Sunday, August 14, 2016

Jaki Jean on Culinary Nostalgia . . .

The past few days, I have found myself in culinary nostalgia.  I still have not determined why this nostalgia has dominated my thoughts as I compose a meal.

The other day, I had a meal planned with chicken accompanied by steamed yellow squash & a side of fruit for my mother Jean.  Then I remembered a dish with yellow squash that my ex-mother-in-law Willa used to make.

Willa was not a particularly inventive or creative cook.  But what she made well was spectacular.  Almost every weekend my ex & I made the journey to spend time with his parents, Willa prepared a corned beef.

As a young woman who several times refused to eat meat – once when my father cut up a deer in the back yard & another time when he sliced the ham so thick that all I saw was the resemblance to human flesh.

Never before encountering Willa had I ever eaten corned beef.  I had no desire to do so every time she cooked it.  I ate the vegetables & avoided the beef.

One Saturday visit, as Willa’s kitchen was filled with the odor of corned beef, my then father-in-law asked her why she always cooked corned beef, knowing that I did not care for it.

I no longer recall her reply.  But I am convinced that her youngest son liked it & she secretly delighted in taunting me.

Dating back to the first meal I shared in her home.  Served in the kitchen from the stove.  It was not my family scene – everything placed in dishes on the table.  I helped my plate & took my seat.

She was furious.

Aren’t  you going to prepare your fiancé’s plate?

The question was so outside my experience that I replied the only way my not quite twenty year old self knew how to reply.

He is a grown man.  He can prepare his own plate.

Willa made other dishes that still stand out.  Nothing from Thanksgivings except for the fact that she favored cakes over pies & there was always an Italian Cream Cake.

But she knew how to fry shrimp.  I still have the index card with her recipe.

And she made a really easy dish out of yellow squash, involving sautéed onions & garlic & cheddar cheese.

I made Willa’s yellow squash recipe from memory & my mother Jean loved it.

Eventually I learned to appreciate corned beef – not from Willa.  But from my friend Susan Chambless who used Joanne Anderson’s recipe.  Corned beef cooked with garlic, potatoes, onions & carrots – spiced with black, green & white peppercorns.  The cabbage place on top to steam at the last.  And horseradish served on the side.

I have repeated that recipe so many times – something I never would have tried but for the fact that I trusted the culinary talents of Susan Chambless.

Just as I trusted those talents when Susan served me fried dove breasts, held together over a jalapeño strip with a tooth pick.  Served with gravy.

Today I went through the note cards I kept in a recipe box during another incarnation & life.  I found them in a drawer, held together by a rubber band.

I threw out the ones that caused me to think what were you thinking?  

And I ran across Barb Vogt’s recipe for “Cheese Stuffed Zucchini,” written in her own print.  While I remember this recipe fondly, given to me by the wife of my then husband’s best friend, I also remembered the trips to Boerne & Comfort & Sister. 

I remembered standing up as one of Barb & Doug’s honorary god parents for their first child, Brian Douglas.

And then it struck me.

Culinary nostalgia is not only about remembering the experience of flavors.  It is about the memory & reliving sharing with friends & loved ones.  It is about stepping outside the box to try something new.  It is about bringing closure to times that still haunt you.

Tonight, Jean & I will have grilled Swai fillets & Barb Vogt’s “Cheese Stuffed Zucchini” (a recipe I altered a bit & made my own – in my hubris, I always do that) & a salad for me, fruit for Jean. 

I learned something today about culinary nostalgia.  Today I remembered the challenges my husband’s mother presented me, even as she supported me on more than one occasion to continue my education

Today I remembered how I learned to cook – from women & men like Susan Chambless.  From hanging around kitchens of friends & absorbing.  And always tasting.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Jaki Jean & the Yertle the Turtle that is Donald Trump

To those who know me well, it is no secret that I find this the most baffling election of the past fifty-five years.  Or that I no longer recognize the Republican Party as the party of my father, Jack.  Or that I hold the media & the GOP & millions of American voters responsible for the rise of a blatantly unqualified candidate for the Presidency.

It baffles me how more people voted for Trump in the GOP primaries than any GOP candidate in the primaries from Taft in 1952 to Romney in 2008.   Of course, more people voted against the Trumpster than in every Democrat primary during the same time frame. [i]  That does not baffle me. 

During his candidacy, the Trumpster has tweeted, pontificated & repeated insults to people, places, & things, including “presidential candidates, journalists, news organizations, nations, a Neil Young song & even a lectern in the Oval Office.[ii]

Of course, his inappropriate & most often unfounded insults began years ago, most notably in the 2008 election, when he persisted in questioning Barack Obama’s place of birth & citizenship.  Each time he utters or tweets a new insult, I wonder why his minions of fanatic followers do not question their candidate.

Or why the GOP does not stand up for the Democracy & Republic they claim to serve, & cry out, “This is it.  We will no longer support a candidate who is clearly unfit to lead this country or the free world.”

Trump’s most recent attack on the Gold Star family of fallen American solder, Army Captain Humayun Khan, goes beyond insulting & outrageous – it is obscene & unthinkable in America.  The line should have been drawn months ago, long before The Donald’s latest rants, trying to turn the Khan’s grief & sacrifice into a discussion of “radical Islamic terrorism.”

It has also launched a barrage of conspiracy “theories” in social media.  Khizr Khan has been accused of being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, of using his immigration lawyer status to help people applying for E-2 & E-5 visas to buy their way into the U.S., & claims that he is trying to reach a goal of a worldwide caliphate.

The Trumpster, like Yertle the Turtle in Dr. Seuss’s classic was king of his own Universe & pond. 

A nice little pond.  It was clean.  It was neat.
The water was warm.  There was plenty to eat.[iii]

The Trumpster’s turtles had everything turtles might need.  And they were all happy.  Quite happy indeed.

One would suppose that The Donald would be content with continuing to build more golf courses, more buildings emblazoned with TRUMP in gold letters, more resorts.  Content with attaching his name to products produced outside the USA.  But like Yertle the Turtle, the Trumpster was not content with being the king of a kingdom he deemed too small.

I am ruler of all that I see.
But I don’t see enough.

Trumpster decided, just as Yertle decided, to build a higher throne on the backs of his turtles. 

Yertle was content with a larger throne until one of his turtles, plain little turtle Mack, protests as the throne building expansion continued, complaining, as the bottom of the throne, of pain in his back & shoulders & knees.  Yertle’s response is classic Trump.  Just not tweeted.

SILENCE!  the King of the Turtles barked back.
I’m king, and you’re only a turtle named Mack.
You stay in your place while I sit here and rule.

When Yertle wanted to build his throne even higher, the turtles in the pond were afraid, but they came, swimming by dozens.  And

One after another, they climbed up the stack.

The Yertle the Turtle, perched up to his throne in the sky, proclaims:

Ah, me !  What a throne!  What a wonderful chair!
I’m Yertle the Turtle!  Oh, marvelous me!
For I am the ruler of all that I see!

Just as Trump assured his following that he is the cure for everything that ails the United States.

“I am your voice, said Trump. I alone can fix it. I will restore law and order. He did not appeal to prayer, or to God. He did not ask Americans to measure him against their values, or to hold him responsible for living up to them. He did not ask for their help. He asked them to place their faith in him.[iv]

Because the Trumpster loves, believes & promotes his marvelous me.

One lone turtle in Yertle the King’s pond, the same plain little complaining Mack, decided he had taken enough of his King’s abuse & bellowing.  He did a plain little thing:

He burped!
And his burp shook the throne of the king.

Somewhere, within the Republican Party, there must be a plain little voice like Mack the turtle’s, whose protest burp will bring down the web of myth & the throne created by the Trumpster & his turtle followers.  If not in the GOP, then in the media that continuously broadcasts the marvelous me’s antics.  Or in the Democratic opposition, by going out in record numbers during the upcoming election.

As an optimist, I am hoping for a Mack or a voice even stronger to finally say, “NO MORE.”  Or the combined voices of the old guard Republican Party & the newer GOP voices to come to the conclusion that Trumpster the Turtle should return to his own pond for the future & survival of our nation.

That one day very soon we can say:

And today the great Yertle, that Marvelous he,
Is King of the Mud.  That is all he can see.
And the turtles, of course . . . all the turtles are free.
As turtles, and, maybe, all creatures should be.

It would be a comfortable & familiar place for the Trumpster.  He has spent the last year in the mud.

[1] Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories.  Dr. Seuss, 1950.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Jaki Jean on making a pie . . . and wishing I could create text outside the written word

Today I decided to make a blueberry pie.

Now, there are many things I can do in the kitchen.  I can make a soufflé, I can make a mousse, I can make a fabulous country pate. 

I can create a scrumptious rack of lamb, fierce ribs, amazing sauces.  My tamales are to die for, my chili rellenos are without equal.  I can make a moist turkey.

My challah bread is wonderful & was always a huge hit.  I am really fabulous at muffins & cookies. 

My gingerbread cookies & gingerbread houses are legendary.

But I cannot bake a pie.

My sister Janet Ettinger Douglas is the pie maker in our family unit.  My friend of over five decades, Sue McLauchlan Faulkner, bakes pies as gifts.  My friend Andres M. Dominquez bakes delectable pies for his family.

I cannot bake a pie.

Since Sam Luciano, a really cool English professor, posted about an Italian pie kind of thing that one could serve for breakfast, I have been obsessed with blueberry pie.
A pie with nothing but blueberries.

So, the Food section of the New York Times posted this: 

The Perfect Imperfections of Blueberry Pie

I do not follow instructions well.  This has been a problem for me for over sixty years.  (One only has to speak to my family & former teachers & professors to verify this).

But I follow a recipe the first time.  Except (there is always an exception) that I cannot be trusted to create a worthy pie crust.  So I bought Pillsbury.

The recipe calls for 8 cups of blueberries.  So, since I was used to buying blueberries in six ounce containers, I went on Excel & decided how many six ounce containers constituted a cup.

I then went to the store that was selling blueberries at a much lower price than my nearest store.  The containers were pint containers.

No one told me that a pint is two cups.  I bought eight pints.  All I needed were four.

I kept following the recipe, except for the crust.  I put the crust in the pie plate in the freezer for the required minutes.

(I really do want to follow instructions – I am just not always adept at it).

Eventually the pie came together – even with my refusal to make a homemade pie crust.

In Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, Lily Briscoe remembers Mr. Tansley, who, by the way, is an ass, whispering in her ear: 

“Women can’t paint, women can’t write ...”

I cannot knit, I cannot sew, I cannot create a quilt – I can do none of the textile things so connected to the written word & to my concept of text.

But, I can paint.  I can write.

And today, I baked a pie. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

Jaki Jean on the Color Purple, the Color, not the novel . . .

A few days ago, my friend of five & a half decades, Sue Ann McLauchlan Faulkner, posted about the color purple.  The mix of red & blue color, not the wonderful novel by Alice Walker, the amazing film by Stephen Spielberg or the Tony award winning musical on Broadway.

I told her I had a story about the color purple.

During one of the times I lost my mind in my youth & got married when I was not even a month old 20-year-old, I shared a young niece with my husband.  I think she was four when we got married & one of two flower girls at our wedding.

She was fiercely possessive of her uncle – calling him “My Donnie.”  She called her parents by their first names, because that was how they addressed one another when my brother-in-law was not referring to his wife as “Clyde.”

Because she was blue eyed & blonde haired like her beloved Donnie & her parents had much darker hair & eyes, she insisted that Donnie was her real daddy.

The first time I met this little girl, she was in her purple room.  My sister-in-law was a talented interior decorator & her only child’s favorite color was purple.
My future niece crossed her four year old arms over her chest & confronted me:

Do you like frogs?  I like frogs.

When I assured her that I was very fond of frogs, she uncrossed her arms & declared, without words, a truce between her fiercest rival for her beloved uncle’s attention.

At some point, after our marriage, my brother-in-law presented his wife Clyde with the deed to a new house, a house she had never seen.  Using her natural & cultivated talent, she turned it into a showpiece.

With a purple room for their daughter.

When our niece was six or seven, her mother Clyde’s talents were displayed in a national magazine – “Better Homes & Gardens.”  Her daughter’s purple room was not part of the photo shoot.

My niece was furious – a precocious child (to say the least), she wanted her space in a magazine shoot.  Her mother explained that if she wanted her bedroom to be in a magazine, she would need to consent to a different color theme.

I suppose in the seventies, purple as a color theme was not an interior decorator’s ideal.

My niece consented to a change & sure enough, her bedroom was featured in another magazine a few months later.

But that precocious child had not given up on the color purple. 

Not long after Clyde created a stunning showpiece out of a dated house, my brother-in-law went into partnership with & invested in some jewelers.

He was already a successful player into the oil industry in a big way – investing in land oil rigs & reaping the profits.  I am not sure if his new jewelry partners created the Texas shaped belt buckle he wore – with a diamond marking the location of each of his wells. 

It drew a lot of attention – where ever he went.

The new partnership emphasized customizing Rolex watches.  Lot’s of diamond bezels & custom faces were involved.  The jewelers made my niece a necklace spelling out her name – with a diamond over the “i”.  Like most adults who encountered the bright, precocious little girl, the jewelers were fond of her.  She was very charming, in a seven year old way.

They also had Rolex create a special child’s watch – with a purple face.

My niece opened the gift, thanked the jewelers & asked, her enormous blue eyes displaying disappointment & confusion:

Where’s my diamond bezel?

The precocious, privileged child, who received so many Christmas gifts every year that every new Christmas season her mother Clyde opened a closet piled with unused toys & games & explained it was time to share with children who had very different Christmas memories, grew up to be a lawyer like her father. 

I always wonder if she still has that watch with a purple face.  And when she got her first diamond bezel.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Jaki Jean on Kris Kristofferson & my friend Caryn

This post is dedicated to Caryn Jaetzold, who was both my & Jean’s hairdresser for decades.  And a treasured friend.  Caryn used to discourage me from highlights when my hair turned mousy after the birth of my first son.  “God has only made one mistake – you should be a redhead.”

Almost twenty seven years ago, when I was living in DC & home for a visit, Caryn agreed to take care of my hair, after hours.  I took two bottles of champagne. 
The next day, I woke up a redhead.  Complete with eyebrows.

Caryn should know that many people in my life now only know me as a redhead – including my youngest son.  And that one day a few years ago, as I was working our local voting site during a crucial city election, one of the volunteers distributed sun screen & said to me:

This is really important for you, with that skin & red hair.

I laughed & as I lathered on sunscreen, I responded:

The pale skin & freckles are natural – the hair is Preference by Loreal 7LA.

And Caryn, our friend Jayne Pride commented:  I did not know that.

All of that is not the subject of this post.  But I wanted to introduce Caryn.  She is amazing & her talents & passions are not limited to choosing the right color for a skin type.

This particular post is about something Caryn shared on Facebook.  About Kris Kristofferson.

And I told Caryn I had a story about Kristofferson.

I am not sure when Kristofferson came under my radar.  It might have been when my cousin Suzanne Willimon Borgese took her baby sister Laura Newsom & I to see “The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea”.  

Eventually, before the Internet, I learned that Kris Kristofferson was not only from Texas, but a Rhodes Scholar & a song writer.  A man who had a BA & Masters in Literature, who went to the Army’s Ranger school, & wrote songs. 

And what songs he wrote – the best were recorded by the best:   Sunday Morning Coming Down, Help Me Make It through the Night, Once More with Feeling, For the Good Times, Me & Bobby McGee. And so many more.

Over forty years ago, I lost my young & too unformed mind & got married.  My husband became a Christian (at my urging) & eventually, after we settled on a church (South Main Baptist here in Houston), he decided after a few years that we should take training classes to become Sunday School teachers.

Now, my friends, I was not then, nor am I now, a suitable candidate to teach Sunday School.  Because we were young, we ended up teaching 15 year olds – in separate classes.  I taught girls, he taught boys.

During that ill-advised teaching episode & equally ill-advised marriage, Kris Kristofferson did a remake of the Judy Garland classic “A Star is Born” with Barbra Streisand.  The girls in my Sunday School class were beside themselves.  They all saw the movie, more than once.  And each of them fell in love with Kris Kristofferson.

So I planned a field trip – I would take them to a Kristofferson concert held in what was once the Summit (home of the Houston Rockets) & now Lakewood Church. 
We went to the concert – Willie Nelson came out at the end for a duet.  

I dealt with the girls’  reaction to a smoke filled arena that was less about tobacco than marijuana.

After the concert, on the way to take them home, they were uncharacteristically very quiet.  So I asked, Did you like the concert?

They all maintained they did.  But one of them said what they were all thinking, because for them, Kris Kristofferson was John Norman Howard, the self-destructive & tragic male lead of a movie.

Jaki, he sings country.

I tried, in my twenty something way to explain that Kristofferson was not John Norman Howard, but a songwriter, a very interesting man with a difficult past.
That he was not the character he played in the movie. 

I am quite certain that they did not get it.  As I said, I was too young to deal with a group of five fifteen-year-olds.

Although my Sunday School lesson on birth control became legendary.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Every Memorial Day since the advent of social media, I am struck by the confusion between Veteran’s Day, created to honor all of those who served & still serve, & Memorial Day, created to honor all those who lost their lives fighting in the U.S. Military.

Memorial Day began as “Decoration Day” after the end of the Civil War, to honor those who died in the nation’s internal conflict. 

Officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed. *

The date of Decoration Day, as Logan called it, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.

Southern states were not impressed & refused to participate, each state choosing its own special days to commemorate the fallen of those who lost the rebellion.

It was not until 1971 that “Memorial Day” became a national holiday under an act of Congress.

This day is about remembering the great cost of war, on all sides, in human lives & in the lives of those whose loved ones died.  It is about not forgetting that price & honoring those who paid it.

In families all across our country, there are generations who served & died.  It is those we remember today, those we thank & honor.


Thursday, March 31, 2016

About Forestry Supplies, GOP Surveys, Pink Hard Hats & my Friend Kim’s Birthday

Often I receive mail that makes no sense to me.  A magazine about bass fishing for my eldest son, who has not shared this address in years & as far as I know, has no interest in fishing for bass.  “Wired” magazine made more sense for my techno guru son.  “GQ” made about as much sense as bass fishing.

The most difficult for my Liberal bent have been the  missives from the Republican party.  Including a survey during this election from the RNC. 

Years ago, a much loved & admired young friend not only sent me a two year subscription to the National Review, but filled out paperwork in my name & donated to the Republican National Committee.

Little did my young friend know that William F. Buckley was a secret pleasure of mine, for the pure joy of his command of the English language & its nuances.  The RNC less so.

After months of phone calls & a myriad of requests to both the Fort Bend County Republican Party & the RNC, I thought I was finally removed from their mailing lists.
Until the survey.

But that is not what sparked this particular post.  It was today’s inexplicable catalogue from Forestry Supplies Spring Sales & New Products Specials.  Addressed to me.

I tried to decipher what I could have done to prompt Forestry Supplies to send me their spring catalog.  I have no need for increment borers, aerosol boundary paint, dibble bars, log grabbers, duckbill earth anchors or chain & bar oil.

The “rite in the rain” mechanical pencils appealed to me, but it has been decades since I felt the compulsion to write in the rain.  While outdoors, that is.

Then I turned the page of the catalog & spotted the hard hats – orange, yellow, royal blue, navy blue & white.

And I remembered the pink hard hat & slip on steel toed boots stored in a tote upstairs.

Both of which I wore in shipyards & walking through rigs under refurbishment.

Which, I realize, after writing over 300 words, is what led me think about Kim & her birthday.

I first met Kim as the CFO of a rig management company my employers, the owners of the rig being refurbished, hired to manage the refurbishment.  I was the assistant controller & Kim represented our most important contractor.  

Our positions & our companies’ interests often set us at odds against one another.   I represented the source of the project funding & too often Kim had to represent an opposing interest.

But she always handled each situation with grace & discretion & well thought analysis.  

My superiors were often outrageously demanding & too often encouraged me to follow their lead.  There were too many times when I went to Kim & demanded that she produce something that I knew she could not possibly guarantee.

To Kim’s credit, she never lost her poise or composure or her center of gravity.
And most often, delivered.

More importantly, & this is the center of this post, Kim & I became adversarial friends.  
And over the time of the doomed project, friends.  

Kim listened & gave me feedback I could not obtain from my own supervisor, who was consumed by building her dream $450,000 house.  Or her next vacation or plans for her family’s next holiday.  Or pictures of her children from the last holiday.

Kim came to see me when I was in the hospital (although I was still asleep) & left a lovely, thoughtful gift.  Kim sent flowers to my brother’s memorial service – casa blanca lilies with bear grass, my favorite.

We shared many lunches & many hours of talking things out.

The doomed project that brought us together ended up in bankruptcy & distanced us as law suits & court orders dominated my landscape.

But I found Kim on Facebook & I have been following her & her beautiful family for years.  When I first met Kim, she had two very young children, Ivan & Laila.  

Ivan is growing into the same handsome man as his father.  Laila is destined to be a beauty. Their two little sisters will no doubt become beauties like their Madre & sister.

I do not always like the woman I was during those pink hard hat & slip on steel toed shoes period.  I try to let her be, to forgive her, to let it go.

But I do like are the remnants I was able to salvage from that doomed project.  From that life.

Kim is more than a remnant.  She is a treasure I managed to reclaim.

Happy Birthday, Kim.  With love, Jaki Jean.