Cookie Monster

Every year, as part of my fundraising efforts for the ACS, I bribe friends and family with a box of homemade cookies to make a donation.

The cookie-making process has gotten more involved and rigorous with each passing year. I make a cool dozen or more batches of cookies and candy. The selection is varied, and the cookies are bundled in separate treat bags and assembled in boxes.

Behold, the glory.

Behold, the glory.

Last year, I made an extra box for someone who wasn’t expecting it. “Next time I see him,” I thought, “I’ll bring him the box.”

Weeks went by. Months.

Then one night, in a fit of desperation and insomnia, I pulled the box out of the freezer.

“I’ll just have one of these bags. No one will know.”

One bag turned into three, turned into ten, turned into the whole box.

There, in the darkness of my living room, illuminated only by the flickering light of the television, I beheld the carnage. The casualties? Empty cellophane bags, a spray of crumbs, and some tissue paper.

I could throw away all of that and tuck the box away with my wrapping supplies. No one would know.

Except that the empty spot on the freezer shelf was sure to rat me out. Husband knew the box was there; he kept asking about it when we jockeyed for space in the freezer. “Who is this box for? When are you going to give it to him?” He would notice the box was gone, just as sure as he’d know that I hadn’t seen its intended recipient.

I stared at the box, gauging the space it left behind in the freezer. There really was no other recourse.

Carefully, I assembled all of the cookie waste—the bags and silvery ties, the tissue paper, the crumbs—all evidence of my misdeed, inside the box and closed the lid.

I stood up from the couch, flailing a little with my full cookie belly, and waddled to the kitchen. I opened the freezer door, took one last assessment of the items inside, and placed the empty box back on the shelf.

I don’t tell you this because I want to warn against the dangers of the late-night hunger munches.

I tell this story because it’s that time of year again, with fresh boxes of cookies in my freezer, and this empty box of shame wrappers was only evacuated three months ago.

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The Summer Barbecue

What I am about to say may release a mob bearing pitchforks and torches, tools that can excoriate heretics from the population and char up some meat. Nevertheless…

I hate barbecues.

Okay, I hate 95% of barbecues.

They are man’s answer to what makes a scorching hot day even better: fire. Plus, scorched meat. As a pale vegetarian whose favorite vacation involved glaciers and sleet, you can imagine how this thrills me. Somehow, the events attract a diverse cross-section of the population. For your convenience, I’ve assembled a field guide.

Population 1: The menfolk. Men tend fire. Every one of them is an expert, and half the barbecue will be spent arguing the finer points of fire-making. The other half will consist of them walking in and out of the house, trailing heat and smoke and bugs. Humans spent centuries perfecting doors as a means to keep these things outside the home, but no matter.

Conversation: Endless debates on charcoal placement, chimneys, or lighter fluid; explosions; things that can be set on fire or made to explode; sportsball (or, “dude, did you catch the game last night?”); and the tragically short film career of the great John Belushi.

Population 2: The womenfolk. Women are responsible for everything else. The majority of their time will be split between assembling salads, drinking wine, caring for tiny humans, and talking about child birth/child rearing/fluids that come out of said tiny humans.

Conversation: how to raise a tiny human to adulthood (I understand this is difficult and necessitates a support group of your peers); funny things the tiny humans say or do; the horrifying ordeal miracle of childbirth, in explicit detail; complaints about the menfolk; the price of a pound of beef.

Population 3: Tiny Humans. The children are responsible for “AAAHHHHH! Jimmy’s head is stuck in the laundry chute!” Their volume increases in direct relation to the number of children in their age-range also attending the event, an effect both staggering and exponential in nature. Remember what it was like to hear the thoughts in your head? Neither do I.

Conversation is disjointed and histrionic. In the course of five minutes you may hear: what they can do better than anyone else; what they can do better than you; “Look at this!”; noises that tiny butts make; smells that tiny butts make; and, “Did you see Jimmy’s head stuck in the laundry chute?!”

Perhaps it’s that I hate the outdoors, and therefore have no interest in sitting outside on a hot day, next to fire, debating which mind-numbing movie is funnier: Animal House or The Blues Brothers. Perhaps it’s that, even though I’m a woman, I can’t decide between puking or fainting over the casual conversations about wombs and vaginal tearing around a big bowl of pasta salad. Perhaps, after fifteen minutes trying to rediscover my childhood amongst the tiny humans, I remember that I’m glad to have left it behind.

As if this isn’t enough, a barbecue shines a large, blinking FREAK light over my vegetarian head. I’ve tried to mitigate the effect by sneaking faux meat onto the grill. You know the kind of over-processed, pre-packaged meat substitute I’m talking about. It’s not delicious and definitely doesn’t taste like meat (thank goodness), but my other option is to fill my plate with chips and mayonnaise salad. Sometimes I do this, then cut out of the party early to appease my hunger with a cheese sandwich on the way home.

Either way, everyone notices my meatless plate.

All attempts to fit in fail. Though I’m in a house or yard full of good people, I am uncomfortable and alone. Where are my people? You know the ones–those who want to talk quietly about a good book, who’d rather play a game of cards than turn on the game. I’ll tell you where they are; they’re inside, sitting around little plates of cheese and drinking wine in an air conditioned room, like civilized people.

Come to think of it, the 5% of barbecues that I find enjoyable involves these people.

At other barbecues, my inability to fit in casts me adrift, wandering from room to room. I can’t even eat to look busy and give my hands something to do.

Wait. This family has a dog. She’s not starting a fire–no opposable thumbs. And she’s almost certainly avoiding the tiny humans and their not-at-all gentle touch. Maybe she’s my people.

I’ll just be over there making friends.

‘Soup?

Whose idea was it to make soup out of cheese? For this person, I would like to start a church, sacrifice some virgin cows. What good would virgin cows be, otherwise? Everyone knows the first step on the road to cheese involves a knocked-up lady cow.
The pinnacle of this culinary breakthrough came to my house tonight, in the form of a cheddar and ale soup with crispy shallots. I found the original recipe in this cookbook from Williams-Sonoma. Soups are my favorite way to pack a bunch of nutrient-dense vegetables into a meal without having to go to all the work of chewing them.
This recipe is no exception, though the veg is balanced by approximately a metric ton of dairy. We start with some basic produce: potatoes, onion, celery, carrots, garlic, shallots.
All is fine and good until we consider my market, the premier purveyor of mutant produce. This market only stocks vegetables that could take down Tokyo, or one of its many distinct neighborhoods, at the very least. Only the largest, most robust produce will do.
For example, this carrot.
The runt of its litter
I’m pretty sure that, when the recipe calls for two carrots, it’s not thinking of this fellah. But I started with two gigantic carrots and one enormous onion. For some reason, though, I could only find baby yellow potatoes this week. Next to their 2-pound Russet brethren, all scale was lost. So, I brought home three baby potatoes instead of the two regular-sized ones the recipe demands. In the pot they went.

As more produce made its way to the stove, I realized that this thing had gone off the rails. A real shitshow of guesswork and compensation, the mass continued to grow and morph, like an illness. Or an alien pile of organic matter.The soup began to take over my stove. “Soon, it’s coming for YOU.”

Next, I added non-produce things. I had to round up the quantities for good measure. In order to maintain balance, I needed more more more. Two-thirds cup cream became one full cup. Twelve ounces of ale was promoted to sixteen.

I feared the soup was getting away from me.

Exhibit A:

What do you mean, I still have to add the cheese?

We’ll talk about those biscuits in the background later.

For now, let’s talk about the soup. The bite from the ale underlines the hot, cheesy, creamy nectar. This soup, if properly applied, could bring about world peace. I should submit it to the Nobel committee. Certainly they would like to open up a new category for food, which this soup would dominate.

Thanks to my oversized vegetation, I now have enough of this world-changing concoction to eat every night for a week and a half. I settled for freezing most of it in individual-sized containers, labeled GOD LOVES ME, Nov 2014.

For tonight, though, I poured some in a soup bowl, sprinkled with those crispy shallots, and sidled the whole thing up to to freshly baked buttermilk biscuits. It’s the very definition of comfort food, perfect for curling up on the couch and eating in front of an episode of the Gilmore Girls.

Dinner: It is served.

Dontcha wish your girlfriend made dinner like me? (Dontcha Baby, dontcha)

Hello Jewel, Is That You? It’s Me, Megan. (I Think.)

A strange thing happened tonight.

Overwhelmed with the desire for cake, I rushed to the grocery store. I hemmed and hawed, Which kind of cake do I want? What sounds good? I settled on chocolate with buttercream frosting, just enough to get me into trouble, but not so much that it would tower over my entire weekend.

I wandered through the store, picking up this and that, all needed in my kitchen. With my items acquired, I made my way to the registers to check out. Suddenly, I was overcome with a desire to not eat cake. My head and my stomach told me not to eat anything sweet, in fact.

At the register, I handed the cake over to the cashier. “I’m sorry; I changed my mind. Can you take this back?”

I know. It doesn’t sound like me, does it?

And now I’m hungry.

Gym Barbie

The day of our first boot camp, the original derby wife and I approach the training room at our YMCA. The metal door has a small square window placed at eye level, like the door of a padded room. One nervous look through the window shows us that it is, indeed, a padded room. The floor’s covered in 2-inch thick exercise mats. Weights and other devices of torture line the walls.

Despite our own self-protective instincts, we walk into the room to meet our instructor. We take great care to brief her on our special needs: Wifey has short bones and a hypermobile body; I broke my tailbone playing roller derby like a boss. She can’t do certain arm exercises; I’m allergic to lunges.

Class begins with a series of exercises; remarkably, we keep up. This isn’t so bad. I can do this. Then Instructor explains that this was our warm-up. Wait. This was just the warm-up? Should I be ready to go home already?

I’m looking longingly at my water bottle when Gym Barbie enters the room. Just as I’m wondering if it means anything that already I would trade State secrets for a drink, she breezes in without a care and joins us on the mats. I drink it all in; her skinny frame, her shiny hair, her skin-tight crop pants, her halter-style sports bra. Christ, the swoosh of her Nikes matches the graceful swoop of pink ribbon on her pants. She doesn’t even bother putting up her hair before jumping in.
Class continues; I flail my parts around roughly the same way Instructor demonstrated. My body pulses with pain and exhaustion. I hear grunting. Is someone whining? Wait, that’s all me. Gym Barbie isn’t grunting. Rather than dragging deep, erratic breaths in through her mouth like a dying mummy, she’s taking controlled breaths—in through the nose, out through the mouth. Her exhales are cute little bursts of air, almost a whistle.
We begin a new set of exercises with one-minute planks. I plant my palms on the mat and lift up onto my toes. In fascination, I watch as sweat rains off my face. My hands struggle to say in place; they squeak against the mat as my wet palms slide outward. I sneak a look at Gym Barbie; she looks like she could stay like this all day. Not only is she not pouring sweat all over the mat, but her hair is hanging around her head, dry as when she walked in the door.
Burn the witch.
Now Instructor wants us to do tricep dips. I wedge myself in front of a chair, palms on its seat, doing a sort of reverse pushup. I am no longer in control of the noises coming from my body. Gym Barbie is still breathing steadily. Finally, she emits a noise that hints at how hard we’re working. A tiny little grunt, followed by stacatto syllables timed perfectly with her little dips, “Woo! I…hun…ger…for…the pain!”
I can’t decide whether she represents what I hope to someday be, if her presence pushes me to perform better, or if she exists merely to taunt me with what I can never be. I do know one thing for sure.

I hate her.

Ghosts in the Bathroom

I was five years old when my mom sat my two older brothers and I down on my childhood bed. She fumbled with the words, not knowing how to begin. The telling was hard for her. Her father had died.
Died? What did that even mean? I looked to the other people on the bed for how I should react.
My mother was crying. My oldest brother looked unsurprised at the news, but terribly sad. My other brother was shocked and crying.
I felt like I should ask some questions, because I sure didn’t understand what was happening. Yet, this didn’t seem like the right time to raise my hand.
After a pause for the information to sink in, my mother continued. “You know, while this means you can’t see Granddaddy in person, he’ll always be there, watching over you.”
Always?
Puzzled, and still working out what had just happened, I walked out of the room with my brothers. I tried to feel sad like them, but I was too young to understand what it all meant.
I mulled over the words my mother said, but the more I thought about it, the less it made sense. If Granddaddy was watching over me, that meant that somehow, he was here with me. What about my brothers? My mom? My Grand Mother? He couldn’t be with all of us all the time, could he? Did this mean we all had to stay in the same place now?
What about the times when I didn’t want anyone watching? Would Granddaddy see everythingI did now? I would think about this when I lit my doll on fire playing with a lighter, when I snuck out of the house after being grounded, when I got caught hiding others’ belongings in my play kitchen. Was Granddaddy watching? I cringed to think he had seen me at my worst.
I thought about it most when we were at Grand Mother’s house.
After walking into the bathroom, as I closed the door, I would plead quietly, “Granddaddy, if you’re here, please don’t watch.”
Just in case.

Negotiations Are for Turkeys

I’m shoring up shopping plans for tomorrow. This, of course, means consulting a half dozen cookbooks and the Thanksgiving Spreadsheet. The following conversation with Husband ensues:

ME: We need to buy a turkey of 12 to 14 pounds.
HIM: What, now? I’m not wearing pants.
ME: No, tomorrow. When we’re at the store.
HIM: Hmm. Okay.
ME: Good.
HIM: Wait. I think we need a bigger turkey.
ME: No, we don’t. Remember last year?
HIM: No, it’s more than a week ago.
ME: Last year, you picked out the biggest turkey they had. Kitchen disaster ensued. And we had waaaay too much turkey.
HIM: No such thing.
ME: Yes. You even admitted as much.
HIM: That doesn’t sound like me.
ME: I don’t know what to tell you.
HIM: Shouldn’t we do some math, figure out how many pounds of turkey per person?
ME: Who’s eating POUNDS of turkey?
HIM: Me, easy.
ME: Listen, it’s like four people who will actually eat turkey, and you’re one of them. I think 14 pounds of turkey will suffice.
HIM: I don’t know…
ME: Pal, this is not a negotiation. We are getting a turkey of 12 to 14 pounds.
HIM: 14 pounds, then!

Dinner Time

The door closes; my fleeting view of the hallway narrows to a sliver, then it’s gone. I can still smell the neighbors in my nose.
I heave a sigh and turn away. There are things to do.
I patrol the grounds: kitchen, living room, den, bedroom, living room. I stand sentinel at the living room window. (There’s a bird!) I start my rotation again. My nails (too long, now; someone should really do something about that), tap a soft staccato rhythm into the hardwood floors.
I stop to sniff a scarf carelessly left on a chair. I prod it with my nose and take in the intoxicating layers of smell: the factory where it was made, the store where it was sold, the house of the person who gave it as a gift, and finally of the owner. Her scent I know well. But a new smell lies on top of them all—one of my own kind, but no one I recognize. I inhale one last, deep sniff of the scarf, and then turn away and shake it off. What a great shake, all the way from my nose to my tail!
Moving on…Something interesting happened on the floor over here. What is that? Sweet potato? Pumpkin? Tentatively, I touch my tongue lightly to the spot. Sometimes I smell better with my tongue.
Nope. Still not sure. Must be something new. I take a little longer taste and decide I like it.
What a full morning! I find my bed, pat it down just right, and curl up in a ball; it’s cold, after all. I drift off to sleep, pondering the new smell on the floor.
I wake up with a giant yawn and take a big stretch I can feel in my toes and tail. Time for patrol; maybe something’s changed.
I make another go of the floor, the scarf. The bird has moved on from the window, but I stand guard a few minutes longer in case he comes back. This is how my day passes, patrolling the rooms of our home, checking on the neighborhood, keeping the family safe.
I’m napping when the door opens; someone’s home! I jump up (no stretch this time) and run to the door. In the quiet monotony of my morning and afternoon, the promise of family coming home makes every muscle in my body zing with joy.
Let me tell you about my day! Did you know there was a bird? And that scarf! Where has it been?
You set down all these things you carry and I watch patiently. You start wandering through the house, patrolling the grounds. No need, chief. I’ve got this. We’re all clear.
Now you’re doing that thing with food in the kitchen. It’s my favorite part of the day. Almost. I love watching you working. I especially love when you’re not so good at it and a little something drops on the floor. Floor nibbles are the best kind.
Speaking of nibbles… Oh no, you’re right. You better eat first. I’ve just been protecting the home all day, but whatever. I sit patiently and wait. You eat your dinner off the fancy plate. I only look back at you a few times, to make sure you’re still there. Be cool. Beeee cooool.
You stand up and start walking from room to room, picking up this, putting down that. Your movements are erratic and nonsensical; you don’t smell anything. Still, I follow closely at your heels. Don’t forget about me!
Finally, my patience pays off. You look down at me with all the love in your eyes, a smile quirked on your lips. You ask the question you already know the answer to. “Are you hungry?”
Yes, yes, yesyes, yesyesyesYesYesYesYESYESYES!!! Every cell in my body dances; I can’t decide between my Let’s Play stance and my Front Paw Half-Jump. So, I alternate between the two. You walk toward the Magic Closet, and I start to prance in place. It’s time. It’s happening.
Every moment since the final click of the door shutting on me this morning has led to this: one level cup of dry kibble. I wait off to the side as you pour it in my bowl: chinkedy chinky chink. Let’s Play Stance. Front Paw Half-Jump. Prance prance prance.
As a young one, I inhaled my food. Now, with the wisdom of age, I appreciate these finer moments in life. I savor the food, actually chewing every fifth piece. Funny how the food never changes, but never fails to delight.
Too soon, I’ve eaten the last bit of kibble (but left the half-pill you tried to sneak to me on the floor, thank you very much). I take a quick drink of water, fresh how I like it, and lick my lips. I pad out to find you and put my head on your lap. I thank you with my eyes, pouring love and gratitude from my heart straight to yours. My tail wags and I wait until you acknowledge my thanks with a pat on the head. Satisfied, I turn around and walk away, leaving a puddle of drool and my love on your lap.

Impossible Client

I have written the name of your project on a slip of paper

and lit it on fire,
watched the flames as they caught hold,
seeking out, caressing
virgin white paper.
The flames left a trail in their wake;
transfixed, my eyes glued to its advance—
velvety grey shadows meeting
passionate red sparks and brilliant orange light.
All that remains, a pile of ashes in my hand.
I whisper your name and offer them up to the wind,
As sacrifice.
As tribute.
As plea.
The wind carries away your remnants,
scattering to all corners.
Nothing left now,

but smoke.

Jam On It: How to Make Jam


Apple season means jam season in our house. As I share my jamventures with others, I hear over and over how intimidating jamming seems. It’s a simple process, really. To demystify it, I offer a primer.

1. Get to work peeling some fruit. Husband walks in the door. Use him to test market your clever “Jam On It” catch phrase.

Crickets.
Keep peeling…

Husband walks past you to the den. Shortly thereafter, you hear the dulcet tones of Bob Marley coming from the other room.

“Very funny!” you yell out. But really, you have jam to make.

2. Good. Peeling’s done! Now chop all the fruit.
Now Husband is playing Michael Jackson? You suspect something is amiss. Seriously, though. Keep chopping.

3.  Finally! Fruit in a pot! You’ve been making jam for almost an hour and this is as far as you’ve gotten? Never mind. Boil that fruit. Boooiiil it…

Husband plays Christina Aguilera. You find yourself singing along, “getcha getcha ya-yas heeeere,” and wonder what the hell that has to do with jam.

4. Meanwhile, the recipe seems to think you should zest a lemon. No problem. Wait. Seriously? The white part too?

“REAL LADY MARMALAAAAAADE.” Ah.

Now the recipe wants you to chop the fleshy bits of lemon. No parts left behind, I guess. Avoid getting the food processor down at all costs. Maybe your mad knife skills will chop up that lemon pulp nice and fine.

NOPE. Lemon flesh is too fickle. Fine. Use a food processor, but only because you have a baby one.
Use every burner, now.

5. All that boiled fruit is now soft. Your face is shiny and your hair has frizzed beyond all hope, but no matter. Add sugar. More sugar. More…that oughta do it.

6. Go ahead and add the rest of that other stuff and bring the whole thing back to a boil. The recipe says to simmer for half an hour, then it should be ready to set. So, set a timer. Watch an episode of Gilmore Girls (Hurray Netflix!) while you wait. “Where you lead, I will follow…”

Half an hour later. Jam’s not ready yet. Perhaps another ten minutes? (Come on, Rory: Dean or Jess. Just choose one. Sure, we’ve all seen this before, but enough already.)

Still not set. Maybe another ten minutes?
Twenty minutes now?

It’s been two Gilmore Girls. The recipe is a liar. I declare perjury. Libel? Anyway. LIARS.

7. FINALLY. Jam is ready to can. Pour jam into jars. Use your fancy canning funnel, ‘cause that shit changed your fucking life.

8. Boil the jars. Remove to counter and savor the satisfying pop-pop-pop-pop-pop of the lids sealing shut. This is the sound of success.

Sure, you line up the jam in parallel lines. How else would you do it?

9. Look around you. You have laid waste to the kitchen. Somehow, you used every fucking dish in the house. Every surface is sticky, including, holy fuck, the floor. What have you done?

All in the name of apples.