Archive for October, 2009

Thanksgiving recipes are more than about food

October 30, 2009


Thanksgiving is the best holiday weekend. You get tradition without glitz. You see people who really matter to you. You watch a little football and take long, leafy walks. You eat.  You give thanks. When you combine those elements of holiday living, you’ve got the best weekend of the year.

The moment you sit at the table to feast on your Thanksgiving bounty, the traditions of family and guests speak out in the recipes before you. “Company coming potatoes” and cranberry stuffing from Mary; “Mrs. Martin’s rice cakes the Firehock way”; Siberian salads; desserts from grandmothers and aunts whose cookbooks have lost their bindings.  When you sit down to supper that day, you dig into much more than food; you fork up memories and legacies as smooth as gravy and as loved as butter. And you give thanks. 

Thank you for our people and all the ways we stay in touch with them.  Thank you for children, who we see growing up, photo by photo, video by video.  Thank you for long-lost friends showing up to reacquaint. And thank you for our food, amen.

We connect with each other by breaking bread. We warm up our memories with each passing of the gravy boat. We anticipate Thanksgiving Day weeks before it arrives every time we see a recipe card or open a cookbook to plan the big day, or we read from a recipe column in the magazine or newspaper.

Friend Bonnie, thinking of those who are scratching to make ends meet, offers affordable recipes straight from the kitchen. Old friend Vanessa returns to share her family’s rich and storied culinary passions.  My sister Maureen replies to my plea for the rice cake recipe of our father’s boyhood days, when his neighbor, Mrs. Martin, would invite him up the stairs of the apartment building every Sunday for dinner. Just him, specially invited, to join her family.

Recipe books themselves tell a story, too.  Dog-eared page corners and the cook’s hand-written comments: “Wonderful dish! – use half the thyme it calls for” or a notation of the date and guest[s] last made for: “10/22/93 – Ursella’s visit”.  Right there, memories are reheated and served again, but not as leftovers. This time, they are added to – embellished might be too strong a word – and seasoned by the storyteller’s memory of a different place and time.  Just ingredients and measurements on a printed page or note card become much more; they serve as the “Forward” for stories of tradition and family lore.  Even cranky Uncle Hanky is remembered in a better light, when the aroma of butternut squash surrounds his memory. He becomes as palatable as yummy creamed onions after a couple glasses of vino and a second passing of the turkey plate. We soon forget his Brussel sprout reputation and offer him redemption in a dish.

Our recipes become our food on the table. Our table becomes our stage for conversation. Our props are there, too – “cut-glass relish dishes, shivering aspics, or filled Jello molds” [from Vanessa’s Season’s Bounty column in Front Porch fredericksburg Magazine]. We perform. We raise a toast [or two; or three – for good luck, Russian style], and we lead our table of people in a praising grace: “Bless us, oh Lord, with these Thy gifts, from Thy bounty…” 

Recipes for dining become instructions for coming together — to give thanks, to enjoy, to share.  Our wish for you is to have a Thanksgiving like that, to take away from it a recipe for peace in your lives, and to enjoy everything we’ve dished up here, bite-by-bite, word-by-word…  You are welcome to seconds!




October 20, 2009

Webster calls October 31st “Allhallows Eve” or the “Eve of All Saints’ Day”. We call it “Halloween,” another annual ritual of excess. Parties range from simple wine and cheese get-togethers to full-blown catered affairs. Costumes run the gamut from homemade outfits to pricey Disney Store character costumes. Punch bowls brim with everything from organic apple cider to Ecstasy-laced Tequila. Even Halloween pranks have evolved from the “Mischief Night” we Boomers knew. On October 30th, we would hurl rolls of toilet paper over tree limbs and telephone lines, or soap up our neighbors’ garage windows. The most delinquent among us would throw eggs at houses… This is not a confession column, and I categorically deny going beyond toilet paper tosses. And, as much as I detest a snitch, it can now be told it was Hank Brolin and the Giatti brothers who egged the Santangelo’s house and soaped the Clark’s bay window in 1966.

Today, it’s a safe bet there will be outright vandalism on Halloween 2009. Today’s generation plays harder, too, than we Boomers did. In 10th grade, we chewed gum on the way to school. I know of 10th-graders today who do shots of gin before class. A first kiss in sixth grade was not uncommon for us. Today, innocence lives a shorter life and passions run higher sooner. Today, well today is too much for me. “It depends on what is is” is the rule of the day. Kids who are barely double-digit, kids who are emotionally unprepared for sexual intimacy are making sport of it, striving for acceptance, and giving themselves up to avoid mockery from their peers.

Decades ago, we made our own Halloween costumes with mom’s help. Firefighters were big. The most controversial Halloween costume was the Devil. Years later, the provocative Richard Nixon “I am not a crook” mask raised some brows and drew some laughs. Halloween today means everyone from Osama Bin Laden to 10-year-old “hookers” “trick” or treating. One dad I know had a middle school “prostitute” wink at him. The girl’s parents stood nearby and shrugged. At least firefighters are still around – but for a different reason. It makes you want to go back in time. Be a kid again. Get a yen for a tub of water and red bobbing apples. Hear The Monster Mash on a vinyl record. Heck, give pennies to UNICEF again. Times have changed and so have our children’s challenges.

Halloween is a good opportunity to roll out the old tub for them. Put together a homemade costume. Walk the kids around the neighborhood carrying pillow sacks for candy, or host a supervised party in the basement of your house. Do an old school Halloween in grand American family style. And, dads & grand dads — if I may be so bold – on the night before, when the kids are in bed, steal a piece of soap from the bathroom and rub some on your garage window. You’ll feel like a kid again, a kid from a more innocent time, a time when toilet paper was a weapon of mass messiness and we were so corny straight and naïve that we grew up believing what we do today – that we can still save the world, one child at a time.


Goodbye to English

October 20, 2009

The English language is lost.  You say or write something, and explain what it means using other words, and people don’t get it.  Instead, they interpret according to their own needs.  The language is lost to special, personal interests, just like politics, where spin is a germ infecting communication.  Maybe there is a use for Twitter. Write short, very short, and you can’t be misconstrued.

Goal Posts

October 10, 2009

What’s wrong with the Redskins? A cradle-to-grave Giants fan has the answer… and, briefly, why you’re wrong to hate the Yankees: a cradle-to-grave NYY fan challenges the honesty of your wrath in one tome covering two sports, two winners, and one losing franchise…

The Washington Redskins football team has ridden a slow descent from the penthouse of Riggo’s stiffarmed run to the Super Bowl title to the team that loss yesterday to Carolina, blowing a fourth quarter lead in the process. A key play in the Carolina game was a punt that bounced off the leg of a Skins’ player on their return team. After the game, the prevailing team attitude regarding that play was something like, “Oh well, we’re working on that. Shit happens.”  In recent years, shit happens more often to this team because shit — like the Washington franchise — stinks.

It starts at the top with owner Dan Snyder, who knows nothing about football as a business, and nothing about football players as athletic talents. Snyder pays well, but he buys and pays the wrong people, from the GM slot on down.  [This, by the way, totally busts the arguement that is a hot one this week in MLB fandom among the fans of the teams no longer in contention; that is, that the Yankees buy championships.]

Mr. Snyder repudiates that jealous school of thought by spending tons and getting bad results. He, like certain cities full of baseball fans [the hypocritical ones would not stop rooting for their favorite team if it went out and got a top-dollar free agent, would they now?], has yet to figure out that championships are won with field talent, savvy management, good team chemistry, happy twists of fate, and a dash of good karma — all things Mr. Snyder did not learn in business school. He may have learned how to balance a big checkbook but he failed to learn the big stuff.

Fan support goes a long way, too. Look at the winning teams in any sport, year after year. Their fans are warriors once play has started on the field or ice or arena. They do not waiver. They make no excuses. They are loyal, even when that means “tough love.”

Skins fans were loyal up until about yesterday, when they lined up at Metro stops, metaphoricaly speaking, to throw the  Redskin under the bus driven by Snyder.

Seated up front on that bus was Head Coach Jim Zorn, the apologist in chief for the Washington Redskins. Zorn is no more suited to coach an NFL team than Terrell Owens is suited to faclitate a seminar on altruism as a life path. Zorn is, however, the top candidate for the rebirth of the Mister Rogers Neighborhood children’s television program. He has that personality. Give him a cardigan sweater and he’s there making his mark on stage.

 “Can you say mediocre? It’s OK to be mediocre, Albert Haynesworth. I don’t mind that you are fat and can’t breathe out there. You are still my friend, because in my neighborhood, it’s Ok to play hard only when you want to.”

The thing is, when Riggo played, the Redskin players would not have accepted an Albert Haynesworth draping a towel over his heaad and go-carting off the field for a rest.  And Riggo himself would not have practiced the no-practice ethic of Clinton Portis.

This root problem is pervasive throughout Washington. The Redskin fandom have walked lockstep for years with the team and the local media when it came to making excuses for Redskin failures. The Skins have descended, in turn, into a franchise that thrives on victimism — untimely injuries, bad calls, inclement weather [snow flurries induce panic in DC], tough scheduling, bad luck — and apologism — “unfortunately, the mistakes cost us; we’re sorry, we’re really trying” — and the local media had bought into it until some sports talk radio hosts came along and got real with the Skins, allowing their fans to see the light and let themselves be candid.

It came like a wave the past few days, having built up like a tsunami for several years under Dan Snyder. It crashed ashore this week with fans riding the wave like a remix of The Who’s “We’re not gonna take it! Never did and never will! Don’t want no [Redskins’] religion, and as far as we can tell — we’re not gonna fake it… we foresake you better still…” 

I am no football expert, but I have lived in several championship cities at the times of their ascendencies to greatness, as well as when they hit rock bottom. New York, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Philadelphia — been there, loved that. The media and fans and team owners in those cities are not anything like Washington’s, especially in New York.

You don’t make excuses in New York. You just don’t. You don’t suck out loud on a Sunday and make alibis or promises of “trying” on a Monday. Not with the NY Post around. Not with the Meadowlands swirling winds ripping the skin off season ticket holders’ faces.  Can you even imagine Giants’ coach Tom Coughlin making the kind of statements Jim Zorn makes? In your darkest moment of stupidity, could you ever have attributed to former coach Bill Parcels the policy of letting veterans go home to their quilt-covered beds at night during training camp?

Lavar Arrington, who played for the Redskins when they were among real men [and later, coincidentally, with the Giants], hails from Pittsburgh, PA and from Joe Paterno’s Penn State program. Lavar has a talk show on 106.7 — The Fan — weekdays from 1 to 6.  Would it surprise you, based on his pedigree and experience west and east of the Allegheny Mountains, that Lavar would probably agree with me on this?

The gist is this — for years the Redskin Nation has not been for real. They’ve fooled themselves. They could not handle the truth. Now they see the light and are ready to revolt. That’s not disloyalty; it’s an awakening.

It would not have gotten this far in New York. In New York it would have been cut down at the knees long ago, as it was, actually… The Giants at one time were suffering badly. QB Joe Picarzik, instead of taking a knee to ice the game, handed off.  The ensuing fumble was scooped up by Herman Edwards of the Eagles for a walk-off touchdown. 

The Giants wallowed for years. Eventually, along came a QB named Phil Simms, from little-known Morehead State in Kentucky. Phil sucked at first, but the team had great ownership in the Mara family, which had brought in George Young to run the business of football, and Bill Parcels to steer the ship on the high seas of play in the NFL. You know the rest. Phil Simms became a Super Bowl MVP. Parcels is a legend. Another generation of Mara’s still owns the team. A QB named Eli has become a top-rated passer after humble beginnings. The Giants’ Super Bowl ring count now stands at 3 in 4 attempts…

Which still gives me a glimmer of hope that Jason Campell will become a winner in the NFL.  But it won’t be with Zorn and it won’t be with Snyder. No, Jason Campbell will end up on a well-managed and coached team, where the players have talent and the team has chemistry– all the ingredients that head the list above payroll when it comes to winning championships.

It will be a team that makes no excuses, has a tough but fair media around it, and a candid but loyal fan base. They might not win it all, but they will win, and they will retain their self-respect and the respect of their fans.  I hope DC can reclaim the same character someday.