Dough girl — December 18, 2019

Dough girl

76781467_10221205068818778_3035515819174920192_oWhen I was a wee lass, my mom, aunts, and grandmothers occasionally treated us to homemade crackers. They made the crackers by frying leftover pie dough in lard or bacon grease. The former came out of a huge plastic bucket while the later was poured from a metal canister that rested on the stove. The canister was labeled “GREASE.” I assume so that no one would forget the nature of its contents.

While the crackers weren’t exactly heart healthy, they sure were tasty, especially if you ate them while they were warm. The crackers of our youth came up in conversation as my siblings and I gathered the day before Thanksgiving to bake pies and other goodies.

Of course, no crackers were made that day, but I wouldn’t say the extra dough went to waste.

After placing the bottom layer of dough, the filling (either apple or cherry), and then the top layer of dough in the pie plate, my mom gently trimmed the excess dough from the pie. And as soon as the excess dough dropped onto the table, her helper, my great-niece, scooped up said dough.

The world’s most adorable kindergartner then played with the dough, squishing it between her fingers and rolling it onto the table. Or, as we say where I come from, she gommed in it. Indeed, she even whipped off her socks, placed the dough in the chair, and kneaded it with her feet.

There were quarter-hearted attempts to make her stop gomming in the dough, but none of these entreaties came from Aunt Cookie (that’s me). Instead, I praised her for making use of her imagination and for showing an interest in baking. What’s more, she made sweet memories with her great-grandmother. So what if she also made a mess?

She was, however, a tad possessive of the dough. When my brother reached over for a little of that freshly-trimmed dough, she demonstrated Ninja-like speed as she grabbed most of it from his grasp. I think I heard her giggle. I’m sure I saw an extra twinkle in her eyes.

When the pie-making concluded, she shaped the dough into a mound that could have been a troll or a volcano or a Shar-Pei’s face. She then stuck two small whisks into either side of the mound. They could have represented horns, but I like to think they represented flags and that she was staking her claim.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Better late than never? — December 11, 2019

Better late than never?

I have a confession to make. And after you read this-here confession, I will understand if you delete me from your reading list. Here goes – I have never seen any of the “Home Alone” or “The Santa Clause” movies.

Of course, even without having seen the flicks, I understand their respective premises. In the original “Home Alone,” a family forgets the existence of their little boy and flies to Paris for the holidays, leaving the tyke to fend for himself. Somehow, similar scenarios play out in sequels. Having never had children, I probably shouldn’t judge, but it seems to me that, after the first incident, parents would count their kids before boarding a plane.

In “The Santa Clause,” Tim Taylor from “Home Improvement” becomes Santa or takes over for the jolly old man or something like that. Having never seen the movies, I cannot be expected to know everything about them.

Anyway, I’m apparently the only person in the galaxy who hasn’t seen these flicks, and I have no plans to rectify the situation. Of course, it’s not that I harbor ill will toward them. Indeed, I’ve wondered why I didn’t watch them in their infancy.

But I didn’t and now it seems that, much like backpacking through Europe or training as a trapeze artist, I’ve missed my chance. Honestly, though, it doesn’t bother me. Well, maybe I’m still haunted about not studying the trapeze. But my ignorance of the movies is not what keeps me awake at night. After all, I have seen two other holiday standards – “Elf” and “Christmas Vacation” – each once. Neither of those viewings occurred until years and, in the case of “Christmas Vacation,” decades after their releases.

After oodles of years of buildup, there’s no way those movies could have met my lofty expectations. So, when doofus Cousin Eddie showed up in “Christmas Vacation,” I said to myself, “Self, people laugh until they wet themselves over this?”

Having had little exposure to these movies, I’ve forgotten much about them. So, when family, friends, and coworkers quote Cousin Eddie or Buddy the Elf, I have next to no idea what they’re talking about.

Sure, the movies had their moments. It’s just that I don’t want to relive those moments. Then again, I did enjoy the local theatre’s production of “Elf,” especially since it featured younglings in the roles.

Maybe that’s what I need to do. Maybe I need to watch younglings perform in theatrical productions of “Christmas Vacation,” “Home Alone,” and “The Santa Clause.”

Or maybe not.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Skirting the issue — December 4, 2019

Skirting the issue

78708555_427740308110462_7948906814651760640_nMy gently-used Christmas tree has a lovely new skirt. And, to think, it took me only four years to buy the tree skirt.

Well, the transaction didn’t take four years. But it did take four years for me to find a tree skirt I deemed worthy enough to play an important role in my holiday decor.

Of course, there wasn’t anything wrong with my previous tree skirt. It was winter white and featured a silver-and-gold Santa and snowperson as well as raised stars. Well, I don’t think it was genuine silver and gold, but as I didn’t have it appraised, I guess I’ll never know for sure. Anyway, I can still remember the day I bought it at the Supercenter. Feeling guilty for behaving so extravagantly, upon my return home I called my mom and asked if $12 had been too much to spend on a tree skirt.

She assured me that it wasn’t and, for the next 16 years, the tree skirt added a touch of grandeur to my household. But thanks in part to my cat army, the silver and gold had frayed and many of the stars had quietly disappeared.

So, four years ago, I started shopping for another tree skirt. But choosing one represented a huge commitment. After all, I would have to live with my decision one month a year for the ensuing decade or even longer.

Faced with that realization, I struggled to find a tree skirt that suited my fancies. Sure, I’d run across one I considered cute or even cozy, but then I’d focus on a feature such as fake fur or felt reindeer antlers and reconsider.

This year seemed like the right time, though. Indeed, I welcomed a hand-me-down tree into my household and it would have been gauche to drape an aging skirt underneath a gently-used tree.

As luck would have it, I spied a lovely tree skirt during an autumn visit to the home improvement store. The skirt, resplendent in Christmas red, featured the words “merry and bright” stitched on the front in white as well as white scalloped edging.

Of course, I didn’t buy it right then and there. I needed time to mull over my decision and make sure an even lovelier skirt didn’t reside in various and sundry stores or on websites.

When I failed to find lovelier décor, I scurried back to the home improvement store and bought the aforementioned tree skirt, which now decorates the floor underneath the tree.

In spite of its loveliness, I was worried that Alice, the youngest member of my cat army, would not care for the new tree skirt. So fond was she of its silver-and-gold predecessor that she seemingly took up residence on it before I placed it under the tree each year. My worries, however, were proven fruitless. Alice, who regards Christmas as the most wonderful time of the year, quickly settled onto the tree skirt as if it were an empty box or freshly-laundered clothes. What’s more, she and/or another member of my cat army has already deposited a fur ball on the lovely new tree skirt.

Yes, it’s officially part of the household.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Whatever floats your boat — November 27, 2019

Whatever floats your boat

During a chat about Thanksgiving, one of my besties expressed unbridled love for the holiday. She said she loves cooking the meal with her daughter whilst watching the parade and then eating the meal with her family whilst watching football.

I certainly identify with the football-watching aspect of her schedule. But while I cook and bake specific dishes and desserts, I don’t make the entire meal. Besides, come Thanksgiving, I pretty much stick to eating mashed potatoes, deviled eggs, and pie. In other words, it’s food I could eat on any random Thursday.

Still, I eat and I watch football, so we’re on the same page there. But when it comes to the parade, we’re not even reading the same book.

Now, before you get all judgmental and advise that I simply need to give the parade a chance, you need to know that I’ve given it dozens of chances. For most of my life, I excitedly tuned in to the parade every Thanksgiving morning. I couldn’t wait to experience tunes from the biggest Broadway hits or watch the newest floats drift in the air. But approximately two and a half minutes into the parade, I’d ask myself, “Self, can a person die from boredom?”

This scene repeated itself oodles of times over the years until I finally realized that, for me to start enjoying the annual event, either the parade or I would need to change. For starters, I would need to enjoy parades in general. That’s right. I’ve never met a parade I like. I cannot fathom the premise of standing – sometimes in cold rain – on the street just to watch people walk by. If I wanted to do that, I’d hang out near a cross walk.

Of course, the Thanksgiving parade offers me the chance to sit in the comfort of my home and watch people dance and march by.

As it turns out, I don’t enjoy that spectacle, either. As I relax in my rocking chair, eating my morning oatmeal and trying to concentrate on the TV, my mind wonders from the lip-syncing performers and canned banter to thoughts of dusting. Do you know how bored I need to be to even consider dusting?

But that’s how much the parade bores me. In fact, it’s always bored me. But when I was younger, I tried to convince myself that it was fun. Although I never made it through an entire parade (or even half a parade), I’d try again the next year.

Until the year I’d had enough. I’m happy to report that I haven’t so much as watched one second of the parade in years. But if it’s part of your holiday tradition, I hope you continue to enjoy watching people dance and march by. Indeed, I hope you enjoy a Happy Thanksgiving.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

The early bird gets the tree — November 13, 2019

The early bird gets the tree

It is my belief that people generally fall into two camps – those who refuse to acknowledge Christmas’ existence until after Thanksgiving and those who think it’s fine and dandy to start the festivities as soon as the last trick or treater vacates the premises.

I used to be solidly ensconced in the first camp. For years, I could be heard asking folks to refrain from listening to Christmas music or trimming the tree until I was finished complaining about the Thanksgiving parade or making sure everyone knew that I don’t like turkey.

But at some point, I faced the fact that I was harmed not one iota by early embraces of the holiday. If somebody in my neighborhood or in Nebraska wants to drape a billion red, green, and white lights on their house on Nov. 1, well, that’s none of my business.

And, then, the strangest thing happened. I went away for the weekend in early November a few years ago. This trip occurred when I still listened to the radio, so during my travels, I sought a classic country or rock station. Instead, I found a station devoted to playing nothing but Christmas music from Halloween until the big day.

I stayed with that station for miles, eventually changing only when I heard more static than songs.

From that year forward, I’ve started listening to Christmas music when I dern well please. For the record, every year I’ve dern well pleased somewhere in that sweet spot between Halloween and Thanksgiving. And just because I listen to it on Nov. 1 doesn’t mean I’ll listen to it on Nov. 2. The mood has to hit.

So far, I’ve never been in the mood to decorate or to start my Christmas baking before Thanksgiving. But I do plan to devote the entire month of December to baking. The way I see it, it’s called the holiday season for a reason. What better way to savor the season than by savoring baked goods all month long? Besides, if you wait until mere days before the actual holiday, then you’ll run out of time as well as room in your fat pants.

I also ascribe to the philosophy of one of my cousins. Expressing her reasons for decorating early, she explained that she enjoys looking at her Christmas lights. As she’s gotten older, she’s realized the importance of treasuring life’s simple pleasures.

And if your simple pleasures include complaining about early Christmas decorations, you should have a merry season.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Witch-ful thinking — November 6, 2019

Witch-ful thinking

I am so grateful to the powers that be who postponed tricks-or-treats night from Thursday to Saturday. The change in schedule allowed me to spend Halloween the way the framers of the Constitution intended – by watching a “Bewitched” marathon.

As a wee lass, I enjoyed watching “Bewitched” reruns on the SuperStation WTBS. And even at my advanced age, Elizabeth Montgomery, who played the chic witch-turned-housewife Samantha, remains one of my favorite TV performers.

Aspects of the show, however, have always bothered me. For example, at every phase of my life – from an imaginative child who wished she could conjure up a spell with a twitch of the nose to a skeptical woman who realizes she’s the embodiment of Sam’s nosy neighbor, Gladys Kravitz – I have wondered what Sam saw in her husband Darrin. In addition to being incredibly boring, Darrin was prone to fits of hysteria and easily provoked. (By the way, I’m not sure what this says about me, but I only recently recognized the differences in the two actors who played Darrin.)

Anyway, ever since I first started watching “Bewitched,” I’ve questioned Darrin’s directive that Sam not practice witchcraft. Granted, Sam usually ignored him, but that’s not the point. The point is that Darrin – and Sam – were crazy for not taking advantage of her powers. Even as a kid, I couldn’t understand why Sam continued to do housework.

The fact that Sam dusted the furniture or swept the floors is more unrealistic than her choosing Darrin as her mate. In one holiday episode, she worked her magic to make a fully-decorated Christmas tree appear in multiple areas of the living room. After she determined where to put the tree, she made it disappear.

That’s not magic. It’s madness.

Sam’s behavior makes it easy to understand why her mom Endora, played to campy delight by Agnes Moorehead, held such contempt for the man she referred to as Derwood, Darwin or Dum-Dum. She blamed her boring son-in-law for turning Sam into a woman who apparently enjoyed performing chores that normal people delay until company has arrived on the doorstep.

Nonetheless, as I hate Halloween, looking forward to the “Bewitched” marathon helped me make it through a rainy day populated with coworkers dressed like cartoon characters. It also made me, even at my advanced age, practice twitching my nose because you never know when magic might happen.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

It’s the first pumpkin — October 30, 2019

It’s the first pumpkin

For various and sundry reasons, I do not like Halloween. Indeed, much like a trip to the gynecologist, I view it as something that I have to get through.

Of course, my heart and head aren’t entirely closed to the holiday. I don’t begrudge others for engaging in Halloween frivolity. What’s more, I enjoy seeing the younglings in their costumes and I have adorned my fake fireplace with holiday décor. Oh, and I also have a cauldron.

But that’s pretty much been it … until this year.

For reasons that even I don’t understand, I decided to purchase a pumpkin. If that comes as a surprise to you, my dear readers, you are not alone. Upon hearing my out-of-character plans, my sister assumed she was hallucinating.

I felt poorly on pumpkin-picking day, however, so my sister selected my gourd. And – even on a good day – I have no idea how to carve a pumpkin, so my beloved niece was entrusted with that esteemed honor.

Since I wasn’t feeling my best, I didn’t have the energy to create a spectacular pumpkin design. I had not lost my cleverness, though, so I asked my niece to carve a pumpkin into a pumpkin. I’m sure we were making a serious artistic statement with that design. I’m just not sure I’m smart enough to understand the statement.

On pumpkin-carving day, my niece sent me a message to let me know the double pumpkin had arrived on my porch. Then, she asked if I had a candle.

Although I was still unwell, I checked my temperature. I was not running a fever. So, I asked her for an explanation and promptly learned that one is supposed to illuminate a pumpkin with a candle so that one’s neighbors can view the shining gourd.

Imagining a hungry critter knocking my glowing double pumpkin onto the ground, I informed her that the suggestion was too dangerous.

Her response went something like this, “LOL! Haven’t you ever had a pumpkin before?”

No, smarty-pants, I haven’t, which is proof that a person can appreciate new experiences at an advanced age.

Nonetheless, I refused to leave a burning torch unattended on my front porch, so we decided on glow sticks. Yes, I had to look up glow sticks on the Internets so I would know what to buy at the Dollar Store. And, yes, my niece had to instruct me on how to use glow sticks, but everything worked out. I placed said glow sticks in the double pumpkin and, whilst I snapped photos, a member of my cat army jumped into the frame.

However, for various and sundry reasons, this might be my first and last pumpkin. The double pumpkin adds a splash of color to my life, but between coming up with a design and an alternative to candles, I’ve found the experience to be entirely too stressful.

Besides, glow sticks burn out after a night or two and those things cost a dollar a pack.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Melt with you — July 10, 2019

Melt with you

This year for my annual Fourth of July Jubilee, I decided to surprise my guests with red, white, and blue strawberries. No, I’m not genetically engineering blue and white strawberries in my basement laboratory. But I am capable of melting almond bark.

At least I thought I was.

I spent the day before my jubilee readying for the event and debating with myself vis-a-vis whether I should dip the strawberries ahead of time or wait until my guests were knocking on the door. In the negative column for dipping them a day I early I noted that dipped strawberries tend to gather moisture overnight. But in the positive column I listed all the tasks I would need to complete before my guests knocked on the door. So, I took a chance, melted the almond bark, and commenced to dipping the berries.

At first, everything went swimmingly. Sure, I had to reheat the almond bark after lumps materialized, but it was worth the effort. Indeed, the contrast of the white almond bark on the red berries nearly blinded me, and I couldn’t wait to behold the strawberries in their full patriotic glory.

I would have to wait, however, until the white-dipped strawberries dried. In the meantime, I frosted cupcakes. Then, upon returning my attention to the strawberries, I melted more vanilla bark, which I tinted with blue gel coloring.

You might recall that I previously shared the saga of my disastrous attempt to melt white chocolate. As I would learn all those months ago, white chocolate does not easily melt. Instead, it seizes. As I would learn last week, almond bark does not easily accept coloring. Instead, it seizes. And by seizes, I mean it forms into clumps that, I imagine, would resemble mashed potatoes if the cook had forgotten to add butter and milk.

Looking back, I should have been suspicious when the recipes I reviewed suggested using tinted baking melts instead of almond bark. Yet, I said to myself, “Self, you don’t need baking melts. Just use the almond bark and blue gel coloring in your pantry and call it good.”

No one could describe that blue-colored blob in my mixing bowl as good looking.

It was late and I was tired. So, I put the white-dipped strawberries in a secure location. The next morning, I made an emergency trip to the metropolis and purchased a bag of navy blue baking melts.

The resulting red, white, and blue strawberries filled me with a patriotism I hadn’t felt since the American men’s swimming team chased down the French to win the 4X100 freestyle relay at the Beijing Olympics. Sure, the strawberries had retained some moisture overnight, but that didn’t affect the taste. Just ask my guests, who gobbled up so many so fast that I considered making an emergency trip to the metropolis to buy more berries.

By the way, my subsequent research indicates that liquids cause almond bark to seize. It is recommended that you use paste or powder to tint it. Considering my history, I’ll stick with baking melts.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Out of character — May 1, 2019

Out of character

For the most part, I believe we are who we are. Oh, I think we evolve a little bit here and a little bit there, but I don’t think we act that much out of character.

Except, of course, when we do.

In the past month, I’ve twice behaved in a manner that surprised me, and I’m not even talking about when I ate an entire chocolate funnel cake in less than 15 minutes.

The first incident occurred when I happened upon my mom’s and my favorite Easter candy. I hadn’t been able to find it all season so when I did, I grabbed several bags and threw them into my cart.

Here’s the surprising part – I didn’t even look at the price. Here’s the unsurprising part – I ate so much of the candy that it made my teeth hurt.

Anyway, I didn’t have to sell a non-vital organ to pay for the candy. What’s more, Easter only comes around once a year and – teeth pain notwithstanding – my mom and I enjoyed the candy. So, I guess it’s okay if I decide once every year or so that the price doesn’t matter. Well, as long as the price doesn’t result in me having an attack when the cashier rings up my purchases.

I’m not sure where the second incident occurred. Apparently, my actions startled the particulars out of my memory. All I can say for sure is that when I paid for something somewhere, I was owed two cents in change.

And I told the cashier to keep the change.

My penchant for going to great lengths to pick up change has been well documented in this-here space. So, as soon as the words, “You can keep the two cents,” escaped my mouth, I questioned my decision. After all, what has all this been for if I’m going to turn around and casually refuse change as if I can’t find room in my life for two pennies?

I immediately considered telling the cashier I was joking about keeping the change, but that seemed weird, even for me. Still, the incident haunted me and caused a great deal of introspection. I wondered if I’d fallen victim to a mind-controlling experiment or developed another personality.

The two incidents remained on my mind as I walked to my car one evening. Suddenly, a shiny object distracted me and, before I knew what was happening, I had squatted to pick up a dime.

It’s good to know I’m still me.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Short and sweet — January 2, 2019

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.