Live....live....live! Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!
Thursday, December 17, 2009
SUNG TO THE TUNE
‘WALKIN’ THROUGH A WINTER WONDERLAND’
Coast is clear- wife is missin’
didn’t ask for her permission....
I’m wearin her clothes, her silk pantyhose
Walkin’ ‘round in women’s underwear!
In the store, there’s a teddy, little straps-
like spaghetti....it holds me so tight
like handcuffs at night
Walkin’ ‘round in women’s underwear!
In the office, there’s a guy named Melvin
He pretends that I am Murphy Brown
He’ll say “Are you ready?” I’ll say “Whoa man!”
“Let’s wait until the wife is out of town!”
Later on, if you wanna- we can dress like Madonna
Put on some eye shade and join the parade
Walkin’ ‘round in women’s underwear!
We’re walkin....in women’s underwear!
Monday, December 14, 2009
As a child, It’s difficult to appreciate the hard work that our parents go through to make the holidays special, magical and wondrous. Today, as an adult, I can look back fondly and revel in the efforts that my parents endured- between work, keeping the house running and still finding time to make Hanukkah memories that linger.
My father was a jeweler and far too busy (especially during holidays) keeping food on the table and a roof over our heads to be burdened with magic, so the brunt of the “Festival of Lights” fell on my mom. She too, worked at my dad’s store during the busy times and was woefully overworked during the season, but undaunted in her task to create special times that my sister and I still discuss to this day.
We both complained bitterly that we were given “short shrift” during the holiday’s, since we were not blind to the Christmas trees, stockings and the heaping piles of gifts that our non-Jewish friends appeared to reap from the mystical Santa that never slid down our chimney, therefore my mother had to be more than creative in an effort to appease us.
Because Hanukkah is celebrated over a period of eight nights, we were told the story of Judah and the Macabees. We lit the Menorah faithfully and had the requisite potato latkes and chocolate coins, known as “gelt”. We made our gift wishes known and my mother would make a game out of each night, with notes strewn throughout the house, teasing us with clues as to the whereabouts of each hidden (single) gift every night. To make it more exciting, the gifts grew in size and desirability as the nights wore on. Clothing was always first on the list, I suspect because mom knew it was a let down. This way, the final night was anticipated greatly, with the fervent wish that we would get something we actually, truly, desperately desired!
One year, it was the coveted bicycle for each of us that unbeknownst to us, our parents- exhausted from working all day and long into the night, had to assemble.
Another year it was stilts. Ahhh- the stilts! My sister and I wanted them so desperately, we almost forgot the feeling of being cheated out of Santa when they appeared before us, with the warning that they were never to be used inside the house. Yeah, right. As soon as the parents were out of sight, we were very busy mastering the art of stilt walking up and down that grand staircase in our Victorian home (it’s a Hanukkah miracle that we didn’t kill ourselves) and walked to school every day on those stilts for months!
For quite a while, my entire life revolved around LEGO and my mother kept me well stocked through the holidays as each new piece came out on the market. I missed having “special time” with mom during the season and had little understanding of why the parents weren’t around enough, so I started writing notes to mom about my daily activities at school and play. I would write my thoughts down and then enclose them in a LEGO house, or barn, or school, or even a Temple (as I recall) constructed laboriously and with great detail, adding window boxes, lights, chimney’s and the like.
Every morning, without fail, I would awake to an entirely new LEGO structure that was built (By mom, of course) late into the night with a reply to my note, laden with what their day was like and responding to my carefully elucidated details of my fascinating third grade life. It wasn’t until many years later that my mom explained how grueling it was to take apart my LEGO house, read my missive, write a response- and then rebuild a new structure of her own design, replete with turrets, smokestacks and outdoor lighting from her own LEGO imagination.
This simple (or so I thought) tradition made Hanukkah magical for me. I had no clue how tired my parents were, nor how hard they had worked to make it all seem so effortless for my sister and I- but looking back now? Wow.
I even wrote the people at LEGO all about it once and I’m sure they were enchanted, but did not feel it necessary to bestow every piece of LEGO ever created upon me, as a peace offering of Hanukkah magic. That was my mom’s job and she still manages to make magic for me every day, one way or another.
If the LEGO people are listening....it’s not too late. That little boy is still alive with wonder deep inside the grown up man and I remember mama (and her Herculean efforts) with appreciation, a sense of Hanukkah magic and love- above all else- love. Thanks, Mom.
Friday, November 27, 2009
It’s that time of year again—a time to gather family and friends, make some time-honored recipes and give thanks. I have so much to be grateful for that I hardly know where to begin.
First and foremost, I am grateful that I’m still here to celebrate the holiday. Having survived (over the years) three stomach surgeries, a small heart attack, esophageal cancer and a stroke, it’s a miracle that I can still be such a pain in the neck, but (fortunately for me) my family and (oh, so special) friends still want me hanging around and apparently, I have a lot of unfinished business.
My doctor seems to feel that I will “still be yakking it up, even as they lower me into the ground” (nice, huh?) and I am determined to keep talking (and writing) until such time.
I am thankful that I grew up with such a strong sense of family and what it means to be surrounded by love and support from a (very) colorful cast of characters. Thanksgiving has always provided fodder for stories over the years, and it wouldn’t surprise me if there was an entire book waiting to be written, if only I could find the time.
I am thankful that my grandparents were around during the “wonder years,” and that I had the great good fortune to grow up in a multi-generational household. We weren’t exactly the Waltons (Goodnight, John-boy) but we had traditions that I still hold dear and close to my heart. My mother’s parents were among the first in Binghamton to acquire a color television (yes, I’m that old!) and an instant holiday tradition was born. Dinner at Gramma Fay’s and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in living color.
Back in the day, relatives gathered from near and far to celebrate (my Gramma Fay was one of 11 siblings), and the laughter and tears of those huge dinners still reverberate today. My father’s mother, Gramma Helen, lived with us for a number of years and passed down family history, some incredible recipes and the importance of family values and a sense of belonging.
My Aunt Marcia, Uncle George and assorted cousins were in attendance, and are still around to reminisce and ruminate as I give thanks. Just this year, Aunt Marcia gave me my grandmother Helen’s “good china,” which I now use every day (after all, if I only dragged it out for “special occasions,” I’d be able to use the dishes 20—if I’m lucky, maybe 30—times!
My Grampa Mack was an extraordinary human being, and I am extremely thankful to have grown up with his amazing generosity of spirit. I sorely miss him (and the rest) to this very day.
Although my father has been gone a long, long time, my beautiful, talented, creative and loving mother is still going strong in Delray Beach, FL. She might not care to admit it, but she is, in many ways, directly responsible for me being the happy (and hapless) lunatic that I am today.
My sister lives in Canada now and celebrates a “Thanksgiving” that I don’t even pretend to understand, but it is impossible to get through the day without recalling one year in particular. Vicki was already in college when my mother asked for her help with the turkey. Apparently, Mom had asked said sister to take the bird out of the oven to cool.
Presumably, Mom intended that the turkey should cool somewhere inside the house (duh), but Vicki (for whatever reason) put it outside, where our German shepherd spied it, sniffed it and dragged it through the snow, happily chowing down. I don’t remember a lot of laughter in that moment—but we sure do chuckle about it now. Being the hopeless romantic that I am, I like to think that they are all looking down on these special occasions, laughing, crying and thinking about keeping the turkey indoors.
I do know that this time of year always conjures up memories that need to be written down before it’s too late. Are there Hanukkah stories to relate? You bet. Passover tales to be told? (Oy! Don’t ask!) All I can say is, if I’m not six feet under, apparently I’ll still be talking. As long as someone (yes, even strangers on the street!) wants to hear it (there are still plenty of memories to pass down to my nephew) I am on call. Hopefully, there are plenty of stories that have yet to unfold. Can’t wait to see what Thursday has to offer. One thing is sure, with my sister 1,000 miles away, the turkey is (probably) safe!
Monday, November 23, 2009
‘Grandma’s Kropetzl’ - a potluck recipe from the past...
A family recipe from the kitchen of Jonathan Fox
“Sense memory” is so strong that just a whiff of an old, familiar dish can send one reeling into the past. Such is the case with Grandma Helen’s Hungarian noodles and cabbage. Grandma has been gone a long, long time- but thanks to her ‘Kropetzl’ she will always live on... in our hearts, in our minds and in this case, in our stomachs!
There have been many special occasion over the years, that have required a delicious,covered, potluck dish. I find that holidays are, in particular, a perfect time to get out the family cookbook, leaf through the dog-eared pages and cook, cook, cook!
These days, only a lucky few have the wherewithall to conjure up a meal for the masses- and potluck has become more popular than ever. My grandmother’s special recipe, concocted in the old country out of ingredients found on the farm, has never failed me.
Cabbage, onions, noodles and spices are all that is required, so even at my most destitute, I have always been able to show up when invited, gigantic casserole in hand.
Herewith is Grandma Helen’s recipe, which I now serve in her own dinnerware, for your holiday feasts!
I don’t know how to make a small amount, so be aware that one can cut this recipe in half and still have enough to choke a horse.
The only ingredients necessary are:
three to four medium (or two very large) yellow onions. Two heads of cabbage. One and 1/2 boxes of Lasagna noodles. Salt and pepper.
Liberal use of butter is required. Remember, they didn’t live as long back then- but I would not substitute. Use the butter- your doctor will forgive you.
In a large pot, melt a stick of butter. Peel and chop (cry, if you must) the onions and slowly, lovingly, sautee the onions until they are very soft and begin to carmelize. (yes, it takes time- but if I can do it, so can you!)
Once this is accomplished, keep the onions on simmer and cut up the cabbage. It seems like a lot (because it is) but keep in mind that by the time you are done, the cabbage will have cooked down considerably. Add the chopped cabbage into the pot with the onions and cook the concoction slowly- on low/medium heat, stirring continually throughout.
While the cabbage is diminishing in volume (I did advise a large pot) put up a vat of salted water until it comes to a roiling boil. Adding a bit of oil to the pot will keep the noodles from sticking. Break the Lasagna noodles up with your hands into smaller pieces and boil according to directions, but keep in mind that you are using more than one package- and alter the cook time accordingly.
As the noodles are softening, continue stirring the onions and cabbage, slowly adding salt and pepper ( a little garlic couldn’t hurt) to taste. By this point, one should have a considerable amount of all three ingredients. Drain the noodles well (without rinsing) throw some more butter in the mix (what can I say?), add the lovingly prepared onions and cabbage to the pot. Stir, stir, stir, making sure that all of the noodles are drenched in the mixture. Taste. Add more salt and pepper until your taste buds come alive and head out to your party, confident that folks will think you’re a genius, rather than good old fashioned peasant stock.
My family has attempted substituting all sorts of noodles over the years. Stick to the plan, don’t ask why.
Serves 15-20 and tastes as good cold (the next day, or later that same night) as it does hot from the stove top. Serves the masses for pennies, which these days... really works for me!
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Ken, have you noticed there seems to be an awful lot of competition out there these days?
Listen’ hon, it’s a whole different world. we’re practically dinosaurs, for cryin’ out loud!
Well, those “Bratz” girls are giving us all a bad rap. Whatever happened to “My Little Pony”? She was precious. Just wholesome enough and had that pretty shiny purple hair......
Her hair color was a little psycho, if ya ask me- but I’m still steamed about the abundance of homo's in the market place. Not easy for a real guy like me to get a date anymore.
There are those who would argue your “real guy” status. Besides, What are you doing looking for dates? What am I? Chopped liver?
No, sweetie, you’ve always been a real doll. I’m just sayin’.
Where do all those Keebler elves keep coming from? I’ve yet to see a female in the bunch. That hole in the tree looks like one big gay party if you ask me.
I can’t imagine what you have against them. They’re here, they’re queer. Leave ‘em alone, for cryin’ out loud!
I’m just sayin’... between those fruity teletubbies and Bert and Ernie, we men have got our work cut out for us.
I hate to break it to you, sweetie, but you’re no G.I. Joe. I love a man in uniform!
Well, now you are really getting me worked up. I have half a mind to give Skipper a call!
Oh....Didn’t you hear? She’s been seeing one of the “Spice Girls” for over a year- and they’re already passé!
Hmm....Yogi and Boo Boo started it all. Practically made pedophile a household word.
Oh, please! You’re just still sensitive about the whole “genitalia issue” At least I got a little junk in the trunk!
Have you seen the Incredible Hulk? Now that’s what I call a man, baby!
You bitch. I’m surprised those assholes in corporate haven’t come out with 'Hoochie Mama Barbie' yet. Clearly, you are a whore. The years have not been kind to you. Aside from that, Miss Thing, you have clearly become the international poster child for anorexia....I’m just sayin’.
Miss Thing? I’d bet my Monopoly money that you’re the one who's gay and just refuse to come out. I remember the 70’s, you know. You had a pierced ear and carried a man-purse. At least I was a stewardess at the time. I had a career. What were you doing? Learning to surf and working on your tan.
Pot to kettle, pot to kettle- come in kettle! 'Malibu Barbie' ring a bell? Driving that pink Corvette and teasing Mr. Potato Head. As I recall, you made the eyes pop right out of that filthy gourd! All I know is that In fifty years, you have yet to put out!
You’d be surprised. Just ask the 'New Kids On The Block'. Living dolls- each and every one. Or 'In Sync'. They had no complaints. I dated one of them for months.
My point exactly. Didn’t he turn out to be.... oh, I don’t know.....Gay?
Well, you’re no Jolly Green Giant, pal. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find anything in your pants worth talkin’ about.
Gay, gay and gay! You believe that story about Sprout being his “son”? Someone should call social services.
They’re all fairies. I’m tellin’ you, those friggin’ elves are hiding something....
Again with the elves? I suppose you think the Travelocity gnome is a perv, too.
Well, if he is- I’m sure you’ll give him a roll.
Admit it Barb- our days are numbered. Whatever happened to Betsy-Wetsy? Think I’ll give her a holla. Later, doll!
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Okay.....it began as a simple aside. My friend Jonathan Kitzen was up at the house last year, not long after I had made the trek from Los Angeles to the Catskills. He surveyed the land and (casually) commented on the fact that since there were maple trees on the property, come next year (in other words, now) I could be making my own maple syrup. Hmm.
“Really?” I responded. “What a festive idea!” and let it go at that. Little did I know what was in store. Surprised that I even survived the Winter (which bit my flat white ass like an Evil Bitch from the gaping maw of Hell itself) I observed the snow melting and began to notice plumes of steam rising into the atmosphere from various farms scattered all over the county.
“That would be sap boiling” was the answer from the very talented and fabulous Ellany Gable when I inquired as to the source. “It’s maple syrup time”, which triggered the (casual) comment from Kitzen....
I began to muse. “Was it really possible to make my own maple syrup from my own maple trees in my own back yard?” The idea seemed ludicrous, yet alluring.... Ludicrous ideas are probably better off left to their own defenses, me thinks. Hind sight? 20/20.
Internet searches began to creep into my psyche. Apparently, it was in the realm of possibilities. There are literally hundreds of sites dedicated to instructional manuals on the how-to’s of producing maple syrup from the one-man-band, boil at your own risk, (not for the faint of heart) method of maple syrup production. Remember Lucy stomping grapes? Child’s play.
According to Randall B Heiligmann at Ohio State University (shoulda been my first clue- what the hell do they know about maple syrup in Ohio?) the process is simple. A few necessities- A drill for the spouts (aka Spile) being used, buckets or bags, plastic tubing, elderberry stems, (WTF?) gallon jugs, storage tanks and various and sundry pans, pots, canning jars and materials for straining the boiled sap during the last steps of the process. Hmmm.
Being a man, it did not occur to me to read all of the instructions or feel as if I needed to follow them to the letter. I don’t stop at a gas station to ask for directions... why then, would I stop by a farm and ask for helpful hints? I guess simply assumed that I could do my own IKEA version. Tap the damn tree and the sap will flow. Hmm.
Having (admittedly) skimmed my manual, I overlooked the possibility that I might need a hydrometer (whatever that is) and that this process should always be conducted outdoors.
“The raw sap needs to be boiled at temperatures in the range of 200-230 degreesF. Steam given off during boiling carries small amounts of sap and syrup that can be very sticky” Hmmm.
I drilled. I tapped. I waited. Unless weather conditions are idyllic, there can be days when there is no sap flow. Other days can produce up to several gallons of raw sap from a single tree.("This", I tell myself, "explains why three ounces of genuine, honest-to-god maple syrup costs $28.00" The trees and buckets must be checked constantly, since there are very strict time frames involved. Too cold out? No sap for you! Too warm out? Sap can turn rancid on you in a New York minute. Too busy to check the buckets? Bucket (and highly prized contents) is overflowing and attracting insects of every shape and size.
The sap flow began slowly, teasing me with visions of Vermont and log cabins, Amish folk toiling away for tourists. I’m guessing my fingers were a bit sticky and I must have missed page 11 of the manual.
Elated that I had by now (about 5 days in) collected @ 5 gallons of raw materials, I unglued the pages only to discover that it takes FORTY-THREE gallons of sap to produce ONE GALLON of syrup and that in order to produce the syrup, I needed to boil somewhere between 16 and 28 hours at a time, adding sap to the pot as I went along, reducing it to a mere fraction of the opening bid. Hmmm.
I figure “Can’t hurt to try, I’m already a bit sticky” and so I begin. Setting up the fire outdoors (as freshly instructed) I find that to reach the temperatures necessary for a continuous roiling boil, I then have to check my pots on a minute to minute basis and continue to add raw sap as the liquid boils down, stoke the fire, tote that barge, lift that bale.
I move the process indoors “Just for a minute” I tell myself, to see if I can speed up the momentum. Well, it boiled on the stove all right. “I have a vent” I tell myself, as the steam rises into the air, neglecting the fact that we have 16 foot-high ceilings. I put the timer on 30 minutes as I work at the computer. I continue to add sap (per instructions) and feel quite pleased with myself that (against all warning) the boiling method (indoors) seems to have great advantages. About 5 hours in, I notice that the air in the kitchen seems, well....moist. as I gaze at the 16 foot high ceiling, something clear and warm drips onto my face. I look up again. I scream. “Hmm, guess i oughtta get that sap outdoors again” I rasp, as I race around the house, sopping up what is now a continuous downpour of steam, sap and syrup literally raining down on me (and of course, the dog).
I throw out yet another teflon pot, toss my second pair of shoes into the trash and begin again, more determined than ever before. I will not let a tree get the best of me, regardless of how sticky it wants to be. I dedicate items of clothing to the event. (They call me Mister Sappy Pants)
Five days and many, many gallons of raw, undiluted, tasteless sap later, I have reached "critical mass" and the once clear liquid is about to experience the magic of molecular change from sap into syrup. Having skipped page 14 altogether, I am unaware that this “miracle" takes place within a 3 minute time frame and if you miss it- you have a gooey, sticky, burnt piece of rock-hard maple candy (Oy!) at the bottom of your (once again destroyed) Teflon pot. Hmmm.
I call my mother in hysterics, to inform her that I have not slept for days and that I was quite possibly in over my head. I hauled sap, I boiled. And boiled. I spilled sap down the front of my shirt. On my shoes. On the dog. I stepped in (clear) sap and walked through the house. I picked bugs out of buckets and then boiled a bit more. At this point, I had successfully produced over one ounce of maple syrup and "was done", I shrieked at my poor Mother, "Done. No more syrup!"
She asked me how it tasted. Tasted? Had not occurred to me to check. After the six straining's through gauze and spending 2 days cleaning the floor (and dog) and tossing my second pair of sticky sneakers into the trash, tasting it was the last thing on my mind. I was still haunted by having found myself in my pajamas (during a snow storm) stirring boiling sap and weeping quietly with Liza the wonder dog (ever present) at my side.
Earlier that day, my neighbor told me had spied me screaming at a maple tree, pounding it with my fist and demanding that it start flowing. Evidently, she had observed me flailing my arms about, gesticulating wildly and calling the tree a selfish bitch. Hmm.
I hung up the phone and approached the jar holding over one ounce of golden liquid and stuck my finger in. I tasted it. I swooned. I think I wept for a brief, shining moment. I picked up my drill and my taps and my buckets and marched my sorry ass out into the yard. Had a brief chat with the trees and apologized for my outburst earlier in the day. I decided that if the tree was willing to do it’s part and flow (on a good day), then I was willing to give it another shot.
Everyone I spoke to made sure to let me know they wanted samples, even while I assured them I had produced enough syrup for (possibly) one pancake, (which I don’t even eat). Hmm.
I am now 2 weeks into the process. After spending hundreds of hours boiling, straining, collecting, cajoling, crying and throwing away clothing, I have @ 8 ounces of syrup. But this is no ‘Aunt Jemima Original Recipe” (which apparently means that it contains absolutely no maple syrup whatsoever) high fructose corn syrup, cellulose gum concoction. This is a sticky, gooey slice of heaven in a jar. Better than sex. (Hmm) This is my life now, my raison d’etre, the reason why I was put on earth.
The story is far from over. I have yet to check my buckets for the day. Time is running out, sap season is almost gone. After spending 12 hours boiling the other day, I happened to look in the mirror and saw something white sticking out from the back of my neck. Upon inspection, turned out to be a piece of cheese cloth stuck to my hair (For all you home hobbyists- maple syrup makes an excellent glue!)
I have tasted the nectar of the Gods and am undaunted in my task. I will (come hell or high water) make enough syrup to have french toast this weekend. (Or die trying, whichever comes first.) As far as sending syrup to all my friends? Yeah, right- as soon as they start spinning straw into gold.
When I told my pal Greenlee that it had been on my “bucket list” to make maple syrup before I die, he pointed out that it was probably the only thing on my list that required an actual bucket. Hmmm. Food for thought.