Paradise by the kitchen light

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‘Meatloaf again. Or maybe chili this time.’

It’s my darned fault it’s been so chilly here in the Northeast. Not only did I stow my chili (speaking of ‘chilly’) pot away, but I put my meatloaf pans in mothballs. Figuratively, that is. It’s sort of like what happened last week when I took our big fat comforter to the cleaners. It snowed.

But back to the kitchen. When the weather’s cold, there’s nothing we Henrys like better than a big ole batch of Anything Made With Ground Meat. Of course, my Oldest Younger Brother Scott, being a Californian, scorns chili made with ground meat. But the rest of us slurp it up like gangbusters. (I’m featuring a photo of a large pot of a late great batch right there at the top of this post.)

When I was growing up, my Mom made chili a lot. Her recipe for chili was the same as her recipe for spaghetti sauce — except that the chili had beans. Continue reading

Deck the halls with bough of holly

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‘A Grinch Guide to Holiday decor’

Well, maybe not ‘Grinch’. Make that more of a ‘minimalist’. It’s not that I don’t enjoy Christmas (well, not as much as I enjoy Thanksgiving; everybody who knows me knows that.) And it’s not that I don’t appreciate a nice Christmas Tree. In fact, I remember gazing out of the car window as we worked our way through small town after small town on those long pre-interstate drives up to my Gramma’s in Northern Illinois, admiring the Trees that were strategically placed in front-room picture windows for maximum drive-by impact.

But I’ve never been one of those people who fusses with the ornaments on her own Christmas Tree, arranging and rearranging them every time she walks by, striving for Holiday Perfection. In fact, I do everything I can to avoid having my own Christmas Tree.

Oh, there for a few years, when The Child was an Actual Child, I condescended to allowing a Tree on the premises. But I got The Dude and The Child to go get the tree. (I made this sound like a fun Daddy-and-Daughter outing, while I cleverly stayed home and sipped champagne.) And I threw a Tree Trim Party to get other people to actually do the decorating of said tree. I made this sound fun, too, by luring friends over with the promise of more champagne — and my Famous Pot Roast — in return for their bringing over an ornament (and this is the important part) hanging it on the Tree. (I’ve told the story of my Tom Sawyerish get-someone-else-to-do-the-work Tree Trickery in a previous hilarious/nostalgic post called ‘(N)o Tannenbaum’, which I invite you to read when you’re done chuckling over this one.)

I decorate myself in preparation for bribing friends with pot roast in return for decorating that bare tree, stage left

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Looks like we got ourselves a HooHah!

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‘The Family Reunion, taken to a whole new (Henry) level’

Well, no one who appeared in one of my commercials died this week. (Are you still out there, Betty White?) Or not that I know of, anyway. So “HooHah” story it is.

Now let me be clear. The Henrys did not invent the “Family Reunion.” Family reunions have been around, oh, I’d say probably since the invention of Large Extended Families. No doubt some of you readers can recall sticky gatherings of seldom-seen aunts, uncles, and cousins featuring picnic tables laden with summer dishes like jello salads (urk) and glorified rice (yum). Games like Corn Hole (a real “thing”, I kid you not) and wiffle ball and sometimes even croquet would be played (though our “croquet” was decidedly non-Downton-Abbey-esque, involving lots of violent “sending” of opponents’, i.e. younger cousins’, balls, resulting in much wailing).

Gathering of the Henry Clan featuring sweaty, crying cousins (I’m down in front next to the boy sucking his thumb)

The other side of my family, the Petersons, had Family Reunions too. They even gave theirs an idiosyncratic name. I dimly recall attending something called the PAL Reunion in Belvidere Park. (This was in Belvidere, Illinois, the closest metropolitan area/gathering place for my farm-residing relations.) The “PAL” stood for, I believe, Peterson, Anderson, and Lindstrom. Yup, these were the Swedes.  Continue reading

Stars in stripes

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‘Looking back and forth on the Fourth’

For the past several summers we’ve had this fun Fourth of July tradition where we let The Child fill up our house with as many of her friends as we have beds to lay their pretty little heads on. Sometimes it’s guys and girls; sometimes ‘just’ girls. The Dude and I are happy with either arrangement, though we have noticed that when it’s girls-only, the Young Friends seem more inclined to activity — like going to the beach, hopping on the bikes, or heading into town to catch what’s up at The Talkhouse.  

Last year’s crop of Nation’s Birthday Beauties. Haven’t wrestled this year’s photo out of The Dude’s camera yet. But, trust me, they’re equally sparkly

(The guys, when the guest list includes them, seem content to hang around The Compound, sipping beer and, well, being content. Sometimes they bestir themselves to demonstrate their CrossFit routines; there was a Matt-shaped indentation in our lawn for a few post-Fourth days one year. Oh, and one other memorable Fourth, Somebody’s BF soaked his iPhone in our hot tub, though not intentionally. BTW, putting a soaked iPhone into a jar of rice does not dry it out, no matter what you may have read on the internet.)

Speaking of food, this year I inaugurated a new tradition: The USA Birthday Cake. From Carvel, of course. No, we didn’t sing

But hey, anything anybody wants to do — or not do — is A-okay with me. I’m happy to provide food — beaucoup de food — and stay the heck out of the way. I was in the kitchen in the midst of doing just that when one of this year’s Young Lovelies (and they are — lovely — each and every one of them) strolled by on her way to the pool, and I happened to catch the unmistakable whiff of — Coppertone.

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“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas”?

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‘Not so fast, Facebook Friends. Not so fast.’

I was all ready to write an amusing Memory Lane type tale about my first Real Summer Job (the kind that did not involve babysitting, but did involve the procurement of a Social Security Card), when I saw this on Facebook:

Posted on June 25. Exactly six months before Christmas. I get it, I get it. But I don’t want to play, OK?

So, excuse me, but the First Real Job at the Carlyle Union Banner story will just have to wait. Because (speaking of waiting) I plan to wait till at least after Thanksgiving to begin my own Countdown to Christmas. A “countdown” that will be “brutish and short”, if not “nasty” (sorry, Thomas Hobbes).

Those of you who have read my rants (er, pieces) for a while know that Thanksgiving — not Christmas — is my absolute A-Number-One Favorite Holiday. Christmas, with its obligatory gift-and-tip-giving and endless trapped-in-an-elevator playings of “Little Drummer Boy” doesn’t even come close. (For an amusing and non-crabby recounting of Five Big Ways Christmas can’t hold even a red cinnamon-scented candle to Thanksgiving, just click here.)

‘Little Children Forced to Greet Benevolent Uncles dressed as Scary Santas’ isn’t on my list, but probably should be

The other reason I’m not even close to being ready for a Countdown to Christmas is that I haven’t even begun my Countdown to the Fourth yet. And the Fourth of July is coming up this very next weekend. So I’d better get a wiggle on, as they say where I come from. Continue reading

The Breakfast of Champions

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‘Some random thoughts on The Think Drink’

So. I’m walking into my apartment lobby and run into a couple of neighbors. Well, I didn’t literally run into them, which is a good thing because I was clutching an extremely large container of coffee. A venti quad skim latte, to be exact. Which is four shots of espresso and some frothy skim milk. It’s really big, and really good, if you like that sort of thing. And I do.

Well, after making some remark about coming by later to ‘scrape me off the walls’, my neighbors waltzed off to buy Christmas cards or wrapping paper or evergreen fronds. Or something. While I came upstairs to write this piece. (And sip my coffee.)

I love coffee. If some doctor told me I couldn’t drink it, I would have some pretty serious issues. I think it’s delicious, and I also think it gets your brain firing on all cylinders. I’m not the only one. Years ago there was an ad campaign for coffee with the tagline ‘The Think Drink’. And, to this day, Young Attractive Persons use coffee as a study aid. (See photo at the top of this post as proof; Attractive Person pictured is the son of one of my friends, preparing for a final exam.)

Proof that coffee fuels creativity as well as study. Note mug on table as well as spoons on noses

I grew up with Attractive Persons who were always drinking coffee. ‘Would you like coffee?’, ‘Coffee’s in the kitchen’ or even a simple ‘Coffee’s on’ was how one was greeted at the door. In fact, while digging out pictures for this post, I realized that it was a rare family photo that did not feature a Henry or Peterson adult clutching a mug. Continue reading

Flipping the bird

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‘The upside — and, alas, the downside — of Turkey Day.’

Bless his little birdie heart, that turkey up there looks like he’s flipping me right back. Well, I did roast him, after all.

Many of you will have already seen this photo, which I posted on Facebook before The Dude carved Mr. Turkey up into succulent slices, but after I’d imbibed beaucoup de glasses of wine.

I decided to use it here (the photo, I mean) because A) it got a lot of reaction from my Internet Friends, and B) it gave me lots of good material, in the form of comments. (My opening remark came courtesy Judy R. Thanks, Judy!)

Other clever comments came from Mary Ann B H, who asked if this was “going to be my Christmas Card”, to which I answered “Great idea! If in fact I sent Christmas Cards”. And Debi F, who asked “Did you paint that thing? It’s perfect!?!?!” (No, Debi. No paint was involved in the making of this turkey. But I do have two words for you turkey cooks: convection oven.)

I’m needing all the help I can get with this week’s post because even though Thanksgiving is quite honestly my very favorite holiday (read ‘Turkey Shoot’ for five Rockette-solid reasons why it beats the stuffing out of Christmas), it is also exhausting.

No no, not exhausting. Pretty exhilarating, in fact

No no. Pie-making is not exhausting. Pretty exhilarating, in fact. Especially with Van Morrison on the Bose

It’s not the preparation that’s exhausting. I rather like the pie-making and vegetable-prepping. I even like the table-setting. In fact, those who honor me with their presence on this Best of All Possible Holidays know that I can be rather a Kitchen Nazi, hogging all the chores for myself. (Though this year I did let the Young and Fit haul out the extra folding chairs.) Continue reading

Sixteen Candles. Plus another sixteen. Or so.

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‘Thinking flaming birthday thoughts today.’

I would light the candles on my cake this year, but I’m afraid I’d trigger the sprinkler system. I have reached a remarkable age. An age that is somewhere between ‘Can I please have a tea set for my dolls?’ and ‘Can I please leave a tea set for my Child?’

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t appreciate having a birthday. After all, as our good friend Andy (who is a heck of a lot older than me) says: ‘Any day above ground is a good day’.

Andy, in fact, doesn’t just say this. He has it printed on birthday pens and birthday tee shirts and even birthday chocolate bar wrappers. Andy is into birthdays, big time. He’s also a Trump Supporter. So there’s that.

Andy’s attitude toward the inevitable accumulation of more and more birthdays is, alas, the opposite of my own late lamented father’s. He, when wished ‘happy birthday’ (or even when not wished ‘happy birthday’, like just on any ordinary, random day) would often remark: ‘Don’t get old’. Which, um, sort of triggers a response of ‘Hmmm. Okay. But I’m kind of not into the alternative.’ Continue reading

The House Guest Hall of Fame

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‘I hope you had a really really good time’

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman in possession of an extra room must be in want of a house guest. (Sorry, Jane Austen.)

When I told The Child about my plan to write a post about house guests (both the really great ones and the really, um, not-so-great ones), she was concerned.

‘Mom! What if one of the Not-So-Great Guests reads your post and sees that you’re writing about him (or her)!’ And I’m like ‘So? Maybe he or she would benefit from being thusly outed. And besides, I don’t think any of them even reads my blog.’ (Another reason they find themselves in the Not-So-Great File).

But then, just the other day, when I was thinking of writing a post featuring a television appearance by Yours Truly in a documentary that appeared on British TV back in the 90’s called ‘Skyscraper’. (I know, I know. You’re very excited and impressed.) I was nervous about appearing, well, self-aggrandizing, and the self-same Child said, ‘Hey. It’s your blog. You can write about whatever you want.’ Continue reading

There is no ‘P’ in ‘Short Stack’

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‘Who knew a pancake could be so Proustian?’

I was thinking a lot about pancakes this past weekend. For one thing, it was Father’s Day — a day, like Mother’s Day, when the ole pancake griddle (or frying pan, which is what was used when I was Growing Up Lutheran) can get a real workout.

I can remember a time, not that long ago, when, as a young(ish) mom myself, I would rustle up a batch of pancakes not just for Father’s-or-Mother’s Day, but almost every Sunday morning, winter and summer — pretty much all year ’round.

My Garland, all shined up at that. This is the same stove that Julia Child owned, I'll have you; the one that's in the Smithsonian. Not this exact one, of course

My Garland, all shiny and ready for pancake-making. This is the same stove that Julia Child owned, I’ll have you know; it’s in the Smithsonian. (Not this exact one, of course)

I’d man (woman?) the griddle on my impressive Garland six-burner-and-griddle-topped stove, spatula and coffee cup in hand(s) while The Child polished off an impressive number of pancakes (five? seven? ten?) without benefit of butter, syrup, or even fork. The experience was rather like watching my Oldest Younger Brother Scott polish off sweet corn. (His talent for this inspired my Swedish Grampa to give him the nickname Scott ‘Sweetcorn’ Henry.) Continue reading