It rained all weekend, perfect weather for long, all-afternoon games of Spite & Malice played on the uneven narrow coffee table with small green glasses of red wine at our elbows, using two ancient, soft, weatherbeaten card decks we found in the summer barn. It’s an aptly named, vicious game, not necessarily recommended for happy couples, especially hermit couples, unless they want to spice up their humdrum everyday adoring contentment with insults, curses, snarls, and threats.
“You bastard,” I hissed at Brendan when he insouciantly screwed me out of yet another move. “I may never have sex with you again.”
Evidently this was not a deterrent, or else he didn’t believe me.
Our friend Madeleine, a doctor I went to Reed College with way back when, stayed with us for three nights last week. She and Brendan are collaborating on a project together, so much of her visit was devoted to work, but the rest of the time, we tried to entertain her, or rather, we made her entertain us. She has led, and is leading, an unusually adventurous, colorful, interesting life, and it’s possible to convince her to talk about it, which she does hilariously, with matter-of-fact, brilliantly articulate frankness.
In return, we cooked for her. One night, I made broiled lamb chops (rubbed first with a paste of garlic, paprika, cumin, salt, pepper, and olive oil) and farmstand gazpacho. The next night, Brendan made his sublime spaghetti with pesto. One morning, I made custardy, fluffy French toast with wild blueberry compote and maple syrup.
Brendan’s aunt’s dog Bandito has also been with us for the past week. He’s a sort of small schnauzer-pinscher combo (he looks like a spider monkey) who grew up running freely around the hills and forests in Italy. Now he races through the woods here, flushing turkeys and deer, driving them out just yards ahead of wherever we happen to be on the road or path while he yips madly behind them. If we carried guns with us on our daily walks, we would have a huge storeroom full of game by now.
He and Dingo are fellow former stray-rescue mutts; maybe because of this implied kinship, the two of them are fast, easygoing pals. They prowl around outside together, side by side, sniffing and idling and lying in the sun. Bandito watches Dingo eat various unfamiliar things — watermelon, cucumber, red pepper, apple — and then he tries them himself. The two of them line up for treats, sitting and looking up at me with identical expressions, cocked heads and open mouths and very bright eyes.
Because Madeleine, like Bandito, is avidly outdoorsy, we decided to forego our usual 4-mile morning tramp for something more ambitious, namely, a hike up a mountain. First, I made a breakfast to fuel the ascent: grilled Andouille sausages and eggs scrambled gently in butter to make big, tender curds, served in a toasted gluten-free baguette. Then the five of us, humans and dogs, plus two backpacks, climbed Mt. Chocurua, whose trail is steep and very rocky, and whose bald, boulder-strewn summit gives a wild, breathtaking view all around of the peaks of the Presidential mountain range, its forested slopes and valleys and shining lakes, under an enormous sky.
We ate our picnic near the top, sprawling on huge boulders. Dingo and Bandito scored plenty of apple, cucumber, and goat cheese. They lay at our feet, looking up at us rather than at the view, which seemed to leave them cold.
“Remember the first time we did this hike?” Brendan asked me.
“There was a foot of snow and ice, and I wore sneakers with no treads,” I said. “It was early April. More than 3 years ago. We had just fallen in love.”
“So you were dizzy with hormones,” said Madeleine.
“We brought a pack of cigarettes and two bottles of hard cider,” said Brendan.
“And a baggie of cashews,” I said. “Nothing else.”
“God, I wish I had a cigarette,” said Brendan, who quit smoking almost 2 years ago.
“Me too,” I said. “And some booze.”
“I would kill for some booze right now.”
“You guys are so weird,” said Madeleine, offering us the bag of craisins.
Spite & Malice Pizza
We made pizza last night, with amiable cooperation, between deadly rounds of cards. On gluten-free crust from the health food store in town, we spread Pomi strained tomatoes with basil, salt, black pepper, oregano, red pepper flakes, and a little olive oil added. Then came a generous layer of shredded mozzarella, and then a heap of roasted vegetables: red and green Bell peppers, red onion, whole garlic cloves, and baby bella mushrooms, all sliced and coated in olive oil and baked in a hot oven on a cookie sheet for 20 minutes or so.
On top of that went the piece de resistance: tiny turkey meatballs made with farmstand ground turkey, minced white onion and garlic, hot red pepper flakes, an egg, cream, ketchup, gluten-free bread crumbs, salt and pepper, lightly mixed then dropped from a spoon into hot olive oil in our biggest skillet and fried in batches. They were fantastic on the pizza, but next time, I might add a minced jalapeno, grated Parmesan, pine nuts, and maybe a small dash of cumin.
When the pizza was hot and bubbling and starting to brown on top, we pulled it out and sliced it and ate it with more hot red pepper flakes and grated Parmesan.
We both had a touch of indigestion in the night, but somehow I don’t think it was from the pizza.