Tuesday, July 22, 2008

knees and onions.

a topic suggested by the super-fancy, very kind michelle dobrowsky. she hosts an open mic at the parkside lounge almost every thursday that was my personal introduction to performing written material and i will never forget that awesome stage.

knees and onions. my first-impulse stories for both of these are pretty sad-sack so i am going to go in a slightly different direction for both.

one of my favorite meals in the universe beef stroganoff, served over egg noodles. as i believe i have stated elsewhere in this blog, i have the palate of a 10 year old. beef stroganoff fits entirely with that taste profile. if you are unfamiliar with the dish, it's basically a creamy beef stew, usually quite salty, with chopped onions and mushrooms, often served with or poured over noodles. also, i am not sure if i mentioned this already, IT IS DELICIOUS. just a really great combination of flavors and textures when it is made well; tender beef, al dente noodles, soft yet firm mushrooms and sliced onions giving it just the right level of crisp. seriously, it's awesome.

i have not had it since september 2005.

in early fall 2005, after having graduated from college, and working at trader joe's for 3 miserable months, i had quit and gotten a job working at the barnes and noble cafe, starbucks' developmentally disabled, stingier cousin. it was pretty lame, living in a home town i had NO social connections in, and without a real, 'career' type, job. but i was dealing with it by trying to focus on getting healthier and recovering from a junior -> senior year of college that almost killed me, literally. i was still in the process of discovering what i could and could not eat. at the time, i probably thought i could still eat vegetables if they were cooked (i can't), which explains why i thought it would be a great idea to cook beef stroganoff for my mother's two sisters and significant others when they came to visit.

a bit of background; my parents are both from decidedly new england and specifically boston families; my mother is the daughter of recent (catholic) scottish, irish and portuguese immigrants; the kind that took ahold of their adopted land fiercely and completely, and my dad is the son of vaguely WASP-y swamp yankees. my mom has 3 sisters. all of whom seem to think they are smarter, and therefore, better than her. to some extent, that perception has extended to my two sisters and me. i deal with it by being tight and resentful and overly proper around them, alexis shuts down, and suzi gets silly and then cries later at how much their caustic, sarcastic remarks hurt her. i should have known how they would react to me trying to do something as complex as making one damn meal.

when i decided i would make beef stroganoff for them, i was honestly excited. i am not a great or consistently interested cook, but what i make usually tastes awesome. i like cooking, when i can be bothered to do it (and deal with the clean up). i decided to go all out and really dress up one of my favorite dishes. i got red onions and some shiitake mushrooms (there's really not much you can do to dress up a recipe originally found in the 'economy' section of a 1967 Fannie Farmer Cookbook). coming home from the store, it occurred to me that i probably shouldn't play around with a recipe when my hyper-judgemental relatives were coming to visit.

it was a disaster. i was cutting the onions too small - they cut the other half of the onions in long slices when i had been dicing. i was slicing the the beef in the wrong direction and in the wrong size - one third of the beef was sliced in long flat strips like stir fry, the other 1/3 in cubes. that the mushrooms had to be soaked. no, not soaked, rinsed then sprayed then put in the refrigerator. finally i just opened a can of mushrooms and put them in the pan. at this point, i knew i could either flip out and assert myself and what i was cooking, or i could give up and let them cook the beef stroganoff how they wanted, and they would walk over me in their casually and unintentionally cruel way for the rest of my life.

i put down the knife, washed my hands and went to the family room to watch an episode of the fairly odd parents on nickelodeon. the meal was terrible.

laziness, 1 ; assertiveness, 0.

my knees are weird looking. i have knobbly ones. a girl in on the track team in HS teased me about them to my face once, and mike fafard, a kid i went to pre-school with but never really had a conversation with, actually defended my weirdo knees. it was the only time that a guy in i grew up defended me against being made fun of; it was 8 or so years past the point when having someone stand up for me really mattered, but it clearly made an impression because i still rememember that chilly practice sophomore year, sitting by the baseball diamond after school quite vividly. interesting sub-note, mike married my best friend from HS two years ago. they have been together for almost a decade now, and we've still never had a conversation.

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