Monday, December 31, 2007

We're singing those holiday recovery blues

It's an annual event hosted by the Mother of an old friend of my Wife's, celebrating the end of the shopping/entertaining/holiday season madness, where invitees are welcomed to show up in their most comfy sweats while they gab, snack, sip tea and reminisce on Christmas pasts.

It's called the Poop-out-Party and for the first time ever, S was definitely going.

So we packed up the brood, hitched up the 125 imported horses to our largest stagecoach and barreled up the Turner Turnpike for Tulsa.

Driving straight through Tulsa, we found ourselves in the little big town of Claremore, Oklahoma - population around 19,000.

While S wined and lounged at the Poop-out gathering at a lovely old house set up for rented entertainment called the Pink House, the girls and I got caught up with our old friends from Burbank who were visiting their relatives in Claremore for the holidays.

Long about dinner time, the poop-outs were petering out and wanting a real meal, so off we went to meet our respective significant others at a local Italian eatery, highly recommended by our local hosts. The joint was called...sheesh, I don't recall.

It was semi-Italian sounding, stared with a G...Grimaldi, or Gripaldi, or get the idea. Owned by a tall and jocular Claremore native named Carlos whom I was told is a retired NBA player from the 60's or 70's - not sure what era. Perhaps someone familiar with the area could fill in the blanks for me.

Anyhow, the grub was first rate, the atmosphere spacious and relaxed, and once our girls and all the offspring of our hosts and their assorted siblings were happily situated at their own table with plates of spaghetti and meatballs in front of them, the adults got to relax, unwind, and enjoy the meal.

The following day found our family unit walking the quaint downtown environs of historic Claremore, ducking into several antique malls to peruse the booths of consigned merchandise and grab momentary respites from the crisp northeastern Oklahoma wintry air. We eventually found our way to the Lynn Riggs Memorial statue and museum to 1) view the original surrey with the fringe on top, and 2) get a shot of the girls standing beside the Lynn Riggs memorial statue.

Of these, 1) the museum was locked up tight so no chicks and ducks went scurrying, no surrey and no fringe and 2) why is the playwright of "Green Grow the Lilacs" on which the musical "Oklahoma!" was based, surrounded by mutant overgrown cauliflower?

Perhaps they're lilacs. Go figure. No art critic am I.

For more info on this very prolific and talented native son of Claremore, click here.

To round out the afternoon, we had noon tea at a local historic home and landmark, the Belvidere Mansion. Legend has it the place is haunted by it's previous owner and offspring, which provided eye-darting distractions for our anxious-to-see-a-ghost 8-year old while we toured the majestic 3-storied mansion, shopped in their gift store, and dined on scrumptious house specialty chicken and ham salad sandwiches, killer bowls of homemade soup, scones-a-plenty, and multiple pots of steamy peach tea. The B mansion is a do-again and again kind of place.

And yet, our day outing in Claremore wouldn't and couldn't be complete without a visit with Oklahoma's favorite native son, the late, great Will Rogers.

Up the hill we drove, to what had to be the highest point in the country, for several hours of reflection, recollection, education, and enjoyment at the Will Rogers Memorial Museum. Of the venerable Mr. Rogers, I can only say that he would have a reserved seat at the head table at my "Meeting of the Minds" fantasy deceased dinner party -- along with Elvis, Mr. Lincoln, Akira Kurosawa, and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Wifey and I left the hallowed grounds with a new appreciation for the wit and wisdom of Mr. Rogers, while the girls came away wanting to become trick ropers.

Next up, we once again take to the Mother Road to see what can only be seen off the interstate.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Creative and spicy

My Wife, her two brothers and sister-in-law have an interesting tradition of Christmas gift exchanging that is simple and economical at it's core, but creatively challenging if taken to it's extreme.

Each Christmas a theme is selected and agreed upon, followed by a semi-soft budgetary guideline.

Then the wheels start turning.

Since I officially joined the family 9 Christmases ago and was included in the sibling tradition, the most memorable themes and "gift de la resistances" I can reall are as follows:

A few years back the selected theme was "make it yourself for under $10." Most memorable gift
A CD containing candid tape recordings made on my Wife's newly acquired cassette tape recorder. Notable excerpts include their family Christmas celebration from 1974, my Wife practicing her guitar and singing an original composition titled "Love is like a train," and the siblings countdown to 1975 while watching Dick Clark's New Year's Rockiin' Eve.
Boy, did my Wife have an Okie accent or what.

One year it was surprise gift card pull-from-a-cap. Gift Card Factoid
One in Five gift cards in the U.S. go unspent and unused, netting a $5 billion dollar free-and-clear profit for retailers and businesses.
That's a lot of plastic sitting in the bottom of people's purses, glove boxes, bureau drawers, and office desks.

Last year it was online gift certificates. Net savvy shoppers beware
If you value that zero balance on your credit card then stay clear of place is dangerous. I was drooling over their introductory helicopter flying lesson -- then I remembered I hate flying. Doh!
This year's theme was chips and salsa.
I went with Mrs. Renfro's Green chile salsa and nacho queso dip. Normally, I try to avert contact with Lone Star Statems' but they do make some tasty salsa and salsa products.
Wife went totally MIO with Maria Rae's out of Enid.
Also in the mix were Ponca City localz Head Country with their Garden Rich salsa, another Longhorn offering from the Hell on the Red party dip product line, and three high-QTY offerings from Trader Joe's (via my B-i-L who lives in LA), namely their Pineapple Salsa, a killer Habanero and Lime, and a jar of smoky-yet-spicy Peach concoction.

Chips ran the gamut from Tostitos to On the Border restaurant style chips to some blue corn lovelies from TJ's.

Next years theme is something pickled.

Other than pigs feet.

Oh boy.

Monday, December 24, 2007

An extended family tradition falls to me

Last year was the first Christmas Eve that my Wife could recall not eating tuna salad sandwiches for supper.

The tradition from her Mom's side of the family has always been to gather on the evening of the 24th and to feast on many items, the main course being tuna fish salad sandwiches made by my Wife's Grandmother.

The honor of making the chicken-of-the-sea salad had recently fallen to my F-i-L as the aging grande damme of the family starting showing a lack of interest in the chore. Ever the trooper and purveyor of long-held family tradition, my jack-of-all-trades F-i-L dove in with both hands washed and ready, and produced some first rate tuna salad -- rivaling even my Mom's recipe.

The reason why last year was the first Christmas Eve that my Wife could recall not eating tuna fish salad for supper was because it was the first Christmas Eve without her Grandmother, who we lost on Christmas Eve the previous year.

Faced with the dilemma of not wanting to carry on with the Christmas Eve tradition for fear of her Mother succumbing to the painful memory of losing her own Mother on Christmas Even just one year prior, my Wife went on the hunt for a new tradition to replace the once-treasured/now-freshly painful one of her past.

Discussions involved several family members. Do we incorporate some old with some new? Do we do an indirect nod to the past, while being careful not to be disrespectful to it? Do we do something entirely different this year, then carry on with the old tradition the following year?

My vote was to go 180 on the tradition so I stepped up and offered to channel my Hawaiian ohana and make a down home okazu meal.

Say what?

Okazu...hmm. Kinda complicated, but for anyone who hasn't ever visited Hawaii and had an authentic meal with a typical family, okazu basically boils down to just dishes of food you eat with rice.

My menu for last year consisted of my Mom's Chinese Chicken Salad recipe, deep fried pork/bamboo/water chestnut won tons, deep fried kimchee and cream cheese won tons, Pei Wei's version of spiced chicken lettuce wraps, my own special combination of white and red miso soup, bowlfuls of edamame, and bamboo skewers of garlic/teriyaki marinaded and thinly sliced prime ribeye beef.

I worked my butt off.
The food seemed to be a hit.
Not a tear was shed, nor foul mood detected during the entire evening.

Earlier this month, when talk rolled around to how we were going to spend Christmas Eve this year, I just assumed that enough time had elapsed for us to go back to the traditional tuna-salad sandwich convention.

To which my Father-in-Law stated, "I'm kinda looking forward to that Chinese Chicken slaw and fried doodads that we had last year."

A new tradition is born, and I have some shopping to do.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

See a hippo hero standing there

Our local news rag devotes more than a few column inches in it's December issues to put into print a collection of "Dear Santa" letters penned by local school kids.
As a collection, they're more than a hoot to read, and I went through 2 cups of java doing so. Here are some highlights I picked out, starting with one from the gift obsessed mind of my own 2nd grader...

For an explanation of who Franny and Newton are, click here.
Next up, a little girl wants a pony...with accessories. This is Oklahoma, after all.

Then there's the kid who is trying to get Santa to clean up his messy doin's.

Something tells me that this next kid is planning on practicing his rod-and-reelin', catch-and-release skills on his pet fish...

And doesn't there always seem to be one kid who wants a hippopotamus?

Reminds me of a trivial factoid I recently heard about this most excellent Christmas song making the regular rotation rounds on the easy listening station that's been playing all Christmas music-all the time since Thanksgiving.The song "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" was written in 1950 by John Rox and became a nationwide hit in 1953 when ten-year-old Oklahoma native Gayla Peevey sang the song as a way to raise money for the Oklahoma City Zoo's first hippopotamus. In December of that year the city received Matilda the hippo for Christmas.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Sharing recipes...the deuce you say!

Every December, about the time our local elementary school teachers are preparing to hibernate for their long and well deserved winter's nap (aka Winter Break), the PTO circles it's wagons and pulls an impressive collection of crock pots together to provide a thank-you lunch for the school staff.

This was my second year of enthusiastic participation in the slow-cookery event.

Last year, however I found myself in the unenviable position of being a day late and a crock pot short. Seems that mere hours before I was to be called upon to chip in with my chipped beef recipe, my slow cooker did the unthinkable and committed suicide while attempting to provide my family unit with an 8-hour yankee pot roast -- complete with baby carrots, migi-red potatoes, diced celery and pearl white onions.

I was not to be denied of a catering opportunity for such a good cause as feeding the hungry educators and schoolyard careerist of my daughter's school, so out came my big gun, my secret weapon, my sure-fire, guaranteed to be eaten first and enjoyed the most recipe -- my Mom's Chinese Chicken Salad.

For those of you who've ever eaten and enjoyed Chinese Chicken Salad, this is better.

For those of you who think P.F. Chang's CCS is a delectable and delicious blend of fresh produce, asian oils, spices, nuts and onion, you're correct..but this is better.

For those of you who swear the Diane Salad at Pasadena's Green Street Restaurant is the best version of this venerable Asian lettuce concoction..., this is better still.

The ingredient list is not overly exotic..if you know where to look in your friendly neighborhood oriental foods market.
There is a fair share of chopping, dicing, slicing, toasting, measuring, mixing, and frying to be done in the preparation of the dish, making the anticipation level of the first bite all that more heightened.

This salad, along with a large, thin crust sausage-anchovy-red onion-garlic Ameci's pizza and an ice cold Arnold Palmer would be my Green Mile meal.

It's good enough to cause the selfish and greedy streak in my inner chef to guard the recipe and preparation procedures of this very special salad as I would the keys to the lock on the very last lifeboat on the Titanic, or the blue star feedback level on my eBay account (267 positives, no negatives).

So you can imagine the hearty laughter of disdain and disbelief booming forth from my being when I was asked to provide the recipe for my Mom's Chinese Chicken Salad that was quickly disappearing from the bowl at the end of the third 6-foot table in the Teacher's lounge.

A quick scan of the other dishes laid out (none of which were salads and all of which were contained in slow-cooking crockery) revealed that indeed, recipe cards containing the preparation secrets of the thickly ladled contents within were shamefully displayed before each and every bubbling concoction.

With a final toss of my salad and a quick flick of the tongs, I make a hasty retreat from the inner sanctum of the Teacher's lounge, not wanting to face the torch wielding mobs I knew would soon be gathering around the soon-to-be-emptied cut glass bowl that had once contained my Mom's ambrosiastic salad to the stars.

Later, when I figured the coast was clear and the angry mobs of salad recipe denied school staff had made their final appearance at the PTO supplied buffet line, I snuck back in to retrieve my bowl and tongs. So confident was I that the bowl would not only be empty, but literally licked clean, I brought not a sheet of saran wrap nor a singleTupperware container for the leftovers.

My confidence was rewarded with the sight of a few drops of dressing resembling a primordial salad ooze, dozing and glistening at the bottom of the bowl.

As I lifted the bowl I found a note, written in threatening black Sharpie on a 3x5 card. On it were the five words every cook longs to hear, but in this particular instance, will never be fulfilled....

"We need this recipe."

Perhaps next year I'll replace my dead Crock Pot.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The definition of irony itself is ironic

From the police blotter in our local news rag...

Okay, it would have been utterly ironic had their auto actually been grand theft'd in the robbery.

Wonder if the Cops have any leads? Let's see, I imagine the perp is a female, late-40's, married, no kids, no couch...with a healthy, active social life and clear complexion.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Brown's Bakery

A hard and fast rule at C's school is that outside snacks may be brought into the classroom however they must be prepackaged and unopened.

Yet baked/boxed from a commercial vendor are perfectly acceptable.

When C recently wanted to have a little 2nd grade celebration of her 8th birthday in her class, Wifey flatly refused to go the generic cardboard boxed WalMart bakery route. Since our small town has no other commercial bakery, she turned to our favorite solution for such family dilemmas...we go retro.

Nearby my beloved's downtown OKC office building sits an unassuming bakery that is a total throwback to the service and level of quality our parents and grandparents looked for in their daily pursuit of commercial baked goods.

Ladies and Gentlemen, take a big nostalgic whiff of baked goods from a bygone era and enter the realm of family owned eateries at Brown's Bakery.

Now, while their website isn't an indicative representative of the authentic nostalgic atmosphere and style of it's retro-chic downtown location, the bakery itself is the real deal - as are the folks who work there.

Case in point. A not-quite-so-young-anymore couple saunters through the plate glass doors, and while the male of the two takes a knee weakening tour of the miles and miles of glass cases filled with baked goods of every size, shape, and caloric counting level, the female gets down to business and interfaces with the large, elderly man working his icing magic on a double-decker cake.

While no cupcakes were to be found in the display area, quicker than I can say, "bread is the butter of our lives," Wifey's request for 20 white caked cuppers with white butter cream icing and pink and purple jimmies on top was being filled before our eyes.

With nary a snarl, or huff, or sarcastic sigh from the beefy Baker to be found.

Did they taste any better or fresher than had we sunk our dollars into some Wal-Pastries? Perhaps not.

Did the kids eat the cake portion of the cupcakes with as the same enthusiasm and gusto displayed when licking off every last drop of icing. Course not.

Did I carry my gaze a little higher and step a little livelier as I presented the bevy of paper wrapped wonders to C and her class that day, knowing that we had contributed just a tad to a downtown institution of fine eats and tradition.

You betcha.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Band Trek: The Next Generation

Band Geek:[band] (gēk) noun-
A person who is single-minded or accomplished in high school and/or college musical pursuits, and are thusly felt to be socially inept.

Popular flickers like High School Musical and Drumline and wink-wink Band geek characters like Michelle "One time at Band Camp..." Flaherty in the American Pie Series have gone along way to de-frock the Band Geeks from their perceived cloaks of uber-cootiness.

What Napoleon Dynamite did for FFA Judging Teams, popular culture and a few dirty words uttered by a nympho-teenage flautist have enabled Band Geeks the nation over to hold their heads up high in their declarations for a portion of the coolness factor normally reserved for campus athletes and the cheer squad.

Last Saturday night, after standing in freezing rain and 0 degree celsius temps to watch our two snowgirls and their dance class gracefully stumble down the icy streets of downtown in the annual nighttime Chamber of Commerce Christmas Parade, we spent a few hours downing mug after mug of delicious cocoa and playing games with a multi-generational family of Band Geeks.

The first generation, the parents - two of the nicest people the world has ever known, met while in Band in high school. They had a band romance, developed a band relationship, threw a band wedding, and now have two wonderful, bright, intelligent and adorable band kids.

The eldest of which is dating a fellow Band Geek, who happened to be joining us that evening for cocoa and reindeer games.

While it feels natural to notice a jock parent raising a jockette offspring, or a scientist configuring a math quiz whiz kid, why then did I find quirkiness in the fact that a pair of Band Geek parents were indeed raising a Band Geek?

Internal bias? Old Skool campus classicism? Preconceived notions of what was cool when I was a kid vs. the reality of how hip it is to be able to play an instrument?

Parenting for some seems to come down to what comfort level their skills were as a kid, filtered and translated to adulthood.

While I could never see myself raising a Quarterback or Pitcher, nor see my daughters being drawn to becoming a Band Geek or the Chess Club President, it doesn't mean I won't encourage the heck out of them to do whatever they want to do (legal of course), and introduce them to as many different activities as the world has to offer.

But how I handle myself when they come to me with interests that far exceed anything I would have been interested in as a kid, will be something I imagine I should start preparing myself for now.

I mean, how many kids come up to their folks saying they want to be a "Hot Rod building-Independent Filmmaking-Final Cut Pro Editing-Macintosh Software Programming-Tae Kwon Do head kicking-SCCA GT1 Corvette Racing-North Shore tube surfing-Space Shuttle piloting-Elvis worshiping" leader of the free world?

Well, I have two daughters, so my odds just doubled.

As long as they don't want to be actresses. Anything, but that.

I know, I know, I just cursed myself. Doomed.

Monday, December 10, 2007

I See Y

The ice man cameth and so fareth, we are stilleth blessed with powereth.

Fingers and toes crosseth.

Something tells me this fella is going to have a cold drive to work in the morning...

I know these C-7 bulbs are low wattage, but c'mon, least they could do is shake the dangling ice spears off their butts...

Friday, December 07, 2007

When logos go good

With apologies to Forrest Gump, sometimes a logo is what a logo does.

Spotted on a truck rolling through my small town.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Death, taxes...getting the flu

Year after year I get a flu shot, and year after year I eventually get the flu.

This round only took me out for a night and a full day, but in that time I missed out on the following:
  • 4 loads of laundry - 1 whites, 1 pinks, 1 darks/blues, 1 brown/yellows
  • 2 dinners, 1 breakfast - I could have cooked but felt it would be better not to try and spread my germs via meal preparation.
  • 1 full day of bathroom demolition - tearing out the old bathroom to make way for our new huge laundry/craft/mudroom.
  • 3 trips to the dump with the Elky loaded down with lathe, plaster, sheetrock, a steel tub, a pedestal sink, and commode -- all from the old bathroom.
  • Safe Routes to School Meeting - our school is going to give it a try and get some those Walking School Buses.
  • Monthly Board Meeting - the non-profit org board I serve on now only meets once a month, however the Executive Committee (of which I am a member) still meets on a weekly basis.
  • 2 tuck-ins and bedtime stories read/told - lately PK wants me to tell her a story as opposed to being read one (they must always involved a Unicorn and a Pegasus - her rules), and C just wants me to grab my book and read while she reads her book.
  • I did manage to read and relish Steve Martin's latest tome, an autobiography titled Born Standing Up. Much different than the last comic autobio I read and thoroughly enjoyed, Don Rickles' Rickle's Book. Both are worthy of a gander if you're so inclined to find out what drives funny men to be funny.

    Feeling more human this morning, which is good since I'm set to be the computer/audio/visual assistant for my Wife as she makes a presentation for our small town's local Lion's Club at their monthly meeting/luncheon.

    A husband's work is never done.

    Monday, December 03, 2007

    A championship season

    It started with sirens in the distance.

    As they grew louder the honking of car and school bus horns soon accompanied the noise.

    Drawing nearer still, the unmistakable cadence of human cheers and chants joined into the mix.

    It was part of the symphony emitted from the caravan leaving my small town on it's way to an historic event, many years, man hours, fundraisers, and Friday Night Lights in the making -- our football teams trek to the state championship game for it's division.

    Facing a bigger team from a bigger school from a bigger town in the neutral territory of a local Universities playing field - a team who took 4 overtimes to defeat us mere weeks ago, is a big deal to the folks of this town.

    My family and I were proudly waving to the passing caravan from the third step on our front porch.

    Everyone in our small town has some connection to our team, whether they be a parent, grandparent, uncle, aunt, friend and/or acquaintance of someone associated with the pigskin program. And after close to 3-years residence of our small town, we too, find ourselves falling into one of the previously mentioned categories.

    So they'll we'll be, in the chilly, wet weather that's typical of Oklahoma in the magic season between Thanksgiving and Christmas, celebrating our small town's Friday Night Footballers amazing post-season appearance.

    We'll be sitting near the band taking it all in, becoming one with the extended family that is our town of 4380.