Sunday, September 23, 2012

Ruining Thanksgiving Dinner.......In September

Start with fresh corn

I almost blew it. Thanksgiving is still 8 weeks away, and I nearly ruined my family’s favorite holiday meal in this, the last week of September. I woke up with an agenda on the most beautiful fall Sunday. A power walk with my husband on the path of a local park where a river ribbons through it and a 58 degree breeze across the water was a little more than I was prepared for. Then breakfast at our favorite diner, followed by a stop at a local farm market for the first of the season apples, and the last of the season corn. Then, I would spend Sunday afternoon in my kitchen, baking an apple pie, watching football and preparing bags of corn for the garage freezer.  

And plans were going great! Sweatshirts I found in the back of my car solved the wind chill issue on our early morning walk. An asparagus and egg white omelet washed down with mugs of hot coffee provided fuel for my afternoon activities. Now to the market for some mums, a pumpkin, apples and Jersey white corn!

When we pulled into the crowed parking lot, the first thing I noticed was that the large table of corn that I frequented all summer, now contained gourds and pumpkins. “I guess the corn is in the back since it’s no longer the star of the season.” I said to my husband.” It wasn’t. 

Boil 3 minutes and then place in ice bath
I started to panic. Jersey corn on our Thanksgiving table is more than a staple, more than a tradition. It’s a representation of my Dad, who always believed that this part of the state’s harvest should sit alongside of the turkey. We lost our Dad about 12 years ago, but “Pop’s corn” has never missed a Thanksgiving.

“No corn?” I asked the young girl still wearing a market T-shirt with a graphic of a corn husk on it. “Sorry, it was finished last weekend”.  I was going to protest, but she turned and walked away. “Come on,” my husband Mike said. “We’ll take a drive, I’m sure other markets have it.” Three stands later, still out of luck. We were heading further and further away from our house. We live about an hour from the coastline and we drove halfway to the shore desperate to find the last of the sweet silver queen corn that Dad would cook for three minutes, cut off the cob and then freeze in plastic bags. One of the last things he did before dinner was served on Thanksgiving day was to place the frozen corn in a pan and warm slowly with butter, milk and sugar. Simple, delicious and an absolute must find.

After Dad died, I took ownership of cooking all Thanksgiving dinners, his corn recipe, his traditions. And now, because I waited one week too long to buy the corn, I felt as if I was letting everyone down. “Maybe you could buy the frozen shoe peg corn and make it the same way your Dad made his corn” Mike said trying to sound optimistic. But we both knew the obvious. Once, 15 years ago, I invited my family back to the house for dinner after my son’s football game. Not having time to make my homemade lasagna; I served them a well-known frozen brand. To this day, I still hear about it.

 Use frozen store bought corn in place of Jersey white corn? Are you kidding me? My family takes this corn thing seriously. Two years ago, my younger sister, who alternates the holiday with her husbands family, complained that her in-laws don't serve corn. That afternoon, she was bombarded by pictures of hot buttery corn sent to her iPhone from my nephew and sons sitting at our table! I can't let them down. Somebody, somewhere has to still have fresh corn!

Use a bundt pan to catch the corn! Works great!
And then, out of nowhere, it happened. When Mike was looking for a place to make a U-turn on a rather busy highway, a small, green pickup truck parked on a side road caught our attention. My husband had to restrain me from leaping out of the door as he tried to navigate down the dirt path.

There, in all its splendid beauty was an old truck full of just picked corn. Sitting next to it, in a well-used lawn chair was an old man in a Phillies hat. If you knew my father, you would appreciate the relevance to this notation. It was all too surreal. An old man, in a hat, in the middle of nowhere, selling corn from an old truck, in late September. 

I was actually speechless. Mike bagged the corn and paid for it while I stood to the side. I was convinced that when we got to the end of the road, I would turn around and find the old man, his truck and the corn, vanished. I did not turn around. I was just content to know that "Pop's corn" will be on the Thanksgiving matter how he got it there!

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Groom's Side.....Part III, The Engagement Party

The Guests of Honor
As we continue on this path to the big day, we (meaning the bride’s family and ours) are trying hard to observe all of the “engagement traditions” while still keeping things casual. As I have done in the past, before we even started the planning of the engagement party, I did my research. This time, I thought I would start with foremost wedding, lifestyle, craft and cooking expert, Martha Stewart. I knew that she would certainly know what the groom’s parents place was in this particular facet of pre-wedding activities. Okay Martha, you’re on:

“While traditionally the engagement party is hosted by the bride's parents, in these untraditional times it often turns out that friends of the bride and groom, or other relatives, want to host an engagement party as well. In that case, you may opt to have two or more parties: one for relatives and family friends, for instance, and another for your own friends. All the same, a good rule of thumb is to let the bride's parents have the opportunity to be the first to celebrate the engagement; even if a veritable stream of parties follows, theirs should be first.”

Umm….in Martha’s scenario, is the groom’s family the “other relatives”? Okay, I’ve now decided to no longer research the internet for information on this subject and to just go with the flow. Besides, my ever-conscience future daughter-in-law, Kathleen, invited me to join her, and her mother, Jean, in a pre-engagement party planning session. Over pizza and wine, we divided up the menu. Jean offered to have it in her lovely landscaped backyard which comes complete with a babbling brook. It worked for me. Since it is going to be a beach wedding, we deemed the party and the food to be casual fare.

Now, I always thought the real goal of the engagement party was to have both families get to know each other a little better. To gather in a relatively small, informal setting, before the wedding comes and they are all dressed up and doing the chicken dance. And, as Martha suggests above, there may be other parties that we are not included in….and that’s okay. This party is the one I felt was important. Since one of my menu items to bring were meatballs and sausage, I got up early to pick tomatoes from the garden and blow everyone away with real homemade sauce.

The recipe really belongs to Italian chef and cookbook author, Lydia Bastianache, and its hardcore homemade but so worth the effort. Not far from us, is Del Buono’s Italian Bread Factory where you actually grab a bag and catch the rolls as they drop off the conveyer belt, hot. It’s always crowded, and a definite place to avoid around the holidays. Anyway, I put my husband on “roll” duty as I did my thing in the kitchen. Being of Italian decent, it is my nature to believe that there is never going to be enough food. So along with several pounds of meatballs and sausage, I cooked up two spiral-cut hams. You just never know…….

Every bit edible....every bite delicious!!
On the other side of the river in Pennsylvania, Jean was busy cooking a wonderful pasta and chicken dish along with the most amazingly beautiful cake. Kat was chopping and dicing for appetizers and salads. I guess you could say that the three of us were cooking up a storm…literally. By the time the party was to start, there were tornado warnings with severe thunderstorms, damaging winds and hail in the offering. The skies looked ominous. Gone was the pleasant evening sipping wine under tall trees with a running stream behind us.  Now we were just hoping to keep power on for the lights, air conditioning and stove, and praying for save travels for all our invited guests.

I told my husband on the way over that as a co-host, I was going to try hard to mingle and not let the different factions of people segregate into their own areas. But as is typical of human nature, as soon as introductions were made, the younger bridal party gathered on an enclosed back porch, the bride’s family congregated in the kitchen, and my family and friends took to the living room where my sisters were discussing my need to wear false eyelashes to the wedding, and my friends were discussing 50 Shades of Grey. Both topics of conversations that, I am sure, were not taking place in the kitchen….or on the porch. Maybe some things are best left the way they are.

Well wishes from family and friends!
In any event, if the true goal of the engagement party is to celebrate the approaching union of this great couple,  it was a huge success. As the soon to be bride and groom mingled among their own friends and families, I would catch them get a glimpse of each other through the crowd and smile. The love in their eyes gave me comfort. Both sets of their parents have combined marriages of over 70 years, so the ground work has been laid. Compromise and humor will get them through most everything.......and the four of  us will always be there for anything else!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Airport Conversations..........

In the past several years I have been fortunate enough to travel to areas of this world I had only dreamed about before; Italy, Ireland, Alaska, San Francisco, etc. Plus two or sometimes three times a year I fly back and forth to Florida to visit family. Point being, I am no stranger to airports. But recently, I did something that I have never done in 50 plus years. I traveled alone. No husband, sister or friends to chat with. Just me. And quite frankly, I was amazed at what I have been missing.

I was flying back from Florida to Philadelphia, and my ears started tuning into conversations around me as I was standing barefoot and getting frisked by security guards. “Look”, an elderly women standing behind me said, “They pulled that lady over. I wonder if her name came up on some list. Hope she’s not on our plane.” I wanted to assure her that I was on no one’s list and was safe to fly with and that I, for some unknown reason, always get singled out for that extra measure of security at the airport…but at the time a TSA officer’s wand was rolling up my inner thigh and defending myself seemed pointless.

After my intimate greeting by security was over, I quickly found my gate, took a seat, and started the pretense of reading a book. I had my iPod headphones on but decided to remove them so I could hear what was going on around me. Seated nearby was a young couple dropping lines like “I never thought I would be doing this” and “I don’t know if I can do this”. I was sure they were flying away for some illicit affair, but as I listened more intently I found I was wrong. Dead wrong.

As the conversation continued, I learned that they were two corporate interns flying to Philly for a project that when completed would award only one of them a paid position with the company. They had worked together for months, become friends, and now had to compete against each other, on the same project, for a permanent position. Not sure I’d want to work for that company.

Other tidbits of conversations included:
“I told him, I don’t do that on the first date, I may not even do that on the second date” Wasn’t sure exactly what “that” meant, but judging by her purple highlights, piercings and visible tattoos, I probably don’t do “that” at all.

From two people sitting in their wheelchairs being pushed by airport employees. "As soon as we land, we are climbing on a bus and heading to the casinos in Atlantic City". I guess some disabilities are limited to airports.

Then my seating group was called to line up and while standing there, I overheard a conversation that hit home. Words and thoughts that occupied my mind for the three hour flight, and for days to follow. Two women in front of me, one about my age and the other older, started a dialogue. Strangers to each other, but still, revealing very personal information.

“I’m excited to be going home to Philadelphia. Haven’t been there in a couple years.” said the younger of the two. “Me too.” replied the older women. And then she asked the younger one “How long have you lived down here?” She sighed and then answered “About five years. I moved after almost having an accident on a snowy road. I told myself ‘enough is enough’, and packed up”. I wanted to add that it only snows two or three times a year in the Philadelphia region, but there are 90-year-old drivers on the road every day in Florida she should be more concerned about, but decided to remain quiet and continue to listen. “How about you,” she asked the older traveler. “Well, I have been living down here about three years.” “Do you like it?” she was asked. “No, not at all. I miss my family.” And then she dropped the bomb.

 “See, my sister and her husband were snow birds down here for years. Then they finally decided to buy the condo they always rented. This was about the time my husband passed away and I felt a need for change, so I bought one in the same development.” The younger women tried to add encouragement “Good for you!” The older women slowly nodded her head, “Not really. Two days after I made settlement, my sister and her husband backed out of their deal and decided to stay in Philly. Now, my sister, nieces and nephews all live up north and I am down here alone.” She looked out at the plane pulling into the gate. “That is why I am going home for a visit.” Home is where you live, not where you visit. My heart broke for her and the injustice inflicted upon by her sister and brother-in-law. The subject topic brought me back to an intense conversation with my husband a few weeks prior.

After 38 years of marriage, we have hit upon a topic we just can’t agree on…retirement. We are not there yet, but in the next few years, some hard decisions have to be made. He wants to sell our home, downsize, and move to a state with lower property taxes….and I don’t. I love my home and want to stay near my family and friends. It is a huge divide between two people who have managed to work through anything and everything over the years. I’m sure we will find some common ground here, but for now, I am done listening in on the conversations of others. The thought of “visiting home” is more than I can handle. I put my headphones back on.

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