A Day When Everything Changed

Monday, November 22, 2010

Like December 7, 1941, before it and September 11, 2001, after it, November 22, 1963, was a day that anyone who lived through will never forget.

I think when people from later generations lived through September 11, they finally understood why everyone would always tell you where they were when they heard the news that President Kennedy was shot whenever the subject would come up. People do the same thing now with September 11, tell you where they were and what they were doing and how they felt.

But before September 11, when I was still in that mode of understanding on an intellectual level, but not on a visceral level, the importance of November 22, 1963, I read the letter excerpted below and it brought home the reality of the assassination in a way that nothing else I’d ever heard or seen or read had.

The letter was written by Ursula Nordstrom, who was a children’s book editor from the late 1930s through the late 1970s who was completely brilliant and played a major role the development of children’s literature in America. She published virtually every important children’s book author of her era, from Laura Ingalls Wilder to Maurice Sendak to E. B. White to Shel Silverstein to dozens and dozens more. She also wrote great letters to all of them, and her correspondence is collected in the book Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, which was published in 1998 and which I ran across when I was trolling the shelves at Kramerbooks in Dupont Circle and bought and read and loved.

The following is taken from a letter she wrote to Kay Thompson, author of the Eloise books, on December 26, 1963 (which she mistakenly dated as 1953 and then wrote “wishful thinking” and wrote the correct year).

Dear Kay:

Your letter about Kennedy was great. Even the typing. Yes, it is utterly unacceptable and we have to accept it. Unbearable and we have to bear it. Unbelievable and we have to believe it. Etc. It doesn’t get any less incredible. I was sitting here talking to an out-of-town artist, and a couple of people came to my door and said the president had been shot, and I explained that the radio always got things all wrong, and exaggerated, and then I went back to the out-of-town artist, and then others came to my door and said it was his head, and I explained carefully that he was a very strong extremely healthy person, and just a little old shot couldn’t possibly be serious, and then someone came and said the president is dead, and I felt terribly angry that anyone would say anything so ridiculous. I always though that scene in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra where Cleopatra gets so damn mad at the messenger over the content of the message is silly. But that day I saw, again, Shakespeare is unfallible…. We closed the office and I walked up Park Avenue and saw the flags at half-mast and wept all the way home. I was watching t.v. when Ruby walked up and shot Oswald. The ultimate nightmare. I felt the whole country was unravelling. I still feel it. I’ve always believed in an idiotic way that the ultimate perfectibility of the human race was perfectly possible, it would only take a lot of patience, but you know, the children will be better than their parents, and their children will be still better, and wiser, and the children of THOSE children will be better still. But I don’t believe it any more. Anyone can have a surly crazy son who can hoist a cheap rifle and put a bullet in a beautiful, reasonable, intelligent head. Oswald’s mother on t. v. was one of the worst horrors—a coarse neurotic stupid person, primped up for the cameras, touching her ear-rings, being almost arch. Of course one can understand—oh understand nothing.

OK, Poody, chin up as you say.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A host of lovely ... chrysanthemum

I’m almost — almost — done with the main thing I’m working on. Then some loose ends to tie up, then hopefully I can get back to the many partially written posts I have. All of which are fascinating and insightful I’m sure.

In the meantime, I send you this little picture of the lovely chrysanthemum in my front yard, which looks better than ever this year despite (or possibly because of?) the many weeks without water it was subjected to in the late summer/early fall.

More soon, I hope, and we’ll see if I can spring back to life as well as the mum did.

Chicken Dinner, Part III

Monday, November 1, 2010

As noted previously (I think), I usually save the breasts from a whole chicken to use in a recipe calling specifically for chicken breasts, like my very favorite hoisin chicken recipe, but I did cook them with the chicken and dumplings this time. However after trying to eat the meat as part of the meal, I realized that I don’t actually like breast meat just by itself. There’s too much of it and I prefer dark meat.

So I fished out the breasts and took the meat off the bone and chopped it and stuck it in the freezer. I got about 3 cups of meat from the giant stewing hen. I also skimmed off about a third of a cup of fat and stuck that in the freezer as well.

The week after making the chicken and dumplings I bought a very small cabbage to use for coleslaw. The danger with cabbage is that it keeps well, which means that I’m extremely likely to forget about it, because there’s no pressing need to use it up quickly. But I ended up with a bunch of things I needed to go through quickly in the fridge, so I added the cabbage to the list of things to not forget about.

When I was doing the Dollar a Day project, one of the few actual “recipes” I made was yakisoba, which a friend who had lived in Japan told me I needed to make when she saw that I had pasta, carrots, and cabbage. It was definitely one of the best things I ate.

I was trying to think of what to do with the rest of my cabbage when I remembered the yakisoba and realized I had everything I needed to make that, including chicken in the freezer from the chicken and dumplings.

So I looked up some recipes online and did a combination of a few I saw and what I remember from making it before. This is a pretty flexible dish. I aimed for 2 to 3 servings, and ended up getting two large servings out of one cup of chicken. I also used some of the chicken fat to fry with. And I don’t know if it was the chicken fat or what, but it tasted really, really good.

You can search for “yakisoba” to see different versions, but this is basically what I did.

Japanese Fried Noodles
2 largish or 3 smallish servings

4 oz. pasta or noodles (spaghetti, linguine, udon noodles, soba noodles, etc.)
1 clove garlic and/or 1 small onion, minced
2 to 3 tsp minced ginger
1/4 small head of cabbage, coarsely chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
1 cup cooked chicken, diced or shredded
1 to 2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 to 2 tsp sesame oil (optional)
1 to 2 tsp chili paste with garlic (optional)
1 to 2 tsp crushed red pepper (optional)
1/2 to 1 tsp hot chili oil (optional)
1 to 2 Tbsp fat or oil for frying (possibly more — I started with just under a tablespoon but that wasn’t enough, I added more to make sure everything was coated and frying properly)

Cook the pasta; when al dente, drain and set aside.

While the pasta is cooking, peel and slice the carrots and chop the cabbage. (Quantities don’t really matter — you can use more or less vegetables, or different vegetables or whatever. This is just what I used.)

Mince the garlic and grate the ginger. (I used a garlic press for the garlic and a rasp-type grater for the ginger. You could also add a minced jalapeno pepper or other hot pepper in with the garlic and ginger.)

Put the fat or oil in a wok or large skillet and heat over high heat, until the oil is very hot.

Put the garlic and ginger in the hot oil and cook for a minute or two — until fragrant but not browned. Put the carrots and cabbage in the pan and cook for a minute or two until they’re just tender. Add the pasta and cooked chicken and mix everything together so it’s coated with oil. Add soy sauce plus any (or all) of the following: sesame oil, chili paste with garlic, crushed red pepper, and/or chili oil. Stir everything together and heat through.

Serve immediately, adding more soy sauce or other seasonings to taste.