Saturday, November 19, 2011

New Thanksmas Eve Day

I get it. The earlier retailers get you in the stores to do your holiday shopping, the more you’ll spend and the more likely it will be (in this rotten economy) for them to make a profit this Christmas season. That’s always been the case. I’ve watched over the last few years as Christmas decorations have appeared in store windows and holiday items on the shelves earlier and earlier. First, it was right before Thanksgiving that you’d start seeing Santa on display to get you in the buying spirit. Then it was November 1st, before you even had time to take down your Halloween decorations. But this year, I spotted a snowflake or two decorating the toy aisle at Walmart, some time in early September while finishing up my back-to-school shopping.

That was just the start of the new holiday season timeline. We no longer have Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Years. The retailers have found it more profitable, and we as consumers have bought into it, to condense them all into one holiday that my family has started calling, New Thanksmas Eve Day. It’s out of control. The first and second week of November, Disneyland and a high end mall in L.A. called the Grove, both held their tree lighting ceremonies, complete with Santa and faux snowflakes falling from the sky. All the store ads and television commercials are hawking Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales weeks before their real dates – the Friday and Monday AFTER Thanksgiving. And to make matters worse, driving home last night, we noticed that more than a couple of houses in our neighborhood have already turned on their Christmas lights.

What ever happened to Thanksgiving? We’ve skipped over it all together for the sake of creating a more robust economy. Because of all of this pressure to rush into Christmas, my daughters and I have made a conscious effort to put the brakes on and not race over November 24th. We’ll take a moment to be thankful for the family and friends around us, our health, and a roof over our heads. We’ll chow down on some turkey, sip some cider, read a book or two about the pilgrims (remember them?) and have the dishes washed in time to rush out to the midnight opening of Target! I might be frustrated about the rush into the holidays, but I’m not going to miss out on the savings either.

But clearly, my family isn’t up-to-speed on this New Thanksmas Eve Day tradition the stores are trying to start. Natalie, my eight year old, asked me what Black Friday was. I asked her what she thought it was and she said, “Black Friday is the day that they celebrate Black people.” I laughed and said, “No, that’s February, we get a whole month, not a day.” Nicole, my eleven year old, quipped, “…the shortest month.” So my kids aren’t shopping savvy, but at least they have a strong sense of irony.

Happy New Thanksmas Eve Day to all of you!

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Silent Treatment

My 11 year old daughter Nicole got angry at me the other day. She decided that as punishment, she would give me the silent treatment. She huffed and puffed around the kitchen, getting ready for school, her usually chatting self completely silent. She was so happy with herself and the punishment she had selected for me. When Natalie came into the kitchen, Nicole conferred with her. When I said good morning to Natalie, they both said, "Do you hear something?" And then Natalie joined in the silent treatment with Nicole. They were united in their efforts to ignore me. Can I tell you, it was the best thirty minutes of my week! Quite possibly the year! Nobody asked me for anything, nobody chattered on about who was doing what to who at school when they should have been getting dressed and eating breakfast. Nobody complained about what was packed into their lunch or why I'd decided to serve pancakes for breakfast instead of waffles. I was downright giddy! There was nothing but quiet from the children and for once, I could watch Good Morning America without having to turn up the volume so I could hear it over their incessant chatter.

I love my girls dearly, but (like their mother, I guess)they do LOVE to talk. Endlessly, they can rattle on about nothing with great belief and conviction in the importance of everything they are saying. Sometimes, on that rare occasion when there is nothing left to say, they will make up things just to hear their own voices. We always joke that Nicole was born talking. She even talks in her sleep. Natalie came to it slightly later, sometime after she turned a month old. They started talking early and they've never, ever stopped. People always comment on how polite and verbal they are. Oh yes, they are verbal...but now they were silent.

They'd seen someone give someone else the silent treatment on tv and they thought that was a great way to punish me. Little did they know that to their stressed out, over stimulated parents, giving them the silent treatment isn't a curse, it's a blessing.

But all good things come to an end and by the time they were ready to go to school, whatever Nicole was mad about had passed and she announced she was talking to me again...and she hasn't stopped. If I could just figure out another way to piss her off, maybe I can get some rest over the weekend.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Toaster Oven is My Friend and Other Lessons I’ve Learned in Suburbia

I cooked a three tier chocolate cake in a toaster oven last week. It was my daughter Nicole’s eleventh birthday and a few days before her party, my regular oven decided to break. In addition to filling the house with gas fumes when it coughed its final breath, my oven left me with no way to make the food or cake for the birthday party. Panic started creeping in. I had 35 kids from her homeroom class and assorted aunts and uncles and cousins descending on the house and no way to feed them.

Normally, I would never have agreed to host a party this big for a kid’s birthday. Last year she had a few girls sleepover, I made pancakes in the morning and they were done. But this year I was riddled with guilt. I’d dragged Nicole around in the car for the last 6 weeks while her sister, Natalie, performed in a show out in Thousand Oaks. Nicole endured hours of endless car rides and late nights and waiting a Starbucks for rehearsals to end, rarely uttering a complaint. So when she asked for this extravaganza of a birthday, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. But now my oven was broken.

I revamped the party menu so I could cook everything on the stove – pasta, spaghetti sauce – it would work with a little salad on the side. But there was still the cake to bake. I called my friend and neighbor Lyn and asked her if I could use her oven. She kindly agreed, but when it was time to finally bake the cake, it was the night before the party and it was late…very late. I didn’t want to knock on her door, pans in hand. I was about to give up and call the bakery department at Ralph’s to order a cake when the Kitchen Aid toaster oven I’d bought my husband David last Christmas caught my eye. It had been sitting on the counter barely unused for almost a year. I got it for him almost as a joke because he’d always complain about using the microwave and reminisce about how he used a toaster oven all the time in college. Well, I think he has used the toaster oven twice since last year. He must have realized that he doesn’t have much need for it since he’s moved beyond his college diet of broiled cheese sandwiches.

I took the largest of the cake pans and stuck it in the toaster oven to see if it would fit. When it did, I was giddy with the idea of trying to cook the entire cake, one layer at a time, in a toaster oven. Now it wasn’t just a cake that needed to be made, it was a challenge! Nicole wanted a s’mores cake. It needed to be three tiers of chocolate cake with fudge filling and dark chocolate frosting. On top, a glob of marshmallow fluff which would ooze down the sides and be covered with graham cracker crumbs and shavings of dark chocolate. The cake turned out beautifully and I was bursting with pride that I’d actually pulled it off. Who knew you could bake a cake in a toaster oven? That necessity mother of invention thing is powerful stuff. On party day, I couldn’t help but bring people inside and show them the toaster oven cake.

Over the week it took to get a repairman out to fix the regular oven, I cooked everything in that toaster oven, my new best friend. I beamed when I talked about it to the point that my family tired of hearing me announce what was for dinner only to follow it up with the phrase, “And I made it in the toaster oven!” I cooked pot roast and meat loaf and a roast chicken. I cooked 4 frozen pizzas – one at a time, of course. Each time I pulled a dish out of the toaster oven, I felt like some type of new age domestic diva. Who needed Viking or Thermador or some other high end appliance? With just my toaster oven, I felt like I could conquer the culinary world. We had bonded, like new friends who instantly seem like old trusted ones.

Just as I started eyeing the toaster oven to see if I could cook my Thanksgiving turkey in it, the repairman came and replaced the simple but expensive part which had caused the whole problem – the starter. Now my regular oven worked without gassing us and I’m back to my old cooking routine. But now every time I pass the toaster oven, it’s bittersweet. I miss it, but I also happily remember the fine meals we shared together. Who knows, maybe I’ll cook my turkey in it anyway, just for old times sake.