Guess what we have?
…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.
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.
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:
“BARK BARK WOOF.”
“Quack! Quack quack?!
*moment of silence*
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.