34. Terror Pie

Terror-Pie

I opened my email to discover joy on Monday. In it: a lively missive from Bea, my Australian wayfaring friend who made a two-year pit stop in Columbus to get her PhD. She had a special request for me. She wanted me to cater a fundraising event for her non-profit that provides therapy to children in Kenya. I had done it the previous year, but I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have. If I did it this year, I’d actually have to have a name and a logo and something that may or may not turn into a legitimate business.

I wracked my brain and Isabella’s for a name. Pithy and cute was really hard.

Ideas:

  • Terror-PiePie-per at the Gates of Dawn.
  • In Pie We Crust
  • Honey’s Pies (I would have to become Honey, the face of Honey’s pies)
  • Pierate
  • Thunder Pies
  • Alipie
  • Mind’s Pie
  • Pie Hard
  • Pielander
  • The Hills Have Pies
  • Private Pies
  • I Get Lost In Your Pies
  • Pies of a Stranger

I wished my name was Honey. I liked Honey’s Pies even though there’s a pie place in Milwaukee called Honey Pie. But I could do better. In San Francisco there’s a place called Mission Pie, which hardly seems brilliant since it’s just a pie place in the Mission, but it’s brilliant in its simplicity. Hoosier Mama Pie Company is good, but the people that work there are so surly, I don’t want to give them credit for anything good.

My favorite of all the suggestions was Piefecta — a play on “trifecta” and the three ingredients that make up a pie crust. Unfortunately, it got mixed feedback from my friends and I needed something everyone would like or at least not be offended by. I had to think more about it.

On Tuesday I thought about the name some more while I worked: ingredients and baking methods that would work as a name. Sugar. Custard. Eggs. Egg whites. Corn starch. Flour. Cocoa powder. Cinnamon. Nutmeg. Whisk. Blend. Paddle. Crust. Dough. Nothing was coming to me. So I took a mini-break. By mini-break I mean went to the toilet to look at the internet while I voided my bladder.

Terror-PieOn this particular break, I was looking through Facebook and noticed a large number of pictures that my BFF, Marty, was tagged in. There were A LOT of pictures. Him on vacation, shooting deer, fishing in the middle of a lake, officiating a wedding. Tons of Marty pictures. It didn’t register that something might be wrong until a girl posted a picture of some goofuses I went to high school with and a caption that said, “While looking for pictures of Marty, I found this blast from the past.” Slightly anxious and panicked, I scrolled down and found an obituary. Marty died. My Marty. I started shaking and read through the article. He played a hockey game on Friday night that he finished with two assists. Saturday, he complained to his teammates about having flu-like symptoms and didn’t play in the game scheduled that night. On Sunday, he went to the hospital where they told him he had pneumonia before discharging him. On Monday, a friend went to his house to check on him and found him unconscious. Paramedics were unable to revive him. He was 37.

Terror-PieI ran out of the bathroom with my heart pounding and tears welling. I wanted to talk to someone who knew him, but of our mutual friends, Katie was living in Singapore and it was the middle of the night and the only contact information of Tyler was an email address so old that it was a Hotmail address. But I tried it anyway. Tyler wrote back immediately with her telephone number. I talked to her and cried a bit while the minutes ticked away toward lunch. I had to get back to work.

I worked furiously, thinking about Marty and how much he made me laugh. I thought about the long drives we’d go on looking for parties when we were teenagers. I thought about the one and only time we kissed and were disgusted by the act. I thought of how we got silly at an Aerosmith concert we went to the summer before college. I thought about watching him win the state hockey championship in his final year as a Palmer Terror. I thought about how I would never see him again.

Terror-PieI cried a lot and I smiled a lot, but I made it through the day. That evening, Katie called me from Singapore. We went back and forth with ways that we could remember him and made a tentative plan to get together when she was stateside again so we could have a proper memorial together. I suggested we get the number 15 — his hockey number — tastefully tattooed somewhere discreet on our bodies. She rejected the suggestion. But I wanted something permanent to remind me of him. We didn’t make any solid decisions that night, but we brainstormed over email for the rest of the week.

On Friday, I let myself be sad. I gave in to whiskey and met up with Matt and Andy at Emporium in Wicker Park. It wasn’t a monumental evening. I drank a lot and talked as much about Marty as people who didn’t know him would let me. I drank a lot of whiskey. I tried to go home, but Andy kept me out. He took me to get steak tacos at La Pasadita on Ashland.

La Pasadita was the first place I had tacos when I moved to Chicago. There was a time when I couldn’t pass La Pasadita without getting a taco. And then I found Taqueria Moran’s taco al pastor; that was only shamed by those of Dona Naty’s. That night I devolved into my taco experience of 2005. It was a disappointing end to a disappointing Friday night of an utterly sad week.

Terror-PieOn Saturday, my sadness was exacerbated by the hangover. I spent the morning trying to figure out a reasonable way to make it to Marty’s memorial service on Sunday in Jackson, Wyoming. My best friend from junior high school offered to let me use her frequent flyer miles to fly to Denver and we could drive up together. But the idea was proving to be nearly impossible. I gave up. And when I did, I got a text from the Other Marty asking me to hang out. I told him about BFF Marty and that hanging out was exactly what I needed. We decided to watch a movie at his house.

The Other Marty picked me up after he attended a birthday party for an eight-year-old and was hopped up on sugar. Per usual, he made me laugh upon greeting him. I felt like I hadn’t laughed in months. It felt good; like I’d just remembered how to do it again the way you forget that you know how to breathe only after you’ve suffered a debilitating head cold.

We stopped at Walgreens to pick up snacks to eat while we watched our movie. We agreed on Cheetos and argued over fried pork rinds (I was a fan; he was not) and the bag of caramel and cheese popcorn (he loved it; it made me want to floss). We settled on separate snacks.Terror-Pie

His apartment building was on Randolph near all the newest and most spectacular restaurants in Chicago. It was everything that I had imagined — he had already diagrammed the layout for me on a bar napkin the first time we went out, so there was little left to imagine except the furniture placement. There was a bathroom at the entry-way with a small room to the left that he used as an office since there wasn’t enough space to make it a second bedroom. To the right there was a long, narrow hallway, with a sliding door on the side leading to his bedroom. The end of the hall opened up to a cavernous kitchen/living room. It was kind of like a loft with high ceilings that exposed the ventilation system and slick concrete floors.  Everything was very tidy and in its place — which I predicted based on his aversion to filth and the way the idea of hoarding made him anxious. It was a welcome deviation from the boy apartments I had become accustomed to. It was almost museum-pristine. I loved it.Terror-Pie

We didn’t start the movie right away. Instead, we watched an episode of Girls and I browsed his latest issue of People Magazine. He claimed that his mother got him a subscription as a joke because it was something he always picked up at airports. I didn’t believe him. Though there was absolutely nothing to read in it, it provided hours of entertainment for us. We played “Would you make out with [name the celebrity]” and used the magazine as a reference and inspiration (with regards to People Magazine, I use the word “inspiration” in the loosest possible sense). We bantered and got to know each other, I told him about BFF Marty and how the entire town of Jackson, Wyoming adored him and, of course, how much I adored him and that he at least knew exactly how much I loved him when he died.

I enjoyed Marty’s company. It was nice. It was like hanging out with a nurturing older brother or cousin.

I supposed it was inevitable since we’d spent the whole day together: the subject of Noah came up.

“Aren’t you seeing someone?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

“Then why did you tell me you were seeing someone?”

“I was seeing someone. Now I’m not.”Terror-Pie

“Oh. Do I know him?”

“Yes.”

“Who?”

“Noah.”

“Oh. He’s a cool guy. He was at the birthday party I went to. Why’d you break up?”

This made me feel bad because of the terrible things Noah said about Marty. But it didn’t matter because Marty was nice to me. I had no reason to not like Marty.

“It was complicated. He wasn’t over his ex-girlfriend.” And it was just sex and booze, I thought.

I made it subtly clear that I didn’t want to talk about it, so we continued our games.

When the Other Marty got bored with the “Would you make out with” game, we started Argo. It was OK. It didn’t move me, but it was entertaining. Though it wasn’t entertaining enough to keep Marty awake. He fell asleep before the key moment and missed the point of the entire movie. I took that as a sign that I should leave. Marty offered to drive me home, but I declined and took a cab.

On my way home, I reminisced about how the Other Marty made me laugh the way BFF Marty made me laugh and how much I’d been missing it. Then I returned to thinking about what I could do to remember BFF Marty without defiling my body.  And then it hit me: I could name my pies after BFF Marty. Two birds! One stone!

I would call it 15 Pies. And my signature pie would be a chocolate cream pie called Terror Pie. Sounds dangerous, but that was our high school mascot and our school colors were (gasp) brown and white. It was corny and sentimental, but I didn’t care. I always loved our mascot and Marty.

*****

Tiny Terror PieTerror-Pie

  • 1 (4.5”) Pie crust
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ⅓ cup heavy cream, plus 2/3 cup
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1 ¾ tablespoon cornstarch
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 1/3 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

Directions

In a small saucepan combine sugar, 1/3 cup heavy cream, buttermilk, cornstarch and pinch of salt, and whisk until smooth. Place over medium-high heat, and bring to a boil, whisking from time to time for the sugar and cornstarch to dissolve and the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Continue cooking at a low boil for an additional 5 minutes, whisking constantly.

In a mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks lightly. Pour 1/2 cup of the hot mixture into the egg yolks and whisk thoroughly. Pour the egg yolk mixture into the saucepan and whisk over the heat until thoroughly combined and very thick, 1 to 2 minutes. Pour the mixture into a mixing bowl, and whisk in the chocolate, butter and vanilla. Continue whisking until thoroughly combined (mixture will be very thick). Cover the mixture with plastic wrap placed directly on the surface and refrigerate until cooled to room temperature, about 30 minutes.

Place remaining heavy cream in a chilled mixing bowl and add the confectioners’ sugar. Beat until stiff peaks form. Gently fold about 1/4 of the whipped cream into the cool chocolate pudding mixture, then spoon the chocolate mixture into the prepared pie crust and refrigerate until firm and cool, at least 4 hours. Refrigerate the remaining whipped cream until you are ready to serve the pie.Terror-Pie

33. Bumbling Cheesecake

Cherry-CheesecakeWith unwarranted enthusiasm, Lena and Bryan extended an invitation to me and Marty for dinner and cards. Having a romantic interest that my friends actually liked was a bit of a struggle for me to find. Marty was definitely someone I could bring around and socialize with. If I had to look into the future, he was someone most of my friends and family would approve of. Most notably, it wouldn’t bother me to introduce him to my cousin — that was my gauge for how long I could let someone last in my life. She was the sister I never had and, for all intents and purposes, my best friend. If I thought she could like him or tolerate him, I could let him stick around. I could introduce Marty to my cousin. Noah was definitely not someone I’d want my cousin to meet.Cherry-Cheesecake

In the morning, I exchanged texts with Marty about the day’s activities. I told him that I had to make a salad and cheesecake for dinner at Lena’s. He invited me over to make the cheesecake at his house using a picture of his lime green stand mixer as a lure. I had a hard time negotiating time with myself so I declined and instead had him pick me up at five.

When we arrived at Lena’s, we were greeted by a dog I’d never seen before.

“Hello, friend,” I said. She was a beautiful golden retriever, eager to play and be pet.

“Hi!!” said Lena. “Come in! This is Gita. Her mom is gone for the night so we’re entertaining her until she gets back. Gita is a very happy dog. Do you want me to take your bag?”Cherry-Cheesecake

“Oh no, I’ve got it,” I said. “I think I can make it to the kitchen.”

Lena had started the sauce for the pasta. The kitchen smelled of spicy flesh and garlic. I took the cheesecake I made from my bag. It had tumbled to its side during transport and the cherries were resting on the lid of the container rather than on top of the cheesecake. I shook it to properly re-coat the cake and placed it in the refrigerator.

“Shall I start the salad?” I asked Lena. “Sure. But we still have about twenty minutes left on the sauce.”

“Oh. OK,” I said. “I’ll wait, then. I don’t want the lettuce to wilt.”Cherry-Cheesecake

“Do you want anything to drink?” offered Lena. “I had drinks with people from my old job last night, so I might only have wine with dinner.”

“Ahh.. well, I think I’m going to have a vodka soda,” I said, lowering my voice. “I’m not feeling super chatty right now. I need a social lubricant.”

“Marty, would you like soda or a La Croix or water?” Lena asked. She knew he didn’t drink and never mentioned it. She was also surprisingly relaxed about how often he would duck out to smoke. She was a militant non-smoker and never let me smoke without nagging me about it.

“A La Croix would be good.”

Marty and Bryan sat at the dining room table and talked while Lena and I prepped the food.Cherry-Cheesecake

“Should we do linguini or penne with this sauce?” asked Lena.

“I think it’d be better with penne,” I opined. “Do you have enough?”

“A half a box should be plenty, right?” she fished for validation.

“I think that’s fine for four of us.”

I didn’t know why I was so uncomfortable. Conversation was always good and easy with Marty. He made me smile. I was antsy and kept moving from the dining room to the kitchen for no other reason than to avoid talking to Marty. It was so silly. I liked him. I wanted to talk to him. But I couldn’t. Maybe I was considering him as a romantic possibility and the pressure I was putting on myself made me nervous.

Bryan left the table to help Ford with music selections. I made a weak effort to talk to Marty while Bryan was away.Cherry-Cheesecake

He scratched his eyes and rubbed them with water.

“My eyes are itchy,” Marty said without complaining. “I think I’m allergic to the dog.”

“Oh,” I said. “I can have them put her downstairs if she’s bothering you.”

“No!” he said emphatically. “DON’T say anything. I don’t want them to feel bad. It’s a secret.”

“Damn it,” I said. “Why did you have to tell me it’s a secret? Now I’m going to want to tell them.”

“It’ll be good practice for you,” he joked.Cherry-Cheesecake

When Bryan returned to the table, I got up to finish in the kitchen. Marty and Bryan used to work together so they had all sorts of things to talk about. Lena and I had food to talk about.

I started the salad. I sliced the fennel and squeezed lemon juice over them. I let them sit in the acid while I sliced the shallots. I added them to the juice. I put the mixed greens in the bamboo bowl. I topped the greens with the juice, shallots and fennel. I drizzled olive oil over it and sprinkled it all with salt. I tossed the salad. I seasoned it perfectly.

“Will you taste this?” I asked Lena. She pulled a leaf from the bowl and dropped it in her mouth.

“Oh my god, that’s good,” she said.  “Thanks,” I smiled.

“Will you give me the recipe?” she asked.

Cherry-Cheesecake“Of course,” I glowed.

I brought the bowl out to the dining room and set it on the table. I didn’t sit down. I went back into the kitchen for no apparent reason. Lena didn’t need my help. I just watched her while I drank my vodka soda. Eventually, the pasta was ready to be served and I had to face the challenge of conversation.

Lena brought out the bowls with pasta and sauce spilling out of them. “Sorry. I think I’ve over-served you,” she said.

I spooned the salad out on each of our side plates. I offered everyone more to drink. I went to the basement to get Bryan a beer. I made Lena and myself a vodka soda. I retrieved another La Croix from the cabinet for Marty. I did everything I could to not sit still.

Cherry-CheesecakeAnd then… Dinner. It was as normal as could be expected, but I sat in relative silence. It was like something had taken over my brain, my lips and my tongue and didn’t allow me to use any of them. I listened. They talked about mortgages. They talked about design. They talked about Werner. I just couldn’t contribute to the conversation. I was paralyzed.

The one thing I hated about eating out or eating at someone else’s home, is that I had a compulsion to eat everything on my plate even if I wasn’t hungry. So that’s what I did. Though Lena had over-served me, I ate all the pasta, all the roasted cauliflower and all of the salad. I was full. I looked over at Marty’s plate. The only thing he didn’t finish was the salad. My salad. Did he not like it? I wondered. Maybe he just didn’t like salad, I tried to console myself.Cherry-Cheesecake

We cleared the plates and I cut the cheesecake that I made for dessert. I served Ford first because he was slated to go to bed within the hour. Before I could finish laying out the adult slices, Ford had cleaned his plate and the cat was licking it for any remnants Ford may have missed with his fork.

My cheesecake was a source of pride for me. Bryan had given me the nicest compliment I’d ever received over my cheesecake. In a conversation over what we would choose for our last meals, he said it would be my cheesecake. That was weeks, maybe even months after I had introduced him to it. I could do no wrong by serving this.

Cherry-CheesecakeWhile I laid down the plates, Lena put out a pot of water and cups for tea. Still not feeling chatty, I ate as they talked. On top of not feeling at the top of my conversational game, I was tired and fading fast. It was 8 o’clock and it felt like midnight. I couldn’t think of a good way to say, “Hey, I’m beat and I need to go to bed,” so I suffered as I fought my eyes to stay open.  When everyone was clearly done with dessert, Bryan cleared the table and Marty went outside to smoke. As Bryan was taking dishes from the table, I saw that Marty had left a quarter of the cheesecake I served him on his plate while everyone else had eaten everything. He didn’t like my cheesecake, either? I whined. Silently. To myself. Inside my head. The salad was one thing, but my cheesecake was my best work and he didn’t finish it.

While Marty was outside, Bryan and Lena asked what was going on between us. “I have NO idea!” I said. “But he didn’t finish my cheesecake.”

“Maybe he’s not done,” said Bryan. He left Marty’s plate with the last bit of cheesecake on it. He was the only one with a plate when we all returned to the table. He had no intention of eating anymore. He chipped away at my confidence, but it was still good cheesecake.

Cherry Cheesecake

CrustCherry-Cheesecake

  • 3 oz. butter (6 TB)
  • ¾ cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 2 TB sugar

Combine butter, crumbs and sugar thoroughly. Work it with your hands until it resembles wet sand.

Press firmly on bottom of two 9” pie pans. Place in freezer.

Filling

  • 2 (8 oz.) packages cream cheeseCherry-Cheesecake
  • 7 oz. sweetened condensed milk (half of a standard can)
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 TB unsifted flour
  • ½ TB Vanilla

 

Preheat oven to 300°.

Using a stand mixer using the whip attachment, beat cream cheese on high until fluffy. Reduce mixing speed to medium and beat in condensed milk until smooth. Add eggs, flour and vanilla. Mix well. Pour into prepared crusts. Bake until lightly browned; approximately one hour. Set aside until slightly warm and then place in refrigerator until thoroughly chilled.Cherry-Cheesecake

32. Challenging Chili Verde

Chili-VerdeI was no longer wasted.. And I wasted no time moving on. Dwelling on a failed relationship would only lead to drinking over it so I quickly started laying the groundwork for a successful one: I made plans with Marty.

He suggested we meet at Club Foot, the same bar where I went with Niall.

I mentioned it to Lena.

“You’re going out with Marty?” she asked excitedly.

“Yes,” I said.Chili-Verde

“Ohh!!  That’s fantastic. Bryan likes Marty, and you know how Bryan is, he doesn’t like anyone!”

It was true, her husband kind of hated everyone; that Bryan liked Marty was saying a lot.

“REALLY?” I said. “Then we could play cards!!!!”

Lena was always looking for other couples to have game night with. Brett was so socially awkward that I tended to shield my friends from his insufferable monologues about cats and vegetarian food by not inviting him anywhere. Also, I hated playing games, but I liked cards.

“But I told him that I was seeing someone so that’s off the table.”

“So if it comes up, tell him it ended,” she suggested. “At some point he’ll kind of need to know who, right?”

“Nah,” I said. “What for?”

Chili-Verde“I don’t know,” she said. “That’s what people do, no?”

“I’ll jump off that bridge when I get there.”

“Where are you guys going?”

“Club Foot.”

“For coffee?”

“You can’t get coffee at Club foot, only drinks.”

“Then why are you going there?”

“I guess he must be used to getting club soda at bars. He suggested it.”

“Huh,” she said.

“What do you think that means?” I asked.

“I have no idea.”

“Maybe he wants to get me drunk and take advantage of me,” I joked.

“You should ask him,” she said sarcastically.

“Maybe I will.”

“Oh to be a fly on the wall…” she ruminated.

I told Marty that Club Foot opened at eight o’clock but that he didn’t have to tell me a time right away. And he didn’t. Because he was a recovering addict, the delay in response made me a little anxious. I had very little experience with addicts — active or recovering — but one thing that stuck in my mind is that no matter where they are in their sobriety, they’re unreliable. I was hoping that was just an assumption.

Image Source: get directly down via Flickr/Creative Commons

Image Source: get directly down via Flickr/Creative Commons

Anxiety lifted: at seven o’clock Marty texted to see if nine o’clock worked.

I arrived first and ordered a vodka soda. I was planning on not drinking anymore, but I didn’t want to tell him this. He appealed to me because of the sobriety and I wasn’t sure if, because of his substance abuse history, it was something I could even bring up to him, so I had the most innocuous cocktail I could think of.

When he arrived, he sat to my left and ordered a club soda.

Chili-VerdeThere was an awkward pause. It was weird to be out with someone that I had little contact with up to this point, aside from the various barbecues and parties over the years. He always seemed older to me even though he only had a year on me. It was like hanging out with an uncle or an older brother.

We made small talk which was dull but necessary. Trudging through the awkwardness of a first date was always so unpleasant, I was glad I hadn’t yet given up booze to soften the exchange. I wasn’t quite sure how he was enduring it.  Maybe he just didn’t let it bother him and just talked about whatever was on his mind at any given moment. That must have been it: he gave me an unfiltered description of his new apartment in the West Loop, which he chose site unseen. I encouraged him to elaborate because I didn’t know how to kindly signal that the topic was achingly dull. He diagrammed it for me on a napkin.

“It’s weird,” he said. “It’s very long.”

I steered the conversation to something more familiar to both of us, even if it wasn’t more interesting: Margaret. She and I had been very close at the time he was friends with her, but she moved to Seattle just after he got out of rehab — I was pretty sure he didn’t know I knew he’d been in treatment for addiction and I didn’t mention it.

“Do you talk to Margaret anymore?” I asked.

“Hmm. I think I thought about emailing her a few months ago, but I never did,” he said. “Do you?”

“No,” I said emphatically. “We had a toxic relationship.”

“How so?” he asked.

“I dunno. She was very demanding and needy,” I said. “She treated me like a boyfriend.”

Chili-Verde“Ahh, well,” he said. “She doesn’t have many female friends. She probably didn’t know how to handle it.”

“We were also both very depressed at the time. I don’t think we were much good for each other.”

“But that’s not a reason to not be friends anymore, is it?”

I explained to him that when people are sick, they tend to surround themselves with sick people and that doesn’t help with the healing.

“That doesn’t make sense to me,” he said. “Having a human connection with someone who can relate to your problem can be helpful.”

Though Marty couldn’t understand my choice to end that friendship, the topic opened up conversation beyond the small talk. We stayed for two more drinks.

He told me that he loved Michael Jackson.

I told him about my decade’s-long obsession with the Shins.

He made me laugh.

I made him hungry.

Image source: David Hilowitz via Flickr/Creative Commons

Image source: David Hilowitz via Flickr/Creative Commons

We decided to leave and get tacos. On my way out of the bar, I tripped. I wasn’t a graceful person to begin with, but I’m sure the booze didn’t help my condition. I didn’t know if Marty noticed.

We went to Veloz, a late-night Mexican place that hosted karaoke on the weekends.

Chili-VerdeWhen we arrived, aside from a couple of hipsters, we were the only white people in the taco joint.

We sat down. I ordered two tacos al pastor with a side of beans and he ordered the carne asada.

We talked about food. I didn’t know if this was how normal first dates went — not that this was a first date since I hadn’t told him things with Noah had ended — but it was how this first date was going. I could talk endlessly about food I loved. He could talk endlessly about food he hated:

  • Lima beans made him gag
  • He didn’t try lasagna until he was 36
  • Potatoes in any form gave him the shivers
  • He couldn’t stand chunky people butter or cottage cheese because of the texture.. Even though he’d never tried either one

On the upside: he liked green chili.

Chili-Verde“I make great green chili,” I said. “I wanted to enter a contest but I forgot about it.”

“When?” he asked.

“I think it was in November,” I said.

“There have to be more chili contests,” he said and pulled out his phone to look for one. “You think you could win it with green chili?”

“I don’t know if I could win it, but it’d be fun,” I said.

“Why would you enter if you didn’t think you could win it?” he asked.

“Contests are fun,” I said. “I entered the last two Bucktown Apple Pie Contests and didn’t win, but I enjoyed it from start to finish.”

“Well, you should try to win something,” he said. He was clearly competitive.

“OK,” I said. “I’ll enter to win next time.”Chili-Verde

“So you’re confident in your apple pie?” he asked.

“Yes, I have a solid apple pie.”

“I used to ask for apple pie for my birthday every year.”

“No cake?”

“I didn’t like cake. I loved apple pie.”

We returned to familiar connections. He asked how I broke through our social circle.

I gave him the lowdown on Lucy and knitting and how my friendship with Lucy ended.

He told me that he used to live with Lucy when she was dating Werner. There were lots of parties and lots of messes, but he loved Werner and encouraged me to mend my friendship with Lucy.

California-Clipper

Image source: Joselito Tagarao via Flickr/Creative Commons

We enjoyed the food and the karaoke until we exhausted both. But we weren’t done with each other yet so we went to the California Clipper.

I wished I didn’t know this place so well. We found seats at the bar and the bartender — whose name I didn’t even know — asked me if I wanted a sidecar, which was my usual drink with Lucy. I did. Marty got a club soda. I was having a good time, but I was annoyed with myself for being incapable of turning down my key elixir.

We enjoyed each others’ company enough to move to a booth. Twice. The first booth was the closest to the door. Being January, there was a very good reason that booth remained empty: it was cold. We found another one. The farthest from the door. We stayed way past my bedtime and when it was clear that I’d had enough to drink, he drove me home.

As we turned the corner from Leavitt to Hoyne I blurted out, “I stopped paying my mortgage. I know that’s a lot of information, but that’s what keeps me up at night.”

“Isn’t that going to fuck your credit?” he asked.

“Probably,” I said. “But I’ve had perfect credit up until now and it hasn’t gotten me anything but my apartment.”

“Well that’s quite a bold move,” he said.

Chili-Verde“It makes me feel irresponsible, but I’ve done my research and this is decision the information has led me to.”

“OK,” he said.

“I’m just being honest.”

With that, he pulled up to my apartment and let me out.

I slept OK. I woke up at 7:30 and sent Marty an email.

“Thanks, Marty. You made me laugh.”

At 8:30, Marty texted me, “Last night was fun. Interested in hanging out later?”

I was. We went to see Django Unchained at 3:00pm. He picked me up and we took the longest, most painful route possible to the theater. On the radio Simon and Garfunkle’s “The Only Living Boy in New York” was playing. I loved that song.  It was followed by Iron and Wine’s cover of “Such Great Heights.” Marty was winning me over with his taste in music. When Frou Frou’s “Let go” came on, the sequence started to sound familiar to me.

“What are we listening to?” I asked.

“It’s the Garden State soundtrack,” he answered.

Ah. I knew what he was doing. He paid attention to my mention of the Shins. The Shins were shamelessly showcased on this soundtrack. He was trying to impress me.

When we got to the theater, Marty got Milk Duds and a Mountain Dew which he said was toxic green just like my relationship with Margaret.

The movie itself was horrible. It was long and boring and nothing I wanted from a movie. Around two hours in Marty and I started going back and forth with whispers about how long the movie was. Every five minutes after that, we would sigh to each other to express how annoyed we were with the film.Chili-Verde

When the movie was over, he drove me straight home. I was disappointed. It was six o’clock which, by some standards, was dinner time. There was no dinner invitation.

I walked into my apartment, took off my coat and scarf, threw them on the couch.

I texted Marty a thank you.

“Thanks, Marty. I’m going to fall asleep immediately.”

He wrote back, “When you wake up, let me know if you want to lounge.”

I was confused by this. “Why didn’t you ask me to lounge when I was still in the car?”

“I don’t know. I think the movie put me in a bad mood.”

“OK.”

“I’m watching the Blackhawks game. Have you ever been to a game?”

“To a Blackhawks game? No. But lots of college games and it was important at my high school. My BFF was the star hockey player. His name is Marty.”

“Interesting.”

It wasn’t. But I did have a fondness for hockey and the stink and cold because of my BFF, Marty. I thought it was funny that they’re both called Marty.Chili-Verde

When the hockey game was over, Marty invited himself over to my house. We watched Girls and he fell asleep on the couch while we watched Saturday Night Live. I let him sleep while I mis en placed my chili verde for the next day. I woke him up before he could start snoring. He went home.

I texted a thank you and I got nothing in return. I let it go.

Chili Verde

  • 1 lb pork shoulder, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 6 tomatillos, roasted
  • 2 poblano chilis, seeded, roasted  and roughly chopped
  • 6 serrano chilis, seeded, roasted and roughly chopped
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded roasted and roughly chopped
  • 1 small yellow onions, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup chicken broth or stock
  • 2 russet potatoes, medium dice
  • lard
  • Salt to taste

In a large pot, heat lard — enough to coat the bottom of the pot. Brown the meat. Remove from pan and set aside. Deglaze pot with a splash of broth. Add enough lard to coat the bottom of the pan. Add onions. Cook until soft. Add garlic. Let cook for another minute or so. Add chilis and let cook for about 5 minutes before adding the remaining broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add cooked pork. Cover and let simmer.

It was really good after 45 minutes, but I’ll bet it would have been better after 90 minutes.

31. Remedial Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup

grilled-cheese-and-tomato-soupThis was the week we decided to get input from the kids about what they want to eat. It was criticism I asked for, but it was still nerve racking to send out a survey. We had to bribe them with cookies to get them fill it out.

On Friday, they all came back. I didn’t look at all of them right away but after I did, I needed a drink. At six o’clock, I met Theo out at Savoy where they had a proper mixologist who could make toxic cocktails.

Savoy-Chicago

Image Source: JetpacApp via Flickr/Creative Commons

I had never been to Savoy, but it was a cute place on Milwaukee.

Theo was already there when I arrived.

“Hello there,” I said as I peeled off my scarf and coat. 

“How are you, my dear? It’s the end of another week in the kitchen.. How hot was it in there?” he asked. He was flamboyant, though his romantic endeavors suggested he was straight. His tone was always dramatic and he almost always treated me as if I was teetering between mild depression and certain suicide. I felt like such a drag when I was with him, but it beat being alone. 

“Oof. I dunno. I’m stressed out.”

“Oh no why? Let’s get you a drink.”

“Well, we sent out surveys to the kids about the food.”

“Ahh!!! What did you do that for? Anyone will tell you that feedback from that age group is the least reliable that you can ask for.”

“Yes, well, it’s still hard not to take that personally.”

“Oh my god, you shouldn’t.”

“I know. I mean they want junk food and we can’t serve junk food.”

“Of course not.”

“And I hate whole wheat as much as they do, but that’s what we have to serve.”

“Don’t stress out about it. Just drink your cocktail and we’ll have fun.”

Five effective cocktails later, we stumbled out of the restaurant. I walked home stopping once to buy cigarettes and a second time to buy potato chips.

I was hammered, but not so hammered that I didn’t remember thinking, “I am way too old to be getting this drunk,” as I shuffled home at 8 o’clock. It did, however, temporarily relieve me of the anxiety from work. 

Saturday: the amount of alcohol I let violate me the night before would have been lethal to most women of my age and stature, but it just hobbled me for a mere 24 hours. I did not leave the gentle clutches of my couch the entire day.

Emporium-Chicago

Image Source: MA1216 via Flickr/Creative Commons

Sunday, I turned down Theo’s invitation to dim sum, but I was in good spirits after Friday’s night of spirited poisoning, and agreed to meet him at Emporium — the beercade on Milwaukee –for afternoon cocktails. Sunday Funday, indeed.

Noah was, as he told me, still working the most insane hours he’d ever worked so I hadn’t seen him since Monday. We made tentative plans that night for after he talked to Liam about his failing relationship with Grace.

But Theo started planting seeds of doubt in my head.

“I’m sorry. I know, I’m too busy for a girlfriend, but you haven’t seen him since Monday?” He said this as if I believed he likes girls. 

“No. He just launched this kickstarter and has to have an e-commerce site done in a month and that’s not even his job. That’s in addition to his regular work.”

“But still. He’s not spending time with you.”

“Yep. I know. You’re right.”

After two whiskey sodas, I went home to eat soup from a can. It wasn’t very satisfying.

I folded laundry and went to the grocery and did chores until I got the 30 minute warning that Liam was to leave Noah’s house.

At the grocery store I bought a giant bottle of Jameson to bring to Noah’s. Buying in bulk was always cheapest.

Image Source: Google Maps

Image Source: Google Maps

It was the coldest it had been in two years. I thought about taking a cab, but it seemed too close not to walk, so I did.

I had forgotten how dark and frightening Chicago Avenue could be at night, particularly on a Sunday before a holiday. It was deserted.

I turned the corner at Noble Street. I still had to walk past the corner where there was a murder over New Year’s Eve, which was unsettling. When I got to Erie, I crossed the street where the bar was well-lit and people were standing around smoking in the cold. I almost felt safe.

I got to Noah’s door and presented him with my gift of whiskey.

“Aww. Thank you. Do you like screw drivers?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“You can have that now that I’ve got whiskey.”

Jameson

Image Source: Yoshitomo Oda via Flickr/Creative Commons

“How was Liam?”

“Not good. I told him to stick a fork in it because he’s done.” Oh how I wished he’d picked a more clever phrase.

He showed me the project he was working on for Chicago Energy. It was amazing. He’d done a map of Chicago based on how much natural gas was used in each neighborhood. It lit up like a light show.

We sat and had cocktails and smoked cigarettes. It was kind of disgusting.

Then he dropped the bomb.

“I’ve spent some time with my ex in the last few days,” he said. And that’s what Theo could tell me but my instincts couldn’t.

“OK,” I said feeling the walls close around me and crushing my heart. I don’t think I heard anything he said after that. I got up to use the restroom. I went in and buried my face in my hands and repeated to myself “What am I doing?” until I could gather the courage to face him again. “I should leave,” I thought as I walked back to the living room.

“What does this mean?” I asked.

“Well, we’re going to see each other casually and see how things go.”

“Well, this makes me feel bad.”

“I don’t want you to, but you never want to hear about it, so I can’t tell you.”

“Well then tell me.”

San-Francisco“When I met her, I was all set to move to San Francisco in August,” he said. “And then ten days after I met her, I rescinded my request. I loved her. She was a good person. She made me want to be a better person. And I knew about her husband. She’s from a rural town where people marry their high school sweethearts and she married her high school sweetheart who turned out to be gay and then he cheated on her for five years. For two months it was really good and the sex was terrible but it didn’t matter because I loved her. But at a point it started to feel like a charity case and I couldn’t do it anymore. She didn’t turn out to be the person I thought she was and I changed my life plan for her.”

“Did you have sex?”

“Yes.”

“What does this mean for us?” I asked.

“The same as it always has. We’ll take everything one day at a time.”

“I can’t compete with that.” I don’t know if I said it in my head or out loud. Everything was muddled together.

It only got worse. The night became a blur of whiskey and cigarette smoke. We went to bed and I woke up at eight o’clock with a searing headache, unable to go back to sleep. Noah was still sleeping so I stewed about the information he laid on me the night before. Not having processed anything, I sent Grace an email:

Grace– I know it’s totally random that I’m emailing you — and please don’t tell Noah that I’m coming to you — but I really need your opinion. I honestly have no idea what to do. With the knowledge that you have, if you were me, would you power through with Noah or cut your losses now? Please be honest.

Sorry, I know it’s wildly inappropriate.

Brooks

I pestered him to wake up and have sex, knowing this would be the last time. Per usual, it was mind-blowing. It was hard to reconcile that the best sex I’ll probably ever know was behind me.null

We got up to get a bloody mary before Noah had to start working. We checked the weather before we left.

“It’s negative fourteen degrees?!” I said.

“No. It’s negative fifteen. Negative fourteen is the high,” he said.

We walked the painfully cold two blocks to the Twisted Spoke for a bloody mary. My head hurt and the conversation hurt even more.

“Are we going to finish our conversation from last night?” I asked.

“I don’t know if there’s anything to finish,” he replied.

I paused to work up the nerve to say, “Do you want to continue seeing me?”

“I thought we were just going to take things as they come. Day by day,” he said.

“OK.”

“But I’m also going to see Erica,” he said. “And that may or may not mean that we’ll end up back in a relationship.”

“Well that makes me feel bad.”

“You’re seeing other people.”

“I went on one date.

“It’s the same thing.”

Twisted-Spoke-Chicago

image Source: monsieur paradis via Flickr/Creative Commons

“No it’s not. I didn’t have sex. And it wasn’t someone I used to be in love with.”

“How can you reconcile this?”

“What?”

“I’m making you feel bad and I keep telling you that my head is fucked up over someone else.”

“It’s really hard.”

“I think it’s impossible.”

“This feeling only comes around for me once or twice a decade. It’s not easy to abandon.”

I put down my credit card to settle the bill. He gave it back to me.

I furiously put on my coat, hat and scarf and said as my voice cracked, “You make me intensely sad.”

We walked out into the cold. I was two steps ahead of him all the way to his house. We didn’t exchange a single word.

I got into his apartment, said goodbye to his cat and grabbed my cigarettes. I walked

back to the door, looked at his empty face and said “See ya later” before closing the door.

About a half block away, I texted. “This sucks.”

“It wasn’t my intent to make you sad,” he wrote.

“But you knew you would. And so did I.”

Cigarette

Image Source: Sudipto Sarkar via Flickr./Creative Commons

I smoked three cigarettes on my walk home. When I got to my house, I took off my stinky, cat hair-laden clothes and changed into my sweat pants. I sat on my couch with a steady stream of whiskey in my glass for the rest of the day. I wallowed. I texted people I shouldn’t have been texting. I emailed people I hadn’t talked to in years. I listened to sad music. Then I got the email from Grace, a response that was moot at that point.

“Hey Brooks: No worries at all. I’m so sorry that you’re stuck in this situation. I know that Noah met you when he thought that things were over with Erica. I know they recently reconnected and to my knowledge, I think he’s doing his best to work things out with her and to be honest to everyone involved. (I hope that’s the same thing you’re hearing from him.)

I’m not sure what to tell you…except I’d recommend letting that run its course, if you have the patience to see if he comes out on the other side.

G.”

I responded, “Thank you. This totally sucks. I really appreciate your honest input, though.”

“Take it for what it’s worth—only you know what the right thing to do is. Hang in there, Brooks. I’m so very sorry,” she wrote.

“It’s out of my hands now, but thank you. I really like him. As far as sucking goes, this takes the cake.”

I went to bed at ten. I slept for exactly two hours. I woke up at midnight and laid there with ridiculous thoughts running in and out of my head.

And behold! The 3a.m. email:

“I’m not really sure how I feel about this now. I mean, it sucks. But I’m processing it and it takes me a long time to do that.

Anyway, what I wanted to say was that you make me feel like a crazy person for having feelings for you and that it’s totally one-sided. With the exception of yesterday I always had a good time with you. You made me feel good. So yeah, I wanted you to stick around because I liked the way I felt when I was with you. It’s totally rare.

A week ago, I honestly thought that you and I were a possibility and you indirectly validated those thoughts. I’m sharing an exchange that we had that stuck with me. I don’t know if it was because you were drunk that you wrote these things and the feelings disappeared when you sobered up, but this exchange made me feel like we had something. And today you made me feel like I imagined all of it:

Noah: you’ve spoiled me beyond words. at this rate, we may eventually have to marry. not before you’re dancing to ice cube, though. pity, that. thank you.

Brooks: Just keep breaking my heart. I mean it. I will get silly and dance to ice cube if you just keep breaking my heart.

Noah: i broke your heart today? [be honest] for real?

Brooks: Yea. Duh. Just keep doing it.

Noah: that’s not even remotely fair. what did I do that was so bad? I thought we had an amazing day together

Brooks: We did. It was amazing. It was, hands down, some of the best sex we’ve had and we’ve had fucking amazing sex prior to today.

Tampons.

Hairbrush.

You don’t want to get over it. Just do your work. And I’ll do mine. We’ll both do amazing things.

Noah: hands down. you’re right. amazing. with regard to the rest, i don’t really think about it.

what i am thinking about is that i can still feel all that we did on the insides of my thighs and down through my feet. you’re so f’ing amazing. relax a bit, shake your ass to music and we might just have something. just don’t give ice cube anything you’ve not yet visited upon me from above. just. saying.

Brooks: Today was a good day. Just saying.

Noah: you always make it sad. why do you do this?

Brooks: How did I make you sad? I’m not sad. I feel good. We had really a good day.

Noah: we did. you’re right. and thank you.

Brooks: Noah, just so you know, I’m confident about how things will work out for us. Whether you’re in San Francisco and I’m here or I’m in San Francisco and you’re here or we’re both in one of the two, it will happen the way it’s supposed to be. Not to get all metaphysical, but the universe has a funny way of shaking things out for the best.

I want to be with you. There was never any question of that. You’re one of the most amazing men I’ve ever met and you inspire me to do amazing things. I absolutely can’t ask for anything more. Even if you break my heart.

Noah: you’re making me tear up, which i never do. i don’t know what to say. thank you for this afternoon, it goes w/o saying. you’ve become far more meaningful to me than i ever thought we had the capacity to for one another. my spotify playlist of your songs absolutely kill me. i listen to it constantly.

-that is what I couldn’t wrap my head around.”

I really shouldn’t be allowed access to communication devices between the hours of 10p.m. and 7a.m. But it was done. Out in the ether. No taking it back. And I didn’t expect anything in return.

I never went back to sleep. The next day at work was the most painful day I ever had at that job. I got there early and I stayed late. I skipped going to take care of my friend’s cat so I could go home to sleep. When it was all over, I realized that Noah didn’t give a shit about me, but I was fine. I’d let time take care of me emotionally and my tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich to take care of me physically. It’s the meal where pleasure and healing intersect. 

When the hangover finally subsided, it occurred to me that, without Noah, I’d never have a hangover again. Though booze wasn’t the reason things didn’t work out with him, it would have been. I could go back to the land of sobriety where there were no headaches and wasted days on the couch. I could go back to my regular exercise routine without pain and there would be no more breathless runs because I’d smoked too many cigarettes the night before. I was relieved to have a decision made for me.

Tomato Souptomato-soup

  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 10.5oz can of petite diced tomatoes
  • 2 10.5oz can of chicken broth
  • 1 chicken bouillon cube
  • 1 cup half and half
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • Olive oil

In a large pot, over a medium flame heat about a tablespoon of olive oil and the garlic until the garlic is soft and fragrant. Add the onions and continue to cook and stir until the onion is translucent. And the tomatoes, broth and bouillon. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in half and half. Season with salt and pepper. Serve.

Grilled CheeseGrilled-cheese

  • 2 slices white bread (you can use any kind of bread, fresh or stale, but homemade sourdough is best)
  • 2 slices of American cheese (the more processed, the better — especially if you’re hungover)
  • Lots of butter

Over medium heat, melt a pat of butter in a small skillet. Place the two slices of bread in the pan and let it get very warm. Flip over each slice of bread and quickly top each piece with a slice of cheese each. Put it all together to make a sandwich on a plate and reduce the heat to low. Melt another pat of butter in the pan and add the sandwich. Cover. Let it go for about a minute and the bread browns on the bottom before you flip it. Let the other side get brown and when the cheese is all melty, it’s ready to serve.

30. Sensitive Cinnamon Rolls

Cinnamon rolls

“Hello, beautiful woman,” he welcomed me.

“You look so tired,” I said.

“Yeah. I’ve been napping, working and napping.”

I took the booze and cigarettes and set them down on the counter in the kitchen. Noah followed me into the kitchen and poured us two whiskeys.

He swaddled me with his limbs as we collapsed on the couch. I was blissed out on his affection and whiskey.

“You’re so smitten!” he said with a huge smile.

“What do you mean?” I asked. “I’m always like this. How am I acting differently than I normally do?”

Whiskey

Image Source:
doctyper via Flickr/Creative Commons

“You’re just being really affectionate.”

I shrugged shyly.

“Last night was really fun,” I said. “I had a really nice conversation with Grace. We had a good time.”

“Yeah, she said you guys got along swimmingly,” he smiled.

“Liam didn’t seem to be having much fun,” I said.

“I think their days are numbered,” he said.

“Grace mentioned that if it weren’t for the sex, she’d cut him loose.”

“Oh I know all about that. He’s just not fun enough for her.”

“Poor Liam,” I said. and quickly changed the subject. “You know, I really like Marty.”

Noah smirked. “That would be an interesting coupling.”

“He’s nice,” I said. “And very engaging.”

“Well, I can’t like Marty,” he said. “He was engaged to Grace, you know.”

“I know.”

“I just know too much about him. He’s like my brother. He has his own version of the truth.”

Image source: Jaya Ramchandani via Flickr/Creative Commons

Image source: Jaya Ramchandani via Flickr/Creative Commons

“But that was when he was doing a lot of drugs. He’s been sober for three years now.”

“Because of my friendship with Grace, I could never see him as a good person.”

“You don’t have to.”

“Thank you,” he said sarcastically.

We continued to drink and get silly with intermittent making out before we ordered dinner.

We got what Noah called Mediterranean slop.  That phrasing made me cringe, but the food was ambrosial. He got the chicken shwarma and I got the vegetarian platter. I grazed and we watched a standup special from Demetri Martin. It made me giggle.

The evening took its natural course; the bed seemed to be magnetized as we packed up the food.

“There’s a lot of food left over. Will you come over this week and help me eat it?”

“Sure,” I said as I checked my phone.

“Oh. Interesting,” I said. “Marty emailed me.”

“Oh really?” Noah said with all the sarcasm he could force into two words. “What’d he say?”

Chicken-Shwarma

Image Source:
Alpha via Flickr/Creative Commons

“He wants to get coffee.”

“He wants to go out with you.”

“I don’t think so.”

“What did he write?”

I read it to him, leaving off the part that said “Hey Brooks, It’s Marty.” I liked him, but I was embarrassed that he’d included something so… obvious.

“So I was serious when I told you I wanted to take a look at your cookbook progress if you’re still game for sharing. Wondering if you wanted to go for a coffee sometime this week and you can bring a copy with you – I’m curious. Hope the rest of your night went well… & nice seeing you. Marty”

I was a little embarrassed for him that he had to point out “this is Marty.” I wished I skipped over that part when I read it out loud.

“That is a date,” he said and then as if I didn’t hear him the first time he said sternly with a smile on his face, “That is a date. If you go out with one of my coworkers, tell me.”

“I don’t want to go out with Marty.”

“If. You. Go. Out. With. One. Of. My. Coworkers. Tell. Me.”

“That hurts my feelings,” I said as I went to the bathroom. I had forgotten to look before, but this time I noticed that he got rid of the tampons that I had asked to remove the week before. He wanted to get over it, I thought, relieved. Hopefully, that was the last if the evidence of his ex that he had.

When I returned, I picked up where I left off.

pita

Image Source:
Sandip Bhattacharya via Flickr/Creative Commons

“It hurts my feelings that you don’t care if I go out with other people,” I said.

“Listen, I am NOT seeing anyone else. By saying ‘tell me if you go out with one of my coworkers’ I’m saying ‘I don’t want you to go out with one of my coworkers.’”

“OK,” I said. “How should I respond?”

“Don’t respond at all. If you email him, he’s won. You’ll open dialog.”

“That feels rude. We have friends in common.”

“Do not respond.”

The truth was, I totally would have gone out with Marty if it wasn’t for Noah. A nice guy who’s fun and doesn’t drink was appealing to me. But I liked Noah, the drinker/smoker. A bad boy. Such a cliche.

We went to bed when our show ended. Noah took a sleeping pill and a pain pill for his back. I slept fine but I didn’t have to work. He didn’t sleep at all and had to be at work at ten o’clock.

We got up and I dressed. Noah walked me to the door and kissed me.

“Bye, beautiful woman,” he smiled. That smile made me melt every single time.

“I’ll see you later.”

I walked home, covered in cat hair and smelling like an ashtray. I took a shower and settled into the kitchen with fantasies of making cinnamon rolls from a recipe that the New York Times published earlier in the week. I wanted to do a test run before I tried them on the kids.

While I let the dough rise, I IMed Lena.cinnamon-rolls

10:41 AM me: So Marty emailed me. And asked me to coffee.

10:42 AM Lena: He asked Bryan for your email so we were wondering…! Cute guy!

me: ooooohhhh

Lena: !!!! 🙂

10:44 AM me: Yeah, but I’m still seeing Noah.

me: I don’t know how to respond. Noah said not to respond at all but that feels rude.

Lena: WHY?

10:52 AM me: why what?

Lena: Why would Noah say to blow him off? Are you and Noah exclusively dating? If so, wouldn’t you at least write and say you’re seeing someone?

10:53 AM I like Marty so I wouldn’t blow him off.

10:54 AM me: I think that Noah knows a lot about him because of Grace and it’s not good stuff.

10:56 AM We had a discussion about exclusivity last night. He’s not seeing anyone else but I don’t think that means we’re exclusive

10:57 AM and he said he didn’t want me to go out with Marty.

cinnamon-rollsLena: I understand that, but why wouldn’t you email back and say “I’m seeing Noah, so it’s probably not a good idea.”?

10:58 AM me: I don’t know what the logic was.

Lena: What Noah’s logic was?

me: right. Does this sound like a date to you?

I shared his email with Lena.

11:10 AM I mean, he’s working on something for Schwinn and I think I offered to talk to him about it

11:11 AM so it’s possible that he really just wants to have coffee

11:12 AM Lena: Oh. Then he probably wants to talk with you about the writing. I would take it at face value. If it comes up you can casually mention Noah.

11:13 AM me: Noah said it was definitely a date. I’m not a dude, so I have no idea.

11:14 AM But if Margaret knew, it would drive her crazy.

11:39 AM Lena: hahaha

11:40 AM me: I wish I could tell her. It would be hilarious.

cinnamon-rollsI wanted a man’s opinion, so I IMed Adam.

3:19 PM me: are you busy? may I ask your advice on something?

adam: You certainly may

me: so, you know Marty Fusco, obviously

3:20 PM I saw him the other night and chatted with him a bit

adam: Obviously. Yeah; he’s a nice chap. Very intelligent

3:21 PM me: I told him about the cookbook I’m writing and he told me that he’s working on a project for schwinn and I was drunk, of course

me: and I offered to talk to him about bikes for his project so he said he wanted to read my cookbook

3:23 PM me: anyway, he got my email address from Bryan

And I got this email from him last night…

3:24 PM me: is that a date?

adam: It’s difficult to tell; he seems to be going out of his way to make it look like it’s not so that makes me think maybe.

cinnamon-rolls3:25 PM You know what’s funny; I tried asking someone at Hatch out a while back; someone Marty used to date actually

3:26 PM And she told me that she’d up for going for a drink but wanted to make it clear that she was seeing someone

So that could be something you do here

3:27 PM me: Who? Grace?

adam: Yes, Grace

3:28 PM me: So Noah said that it was absolutely a date and doesn’t think I should respond at all.

But I think that’s rude.

3:29 PM adam: You should do whatever the heck you want.

3:32 PM me: OK, yeah. I’ll just be honest. Thanks, Adam.

3:33 PM So did you end up getting drinks with Grace after she told you she was seeing someone?

3:34 PM adam: I didn’t, no

cinnamon-rolls3:43 PM Did you ask Grace out in person?

adam: It was a very casual testing of the waters thing

3:44 PM I’d see her out and she’d be incredibly flirty with me but apparently she is that way with everyone when she is drinking

me: Yeah, she was flirty with me.

adam: ha

The cinnamon rolls weren’t very good. They weren’t as soft as I like my cinnamon rolls to be. Too dense. I would have to come up with another recipe as well as an email to Marty.

This what I sent:

“Hello, Marty. I don’t know if I’m ready to show anyone (that I haven’t already recruited to edit it) my work so far. I’m having a little trouble with keeping my voice consistent. But I’ll let you know when it’s ready.

I would like to get coffee — and I don’t want to be presumptuous — but I am seeing someone. I feel like an asshole saying that, but I just wanted to lay that out there. But I’m very interested in what you’re going to do with Schwinn. That sounds super-fun.”

cinnamon-rollsIt took a day for him to respond:

“Hey Brooks,

I understand about the inconsistent voice thing – it happens to me as well at work sometimes. As far as coffee goes, yeah, i was wondering if you were seeing someone but my invite stands regardless. Let me know sometime that works and it’s on me.

See ya

MF”

Marty’s response came back in a flash.. but it took me a week to come up with the perfect recipe for cinnamon rolls.

Cinnamon Rollscinnamon-rolls

For the Rolls:

  • 1/2 cup whole milk (warmed — about 20 seconds in the microwave is good)
  • 2 TB granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
  • 2 TB unsalted butter, melted, plus ½ TB to coat the dough as it rises
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 3/4 teaspoons vanilla extractcinnamon-rolls

For the cinnamon spread:

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1.5 tablespoons ground cinnamon

For the Icing:cinnamon-rolls

  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 3 TB milk
  • 1 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract

In a bowl fitted to a stand mixer, add the granulated sugar and milk. Sprinkle the yeast on top of the milk and let it stand for five minutes. Add the flour, salt and cardamom and mix on medium-low speed using the hook attachment for five minutes. Whisk together the vanilla, egg yolk and 2 TB melted butter (it shouldn’t be hot — you don’t want to scramble the yolk). Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and continued mixing until everything is well-combined. The dough should be sticky. Remove the dough from the bowl to gently work it on a lightly floured surface to make a ball. Place the remaining melted butter in a medium bowl. Add the dough and roll it in the butter to coat it. Cover the bowl in plastic and let it rise for one hour.

Pre-heat oven to 350℉. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a rectangle. Brush the 3 TB of melted butter over the entire rectangle. Sprinkle the cinnamon and sugar over the butter. Roll the dough up so you have a long cylinder. Slice off pieces (the rolls) about one inch thick. You should get about 12. Brush a 9” cake pan with butter and place the pieces of dough in the pan. There will be space between each of the rolls. Let the rolls rise for another 30 minutes.

Bake rolls for about 25 minutes or until the tops of the rolls are a golden brown.

Whisk together the confectioner’s sugar, vanilla, milk and butter to make the icing.

Pour the icing over the rolls while they’re still warm.

This recipe can be prepared ahead of time and then baked when you’re ready. When the dough is sliced and placed in the pan, cover it and refrigerate it overnight. Remove the pan from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before baking to bring it up to room temperature.

29. Restorative Ramen

Cocktail

Image Source: Adrian Scottow via Flickr/Creative Commons

 

It was a painful day and I was hungry but I had lunch plans with Isabella at three o’clock at Yusho — one of those teriyaki places that keep popping up — and I was to see Noah at five. I was too lazy to make a snack, so I starved.

Isabella picked me up at two-thirty and we arrived within exactly one minute of our reservation that we didn’t really need. The restaurant was empty save for a couple at a table at the front of the room. The host was someone who took hipsterdom to new heights. He teased out his hair so he looked like a white guy with an afro with a set of giant vintage spectacles resting on his nose. He was nice enough, despite his ridiculous appearance. He showed us to a booth toward the back of the restaurant.

We sat down and Isabella filled me in on the latest drama with her boyfriend.

“So you broke up?”

Fried-Chicken-Steam-Buns-Yusho

Image Source: Adam Rose-Levy via Flickr/Creative Commons

“Yes,” she said.

“What happened?”

“Well,” she said dramatically. “For New Year’s he was going to a party and asked if he could stay at my house so he wouldn’t have to go all the way home. But I had to work so I offered to get a key made for him so he could let himself in whenever.. and he freaked out.”

“You’ve been together a year and a half and he’s refusing your key?”

“Yes. But really, I think after his unwillingness to move to Iowa with me, I sort of checked out,” she said adding “Buuuuuut. I dunno. I guess he came over last night. And now he’s kind of interested in the idea.”

“Well, I think it’s too late for that. But wait just a second so we can order and you can tell me the rest. What cocktail are you going to get?”

“I was thinking about the Camino.”

Cocktail

Image Source: Thomas Hawk via Flickr/Creative Commons

“I was going to do the same.”

We browsed the menu.

“I’m kind of curious about the Logan Poser Ramen. What are you going to get?”

“I want the Ramen, but I think I should do something outside my comfort zone so I’m probably going to get the Somen with beef tongue.”

“Should we get an appetizer?”

“Yes. What sounds good to you?”

“Tofu doughnuts or the chicken skin. But let’s ask the server what’s best.”

The server came over and made his suggestions.

“The steam bun and the tuna are the best.”

“Interesting. He didn’t mention the ones we were interested in. Tuna?”

“Sure.”

yusho

Image Source: kennejima via Flickr/Creative Commons

I wasn’t terribly impressed with the food. The beef tongue was tender, but I didn’t like the flavor of the broth. The noodles were fine. The cocktails were fantastic.

“How’s yours?” I asked Isabella.

“Sooo good.”

“Is that an egg?”

“Yes.”

“Did it say hen egg on the menu?”

“Yes.”

“A hen’s just a chicken egg. Why didn’t they just say chicken egg?”

“It sounds fancier than chicken. And maybe to differentiate it from the quail egg on that other noodle dish. You’re so nit-picky about menus.”

RAmenWe continued to chat over noodles and another cocktail I didn’t need. I was relieved that she was opposed to having Charlie move to Iowa with her. She would do big things with her letterpress business and he would continue to stagnate, only instead of being in Chicago, he’d be in small town Iowa.

As we finished, I texted Noah to tell him I was on my way.

“Bring something to drink and cigarettes, please,” he responded.

On the way back to West Town, we stopped at Rothschild’s Liquor store. It was a slashy (a bar/liquor store) filled with elixirs that get the job done quick in the front and the never-ending party for toothless old men with no home and no job in the back. I picked up two pints of Jameson because they didn’t have the big bottle and a pack of Parliaments.

Isabella dropped me off in front of Noah’s apartment. I knocked on the door and I was greeted with a kiss by a very tired looking man.

28. Tipsy Timeout

RavioliBryan and Lena made dinner reservations for the two of them at A Tavola for Lena’s birthday. She loved the handmade ravioli. From there, the plan was to go to Bar Deville afterward and celebrate along with Werner for making his kickstarter goal within two days. Noah wouldn’t be joining because he had plans to have dinner with his family.

It was a slightly uncomfortable experience. I walked in with Lena and Bryan, and I knew it was a good possibility that Lucy would be there, but I hoped she wouldn’t be. We hadn’t yet crossed paths in the three months since our seven-year friendship ended.

Lucy was sitting in the booth with Maude, Grace and Liam. I avoided the table and went to straight to the bar with Bryan. Marty sidled up next to us.

Marty was not someone I knew very well, but he was friends with a woman, Margaret, who I was tight with during a particularly dark summer a few years before so I knew a lot about him. He might have been attractive to other women but he didn’t smile much, so I didn’t give him much thought. I remember watching World Cup games a few years before with friends we had in common, but he didn’t say a word to me; I dismissed him as mean. The first time we spoke was at a joint birthday party Margaret and I hosted. He surprised me with engaging conversation and genuine interest in what I had to say. With that, along with a tiki lamp he gave Margaret — a very thoughtful gift as it was something she collected — every negative thought I’d had about him disappeared.

Marty and I had a polite conversation as I ordered a vodka soda and he ordered a club soda and lime. I knew Marty didn’t drink. Suddenly, I missed my nights of kiddie cocktails and hangover-free mornings. I knew I shouldn’t be drinking.

“Hey, Marty,” I said. “How are you?”

“I’m doing well. I just got back to town after a few months in Singapore and Australia, so I’m readjusting.” He also worked with Noah who told me he had taken a leave of absence, which I assumed meant he’d gone to rehab.

“What were you doing?” I asked, trying to assess the situation.

“I was working on a beer project. It wasn’t that interesting,” he said.

It wasn’t a spectacular or interesting conversation, but it felt good. He told me about his month-long holiday with his family and he asked about me. I was taken aback that he was curious about what I was doing so I pulled some bull shit out of the air about writing a cookbook to make myself sound more interesting than I am. Then I quickly turned the burden of conversation back on him.

vodka-soda“You’re back at Hatch, right?”

“Yes,” he said. “It’s weird being away for so long, when you come back and it’s like being the new kid at school. Everyone stares at you.”

“Did you get a drink?” Bryan interrupted.

“Not yet. What did Lena want?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Vodka soda?” said Bryan.

“Can you get me a club soda with lime?” asked Marty. Ahh. Still on the wagon. I envied Marty.

“Of course,” I said.

I got the drinks and returned to my conversation with Marty. He told me about a boring banking project he was working on in tandem with a bicycle project — that piqued my interest while instantly making me feel inadequate with my lack of direction and purpose.

“Well, if you ever want to talk bikes, I’ve got lots to say.”

“That’d be cool. And I’d really like to read your cookbook. My mother loves to cook.”

Before I had to come up with additional fibs to cover up my personal deficiencies, Werner blew by with a freshly shaved head.

“Go outside?” he asked Marty.

“Sure,” Marty returned, and they turn toward the cold for a few pulls on a cigarette.

I made my way, cautiously, toward the table. I greeted Maude and said hello to Chris and his wife.

Before I could stand alone for too long or catch Lucy’s eye, I spotted Grace and re-introduced myself. She was a good friend of Noah, but didn’t remember meeting me the first time at Werner’s engagement party. She knew all about me. She also happened to be sitting next to Lucy.

We got along surprisingly well. From what I’d heard about her, I didn’t think I’d be able to win her over. But we had a delightful conversation about having been to the same parties and never crossing paths. Inevitably, she asked how I knew all these people and I had to attribute it to Lucy and explain how much of an asshole I was to her with Lucy sitting a foot away.

“Oh,” she said. “So is this weird that I’m sitting between you?”

“Nah. I mean, it’s kind of like a breakup.”

“But even with breakups, you talk to people in social situations.”

“I don’t think she’ll ever want to talk to me again,” I said. “I was pretty mean. I’m too embarrassed about it to repeat it.”

Grace and I continued to imbibe. Heavily. But I managed not to get into an uncomfortable situation with Lucy. I also managed to get completely shitfaced.3407778423_f056f6e9ee_o

All I remembered about leaving was Werner walking me out to the cab and I properly thanked him via text the next day while I sorted the wreckage from my late night grilled cheese coupled with auditory flashbacks of the smoke alarm going off. No doubt, I woke up my neighbors. They’re too polite to complain to my face, but not so polite they wouldn’t bitch about me to the other neighbors.

“Thanks for putting me in a cab. I hope I wasn’t too much of an asshole.”

“You were fine. Cabby refused to take you alone, though 🙂 I had to ride with you.”

“Whoops. I was drunker than I thought. Double thank you. I owe you like 1,000.”

Lena had an equally humiliating evening. I was greeted with an email upon waking, “I was far too drunk last night. I threw up in our bathroom sink and licked Werner’s head.”

Though I wasn’t alone in my pain, the anxiety creeped into me as I tried to wipe up the mud from my boots that I had no recollection of getting stuck in. With any luck, everyone else was too drunk to notice the 38-year-old woman who was incapable of holding herself up long enough to catch a cab. But I was probably not that lucky.

27. Rude Awakening Rugelach

RugelachI woke up refreshed. Eight solid hours of sleep. My head didn’t suffer, but my social life did. Being a hermit was easy; getting over heartbreak was not. I wanted to make rugelach. A simple pastry loaded with edible treasures. I had the time and I had the ingredients, I just needed the motivation. But I was distracted. I knew Noah was at home. I emailed something silly just to plant a seed. I was so needy and so pathetic. If only I had self-control. And this was me sober. Cringe. Whatever I wrote worked. It started out innocently and then I launched into some desperate essay about, you know, sex. As I’ve mentioned, the downside to sex between us was that it was perfect.Rugelach But that’s all it took: 5 days of silence + 3 hours of dirty emails= 2 hours of amazing sex. It’s interesting because this formula works for sex, but there’s no magic formula for love; either it’s there or it’s not.

It took me 20 minutes to walk in the wet snow to his house. There were huge flakes that could find an eyelash for a platform and then melt within seconds making a mess of the most meticulously crafted eye makeup. When I arrived, I was a wet blob. But he thought I was beautiful.

This was the first time I’d seen him in an angsty week, but it was surprisingly easy. Though this was a soul-crushing visit, he greeted me with a knee-buckling kiss. His lips were exactly what I needed. After a long walk with a small bladder, I used the restroom. As I went in, he offered me a drink, “Do you want red wine or Jameson?”Rugelach

“Jameson,” I called to him.

“Neat or rocks?”

“Rocks.”

His bathroom was disgusting. Overall, he wasn’t a messy person, he just didn’t sweep or scrub or mop and he didn’t seem to own a chest of drawers, though his pile of clothes indicated he could use one. There were also remnants of hairballs from his cat all over the apartment, but his bathroom was the most disgusting room in the place. The bath mat was covered in cat hair, there was a ring around the toilet bowl and the toilet seat made a wet squishy sound every time I sat on it. RugelachBut the filth took a backseat to the other things I encountered in the bathroom. I didn’t snoop as a rule, but since he pointed out weeks ago that her tampons were there, I looked for them. And they were still there. There was also a hairbrush that I hadn’t noticed before, but it was clearly a woman’s hairbrush. I slouched on the toilet thinking ‘He doesn’t *want* to get over it.’

I ignored what I found and joined him on the couch. With music playing, we sat and talked for awhile. The conversation wasn’t at all what I had expected. He dove right into the stuff that made me completely and profoundly sad; I pretended not to be. He talked about an email I sent that thanked him for realizing I shouldn’t settle for anyone who doesn’t make me swoon. It was painful to hear my words being said back to me. There wasn’t much I could say except that those few days were really hard for me and that I knew I shouldn’t see him or be there at that moment because it hurt, but I was there because he inspired me. I deflected and asked him what we were listening to.Rugelach

“Lovage. It’s a collaborative work from Nathaniel Merriweather, Mike Patton and Jennifer Charles,” he said. “It’s called ‘Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By’ and it’s one of the greatest albums of all time.” To non-cooks it sounded like sappy band name, but lovage is just an herb slightly similar celery leaves with a bold flavor. Nothing romantic about it.

Noah then pointed to his computer which had a playlist up of the songs I’d sent him. I looked at it only seeing the cover of Bright Eyes’ “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning.” I said, “That’s a great album. I would call that one of my favorites of all time.” Condescendingly, he said, “That’s not an album, it’s a playlist. I know you think I don’t listen to what you send me, but it’s an amazing playlist.” Rugelach

There were only four songs on it (all heartbreaking) and two were from the Shins — ‘Gone for Good’ (letting go of love past its expiration date) and ‘Kissing the Lipless’ (You say you’re over me, but you’re not). The other two were “Landlocked Blues” from Bright Eyes (debilitatingly painful — we love each other, but we’re better off apart) and “This Modern Love” from Bloc Party (‘this modern love wastes me,’ need I say more?).  Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back to Black’ deserved to be on it, but he apparently ignored that email. Or maybe it hit just a little too close to home. “I listen to it constantly,” he said and then he kissed me. One of those kisses that makes your shoulders fall from attention and makes your neck wobbly. We made our way into the bedroom. I will spare the details about how the orgasm he gave me left me so exhausted I could barely lift myself from the bed. It was epic. Rugelach

When we dressed, we resumed our positions on the couch and talked more. I asked him if he liked R. Kelly. This opened an entertaining can of worms. We watched “Real Talk” and witnessed R. Kelly’s relationship devolve over the phone in real time to music. Hilarious. That led to watching other 90s hip hop — Tupac and Ice Cube — which wasn’t something I was interested in at all, but I opened my mind and Ice Cube was right, the day was a good day.

Work was hanging over his head, but we kept watching ridiculous videos. Then a text came in for him. I couldn’t help myself. I looked over. I saw more than I needed to. It was her name. I freaked out. Internally, of course, because I was incapable of having a real life fit. I saved my fits for the internet or text messages. RugelachStill not showing my craziness, he said, “OK. It’s five o’clock. I have to get back to work.”

I didn’t have a whole lot of time to let it fester, but what time I had created pure bile. “I get it. I understand. I’m not an idiot,” I said and got up, swinging my scarf around my neck.

“What? What’s wrong? I’m sorry, you know I have to work.”

“That’s not what I’m upset about. And I’m not even allowed to be upset about it.” “What are you talking about?” Rugelach“I know I’m not supposed to look,” I said, making a reference to his rule about not checking a mate’s phone. “But I saw the text that came in.”

“Oh. It was about her cat. I don’t have control over who texts me. And I didn’t respond.” He was normal and kind and everything I would want from a boyfriend who had just ended a relationship with someone else. Except that he wasn’t my boyfriend.

“Listen,” he said. “You are the only sex that I know right now and have been for the last two months. Even this last week.” He said this as he walked into the bathroom. RugelachIt wasn’t sex that I was upset about. I didn’t know if I cared if he’d had sex with someone else in the week that we were apart; I hadn’t thought about it. I was upset because he wasn’t trying to get over his last girlfriend. They were still in contact. They were still in each others’ lives. The woman standing in the way of my happiness was still texting him.

When he left the bathroom I asked him, “Can I do something?” “What?” “Can I throw away her tampons and her hairbrush? I know we’re not seeing each other anymore, but that those things are still here make me think that you don’t want to get over it. ”

“I’m supposed to be in San Francisco. Last year, my transfer papers were signed and ready to go and I put it all on hold for her. So what I’m dealing with is just where MY LIFE is supposed to be.”Rugelach He consoled me and it worked. He told me he would take care of the stuff in the bathroom. We made out a little more and I left.

With mixed emotions, I stopped at the grocery store and bought  a 1.75L bottle of Jameson and went home. I started the rugelach as I poured a glass of Jameson to drink as I baked. I rolled out the cold dough with the little strength that wasn’t sapped by the afternoon’s revelation. As I layered the chocolate, cranberries, walnuts, and coconuts generously, the whiskey washed through me and made me sway with sadness. It wasn’t going to turn out the way I wanted it to. I rolled up the dough with filling spilling out of the edges, brushed the top with egg wash, sprinkled it with sugar before slicing and baking it. I sat and waited to see how it would all come together. I was overeager. It was overstuffed with all that I loved. I always wanted too much even when I knew it wasn’t right.

I made a second attempt with temperance. I cut out the coconut and cranberries and added a little more patience. The result was perfect and balanced; all it took was a little self-restraint.

****

Rugelach for One Dough:Rugelach

  • ¼ cup cold butter, cubed
  • ¼ cup cold cream cheese, cubed
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour

Filling:

  • ⅓ cup and 1 TB semi-sweet chocolate chips finely chopped
  • ⅓ cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 TB melted butter
  • 2 TB granulated sugar
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 egg for egg wash
  • Granulated sugar for sprinkling

Directions: In a food processor, pulse together the butter, cream cheese, flour, and salt until it’s crumbly. Dump it all in a plastic bag and form a ball. Refrigerate for an hour. Roll out the dough into a rectangle (between each turn, press the edge of the dough with the side of your hand so the edges are straight). The dough should be about ⅛ of an inch thick and a foot wide. Brush it with the melted butter. Mix together the cinnamon and sugar. Sprinkle evenly on the dough. Sprinkle a layer of nuts followed by the chocolate and coconut. With the wide edge, roll the dough up to create a dough cylinder. Press down the ends. Place in the freezer for a half hour. Preheat the oven to 400℉. Beat a tablespoon of water with the egg to make the egg wash. When the rugelach is cold, brush the top with the egg wash and sprinkle it with the sugar. Slice into 1” pieces and, maintaining the cylinder shape, place them on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or a silpat so it’s still a long tube with no space between each piece. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes and the top is golden brown. Rugelach

26. Unmoved Mushroom Soup

Mushroom-SoupI pulsed the food processor to turn shitake mushrooms into dust when the buzzer went off.  I thought for sure it was the mail carrier, except that I wasn’t expecting any packages. A little scared about who it might be, rather than using the intercom, I went downstairs to see who was at my door through the window. It was Brett, of course, making one of his unannounced visits.

I opened the door.

Mushroom-Soup“Hey. What’s up?” I tried to act happy to see him, but I couldn’t fake it. He’d been trying to hang out with me for the last few weeks, but I didn’t have the energy to try to save him anymore.

“Hi!” he smiled. “I brought you a Christmas present.” It was a desperate attempt to be thoughtful about a year-and-a-half too late.

I didn’t know what to say so, like an idiot, I invited him in. And he came in, of course.

“Whatcha doing?” he asked with a little too much pep. Perhaps he was trying to make up for sucking the life out of me with his perpetual mopiness.

“Making wild rice and mushroom soup,” I said, just shy of being curt.

“Is it vegetarian?” he asked excitedly.

“Nope,” I said, relieved there was chicken stock in the soup.

Mushroom-SoupI was in his presence all of three minutes and he was already irritating. Of the things that drove me crazy about Brett, the vegetarianism might have been the most grating. Anytime we went anywhere he expected people to accommodate his diet restrictions. I once took him to my friend’s barbecue in Pilsen and he got upset that they didn’t provide veggie dogs. To placate him, I pointed out that the caprese salad, hummus and guacamole were all vegetarian. His response was, “I want a veggie dog.” He bitched — not just complained — the entire ride home about how it’s a host’s duty to provide veggie dogs at barbecues. That was six miles if suck. But I shouldn’t have been surprised. He never appreciated that I cooked vegetarian food for him even though that’s not how I cook for myself.

To be clear, I didn’t hate vegetarians, I hated assholes. He was an asshole.

When we got back into my apartment, I continued to saute, stir and chop, and participated in the conversation dismissively.

Mushroom-Soup“I have to go to the store in a few minutes.”

“OK,” he said.

I didn’t feel like engaging in conversation with him so I didn’t.

“Got any cookies or anything I can munch on,” he asked. This was the other thing that he did that I hated, he always helped himself to my food and expected me to feed him. It drove me crazy.

“Nope,” I said.

But he found my gum. “Can I have one of these?”

I really didn’t want to give him anything, but I let him have a piece of gum. He sat on the couch loudly chomping his gum while I cooked. My blood was beginning to boil right along with the soup.

Mushroom-Soup“OK,” I said. “I need to go to the store now.”

“Aren’t you going to open your present?” he asked expectantly.

“I was going to wait until you were gone,” I said. I knew I would hate it and I couldn’t fake excitement for a gift from him.

“OK. That’s weird,” he said. “Well, do you want a ride?”

“Sure,” I said even though I didn’t want one. The store was a block away and I didn’t want to sit in the car with him.

“Whatcha gonna do tonight?” he asked as we pulled around the block.

“Nothing,” I said, offering no other conversation.

Mushroom-SoupHe pulled up directly across the street from the grocery store. It couldn’t have been a more inconvenient place for me to be dropped off. It was on Chicago Avenue which is always busy so in order to cross the street safely, I’d still have to walk a half a block to the cross walk. I didn’t want to point this out to Brett because, really, I didn’t want to spend anymore time with him than I had to and I didn’t want to have any unnecessary conversation with him. But it didn’t matter. I wasn’t in control.

“I saw the Hobbit last night,” he said. “I didn’t really like the 3D. I thought it made the movie look really fake. I’ve read that the projection was 48 frames per second, but it really didn’t do much for the film.”

I didn’t say anything, but he went on.

Mushroom-Soup“And the storytelling was kind of weak. I mean, it’s like it wasn’t even from the same writer as the other movies. I found it kind of silly.”

I still didn’t say anything out loud but inside my head I was screaming for him to shut up. It gave me a headache.

“Overall, I think the movie just looked bad. I mean, I dunno. I guess the human brain isn’t designed to adjust to the projections the way they thought it would. And it was almost three hours long.”

When we were dating, I tried to train Brett to edit his stories. If his stories had nothing to do with anything and weren’t very interesting, I would say, “That’s not very interesting.” It usually shut him up. This time, I didn’t have the energy to train him or deal with the hurt feelings, so I said, “OK. Well, have a good night. Thanks for the ride!”

Mushroom-SoupI got out of the car before he could start talking about the Hobbit again. I didn’t even bother to go to the cross walk. I dodged cars to get to the grocery store that was annoyingly crowded. But being in a packed grocery store was far better than being in the car with Brett.

I picked up the last of the ingredients for the soup. I was excited about it. It was a lot of work but I was certain it was all worth it.

While the soup simmered on the stove, I opened the gift from Brett. It was a book of cat illustrations from Edward Gorey. It’s a good thing I foresaw that I would hate the gift. I’m not sure could have thanked him for it.

I thought for sure my soup would be more exciting than the gift, but I was wrong. It was so much work, so many ingredients and it was just…OK. And it occurred to me that I don’t like wild rice. It was a good idea in theory, but in practice it was just a bowl of meh. But the soup’s return on investment was much higher than dating Brett. I only wasted an hour-and-a-half on the soup rather than the year-and-a-half I wasted on Brett.

I came up with my own recipe for mushroom soup that was richer and more pleasing to me without all of the random ingredients. I’m still working on a recipe for the perfect relationship.Mushroom-Soup

  • 4 TB butter
  • ½ large yellow onion diced
  • 8oz pack of  sliced mini bella mushrooms
  • 3 oz dried chilean mushrooms
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • ¼ cup brandy
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp peppercorns
  • Small bunch dried thyme
  • ½ cup cream

In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and saute them until they are soft and translucent. Add the slices mini bellas and continue to saute until most of the water has been released from the mushrooms.

In a food processor, pulse the dried Chilean mushrooms until you have a fine powder. Add the powder to the mushrooms and onions. Add the brandy, chicken broth and the bay leaf, peppercorns and thyme (tied together in a cheesecloth). Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce the heat to low. Let simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the bay leaf, peppercorns and thyme and discard. Whisk in the cream and serve.

Mushroom-Soup

25. Crumbling Cookies

Lemon-Cornmeal-CookiesIsabella picked me up thirty minutes later than she said she would. She was disheveled, but cleverly dressed the way art students always are. Though I’m pathologically punctual, I didn’t mind. She was a free spirit and, despite our fifteen year age difference, we got along very well. Isabella was very smart and we both had a penchant for food.

We got down to Randolph Street but couldn’t find free parking so we resorted to meter parking on Halsted, a block away from Au Cheval. We had two hours.

Lemon-Cornmeal-CookiesThe restaurant occupied a nice space, albeit small. It was cozy and dimly lit even though it was noon. Unfortunately, it was packed.  People in giant down coats hovered around the hostess station so we had to wedge our way in to put our name down for a table. The wait was forty-five minutes; the hostess suggested we get coffee down the street at a tiny pastry shop. On our way there, we walked by Little Goat. It was opening day. The restaurant world had been anticipating this opening for months and we were curious, so we looked in. The wait was also forty-five minutes, but the atmosphere wasn’t quite as pleasant as Au Cheval. It was supposed to be a diner, but it was a large, unwelcoming, open space making it a place to see and be seen. We skipped it.

The pastry shop was small and more of a grab-and-go lunch place than pastry shop, but had tables if you wanted to eat in. We each got a coffee and a cookie. I went for the cornmeal lemon cookie and Isabella got the homemade Oreo.

Lemon-Cornmeal-CookiesWe traded bites of our cookies — mine was crunchy, grainy (in a good way) with a lemony zip. I put it on my list of things to make. Light and delightful. One cookie killed just enough time to get us through our waiting period without having to stand around.

When we returned to Au Cheval, it was still packed, but we got a table that I was happy with in a far corner, away from the door.

As we sipped bloody marys, Isabella launched into her story about her boyfriend, Charlie. The last she had told me was that they were in love but things got awkward after she decided she should move to Iowa City and start a letterpress business.

“I asked him if he would move with me and he flat out said ‘NO,’” she said. She said this as happily as she says everything. It’s like nothing bad has ever happened to her. Nothing got her down. I envied her disposition.

au-cheval-burgerWe looked over the menu. She decided on a plain cheeseburger. I got the cheeseburger with a fried egg. I knew I was playing with fire, but I couldn’t help myself: I added the bacon topper. I desperately wanted to order both the mashed potatoes and the fries, but Isabella convinced me to split the fries with her.

I detailed my recent affairs as the food arrived. My burger was the most beautiful burger I’d ever seen. It was served open face. On one side of the bun was the perfect fried egg and on the  meat and cheese topped with two thick slices of bacon gleaming with delicious, warm pork fat. I took off one slice of the bacon to taste. It was other-worldly. If there was a better piece of bacon out there, I didn’t want to find it because this one was enough to send me into a deadly bacon relapse. It was so good, I took off both slices to savor by themselves. The fries were equally dreamy: fried in pork fat and dipped in mayonnaise.

Lemon-Cornmeal-CookiesThe conversation kept me from eating too much too quickly. I told her about Eamon and then all of the sordid details between me and Noah and how the relationship was manic. There were extreme highs and extreme lows but the sex was consistently fantastic. I mentioned our writing exercise and she demanded to read what he wrote.

“If you read it, you will never look at me the same way again,” I said. “Seriously, I saved it as ‘50 Shades of Noah.’ It’s very graphic.”

“I don’t care,” she said. “I want to read it. I can handle a little sex.”

I pulled up the email on my phone and let her read it while I finished my meat.

“It’s not edited,” I said. “We wrote and sent as is.”

“OK,” she said suspiciously.

Lemon-Cornmeal-CookiesWith a long blink, Isabella said very dramatically, “That is quite a piece of writing.”

“Yeah, he wrote twice as much as I did in the same amount of time.”

“I mean, it’s interesting. Very detailed, but he gets a little repetitive,” she said. “Also, I think he objectifies you.”

“Really? Is that what you took away from it?” I asked. “It’s a fair representation of our physical relationship, but he’s a very caring person.”

“I don’t know about this guy,” she said. I knew she was right. At 23 she was more astute about what was happening between me and Noah than I was at 38.

Lemon-Cornmeal-Cookies“I think you should go out with Eamon again,” she urged. “He sounds nice. And you have tons in common.”

“I wasn’t excited about him,” I said. “I was excited about Noah. I’m still excited about Noah. I just don’t know what will happen.”

“I think you should walk away now. He’s bad news.”

“If only I had the willpower to do that. If I wasn’t so attracted to him, I would. He’s like… bacon.”

“How did you leave it today?” she asked.

“I told him I was going to lay low and not contact him for a while.”

“Are you going to?”

“I’m going to try.”

We finished our food and cocktails and returned to the cold. Isabella dropped me off. I over ate but I was eager to make those lemon cornmeal cookies.

*****

Lemon Cornmeal CookiesLemon-Cornmeal-Cookies

  • ½ cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • zest of one lemon
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup corneal
  • pinch salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 400F.

Cream together sugar and butter and zest. Add eggs and vanilla. Add cornmeal, flour salt and baking powder.

On a silpat or parchment paper lined sheet pan, scoop about one teaspoon of cookie dough onto pan with ample space between each cookie so they don’t touch while baking.

Bake in oven until slightly golden (about 7 minutes). They should be crispy.

Lemon-Cornmeal-Cookies