Monthly Archives: November 2016

Let’s Talk Turkey

39182534 - dirty dishes over flowing in a kitchen sinkFor the first 30-odd years of my life, our traditional Thanksgiving celebration was an annual source of dread. Not because of the food, which was invariably delicious, or the company, which was convivial. No, the source of anxiety was due to the fact that it required a journey from the hinterland to my sister’s inlaws in the Cities – a trek that was always fraught with tension for us small town folks. In late November in Minnesota, slick roads and limited visibility are always a concern. But even those years when the weather was clear as a bell, disaster was always just an ill-chosen lane change away. We country folk don’t do well in urban environments. We fear the traffic, the aggression of big-city drivers, the bewildering tangle of lanes and exits one has to navigate. Here’s the thing about city driving: If you miss your exit, or worse, get into the wrong lane and are forced to exit where you don’t want to, there’s a very good chance that you will never, ever find your way back on the right path again. My college roommate’s family, from an even more northerly and rural small town, once had occasion to drive to the Twin Cities for a family wedding. They became hopelessly lost and drove aimlessly around Minneapolis and St. Paul all day and into the night, missing the wedding and reception entirely. Finally they stopped at a hotel for the night and somehow managed to find their way home again the next morning. This is what it’s like for us bumpkins.

Artist's recreation of our annual trip to the Twin Cities.

Artist’s recreation of our annual trip to the Twin Cities.

So despite taking the same route every year for decades, the perennially befuddled trio of Mom, Dad and me got lost to some degree almost every Thanksgiving. As my Dad would mutter between clenched teeth as he gripped the steering wheel, white-knuckled, “They change the damned roads every year.” (They don’t.) There was a precise moment, even after an otherwise uneventful first 120 miles, when it was more than 50-50 that things would go sideways. We took a particular off-ramp from the interstate, which terminated in an intersection. We had a choice at that point to turn to the left, traversing a freeway overpass, or continue going straight. And every, single year when we reached that stoplight, we would look at one another with panic-stricken expressions and murmur, “Do we turn here? Do we go over the bridge? Or do we go straight?” Since we all clearly had some kind of mental block about this decision, it might have made sense for us to record the right answer on a piece of paper and stash it in the glove compartment for consultation on subsequent trips. Strangely, that never occurred to us. So we continued to make the wrong decision about half the time. In fact, thinking back now, I still don’t remember if we turn at that stupid intersection.

It’s been quite a few years now since the annual Thanksgiving pilgrimage ended. Both German patriarchs of our respective families are gone, their progeny dispersed hither and yon. Nowadays Thanksgiving is a quiet day at home, just me and my mom. We have managed to create a few new traditions, though. I always cook a feast for 10, and mom always wonders aloud why I don’t produce a more reasonable quantity of food for two people. And I patiently explain that cutting down a recipe involves math that makes my head explode. You tell me, what’s a quarter of 3/8 of a cup? I feel a panic attack coming on just typing that equation.

For this year’s turkey, I decided to try Alton Brown’s brining technique. I did a simple dry brine last year, and found it changed my turkey experience not at all. It occurred to me that more dramatic results must surely require more elaborate preparation, hence the two-day brine odyssey. I assembled and cooked the ingredients on Tuesday evening: a gallon of vegetable stock, a cup of salt and a few sprinkles of some obscure and outrageously priced spices (Fun fact: a small bottle of candied ginger will set you back $10 in these parts, and the likelihood that you’ll ever use more than the single teaspoon called for in this recipe is just about nil. Ditto on the “allspice berries.”) Anyway. On Wednesday evening I assembled the brew in a 5-gallon bucket: murky, urine-colored brine, a gallon of heavily iced water and the naked turkey bird. The whole concoction was placed in the downstairs refrigerator overnight – though, since Alton specifies turning the bird over halfway through the 12-hour process, I had to stay up until 1 am watching pimple-popping videos until time to roll the fowl over onto her back.

In the morning, the Butterball looked a bit the worse for wear. And by Butterball, I refer to myself. The turkey seemed fine. I hoisted it out of the brine, which I discarded to my mother’s great dismay (“What a waste!”). Perhaps I should have saved it to make soup, or ladled it into sparkling crystal glasses with a spritz of seltzer for a pre-feast aperitif. (People drink Cold Duck, don’t they? Shouldn’t Salty Turkey be a thing?). Tom Turkey (whom I addressed as “our gentleman caller” in my best Southern drawl) went into the sink for a quick rinse. Then the poor devil had “steeped savories” poured down his hollow gullet. This comprised an apple, a cinnamon stick and half an onion, microwaved on high for five minutes. Then Tom was slathered with canola oil until he glistened like a bodybuilder, sprinkled with Rustic Herb Seasoning and popped into a 500 degree oven for 30 minutes, followed by 2.5 hours at 350.

Tip

Cooking Tip: If you have previously had an apple pie run over onto the bottom of your oven, or perhaps a few chunks of frozen pizza fall between the grates of the rack onto the heating element, it is wise to clean the oven before subjecting it to this level of heat. Unless you like smoked turkey.

I’m happy to report that, apart from a faint hint of charcoal scent from the pie filling incineration, the turkey turned out well. To be honest, though, it did not differ appreciably in flavor or texture from every other turkey I’ve ever eaten. Perhaps one has to have a truly discerning palate, like people who test fine wines or new ice cream flavors, to appreciate the difference that all the fuss of brining the bird makes. Mom and I enjoyed a delightful feast which is likely to continue in several forms of leftovers over the course of the next week or so (see “Cooking a 100 lbs. of food for two people” above).

 

We even made one of those trendy “mannequin” videos to commemorate the occasion.

The full Tastefully Simple-centric menu, in case you are interested, consisted of:

Roasted Rustic Herb Turkey, crockpot mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry fluff salad, Spinach & Herb Butter Rolls with Shallot Tarragon Butter, Creamy Wild Rice Stuffing and traditional green bean casserole. And how was YOUR holiday?menubanner

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How to Successfully Win at Success

Seems simple enough.

Seems simple enough.

I am an inveterate learner with low self-esteem, which makes me exactly the demographic for which the vast and highly lucrative self-help industry was created. It all started the year of the Christmas Plague, when I cowered in the basement to avoid the contagion that had laid my kin low upstairs. In a dusty corner, I discovered a paperback. It was the granddaddy of all make-yourself-a-better-person manuals, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, and I read it in one sitting. (Literally one sitting; I didn’t entirely escape the Plague and spent a fair amount of time in the bathroom. TMI?)

I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and gosh darn it - people like me!

I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darn it – people like me!

Now, the fact that 30 years later I don’t have any more friends and am even less successful than I was when I picked up the book might have clued me in that this sort of literature may not be as reliably efficacious as their breathless cover blurbs suggest. Instead, it launched me into a lifelong pattern of buying just about any book whose title starts with those magical words: How to.

Over the years, my bookshelves* became crowded with a dizzying array of these transformative tomes, from How to Write Historical Fiction to How to Deal With Difficult People to How to Kiss (In my defense, I got that one at a garage sale for a dime.) I’ve got manuals for How to Fix Almost Anything, How to Sell What You Create and How to Make Tiny Animals Out of Clay. Apart from that last one, these haven’t made much difference in my life. I do, however, now have a nice collection of tiny, clay animals.

Amazon lists about 2.1 million items with titles that include “how to.” It was perhaps a mistake to conduct this tidbit of research, as I am now painfully aware of the deficit of one million how-to books in my collection (pretty sure I’ve got the .1 covered). Can I really live without the wisdom imparted by How to Hypnotize Anyone? Or How to Make $1,000 a Day on Amazon (as opposed to the $12.38 I currently make per year on Amazon)? Or How to Be Single? (On second thought, I’ve got that one mastered already.)

There are some genuinely intriguing titles out there. One can only imagine the poignancy and gripping suspense of How to Get Rid of Moles: A Personal Journey. And I’ve been fretting over how to broach the thorny topics tackled in How to Talk to Your Cat About Gun Safety and Abstinence, Drugs, Satanism and Other Dangers That Threaten Their Nine Lives.

Most recently I invested in How to Be a Well-Paid Freelance Blogger: Earn $50-$100 a Post and More. It seemed like it might be useful, since so far this blog has earned me $0.00-$0.00 per post (and less). Unfortunately, the very first page informed me that, in order to have a successful blog, I must provide useful content that people need. Well, crap. That’s well beyond my reach. Time, I think, to go to Plan B and place my order for How to Disappear and Start a New Life.

The only kind of personal growth guaranteed to make money - on YouTube.

The only kind of personal growth guaranteed to make money – on YouTube.

Yeah. That’ll work.

*For you whippersnappers out there, “book shelves” were what we had in the Olden Days before literature came from The Cloud in convenient digital form.

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The Write Stuff?

shiningtypewriterHere we are, more than halfway through NaNoWriMo. For those who don’t know, that’s the annual, month-long event that is supposed to stand for Na(tional) No(vel) Wri(ting) Mo(nth). In my case, it quickly devolves into Na(h), I’m No(t) Going to Wri(te) Any Mo(re). Turns out writing a novel is way more work and a lot less satisfying than other worthwhile and equally time-consuming activities like, say, watching pimple-popping videos on YouTube.lisahateswriting

This does create a little problem, however. You see, it’s becoming ever more apparent that I’m never going to make a living by working for a living. So I’ve set all my store on publishing the next Wildly Successful Novel. Stephanie Meyer has made upwards of $125 million off sparkly teenage vampires (which seems excessive, to be honest). Debbie Macomber, a nice housewife from Washington state, churns out a best-selling novel about once a month. (True, it’s essentially the same novel every month, but people want to buy them, so why mess with success?) The Shades of Grey books started out as fanfic, something I know quite a lot about. Admittedly, I know rather less about the money-making theme of those books, sado-masochistic bondage. Thanks for nothing, good Catholic upbringing.

Anyway, with moderately-gifted writers making tons of dough, how hard can it be? My talent is at least a mediocre as any of those ladies. It’s true that my foray into children’s literature was something other than a triumph, though I have accrued a full $12.38 in royalties on my three kiddie books THIS YEAR ALONE.

Last year (or was it the year before?) during NaNoWriMo, I got as far as outlining my epic by chapter, and subsequently fleshed out the plot right up to the point where things finally start to happen. There I (and my heroine) stalled – me figuratively and she literally, sitting in a wagon on a bumpy backwoods trail … going nowhere fast.

My story falls into the “historical romance” genre, though it can be argued I know even less about romance than I do 19th century history. I can at least do research on the latter, which is another convenient way to avoid actual writing. I’ve spent many happy hours scouring the internet for such tidbits as the cost of train fare from St. Paul to Fosston (still don’t know) and what kind of canned goods were available at the local general store in 1898. I’ve even accrued a rudimentary vocabulary in Swedish, the better to relate to my Nordic hero. (Uff da.)

Fun fact: The can opener wasn't invented until 30 years after the first metal cans were produced; the French soldiers who were the first to have the canned rations had to stab them with their bayonets or smash them open on rocks. Evolution proceeds in fits and starts.

Fun fact: The can opener wasn’t invented until 30 years after the first metal cans were produced; the French soldiers who were the first to have the canned rations had to stab them with their bayonets or smash them open on rocks. Evolution proceeds in fits and starts.

Recently, trying to jumpstart my muse, I decided to read some examples of the type of fiction I am attempting to write. I started by rereading Conrad Richter’s The Awakening Land series. This was perhaps an unwise choice, as I wasn’t 10 pages into The Trees before I slammed it down in disgust with a petulant, “Damn it. Why is this so much better than what I’m writing?” Granted, Richter did win the Pulitzer Prize for literature, so I’m setting the bar pretty high. But still.

colbertthetyrant

Yes! Yes! Be my Christian Gray, Stephen Colbert! (Or should I call you Master Colbert?)

So, okay, it’s my lack of discipline that’s holding me back. After a full day of writing about beer bread and cheese balls, I find it hard to sit back down to the computer to write about hardtack and salt pork. And the lure of Dr. Pimple Popper is strong …  I think what I really need is a taskmaster, someone who will crack the whip and tie me to my writing desk for hours at a time. Wait. That’s the plot of Shades of Gray, isn’t it?

If I don’t get my act together and finish this book, I suppose I’ll have to find some other way to secure my financial future. I just read that Dr. Pimple Popper makes about $200,000 a month off views of her YouTube videos. Hm. Maybe I’d better start nurturing that funny red bump on my neck.

Yeah. That’ll work.

 

 

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Miss Kitty Hasn’t Aged Well

I’m back! Did you miss me?

I’d like to report I spent the last several weeks’ hiatus from this blog in a whirlwind, globe-trotting escapade, or engaging in a passionate, all-consuming and ultimately tragic love affaglamorousmeir. But in fact I’ve mostly been lugging lawn furniture into the shed, filling my new trailer with yard waste, raking leaves and standing at the foot of the backyard apple tree, shaking my fist impotently at the bounty of fruit hanging from the topmost, too-high-for-any-ladder branches. (The apples will soon add insult to injury by dropping to the ground after the first snow, there to lie – and rot – until spring. Well played, Mother Nature.)

Since last I blathered on in this space, Halloween has come and gone. This year I dressed as a … wait for it … crazy cat lady. My entry captured second prize in the office contest, runner-up to a team who dressed as one of the company’s signature products, an individual-sized bucket of booze mixer. (With the cruel irony that so often accompanies corporate operations, most of the group was laid off not two weeks later; at least they had the grand prize – a bucket of fun-sized candy bars – as a lovely parting gift.)

ifeelpretty

I’m too sexy for my cat.

I suspect I lost points with the judges based on the fact that I actually AM a crazy cat lady, and therefore my get-up did not technically qualify as a costume. Indeed, it’s safe to predict that I will look EXACTLY like this in 10 years.

My ensemble included a special prop: one of those robot cats they sell for old folks in nursing homes who miss having a real pet to hold and who presumably have forgotten that actual cats don’t make a tinny, mechanical whirring. Apart from that, though, the faux feline is pretty darned convincing. It moves its head, opens and closes its eyes, meows, purrs and even lifts its little paw to its mouth and rolls over for a tummy rub. That it does not subsequently attack the person rubbing its tummy with pointy toes and needle-sharp teeth is what ultimately betrays its artificial nature. A cat who doesn’t bite the hand that pets it is no legitimate cat.

memomhalloween

Mom is trying something different with her hair. I think it works.

At home, we had about the usual crowd of trick-or-treaters, though they skewed a bit older this year. One young candy-seeker actually drove herself around the neighborhood, while another fellow took a photo of my cat-themed pumpkin, declaring, “I’m going to text this to my wife!”pumpkin

I exchanged my cat lady duds for an actual cat costume to hand out candy. While it produced a gratifying terror in my real cats, it turns out that encased in a smelly, sweltering latex cat head is not the most congenial way to spend an evening.

Still, the night was not ALL bad. Due to my meticulous planning (buying one bag of every kind of candy I like at Walgreens), we were left with enough leftovers to maintain the impressive momentum I’ve established in girth-building. Win!

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