Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Fatted Calf

I think of my visit to Baltimore later this month.  So many fathers are different.  I am afraid to see where I once lived.  I remember eating salad in the kitchen with you there.  Red cabbage, romaine, matchstick carrots, sunflower seeds, lemon juice, feta.  I make saffron rice in our kitchen now, pounding half the saffron in my mortar and pestle.  The rest I leave in its fiery strands, and let it steep in hot water for five minutes.  I add it in modest lugs to brown rice and chop sweet potatoes for the soup.  You come home for lunch and I ask you if it would be more entertaining to watch me cook naked.  I take my flannel shirt off and stand in the only functioning bra I have left, suddenly more aware of popping oil.  You eat leftover oatmeal I made you for breakfast and rush back to work.  We--two people who didn't know each other in June--have food routines, have a fairly regular hour at which we retire.  Some things have not budged, though.  We both love hot sauce and have a futon on the floor and no dresser.  When we first moved here, we let the temperature drop to 8 degrees before we turned the heat on.  At my new job, while stocking blood oranges, my supervisor tells me that the scary times are when the temperature gets so low that Fahrenheit becomes colder than Celsisus.  This is the kind of thing I had never heard of until moving to Wyoming.

I take a job a food co-op to supplement my hours at the coffee kiosk.  I have known for years how to steam milk for a latte and how a cappuccino.  Now I jump back into retail amid the only products that could have made it worth my while.  I clean up around almond butter grinders, drink kombucha on tap, and ring customers up for their bison meat.  The manager is pleased when, on my first day, I can tell him what both xantham gum and chia seeds are.  I used to be vegan, I say, realizing as I speak that it's not really an explanation.

Because it has been a very non-specific kind of cold since we arrived here, the holidays and my hair length are the only real indicators of time's passage.  On Thanksgiving, we hosted a bizarre mash of people at our house--four types of stuffing and perfect gravy.  Erin, Adrian's mother, told us about having to coax an adult at the theater to take her to see Alice's Restaurant when it first came out.  We ate appetizers of sweet potato fries and the dates I learned from Jesse how to make.  She brought them to my going-away potluck in Baltimore--they are stuffed with blue cheese and wrapped in bacon and one walks away with an incontrovertible taste of caramel.  As I left the potluck, I paused, tearing up, and John yelled, Don't act like you ain't gonna see us soon!  It's been six months.  One walks away knowing that it's how hot sweet things can get that's burned them.

Christmas was different; all our friends had left town.  We went to a dinner earlier that week, thrown by one of your co-workers.  It was populated mostly by cigarette-smoking middle-aged women and it had a "Tex-Mex"theme.  We brought tamale pie and listened to the women discuss all of their former incarcerations.  Christmas morning, we told each other about the gifts we'd planned.  I was going to get you a better pillow, since you always weaseled your way by morning onto mine.  You were going to get me a cassette player so I could listen to the tapes my father sent me--of me talking and singing at Christmas when I was two.  Neither of us bought each other anything.  It's like an even poorer-man's Gift of the Magi,  I said.

On New Year's, two of your friends visited and we went out for one of those dinners that is almost fancy, but the tablecloth is paper.  The woman still has one curler left in her hair when she leaves the house.  The salad was spicy and the beer was warm and there were pool tables in the back.  You used a Wal-Mart gift card to pay for whiskey and champagne and we started drinking so early that when the New Year unceremoniously began, we glanced at our phones and all thought it would behoove us to go to sleep.

We were both broke at Valentine's Day, so you brought me an ice cream flavor that I liked and you didn't, and Doritos, which seemed inexplicable to me until you said, I remember you telling me you liked them as a kid.  The next day, pay day, you brought me flowers, in a vase, since I had told you we didn't have one.  A few weeks later, when we had friends over for breakfast who were about to depart back to their respective cities, we used the vase to mix Bloody Marys in, since we didn't have a pitcher, either. 

St. Patrick's Day was uneventful, since it was a Sunday.  We drank Guiness with foam thick as a cake on top of it with friends, and returned home before the sun went down.  I bought a box of Lucky Charms, explaining that growing up, it was the only day of the year I knew for certain that I would be allowed sugar cereal.  Lucky Charms gives me diarrhea without exception, I said.  But I eat them anyway.

Now it's April Fool's Day.  We have had a rash of visitors lately.  We went out with all of them to the only restaurant in Laramie that can truly come highly recommended.  Burgers--topped with a brown sugar coffee rub, cheddar, and bacon.  Or feta and horseradish aioli.  Or half-burger meat, half-Italaian-sausage-meat, flecked with red pepper flakes and topped with basil, mozzarella, and tomato.  Yanara and I ventured to the same bar to pick up pizzas when the group had become too motley to go out to eat.  We returned to the house and beer and friends with pizza topped with olive oil, sausage, rosemary, and leeks.  She laughed more readily than I imagined--while we waited for the pies, I gave her a driving tour of Laramie--though the town is so small that you and I walk our rent over to our landlady's house instead of mailing it.

We both know the quiet we will come home to most days.  It is hard to live here.  I suspect it will be hard to leave here.  Though a native Wyoming friend said that, it's a hard landscape to love, it took no getting used to for me.  Prairie and treelessness and being landlocked are the set of conditions most unlike the environment in which we both grew up, in our various dots along the east coast.  For me this is no deterrent.  For me the land was the first part of this country that invited me.  Before employment or friends had found their way to me, when I was freshly come west, I made peace with what a massive sky does to me.  I have not stopped.  I plead with the expanses surrounding me not to call death too readily to mind, and mostly they oblige.  The incidental resemblance was not the author's intention, and cannot be helped.

I remember the time we read a Greek tragedy out loud at the table.  The voices our voices accommodated.  I ask you if we are asking too little of each other, I crave school but compulsively masturbate instead of requesting a set of my transcripts.  I rest easy, knowing I can get into any low-brow school in the country, and at least hold true to my resolution to read more.  I read about Harlem, I read about Fingerbone, I read every last heart-splitting page of Hugo's revolution and Kerouac's daughter's sex work.  I know it is too easy for love to make one either dumb or fat.  We are not very diligent in avoiding either, but we have the good grace of youth on our side.  I tell you about how my family just locked hands before dinner, lifting them and shouting, AMEN!  I tell you how when I had to say real prayers at daycare I pronounced them phonetically, Blesses-aw-lord.

In less than a month we will be back on the east coast.  I make a note of all the things I want to eat while in Baltimore: A crepe with turkey, cranberry chutney, avocado, and basil.  A lamb burger with cucumber, feta, and tzatziki.  A salad with peanut noodles, scallions, and fried tofu.  A bagel with homemade vegetable cream cheese.  My father's stuffed peppers.  My mother's hot milk cake.  Frozen yogurt with raspberries and shredded coconut and slivered almonds.  Seafood without fear.  You will come to celebrate my birthday, and then we will be apart for four days, which is two more than we've been separate since October.  I will miss you.  I will see my city with and without you.  I will bring you leftovers.

Monday, April 1, 2013

This excerpt was written over a year ago when I was still living in Baltimore.  Now, Adrian and I live 10 blocks from each other in southern Wyoming.  More on that change--and the meals that have gone with it--soon.

Dear Adrian,

This morning I wish so completely we were in Brooklyn, blearily traveling from both ends of town to meet for breakfast at Choice. The mandoline-thin pear slices on top of glazed tarts, the cafe au lait and sweet "country bread," almond croissants, creamy oatmeal with walnuts, chickpea-artichoke salad, silky goat cheese omelets, red bliss potatoes cooked with dill. The impatient cashier, the thick slices of banana bread in brown paper bags. Eating on the cold brown benches outside while the birds hop aimlessly around the general area and hip Brooklyn mamas roll their strollers into the store.

I would be remiss if I pretended all I've been eating has been homemade soup and a noon oatmeal breakfast. I have found a greater variety of greasy, bread, meat, and cheese-based foods in my hands recently than I had in some time. It's all about listening to your cravings, and about what's available to you at any given time: I have spent the last four months working at a burger bar that brags a host of exotic meats from which to choose, and I've systematically sampled most of them at half-price. Kangaroo was nothing to write home about, duck was too fatty for a cohesive burger, but wild boar tasted like some kind of naturally-occurring sausage, and was my favorite in spite of the fact that it must be cooked to medium temperatures (I was informed of this when I tried to order it mid-rare). I wondered if it could possibly carry any bacteria that I, (being born a woman and distressed) don't already have.