Wednesday, July 25, 2012

End of an Era

  Yesterday the choir buried its elder statesman, David Shore. Actually, David wasn't the oldest in the choir. Even at 85, there was someone else with a claim to that title. But he was the voice of the choir, in more ways than one.
  David would have stood out anywhere. It wasn't his appearance, though a more dapper, strong and straight-backed 85 you never could find. It was his unmistakable personality, his generosity, his spirit and humor that marked him.
  He was always singing, and although he had alzheimers and didn't know where he was or probably who we were most of the time, you'd never have known it. He knew every word, every note, and sang with the choir until very recently.
  David was the one who always took out his checkbook when emergencies arose or when there was an event requiring a gift. An optometrist, he built a successful business and gave back to his former employees, his friends, his synagogue, his community. I too have been the recipient more than once of his gifts.
  He was a friend to whomever needed one. And he was always good for a laugh.
  At the funeral, his youngest son, a youthful 40 or so in a family of grizzled brothers much his elder, regaled us with hilarious stories of his father's adventurous spirit and willingness to say anything to anyone at any time. David never held anything back. He was a man after my own heart for honesty, though he went much farther most of the time than I'd have dared to.
  Like my father, he loved life with a fierceness that one would have to have seen to believe it. It had been only a month or so since he was placed in a memory-care facility when a broken hip and subsequent operation felled him.
  Though I am sad to lose him, I have to say that it is probably best for his sake that he was not permitted to languish, to lose his zest, to disappear altogether into the darkened corridors of a broken mind and spirit.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Women's Connection Potluck

Last night I drove the gentle hills of Irvine to get to a potluck given by a group of women from the synagogue who plan events throughout the year. Though I am too broke to take advantage of most of these right now, occasionally there is something I can do, like this event.
There are lots of good cooks among this sizable group, and I planned to lend my own cooking prowess to the lot.
For the occasion, I had saved a recipe clipped from the paper about a month ago, in anticipation of this dinner. The recipe was more a technique than anything else, for it gave me a versatile template I can use to develop other dishes.
This was a rustic tomato tart. The recipe for the crust was extremely valuable to me, as in the past, I have found pie crust hard to work with, but this variety, with a secret ingredient, was different. As usual, I erred by not reading the recipe through all the way long before the day when I was going to prepare the dish. It seems I was supposed to make the crust and let it rest in the fridge overnight, but it was very forgiving, actually. After an hour and a half  in the fridge, even after breaking into hard pieces on the baking pan, it turned out fine. All I had to do was press the pieces together and slip the resulting disk onto the baking pan. The edges melded together, it was not hard to get the edges to fold over the filling.
The secret ingredient, added to the usual flour, stick of butter, 1/4 cup of shortening (in my case canola margarine),  and ice water, was a tablespoon and 1/4 of cider vinegar, which made the crust easier to work with and stronger all around. Though the dough smelled strongly of this ingredient, it was not at all evident in the finished product.
A rustic tart is supposed to look home made, with the filling barely contained within a triangle of thick crust, folded over at the corner.
This particular tart contained the simplest of summer ingredients: thickly sliced tomatoes marinated in olive oil, with diced kalamata olives and garlic, fresh oregano,olive oil, and salt and pepper. The fruity taste of these ripe summer tomatoes came through beautifully. They didn't need anything else to shine, except a shower of fresh basil on the top.
But I was thrilled by the prospect of adapting the recipe, trying other fillings, like roasted vegetables (zucchini, asparagus, sweet yellow and red bell peppers, or several varieties of mushrooms).
I was glad I changed my mind at the last minute about the overly-fussy vegetable tart I had been planning to make, with its paste of artichoke and roasted garlic and whole wheat crust.
In all probability, it would have fallen apart.
Simplicity is best, as it bespeaks summer, when, in any case, the ingredients are at their peak and no fuss is truly necessary.
The tart disappeared almost immediately, as a series of eager women dug in to its still warm crust to excavate a slice. There were plenty of other tasty dishes at the event, but this one stood out. I will certainly be using the recipe again soon.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Over the Moutains and Down the Lane

   Today we drove out to Riverside, we being Richard (at the steering wheel of the trusty Corolla), Liz, and me, where I took part in an amazing reading at the Arlington Branch of the Riverside Public Library. It was the kickoff for the Litlandia Reading Series, organized by Cati Porter, founding editor of  Inlandia and Poemeleon, literary journals where R and I have had poems published.
   We had to drive the tollroads and freeways over the mountains, where there were many more cars than I had imagined would be out there on a relatively cool Saturday, with only one cloud in the sky and a light breeze ruffling the palm trees.
   Though I had a few minutes anxiety, thinking we were late, we reached the library building, the only piece of history on a stretch of highway packed with taco joints and tattoo parlors. It was evidently part of Riverside's past, yet inside, was well refurbished, with a terrific room for readings and ample restrooms. The air conditioner was unfortunately set several degrees below arctic, but the poetry was so hot, I barely noticed.
  I was the first to read. The lectern was so enormous that it swallowed me up, but I had little choice. I had to stay behind it because otherwise no one would hear me! I read 10 poems, including 3 of the yoga poems (at the very end). The rest were from newer material. It went well, and I sold several books.
  The second poet was Larry Eby, a young guy who was very accomplished. He had impressive publications, a new book, and his own press. His work was wildly imaginative and interesting.
   The third poem was Nicelle Davis, who carried her own props (a home-made velcro board with puppets and other small figures she had crafted out of feathers, buttons, and other assorted materials). She wore a long frilly dress, a vintage prom dress from the 70s, and looked like a vision of purity, but her poems had quite an edge to them. Again, she is a really interesting and accomplished poet, with several books to her credit, despite her young age.
   Finally, Brendan Constantine read. I had heard about his poems and about his performances. But he still came as a wonderful surprise. All of his poems were incredibly original and his style of reading, if you can really call it reading, since he rarely glanced at the page, was amazing.
   A brief open reading followed, where R read an improvised short poem he wrote just moments before and the poem he had published in the issue of Inlandia where I had also had a poem last summer.
   Then we headed further up into the hills where my friend Lavina, a friend of many years, lives with her husband David. I knew Lavina was a serious painter, but I didn't realized just how serious until I saw her many canvasses stacked and hung all over the large house.
   Her husband treated us to a vegan Chinese dinner, and then we headed back behind the Orange Curtain, feeling  a bit sad that our day in the hills had ended.

Friday, July 6, 2012

4th of July

   This 4th of July, we drove up to Long Beach for a party at Murray Thomas' house. We had wanted to host him here for dinner, but he was already planning a bbq in his back yard near the beach, which is about 40 minutes away by freeway.
  We didn't quite know what to expect either of the party or of L.B. in general. Years ago, when I first finished the M.F.A. program at UCI, I worked for a year or so at California State University at Long Beach. It was my first teaching job outside the University.
  Because I took the bus, I didn't get to explore Long Beach very much, but it was clear from the characters who wrote the buses that it was a blue collar town, rather like Philadelphia, except that it was by the beach. Perhaps something like Atlantic City before the casinos yuppified the place.
  But when we revisited the town yesterday, we found that while it definitely had an edge to it and appeared somewhat seedy in parts, there was a comraderie, a feeling that this was a small village where everyone said hello, and the barriers usually erected between kinds of people, social strata, and ages had come down. Young and old, male and female, blue collar and white collar mixed freely.
  Murray lives with three other guys, musicians, who are members of a band that practices in the sound-proofed shed out in the back yard. When I stepped into that shed, I was transported back into the 60s. It was dark, with only a small window high up on the wall, which was covered with black soundproofing material.
  The room needed only dayglo paint to reproduce the effect of the clubs where I listened to Janice Joplin and Ten Years After play their music to open-mouthed crowd. The room was just as small, the music just as loud. I was lots older though.
Richard happily played his harmonica with the band, finding it easier than he had imagined to improvise, though this was a new generation of music, one he wasn't familiar with.
 I happily sat outside the shed, swapping stories with poets and yogis, musicians, and assorted folk from the neighborhood as fireworks started their first sputters of the holiday.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Richard's Retirement

   Yesterday, R's retirement started in earnest. The first day out, Friday, he wandered about a bit lost. If I hadn't had work to do on the class, it would have been a good day to take off on a jaunt to the zoo or museum or aquarium, all things we mean to do this summer and in the days beyond.
  I thought he would not be at a loss since he has so many hobbies he loves that work was merely an interruption and a nuisance to him, it seemed.
  He plays harmonica, and has become quite adept at it over the years. He plays billiards on the table in our garage... though there's some question as to whether we shall be permitted to keep the table there if the new, unfortunate policy in our community of demanding that two cars be parked in the two-car garage goes through. Of course, there are others who have two car garages and live alone, and we might be able to pay those people to allow us to keep the table there. It will be inconvenient, to say the least, but I think doable. Then he also plays golf, whenever he can afford to, and hits balls at the range when he can't afford to. There's something he will spend a lot of time doing in Floyd, when he goes there in a few weeks. And of course, he writes, and he now says he will work on a manuscript in earnest, which I was happy to hear!
  But he wanted to talk, and I stopped my work a few times so we could do that. It's going to take some getting used to for both of us, but it's nice to have him back.