Monday, July 9, 2012

Bellini for Bruce

This edition of Drink Your Way Through Your CSA Box is brought to you by my husband’s Uncle Bruce, who passed away last week at an age so unfairly young it hurts double to bring it up. Let’s just say cancer’s a bitch and leave it at that.

Bruce and I were related entirely through marriage, which is to say there was no blood at all, his father having married my husband’s grandmother years ago before anyone in my generation was born, so that my husband grew up with an Uncle Bruce the same way I grew up with an Aunt Chellie whose father had married my grandmother before I was born, and even though we don’t share any DNA there was never any difference at all between her and my other aunts and uncles, with the possible exception being the fact that she was much nicer. That’s no dig to my other aunts and uncles, who are all perfectly nice people (well, mostly most of the time); it’s just that Chellie is one of those people who is always calm and pleasant and has a neutralizing effect when family situations get too charged.

Bruce was the same way, as far as I can tell. If you ask anyone in my husband’s family, they’ll more or less tell you Bruce was the best one out of the group, themselves included, which is how my family feels about Chellie and, to perhaps a greater extent, my brother’s wife, Geneva, who is one of the best people anyone knows. In the world. Seriously. Patience of a saint, except that there are no saints in Judaism, so patience of whatever takes the place. A mensch, I guess.

Uncle Bruce had something of a starring role in our wedding. Because we were getting married in an interfaith (or, as my Irish Catholic father not-so-delicately put it, “secular Jewish,” with a particular tone that let you know exactly how he felt about that, which was something along the lines of “I suppose this is what my daughter wants so by god I’m going to make sure that ridiculous chuppah is hung exactly the way her newly heathenish soul wants it”) wedding, we didn’t have a lot of specific guidance about how to structure the actual marriage ceremony itself. And then we found an interfaith ketubah and fell in love with the text, and we decided to base our vows on the ketubah, and as a nod to faith we decided to have our nondenominational Christian minister administer the vows in English and have the Hebrew text read as well. We asked Bruce to do the reading, and he was honored, but like many of our Jewish friends and relatives (as it turns out), he had a limited ability to transliterate from written Hebrew to spoken Hebrew. This led to me spending a few days, just weeks before the wedding, tracking down someone confident enough to transliterate our ketubah text from the alef bet. (And now I know exactly how many of you were taking Hebrew school seriously. Noted.) Eventually my friend Wendy came through with help from her mother’s cantor friend, which is another thank-you note I still need to write because it got lost in the pre- and post-wedding haze. It will have to wait another week or two, though. That’s a note I can’t bring myself to write this week. Bruce read the text beautifully, and it was the moment of our wedding that felt the most like prayer, and for that I will always be grateful.

My husband is in Chicago right now, sitting shiva with Bruce’s wife and the family, and I’m here in Anchorage going to work and taking care of the dog, who has been my constant companion for seven years and who just started on arthritis medication that made her vomit four times on Saturday and left me texting my sister-in-law the veterinarian for guidance and then, per her instructions, cooking the dog chicken and rice and administering Pepcid coated in peanut butter.

I think it goes without saying (although I’ll say it anyway) that if the dog needed the pills hand-coated in gold leaf before she could take them, I’d be off to the craft store to stock up.

The dog is very good at taking the pills she doesn’t mind taking and eating around the ones that bother her. Right now she’s digesting a Jif-doused Pepcid while a dose of Proin sits untouched in her bowl where once it lay hidden in a glutinous coating of white rice and chicken broth. The Proin, in case you were interested, keeps her from peeing all over the floor. I’d rather she tolerated the Rimadyl, which makes her vomit but also helps her run up and down the stairs with the ease I remember from our early days, back when she was just a young dog and I was a first-year graduate student in fiction with the horizon opening in front of me like so many books or tulips or other things known for opening.

All of which brings us back to cocktails. I got home tonight and took the dog outside, and then I opened up the sliding glass door so she could go hang out on the deck. We live in a third-floor condo, and we take the dog down to the communal yard three or four times a day, but the rest of the time she’s inside, except in summer, when we plant herbs and flowers and beans on the deck and leave the sliding door open so she can sit out there above the street and bark at passing huskies and motorcycles. But today, just as I opened the sliding door, it began to rain.

The dog hates rain.

I can tell from the way toys and treats are scattered that the dog has been lying just inside the sliding glass door all day, waiting for me to come home so I can let her out on the deck to watch the traffic and snap at dragonflies. Now, instead, she sits just inside the door and looks out at the disappointingly wet sky.

As for me, between Bruce and Rimadyl and work and the rain, I ditched my plans to eat a healthy, balanced dinner.

Instead, I made myself a grilled cheese sandwich on white bread. American cheese, processed and completely devoid of any redeeming qualities. (Although I did skip buttering the outsides of the bread. I don’t have a death wish.) And then I took the three apricots left over from last week’s CSA box, which were too soft for me to enjoy because I grew up in Alaska in the 1980s and consequently I love underripe fruit because that’s what I knew as a child, and I blended them up with honey and vanilla and drank them in champagne.

I drink a lot of champagne. No, seriously, a lot of champagne. (And I’m using the general term “champagne” here to apply to any of your sparkling white wines that tiptoe under the banner of Champagne despite not having been grown anywhere near the region.) I have some high-quality favorites, but my daily quaff is the embarrassingly affordable Barefoot Bubbly, for two reasons:

1. It’s cheap. Right now, there’s a special at Oaken Keg: Buy six bottles, get ’em for $9.90 each. Since that’s about a week’s supply of champagne at my house, we look forward to that special.

2. It’s good. Not Mo√ęt good, but absolutely quaffable.

The Bellini is considered by many to be a “brunch cocktail,” but I reject that description because (a) I enjoy champagne at all times of day; and (b) I find the phrase “brunch cocktail” to be redundant to the point of stupidity. If you want to make a Bellini, I’m sure there are about a thousand and one excellent recipes for it on the Internet. But here’s what I did:

1. Took three apricots left over from my CSA delivery, halved them, pitted them and tossed them in the cup that came with my immersion blender. Probably some recipes call for you to peel them, but your mother would tell you all the nutrients are in the skin. Actually, she might be saying that about potatoes, but I’m sure there’s not all that much difference between a potato and an apricot.

2. Drizzled them with honey and some of the vanilla we brought back from our honeymoon in French Polynesia. If you want measurements, you should probably Google “Bellini recipe.” I’d guess it was about a teaspoon of each.

3. Used my trusty Cuisinart hand blender to whip it all together. (Side Note: I’m a little bit afraid of my stick blender. Or at least, I was a little bit afraid of it before my mother cut off the tip of her finger with hers; now I’m respectfully terrified of it.)

4. Filled a champagne flute with two-thirds Barefoot Bubbly and one-third apricot pulp.

I recommend putting the wine in first and then the pulp, because when you pour sparkling wine onto things you’re risking overflow (which I experienced, probably because I tried thinning my apricot pulp with champagne and then adding it to the glass of champagne, which created an over-the-top champagne/apricot fountain all over my kitchen counter, which was filthy anyway, so whatevs). Also, in terms of flavor, I could have done without the vanilla. I really only put it in because it reminds me of our honeymoon, which reminds me of our wedding, which reminds me of Bruce.

It stopped raining just about the time I finished toweling up the rest of my Bellini, so I sat out on the deck with my sandwich, my drink and the dog, smelling that post-rain wet pavement smell that I love.

If there’s a lesson to take from all this, it is… well, that you can’t ever go wrong with a fresh fruit puree and a tasty sparkling wine. Grind it up and pour it in. It may be ugly, but it will almost always taste delicious.

Also, try to marry into a family that includes a veterinarian who will answer your Saturday afternoon vomit texts for free.

And I suppose, really, that I needed a reminder that life is short, and no matter how many evenings there are with champagne and pureed organic fruit and really good grilled cheese sandwiches and a dog who loves you, there can never be too many, or even enough.

The same can be said for the uncles and aunts everyone loves best, who always make everything better, who volunteer to read Hebrew even if they’re not terribly confident, who come into your family and help everyone feel better about everything.

Thank you, Bruce. We love you.

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