Chills down to my toes

Bacon reminds me of the mother of an ex-partner of mine.

I hadn't fathomed meeting her the way I did. I imagined I would hop off the plane, well-dressed and fresh-looking, and charm her with my sense of humour and dimpled smile (indulge me.) She'd like and approve of me and hopefully we would become friends. But traffic from Tallahassee to Tampa had been unusually brutal that day, with several accidents lining the highway. By the time my partner picked me up and we had dinner, stuffing ourselves stupid on ribs and pulled pork, fries and coleslaw -- it was late and everyone had gone to bed.

Instead we met while I was still groggy and disheveled, and looked anything but fresh. I put a brake on my neuroses and decided to just own it, crazy bedhead and all.

Her lean body was wrapped in a slinky, leopard-print robe and her straightened blonde hair lingered around her shoulders as she drank her black coffee. As I went to shake her hand, she hugged me. "We hug around here," she said, lips breaking into a loose grin, and in the time that I knew her she turned me into one, too. It seems ridiculous to associate greasy, nitrite-filled meat with one of the most elegant women I've ever met, but sparkling wine also reminds me of her, thanks to her penchant for drinking it routinely around the pool after dinner, so I suppose the two cancel each other out.

And the watermelon. Once, as we sat around the large dining table playing a game of Sequence, she breathed enthusiastically, "If I know there's a watermelon in the fridge, I will get up at 3am and eat all of it."

Where does the bacon come in, you might ask? No, don't go believing she was as much a bacon afficionado, the way she was watermelon, sparkling wine, peel and eat shrimp, and a bowl of warm, creamy grits. It was the manner in which she cooked it: flat, on a foil-lined baking sheet, in the oven. "Easy clean-up," she said to me one hot Plant City morning as we drank our coffee and put breakfast together. Not only was she lovely, as it turned out, but she was a mean cook. It's easy to clean up, certainly, but the bacon doesn't curl up the way it does in a greasy pan.

She taught me the value of letting a man win sometimes, which shells to search for and how to heal a jelly fish wound. And one day, as I expressed growing concerns over my inability to land employment, she glanced over at me and said, "I know," as sympathetic to my pains as my own mother. It was the verbal equivalent of a bear hug and the liquid equivalent of an Old Fashioned. I couldn't tell whether it was the sparkling wine going to my head or the comfort this woman so readily offered, but I felt lighter.

There is nothing particularly innovative about bacon, or watermelon, or sparkling wine, or wonderful women who slip into leopard-print robes to crack a few eggs into a hot pan or buy you a black, cowl-necked sweater because they thought it would "look so sexy on you." But I wondered how I might be as I got older, what habits I might adopt, what I might come to value. This was a woman who clipped up her hair as she waded in the ocean in search of specific shells without regard for the laws of beach combing, whose face lit up when she'd tasted something truly delicious, who kept a spare bottle of sparkling wine in the fridge when she left the Sunshine State so that when she'd return, she'd be able to promptly pour herself a glass and sit by the pool in the damp heat of the Florida night.

As Betsy, R.W. Apple Jr.'s wife allegedly said after biting into a slice of cherry pie, "I have chills down to my toes." It seems to me it chilled Johnny, too, since he included the snippet in the article. Reading it gave me chills down to my toes, made me want to dip the tines of a fork into the sweet filling and pull on the plump fruit, holding it on my tongue until the sweet-tart flavour seeped fully through my tastebuds. And like these women, I'd like to live a life that gives me chills down to my toes, that tastes so delicious I can only sigh and smile like I've gone to a heaven where the pool water is always warm and there's an abundant supply of chilled, sparkling wine, and ladies confess to leaving their warm beds in the middle of the night for sweet, red watermelon.

Baked Raisin Oatmeal with Bacon

Adapted from Bon Appetit and Sugar-Free Mom

6 strips of good-quality bacon
2 cups unsweetened applesauce, preferably homemade
2 large eggs
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup agave nectar or honey
1 tsp sea salt
3 tsp baking powder
5 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 ripe banana, mashed
2 3/4 cup milk (I used unsweetened almond milk)
1/4 cup ground flaxseed/flaxseed meal
1 tsp real vanilla extract
1/2 lb raisins
1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts (optional)
1/4 cup almond meal/ground almonds (optional)

1. Pre-heat oven to 350F.
2. Cook the bacon -- preferably in the oven!
3. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, agave nectar/honey, applesauce, banana, and vanilla. Mix well to combine.
4. Add the brown sugar, oats, sea salt, baking powder, cinnamon, and flaxseed. Mix thoroughly again to combine.
5. Finally, add the milk, raisins and walnuts. The mixture will be fairly loose.
6. Grease a 9 x 13" casserole dish and pour in the mixrture. When cooked and cool enough, crumble the bacon or chop into pieces and sprinkle over the top. Top with almond meal, if desired, and any additional raisins. Bake, covered, for 45 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.


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