Eat, Drink, and Drink again

Hello dears. You may be wondering where in the world I’ve been, a la that classic video game, Carmen San Diego (with which admission I am hereby dating myself as an official dinosaur – you may call me A-Rex). Well, I have been here all along – barely functioning.

You see, in keeping with my traditional tardiness on writing about events and holidays, I just wanted to talk about the past holidays [do insert your own holiday here, by all means], and how both you (since you’re reading this) and I (since I’m writing it) survived them. Holidays are stressful times; celebrations with the ones present, sad memories about the ones gone; last-minute shopping and decorations; horrid Celine Dion* Christmas songs; and (GASP!) family reunions. [*Disclaimer: I am in no way disparaging Celine’s unlimited talent which I’m sure you, her numerous fans (n = 32, at last count), can appreciate and are as we speak writing to me in ALL CAPS to express outrage. I am merely saying that I can’t stand the sight of the woman, and despise her songs, as is my right on account of my having ears and good taste. But surely that need not affect you, and you can go ahead keep listening to her].

Now back to the issue at hand, which I promise I will link to the title of this blog: Family reunions.

family-reunion

I believe that the only thing worse than having your in-laws visit is having your OWN family visit. Think about it – It’s not like you can tell your spouse/partner/pet: “It’s YOUR mother, so YOU sit with her for five hours to talk about the gossip back home. Not my responsibility, nor am I interested, plus I haven’t the foggiest idea what/who she’s talking about”. No, it’s all on you, the actual relative. So in these situations, I strongly recommend that you (if you didn’t do so on your own accord) start drinking.

This is particularly necessary when you have to engage in strenuous household activities such as emptying the dishwasher or refreshing the dog’s water bowl. God forbid you should actually have to cook the holiday meal. It is a known fact that any self-respecting professional chef (including those with cooking programs in The Food Network and the like) won’t even disclose how much cilantro is included in the recipe*, without first securing a bottle of fine Rioja or a gallon of mixed drinks, to sip during commercial breaks *(Answer: None. Cilantro is a vile herb suitable only to line the cages of pregnant rabbits so the little mouse-looking bunny babies have a soft bed to fall on when they’re born).

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So why should you question the wisdom of professional chefs? I don’t (though it is beer for me, not wine or mixed drinks). Imagine the following scenario (names and occupations have been changed to protect privacy of characters, which we can probably all relate to/are related to/know intimately):

Day of party:

10:44 am – Your sister Mandy, who has never worked a day in her life and is pregnant with her 4th child (seriously?), arrives with her three older children in tow – these children are aged from 6 months to 3 years old. These children are not, by any standards, well behaved (who the hell has time to discipline them, if you’re either pregnant or having another baby while your previous child is exploring the inside of the microwave oven???). The father(s) of said children is/are not coming (can you blame him/them?). It is time to pour first beer (for yourself, not Mandy – after all, she IS pregnant).

11:58 am – Cousin Richard surprises the family by coming over (suspiciously unshaven and possibly un-showered, as it befits someone having just left the half-way house and not passed Go nor collected $200). You ask yourself if Mother perhaps warned you that he was released from jail after that incident with the child porn, but you blocked it from your mind, in an effort to not throw up on your mother-in-law’s dinner table last Thanksgiving. Beer refills are called for.

1:25 pm – Uncle Charlie rolls in, with Flavor Of The Month partner Aunt Charliette (everyone in the family calls all of them Charliette, on account of the rapid changes in partner that Uncle Charlie seems to be fond of, rendering it impossible for anyone to learn the current one’s name, and also preventing the disastrous mistake of calling her by the wrong name). He proudly announces they’re getting married (his 5th, her 1st, judging from her being around 19 years old), and asks your oldest daughter (13) to bring him his usual (Jack Daniels). You wonder if it is too late to send for another keg.

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

3:10 pm – No party is complete without Aunt Louise. Your father’s sister, she never married – for reasons they always said you need not know – and frankly, do not want to find out. She is approximately 105 years old, not counting Sundays, and has the sunny disposition of a monsoon. As soon as Aunt Louise comes in, along with her ubiquitous companion Teresa (an unfortunate nice lady from Honduras who has been with her since the Nixon administration), she sits by the fire in manner of the Queen (Mother) and starts yelling for Teresa to bring her some brandy, what with the people in this house not paying attention to her. Spots you and calls out (“Child!” – she calls everyone “child”, since clearly she cannot even remember her own name). You pretend you don’t hear her, head for the bar. Perhaps if you fashion an IV you may get the beer into your bloodstream in a more efficient manner.

4:55 pm – Blood-curling screams can be heard from the general direction of the children’s bedroom, along with some whimpering noises. Mandy sees fit to inform you at that point that her eldest (3-yr old Timmy, herein to be known as Little Satan) has been watching The Life and Work of Ted Bundy lately (who thinks of these documentaries??), and was last seen going upstairs with a butcher knife. Also, your dog Patches has not been spotted for the past 3 hours. Reinforcements are in order. Beer won’t do. You look around for the fixings of a Scorpion Bowl.

Need I say more? If I have not presented here for you enough evidence of The Importance of Alcohol in Surviving Family Life, then you either a) are seriously creepy, or b) already started drinking yourself to oblivion and right now could not care less. I sincerely hope, for your health and sanity, that the latter is the case. Also, please note that every single event, character, and fact mentioned in this blog is entirely made up, except for the qualities of cilantro (and Celine Dion). As for the rest… I’ll leave you wondering if I, somehow, had a peek at YOUR last family reunion [insert evil laugh].

Cheers!

Advertisements

A (belated) Tale of Thanks

I know, I know, you have all moved on to the next holiday (whatever that one which does not offend you might be – and by YOU, I mean YOU; you know who YOU are). But, since I got carried away with the Patriots last week, I forgot to post this very pertinent Thanksgiving commentary about my favoritest of all topics: FOOD.

So, in addition to being a Handy Man, my husband (previously known in DIY blog as HMH) is also an Accomplished Cook (herein now referred to as HM-ACH). What’s that you ask, ladies? What can he NOT do?? Why, that would be laundry (but that is a whole ‘nother post). Anyway, what with my husband’s culinary skills, plus our living within walking distance (it would take several days, at least for me, but I’d get there) from the inventors of the FIRST THANKSGIVING MEAL site, Plymouth, MA – though I am aware that this is no longer thought to be true, I still have this movie-like scene in my head:

Elder Pilgrim Person: We thank the LORD for this bountiful meal and our health (the 5 of them who are still alive, down from the last 489 who came over) and the fertility of this land and our women (only one left who is of child-bearing age [14], and that will be with the Natives, since the only English males left are the same elder who’s praising the Lord – who she wouldn’t let near her if the fate of the human race depended on her –, a little baby [hers], and a boy who heretofore was raised as a girl but was recently discovered to be just a boy of delicate frame who prefers sewing to building huts). Meanwhile, said Natives sharing the feast are thinking:

Wise Bear: Lord, Schmord, you funny-looking white person whom I despise, but since I am not speaking your language – not for lack of knowledge, but because I’d rather be trampled by a herd of buffalo than talk like you – you will never know. Now, how am I going to tell Little Wilting Flower that the bird you’re eating is her beloved pet Smooth Feathers??

But as usual, I digress. That was not what I wanted to talk to you about. The thing is, you see, yours truly here, surrounded by New Englandness and the original thankful spirit, as demonstrated by consuming large amounts of food – facilitated by an awesome cook (HM-ACH) – does not particularly like the traditional Thanksgiving food. Now don’t get me wrong, the meal is indeed comprised of many fine ingredients, not the least important of them the actual turkey, which I do like, especially when cooked by HM-ACH, and which is referred to in this household as “the Thanksgiving Chicken”*.

Pretty Thanksgiving meal display. Lead role: The Chicken.

*Author’s Note: Every single bird and sometimes other species are referred to, in this family, as “chicken”. This stems from two things: One, my husband’s surprise when seeing actual chickens roaming the streets in my home country when he visited (had never thought of chicken as freely wandering pets), and two, the fact that every single dish I used to cook for my boys when they were little, from real chicken to cow tongue or turtle soup, was classified as “that’s chicken, now eat your food”. So, going back to the fine elements of the Thanksgiving meal, the problem is the transformation of these otherwise perfectly good (most of them) ingredients into dishes that do not, as a rule, taste like anything at all.

Take, for example, the pumpkin. This is a particularly noble vegetable. Now, before you start protesting that “pumpkin is a fruit”, I tell you this: it is not an animal, and it is not a mineral, so it is, by elimination, a vegetable. Also, speaking in a culinary way – today’s topic – it depends how you will use it. For savory dishes, it is a vegetable; for sweets, a fruit. Since this particular example is a sweet one – pumpkin pie – and I do not like sweets in general and specifically dislike pumpkin pie, I will decree it to be a vegetable anyway. And also-ER, please note that mushrooms belong in their own particular domain, “fungi” (this is totally unrelated but thought I’d include just to confuse the enemy). So, as we were saying, the pumpkin, which as soup is delicious and a festive bright orange color, as pie it mutates into a brownish, unnaturally waste-like color (and consistency, if I may add), which you can confirm by this picture:

Another one is yams. I do not believe the good Lord was in a good frame of mind when He invented this thing. For one, as festive as the pumpkin’s orange is, the yam’s is a very strange one, a color I do not believe is found in nature (except for in the yams themselves, and even in them it does not look natural). Pray refer to the following picture.

Does this look natural to you? I didn’t think so.

Now, take the white sweet potatoes (the fact that I grew up eating those instead of yams has nothing to do with it). A nice, creamy color reminiscent of the actual potatoes they take part of their name from. Please do take a look and compare:

Now that’s what I’m talking about! White sweet potato pictured here,
as any self-respecting Dominican dish should be, fried.

Wouldn’t you, dear food lover, rather get a hold of those sweet potato fries instead of the above-pictured who-knows-how-they-were-cooked-and-with-what yams? Go ahead, admit it. We won’t tell anyone.

Then there’s the stuffing. I actually do like HM-ACH’s stuffing, as it is a known fact that he makes the world’s most delicious stuffing in the history of stuffing. But still, can’t bring myself to eat more than a forkful. So I find myself longing for some (what else?) savory Spanish rice… wait, I don’t long for it because many years ago I sort of squeezed it in the Thanksgiving meal and suddenly yellow rice is part of the feast [insert evil laugh].

All that being said, do not think for one second that I suffer in any way during our holiday meals. My love of food overcomes every obstacle, including food I don’t like (I have been known to train myself until I start liking foods previously hated – yams are not one of those, sadly). It does help too that my husband is a caring, cultural diversity-loving person, who (thank you, Portuguese peoples of New Bedford who influenced his cooking!!) actually enjoys flavorful foods, as opposed to the fine peoples of New England who I do not mean in any way to offend, it’s just that they truly do not know what they’re missing.

Happy [insert holiday of choice, since Thanksgiving already passed and MY next holiday will be featured in a future blog] to all!

Pre-mourning the end of the season…

… the Football Season, that is. There is no game today, at least none for a team I personally care about. So I’m sitting here suffering in advance that soon (it’s getting inexorably closer, I tell you!) the season will be over and what will I do until the merciful Spring Training starts??? Meanwhile, I’m thinking of numbers. Such as:

108 POINTS IN TWO GAMES

28 POINTS IN 6 MINUTES

3 TOUCHDOWNS IN 52 SECONDS.

I wonder if they’ll have a side of stuffing… Bring on the Jets!!

Now, I ask you, well-informed reader/football viewer: Is this not what one envisions would be God’s team in Heaven? I firmly believe that Tom Brady might very well have been the prototype of the perfect race chosen by Hitler, had they lived in the same era. Dr. Mengele’s Children of Brazil would have been a bunch of little Bradys, I tell you.

In any case, as much as I mourn the lack of a game today, this past Thanksgiving Day’s game was the perfect excuse not to go to bed after the meal, risking possible overflow by foolishly placing one’s body in a horizontal position. And what a game it was!

If T-Rex Ryan weren’t such an arrogant jerk, shooting his mouth off with nothing to back him up… If Mark Sanchez were a real QB, instead of a toy one with barely any talent to dust Brady’s shoes… If the Jets weren’t from New York… then maybe (unlikely), perhaps (I think not), I would feel sorry for them.

Nah, who am I fooling?? DEATH TO THE JETS, and PARTICULARLY to Ryan – though I am pretty sure that Jets’ fans already took care of him. Say, has anyone seen him after Thursday night?

A matter of perspective

Disclaimer: I would like everyone to know that I am extremely grateful to the United States, my adoptive country, for giving me the opportunity to adequately provide for my children and to succeed professionally by pure hard work. This doesn’t mean I negate my home country, Dominican Republic. It only means that I appreciate having been accepted and having my work rewarded.

Having said that, Americans (in general, I’m sure YOU are not like that) tend to be a bit, how shall I put it, self-centered. Not individually (though there are some of those as there are everywhere), but collectively, as a nation. I have a suspicion that World Geography is either not taught, or is an elective (doomed to never be “elected” by any hot-blooded child, not that they’re to blame). Consequently, the average American young person (older people excluded here due to their having lived world wars and thus learned about other countries) KNOWS there are other countries besides the US; however, this average young person is not sure what the names of these countries are, or where they reside in the global planet scheme of things. It would seem to me that a world map, in many of these persons’ minds, looks like this:

Please note the vague gray areas which resemble countries, but one cannot ever be sure.

Now, a map of the United States, per these young people, might look like this:

I am sure it is not their fault, but the sum of many misguided hints. Please indulge me as I give you some examples:

1. The World Series – There is nothing worldly about the World Series, played in the US by US teams (and, if lucky, a Canadian team). Wait, I take that back, there IS a worldly thing – the players. There are numerous foreign-born pro-baseball players. In fact, one cannot throw a stick at any of these teams without hitting a Hispanic player, who will most likely be Dominican, and more often than not from San Pedro de Macoris (which happens to be my hometown but that’s not here nor there).

A few years ago, my office mates (a Chilean translator, and an American who had served in the Navy and lived in several countries during his service) and I had the idea to do a little survey. We would ask whoever came in our shared office the following question: “How many countries are there in North America?” Some of the answers:

“This is a trick question, right?”
“One”
“Ha! You thought I’d forget Canada – two”
“Everyone knows that – One, the United States.

NOT ONE PERSON KNEW. Of approximately 15 people surveyed in a global industry environment. It is sad, but I’d like to mention here that, contrary to popular belief, “America” is NOT a country, it is a WHOLE CONTINENT. The US is only one of the countries in America, and not the one with the most original name either. Actually, it is a very vague name, when one considers that the legal name of our neighbors to the South (hint: they are still part of North America) is Mexican United States (DBA Mexico). So technically, Mexico is also a United States of America, but let’s not dwell. So, people from Canada (gasp!), Brazil or Argentina, are in fact Americans. This brings me to the second example:

2. Other Countries – This is where our children get confused. Just the other day (as if the example above were not enough), I witnessed an exchange on a popular social network. The conversation goes so:

  • Person Who Is Travelling For Work: I’m going to Budapest at the end of the month! Does anyone have any suggestions as to what to do, places to see?
  • Person Who Might Have Been There But Maybe Not: Awesome! It’s a beautiful city, you’ll love it!
  • Person Who Actually Knows Budapest (I believe it may have been a Budapest resident): This is great! You should go to [insert place] and eat at [insert restaurant].
  • Clueless Person: Huh? Budapest? Where is that? I don’t know where Budapest is?
  • CluelessER Person: I think it’s a borough in NY. Or maybe a foreign community in Des Moines (OK, I made that one up).

Now, SERIOUSLY?? Clueless Person?? So in these days when knowledge and information are at the tip of your fingers – literally (and believe you me, I use that word with caution), instead of GOOGLING “Budapest” you chose to broadcast to the entire population of the Earth (including baffled and offended Budapest denizens), plus the occasional alien monitoring social media from far out galaxies (for entertainment purposes), your absolute geographical ignorance??? It would have taken less than what it took to write that unhelpful comment. It is not like you had to go fetch a heavy encyclopedia tome, provided you do know where in the alphabet the word Budapest would be. Sigh.

Interactive blog activity: Do YOU know where Budapest is? Suggestions and ideas welcome. Please comment on this blog with your thoughts and I promise I’ll feature the best comment (and its author) in a future blog.

3. The media – OK. I hear your collective groan. Bear with me. Let me preface this section by saying that I am in no way making light of the terrible devastation of Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast of our country. What I am going to refer to is the media behavior PRIOR to a storm, any storm, any day, any year.

So here goes what you would see/hear at these situations:

–          Anchorperson 1: Let’s go to our weather expert, Justin Windfall, who is on location in South Miami, Florida, to get the latest on Tropical Storm Horace!

–          Weather Person Justin Windfall: [prolonged pause, like Weather Person is actually in Greenland, instead of Florida (though come to think of it, Florida is not technically the US… but that’s another blog)]. Yes, Melanie, this is terrifying! I am here joined by Jesus Hernandez, long-time resident of Miami. We are here at the local Home Depot, where Jesus is buying some boards. Jesus, what are you doing to prepare for the storm?

–          Jesus Hernandez: Well, like you said, I am buying some boards.

Now, I ask you – What did Jesus do with the boards he bought LAST YEAR, for last year’s hurricane? Did he chop them up for firewood? Do you need firewood in South Miami? Really.

So the screen gets back to the studio.

–          Anchorperson 2: As folks prepare for the hurricane-force winds in the next few days, 2 Americans have been evacuated from Haiti by Coast Guard teams volunteering for this dangerous mission.

There is nothing wrong with this, of course. US citizens should be taken care of by the government wherever they are. However, this is being said as the storm is swallowing entire islands whole, while digesting the previous 97 islands she previously ate. But then again.

–          Anchorperson 2: Let’s go to our correspondent Frank Winterberger, in South Dakota. He is there now with Ernie and Mildred Winthrop, who were just rescued from Haiti, where they were researching the history of Voodoo [shot of Mr. and Mrs. Winthrop, wearing Hawaiian shirts – though to my knowledge to this day never has Haiti been confused with Oahu]. “It was a harrowing experience!” – says Mildred. “We didn’t know if we could get out alive!” – says Ernie.

Meanwhile, the entire third of island that Haiti occupies in Santo Domingo is entirely wiped out, not that there was anything there to wipe out anyway. So the fact is Yes! We evacuated 2 Americans! And Crap! 20,000 Haitians died! It’s sort of ironic.

In any case, my point is (I have a point!!) that there are HORRIBLE things happening in other countries, caused by the same threat looming over the US, and there is a certain lack of awareness that there exist other countries, other peoples, and that they are WAY WORSE than Americans are. Do reflect.

Two different worlds + Possible Storm of Century: A look into hurricane preparedness

“We’re not trying to hype it,” National Weather Service meteorologist Paul Kocin tells Bloomberg News. “What we’re seeing in some of our models is a storm at an intensity that we have not seen in this part of the country in the past century.”

Hmm. Time to stock up. This, I was surprised to see when I first moved from the Caribbean to the US, is done in an extremely logical and organized way here. Supplies look like this:

Figure 1.
           

On the other hand (would be fair to say, in another world), my fellow islanders (more specifically, Dominicans) would gather essentials such as these:

Figure 2.

         

Irresponsible, you say? Shaking your collective heads, New Englanders? I can explain.

In your average Caribbean island dwelling, the following supplies are ALWAYS available (not only for natural disasters, but as daily life staples):

–          Water – There is not a faucet in the entire country one would trust to drink from. Thus, innumerable containers with water “for drinking and cooking” are handy in every room. As for water for cleaning, bathing, washing – well, that is where Ms. Sandy comes in handy: Every caldero and bucket is sitting outside catching rain water.

–          Batteries, flashlights, gas lamps – Power outages are a fact of life. Not a day goes by that there isn’t one.

–          Food – Non perishable items, such as the plantain tree in the backyard or the freely-roaming chickens are available year-round. Also, there is no money to buy what people don’t already have.

Radios are always around, not to listen to the National Weather Service or Emergency Management authorities (who, come to think of it, may have gathered the exact same supplies shown in Figure 2), but to listen to music or radio soap operas.

Hurricanes are thought of as excuses for being off work and school. The whole vecindario gets together (please refer to dominoes and cards) and alcohol replaces milk. As the storm brings tons of water and strong winds, people (having consumed by the 3rd hour approximately 7 bottles of rum) are grateful for a respite from the heat. A communal sancocho (thick Dominican soup) is underway. The comadres gossip, the compadres drink even more and gamble, and the occasional fight is stopped by the neighborhood abuela (who is usually a small old lady  — don’t be fooled, everyone is scared to death of her, and with reason — who everyone calls “Mama” or just “La Doña”, and who achieves this by separating the fighting parties and smacking each one in the head).

Having grown up in this environment, I find it difficult to get alarmed when there is a hurricane alert. Why, I have survived approximately 37 major storms by now, with a lot less resources and inadequate emergency supplies (please refer again to Figure 2). My husband, on the other hand, looks at me with alarm and barely refrains from shaking me to drive some sort of reason into my carefree island head. Me? I say bring it on, Sandy. I’m ready.