One brave little peeper fighting the good fight…

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Mornin’ all.

Guess what we have?

PEEPERS!!!

…actually, let me clarify. We have a peeper. One singular, lonely little peeper outside going, “Guys? Guys? Hello? Anyone? Guys? Guys? No one? Shit.”

Hang in there, little peeper dude. By tonight you’ll have friends.

SO warm out yesterday! Today is supposed to be the same. Then…well, then we aren’t going to talk about the weekend forecast. We’re just going to enjoy the warm couple days and hope little peeper dude has a sweater. He’s gonna need it.

We grilled last night. Ribs. And in spite of it being a Monday, many of our neighbors did the same. It was almost like a summer night.

Almost.

In the summer, we’ve got enough warm nights for the local folks to wait for a weekend when they can turn their backyard BBQ into one long Friday and Saturday hootenanny. We didn’t get the drunken shouting or fireworks. The “classic rock” end of the street did not try to drown out the “country” side, which is good because our house is smack dab in the DMZ (de-musicized zone) (stop groaning. You know what you signed up for when you opened this blog. Take your lumps.). It was a warm Monday night, and everyone was just happy to char their meat while their kiddies played tag. It was almost peaceful.

Almost.

See, while the people behaved themselves, there was an animal war going on, one that I don’t think many city dwellers would understand. Peepers and BBQing locals aren’t the only sounds of warm weather. Around here, you’ve also got the pets that have spent the winter cooped up inside.

“Bethie, we’ve all heard dogs barking at each other.”

Yes. But have you ever heard how a dog’s barking sets off a rooster, who then irritates a duck?

We’ve got many families around us that keep chickens. In the winter, small chickens wouldn’t do so well under two feet of snow, so they’re either kept inside or folks use them and wait to buy more chickens until it’s warm enough to put them outdoors.

“What do they do with last year’s chickens?”

…really? I mean, I know you’re a city slicker and all, but even city slickers have KFC.

But, like I said, not all. Some folks do bring their chickens in for the winter, though those are more like pets and show chickens.

“….show chickens? Now I know you’re screwing with me.”

Google it. You’ll find yourself looking at some fancy ass chickens.

…did you Google? Apology accepted.

Now, there’s a neighbor who keeps chickens and ducks. They live up on the hill behind our house, so we’re in an audio bowl, if you will. We can hear everything coming off that hill as if it’s happening right next to us.

Their neighbor has a dog. It’s a big dog with a deep voice. The baritone doggie does not like the off-key rooster. The off-key rooster doesn’t give a shit. And the duck? Hell, I think he was just like, “Oooh! We’re shouting now? I’M IN.”

It went something like this:

Cockadoodle doo!”

BARK BARK WOOF.”

Quack?”

COCKADOODLE DOOOOO!!!”

BARKWOOFBARKBARKWOOF.”

Quack! Quack quack?!

*moment of silence*

…peep…”

Ah, the sounds of almost summer in my little hamlet. They never seem to change. I was raised here, not half a mile from where I live now. My grandparents lived up on that street on the hill behind my current house. These sounds are familiar, comforting…nostalgic.

Hey, remember ambrosia salad?

Warm nights around the grill always remind me of my Grammie R’s house when I was a child, when we’d have family cookouts, though we never called them cookouts when they happened at Grammie’s. I have no idea why. Maybe because they were more than that.

When you picture a cookout, you picture a come-as-you-are, relaxed hang out. My grammie wasn’t formal, she was just very “50’s housewife.” She’d have these great parties, and food would be cooked out on the grill. But she was always dressed, her hair done up, the house immaculate. It was structured chaos, where a cookout is just whatever happens.

I’m not saying the structure in any way diminished the good time. Boy, were those nights fun! They’d get louder and louder as the beers and cocktails flowed, and we’d dart in and out of the happy adults, even happier to be able to have fun with the other kids while the grown ups were distracted. And yes, these parties would have us running in the yard catching fireflies at some point like a goddamn Norman Rockwell painting. I said they were very classic American cookouts, and I wasn’t kidding.

And the food. THE FOOD. My gram was an amazing cook. She always put on a spread that was over the top, and yet, just right. And all of it was 50’s and 60’s party foods. Little meatballs on toothpicks, cream cheese stuffed celery, chips and dips, crackers and a cheese ball, the kind that’s covered in chopped nuts and is an unnatural red and orange belly bomb. Mmm. Salads. The salads! Regular tossed salad, of course, but also potato salad, jello-salad, pistachio salad, ambrosia…

The main course would be meat, chicken or steaks, that Grandpa would fuss over at the grill pit he built into their stone wall while the rest of the guys would mosey on over and give their unwanted input. I don’t remember ever eating a hot dog or a hamburger at one of their parties. If it was chicken, it got a good soak in Italian dressing before it hit the heat. If it was steak, it got a luxurious teriyaki marinade that was so good it is one of our Family Recipes.

Potatoes with sour cream. All the accouterments any classic housewife would have on the table, too. Pickles, in several varieties. Olives, green, of course, since they have the cute little pimento stuffing… There was no half-assing it with Grammie. When it came to food, it had to be done right. And in her mind, every party would be a raging success if the food was on point.

She wasn’t wrong.

Good food = good times.

“Uh, Bethie? You do realize that’s not the healthiest attitude about food.”

No. Don’t do that. Don’t you psychoanalyze my nostalgic trip brought on by warm weather, the sounds of the neighborhood I grew up in, and the fighting spirit of the lone peeper. Don’t you dare.

EVERY CULTURE EVER has epic food tied to their major celebrations. You want a good time? Feed people, throw on some music, and let the booze flow. While maybe it’s not the absolute healthiest attitude about food, it’s not the worst, is it? The worst has to be the comfort a quart of ice cream brings you when you eat it alone in a dark room while watching tv because you feel like a fat piece of shit so fuck it why not.

Gah. We got off track.

There is a trend right now to bring back those classic foods, and I’m all for it.

I want ambrosia salad.

All those foods, actually. Wouldn’t it be fun? I want to have fruit magically suspended in Jello. I want my kids to know the simple beauty of stuffed celery, and I even want them to experience the disappointingly fake taste of those cheese balls. I want them to romp around the back yard while steaks and chicken are tended by folks arguing about “one flip or two”, while a couple old ladies sit in lawn chairs drinking cocktails and being sassy.

And I want to do it right along with them.

The classic 50’s housewife trope sucks in almost every way. But they nailed the food. You gotta give ’em that. They nailed a summer evening with the ones they loved. I want to do that this summer.

I think I’ll skip the curlers and the shell of Aqua Net, though. Wouldn’t want to put on airs.

Thus concludes a Nostalgic Musing for Tuesday, April 11, 2017.

Grammie’s teriyaki Marinade:

½ cup veg oil (original recipe is corn oil, I believe, but I use canola. Don’t use olive, as it’ll impart a flavor you don’t want)

½ cup soy sauce

1/3 cup packed DARK brown sugar

½ tsp black pepper

½ tsp powdered ginger

½ tsp garlic powder

¼ tsp ground mustard

½ tsp secret ingredient

Pour over steaks that have been beaten or poked. (Yes, I know that it’s not food safety standards to poke the steaks. But I always poke ’em. What can I say. I live life on the edge. It’s up to you whether or not you want to walk the tightrope without a net like me.) Marinate in the fridge all day, flipping them around every couple hours. Cook steak on grill, pour marinade into small saucepan. Boil the marinade for 2 minutes to kill any bacteria and thicken, then pour over your baked potato. Trust me. Your mouth will be happy. But, once again, cook that shit. DO NOT use the marinade raw after meat has been soaking in it all day!

…and if you think I’m sharing the secret ingredient, you’re dreaming! It’s a family recipe. Duh. But, this will be a good base. Try different things and make it your own.

I was legit gobbled at by a customer yesterday. An adult customer.

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Mornin’ all.

Guess what I’ve got thawing in the bathtub?

Now, if you guessed, “Medical cadaver,” then you’ve got some issues, my friend, and you need help.

It is, of course, a turkey. Just about done, too, thankfully. I just poked at it and it feels chilly but squishy. No doubt I’ll be chipping the damn giblet glacier out of the cavity to break the birdie down, but I think the meat is thawed. There was more than a fair chance it wouldn’t have been, and things would have gotten very interesting around Le Kitchen du Bethie this morning.

See, I went and bought a 28.3 lb turkey.

For six people.

“Bethie, why??”

I DON’T KNOW!!

I don’t really know, okay? I went to buy the turkey, and when I was standing at the coffin case…

*sidenote: to those who may not know, a refrigerated rolling display case, the kind that’s just a chilly box a grocery store stacks perishable items inside, is referred to as a coffin case. So I suppose, in a way, that IS a cadaver in my tub. Hm. I’m sorry about my earlier questioning of your mental processes. You were simply thinking ahead in the story. My bad.*

…looking at all the turkeys in 57¢/lb Land, doing the mental math to try and figure out how much I needed… Start at like 10 lbs, then add a half pound raw for every guest. I mean, I only needed like a 13-15 pounder. But folks, I was looking at those 13-15 pounders and they looked so small.

I have expounded in great length with lots of flowery eloquence waxing upon the Thanksgivings of my youth in previous Musings. They’re archived if you want to read about grandpas that encouraged tomfoolery and cousins that inspired diabolical snack-stealing plans. They were magical days and I hold them very dear. I also miss them terribly.

I’m in that place in life right now where my kids are growing, but not quite grown, where my adult sibs have moved to different parts of the country, where the older generation by and large have released their molecules back to the cosmos. It’s kind of a lonely era for holidays.

It won’t always be like that. Life is a cycle, the swing of a pendulum. In a few years, my kids will start having real lives, significant others, spouses, children. One by one I’ll have to set another place at the table and scramble to find another chair that doesn’t have a warped leg. And before I know it, it will be MY responsibility to run around the kitchen like a chicken with her head cut off at 4 a.m. scrambling to cram seasoned bread in the culinary cadaver because 13 guests will be arriving in only 7 hours and god DAMN I shouldn’t have had that wine last night…

My time for being the Thanksgiving ring leader will come, and my table WILL be full.

Maybe I was thinking, “Best not let ourselves get rusty, old gal,” when I was choosing my turkey. Maybe I was remembering the crowning jewel at my grandmother’s Thanksgiving table. Maybe I just didn’t want to come at this Thanksgiving with some Bob Cratchit scrawny ass pigeon. I don’t know. But as I stood there looking between a reasonable amount of food and the glorious 28.3 pound Leviathan, the choice became clear.

That leads me to a problem I should have considered before buying the giant: I can’t roast it.

Remember the epic Electrical Apocalypse of ’16? The harbinger of the shitstorm of a year to come that fried our stone age circuit box? Well, along with the computer and dryer, another casualty of the huge surge was the heating element of my oven. I didn’t want to fix it in winter, because it’s cold and I didn’t think it was a good idea to muck with gas lines in the cold, brittle weather. In spring, I started to look for the part. It quickly became apparent that it was not going to be an easy task, since the oven we have is no longer produced and there are mixed opinions on whether or not a universal part will even fit. I figured, “Eh, it’s only spring. I’ve got all summer.”

Stop laughing at me. It’s not very nice.

As we all learned with the story of the grasshopper, I done goofed. Here it is, November and chilly again, and I am looking at the same job I avoided in January.

So I’ve got no oven. I had a moment of regret as I was hoisting my turkey into the car, and I side-eyed the enormous bird in the passenger’s seat most of the way home. It wasn’t until I was watching Teen 2.0 lug the thing in that I actually came up with a game plan

game plan? Get it? Cuz it’s a turkey. *Thanksgiving pun fist bump*

I’m going to take the meat off the bone, grind up half of it to freeze, stuff and roll the other breast and thigh, and do them on the stove top, dutch oven style. I may even finish them off on the grill, if the weather cooperates.

Top tip: One bad idea can lead to several good ones if you’re a pro at working around your own poor impulse control.

I have today off. Some in the bakery do not. I don’t know if it’ll be busy today or dead in the store. I’m guessing the only customers they’ll have are the last minute panickers, because to me it seemed that every single man, woman, and child in the metropolitan area bought a pie yesterday.

The other bakery employees warned me. It’s the first major bakery-heavy holiday I’ve worked in the bakery, and my manager warned me it would be a zoo. She said, “Last year, we were handing out hot pumpkin pies right out of the oven because we could not keep up with demand.” It was one of those statements I thought was seasonal hyperbole.

No. As a first hand witness to the hundreds of pies being placed in carts and baskets, I can say without a doubt my boss wasn’t overstating the facts.

Pies. Pies and pies. If you lined up every pie we sold yesterday end to end it would stretch…well, pretty damn far, I’m guessing. Shit. I didn’t do out the math. It would be impressive, though, I promise you that. And really weird to see all those pies lined up.

Apple, in two sizes. Lattice apple. Mile high apple. Apple berry. Mixed berry, which is NOT the same as “very” berry. Blueberry, strawberry, raspberry, cherry. We had pumpkin, in two sizes, sweet potato, peach, mince…OH the mince. We broke many hearts over the past few days having mince be an available pie, but having them sold out as soon as they hit the floor. “Come back in about two hours and you can have a fresh one.”

“BUT I WANT IT NOW.”

Cream pies. Coconut custard pies, but not plain custard because it’s not 1842 and no one eats that bullshit except one very sad man who could not accept that we do not offer just plain custard pies. Pumpkin praline, pecan…

No matter how many pies we had, someone was always disappointed. I get it. On Thanksgiving, you don’t eat food. You eat nostalgia. You crave a taste of the foods your mother made you eat out of politeness because of everything that awful creamed squash represented. You want a whole wheat roll, not because you actually like them, but because your great Grammie used to make them hard enough to crack a plate if you didn’t set it down carefully and to this day they make you think of the inside jokes with your sisters. You buy olives to stick them on your fingers because you used to have a contest to see how long it would take your Mum to notice and hiss “You girls stop that and behave!” You serve mashed potatoes not because anyone actually wants mashed potatoes, but to use the scoop like a pool for gravy like your uncle pointed out when he confessed quietly that he didn’t want to eat his spuds, either.

You eat nostalgia. And you will go from store to store to find just the right item to satisfy that bittersweet craving. I felt very bad for every customer I had to disappoint.

We had a couple customers that tried my patience. There was a lady who tried to take another customer’s order yesterday. She straight up tried to pick up an order she didn’t place. First time this has ever happened to me. The woman came up to the counter and said, “Hi. I’ve got an order for a chocolate cream pie.”

I sold 7 chocolate cream pies in 2 hours yesterday. They are a hot commodity. To give you an idea of our normal volume, I probably sell one or two of them a WEEK. It is just a high demand item, and even though we made up three times as many as we normally would have, they were all sold out except for one I had set aside for a customer.

I asked the woman’s name. She gave me a different name than was on the order. I said, “I’m sorry, I don’t have an order for you. When did you place it?”

She said, “I’m sure that’s mine. I was standing right here when the lady took the order.” When I reiterated that I didn’t have an order and asked when it was placed to see if there was a legit screw up afoot, she said, “You! That was it. I was in talking to you last night about it. You promised to set one aside for me. I’ll take the one you have.”

Now, this was straight up bullshit. That lady didn’t talk to me. In fact, that lady probably didn’t even come into the store. The order in my hand had been placed days in advance over the phone, and I wasn’t even at work when this hag said she was in.

But, I can’t just scream, “OUT YOU FILTHY LIAR!” Apparently it’s against company policy. *rolly eyes* Such PC bullshit. Unable to speak the truth in a corporate setting, I had no choice but to go with the nicey nice approach. “I’m sorry, but we have no more chocolate pies, and I don’t have an order for you. We have other kinds of cream pies, and many fruit pies if you’d like to choose one of them.”

And then she pulled the ace. I have to give her credit, I think she was a pro. She knew what she was doing and I wonder how many last minute pies she’s gotten with this scam. She grew artificially indignant and said, “Well I don’t know who you think you are, but I placed an order for a cream pie and YOU need to make this right!”

We don’t make our own cream pies. We get them in from the factory with shell and filling, then we just top them with fresh whipped cream (real whipped cream, not some fake ass spray can bullshit) and accoutrements like chocolate curls, toasted coconut, and cake crumbs.

We DO, however, have chocolate pie shells and chocolate pie filling we use in other recipes, and I said, “What I can do for you is make a different kind of cream pie.” I explained, and she looked stunned. I don’t know what she was expecting. Looking back, I wonder if she wanted something for free? Or a discount on the other groceries? Even in the moment, it was clear she did not actually want the pie.

Didn’t matter. She threw down the gauntlet and she was GOING to leave the store with a damn chocolate pie! I said, “I’ll just pop in the back and make you a pie. Give me five minutes and you’ll have one that’s better than the one you ordered.”

It was better, too. The shell was larger, with a chocolate bottom, and fresh filling, not frozen. I did up the pie, brought it out, and she starts to hem and haw. She said, “This isn’t like the other.” I said, “No, but it’s a superior product, and the very best we can do on such short notice without an order.”

Then, it happened.

The moment of clarity. She looked at me and she knew that I knew she didn’t actually order a pie. She knew she got bested. She stood there for a minute while I held the pie out to her and I think she actually tried to consider her options before finally taking the pie and saying, “Well. At least it’s something for the Thanksgiving table.”

I made some cute little turkey cupcakes to put in my top case. In the top case, we sell fresh items daily. What you see is what we have. A family wanted a dozen of the turkey cupcakes. I had four on display. I explained that we didn’t have any more, and they said, “Make them.” Not, “Oh, wow. Is there any way…” Or “I’m sorry to ask, but…” Nope. Just straight up, “Make them.” I said, “I’m sorry, that’s not how it works. Something like this would have to be ordered in advance.” Scoff. Glare. Storm off with the cart.

No skin off my nose. Bye, Felicia.

So there were a few that tried my patience. Most of the customers, though, were awesome. I made a new best customer friend. Awesome dude who was stressed out shopping with his elderly mother and needed a minute to vent when his mum was off looking at the breads. He came back the next day, thanked me, gave me a hug. I’m not going to lie. That was a great moment.

An old woman needed some help, and when I was helping her, she rubbed my arm and said, “Oh! You’re so soft!” And then rubbed me again. That was a confusing moment. I mean, what in the actual hell? Was she sizing me up to decide whether or not to lure me to her gingerbread house and shove me in an oven? Lesbian GILF run amok? I don’t know. But she was smiley and kind so…? I guess either way it was oddly flattering.

This elderly man came up to my counter, wild eyed. He said, “I was told I NEED a mince pie and this is the third store I’ve been to. Do you even know what the traffic is like out there? But there’s no way in hell I want to go home without a mince, so please tell me you have one.” I did. He bought two. He said, “Oh thank you, dear! Oh you just made my Thanksgiving so much better. No one even eats it, you know, but we’ve GOT to have it on the table.” He shook his head, then said, “But it makes her happy. And you have made ME happy, so I thank you.”

I know I don’t do anything personally. I’m not on the line at the factory working double time to make sure the warehouses of the US have enough pies for all the beautifully set tables. I don’t even do the baking off. But in that moment, I’m the person they thank.

I tell you what. That was a great way to start my holiday.

Thus concludes the Morning Gobble for Gobbleday, 2016. I need to go take the bird out of the bath so I can shower. You need to finish your coffee then start your own Thanksgiving prep. Thank you for keeping me company this morning. I hope your Thanksgiving is filled with future memories that’ll make you chuckle and laugh and feel the warmth of being in a time and place with those you love. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!