Someone saved my life tonight, sugar bear

On Thursday, we drove down to pick up my mother at Logan Airport in Boston. She’d flown in from Amsterdam, where she’d been for the past month, and where my sister Susan lives with her husband and two sons. She was stopping off with us for a week on her way home to Oracle, Arizona. She’s gone on a vegan diet recently. On her first night in Portland, we took her to the Green Elephant on Congress Street.  On her second night, I hauled up the wooden patio table from the basement and set it up in the new dining room and lit candles. For our first official meal in the new house, Brendan made pasta with pea sauce, grated parmesan optional.

Last night, here in the farmhouse in New Hampshire, I made a stew of sweet potatoes and green chard in a spicy cashew sauce (cashews, hot red peppers, garlic, ginger, vegetable broth, and fresh thyme, simmered together and whizzed in the blender) over brown basmati rice, with a side of oven-roasted, salted kale. Tonight’s menu is bean burgers (white beans, oats, olive oil, a splash of almond milk, chili powder, and salt in the Cuisinart, formed into patties then fried in peanut oil till crisp and light) with cottage fries, spiced sweet and regular potatoes, and, on the side, a red-leaf lettuce salad with sautéed portobellos and shallot-mustard vinaigrette.

“A vegan feast,” I said.

“Can’t we just say ‘a feast’?” said my mother.

It’s a fun challenge, cooking with yet another dietary restriction. No gluten, no animal products – there’s still a lot to eat. I don’t miss anything, at least not yet – although today I felt a mysterious resurgence of a longtime urge to buy a meat grinder and make my own sausages.

Over dinner last night, we looked at photos from throughout my childhood – the early years in Berkeley, the mid-years in Arizona, late adolescence on the East Coast. My mother was, in every single one of these pictures, younger than I am now – something that always gives me a little start. I’m surprised not by her youth back then – she has always seemed young to me, all my life, even now that she’s 75 — but by how old I am now. Probably because my mother had kids and I didn’t, I always think of her as older than I am, at every phase of her life and mine.

When I woke up this morning, I remembered the paper route I had in seventh grade. After school, on weekdays, I delivered the Phoenix Gazette – an afternoon paper — the Arizona Republic was the morning one — to various ranch houses in our neighborhood. On Sundays, though, the Gazette put out an early-morning edition, so I showed up at the station before dawn on my sturdy three-speed blue Schwinn with its three baskets, front and sides. I had the biggest route on my station and was the youngest carrier and the only girl, so I wasn’t popular with the older boys. It didn’t matter that I’d worked hard to expand my route, going door to door in my free time and drumming up new customers. I was the skinny, bespectacled girl in braces and braids who had the biggest stack of papers to fold, and so they acted as if I didn’t exist.

The Sunday Gazette had to be assembled section by section and rubber banded. Our station was an empty lot. In the light of the streetlamps, in the chilly desert darkness, we yawned and loaded up our bikes and the canvas carrier bags we slung across our chests. The boys talked and joked amongst themselves. I worked as fast as I could to get out of there, then pushed my laden bike into the street, mounted it, and was off. I loved those silent, empty, sweet-smelling, predawn mornings, alone with my bike, my thoughts. I told myself stories under my breath as I rode along, sang songs, daydreamed about the people whose newspapers I threw onto their dewy lawns.

When I finished my route and all my baskets were empty, I rode through the bright morning sunlight and the church-going traffic over to the McDonald’s on Bethany Home Road, which was already open, and got myself a chocolate shake. I drank it on my bike as I rode home. I always got home in time for the Top 40 countdown with Casey Kasem on KUPD. It was 1974, so that meant Olivia Newton-John, Chicago, War, Anne Murray, the Ojays, Paul McCartney and Wings, Elton John, Cat Stevens, and Helen Reddy. My sister Susan came into my room and we listened together, singing along earnestly to every song. Sundays meant pancakes in our house; and we all took turns making them. We used the Joy of Cooking recipe, which involved beaten egg whites; they were crisp and thick and fluffy and addictive. We smothered them in margarine and Aunt Jemima’s. I generally ate so many I was nearly comatose for the rest of the day – my record was twenty-seven at one sitting.

Years later, my mother told me that on a few Sundays, at the beginning of the school year, when I first started my route , she got up at 4:30 along with me, silently, so I wouldn’t know, to make sure I was safe. She got onto her own bike right after I left the house and followed behind me to the station. She waited, hidden from my sight, while I put the papers together and loaded up my bike, and then she followed at a distance while I wove my way through the wide, sleeping Phoenix streets. I never had any idea she was there.

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About Kate Christensen

eater, citizen, enthusiast, curmudgeon
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14 Responses to Someone saved my life tonight, sugar bear

  1. Catherine says:

    Yea for the vegan receipies!
    Just as delightfully notated as the non versions but ones I can finally taste on my palette as I read forward.

  2. Larry says:

    In your post, you mentioned that you stopped at a McDonald’s for a shake. For whatever reason, I was a bit shocked by this. Kate Christensen at a fast food joint? I haven’t been at a McDonald’s in years but sometimes I will go to a fast food place. Please tell us Kate – when you eat fast food, if you do at all, where do you go?

    Anyway, mentioning 1974, Casey Kasem and Olivia Newton-John will be a good excuse to listen to some Newton-John music for a few minutes this morning. I don’t admit very often that I listen to her music, but the older I get, the less I care what people think.

    Have you never been mellow?

    • Deborah says:

      oh, larry-larry-larry—-everyone knows that the Duncan Doughnuts in Staten Island NY has THE BEST COFFEE …. i was just there, and amazingling it really is very good!!! My brother-in law swears by Mcdonald’s coffee, and THIS guy takes his own grinder and mini-coffe pot and thermos everywhere……Ya nevah know! I live in Hawaii and frankly “our” Kona coffee ain’t so grand……but they can call it “Kona” with very little actual kona coffe in it, as I understand…….oh, and did I mention the onion rings at………………..hahaha live a little, Larry—-then eat an apple cancel the junk out, and live a little longer! Have you read “The Epicure’s Lament” yet? My first KC book and not my last… Your last line about “the less I care”… I think you may love this book. (Dennis would “instruct you” to love it.)

      • Larry says:

        Hi Deborah,
        Sorry about the not so great coffee there in Hawaii, but then again you’re living in Hawaii so maybe it’s an OK trade off.

        If you ever come to Cincinnati, look me up and I’ll take you to one of the many chili places here. I don’t get the big deal about this as I’m not from here, but people in Cincy show this stuff. Go figure.

        I’m fairly new to Kate’s writing and you’re not the first to tell me I should be reading “The Epicure’s Lament.” It’s on my list.

        Now you’ve got me hungry for onion rings.

    • I loved McDonald’s when I was 12, but now, I never eat fast food… but I still love the Bee Gees and ABBA.

  3. Bette Hanauer says:

    Your mother has had an amazing life. It would make a great novel! I’m glad none of our kids had a pre-dawn paper route or I might have felt compelled to follow along too! Glad the vegan, gluten-free meals were a pleasant challenge to you and Brandon……You should take some photos of the new house and post them on your blog…..Bette

  4. Deborah says:

    Hello Kate,

    Pls read the March 20th 2012 reply number 6 at the blog “we are never full”—Kate, not to be presumptuous, I recommended you to them a while ago and now them to you—and for all I know you are friends! but… just in case—they are both marvelous writers and as B.S. free as you….
    thank you for some very enjoyable hours of reading.


  5. Deborah says:

    Larry–it’s a date—I heard they serve it the chile on spaghetti??
    You’re right about Hawaii and being a resonable tradeoff for great coffee. Thanks for the reality check–(I still miss the fall………..)

  6. emilygraytedrowe says:

    your mom following you on her bike, pre-dawn: wow. such a moving detail of motherhood. and now, banal food question, but one that’s bugged me for years. when you make your bean burgers, what’s the right texture they should be at when done cooking? i know i shouldn’t be shooting for hamburger texture, but is mealy/crumbly inside a crisp crust the best that can be done? advice welcome!! and thank you for such a lovely blog.

    • Thank you! I’m a novice at making bean burgers — I’ve done it exactly once. They were good, but they could have been meatier. I’m all ears for other people’s methods and secrets.

  7. Ellie says:

    Hi Kate
    Thanks for such a wonderful blog, I really enjoy the way you write. I’ve been checking regularly to see your next instalment and you haven’t blogged in over a month so now I’m officially worried that you’re not going to write here anymore.

    Please come back!

  8. Pam says:

    Kate, I read your novels but just found your blog, thanks to the Amazon link to your upcoming book. Born in 1965, I am right there with you on the Top 40 and Sunday breakfast, although I was not the industrious girl you were. If I’d had a paper route, though, my mom would have been creeping behind me for sure – that detail of pure love brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for such gorgeous writing.

  9. kristy says:

    I know this is an old post but I just started reading your blog and I love it! The paragraph about your mom is so beautiful and touching, the love of a mom is something special. thanks for sharing

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