Skip to content

about me

How I Stopped Annoying Women

Share

In high school I was in love with a girl who had long, dark, very straight hair, brown eyes, a heart-shaped face, and a demur attitude. (Some will say I was not really in love, which is in some sense true. They will say I was merely infatuated, but the fact is, having experienced both infatuation and real love, I can say with some authority that they feel the same. The main difference, as far as I can tell, is that infatuation makes you insane, but real love is always eminently reasonable. But once again, when you’re in the midst of it, insanity seems oh, so reasonable.) We were in the same grade, so we had some classes together. We also attended some of the same religious meetings. Whenever she was near, I was very aware of her presence, and I schemed to be with her and show her attention without seeming to intend it. Crazy, right? At prayer meetings, I would sit next to her, so I could hold her hand during prayers. My prayers were not exceptionally spiritual, but I did make a number of extravagant promises to God which I have since forgotten. He probably still chuckles over them.

Girls did not flock around me. In fact, they avoided me as if I had cooties. With the advantage of hindsight, I know now that in my teens I was uncommonly ugly and socially awkward. It would be hard to imagine a combination more deadly to incipient romance. I lacked both grace and good looks. I was also naive. All I had going for me was an impressive grasp of calculus—not a trait over which many girls were known to swoon.

After high school I spent a decade with my heart on my sleeve, always ready to be in love with any young woman who was civil to me. If she were more than civil—if she flirted even in the most desultory fashion—I was instantly smitten and made myself intolerable until she utterly spurned my affections. This happened more than once. Possibly more than 5 times. It is still painfully embarrassing to contemplate.

As I grew older, despite remaining absurdly naive, my physiognomy changed. I became more or less average-looking and acquired enough social grace to pass for an ordinary guy. By the time I met the woman who is now my wife, I effortlessly and unwittingly impressed her with my erudition and aplomb. But she was different, too, from the kind of woman who usually attracted me. She was not demur. She was vivacious. She acted as if life were a present she was just about to unwrap. She had firecracker eyes, and she was infectiously alive. She dragged me out of my woebegone stupor and loved me unflinchingly.

These old bones live to learn her wanton ways:
(I measure time by how a body sways).
Theodore Roethke

Suffice it to say, I stopped annoying all woman and began to annoy just one. (At least, I think I stopped. One can never be entirely sure.) For some reason I have yet to grasp, she considers knowing me a privilege for which a little annoyance is not too steep a price.

Share

Good Question

Share

My daughter-in-law brought homemade cinnamon rolls to our Thanksgiving Day celebration. Our family decided to get together all day, so we started with breakfast. She asked me what I thought of her cinnamon rolls even though everyone else had already raved about them.

“I don’t know if they’re really good,” she said, “or if everyone is just saying they are to spare my feelings because I’m pregnant.”

So she asked me.

I have a reputation in my family for speaking my mind without regard for people’s feelings. I have this reputation for two reasons:

  1. I have a high regard for the people I love and their ability to accept my opinions.
  2. I am an insensitive asshole.*

I tried her cinnamon rolls. While I was eating one, it occurred to me that if anyone spared her feelings, it was because they love her. I asked her, “Would you rather experience some doubt about yourself knowing that your friends and family love you, or would you rather be certain but know that they do not?”

She thought about it for a minute. “I don’t know,” she said.

“They’re very good,” I said. Indeed, they were.

*I sometimes shamelessly use the first reason as cover for the second. I’m sorry. I’m only human.

Share

A Taco Journey

Share

My mom learned to make tacos in southern California during the 1950s. She and my dad had moved to the San Diego area because my dad had enlisted in the Marines, and he was stationed for a time at Camp Pendleton. After my dad left the Marines, they moved back home to southern Ohio. I was about 4 years old at the time. My mom soon began to miss tacos. This was long before the ubiquitous Taco Bell and Taco John franchises. Though she kept searching for tortillas in the supermarkets, she could not find them anywhere. Finally she found a supermarket that carried frozen tortillas, 12 to a package. She bought them and brought them home. They weren’t as good as the fresh tortillas she had used in California, but they were tortillas, and soon her tacos became a staple of our family cuisine.

My mom’s tacos underwent very little evolution from my first memories to the last. As far as I can remember, she always fried her tortillas in hot oil. She always stacked them between napkins to absorb the oil. She always used ground beef browned with onions, garlic, cumin, and chili powder. Sometimes she added a little curry powder and thyme or oregano. In the early days, she often added Accent as well, back before we knew how unhealthy MSG is. She always served them with lettuce, chopped tomatoes, and cheddar cheese. We always had Tabasco sauce for those who wanted a little heat. When I was young there was no picante sauce and no queso fresco. When supermarkets added salsa, we added that, but it was never considered essential.

When I got married, I insisted that Belinda learn to make tacos the way my mom made them. She balked at frying each tortilla in oil, so one of the first changes we made was to steam the tortillas by heating them in the microwave for a couple of minutes. I had a hard time figuring out how much chili powder and cumin to use, and I went through a phase where I used way too much curry powder. Belinda, gentle soul that she is, tolerated it all with good grace and even grew to like tacos nearly as much as I did. We began experimenting a little more. We added diced jalapeños sometimes. One time I chopped up a habanero and ate it on one taco. That was an intense experience. I have no desire to repeat it. We started serving tacos with chopped cilantro. Sometimes we made our own pico de gallo instead of just chopped tomatoes.

Somewhere along the way, we got a cookbook called The Gourmet Cookbook, edited by Ruth Reichl. Even though it had nothing about tacos, it changed my life. The first recipe I made from it was Penne alla Vodka. For the first time in my life I had made a meal that tasted like it might be served at the finest restaurant in town. I tried other recipes from the book, and found that by following the directions and being careful, I could make dishes that satisfied more than hunger. They satisfied a desire for perfect balance and rightness. I made the Pork Chops with Sautéed Apples and Cider Sauce, and it was as if the planets aligned and all was right with the world. My children loved my new hobby. Even the one child who hates everything grudgingly came to admit that Dad’s dinners were pretty good, and my oldest daughter said one day that I had spoiled restaurants for her: she knew she could get a better meal at home than by going out. That was a proud moment for me, even though Ruth Reichl and the staff at Gourmet’s test kitchens deserved most of the credit.

Through all this discovery and initiation into the mysteries of haute cuisine—often not as haute as you might think—tacos remained a relatively untouched mainstay, a go-to meal requiring little thought. Belinda or I could easily whip up a meal of tacos without having to refer to a recipe.

Then, last year, another book came my way, given to me as a Christmas present by my son-in-law, Dave. The book was Tacos: Recipes and Provocations by Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman. It did for tacos what The Gourmet Cookbook had done for the rest of our meals. I made my own tortillas. I made my own salsas. I made tacos that were utterly different from the ones I had grown up with, and they had that perfect balance and rightness that made them seem like gifts from heaven. There are still a lot of taco recipes I haven’t tried, but the one I like best is also the first one in the book. It has no ground beef, no taco seasoning. There are no lettuce, tomatoes, or cheddar cheese. These tacos are made from fresh tortillas and roasted chicken thighs. The accessories are kale, queso fresco, diced onion, and raw salsa verde with chopped cilantro. They are heavenly.

We still have Mom’s tacos, of course, because they are a lot less fussy than the chicken tacos. We still buy tortillas instead of always making our own because making our own takes a lot of time and energy that we don’t always have. We can still make Mom’s tacos with very little trouble, and we still enjoy them immensely. They remind me of my Mom, and they are my ultimate comfort food. But I am so glad to know that there exist in this world tacos that beautifully and delightfully surpass Mom’s, and that I can make them.

Share