A Jar of Peanut Butter and a Mouse.

posted in: Family, Luv 0
Peanut butter is love. Image: Wikipedia
I figured an image of peanut butter would be more welcome than one of a mouse. Image: Wikipedia.

I’ve come to Iowa for the America Quilts EXPO show in Des Moines. Usually, when I’m in Iowa for quilt-related business I’m taping TV and I’m here with only Mom, my stepdad Mark, and Scrabble. This time, my sister Rebecca and my brother-in-law Jack are here too! They’ve come to work on the movie theater and host a special screening of the John Wayne classic The Searchers up on the town square on Saturday night. (If you’re in the area, you must come down; I’ll post details on my Facebook page.)

We all crammed ourselves into a booth at the Northside Cafe for dinner tonight. Between spoonfuls of chili and glasses of white wine, we reminisced about how Jack and Rebecca got together because it’s basically their one-year anniversary. We talked about how we have peanut butter and a mouse to thank for their love. Yup: a peanut butter and a mouse.

Jack knew Rebecca from work circles and when they met they connected instantly. They were just friends though, because Rebecca was already seeing someone. They kept everything on the level, but it was plain how excited they were to have met the other and every exchange they had was pure delight and intrigue. Jack began to bring homemade peanut butter to my sister’s office. (If that’s not a genius way to get the girl, you’re gonna have to help me know what is.) When Rebecca told me about her new friend Jack, her eyes sparkled. I didn’t think her boyfriend at the time was the right match at all so I was excited about the peanut butter — okay, I prayed about the peanut butter, if catch my drift.

One night in Chicago, I went to Rebecca’s apartment. She had come from roller derby practice and was real sweaty. We were talking at her dining room table when we saw a mouse run fast across the floor. We jumped ten feet in the air and landed on top of the table, pathetic in our terror. Not long after, we heard a terrible, terrible sound: the mouse was caught in a trap — set by the landlord, apparently — under the stove. But it was not dead. It was alive. The sound was horrible and these two extremely capable young women were somehow incapable of dealing with this dying-mouse-under-the-stove situation ourselves. Women and mice, man: it’s a thing.

Rebecca called her boyfriend to come help. But when she got hi on the line, he said “didn’t think [he] could make it.” It wasn’t that he was busy; he just “wasn’t sure” how he was supposed to help. When Rebecca got off the phone and told me this, I tried very hard to continue to support the relationship, but we were literally huddled on the dining room table in distress. I looked at my sister.

“What if you called Jack?” My sister looked at me. She nodded slowly. And in that moment, she knew what she had to do. She called, and Jack said he’d be over in twenty minutes. I insisted she change out of her sweaty roller derby clothes, comb her hair, and put on some lipstick. She thanks me to this day for that, but that’s just my way and what an older sister ought to do.

Jack arrived and went straight to the kitchen. He got down on the floor, eye-level to the mouse, and pulled that thing out. Then he took it out back and made sure that mouse went up to the big Swiss cheese wedge in the sky real quick. He cleaned up from where he moved the stove, he washed his hands. This was a good guy. This was the kind of guy my sister needed to have in her life and in the months and years that have followed The Night Of The Mouse, she and Jack have grown to be the most inspiring, hilarious, marvelous couple I know.

That was the night it really happened — and that’s the way it happened, too. Happy anniversary, you guys.

My Mother, Marianne Flans.

posted in: Family, Food 0
Even down to the fluted (flouted?) dish, this looks remarkably like my mother's flan. (Photo: Who Knows)
Even down to the fluted (flouted?) dish, this looks remarkably like my mother’s flan, though no cinnamon sticks were placed decoratively around the flan perimeter.

Marianne Fons is a legendary quilt personality known coast to coast and around the world. I’ve seen people practically kiss her hem upon meeting her; I’ve seen her sign napkins.** To thousands of quilters, my mother is Friend, Neighbor, and Beloved Quilt Teacher. But in the kitchen, my mother is no star. In the kitchen, she approaches remedial. She would be the first to admit this and did admit this when, moments ago, I yelled from the living room into the kitchen,



“You wouldn’t say you’re a good cook, right? I mean, you don’t consider yourself like, a person who makes more than four things? Is that accurate? Can I ask you something for PaperGirl?”

A pause.

“Okay,” yelled my mother. Loud and unsure is an interesting tone of voice.

Knowing how much she hates interroom conversations, I picked up my laptop and went to where she was: at the kitchen sink. We kids pitch in in the kitchen when we’re here, but it cannot be denied that my mother does the lion’s share of dishwasher-ing at holidays. Mom seems to like KP duty. She’s first one with her hands in the sink, after all, holiday after holiday, practically racing to scrape the plates and haul out the box of Cascade. I slouched up to the other side of the bar, ate some grapes, and asked her in a more civilized way how she viewed herself as a cook.

“I make a great cherry pie,” she said. “I make good mostaccioli. My chicken ricotta soup is good. But I’m not a person who knows how to cook, no. I’m just good at following a recipe.”

“And you would admit you’re a picky eater.” It’s not possible to be a good cook if you’re picky.

“Oh, absolutely,” my mother said. I was glad she didn’t try to argue this point. I’ve never seen a pickier eater than my mother. Actually, I did see a pickier eater, once. She was four and was wearing an Elsa costume in public on a Saturday morning while I was trying to have brunch. Either that little girl agreed to eat something her tired, weary parents offered her or she has starved by now.

“The thing is, though, I’d much rather make a quilt than a dish,” my mother sniffed, hand-drying a pie plate. “At the end of a quilt, you have something that lasts.”

This is Marianne Fons-brand snobbery; harmless (no one will ever really fight over what’s more special, grandma’s chess pie recipe or grandma’s patchwork quilt) but readily available, designed to insure she comes out on top. Maybe it’s not snobbery at all but unflagging optimism; maybe we could all do with more of it, I don’t know. But regardless, every once in awhile my mother makes a comment that belies her “who needs it” position vis a vis food arts. She’s got a daughter (me) and a soon-to-be son-in-law (Jack) who take our cooking seriously. I got down to the chicken soup business yesterday and within a few minutes there was a nutrient-rich, aromatic slurry simmering on the stove; Jack has been known to say things like, “The lemons are macerating” or “Pass the dashi.” Jack and my facility in the kitchen seems to inspire Mom to gingerly expand her repertoire every once in awhile (read: Thanksgiving.)

My stepdad, Mark, was getting his hair cut the other day and saw the good people of Good Morning America talking about pumpkin flan. He told my mom that pumpkin flan sounded pretty good to him, and Mom, seeing this as her yearly opportunity to flex a bit at the stove, proclaimed that she would be making a pumpkin flan this year for Thanksgiving. And make it she did.

It looked just the way it was supposed to. It came out of the pan beautifully and the flavor was spot-on. I know because actually ate some. Pumpkin flan is definitely not on my list of “legal” foods, but I’ve been so sick lately, I figured it couldn’t possibly get any worse. So far, I have not died.

And so, my mother’s new name is Marianne Flans. We’ve decided she needs to make pumpkin flan every year for Thanksgiving because it is delicious, but also so that she can come by her new name honestly: she needs to make multiple flans to truly be Marianne Flans, plural. But we did also decide that when used in the singular, it’s acceptable to pronounce “FLAH-hn” as “f-LAN,” with the long “A” sound, for this means we have a new word to add to our favorite game ever. 

**My mother would want me to point out that I’m signing napkins, now, too; I also have a fame experience my mother likely will never have and would not want: I was asked to sign a girl’s cleavage with a tube of lipstick after performing my set at the Green Mill Uptown Poetry Slam. It was a memorable moment for all.