Thanksgiving

Morsels

Screen Shot 2014-11-15 at 11.00.46 AM My husband and I had our blindfolds on, nervously waiting. This was not some class in tantric technique—we’re not flexible enough for that—but rather an evening of a seven-course meal, in the dark. We were to experience food in a new way, let our senses lead us. A waiter leaned in and whispered with some sultry accent in my ear: “It’s just in front of you. You will need to bring it slowly to your mouth.” I told my husband “I’m afraid it won’t fit in my mouth.”

“That’s what she said,” he replied and we giggled.

I opened my mouth, not wide enough at first, but then I adjusted. There was a slight roughness against my tongue, and the familiar crisp of bread. Slightly crusty on the outside, with a pleasant give to my teeth. Then a rush of the most amazing butter I have ever had. A mind-blowing butter. A butter of the gods. Rich, creamy, slightly salty. My body reacted immediately. I actually started to salivate. Or…that might have been the melted butter coursing down my chin. (Let’s hope it was the butter.) I chewed and atoms collided. Atoms are always colliding, I know, but this time I could feel them. “That’s the best toast I’ve ever had,” I said. When we removed our blindfolds, we saw the crostini in front of us, and the smooth layer of not butter, but of bone marrow. For a woman who waxes vegetarian, I couldn’t wrap my head around it. “I think my brain just expanded,” I said. My husband laughed and said: “Feels kinda good doesn’t it?”

When speaking of love, we talk of our hearts and our souls and the people who share our space and life. We speak of the first kiss, the first time, the first loss. We know that dating is different somehow than marriage and a marriage somehow weaves two separate people into a single unit, that friendships are transformative, that children are maddeningly magnificent. But our hearts and minds also can be shaped by other things: experiences, travel…and food.

There have been pivotal moments in my life where I have felt a continental shift in my spirit caused by a mouthful of food. A shift in my ideas, my understanding, and sometimes of my passion.

I was raised in Michigan. My favorite childhood meal was Swanson’s Frozen Chicken, Mashed Potatoes, Corn and Brownie. The brownie was important. A close second for my favorite dinner was Chipped Beef, made by frying lunchmeat in butter, making a slurry of milk and flour, warming it all up and plopping it on toast. As a teen, my sister and I would make Hamburger Helper’s Tuna Pot Pie and hope that no one would want seconds so we could have it again for breakfast. My culinary landscape was populated by Nestle Quick and Tater Tot Casserole. I had never heard of curry. I lived in a world that was flat and populated by casseroles.

In college, I tasted sourdough for the first time. I did not believe my roommate when she told me the bread was perfectly good. “There’s nothing wrong with it! They make it this way on purpose!” I took a small bite and broke out into a sweat. “Why would anyone want sour bread?” I asked. I truly wanted to know. “It doesn’t make sense!” Later that night, I would dream of ripping the bread into little bites and popping it in my mouth so my tongue could wrestle with it. That bread brought a part of my taste-buds alive…a part of me brought to life that I didn’t even know existed. My roommate would later catch me with my own loaf of sourdough bread purchased at the Spartan store. We did not speak of it, but nodded in understanding.

I tried goat cheese and pesto on a brick oven pizza in Stratford, Canada during their Shakespeare festival. I ordered it because it sounded smart. I figured smart people watched Shakespeare and if they ate goat cheese, then I would eat goat cheese too. I sipped an Orangina with it and felt like I was drinking culture.

When I lived in Miami for a brief time with my then-fiancé, I tried plantain chips and Cuban coffee. My lips tingled. They ached. I asked for more. My boyfriend had a friend in grad school who wanted to cook us a traditional Indian meal. I thought that meant there would be something with Maize. I didn’t understand what chick peas were and cilantro tasted slightly of soap, but something in me quivered. It wasn’t indigestion, but a sort of joy unfurling, the way flower petals unfurl in the early morning. I tried spicy potato samosas, and poppadums that were like crisp paper with a hint of heat. Tator tots did not exist in my world anymore. I fell asleep to the rise and fall of lassis and chutneys, or picadillo and peppers.

Each new food I experienced challenged me to the core. It made me question my understanding of my environment and even myself. The world was far more vast than I expected and understood, and my own body was capable of feeling and experiencing things that I’d never thought existed. It was like seeing new colors in the rainbow, without being on LSD.

When I returned to Michigan, I worked in a high-end restaurant. Each night, we would try a new wine. At first I gagged on the taste. A chardonnay that was so oaky it creaked seemed to lodge in my throat. But gradually, as my palate grew accustomed to new universes, I could taste lemon, and cantaloupe, blackberries, cherries. I could taste summers and rain, and sometimes I would cry. Food…this kind of food and experience…could make me swoon. There should be more swooning in one’s life, I think.

I would taste beef wellington, tapas, pad thai and green curry so creamy and spicy that it could cure your cold. In France, I tried delicate macarons that were never too sweet, and salad with a dressing that combined mustard with shallots.

Food would become something that marked occasions: the crusty cornmeal pizza on the shore of Lake Michigan where we watched the meteor shower as the waves rolled against the sand; the Christmas where we ordered a Turducken with Cajun seasoning and got drunk on Mai Tais while the kids decapitated a reindeer piñata and pranced around with it a la Lord Of The Flies; the wedding where my husband and I created a menu of appetizers to appeal to the meat-eating-vegan-loving-gluten-free-carbo-loading-lactose-intollerant-lactose-loving mixture of our two different worlds colliding.

Food became a language for me. A way to connect not just with others, but with the tiny tendrils of my hungry little spirit. Food taught me to move past boundaries. To explore. To endure. To live fully and with joy.

I still make Tater Tot Casserole. It reminds my kids of camp, and it reminds me of where I started and who I was. I have a Pinterest board that is populated with recipes from every cuisine imaginable. They are my ticket to keep my brain expanding and reaching out, even as my waistline probably does the same. Good food, shared with a loved one, or on your own, is truly transformative.

Screen Shot 2014-11-15 at 11.04.15 AM

This spring, we picked Morels in the lush Michigan woods and came home smelling of fresh leeks and trillium, those delicate white flowers. I sliced the morels in half and soaked them in a water bath laced with salt to draw out the bugs. I melted the butter, dried the morels, and slid them lovingly into the pan. I watched them tremble in the pan, shivering into a smaller morsel, collapsing into themselves, transforming from earth to delicacy before my eyes. When they were glistening and streaked with golden edges, I spooned them onto plates, and sprinkled them with salt. My husband and I ate them, our eyes wide open, nodding to each other that this, this simple act of eating, was a beautiful thing, and something for which to be deeply grateful.

A Blunderful Thanksgiving

I have to say that yesterday’s Thanksgiving was a great success. The only near disaster came when I dropped 1/3 of the pan drippings on the floor, but rescued the hot pan before dumping the whole thing. I made the traditional stuff, including this coma-inducing cake:

 

I woke up at 5:30AM and made apple pie, then I called Kealoha to help the turkey give birth. Seriously. That bag stuffed in the turkey’s belly just makes me think of birthing. It didn’t help that Kealoha massaged the turkey, calming it down saying, “Who’s the yummy turkey? YOU are” and then he pulled the bag out. We didn’t stuff the bird so the cooking time would be reduced. Also, I didn’t want to put my hand in the turkey’s ‘private area’. It just makes me uncomfortable.

 

 

Then the kids’ dad dropped them off for a few hours (even though he officially had them for the holiday). That ended up being a mixed blessing. My daughter (5) was super excited about all the activity, but my son (7) just can’t handle quick transitions, and he gets overwhelmed with too many people. He’s like this big bundle of emotion that he can’t control. He threw a gigantic fit, got a time-out, punched the wall, called me a Fat Bitch, and then peed in his bedroom. It’s like dealing with an angry puppy that happens to know English. Obviously, we need to help him with these feelings. We’re just trying to figure out how. For now, I know that even a quick transition from his dad’s house to ours just isn’t possible. He needs time to cool down. So, poor guy spent the day in the basement…and just as he’d acclimated to all the commotion, it was time for him to go to his dad’s.

 

Kealoha’s family (mom, dad, grandma, brother and sister-in-law) joined us, as did my mom. Since half of those in attendance were hard of hearing and/or full of much-needed wine, there was a lot of loud talking. My cooking started out great (moist turkey, allowed to rest for ½ an hour) but as Kealoha’s brother kept filling my wine glass, I sorta started on the slippery slope of drunken cooking. (Hence the dropped drippings.)

 

Dinner conversation began with memories, and then slipped into several people giving very detailed information about surgeries and infections. (Kealoha’s dad just had back surgery and is stapled-up.) I get freaked out by discussions of illness, especially when they begin with things like “It was the worst infection I’ve ever had! I mean, you wouldn’t BELIEVE what it looked like!”

 

I wanted to change the conversation so I started to say “Well, when I gave birth”….but STOPPED myself from adding “And my vagina split open”. I figured that might cross the humor-line.

 

Then the kids went back to their dad’s (my son did come out of the basement eventually, apologize, and give hugs and high-fives), then my mom and Kealoha’s family left. We had twenty minutes of silence before the next shift arrived. In came my sister, wearing scrubs. She’s a nurse working in a super-stressful trauma/recovery ward. (Anyone know of a less-stressful job opening in Grand Rapids for a nurse?) She shared with us some gruesome stories of infections also, and then we made her change her clothes, and drink some much-needed-wine also (in the form of mai tais.)

 

And if I can remember the conversations we had, I’ll write it down. It involved my sister doing a creepy imitation of Arnold Schwarzenegger crossed with Christopher Walken, and something about turkey balls that involved a crude gesture and the gobble-gobble sound.

 

Kealoha and I are now recovering.

 

Actually, to be perfectly honest, this was one of the best Thanksgivings I’ve ever had.

 

Ahhhh, family.

Thanksgiving Disaster (What's Yours?)

Thanksgiving is on THURSDAY! Oh, baby! I’m so excited! A holiday devoted to overeating and family awkwardness….what could be better?  

And I have to admit I’m glad that Baby Jesus doesn’t have any part of this holiday. Not because I’m against Jesus, it’s just that I can’t stuff my face guilt free if I’m thinking about salvation and world peace. No. This holiday is about guilt-free gluttony pure and simple. And pie. It’s also about pie.

 

I’m making the traditional stuff, and a three-tiered chocolate ganache and mousse cake. More about that in a later post. You know, an appetizing post.

 

We were watching "The New Girl” last night and they had their Thanksgiving episode on. It reminds me that everyone pretty much has a Thanksgiving Disaster story. Mine happened several years ago when I was married to the kids’ dad. The kids were two and one and I had decided to cook a traditional Thanksgiving meal for his parents who were coming down from Canada. That’s always awkward because Thanksgiving is all about celebrating being American, and Canadians don’t like that sort of thing. They like to set themselves apart from Americans…so much so that they have Thanksgiving too, only in October so they can beat us to it.

The week before Thanksgiving, the kids had all been hammered with the stomach flu. I won’t go into too many details but let me just say A) toddlers can puke an amazing distance and B) you can’t catch it in your hands, even though impulsively you may try.

 

By the time my in-laws got to the house, everyone was feeling okay, except the flu finally caught up with me. I spent a day running to the bathroom and trying to throw up QUIETLY so as not to disturb anyone.

 

Then my mother-in-law decided to help out and cook for everyone. She made an enormous pot of pasta with spicy sausage, green peppers, onions, and tomato sauce. The house smelled like hot meat and garlic. It did not suit my stomach AT ALL.

 

Then I recovered. The next day, my then-husband was sick….only he’d sadly eaten a ton of that spicy meat pasta the day before. Then my father-in-law got sick. It was horrendous. And there’s nothing worse than listen to the beast sound of men puking. Seriously.

Then our sewer backed up, and my one-year-old daughter fell down the stairs. She rolled down the stairs, we looked at her in horror, and then she started crawling around like nothing had happened. I’m still in therapy over it.

 

Two days later, it was Thanksgiving. We were pretty much all battered and bruised. My father-in-law shook his head and said in his heavy French Canadian accent “Oh, Tanya, that was terrible. It was like that song. A ring of fire.”

 

Turkey and mashed potatoes soothed our broken bodies.

 

I laugh about that Thanksgiving now, but it was truly terrible.

 

I’m really looking forward to this Thanksgiving. I’ve got Kealoha, his family, my sister and her family, my mom, and kids. And hopefully no one will suffer “The Ring of Fire”. I’m hoping we all just get indigestion from eating too much. You better believe I’ll be wearing my yoga pants. God, I love those things. In fact, I hope everyone comes in yoga pants: kids, women, and especially men. It just would intensify all that family awkwardness.

 

Have a Thanksgiving Disaster? Please post it here in the comments. Don't have one? Don't worry. Maybe this year is the year for you.

Thanksgiving is coming. That means time for some Foodporn.

Thought I’d better post a new blog pronto to cover up yesterday’s WORST PICTURE OF ME EVER. So.

I’m sitting at my computer wanting/needing to write, but I can’t get my mind to focus. I should be in class right now, but I cancelled it due to this cold that will not loosen its grip on my throat. I keep having these coughing fits where I sound like I’m trying to give birth to an alien OUT OF MY MOUTH. It’s embarrassing. And today I’m trying to keep my voice from failing entirely until I get through this week (and the end of my narrating). Hence, cancelled class. (And I need to get better by Saturday so I can cook a Thanksgiving feast next week.)

Lack of voice has no effect on my typing though.

I should be thinking about writing. But all I can think about is Thanksgiving! I’m obsessed with this holiday. It’s my absolute favorite, which makes sense, since I’m a foodie and all.

 

I thought it was going to be a sad holiday with just me, Kealoha, and my mom since my kids are with their dad this year. BUT my ex and his wife have agreed to let the kids come down for half the day for a traditional turkey day, and then they’ll head to their dad’s for their non-traditional celebration. I think they do a tofurkey there. And since Kealoaha’s parents can’t leave for Florida until some doctors’ appointments….so they’ll be here too. Maybe my sister and Kealoha’s brother and their spouses too. So my sad, little wee holiday has just turned into a bonafide FEAST.

 

And I need to do some menu planning fast.

 

I have a bit of a sickness with cookbooks and cooking magazines. It’s genetic. That need to hoard. I do control the sickness by ripping out recipes I want to make and throwing the rest of the magazine away. And I go through my cooking books yearly and pull ones out that I haven’t cooked from. Still, it’s a problem. I’m obsessed. I don’t know why it’s so enjoyable to flip through pages and pages of food.

 

Maybe it’s the challenge of it. Maybe….it’s the POSSIBILITY. The possibility that I could make and eat anything my heart desires. (If I don’t fuck it up.)

 

So instead of working on my sci-fi stories, or prepping for the next class, I’m going to spend the next hour joyfully flipping though food magazines and oohing and aahing at the centerfold pictures of luscious loins…pork loins that is. I can almost see those heaving turkey breasts and gleaming turkey legs all slick and shiny with butter.

 

Okay. So maybe my obsession with cooking magazines is more primal. Maybe I’m just a FoodPorn addict.

 

It’s true. I even listen to bad seventies music while looking at recipes for cornbread pudding.

 

Oh god.

 

Oh god!!! CORN PUDDING!!!! STUFFING! MUSHROOM GRAVY DEGLAZED WITH WHITE WINE!!!

I need a moment or two by myself. Just to…you know…uh….think about things. Yeah. Think.

While I take care of some, uh, thinking...please enjoy this foodporn video:

 

 

A Message from Me and Richard Simmons

I've been meaning to blog all week. I mean, there's so much to cover...from the crazy Thanksgiving with my family and friends and the idea that it's not really Thanksgiving until my sister says "boner"...to shopping on Black Sunday with my ex-mother-in-law who is now a good friend...to the admission that I bought sweat pants because I have finally crossed the line and have plumped up like a hot dog. (Thank you overeating, wine, and PMS.)

But I'm resisting the urge to blog. Why? Because I'm also doing National Novel Writing Month. Or NaNoWriMo. The goal was to write 1667 words a day and at the end of the month you have an entire novel. I'm on Day 27 and I'm at 45,163 words. I am THIS close to finishing! The book is called "Foodies Rush In" and it pretty much sucks. But it's a first draft and I didn't have any of it written at the beginning of this month.

For the next two days, I'm locked up in my house with nothing to eat but Chex Mix and Thanksgiving leftovers. I'm writing. I'm doing it. I am going to finish this novel and possibly have to buy a bigger pair of sweatpants. It's okay though, because I know that somewhere out there someone loves me. That's right. And his name is Richard Simmons.

Guess what? He loves you too. Here's the video to prove it.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend. I'll be back in December, which is just a few days away.

Grab the tissue. I'm all nostalgic because of holidays.

We are inching ever closer to my favorite holiday of the year. Yes. Thanksgiving. Of course, that’s my favorite holiday. It’s the only holiday that’s entirely focused on FOOD. And, yeah, giving thanks. I mean, I love Christmas and all that, and Fourth of July, and Easter can have a pretty good brunch and all…but Thanksgiving? Come on. It’s brilliant.

Holidays always make me a little nostalgic too. I start to look back on my life and then I look forward and then sideways and then I get dizzy and then I get all emotional and start crying at holiday commercials and I’m all “Oh, he gave her a puppy!” It’s kind of pathetic. This year is no different. I already feel the tear ducts kicking in.

This year, though, all I have to do is look back one year ago and it’s enough to make my throat get all choked up and those tears don’t even threaten anymore, they just start flowing. Not with sadness, though. Ohhhh, no. It’s joy. Simple, uncomplicated joy.

A year ago, I was still newly separated from my husband and questioning how on earth I thought I could be a single mom. What had possessed me to break up our marriage and our family? I was at a little apartment (that cost a lot) in East Grand Rapids. I was a few months in to my contract with teaching at Kendall, and I was facing the first holiday without having my kids with me all the time. And, let’s be honest here, I was really lonely.

Last Thanksgiving my friends Brendan and George invited my mom and me and the kids over to their place. It was so nice to be included in a family. One of the things that was so hard when I separated was that fracturing of the family. My ex (a year ago) had met and was committed to the woman who is now his wife, so their holiday season was a first for him in building a new kind of family. And I couldn’t compete with that. I was barely hanging on with working full time, writing, trying to get published, and trying to keep my emotions together.

We survived Thanksgiving. It wasn’t as painful as I thought and it helped sharing it with friends. And then the rest of the holiday happened. Last December, I broke my foot, on the day we got our Christmas tree and I was so proud for hauling it in myself. Sometimes I still cry over the moment when I was on the ground and my two kids were trying to help me get up, and I had the realization that I physically couldn’t move, and I couldn’t take care of them, and I tried not to cry in front of them. That Christmas I asked my ex to take the kids, because I knew with the cast and all, that I couldn’t drive them around to look at lights. I couldn’t get presents under the tree. I couldn’t carry them to their rooms if they fell asleep. My mom was there to help me, but it was a holiday season that I spent feeling entirely alone, literally broken, and barely able to keep my head above water financially.

What a difference a year makes.

This year, I am in my new house, my dream house, with a beautiful backyard and the kids have their own rooms and we have two spirited/demonic cats. My sister and brother in law and her kids are joining us for Thanksgiving. My mom will be here, as will Kealoha, who every day I love a little bit more. He makes me feel…cherished. Cheesy, maybe, but it’s true. And it’s funny to me that I’ve known him for so long, but only now have I really been able to see him. And…I’ve got my books out there and I’m finally getting some acknowledgement for all the hard work through some interviews coming up in local papers. To top it off, Kendall is looking at possibly renewing my contract for another year.

Last year I didn’t feel like I could offer my kids anything. I questioned all my choices…and worse than feeling like a bad mom, I felt like a bad person. That’s all changed. I have a confidence I never suspected was even possible. And somehow, through sheer determination and maybe because I had no other choice, I have built a future for me and my kids. It’s more than a future, really. It’s a family. My house, both literal and metaphorical, is filled with friends and family and laughter and good food…and…yes…hope.

See? See what holidays do to me? They make me go crazy emotional. What can I say? I have a lot to be grateful for. I don’t know. This year, well, it’s enough to make a slightly dramatic, overemotional, 37-year-old writer/woman/mom believe that there really is a little bit of magic left in the world.

And if there’s magic left in the world, maybe, just maybe Bigfoot exists too, and that makes me really happy.