07 September 2016

Why Are You Walking Your Goat On A Leash?

Do you stencil on those perfectly round circles? (No). Does her fur naturally grow short in some places and long in others to make that fancy hairdo? (How I wish). Is she a show dog? (Yes, a retired champion). May I take her picture? (Of course! Thank you!!). Do you dress in black and grey or black and white to match your dog? (No, she dresses in blue roan to match me). The title question, or some variation, all day long, because she really does, at times, look like a goat. And, no, not even my wonderful English Cocker Spaniel breeder several times over can guarantee a dog like Sister Faye. I never tired of answering those questions again and again.

On our twice daily loops from home to the Four Seasons Hotel for a biscuit, where the door men and women regarded her as their mascot and treated her like royalty, to Anthropologie, where she also reigned as their mascot, and then back home, dozens of people a day would ooh and aah and smile and point and giggle. Sister Faye's mission was to make friends with everybody, and as such, sat patiently as babies and toddlers petted her Pi Day-perfect big black spot and others snapped her into their selfies. She once wandered into a wedding party photo shoot, upstaging - and charming - the bride and groom. Smiling eyes shyly peered out from niquab slits and once a hijab-clad woman and her child, both in party dress and from a land where dogs are deemed dirty, stunned me by plopping down on the promenade to procure doggie kisses.

Sister Faye was gifted to me eight days after I lost my sister Sharon Faye, and as eight is a Mobius - an endless loop - her name chose itself. In an instant she healed two hearts and my marriage. As her celebrity handler (for lack of a better term), we constantly encountered lovely people from all over Baltimore and all over the world who were drawn in by her stunning appearance and huge magnetic personality. For sure, no black/white/grey dog was ever so full of colour. Or was chauffeured in a car bearing CHEVRE (literally, goat, from the French) vanity tags.

With one, still too sad to contemplate exception, I always said the newest dog was the best ever, that nirvana had been reached (again). That Sister Faye will have no successor speaks for itself.

Having dogs is a bargain we make with ourselves, that we will love them madly, devote ourselves and our bank accounts to their care, but eventually outlive them - and agree that is, and should be, the natural order of things. But anyone who has experienced this particular, extraordinary sort of unconditional love unavailable from human companions understands what I just said seems gibberish when the end comes, whenever and however.

Though Sister Faye's mission on earth remains incomplete, today was that day. Up until yesterday, when yet again asked her age, I replied "14 this coming November 1st," knowing full well only a miracle would render this the correct answer. 

Lost in this thicket of grief, I nonetheless sense a way forward meditating on the belief that health and vitality have been restored to my little chevre and that she's once again smiling and merry, and perfectly coiffed, holding court up there somewhere over the rainbow.

18 July 2016

It's All About The Basil

Apologies to Meghan Trainor, but I'm just stating the obvious. Tomatoes need basil more than basil needs tomatoes.

After thrice sharing my roasted tomatoes recipe yesterday at the downtown farmers market, I told the next person to check out my blog. So here's a repeat of my post from 2007:

It's a special alchemy that occurs this time of year when tomatoes and basil meet an oven. My roasted tomatoes recipe transforms even semi-mealy or bruised and broken local tomatoes into a sweetness you will mourn for after frost. The summer and early fall menu I most often serve guests includes risotto topped with roasted tomatoes, a salad of anything fresh, good crusty bread from Trinacria and sauteed peaches (bruised ones from the farmers market) with mascarpone. Your guests will likely detect the other-worldly roasted tomato fragrance before you even answer the door and you'll notice my menu omits a first course, as wading through an appetizer while the tomatoes await seems cruel.

I enjoy making this a visual feast as well, so whenever possible, I use red and yellow tomatoes. Any type of oven-safe dish will do, but I like to use an eight-inch square pyrex dish and nine big tomatoes or sixteen little tomatoes for a snappy checkerboard effect.

The tomatoes must be skinned - not a big deal. While boiling a few inches of water in a soup pot or wide saucepan, cut into the tomatoes just enough to remove the top part of the core and then make a small x on the bottoms. Place tomatoes in the boiling water, cover, and when the skins begin to wrinkle after a moment or two, remove the tomatoes to a bowl, preferably an ice bath. While they cool, wash a big farmers market-sized bundle of basil and don't worry about drying it. Coat the bottom of the dish with a little olive oil and then add the basil leaves. Carefully skin the tomatoes and place them core side down into the dish. I usually roast them at 400 degrees - but anywhere between 350 and 425 degrees works - until about after an hour or so, when the tomatoes become slightly charred.

At serving time, use a slotted spoon - these babies are soupy. And one last instruction - after your guests go home, drink the nectar remaining in the dish.

26 June 2016

And When You Stand Before The Candles On A Cake

Eight years ago today, on 26 June 2008, on what should have been my daddy's 79th birthday, I posted What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life? which details a few extraordinary hours spent in my Rehoboth Beach house on 13 June 2008. Although unrelated to the piece, the 13th also happened to be my sister Sharon's 56th birthday - so sadly, as it turned out, her last.

Unlike the sudden, Rain Man-like realization on that day that I was exactly the same age as my mother when she died (48 years + assorted months and days), I knew well in advance that on this just-past 14 May, I would equal Sharon's time on earth. Some snicker at my compulsion to quantify things, but numbers and symmetry have always served to inject calm and order into the aftermath of the extreme dis-order thrust upon my family in 1973. Whatever coping mechanisms we developed, I am proud to say that at least they did not include drugs or drink.

As eight is a Mobius - an endless ribbon representing infinity - it seemed impossible NOT to post again today, on what should have been my daddy's 87th birthday, about something that happened on 13 June, on what should have been Sharon's 64th birthday.

After seeing the 3 April New York Times Book Review article on Alligator Candy, written by David Kushner, who was four when his brother was murdered and mutilated in 1973, I did not rush out to read it. Without meaning to dismiss - at all - what happened to his brother, or rate its effect, I am nonetheless positive that the sensational slaughter of my father that same year, when I was 13, and the four heartbreaking weeks after, and the development of cancer that ate away close to half of my mother's face, and the death of my grandmother, and a very public trial (all within a year), and my mother's hideous death a few years later, and the decades of dysfunction, couldn't help but affect me in a more profound manner. Maybe it was that three years earlier, after inhaling After Visiting Friends by Michael Hainey, who was six when his father died of natural, yet mysterious, causes, I finally found the voice and the courage to break my 40-year silence. Maybe it was enough and I was done?

I didn't even plan on attending Mr. Kushner's talk at the Baltimore Sun on 14 June. But the nagging knowledge that Honor Thy Mother And Thy Father oddly put to rest only my mother issues, plus curiosity about Mr. Kushner and who would attend his talk - people who weirdly thrill to true crime stories or people, like me, who could write the same story? - got the best of me on 12 June, resulting in a late-evening purchase, and then a non-stop read the next morning, crowding out thoughts that it was Sharon's birthday.

With both books running approximately the same length, I noted 28 pages in After Visiting Friends where Mr. Hainey and I shared exact thoughts and words, but Mr. Kushner and I were parallel on more than 90 pages - including page 171, where he shared a letter his father wrote, asking - can't make this up - "What shall I do with the rest of my life?" Elation, eight years to the day, in finding a few other humans who spoke the same language became the catalyst to neatly tie up this 43-year-old tale.

What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life? by musical geniuses Marilyn Bergman and Alan Bergman, was covered by multiple major recording artists, most notably (to me) Barbra Streisand. I used the second line, "North and south and east and west of your life," to title a post written seven years ago today in my East Baltimore Development Inc. (EBDI) blog, Changing East Baltimore Together. Things come in threes, so today I've borrowed "And when you stand before the candles on a cake" because in July, I will celebrate 57 years, having received three months ago an early, most unexpected gift of at least some sort of closure.

When the assistant state's attorney rang my phone on 28 March, I expected to hear yet another twist or turn in the latest of the unending (not an exaggeration), always lame attempts of my father's confessed murderer-cum-jailhouse lawyer to get out of prison - charades that I could only silently witness in post-conviction hearings, literally multiple dozens of times over decades, from my seat but a few feet from where he sat shackled. If only Maryland taxpayers knew prisoners are entitled to such shenanigans.

Or worse, maybe I'd hear he had filed for his Unger case, where a new trial could be granted because of a technicality in juror instructions in the 1970s and 1980s. Many convicted beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt murderers now walk free among us because of Unger - some without trials, because witnesses and/or survivors died and evidence was destroyed and/or lost.

But instead, I was stunned to learn the animal had died the day before in jail. It simply never occurred to me that I would be released from the particular hell of attending court sometimes up to seven times a year or that I'd wouldn't have to endure a new trial and the attendant media circus.

I am often asked to consider turning what I have learned over 43 years into a book, but Honor Thy Mother and Thy Father, and now this, is pretty much all I want to say about the journey from unfathomable tragedy and sorrow to acceptance and everything in between and after. While Mr. Hainey and Mr. Kushner felt free to share, I still question if this genre is merely attention-getting and needy, narcissistic and pathetic - or, maybe, just possibly, brave. Whatever. Enough. Dayenu.

And anyway, to paraphrase my words of eight years ago today, I'm busy being grateful for surpassing my parents' (and Sharon's) days on earth and the ability to joyfully greet the future. Bring it on.