Palahniuk and Monday Catfish

1-IMG_8371My penchant for kosher salt is sprinkled all over the plate.  This is the essence of a plebeian Monday supper: farm-raised catfish (gasp) from our local Publix grocery store, a sliced tomato, and turnip greens dipped from the quart container we take out once a week from a phoned-in order to the local Cracker Barrel.  Hershey Bar with Almonds to follow to bed with a book.

I’m reading a raft of things, some of which have dribbles of toothpaste on them because I’m trying to eke out a few more paragraphs here, a few more paragraphs there.  Some wind drew me to Chuck Palahniuk’s book ,  Damned which is  one hundred percent out of character for what I might normally choose to read, and I’m loving it. Actually, Palahniuk only sprang onto my radar screen because I (somehow) wound up reading a writing lesson from Chuck wherein he forbade writers to use “thought” verbs for at least the next half-year. The big takeaway for me was his exhortation to not be lazy, and to “unpack” characters. Whoa. I see when I do that it works, when I don’t, the writing may as well be in hell, it’s so dead. So, thanks, Chuck.  I bought your book (one of many) and now I’m hooked.

Gotta run. I have a chocolate bar to eat and a good book to finish.

Half Shell with Stripes

I took this picture at the Marina Oyster Barn in Pensacola on December 23, 2003, and am sticking it in here out of chronological order to break up all that dead wood, and to remind myself how much I have missed eating raw oysters. "Pristine" is necessary when it comes to on-the-half-shell oysters; hard to be sure of their provenance these days.

Memory Fish

It was 7:30 straight up when the phone rang. I was peeling a large red papaya, thin skin curling back over itself as I drew the short paring knife’s blade slowly down, imagining a bow drawn over a violin. Music was in the air, and the ringing phone a discordant intrusion.

“Miss Beth, you got some coffee?” Harold’s voice boomed out from the speaker of the phone, which I had punched with a papaya juice-stained finger.

“Nope, not yet,” I said. “I meant to, but I’ve been writing.”

“Running? You say you been running?” Harold sounded stunned.

“No,” I said. “Writing. Like a book. Writing.”

“Well,” he continued, “I got a little care package for you, if you and that old man are going to be around.”

“Come on,” I said. “I need some coffee, too. It’ll be ready when you get here.”

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Harold came in with several plastic grocery store bags and a tightly capped plastic bowl.  He grew the onions, squash and cucumbers in his garden. His wife, Louise, grew the tomatoes and bell peppers in flower pots in their yard. As we drank our coffee and talked, a pungent raw onion smell began to permeate the kitchen.

Harold had not made a move to open the plastic bowl. I’m sure he knew he could outlast my curiosity. He was right.

I pulled the bowl toward me, and asked, “What’s in here?”

“I don’t know if you two eat these,” Harold said coyly. “My boy and me caught them in Miflin Lake over in Baldwin County. Them’s Alabama fish.”

By this time, I had pulled the top off the bowl. Ten pretty little bluegills (bream) sprinkled with ice chips nestled inside. I pulled out three of them to make a picture.

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When my brother, Wally, and sister, Flo, see this photo, I know it will take them back to central Florida, cane pole fishing, and neighborhood cats circling the backyard table where Daddy cleaned his catch. I smell the not unpleasant fresh fish smell, remember the click sound of scales, and hear water running from a garden hose.

Tonight, we’ll dredge the bluegill in cornmeal and fry them in peanut oil. Buck hired himself out as a ten-year old fishing guide on the Escambia River long years ago. He and I will chew our memories slowly tonight, savoring every bite.

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Late at night, I read tomorrow’s headlines from The New York Times by the light of my Blackberry. When I’m driving in the car during the day, I listen to National Public Radio for the news. But when I want to plug into the visceral interpretations of rural everyman, there’s no source like Harold. If the NYT is the brain, he is the guts, and his opinions hold equal weight with me.

Thanksgiving 2007 Retrospective

I usually go barefoot in the house, but finally broke down this morning and went in search of a pair of old sox to keep my feet warm. Maggie’s curled up nearby. She’s had her breakfast, been for a walk, and is already snoring again. Tough life.

I woke up hungry as a bear, couldn’t wait for a normal breakfast, so ate two fig newtons along with my coffee. Not as good as pecan pie, which is my favorite breakfast, but pretty good. I have my annual piece of pecan pie on Thanksgiving morning while cooking the feast. Unfortunately, Alex and some of the other g-kids have developed a taste for it, too, so there was nary a crumb left. Went the same way as the crustless pumpkin pie. Favorite new item this year was a basmati rice pilaf with apricots, saffron, currants and slivered almonds.

Funniest (and sweetest) moment for me when I was taking a chain saw (electric knife) to the bird and Alex brought in his acoustic guitar, pulled up a bar stool, and played troubadour. He solemnly strummed and sang while I dismembered our dinner. Little Julia came in: “Why did you put that stuff in the turkey?” she asked, referring to the onion, orange and lemon chunks, sage leaves and a rosemary branch I was pulling from the turkey.

“To make it taste good,” I said. She continued to peer, her doubt obvious.

Finally, she said, “You know, it’s funny. When turkey meat — the white part — is cut in nice pieces and put on a plate, it looks real pretty. And when a turkey is alive, with all his feathers, he’s real pretty. But like this . . . it’s just gross!!”

Yes, little grasshopper. Cooking is not for the faint of heart.