Thursday, November 24, 2011

The true (?) turkey of the turkey table


Thanksgiving is a beautiful time of year for all of us, and whether you use this holiday as one last deep breath before the full onset of the Christmas season or spend the entire day planning your route for the 5:00 AM door-opening sales, one thing remains true: Turkey.  (Unless you’re vegetarian, and I’ll let you have your tofurky and eat your share of the dark meat.)
We all know that the first Thanksgiving was nothing to rave about.  There was no parade to watch, nobody did little cutsie pilgrim plays, and certainly there was no Snoopy special on TV.  They ate things like mussels and eels and turnips there probably wasn’t a whipped cream topped pumpkin pie in sight.
We can only pause and give real thanks that somewhere between then and now, this holiday has progressed.  From its start, it has evolved from the meager harvest of a settlement by the sea to what my husband calls the greatest holiday ever.  “You just sit around and eat and eat, watch a little bit of dishes, watch a little bit of football, and then eat some more.  And then its deer season.”
Taking center stage of the Thanksgiving meal is none other than Tom Turkey.  Historians may argue whether or not it was actually served at the first Thanksgiving, but by the time President Lincoln declared it a holiday in 1863, the gobbler had already found its way to our table.  Turkey seemed the ideal meat—it was fattened up from its birth in the spring and didn’t provide milk or preferable eggs.  Plus, I reckon, they figured a bird with a cavity that big could hold a boatload of one of my favorite Thanksgiving foods, stuffing. 
Or is it dressing?
The stuffing vs. dressing debate is one that not many people know the answer to, including me.  I will tell you that some people say that you call it “stuffing” if it’s inside the bird and “dressing” if it’s cooked outside the bird.  Others, from below the Mason-Dixon line, will call it all “dressing” no matter what you say.  I prefer to call it whatever you want me to call it, as long as I can have a second helping.
And speaking of second helpings, one can’t think of a modern day Thanksgiving meal without bringing up the one and only green bean casserole.  My grandmother spent her entire life being one of the best cooks around, and yet sadly I remember her mostly by the green bean casserole she brought to every holiday meal. 
She’s not really to blame, though.  What busy housewife wouldn’t jump on the chance to whip up the easiest side dish in all of American history?  It was Campbell’s Soup, in 1955 that released the brilliant idea and gave women everywhere a chance to hang up their aprons a few minutes early.  A can of beans, a can of soup, a bit of crunchy onions, and I dare say that old Mr. Turkey has some competition when it comes to being the quintessential Thanksgiving dish.
But no matter what is served during the main course, nothing, and I mean nothing, beats the traditional desserts served at Thanksgiving.  Although the first Thanksgiving may not have included them, nothing makes my family happier than a rack of pies, each with a bit of a milk glaze, crusty sugar on top, and holding a feast of cinnamon spiced apples or a moist and gooey pond of pumpkin with extra nutmeg.  Pumpkin pie, it seems, wasn’t around for the first Thanksgiving either.  It is believed to have appeared on American tables in the 17th century.  I’m not sure of the exact date, but I think it may have (or should have) coincided with the invention of whipped cream.
So this Thanksgiving while you dine on the actual meal or are sneaking leftovers, take a moment to say a little thanks for each of our traditional foods that fuel us for the Christmas season and be extra thankful that you’re not going to be eat eel salad sandwiches for the next few days.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ain’t too late to hibernate


With a hint of chill in the air, I reached for a cup of tea and found this quote by Pietro Aretino staring back at me from the box.  “Let us love winter, for it is the spring of genius.”  Instantly I thought that dear Pietro didn’t have to shovel driveways or dress children in snowsuits who mysteriously have to go to the bathroom the second the zipper goes up.  I thought that Pietro must not have had to endure darkness at 4:30 while his kids bounced off the walls and surely he didn’t mind the smell of well-worn snow boots permeating through his house.
But still, the spring of genius.  And as I sat there with my steaming cup of tea, snuggled in under a blanket while the outside world grew a bit more dark and a bit more cold, I thought that maybe Peitro was on to something.  I may not be a genius, but good things can come from hunkering down overwinter, reading books and drinking tea and playing board games by the firelight.  Knitting and crafting and singing songs, and cooking big pots of soup that nourish the soul as much as they do the body and brain. Staying tucked away while the cold winds blow can indeed bring genius, if maybe we just listen to what our bodies are telling us.
Hibernate.
Maybe not all winter long – I love a good day of skiing or sledding as much as the next person – but as soon as there’s a bite in the air, I can’t help but get the urge to hunker down with my family, wearing slippers and doing all of those inside things we never get to do because we’re too busy outside all summer long.  It’s such a strong feeling that I can’t help but wonder, if we are truly just another animal living on this Earth, that biologically we shouldn’t hibernate (or at least go into torpor for you science nuts out there) for a few months a year.  There is astounding evidence.
For one, I personally don’t like to shave my legs as much in the winter, nor do we get our hair cut short during these months.  I think it’s instinct’s way of telling me to grow a winter coat and stay warm. 
And speaking of staying warm, there is no better insulator than good old body fat, which we all know is inevitable during the Bermuda Triangle of holiday goodies that begins with Halloween candy, continues with turkey and gravy, and ends with enough Christmas cookies to fill a bear’s den. 
There’s also the overwhelming awareness that cold does not equal good.  I’m sure there are cold-lovers out there, but when my body is cold and shivering and my lips are turning blue, this is not a time when I proclaim how wonderful it feels to be outside in winter.  Instead, we as humans do everything we can to avoid the cold.  We have furnaces and insulation, Gortex and polypropylene, and even those amazing little packets that emit heat that we stash in our gloves and boots.  And yet, our bodies still get cold enough that we yearn to stand next to a roaring fire and hold our palms up to it, ever so slightly toasting our skin back to core temperature.
Once we are warm, there’s a much better chance of us curling up and heading to bed early.  With the amount of darkness that surrounds us from now until spring, it’s hard not to inch towards the couch or push the snooze button a few times.  Last time I checked we’re not nocturnal and when the lights go out, I’m not too far from dreamland.
So maybe Pietro was right, genius does come in the winter if you listen to what the genius is telling you.  Stop shaving, eat some cookies, lay on the couch and take a nap.  Spring will be here before you know it, and you’ll be all the wiser for it.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Supersize me

(Because of space issues, this column didn't appear in its entirety in the newspaper.  If you were looking for a missing ending, find it below...)


They say everything’s bigger in Texas, but I think everything is bigger in Parenthood.  I came to this realization when I recently downsized the girth of my vehicle.  I did this purely out of selfishness, because I really got tired of my kids calling it a “spaceship” and having to park in Timbuktu so that no one would smash into my doors.
Bigger cars are convenient for children.  You need seats to put them in, cargo room to haul their things around, and compartments galore to hold emergency snacks, books, deodorant, homework pencils, etc.  If I had a semi-trailer, I could certainly fill it with the things we tend to need while on the road running from this to that.  In fact, I would be lying if I said I never dreamed of just buying an RV so I could take an honest nap during piano lessons.
But with my new smaller vehicle, I’ve been awakened to an entirely new philosophy of motherhood.  Everything gets bigger.  (Except patience and free time, but that’s another story.)
And so, an annotated sampling of a few things of mine that have gotten bigger since I upgraded from Wife to Mother:
My Purse.  I used to not even carry a purse, it was merely a wallet with an extra storage pocket.  Now when I toss the tote bag of necessities into the front passenger seat, I swear the air bag turns on. 
Shopping Carts.  It’s a good thing I have experience driving a large car because if you’ve never had the pleasure of maneuvering one of those giant beasts through the aisles, it’s almost as hard as signing the credit card slip when you see how much money you spent to fuel your growing children.
Arm Muscles.  I personally got into the habit of holding my children while going about my entire day.  With each pound they gained, my arms began to look a little less like Olive Oyl and a little more like Popeye. 
Medicine Cabinet.  Cough?  Cold?  Allergy?  Fever? Belly ache?  Somehow we find it necessary to have symptom suppressants for every ailment, for every age level, not to mention 3,000 of those little plastic measuring cups accumulating in our kitchen drawers.  This, of course, does not include the plastic cups and medicines that have made their home in my ever-prepared giant purse.
Medical Bills.  Because sometimes you want your kids to be healthy, happy, have straight and clean teeth, and live long enough so that they can endure the same explosive sizes that you are.
Bags Under My Eyes.  Naturally your kid decided to get sick in the middle of the night and you have to hold them and love them until the doctor’s office opens.  (See above.)  Under eye bags are also caused by having to stay up all night to sift through the gobs of paperwork your children throw at you, and you sort through them and really wish you could carry around a personal assistant in those bags.
Bookshelves.  Fellow book people will understand this without an explanation.  I’m pretty sure my house has sunk two inches under the extra weight of picture books.
Miscellaneous Body Parts.  Forget the arm muscles and eye bags, there are plenty of other body parts that lose all concept of proportionality after you become a mother.  Weight seems to distribute itself in a way that your body is afraid that you’ve got balance problems and consequently adds bulk to your feet and every other place that you really don’t want it to go.  I’ll just say that my center of gravity is sufficiently substantial.
Bed.  At the end of the day when you’re exhausted from driving your big car and hauling your big purse to the doctor’s office while filling out sport release forms in the waiting room, nothing beats a giant bed for flopping down.  You relish the space because no matter how big it is, sometime during the night there may be the pitter patter of little feet down the hall and what space you had will be taken up by the warmest, softest, often smelliest, ball of the biggest love you’ll ever know.




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