22 December 2011

Headless Angel

Every year I have amazing plans to decorate for Christmas.  The December issues of Better Homes and Gardens and Real Simple add fuel to the fire.  Dancing sugar plums are replaced with table centerpieces, garlands, and homemade wreaths in my head.  A stocking for my daughter, maybe a new one for my husband (the one I made for our first Christmas really isn’t that great).  Oh and I could make an ornament for my daughter every year, then when she’s eighteen she can have her set of ornaments.  Mid-November I am all ideas, mid-December I am scrambling.  So this year, once again, I am left with a headless angel.  

I didn’t plan on a headless angel.  The tree needed a topper and those at the store are typically gaudy or frothy or too “country”.  I figured I could make one.  I had already bought felt to make ornaments for my sister who put “unique” ornaments on her Christmas list (what’s more unique than homemade?).  I found an angel template by Martha Stewart (going to the craft queen herself) and after some finagling had two felt angels cut.  I glued and sewed the pieces together, carefully cutting out bits of the red.  Then...I stuck it on the tree, headless.  

I did look for something to make a head with, but nothing I had was quite right.  So, telling myself I was just testing it to see if it looked right, I stuck it on the tree.  And that’s where it stayed.  I glanced at it while completing the trio of owls for my sister.  

And again while making felt pom-pom balls. (Thanks to cake. for the tutorial.)

My husband and I exchanged gifts last night, under a headless angel.  This morning we packed up the car to spend Christmas in Pennsylvania.  Leaving behind the angel and a number of incomplete decorations still in my work basket.  Oh, and no stocking for my daughter.  Maybe next year I'll start in July.

19 December 2011

Using a whole bottle of Tobasco or, Spice Packet People

Part 2
We are not just spice packet people.  There are a few family recipes that have been handed down.  The ‘Nuts and Bolts’ I made the other day is one of them.  The photo-copied card I have in my recipe book reads “from the kitchen of Grandma Palmer”, that would my my mom’s grandma, my great-grandma.  To call it party mix would be disrespectful.  The smell of it baking means Christmas, especially since my mom would make two or three batches between Thanksgiving and New Years Eve.
The first Christmas my husband and I were married (the same year I learned about my mom’s chili), I eagerly bought all the ingredients for Nuts and Bolts.  I carefully followed the recipe, making sure my measurements were exact.  I remember there was no temperature for the oven written on the card.  I probably called my mom to ask, but she must have been away from home and just guessed.  The wonderful Nuts and Bolts Christmas smell did not fill our apartment.  It burned.  

Perhaps the oven was too hot.  Perhaps I hadn’t made enough sauce for the amount of pretzels, rice chex and nuts.  Whatever the reason the only person who ate it was my older sister who favors the burned pieces of popcorn.  Even the small amount of non-burned Nuts and Bolts was bland. I tried to like it.  I tried to get my husband to like it.  We ended up throwing most of it away.  

I related to my mom my failed attempt at the family tradition.  When I mentioned how bland it was and how hers always tasted better she replied with: ‘Oh, I don’t follow the recipe.  I add way more Tobasco and Worcestershire sauce than it calls for.’
Last years attempt was passable, though still not as good as mom’s.  So this year I was excited.  No measuring.  Dashes of this, handfuls of that and a whole bottle of Tobasco.  That’s what she said right?  I did pause half way through the bottle.  But I remember, she said ‘a lot’ of Tobasco.  So in it went.  Two and a half hours later I tasted my latest attempt.  Yum.  Spicy, but delicious.

Well.  Yesterday my sisters and our daughters baked cookies with my mom (thoughts of generational cookbooks return).  I mentioned that I had finally made good Nuts and Bolts and that they were spicy from the whole bottle of Tobasco.
Whole bottle?? My mom looked at me in disbelief.
Yes, I thought you said you use the whole bottle?
Oh, I only use about two tablespoons.

15 December 2011

Using a whole bottle of Tobasco or, Spice Packet People

Part 1
A few months after I got married I felt intrepid enough to try my hand at making chili.  Cooking is not my specialty.  I can bake a delicious (some even say famous) chocolate chip cookie, but cooking always frazzled me, too many variables.  I lived at home during college and on the nights my mom didn’t cook my staple was Annie’s Mac and Cheese.  Some times I would saute onions and peppers, maybe heat up some leftover meat, to make the mac and cheese into more of a meal but that was the extent of my cooking abilities.  My dad was so worried about the comfort of my future husband he took it upon himself to teach me to cook.  Let’s just say it only happened once and it didn’t end well.  I was given boxes of Annie’s Mac at my bridal shower.  By more than one person.  Faith in my cooking abilities was low.
But I wanted to try chili.  Not just any chili, my mom’s chili.  The only chili I liked (or so I thought).  So I asked her for her recipe.  My first clue should have been the fact that I didn’t already have it.  I had photo-copied cards from her recipe box, at least all the ones I liked, before I moved out.  
My mom looked puzzled, my recipe?  
Yea, your chili is the only kind I really like.  
Oh, I just use the spice packet.
I timidly picked it up the next time I was at the grocery store.  McCormick.  Chili.  Hot.  There it was, what I thought was a ‘family recipe’, on the back of a spice packet.  Ready in 30 minutes.  Dreams of cookbooks filled with recipes passed down mother to daughter that would rival Martha Stewart and Paula Deen evaporated.  We were spice packet people.

09 December 2011

Forgiving my Sister

Memories stick to everything.  A trip down memory lane is only as far away as the back of my closet (and now that I own a house, the back of every closet).  I have always been a pack-rat.  I broke my Winnie-the-Pooh snow-globe when I was eight or nine.  After cleaning up the broken glass and sticky ‘water’ I put the exposed Pooh into a box in my closet.  I wouldn’t put it back on the shelf because then my mom would know I had broken it, but I couldn’t put it in the trash either.  

Some days I get in a cleaning mood, a purging mood.  I dig to the back of the closet, rooting out t-shirts I’ve held onto for a decade because my memory of acquiring it is stronger than my ability to throw it out.  Even when I tell myself I’ll donate it to charity, someone else will find use in it, I inevitably stuff it back into the rubbermaid tote it came from and shrug my shoulders to the voice that tells me nostalgia isn’t a good enough reason.

I am in a cleaning mood.  

We have too much stuff.  My husband even agrees with me, and yet as I pull out his senior year t-shirt (older than mine by the way) and he pulls out my sweatshirt from summer camp 2005 we both shrug, nostalgia winning again.  But no.  I will not succumb.  I have seen Hoarders on TLC.  I have seen houses where empty cleaning bottles and great-grandma’s quilts are given equal billing.  It scares me.  We live in a small, fifties ranch with little storage space and small closets.  With the birth of our daughter and the baby paraphernalia piling up it is beginning to feel (well, has been for a while) claustrophobic.  I don’t need a bigger house, I need less ‘stuff’.

Letting go of Dory was tough.  I felt I was betraying her, driving away in a shiny new Hyundai, named Horatio by the way.  Her one remaining hubcap blinking at me in the dark.  But she’s still swimming, the voice cries.  But for how long?  Will she stop swimming while I’m going 60 on the highway with my 3 month old in the back seat?  No, Dory had to go.  I couldn’t figure out why it was so hard at first; then I realized it was because my parents had given her to me.  She was a present.  I’ve always had trouble getting rid of gifts.  Even when I don’t like them, don’t use them, or break them.  They hang around, gathering dust in the back of a closet, in the bottom of a box.  I know I’ve gotten better, I throw away broken things now.

So I have finally come to a point where I can forgive my sister for getting rid of my brown pants.  I said she could borrow my clothes while I was in England for a year, I did not say she could give them to Goodwill.  She claims I gave them to her; I claim they were merely borrowed.  Perhaps if she hadn’t done that I’d still have them, not in my drawer waiting to be worn but in a rubbermaid tote in the back of my closet waiting to be thrown out.

07 December 2011

All I want for Christmas is a dog toy that will last

      This dog destroys them.  One by one, methodically pulling the strands up with his teeth or gnawing on the knot with his molars.  It doesn’t matter what brand, color or style; two knots, three knots, once we got one with five knots.  They all are reduced to shredded threads found lying around the house, carnage of yet another toy.  How many have we bought? He’s not even two years old yet and I lost count at ten.  

They make ropes with handles for playing tug-of-war.  A good idea in the store, hey, our hands won’t hurt when he pulls; a bad idea in reality, the plastic, sharp where he has chewed, cut’s into our hands.  Then he chewed the plastic handle off, then shredded the rope till I gave in and threw it away.  Sorry, boy.  It’s ‘all done’.  Sigh.  All done.  A command we taught him, complete with sign-language hands, because this dog doesn’t know when to quit.  

I told the clerk he chews, a lot.  I told him he destroys ropes.  I told him.  He suggested a stuffed lizard.  It looked tough.  It even had ‘tuff’ in the name; the tag lauding it’s abilities to hold up under teeth.  When I called to complain he said I didn’t tell him enough.  But I know I did.  He said nothing will hold up if my dog destroys kongs.  For you information posh pet store clerk, he doesn’t.  The only toys my dog destroys are ropes.  Well, and a stuffed lizard that is supposed to be “tuff”. 

Rope after rope.  Yes, he has other toys; balls, a kong and about five bones.  The bones, filled at one time or black with smoke flavoring, are stripped, creamy white and littering our floor.  Like I said, carnage.  I stubbed my toe on one once.  In the dark.  I didn’t stub it on the smooth white side, but on the end where he had cracked off bone with his teeth to make a sharp point.  The next day I had a small but perfectly round bruise on the end of my big toe.  Bones are hard and not fit for playing tug-of-war.  So we keep buying ropes.  The pink and blue rope had a ball on the end of it.  At least it did twenty minutes ago.