Tag Archives: humor

Christmas Past

26 Dec

Christmas was unseasonably mild this year. No snow. No wild wrapper paper flung about the room. Just three teens, lazily stepping downward from their rooms, in stepped-down order.

Perhaps, it was because they had been told–repeatedly–not to expect any presents under the tree this year. Asked if any stockings would be filled, the response was unclear, though intentionally.

This year marked a new Christmas tradition; which, unplanned, served to remind our family that no kid in America would truly die if they didn’t have gobfuls of presents to greet them on Christ’s birthday.

They were working teens, now (the last of the three had learned of his new job on Christmas morning) and they were happy to earn their own gifts. Of course, we couldn’t shirk on our parental obligations to surprise them with a little somethingin their stockings, and what kid ever refuses cold, hard cash?

Especially when a third of it makes its way from Cleveland–thanks, Kaukab!

This Christmas was the most relaxed and least costly one, yet. Kaukab’s daughter had been slowly stepping away from the idea of gift exchanges and “out-doing” games; instead, concentrating on nourishing relationships throughout the year. Sure, gift cards and cash are still given to those who have worked hard to instruct the kids, namely music teachers (since we homeschool, by default), but no more do I choose to buy into the notion that Christmas means impressing others with presents and festive, Pier1-decorated parties–cute as they are (I’m a sucker for tableware).

Yep, Christmas (and Christmas Eve) consisted of simplified menus and restorative gatherings. Rather than steaks and filet of last year, Christmas Eve dinner greeted us home from church with the smells of pot roast/vegetables, cooked perfectly with red wine and thyme sprigs to bring that holiday flavor to the dish.

Christmas morning gave us a lovely chocolate chip brioche (one I was going to use to make bread pudding–are you listening, Agnes?). After a quiet few hours, some went to the coffeehouse at which they work, for free drinks, while Kaukab’s daughter prepped for dinner. (Les Miserables was the Christmas movie of choice, afterwards, but there was food to be cooked, and a stomach upset, so no movie for her.)

Once again, perfect cookery timing. The potatoes just buttered and mashed, in came everyone, along with friends, one of whom (violin girl’s bandmate) stayed to eat with us. Simple food: spiral ham (courtesy of hubby’s work), roasted broccoli w/lemon, cranberry and apple chutney, and canned cresent rolls.

We have canned rolls twice, maybe, three times a year–holidays, generally. And, yet, they always seem to please. The bandmate couldn’t believe they were canned. And, she’s an appreciator of good eats. (Don’t bother to correct; it’s just my lame–some might say, “lazy”–attempt at being clever.)

Christmas night was topped off by our holiday tradition of popping in the modern classic, “A Christmas Story.” And even though there was no figgy pudding, Dickens would have been satisfied.

‘Tis the Season for Peace and Goodwill

And, if you’d like to take a listen to the classic-turned-bluegrass rendition of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” you can turn to Youtube and watch December Alleys (violin girl and her bandmate) perform. Or, just go to the my sidebar blogroll and click on “December Alleys” link. (Make sure to click on “Videos,” once there.) Enjoy!

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What’s All the Fuss?

19 Nov

Each year, we come to the time when all matters of true importance get placed on the back burner and only one topic is to consume us for an entire week.

The overriding question of questions is this: How to cook a turkey? Not just cook, but cook purrrfectly. Because, only in America, land of the obssessive-compulsive need to be the best, do we spend countless hours watching, talking, and listening to professional cooks lending their expertise with regards to roasting, turning, basting, stuffing, and bird carving, which is rarely thought of once November (and sometimes December) passes.

Surely, the original pilgrims didn’t partake in such mind-numbing quibble. They had more urgent matters to consider, like survival. Once the first year passed, those who remained understood the true meaning of Thanksgiving. Decisions to stuff or not to stuff; cover or uncover; low and slow or high then low just weren’t of issue.

This daughter of a more recent pilgrim had watched Kaukab get up quite early each Thanksgiving Day to prep the turkey and get it in the oven so that her little turkeys could have their Thanksgiving meal mid-day. This was so the family could finish up and digest in time to make the two-block drive to the cousins’ house, where other aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings could get together and brag, pick on, and generally compete for the most annoying relative  award, most frequently split between a certain aunt and uncle (brother-sister duo), the two clueless to their winnings.

But I digress.

As for turkeys, the morning news shows and various foodie networks would have us think that the most important matter of the week leading to the big day would be the cooking of the turkey. No other country (other than, perhaps, Canada) celebrates a turkey as much as we do. And for what good reason? To blow the minds of women.

No matter how much the world will tell us we can achieve, every Thanksgiving is a reminder of how little all that matters. The most important measure of a woman’s honor is how good her turkey is. Not only must it be moist and delicious, it must also be pretty. Tables must be made up to look extra special, even if no one special is coming to feast at it.

So, this Thanksgiving will be no different. Out will come the beautiful brown turkey with all the trimmings, and all will be impressed. You will have done your jobs, and done them well. You can rest on your turkey laurels for another full year.

Until the next one comes.

For now, try not to worry. It’s just a turkey. What could possibly go wrong?

Now go eat some pie and just be thankful.

Victorian Cookery

11 Oct

Huh?!

Somehow, I had found myself on YouTube (who ever really knows?) and this great British series about Victorian-era cookery called, “Victorian Kitchen.” The lady, who ran the kitchen and cooked most everything, whilst chastizing her meek girly helper, managed to pluck, hand crank, press, and start fires with the hands of a worker unaccustomed to a hands-up.

Watching her get up in the a.m., while still dark, to come down to the damp, cold kitchen to ready the coal-fired stove (having first to clean out the previous day’s ashes all about the stove and surrounding floor), made this cook keenly aware of how lucky we’ve got it.

Until you’ve watched consumme being made the ‘old-fashioned’ way, with large cheesecloth hammocks held by two strong-armed ladies, ladleing and pressing (alternatingly) the hot liquid to sieve out the impurities over the course of hours, only to make a small tureen of broth for their wealthy employers, you haven’t truly understood how utterly easy and spoiled today’s cookery has allowed us.

I followed a couple of these shows with another brilliant one called, “Manor House,” which follows the lives of modern-day people taking on the lives of those working and living in an Edwardian-era manor. Think, Upstairs-Downstairs. Or, for you youngies, Downton Abbey.

The Food Network, be damned!

A New Season

25 Sep

Well, here we are. A fresh new season and Kaukab’s daughter is ready to turn over a new leaf. Several leaves, in fact.

New school year. New family configurations. New food. New, New, NEW!

Perhaps an update to serve as the appetizer. Violin girl is away at college for the first time, which means no live music while the cook’s busy pounding chickens and plucking fish bones. Drummer boy’s a barista at a cool, little coffee shop nearby (be jealous, Starbucks), while the other kid is busy developing his photography business.

So, where does that leave the mixed-up daughter of one crazy-good (emphasis on c-r-a-z-y) immigrant cook? Indecisive. Lately, the thought has returned to devising a means for developing and selling food products to the masses. Traditional venues of Farmers’ Markets and food shops have visited and re-visited this weary and hectic mind, but this time around something completely interesting has presented itself.

Truck. Food Truck. One has actually posited itself in our small capitol city and it reminded me of the several food trucks at a college town this immigrant daughter used to patronize (Hey, you…truck…Got falafel!?) when looking for something fresh, different, and cheap for a work lunch. My favorite one was run by an Iraqi man making great falafel. The lines were always long, no matter how cold or rainy the weather. Pretty sure it went a long way in paying for his kids’ college.

The thought is brewing at this point, particularly because of a recent event. A dear friend of ours, who’s really into eating healthy and organic came by the coffee shop one day, eating out of a clear plastic container filled with a beautiful salad of cherry tomatoes, parsley, and a tiny, white seed-like grain throughout. Asked what she was eating, she replied sheepishly, “tabouli.” Kaukab’s daughter began to inspect the ingredients, at first willing to acknowledge its psuedo attempt at Lebanon’s national salad–Kaukab’s homeland. But, after years of tasting well-intentioned “tabouli” this Mediterranean knock-off, listing for $7 @ 8oz., was the last parsley sprig. Enough Americanizing an amazingly perfect dish, which takes very little cookery prowess to produce. And, little money. Thankfully, our friend hadn’t brought the salad to Cleveland, because that salad wouldn’t have made it through the side door (only “real” guests enter through Kaukab’s front door).

All of this is to say that the time has come for Kaukab’s progeny to pass along her great recipes, not only here, but to be made and given (for a price) to the masses, who think that authentic foods, like tabouli, can be anything the cook calls it to be.

Anyone have a truck?

The Proper Way To Eat

5 Aug

I was reading back on some responses on my ‘Food Flicks’ page and I came across a very perceptive (and funny) remark by my very clever writer/artist-friend, Agnes. The conversation had focused on various favorite food scenes, to which she remarked about the sniffing of one’s food when first coming in contact with the plate and how this was such a natural thing to do.

Of course, it got this foodie thinking about our relationship to food and how different it is for everyone. Take Hubby and violin girl–natural food sniffers, through and through. Something I don’t understand. For me, the odors naturally wafting from the plate suffices my senses. I don’t need to hover my nares milimeters above food that will soon come into contact with my mouth.

In Kaukab’s household, we ate much with our fingers, scooping up all kinds of Arabic food with the Middle Eastern utensil that is pita bread. Fingers have been the utensil of choice around the world since man’s creation.

But, in American culture, which took its cues from British and other Western-European decorum, the proper way to eat has evolved into something altogether prescriptive. For example, pizza. You would think that this meal-in-a-slice marvel would be the great cultural equalizer. But, when surveyed, Americans seem fairly split on the matter of how to properly eat a pizza. Fork, or hands? And if it’s deep-dish, then what?

Same goes for spaghetti. “Proper” Americans seem to go for the fork and spoon technique and one which Hubby employs–much to the chagrin of Kaukab’s daughter. Just ask him. Nevermind that pasta can be easily managed with fork, alone, if utilized in small, circular movements and of a patient, food-loving mind. Eating spaghetti shouldn’t require false intentions for the sake of ill-perceived “high” culture.

And, let’s not forget the on-going  conundrum of how to eat a steak. Who here is a fork-exchanger? At Kaukab’s table, forks remained in their “proper” left hands, the fork’s back facing outward, with knives in their right (the lefty siblings were left to their own devices), enabling a more efficient path to the eater’s mouth. This seems to be a more customary method outside of the U.S., but one this daughter of immigrants has personally noticed MIA at the tables of the cultural high-minded, even though visiting heads-of-state have been observed on C-SPAN engaging in such methods. And, what could be more high-minded than C-SPAN?

Which brings me back to my original question. Does it take an obscure cable news show to teach we Americans how best to be proper about our eating habits?

Like C-SPAN, does anyone really care?

 

 

 

On to something else

4 Aug

Well, I think we’ve all had our fil’ of chicken for the moment, so in honor of moving on, Kaukab’s daughter decided to stuff some Khusa squash she found at the Farmers’ Market a few days earlier. This squash is the kind Kaukab used a lot. It’s a small, tender-skinned specimen, with a pretty light-green color.

They’d been sitting on my counter for several days and it was time to do something with ’em, so I took a large tablespoon, and using its handle, plunged and twisted into the center of the narrow top, of which was cut across so the diameter was large enough to worm my way into scraping its innards, eventually making enough room to stuff with the ground beef/rice/onion mixture.

I used roughly one pound of raw ground chuck, a half an onion (finely chopped), and about a cup of uncooked rice. I seasoned the mixture with a little salt, black pepper, and Arabic 5 spice (about 2 Tblsp).

I use my fingers to stuff the squash and then place them (about 8 – 10 squashes) into a large soup pot. I add in two 15 oz. cans of diced or whole tomatoes (squeeze them into the pot to separate somewhat) and a little salt and then add cold water to cover the cute buggars. Put a lid on, slightly tilted to allow for reduction and bring to boil. Once boiling, turn stove down to medium to medium-low and cook for about an hour to an hour-and-a-half, or until meat turns brown and rice is cooked.  Eat with some pita bread to sop up the juices.

Trust me, this is too good to boycott. Besides, Kaukab would never hear of it.

Chicken Little

27 Jul

Recently, a big deal has been made of a little chicken and, apparently, it’s got little to do with taste.

Chick-Fil-A CEO, Don Cathy, made the decision to more clearly affirm his (and his father’s company) stance on the flavor-of-the-month (year) humanity cause bandwagon, after several pokes/stabs by the gay rights community.

Rather than gaining respect for his honesty and courage to stand tall in his religious and moral convictions, he became a rainbow target from those who espouse unity, tolerance, and above all else, human rights.

What right does anyone’s beliefs have over another?  Believe in gay marriage; don’t believe. Like Kaukab, (in this one instance) “I don’ care!” But, you lose me when you fail to respect another’s right to believe and live out one’s life according to his/her moral code.

Personally, I like chicken. And, Chick-Fil-A’s got the best in fast food chicken, hands down. Plus, our local Chick-Fil-As do a bang-up job at supporting all kinds of local and national charities.

Bottom line, Mr. Chicken expressed his company’s viewpoint; the company is rooted in Christian principles. Too bad more American companies can’t bother with ’em. We might have escaped from some of the financial fallout of the ‘money-over- morals’ business culture so prevalant today.

In full disclosure, Kaukab’s daughter considers herself a full-blown Christian believer. Make of that what you will.  In the meantime, pass the chicken.

The “D” Word

16 Jul
  • I was having lunch out with family and some dear friends, a wonderful couple who just got back from a fantastic excursion to the Greek Isles, Italy, and France. This wasn’t their first time to Europe and the female counterpart had lived and worked in and around Paris, early on in her career.

We got to talking (over various fatty meat sandwiches–reubens and bbq chicken pitas) about Americans abroad and conversation turned to size–supersizing, to be rather frank. They observed how various countries have, over the years, accomodated the traveling American tourist by ripping out historically-valuable theatre seats and replacing them with armless, wider berth ones.

While furniture changes may be understandable, altering a culture’s cuisine; or worse, omitting it altogether from a tourist menu heavy on American tastebuds, seems counter-productive. Isn’t the reason Americans travel abroad is to become a part of a different culture, to learn and experience something different from our ethno-centric selves?

Apparently, like most matters these days, profit over pleasure wins out. What our friends experienced in just four years’ time was nothing short of an American tourist food revolt. When my friend asked why they had such limited exposure to ethnic cuisine this time around than previously (especially while visiting Rome and Paris), their tour guide sighed, “Well, we found that the American teens had complained too much about the food; they wanted more American food.”

Well, poor, poor American children. Heaven forbid you go a week without eating your fast food, fake chicken nuggets and salty, sugar-laden beverages. How can we Americans, on the whole, continue to expect other countries to feed our insatiable appetites for unhealthy garbage and not think of us as sickly, unappreciative gluttons? Moreso, do we have the right, as American visitors, to expect other cultures to cow-tow to unhealthy food requests just because we’re too lazy or too ignorant to understand that there is a beauty, a rich history in a culture’s food. To take the time and expense to visit one of them, but not engage fully in the foods offered is akin to a guest at one’s table who brings their own dinner because they don’t like what’s been served.

The bigger question was asked? How did so many Americans get so fat? Our conclusion: Diet. Yes, diet.

An American phenomenon, “Diet” symbolizes all that is wrong with the way we eat in our culture. Instead of  enjoying food, we define it. Instead of appreciating how it grows, how it looks, how it tastes, we assess it according to its value: number of calories, fat grams, and artificial colors and flavors.

And while we continue to “diet,” we grow bigger and unhealthier, all the while not seeing what is so apparent to others around the world. Food isn’t something to be played with. It’s not hard to eat well, to eat simply. It doesn’t cost a lot to prepare simple, quality-rich food. In fact, it’s a lot cheaper to buy fresh, unprocessed, unboxed food and prepare it than it is to stand in line and be handed off some knockoff sandwich which looks nothing like its picture.

Kaukab taught us how to eat. Food was to be appreciated. It took time and hard-earned money to have it. Oh sure, there was the occasional treat: a t.v. dinner here, a run to McDonald’s for a bagful of 15-cent burgers (no fries, “your mother will make them”) there, but it was occasional. Food wasn’t convenient, then. It is now.  And while convenience is desirable in a culture which lauds “busy,” it’s become a double-edged sword. Convenience overrides all that is right with the way Kaukab and others of her “diet” mindset look at food.

To her, and so many outside the American vernacular, “diet” has become a classic American irony.

“The Fourth” Leftovers

9 Jul

So, here we are on day “8” (or “9”, depending which wordpress decides), four days (or five, per wordpress) following the big day.

In case anyone’s wondering, yes, we’re still munching on leftovers. Not that it’s a bad thing. The burger sliders, made with minced onions, parsley and Arabic spices and topped with grilled onions, peppers and taziki sauce were a hit.

One more thing: Kaukab’s eldest daughter, who lives a ‘too-close-for-comfort’ distance from her, phoned to pronounce that there is only one way to cut a watermelon and it isn’t hers. You guessed it. Altogether now: “Kaukab’s is the only way.”

Grilled Burgers…Summer Consolation Food

24 Jun

Whenever the following question arises, “What to make that costs us the least and feeds the most (while scoring leftovers for the next two days)?” two summertime foods inevitably come up. Hotdogs and hamburgers.

Yes, hotdogs most likely win out on price, but eating them for days upon days doesn’t hold the same appeal as do burgers. Plus, burger meat can be ammended in more varied ways.

Take Kaukab’s way. (I promise, it won’t hurt.)

Growing up, burgers at Kaukab’s house (and backyard grill) looked quite different from the classic, all-American patty. She liked to fit them with chopped onion and finely-chopped Italian parsley, all hermetically sealed and seasoned with salt and pepper, making it impossible for tiny children’s fingers to remove them.

Of course, times have changed and Kaukab’s burgers have taken on a hip, urban feel, albeit ubiquitous one, thanks to the Food Network cookery thieves. This thievery, to which Kaukab likes to proclaim, stems from the fact that somehere, at some time, someone has made the food item in question…long before it was made “new” and “hip” on a major t.v. show or cookery book.

So the question becomes: Do we make Kaukab’s burgers tonight, or not?

Answer: Kaukab’s burgers, minus the onions and parsley. Kaukab’s daughter will have to wait for some palettes to mature into “new” and “hip.” (Boys, you know who you are.)

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