Thursday, April 11, 2013

Quill #124 - Two Haiku (4/9/2013)

Frogs croak in chorus
Livening the pond's night life,
Old men singing loud.

Thorn plucked from paw,
Mighty lion brought low -
Abcess tooth removed.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Quill #123 - Salmon, Ella

Some friends of ours recently invited us over for dinner. They served each of us a perfectly seasoned and cooked piece of salmon as the entree, a feat that, even then, I knew was pretty spectacular. As each morsel crossed my palate, I promised myself to try this at home, not because I thought I could do better, but because salmon is healthy and good and deserves a greater role in my kitchen.

I have caught, gutted, and cooked many fish in my day. At one point, our family survived mostly on fresh-caught trout because we had a pair of fishing licenses, poles, and not much else. I knew that cooking the salmon well would be the main difficulty, as I hadn't previously prepared salmon, but planned on careful attention to detail.  Armed with the knowledge that farm-raised was preferable to wild-caught these days, a recipe from Pinterest, and a burning desire to treat my family, I sallied forth to the local Hy-Vee.

(borrowed from google images)
Hy-Vee was the ideal store to purchase fresh fish.  I knew this because of the fine array of salmon they had behind their glass counter. This establishment had three versions of wild-caught, four versions of farm-raised, some that were long sides from the original fish, and some pre-portioned sections for those lazy shoppers who couldn't be bothered to use a knife. Their prices ranged from $9.99 a pound to $15.99, depending on which salmon you selected.  I chose a mid-range Scottish fish for $12.99 a pound and pointed it out to the butcher, asking for two to three pounds, as I was uncertain how much I needed by weight. It is not possible to smell through the glass case which means you really need to trust your source.  I have, heretofore, maintained a good relationship with Hy-Vee and doubted them not.

(borrowed from Google images)

The ancient mariner wearing a smudged white apron smiled and introduced himself, asking me to repeat my instructions, which I did. After a few shouted exchanges, he kindly decided not to kill my family, no matter how he felt about me. I say this because, after choosing my fish, I noticed that the gentleman removed the top filet from the pile to pick out a longer section underneath. He even gave me a second chance to redeem myself by pointing out a batch of less expensive, American salmon, and I turned it down, only to notice, once he was wrapping my Scottish brand, that the portion he had removed was turning green and irridescent.  I don't think salmon is supposed to be that color.

A day later, when I unwrapped the thing at home, I counted myself lucky again. The odor was strong, but not spoiled, and the pink flesh had a mostly healthy appearance. I then attempted to cut our fish into six reasonably equal portions. Perhaps I had a blunt knife; perhaps the fish had an exceptionally tough skin. Whatever the case, I managed to get four mangled sections from our two and a half pounds of fish. That effort would have to do because, by that time, I was truly sick from the smell, touch, and slime of fish.

Our marinade might have worked if I'd been able to get the portions I wanted. Instead, after washing the fish very well, we put the pieces into a bowl of mostly water, let it soak for two hours, and pulled it out of the fridge for cooking. My husband, bless him, took over the job at that point. I was ill from the reek throughout the entire house. He managed a miracle and cooked the half pound salmon steaks to perfect doneness, crediting his careful watching of popular chef competitions on TV for success in the matter. The finished product, in spite of the issues I had with it, did not stink after cooking. Its taste was mild and pleasant, even retaining some flavor from the diluted marinade, and we enjoyed every bite.

However, if there ever is a next time for salmon and me, I will choose the pre-portioned sizes, perhaps even pre-cooked.  I do not remember having this much trouble with fresh trout.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Quill #122 - Mortal (June, 2011)

I watch myself dying, toe by toe.
I wiggle and wiggle.
Every day it takes longer
To get feeling back.

I watch myself dying, nerve by nerve.
The tingles and pains,
Each week, move further.
At least I feel them.

I watch myself dying, wheeze by wheeze.
Pain by pain, step by step,
Minute by minute,
Chill by chill, bite by bite.

But, in the moments between,
When a squirrel peeks at me from
Behind a bole in its tree,
Or a child smiles at me shyly,

Friends laugh together,
The sun shines through clouds,
In these moments the world
Grants me joy, reprieve,

Happiness and the gifts
All humans are given.
Life is terminal.
For now, I'm still here.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Quill #121 - Spring Vocal Concert at UNL

I can't say I was disappointed. The performances excelled. But, this was a quiet pleasure, not the rousing joy of the holiday festivities. Chamber music is beautiful in small doses. An entire roster of spiritual bliss put my darling spouse to sleep, quite literally.

At one point, the stage was filled to brimming with singers, but the sound only reached half hall. There were two soloists who did nothing else but their solos. They were both very good and will probably have opera careers ahead of them. The male had excellent vocal control. He could fill the house with sound better than the entire chorus. I only heard, maybe, two notes which might have been more loud than controlled.

The female soloist looked like she didn't want to be there. She smiled when applauded, but sat stoic and bored the rest of the concert. The fellow at least had the grace to follow along with his music. She sat like a beautiful statue until it was her time to sing. And then, you knew why she'd been chosen. She could sing so softly that you weren't quite certain she was still singing, but perfectly.

Not a rousing performance. Not one where you walk out feeling buoyed by the spirit. But, an excellent piece of work, nonetheless. I would like to hear the volume that such a choir could produce. If the highs were higher and the lows lower, there might be more interest in a requiem.

We were proud of our daughter's participation in the entire concert and felt fortunate that she didn't faint from the heat, as she did a few concerts ago.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Quill #120 - Please vote

My son has entered the Neil Gaiman contest to win a voice part in the full cast recording of "American Gods." He needs to be in the top 20 to win, and we need everyone's help. Please log on and vote every day until May 2nd.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Quill #118 - Tradition (1980)

I remember those big family reunions at Grandma's house when everyone stayed overnight.
I would wake up to the familiar chatter of women's voices and the smell of bacon frying on the stove.
Still sleepy, I would go out to the kitchen where their love would surround and claim me.
I was one of the eldest children and it made me feel grown-up when they accepted me.

The men were almost always in the garage, tinkering, showing off, laughing and talking in those deep, resonant voices.
Sometimes they played football in the backyard, all the men and all the boys, except Grandpa and my dad.
Grandpa was too old, and Dad said he didn't care much for football, so the two of them would sit and talk and watch the game until the ladies called the men in to supper.

In the evenings they all played cards.
Sometimes I got to play, but usually the children played their own games, occasionally complaining about the unfairness of being children.
On special occasions, we would all go into the back room, and Grandma would play her ancient piano.
The keys weren't all quite tuned, but their odd tinkling sound only made the old songs seem even older.

Eventually we would trickle away, back to our own homes, just as the time trickled away much more quickly than anyone thought it would.
Grandma's house is gone now, but in my heart it is still there, comforting, and sometimes, when I wake up in the morning, I can still hear her working.
And I know that when I dreamed I was there once again.

(These pictures are not the ones I wanted and may be replaced when I find the right ones.)