Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Rethinking Thanksgiving

Grams has been ambivalent about the Thanksgiving holiday for a number of years now. Don't get me wrong, I love Thanksgiving. I embrace the "Americana" of it. I love the fact that it is a purely American holiday. And, clearly, I love the food. The only thing better than the roast turkey and cornbread dressing with cranberry sauce that we have at mid-day is the sandwich I have for dinner.

I realize that we all celebrate Thanksgiving in different ways. My mother always made a huge traditional meal for Thanksgiving and for many years the family gathered at Mom and Dad's to spend the day together. We started early with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and we always watched football. It was especially interesting when I brought my Aggie husband into my family of UT fans. And, of course, we all enjoyed watching the Dallas Cowboys, even when they lost.

As the years went by, traditions began to change. My siblings all moved farther away and gathering for Thanksgiving became impractical and unlikely. As we married and had our own families, it was natural that each of us made our own family traditions.

For a number of years, my sister Bylinda and I would cook and both of our families would get together for the day, usually at her house. Three years ago, after my father-in-law died, Grams decided to host a Thanksgiving for my husband's mother and sisters at our home. His brothers already had commitments to their in-laws. And, our children both celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with their own in-laws, which means we get them for Christmas and that works for us.

Out of consideration for my husband, I won't go into detail about the fiasco that ensued, but by the time the kitchen was cleaned and the guests were gone, both of us were frustrated, hurt, and angry. After that day, both Grandad and Grams decided that we didn't need that frustration. We summarily "resigned" from participating in future Thanksgiving celebrations and informed family members of our decision. We decided that we would make our own modest meal at home spend a quiet day together topped off by going to a movie. Alternately, we might plan a get-away weekend for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Last year, we picked up a turkey dinner from our local grocery store and had that quiet day together at home. It was great. We talked with our kids and other family members on the phone. I will admit that I felt a little twinge of guilt when my mother-in-law told us that she and one of my sisters-in-law went to Luby's for Thanksgiving dinner. But all-in-all both Grandad and Grams were happy with the quiet day.

This year, we were just too tired to do a big Thanksgiving. In recent weeks, we made several trips back and forth to San Antonio with a detour to El Campo for a funeral last week and, honestly, the idea of a drive to Seguin was just too much. But, having to do something with my sister, Kay, complicated our plans for a quiet weekend. Kay lives in a group home just a few miles from us. She often travels to spend holidays with one or the other of my siblings, but this year, she stayed with us.

Kay wants to be involved in everything you are doing and she craves having the hubbub created by a large gathering. Let's just say that a quiet weekend with us was not what she had in mind. How can I describe a five-day weekend with Kay? It's like having a very young child as a house guest. She wants to know what you are doing every minute of the day; she wants to "help" with whatever you are doing; she has a million questions; she gets up extremely early; you can't leave her unsupervised; she has no concept of privacy; and she has something to say about everything. Needless to say, I was relieved to take her home yesterday.

When I asked Kay what she wanted for Christmas, her reply was "I just want to have my whole family together." I explained to her that all of us getting together for Christmas is not in anyone's plans, since we all have families of our own and live far apart. I pressed her for another idea, but she was unyielding. The only thing she wants for Christmas is to have her whole family together and she doesn't understand that we all have other demands and commitments. I didn't even try to explain that we actually don't want to all get together for Christmas.

This discussion with her has led me to rethink future Thanksgiving plans. Maybe we can't all get together for Christmas, but surely some of us could gather for Thanksgiving, just because it would make Kay happy for that one weekend. We all have so much and she has so little. So Grams is going to begin a campaign among my siblings to gather for Thanksgiving next year. We'll see how receptive they are, but I know at least a couple of us can pull it off.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Grams Made Easy Baked Cod

1 1/2 cups plain breadcrumbs
1/2 cup fresh parsley
2-3 garlic cloves
zest of one lemon
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
4 (6-8 ounce) cod fish fillets
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 400. Line your pan with aluminum foil and lightly brush with olive oil or spray with cooking spray.

Combine parsley, garlic, lemon zest, and coarse salt on the cutting board. Finely chop, then combine with the breadcrumbs in a shallow plate. Brush top of each fillet with olive oil. Press fillet into the crumb mixture.

Place fillets in baking dish, crust-side up. Bake until firm, about 12-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. Serve with lemon wedges.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

How Quickly They Forget

Grams has had it with "the mean girls." You remember "the mean girls" from junior high and high school. The one's who were always part of the "in crowd" and always thought they were a little bit better than everyone else. They were often bullies and had something unkind or nasty to say about anyone who was different. There was even a movie called "Mean Girls." It's tag line was "Watch your back."

Oh, I've known "mean girls" all my life. In high school, we called their little groups "cliques." Years later in the work world, they were referred to as "the A-Team." But my most recent run in with the "mean girls" has been on an internet message board and on Facebook.

For more than three years now, Grams has been active on an internet message board for people who have had weight loss surgery. The common threads for membership are that most or all of us have been morbidly obese at some point in our lives and have opted to have weight loss surgery of one kind or another and most of us live or have lived in the State of Texas. This message board has a reputation as being one of the best and most supportive boards around. And I would like to give credit where credit is due ... they were extremely supportive of me when my mother was dying and my husband was gravely ill.

Active participation in a support group is an integral part of recovery from morbid obesity. Most of us didn't get morbidly obese simply by overeating. There are many underlying issues that must be dealt with. Often there is transfer of addiction from food to alcohol, drugs, sex, etc. My doctor's support group only meets once a month in Corpus Christi, so I found this online support to be of great value as I was preparing for my surgery and learning how to live the post-surgical life to be successful at maintaining my new lower weight and healthier lifestyle. I have received a great deal of very valuable guidance, advice and instruction from my "friends" on said message board. I also like to think that I have provided valuable advice and guidance to "newbies" on the board as a way of "paying it forward."

I said all that to say this ... lately the tenor of many on that message board has become nasty. Some of the women on this board have been covertly snipey and nasty to other members ... on a regular basis. Some of it is not so covert. And, unfortunately, this nastiness has migrated to the same group of friends who interact on Facebook. They refer to it as "stirring the pot."

Whatever happened to tolerance and understanding? The particular person that the most recent "pot stirring" has been directed at is going through a rough time. While I would concur that she's probably too involved in the lives of her adult children, I don't see any reason to be so unkind to her. Maybe she hasn't handled these problems the way others would have, but she has been kind and supportive to many who are on this journey. But, because they seem to think she has too many complaints, they are intolerant and unkind. They talk about her in veiled terms and give her sarcastic advice to pass on to her adult children. Didn't their mother's teach them "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all?"

Because of this, Grams has mostly stopped posting on the message board. I still visit once or twice a day to catch up on recent posts, but I rarely post, because I don't enjoy what's going on. That's not good for me because I have learned so much there. And it's not good for others because I have valuable experience and advice of my own to share.

I would think that these formerly obese individuals might remember how it felt to be left out and not part of the group. I feel sure that sometime in their collective pasts they must have been on the receiving end of such an exchange. Surely they must have experienced some of the feelings of being outcast that most morbidly obese people have experienced. How quickly they have forgotten! Shame on them! And ... shame on me for not calling them on this behavior and standing up for a person who was being made fun of and bullied.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Grams Made Leftover Chicken Vegetable Soup

An easy soup made from whatever you have left in your refrigerator.

4 cans (14-½ oz. each) Chicken Broth
1 cup quick-cooking brown rice
1 large bag frozen vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, water chestnut, peppers, onion mix)
1 large can diced tomatoes (with or without spices)
1-2 cups left-over chicken, cut up in bite-sized pieces
1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
Any other veggies of you may have in the refrigerator

In a large saucepan or stew pot combine broth and rice. Heat to boiling over medium-high heat. Cover and cook over low heat 15 minutes or until rice is tender. Add veggies, chicken and parsley. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

I use leftover rotisserie chicken in this recipe. Use whatever you have in your fridge.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Technology or Not Technology

Grams loves books! Anyone who knows Grams even a little bit knows that I am an avid reader. I love to read almost anything.

I remember distinctly the first time I could recognize the words "See Spot run" in my first grade primer Fun With Dick and Jane. To be able to see printed words and to understand what those words meant when I saw them on the printed page was pure magic. I was hooked from the very beginning!

Sometime shortly after my first grade year, sets of World Book, Childcraft and Golden Book Encyclopedias appeared at our house. I suspect that my Aunt Nava bought them because I know that such an investment would probably have been too large of an expense for my parents. I spent many hours poring through these books. I especially loved the Golden Books. They were beautifully illustrated and written for children and I wish I had them today. Childcraft was full of fun experiments and good instructions for hobbies and kept me busy many summers. And for several years those were pretty much my only books. I learned nursery rhymes and fairy tales from reading them over and over again. I used those encyclopedias well into my teens.

In 1964 when my family moved to Corpus Christi I discovered something new to add to my reading enjoyment ... the bookmobile. I knew about libraries, although I don't remember ever going to the library before our move. But to a 10-year-old girl in a new city where I didn't know anyone, the bookmobile was a godsend.

That summer, every other week, the bookmobile would drive up to the recreation center right around the corner from my house and open its doors from 9 a.m. until noon. This was when I got my first library card. Before I could borrow books, my mother had to take me downtown to the big La Retama Public Library and get me a library card. Books became my new best friend! The bookmobile introduced me to The Bobbsey Twins, The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. I learned about adventures with The Island of the Blue Dolphins and The Call of the Wild. I don't recall many of the other books I read that summer, but I do remember being consumed by reading to the point where my mother would occasionally nudge me out the door to go outside and play. I can point to that summer as the beginning of my lifelong love affair with books.

As a teenager I discovered trashy novels. I'm pretty sure I would have been in big trouble if my mother had known what was contained within the pages of Harold Robbins' books, and The Carpetbaggers and A Stone for Danny Fisher which I read around the age of 14. After high school I discovered romance novels. I started with Harlequin Romances but soon advanced to such notorious bodice-rippers as Nora Roberts, Johanna Lindsey and Kathleen E. Woodiwiss.

Although I still occassionally indulge in a trashy romance novel, I like to think my reading has evolved. Thanks to the influence of my son-in-law, who is a high school English teacher with very sophisticated taste in books, and the Book Snobs (my ladies book club), I now read a wide variety of books including bestsellers, classic literature, mysteries, Victorian novels, biographies, almost anything.

I love the tactile nature of holding a book in my hand and leafing through the pages. I like the way books smell. I like the idea that other people have read this exact same book and then passed it on for someone else to enjoy. I love walking into someone's house and looking at the books on their bookshelves. I like to pick up a book that was printed more than a hundred years ago and know that it has been read by generation after generation of people. A big part of the joy of reading is sharing books. There is nothing I enjoy more than reading a book and passing it on to a friend or acquaintance for them to enjoy.

Keeping my nightstand from being buried by books is a constant challenge. I'm not even a "book saver." I don't keep most books, I read them and pass them on or sell them at Half Price Books to get more books. But still it would be very easy to turn into one of those people whose house is defined by stacks of books, magazines and newspapers.

A couple of years ago, my kids gave me an MP3 player and a subscription to Audible.com. Since then I do at least half of my reading by listening to books on my MP3 player while I'm driving. I thoroughly enjoy it and have listened to books that I would probably never get around to sitting down and reading.

For quite some time now I've been looking at and reading reviews of the Kindle and now the new Nook. I must admit I love the idea of instantly downloading books to such a device and of having all my books in one lightweight and easy to carry electronic device. I'm attracted to the idea of less clutter. I've considered asking for one for Christmas or my birthday.

Here is the conundrum. It won't feel like a book; it won't smell like a book; you can't share it like a book; and it won't actually be a book. You can still tell your friends about it and encourage them to read it, but you can't hand it to them and say, "I really enjoyed this and I want to share it with you." I think that's at least half the fun of reading. I'm not quite sold on this new technological approach to books. So, for now at least, I'm sticking with my stacks and bags of actual hard-copy printed books. I'll keep my clutter in order to keep the joy of sharing books with my friends.

I'd be interested to know what you think, especially if you already own an electronic device for books. Should I leap into the 21st century or stay safely ensconced in my clutter?

Grams Made Zucchini Bread

This is one recipe I've been making since I was a new bride. I got the recipe from a co-worker with the unusual name of Yettave Zietlow. Grams especially likes this bread topped with a glaze, Grandad prefers it plain. Either way, it's really good.

3 eggs, beaten
2 ½ cups sugar
3 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup oil
2 cups zucchini, shredded
1 cup nuts
3 cups flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon nutmeg
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
½ cup raisins or dates (optional)

Beat eggs, add sugar, vanilla, oil and zucchini. Add all dry ingredients and mix well. Pour into two loaf pans. Bake at 350ยบ for one hour.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Grams Made Kalamata Lemon Chicken

This is one of the first recipes that Grams made when I finally learned to cook in my mid-fifties. It's still one of my favorites. I always keep these ingredients in my cupboard and freezer so I can always make this.

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 tablespoon olive oil
2/3 cup dried orzo
1/2 cup drained, pitted Kalamata olives
1 14-ounce can chicken broth
1/2 of a lemon, cut into wedges or chunks
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon dried Greek seasoning

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a 4-quart Dutch oven brown chicken in hot oil over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, turning once. Stir in orzo, olives, the can of broth, lemon wedges, lemon juice, Greek seasoning, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Cover; bake for 35 minutes or until chicken is tender and no longer pink.