Warning: This poem contains intense and controversial topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features the morning after an impromptu sleepover, making breakfast in an unfamiliar kitchen, spilling soy sauce on a shirt, borrowing clothes, Shiv is still twedgy about raisins in rice, and also food-defensive, Lieutenant Brown mistakes Shiv and Luci for lovers, then grovels a lot, concrete apology, platonic relationship issues, and other angst. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
"The Commitment to a New Day"
[Saturday, December 20, 2014]
When Luci woke in the morning,
Shiv's bedroom door was still closed.
She changed back into her own clothes,
then slipped out into the hall to use
the public bathroom, and came back.
Her host was still asleep, so she
let herself into his kitchen and
began making breakfast.
It was a full kitchen, but still
an apartment, so it wasn't
all that big. She kept bumping
into the work table if she didn't
pay close attention to her steps.
Shiv didn't have half the things
that Luci typically cooked with,
but he did -- thank gods! --
at least have soy sauce,
rice, eggs, and other basics.
She put the congee on first,
because it needed to cook
the longest, chopping a pear as
she waited for the rice to soften.
She threw in ginger and nutmeg,
with a little sugar for sweetening,
and soon the air was fragrant
with the warming spices.
Next Luci made the dough for
the ji dan bing and set it aside
to rest so she could make
the breakfast crepes later.
She put on a pot of water, then
set out bags of black and white tea.
From the bedroom came sounds
of thumping and rustling at last.
Luci hummed as she worked,
hustling around the kitchen so
breakfast would be ready for Shiv.
She made scallion pancakes and
stacked them on a waiting plate.
Then she started rolling out
the dough for the crepes,
happily losing herself in it.
When Shiv finally came in,
the whole kitchen smelled of
warm nutmeg from the congee
along with the savory aromas
of scallions and fresh herbs.
"What the fuck?" Shiv said,
staring at the scallion pancakes.
"I woke up before you, so I
thought I'd make breakfast
for both of us," Luci replied.
"I said I would, remember?"
"O ... kay," Shiv said slowly,
looking around the kitchen.
"I thought you meant like pour
the cereal or make oatmeal.
Whatever. Any breakfast
I don't have to cook myself
is a good breakfast."
"Well, come on in,"
Luci said, beckoning.
"I'll put on the crepes."
His presence made
the apartment kitchen
seem even smaller, but
Luci didn't mind that.
She just danced around
him as best she could,
cracking eggs and then
rolling up finished crepes.
That worked fine until
she bumped into the corner
of the work table and spilled
soy sauce all over her shirt.
It rolled off the gold foil dragon,
but the brown sauce showed up
horribly on the white fabric.
"Take it off, quick!" Shiv said,
flapping his hands at her.
"Put it in the sink and run
some cold water over it."
Luci stripped off her top and
shoved it under the faucet,
wearing nothing except for
her bra and her pants.
"Do you have some
laundry detergent that I
could put on this?" she said.
"Uh, no, sorry." Shiv was
looking everywhere but at her.
"I go to a laundromat and
usually buy stuff there."
"Drat," said Luci, examining
her shirt. "I need something
to lift the stain before it sets."
"I have dish washing liquid,"
Shiv suggested. "Dr. G says
that's good for removing stains."
"That'll do," Luci said, and spread
the blue liquid over her shirt.
"So uh ... you want to put on
a clean top?" Shiv said.
"Yeah, but I don't have one,"
Luci said. "I don't know
what I should do."
Shiv sighed and said,
"Gimme a minute."
He disappeared into
his bedroom, and then
returned with an armload
of multicolored cloth.
"Pick one," he said,
dumping it on a chair.
Luci poked at the pile
and found that it consisted
of t-shirts that Shiv liked.
She went through several
with musical instruments
on them, and others with
downright rude sayings.
"Come on, there's gotta be
something you like," Shiv said,
helping her sort through them.
"Oh look, it's so cute!" Luci squealed,
reaching past him. "Can I borrow that one?"
"You want the creepy ribbon deer that's
too big even on me and I wear it for art
even though I haven't spilled any paint
on it yet?" Shiv said. "Sure, go ahead."
Lucy pulled it on, the unbleached cotton
falling to her thighs, then smoothed
her hands down the front where
ribbons made the deer's antlers.
"Thank you, Shiv-ya!" she said.
"You have just saved the day."
He looked away. "Ah, it's
nothin' special," he said.
"You want pants with that,
so we can hit the laundromat
and wash your own clothes?
I got some with drawstrings."
"Yes, please," Luci said.
Shiv grabbed the extra shirts
and padded back into his bedroom.
Soon he returned with a stack of
garishly colored workout pants.
"This will do nicely, thanks,"
Luci said as she picked out
a maroon pair with white stripes
that would play up the red and
orange ribbons on the deer.
"Put away the others, and
I'll finish making breakfast."
It only took a few minutes
to do that, and then they
both sat down to eat.
"So what is all this?"
Shiv said, peering at
the spread of food.
"That's not oatmeal."
"This is congee," Luci said.
"It's rice porridge, and you can
flavor it with anything. I used
nutmeg and ginger, some sugar,
and chopped up a pear too."
"You didn't put any raisins
in that, did you?" Shiv said,
looking at it suspiciously.
"No raisins, just the pear,"
Luci said, wondering who
had screwed him over
using raisins somehow.
"Well, it smells good," he said.
She dished out bowls for
both of them, and Shiv
dove into his without
waiting for her to tell
him about the rest of it.
Luci clicked her fingernails
gently against the tabletop.
"These are scallion pancakes,"
she said. "The rolled-up things
are ji dan bing or breakfast crepes.
They're made of dough and eggs,
with cilantro and oregano filling.
There's soy sauce for dipping --
I thought you'd like a mix of
sweet and savory things."
"Yeah, I do," he said,
looking up shyly through
his fringe. "Thanks for
making all the food."
"Well, it's your food,
all I did was cook it,"
Luci pointed out.
She watched him eat,
basking in the look of
pleasure when he tasted
the scallion pancakes and
his surprised exclamation
over the breakfast crepes.
Shiv stirred his spoon through
the congee. "This is really good,"
he said. "Is there any pear left?"
"I'm sorry, Shiv-ya," said Luci.
"I used the last one in the congee.
What did you want it for?"
"Oh, just thinking," he said.
"We got some Szechuan sauce
left over from last night. The pear
goes good in the congee, and then I
wondered if it'd work with the sauce."
He got up and rummaged in a cabinet,
then opened a can of pears. He dumped
them into a bowl, then brought that to
the table along with the Szechuan sauce.
Carefully dabbing the sweet-spicy stuff
on a pear, Shiv took a tentative nibble.
"Aw, yeah," he said, and scraped out
more of the sauce over the pears.
"It's good?" Luci asked, smiling.
Shiv looked down at where his arm
curled protectively around the bowl.
Slowly he uncurled his grasp and
pushed the bowl of pears at her.
"Yeah, try one," he invited.
Mindful of his past, Luci
took one and one only.
It really was delicious.
"You have great ideas in
the kitchen, Shiv-ya," she said.
"You try things I'd never think of."
"It's 'cause I don't know what I'm
doing," he said. "Sometimes it flops,
but sometimes it comes out good."
Luci laughed. "That's how everyone
learns, little brother, but not all cooks
have wacky ideas that ever work."
"If you say so," he said, shrugging.
"It's no big deal, it's just breakfast."
"Breakfast is everything," Luci said.
"The beginning, the first thing. It is
the mouthful that is the commitment
to a new day, a continuing life."
Shiv laughed. "Sure, that works."
It didn't take long to finish breakfast,
because Shiv ate like a hungry ghost.
Soon they were stacking empty plates
in the sink along with the cooking utensils.
The only thing left was the little bowl
of Szechuan sauce, which Shiv poured
into an empty butter tub and sealed.
"Grab your laundry and stuff," Shiv said.
"Let's go downstairs, I want to show this
to Cook and see what he thinks."
Luci wound up carrying two bags,
one full of her own things and
the other with Shiv's laundry.
As they slipped out the front door,
they bumped into Lieutenant Brown.
He looked at them, startled, his gaze
sweeping over Luci's borrowed outfit.
Then he grinned at them and said,
"Congratulations on getting together."
Shiv flinched. "It's not like that!"
Lieutenant Brown blanched, the change
visible even on his chocolate skin.
"Oh, I am sooo sorry," he moaned.
"It was just a misunderstanding.
I saw the clothes and jumped to
a totally wrong conclusion."
"Yeah, you did," Shiv said bitterly.
"Everyone does. So what the fuck."
"Brown, you've heard me say
'Shiv-ya,' right?" Luci asked.
"Sure, we all have," he replied.
"It means 'Little Brother Shiv,'
more or less," Luci explained.
The older man winced. "I didn't
know," he said. "Now I do. I won't
make the same mistake again."
"That doesn't fix anything,"
Shiv said, still not looking at him.
"I know," said Lieutenant Brown.
"I really didn't mean to disrespect
your relationship, but I did. So,
what can I do to make this right?"
"I dunno," Shiv said with a shrug.
"Since you made the same mistake
about our relationship that a lot of
people have, your concrete apology
should do something to correct it,"
Luci said. "I think that would help."
Lieutenant Brown took a minute to think
about it, then snapped his fingers. "I got it!"
he said. "There's this new cruise boat down on
Lake Manawa. Heron asked me was it any good,
and I told him I didn't know, but I looked it up.
Plato's Lake hosts platonic cruises."
"Isn't that kind of expensive?" Luci said.
"I mean, I'd love to go on a cruise, but
it seems like overkill for one goof."
"Nah, lake cruises are way cheaper
than ocean ones," Lieutenant Brown said.
"Day cruises are cheaper than overnights, too."
"Yeah, like what?" Luci wondered.
"They're running some holiday cruises on
the Manawa Marvel from Thanksgiving through
New Year and the prices are pretty good,"
said Lieutenant Brown. "Sounds fun."
"Shiv, what do you think?" Luci asked.
"I've never been on a cruise,"
Shiv said slowly. "I guess ...
I don't hate the idea?"
"Brown, can you tell us
any more?" Luci said.
"Well, the Deluxe package is
an all-day cruise serving breakfast,
lunch, and supper," said Lieutenant Brown,
giving Shiv a sidelong look. "The menu lists
grilled trout, Southern-fried catfish, baked chicken,
or veggie stir-fry entrees. Then you got salads,
winter fruit, and other stuff to go with that."
Luci hid a smile. Shiv loved fish, and
it was a good way to coax him into things.
"Okay, the food's good," Shiv admitted.
"Great," said Lieutenant Brown. "A ride
on any ship out of Plato's Lake should go
a long way toward fixing the misunderstanding."
"The hell that's gonna do?" Shiv said.
"No, see --" Lieutenant Brown whipped out
his smartphone to show them a picture.
"-- you go on the cruise, you buy
the t-shirts, you wear the t-shirts --"
"-- and everyone sees what kind of
relationship we have," Luci said.
"Brown, you're a genius!"
She threw her arms around
his neck and hugged him.
"Do you have any more pictures
of the ship?" Luci said, curious.
"They got a website with plenty,"
Lieutenant Brown said, passing
his smartphone over to her.
Luci browsed some that showed
the Manawa Marvel gliding past
trees in the green of summer
and the orange of autumn.
Then she found the ones for
the holiday cruise packages.
"Ooo!" Luci squealed, pointing
to a picture of the ship covered
in glowing red and green lights.
"This is so beautiful at night."
"Yeah, I guess it is," Shiv said.
"It looks like a watercolor painting."
"That's encouraging to hear,"
Lieutenant Brown said.
"So, am I forgiven?"
"Totally," Luci said.
"Shiv, what about you?"
said Lieutenant Brown.
"I'll take the cruise,"
he said slowly, "but I
want one more thing --
it doesn't cost money."
"All right, I'm listening,"
said Lieutenant Brown.
"Back me up," Shiv whispered.
"I hate people talking about us
like that. It's not true, but some of
them just won't stop. So I want you
to stop them, if you hear that."
"Can do," Lieutenant Brown said.
"Then we got a deal," Shiv said,
and stuck out his hand.
They shook on it.
Luci leaned in
just enough to bump
against Shiv's shoulder.
"Oh right," he said.
"I forgive you."
"Thank you both,"
said Lieutenant Brown.
Luci and Shiv went on down
to the kitchen, where Cook was
setting a stock pot of beans to boil.
"What's up?" Cook asked them.
"Can you poach pears in this?"
Shiv asked, holding out the tub of
Szechuan sauce. "Cause I tried it
with canned ones and it's pretty good
but I think it'd go better with fresh ..."
Cook covered the stock pot, then
grabbed a slice of pear from a bowl
holding fruit salad. Dipping it in the tub,
he took a thoughtful bite and savored it.
"That's good," he said. "What is this?"
"It's Szechuan sauce," Luci said,
starting to feel nervous. "I made it
last night for a batch of popcorn ...
it's nothing fancy, really."
"Uh huh," Cook said,
stirring another pear slice
through the sauce. "This
stuff is too thick for poaching."
"Yeah, I guess," Shiv said glumly.
"It doesn't have to be that thick,"
Luci said. "I put cornstarch in it
to make it stick to the popcorn.
Leave that out, and it's thinner."
"What are the ingredients?"
Cook asked, humming to himself.
Luci shuffled in place, hesitating.
She wasn't a professional cook, after all.
Shiv's hand made a warm spot on her back.
"Well, I start with low-sodium soy sauce,
then add some brown sugar, chili garlic sauce,
rice vinegar, Chinese five spice powder ..."
Luci said, reciting the ingredients. "It's
really more a set of guidelines than
a recipe." She gave him a link to
a website describing the process.
"Low-sodium, not too much sugar,
and poached," Cook said. "I'll have
to check the numbers, but this
might make a 'healthy' dessert."
"It sure is healthier than cake,"
Shiv said with a laugh.
"That it is," Cook said.
"All right, I'll fool around
with this and see what
happens. If I get something
I like, I'll put it up as a special,
and you'll both get a bonus."
"Sweet," Shiv said. "We will
check back here later." Then he
jostled against Luci. "Come on, let's
hit the laundromat before it gets busy. "
Luci hiked the laundry bags higher and
said, "I'm with you all the way, Shiv-ya."
* * *
"Breakfast is everything. The beginning, the first thing. It is the mouthful that is the commitment to a new day, a continuing life."
-- A A Gill
I used the 2014 academic calendar for the University of Omaha to identify December 13 - December 19 as finals week, then compared that to the 2014 calendar to identify days.
Stocking a pantry involves choosing staple foods that can be used to make a wide variety of recipes. Many of these are nonperishable, such as dry pasta and canned vegetables. When Shiv first moved in, Boss White wanted to make sure that he had something to eat in his new apartment, in case Shiv didn't have the time or energy to go shopping immediately. In the following months, Shiv has added more items. Here is a checklist of pantry essentials.
Chinese food has many regional cuisines, including Szechuan. So the stocking list for a Chinese pantry looks different, and a Szechuan pantry is characterized by a few key items. Shiv does not have most of these, but some staples such as rice do overlap, so Luci can get by.
Congee is a traditional Chinese breakfast food. Because Luci chooses other savory dishes, this time she makes the congee with sugar, ginger, nutmeg, and chopped pear for a sweet touch. It's like very thin rice pudding. Scallion pancakes are another Chinese breakfast food. They are thin savory breads with green onions. Ji dan bing are Chinese breakfast crepes, in this case flavored with cilantro and oregano.
Shiv's herb box contains (from left to right, top to bottom) rosemary, chervil, thyme, oregano, sage, and mint. It is upcycled from an old wooden drawer.
This is Luci's gold dragon T-shirt. Many foil decals repel liquid, but the same cannot be said for the white cotton background. To remove soy sauce, lightly blot away what you can, then run cold water over it, and put on laundry detergent or dish soap. Whiteners may be used on white cloth, but be cautious around decorations.
Here is Shiv's ribbon deer T-shirt. He finds it creepy, but Luci loves it.
Buster Hump's Gym sells these workout pants in packages of five for $50, which is a significant discount from the already cheap retail price of $13.96/each. They sell t-shirts the same way, so you can get a work week's worth of athletic outfits for $100.
Hungry ghosts appear in many guises throughout Asian lore. One type eats and eats but never feels satisfied.
Szechuan sauce is spicy and sweet. It can be made with low-sodium soy sauce. Often a distinction is drawn between things that are "low-sodium, lower-sodium, less-sodium" etc. which means they don't have as much salt compared to typical products of that type, and things that are "very low sodium" or "no salt" that have little or no salt in them as an objective measurement. It's difficult to measure how much salt will actually get in the pears from the poaching sauce, so the most straightforward way to label this would be "made with low-sodium soy sauce."
Poaching can be a very healthy way to cook food, but it depends entirely on the recipe. Here is a lovely one for Pears Poached in Cinnamon and Nutmeg with just 87.2 calories (5 grams of sugar) per serving. Compare that to this recipe for Poached Pears that uses a whopping two cups of sugar. O_O I did also find a recipe for Soy Baked Pears, so the combination of flavors is validated. A batch of Szechuan Pears should count as a low-sugar dessert, which isn't used in L-America but which T-America defines based on categories (e.g. a low-sugar dessert has more than a low-sugar meat dish, but still below an absolute amount). Although not sugar-free because it's fruit, this is definitely far below the 424 calories (44 grams of sugar) of chocolate cake.
Shiv and Luci have a platonic relationship. These are possible between men and women, and often take the form of a sibling relationship. In researching this topic, however, I kept running into articles about "platonic relationships" that talked about sexual tension. If there is sexual tension, it's a celibate relationship, not a platonic one. In a platonic relationship, when someone mistakes you for lovers, you both say some version of, "Ew! No!" I couldn't even find a decent article about creating a sibling-type relationship outside of childhood. So I'm falling back on general advice for forming close friendships.
Apologies need several parts to be effective. Things will inevitably go wrong between people, and you need to understand how to repair your relationships. Here is an example from the kink community. If you look closely, you can tell that Dr. Bloch is thinking along exactly those lines, although Shiv doesn't know it. Follow the steps to earn back broken trust.
Lake Manawa is an Iowa park just outside of Omaha.
Lake cruises typically cost $100 or less for a day trip. They may focus on sightseeing, education, or other themes and often include one or more meals. The Manawa Marvel Deluxe cruise is an all-day tour of the lake with three meals, sightseeing, entertainment, and other fun. So that's a $200 concrete apology -- perfectly reasonable in Lieutenant Brown's budget -- that directly reduces the tendency of people to misinterpret the relationship.
Plato's Lake is a T-American cruise line which specializes in nontraditional cruises. Launched in the Great Lakes, they're beginning to branch out to other locations such as Lake Manawa in Iowa (near Omaha, Nebraska). They started out offering platonic cruises for friends. That expanded to include parent/child, sibling, and other nonsexual relationships. They also have cruises for singles that are not just extended dating opportunities. There are mixed cruises which cater to people on the asexual/aromantic spectrum, but are open to anyone who respects the platonic theme. The cruises feature sightseeing, educational opportunities, entertainment, meals, and other amenities. Souvenirs include t-shirts, sweatshirts and sweatpants, windbreakers, sun hats, canvas bags, coffee cups, mousepads, keychains, stuffed animals, postcards, and posters with the Plato's Lake logo. The gift shop also includes snacks, toys, games, books about the company, the local lake, boating, asexual/aromantic orientations, and platonic relationships.
See the Manawa Marvel in autumn, in summer, and at night.
Ice formation in Nebraska varies, but you can see a discussion of it in this ice fishing forum. Typically ice begins to form in late fall or early winter, and can support one person's weight around late December or early January. That's when even the big boats quit traveling -- it gets to where you'd need an icebreaker to keep a lane open, and few lakes have one. See also tips for safe ice fishing from Nebraska and Iowa.
T-America offers many and varied perks to encourage healthy habits. Junk food restaurants get pushed toward the fringes, while the best spots go to those serving healthy foods. (If you look at L-America you can see how fast food restaurants are much more popular in some regions.) Restaurants can get tax breaks for providing a certain amount of healthy options, and that's in brackets so the more they do, the higher the payoff. Many cities also have a healthy eating program of some sort which may be run by the health board, business bureau, the restaurants, the hospitals, or some other interested group. In this case, rather than trying to rule out or lighten traditional fare, they concentrate on marking foods with specific traits (organic, local, low-calorie, low-sugar, etc.) and if necessary adding new recipes to meet desired goals. Since Blues Moon serves soul food, they're on the heavier end of the scale; but they're trying to hit more of the healthy targets because some folks just can't eat regular soul food safely.
Eat Healthy Omaha is a T-American program that promotes nutritious food in restaurants, grocery stores, hospitals, schools, and other locations. For restaurants, it supports the development of healthy menus. One easy option is offering a Healthy Plate which is based on proportions of food types rather than counting individual servings. Explore ways to start a healthy food program at your restaurant and slim down your menu. Here's an example of a whole program.