Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Pre-Christmas Mishmash

Ah, December. It may be simultaneously the most loved, and the most hated, depending on your age. As a kid, with a birthday in December, and a sister with a birthday in December, plus Christmas, it was a wall-to-wall party, and that was pretty awesome. Birthdays are less cool as I get older, and Christmas is frenetic, and this year, we celebrated "Fake Christmas" at my parents' house in Maryland this past weekend. Plus, both Glen and I are sick, and we had a pipe burst last week we figure, because that's when we noticed a bit of water in the basement, but we came to the wrong conclusions about the source. So now our living room, perhaps the only room most-of-the-way finished in this fixer-upper house, has a hole in the ceiling, and a hole down the entire length of the wall.

We are lucky, though. My brother-in-law, Rich, is a handyman, and he and his brother, Bob, were able to come over immediately yesterday, and fix the pipe, which looked to be about as old as the house (built circa 1914). It had a crack in it about four feet long. We hope that it just gave out due to age, because the other theories ("maybe it froze") are kind of scary.

To be fair, Rich and Bob did re-rock the holes in the ceiling and wall. And even though our living room is scarred, and it will require more renovation work, I must mention how elated we feel about using our bathroom to its fullest potential again, after just one day of it being out of commission. If you're able to shower, or move your bowels in private comfort, count your blessings. Indoor plumbing is a modern marvel!

So, then. Fake Christmas. My mother is opposed to that term, and out of respect, I did not actually say it aloud in her presence, after I found out it rattled her. The name came about courtesy of our neighbor, L, who has an interesting family. They started to celebrate "Fake Thanksgiving" and "Fake Christmas" on dates different from the actual holiday; that way if Cousin So-and-So got drunk and belligerent, real Christmas wasn't ruined for everyone. My family doesn't have all the same character types as L's, but someone is prone to either having the holiday ruined, or may cast a bit of darkness over the day for everyone else. Plus, there is the ongoing battle of Who Will Host Christmas. The combatants are my sister Jenny, and my mother. Now, my sister may not know this, because I'm really only formulating my thoughts now as I type away, but there is a certain bit of nostalgia about going to my parents' least there was when they lived in New Jersey! I'm a full-grown adult now, so I'm sorry if this sounds pathetic, but I'm still not over the fact they sold our childhood home in 1992, before any of us were fully-established adults. They proceeded to move further and further away, and Jenny wound up reasonably central, and has the most space, so we tended to congregate there for the family get-togethers. But I don't blame my mom for wanting to host Christmas; she always enjoyed putting up the stockings and bringing out the fancy plates and so forth. So we compromised this year, and had Fake Christmas in Chicken Shit, Maryland on 12/15, and Real Christmas will be at Jenny's place on Real Christmas Day, though I am unclear if my parents will be in attendance. Hopefully someone can fill me in.

So, Fake Christmas was far less eventful than the birthday party the week before, but was still interesting. Glen told my dad we'd bring him some fancy dirt to pack between his new slate walkway; brother-in-law Rich and Glen loaded up the back of my truck earlier in the week. Note: the truck is full-size and wonderful, but does not have a crew cab. Packing up the presents and coolers and clothing and everything else along with the fancy dirt in the back, was a drag. Plus, it was chilly on Saturday morning, so Glen had to use my hair dryer to loosen the tonneau cover, so it it would snap into place. Which took about, hmmm, two hours or so.

Rich and Jenny, you may recall, have a large number of children, and hence, require a very large vehicle to get the whole family around, at the same time. They have a monster Suburban, which decided to crap out not too far from Chicken Shit, Maryland. So my sister, Karen would be taking one child home with her, and we'd be taking another; that way the remaining three children and parents would fit in my parents' vehicle for the trip back to NJ. So a lot of the early part of the visit was spent working out those details, and the plan to remove the fancy dirt from the back of the truck, which happened a bit later that day.

I brought down a bunch of appetizers, and my mother made bacon rolls and pepperoni bread, which are just delicious, but totally decadent. Some quick recipes/preparation instructions, because even if you're just a part-time carnivore, you'll want this stuff at your parties:

Pepperoni Bread
Make or buy some bread dough
Roll it out like a pizza, about an 1/8 inch thick
Layer it with pepperoni
Top it with shredded mozzarella
Roll it back up
Let it sit/rise for about a half hour
Put it in the oven for about 20 minutes to a half hour, at about 350°
Pull it out when it's golden brown, and allow it to sit for a few minutes before serving

(Feel free to experiment. I've made it with spinach and feta, bacon and cheddar, fancy Italian hams/salami and provolone — but pepperoni is the best. I've also experimented with sesame seeds and egg glazes for the top, and corn meal on the bottom; that's all good, too. I also adapted this for a breakfast bread with cinnamon and brown sugar and butter...Glen's favorite, as long as I don't put nuts in it.)

You'll need to make a lot of pepperoni bread, and it's kind of frustrating, in that it's very time-consuming, and it is gone in a flash. I have to make several for Real Christmas, and I promised a whole one to my nephew Michael, all for himself, because I got him to give me one of his Christmas presents — a set of watercolor pencils from my mom — which my sister Karen then snagged from me in a trade for a cool handmade bowl. My mother hates the wheeling and dealing that happens after the gifts are opened, and I suppose it is totally inappropriate, but it's a lot of fun.

Oh, Bacon Rolls
Start out with
- a package of bacon, uncooked
- a can of condensed cream o' mushroom soup (you could use cream of celery soup, I suppose)
- a loaf of plain ole white bread

Cut the crusts off the bread and feed them to the birds, or your dog, or save them for stuffing or what-have-you
Flatten each piece of bread with your rolling pin
Spread a bit of condensed soup on each piece
Roll the bread up
Wrap a piece of bacon around it
Cut into halves or thirds
Keep on truckin' until you run out of bacon or bread or soup
**Freeze** until you're ready to cook them. I know it sounds crazy, but they cook a whole lot better if you freeze 'em first.
Pop them in the oven at about 400° or so, and cook until the bacon is done.
They are greasy and delicious!

Okay, back to our Fake Christmas. We ate up a lot of appetizers: cheese, and eggplant caponata, and crackers, and bacon rolls, and pepperoni bread. And then we opened our presents. Notably: my father gave Karen's boyfriend, Bryan, a Viagra baseball cap, which was pretty amusing. See the post below (Birthdays Gone Wild) in case you missed it; that will explain the Viagra thing, unfortunately.

Now, dinner had been discussed for months in advance, and my mother had her fancy plates out, but I'm guessing a poll was taken, and everyone was too full from appetizers, so we didn't have a meal. It happens, I guess. In the meantime, my nephew Michael, must have grabbed a cookie and soda and wandered off to the computer. Ours is a large, loud family, and I cannot blame the kid if he was distracted and/or called away, to say, help remove the fancy dirt from the back of the truck, since he's at that age where he may be pressed into duty.

A short time later, my mother found the half-eaten cookie and soda by the computer, and, well, more or less became focused to find out who did it.

"WHO DID THIS?!" Maggie shouted. "WHO LEAVES HALF-EATEN COOKIES AROUND THE HOUSE, FOR GOD'S SAKE? WHY? WHO?" We tried to convince her that perhaps the owner would return for his/her food shortly; it was a party after all, and food does get strewn about a bit. No harm done, after all.

Michael, I noticed, was very quiet.

My mother was not to be calmed. "WHO DID THIS?? WHO??"

Glen walked in and suggested that my father (Mike) call the forensics team. "They'll run the DNA, Mike, and will find the bastard who committed this horrible crime."

My mother stopped hunting for the guilty, at that point, but Glen didn't let up. A short time later: "Mike," Glen said, "Did you dust for fingerprints yet? Are we any closer to solving this crime?

A few hours later, we were back on the road, this time with Michael, who fessed up to leaving the cookie and soda by my mother's computer, but was too scared to admit it at the time; and who also watched Star Trek: Deep Space Nine from about 2 a.m. (when we got in) to about 6 a.m. when he passed out. I drove him home Sunday afternoon, and returned home, road-weary, and sick. Or sicker. Or sick again. I'm not sure.

Glen's been sick since some time before his sister, Clair's, visit earlier this month. I know it sounds terribly unsympathetic, and I suppose to a degree, I am terribly unsympathetic, but I swear, I'm not totally void of sympathy; I'm not a great nurse, and I have a hard time listening to people talk about their colds. I know I will pay for my crimes some day, and I suppose maybe I have, but I still have a hard time mustering sympathy for any pain that doesn't, say, bleed. Plus, to me, Glen had no symptoms at the time, except for a little tiny phlegmy sound deep in his lungs, which can happen to the best of us, after we've eaten dinner. Glen demonstrated his rattly lungs for us, and through the hysterical laughter, I managed to record it on my cell phone. I would like to post here, because it's pretty funny, but am not quite smart enough to post it; there's an insert video button, but apparently, I can't insert a sound of a rattly lung. If I can figure it out, I'll get it up, because I'd hate for you to miss out.

Poor Glen felt terrible, but instead of support, his wife, sister, and niece, went around all weekend, imitating the sound of his labored breath on my cell phone. One night, in desperation, he said to me:

"Why don't I have a wife and sister who will take me to the hospital?? Against my will?"
"What?" I asked.
"I want to be sicker than anyone ever has been before, just to prove to you I'm sick! And if you take me to the hospital against my will, it will show everyone how tough I am to not want to go, and also, how much you love me."

Clair showed her support by finding this YouTube video (warning: British accents):

So Glen was kind of bumming there wasn't much support, and then, a couple of days later, payback. I got sick, with symptoms, and Glen did too. Mostly we cough. And don't get much sleep. We start to feel better for a couple of days, and then blammo, we're consumptive again.

I suspect we'll live through it, through. There isn't much choice, since I owe Michael a pepperoni bread, and Glen's sister, Brenda is coming down after Christmas. But the cold is cutting into my free time; I feel like moping around, in my slippers and wrapped in a blankie, instead of blogging, so I hope to beat this thing soon (without going to the hospital against my will).

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