We Are Apparently Traditionally Dysfunctional

Holiday Family TraditionsSee this picture?

It ain’t us.

When Jen announced that the theme for this week’s Spin Cycle was “traditions” – most notably, family traditions – I was rather nonplussed.  While my ex-husband is third-generation Mexican American, the traditions of his family’s country have gradually been homogenized as his poor and uneducated grandparents assimilated into this country and the American culture.  They’ve prospered along the way, due largely to this assimilation, educating themselves and their children, and when you couple that with Ex-husband’s deep shame of his race and heritage, our children know very little about where their paternal family came from and what their lives were like before immigrating to this country.  Indeed, if you were to ask them (or even their father) about the cultural traditions of that side of the family, they’d most likely come back with “Tamales at Christmas, buñuelos for New Years, and menudo on Sundays.”

Which, I’m afraid, is more than they come up with for my side of the family – we are, for the most part, non-religious, middle-class WASPs of no particular country of origin.  When asked about our family traditions, Oldest Son said, “We listen to Alice’s Restaurant every Thanksgiving!”  Darling Daughter said, “Uh…we eat pie at Thanksgiving and we used to go drive around and look at the Christmas lights every year.”  The Young One didn’t even attempt to assuage my guilt at our lack of family tradition, and simply said, “We’re too dysfunctional to have any traditions!”

Hmm, well, son – considering the fact that three out of five of you have survived to adulthood, I think we can safely say that we have a family tradition of not smothering our teenaged offspring with a pillow in the middle of the night.

I suppose compared to those of a solid ethnic and/or religious heritage, we seem a bit…unfettered?  by custom and tradition.  However, my completely unhelpful children aside, that’s not necessarily true.  Our customs and traditions have evolved over the years, but they do exist.  Most of these customs and traditions are centered around our very secular celebrations of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, but they’re still there.

It’s funny, but I don’t really even remember what we did for Thanksgiving every year when I was a kid, so it couldn’t have been that notable.  But as my brother and sisters and I grew up, married and had families of our own, Thanksgiving Day was traditionally spent with our spouse’s family – we spent Friday at my mother’s house, enjoying a second holiday meal, since neither she nor any of us had any particular desire to fight the crowds on Black Friday (to this day, no matter what my plans are, I avoid shopping like the plague the day after Thanksgiving).  But after my divorce and the subsequent end of my relationship with The Young One’s father, that all changed.  Most importantly, my mother was no longer with us.  Then there was the fact that I, as the only divorced one of my mother’s kids, was without any children on alternating holidays – that right there will throw you through a loop.

Growing up, Christmas Eve was always spent with my mother’s family at my maternal grandparent’s house.  Christmas morning was for Santa Claus and the unbridled excesses that came with the Fat Guy’s yearly visit.  Christmas evening was usually spent at the house of my step-father’s parents, partaking of a formal meal.  As we grew up, that didn’t change much – Christmas Eve was still spent with my mother’s family, Christmas morning with presents and Christmas evening with the ex’s folks.  But, again, the divorce and parting of ways with Good Ex changed all that, and for two years I spent alternating holidays very, very alone.

Then I met Beloved.  Freshly divorced as well, he was also at a bit of a loss as to what to do with those empty, alternating holidays.  It took very little time to decide to coincide our “alone” holidays so we could spend them together.  After a time, we began incorporating the “kids” holidays with each other, and by the time we moved in together the holidays we had all five of the kids with us became something of a loud, exciting, expensive madhouse.  I have pictures of that first Christmas somewhere – it looks as if a present factory exploded in our living room.  Later, I told Beloved we should have just done away with the tree, stacked the gifts in one huge pile and thrown tinsel over it.

But despite the upheaval of divorce, the blending of two families, the fact we’ve moved 1,200 miles away from my home of 42 years and that 3 of 5 of the kids are grown and on their own, I’ve managed to salvage a few traditions (I don’t care what my kids say).

Our Thanksgiving meal is pretty traditional; what we eat, when we eat and even how it is prepared.  We usually watch at least some of the Macy’s parade, at some point during the day we listen to Alice’s Restaurant and we always watch the Cowboys play their traditional Thanksgiving Day game.

For years, if it is at all possible, we’ve decorated for Christmas the Sunday evening after Thanksgiving.  We listen to Christmas music and drink egg nog while we do it (these days that decorating includes two trees).

I do some sort of Holiday cooking/baking every year, even if it’s just making a ton of fudge and hauling it to the office for the guys there.  The Christmas party we have for our employees, in our home, has also become a tradition in recent years.

I have bought each of the kids a Hallmark Keepsake Ornament every year for I don’t know how long.  It’s the first gift they are allowed to open on Christmas morning.

I send (usually irreverent and humorous) Christmas cards every year.

We do manage to get out and drive around to look at the holiday lights and decorations at some point every year.  There’s no Swiss Avenue-type display here in Podunk, but it’s still worth the drive around town.

Opening Christmas gifts has it’s own set of traditions in our home; we start with the youngest child in the family and everyone watches him open his presents, which I usually hand out.  After that, we go with the next youngest child and work our way up to the oldest person in the family.  This is the way it’s been done in my family for as long as I can remember, and it’s the way it will remain in my family after I’m gone, I hope.

Christmas dinner isn’t as traditional as Thanksgiving – I am not threatened with death by the kids if I don’t make the same thing every year like I am at Thanksgiving feel free to change it up a bit, but we always have a special meal.  In the dining room, no less.

So, there are our most of our traditions.  They’re not much, but they’re ours so that makes them special.  I am especially excited about the new tradition that will begin this year at the Sushi Bar:

Spoiling the grandkids rotten.

Hoppin’ John

Hoppin' JohnNo Random Tuesday Thoughts this week.  Perhaps I’m just losing my randomness?

Nah.

Actually, I think I’m suffering slightly from blog-burnout, a lingering after-affect of blogging every day last month, then continuing to blog every weekday this month.  I don’t think I’m losing my mojo – it’s just tired and needs a break.  I think I’ll give it one next weekend when we go to Hocking Hills, and won’t post Friday through Monday.

At any rate, while thinking about what I would write about today, I started thinking about the weather (cool and wet – Fall is definitely here) and dinner, which should go with the cool, wet weather.  With Beloved out of town for more than a week, I am going to have to just cook for myself; if I let The Young One choose the menu like I did last night, we’ll end up eating chicken nuggets or pizza rolls with carrot and celery sticks and mac ‘n’ cheese every night (while watching 3 episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation on DVD – but hey, we had a nice evening).  So, tonight I’m making this:

Hoppin’ John.

If you asked Oldest Son what his favorite dish is, he’d probably come back with “Spinach-stuffed pork loin with fruit sauce” (another recipe I’ll have to post soon) accompanied by this simple casserole of black-eyed peas and rice.  Hoppin’ John is fairly ubiquitous in the South and is traditionally eaten on New Year’s Day; in our house, it’s served far more often.  Growing up, my mother made this with canned black-eyed peas and Minute rice and while instant rice is not allowed in my home, I’ve made it upon occasion with the canned peas.  However, having said that, it is best made with dried peas and since black-eyed peas require no soaking and cook up fairly quickly (compared to other dried beans, which is what black-eyed peas really are) you can have this dish on the table in fairly short order.  It’s a great side dish for pork – which is how Oldest Son prefers it – or by itself with just some hot, buttered corn bread on the side.  For me, it personifies comfort food.

This is a very basic recipe; you can jazz this up just about any way you like, and add bell peppers and celery to the onion, throw in some tomatoes, substitute the bacon with salt pork or a small hamhock (pick the meat off that hock and add it back in before serving!) or a good, spicy smoked sausage like Andouille.  It can be made vegetarian by leaving the meat out all together and spicing it up with some cumin, cayenne or thyme and bay leaf.

Hoppin’ John

makes 4 – 6 main dish servings, or 8 side dish servings

6 thick slices of bacon, chopped

one medium onion, chopped

1 cup dried black-eyed peas

5 – 6 cups water

1 cup uncooked long-grain white rice

Sort and rinse the black-eyed peas.  Fry the bacon in a large saucepan (or small pot) over medium heat until almost crisp; remove with a slotted spoon and reserve.  Lower the heat and saute the onion in the bacon fat in the saucepan until soft and almost translucent.

Return the bacon to the saucepan and add the peas.  Pour in the water and remove any peas that float to the top.  Gently boil the black-eyed peas, uncovered, until tender but not mushy – about 1 1/2 hours – and about 2 cups liquid remain.  Add the rice to the pot, stir, cover, and simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes, never lifting the lid.

Remove from the heat and allow to steam, still covered, for another 10 minutes. Remove the cover, fluff with a fork, season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Oh, Baby!

I really don’t have much in the way of anything today; it’s raining cats and dogs here (at last!  We’ve had a really dry summer).  Beloved’s on his way to California on business and won’t be back until a week from Thursday; the next day we head back to Hocking Hills for an extended weekend.

Since Beloved will be in California over the weekend, he gets to go visit Jolly and Little Guy while he’s there.  Which reminds me, I’ve got new pictures of our grandson.  Aren’t you just tickled?  The last four are some professional portraits that were made when little guy was only 3 weeks old (I scanned them; apparently my scanner is a tad on the dusty side); the first is a little more recent.

This kid is going to have personality out the wazoo – you can tell already.

Have a lovely Monday, y’all.

a_wave_and_smile

Well, hi there!

I'm an Elf!

Grandpa says I look like an elf!

Little Old Man

Nona says I look like Grandpa!

Kissy Face!

Gimme a kiss!

Just Chillin'...

Just chillin’…

Stat Care Follies

stat_careJust when you think you don’t have anything to blog about.

So, I’m slicing and dicing veggies for the Creole Style Steak that Beloved requested for dinner when I grabbed an onion to cut up.  I was down to the very last slice when the very large serrated knife I was using slipped and I damn near sliced off the end of the pinkie finger on my left hand.

Because I’m apparently into “finger food.”

It took me all of about .000037 seconds to assess the situation and decide, yeah – we were going to take a trip to the local stat care facility.  I grabbed half a roll of paper towels (because honey – the tip of your pinkie finger fairly gushes blood), wrapped my hand up, cradled it to my chest and told Beloved we were taking a ride.

“Are you sure you need a doctor?” he asked.  “Just let me take a look.”

Biting back the urge to bellow, “ARE YOU A $@&%ING QUALIFIED PHYSICIAN???” (because I can speak in little symbols like that), I merely said, “Dear, I sliced through my fingernail.  I believe I need stitches.”

Beloved replied by turning off the burner under the pan of round steak on the stove and calling upstairs to tell The Young One he had to take me to the doctor and we would be back shortly.  If there’s one thing we have in common, it’s the ability to be calm and cool in emergency situations that don’t involve teenagers being morons – the boy replied by saying, “Uh…okay.”

By the time we arrived at the stat care facility, I was already regretting the lack of foresight that left the camera and my Blackberry at home.  Unlike my dear friend Twenty Four at Heart, I don’t Twitter much so I couldn’t do a live Twitter broadcast, but Facebook?  Oh, yeah.  And while I couldn’t even begin to compete with the heartbreaking photos sweet Janie posted about her sister’s recent bout with melanoma, pictures would have been great.

Blogging – the opportunity to turn personal injury into a traffic-generating spectacle.  Gawd, I love it.

Of course, once we got to the admittance desk, the computer went wonky; the nice admitting lady spent 15 minutes just trying to input my information; it was a damn good thing I was able to staunch the flow of blood.  Eventually, she told us to just take a seat:  “I’ll let them know you’re here, hon,” she said, “I just can’t get this thing to work.”  Resigned, we went to the waiting area, but surprisingly enough, we only had to wait about 15 minutes when I was called.

“Do you want me to come with you?”  Beloved asked.

“Are you kidding?” I replied.  “If I have to experience this, then you have to watch and listen.”

At this point, the pain had subsided to a dull throb and since I loathe going to the doctor I was beginning to wonder if I shouldn’t have just stayed home with my left hand swathed in paper towels and duct tape for the next two weeks; I could totally do that.  That whole idea was put to rest the minute the nurse asked to see my finger and I began to bleed all over her once I unwrapped my hand.

“Oh, my,” she said.  “The doctor will be with you shortly.”

Yeah, I’ve heard that one before.  Of course, once I had opened my self-inflicted-albeit-accidental-wound for inspection, the pain level shot up from “Oh, 2 or 3” to “37.”  Don’t those “pain charts” just irritate the bejebus out of you?  Hey, if I’m not screaming incoherently or begging for morphine – do you really need a number from a silly scale?  At any rate, I wrapped my hand back up in the blood-soaked paper towels and waited for the doctor…who ambled in to the room about 3 years later. (Beloved tells me it was really only about 10 minutes, but when you’re considering begging for morphine, time becomes a bit subjective).

Dr. Personality had all the vivaciousness of Ben Stein on Valium, and had only a little less finesse than a construction worker with a jackhammer.  Presented with the injured digit, he proceeded to rip it wide open again for a better look and, while I sat biting my tongue in half, said, “You need stitches.”

I’m sure he got all As in “stating the obvious” during med school.

In the meantime, I was instructed to lay down on the gurney/bed/thingie and wait some more – no doubt so Dr. Personality could go sedate some more patients with the soporific drone of his voice about succoring other sick and injured.  But he eventually came back, whereupon I instructed Beloved to come to the side of the bed so I could crush hold his hand while he laughed at offered me comfort and moral support.

I’d just as soon not have to have to repeat the two Novocain shots that were administered to the base of my finger; honestly, Doc, is it really necessary to grind the needle around in circular motions once you’ve shoved it my hand with all the gentleness of a volleyball player spiking a ball over the net?  Then the bastard doctor left again, announcing it would take another 3 years 15 or 20 minutes for it to sufficiently deaden my entire left arm enough for him to collect his $12,000 from the insurance company.

Eventually he came back, though, and that’s when the fun really began.  Even with the benefit of the Novocain, the whole thing was damn uncomfortable, although as Beloved pointed out, not as uncomfortable as it would have been if the doctor had just instructed me to “lie down, and here – bite on this belt.”  A quip that didn’t even earn so much as a smirk, much less a smile, from Dr. Personality.  Nor did our subsequent banter, after the ordeal procedure was over, when he announced that the nurse would be in shortly to apply a dressing.

“Ooooooo!” says Beloved.  “French?  Bleu cheese?”

“No, no,” I said.  “Ranch.”

“You’re right,” he replied.  “Ranch is usually what accompanies finger food.”

Not so much as a twitch.  Ah, Doc – a barrel of monkeys ain’t got nothin’ on you.

The nurse and medical assistant were much better – cheerful and nice, to say nothing of having a more deft touch.  The nurse administered a tetanus shot, which I was not looking forward to – I’ve had some damn painful tetanus shots before – but I barely felt it.  The little medical assistant was even better – not only did she do a damn fine job of dressing my finger, quickly and gently, but she could actually hold a conversation.  The only thing Dr. Personality said during the whole thing was “Nurse, bring me a tourniquet” – not something you really want to hear while someone is sewing a part of your body up (I learned later that he just ripped my fingernail off, causing it to bleed profusely again).

So now I have four stitches in the end of the pinkie finger of my left hand, two of which go through the nail (or what’s left of it).  I actually thought “Oh, this isn’t so bad” as the feeling came back in my hand, but the finger barely hurt at all.  Until about 11 o’clock last night, when the last of the pain-killing properties wore off.  Can we say “ouch”?

OUCH.

I had Beloved take a picture of my hand along side the offending cutlery, but I apparently forgot to transfer it from the external hard drive I keep my photographs on to my laptop before coming into the office this morning, so you’ll have to wait until this evening.  If you’re all real nice, I’ll even take pictures of the stitches later.

When I’m able to look at them myself, that is.  I’m not sure my stomach is quite up to that yet.

Have a lovely weekend, y’all.

Texas Sheet Cake

Texas Sheet CakeI’ve been in a funk lately.

A funk I’m sure is hormonal; I’ll spare my male readers detailed descriptions of the increasingly bizarre fluctuations of my menstrual cycle – let’s just say it ain’t pretty.  At any rate, yesterday afternoon my entire body, to say nothing of my brain, began screaming:

CHOCOLATE!!!!

Realizing that this hormone-driven chocolate obsession is neither going to fade any time soon nor be satisfied with several dozen a bite-size Snickers bar, my feverish middle-aged brain began to look for ways to enjoy some rich, chocolate-y goodness for more than 30 seconds.

The answer was nearly immediate, to say nothing of delightful:

Texas Sheet Cake.

Texas Sheet Cake is often known by other names, depending on your geographic location – simply Texas cake, Texas Brownies, Texas Brownie Cake, Texas Sheath Cake (no, we won’t touch that one with a ten-foot pole).  What it is, though, is a pan of moist, sweet, chocolate-y goodness that is extremely easy and super-quick to whip up from scratch.

Which is the only way to make it, really.

This is my tried-and-true recipe – the way Texas Sheet Cake is supposed to be enjoyed.  You don’t even have to get out your electric mixer; you can mix up this cake by hand in a jiffy.  There are all sorts of recipes for this cake all over the internet, so if you find one you like better, that’s fine – but if it calls for sour cream and walnuts, it just isn’t the real deal.

Note: This recipe calls for regular, salted butter.  I don’t normally use salted butter, so if you’re like me and use unsalted butter, add 1/4 teaspoon table salt (or 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, which is what I use).

Texas Sheet Cake

makes a big, wonderful cake

2 cups sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup cocoa

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup butter (1 stick), melted

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup canola or other vegetable oil

1 cup water

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease and flour a 13x9x2-inch baking pan.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda and cinnamon, and set aside. Stir together the remaining ingredients in another bowl. Gradually add the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients, stirring until you have a smooth, rather thin batter.

Pour into your prepared pan, and bake at 400°F for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

While the cake is baking, prepare the frosting.

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk (whole, 2% or skim – doesn’t matter)

1/4 cup cocoa

1/2 cup butter

1 pound confectioners’ sugar, sifted (about 4 cups)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup chopped pecans

Mix the milk and cocoa in a large, heavy saucepan, stirring very well to mix. Add the butter and, over medium heat, stir until the butter melts. Remove from heat and gradually stir in the sugar and vanilla until smooth. Stir in the pecans.

As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, carefully spread the frosting evenly over the hot cake.