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Happy New Year! The Slatterns Go West

photo courtesy gopixpic.com

photo courtesy gopixpic.com

Dear Friends and Loving Family,

As most of you know by now, this year the Slattern family left behind the stress, grime and outstanding bench warrants of New York City for a fresh start in sunny San Francisco! After all that fuss and nonsense about young master Slattern’s alleged “hacking” and our subsequent flight to adventure in Kazakstan, the Slattern clan was feeling the need for some sun and fun, so when a position opened up in the San Francisco sorting facility of the good old USPS, Mr. Slattern jumped at the chance. Sure, it was a lateral, some might even say downward, move, but as you might expect, the taint of a mail fraud accusation — even a baseless, trumped up one — tends to linger, and so the family got behind “the old man” and packed up the truck and a-moved to Beverly. Well, actually Oakland, but you get the picture.

photo courtesy swamplot.com

Home Sweet Home! photo courtesy swamplot.com

Upon arriving on the left coast, we soon settled into our charming little bungalow by the freeway (handy off and on!). Out here they call this kind of property a “project house,” and what a project it’s been. Luckily we left the spot welder and acetylene torches back in the NYPD impound room, safely beyond the reach of our family contractor, Uncle Fred. With just a hammer and a handsaw, he worked miracles shoring up the place. I’m pretty sure ours is the only bungalow in the East Bay with flying buttresses, but when the big quake hits, the Slatterns will be ready. “Bring on the tremblers!” says Uncle Fred. Of course there’s more than a little left to do, but with only two rooms, the list is quite manageable. Isn’t it lucky we thought to hitch that pop-up trailer to the minivan before we left? Between the shack house, the trailer and the Caravan, every member of the family has a little corner to call his own.

Uncle Fred goes native! photo courtesy inquisitr.com

Uncle Fred goes native!
photo courtesy inquisitr.com

With his domestic tasks complete, intrepid traveler Uncle Fred has begun to explore the city and seems to have found his niche at a little cafe over in the Castro where he spends most days nursing a cappuchino and watching the world go by, happily surrounded by like-minded free spirits. As an added bonus, his inner thigh psoriasis is responding beautifully to all that sunshine. And I’m absolutely thrilled to have finally found a use for all those orphaned socks in the laundry basket!

Grandma, too, has found her “peeps” in the wild west. Upon arrival, it was for her the work of minutes to master the bus schedule and make a beeline for Haight-Ashbury, where she’s pretty sure she spent a blissful couple of years back in the Sixties.

His and her chin scruff!

His and her chin scruff = love at first sight!

You’d think an octogenarian with a walker might have trouble with the transfers, but the old girl says she’s “found a new spark.” We think the spark is her friend, Mr. M-dot Six, whom she met over at the senior drop-in center. It’s so sweet. Every week they take the Cannibis-Rex senior bus to Big Sur together and spend the afternoon chasing trails and chair dancing to the sweet sounds of yesteryear — bootleg Dead, the Airplane, the Stones. Apparently, Mr. Six has the lyrics to Panama Red tattooed on his back, which makes bus sing-alongs a whooping good time.

Between work and his five-hour round-trip commute each day, Mr. Slattern is busy, too. He’s finding the workers-first spirit of San Francisco a welcome change from the grind of New York’s rigid rules and regulations, and of course the six-hour work day is quite a boon. Between the city-mandated karma breaks and his drive time, he’s made real progress with his Kazakh language tapes. As he says, “With this family, you never know when a trip to a Central Asian non-extradition state may be necessary, and next time I want to know how to order a goddamned whiskey and something other than goat.” He’s such a panic.

Our boy has found his Mr. Miyagi!

Our boy has found his Mr. Miyagi!

Young Master Slattern seems be settling in despite the upheaval and detentions of the last few years. A real trooper, our boy is following his court-ordered technology ban to the letter, which made it much easier to refute last week’s loose talk and allegations about connections to the DPRK. Now, instead of working on computers, he spends his off-time at the local gym practicing the martial arts, something called UFC. I’m not sure what it is, but he tells us it’s a very spiritual, energy-focused multi-disciplinary sport. We’re just glad he’s found a new obsession hobby. As an added bonus, his baby-fat love handles and computer-screen slouch are both things of the past. We are told the concussive damage passes quickly and is seldom cumulative, so it’s all good.

As you may have heard, our daughter decided to stay in Kazakhstan as Mrs. Nikolai Nikolaiovich, at least until the twins arrive. Last time we spoke, the newlyweds were planning to join us just as soon as the confusion about Nik’s status could be resolved with Homeland Security. Apparently, owing to some business with camels and rocket fuel, his name landed on a watch list, but he is sure it’s all a misunderstanding. What else is new for this family?

Not AGAIN!

Not AGAIN!

As for yours truly, I soldier on. The freeway noise, at first a constant sensory assault not unlike living in a running clothes dryer, has become, for me anyway, more like the sound of waves breaking on the shore, a kind of white noise with diesel fumes. It lulls me to sleep at night, and in the morning the jake brakes and air horns gently rouse me from my Ambien-induced slumber. The doctors out here are lovely and generally agree that my alopecia is most likely stress-induced and temporary. They seem to feel the bald spots on my head will start to fill in on their own as soon as the Lithium kicks in. The good news is, no need for another bout of residential treatment — or ECT — for your favorite slattern!

Once again, we wish all our friends and family (even the ones who no longer speak to us, or accept our calls, or send money) a happy and healthy holiday season. For those of you still in touch, we can best be reached at General Delivery, Daly City Post Office. Or through the Red Cross/Crescent. Happy New Year, everybody!

Occupy Hall-give-mas-kah!

Let’s beat the whole crazy season into submission by turning October, November and December into one long Euro-style holiday for the 99 percent!

Looks like lunch to me. Image courtesy therichest.com

Looks like lunch to me.
Image courtesy therichest.com

Regular visitors to this yeasty, entirely overheated corner of the blogosphere by now will have noted my less than sunny views on the holiday season. Each year, Halloween ushers in the annual frenzy with a vodka and Twizzler orgy that more often than not ends with me climbing to the roof to burn Martha in effigy, inadvertently blowing up the portable bar or otherwise frightening the children. Soon after, Thanksgiving red-lines my culinary stress meter and pushes my frazzled psyche to the limits of sanity, so that by the time Christmas rolls around, I’ve been on a liquid diet so long I can no longer tell the difference between a Bloody Mary and a large gazpacho, and even if I could I wouldn’t care, as long as there’s enough Stoli for my soup. Then like clockwork, on January 2nd it’s back to Betty Ford.

endcapJust as predictably, it seems to me, every year the holiday decorations go up a little earlier, the carols start a bit sooner, and the event horizon on my liver transplant slides ever closer. I know I am not wrong about this — the holiday creep, I mean.

And so it was with real horror that I encountered something very like this in the local bookstore. On October 30th. Owing to the unseasonably balmy weather, I was wearing sandals as I passed the festive display of holiday titles, which gave the experience a kind of surreal, even menacing quality.

Imagine if you will an average housewife on an average day. She enters the bookstore on a harmless birthday present-buying errand only to encounter a bewildering array of Christmas paraphernalia — in the month of October. Has she lost three months due to dissipated excess, is she merely a victim of overeager marketing, or are more sinister forces at work? Perhaps she has entered . . . the Holiday Zone.

Sends a shiver up your spine, does it not?

Trees still green? Temps in the 60s? Says Christmas in New York to me!

Trees still green? Temps in the 60s? Says Christmas in New York to me!

Well, it did mine. So as soon as my purchase was complete, I hightailed it toward home, only to encounter this in my neighborhood. Was it any wonder that, shaken and disoriented, I staggered into the local watering hole, which became a kind of sink hole, and eventually a black hole? At evening’s end, Mr. Slattern was somewhat less than pleased at being called to collect me, though he got over it eventually. Thank heaven the man is handy with a stomach pump.

Anyhow, now that my head has cleared and I’ve taken the pledge — again — my recent experiences have got me thinking, and I have come up with a heck of an idea. Let’s beat the whole crazy season into submission by turning October, November and December into one long Euro-style holiday for the 99 percent! Over the three months, we’ll all work about one day out of every five, as our Continental cousins appear to, while the one percent (retailers, marketing companies, advertisers) continue to clock-in as usual in a frantic effort to flog the decorations, specialty foods and gifts we can’t be bothered to shop for because we’re too busy lolling on the beach, sipping espresso in cafes and binge-viewing all five seasons of Fringe in one weekend.

Then instead of discrete holidays, we can just decorate for one. No more changing from jack o’lanterns to turkeys to Christmas trees or menorahs. Just throw it all up at once in October, and take it all down in January. Or never. What difference does it make? Think of all the time you’ll save. On October first you can festoon your Christmas tree with tiny pumpkins, dress your dancing Santa up as Dracula and fill your cornucopia with fake severed fingers. Spin your pentagram dreidel, stuff the Thanksgiving bird with leftover Charlestown Chews and Red Vines, bob for drumsticks, go caroling in your Pilgrim get-up. The possibilities are endless. See?

We are so done.

We are so done.

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

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