Until we meet again

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(Shawn, Kevin, Victor and Kenneth)

Today we say farewell to a man who’s gone too soon… Kevin J. Forbes, my fiance’s cousin. He’s second from left in the photo above with the huge smile on his face. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him without that contagious smile. I also hardly ever saw him without a chapeau.

Handsome group of men, huh? I referred to them as the Musketeers. Kenneth, my fiance, referred to them as “the fellas” and to Kevin as his brother and best friend. When he went out to “drink, smoke and talk shit” chances were that Kevin would be drinking, smoking and talking along with him. The first time I met Kevin, at Kenneth’s sister’s wedding, he told me that if Kenneth ever went missing all I had to do was look for him and that’s where Kenneth would be. That’s how close they were.

Almost every time we saw each other Kevin would give me a huge hug and thank me.  “My cousin’s happy and smiling and I know it’s because of you”, he’d say and I’d promise to continue keeping Kenneth happy.  It always touched me how his cousin’s happiness was so important to Kevin.  Family was of utmost importance to him.  You could hear the pride in his voice when talking of his children and his Facebook posts to and about his wife, Sharon, showed how much he loved her and how he didn’t take their marriage for granted.

Coincidentally, the last time I saw Kevin was at a wedding… he was Shawn’s best man.  I joined the Musketeers (minus the groom) outside the reception hall to smoke and we talked about family, our children and the foolish things we did in our youths.  His son came out to say that Sharon wanted to dance and Kevin immediately put out his cigar to go back inside and dance with his wife because “a happy wife makes a happy life”. Little did I know that it would be the last time especially when I promised to have him and Sharon over for dinner in the fall after Kevin asked when he’d get to try my cooking that Kenneth bragged about.  As Kenneth and I left, Kevin once again hugged and thanked me for his cousin’s smiles and happiness.

It’s so unfair that death claimed Kevin at the age of 43.  A fucking heart attack.  I’m still in shock and Kenneth is absolutely devastated.  They’d seen each other just days before and had planned to get together during Labor Day weekend.  Sadness is all around.

Later today is the memorial service.  I’m sure the church will be packed.  Kevin’s life touched so many who will miss his smile, good humor and kind, loving personality.  I’ll be at Kenneth’s side, mourning and comforting.

Kevin, you are missed and will be missed each and every day.  Rest in peace until we meet again.  Farewell for now.

 

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Spice

July 9th marked the third anniversary since we said goodbye to my beloved Spice girl… my pooch and cherished friend. I wrote about her on that day, before I, along with Ken (my fiance), Clara and Jason (my children), Bill and Kay (their spouses) and Raymond (a family friend) gathered around and thanked her for her love, friendship and years of leg licking before saying goodbye. You can read about it here:

https://amplyemmy.wordpress.com/2011/07/09/its-so-hard-to-say-goodbye/

I was numb at the time but now I can’t remember her without crying. There are days when I’m on my way home and think about walking her then remind myself that I no longer have to grab the leash and plastic bag to take her for a stroll. When Ken and I return from buying groceries, I sometimes expect her by the door, getting in the way of the shopping cart because she just has to find out what we got for her… somehow she knew when there was a treat or toy among the food and household goods.

Christmas mornings since she’s been gone have been especially hard. Not seeing the gift bags under the tree for her to excitedly sniff at and reach into to retrieve her presents. She’d even get excited over our presents but I suspected she thought they were all for her.

Today a friend on Facebook shared a link to a photo journal which chronicled the last hours of a handsome black Lab named Duke. http://www.buzzfeed.com/alanwhite/this-story-of-a-dogs-last-day-on-earth-is-beautiful-and-hear?bffb

And, again, the tears flowed for Spice as I recalled her last hours. She was tired from not sleeping well… the pain kept her from lying comfortably for more than a few minutes. She spent the last few nights pacing around and I felt helpless… nothing we did seemed to ease her. That last night I wrote my blog and stayed awake with her as long as I could before sleep finally overtook me for a short while. Still Spice was happy to see my children, their spouses and Raymond although she didn’t get up to greet them or lick the legs that were bared to that hot July day. We fed her slices of beef bologna (one of her favorite treats) then gently brought her down for the ride to the vet who told us to bring her after his last appointment. Once we got to his office we saw that there were still a couple of people inside with their pets so we waited outside so as not to upset anyone with our tears and somber faces.

After a while the last patient came out with his humans and Spice barked a greeting, much to Ken’s astonishment. In the months since he moved in he had never heard her bark. Her lack of barking at strangers who knocked at our door led me to believe that, if our condo had ever been robbed, she would have been a horrible guard dog probably wanting to play with the burglar(s) instead of protecting our home although I’m sure she would have attacked anyone who actually posed a threat. There was only one time she growled at someone in warning. Unfortunately that person was a police officer who walked towards us, swinging his nightstick. He remarked about what a beautiful dog she was (of course!) and approached to pet her. Hearing her growl, I asked him to not touch her so he gave us a wide berth as he walked away.

Spice was empathic especially during the time my marriage disintegrated.  Somehow she was aware that my ex-husband decided to leave and would literally lay on his feet as if to keep him from moving.  When I had bad days or moments of sadness she would jump up to her her paws on my shoulders and give me a hug.

Spice also seemed to have a sixth sense. I used to walk her on Boulevard East, from 73rd to the park on 75th Street where I’d sit with her to enjoy the view of the Manhattan skyline. For those who aren’t familiar with my neighborhood, Boulevard East runs along the edge of the Palisades cliffs that overlook the Hudson River. At some points, the only thing that separates the sidewalk from the edge of the cliffs is a rock wall. Between 74th and 75th Streets a section of the wall was covered in hand prints. Whenever we passed that spot, Spice’s ears would flatten and she’d pull at her leash so I’d hurry my pace. I thought it strange until I found out about a young man who had died years earlier when he fell off the cliffs after climbing to the other side of the wall. That section of the wall has since been replaced but you can be sure that I avoid walking past it now and can’t help but wonder whether Spice felt a ghostly presence. I do know that she sensed death and destruction in the winds that blew across the river after the attack on 9/11… her head hung low during our walks and she wouldn’t eat. I later found out from her vet that a lot of pets became upset or even depressed during that awful time.

A lot of people ask when we’ll get another pooch. They think it’ll be soon because of all the cute puppy pictures Ken and I post on each other’s Facebook pages. But now is not a good time. Not only does our busy schedules keep us from being responsible pet parents but I don’t think I could get that lucky twice. Spice was remarkable and no pooch can take her place. Maybe in a few years I’ll feel differently and head to the shelter to find another friend but I will always miss my Spice girl.

Her first picture
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Christmas, 2007… ready to take a nap with her new toys
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She never enjoyed baths, being out in the rain or even snow. She’d “do her business” quickly and hurry back to the front door
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When Ken came into our lives, Spice warmed up to him quickly and found every opportunity to lie by his feet or rest her head on his lap.
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As she got older, Spice needed to also go out in the afternoon so I hired my neighbor’s daughter who would bring along her pooch, Cookie, for a walk around the neighborhood.
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During our walks Spice and I would pass by our neighbors’ dogs. One was a tough looking but big mush Pitbull named Aries. Sometimes she’d bark at him and he’d look upset and walk away. I wish I knew what she told him. The other dog (not pictured) was Princess who barked incessantly behind the fence of their front yard. Spice would ignore Princess as we walked past and sometimes deliberately squat to pee in front of her. I thought that was a very bitchy move on Spice’s part… lol.
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One of Spice’s favorite treats was a soft-serve vanilla ice cream cone. We’d wait for the ice cream truck to stop in front of our building and she’d usually gobble it up in a few bites. During her last week, I tried to entice her with a cone but she was too uncomfortable to enjoy it. When we got upstairs, Ken coaxed her into taking a few licks before it melted.
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Chris Christie… future “cool kid”?

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I’m late to the party but a couple of news items popped up this week that had to do with being fat, neither of them in favor of it.  First was word that Abercrombie & Fitch’s CEO, Mike Jeffries, doesn’t want to market to fat women because they’re not “cool kids”.  Fat men are OK because they’re probably athletes, which is apparently the epitome of cool.  Then, I heard that New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, secretly underwent lap band surgery in February.

It sounds like we’re back in high school, folks.  However, as much as he wants to believe otherwise, Mike Jeffries is still hanging out with the wrong crowd.  Most of the cool people I know are the biggest and proudest fat people who live with more joy and exuberance than a lot of those pouty A&F models have ever displayed.

I considered Governor Christie one of those cool people.  No matter how many times the media poked fun at his girth, he came out swinging.  I defended him time and time again in conversations with “well meaning” people like a co-worker who was sure “he’ll keel over any day from the strain all that weight is putting on his heart”.  I was especially thrilled when he told former White House physician, Connie Mariano, to shut the fuck up (my words, not his) when she said he’d likely die in office if elected president.  He also told David Letterman, “I’m basically the healthiest fat guy you’ve ever seen in your life”.   What he didn’t say was that, at the time, he was scheduled for a procedure that’s supposed to make him a healthy skinny guy.  It’s like the bully finally got him to hand over all his lunch money.

Let me clarify.  Governor Christie can do whatever the hell he wants with his body and I expect the same courtesy when it comes to my body.  What makes me sad is the thought that, despite assurances he’s “doing it for his health” (what else is he going to say?) the real reason is he decided the only way to assure a future in politics is to become one of the A&F “cool kids” and make everyone shut the fuck up for good because he got tired of fighting them off.  If that’s true, it only gives more power to bullies like Jeffries and whoever thought it hysterical to include the words “Thick and Thin” over a picture of Christie with President Obama after Hurricane Sandy or “Fat Chance” when writing about his possible nomination to the Vice Presidency.

To protest Jeffries’ fat phobic rant, a few people have suggested buying A&F clothes in the biggest size available for women, putting them on (even if they look like, as one put it, “10 pounds of sausage in a 5 pound casing”) and mailing pictures of the results to Mr. Jeffries.  Here’s my take… if he wants to ignore a growing market (no pun intended), it’s his business and his choice.  Men like him won’t listen to reason but they will pay attention to profits or the lack of them.  And we need to hit them where they will pay attention.  Let Jeffries know we don’t want his clothes anyway and encourage those who can fit into his sizes to boycott A&F.  Because if seemingly thick skinned guys, like Christie, can potentially buckle under pressure of not being one of the “cool kids” then what about the impressionable ones who have a problem loving the image in the mirror?  I, for one, will do my best to make sure they know that the fat folks table is the one of the absolute coolest in the cafeteria.

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Pasteles… not a one person job

When I was a child, most of the family on my father’s side lived in Brooklyn.  I have fond memories of Sunday dinners at Abuela and Abuelo’s apartment and running around with my cousins to visit other family members who lived in the same building or down the street.  After dinner, we’d watch Mutual of Omaha, followed by The Wonderful World of Disney.  When my uncles were in Vietnam, we’d record messages for them on the reel-to-reel tape machine and, when they sent tapes back, we’d all gather to listen to them over and over.

The biggest family gatherings usually happened the first weekend of December.  Not because it was a holiday or special occasion but that was when the women of the family made pasteles.  My mother would wake me up at 5 am and we arrived, bleary-eyed at Abuela and Abuelo’s apartment, ready to work.  No one was spared… everyone, from child to adult, had a task.  From peeling green cooking bananas which left our fingernails black, to making the savory filling of pork and garbanzo beans, to hand grating all the bananas, yautia, potatoes, calabaza and other root veggies that made up the masa.  Grating by hand sometimes meant grating your fingers, if you weren’t careful, but that was OK… a few drops of blood in the masa gave it extra flavor, or so my aunts would say.  Then came the task of assembling and wrapping all the pasteles… hundreds of them so each family left with at least 2 dozen.  Whatever was left over after Christmas and New Year’s Eve was usually consumed with white rice and a liberal dose of pique (hot sauce… NEVER ketchup!)

Most of the family moved to Puerto Rico and, with them, the big gatherings and pasteles assembly line.  So there were no pasteles for many years unless we visited someone who made or bought them.  Until I got the recipe from my mother and decided to make them for my family.  Food processors were accessible and affordable but I was warned not to use them in place of hand grating-  “the texture is NOT the same”.   Can you imagine how much time it takes to make 4 dozen pasteles (I’d give some away as presents) by oneself?  I did it a couple of years then, for a couple of years, my daughter helped which cut down the time but only by a little.  The last time I attempted to make pasteles by myself was when a friend’s promise of a dozen for Christmas Eve fell through.  So I ran around, on December 23rd, buying all the necessary ingredients and supplies and woke up before the crack of dawn on Christmas Eve, figuring that one dozen shouldn’t take too long.  Umm… wrong.  I was tying up the last ones around mid-afternoon.

So now I buy the pasteles but it’s not the same and, of course, everyone makes them differently so it’s a hit or miss.  But it’s such a traditional dish… Christmas Eve dinner seems lacking without them.  Maybe, next year, I’ll convince my kids and their spouses to make our own assembly line.

So, for those who want to try their hand at making pasteles, here’s the recipe.  Recruit family and friends and have a fun day… and don’t forget:  a few drops of blood in the masa gives it extra flavor.

pastelesMakes about 24

Achiote Oil

1 cup Olive Oil

2 tbls Achiote (Annatto) seeds

Heat the oil and annatto seeds in a small skillet over medium heat just until the seeds give off a lively, steady sizzle. Don’t overheat the mixture or the seeds will turn black and the oil a nasty green. Once they’re sizzling away, pull the pan from the heat and let stand until the sizzling stops. Strain as much of the oil as you are going to use right away into the pan; store the rest for up to 4 days at room temperature in a jar with a tight fitting lid.

For the pork stock:

2 pounds pork bones
Half a small onion, peeled
1 bay leaf
Fine sea or kosher salt
Black peppercorns

For the meat filling:

2 pounds pork, preferably Boston butt, cut into ½-cubes

¼ cup Achiote Oil (see above)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

1 bay leaf

1/3 cup each Recaito and Sofrito

1 can (15 oz.) chick peas (garbanzos)

1 tsp. red pepper flakes (more or less to taste)

You can also add hot peppers, olives or capers to taste

For the Root Vegetable Filling:

8 pounds green bananas, peeled
¾ pounds yautia, peeled,
¾ pound calabaza, peeled
1 small green plantain, peeled
1 small (about 7 ounces) russet potatoes, peeled
1/3 cup Achiote Oil (see above)
1 cup (or as needed) Pork Stock (see above)
2 teaspoons fine sea or kosher salt
¾ cup milk (I use condensed milk)
¾ cup broth from the pork stew

You will also need:
1 pound banana leaves, cut into twenty-four 7-inch squares
½ cup Achiote Oil for assembling the pasteles
24 pieces (12 x18) parchment paper
24 whole small hot peppers, such as cayenne or bird peppers
24 thirty-inch lengths kitchen twine

Make the pork stock: Preheat the oven to 400° F Toss the pork bones, onion, and bay leaf together in a roasting pan large enough to hold them comfortably. Roast, stirring once or twice, until well browned, about 45 minutes.

Transfer the bones to a 5 or 6-quart pot. Pour in enough water to cover the bones. Add a big pinch of salt and a dozen or so peppercorns. Bring to a boil, then adjust the heat so the liquid is at a lively simmer. Cook, skimming off any foam or fat that rises to the surface, 1 1/2 hours.

Make the meat filling: Put the pork in a 4-quart pot. Add the achiote oil and bay leaf and pour in enough cold water to cover the pork. Bring to a boil. Cook 45 minutes.
Stir in the sofrito, recaito, cilantro, red pepper, chick peas and salt and continue simmering until the pork is tender, about 45 minutes.
When the pork stock and pork filling are ready, set them aside. Gather the twine, parchment, achiote oil, and banana leaves together before making the root vegetable filling.

Make the root vegetable filling: Grate the root vegetables by hand on the finest side of a box grater. Don’t be tempted to do this in a food processor. Stir in the achiote oil, pork stock, salt, milk, pork cooking liquid and broth. The mixture should be the color of a sweet potato and the texture of a sticky muffin batter.

Oil the center of a sheet of parchment paper and place a banana leaf over the oil. Oil the leaf lightly. Spoon about ¾ cup of the masa over the center of the leaf. Make a little well in the masa and spoon about ¼ cup of the pork stew and some juice into the well. Top with an olive and piece of red pepper from the alcaparrado. Also a whole cayenne.Spoon the masa from the edges over the meat and vegetables. Fold the top and bottom sides of the leaf over the filling. Fold the bottom of the paper over the leaf so the two long edges meet at the top. Make two folds along the long edge so the pastel is wrapped nice and tight. Make a 1-inch fold along one the short ends, then bring that end of the paper and banana leaf over the filling. Repeat with the other short side. You now have a pastel made up of the filling tightly wrapped in both banana leaf and paper. Set it aside folded side down on a baking sheet and repeat with the remaining filling, leaves and paper. Tie the pastels: Fold one length of string in half and set it on your work surface with the loose ends closest to you. Center a tamale folded side down over the string, about 4 inches from the folded end. Bring each half of the string outward slightly so it is sitting near the ends of the folds. Bring the loose ends of the string over the packet then under the loop in the string. Keeping the string centered under the folds, pull the loose ends up and out. If this all sounds too complicated, simply tie the folds tightly with shorter lengths of string.

 

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On the last day of my 40’s

Tomorrow, I turn 50.  Half a century, 5 decades, under my belt.  But it’s during the last decade where I’ve really changed and grown.  My 40’s started off shitty… newly separated with 2 teens and a new mortgage, I wanted to crawl into the nearest corner and let the world fall over me.  Not an option though.  So I did what I usually do… pick myself up, dust myself off and trudge on.  But trudging isn’t enough, surviving isn’t enough.  I wanted to thrive and live.  And so started the journey.. making new friends, engaging in new experiences, traveling alone to places I’d never been before.  I started a new job and not only learned but excelled at it.  I began to love and stand up for myself.  I stopped meekly acquiescing in order to gain acceptance and love from people who didn’t deserve mine.

In 10 years, I’ve proudly watched my children grow from teens into wonderful adults who are now married.  Many pounds and several sizes bigger, I now look at myself in the mirror and see the beauty in every dimple, roll and stretch mark that makes up my unique, round, soft, plush body.  I no longer hide it in large, shapeless garments but now wear tops and dresses that caress my boobs and belly and show them off for the world to see.  Fat, a word which made me cringe, now makes me hold up head up high and say “yeah and?” and now I’ve made it a mission to help women look at their bodies with love and joy.

After several awkward attempts at relationships, I found true love with my best friend.  Proof that you find what you’re looking for when you’re not looking.  I look forward to spending the next 50 years (if I’m so blessed) with him and know that we’ll still be silly and laughing together and that my tummy will be his favorite pillow as his is mine.

Not to say that my 40’s has all been fun.  I’ve lost family and friends near and dear, lastly my beloved ex mother in law who was more of a mother to me than my own.  (More on her later when I can write without bawling.)   Then there was the time I met someone from online only to find out that, despite his romantic gestures and knee weakening kisses, he was a pathological liar who strung me and dozens of other women along.  I’m quite sure that he’s still trolling chat rooms with his “aw shucks” charm.  On the plus side, his antics helped me refine my bullshit meter.  Or when ex husband tried to guilt me into helping him and the woman he left his kids and me for.  When he realized that he lost his hold over me, he retaliated by cutting off all contact with his children and family.  On the plus side of that, I’ve recently been privileged to watch Karma at work… his inability to hold onto a job and apartment, no possessions to their names from their many evictions over the years and let’s not forget missing/rotted teeth which adds to a much older appearance while folks, whom I haven’t seen in many years, tell me that I haven’t aged a day since they’ve last seen me.

It’s said that 50 is the new 40.  Bring it on!!!

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“Come fun, come all”… unless you’re fatty, fat, fat

Yesterday, I saw a full page ad that Old Navy took out in a local newspaper.  It was touting today’s fashion show in Bryant Park, to promote their RockStar Skinny Jeans, as being for “All women.  All shapes.  All sizes.  All on one runway.”  Except it isn’t.  If you read the teeny, tiny writing at the bottom of the page, you’ll see that only sizes 0 – 18 will be available to be “modeled” and given away. This burns me for a couple of reasons.  First of all, while most of Old Navy’s plus size pants goes up to size 30, the RockStar jeans top out at size 20.  Can’t a bigger girl rock the RockStar jeans?  And would it have killed the Old Navy PR department to include the size 20 for the fashion show?  Or were they afraid that anyone over size 18 would be waddling, instead of strutting, down the runway?  And don’t get me started on the picture that accompanies the ad.  “All shapes.  All sizes.”?  I think not!  Then there’s their use of the word “All”… don’t use the word if you’re not going to practice what it means.  I’d be OK if they had used “Most” or “Some”.  So, since I rarely keep my big, fat mouth shut especially when things piss me off, I wrote the following on Old Navy’s Facebook page.  By the time you read this, it’ll probably be taken down: “Come Fun, Come All”… unless you’re fat. “All women, All shapes, All sizes”? That’s a load of BS. And the picture certainly doesn’t represent all shapes or even sizes. What… us fat chicks over size 18 aren’t included in “All”? Heaven forbid one of us walks down the runway, rocking our bodacious curves in the middle of Bryant Park. I understand that your RockStar Jeans only go up to a size 20 while your other plus size clothing goes up to 30. But don’t try to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes and say your fashion show is for “All women. All shapes. All sizes. All on one runway.” when it’s clearly not. That, dear people, is deceptive advertising. Image

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Goodbye, farewell and Amen

This isn’t a trip I want to take and the weather is appropriately glum, chilly and rainy.  I’d rather be looking forward to hanging out with my girlfriends where all sorts of hilarity are bound to ensue.  Instead, I’m going to a memorial for Bart Rolfes, meet other FOB (Friends of Bart), share stories and say goodbye.  A part of me hopes that he’ll pop up and surprise us in some freaky day-before-April-Fool’s joke but the reality is that he is gone… gone too soon and too young, at the age of 41.

Before leaving I look at my blogs from 2006 when we met in person (after making each other’s acquaintance online during the late fall of 2005) and dated.  They still make me smile although a long term romantic relationship was not in the cards for us.  They were wonderful memories and I cherish the friendship that remained until the day he left this world.

Rest in peace, Bart.  There’s so much about you I will miss.

 

 

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