Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Holiday Cookie Swap: You’re kidding me, right?

Recipe: Date Crumbles

In the latest missive from Martha, the Darth Vader of domesticity offers up a bunch of recipes especially for holiday cookie swaps. Putting aside the question of who in her right mind would invite Martha to a cookie party (“How quaint! A chocolate chip cookie!  Here, do sample one of my Roasted Pecan, Marzipan and Sea Salt 100% Cocoa Dream Bars. They’re the ones packaged in my homemade Fabergé eggs and sprinkled with edible gold dust!”), let us for a moment focus on the strange notion of a cookie swapping party.

As I understand it, these things require everyone to bring about 50 dozen homemade cookies, festively packaged for the holiday and suitable for gift giving. Attendees then go home with 50 dozen assorted cookies to light up their holiday season and blow out the springs on yet another bathroom scale. Now, I myself have never been invited to one of these dream festivals, nor have I ever considered the possibility of throwing one, even in the midst of a weeklong holiday eggnog bender celebration, but I have it on good authority that these shindigs are fairly common and many people actually enjoy them. Mysterious, isn’t it? So let’s break it down.

Babs and Mandy via http://pyxurz.blogspot.com

Cookie party? Great idea, Babs! Count us in!
I’m guessing of course, but I’d wager this is how it usually starts. A couple of ex-sorority sisters are sitting at the table in a tastefully appointed, 800 square-foot kitchen sipping cinnamon-dusted, decaf, fat-free lattes and tossing around crazy ideas to really pep up the holiday season, when one of them recalls reading about a holiday cookie swapping party in, where else, Martha Stewart Living. This of course is the family-friendly, great-room version of the panelled-basement, Mateus-swilling, wife swapping parties of yesteryear. These days, however, instead of swinging, mom, dad, the kids and the nanny happily mingle while participating in a mid-afternoon sugar orgy and bake-off with alpha status on the cul de sac as first prize. (“OMG, Sally did NOT bring those disgusting Snickerdoodles again?! Last year I gave ours to the cleaning lady, and it was the last time we ever saw her. Just saying…”)

Why would anyone do this during the holidays?
I don’t know about you, but by the second week in December I am red-lining the stress meter. My house is cluttered with decorations and blinking lights that turn a garden variety hangover into a never-ending hallucinogenic nightmare; I have cuts on the soles of my feet from stepping on broken ornament shards; I’ve already gained five pounds from eating the entire, extra large fruitcake I made the day after Thanksgiving; and my credit cards are smoking. At this point I long for three things: clear surfaces, a stomach pump and a double martini after breakfast. Seems to me a holiday vodka swapping party would actually make sense at a time like this. How come nobody throws those?

Courtesy frockon.com

What’s the party dress code? The holiday sweater, of course!
If you’re actually going to put in an appearance at one of these binges, you’ll be expected to show up in the Christmas classic, on which you will certainly not want to squander precious gift dollars. So, if you don’t have a novelty sweater of your own (and I sincerely hope you don’t), borrow a Rudolph cardigan, preferably with jingle bells, from Aunt Marge or Chester, that goofy second cousin on your father’s side who keeps a spotless house, is the first to arrive at every family reunion (with his mother) and never fails to remind you that he’s “missing your Christmas card” on December 2nd.

In my opinion, if you’re going to throw a bash during the holiday season, you really should make it formal, but there’s just no way to pull off a black tie cookie party. With the annual request for evening attire, the old man’s mildewy tuxedo gets aired and stretched, and the ladies have a perfectly good excuse to nip into Lord and Taylor for fashionable party shoes, a cocktail dress that will be worn only once, and the Spanxx that are necessary to zip it, but which also require the victim to pee through the trap door in the crotch while hovering over the toilet bowl, because there is no way you’re ever going to get a garment with that much torque back up once you’ve pulled it down and released a cascade of fruitcake-infused gut flab back into the wild, even for the few seconds it takes to have a squeak. You cannot get this kind of merriment while upholstered in Mom jeans and a turtleneck.

What’s on the drinks cart?
Why milk, cider, coffee and tea of course, silly! How this passes for a party in any universe is beyond me. Enough said.

Don’t forget the straw!

Here’s what a “cookie party” at my house would look like:
Me still in my pajamas at seven pm, slumped against the kitchen counter, drinking directly from the bottle of Bushmills I keep under the sink (for emergencies) with half a bowl of cookie dough already working its way from my stomach to my ass. Smoke is rolling out of the oven where the final batch of cookies I need to meet my party “quota” is incinerating (This batch is for YOU, Babs.), and the Wing Hua delivery man is laying on the doorbell waiting for payment on the fifth consecutive dinner delivery of the week. Happy freakin’ holidays.

Nonetheless, since we’re on the subject, and I’m thinking about cookies, I’m going to break my no-more-cooking rule just this once to offer up the recipe for the Slattern’s best cookie, the date crumble. Not only is it festive and delicious, but it also contains dates (iron!) and oatmeal (fiber!), which in my book qualifies this as health food. As an added bonus, these cookies are baked en masse in a pan then cut into bars, thereby saving the baker the aggravation of multiple batches. So if you must attend one of these godawful events, at least you can shine. Just make sure to bring the Slattern’s friend along for company if you want to have any fun at all.

Date Crumbles
(They freeze beautifully, btw)

Date Filling
3 cups pitted dates, chopped (1 lb)
1 cup water
1/3 cup white sugar
Juice of ½ lemon

Crumble
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup cool unsalted butter (somewhere between refrigerator and room temp, no margarine or Crisco!)
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups oats (you can use quick cooking oats, but I use old fashioned ones for more texture)
½ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt

Heat the oven to 400°.

In a saucepan, combine the filling ingredients and cook over low heat about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring constantly, until thickened and kind of pasty with chunks. Cool for about 5 minutes.

In large bowl (preferably of an electric mixer, otherwise this bit is exhausting), stir brown sugar and butter together, then add the flour, oats, baking soda and salt and mix until crumbly.

Press half of the crumb mixture evenly in the bottom of pan to form a crust. Spread with filling. Top with remaining crumb mixture and press down lightly.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until light brown. Cool 5 minutes in the pan. Run a knife along the edge of the pan, otherwise you’ll have trouble extracting the bars after they cool. Cut into squares or diamonds or rectangles, whichever feels most festive to you.

What’s that? Your sweet tooth is calling? Might as well indulge your masochistic tendencies here, then.

Chocolate crinkles
Bar cookies
Molasses crinkles
The science of the chocolate chip cookie

From Greek to Geek: The therm has turned

My latest satirical entry on The Cronk of Higher Education can be found RIGHT HERE! Don’t be afraid to click the link — it’s all suitable for work, unless of course your office is near the dean’s.

Link: http://www.cronknews.com/2012/11/29/geekchic/

To brine or not to brine…

I’ll come clean. I am barely cooking at all this Thanksgiving. Instead I’m flying to Florida on the holiday to help stage an epic 90th birthday party for my Grammie Florence on the Friday, and I am some kind of excited about it.

I wish I could say I’ll miss the unbearable stress of accommodating twenty people in a living space that barely houses four, or that I’m pining for the experience of getting a massive bird, fifty side dishes (including a jell-o salad) and six pies made IN ADVANCE, or even that I regret not having the opportunity to get sideways drunk well before sundown on the case of nasty  New Beaujolais my Uncle Fred invariably drags through the door. I won’t. What I will do is throw together a pie this afternoon, help roast up a little turkey breast tomorrow morning, then swallow three Klonopin in the car on the way to JFK in preparation for the flight and the prospect of having to re-don the skimpy summer wardrobe in a roomful of cameras.

As such, I’m not even going to apologize for recycling last year’s turkey post. Nobody was reading me at the time, so only a few stalwart family members even saw it anyway. And for those of you about to enter the inferno of frenzied dinner prep and family holiday shenanigans remember, it’s all about the path of least resistance, which in my experience leads straight to the portable bar.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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In your kitchen? Seriously?

Brine a turkey? Are you for real?

It isn’t hard enough to time everything so that a large turkey, two kinds of potato, four vegetables, three sides, dinner rolls, stuffing and gravy all hit the table at the same moment, hot and unspoiled?

Would you seriously consider adding to that madness a procedure that requires a trip to Home Depot the day before Thanksgiving for a bucket big enough to hold an eighteen pound bird and about fifty gallons of salt solution; soaking the bird in the solution for twelve to twenty-four hours; finding adequate cold storage for same; then fishing the sodden bird out of the drink early in the morning of a day when you’ve got ten people coming for a midday meal, some of whom might even be your in-laws?

Really? Well prepare to eat the meal in your pajamas, and you might as well start with Bloody Marys for breakfast and work up from there.

Let me tell you, I tried brining exactly once and all I have to say is never again. See above. Now, I can’t tell you absolutely that brining does not produce a moister bird. It may very well, and people who know a lot more about cooking than I do swear by it. What I can say is that when it comes to the year I tried to brine my bird, I can barely remember eating the meal (now generally referred to as the brining incident amongst my nearest and dearest) let alone cooking it. In any case, it took months of talk therapy, some high grade pharmaceuticals and a few meds that are not, strictly speaking, in the Physician’s Desk Reference to deal with the fall out from that little adventure, and there is no way I’m going to revisit it. For me, the big bird soak was the straw that very nearly broke the slattern’s back, the final drop that loosed the deluge from the sherry bottle if you will.

So long story short, my advice is not to brine. Just cook the stuffing separately and drizzle it with some of the drippings from the bird before serving. Same diff, and your guests will not be any the wiser. When you shorten the cooking time (unstuffed birds cook much faster), the white meat is less dry. For flavor, use lots of butter and sherry and shove some fresh sage and half an onion in the cavity before you roast the bird. That’s it. Not exactly rocket science, but at least it gives you a fighting chance of remaining upright until the pies are cut.

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Game for more Thanksgiving madness? Try these:

Happy Thanksgiving: Embrace the can
Don’t desecrate your Thanksgiving bird

How’s all that exercise working out for ya?

A guide to navigating the gym for the non-athletic

It’s all about the smooth ride.
Via gomotors.net.

I am, to employ the overused expression just one more time, built for comfort, not for speed. Before, however, you jump to conclusions about my physical aptitude, let me just say that despite being rather generously upholstered I am not uncoordinated. My dad is a natural athlete and my mother is a heck of a dancer, so I come from well coordinated, physically able stock. I would not, however, say the members of my gene pool are particularly hard charging, preferring as we do to confine our activities to those that are less taxing but also require a certain mental agility, such as golf, poker and Scrabble. The more demanding sports, we prefer to relegate to the TV. Nothing wrong with that.

In light of this, you can imagine my chagrin at being informed by Dr. Feelbad, diet doctor to the stars, that my daily waddles to the Cupcake Cafe and regular walking tours of Bloomingdales could in no way be construed as a fitness regime. He was very clear about this: In addition to removing every food I like from my diet, the price of a return to single digit sizes would be a minimum of two weight workouts and 150 minutes of aerobic exercise each week. Swell, I said, but I vowed to do it. My first stop of course was Bloomie’s (for sneakers and appropriate gymwear), and then, since I was already in the building, it only made sense to look in at the Magnolia Bakery, conveniently located on the first floor.

Improbably, I have actually come to suffer through enjoy my workouts. Within strict limits, which are:

At my age ALL yoga is hot yoga.
Courtesy yogitastic.com.

No classes.
I dislike sharing space with people who are sweating. In truth, I don’t even like to be around myself when I sweat. This makes yoga classes, which can be tightly packed, completely out of the question. I tried a few, and even the underpopulated ones invariably included a stinker, usually on a mat adjoining my own. What’s more, I have a tendency to fall asleep and snore during the little naptime at the end, which adds a general level of anxiety to the first 90 minutes of the experience as I fret about whether I’ll be able to stay awake and if I should or should not put a prop under my neck. Besides I can’t tell my chakra from my prana, and even if I could I’d never use those terms anyway. Is it me, or do they all sound vaguely pornographic? And since we’re on the subject, maybe I don’t want my hips to be more “open.” What does that even mean?

I know there are other classes, but there’s still the sweating issue, as well as the stamina problem. I’ve walked by the spinning room, and there is no way I’d last five minutes in that setting. The chafing of the bike seat, the horrible soundtrack and the military precision of it all would be too much. Stand up, sit down, now speed it up, crank it up a notch, go, go, GO! It’s like being force marched through an Easter mass by a speed-freak priest with music by the unholy trinity of Nickie Minaj, Rhianna and Lady Ga Ga. No thank you.

How about one of the dance-based classes?, you might ask. I think you know where I stand on Zumba generally. And anyway, I never dance in public until I’ve had at least four drinks, and then only if there’s a surf instrumental involved. When the instructors are all about twelve years old, there’s very little chance of that, you can be sure.

Via fitstream.com

No flailing.
It has been suggested that I might improve the efficacy of my workout with the help of a personal trainer. I think not. There’s a slightly mildewy cloud of hopelessness that follows the trainer and student combos at my gym. Most of the trainers are weedy and unappealing, with the exception of Muscle Boy, the resident hottie trainer, but I’d never even attempt to work with him. There’s the whole Mrs. Robinson thing, and anyway being on the receiving end of pitying glances from a guy whose lips move when he thinks is not something I’m inclined to pay for.

Even if I could find a trainer, they all seem to employ this new system of flailing around the gym which I described in an earlier, satirical post. Whenever I see hapless mooks marching around the weight room while swinging kettle bells or walking sideways on the stairmaster under the knowing gaze of a personal trainer, I cannot help but suspect these “exercises” are more for the amusement of the fit than the physical development of the fat. No, I think I’ll just oversee my own work out with the help of a book and an occasional look at Pumping Iron, thanks very much.

No locker room.
I’ve heard that men are generally relaxed about the nudity issue and, if memory serves, I can say with some certainty that this is true. In all likelihood there are women who don’t stress over being seen in the altogether by other women, but then again, there are people who don’t mind dental visits or even high colonics for that matter. I fall into none of these categories, and so I prefer to handle post-exertion ablutions at home — alone, without any mirrors below chin level, and in a shower where if someone has peed, at least I know they’re family.

Via absurdman.com

So what works?
The various cardio options are great because you can pop on your headphones and pretend you’re doing something else. I’m particularly fond of the elliptical machines because I can close my eyes while using them, which means even if people I know pass by I can legitimately avoid speaking to them. It’s embarrassing to have to stop your workout to hold a conversation, especially when you’re puffing like a steam engine after three minutes at level 1, or the wheelchair program as it is commonly known. To be avoided: the horrifying moving staircases. Yes, all cardio machines are in effect roads to nowhere, but these have a kind of Sisyphean gulag vibe that can easily turn working out into an existential crisis.

I also love the weight room. Really. The analog thrill of banging the iron appeals to me in some primal way. Again, it’s an individual thing, no group-think, just me and the dumbbells bonding in pursuit of flapless upper arms and a fat free back.

And finally, the one thing that makes it all bearable is the playlist. Now you’ll listen to whatever cranks your starter of course. I’ve developed a shameful habit of cueing up Florence + the Machine while on the elliptical — she’s kind of the Stephanie Meyer of art rock, but we all have our dirty little secrets. Generally I find that anything by the Foos (provided it’s at full volume) works exceptionally well at getting my thrash on, as do a host of other similarly loud musical selections.  Listen:

Makes you feel like you could almost wind the treadmill up to 2, doesn’t it?

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Interested in more slatternly fitness antics? Try these:

Sports for Girls

Satire: The jig is up

New Feature: The Slattern’s Mind Probe

Image via curiousscience.com

There’s nothing like a good secret police interrogation. Or is there? Now, you’ve no doubt perused Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire, and have probably enjoyed Heidi Ellis’s The Early Bird Catches the SPaM feature. In truth, there isn’t anything new about the interview-as-blog-post format, but what the hey, I’m going to do it anyway. So even if The Slattern’s Mind Probe is not entirely innovative as a concept, what it lacks in originality, it will certainly more than make up for in quality by giving you the chance to peek inside some of the most interesting and funny brains I’ve had the pleasure to encounter since first sending up this little emotional distress signal one year ago. 

My first guest is the fabulous Cristy Carrington Lewis, aka Miss Snarky Pants, my oldest blogging buddy and soulmate in snark. The Alt Mrs. Sedaris is a recovering lawyer and newbie vegan who writes one of the smartest, wickedest blogs this side of Hell. So let’s find out….

What’s really going on inside the mind of Cristy Carrington Lewis?

What’s your favorite dirty word, and why?
Fuck-a-doodle-doo. I’d like my voice to be the first thing people hear upon awakening.

Which kitchen utensil do you most resemble?
Okay, the kitchen is the room with the upright coffin, right?

You’re competing in the synchronized swimming event in the Olympics. Which song do you and your partner choose for your program?
Monty Python’s “I’m a Lumberjack.” Nothing goes together better than chlorine and axes. Imagine the plaid flannel bikinis.

If you could do away with one national holiday, which one would it be?
Easter. I heard they found the body.

Bikinis, thongs or granny panties?
When your ass is as big as mine, all panties eventually become thongs.

Complete the following sentence. If I were an exotic dancer, my stage name would be
Miss Snarky Pantsless.

What do you want to be when you grow up?
An Oscar Meyer weiner. An adult one.

What’s the most disgusting thing you’ve ever eaten?
Rocky Mountain Oysters

Then why did you eat it?
The bull paid extra.

Caption this photo.

This is what a world with no Roe v. Wade looks like.

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Interested in more self-revelatory shenanigans thinly disguised as blog awards? If your stomach can take it and your psyche is not too fragile by now, try these:

Tagged: Thank you, Sir. May I have another?
We don’t need no stinking Superbowl

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