Friday, November 20, 2009

The burnt ones are yummy

UPDATE:  Prior to this post, where I announced that my love/hate affair with baking was over, I had promised my children that we would bake and decorate some Christmas cookies.  Today was the day for keeping that promise.  I snapped these pictures of the aftermath.  We have here a stocking, a star, a candy cane, and a Christmas tree.  At least those were their shapes going INTO the oven. 

Pray for my poor children.  Now read on...

"Dinner will be served when the smoke alarm goes off."
That was the mildly humorous phrase displayed on a refrigerator magnet given to me as a “gift” years ago by my mildly humorous parents. I think I was somewhere in my twenties at that time. You’d think twenty-something would be a bit young to have already established yourself as the Human Torch of cooking, but no. I began burning food in my early teens, I think. Then the microwave came along and made charring that much more convenient. I could scorch twice the food in a quarter of the time! Revolutionary! By the way, if you’re crunching numbers in your head trying to figure out how old I must be to actually remember the microwave coming along, stop it. Now. I mean it.

The approaching holiday season means cooking is on my mind. While I love this time of year, it always tends to make me feel a bit apprehensive. From Thanksgiving to Christmas, people expect you to cook stuff…a lot of stuff. More specifically, people expect you to BAKE a lot of stuff. Even MORE specifically, they expect your creations to be edible. This is where I typically run into problems.

My culinary shortcomings don’t stem from my inability to read and understand recipes. They don’t even stem from the fact that most days I’d rather run a full marathon—in Yuma—in August—while wearing black thermals—than prepare food. My cooking delinquency can be directly attributed to two distinct character flaws (which, by the way, are mostly not my fault): impatience and short attention span.

When done correctly—emphasis on correctly—baking involves a decent amount of measuring, which means digging around for a lot of spoons and cups and sifters and, oh yeah, spoons. By the time I’ve measured out a half a teaspoon of vanilla and a tablespoon of Ajax and sifted out 1-1/4 cups of flour and mixed the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet ingredients in another, my dishwasher is pretty much full. Not to mention all that going back and forth to my cupboards and cabinets to find spoons and cups—it’s tiring and oh so time consuming!

Somewhere along the way, I watched a little too much Rachael Ray. She likes to “eyeball” her measurements. The first time I watched her show and heard her use that term, I knew I was on to something. Eyeballing is genius! Turns out, though, the eyeballing method is one of those things you should leave to the experts. Just ask my kids when they’re choking down yet another batch of my super duper extra crunchy chocolate chip cookies, made with lots of love and oodles of eyeballing.

Combine all my lack of patience with an inability to stay focused on the task at hand, and it’s trouble in the kitchen for sure. I am VERY easily sidetracked. Always have been. I can spend an hour preparing a casserole for dinner, place it lovingly in the oven, and as soon as the phone rings or someone needs me to drive them somewhere…poof! Casserole forgotten. An hour of preparation and it’s like it never existed. Until, that is, the smoke alarm goes off (reference opening quote) and all the children are asking why the house smells like burnt feet.

I'm even worse with cookies.  My mom always burned the last batch (sorry, mom).  I burn them all.  I'm pretty sure my kids would break into song if they never again had to hear me utter the words, "The burnt ones are kind of yummy."

You think I’m kidding, or maybe exaggerating, but I’m not. There is, after all, the time I nearly took out my kitchen…and my family…with a little grease fire. I had a craving for
tacos, so I put some grease on the stove to heat up. Nothing wrong with that, unless you suffer from a severe case of CADD (Culinary Attention Deficit Disorder) and you leave the room to start another project. The next thing I remember was being tapped on the shoulder, turning around, and seeing the sweet, frightened face of a tiny little blonde child. “Um, mommy, there’s a fire.” This was followed by panic, billowing smoke, hiding in the closet and crying (the child, not me), charred cabinets, and ultimately a nicely remodeled kitchen courtesy of our insurance company. Thanks a ton, AmFam!  Unfortunately, my insurance claim didn't include a big fat check to cover the therapy my kids would need after the fact.  Every time I'd go into the kitchen for months to follow, my little girls would ask, "Mommy, you're not going to cook, are you?" 

Sadly, I'm still not exaggerating. 

So, while I know the holidays are all about homemade goodness, I’m afraid I’m just not cut out for all this measuring and paying attention nonsense. After thirty some-odd years, it’s time to own my lack of talent and desire in this area. I’m giving up on baking. I think I’ll go tell my kids right now.

I wonder which song they'll sing.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Feeding Frenzy

Today I got the chance to flex my social muscles--the grown-up ones. Those are different than the kind you use at your kids’ birthday parties or at play dates. I got to carry on conversations about things like jobs and paychecks and ex-husbands and the weather. I even managed to garner a few laughs with my sarcastic grown-up remarks, the kind that usually draw blank stares from my kids followed by, “Mommy, my science project was due yesterday.”

I had lunch with a whole bunch of other single people, a group that was formed for the sole purpose of having lunch together every Thursday. I like the concept, though I’m not sure it can work like they say it’s supposed to. No pressure. No romantic expectations (yeah, right). No scrambling for a sitter on a Friday night; just plain old platonic, loveless lunch.

I’ve resisted joining up with one of these groups for some time now. I can’t quite put my finger on the reason for it. It might be that I expect a feeding frenzy to break out at any minute when a bunch of supposedly celibate single people are thrown into a room together. We all ultimately want the same thing: companionship. It’s a little awkward thinking about who’s got their eye on whom, and how many are scoping out the group for their next romantic conquest. It’s labeled as a “just lunch with no love connection pressure” kinda thing, but everyone there knows why everyone there is there. Yes, I really did just write that.

So today I gave in. I wanted to see what this singles lunch thing was all about. I’ll be the first to admit I’m glad I went. I can honestly say I met people that I’d like to know better. Take the cute little single mom who sat next to me. We’ll call her Natalie (because that’s her name). When my BLT salad arrived with no B, and I was too gutless to go track down somebody and make them correct this horrific situation, who do ya think had huevos (huevos, eggs, bacon…get it?) enough to go to bat for me and my pathetic little meatless bed of greens? It was none other than my new BFF, little miss Natalie, who stormed the kitchen and demanded I get my B…and pronto. Shortly thereafter, I was informed that they were sorta out of B and my meal would be F. That’s “free.”   Pretty much takes the steam out of miss Natalie's heroic gesture, but I was grateful for her efforts nonetheless.

To sum up, singles lunches are good. I might even do it again. Next time, though, to save Natalie from having to open her can of you-know-what all over the poor kitchen staff, I may just BMOB.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

You win some, you win some.

I’ve decided that fun doesn’t exactly bring out the best in kids.

Gone are the days when you went to a birthday party, played a game, and got a prize *IF* you actually won the game. In the 21st century, children expect a reward simply for taking up space. Far be it from me to minimize the effort that’s required to breathe in and out, but does your mere existence really warrant an award of some sort? I don’t think so.

I allowed my nine year old daughter to have a Halloween party at our house this past week. Part of my preparation for this party was to come up with some games to keep the little goblins entertained. I made a trip to the store to stock up on some small prizes to give to the WINNERS of said games. As I was adding up in my head the number of prizes I would need, there was a little voice nagging at me. “You had better get enough prizes for all the guests. They’re going to expect that, you know.”

The mean mom in me had other ideas.

The mean mom in me thinks that we’ve turned our kids into a bunch of gooey little marshmallows, if you must know the truth. When I say “we,” I guess I’m not exactly sure to whom it is I’m referring. Perhaps it’s the fault of us parents. We understandably want our kids to be happy and comfortable and to never have to deal with disappointment or loss, in whatever form it may come. So we shelter them from those things. The problem with that, unfortunately, is that those things are the stuff of which reality is made.

Perhaps it comes down to influences outside the home. Take school, for example. When my daughter competed in the school spelling bee earlier this year (and won, thank you very much), I fully expected the principal to bring out a box of trophies—one for every single kid who had competed. She was falling all over herself trying to console the ones who were in tears for not having come out the winner. If that had been ME as a kid (and it was, more times than I care to admit), my mom would have marched me over to the corner, told me I did a good job, then whacked me across the top of the head and told me to suck it up and get over it. Now there’s some reality. Why aren’t more parents and adults teaching children how to lose? Note: I’m not suggesting that anyone run out and whack their poor-sport kids across the heads (sometimes a swift kick in the backside does the trick just as well).

Let’s get raw for a moment. Isn’t the world mainly made up of a bunch of losers? No matter what the contest, whether it’s a spelling bee or bobbing for apples or running for president, there is always just the one winner. Everyone else falls just a little short in the end. And that’s okay. I for one am quite glad that, when it comes time to pick a president, we don’t have a system (at least not currently) in place which allows everyone who “played” to get the prize just so nobody feels bad. It’s a ridiculous notion. Yet we are teaching our kids that this is how the world works. “You don’t need to work hard. There’s no need to excel. You’ll eventually end up with the same prize as that other kid who worked and studied and prepared his guts out and EARNED that blue ribbon.” Maybe we need a little less of that and a little more, “Sometimes you won’t get invited to the neighbor kid’s birthday bash. Sometimes you’ll come in dead last and barely get a pat on the back for your efforts. Sometimes you’ll work and slave and do your best and still someone else will do a little bit better. Sometimes you’ll go to a party and play games and come home with nothing but cavities and a sugar buzz from all the cake and ice cream you ate.”

So, to the parents of the sweet kids who came to my Halloween party, I apologize for the fact that everyone didn’t end up with a prize. In my defense, though, it wasn’t entirely my fault. The mean mom made me do it.