Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie

A few weeks ago, some of the girls and I got together for what I thought was to be an “Evening in India,” but what turned out to be a continuation of my month-long birthday celebration. What a treat! We had a lovely time sitting by the pool over at Pancho Villas, the new gated community down by the beach, and then we had quite a bit of Indian food for dinner, punctuated with photo ops, and followed by a screening of the Bollywood movie Water.

The only thing missing, we decided, was pumpkin cheesecake.  I should mention here that we did have pumpkin pie, and we did have cheesecake, too, and while alternating bites was certainly delicious, the combo would have been even better, so I promised to add a pumpkin-cheesecake pie recipe to the Slice of Heaven menu, and here it is.

For the crust:

Make a graham-cracker crust. Surely you know how to do that by now.  Cinnamon grahams are the best for this spicy sort of concoction.

For the filling
1 1/2 C canned pumpkin
3 eggs, the larger the better
1 1/2 t cinnamon, 1/2 t nutmeg, 1 t ginger, 1/2 t salt
1/2 C dark brown sugar – pack it in there
24 oz softened cream cheese
1/2 C sugar
2 T whipping cream
1T cornstarch
1 t pure vanilla
Dash of bourbon

For the topping
2 C sour cream
2T sugar
Another dash of bourbon, maybe a little more generous this time

Preparation

Make the crust and chill. Don’t skimp on the “chill” part.

Whisk together the pumpkin, eggs, spices, salt, and brown sugar.

Cream the cream cheese and sugar, then whip in the cream, cornstarch, vanilla, and booze. Add the pumpkin mix, and keep at it until it’s all smooth and mellow.

Get out your chilled crust and fill it up with this lovely mixture.

Bake in the middle of the oven at  350°F for 50 to 55 minutes. Test for doneness with a toothpick. When it comes out clean, put the pie on a rack to cool for at least five minutes

Meanwhile, whisk together the sour cream, sugar, and bourbon..

Spread the topping over the pie and bake it for another five minutes, and you are good to go.

Yoga Retreat Golf Meditation

“Focus,” he says, “on a faraway sound.”

Instructed well, I still listen instead
for the silence just beyond the sounds
of the Costa Rican rain forest:
the stream, the wind, the birds, the dogs.

I listen as always
for the perfect click
of the well-placed stroke
lofting a ball
somewhere yet
behind the silence that hovers
between the birds and the monkeys
and the rain forest sky.

Not far from here,
in the deep dark serenity
a billboard blocks out the pasture
strewn with perfectly lean
cattle — and shade.

I’m listening for silence
but seeing the billboard
promising beaches, promising golf.
Or promising sand traps and pain,
I’m not quite sure which,
and I have quite enough pain
already
in shoulders and spine and in knees.

I’m listening for silence
but drifting myself
into a turqouise-striped beach chair
striped canvas above me
an umbrella in my drink
that maybe is rum in a wild carved-out pineapple
or maybe straight rum in a souvenir glass.

You, of course, are there with me,
contented,
relaxed.

I’m listening for silence
but I’m swinging my club
seeing perfection
simplicity
ease.

I hope I remember
what my body can do
when I come out of the rain forest
and back to the lights
where I can listen for silence
behind the sounds
of the driving range at night.

Then maybe I’ll hear
the song that you’re humming
behind the silence that hovers
between the birds and the lizards
and the Florida sky.

Museums: Pie and Revolution

I’ve been wondering about adding a Pie Museum to the Slice of Heaven 24-Hour Pie Shop and Driving Range. It seems to me that it might draw in a few more people in the off season, and besides that I like the idea. There’s certainly no shortage of golf museums and gol halls of fame, but pie appears to have been short shrifted.

I’m sure that there are some glorious pie paintings, prints, and drawings that I could instal there. I already know of several sculptures, or at least ceramics. Several movies have certainly featured pie: whipped cream pie, shaving cream pie, warm apple pie, and other varieties. I always liked the John Travolta movie Michael, in which he played an angel, supposedly the very one who invented pie, and it includes a lovely scene of Andie McDowell singing about pie. Then there’s the more recent movie Waitress, and on network television, there’s Pushing Daisies about a piemaker with the touch of life, or death.

Perhaps I can also include some history of pie, science of pie, and the future of pie. There’s a lot of pie memorabilia, not to mention equipment, costuming, and cookery. For example, there’s that four-and-twenty blackbirds story. Perhaps you’d like to know more about that. Let me know. The museum is just in the planning stages, and we have plenty of time to get it right. Perhaps we can come up with something as appealing as Cranberry World in Plymouth, Massachusetts, or even the World’s Largest Teflon Frying Pan.

I like all kinds of museums, ranging from the tiny one that used to be — and maybe still is — in Silver Plume, Colorado back in the days when local residents freely grew pot plants in the window-boxes of their homes, to the utterly fantastic Provincial Museum in British Columbia.

My favorite fictional museum is the Barnum Museum in the book by the same name, written by Stephen Millhauser who also wrote the short story that became the movie The Illusionist.

In Havana, though, my favorite place in the city was the Museum of the Revolution.

When I sent my dear friend Ms. Jay my collage from Cuba, she wrote back that she was very glad that I had been to the Museum of the Revolution, and said, “I could picture you looking at the wax sculptures of Che and Camilo coming out of the jungle.”

Yes, and I could see her there, too. For me, the Musee was the high point of the trip, my primary reason for being there on the island South of Key West. The building itself was once the dictator Batista’s palace, and the ornate architecture said a lot about that time and place when there was such a huge gap between the haves and the havenots. Revolution, indeed. Our tour guide Michel Ten told us a story about a group of students who tried to storm the palace in Batista’s days, but Batista easily escaped through one of the many secret tunnels. The students? They did not survive their act of revolution.

What drives a people to revolution? Extremities, and that was very clear just in seeing the contrast of the building, and imagining it as it once had been, with the simple displays, and open windows, and peeling paint on the interior walls.

I’m sure the displays in the Museum of the Revolution did not meet the standards of even the most basic interpretation in the Smithsonian, and yet I don’t remember ever being so moved by a museum, so touched. I once read an essay in which a young boy visiting the British Museum once and reported back that that the thing he loved best was Nelson’s shirt, “with his own blood on it”

Everything in the Museum of the Revolution, it seemed, had someone’s own blood on it. And, yes, that’s what I like best, too. Nothing really cleaned up or laundered. Nothing polished or restored. But room after room, in what had once been a fabulous palace, I read and saw the tale of an island and its people, their struggles, and their blood.

The lack of artifacts was what spoke to me the loudest: A placard related the story of a hero, and then in the case, a piece of cutlery with a note: “Here is a spoon he once used.” For another, a pair of cuff-links. Letters from Fidel, written in perfect Palmer method penmanship. Photographs of friends and comrades, in good times and bad.

I read recently, that people who grew up in the time of balck and white television are more prone to dream in black and white, rather than in color. I dream in color. And I don’t know where that quite fits in here, except to remind me to tell you that nearly all the photos in this museum were black and white, and as we went through the rooms, we eventuallyl came to one with a black and white television, and old black and white television, playing a continuous loop showing a plane landing, and then two soldiers solemnly coming down the stairs, with the box containing Che’s remains hoisted on their sholdiers.

Not a coffin. A box. No pretense that all of Ernesto Che Guevara’s remains were there, so much gone already into the earth or scattered. I sat in my gray-metal folding chair in the unbearable brightness of the room and watched the loop again and again, until I felt I could finally move on to the next section where, indeed, I did see the wax figures of Che and Camilo running out of the jungle.

A crowd of school children had come into the museum earlier, surging around me as I squatted to read the inscriptions next to weapons and cufflinks. By then, I’d been asked a couple of times by adults, if I were Cuban, ut the kids had no doubt that I was a foreigner in their midst. They looked at me with curiosity, but also with comradeship, explained things to me in slow careful Spanish, which I did not understand as well as I felt the effort they were taking to talk to me, and then they ran ahead to point at their next favorite item or display.

By the time I caught up with them again, two of the boys, maybe nine or ten years old, were posing in front of the wax figures of Che and Camilo, running out of the jungle; two young boys, eerily wearing the same solemn faces as the soldiers who had carried the remains down the stairs from the plane. No joking, no fooling around.

Even now, my mind is full of those images of artifacts in tattered cases, and unsmiling school boys who have learned well the message of work, learn, and fight.

But then, all I could do was to wipe my eyes, find Little Peach at the edge of the crowd, and walk down the sweeping Scarlett O’Hara staircase to the floor below.

We next went into the ballroom, filled with gilt-edged mirrors which, I’m sure, only hinted at how opulent the building had really once been. Our eyes were drawn up to the grandios mural on the ceiling, and I lay down on the floor to see the whole thing. As I did, coins clattered out of my white-pants pockets all around me, echoing hollowly through the room. I gathered them up and lay down again, Little Peach guiding me to the best spot to see the host of angels and also the fire that they were dousing. A crystal chandelier hung down from the center of that ferocious heaven, and I lay below, thinking of Che and Camilo running out of the jungle, and the unsmiling boys.

No one told me not to lay on the floor. Then again, no one else joined me there.

I felt colorless and pale as we left the building and headed back up the street toward the Museum of Contemporary art, a modern structure built around an open courtyard and sculpture garden. We started at the top and began to work our way down, but I did not find much there that appealed to me, so I left Little Peach on her careful and thoughtful stroll and went down to the courtyard to reflect on what I’d seen — perfect, temperature-controlled and well-lighted painting and sculpture– and I wondered at the sadness that pervaded everything for me.

Perhaps the sorrow was left over from the Museum of the Revolution, or maybe it was a sense of art that was never alowed to fully blossom, kept in check somehow. The impressionist paintings there all reminded me of the French masters, but they seemed to be copies, not originals. And the more recent images seemed to be pervaded with death, disease, famine, and pestilence.

I wanted more originality, more spirit. I wanted the Cuban art of the murals and the streets to find its way into the fine galleries of the world, too. The art museum left me feeling unsettled and unhappy. Drowsy, I rested on a bench and watched a busload of teenagers in red tee-shirts milling around outside the museum doors.

In time, Little Peach joined me, lifting my spirits, and we sauntered companionably back up the street to our hotel, at an easy pace, not at all like Che and Camilo running out of the jungle.

The Things That They Took

The bookshelves in the pie shop are still looking a little sparse, so I’m adding a few volumes to them today, starting with anything written by Martin Cruz Smith. Everywhere in Cuba, especially when we were near the Malecon, I saw scenes out of Havana Bay with Russian Investigator Arkady Renko continuing his tortured comprehension of good and evil. Arkady would never be one to say, “It’s all good.” I always liked that about him.

I’m also going to donate my copy of Slim and None by Dan Jenkins, mostly for his character Grady Don whose flatstick had health problems, starting with diabetes-meningitis: “‘Flat stick.’ The putter. Putters can catch other things, as Grady Don saw it. Heart trouble, flu, ulcers, constipation. He claimed he once owned a mallet-head putter that actually spoke to him one day after it rimmed out a one-foot putt. I was aware that the putter is the most independent club in the bag. At times you can hardly talk to it in a civil tone. The best thing you can do with a putter that betrays you is kill the sumbitch. But you have to make sure it’s dead. Drowning may not do it. Grady Don insists that putters can swim, and some can grow into sharks and work their way into the oceans where they cruise close to beaches and wait to bite the leg off a vacationing golfer when he goes in for a dip.”

The description goes on from there, with Grady Don concluding that “nobody could manufacture a putter that wouldn’t catch syphilis eventually.”

I stand forewarned.

My golf instructor Sandy recently gave me a putter, and I bought another one at Goodwill. In either case, I need to have one or the other re-gripped, which is not a problem since my sister Melbie gave me a gift certificate at the “Putter Around” golf shop for just such a project. The question I have now is, “Why bother? It’s just going to betray me or die an untimely death anyway.”

Another book that I am adding to the Pie Shop shelves is The Things That They Carried by Tim O’Brien. What I’ve always loved about that book is the chapter listing quite precisely what they — a platoon of soldier in Vietnam — carried in their packs. O’Brien created a litany from what might have been a mundane list, and now college freshmen everywhere are challenged to figure out how he did it.

Having finally retrieved my errant luggage from BahamasAir, I find myself creating my own catalog of things, no where as poignant as O’Brien’s, but a tribute nonetheless as I mull over “the things that they took.” I can’t claim to know who “they” might be in this case, and I’ve already written about tossing my pink hat into the stream of commerce in Havana. That was choice. Inventorying the items missing from my luggage has been another exercise altogether, a last chance to remember some articles that I will never see again, and never replace.

So, what were the things that they took?

They took all the jewelry out of a ziplock bag, one I’d tossed into my so-called carry-on as an after thought. They left they bag but took the necklaces, four that I can recall: a hand carved dolphin that my former boss Chris gave me before I left Maine for my ill-fated move to Missouri, a silver square cross from Argentina, a blue glass pendant from last summer’s trip to Burano, and a bit of Roman glass that I bought on our cruise. They took my fake gold Chinese Rolex, one of three that I brought back from Zhuhai. Can you believe it still worked?

They took two sterling rings, each depicting a dragon of sorts, one Celtic, one more abstract. My dragon rings served to remind me of the protective dragons that had started to visit me in meditations during a bad time, years ago. I still have those dragons, I don’t really need the rings anymore.

I’ll miss the bracelets they took, one made of Venetian glass beads and one that was a cheap “wishing bracelet,” a twin of one I’d given Little Peach when taking a cruise in Europe was on our minds but not yet in our reality. Now it’s a memory.

They took a copy of World War Z, a birthday gift from a surprising colleague. A year ago, he gave me a gift for the the first time, a copy of William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition, saying “I hope you haven’t read this.” I had read it, in tandem with The Tipping Point, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it a second time, following up with two more Gibson books during the next few months. I didn’t even get to browse World War Z, but I’ll buy a new copy and read it soon. It won’t be the same.

They took the birthday card that was with the book. They left the envelope.

They took my new prescription sunglasses. I suspect they’ll have to knock out the lenses for them to be of any use, my eyesight is so peculiar. They also took a pair of red-framed computer glasses, the ones that I am wearing in my Beast Empress portrait by James Harvey as part of his “100 Pirates in 100 Days Project.” They left the oversized glasses case, and inside I found a fortune that I’d gotten from a cookie a few weeks ago: “A big fortune will descend upon you this year.” I just can’t remember where I got the cookie.

They took a black bra, the first one I bought after losing weight and discovering I’d been wearing the wrong size, too big in girth, too small in mass. They took my orange bra, an impulse buy at Victoria’s Secret, expensive and satisfying, one I’d worn on every trip, short or long, since May. And they took the straps to a beige convertible bra, but left the bra itself, which shall now be forever strapless.

They took a folder of papers, bills and other documents that I fully intended to address on vacation. At least, I think that’s what became of them.

They took my New Zealand hat, the one that inspired the gift of the pink hat.

And lastly, they took my little six-dollar alarm clock from Walgreen’s. I suspect that they were after the batteries. Now when I wake up in the night, I have to look at the phone to see what time it is. I can’t tell you how wrong that is. I liked that clock since it didn’t glow or warble or tick. It just was. And now it is. Somewhere else.

Perhaps, I shall have to call on the allegiance of the Beast Empress’s legions and go get it all back. Perhaps not.

The Beast Empress

The Beast Empress

Karaoke Golf

It’s Friday night, and my sister Melbie wants to sing karaoke at the Swing Barn with some of the other girls. Normally, I don’t care that much for karaoke, but Sue Ten’s big screen really is big enough for me to see the words, so I’m thinking I should join Mel when I am done with my practice.

For some reason, there are more little girls on the the range than I have ever seen before. I am making a mental note to myself to have The Morning Guy check into ordering some of those wicked cute little pink golf sets so we can capitalize on this trend.

At the same time, I’m a little disheartened to see nine-year olds in pink shorts and wild, curly, uncombable hair driving balls almost twice as far as I can. Yet.  As I listen and watch, I understand what The Morning Guy meant when he told me that some golf tips, notably Tip Number 2 and Tip Number 3, must be demonstrated. I hope some day he will get around to doing that for me.

I watch a dad with one of the little girls as he demonstrates again and again the rhythm that he wants her to mimic. She listens, she hits, and her drive is good. Then the dad says, “Now do that again three more times,” and she bursts into tears. Granted, this is after almost an hour of relentless coaching, but it breaks my heart. Her two younger sisters ignore the entire scene, and soon I see all three the little girls following Sparkle Junior around as he picks up empty ball buckets and takes them back to the shop.

The dad meanwhile hits a dozen or so balls before collecting his cool and gathering up his girls to go inside for some peppermint ice cream pie with an oreo-cookie crust. He wins me over once again.

My own practice seems odd since I am watching the clock, and that’s not something I normally do anymore. Typically, I take all the time I want to hit 100 or more balls: No one is waiting on me, no one is looking for me, no one is calling my name, and I love that freedom.

I find it odd to be rushing to meet Melbie, but I am compulsive about being on time, and the rushing, in fact, does not seem to have any great affect on my results. What I’m missing, I think, is not so much improvement in my game, but the leisure to enjoy the details.

I’ll also tell you that I’m looking forward to hearing Melbie sing. I know she’ll outshine everyone there, and will totally surprise the folks who don’t already know her. Sue Ten and I will warm them up with Benny and the Jets, but Melbie will knock them out with Desperado.

I’m remembering riding through Havana on the bus top with Little Peach, who wanted me to sing some blues for her. I had offered jug-band, but she said no no no. She grew up with jug-band music and could not longer abide it. I started to sing I Can’t Make You Love Me and she stops me on that, too. “I want blues, but not sad,” she says. And I am stumped.

As I finish up my last few hits, I know the song I should have sung, and I hope it’s on Sue Ten’s karaoke machine: Double-Bogey Blues. It’s a good night, and I am ready to sing. I hope you are, too, but remember what I always say: “Introverts with microphones: A dangerous combination.”

Fried Steak in Space

I remember the first argument that I ever had with my ex-husband Pretty Boy Boyd. When I told the twins about it, Chandler said, “You mean you finally told him that you don’t really like Irish music?”

“No,” I replied. “I told him that I fry steak.”

Pretty Boy had almost walked out of my life right then and there, but sadly, he changed his mind, and spent the next several years trying to convince me that the hours it takes to perfectly BBQ a steak Kansas-City style somehow produce a finer meal than the five minutes it takes to drop a fine piece of beef into a super-hot salted skillet and cook it cowboy style.

This past week, a British fragrance firm — Omega Ingredients — reported that it had been contracted by NASA to identify the aroma of space. The results are in, my dear friends, and sure enough space smells like fried steak. (Note: I am not entirely convinced that this news is not a spoof.)

I immediately went to the NASA website to investigate further, but when I typed “fried steak” into the search box, all that came up was the week’s NASA Exchange Cafeteria menu, which sure enough did include a $5.00 Fried Steak Dinner for the week of October 20 to 24.

I know I cannot offer that value for your dollar at Slice of Heaven 24-Hour Pie Shop and Driving Range, but maybe I can offer you a slice of fried-steak pie for supper tonight, but only if you put your order in early. I don’t want to miss the Red Sox on the big screen at The Swing Barn tonight.

But I digress.

As I tried to find the official NASA word on steak in space, I came across a reference to an interesting short-story and video, both titled “They’re Made Out of Meat.” While some say the odor of space is “a high energy vibration in the molecule,” others says this story and video both more fully explain the space-steak aroma phenomenon.

Let me recommend both of these items to you, and I hope you will give me your thoughts on all of this.

Here’s the link to the Terry Bisson story: http://www.electricstory.com/stories/story.aspx?title=meat/meat, and the video is posted below. Enjoy.

Just as a P.S., the number for this post is 666!

Hollow Coins

I still don’t think that The Morning Guy is now or ever was a secret agent, but just yesterday morning Sparkle Junior mentioned that one of the quarters he’d borrowed from The Morning Guy had jammed the soda machine.

Perhaps it was one of these:


















Although small in capacity, these hollow
quarter dollars blend right in with your pocket
change without raising an eyebrow.

PRICED AT $21.00

http://spy-coins.com/products.html

My Map of Havana

Not easily read
the compass rose pointing
to directions unknown
where I want to travel
with or without caffeine and chocolate
with or without your side-snaking dance steps
with or without your purple sedan

I already know
the taste of mojito
on my tongue before morning
I already know
how to sing in a language
that that does not need words
I already know
the alleyway music
that goes on without me
and maps a new route
that plays through my hands.

I wish you had been there.

I wish you had seen
the architects’ angels
that cast shadows
around me
and drew their own maps
on my brow and my soul.

As I look at my map now
the street music swelters
and fades into the fumes
and Ladas and Fiats
while tourists and families
ride on the bus tops
drive homemade bike rickshaws
line up at the bakeries
and dive from the rocks
into the water
that protects and divides them,
gives shape to the map.

Chocolate Cuban-Rum Pie

Ingredients:

* 3/4 cup Caribbean sugar
* pinch salt
* 1 C milk
* 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
* 2 eggs, separated
* 6 oz dark, rich chocolate
* 1/3 C Santiago rum – don’t waste your time with Havana Club or Bacardi. (Some travel and willingness to smuggle home the good stuff may be required.)
* 1 C whipping cream
* 1 t vanilla extract
* 1 shortbread-crumb pie shell, ready to go

Directions:

1. Combine 1/2 C of the sugar, salt, and milk (reserving 2 T for later).

2. In a small bowl, mix the remaining milk with the unflavored gelatin.

3. In yet another small bowl, beat the egg yolks until fluffy beyond your wildest dreams.

4. Heat and stir the milk and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Let this cool to room temperature, and then blend in the eggs. (If the milk is too hot, you’ll poach the eggs. Take care.)

5. Stir and stir and stir. Heat the mixture until it thickens, and quickly — and with style and grace — add the gelatin and the wonderful dark pieces of chocolate.

6. Now for the best part: Chill. You know what I mean.

7. When the mixture is just starting to set, add the rum.

8. Chill for a bit longer. Stir and chill.  Chill and stir.  Don’t let time be a factor. Go by your sense of taste and texture.

9. Beat the egg whites until the form soft peaks then add the rest of the sugar.

10. Fold the egg whites into the rum-laced chocolate.

11. Whip up the cream and add the vanilla.

12. Whisper a blessing into your pie shell and patiently layer the chocolate and the cream, one after another.

13. Give it all one decisive swirl with your favorite spatula.

14. Think of me dancing in the Havana night, and enjoy your pie.

But You Look So Cuban

As you might imagine, I’m still trying to hold on to my memories of Cuba before they flit away, but it’s been difficult finding the time to write to all you all, what with so much to do just now at the Pie Shop and Driving Range.

I didn’t sleep well last night, but you already know how that waning gibbous moon affects me, and I’ve had some strange dreams lately about The Morning Guy. In one of these dreams, he and I are in some kind of Main Street U.S.A. Theme Park in a huge crowd, which is always trouble for me.  I had no information about what was going on, but he was carrying something the size of the menu at Denny’s or IHOP, and kept asking me if I wanted to sign up for any of the special activities, and he had already marked the ones that he thought I should do.

I don’t remember the other dream half as well, but again there was a crowd, and confusion beyond anything that I ever see anywhere near my turquoise conch cottage.  And again The Morning Guy was with me, close enough to touch, guiding me to wherever it was we needed to go.  How he knew the route, I cannot say. After all, it was a dream.

Still, Sparkle Junior is pretty well convinced now that The Morning Guy was, at sometime in his past, a secret agent.  Personally, I still think he’s Canadian.  There’s so much we don’t know about him, but he does know how to hit a golf ball, and he does savor a nice piece of pie, and that’s all we need to know right now. I wish I could have brought him back a cigar or two.

He’s a blessing to us, especially now that the snow birds are arriving. So many of them require an extra bit of attention, both in the shop and out on the range, and I deal with them so much better when I have my post-its and emails from The Morning Guy to keep me on task.

A few years ago, I wrote a series of essays that I called “Unwelcome Blessings” and perhaps you remember some of those stories. If not, let me know, and I’ll send you a copy. In Cuba, I welcomed blessings, and received many. I’ve already written about paying a peso to be blessed by the Santeria woman, but there were others. For one, it was a blessing to spend so much time with Little Peach, that goes without saying. I also found a blessing in wandering out by myself, into a circle of people on Marti square. As it turns out, they were young Christians, close to rapture, and I was glad to let them surround me with their prayers.

And I was just as glad to walk away and open another can of Bucanero beer as soon as I was out of sight. Of course, the moment that I did that, their pastor appeared next to me, and gave me a smile. I’m sure that was a blessing, too, since we’d already had a lovely chat about Jesus and the miracle of the wine.

I also found a blessing in the words, “But you look so Cuban.”  I heard that in three different situations, and on each occasion I felt a glow in my heart, as well as a bit of mystification in my mind, especially the last time when the speaker was so obviously European and was hoping I had some local knowledge to impart. I did not. My understanding of Havana is fragile and untested. I suspect it will not last for long.

So, today I’m sorting out my memories and trying to recall the rest of my dream about The Morning Guy. As I do this, I’m remembering that these activities call on different parts of my mind.

I used to give my writing students a three-part assignment: Describe someone from memory, from observation, and from imagination. What I didn’t understand then is what would happen to my written observations, my notes. Those seemingly hard facts have blended now into fantasy, and maybe I have already waited too long to tell you my story. But maybe alchemy will take over and turn my thoughts into a metal that you can cast.

Lunar Golf

Seriously, haven’t we all wondered about this? After reading this article, I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking “Alan Shepard Pie” should be coming right up.

Lunar Golf

A version of this New York Times article appeared in print on October 14, 2008, on page D2 of the New York edition.

Published: October 13, 2008
Q. What happened to the golf ball the astronaut hit on the Moon? Why did he hit it?

Victoria Roberts

A. Alan Shepard actually hit two balls on the Apollo 14 mission of 1971, and they are still on the Moon, he said in a 1991 interview on the Academy of Achievement Web site for students.

He was looking for a way to demonstrate what the Moon’s lack of atmosphere and much smaller gravitational force would mean for a familiar Earthbound activity, he said. Previous astronauts had dropped a small lead ball and a feather, which slowly fell at the same rate to the surface, but he wanted something more striking.

“Being a golfer,” he said, “I thought if I could just get a club up there, and get it going through the ball at the same speed, that it would go six times as far as it would have gone here on Earth.”

So with NASA’s permission, he designed a club head to fit on the handle of the device the astronauts used to scoop up dust samples. (The collapsible club was brought back to Earth and became the property of the United States Golf Association.)

Before the flight, he practiced using it in a space suit and made a deal that if the mission went well, “then the last thing I was going to do, before climbing up the ladder to come home, was to whack these two golf balls.”

“It was a one-handed 6 iron because it was very clumsy with our suits,” he said in an interview in 1994. “The first one I shanked. The ball came off the handle and it rolled into a crater 40 yards away. The next one I hit pretty flush. Here it would have gone 30 yards, but because there’s no atmosphere there, it went about 200 yards.”

Readers may submit questions by mail to Question, Science Times, The New York Times, 620 Eighth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10018, or by e-mail to question@nytimes.com.

The Best Photos are the Ones I Never Took

I had an interesting talk with Little Peach about this concept, and how I feel that some pictures cannot be captured by a camera, but are better left in one’s mind. She disagreed, and said she felt she could have and would have taken the shots. I don’t know. I think the camera can be too much of a wall, and I’d rather have the closeness of your magic rubbing up against mine, no molecules in between.

Here are three that I did not take:

(1) Just a glimpse into an apartment as we walk from the Malacon back to Marti Square. The lighting is dim, like in one of Paul Strand’s WPA photos of Appalachia or the Dust Bowl. The living room is illuminated only by an old television, and an even older man sits in dark pants and bright white tee-shirt, watching some show in Spanish with a little boy on his lap, ignoring the press of people walking by.

(2) Stopping by the corner of a church, I want to be blessed by a huge black woman, all in white lace, smoking a monstrous cigar. I have no time for a full reading of her cards so I just give her my coin and ask to be blessed. She does as I ask and laughs, slipping that cigar back into her pink toothless mouth. I can still see the red backs of the cards laid out among all that white. I can still smell the spritz of lavender on my hair and hands.

(3) Little Peach and I are riding on the top of the “hop on, hop off bus,” sipping our beers. She is letting her hair fly back as we cruise the roadway across from the Morro Castle. She’s singing a little “Soul sister, go sister,” but she doesn’t know the words. I sing them for her: “Voulez-vous couchez avec moi, cette soir,” and she confesses she does not know what they mean, which makes me laugh with delight.  “Hey, Joe, you want to give it a go?” And then we both sing, raising our bottles of Bucanero beer on our way down the Malacon at night.


Mixtape from http://favtape.com/search/Christina Aguilera vs Lady Marmalade

Here are the lyrics from the Christine Aguilera version:

Lil’ kim:
Where’s all mah soul sistas
Lemme hear ya’ll flow sistas

Mya:
Hey sista, go sista, soul sista, flow sista
Hey sista, go sista, soul sista, go sista

Mya:
He met Marmalade down IN old Moulin Rouge
Struttin’ her stuff on the street
She said, “Hello, hey Jo, you wanna give it a go?” Oh! uh huh

Chorus:
Giuchie, Giuchie, ya ya dada (Hey hey hey)
Giuchie, Giuchie, ya ya here (here)
Mocha Chocalata ya ya (oh yea)
Creole lady Marmalade

Lil’ Kim:
What What, What what
Mya:
ooh oh

Voulez vous coucher avec moi ce soir
Voulez vous coucher avec moi

Lil’ Kim: yea yea yea yea

Pink: He sat in her boudoir while she freshened up
Boy drank all that Magnolia wine
All her black satin sheets, suede’s, dark greens
yeah

Chorus:
Giuchie, Giuchie, ya ya dada (da-da-da)
Giuchie, Giuchie, ya ya here (here ohooh yea yeah)
Mocha Choca lata ya ya (yea)
Creole lady Marmalade

Voulez vous coucher avec moi ce soir (ce soir, what what what)
Voulez vous coucher avec moi

Lil’ Kim:
yea yea uh
He come through with the money and the garter bags
I let him know we bout that cake straight up the gate uh
We independent women, some mistake us for whores
I’m sayin‘, why spend mine when I can spend yours
Disagree? Well that’s you and I’m sorry
Imma keep playing these cats out like Atari
Wear ideal shoes get love from the dudes
4 bad ass chicks from the Moulin Rouge
hey sistas, soul sistas, betta get that dough sistas
We drink wine with diamonds in the glass
bottle case the meaning of expensive taste
if you wanna Giuchie, Giuchie, ya ya
Mocha Chocalate-a what?
Real Lady Marmalade
One more time C’mon now

Marmalade… Lady Marmalade… Marmalade…

Christina:
hey Hey Hey!
Touch of her skin feeling silky smooth
color of cafe au lait alright
Made the savage beast inside roar until he cried,
More-more-more

Pink:
Now he’s back home doin’ 9 to 5

Mya:
Sleepin’ the grey flannel life
Christina:
But when he turns off to sleep memories creep,
More-more-more

Chorus:
Giuchie, Giuchie, ya ya dada (da daeaea yea)
Giuchie, Giuchie, ya ya here (ooh)
Mocha Choca lata ya ya (yea)
Creole lady Marmalade

Voulez vous coucher avec moi ce soir (ce soir)
Voulez vous coucher avec moi (all my sistas yea)
Voulez vous coucher avec moi ce soir (ce soir)
Voulez vous coucher avec moi (C‘Mon! uh)

Missy:
Christina…(oh Leaeaa Oh)
Pink… (Lady Marmalade)
Lil’ Kim…(hey Hey! uh uh uh uh…)
Mya…(Oh Oh oooo)
Rot wailer baby…(baby)
Moulin Rouge… (0h)
Misdemeanor here…

Creole Lady Marmalade Yes-ah……

Full Moon, Clouds, and Wind (Part Two)

We had a bit of a problem with the lights last night. They strobed for a bit, then went out completely just as the full moon (now waning gibbous) rose above the clouds. At about the same time, the wind came up not gusting but steady, and I will admit the combination was sheer energy.

We brought out a few emergency lamps for those who wanted them.  For the rest of us, it was an excellent exercise in ninja hurricane full-moon golf, looking not at the ball but just to the left and path it would take if only we could see that far.

Sparkle Junior brought out the E-Z Cart and turned on the headlights to give us a little more illumination, but after a few shots, we all said turn the damn thing off.  We listened to the whacks and the misses, muttered our mantras, and continued with the dance for a good half hour in the moonlight before artificial power kicked in and took over once again.

I’m thinking today about vision and motion, and how hard it is not to look at the ball, even when I know I’ll have a better hit if I find a drizdi point to hold my vision. My body still hasn’t learned to trust the swing, but it will get there.

The last night in Havana, Little Peach crashed early, and I went out into the Cuban night on my own, ended up dancing with strangers for hours, and my body remembered the dance steps just like I knew it would. It was a couple of days later when it dawned on me that only one of my new friends actually spoke English, and yet the conversation was eloquent in so many ways.

Sometimes, it seems, words are my enemy. Or at least not my best friend.  Sometimes, it seems, I learn so much more by dancing all night or by hitting golf balls into the dark, into the wind.

The point here is this: I can trust my body to remember dance steps and yoga poses; therefore, it is only a matter of time before the elusive consistent swing becomes part of the package, and I do look forward to that.

Today’s golf tip: Believe.

Most of these items have no place in my kitchen

Seriously. What would I do with this stuff?  The Pie Shop is pretty specialized, and the turquoise conch cottage kitchen . . . well, I have told you about the spider-web problem, haven’t I? The only way to deal with it right now is to ensure that all cupboards are empty at all times so I can get to the spiders with the dust-buster as easily as possible. (Some might say as easy as pie, but not me. I know pie is not easy. It’s a gift.)

Still, some of you, especially those of you who are good enough to drop by with the occasional covered dish, might get a kick out of this list.  I don’t know why the authors are so down on toasters, though.  I keep my scan toaster right out here on the porch, and can’t imagine life without it. Or without you. Keep in touch.

http://www.latimes.com/features/food/la-fo-worthitornot8-2008oct08,0,4672867.htmlstory

Kitchen essentials, and items you can pass by

Where should your kitchen dough go? Two expert — and opinionated — cooks weigh in
By Russ Parsons and Amy Scattergood, Times Staff Writers
Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times
CREPE PAN: Worth it? Or not?.

Value is a relative concept. Just ask the folks at Lehman Brothers. But when it comes to ingredients and kitchen tools that beckon to the enthusiastic home cook, it’s important to the bottom line — in this case, a great meal — to take a look at what’s really worth your hard-earned cash — and what isn’t.

We scrutinized our kitchens and the merchandise. Our thumbs-up, thumbs-down verdicts on a couple of dozen popular or hyped cooking items follow. No apologies — we’re opinionated. Some gadgets and goodies are grossly overvalued, others just don’t get their due. We considered cost, efficacy and practicality — as well as the happiness factor. Because for a true chocoholic, a 3.5-ounce bar of Michel Cluizel Noir de Cacao 72% cacao really is worth $6.

Obviously, a lot of this is open for discussion, even heated debate. Is a 1-ounce tin of Spanish saffron really worth $199? How about a $60 Rachael Ray fondue pot?

With apologies to Socrates: The unexamined kitchen cabinet is not worth opening. And it’s certainly not worth filling up with even more stuff.

Worth it? Or not?

Mortar and pestle

When it comes to kitchen tools, I’m a big fan of the simpler the better. And you can’t get much simpler than a mortar and pestle. Basically nothing more than two rocks that you use to grind food, it hasn’t really been improved since the Stone Age. But when something is perfect, why mess with it? You can spend $100 on a French marble one from an antique store, or you can pick up one made of granite at a Thai grocery store for less than $25. While you’re shopping, pick up a wooden pestle as well — those granite ones get really heavy when you’re stirring in oil a drop at a time for aioli.–R.P.

Good corkscrew

Don’t laugh. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to take a good bottle of wine to someone’s house and find that the only corkscrew they’ve got is one of those $1.99 drugstore ones with solid screws that are good only for splitting corks. Come on, spend an extra couple of bucks and get one with a hollow auger (it will look like a corkscrew rather than a sheet metal screw). You can find them for around $10 and you won’t believe the difference.–R.P.

Instant-read thermometer

I have worked with chefs who have been cooking so long that they can tell within 5 degrees the temperature of a roast just by giving it a good squeeze. For the rest of us, there’s no excuse not to have an instant-read thermometer. A perfectly good one costs less than $15 and you’ll never serve bloody chicken again.–R.P.

Good dried pasta

Cheaping out on spaghetti, rigatoni and penne is false economy when you can find terrific brands such as Latini, Rustichella d’Abruzzo and Maestri selling for only a couple of bucks a box more than the industrial stuff. The differences between brands may be hard to appreciate when you’re tasting the noodles by themselves, but taste them with a sauce and you’ll be blown away by how much clearer and more defined the flavor is. –R.P.

Small kitchen scale

In a perfect world, we would measure all of our ingredients by weight. That’s obvious for baking, where the way you scoop flour into a measuring cup can make as much as a 20% difference in quantity. But it’s also true for other kinds of cooking. Measuring by weight opens up the hidden ratios of cooking in a way that volume measuring can’t (in fact, my friend Michael Ruhlman is writing a book on that subject). For example, a classic mirepoix has equal weights of chopped carrots and celery and twice as much onion. That ratio doesn’t show up in cup measurements. You can find a really good digital electronic kitchen scale for less than $30. The two things to look for are a capacity of at least 10 pounds and a “tare” feature that helps those of us who are not mathematically inclined to allow for the weight of bowls, etc. –R.P.

Heavy-duty roasting pan

Especially with the holidays staring us in the face, this is one of the best investments you can make. And it is a bit of an investment — a good roaster will probably cost in the neighborhood of $150. But if you’re going to splurge on a good pan, this is one of the places to do it. Look for pans with low sides that allow air circulation. Avoid lighter pans, which may be cheaper, but won’t brown the meat well, and nonstick pans, which may seem convenient, but don’t caramelize the pan juices.–R.P.

Expensive red wine vinegar

One of the great puzzles in food marketing is why no company has stepped up to make a great-tasting red wine vinegar. It’s not like it’s cloning wild mushrooms or something. In fact, just about any idiot can make it at home quite easily. I’m a prime example. I have kept a big jug going on my counter for more than 15 years. A couple of occasional bottles of sturdy $5.99 red wine and dregs from dinner parties are all that is required to keep me in clean, fruity, complex vinegar whenever I want it.–R.P.

Mini food processor

What’s the point? Anything small enough to fit in the feed bowl of one of these can be just as easily and quickly chopped by hand. Find it in the cupboard, put it together, find a plug, pulse twice, take it apart, clean it up, put it away. Give me a chef’s knife and a cutting board any day.–R.P.

Expensive nonstick skillet

If you’re spending more than $30 on a nonstick skillet, you’re crazy. I know, because I have done it repeatedly. And two months later they’ve got the same set of nicks and dings as the cheapo pan I bought at the restaurant supply store. Of course, it goes without saying that nonstick anything else — saucepans, roasting pans, etc. — is a complete waste of money, unless you truly are a serial scorcher.–R.P.

Expensive knives

My wife is going to howl with laughter when she reads this because I’ve got two knife blocks jammed full, and more in a drawer. But 98% of all the cutting I do is with a chef’s knife or a paring knife. The rest of it, I confess, is nothing more than a cutting-edge indulgence. So let’s agree never again to mention that 12-inch antique French carbon steel ham slicer, OK?–R.P.

Big red wines

How many grilled black-pepper-coated steaks are you going to eat in a year? That’s about the only possible dish these high-alcohol, high-extract wines can pair with. I’m looking at you, Paso Robles Zin! Who are you kidding with 15.5% alcohol? And these days there are even some Pinots that get that high. If I want Port, I’ll buy Port.–R.P.

White truffles

There is no one who loves white truffles more than I do. But I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had white truffles in this country that approach the quality of the ones you get in Italy. There, you can smell the truffles being sliced from across the room. Here, most of the time you practically have to bury your nose in a dish before you get any of their perfume. Luxury ingredients are wonderful when there is a payoff; otherwise they’re the culinary equivalent of gold-plating bathroom fixtures.–R.P.

High-quality coffee

Skimping on coffee is one of those things — like buying cheap shoes — that never ends up working out. Sure, a pound of fair trade, organic, artisan-roasted Ethiopian Yrgacheffe is going to set you back more than a can of Folgers (about three times as much), but you’ll get a far better cup of joe, therefore increasing the caffeine happiness factor and probably decreasing the amount of coffee you’ll need to drink in the first place. Quality over quantity, anyone?–A.S.

Dutch oven

A few years ago I bought a 4-quart Staub enameled cast iron Dutch oven on sale at a cooking store, and I think I’ve used it more than all the rest of the pots and pans in my kitchen — combined — since then. I don’t even put it away; it lives on my stove. These lidded pots usually cost $100 to $200 (the price varies a lot, depending on the size and manufacturer), but you can use them on the stove top and in the oven, for soups, braises, casseroles, boiling pasta and making sauces. I even use mine to make cobblers. They conduct heat amazingly well, are pretty enough to serve in, and they’re so durable that they’ll survive us all. Bargain cast-iron Dutch ovens from the hardware store may not be as pretty, but at a fraction of the price, they’ll work almost as well.–A.S.

Whole vanilla beans

Imitation vanilla extract should come with a government warning label: You have no idea what you’re missing. Even extract made from real vanilla has nothing on the beans themselves. Scrape the seeds into sauces and doughs, steep the husks in vats of crème anglaise for ice cream. You can reuse the beans too. After they’re dried, bury them in your sugar bowl for homemade vanilla sugar. Yeah, they’re expensive ($1 to $2 for a single Madagascar bean), but when you want the flavor to shine through, they’re worth it.–A.S.

Saffron

Tagged as the world’s most expensive spice — you can buy a 2 1/2 -pound case of saffron on amazon.com for $4,410 — saffron is the key ingredient in many regional dishes, such as paella and bouillabaisse as well as certain pilafs and tagines. They depend on its unique grassy flavor and startling yellow color. Authenticity has its price, of course, but it’s not so bad when you consider how little you need of the stuff. It’s also another one of those wacky ingredients that make you think, wow, who comes up with this stuff? Dried crocus stigmas. What demented gardener thought of putting that in the stew?–A.S.

Microplane

Yeah, you may think that a box grater is all you’ll ever need — until you use one of these gizmos for the first time. The fine metal graters are inexpensive (around 10 bucks, less if you shop at hardware stores) and seriously useful. Grate cheese, nutmeg, a chunk of 70% cacoa chocolate; zest citrus without worrying about grating the bitter pith. And never a scraped knuckle! I keep mine right next to my stove — and I have no idea where my box grater is anymore.–A.S.

“Larousse Gastronomique”

The updated 2001 edition of this classic food encyclopedia may weigh 8 pounds and cost $85, but it’s worth every ounce and every penny. With listings from abaisse (a sheet of rolled-out pastry) to zuppa inglese (a 19th century “English” dessert invented by Neapolitan pastry cooks), loads of recipes and definitions, and compiled with the help of luminaries such as Joël Robuchon and Pierre Hermé, it’s as fun as it is useful. And if you get tired of reading entries on chicken galantine, it makes a great panini press (wrap the book tightly in plastic first).–A.S.

Toaster

The toaster is another one of those kitchen appliances that just takes up too much space for no reason. Bagels get stuck in them, crumbs burn up in the trays on the bottom, you have to remember to clean the trays on the bottom. They don’t have to be dear, but they sure can be: $30 for a Black & Decker 2-slice; $320 for a Dualit 4-slice. But who eats toast any more anyway? I like grilled bread much better, made outside on the grill or inside in a cast iron skillet. Can’t they put something else on bridal registries? If I ever get married again, I want a Pacojet.–A.S.

Flavored salts

Pricey little tins of “gourmet” salts flavored with kaffir lime-coconut, ancho chile-ginger, Madagascar vanilla, green Thai curry, whatever. Oh, please. If you want “gourmet” salts, just grate some lime or sprinkle some toasted spices into a bowl of sea salt and be done with it. And really, any product that has to label itself “gourmet” to justify the hefty markup ($10 to $20 for tins averaging 4 ounces) is just asking to be scorned.–A.S.

Crème brûlée torch

These dainty, prissy little tools, sold in kitchen supply stores for upward of $50, take all the fun out of burning sugar in the first place. You want a good caramelized top on your crème brûlée? Use a blow torch. They cost about a quarter of the price, work a lot better — and you can solder pipes with them too.–A.S.

Filet Mignon

If you have to wrap bacon around a piece of beef to give it flavor, then you’re better off spending your money on a cut that actually tastes like something. Filet mignon goes for around $30 a pound these days; a nice New York steak costs two-thirds that, sometimes less, and it has twice the flavor. No bacon necessary.–A.S.

Crêpe pan

Crêpe pans are very cute, and not even that pricey (maybe $40) unless you want a copper one (then try $200). But what’s the point when you can make terrific crêpes on any nonstick pan or cast-iron skillet? If you must get one, buy that obscenely expensive and beautiful copper version. Because the only thing you’ll ever use it for is as a prop in a setup for painting watercolor still lifes (a bowl of fruit, a baguette, a crêpe pan).–A.S.

Fondue and the pots that go with it

A fondue pot (the contraptions run from $50 to $150) is almost as silly as fondue itself, a questionable ’70s-era dinner party fad. If you absolutely must have a fondue party, spend your money on a DVD of Ang Lee’s “The Ice Storm,” and melt your cheese or chocolate in a double boiler or a Dutch oven instead. Fondue forks? Use skewers — or break out your real forks.–A.S.

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Full Moon, Clouds, and Wind

Looks like it could be a great night out, or maybe a wretched one if the clouds and wind are to be believed. Hard to tell until I am actually out there, looking down at the ball.  Still, as long as the rain stays away, and Sparkle Junior hasn’t taken the last Hoodsie out of the deep freeze, I will be fine.

I still have a lot of catching up to do with you all, and I promise to get to it shortly. Don’t forget, I like to hear from you, too. What have you been doing? Stay in touch.

Meanwhile, here’s a little collage that I made from some of my birthday-travel souvenirs, and I’ve been told that my luggage may make it to SoFLA one of these days, too.

October 2008

October 2008

Spider Pie: Work in Progress

I do believe that there must be a great way to combine the general concept of Carmilo Villegas  (a.k.a. Spiderman) with the general concept of these fabulous Spider Cakes and come up with a most excellent Spider Camilo Villegas pie.

What do you think?

http://www.notmartha.org/archives/2007/10/26/spider-cakes/

spider cakes

Last year I had a lot of fun making the creepy crawly cakes so I decided to try a few again this year. This time I pulled out my Betty Crocker mini bake and fill pans and bought a box of chocolate cake mix and some Pocky. I made whipped cream (vanilla pudding would work too) and raspberry coulis (I left the seeds in) for spider guts. I also made some cupcakes to fill, tested one using a bakery bought cupcake and did a frosting variation, the Pocky legs can take an awfully long time. Pocky leg instruction can be found mid-page here.

the dome cakes:

I found the filling stayed in fine without any icing glue, but I do think this would have looked great with a chocolate glaze poured over it.

I love love love the many sugar eyes.

the filled cupcakes:

the bakery cupcakes:

This is a Triple Chocolate from Trophy Cupcakes here in Seattle. If you don’t have time to bake but think Pocky legs are doable, I think this turned out fantastic.

the non-pocky dome cake:

I used a milk chocolate fudge icing from a can – I figured the fudge icing would be a little stiffer. I like this effect a lot. Again I would have loved to have glazed these with chocolate, a shiny spider body would be so dramatic here.

Last year I tried pretty hard to make molten chocolate spider cakes but didn’t figure out quite how to pull it off. So, if you can imagine cutting through the side of this one and having the warm center come oozing out, that would be my ideal chocolate spider cake dessert.

the non-pocky cupcake:

I did this will a full sized cupcake and one I cut in half doing the Seinfeld muffin top thing. I like the way the short cupcake looks but it would make for a rather skimpy dessert. I would use a smaller dome pan or egg-shaped pan next time.

I linked to this last year but it’s worth a second time – Hannah made a giant spider cake using the large Bake and Fill pan and Peppridge Farm Pirouette cookies to make the legs. I totally adore it.

p.s. Oh lookit! My crawly cakes from last year were featured on DrRuth.com yesterday.categories: food, halloween

Tale of a Pink Hat

The first pink hat was actually a pair, from a time long ago, when the kids were 11, and we were doing the grand tour of our nation’s capitol, staying at a friend’s house in Annapolis, and riding in on the train. Somewhere along the line, I had acquired two bright pink hats with the Pink Panther on them. I think they came free with insulation, and at that time in life, we were very well insulated. Now remember, this was in the days before cell phones and just slightly after the days in which we all felt pretty safe letting our kids run around with minimal supervision.

We did great with the hats, and I could spot the twins tearing around from a pretty good distance.  We did great, that is, until we arrive at the National Zoo shortly before a busload of school kids arrived, all wearing, you know it, hot pink hats. Hundreds of them. Fortunately, my two skinny children and I did still find each other at the appointed spot and the appointed time, but since that trip, a pink hat reminds me of a special time in my life when “family” was the three of us with our over-sized glasses and over-sized vocabularies, and we were quite happy to explore just about anything together..

The next pink hat is one that I never actually owned, an opportunity lost when The Morning Guy one day went off to a ball game & left me a note saying to call if I wanted him to pick up anything. I couldn’t think of a thing. “Like what?” I scrawled on the note. Imagine my surprise when I later saw his immaculate tiny printing that said, “I thought you might have liked one of those pink hats.”

I was stunned. I hadn’t worn any kind of ball cap for years, just wide-brimmed girlie hats like Rene Russo in the movie Tin Cup, but had come to like the idea of a pink hat, free of team color and all that, but still definitely a treasure. I especially loved seeing more and more pink hats showing up at Spring Training, no matter what teams might be on the field.  I did, in fact, want one of those hats.

Of course, you and I both know that was a one-time only offer. He will not make a similar suggestion again. He will, likely, make some other offer, and I will probably be obtuse enough to miss that one, too.  In my mind, the pink ball cap would fit me perfectly, covering my ears just so, but there’s still the nagging doubt that it might have had the wrong team logo on it.  I’ve been tempted, as you can imagine, to buy my own pink hat, possibly a Red Sox one, but even that will not fill the void of the gift not accepted. I can easily obtain the hat. It’s the gifting that I want.

Now, I could ramble on here about gifting for quite a long time, but I know you have other things to do, so let’s just move up to the present day, and even more hats.

I like to go to Miami once a year and meet up with some of my former colleagues to find out how they are doing. This year, I was delighted when some of the folks from New Zealand brought along some ball caps with their company logo on them. I was even more delighted when my Dutch friends said they could do better than that, and quickly produced a pink hat. Perfect, or almost perfect. A gift. Pink. I could add the Red Sox logo to it later.

This was all shortly before Little Peach and I headed south, lost our luggage, and began to tour The Island for four days in the same clothes. I wore white slacks, which grew less and less white, a yellow sleeveless golf shirt (which I eventually supplemented with a Cuban tee-shirt), walking shoes, and my pink hat.

As I’ve mentioned before, I wished I had know what to take to give away or trade with people, and now I really know: chiclets, fishnet hose, pads of paper, and pink hats.  I would outfit the entire population of Havana with pink hats.  But I would have to do it in a roundabout way. The gnarly old man who first took a liking to my hat was not, as it turned out, all that interested in the hat, but what he might get for it.

Is this how capitalism takes over?  I don’t know.  I had already given him more than enough in coin for the newspaper, but the hat was what drew him. I understood.  I took it off and handed it over.  He smiled.  He kissed the hat. He walked away with it, and Little Peach and I watched him go.  In fact, we continued to watch him from the tour bus, and we saw the next exchange take place, the pink hat moving right along for a few coins.

And then we watched as the vendor who bought it examined it, checked it all out, and examined it again. As he did that, a new customer came appeared and made an offer.  It must have been a good one, since before we knew it, the hat was being slipped into a bag and the transaction was done.

I’m curious about the bag, though. That means whoever bought it did not plan to wear it. Perhaps a gift, perhaps one that was absolutely perfect.

What do you do?

One of the great pleasures of my recent trip with Little Peach to the land south of Key West was meeting The Philosopher Detective, traveling on his own while his dear partner Maggie was off for a reunion with some long-time chums. We went through the usual tour-bus chat, which was laced with those wonderfully dry remarks that some people, perhaps, just don’t get. For example, when I said I was an American, he said, “Someone has to be. Might as well be you.” Yes, a philosopher.

Little Peach and I hit it off with him quite well, and the conversation flowed, in part — I think — because I no longer have to explain the incomprehensible nature of my former employment anymore.  I did have brief visit down that road, but The Philosopher Detective quickly pointed out my mistake by saying, “Quite a conversation stopper, that one.” Yes, indeed.  It is such a delight these days to be able to say to people, who care to ask ‘What do you do?” that I own a pie shop. And a driving range.  I tell you, there are damn few people who don’t like one or the other.

Now, see how these Cuban boys reacted after I told them that I own a pie shop: