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!
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.
Just 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?
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?
Ready to tie yourself to Martha’s whipping post?
Apparently fall is the time our pal Martha, fresh from a few restful weeks of torturing the locals for pleasure in Maine, really starts feeling ambitious and decides to crank up the domestic wheel of pain. Not content with flogging Louis Quatorze lawn parties and Gatsby-themed luncheons as the best way to throw a picnic, the evil one has recently shifted the MSL lifestyle dream-machine into overdrive. Her timing is, as ever, impeccable. Once fall is upon us, any reasonable adult can finally breathe free with the kids back at school, the house guests out of her hair and the in-laws safely stashed back in their golf community, at least until the Thanksgiving horror/torture begins. Unless, of course, you live in Martha world.
I don’t, but I like to peek through the keyhole from time to time, and in the past week or so I’ve had ample opportunity after receiving about a hundred emails from the Domestic Death Star
nagging inviting me to do the following:
Start your Halloween preparations early, like now.
Madame Stewart suggests using September to get a jump on updating last year’s party-planning spreadsheet, start crafting spiders from pipe cleaners and hot glue and prepare the fifty-piece pumpkin carving and microsurgery tool set for this, the most festive holiday of the year.
And of course it’s never too early to begin planning your costume, because there is nothing pathetic about a sixty-year old woman in a French maid’s costume or a fright wig.
Now I don’t know about you, but I hate Halloween, and frankly I’d rather set myself on fire than spend a full month gearing up for it, unless by that you mean buying and consuming six dozen bags of “fun size” Snickers bars, Twizzlers and mini Dove Bars, but somehow I don’t think that’s what she has in mind.
Create savory lunch box meals your kids “will want to eat.” Now, of course these days the little slattern is away at college and in charge of her own meals, but I can say with certainty that never, in eighteen years of lunchbox slavery, did I encounter a situation in which a “bento box” featuring cold Asian noodle salad, or an avocado-cream cheese-cucumber-sprout sandwich on grainy bread, or cute little lettuce leaf cups filled with apple and chicken salad would have been greeted with anything but misery followed by pitiful efforts to trade.
Let me tell you, nobody in the lunchroom is going to give up half a PB&J for anything that involves even the suggestion of a lettuce leaf. They might, however, tease your child unmercifully for the rest of her academic life on the basis of such a meal, so there’s that added incentive to provide it — as if you needed another reason to spend three hours every night preparing the next day’s lunch so that it could be thrown in the trash and your child could arrive home exhausted, bullied, and in the middle of a full-on low-blood-sugar meltdown. Parenting, the Martha way.
Learn the venerable art of découpage with Martha’s five part video tutorial after which you can run out and buy all fifty items in her new découpage product line. Yup, DECOUPAGE. Look!
Those of you who have succeeded in repressing memories of sleep-away camp — where arts & crafts classes were the only alternative to swimming in a freezing lake, hiking fifty miles carrying a two-hundred pound pack or spending a sleepless night on the ground quivering in a stinky sleeping bag all the while freaking out about bugs, bats and snakes — will no doubt be pleased to revisit this wonderful crafting activity via Martha’s instructional videos.
In FIVE installments!
I mean really, what is there to say beyond, cut some pictures out, glue them on something then shellac the hell out of the whole mess? I’ll tell you what else, NOTHING, except maybe, “Here’s how to spend a hundred bucks and three days making a shitty old picture frame/lamp/piece of furniture look like a craft project you did at Camp Wankaweewee in 1979.”
Okay, that’s enough. I’m going out to get a pizza and a six-pack for lunch, then I’m going to toilet paper and egg that witch’s house but good. Happy freakin’ fall, Martha.
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!
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:
In these, the final precious moments of calm before the storm, I am taking on the ultimate Thanksgiving taboo. And I’m not talking about what happened in the powder room last year after Uncle Fred found the cooking sherry and Vaseline even after I hid them behind the sofa, grotesquely fascinating though that story most certainly is. In this case, the love that dare not speak its name involves your guests and cranberry sauce.
Let’s all just come clean, shall we? Of course we should prefer homemade cranberry sauce, and every year I make some interesting version of it – with apricots and toasted almonds, orange marmalade and Grand Marnier, or some such – which arrives at the table looking festive and appetizing, then sits right there for the entire meal. Eventually some sympathetic soul, usually me, makes a token gesture and takes a spoonful, but let’s be honest, ninety-five percent of the stuff just loiters in the bowl until the meal is over and it’s scraped down the dispose-all.
When it comes to fruity sides, what really moves is the peeling-free, heavily-sugared Ocean Spray from the can. Everybody loves it, and the only real question is whether you prefer a middle slice or the one that comes imprinted with the bottom of the can. I like the end.
So listen, save yourself some trouble this year and just go with the flow. Shove the bag of cranberries in the freezer (they keep forever) and dust off the can opener. The sanity you save may be your own.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!