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December 2, 2000
a year ago
two years ago
three years ago

Watching Fezzik and Making Dinner

John got up a bit before I did, but since we'd been getting up at 7:30 all week, I got up at that time, again. Habit is sometimes a useful thing. John rode the exercise bike while I put myself together and contemplated breakfast. I'd have to eat something before I could ride the bike and I really needed to, what with the way my hands were behaving. The extra circulation just seems to help keep the swelling down and I really needed that. John was done pretty soon, and we had breakfast together. I thought up using the last of the smoked salmon and he made us bagels with cream cheese and the salmon. Fezzik was inside while we had breakfast and got a few morsels of the smoked salmon when I was done with my bagel and cream cheese. I really enjoyed the grapefruit.

Fezzik watched us and when the food was gone, he indicated that he wanted out, so we took him the kitchen way. It really took both of us to just bodily carry him out as even when we lifted his back end he just doesn't seem to have the balance anymore to go in the direction he wants to go. He just lay outside and John said that he'd take care of Fezzik's breakfast and stuff while I rode the bike. He was putting the last of the sloppy joe mixture in with the ground beef and rice as I headed down.

I went downstairs and pedelled for half an hour, watching cartoons as I did so. I liked that. When I came back up, John was pretty upset. Fezzik had defecated all over himself and the porch and hadn't even tried to move from the spot he was lying in while he was doing it. When John had cleaned him and the porch off and Fezzik had still looked antsy about being up there, John had single-handedly carried Fezzik down the stairs. Problem was that with the hold John has to take to do that, Fezzik basically started urinating all over both of them. John was upset, Fezzik was upset, and really unhappy and wouldn't eat his breakfast. John had, however, cleaned everything up with the freezing water from the hose, and the two of them were damp and unhappy.

Fezzik was drying in the sun and John took a shower, since he still needed one from riding earlier. I went out, petted Fezzik, but he turned away from me, obviously unhappy and grumpy with things. There really wasn't anything I could do, so, instead of doing anything, I baked.

The torte recipe said that it's better baked the day before it's served, but I didn't really have the time and figured it would be okay. For those that are interested in the exact recipe it's in a book named Cocolat. It starts with six ounces of butter and six ounces of bittersweet chocolate all melted together. I used the Bernard C chocolate and it melted handily in the microwave. I beat four egg yolks with sugar and almond extract, and then mixed in the melted chocolate and butter along with ground almonds, a bit of flour, and a pinch of salt. The whites were then whipped with more sugar until they were stiff but not too dry and then the whites were folded into the chocolate mixture and the whole thing was turned into a springform pan with parchment paper at the bottom and that was stuck into a hot oven for about forty minutes. It smelled marvelous. When it came out it was a little, tiny bit scorched and probably a bit over cooked, but smelling wonderful and looking good. So I followed the author's advice and let it cool on a rack in the pan.

I showered while it cooled. As I showered, I thought through all the implications of the fact that Fezzik hadn't gotten any better over night. Usually after a good night's sleep, he's feeling somewhat better and doing a bit better in the morning even after a really awful evening. This morning he was actually doing worse, or at least not any better. After my shower, I just started crying and crying and it was a good thing to cry alone. The oddest thing was that what I was saying to myself the entire time was, "It's okay." "It's okay." "It's okay to not be able to do anything..."

It's so fundimentally hard for me to let go and to know that it's actually okay that I can't do anything. That no one is expecting me to be able to do anything. For so much of my life, it's been wrong to not *do* something about a situation that I can't stand. After knowing about fundimental cause and effect, it's wrong to not do what one can to make things the way one wants them, to make things 'better' in ones own sense of it. And here I couldn't do a thing. And that it was okay. Maybe not in a sense of 'fairness', as in it really is awful and sad and terrible that I can't do anything. But it's okay in that there is no guilt involved in not being able to do something. No one could. In many ways, it just is.

It's funny, in some ways. I cried for the same reason I writing this down, not so that I'll get comfort *from* anyone, as crying alone will get no one that kind of thing and I really didn't want it from anyone. What it and this does is express the feelings. Make them real and out in the world and something I actually experience. It's no fun, but it's something I had to get outside of me or else. I'm not sure or else what... but it was definitely a release.

Of course there were the thoughts about the fact that it was mildly self-indulgent, as in no matter how hard I have it, Fezzik is having it a whole lot worse. Realized, also, that I haven't had a thing to complain about so far as how ungainly I've felt with the pregnancy. No matter how much I struggle to get up or to get down, it's nothing compared to how much Fezzik is having to struggle to get anywhere. So it's not even a thing I even see any need to complain about.

When I got out, I tested the cake a bit. The bottom was still a little bit warm, but to let it cool better, I slid a knife around the ring and then took it off and then slipped the cake off the base of the pan. It was really easy with the parchment paper in the way, and I set it on the rack to cool completely while I watched cartoons for a bit. Eventually, I was mildly ashamed of myself and went outside to sit with Fezzik for a little bit and pet him.

John was busy at the Baby Buggy. Fezzik was around the corner of the garage, he also hadn't kept being unhappy, so he leaned a bit against me when I sat down and petted him. His ears were perking a little whenever there were banging sounds in the garage, so I picked up his rear end and he went, directly, for the door to the garage and went just far enough so that he could get a good view of John. So the two of us sat in the doorway of the garage and watched John work for a while. The weather has warmed up to be in the low 50's during the day and with the sunshine on Fezzik's fur, we were both pretty good and warm while we watched. I even had a bit of carpet to sit on and Fezzik was lying on a door way mat and leaning against my leg while I sat for about half an hour and just petted him. He seemed very content to just watch John and so I went back inside.

I ate a few White Castle cheeseburgers, a pear, and drank a fruit drink before starting to tackle The Dinner.

John wanted to leave around 4:15, and I figured that the roast and stuffing would take four hours, and I'd slip all the other things in between moments when something or another was baking or waiting. The exact recipe is in Cooks Illustrated, the October issue, I think. Something about the perfect apricot glazed stuffed pork loin roast. I messed with the order a little because it made more sense to me to make the brine before getting the meat out of the fridge, rather than pounding it out and letting it sit at room temperature while I got the brine together. Half a cup of sugar and half a cup of salt in three cups of near boiling water with a whole tablespoon of mildly crushed all spice berries and a whole tablespoon of lightly crushed peppercorns. Then ten cloves of garlic, smashed courtesy of my marble brick and three bay leaves, crumbled up. I stirred all that into the hot water and let it sit for a while at heat and filled a quart measure with ice water.

The two roasts then came out of the fridge and I trimmed off the tough silver tissues, butterflied them, basically used my knife to cut them in half thickness-wise and opened them like a book on a one inch hinge. I then got out some plastic wrap and my small cast iron skillet and used the skillet to just pound the meat down to an inch thickness as well as I could. It took a lot of banging. I did one, then poured the ice water into the brine, stirred it with a hand to make sure it was cold and then slid the first roast into the brine. It went in nicely. The second one took the brine level almost to the edge of the bowl. Perfect. I put a tight cover on the top of the brining bowl, washed my hands, and then put it in the refrigerator.

The cake was cool by then, so I wrapped it tightly in plastic and placed it in the fridge over the brining bowl. Plenty of room.

I had a little time, as I wanted it to brine for an hour and a half, and the stuffing needed only a forty-five minute bake before it should be immediately stuffed into the roast and I didn't want to do it too early or the roast would have too much time to sit around and dry out. So I cooked half a pound of bacon for the salad while peeling two large yams for the mashed yams. I put the yam pieces in cold water in a pot on the stove and only started the fire under it when I actually started the stuffing. I went out with a piece of the bacon for Fezzik when that was done and I found him still watching John. He really liked the bite.

The stuffing is mildly weird but really fun. It made me very glad I had a food processor. Lots and lots of fresh bread crumbs from fresh rolls, two entire batches of bread to crumble up. Then apricots, lots of seasonings, toasted pecans, all processed until really fine. The dried cherries I just cut in half so that they'd be easily identified, still and give it some color. Grated onion, garlic, and fresh parsley from my pots went in next along with some dried thyme and the whole things smelled wonderful. I then poured in half a cup of cream and a beaten egg and used my hand to shape it into a log on some parchment paper on one of my baking sheets. It went into the oven and I started the fire under the yams.

I then made salad dressing, chopped scallions, chopped the bacon, toasted more pecans and chopped them for the salad as well. By then the stuffing was almost done, and I had just enough time to pull out the brining bucket, dump all the brine and rinse all the pieces and overlay the two pieces on some paper towel on my plastic cutting board. I dried things off, and made sure that the thinner edges overlapped and by then the stuffing alarm went off. The baked log smelled really good, was a little too fat and too short, so I took my knife to it and mashed it open a little before rolling it, hot, onto the meat and closing the raw meat over it. I stuck skewers into the edges to close it over the hot stuffing and then used cotton twine and butchers knots all across the roast to get it to just stay closed around the stuffing.

The article in the magazine had a really long, fascinating run on why you cook the stuffing first and roll it in hot. Mostly it has to do with safety, i.e. the meat and the stuffing really need to reach a certain temperature before they're safe to eat, and if the stuffing is baked, brought to a high internal temperature it's possible to cook the meat and have the stuffing at a good internal temperature when the meat is just done and not too dry. If the stuffing starts cold, by the time the stuffing is at a good temperature, the meat's turned to leather.

I then put the whole thing on a roasting rack, glazed it with apricot jam, and stuffed it into a 425 degree oven. I then went out to find Fezzik lying on the lawn, watching the traffic going by. He'd gotten up and John had helped him lie out where he wanted to lie. Still the independent dog. He still, also, hadn't eaten his breakfast and showed absolutely no inclination to do so, which wasn't a good sign along with the fact that he just wasn't moving anywhere.

At twenty minutes, I had to turn the roast, which seemed laughably impossible with the join in the middle, but with a really large spatula, I managed the trick. I then got John to come in and do the artichoke heart dip while I reglazed the roast and stuffed it back in. I also washed nearly all the dishes I'd made while I was cooking just to get all that clutter out of the way. John said that he'd do them, but I really wanted him making the artichoke heart dip and he did that as he knew where that recipe existed. I also drained the yams, added brown sugar, butter, and cream, and mashed them thoroughly and started stacking things in groups for packing up into hot and cold containers. John brought in a big cooler and a little one and we stuffed all the hot things into the big one.

I thought a bit, and mixed Fezzik some dinner, and brought it out to him and set it in front of his nose and petted him while I waited a while. He refused to eat at first, and when I went away for a little bit, to help John pack and then came back, he'd started eating. That relieved my heart a little bit, at least for the trip tonight.

We got the roast wrapped in a double layer of foil, after brushing it one last time with the apricot preserves. Then all the other hot things went in. A big paper bag to brown the rolls in along with all the rolls, the salad makings, with a salad bowl and serving tools, and all the food. The cold pack got a can of whipped cream, the cranberry sauce for the pork, and the cut scallions as I didn't want those to darken. Everything then got piled into the trunk of the Passat. Fezzik got a couple of pets out on his bed by the driveway, and off we went.

In the forty-five minute ride over, John and I really talked over Fezzik. Talked over letting go of the things we couldn't do, talked over what really was okay in all this. Talked over some of what happens if Fezzik doesn't get any better, talked over a lot of things. This is all so hard. But it's also, oddly, easier than I thought it would be. I mean, if someone had asked me if I wanted to be washing shit off a dog twice a day a couple months ago, I would have recoiled saying, no way. But this is not just any dog, this is my dog of twelve years, the one I promised that I'd take care of from the day we got him until the day he died. So it's oddly easy. Like lifting him wherever he wants to go is oddly easy, as is just watching him and giving him water or food or whatever he gives any indication of needing. Like staying home most evenings to have time with him and take care of him. It's much easier than I think it could have been in the abstract. It's reality. It has to be done. So the choice is very, very easy.

The interesting thing is that it really makes me confident about John and I caring for our baby, when the Fish does get born. What one has to do for ones own is easy. That there isn't much that's going to be this bad with the kid, or even if it does, someday, come to something this awful, we will figure it out. Not the exact pathways of how to do things, but the whole confidence that we can figure out the right thing when the time comes is very much there, now. That we'll talk and talk and talk about it until it's clear. That much I now have real confidence in.

When we got there, Bonnie was there to greet us, but we didn't let her do anything but sit down and tell us where things were in her kitchen. It was pretty pleasant but mildly weird for her to have other people in her kitchen doing all the work, but she had fun watching and helping us by directing us and telling us everything that had happened with her in the last week. Talk about situations where you don't have any control and really can't do much. It was a mildly terrible story but with a much happier ending and she was home and resting after the ordeal and was glad to be home.

The roast and the yams and the bread all went into the oven. I tossed the all of salad except for the spinach, while John nuked the dip and everyone dug into the dip while we waited for Dan and the other kids to get home. It wasn't all that long, and we were soon setting the table, slicing the roast, getting things onto the table, saying grace and then everyone dug in. It was very gratifying to hear everyone really enjoying themselves. The roast had turned out moist and tender and the stuffing was good and solid and savory in just the right ways in the center. Andrea loved the cranberry sauce, so much she had a huge mound of it to enjoy just by itself. All the kids ate some of the peas and yams but skipped on the salad completely. Bonnie happily said that it was like eating out but without the hassel of having to go out, and she knew enough to ask me if I'd had the roast done for me. It was really cool to say no, I'd done the whole thing and it hadn't even been a special cut of pork, just a couple of Safeway's pork loin roasts stuck together with my stuffing.

Dessert was quite the hit, especially with the spray can of whipping cream. I'd forgotten just how much fun kids can have with a can of whipping cream. They loved it and really liked the cake as well and asked for it as their Christmas cake. Bonnie asked for the recipe and I said I'd get it to her. It was a little bit dry, but, as John said later, you really could taste the Bernard C. chocolate in it, as it was the main taste ingredient. Light and perfectly dense and rich with flavor, it really turned out well.

Soon after that we packed everything up, including all the leftovers. After all the parties we've had, it's very obvious to us that leaving leftovers at a host's house is no favor to them. Dealing with them is always harder than dealing with fresh food, and it seemed right that we should just take it all away with us, leaving only the dining dishes to be put into the dishwasher by the kids. They all seemed very happy to have had us, and Bonnie was resting on the couch as Dan helped John and I load things into the car. We stood outside a little while as Dan showed us his new landscaping and it looked really cool.

On the way home, we talked over the whole situation there, with the whole sense of helplessness in the face of a disease that one really couldn't irradicate. How the feelings paralleled ours with Fezzik. Talked about things like leftovers and I suddenly had a brainstorm and said that we should drop the last three pieces (which we couldn't leave as how would the kids want to divide *that* up?) with Bob, Mei and Andrew. It was on the way home, so we just stopped by there and they weren't home, but John stuck the pieces in a hose housing to make sure animals couldn't get at it and left a note and said that we'd leave them a phone message so that they couldn't miss 'em.

Once home, at a bit before 8, we hauled Fezzik inside, the two of us carrying him in tandem, as he seemed to be clean and wanting to be where the action was, for a while, at least. And I just sat on the couch and watched TV while petting Fezzik as John washed up, put things away. My legs were finally telling me that they'd had well more than enough today between the bike riding and all the standing while cooking. I was very grateful for John telling me to just sit. Fezzik's right eye is running with some awful ook, and his lungs are filling up with some kind of liquid and I can hear it every time he breathes, like on Thanksgiving but even worse. John and I talked through the fact that we had been surprised that Fezzik had made it through Thanksgiving and that we'd had the whole week and then some after. Fezzik isn't getting any better, if anything, he is just getting worse with time. He was shaking a little with every breath and heartbeat and while he did cuddle up with me when I sat by him, it seemed really his only comfort and he eventually relaxed and went to sleep for a while.

John called the Hamiltons and Bob answered and went out to find the cake. They'd been at a meeting and Mei's back was bothering her and when Bob found the cake he said, "Well, this should cheer her up." That made me feel pretty good.

Around 9:30, Fezzik got antsy, so the two of us picked him up and hauled him out again. My right hand really had a bad time of supporting his weight, but, as Kathy said, some things really are worth trashing ones hands over. Fezzik moved himself out on the lawn for a bit and then onto his bed and that's where he was when I saw him as I went to bed.

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