The long long holiday
I returned from Chicago on Saturday night. The trip was fun overall; one highlight was a massive, crippling blizzard that blew through the city on Wednesday and left thousands of stranded and delayed air travelers in its wake. I spent the day driving somewhat maniacally around the city through rain, sleet, wind and snow in order to a) eat Vietnamese food on Argyle Street for lunch and b) complete a number of errands that are too boring to relate here. Randy remained faithfully at my side, never once complaining as I forced him to compare types of muslin in a fabric store and attempted to track down essential oil at Target. Then we headed back to his house with a large takeout order from El Taco Loco in tow, and watched portions of the new Seinfeld DVDs. They were somewhat disappointing, I must say.
Thursday I was exhausted, but managed to crank out a surprisingly easy chocolate pecan pie before the big meal. There were just four of us (me, my parents and my grandmother) and by all accounts it was a pleasant and stress-free holiday. I brought along a bottle of Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs (oddly cheap; $12.99 at the Sonoma Market) and we had a jolly old time discussing the merits as well as the faults of our brined turkey breast, cooked on my stepdad’s Weber. Merits: tender, nice pink smoke ring, lovely smoky flavor. Faults: due to a miscalculation in the brining process, the turkey ended up soaking in what was essentially superstrength salty liquid for way too long, resulting in meat that tasted not unlike ham. Oh well.
On Friday I had a date with my friend Eliz (authoress of the excellent blog Yum) and her girlfriend April for dinner at Ethiopian Diamond in Edgewater. I hadn’t had Ethiopian food since our days of culinary desperation at college outside Cleveland, when we would take an occasional trip into the city for food that did not feature the brown rice and tofu that figured so prominently in most of our co-op meals. April and I discussed our various neuroses as we scarfed down most of the enormous vegetarian platter that Eliz had ordered for all of us. I convinced myself that eating piles of collard greens and various spicy beans would have no ill effects on me the next day, but of course I was wrong, and gastrointestinal disaster struck approximately one and a half hours into my flight back to San Francisco on Saturday.
After I landed, I drove straight to Sonoma to intersect with my father and the rest of my California family as they plunged into the final throes of cookie baking madness. I arrived at Ramekins to find the entire kitchen covered with aluminum foil tins and plastic tubs awaiting cookies. My dad insisted on preparing me a platter of turkey leftovers (they had made four turkeys, three kinds of stuffing, etc) so enormous that it probably could have fed everyone working in the kitchen. I have to say, their Thanksgiving doesn’t mess around. By my uptight Midwestern standards, it symbolizes a kind of gross excess, but you know what? I like gross excess when it comes to food. I’m okay with it. If you’re going to force anything on me, make it food. Here is a short transcript of one exchange that I think sums up my family’s attitude nicely:
Me: “Dad! Stop! I can’t eat this much! It’s insane!”
My dad: “It’s not insane. It’s LOVE!”
Clearly the Illinois side of my family does not equate food with love at all. If they did, then I would not be forced to confront my mother about mayonnaise that expired in 2002 in current use in their fridge, and in the tuna salad sandwich that she was about to fix me. How does that happen? You have to go out of your way to locate mayonnaise that old.
I feel bad for ragging on my mom when I find this stuff, but I can’t help it. It drives me a little nuts. Their fridge is like a minefield, filled with potentially lethal products at every turn that will blow up in your face if you take a misstep. Stick to the beaten path - butter, milk, orange juice – and you might come out okay. But swerve into the upper and lower shelves – the obscure condiments, the brown and sagging citrus (I bet you didn’t know citrus fruits could sag!), the cold cuts - and you’re asking for your intestines to be blown to bits.
I feel caught between these two extremes, sometimes: feeling perennially disappointed and grossed out by the state of my Illinois family’s fridge, dreaming of the day when I come home to a kitchen packed with palatable, gourmet foodstuffs purchased in anticipation of my visit – but then being similarly appalled by what I perceive to be the bizarre relationship to food exhibited by my California family. More food is prepared than can ever be eaten; tons of waste is left in their wake, and superhuman quantities are foisted upon anybody in the vicinity of the kitchen. Sometimes I love it, but I’m also frequently freaked out by it. Where’s the middle ground?