Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Small Perks of Small Town Living

I loved living in New York. I loved my tenement apartments, even, and especially the first, which had a bathtub in the kitchen and no sink in the toilet-only bathroom. But I moved to Texas after a stint in Peru, and it was pretty country out here. You always smelled skunk when you came close to Joshua, a town of about 4,000 at the time, between the county seat of Cleburne and Burleson, the last suburb of Fort Worth.
    I never made friends here. The neighbors all had pretty good plots: The guy next to me, Ty, had an acre; to my left, the guy had about 3.5 acres. Across the street, the guy had about 40 acres. Next to him a woman had 55 acres but didn't live on the property. So it wasn't like just running into people. And it wasn't like New York: Johnson County was a dry town, so if you wanted a drink you had to go to Fort Worth, and what's the fun of driving 20 miles for a drink if you have to leave after having two because you have to drive another 20 miles to go home? So I didn't make those drinking buddy friends, either.
   Now I did like my neighbors, and we often said hello, and if I was doing a project they might come to check it out and have a beer, and vice-versa, but I don't think I was ever in any of their houses and I know they were never in mine. No matter. I had my friend Lynn, over in Irving, and we'd talk on the phone and see one another every couple of weeks. And over the years I've made friends with Mike and Dian and they come over every couple of weeks; and Pat comes over now and then. And then I've got lots of former guests from the jungle who stop by for a few days, and some people who want a little healing--so I end up with lots of company, even though that company is not normally nearby. This week I've got two friends, one from Oregon, one from New York, coming in for a few days. And then Mike and Dian are coming on Sunday for dinner. So I don't lack for company, I just don't have friends nearby like I did in New York.
   But now and then, I get surprised at people who know me. Now I know some people in the police department, and the crew at the jail and a couple of judges know me, because I've written about the corruption in this town and county quite a bit and gotten some jailers fired and clipped the wings of a constable what was doing bad shit to single women late at night, and helped get a few state laws changed along the way with regards to criminalizing school truancy and such. But then that kind of being known isn't always the best, because it means you have to be so clean, so straight, that you don't give anyone the chance to come at you--knowing that some people would love to do just that.
   Okay, all of that preamble is much longer than the real story. The story was that yesterday, while in the Post Office, the guy behind the counter greeted me with: "Hello, Mr. Gorman, what can I help you with?" and then helped tape up a package I was sending while we talked a little about an upcoming surgery he's facing at the VA. Good guy. I once bought him and one of the women who work there a couple of Dairy Queen ice creams and I guess they didn't forget that. But they'd earned them, putting up with me sending a lot of books out when my books first got published.
    While I was talking with the Post Office man, Madeleina's piano teacher came in and said: "Why, hello, Peter Gorman! I haven't seen you for some time? How's my Madeleina? Off to college?"
    Nice, right?
    Then this morning I was doing the manly job of taking the garbage to the dump. There was a line of cars maybe 12 deep waiting for a space to get to dump their garbage. But the guy who registers you in and weighs your truck before and after you dump to know how much to charge you, told me to skip the line and put my garbage in a big metal container off to the side instead. "You don't need to be waiting in line. You've probably got better things to do." He's a nice guy. We've talked about his blood pressure and how sometimes the blood pressure pills just make you have to pee like crazy right after you take them.
    So I went over to the big dumpster and got out of the truck and tossed the first bag high into the air to get over its 8' walls. Then I heard a beep behind me. I turned. It was the neighbor with the 3.5 acres who works at the dump. He was in a good sized Caterpillar right behind my truck and indicated that I should just toss my trash into the huge machine's maw. That meant I didn't have to toss the garbage into the air. When I was done, he lifted the arm and dumped the mess into the dumpster. Cool.
   Then I went around to the scale, waited on line and when it was my turn the high blood pressure guy said: "I'm not gonna charge you today. Free. Have a good one!" And then I rode off.
   There are some perks to living out here in a small town. For a day or two it felt like I was a mafia don, people being so nice to me for no reason. Yo! Where's my crew?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Left Over Heaven

So I had people come in last week. Several of them. Some came for a visit, some came for medicine and a visit, some just needed to know they were not alone in the universe. Then Madeleina showed up unexpectedly on Friday and hung out till Monday morning when I drove her back to school.
   Most of the people gave scant warning and I didn't know if they were coming for an hour or overnight--except for one old friend who came for a couple of nights with plenty of warning. So I did what I do: I erred on the side of precaution with food and made enough each night to cover several people. Which left me a lot of left overs. I didn't realize how many left overs I had until my oldest son, Italo, said he wanted me to cook him something great for breakfast. So I looked in the fridge. Low and behold: I had a large bowl of pasta--thin spaghetti--with a shrimp and clam white sauce. I had a nice bowl of well-seasoned taco beef I made for Chepa and the kids one night. I had lime chicken, about three pieces. Lime chicken is one of my old dishes: Take a half of a chicken breast, slice it in two and then open each one of those halves-of-halves up so that they are thin pieces of breast. Bread them in a mix of breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese, saute till golden brown on one side, transfer to an oven dish, put more parmesan on the chicken and squeeze the juice of a whole lime on each, then bake till glistening at 325--about 8-10 minutes. Man, that is good stuff.
   Then there were the ribs I made that no one ate. I pulled the meat from the baby back ribs and put it in a bowl. Heated up garlic and olive oil in a saute pan, tossed in a diced onion, threw in three diced Roma tomatoes, put the pulled pork into that, added a good quality spicy barbeque sauce (I was too lazy to make my own that day) and wound up with wonderful pulled pork left over. Then there was the sausage and peppers and onions I made the night before Italo wanted breakfast. Good hot Italian sausages, first stabbed then boiled (the stabbing allows the fat to escape into the water); then baked till brown, then sliced into pieces and cooked with garlic, olive oil, onions (sliced, not diced), and red and green sliced peppers. Lots of good cracked black pepper. Just like you get in Little Italy in the old days in New York City.
   So Italo had a freaking feast for breakfast. He skipped the pasta, which I eventually served the dogs, but had some of each of the rest. He went back for seconds. And while he was eating he asked why we couldn't go to a restaurant that would serve food this good that was left over. Or this good when it was first made. I told him we could if we opened another restaurant. But until then, if he wants my style cooking, well, he's got to come to my house to eat.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

This Pope is Dope!

Pope Francis has had people reeling since he arrived on U.S. soil. He’s pushed love, forgiveness, decency, and climate change awareness,. He’s discussed corporate greed and economic inequality, calling out those who ignore the poorest among us. He’s reprimanded bishops who have swept pedophilia among their priests under the rug. He’s got some people saying he’s talking like a leftie, and others accusing him of being a socialist. Good for him. He’s just talking common sense stuff.
No, he hasn’t been perfect. He has not called for women to be allowed to become priests. No, he has not said that over-population is a serious problem and it’s time that Catholics worldwide embrace birth control. And no, he’s not come out pro-choice.
But he’s been on the money most of the time, and has shown great courage in not just being a religious leader, but a political leader as well.
On Sunday, he went one better, when he visited a prison in Philadelphia and immediately decried our prison system and any other prison system like ours. After embracing a prisoner, Francis called it, “painful when we see prison systems which are not concerned to care for wounds, to soothe pain, to offer new possibilities. It is painful when we see people who think that only others need to be cleansed, purified, and do not recognize that their weariness, pain and wounds are also the weariness, pain and wounds of society.”
That sentiment echoed what he told the U.S. Congress on Thursday, when he said: “just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.”
That’s the sort of courage every politician ought to have, but few do, and the sort of courage that great statesmen always have. Good for you, Pope Francis.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Story About Moi! in Roads and Kingdoms

I thought I'd posted this but apparently I have not. This is a story about me, of all the damned things, that a writer named Jared Johnson wrote for RoadsandKingdoms.com, a fantastic on line magazine of travel stories. Not your normal travel stories, these are interesting enough that now that I know it exists, I shoot over to roadsandkingdoms.com once a week to see what new material they've put up. Do it, you won't be disappointed.
    But just for the ego/ego-smashing of it all, here's a link to Jared Johnson's Under the Texas Sun.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

My Kid, Italo, is the Greatest!

Not to besmirch my other kids, cause they're all the greatest, but right now I'm thinking about my oldest son, Italo, and thinking that he's the greatest. The other kids are the greatest too, but this second it's Italo's turn. Why? Because he can fix anything I break. I break every freaking thing that has electricity associated with it. $900 ovens burn out in 6 months with me. $300 Microwaves burst into flames after 3 months with me. I spent 20 minutes trying to start my damned electrical push mower yesterday and it wouldn't turn over and he shows up today and it roared into action on the first pull of the toggle! Then he borrowed my Home Depot card to buy something for his mother, the beautiful Chepa, my wife/ex-wife who always seems to need to borrow my cards to get things or pay bills, and he also bought a new battery for my riding lawn mower.
    So I called him to invite him to take home some baby back ribs for dinner. He was on the way to the dentist with my granddaughter, Taylor Rain, so I told him just to stop by on the way back and pick up the ribs because they'll be ready. And he laughed and asked me what jobs needed doing at my house. And I said I wasn't going to start crying just because I loved him, and then I told him to pick up the damned ribs and a couple of baked potatoes and that was that. And he laughed again and said, "thanks, pops, see you in a while," and then I wrote this and right now I think he's the greatest ally a person could have. Just saying. And I feel the same about Marco and Madeleina and Chepa and Sierra and Alexa and Taylor Rain. But right now, it's Italo's turn. I love you, buddy. Thanks for being my kid. How lucky I got!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Raking Leaves, Eating Shrimp

So yesterday I was pulling into the Two Bucks liquor store parking lot to get two mini-bottles (airplane bottles) of James Beam and just before I entered I had the sickening revelation that before I left the parking lot--about two minutes total, including the store time--I was going to have a flat tire. And dammit, as I started to drive off, I felt the rear left thumping along. I turned around and went back into the lot and sure enough, there was the flat I knew was coming.
   The people at the store know me so it was no problem to use the phone to call Chepa to have her text Italo to come and save me. I wouldn't have needed to phone if the spare was in the car along with a jack, but there was neither. And since I just bought this car from Italo and he's so meticulous about those sorts of things, it never occurred to me to double check. [Note to self: Even though your son Italo is fantastic, check things like spare tires when you buy another car from him cause he ain't perfect.]
   Anyway, the work I was going to get done didn't get done with the loss of a couple of hours, as I wound up getting home at 7ish rather than 5ish. Which meant it was dinner time. What to make?
   I looked through the stores. Two hours twiddling my thumbs--and I was really, really glad when Italo showed up, brought me to a meeting place where his wife, Sarah, was waiting to take me home--and I was in the mood for red meat. I had none.
   So I took out some fresh (formerly frozen) shrimp, maybe 16-25s (16-to-25 to a pound), from the fridge, pulled out 11 of them, cleaned them, cut them open. In a nice sauté pan I put olive oil with garlic. When that was hot I put in the shrimp and salted and peppered them with good pink sea salt and cracked black pepper. While they sizzled, I cut and trimmed five scallions and diced one Roma tomato. When I pulled the shrimp I put the scallions and tomato into the sizzling hot pan, added a touch of a good light soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of butter (that was to replace my meat fix for available fat). Veggies cooked I pulled them, then put a huge handful of organic spinach in the pot with a bit of white vinegar to pull out any pan bits, sauteed that till just done, put that on a plate, covered it with the shrimp, then tossed on the veggies. No starch as it was too late in the evening.
   Man, that meal took all of 10 minutes but was really good. Every bite a epicurian delight. Try it. I'm not lying.
   Then today, after we got the wheel with the flat from the car at Two Bucks, brought it back to Joshua and had a new tire put on and then brought that back to Fort Worth and got the car in running shape, I stopped at the store. I was still dying for that red meat I wanted yesterday. So I bought a good full-inch-thick rib eye for tonight. But I also bought some chicken drumsticks just in case--and hoping--that Chepa and the girls would come for dinner. They did. So I quickly put on good Jasmine rice, put the dogs' food--chicken backs and necks today--in the oven, put on a large sauté pan--a rock solid pan I've used almost daily for more than 20 years as it was a wedding present back in 1994--put in vegetable oil and got that good and hot--about 8 1/2 on my hottest burner with 10 being the hottest. While that was warming up, I washed the drumsticks then dredged them in organic flour, then sauteed them till a lovely brown. When I got all 12 drumsticks done--made the whole flat because Chepa might want to bring a couple home for Marco and Sarah might want to bring a couple home to Italo--I put them in a good glass Corningware pan and put that into the oven at 350. They should be done in 20 minutes. All the flavor of fried chicken without the grease. Rice should be done at the same time. Kids can eat early. I've lost my appetite from the cooking so I can skip a meal tonight--or just have a good salad--and I can stand to lose a meal now and then.
    So life's perfect, right? I mean, one night it's shrimp, one night chicken drumsticks, one night skip food. I try to remember to thank the universe every day that in this incarnation I came here poor but middle-class poor, not poor, poor, and I came here smart and I came with a good set of parents and a great brother and four great sisters, the whole shebang. Not everybody gets that by a long shot. I know I won the Earth Being Lottery and I'm very thankful. A couple of billion of us did not win that lottery. I hope they find enough to eat. I hope I put in my fair share to help make that a reality. Because my kids eat and a lot of parents cannot say that, and it's not their fault. They just did not have the same beginnings I had. Dammit, this was a story about a busted tire and food, and now it's taken the right hand fork in the road into something else. But that's okay. Everytime we eat, and eat what we choose to eat, not what we can find, we ought to remember that someone else doesn't have that choice and that's not generally because that's their choice. That's what they were dealt. Thanks Universe. And I will try to keep remembering to share what I've got.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Braised Short Ribs

On the continuing quest for interesting things to eat while I eat alone because Madeleina's away at college--Tarleton State U--and having a blast, tonight I just put short ribs in the oven. Normally I just sear them and put them in with some sea salt and cracked black pepper with garlic and olive oil, but tonight I'm going differently because I have some lawn to cut and won't be in the house for an hour or so.
     So first thing after I bought the short ribs was to pick up a decent ($30) dutch oven. Not the best, but a pretty good one. Funny that I could not find mine. I'll bet I could if I looked in Chepa's cabinets, but I've given up on that sort of thing. It doesn't make anyone happy. Hell, last week I raided her garage, took two shovels, a good branch parer, a sledge hammer, my sythe and several other tools she's borrowed, or my sons have borrowed on her behalf, in the not too distant past and the next thing you know I'm being asked why I'm stealing all her stuff? I said, what stuff? It's all mine. She said, I'm still your wife. Everything you own is mine, so it's my stuff and you're stealing it, trying to make me look like a poor lady.
   So I'm not looking for missing pots, bowls, cups, silverware. Because she's right, in a crazy way: She owns me till I'm dead, and I work more than her, and if she needs stuff she takes it and if I need that stuff again I should go buy it.
   So I did.
   Home, I heated up my fantastic large saute pan, put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into it, floured the short ribs, then browned them on all sides with good salt and pepper. Then I took out the ribs, added a diced onion, five sliced scallions, lots of garlic in not-so-much olive oil, and when that was all done, tossed in two over-ripe diced tomatoes.
   When that was all scalding and smelling like dinner, I poured in two glasses of decent cabernet sauvignon and scraped all the pan material, then added two cups of organic vegetable broth and let that boil and let the flavors marry for a few minutes.
   Then I put a touch of olive oil in the new dutch oven, put in the meat, and covered it all with the wine and veggies. Then I tossed in some organic baby carrots, two diced organic celery stalks, a couple of rosemary stems I had in my freezer, added a bit more pepper, covered that baby, and put her in the oven at 315 degrees. I won't even look at her for two hours--now one hour and 30 minutes. And when I do, I'll be looking at a few bites of the ripest meat in the world. I know it's horrible to eat meat, but short ribs, done right, are something else. And I swear I'll let the cows eat me when I'm dying. Or kill me and eat me. Promise.
   So I'm gonna have that with a nice salad, as usual, and broccoli and cauliflower florets, par-boiled then seared in olive oil with garlic--the olive oil drained before serving. No rice, no potato, no bread, no starch. Meal's rich enough without that. (Besides, I had that last night when I made myself a nice hot Virginia ham and baby Swiss cheese sandwich on super fresh French bread.)
   I hope all of you have a few minutes to plan and execute a fantastic meal for yourselves tonight and every night. Try to make the time. It beats fast food and doesn't cost much more. And if anybody's hungry, come on over, I'm sure there is enough to share.