Foodie Tuesday: Smoke ‘Em If You’ve Got ‘Em

Fish, I mean. I’ve never had the experience of sucking anything into my lungs through a burning tube of dead plants or any other sort of cigarette, pipe, cigar, spliff, bong, etc, and I feel not the slightest sorrow over that as a loss. But smoky foods? Oh, yes, please! Smoked meats, smoked salts and spices, and especially, smoked fishes.

Smoked cod, like the tenderly delicious star of that long-ago fish-and-chips feast in an out-of-the-way pub in Winnipeg where the air was suffused with the aforementioned kinds of smoke to the point that had my companions and I not been quite hungry and quite at sea about where to find another eatery, we’d not likely have stopped. One had to brave a dank, ill-lit stairwell to the netherworld of an almost invisible below-stairs bar, be “sponsored” by a dear friend to become a member of the joint (the barman was happy to be best friends with all of us), order from the cook who was sitting at the bar eating his own lunch of fried rice or chow mein, and trust that one was actually welcome and about to be fed something good. Happily, all of this oddball expedition led to one of the most spectacularly delicious meals of fish and chips I’ve ever enjoyed, not least of all made special by the cod being smoked rather than merely fresh and perfect.

Kippers and Kedgeree would be hard to beat for a tasty breakfast or light supper, being smoked-fish-centric. Smoked tuna salad is a lovely dip or spread for hors-d’oeuvres and snacks. Fresh bagels are a dream with any good schmear, but possibly best of all with some bright, pure cream cheese and pristinely sweet and salty lox.

And of course, being a good native Seattleite and of Norsk lineage, I am fond of salmon in a vast variety of forms, not least of all the Norwegian version of that Jewish treasure, the cured salmon known as gravlax or any smoked salmon worthy of the name. Growing up with a good supply of Gramps‘s freshly caught fish on the table was not only a boon to the economy and health of the household, but a training ground for the love of that noble fish that only grew over the years and expanded to include the beauties of those cured and smoked varieties. It’s no surprise that I should so often fall back on the inclusion of one or more of these salmon delights when it’s time to make a good meal, whether for just my partner and me or for more sophisticated company.

This time I opted to let several different favorites crash into each other on the plate: double salmon (cured lox plus candied/smoked wild Alaska salmon) blended with a little bit of lemon cream, and firmly tender white wine-steamed vegetables (carrots, celery, and green beans), all scooped on top of a goodly heap of baked macaroni and cheese. They were well enough behaved with each other that I never doubted I’d find them friendly toward me, too, and sure enough, they were. Like the Winnipeg barman and me, this dish and I became fast friends—that is, both quickly and deeply attached. Until the serving dish was empty, anyway.Photo: Salmon Mac

A Certain Age

I’ve always been mystified by the people who are terribly age-conscious. When I was younger, I didn’t get the agonies my peers went through over longing to be old enough for this, that, and the other thing. Driving a car was never especially thrilling or compelling to me, alcohol had little allure as an illicit tipple when I could see how stupidly my peers (and many legal-age drinkers) behaved when drinking more than they could handle, and I’ve still not had the remotest interest in trying to smoke anything. I didn’t even care about R-rated movies any more than I do now; most of those are too violent, too rude, and or too loud for my usual taste.

When I got old enough to do all of the supposedly grownup-geared stuff, I became just as amazed and confounded by those who wish and try to be or appear younger than they are. If I want to lie about my age, I won’t pretend I’m some young thing I’m not; I’ll certainly tell everyone I’m much older than I really am so they’ll be impressed with how fit, alert, and fantastic I am compared to everyone else “my age”—but that’s too much effort for a silly joke on my part. I’m pretty content to be myself, whatever age I am, and let people love, respect, and admire me—or not—for the real me that they know. I’m happy to have accomplished what modest things I’ve learned or done, to covet the thin grey hairs and fine-lined wrinkles I’ve earned through years and experience, and to relish the freedom that comes with age.

Because as far as I’m concerned, the biggest and best goal of growing up (insofar as I’ll concede to attempting anything like that) is to be so at home in my own skin, however baggy and spotty and misshapen it might be, that I can like myself fine and expect the same respect from others without trying to be someone or something I am so obviously not. Here I am, 53-plus years of ordinary, thin-haired, not-so-fit, tacky happiness jammed into a humbly passable carcass, and I’m mighty glad of it.Ink drawing: A Certain Age

Enter Two Figures, Stage Right, Smoking

It’s weird, downright bizarre, to watch vintage film and plays and see hospital scenes where the doctors and nurses and orderlies are all puffing madly on their unfiltered cigarettes while earnestly counseling and tending their patients to make them all as healthy as they, their caregivers, are. To see those marvelously odd advertisements of yore with the top athletes of the day touting the energizing and strengthening effects their favorite brands of smokes give them. I watch such things with the same sort of astonishment I feel on observing the freakish footnotes of science as the pendulum swings back and forth with abandon, belying the idea that scientific discoveries lead to indisputable fact, or that even more outlandish concept, that once something is accepted as fact it would change how we behave.digital collageBecause what’s sincerely weird and bizarre, odd and freakish is that there are still millions of people, even many who will say outright that they believe smoking has been proven to be a health hazard, who smoke cigars, cigarettes and pipes, use snuff, or chew tobacco. I get the older folk who’ve been smoking since well before it was generally considered a given that it was a bad idea and likely to shorten or worsen one’s lifespan, knowing what a deeply addicting ‘treat’ tobacco is. A friend who was both a smoker and an alcoholic long ago swore that giving up drinking was absolute child’s play compared to kicking the nicotine habit. It’s those who, growing up in generations that predicated their smoking views on the premise of its outsized dangers, still choose to start smoking, that mystify me utterly. But then, I am amazed and flummoxed and otherwise mystified by anyone wanting to ride motorcycles without helmets, imbibe hallucinogens, run with the bulls, free dive competitively, juggle chainsaws, charm cobras, or any of that other adrenaline-junkie stuff.photoThen again, millions of people are bound to be equally agog that I would risk my health eating the way that I do, waste my time being an artist and writer, or be so stupid as to like any number of the things I enjoy and admire. Perhaps one day there will be a play or movie of my life, made for the sheer entertainment of people who like being shocked by my great idiocy and strangeness and find it hard to believe I survived to the great old age of fifty-two (or, hopefully, much more) with my inexplicable bundle of psychoses masquerading as the stuff that charmed me. I bow to you and take my leave, friends. I know that I shall die, but we can only guess which of us will get there first.

As American as Whaaaaaa…???

Digital collage of eagle, flag, baseball, etc + text

So much for inalienable rights . . .

So the husbandly-personage and I were talking about Libertarian ideals and as usual, the conversation drifted as we meandered the miles homeward through another hot afternoon. I think you know enough about me already to guess that I’m generally less than hot on talking, or even thinking, politics. Always a topic for argument, disagreement, divisiveness when I’m out of the safe environs of my own little twosome. Even within it, occasionally. And I just plain don’t relish conflict at any level. When it comes to politics, that’s also occasioned by its being one of those few areas in which I am admittedly cynical and tend to lack my usual annoyingly perky attitude of perpetual be-nice-ness that assumes all the best of all humanity. I think when it comes to civility and unselfishness, ours is a race of creatures ill-suited to follow our best instincts.

Which is to say, I think a great many political systems, even democracy for cripes’ sake, look fabulous on paper. There are lots of admirable aspects not just to democracy but to constitutional monarchy, to communism, socialism, even anarchy, not to mention a whole slew of sub-categories within each. And don’t get me started on all of the world’s religions and pseudo-religions and cults, which I may have mentioned in crankypants moments I find are often freely intermixed with political, social and more personal beliefs to the point that I’m quite convinced few (any?) living beings have any clear concept of what any of the aforementioned means by definition, let alone in their originators’ intended forms, any more.

The problem–you can see where I’m headed–is that despite the beauty of many ideas’ intentions, they are very seldom enacted with anything near the purity of heart they might require to actually work. We Homo pseudo-sapiens just have a tremendously powerful tendency to do things to please and satisfy our personal inclinations. We work hard to define wants as needs, to translate privileges into not just constitutional rights but, by cracky, as pretty much divine rights and Not To Be Messed With, Dammit. It’s in this world that, while I think most thoughtful persons will agree that focusing on anything other than actual driving while driving is potentially dangerous not only to the persons in the vehicle being driven but to any others sharing the road and its vicinity, I still had this afternoon the not-at-all-uncommon opportunity to look over at the next lane and watch a driver assiduously texting from behind the steering wheel without the remotest indication that he was worrying himself about whether that was risky for him, let alone aware that we were in a car not one metre distant from him and hurtling along at the same mad freeway pace.

This is the same world where plenty of people know perfectly well that it’s an iffy proposition to suck tar and nicotine into your lungs but do so willingly and regularly and are quite content to share all of their available leftover smog with nonsmokers’ adjacent lungs without even having to be asked for the gift*. *(In this setting, feel free to assume I’m using the Norwegian version of ‘gift’, in which language the word means poison.) It’s the same world full of people well-versed in the basics of their home countries’ and counties’ laws who are still completely willing to flout and break those laws if and when they think they can get away with it.

Crotchety? Oh, yes, I certainly am when it comes to assuming people will do the right thing if left to their own devices. But I’m not exactly sure there’s any cure for that, least of all within any political, legal, religious or social system we’ve yet discovered, and even the most would-be benign autocracy slides off into murky territory and rots from the inside without a great deal of delay. Am I dark-minded enough to say It’s Just Our Nature? Just the way we ARE? Sounds like a quitter talking, at best. But yeah, there’s an element of defeatism or even fatalism involved when I see how far we’ve come along the ol’ human timeline, how many Golden Ages have crashed and turned to ethereal gnat poo in how many stupendous civilizations, how often the stubborn and unsanitary insanity of self-interest has brought down the greatness of the moment . . . well, fill in the blanks yourself. I told you right up front, now, didn’t I.

Meanwhile, I would like to reiterate my longtime belief, what perhaps you could almost legitimately call one of my few real articles of faith, that the majority of people are weirdly, strangely, pretty good at center. Go figure. That’s the basis for my muddle-through theory of salvation–well, continuity. It’s simply that, no matter how awful and disgusting we’ve managed to be as individuals, let alone to one another, and this also on a global level, despite the number of massive historic failures to succeed in being simply ongoing nations and cultures, somebody always seems to carry on. How improbable! How bizarre! How heartening. Okay, alla youse guys, I guess that means we have to soldier on in our own limping, screwy, fatheaded mortal way. If every one of us manages to be just a little bit less self-centered and, what the hey, less often deserving of placement in the time-out corner of life–well, I think we might have a shot.