It's lucky I didn't get married when by all rights I should have, during that time known as the Donna Martin decade, aka the 1990s. I might be embarrassed now when I would have looked back at the wedding VHS and realized that "our" song was "Wonderwall" and that all the wedding pictures showcased a drastic blood-red-blunt-bang Vidal Sassoon breakup dye job and cut (it took about three years to grow that mess into that strawberry banana lifesaver stage). Hell, I might even be embarrassed that the reception, most likely thrown at the La Luz de Jesus gallery in Silverlake had offered a backdrop of pin up girls, Weegee photographs and Day of the Dead figurines. And that I listened to Weezer at least 478 times as I hand stamped each invitation ("What's with these homies dissing my girl/ Why do they gotta front?"). I have imagined the scenario probably a hundred or more times over the years, when I was asked to be a bridesmaid or when I saw another friend's wedding pictures on Facebook, and definitely when I was six or seven and playing around with my friends. THIS is what my wedding, my big day, is going to look like, and it will be beautiful. Every single detail was imagined and remained as I got older and my tastes changed and the styles of everything around me changed, too, but I was never able to picture one key element:
Seriously, even when I was dating someone seriously (and there were quite a few during the 1990s, sorry for partying), I couldn't see the guy, period. Not a body, not a face, not a single distinguishing feature. I'm quite sure that had I been in therapy during any of those imaginative times, the shrink would have had much to say about this.
Maybe most girls are like this, planners and re-planners of this rite of passage, I really don't know, but I think there is something inherently wrong with me. I mean there are many, many things wrong with me, let's not kid ourselves, but maybe if you don't ever see yourself marrying someone when you imagine, oh I don't know, MARRYING someone, you should work on developing other dreams for your life. Like writing a food blog.
This site has been a chronicle of my Amazing Middle Aged Peter Pan Angst(™), and if you've read any of it before today (I know there are at least two of you) you are probably keenly aware that there has been much of it. There has also been silence for more than a year, and I would like to explain, just in case you've felt a gaping hole in your soul.
Almost two years ago I was having a pretty serious relationship with Facebook, and I had been trying very hard to flirt as ineptly and embarrassingly publicly as possible with a guy I had met for the first time in sixth grade, when I was eleven and he was twelve. Go CLIS Eagles! When we were in high school he had the thickest, shiniest black mullet that looked exactly like Bono's and I always remembered him wearing a Cult concert t-shirt from the Electric tour. He was dark and quiet and he had fantastic taste in music. He also ignored me. Anyway, he was having exactly none of my lame attempts to reconnect via Facebook. Like he gave just about zero fucks, no joke. But in my typical manner, I wouldn't let it go and just kept hammering away at him, trying to get anything out of him at all, even though he lived on the other side of the country and probably had stopped hero-worshipping Ian Astbury decades before.
After ignoring my unsolicited advice regarding an iPhone app for identifying the constellations (there was a beautiful symphony of crickets after that one), I got a notification that someone had liked a food picture I had posted (sorry I'm not sorry, I know it's annoying). It was one of these:
The huevos were delicious, and I needed to grow a pair. I knew I had to be bold, be quick and be adorable. It's too bad I was none of those things, but I did send him a private message that went a little something like this:
Me: Thanks for "liking" my picture, but what the hell are you doing home on a Friday night?! (Imagine me all finger waggy and sassy)
The Mullet: Uhm, you're welcome? I have my kids this weekend, that's why I'm home. (Imagine him all exasperated and over it)
Me: Oh. Well, if you have your kids, why aren't you hanging with them? I mean they've gotta be better than Facebook. (Didn't that point totally make me adorbs?)
Mullet: It's midnight. They're asleep. (No. No, it decidedly did not. Nope.)
Me: Oh. Yeah, I guess they would be. (I'm imagining the taste of the sole of my shoe and it's got some gum sticking to the bottom of it)
SEVERAL MINUTES OF NOTHING
Mullet: You're in CA, that means it's only 9 there. Let me ask you this: why are YOU at home Facebooking at 9 on a Friday night?
To which I had no good answer, and still don't. I'm kind of amazed that we ever talked again, actually, but we did. We talked (texted) pretty much every single day for months and months until he flew out to California to take me to dinner. But that's another story altogether.
Suffice to say, I've been pretty busy for this last year and change, and I'm now living on the other side of the country mostly. Oh, and there are three kids, three boys, actually, and they don't really like my cooking, which is both totally funny and completely maddening, but whatever. I'm cooking not just to delight myself these days, but to the tastes and wants of an entirely new family, one that I never could have imagined. Sweet? Sort of. But also a big challenge for a girl that has only lived for herself for 43 years.
So please pardon me while I remember how to write again and try to cook stuff that at least one of these boys will eat.
This recipe was loved by TWO of them, which in my book is an unmitigated success. The third kid's body still hasn't been located. Too soon? Perhaps. Not funny? Quite likely. Same old cranky Melissa? Absolutely.
serrano split pea soup with fried pancetta
(makes 6-8 cups)
3 oz. pancetta (I like La Querica available at Whole Foods)
1 TBSP olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, diced
2 medium leeks, white and light green parts only, diced
1 large carrot, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 tsp. kosher salt
8 garlic cloves, minced
2 serrano chilis, seeded, stem and membrane removed, minced
2 potatoes (Yukon gold, if available), unpeeled and diced
1 cup ham (smoked, if possible), chopped
1 ham hock
6-8 cups chicken stock
8 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves, fresh
1 lb. green split peas
1 tsp. chipotle powder
2 tsp smoked garlic powder
2 TBSP Worcestershire sauce
Add olive oil to a large dutch oven or stock pot over medium high heat. Place thin slices of pancetta in the pan and fry until the fat is rendered and the pancetta is well done and crisp. Remove pancetta from the pot and set it aside onto a paper towel lined plate. Reserve for later.
Keeping the rendered fat in the pot, add the onion, leeks, carrot and celery, sprinkle with kosher salt and sautee 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have given up all their water and are translucent. Add garlic and serranos and sautee another minute or so, fully incorporating them into the vegetables, stirring often so the garlic does not burn. Add the potatoes and ham and cook until they are just soft, about 8 minutes. Place the ham hock in the pot, add the thyme, bay leaves and split peas and cover with chicken stock. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer, adding the chipotle powder, smoked garlic powder and some freshly ground black pepper. Simmer, uncovered, until peas are soft and falling apart, 1 1/2 – 2 hours.
Remove and discard thyme stems, bay leaves and ham hock. Add Worcestershire sauce and season with salt and pepper. Crumble reserved pancetta on top to garnish and serve with some crusty bread.
As time has gone by, I have expected more and more from a partner and less and less of a wedding dress, which is kind of perfect, really. I have managed to avoid a taffeta catastrophe and mediocre catered food, which falls squarely in the "plus" column. My only real regret is not having a party with an open bar for my long suffering and patient friends.
And I love the face that I see so clearly (when I have my trifocal glasses on) every night and every morning because it isn't a fantasy, it is my unimagined hope come to life.