DIVORCED, I’M NOT THE FATHER AND THEY KNOW MY VOICE; PEACH DAIQUIRIS AND RAVING IDIOTS; DON’T TELL THE CHEF THAT I COOK AND MODESTY FLEES THE SCENE

Divorced, I’m Not The Father And They Know My Voice 

And so, Swintbn finished school in Philadelphia and we moved to her home state of New Jersey.  I’ve married real honest to goodness ‘Jersey Girls’ twice.  I’m batting .500 – more than 20 years with Bonnie, she’s a keeper and I am damn lucky to have her love.

I had managed to land a good architecture job in Princeton and, having been raised in the ‘burbs’, I was always more of a ‘burb’ boy than a city boy.  I wanted to get back to my ‘roots’, as shallow and suburban as they might be.  We were lucky in that we found a small house that we could afford to rent in the Borough.  How cool, room for both a garden and a grill.  Swintbn was thrilled that I would no longer be hanging the grill from a second floor window.

Life proceeded in a not too happy state as far as the marriage went, unhappy enough that we did get divorced.  It was not fun but it certainly was necessary and for the best.  The irony is that we lived together without benefit of marriage license longer than we were actually married.

The sturm and drang of divorce found me, initially, with little inclination to do any cooking.  This was during the whole ‘woe is me period’ and before the ‘hey why don’t we go out tonight and come back to my place later for a late dinner’ – I had remembered that lesson.  So I was depressed enough so that I didn’t want to cook, but still had to eat.  The solution – Conte’s Pizza, Princeton.  They make an absolutely superb pizza; the crust is thin but not too thin, and crispy, but still chewy – perfect.  Couple the crust with a good tomato sauce, good cheese in the proper amount and homemade sausage and I’m in heaven.  Oh, did I forget to mention beer and wine?  Not only is the pizza perfect, but the venue is perfect too.  A good sized room with a looooong bar on one side, glass behind the bar of course, Formica topped tables and chrome edged dinette chairs with red vinyl upholstery, columns in the room are covered with tiny mirrors – good Lord it’s the 1950’s, the perfect 1950’s and it’s real – no Disney Land.  It’s good enough to go out of your way for and to wait in the long lines. It was close to where I was living so I availed myself of this wonder on more than one occasion.

One night at Conte’s several of my friends and I were sitting at a table having, of course, pizza and beers.  I removed my face from my beer mug to see a pregnant woman at a table near ours fling herself from her chair to get on her feet.  A woman so pregnant that I’m wondering how many seconds from now will she give birth pregnant.  She begins to waddle (sorry moms, no other way to describe it) in the general direction of our table, no, wait, she’s waddling right towards our table, Sweet Jesus she’s waddling right up to me and saying, “Are you Dave Grunwald?”  Here’s this woman: pregnant, looks around my age, certainly attractive enough that I would have been happy to assist her in getting pregnant, I had been tom-catting around as they say to some degree at that time, in the grief of my divorce I did at times drink to the point where I didn’t remember EVERYTHING and she’s asking me to confirm who I am.  Me, a father?  That didn’t mesh at all with the motorcycle that I was thinking of buying.  And I refuse to do diapers – I gag.  My friends were of no help.  Not a one of them threw her to the floor, yelled fire to empty the place or said that they were me – nothing to help me escape.  They sure as hell wanted to see if I was going to be a daddy.  For my part, I could have said ‘no’ in a foreign language (if I knew one) or simply run out the door, but I figured – what the hell, let’s see what life has blasted me with this time.  So I said, “Yes, I’m Dave Grunwald”.  I was ready to immediately cover my eyes with my arms and hands so that when she threw acid in my face I wouldn’t be blinded, just horribly burned and scarred forever.  Her response to my admission: “HI! I’m Belle Star (the name has been changed to protect her innocence); we went to high school together in Connecticut.  I was just in town seeing some friends, and I can’t believe that I ran into you here!”  All that worry about nothing, silly boy!  I was more careful after that encounter.  More careful in that before I entered Conte’s I would sneak up to the door and peer inside to see if any pregnant women lay in wait.

The frequency or which I was availing myself of Conte’s perfect pizza was driven home with the force of a sledge hammer one night.  The evening that found me sitting at a table inside Conte’s and encountering Belle Star wasn’t the norm.  As I was still a bit on the morose side about my life and the divorce I usually phoned my order in, picked it up and went home to eat.   That night when I phoned my order in the conversation was somewhat different from the usual.

Me, “Hi, I’d like to order a pizza to go – medium with sausage and mushrooms.”

Contes, “Will there be anything else?” 

Me, “Nope, that’s it.”

Contes, “That will be ready to pickup in about 20 minutes.”

AND I COULD SENSE THEM HANGING UP THE PHONE

Me, “Wait! I screamed into the phone.  Don’t you want my name!?”

Contes, “Don’t need it Mr. Grunwald – we all recognize your voice.”

 

Was it time to cut back on the frequency of my pizza orders?

Is it a good thing or a bad thing when everyone at the local pizza emporium

Recognizes your voice when you phone in your order?

It’s a wonderful thing – I consider it personalized service.

And I am grateful.

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Peach Daiquiris And Raving Idiots

There is something about putting a Grunwald in a restaurant that for, whatever reason, on occasion, sends things a little out of kilter and creates incidents and situations.  Some of these incidents are funny to everybody including the Grunwalds while many of the incidents are funny to you because you’re not a Grunwald   As I’ve related, as I child I was taken by my parents to restaurants more often than I expect that many children were.  You’d think that I had learned the consequences of bad behavior, the possibility of the ‘Grunwald Restaurant Surprise’, the fact that alcohol does indeed loosen the inhibitions giving way to behavior and words that may be embarrassing in the next days light of sobriety.  You’d think that I would have learned to bolt for the door, throwing dollar bills behind me to slow the mob, that I’d have learned not to order the duck a l’orange in ‘Bob’s Beef Hut’.  You’d have thought that with my cumulative restaurant experiences, including cooking in one (for however short a time) that I’d have restaurants and me down cold.  Don’t I wish that I did.

Parents get really interesting when the fruit of their loins is going through a divorce.  There is absolutely no attempt to hide the fact that, in my case, they were 110% in their progeny’s corner, vilifying the ex-spouse Swintbn to a degree that would make the accusers of the Salem Witch Trials blush.  And so it was with my parents.  My mother was particularly rabid as she was protecting her first born.

I forget what summer celebration brought us to what is a superb restaurant located on a farm in the quiet corner of northeastern Connecticut.  I know that it was the early 1980’s because Swintbn and I had just bid each other adios.  With Mom and Dad, individually with our own families and with friends’ families we have enjoyed many meals at this venue.  Superb and inventive food, cocktails before dinner, peach daiquiris as I recall, sipped (OK, gulped, “May I have another please?”) while sitting on the elevated deck of the dining barn overlooking a tranquil pond with Great Blue Herons stalking the shallows as the sun lazily drifted down towards the fading horizon of farm fields, New England stone walls and rolling hills.  That night it was the Grunwald family and, for those of you who may be speculating, yes, it was, shall I say, eventful.  Behavior that was out of place in such a genteel setting manifested itself.  The food that night was as wonderful as we recalled from the last visit.  Even in memories that are peach daiquiri faded and blurred I recall my delight at being here and enjoying this food.  Do I remember the specifics of the menu?  No.  Do I remember Dad holding the empty bread basket above his head?  No, but he probably did.  Do I remember that the divorce had recently been finalized – you betcha.  I remember that in my eyes, at that moment in time, I was a failure.  I couldn’t hold a marriage/love together.  I would never be loved by anyone ever, ever again and, for that split second, I thought that the divorce was my fault (OK, perhaps I was wallowing a bit).   My mother’s timing was impeccable, worthy of an Academy Award, for at the precise instant that I felt responsible for the marriage going south and certain that I would never again be loved by anyone as wonderful as Swintbn, Mom said, “She was never good enough for you, you should have never married her, and she’s a horrible person.  I’m glad that she’s gone.”  Timing is everything.  How could she say that, my Witch was absolutely wonderful – the failed marriage was my entire fault (Of course that’s not true, I was wallowing). 

I EXPLODED at Mom, “how dare you say that!”  In truth, my drunken defense of the Swintbn was much greater in length and more vociferous than that, but you get the idea.  In this genteel setting, uncaring of the other patrons’ comfort or my parents’ love, I did not keep my voice down during my tirade. 

Poor Mom, she was only protecting me.  Poor other diners, though I’d guess that such a scene had played before mine and will be played again you, the audience, are never really comfortable nor do you absolutely relish it (well, maybe a little) – unless it’s short and sweet or you watch Jerry Springer regularly.  Yeah, it’s kind of interesting, like the proverbial auto wreck you can’t look away from as you drive past.  You’re trying to be nonchalant, peering at it from the corner of your eye and whispering to your companion, “Wow!  Look at the drunken idiot at the side table.  What the hell is he screaming at his mother for?” The ranting of the idiot (Me) came and went quickly.  I made a very sincere apology to my family, they graciously accepted and the evening returned to normal, more or less.

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In the ‘Quiet Corner’ of Connecticut

The farm restaurant featured sing-along hayrides and I still remember the guitar playing and the dark haired beauty that lead the songfest.  We are talking an honest to goodness hayride; hay wagon, sitting on the hay, horses pulling, star filled sky and everybody singing.    I know, it sounds corny.  Believe me, it was not.  My tirade now just a (bad) memory, my brothers and I climbed on board and heartily joined in, singing along to James Taylor and The Eagles.  We do three part harmony very well.  I tried to get a date with the dark-haired beauty. 

How could I not as she was cute as hell and I was now single.   Normalcy had truly returned and the heavens breathed easy. 

And yes, we’ve returned to the restaurant after this using our real names to make the reservation and have been welcomed back. As the bard says, “All’s well that ends well”.

 

Please Don’t Tell The Chef That I Cook 

By now, you all know that my father often took the family out for dinner.  We didn’t go to restaurants every other night, or even once a week, but go we did – obviously, it’s a very strong memory for me.  He liked being able to take his family to restaurants because he liked to see us enjoying the experience, he was able to do something to make us happy, and because it served as verification that he had achieved a financial position where he was able to do so, something that his own father could not or would not.  He took us to a range of restaurants – Patricia Murphy’s, Avon Old Farms and the local pizza and hoagie joint.  Dad ate out often with his business cronies and seemed to be familiar with the whole dining out procedure.  Because of that I was always surprised in that he seemed to become a bit uncomfortable, even nervous, when we walked through that entrance door. When I say that he was uncomfortable and nervous I mean that his behavior was the kind that makes a child cringe, to greater or lesser degrees, depending upon the child’s understanding or empathy for the parent.  I took a long time for me to mature and gain any empathy (some say that I’ve still got a ways to go) for Dads restaurant persona.  As he would wildly wave an empty bread basket above his head while shouting to the room, “Garçon! Garçon!  More Bread”, my feelings were conflicted.  Here’s this guy who loves his family enough to take us out to dinner and here’s this guy that doesn’t care, or have a clue, that he’s embarrassing the bejeezuz out of his ingrate son.  My brothers and I and our wives and girlfriends would discuss upcoming restaurant ventures.  Our discussion theme being, “What do you think that he’s going to do this time?”  At various times during our restaurant adventures, our family might be found trying to hide under the table or run to the restrooms.  I am certain that, at times, the wait staff was running, decorously running, but running nonetheless, from him.  Dealing in our own ways with a man who always said, “Don’t fill up on the cheap stuff”.  Dealing with a man who loved us – and wanted more bread.  

As I started to do more and more cooking, my Dad introduced a new restaurant torture for me.  Dad took his Roman Catholic upbringing to heart and he would have been right at home during the inquisition; my nightmares found him dressed in a monk’s dark and shadowy robe, the hood up and covering his face, the long inquisitors table, the too few flickering candles in a dark stone room casting no ray of hope, me naked and hung from ropes that are tied to my wrists and drawn tight to the ceiling beams so that my feet barely touch the cold, blood slick floor.  It’s cold and I’m scared to death and I’m embarrassed, because there’s a great deal of shrinkage resulting from all that, the voice of my father screaming at me, “So, Witnesses have professed that you have said that you like to cook. That you have admitted to wanting to be a ………..CHEF!  Cast this CHEF in the pit!”   In truth my parents were delighted that all of their sons liked to cook.  But, Dad had no idea that what he was going to do would make me want to run and hide. 

Upon being seated in a restaurant my father would ask to speak with the chef and when the chef would arrive at our table, looking absolutely thrilled that he had had to leave a busy kitchen to deal with yet another nut customer, my father would say to him, “My son is a CHEF too!  He’s really good!”  Chefy asks, “What restaurant do you cook in?”  I mumble my reply, “I cook at home.”  The chefs would eye me and get a look their face that I interpreted as meaning, “So you’re a CHEF, an At-Home CHEF!  Wowee!”  Poor chefy, dragged out of his domain for this.  During chefy’s exchange with us the pastry chef has taken chefy’s place on the line and is overcooking the pan-sautéed red snapper, it will have to be redone and Table 4 will not be happy, because the rest of the dishes will be cold by the time the snapper is done again.  Chefy will blame us for Table 4’s unhappiness.  The chef is looking at me and I know what he’s thinking, “A Real Freakin’ At-Home Chef!  Well how about that?!  Well, how about I just gouge one of your eyes out and eat it while you watch with your remaining eye!  How about you just come into MY kitchen and I’ll brand the side of your face on the griddle!  How about that Mr. At-Home Chef!”  It’s torture, I’m wishing with all my heart that I were absolutely anyplace but where I am. 

I’m not this chef’s equal – he does it for a living, do or die.  I do it for fun, do or die too, but I don’t have to show a profit or get four different entrée selections to the table at the same time.  The homicidal glaze of the chef’s eyes clearly made a statement, but his parting words were always unintelligible as he would go back to the kitchen.  After such an event I would always give close scrutiny to the remaining dishes coming from the kitchen before partaking.   

 

All You Can Eat For $5 And Modesty Flees The Scene 

When Dad announced that he was taking the family out to dinner we could never guess where that particular dinner would fall in the range of gastronomic possibilities.  Often quantity would win out over quality. Dad was a true yo-yo dieter, often losing and then re-gaining 50 to 100 pounds.  He drove his doctors and his family crazy with this behavior.  He stated that his philosophy of eating was, “Eat to live, don’t live to eat.”  This was running concurrently with, “Don’t fill up on the cheap stuff” and, “I could make a meal out of bread”.  What he wanted was to be able to control his eating so that when he opened a bag of cookies, he wasn’t compelled to eat the entire bag in one sitting.  He never got to the point where he could do that for any meaningful period of time.  So, despite the fact that he enjoyed many restaurants that did not advertise ‘All You Can Eat For $5’, we sometimes found ourselves paying $5 per person.

One night Dad’s philosophy of more, rather than better, for $5 per person bit him, and all of us, on our collective asses.

Three brothers, one wife and one girlfriend were taken out to dinner by my parents, Dad choosing the venue, to a restaurant that was so obviously dirty that it made all of us except Dad want to run out the door as soon as we entered the place.  I swear that the soles of our shoes stuck to the floor and the air was hazy, visibility ten feet, with atomized grease.  You could feel pimples developing on your face in real time and you knew that you’d have to wash your hair at least three times to get the grease out of it. Of course the restaurant served tremendous quantities of food for a very low price.  As soon as we walked in the door Dad began enlightening the owner, whom Dad said was a ‘great friend’ of his, with the story of Dad’s life and accomplishments, while simultaneously saying to the owner things that owners, servers and chefs love to hear; “Please take this back and bring me something else – Bring me more of this – There’s not enough here, bring extra – I didn’t order this – I want more bread”  Nonstop and it was becoming obvious to all of us except Dad that the owner was reaching his limit with the antics of his ‘great friend’. 

Dad was salesman.  When he got wound up there was no stopping him, no off switch, ya just had to let the spring run all the way out.  Even though the flavors of one dish were nearly indistinguishable from another dish at one point during the evening a dish tasted a ‘little off’.  We had found, and passed, the limits of Dad’s ‘great friend’ and the seven of us returned home to my parent’s house to find out what comes with pissing off the proprietor of the ‘All You Can Eat For $5’ restaurant. 

Faint tremors of bodily discomfort flirted with us on the drive home, but we hoped against hope that they would leave unrealized.  Cold sweat on our foreheads.  Stomachs beginning to ride a roller coaster.  I forgot who got sick first, probably Dad, because he commandeered the one and only bathroom, but in very short order all of us became really, violently, sick.  Dad would not relinquish his domain in the single bathroom, some host.  That left the remaining six of us in self-designated areas in the backyard.  Outside, in the dark, each of us in our little dark world of pain, modesty had fled soon after this started (hell, anything in its right mind would have fled that scene), each of us clutching a roll of toilet paper.  I didn’t have the nerve to look at the backyard the next morning.  You should never, ever, wonder why all of us brothers, wives, girlfriends and Mom always felt a tremor of fear when Dad would say, “Hey!  Why don’t I take all of us out to dinner tonight?” 

Dessert: An Explanation and a White Bean Spread

Yes, I’ve changed the title of the last entry in the posting.  An amuse bouche is most easily described as a bite size morsel that better restaurants will serve, gratis (and well it should be considering that it is quite literally one small bite), soon after you are seated.  A little something to welcome you and show off the chefs skill.  Though my amuse bouche is a bite size morsel I have been placing it at the end rather than the beginning.  Hence, I’m changing the title of this section to ‘Dessert’. 

You should know that my addled brain has often written desert when I meant dessert and visa versa.  The early readers of the manuscript (much thanks to Alison, Brooke, Mary Carol, Maggie and of course Bonnie) have taught me that DESERT is the dry, sandy, place and that DESSERT is the fun course following the main meal.  I won’t make that mistake again.

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DESSERT: A new, and successful, dish; Pumpkin Flan

I recently had the opportunity to whip up a spread for an appetizer course.  It’s tasty and so easy that I hesitate to call it ‘cooking’.

WHITE BEAN SPREAD

Ingredients:

3 Slices Bacon

2 Shallots

1 Garlic Clove

1 Pound Cooked Cannelloni Beans; cooked dry beans or canned

Olive Oil as needed

Salt and Black Pepper to taste

1 ¼ Teaspoons Smoked Paprika – more if you like it as much as I do.  Just don’t add so much that it’s the only flavor that you taste.  If you make this spread with plain old paprika (which is fine for many other dishes), rather than the smoked paprika, the flavors of this will be lacking.

Preparation:

1. Coarsely dice the bacon.  Fry over medium high heat until crispy.  Remove the bacon from the pan reserving about a tablespoon of the bacon fat.

2.  Coarsely dice the shallots (or onions) and garlic, sautéing them in the reserved bacon fat until translucent (the garlic browns quickly, add it after the shallots have cooked a bit).

3. Place the beans, shallots, garlic and remaining bacon fat in a food processor.  Process the ingredients, adding olive oil as needed, until the spread is, no surprise here, a spreadable consistency.  Don’t process so much that it turns into an ugly paste.

4. Remove the spread from the processor, place in a bowl and stir in the bacon, salt, black pepper and smoked paprika until incorporated.  Taste and adjust flavorings as necessary.

5. Spread it on a piece of baguette or cracker and eat.  Actually, it tastes better if it sits in the fridge for a few hours so that the flavors can marry.

6. This should keep in the fridge for at least a couple days.

7. A few shifts with the seasonings and this recipe will takeoff in a hundred different directions.  Experiment and have fun.

Next Week:  The First Dinner Diary and You F***ing Bastard and yet more Dinner Diaries

You might want to keep the kiddies away from this posting.  Adult language and situations.

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