Sunlight on Diamonds

I like mill ponds and orchards and other quiet, soulful places in which to enjoy a book, which explains how I came to reside in Los Angeles, California. More than anything, LA features a soothing, madcap serenity.

I think that’s what attracted the NFL as well.

Happy Super Bowl.

Goes without saying the Super Bowl is my favorite holiday. It’s the optics, the vibe. More than anything, I think it’s the classy halftime shows. Always nice to see good taste triumph over crass commercialism. So seldom do we see that anymore.

Not long ago, America had small and tender songs, small and tender TV shows, wistful performers who sang beautiful ballads.

There is almost none of that anymore. We are a blingy, unmelodic nation, suddenly unable to carry a tune or tell a love story. Our music sounds like a car crash; most of our movies are art house polemics.

Seriously, don’t you love it?

Meanwhile, the Super Bowl halftime. Will someone bare a boob? You never know. Will some singer drop an F-bomb in front of all the kids? Will his pants stay up? Stay tuned.

Me, I just love how it’s evolved.

In our family, we keep this holiday pretty basic. We decorate a tree, of course. We say how we really feel to the people who matter the most.  Mostly, we keep it simple and reverent and dedicated to the original spirit of the holiday itself.

Then — Oooooooof! — we eat till they pump our stomachs. Medic!

As you may have sensed, I’m nothing close to normal. Define “normal” anyway. Nobody I know is very normal; how do you establish a baseline when everyone’s such a lunatic? At least, lately.

Meanwhile, newspaper columnists  — the Velveeta cheese of public discourse —  are fond of labeling wacko developments as “the new normal.” But that implies there was ever an old normal.

I ask again: What is normal? LA? Walla Walla? Detroit?

Is it normal to miss football as much as I will when the season ends? Is it normal to still wear reversible sports coats (one plaid, one paisley)? Is it normal to steal the towels from your best friend’s condo?

Hey, my nose looks like a moonrock. My skin looks like reclaimed wood. Is that even close to normal?

Speaking of moonrocks, my daughter Rapunzel has some nice new jewelry. She’s engaged, evidently, and will soon wed this engineer dude she met in college a million years ago. It was the longest test drive since I took out that little Datsun in 1986 and never returned it to the dealer.

In our defense, I had yet to make my fortune in publishing.

Officer, my wife took it. I swear. That’s her right over there, the redhead on her tippy toes kissing the bartender…

Anyway, this courtship was the longest test drive since then. Rapunzel’s fiancé is a Chicago Bears fan. As I asked my daughter, “WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT A PERSON?”

I told Rapunzel that being a Bears fan is the ultimate test of human character. Jesus was a Bears fan. Gandhi was a Bears fan. Dizzy Gillespie. Nina Simone.

Velveeta cheese is most probably a Bears fan.

“For the love of God, just marry the guy already,” I finally told her. “Before he loses faith in every last thing in this world.”

Honestly, it was like waiting for Germany to annex Austria, or for Bonnie to seduce Clyde. You knew they would, you just didn’t know exactly when. Months passed, then years.

Probably didn’t help that, as per past Rapunzels, her dad locked her in a tall tower, surrounded by a fence, surrounded by another fence (how LA of me).

So, finally, my younger daughter will wed. This summer? No, probably next. Rapunzel will marry this personable, snow-mobiling Bears fan from Chicago.

Cue the tender Paul Stookey ballad:

He is now to be among you at the calling of your hearts
Rest assured this troubadour is acting on his part.

As I assured her, a marriage is like sailing into the North Sea in a mail-order dinghy, both parties in their crooked swim suits, holding mason jars full of drugstore Champagne.

I find that all kinds of romantic. Love = faith in the improbable. On this Super Bowl week, they’ve made the ultimate wager.

What’s to be the reason for becoming man and wife?
Is it love that brings you here or love that brings you life?

Since the groom is from the Midwest, they’re looking for a decent-size hockey rink in which to hold the ceremony. Everybody will be on skates. The bride will arrive on a rental sleigh festooned with plastic flowers, pulled by reindeer.

She’ll be holding a whip. Muuuuuuuuuush!

Our family maxim: “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.”

After the wedding, there will be some sort of smorgasbord and lots and lots of polkas. At some point, all the men will hook arms, like the cast of Puccini’s “La Boheme,” to sing the Chicago Bears fight song.

That’s when I’ll probably lose it. I’ll be the guy in the Ditka vest crying the hardest.

Is that normal?

No, but that’s life, and I can hardly wait. As with her sister’s terrific wedding, there will be laughter, there will be more laughter. And maybe another proposal or two, you know the Irish. Our hearts are like oatmeal.

I mean, let’s not get carried away here. It won’t be as rich and meaningful as this weekend’s Super Bowl. But it’ll still represent the end of an era.

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!

By the way, her hair is the color of fall mornings — a shimmering chestnut mixed with moon glow mixed with whiskey pudding. And she has tons of it.

Plus, she’s really funny. Actually, they both are, which is love’s secret sauce.

As an Irish poet once noted, “The man who says his wife can’t take a joke, forgets that she took him.”

We were in the park celebrating all this the other day, and the sun caught the engagement ring and nearly set a nearby mime on fire. So it’s a nice ring, obviously. Once she’s done lasering street performers, Rapunzel can use this ring to open up parking spots.

In the park by the beach, the new grandbaby was wiggling in the waxy winter glow of an LA afternoon. There was a jazz quartet, and the baby and I danced to “Maiden Voyage.” As it turns out, Catty Cakes really digs Herbie Hancock.

“So glad we found each other,” I told her.

“Me too,” she said.

You know, sometimes life takes on a life of its own, doesn’t it? Sometimes, Valentine’s Day collides with Super Bowl weekend, which collides with engagements between former college sweethearts.

Sometimes, sunlight bada-bings off engagement rings and babies and miles of chestnut hair.

Sometimes, love is blinding.

Sometimes it brings you life.

As promised, here are some simple Super Bowl recipes (and one pretty advanced gumbo). Thanks for sharing. Tossed in one from the family files too. Cheers!

Easy-Breezy Poppers

12 medium jalapeños sliced in half, seeds removed.

1.5 packages of bacon.

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

Fill jalapeños half with cream cheese.

Wrap bacon around each stuffed pepper.

Bake on cookie sheet at 375 for 30-40 minutes, I prefer crispy bacon, (40 minutes)

–Kathleen Bywater

Pocket Tacos

Two cans Pillsbury crescent rolls
One 15-16 ounce can refried beans
One pound ground beef cooked and seasoned with taco seasoning
One-two cups grated cheese
One can sliced olives (optional)

Open can of crescent rolls. Separate triangles of dough and place them with the short straight side towards the center of a pizza pan or cookie sheet overlapping each one slightly and forming a starburst effect. Spoon refried beans around the circle towards the center. Put taco meat on top, cheese on top of that. Then take then ends of all the starbursts and bring them up and over the beans, meat, and cheese and cinch them in place. Bake at 375 for 15-17 min until browned. Serve with salsa, sour cream, and guacamole.

–Thomas Toomey

Stuffed Mushrooms

Rinse 20-24 large white mushrooms, and remove stems. Mix together three-quarters cup grated cheddar, one-quarter cup plain breadcrumbs and one pound Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage (or a similar brand). Spoon sausage-cheese mixture into each mushroom (use your fingers to snowball them into place).

Place on foiled cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Note there is no pre-cooking of the sausage or anything else. Everything cooks together.

–Smartacus Erskine

Super Shrimp Spread

8 ounces cooked shrimp, shelled and chopped

3 ounces bleu cheese, crumbled

8 ounces cream cheese, softened 

1 tablespoon mayo

3 tablespoons sliced green onion

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/4 cup chopped parsley 

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

2 teaspoons lemon juice

Mix together and chill. Serve with crackers or veggies. 

–Pat Jackson Kliebert

Zesty Shrimp

Two blocks cream cheese.

Spread 1/2 inch thick on a platter.

Top with 2/3 jar of zesty cocktail sauce (with horseradish)

Top with a pound of cooked, dried bay shrimp

Surround with wheat thins…Smear on crackers with a knife.

-Judy Laschober

A Super-Great Gumbo (from scratch)

1 chicken (or its equivalent in parts) salt and pepper 

½ cup oil 

6 tablespoons. flour 

2 large onions chopped 

1 cup chopped celery 

1 bell pepper, chopped 

4 cloves garlic, minced 

2 ½ quarts water 

1 ½ pounds shrimp, peeled 

Tabasco to taste 

½ cup chopped Parsley 

1 bunch green onions, chopped

1 dozen raw oysters and their water

filé powder 

If you are using a whole chicken, cut into serving portions. Season the chicken with salt and pepper.

In a heavy pot, heat the oil and fry the chicken until golden  brown. Remove the chicken from the pot, add the flour to the oil, and let it cook, stirring constantly until the roux is dark brown (but careful not to burn it).

Stir in the onions, celery and bell  peppers and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute longer. Slowly add half the water, simmer, put the chicken back in the pot, and cook slowly until it  begins to get tender. Add the shrimp and the rest of the water and let simmer for 15  minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a few drops of Tabasco. Add the  parsley and green onions, cook for 5 more minutes and add the oysters and oyster water. Cook for 5 more minutes and the gumbo is ready. Serve over hot rice and add a pinch or two of filé powder to each plateful.

Serves six to eight

-Sent by Steve Brier, from “LA BOUCHE CREOLE,” a tremendous cookbook by Leon Soniat. Pelican Press, ISBN 0-88289-242-8 

9 thoughts on “Sunlight on Diamonds

  1. This might be your finest work yet, Chris. Finally, someone has tied together love, marriage, mimes and Superbowl recipes. I thought every word was brilliant, much like your sweet granddaughter. Can’t wait to have my wonderful husband fix some of these treats for our national holiday on Sunday.! Thanks. Go, Rams.

  2. “Meanwhile, the Super Bowl halftime. Will someone bare a boob? You never know. Will some singer drop an F-bomb in front of all the kids? Will his pants stay up? Stay tuned.”

    And that’s not to mention the not so kid appropriate commercials. My son and his wife have three small children and have to be ever vigilant about what their children see on woke TV. For them, the Super Bowl is off limits. Could we have imagined that in our lifetimes parents would have to be careful about letting their kids watch an all American event like the Super Bowl?

  3. Ah, lovely. Congratulations! Love is in the air this week (along with everything else).
    Since you shared your family maxim, may I share mine? ‘We’ll jump off that bridge when we get to it!’
    It’s important to adopt a family maxim early on. Hopefully one with a sense of humor to help face the challenges.
    Best to your daughter, new son-in-law, and entire clan.

  4. Your musings….I cry. I laugh. I reflect. Sometimes it’s too much reality. Sometimes so much joy. Heart-filled congratulations to Rapunzel and her Chicago Bears fiance’. Life goes and goes and gives us Catty Cakes.

  5. Oh gosh congratulations to Rapunzel and her Chicagoan beau! You got a lot to celebrate! Yay Rapunzel! Go Rams! Go Catty Cakes (she digs Herbie Hancock)

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