this up — I don’t want to miss my Jitney back to Amagansett; I was here briefly to supervise our couch delivery here at the Ken and Barbie House. Incidentally, guess how many times I’ve bought a couch? This would be Time #1. (You can read about that in “I Have Never Bought A Couch.“)

Gosh. The Child is going to be a Married Lady. No matter how happy I am, it’s a little hard to wrap my head around. So it’s nice seeing evidence like this that she is, in fact — and no doubt always will be — The Child.

Yup. She’s still a Cheddar-Goldfish-Lovin’ Child at heart

New York City. November 2020

 

 

 

 

 

Lockdown with a capital “L”

Standard

‘When my Mom did some prison time’

My Mom was a nurse when she married my Dad, and she worked for a few years at Regular Nurse Jobs.

My Mom when she got “capped,” which is like graduation for nurses

I remember when I was in kindergarten and we lived in Memphis, she worked at Methodist Hospital, which my three-year-old brother Scott mispronounced as “Memphodist.” Mom didn’t correct him; she thought it was cute. (She also didn’t correct us when we referred to the “Entire State Building.”)

Mom, with one and a half kids

Well, after a while, nursing while “momming” got to be a bit too much, so she hung up her white cap and devoted herself to bringing up us kids. 

Mom had plenty on her plate, with kids ranging from Big (me) to Little (Toddler Doug) and three more in between. That’s Middle Bro Roger sporting a muscle tee on the left

But then, after years of carpooling and band recitals and PTA, the big kids flew the coop and the little kids turned into high schoolers. And Mom found she wanted to exercise her nursing muscle once again. And earn a little coin besides.

I was gone by then, both physically — off to college — and emotionally — totally absorbed in turning into a Grownup — and I wasn’t very tuned in to what was happening with the folks back at home.

Was Mom working at the prison when this was taken? I was getting ready to bolt for New York, so of course I have absolutely no idea

For example, there was a period when a foreign exchange student was living in our house — a foreign exchange student  (from Chile? Peru?) who came and went — and I never even met him.

So, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that I wasn’t all that up to speed about the various nursing-related jobs my Mom had. I do recall that, for a time, she drove around to people’s houses conducting physicals for an insurance company. I remember that job because my Mom said that, invariably, the people she was supposed to give physicals to lived on remote farms with furiously barking dogs. Huge dogs that would lunge at her car door, leaving scratches on the finish and drool on the glass. “Come on out, he’s friendly,” these people would insist as my Mom cowered inside.

Mom and getting-pretty-big Doug visiting Independent Scott (who took this photo) in Oregon

So no wonder the job in Vandalia sounded more, well, normal. She could drive to work, park in a parking lot, and do her nursing in a nice clean nurse’s office. The fact that the office was inside a prison didn’t faze her in the least. Mom became a prison nurse. Which is kind of like a school nurse. Only they don’t send you home when you have a fever.

(Speaking of prisons, if you haven’t read my piece “That’ll Teach You,” you might want to take a look. It’s about the time I spent in prison — locked in a cell.)

Like I say, I was gone from home by then and starting my climb up the Advertising Ladder, so I was a tad fuzzy on the details. I knew my Mom “worked in a prison,” but somehow I pictured this as one of those “campus”-type institutions. You know, those places where they put the Bernie Madoffs and the Enron Guys.

Well, the years went by. I was sitting around the kitchen chatting with my Mom — back when Times were “normal” and I could actually visit her — and she happened to mention that she gets a pension from “The State.” Having reached “pensioner” status myself by this time, I was rather interested. “Was that from the time you worked in the prison?” I asked.

Sometimes I feel like I’m catching up to Mom, age-wise. People have ahem) mistaken us for sisters. Mom, of course, loves this

“Yup,” she replied, taking a sip of warmed-up coffee.

“You know, I never asked, but what kind of prison was that, anyway? What kind of criminals were there?”

“What kind? Well, I remember there was this one guy who killed his wife, then cut her up and fed her to the pigs.”

It’s a good thing I hadn’t just taken a sip of coffee myself.

Amagansett, New York. October 2020

 

She had a hat

Standard

‘Wearing headgear well runs in the family. Too bad I didn’t get that gene.’

As you, dear Reader, know only too well, we’ve been slowly and-oh-so-surely settling in to the new Ken and Barbie House. All the Big Stuff has found a new home, and we’re on to clearing out the Little Stuff. (I am having nightly horrors about the Junk Drawer.)

We Henrys have been holding regular Family Facetime Calls with our dear Mother every Sunday, and on one of these, not too long ago, I happened to be in the middle of clearing out the coat closet. (How many mismatched gloves can one person have?!?)

My Oldest Younger Brother looks over my Facetimed shoulder and says, “Hey! There’s the Hat!” And goldarnit. There it was.

The Hat. Basically, the only one I wear. And not for “fashion”

It was easy to spot because not only is it large and furry and rather assertive and unmissable on a closet shelf, it’s pretty much the only hat I wear — being as how I only wear hats for function, not fashion.

Don’t worry, I do not own this Keebler Elf hat. I borrowed it when we were up in the Catskills last weekend.

Not that I am not interested in fashion. Oh no. I love dressing up, dressing down, even dressing medium. True, like most everyone I know, I am a pandemic-pants wearer. But I wear these really cute Tory Burch athletic pants I got on sale. I have my standards, even when in self-isolation.

All dressed up for a Birthday Toast. Wearing a Birthday “Hat”

But, darn it, I have never been able to wear hats well. Not fashion-y ones. And not even functional ones. Maybe it’s my Swedish Head. The Swedish Head Thing is real, and pretty interesting. I wrote a whole post about it (See “What’s that in the road — a head?“) back in the good old days when I wasn’t downsizing or having shots in my spine and things like head shape seemed very important. (Quick update: shot — actually two shots — not as bad as I thought. Though I certainly wouldn’t want to get one every day. And, yes, my back feels much much better.)

Oldest Younger Brother Scott rocking a fashion hat at the wedding of his nephew — son of Middle Younger Brother Roger, who looks pretty darned snappy even hatless

But other members of my family — and not just the Whitmores — are champs at hat-wearing. Check out the picture at the top of this post, par example. The Child doesn’t even look silly in that sombrero.

She doesn’t look silly in the fake fur number I wore intermittently for years, much to Dude Man’s amusement. It was not flattering. Not on me, anyway

The Child, it should be noted, takes after her father, Dude Man, in many extraordinary ways: math prowess, piano playing, fearlessness at sports. I take that last one back: fearlessness at anything. She’s hiked the John Muir Trail — alone and jumped out of planes — on purpose.

Dude Man checks to see that his daughter has indeed inherited his lovely round head

Yes, she, like The Dude, looks terrific in hats. Functional, fashionable. No matter. He/she look amazing with any kind of topper.

This doesn’t bother me too much. I still wear a hat — when I need to. And I get to watch them wearing hats because they want to.

Tillamook Head. Times two. Note how my hair — and ears — stick out. Sigh

Oh — before I forget. The title of this piece comes from one of my Mom’s favorite jokes. It seems this crusty little ole gramma (probably about my age, hah) is in charge of watching her little grandson at the beach one Sunday. The little guy’s, oh, about two, and he’s happily shoveling sand into a pail when a big rogue wave rolls in and sweeps him out to sea — pail, shovel and all.

The gramma leaps to her feet, clasps her hands, and entreats the heavens, “Oh please, O Lord! Please take mercy upon your humble servant and return my precious grandson to me! Please, O Lord, I beg you!”

Well. Another wave rolls in and deposits the boy right back where he was, completely unharmed, pail and shovel in hand.

The gramma looks up once again at the heavens and says, “Hey! He had a hat!”

Yup. She even looks good wearing the equivalent of a bucket on her head

Amagansett, New York. October 2020