Easter Out!

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​Since my mother-in-law passed away, except for Thanksgiving which we spend with my sister-in-law’s family, we spend every holiday at home. We eventually get the dining room table cleaned off. We add a pretty table runner. No one drinks out of a can. Phones get confiscated, kind of. Each meal has its own traditions: Rosh Hashanah is roast chicken, challah bread, yams, apples. Halloween is pizza. Christmas is roast beef, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, caramelized onions, peas & carrots, dinner rolls, one year we had Yorkshire pudding. New Year’s are appetizers as is the Super Bowl. St. Patrick’s Day is corned beef and cabbage, mashed potatoes and carrots and of course, Irish soda bread. Passover is chicken, potato pancakes, carrots, matzo ball soup, matzo and butter, sometimes gefilte fish and/or chopped liver. Easter is roast turkey or chicken, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, carrots, and dinner rolls. We seem to eat a lot of carrots, don’t we?

Our oven hasn’t worked consistently for over six months. We got very lucky for Christmas that it did indeed work and we were able to eek out a delicious Christmas dinner as well as our yearly birthday cheesecake for my son. A few weeks ago we tried to bake cornbread as a side dish to something that I can’t quite remember. After the apportioned hour, it was still gooey. The oven, which had been set for 350 was only about 200 degrees warm, which was not enough to cook it. I scoured Facebook for directions on how long to microwave the cornbread and dinner was saved, but not before realizing we were going to have a problem.

From then on, we have been using our crock pot. Lasagna, meatloaf, roast (not quite roast but fully cooked and tasty) chicken. I intend to try bread in it, but I don’t have the energy quite yet, and either way, it’s Passover for the rest of the week.

On the Monday after Palm Sunday, I told my husband that it was decision time, so what would it be – fix the oven before Good Friday or eat out on Easter? He would fix the oven. He did his research online, found the part he thought was the problem, and went to order it. He thought it was twelve dollars; it turned out it was fifty. We already know we’re going to need to replace this oven in the near future. We’re waiting on a tax refund to see if it’s doable or if we need to go another year on crock pot/stove top meals (which have been working out okay to be honest, if a little more time consuming). We decided to eat out.

My oldest son would come home in the early morning from work before he went to sleep and then back to his next shift for our annual Easter egg hunt. I know they’re old, but they all play along and they get some candy, and I get some pictures and everyone has a fun time and some sugar high donuts and hot chocolate for breakfast. Then we’d nap and have dinner much later.

It felt weird from the moment we decided it. Would any place even be open? I know that Dunkin’ Donuts is open, and several places do a we’ll make the meal, you heat it, but we ignored the situation for a day or so more.Then I got two emails – Applebee’s was open as was Texas Roadhouse for Easter dinner. Hmm…not exactly what we were looking for, but who knows?

We finally settled on Cracker Barrel. We thought that would be the closest to eating at home. We’d allow everyone to get dessert if they liked to make it a little more special than a regular dinner out. I even got a salad. I also mandated no phones at the table. That worked for the most part. Not perfect, but what dinner ever is?

It was a lovely change of pace. I enjoyed it, and I’d consider doing it again, but I don’t know that I’d want to make it a tradition, but it worked out for everyone, and I was actually surprised how busy they were. I thought brunch time wold be busy, but we were there just before traditional dinner time, at around four in the afternoon, and it was busy. No one was waiting but it was crowded and the waitresses were constantly on the move. On our drive there, I was alos surprised at how many other restaurants were open and their parking lots relatively full: Friendly’s, TGIFriday’s, Panera Bread. Starbucks drive-theough was still buzzing, although the supermarket was closed and its parking lot was empty.

All in all, a grateful Easter celebration with most of the family.

It was actually kind of relaxing.

Happy Easter!

The Red Apron

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​What’s the one item in your kitchen you can’t possibly cook without? A spice, your grandma’s measuring cup, instant ramen — what’s your magic ingredient, and why?

From The Daily Post on WordPress

So many things that pop into my head with this question, this prompt.

The one thing I probably always, always, always use when I am cooking is my apron. I was never a fan of aprons. I thought they were old-fashioned and silly and ridiculous looking. They are also one size fits all, and one size almost never fits me. I would never wear an apron.

I think I’m conflating two or three Thanksgivings that we hosted. I picture different apartments, different guests, but I also seem to recall only cooking Thanksgiving on my own once. We moved away from our families, about two hundred fifty miles – lower cost of living, not as crowded, and while we usually returned home for some of the holidays, this one year we did not. 

I don’t know what made me buy the apron. In addition to it being one size fits all, it was red; my least favorite color.

A red apron. It was probably literally one of the last things I would ever own, let alone buy.

I first time I used it, it was smooth, and tied easily around my back. I adjusted the neck, and stuck my hands in the large double pockets in the front. I still thought I looked ridiculous, but hey, it was Thanksgiving – wasn’t I supposed to wear an apron as part of the festivities?

I began to cook. I don’t remember what we made other than a very huge turkey that barely fit in our small apartment sized oven. I’m sure there were mashed potatoes and a vegetable. There was probably a sweet potato pie – my favorite and this long ago I probably also followed the recipe more closely, so it was near perfect to my friend’s who taught it to me.

What I do remember is unconsciously wiping my dirty hands on my apron, and after two more times and some long minutes, I realized what I was doing, and I was never more grateful for a kitchen item in my life. That apron saved my clothes.

It was then that I realized that this one size fits all that never fits, actually went a little bit around my hips protecting my dark pants as well.

I nodded my head, and grinned, and I was really glad that I bought this red apron.

In the years since then, that apron gives me the illusion of being a cook. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am actually a good cook. I do food good. Breads. Sweet breads. Ginger cookies. I’m terrible at baking, which is why none of my kids get a homemade birthday cake except my middle guy – he loves cheesecake and asks for it every year, so that’s win-win for everyone.

I can’t remember how many times I’ve left my watch in the pocket; or my wedding rings from baking bread from scratch or my cell phone. The pockets are even big enough to hold my kindle that I use for some of the recipes.

I have actually brought that apron on vacation with me. I’ve brought it to my mother-in-law’s for Thanksgiving dinner to help out in the kitchen. I made three trips to visit friends – once to Denver and twice to Williamsburg, Virginia, and I brought it and used it both times. The first time I also brought frozen ginger snap cookie dough to make when I got there. After the last time, I wore it to polish silver for our special, fancy dinner, and it changed the color of my red apron in some places.

I was sad, but I can’t bear to get rid of it or replace it. After three years, it seems to have gained character from the stain.

The last time I wore it was probably Christmas dinner just a few weeks ago. Roast beef, butter, sticky marshmallows, and I think I spilled a soda.

I’m really glad I had that apron on.

50-8 – Summer in the City

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Then and House Rules for Now.

I have one very distinct memory of childhood that doesn’t come from a picture or someone else’s recollection. I am in a very small square kitchen with a few other kids – I want to say a bunch, but a bunch seems too many. We are standing around a small white stove – gas, of course, and there is an adult, but for the life of me I can’t remember which adult it was. I don’t think it was my mother or my grandmother so it may have been a neighbor or the neighbor of a friend. We wandered in those days. Someone was always watching and even if you couldn’t see them or if you didn’t know them, they knew you and your parents and your parents always found out.

The stove was next to a back door and just outside the backdoor was a strip of asphalt or more accurately a cement walkway between the door and the rest of the house, and a patch of grass. There may have been a fence, but that is less clear to me.

We’re standing around the stove, not too close, and the mom whoever she was, and yes, she was a mom, was wearing pants and a turtleneck. The whole scene is colorful in my mind, but I don’t see physical colors; I just know they are there.

The stove is lit with that blue flame that comes up from the pilot and the gas, and the tin foil of the Jiffy Pop is expanding exponentially. The pops popping faster and faster until the foil splits and the popcorn is ready. I know we had red juice to drink, probably Hi-C or more likely Hawaiian Punch Fruit Punch. To this day, whenever my kids are at a party and that is the drink of choice, I always steal some and it tastes just like summer in the city, eight or so years old, running out the back door with a cup spilling over our hands and the other hand carrying as much popcorn as is humanly possible.

My kids saw Jiffy Pop once and it was a fandom thing, but I might have to get one for this summer. They know precisely how to make microwave popcorn and for them that is their pop-popping memory, but there is something about the foil splitting that says it’s ready that really has all the feels.

As a kid, we were never the Kool-Aid house. We lived in a court so if the kids wanted anything they went home for a minute or two.

When I had kids, I wanted to be the Kool-Aid house, but that lasted all of three minutes. I babysat for a couple of kids when my son was young, and they were great kids. Really. But every time they would jump on my furniture, not a constant jumping, but a normal, excited, jump, once, no big deal, it would make me crazy. I had to walk away so as not to yell at them because even though I didn’t realize it was an anxiety thing, I knew that what they were doing was appropriate for their age. It just bothered me, and most of the time, I bit my lip and let them be kids, but it was hard for me. I know that some of that comes from my mother having a “formal” living room with plastic on the furniture that even when company was over, we weren’t allowed to sit on. That was for company. And so despite none of my apartments having a den, I still felt that my living room was more for adults than kids. We kept glass out, and decor because my son was really good about not getting into things. Other kids, though… And his brother and sister when they came along had no concept of don’t touch, don’t drop, don’t, don’t, don’t.

We’re always cluttered. We have toys and magazines and comic books and hair ties all over the place. We live in our house even if sometimes we feel claustrophobic from all the disarray. We’ve gotten most of it under control for my son’s girlfriend to visit – the dreaded popover. My daughter has a friend who lives a few houses down. He came by and didn’t knock but waited patiently for someone to hear the screen door open. He’s done that three times already. The other day, it happened: “Can I give M some water?” Sure. “Can M use the bathroom?” Um…okay. And so it begins. With or without the fruit punch, we might be the Kool Aid house after all; for at least one friend. It must be time for –

HOUSE. RULES.

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Happy Pesach

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Passover begins at sundown this evening. Some years there are conflicts. We travel to my mother-in-law’s more often than not for Easter or right before Easter when the kids are on recess, and so we’ll only observe Passover for part of the eight days. Even after my baptism, we continue to celebrate.

This year Easter was early and we aren’t able to travel to Grandma’s for recess because my oldest son is in school and working two and a half jobs so timing didn’t work out for visiting.

However, we will be home for the entirety of Passover.

To be truthful, I hadn’t really decided to celebrate/observe until I was in the grocery store shopping. I was supposed to get a roasting chicken and potato pancake mix for tonight’s dinner, but I could feel the D-A (depression/anxiety) clueing me in that it was going to be difficult to me for this holiday.

While I want to do Passover (even if we don’t usually do a seder), I could not feel the cooking.

I looked through my wallet and found the raincheck for chicken tenders. I heard the lightbulb click in my head; over my head.

Fake it.

No roast chicken, no standing over a stove frying latkes (we eat more latkes during Passover than during Chanukah), and that’s it. Fake it.

Chicken tenders, frozen potato pancakes, can of cranberry sauce, matzoh. Lunch – gefilte fish.

I can do this.

My point is simply that there are ways to get around those pokes that depression uses to try and bring you to lethargy and apathy. It isn’t a fail safe. There will be depressive moments. There will be times when you have to ask for family for more patience and support, but when it’s important, try. That’s all you can ask yourself.

I wanted to celebrate Passover. It’s important to me to continue these traditions, for my kids to understand their Exodus from Egypt. Even before the Eucharist, I’ve always talked about Passover in the present.

Why do we celebrate Passover, I’ve been asked. We were slave, and we’re leaving Egypt. We’re escaping. We’re crossing the Red Sea. We carry the matzoh with us. It’s happening in the past, the future, and now. it is within and without time.

History and heritage are important.

So is dinner.

Food is the lifeblood of culture and family.

Sometimes depression gets the best of me, but it can never win because I keep fighting, I keep moving forward, I keep keeping on.

I fake it unhtil I don’t have to anymore, and then I fake it again, but I keep going.

Happy Pesach.

50-4 – Kitchen Zest

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In recent months and recenter days my monthly writing workshop has given prompts that refer to the kitchen. Well, let me correct that. The November prompt was about the kitchen and how it was different and/or similar to the one we had growing up. The March prompt was zest, which I took to mean the kitchen item, so for me the two prompts were about the kitchen. By way of this introduction, I hope that I succeed in blending the two into a competent essay (is there another word for essay – that sounds very middle school-y. Also article makes it sound dull and informative. Everything around me speaks to my writing, my words and the use of them. Including this whatever it is about kitchens.)

My kitchen growing up was already pretty modern albeit with the avocado and mustard colors of the seventies. I. understand that these are coming back in a retro look. One word: why? Lord, please no. Not that my current black and white cow kitchen is all that special, but seriously, just no.

In our house, we complained constantly about loading and emptying the dishwasher. We don’t have a dishwasher. I would love a dishwasher even if my husband does do most of the dishes.

My parents always had a coffee maker. My Dad drank coffee every day, throughout the day. He would often make a full pot as if company were coming and still go out to the local deli for a Styrofoam cup there too. In my house now, we only recently got a coffee maker because my son asked for it as a Christmas present for his father with the half wink that he wouldn’t mind using it as well. I know for a fact that if I was a coffee drinker we’d have one of those machines that does everything from grinding the beans to foaming the milk. I’m a tea drinker. The most complicated device for making my tea is the loose tea strainer that must be emptied and rinsed. It is the only thing I wash immediately upon finishing its use.

In my parents’ house, we had a clear glass pot. It must have had a lid at some point, but I never remember it. We never had a kettle. This was the pot we’d boil water in for tea or hot chocolate. More often than not, I’d boil eggs for my father for him to enjoy hard-boiled eggs. Ironically that along with not drinking coffee, hard-boiled eggs repulse me. My grandmother had one of those metal percolators. To me that will always be the three-dimensional puzzle that I played with on her kitchen floor. Fitting all the pieces together in the right way was how I spent much of my toddlerhood and preschool life.

Our kitchen looks modern with an electric stove and a microwave that is twenty-one years old, but doesn’t look a day over ten. Our counters are Formica or some other kind of plastic, very similar to my family’s old kitchen table. The sink leaks although we’ve changed out the faucet and now it’s much better. The fridge is a testament to American craftsmanship, and hopefully will continue on until we have the money to replace it, millions of years in the future.

The one thing my kitchen has that my house didn’t is a window over the sink that looks out over the backyard. I actually enjoy doing the dishes if I can look out of a window to the world outside. Depression killed that small pleasure.

My mother had a toaster and a toaster oven. We have both in one appliance. It was a gift from my brother and it is probably the most useful thing that we have in our kitchen. Also the most used.

I have about a thousand spices more than my mother’s kitchen. She had four – black pepper, garlic powder, paprika, and onion powder. Salt didn’t count as a spice but she had that as well. Morton’s, of course. When I was married and moved into my first apartment, my mother gave us a container of Morton’s salt (it’s a Jewish tradition to give bread and salt for a new house, although I’m sure it’s not limited to only that culture). We had that same original container of salt when we moved, had our first child and moved again.  My spices come from Penzeys or the Spanish section in my local supermarket. My friend also sent me spice samples from California – one month Indian, one Asian, one Hispanic, and soon I was hooked into playing around in the kitchen with a variety of tastes and flavors, mixing cultures and flavors and loving it.

My mother was not much of a cook. She had one or two things that she did and she did them really well. The smell of meatloaf baking or a roast beef just come out of the oven take me back to the couple of the things my family actually cooked. My mother made roasts all the time – regular roast beef from an eye round or top round, and pot roast in a Ziploc oven bag from a bottom round. I was the meatball and meatloaf maker and mixer. My Dad loved it and so it was my job to make it every couple of weeks. My kids finally like the meatloaf, so it will become a staple in our kitchen again. Instead of ketchup, try it with some HP Sauce. Check the international aisle – it’s from Great Britain and it’s fantastic.

For a long time during my childhood, my grandmother (or her sister, my aunt) lived with us, practically the whole time, so she did all the cooking since my parents both worked. Nothing really stands out which is sad. I’m sure she must have made some good meals. What’s really sad is that I would probably remember them more if they were terrible. After she went into a nursing home, it fell to my parents. I was often asked by my father to make those meatballs or a meatloaf or even to boil the eggs for him. We never ate chicken unless it was fried chicken from a take-out place. Best. Fried. Chicken. Ever. My mother had a real aversion to raw chicken.

When I got married and started cooking real food, I cooked everything. I called it “from scratch” but I didn’t bake bread or mix my own icing or anything like that. I’d buy the boneless chicken, put a sauce on it, bake it and make the rice and some kind of frozen vegetable boiled on the stove top. At least I stopped eating canned except for green bean casserole or what cans we get generously from the church. I actually never used my microwave except as a timer that first year and probably not even until after my son was born. As I mentioned above, we still use that same microwave today. Popcorn, leftovers, frozen burritos.

The reason I’m reminded of this is that simple word, the prompt – zest. I had no idea what it was, what it meant. There was a soap called Zest; somewhat reminiscent or similar to Irish Spring, but putting that in an ingredient for cake didn’t make much sense at all. Even to a novice in the kitchen like me.

Having quite the Tupperware collection, I definitely had a zester; it was one of those freebies you got for attending a party or playing a game. I still didn’t know what it did.

Was the zest the same as the rind? What was the rind anyway? Do you mean the skin off the lemon? Orange? Limes? People use limes?Why? Do they mean the part that gets peeled off and thrown away? The garbage? You want to put the garbage in the cake or the pie or the syrup? I just don’t understand.

And I wouldn’t for many years. If it called for zest or rind, I left it out or added a tiny bit more extra juice – same thing, right?

Finally, a close friend took pity on me. He taught me how to bake bread over the phone. Caramel, too. And how to zest an orange. Or a lemon. It’s pretty much universal, I think. He is why I have a small jar of dried orange peels in my refrigerator at this very moment.

I still don’t understand what difference it makes.

All I know is that my children will never know this intellectual emptiness of wondering and being embarrassed with their lack of zesty intelligentsia. Fortunately for them, when I’m cooking or baking or experimenting in the kitchen I have my trusty tablet, one screen opened to my cookbook, one opened to the Google home page for any questions that might arise. like that loaf of fresh bread under the tea towel. Why they’re called tea towels is another mystery to my pre-cooking self; one that will undoubtedly be rehashed here in future days.