Between Thankgivings in the Centre of the World

Here in the mountain valley which the Chumash called the Centre of the World, I found myself caught between two Thanksgiving Days. I wasn’t home in Toronto for Canada’s day of thanks on the second Monday of October, and I won’t be here on November 27, the fourth Thursday in November, for the American Thanksgiving. And yet I had much to be thankful for and I wanted to express it. Luckily a birthday came along. I began planning.

Well, let’s be honest. First, I took stock. Was I up to cooking such a meal? I factored in my advanced age, my aching back and divided by thankfulness. The result was a decimal zero, zero, single digit. In other words, no prob!

Not turkey. Sorry turkey farmers, I don’t like your bird enough to go to all that bother. No our preferred protein is roast beast, i.e. a beef rib roast. Since I no longer have a house to mortgage, that was a sobering thought, but I said, what the heck, I’ve got a line of credit. In the event, it cost only $126 for 4 ribs, with the bones cut off and tied back on. The butcher worked away at it for 15 minutes while I looked at wine.

Of course there would be champagne and a good bottle of red. I found a bottle of Veuve Cliquot, or the Widow, on the top shelf and the wine guy who reached it down recommended a pinot noir from the Santa Barbara area, just across the mountains from the Centre of the World. I added a bottle of chardonnay for the cook in case her back got going.

I had found a “Classic Caesar Salad” recipe on line and Jamie Oliver’s root vegetable mash. Those ingredients were cheap enough as were the Brussell sprouts that I decided on at the last minute to add green to the main course.

Clara offered to split the cost, but I said it was my treat. I didn’t want to have to do CPR in the middle of the Santa Clarita Whole Foods¬† and besides I had that generous line of credit.

That was Thursday and dinner would be on Sunday. The plan was to to turn up the fridge and store the roast on the back shelf at the bottom. The butcher, fearful for his rep didn’t want to endorse that plan wholeheartedly, but I explained about winding mountain roads and a long trip down the I 5. In fact, it worked very well, although a container of green soup froze solid.

It was a two household project (Two households both alike in dignity/In fair Verona, etc). One had the necessary more or less empty fridge, but I would be cooking in the other house, the one in the pines where I could find the utensils I needed.

Saturday morning, I had the fridge house to myself, so I peeled the root veg into a big heavy pot and covered them with spring water. The tap water here is very heavily chlorinated because of the drought, I imagine. The wells are lower than ever. When I drink tea made with it, I fell as if I’m drinking from a tea flavoured swimming pool. I stashed the veg in the fridge and drove the golf cart over to the other house.

I had it to myself as well, the occupants having made their weekly trip to Los Angeles for treatment and shopping. I put on music on my IPod and began to prep the salad. I listened to the birthday boy’s album Shadows of Another Time (www.allmusic.com) as I worked and used his Cuisinart to make the Caesar dressing. By the time, I finished and cleaned up, I had heard most of it twice and gone on to listen to 4 versions of Carrickfergus.

Sitting at the table, I began tearing up a baguette for croutons. With the music off, I was began to think of why I felt thankful. Together as a family, we had found the right medical help and routed a potentially deadly disease. Now it was being managed. Certainly, refinements to medication were still being made, certainly it would be a lifelong condition,  but after 5 months, it was manageable. Or the patient had learned to manage it.

Sitting there, I felt all trace of my former picture of myself -78, alienated from a beloved son, prone to isolation in a cold city, survivor of a traumatic life – drop away. I was truly at the Centre of the World, washed through with love as I have seldom been even in the spring of my life and my first and abiding love.

When I came back into the house on Sunday morning, it was fragrant with coffee, bacon and pancakes already. We carried in the big pot and the roast from the golf cart. I rubbed the cut ends of the roast with butter, no salt so as to preserve the juices. When the oven got up to 450, I put it in for 20 minutes. Then I turned it down to 280.

It turned out the Brussell sprouts looked like small cabbages, so I sliced them thin, fried some bacon, added the sprouts, discovered the skillet was too small, put them in a pot and added a cup of chicken stock. Just before dinner, I would cook them 15 minutes.

I cooked the root veg -carrots, parsnips and rutabaga, early and got my sous chef to mash them with butter. I wasn’t up to that upper body exercise, but I was pleased to note that being thankful seemed to keep back pain at bay.

I sat at the table to put together the salads.

As dinner time drew near, I used a digital thermometer to monitor the meat. Luckily there was one. Cooking America which posted how to cook the perfect rib roast had threatened to wash its hands of me, if I didn’t use one. At a certain point it read 113. I wanted 120, knowing the meat would rise to medium rare. Fifteen minutes later, still 113. I jacked the oven heat up to 350 and 10 minutes later, the thermometer read 125. I took it out of the roast pan and wrapped it loosely with tin foil.

The sous chef mixed up the ingredients I had measured out for Yorkshire pudding, poured the beef drippings into popover pans, heated them in a 400 degree oven and then poured in the batter. Twenty minutes later when she turned the heat down to 350, they were already rising.

yorkshire

I was somewhat taken aback to discover all the beef drippings gone, but olive oil worked just as well with the scrapings from the roast pan. Beef stock and red wine added to the roux produced a tasty and copious gravy.

Reheating the mash took a good deal of stirring, but the excess water cooked off. The sprouts were tender by now and just needed to be lifted out with a slotted spoon. In both cases things hadn’t worked out as the recipe said and I had had to wing it.

The last ingredient, the guests, arrived just in time.

We had the champagne with the cake, a tropical coconut cake from Susiecakes in Manhattan Beach, which didn’t look exactly like this one. It had pineapple in the middle.

coconut cakeThankfulness is a great shortcut to happiness and mental health. And relief of back pain.

PS I drank the chardonnay anyway.

Considering Loss at Thanksgiving

Recently, I lost my usual social group. It’s because of the flood, the basement flood at the tai chi club I attended two or three times a week. It wasn’t even a very deep flood, not what others in my town experienced that July 8th when the heavens opened, but deep enough to cause a flowering of mould or noxious fungi. Initially, it smelled like charred wood. When no one else seemed to smell it, I knew I was in trouble. A blinding headache confirmed my suspicion. I withdrew. I raised an alarm. This was a health hazard, I said. The contractor who dealt with the building agreed. The rug had to be pulled up and the floor treated with anti-fungal cleaner.

It is now three months later. The rug is still there and so is the over-growth of fungus.

I tried visiting a month ago. As soon as I walked in the door, I got light-headed. Surely, I would adapt. Half an hour later, I kept saying I had to go because my head was aching, but I seemed incapable of taking myself out the door. Walking toward my car, I knew it was the beginning of the end. On Friday, I turned in my key. The instructor who took it asked me how long it takes me to get to the club I now attend.

It is true that I am now going to another location of the same outfit, half an hour closer than the mouldy one, a spacious, airy building that brings to mind Hemingway’s “clean, well lighted place”. But it lacks the 50 or so familiar faces I used to gab to and the four good friends I had made there.

There is a good deal of self-pity involved. I had been going to that club for eleven years and was instrumental in its membership expansion, in upgrading the building and in fund-raising. Every so often, I am given public credit for this. Don’t want it. Want a de-fungused basement.

Give that up, Joyce. You did it. Now it’s done. Have the grace not to snivel.

So I took Magic Erasers into the new club and scrubbed the baseboards before class. I talk to absolutely everyone who will give me the time of day. I take food in for potluck lunches. There’s got to be a pony under this pile of — fungus.

In other news: the cottage I love is being sold. We will not be able to rent it next year. A beloved house in Southern California is being lost to bankruptcy, a loss which reminds me of an earlier loss that I spoke of in my post about The Great Gatsby. https://115journals.com/2013/05/17/the-great-gatsby-a-personal-response/

Worst of all and no joking matter, a young relative is dying. I do not claim that this will actually be my loss, because I am peripheral. It is, nevertheless, a source of grief, all the more because it reminds me that I very nearly lost someone much closer. https://115journals.com/2013/01/06/shed-come-undone/

Roots are being torn up. I pulled two fat carrots out of a garden a few days ago. They are destined to join parsnips and turnip in a mash-up tomorrow. Heat, butter, nutmeg and sea salt will transform them into a mouth-watering Thanksgiving delight. (A Canuckian Thanksgiving) And I know that these changes are also transformative, but, like the carrots, I don’t yet see what we are becoming. I catch glimpses – a new home for one of us among mountain pines, my renewed friendship with my ex-husband after 30 years estrangement and various spiritual books assure me that the young man is about to be changed into “something rich and rare”.

Blake has observed that if we had stayed together in that house under the hill, skimming the leaves out of the pool and feeding the birds outside the patio door, we would be stodgy and rigid. He doesn’t add “whereas we are flexible, large-minded and open-hearted”. But of course we silently believe we have made a transformation of that order.

So for that change, at least, I am grateful.