Thursday, December 22, 2011

Lighten Up

We moved to this neighborhood six months ago, knowing that it was a great area of Jacksonville...but little did we know that our choice of street address would land us in a Christmas light spectacular!  There is always that one street where folks go all out come the holidays, and during the month of December their neighborhood is full of people cruising by in wonder of the twinkling bulbs, and the power bill.
The opposite side of the street from us happens to be such a dazzling display of electricity...lets just say that this joyful discovery is just one more affirmation that moving off our little island to the big city was a grand idea.

The girls and I go on evening strolls to admire our neighbors' handiwork, and on one such occasion we happened to meet the man with the grid plan.  I asked him how it all worked...did he have a generator?  He told me in an unexpectedly sheepish manner that he had two computers, one in the garage and one in the closet under the stairs that powered the operation.  Angels and candy canes dangling 20 feet up in the air, words projected on the side of the house, giant crosses and evergreens, snow ball fights, sparkling deer, stars, inflatable penguins...this man went all out.  In mid-conversation Lil' Bit became suddenly very upset and began to whimper.  "Look mommy!  Look at Frosty!  He is dying!"

"Maybe he is taking a bow?"  Our neighbor interrupted my ridiculous response and expertly explained that Frosty was melting and would soon be back upright.  Lil' Bit was greatly relieved as he re-inflated and we continued on our walk.  I am not a religious person, but I appreciate the homage to light during this dark time of year.  Speaking of...Happy Hanukkah!

Hanukkah is a holiday that calls for oil...aka fried food.  Chef made jelly donuts the first night of the holiday...the beginning of a barrage of sweets to lighten life during the holidays.  This week we received what I call "the holiday diet fucker package."  Chef and I always vow to go on a crazy diet between the Thanksgiving feast and the Christmas feast, but inevitably a DF package arrives and ruins our good will.   Rum balls, truffles, sugar cookies, peppermint bark...a  towering smorgasbord of sinful delights compliments of mom.   I know one day I will too send my brood tins full of empty calories, and they will eat them dutifully with great gusto. 

The idea that we don't have to indulge over the holidays is poppycock.  There is no better way to celebrate the richness of life and the end of a year than with rich delicious food.  So my advice to you this last week of December, this first official week of winter is to go for it.  

Eat as if you are about to enter hibernation...enjoy all food and libation without guilt or shame.  There is no better way to celebrate a year of life well lived.  Besides, New Year's is next your resolve of deprivation for next year.  Just say screw it and indulge in the now!

Sunday, December 18, 2011


This morning on the other side of the world at 7:37 am the last US combat troop crossed over the border to Kuwait ending our nine year war in Iraq...officially.  My mind returned to the day we began the Shock and Awe campaign.   I was at a friend's warehouse studio listening to the reports coming in on the radio when I went to use the restroom and realized that I had unknowingly been wearing my underwear inside out and backwards all day.

I remember three years later after I had moved back to Florida and went to a craft store to buy some art supplies.  The war was far from my mind until I walked past the aisle that held the Flag boxes on sale.  I stood there and my heart sank.  It hit me that unlike previous generations of war, my generation, in this age of petty distraction, could go days or weeks without a thought about our soldiers abroad because as civilians we have not been asked to sacrifice anything.  

I had the same thoughts every time I saw a soldier in an airport.  I wondered if they were coming or going, and if they were on their way home how difficult the adjustment must be for them.  I witnessed the small ways they were honored in transit:  the rounds of applause at the baggage claim, or on a plane after a pilot had honored them over the intercom, or the smiles and quiet thanks given by individuals to soldiers on terminal trams.

I recall the six months I spent worrying about my little brother while he served in Iraq in his position at the DOD.  I swore an oath to him and myself that if anything happened to him I would devote the rest of my life making sure that the terrible story of this particular war would be impossible to hide through the retelling of history.

We spent Thanksgiving this year with my brother in Washington D.C.  It was his first time hosting the holiday as a young adult in his new apartment.  I was so grateful he was home. We feasted the way only a family with a Chef in its fold can do.  During dinner he told us about the USO volunteers that he encountered all over the world and the platters of baked goods and comfort foods of home that they provided to all personnel serving in the wars abroad.   My brother twice returned from war without family to greet him, and for the kindness shown to him by these folks I will be eternally grateful.

A nine year war ended today.  The last soldiers are now racing the clock home to be with their loved ones for the holidays.  I can't even imagine the relief and strangeness of the new life the Iraqi people are faced with now they are no longer occupied.

Anytime a war ends is a time for joy.  This upcoming few weeks there will be many toasts to be made.  This holiday season the word "peace" is more than some sentiment followed by the word "joy" on a card.  Peace is the epic struggle for our slowly evolving species.  During the holidays as we light our candles lets do so in dedication of peace and hope for the end of the war in Afghanistan.  The cost of war is too much for any people to bear.

Lets give thanks to all the people across the world who bring peace in ways both big and small, and reflect on the meaningful ways that we can follow in their footsteps.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Authentic Celebration

You know you live with  a chef when it comes time to clean out the garage freezer and this is the list of stuff you are going to keep:

pork fat
rabbit legs & quarters
pork belly
24 quails
steam buns
whole rabbit
whole duck
fruit purees
boneless short rib
pork scraps/neck
corn tortillas
japanese noodle with Uzu sauce?
gyro meat

I am not even going to get into what we threw out.   Lets just say that according to Chef, there is plenty of room now. The idea to catalog the freezer came about in a discussion about what to cook while entertaining over the holidays. I think our stash has the makes for some serious wining and dining.  Flock of quail anyone?

Feasting as a means to celebrate is a tradition that binds humankind.  It is as relevant now as it was in ancient times...perhaps even more so today given that so many of our personal interactions happen in cyberspace.  From the preparation of the food, to breaking bread...every aspect of a feast feeds authentic relationships.  I dare say we could all use a little time devoted to authenticity this holiday season.  

For real.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Ohhh Honey!

This time of year I like to drink.  Well, truth be told I like to drink most times of year.  It is genetic.  But during winter I like to drink things that warm.   I am not a Scotch person.  My parents, they are Scotch people.  As a child, I used to hound them for a sip of whatever adult beverage they had in hand.  They would cave knowing that the burning taste of Johnny Walker would make me gag.  It did.   To this day that first sip of Scotch always triggers churning chills down my spine.  I can drink it if duty calls in certain social situations, but it is not preferred.   I am an American girl when it comes to whiskey.

Bourbon whiskey is made from corn and is unique to the American South, distilled mainly in Kentucky but also Tennessee.  Ironically enough the invention of bourbon is attributed to a Baptist minister named Rev. Elijah Craig.  The term "bourbon" comes from the county in Kentucky where the distillation process of American whiskey was created.  American whiskey producers are mandated by trade agreements to label their booze bourbon, but Tennessee whiskey producers refuse to label their bottles as such.  Instead they use "sour mash whiskey" to disassociate themselves from their brothers in Kentucky, in true bootlegger moonshine feud style.

This week Chef and I were introduced to Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey.  It was given to him as a gift to nurse an upper respiratory infection.    Like a true southern bell she is warm, inviting, a real sweetie but if you take advantage of her good graces she will bite you in the ass.  She made her debut to society this summer and has had five star reviews from anyone who has taken her for a ride.  

Let me tell you something...this is one of the most sippable liquors Chef and I have ever tasted.  I am not kidding.  This beverage will now be a staple booze in our home. There is nothing syrupy about this drink, just whiskey warmed with honey.  It is extraordinary.

Do yourself and everyone around you a favor and go buy a bottle.  Maybe two.  One for you and one as a gift to someone who needs a drink more than most. This year, this climate, this world we live in now demands too much from us, and there is nothing like a little southern comfort to provide relief from the cold.  A little liquid courage to face the all consuming holiday season.  I am telling you if cheer had a flavor, it would be Tennessee Honey.

Cheers to one of America's finest exports, and congrats to Mr. Daniels for landing himself such an incredible lady!