Friday, May 28, 2010

Iguanas, Ipods, and Birthdays

Today when I went running, my ipod was dead so I had to use my son’s. He’s nine. His ipod is newer than mine; it’s lime green and has slick graphics and better games. He also has a fairly eclectic range of music. I saw he had 16 playlists, which surprised me, including Carole King, White Christmas, and Graceland. But he had one playlist with 25 songs called “Party Mix,” so of course I chose that one. Party Mix?


“Minnesota Polka” by Karl and the Country Dutchmen


I headed out along the Erie canal path, determined to reach Sweden-Walker Road despite the heat. Yesterday I’d gone to Dick’s Sporting Goods and then Target to get myself some new running clothes. I love clothes, and have always been drawn to wintry fabrics like velvet, corduroy, and merino wool; athletic wear has always repelled me with its glossy sheen, meshy fabrics and jelly bean colors. But as I jogged along in my Blue Burst shorts and my Sun Flash top, I swore I ran better, faster, no side ache, no problem. It was the bright new clothes! And also, perhaps, my son’s music.


“Fame” by Irene Cara


I remember with both of my pregnancies, I’d swum laps at the college pool right up until the day of my deliveries. What I loved about swimming laps was not just that cool blue immersion but the meditative way I would mindlessly count each and every stroke. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6…and absolutely nothing else. I would not plan menus or classes. I would not worry and fret and make myself miserable. I would count and breathe and swim. When I run, I plan. My daughter’s sixth birthday party is on Saturday, and although we’re not “theme” kind of people, I run through a checklist in my head to see if all is in order: pink paper plates, purple plastic cutlery and purple napkins, a two-layer vanilla and chocolate cake, goody bags with the right balance of candy and toys (I’d spent probably half an hour in the birthday aisle at Target, debating: monster finger puppets or bundles of fake money? Nerds or Skittles? Glitter pens or hologram notebooks?). Because I want to give my children so many things that I never had, I sometimes find myself overdoing it.


“Slash Dot Dash” by Fatboy Slim


Lily actually turned six last week in Montserrat, a small island in the Caribbean just south of Antigua. We’d gone there because my husband, Mark, has been transfixed by volcanoes ever since the Mt. St. Helen’s eruption dropped ash on his hometown—miles away from the event. Every morning on Montserrat, roosters woke us up at our villa. Iguanas scootched around the yard, panting. We had packed brightly-wrapped gifts for Lily, but after she opened the pink Zhu Zhu pet named Jilly and its little pink bed, after she’d opened the rainbow sucker and pack of Orbit gum, I couldn’t shake the feeling that her birthday didn’t feel special enough. Sure, I’d stumbled around before I’d even had any coffee and whipped up some pancakes for her. I’d stuck a candle in the middle of the stack and we sang "Happy Birthdady" to her, but then—I don’t know. There we were in the middle of the tropics on a tiny nearly deserted island with a panoramic view of volcano, mountains and ocean, yet it felt “off” somehow for a six year old girl’s birthday. We so often dragged them around to places we thought would be “adventuresome” and they were. They certainly were.


“Kids of the Future” by Jonas Brothers


Hudson admitted to us after we got back from Montserrat that he wished he could have spent his latest birthday in a foreign country, as well. He’d turned six in Vietnam. We’d thrown a 3-day party for him there including a boat ride down the Mekong River and a stay at My Khanh Resort that offered straw huts right on top of the water. Lily had turned 3 in Taiwan; I’d wandered all around Taipei in the dark, searching for a fancy birthday cake and finally found one in the basement of a department store. It was a little chocolate mound with a flying elephant riding a wafer cookie on top. Once word got out about Lily’s birthday, the hotel also sent a cake up: white and elaborate like a wedding cake. We’d gone out to a smoky Japanese restaurant for dinner that night and what I remember most was looking out the smudged window as it rained and Lily sat, warm and snug, on my lap.
That's what mattered.


“Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen


Listening to Hudson’s ipod makes me long for something I can’t name. It’s a mood perhaps, like nostalgia, or missing everything, then realizing it’s all right there in front of you.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Egg Salad: A Meditation

Yesterday my husband, Mark, boiled six eggs and asked very kindly if I’d be willing to make egg salad for lunch. There’s a fairly complicated way that I make it that he absolutely loves and over the years I have never revealed to him the ingredients. It’s a little secret I hang onto, a pocket of history in our marriage that radiates something tender between us. He has also promised not to read this blog entry to honor my secret.

Egg salad is one of those comfort foods, like tuna noodle casserole or potato salad, that must be made just the way you remember it. I remember when Mark and I went on our honeymoon we encountered our first “his family’s way of making something” versus “my family’s way of making something” argument. Our honeymoon consisted of driving our little Datsun station wagon from Minnesota, where we got married, through Iowa, and into Missouri. We’d made no plans or reservations; we had a tent and a car full of all the wedding presents we’d received, and I lived in fear that someone was going to steal them while we slept. In fact, I was so worried about it that every night we unpacked the whole load, shoved it into whatever tent or cottage or motel room we were staying at, then reversed the process every morning. It was quite impractical, but so were we.

It was the way we did things back then: an open, spontaneous, winging it that carried us along to interesting places. One night near Branson, Missouri, we found a small resort at the end of a twisting gravel road. We took the last available cottage, then decided to make tacos for dinner. But that’s when we hit a snag. Mark was soft-shell tacos; I was Ortega hard shell in a box. Mark was kidney beans mixed in with the hamburger; I was just hamburger. Mark was cumin, chili powder, sautéed garlic and onion; I was 99-cent Ortega flavor pouches that turned the meat a delicious, greasy orange color. He let me win; we made the cheap crunchy version I’d always had in the trailer court with my family. But the victory was short-lived. As I opened the oven door to get the shells out, a big blue flame leapt out onto my face. The cottage instantly reeked with the sour smell of burned human hair; a good portion of my bangs had balled up into hard little nuggets. The flames had also licked underneath my eyeglasses and singed my eyebrows and eyelashes. A hot red patch appeared on my cheeks later that night, and Mark held a dish towel of ice over against my face while I leaned against his shoulder.

As time passed, we learned to forge our own recipes via a hybrid of what we grew up with and what we’d come to concoct on our own. In fact, our tuna noodle casserole now has a decidedly Asian flair with water chestnuts, chow mein noodles and sesame seeds—though it still contains, of course, the crucial cans of cream of mushroom soup.

Here are the ingredients for my egg salad:

6 hard-boiled eggs (bathed in cold water with ice cubes)

Coarse ground black pepper (I hate powdery pepper)


McCormick garlic powder (not garlic salt)

Clover Valley mayo (from Dollar General—it’s creamy and yellow and cheap)

Miracle Whip Light (our jar is almost always empty)

Kikkoman soy sauce

Lea & Pearins worcestershire sauce

White sugar

Pudliszki mustard (one of those weird German ones from Aldi)

I chop the eggs to bits while Mark sits at the kitchen table and reads either The Economist or The New Yorker that almost invariably comes in the day’s mail. He’s more prone to reading magazines than me, while I, on the other hand, keep a much brisker novel-reading pace. Magazines, for me, are for prettiness and pleasure. I grew up with my mother’s many women’s magazines lying around the house. I loved browsing through them, looking at cute ways to organize your closets with white storage cubes or how to make bird feeders out of 2-liter soda bottles or how you can entirely change the tone of your living room by adding bright red throw pillows. Magazines to me are for looking and dreaming. As a professor, I read serious books and articles for a living, and break them apart and look at them from every angle, so when I’m home I want Martha Stewart to show me the simple secret of how to fold fitted sheets. And I wish mine were such a lovely robin’s egg blue as hers are.

But back to the egg salad. I like to chop my eggs very fine with a serrated steak knife. I chop them right in the Rubbermaid container and then layer all the ingredients on before I stir.
Mark likes to toast his bread for an egg salad sandwich but I like to sink my teeth in soft bread. Sometimes we have fancy greens in the fridge and this time there is an arugula, spinach and radicchio mix. I just use the spinach. Egg salad should not have fancy greens associated with it.

My mother used to make not only egg salad sandwiches for dinner, but fried egg sandwiches as well. She fried the whites to a hard brown lace and the yolks to flat chalky disks. She fried them in butter. She made them with cheap white bread, then cut them into triangles, stacked them on a plastic tray, and served them with a bag of Old Dutch potato chips. The grease would soak through the white bread and make it look gray. She also fried onions to a brown caramelized state, but she and my father were the only ones who slathered such horror between the bread and egg. We drank thick white milk with the egg sandwiches and ate off paper plates. “It’s not like the Queen of England is coming over,” my mother would say.

Mark and I polish off the entire egg salad in one sitting. After our sandwiches, we dredge potato chips through it like dip. We can’t get enough, though finally I slide the container over to Mark. He always says the same thing. “Well, there’s not really enough to save,” he’ll say. And then I’ll say, “Yeah, you might as well kill it.” And he’ll say, “I might as well.”

And between us we will have consumed six eggs and countless moments sitting across from one another at the table like this, holding our secrets.