Thursday, November 26, 2009

Suzann's Green Beans

Our second Thanksgiving as a married couple, I decided to make homemade rolls to take with us to Joe's sister's house (I can't remember what we did our first Thanksgiving as a married couple, but it's possible that we drove to Boise and stopped at that Denny's in Nevada where I played the slots with the change we'd gotten after paying for our meal and Joe said I was throwing the 50 cents away and I came back to the table four mintues later with $30 in quarters -- or maybe that was some other time). We were living two doors down from Joe's sister's family in San Diego, renting the second story of an old craftsman style house near Balboa Park (directly under the flight path of the San Diego Airport -- every morning at 6 am the planes flying 50 feet overhead shook us awake). We had this tiny galley kitchen where Joe taught me to cook. He stuck to the basics -- bake the chicken breasts in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, make some rice on the stovetop and then steam some vegetables only he would eat. But that year at Thanksgiving, I decided to make homemade yeast rolls to walk over to Julie's house for Thanksgiving. The recipe instructed me to cut out the rolls with a biscuit cutter, which of course I did not have. I had a wine glass. So I cut the rolls out with a wine glass. On the third or fourth roll, the stem of the wine glass broke in half and I stabbed myself below my first knuckle on my right hand with the broken stem. It wasn't a long cut, but it was deep and I bled and bled, and I should have gotten stiches. But I didn't want to go sit in the emergency room for four hours on Thanksgiving Day -- especially when I was making homemade rolls! So I washed it out, bandaged my throbbing hand and continued on with the roll-making. For many years, the scar on my hand from that cut looked exactly like a turkey's head -- that is no lie. But after about 6 or 7 years, the scar changed shape a little bit and now looks like a cross. There is absolutely no reason to tell you that story -- no object lesson here about turkeys that turn to crosses -- just a little Flamingo family Thanksgiving Day lore. I can't even remember how the rolls turned out.

By our third Thanksgiving together, we were living in Macon and I was going to law school. Flamingo Joe had gotten a recipe for Moroccan turkey (was it Moroccan, honey? It might have been some other exotic land). The recipe called for beer and capers, among other things. Beer I knew where to find. Capers, not so much. Neither of us knew what a caper even was, so we didn't even know where to look for them in the grocery aisle. I made a couple of visits to different groceries, and asked more than one clerk where to find the capers and no one knew. Joe finally asked the person who gave him the recipe where to find capers and the woman told him they were in the aisle with the olives. My family was shocked I was actually cooking a turkey after only three years of marriage, but who else was going to do it? My mom had stopped cooking turkeys when the microwave came on the market and Joe's mom wasn't with us for Thanksgiving that year. So it was up to me -- and Flamingo Joe. That was the last year he helped with Thanksgiving dinner -- and you can't blame him at all -- it was extremely stressful. You had to get the turkey done and all those side dishes on the table hot at the same time! Who can take that kind of pressure?? I nearly killed us both running around the kitchen with sharp implements. The Moroccan turkey turned out great and my family was suitably impressed -- but I'm pretty sure we ate cold mashed potatoes and abandoned all efforts at gravy after adding flour, then water, then flour, then water, then throwing out the lumpy gluey nastiness after 20 minutes of effort. I still can't do gravy. Which leads me to my friend Suzann -- cause Suzann can do gravy. And fried chicken. And blackberry pie made from fresh-picked blackberries.

Between the Moroccan turkey in Year 3 and the first-time-ever-brining turkey from last year, I really can't remember every Thanksgiving -- that's nine years' worth of Thanksgivings that have slipped from my memory. Because really, I don't have long-term food memory. I'm not a foodie like some of my friends who can remember exactly what they ate at which restaurant on which day and how it compared to some other meal they had at some other place. I remember when I had real gnocchi for the first time in an Italian restaurant in San Diego and I keep looking for that some gnocchi high every time I see it on a menu, but I can never recapture it -- but that's it. Unbeknownst to me until two days ago, my husband actually is one of those people with long-term food memory. For the first time in our 13 years of marriage, I asked Flamingo Joe if there was anything in particular he wanted to have at Thanksgiving dinner (before judging me too harshly -- the reason I've never asked him before what he wanted for Thanksgiving dinner was that I was afraid he'd ask me to make brussel sprouts or spinach or, heaven help us, beets -- and quite frankly, heretofore I just haven't loved him enough to make beets for him and only barely enough to steam him up some brussel sprouts -- but this year, our love has blossomed and I was ready to make him whatever vegetable his heart desired even if it meant I had to swallow throw-up to do it). So I said, "Sweetest dearest honey, is there anything in particular you would like to have at Thanksgiving this year?" And without stopping to take a breath, he says "Suzann's green beans." Suzann's green beans????

Suzann's green beans go waaaaaay back -- to the first summer we were dating. Flamingo Joe and I met in Idaho -- that tedious love story is another blog post (or three) altogether, but suffice it to say that I was in Idaho getting a master's degree in English and Joe's mom introduced us at church the first spring I was in Idaho. So we had been dating all of two months before it was time for me to go home to Georgia for the summer. Quite honestly, I didn't really think he liked me that much and expected the big romance to fizzle right out while I was away for two and a half months, so I was very surprised when he called me up one day after I got back to Georgia and said he was going to come for a visit. Great day in the morning, I was a nervous wreck! What in the world was I going to do with Joe for a week in Douglas, Georgia?? (If you've ever been there, you know why I'm saying this -- I mean, Douglas is great, but you can only go to Danny's Pizza so many times with your out of town guests before they up and decide they want to go somewhere more exciting -- like Alma). So I came up with a plan where Joe would only have to be in Douglas for a few days -- I would pick him up at the airport in Atlanta and instead of heading south to Douglas, we'd head north to Boone, NC where my friends Suzann and Durema were going to graduate school at Appalachian State. So I picked Joe up at the airport and we got in my little Chevy S-10 pickup, where he promptly laid down across the seat and fell asleep for an hour with his head on my leg. We got to Suzann's and Durema's a few hours later and at some point over the next couple of days, Suzann cooked a meal for us -- it included fried chicken, gravy (naturally), and green beans. And don't forget the sweet tea -- Joe had just met Suzann, but for some reason felt comfortable enough to mimic her all night, saying "Can I have some more 'Swate Taaaaaay'?"

So when Flamingo Joe said he wanted Suzann's green beans, I was a little offended -- that was almost 17 years ago!!!! I've been cooking for the man for 13 years!! And when asked what favorite dish he'd like on Thanksgiving, he picks ANOTHER WOMAN'S GREEN BEANS?!? I tried to warn him off of the dangerous path he'd taken -- I told him that I was sure Suzann's green beens were cooked in a pound of lard and a big chunk of fatback, but he was oblivious and said he didn't care. Hmmph.

The next day, I emailed Suzann and asked her for the recipe, which is quite simple, really. Fresh green beans, beef bouillon cube and some sugar, all boiled in water for 1 1/2 hours. Voila! Suzann's green beans. No lard. No fatback. Apparently I could have been making these for the past 13 years and making my husband happy on a weekly basis. Go figure.



I did have to buy these "fresh" green beans in bags because Publix didn't have any of the long, unwashed variety, but they cooked up just fine and complemented my bacon-wrapped turkey quite nicely.



A few days ago, my friend Ahlem told me about how her inlaws put bacon on their turkey at some point during the cooking process and the turkey turns out very moist. And she was right, by golly! All the fat from the bacon just soaks into the turkey and oh my lands you should taste it -- and the bacon from off the top of the turkey made a tasty little appetizer for me while I was carving up the turkey.

And though it took me 13 Thanksgivings (and two ovens) to accomplish it, everything you see (except the salad, of course) on the table below is hot. And fully cooked.



It's a Thanksgiving miracle.



Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Karate Kid

Casey had his first karate tournament this weekend. I wasn't even going to sign him up for the tournament because he's only been in karate for a couple of months, but some of the other parents convinced me that I should let him do the tournament because then he would be less nervous when he had to get tested at the end of the year for his belt. They then regaled me with stories of how their own children had gotten to their first tournament and panicked, refusing to leave the stands until the karate teacher came and dragged them out onto the floor weeping. Yikes -- we can't have that, I thought. So I signed him up.

So even though he was missing flag football to go to the tournament, he was excited about it. He had been practicing his three-step sparring in karate class for the last four weeks, but I don't think he really understood what the word "tournament" meant until we pulled up into the parking lot and he saw the other children he didn't know with their uniforms on. His eyes got wide and for the first time all morning, he stopped talking.

When we walked into the gymnasium there were probably 100 kids in there, plus instructors and older students helping out, and the kids were immediately ushered away from their parents to sit with their grouping by belt color. More than one kid buckled under the pressure at that point and started crying and holding onto their mom's leg, but Casey took his shoes off and went right out onto the floor.

They practiced for half an hour and then they competed against two other students in their group and were ranked first, second, and third (so everyone gets a medal). I will confess that while I was watching Casey compete against the two little girls in his group, I was praying, "Please not third, please not third, please not third." I felt awful the whole time I was praying that because if Casey didn't place third, it meant one of those sweet little girls would place third and I almost couldn't bear it for them.

But here is Casey's big moment -- he had to wait a looooong time before it was his turn and I was worried he would totally forget what he was doing, but he didn't and I was so proud:

video

He placed 2nd in his group of three -- he came very close to placing first (or I think he did anyway -- the judges held up three scoreboards and you had to add them up to get the total score, and well, you know how I am at math):


Look at all those smiling kids! You know why they're smiling -- it's cause they ALL got a medal! Competitions didn't work that way when I was young. When I went to gymnastics meets, we had 1st through 4th place awards and if there were 10 kids in your age group, 6 were going home without anything but the program. If everyone had gotten a medal at every meet, enrollment at the gym would have gone way up. Once tournament organizers realized that giving every kid an award meant more people signed their kids up for tournaments, they started making serious money. And as much as the "award for everyone" system waters down what true competition is all about and probably makes our country weaker, as a mom of a not-so-athletic kid, I'm on board now because the flipside is discouraged kids who quit competing altogether because they never win anything. And also, if Casey didn't win something I would cry. Really.

It's possible that I'm more proud of that silver medal than Casey is. I've been carrying it in my purse since the tournament looking for an opportune moment to let it casually fall out of my purse so someone else will notice it and I can say, "Oh dear, look at that, I've dropped my son's second place medal. . . what's that? . . . oh, he had a karate tournament this weekend and placed second in his group" -- I would leave out the part about there only being three people total in his group. Why clutter up a simple conversation with irrelevant information?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Two Weekends Ago

Here I am two weekends ago checking my glands on stage (I thought I was fighting a cold, but as it turns out, it was just a three week long allergy attack):



Our Coffeehouse Worship Team played a 45 minute set at The Rock Church's Block Party at an apartment complex. It was a pretty fun day that left us sunburnt and exhausted. Joe and I went to Casey's flag football game in the morning and then over to the Block Party. Dez spent the morning and the afternoon at the Block Party. By the time we all got to Coffeehouse that night, we were very red. Dez hurt for a few days, I think. But the tradeoff for her was getting to play Hokey Pokey (she says it was Red Rover, but I think that girl on the right is putting her left leg out, getting ready to shake it all about):



It was a great night at Coffeehouse that night -- 60 people showed up and we played lots and lots of music. Dez gave her testimony -- the whole night was just great.

The next day at church was Homecoming. In the weeks leading up to Homecoming, Dez and Winnie kept asking me "What is Homecoming?" I tried to explain to them that it's part anniversary of the church's founding and part reunion, but mostly it's an excuse for a lot of people to bring a lot of food and to share it with everyone. It's also a great excuse to get a southern gospel singing group to come in and lead worship on a Sunday morning. I didn't really know what to expect out of Royal City (they're the "Royal City" group from Auburndale, Florida if you want to look them up -- I tried to find a website for them to post here, but apparently "Royal City" is an extremely popular name for southern gospel groups -- I guess since "The Gaithers" was already taken, all the groups said, "Well, what the heck, let's just call ourselves "Royal City") -- but they were really really good. They had a guy who sang bass -- and he sang way way down beneath the bass clef staff -- no, really. We were just giggling in our pews we were so happy to hear that man sing so low! I'm pretty sure that back in the day of the cavemen, the man who could sing the lowest, not the one who caught the biggest woolly mammoth, got the girl. I can't explain that.



After the singing, we headed over to the fellowship hall for the food. Here are some pictures that Casey took with my camera (Casey is just like I was when I was little and we had "dinner on the grounds" at church -- I ate a piece of chicken and some mac and cheese and maybe a roll -- almost everything at a church dinner is mixed up food in a casserole -- there might be an onion or some other unpleasant texture in there, so I never risked it and Casey doesn't either, which explains why he finished eating the four spoonfuls of mac and cheese he had on his plate in 30 seconds flat and started playing with my camera):



A little blurry, but a nicely framed shot I think. Wait -- they get better -- he was just getting warmed up with this one.



Here's Grandma. Again, a nicely framed shot and it's in focus, not over or underexposed (as if I know what that means). But here's the best one:



Casey caught the moment before Mace abandoned the spoon altogether and started licking the chocolate off the plate. So sad when your six year old takes better pictures than you.

This time last year, I was filling you in on all the big Thanksgiving Day preparations. This year, I haven't even planned the menu yet, though there is a turkey in the freezer. We have two ovens in the house this year, so maybe I'll be able to get everything hot and to the table at the same time (cold whiskey-glazed carrots -- not so good). I'll let you know. Let me tell you what I won't be doing -- most of what I did last year. I'm sticking to mashed potatoes, turkey, gravy, green beans and sweet potatoes, plus whatever you're bringing with you.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Game Ball!

Look who got the game ball after his flag football game on Saturday! The Falcons won their game, 36 to 12, and the center (pictured below) performed admirably enough to earn the game ball. He was very excited. In his acceptance speech, he thanked the coach, his parents, the Flag4Kids Football League, and his teammates. He made a plea for world peace and was in the middle of a politically charged statement regarding riparian water rights when the music came on and he had to leave the field . . .



Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Flese

Now that the trauma is over and I've been through therapy, I can share with you what's been bugging (that's a pun even if you don't recognize it) me all summer and keeping me from blogging regularly. It was the fleas.

When I was young, we lived in south Georgia and we constantly battled fleas. Back then, they didn't have those treatments that you could give a dog that actually worked. You just had to keep bathing the dog and spraying and putting Sevin dust in the yard. Since we always had dogs, we also almost always had fleas on the dog, which meant we always had flea bites. And those little boogers loved me. I woke up many many mornings with a ring of fresh flea bites around my sock line. In the winter, we'd have just enough cold weather to make them go into hibernation (or whatever it is fleas do in the winter) until spring, but it was never cold enough to actually completely kill them.

When we moved to Florida eight years or so ago, I had not had to battle fleas for 20 years and was expecting to have to start again because we had three dogs and were moving into the most hot and humid area of the country -- heaven for fleas. But oddly enough, we didn't ever have a flea problem. If we ever thought we might be starting to have a flea problem, we put the dogs on Revolution and they were fine.

However, last year, I had to put the dogs on flea control for the first time in three or four years. Then two of the dogs died/disappeared and only Chance was left. Chance swims in the brackish creek pretty regularly (up until he nearly got eaten by the alligator), so he was okay over the winter. Well, spring hit this year and all of a sudden we had the flea infestation from Hades. So we put flea treatment on the dog, bombed the house (three times), gave the dog regular flea baths, sprayed everything in the house many many times, and treated our 1.5 acres with flea granules (twice and then twice with spray). Over the course of two or three months, we spent hundreds of dollars on flea control products, but poor little Mace and poor little me were waking up with fresh flea bites every morning. It was driving me crazy. Joe, Grandma and Casey weren't getting bitten (why is that?) so when I was at the point of ripping everyone's heads off, Joe started doing some research on the internet about flea control. There are lots of remedies people recommend out there that just plain don't work (trays of water under the beds, garlic in the dogs' food, etc.). We noticed that after we got the yard under control and Chance wasn't bringing fleas into the house, we still had fleas in the house even though we'd bombed the whole house several times. Since we don't have carpet in the house, we couldn't figure out where those little beasts were hiding until I realized they had to be in between the floorboards. So one of Joe's internet remedies was to sweep diatomaceous earth throughout the house so that it would get between the floorboards and under the baseboards and dry out the fleas and their eggs and larvae. We swept it in one Sunday morning all over the house. Two days later, all the fleas were gone. So the flea fix cost us about $4 worth out of a huge $20 box of diatomaceous earth and it didn't stink or poison the children. So your helpful tip of the day: skip the bug bombs and the expensive flea powder and the spray and buy some diatomaceous earth at the pool supply store.

I found out yesterday that I was not the only one traumatized by the Great Flea Infestation of 2009. Casey came home with some papers from school yesterday -- this one was included in a booklet of math problems the children created:


My suitability for parenting is already in question at this school, now what must they think?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Halloweekend(s)

Well it's taken me until Tuesday to recover enough from Halloween weekend to actually get a blog post up summarizing all the Halloween fun. Let me go back a little further, though, because Halloween for me really started the weekend before Halloween at WOBtoberfest (World of Beer's version of Oktoberfest -- don't worry, Mom, I don't actually frequent World of Beer, but Dez talked us into going -- she's a very bad influence on me and you should really have a talk with her about it the next time you're down). WOBtoberfest is held outdoors and there are really loud bands and really long lines for beer. I don't like beer so much, but Joe doesn't mind it at all, so right before we paid a stupid amount of money to go in, I put my driver's license and money in my pocket. I know you're thinking that this story doesn't really fall under the Halloween category because there are no costumes involved (unless you count the creepy guy taking his shirt off on stage), but it gets really spooooooky here in a minute because while I was at WOBtoberfest, I lost my driver's license. And that's what's spooky -- I did not have one drop of alcohol while I was at WOBtoberfest and I was the one who lost a driver's license. Very weird.

Then on Monday, I lost my cell phone. I don't lose things that often and really lose them -- you know what I mean. I lose my keys sometimes, but since my car is sitting in the driveway I at least have an idea that the keys are somewhere in the house, or the car, or laying on the driveway, or at the bottom of the flower pot on the porch that my son loves to dig in. So the keys are lost, but not really lost. But I really lost my cell phone. And it is difficult for me to survive without the phone. Without the driver's license I can just drive very very carefully, but without the phone, I can't read and respond to email while waiting in line at the bank and I can't text back and forth with Dez about the nut cases at her job. I was in a panic worrying about who might be reading my attorney-client-privileged email. It took me 24 hours to retrace my steps and figure out that I lost the phone at Target. So I called Target and had this conversation:

Me: Hi, I think I left my cell phone there, do you have it?

Target: Hold on, let me transfer you.

(holding)

Target: Can I help you?

Me: Yes, I think I left my cell phone there, do you have it?

Target: They transferred you to the bakery. Did you leave it in the bakery?

Me: No.

Target: Hold on, let me transfer you.

(holding)

Target: Can I help you?

Me: Yes, I think I left my cell phone there, do you have it?

Target: What kind of phone?

Me: Blackberry

Target: Did it have a cover on it?

Me: Yes, a black rubbery cover.

Target: Who's the service provider?

Me: Verizon

Target: Yes, we have it.

Me: Okay, I'll come get it.

10 minutes later I'm standing at the customer service counter at Target and three salespeople plus two managers and 15 minutes later, I am within arms' length of holding my phone again. The manager pulls out some sort of log and writes something down in it (while still holding my phone) and then looks up at me and says, "I need to see your driver's license."

Darn good thing I had my passport on me.

Which brings us up to the actual Halloween weekend. On Friday night at dinner, Grandma suggested we go to breakfast at IHOP the next morning. Either she didn't want to have to cook breakfast or she was craving those pumpkin pancakes. I myself was dying for the pumpkin pancakes, so it was a done deal and Joe had no say whatsoever in the matter. So Saturday morning we all got up bright and early (that's 6:30 for everyone but me -- I got up around 7:15 and only because I knew pumpkin pancakes were waiting for me), piled in the car and drove to IHOP. IHOP is hit or miss -- kind of like Denny's and Steak n' Shake -- if you go on the right day at the right time, you might get good service and decent food, but you should never count on it and always prepare yourself for the worst so that you can be pleasantly surprised. In this case, we managed to identify every flag on the glass above the benches (using my Blackberry's internet access) in the amount of time it took them to get us our food.

If you haven't been to IHOP in the last couple of weeks, you might not know that not only do they have pumpkin pancakes right now, they also have pecan pie pancakes, gingerbread pancakes, and eggnog pancakes. It was not an easy choice. I mean, I really really really wanted to try the eggnog pancakes, but I wasn't sure we'd even get back to IHOP before Christmas so that I could have the pumpkin pancakes later. We haven't been to IHOP in a year -- I didn't want to waste my one chance at pumpkin pancakes! Maybe because she's older and checking things off her bucket list, Grandma stepped on out there and had the pecan pie pancakes. I played it safe and stuck with the pumpkin. Joe (who I think was resenting the whole trip) had an omelot made out of wheat germ and eggwhites or something and then snuck Mace's bacon off his plate when he thought Mace wasn't looking. But Mace was looking and apparently he had come to IHOP for the bacon:


Mean old daddy, eating the little boy's bacon.

Saturday night, we did our Saturday night church thing and then raced over to Heidi's to go trick or treating with Heidi's kids. Look at these adorable children:


Kate was Minnie Mouse, Ben was Lightning McQueen, Mace was Wow Wow Wubbzy and Casey was a goth teenager. Just kidding, he was Batman without the mask -- but doesn't he look like a teenager in that picture? He's like a foot and a half taller than all those kids. He had revealed his true crime-fighting identity before we even left the driveway because it was 85 degrees.

Kate and Mace only actually walked to maybe three houses, then they were just chauffered:


When we got back to Heidi's, the kids stripped off the costumes and started running off their sugar highs. Mace and Ben went cruising for chicks in Ben's Mustang:


Note the boys' hand placement in that photo -- Mace is trying to take the wheel and Ben is messing with the radio. And they say women are terrible drivers!