Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Night Out on the Town

No matter how sophisticated you think you are, you're really not. Someone is always there to knock you down a notch, to prove no one really knows better--or lives better--than the next guy or gal.
I personally don't need friends like that. I have my four children. Delightful people who take every opportunity to tap me on the shoulder (figuratively and otherwise) and say, "Hey, remember me? Don't make me tell ALL our secrets."
I recently scored a bottle of non-alcohol wine--a gift that didn't do much for me, but seemed an especially big coup for my 12-year-old, who calls it "fake wine." He asked if he could drink it with his dinner while his dad and I went out for the evening. I told him, "No, save it for the weekend." Fake wine is always in order when it comes to special occasions, like a Saturday.
We went out to dinner, where we were served real wine, and where we were seated with six other adults--adults who were far less demanding than the crew we left at home and had much better table manners.
My husband's phone rang more times than I cared to count. Four kids and one 18-month-old nephew equals lots of phone calls.
The 9-year-old called to say that she had made a deal with her brother that if she changed the nephew's dirty diaper, he had to kill the roach in the kitchen. While this particular negotiation signifies many problems in our house, the real problem seemed to be that the brother had renegged on his end of the bargain and she planned to narc him out. Many thoughts went through my mind, like the roach was probably laying about 5 million eggs this very minute and causing general dissension among a group of siblings who, I began to realize, probably shouldn't have been left alone in the first place, so pass the wine, would you?
It wasn't enough that this series of events was taking place in my home and that all sorts of fighting had ensued, probably placing all five children at risk. My husband put his phone away and proceeded to tell everyone at the table about the problems on the homefront. If a panel of judges had been seated nearby, I'm certain that would have cost us on the scoreboard. Burping out loud couldn't have damaged us any more.
Like what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas--what happens at home, stays at home. Maybe we should have done the same.
Back to the fake wine. When we came home, the bottle of fake wine was on a different kitchen counter, with a corkscrew lying beside it. Several tiny holes dotted the foil label. SOMEone had gotten desperate and had to have a fix. He didn't get too far because the cap was metal (not cork), but the really cool thing is that he exercised no effort in covering his tracks. For a non-alcoholic, he's fairly bold. Or not very bright.
Should we be concerned? Should we hide the corkscrew? What does any of this mean? It's hard to tell. After all, it had been a rough night, what with the roaches and dirty diaper. Can't blame him. I think I would have been hitting the hard stuff, too.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I Stand Corrected

One reader took the time to call the other day. She will remain nameless, but I will share her complaint here. Seems that Veg-All and Minute Rice are not, have never been and "NEVER WILL BE" in her pantry.
Sorry for the mistake.
And sorry you're such a coward for not leaving your own comment. I have to do everything around here.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Baptist Casserole

(Blogger's Note: I've pulled this one from the archives; seemed appropriate enough in this highest of cooking seasons. Enjoy.)

Casseroles are admittedly one of the longest running jokes in the Baptist faith, but to date, no one has tackled the mother of all chicken casseroles and its place in generations of Baptist cookbooks.

In some circles – like the JOY class, I would guess – this dish has an exotic-sounding name. Like Poppyseed Chicken. Or Chicken Can-Can. I’ve heard it called much worse.

I’ll describe the ingredients and preparation here, taken from a handwritten note given to me years ago, scribbled in crayon on the back of an adult literacy flyer (lack of punctuation is not my fault – this is how Baptists write when passing notes during Sunday school):

Bake chicken

Cut into small pieces

Put in buttered casserole dish

1) Mix two cans of cream of chicken soup and sour cream 16 oz. pour over chicken

2) Mix 1 ½ package of Ritz crackers (crushed) and 1 tablespoon of poppy seed pour over cream of chicken soup mixture

3) Pour stick of melted butter over those mixtures

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes

You’re all nodding your heads. We’ve all had it, I would guess that most of us have prepared it, and, if I could be so bold, we would probably all admit (maybe not publicly) that we really, really like it.

What this dish lacks in shredded cheddar cheese, it more than makes up for in a shameful amount of sour cream and cream of chicken soup. Mmm-mmm good!

I once went to a covered-dish dinner advertised as an adult Sunday school social, and one of the husbands showed up without his wife. I was standing at an obscenely long folding table, pinching pieces of sliced turkey off a platter with one hand while eating something like a brownie with the other and asked why he was alone.

“Oh, my wife’s at home with a fever of 104,” he told me, rearranging casserole dishes to make room for his.

“Oh, my,” I said. “Why in the world aren’t you at home with her?”

He looked at me like I had two heads. “I had to bring the chicken casserole.”

Maybe my next question was too obvious. “So … who made the chicken casserole?”

“She did.” He shrugged his shoulders and walked away.

For the rest of the evening, I felt all warm inside, like I had the flu. I envisioned my friend, red-faced and slumped over a Corningware dish, halfheartedly assembling a pyramid of three or four empty Campbell’s soup cans and coughing into her shoulder. Is this something Jesus would do? I don’t really know for sure, but I have an idea that He probably wouldn’t.

A few years ago, my friend Caprice kept our dog while we were out of town because a negligent boarder forgot to put our name on the book, but that’s a story for another day. So when we returned home, I did what any good Baptist would do: I picked up my dog and dropped off a chicken casserole as a thank-you. Caprice just grunted, went inside and closed the door. (It’s here that I should probably explain that Caprice is not a Baptist.)

Some weeks later, she had to stay at the hospital one night with her young daughter. When I called to ask what I could do for her, she said, “Nothing. And don’t bring me any of that Baptist Casserole.” And a name was born.

Now, an interesting turn of events took place soon thereafter. During one of our many daily phone conversations, I asked Caprice about the noise in the background. “I’m making supper,” she answered, but in a very wistful, distant way.

I tried to pin her down about what she was making, but she undoubtedly couldn’t hear me because of all the tin cans clinking together.

“Oh, my. You’re making … Baptist Casserole.”

“I am NOT making Baptist Casserole. THIS casserole will have rice and vegetables in it.”

“So it’s Baptist Casserole with a twist, like Non-Denominational Casserole?” She hung up on me.

I was offended by her cavalier attitude as much as she was ashamed to be preparing it in the first place. Who did she think she was? Baptist Casserole isn’t something that needs revision – nutritional or otherwise. This is the mainstay of our socials, our bereavement meals, our you-just-had-a-baby-so-here’s-dinner contribution.

What generations of Baptist women had perfected and passed along in 9 ½ x 11 dishes, on recipe cards, and, yes, on adult literacy flyers was, in an instant, defamed by Veg-All and Minute Rice.

A time-tested casserole should not have a conversion experience. For Caprice, however, there’s still hope.

Monday, April 16, 2007

A Girl and Her Dog

<>This is a story about my dog, a 10-month-old Boston terrier named Luna, who is, even as I write these words, in the throes of womanhood.

That's right -- Luna is in heat.

That beautiful moment when a girl becomes a woman with the onset of menses is probably going to lead to divorce. "What is all this on the floor?"

"I think the dog is in heat."

"Oh my gosh! Are you serious?"

Now, it was no secret when we bought the dog that she was a girl. How anyone expected us to avoid this without planning a hysterectomy, I'm not sure. It's not like the dog chooses to humiliate herself.

In some cultures, women take that one "special" week each month and wander into the wilderness until it's all over. We've adapted that custom somewhat for our dog by putting her in a small kennel with some dirty towels. If she understands our language at all, she probably thinks this special time in her life is called "Don't touch the dog!"

I've skirted the issue for about a week now -- a LONG week -- but the questions have become rather direct. "But why does she have to bleed?" "Why can't we take her outside?" "What's growing out of her bottom?"

I'm not sure, but I think some of these might be loaded questions. Bait, if you will. And the only reason I think this is because I was once one of those kids.

When my mother sat me down to explain menstruation, she didn’t make it sound enjoyable for me -- no “beautiful” this, or “miraculous” that. Only monthly cramps and 30 years of inconvenience. So I didn’t make the talk easy for her.

Like the smart aleck kid in the back of the class who asks obvious questions of an unsuspecting substitute teacher, I led her to believe I knew nothing so that I could ask everything.

She cleared her throat a lot, and I learned that the woman can’t draw her way out of a paper bag. I watched helplessly as she sat on the edge of the sofa, holding a pencil and notepad and crafting a crude and somewhat pitiful drawing of the female reproductive system – an asymmetrical uterus flanked by a pair of what must have been ovaries connected by thin straight lines that, I know now, must have been the fallopian tubes. To the untrained eye, it looked remarkably like a kite that had hit one too many power lines. With the final pen stroke, she exhaled and said, “There."

“There what?"

“This is how you get your period.”

“What do you mean, ‘how you get your period’?”

Now I knew darn well that she was trying to have “the talk” with me, but would a 12-year-old with occasionally severe social issues let her mother off easily? Not likely. This was sport.

She resumed her rehearsed speech and drew some more. “…and then the blood comes out … here,” drawing a squiggly arrowed line from the uterus and downward.

“Why?” I tilted my head for effect.

“Well, to make room for the baby.”

“What baby?”

Wow – this was one wacked-out interpretation of womanhood.

“You have to clean this out,” she said, tapping the uterus with her pen.

“Every month? I have to make room for a baby every month?” It seemed an overwhelming premise that a 12-year-old girl could have 12 babies every year. “Well, I’m not going to do that.”

“You don’t have a choice.”

A few days later, she bought a box of sanitary napkins and told me to keep them in my bedroom closet. I’m not sure why. I walked to the hall bathroom and opened the cabinet and pointed to a box of tampons. “Then what are these for?”

If memory serves, I was approaching 13, for Pete’s sake, and was surrounded by menstruating girls. None of them used tampons because I tended to hang with “nice girls,” and we all know “nice girls” don’t wear tampons. But I wasn’t so na├»ve that I didn’t know what they were. It was like seeing a joint, knowing what it was, but being smart enough to walk away from it.

Her eyes darted, and she started to turn. “Those are for married ladies.”

Five years later, my mother entered nursing school. Perhaps it was there that she learned the objective of menstruation and how, in some people, it leads to STDs. I know this because I have a sister who is nine years my junior, and when she started her period (she was out the gate with tampons, by the way), our mother felt led to pull out the nursing books. She showed pictures of STDs and all the horrible things that could happen to your body if you weren’t “careful.”

Our mother had certainly come a long way from pencil drawings and “making room for the baby.” As they say, knowledge is power.

I’m all grown up now, and through the years my body has “made room” for four babies, despite the sex ed delivered by my mother. And every month, I am reminded of my womanhood. And occasionally, so is my husband, usually from behind the bathroom door. “Hey! Can you go to the drugstore for me?”

He sighs and gathers his wallet like he’s Husband of the Year, but then usually offers a biting remark, like “At least I won’t cut corners like you do when you buy my deodorant,” just before walking out the front door. That’s right. Don’t buy anything that will sting.

We’re all looking forward to when I enter menopause and the beauty and wonderment it will bring. The hot flashes … the mood swings…

I should probably call my mother and ask her what I can expect.