Short and sweet

A couple weeks before Christmas, I set about to whip up some holiday goodies. I started by making a batch of peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies. They tasted delicious, and I should know because I sampled oodles of them.

Next, I made Christmas Chex Party Mix. I’d been hankering to do so for years. Every holiday season – after hearing my nieces rave about Chex Mix for the entire expletive year – I’d share my plans to stir together Chex Mix, only for them to inform me they don’t like Chex.

This year, though, I decided to make Chex Mix, whether they wanted it or not. I’m glad I did, because it tasted delicious and I’ve received rave reviews. By the way, making the mix wasn’t a difficult task. You wouldn’t know that from a commercial that used to air on the TV. It featured a grown woman reminiscing about holidays of yore when her mom toiled in the kitchen to make Chex Mix for her family. From the way she carried on, one would think the chore took several days to complete and left her mom so exhausted she passed out on the floor.

That was not the case for me. Indeed, it was so quick and easy to complete that I then made a half batch of shortbread cookies. I know what you’re thinking. Multiplying and/or dividing a recipe is fraught with danger because it involves math. But math didn’t cause a problem.

Instead, shortening caused a problem.

Specifically, old shortening caused a problem.

I rarely use shortening in recipes, so I wasn’t surprised that the shortening in my cupboards was older than my 17-month-old great-nephew. I was, however, surprised by the smell that filled my nostrils and my kitchen when I removed the lid to the shortening.

Still, I persevered, mixing together the ingredients, including the aged shortening. When mixed together, the cookie dough looked like it was supposed to, so I sampled it.

It tasted like failure.

As regular readers should know, I’m on the cheap side. I abhor waste. But there’s no way I was going to serve cookies that tasted like lard smells. That would have ruined my reputation as a baker of some acclaim. So, I dumped the dough, as well as the old shortening, and started over. Consulting the Internets, I found the ratio for replacing shortening with butter, did more math, and made the dough.

With my nerves frayed, I sampled the second batch of dough and it tasted fine. Of course, the butter rendered the dough more difficult to roll, but I was up to the task. I worried, though, even after tasting the delicious cookies. I said to myself, “Self, what if it’s like muscle memory? What if your taste buds only remember how the cookies should taste? What if this batch also tastes like failure?”

Nonetheless, I shared the cookies with families and friends. The next day, I received a message from a friend advising that the shortbread cookies didn’t have the right taste or texture.

My heart sank, but I quickly recovered and formulated a plan. I would track down every cookie that remained and erase the memory of said cookies from the unfortunate folks who had endured eating them.

But then I read the rest of the message. She was joking. She went on to give the cookies five out of five stars.

Shew.

I learned three important lessons from that batch of cookies – don’t use old shortening, always consider using butter, and math can be tasty.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

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The gift you keep on giving

Tis the season of peace on earth, goodwill toward men, and warm and fuzzy holiday car commercials that make me so angry I could snap a candy cane. And not just a regular candy cane, either, but one of those that weigh a couple pounds and could cause a concussion if wielded the right way.

You’ve seen the commercials. A man, or a woman, rushes outside on Christmas morning to find a shiny new automobile wrapped in a bow and parked on a snow-lined driveway. There are variations on this theme including one where a husband upstages the two-for-one fitness trackers his wife purchases by buying two trucks.

That’s right. Because one truck wouldn’t have put them in enough debt.

You might be asking yourself, “Self, what could she possibly have against their fictional joy? After all, these people, who don’t even exist, have nothing to do with her.”

Well, once the commercials started airing on the TV inside my house, they became my business. So, it’s my business to comment on how ridiculous they are.

For starters, I’m fairly certain that if a spouse purchases a big-ticket item like a car – or two trucks – without the other spouse’s knowledge or permission, the second spouse has immediate cause for divorce. For example, if a wife runs into a judge at the dollar store and mentions that her husband plopped down approximately 20 grand on a new vehicle for Christmas without consulting her, I believe the judge has the authority to grant the wife an immediate divorce, right there in the household cleaning supplies aisle.

What’s more, I’ve also spent a considerable amount of time obsessing over who pays for these vehicles. Indeed, I’ve concerned myself with the matter since the first Lexus December to Remember commercials started airing nearly 20 years ago. From the way I see it, there are only two scenarios. In the first one, a spouse robs a bank or goes into heavy debt to purchase the vehicle outright, thereby establishing cause for divorce. (See above.)

In the second scenario, the spouse provides a down payment. And you know what that means? Spouse two is on the hook for five or six years of monthly payments, not to mention the skyrocketing insurance premiums.

Maybe I’m the only person in the universe who struggles to comprehend how this works. But it has always been my belief that the recipient does not pay for the gift. If the recipient does pay, then it’s no longer a gift. It’s a bill. Or, in this case, car payments.

Now that I’ve offered this explanation, you might have a better understanding of why these commercials trigger me. And why it’s not safe to leave candy canes in my presence.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

A little squirrelly

As my family and I prepared the Thanksgiving menu, my mom reminisced about Thanksgivings of yore. Specifically, she recalled the holidays gone by when we gathered around the table to feast on the Thanksgiving squirrel.

While you take a moment to digest that information, I should let you know that by “we,” I mean the rest of the family, because I wasn’t born when these epicurean banquets were held.

Anyway, Mother said that back in the day, she and Daddy couldn’t afford a luxury like turkey. So, they ate chicken or squirrel at Thanksgiving. The chicken would have most likely been born, lived, and died on the property or in the vicinity. Or it could have come from a store, from where it would have been purchased whole. It would have later been cut up into various body parts because they couldn’t afford individual poultry parts, either.

The squirrel, on the other hand, would have come from the nearby hills. After its death, it would have spent some time on an oversized safety pin Daddy used to transport his game.

In addition to chicken or squirrel, Mother said the meal would have included potatoes, beans, and other vegetables and probably some sort of bread. They would have finished the meal by enjoying homemade pie for dessert.

Mother said she might have made dressing on the chicken, but she never served stuffing on a squirrel. Having never stuffed dressing inside a turkey or a squirrel, I can only speculate as to which task would have proven more problematic.

Since she seemed content with the chicken and squirrel, I asked why they switched to turkey for Thanksgiving. She attributed it to following a fad and noted, “We fell into a rut.”

“We didn’t grow up eating turkey,” she reiterated. “I never had a turkey until, golly, I don’t know when I first ate turkey.”

Reconsidering, she added, “Growing up, the only time I remember anybody eating a turkey was when my grandma made one. They killed it and hung it on the clothesline.”

I’ll let you figure out for yourself why they hung the deceased turkey on the clothesline.

Happy Thanksgiving!

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Costume drama

With my animosity toward Halloween well-documented, it should come as no surprise that I’ve never had a Halloween costume. And, no, I do not consider the old pair of nylons I wore over my head during my only trick-or-treating excursion a costume.

That foolishness occurred when I was young and stupid and thought walking all over the holler to get candy I was too picky to eat sounded like a splendid idea. Of course, in subsequent years, I’ve had opportunities to dress up for Halloween parties or take part in costume contests at school or work. Indeed, such an opportunity presented itself this year. I politely declined the invitation because, well, I hate Halloween and I will not waste money on an outfit I can wear only once a year.

To be clear, what others do with their money is their business. It’s nothing to me if they want to plunk down their hard-earned dough to while away a few hours dressed as a naughty nurse or demented doctor.

But such luxuries are not for me.

Then again, I have no idea how much adult costumes cost. For all I know, you might be able to purchase a catchy costume for next to nothing. That would still be too much for me, though. After all, I paid only a buck-ten for a new pair of pants back in the summer. So, no matter how little I gave for a costume, I’d keep thinking about how I could have better spent that money.

Besides, I can wear those pants all year. After Halloween, I could wear a Darth Vader helmet only two or three times before arousing the suspicions of associates at the Supercenter and finding myself subject to a shakedown at the store’s exit.

At this point, you might be thinking to yourself, “Self, what’s the difference between a Halloween costume and Christmas sweaters and sweatshirts? You can’t wear them all year, either, so why isn’t she up on her high horse about that?”

Those are fair questions. But whilst also seasonal, you could get by with wearing a sweater emblazoned with rambunctious reindeer from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. I would not, however, suggest wearing such an ensemble to a Fourth of July cookout.

And I’m aware that some folks use a little imagination and a few well-placed props to transform everyday attire into dazzling Halloween costumes. The idea of using my imagination exhausts me, so I’ll slip into my buck-ten pants and rifle through my great-niece’s Halloween bucket for candy I’m still too picky to eat.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

The color purple

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that more and more people are using purple in their Halloween decorations and that more or more younglings are carrying plastic purple pumpkins whilst trick and/or treating. I’ve always associated purple with Easter or royalty, so this trend was a headscratcher. I’ve studied on it quite a bit and asked around, but nobody seems to care, much less have an answer.

Thankfully, I remembered I have access to a handy invention called the Internets, so I consulted the Google.

According to my research, purple represents a witch and her brew. Once I thought about it, Halloweenwise, the color usually accompanies a witch. Indeed, just the other day I saw a front door decorated with a witch flying against a purple background.

So, that’s that, right?

No.

Although I had my answer, I was not ready to conclude my investigation. Instead, I recalled all those porches, fences, and houses adorned with green lights and asked myself, “Self, what’s up with green vis-à-vis Halloween? Are folks confusing the event with Christmas or is there more to it?”

Spoiler alert: There’s more to it.

Green, as it turns out, symbolizes monsters and goblins.

Again, that makes sense. Frankenstein’s monster and the Wicked Witch of the West have green skin and the left field wall at Fenway Park is literally called the Green Monster.

I felt so much wiser, yet I also felt there was more knowledge to acquire in regards to Halloween colors. I was not wrong. Red has become connected with Halloween because it’s the color of blood while white is chosen to signify ghosts, mummies, skeletons, moonlight, and other ghastly sights.

If you count orange and black, aka the traditional Halloween colors, the holiday now claims six hues. I’m not here to hate on Halloween, but what is it going to capitalize on next? Burnt sienna?

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.