Monday, October 31, 2016

Turning Japanese...a Sex Injury

As I think about telling this Thanksgiving story, I need to back up to August of that year.  My mom has a sister ten years younger and my family and grandparents were headed up to Lake Erie to see she and her husband’s new boat.  I don’t know much about yachting, but apparently the challenge of a Great Lakes boat is that it must be every bit as seafaring as a boat meant for ocean voyages, but not too big as much of the Great Lakes is accessed by small canals and passages.  As a result, the marinas are meant to host boats of a certain size.  At 6’ 6” and easily 350 pounds, my uncle is not of a certain size and neither was his boat.  He actually had two boats.  The big one was TUBBY and the smaller one was TUBBY Jr. He grew up boating on various lakes in Michigan and is a very skilled and safe yachtsman.  But he is also totally fucking obnoxious.  At big family functions, people often assume he and I are father and son because we are both big and loud and have dark hair and are curiously tan. 
My aunt, left, was pregnant with her first while my mom was pregnant with her last

So anyway, we all get up to Lake Erie, board the boat, and head for Put-In-Bay.  Now the only people who know about Put-In-Bay are extreme history buffs and Midwestern drunks.  It is kind of like Cancun with murky water and a lower cost of entry.  I don’t know the yachting terminology so forgive me.  But because the marina wasn’t equipped for a boat this size, he had to drop anchor in an inlet and then have a water taxi/dinghy take us to the dock.  Unfortunately in this process of swim deck to dinghy to dock, my grandmother fell.  She thought it wasn’t that bad, as she was able to brace her fall with her forearm.  Just to be safe, we had an island medic look at it. I’m pretty sure all this guy was equipped to do was take peoples blood alcohol content and tell them if they were legal to drive their boats.  She said her arm hurt but it was fine.  We had a good time that day.  My mother being the first born Aries that she is felt the injury was worse than my grandma was presenting it to be.  My mom does not like water, drunk people in tube tops, bugs, or humidity.  So Put-In-Bay was not her thing anyway.  We just all kind of assumed she was looking for an excuse to hightail it back to the mainland.
We got back home and sometime in the following week my grandma made it to a real doctor, who after x-rays referred her to a surgeon.  One of the bones was fractured and it was a whole thing.  I don’t speak medical either so I don’t really know.  But she had to have a surgery and then a cast with an exterior bar contraption that looked positively medieval.  By the time this all happened, we were headed for our annual Thanksgiving Hilton Head trip. 
The very weighed down Explorer. You can see how the Griswold essence is hard-wired into me
For many years, my mom’s entire side of the family all met in Hilton Head and spent Thanksgiving there. Hilton Head is completely intertwined with Thanksgiving for me.  So the Saturday before Thanksgiving, my grandparents would head down first.  All three of them.  My grandparents divorced before my siblings and I were born.  They had a very amicable divorce and always still really loved each other.  My grandma remarried, divorced, and remarried.  My grandpa met a woman just before my older sister, the first grandchild, was born.  He and L are not married because L had been through a nasty divorce and saw no reason to get married again.  L was raised very Catholic and jokes that she did everything her parents dreamed for her by 22.  She could read, married a doctor, and drove a Cadillac--in their eyes her life was over because there was nothing left to accomplish.  Then she says by 52 she ruined everything by being divorced and living in sin with my grandpa.  Lin fought the power and burned the bras and is truly a Renaissance woman.  She is so smart, so funny, loyal, and because everything was good with my grandparents’ divorce, she is totally a bonus grandparent.  She was always there and is just as much my grandma as my grandma was.  Though my grandma was married, her husband wasn’t invited along.  We invited him, but she didn’t.  My grandpa, his ex wife, and his live-in girlfriend frequently traveled together.  This, naturally, confused people.  When explaining the web to people, he would say Well this is Nancy, my ex-wife and mother to my three children.  And this is Lin, my slut.  My grandma would giggle and Lin would nod matter-of-factly.    
That headline reads "The Good Divorce".

Now, I know.  I know, I know.  We shouldn’t say slut.  I don’t go around calling anyone a slut except myself.  But this was a time when people were still allowed to have senses of humor.  My grandpa and L both have very raunchy senses of humor, so they thought this was hilarious.  My grandma had a very sweet, no bad words sense of humor.
My grandma was always the driver.  She had a keen sense of direction, and could stay awake easily for hours on end.  She could have segued from model to truck driver if she had been so inclined.  My grandpa once infamously stuck his 16 year old daughter in the driver’s seat, told her to drive to Atlantic City, and fell asleep within five minutes.  The joke was on him when he woke up in Maine.  Even though she had her rather barbaric-looking metal rod device on her arm, my grandma still drove. Another uncle, his wife, and son would go down around the same time.
Next to barrel down I-77 was my aunt and uncle.  Not only did they have two boats, but they had an RV.  And of course they had a giant RV.  And from the giant RV, they would tow a giant Ford Excursion.  And from the Excursion, they would tow go-carts or scooters or mopeds.  I am positive his caravan tow was illegal, and every time I drive the windy mountain stretch through West Virginia I cringe thinking about him.  Now on the drive down to Hilton Head, you go through a densely wooded stretch in the mountains.  On this leg, there are not a lot of stops or signs.  The ones you see grab your attention.  Especially when they are for a strip club.  The rural mountain strip club, Southern X-Posure, is included prominently into our family lore.  We told people that my grandma retired from there and that my four year old cousin was apprenticing there.  Once my grandpa told someone that he had worked there too when he was a woman.   Again, I know. We shouldn’t have.  But we did.  The reason we told people that about my cousin is because she had a habit of flashing people.  She was the cutest little girl and was always dancing.  People would find this adorable! Until she had plenty of attention, at which point she would lift her top.  Some people were absolutely aghast.  While we, her family, would be unsuccessfully laughing under our breath trying not to reinforce it.  How she learned this? Probably from her dad’s Playboy calendars, air fresheners, etc.   
Luckily I found a trove of my grandmother's photos from this trip.

How sweet! A little girl dancing!

...notice how her crowd over the hedge cleared.
And then, finally, on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, my family would leave.  This is before I was in charge and shit was a mess.  We would plan to leave at noon and sometimes not leave until 10PM.  Once we turned around in West Virginia because my sister forgot her homework.  Once we left four hours late because my mom was ironing her sheets so she’d have a nice bed to come home to. This was before cell phones and navigation systems, and my dad kind of navigates like Christopher Columbus.  We would wind up with long, circling tours of Appalachian foothill farmland.  Only to realize this when we saw the same McDonalds again.  And then, obviously, we had to stop at that McDonalds.  An 11 hour drive often took 16.  But we made it.  So we would finally arrive--luggage racks, bicycles, and a yellow Labrador in tow--sometime Wednesday morning.  It was a short trip for us, but was nice to arrive with everyone else in full vacation mode. 
I think this is the year before the tooth incident. I love what an absolute mess this photo is.  
My grandparents absolutely loved to go listen to live music together.  L was happy to stay home and read one of her twelve thousand newspapers (she likes to be very informed).  But as they would head out the door, she would say Nancy, watch his hands.  With his glaucoma all blondes look the same to him after 10PM.  They would go from bar to bar.  My grandma didn’t drink at all and my grandpa only drinks if it’s really expensive for someone else but free for him.  They just loved the music and spending time together.  I think they regretted their divorce.  L was always gracious and secure enough to let my grandma borrow him sometimes.  Getting to keep the best of him without the day to day problems that drove them apart.  Lin is a saint.  Anyway, they called this bar to bar agenda rolling.  Not like rolling on ecstasy but more innocently because they rolled from place to place. 
One night, my sister and I decided we were going to roll with them.  My two aunts were supposed to come but each decided not to at the last minute.  Just the four of us in one car with absolutely no common sense aboard.  I think I was 10 and my sister was 13. 
I think we tried the Hilton first.  There was a pianist and a singer at the hotel bar.  We walked in and sat down at a table.  This would have been fine if my grandma could have stopped laughing at the pianist.  You know how some musicians make those incredibly weird faces when they play? Well this guy made a face that kind of looked like a fish smoking crack while he played piano.  My grandma did not like potty humor, but weird-ass physical comedy like this was her golden ticket.  So as she’s trying to discretely giggle, my grandpa turned around in his chair toward her and started imitating this man’s facial expressions.  Well this was too much for her to bear. Her relatively quiet giggle turned into tears streaming down her face she was laughing so hard.  About this time, my sister got up to go to the bathroom.  I have said this before, but she has an uncanny ability to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. As she was turning the corner out of the bar toward the lobby, her shoulder clipped the handle of a mop in a bucket just enough to drag both the mop and the bucket down.  Now I can keep a straight face through almost anything except my sister’s misfortune.  Up until this point, I had been trying to maintain a shred of dignity while sitting at a table with these baboons making faces and laughing.  Well the sight of the mop, the bucket, the flow of dirty water, and my sister all going down absolutely broke me and I began to howl laughing.  My sister apparently does not understand the wily ways of the mop and bucket system, so she repeatedly tried to put the mop back in the empty bucket. Rather than prop the mop handle up against the wall, she kept putting it to the other side where it fell over and over again.  By this time, my grandma and I are laughing so hard we are practically convulsing.  All while my grandpa has his head turned toward the stage and is nodding along.  The joke has always been that my grandpa is borderline narcoleptic.  Because he can be in a conversation, finish his thought, turn over the floor, and be sitting up straight but out cold before the next person has uttered two syllables.  As my grandma and I go to help my sister, she takes two napkins off a table and hangs them on her arm rod like it’s a towel rack, the sight of which had us all dying.  In this span of about three minutes, we had started to get glares from within the room.  I notice someone from the bar walk to the front desk and point at us, all while I’m trying to wipe up this dirty ass mop water with two overly starched polyester napkins.  The lady from the front desk approaches and sternly asks my grandma did you give this girl ALCOHOL? And before she could answer, the guy from the bar is back and says and that guy is in there either passed out or DEAD! To which we had the obvious and natural reaction to laugh harder.  Luckily my sister explained that he probably wasn’t dead.  To which the woman advised we wake him up and leave.  So that’s how we got kicked out of the first bar. 
On the way to the next, we were taking stock of all that had happened.  Laughing hysterically, we tried to go into The Jazz Corner.  They absolutely would not let my sister and me in.  My selfish, only child grandpa suggested maybe my sister and I go wait in the car for a while.  To which the host said What the hell kinda grand-dad are you?  If we were sensible, we would have just given up and gone back home.  As we headed back out, my grandpa asked my grandma to stop at a gas station so he could get one of those little touristy booklets vacation destinations used to sell before the internet and cell phones that listed events and activities.  While in there, he picked up some black licorice.  I have a theory that no one actually likes black licorice, given that it is so fucking disgusting, but that people eat it just because they don’t want to share.  As in their desire to not share is so strong they will eat something vile just so they can keep it to themselves. Anyway, after we all refused a piece, he began scouring the booklet for somewhere else with live music.  There was another place a few miles down the road.  It turned out to be a bar and restaurant that is just on the other side of the bridge one takes on or off the island.  We finally get there, walk in, and sit down.  My grandpa has his booklet and his black licorice.  Just as my sister and I finally think we’re going to get a damn diet coke and see all this fun our grandparents allegedly have while rolling, someone comes over and tells us we can’t be in there because we’re too young.  By now, we are kind of annoyed.  With the exception of my grandma who still found it all hilarious.  Reluctantly, my grandpa admits defeat and says we should just go home.  He also slips in a little accusatory Well, I had really been looking forward to hearing some live music and looks at us like we ruined it.  My sister felt bad and apologized and I probably gave him a look that said go fuck yourself because I was 11 and don’t think I talked like that just yet.  My grandma didn’t like this and said Oh Bill! You’re full of it. You would have slept through half of it.  He was chomping on his black licorice like the disgruntled five year old that he is when he said Uhh, Nance, can you pull over? Sometimes karma moves quickly.  No! I can’t pull over! Look! There’s nowhere to stop.  He said I lost a tooth. I need to find it.  We assume he is joking and trying to recover the mood from his little tantrum.  He insists No! I really lost a tooth! I need to find it! To which she says Show me! I know you didn’t lose a tooth, Bill!  He gives her a big grin and appears to be missing a tooth.  We all begin to roar, laughing at his missing-tooth smile.  But we thought he had stuck a piece of black licorice over one of his teeth and was joking.  Finally over the bridge, with a parking lot to pull into, my grandma stops the car to investigate.  She was a nurse so it’s unsurprising that her method for checking the authenticity of the missing tooth was very direct.  She told him to smile and she stuck her finger into his smile, clearly assuming this would put an end to the joke.  When her nail went right through she shrieked BILL! You lost a tooth! He answered Damn it! That’s what I’ve been saying!  To this day, I don’t think I have ever laughed harder than I did in the next half hour, driving back over the bridge, looking on our hands and knees in the parking lot for the tooth, when my grandpa asked the host at the restaurant We aren’t trying to come back in with minors, but I was wondering if anyone has found any teeth since we left?  And no one was laughing harder than my grandma.  All of her makeup had run because she was crying from laughing so hard.  My sister and I kept making him smile and it was just as hilarious each time.  Finally we gave up on the tooth hunt and headed home.  The next morning, Thanksgiving, my grandpa got ahold of his dentist who assured him he would be fine for the remainder of the trip and that it could be fixed when he got home.  When we all went for Thanksgiving dinner at the Hilton Head Diner, almost the only thing open back then on Thanksgiving day except for the awful Quarterdeck, the waitress said Uh oh! Looks like all grandpa wants for Christmas is his two front teeth!  He then asked You wanna know how this happened? She took the bait and asked how? Well, it was a sex injury. And because my grandpa has sterling comedic timing, he just left it at that.  My grandma would laugh so hard and so awkwardly that it came off like it was true.  We all just shook our heads and the waitress gave us a what the fuck is wrong with you people? look of disdain and went about her shift.  So for the rest of the trip, he would tell anyone that would listen that he lost his tooth in a sex injury.  How lucky I feel to have such vivid and ridiculous memories with my grandparents. 
By Black Friday everyone was looking a little rough

Back to HHI for Thanksgiving 2013. Our first trip without my grandmother.  She was still alive but far too sick to come.
It was unusually cold. I didn't mind though, it kept my wreath beautifully preserved.  Making a wreath the week of
Thanksgiving is now a tradition. 
The Thanksgiving Hilton Head trip could never be the same without my grandma, but we did revive it in 2013.  It was a bit of a tumultuous trip.  An ice storm complicated travel for some, cold weather on Hilton Head ruined the trip for others.  Cold doesn’t bother me, but it bothered everyone else.  So everyone was experiencing a bit of vacation cabin fever all while I’m cooking Thanksgiving dinner.  Things got a little tense in my rental house’s bottleneck kitchen.  On Monday, I threatened to lock everyone out in the cold if they didn’t stop complaining.  My mom brought me a piece of chocolate cake and told me to calm down.  So Wednesday night, I finally get to the pies. My favorite moment of Thanksgiving prep.  Everyone was in good spirits because half of us were loaded.  My sister was DJing and tailoring the selections to my tastes because she is smart.  While she was dancing to Rhiannon with her whiskey in one hand, I was chopping apples and swaying with periodic sips of my cranberry+gin+sprite zero.  I get the pie finished and go to make the crumble topping.  I love a traditional double crust apple pie, but I think I like a crumble topping even more.  SHIIIIIIIIT! I exclaim between sips staring into the pantry I forgot the fucking oatmeal! My angelic mother pops in and says your dad and I are going to run out anyway, we will get some.  Hallelujah! Thanksgiving is saved.  Well about two hours later (my mom does nothing fast, except engage in a political argument), they roll in with steel cut oats.  My dad nervously asks Now this is the right thing, right? No one is more clear direction giver than I. I wrote QUAKER OLD FASHIONED OATS.  Well apparently my dad thought he should find the oats that seemed the most old fashioned.  So he brings home like some fucking $45 Bob’s Red Mill Steel Cut Oats.  I didn’t have the heart or energy to tell him it was wrong.  So I said yeeeeeeeeeeah, just perfect.  Steel cut oats would never soften in time and I wanted to get this fucking pie in the freezer and ready to bake so I could go to bed.  Another pantry stare gave me an idea.  I had panko breadcrumbs.  Hmmm.  I hadn’t heard of them for dessert application, but why not? 
I will readily admit that traditional pumpkin pies are much prettier than my version 

Panko makes the best crumble topping for a pie.  It is so good, so crisp, and doesn’t get too brown too fast.  You can throw it together in a bowl without any fanfare, as opposed to some crumble topping recipes that are more involved like a biscuit dough. It is important that the butter is melted.  Panko is designed to go a long time without burning, but sometimes that makes it reluctant to color.  By mixing in melted butter, that assures the panko is hydrated with fat and will evenly brown. Because this has no leavening like egg or baking powder, it pretty much stays where you put it, meaning it does not rise.  Also you have a good chance of cutting neat slices, which can be a little tough with some crumble toppings. 

Panko Crumble Topping for Pies

3/4 cup (1.5 sticks) butter, melted
3/4 cup Panko bread crumbs
3/4 cup Old Fashioned Oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
1/4 cup AP flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Combine all ingredients and press onto unbaked pie. 

When we dream of holidays, we tend to dream of perfection.  Just the right things happening at just the right time.  But the reality is that often the most exquisite moments are found when things start going wrong.  Like verge of killing everyone wrong.  As we ride those waves of chaos and temper, we build identity, our favorite stories, and new traditions--from sex injuries to Japanese bread crumbs.  

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Law & Hoarder

Adrenaline is a funny thing.  We all have it, thrive on it, are defeated by it, and make a myriad of excellent and stupid decisions based upon it.  What’s interesting are the unique codes it takes to get any one person’s adrenaline flowing.  Some need thrilling speed, confrontation of their fears, seducing a friend’s loser cocker spaniel of a husband to prove that she might be richer but you’re thinner (that’s a Thanksgiving story I so wish I could share)—but me, I need an antique store.  For the life of me I cannot understand why anyone cares to see a scary movie or ride a rollercoaster.  Who gives a shit?  I remember when I was 16, one of my friends was in my passenger seat.  We were on a beautiful stretch of road that was completely empty.  I had had my license for like three weeks and he said Floor it! I slowed down so that he could behold the full effect of my side-eye.  Now why the fuck would I want to do that?  I asked.  To which he replied To see how fast it goes!.  We were going to buy a boxwood wreath for his mom, a task I was not going to have marred by driving like white trash on a lovely November day.  I totaled my car in an accident the next year and he didn’t, so this is not an Aren’t I Great? Story.  It just goes to show how differently we all unlock adrenaline.  He might speed for a thrill, I buy a boxwood wreath and 50 feet of boxwood garland and stop at a tag sale on my way home and buy two sets of china and 53 Baldwin brass candlesticks.  Damn that was good. 
His adrenaline rush might end with a speeding ticket and mine might end with a film crew and a therapist.  That line between collecting and hoarding can be very tricky to discern.  In this day and age of people registering for cash as wedding gifts instead of fucking china and crystal, there are a lot of opportunities to scoop up beautiful things at very low prices.  That doesn’t mean you should buy all of them…

Just most of them. 
It seems like common sense, and many people have their own methods and systems for collecting tabletop items.  The bad news is that it is essential to be organized, the good news is that it’s easy. 
A lot of people call this process editing but I prefer the colder auditing.  Editing is subjective, auditing is (theoretically) streamlined.  The first step is to assess what you already have.  I had three sets of inherited china and didn’t use any of them.  I believed I loved them because I loved the women they came from.  Inherited china, silver, and stemware can be the hardest. 
Question 1: When was the last time you used this?
Question 2: When do you next plan to use this?
Guess what? If the answers are Never/I don’t remember and I don’t know, you should donate it.  Now sometimes things need time, I get it.  But if you’re not enjoying using the pieces or displaying them as d├ęcor, you should pass them on. 

I believe firmly in donating versus selling.  More often than not selling old stuff is frustrating.  You are at the mercy and memory of collectors, looking for that specific thing.  Selling can be a long process, leaving plenty of time to reconsider.  Not to mention you might get murdered by some craigslist weirdo.  But mainly it’s because donating feels better.  Why? You can pretend whatever the fuck you want.  One of the harder collections for me to donate was a glass dessert set of my grandma’s.  I remember it in her house, though I don’t remember using it.  But I didn’t like the actual design.  So I held onto it a while, thinking the time might come.  A while became four years and I admitted it was time to let it go.  I didn’t like the feeling of throwing my grandma’s stuff into the abyss and bad lighting of Goodwill.  But then I thought of all the exciting finds I’ve been so happy to unearth at Goodwill.  There are a lot of us out there with better taste than budgets, and it is wonderful to be able to find things for a steal.  All the sudden, it felt less like a black hole and more like an opportunity for someone to really love my grandma’s dessert set.  I allowed myself to imagine who might buy it and how they might use it and how pleased that might make my grandma.  Better than sitting in my basement in the same box.  Of course, maybe someone will buy it and use the teacups as measuring cups when making meth.  I don’t know much about le cookery de meth so maybe that’s implausible. The beauty is that you can imagine it going wherever you want.  It’s clean, immediate, and feels good. 
So, yes, learning to audit and reduce your collections is important.  Some people do this so they can live a little lighter.  Less clutter, less to worry about, etc.  I do it so I can buy more shit.  I have tried so many times to be a minimalist but I’m just not.  Why have one when you could have 25? I might be gayer than a daffodil but I still feel like I’d rather have a bunch of wives than just one.  That was my big takeaway from Big Love.  But because Utah doesn’t suit me and I would sooner die than have my harem wear weird ass WalMart nightgown looking contraptions, I’ll stay out of their way.
Polygamy aside, I don’t think one should force themselves to only have one set of dishes if they yearn for a little variety.  Of course, I have some thoughts on collecting.  Again, the big thing for me is that everything I own be put to use.  I do not covet things, admire from behind glass, or wait for the perfect day to dawn to use them.  Do you know how stupid it is to avoid using things because you’re worried if you use them, they’ll break.  I’m sorry to tell you this but more likely than not if you don’t use them, your heirs will unceremoniously throw them away or get rid of them.  I know I’d rather have people holding up my stuff saying remember when we used these for… instead of where the hell did this come from? I’ve never seen this! Have I made my case? Get out the good stuff. 
If you need good stuff, here are some of my arbitrary rules for collecting.
-Know what you need, what you want, and the difference therein.  For example, I fucking love bone plates. They are so cute! But it’s just not that often than I have guests gnawing on bones and needing a charming plate to set said bones on.  So I might want bone plates, but do need salad plates
-Set a budget and stick to it. The most fun part of collecting vintage and antique is the hunt.  Turning the corner in an antique store and your eyes catching inky blue porcelain amid a sea of ugly ass mugs.  But as your heart begins to beat faster and you imagine these flow blue teacups adorning your Thanksgiving table, you must be careful not to let the thrill override your budget.  The thrill of the hunt only stays fun if you get home and feel like you got a good deal.  My strategy for this is to:
-Start with a set.  This helps you establish a value for what you can and will pay per piece.  So if that set of six bread plates was $20, you paid about $3.33 per plate, maybe you keep that value for bread plates or go to $5.   and set your value for dinner plates at $7/each.  Forgive me if you are in Australia, where I take it even cheap vintage bread plates are $10k each.  Obviously you can set the budget wherever you want.  I prefer to keep my plates under $10.  It makes it easy for me to use and enjoy them freely without too much rage if one breaks.  Remember, breaks will happen.  The lower prices you find starting your collections, the higher priced items you can spring for when finishing.  It’s all about average price per plate.  My preference is to find plates as low as possible, so I can finish with more expensive and scarce platters.  Also, when you have a set value in mind, you will negotiate much better with sellers. 
Bread plates are a great place to start

-This fluctuates, but remember for the most part vintage china is always a buyer’s market.  Sometimes some things are hotter than average, but generally, it is a small pool of us willing to buy.  If someone has a ridiculous price on something, ask them to let you know if they have a time where they would accept your value.  I have done this many times and have been surprised how often it works.  It’s not aggressive and insulting as negotiating/haggling can be.  It puts forth an offer with the understanding that it’s what you can afford, not that you think they are priced too high. 
-Collecting tends to be a drought or a monsoon.  Maybe you disagree, but I find my collections go long periods without additions and then sudden, rapid expansions.  Take for instance butter knives.  I have been looking for sets of adorable little butter knives for years.  They’re always too few, too expensive, or too ugly.  So imagine my surprise when I found two sets of six within four minutes a few weeks ago.  I had a similar experience over the summer with flow blue and old blue transferware.  I amassed large quantities of each for about $2/plate.
-Allow your tastes to change or become more focused.  For instance, after the influx of new blue and white, I donated a large set of china I bought for Easter.  In the five years since I bought that set, my taste had sharpened a bit and I knew more specifically what I wanted.  While I still thought the set was pretty, I knew I’d rather have stronger color than a plate that reads ivory.  Just because you loved it then doesn’t mean you love it now.  Remember how happy you were to find it and pass it on. 

On their way to Goodwill

-Think of each pattern’s versatility.  Though I’ve yet to use all my patterns all at once, I try to have them all fit into the same family.  This makes it fun to mix and match table settings depending on season.  In my opinion, the very most versatile china is simple white with a gold band.  It goes with absolutely everything, but is still more elegant than a normal white plate.  From a simple summer lunch to an elegant New Year’s Eve dinner party, a white plate with a gold band works.  Followed very closely by blue and white.  The first pattern I ever collected was the ubiquitous but always lovely Blue Willow.  Blue and white makes all food look beautiful and it has such presence.  I adore blue and white with orange at Thanksgiving, cranberry at Christmas, pastel pink and yellow at Easter, and emerald green on my birthday in May.  It alllll works.  And both gold-rimmed and blue and white play so well with other patterns.  But maybe in your house the go-tos are different?  

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Now They're Eating Hubbard Pie

So I can’t believe how many people dislike or even hate pumpkin pie.  What?! I have heard it described as “flavorless”, “cardboard”, “slimy”, and worst of all “barfy”.  I honestly don’t get it.  It’s a rather popular opinion though.  I have such vivid memories of making holiday pumpkin pies that my adoration for them almost brings me to tears.  Now that doesn’t mean much--because everything brings me to tears--but still.  I love the sameness of pumpkin pie.  The cans of Libby’s never change, I love their rusty palette and homey font.  The first thing I ever made in my beloved KitchenAid mixer was pumpkin pie filling, and getting to that point always signifies the home stretch of Thanksgiving prep.  For me, pumpkin pie is precious. 

On the other hand, I don’t think anything is ever immune from improvement.  Except of course my shredded abs.  If you believe that, you shouldn’t be on the internet.  The funny thing about my best friend M is that she hates everything.  I kinda hate everything too, except I make up for it by really loving the things I love.  She is by no means subservient in nature, but historically she follows my lead because she can’t be bothered to pick a direction.  If you ask her east or west, she might shrug her shoulders, look away, and ignore you if you ask again.  This contributes to our balance.  As I always have figurative directions mapped to the most inane detail.  So usually I lead and she follows.  But early in our Thanksgiving co-cooking, we hit a snag on menu planning.  She refused to serve pumpkin pie at her family’s Thanksgiving.  This, naturally, sent me into an emotional tailspin.  How could she? Is that even legal? How dare she do this for all of god and country to see?! Of the 20 of us, my cousin is the only one who likes it. Everyone else hates it, it’s gross.  I made an extra one and put it in her trunk so at least her poor cousin could uphold some Thanksgiving dignity. 
Because M hates everything, I figured this was an isolated opinion.  Not until I began asking did I hear the cold truth.  I began tweaking the classic Libby’s recipe.  I doubled the spices, bloomed them in butter, eventually learned the magic of duck eggs, and thought I had really fixed the problem.  My sister would say things like I mean, it’s definitely the best pumpkin pie I’ve had, but it’s still, like, a pummmmpkin pie.  What the fuck?
Last year when I was picking up my turkeys from Elizabeth (she has four unclaimed turkeys if you didn’t pre-order one on November 27 last year like I did), we got chatting about pumpkin pie.  This was two days before Thanksgiving.  She mentioned that she made hers with heavy cream instead of evaporated milk.  Obviously a chance to add more fat to something got me excited.  I hadn’t ever heard of this! What?! And that she’s less scared of the extra fat than whatever goes into evaporated milk.  Now why the fuck hadn’t I ever even considered this myself?  My entire theory and practice of cooking revolves on control at an elemental level, and yet I’ve been dumping canned shit into the storied star of my Thanksgiving dessert? I’m good with canned pumpkin, it’s a whole ingredient.  But canned milk? What even is evaporated milk? I don’t know.  She also mentioned that she uses brown sugar instead of white and that the pie is so so much better than a normal pumpkin pie.  Hers is based from a Nancy Silverton recipe.  So I made a last minute decision to switch my pumpkin pie recipe and try this tweak.  Elizabeth quite wonderfully sent me her recipe.  As I went to pull up the email, my phone died.  So I improvised from the back of the can Libby’s recipe.  I used the same amounts of brown sugar and heavy cream in lieu of white sugar and evaporated milk. 
The pumpkin is from Aero, which has apparently now moved to the Design Center at 200 Lex
One thing I immediately liked is that the filling was not quite as runny as it normally is because heavy cream is thicker than evap milk.  It took a little longer to bake and you do sacrifice the lovely dark orange of a white sugar pumpkin pie.  But the molasses caramelizes beautifully and the pie is a deep mahogany.  Again, I’ve never had anything against traditional pumpkin pie.  I will, however, admit that this is much better.  What shocked me was how much my sister and other pumpkin pie skeptics loved it.  M wouldn’t try it but she hates everything, especially cinnamon (I know, what the fuck).  Perhaps the comment that took me most by surprise was from my perpetually elegant and erudite step-grandma who said this is wonderful because it has the flavor of pumpkin pie but isn’t so barfy.  As it turns out, barfy has been a word many people agree with on the texture of traditional pumpkin pie.

If you or someone you love or merely host also finds pumpkin pie to be barfy, you may wish to try this deviation.  While we’re at it, I will also share my pie crust recipe.  The truth about me is I tend to make things harder or more involved than they need to be.  It boils down to tiny details for me that really don’t matter.  So, yes, my pie crust is a bit more involved than others.  Why do there need to be two kinds of flours?  Well, you want enough protein but not too much.  Duck egg whites have more protein than chicken egg, so if you were to use all AP flour, the pastry would be tough.  Why duck eggs? They have a far more neutral flavor.  I hate a pie crust that tastes like egg.  Gross.  That goes for egg wash, too.  My kitchen gets very hot, and pastry can be temperamental.  The cream cheese helps with strength and ability to handle.  Why does it need oil, too?  Oil helps hydrate the flour and makes the baked crust shiner and softer.  Why do I add liquor to almost all my recipes?  As I learned years ago on Sara’s Secrets, liquor amplifies flavor.  It’s like feeling the sun through the canopy of the trees.  Also, liquor is a better choice for liquid in a pie crust.  It steams and evaporates quickly, leaving flaky pastry behind.  With all the liquid in this recipe, it is a wet dough.  I like that because when I brush it with egg wash for color, it better absorbs the egg wash than the egg wash sitting atop the baked crust and being a foul-tasting discernable lacquer coat vs a cohesive crust that mimics laminated pastry like a croissant.  Have I made my case?  I knooooooow I know, it has a lot of ingredients.  I know my go-to recipes by heart but I even have to check the list to make sure I didn’t forget any.  So if you object to certain things about normal pie crust, try this.  If you don’t, you might not find it to be worth the extra effort.  This is more like a pie crust pastry and danish pastry combination.  Once I have the disc rolled out, transferred into the plate, and trimmed, I let it rest in the freezer about ten minutes before crimping.  All that butter, cream cheese, and oil is easier to work with cold.
My favorite pie plates are these: less fussy than glass, clean white design, and doesn’t scratch or show when cut like stoneware.  I first used one in a vacation rental house and kind of scoffed at using a cheap Corelle pie plate vs Le Creuset stoneware that I had at home.  I couldn’t believe how much more I liked it!
I shared this last year, but it bears repeating.  I loooooove my marble rolling pin! I got mine while unshowered and hungover at an outlet mall on a sweltering August morning in Cincinnati when I was 19, so it always makes me laugh and cringe.  A less emotionally confronting way would be to order this one.  I keep it in the freezer.  Makes such a difference in a hot kitchen.  Just don’t leave it on the counter where it can roll! Your toes will be smashed and frostbitten. 
SAJ Too Many Ingredient Pie Crust
Makes 2 crusts
1 ½ cups AP Flour
1 ½ cups Cake Flour
2 Duck Eggs
2 Sticks Unsalted Butter, sliced and frozen
½ bar Cream Cheese, cut into 1ish inch chunks
3 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
1 Tablespoon Vegetable Oil
½ teaspoon Kosher or Sea Salt
¼ teaspoon grated Nutmeg
¼ cup Bourbon Whiskey
¼ cup ice cold water

-Add everything except water and whiskey to food processor
-Combine water and whiskey
-Pulse ingredients in processor twice
-Begin pouring water/whiskey in a slow stream while food processor is running.  Pour until dough begins pulling together.  Turn processor off and check with fingers if dough incorporates readily.  If not pulse a few more times, adding a bit more liquid.  You will likely not use all the liquid.

-Divide in half, cover in plastic wrap, and let rest in the refrigerator about one hour.

Not Barfy Pumpkin Pie Inspired by Elizabeth Inspired by Nancy Silverton
Makes two not barfy pies
1 29oz can Libby’s Pure Pumpkin OR 29-30 oz Hubbard Squash Puree
3 Cups Heavy Cream
1 ½ cups packed Dark Brown Sugar
½ cup Bourbon Whiskey
4 Duck Eggs
2 Tablespoons Butter
2 Tablespoons Cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground Ginger
2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract
½ teaspoon grated Nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground Cloves

-In medium sauce pan, melt butter over a medium flame.  Add spices to butter and reduce flame to low.  After about 30 seconds, add heavy cream.  Stir mixture on low about two minutes and transfer to mixing bowl. Let cool about five minutes
-Add pumpkin or squash puree and sugar to cream mixture. Combine,
-Once combined and the bowl is cool to the touch, mix in eggs, whiskey, and vanilla.  Mix until smoothly incorporated.
-Mixture is ready to bake.  If prepping ahead, refrigerate filling in mason jar until ready to use.  Do not fill pie shells until you are going to bake. 
To bake, have oven preheated to 425F.  Fill unbaked pie shells with pumpkin filling and bake on bottom rack for 25 minutes.  If your crust’s edge is highly ornamented and you’re worried about burning, use one of these (if silicone, check that it can go above 400F).  Bake for 25 minutes.
After 25 minutes, reduce heat to 350F.  Bake another 45-60 min (this depends on how quickly your oven cools down).  Mixture will still be jiggly in the middle but cracked and set on the sides.  Remove and let cool at room temperature at least 2 hours. 
I think even snarky Paullywood would approve, a very good bake

You can see that the molasses rises and caramelizes beautifully

from 1950

The back, clearly destined for my collection
 Okay, don’t get mad at me but I have another tweak…only if you want it!  So as you know, I am emphatic about the farmers market.  I am not one of the assholes who goes and strolls and views it as free entertainment, meandering through with my dog and scorched Starbucks coffee all while not intending to buy a single leaf of lettuce.  Buy things! Over the years, many of the vendors have become good friends.  They pretty much all know how obsessed with Thanksgiving I am.  Early this summer, Pam and I were talking about pumpkin pie.  She said that she finds the traditional little pie pumpkin to be disappointing.  She actually preferred the flesh of the Hubbard Squash.  Whaaaaat? The green thing? That’s not a fucking pumpkin, Pam.  But I am much too curious about these things to turn a blind eye.  So I got one when they were mature two weeks ago.  I did the whole song and dance of slicing, gutting, roasting, and extracting the beautiful orange Hubbard flesh.  The first thing I noticed when pureeing was how smooth the mixture was.  So smooth it almost seemed congealed.  I baked a Hubbard and a Libby’s pumpkin pie right next to each other and got as many opinions as I could.  Including the FedEx guy who is always smart to raise his eyebrows and ask what are you cooking today? He didn’t have time to eat then but I put a note on Tupperware that said HUBBARD/LIBBY’S denoting their placement in the container.  So it’s not exactly a Cornell study, but it’s close.  Though the difference is very, very subtle.  The Hubbard has a better flavor.  It’s a little brighter and showcases the spices ever so slightly better.  The difference is so marginal that if the thought of gutting and roasting a squash doesn’t entice you, don’t bother.  On the other hand, if you’re perusing your farmer’s market with no intention or idea of buying, buy a Hubbard Squash and give it a go. 
Though Hubbards are not particularly thought of as beauties, I do love their
grey-green skin.
The process is quite straightforward.  Slice the squash in half.  Make sure your knife is sharp! I make cuts like this by sticking the knife in the middle at 90 degrees and rotating down toward the cutting board and then repeating on the other side.  Remove the seeds and stringy middle flesh.  I coated mine in a little oil and honey but I doubt that’s necessary.  I roasted at 375 for about an hour.  Let it cool or be stupid and impatient like me and burn your poor, ugly hands and scoop the flesh out of the skin.  Puree until very smooth.  No straining or sieving necessary.  If you wanted to do this now and have it prepped for Thanksgiving, put the puree in a plastic container, press plastic wrap onto the surface, pressing out air pockets, and freeze until the day before you want to bake your pies.  For two pies, you would want two squashes. 
Hubbard Squash, not as much cracking, but small craters

Libby's canned pumpkin

Research is hard. The Plates are Adams "Fairy Villas"

Tell me, do you like pumpkin pie?  Have you ever found it to be barfy?  Don’t forget the stabilized whipped cream!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Grab Him by the Party

I’m so sick of politics that I might write in a vote for Martha Stewart and call it a fucking day.  She hosted The Apprentice too, don’t forget.  I know, I know.  Opting out is not an answer.  I am sure the election is wearing thin wherever you live, but it’s probably not as bad as Ohio.  I suppose Nevada and Pennsylvania have it tough too.   I have to deal with this shit even at the farmers market.  There is a Trump campaign office on the block, an Ohio Women’s GOP table, a county Democratic office, and a Hillary table all vying for attention while I’m just trying to find some fucking Hubbard Squash and remember which heirloom apples I like and which is that one that tastes like bland ass.  They berate you.  The Trump people are always flushed and red faced and SO MAD and the Hilary people are snarky and off-putting.  The funny thing for me is that amid the rampant profiling either party does, I seem to throw a bit of wrench into their “should we talk to him or are we wasting our time?” flowchart.  I’m questionably young enough to probably not be a Trump supporter but my Log Cabin Republican hair and matching shirt and market tote monograms don’t exactly read free spirit “millennial” either.  So they trepidatiously bother me, unsure if they are going after the enemy or preaching to the choir.  I’m the big, loud, gay political question mark of Delaware County.  So I do what I always do when I’m annoyed: tell them what they want to hear, and rudely dismiss them.  You know, Hillary is so damn corrupt WHY ISNT SHE IN JAIL AND BENGHAZI YA KNOW and Trump is SO inexperienced and I worry for our safety if he’s elected! What kind of role model would he be FOR OUR GIRLS?  Was that so fucking hard?  Why do we all need to fight? I get a nod of satisfaction, a pat on the back from Trump people—sometimes a kinda homoerotic neck grab/massage, and the Hillary people ask me if I want to contribute.  To which I always say Thank you so much! And walk away.  I’m not having it.  I’m done.  In case you didn’t already know, smiling and saying Thank you is the easiest way to shut down most anything.  Followed only by my seasonal favorite Have a merry Christmas.  It’s a somewhat polite way to end a conversation and slither out. 

My family is equally divided in politics and we have some major arguers.  My mom and grandpa, particularly. My sister will ignore it for two drinks, but once she’s poured her third, watch out.  I dismantle arguments deftly with unrelated questions, forceful parameters on answers, and witty correction if anyone tries to veer back toward politics.  I moderate kind of like if Kim Jong-un and Oscar Wilde had a baby.  My sister eclipses arguments by dramatically gesturing and singing from various Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals over her whiskey.  I encourage her to go with Evita vs Phantom because I’m not sure my crystal can take the high notes.  It is hard to argue politics with a drunk woman acting like a cat belting out Memory at the table.  If you have a current or former theater nerd in your family, you understand.  They never grow out of their showtunes, god love them. 
Suffice to say, the holidays will be interesting this year in the wake of the election.  God willing it’s indeed over.  Fuck it.  Who has time for this with Thanksgiving so rapidly approaching?  As I said last year, I love hearing about other families’ Thanksgivings even more than I like talking about my own.  So If you didn’t share the rundown of your holiday last year, please do so.  How many people? Who cooks? Shared or divided labor? Formal or casual?  Do you eat at noon, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, or 8?  How late do you run?  I run about an hour late usually.  I’m right on schedule until people get here, at which point I stand and chat a while and empty a prosecco bottle until the energy shifts and people start looking at the oven.  One table?  Two tables, one room?  Two rooms, two tables?  Are people welcome all day or just for the meal?  How do you handle football?  Do you turn your heat on so the cold people are comfortable or turn it off so the hot people are tolerable?  Honestly, no detail is too small for me. 

An adorable ad for Bell Telephone from National Geographic October 1954

I’m a week earlier than last year on my Thanksgiving series, but wouldn’t you agree it’s time?  Please answer any or all of the questions and let me know about your Thanksgiving.  If you answered all these last year, what’s different this year?  What was your triumph last year and what was your demise?  I would say my triumph last year was my scheduling and my demise was my ugly platter of carrots and parsnips.  You may comment on politics if you like, but I really don’t give a shit.  We have more important matters at hand! 
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