Sunday, November 21, 2010

In Memoriam

Boys' Night Out at Ayers Rock with Jenny by N. J. Irza

Thanksgiving was long my favorite holiday. This probably has something to do with the fact that I stopped spending it with my family when I was in college, always electing thereafter to be with friends on that day.  More importantly, it lacked the pressure, consumerism, and expectations that haunted Christmas and turned me into a grinch at an early age. Thanksgiving was about gratitude and good food and friends, all things I could support wholeheartedly. 

Bird, by N. J. Irza

One friend I shared Thanksgivings with was Nick Irza. He and his partner, Jim, were my gay godfathers, and Nick in particular became the father I never had, and I was his princess. Nick was an artist--these are his paintings here.  After Jim passed away, we became especially close, and spent most holidays together. He was a wonderful cook, and I had inherited lots of china, silver, and crystal. We made a great entertaining team. On Saturday, November 22, 2006, Nick and I were decorating the Thanksgiving altar at the Episcopal Cathedral. In addition to being a member of the congregation, Nick was an amazing florist. He was feeling unwell and sat down to supervise while I did something simple like put chrysanthemums in brass urns. Suddenly, he said, "I think I'm having a heart attack." 

Spirit Cats, the first painting Nick did after his partner's death

I looked around and he was white as a sheet, he head gleaming with perspiration. I called 911, and foudn the sexton to tell him what was going on. He called the priest and brought in reinforcements from the altar guild to finish the altar. I followed Nick's ambulance to the hospital and let the medical staff think I was his daughter so I could stay with him. Nick was uninsured, and we were not the medical staff's highest priority.  By the time we saw a resident, lividity was setting in. By the time the cardiologist arrived, I knew from the look on her face that he was going to die. They took him to surgery, but were unable to repair his ruptured aorta. He never woke up. 

Persephone Moon

His funeral was held in the Episcopal Cathedral we'd been decorating on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. He and I had planned to spend the holiday at my house with two other friends. Nick was to cook the turkey, while I made the jalapeno cornbread dressing, praline sweet potatoes, and pecan pie. I was too devastated to face the traditional meal. I made pasta and got extremely drunk, then lay in the back seat of the car giving incoherent directions while the friends who'd joined me for dinner drove around my neighborhood to look at the elaborate Xmas lights.

Matthew, a sketch in pencil of one of Nick's 12 cats

Thanksgiving was kind of ruined for me for several years. It wasn't until I moved to Oregon that I made a turkey with all the trimmings again. The holiday is still bittersweet, because it's forever linked to a devastating loss. But I have much to be grateful for, not the least of which is that I had Nick in my life, and that I am still surrounded every day my his beautiful paintings. Artists have the only kind of immortality I can believe in, a legacy of work that lives on and tells the world who they were. Nick left some magnificent creations that will bring joy for generations. I also have a living, breathing reminder of him: one of his cats, a black female named Nikita in his honor. 

Phoenix Pear

I will spend this Thanksgiving with my husband and a friend who is coming to stay with us. This friend also knew and loved Nick, came to the hospital to sit with me while he was in surgery, and went with me to his house afterwards to feed his cats and parrots and to honor Nick's final request that I get rid of his porn before any lawyers, executors, or family arrived. 

May you spend this holiday with people you care about, and may you be thankful for their presence in your life. Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

When you get lemons, make lemon bars

It was a lovely, productive weekend here in the Valley.  I remembered to start my paperwhites, so perhaps they will be blooming in time for the solstice next month. I love their scent, and the bright white blooms in the midst of winter. I was excited to find a tip to keep them from getting too tall and falling over: water them with gin. Not pure gin, but about 7 parts water to 1 part gin (or vodka or other liquor you have on hand). I'll be using gin because, in a foolish, foolish attempt at economy, I tried a less expensive brand and it was ghastly. Never economize on liquor, darlings. It's always a mistake.  

The pumpkin in the background is in the oven right now, after being stuffed with everything good--in this case, rice, bacon, aged white cheddar, some blanched winter greens, a few black trumpet mushrooms, lots of garlic, and scallions. 

When baked in the pumpkin with a bit of cream for an hour and a half, it produces a sort of risotto. When you mix in the pumpkin flesh, it makes a great meal in a bowl.Another benefit? No pots or pans to wash. And plenty of leftovers for lunch tomorrow. My kind of meal.

There were a couple of errands I'd needed to do for a few weeks--dropping off items at a consignment shop and at Goodwill after the lastest round of closet purging. The way I dress has changed dramatically since I moved to Oregon and started working for a small, home-based business instead of for a university library. Unless I'm at a book fair, I only see my four colleagues at work, and we all wear the usual Oregon uniform of jeans with tees, fleece, sweaters, or hoodies. When I was a child, I loved reading biographies, especially those of women. There were few of these to choose from in the 60s, so I read several bios of Dolley Madison, First Lady, famed hostess, and the woman who introduced ice cream to the U.S. I always remembered Dolley's Quaker mother rebuking her for her interest in fashion: "If thou art clean and warm, that is enough." Add "and dry" to that and you have the Oregon dress code.  So off go the skirts, heels, and cashmere overcoat I haven't worn in two years. May someone else find them useful. 

The most exciting event of the weekend was the arrival of the first Meyer lemons of the season at the local market. These are my favorite citrus fruits--tangy and tart, but not sour. They're wonderful for baking and, of course, for one of my favorite cocktails, the Lemon Drop. No sugar needed for the latter, just vodka and lemon juice, as God intended. 

I used this week's lemons to make one of my favorite desserts, lemon bars. It's amazing what one can do with just a half pound of butter, almost a pound of sugar, half a dozen eggs, some flour, and half a dozen lemons.

I got to use one of my most beloved kitchen tools, the Microplane zester. Truly, this thing changed my life. 

I get my eggs from a local farmer. Her chickens are laying fewer as the days get shorter and colder, so a half dozen in one go was quite the extravagance, but oh-so worth it. 

My hands were sore from juicing and zesting, but the final product eased the pain. Kitty cookie jar approves. 

They're not really lemon bars until they're dusted with powdered sugar. Only problem? You have to wait for them to cool. 

But then, suddenly, they're ready. And they're amazing. So rich. Tart and tangy, not too sweet. Perfect.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sun and Shadow

It was delightful to wake up this morning to sunshine, especially when the forecast called for rain. I hate getting up in the dark, so I was happy to say goodbye to daylight savings time. This morning I went for a walk--the first time in a couple of weeks I've been able to do so in the early morning. I've missed it. Afternoon walks after work can be nice, too--I look forward to getting out after sitting at a computer all day--but the mornings are so quiet and peaceful, and really set a tone for the rest of the day. 

An unexpectedly sunny weekend day also meant an opportunity for gardening. I cut back the dying peony foliage and fertilized the plants, transplanted the hyssop to a better location, pulled weeds, cleaned up dead plants, harvested compost for the bulbs and roses, and mulched the back beds with leaves.  It was a perfect day to be outside.

The afternoon was taken up with baking cookies, doing laundry, and searching the house for my purse, which I can't find anywhere. All I can figure out is that I must have left it in my car when I got home for the farmers' market on Saturday, and that someone took it from the unlocked car. At least it had no cash in it, so it's just the inconvenience of canceling my debit card, three credit cards, and replacing my driver's license (the picture sucked anyway) and library card. No point getting upset about it--it's just stuff. I'm just glad there was no cash in it (I was looking for the purse to put a significant-for-me amount of cash into it when I realized it was gone) and that the car was unlocked so I didn't have a broken car window, too. 

While looking for my purse, I went through closets and found some things to take to the consignment shop and some others to donate to Goodwill. I realized for the first time that another purse I had once loved--and that I had spent far too much money for several years ago--had been in the suitcase that I lost at O'Hare airport last March. If I didn't even realize it was gone, I must not have needed it in the first place. I find myself caring less and less about possessions and wanting to pare down more and more as I get older. I'm horrified to look back and think about how much money I wasted on things I didn't need.