The Silence Of The Yams

 

After an ill fated attempt at minimalist living, my wife had forged ahead and dug her heels into a newfound healthy eating lifestyle. It seemed that she had gone vegan. Just like that. The announcement came as a surprise to the entire family. “She’s gone crazy.”, one of my daughters voiced at the secret meeting we held in the backyard.

“She’s not crazy.”, I told them. “Let’s just give it a try.” Desperately hoping that this too would die a quick death, we joined her in the madness of a meatless life.

Every day she would send us pictures and recipes of meals that she found on the internet, each one captioned with “What do you think about this?”, or “Doesn’t this look good?”, in an attempt to involve as many of us as possible in the meals without meat campaign she had launched. We never responded, not one of us.

“What is this?”, I asked as we sat down to dinner.

“Portobello burger.”, she answered. “It tastes exactly like beef.” She was wrong. She was very wrong. It tasted nothing like beef, and even with all of the barbecue sauce, mustard, horse radish and onions, the taste of the mushroom still jumped up and shouted “This isn’t really a burger.”

And then, after reading an article on their health benefits, my wife discovered sweet potatoes. She figured out how to incorporated them in almost every meal. There were pies, and casseroles, and pastas. There were salads, and soups, and stews. After a few days, the rest of us were growing restless, feeling helpless against the onslaught of beans and vegetables, so when she went out with friends one evening, the rest of us headed off to Napoli Vince and dined on the meat lovers platter. There was veal, and sausage, and lamb and steak, and not a bean or a yam in sight. And it was so good! “Why can’t we do this all of the time?”, a daughter asked.

I knew why, but I didn’t want to ruin the obvious joy that illuminated my children’s faces. “Why don’t you just tell her we’re not going to eat veganese any more?” my youngest daughter asked. Why not indeed!

Upon my wife’s return I was ready for the showdown. “So what did you guys do tonight?”, she asked.

“Not much, really.”, I answered.

“How was dinner?”, she continued, as she headed into the kitchen. We all started to panic. We forgot to get rid of the meal she had left for us, sweet potato and lentil stew, in our haste to return to our primal inner carnivores. “So, what did you eat?”, she stated as she returned to the living room. My daughters left, like rabbits running from the fox, leaving me alone to face the Spanish Moroccan in a one on one battle to the death. She was already wearing her battle gear, that ‘I know you did something you shouldn’t have’ face, with those dark, unblinking eyes, arms folded across her chest, and her left leg a little turned out with the foot below it repeatedly tapping on the floor in 2/4 time. I took my position directly across from here, careful not to seem too confrontational while at the same time, demonstrating a complete lack of wrong doing. My hands were in my pant pockets, and my eyes were intentionally avoiding any eye contact with her.

“Well”, she said, “what did you do?”

“Can we sit down and talk?”, I asked.

“You can sit if you want.”, she stated, “I think I’d prefer to stand.”

“No.”, I replied. “I really need you to sit down so we can talk.” When we were both seated I realized that she looked even more upset than when she was standing, but there was no way I was going to ask her to stand up again.

“We don’t want to be vegans.”, I told her. “We just can’t live on rice, and beans, and sweet potatoes.”

“Millions of people eat like that.”, she replied. “What do you mean you can’t?”

“We don’t like it.”, I answered. “We just don’t like it.”

“Well”, she answered, “I could change a few things around, and maybe use different spices.”

“No”, I told her, “its not the seasoning or the spices. Its the lack of meat. I appreciate you trying to keep us healthy, we all do, but we have to come to some sort of compromise. You can’t just dump all of this on us at once.”

“Okay”, she responded. “I guess you’re right. It is a big change to have to deal with all at once. So what did you guys eat tonight?”

“We went to Naploi Vince’s.”, I told her.

“Did you bring me anything back?”, she asked.

“Actually, no.”, I informed her. “But there is a veal on a bun that just needs to be heated up, and its all yours if you want it.” She hoped out of the chair like a jack in the box, and dashed to the kitchen, placing the sandwich in the oven, and I swear I could hear her salivating from the other room.

“We should do this a couple of times a week.”, she said.

“We can.”, I replied.

“Its so good.”, she added, with a mouth full of food, savoring every nuance of this most perfect of sandwiches. I watched her as she continued to eat, taking in all of the sounds that indicated just how much she was loving it.

“Food sex, right?”, I asked her.

“Uh huh.”, she said between bites. And while she continued to eat, I disposed of the lentil and sweet potato stew she had left for us. When she had finished her sandwich, we headed to bed and laying there, I heard her say “We have to go to St. Lawrence Market tomorrow morning and pick up some veal. Oh, and we should get some hot Italian sausages, and beef ribs. I want beef ribs.”

“Okay.”, I said.

“And on the way”, she continued, “we should drop off all of the bags of beans and legumes in the donation bin for the food bank.”

“Okay.”, I repeated. As I drifted off to sleep, I couldn’t help but thinking that I had just dodged another bullet, well not just me, but my kids too. I haven’t seen a sweet potato for a few months, and everyday I am grateful for that. I do however, spend some time, usually at night when the insomnia takes over and leaves me awake and agitated, wondering about what frightening idea from the lunatic fringe she will embrace next.

 

 

 

 

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Passed Over

 

The celebration of a holiday steeped in tradition and family was pre-empted this year due to several family crises. My wife suggested that we do it in a week or so. “We can do it then, right?”, she asked.

“I don’t think we can.”, I informed her.

“Why not?”, she asked.

“I think that a Passover Seder must be held on Passover.”, I answered.

“Who says?”, she queried.

“Well”, I replied, “6000 years of history and tradition, and several bus loads of Orthodox Rabbis en route to a Hassidic convention in Monsey, New York.”

“Are you sure?”, she inquired.

“Pretty sure.”, I told her.

“Well”, she said, “that sucks.”

“Indeed.”, I agreed.

So, with all of the preparation, the cooking and cleaning, the purchasing of seder specific foods, and the table being set, one of my sons, the chef, called to let his mother know that he could not attend as there was an emergency at work. I had no idea what a kitchen emergency could be, short of a fire, but he was clear that was not the case. I suspect that either the sous chef burnt the beef wellington, or some one screwed up the marinara sauce, so he had to go and rectify the problem. “Well”, my wife said, “everyone else will be here, so it will still be okay.”

We headed out to the store to pick up a few final items for my vegetarian/vegan son, and had to visit 3 different supermarkets to obtain the specific foods he would eat. With the morning gone, we began the final organization of food, seating, and Passover paraphernalia. There was another call, this time from my vegetarian son, stating that he was in the E.R. at a local hospital. It seems that he was experiences chest pains through the night, and had been transported by ambulance to the hospital. I went down to check out what was going on, being asked to bring him an orange juice and a chocolate chip muffin, and upon my arrival I found him in a room, not hooked up to any piece of equipment whatsoever. ‘What the hell is going on?”, I asked him.

“I don’t know.”, he said. “I was having chest pains, and my arm felt kind of weird, so I called 911.”

“What did the doctor say?”, I asked.

“Nothing really.”, he replied. “They took blood, and did a chest x-ray. We’re waiting for the results.” He asked if I could go to his place and pick up his boots and socks, as he arrived only with his slippers. I suggested that he get his wife to bring his stuff over, as I was not delivering his shoes.

When the doctor arrived, he was very sure that it was a cardiac event, but more than likely anxiety, or perhaps a pulled muscle. He was discharged, and I gave him money for a cab home, and I headed home myself. At home, I informed my wife that neither he, nor his wife would be attending the seder, as he was going to sleep as he had been up all night. I was told that while I was at the hospital with my son, one of my daughters called and, since neither of her brothers were attending, she didn’t think it was worthwhile coming down, and with my wife’s assistance, put a plan in place to conduct the seder within the next few weeks.

In the meantime, there was a fridge and freezer filled with food. The pantry was bursting with items to be served along side the main courses. There was chicken and brisket, roast potatoes, candied carrots, soup, fricassee and meatballs, gefilte fish, and a host of Moroccan dishes that my wife had grown up with. “What are we going to do with all of this food?”, I asked as I surveyed the abundance of food that had been systematically organized and arranged in the kitchen.

“We’re going to eat it.”, my wife said. “And what we can’t eat, we’re going to freeze.”

It was a very disappointing evening for me. At this time of year, my thoughts dive headlong into the memories of childhood Passovers spent at my parents home. Being with family, the traditions, the food, and the hockey playoff games that inevitably were on at the same time of year, and how my brothers and I, feigning a need to use the bathroom, headed downstairs to catch just a few minutes of the game and to at least check on the score. And upon returning to the table, my father would inevitably ask “What’s the score?”. That too had become our family tradition. And when the seder was done, satiated with food and the story of the emancipation from bondage, we headed to bed, taking comfort in the Leafs’ victory over the Bruins.

This year, however, there was no family. There was no tradition. And as I get older, they both seem to carry increased importance to me. “We’ll have our own seder.”, I told my wife. “There’s you and me, and the two girls. It’ll be fine.”

“The girls won’t be here.”, she informed me. “When they heard no one was coming, they made plans to go out with friends.”

“I see.”, I replied. I didn’t really. I was quite dejected, wallowing in the disappointment of childhood memories that seemed gone forever.

“We can do it together.”, she said. “Just the two of us.”

“Its okay.”, I told her. “I just don’t know why its so hard for everyone to get together twice a year. They’re always too busy. How come we’re never too busy? They’re going to forget everything we taught them. But we should eat. At least I won’t have to put pants on.”  We sat at the table, and before we could begin to eat, my wife looked over at me.

“You are a good father.”, she told me. “We’ll be fine, and they’ll be fine. No matter what they forget, they will never forget what’s important. We did a good job with those kids.”

I felt better. She always made me feel better. “I don’t think I want to do this next year.”, I told her. “I think one of the kids should hold the seder at their place. And maybe, we should have a crisis and have to cancel.”

“If that’s what you want to do”, she said, “we’ll do it. It sounds like fun. Its about time we screwed them around.” At that precise moment in time I realized that this was exactly where I was always supposed to be.