Before I launch into this week’s story, a couple of postscripts to my last two posts (ante-post postscripts?):
First, thanks to the WordPress team for my third Freshly Pressed nod (given for Idiometry), and welcome new followers! So glad to have you here. Second, thanks to all who have commented – here, on Facebook and to me directly, about my post on the still-unratified Equal Rights Amendment. I especially appreciated the information about the current legislative bills that would eliminate the ratification deadline. Time for us all to get busy.
And now for a little reflection (followed, of course, by this week’s dinner suggestions).
One night in late August 1989, my mother and I celebrated my return to Memphis with dinner at El Chico followed by a movie, sex, lies & videotape, at the Malco Quartet. I had seen the movie once already, right after it was released, when I was still in Dedham, MA, 20 minutes from Boston and light years from knowing what I would do next. A fluke call had led to a job, one that required a temporary move to Memphis. Temporary. Six months, tops. That was the promise, and the promise was key because when I left for college in the fall of 1983 the only thing that was completely clear in my head was that I was never, ever going to live in Memphis again, ever.
I didn’t really have a plan, however. A month before I graduated college an acquaintance had called about a job, an internship teaching photography at Noble & Greenough School. Since I had no plan I took the train to Boston, met with the school folks, was offered the position and took it. The job was a two year stint. The first year I would intern and co-teach; the second year I would fill in for the department head while he and his wife took sabbatical to New Zealand.
Scheduled to move to Dedham in August, I had the summer to fill and needed money. So I used my mad typing skills to get a job as a temporary secretary, thinking it would be easy cash with no commitment and as good a way as any to pass a summer in Memphis.
The temp agency placed me in a telecommunications company working for the son of the CEO. The son, who had grown up in Virginia, attended a prestigious boarding school, and earned a master’s from Columbia, had been working at a hot shot ad agency in New York when his father called him into service, prompting a move to Memphis, a city he hated at first sight.
When I reported for work the first day, the other women in the secretarial pool (it was 1987) looked at me with pity and wished me luck. I quickly figured out why. My temporary boss was hot tempered and feisty. He barked orders and used expletives and smoked in his office (again, it was 1987).
Toward the end of my second week, he mentioned he was traveling to New York. I don’t remember exactly what he said, what place he referenced, but it was one familiar to me. So I said something to the effect of “I like that place,” and he said something to the effect of “you’ve been to New York?” and two minutes later, having compared our credentials, the dynamic had shifted. After that my assignments included research and writing, not merely transcribing, and the rest of the summer flew by.
Then I moved to Boston. When my two years of teaching came to an end, I was once again planless and started interviewing for jobs. One job looked pretty good, but as a matter of course I would need references for the interview. The only reference I could think of was back in Memphis.
“You don’t want that job,” my former temporary boss said. “Boston’s too expensive, and you’ll get tired of the winters. You don’t want that job, you want to come back and work for me. I’m starting a new company, and we’re moving to McLean (Virginia). Six months, tops, is all you’ll have to spend in Memphis.”
So there I was, in the lobby of the Malco Quartet movie theater, the Saturday before starting a new job in the city I thought I’d left, feeling some vague camaraderie with the handful of Memphians sophisticated enough to appreciate Steven Soderbergh’s odd humor.
As we filed toward the door we ran into some old friends, a mother and daughter we’d known my whole life. The daughter was a few years my senior, a girl I’d always admired and looked up to. She had some big, important job, this fellow girl from Memphis, a job at Westinghouse or GE, I can’t remember which. She traveled extensively and was working on her MBA. She told us about some big, interesting project she was leading, all of which sounded a bit overwhelming to me.
“So what are you up to; are you just here for a visit?” she asked, and I told her an abbreviated version of how I landed back in Memphis, starting a new job.
“Well,” she responded, her disapproval clear, “I guess if you want to be a big fish in a little pond, you can. But I don’t know why anyone would, especially you.”
I’ve thought about that encounter many times over the last 25 years, particularly when I got the news that this friend, this girl who became a big fish in a big corporate pond, died unexpectedly a couple of years ago, the high pressure environment having taken its high toll.
I think about her still, my late great big-girl friend. I think about her choices and her advice, her hopes and dreams. And when I think of her, what I think is this:
The fish, the pond; they’re relative.
So sometimes the farmers market is a bust, usually when we’re in between growing seasons. And just when I’m about to give up, the fall harvest comes in and I come home with an overflowing bag of fresh goodness. Of course, maybe it’s just that I like the things that are in season in the fall: sweet potatoes, butternut squash, cabbage, lettuce and basil. Since those are the goodies that came home with me, those are the goodies we’ll eat this week.
To make things easy on me, I stuck to one source for recipe inspiration, Epicurious. I love the Epicurious database, mostly because it has such an exhaustive listing of recipes from my favorite food magazine of all time, Gourmet (RIP, Gourmet).
So, no, I do not think my people will go crazy for this dinner, sweet potato and coconut soup with a simple green salad. I’ll probably be making a few peanut butter sandwiches., but maybe I’ll be surprised. In any event, I’ll enjoy.
Butternut Squash | Pork Tenderloin
If you’ve been here before, then you know how much I like butternut squash and that I’m committed to getting my family to like it, too. I found two new recipes, and might actually try both. This recipe for Parmesan-roasted squash is simple and probably hard to screw up. This one for roasted butternut squash salad (with arugula, pancetta and hazelnuts) is a bit more complicated but looks worth the effort. I’ll serve with a pork tenderloin using my mother’s recipe that is similar to this one.
Flank steak with chimichurri is one of our favorite dinners. Although my children don’t like the chimichurri, I hope one day it will grow on them (and until then, ketchup it is). Braised red cabbage with vinegar ought to be a good companion dish, only because we’re vinegar people. If you want something a bit milder to offset the chimichurri, try these velvety mashed potatoes (not from Epicurious, but always delicious).
Spaghetti with Meatballs | Caesar Salad
When I’m trying to get my people to be more adventuresome in their eating, I also respect that sometimes we all just want simple, predictable comfort food. In our house, spaghetti and meatballs usually does the trick. If you don’t have time to make meatballs, you can substitute frozen. (I know, the heresy. And I so don’t care.) Ditto using prepared Caesar dressing for the salad. Make it or buy it, it’s entirely up to you. Choices and options are good things.
Basil Tabbouleh | Roast Chicken