Saturday, November 27, 2010

Christmas Cheer

This year I am going to leave my Scrooge self at home and try to channel my inner Bob Cratchit.  I will bite my tongue, find joy in the season and try not to complain too loudly about the early onset of Christmas. Wish me luck, most of you know me better than that.

I really do love Christmas. I love the season. I love the goodness and generosity that usually accompanies the month of December.  Today is the day after Black Friday.  I think this might be called "Even Blacker Saturday" as it seems to me the "sales" still continue and you didn't have to be down at Kohl's at 3:00 am after all.  But from what I've been told some people really love doing this.  Like a sport - they prepare for it all year.  To be one of the first 100 shoppers to get that free ornament or chance to enter a drawing for a $500 Visa card is worth the blood bath they might endure. 

I noticed Christmas items going up in the stores at about the same time they were removing the Halloween costumes.  Is it just me, or does this seem even earlier than last year? And that reminds me, I didn't get any treats for Halloween until the day of.  Mainly because I wasn't sure if I would be home that evening to give out candy, and secondly, it is not the best idea for me to have miniature Mounds Bars or Kit Kats around.  And I refuse to buy candy that I wouldn't eat myself, like Skittles or Blow Pops.  But when I went to Target on October 31st to pick up a few bags of my favorite chocolates, the trick was on me.  They had already cleared the "seasonal" shelves, replacing those pounds and pounds of Halloween candy, with what else, but red, green and white Hershey kisses and a multitude of flavored candy canes.

Bypassing Thanksgiving all together at Walmart

But back to the subject at hand, I also noticed the empty corner parking lots putting up fencing and signs being posted, "Steve's Christmas Trees - back again this year."   Thanksgiving had officially come and gone, almost getting buried entirely in the fake Christmas snow and silver tinsel.

Just moments ago the town's annual Christmas parade passed by my storefront window - today is November 27th.   There is no foreplay to the season - it is just like slam bam, thank you ma'am - was that good for you too?  No spring before summer, no clouds before rain. There is no gradual easing into it, no dinner, no dancing.  It is like getting hit over the head with a mammoth fruitcake. 

I really don't like being cynical - I want to like American Idol and Dancing with the Stars. I want to appreciate Spongebob Squarepants, Ronald McDonald and Kanye West in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.  But I don't.  I don't want all the media hoopla.  I just want simple.  Spiced apple cider, friends meeting for lattes, sharing a bottle of wine, sitting by the fire.  Going to see the Nutcracker, driving around the neighborhood and seeing the Christmas lights, hot cocoa and listening to Christmas carols sung by the local children's choir. I wish we could eradicate the obligatory gift giving.  I love giving and receiving gifts, when they are from the heart. Giving the gift of time, a visit, a laugh, a homemade meal, a really good chocolate Babka, or whatever it is that you can be or do best.

With all of the pre-season hype, instead of feeling we have more time to revel in the season, we start to feel even more pressure.  The idea behind it of course it to give us more time to "shop" - to boost our economy.  But it has me looking at my calendar more like one of those elementary math challenges, "Jason and Bob together have 193 marbles. Bob has 47 marbles less than Jason; if Jason gives Bob 15 of them, how many more marbles does Jason have than Bob?" Well, Jason and Bob need to work out their own problems, but mine is that there are only 27 days till Christmas, minus work days, leaving me only14 days to get out and deck the halls.

Shortness of breath, a twinge of panic, stir in a little frantic, a pretty bleak checkbook, and there you have it, the makings for the holiday blues - but here's the Rx - a hot toddy or two,  a whole lot of mulled wine, or my sister's Mexican eggnog. Priceless. Anyone care to join me?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Here's the dish

Thanksgiving is this week and even though the family is not getting together this year I still want to go ahead and make a special meal.  Sometimes I break tradition, like last year when I made crab and chicken enchiladas for Christmas dinner.  I've also been known to frequent the always open Chinese food restaurants on Christmas Eve - much to my sister's dismay!  But as much as I love the traditional turkey dinner, occasionally I want to do something else with my day besides spend it in the kitchen  - or spend it in a non-stop eating extravaganza, from the onset of the appetizers, to the colossal early dinner, the decadent pies, cookies and cheesecakes which are served shortly thereafter and then the late night requisite turkey sandwich.  You know the one, it’s on white bread (or you could get away with a really wimpy wheat) with mayonnaise and a hefty dashing of salt.  Plain and simple perfection.  If you have any stuffing left over and can still manage to fit it in, all the better.
 
So I thought about having crab again this year.  Some beautiful Dungeness crab, a Caesar salad, and a crusty loaf of french bread.  Now that is a meal worthy of many thanks. But the crab season just got started and I heard that the fisherman in the San Francisco Bay have been throwing them back to give them a bit more time to grow. Too small this year. So it looks like we will have to wait for Christmas or New Years to have the crab. My daughter has never been one for turkey, I don't eat pork, wouldn't eat a goose, don't want a rack of lamb and prime rib is too ordinary. It is usually the side dishes most of us crave anyway.  Our family has a pretty simple and traditional Thanksgiving dinner. The star turkey of course, sometimes bread dressing or if we are lucky our Mom will make her Lebanese dressing, which is a rice and lamb mixture, delicately seasoned with a little cinnamon, her kibbe or cabbage rolls.  It is a lot of work and over the years all of us in the family have at one time or another been vegetarian, which wreaks havoc at holiday time and can make menu planning a bit of a challenge. But we can always count on the sweet potatoes, the mashed potatoes, gravy, salad, vegetables and rolls to make the majority happy.

I've tried to bring a little change to the table once in a while.  One year I thought a nice succotash would be fun – it went over like a lead tomahawk and I must admit it didn’t taste that great. But I’d read that the Indians had made it and I thought it important to give them some recognition for this particular celebration.  I have read that squash was one of the foods actually served at the first Thanksgiving meal, whereas cranberries, potatoes, and maybe even turkey was not.  So I think squash should be at the table.  In one form or another. Maybe even hold its own place of honor.  I think it was last year a friend of mine made this delicious and equally colorful baked squash dish that was worth the recipe, proving to be both a visual and taste delight.  It was a simple and hearty dish of baked butternut squash, layered like a lasagna with lots of leeks, chopped tomatoes and cheese.  I believe she used Gruyere (she is Swiss and always seems to be partial to that cheese) but I have made it with Jack.  The secret to this dish though is to be very generous with the leeks, and equally so with the cheese.

So off I went to Whole Foods to pick up a few items for my upcoming Thanksgiving dinner.  The squash were on display right out front.  As I picked one up, holding the curvy and smooth butternut squash in hand, having something like a 60's flashback, I remembered my last attempt of cutting, peeling and cubing this stubborn vegetable. I was tempted to go inside and purchase the already cubed squash that was available for $6.99 for what amounted to about two cups, but I wavered for only a matter of seconds before I decided to get the whole squash, as guilt got the better of me.



So home with my groceries, I decided to check YouTube for a video on “how to peel a butternut squash” – do you know there are 86 videos on this subject alone? After watching a few and thinking I had it mastered, I still managed to make this task a bit of a challenge and I have a nice cut on my finger to prove it.

But any butternut squash dish is worth the pain or suffering you might endure, and like our forefathers who celebrated the harvest and gave thanks for surviving their difficult voyage, I guess I can’t complain about a little cut finger.  So with much gratitude and thanks, I share this recipe with you in hopes that when you sit down to celebrate on Thanksgiving you will take a few minutes and really count your blessings  -  I know I have many and hope that you do too.

Butternut Squash with Apples and Maple Syrup
(Maple syrup was used by the Ojibwa tribe for roasting wild game. Here it goes into a terrific side dish that includes squash, another Native American staple)

Ingredients

  • 2 medium butternut squash, peeled, quartered lengthwise, seeded, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 6 cups)
  • 2 1/4 pounds medium-size tart green apples (such as Granny Smith), peeled, quartered, cored, but crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 6 cups)
  • 3/4 cup dried currants or cranberries
  • Freshly grated nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Preheat oven to 350°F. Cook squash in large pot of boiling salted water until almost tender, about 3 minutes. Drain well. Combine squash, apples and cranberries in 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Season generously with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Combine maple syrup, butter and lemon juice in heavy small saucepan. Whisk over low heat until butter melts. Pour syrup over squash mixture and toss to coat evenly.
Bake until squash and apples are very tender, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour. Cool 5 minutes. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover with foil; chill. Re-warm covered in 350°F. oven about 30 minutes.)


    Friday, November 19, 2010

    Coffee or tea, blondes or brunettes, body scan or pat down?

    My sister was leaving yesterday morning for Barcelona - I called before she was heading out to the airport and when she answered her phone, I said, "one question, full body scan or pat down"?  "Full body scan baby, I don't care what they see, I just don't want anyone touching me" she replied.

    I think I feel the same way.  Except I'm a tad nervous about the radiation.  Maybe when the TSA is finished taking our "picture" they can give us a copy, kind of like a door prize or party favor that you get at a children's birthday celebration.  That way we could all keep them in our medical file, perhaps to use at a future doctor visit.  Could save us a few dollars and save us from another unhealthy serving of radiation!

    So I've been listening to some of the debate going on.  The people touting their civil rights, their personal freedoms.  Refusing to do either.  Both are too invasive, the groping and the humiliation.  Whats next, fly in the nude, full on rectal exams?  All this to enjoy a family vacation at Disneyworld?  But I know deep down my own hesitation isn't quite as political, frankly it stems more from my lack of a positive body image - I just don't want to let anyone see how out of shape I've become!  I don't even like looking at myself these days in a full length mirror, and now I have to show you?  And all joking aside, the sad truth is that once we all comply with this, just like we complied with leaving our toothpaste, lighters and hairspray at home, someone will figure out a way to bring the airplane down if they really want to.  We are not talking amateurs here.


    But for the record, I still think we should try.  Try and do whatever needs to be done to give us some peace of mind, even if it is a false sense of security.  It is like pretending to believe in Santa, even when you are ten and know the truth, but it just feels so much better this way!  So, my suggestion or pathetic solution to this problem is this.  We will split the flyers into two groups, the "I'll get naked it front of you, no problem" and the "No way in hell are you going to touch/view my cellulite and sagging breasts" groups.  (Men, I know you have your own issues, think George Costanza).

    Back to the issue at hand, it's not a left/right, liberal/conservative issue anymore.  Now please bear with me and throw all logic out the window.  Everyone who wants to refuse a body pat down or full body scan, this would be Group A, line up.  We have a plane for you.  Of course, the pilot of this plane has to be some poor bastard who is willing to take the risk too, believes in the "cause" -  and belongs to Group A wholeheartedly.  So let's just say they offer these flights (they are not as frequent of course) but the stipulation is that no one on the plane has been searched or scanned.  You are going to have to trust that they are all as innocent as you.  They are just exercising their civil rights, their personal freedoms.  It's a win/win situation. There is a choice, and everyone is free to make their own. Well good luck with that.  Instead of getting a scan, you are now the one doing the scanning.  Eyeing everyone around you.  Hoping and praying that no one on that plane wants anything more than to visit their Aunt Louise in Omaha.  Instead of suffering a bit of humiliation for a matter of seconds you will next spend the next few hours suffering a bit of anxiety and entertaining random thoughts of the afterlife.

    I think I prefer the Santa Claus scenario.  I am pretty sure that I would rather let one stranger see me naked for a split second, and if a few others get a glimpse, so be it.  I am sure the other passengers are more worried about going through the scanner themselves and what people might see than to worry much about me, or to think twice about my lumpy thighs and stretch marks. :)

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    I Keep Forgettin

    When fifty hit me, it literally hit me, behind the knees, in the stomach and across the back of the head.  I started suffering migraines.  My newly vocal knees that on their own would sometimes decide to curtsy, for no apparent reason, no queen or royalty in sight, were growing creakier and crankier every day.  The stomach thing was more like a sick feeling that tagged along with me wherever I went, taunting me that life worth living might soon be over.  Feeling extremely sorry for myself - I knew in reality I wasn't that old, but like the lead character in a Woody Allen movie, in which by the way, I would've won an Oscar, would still think "yeah, so what, I might have 30/40 years left, but how good can they really be."  Thinking this might be the right time to find God, start repenting, and begin that long road of begging for forgiveness.  Oh the shame, hanging my head and adding to my migraine with thoughts of all the wasted time, and that long unanswered question, why in the world had happy hour trumped night school?  On a positive note, it looks like I won't have to beat myself up much longer with these wicked thoughts and memories of regret.  I can barely remember simple things, such as, the year I was born.  Sometimes a simple question like, "how old are you?", and I truly have to stop, hmm, scrunch up my face, and think about it.  Soon I won't even remember ever being at a bar, much less early enough to make it to happy hour!
    So besides the creaky knees, the loss of vision, the drying skin and hair, is the predictable and legendary memory loss of aging, or more like a "fog" we get disoriented in.  I have that same bewildered look on my face, like Doris Day in the beginning of the movie "Midnight Lace", which if I remember correctly was one of the scariest movies I ever saw in my life.  And quite similar to a deer caught in the headlights, at times I just find myself standing in the middle of the room, rolling my eyes up to the ceiling, or staring off at nothing in particular, forefinger to chin, "what was I going to do just now?"  - perplexed, squinting my eyes as if I try really hard to concentrate it will come to me.



    And it usually does come to me, during the middle of the night as I wake in an "ah ha" moment - so relieved that I remembered.   It might be something simple, like checking to see if a certain blouse was in the laundry or checking to make sure there was half and half for my morning coffee.  At this point in life you can only store so much information.  Enter the computer, our new best friend  It can remember for us!  Brilliant.  The problem now is that I keep forgetting my user names and passwords because every account requires one.  And "they" (whoever they are) make you feel for security reasons that you need to constantly switch it up, make the passwords difficult, change it every few months, don't use anything obvious,  use different passwords and ID's for all of your accounts.  You get instructions like this, "your password must contain 3 numbers, 3 lowercase letters and 2 uppercase letters."  Are you kidding me?  So I make up something clever that I am sure will stick in my memory like a cinnamon roll would stick to my thighs (especially a Cinnabon cinnamon roll, which God knows, I make every effort to avoid), write it down in my daytimer just in case I ever forget it, which is inevitable and so is misplacing the daytimer.  I spend more time requesting my password be sent to my email address because I can't remember it, or I make one too many attempts to log on and they lock me out.  Lock me out of my own account and tell me to try back in an hour or so.


    So between managing forgotten usernames and passwords for my email accounts, of which I have three, my online banking account,  my credit card accounts, an etsy account, my blogspot account, my constant contact marketing account, my eBay account, paypal account, MySpace account, Facebook account, YouTube account, Amazon account, Sephora account, and numerous others accounts, I am an extremely busy woman. So busy that I probably won't even have time to remember that my knees ache or to really even care in which year I was born.

    Tuesday, November 16, 2010

    Tasty yet balanced breakfast

    When watching the commercial for Nutella, the chocolaty good hazelnut spread that hails from Canada, advertised as “part of your tasty yet balanced breakfast” – you want to try it but your common sense tells you that you shouldn’t.  There is a deep fear that if you take that initial taste you may never stop, and it can only lead to the harder stuff, like an entire bowl of Scharfenberger ganache or crack cocaine I'm guessing. For some reason while shopping the food isle in Target the other night my hand uncontrollably reached up for the jar of Nutella, as if it were begging me to take it home.  It was like staring into the soft black eyes of a discarded puppy at the animal shelter, (a really cute puppy) pleading with me to give him a chance.  I was his only hope.  Very hard to resist, my will power broken, I ended up taking the Nutella home.

    That evening as I was attacked by my sweet tooth, searching the refrigerator, the freezer, the cupboards, I eyed the jar of Nutella.  Thank goodness I bought it because it was the only sweet thing in the house besides a bottle of corn syrup and a box of brown sugar.  So, what to do with the Nutella?  Do I eat it straight out of the jar, spread it on bread like in the commercial?  I found a cracker (trying to keep the carbs at bay) and spread the hazelnut/chocolate goodness sparingly across it.  OMG – who knew this “nutritious” part of my tasty yet balanced breakfast that I was enjoying at 10:00 pm could be so utterly delicious, so over the top decadent!  On to the bread drawer where I found a couple of Hawaiian rolls - soft and delicious, but with a layer of Nutella on them I can only describe them as heaven on top of heaven. The only thing to do now was to either get a bigger spoon or exhibit some self control and put the jar away, tightly sealed and back on the shelf.  Well at 200 calories per 2 tbsp (which you will find very difficult to restrict yourself to), 22g of carbs, 11g of fat, and the number one ingredient being sugar, followed closely by palm oil, it gets easier to replace the lid.  I hear a loud obnoxious inner voice instructing me "Walk away, walk away from the jar".  Damn, maybe I can keep this in the house but only if it is behind glass with an ax and only to be used in emergencies. 


    So, the moral of this story if there is one?  It would have to be; a little goes a long way, less is more, something along those lines.  I can see once in a great while treating yourself to a teaspoon or maybe even a tablespoon, if you can stop there.  But spreading it across your morning toast?  Don’t think so.  I could go on and on about kids, and ADHD and ADD and the rest of the alphabet, but I won’t.  Because you already have that information. But me on the other hand, as much as I would like to dive into a jar of Nutella first thing upon waking, think it best if I stick to my morning oatmeal, or perhaps yogurt and fruit, and save the Nutella for very special occasions, probably about as often as I bring out my finest china.