Monday, March 19, 2012

Boob Job

Lest you thought this just another foodie blog, I bring you a tale from this past Thanksgiving when my 86 year old grandfather informed me it might be time I considered getting a boob job. 

Polish in bloodline, exquisite cheapness, and determination, William Cynewski is the Paul Bunyan of coastal Maine.  The joys of his life are shoveling piles of dirt around his yard, telling off waitresses who fail to bring him enough coffee creamer, and flirting with disaster in his leaky little motor boat with the faulty outboard motor.  This is a man who at age 85 fell off a 20 foot cliff, broke his neck, and pulled himself back UP the cliff face to get help.  The kicker?  Even with a broken neck he refused to go to his next door neighbor for help because he can't stand her.  He is an obstinate legend and I could not love him more.  Except for when he grills me on my dating life.

My lack of marriage proposals and progeny at 25 is one of the chief sorrows of his old age.  It's a puzzle he sighs over every time he sees me, shaking that big strong head in disappointment as he eyes my unadorned ring finger.  I've taken to sitting on my hands when around him just to keep the whole conversation at bay.  But this past Thanksgiving he had a whole new line of thought ready for our biannual battle.

"So grandaughtah, any nice young men in yuh life?"
"Mmm not really, Poppop."
"Oh Lawd, I don't know what men is thinkin today.  You'se so pretty and smaht and that's nawt gonna last fuhevah."

       It's not...?  

 I tried humor rather than a full on defensive.

"You know how it is Poppop.  I live in a yuppie town; the men want trophy wives, you know, anorexic, boob jobs, lots of makeup, the whole nine yards.  I'm not really interested in that."

He gave me a long slow once over.  Nodded sagely.  And then:
"Yeah, shuah.  I can see how thaht would work."

"Wait..wait..what?  You want me to get a boob job?!"

"Well yeah, I mean if good ain't good enough ya gotta bettah!"

With a firm nod and a satisfied grin he sat back in his recliner, content with the sheer simplicity of his brilliant solution to what he thought needed fixing.  His mind at peace, he turned his attention back to the John Wayne reruns perpetually looping on the television.

The rest of the Thanksgiving holiday he called me "Boobs".  I'm going up to visit him in another month and I'm seriously considering inventing a fake fiancee.  Or just buying a killer push up bra.   

Monday, March 12, 2012

Death of a croquembouche

Artistry, appetite, and ego are a terrible combination, especially when it comes to late night baking.

Several months ago my house hosted a Great Gatsby party and other than binding my breasts and putting Annette Hanshaw on the Victrola I wasn't sure what to contribute.  Ever an advocate for all things edible, I thought back on previous culinary victories:  the Marie Antoinette sheet cake beheaded in the back yard by bagel slicer on Bastille Day, port on the carport for Trafalgar Day, endless pots of outlandish chilis.  It was 10 pm the night before the Great Event when I decided nothing else would do but the most lavish offering my overzealous, under trained pastry skills could concieve:  I would make a croquembouche.

What is a croquembouche, you ask?  A traditional french dessert for weddings, christenings, or liberation from the Germans, it is a tower of creme puffs held together by caramel and spun sugar.  Picture Willy Wonka being force fed sticks of butter by Paula Dean and you get the general idea.  Making one can take six hours; in arrogant ignorance I tied on my apron at 10:01 pm and got to work.

At midnight my spirits were high, buoyed by custard sampling.  The first few batches of creme puffs sat in rows of golden perfection.  I hummed about with the efficiency of a confident chef anticipating well earned applause.

By 2 am my dedicated creme puff sampling had me feeling antsy and irritable, skin crawling with gooey sugary residue and the smell of melted butter seeping out of my skin.

3 am and the endless trays of creme puffs were coming out as flabby lumps.  My icing bag had ripped.  Boiling caramel had reduced my hands to a collection of sugar encrusted burns.  It was a bad scene as I constructed my tower, sugar gluing the creme puffs one by one until I had built a (slightly leaning and sagging) croquembouche.  The last batch of caramel wasn't done but I was and I drizzled it on top, exhausted and relieved to be done.

I dreamt of sugary monsters chasing me with blenders through a sea of pastry dough.

At 6 am I emerged blurry eyed from my room, stumbling into the dimly lit kitchen.  Funny, why did the floor feel so sticky?  And what were all the little....

oh no. 
NO no no no NO!
damn. it.
Evil leprachauns had thrown a bowling alley rager in my kitchen and their creme puff bowling pins lay scattered across the room.  Creme puffs on the counter, under the stove, sticky tacky tracks leading underneath the fridge, a schmoo sludge of wet pastry on the sole of my slipper.

Standing in the middle of that fetid pastry puddle, I dropped one good loud F bomb.  And then--- total calm.  Buddhism speaks of non attachment as the pathway toward enlightenment and in that unexpected moment, standing there in my ratty robe and be-schmooed slippers, I caught a glimpse of that truth.  I had been obstinate and arrogant and this had happened.  Actually it was almost funny.  Almost.

So I dumped it all in the garbage, resisting the Polish corner of my soul that arged "hey!  some of these are still salvageable!  just wash off the dust bunnies and the guests will never know!"  I would know.  And like the Grinch on Mount Crumpet, I knew that serving up a brag worthy dessert just wasn't the point anymore.

The party went off without a hitch, and if anyone noticed the lack of pastry, they were too kind or too into their gin to say so.  I had a wonderful time not trying to impress a soul.  And the whole incident cured me of wanting to ever even look at another creme puff.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

What will the neighbors think?

My street is nestled in the quaintest nook of an historic town, the stomping ground of rich retirees enjoying vespers cocktails at sunset.  It is the playground of trophy wives, the insistent staccato of their running shoes starting up with the dawn and keeping tempo well past dusk. Tidy lawns, impeccable homes, picturesque families; my street is an eco-yuppie magazine come to life.

Yet one house on my street stands apart.  Perhaps it is the listing carport, architectural echo of a tackier decade, that marks its exclusion.  Or perhaps the camoflage jon boat parked askew in the drive way in lieu of a BMW is to blame. Why is a girl sitting barefoot on the lawn with a meat cleaver and why is she surrounded by a sea of feathers?

 Welcome to my home.  It's Saturday afternoon and my roommate has shot a goose.

We agreed that if he shot a goose, I would clean and cook it.  After all, what could be more eco-yuppie than that?  Every cafe in our neighborhood boasts of their sustainable products, local produce, free trade coffees.  So here I am living the locavore dream, sitting barefoot on my front lawn in a sundress and apron, gamely pulling feathers from the rump of a freshly dead gander.

Before long the soft snowy sea of downy white and brown has drifted across the street to tickle at the ankles of two anorexic trophy wives as they jog by in their spandex and diamonds.  Turning, befuddled, they pause mid stride to eye the trail of feathers leading over to my yard.  I flash my best society girl smile, but it's too late.  The hand I have raised in a gesture of neighborly greeting holds a neatly cleaved goose foot.  Perhaps I should have kept this project to the back yard, out of sight of my street.