Monday, May 5, 2008

A Good Weekend

Andrew’s brother from Denver joined us this weekend, and it was good to have him around for a few days.

He flew in Thursday evening, and Andrew and I and his mother all went to the airport to pick him up.

We had a late dinner Thursday night when we got back to the house: pepper pot roast (slow-cooked with a variety of special black and white ground pepper as well as peppercorns, AFTER having been soaked for a day in a special peppercorn brine), mashed potatoes, homemade butter noodles, steamed peas, corn and carrots, and a fresh pear-strawberry-walnut salad. For dessert, we had homemade ice cream and peanut butter cookies that Andrew’s mother had baked Thursday afternoon.

Andrew’s mother always makes homemade butter noodles for his brother on his first night home. Homemade butter noodles are his favorite food.

Andrew’s mother’s pepper pot roast is stunning, but it is very peppery. Because it has a very strong flavor, it goes best with creamy, buttery foods like mashed potatoes and homemade butter noodles, as well as plain steamed unseasoned vegetables like peas, corn and carrots. It would overwhelm and conflict with any other highly-seasoned foods. Only when the ice cream came along was I at last able to flush the taste of the pot roast from my senses.

The dog cannot be given pepper pot roast, as it is too strong for him, so Andrew’s mother gave him tiny pieces of cut-up beef, very slightly grilled, along with some mashed potatoes and a few butter noodles. The dog loves mashed potatoes with his meat at dinner, and he was perfectly content with his meal.

He was also happy to eat ice cream and peanut butter cookies for dessert. Peanut butter cookies are his favorite cookies (and Andrew’s brother’s favorite, too). He eats his ice cream from a bowl, but he is given small pieces of cookie by hand. When eating ice cream and cookies, he walks back and forth between his bowl and whomever is feeding him cookie pieces, having a few bites of first one and then the other. It is amusing to watch him enjoy his dessert.

Despite his size, the dog is a very delicate eater. He licks his food from his bowl in tiny, delicate tonguefuls, walking around and around his bowl as he takes one tongueful and then another. He constantly wags his tail while he eats, and he licks his bowl clean and inspects it very carefully when he is finished eating to make sure that he has not missed anything. I was absolutely riveted the first evening I was in Andrew’s family home, observing the dog eat his dinner.

His food is always cut up into very tiny pieces so that it takes him a while to eat it. Otherwise, he might gulp everything down in one bite and then feel cheated and beg at table.

The dog was happy to see Andrew’s brother, jumping all over him and licking him as if there were no tomorrow. For the previous couple of days, we had told him that Andrew’s brother was coming, and I think he understood this. When we left for the airport Thursday evening, we told him that we were going to the airport and that Alex would be with us when we returned, and I genuinely believe that he fully understood all that we were telling him.

We did not get to bed until very late Thursday night, because we stayed up talking until just past 12:30 a.m.

Andrew and I had to work on Friday, so Andrew’s mother and brother went to the care facility on Friday to visit Andrew’s grandmother and to have lunch with her. However, Andrew and I did manage to leave work early on Friday afternoon, and all of us (even Andrew’s mother accompanied us) spent late Friday afternoon with the dog in the park, running him around and playing games with him.

We spent most of Friday evening helping Andrew’s mother prepare dinner. She only prepared three dishes, but all three were sort of complicated, involving only fresh ingredients and taking some serious time and attention to prepare. We did not sit down to eat until after 9:00 p.m.

We had a dinner from Provence: Salade Nicoise, Bouillabaisse and apricot tarts with honey and almonds. The dinner was exceptional, probably superior to anything available in the finest French restaurant.

The dog was given a tart for dessert, but for his main course he was given grilled chicken, cut up for him, because he does not eat salads or seafood. He didn’t seem to mind.

After dinner, we watched a movie on DVD: “Islands In The Stream”, an adaptation of the Hemingway novel published after Hemingway’s death.

I had never seen the film, and I was astonished how fine it was. It is certainly the best film adapted from Hemingway I have ever seen.

Apparently the movie was not well-received on its initial release in 1977, either by critics or movie-goers. It died a quick death at the box office. This is regrettable, because it is an exceptionally fine piece of work.

The director was Franklin J. Shaffner, the cinematographer Fred J. Koenekamp, and the editor Robert Swink, all major talents working at the top of their games. Jerry Goldsmith wrote the musical score. The primary actors are George C. Scott, Claire Bloom and David Hemmings. Scott is called upon to carry the film, and he does so magnificently. Surely this is his finest screen performance. Scott is totally believable and perhaps even inspired in the role of a solitary sculptor working on an island in out-of-the-way Bahamas in 1940, as war clouds gather and as family crises involving children from two failed marriages command his attention.

“Islands In The Stream” is a very subtle and very moving film. The slow pace of the film is what must have prevented it from becoming a major critical and commercial success at the time of its release, although I understand that “Islands In The Stream” is slowly but surely acquiring a high reputation among film scholars and film historians.

It’s a wonderful film.

On Saturday, we had a big, big breakfast—first we ate cereal and fruit, after which Andrew made us scrambled eggs, fried potatoes and bacon, after which Andrew also made us waffles and sausage—and then we spent most of the day outside doing yard work. It was sort of fun because we had three guys to do the work, which was more than enough to keep pace with the dog, who generally tries to undo the work as quickly as it is completed. We had a lot of fun.

We stopped for a light lunch—tuna salad sandwiches, made from the same tuna cooked for Friday night’s Salade Nicoise—and then we worked until late in the afternoon, when we all got cleaned up and went out for the evening.

We went over to Bloomington and first we had an early dinner at Ruby Tuesday. Alex, Andrew and I all ordered the steak-and-crab-cake entrée. Andrew’s mother ordered Parmesan shrimp pasta.

After dinner, we went to see the musical, “The Pajama Game”, performed by the resident company at Bloomington Civic Theater.

I loved the performance—I thought it was top-notch—although the show itself is not good in the least. The score, the lyrics, the book: all are pedestrian.

The staging, however, was clever and imaginative, and the performers were quite good, despite the fact that Bloomington Civic Theater is not a professional company. The company’s performances, however, are fully up to professional standard, and everything about the production was excellent, from the stage design to the choreography to the orchestra in the pit.

I think the fact that Bloomington Civic Theater performs in a state-of-the-art auditorium seating only 366 persons and employs a full theater orchestra for its shows helps make its productions enjoyable and immediate. No amplification is used for the singers, and Broadway-type synthesizers in the pit are verboten. Consequently, Bloomington Civic Theater performances are not “canned”, unlike performances of Broadway musicals in New York, which are pretty deadly.

We all enjoyed the performance very much, and we were pleased that we had made the decision to go see this unremarkable musical, a decision we made more or less at the last minute.

After we arrived back in Edina, we stopped to have dessert before we went home. We stopped at The Cheesecake Factory and had cheesecake. We ordered four different kinds of cheesecake and shared, so everyone got a taste of each: vanilla bean, white chocolate raspberry truffle, lemon raspberry cream, and key lime.

On Sunday morning, Andrew made us omelets with ham, three different cheeses and cream, and he followed that up by making us one of his specialties, apple-cinnamon pancakes, which Alex especially likes.

After church, we did not eat lunch. Instead, we drove straight downtown in order to see two very small temporary exhibitions at the Minneapolis Institute Of Arts: “Visions Of Piety: Devotional Prints In The Counter-Reformation” and “Paris 1900: Graphic Design In Revolt”. It did not even take us an hour to complete both exhibitions, so we spent another hour at the museum in the Ancient Art section, examining antiquities from Egypt, Greece and Rome.

After we had had our fill of the museum, we returned home. It was only the middle of the afternoon when we arrived, and we played with dog and talked and helped Andrew’s mother prepare dinner.

She stuffed and roasted a chicken for dinner. We ate the chicken and stuffing with mashed potatoes, homemade butter noodles, green beans, fried red tomatoes, baked okra and homemade applesauce. We had cranberry-orange bread for dessert.

We spent all of Sunday night talking, and making tentative—very tentative—plans.

Andrew’s brother will be moving back to Minneapolis at the beginning of July. He will be staying with Andrew’s parents until late August. When Andrew and I abscond to Boston, he will move into our apartment.

He does not start his new job until early September, so he wants to do as much traveling as possible during the months of July and August.

Andrew and I have not decided precisely when we will leave our current jobs. We have etched August 1 into our minds, but that is only a tentative date.

We will all spend the first week of July up at the lake—that much is already settled—but Andrew and I are not prepared to spend the remainder of the month of July and most of the month of August traveling, even assuming we would leave our current jobs around July 1, an assumption we are not yet prepared to make.

Alex has lots of travel ideas. In addition to a two-week trip to Great Britain he mapped out several months ago, he wants to make a two-week trip to Toronto, combining Toronto with a lengthy visit to the Shaw Festival in nearby Niagara-On-The-Lake. He wants to make a nine-day trip to Philadelphia-the Brandywine Valley-Wilmington-Princeton-Allentown. He wants to make a two-week trek through Michigan and a corner of Ohio, visiting Detroit-Kalamazoo-Holland-Grand Rapids-Muskegon-East Lansing-Flint-Saginaw-Ann Arbor-Toledo. He is also busy mapping out a plan to see as much as possible of Scotland over a two-week period.

Clearly, he is keen to go somewhere!

Andrew and I are no position to make firm plans at the moment, and we have decided to put him off until Memorial Day weekend, when we will visit him in Denver and when we can begin to make decisions whether and where and when to go.

Andrew’s mother would like to go somewhere, too, because she has not been out of the country since last September, when we visited London. She has Paris and Venice on her mind at the moment, but Paris and Venice are not ideal destinations for the months of July and August, and she is perfectly well-aware of this fact.

At the moment, everything is swings and roundabouts.

All we know for certain, at the moment, is that Alex returned to Denver early this morning and that Andrew’s father will return from Taipei on Wednesday.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!


  1. I hope your British itinerary is not the one you wrote about a few months back. That was a bad itinerary. There were too many dull patches in that plan.

    Will you be spending any time in London? I would be delighted to meet up with you fellows again.


  2. Everything is still completely up in the air, Calvin. No firm plans of any sort have been made.