by Mark Dvorak
“We are here on earth to fart around and don’t let anybody tell you any different,” said writer Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. It was rainy and cold the day Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. died, almost two years ago to the day. I’d come home from a gig in the late afternoon hungry and somehow disturbed by the news. His son Mark would later say, describing the event that led to his father’s passing, “Kurt fell, hit his head, and irreversibly scrambled his precious egg.”
Famous people and the unknown alike acknowledge a feeling of gratitude for Kurt and his work. His novels and essays are at once literary and satirical. Some of his stories resemble science fiction but a basis for humor simmers throughout almost everything he wrote. Kurt could make people laugh. Those of us who have read him and have heard him speak and have carried his wisdom and humor into the depths of personal dilemma share a unique kinship.
Kurt was not a young man by the time he left earth. He was into his eighties and a chain smoker. When he complained about having lived so long, his son Mark told him, “God was curious about how many cigarettes a human being could smoke, and He couldn’t help wondering what was going to come out of your mouth next.”
And I found myself oddly troubled while preparing supper that night. I recalled over the years, reading and rereading his novels. I recalled the time, towards the end of his life, hearing him speak and getting to shake his hand.
“I am very pleased to meet you,” I said. He seemed a little annoyed with having to meet so many people, but his eyes were loving.
“Thank you,” he said. And he smiled, his craggy face creased with the lines of one who smiled often.
Before the days of the internet, I remember going to libraries in different places, particularly where there was a university, to look up criticisms of his work. I wanted to understand him better. I wanted to figure out how he made me laugh. I wanted to know how his stories had helped me learn to keep thinking and wondering. And hoping.
I miss Kurt a little, even though we met just once. Every so often I go back and revisit a dog-eared Vonnegut paperback, or pull a hard cover from the shelf. I like a quiet afternoon with a good book. I have tapes of him reading his work and they are great. And I practice my own writing more regularly now. I read it out loud, just as he suggested, listening for syntax and diction; and listening further for clarity and a balance of sarcasm. These have become my humble parameters for good prose. These were Kurt’s parameters too, but in a much more sublime and magnificent way.
So it goes, as Kurt might say. Here is the recipe for my supper the evening Kurt Vonnegut passed away. By far, it is my most famous salad so I named it after his most famous novel. I tried it once in the summer with grilled chicken and ranch dressing and it was okay. But I only made it that way the one time.
• ½ lb to 1 lb steak of choice
• 8 oz portobello mushrooms
• 1 good sized roma tomato
• medium sized red pepper
• four stalks romaine lettuce
• two big handfuls of baby spinach leaves
• Wishbone Original WesternTM dressing
• crumbles of bleu cheese
• 1 can Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup
• 8 ounces whole milk
• 1 bottle merlot or pinot noir
• serves two
1) Take the steak out of the package and let it sit on the counter, uncovered for one hour. Rib Eye is my favorite. New York Strip is great. Ranch steak or skirt steak will also serve well. Sirloin is only okay.
2) Open the bottle of wine and pour a glass. Pour two glasses if there are two of you.
3) Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.
4) Chop the stems off the portobellos and put them aside. Slice the buttons and separate them into two piles, placing one pile along with the stems.
5) Core and stem the red pepper and cut it in half. Slice each half into thin long strips and set aside.
6) Put a fire under one cast iron skillet until it is pretty hot. Pour in a tablespoon of olive oil or canola oil and let it heat up some. Then add a tablespoon of butter or margarine. When it melts down, throw in the pile of portobellos with the stems. These are for the soup. Saute to taste.
7) Open the can of soup and glop it into a sauce pan. Pepper it. Add 4 ounces milk and put under low heat, mixing until combined. Pepper it again. When the initial glop and milk are combined and peppered, add 4 more ounces of milk and the sauteed portobellos. Pepper again. Keep stirring.
8) Prepare the skillet as before and put the remaining portobellos in. These are for the salad. Saute to taste, then put aside.
9) Liberally sprinkle kosher salt all over your steak. Then grind some fresh pepper all over it too.
10) Now wipe out the portobello skillet (careful, it’s still hot). Now heat it up again until it becomes as hot as a branding iron. Pour in two tablespoons of canola or safflower oil. When the pan and oil are heated, open the kitchen door to give the smoke somewhere to go. Add a big glob of margarine or butter and when it’s melted down some, place the steak in the pan. Liberally sprinkle kosher salt and pepper on the unseasoned side of the steak.
11) In about two minutes, flip the steak over. It ought to be brown and crusty. Yum.
12) Halve a Roma tomato and then slice each half into segments.
13) In a second iron skillet (a wok is better), throw in the sliced red peppers without any oil. heat them until crisp and blackened. Take them out. You may want to throw the portobellos in also, just to heat them up again.
14) Take the skillet with the steak off the heat and put it in the oven. I often cut the steak in half to see the beautiful sear and the undercooked center. This gives me an idea of how long it might have to remain in the oven. Remember, that’s a hot skillet and the meat is hot and still cooking. Five minutes in the oven is a long time. But let it in there until you’re happy with it. Medium rare is the chef’s recommendation.
15) Break up the romaine stalks and place the pieces into a salad bowl or dish. Place a big handful of baby spinach leaves on top with artful purpose. Do this for both dishes, you’re serving two.
16) Place the blackened red pepper slices around the outer edge of each salad dish. Place the tomato segments inside the ring of red pepper slices equidistantly.
17) When the steak is done to order, slice into thin strips and let stand.
18) Pour a circle of Wishbone Original WesternTM dressing about the ring of blackened red pepper and roma tomato slices.
19) Place 4 - 8 slices of meat across each bed of spinach leaves. Place a portion of sauteed portobellos atop the meat slices.
20) Sprinkle crumbled bleu cheese atop the portobellos and meat.
21) Ladle out a serving of mushroom soup. I like mine in a tea cup. Add more pepper.