Notes From The Road.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/nicholas_t/2789113344/in/photolist-5fsWe7-diugKp-o6qxW-ehDioj-8YPQQ4-9QPp9-6Mdx3F-4Mxiuu-4mAQff-cadkCj-cT5RAY-4xSKzt-5LDsRZ-64W8kL-7TYWbb-9LE1CS-nGwmYu-7dTyrL-mWzQjZ-bYfPzS-djCqm-f1Eu12-89ytzh-qeKBw8-avAjXu-fW3cSS-FNWa4-g6K4Z-5APGkK-5fzZ5b-ao19br-5HMTxE-4hJkMi-ef8Fhz-fxZTv-7hMxyh-ddSJg-8XLpCR-4oLyv5-5GsUpX-dd9GfR-mGnJWn-8tsqTm-81JA6w-aqtYNJ-k3D94x-fcbKFp-7RTdXx-4r96YV-y994Y
Flickr user Nicholas A. Tonelll

Today I drove 40 miles south, then a few hours later I drove back. I saw at least ten cars pulled over, but only got a look at four of the drivers. Two black; two white. I wish I could say I believed there’s a chance the six drivers I didn’t see were white.

Christians, if you’re going to drive like assholes, maybe don’t have those WWJD bumper stickers or icthyses placed prominently on the rear end of your car which I will undoubtedly see as you cut me off.

Brokeass white people with Romney Ryan stickers left over from ’12, one of these days I really will rear end one of you. Know how I know your asses are broke? You drive Jeeps and Ford Escapes from ’89 that almost look lacy for all the rust. Your cars make more noise than semis, and not cos you installed a muffler enhancer. And at least half of you drive around shirtless.

Anybody reading this have any experience with 4th graders and pickup lines? Asking for a friend.

Thinking about law school and getting a PhD with equal lather lately. Anybody know the starting salary for a social justice lawyer? HAHAHA.

Sometimes, I eat onions then I smell really bad.

Nobody in my family loves the Green Ralph Lauren cologne the way I do. Anybody who wears that wanna follow me around so I can inhale deeply your delicious odor like a sweaty perv?

My student’s incomplete is due on Monday. I will turn in his grade on Friday. Don’t know why I feel so anxious about whether or not he will actually turn in his incomplete. Maybe it’s related to the fact that I haven’t been brave enough to view my scores on rate my professor dot com.

Finally, I’m 34. It’d be really unfair if I were really perimenopausal. If, in fact, I am, I am looking for a gynecological surgeon for some pro bono work on my uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes. You may keep them for study. Say you found them in a dumpster. I don’t care.

In Response To Haughty Posts About What Food Servers Wish You Knew -or- 4 Important Things About Tipping

From Flickr user torbakhopper
From Flickr user torbakhopper

My current money-getting gig is as a food server at a brew pub. I generally LOVE my job. I am energized by hanging out with people, I am witty and friendly so I often get laughs + big tips, and it’s fast, fast money which leaves me lots of room and time for writing, grad school, running, and being a momma + lady friend.

Do I want to do this job for the rest of forever? No. But I am glad it’s a skill I have. I like to say, “It’s the closest thing there is to having a money tree.” Need cash? Pick up a shift. Usually around $100 in your pocket.

But it is hard work. It’s hard physically and intellectually and emotionally. Sometimes, people are jerks. You have to be nice anyway. Always you have to hold at least eight things in your mind at once. It is not a job that just anyone can do. Sometimes, after busy weekends, it hurts your body, especially when you’re not 22 anymore. Ha.

People I don’t know are constantly touching me. People ask dumb questions about my tattoos. Men look at parts of me that have nothing to do with their hamburger (uh, no. Not a euphemism.). People tell me how much they want to do x artistic thing if I happen to mention I’m a writer, because they ask. I do not volunteer information about myself as a general rule, or unless I’m making fun of myself. For example, on Sunday morning, I told a table I could see was good-natured + full of humor that, “I usually go home and cry after brunch.” They laughed.

But whenever I read things like “Servers Not Servants: 31 Things Your Waiter Wishes You Knew”, I go through this cycle. First I’m all, “Oooh. Yeah!” And I get all fist-pumpey and self-rightous. Then, I go to work, and I start to notice how frequently people interrupt me when I’m talking to them, in the middle of answers to questions that they asked me. And I get annoyed and I stop liking my job.

Then I start to notice all the other bullshit from the article (or some other like it), and I get really super pissed.

Last night, I had a sharp headache that pain medicine (ibuprofen, acetaminophen) wouldn’t touch. I just wanted to be asleep in a dark room. But I was at work because I had to be. Because I need money. Because with jobs like waiting tables, you don’t get paid if you don’t go.

My first three tables were people who pretended to be jokey and fun, but continually interrupted me and acted like rude jerks. Two out of the three tables weren’t good tippers. I felt grumpy and annoyed while I waited on them, these are feelings I do not normally experience toward my tables. I have to wonder now if their poor tips were a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Even in the midst of the dang headache, I realized that I was being poisoned by the article. So I had to make a conscious choice to return to my blissed out state of legitimately enjoying “helping people.” Ha. Semantics.

I play little games with myself to make the job fun + to not allow it to become sucky and dehumanizing the way restaurant gigs can do. I never tell tables my name unless they ask me. If they care enough to ask, they will likely use my name. If I tell them, and they call me Miss or Ma’am instead, it pisses me off. The first thing I generally say to tables is, “What may I bring you folks to drink?” or “Do you know what you would like to drink?” I don’t have an introductory spiel because more often than not, people don’t listen (even if they don’t interrupt), and it pisses me off to repeat the special and the soup after I’ve already said it, minutes before, to people who *seemed* to be listening.

Here’s the thing, I don’t care if you hate where we put you and ask to move eighteen times. I don’t care if you claim you’re in a hurry and then tell me you’re ready to order when clearly you haven’t actually looked at the menu because you ask me what I suggest, what it comes with, what ingredients are in it.

I don’t care if you change your order after your friend goes because what she got sounds better than what you picked.

I don’t care if I recite the soups six times at a table.

I don’t care if you ask me the same question three times expecting a different answer.

I don’t care if you want separate checks.

These things are par for the course, the territory, hazards of the work I do.

I don’t care if you interrupt me. I expect you to. We are transacting. We are not friends.

It is my job to make you believe that we are friends, even though we are not. Maybe this is shallow, but it’s another self-protective measure. Serving is performing. And it is serving. I have the answers to your questions. I know how the food is prepared. I am  your link to the kitchen, the manager, the hosts, etc. I want to get you fed and on your way as quickly and as happily as possible so that someone else can have your table.

Sure, it’s nice if you tell me when I take your order that you’ll want some mayo, mustard, A1, and a side of ranch, honey mustard, and Italian. But if you don’t, and if you ask me for those sauces and condiments and I make 85 trips to the kitchen, that’s cool. It’s what I’m there for.

It’s nice if everyone could order a mid-meal glass of water all at once, instead of folks ordering one-at-a-time. But you know what? Whenever one person asks for water, I make eye contact with every person at the table and cheerfully, as if I haven’t a care in the entire world, say, “Would you like a water, too?” This has proven an effective strategy + it makes me efficient. But if everyone else declines, then someone asks me the second I return with the first guy’s water, the other water goes lower on my priority list. Like, if I get around to it. And when shit like that happens, I recognize I may be forfeiting a portion of my tip. But sometimes, to paraphrase a Six Feet Under character to whom I was once compared, my humanity rises up.

It is my job to know and do all this stuff. To do whatever I have to do in my own head so that I can be pleasant and make your dining experience a good one.

What I’m saying is you go ahead an be as obnoxious as you want to be.

Mainly, what I care about is that you pay me for my service. I forget about every awful way you were if you leave me a nice tip.

20% of your check is minimum. I have a house, kid, partner, and car, just like you. I forfeit my nights and weekends so you can enjoy your time off. If you are unwilling to part with $8 to $30 of your dollars for the privilege of table service on date night, then don’t go out to eat.

It’s absolutely true that food servers make no money per hour. Every money we get paid by our employer (I am on the clock for $3/hour) is eaten up by our obligation to Uncle Sam (from our tips), and many of us have to pay in to our employers to satisfy our tax burden at the end of the year. Sometimes hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Food servers have expenses like every other professional (yes, professional): waiting tables is hard on shoes and clothes. I replace my sneakers at least once a year and I cannot buy the cheap ones. I ruin T-shirts like nobody’s business. My work pants all smell like grease.

At the end of my shift, I am obliged to tip out a percentage of my sales to the people in the restaurant who help me do my job to your satisfaction. Bartenders, hosts, bussers, etc. If I get bad tips all night, my obligation to those other people does not change. I often tip out 30% of my tips. Sometimes more.

I rely on the people I wait on for my entire income.

If I do a good job, tip me 20%. If I do a great job, tip me 25-30%. If I suck, you don’t have to tip me, but remember that everybody has a bad day sometimes. Would you like it if you didn’t get paid on days you felt like garbage at work?

Here are a few little thinking points:

1) If you get a discount, tip on the amount before the discount, and never assume the gratuity is included (ask if you can’t tell, we are HAPPY to answer that question).

2) If you buy merchandise from your server, tip on the total amount of your check, not the total less merchandise. That merchandise is still in her sales, and she still tips out on it, even if you don’t think of a T-shirt, mug, or bottle of salad dressing as a tippable item.  Your server brought it to your table, right? You can usually make a second transaction at a bar or gift shop or with a host if you don’t care to tip on merch.

3) Tip your food server as you would your favorite person in all of the land. Even if she isn’t.

4) Your server didn’t make the food. If you hate your dinner, tell your server, she will do everything she can to get you something you won’t hate. Ask to speak with a manager if you want, provide constructive feedback (what was wrong with your food specifically. “I don’t like it.” is not helpful), and still tip your server well.

That is all.

Self (Publishing) Help: Food in Fiction

Flickr user Vegan Feast Catering

I’m proofing a book right now that actually makes food awkward.

The book is set in a swank vacation spot, think resort Jamaica.  The food is so poorly imagined that I find it to be distracting.  Here’s an example: a three-course dinner at a 4-star restaurant is described as sausage soup, meat with Jamaica Style sauce over rice, then ice cream with syrup.  Hm.

Here’s the thing: that’d be a terrific three-course dinner at a diner, or a family style restaurant, Friendly’s, Eat ‘n’ Park, but it’s not even fancy enough for Ruby Tuesday.  At a resort?  Please, at least make the dessert Peach Melba.  More likely some fussy custard with a pear reduction glaze that is scented with cloves (yes, scented).    The rice would probably at least be saffron rice, and the sauce would probably have some wordy title far less vague than Jamaica Style (which would be called jerk.  Further, Jamaican Jerk is more often a spice rub or a marinade, and if it is a sauce, it is wrong).

I spent all of my 20s and half of my teens working at least part time in food or food-releated endeavors.  I am a respectable cook.  I love to eat. I read about food, and have tried all kinds of wacky recipes.

So I’m sure you can imagine the pure, soul-wounded helplessness I’m experiencing when a book milimeters from publication has such an uninspired relationship with food, even though so far at least five scenes have included it, either cooking, dining out, or ordering in.

So here are my Dos & Don’ts for Food in Fiction.

Do make the food appetizing. You awake your reader’s senses when you describe food.  It’s like you’re feeding her, so if you must do it, do it well.

Do research. If you want to know what a typical gourmet meal looks like, google gourmet restaurant menus.  It’s the future.  The world is in your computer.  Take advantage of it.

Do enjoy the pursuit. Writing about food can be exciting, you’ll probably learn things, maybe find recipes you can try.

Do consider your characters. For example, if your heroine is an athlete, she will eat differently than if she is a neurotic depressive.  Many folks eat with their principles, and fictional folks can do better than those of us situated staidly in the real world.

Do familiarize yourself with some cooking terms before you write people cooking.  Here are a few basic terms: saute, bake, blanch, boil, broil.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew: If you don’t know anything about food, don’t try to write a scene in which someone makes a souffle beautifully.  Those of us who have done so will know you’re faking it.  You lose credibility and possibly a reader.

Don’t feed your characters eggs. There are loads of other breakfast options: cereal, toast, bacon, sausage, diners, room service, Dunkin Donuts.  Feed your characters how you’d like to eat.  If it’s important that a character cook for someone and you don’t cook, ask for help.  Friends, neighbors, relatives, the internet–I don’t care.

Don’t have a vegetarian eating egg drop soup.  If you’re writing a vegan, know she will never eat cheese.  If one of your characters is on paleo, do enough research to find out that she won’t be eating white potatoes or green peppers.

Don’t give your characters 5-star room service at the Motel 6.  Don’t give them the option to order Japanese at 2 a.m. unless they’re in a major metro area.

America’s Test Kitchen Improves My Love Relationship

from Flickr, by LCBGlenn: http://www.flickr.com/photos/swisschef/

If you have not had the pleasure of watching America’s Test Kitchen on PBS, do.  Christopher Kimball, the show’s host: pictured above, is slightly knobbish, but the exhaustive care the show affords its innumerable cooking projects matches his strange, neurotic egotism.  It is a real joy.

I bought Fella the Twenty Years of America’s Test Kitchen cookbook for the holiday.  We also subscribe to the magazine, Cook’s Illustrated, or did until recently.

Now’s the time for a disclaimer: this cookbook and cooking show is probably not for kitchen novices.  If you aren’t a competent, or at least conversant, cook; it’s probably safer to cook through Better Homes & Gardens’s classic manual first.  The recipes are not as unilaterally delicious and without flaw, but they’re loads easier, and require mostly pretty basic ingredients.

BH & G will give you a sense of how to proceed, and build a basic vocabulary for kitchen-related hijinks.

Fella and I both dig food and cooking and while Fella’s probably wilder for fussy recipes than I am, I still deeply appreciate a remarkable finished product.

And it’s not fair to classify all the ATK recipes as fussy.  Some of them aren’t.  Some of them are designed for weeknights (but are still fussier than grabbing a Bertoli’s bagged dinner out of the freezer, or browning some ground beef for Hamburger Helper).

But here’s the thing about the ATK culture:  they marry cooking and science.  Their chefs are food scientists who understand how, for example, gluten reacts on a cellular level to other ingredients.

I learned from ATK that a great way to get that battered-fries effect in oven baked potatoes is to par boil (or partially boil) them with a teaspoon of baking soda, because the baking soda loosens up the starch particles, before you toss them with a bit of oil or butter (way, way less than they’d absorb in a deep fat fryer), then bake them. The yield is a crunchy, tasty, much less damaging to the waistline fried effect.

And ATK will hold your hand.  Their recipes explain every step of every process, and explain why you should bother.  When they ask you to bother so much, their care and thorough explanations are at least 80% of the charm.

We’ve tried casseroles, roasts, grilled feasts, side dishes, breads, and desserts from the ATK recipes, and without exception, the result is remarvical.

Here are some favorites if you find yourself in possession of the 20-years book, or if you’ve got some back issues laying around:

Ciabatta, Pizza Bianca, Vegetarian Lasagne, Roasted Chicken, Paris Brest.

How it improves my love relationship:

A fast way to my heart is through my fairly adventurous stomach.  Early in our love relationship, Fella cooked me all kinds of delicious things like his version of curry (which is an Indian version that’s tomato-based more than the soupy, milky Thai sort), and slow-cooked fatty meats.

For the first year we lived together, he did most of the cooking, though I took over when I went freelance (it made more sense), he still makes me delicious meals when he cooks on the weekends.

Most recently, it was Nut Crusted Chicken from the above-mentioned tome of a cookbook.  The result was a perfectly cooked (not dry) chicken breast coated in a fabulously crunchy (but baked!!) nut crust with hints of orange.  He served it with snow peas that had been stir fried in some (likely tedious) combination of vinegars and spices.

So it improves my love relationship by making me love my partner more when he cooks me delicious food.  What? I can’t help it.  I am ruled by my gut.

When we’re long on time, we go through the cook book or editions of the magazine and plan menus for the week.  Then we discuss the shopping list.  Then sometimes we cook together.

Cooking together is an occasion for kitchen dancing and banter and laughs and occasionally fights.

When we’re short on time, we select things that are not in the ATK cookbook or magazines, because you usually have to start at least two hours ahead to do the recipes there any justice.  Sometimes, you have to start 24 hours ahead.

These things are good for my love relationship because they are team work.

I didn’t get it right away.  I was sort of vexed when Fella wanted to start planning menus.  It struck me as a huge pile of toil for almost no payoff.

But he persisted (he is a persistent man, which is why he’s mine at all), and now I think that menu planning is a great idea.  I can’t imagine going back to not planning it.

We have less chaos at the grocery store & we spend less money, and we almost always have all the things we need to cook the things we’ve planned, which is way better than how we used to do it.

Also, it’s stuff to do together that’s a) at home–tough to wrangle time away from home when you’ve got a kid whose bed time is 7:30, and b) not TV.

Some tips for using the ATK cookbook:

Always read the recipe completely twice before you start cooking.

Read their recommendations for brands and take them seriously.  They typically review brands that are readily available at grocery stores, even in rural areas, unlike the Food Network cookbooks that ask for obscure, non-substitutable stuff like West Mediterannean prawns.

Follow their instructions completely, including cooking and cooling times, even if they seem weird or counter-intuitive.

If it flops, try again.  It’s probably you, not them.

Don’t try to pirate their stuff.  It’s really hard to get the recipes online unless you subscribe or buy the book, so do: it’s worth it.

Shop before you cook.

Use fresh ingredients and full fat creams when they tell you to.

Have fun.

Exercise.

This post is a cross-blog project with Jamie Chavez, a freelance editor and writer located in Middle Tennessee. You can read more about her—including her thoughts about words, language, books, editing, and the publishing industry—at www.jamiechavez.com

A Sunday in Humorous Anecdotes. (funny)

Public Domain Image

A thing about being a blogger is that about every third thing that happens in a given day is blog-worthy.

Being a blogger in the first place requires some self-discipline.  I’m trying to have better self-discipline.  Fella would probably argue.  He says I am no good with suspending gratification.  But that is ungenerous since he has no idea about my inner life.

I would agree that I see more sense in having what you want if it’s available and it won’t hurt you, as soon as you can.  But I also know the value of an insane work ethic, of having to commit to a thing and act hard before it can be yours.

I have not yet developed the self-discipline to write down the blog-worthy items as they arise.  I would probably never stop writing.  That would not be bad.

But we had a really cool time yesterday, Sunday, a couple of times.  The weather’s kind of crummy, so we stayed home.  I edited a pod cast and wrote an article.  Fella wrestled our cluttered abode into a state of lower clutter.

When Child was doing her homework, Fella and I were–in an effort to annoy her into being focused–singing about the beautiful picture she should draw.  Of course our song was terrible and we were both doing caricatures of our own voices, but it worked.

She covered her ears and said, “Please don’t sing about my beautiful picture anymore, please please please please.” The homework was done in record time.

Then, we discussed what we should feed her for dinner since Fella made extra-spicy (like burn-on-the-way-out spicy) chili.  Fella makes bomb ass chili.

We said, “What do you think we should make Child for dinner?”

“I don’t know.  How about snail brains and gruel?”

“Or what about boogies and brain meat?”

“Pus cups?”

Child said, “Ewwww!  No!  Gross!  You guys are really creeping me out.”

Fast forward to dinner. Fella and I spooned our greasy chili onto tortilla chips and Child housed her Grilled-American-on-White with chips, salsa, and a pickle.  Yeah.  Carbohydrates.  What?  Salsa is fruit.  Listen, sometimes I just give up the fight.  Sometimes, it’s better to let her win.

Anyhow, so Child said, “I got a great idea I bet you guys wouldn’t like.”

“Oh yeah?”

“You guys put some of that stuff on a chip,” pointing at the chili, “then I put whipped cream on it, then ketchup.  Would you eat it?”

“No!  Yuck!”

“How do you like me now, mommy?” She said this while doing her funny little dance that involves pointing her fingers in the air and sticking her tummy out and shaking it.

No joke.  I just about blew chili out my nose.

 

Macaroni & Cheese Masterwork

This is mac & Cheese pre baking, pre crumbs.

Should Thursday be Food Thursday?

In addition to being a witty devil and a swell writer, I am also a fine cook.  Don’t be jealous.  There’s a lot of pressure that goes with being good at lots of things.

But Macaroni & Cheese is one of my FAVORITE comfort foods, and I think I just found my perfect, perfect cheese sauce Mac & Cheese.  My traditional recipe involves shredding the cheese and mixing it all up with the pasta with some eggs, butter, milk, and seasoning.  But a lot of folks prefer the sauce style, including Child & Fella.

So I bastardized a not-kid-friendly Food Network recipe to come up with the following:

Bastardized Food Network Mac & Cheese (really, people.  Fancier is not always better.)

8 T butter
1/2 c. flour
4 c. milk  2% or higher milkfat. (skim cannot be trusted)
1 lb macaroni, elbows, penne, cavatappi–whatever kind of pasta you like to bake.
2 oz swiss cheese
4 oz each, two other kinds of cheese.  This time I used sharp & mild cheddars.   Use your favorites.
salt & pepper
Crumbs for topping (sometimes I use pretzel crumbs, this time I used Ritz Cracker Crumbs)

1. Preheat oven to 350.  Shred the cheese.  Or be smarter than I am, and buy it pre-shredded.

2.  Melt the butter in a sauce pan, and then stir in the flour to make a roux.  Let it get all bubbly and nutty tan. Stir in the milk. Season it with salt and pepper.

3.  Cook it over medium or medium-low heat, whisk occasionally,  until it gets thick and bubbly.  Once it’s thickened, put it on low heat, just to keep it warm.

4.   While the milk sauce is working, boil the pasta al dente.  Let it hang out in the collander to drain, and while it’s drying out, turn up the beschamel (that’s fancy for milk sauce) to med-low, and stir in the cheeses.  All of them.   Yum.

5.  Grease a casserole pan.  We use a nice Pyrex one.  But you can really use any oven-safe  vessel that’ll fit this amount of delicious. Mix the cheese sauce and macaroni together, pour it into the  casserole dish, top it with crumbs , cover it with foil, bake 20 minutes.

6.  Remove the foil, bake another 10 minutes to brown the crumbs and incite the bubble.

7.  Rest the concoction for 10 minutes before trying to eat it, or you’ll have little wisps of mouth-roof-skin peeling off for the next week.

If you’re lucky enough to be childless, making this for grown ups, or if your kids’ palettes have diversified, do yourself a favor and soften some shallot in with the butter before you make the roux.   That is a DIVINE addition.

ALSO: Unless you’re a health nut, or your domestic partner forces the issue, do not use whole wheat elbows in this recipe.  They’re too tough and nutty–even when overcooked.  This is a recipe for regular semolina.

Macaroni & Cheese, after the bake. Trust the sauce. It seems like a lot, but the little pastas soak up some of the moisture during baking.

Xmas Sucks if you’re a grownup, or does it?

This is from wallco.com

Let’s acknowledge something, shall we?  From Thanksgiving to January 2, everybody in America’s life gets appropriated by these festivities.  It doesn’t really matter what religion you practice, or if you don’t practice one.

Every retail establishment is bonkers, it takes twice as long to buy shampoo or toilet paper if you are unlucky enough to have to face the discount big box of your choice.

There are an endless number of social obligations, the gift-buying, giving, and obsessing.

The cooking.

And the decorating.

Last night, we brought our fake tree up from the basement.  After child went to bed, Fella and I listened to Xmas music on LastFM on the Xbox (that’s such a handy little machine) while we put it together and wished we had some spiked eggnog or hot buttered rum.

This morning, we feasted retail.  We went to Target (I’m one of those douches who calls it Tar-gjay) and looked for more red, wooden-beaded garland and a star that wouldn’t render our seven-foot, plastic tree off kilter.  We have exactly the right number of white lights, and my mom gives everyone in her family an ornament every year.  This year, I have at least 38, one for each of my Christmases, and one for each of Child’s, too, plus two for the years I’ve had Fella at Xmas (and he’s been on the gift-giving list), and some colored glass balls and tiny silver ones, too.

We went and looked at real trees and fought our scruples about killing trees for a reason other than books, magazines, newspapers, or other printed media.  We decided to stick with plastic this year, and maybe next year we’ll kill one.  Maybe.

This afternoon, we’re making red sauce and we talked briefly about holiday plans–whose house we’ll visit and when, what cookies we’ll make.  We are big bakers and give our friends boxes of homemade treats for Xmas.  Ask anybody, we make boss cookies.  Last year, we made a cookie narrative, too.

Here it is: cookie tag

Those of you who know me know that I’ve been pretty overwhelmed.  Working retail sales jobs, yearning for my sweet, intellectual life, and being a single mom has wasted a lot of my space for sentimentality since 2005.

But this year, I’m self-employed, so this mess is on my terms, and I am in a well-working domestic partnership with a guy who couldn’t be a better match for me if I’d made him myself.

I have time to reflect and to be thankful.

I’m remembering Xmas from my childhood and what a wonderful, warm, people-filled season it was.

Today, I want to share two, food-related memories.

First, homemade molasses taffy.

this came from finecooking.com

This is the second season without Grammie Joyce.  My mom’s mom.  My mom is still walking around looking lost without her mom. Grammie J was a hardworking protestant if there ever was one, and she loved this.  All of it.

She went to church a million extra times, decorated with at least a half dozen crêches, and had a beautiful, real tree every year.  She put those big-bulbed lights on it and a whole mess of wonderful, glass ornaments from the 60s.

She died in August 2010, so last season was too soon to reflect without the jadedness of grief glasses.

At Xmas, she’d have all her kids and their spouses and my cousins over to make taffy.

She’d boil the molasses (King Syrup), sugar, salt, and water to softball, which she tested without a thermometer in a tiny aluminum pie plate filled with a quarter inch of cold water, and would pour the goop into greased, larger aluminum pie plates and they’d rest outside till it was cool enough to handle.

We’d get our hands all buttered up, and we’d all–even my dad and uncles–pull taffy.  The kids would get fed up before long, and we’d hand our greasy taffies off to the men who’d keep pulling till the stuff was white-tan while the women did dishes and cleaned.  Yes, gender stereotypes are alive and well in my extended family.

We’d all take some home, and it was delicious.

But what I remember more than the taffy is the way we all wore sweaters–it was the 80s and early 90s, so the sweaters were awful–and how everyone participated.  The adults would talk about their lives while the cousins bonded over toys and Atari, later 16-bit Nintendo, and ran around outside regardless of the chill.  Everybody was happy and the parents didn’t get angry or impatient, and they were teatotallers!

Later, there would be homemade ice cream.

It might have been hours later or days, but the men would go outside and babysit this thing:

this is from ebay.

They’d dump rock salt & ice they made in milk cartons into that bucket, and listen to it whir, and test it, and shoot the old torro-poo-poo.

It occurs to me that I know nothing about the men in my family, just that they exist.  But if they have inner lives, I imagine they came out over the ice cream machine.

Before Poppy died (when I was 8), he’d go, too.

Then the ice cream–usually two flavors, icy vanilla and very, very light chocolate made with Hershey’s syrup (what else?  We were in PA, after all, 20 minutes or so from Hershey)–would roll into Grammie Joyce’s too-warm kitchen and we’d all have little, red bowlsful with pretzel sticks or Kay & Ray or Middleswarth‘s potato chips.

Kay & Rays were, at that time, made about 10 minutes from where I lived with real  pig lard, and Middleswarth’s is another PA brand.

So for all the hating on this commercially insane season of pure waste since  I became a mom, I’m finding that this year, it’s kind of nice.  I’ll be in my own home for Xmas eve and morning for the first time as an adult, and–as much as I hate to admit it–I’m having a good time so far.

I have no spare money, so I’m making all my gifts, and snuggling on the couch between bursts of decorating, crocheting, and Child corralling is, well, lovely.

So is planning how I’ll personalize my gifts, how I’ll ship them, and thinking about making the perfectly sized boxes for them.

Maybe next year I won’t dread this all starting in July, and we’ll make more traditions and memories and Child, Fella, and I will become more of a family.

Maybe I’ll resurrect the taffy tradition this year.  That would be swell, wouldn’t it?