Posh’s stuffed mushrooms were amazing. So are a lot of little things right now.
If you time it right and the winds cooperate, there is a vortex on the boulevard where the smells of the Christmas tree lot marry and overbreed with the smells from the nearby taco hut.
The result is like the confluence of grand rivers, as if the Danube met the Mississippi. Or in the words of Irish poet Seamus Heaney, that place where “hope and history rhyme.”
Confession: Lately, food seems to jiggle loose my thought waves. In the way you lose a caller in a tunnel, that’s how rational thought vanishes when I’m smelling something really, really good, particularly charred meats.
It’s a wonderful way to enter the holiday season, drunk on random aromas. I stumble this way and that, trying to keep my feet beneath me. Oooooo, peppermint. Ooooooo, Noble fir. Ooooooo, someone’s making a really rockin’ red sauce.
In fact, I walked by “the garlic house” the other day, a small unobtrusive home across from the gas station, and paused on the sidewalk, snorting it all in as I pretended to fiddle with my phone.
I sighed heavily – nearly hyper-ventilated — over the garlic smog coming from this house. What I really wanted to do was knock on the front door: “Lemme guess, stuffed shells?” and hope I’d win an invite. Or at least a plate to take home to my sidekick Smartacus.
The other day, I teased the neighborhood with my own smog. Put a turkey on the smoker, bathed it in a liqueur of butter, maple syrup, and bourbon every 20 minutes or so (thank you again for the recipe, Noelle Carter).
It was tanning up just right … brown as a football. After about three hours, I decided to poke it with the thermometer, stab it in the thigh to test for doneness.
With the quivering fingers of a low-rent surgeon, I zeroed in on the bird and suddenly thought, “Hey, where da thigh? Hmmm, I see a breast over there, and da drumstick over there. But…where da thigh?”
Couldn’t tell one part from another. I swear, it was like high school all over again:
“Where da thigh?”
Finally, I closed my eyes and stabbed. “En garde!”
Poked the poor bird right in the gallbladder.
This smoked turkey turned out moist and flavorful though, a bonus bird we made three days after Thanksgiving. Tasted like a dive bar. I credit my choice of cut-rate drugstore bourbon (or as I call it: “brain food”).
From the leftovers, we will now make smoked turkey sandwiches, Posh’s famous green-salsa chili, and turkey fried rice with a yolky egg perched on top (another recipe I pulled from Parade Magazine, the Bon Appetit for poor people).
Speaking of buzzes, I had a great book signing over the weekend, perhaps the last group event we’ll enjoy until this latest lockdown ends.
I took my time with each purchaser, as I personalized their copies and tried to jot down something a little meaningful. As you know, writing is very difficult for me.
“Sorry for being so chatty and slow,” I told the folks waiting in line. “I’m a very lonely man.”
They laughed, assuming I was kidding. Which I was, of course.
Hey, who doesn’t get lonely sometimes?
Listen, being alone isn’t so bad. You can be alone-alone, or alone in a marriage, or alone in a room jammed with dozens of people, doesn’t matter.
I think a full life is about feeling connected and appreciated, no matter what your circumstances. Sometimes a good book can make you feel more connected than any person.
Smartacus appreciates me, as does our pet wolf. Guys and wolves are easy. We emotionally connect just by rough-housing on the rug.
Sometimes Smartacus hangs with buddies, and it’s just me and White Fang alone on the couch.
On those nights, I’ll sing to her — love songs like “Roll Out the Barrel,” or “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off,” Joe Nichols’ thoughtful examination of white-trash seduction.
White Fang’s favorite song – mine too — is “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” the near Biblical re-telling of a Midwestern boat wreck.
“Does anyone know where the love of God goes,
When the waves turn the minutes to hours?”
I sure don’t. Neither does White Fang.
“Beats me,” I shrug. She shrugs right back. “Beats me too.”
I preach to White Fang, as I preach to you, that we can find little things during the holidays that bring us joy – songs, stories, a Chevy Chase movie, a walk in the woods.
For Thanksgiving, Smartacus made one of the best small joys I know: stuffed mushrooms.
“It’s not really a recipe,” he explained when I asked him how. “It’s just something I throw together…I never measure.”
Italians make cooking look easy.
His mom sure did. She’s been gone two years this week, and she left little clues all over the house…little labels where the towels should go, a mark on the closet ceiling dividing my side from hers.
She also left behind this Smartacus, who shares her chestnut good looks, a roundness in the face that’s like a family heirloom.
Posh was feisty, and chatty, dreamy, and occasionally terse. We sure miss that. But we have all that in Smartacus, among her finest works of art.
With her in mind, I share with you now this non-recipe for stuffed mushrooms. These mushrooms are greasy little miracles. They have gotten us invited to parties where they really didn’t want us, just the mushrooms.
In fact, no matter the day you’re having, the late bills, the misdirected personal slights, the relentless bad breaks and the injustices of a cold and misshapen world, these stuffed mushrooms are guaranteed to turn your life right around.
Pair it with a cold beer, or a cut-rate bourbon. Or a bold and funny friend.
These mushrooms will carry you to that elusive little place. You know, where hope and history rhyme.
SMARTACUS’ STUFFED MUSHROOMS (A NON-RECIPE FROM HIS DEAR MOM)
–2 lbs mild breakfast sausage
–1 pound large white mushrooms
–1 cup mild or sharp grated cheddar cheese
–1 cup plain bread crumbs
Wash mushrooms and remove stems.
By hand, mix sausage, cheese, breadcrumbs in a bowl.
Using fingers or a small spoon, fill mushrooms with mix.
Bake on a foil-lined tray at 350 for 18-20 minutes, till sausage browns. Use toothpick in middle of sausage cap to test for doneness.
Feeds four as appetizers.
Stay safe. Stay active. Stay thirsty. And don’t forget the Gin-gle Bell Ball, our Zoom holiday bash Dec. 9. For info, email me at letters@chriserskineLA.com. For some amazing stocking stuffers, go to https://chriserskinela.com/gift-shop/. Twenty-five bucks for a handsome set of gin & tonic glasses? I mean, who says there’s no good news anymore? Hugs, Santa