Sunday, November 15, 2009

dribbles of competencies

In case you were wondering, while I can get blood out of just about anything, I'm a little stumped about the black greasy stuff on my hands. But in a non-neatfreaky shift, I'm loving the black goo.

Last night, my car declined to start. I sat on a random street, betwixt and between errands. And stared. The lights on the dash flared, then faded. The radio went silent. I turned the key, suggested politely, then firmly, finally used the evil mom growl. The car was unimpressed. This, I knew, was many many miles outside of my range of experience.

The lights were on, I said out loud, then they were off. And the NPR - where did it go?

Alas, said the AAA emergency roadside kit booklet, it went with the battery.

Clickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclick, said the engine, agreeing. This, I thought, is why I hid a chocolate and peanut bar in my bag for tonight's outing. I'd known that tonight was going to need it.

The chocolate was silky and the peanuts crunched, and mollified, I merely grinned when the booklet informed me that my troubles would be solved if I signed up with AAA. Failing that, said the booklet, find someone to jump-start the battery. I called a friend, it's going to take me a while to get to you, to drop your things off. I sadly looked at the empty bar wrapper, contemplated the lack of chocolate and peanuts. Would tea fill the void? But perhaps we can help, replied the friend. I'll send competent male out to jump-start your car.

Competent male turned up, and was indeed competent.* We compared AAA kits and happily, he knew how to use his. Except that, to his chagrin, there was his car, running - and the keys locked in it. Spare set of keys, he told me, and ran home to fetch them. Spare battery? Not so much.

We finally unlocked his car, untangled the jumper cables and compared identical AAA booklets on What To Do. We were attaching the jumped cables when roadside assistance turned up, and gasped with horror.

Don't do that! exclaimed the RA guy. You'll fry your computers.

Competent male and I looked at each other. We will? Competent male shrugged, and left me in clearly professional - and non cable-using - hands. Battery jumped, I drove home, weaving around and through my route in an effort to charge the battery. But don't expect the car to start again tomorrow, warned the professional. That battery is done.

But the next morning, it did. And when it started, I was prepared: had driving directions in hand, apples in bag and Eldest in the backseat, and we drove straight to AutoZone. Bought a battery. Watched the store's guy try and fail to unscrew the strap holding the old battery in place. Watched the car try and fail to turn on. The hours, which had been sliding away, giggled and picked up speed. Lunchtime came, and the Eldest finished his apple, two bags of potato chips and a pair of cookies. I'm still hungry, he told my rumbling stomach, having eaten my share of the snacks along with his own. I clamped my jaws shut, and worked to preserve any illusions of loving motherhood that he might have left.

Ah, but this time: spare battery.

One Roadside Assistance call later, the troublesome nut had spun off, we had a new battery in place, and I had been talked through hubcap replacement by the RA guy. I drove home considering this - the Home Depot guys are of the opinion that I can do nearly anything myself, including cutting tile. Is the RA guy of this ilk? I'd be disappointed in you if you couldn't, said a friend. I eyed the tires dubiously. Where I grew up, you called a guy. Competent, RA, handy or otherwise. Or caught a bus.

Sure enough, my first efforts popped off. The next round looked oddly askew - I'd covered the air thingie. Bloody car. Need a pack mule. Telecommuting, mutter mutter mutter something about a bicycle. Four new hubcaps and black goo later, I'm of the opinion that competency is a slippery, fluid concept. But I might - possibly - perhaps have dribbles of it.

perhaps. occasionally, I mused, spreading putty over the rusting holes in my paint. But, from the look of the swirling, delightedly unsmooth putty, not terribly often.

*please note that I say this with all sincerity: comparatively and otherwise, he was competent.

on an un-lunched day like this, when I'd rather have been doing any number of things other than considering my own dubious compentencies - and not so dubious ignorance of things vehicular, a serious pick-me-up is crucial. Mine? Steaming wedges of plain potato, coconut curried chickpeas from this wonderful cookbook, and unMarthaed green sauce.

unMarthaed green sauce
based on a recipe for green sauce, from a Martha magazine, picked up and carried reasonably far in a slightly chimicurried direction.

1/2 of a red onion
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1/3rd tsp red pepper flakes
most of a bunch of parsley, including stalks (if your food processor is up to the challenge, that is)
3-4 stalks fresh oregano, leaves stripped off (even if your food processor can handle it, the stalks are woody in flavor. I'd pass.)
1/3rd cup stuffed green olives (plain green are fine, too)
juice of 3 lemons
1/4 c rice vinegar, unless you have red wine vinegar (I didn't)
1/3rd to 1/2 cup olive oil
salt, pepper and ground coriander to taste

Add ingredients to the food processor: heavier ingredients first, then leafy and spices. Keep the liquids in reserve as encouragement to the machine when it falters, or has trouble chopping the elusive leaves. A nice, percussive pulse should do the trick: you want your sauce to be finely chopped, and not pureed. Mine was puree, however, and I managed to love it regardless.

Adjust your flavors to suit you - add olive oil if you need the sauce to have less zing, and more smoothness of flavor. Add lemon juice if you need more zing, salt if the flavor feels wimpy, extra onion for more pungency, capers and cornichons if you are having a Marthaesque moment of piquancy, anchovies if you are feeling traditional (but for heavens sake, add the anchovies early on in the percussion, 'k?). In short, have fun.

And when you are done, consider the simple, wonderfully neutral steamed potato as a backdrop to all that flavor, hmmm?

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