Archive for September, 2008

Old self with prop…

September 19, 2008
self in 1983

self in 1983

I have always hated to have my picture taken – as a child, as a teen, as a young woman and now as an older woman. In family photos I was always the one to scowl at the camera because it intruded and because it always felt like I had to look nice, or pleasing, or amenable. There is a primitive fear lurking in me that makes me dislike the photographic image of people, and there are scant photos of loved ones in my possesion, and very few of me. Any photo that exists and which I have accepted as being somewhat truthful, or at least, as close to how I wish to represent myself has been taken unposed and on the fly.

I am not a beauty or pretty, nor sweet or malleable. The usual caution during childhood family photo sessions was: “Look nice, smile pretty.” The reality was a sense of confusion and questioning of the need to present a fake niceness. And how does one look pretty in the first place, anyway. Reminders to “Close your mouth, stop talking and asking questions,…” made me miserable and reluctant to co-operate. There is a priceless picture of me at age eight with a violin for a prop which makes me get giggly especially since I know what a series of lies are represented by the image. It tells of a pleasant and happy child, enamored of her violin, her lips red tinted and prissy, eyes dreamy, right hand fingering the strings delicately and the left hand arced and gracefully propelling the bow. The real truth was I hated to have to play for the photographer, the starched colllar of my white blouse pinched my neck and the wool plaid skirt itched my bare legs. I was at once bored and wishing to be anywhere but there, being victimized in an interminable photo session. Renaissance Man has that photo; he dug it out of the jumbled box of family snapshots.

The above photograph was taken by Rumpole in our up North log house a couple of decades ago, on a winter evening after we had all reconvened at home after work and school. I was tired, recouping with a cigarette and listening to him or Renaissance man talk about their day. Still in my studio smock, my hair messy and my mouth open as if about to comment – yep, that was me. Not a pretty picture, but quite close to how I felt – wiped out and hiding behind the prop, the cigarette. A far more honest snapshot, not high art, nor posed than any photograhy studio portrait might be.

I invite any regular readers of this blog to post an old snapshot of themselves which they feel arrives close to a truthful portrait of them at a particular moment in the past.

Making a virtue out of necessity…

September 14, 2008

Last evening, over a meal of chicken paprikas, broccoli, salad, french bread, lubricated with glasses of red wine, old friend Diana, her daughter Deborah, Rumpole and I were discussing the virtues of housekeeping. This is a sore point for Rumpole, mainly because he is frustrated with pointing out to me daily the festoons of spiderwebs on ceiling edges and corners (very Miss Havisham, I prefer to believe) and bits of detritus of contrasting tone on the patterned Indian rugs in the living room ( all of which I cannot at all see these days, so there seems to be no discernible difference, to my eyes at least, before and after vaccuuming – the rug surfaces look exactly the same to me).

Rumpole was quick to announce to these lady friends that he is trying to inveigle me into accepting the services of a house-cleaner. All to no avail, because back some twenty-five years ago, I had succumbed to his pressures to get in a house-keeping service and it did not work out at all well. I, then, spent three days cleaning up the whole house before the cleaning-lady was to arrive. There was no way anyone else should have to sully their hands with our piggish leavings, so it behooved me to clean up in readiness of household help. I was so exhausted after that experiment and so surprised at how quickly the cleaning lady passed through two floors of our house, that I pointed out to Rumpole that the whole exercise was not cost effective. She had made thirty dollars, and I was exhaused and sans shekels.

Deborah cast me a conciliatory glance as she launched into her recent experience with a cleaning service. She and her husband Mardon, both working full time, decided to hire some household help. The woman came in and spent three hours licking clean their upstairs bathroom and didn’t get anything else done. And the bathroom was passing clean, before she had begun her travails. The net result was that Deborah and Mardon were reluctant to make use of their bathroom for the next week, lest they besmirch the operating-room level of cleanliness. Talk about the loo becoming a shrine!

Poor Rumpole had no rejoinder. Really, what could he say? If I got our living area rugs so clean that I would not permit access to that room to anyone, that would negate the use of that room. I would not permit Jessica, the dog, to wipe clean her Scottie beard on the rug, nor allow The General to groom himself at his favourite corner and leave big clumps of hair and the inevitable coughed up hairball, and definitely not leave Rupole free to deposit his gum-wrappers in tight little balls on the floor around his end of the love-seat. Imagine harrassing those three to clean up after themselves? I’d rather stick needles into my eye!

There must be a “Better Homes and Gardens” gene that is missing on my DNA strands. But Rumpole has it in spades. Only he is missing the gene that causes him to do something about cleaning other than complaining.

His favourite mantra is: “My mother was such a good housekeeper that one could eat off her floors and out of her toilet.”

To which my reply is: “Go right ahead , my dear. I dare you to do that.”

Oddly, he has never taken me up on that suggestion. He is persistent though, trying to elevate necessity into a virtue. So far, after thirty odd years of marriage and living together, I have resisted his exhortations to virtuousness. The fatal flaw? That darn missing gene.

September 1st…

September 1, 2008

Lone chick-a-dee calls

on a September morning’s

feeble beginning.

Lecso – a seasonal vegetable stew…

September 1, 2008

The kind lady at diamondsandrust requested this recipe. Here it is for her, along with some background information of how this became one of the foods for me which celebrate seasonal bounty and memory.

In post WorldWar ll Hungary, in my early formative years, all of the food acquired and prepared by my mother, Anyu, was dependent on seasonal harvests, her putting by food in early fall and then obtaining staples whenever they became available. We never saw canned or frozen processed foods, as are so commonly available here in North America these days, nor any exotic foodstuffs which are the norm for North Americans to consume and which daily arrive to us from afar.

Thus, tomato and pepper harvest time was cause for celebration and for feasting. We ate these fruits raw and cooked, when they became plentiful. Lecso was the stew, made from onions, peppers and tomatoes, either incorporating Hungarian sausage or not as desired, that when served hot or cold with langos ( fried bread) or accompanied by scrambled eggs and mashed potatoes made the eater feel as satisfied as a king or queen.

I have made lecso for over forty years now, every year in August and September, ever since I obtained my first frying pan and learned how to moderate heat while cooking. Eating this food makes me feel ageless – it condenses time, stirs memory and provides immeasurable sensory pleasure. Our son, Renaissance Man, is wild about eating lecso this time of year. This is truly odd, because for so many years of his life he refused to eat raw tomatoes. And yet, the tomatoes stewed in this dish are to his taste.

There are as many variations on the lecso recipe as are cooks. It is the principle of combining sweet onions, tomatoes and peppers, in that order and adding powdered sweet and hot paprika, as desired to taste at the time of sweating the onions to transparency. Before adding the chopped tomatoes and peppers, one can slice along the diagonal Hungarian sausage, or Bratwurst, or garlic sausage, add or not finely diced garlic, as desired. Once the tomatoes and peppers are added the heat under the pot is reduced to low, and the whole melange allowed to simmer and stew into a softened stuff for ont to two hours. Of course, the cook must taste this concoction and adjust for salt and pepper during the stewing process.

I like using yellow Hungarian banana peppers along with sweet green peppers for lecso. In my own way of preparing this dish, I allow for equal amounts of peppers, onions and tomatoes, because I love oniony stews. This is a matter of preference and is what makes it wonderful to eat this dish at other people’s tables to see what variations they have teased out of those principal ingredients. There is something delightful of setting to eat from such a dish and engaging in discussion about how a particular cook acquired a resulting taste, and then deconstructing the recipe with partisan vigour, a table. Add a small glass of wine to leaven the discussion and watch the engaging fireworks.

The recent lecso I made for us when Old Forester, Uncle Pista, was visiting included Deer pepperoni sausage. On a whim, I chopped up and added one green chili pepper to the stew. We ate the lecso for dinner one evening, and as accompaniment for scrambled eggs for breakfast, the next morning.

I need to make lecso for Renaissance Man, this week. For him, I plan to make fry bread – langos – as accompaniment. Fry bread is made in many cultures around the world. The leavened kind we Hungarians call langos is exactly the same fry bread I ate in the Taos pueblo thirteen years ago – same foodstuff different part of the world. Growing food, harvesting it,  preparing it and feasting from it is a universal activity which makes us consider our similarities rather than our differences. Celebrate this as you celebrate the season’s bounties.