Bound for Cape Cod

Called the Cape of Keel by early Norse explorers, Cape Code is a peninsula that juts out from the easternmost edge of Massachusetts.  Punctuated throughout by lighthouses, those magical sentinels that have saved lives and sent many imaginations to wonderful places, it is no wonder writers and artists gravitate to the Cape. Provincetown, or P-Town as its called (an unfortunate name in my view because it occurred to my mind that there may be a UTI epidemic there) is, I am told, an enclave of creativity and, well, fun.

Like most Americans, if not most people, Cape Cod brings the Kennedy Compound to mind. But for me it also brings playwright Eugene O’Neill to mind and, last, and first, my father. My father loved Cape Cod. In fact, he had just arrived in Cape Cod in the summer of 1969 when illness struck and killed him in less than a week. So, I suppose, in some way I will be finishing the vacation he started.

My father and I and, for that matter, all my family, loved the beach, the ocean. When I was a boy one set of grandparents lived in Rumson New Jersey and the other set lived in Ocean Grove New Jersey. Both locations are on or near the ocean. Few things are as extraordinary as the beach, in all seasons. In the mid-seventies I lived in Seagate, a peninsula off the tip of Brooklyn. My apartment was right on the beach. Doesn’t get any better, except when I went out the front door one morning and found a dead sand shark at the foot of the steps. Even dead sharks scare the hell out of me.

And so I am looking forward to this time on the Cape. Time to walk the beach, get some writing and reading in, do a bit of reflecting, reacquaint myself with Horseshoe crabs (I love those dudes) and, of course, hope I don’t run across any sharks, dead or alive.

DUMPLINGS ARE NOT VEGETABLES?

Dumplings are not vegetables? Who knew? Why are things like this kept secret from me? I am 54 years old and you would think someone would have clued me in by now. But no, not a chance. Until a week ago, I thought dumplings were the vegetable version of scallops. Now I find out that a dumpling, according to one dictionary, is nothing more than “a small savory ball of dough (usually made with suet) which may be boiled in water or a stew.”

Suet!

Suet comes in little pasty blocks and goes in small wire cages that get nailed onto tree trunks for birds. According to the same dictionary, suet is “the hard white fat on the kidneys and loins of cattle, sheep and other animals…” Fat from animal loins; that’s just great. Fat from animal loins pumped into a ball of dough and no one thought to tell me those tasty little dudes are not vegetables? What am I supposed to do with the seven cans of chicken with dumpling soup sitting in my cabinet? I bought them to help me in a recent fight with the flu. I thought I was doing myself some real medicinal justice by loading up on chicken and vegetables when what I was really doing was hardening up a few arteries and clogging up some veins for good measure.

I have had, as you might have guessed by now, a somewhat mixed and at times antagonistic relationship with food, with the culinary arts. My closest friend in the world, my brother of the heart, Michael, just has to look at food and it becomes a delicious meal. He is a culinary magician. It is as if the food sees him coming and just cannot wait to abide by his demands. Food sees me coming, cocks one eyebrow, develops a mischievous and I say evil gleam in its eyes, and salivates at the chance to inflict a bit of culinary vandalism.

A case in point. Back in the 1970s I lived in Seagate in Brooklyn. Michael, the culinary magician and foods’ favorite person on earth, lived right near me cooking up some of the best meals in all of Brooklyn. Not so yours truly. There was a young woman I was very taken with. Her name was Sharon. She lived with a nice family and was breathtakingly gorgeous – a knee-buckler. To my amazement she had accepted my invitation to dinner.

With Sharon coming to dinner, I wanted to cook her a classy dinner. Not my normal fare of macaroni and cheese and noodles with butter, but a real, honest to goodness, dinner. A dinner with class. I knew that you could not get much classier than shrimp. I went to the market and bought fifty shrimp. I came home and went about creating a feast. I dipped all the shrimp in egg and then in bread crumbs and cooked them up until they were a beautiful golden brown. They looked and smelled delicious.

Sharon arrived for dinner. She seemed impressed by the platter piled high with fifty golden brown shrimp. She sat down at the table. I had set the table earlier, so everything was in order. I shoved some shrimp onto her plate first and then shoved some onto mine. I then went to the refrigerator and got us each a bottle of what everyone in their right mind drinks with shrimp – soda.

I sat down, we smiled at each other, and began our meal. I was a bright light of pride over my culinary masterpiece. And then, reality turned the light out. Only one bite into her first shrimp, Sharon says, “These are really crisp.”

I say, “I know, that’s the way they’re supposed to be.” I had already eaten one and was well on my way to polishing off a second.

Sharon says, “Did you shell them?”

“Shell them?”

“Shell them. Did you shell them?”

I did not know they had shells. No one told me. Just like no one told me that dumplings are not vegetables. As for the seven cans of chicken and dumpling soup in my cabinet? I am going to eat them. I am going to eat them for two reasons. They are there, and I already know, thank you very much, that dumplings do not have shells.

NEW YEARS, CHICKEN LEGS AND WATER

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I used to do that. But life would inevitably throw me curves throughout the year, plans would change, resolutions would be altered, or discarded altogether, and I’d start feeling like a failure; so no more New Year’s resolutions, thank you very much.

There are things I would like to do this year. I would like to finish the three books I am writing. I would like to get myself into top shape physically, a task I’ve begun. I would like to climb more of the Catskill Mountains and begin the task of taking on the Adirondack Mountains. Noble aspirations for sure. If they work out, great. If they don’t, also great.

There are other things too I’d like to do. I am well on my way to making a life-long dream come true: my own library. Completing the library in the room I’ve chosen requires the acquisition of more shelves more than it does the acquisition of more books, although their numbers are sure to grow. Were everything in place now, the library would have on or about 1,000 books. I forget in which of Dickens’ books it was, but there was a character who called his library “The Growlery”. I kind of like that.

I think too that I would like to cook more. Now the notion of my cooking more might send some who know me running for cover. I can’t say as I blame them. And, as you’ll see, after I offer two examples or, if you prefer, servings, of my culinary exploits, I don’t think you’d blame them either.

An ex-girlfriend of mine was the picture of graciousness when, on her first visit to my home, I dazzled her with a dinner comprised of a chicken leg and a glass of water. She stayed! Now that, my friends, is both true love and true tolerance. True, the chicken leg was cooked in an exquisite sauce. But a chicken leg and glass of water? Really, Peter. In my defense I will say that this woman was very beautiful and I was head over heels falling in love with her and any ability I had to concentrate on preparing a meal was barely able to keep its head above water.

Lest you think that was my biggest culinary faux pas, let me reassure you it was not.

I lived in Seagate in Brooklyn during the 1970s. I had occasion to be thoroughly smitten by a woman dazzling in both looks and personality. I lived on the beach. We decided to have dinner at my place and then go for a walk on the beach. Very romantic. At that time in my life I pretty much lived on a diet of pasta and cheese along with the other culinary delights indulged in by those of us who were, more often than not, short on money. But remember what I said; this woman was dazzling. And so, I was determined to make the dinner equally dazzling.

I took the bus to the fish market and bought 50 shrimp. I figured it was a good round number and I didn’t want to look cheap. I knew shrimp were classy. I went home and turned my culinary talents loose on the shrimp.

When she arrived for dinner I had a lovely platter piled high with crispy sautéed shrimp that had been dipped in egg and rolled in Italian bread crumbs. Looking at them and smelling them made your mouth water.

She was impressed. She either didn’t notice or didn’t say anything about the fact all I had cooked was the shrimp which I served with what any chef worth his or her salt would serve – soda.

We sat down for our feast. I shoved some shrimp onto her plate (ladies first) and then shoved some onto my plate.

She said, “They look wonderful,” and she meant it!

I said, “So do you.”

We dug in. They were crispy. Very crispy.

She said, “These are very crispy.”

I said, “I know.”

She said, “Did you shell them?”

I said, “Pardon?”

She said, “Shell them? Did you shell them?”

Not content with simply being an ass, I went for being a complete ass. I said, “Shrimp don’t have shells. Lobsters have shells. Clams have shells. Horseshoe crabs have shells.”

She said, “Shrimp have shells too…”

Five minutes later we had two plates before us. One was piled high with beautifully sautéed breaded shrimp shells. The other was piled high with a bunch of naked white shrimp.

There is one thing I do cook well. I cook some of the best omelets known to humankind. In fact, a former roommate of mine, an honest to God French Chef, actually replaced his method of cooking omelets with mine. While I cling to that ribbon of culinary success, I need to get going. My library beckons.

Happy New Year.