Let’s get Psyched for a new feature!

March 2, 2009 § 7 Comments

recipebutton

If there is one chore in the world that I don’t mind and actually look FORWARD to doing, it’s grocery shopping.  Ever since I was kid I’ve loved going to the grocery store.  Part of it could be that my sister and I were card carrying members of the Wegmans and Star Markets cookie club, allowing the bearer of said card to receive a cookie of their choosing from the grocery store bakery and even at 9:00 in the morning, eat said cookie without a word of protest from mom.  For a while there was a creation available at Star that would make childhood nutritionists blow their stacks – the Cookie Cup.  This thing was a soft chocolate chip cookie pushed into a muffin tin so as to make a bowl to hold ABOUT A HALF A CUP OF FROSTING. It’s true.  They filled the cookie bowl with swirls and swirls of brightly colored buttercream.  This was available for free.  I don’t even have time to get into my love of old fashioned bakery frosting that I can’t find anywhere.  That will have to be a sob story for another post.

 

I’ve put the free cookies behind me, but getting my cart, pluggin in the ipod and hitting the Jewel is still an event I look forward to with a sort of childlike glee.  Unlike my mom, I rarely have a plan when going.  I have a partial list of things that are needed, but what I love most is just roaming the store.  I love finding a great looking bunch of asparagus, standing together like a bunch of cold co-eds outside a bar, waiting to be something delicious.  Although I’m something of a picky eater, I do like to find new ingredients and devise new dishes.  To me, cooking is a kind of crafting.  Why not?  I rarely use recipes.  Even when I’m baking I look over the ratios to assure it rises and binds and all that, but I always like to substitute sugars or flavors or cocoa or fruit.  To me, it doesn’t feel like MINE until I’ve put my personal touch on it.  So when I grocery shop I’m usually buying INGREDIENTS rather than prepared sodium boxes.  

 

Even if I have no need for anything in the “Household Cleaners and JuJu Fruit” aisle, I make my way down it.  Here’s why:  I’m an easy sell.  I’m a sucker for 10 for 10 sales.  I heed the call when grocery stores advise me to “stock up”.  I love the idea of “stocking up”, as if I have a dirt walled root cellar under a trap door out in the prairie.  Amongst the handwoven baskets of apples and onions and knobby potatoes, everyone needs a box of Glade Plug Ins to see them through the hard winter.

I guess this is a round about way of saying that I’m anxious to share recipes with you almost as much as I want to share my crafting and memories and housekeeping tales.  Housekeeping tales?  What will those be?  “Brian yelled at me until I agreed to throw away my last five months of magazines.”  So coming soon to the annals (heh heh) of DIAWC, the blog that tires easily, will be Jessica’s Recipes on Recipe Monday.  I hope you’ll let me know if you try them and/or improve on them.  I love hearin’ about the tweaking.:)


Beware the Temptations of False Spring

February 12, 2009 § 6 Comments

It happens every February, and like my father’s April Fool jokes, I fall for it every time, even though I tell myself (out loud even) that I shouldn’t.  Like a bad boy in a leather jacket who drives a motorcycle, I am fished in by False Spring.  Its warm breezes curl their smoky white fingers under my chin, leading me on tip toe down the primrose path until, like a sixteen pronged innoculation needle, a killing frost descends and turns those primroses into little brown crispies on the ice covered sidewalks.

The joke of it is, I don’t even really like spring, to be honest with you.  To me, spring is raininess, cloudiness, grey, mushy, slush. It’s the discovery of long lost dog feces garnishing the yards of the neighborhood, the smell of rotting leaves and worms and some dead thing that was caught in the ice like a fossil.  Spring is a reminder that the days of sweating from morning till night are just around the corner.  Spring means shopping at JC Penney with your mom for Easter Dresses.  

I am a strange bird.  I enjoy shopping.  Wait. I LOVE IT.  I love the social event of shopping, a “girl’s day of shopping” a “shopping spree”, “christmas shopping’, “back to school shopping”.  I love GROCERY shopping so much I include it on my list of hobbies.  I love when stores tell me to “STOCK UP”.  I love paper shopping bags with logos on the outside.  I remember when my friend Marlo and I would go to Eastview Mall with our…thirty dollars or so, wanting to go on a giant spree.  We’d buy 1/2 off hoop earrings at Express and then ask if we could have the BIG shopping bag, because who doesn’t love the look of carrying armloads of bags out of the mall?  All that could make it better would be a fresh bunch of flowers wrapped in paper, a long french bread and a hat box (and some celery*).  What I do NOT like about  shopping is trying things on.  This is why the majority of my clothes come from Target and Old Navy. I know precisely what styles and sizes fit me in those stores and I don’t have to try them on.  I eyeball it, hold it in front of me, see if it can be thrown in the washing machine and purchase it.  I hate dressing rooms.  I’m an impatient person, and i don’t like to waste time DOING things that I don’t like DOING when I could be somewhere taking a nap.  I hate the whole procedure of taking off your coat, your purse, your clothes, shoes, taking the thing off the hanger, figuring it out, looking terrible in it and knowing that a gaggle of security people are laughing their faces off at you behind the mirror while you strike a pose and say “HI, YES, How are you?” which is something my mom and sister and I do when we try on clothes for some reason.  You have to see how your body looks saying “Hi, yes.”  Maybe I’d like trying on clothes more if I were at least six sizes smaller, but as it is, it’s just a big series of “NOPE, YOURE STILL TOO FAT! TRY AGAIN NEXT YEAR, ORSON!”

So imagine then my torture when my mother used to take us out to buy Easter dresses.  I don’t remember my sister’s attitude, so we’ll just say it was bad, because she and my mother were like those trick magnet dogs, flipping around and resisting each other, never occupying the same point.  But I, the usual nerd ‘good child’ who let my mother dress me in grey courdoroy when I was thirteen, engaged in a particular act of rebellion when it came to clothes shopping. First of all, you had to try everything on.  Then you had to come out and let mom see it, and pull it around and “HOW’S THE CROTCH FITTING?  DOES THIS MAKE YOUR CROTCH LOOK FAT?”   Then she’d pull VIOLENTLY on the waistband to see how much room was available.  If you couldn’t pull the waistband out wide enough to put a cat in it, they were too tight.  Because remember, “IT’LL SHRINK”.  Everything shrinks.

By the end of our day of shopping I had reached an unusual level of frustration while trying on a ridiculously stylish, early eighties PANTSUIT with a peach colored patent leather belt about 1/2″ wide. 

“LET ME SEE IT,” Mom called from out in the middle of the store.  That was the catch.  She didn’t wait outside the dressing room door.  She was out looking for more things to force me to try on.  “COME OUT HERE.”

So, in an effort to show my hatred of the whole shabang, I got down on all fours, and, like a dehydrated man crawling through the desert, I dragged myself out of the dressing room and across the floor of the juniors dress department, past salespeople, customers, other girls my own age.  I turned up the vocals as my mother came into view.  Groaning and whimpering to really illustrate the torture I was being put through; the torture of pantsuits, of PANTY HOSE, of white mesh/net hats and teeny white patent leather purses.  If my goal was to make a scene:  I was victorious. To this day, it mortifies my mother to look back on that afternoon.  

Spring also has Easter.  Although I am a lifelong Christian from a Christian home, lovin the Lord, letting Jesus take the wheel…I…I don’t like Easter.  The severe importance of it scares me.  Are we allowed to joke around on Easter?  To laugh and have fun?  It’s never been a favorite holiday, and ever since I was a kid when I saw the statue of Jesus covered in a back shroud at church, Good Friday has really freaked me out.  It scared me so much I didn’t want to go back to church on Sunday to see the ‘black ghost Jesus’. 

HE’S NOT A GHOST,” my mom yelled, tapping her foot. “THE WHOLE POINT OF EASTER IS THAT HE ROSE FROM THE DEAD TO SAVE US. THAT’S THE MIRACLE OF EASTER! NOW GET IN THE CAR!

So I guess the point here is, even though I don’t like spring, by the time February rolls around I’m so sick of the brutal wind, ice and snow of Chicago winter that a taste of warmth, a lighter coat, a brief glimpse at the sun are enough to drive me into a brief, unheard of, put-a-wallet-between-her-teeth optimism that says MAYBE THIS YEAR SPRING HAS COME EARLY!  Maybe this year it’ll be sunny and warm!  Maybe this year I’ll find a flattering dress for Easter Church!  Maybe this year…everything is different. 

But the snow always comes back, the gray black slush lining the streets, the wind pulling your hood right back off your head, turning your umbrella inside out.  The sky returns to its gloomy state of freshly erased chalkboard as we inevitably step into a puddle that looked 1 inch deep but really was a storm drain.

 The thing about false spring though is that it comes at just the right time.  It reminds you that while your troubles are not over, all is not lost, that the days indeed are getting longer, that there’s grass somewhere under that blanket of gloom, that Jesus isn’t a ghost anymore and empire waist dresses are flattering on everyone.  So while I urge you to keep a cool head about yourself during this warm, deceptive week…you can still enjoy it while it lasts.  Reminds me of a quote I have taped to the fridge:

“Don’t cry because it’s over.  Smile because it happened!”

~ Dr. Seuss

Stay warm!  

 

 

*a very select few will get this joke.

What I meant to say…

November 17, 2008 § 2 Comments

In the months, days, hours and minutes before my sister’s wedding, I was struck by an unusual and uncomfortable feeling of stage fright, having been notified that I would, of course, be giving a speech.  No one thought twice about it, and why should they?  I’m an actress, an improviser, a ham, a goofball, someone who is well practiced in yelling out “HEY LOOK!”, but in hyper emotional situations I tend to turn bright red and nasally, and I cry like a screeching donkeygoose, trying to talk through my outbursts, which results in a gurgling, high pitched stream of consciousness expulsion that sort of resembles letting air out of a balloon while manipulating the stretching opening.  And this was my sister’s wedding.  My only sister, her only wedding, and my only chance to tell 200 or so people at once, how I feel about that gal.

In the end, I decided to just go with my gut, having planned on one story to tell, which is my favorite; the story of Allison coming home from the hospital, her little shock of black Wild Indian Hair erupting from a tightly wrapped blanket.  I wanted to desperately to see her, to hold her, to dress her up in outfits, to play games with her, to feed her. But what I really wanted, was to look good for her.  So I’d chosen carefully, a red, yellow, orange and green striped shirt and green pants.  That’s right everyone:  I went with The Ernie.  This choice would end up being catastrophic and memorable for the rest of my life, because the pants were too small and I ended up pulling them up to cover my underpants all day, while everyone else cooed and ooohed and ahhhed over my new little sister.

Indeed, this is a good story, and the way I wove it in with an expression of love, congratulations,self deprication,nostalgia and weeping, I was told over and over that it was one of the finest wedding toasts ever heard.  Part of this could be the open bar, part could be that I was toasting with a pitcher of coffee creamer since I forgot my glass.

But you know what I really wanted to say?  I wanted to say that looking back over our typical suburban white girls childhood, it’s amazing that Allison even talks to me at this point in our lives.  It’s amazing that she isn’t blogging right now about her completely bizarre and inappropriate big sister who never gave her a single word of advice on boys (because Allison was better at that than me) or on clothes (because Allison was better at that than me) or school (because Allison had too many friends to worry about school, and I was such a massive under achiever it’s amazing I make the effort to breathe every day). 

Allison - A celebration of life and love

Allison - A celebration of life and love

Face it, I was a lonesome nerd, unaware of the standard hierarchy in family relationships, so I was all too happy to spend my days with a girl half my age.  When other thirteen year olds were shoving their little sisters out into the hallway so they could paint their nails and listen to the Top Eight At Eight on WPXY, I was rollerskating with Allison, never ending laps of our unfinished basement, making up stories, listening to A-ha.  One summer we made a conserted effort to bring back the forties.  We tried to learn how to play marbles and jacks and used some old jargon, because we liked the fun that Archie and Pals were having in the comic books.  We consoled each other after playing “too much reality Barbies” with our strange neighbors who watched too many adult television shows.  In the Fall we played Little House On The Prairie in the front yard, and in my one display of big sister jerkiness, I made Allison be Carrie.  Who in the name of God wants to be CARRIE?  THE GIRL WHO WIPES OUT IN THE OPENING CREDITS?  And as Carrie, all she was allowed to do was gather firewood.  We wore our genuine calico bonnets and I sat under the maple trees and pretended to darn socks, make stew, quilt, write a letter to someone in Sleepy Eye, the usual.  And every time Allison toddled up with an armful of tiny sticks, I would take them and say “ok, now go rustle up some firewood for dinner.”  She never complained, never asked for a rewrite, never threw the sticks in my face and said ‘cram it’.   She just wiped her nose on her sleeve and ran off to do my bidding.  She was happy to play along when I told strangers I was training to be a speedskater in the Olympics and Allison was helping me work out.  She let me choreograph the dances and skits that we put on for the family.  She was my poky little puppy when she was little, always wanting to tag along.

And then, it was as if the moment she reached puberty, she surpassed me.  I found myself in college, envious of a fourteen year old and her huge circle of friends, her jam packed social calendar, her prospective gentleman callers lined up around the block.  There was never a day when she wasn’t comfortable with herself, when she wasn’t confident, relaxed. 

She has a sharp and fearless sense of humor.  One of my favorite things she ever did was win an award for creative salesmanship by wearing a coffee filter on her head at the movie theatre where she worked.  Why is that good salesmanship? Because upon seeing the coffee filter, movie goers, unaware that coffee was even available, began to buy it. 

And now here she is today, strong, beautiful, funny, her nose free of yellow crayons and crusted over snots, her hair a long, bronzed ribbon rather than a spiky Indian child from another world.  She’s learned to express her anger with well chosen words rather than digging her fingernails into her opponent’s arm until they cry uncle.  She’s all grown up, she was the world’s most beautiful, calm, put together bride. I love her, I always will.

THAT’S what I wanted to say.

And now, some clips of grandmas falling down

August 24, 2008 § 2 Comments

It occurred to me the other day that I do a lot of 11th hour planning.  This doesn’t mean I save things until the last minute, it means I’m preparing for the last minute.  You know, your last meal, your last vacation, your last ice cream cone.  It’s a morbid way of asking someone ‘what’s your favorite‘.  Which is all most questions are anyway.  Instead of asking someone, “what’s your favorite book of all time?” we ask:  “IF YOU WERE STRANDED ON A DESERT ISLAND…” and it always comes to a fiery screeching end when some smart alec starts asking if there are any LIGHTS on the island, could it be a LEATHER BOUND BOOK, or if the pages could be used for fuel or something that lets us know that if this person ended up on a desert island it would probably be because a group of co-workers had devoted many late nights to its planning.  Instead of saying “what’s your favorite meal” we ask “IF YOU WERE CONVICTED OF A TRIPLE HOMICIDE AND GRANTED A LAST MEAL BEFORE THE STATE BRUTALLY MURDERED YOU…WHAT WOULD THAT MEAL BE?”  And the same co-worker from above would say “I’d be too nervous to eat,” or “I’d ask for something like lutefisk that took weeks to prepare.”  And you know, since I’m on a tangent with this, I should say that what really irritates me (like a piece of popcorn stuck in between that last “regular” tooth and a molar, and you can’t get it, even with floss or anything until it pops out about seven hours later and you sigh and just pull yourself together enough NOT to show it to everyone) about these answers to these questions is not that they’re intentionally obtuse and smug, but that they are UNORIGINAL and NOT FUNNY.  To be honest with you, if I were stranded on a desert island and a genie were to spare me from my worst pet peeve, it would be people passing off old jokes as even remotely funny.  Such as, but not limited to:

  • People should need a license to have children
  • If you don’t like the weather in “xxxx” (ANY TOWN IN THE CONTIGUOUS UNITED STATES) just wait a minute!
  • The calories in “xxxx” (wedding cake, broken cookies, expensive cheese) don’t count! 
HAAHAHAHAHAHAhAAAAAAAAAAAhHAhahahHAHA.  Hysterical.  Except, by hysterical, I mean “clever in 1981”.

But let’s bring this train back on the tracks.  What I discovered as I flipped through the channels on my DirecTV, talking to myself aloud as if we were best friends, was that if I had one last show to watch before dying; if the bombs were coming and the power was going to go out before our skin melted off, or if I needed to pass the time before the Aliens took over, or I was in one of those situations where I’m pinned beneath a subway and I’m squeezed so tight that it’s holding my body together to keep me alive, but as soon as they free me I’ll check out…I would want to kiss my daughter, look deep into my husband’s brown eyes and kiss him one last time, finally let my dog kiss the INSIDE of my mouth, and then watch an hour of: AMERICA’S FUNNIEST HOME VIDEOS.

It’s a show so perfect that I can’t even come up with a single negative about it, unless you count people trying to pass off set up situations as “accidental hilarity”. 

“For reals, ABC Producer!  My family and I were a-walkin’ down a dusty Tennessee trail, one of us be-camera-ed, and we stumbled, quite accidentally, upon a dilapidated, one story home that was absolutely NOT already scheduled for demolition, and we all stood on the roof with absolutely no idea that the whole structure, already weakened by a missing wall, would collapse, throwing our obese, pasty bodies into a conveniently placed mud puddle!”

But even then, after everyone in the room nasally yells out “set up”, I still laugh – because it’s PEOPLE.  FALLING.  DOWN.  And this is the essence of true, gut busting laughter.  I still howl at every groin whacked by a wiffle bat.  I still double over gasping at every sledding child that takes out a group of adults like gummy bowling pins.  Nothing brings a smile to my face like a bride faceplanting on the altar, a groom

America,america...this is YOU

America,america...this is YOU

 passing out, a mother in law lighting her hair a glow on the unity candle.  That show is pure fun, pure innocence, classic, American Television.

I love it because it has never been “edgy”.  There has never been a “very special episode”.  It’s not catty, or cruel or dark.  I love that it’s on early in the evening, because it reminds me of going to bed early on Sunday nights for school tomorrow.  I love the classic canned laughter of the audience, and dogs chasing something right into the wall.

There are people today who claim that certain sounds, smells, tastes, textures can trigger different ‘moods’, different ‘states of mind’.  You can download ‘aural drugs’ that are supposed to ‘get you high on music’ (I’ll report on this after I get some good headphones).  I think AFV is not only a mild anti-depressant, but perhaps a tranquilizer, a mood elevator, a ‘calmer downer’.  It’s the show I want to watch when I can’t sleep, when I’m anxious, when I feel like the world is a crap place, and quickly falling apart.  I watch it when I have a stomach ache, or when my migraine goes away and I just want to chill and be happy.  It’s a show you needn’t think about, or ‘consider’ or ‘talk about at the watercooler’ on Monday.  It’s just cats falling into aquariums, tiny children pulling down christmas trees, and fat men trying to dance and failing miserably.  It’s everything I love about life – the mistakes that become funny stories, the injuries that we laugh over, the Christmas home movies we take every year, the tricks we teach our pup and want everyone to see.

And if I’m goin’ out in the glow of an alien induced mushroom cloud, screaming at the masses “I TOLD YOU THIS WOULD HAPPEN”…those are the memories I want to take with me when I go.

Edgewater

February 7, 2008 § 2 Comments

When Brian and I got married, it was with the understanding that I had pinned all of my hopes, dreams and ambitions on the city of Chicago and all of its treasures. We were young and he must have been smitten to blindly accept such a venture. We laugh now at how quickly we pulled up our tiny stakes from the middle of Perrysburg, Ohio and hit the road. We had nothing. The sum total of our belongings fit in two cars and a tiny U-Haul.

Our apartment was a studio rehab with no air conditioning and a stunning view of three dumpsters in the alley. The apartment broker had assured us that the Edgewater neighborhood was rapidly improving and was hot and up and coming. To hear him talk, we were getting in on the ground floor of the next Greenwich Village. In what could only have been described as “most outstanding acheivement in interior design,”, the “closet” of the two room studio was six feet deep and twelve feet long, opening into the bathroom. To us, it was a master suite. Our mattress and box spring slid perfectly against three walls, and for dramatic effect our clothes hung on a rod, tickling our feet as we slept. One couch, three local channels, no jobs and $700. My grandmother in the suburbs gave us a package of frozen bratwurst and a bag of buns to see us through the lean times.

But we learned the city quickly. We bought rolls of tokens and took the el downtown. We learned to not wear open toed sandals on Bryn Mawr, to silently walk around the young man defecating in the corner of the train station rather than scream out for some semblance of decorum. We stocked our fridge, paid our bills and survived a heat wave that killed nearly a thousand people by taking ice cold showers before bed and diving between the sheets soaking wet while fans blew over our heads.

It wasn’t until October (months after our arrival) that I realized we’d done it. We were grown up adults on our own in the greatest city in the nation. We were walking hand in hand that day. The sky was a beautiful shade of blue, the first crayon you’d pick from the pack. At home, chili was bubbling away in a crock pot and we were carrying a thick Sunday paper that we’d bought on our way home from church. It was football Sunday. We would cuddle up in our big girl pants with a blanket and enjoy our day off. I was so content with so little, so comfortable on a hand me down couch, so satisfied with ground chuck. I have truly never wanted for much, and at that moment – I had it all.

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