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My excuse is better than your excuse

I’ve got an excuse.

How about you?

I bet, in most cases, your excuse is not as good as mine.

My excuse?

I had brain surgery.

What’s yours’?

Little did I know when I made the trip in January to the University of Colorado Hospital, Anschutz Center, that the procedure the neurosurgeon would undertake would do more than remove a tumor from the cavity ordinarily occupied by my pituitary gland.

Oh, sure, the doc kept me from going blind and saved my life by keeping the mass from impinging on my carotid arteries, but that’s hardly the best of it.

When he violated my noggin, he gave me the Mother of All Excuses.

And, believe me, I am using it. Every chance I get.

And I need it. I am getting old.

Growing old can be embarrassing, in that a few critical things, like memory, start to fade (a discussion of the other things that fade will wait for another occasion). If you are of a certain age, let’s say 50-plus, you know about the memory problem.

I can go from one room to another and, in the process, forget why I made the trip. I can set my mind on making a certain purchase at the store and end up wandering the aisles in a fog. I leave the store with an armload of goods, none of them the intended purchase.

The car keys?

Who knows where I put them?

My gym locker key?

I’ve lost ten of them in the last year.

When I make a list, I forget to take the list with me.

Phone numbers?

You gotta be kidding!

Computer passwords, my iTunes password?

Hah!

Names? Sometimes the names of people I have known for years?

Oops.

But … I’ve had brain surgery.

What’s your excuse?

I find the fact I’ve had brain surgery can or will work as an excuse in any number of other areas.

Should I be pulled over by an officer of the law for a supposed violation of the traffic code? … I’ve had brain surgery.

A social gaff following one too many gin and tonics, a remark far too honest to be comfortable?

Brain surgery.

Obvious dislike of a goof into whose proximity chance has thrown me?

Brain surgery.

An untoward comment about a self-inflated, pompous clown who fancies himself a writer?

Couldn’t help it. Brain surgery, you know.

Unwillingness to attend a local talent show?

You got it.

Problem with the idea of participating on a committee to raise money for homeless rabbits.

Yep. Brain surgery.

I can get out of nearly everything, avoid criticism in most situations, forget anything without regret: birthdays, anniversaries, registration deadlines, appointments, relatives.

It works. It’s great!

Well, it works with almost everyone.

Everyone but Kathy.

I wore out my welcome with her decades ago. She doesn’t buy any of it.

Two years ago when they discovered I had prostate cancer, I thought I had a great chance to excuse all manner of sloth and to curry sympathy by the bucketloads. After all, my pal Frank cut me stem to stern, extracting that diseased nugget from its nest in an area treasured by males, and leaving me scarred, weak and toting a catheter bag like an old homeless person lugging a stained purse full of aluminum cans and newspaper. I was in pain, I was staggering, I was whimpering. For crying out loud, I had cancer!

That should work, shouldn’t it?

Nope.

Not for more than two days.

With Kathy, a 10-inch wound, a shuffling gait and a catheter bag can’t buy you out of your mistakes. Once the effects of the anesthetic wears off, you are expected to be back to your game.

In Kathy’s world, that means: No excuses. For anything. You might not be able to run the 100 meters, you might not be able to take the stairs three at a time, you can be emptying your urine from a bag into the toilet, but don’t forget the list, don’t forget the numbers, don’t act like an ass with the dinner guest. And be man enough to care about the bunnies.

But, since last January, things have changed.

A skilled practitioner of medical science has tampered with my melon and, regardless of his skill level, he has to have done some kind of cognitive damage, wouldn’t you say?

I would.

And I do.

And, at this point, I still have Kathy halfway convinced I am suffering repercussions of brain surgery, so I am cruising. I forget all sorts of things, with impunity.

The one thing I have not forgotten, however, is how to cook. This is far too important a task to be affected by postsurgical perturbations. This is food, after all!

I remember every pertinent detail when it comes to cooking — the processes, the combinations, the mix of flavors. All of it. I might forget to buy the ingredients but, when fire meets pan, I am in control. Whatever the elements, I remain in the groove when it comes to uniting them in a tasty repast.

This past weekend brought me face to face with these demands and skills. Two dinner parties in two nights.

Saturday, Barbara and Ferrell.

Sunday, George and Ann.

Nothing fancy either night. Wholesome, substantial fare both evenings.

Saturday, a streamlined version of coq au vin; thin-sliced, roasted potatoes; steamed asparagus; salad with a semi-sweet vinaigrette, a bottle of Cotes du Rhone. Kathy’s superb apple tart.

The chicken dish: thighs, the skin removed, the meat seasoned with salt and pepper; a quarter pound of thick bacon, chopped; ten carrots, sliced, half set aside; three shallots, minced; one half white onion, sliced; one half stalk of celery, minced; one can tomato paste; one can diced, fire-roasted tomatoes; three cloves garlic, peeled, flattened; 1 teaspoon of dried thyme, half set aside, with more available if needed; five or six stems of parsley, salt, pepper; chicken broth; one bottle decent pinot noir; 12 button mushrooms, halved; flour.

The bacon is cooked over medium high heat in a heavy casserole until crisp and is removed. Into the hot grease (add a bit of olive oil, if necessary) go the thighs, three at a time. Don’t crowd. Brown on both sides, remove and put with the bacon. Continue until all the meat is cooked.

Remove excess grease and quickly add half the carrots, the celery, the onion and the shallots. Cook, stirring, until the veggies soften, add the garlic and the tomato paste. Cook, stirring, until the tomato starts to darken in color. Add the diced tomatoes and thyme and deglaze the pan with the wine, scraping all the brown glory on the bottom of the pan into the liquid. Put the chicken and the bacon into the pot, top off with chicken broth, bring to a boil then put on very low heat. Cover and simmer for nearly three hours. The mix should barely bubble. Do not let the liquid boil.

After three hours, take the remaining carrots and simmer them in lightly salted water until tender. Saute the mushrooms in olive oil.

Take the chicken pieces from the pot and strain the broth, removing all the wasted vegetable matter and press on it to extract the liquid. Put the broth back in the pot and reduce over high heat. Put a couple tablespoons of flour in a small bowl and whisk in some of the hot broth, making a smooth paste. Put the paste into the broth and whisk, thickening the mix. When the liquid is of the desired thickness, taste. Season with salt, pepper, thyme. Add the chicken, the carrots and mushrooms and simmer for ten minutes, or so.

Bingo: You’ve got incredibly tender and flavorful chicken, and a sauce you could (and should) eat with a spoon.

Sunday, I make a chicken pot pie, flush with carrot, peas, turnip and potato, laced with tarragon, topped with puff pastry. Some steamed green beans (there won’t be any available soon, so I am indulging), a green salad. A bottle of white Bordeaux.

I performed fairly well. I was pretty pleased with myself.

Overly pleased, as it turned out. A common reaction for me.

After the guests left, I scooted down to the studio to do some work.

About an hour later, Kathy came downstairs. She was visibly perturbed.

I made the mistake of asking why she seemed upset.

Turns out, I left her with the task of cleaning up — clearing the table, washing the pots and pans, doing the dishes.

Seems it was quite the chore.

“The least you could have done was lend a hand. You could have asked if I wanted some help.”

“Well, yes, honey, but, you know …”

I think I’ve used my excuse for the last time with Kathy.

But, as for the rest of you ...

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