Thursday, February 27, 2020

You're A Betch

Don and I have recently started eating mostly vegan at home.  This dietary change is in response to many things…Our slowing metabolism as we march inevitably toward middle age.  The desire to live as long and healthfully as possible to be present to our children (who thus far are all vowing to never move out!).  Our desire to keep taking steps to be better stewards of our environment so our kids don’t hate us, since they will be living with us forever.  The superiority we feel over the rest of humanity after completing a 72 hour kale fast.

However, we have also tried very hard not to let too many people know about it so we don’t become “those vegan friends.”  Those vegan friends are ok in my home state of California, but are less welcome even in this more liberal enclave of the Midwest.  I don’t talk about eating vegan unless being queried by someone in the alternative milks and cheeses sections of the grocery store, and even then it is only under duress (excuse me, does this stuff really melt and stretch like real cheese?  Really?  Look me in the eyes..does it?!)  Also, we still eat meat, under Section 1, Subsection A, of our Hospitality Clause (built into our marriage contract).  Did you invite us over for dinner?  Awesome, we will eat whatever you want to make!  Are we out at a fancy dinner?  Yeah, and I am ordering the skate wing (those bastards killed Steve Erwin, I will eat every one of them I can find!).  Is it Mardi Gras?  You bet your spicy andouille sausage filled gumbo it is!  So you see, it is a little difficult and confusing to talk about dietary choices.  I guess instead of being “those vegan friends” we are really, actually, those “what are they eating again right now?” friends.

Except, wait!  Apparently those “what are they eating again right now?” friends have started a movement in our post-millennial world.  This style of living and eating has a name now!  I can finally label myself accordingly and stop confusing everyone!  

Or not.  

Unfortunately for us all, saying that name makes my butthole clench up because it is so bougie and privileged.  Here, I’ll whisper it: flexitarian.  Ugh.  I have to get my free NPR tote bag out of my invisible L. L. Bean backpack of white privilege to vomit a nice zippy Albariño into every time I say that word out loud.

I mean, essentially it is a good thing.  Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.  Thank you Michael Pollan.  The problem with the whole system is how expensive it is to follow through on these decisions, and how privileged it is to be able to make that decision in the first place.  

Which brings me to the subject of oat milk.  And how much I love it.  Somewhat shamefully.  Until as recently as three months ago I did not see a need to explore the variety of dairy free milks with which we are assaulted on a near daily basis.  Half and half was good enough for me for my daily coffee, whole milk for my girls and for cooking, and then as much yogurt and cheese as my toddler would agree to ingest because she refuses to drink milk altogether.  But what is the need for an alternative milk when we were not vegan and no one was lactose or dairy intolerant?  

And then I got punished for making Don do a Whole 30 last year…oh, I mean…we made the mutual decision to eat vegan for thirty days…  Now I am up to my eyeballs in alternative milks because I have been slowly trying all the alternative dairy, alternative meat, alternative delicious things before eschewing them one by one as being hideous, unpalatable, over processed, and not real food in general.  Beyond meats and actually really meltable cashew cheeses and veganaise.  No.  Just no.  Maybe if I came at these particular items after a 30 day juice fast they would be delicious and not textural abominations, but right now….no.  All except for you, my delicious oat milk.  Of course I wasn’t talking about you.

Which is why I am here today to confess to you all that I have officially become an oat milk betch.  

Turmeric oat milk tea betch.  Matcha orange blossom honey oat milk latte betch.  Warm oat milk with spiced honey betch.  Talk to you about oat milk in line at the café betch.  Buying a carton of oat milk and two oat milk lattes while letting my toddler run screaming around the most hipster cafe in South Bend betch (shout out to you Dory Mitros for saving this betchs day earlier this week!).

Oat-ly! Barista Blend Oat Milk.  I just like it better.  It tastes nutty, rich and creamy without the sour tang of dairy in my coffee.  It doesn’t have that thinness that often accompanies almond or other nut milks (honestly I could brew my coffee with almond milk and still not be able to tell that I had put in any at all). 

 I.  Just.  Like.  It.

And that, my friends, is the whole point really.  At this point in my life I am getting close to rounding the base on the big 40, and I have started realizing that life it much too short not to embrace your inner betch.  In the winter I am a hot oat milk latte with spiced honey while wearing my muck boots and fjallraven parka over a long sleeved t-shirt betch.  In the summer I am an iced coffee with oat milk in a mason jar while wearing my rothy’s and one of my 30 open cardigans over a v-necked shirt with a small hole near the hem betch.

But I’m still not going to call myself a flexitarian.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Cher Amies en Fromage, or Dear Cheese Friends


To the couple seated next to us at dinner on Saturday evening at L’Albatross in Cleveland, OH, I want to extend my sincerest apologies.  If it appears that my husband and I were eavesdropping on your entire evening, I have the simplest of explanations…we were.  We were hanging on every single word you were saying.  I think you know why.  It seems, after all, that we have a very specific interest in common. Yes, yes, you know exactly what I am talking about:

Cheese.

From the moment you sat down next to us on the little banquette, our tables separated by the barest 6 inches, I knew that we were true companions at heart.  You, with your funky cats-eye glasses and your husband (Don maintains that you were unmarried but had been together for several years, but I know better) with his more practical CPA style frames.  You accidentally threw your fork at my foot while moving your water glass, and I laughed it off so casually because my Olive Suede Thursday boots could never be troubled by a mere salad fork. Don’t give it another thought, I said.  

And then the magic between us truly began.  Then you began to talk about cheese.

For those of you who have never had the pleasure of dining at L’Albatross they offer a titillating surprise for the uninitiated.  Their menu features a small inset on the bottom left side outlining a cheese course, an Assiette de Fromage offering your choice of three, five or seven cheeses.  A simple enough offering, very often looked over I am sure.  But not by you, learned companions.  You knew better.  You were initiated.  You came to L’Albatross for this very reason.  You came for the cheese.

After you made your drink selections, you fell to discussing the menu with true vigor.  Two hors-d’oeuvres, or a potage and salade?  Well, the onion soup gratinée, of course (!), and then a salad perhaps so as to not get too heavy too quickly (one should rarely get too heavy too quickly, both Don and I agree!).  And then, of course, the fromage.  Should we get three or…no definitely five.  But not seven, that is too much.  Five.  Definitely.

By this time Don and I were riveted.  I fear our own conversation was coming in fits and starts because we were so enthralled by the intensity of your discourse.  I mean, cheese is exciting (believe me girl, I do my share of drooling at a wedge of Humboldt Fog or Mt. Tam or a nice goats milk Gouda) but I have never before seen people more excited by cheese outside of an actual creamery. 

You placed your order, finally, and Don and I fell back into our conversation. We laughed.  We ate prodigious amounts of liver pâté and pork belly and skate wing.  We looked forward to our concert date to follow, and wondered if our girls were behaving well or if they had locked their Uncle Dainty in the basement and taken over the house yet.  Then your our server came to clear away your first courses and we remembered: after the first comes…the cheese!

Dearest dining companions, I can tell you now, it was everything we hoped it would be.  And more.  So much more.

Minutes after your table was cleared, a man entered the room with an enormous cheese board.  You knew this was coming, of course.  It was what you were waiting for, after all!  But, you see, Don and I had no true comprehension of the Assiette de Fromage before this moment.  We assumed when you ordered your selection of five cheeses that the selection would be made for you, in the kitchen, by the chef or one of his more cheese obsessed underlings.  We assumed these selections would be sent out to you on a stylish board, perhaps a slate or a live edged hardwood, along with their house baked bread and some garnishes and jams and a whole grain mustard.  Oh no, such a thing is much too pedestrian for L’Albatross.

It was an enormous wooden board with twenty to thirty cheeses on it.  The gentleman, tattoos running up his arms, placed the board on a waiting tray stand right next to your table and proceeded to discourse on the cheeses with you for the next fifteen minutes.  I know because I propped my chin in my hand, elbow gauchely on my table, leaned forward toward your table and just watched.  All pretense of conversation between Don and I was lost, as I myself was lost to the magic of the cheese board presentation.  Fresh goats milk cheeses, soft French cheeses, washed rind cheeses, your blues, your hard cheeses and sheep milk cheeses.  Cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese YES!

CHEESE! 
Assiette de Fromage 26 October, 2016 - contributed by Yelp user Sheena W.

“Where do you think we should start?  Oh, never mind I know…let’s start hard and then work our way back around.” You proclaimed your plan with delight, your husband nodding excitedly and Cheese Man nodding sagely and markedly more sedately.  An excellent idea, m'am.

Don and I shared a pregnant glance.  Start hard and work our way back around.  A wise plan in any circumstance — we nod sagely as well.

You made your selections, and I will be honest in admitting to you, since we are so close, that I did not fully agree with all of your decisions.  The fresh goats milk, absolutely!  The nutty, aged manchego, clearly.  The full and heady Maytag, you go girl!  However, as much as I love cheese, I have never been able to get completely behind the washed rind cheeses.  I know, I know.  Do I even really love cheese if I can’t do a washed rind?  Jesus, what a poseur!

Funky, gooey Red Hawk, photo courtesy of cheesenotes.com


Believe me, I have tried.  I just can’t.  The Red Hawk defeated me utterly.  

In fact, I am ashamed to admit to you, I once returned an entire round of Red Hawk to a store because I was convinced it had gone bad in the wrapper after I opened it and cut my first slice.  I hadn’t bothered to look it up and research it, and I hadn’t asked the cheese man at the store about it when I purchased it.  I love Cowgirl Creamery's Mt. Tam and Devil's Gulch, so I just went balls to the wall and bought an entire round, convinced that I was enough of a cheese lover to fully embrace anything short of a casu marzu.  After opening it up at home, ready to use it as the centerpiece to my epic Friendsgiving cheese board, I completely panicked.  As a Red Hawk lover (I know this because that is the washed rind cheese you picked) I know that you relish the funky, beefy aroma that I was met with when I unwrapped it, but perhaps you will forgive me when you realize I was not expecting the reddish brown color and moist texture of its rind.  I had another 30 minutes before picking up the kids at school, so I wrapped it back up, hopped back in the car, determined to get justice for myself and my obviously incorrectly stored cheese.

What followed was the most embarrassing customer service exchange I have ever had the misfortune to initiate.  They were patient.  They were kind.  They tried to explain the cheese without fully calling me an idiot.  In the end it is my belief that they just wanted my crazy bourgeoise cheese returning ass to go away since it was a holiday weekend and they had too much shit to do to bother with me.  I called my sister-in-law, the chef, on my way out of the store and sent her pictures I had taken and she soon set me straight.  Um, Crystal....Red Hawk is a washed rind cheese.  Washed rind cheeses grow extra funk, because, you know, moisture.  Red, funky and moist is exactly how Red Hawk is supposed to be.  Now excuse me while I laugh my ass off at the thought of you self righteously returning this expensive cheese to a Whole Foods on a holiday weekend!

Yup.  I think the only thing more bourgeoise than eavesdropping on someone else ordering five pounds of cheese at a sumptuous French restaurant is returning a full pound of cheese because you don’t understand what you bought in the first place.  Le sigh.

But I digress.  I wanted to share this little anecdote with you the other night, but didn’t dare take the chance that it would diminish your enjoyment of your own funky assemblage de fromage!  You see I feel we shared a certain simpatico that even our differing opinions of washed rind cheeses couldn’t diminish.  I was even willing to overlook your apparent interest, as I do for so many of my juniper scented friends and family, in gin cocktails!  In hindsight it is probably all for the best that I was unable to bring myself to interrupt your dinner and regale you with my own cheese themed stories -- I can only imagine the blog post you yourself could have written the next day: Dear Woman Who Continually Interrupted Our Valentine's Celebration With Stories About Cheese...

Alas, all good things must come to an end.  Don and I eventually finished our main courses, and were far too stuffed to contemplate either a dessert or, dare I even suggest it, our own cheese course.  We paid our bill and departed.  I presume you luxuriated in the absence of two other human beings seated six inches from you and visibly intruding on your romantic evening for the five minutes it took the staff to clear off, change the linens, and reseat our table.

For our part, we think of you often, dear cheese friends, and we wish you only the best in life.  We pray that life does not get too heavy too quickly for you, and that you are always able to start hard and then work your way back around.  We should all be so lucky.

Your Amies en Fromage,

Crystal and Donald Zimmer

P.S. For your delight, a selection of pictures featuring L'Albatross' Assiette de Fromage:

Assiette de Fromage 29 August 2018 - contributed by Yelp user Philip R.
Assiette de Fromage 1 May 2019 - contributed by Yelp user Philip R (this guy loves cheese too!)


P.P.S. For your comparison, a selection of cheese boards that suck compared with the Assiette de Fromage:
Ooohh, four types of cheeses, some dry salami and a
half ass bowl of mixed olives!  Pathetic.

It's a nice attempt at a linear presentation, but...no.

What is this peasant fare, a midmorning snack for an infant hobbit? 
There is barely an ounce of cheese on this plate.  Go home.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

How Many Prayers Per Minute?


This post was originally written on Tuesday, January 27th.

“What can I help you with today?”

“I’m hoping to light a candle at the Grotto”

“Alright then…thirty minute pass.  Ought to be enough to light a candle.”

“Alright.  Thank you.”

“Have a good day M’am.”

Thirty minutes.  Should be enough time to light a candle.  Well that is true.  That should go without saying.  Thirty minutes is enough time to park anywhere on campus, get to the Grotto, light a candle, and hot foot it back to wherever you illegally wedged your car in between Ziolkowski construction trucks. 

But how much time is enough time to light a candle and pray.  After all, is that not what we come to the Grotto to do?  Or to attempt?

How many minutes do I get to pray for my babies here on earth, safely learning and playing in school right now?  How many minutes do I get to pray for my babies in heaven, to ensure them of my love and pray to be reunited with them?  How many minutes, then, should I be allowed to pray for my brother Riley, or my sister Laura?  To rest in thoughts of their beautiful, heartbreaking, shooting star lives and wallow in misery at the moments of family togetherness stolen from us and their other loved ones?

How many seconds allotted for my husband, my love, still sleeping at home?  To pray for our marriage, that we continue to work at it and fight for it through the never ending waves of trouble and loss and joy and surprise and unending togetherness.  To wonder at my luck in finding him, catching him, holding him and letting myself be found, caught and held in return.

How many moments to pray for his patients from his last shift, and the people who will seek out his help at the Emergency Room in just a few hours.  That they be comforted.  That they be saved, if at all possible. That they be granted grace, and that they grant him and his colleagues grace in return.

And finally, how many minutes left for my own mother, and my friend, both going into surgery at just about this time?  

My mother, who, while never surprised at a new blow dealt by life will never take one laying down.  When we were flummoxed by the appearance of a brain tumor, and then harrowed by the appearance of a second one after a three month wait and see period, she took the bull by the horns, changed her insurance and switched doctors mid-diagnoses.  Now, two weeks later she is getting a hole drilled into her skull for a brain biopsy.  How many seconds to pray for a safe procedure?  How many seconds to pray for the skills of the surgeons?  How many seconds to pray that the needle follow a true path, and that the biopsy not leave her with more side effects?  That she not have a heart attack and not wake up from the procedure at all?  That I not get a call from my Daddy while picking up my daughters from school and have to pretend its all right its all right while hearing something unimaginable, again.  

How many seconds for a prayer from a daughter to God, begging to still be a daughter at the end of the day?

He didn’t mean it like that, I know.  The guard at the gate.  But as I drove past the lakes and found a parking spot on the road to St. Mary’s (all the parking spots in the small lot by the Grotto were taken up by construction trucks, per usual), I couldn’t help but wonder at his choice of words and and what it meant to me.  What it might mean to the person who passed through before me and the person who would pass through after me.  

What did they have to pray for today?  How many minutes were they given?  

How many minutes would it really take?




Thursday, January 9, 2020

Meat Sweats or Leftoverpalooza or We Have The Meat! or How To Cook and Eat Twenty Two Pounds of Prime Rib


This Christmas we took a page from traditional Whoville celebrations in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and made a real roast beast for Christmas Eve dinner.  I think Don’s dad had been watching The Grinch and the Christmas Carol on repeat, and when he went to the butcher’s he asked for the largest goose in the window and ended up with a 22lb bone-in prime rib roast.  I don’t really know how a description can possibly do it justice, and I didn’t think to take pictures of it, but it was a BEAST (in fact, I started referring to it as the Beast Rabban in my head, but then that got kind of weird, so I had to stop).  It came in the largest foil roasting pan available at your local grocery store, wrapped in butcher paper, and it busted out both sides of the roasting pan.  

Don and I took the Beast on as a project, and decided to cook it as a whole, rather than cutting it up into two or three roasts.  For more information about our favorite method of cooking prime rib, Serious Eats has several articles detailing the methodology and a great recipe as well.  Reverse Searing For Life!  While the recipe shown references a 3 to 12lb rib roast, I can now testify that the methodology works for a 22lb roast as well.  Just make sure you give yourself enough time, and if your roast is rarer around the rib bones you can always carve off the outside pieces and then put your roast back into a low oven to keep cooking the inside as you eat.

Note: also make sure you have a roasting pan that has not been bent and crumpled under the weight of your beast to roast.  Especially if your husband is taking your kids to the grocery store on Christmas Eve morning and asks you forty times if he needs to get anything else and you assure him that you are definitely good to go, nothing more needed.  Then he comes home and asks what you are cooking the beast in and you say “a roasting pan” and realize the roasting pan you are thinking of is actually the Platonic Ideal of a roasting pan, and does not, in fact, inhabit the physical plane of your in-laws house.  

So, perfect medium rare prime rib (and when I say perfect, I mean if you like medium rare meat then you need to make yourself an occasion and cook this immediately because this method is foolproof and amazing), Christmas Eve dinner.  22lbs.  We ate about 3lbs of it that night.  A few more pounds were sliced off for Christmas Day dinner to complement the turkey.  I would estimate that left about 16lbs of prime rib leftover after Christmas.  Don and I sliced that in half, and took one of the halves home when we left the morning of the 27th.  Call it 6-7lbs of prime rib per half at that point.  A goodly chunk of the original beast, which in reality was a full Christmas roast for a family in its own right!

Would you ever go to the grocery store and order 6lbs of sliced roast beef?  Well, now that I think about it, that sounds like a sandwich party to me, but still.  That would be crazy.  So what do you do with that much leftover, perfectly rare prime rib?

Well, really whatever you want!

Here is a list of the meals we ended up getting out of the Beast:

Prime Rib Christmas Eve Dinner.  Accompanied by mashed potatoes, Hawaiian bread rolls, sautéed green beans.
Prime Rib Second Christmas Dinner.  Accompanied by horsey sauce, baked creamed spinach, and garlic bread.
Prime Rib Second
Christmas Dinner

Prime Rib Ramen.  I broke out the last bag of dashi broth from the deep freeze, leftover from that time I went insane in 2016 and spent three days making David Chang’s  ramen broth.  Combined with beef stock, and purloined three bricks of noodles from our pantry store of Top  Ramen.  Combined with thin shaved prime rib, shaved carrots, onion and thinly sliced sugar snap peas.
Prime Rib Scrambled Eggs.  I didn’t really want to mess with making the potatoes for a full hash, and now I regret that.  Hash is one of my favorite breakfast or breakfast for dinner meals!  Instead I just cut up some cubes of prime rib, cooked them on medium high in a nonstick skillet to crisp up the fat, and then added some eggs beaten with a bit of half and half and garlic salt.  In retrospect I should have combined the prime rib bits and eggs after they were cooked separately so that the crispy bits did not get soggy with egg!  Still good!
Prime Rib Sandwiches.  The second to last leftover meal, this used a serious chunk of prime rib and was delicious.  Toasted hoagie buns, homemade horseradish sauce, cartelized onions, and sharp white cheddar.  Sandwiches broiled open faced in the oven for 6 minutes, then devoured.  I wanted to add some baby arugula to these but we only had romaine, and that did not seem right.  Lucy had hers without onions and horsey sauce.  R requested a ham and cheese with extra mayo, served neither hot nor cold, but medium, please.
Christmas Leftover Poutine.  This was the ultimate leftover meal.  Take leftover french fries from your prime rib sandwich night, top with leftover creamed spinach from Second Christmas, and top with chopped prime rib from the very last four inch by four inch chunk and shredded gruyere and parmesan from the creamed spinach.  Broil in the oven on low for 10 minutes, or until the smell drives you insane and you try to grab the cast iron skillet with your bare hands.  Ouch.
Delicious leftover chimera of french fries,
creamed spinach, prime rib and gruyere
This may not seem like a lot, but at the time it felt like we had been eating prime rib for two weeks.  Which is kind of true.  No one got food poisoning.  Not sure I would be up for cooking that large of a beast again in the future!

Here are some other meal ideas I considered in the leftovering process:

Prime Rib curry with sweet potatoes
Prime Rib and mushroom stroganoff
Prime rib soup with barley and carrots


Leftover scrambled eggs, sausage gravy and
creamed spinach atop leftover biscuits
Leftover poblano chile puff and sharp cheddar on toast



Friday, December 20, 2019

Notes From The Fields, or Coming Home


Note: originally written 5am PST, December 12th in Irvine, CA.

It is hard to come home again.  There are cliches about it, everyone has written about it, everyone knows it.  It’s hard.  People slip into old patterns of behavior, patterns they may have worked very diligently to change, but that are easy to fall back into when they are the behaviors that old family and friends expect.  Sometimes home is all too familiar, and one returns to a hometown that seems small and cramped compared with one’s now wider view of the world.  Sometimes returning home can be painfully different if a loved one has been lost or if one hails from Southern California where the bulldozer of progress has mown over all of the orange and avocado groves and replaced them with identical looking Spanish style shopping plazas.
Merry Christmas!

I have written much about returning home over the years, about the pitfalls and complications, and will endeavor to discourse more on it when I have had time to think.  For now here are a few notes from the field, or rather notes from the house I grew up in what used to be near a strawberry field.  

There Are So. Many. People. Here.
Southern California is crowded.  Duh.  Our forefather and mothers stole the land from a bunch of Native American tribes who were perfectly suited to living in its arable climate and turned it into a paradise and held it by stealing water from many surrounding cache basins, and people have flocked here for hundreds of years now from every direction.

Long story short, there are a lot of people here now.  A lot of people, each driving in their own car.  All at the same time. 

There are a lot of cars here now.

In Chicago and New York there are a lot of people too, but it is not as easy to see that as in LA and Orange County.  Here, the cities sprawl out horizontally, one city flowing into another endlessly until they meet the sea or the Mexico border, the Saddleback mountains or the Mojave.  Whenever Don is out in CA with me one of his favorite games to play while we are driving is to randomly shout “Where are we now!?” every ten minutes or so and see if I can name the exact city through which we are passing.  After 20 years away I’m not very good at this game anymore!

I flew into LAX this trip, and sitting in the back of my parents car (just like coming home from college!) in traffic on the freeway and I went into a trance just staring at the traffic patterns swirling around us.  The slow march of white and red lights becomes hypnotic after a time, and I start to lose myself in imagining all of the people inside each car, and wondering about their lives.  Where do they live?  Where do they work? Where do all of their coworkers live?  How far do they have to drive each day?  Did that truck really pass CA emissions standards?! Eventually I have to tear myself away from the sight and look through pictures of the girls on my phone for a minute to re-anchor myself in time and space.

Everyone Needs to Get Somewhere Faster Than You
You are a slow, worthless asshole.  

Everyone in front of you, next to you, and behind you is more important.  They need to get to their places much faster than you.  They are too important to be bothered with signaling their movements to you with a blinker.  They are too important to be bothered with stopping completely at that stop sign.  They are completely justified in cutting you off in order to gain 10 more feet in their race to the finish line.  That Trader Joe’s gingerbread mix is going like hot cakes and they need to score at least five boxes, and two bottles of Rosé, so get the fuck out of their way, pendejo!

But Also, Parrots
Around 6:30am the wild parrots fly toward the coast from their roosts near the mountains.  Around 5pm they fly back towards the mountains.  We get two wild parrot flock flyovers a day.  Probably not as exciting for people living here full time, especially people in whose backyard trees they roost for a few minutes, chattering nonstop in the early morning.  But pretty exciting for me.  There were no wild parrot flocks when I was growing up, just crows and ravens living in the eucalyptus trees in the parks and greenbelts.  Speaking of which…

Parrots!
EUCALYPTUS
Sometimes you will be driving along, cursing under your breath at the asshole who just cut you off for no logically apparent reason, and then it will hit you.  The pungent, life affirming odor of eucalyptus.  It is everywhere.  Lining the freeways and toll roads, in my backyard, right in front of my face in a vase on the kitchen table, along the railroad turned walking path greenbelts.  Eucalyptus.  

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

I can get fresh eucalyptus clippings twice a year at my farmer’s market, and occasionally imported from God Knows Where at the Whole Foods.  And anytime I order a wreath from my two preferred wreath ordering websites I get one with fresh CA eucalyptus included so that our entryway becomes a delicious home of homey smelling goodness.  But nothing beats the omnipresent odor of sun warmed eucalyptus out here!
SQUIRREL!


Merry Christmas!  Edged weapon, anyone?


Found Grandmother Prentice's old recipe box!

Recipe box.  So tactile!




Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Coasters

Note: today's post is a throw back essay from 2016.  I found this half written essay last week while I was going through my archives, and had an extremely loud laugh over it with D (could have been due to the content, could also have been due to the giant bottle of wine we were sharing at the time).  I am out in CA for the week focusing on some family time, but thought everyone could use a post-Thanksgiving, mired in holiday shopping laugh at this time!  Fair warning, apparently I was in a mood when I wrote it and there is a lot of colorful language.  I hope you enjoy!

Original Essay written 5/21/2016

Tonight, for the first time in a long time, I had a good idea.  A writing idea.  I was going to write about reality and perception and gratitude.  I was going to draw the veil back across our Instagram curated lives and reveal the seedy underbelly, and then blow your minds with the truth that in that seedy underbelly was more beauty than I had every dreamed possible.

I have this picture, which is the backdrop for this entire conversation.  You were going to be amazed, delighted, enlightened.  You were going to close your eyes, nod your head a little bit, and in your mind say "yeah....yeah."


Lucy and Riley painting in the backyard.


But you're not going to actually do that.  Because I am not going to write that piece anymore.  Because I am an asshole.

I was looking at this picture while sitting on the floor on second floor landing listening to one girl snoring softly and the other girl sing (which is a loose interpretation of that verb) "Go away Ana!" over and over again.  I was thinking about pictures and images and image and truth.  Something started to click.  So I ran upstairs to my desk in the attic.  I was excited!  I haven't written for too long.  Inspiration, time, etc.  There are a million excuses.  But I felt it tonight!  Something was plucking at my subconscious, wanting to get out.  There was only one load of laundry to fold instead of the usual four.  Half of the children were already asleep!

As I ran up the stairs the stars seemed to align even more.  The evening light was streaming in through the attic windows.  The laptop was plugged in at the desk.  The wayward toddler was no longer wailing lines from Frozen.  The scene was set.

Look at my gorgeous desk!  Actually
it is a lot more cluttered now than it usually is.

I sat down at the desk and cracked open the computer...and froze.

What.  The fuck.  Is that?

Is that a...coffee stain?  No, wait.  Two coffee stains?  Two perfectly round coffee stains in two separate spots four inches from each other.  On my Aunt Virginia's gorgeous wooden desk.  The desk that my parents drove out from California.  The desk that we had to surgically disassemble and reassemble after using a rope and pulley system to haul it up the tiny stairway and into my attic office.  The desk that I love, because family and history and old wooden furniture, you know.


The desk on which I keep a literal stack of fabric coasters.  Three fabric coasters.  Three fucking fabric coasters that are stacked, literally, no more than six inches away from these two fucking coffee stains.
Coffee rings to the right.  Many coasters to the left. 
Notice the coffee cup demonstrating their mode of use!

I sit, staring at the circles, still slightly wet.  I go numb.  Finally I spring into action, jump out of the chair and run for the cupboard in the little attic hallway where I keep the Old English polish and cleaning spray and the rag.  Seriously, I keep a bottle of Old English in the attic JUST for my desk.   I use the dusting spray.  Nothing.  A light, now slightly white circle remains on the formerly golden brown wood.  I spray on the polish.  No effect.  I polish the entire desk anyway, just to see if the oil needs some time to sink into the stains.

Nope.  No change.

I sit at the computer.  I stare at the coffee stains.  I forget why I came upstairs in the first place.  I cease to be anything except for a receptacle for dark, unforgiving thoughts.

Seriously?  Seriously?!  Does anyone else in this house even know what a fucking coaster looks like?!?  Why do we keep them everywhere when I am the only one who ever uses them, and also the person least likely to spill a drink?!!?!!

I mean, they were literally RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF YOU!!!!

How did you spill twice and not notice?!  Or did you notice and just didn't give a shit that you were staining my new/old desk!?

Nobody appreciates me or what I do here.  No one even notices!  I just cook and clean for myself and my own enjoyment anyway.  If I disappeared it would be over a week before they noticed the dirty clothes piling up and realized they had been eating ramen and spaghettios for every meal.  I might as well just lock myself up here Mrs. Rochester style and spend my time doing what everyone thinks I do and read trashy novels and eat ice cream.  And then burn the house down!

Now, you shouldn't be so hard on him Crystal, you are saying.  After all, he was probably talking about Haiti, or consulting on a medical malpractice case.  And then he was probably late for his important work.  I mean, Haiti and work, both of the things that are more important than anything you have to do.  So it's no wonder that you aren't writing now, because the mess he made while doing more important things was just the thing you should be cleaning up instead of doing anything like writing!

Yeah.  I know.  Dark, right?  Not at all conducive to healthy marital communication, or giving your partner the benefit of the doubt, or offering them grace.  Or, you know, mental health in general.  The important thing to note here is that I dealt with it in a supremely mature manner.  I bottled down those emotions and never spoke of them to Don again, until December of 2019 when I found this unpublished essay while going through some of my blog archives!


Thursday, December 5, 2019

Inscrutable Rosie

Inscrutable Rosie.

Rosie was not the most lovable of dogs.  She came to the Zimmer family by way of a breeding farm (sort of a puppy mill) who basically abandoned her when she turned out to be a "bad breeder".  Having lived much of her early life in a small cage with metal mesh for a floor, she was not well taken care of.  The bulldog breed is prone to all sorts of genetic faults through inbreeding, and Rosie seemed to have inherited them all.  Snaggle toothed with an underbite, one of her lower incisors perpetually peeked out of her lips.  She was prone to fungal infections in her many skin folds, couldn’t go for walks in temperatures in excess of or below 68 degrees due to respiratory problems, and preferred to spend most of her time in her kennel.  She was territorial of her kennel and food bowl, and home in general.  Whenever we used to watch her for an extended period of time the first thing she would do is go into our own dogs kennel and pee on his bed, right in the middle.  “Rosie is in the house, bitches!” she seemed to proclaim.

I can't tell from her face if she is waiting for a treat or thinking about biting my pants.

Rosie was also among the most lovable of dogs.  Having come from a very bad situation, she was incredibly grateful for and loving towards David, her newly adopted father.  Her preference for an indoor and nearly sedentary lifestyle was ideal for a bachelor in veterinary school, and later for a young married couple when Laura joined the family.  When Laura later got sick, Rosie never complained at being shuttled around to different houses (aside from the occasional protest pee).  She adored David, and the feeling was mutual.  And Laura loved her too, and loved even more making fun of her and her various imperfections in relation to the adorable corgi puppy, Wrigley, that joined their family.

Rosie out on a walk in optimal not too hot, not too humid conditions
(with Lucy and baby Riley totally passed out)

But her greatest defining feature of all, to me at least, was her complete inscrutability.  Whether a trick of her specific breed, or an eye surgery she had earlier, she had a total lack of facial expression, a canine equivalent of a poker face.  After meeting her the first time I dubbed her “Inscrutable Rosie” and thought of her in only those terms for the remainder of her happy life.  She could display emotion through her body, certainly.  Her hackles would rise when a child or her new baby brother Wrigley would come too near a treat she was given or a toy she was playing with.  Her body would wriggle and quiver when people would get down on the floor and play tug of war with her.  And when David came home from school or work she would absolutely race to the door and spin in circles, belying the false tale she had woven earlier that she was too tired and old to go outside for a walk.

Her face and her eyes, however, betrayed no expression at all.  Whenever I would stop by her house to feed her or let her out it was honestly impossible for me to tell what she was thinking if her body was still. Was she happy to see me?  Was she just patiently waiting for her dinner?  Was she about to tear my face off and eat my eyes out of their sockets?  As long as she was standing or sitting still (which, let’s be honest, was the lions share of her time) I would feel slightly unsettled.  What was going on under that wrinkled, furry mask?

Merry Christmas! I'm coming at you to snuggle, or steal your snack, or eat your face!

Stinky snaggle kisses!


Whenever I would play with Rosie I would always think of the old cliche “still waters run deep.”  For those of you who have pets, you know they often betray a wealth of emotion in their faces, especially their eyes.  Our Labrador, Boss, is able to express entire Roman Catholic confessions to us just through a glance when we return home and find that he has eaten a loaf of bread or dug through the trash.  But Rosie’s eyes always appeared utterly still to me.  Perhaps it was because I never knew her well enough, but that mystery always made it fun and a little exciting to play with her. 

RUNNING!

What was she thinking?  Was she thinking anything at all?  Was she making advanced calculations in her head about the best way to expedite dinner or a treat?  Was she plotting a takeover of Wrigley’s food bowl?  What was she feeling?  Was she happy?  Sad?  Hungry?  Annoyed?  Completely dead inside until a Beggin’ Strip or her beloved David showed themselves? It was impossible to know, but also didn’t really matter.  No matter her thoughts or feelings Rosie would be certain to find the most comfortable spot in the house (whether or not she had just peed on it) and enthrone herself for the duration (the night, the visit, the week…she had stamina when it came to hunkering down on a pillow chair).


Enthroned
Rosie passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly last Friday in Angola, at the vet clinic where she was first rescued and where she spent so many happy vacations and family holidays with her canine and human brethren.  The whole Zimmer side of the family was gathered in Indianapolis for the Thanksgiving holiday, so David was unable to be with her as she passed, and that was really hard.  She was the second member of his family to die, his wife Laura having passed away over three years ago now.  That is beyond hard.

Rosie, Laura and David at Riley's memorial bench in Pokagon State Park.
To me, losing Rosie is losing a fixture in the family, and a personal mascot almost.  She was weird and often visually unappealing and damaged and incredibly loving and completely loyal and inscrutable.  My God, who among us isn’t?  OK, seriously though, was I describing Rosie just then or myself 99% of the time?  I even peed on the floor of David’s bedroom once after a particularly raucous Christmas party in the mid-2000’s, the legend of which has remained unacknowledged by me until this very moment.  I only thought about her occasionally while she was alive, but I have been thinking about her nonstop since last Friday.

I am 99.9% sure there is a treat involved in this exchange.

To David, losing Rosie is something different altogether, and something with which he has altogether too much experience.  It is losing a beloved family member, and friend.  His companion since the summer he adopted her in 2012, she was with him through veterinary school and then medical school and into residency.  Through bachelor years and married years, through devastation into widowerhood.  She may have been inscrutable to me, but she was family.

Rosie, you are missed.



Rosie and her brother-from-another-bitch, Wrigley.