Ashes of laughter, the ghost is clear: why do the best things always disappear?

It’s been a long time since I last posted here. For the past month, I’ve been turning this blog into a full-blown book, which has been taking all my time and concentration. I want my editor to be happy. But the call of the blog is a tempting siren song, or maybe I should say a lure to the light, and I can’t stay away.

Brendan’s little brother Aidan lives in West Hollywood just off Sunset Boulevard with his friend Noah. He’s an actor and screenwriter, and Noah works for a big producer. Last night, when Brendan called Aidan to wish him a happy 24th birthday, Aidan expressed, in the course of their conversation, his consternation at the loss of his vicarious source of food envy.

“Reading her blog used to make our frozen pizza dinners taste so much better,” he said. “We’re dying here. We’re jonesing for more.”

Happy belated birthday, Aidan, but I’m not sure I have anything exciting to report, foodwise.

Tonight’s dinner, for example, was aggressively healthy and Whole Foods-inspired, and not likely to cause any drooling deviation from pizza: kale salad with buttermilk dressing. Chopped brussels sprouts tossed in balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, smoked paprika, and cumin, and steamed till soft. And then, the hippie-food piece de résistance, which means most kids would rather die than eat it: a cup of rinsed quinoa sautéed in olive oil and butter with an onion, a whole head of garlic, 2 hot peppers, smoked cardamom, paprika, and tarragon, salt and pepper, then steamed in 2 cups of broth. When it’s a nice hot wet mass, the general color and texture of wood pulp, stir in half a cup of toasted chopped almonds, a quarter cup of mixed olives, and lemon zest. Serve with hot sauce…

It was good, and we gobbled it up avidly, as we do everything, but it had a quality of over-achieving to it; if you ate like this every day, you might plausibly never die, except maybe of boredom, or an excess of fiber and antioxidants and cancer-fighting compounds, which studies will no doubt soon reveal are toxic.

The other night, when our friend Madeleine, one of the few friends we’ve made so far in Portland, came over for dinner, I made a similarly health-on-steroids kind of meal: very fresh local haddock broiled in lemon and capers and olive oil; “forbidden” japonica rice steamed in chicken broth with shallots, garlic, whole cardamom pods, sesame oil, and chili-garlic hot sauce, and a salad of herb mix and avocado in a mustard vinaigrette.

Madeleine used to live in our house. She was the tenant in the downstairs apartment, where we now live, and, because she was moving out, we were able to buy it. We phoned her during the sale to ask her some questions about the place – why was she moving out, was there was anything we needed to know, that sort of thing (she had some stories to tell, most notably about a flood, but luckily, they didn’t deter us). It turned out that she and I had gone to Reed together – in fact, we graduated the same year. We used to play bridge together in the Student Union one summer. We had friends in common. But we’d barely known each other there – I’d always thought she was far too cool for me, which, frankly, she was. But now that we’re middle-aged, these distinctions are evidently moot and have smoothed themselves out.

We’ve been gradually settling into this house. We’ve augmented our furniture with stuff from Brendan’s parents’ barn, his grandmother Sally Fitzgerald’s furniture – a Queen Anne couch with matching armchairs, a secretary desk, a glassed-in bookcase, and Brendan’s grandfather’s old desk. I love the fact that this furniture has deep literary history embedded in its molecular structure: Flannery O’Connor was Sally’s best friend, so I’m sure she sat on the couch and chairs that are in our parlor. Brendan’s grandfather, Robert Fitzgerald, translated The Odyssey and The Iliad, and I love to think that he did so on the desk we’re using, temporarily, as a dining room table. Eating on it, I’m reminded of my freshman year at Reed, when I was held hostage to those books. The other night, when Madeleine found herself at this table, she heard the story of its provenance, and we remembered Humanities 110 – did either of us actually ever read them? The Odyssey, maybe.

This house has its own stories. Brendan has been researching its previous owners at the Registry of Deeds in the Cumberland Courthouse. They are legion, by which I mean it’s changed hands at least 20 times in its nearly 150-year life. Previous owners include an ex-governor of Maine in the late 19th century, as well as members of illustrious old New England families — Coffins, Libbys, Knights, Meserves, and McQuillans. For much of the latter half of the 20th century, the house was an institute — for 30 years, it was a Goodwill Industries home for Down syndrome adults and, before that, it was an old age home owned by a doctor associated with Maine Medical. A sprinkler system and wheelchair-accessible bathroom doorways attest to its institutional history; plaster moldings, high ceilings, and bay windows are evidence of its more distant, elegant past.

Evidently, we’ve taken possession of an old, much-altered, interesting, beautiful structure. Now we’re imposing our own ideas on it, as no doubt others will do after we leave it behind.

Breakfast smoothie

In a blender, put a cup of frozen mixed berries, a cup of orange juice, a banana, and as much yogurt as fits in the rest of the blender before it explodes. Blend. Serves 3.

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About Kate Christensen

eater, citizen, enthusiast, curmudgeon
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9 Responses to Ashes of laughter, the ghost is clear: why do the best things always disappear?

  1. kimba says:

    Aidan’s not the only one who’s missed you. However, the prospect of a book similar to this blog is so exciting that perhaps it’s worth the light posting schedule. I hope you’ll tell us more when you can!

  2. I’ve missed my fix, too. But this one was great. Now I’m possessed: I must have a smoothie. Go you!

  3. johncpicardi says:

    Yes, Kate that dinner not exciting at all, are you kidding???? Welcome back, I’ve missed your blogs.

  4. A book!!! perfect. I can’t wait! And I’ve missed your posts too.

  5. burnttoast says:

    Glad all is well. I was worried about you! A book! Best reason ever!

  6. philosophotarian says:

    So glad for a new post. The silence in your blog *did* get me to finally read one of your books (and wow!); the fact that another one will eventually arise from that silence is a second positive outcome. Still. Glad to read more in this space, too.

  7. evy says:

    so happy you finally posted! me too: love your blog…

  8. Deborah says:

    A heaping soup-spoon of Frozen OJ works too, and makes it a little colder in the smoothie than juice–this is exactly what I make every morning! I add cold milk if too thick–or water, for that matter…

  9. frostnoodle says:

    Very pleased that you’re back! Your blog is literary food porn and I love it.

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