Friday, March 29, 2013

"Spaced Out"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

I didn’t major in physics in college, though I do have a BS in life, but I know that one of the principles of this fascinating science is that any space will be filledexcept, of course, the one between my ears.

So it is no surprise that practically every nook and cranny of my house is filled with stuff. This includes drawers I can barely open because they are crammed with things like pots, pans, pot holders, hot plates, sandwich bags, aluminum foil, socks, T-shirts, pajamas, sweaters, sweatshirts, sweatpants and underwear. The sandwich bags and the underwear are not, you should know, in the same drawer.

A couple of closets are bursting with coats, jackets, windbreakers and parkas, most of which aren’t mine.

Then there are containers spilling over with pens and pencils and a large receptacle loaded with spatulas, potato mashers, soup ladles and wooden spoons. If I even tried to fit a toothpick in there, the whole thing would explode.

One cabinet is jammed with literally dozens of pieces of Tupperware, which I could swear are engaging in intimate activities and are reproducing at such an alarming rate that when I open the doors, half of them rain down on my head. It’s a good thing we don’t keep crockery up there.

I could buy a barrel the size of a Volkswagen in which to store paper clips and within a week it will be filled to overflowing.

And don’t even get me started on the garage, which is filled with too many things to mention, much of them belonging to my two daughters, who don’t live at home anymore. The one thing that’s not in the garage is a car.

To find an explanation for this frightening phenomenon, I called Alain Brizard, a professor of physics at my alma mater, Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, Vt.

“There is a saying in physics that nature abhors a vacuum,” Brizard told me.

“I abhor a vacuum, too,” I replied. “It’s in one of the closets with all those coats and jackets. I can’t even close the door.”

“That’s because of the second law of thermodynamics,” said the good professor. 

This law states that the entropy of an isolated system never decreases. Entropy, according to Brizard, is a sense or measure of disorder.

“Teens and toddlers are masters of entropy,” said Brizard, noting that his 17-year-old son, Peter, an otherwise fine and upstanding young man, is a prime example.

“His room is filled with stuff,” the professor told me. “There are clothes all over the floor. If there is a piece of the floor that is exposed, it will soon be covered with clothes. The only spot that isn’t covered with clothes is covered by the bed.”

While entropy could be blamed for the disorder in Peter’s room, another scientific explanation is that he is a chip off the old building block of matter.

“My office is a mess,” Brizard confessed. “There are papers all over the floor. But if you ask me for a specific piece of paper, I will find it. Chaos is not all that it seems. Sometimes there is order in chaos.”

Brizard’s wife, Dinah, a professional chef whose kitchen is spotless (“I help by doing the dishes,” Brizard said), and my wife, Sue, a teacher and a fellow St. Mike’s grad, are both orderly.

“This must fall under the first law of marriage: Opposites attract,” I said.

Brizard agreed, adding: “Entropy can be defeated. One way is to clean out your drawers and closets once in a while. But the best way is to be married to someone who is orderly.”

For this theory alone, Prof. Brizard deserves to win the Nobel Prize. I just hope he can find it under all those papers in his office.

Copyright 2013 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, March 15, 2013

"Picasso and Me"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

As a painter, Pablo Picasso had nothing on me. Sure, he had a Blue Period, but it lasted only three years. My Blue Period has lasted almost 25 years, and every time I’ve had a painting project, it’s made me blue, which is the color of the master bedroom and the adjoining bathroom.

It’s also made me green (downstairs bathroom), yellow (upstairs bathroom), white (family room), sea foam (hallway) and rose (living room and dining room, which puts me one up on Picasso’s Rose Period).

A few years ago, when I announced to my wife, Sue, that I was retired from painting, she said, “You’re not retired. You’re just on hiatus.”

My hiatus ended recently when I got a request to paint. But it didn’t come from Sue, who has been after me to repaint the hallway, which would be the 21st such project in the 15 years we have lived in our house and approximately the 30th if you count our nine previous years in a condo.

The request came from my son-in-law Guillaume, who asked me to help him with his first painting project, a bedroom in the house where he and my younger daughter live.

I had haunting flashbacks to my many painting misadventures. Like the time I painted the kitchen in the condo. The trickiest part was painting around the ceiling fan, where the lights were situated. I worked with the lights on until I smelled something burning. It was my hair, which had come in contact with a hot bulb. I pulled one of two cordsthe one I thought would turn off the lightsonly to discover that I had turned on the fan, whereupon a whirling blade hit me in the head.

It should have knocked some sense into me, but I kept on with the painting projects, including a particularly awful one in the living room of our house, which had huge ceiling beams that Sue wanted me to remove. I initially used a crowbar that punched holes in the ceiling. Then I used a rope to yank the beams down. One narrowly missed my skull. It took me a week to complete the project.

As I told Guillaume, the worst part of painting isn’t the painting, it’s the prep work. This includes using a mile and a half of masking tape to cover areas you don’t want to paint. Then you have to prime the walls and the ceiling. When you paint, you have to put on two coats, though if it’s a hot day, you can wear a T-shirt.

The good thing about this latest project was that we didn’t have to paint the ceiling. And Guillaume bought a new kind of paint that contained primer. Also, the walls needed only one coat.

The best part was that Guillaume proved to be a natural.

“When I painted for the first time,” I told him, “I barely knew which end of the brush to use.”

“It could have been a brush with disaster,” he replied.

“I am so proud of you!” I exclaimed, knowing this project would be enjoyable because I’d be sharing it with a fellow punster. “This is going to pan out.”

“We can put it on our bucket list,” said Guillaume.

“It’s a good thing our wives aren’t here,” I said. “They’d bristle at our jokes.”

“Yes,” Guillaume responded, “but we’re on a roll.”

It went on like this for most of the day. When our wives got back from shopping, they marveled at the nice job we did and approved of the light pink color.

“I’m going back into retirement now,” I told Sue.

“How about the hallway?” she replied.

Unlike Picasso, I have a terrible feeling I am about to enter my Sea Foam Period.

Copyright 2013 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, March 1, 2013

"Now That's Italian!"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

As a nice Italian boy, as well as a former runner-up in the Newman’s Own & Good Housekeeping Recipe Contest for a dish I called Zezima’s Zesty Ziti Zinger, I have many remembrances of things pasta.

Aside from being a flash in the pan, however, I can barely boil spaghetti.

So I recently took a class in which I learned how to make ravioli.

The class, at the Brookhaven Free Library on Long Island, N.Y., was given by Richard Kanowsky, whose last name isn’t Italian and whose immediate family is as culinarily challenged as I am.

“My mom is horrible in the kitchen,” Chef Richard said. “My dad, too.”

But his maternal grandmother was “a really good cook,” he said. “I learned from her.”

Although Chef Richard’s ethnic background includes Russian, German, Dutch, French and Czech, his grandmother was half-Sicilian. “It qualifies me to make ravioli,” he said.

“My ethnic background includes Martian,” I told him. “Otherwise, I’m Italian. My mom is a great cook. My wife and my mother-in-law are of Italian descent. They’re great cooks, too. Unfortunately,” I added, “it doesn’t qualify me to make ravioli.”

“We’ll fix that,” promised Chef Richard, who was impressed that I beat out all but one person in a field of thousands in the national recipe contest. “What was your secret?” he asked.

“Red wine and vodka,” I responded. “Paul Newman loved my dish. I told him I fed some to my dog to see if it was all right. He asked if my dog was still alive. When I said yes, he wolfed the stuff down like he hadn’t eaten in a week. That he and my dog have since passed on is merely a coincidence.”

After going over his professional background -- he has cooked at the Ritz-Carlton in Boston and at Carnegie Hall in New York City and co-owns Kanobley Catering on Long Island -- Chef Richard told the dozen class members that we would be rolling in dough.

“That,” he explained, “is why I asked you to bring rolling pins.”

Although Chef Richard had already made the dough we would be using in the class, he demonstrated how it’s done so we could do it at home. The ingredients were flour, eggs, olive oil, heavy cream and kosher salt. The process involved making a well, or a large hole in the middle, and using a fork to stir the egg mixture into the flour and collapsing the well walls.

“You knead the dough,” Chef Richard noted.

“No kidding,” I said to Toni Anne, who was sitting next to me. “I ought to play Powerball.”

After Chef Richard gave us eggs, cheese, flour and bags of dough, he handed out powdered rubber gloves and showed us how to roll pieces of dough, cut them into smaller pieces, squeeze a small mound of cheese onto each piece, use a pastry brush to apply the beaten eggs to the edges and fold over the dough, using our fingertips to push air out of the ravioli.

“If there’s an air pocket,” he said, “the ravioli could explode in boiling water.”

Chef Richard went around the class to inspect our work. When he got to me, he said, “Your ravioli could be served in a restaurant.”

“Tell the Ritz-Carlton I’m available,” I said.

Then I took my dozen ravioli home to cook for myself and my wife, Sue.

I plopped them into a pot of boiling water. They didn’t explode. I drained them, put them in a bowl, covered them in tomato sauce and served a ravioli to Sue.

“Delicious,” she said. “It didn’t break apart. You did a good job.”

Coming from a great Italian cook, it was the ultimate compliment. Paul Newman would have loved it.

Copyright 2013 by Jerry Zezima