The Peanut Butter and Jelly Surprise

As you may know from past posts, the Crankee Yankee and I belong to a great group of people who love model trains. We have become sort of a family over the years, and we have many dear friends in the club.

Each year we have a Memorial Day picnic, and at Christmas time, a huge get-together. Everyone brings their signature dishes and we enjoy each other’s company as well as the food.

This year the Crankee Yankee offered to make steak tips and a huge Caesar salad. On the appointed night, we drove up to Bedford, NH with the car loaded with hot steak tips and the salad. This year the party was being held at a church, so when we drove up, we didn’t see any of our friends’ vehicles. It was 5:30pm, the time for the party to start.

The Crankee Yankee called the main organizer to ask if the time had been changed. Turns out that the party was for the following Tuesday!<Insert that “wah-wahhhhhhh” sound here>

At first, we were just feeling stupid to have foobled up the date. Then we were a bit PO’d that we made all this food for nothing. Then we laughed our heads off; really, it was way too funny not to laugh.

We enjoyed those steak tips all week, as well as the salad. There was no end of the laughs on the Crankee Yankee, which he took in good stride. As the real date approached we decided to make a “joke dish,” then a real dish.

We made a delicious and enormous pot of chili, using my mom’s “never fail” recipe, and, of course, a huge Caesar salad. We decided to make “poor man’s steak tips,” too. Here’s the recipe if you’re interested:

Buy a loaf of white bread, a jar of peanut butter, and a jar of jelly. Spread peanut butter on one piece of bread, jelly on the other and put them together to make a classic “PB+J.” Cut the sandwiches into “fancy” triangles. Nail them down with *party toothpicks. Place in a nice tray with a cloth cover. Upon presenting them, whip off the cloth and say, “tah-dahh!”

This was supposed to be a joke, but behold and lo, everyone loved them! One of our friends is a British lady who had never had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before. She loved them! Another friend of ours is a strict vegetarian, so she was delighted to have some. In fact, she ended up taking the rest of them home.

So there you go; if you make the kind of thundering boo-boo we made, just make up for it with something silly. Worked for us!

*Party toothpicks; either the ones in colors, or the “foo-foo” ones with the colored cellophane at the ends. 


No More Christmas Crazy

Well, the Christmas season is fully upon us, and when I see the strained and drained faces in the shops, the “most wonderful time of the year” can get pretty stressful. I remember those days; time seemed to slip through my fingers. I rushed to buy or make gifts; wrap them, ship them, get my cards out before Christmas, make my eatable gifts and distribute them, and so on. Even in my sleep I was crossing off what I had to do.

But now that I’m older, I don’t do all that. This time of year has become a cozy and comforting time, calling back the magic of the season I felt as a child. I allow myself time and space to go choose gifts for friends and family and these days, I don’t feel rushed any more.

It took a lot of years to realize that all that hustle and bustle was mainly in my own head. No one was holding a whip over me to do all that I did; I put it all on myself. Thankfully, with years comes wisdom, or maybe it’s just a case of “shoot—I’m just not going to do this anymore.”

Besides, Christmas is far more than gifts and cards and so-and-so’s special fruit cake. It’s a time to think of Christmases past, friends, relatives and pets who were dearly loved and have passed on. It’s a time to appreciate the NOW: family members; new and old, friends; new and old; the new pet who is nothing like the old pet but is dearly loved just the same.

It’s a time to remember and also look forward to what is to come. Certainly Christmas is not what it used to be, but how wonderful it is to embrace the Christmas now in this year? Personally, I feel that each Christmas has a message for us to listen and attend to; it could be a reminder of the reason for the season. It could be a realization that maybe it’s time to let go of old resentments and hurts. It might the right time to pass on grandmother’s prized ruby ring, or Auntie’s beautiful set of dishes.

How about this Christmas we just enjoy the people, places and circumstances of where we are now in our lives? How about this Christmas that we make new traditions? We can decide to donate all those winter coats we never use to a homeless shelter. We can go through our jewelry, knick-knacks, clothing and donate them to a nursing home so that the people there will enjoy a surprise on Christmas morning.

Animal shelters are always in need of funds, food and bedding. It’s a good time to go through our sheets, towels, blankets, etc. and bring them to a shelter to warm the animals there. The shelters also may like donations of cat and dog toys.  These are things that become a present to ourselves; we have been given much and it’s good to give.

How about this year we don’t take part in the “Christmas Crazy?” As my late mom would say, “I’m up with that!” She never said the usual “I’m down with that;” she felt it was too negative.

I’m up with that, too. Enjoy the season, the people and the magic.



Sometimes a Smile Can Be Your Defense

We’ve all experienced it; as the holidays grow closer, the shopping becomes more frenzied. The pressure: get everything just right, make the best Christmas dinner, get the Christmas cards out in the mail, buy the right gifts, wrap them, send them, etc. And the list goes on.

Each time I go to my grocery store, I can feel the tension in the air as people start looking for the best turkeys, prime rib, hams, etc. People clutch their lists and mumble to themselves as they move from aisle to aisle. The stress is palpable.

Many folks have just come from work, and are frantically shopping for the evening meal or are stocking up on treats for Christmas stockings. Everyone looks stressed and more than a little cranky. It may be the time of year when the world falls in love (as the song says), but more often it’s more crabbiness in the air than peace on earth, good will toward men.

I took me years to figure this out, but I have perfected the “defensive smile” for days like this. So what exactly is a defensive smile? It is a relaxed and ‘I’ve got this covered’ smile; one that may diffuse someone’s frustration while they are waiting, ticket in hand, to order their sliced ham, cheese, turkey, etc. at the deli counter. Since someone with an actual smile on their face is relatively rare in situations like this, it often makes other people smile.

Oh, of course there are going to be the Crabby McCrabbensteins who want to know what in the hell you are smiling about, but fortunately, they are in small numbers. Another plus for the defensive smile is that it is calming for the smiler. Knowing that I am smiling makes me feel calm. The smile works both ways, you see.

The defensive smile is also great to use at the checkout. Usually I have only about 18-20 items in my cart, so I go in the 20 items or less aisle to pay. Often there are folks who get behind me and only have a few things, so I tell them to go ahead of me. I’m not in any hurry, and it tickles me when the surprised person says, ‘really? It’s ok with you?’ I tell them that the delay is only keeping me from housework. And then we both smile.


The Kind of Day to Curl Up or Cook

There is something about a cold (well, frigid) day. The sun can be out, but the wind is cold. Your heaviest parka isn’t enough to keep all that cold wind from digging its icy fingers down your neck and into your socks. You’d like to go for a walk, but you fear you would turn into a creaking, cracking human-sicle if you did.

So, what instead? A good book and a cup of strong coffee with maybe a cookie to go with it? Wrapping Christmas gifts early? Brushing your pets (who make it pretty clear that they don’t wish to be brushed)? For me, it’s usually cooking.

Funny, when I was living with my parents, Mom would beg me to cook with her. At the time, I had zero interest in it. I knew it would have made her happy if I shared her love of cooking, but at the time it wasn’t anything I was interested in doing.

But that was then, this is now. These days I really enjoy cooking. Yesterday was definitely a day to make shepherd’s pie, one of the Crankee Yankee’s favorites. Mine, too, actually. I had all the ingredients; ground lamb, potatoes, onions, carrots, creamed corn (personally I like the touch of sweetness it adds), beef broth, and so on. It’s just one of those hearty and delicious dishes that are perfect for a cold day.

I also enjoy baking; bread, cookies, brownies, pies, apple crisp, and so on. Then there are the holiday favorites, such as my grandmother’s seafood chowder. We always called it “Christmas chowder,” because it was always the Christmas Eve supper. My grandmother would save coins and one dollar bills throughout the year in order to buy all the expensive ingredients for that chowder; lobster, crab, oysters, clams, fish, scallops, shrimp and a small bottle of good sherry.

It was a tradition that we all loved. On the cold dark of Christmas Eve, the icy stars winked and glittered as we drove to my grandparents’ house. When we walked in, the heavenly scent of that chowder warmed us to our bones. Along with it was my grandmother’s homemade watermelon pickles, and Mom’s homemade Parker House rolls.

So, this being another bright but cold day, it’s another excuse to cook, bake, or just curl up with a good book and a cat on my lap. Today’s lunch will be the heart-warming chicken soup I made a few days ago, with a side salad made with cucumbers, tomatoes, sweet onions and a sprinkle of feta cheese.

As my late great mother-in-law would have said about the chicken soup, “it couldn’t hurt!”



Savage Amusement

“Savage amusement” is what the Crankee Yankee and I call something or some situation that’s funny to us, but possibly not for someone else. It might have been Lou Costello (of the famous comedy duo, Abbott and Costello) who broke down comedy and tragedy in this way:

“So there’s a guy walking down the street, not noticing that there is a banana peel on the sidewalk. He slips on it, and falls hard on his back. That’s comedy. But if the same thing happens to me, it’s tragedy.”

I’ll admit that savage amusement is pretty snarky, but I find that, the older I get, the more snarky I get. I think it comes with age. Think of it this way; you spend your childhood and young adulthood being respectful to everyone, even the ones who treat you badly. That’s because you were raised to be nice to people.

But when you get older, you often find that ‘nice’ isn’t always how you want to be. There are times when the snarky gene kicks in, and you stop worrying about what people think of you—you just go for it.

For example, my mom got funnier as she got older. Sometimes she would say things that made me say, “MOM! How could you say that?” Then she would shrug and say, “I’m old, I can say what I want; who’s going to stop me?” (Not me, for sure!)

She once called me about something she read about smallpox. It said that, should smallpox came back with a vengeance, it would probably kill everyone under 30 on the planet. To which she said, “how bad would that be?”

She told me to never tell anyone that she had said such an awful thing; and of course I told everyone. And everyone laughed their heads off about it.

Ah, savage amusement; it’s not for everyone. But the Crankee Yankee and I are at an age where we can pretty much say whatever the hell we want to; it’s the privilege of being older. Moohahahahaha!

What’s For Breakfast?

We in America do love our breakfasts. It can be eggs and bacon with a side of hashbrowns, pancakes with sausage, waffles smothered in fruit, cereal, grilled cheese and ham sandwiches, leftovers, pastries; you name it, we’ll eat it for breakfast.

Just for fun, I took a digital tour of some of the world’s breakfasts (from Quorum):

In China: a typical breakfast in eastern China can include items like dumplings, rice in vegetable soup, fried sponge cake, steamed creamy custard bun, and porridge.

A typical breakfast in Guyana is bake and saltfish. Saltfish is whitefish preserved in salt, and bake is bread dough, fried.

In Iran a typical breakfast consists of sweet black tea, bread, butter, feta cheese, and sometimes fresh fruit and nuts.

A French breakfast includes tea, coffee, juice, or hot chocolate, with bread and butter or pastries.

Japanese breakfasts fall into two categories: Wafuu (traditional) and youfuu (Western). A typical Wafuu breakfast has rice, fish, miso soup, sticky soy beans, and nori seaweed. A typical youfuu breakfast has buttered toast, eggs, coffee, and potato salad.

A traditional Polish breakfast is scrambled eggs topped with kielbasa (a sausage) and potato pancakes.

A common South Indian breakfast is idli and sambar, a vegetable stew served with steamed lentil and rice bread. Also popular is dosa, a thin crunchy crepe with a spicy potato filling.

In Turkey, breakfast consists of cheese, olives, honey, jam, bread, an omelette, and fruit.

A typical Philippine breakfast consists of bread rolls and coffee. Tapsilog (rice with dried meat and a fried egg) is also common.

And so it goes; to each his own. The Crankee Yankee and I often have leftovers for breakfast, and I suspect that many others do as well.

To finish out this breakfast post, I hope that you will enjoy the lyrics from the Texas-based singing duo, Trout Fishing in America. Here is their famous “Breakfast Blues” song:

“You give me hard eggs in the morning,
Cheese omelet you go.
Yeah, you give me hard eggs in the morning,
Cheese omelet you go.
You just hot buttered grits your teeth and bear it girl,
I doughnut love you no more.
(Now don’t get that glazed look on your face!)
Ham bacon you to leave me,
I never sausage misery.
Ham bacon you to leave me, darlin’,
I never sausage misery.
Well, you treated me so ungrapefruitly,
You gave me a raisin to be free.
Well, what do you Eggs Benedict me to do now?
I’ve got muffin else to say.
Yeah, what do you Eggs Benedict me to do now?
I’ve got muffin else to say.
Yeah, you left such a waffle toast in my mouth,
You biscuit out of town today.
(You know I ain’t gonna keep those home fries burning for you.)
You give me hard eggs in the morning,
Cheese omelet you go.
You give me hard eggs in the morning,
Cheese omelet you go.
You just hot buttered grits your teeth and bear it girl,
I ain’t gonna quiche you any more
(Jelly roll it again?)”


*From BuzzFeed