Madoodle and Chevy Chase

 “Try this,” my dad said, holding out a spoon. “It’s called Madoodle.”

I was young and dumb and willing to try anything once. He had just moved back to Michigan after seven years in California, where he told us he had learned to cook authentic Mexican food. Madoodle didn’t sound particularly Latino, but it did sound like a fun and festive dish. Like a party in my mouth. 

My sisters were less trusting. “What’s in it?” one of them asked.

“Onion, pepper, hominy, tripe –”

“What’s tripe?” she persisted.

“Cow stomach.”

Oddly enough the sound I made as I hawked that substance out of my throat and halfway across the room sounded a bit like I was shouting “Madoodle!” 

That was the beginning of my education concerning my father’s cooking. Lesson one: the man was almost completely deaf, so he usually just took a stab at pronunciation of words. Madoodle was Menudo.

Lesson two: Don’t eat anything at Dad’s house.

He was a meat cutter. He had no problem eating parts of animals that there is just no reason to eat. Stomach, tongue, heart, liver, you name it, he served it to us. He even kept a jar of pickled pigs feet in his fridge for special occasions. 

And the problem wasn’t just the parts that he ate. It was also the animals from which he got those parts. At any given moment, he might have possums, squirrels or raccoons in his freezer. 

I am not a fussy eater. Obviously. If I were, this book would probably have to be called Thin, Fifty, and Menopausal.  But still, there are just some things that I am not going to eat. Wild rodent-type animals? No. No squirrels or possums. Organ meats? Hell no. Animal parts that haven’t been fully cooked? Yuck. If it’s still bleeding when it hits my plate, I’m not touching it. 

Pretty simple. However, as I get older, the list of foods I won’t eat seems to be growing. It’s not that I like food any less, or that I’m becoming more selective for some kind of moral or ethical reasons.

It’s that I now have a fifty year-old digestive system. Certain foods now have a tendency to party down in my lower intestine, and like most parties, the clean-up can be rather unpleasant.

Not too long ago, some friends and I got together for an evening of what we like to call “kitchen bitchin’.” Some of us bring wine, some of us bring snacks, and all of us bring attitude. And one of my friends brought something that completely changed my perception of food while making me uncomfortably aware of just exactly how old I really am.

She is a lovely Latina lady who likes to make authentic Mexican foods for these get togethers.  I thought at first that her dish that night was her delicious homemade salsa or pico de gallo because she served it with crispy tostadas and tortilla chips. She brought an enormous bowl of this amazing concoction that involved tomatoes, peppers, avocado, olives and shrimp, with just a touch of lime. 

It was beyond incredible. My tastebuds spent the entire evening having tiny orgasms.  

Oh, it was spicy, but it was the kind of spicy that doesn’t hit until you stop eating it. It was chilled to perfection, cool and tangy at the same time in my mouth. It tasted so good that I didn’t want to swallow each delicious mouthful and make the moment end. My friends and I gobbled that stuff as though our lives depended on it.

Then I took a little break.

Holy hell.

That’s when the peppers hit, and they hit hard. Each incoming breath hit the inside of my mouth like a blast from a flame thrower. I gulped my wine, but I might as well have been throwing the alcohol on an open flame. 

My friend helpfully handed me a Mexican beer, which not only increased the burning sensation but left a taste in my mouth that made me wonder if I had had just swallowed beer or licked a skunk’s butt.

She laughed and squeezed a lime into my beer.  “Try it now,” she suggested.

Oh, man. Like the food I had been eating, the lime-enhanced beer changed my perspective on flavor. It was just so undeniably good. Beyond good. Amazing. Indescribable.

But here’s the part that got me in trouble. The more I drank of the lime-enhanced Mexican beer, the more I had to eat of the shrimp-tomato-avocado delight. Every time I stopped consuming either one, my mouth burned. The only thing that could take away the burning sensation was the cool, refreshing application of copious amounts of beer and food. I was afraid to stop. I couldn’t stop.

“Wh-what is this — hic — called?” I stammered, scooping out more from the bottom of the bowl.

I swear to God she said, “Chevy Chase,” which struck me as being really, really funny.

There was nothing funny about what happened in my lower intestine a few hours later.

In my younger days, I could eat spicy food and not have any problems. I could drink beer. Hell, I could drink just about anything with the very notable exception of Schnapps, which is just hot snot in a bottle that comes up in one big, gooey ball if you happen to throw it up. Other than that, nothing really bothered my stomach back then. I could digest anything.

That was then, this is now. 

I spent the rest of the night in the bathroom. When I wasn’t expelling mass quantities of pure evil, I was curled up on the floor, moaning. I would have called for help, but I had lost all knowledge of the English language by then. Couldn’t have spoken anyway, because as the alcohol wore off I began to believe that I no longer had lips or tongue. They’d been burned off. 

By three a.m., I was crying for my mommy. 

On the positive side, I’m pretty sure I lost a pants size that night, along with a few internal organs.  It came out of my body with such force that I’m fairly certain I levitated over the toilet a few times. It’s entirely possible that my head spun all the way around. By four a.m., I was wondering whether or not my insurance would cover reconstruction of my sphincter, or at the very least a skin graft on what was left of my ass. 

There was not enough coffee in the world to deal with the hangover that hit me the following day. Believe me when I say I tried. I drank my body weight in strong, black coffee.

Which was really a mistake after the damage done by the spicy food. It just sort of greased the skids. It would have been kinder to my digestive system to pour the coffee straight from the pot into the toilet and just eliminate the middleman entirely. 

It turns out that the dish my friend made that night was Ceviche, and it really wasn’t all that spicy. It was actually pretty mild. Her children eat it all the time. My children have tasted it and declared it “wimpy”. 

And apparently “wimpy” is what I am now. My body is no longer capable of processing the kinds of things I could consume without a second thought when I was younger. 

I have officially reached the “bland foods” stage of life. Bland foods and sensible shoes. I have this sudden fear that I am going to look into the mirror someday soon and see one of my aunts looking back at me. With a “fiber bar” in one hand and a soothing cup of warm milk in the other. 

On the positive side, I now have an excellent excuse in case anyone ever offers me a nice hot bowl of Madoodle.

“No thanks,” I’ll tell them. “At my age, I just can’t handle spicy foods any more.”

 

Today’s post is an excerpt from my book Fat, Fifty, and Menopausal. If you’d like to read more ridiculousness like this, please check out my Goode For a Laugh series!

A Little Light Reading?

I love writers who can make me laugh. And not just the ones who make me do the whole snort-and-guffaw-until-I-pee kind of laughter, although those are certainly near the top of my list. If an author can make me laugh and cry with the same book, well, that just turns me into a happy little fangirl, gobbling up all of that author’s work as fast as I can.

Authors like David Sedaris. Jenny Lawson. Jean Shepherd. Celia Rivenbark. Erma Bombeck (obviously).

So, I want to talk about an author I discovered a few months ago. I don’t usually do book reviews in my blog, but I sort of feel obligated to do one this time around because the last book I read really hit me pretty hard.

A few months ago, a friend recommended Only In America by Dominic Holland. He is a British author and stand-up comedian, and my friend knows how much I adore British comedy. And my friend was absolutely right: this is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. I laughed out loud in the very first chapter and kept chuckling right up to the very end. For the record, Jonson Clarke is now one of my all-time favorite fictional characters, EVER. Right up there with Mary Lennox and Ford Prefect.

I don’t think I’ll ever again be able to look at a baptistry without snickering, thank you very much, Mr. Holland.

I read The Ripple Effect next, and it didn’t disappoint. Eclipsed was wonderful too, although it left me feeling rather embarrassed for not realizing that Holland’s son is the actor who plays Spider-Man. I mean, c’mon. Seriously, I’m a recovering comic book addict; I got my start writing for “Amazing Heroes” magazine, after all.  (I’ve also never lost a round of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, so I should have made the connection.)

Open Links was next. It’s charming, and has all the elements that make Dominic Holland’s work so enjoyable: quirky characters, fast pacing, funny dialogue, and a happy ending with all loose ends tied up in a tidy epilogue. But this one also made me cry. I’m talking about a majorly ugly cry here, folks.  The moment I realized the truth about the character Marshall, I fell apart.

It didn’t end the way I expected it to, but it ended the way it should have ended, if that makes sense. Maybe a bit too neatly, but I’m a sucker for a happy ending. Besides, all proceeds from sales of Open Links go to a very worthy cause.

I, Gabriel is Holland’s most recent release.  It’s not really a comedy, although it contains some funny bits. I loved the evolution of Gabriel over the course of the story, even if I really struggled through the first part of the book. It’s written in  first person, and Holland does such an excellent job of writing from the character’s point of view that I had to stop and remind myself that these were Gabriel Weber’s thoughts and attitudes, not Dominic Holland’s. I actually found myself getting angry a few times and very nearly marked it as a DNF.

I am so glad I finished it, though. The ending surprised me, and that doesn’t happen often. Again, it ends with all loose ends neatly tied up, even a few loose ends that I had forgotten about.

All of this is my way of leading up to the fact that I downloaded A Man’s Life just before I left for my trip to Texas. A little light reading, I thought. Something amusing and maybe a bit emotional. A nice little beach read, I told myself, without bothering to read the book’s description on Amazon.

As it turns out, that was a mistake on my part.

This book should have a giant warning label on the cover.

A warning label in bright red letters.

A warning label in bright red letters that specifically state: Amy, do not read this book at this point in your life. You’re not ready. Put it back. 

Good lord, I need a hug after reading this book. Either that or a very stiff drink. Or maybe some chocolate. Possibly anti-depressants.

Where do I begin with this one?

A Man’s Life is the story of Tom Harper, a man whose seemingly perfect life comes unraveled in the wake of a devastating loss. His grief is so visceral, so believable, so real that it almost hurts to read. I recognized so many emotions and actions from my own family’s recent grief that it pulled me out of the story a few times; I actually had to put the book down and stop reading once in a while because it just hit too close to home.

I had to go back to it, though, because the character does more than just wallow in his grief, and Holland allows him to grow and heal in a unique way. Bit by bit, those wonderfully quirky characters come together for that trademark Holland happy ending — or at least, an ending that isn’t blatantly unhappy.

I’m glad the book didn’t have that Amy-specific warning label, because I would hate to have missed out on reading what has easily become one of my all-time favorite books.  It’s an incredible journey through grief — from horror to numbness to denial to acceptance and finally, to facing the future once more and even finding reasons to laugh again.

A Man’s Life is not an easy book to read, but it’s worth it. It’s definitely one that I’ll re-read a few times. It’s painful, but also inspiring. I finished it with a sense of well-being, a feeling that hey, it is possible to move on after losing a loved one!

If you’re looking for a new favorite author, I highly recommend picking up any of Dominic Holland’s books.  It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a good laugh or a good cry or just a fantastic story from a master storyteller, you’ll find it in his work.