Thursday, December 20, 2012

Blind Referees or How to Cook for a Change

Today (12-18) marks four months since Evan’s death, and if ever there was a day that reminded me that people forget so quickly, it was today.  I suppose my role as chauffer for a medical appointment was more in line with past times, but the overwhelming political bovine scatology that has been heaped on my plate these past two days has been a hard thing to swallow.

I have thrown under the bus in such a manner that after the bus hit me the first time, some smart alec rider encouraged the driver to back up over me again just to make sure I was just a bump in the road and not a real mechanical problem.  Then to top it off, a young friend did the dumbest thing he could possibly do, then act surprised when he was caught in his idiocy; and then realized his only way out of his self-created madness was to reach outside his pride filled box and not let go when his parents pulled him out of his own stink pile.

Oops, I almost forgot; some well-intentioned soul is going to try and teach a class on coping with grief and wanted to get my input and feedback on whether it should be done, whether it should be done by him, and if I thought he was on the right track.  This person also stated that they did not think the lessons would be well attended.  For pity’s sake! Really!

Oh yes, one other detail, my wife called yesterday at lunchtime as is our normal ritual; and almost asked, “How’s Evan doing?”  Unspoken answer – Probably a damn sight better than any of those of us left behind.  Every morning, I get up and know that he is not there.  Each time I walk past his bedroom, I know that he is not there.  I look at photographs and try to remember all the details associated with it, the colors, the smells, the temperature, the topics of conversation, the next things we did, the sound of his voice and his laughter.  Each time I pass the empty piano bench I see him there and remember his intensity.

By 12-19 all I could think was that no one wants to hear this pain all over again.  There will be moments when a reader might be entertained (perhaps a poor choice of word) by the writings of the miserable; especially when that misery is universal regardless of place or circumstance in the world.  If you have ever read Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities you would recognize the pain of Madame LaFarge.  Her pain is the very real and palpable, and her desire of revenge is her outlet for this feeling of hurt and anger in a battle of perceived class warfare via the French Revolution.  Dickens’ through his works lets us see that pain is pain, joy is held in all hearts and that one’s station does not change the intensity of the emotions.

In my parent’s end of the year letter to their family and friends begins with the opening line from a Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. . .”  And as I marvel at the literary skills of those around me and take in the craft of weaving words from the likes of Irving, Dickens, Melville and Shakespeare; I find that my writing should not be a fool’s errand of repetition of the same message.  While I may have discovered the tone of my literary voice, it is currently tinny and hollow as if heard through a tin can telephone. But what to do?

Today, again (12-20)I cannot deny that with each passing reference to Evan, the condolences coupled with the discoveries of things forgotten there are searing pains.  Whether it is the note in a Christmas Card, an ornament purchased with the best of intentions or the items being discarded.  Those items had been hoarded and stashed away in the vain hope of divine miracles and/or medical breakthroughs; the items now to be thrown as rubbish while sifting through them for the real gems of anguish.  These gems are the clear insights into either memories of Evan or his character. 

There was the rough draft of the letter to the LEGO corporation to sponsor a Mega-build of Jabba the Hut to tour pediatric cancer hospitals around the country.  People would build the ugly 9’ tall monster over the course of a week, only to have the patients tear it down as physical representation of the monster inside their bodies.  I will share that letter on some later date as part of the roll out of the Evan Coleman Foundation

Or the video spoof of me as part of my Father’s Day gift for this year.  In this clip, Evan, clearly under-weight acts out a ‘typical’ family dinner scene.  Evan as me, is in a white tank top, a ‘wife beater’, trying to engage the children with some off the wall off color humor so as to get them to laugh.  You can watch it here at Look beyond the script and look at the glimmer in his eye, and the music of laughter in his tone and mannerisms.

Or the crèche scene he made out of modeling clay for me when he was 4 years old. It is pictured here sitting on the keyboard of his Alienware laptop.

This pain, these crippling strikes to leg, knee or groin are not dissimilar to playing in a soccer game where the referee is truly blind.  The opponent for this little game is the Devil. His minion demons have taken the field with nothing but total victory on their minds.  Some of them have skill, but most are thugs.  Their concept of victory is not just to win the trophy for the game, my faith; but to leave me clutching my wounds while trying to gain some comfort and solace as I roll on the ground in the fetal position.

As the game has gone on I have exerted more effort to regain my feet, and the attacks have been more penetrating and poignant.  But most importantly I have realized that I am not alone.  It does not mean I can pass my responsibilities onto someone else, and so there are things that I must do alone; but that does not mean that I am not supported or that I should approach the game as a lonely soul. 

When playing games, whatever the game, there will always be opponents who are faster, bigger and stronger than you, some might even be smarter.  But if you have the heart to stand up, the will to fight on and the desire to stay in the game then you must find a way to connect with those around you.  To draw on their strength when you are down, and to help them, your teammates, be better at what they are trying to do.  That is the essence of understanding from Psalm 23, you will walk the Valley by yourself but you are not alone, and recognize that those people you come to understand as your teammates were not placed randomly in your path.

And so the game goes on, I got kicked in the shin and then kneed in the groin, but I got back up and helped someone else as I helped myself.  All of this was done by and through grace and mercy for which I do not consider myself worthy which might border on humility unless you know me.  To wit, I made dinner for my wife who was under the weather, and decorated a Christmas Cake over a year in the making.  The dinner had its origins as a French peasant dish, which thanks to the likes of Julia Child became a 2 hour, 6 saucepan challenge.  Thankfully, the final dish, beef bourguignon, was a delicious surprise, although the cooking aromas had hinted that the finished product would be more than palatable.

I have a friend who is a chef.  Dino the Chef has been cooking his way around the globe for over 20 years.  His love of fusion foods is second to none, and the creativity he possesses in this arena are not easily surpassed.  Fusion cooking is the art of taking the classic flavors and creations of one gastronomic region and blending them with the classics of another so as to create a flavor synergy that causes eyes to roll back in your head upon first taste.  Aromas that start the salivation process needing a dam or at least a towel to stem the flow.

I mention Dino because he is one of my teammates; and because I do not want to hear his scoffing at my love for the classic traditional that bring me a comfort when cooking and dining.  He would of course never scoff, but my mind believes he should when I claim to be able to cook.  But cook I have claimed to do for the past several years as we approach Christmas Eve.  Christmas Eve is a very special time in our home as it marks Morgan’s birthday.  And so to set it apart from the events of the morrow, for the past several years, I have cooked a main course meal and Lizy has prepared a cheesecake of choice.  These are always happy and joyous events in the kitchen as mom and dad trip over each other in some vain effort to make the day more special for Morgan.  The goal is to make the day different, to have it stand out and demand recognition on its own merits.  December 24 is Morgan’s Day.

This year she has asked that the meal be French.  No more input, that is half the fun for her, to watch me scramble to make something worthy.  To demonstrate my love for her with some gastronomic delight and out of the ordinary way fete her day with the blood sweat and tears of working in a busy kitchen while trying to ensure that everyone gets to church for the Christmas Eve service.

Enter Dino.  Why not take a tour of the French countryside via the 5 master sauces from which all French flavor and cooking is developed, or better how about a Vietnamese-French fusion given the heavy interaction of the cultures through the 1950’s.  Did I mention that Dino has an acute sense of irony, history and political insight that can only have been created from tasting too many of his own creations.

But the tone was set:  French Countryside Flavors.  So as a lead up to next Monday night, yesterday I set about whipping up a little beef in wine sauce.  Let me say that whatever angst or whining that may arise from this narrative, no one enters the kitchen repeatedly who does not love the essence of preparation and teasing the palate of others.  Cooking should be the essence of joy.  And our kitchen is no different.

As the aromas arose, so did the heat in the kitchen.  There is the seasoning of floured beef in olive oil in one pan, while onions are bronzed in butter, new potatoes simmer on a back burner, while bacon is par boiled in vegetable broth.  The aroma of a coking roux is raised in separate pans of browning flour and caramelizing butter in another, then bacon being reduced to generate a flavor base for thick cut carrots.  Then the spices including fresh Thyme from Evan’s Garden are introduced with a glass of burgundy wine (One for my wife, and one for the sauce).

With the kitchen filled with the aromas of cooking, love and spices, the elements of the stew are placed in a cast iron, flaming orange Le Creuset covered saucepan and allowed to steep in the oven while the remainder of the meal was prepared.   Garlic infused baguette was toasted while noodles were brought to the condition of al dente.

It was all done too fast, over too soon.  It was delicious, missing ingredients, but lovingly prepared.  The aromas faded so fast, but the warmth lingered on.  And after a brief respite, there was acknowledgement that it was an introduction to a week of French tastes and experiences that will culminate in a precursor birthday.  It will be her 18th and will signal the beginning of our empty nest.  Our fledgling will begin to take more and more flights by herself. Literally in her trip to England and France in late March, and figuratively as she chooses work over family in the mid holiday trip to the mountains, and a new life as a college student in August of 2013. 

I will save the story of the Christmas Cake to another time as it is both humorous and poignant for now I have exceeded your reading time by at least 15 minutes. And 15 minutes too long in the kitchen usually is a recipe for a burnt offering not a pleasantly palatable dish.

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