Growing up Gastronomically

      Photo Gastronomically

Unlike most young teens my age, I sailed through my chubby stage, thanks to a fan club consisting of my parents, an aunt and two sets of loving grandparents. They’d listen attentively to the detailed accounts of my life and were an enthusiastic audience, whether I was reading them my entire school report or rehearsing my lines from the school play.

Little did I know that secret family meetings were being held to discuss such topics as to how to delicately get me to remove the belt on the knit dress that I loved to wear and how to help me curb my voracious appetite. Luckily, my Spanish grandmother’s suggestion to apply some Latin folk remedies involving herbs, a pig’s snout and a short prayer were immediately vetoed.

So, it was with a combination of elevated confidence and naivety that I found myself participating in “Operation Lindita” (in the Spanish language, adding “ita” to a name indicates affection). Each evening, as JC* prepared dinner, I joined her in the kitchen and sipped a cup of hot chicken broth in the hopes of curbing my appetite. Thanks to a combination of nutritional eating and the introduction of boys into my life, I soon dropped the weight, never to have it return again.

I am not a sweet eater. I am not abstaining to show my sugar-less superiority, I just prefer salty over sweet. You can count on me to guard your Halloween candy stash with nary a candy bar missing, but I am prepared to arm wrestle you for that last potato chip. I always carry some small packets of salt with me and do not travel without pretzels. I’m not sure why; an abundance of sodium chloride just makes me feel secure.

It was in college that I was first introduced to tiny utensils. The ex-Ford model hired to turn us from high school grads (still carrying the baby fat that once made us cute) into professional career women ate with a cocktail fork and a demitasse spoon and to this day, so do I.

At a recent family reunion, my siblings (all foodies) seemed to be curious about my petite partaking. As a souvenir of our time together, I sent each of them a cocktail fork and a demitasse spoon, tied with a red ribbon, and attached this poem I wrote:

When dining with utensils tiny
Frustration may leave you a bit whiny
So, savor each morsel on your plate
Watch your tummy slowly deflate
And smile in your spoon’s surface shiny

Remember, it doesn’t matter how big or small the bite, just as long as you take the time to savor each one. Bon Appetit!

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

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When Your Birthday is Not a Mirth Day

Photo Birthday Mirth Day

The loud crash startled us. By the time I lifted my eye mask off one eye, looked around, noticed nothing broken in my immediate area and tried to wake up, Mr. Wiz* had jumped up, figured out what had happened and already cleaned it up. Known for his supersonic hearing capabilities (he says it makes up for his poor eyesight), it seemed to me that he was already sitting up in bed, having heard the sound of a change in air velocity before the actual crash.

It was a freak accident. One of the pitchers from my collection that I have displayed along the top of the kitchen cabinets fell off the hidden, upside-down plastic container that I had it sitting on (to give it some height). This led to an abrupt change of display tactics, as all were removed from their precarious perches until we would be able to come up with a better plan. Better that then a major head injury caused by flying pottery. I should have known right then and there that my birthday was destined to be the stuff that humorous articles are made of.

No longer feeling that I needed to wear a bicycle helmet to do the dishes, I washed a bowl and instinctively turned on the garbage disposal. It was the loud grating sound that gave me that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I quickly shut it off, but the damage was done. I looked down and could see a twisted demitasse spoon lodged in its inner workings. When Mr. Wiz dashed over to survey the damage (damn, those ears!), I stood behind him and softly hummed “Happy Birthday To Me”, so as to try to diffuse the situation. He assured me that accidents happen, but was kind enough not to mention that they seem to happen to me at a disproportionate level. One quick call to a plumber and we were on our way.

The plan was to head over to Austin’s Lake Travis for the afternoon. I called JC* and told her we were on our way to pick her up. Mr. Wiz and I were singing to the car radio and just when we hit the high notes, we felt blasts of hot air coming out of the air conditioning vents. While I realize that covered wagons traversed Texas with not as much as a fan, nowadays when it’s summer in Austin, you need your AC. Our new destination was now the car dealership and soon after, we were able to secure a loaner car. On our way again, we both agreed that it was too late for our original plan.

We headed to JC’s to reconnoiter and come up with a plan B. Just as we were trying to decide what to do next, the deafening shrill of the building’s fire alarm sounded. From her terrace, we could see four fire engines pulling up. The alarms silenced and it turned out that we didn’t have to evacuate the building. A word to the wise: if you live in a high-rise and there is smoke in your apartment, remember to open your patio/terrace door and not the main door to your home. One of her neighbors with a breadcrumb filled toaster was probably feeling very embarrassed.

Our dinner reservation was in 20 minutes. We were disappointed that JC was feeling a bit under the weather and would not be joining us. We had originally brought clothes to change into, but at this point it seemed as if we should just get going before any other mishaps occurred. We did a walk/run to our destination and were so happy to arrive, crisis free.

We ate slowly, enjoying every bite of the delicious meal and every sip of the perfectly paired wine. Mr. Wiz laughingly commented as to how impressed he was that I was able to go with the flow. That reminded me of a past birthday of mine.

When I was 4 years old, JC and my grandmother took me to an amusement park on my special day. Not in agreement with their departure time, I threw myself on the ground, screaming, and made myself stiff as a board, resulting in each of them grabbing my arms and legs in order to get me back on the New York City bus. With her black eyes shining (which sparkled when she was happy and burned a hole into you when she was not), my grandmother recited a poem to me that day (in a combination of English and Spanish) that I never forgot:

There was a little girl
And she had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead
And when she was good, she was very, very good
But, when she was bad, she was horrid

I announced that a toast was in order. I may still have that curl, but as I grow older, I strive to find the lighter, more humorous side of life. So, here’s to going with the flow, leaping over those mud puddles and heading wherever its current takes you.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

My Hindu Wedding Adventure

Photo Hindu Wedding

My henna dried to a rich reddish brown color; beautiful!

Take my advice: If you are ever invited to a Hindu wedding, accept the invitation immediately. And if it’s in Portland, Oregon, plan to spend a week there.

My sister-in-law and brother-in-law are famous for their event planning, which usually includes a weeklong celebration for a family event. Lucky for us, it’s been in cities that we’ve yet to visit. Our latest family adventure was in Portland, Oregon for my niece’s wedding to a lovely young man of Sri Lankan descent.

The Haldi Ceremony

We are honored to be invited to the lovely home of the groom’s parents and observe this important pre-wedding event. On arrival, we remove our shoes and place them with the more than 50 other pairs on the floor of their grand entrance. The living room furniture has been removed and the wood floor is covered with colorful quilts. The parents and siblings of the bride and groom all take part in an elaborate ceremony conducted by a Hindu priest.

We learn that “haldi” is the Hindi word for turmeric. The women of the family had prepared a special paste of turmeric and herbs. The groom is led to a chair in the middle of the room and one by one, family and friends apply the paste to the groom’s skin. The older relatives lovingly pat on the cream while the younger family members jokingly smear it all over him. Its purpose is to cleanse body and soul. I am also told that because of its antibacterial properties, the groom has just received the equivalent of a $200 facial.

A delicious catered lunch follows and though I am usually a fussy eater, I enjoy every bite of the Indian specialties, along with the interesting conversations with friends and family from as far away as Sri Lanka and England. We thank our hosts and bid our new friends goodbye until the evening’s festivities.

The Sangeet Ceremony

I am here early in order to be first in line to receive a henna application from one of the two artists in attendance. The 300 plus guests have not yet arrived, so Carmen and I have time to chat. She tells me how she became a henna artist and that she mixes her own paste using lavender, known for its calming scent.

The DJ quickly gets the crowd on its feet by handing out colorful sticks and lining us up in a series of long lines facing each other. The Bollywood music starts and we learn a dance, tapping sticks with the person across from us before we move to the left, skip one person and continue.

The “Sangeet” is a celebration of the wedding to come in order to relish in the happiness and joy surrounding the bride and groom and join the two families together. We delight in watching the dance routines performed by family and friends in honor of the special couple and tasting the Indian street food that is served.

The Baraat

We are up early, standing outside the hotel where today’s festivities will take place. In a few minutes, the groom will arrive on a white horse. In times gone by, the groom’s wedding procession would travel to the bride’s village accompanied by friends and family. Today, led by a drummer and taped music, we all dance and sing as we escort him around the block. The look on the faces of the people in the coffee shop as we pass is priceless.

The Hindu Wedding

In the ballroom, a canopy of flowing sheer fabric and pastel flowers sits above elaborate gold gilded chairs. In the center are the items that the two Hindu priests will utilize for the ceremony. On each guest’s chair, is a detailed explanation of what will take place (which we are very grateful for), along with a small, brightly wrapped package containing a homemade cake. It will go well with the hot and cold beverages served. The event is a fusion of colorful saris worn by many of the guests.

The groom looks resplendent in his turban and matching gold and ruby red embroidered sherwani, a long, fitted coat. Only the bride can top this and she does. Her regal lehenga, an elaborately embroidered red and gold, two-piece skirt and top with a sheer sash is magnificent. The intricate henna designs on her feet and hands, the red “bindi” (a dot on her forehead), and the many bracelets that dangle up her arms have transformed my niece into a Hindu princess.

I am transfixed by the many lovely rituals that are performed; the look on the groom’s face when he sees his bride for the first time, hidden at first behind a white cloth; the flower garlands the bride and groom place on each other to proclaim acceptance of each other; the tying together of their scarves to signify their unity; the seven steps that they take together around the sacred fire, each representing marriage promises to each other.

As sacred fires sometimes do, its smoke triggers the hotel smoke alarm. The shrieking sound does nothing to deter the ceremony and the happy couple are gifted with photos of the firemen as part of their wedding album. A lovely lunch of Indian delights follows in a number of beautifully appointed rooms. We make our way back to our hotel and rest up for the next event.

The Western Wedding.

We’ve all changed into yet another outfit and we now congregate in a flower festooned room complete with soft music serenading us. The bridesmaids have changed from their saris to cocktail dresses and the groomsmen are now in suits and ties, rather than their sherwanis. The groom is dashing in his suit and bow tie and, once again, the bride steals the show in her elegant lace, blush colored gown and simple flower holding up her long hair on one side.

The Maid of Honor acts as the celebrant and enhances the ceremony with personal tidbits about the bride and groom, as only a friend can do. At one point, she catches us off guard by reminding us that this year marked the 50thanniversary of the landmark civil rights decision by the Supreme Court to invalidate laws prohibiting interracial marriage; a reminder that sparks emotion on this special day. The bride and groom’s vows give us a peek into their relationship, their promises to each other sweetly declared for all to hear.

We are ushered downstairs to another beautiful room for cocktails and hors d’ oeuvres, then later, we travel upstairs to a spectacular ballroom for dinner and dancing. In between, family and friends of the bride and groom welcome us, toast and even sing to the bride and groom. My sister-in-law and brother-in-law are tonight’s hosts. They were an integral part of every event and I marvel at how they both glowed, maneuvering through fabulous wardrobe changes and protocols as if they were experts. We dance the night away and make sure we hug all our new friends as the evening comes to a close.

The henna has since faded, but the coming together of two families and two cultures in the spirit of love will long be remembered.

 

 

 

The Nose Knows

Photo Sneeze

Bless you! Gesundeit! Last evening, she suffered another uncontrollable burst of sneezing during dinner and almost fell off her chair. All eyes were upon her as she excused herself from the table. We all followed the sound of the rapid fire “achoos,” as she made her way to the ladies’ room. I trailed behind at a reasonable distance and checked to make sure she was OK.

I thought she was kidding when she said she suffered from snatiation, a combination of the words sneeze and satiation. It’s a lighthearted attempt to coin a medical condition actually called stomach sneeze reflex, which is characterized by sneezing when the stomach is full.

Though there is no known cure, eating smaller meals and/or eating slowly may relieve the symptoms. It is likely to be genetic and does not cause any other health problems. I assured her that there was no need to be embarrassed. Would she rather be tapped on the shoulder while dining and reminded out loud that bathing suit season was just around the corner? I suggested she think of it as her own personal health consultant traveling with her 24/7.

This made me wonder; what would happen if our body’s reflexes continued to monitor our shortcomings?

Picture a world where every time you gossiped, you got a case of the hiccups. Baffled, the medical community would search for an explanation to justify the increasing cases of hicabber (a blend of the words hiccup and blabber). Starbucks stock would plummet as hiccupping women around the world, who normally gathered to share some indiscreet conversation over a latte, wreaked havoc on unknowing customers.

Companies of every size would follow suit as major corporations began a campaign of posting a single paper bag in conspicuous places, a subtle reminder that, though considered a hiccup remedy, at that point the damage will have been done. With nothing to do but actually work, this one simple act would surge workplace productivity to an all-time high.

Imagine incessant blinking brought about by anger. Though blander, a merge of the words blink and dander (losing one’s temper), would initially be thought of as just another means to further hostility in today’s world, the blinking component of this phenomenon could actually temper the act of feeling infuriated. Road rage became nothing more than a blinking contest. In some cases, a blink was mistaken for a wink and the flutter of eyelids led to a first date.

According to Smithsonianmagazine.org, studies have shown that we blink at predictable moments in an attempt to gather thoughts and focus attention on the world around us. A few moments of mental resting might be what we required all along to alleviate aggression.

I know what you’re thinking and yes, there is the possibility of experiencing snatiation, hicabber and blander all at once, but don’t think of them as symbols of shame. In The Scarlet Letter, Nathanial Hawthorne’s character, Hester, comes to realize that the “A” initially intended to mark her as an adulterer eventually stood for “Able” and became a powerful symbol of identity that helped her navigate the world.

 

 

 

 

 

Unfurling My Curls

Photo Unfurling My CurlsBeing a little girl with curly hair had its perks. I could launch into a medley of ShirleyTemple songs and tap dance my way to a later bedtime, but as I grew up I became tangled in its complexities.

My unruly curls and I were soon taken to my Titi Olga’s beauty salon for a consultation (Titi is an affectionate term for aunt, in Spanish). Located in the basement of her home, it most probably was being run without a license. Possibly affected by the strong odor of the chemical solutions, JC* lost all control of the situation and the decision was made to trust the illegal professional to give me a permanent. I left there with a lollipop and a hair style that gave new meaning to Curly Top, one of Shirley Temple’s hit movies.

As a teenager, the Beach Boys music reminded me that my curls were interfering with my goal of long, blonde, straight hair and living in California. Luckily, I had read in a teen magazine that I could straighten my hair on my own. The project required an ironing board, an iron and one important item that I had forgotten about: the towel that goes between the iron and the hair. It was a miracle that JC walked into the laundry room just at the right moment and shrieked, saving me from a 911 experience that would, no doubt, still be the talk of the police locker room today.

There was another article in that same teen magazine (they went bankrupt soon after) that said to set your hair with juice cans, the larger diameter helping to straighten the hair. Though my younger siblings were apprehensive at first, the little entrepreneurs set up shop, charging their friends 25 cents to view their alien older sister in her native habitat. And, when I awoke one morning, screaming, as I discovered that you could read the word “Tropicana” in bold letters across my rolled hair, those little devils raised the admission price to 50 cents.

As if out of a scene from It’s a Wonderful Life, I unexpectedly experienced life curl free when I became pregnant. It wasn’t pretty. My mind raced through the twists and turns of a life without those rowdy ringlets and I swore on my bubble hair dryer that if my curls somehow returned, I would never brush them off as an annoyance again.

In an ironic turn of events, Big A* was born with a bald little head and my curls miraculously returned, crowning my head, once again, with those wild twirls of hair that were and are the root of who I am.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

 

 

 

The King of Queens

Photo King of Queens

Ask anyone and they will tell you that I was the one to coin that phrase years before the popular TV show. My dad not only owned a construction company in Queens, a borough of Manhattan, he spoke of it as if it were his magical kingdom.

Every morning (sometimes seven days a week), he would leave the house before we got up and regale us with fascinating facts and stories when he’d arrive home. The reason that the fruits and vegetables from Queens were larger than any we’d ever seen was because the vacant lots they were grown in contained special soil. While he couldn’t make his way around a country road, he knew of a network of back alleys which could magically transport him to any Queens destination in half the time.

Though he only stood 5 feet 6 inches, he lived life large. He had a powerful presence that was not lost on any of the Queens store or restaurant owners. When he walked into an establishment, there was always a ruffle of excitement as they welcomed Mr. Frank and he delighted in that.

Wonderful marketer that he was, he noticed that the demographics in his area were changing. Many of the Queens homeowners were now widows who were a bit fearful of dealing with rough, tough and possibly unscrupulous contractors. That gave him the idea to create the persona of “The Gentleman Roofer.” His new Yellow Pages ad and business cards featured a photo of him in a bowler hat and tuxedo. When customers would ask if the Gentleman Roofer would be wearing his hat, he started to carry plastic ones in his trunk.

The photo shoot for the new marketing campaign was created in my parent’s living room. Initially, an argument ensued when my dad, in a hurry, insisted on just wearing the tuxedo jacket along with his boxer shorts, reasoning that the photo would be taken from the waist up. With JC* as the photographer (and no experience in this field of endeavor), what happened next was another Lucy and Desi moment. For years, those outtakes were the highlight of every family get together. We’d laugh until we cried at the photos of my dad yelling in each photo as JC repeatedly took crooked images of him in his combination tuxedo/underwear outfit.

Once he visited your home to give you a quote was when the magic happened. In five minutes, he would size you up. If you lived alone, he would show you family photos, tell you about his voice lessons and leave you a tape of him singing Frank Sinatra tunes. If you were aggressive and started haggling about pricing, he would suggest another area contractor. They were not as good as his company, but there might be a better rapport. This usually led to that customer calling, begging for another chance (and paying more for the privilege)

For months after he died, I would call his company phone number at night just to hear his robust voice on the message and smile. I knew that the new owner would eventually update it, but I doubted that anyone could match his Christmas message. Recorded over 50 times until perfect, it featured JC singing “Jingle Bells” softly in the background (again, with no experience in this field of endeavor) and my dad reminding you that you will have a happier holiday if you call the Gentleman Roofer for an appointment.

Happy Father’s Day!

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

How Our New Home Found Us

Photo How Are Home Found Us

We love you, dear Austin and didn’t want to leave
But, home prices and no zoning had led us to believe

Our horizons should broaden, our focus widen for sure
Would any other Texas city have your allure?

So, with pen, paper and a positive stance
We compiled our wish list and then by chance

A vibrant, new friend gave us food for thought
As she regaled us with tales of the home she’d just bought

It was all she had dreamed of, all she would desire
And she was able to get in just under the wire

In her late 50s, she met the 55+ regulation
Now she’s the poster child for Sun City and our new inspiration

She’s swimming, she’s golfing, she’s dancing and that’s not all
She’s joined the hiking club, the Spanish club and is playing pickle ball

The amenities intrigued us and as her new friends were introduced
We wondered; are they actors and are we being seduced?

We pondered, we contemplated and finally our instincts we did obey
So, lookout Sun City, we’re heading your way!