I divorced my ex-husband in August of 1994, when the College Kritter was known as the Tasmanian Devil. I hired an attorney, and he was so smitten by my soon to be ex’s charm, that he worked for him too, informing him of important dates, advising him on the necessary documents, calling him daily to “touch base”. My thought on that was, “Hmmm, Larry, I think I hired you and you were supposed to work for me?” But I really could not hold a grudge. My ex has always been a lovable person who grew on you, like it or not. He was not even present at court, enjoying beers and seafood on his Florida vacation. If I wanted to have his skin mounted on my wall, I could have accomplished it. But I did not hate the guy. I just wanted out. He was a great friend, a burly man with a wonderful sense of humor, a “Grizzly Adams” look-alike. But he was not the best husband. And I did not think that he would be the best father.
I worked in a restaurant and after the split, it suited everybody that our daughter spent holidays with him and his family. She was inundated with typical Thanksgiving overeating and watching the Lions lose again and again (not that she cared). A couple of years later I left Michigan for Ohio, and he moved to Florida.
I met Husband on the Internet, and in the Fall of 1997 he moved into our little “mole-hole” of an apartment. My ex was coming over from Florida, planning on taking Nina with him to Petoskey, Michigan, to visit the relatives. I offered him a place to stay, as I did time and time again, wanting him rested and awake when he continued driving up north with my beloved daughter in the back seat. Husband was not enthusiastic about the idea, to say the least. The ugly yellow-green tentacle of jealousy poisoned our days, but I was not budging.
The ex spent the night, and the Husband liked him as much as everybody else. I did not find it amusing in the least when they started comparing notes on me, agreeing, and laughing, pounding the table with a gleeful: “Me, too!” I would indulge them with an obligatory smile, or two, smiling to myself, knowing that I had won. It continued like that to this day. The Kritter spends Christmas with her Father in Florida, roaming the coast, sailing, fishing, swimming in the Keys, eating the mounds of fresh seafood in the restaurant on Santa Maria Island where he has been working as a chef for eleven years.
One of his sisters lives in Escondido, and he visited her last year. It felt weird to meet the ex-family-in-law for the first time after so much time, but we enjoyed having Theresa and her daughter over for our family’s Saint’s Day, the celebration feast of St. Nicholas. They were gracious guests, and everybody got along wonderfully. This winter break the Kritter announced that her father was flying to San Francisco right after her finals. They planned on renting a car, doing a lot of sightseeing and eventually making their way south to our house. We offered him the couch, left empty by Father who was visiting a cousin in Florida. Serendipitous, at least.
It has been raining a lot in California recently. I am a mother and I worried about their long drive on wet roads. They finally arrived a little before midnight on Tuesday, exhausted and drained. We spent a couple of hours laughing, reminiscing, and watching Jeopardy. I put a fresh sheet on the couch for my ex, brought several pillows and a blanket, and went to cuddle with my girls. The ex and Husband continued talking, laughing, and drinking single malt Scotch until dawn.
We skipped breakfast and we skipped brunch. At about 1:30 I pulled six sticky buns from the oven and served them with milk (Thanks, Professor Smith!). But everybody was still hungry, and I brought out the huge bowl of stone crab claws my ex had brought all the way from Florida. He made the mustard sauce and drawn butter, and we attacked them with gusto, barely making a sound, indulging in the rare delicacy. Can you ever get enough crab? I do not think so.
Nobody was hungry for hours. But I was smart. I made Dorie Greenspan’s Go to Beef Daube the day before, and I could wait patiently for the first hunger signs. In the meantime I started preparing polenta, enjoying a glass of wine, bouncing off the silly darts coming from the two men who shared my life at different times. I slowly reheated the daube, adding a bit of tomato sauce and water. When we finally started eating everybody was in heaven. The stew was hearty, comforting, the flavors extremely well balanced. The polenta added some creaminess and served as a beautiful backdrop to all the tender meat and sweet vegetables.
I knew Husband would like it. I knew the children would be happy with it. But I was somewhat apprehensive to my ex’s opinion. I have not tasted his food in eighteen years, and he knew me only as a beginner cook. I have to admit that I smiled like the Cheshire Cat when he praised the daube. And no, I did not tell him it was Dorie’s recipe!
We finished the night playing Pictionary and sampling some bourbon that my ex brought as a Christmas present to us – as if all that crab was not enough! This morning he collected the College Kritter and took her to Escondido to spend a couple of days with his sister’s family. He left some more crab in the refrigerator, as the last little “thank you”.
Not everything that ends has to end horribly. My ex and I do not share the same world anymore. But we do not disseminate hatred and intolerance. We get along to allow our daughter to grow as a person, touched by both of us. He can crash at our place any time he wants. We, of course, expect a bag-full of fresh stone crab as a deposit. And I will plan ahead to make this beef daube for his next visit, just to say “Welcome to our house!”
If you are interested in the recipe for the daube, go buy the book Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan. If you want to see different renditions of the same dish, or some other fare, go visit French Fridays with Dorie group. There are some amazing people participating in the event.