Thursday, February 9, 2017

"Nutty but Nice"

By Jerry  Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
I work for peanuts. This may explain why I recently did two very important things:

(a) I bought a Powerball ticket.

(b) I made my own peanut butter.

My love of money, which I don’t have much of because I had to take a vow of poverty when I went into journalism, is exceeded only by my love of peanut butter, which doesn’t cost much and tastes a lot better, especially if you are the kind of person who puts his money where his mouth is.

I got the idea to make my own peanut butter when I read an online article about various uses for the stuff, which are not, apparently, limited to eating.

For instance, it can be used as shaving cream. I had never thought of this, mainly because I would rather eat peanut butter and save my shaving cream for pies, just like the Three Stooges did when they started pie fights.

Hungry for knowledge, I tried it. I got a knife and spread the peanut butter on my face, then I grabbed my trusty razor and, cheek by jowl, carefully smoothed out the situation. It worked like a charm. I didn’t have razor stubble. And I didn’t cut myself, though I’m sure the peanut butter would have stanched the blood.

Best of all, I smelled good, which is another use for peanut butter. According to the article, it is an odor eliminator. In addition, it’s a squeak eliminator that can be used in place of WD-40 on hinges and drawers. It’s also a squeak eliminator because it can be used as mouse trap bait.

Other peanut butter uses: windshield cleaner (it removes bug carcasses, which would make creamy peanut butter chunky); hair moisturizer (if you leave it in, I guess it would get rid of the gray, too); and leather cleaner (too kinky to think about).

But since the best use for peanut butter is eating, I decided to make my own.

Following a recipe I also got online, I bought a bag of raw peanuts and a bottle of peanut oil, which are the main ingredients, along with kosher salt, a box of which was already in a kitchen cabinet.

According to the instructions, I needed a food processor, a baking sheet, a spatula and a container with a lid.

My wife, Sue, also a peanut butter fan (she likes chunky, while I prefer creamy), set up the food processor and said, “Good luck. And don’t forget to clean everything up when you’re done.”

The most labor-intensive part of the process was shelling two cups of peanuts, some of which I ate, which is why it took about half an hour.

Then I spread them on the baking sheet, set the oven at 350 degrees and put them in for 10 minutes, after which I dumped them into the food processor and checked out the instructions, which said, “If you toasted your nuts, do this while they are still warm. Pulse a few times until chopped.”

It hurt just reading this.

Next, I ran the food processor for one minute, stopped and scraped the sides and the bottom of the bowl, and repeated the process twice. Then I put in half a teaspoon of kosher salt and two tablespoons of peanut oil and ran the processor for two more minutes.

I carefully lifted the lid, hoping my peanut butter wouldn’t be like Spackle. To my amazement, it had a perfectly creamy consistency. I dipped in a spoon, which I like to use when I eat the store-bought stuff straight from the jar, and lifted it to my mouth.

My taste buds did backflips. I didn’t because I figured I would break something, like the food processor or my leg, but I can honestly say it was the best peanut butter I have ever tasted.

“Wow!” Sue exclaimed when I gave her some. “This is really good.”

Even Maggie the dog loved it, though she had a tough time getting it off the roof of her mouth.

I spooned the peanut butter into a container and put it in the refrigerator, proud that it is too good to use as a windshield cleaner or a hair moisturizer. I won’t even shave with it.

I’ll just be happy that I have won the culinary equivalent of Powerball and put my peanut butter where my mouth is.

Copyright 2017 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, January 26, 2017

"Papa Had Another Stone"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
It may come as a shock to you that I can’t get pregnant. The reason, of course, is that I am too old. But that did not stop a doctor from sending me for a sonogram.

This procedure, which is often performed on pregnant women, was done on me recently, not because I was expecting a baby, unlikely since I am still infantile myself, but because I had a kidney stone.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t my first. It was my fifth. Or sixth. I have lost count, mostly under the influence of painkilling drugs, but I do know that I am a human quarry who manufactures these things at an alarming rate. If I could outsource this manufacturing to another person, I would. But I can’t, so I continue to have kidney stones.

The first time I had one, a nurse told me it was the male equivalent of childbirth. I told her that at least I wouldn’t have to put the stone through college.

This time, my urologist, Dr. Albert Kim, who has a practice in the appropriately named New York hamlet of Stony Brook, ordered a sonogram because I’d already had enough X-rays from my previous kidney stones to glow in the dark, which at least would reduce my electric bills.

When I arrived at Zwanger-Pesiri Radiology, I spoke with Amy, one of the nice people who work at the front desk.

“I’ve been here so often that I should have my own parking space,” I told her.

“Even I can’t get one,” Amy said with a smile. Then she handed me paperwork whose sheer volume rivaled that of “War and Peace” and asked me to fill it out.

“I’ve had to do this so many times that my right hand should be X-rayed,” I said.

Amy nodded sympathetically and replied, “You can keep the pen.”

Then I was called in by a nice technologist named Erin, who asked if I had been drinking.

“No,” I replied, “but I could go for a beer.”

“I mean water,” Erin said. “You have to have at least 24 ounces before we can do a sonogram.”

“I had a bottle on the way over,” I told her.

“Good,” said Erin, who asked me to lift my shirt so she could rub some jelly on my belly and watch it on the telly.

“Am I pregnant?” I asked.

“Sorry,” she responded, “but no.”

“Do you see my kidney stone?” I wondered.

“I’m not a doctor,” Erin explained, “so I’m not allowed to say.”

But she did say that a report would be sent to Dr. Kim, with whom I had an appointment the next day. That evening, however, someone from the radiology center called me at home to say I had to come back because part of the sonogram was blurred.

The next morning, I returned for another one. While I was waiting, I had a kidney stone attack. Fortunately, it was no worse than having hot tar injected into my right side. When the pain subsided, I had a second sonogram and then went to see Dr. Kim, who said the stone was probably dropping and that this, too, shall pass.

Sure enough, at home later that afternoon, it did. Dr. Kim ordered an X-ray, which I tried to avoid in the first place.

I had one a couple of days later from another nice technologist named Jenn, who said I could keep the blue paper pants I had to wear for the procedure. She also gave me a copy of the X-ray, which I had to bring to Dr. Kim a few days later.

I also brought him the stone, which looked to be the size of a bocce ball but was actually, according to Dr. Kim, five or six millimeters.

“It’s fairly big,” he said. “Did you have a tough time passing it?”

“It wasn’t pleasant, but it could have been worse,” I replied. “At least I didn’t have a baby.”

Copyright 2017 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, January 12, 2017

"On a Cart and a Prayer"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
If it weren’t for my wife, I would have starved to death long ago. Not only is Sue a great cook (her specialties include everything, which is exactly what I like), but she does all the food shopping. Only illness can prevent her from the swift completion of her appointed eye of rounds.

So when she got sick recently, I had to go to the supermarket. By myself. For the first time in almost 39 years.

“Here,” Sue said between sneezes, handing me a shopping list. “You don’t have to get too much. Do you think you can handle it?”

“Of course,” I said confidently. “I’ll just put the cart before the horse’s aft.”

“If you come back with everything,” Sue said wearily, “it will be a miracle.”

When I arrived at the store, I met Ken Fehling and Richard Cunnius, who also were shopping for their wives.

“My wife doesn’t shop,” said Ken, who recently retired as a college director of residential operations. “So she sends me.”

“Do you go back home with everything on the list?” I asked.

“Always,” Ken said. “My wife thinks I do a good job.”

“I don’t think mine does,” said Richard, a retired electrical engineer. “When I get back home, she’ll say, ‘Did you get it on sale? Did you do this? Did you do that?’ Then she’ll discover that I forgot something. I guess I’m not a good shopper. But if my wife can’t go, she sends me.”

We stood in the produce section, getting in the way of other shoppers, all of them women who seemed annoyed that three geezers were blocking their way to the lettuce, and talked about wives, kids and grandchildren before I said, “I have to go to the deli counter to pick up some cold cuts. Nice meeting you guys.”

“You, too,” said Richard. “Good luck.”

“Check off every item on your list,” Ken suggested. “That way, you won’t forget anything.”

When I got to the deli counter, it was so crowded I couldn’t get to the machine to take a number.

“I’ll get it for you,” said Maddy Spierer, an artist who owns a design company. She handed me No. 57. The guy at the counter yelled out, “No. 45!”

“I guess we’ll have to wait,” I said.

“You looked lost,” Maddy noted.

“It’s my first time shopping alone,” I said.

“You’ll be OK,” Maddy assured me. Then she realized she had taken two tickets, Nos. 54 and 55, so she handed me the latter. “It’ll speed things up,” said Maddy, a mother, a grandmother and a veteran food shopper. When her number was called, she said to me, “You’re next!”

“I’m not going to get bologna because I’m already full of it,” I told Maddy. But I did pay it forward by giving my No. 57 to a woman named Tanya, who had No. 62. When I told her my wife had sent me shopping, Tanya smiled and said, “Smart woman.”

A few minutes later, in the canned food aisle, I saw a tall gentleman with a black suit and a clerical collar.

“Are you a priest?” I asked.

“I’m a Methodist minister,” the Rev. Amos Sherald responded with a warm smile.

“You’re just the man I’m looking for,” I told him. “This is my first time food shopping by myself. My wife said that if I came back with everything on the list, it would be a miracle.”

“Did you remember to bring the list?” Rev. Sherald asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

“It’s a miracle!” he said.

And, lo, I felt the hand of God guiding me through the rest of the store, making sure I did, indeed, get everything Sue wanted me to buy.

When I arrived home, I told her about my supermarket adventure and especially about my encounter with Rev. Sherald.

Doubting Sue would not believe until she had checked the bags. “He was right!” she exclaimed. Then she added, “How would you like to go food shopping for me next week?”

“I don’t think so,” I said. “After all, miracles don’t happen every day.”

Copyright 2017 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, December 29, 2016

"All in Good Taste"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
As a seasoned gourmand (I am usually seasoned with oregano because I am no sage), I know enough about food to give expert advice on which wine goes with Slim Jims (red) and which goes with Twinkies (white).

In fact, I have always had a burning desire, which sometimes happens in the kitchen, to be a restaurant critic. And I recently got my chance when I went out with a real restaurant critic to review an eatery where I passed judgment on the menu, which wasn’t edible (too chewy) but did contain lots of tasty offerings.

The restaurant was Tra’mici, a cozy Italian spot in Massapequa Park, New York, and the critic was Melissa McCart, who has written sparkling reviews for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Newsday of Long Island. Accompanying us on this gastronomic adventure was Janelle Griffith, a talented feature writer for Newsday.

Our waiter was Marco Gervasi, who introduced himself by saying he would be our waiter (these formalities are very important in the service experience) and commented that there was an empty fourth seat at our table.

“Sit down,” I urged him. “Are you hungry?” I got up, put a white cloth napkin over my arm and said, “I’m Jerry. I’ll be your waiter.”

I could tell by the look in Marco’s eye (his other eye was blank) that he knew he was in for a long night.

Then he asked if we wanted anything to drink. Melissa and Janelle ordered white wine, even though Twinkies were not among the entrees.

“I’ll have a glass of red,” I said.

“How about a cab?” Marco asked.

“If I drink enough of them,” I answered, “I’ll have to hail a cab for the ride home.”

Marco, who looked like he could use a drink himself, smiled and dutifully went away.

He returned shortly afterward with not only our wine but a plate of hors d’oeuvres, which contained not horses (pardon my French) but salami, prosciutto and cheese, along with olives. They tickled the palate. I soothed the tickle with a sip of wine. It was fragrant but not haughty. And vice versa.

For the main course, Melissa ordered Orecchiette alla Barese, served with broccoli rabe and sausage, and Janelle ordered Fettuccine al doppio burro, which did not (pardon my Italian) contain a stupid donkey.

When I expressed interest in a steak, Marco suggested Filetto (filet mignon with mashed potatoes, broccoli rabe and red wine reduction).

“The meat is cured,” he noted.

“Cured?” I said nervously. “What was wrong with it?”

“I can’t tell you,” Marco replied.

I ordered it anyway.

When our dinners came out, all three of us daintily dug in. Then we tried each other’s meals, which is how restaurant critics get a taste of several menu items in one sitting (it’s not a good idea to stand while eating) and can determine what’s good and, in some cases, what isn’t.

After Melissa sampled my steak, she said, “Yours is the winner.”

“Umph, umph, umph,” I agreed, even though it’s not polite to talk with your mouth full of food.

This shared tasting must be done inconspicuously or the restaurant staff will suspect that a critic is in the house. In fact, Marco asked me, “What do you do?”

“As little as possible,” I told him.

“No, really,” he insisted. “What do you do?”

I looked around furtively and whispered, “I stick up restaurants.”

Marco hurried away to get our dessert (salty caramel gelato) and possibly call the cops. He also must have alerted his boss, because the general manager came out to refill our water glasses.

“I’m Ben,” he said.

“I’m Jerry,” I responded, shaking his hand. “We should open an ice cream business.”

“It’s been done,” Ben stated.

“Then we’ll sue them,” I said. “Just as soon as my lawyer gets out of jail.”

“You can call it Jerry and Ben’s,” Janelle suggested.

Dessert was delicious, just like the rest of the meal. And the service was even better, which is saying something considering that Marco was working only his second shift at Tra’mici.

“What’s your day job?” I asked him.

“I’m a real estate agent,” Marco said.

“Do you get a commission on dinners?” I wondered.

“Yes,” he said. “It’s called a tip.”

He got a generous one. After dealing with me, he deserved it, which is why I am giving Tra’mici an excellent review.

“Keep up the good work,” I told Ben on the way out. “And give my compliments to the waiter.”

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, December 15, 2016

"The Zezimas' 2016 Christmas Letter"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
Since I am in the holiday spirit (and, having just consumed a mug of hot toddy, a glass of eggnog and a nip of cheer, the holiday spirits are in me), I have once again decided to follow in that great tradition of boring everyone silly by writing a Christmas letter.

That is why I am pleased as punch (which I also drank) to present the following chronicle of the Zezima family, which includes Jerry, the patriarch; Sue, the matriarch; Katie and Lauren, the childriarchs; Dave and Guillaume, the sons-in-lawiarch; and Chloe and Lilly, the granddaughtersiarch.

Dear friends:

It sure has been an exciting 2016 for the Zezimas!

Jerry had a particularly exciting year, which began with the publication of his third book, “Grandfather Knows Best.” Like his first two books, “Leave It to Boomer” and “The Empty Nest Chronicles,” it’s a crime against literature. It also comes in handy for propping up wobbly table legs. Somehow, it didn’t make the New York Times bestseller list.

Jerry reached the pinnacle of his journalism career when he got a paper route. On a rainy night, he helped his newspaper carrier fling papers into subscribers’ driveways and returned a lost dog to her grateful owners, which was the best delivery of all.

Jerry also completed his two-year term as president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists without running that otherwise august organization into the ground. Members attending the NSNC conference in Los Angeles celebrated with a four-letter word: beer.

Jerry’s other adventures included being a server for a night at a restaurant. To ensure that the place wouldn’t go under, he waited on his own family (Sue, Lauren, Guillaume and Chloe) and got a nice tip: Don’t quit your day job.

That same group went bowling and Chloe, in an outing to celebrate her third birthday, beat everybody in the first game. She kindly let Jerry, whom she helped roll a strike and a spare in two late frames, win the second game.

Chloe also had her first sleepover at Nini and Poppie’s house and began a tradition of making breakfast (scrambled eggs, sausage, toast and a bagel) with Jerry, whose scant culinary skills pale in comparison with those of his granddaughter.

Chloe got her first haircut (Jerry got one the same weekend, approximately his millionth) and got her first big-girl bed, where she keeps her stuffed friends. (Jerry, who goes to bed when he’s stuffed, keeps pajamas and other dirty clothes on his.)

Sue and Jerry refinanced the mortgage on their house, a hellish process that took months and was almost undone by a three-year-old unpaid traffic ticket. Now Jerry is afraid to drive to the bank to pay the new mortgage.

Jerry turned 62, which means he is eligible for Social Security and can, if he wants, retire. Considering his financial obligations (see above), he is convinced he will be working posthumously.

Speaking of death, Sue and Jerry lost Bernice, the last of their four cats, who at age 17 went to that big litter box in the sky. To fill the void (Bernice was fat), they welcomed Maggie, their sweet granddog, who is 11 and living with them temporarily. She keeps the house safe by being a canine alarm system, which makes her more valuable than Jerry.

Katie and Dave, both journalists living in Washington, D.C., had lots to report on this year and learned the wisdom of the late, great humorist Art Buchwald, who also was based in the nation’s capital and famously wrote, “You can’t make anything up anymore. The world itself is a satire. All you’re doing is recording it.” Katie and Dave record it very well.

For the record, the best thing to happen in the family in 2016 was the birth of Lilly, Lauren and Guillaume’s beautiful baby daughter. Everyone loves the adorable girl, including Chloe, who kisses her little sister and helps Lauren and Guillaume take care of her. So does Sue. Jerry tells her jokes, just as he does with Chloe. When you’re a grandfather, that’s your job.

Merry Christmas with love and laughter from the Zezimas.

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima

Thursday, December 1, 2016

"It's Chloe Time"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
I live in a different time zone than everybody else — right now it is 8:49 a.m., Eastern time, 5:49 on the West Coast and 12:27 on Mars — so I was a little late in finding out that my granddaughter Chloe, who is 3, recently got a watch.

I have had one watch in my life. It was given to me as a college graduation gift by my parents, who liked to remind me that I was born more than three weeks past my due date and hadn't been on time for anything since. The watch was one of those digital numbers that didn’t have two hands, which required me to use two hands to tell the time. It was a pain in the wrist.

Not long after my wife, Sue, and I were married, our apartment was burglarized. Her watch was stolen. Mine was left behind. It wasn’t even good enough for thieves.

At the time (4:32 p.m.), I resolved never to wear a watch again. And I haven’t. I am in a deadline business, but I don’t care what time it is. If I need to know, I’ll look at the clock on the wall. If I don’t see a wall, I know I’m outside and that it’s time (midnight) to come in.

Now Chloe, who was born a week early, has a watch. It was given to her by her parents, though not as a college graduation gift because even kids these days don’t grow up that fast.

At least it’s not digital. It has a purple band with pink and white flowers and a face with two hands, which means Chloe doesn’t need two hands to tell the time.

What she does need is somebody to teach her how.

That, against all odds, is where I come in.

Whenever Chloe visits, she wants me to read her favorite literary masterpiece, “Tick and Tock’s Clock Book.” Subtitled “Tell the Time With the Tiger Twins!,” it’s the compelling if somewhat repetitive tale of two feline brothers who are baffled by time, which makes them no better than me. Of course, I never tell that to Chloe. Instead, I begin reading:

“Brrringg! The alarm clock rang so loudly it made Tick and Tock jump out of bed.

“ ‘What time is it?!’ said Tock.

“Tick went to look at the clock.

“ ‘Um … the big hand … Not sure,’ he said. What time did the clock say?”

“What time did the clock say, Poppie?” Chloe asked recently during a particularly dramatic reading.

“It didn’t say anything,” I replied. “Clocks can’t talk.”

Chloe giggled and said, “Silly Poppie!”

According to the drawing on the page, it was 8 a.m., even though it was 3:15 p.m. in my house, so I helped Chloe move the plastic hands — the big one to the 12, the little one to the 8 — on the clock in the upper right corner of the book.

The rest of the story follows the messy Tiger Twins through their day, during which they can’t figure out what time they are supposed to leave for school (8:30), finish their painting project (10:15), have lunch (12:30), go home (3:30) and have dinner (4:45).

But the best is saved for last. That’s when Tick and Tock’s mother, who has just cleaned up one of their many messes, announces, “There, it’s all tidy now. Look, it’s 8 o’clock, time for bed.”

But the clock on the wall says otherwise.

“Tick and Tock looked at the clock and said, ‘No, it’s not! It’s 7 o’clock. We have another hour to play, hooray!’ ”

In one of the greatest endings in all of literature, the Tiger Twins’ mother can’t tell the time.

“Maybe,” I said to Chloe as I closed the book, “Tick and Tock should buy her a watch.”

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima