More Food

If you plan to have any of us over as my mom used to say, “You pays your money and you takes your chances”. The truth is if we love and respect you, you’re home free. We’ll eat what you serve and smack our lips. But remember this, “Anything you serve, can, and will be used against you when you’re not around.”

And here’s the worst part: We secretly like some of these foods. We just would never try to pass them off as real food at a social gathering. I am including a list of the food products we consider fake and therefore unacceptable.

First and foremost is Margarine. Margarine is an abomination before man and God. Butter is a little bit of God. Margarine is a graven image. Cooking with it is unthinkable. Eating it is a sin and can leave your reputation sullied for years. I know that 15 years ago my grandpa ate margarine on a plane. I wasn’t on the plane, but certain people were, and word got out. It won’t be forgotten.

Next is Cool Whip. Such a common item as to be almost a matter of punctuation in the prose of a truly bad meal. Any permutation of whipped topping is bad. Adding the prefix “lite” will only make things worse.

Dehydrated food is almost always verboten. I can’t think of any exceptions except maybe beef jerky. This means the following shall not cross our lips:

Potato Buds, aka potato butts. Unacceptable in almost all situations, although there are those of us who really don’t care about the starch course in a meal. Whatever the white stuff is, it’s merely a vehicle for the sauce. Good gravy or butter can redeem almost anything.

Onion or garlic powder or salt: my mom could smell it blowing in from the neighbor’s kitchen. If it’s cooked, I hardly notice, but I still wouldn’t dream of serving it to guests. Especially my family.

Any food that was once in an envelope. Unless it is lipton onion soup and you are putting it in sour cream to make dip. This exception exists because my mom said so.

Lemonade: Don’t even bother if you don’t have lemons. And lemons are not plastic.

Jell-o or anything made with it. Don’t get me wrong here. Secretly I like jell-o. I just have enough pride to not bring it out in public. If my mom or siblings were to look in my cupboard, I’d tell them it was for in case someone gets sick. Jell-o is only officially sanctioned in the context of a clear liquid diet.

Once recently when I asked my dad (whose ideas of decent food are much more flexible, and probably honest) if I could bring anything to a family gathering. When he told me I should bring something made with Lime Jell-o, I had to wonder if he was just trying to torture me. He wasn’t. But after my siblings smacked their lips at my jell-o and cream cheese concoction, they told my mom on me. Rat finks.

In this instance I violated a number of food taboos. The jello one was just the most obvious, but the worse sin was mixing real food with fake food. Cream cheese is one of the staffs of life. Mixing it with anything fake is disrespectful to the cream cheese and makes people think you don’t know any better.

With a few exceptions, almost anything that started out in a box or a can will be ferreted out and take you down. This includes, but is not limited to BisQuick, StoveTop, Betty Crocker potatoes of any kind, Rice-a-Roni, instant pudding and boxed cake mixes (Much to my dismay, because I just don’t like cake enough to make it from scratch. Cake is all about the frosting,which should be made from scratch).

The punchline here is that my mom (the matriarch, creator and enforcer of this strange system of beliefs) loved Raspberry Zingers. If things ever got ugly about what someone bought, made or served, those two words could put her back in her place.

Turkey Soup, continued

It was a welcome home gift from my mom one year. A year when I spent Thanksgiving in Mason City with my husband’s family. A big pot of Turkey soup on my back steps.

I love my family, but Thanksgiving is, was and always will be (really) about the food. Maybe food and family are inseparable. Food is serious business. If you do it right, that is. And it can put a permanent black mark on your reputation if you don’t. If you are a generous and strong spirit, you could think of any food screw-up as a donation to the well of teasing and torment that keeps our family together.

Eating at any other family’s table is at once an endless ordeal and a fabulous opportunity to trash-talk at a later date. I realize now (on some level but not all) that there are really no objective criteria that made how we ate the “right way’. But we believed it to be true and so it was. The way other people ate gave our family great pleasure, if not in a culinary sense. (And please, those of you who have invited me to your table in the past, don’t stop. I cannot stress enough how secretly, I love to eat trashy food. Just don’t tell my sisters)

A truly worthy and good meal the likes of which I have only had away from home about a dozen times; this kind of meal, while it gives me enjoyment at the time, left us feeling disappointed that the only story we’d have was of sufficient quantity and decent quality. I suppose we fed our self-esteem with our perceived culinary superiority. Other people having good food left us wondering what we were good at.

The meal I had in Iowa was nice; the Morgan family was gregarious. The house was a cozy eighty degrees. It was one of my first away from home. Gramma made her signature stuffing, which was a delight, dark brown and crumbly, caramelized and turkey flavored. With the occasional raisin thrown in to confuse me. She won’t share the recipe, but I think I made it by accident once. I wish I could remember how.

The immense turkey was not at all dry. In fact, the turkey was quite moist, because it had been coated in orange marmalade and steamed in a covered pan for hours and hours. The skin was slipped off and the naked bird was ready to go.

If you’re not retching over the slippery skin, maybe you won’t appreciate this story. Move on. Turkey is all about the skin and the gravy. Skin should be crispy and brown and gravy should be made in the kitchen. If you screw those up, you might as well have canned chicken and gravy from a jar. And if you eat gravy from a jar, I feel sorry for you. Gravy is so easy and delicious. MMMmmmm, it’s the best part of meat.

The vegetables were the highest quality green beans and carrot medallions available from the frozen food section. They were served with a sprinkling of dill, no butter or salt to muck them up. They made a nice squeaky noise as I bit into them and freezer flavored water squirted out of them.

The table conversation didn’t linger on unpleasant topics like the politics of drug enforcement or gun-owners’ rights for more than half the meal. The word “tits” only came up a couple timesl (at least at my table with Gramma, but who’s to say what happened over in the living room). And only once was anyone actually talking about MY tits. Whew, It could have been worse.

After we drove back from Mason City I found on my back steps a pot of Turkey soup and a batch of home made rolls. That was my mom’s MO. I can’t count the number of times she dropped off entire meals in a covered cake carrier. Meat or soup, gravy, a veggie and hot rolls were the staples. They arrived after babies, when I was sick, when we had been traveling or whenever she knew we needed help. God I miss that.

If you plan to have any of us over as my mom used to say, “You pays your money and you takes your chances”. The truth is if we love and respect you, you’re home free. We’ll eat what you serve and smack our lips. But remember this, “Anything you serve, can, and will be used against you when you’re not around.”

Turkey Soup

Basic Turkey Soup

  • Turkey bones or pieces
  • Water
  • Celery (a couple stalks or the tops from a bunch)
  • Onions (one the size of your fist or so, cut into quarters)
  • Carrots (one or two)
  • Salt, peppercorns and fresh parsley

Put your bones and vegetables into a nice big stock pot and cover them with water. The more bones you have the stronger your flavor will be. Chicken is as good as turkey, just a little different. The wings, especially the tips, the necks and incidentally, the feet, have lots of gelatin and are especially great for making soup. The meat can be leftover from a cooked bird or plopped right in raw. The flavor will be different, but both are good.

Bring the pot to a boil and simmer for an hour or more, I have boiled soup for as long as 3 hours, it’s fine. It makes your house smell good and you feel like you’re multitasking as long as it’s bubbling away.

Add your salt, pepper and parsley after it starts to boil.

Strain all those icky, mushy veggies out of the broth and pitch them, pick the meat off your bones if there is any.

Now you have broth. Throw in your leftover gravy if you want, and whatever vegetables you like or have on hand. You can make it into Cream of Turkey Wild Rice Soup (recipe to follow), Asian soup, Chicken and dumplings or some variety of Noodle Soup. Fresh Parsley is a wonderful topper.

Here’s your recipe for pinch noodles to go with your soup.

Pinch Noodles

  • A cup of flour
  • A large egg
  • Water
  • A pinch of salt
  • A little oil

Sift together your salt and flour, make a well in your flour mixture. Add the egg and a couple teaspoons of water. Mix it all together until if forms a ball. If it needs more water, add it. You want a nice ball of dough that holds together without being too sticky or too crumbly. Once the dough is good, coat your hands with olive oil and rub it into the ball of dough. Let it rest while your stock comes back up to a boil (like 5 minutes). Coat your fingers with flour.

Pinch off chunks about the size of a quarter, something that will fit on a spoon is a good size. If it sticks to your fingers too much, coat your hands with flour. Drop the noodles into the boiling soup.

They should be thinner in the middle than on the edges, but at the thickest part they shouldn’t be any more than 1/8th of an inch thick. They’ll sink and then float to the top as they get done. Just keep dropping them in until the dough is gone.

Add your meat if you want it, some chopped celery and carrots and some parsley and pepper. Pinch noodles make people happy.

Turkey soup is great for lots of occasions. It works with a batch of rolls, to warm up your family on a cold night. It’s a meaningful and practical get-well message, an expression of sympathy and a really nice welcome home.

Race part 3

Step 2

Came to believe a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Well, my power greater than myself is ah, the blog. See I confess, process and profess all this stuff on the blog. Damn. In all the 12 step programs I’ve tried, this step and step three always seem like ths stupidest ones. I don’t believe that a power greater than myself can restore me to sanity. I’m not sure anything can, but I’m trying every day.

Step Three

Made a decision to turn our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.

And I haven’t made a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of god as I understand god. Because I don’t understand god at all. I am an unbeliever. But that will have to wait for another day because right now we are talking about race; and if I don’t stick to the topic, god-as-I-understand-god only knows when we’ll get back to it.

Step 4

Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves

Racist, classist whatever is my failing, I do try hard to be good. That’s what I want on my grave: She Was Good. Or she tried to be good. Nah, put “she was good” the people who know better will smile, and the people who don’t will think I was good. But I am weak. And I fail sometimes. I say this by way of explanation for why I still (even after the arguments from smart people who know me well) think I’m a racist.

I feel racist because of my reaction to the fact that my little rental house isn’t looking good on the market, not to white folks. I have attributed this to the fact that the house is in a majority black neighborhood. When people ask me how the neighborhood is, I feel dishonest if I don’t tell them it’s mostly black (but I don’t). But I think that’s what they’re looking for. Maybe they are and maybe they’re not. But you know they are. Even if they don’t admit it to themselves.

When the white college kids came to walk through, I was gung-ho. They were gung-ho, I thought. But when the skinny black lady across the street came out to chat with me on the way in, I cringed inside and wished she had stayed in her house. That’s a racist thought. I didn’t act on it. But I felt it. And the college kids never did return my calls after they came to the house, saw the neighborhood. They were better than the heavy-set white woman with kids, who wrinkled her nose out in the front yard, looked around and said, “Mmm, I don’t think so.”

When we were trying to sell this same house, I honestly thought about planting white people around the block to make all those chicken-shit white people think it was whiter than it is. Let me break this down: It isn’t my own racism I’m reacting to when I want to “stage” the neighborhood. It’s my perception that buyers who are white (and most of St. Paul is white, so it’s an important market segment) are afraid to buy on a street they think is mostly black.

So what’s worse? Wanting to trick them because I want the sale? Wanting to trick them because I think it sucks that this city is so segregated? Relegating the actual (black) neighbors to the status of detriment in the neighborhood? Elevatint white people to an asset? But I’m doing all those things. And they are totally racist. I’m not judging myself here, just acknowledging it.

These are only thoughts I’ve had. I haven’t done anything to act them out. But I did think of it as a viable option. What does that mean?

Can it mean anything worse than the fact that the black guy at the apartment next door and the black guy across the street both asked me to try not to rent to any more black people? And what do you say to a black person who says, “Try not to rent to no more black folks. Find you a nice Hmong family. They nice and quiet.”? What do you say to that?

I’m not a bad person because I’m a racist. By saying it, I just acknowledge my own vulnerability and work on it every day. I’m a struggling racist. Struggling every day with my own racist thoughts and with what the truth is about race in this part of the world. Admitting I’m a racist is my way of telling people it’s OK to admit you are weak. It’s even OK for white people to talk about race.

If we make people afraid to talk openly about what they KNOW is true, they will go to the other side (the side of people who had made friends with their inner racist) because they think it ‘s the only place they can possibly belong, and while they’re there, they will be thinking,accurately, that we are lying about what is going on in the real world. They’ll be right. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Some people are stagnated racists. They admit it, they don’t fight it and they blame which ever group they don’t like. Those people are more common than we’d like, but they’re a small percentage of the population.

There are people out there (my dear mother-in-law, for instance) who claim not to notice race. I have to believe them, but I can’t even comprehend how someone might not notice another person’s race. They are a rare breed, people who don’t even notice. I don’t mean people who ignore race, but the ones who really don’t notice. Here’s the kind of notice I’m talking about.

Have you ever had a zit or an extra roll of fat that you wished would go away, because people you talked to kept looking at it when they talked to you? Ever had that happen? If I recall correctly, a normal person can tell when the gaze of someone they’re talking to wanders even a quarter inch away from their eyes. So when someone can’t stop looking at that welt on your face or they notice your cottage cheesy thighs, you know they saw. And it takes something away from the conversation. You know even if they’re trying to listen to you, they are really not attending to you the way they would if you had a clear complexion.

Or a white complexion. Black people know. And it isn’t fair to them or me that I have that static in my mind. But I do. I think most people do. I also think most people are so embarrassed about how much they think about it that they actually deny that it has an im pact on their behavior. I was taught not to put the race of the person into a story unless it was pertinent to the story. It’s almost always pertinent in this culture. Everything to do with race is so loaded that for a white person to pretend she didn’t notice that someone was black is usually disingenuous.

Here’s the crux of what I’m getting at here, three things: Credibility double bind. If you can’t admit you noticed that guy who took your billfold was black, you’re lying. If you do admit it, you’re a racist. If you tell your kids not to take the Selby Avenue route home, you’re being racist. Selby is predominantly black in this part of town, and if you don’t admit that’s what you’re worried about, you are lying. If you don’t tell them to walk somewhere else, you’re stupid. Get it?

And when you start lying about things it’s because you’re afraid of the truth. Remember,admitting the truth can’t hurt you. The truth is there whether you admit it or not. It itself can hurt you. But it’s worse if it sneaks up on you.

Race part 4

Step 9

Made direct ammends to such people whenever possible except when to do so would be harmful to them or others.

Next problem, the double bind of making ammends. If you go to a seminar on racial sensitivity, they make it clear to you what a great disadvantage people of color are, and it isn’t hard to demonstrate. Look at arrest and conviction rates of whites versus blacks, with identical records. The black guy is 15 times more likely to be arrested for a low level offense as a white guy. It’s true. Line people up on a continuum from pale to dark and ask now many people have been pulled over by a cop in the last 6 months. Black people are at a huge disadvantage in all sorts of ways. If you deny that, you’re ignorant or you’re lying.

So they tell you, what you all need to do, white and black, is invite someone of another race or ethnicity to some of your gatherings. Invite them to coffee. Get to know each other. It will make things better.

That’s a double bind, isn’t it? Do you invite someone down the street to coffee just because they’re black? Seems kinda like a race-based behavior to me. But chalk it up to affirmative action. OK. Let’s say you invite them. Do you tell them honestly why you invited them? Because if you don’t, you’ve already erected a barrier between yourself and them, but if you do…how good of a start is that to your new salt-and-pepper friendship? Think it will go over well?

Here are two different situations I found myself and my forever spinning mind engaged in. Two different responses.

First, about a year after we moved into this neighborhood, a boy started hanging out in our yard, at the park, and sort of generally lurking around. He was more than a couple years older than my boy, so I watched a little more carefully than I otherwise might have.

He was (and is ) a heavy-set, sweaty white child with rosey cheeks and a sweet but not all there smile. A smile that said he thought he was pulling one over on you, but be couldn’t possibly really do that because his smile gave him away. His intellect was obviously below the normal range. But close enough that younger kids (like mine) would play with him. I’m not ashamed to say I found him a little creepy, but in a way he couldn’t help. So I was nice to him.

Little did I know just how creepy he could get when he started sprouting acne, a mustache and erections.

I kept hearing him talk about “Black People”. It’s usually a red flag for me. And when I heard him over the course of a few days talk about seeing a “black guy” in the park or the alley or the street with either a gun, some drugs or the intent to steal something from my back yard. I started to think maybe someone had been feeding him a diet of not-so-nice ideas about black folks. And he was feeding it to my son, who was dutifully feeding it back to me.

Our neighborhood is mixed enough, and I was crabby enough, and crazy enough that I got an idea one day. He came up to me talking about seeing a black guy trying to sell drugs in the park (I must add that there were no drug deals going down, just services letting out from the majority black church up the street). I had had it. I brought him and my son over to a group of black people standing around an open car at the curb, chatting over a beer and cigarette after church. Here is what I said:

“I’m sorry to bother you folks after church and all. But I have this problem and I don’t know what to do about it. I thought you might be able to help me. You see, one of these boys is pathologically afraid of black people. I wanted him to be able to meet some real people and maybe see that they aren’t so scary.”

What the hell was I thinking?

The woman closest to me was very nice and she laughed. Then she got serious and said, “Hey boys. We just here talkin’. Ain’t nothing scary goin on here. And that girl over there? She mixed, she black and white, and we hangin’ wit’ her. We cool. You don’t hafta be ascared. Come here honey, I shake yo hand. It ain’t nothin. You go play and don’t be scared. Black folks just folks.” A couple guys pulled up their shirts and showed, “See, no guns.”

I swear to god, it happened. I was terrified, but I did it. And it was OK in the end, I think. But god only knows what they said about that crazy white lady who came over after church.

Secondly, over the 4th of july holiday this year I had a different experience. I was trying to do what all the multicultural sensitivity training classes tell you to do. I invited myneigbor, Darnell (who is black, not incidentally) to come to our get-together barbecue. He’s the black neighbor I chat with the most. I had various white neighborhood friends over as well.

Darnell was, shall we say, well lubricated. He was drunk. He always introduces himself as an alcoholic, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. But then he drank lots of my beer, too. And monopolized the conversation and sang patriotic songs. The were all obnoxious and embarrassing. And I’m here to tell you, no matter what people say, they can’t all sing.

So did I do a good thing? I invited him at least half because he was black. And I don’t think I did much for fostering intercultural bonding. All my white neighbors were uncomfortable.

Most people really are just struggling racists. But if we don’t take the shame out of being a person struggling with race, we relegate them to either closet racist status (pretending they don’t actually notice race) or public bigot status (the stagnated, obnoxious racist). Neither of those is a good option in the long run. The bigot for obvious reasons, and the closet racist because it’s so easy to catch them in a lie. Catching them in a lie is a bad thing because it takes away credibility and confuses well intentioned people into making bad decisions.

So what do you do with this info? do you stop or start identifying people by race? do you invite or not invite?

Race, part 2

The Preamble

I’ve ah, I’ve had a little trouble with this latest post. Here’s the deal. Sometimes I think devices are a great idea until I start to try to make them work. That’s what happened with the race and 12 step thing. I could have made it work, but it would have felt really phony. So I sort of stumbled around and have decided that I need to abandon the 12 step race deal. I’m posting the process here because I think it’s interesting. I’m a work in progress.