Posts by Stephen James Pallas

Chapter 2
Alacrity in Sinking

Photo Credit: Natalie Lape

I struggle to learn certain things, most of which revolve around the very simple notion that I can not control every situation or solve every problem. A therapist from my early twenties told me this need for control comes from a place of either anger or guilt. Liam had his brain operated on, Thursday, October 1, 2015. It was a date we had for all intents and purposes been waiting for since June 16; I remember the date of his diagnosis so clearly. And this was one of those occasions that reminded me just how little agency I have in this world.

More than any other season, Autumn is a reminder that things have changed, are changing, always. It was a cold morning in Manhattan, the wind punching me in the face as I walked east on 29th. I was wearing blue jeans and a plain black t-shirt and I was shaking, more from nerves than from the bitter weather conditions. A few days prior, Jacklyn had noticed a slight change—the slightness of which could only be caught by a mother. We rushed him to the pediatrician, upon whose observation our neurosurgeon, Dr. Jeff Wisoff, ordered us to come into the city for the procedure.

The last image I have of Liam prior to the surgery is him, calm, skin well-hydrated from the fluids they had just removed, with a “JW” marked on his head. I am a man who is passionate about words. I study and teach words, language, rhetoric every day. Yet I can not come up with an appropriate description of what it feels like when your newborn son is about to have his head sliced open. I have one word, and it is not so much a word as a gesture, a combination of relief and fear. Fuck. I can not remember if Jacklyn was crying, but she certainly hadn’t lost control.

Dr. Wisoff and his surgical team completed the operation without complication, or, as he put it, “there were no surprises.” The procedure was actually rather quick: 1) anaesthetize the baby, 2) cut into baby’s head and abdomen, 3) insert ventricular peritoneal shunt to relieve pressure, 4) run tube from shunt to abdomen, 5) close head and abdomen. The hour-and-a-half it took the surgeon to achieve these steps felt like, not an eternity, but rather a moment outside of time altogether, as if suspended somewhere out in the deep black of our ever-expanding universe. Over the next twenty-four hours the incredible team of nurses in the pediatric intensive care unit monitored Liam and as quickly as it began, we went home, our baby boy with his new life-saving head-plumbing (one my favorite of Dr. Wisoff’s metaphors).

There are three words I use only ironically, if ever: lucky, fortunate, and (especially) blessed. They are the three most common words people use to spit in the face of human reason and even the strongest willed people turn into useless piles of wilted cabbage at their utterance. I remember when I was a child in Catholic school every winter receiving the Blessing of the Throats. As we would wait in the procession the priest would form a cross using two candles and, touching the cross to each of our throats would pray:

“Per intercessionem Sancti Blasii, episcopi et martyris, liberet te Deus a malo gutturis, et a quolibet alio malo. In nomine Patris, et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.  Amen.” [1]

This is the blessing of St. Blaise, an Armenian physician and bishop during the early Roman Empire. A preventative cure for throat and all other diseases. On his way to jail, having been arrested by the emperor Licinius, Blaise saved—by miracle—a young boy from choking on a fishbone. Having committed the distinct crime of being a Christian in the early fourth century, the miracle did not save him. He was beaten, his skin removed by iron combs, and his head thoroughly chopped off. [2]

I remain hopelessly unsure of what to make of my family’s situation. And I find myself struggling to find the proper logical language to be as I am in the world in which I live. I will not say we are lucky, fortunate, or blessed. Those words are entirely too supernatural. It is almost a new identity, but I think it is fair to say that to be a good father in general requires a man to become many things that he was not before. Less impulsive. Less time in the reptile brain.

A wonderful and fairly recent (1996) novel that has gotten far less attention than it deserves is Daniel Askt’s St. Burl’s Obituary. His protagonist Burl (whose name is not the name of an actual saint not any actual human being, but an onomatopoeia, a gutted gluttonous guttural, a noise your stomach makes when it rejects the condition or amount of food one has taken into his body; a hypocorism of Burleigh Bennett, the name must be read as in this Patton Oswalt joke, 8:35 into the video, [3]). Burl is one of the latest in a long tradition of literary antecedents. Burl is a descendent of Shakespeare’s loveable knight Falstaff and John Kennedy Toole’s Ignatius Reilly, whom Walker Percy describes as “a mad Oliver Hardy, a fat Don Quixote, a perverse Thomas Aquinas rolled into one.” [4]

The tale is at first fully loaded in its implausible and gastric excess. The gargantuan Burl, a journalist, labors over what to eat and drink at Gardenia’s and enters a living “surrealist painting” in which he finds himself “among the dead.” He has witnessed a murder. As the plot unfolds, Burl flees west from New York to Las Vegas and eventually Salt Lake City. The novel is, like Don Quixote, picaresque and romantic. The novel takes serious turn when Burl realizes his close friend Engel has become infatuated with Burl, because he has a fat fetish. Horrified and embarrassed by his physique, Burl’s narrator laments empathetically, “Our own lives are invisible to us,” and I would add, until they’re not. Burl undergoes bariatric and cosmetic surgery and returns to New York with a new identity. The most poignant moment in the novel, its most astute observation of the human condition comes when Burl (now Abe) attends his own funeral:

“It was like being a ghost…It was tragic that people never got to experience this while they were alive–everyone, all together, dwelling however momentarily on the meaning of one’s life. This must be the essence of prayer, this collective outpouring of wonder. That’s what it was, wonder. How was it that he never felt more than sorry at all those other funeral services he’d attended in Salt Lake City? Perhaps, though, one can only mourn oneself. We are like sailors bobbing in shark-infested seas. Treading water, the men cling together even as they are picked off one by one by the greedy jaws of death.”

Burl’s is an existence of half-death, the sublimity of which has been philosophized as long as human have thought metaphysically about the nature of their own existence. Both Edmund Burke in the eighteenth century and Epicurus two millennia earlier assert death is the highest order of human fear [5] [6]. Most of this fear comes from a lack of our ability to know what to expect of the afterlife. My grandfather, having converted from Judaism, was one of the most devoutly Catholic men I have ever known. He also knew that he was a good man. His fear of death and his holding onto life even as the effects of cancer and old age consumed his body was astounding to me in this regard. Burl gets to experience something none of us do: our own death. The novel sets up this premise in its opening: “This was before Burl had written his own obituary.”

I have feared for my son’s quality of life since our doctors diagnosed him with hydrocephalus those few months ago. The shunt is a barely visible bump toward the back of the right side of his head. As it plumbs away the excessive fluid around his brain, this insignificant bump serves as a reminder of that fear of death that at times overwhelms me. And I can not say with any conviction that my fears are not of my own death. Perhaps my son’s condition reminds me of the fragility of my own existence, my own inability to control my own circumstances. At the same time, his precious attendance makes me profoundly happy. He eschews most of my anxiety, and he motivates me to be a better person. A better man. A good father with a strong work ethic and an even temperament. The newness of my fatherhood aside, I have learned generally the importance of ceding my need for control.


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To Cook From the Book:

Pan Roasted Veal Chop with Shiitake Cream Sauce

It should be no surprise that veal is one of the cardinal sins of vegan philosophy [1][2]. For others, myself included, veal is among the tenderest and most prized meats


Pan Roasted Veal Chop with Shiitake Cream Sauce

It should be no surprise that veal is one of the cardinal sins of vegan philosophy [1][2]. For others, myself included, veal is among the tenderest and most prized meats on the market around the world. Noted vegan hater Anthony Bourdain writes romantically, “Veal is prized largely for its tender, subtle-tasting cutlets, or scaloppini’s, its rib chops, loin and for the paillards off its legs. But veal is so much more” [3]. I am not throwing my hat into this ring, not because I am unconfrontational, but rather because my needs are materialistically rooted in pleasure and not in the politics of food. But I think in the case of veal, it is important to note the controversy exists. Historically speaking, veal dates to the oldest of human civilizations: the Sumerians [4]. Its meat was prized as a luxury, and over the centuries it has enjoyed a reputation for canonical dishes in most European and Middle Eastern societies: I’m talking Karađorđeva šnicla, Ossobucco, Veal Orloff, Veal Piccata, Veal Saltimbocca, Weiner Schnitzel…you get the picture.

In Daniel Akst’s St. Burl’s Obituary, veal-ing and revealing play a central role in the novel’s exploration of consumption, identity, and death. At one of the plot’s pivotal moments, Burl (having assumed a new identity) experiences immense anxiety at being revealed by an old chef friend, Frederic. Among the backdrop Frederic reluctantly demonstrates a veal dish for an adoring public crowd:

“Meanwhile, we have our veal over here, our mushrooms porcini, our sherry, our cream ready to go, everything mis en place, as we say…”

This is as much as the book says about the dish, but the best preparation available involves pan roasting a bone-in veal chop, and topping it with a shiitake mushroom-cream sauce with fresh thyme and whole peppercorns.

Here’s What You’ll Need

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For the Veal:

  • 2 Bone-in Veal Chops, (1lb or 500g each)
  • ¼ Cup and 2 Divided Tbsp EVOO
  • 1 Divided Tbsp Unsalted Butter
  • 4 Cloves Garlic, Minced
  • 2 Tsp Each Salt and Pepper
  • 2 Sprigs Thyme, for Garnish

For the Sauce:

  • 1 Tbsp Butter
  • 1/3 Cup Shallots, Minced
  • 7 Oz (200 g) Shiitake Mushroom
  • 1/3 Cup Sherry
  • 1/3 Cup Water (or Beef Stock)
  • 1 Cup Heavy Whipping Cream
  • 3 Sprigs Thyme
  • 1 Tsp Whole Black Peppercorns

Here’s What You’ll Do

  • Let your veal sit outside of the refrigerator for 1 hour, or until it reaches room temperature. Combine ¼ Cup EVOO, Garlic, Salt, and Pepper in a one-gallon resealable bag. Add the veal chops and shake. Allow to marinate for 1-4 hours.
  • While the veal is marinating, heat butter in a medium saucepan on medium-high heat. Add the shallots and cook for two minutes, or until the shallots are translucent.
  • Add mushrooms to the pan and cook for five minutes, until the mushrooms are golden brown and their water has evaporated.
  • Transfer mushroom mixture to a bowl and set aside. Deglaze the saucepan with sherry, scraping the brown bits from the pan, and add water. Boil until the liquid has reduced by half.
  • Add cream, thyme, and peppercorns to the pan and bring to a simmer. Then return the mushrooms to the pan. Simmer until the flavors are unified and the sauce has a thick and even texture.
  • Heat large (12-inch or 25 cm) sauté pan on high heat. Coat with butter and olive oil until butter is brown. Cook the veal chops one at a time, and baste while they roast.
    • Note: cooking time will depend on the thickness of the chop; I asked the butcher to slice mine thin (a little less than 1/2 inch or 1 cm), and sautéed the veal for 90 seconds on each side.
  • Allow to rest, top with the mushroom cream sauce, garnish with thyme, and serve.

BW Elephant

View the inspiring post:

Chapter 2
Alacrity in Sinking

It was a cold morning in Manhattan, the wind punching me in the face as I walked east on 29th. I was wearing blue jeans and a plain black t-shirt and I was shaking, more from nerves than


Chapter 1
Of the Beauty that Still Remains

Photo Credit: Natalie Lape

A glint of light reflected, for a split second, off the belly of the Freedom Tower underneath an otherwise overcast sky. Such is the tenuousness of human life. The sun rose behind us and, while our conversation was held in abeyance, Richard Thompson[1][2] strummed to a set of lyrics about music, about Amsterdam, about Rembrandt and Anne Frank. I thought about—as I often think about—globalization, but also the ubiquity of tragedy and human suffering, and what we do with it. And I thought about Anne Frank and all she has come to represent, the consummate will of the Jewish people specifically and, more broadly, the triumph of the human spirit.

I looked on as the glint of light faded into the clouds and wondered what Jacklyn was thinking about, and how many of the 600,000 others commuting into the city still actively remembered the HaShoah (the Holocaust) or 9/11, some 70 and 14 years later. I and even my parents have the luxury of having lived through only one of those terrible moments that peel back the veneer of civilization and put on display the evil of which some of us are capable. How many, for better or worse, pondered the realities of this highly globalized society in which we all exist? The Twin Towers seem to me to have been a sort of double vision, a symbol of our taking for granted the semblance of peace we enjoyed. The Freedom Tower is a singularity, the clarity that comes when one’s world changes irrevocably and we have taken the proper time to process and channel the chaos.[3] A chance to start over. A reminder to take care, to be more empathetic, more loving. To appreciate the important things in life.

From the Bookshelf: Netherland

We ate breakfast at Penelope at 30th and Lexington. I asked her what color the walls were painted and she said blue, baby blue, and I said okay. This was September 11th, 2015. Four days later Liam was born: 12:39 PM, 20 inches long, 7 pounds and 13 ounces. Pale pink skin, near-black hair wrapped around his head, shoulders, and back. A truly beautiful boy with gray-blue eyes. And hydrocephalus. He was born on Rosh Hashanah—an anniversary of sorts—in the shadow of the anniversary of that horrible day from my adolescence, a day that will not, thankfully, live in the memories of my new son. And I thought about the nature of human tragedy; about the anniversary of nine-eleven; about the Holocaust; about Anne Frank’s diary (Het Achterhuis. Dagboekbrieven 14 Juni 1942 – 1 Augustus 1944); and about Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, one of histories most well-known artists, and whose first three children all died within two months of being born.

These referents got me thinking about Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland, a novel about a Gatsby-style[4] Dutch immigrant named Hans van den Broek, a man who, living in New York in the stygian wastelandish residue of the attacks of September 11th, becomes a man suddenly without a home and family as his wife Rachel absconds the city with their son Jake for London. She flees, significantly for the problem of American identity that I frequently discuss with friends and family, because of what she calls our nation’s “ideologically diseased…mentally ill, sick, unreal” condition. It is a beautiful and harrowing tale that asks us to question the notion of the American dream and what that dream means in a global sense. It is novel, not about loss, but about what possibly we stand to gain when we lose everything. For Hans, this means injecting himself into the West Indian-dominated cricket culture on Staten Island. This gesture expands O’Neill’s incredible novel beyond the simple 9/11 tale. As Hans enters the cricket world, the novel necessarily comments on the history of colonization and the long-term ramifications of same, which merely include the disaster at the World Trade Center.

Cricket in the United States has not enjoyed mainstream success since around the time of the Civil War,[5] as we have since the turn of the twentieth century preferred cricket’s cousin sport, baseball, as our national pastime (and even that doesn’t matter anymore, since in the twenty-first century, football has usurped baseball as the undisputed king of the American sports universe). But it is the remaining locations of cricket’s popularity—Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, England, India, Ireland, Kenya, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa, Sri Lanka, the West Indies, and Zimbabwe—that raise the interesting cultural questions offered by O’Neill’s narrative. Hans notices early the global makeup of the sport: “My own teammates variously originated from Trinidad, Guyana, Jamaica, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka…I was the only white man I saw on the cricket fields of New York.” The locus of his novel on the cricket field is one of extraordinary cultural significance; it exposes the outer limits of the displaced immigrant and the archetypal postcolonial subject. Both the game and its players are in their entirety un-American.[6] That the novel takes place in New York during what many consider to be America’s greatest tragedy exterminates the myth of the American melting pot. Instead, the symbolism has a more nihilistic flair about our country, that American is what it is not. It exposes what for many is an existential homelessness, an often violent taking away of the notion of home that we finally experienced on that horrible September morning, but that countless others have felt throughout the history of civilization. The field provides a pointedly foolish way at looking at un-America:

What all these recreational areas have in common is a rank outfield that largely undermines the art of batting, which is directed at hitting the ball along the ground with that elegant variety of strokes a skillful batsman will have spent years trying to master and preserve: the glance, the hook, the cut, the sweep, the cover drive, the pull, and all those other offspring of technique conceived to send the cricket ball rolling and rolling, as if by magic, to the far-off edge of the playing field.

Hans laments the unplayability of cricket in New York, considering, for example, the un-grassiness of the “weedy ground” that bastardizes the carefully honed batting and fielding skills of the game’s players. He derides baseball penchant for “going deep” and that this urban version cricket seems to have adopted some of the less sophisticated techniques found in baseball. The language reveals some postcolonial tropes: the seeming “skill” and “magic” of the colonized, the authenticity that comes from generations of practice, the care required for proper cultivation of native lands, and the counterfeit of colonial alterations of old world cultural artifacts transformed to the American landscape and its largest metropolis. Which brings me to my newborn son, who has no authentic culture to call his own.

Liam has a varied heritage, more diverse than most, although the more I ask around the more common this phenomenon seems to occur. There is no greater testament to the progressivity of our culture than the expanding diversity found within our families. On his mother’s side Liam is very European: Irish, German, English, and French (the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 9th largest ancestry groups in the United States);[7] this, in a way, makes Jacklyn the consummate American and our son half-consummate American. My side of Liam’s heritage is a bit more complicated. His great-grandfather was of Greek Jewish (likely Romaniote) descent, and his family likely emigrated to the United States as refugees who married an Irish (or Scottish—long story) Catholic woman. The tagline of his other pair of paternal great-grandparents’ story goes like this: an American soldier stationed in Okinawa during the Korean War returns to the United States with a single Japanese mother of three. For the record, my grandmother’s harrowing story from the island of Okinawa is absolutely fascinating and I will tell it at some point.

For my son, I worry about this world. In all its tragedies and all its violence, I have yet to determine whether or not this is a good place. I have long struggled with the question of whether not it is ethically the right thing to do to bring a child into this world. I mean for the child in question, rather than in terms of his ecological footprint or some other external issue. Most of the people I talk to say, well, of course it’s better for the child to have been born. All the joy and good memories and family bonding make life worth living. The problem is that we all experience pain and trauma. These two facets of existence are almost completely unavoidable. And, there are too many complications to the logic of having children to expound upon, here.[8] Obviously, Jacklyn and I decided having a child was a move for the greater good or Liam wouldn’t be here right now. But I wonder if that fear will always be pulsating in the background, that all the pain and hardship and sorrow he is forced to witness and through which he struggles can somehow be brought back to the crucial decision of his ever being brought to this universe from the void of un-existence. I suppose I have to borrow from the wisdom of Anne Frank, who demanded of herself not to “think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.”

 


DSCN1388To Cook From the Book:

American Bastardized Callaloo

One of the national dishes of Trinidad and Tobago is callaloo. It has a well balanced combination of sweet, savory, and spicy ingredients…


American Bastardized Kale Callaloo

Caribbean food may be the most diverse unified culinary culture on the planet, deriving from among its origins African, Middle Eastern, Asian, European and tradition while utilizing locally available fare. Some of the most popular ingredients you can find growing in the West Indies include ackee, coconut, guava, jicama, mango, okra, papaya, plantain, and yucca. Endemic to the region are countless species of fish and shellfish, and you will also find pigs, sheep, cows, and goats. Caribbean food is perhaps best known for its array of spices, including cayenne, allspice, cumin, turmeric, and thyme.

One of the national dishes of Trinidad and Tobago is callaloo. It has a well balanced combination of sweet, savory, and spicy ingredients; its primary ingredient are leaves of the dasheen or Taro; and it is served with either crab or pigtails. From Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland:

“Callaloo is the leaves of the dasheen bush. You can’t get dasheen easy here…But if you can’t get the real thing, you make it with spinach. You put in coconut milk: you grate the flesh of the coconut fine and you squeeze it and the moisture come out. You also put in whole green pepper—it don’t be hot unless you burst it—thyme, chive, garlic, onion.”

So we bastardize, which, writing honestly, is the modus operandi of today’s American cooking. It’s why we have words in our culinary lexicon such as fusion and New American Cuisine. For my version of callaloo I tried to make it as modern as possible, adhering both to the vegan diet and the kale revolution.[1]

Here’s what you’ll need

  • 2-14 Ounce (400 ml) Cans Coconut Milk
  • 1 Quart (1 L) Water
  • 2 Pounds Kale, Washed and Chopped
  • 1 Pound Okra, Sliced
  • 6 Cloves Garlic, Minced
  • 1 Medium Spanish Onion, Chopped
  • 1 Large Poblano Pepper, Diced
  • EVOO
  • 3 Sprigs Thyme
  • 1 Habanero, whole or chopped**
  • 1 Bunch Chives, Chopped
  • Trini Green Seasoning (optional). Grab it here [2] or see recipe below.

Here’s what you’ll do

  • Heat a heavy pot or Dutch oven on the stove on medium-high heat.
  • Add Coconut Milk and Water to the pot and bring to a boil.
  • Add the Kale in several batches as the leaves wilt in the liquid.
  • Heat a large skillet on high, coating with EVOO. Sauté Onions, Garlic, and Poblano until well-caramelized, roughly 5 minutes.

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  • Add Okra to the Onions and Garlic to the skillet and sauté until browned, roughly 3 minutes.
  • Transfer the Okra, Onions, and Garlic to the Kale pot, and then add Thyme sprigs, Habanero, and Chives.

**Note: If you want some extra heat in this dish (like I do), you can chop the Habanero and add to the pot. Season the callaloo with salt and pepper.

**Note: Handling Habanero peppers while chopping is potentially hazardous. Use vinyl gloves and keep your hands away from your face and genitals.

  • Stir in 1/3 Cup Trini Green Seasoning. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to low, allowing the callaloo to simmer for 1 hour, whisking occasionally until the consistency is like that of a creamed spinach.

Note: If you want to go traditional, use a swizzle stick. Not the bar swizzle stick, but the Trini swizzle stick. Check it out. [3]

  • You can always add a few tablespoons of Trini Green Seasoning, which you can buy easily, or use this great recipe.[4]

If you must include animal protein in this dish, add steamed blue crabs or pickled pig-tails while the callaloo simmers and serve over a roasted fish high in fatty acids, such as mackerel, herring, tuna, or atlantic salmon. And for the love of all that is holy in the world of eating, please avoid farm raised fish.

 

 


Photo Credit: Natalie LapeView the inspiring post:

Chapter 1
Of the Beauty that Still Remains

A glint of light reflected, for a split second, off the belly of the Freedom Tower underneath an otherwise overcast sky. Such is the tenuousness of…


The Son Also Rises,
A Prologue

Photo Credit: Natalie Lape

I am not Ernest Hemingway. He stood six feet tall, wore a heroic beard,[1] and–after being struck by a mortar shell while volunteering as an ambulance driver during the First World War–carried a wounded Italian soldier on his back to safety. I am just under five-foot-nine. I cannot grow a beard. I have never served in war. Hemingway hunted big game in Kenya. I’m pretty sure I’ve never even held a gun, and they make me incredibly anxious and uncomfortable. In his lifetime Hemingway wrote seven fictional novels, two non-fiction novels, and six short story collections (several others have been published posthumously), most or all of which you have heard. I have struggled to produce a single tangible product. Hemingway. Papa. A yardstick by which the American male is measured. Hemingway was the voice of the Lost Generation. If he was exceptional, I am seamlessly average.

From the Bookshelf: The Sun Also Rises

When my wife, Jacklyn, was 26 weeks pregnant, our doctors diagnosed him with a severe case of hydrocephalus, and we instantly became overwrought with grief, panic, and helplessness. The weeks that followed felt like months. We made all the necessary appointments and ensured to the best of our abilities that Liam would have a lifetime of quality care and the best chance at a normal and happy life. As the panic waned, we readied the nursery and prepared ourselves for whatever the universe planned to throw at us and our precious boy. Let me explain.

Hydrocephalus occurs in approximately 1 in every 1,000 live births. It is a fairly common abnormality, yet frustratingly difficult to prognose, especially because there exist nearly 200 causes for the condition (all of tests for which, in our case, came up negative). Hydrocephalus refers to an enlargement of the brain’s ventricles, which carry cerebral spinal fluid across the brain and through the spine. At 26 weeks a fetus’ lateral ventricles (the two running the length of the brain from front to back) should measure between four and eight millimeters. Our son’s measured around thirteen. By week 32 they each measured close to 30 mm. Hydrocephalus puts an enormous amount of pressure on the child’s brain and, as a result, the head will begin to enlarge. Babies diagnosed with hydrocephalus often experience problems with motor function, learning disabilities, and seizure disorders.[2] [3]

Our son, whom we have named Liam James, will be born via Caesarian section at New York University Hospital today, September 14th, 2015. Our doctors will not be able to determine the type or severity of his symptoms probably for several months. Liam will require brain surgery almost immediately after his birth and continuous observation thereafter and for the rest of his life. We have most of the same worries any new parent experiences. We hope he can be independent. We hope he will be happy. We hope he will have amazing friends. We hope we do a good job teaching him right from wrong. We have worries too. We worry he will never be able to walk or feed himself. We worry he will never be able to speak. We worry he will undergo a life of physical and emotional pain. There comes with these worries a tremendous amount of almost unimaginable guilt and fear. Questions arose: Is this our fault? What could we have done differently? I remember her face not thirty seconds after the news broke. “What are we going to do?” she asked, as tears flooded her face with such pain that I felt like I had broken a central tenet of my wedding vows to her. I was to protect her. I was to protect Liam. And in this moment I felt I could do neither.

I feel I need to address an important question I have been asking myself over the past several weeks. Why am I doing this? Why am I writing this thing in this way at this time? I have two great passions in life: food and books. I have been in the restaurant industry for over a decade and I have been an avid reader for my entire life. I originally intended these writings to reflect the mores of American fatherhood and pair those thoughts with some favorite books I have read and foods I have eaten over the years. I can trace just about everything I have learned about life to a great book I have read or a great meal I have eaten in some respect or other. Maybe that’s untrue. Maybe it’s reductive. The project has changed, but not incredibly. I still want to discuss food, books, and the nature of fatherhood, but I suppose if nothing else I have matured over the years. I have been forced to adapt the model and, more significantly, my outlook and attitude have changed dramatically during these last several weeks.

I absolutely adore Ernest Hemingway and all his work. I reread his novels more frequently than those of any other author. I read The Sun Also Rises at least once a year, and I believe it to be the greatest and most American novels of the twentieth century. Hemingway’s first is a novel about bullfighting. It’s about exile. It’s about food and drink. It’s about love. His characters party through Paris, Pamplona, and Barcelona. Their exchanges and the surrounding environment are beautiful in content and style, without deigning to extravagance:

“We drove out along the coast road. There was the green of the headlands, the white, red-roofed villas, patches of forest, and the ocean very blue with the tide out and the water curling far out along the beach.”

By the end of the story it becomes abundantly clear that true love and modernity are an incompatible and too-often-imbalanced “exchange of values” system, in which each of the players’ character arcs results in incredible dissatisfaction. Compounded by the habitual self-medication wherein Hemingway‘s protagonist Jake either drinks “just enough to be careless“ or enough to lose “the disgusted feeling and [be] happy.” Eventually, as the pattern of diminishing returns concludes he proffers, “I began to feel drunk but I did not feel any better.” This is the plot: A carefree adventure becomes a restless struggle for love and ends in desolation. This is true both of the novel and our pregnancy, or so it seemed. Novels have for their own benefit the advantage of ending. Jacklyn and I have struggled to endure, to cope, to find peace and love and happiness with our continued journey.

For all the beauty and accuracy concerning the Lost Generation on which it comments, I have developed very recently many and the same type of philosophical problems with the novel as I have with the man who wrote it. The American male of the twentieth century, particularly before and during the terrible wars, was defined by a romantic notion of expatriation and a lack of loyalty to one’s country or even one’s own wife family. Hemingway married and deserted four wives—leaving three by way of infidelity and divorce and the fourth by suicide—and three sons. Hemingway married Elizabeth Hadley Richardson in 1921, when he was twenty-two years old. By 1925 he had begun working on The Sun Also Rises and had engaged in an affair with journalist Pauline Pfeiffer. By 1927 he had divorced his first wife—and with her left his first son, Jack, behind—and married Pauline. Within the family mixed stories about the nature of his parenting abound. His descendants describe him as passionate, fun, unusual, abusive.[4] [5] Beyond the exaggerations of his legacy or the extent of his transgressions, commitment never seems to have been a part of his personality.

Departure, expatriation, infidelity, disloyalty, divorce, suicide. These are the defining characteristics of a man with whom myself and the American imagination have held in such high esteem. Hemingway’s personal tragedy seems to have been an inability to cope with boredom, both in his daily experiences and in his interpersonal relationships. My point, I suppose, is that for all his masculinity and all his bravado and all his achievement, Hemingway seems to have lacked either the patience or the inclination to be a good husband and father. He was a living Byronic hero, which for this discussion means he lacked the dependability, involvement, compassion, empathy, and honesty required for truly valuable fatherhood. This list comprises the qualities to which I plan to aspire as a new father, especially one who has had to mature so abruptly as a result of Liam’s diagnosis. Hemingway and his Lost Generation defined themselves by exile and departure. But I refuse to flee. I’m not going anywhere.

 


DSCN1332To Cook From the Book:

The Only Way to Roast a Chicken

“We had a good meal, a roast chicken, new green beans, mashed potatoes, a salad, and some apple-pie and cheese.”

 


The Only Way to Roast a Chicken

What makes Hemingway so universally accessible is his simplicity–in language, in aesthetics, in taste. In the scene from which this meal derives, Jake and his expatriate cohort are sitting in a restaurant (“crowded with Americans”) on the Île Saint-Louis in Paris across the Seine in the backdrop of the Cathédrale de Notre-Dame. Even here, Jake makes a point to delimit his authentic travels and those of “compatriot” tourists. The meal is simple:

“We had a good meal, a roast chicken, new green beans, mashed potatoes, a salad, and some apple-pie and cheese.”

Afterward, they walk along the Quai d’Orléans and witness “the broken walls of old houses that were being torn down.” This scene subtly echoes many of the themes the novel projects. The meal itself exudes comfort, and if done right, nothing pleases as much a well-crafted roast chicken. For this post I am only going to focus on roasting the bird and will forgo the sides and dessert. It’s chicken. It’s like bluejeans. It works in every season and location and goes with everything. There are five basic but absolutely critical steps for making an exquisite roast chicken: brine it, truss it, dry it, roast it, rest it.[1] Disclaimer: the entire process takes a bit of time and a lot of patience and forethought.

Here’s what you will need

  • 1 Whole Free Range Organic Chicken Breast, roughly 4.5 Pounds (2 kg)
  • 1 Bouquet Garni (4 sprigs each thyme, rosemary, parsley and 1 bay leaf, tied with kitchen twine or any 100% cotton thread)
  • 3 Cloves Garlic
  • 1 Lemon, Quartered
  • 3 Carrots, Chopped Large
  • 3 Stalks Celery, Chopped Large
  • Black Pepper, to season
  • For the Brine:
    • 1 Gallon Water
    • 1 Cup Sea Salt
    • 1 Cup Local Organic Honey

Here’s what you will do

  • BRINE IT Add the water, sea salt, and honey in a large pot and boil. Allow the water to come to room temperature. Place the chicken into the brine (which should cover the bird), cover, and place in the refrigerator. Allow the chicken to brine for 20-24 hours.
  • TRUSS IT Go to bed, wake up, and read The Sun Also Rises…or get ready for work, or whatever. By now the chicken should be ready. Remove the chicken from the brine and place on a roasting rack. Discard the brine. Truss the bird. If you don’t know how, check out this short video.[2]
  • DRY IT Place the chicken in your refrigerator on the drying rack and allow to sit for 8-12 hours. This process is essential for maximizing the crispiness of the skin and the tenderness of the meat.
  • ROAST IT Preheat the oven to 425 F (220 C). Stuff the bouquet garni, garlic, lemon, carrots, and celery in the bird’s cavity. Season the chicken liberally with black pepper. Roast, breast up, for 15 minutes, or until the skin is brown and crispy. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 F (175 C). Roast the chicken for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
  • REST IT Remove the chicken from the oven and allow to rest 20-30 minutes before carving and serving. Resting the chicken is essential because it ensures even cooking and dispersion of the bird’s juices.

DSCN1332


steve's photo edit 2

View the inspiring post:

  The Son Also Rises, A Prologue

I am not Ernest Hemingway. He stood six feet tall, wore a heroic beard,[1] and–after being struck by a mortar shell while volunteering as an ambulance driver during the First World War