Today I received a letter in the mail from a local funeral home. Do you think they know something I don’t know?
It was an invitation to take part in a survey that would help them get to know the community better. At the very top of the survey was this headline in big, bold letters: Funeral and Cremation Planning Survey
Way to ignite the negative thought process, guys.
At the bottom of the survey, after the last question, was this tiny sentence: Please accept our apologies if this community survey reached you in a time of grief or illness. And it was in italics, as if that added sincerity and somehow softened the blow. Salt? Meet Open Wound.
OK, I know that my sleepless nights have me looking far from freshly pressed, and that life has me aging faster than the cosmetically-enhanced, tiara-wearing toddlers on a fashion show runway, but c’mon. Cremation planning? Really?
Perhaps one of their employees overheard me whimpering recently inside a dressing room littered with the remains of a day of swimsuit shopping. I don’t know why I do that to myself every year. I don’t even have a pool.
Or, maybe their IT people somehow hacked into my computer and have been counting the number of times I visit the AARP website. I really only go there for the coupons, you know.
At any rate, somewhere, somebody in the funeral home’s marketing department figured me to be a) older than I am; b) sicker than I am; c) destitute and contemplating suicide, or d) all of the above. Just what I need. A cheery hello letter and a survey to help us all get to know each other and . . . well . . . . say goodbye.
Thanks for the morale booster, XYZ Funeral Home (name changed to protect the innocent). As if that wasn’t enough, I had to renew my driver’s license today. And take a new photo. And verify that my physical description info actually still describes me. Uh oh. The look on the DMV employee’s face told me she knows darn well that the last time I weighed 130 I was in the 7th grade.
Then, as I stood in front of the DMV’s well-worn, mold-green back drop that I can’t imagine enhances anyone’s skin tone, I noticed with some disappointment the gentleman manning the camera — and I use the term gentleman loosely, as he was neither charming nor gracious, which is what a gentleman should be. Especially one pointing a camera at a woman over 50, as a line of 16-year-olds with tans and perky breasts formed behind her.
Camera Guy sort of paused after he told me to look at the blue dot and wait for the flash, as if he was waiting for me to somehow magically transform my haven’t-had-a-decent-night’s-rest-in-quite-some-time face into something resembling undiscovered-teen-starlet.
Is he waiting for me to smile more or less, I wondered while nervously anticipating the annoying flash that surely should have come by now. Is he waiting for me to lick my lips and pinch my cheeks — totally useless info I learned about a hundred years ago in a Saturday morning charm school at a Sears department store in the mall? Listen here, Camera Guy, if my fresh coat of mascara, blush, and lipstick doesn’t do it for you, that’s just your too bad. I can live my remaining years just fine with whatever unflattering photo your big black camera spits out. After all, a local funeral home has already initiated a relationship with me, so my shaky confidence level has tumbled with enemies far rougher than you this morning.
On the other hand, maybe I should contact the funeral home and let them know that I’m not going anywhere because I just paid $31 to renew my driver’s license — and I updated my weight to something closer to the truth. How’s that for meeting adversity head on?
Now we’re getting somewhere. I’m learning how to make lemonade out of lemons, as the saying goes — and tangy, pink-pesto vinaigrette from vine-ripened tomatoes — all to soothe my bruised, untanned, sagging ego.
And, I’m turning unsolicited fan mail from the Grim Reaper’s minions into decorative trash can liners. Yeah, yeah, I know I can’t run from them forever. But for today, I just smiled and prayed that the flash bulb highlighted my rosy cheekbones.
Take that, Camera Guy.
GRILLED POLENTA with PINK-PESTO VINAIGRETTE
This is a delicious and pretty appetizer or first course for your next dinner party — especially in the summer when tomatoes and basil are at their best. It is also a very yummy yet light summertime supper just for you. Enjoy this dish while you watch the Summer Olympics on the couch — I promise you won’t feel nearly as guilty as you would eating Ben & Jerry’s straight from the carton. Been there, done that.
- 1 tube of prepared polenta at room temperature, drained well and cut into 1/2-inch-thick round slices (one tube will yield about eight or nine 1/2-inch slices)
- 1 large fresh mozzarella ball, drained well and sliced into 1/4-inch-thick round slices; allow to come to room temperature
- 1 large or two small tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped (see note below)
- 1 small shallot
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons prepared pesto sauce (homemade or your favorite jar variety)
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (I used a grainy Dijon)
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 2 tablespoons sherry or red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (plus more for brushing on polenta rounds)
- Fresh basil leaves
- Salt & pepper
Prepare vinaigrette: In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, Dijon, honey, and pesto. Add 1 tablespoon very finely chopped shallot, then vigorously whisk in the olive oil to blend the vinaigrette. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the chopped tomato and set aside so the flavors can come together in harmony. (The vinaigrette — minus the tomato — can be prepared well in advance; keep at room temperature and add the tomato a few minutes before serving.) Makes about 1/2 cup.
Prepare the polenta: Preheat a grill pan. (If you don’t have a grill pan, a nonstick skillet will also work, you just won’t have grill marks.) Using a paper towel, pat dry the polenta rounds so the olive oil will do its thing in the grill pan. Brush the rounds with olive oil, season lightly with salt and pepper, and grill over medium-high heat for approximately 6 to 8 minutes a side, until desired grill marks are visable and rounds are heated through. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
To serve, place one slice of mozzarella on top of one grilled polenta round; top that with one more polenta round, and finish by topping that with another mozzarella slice to create a layered tower. Dress the tower by drizzling a small spoonful of vinaigrette over the top, allowing it to flow down the sides. Garnish with tiny fresh basil leaves.
Note: To seed (or is it deseed?) a tomato for chopping, cut tomato in half horizontally and gently squeeze out the seeds and watery pulp. This prevents a diluted vinaigrette, thus keeping the flavor at its best.