Guess Who’s Coming (Out) At Dinner?

by Donald Wilson on July 12, 2011

 

Stuffed Squash Blossoms with Three Cheeses

It was three years ago on the Fourth of July and we had just arrived at Cedar City, Utah for the Shakespeare festival.  Each summer we meet a few other families to share four days immersed in the English language’s highest literary accomplishments and some of the culinary world’s biggest atrocities.  Somehow, this remote Utah town had spectacularly latched onto the Bard, but little else from the civilized world.  We were the first to arrive this particular summer and that’s how we found ourselves sitting at the new Chile’s Restaurant contemplating the first of many deep-fried meals.

Andrew was also contemplating some other possibilities that weren’t on the menu.

One of our Shakespeare Friends had just recently flown to Canada to legally marry his partner.  They shared four children from a previous marriage and would soon be arriving.  The idea of “gays” was on Andrew’s mind and he started asking questions.

“So, I guess Frank was the first gay person I knew?” he started.

“No, Drew was the first.” I responded, remembering how Drew had been there early on with baseball gloves, bats, and balls.

“Drew’s gay?” he shot out, almost choking on his popcorn shrimp.

Drew is one of the most masculine, sports oriented guys I know and I could see how he didn’t fit a stereotype for Andrew.  I responded calmly though, “Yah, you knew that.”

“No, I didn’t.  You NEVER told me that Drew was gay.”

“Well, he is…” I trailed off, wondering where he was going with this.

“Man, you sure know a lot of gay people.” He concluded.

From Andrew’s point of view, I did know a lot of gay people, but the truth was that most of my friends were parent with kids.   Still, these conversations about gay people occasionally surfaced and they created an opening for me to address the issue without it getting too personal.  I told him that when you live in a city, you are bound to know more gay people than if you lived somewhere else.  I explained how most gay people in smaller towns are rejected from their churches and communities and that many are even rejected by their families.

“Big cities” I explained, “are typically much more forgiving of differences and so you will always find more gay people who have moved there to be around people who will accept them for who they are.”

“Well, are you gay?” he asked me, while nonchalantly stabbing at his plate.

An alarm was suddenly ringing in my ears.

Most dads don’t have to come out to their children.  I know there are a few who slip into marriages only to realize they have made a mistake, but the vast majority of men become dads exactly because they aren’t gay!  Yet here I was with my heart pounding and sweat starting to form on my forehead trying to decide what my next move would be.

There were many reasons why I kept this from him in the beginning.  The most obvious was my rational fear that his Uncles, whom had decidedly rejected the idea of taking him in, would somehow find it in their hearts to provide him a place under a stairwell somewhere or back in the closet he had slept in after his mother’s death.  Less rational, but even more frightening was my fear that if Andrew knew I was gay he would not want me to be his father.

And now, two years later, the moment that I had been waiting for and dreading had finally come.  I had always imagined that it would be me bringing it up, but I had also made a promise to myself that if he did ask that I would never lie to him.

Now, here I was, ready to come out to my son on Independence Day and in the State where I had lived the four most closeted years of my life.

I looked straight at him and said, “Yes, Andrew.  I am.”

“No, seriously Dad, are you gay?” came the unexpected answer.

“Andrew, I’m serious.  I’m gay.”

“NO, SEEERIOUSLY, are YOU gay?”

I wasn’t sure how many times I was going to have to tell him, but obviously I wasn’t giving him the answer he had hoped for.  I looked right at him, lowered my voice, and very calmly said, “Andrew, I’m being very serious.  I’m not joking and I promise I wouldn’t lie about this.  I am gay.”

It finally sunk in.  Andrew became very quiet.  He couldn’t look at me and his fork was only moving food from one part of the plate to another.  There were people all around us, the waiter refilled water and asked if we needed anything.  Music continued to play.  Yet, it was as if a bomb had gone off, leaving us momentarily deaf.  We could see life all around us, but nothing penetrated through the aftermath of this revelation.  Andrew’s world was suddenly turned upside down again.  The childish fantasies of his mom returning to share his good fortune were gone.  The vision of who he imagined his dad to be vanished in just the space of a few words.  The not unrealistic hope that I would marry and give him a mother’s love once again was suddenly taken from him, leaving him bereft of hope and empty.  He stared at his plate and we sat in a world devoid of sound and sensation.

Finally, I asked him if he was all right.  The sound of my voice shattered the silence and the world returned to normal, but forever changed.  He said he was fine and he tried to eat, but couldn’t actually get the fork to his mouth.  A tear started to run down his cheek and he said he needed to go to the restroom.  He was away for so long that I started to panic.  I wanted to run to him and help him, but knew he needed some space.  Just when I was about ready to go get him, he came out.  He was solemn, but composed.  Food was now out of the question and I paid the bill and we quickly left.

I told him that he could ask me anything he wanted and I asked him a couple of questions that I can’t even remember now.  The one thing I do remember asking is “Did you have any idea that I was gay?”

“No, not at all.” Came his soft reply.

Later that night, we got together with my friend Kenny and his daughter Sawyer.”  I had told Kenny about our evening and was grateful that he was there.  I thought it would be good for Andrew to see how another kid lives with a gay dad.  We bought some fireworks and found our own little corner of a school parking lot to celebrate the Fourth of July.  We shot off semi-legal rockets, danced with sparklers, and lay back on the grass to contemplate the starry Utah summer sky.  Andrew seemed to have recovered from the initial shock and his normal talkative self had returned.  I still wasn’t sure how long it would take for him to adjust to the idea of having a gay dad, but was relieved to see that life would continue.

Later that night back at the hotel, as Andrew brushed his teeth and got ready for bed, I sat on the end of the my bed contemplating what the future would hold for us.

Andrew suddenly stopped what he was doing and called out, “Dad.”

“Yes, Andrew?”

“You know what?”

“No, Andrew. What?”

He paused and looked into the mirror so he could make sure I was looking at him.  He looked away and said, “It doesn’t matter if you are Latino, African American, or Gay.  You deserve to be called dad.”

Now it was my turn to hold back the tears.  There are times when words just don’t work, but I managed to say, “Thank you, Andrew” as I walked over and gave him a hug.

Andrew was only eleven at the time, but had somehow looked at the world around him and come up with his own conclusions.  I remember thinking, “who is this kid that can be so out of control one moment and then floor me the next with insights beyond his age?”  But these words keep haunting me “I have a dream that one day “our children” will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  Suddenly, I knew who this kid was.  I know who this kid is.  He is our future and I’m forever indebted to him.

Free at last!  Free at last! Thank God Almighty, I am free at last.

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STUFFED SQUASH BLOSSOMS WITH THREE CHEESES

 

Little Pockets of OMG!

Every summer as the squash start to send out their vines in a race to dominate as much coveted garden real estate as possible, the promise of more zucchini than is humanly possible to eat emerges in a flowery display of sexy, Georgia O’keefe like blossoms.   If you have a garden, now is the time to let that zucchini know who’s the alpha gardener in this relationship and harvest enough blossoms for tonight’s appetizer or dinner. For those sans garden, you need to hit your local farmers market early before the heat of the day starts to close the blossoms up.

Squash blossoms are beautiful and delicious.  Mexico has long known the joys of these beauties and has created many dishes from them, including a soup that is fantastic and a great use for that “What do I do with all of these zucchini” feeling (Recipe to come at another time).  But for me, the highest achievement of the blossom is an amazing little pocket of deep fried cheesy goodness found in this recipe.

For stuffing, pick out blossoms that are big and open or that open easily when gently prodded.  I like to pick ones with a couple of inches of stem on them.  This not only provides a nice handle for eating after frying, but allows you to place the blossoms in a shallow dish of water to keep them fresh and open just like you would do for any cut flower.   Snip off a small part of the stem before placing them in the water.  The sap closes the cut stem up and this step helps keep them fresh until you are ready to use them.  Regardless, blossoms should be used on the same day you buy them or they will not open up nicely for stuffing.  If this happens, chop them up and use them for a frittata or soup.

I use a three-cheese mixture that I use for making calzones, but a nice piece of fresh mozzarella or other quickly melting cheese works nicely.  I sometimes use garlic and sometimes let the cheese stand alone.  This is one of those times where going easy on the garlic is important as the garlic’s pungency can overwhelm the delicacy of the blossom’s flavor.

Make more than you think you will eat.  They are real crowd pleasers and go very fast.  I usually make these on a pizza night and pass a little bowl of pizza sauce for dipping.  They are also good by themselves.

For stuffing about 24 blossoms:

1 cup shredded Mozzarella

1 cup Ricotta

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan

A little salt and a good grinding of pepper

1 garlic clove, minced or pressed (optional)

¼ cup prosciutto, chopped (optional)

Breading

I have used tempura batter, beer batter, and egg batter.  Currently, I use this recipe based on one for Piccolo Frito from The Zuni Café Cookbook (a must have book of multiple food revelations).  It’s super easy and makes a light and crunchy coating.

2 cups buttermilk

2 cups flour

½ cup semolina flour

½ teaspoon salt

A couple of good grindings of pepper

Mix dry ingredients together and set aside

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Mix all the stuffing ingredients together.  Use between a heaping teaspoon and a tablespoon amount for each blossom depending on their size.  Gently fold back the blossom, place the cheese mixture deep in the blossom, and close by twisting the flower tips together.  Set aside.  This step can be done a couple of hours before you are ready to serve and kept in the refrigerator.

To batter, simply place the buttermilk in one shallow bowl and the flour mixture in another.  Have a cookie sheet handy and then place a few blossoms in the buttermilk, then gently roll them around in the flour mixture and set on the cookie sheet.  Don’t worry about looks or uniformity of the coating, as irregularities are part of the charm.   It’s best to bread all the blossoms before frying.  And, by the way, your fingers will become heavily breaded during the process.

When ready to cook, use an instant read thermometer to heat the peanut oil to about 370 degrees in a heavy, not to shallow pan.  The blossoms should sizzle when they hit the oil.  I like to bring the oil temp up a little higher than I’ll fry at, as the temperature comes down when the blossoms hit the oil.

Fry the blossoms in batches, making sure to not crowd too many at once.  This will cool the oil off too quickly and make them oily and soggy.  The blossoms will bob and float on the oil and you will have to use a fork or long skewer to gently turn them over to assure even frying.    But leave them undisturbed as much as possible as that will keep them intact.  When nicely golden (two to three minutes), remove with a slotted spoon, and let drain a paper towel lined rack.  I find that a rack allows for the blossoms to retain their crunchiness as you cook the other batches.   When all are done, taste for seasoning, sprinkle with a little salt if needed and serve.

Place a couple of bowls of marinara or pizza sauce on the table for dipping.

Provecho!

Note:  This recipe is perfect for frying all sorts of garden treasures.  Double the batter recipe and fry up bell pepper, carrot sticks, jalapenos, sweet potatoes, and even sage or parsley.  Use your imagination and make a decadent night of fried food, a big salad, and lots of Rose to wash it all down.

 

 

 

 

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Kergan Edwards-Stout July 13, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Love it! Great post!!!

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Michael July 13, 2011 at 5:47 pm

You and Andrew are very lucky to have each other! I am happy and proud to know you both.

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marisa July 14, 2011 at 9:48 pm

This is really my new favorite blog. I am overwhelmed by each post and inspired to be a better mom. Most writers can’t weave the food into the story and you do it beautifully every time. I hope there is a book so I can share you with others in a more personal way someday.

Reply

Jen Gruskoff July 18, 2011 at 3:17 am

Don, “you make me want to be a better man,” I mean mom…and a better cook! Love this post! Keep it up!

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