Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving Aura

What a week it's been-- marathon cooking and cleaning getting ready for the big celebration(s)! In addition to the regular responsibilities of daily life, prepping for one of the most labor intensive holidays of the year really ate up my week! I never expected to be absent for so long, but sometimes circumstances take over your life... in a good way, though.

So after sharing Thanksgiving Day itself with my brother and sister-in-law at their house, with all of her family included, we went to CoTU's sister and brother-in-law's house for the evening meal and celebration! A grand time was had by all. --and yet...

Because our son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter were coming in from Boston Saturday, we had planned another Thanksgiving at OUR house for Saturday night! So we had 14 adults and two kidlets, and as they say-- hilarity ensued. And I don't have to tell you, we had enough food for 300 of our closest friends.

Following are the remarks I made when we gathered everyone from the 87-year old in-laws to the 20-month old littlest one:

Since in the past I have been met with resistance when I ask everyone to share what they are thankful for I’ll make one of my own cheesy little speeches.

Let me just say that:

I’m thankful to still be here

I’m thankful to know that my husband loves me very much (and sometimes says so)

I’m grateful to have a gathering like this one, of family that can come together and share a special day (or within 48 hours of one)

I’m grateful for Dierberg’s (my wonderful local supermarket!) and America’s Test Kitchen

I’m thankful to have a dishwasher and a self-cleaning oven

I’m grateful to still have all my body parts, unlike so many of my dear, sweet friends

I’m thankful that my husband’s family has so completely embraced me and made me part of them

I’m thankful that two of our four kids could be here, with the special partners they brought into our lives (after all, in baseball two out of four is an awesome batting average)

I’m thankful for a beautiful little granddaughter who is with us (!)

I’m grateful that my brother and sister-in-law are here to help me hold up the Rubin end of the rope (Not THAT rope!)

And I’m thankful –and deliriously happy—to announce that our son Rob is going to marry the lovely and wonderful Jessica on May 23, 2010!

And then we ate ourselves into oblivion, and if you like, I'll post the link to the best apple pie recipe I've ever made! But I'm warning you-- it contains five pounds of apples! O. M. G. To die for! The pumpkin pie was equally awesome, and both owe their fabulosity to America's Test Kitchen! Did I mention their recipe for the world's best stuffing??? I should have!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Let Us Give Thanks

Here we are at the start of Thanksgiving week, with only three workdays before the holiday. Of course, if you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner, every day this week is a work day.

Work, as in plan the menu, make the grocery list, set up a timeline for all the chores so that you can use your best planning skills to assure that everything is done and ready to go when the big day arrives.

There was a time when I just made Thanksgiving happen without the timeline. I shopped, I chopped, and I cooked. Everything was done on time: the house was clean, the food was yummy, and a good time was had by all. Well, okay, not Uncle Billy, but he hasn’t been the same since he left the carnival… But I digress.

So as I was saying, I used to get it all done, while working full time, raising a couple of kids, and trying (against all odds) to domesticate my husband. What happened? I’m either not as good at multi-tasking as I used to be, or I just have more time to worry about getting it right, so I do. Worry, that is.

Now, unless I review each recipe and create a sub-divided and categorized grocery list, I worry about not having all the ingredients I need here in the house. (Hmm… let’s see, four eggs for the stuffing, two for each pumpkin pie…) Unless I figure out how much oven time each dish needs, and create an actual schedule for Oven Availability, I’m semi-frantic about the timing, and having everything done on time. I’m serious. If anybody needs to borrow my oven this week, I’m going to have to consult the grid I created. Picture it: My neighbor comes to the door and says, “Hi, my oven’s on the fritz—can I bake these brownies over here?” I pick up my clipboard, and a super-fine Sharpie, and say, “Gosh, Holls, looks like I could squeeze you in between the broccoli cheese casserole and the deep-dish apple pie. How’s 2:37 work for you?”

Last year, I took the advice of the experts and baked my pies early in the week and froze them. They were really wonderful, and it sure took some of the pressure off Thanksgiving day. This year I’m taking that to a whole new level. This year, not only am I baking the pies early, I’m making the stuffing ahead, too, since it always seems to taste better the day after Thanksgiving anyway! (Shh—don’t tell the stuffing—I’m tricking it into thinking Wednesday is actually Thanksgiving. Bwah-ha-ha!) I’m even blanching the green beans a day ahead, but then I always was a rebel.

I’ll have my two coffeemakers set up and ready to go, my table set, fresh towels, fresh flowers and fresh Uncle George all present and accounted for. I’m making three appetizers which (you’re way ahead of me on this one, aren’t you?) do not require the use of the oven! Great stuff like my famous black bean salsa dip with chips, BLT roll-ups and a cheese ball with crackers. This keeps the riff-raff spread throughout a couple of rooms, as they forage while waiting for dinner to be served.

It’s all a well-choreographed dance in three acts: snacking, gorging and why-did-you-let-me-eat-so-much.

Thanksgiving’s always been one of my favorite holidays. It’s inclusive of everyone and it reminds us of how much we have to be grateful for. When we all finally sit down at the dinner table, I make some cheesy little statement about how fortunate we all are. Humble murmurs echoing the sentiment are heard. That’s it. No gifts, no competition, no bills. Just family, food and lots of talking and laughter. Thank God for the laughter.

But when the last slice of pie has been eaten, and the plates are stacked in the sink, I will have another reason to be thankful: I don’t have to do this again for another year.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Hot Time in the Small Town

Yes, I’m back from Pittsburgh (great city—great visit!) and only slightly worse for wear!

How so, you ask? I’ll tell you the story of our overnight en route home… I know, it’s only 630 miles from St. Louis, but we are old and odd, and we like to take some of the off-ramps into old, small towns to poke around in a bit of history. You have no idea how much fun some of the town squares and historic courthouses can be. Okay, not fun as in lots of laughs, but really interesting and worthwhile. Anyhoo…

From the minute we left Pittsburgh we were surrounded by rain, fog and gray skies. We didn’t feel as if we had any right to complain, because for five days straight we had been uber-blessed with gorgeous sunshine-y days, blue skies, and incredibly mild temperatures (for November.) Remember, I’m the weather wimp, and I was just wearing a light jacket the whole time. (Yes—I did have my winter coat in the car, just in case.)

So we covered about 430 miles, and decided to save the last 200 for the next day. We pulled into the lot of a nice hotel. Same chain we had stayed at for the previous four nights, so we might as well rack up some more member points, right? (Can’t stay with the kids in P’burgh—allergic to the grandcats.)

We unpack, go to dinner, come back to the room, watch a little CNN, go to bed. We both fall asleep instantly, but an hour later I hear this heinous alarm, and I think it’s the hotel clock-radio, so I yell hubby’s name. No answer. I yell it again. Still no answer.

I’ve always said he sleeps like the dead, but come ON! I yell his name a third time, panic rising, because how could he not hear this, and not hear me yelling his name unless he really WAS DEAD? I’m reaching for a light switch (strange room, where the hell’s the light?) and finally get my fingers around it and see HE’S NOT IN THE BED! My heart is now pounding so hard, I think they’ll need the paramedics for me!

At this point, CoTU comes out of the bathroom, covering his ears, and motioning for me to do the same. (Once an engineer, always an engineer.) “You’re ALIVE!” I shout, but he’s got his fingers in his ears, and doesn’t understand my panic, or that I thought that if we were depending on the paramedics in this little town, we might be a touch disappointed. Also a touch dead.

Now, the sleep is wearing off (noise at that level will do that to you) and we’re both trying to kill the clock-radio. We simultaneously realize that it’s the fire alarm, not the clock-radio, duh, and people are in the hall, heading for the exits. We pull our clothes on over our jammies, put on our jackets and shoes and head out with the rest of the ‘guests’.

We smell smoke, but no one seems to know what’s going on. Firefighters arrive, and begin poking around the place, but there’s no obvious fire. Finally one of the hotel guests, a portly gray-haired woman in sweats and sneakers points out that the ground alongside the front door of the hotel seems to be smoking. I might mention here that the aforementioned woman had no professional training for this work whatsoever. (Or so she said.)

After another twenty minutes or so of poking and testing, it’s decided that an errant cigarette discarded carelessly has smoldered in the dirt. The resulting smoke got sucked into the air system of the hotel, and set off the fire alarm. A hundred or more people are standing outside at 12:30 a.m. in their jammies, in the mist and drizzle, wondering whether they will get to go back to their beds and their belongings, or will wind up on a cot in the high school gym with a Red Cross blanket and a Styrofoam cup of coffee.

That might be more of a small-town view than we bargained for.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

On the Road Again--Pittsburgh!

So I’ll be posting from the road for a day or two because I’m going to be visiting my son and his fiancé in Pittsburgh. I love Pittsburgh, but I adore my son and his fiancé more. I love being able to call her his fiancé now—after five years of thinking ‘girlfriend’ sounded too much like a high school relationship. I had come to think of her as my ‘de facto daughter-in-law’, and since I tend to make everything into an acronym (the blog is FITNY to me) I viewed her as my daffodil. (I was, however, savvy enough to keep this to myself.)

This was cool (and nerdy, I know—DUH! How many times must I tell you?) for several reasons.

1. I love daffodils. They are harbingers of spring. They are beautiful and graceful and bright. They represent happiness and hope.

2. I love this young woman. Yes, she is lovely and smart and sweet and caring. She is hard-working, accomplished, respected and highly principled. She has a social conscience and acts on it. And beyond all that, she adores my son, who adores her just as much, and she makes him happy. Which is really all a momma could want for her son. At least this momma.

3. I like playing dopey little word games. They amuse me. I love the Will Shortz puzzle segment on NPR Weekend Edition Sunday. Check it out.

Back to the subject: Wedding coming up in May 2010! Be there or be square—or in my case, be both. I’ll be the happiest mother of the groom (MOG) you ever saw!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Healthy or Unhealthy? The Eye of the Beholder

My husband, you remember him—the Center of the Universe-- is an eternal optimist. Currently he’s hoping for the return of the giant bacon and egg breakfast with fried potatoes as a healthy option. I’m pretty sure he’s not going to see that in this lifetime.

“Remember,” he says, hopeful as a little puppy who sees his leash taken off the doorknob, “they used to think that smoking was actually healthy for you! Now we know it causes cancer. They used to say that meat and potatoes were a solid American dinner. Now it’s considered unhealthy. They used to think liquor was a bad habit. Now they say you should drink a glass of wine every day. Chocolate was totally off-limits as ‘junk’ food. Now they say it’s so full of anti-oxidants that it should be its own food group. They used to recommend salt tablets for people working in hot weather. Now those have been taken off the market as dangerous. Sooner or later everything changes from the ‘Healthy’ column to the ‘Unhealthy’ column, or vice versa.”

“What is this, Sleeper?” I want to know.

You remember the old Woody Allen movie where he wakes up in the future, after having been cryogenically preserved for 200 years? He, too, thinks that a big steak dinner and a fat cigar are going to be recommended by doctors as the path to a long and healthy life!

Of course, this is the man who, when he gets heartburn after eating munchy appetizers, a big steak, baked potato (loaded), broccoli and apple pie a la mode for dessert, concludes that the source of his discomfort was the broccoli. Always.

If we go out for Mexican food, he can inhale tons of chips and salsa, a Margarita, the Mondo Combo plate and a fried ice cream dessert. When he’s miserable later, in search of the Alka-Seltzer, he assures me that the culprit is the apple he ate after lunch. Riiiiiiiiiiiiiight.

So when second-hand smoke is pumped in to all hospital neonatal units because it’s deemed to be really good for healthy lung development, the CoTU will be eating like the love child of Bob Greene and Jane Brody. In other words, don’t hold your breath.

Friday, November 13, 2009

What Game Are We Here to Play?

Monday night was our monthly Bunco game. There were so many ‘senior moments’ I wonder if all of us made it home safely.

It was hilarious to see how often someone reached for the dice when it wasn’t her turn, failed to take the dice when it was her turn, forgot to write points down, and more. One player actually started to keep score from the top of the column instead of the bottom. (You had to be there.)

People forgot to get up and move to another table when it was required. People forgot to ring the bell when their team won. People forgot to eat their yummy snacks! --oh wait, no they didn’t… We ate. We do not forget to eat!

The errors got so bad we couldn’t stop laughing about them. I figure by next year at this time we’ll still get together on the second Monday of the month, we just won’t remember why…

Thursday, November 12, 2009

My Blog Is Fabulous?

My heartfelt thanks to Nancy at f8hasit for bestowing the lovely Your Blog Is Fabulous award on me! I’m truly honored, because Nancy is no ordinary blogger. Her writing is truly extraordinary, and I’m consistently amazed at her work. So thanks, Nancy, and I’ll be carrying out the responsibilities of this award next week! Stay tuned…

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Smells Like a Problem

What is the deal with perfume?

I wore Oui every day of my life for the past ten or twelve years. Let me just say that I tried it when it first came out and I’ve worn it ever since. Exclusively. I like to wear only one fragrance. It’s a thing with me. I wore only Alfred Sung for years before Lancome came out with Oui, and I got hooked on it. (Perfume dependency—is there a 12-step program for it?)

About a year ago our local stores stopped carrying Oui. I looked for it in the ‘closeout’ stores, thinking I could score some there, but no dice.

I am not without my resources, so I went on eBay and bought Oui. I’ve now done that twice, and I’m not completely convinced that, despite very authentic-looking packaging, it’s the real deal. In any case, during the past year I have made several forays into cosmetic departments looking for a suitable replacement for my treasured fragrance. Man, it’s a jungle out there…

I have sprayed and sniffed dozens (seems like hundreds) of fragrances, and haven’t found anything I like nearly as much as the much-loved, aforementioned Oui.

The Lancome website says it’s a combination of Clementine (citrus), water-lily and musk. It just smells perfect and lovely and fresh, and I’m totally out of it now, and will (DUH!) just buy it this time from Lancome, to be sure I’m getting the real McCoy.

But here’s what I want to know:

Why is it that when you put on the perfume you love in the morning, you never really notice it the rest of the day, yet when you spray just a touch of some “I’m All Yours-WannaBe” on your wrist in the department store as a test, you can’t get that smell out of your nostrils for love or money. You can wash your hands twelve times, and you’re still immersed in the pond of shpritz you sparingly tried on, hoping against hope that you’d fall in love with it. Driving over a skunk and getting out and sniffing your tires is the only way to eradicate the uber-sugary-rose-petal-gag-me-with-a-fist scent that seemed so innocent and appealing in its demure and modest bottle. (I’m guessing here—I haven’t actually done it, but I would if I encountered a skunk that was maybe in the final stages of some terminal illness anyway.)

But seriously, I try to just sniff the bottles, and not put any of the product directly on my skin. I mean, I can learn from my experiences. Usually I can tell I hate it right away, and move on. But sometimes there’s a tease, a little hint that this might be the one! Yeah, but it never pans out. Then I’m stuck with the Essence of Grossitude on my wrist till I find the next skunk with an advanced health directive and slow reflexes.

I’m just saying…

Monday, November 9, 2009

Slightly Off-Path

Today I'm going to take a slight detour from 'funny' to 'punny'. Well, not exactly punny, more like pundit-y. I'm going to post the 400-word column I wrote to compete in the Washington Post Pundit Contest. Bear with me-- more than one of my loyal readers sent me the link, suggesting I enter the contest, and guess what? I did not make the top ten. Oh well, my dad would have said, "C'est la vie, Baby!" But, hey-- I tried. So here it is, and I promise, next time it's back to funny!

I wonder whether President Obama has sent a thank-you note to Sandra Day O’Connor for his Nobel Peace Prize. After all, it’s widely agreed that a significant part of the reason the Nobel Committee conferred this honor on our neophyte president, is that he is not George W. Bush. So the Bush presidency set the stage for this lofty award.

Bearing in mind that Florida’s Electoral College votes determined the winner of the 2000 presidential election, and that there is broad consensus that the United States Supreme Court selected the president-elect by means of their Bush v. Gore decision. A 5-4 decision, with the deciding vote coming from –wait for it—Sandra Day O’Connor.

Yes, there were four other justices who voted to grant Bush’s emergency plea for a stay of the Florida Supreme Court ruling, halting the ongoing recount, but their votes were never in question. Justices Rehnquist, Kennedy, Scalia and Thomas were solidly established conservative votes, rarely varying from the far right option. Justice O’Connor was the swing vote on that court, and could have just as easily ruled with the other four justices (Stevens, Breyer, Souter and Ginsburg.) But she voted to stop the recount, and thus begat President George W. Bush, just as surely as if she had given birth to the man.

Now I don’t bring this up to besmirch the record of this fine woman. In fact, I’m quite a fan and supporter of her trailblazing record on the bench. The Big Bench. When President Reagan nominated her to that lofty post in 1981, I was the president of a local NOW chapter, and was therefore interviewed by a local radio station for my reaction to her nomination. Clearly, I was ecstatic that a woman would finally be a member of that august body, and tried to express that in my remarks. Later I rejoiced at her confirmation, and celebrated her distinguished service as an exemplary representative of her—our gender.

Over the years I have enjoyed her biography about growing up on a ranch and a memoir about her life on the bench, I admired her then, as I do now, for her intelligence, morality, dignity and sense of responsibility.

Does that mean I agreed with her on Bush v. Gore? Not on your life. But maybe she now gets some credit for the big prize going to our sitting president. That helps.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Name Game

Here, let me date myself once again. When I was a kid, little boys were named Jimmy, Johnny, Joey, Billy, Michael, David, Mark, Tommy and Steven. Okay, there was the occasional Timmy or Kenny, but I’m guessing these names covered about 87.3% of the boys in my school. (Did you know that 74.6% of all statistics are made up on the spot?)

When my kids were in school, the boys were named Jason, Todd, Matthew, Josh, Jason, Christopher, Kevin, Jason and Brian. Actually, they were all named Jason, but some rebelled and demanded to be called by one of these other names. Still, there was not a Billy or Jimmy to be found.

Somewhere in the ‘90s it seemed that every coworker of mine was giving birth to boys named Tyler or Taylor. Seriously, it was epidemic.

Now I have a grandson in preschool. Here are the first names of his classmates, and with all due respect to Dave Barry (the patron saint of humorists) I swear I am not making this up.


So. Are we naming our children for hotels, universities, credit cards? What’s going on here?

Yes, Daniel has appeared popularly in years gone by, and is a solid, traditional name. Interestingly, this particular Daniel is Chinese-American. My grandson’s name is Zachary; never trendy, so not dated, either. It’s never been tied to any particular decade of name assignation. Whereas I am willing to bet that if you hear the name Jason or Todd, you automatically visualize someone in the 30-35 age range. Am I right?

For a while Zach was in a class that had Aidan, Jaden and Braden. Really! How did the teacher keep them straight?

So what happened to tradition? It is gone. Rarely is the newborn given his father’s or his grandfather’s name. A little girl recently went up to a volunteer (older guy, o-b-v-i-o-u-s-l-y) named Bob in her school. She said, “I’ve never met someone named Bob before,” she shared. Bob wasn’t surprised.

So what does the future hold in store for us? Who knows? It’s hard to see the trends coming, but if the current names teach us anything, I guess we’ll see Hilton, State and Capital One. What’s in your wallet?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tuesdays With Dorie

Remember how good “Tuesdays With Morrie” made you feel? Remember how it nourished your soul and your spirit and made you think about how you wanted to live your life and what mattered and how to handle run-on sentences? Me neither. Oh wait—no, I really do remember, and not just because I heard Mitch Albom speak here in St. Louis last week. (He has a new book out: Have a Little Faith. We’ll talk about that in a couple of days.)

So the only thing that could be better than all of the above, it seems to me, is Tuesdays With Dorie! Dorie Greenspan is a fabulous cook and baker extraordinaire! You may have heard her on The Splendid Table, an NPR show “for people who love to eat” hosted by Lynn Rosetto-Casper. Dorie’s latest book is called “Baking From My Home to Yours”.

If you still doubt the value of Twitter, let me just say that I would not have known about the Tuesdays With Dorie phenomenon if not for yesterday’s tweet by Scott Simon (“NPRScottSimon” on Twitter) – yes, let us never forget that I am the world’s biggest (and shortest) nerd—about Dorie’s “World Peace Cookies”. Now seriously, can you even read that sentence and not follow the link and plan to bake cookies called World Peace Cookies? I didn’t think so. Here’s what happened.

Yesterday Scott (yep, he’s my bud, I call him by his first name—um… don’t mention that to him if you see him) Tweeted about Dorie’s cookies, said they were the world’s best cookies, and insisted (all within his allotted 140 characters) that that was NOT hyperbole.
From Dorie’s website, here’s the précis on how they got their name!

I was given the recipe in 2000 by Pierre Herme, who had created the cookie for a restaurant in Paris called Korova and so, when I included the recipe in Paris Sweets: Great Desserts From the City's Best Pastry Shops, I naturally dubbed the sables Korova Cookies. I don't have the stats to prove it, but my guess is that those cookies were the most frequently made recipe in the book.
Because the cookies had become such a hit -- and because I was making batches of them at least once a week -- I wanted to reprise the recipe in Baking From My Home to Yours and had it all written and ready to go when I ran into my neighbor, Richard Gold, who couldn't stop talking about how much he loved the Korovas and how much everyone he'd ever made them for loved them too. "In fact," he said, "in our house, we call them World Peace Cookies, because we're convinced that a daily dose of the cookies is all that's needed to ensure planetary peace and happiness."
How could I not rename them World Peace Cookies!

I don’t know about you, but I’m baking today! Here’s to World Peace Cookies, and to World Peace! Hmmm… Why do I suddenly have the urge to watch the movie “Groundhog Day”?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Testosterone Poisoning

On my way out to do some errands yesterday, I encountered two of the finest neighbors I’ve ever been privileged to know chatting in the street. Not at all uncommon here on Divorce Court, the cul-de-sac of the second chance.

Lady J from next door and Lady H from across the street were having a confab on the concrete. Since for once I wasn’t running late for some time-specific appointment, which causes me to wave and drive on, I got a chance to stop and join them.

Lady J was quick to let me know that they were grousing about their male partners. “You won’t believe this,” she shared. Her husband, Sir K, had been on his wet roof the day before, blowing leaves off, when he slipped and fell off the house, spraining his ankle.

“OMG—he’s lucky he didn’t do much more damage,” I said, incredulous. (Bear in mind that Sir K is, shall we say, of a certain age, RETIRED, after all, and has no more business getting up on a slippery, wet roof than I do flying a 747.) I recounted the story of a friend of ours who fell from his roof about five years ago and broke multiple bones. Lady H chimed in, telling us of a neighbor a few streets over who fell off his roof, broke his neck and died on the spot! (Game, set, match.) Can’t top that!

Meanwhile, Lady H is furious with her significant other, Sir J, because he had arthroscopic knee surgery and won’t follow doctor’s orders to stay off it. “He’s gone to the bank, he’s up and around as if it never happened!” Having had the same surgery a few years back, she knows whereof she speaks. “We’ve had it with both of them! They’re crazy—are you ready to leave CoTU (you remember my hub, the Center of the Universe) too?”

“Come to think of it, he definitely belongs in the same club. He won’t get up on the roof, but he did take the leaf blower out on the deck the other day to get rid of the leaves. It started raining while he was out there, but he persevered and finished the job. When I came home he told me he thought he might be the first Electrical Engineering graduate of the University of Missouri at Rolla to have his degree revoked posthumously!”

Yeah, have we heard somewhere that electricity and water don’t mix? Shocking, I’d say!

Notice that didn’t stop him from doing it.

We all kind of spontaneously rolled our eyes, shook our heads and threw our hands up in the air. We don’t understand why we can’t reason with them. Or maybe we do… It’s a guy thing. It’s the Y chromosome. You just can’t fight testosterone poisoning.