Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Year-long Jack-O-Lantern Supply

I have a big problem. I big, big problem.

Today started off okay, I mean, considering how it ended up. Like, when I woke, the sky was not purple, so I figured no more houseguests would arrive. Also, I didn't have the tingling feeling in my lips that often precedes particularly odd or dangerous Pepe behavior. Like when Pepe decided, around Christmas, that he would help me by installing a yard sale antenna on my roof and I came home to find him standing in a tree beside the garage hammering this Pleistocene, multi-limbed monster into the very precarious limbs of an old Bartlett Pear, all while singing Chinese Opera with a Spanish accent. When he heard my car pull in, he shouted down, "SEE MISS! I'M PUTTING THIS ANTENNA ON THE ROOF FOR YOU BECAUSE I LOVE YOU! IT HAS MANY ARMS! IT WILL SEE EVERYTHING! EVEN IN MY COUNTRY!" And I gently shouted back, "BUT PEPE, YOU'RE IN A TREE. THE ROOF IS BEHIND YOU!" And he turned to see, even though he is blind, and fell out of the tree pulling the pterodactyl antenna down with him, and landing, luckily if you choose to see it that way, in a giant bank of snow. He cried out, "OH NO, OH NO! NOW YOU WILL SEE NOTHING LIKE BEFORE!" (It astonishes me that he believes we all see on television what he sees on television, and that this is due to a failure of reception. Nothing we say convinces him otherwise, not even the simple, "Pepe, you are blind.")

That day, I felt my lips tingling right when I woke up. And the day he considered bathing, so locked himself in the bathroom, removed his clothing, turned on the water and then had a panic attack and began to scream, in some bizarre mix of Quechua, Spanish and Chinese, but was so terrified by the water that he could not unlock the door and I had to remove the doorknob to rescue him, but not before the tub overflowed. And I had to see Pepe naked, and in fact had to dress him because panicking blind men with hydrophobia can not dress themselves (just so you know if you are even in this situation). That day too, I woke up to tingling lips. So now, when I wake up, I do a labial scan before even getting out of bed. And the day seemed safe. The only annoying thing was this very close by beepbeepbeepbeep, that went on for a while, and the relatively close hum of a truck, which I figured was someone's lawn guy or some moving van, though it was pretty early. I didn't pay any attention to it and when I look back on the day, this is where I went wrong. I need to remember to take everything seriously. Every sound. Every instinct. Everything I notice means something, possibly. Probably. Because now I not only have Pepe, but also Morton Huseman. And I am not certain about the bodily clues of Morton's Mischief, though I have a hunch. And until I am sure, I need to be hypervigilent.

So I went about my day. It was a particularly busy day. I had neglected to iron on the Brownie Badges for LH of the red lips and white skin, the dark eyes and the able hands. She is like Snow White. Yes. You read right. I have a child who looks like Snow White and is also assiduous in that same Snow White-like way. Anyway, I digress. So I had neglected to iron on the badges and it was Brownie Day and I am that mother. The one who makes bad Shepherd's Pie on purpose and forgets to iron on the Brownie Badges. I really only want to read to them and write novels. I also enjoy their company for I have raised them to suit me perfectly. Because I am that kind of mother. Anyway, I continue to digress. So I woke up, did my lip check, and got crackin'. Brownie Badges, papers to sign, breakfast to make, kids to shuttle, research to conduct, meetings to attend etc etc. And when I got home, I exited the car and smelled manure.

Now here is the thing. It's not unusual once spring hits to exit the car in the suburbs and to smell manure. Because everyone is mulching their yards. But it is January. It is January. I looked around. My neighbor's neighbor (who must not have a job)was out there, he waved. I waved back. I opened the garage and went in the house and the smell of manure was stronger. Yes, you read correctly. I entered the house and the smell of manure was stronger. My heart began to race and then ears went deaf and dingy, you know...that airplane thing. It happened to me once over Dubai, my ears went completely thick and were wracked with needle-like pain. At the time, I considered that death would be preferable. That was an indulgence of youth, that I would die rather than suffer the momentary needle-like pain in my ears. I have kids now, so I suffer these things mutely without contemplating suicide. But that is what I felt, the simultaneous deafness/needles pain in my ears. Very unpleasant and a clear harbinger of doom.

I put down my handbag and my grocery bags and scanned left and right. I bent over to take off my shoes and I could swear that as I bent forward, the manure smell was stronger, so I thought, with relief, that it was my SHOES, that I had STEPPED in something! So I picked them up to check and no manure. It wasn't my shoes. I dropped to my knees and definitely the smell was stronger closer to the floor. So I began to crawl, through the kitchen, into the living room, through the hall and as I approached the basement door, the smell grew overpowering and I knew whatever it was was in the basement. I stood up and opened the door and the stench threw me against the wall. There was a blinding white light emanating from the stairwell and there was absolutely manure in the basement. Yes. You read correctly. There was manure in the basement. I walked slowly down the stairs and peeked around the corner and there were Morton and Pepe, on their knees in the middle of a plowed field, under a ceiling suddenly strung with thousands of white bulbs. They were examining with rulers something they held in their hands. Seeds. They were measuring seeds, both of them. And Pepe is blind.

My basement carpet was missing, or underneath the 20 cubic yards of manure. I looked around. There were my walls and my teeming bookshelves, and my windows, looking outside...meaning I was definitely inside. My mouth dropped open and Morton and Pepe looked up, as though the sound of my thudding heart had interrupted their measuring.

Morton looked back at Pepe and then swiveled his head over to me again. He said nothing and blinked. Pepe grinned, stood up, ran over and threw his arms around me and shouted, "MISS, OH MISS! WE ARE GROWING PUMPKINS! PUMPKINS MISS!"

They are growing pumpkins. Yes, you read me right.

It seems Morton Huseman, in addition to his online Chinese Opera Instruction, also runs a year long jack-o-lantern supply with a worldwide market. He grows pumpkins through a self perfected pumpkin-forcing process and when they are the right size, he carves them on demand into whatever his customers order. He assures me he is a "Pumpkin Artist." He showed me his albums.

He said, "I can make you in pumpkin."
I looked at him with my mouth open. My ears, remember, were popped, "Did you say, you have made me into a pumpkin?"
He swiveled his eyes over to Pepe and then back at me. He stared and waited, "No. No I did not say that. I said, I can make you in pumpkin. I can make a pumpkin into you." He smiled his microdontic smile and blinked his penguin eyes. I shuddered and chose not to pursue it.

"Why don't you grow them outside?" He swiveled his head over so fast I thought this time for sure it would spin off entirely leaving me with this shit to clean up, but it didn't. He just stared especially long.

"You can not grow pumpkins year long in an uncontrolled environment. I am not even sure your basement will work." He looked around at my basement with some disdain I thought.

Pepe chimed in, "OH MISS'S BASEMENT WILL BE PERFECT FOR ALL ENDEAVORS. MISS HAS MAGICAL POWERS!" Pepe is convinced I have magical powers. He makes me lay hands on his eyes every day. I do it. Who knows...maybe I do. I am left handed and and I have an odd spot on my tongue.

I didn't exactly know how to respond. You see, the problem is that the manure is already there. It's a problem I never imagined handling. I'm not so good at confrontation. I said, "You put manure down on my floor."

He swiveled his head and stared and finally said, "How else can I grow my pumpkins?"

I answered, "But there is manure. On my floor."

He replied, "I put down trashbags."

I am not sure what do to...I've seen Pacific Heights. I am afraid of Morton Huseman. He has penguin eyes, and an online jack-o-lantern carving business. Jack-o-lanterns! It's just not natural. I am afraid, this is the truth. And I need your help. I do not know what to do. All I know now is that my preternatural signal of Morton Huseman's madness might be Dubai Ears.

So I am simply asking, after you read this, if you have any thoughts, please feel free to send them to me, because...I just don't know what to do.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Morton Huseman Mystery Solved

I solved the Morton Huseman mystery. He scares me, though I am trying not to send too much energy to the cold feeling in my spine. Morton Huseman is a friend of Pepe's. This would be reason enough for alarm bells to go off, but it's creepier. Morton Huseman has an unnatural way of swiveling his head from one side immediately and directly to the other side, 180 degrees, so that you are caught unexpectedly in his stare. It is this mechanical swivel that causes the chill in my soul.

He swivels and then says nothing for several seconds, during which time he neither blinks nor moves his mouth. Then, suddenly, he will begin a swishing motion with his jaws, swallow, smack his lips and say, "Aaaah." Pepe of course, can't see this, and all he hears are Morton Husman's affirmations as to his talent and vocal agility, his intonation and accent. Morton Huseman compliments Pepe, swivels his head over to me, and then: silence, stares, swooshes, smacks and aaahs, while Pepe, with his head blindly bobbling, shudders with glee like Richard Simmons and grins at the recent words of praise. It is frightening; Morton Huseman has penguin eyes. You know what I mean.

The universe forewarned me, but I paid little heed. We have grown cynical and unbelieving of signals...The day I came home to find Morton Huseman sitting at my kitchen table eating corn with Pepe, I knew something weird was going to happen. It was one of those days that starts with a purple sky and ends with a tsunami. But none of that matters anymore because as of this past Saturday, Morton Huseman is Pepe's Chinese Opera coach.

It seems Pepe filled out a form online using his little braille keyboard and his faulty voice technology, and he listed me as his reference, which is why I was getting calls for a Sloofa Mansion. I had spent days shouting into the phone, "There is no Sloofa Mansion at this number!!" I didn't know I was Sloofa Mansion. How could I have known? But if I had...perhaps I could have intervened... But after I turned everyone else away...finally there was only Morton.

When Morton, who apparently is exclusive, did his own personal research on Pepe, to determine if he was worthy of his fake-Chinese singing lessons, he found my blog. And I suppose to demonstrate his Authentic Chinesieness, he made a comment about my Authentic Medieval Shepherd's Pie, in Chinese. You can scroll down and see it in all its unintelligible glory, like an ancient Chinese secret. He obviously wanted to be coy, because let me tell you, Morton Huseman is NOT Chinese. He is a red-faced Caucasian man with white hair he wears in a twist behind his head like a skein of yarn. In a corn-induced stupor, he accidentally let on that he grew up in Iowa, NOT Beijing which is what his promotional literature says, and when I ask him about that now, he denies ever sitting there behind a tower of corn talking about his boyhood in Iowa, eyes glazed, face slick with butter, yellow kernals wedged between his small, backward-leaning teeth. I turn to Pepe, who is not deaf, for confirmation, but Pepe will bite the hand that feeds him. He knows I won't throw him out; he's blind, unpleasant and yeasty. And it's January. Pepe needs Morton Huseman's praise for his Chinese Operatic efforts. And Morton Huseman is not a nice man, he would surely withold his gentle kindnesses for any disloyal utterance of truth. Pepe has the sensitivity of the long blind and I know I can not win here.

You might be wondering whether I am scared to publicly denounce Morton Huseman as a fraud as far as online Chinese Opera instruction goes, but I am not afraid. I do believe that he was being coy with his Chinese message on my blog. Because there is no message there that had anything to do with Shepherd's Pie, or using my neighbor's neighbor's name on the label, or Christmas Cookies or even Pepe. This is what his message means:

Difficulty is not a new concept, but rather to avoid the old concept.


So I can think of only two reasons for Morton, the online Chinese Opera teacher, to make such a comment. Either he was playing the Chinese card, trying to look mystical and authentic and lacking a public enough forum so he inserted said coyism into my blog comments so that my vast and rapt cyberfollowing would see him as Confucian and want to learn Opera from him, OR he is saying that my blog about Medieval Shepherd's pie is hackneyed. Something he has read again and again. An old concept. You know...the "gross Shepherd's Pie passed off as a neighbor's cooking" concept. That my difficulty will be in finding a NEW concept to blog about. Or that in general, my difficulty will be with being fresh. As a writer and a person.

Either way, I believe Morton Huseman's purposes could be served by my turning the spotlight on him. Suddenly he has the forum he craves, because my vast and rapt cyber-following will know where to turn for all their Chinese Opera Instruction, and also it is certain that a blog about Morton Huseman showing up at my kitchen table before a toppling tray of boiled ears of corn in January with my blind houseguest Pepe is definitely NOT a played out concept.

So I am not afraid. Except for that swiveling head and those penguin eyes. Which are scary. Perhaps I subconsciously blogged about him so that if anything happens, you will know where to begin looking: in my basement, because for a short time anyway, Morton Huseman, who is apparently down on his luck, will be living with me.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Authentic Medieval Shepherd's Pie

Yesterday was the Medieval Festival at my girl's school. Apparently I signed up to support this event by bringing a dish. I do not remember doing this. I think it was my neighbor's neighbor's wife who put my name in. She resents my saucy attitude and the effect is has on her husband who, ever since the fishtank episode, slows his Volvo stationwagon down when he sees me to wave. He sticks his hand in front of her face and leans forward. His car often veers off course toward my mailbox. I wave back and I think she thinks it's cheeky of me, because I do not remember volunteering to cook. They sent home a slip before the winter break with my food item. Shepherd's Pie. Apparently they sorted the parents into vegetarian, non vegetarian, vegan, lacto-ovo, celiac, peanut allergy and omnivore and then drew names. They clearly were not fooled by the Sujatha. I look like an omnivore. It's the teeth; they're huge and would be wasted on vegetables and eggs. So I got Shepherd's Pie. Like it's the Festival of Medieval England. I went to England when I was 10 months pregnant. I survived on Pop Tarts I brought from home and Indian food, which is delicious in England. I did order Shepherd's Pie there, because even the English should not be able to mess up meat and mashed potatoes baked in pastry, right? But yes. They can. To the English, who invented the dish, Shepherd's Pie tastes like lasagne but substitute Worchestershire Sauce.

So I found myself in a bit of a dilemma. It was a moral dilemma actually. What was my duty to the school? Should I create a dish that was edible, or one that tasted English and worse, Medieval? I was staring out the back window at the snow covered yard pondering the right course of action when Pepe came into the room. I could see him through the glass. He is particularly visible these days as he has taken on the shine of the demented. He sidled over to the kitchen and took a handful of sugar cookies from the plate. He bit into one and announced, "OH MISS! (he calls me Miss; I let him because it makes me feel young) These cookies are so delicious. Now that you have given them out to the whole neighborhood, everyone is going to keep asking you to bring them to every party! You'll never get a minute's peace!" He giggled, and sidled out. My brain zinged. Just that morning my neighbor, one from the other side, called and left me a message that I should be sure to bring those fabulous Christmas cookies to the jewelry sale she is hosting. Hasn't she heard that I am crazy?

It occurred to me that if I were to make a delicious Shepherd's Pie, I might be asked to contribute to all the school's food-involved events. I might have to make Shepherd's Pie every year until L graduates! The PTA President, whose daughter is in class with L, would probably go on and become PTA President at middle school, because that is what these people do, and she would just see my name and automatically insert Shepherd's Pie and then drop me a note. She lives in my neighborhood. It would be Shepherd's Pie and cookies.

So I pulled out the Worchestershire.

Have you ever recreated a dish? I am not the most skilled in the kitchen, but I've done this a few times, tasted something in a restaurant and come home and tried to make it again. I have had only marginal success. I do not have a reliable palate. But in this instance, I was dead on. I have never ever recreated a dish with such singular accuracy as English Shepherd's Pie.

I used Worchestershire soaked Lasagne Noodles molded to the casserole dish for the crust and brocolli and sweet potatoes for the filling. And I prepared my meat using a salt-free burrito recipe from the internet site Cooking for Congestive Heart Failure. A Four and Twenty Blackbirds Baked in a Pie philosophy of Medieval cooking except everything was already dead when I cooked it. And then I covered it in ketchup and baked at 250 for three hours. It was lightly wilted, but crunchy too!

Then I wrote in my best calligraphy, which is akin to the scribes of yore, "Authentic Medieval Shepherd's Pie provided by: and I used my neighbor's neighbor's wife's name on the card! Legend!

I brought it in, waved hello to everyone and smiled my big omnivore grin, got marked off the PTA President's list as Sujatha Hampton, set up my Shepherd's Pie in its designated spot, checked to make sure no one was looking and put my calligraphed card down beside my dish! And here's the best part: it was a foil baking tray from the grocery store! I don't even have to worry about getting my casserole dish back!! Brilliant!

When L got off the bus I asked her how it went and she said, among other things, "We voted and Mrs. K's Authentic Medieval Shepherd's Pie was the grossest." Epic! "No wonder Mr. K is always scowling and never waves. He's probably hungry." Bonus! And then we went into the kitchen where I whipped up a fresh batch of Christmas Sugar Cookies, this time cut out to look like angels. And by the time my boy got home from practice there was a warm plate of glossy beatific looking cookies ready and they both looked up at me and blinked gratefully, "Mommy, you are the best mommy and the best cook in the world." Which is just as it should be.