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Mambo Kings
2007-02-12, 2:32 p.m.

Day 904

Great concert Saturday night. Out local philharmonic orchestra does a “Pops” series, where they perform music that’s off the beaten path for an orchestra. No Beethoven, Dvorak, Bach – none of that long hair classical stuff. For this weekends performance they invited another local band to play, and they played music arranged by that bands leader. The band is “The Mambo Kings” , and they play a sort of Latin/jazz fusion thing. Think Dave Brubeck meets Tito Puente. Not coincidentally, they did tunes by both those guys that their leader (Dick Delaney) arranged. The band featured this one guy that played flute, soprano sax and tenor sax (but not all at once – that would be some kind of record I think) that was just smokin’ hot. All in all, really great music. We ended up buying another of their CD’s at the show to fill out our collection. If anybody is interested, I can maybe rip a few tunes off the cd’s and burn a copy or two. Ought to figure out a way to post samples, huh? Or just go here: Mambo Kingdom. This is just their band, we saw them Saturday with the whole RPO providing back up. Very cool.

Had a question come up about how I got started cooking. I’m happy to share the story, but I have to add that you may want to think twice before trying this on your own. You might especially want to warn your mothers.

Anyhow. Way back in the day, when I was still just a young, 12 year old collection of gangly arms & legs, my brothers and I all bowled on Saturday mornings. The neighbor kids bowled too, so on any given Saturday, there were 6 kids all hot to trot to get to the bowling alley. The shuttling back & forth to the bowling alley was shared between the 3 houses that had kids bowling. On this one particular December day, it was our turn to drive. Being eager to get there, my brothers & I all piled into our car, waiting for our mom to come out and get the trip started. We were sure she had been getting her coat and was only a minute or so behind us. The neighbor to our east had already gotten in the car with us, and we just had to drive over to the other neighbors off to the west (a whole 1/10 of a mile) to pick them up. It seemed to be taking mom a rather long time to get out to the car.

Now, from where the car was parked in the driveway, we couldn’t see the front door or porch. Had we been able to, we would have seen the cause of the delay. Turns out mom had slipped on the porch and tumbled down the steps, landing in a sitting position. Unfortunately for her, she managed to break her right ankle on the way down. Dad had to call an ambulance to come scoop her up and get her to the hospital for a little repair work. She came home with a cast from her foot up to the mid-point of her thigh. She was hobbling around on a pair of crutches, but a wheelchair was on the way. Word was she was to be in a cast for up for 4+ months. In truth it was closer to 6 months. For some reason that escapes me, about 2 months in they had to re-break something & re-set it. I still cringe just thinking about that. Ow.

That first weekend wasn’t too bad. Dad was home, he was a pretty good cook in his own right, so none of us starved. We ate a lot of goulash that weekend. All us kids knew how to run the washing machine (remember the old wringer washers and having to rinsed the clothes yourself then run them through the wringer? Yeah, we had one of those.) and how to hang clothes to dry. We could run a vacuum. We could cook some stuff, but a whole dinner? Not so much. And Mom couldn’t really stand at the stove either.

Dad always like to have dinner ready to hit the table when he got home from work, and he really didn’t need the hassle of cooking dinner after working all day, so once the work week started, I got elected to start cooking dinners. Back then, I was just starting jr. high school, got home earlier than the other kids and even expressed an interest in helping out. So the cooking lessons began in earnest. There I am, some poor 12 year old kid, becoming responsible for getting dinner ready for a family of 6, pretty much by myself with what ever help my mom could offer from the confines of her wheelchair. I ended up learning most of the family favorites, a bunch of casseroles, how to throw together meat & potatoes, always make sure to have veggies, learned how to do gravies and sauces, how to time things so they all got done at the same time By the time mom was finally out of her cast and could get around again I was pretty self sufficient in the kitchen and didn’t need any help at all. Mom was pretty jazzed about that and let me cook as often as I liked. Some dishes became “mine” and whenever we had them, they were mine to cook.

We’d even watch Graham Kerr on “The Galloping Gourmet” when it was on or sometimes catch Julia Child cooking something on TV (chicken hearts in aspic!! GROSS), but back in the 70’s, that was it for TV food shows. Maybe PBS had some Justin Wilson stuff on every now & again, but that was about it.

Since then, I’ve just always cooked. I like looking for new dishes to try, new cuisines to sample (love Cajun/Creole), new methods to use, anything to avoid having the same old stuff all the time. Some of my newest favorites are that Smoked Turkey/Black Bean Soup that NYCME concocted and the smoked stuffed jalapeno peppers we tried out last month. Plus, when you do a lot of cooking, you get to buy neat toys to help make your job easier – and who doesn’t like getting toys?

Best part of all this? Both our boys, having seen me cook their whole lives have figured “why not?” and get into cooking for themselves. In Eric’s case, that’s really good because his girlfriend, Kelly, doesn’t cook at all. He’s the one doing all the cooking in their apartment at school. Jill can cook, but Zach just kinda muscles her out of the way and takes over. If I ever need help in the kitchen? Either son will step in. It’s kind of nice. All I say is “I need such and such done” and off they go.

So if you really want to learn how to cook, turn back the clock till you’re 12, toss your mom off the porch and have her land funky so she cracks her ankle, then be stuck learning how to cook in order to get dinner on the table for your family.

I gotta warn you though – be very careful when it comes to learning how to do laundry. I inadvertently ironed the back of my hand once. Still not sure how, but the iron slid over the back of my left hand while I was doing a pair of pants. Hurt like a sonofagun, and blister? Wow. It was fun popping them later, but man, did that hurt at first. I don’t recommend that. Or getting your hand caught in a belt loop while feeding a pair of pants through the wringer and having the washer gobble your arm up to the elbow, trying to squeeze all the water out of it. That left marks too. Probably the same pair of pants that got my hand roasted. Left arm both times too. Hmmmmm. An evil plot by a pair of Dickies to remove my left arm? Ya never know.



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old habits - new tricks