I was a flounder…er

Growing up in the 1960’s and 70’s meant fish on Fridays for many families, especially those who had Roman Catholic roots like my granddaddy’s. Because we grew up in my grandparent’s home, every Friday night was fish night. Every. Friday. For. Years.

Even days were covered, and Fridays were fish stick days in the school lunch world. Not that I don’t totally enjoy a tasty, crunchy, overly processed Gorton’s treat from time to time, but even good things can get boring after a while. When we were lucky, our family went out for dinner on Fridays (I assume to avoid fish sticks for two meals in a row), and we sometimes had supper at the S&S Cafeteria. It was an honest-to-God old-school affair, complete with a huge stack of brown plastic trays, still damp from someone’s efforts to wipe them down.

Just past the mountains of trays was the salad area, a primarily greyish-white wave of lettuce wedges punctuated by the occasional shiny, wobbly, Jello-like square, complete with pineapple, nuts or mystery veggies. (I notice that I can’t seem to bring myself to use the words Jello + salad in the same grouping). Then there were the popular mayonnaise-based ‘salads’ – potato and macaroni versions being the most popular. I, however, had my own favorite pseudo-salad…grated carrots with sugary raisins and mayo. I thought it much healthier than the other non-lettuce options and I could live off of the stuff. I will admit though that I was really disappointed years later when I learned that this delicacy was laughable in the salad world…a sort of embarrassing distant cousin.

Continuing down the long narrow line, you next encountered the rows of steam-tabled veggies. First were the green items (keep movin’…nothin’ to see here), followed by the extensive, oh-so-Southern representation from the carb family. Macaroni and cheese, corn, white rice with gravy, mashed potatoes and candied sweet potatoes were plentiful, and don’t forget the hush-puppies and french fries…also popular ‘veggie’ choices at the old S&S. Those were the days…we were ignorantly on the not-yet-identified diabetic path with a vengeance, and ‘all you can eat’ was the short-cut!

Then we were on to the MEAT! You could choose from the beefy (hamburger steak…really?), chicken (meh) and fishy options. We were supposed to get the fish to appease the Catholic side of the family and, luckily for me, fried shrimp qualified! Shrimp weren’t always available, but it was a happy day for me when they were. Fried flounder with a big side of tartar sauce was my second choice…if you gotta have anything healthy at least slap some breading and (slightly disguised) mayo on it, I say. Funny…I don’t remember any pork being present, but I’m pretty sure it was there in abundance.

Next came the bread, dessert and drink selections. For me, cornbread was a given, and it had enough sugar in it that it probably should have been pushed a foot over into the dessert area. For real dessert I was always torn between strawberry shortcake (featuring somewhat plasticine whipped topping) and a slice of (not too shabby) coconut cream pie, but there were also other options. You could go fruity (not technically a dessert in my world) or choose an alien-like green or blue dish (welcome back to the table, Jello old friend).

I was also pretty predictable in the beverage department. It was, after all, the heyday of good old sweet tea in that part of the world, but the S&S also offered a few others to pick from. If you were really brave, you could even wash down your feast with neon-blue generic Kool-aid. (I have personally never believed that blue foods or beverages were a real choice, but Lynnie was partial to anything that looked even remotely like Windex. She also gravitated toward oddly colored desserts and anything with Jello-like qualities.)

It was a great spread, but I’ll have to say that I was never completely comfortable with the logistics of the cafeteria world. Until I was about 10 I wasn’t even trusted to manage my own tray – I had to rely on my Grandmama’s well-honed tray-wrangling skills as she pushed my plastic platter of goodness along, in front of her own. She did allow me to choose my own food, but often prompted me to ‘hurry up’ when I dilly-dallied too long over my options (“But Grandmama, I swore I saw that carrot salad somewhere!”) She also backed me up when my extreme shyness prevented me from piping up to ask the lady behind the counter if there really were no more fried shrimp left anywhere…maybe in the back?

Sometime before puberty I gained full tray responsibilities…I had arrived! Lynnie, on the other hand, still had to take a back seat for a few more years as Mama guided her tray and, often, her food choices. Had she not, my sweets-loving sister would have ended up with an entire tray of jewel-toned, wobbly items that would, in today’s world, have probably initiated a child protective custody situation. And that doesn’t even take into account the time that some strange man came out of the S&S’s men’s room with my 5-year-old sister in tow. She had apparently wandered in on her own…I’m guessing sugar and red dye #5 were at least partially to blame.

Not sure I'd trust that one...

♪ “Trust the Gorton’s Fisherwoman” ♪

Rules of the road

I haven’t lived this long without picking up a few important things worth sharing. Here are some simple rules that I live by:

  • Never. Drink. Tequila.
  • Shake hands like you mean it…that limp girly thing is just nasty.
  • Never buy a piece of clothing that comes with jewelry already attached to it.
  • Don’t expect a confirmed liar to ever tell you the truth.
  • Know how to cook at least one meal that will impress company.
  • Understand that, if everyone threw their troubles out onto a pile on the floor, you really would pick your own right back up. (Thanks for that one, Grandmama.)
  • If someone tells you you’re pretty, just hush up and accept the compliment.
  • Don’t ever wear leggings without something covering up your important parts (or you won’t get any compliments to accept).
  • If all else fails and you have to lie…do it big. (Especially if you’ve been drinking tequila.)
  • Always wear a bra to work. (I stole that one, but it’s too important to forget!)
  • Sometimes all you actually have to do is breathe.
  • Floss those damn teeth!
  • Love yourself first.
  • That 3rd helping only sounds like a good idea.
  • Go ahead and dance…you’ll probably never even see those fools again. (Warning…disregard this one if there’s been any tequila involved.)
  • Learn to say no.
  • You can set as many alarms as you want, but it’s all about eventually getting your ass out of that bed.
  • A blinker doesn’t turn a car. (Thank you, Mama.)
  • Don’t leave until the credits are over.
  • You deserve top shelf liquor. Just no tequila…seriously.
necklace shirt

Just say “NO!”

Less of me around

And no, I’m not writing about my recent lack of writing. I’m working on that even as we speak! This time I’m writing about my favorite subject…ME.

I’ve talked before about having been a bigger girl most of my life. By the 5th grade I was 5’1″ and (almost) towered over my 4’11” mama. I already had a womanly shape, complete with boobs and the accompanying embarrassment over needing a bra before the other girls in my grade did. It took me years to understand the power of those curves, as well as to realize that they could betray me if left to their own devices…it’s a sad, sad tale.

By high school I was still shapely, but in a bigger boned sort of way. I still loved my southern food (hello, Banana Puddin’…I wish I knew how to quit you), and I never was one for sports. By the time I got to college and met my new best friend Michelob, I had been introduced to a whole new set of adventures and opportunities for getting even fluffier.

Curves aheadIt turns out that there’s a point for some of us when voluptuousness can take a left turn down a dark road called Chunky Lane… a byway littered with empty SnackWell and Quarter Pounder wrappers, Halloween candy bowls with only the nasty orange-colored marshmallow things left at the bottom, and the occasional half-drunk can of Slimfast. It’s a path that I’ve known intimately my entire life.

In my twenties I stumbled into one of those give us your money and we’ll give you nasty food that will make you skinny companies. I gave them a chunk of change, lost 10 pounds and crashed so badly from a potassium deficiency that the word attorney was actually thrown around (to no avail). Not being one to learn give up that easily, a few years back I tried yet another diet plan that involved plastic (both the food and the payments). I figured, hell, if it’s good enough for Marie Osmond, who am I to judge? Much to my surprise, I was miserable on the plan and couldn’t get past 10 pounds, and the counselor kept looking at me and shaking her head. Let’s just say that Marie wouldn’t have been very happy to see me eating about 10 bags of those teeny tiny cardboard cookies at one sitting!

It’s now been about 8 years since that last foray into $$$ for pounds. I started thinking recently about how my eating might be affecting me and somehow, in spite of myself, I managed to figure out that eating entire bags of ‘baked not fried’ carbs, adding just a little sugar to my morning coffee and hitting the Burger King once or twice a week might actually be a real problem…who knew?! What I did know for sure was that my curves were leaving Chunky Lane in the dust and Butterball Acres was coming up fast on the right. I had to get serious.

As it turns out, it’s not food in general that I have a problem with…it’s sugar. No, I’m not diabetic yet, but that was looming on the horizon, so I cut out all processed sugar, artificial sweeteners and am severely limiting my total carbs (oh bread and taters…you betrayed me!) On my new plan my old pal known as ‘The First 10 Pounds’ came off, just like it always has…but this time was somehow different. Once I got past the I’m definitely going to hurt someone if I don’t have a candy bar phase, things started falling into place for me. I stuck to it and am now hitting the 20 pound mark. I certainly have a long way to go, but I feel so much better that it’s easy to stay focused.

At this point I’m just setting the GPS for straight ahead…and we won’t be stopping at the Krispy Kreme.

 

Moral indignity at the Kwik-E-Mart

So the only time I usually go to the 7-Eleven is to buy things I shouldn’t eat. Not unlike interactions with a doctor or priest, I’ve always considered the relationship between myself and the person behind the convenience store counter to be at least somewhat sacred. It’s an encounter based on necessity, and I’m not usually looking my best at that particular time of night, or in that craving-induced state of being, so we have an understanding. You stay on your side of the counter, don’t judge, keep your mouth shut and I’ll do my best to get in and get out. No one gets hurt, and I might even leave my pennies in that weird little tray.

Friday night was one of those times when I was really counting on that special relationship. It had been a long day at work, I was out a little later than normal, and there was a situation that only Doritos and Ben & Jerry’s could resolve. I strode through the store with my mission firmly in my mind. I grabbed my loot (stealthily adding a slice of pre-wrapped pound cake to the stash…I’m sure no one saw it) and headed to the front of the store, the finish line in sight.

I didn’t recognize the 20-something guy behind the counter, but I assumed that he had been properly trained in the ‘Way of the Convenience Store’, so my guard was down. I wasn’t at all prepared when he just stood there and looked at my haul, spread across the counter like so much bar-coded illicit treasure. He moved his gaze to my face and left it there.

“How OLD?” he snapped.

“Huh…” I stammered, trying to figure out when the state of Oregon might have started an age restriction on salted caramel OR nacho cheese, “…how old…am I???”

“Yes…50…” he spat, “…51?!?”

It sounded like he was accusing me of something, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure it out. I recoiled a bit, groping in my purse for my debit card. I just really, really wanted to get my groceries (how’s that for rationale?) and get home!

I handed the bank card to my accuser, and looking into his face it occurred to me that his tone was…familiar? I had a flash back to my first night in Morocco quite a few years ago, when I was overwhelmed by the forceful admiration of a man who almost knocked me to the ground while shouting about my ‘beauty’. I could almost hear the droning of a call to prayer in the background as I realized that my critic was from a part of the world where blondes of any age, size or shape were considered to be a prize.

“Almost 57,” I whispered, “but you’re supposed to guess 40!” (My vanity wasn’t going to take that high of a number lying down!)

“Too much makeup,” he shrugged, handing me back my debit card and receipt.

I grabbed my bag and my bruised ego and made a run for it.

Note to self: next time, stick with a drive-thru. Taco Bell really isn’t so terrible…right?

 

 

 

 

I can tell it’s almost Christmas because the meat arrived safely!

My mama has a holiday tradition that tickles me. About this time every year I come home to find that a big old styrofoam box has been delivered to my front porch by UPS or the post office. The ice chest shipping container with rounded corners and Omaha Steaks on the return address has become familiar to me over the years, and it always makes me smile to know that Mama orders this for me as a holiday gift. (Living 3000 miles from your family has some perks, but being away from them at Christmas isn’t one of them.)

Inside my annual non-biodegradable treasure chest there are many smaller boxes, fitted together in a Tetris-like stack over a packet of dry ice. Each year the process of opening the boxes is like a scavenger hunt with varying levels of payoff…

  • Steaks – CHECK (the box doesn’t say Omaha Oatmeal, you know)
  • Pork chops – The ‘other white meat’ and I go wayyyy back.
  • Chicken and/or fish – This year I got both…SCORE! (One year there were two lobster tails…I remember that as the year that I finally believed that there really was a Santa Claus)
  • Hamburgers and gourmet hot dogs – I assume that this means a higher real meat to snout balance?
  • Twice baked potatoes – Seeing these just makes me smile…don’t judge.
  • To top it all off, there’s always a dessert…it’s a bit of a wild card. (A few times I got a whole chocolate tort – yummy but too much for a single girl watching her figure…um…expand. Then there were individually packed mini molten chocolate cakes, but they were better than the big cake, so I ended up eating all of them in one day. Sigh.) I have to say that this year’s dessert has potential…caramel apple tartlets! I’ll let you know if they’re binge-worthy.

So my treats are all stashed in the freezer and now I just have to figure out what to do with the empty styrofoam box. There are some plans online for converting them into everything from an upholstered foot stool to an incubator for snake eggs…which is NOT going to happen. No, like its predecessors before it, mine will most likely just be a cat toy and, if it’s really lucky, may someday be graced with a six-pack…or three.

WARNING Omaha

Click on the picture to find out the truth about this affliction…it’s a sad story!

 

 

 

 

 

Faux slow cookin’…

Other than the runny stuff you have on hot dogs, my family growing up in South Carolina didn’t eat much chili. The standard fare in our house consisted of lots of KFC, TV dinners, macaroni and cheese, roast beef, spaghetti (our international option), and fish sticks (on Fridays cause the Pope said my granddaddy had to). When the chili option was offered, it was because there was a lot of leftover spaghetti sauce, altered only by the addition of red beans and the slightest hint of cayenne pepper. Corn bread (Jiffy with sugar added) and iced tea were served with it and everyone was happy.

When I moved across the country to eventually end up in Oregon, my palette was shocked at first, but I quickly caught on. It turned out that, once you got past the Rockies, Chinese food didn’t involve cans, not all peanuts were boiled, and Tex Mex was a glorious thing! Who knew!?

I had been in Oregon for about 2 years when I decided to participate in a chili cook-off at a company I’d been with for a few months. The office-wide challenge was scheduled for one of our regular Friday afternoon ‘stop work early and drink fancy beer and learn to like your co-workers‘ soirees, and it sounded like fun. I didn’t really know many of the employees outside of my own department, and I certainly didn’t know how seriously people there would take the whole thing.

After looking at tons of traditional Western-style chili recipes (and putting off shopping and cooking until the very last minute), I fired up my off-brand slow cooker and just opted to make a pot of good old spaghetti sauce chili…the kind my grandmama used to make. I doctored it up a bit by adding what seemed to be a sufficient dose of chili powder and I even threw in a few red pepper flakes I figured there would already be a ton of better chili chefs there than I could ever hope to be, and I thought, hey…something different would be fun…right?

Um…not so much.

I set my innocent enough looking Brand X crock pot alongside my competitors’ Rivals and officially trademarked Crock Pots, grabbed a foo-foo beer and headed over to the side of the room to find a spot from which to watch the festivities. I had no more than found a chair and tasted my beer when, from across the room, came the loud exclamation/question that shook me to my core:

WHO THE HELL PUT SWEET BASIL IN THIS POT OF SO-CALLED CHILI???!!!”

I wasn’t quite sure how to react to being outed as a faux chili-maker, so I just looked around the room like everyone else was doing…trying my best to looked shocked at this affront. Who would DO such a thing? SWEET BASIL…the very nerve! Tsk!

I bolted, suddenly deciding remembering that I had some urgent work to finish back at my desk. I made my apologies and sidled out of the room…putting as much space between myself and that off-brand cooker fiasco as possible!

I heard a few hours later that I’d taken last place in the cook-off. I waited for everyone else to leave before I returned to (anonymously) retrieve my (sadly still full) cookware, wondering how they judged it to be last place without even tasting it!

I know, I know…it’s a sad story of wasted food and an ego crushed even more than the tomatoes in a jar of Ragu, but I recovered. It’s worth mentioning that I still don’t care for fancy beer, but I actually do LIKE my own chili. In fact, I have a big old pot of it simmering right now. These days I do add a good bit more chili powder and I learned to replace the basil with cumin, but it still has enough day-old spaghetti flavor to make my inner Southern girl happy, and my cook-off losing inner chef smiles with every spoonful.

Pepper hat girl

Yeah, I’m hot stuff…just sayin’…

 

 

Back on the right (wrong) coast

I’ve lived in Oregon for 22 years now. When I first moved across country from South Carolina to the west coast with #1, I was so busy learning to be an Oregonian (and trying to forget the life that we ran away from) that it was seven years before I finally came back east to see my family. These days, I’m a better daughter/sister/aunt, and I travel the 2320 miles (as the crow flies) once or twice a year.

Currently, I’m on my second trip this year back to S.C. and, so far, it’s been a doozy…

  • I had boiled peanuts for the first time in about 25 years (it may have been that they came from a gas station, but I think I can go another 25 without them and be just fine)
  • I had the worst Starbucks of my life (Portland does ruin you for some things)
  • I ran into childhood TV host Mr. Knozit (Joe Pinner) while out at dinner (and forced him to talk to me)
  • I tried on eye glasses at Walmart and had to explain to the nice lady that yes, I do in fact have a head so enormous that I have to wear men’s glasses (she didn’t believe me until I tried on the lady glasses just to show her how strangely tiny they looked. Thanks, Walmart lady…thanks a lot.)
  • I went to the movies with the entire family (Mama, Lynnie AND the niece and nephew) for the first time EVER (and no seat arms were harmed)
  • I arrived and it was 80 degrees – two days later we woke up to heavy snow (the earliest snow they’ve EVER had here). Thanks, Al Gore Roker.
  • I listened to my sister Lynnie yelling at the Gamecocks (that actually has happened this early in the year) and
  • I discovered the true beauty of Adult Swim TV (thank you, Nephew! Oh Rick and Morty…where have you been all my life?)

The best is yet to come though…today my sissy is going to make her famous fried pork chops for dinner, along with rice with (real) gravy, roasted Brussel sprouts and Sweetie Pie’s macaroni and cheese. I may need an extra seat for the trip back to the other coast…but it’ll be worth it!

Knozit

Oh Mr. Knozit…you haven’t changed a bit!