Cream Cheese Potatoes, a Eulogy

Just after the war, the ports were full of returned soldiers, they were scarred and lost, but the great enemy was gone, and we were victorious. In my youth, I thought war a fine end, an end unto itself, but I was stupid. I hadn’t seen death properly then. It is easy to be brash, when your look around and realize that there might be a chance you’ve escaped all that withering business. Until it really begins to make that dire and skeletal impression upon you…that no one else will.

If every person around you is an open space, an adventure, as Rebecca says, a path to walk with a companion — well, death is the fallen bridge, the twisted trees and brambles across the trail. Death is a door that slams shut, and all that lies beyond it is forever lost. The death of one man, however vile, is the death of an entire world.

I say this, knowing full well what I am, and what I do several dozen times a year. I am lethal, but never is the undertaking given one smidgen less concern or contemplation than it deserves, provided I am fed. Which is, of course, one of the myriad of reasons why I keep myself so well fed. Death, in all the irony of my condition, is my loathed enemy, for all that it has taken from me.

It was summer when we first met. Uncommonly warm as I recall it. I had finally dropped the lovely-lady-with-arms-built-for-the-shipyards act. I had taken up a watch cap and waders — fishing. It is a noble profession. A biblical profession even. And so I found it somewhat amusing when I was cordially invited by a woman with a pamphlet to the potluck celebrating the opening of their new church. I had seen them standing there long before I received said missive. I was avoiding them, with my head turned to my feet, carrying my gear and a lunch pail. But I remember her laugh, and how friendly she was. When she handed me the paper, she seemed far too delighted to meet me.

I turned up at the church. Churches and I are old comrades in this confrontation with death. I on the side of defeating the tyrant, and The Church on the side of good grooming and organization. Well…that and door prizes and merit badges. Monsters never turn down free food. Not even terrible potlucks.

Those days, I spent several days at a go doing stints of heavy labor, sometimes a few days at a time away from shore. I carried a stockpile of meat, but I was always hungry, and though I had some money, I was not in the position to spend it. I lived in a very small apartment in the area near the docks, and I made do by butchering my kills in my bathtub. The trick is to let them sit a bit. Then they don’t spurt everywhere. Arterial spatter is the dickens, but one can…

Ah, pardon me.

I arrived at the door, and there she was, all light and sunshine. Late twenties, I think. Prime age for a young lady in those days. I can see her dress clearly in my mind, a pale lavender A-line, with a collar. It complemented her skin nicely. She appeared to recognize me at once, and swung herself over to me.

“I am so glad you could come! I think I’m the one who gave you the brochure!”

I nodded.

“My name is Grace.”

I tapped my throat, as was my general custom. This is the age of science. Though I could never expect to obtain a high-paying position due to the usual fears, I could at least be assured not to be met with horror or revulsion. There were many veterans, after all. Some with grievous injuries.

She dipped her chin in appropriate recognition and to my surprise, hooked her hand over my elbow and gave me a tug. “You just have to come this way. Come see the spread! Isn’t it swell?”

And indeed it is, a long set of tables lain with all manner of thing, most of which looked frankly odd. Casseroles, fried foods, colorful salads, pasta, and nearing the end of the table, a faintly orange baking dish of some sort of mildly disconcerting stuff. Heedless of my dubious glance or the hunger behind it, Grace took up a plate.

“Now you must have some of this,” she said, heaping it with little mountains. A range fit for any hungry monster to climb. Finally, in the center of the plate, she plopped down a generous heap of the cheese-laden potatoes and stared at me.

I blinked out my gratitude, possibly seeming a bit stunned or overwhelmed.

She handed me a fork wrapped in a napkin. “The one in the middle is mine. Let me know what you think, won’t ya?”

And off she went, to highjack some other defenseless soul with her pretty face and boundless charms. I walked to the corner of the great room, and backed a chair to it. I sat huddled over my food like some sort of rodent, shoveling it in in sequential order, bound and determined to escape before any sort of church service could be put into effect with a ritual designed to tell me what an abomination I am.

I worked in a spiral, through the macaroni, the jello, the whipped cream, the chicken, the vegetables, and finally found the Sinai at the center — the cream cheese potatoes, though I had no idea that was their name.

I took a bite, and largely forgot what I was doing. Suddenly all things sang in a harmony of soulful depth and glory. Compared to most meals I had had of late, this was a symphony. Sea catch and tack, spare parts and sour beer, this was a glorious, perfectly seasoned, the potatoes that texture that defies logic — at once both soft and firm. The cheese sauce seemed a mixture of things, some bouillon, herbs. What herbs? Flavors all muddled. I picked them out, but could not name them all. not mixed like this. The crumble over top was crunchy, but nothing so simple as the ones to which I was accustomed — they too being seasoned. Tiny chunks of ham and bacon were littered throughout in generous portions. Neither too moist nor too sticky. Simply delicious in every way.

I rolled it around my mouth, eyes closed, completely oblivious to the world. And then there she was again, right in front of me. With an eye like a falcon hunting down approval for what she must have known was quite the achievement.

Hands on her knees, she bent low and caught my eye. “What ya think? Good, Isn’t it?”

I nodded, very happily, I might add. She stood up and clapped her hands. “I just knew I’d gotten it right. Knew it. Everyone is so pleased. There won’t be enough to take home, at this rate! Be sure to try the cheesecake. That one was my mother’s.”

And there she went. I left the party then, with a long and lingering look at the potatoes. I tried to impress the food on my memory, as I often do with foods I rather like. I wanted to be able to manifest it in my mouth on command.

Years separate this moment from the next, as is so often the case in my life, which I string together for you in a way I never lived it. To you it looks decorative and balanced in aesthetic. To me it is a jumbled mess of a thing, but ah me, it is what it is.

This time, I was a woman. A solitary soul, living on the outskirts of town, I kept my neighbors well, so that they found me pleasant, if a trifle shy. The times were changing. Women were living alone. Feminism and Civil Rights were a subject on every radio broadcast or television program. I had a modest house and I liked it well. Its kitchen was quite good. Even now, with my industrial gas range, I miss that rounded, pastel monstrosity on which I attempted and failed to recreated Cream Cheese Potatoes. I plied my goods on the poor neighbors, one in particular — let us call him Mr. Haskel — whose wife had passed away. Sometimes I would lie awake and listen to him shuffle about his house. His leg had been somewhat mangled in the war. He walked with a cane. He talked a big talk, but his heart was weak from war with the Germans and war with Death. That is how it always is.

On the third attempt at the potato concoction dropped unceremoniously on his welcome mat, he answered the door and caught me placing my offering. I did a little curtsey in awkward silence as he looked me over. A cuss, he was, but a kindly cuss, if such a thing is possible.

“It’s okay,” he said. “But you know, I’ve got a friend you ought to meet. She makes this potato thing that would knock your socks off. Brings it to every church dinner. Told her that if I die, she better serve it at my funeral or else no one will come.”

He laughed, but there was a harshness to it. I helped him inside. I plated my creation and waited to see. I knew at once that it was another failure, and so had a bite myself. No, not nearly half so good.

With a hand across my mouth, I thanked him, reminded him to take his medicines, and then scurried back home.

Less than a year later, he was dead.

I was sewing. Counting the rhythm of my machine, listening to the cadenced zip of the electricity and the thump-thump of something else. Until the something else fell silent and I noticed it was gone. I laid my pattern by and got to my feet. I peeked through his window. He was lying on the floor. Walking to the nearest home with a telephone, as I did not have one, I summoned aid. They didn’t hurry; he wasn’t going anywhere.

His executor invited me to the wake and gave me a box of all the old man’s cookware. Something about it being my gift. When I turned the largest pot upside down, my name and address were scrawled on a piece of paper that had been gummed to the bottom.

Grace made good on her promise, and there was a triple-sized avalanche of potatoes on the long table. I knew her at once, though she was older, and a married woman. She wore a long black dress, and a lovely hat. As we ate and stood around in general mourning, I tucked in to the potatoes. By heaven, I was going to use this opportunity to mine them for detail. But such is the nature of the thing— that when caught in the passions of enjoying it, one fails to perceive anything with the rational mind.

She approached me, still glowing but far more tactful in her maturity, introducing herself. With my head bowed, I gave my name.

“His nephew says you found him. I’m very sorry you had to see that.”

I shook my head, chewing overtly.

“I think…” she stared at his mounted photograph and floral decorations, “I think we all expected him to go a lot sooner. After his wife passed…well, I cannot imagine what it must have felt like. I don’t think I could do without George. He’s my everything.”

Mouth still full of the cheesy stuff, I sighed. Humans always say this, but they underestimate themselves. Thousands of times over, I have watched the old curse fall upon someone else’s head. Always I feel it like a kind of shared pain. Always we two — the survivor and me. It is a glance or a raised cup. A fond story or a nod. Always the same, and then life goes on.

“Are you married?”

Shielding my mouth with my napkin, I feigned a chuckle. “I’m not the sort. One of these new-fangled women.”

With a suddenly sly grin, she tipped her cocktail at me. “Good for you. Be independent, but don’t ever overlook a good thing just because it changes your plans.”

“No ma’am.”

“Say, you wouldn’t be the neighbor who’s always bringing over the baked stuff, would you?”

With a tiny dip, I took my acclaim. She shook her head in wonder.

“Now, you see, that’s something special. I had one of your apple fritter things the other week. You have to share that recipe with me!”

Sensing the opportunity, I spoke into my glass. “Would you trade it for the potatoes?”

Like the bird of prey she was, Grace wheeled in mid-breath and made a low hooting sound. “Oooooh no, young lady. That is mine and mine only. Hell, if I gave that to everyone, no one would ever talk to me again! But how about this,” she added, noticing my crestfallen face. “How about I invite you to our women’s social group. We meet once a week, and we trade off bringing the goods. We have coffee and tea,” she leaned in, “and brandy and gin.”

Chuckling, I accepted and shy though I was, found myself something of a hobby. Bazars and socials, congratulatory feasts and general get-togethers — I was Grace’s go-to gal. I counted the days until the next stab at that pile of white-orange cubes. For several decades I worked at that woman for her recipe, but she was the Fort Knox of Feel-Good Food.

I bided my time and I met some wonderful women in the process. They were my first conversation partners when I got my first set of teeth, which were so bad, mind you, that upon seeing them, they never again questioned why I tended to cover my mouth when I spoke. They were all lovely people, each with a unique life, and I grew very fond of them. So much so that I endured the tuber torture again and again.

I knew it was over when we sat in one of their parlors. I was the “youngest” in the room, my given age at that time being 40, I think. The eldest of us waved her hand around her head as she completed her long diatribe against “blue-haired old biddies”.

“But here I am, with all this ugly mess.”

Grace laughed, her own hair streaked with a lovely thin stripe of shimmering silver. “That’s kids for you. They’re off playing keyboards and wearing traffic reflectors as clothes and here I am with another inch of gray.”

The others all nodded or mumbled. Suddenly all eyes were on me.

“How do you do it?”

I blinked in surprise and gave a shrug.

“You haven’t a single hair out of place. Not one single twisty.” She peered at me in what was probably well-meaning accusation, but stung with that familiar heat.

Dutifully, I covered my mouth and swallowed. “I think it’s called ebony number five.”

And the room went up in a roar of laughter. Breathing a sigh of relief, I realized that I had yet again become comfortable, and that it might be time to consider another change. I “moved” only a few years later. That was when I became me. This me. Simon.

I put them out of my mind, though I would see one of them time and again. Grace rushed by me one day near the Ugly Monument with a brood of small creatures I can only assume were her grandchildren. One day, I was trotting from my parked car, hurrying to make a shop before it closed, when I caught a smell on the breeze and forgot about it. The church was a bit built up these days, crowded, a little shabby, but the side door was open as it once was, and the smell was distinctly that same heavenly, blessed chorus of potatoes, cheese, and pork.

Forgetting myself, I poked my head in and took a lungful. God, how I had missed that smell. A woman appeared and made an apology.

“The soup kitchen doesn’t open for another hour, sir.”

And one final time, the opportunity pulled from the raw material of the universe itself became evident and shone with a holy light all its own.

“I can honestly say I am not here to eat! Do you need any help?”

Her face lit up, and at once, I recognized her. The Eldest, Mary Beth, all grown up. She shooed me in and tossed an apron at me. “Do you know how to cook?”

“My fine lady, I am an absolute expert at cooking.”

“Thank god!” I was dragged into the opening to the kitchen and placed in a corner. “My mom usually does all the cooking, but she’s not as spry as she used to be. She can’t stand for very long on her knee, and she has trouble with her hands.”

“But her ears are just fine!” Grace shouted.

Mary Beth gave a pained look. “Mom, I found you a helper!”

“Yes, I heard!”

I was presented, feeling as if I’d been mustered by some hellish general. She eyed me all over and for a moment, I worried. I truly did. Until she tapped me with a spoon and gave me a list of commands.

Chatting elbow to elbow, I peeled and cubed the potatoes for the second batch, while she went about the other foods. When I had finished, I turned to her to show off the pot.

“So, then, what do we put in next?”

Her face twisted on a shrewd leer. “Oh no…you won’t trick me! All you thieves! If I give you this, it’s all over for me. Might as well bury me out back next to that ugly shrub.”

Chuckling, I shook my head. “Family secret?”

“My secret!” Her face took on a wicked cunning as she jabbed a finger at the finished casserole on the counter top. “That recipe has been my ticket to every single hoity-toity shindig since 1950. The only reason I get to go to Serena’s Christmas party on that boat of hers is because of these taters. And they have the fancy drinks. There is no way in hell I am ever telling anyone!”

Admiring her stubbornness, this shield maiden of the cast iron clan, I resigned myself to my fate — to forever be at odds with her. We made the food and served it. I watched the people come back for more and more potatoes. The amount in the pan dwindled. When it was all over, she made me a cup of coffee and let me escort her to a table. Mary Beth scraped the dregs of the dish out and clapped a plate down beside me. Praising all that was sacred, I tucked in.

Just as good as ever.

“What ya think?” Her self-satisfied eyebrow nudge was worth every agonizing second. “Good, isn’t it?”

“It is splendid. Utterly splendid.”

She patted the table in triumph. “Where are you from, if you don’t mind me asking.”

“Oh, a little of everywhere.”

“You have an accent, is why I ask.”

“Yes, a bit.”

She swirled her coffee. “Where’d you come from tonight?”

I tipped back in my chair and tried for a direct assault. “To be honest, I was just walking by and I smelled the potatoes. Do you have to sacrifice Seraphim to make them, or is it just garden variety black magic?”

With that same, if a little coarser, laugh, Grace shook her head. “The Lord works in mysterious ways. I tell you what. I will give you the recipe.”

My ears pricked and I would be lying if I said my “hairs” didn’t give a little wriggle of anticipation. “Oh?”

“If you marry my younger daughter. She’s becoming a spinster.”

With a loud guffaw, I tipped back. A fine dowry indeed. What a matron, to pawn off her children in exchange for small potatoes. Small…delicious potatoes.

“I am not the marrying sort.”

“Well damn.”

“Is your husband here?” I looked around. George was a very smart man, and funny too. When I glanced back, her dismay was all the information I needed.

“My George passed away two years ago.”

With a sigh, I gave her my condolences. “He must have been a very happy man, if you made that for him regularly.”

At once, her grin was in full swing. “You’d think he’d get tired of it, but the man would eat it morning, noon, and night, if I made it. That’s how you know a good recipe — when people want to keep eating it. That’s the secret, you see, to being everyone’s friend.”

“Well, then I shall have to pry it out of you if I ever mean to crawl my way out of my solitude.”

Cackling, she leaned on the table and asked after my profession. When I told her I dallied in antiques, a spark flew behind her eyes. Before long, I had a personal invitation back to her home and suddenly confronted a stunning reginaphone she had recently inherited from her aunt. The thing was broken, but lovely, and I knew at once that I could give it a good scrub up and a new home.

We were fast friends for the third time, it seemed. And I regularly got calls from her, inviting me to luncheons, parties, anything involving food, really. Then one day, we were cooking as per our usual back and forth of one part wit to two parts insult, when I smelled it. She steadied herself on the counter, breathing heavily suddenly.

My soul collapsed in on itself. I sat her on her stool and excused myself. Mary Beth was in the broom cupboard. I dropped my voice to a whisper.

“How long has she been having these dizzy spells?”

“What dizzy spells?” She stared at me in astonishment.

Uncertain if I should tell her, what to say, how…I took a deep breath, all potatoes and cheese. “You need to take her to the doctor.”

“She just went to the—”

“An oncologist.”

Mary Beth’s face turned gray. “How do you…know that?”

Shaking my head, I left it to the mysticism of intuition. “Promise me you will.”

She did.

The diagnosis was not ideal. Grace fought it valiantly, and there were many highs and lows, to which I was only cursorily privy. I know only that i did not get my usual calls to join in the home-cooked fun. But being suddenly cut off from humans I knew is nothing special to me. My gentle readers will tell me it is not something to which I should become accustomed, but it is how I have lived, and attachments are not something to which I…well…become attached.

Several days ago, I received a call.

“Hi, is this um…Simon?” came a timid voice.

“Yes. Who is this?”

“I’m…um…I’m Mary Beth’s daughter?”

“Hello!. What can I do for you?”

“My mom said I should call you and ask you to come to the hospital to see Grandma.” She sniffled. “I guess she wants to see you.”

My phone promptly went dark. Leaving it, a brick plugged into a wall, I drive over, my thoughts untethered from time or place. I find her by paging Lisa, who accesses the computers. Mary Beth is outside the door, talking softly on her phone. Spotting me with bloodshot eyes, she clasps my hand and squeezes.

“What’s the prognosis?”

She shakes her head. From her pocket, she draws a small folded list and tucks it into my hand. “She has…um…this stuff she wants you to look at, after…”

While she catches her breath, I look through the window. Other family members are preparing to leave. Grace is very small against the bed, dim compared to the lantern she had once been. I can see the pain in her brittle expressions, feathered by that loss of cohesion that often comes with sheer exhaustion.

“I think they’re all antiques that she thinks you might be able to sell. She wants to put it into the college fund.”

I look it over with a distant nod. They are small items, not terribly valuable, but I can add the reginaphone to them. I have never sold it. With all its discs, it ought to be worth at least a year.

“is it…is it okay?”

“Yes. I’ll take care of it.”

She takes back her hand and chafed my arm. “She does really want to see you. Will you go in?”

My voice has left me. I stand in the doorway as the tiny human breezes blow past me. When I am alone, I slip quietly into a chair and wait for her to come to.

She drifts back in vague mutters and heavy sleepiness. Her medications are strong. I can smell the chemo even now, the way it stains the air around her, darker even than her natural aura. That a disease like cancer should exist fills me with rage. Slowly replacing the ones we care for, turning them into these frail shells while it carves out their innards. It is insidious. It is wrong. I am what I am, and I say this.

She turns her smile on me as always — a wattage so high it puts the sunlight to shame. But it is unfocused, in and out of lucidity.

“Well…here you are.”

With a swallow, I nod. “Here I am.”

“Did you see the list?”

“I did, yes. I will take care of it.”

She gives a happy breath. “Good. I feel better knowing there’s a little cushion.”

She slips away again. When she returns, I have not moved at all. “You’re still here.”

“Always.”

“I like you, Simon. You have an honest face.”

This cuts in ways she cannot know, as most of my face is a lie, stuck in place like a ghoulish Mr. Potato Head. “I like you too, Grace.”

“I didn’t want to go this way,” she murmurs.

“Oh shut it, old woman. You’re not going anywhere. Not that easily.”

A ghost of a smile passes over her chapped mouth. “No?”

I stand up and give her an ice chip from her cup. “No. You’re not stepping one toe in the afterlife until you give me the recipe for Cream Cheese Potatoes.”

I manage a smile to match her bemused one. There is a long pause, as her glassy eyes work over my words.

“I’m sorry, dear…I can’t…quite remember what that is right now.”

The world grows cold around me. Shadows creep up over the walls. She falls back into slumber, while my self, this soul, such as it is, plummets from heights it never knew it had attained. I have crashed to the ground and I am broken.

Hunger flashes for a moment, but self-control and the sickening smell of the place prevails. I grip the rail so hard I cannot feel them and the alarm suddenly triggers. I am quietly ushered from the room.

In the hallway, I am a stone. People move around me, but I am stuck there. I look up and Mary Beth is beside me and the curse echoes.

I have had a several days to think. I know now that this is best. This is the way it should always have gone. No one should ever wield such power as Grace held, for no one could do it half so well. My one regret is that my contribution to her funeral potluck will be such a poor imitation.

But then again…these guests will not be coming because of the Cream Cheese Potatoes. They will come because of Grace.

The Experiment is My Life

Today I’ve received a large number of messages and Tumblr “asks” about whether or not I am feeling well. There has been some confusion and I am tired of the back and forth. I cannot address the statements directly, because I will not in good conscience “call out” someone directly. They know who they are. The trouble also is, that there were witnesses, and they know who it is too. And people talk, and I would rather the encounter just vanish, but since I cannot do that, and people see fit to keep asking about it, I will discuss it, if only obliquely. I hope that the other party knows I do not do this out of a sense of “stirring the pot” or “causing drama”. In fact, I am attempting to quash it.

Someone culled the internet for old archives of my website. Fair enough. They asked permission to research me, and I consented. I do not object to that, but please allow me to demystify my reactions to the presentation of what was “uncovered”.

Firstly, how it was presented. Approaching me in private and asking for an explanation of anything variances would have been the prudent way. Instead this person made several offhand comments about my particulars “depending upon canon.” I did not understand this phrase. It was explained that this person had found supposed discrepancies in old copies of the website versus the content on it now. For a moment, I was very worried, my first thought being that this person had somehow hacked my site and found very old copies, and had discovered the details — names, places, dates, before they were edited. They then told me that this was not so, but did so with offense that I’d suggest they would be flippant with the safety of my friends. I find this very confusing. I could have done without the insinuating remarks, the “Are you really sticking to that story” sort of banter, the comment that in 2014 I “got my ducks in a row”.  Yes, I am sticking. Because I have never written anything differently. But we will come to my feelings later.

Secondly, about getting my ducks in a row…”back-story” if you will. To answer your question, Seeker, I have never had another website. I have only ever had the one you have researched. When I began the site, my progress was slow. I had few readers. It did gain steadily though, and by the end of the events that transpired in the first book, I had several of a persistent nature. When I was approached by my editor and agent, I did remove or lock the entries. This upset some readers. My site was repeatedly hacked. Entries were deleted or replaced after deletion, entries were added, comments were left from me or for me. I changed the passwords. I did my level best to shut the site down. Other events transpired, of which I have not told you, and now will not because they are given in the confines of other volumes, but suffice it to say, I found cause to protect myself further. I made a bargain with someone to make certain that there were no records before the year 2014. This person was young and reckless. They had a criminal past. I gave them a chance to help someone. I have kept tabs on them ever since.

Now to my feelings:

When you brought up your concerns, Seeker, you did so in a way that hinted that you had found deep and serious variations. This immediately filled me with a sense of dread that you did indeed have those old copies that came before the editing process that scrubbed the details of my friends and that my hacker had not fulfilled our bargain. My first and only thought was that I would now have to track down a young man who had just reformed his life and kill him. You scoff, but I am being quite serious. By saying what you said, how you said it, you put me in fear for my friends. You triggered a certainty that I was now going to have to hurt someone I have come to like, punish them for not being honest. Suddenly, I was back in the fields, the caves, the squalor of the tenements, wondering if I was going to have to cut my way out of this situation.

These were my first thoughts.

Then you implied that the others should go and read the archives for themselves because “they probably won’t be there for much longer” as if I am set upon scrubbing the truth from my past. As if I am insidious. You even offered, in to me a somewhat condescending way, to help me learn how to delete the information “I didn’t want seen” from the cache sites. This, to me…was very hurtful. I dislike the implication that I would do such a thing. I dislike this encouraging of my friends to think less of me. But mostly, I must come back to what I was thinking behind all of this.

You gave me your address. We both know where you live, Seeker. We both know I could find you if I chose. You gave me that, I thought, as a show of trust and companionship. All the while, you maintained this disbelief and this negative impression of me. What I thought was a show of fealty was actually a show of profound doubt. You gave me your address because I was handing out gifts, and you really thought there was nothing to fear from me at all, so what the hell? The minute you began to drop your little hints…my heart, such as it is, broke.

I like this group of friends I have built. I became accustomed to the notion that even if they did not necessarily believe in what I am, they at least chose not to care. For someone like me, that is a thing I have never found before. Humans always want proof. They always want me to show my teeth. They want to disrobe me and put their fingers in the wounds. They want to own some piece of me before they’re willing to accept me, and that is … very painful. Humans do not do this to one another. Your neighbor does not take hold of your face and squeeze your jaw open to see your tongue. Yet, humans have always done that to me. Every time I have been found out or suspected, it ends in that. Even my humans now, who know me as a friend, went through their own versions of this, with few exceptions. Chef and Rebecca saw what I am and accepted it. Porter and Gray read the site and simply decided it must be true. My therapist had her own reasons for not questioning. All of them have accepted me because all of them had reason to. I was pleased to finally have found friends who accepted me simply because I asked to be accepted. In this experiment, I found people accustomed to the metaphysical plain of the web, uncaring for such things. It was refreshing. I have come to love it and my correspondents who have become a large portion of my life. In that moment, all of this seemed to go from something important and momentous to something flimsy and shallow.

Understand me when I say, that I am not offended you researched me. I encouraged it. I still do. I welcome people to read history and see if they can find me or the lack of me. Fair enough. I am not angry with that. I am saddened that I was held to account in front of a group. Granted, when you attempted to back down from your statements, I was already so concerned for the particulars, that I insisted you continue. I acknowledge that. But there was really no way for me to reply. I did not know what you had seen. I have since gone through the archives to reassure myself; there are no records before 2014. And yet, I still cannot see what you point to as being so glaring a defect. I am sure there are some. I will say that I have written an exceedingly large amount of material, and sometimes many versions of it. I say things differently after a while, for simple lack of time or clarity, much as you do, when you discuss your life, or tell the same story fifty billion times (you see, I have a sense of hyperbole too). For example, I have at times claimed to be immortal, that is because it is a far more convenient way of saying “I really do not know if I can die, and I’ve been around long enough to have tried it a few hundred times.” You can see the utility, I presume. I claim my height at 5’8″. It is just that, but I have several times said much more vague things along the lines of “I am around the modern human average” or “The human average is about 5’6” and I am close to that. I have said “I got my first veneers in the late seventies” and “I experimented with many types of teeth coverings and finally settled upon one in the early 80’s”. I have said that I was mute before now, and I have said that I sometimes did speak. Both are true. But in the hundreds of years of history I own, do you really want me to go through my entire life and detail every single time I spoke, and how long went between each interval, the circumstances thereto, and what I sounded like in the moment, sometimes having spoken a language I have heard for years for the very first time aloud? Or can I simply say I really was mostly mute for most of my life? What liberties am I allowed to take with my own past?

I have seen enough conspiracies come and go to know how it happens, and I can only say that I apologize for vagueness, that it does give rise to this sort of detail-oriented disassembly, but I am a person. I make mistakes. I speak rashly. I take liberties. I also feel completely within my rights to do so.

I also forget. You’ve read my books. You know how much I have forgotten. I hope that to some degree you know what I feel when I realize what I have forgotten, or feel that drift between present and past. I would hope I conveyed that well enough, such that you would be sensitive to the effect words can have when they appear to address discrepancies. You ask me if I mean to stick to a story, and now I am thinking, “What have I forgotten? My god has it happened again? Did I forget a decade this time? A century? What now?” And it fills me with complete disorientation and fear. I go and try to find what you say I wrote, because I honestly have no idea what is real. Then the world realigns, and I realize that it is simply a miscommunication. And I feel…completely drained.

Now let me address the apology. You chose to point out the errors you think I’ve made. I tried to explain some of them. Still reeling from all this, I told you that my oldest version of the compiled entries is a file created in 2012, that I can prove this with a screencap. I even offered to show you the first entry, that was completely specific about my height and other details. I was grasping at straws, stupidly, emotionally… And you said something like “Am I understanding you correctly? Did you just offer to show me the first draft? Because I would like to see that.” No. I am not offering that. Nor shall I ever. And that hurt even more.

This is a game to you. I see that. I am to blame for it. I suppose I made it seem like a game. There are many games that compare. But that was the point. All along I have said that I could hide in plain sight, because everyone would think it a game. You have proven me right. Sometimes being right hurts. Very much.

It is a game. To me it is my life. I suppose I cannot ever undo that linkage, though I do try. I am shooting myself in the foot, I suppose, by refusing to give any physical detail or proof. It cannot be helped. It is what it is.

And so here we are.

Everyone approaches me in their own way, and addresses the truth I offer in a unique fashion. I do not begrudge you that. I am simply aware now that I have a weakness. Several in fact. And now I have to work through that.

 

Bad Recipe Challenge

The time has come once again, for you to confound and confuse me, to subject me to fits of revulsion and make me make that face…you know the one. 
This is a call for all your terrible family traditions- from the disgusting tuna casserole your auntie hauls to the reunion in a wheelbarrow, to the terrifying jello concoction your Nana protests is “vegan”, we want them all! No terrible recipe is too great nor small! If you submitted last time, you may submit again – who knows, it may turn out to be the most disgusting thing this time! Multiple submissions are also welcome, because if you have had to endure that much trauma, it ought to count for something.

Reply to this post with your worst, most baffling, nauseating family recipe, and you will be entered to win. Or share it with a friend you know has endured the horrors of the family potluck one too many times, and deserves some recognition for their sacrifices. If they reply with a recipe, they too are entered to win.

The victor shall receive an autographed physical copy of one of my books (they may choose), a $25 Kitchen Collection gift card, and – in an effort to alleviate your misery – I and my crack team of culinary experts (a drunken Chef and the staff at the Bistro) will attempt to repair the travesty visited upon you by “fixing” your recipe.

The deadline is January 31. Please get the word out to all your charming friends!

Sugar Cookies and Frosting, several recipes in one

Sugar cookies are a holiday favorite. I make hundreds every year. Here are two cookie recipes, one Gluten Free, and several Icing types for you to enjoy. Personally, all my cookies turn out looking vaguely malevolent. This could be due to the fact that when making them for myself in bygone years, I almost exclusively used Halloween cookie cutters. Only these days, with the addition of children to my life, have I indulged in proper Christmas cutters for completely average holiday cookies (into which I intersperse monsters and the like, sometimes also crafting Santa into the fat, scarlet tyrant that he is.).

Tools:

For the following two cookie dough recipes, assume that the tools needed are as follows:

  • standing mixer (you may do this with you hands, but it can get messy. As always, make certain all your ingredients are mixed together thoroughly, during each stage)
  • Bowl
  • Plastic wrap
  • Baking sheets
  • Rolling pin
  • Cookie cutters


Sugar Cookies

(This recipe yields about 5 dozen cookies)

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 c butter
  • 2 c sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 5 c flour 
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract

Instructions:

  1. Cream the butter and sugar. This works best if the butter is cut into chunks and allowed to soften to room temperature.
  2. Beat in the eggs and extracts.
  3. Mix the flour, salt, and baking powder together thoroughly in another bowl and then incorporate into the butter.
  4. Turn the dough out. Give it a few good kneads to bring it together. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour
  5. Preheat the oven to 400F
  6. Roll the dough out on a floured surface. I recommend keeping the dough about 1/4″ thick, but if you prefer a thicker or cheesier cookie, aim for 1/2″
  7. Cut into shapes and put on sheet
  8. Bake for 6-8 minutes
  9. Allow to cool completely before icing.


Gluten Free Sugar Cookies


(This recipe can be doubled to make about 4 dozen)

  • 1 c sugar
  • ½ c butter
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 Tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon xanthan gum (or, if you cannot use or stand gum, try the following: grind up about 2 Tbsp chia seeds, add 4 Tbsp boiling water and mix very quickly. Allow this to stand for about 5 minutes, and then add a tsp of this mixture in place of the gum)
  • 2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour (I almost exclusively use King Arthur brand. You may also mix flours, as in part almond, part all purpose. However keep in mind that certain flours yield grainy textures or simply do not hold together.)

Instructions:

  1. Cream the butter and sugar
  2. Add the egg, milk, and extracts
  3. Add the gum or chia mixture
  4. Incorporate the flour
  5. Chill for at least an hour
  6. Preheat oven to 350F
  7. Roll out and cut into shapes
  8. Bake for 10 minutes or so, depending upon how crispy you want them
  9. Allow to cool before removing from the sheet.
  10. I find them easier to ice if I refrigerate them over night first


Icings

I have recently learned that humans feel quite strongly about how to ice cookies. Some even espouse hatred for anything but their chosen recipe. So I will give you a few classics from which to choose. You take your pick.

For all the following, please presume that the tools are as follows:

  • Standing mixer (can be done with hand held, but you will need to frequently scrape the sides of the bowl) and the paddle attachment 
  • Several bowls for dividing frosting and coloring
  • Silicone spatula for scraping


Butter Cream Icing

Excellent for icing cup cakes or cakes, butter cream has been a standard for years. It can be piped or spread, and it can achieve a hard crust if allowed to dry, though it is usually tacky.

Ingredients:

  • 1 c butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 8 c confectioners sugar
  • 1/2 c heavy cream
  • Food coloring

Instructions

  1. Cream the butter in your mixer, and add the extracts, incorporating fully
  2. Add the sugar one cup at a time
  3. As you add sugar, the mixture will begins to turn crumbly, begin also slowly adding the cream
  4. Beat until creamy. If you want a thinner and more spreadable frosting, add a little more cream. For a thicker piping texture, less cream, which should produce something the texture of a store bought can of frosting.
  5. Divide into bowls and color.


Royal Icing

Most recipes for this have become thoroughly modernized, requiring “meringue powder” and suchlike, which is cheating. You may do it that way if you wish, with perhaps excellent results, but I prefer the old way. It may concern you to use raw egg, but these are pasteurized eggs, and the lion does a fair amount toward also staving off bacteria.

Ingredients:

  • 3 pasteurized egg whites
  • 4 c confectioners sugar
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (more if you would like a thinner icing)
  • Food coloring

Instructions:

  1. Combine the ingredients in the mixer and best together until peaks form. You may add coloring at any time. If you want more than one color, add it by hand after dividing portions.


Plain Sugar icing


This is the most simple icing, and one that can be made very quickly as needed, if you run out during decorating.

Ingredients:

  • 1 c confectioners sugar
  • 2 tsp milk
  • 2 tsp corn syrup
  • 1/4 tsp either vanilla or almond extract
  • Food coloring (use gel colors with this recipe, as the colors of normal colorings tend to come out muted, and a gel will provide a more vivid color.)

Intrustions

  1. Mix ingredients and color


Chocolate ganache frosting

This can be used fresh as more of a glaze, or it can be turned into a frosting.

Tools;

  • Saucepan
  • Standing mixer or handheld mixer
  • Mixing bowl

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 16 oz chocolate of your taste
  • 2 Tbsp of a flavored liqueor 
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions:

  1. Chop the chocolate into tiny bits and place it in the mixing bowl
  2. Heat the cream and extract/liqueor over medium heat until it begins to boil
  3. Pour the cream over the chocolate and stir until smooth and shiny.
  4. It can now be used as a glaze, but if you wish it to become a frosting, allow to cool for several hours (you may speed this up a bit by cooling it in the refrigerator). To turn it into frosting, put the cooled mixture into the standing mixer and whip it for several minutes. It should become less shiny, paler, and generally take on a thicker consistency.

This is best applied with a piping bag or a knife. Cole down whatever you have frosted in order to help the ganache set. 

Killer Gluten Free Brownies, a recipe

This time of year, most kitchens in the world turn into sweet shops. It seems fitting I give you a scratch recipe. However, those who are gluten free seldom get to enjoy decent brownies, and those who are not usually suffer through terrible wheat-free sweets for the ones they love. No longer. Please enjoy this recipe. I promise you it is good, and that you will never know they are gluten free.


Tools:

  • Pot
  • Whisk
  • 8×8 baking dish 

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 c granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp heavy cream or half and half
  • 2 c chocolate chips/bits/chunks of any flavor
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tap vanilla extract
  • 2/3 c gluten free flour (Type is up to you. You can procure a mix for baking, or simply make your own. Rice and almond both work well.)
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 – 1/2 c cacao nibs (To taste. And you may also add chopped nuts instead, though I highly recommend nibs, especially if using dark chocolate)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325
  2. Mix the sugar, butter, and cream in a pot and heat until it bubbles
  3. Add the chocolate and let melt, stir with a whisk or fork. It will look as though it is clumping and not melting but it’s fine.
  4. Add eggs and vanilla and continue stirring
  5. When smooth, remove from heat, add flour, salt, baking soda, and cacao nibs and mix until all are thoroughly incorporated.
  6. Pour in 8×8 greased pan and bake for 25 minutes

Chocolate Chip Cookies, two recipes

I have had a request for chocolate chip cookies. You may be anticipating a somewhat archaic recipe, however the fact is chocolate chips are fairly recent. And so you will simply be getting a classic recipe. However as usual I will be accompanying it with a gluten-free recipe, for as you know one of my humans has a severe gluten intolerance. It upsets me that so often gluten intolerant or celiacs our own mid from all of the delicious treats that are so ubiquitous this time of year.

For the following two recipes, assume that these tools are necessary:

  • Mixing bowl
  • Baking sheet
  • A small bowl or cup
  • Mixer
  • A good silicone spatula or spoon for scraping the sides of the mixer

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients: 

  • 3 c all purpose flour
  • 2 cups chocolate chips
  • 1 c 1 sugar
  • 1 c packed brown sugar
  • 1 c softened butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tsp hot water
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350
  2. Dissolve the baking soda in the hot water, inside your small bowl
  3. In your mixer, cream the butter and sugar. Add one egg at a time. Add the vanilla. Add the baking soda mixture and salt. Incorporate the flour slowly. Finally added the chips.
  4. Form into balls using a spoon and space on the cookie sheet a couple inches apart
  5. Bakes for about ten minutes.

To make these into “chocolate chocolate chip cookies, you would simply reduce the flour by a cup and add about 3/4 cup cocoa powder to the mix at the same time you add the flour. I personally like to make a chocolate cookie with chopped up mint chocolate as the chips, but that is because I much prefer a chunky cookie.

Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 cups all purpose gluten free flour (avoid blends that are mostly rice flour or that contain bean flours. These can become quite grainy)
  • 1/2 tsp. xanthan gum (or 1 1/2 tsp of the chia seed blend we learned to make for our sugar cookies)
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 ounces cream cheese (allow this to sit out until it comes to room temperature)
  • 3/4 cups unsalted butter

Instructions:

  1. Mix the flour, baking soda, xantham or chia, and salt in your bowl
  2. Cream the cheese, butter, and sugar together in your mixer. Incorporate the eggs one at a time. Add the vanilla. Add the flour a little at a time. Add the chips.
  3. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for a few hours. This will help the dough set up, so that the cookies are moist and chewy
  4. Preheat the oven to 375F
  5. Spoon the dough out onto the sheet (you may need to let it soften a bit) and bake for about 12 minutes, though you want to remove the cookies when the edges begin to crisp. The centers will seem soft, but as they sit on the sheet, they will set. Leave them for a few minutes before removing them.

Egg Nog, a history in several recipes

Eggnog is far older than most suspect.  It wasn’t invented recently. It has many forms, and many, many names. Historians and Etymologists bandy back and forth about the name, wondering if it originates from one of about ten different sources from Germany to Scotland, to the colonies. The simple truth is, that it is all and none. “Noggin” or “nugge” is a very old word, and it refers to the glass in which hot drinks were served, a “mug”. You may listen to men of science, debating when the exact word “eggnog” must have come about, but that would be silly, in my opinion, because it came about through constant reintroduction of old memories, old ways, and old languages, then was jumbled up again and again in the slang culture of the early Americas.

Warm eggs and alcohol have been a standard since antiquity. They were drunk in the colder months for obvious reasons. Their types range from drinks made with wine, to biersuppe, a German warm soup made from beer, to very loose custards, to curled concoctions that are strange to the modern eye. Here, I will give you a long history of my favorites. You will see the spices shift as the spice trade with he east died and then was reforged with sea power, you will see the introduction of fine white sugar and rum from the Americas. You may wish to make them all, and watch the progress of time through one single food.

Please assume that for all the following recipes, you will need the following:

  • a mixer (hand held works fine in this case)
  • a saucepan
  • egg separator
  • fine grater
  • a whisk

Caudell, a recipe

Very few cook books have survived the eras to mark the existence of the great variety of dishes and their countless preparations, and so no source exists for this recipe. You will have to take my word that it was a drink of choice, particularly for the ill. Saffron was seen to have mystical qualities to the Medieval mind, and it was used in almost everything. Keep in mind that this saffron was not the sort you see today in your grocer’s spice aisle. This was the saffron that now costs hundreds of dollar per ounce — true saffron— and we worked it by the handful.

I recommend eating this with the notion that it is a semi-savory soup. It might assist the modern palette to adjust.

Ingredients:

  • 12 egg yolks
  • 2 cups of ale or sack (white wine) I recommend ale for authenticity. The poor could
  • often not afford sack
  • 1 tsp saffron
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • i leaf of mace
  • several tablespoons of sugar to taste

Instructions

  1. Beat the yolks into the ale, and then put the pot over medium heat, whisking constantly. The mixture will thicken and become frothy.
  2. Once this comes to a boil immediately drop the heat to low and beat in the other ingredients, adjusting to taste

Serve in an open, bowl-like mug

Posset, a recipe

Possets were a kind of custard, sometimes loose enough to be drunk in a mug. In my day they were used primarily as medicine for the sick, or as fortifying drinks for travelers or for the clergy.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 gallon whole milk
  • cinnamon
  • several blades of mace
  • Fresh nutmeg
  • 18 egg yolks, plus 8 egg whites
  • 1 pint of sack (white wine)
  • 1 1/2 c sugar

Instructions

  1. Put the milk into a pot and add some cinnamon and mace, and bring to a simmer
  2. While the milk is heating through, in another pot beat the eggs thoroughly. add the wine, a grated nutmeg, more fresh cinnamon, and the sugar
  3. Heat the eggs through and then incorporate the cream once that comes to a boil
  4. Cover and allow to simmer for a time on the lowest heat, stirring occasionally

Serve in a mug with a little sugar on top

Eierpunsch, a recipe

This was a holiday favorite all through the Holy Roman Empire, when I was living in Strasburg

Ingredients:

  • 1 bottle of white wine (keep in mind that Germany has an excellent tradition of sweet white wines like reisling)
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 5 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 c strongly brewed tea
  • 1 lemon

Instructions

  1. Brew the tea and let it cool
  2. Whisk the eggs and add in the sugar and some of the white wine until it begins to get frothy
  3. Add the rest of the wine, cinnamon, cloves, and lemon juice
  4. Put in a pot and allow to heat through, but remove immediately before boiling
  5. Fish out the cloves

Serve in a mug with a little fresh whipped cream

Milk Punch, a recipe

From the early 1700’s the British and French had forged a somewhat calm trade relationship, despite all their bickering, making sherry and brandy fairly common and accessible. This recipe serves 4.

Ingredients:

  • 4 eggs
  • 8 oz. brandy
  • 4 tsp cream
  • Cinnamon
  • Nutmeg
  • Ground clove

Instructions

  1. Whisk the ingredients together until foamy
  2. Spice to taste, while whisking

Serve at room temperature, or turn it into something of a cocktail in these modern times by shaking over ice.

American Nog, a recipe

Trade between the colonies was largely one way for a very long time, that is to say, it was largely a circular endeavor. The British shipped goods to the entire western world, stole slaves from Africa, brought them to the Americas, and then took products from us for sale in Britain and the rest of Europe. This system was entirely focused on the wealth and excesses of England, and cared very little about the colonists. As such, it was tedious getting any items directly from Europe, which meant there was hardly ever brandy to be had. And so, the egg beverages commenced to be cut with rum from the Caribbean.

Ingredients:

  • 1 c. brandy
  • 1/2 c. dark spiced rum
  • 1/2 c. sherry
  • 1/2 c. whiskey
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 1 qt heavy cream
  • 1 qt milk
  • a dozen eggs
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Instructions

  1. Mix the alcohols. Separate your eggs, setting the whites aside
  2. Put the yolks into your mixer and beat until the the yolks are foamy. Slowly incorporate the sugar and spices.
  3. Add the alcohol slowly
  4. Add the milk and cream
  5. Pour this mixture into a separate bowl. With a clean bowl and whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until stiff, then fold into the alcohol mixture

You may serve immediately at room temperature, or warm it through as needed and top with a little whipped cream. If storing it in the refrigerator, be sure to mix it regularly so that it doesn’t separate.

Modern Eggnog, a recipe

Modern humans are terrified of raw eggs, even when pasteurized. Now they buy rubbish in a carton and microwave it, throw in a shot of bourbon and call it finished, but to me this is a crime. So, allow me to help you out a bit. Here is a modern eggnog cocktail.

Ingredients:

  • 12 egg yolks
  • 4 c. whole milk
  • 2 c. heavy cream
  • 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp fresh cinnamon
  • 1/2 c. baker’s sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 c. Amaretto or Grand Marnier (I prefer Grand Marnier, as it gives a nice sweetness)
  • 1 1/2 c. brandy (I use Remy Martin VSOP as it is inexpensive, but meshes well)

Instructions

  1. Whip the egg yolks in the standing mixer, then incorporate the sugar. Then the milk and cream until the mixture is frothy and pale.
  2. Slowly incorporate the alcohol

Serve warm or shaken over ice. I would top the warm version with whipped cream and a dash of nutmeg, and the cold version with a twist of candied lemon rind.

I very much hope this brief history of eggnog has pleased you. I hope you can track the similarities, and admire the variety. Perhaps you even have ideas of how to craft a new recipe that borrows from history.

If you do try any of them, please do send me a picture. I post all images of my recipes sent in by readers, as a general rule.