WISHING TOMORROW WAS YESTERDAY

We met online, as you do, and traded a few short emails before scheduling a face to face. The first meeting is always fraught, either you hit it off right away or you don’t. You see, for a while there I subscribed to one online dating site or another. First it was on Yahoo, which was 20 years ago and how I met my wife. Later I tried Match and had a few “dates.” It was on Plenty of Fish where I found Suzanne. Now I used to suggest meeting for coffee so that my soon to be new acquaintance would feel safe, until a female friend of mine asked, what my “conversion” rate was with coffee versus an adult beverage. Of course it was zero. So I asked Suzanne where we might meet for a drink and we did.

It is funny the things that you remember about a person. Suzanne was friendly, open, talkative and an amazing chef. She was very proud of this last fact and had all the chops to back it up. I, as you know, attended culinary school, managed large restaurants, and even catered in remote locations for motion picture crews. I too had chops.  At this time I had chosen not to include my culinary past in my profile because, well, I seemed to be getting a lot of attention from women who wanted to start their own catering business. My 40th birthday had come and gone and, while I did make some money working for Hollywood, there was not too much money to be had in restaurants and my body could no longer take the 12 to 14 hour days which movie sets require. By the time I met Suzanne I was well established as a contractor, working only 8 hours a day, and cooking only happened on holidays, or when I needed to lose weight.

As we sipped our drinks and began sharing the stories we like people to hear, Suzanne proudly told me about her career choice, the classes she taught and about her favorite recipes. While I came to love Suzanne, that woman could hold up her end of the conversation and then some. Finally she looked at me and asked what I did before becoming a contractor. The look on her face when I told her was priceless. She had her back to the bar, with both elbows resting on the edge looking out into the dining room. When I shared my previous career choice, slack jawed she turned to me and uttered only one word, “What?” We laughed about that for years. While at first she was intimidated to cook with me, it turned out she was much more talented in the kitchen than I ever was. Although, I did impress her with my Chicken Marsala. (In this case it was not coffee nor wine which sealed the deal. It was my moment as an impresario in the kitchen, which solidified our connection.)

One never knows how another person will effect one’s life. Suzanne’s cooking always made mine tastier. Her conversation always drove boredom from my house. Waking up beside her always gave me peace and yet one singular thing she did changed my life in a way that no one before, or after, has ever done. She told me about a book. A book so thick and dense and rich with so many mysteries of life that I became lost in it and chased every single, little reference it made down each and every rabbit hole that they offered. It taught me how to close read, to carry more than one thought in my head at a time, and how we humans make decisions. It cracked, a part of, the code of life for me. Jesus! What a gift.  The book is entitled, ‘Thinking Fast and Slow,’ and I owe my life to Suzanne for sharing it with me.

Her energy and inspiration prompted me to write my first blog tomfoolcookery.com. Here you will find my poor, initial attempts at writing. Again, Suzanne was a much better writer than I could ever hope to be. Still, she said that she loved my blogs and encouraged me to try new foods and recipes. And so, our relationship was born. We spent the next 4 years together, on and off. The off part was my fault. While her book suggestion started me down a path of travel in my life, I had not walked far enough along it to truly appreciate the gift which was Suzanne. Still, we remained friends over the years and in-and-around birthdays we made a point to spend time sharing a good meal.

That one book lead me to the next, and the next, and even still more.  That one book focused my thinking, gave me the confidence to try writing and opened the world for me. As some of you have noted, I tend toward non-fiction in my reading choices. Only when an author can catch me in the first two pages do I bothered to flip to the third. A part of me is jaded and views some non-fiction as, well, improbable.  The meat for me, in a good story, is that the idea the author is sharing just might happen . . . to me. While I did work at the Renaissance Faire, back in the 70’s, I did not develop a taste for pure fantasy. Reenactment sure, but fantasies, furries and cosplay do not page turners make for me. (I do not think I even made a good reference there, it is that far beyond me.)

Suzanne on the other hand was real. More real and alive than any two other people I have ever known. Not a mean bone in her body and always happy to see . . . everyone. Suzanne was in her mid-50’s when she passed away from cancer last weekend. For the last few months we texted almost every day. Sometimes a simple Hello or XO. Other times a “What’s up buttercup?” Or, when I was feeling that she needed to be distracted, I would send my personal favorite. “What’s up butthead?” We were close like that.  Her last few weeks in the hospital were focused on getting her home to her own bed. I did what I could and helped assemble the special things she needed to stay there comfortably. I had hoped to speak with her one more time to tell her how she had changed my life. She died the night before she was to leave.

I heard once on the radio show With a Perspective, a man telling of his father’s decline in health. In the middle somewhere, the author coined a phrase more poignant than any I had heard before, or since for that matter. He said, “My father now measures his life by losses as opposed to gains.” This last weekend I lost . . . no . . . the world lost more than it knows. Suzanne wrote a couple of blogs which I enjoyed, and yes, she is still a better writer than I ever hope to be. This is the link to her cooking blog cookingbythebay.com and then to the blog where she dedicated herself to helping others with their cancer sillystupidcancer.com.  This week, I measure my life with one more loss. The scales of living are tipping more than I want and still less than they will. My life would not be my life had I not met Suzanne.  She was a warrior, she was the storm. Perhaps, in her blogs, you might come to know her too, and maybe, just maybe, she might change your life too.

Until next time,

Tommy Judt (aka Butthead)

OH OH BAM-BI-NO’S

There came that one day when I just, no longer wanted to be an auto mechanic. My hands were constantly stained with grease and grime, I worked in an environment full of VOC’s and I have no doubt that smelling gasoline and solvents, all day, every day, did nothing to help my personality. Even though I had a union job, making good money, I quit. Wait for it. To become a bartender.  Little did I know, that one decision who forever change the course of my life and provide me opportunities to see the parts of the globe I honestly did not know existed.

I chose not to go to college straight out of high school. Being bullied in grade school, I opted for the rebellious teenage mantel during high school. I proudly graduated with a C average. Straight A’s in auto shop, D’s in every other course. (These were the years when one would not be failed out of high school.) Back then it was as acceptable to enter the Trades as it was to attend college. You could also pay for college, live, eat and have a few beers on minimum wage job back then too. (I’ll save the social commentary for the next election.)

I was fortunate enough that my father offered to pay for my tuition at a 9 month trade school in Phoenix Arizona, called Universal Technical Institute. Deciding to wait until September to start classes, missing the heat of summer turned out to be a wise idea, I packed up my belongings in an old steamer trunk and took the family car, now mine, through the desert into the Great State of Arizona.

“Living on the road my friends, was meant to keep me free and clean.”

All was well and good. I got a job, sharpening saw blades. Having always been handy, this seemed an appropriate manner in which to earn my living. I rented my first apartment and experienced my first roommate. Oddly enough, he and I shared the exact same birthdate. Same date, same year. Cheers to you Keith. Now to set the stage a tiny bit more. I had recently spent the last few seasons working at the Renaissance Faire. For those of you born later than I was, consider it the Burning Man of my time. Hippies, marijuana and communal showers. Everything a teenage boy needed to . . . well . . . be a teenage boy.

I made dear friends at the Ren Faire, many I still have today. All were my senior. So imagine coming from a smoke enhanced, communal hippie setting only to find yourself into an anxious group of turgid (Yes I know what turgid means and I mean it here.) 18 year old men. I felt, and was, most certainly out of place. What I needed was to find, my safe place. Enter Gina and the Statler Lounge. At that time in Arizona the drinking age was 19 and I was 18. While this was mildly problematic I thank Gina for never carding me. The Statler Lounge was the first place where I learned that you could lose money playing pool. That there were many kinds of mixed drinks, other than the Highballs and Gimlets that my parents enjoyed, and that some people could be very nice.

Gina was the bartender. She was old, 40 I think. Back in those days you could run a tab.  The very first night I drank more than I could afford. I was embarrassed and asked to pay it the following week. Which I did. I was shy at the bar but kept coming back every week on Friday night needing a safe place of my own. I never ran my tab that high again and only ever ordered 2 drinks even though I wanted more. Gina taught me about tipping and I started to feel like I fit in. Gina, it turns out, was from San Francisco. She recognized the Bay in me and took me under her wing. About 4 or 5 Fridays into our relationship Gina made me a deal. She promised to rip up my tab if I would do just one thing for her. Near the end of the night she needed help carrying out the beer from the back room to the bar to restock the refrigerators. The cart was too heavy for her to manage easily. My job on Friday nights became this: Drink for free; bring the beer from the back.  I had my safe place. When I finished my technical tenure, I was proud of what I had learned and was ready to return to the City by the Bay. Even before I left I missed Gina. I miss her and the Statler Lounge today where I had become a regular. And yes, I miss the free drinks. Yukon Jack and grapefruit juice, if you must know.

Last week I popped into our newest Italian restaurant in town: Bambino’s at 301 Georgia At. Does it remind me of the Statler Lounge? Not really. It more reminds me of a little bar and Italian restaurant that I worked for in Rodeo. That was my first job as a bartender after a few years working as an auto mechanic. That place had the Statler Lounge feel and great Italian food to boot in a family friendly environment. It was that job that sent me to my next where I ended up managing restaurants, then to culinary school, then abroad cooking on motion pictures.

Bambino’s is that kind of family friendly restaurant. The evening I went, I saw a few of my Vallejo friends enjoying dinner in there as well. The food was well prepared, their cooks obviously skilled at their craft.  I chose the Chicken Marsala. The chicken was tender covered in a light mushroom sauce. The dish was served with an expertly blanched bit of broccoli that served as the perfect foil to the rich chicken sauce. That and glass of Chianti had me saying ‘Per Piacere’ for more.

I am happy that we have another place in town.

May each meal bring you joy and every companion, happiness.

Tommy Judt

TIS THE SEASON

TIS THE SEASON

 

It is said that shared joy is doubled joy.   I am a firm believer in all things that bring double joy. You know like, a pair of German Shepherds, a package of Reese’s Peanut butter cups and that second smoky, sweet whisky cocktail enjoyed at the end of a long week. (Speaking of which, good God Savage & Cooke, when can we try your whisky?)

 

Earlier this week I did a thing that In all honesty I rarely do anymore. I cooked. Continue reading “TIS THE SEASON”

MONDAY MONDAY

Still can’t touch that day. Another full weekend and I feel so lucky to have such wonderful people in my life. For so many years I kept my head in the sand and rarely had any contact with my Vallejo neighbors. Now, occasionally, I get the Norm welcome at the Town House. Funny, when I was tending bar that was actually something that management used as an example of good service.

 

“We want a bar like Cheers, where everybody knows your name.”

 

To be honest, while I always wanted a corner bar where I felt welcome Continue reading “MONDAY MONDAY”

RESOLUTION

Something happens when the sun goes down. As December closes in, doors begin to open here in Vallejo. Open houses and dinner parties. Cocktails and desserts. Laughter, conviviality, and a smack of drama just for fun. This week alone I have had conversations about tattoos, eccentric neighbors, sailing, Spruce our little pop-up shop, Callaghan Construction, the mispronunciation of sandwiches as sang-wiches. Stories of grandfathers topped the bill as did Iberian singers, concrete beaches, clowning for a children’s dance troupe in Russia and riding brooms to Las Vegas. I was even gifted a scarecrow for my winter garden. I have eaten shrimp and cheese, Continue reading “RESOLUTION”

ON FOOD AND COOKING

Years ago I dated a charming woman who took me home, for Sunday dinner, to meet her parents. Upon hearing that I had been a chef, her mother immediately scrapped the mac and cheese idea and put out her best meal: Turkey, stuffing, gravy, the works, in July. I remember that she sat nervously, watching me as I took in my first few bites. Now I am going to Continue reading “ON FOOD AND COOKING”

SOME DAYS

Every day I awaken to the same routine. Boil water, grind the coffee, feed the dogs, (got to make them sit and wait – Dinner time discipline I call it,) pour myself a large cuppa, add two sugars, sit down to my computer, log in and brace myself. Firstly I check emails, pay my bills and respond to my clients. Secondly I’ll pop over to Facebook to see how many people love me Continue reading “SOME DAYS”

NATURE ABHORS A VACUUM

Why do we rake the forest floor?

Because nature abhors a vacuum.

 

I cannot take credit for writing that joke but I am happy to retell it. But, in the retelling I become somewhat sad. This is our joke. This is now who we are as a people. We are the land where our leaders think that raking the forest floor would have saved Continue reading “NATURE ABHORS A VACUUM”

MORE THAN A HUMMING BIRD

Last Friday was the Second Friday Art Walk here in Vallejo. From the Vallejo art Walk website, “Organized by members of the The Vallejo Arts Alliance, this event is an opportunity for artists to showcase their work in a very casual setting. Entertainment and food is provided to encourage visitors to walk among the art galleries and downtown businesses.”

 

This last Friday I hosted my very first Salon in the new dining room Continue reading “MORE THAN A HUMMING BIRD”

THE LAST DAY OF FIG SEASON

Yesterday was the last official day of fig hunting season. The season, which normally starts in late August was delayed this year until the beginning of October. It seems that there was a clerical error made with regards to the weather and temperature required to ripen the figs. In August, and into September, my tree, the hunting ground, Continue reading “THE LAST DAY OF FIG SEASON”