Food + beer + jazz = friendship

A few nights ago, I went over to my friend Matt’s house for dinner. Matt is a relatively new friend. We met this winter during the Nutcracker in the Castle, where he made me laugh at the most inappropriate times: during performances (by doing an improv session consisting of either glissando-like scales or half note scales), at the clumsiness of children (one fell over for no apparent reason), epic pigtails (on 70 year old women), and terms whose definition I’d expect to find only on Urban Dictionary.

I had been over a few weeks earlier when he invited my brother and I over for a few drinks. He told me to wear the girl equivalent of a suit. I toyed with the idea of wearing a pantsuit just to be snarky (I don’t actually have a pantsuit, but I do own black pants and a black blazer), but I decided to go with a dress and red lips instead. We spent the night drinking beers (one was so dark it looked like motor oil), wine, and whiskey over his homemade bar. At one point, the group migrated to his bedroom where he had his collection of instruments.  If I’m remembering correctly, he has several guitars, a banjo, a bass, violin, viola, cello, and an accordion, which was stashed under his bed. I played Twinkle Twinkle on the cello before realizing I had no idea how to hold the bow and my fingers tend to press down in increments made for a violin rather than a cello. After I grabbed the violin, we started playing from his Real Book.

My ex is a drummer whose passion lies mostly in jazz, so I had seen a Real Book before, but I had never really looked through it. It was one of those things that I let exist in his realm. He was so passionate about it, it was a bit intimidating even trying to learn about it. Though I’m a musician, performances rarely amaze me. (Clearly this is different if we’re talking about literature. Give me a good Nabokov story and there’s a good chance I’ll tear up at the ending.) It’s not that I’m unimpressed and think I could do better. Believe me, I can’t, and I know it. It may be a jealousy I’m not willing to articulate, or it could be a decided apathy; I’ll never be as good as Joshua Bell or Mark O’Connor, so I won’t waste energy thinking about it. I could be alone in this, but I think that somewhere in admiration of art or music, there is at least some amount of drive to emulate. This could be why I don’t play violin as much as I could. It’s a completely unveiled self-fulfilling prophecy: I’ll never be a master violinist, so I don’t practice often. I play enough to keep my basic skills up, but I’d be embarrassed for any of my music professors to hear me play Bach.

We played a few tunes that night. Though I had a stout-cloudy mind and screwed up plenty of simple rhythms (a few times, Matt started singing what I was supposed to be playing), I think I started to understand why small ensemble musicians keep performing. It’s not the free drinks at bar gigs, it’s that feeling of creating a moment that is utterly unique. I’ve always loved that feeling of combined singularity (ignore that nonsense term and just go with what I’m saying) that comes a good performance, but this was different. Classical music has always made me feel like I was interacting with the music in front of me, but this was more like interacting with the music around me. I’m sure my musician readers will say you’re supposed to do both, but I’m usually just too aware of the fact that those around me are way better.

After the last Nutcracker gig, the quartet went out for a drink and Matt told me there were levels to his friendships – you could tell where you stood in terms of his acceptance. “If I give you a hug, I probably like you,” he told me, sipping a beer. “If I let you drink my beer, I consider you a friend. And if I cook for you, we’re probably gonna be in each other’s lives for a while.” That night, he gave me a hug. A few weeks later, he shared a favorite stout (the motor oil one), and on Tuesday he cooked for me. So I guess that’s it. We’re gonna be friends for a while.

Matt

Thinking about hiring him to be my personal chef. Let’s hope he accepts payment in blog posts.

I’m always a bit envious of good cooks. I can usually follow a recipe, but I’m disproportionately proud of myself when I throw a bunch of things in peanut sauce and call it a stir fry. It won’t surprise you to hear I was impressed by his ability to make a mostly vegan meal without a recipe in sight.

Cooking

I know. Coolest spatula ever, right?

Sitting down to a meal completely void of leftovers and preservative-soaked “food” was an excellent treat. We had portabella sandwiches on homemade sandwich rolls with homemade hummus, onions, pepper, and burnt garlic; spinach salad with tomato, avocado and a balsamic dressing; red bananas, and an imperial porter (Flying Dog’s Gonzo Imperial Porter, whose label was an ode to Hunter S. Thompson).

Holy yum.

To quote the genius Liz Lemon: “I want to go to there.”

It was one of the best meals I’ve had in a while, and it was extremely nice to sit and talk with Matt in a non-Nutcracker setting. He’s full of entertaining stories like early college days spent drinking and cooking on roofs, dealing with students’ masturbation while teaching at music camps for handicapable children, and being chased by stripper dungeon basement guards at 3am in Budapest. I left his house that night with rolls, hummus, a full stomach, and a new friendship.

Dishwasher

Who doesn’t love passive-aggressive notes on a dishwasher?

I told him I’d invite him over for a meal sometime, but not to expect anything more than a frozen pizza and a randomly-chosen pick-six from Festival. I figure that way he’ll be blown away when I make my signature peanut sauce stir fry, consisting of ramen noodles (sans season packet) and whatever happens to be in my cupboard and freezer.

Also, this is the second time this week I’ve used the word ‘masturbation’. I’m sorry, Mom.

I love to eat dutch babies.

In sixth grade, my language arts teacher asked us to name a favorite dish our families made. Since my name lies in the middle of the alphabet, I’ve always been  able to listen to my peers and make a comfortably boring response. I must have been daydreaming about buying my first Abercrombie t-shirt, because as my classmates named things like roast beef and french bread pizza, there was a pause before I answered.

“Ashley?” Mrs. Hertz said.

“Dutch babies.”

Cue my classmates’ laughter. Cue my mortification. Cue my red face. Cue the urge to crawl into the hallway.

I remember thinking that I wanted to give a different response. I wanted mine to stick out of the crowd. This surprises me to this day. From what I recall, middle school was not a time when I wanted to be an individual. Like every awkward adolescent, I wanted to bring as little attention to myself as possible. So of course saying my favorite dish is dutch babies makes perfect sense.

My teacher was puzzled and probably stifled her own laughter. “Dutch babies?”

I began the furious scrambling of embarrassment. “It’s like a cross between pancakes and french toast.”

“How do you make them?”

I was eleven years old. How the hell was I suppose to know? “Umm. I don’t know. You bake them?”

“Okay, when do you eat dutch babies?”

Until that moment, it never occurred to me what it sounded like. It sounded like I enjoyed eating infants from The Netherlands.

“At breakfast. My mom makes them on the weekends sometimes.”

“Oh okay,” she said. Luckily, she moved onto the next person, because I was probably on the verge of tears or something.

Unwittingly, I had given a boy, Andy, more ammunition. A few weeks earlier, he had started to tease me for reading too much. I remember passing him on stairs towards lunch, and he would taunt me: “How many books did you read today, Ashley? Twenty?”

His point wasn’t that I always had my nose in a book, his point was that I read because I didn’t have friends. Or at least that’s how I interpreted it, and why it hurt. Looking back, that wasn’t true. I had friends. we might have been a little on the dorky side since we bonded over orchestra rehearsals, but we were still friends.

But now he got to make fun of me for being a cannibal.

It wasn’t that I was ruthlessly teased. It was just one of those stupid middle school things – he was cool, and I was somewhere lost in the middle of the crowd.  It felt like he said these things out of a compulsion to make noise. I think he held the responsibility of entertaining his friends, so every time a punchline presented itself, he was obligated to take advantage.

So now he asked, “Eaten any dutch babies lately, Ashley?”

He was so creative.

Anyway, I guess I haven’t changed much, because this morning I found myself being a bookworm cannibal while reading Infinite Jest and eating dutch babies.

And you know what, Andy? IT WAS AWESOME.

By the way, if you’d like to try my 11 year old self’s favorite dish, here’s the recipe:

4 eggs

1 cup milk

1 cup flour

5tbsp butter.

Preheat oven to 375. Blend eggs, milk, and flour. Melt butter separately and pour into a 9×13 pan. Pour egg mixture into pan. Bake for 30min. It will bubble up and be lightly crispy. Serve with warm syrup.

This morning, I put a little vanilla in the egg mixture, sprinkled some cinnamon before baking, and then served it with sliced bananas.

Jelly Donut Life Lessons

I’m not sure if you are aware, but right now, Amazon has Queen’s Greatest Hits available for mp3 download for just $2.99. It’s a pretty good investment, especially if you’ve forgotten what the originals sound like after hearing the songs on Glee. After listening to it, I found that I really enjoyed the originals way more than a bunch of 20-somethings pretending to be teenagers dancing and singing overproduced versions of Somebody to Love and Another One Bites the Dust.

I got into work this morning and decided to listen to it right away simply because it was my most recent purchase. Of course it starts out with We Will Rock You, which was the perfect anthem to start a day of office work. I’ve been filling in for a woman who retired last week and haven’t been particularly thrilled about it. (Tthen again, what job in an office is thrilling?) But this got me pumped up to sort through trip reports and write fleet numbers on folders (I’m so glad I have a college degree). The next song was, of course, We are the Champions. I remember listening to this when I was a kid. My dad would put the record on while my mom was at work at night, and Corey and I would sing along to what I only knew as the song in Mighty Ducks. It seemed very fitting as I continued sorting trip reports, since I’m obviously the champion of the cubicle jungle.

At some point, someone told me there were donuts by the coffee area. I resisted for about ten minutes before deciding I really wanted a greasy ball of dough covered in frosting and sprinkles. I selected a round one with vanilla frosting and a bit of red sugar on the top. It looked about as harmless as a donut could look. I don’t know how many calories are in a donut, nor do I care to know. I’m sure it’s astronomical and will make me want to starve myself until somebody else brings donuts into the office. I ate it slowly while I did my work. I was a little surprised to find that the red sprinkles corresponded, apparently, to the raspberry filling. The only change I made was to take smaller bits to avoid getting raspberry jelly on my cardigan. You know, because I’m a lady.

It wasn’t until I was 3/4 of the way done with the donut that I realized I hadn’t even enjoyed the thing. The dough tasteless (isn’t all donut dough truly tasteless?) and too greasy. The jelly was too sugary. The frosting and the sprinkles were the only enjoyable part. And by that time, I was already past the point of no return, so I ended up just finishing the thing.

It was disappointing for several reasons. First, the breakfast dessert I had anticipated sucked. Second, I had just mindlessly inhaled the day’s caloric limit. Third, I had breezed through twenty minutes completely unaware of what I was doing. It was like highway hypnosis but five times worse since the evidence would go straight to my ass. Though the evidence may show otherwise, I don’t take pride in spending any amount of time being unaware of myself.

I like to think of myself as a pretty self aware person, but this whole donut-eating experience shook me. Apparently I have very little knowledge of my own actions. I imagine the implications of this are quite big too, because how are my mindless actions or words affecting people around me? When I have conversations, I like to think that I choose my words fairly carefully, but that can’t always be the case. I have a sarcastic streak that some people probably don’t understand. Sometimes my tone is drier than I intend, and by the time I realize it, it’s too late to explain or compensate for. And sometimes I know I’m just careless.

Which makes me wonder how people view me. I’d like to think of myself as a quirky girl who wears cardigans and lots of sundresses in the summer, someone who giggles in her cubicle while listening to comedians, and thinks everybody should read at least one Kurt Vonnegut novel a year. But maybe they see me as this self-absorbed bitch who makes off-handed comments about the weather and   weekend plans.

Anyway, this jelly donut sort of prompted an existential crisis, which was further exacerbated when I realized what song I was singing along to.

Fat Bottom Girls.

After eating a jelly donut, that was just a quick and cruel turn to the tragic.