Monday, December 21, 2009

The perpetual present peeker

I’m trusting all of you to never, ever tell my parents, even though they could probably guess. I was a perpetual peeker when it came to Christmas presents.
It wasn’t very hard in the little house I grew up in. Especially when they would say things like, “don’t go in dad’s workshop or in the blue bedroom.” The blue bedroom was the family catch-all. It contained everything from mom’s dusty sewing table, to the accordion I painfully tried to lift as a child (and have the neck brace to prove it), to dad’s giant salon-style hair dryer that sat near his stack of Popular Mechanics.
In December, though, the blue bedroom was also home to the presents that would grace our tree come Christmas and was strictly off limits.
But just like telling someone “not to think about an elephant” (you just did, didn’t you?) telling an inquisitive kid not to look at her presents and telling her exactly where they were, was practically a waste of breath.
Of course I looked. Every year.
And one year I really wanted a typewriter. Really. Really really. All I wanted to do was sit in an old cardboard box that I had converted into a makeshift forest ranger office and type out tickets for people who cut down trees. That was my dream, and all of December I waited and waited until that fateful day when I would unwrap that beautiful brown and white typewriter that I naturally knew I was getting because I saw it in the blue bedroom closet, behind the accordion.
Come Christmas morning, present after present, I tore them open. No typewriter. Nowhere. Anywhere. I wondered what was happening—had they figured me out? Maybe I had not perfected the silent door maneuver or had slipped up when I thought I had replaced every piece of closet exactly where I had found it. Where was that typewriter?
And then, when it was all over, I sat there sad and disappointed that all of those people would have to go without tree chopping tickets, and my mom says “there’s one left here, behind the dining room table.”
The Red Rider BB Gun had nothing on me and my typewriter. I ran and ripped open the package and I remember that the world seemed like it was going in slow motion and I was sure that somewhere, some inspirational background music should have been playing.
There it was, in all of its glory. With paper. A holiday miracle.
Fast forward about 25 years and find myself trying to think of ways to outwit my children. I have no proof, but I’d bet that present peeking is genetically passed on which means that I’ve got to be smarter than the average kid.
I turned to the only person I know who could help: my own mom.
I ask her, “what did you do when I was little and used to look at all of my Christmas presents? What were your good hiding ideas? What was your plan?”
Baffled look on her face she says, “you used to look at your Christmas presents?!?”
“Um, no?” I awkwardly answered, thinking that my stealth was as elusive as that giant hairdryer and as mysterious as the sewing table I never saw being used.
And with that response, I quickly stashed all of my children’s presents deep in the depths of the basement, and immediately closed the spare bedroom door.
“Do NOT go into that bedroom,” I warned. “All of your presents are in there.”

Break out the Accordion Barley Pilaf
One of my favorite Polish Christmas recipes. Goes well with background polkas.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup pearl barley
2 shallots, minced
one-third pound mushrooms, sliced
2 cups chicken stock
one-half teaspoon salt
pepper

In a heavy saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add barley and cook, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes or until the barley starts to turn brown and smell a bit nutty.Add the shallots and cook for 2 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook another 2 minutes. Add stock and salt and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.

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