Yogurt For Everyone!

You guys. Apparently there’s been a biomedical breakthrough that’s going to save us all from our stress, anxiety and depression without having to take another pill ever.

I say this in sweeping generalization because I’m pretty sure all writers are angsty.

Okay, so I found this on the internet – much like I found blogs – and that means it must be true. According to Yahoo! Health in association with something called Healthline and some quotes from the lead researcher at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine…

…I’ll get back to that in a second…

…yogurt is going to keep us all sane.

No, really.

It’s the probiotics! All those scrumptious live active cultures and happy bacteria supposedly create a neurochemical reaction that changes the way our brains respond to the environment we’re in. Another researcher, this one in New Zealand,  is running a study following 80 patients diagnosed with depression while they receive probiotic supplements for four months. That researcher said she hoped the study would find that probiotic treatment “changes levels of certain substances in the blood and brain, essentially making people happier.”

Nobody in this particular story mentioned exactly what those chemicals or happiness ingredients are, so I’m kind of assuming it’s the live active cultures and happy bacteria.

““When we consider the implications of this work, the old sayings ‘you are what you eat’ and ‘gut feelings’ take on new meaning,” said the UCLA researcher.

Yeah. She said that.

And she works at the medical school funded, evidently, by a huge donation from one of the most prolific and successful music producers ever.

Not a doctor. Music producer. Slash film producer slash theatrical producer slash philanthropist, so good for him, but maybe don’t let them put your name on the school, because huh?

Anyway, this is super-exciting news, for obvious reasons. I mean, I just ate some Chobani 0% plain yogurt mixed with some strawberries and blueberries and kiwi and a drizzle of honey. There’s a whole tub of that Chobani stuff in the fridge. And a leftover Yoplait I mistakenly bought because it was on sale and I didn’t realize it was full sugar and not really that good. So since I have all this yogurt in my fridge, clearly I can toss out my Lexapro prescription.

Right?

Now this wonder-food that helps regulate my digestive system, keep my stomach functioning properly, contribute to bone health and allegedly (with the proper sugar content) help me keep my waist trim will also keep me from having those pesky anxiety attacks!

This is huge!

I’m going to save so much money on alcohol!

What? The prescription is $30 for three months. That’s how much I spend on one magnum bottle of vodka.

Don’t get me wrong. Despite my satire, I totally believe that we’ve strayed so far from the evolution-established path of whole foods for whole health that we no longer understand that it’s not an “important discovery” when we reach back to cave time and remember it was better for us to eat real food than the processed crap that comes in boxes and cans at the store. But having said that, and adjusting for the environmental elements that make us crave more love, attention, self-actualization, etc than we needed in the paleolithic era, I’m still pretty sure that there were some cavepersons whose seratonin levels slipped below par. Hence all the clubbing.

I bet they wish they’d had some Dannon Fruit-on-the-Bottom.

(I just had the most awesome image of cavepeople dancing to a thudding bass beat under glow lights. Maybe the grunting was really just a vocalization of the rhythm? Uhn-tz uhn-tz uhn-tz uhn-uhn-uhn-tz uhn-tz uhn-tz… OMG I JUST CRACKED CAVESPEAK!)

Now, when you’ve had a bad day at work and someone cut you off in traffic and your significant other is acting strange and your mother is in the hospital, you can walk in the door, scarf down some yogurt and avoid that crushing chest pain, sensation of breathlessness and sleep trouble. You can sit in front of the TV stuffing your face with creamy cool white dairy goodness and forget bouncing your knee or sighing loudly. You can unclench your jaw without even thinking about it as you down spoonfuls of wholesome low-fat superfood.

Yeah… um… I’m gonna stick with my martini and Lexapro. You know. Until further research is completed.

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On the Tenth & Eleventh Days of Christmas

I did exactly what I said I would. Well, almost exactly. I went to my Happy Place grocery store. I made the French onion soup. I spent hours in my kitchen creating a mess and yummy food at the same time. I did dishes and dishes and dishes. I did laundry. I was disgustingly domestic. Liberated Professional Me hated me.

But I didn’t make the lasagna until the Eleventh Day. It was a new recipe, supplied by Tyler Florence via the internet. I had first made my college professor-cum-friend’s pecan shortbread bars, taking care to heed warnings about bubble-over and the dangers of burning sugar smells. I managed to get the bars done with neither of the offenses happening… not even a drip of sugary goodness anywhere. Then it was time for the lasagna.

That bubbled over. At first it was just a few drips on the bottom of the oven. Then there was some smoking. Huh. Okay. Happens. I turned on the vent and opened a window. Then I shoved a sheet of aluminum foil onto the bottom of the oven– more to save myself the trouble of having to scrub out blackened beef and sausage and cheese juice than anything else.

But seemingly within moments, I looked up and the house was full of the haze of lasagna smoke.

Say, who was it who decided that every room in a house has to have a smoke detector?

Three dwellings ago, I learned a great trick: when your kitchen capers seem to go slightly awry (or your oven revolts), dampen a washcloth and put it over the smoke detector. Use a rubber band if it’s mounted on the ceiling.

I cannot tell you how often that little trick has come in handy.

I scurried around the house, climbing various chairs/stools/ladders, covering the smoke detectors with damp washcloths secured by rubber bands. I turned on ceiling fans. I opened every blasted window despite the January air. I even opened the back door, risking the possibility that an alley rat would smell dinner and come to check it out. Which sounds like a Disney movie, but is definitely not.

Meanwhile, let me be clear: nothing was burning. The lasagna was fine. My cooking was not in question. (I would be insulted if it were. I never burn things. I am very proud of that. For some really, really stupid reason.) It was just the drippings on the bottom of the oven that were smoking up the joint. Seriously smoking up the joint. Like, it was pouring out the oven. Next thing I knew, I was pacing around with a wet towel, flapping it in the air, trying to clear the air. Anybody walking by outside would have seen it.

I heard sirens.

Oh, God. Ohhhh, please don’t be coming to my house because some neighbor thought I might be burning the place down. This will be the third time in as many dwellings that the fire department will have shown up.

In my defense, the first time was because my downstairs neighbor had “fallen asleep with a pizza box in the oven,” and I was the one who had called the fire department. It was the night I moved in. I personally think he was smoking more than a pizza box. Who puts the box in the oven?! Jackass.

The second time was because my carbon monoxide detector went off at 3am. Odorless, colorless. Clueless. I had to call.

Fortunately, the sirens passed me by. I live near two hospitals and several main roads, so sirens aren’t unusual. These guys definitely sounded like they’d been coming for me, but happily, no.

I wound up having to turn the oven off 15 minutes before the lasagna was supposed to be done. I settled for letting it sit in there with the door closed but without the recurring flame of gas fueling the mess. Forty-five minutes later, I was halfway inside the thing, trying to scrub it out, because I had remembered that my brother-in-law’s cousin and her boyfriend were coming for brunch the next morning and I had a frittata to bake, and I didn’t want to smoke them out of the house.

I literally had my head in the oven.

Which accomplished exactly nothing. There was still a thin layer of blackened lasagna juice covering much of the bottom of it.

Everything in the house smelled like smoke. Even the cat smelled like smoke. I googled “how to clean a gas oven without chemicals,” more because I didn’t have any chemicals handy than because I was concerned about my brain and lung function. I found  a trick using baking soda, salt and water. I’m supposed to leave that paste covering the insides of the oven overnight and then scrape it all up, along with the blackened lasagna juice, in the morning.

I wonder what smoked frittata is like.

 

On the Ninth Day of Christmas

You know it’s getting cold when I start fantasizing about food. I become a glutton of comfort, googling recipes for soups and chili and (as I said in my last post) lasagna. And this year, my new thing: brunch. Since I work nights and weekends, seemingly interminably, it occurred to me that brunch might be the better way to host and exorcise my cooking demons. Bonus: you’re practically required to drink before 5pm when you have brunch.

“Brunch has been a Thing for ten years,” Joey told me from Brooklyn when I declared my 2013: Year of the Brunch intentions via Facebook message to the Ohio 5. I could almost hear his boredom. I could almost hear his eyes rolling. Joey is one of those people who is always snapping pictures of his food and posting them on social media. Which I only do very occasionally.

“I know it’s been ah Thing,” I told him. “But this year it’s my Thing. And don’t start telling me how passe’ I am, or it’s no brunch for you!”

I am collecting recipes from all over the place… instructions for strata (the plural of which, I’ve decided, should be “strata” – if it isn’t already), frittata (which is just fun to say), quiche, and my sub-obsession: savory cheesecake. I had a slice of one on the Disney cruise a year and a half ago, and zowee, was it unexpectedly delicious. Rock shrimp and caramelized onion.

Also? There is virtually no difference between strata, frittata and quiche. Mostly the divisions come in crust vs. no crust and method of prep (frittata is commonly cooked on the stovetop before being transferred to the oven).

Saturday I’m having my brother-in-law’s cousin and her boyfriend for my first brunch. I think I’ve settled on a veggie & sausage frittata; clementine, fennel & arugula salad; and pecan shortbread bars for that. Plus the obligatory mimosas and Bloody Marys.

Today I shall go to my Happy Place grocery store, which is 30 minutes from the house, and I shall stock up on a bunch of stuff I need/want in order to cook as I wish. It’s been a little while since I did this, indulged in a full day’s cooking (not baking). The plan for today is French onion soup, which takes four hours, and maybe one of the lasagna recipes. In between, I’ll be cleaning like crazy, because it’s been a while since I did that, too. And I just might have some classical music playing throughout.

You may think I’m a sucker for indulging my senses. You’d probably be right. But if they weren’t meant to be satisfied, we wouldn’t have them. The poor cavemen didn’t know what they were missing. Fortunately, we have evolved.

Question: do I have to get out of my warm, cozy lounging-around clothes to go to the store?

Merry Lead-Up

I am sitting at my kitchen table, looking out at my festive and merry living room with its golden light cast about by the white ones on the tree and the standing one in the corner and the frosted ones in the Dickens Village houses and their reflection off the yellow painted wall. I am under a kind of spotlight from above the counter-bar behind me. The kitchen window is open a couple of inches to cool the house down from its stuffy 72 degree temperature after having the oven on for the last four hours. It reminds me of winter holidays at my grandparents’ house, when they did the same thing.

I am so damned tired. I yawned tremendously, four times in three minutes while folding laundry a little while ago.

There. I did it again.

But a it’s good tired. (Except for writing. I had “it’s” and “a” transposed in that sentence just then. And then I tried to spell “except” with a pound sign.) I’ve been on vacation this week, which is glorious. I mean that fact itself is enough to make angels burst into song. Fine, the angels don’t give a crap. I’m the one bursting into song. The angels are working overtime right now and kind of resent my absence with pay.

So first one of my besties from college, Joey, came to visit. We dined late on Friday after his arrival, at a cute little French bistro where the onion soup named for its nation was over-salted (and that’s saying something), but the ambiance was lovely and the boeuf bourguignon was divine. The next morning we sipped coffee as he flung open my front door and sang a song to the neighborhood.

I’m not kidding.  He’s like that. Gay playwrights are like that. Not to generalize.

We baked his grandmother’s thought-to-be-complex-but-actually-only-four-ingredients cookies and strolled through the park to the kicky little hipster coffee shop on the other side for a cuppa joe and a grand conversation with the baristo.  We traipsed through a couple of sections of my fun city, popping into shops along the way, trying on fetching and/or ridiculous hats, for example. We perused an appropriately grungy and hip record shop. And then we ducked into a restaurant for dinner, which was fanfreakingtastic as I expected.

I love love love finding new places to eat in tucked-away locales with friends. They are so impressed with me when I do this, because I’ve planned to go here, I’ve mentioned the name. But really I’m totally just using them as guinea pigs for my gastric galavanting. Win-win.

When Joey left on Sunday, I had a day with relatively little to do.

Just that one.

I watched football and read. A book. Lots of pages of it. It’s really good.

Monday and Tuesday I baked and waited for the various repair-type people to come repair things. On Monday night I watched “The Polar Express.” Twice. Because I needed some transportive magic, and that one does it for me every time. Tuesday I had friends over for dinner – my fettuccine Alfredo from scratch, which I make once a year and only once a year because if I make it more than that my arteries will slam shut and I’ll die. After my friends left, I put on “Elf,” saw the first ten minutes and fell asleep through the rest of it. How is it that you always wake up right when it’s over and the DVD is playing the menu screen on a loop?

Wednesday, Sister 2 came with Youngest Neph (BIL 2 was working), and we hung out and went to see crazy Christmas light displays that I’d tried to take Joey to but he’d pitched a nutty about sitting in traffic and we turned around and went home. Sis and I ate up the wonder on my nephew’s sweet toddler face while he “whoaed” and “wowed” and “dis is amazinged” down the street. Then we had dinner and watched “While You Were Sleeping” because we love that movie and we always laugh out loud at the very best part, which is like five seconds of a newspaper delivery kid riding his bike, flinging a paper and falling over. She drank ah glass of pinot noir, her 32-week-pregnant self very happy to sip it slowly with the doctor’s permission.

When they left this afternoon, I resumed baking and doing laundry (washer’s working! Huzzah!) All baking comes with Christmas music from either Pandora or the cable TV channel or CDs. And that comes with me snap-scatting around the kitchen with Frank and Johnny and Michael Buble’ (they play way too much of him on Pandora). I was just pulling a dozen oatmeal raisin chocolate chip cookies out of the oven when there was a knock on the door and the declaration of a UPS man’s presence. Holy Fast Delivery, Batman: it was the two replacement wine glasses I’d ordered from Crate & Barrel Tuesday night after I’d shattered a second one of the four I had. They arrived in less than 48 hours.

Clearly, the folks at Crate & Barrel are aware that the world is ending tomorrow and some of us need our wine glasses pronto.

The UPS guy commented on how great the cookies smelled, so I offered him one. He totally wanted it, but he checked his watch and said he didn’t have time.

I don’t know what that meant. When I say, “Do you want one?” do you take that to mean “Please come in, sit down and have a leisurely chew?”

So instead, I ran back to the kitchen, grabbed two from the cooling rack and handed them to him through the door, with a “Merry Christmas” and a smile. He took a bite and groaned with pleasure as he walked away.

UPS guy was kinda hot, by the way. And so I fleetingly wondered what Brown can do for me as I walked back to tend my oven.

And now I’m sitting. Sitting and enjoying. And thinking. I have one more day off before it’s back to the usual grindstone, working through Christmas and all. I still have some Christmas gifts to buy, and I have cookie trays to assemble and deliver. And I have a few more movies to watch in order to complete my holiday traditions.

But that to-do list makes me smile. I’m glad I find so much pleasure in the things that lead up to Christmas, since I so often have to work on the holiday and miss that one day’s shining moments. More and more, it’s about the lead-up, for me.

Merry Lead-Up, all.

On the Menu: Air. Water. Little Else.

Can someone please find me a day’s worth of food and beverage that is not spicy, fatty, rich, caffeinated, or acidic?

I bet you can’t.

Not quite two weeks ago, I detailed to you (well, maybe not you – readership seems to have dropped off a bit – where are you people? It’s the politics, isn’t it?) a stunning attack of heartburn that made me think I was going to either spontaneously combust or bleed to death inside. Good news: that hasn’t happened again. Bad news: it apparently touched off an enduring episode of acid reflux.

I’ve had this once before, and the most interesting feature of it by far is that the bumps at the back of my tongue get all hot and bothered. Well, not hot. But bothered. They swell up. The effect of this is the sensation of something being caught in my throat. Or, that I’m about to choke to death. Nothing hurts. Nothing even burns. But apparently the acid sloshes up my esophagus so far that the back of my tongue gets all irritated.

Are you grossed out yet?

It’s not really gross, except that I guess it’s kind of like I’ve been eating batteries. As of yet, I have not turned into a fire-breathing dragon. Though that might be kind of cool and is something to aim for if things don’t improve.

*Burp*

Anyway. I’ve been taking this over-the-counter stuff for a few days now. One of those meds that used to be prescription only and now it’s available without the hassle of going to the doctor, having the doctor say, “You have acid reflux,” getting a prescription filled and fighting with the insurance company about the whole thing. The OTC meds are a 14-day course. You take one every morning before you eat or drink anything and it’s a time-release deal. Lovely.

But today as I was swallowing the pill I read the side of the box that told me what to avoid eating and drinking, and frankly I might as well have just become Gandhi.

What we thought was principle may have just been a peptic complaint.

“Avoid heartburn-causing foods such as rich, spicy, fatty or fried foods, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol and certain fruits and vegetables.”

The medicine box was an a$$hole.

Now, look. I know that those things can cause heartburn. And although I love me some rich & fatty, I try to stay healthy with the food. But under these guidelines, I defy you to come up with a list of stuff I can eat on a given day and not have it be filled with boiled chicken and nothing else.

Plus, these are perfect restrictions, since I have chili and tomato basil soup in the fridge, half a homemade – from scratch, people – chocolate cake on the counter, and half a bottle of cabernet on the table.

I cannot waste that.

*Burp*

The fruits and veggies may be the unkindest cut of all. No citrus. No tomatoes or tomato-based foods. No onions. No peppers. No potatoes (potatoes?! Seriously?). No scallions or garlic. No vinegar-based or creamy or oily salad dressing.

Well what other kind of salad dressing is there?

Most of this is off the table

And obviously the “no fatty foods” thing applies to any meat that isn’t super-lean. And cheese. Also, I’ve been wondering if peanut butter counts as a fatty food. And is fiber bad, or good?

So, like I said. Boiled chicken. And maybe some plain rice.

How very... blah

Why does my lower esophogeal sphincter muscle have to be such a tight-a$$?

…she asks as she sips her coffee.

Hey. Some things are required in order for me to be a decent human being.

 

 

 

Christmas Crunch

Raise your hand if you’re exhausted five days before Christmas.

If you can, that is.

I love this time of year, and I’m fully aware that it’s my own fault I haven’t been able to sit down and just look at the freaking tree for a minute. But I’m telling you, I zonked out watching “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” last night. The folks at Disney managed to boil down the Dickens classic into a 26 minute cartoon and I was out before the ghost of Jacob Marley appeared.

"You missed my day-byoo!"

Here’s the problem: I always refuse to do anything for Christmas until at least the day after Thanksgiving. Even then, on principle, I wait until December before I even entertain notions of holiday cheer. But my righteous indignation has backfired on me this year because all but one of my days off work during this month have been occupied by other, out-of-town things (Jack’s marathon, a funeral, helping my parents move, etc.). The one day I was in town was the day I decked the halls and put up the tree, then immediately left instead of being able to enjoy it. It’s that occupation, really, that has scrooged me.

That was a play on words. I wanted to say “screwed,” but I changed it to something holiday-related. Aren’t I festive?

"Not particularly, no."

Don’t get me wrong: I was happy to do those things. I really was. It’s just that it’s killing me now. Who helps people move in the middle of December? Gah.

All this busyness is why it’s been so long since my last post, by the way. It’s not really that I haven’t had anything to write about. It’s more than I don’t have the energy to do it by the time I have an available hour, which is somewhere around 1am. And then I can’t remember what I was going to write about, anyway.

I can’t quite say I’m overcommitted. I mean, not compared to other people. I work nights and weekends, which makes me a solid No on all party invitations. I don’t have kids, so I’m not consumed by their needs. My only commitments really are to working, baking, shopping and traveling because I finally have Christmas off. (Sleeping is not a commitment at this stage.)

I give cookie platters to several people as gifts (this started when some work associates who made a lot more money than me gave me gifts, and I never knew what to do for them). It’s a tradition I’ve carried on for myself for several years now. I really do enjoy the baking, at least the first 3/4 of it, after which I may or may not beat someone to death with a rolling pin but it has to be done anyway because now I’m all-in and everybody knows you can’t make trays of cookies and only have like four kinds on them. Everybody knows it has to be at least eight kinds and besides if you only did four kinds there wouldn’t be enough for all the platters. Duh.

Sunday night, my grandmother’s infamously difficult butter cookies had me trying to remember whether it was Ozzy or AC/DC who did “Hell’s Bells” as I tried to scrape the bell-shaped cutouts off the counter while retaining some semblance of their original shape. I named them the “AC/DC Batch.” After a teeny, tiny fit, I told myself they’ll just play different notes. There. All better.

I’m not one of those people who complains and is made miserable by Christmas shopping. I buy gifts for 16 people, most of them children, and I’m happy to do it. I love to give gifts. All that shopping craziness gets me in the spirit, so I hated using the internets to handle a few people on my list this year. I like the mall at Christmas. I like to see so many people trying to so hard to make someone else’s day happy. But when it gets down to December 19th and I’m trying to cram a major shopping trip and a ship, stamp and fetch visit to the molasses-like post office into the two hours between clothing myself and leaving for work, well… I need a Xanax. It seriously wasn’t until 12:45pm yesterday, as I was leaving the store to go to work while obsessive-compulsively ticking through my to-do list and comparing it to my available time, that I started to think that maybe I’d be able to pull this holiday off. If I didn’t sit down to look at the freaking tree. And that was only because I had finally found the plain holiday M&Ms. Four stores, all I could find were the almond, the peanut butter, the pretzel, the dark chocolate… why the hell is there such a shortage of the freaking plain freaking holiday freaking M&Ms?!?!

I have a list of ten Christmas movies I want to watch every year so I can soak up the spirit of the season. Of the ten (three of which are less than 30 minutes long), I’ve seen three so far. And I can’t watch any tonight because I have to finish baking and there’s not enough time between trays to sit down and watch.

Irony alert: the whole baking thing is apparently making me bitter. It’s so intense at this point that I just threatened to stab a co-worker for making me watch a YouTube video of a senior citizen flash mob that uses Glee’s version of “Last Christmas.” Which is the holiday song I hate the most in the whole wide world. And now it’s stuck in my head.

Last Christmas, we gave you your parts, and the very next day, we wished we had picked a different song because this one is awful...

But everything will be better after work on Wednesday. Before then, it will be torturous. But after work on Wednesday, I will go home, and I will turn off all the lights except the ones on the tree and my Dickens Village houses and my mantle, and I will put on PJs, and I will light candles, and I will wrap myself in a comfy blanket, and I will watch a Christmas movie. Probably The Bishop’s Wife, the black and white original with Carey Grant and Loretta Young and David Niven that a college friend gave to me our sophomore year (it’s on VHS). And on Thursday, I will stay home, clean, do laundry, wrap gifts and watch more movies. And whatever I didn’t get to watch I will take with me to my parents’ new house on Friday, to see while curled up on the couch with my little sister, who’s 21 but still likes to snuggle with me sometimes. And we will warm my parents’ new home for the holiday.

And I will fall asleep almost immediately.

...and to all a good night. (image from 123rf.com. Why is she sitting in a beach chair? I don't know.)

They Call It “Comfort Food” For A Reason… Even Though It Makes My Pants Tighter

Evil in a casserole dish.

I think the Italians are secretly trying to make us all disgustingly fatter than them with their comfort food. Or I have a problem. One of those.

Here’s what: yesterday I was too rushed to put my dinner together and take it to work as I usually do. I had been decking the halls and was running late. I was a little stressed and a little anxious, trying to figure out (like everybody else in the Western world) how I was going to get everything done in time to actually enjoy the season. And then at work I got an email from Jack, and our subsequent exchange upset me. And so when it was time for dinner, I ordered carryout from the restaurant down the street from the office. A lot. Of carryout. Of the Italian variety. And not the lovely fish, or even the sumptuous chicken or veal. No, Jack said something stupid on top of a couple of other stupid things he’s said recently that he probably thinks aren’t stupid at all but in fact they are, and I wound up surrounded by carbohydrates.

And I blame the Italians. And Jack. Who’s actually half-Sicilian, now that I think about it. Double culpability.

Oh, who am I kidding? Who has two thumbs and is an emotional eater?! This girrrrrl!

To be fair, it’s not that I eat when I’m upset. It’s what I eat. Thankfully, I managed to break free a few years ago of that godforsaken habit of eating because of anything other than hunger, and I’m hoping I can hang on to that conviction. In this particular case, all I’d eaten earlier in the day was a piece of quiche, so my voraciousness was justified. What was less justified was the restaurant portion of Rigatoni Ridiculous in Ridiculous Sauce and piles of fresh-baked super-white completely-devoid-of-all-redeeming-nutritional-ingredients bread.

There was salad. That makes it better, right? That there was salad? Except the salad had a lot of croutons.

And then there was cake. Dense four-layer cake with an inch of mousse between each layer.

What? I needed chocolate therapy.

I told the guy at the carryout counter that I needed two sets of cutlery so he wouldn’t think I was eating all that food myself.

Yeah. Problem.

In case you’re wondering, yes, this was the sum total of how I dealt with my emotions. And yes, it did make me feel better, thankyouverymuch. So no, I didn’t directly tell Jack that he’d upset me. I did point out some of the stupidity he sent in his email when I replied. Gently. I think he got the point, because I didn’t hear from him for the rest of the night.

I only ate half the pasta and probably less than half the giant slab of cake that justifies what the restaurant charges for that thing. I ate most of the salad. And only 1/5 of the insane amount of bread. I figure that means I ate a little less than half a pound of pasta and what normal people would call a piece and a half of cake. But I used the bread to soak up more Ridiculous Sauce.

And then I sat at my desk for another four hours before I drove an hour home and sat on my couch. Just to make sure that all the carbs went directly to the cellulite dimples to which they’d been assigned.

Even worse than all this is that I have absolutely no remorse about it. This morning my belly is a little pouffier than it was yesterday and I know it’s because of all those carbs, but I’ll just find something to wear that camouflages it and go about my day, eat salad and soup for two days, get my normal stomach back and be blissfully unaware that I’ve added to my butt and thighs.

But Jack might still have no remorse for the stupid stuff he said.

Good thing I have leftovers.

The Old Haunts

I wonder if my mother will make spaghetti and meatballs for dinner tonight.

Growing up, there was a pretty strict rule  in our house: eat all your dinner, or you do absolutely nothing fun for the rest of the night.

Nevermind that this might have encouraged chronic overeating because there was more food on the plate than our appetites cared to consume; it’s an age-old rant for every parent who works to buy the food they cook for their children’s nourishment, and they aren’t about to waste it because your eight-year-old self decided overnight that you don’t like egg noodles anymore.

(For the record, I don’t like egg noodles anymore, and I don’t know when that happened, but it was probably when I was freed from living at home and eating them on the nights we didn’t have some form of potato. I may have eaten them twice in the 16 years since I moved out of my parents’ house. Both times, I was at my parents’ house.)

Sorry, back to the point: eat everything, or there shall be no fun. Never was this rule – and the dinner that lent itself to it – more important than on Halloween night.

A debatable dinner could contain any one of the following foods:

Sister 1, Me, Sister 2, mid-scary dinner

  • Cube steak
  • Sauerkraut
  • Any vegetable other than green beans, canned zucchini in tomato sauce, or corn – mixed vegetables being the absolute worst choice possible (salad was acceptable)
  • Certain preparations of pork chops
  • Most kinds of soup (exceptions: Campbell’s tomato, Lipton chicken noodle)
  • Anything overcooked to the point of dryness or mushiness
  • Anything rendered cold by hesitation to eat (reheating was forbidden)
  • Numerous other variables depending upon children’s moods

Production of any of the above unfailingly resulted in:

  1. Children not eating everything
  2. Angry father glaring/yelling at children
  3. Threats
  4. Crying
  5. Mother giving father dirty look for saying there would be no trick-or-treating, making children cry, ruining Halloween
  6. Argument between mother and father over dirty look for ruining of Halloween

            My mother learned after a few years that, if she wanted a peaceful evening that did

not 

          include trying to scrub facepaint mixed with tears out of shirts, she had to make a dinner everyone would eat without objection. From that year on, it was spaghetti and meatballs with salad every October 31st.
        Halloween dinner was earlier than most other nights of the year; we were at the table by 5:30, latest. There was none of this trick-or-treating at 4pm. No, it was long dark and at least 7pm before we headed out. We had to be back by 9. Dad was always the one who took us out; that’s why he had no problem with cancelling the whole event for vegetable-related offenses. We ate at a table covered in a fun, cartoonish tablecloth: a black background with orange and green and purple and white and yellow ghosts, goblins, pumpkins, witches and spider webs. Once the dishes were done (and some years Mom did them to cut down on the drama), we high-tailed it upstairs to get in our gear.
        Some of the costumes I remember donning:
  • Tweety Bird (age 5 – this was the year Sister 1 was Strawberry Shortcake and spooked at the first house we went to when she saw Frankenstein, which sent her screaming back to our house, never to come out again)
  • Slot machine (age 9)
  • Cleaning lady (age 10)
  • Hobo (age 11)
  • Mime (age 12)
  • Punk rocker (age 13 – my last year begging for candy)
  • Charlie Chaplin (age 16, for a party)

My mother would want me to tell you that when I was nine, I was actually a one-armed bandit. She would want me to tell you this because she created the costumes that year, the same one for all three of us, and it meant covering boxes with aluminum foil, cutting out a slot and using a toilet paper roll with pictures of fruit glued onto it as a jackpot roll, and — this is the key part — cutting a hole in the side of the box so we could stick one arm out to function as the lever. The other arm stayed in the box so that, if anyone pulled the lever, we could use that hand to spin the toilet paper roll. AND… (major, major detail for Mom) we wore bandit masks.

Get it? One-armed bandits.

Twenty-five years. She’s still talking about it.

My favorite part of that year was when a five-year-old Sister 2 tripped and fell flat on her front, and got stuck there because she only had one available arm and it was too short to reach around the box to the ground, and her knees were inside the box so she had no leverage. She just flailed while my father and Sister 1 and I laaaaughed and laaaaughed and laaaughed. Then she cried and my father said, “Oh, knock it off,” and picked her up.

Bounty for which to be thankful. Wait, wrong holiday. Still, though.

We would come home and dump out all our candy onto the table, where Dad would sit down and start going through it all to check for needles. True story. As he did it, he separated everything into two categories: Chocolate and Not Chocolate. The Chocolate stuff went into freezer bags and then into the freezer (after Mom stole a couple Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Dad stole a bite-sized Snickers or Baby Ruth). The Not Chocolate stuff went into a big bowl. We sisters were allowed two pieces of candy that night. We generally had enough loot to last us til Easter.

Some years, Mom had to run to the store for more candy because it was a particularly busy night. Some years she just turned off the porch light when she ran out. The light was always turned off by 9, and the door was not answered after that, because nothing good could possibly happen after 9pm (this was also the absolute latest time any decent person could call the house unless someone had died). Anybody who knocked or rang (or called) after 9pm was deemed a hooligan, poorly raised.

When I had my own place, at 22, I was working the graveyard shift on Halloween. (Haha… I’m so clever.) I was asleep from 3 to 9pm and therefore put a big bowl of candy outside with a note that said, “Please take two – don’t knock!” When I left for work at 10:30pm or so, the candy had been untouched. It was the first of what, so far, have been 12 years sans trick-or-treaters. It’s kind of sad. Because of work, I’ve never gotten to go see my nephews on Halloween. I miss seeing flocks of kiddies in their ghoulish or cutesie garb, overtaking the streets of suburbia with little pumpkin pails or pillow cases in hand. Some years, I’ve found myself driving home from work wondering why there’s some guy dressed as an angel walking alone down an empty street, because I’ve forgotten it’s Halloween.

Angels walking alone down empty streets are creepy, by the way.

These days, I put candy out in a bowl in the hall for my neighbors and their visitors. The cartoon tablecloth has been handed down to me, because I was always the one who liked it the most. I watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” without fail when it comes on ABC. And if I think about it, I kind of miss the old haunts of Halloween.

But I get to eat whatever I want for dinner.

Hello, Gorge-ous.

I am totally gorging on Fall.

Which is probably why I’ve gained three pounds. (I don’t actually believe it. I’m suing the scale for accuracy. Tomorrow it will tell me something completely different. It lies. And confuses the cat when she steps on it. And sometimes inexplicably switches from pounds to kilograms. But mostly it lies.)

I will admit: Fall is my favorite season not least because of the comfort food it brings. Apple cake, mac & cheese, pots of soup, Crock Pot creations, potatoes (damn you, potatoes – I wish I knew how to quit you), and various hearty types of fare have come out of my kitchen in recent weeks. I am ardently, if breezily, badgering a coworker for her incredibly rich lasagna recipe, having realized that the one I grew up with is disappointingly inauthentic and blah. (My grandmother was 100% German, for cripe’s sake. Her parents came off the boat in 1914 and her mother never left the house after that. Who told her she knew how to make lasagna?) The trouble is, I love to cook, and I cook for the week on my days off, but then even if I only make two entrees, I wind up with too much food because it’s just little ol’ me around here. And sometimes I don’t eat what I made because I have dinner with Jack or Ali on a night off, or I’m not in the mood to eat what I made and I have to get out of the basement where I work, so I go down the street to fetch something instead. Plus, one cannot make individual servings of tomato basil bisque, or beef stew, or casserole. I share what I cook sometimes, but then the trouble with that is that the recipients share back, sending me home with meatloaf or pasta.

And then there are the yummies from other establishments, like pumpkin spice lattes and hot cocoa from Starbucks. They’re usually way too sweet for me and I hate drinking my fat intake (I’d rather save the fat for chewing), so the lattes are skim and I skip the whip every time, but the hot cocoa cannot be compromised.

Do not. Compromise. The cocoa.

And then… there is the bounty of Thanksgiving. This is a bounty I’ve missed out on for years because I’ve had to work. But this year, I’ve just learned, I will be off on Thanksgiving. And the heavens opened, and a chorus of chubby little cherubim with dark meat turkey legs in one dimpled hand and bowls of homemade stuffing in the other dimpled hand sang “hallelujah” around the gobs of grub in their cheeks.

"I wonder if we'll have broccoli in butter sauce." -"Yeah, or green bean casserole. I love that stuff."

(Then, out of nowhere, my father swooped in and gave them searing looks for singing with their mouths full. He would have done it for singing at the table, too, but cherubim don’t have to sit at a table to eat. So instead they got looks for not sitting at the table to eat. Even though they have wings and they float on clouds and the tables would fall through the clouds, so that’s totally unfair, Dad.)

Point is, this is the time of year when I fantasize about stuffing. I could go into some warm and glowy homespun story about the tradition of stuffing-making in our family; the recipe and the way everyone contributes, but I’ll save that for a time closer to when we’re actually making it. This year, my father’s older brother and sister-in-law are hosting Thanksgiving, so I won’t be contributing, but Christmas will be at my parents’ house right after they move back from Florida to commence retirement (yes, they are moving out of Florida when they retire) and it will be on like Donkey Kong.

I have Christmas off for the first time in years, too. Cue seraphim covered in cookie crumbs.

"Behold! The kingdom of the Lord is at hand! Not that hand, THIS hand. Put some of those butter cookies in it. They're... uh, they're for the baby Jesus. Yeah."

I’m indulging in other signature Fall experiences, as well; cuddling up in my big fleece robe or under a blanket on my huggy couch, watching some scary show or a feel-good movie, or reading a book. Grinning like a sappy fool at pictures of Twin Nephs in the pumpkin patch. Breathing deep the scent of burning fireplaces in crisp evening air, or of comfort-scented candles. Pulling the covers up over my head and sleeping a little longer. Sipping big red wines instead of chilled white ones. And staring at clear blue skies with changing leaves below them, trying to gauge exactly when the colors at the nature trail will peak on a similarly crystal-skied day before losing their leaves in a single rainstorm, and whether it will coincide with my days off so I can go take pictures like I hope to do every year, but never can because I always miss the prime conditions.

Maybe I’ll actually walk a good chunk of the trail while I’m playing photographer. I’ve got at least two holidays full of stuffing to prepare for.

Free the Eggs!

(First, a brief note.)

Remember a few weeks ago when I posted about calling in sick? My guilty conscience is getting guiltier. I’m starting to think I’ve been busted by my co-workers, and they’re just not telling me. They’ve been quiet lately and one of them made a joke the other night when I said I couldn’t come hang out with them for an event because I’d be working. “Call out sick,” she said, laughing. But I kind of feel like it was a jab. And then, before I went to bed last night, I checked my site stats and found that the only post that had been read since midnight was the one about calling in sick. And there had been no keyword searches that led the reader to it.

I’m convinced my co-workers have figured out that I have a blog, and now they know I lied.

I had a hard time sleeping.

So, if you’re one of my co-workers and I’m right, please just tell me. I’m sorry. I really am. I can’t take this.

(And if you’re not one of my co-workers and you just try to mess with my head, I will hunt you down and seek vengeance for what you put me through. Just sayin’.)

********

(Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way…)

I went to Starbucks today to grab a sandwich at 4pm because I hadn’t eaten anything yet and the intensifying nausea in my gut was threatening to overcome me. (I get nauseous when I’m really hungry sometimes. It’s weird.) I sat down at a table to eat my natural* turkey and Swiss cheese on whole grain bread so I wouldn’t pass out on my way to the door. Opening the little eco-conscious container, I found a packet of Hellmann’s light mayonnaise with a curious bit of art on it.

“Made with cage free eggs,” it said.

Really?

Free-range mayo?

This is necessary?

We have to admit that all this eco-consciousness that sprang out of the Oughts (2000 through 2009) has gone a little too far. I mean I get not wanting your kid to gnaw on a lead-painted crib (though I did, and look how well I turned out), and I get wanting to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but free-range mayo?

Frankly, if Hellmann’s hadn’t drawn my attention to it, I might never have realized that eggs could roam about on their own if only they were liberated from their cages.

Ethical happiness in a cup

I glopped my light, cage-free-egg-containing mayo onto my whole grain bread and chewed on a thought: While it was building its brand, Starbucks also built a reputation of being environmentally conscious. Coffee shops had always been bastions of beatnik music and customers so concerned about the world’s water supply that they often skipped showers in order to conserve, but Starbucks led a worldwide corporate charge to be both ubiquitous and minimally wasteful. And that’s admirable. This particular Starbucks lives in an old, converted warehouse. No new construction, made of existing materials. It’s got exposed brick walls and an old slate floor and charming decor that was once a grain storage bin and shaft. All the wood beams high above customers’ heads are raw and rustic. The industrial hanging lights feature energy-efficient bulbs. Starbucks may have been the first massive company to prove that going green doesn’t mean losing dough.

Of course, its overpriced coffee and $5.75 natural* turkey and Swiss cheese on whole grain

Outstretched hands of coffee-love

bread sandwiches helped with that.

Its coffee beans are all acquired through free trade with farmers. It sells give-clean-water-to-famished-children Ethos water, and since you can’t possibly be against giving clean water to famished children, you don’t grouse about the price of it. Almost all its food packaging is environmentally friendly. The little tray in which my sandwich came was imprinted with the words “compostable materials.”

 

It makes you feel good to be a Starbucks customer. Being a Starbucks customer helps counteract the fact that you’re an impulse-driven, spoiled, suburban or semi-suburban, caffeine-riddled SUV owner with disposable income.

But when we start getting into free-range mayo, it’s time to pump the brakes.

I don’t need my mayonnaise to be made from the eggs of free-range hens. Any old egg will do. It’s just mayonnaise. And besides, the eggs were snatched from the warmth of their mothers’ underbellies and deprived of their chance to maximize their potential as poultry, and now we’re eating them. So this Che Guevara-cum-John Lennon, I Am the Egg Man micro-activism doesn’t serve much purpose. I’m sure the pro-cage free egg people would argue that small amounts add up to a large amount and it’s cruel to keep hens in cages and force-feed them inappropriate diets, and I can understand that, but… we’re talking about a condiment, here.

Do we really take our condiments this seriously?

With my stomach settled and my body pleasantly surprised by such health-contributing fare, I headed out to finish my errands. My head full of green thoughts, I looked around for where I should throw my compostable food packaging. And you know what I realized?

There are zero recycling bins in Starbucks. Whoa.

What a slap in the face for those hens.

"Wwwhhhhaaaaat?!"

*minimally processed, contains no preservatives