Thursday, November 16, 2006

On the Trail of the Elusive Mince

What is the one food, besides turkey, that defines Thanksgiving for you? What is that one delight which has stood out for you since childhood? Cranberries? As in Cranberry Relish made by running those tart orbs through a grinder with bits of oranges and apples? Or do you just heat the berries in sugar until they burst their skins making a lovely tangy tart red goo. Yes, oh yes. How about those yams and pineapple bubbling under the toasted crust of marshmallows? Is that brown sugar and molasses in there? m-mmm. But is it the one? What did you hope would be found in the leftovers the next day? For me, there is no contest, it's mincemeat pie.

Good. I was hoping you would say you didn't like mincemeat pie, more for me!

My father's mother made mincemeat the pioneer way, meaning there was actual meat in her mincemeat pie along with the apples and raisins, dried figs and dates all chopped together. The family had been poor, dirt poor, and Grandma Jeff never lost the art of using up. If there wasn't stewmeat to be stirred in the mince at least there would be some bits of pork fat or goose fat and maybe just a dollop of lard. She was still cooking her pies in a wood stove oven in 1968 when she was nearing ninety. Every year as fall deepened my brothers and I would join the uncles in cutting and stacking enough wood for Grandma to get through the Connecticut winter. Those pies were heavy things, every piece a meal, the kind of thing that sticks to your ribs and your memory.

My mother's mincemeat was a bit more refined, made without the smoky meats but with huge flavor -- more rum and dried citron and currants added to the mix of raisins and apples with ground cloves, nutmeg, allspice and ground cinnamon. And some more rum. The whole lower orchestra of aromas and scents combined under piecrust. Somewhere in the family archives are the recipes for both but for the past twenty years or so I have been surviving on
Cross and Blackwell's sticky sweet version poured into a my own homemade crust. I can still make pie crust, but I can't make mincemeat like Mom's or Grandma Jeff's.

We have been ordering our groceries from
Fresh Direct. We had gone through the big list: turkey -organic and unfrozen -, yellow veggies, smashed potatoes for the gravy and a couple of things for pre-eating, healthy and otherwise, I was on mop up duty for the missing items. The first thing on the short list was Mince Pie Filling. Snap, right? I was a little shocked when they didn't have any kind of mince on their website but I didn't think I was going to have any trouble finding Mincemeat in the Capitol of the World.

Well, let me tell you. I have become the Night Stalker of Mince. Merrily cruising down the Baking aisle at Associated Foods, this bright, innocent soul- I am too!-was unable to locate any cans of Mince Pie Filling and the look on the face of the person I asked for help told me that not only did he not know what I what talking about but he was pretty sure I was doing a spoof video for Youtube. Let's all be Borat this year.

Onward. Off to Union Square where four days a week the farmers bring their wares for sale, apples, potatoes and beets, ciders and wines, breads of every shape and crunchiness and forty kinds of winter squash. There was the goat meat lady with her statuettes of frolicking goats right next to the frolicking goat meat sausage and the neat slices of frolicking goat steaks next to the very nice, jumping for joy, goats plaque. Won't she sell more chivo if people didn't see the happy goats next to their pinkish harvest? Dunno. The bottom line is no one at the Square had Mince Pie Mix. They had twelve kinds of honey, fifty kinds of jam, including Quince, which due to traffic going by caused a slight mis-communication which you can probably guess how it went -
Sure! Right here.
Um. No, I said Mince.
Oh. Mince? Well, no, no then.

Luckily I was a baseball's throw from
Whole Foods, the premier supplier of all that is richly good in the way of food and other things. Sixty kinds of Greek Cheese, count'em, sixty, and fourteen kinds of Hot Italian Sausage, one was good enough for my mother's Lasagna, now I have to choose from fourteen. How about some squash that looks like big overcoat buttons?

I headed for the When You Want to Bake aisle still full of hopeful anticipation. On the way I saw a whole counter of one of the other things, something called Organic Body Polish. Sadly, I did not take the time to read the instructions.

In the When You Want to Bake aisle I would find Blueberry filling, Pumpkin filling in Organic, Solid Pack, and Regular, Cherry Filling, a large can with what looked like a Kodota Figs. There was even, I kid you not, cans of Gooseberry Pie filling which my dad would have loved, but no jars or cans of mince. Rebecca, the very nice stocking persona, rushed off to the back to see if any had arrived. Rebecca was gone a long time, so I played two games of chess on my Palm (lost both badly) and listened to a little of my running music, Insomnia and the Hole in the Universe and the Rain King. Rebecca came back empty handed. Crestfallen, she told me that there would be no mince until after Thanksgiving. Well, thanks.

So I headed for the
Westside Market with the idea that I would go to the Chelsea Market if I came up dry there.
At Westside (Seventh Ave near Fourteenth) all the usual goodies of the upper scale market are crammed into the space of a corner deli. The shelves are ten feet high and groan with every edible product from the ends of the earth. They have cheeses that look alive. They had two dozen kinds of salsa. They have fifty kinds of jams and jellies, including Quince. They have no mince.

I went home. I didn't even try the Chelsea Market.
I changed my mind. I've decided since I can't find it to make the mince and here's how you can help.
My sister, the keeper of the recipes, is in Japan helping with the birth of the latest grandchild in our tribe and won't be returning until two days before Thanksgiving. So what had you got? And don't Goggle me up some Best Recipes Site, I've seen those and find something lacking, I want what your mother cooked for you. Come on, give, it's raining and I'm not going out there for citron unless you show me the family's secret recipe.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

No doubt the golden light

No doubt
the golden light surrounding him
holds back much
of the anxiousness of this night,
but he clutchs the flowers tightly by their stems
and wonders again
if they and this date
had both been bad ideas.
Thinking, what was he thinking
when he said yes okay yes sure,
now, less sure
looking the direction she will surely come,
she will surely come, surely come, surely.
what is he thinking
surely she will come
yes, yes okay.
no doubt.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Real Music, Living Color

The curtain of the night's fog hung on for it's last few minutes, trying it's best to blunt the day's entrance. This dawning is rich in muted things: muffled birdsong, the pale glow of light in the quiet woods, the near silent breeze which arrives to send leaves of softest yellow flying. Later, if the rains hold off, there will be glimpses of red and dark orange, but now we run the hills bathed in pastel yellow and the odd deep green that is only seen in November's slanting light.

There is purple here and there, little pieces of night still clinging to the branches, it's the purple of Irises and Springtime floating through the air. The eye denies seeing it but it is there.

I took my headsets off to listen: footfalls fading in the dampness,a muffled crackling off to the left in the painted forest and my own breathing in relief of making the top. Mornings like these make me wonder why I even I even wear the damned things. I mean, I love the music, it sometimes is the only thing that is driving me on, that and the hope that I will be running behind someone that I can keep up with, but hearing the little sounds of the morning, that's real music.
...The year spins towards winter now. These leaves will be gone, or almost gone, by week after next and we shall be on December's doorstep. Why does it seem that autumn, or fall, you choose the word you like the most, seems year after year to hold it's fire and then burst and die? There are some Springs like that, Springs which bypass March and April and don't put any dressing on until well after May Day, but they are rare. Autumns appear more and more like Fourth of July fireworks shows, a steady, but not too showy display to whet the appetite, and then a short urgent cascade of spectaculars.

There is more to see up the road, more days with curtains of fog hanging over them, the tree at the corner signals the year is turning and we hustle towards the horizon.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

At the Intersection of Time and Space

In order
to be
at the restaurant
on time
I have invoked
a time travel mojo
on this taxicab
It's working
red lights to green lights
tottering doddering
from the corners
from the avenues
from the earth
rolling back
as the miles and the meter
roll up
right now
I am only ten minutes late
I am on time
in New York City
ten minutes
is only
ten minutes
twenty minutes
I call the table
to say
I am in a taxi
a taxi
a well known
time machine

Friday, November 10, 2006

Marathon Day 2006

It didn't occur to me until I got to Northeast corner of Central Park (110th Street and Fifth Ave.), but it is the perfect spot to watch the ING New York City Marathon. Why? Because right about at that point, twenty-three miles into the race, Fifth Ave makes a slight angle upward, just a couple of degrees of incline and about a mile long, a little grade that probably doesn't even register on people walking by, but for someone who wants to get to the turn into the Central Park, the last major transition in the run, it is a very long, long hill.

I haven't watched a race in a long time. It is like watching the opening of a floodgate, first, besides the obvious runners in the lead, there are the little knots of men and women, followed by bigger knots and then the scattered left behind runners.
Mixed in with the early leaders were the last of the wheelchair racers. These are not the rollers with the three thousand dollar chairs with the grinder handles and the sleek tilted wheels. Those guys and gals are long gone ( the winner finished in under an hour and thirty minutes.) No, the last wheelchairs are wheelchairs, regular blue and black, footrests in the front, straight wheels and push handle kind of chair you see in the front hall of hospitals. Making that kind of chair go 26 miles is a major effort. Major.

The hill makes this last stretch of roadway very tough. The crowd was tremendous, yelling the name of anyone who was smart enough to put it on their shirt. It must be a great boost to hear your name shouted in cadence at this point of your marathon. "You look great, Joe!" "Wow, Diane, Diane, Diane , go for it now!" Yea, Bill, the top of the hill is the turn into the Park!!" They flew up the hill, not everyone did. There were more than a few who stopped and stretched a hamstring, or an instep, or massaged a shin splint.

As the runners came on in greater numbers the noise the crowd made got even louder. Bells, horns, plastic noisemakers filled the air.

The blond lady waved her sign at every runner while she waited for her husband to come by. He was supposed to be in the three and a half hour finishers and as the time clicked by she got more and more excited, waving and looking and waving and looking. When he finally did arrive arrive, he STOPPED to say hello to her. "Why are you stopping???" she gasped! "Just wanted a kiss, hon."he said and with a little burst of energy in his step, he took off up the avenue.

He had some company.
I'm doing this next year.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Opportunity Knocks, Rationality Answers

A friend writes in regard to the Staten Island Half Marathon:
Great PR!!! I am still working out what PR means but please don't help me, I'm sure I can come up with something. AH, Personal Record - just tell me if I'm wrong.


It could also stand for Particular Reason as in “Do you have any particular reason for standing out in this cold in your shorts?”

Or Personal Renewal which is a lot like Urban Renewal, there is a lot of dust created and eaten and when you are finished no one remembers what the original looked like.

Or Pathetic Raison d'etre. Never mind.


I was hoist by a personal dilemma these past few days. A friend of mine has an entry in THIS year’s marathon, but he is injured and cannot run it. So he offered to pick up his chip (the thing we wear to monitor our times) and bib (the number we wear – it was going to be like number 20331) and give it to me to wear IF I wanted.

What a temptation! I know I could do twenty miles, but I haven’t pushed past that.

Aside from the fact that you are not supposed to transfer any entry and I could be disqualified for next year if I was found out, I was really psyched up and ready.

I got out the maps.

I looked up the ferry schedule.

(The busses were full so I would have to walk trot miles to the starting area. No biggie)
If I ran sixteen miles, I would be back in Manhattan and I could quit and take a taxi home… …. …. I started packing the old sweatshirt I would abandon at the start when a question bubbled up from somewhere deep in my medulla oblongata, “What part of your plan is this?”


I gave the ticket back to him.

I’m going to Marcus Garvey Plaza to watch this morning.

Hey…… want to see what a truck looks like on a downhill at ten miles into a thirteen miler???

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Water, Water Everywhere and Wind too...

One good thing about being in the Poland Spring Five Mile with six thousand four hundred and fifty people a week before the New York City Marathon is that you are pretty much assured of being with a lot of people who aren't going to run very fast. After all, a bunch of them are running in the Marathon on Sunday and 1) don't want to get a) stepped on, b) stepped over or c) injured in any way, shape, fashion, form or manner, 2) are running with someone who is going to run the Marathon and so are going to loaf along with them rather than rabbit out and around the park or 3) are participating in their very first race and haven't a clue what exactly is about to happen to them.

The Kickoff as this race is known is a kind of last fun run of the season for most of the serious runners. People show up in costumes, there were several pirates, a couple of cats, one Disney mouse and a guy in a yellow shirt pretending to be Lance Armstrong. (He was running with a pair of bicycle handlebars complete with bell. Ting ting ting!) It's also a chance for the New York Road Runners Club to have one more practice session at the Marathon Finish Line. Yes. The finish line for the Poland Springs Five IS the same finish line that 37,000 runners will cross next Sunday morning, or Sunday afternoon or even Sunday night. (I don't know when they stop timing people.) So, that is part of the thrill, to know that as you come around the corner near the Merchant's Gate, you are on the same quarter mile stretch to the end that all those folks will be on, and yes, it is all uphill to the finish, it's not much of a hill, but still... .

It was a perfect day for gamboling about, blue,blue skies and winds gusting to thirty-five miles an hour. What? Um, yes, gusting to thirty five so all of the mile markers would be at ground level and ... . Thirty Five miles a hour winds?? But, but ... but, at the start you couldn't feel anything like a gust of wind of any kind, just the warmth of standing on a roadway in your shorts with a lot of other underdressed people. I've learned to run with as little on as possible, I generate a lot of heat and nothing slows me down more than a long sleeved tee-shirt full of salt/potassium water.

Off we went at nine am, I had to be at work by 11:30 so I wanted to just run and get it over with, so my plan was to just loaf along with the others holding back their energy for the big race next week.

I apparently was in front of all of them because the people I was running with were charging along as if they were trying to out run the affects of a dirty bomb. We roared along the West Side, up the hill to the reservoir then down, down and around the 102 Street Crossover and then,


we turned South... and that was where the wind was waiting for us.

Let's see: insert analogy here .... like being hit with a cold wet towel that was in the shape of a truck... like suddenly there were six thousand four hundred and fifty mimes doing "struggle against the wind".... like there was a solid glass wall constructed across the road. Like... .

People groaned, people laughed instead of cried, some seemed to be on the edge of tears and there were lots of Uffs, ahhhs and several mentions of various deities, none of whom, pardon me, none of Whom, were responding to the petitions for aid and assistance. One man, in an attempt to help his running mate, (OH, so that's where that phrase came from!!) said "Don't worry. You'll get used to it."

Well. Well, yes, if a study I once read about is true, one would get used to it. The study asked boxers what their pain levels were during a bout and a majority of them, even the ones who were losing badly, being pummeled by their opponents, reported feeling less pain as the punishment increased.
So as we tottered towards
Fred Lebow's watch watching statue we must have been getting used to it because all the people I was running with seemed to be flying along oblivious to the conditions, completely unaffected by the teeth jamming gale in their face, showing no signs of discomfort except for some really tight grimaces.

Maybe we had gotten used to it. All the water in my breathable running top ($40 at NikeWorld. jeez) had been pushed into my chest so I didn't even have to stop for a water, even a Poland Springs water. Maybe it was because we were finally on the Marathon route, the last three miles of it and the last three of this race are almost identical. (In the Marathon you get to go out onto Fifty Ninth Street for a couple a hundred yards.)

We all zoomed up the hill. Folks gathered to meet their families, people hugged as they ate bagels and apples and drank water. One woman asked her husband if the wind had bothered him. "It wasn't bad." he said. Not one of us called him a liar.