Gazpacho and Le Nozze Di Figaro

Pretentious title, yes? I can already hear my bubbe saying, ‘Oh, look at you with the fancy shmancy.’  

Gazpacho and The Marriage of Figaro – two things I never encountered until age 42. The three of us met late one Spring when my brother and I were taking care of my dad.

My dad and his lovely wife had been dealing with symptoms and emotional repercussions from a diagnosis received almost a year prior. My step mother had been dedicating every day to caring for my dad who, in all his years of parenting me and teaching me to be resilient, competent and strong, was a terrible patient! Do as I say, not as I do became a strong message in his Florida condo as he refused help, denied there were needs for specific safety and health instructions and snuck gin every time he could even though his walker could not be trusted to balance pride, stubbornness and liquored-up loose limbs! His wife needed a break and time with her Midwest roots so my brother and I swooped in, put trust in Spirit Airlines, and took on Naples!

My father did not want or need a babysitter so for the first few hours of our arrival his emotions bounced between and within sarcasm, eye rolling and utter joy; complicated is a mediocre adjective to describe this man.

The next day my brother’s main job was to convince our father that kale would not kill him nor was it green garbage AND make absolutely sure that the PBS live streaming of The Met’s performance of Le Nozze Di Figaro was ready to be recorded at least 10 minutes prior to curtain call. 

“Are you sure it is recorded?”

“Yes dad I am sure.”

“No you’re not.”

“Dad, it is all ready to go.”

“How do you know?”

“Dad, I know.”

“No you don’t……” and things of that nature.

While my patient brother continued to convince our father that he was technologically capable my job was to make Gazpacho. During my visits to Florida after his diagnosis my father always made grocery lists and slid them to me on the sly – as if we were in cahoots over something big. One of my favorite notes he passed me was for more butterscotch candy; he was given specific instructions to lay low on the sugar though he continued to order pounds and pounds of this Brachs delight taking up all the room in almost every cabinet. To the chagrin of medical practitioners everywhere I got him the butterscotch; after going to four different Publix locations I returned with his bounty! On this particular day however, his focus was on a high maintenance vegetable soup.

My dad, while journeying through life alongside the unwanted guest of mortality, had a craving for foods from his past. I had been asked to make numerous items over the course of two years, but this request was my biggest challenge. There were about a trillion recipes for gazpacho and my father wanted it the way his mother made it; pureed just so with perfectly shaped chunks of specific vegetables in order to give it the perfect “crunch” and texture. 

I was sweating over this savory solicitation for quite a while and my thoughts kept being interrupted by, “Jessie, when are you going to go to the store already?!” Finally I emailed my father’s specific requests to my genius, quick-witted cook of a neighbor and she sent me the perfect recipe. 

The rest of the day played out a little bit like this,

“What is all the goddamn chopping?”

“Dad I am slicing the tomatoes.”

“Now what is that noise?”

“I am blending the cucumbers and garlic and lemon juice.”

“How long are you going to keep making that racket?”

“Until the soup is ready.”

“Goddammit, “….

Finally the soup was ready and it was curtain time. My brother, dad and I chewed, swallowed, chomped and slurped our way through the live streaming of this funny, gorgeous and LONG Opera. My brother went to sleep after round one and my dad and I proceeded to watch the recorded production two more times (because my brother was absolutely technologically capable) and we went to bed finally at 3 a.m.

The next morning my dad got up, came into the kitchen, smiled at me and said, “The soup was good. I am going to have some for breakfast.”

The tables began to turn that year; my siblings and I became the adults. Love is complicated; love is deep; love is confusing, phenomenal and fantastic and parenting is 3-4 handfuls of butterscotch.

The Minty Middle

Many storytellers have been taught that the skeletal sustenance of plot is what guides and shapes a story; plot builds character development; plot moves like the waves within a tide, builds climax, finds resolution and voila! Reader satisfaction – if the story is the desired cup of tea that is. Not every cup of tea is good, even if there is a quote on the tea bag telling you your soulmate is only a sip away; neither all tea is good nor is every soulmate. John Hughes, birthday cakes on glass tables and mediocre pink dresses are now being dissected like a high school frog – we can no longer or should no longer love Jake or root for the passive aggressive nerd. Whatever. I loved Jake, he was like the Pickle Guy, just not the Jewish kind. 

I digress; however, we all know that many of these stories are forever embedded in our brains because we will never forget the titles. My point – the title of this little ditty came first; not the other essential ingredients that make up a story. May this be my 16 Candles without the Jake.

I love the minty middle.

A little over a month ago I went out to a very fancy place for dinner to celebrate a special birthday girl and friend. This was a place one only goes with a gift certificate or once a year, MAYBE. The appetizers and drink order became a novella in itself, and there was a bit of pressure to remember every bite, chew and swallow of our meal to help justify the price tag. As we left the restaurant saying goodbye to a line of employees, one of whom helped put my coat back on, I saw a bowl of Andes Candies. I shrieked, grabbed a handful like a five year old on Halloween and plopped an unforgivable amount in my coat pocket. I am sure the restaurant employees were all thrilled to have me as a patron; my “oohs and ahhs” over roast duck no longer resembled a reasonable palette. Had I not just eaten a banana that had a hairdo of flames only moments prior? No matter! I plopped a candy in my mouth and let the chocolate edges slowly dissolve in my mouth; this time I would get it perfect! I would so very gently and systematically use the exact amount of pressure and saliva to melt the chocolate in order to leave the slither of mint intact. – and then, eat it!

I first met Mr. Andes Candies at Marshall Fields – in the china department to be exact.  I spent a lot of hours in Marshall Fields as a kid. My Grandma Mickey brought me with her to work with some frequency while she delicately talked a poor engaged couple or savvy housewife into buying a plate that possibly cost more than a year’s salary. Sometimes my grandpa would pick me up at the bottom of the escalator that went to the Junior, mens and dress departments and sometimes I would stay at the department store until her shift was over. What’s a girl to do once every manikin has their head turned backwards and wearing a different outfit?!! What was I supposed to do after putting pants in the skirt section and undies in the bra section?? I got BORED!! This is when and where I learned the skill of not only catapulting my body into a potential diabetic state, but also when and where I learned how to melt down and swallow the creamiest of milk chocolate every so gently so that there was only the thin sliver of mint green  left on my tongue. I was a professional! Hours and hours were spent sitting in tucked away corners finding the perfect mix of spit and cheek/tongue pressure. I won the bronze medal for best minty middle in the bedding department, the silver medal in the make-up department and the gold medal in the china department; because, that is where I had to end up at the end of my grandma’s shift or she would lose her ever loving mind and I would hear over the intercom, “Jessie Kniaz,” please report back to the china department immediately!” Ahhhh, those were the days…

I spent so much of my childhood waiting for adults; waiting for them to stop talking, stop saying goodbye (saying hello), stop eating, stop working, stop fighting, stop shopping, stop telling me to wait a minute and start paying attention. On the other hand, because so many of those adults sacrificed everything to keep me safe and happy and functioning, I needed to meet them… in the middle. 

The phrase “Old Soul” is something in which I truly believe. I do not necessarily believe it means spectacularly bright beyond years (says the girl who put boxer briefs on a manikin baby), but I do believe it means there is a knowledge somewhere deep that comes from pain, experience and/or resilience of some kind. I always knew that the adults in my life were working overtime to take care of me while they also had to navigate through their own grief and busy lives. That did not mean I stopped running off, making a mess, telling a white lie or two; I always came back, cleaned up and told the real truth (when I was ready!).

It is okay to meet our kids in the middle. We are in charge because we are adults and we know better, but our kids know more than we may think they do. So when you find your granddaughter, grandson, son, daughter, niece or nephew covered in the fall season’s full palette of rouge, lipstick and eyeshadow and balancing every vintage painter hat he or she could find on top of his or her head……find an Andes candies and a corner!