November 24, 2014


        Well, we finally nailed down our menu for Thanksgiving 2014!
Stij will, obviously, be making the turkey because of last year.  Things were going along just fine until I decided to fill the cavity with cranberries.
Unfortunately, I failed to take them out of those heavy plastic bags they were packed in, and about an hour into cooking, the five bags I jammed in exploded, jet propelling the turkey from the oven like some avenging gargoyle, leaving a trail of vaporized cranberry mist in its wake.  The walls looked like we were having Ted Bundy over for dinner and wanted to make him feel at home.
So this year, Stij is letting me make the soup course, because soup is the only thing I haven’t screwed up, so far.
Since I work an overnight shift for my day job, and maintain this schedule on my nights off, I figured I’d make the soup in advance and surprise him.
There were only four or five ingredients, and Stij wrote the recipe down in so much detail that a half-drowned four-year-old in Intensive Care could have understood it, and made a damned fine soup…even on a ventilator.
What could go wrong?
Do I hear sniggering out there?                                             
        Anyhow, at 11:00 last night, I drove over to the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market nearby, to procure the following: Six large sweet onions, Beef base for soup, a baguette loaf of bread, and Swiss cheese.
I dashed into the store and headed for the Produce department.
They were out of onions!  I was wiping away a tear when a kindly customer asked me what was wrong. 
“I need onions and they’re out!”
“That’s no problem!” she declared.  “Just use chives instead—same flavor.  They’re right over there.”
I turned and saw a huge display of chives.  I was saved!”  Oh, thank you so much.  You saved the day.” 
Of course, I had neglected to tell her that I wanted to make French onion soup. 
At any rate, I bounded over and snatched up what I thought would be the equivalent amount of chives to six large onions.  I figured 100 bunches would about do it.
Before I bagged them all up, I tasted a chive.  Wow!  I don’t know if chives are normally this way, but these tasted like their fore-chives had had serious relationships with Jalapenoes!  I mentioned this to my ‘advisor,’ after telling her I wanted to use them in soup.
Of course, I didn’t tell her the extent of how they’d be used in soup.
“Oh, that’s not a problem,” Julia Child said.  Just add some potato to your soup and that will calm them down.”
So I bought a 20-lb bag.
I found the beef soup base all right, but one jar just didn’t seem like enough for the big pot I was planning to make, so I bought six, just to be sure.
No problem with the baguette, either.  After the bread incident, Stij gets shaky and has to lie down whenever I mention homemade bread, so now we buy it already made.
The last thing on the list—Swiss cheese.
But that seemed so ordinary, somehow.
I made my way, instead, to the expensive cheeses and bought two pounds of a cheese from Wisconsin that looked more interesting. It was aged six months and packaged in what looked like tempered steel.  With the help of another customer, I threw it into my cart.
After paying my $300 grocery bill (man, that cheese was pricey!) I headed home.
Upon arrival, I grabbed the hand truck (for the cheese) and brought it and the rest of my purchases in the house.
First, I washed all the chives, then threw them into the six gallon pot I using for the soup.  I had to mash them down—100 bunches is a lot of chives!  I then added the correct amount of water and set it on to simmer.
I decided to do a little writing while waiting for the next step in the soup procedure, so cranked up the computer and sat down.
About ten minutes into a short story that was going rather well, my monitor melted.
The smell was incredible and my eyes felt like they were bleeding.
I dashed to the kitchen.  Man, it was a good thing I bought those potatoes!
I hastily donned the handy welder’s mask I always keep in the kitchen when I cook, and peeled potatoes faster than I ever have in my entire life.  Those chives needed a lot of taming down, so I peeled all 20 pounds and threw them in—whole—then covered the pot, turned the burner up to boil, opened the front and the back doors to air out the house, and went back to work.
I got so involved in my short story, that it was two hours before I got back to the kitchen.
I opened the pot and the potatoes worked.  The smell was completely gone!  I got out a putty knife and scraped off a piece of soup to taste, and it wasn’t too bad, so I added the six jars of Beef soup base, a little more water, and went back to work.
My husband loves French onion soup, and I’ve seen him eat it for breakfast before, so I planned to surprise him with mine in the morning.
I checked it again at about five AM and, though kind of thick, the beef base had mixed in well, but between the chives and the soup base, it was now the color of raw sewage.
Well, the French bread and the cheese would cover it up.
An hour later, I heard the bedroom alarm clock go off, and I knew Stij would be getting up and heading directly for the shower. 
Once I heard the shower running, I dashed to the kitchen, threw a slice of baguette into the toaster, then grabbed a glazed onion soup crock and spooned (well, really, ‘pried’ would be a better word) a generous portion into it.  Baguette toasted, I pressed it into the surface of the soup (and it took some doing), then hauled out that cheese I bought, grabbed the steel-reinforced pull tab that had ‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here’ printed on it, and opened it.
Jesus tap-dancing Christ!  It smelled like the result of 17 drunken cats with diarrhea vomiting up a dead Wildebeest!
But I gamely spread it atop the soup.
It was great timing.  Stij came dashing around the corner with a towel around his waist.
“Quick, gimmie the plunger!”
“The toilet is backing up!  Can’t you smell it?”
“Uh, no…that’s not the toilet.”
“Did something die under the sink?”
“Uh uh.”
Then he looked at the state of the kitchen.  Then he looked at me.
“I made you some French onion soup for breakfast,” I said, proudly.
He gazed down at the bowl.  “If you want to collect on my life insurance, there are more subtle, less traceable ways.”
“It’s the cheese that smells bad.”
“Yes, I noticed that your eyebrows have fallen off.”
“It’s a new kind, I think.  Here it is.”  I dragged over the package, and had to read the label quickly before the stench blinded me.  “Limburger.”
“The Swiss are such a peaceful people—why do you not like their cheese?”
“This looked more interesting.”
“More life-threatening, maybe,” he said, grabbing a heavy-duty trash bag. “Throw it in.”  He tied it up and put it outside.  It only took a moment or two before every single bird fell, stone dead, out of our tree.
“I told you those bags aren’t heavy duty,” I said.
“They aren’t made for toxic waste.”
Back in the kitchen, Stij took the lid off the pot, stirred the soup, and got his cardio in at the same time.
“Congratulations,” he said. “You’ve made beef flavored spackle.”
I think we’ll be eating out this year.

November 17, 2014


I really enjoy the holidays, as long as family (mine) isn’t involved.
This year, Stij and I are staying home.  Riot gear has become prohibitively expensive to rent these days, and I can’t find anyone who will lend me a tranquilizer gun with darts, so the decision was pretty much made for us.
Last night, we began meal-planning.
“You want a turkey, right?” I asked.
“Those are adult diapers.  We are talking about food here.”
Stij sighed. “With the way you cook, it’s hard to tell the difference.”
Conversation would have come to an abrupt end with shouted threats and tears if it hadn’t been the truth.
Can’t argue with that.
“Okay, so you cook the turkey and I’ll make wise cracks.”
“I’d be happy to cook the turkey.”
“Fine.  What about side dishes?  I can make those!”
“Do you remember three Thanksgivings ago?” Stij asked with right eyebrow raised.
“I had no idea, up until that very day, that mashed potatoes were actually flammable.”
“No mashed potatoes, then.  I know!  How about green bean casserole?”
“How about I have you arrested for attempted murder?”
“All right.  Then how about corn?  I can make corn.  You slit the bag, pour it into boiling water, and let it cook.”
Stij favored me with a pitying gaze normally reserved for the irretrievably retarded.  “Does Thanksgiving 2009 ring any bells?”
“Well, I won’t use popcorn this time.”
“What a mess that was!  The whole kitchen was full of wet popcorn. I had to take a snow shovel to that crap!  How many cups did you use, anyhow?”
“Five or six, I think.”
“Now wonder it was still popping on Christmas Eve!  That trash can sounded like a the percussion section of a Mariachi band!”
“How about a tossed salad?”
“Are you referring to Thanksgiving 2005 and the tossed salad that we tossed out the back door and poisoned every rabbit in the neighborhood, plus the Chihuahua across the street.”
“Oh, I remember that.  I thought the Chihuahua was dancing, though.”
“No, he was seizing.”
“Well, then, can I make dessert?”
“Thanksgiving 2013.”
“Oh, right.  I think that coconut cream pie is still crawling around in back yard somewhere.  Can I at least set the table?”
“Set it on fire, you mean?”
“I didn’t do that on purpose.”
“You never do any of it on purpose.  It just happens.  You become a menace to society every time you step into a kitchen.  This year, I want to have something more to be thankful for than the Poison Control Center and the nearest Emergency Room.  We are probably the only couple who orders activated charcoal in fifty-pound bags.”
“We’re almost out, by the way.”
“I rest my case.”
So, dear readers, Stij will be preparing our Thanksgiving feast this year.  However, for Christmas dinner….


November 10, 2014


        With Thanksgiving a mere two weeks away, I cannot help but cast my mind back to last year’s festivities, when I flew back east to Connecticut for that yearly get-together with…(fade in ominous chord)…the fam.
Hoo boy.
For those of you with odd families—and by ‘odd’ I mean families that actually get along whenever they’re together—you will find this column funny (or, at least, I hope you will).  For those of you out there with normal families, you will probably be nodding your head knowingly as you read, and will feel better at the end because you will realize that you are not alone in sharing blood with those lunatics, liars, and convicts-in-training that we gather under the woefully inadequate, laughably misleading umbrella called, ‘Family.’  You may call them ‘brother,’ ‘sister,’ and ‘Aunt Maude.’  Later in the day, the police will call them, ‘drunk and disorderly,’ ‘assailant with a deadly weapon,’ and ‘Black Friday klepto-woman.’
People in my family don’t being covered dishes with them.
The bring bail money.
Here’s how last year went:
Once at the house and divested of mukluks and a down-filled coat that made me look like the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man, I hand my mother the pumpkin pie she’d asked me to make (there was a file baked inside—couldn’t afford bail money that year).  This pie is made of freshly-processed pumpkin, not that tinned crap. This results in a lighter color and the flavor is remarkable.
So my mother feels compelled to remark.
“Looks sort of anemic, doesn’t it?”
“Top it with a unit of O Negative, then.  Where is everybody?”  The driveway was a sea of cars.
“You’re the first.”
“Opening a used car lot?”
“Overflow from the neighbors’ big do.”
“So . . . what?  The family’s going to park on the street, like I did?”  The house is on a hill with a 50-foot driveway.
“Looks that way.  We just wanted to help out. You might try loving your fellow man a little more, Carson.  Your snarky attitude is unbecoming.”
All this from a woman whose dirty look can open clams at twenty paces.
But okay, I’ll go along.  She’s getting older.  She’s forgotten that where she spits, grass never grows.
“What can I do to help?” I’m hoping quite a lot.  My mother is not the best of cooks.
“Nothing really.  It’s all done. We can go sit and talk until everyone else gets here.”
“Well, before we do that, how about if I go and scatter some salt and sand on the driveway—it’s pretty slick out there.”
“In a minute.  I have something I want to discuss with you.”
Oh, God.
When we are seated, Mom drops the big one.  “I think your father is having an affair.”
Holding in explosive laughter, which, having nowhere to go, travels downward, instantly inflating my ankles, I said, “Mom, Dad is 83 years old.”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“He’s legally blind.”
“He only has one leg.”
“And a colostomy bag.”
“What’s your point?”
“I can’t believe you just asked me that.”
So, after Mom dries her eyes, I posed the big question.
“How do you know, anyway?”
“He’s started wearing thong underwear.”
Most people, mainly women, wear thongs to avoid underwear lines showing through their pants.  I’d really like to know who my father thinks is looking at his ass.  “That’s it?  Thong underwear?”
“And he’s using that Axe cologne.”
“Ah, I take it he’s losing his sense of smell, as well, then?”
“This is not the time for jokes, Carson.  Oh, and he’s letting his hair grow longer.”
My father has had a crew cut for as long as I’ve known him.  “Perhaps he’s finally decided to leave the 1950s behind?”
“I don’t think so.
“Okay, so who with?  Any idea?”
“Oh, I know exactly who with.”
Evidently, according to my mother, Pop has become enamored of the local Postmistress . . . who is 92, uses a walker, and is nearly deaf.  Getting the mail is never a peaceful pursuit if there is anyone requiring front desk service.  At Christmastime it's bedlam in there.
“So what are you going to do about it?  Have you talked to him?”
“Why not?  Talking to me isn’t going to get it resolved.”
“I don’t want to discuss it anymore.”
“You don’t have to.  I’m going to go talk to him.”
“No.  It has nothing to do with you.  Leave it alone.  Let’s just have a pleasant Thanksgiving, all right?”
Yes, kindly readers, this is Thanksgiving in my house.
The aged relatives begin arriving, with only minor gashes and contusions from slipping on the ice in the driveway on the way up from the street.
Once everyone is comfortable, Mom hustles us into the dining room to eat “before everything dries out.”
Food is passed, plates are loaded, wine glasses filled and it begins.
My Uncle Dan starts things off.  “So, how’s life with the Buckinghams?”
My mother bursts into tears and dashes from the room.
“About the same, I see,” he mutters.
By the time my mother composes herself enough to return, Aunt Shirley is already on her fifth glass of wine and her seventh filthy joke.  This doesn’t play well to Aunt Mary, who is a nun.  My brother has decided to use his considerable talents as a career waiter in a diner to instruct the group on French serving and is launching food all over the room.  Dad is still looking for his fork.  My cousin Lois hasn’t taken her face out of her pocket mirror since she arrived, and has answered at least six calls on her Bluetooth, since she knew we’d all want to hear her side of each conversation.  Aunt Anne has removed her wig and is beating my cousin Donald with it—I have no idea why.
The only reason that there is no gunplay this year is that, when Mom wasn’t looking, I sneaked Valium into the stuffing . . . a lot of Prozac.  By the time the football game started, the family members who weren’t unconscious were actually getting along, and even I was a little less snarky.
So, odd family or normal, I wish those who celebrate it a Happy Thanksgiving, free of bloodshed and weapons charges.


November 4, 2014


        I can’t imagine anything worse than having to deliver a eulogy, but recently, it happened to me.  Now, I hate funerals, and will do nearly anything to get out of going to one.  Unfortunately, this family was under the mistaken impression that I was a close friend of the deceased, and what do you say when a teary-eyed daughter drops in and practically begs you to say a few words?  I am not strong enough of heart or honest enough in spirit to refuse such a request based on the fact that I detested the bastard with every fiber of my being.  So, wimp that I am, I reluctantly agreed.
After she left, I set about, pen in hand and a clean ream of white bond at my elbow, to write something that accentuated the meager good points about this fellow.  I wracked my brain.  Hours passed.  Ashtrays grew full.  Wastebaskets overflowed with hundreds of false starts.
The funeral was the next afternoon and, at 2:00 AM, I still had nothing.  Finally, I just gave up, decided to wing it, and went to bed.
The day of the funeral was, well, funereal.  They sky was dark enough to make even an atheist believe in the Apocalypse.  Inside the funeral parlor, the organ music rose and fell like a queasy stomach as I made my way to the lectern, still having no idea what to say.
I gazed out at a sea of puddly eyes, cleared my throat, and began.                                                                   
        “We are here today to bid farewell to Fred--a man who was a darned good driver.  He never drank when he was behind the wheel, and the fact that he only had one arm had nothing to do with it.
“I think the most impressive thing about Fred was how great he looked in sunglasses and those stylish tropical print Bermuda shorts he used to wear.  You have to be a special person to wear shorts like that with knee socks, wing tips, and an “I’m with Stupid” sweatshirt.  Not everyone can pull off that look, but on Fred, it was perfection.
“You could always depend on Fred for a good word--and every now and then, a complete sentence.  He went out of his way to help little children, and, to this day, I think the charges filed by their parents were trumped up.
“And that suspicious disappearance of pets in his neighborhood had absolutely nothing to do with his taxidermy hobby--I’m positive of that.  Anyone who says otherwise is a liar!  The white slavery ring was pure nonsense, too.  Fred never discriminated on the basis of color.  If you could do the job, you were OK with Fred.
“Fred was constantly getting blamed for things he had nothing to do with, and I am outraged that he had to deal with that all his life.  The fact that Fred bought a new Rolls Royce the day after the bank was robbed was pure coincidence.  If one is thrifty, one can certainly save enough for a car like that on a janitor’s salary.  And I heard that he won that trip to Switzerland.  The public is too quick to judge these things, and law enforcement too quick to make arrests.
 “And let’s not forget all the community service that Fred has performed.  True, it was part of the sentencing, but community service is community service, and should be recognized and applauded.
“But now, Fred has laid his burden down.  His troubles are over, as are those of the entire town.  Fred’s death has not been in vain.  People can now remove the bars from their windows.  Merchants can holster their handguns.  Children can play outside again--and all because we are here today.  The entire community owes Fred a great debt of gratitude.
“Thank you.”