I remember wondering if missing school for a court appearance counted as an excused absence. I would've been there regardless, but that was the sort of thing going through my head as we waited for our turn before the judge.
My friend, Dean, was defending himself in a minor car accident case with me, his passenger, serving as a corroborating witness. Weeks of preparation and a long history of bad television had convinced us that we would make a persuasive case, filled with research, diagrams, and head-turning eloquence. The reality was we had no defense whatsoever, which took the judge about five minutes to determine. My star turn consisted of answering one question and being reprimanded for overreacting to the judge's statements. We left thoroughly humbled.
My high school years can be neatly divided into pre-Dean and post-Dean. He was a year older than me and that's where the similarities ended. My pre-Dean life wasn't exactly conventional, but I was living comfortably within the boundaries of what I knew and liked.
Soon, nothing was familiar. High-speed driving was a defining, if still imperfect, skill. The Who and The Clash were the only bands that mattered and any music worth listening to was worth listening to at maximum volume. Friday and Saturday nights drifted into the early morning as Hockey Night in Canada led to a card game followed by a midnight movie. Of course, for many people, this life was common, but it wasn't for me.
Every day there was a new album to listen to and movie that I should've seen years ago. First times became the new normal, most more fun than first car accident and court appearance.
I loved it all. It was a glimpse of what existed just beyond the familiar. Some of what I found remains part of my life even today; other things I left behind soon after. I hope the curiosity about what lies on the other side, though, is always with me.
Last week's dispatch asked, What dessert puts the biggest smile on your face? I hope you enjoy these delicious replies.
My dessert of choice is a big slice of watermelon, all messy and juicy. Over summer when it is in season here in Australia it usually comes with lazy days and balmy nights, playing barefoot twilight tennis, relaxing by the river, sleeping naked and having a much easier time forgetting that another year passed so quickly.
Crème brûlée; I always think of my dad's mom, Sue. She loved to cook and host and take care of people who came to her home. I think she used to make it because she knew I liked it so much. Each time I have some, if it's good, anyway, is a little bit like being with her again, like half-hearing the last line of your favorite song on a busy street.
The desserts I make for the people I love. I am known for making brownies. I name the different varieties of brownies I make after the friend or family member who inspires them. And when they enjoy them, I enjoy them.
It's a toss up. Chocolate Bread Pudding is the dessert that puts the biggest smile on my face. Served hot with whipped cream and vanilla ice-cream. It's a dessert that I discovered by mucking about in the kitchen I just love it—it is magically delicious. The other is Pavlova. Essentially a dinner plate sized four inch high meringue covered in whipped cream (do you see a theme here?) and fresh cut fruit. Growing up in Australia it was a hotly contested dessert in terms of country of origin with New Zealand (who also claimed it as their own) and it was also served with passionfruit pulp and bananas. Delightfully light and scrumptious, too. Recipes provided on request. :-)
Amy's Mexican Vanilla ice cream with Reese's. You can't go wrong, you know how I know? Every time I go there with a friend, they will try mine and say, "Aww, that's so good, I wish I had gotten that." It should be in the Classic Ice Cream Treats Hall of Fame.
Jello! The most ridiculous of foods.
The smile-prompting dessert for me is ice cream. It's been a family tradition for a few generations now (just the fact of eating a lot of it and eating it together), and my husband and I consume it like it's going out of style.
Honestly, it's always been the one my sister makes. Lately it was the lemon custard on the meringue crust, one my gluten-free son keeps begging for.
Excellent crème brûlée or delicious flan.
For years I've been ordering the same dessert at restaurants: "A single scoop of vanilla ice cream, please." I don't have a sweet tooth or a big appetite, so after a satisfying meal I have little desire to gorge myself with a big piece of cake or pie or other decadent sugar bomb. But I like the lazy lingering that dessert offers. During family dinners when I was growing up, my mother would typically wait a half hour or more before bringing out dessert, silently requesting (in a way, bribing) us to sit and chat for a bit.
This dessert order - placed with the exact same wording every time, "a single scoop of vanilla ice cream, please" - has turned into a test of sorts. Will the restaurant accommodate it, if they don't already have "a selection of ice creams and sorbets" on the menu? It's always interesting to see how it's served. Is it embellished with some sort of cookie, confection, or chocolate crumbs? Is it three scoops? Four?
Finally, I like to see what restaurants charge for such a simple off-menu request. The first time I ordered this - at Cashion's Eat Place in Washington, DC, I think - I was convinced they would charge me $8 or more. I am pleased to report that they, like most other places, usually charge less than $5.
Inevitably, especially if I'm dining out with someone for the first time, this order prompts the above story. Thus, this dessert does exactly what I want it to do: it extends the meal and invites conversation. This never fails to bring a smile to my face.
Micah Lexier interviewed by Sheila Heti:
And the more specific you can be about your reality, the more you can say something that might have meaning for someone else. Because otherwise how could we have this kind of artist and that kind of artist, but they all have this incredible resonance? To me, that’s the goal: to be incredibly true about yourself. Isn’t that what we like about a particular artist—their incredible authenticity and honesty?
With all the virtual, is there any time left for reality? by Zan McQuade:
I remember how good it is to be alone with your thoughts, in the moment. Listening to the sound of the mower, feeling the bugs leap up from the meadow, the smell of gasoline and grass and sweat. That looks like fun, I say wistfully, then glance at my phone, remembering when that was reality.
Who was the first friend to help you see the world differently?