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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Memories and Gentle Wind

I am lying in bed with Lily.  Her eyes are heavy-lidded, drooping.  Her face is turned away toward the wall but I can see her eyes, still open, dreamily gazing toward her nightlight between languid blinks.  I am holding her hand with one of mine.  With the other, I am tracing a slow gentle arc from her cheek, over, around and behind her ear, across her hair, sleek and smelling of flowers from her bath, four fingers smoothing it back from her face and sweeping it over her ear.  Slowly.  Over and over.  She is very still.  I look at the clock.  It is 8:45.

My mind wanders as I perform this nightly ritual.  It wanders back to the first time I ever did it, lying in bed with Leslie, as she told me how her grandmother used to run her fingers through her hair in just that same way to calm her.  To put her to sleep.  She shows me on my hair.  It feels nice.  It feels soft and gentle with the faintest hint of a tickle, but not an uncomfortable one.  Like a sort of faint electric thrill at the nerve endings.  It makes me want to purr like a cat.

Virtually every night for twenty years I smoothed Leslie's hair back over her ear.  She was always early-to-bed.  I was always a night owl.  Before I ran or read, watched TV, played video games, surfed the net or wrote into the wee hours of the morning, I first would put Leslie to sleep.  Through the years that slow gentle arc over her ear morphed into back scratches, foot rubs, calf rubs, head rubs, or finger massages, but they all started with that first slow gentle smoothing of the hair from her face.  We called it her rubby-rub.  In the morning she'd wake me up with the same.  A back rub or scratch, a head woke me up.  It put her to sleep.  We limited it to ten minutes each to save on muscle strain.  It was always over too soon for me, the waking one.  She rarely maintained consciousness long enough to feel me finish my ten minutes.

Sometimes she'd take my wedding ring off and rub the finger under the ring.  It felt so good.  Who knew how good a simple finger rub could feel.  She'd pull the ring off clumsily.  It wouldn't budge, tight against the knuckle.  She'd yank it until I'd yelp then she'd get frustrated and give up, so I'd pull it off for her, twisting it as I pulled.  

Sometimes I think about how it shouldn't be any different, me being downstairs alone with the kids while Leslie was upstairs resting in bed, or me being downstairs with the kids with Leslie passed on.  But it is.  Of course it is.  It's just the knowing.  Observing something changes it.  If I didn't know that Leslie was gone would I still be as sad?

Sometimes at work, my mind trips over the phone call.  The nightly call home.  "Hey honey, taking off now.  See you in about 45 minutes."  The habit is there.  I never actually start to make the call, but the urge to reach for the phone and call her still exist, deeply ingrained after years of repetition.  Sometimes I briefly imagine she's there.  If I don't call her, I never feel the gut punch confirmation of someone else answering the phone.  It will never be her again.  But I can toy with the idea of her being there, and me just not calling.  Observing something changes it.

I once wrote a fictional short story around the premise of Schrodinger's Cat.  The idea that you cannot know whether the cat is alive or dead until you open the box to observe it.  It lives as a probability, no matter how minute, until it is observed to have died.  It wasn't about Leslie.  When I wrote it in 2011, Leslie was "cured".  In remission.  Our worries were behind us.  Instead, it was inspired by true events, earlier that week Leslie had gotten an email that a coworker's mother had died, followed by another email that she was not dead, followed by another that she was. Apparently there were three sons, and they had sent word of the woman's passing before the third son knew about it. . . attempted to retract it until he could be told. . . then sent it again once he was notified. She'd died, they just didn't want him to learn in QUITE such a shitty way. In my story, the "hero" gets a phone call that his girlfriend has died only to find out that it's a false alarm.  It is implied in the story that the girl dies shortly after the first call.  Certainly she is expected to, and when the phone rings a second time, the man doesn't answer it.  He packs all his belongings and leaves, taking only her picture with him.  If the box isn't opened, you can never be certain the cat died.  Its life continues as a probability.  So he leaves, loses himself in another city, another country, another culture.  Never calls never writes, never learns whether she dies and allows himself to believe that if there is a probability that she is alive, then she will always be alive.  At least for him.  He saves her life by never observing her death.  I loved the idea of it.  It seemed sweet and haunting but it wasn't great the way I wrote it out then.  It would probably be better now that death has touched me and grief and I are better acquainted. Write about what you know...right?

Anyway, I think of that sometimes.  What's the difference?  When Leslie was alive and I didn't see her, I always knew she was upstairs.  She existed as a probability in that upstairs bedroom.  A strong probability.  We weren't talking.  I couldn't see her, but I always knew I could visit her at any moment.  I always knew I could run upstairs, give her a kiss and an update on the kids, then run back downstairs before Lily grabbed something fragile.  But she wasn't with us.  She wasn't being 'observed'.  I wish I could make my peace with the idea of this unobserved 'better' place beyond where Leslie is...and that place is really no different than when she lay upstairs in bed...a different plane, a higher existence, but still at the heart of it...just "upstairs".  Just like always.  And nothing is different about the scenarios.  But everything is different.  Uncertainty is a sort of questionable deathlessness.  But observing something changes it.  And this isn't an invitation to anyone to tell me, "But Jim it IS just like Leslie is upstairs, you can still talk to her, you can still see her if you close your eyes and think about her" or whatever.  I know.  I know. 

When we told Lily that Leslie was dying, we told her that she was going to live in heaven but that she'd always be with her in her heart, and that if she needed to see her, she just had to close her eyes and remember and Leslie would be there.  That's an immortality of sorts.  Not a Shrodinger's cat kind.  Not a probability.  But a handprint left on the soul of someone who loved her.  Who loves her still. A spark of recollection.  An image of a face.  A remembrance of soft words whispered nightly by a mother who loves you.

And nobody ever is really gone even if you are sitting with her holding her hand as her breath stills and her pulse fades, as it was with Leslie, so near imperceptible that I didn't even feel it go until I questioned it.  Felt for the pulse.  Watched her breathing.  It was slow and peaceful, subtle and silent.  Observed.  Changed.  But everything she touched and everything she observed remained behind, changed by HER observing.  Like the wind.  You don't see it, but you observe it bend branches, and watch the leaves it stirs on the ground.  You can't see it, but it's real.  It is alive.  It exists.  Leslie is still with us.  The gentle wind. 

With Emma, I always tell her to listen to her mother's voice.  It's still there.  We know what Leslie would say.  We know her council.  We listened to it for years.  I can play it out in my mind...that's Leslie.  That's what she would say.  We know whether she'd approve or disapprove.  I can hear her voice saying the words.  Those memories, the way she changed me, the way she help shaped the kids, that's Leslie.  That is Leslie alive and walking.  A gentle wind bending the branches of our lives.

And so tonight in bed with Lily I'm thinking about these memories that keep Leslie alive and in our lives.  Not the funny stories.  Not the anecdotes.  But the things that she changed by observing them.  The things she shaped and developed.  The branches she bent and bends still.  The leaves she stirred and stirs still.  Our kids.  My parenting.  The presence of her moral compass.  And I'm thinking too about this life-preserving passing on of traditions, because here I lie in bed with my daughter, stroking her hair the way her great grandmother, a woman who died before I ever met Leslie, once stroked Leslie's hair.  And Leslie now gone too.  And yet I trace tiny arcs over Lily's ears.  And WHY do I do that?  Because a woman I never met once left an undying imprint on a little girl who grew to be the woman I married.  Who herself grew to be the mother Lily knew.  Who stroked her hair.  Who stroked my own.  Who imprinted me.  And I pass it to the girls.

I wonder who once stroked Leslie's grandmother's hair.  Where did it start?  I'm stroking Lily's hair and I'm thinking about how Leslie's grandmother is alive in this gesture.  I'm thinking about how Leslie is alive in this gesture.  And I see my daughter's eyes are closed.  And she is sleeping.  I look at the clock and it is 8:51.  Six minutes it took to put her to sleep.  It was the same with Leslie.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Pasta Carbonara (without peas)

Okay, I hate to do two recipes posts in a row, but I was talking to someone about carbonara - specifically making a "low cal" version of carbonara, which is just substituting yam noodles for regular pasta, and I offered the recipe.  Then another friend asked for it, so I figured I'd just post it.  I hate making recipes that don't have pictures, so I apologize that it doesn't have any, but I just made it at the beginning of the week, and really didn't plan on posting the recipe until later in the week when we started chatting about it.  Next time I make it, I'll come back her and add a picture.

1)  It's super simple to make.  I'll give you the Jim's Annotated version complete with my recommendations, so it'll look longer and more complicated than it actually is, but if you read my stuff already you know that I make every explanation long and complicated but if you're reading for meaning, it'll make it super easy.

2)  I forgot what two was.  I started on 1, and then I got on a roll, and forgot why I even started numbering shit. 

3)  I'm adding three now because I was just rereading this whole thing and's a place for this one other little tidbit.  And now I feel like I could delete "2" but I won't, because it's cute.  Anway...The reason the title specifically says "(without peas)" is...I don't like peas.  I don't like them alone (unless they're snap peas and they're stir fried or they're raw) and I really hate them in pasta, like pasta primavera or carbonara.  And most carbonara recipes call for peas in them.  I don't know why.  This recipe does not.  Because it's not stupid.  It's awesome. 

Here are your ingredients:
6 tbs butter
1/2 lb sweet italian sausage
1/2 lb prosciutto (finely diced)
2 eggs
1/4 cup shredded asiago
1/4 cup shredded parmesan
1/2 cup fresh parsley (or dried.  I honestly use mostly dried cause it's easier, but fresh is obviously better)
one box pasta (I use angel hair because that's what Emma likes)
It ends up being a lot.

Pre-prep and prep:  When I buy proscuitto, they cut it really thin and they separate each piece with wax paper.  It's annoying as hell and completely unnecessary for THIS recipe.  It's also a pain in the ass for the deli people.  So when you buy the proscuitto (and they'll say stuff you want the fancy-fancyioso 18 month cured or the blah blah 12 month or whatever it is...just get the cheapest proscuitto) tell them not to worry about the wax paper.  You just want it cut thin.  When you start the recipe, you're going to just cut it into really small pieces.  So I actually roll the whole thing together and slice it, then I cut the slices until they're pretty small.  Cut the parsley leaves the same way.  Think about how small and fine dried parsley is and cut it about that small.

I'd start the water boiling and cook your noodles.

While that's cooking, get a kettle...I use a 6 quart kettle.  Okay, brief explanation.  It's not that you need a 6 quart kettle.  You can do this next part in a regular pan, but later when you combine all the ingredients, it's nice if you already have a big pot and you're not dirtying another one.   In your 6 quart kettle, put half your butter in and melt on medium heat.  Brown the italian sausage.  Toss in half of your diced/minced proscuitto. 

When I brown the sausage, I'm constantly breaking it into smaller and smaller pieces.  Like when you make tacos.  Do the same thing with the sausage.  Sausage sticks together more than ground beef does because of all the extra fat, but put in the effort, the prosciutto will help a little.  It's kind of annoying because you have to reach into that big kettle to do it, but you'll thank me later.  Unless you're an ungrateful asshole.  I won't wait for the thanks.

Crack the two eggs into a little bowl and mix them up.

Melt the remaining butter in a Pyrex measuring cup (or whatever you feel like melting the remaining butter in, but I use a measuring cup because it's easy)

When the the sausage is done browning, toss the rest of your prosciutto in and turn the heat down low.

The idea (I guess) is that half your proscuitto will be cooked and browned and a little on the crisp side, like well done bacon, and the other half will be a nice reddish pink color and give it a better texture.  Make it...sorry...more "moist".  Yeah.  I said it.

Hopefully your noodles are done now.  Strain them.  HERE'S why you need the 6 quart kettle.  Dump the noodles on top of the sausage proscuitto mixture.  You're going to be mixing all this stuff together, and lifting the noodles and stirring them up will take a ton of space and make a huge mess unless it's contained in a kettle. help the noodles separate, pour the melted butter over the noodles.  Then dump the parsley over them.  Now mix it all up.

Now you're ready for the egg.  Brief sidebar, you're not going to cook the eggs, and because I never feel SUPER comfortable with that, I like the noodles and pot to still be pretty warm.  Getting the egg on the noodles while they're still hot will cook it to the point where it's done.  You'll know what I meanwhen you do it.  You'll see the egg start to cook and change like you might if you've ever made fried rice.  My point is, don't wait super long before you add the egg.

Pour the beaten egg over the noodles and stir.  Dump all the cheese in and mix everything up really well.  The egg will make the noodles sticky enough that the cheese will stay on them.  Asiago gives it a nice tang with the sausage and the proscuitto.

You're done.  This recipe typically feeds me, Emma, Lily (sort of) and gives me enough leftovers for three days.  I'd say it would serve 6 pretty comfortably.  It doesn't reheat badly, but sometimes I'll melt a tiny bit of butter over it in the microwave to make it less stiff and microwavy and more like it was when you first cooked it.

If you make it, and have notes, critiques or reviews, please let me know!

 Oh...PS...I use that whole "coat the noodles in beaten egg then cheese" in other stuff too.  It's an easy way to make plain noodles yummier.  For example, I have a pretty decent shrimp scampi recipe, and since scampi is really buttery, sometimes I'll just make linguini, dump the entire dish of scampi over the cooked linguini noodles, mix it to get the butter worked into the noodles so they separate, then add egg and parmesan to it, mix it up, and make what I call Shrimp Scampi Linguini.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


People tag me in bacon posts a lot on Facebook.  Like...a LOT.  They also post tons of bacon recipes on my wall.  I don't even really remember why that started, but it's a thing.  So maybe four or five times a week something bacon-related gets posted on my page.

Sometimes it's ridiculous, like the bacon grilled cheese recipe where you take a POUND of bacon and wrap it around a grilled cheese sandwich and pretend the bacon is like a crust?  Ridiculous.  Does it look amazing?  Oh my god yes.  Is it practical for a middle aged man to make a sandwich with one pound of bacon?  No.  Jesus, no.

I just calculated it on  It's a 976 calorie sandwich.  With 2,320 grams of sodium.  That's an entire day's sodium in one sandwich. 

Okay...honestly that calorie count is lower than I would have expected...if I shared it with Emma...NO!  STOP IT!

Anyway...of the four or five bacon posts per week that make it to my page, I pick one every couple weeks or so to try out.  The last one was bacon sushi.  It was really good.  Before that, bacon wrapped fried oreos.  Decent. 

This week I made what I'm calling...the Hellwich.  First, you should watch the video that got posted to my page so that you can see what it was that inspired me to cook it for myself (Neither Emma nor Lily would have touched it)

From Buzzfeed on Youtube: 

So I'm like...okay...I have to have it.

But I made some tweaks.  For starters, I thought, "If this is a breakfast 'burger' why not make it out of a sausage patty?"  Secondly, I didn't like how stuff oozed out of it.  I don't like getting syrup or egg yolk all over my hands.  So I used less sauce, and I cooked my egg a little longer. 

So, here are your ingredients.
1 package Ore-Ida frozen tator tots
3 slices bacon
1 - egg
2 - slices sharp cheddar
1 - sausage patty
some bourbon
some maple syrup
butter maybe.  maybe not.  whatevs.

Alright.  So give yourself a little time to let the tator tots thaw out.  When I did it they were frozen.  It worked great, have to close the waffle iron on the tator tots, and the waffle iron is stuffed full.  The softer the tator tots are to start with the easier it'll be to close the waffle iron.  Grease your waffle iron.  You can use butter or Pam or whatever.

Next, you'll see in this picture that I lined the waffle iron with tator tots, and then in the next picture, magically, you see this waffled tator tot bun, beautifully done and complete.  That's...not exactly how it happened.  The FIRST time I did it I took a picture of the tator tots in the waffle iron.  And there weren't enough.  Essentially I got a waffle iron full of squished tator tots that I subsequently threw out and started over on.  So...see the picture?  You need to fill the gaps.  You'll have to stack tator tots on top of the other ones so they straddle the gaps.  Like a pyramid of tator tots.  A tatormid.
Too many gaps here.  Stack to fill the gaps


While you're waiting for your waffletot (no...not twat waffle) to finish you pour some syrup and bourbon into a pot and then stir and let it reduce.  It is only now, three days after making the sandwich that I see the video has them putting butter in there too.  I didn't add butter.  It still reduces, still gets thick...but REALLY thick.  When I was done it spread like caramel.  Ultimately I ended up with just enough, but I probably only used 2 tablespoons of syrup and 2 tablespoons of bourbon.  I'd double that just so you have more and it's easier to spread.  I wouldn't necessarily USE double.  But it would have been nice to decide whether I wanted to use more or not.

The waffletot takes a while, so while you're waiting for it to cook, and the syrup to reduce, you can do the easy stuff.  Toss three strips of bacon in the skillet or on the griddle, or wherever, and cook them.  Then make yourself a fried egg.  I was winging the whole process, so I cooked the bacon, then fried the egg in the bacon grease.  Because that's how you SHOULD do it.

Last is the sausage patty.  I seasoned mine with some grilling spices (I was worried it all might end up being too salty, but it did not) I put it in a pan, browned it on both sides, then slapped two slices of cheddar on it, put a couple tbsp of water in the pan and covered it for a couple minutes.

The maple bourbon sauce is probably done.  So are the waffletots.  Put one waffle tot down on a plate, add the cheese sausage patty, put your bourbon maple sauce on top of it.  Add your fried egg.  Add your bacon.  Top with your other waffletot.

What you have now is a completed hellwich.  And listen...I'm not going to lie to's not good for you.  Please consult your doctor before trying Hellwich.  That said, it is without question the greatest sandwich I've ever tasted.  I ate half for supper.  I ate the other half for breakfast the next day. 
The day after I posted pics, people were making grocery lists.  They made their own versions...they were the greatest sandwiches THEY'D ever eaten.  Everyone's tastes are different, but...come on.

It.  Was.  Worth it.