Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Ones That Aren't Around

I once participated in a crime.

Over a decade ago, a person I once knew asked me to help her perform an act that she felt was completely justified. Her ex-boyfriend had a piece of art that she had given him when they were together, and she wanted it back. Lying, she told him she was about to participate in a local art show in which she wanted to include the piece, and "would it be okay if I borrowed it for a month or so for the show?" He agreed without hesitation.

Here is where I come in. The person I once knew really did not want to see her ex-boyfriend, even if it meant getting back something she felt that he didn't deserve to have. So, she asked me to drive up the coast to where he lived and pick it up from him. And I said yes.

It was a long drive, but on the way there I didn't think too much about it. The day was similar to the gorgeous Southern California winter days we've been having lately, a day where the clouds break to sunny blue sky, the mountains are green green green, and everything is so clean and bright, as if no one could imagine sadness. I had the music up loud and played the drums against the steering wheel as I zipped along, skirting the mountains and over to the ocean. The trip there felt effortless and quick. When I arrived, I pulled up to a cute beach bungalow and knocked on the door.

A young woman answered the door, presumably the new girlfriend, and smiled at me. She had expected me, so she had the piece right by the door. After a few pleasantries, she handed it to me. The ex-boyfriend poked his head around the corner, smiled and waved. Feeling a bit uncomfortable, not really wanting to hang out with people I was stealing from, I thanked them and left. Once in the car, I pulled the wrapping off the piece and looked at it: it was beautiful, a combination of craft and personal details so unique, it clearly had been created just for its recipient. The drive home was not nearly as pleasant as the drive there. Weighted down by this piece, my car was slow; traffic appeared from nowhere, and I couldn't find a happy tune on the radio.

Finally, I got back to my neighborhood and handed off the goods to the person I once knew. She thanked me for helping her get back what she felt she deserved. She did not smile.

I've thought about that day over and over since it happened. I wish I hadn't said yes to that person I once knew who I know longer know and who I hope is happier than she once was.

I have a cookbook in my collection that isn't one that I go to for recipes too frequently (although it certainly contains a few winners that are on my regular rotation). Instead, I keep it because the spirit of it is important to me. The Ex-Boyfriend Cook Book: They Came, They Cooked, They Left (But We Ended Up with Some Great Recipes) by Erin Ergenbright and Thisbe Nissen is a collection of stories about ex-boyfriends and recipes they received in the process of sifting through these men. Here is a passage:
When I moved from my studio apartment into a one-bedroom three floors up, I quickly realized that my new neighbor was my ex-boyfriend Edward's new girlfriend. Actually they weren't that new, just new to me.

I rarely saw Edward, although every Monday and Wednesday afternoon (my days off) I heard him with Annabell through the thin walls. No matter how badly things have gone, how clear it is that you need never speak to someone again, to hear him with someone else is difficult. Take a moment to imagine it; not fun.

I had mostly forgotten this boy—a sweet, misguided painter—but faced with these intimate sounds, I felt oddly jealous and irritated. I wrote a few melancholy poems on Mondays and Wednesdays, drank a lot of cheap wine and reflected on the few really cool things Edward and I had done together.

Once we'd hiked to Carson Hot Springs after dark with two bottles of good wine and stayed the night, drinking and talking and risking the $500 fine for crossing the government-owned suspension bridge across the Wind River. Another time we rode our mountain bikes to the top of Dimple Hill in early summer. Ants, itchy weeds, our attempts at improvisational poetry and Edward's sweet mouth make up the montage of that excursion. It's impossible to sum up any relationship without slighting either party, so I won't even attempt it. The tangible thing that remains is, once again, a recipe . . .. (16-17)
To me, the book is more than a collection of recipes left by men who left, but instead a collection of parts of people that helped make the writers who they now are. When I think about that piece of art I helped steal from a (probably) unsuspecting man, my heart hurts. First, I feel horrible for participating in a theft of any kind, but more importantly, I took from him a tangible thing that may have represented how much someone once cared about him, how much fun they had while they had it. Perhaps this item may have symbolized what he had learned and what he then knew he needed from someone else. Or, perhaps I'm making a bigger deal of this then I should. Perhaps he has those memories and he doesn't need the art to remind him of them. Whatever the situation, I'm sorry.

Citrus-Vanilla Shortbreads
My own recipe.

I once made a batch of these for a man I didn't love who didn't love me. It took us a while for us to figure out that we didn't love each other, but I'm so glad that we did.

We both loved these little coins of cookies though. They are fragrant like citrus blossoms, simple, and subtle, perfectly paired with an afternoon cup of coffee or after dinner cup of Moroccan tea.

You will need:
3/4 cup unsalted good butter, softened
1 tablespoon finely grated citrus rind (today I made me cookies with a mix of Meyer lemon and Eureka lemon rinds, but I think my absolute favorite way to make these is with lime rind)
the scraped out seeds of one vanilla bean
1/3 cup sugar plus extra
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 and a scant 3/4 cup flour

To make the cookies:
Preheat the oven to 350.

With your mixer, cream together the butter, citrus rind, vanilla bean seeds, sugar and salt until the mixture is light and fluffy. Slowly mix in the flour, just until all the ingredients are completely combined.

Roll dough into 3/4 inch balls and place 12-15 of them spaced regularly on a silicone- or parchment-lined baking sheet. Pour a couple tablespoons of sugar into a saucer. Take a clean glass with a flat bottom out of the cupboard, smear the bottom of it completely with your greasy hands, then dip the glass bottom in the sugar in the saucer. Use the sugar-coated glass bottom to press on of the dough balls flat, to about 1/4 inch thick. Dip the glass in the sugar again, and repeat on another dough ball. Continue with the rest of the cookie sheet, dipping the glass in the sugar between each.

Place the cookie sheet in the preheated oven. Bake for 10 minutes, then check. Most likely, they won't be done. The cookies usually take about 13-14 minutes to cook for me. You know they are done with the very edges begin to turn toasty-tan. Don't let them cook any longer than that, or the cookies will take on too much of the browned butter taste and lose the citrus and vanilla inflections.

Repeat the process with the remaining dough. This recipe makes about 30-36 cookies.

As I serve these to the man I love this week, I'll say a silent thank you to the men I don't: thank you for getting me here.


Siri said...

Fun story...these look IDENTICAL to the almond sugar cookies that my mom makes evert Christmas.

Anonymous said...

None of my ex-boyfriends ever left recipes behind. Music, yes (in those days, it was LPs!), but never food memories. All of those have been made in the past 30+ years, with my husband. Happy Valentine's Day!

Anonymous said...

If I forgive you, can I have a cookie? Here's the way I see it: If an engagement is broken, the woman should, really should, return the ring. If a relationship ends, and the injured party wants the return of something of value, it should be returned. Personally, I wouldn't want anything back that would remind me of him. When I've been on the bad business end of a relationship, I have thrown everything he ever gave me in the trash (with some breakage).

Kathleen said...

Christina, I usually lurk about my favorite blogs-rarely comment. Don't have my own am thinkin about it. I love your writing and the way you create intriguing contexts for what you offer up to share. Today's post is lovely. I don't particularly like valentine's day (I am lucky I am with a guy that makes it feel like it is everyday) This post is a way to celebrate it in a real way. I feel like my sweet heart I was with before my husband really taught me a lot about what I wanted a partner to be like, and taught me how to be less high strung. I am thankful to him and to a few others. How nice to take a moment to honor that. Thank you for your example. I cherish the things given to me by my exs I guess I am lucky. Kathleen

Christina said...

Hi Siri: I had fun stopping by your blog the other day--I used to live in Minnesota too, once upon a time. Almond sugar cookies, yum!

Lydia: Happy Valentine's Day back at ya, and happy memory making as well.

Altadenahiker: I can imagine the breakage was very, very cathartic, and hopefully a little fun too.

Kathleen: Thanks for dropping me a note--I love hearing from lurkers. I'm not usually a Valentine's Day person either, but it is impossible for me to avoid it since I work in a school, and every holiday gets celebrated in a huge, overblown way. So, I had been thinking about it, and this is what came out.

Terry at Blue Kitchen said...

A beautiful, thoughtful post, Christina. I sometimes think about the various girls [and later, women] who helped me get to who I am today. It's also important to realize that the same is true for the people we love now. It's easy to harbor jealousies and resentment against those "prequels"--instead, we should perhaps thank them.

Anonymous said...

Great post...and good food for thought. I have that cookbook, too, and love it -- for the collages, for the recipes, for the stories -- it's terrific.

Anonymous said...

Oh god, that's good writing. Don't we all have memories like that? Thanks for sharing. So perfect, so crystallized. It's my favorite type of writing.

Christina said...

Terry B.: Good point. I'm glad ECG is who he is, and I'm thankful for everyone who got him here.

Genie: It is indeed terrific. I've given several copies away as post-breakup gifts, perhaps not to be appreciated at the time, but later.

Ann: Aw shucks, lady. Thank you! I'm very glad you enjoyed it.

Wendy said...

This reminds me of something I can't remember... Will write more once I do!

Christine said...

Your posts are always so interesting. After reading this, I feel a bit guilty having recently been on the giving end of this pain. But it eventually makes them stronger and appreciate their new significant other more right?