People like to refer to that Julia Child quote about  “never apologiz[ing]” for what happens in the kitchen. Now, not to put myself up there with the great one or anything, but I’ll just take that a step further and say that it’s good to also know how to promote what you plan to serve. Talk it up. Rave about the ingredients. Make your guest’s mouths water so they can’t wait to feast. And here’s one thing I find especially effective: bring up the old components whose greasy/on-the-verge-of-moldy behinds you managed to salvage by whipping them into the culinary concoction at hand.

Well, that last one doesn’t work for everybody. Fortunately, my friend Molly, who joined me for lunch on Wednesday, is a lady who appreciates a waste-free lunch, and would, I think, be just as sad as I am to see a handful of criminis, no matter how shriveled, fall to the mercy of the compost pile, especially if that pile resembled an algae swamp as ours does, rather than an earth renewal process. So she didn’t flinch when I described retrieving from the depths of the ice box the source of that odor at which Jake and I have wrinkled our noses all week and declared “something’s smelly in here.” Nor did she set down her fork even when I suggested that the cheeses had been rather “well-aged.”  Before, I could get to the questionable lemon I juiced for the crust, she offered that the leeks had been new. Indeed they had–the one ingredient I bought just in time to help me use up all these leftovers.

We ate small slices of the resulting galette, kind of a rustic tart, and stalks of roasted asparagus on the front steps in the sunshine, serenaded by the sweet sounds of rap music drifting over from the glass studio. Hot food in the day time always feels like a bit of a luxury to me. Lunchtime is  often a time to scrounge, to slap together pieces of bread, to reach for the the chips and salsa, or to eat the leftover that I’ve packed in my lunch. To have made something expressly for the purpose of eating at lunchtime, to eat it on a plate and be able to go back for seconds–well, it has the same excitement effect on me as weeknight baking: the feeling that I’m somehow getting away with a party on an otherwise ordinary day.

And yet, some days just call for this kind of lunch-y treatment. As we ate, I recalled to Molly how my childhood friend, Nicole, and I would sometimes get the urge to do something different for lunch. We generally turned to one of two solutions, both of which relied on the compliance of other neighborhood children. The first was to solicit a few dollars from everyone, including ourselves and order delivery pizza. The second, which we resorted to on our even more desperate days, was to call an impromptu potluck at the neighborhood park, with the prerequisite that anyone attending bring something edible. Perhaps we should have been more specific with our criterion, or at least vetted our invitees more thoroughly, because the resulting meals rarely met our hungry expectations. For years, we invited our neighbor Mary, whose parents were from China, with hopes that she might bring egg rolls. There may never have been an egg roll to speak of in Mary’s house, but we were set on the rather stereotyping assumption that they had to turn up in her clutches one of those days. Alas, most often she brought crab chips. And then there was Fionn, whose invites were allotted more cautiously once he arrived bearing co-op bags of bulk flax seed and bee pollen. To be fair, our contributions were probably at least as sorry–our interest was in finding ourselves a decent lunch, after all, and not actually in feeding the neighborhood children.

But, I share a little better now, and can readily access the grocery, so even when pickings are low, the neighbors are not my first resort. This is probably a good thing since I have a feeling some of them are surly: bolted iron gates and watch dog signs abound in these here parts.

I’m looking forward to trying this type of pastry in the future with other past-prime ingredients. In fact, I might even go as far as to recommend that you allow your mushrooms to dry in a paper bag in the refrigerator–their texture was a nice addition. Or you could take the easy route and just buy dried mushrooms.

“Just in time” Mushroom, Leek, and Goat Cheese Galette
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

11/4 cups all-purpose flour
a few cranks from the salt shaker
8 T. unsalted butter
1/4 cup whole milk yogurt
juice of one small lemon (about 2 tsp.)
1/4 cup very cold water

2 T. salted butter
1 small leek, halved and sliced thinly (to equal about 1 cup)
3/4 lb. mushrooms, thinly sliced (if a small portion have been sitting in a paper bag in your refrigerator for the past month and you have to resuscitate them in boiling water, so be it)
1/2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
1/2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
1 clove garlic, chopped
about 5 oz. crumbly goat cheese (I used a mix of feta and chevre)

Combine flour and salt in a medium bowl. Place in the freezer along with the stick of butter for half an hour. When butter is sufficiently chilled, unwrap it and grate it into the flour mixture, fluffing lightly with fingers or a fork about every third  of the stick to coat the shavings, and prevent butter lumpage. After the whole stick is grated, use a knife to finish mixing and break up the lumps a bit more. You want it to resemble a course meal.

In a smaller bowl whisk together the yogurt, lemon juice, and ice water. Make a well in the center of the flour/butter mixture and add half of the wet mixture. Mix with fingers gently until large lumps form. Remove the lumps and hold them in your non-dominant hand, as you use your other hand to pour the rest of the wet mixture into the flour, and then mix again with fingers to incorporate most of the dry ingredients. Smack these new lumps onto the old lumps to make one giant lump/ball, do not over handle, and cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least half an hour.

To make the filling, melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the thyme, rosemary, and garlic and saute for another minute, until it begins to smell herb-y. Raise the heat to high or med-high and add the mushrooms. Cook until soft, mixing occasionally, about 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

Roll out crust into a 12 inch diameter circle. Transfer to an ungreased baking sheet or pizza stone.

Crumble the cheese into a medium sized bowl.Pour mushrooms over top of the cheese and mix gently. Spread this mixture onto the pastry crust leaving a 1 1/2 inch border. To finish, fold in the edges, creasing every two inches or so, leaving the center filling bare.

Bake the pastry for 30-40 minutes in a 400 degree oven, until pastry is lightly browned. We allowed the galette to cool slightly before eating. It was good warm, and then good again at room temperature when we went back for seconds.


This weekend I spoke with multiple family members who were throwing open windows, and weeding, reveling in the general spring-ness that seems to have crept in everywhere. I know everyone writes about the seasons, and maybe it’s not that interesting, but I can’t get enough of the reminders like the  Michigan crocuses above poking up from under brown leaves to tell me warm weather really is on the way.

A few weekends ago, Jake proclaimed it spring. He cited the car, that cocoon-like suggestion of summer it becomes when it basks in full sun on a spring day. On days like this, we close the car doors quickly, and sit for a few moments before driving off. We watch the sunshine and the shadows and pretend our metal shell is not a temperature barrier and that the same warmth surrounds everything we can see. We let the air stand like warm breath on our skin before we roll slowly backward and the fresh air from the vents swirls us back to real time.

In the spring, I am always a little surprised to find myself emerging from something of a sensory hibernation, as if I’ve had my arms clutched tightly around myself, over my eyes and ears all winter, and am only now feeling the air move around me for the first time in months.

I breath in deeply upon stepping outside, and the smell of the blossoming plum trees is so intoxicating, I wonder whether I have smelled anything all year. Yesterday, I left the windows open all day, and after closing them, late into the night, I found my nose still searching the air for pockets of a deeply earthy fresh smell that lingers, like grass roots in gas form. Walking outside, I turn my head and look around me, and feel as though my neck hasn’t moved in months as I peer down paths I never knew veered off the roads I’ve traveled for weeks.

I feel expanded, and the atmosphere seems larger, more grand, more thoroughly permeated, as though I can hear crickets chirp from miles away. A few nights ago, I listened to a frog croak outside for several hours, its song streaming freely through the same window that kept the winter out.

I approach the spring with a conflicted desperation each year. One part of me sees the first daffodils and wanting to race on, eagerly asks, “great, but what next? What blooms guarantee we have slipped inescapably into summer?” The other part of me stood still on a hill on the community campus yesterday, just before the sun set. I watched geese wander the soccer field and willed the sun to stop sinking–wait a few moments–because this time of year, there’s no telling when a day like that will come again.

I wrote this poem below two years ago in May, as the title suggests, but in its sentiment, its motion, I think it is a poem for March. I think we are all the March cottonwood seed: when the time is right, and the day is clear, we flood in swarms from the warmth of our homes, our catkins if you will, and pour into the streets. We are hurried at first, eager to take it in, and then we linger, drifting along river paths, hovering over garden beds, air-borne by some kind of sunshine-induced elation that only fickle spring weather can bring.

On days like today, when the sky is overcast and the air feels damp, I lie in wait, water the plants outside, admire the potted narcissus on the table, and look for the next warm gust to lift me up again.

Oregon in May

On Sunday, the cottonwoods
announced their existence,
and Eugene became a bit
fluffier under a dusting
of their downy seeds.
Cottony springtime reminders
clung to cobwebs
and collected at curbs,
dry and feathery
like a final winter snow.
After two days, a cloud
of them had settled
on the stagnant streams,
and I half expected
the ducks to be covered,
drifting from under
the footbridge
as if tarred and feathered,
fluff balls caught in a mallard’s
stately tail or dangling
precariously from the edge of a beak.
The rest wafted through campus,
across the bike paths,
hovered above the Willamette
with the same dissipated
intention of someone walking
through a garden on Saturday:
hands in pockets, guided only
by a winding grass trail
and the smell of hydrangeas
around the next bend.

*I’ve been thinking about the comments on here, how I could better use them. Given that I keep plugging on about after dinner conversations and stories, I would love to hear more stories from anyone reading. Here, I’ll try to make it easier by asking a question:

What clues you in that spring is coming?

Or, here’s another: Word has it that much of the country had a lovely Saturday. What did you do to celebrate the weather this weekend?

Refurbished ugly edibles

Summer as an adolescent is a restless experience. At least this was the case with the adolescent summer I remember best– the three months following our move to Montana–which found us virtually friendless, transportation-less, and apparently lacking any propensity for meaningful creative endeavors. And so, with all manner of orthodontic tortury plaguing our jaws and the just-as-attractive opaque silver lipstick coating our lips,* we turned–as you might expect three conflicted sugar-loving hermits to do–to the comfort of Maury, country music videos and a seemingly endless supply of boxed pudding mix.

A daily portion of televised domestic conflict can lead a person to do some unnecessary things–like allow their picture to be taken by a younger sibling while wearing opaque lip gloss. Or to spend almost an entire summer inside. But, perhaps it was an overdose of Toby Keith in a tank top that led us to one day combine a questionably old box of graham cracker crumbs with instant pudding and top it with some candy covered nuts and grated almond bark. Not so far-fetched perhaps, but my teeth hurt just thinking about it. Then, there was the day when we squandered an inordinate amount of perfectly good fruit by covering it in vanilla instant pudding. If you have never tasted this, I feel I’ve let you down a bit by not being able to describe it, but the truth is I found it so unpleasant even under the judgment-squelching clutches of boredom that I have not eaten it since.

I hope you have not lost confidence in my culinary skills because I am about to share something of a recipe with you. I tell you all this to suggest that perhaps my food-related prowess lies not in the invention of recipes, but in the re-imagination of items that might otherwise go to waste. While I’m sure those almonds tasted like Reba McEntire’s hair as we ate them in front of what must have been our forty-fifth top twenty CMT countdown, I maintain that if that was our best creative invention that summer, at least we can stay we didn’t stop at the instant pudding fruit salad.

Today, however we turn to savory rather than sweet. If I were to write a food blog, perhaps I would call it something like “Delicious Dregs,” and would consist of posts regarding two part recipes, wherein the first part would require you on one day to make a full-on recipe I had found somewhere else, and the second part would suggest, on a different day, that you remove the leftover contents of your previous dinner from a tupperware container in the refrigerator, throw them in a frying pan with extra cheese, maybe additional butter, some fresh herbs, or an egg, and cook until parts of it caramelized and transformed into a new meal. Bam!

Or maybe I would call it “Cheese is a Miraculous Thing.”

Oh, HEY. Or . . . “After Dinner!” As in after the dinner you made from scratch.

Either way, the power of cheese never ceases to amaze me, and so I present you with “Delicious Big Bowl Quinoa” refrigerated, re-imagined, and refurbished.

First make this recipe and enjoy it for dinner.

I generally halve it if making it for two people, and I’ve used a pretty wide variety of vegetables: asparagus, broccoli, green beans, even frozen peas. When finished, just put all leftover ingredients, excluding feta and walnuts, into the same container.

For part 2.

Remove leftovers from refrigerator. Pour a little olive oil into a skillet and warm over medium heat. Spoon a pile of quinoa mixture onto the pan and sprinkle it with tiny cubes of cheese–could be feta, could be cheddar, as I used. Allow this mixture to heat up, you can toss it a little to distribute cheese, but end with it in a circle.

Make a well in the center and crack an egg into the hole, allowing the white to seep through the grains. At this point you could treat it like you treat a fried egg. If you like them sunny side up, just allow the white to cook completely. I flipped the egg briefly, it was easy because the egg had adhered to most of the quinoa, so it was all one piece.

Last night, I ate this plain with some salt and pepper. Today I had it with guacamole. I briefly considered, last night, eating it with some garlicky plain yogurt, but then realized I had eaten yogurt for two other meals and a snack, and decided to refrain.

But, lest you think this more complicated than it really is, here are the simplified instructions.

For delicious transformation of quinoa, potatoes, and onions:
Dump leftovers.
Sprinkle Cheese.
Crack Egg.
Cook until done.

*And by “our,” I mean “my.”

You could say I’ve come a long way since first grade.

When I was dropped into my first year of school, no kindergarten under my belt, and was required to free-write in my journal for a half hour a day, to use what they called inventive spelling, I did what any self-respecting, afraid-to-be-wrong six year old would do: I stuck to what I knew. And what I knew was several random words I was sure I was able to spell. The first page of my first-ever journal, written in penciled letters with random capitalization, reads something like this:

Cat bat fat mat hat pat sat rat . . . Dog log bog pig wig gig big jig I it me the on . . . man can pan fan tan ban van ran . . . one two three four five six seven eight nine ten

Perhaps you would not be surprised to learn that the first book I published in the school writing and publishing center had four pages, each with one of the following lines.

The cat on the fancy mat wore a fancy hat.
The dog on the fancy log played in the bog.
The pig in the fancy wig played a little jig.
And as the moon shone down, they all danced around.

I guess somewhere along the way, I learned the word “fancy”. And as you can see, it served me well.

Mixed in with the words I knew I could spell came words I thought I could spell, a bit more creative, and certainly more inventively constructed:

Brd uv rit dans pnts shon arond grond rond

I gained some confidence the second week of school, and tried some phrases:

A leaf can grow.
A plat [sic] can grow.
A flowr [sic] can grow.

And when the word bank started to grow, I began to write letters to my classmates, which I never sent, but remain in my journal to this day.

Dear Colleen,
I like you. I like your hair.
I love you,

Dear Jacob,
You are funny. I like you. You make me laugh.
I love you,

Given these un-daring combinations and the far-from-generous vocabulary, it is sometimes hard for me to believe that I like words so much, that I think they are so funny and pretty that you might say I love them. Hard to believe that at times, I experience difficulty resisting the use of a word even when it may be wrong for a given sentence, even when, say, my spell-check tells me it does not exist.

At some point, in my more recent past, maybe in the midst of some John Stewart reruns, I learned the word “clusterfuck,” and I found this to be a word with such aural allure that even the most stringent of literary constraints could not restrain me from its application. That glory of a half rhyme. That pop culture punch. The unsuspecting, half-deserving victim on which to drop it.

Excuse me, but we might have to continue this conversation in a cold shower.

So, my vocabulary grew, and then one of us—okay, this too was me—wrote something contentious enough to warrant a comment from KOPB. In all fairness, it was about them. And I admit that after all my talk of party analogies, I was caught in a bit of a party of my own, tossing word confetti such as ‘clusterfuck’ and ‘trod-upon outcast,’ rearranging dialogue like furniture.

Oh, I’m not saying there wasn’t truth in it, in fact the dialogue content is fully bona fide–all I’m saying is that there may have been some inventiveness. My grade school called it inventive spelling—where you don’t allow the trouble of correct spelling slow you down. I think it’s just as easily applicable in writing composition. We call it poetic license, the delicate art of hyperbole. My grandmother told me not to let the truth get in the way of a good story, and while I won’t make any claims to good, I will say that truth is often a much better story informant than story—maybe not in an argumentative essay, but at the very least, here.

This blog is After Dinner, food and tales, about the sharing, passing, and embellishment of stories. There may well be contentions at the dinner table when the wine bottle gets its second pass around. You might break a dish or alarm the neighbors enough that they stop by just when you were complaining about how their annoying and redundant rooster crows too loudly and too often. We’ve had post-dinner conversations that bring up world changing ideas like teleportation. After some ranting, you might develop a better method for the neighbors to conduct their OPB member drive—although I can’t guarantee they’ll listen. Still, I’m not actually here to start arguments or embed my essays with facts, but to keep the evidence anecdotal, as personal and utterly subjective as possible. And if you had seen how many times it took me to spell ‘segue’ last week, you would know I’m not altogether above inventive spelling–although I do now spell the word ‘bird’ the widely accepted way.

Had you told me anytime this week that you were in the mood to hear some shameless begging for money, cringe worthy half-puns, and the kind of banter that makes you want to kick your radio, I would have advised you to turn to AM 1600, KOPB, Eugene’s public radio station, this week’s cluster fuck of member drive desperation.

I have no shortage of compliments for Oregon, but living in multiple places, a person tends to compare. And be it the climate or the cost of living, sometimes one town just comes out on top. I just want to take a few moments to commend my former place of residence on a few things it really has figured out. One of them is the lack of house pet fleas. The other is a wholly bearable, even enjoyable public radio member drive. First of all, it only happens once a year. I had to check this with my mother, I assumed it had to be twice considering that the Eugene drive is quarterly, but “no,” she said, “it’s just annual,” and for just a week and a half. Second, there is no guilting, no prefacing a donation recognition with, “Now, here, this one will make you feel guilty: Derek is a college student from Eugene.” Third, it is fun–people actually tune in.  Unlike the member drive here, which could stand to be doused with a tube of Advantage flea poison, we were actually able to admonish Fang’s fleas this week. The member drive we continue to  endure until we cease this senseless martyrdom in the name of the news and turn the radio dial. Oh, how we suffer.

But then again, it’s also kind of funny. A few minutes with the fundraiser discourse and you begin to see where someone might get the idea to write this Saturday Night Live skit parodying the awkward clarifications, the tendency to dwell on a single joke.

“All Things Considered,” the newscastor was saying as I tuned in one night last week, “This is where we take all these stories and put them in a way that’s a little easier to understand. We give it context.”

Then, as if the idea had just occurred to her, “Context, that might as well be our middle name.” Then, the obligatory qualifier, “if OPB had a middle name.”

“Well, right now our middle name is excitement. We’re so excited to be here, hearing all these phones ring.”

A male voice cut in, “well, OPB’s real middle name is public.” He just couldn’t resist this segue. “We count on the public funding for our programs. There are at least thirty people out there listening, probably more, that haven’t contributed yet. So, everyone listening in there cars, just leaving work, driving home, going to soccer practice, well probably not soccer practice this time of night. We’re just waiting for you to call in and join the party.

“It’s like that party metaphor we talked about earlier, the party is better with every addition.”

Sake’s alive, you guys are killing me! You know I love you, but haven’t you learned the first rule of party promotion: Keep it short, keep it snappy, don’t bring up metaphors, especially when what you mean is analogy. That is the first rule of party promotion, is it not? Well, it should be because if you read it with the right inflection in almost rhymes. Kind of.

Speaking of which, I have a party analogy for OPB. When you actually start having a party, people will come. Make those deviled eggs you make so well, invite the people you know will get along. Break out the Pictionary board. Please stop begging. I don’t believe it when you say you are having fun. In Missoula, they allow community members to donate premiums, a carton of eggs, a few hours of manual labor, helping the community to forge connections as they donate to public radio in exchange for these items. They hold special nights where people pledge in their cat or dog’s name, and the members go crazy for it.  I swear I’m not writing this just to be harsh. I just think there is a more sophisticated way to host this party.

But, four times a year, KLCC, with the air of a trod-upon outcast, carries on: “There are so many ways to become involved with your local radio station. You can write us a check, you can mail in your contribution, you can set up a deposit from your bank account, you can bring in your piggy bank . . . you can give us the key to your gold vault, you can sell your children and use the money to fund This American Life. We really don’t care, we just want to make it happen for you.”

Maybe they will find a new way. Or maybe everyone in Eugene should just sell their children before these people go really crazy and ask for something like a funnel for Christmas.*

*See aforementioned video.

Birthday carnage

I remember walking home from a birthday party in sixth grade, several blocks, with a backpack on my shoulders, a sleeping bag in hand, my hair unwashed, my fingernails poorly painted a crusty color of pink by a slap-happy, sleep-deprived peer, while I slept. The weekend day was half over. I’m sure I had had no more than a few hours sleep, and I was fuming about my pink nails. Upon waking, I found the alleged painter inhabiting my sleeping bag; having crashed prematurely on the couch, I had rendered myself a prime target for crusty pink sabotage.

Of course, we talked about it that morning, because what sleepover is not complete without the obligatory morning after run-down? One person will say, “I was out as soon as the movie started.” And someone else will say, “I watched the whole thing. The song for the credits ran like three times, and I finally got up and turned it off.” And then everyone else says things like, “I fell asleep I think right before the wedding.” “Hey, Amy, I think you were snoring after he kisses her.” And Amy responds with, “Oh my God, Mary, you punched me in the middle of the night.” And Mary says her obligatory apologies. Then, the conversation moves to who talked in their sleep.

This is where I am often targeted. Alledgedly, on my fourth grade caving and camping field trip, I had a sleep conversation about lollipops with a classmate across the room. Do not believe everything you hear at a post party run-down, here in the carnage of sleepover ecstasy. We attempt to remember, to relive, and no sleepover is complete without it. This is where people dig ruthlessly for the last remnants of last night. They scrape the plate of slumber party with their fork, they pick through the discarded bones and fat, hoping to feast on some tiny juicy tidbit.

Speaking of which, I had crab for my birthday dinner.

I’m rather making a habit–or tradition–of eating fancified seafood on my birthday. Last year, there were scallops, the third of a three-course meal topping buttery pasta and steamed vegetables.  This year, half a crab arrived on my plate, it’s barnacle-like legs, dangling ominously over the half-smashed red potatoes, its claw resting in the braised greens, beside it a bowl of smoky-paprika dipping sauce. I regarded it with the same suspicion as I would a crab in the bucket at the beach, the way one carefully regards a thing that might resist one’s whim, the way that one acts toward something that might fight back. The restaurant saved me the trauma of gazing into its eyes, or rather, its single eye, since we are, after all, discussing only half a crab. I can’t say I was completely sold on the meal.

Scanning the menu at “Belly” where Jake and I ate birthday dinner on Tuesday night, I was reminded how I had been previously deterred from the restaurant for its plethora of meaty items. My problem with meat is that I really don’t like it, and so, while the entree accompaniments–the quince with mashed sweet potatoes, the goat cheese polenta, and cranberries with braised kale–so desperately called my name, it was always the pork chop, the lamb shank from which I strayed away.

So, I ordered the crab. It can take a while for the party to get going–as you can imagine–with a dead crab, but then I warmed up to the idea. I guess you could say I like  my meat like I like my parties.

I am not one for large chunks of meat or raucous displays of party-ness. I do not like to work to hard to chew, nor do I like to work too hard to fight through crowds or hear my own voice. I am most content with a few solid and exciting sides, a leisurely activity such as extracting small pieces of crab meat from leg tubes with an itsy bitsy fork, and something to continue to pick at as the water glasses empty and the candles burn low. All I want is to play with my food. Is that so much to ask?

But then there’s the carnage–aside from the cracked and messy carcass that I had ravaged and abandoned, I felt a little guilty about eating the crab. Every time I accidentally moved its joints, or took too large a piece of meat, I felt slightly disgusted. It was a little like waking up in someone else’s basement in a half-zipped sleeping bag, with sparkly pink fingernails, surveying for the first time in the light of day the wreckage of last nights revelry: the half-eaten food trays, the gutted overnight bags. This happens to me much less than it used to, especially the fingernail part. Not so seldom is this:  I realize it’s 11:00 and by the time I get home, the day will be half over, and I think, “I have a sleep deprivation headache, and I should not have stayed up talking so late, but man, it was awesome.”

It’s rather early in my twenty-fourth year to make any sweeping statements, but perhaps, on some level, it comes to this: in all things worth their salt, especially where birthdays are involved, there must be carnage.

My senior year of high school, I committed one of the more ill-advised purchases of my life. There are worse things on which to expend money than an eighty dollar pair of blocky black dance sneakers, but if, five years later, they remain virtually unworn, you might have been better off burning the money.

The sneakers I bought were on display at my dance studio’s store. They had a thick sole with a circular pattern on the ball for turning and bent easily at the arch. The outside was a suede-like material and their shape tapered toward the front and allowed you to stand all the way on your toes while wearing them. I debated buying them for about two weeks.

The college dance team was wearing them. That seemed as sound a reason as any.

Turns out dance sneakers are not the product of sound reasoning. Cumbersome as they are, they were not built for any dancing I was hoping to use them for. Peeking out from under long jazz dance pants, they looked kind of cool, but even the lithe and articulate bare legs of the dancers New York City ballet workout video appear gawky when garnished with a black sneaker.

I wore them twice–once because they were new, a second time to try to learn to like them–and then stashed them in what is now my brother’s bedroom closet. There they remained for five years, until two weeks ago, when I reconsidered.


Perhaps you’ve heard of Zumba. It is an aerobics dance class, inspired by Latin dance rhythms and bearing the slogan, “ditch the workout, join the party.” That, my friends, is just what we did. I have never seen an hour of aerobics pass so quickly, never seen hips gyrate so adroitly, never seen jazz sneakers look so chic as they did on our teacher!

Jazz sneakers! I had a pair of those! “Finally,” I thought, “This is their chance to shine!” The dance sneakers would be perfect for this class, where footwear could be bulkier, but would not be required to turn.

But, the downfall of age is that it sharpens one’s awareness of the need for requisite skills. What I mean is that, in donning a pair of dance sneakers and marching them into a health club, one gives the appearance of expertise. Should one’s actual skills fall short of initial projected image—should her hips fail to keep the beat when the pace quickens, should she never manage to master a certain step—one might wish she was wearing regular athletic shoes, which provide unspoken permission to their wearer to flail.

I have been this person who cared about flailing. I have also been the person who would have worn the shoes proudly and not have worried about it. The latter is buried not-so-deeply in my past. I know, I have seen the footage.


My family’s video camera growing up was about the size of a truck, and we really only used it regularly for a few years, but it recorded a limited number of treasured videos, which unfortunately all catch me around the awkward age of eight: boisterous, attention seeking, unstoppable. As Emily, at the adorable age of five, wears pretty dresses and speaks with the inflection of a ruby-cheeked nymph, and Nathaniel, at two wears his baseball pants around his belly button and has the ringlets of an angel, I am most often glimpsed in leggings and an oversized T-shirt, doing something utterly cringe-worthy.

I’ve only found it once, as our home videos rest among other crudely labeled VHS tapes, but there is one tape of me, in said outfit, dancing, and dancing, and dancing some more. The back is hunched, the face is skewed, and oh, the thumbs are flying!

Around the same time, there is an audio recording documenting similar antics, but in a slightly less painful way. On this, I command most of the air time. I tell long stories. I try to make Emily sing songs. I hold interviews. I break into song myself. The song below is one that has stuck with us. In fact, when I talked to my mom last night, she told me my dad and brother were singing it as we spoke.

The following lyrics were first sung in a way that was at once reminiscent of the songs on a daytime children’s TV show, and the impromptu warblings outside a downtown bar after midnight.

I’m your singin’ and dancin’ teacher, Mrs. America.
I’m your singin’ and dancin’ teacher, Mrs. South America
I’m your singin’ and dancin’ teacher, Mrs. Africa
I’m your singin’ and dancin’ teacher, Mrs. A-asia
I’m your singin’ and dancin’ teacher, Mrs. Australia
I’m your singin’ and dancin’ teacher, Mrs. Antarctica

I’m quite certain my jazz sneakers were made to be worn by your singin’ and dancin’ teacher. On a good day, I am she.


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