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Make It With Love

6 Oct

This is a cucumber martini I had in Washington, DC, this week. It was delicious — gin, elderflower, cucumber and black pepper. So tasty!

So tasty that the next night, I talked the Boy into taking me for another. Only this time it wasn’t as good — tasted like it had been made at a sports bar or beer-and-shot place (where you shouldn’t order cocktails).

I understood — the place had been busy, the bartender seemed a little harried. But I also then understood how much of a difference it makes to take a few extra seconds and focus on making the drink in front of you — measuring it out right, shaking it just so, straining it, making sure the garnish is on (I’d had to ask for the pepper the second night, which I wasn’t thrilled about–and neither was the bartender, who had to trek around the restaurant to find the pepper grinder).

It’s that kind of deliberation and focus that makes everything better–not just cocktails. A lesson for everything in life, I think, especially when it’s so easy to be harried and fractured with every other part of life these days.

Of course, as I type this, I’m not really even taking this lesson to heart, since I stopped typing to look at an incoming email on my phone. But I can try to improve, to make what I do cucumber-martini-better. Hold me to that, OK?

Math Is Important, Because….Toilet Paper

25 Aug

Shopping for toilet paper is confusing these days.

These days, there’s nothing I like less than having to go to the toilet paper aisle at the grocery store. I love grocery shopping and I’m a user of toilets, so replenishing the toilet paper stocks shouldn’t be such a problem.

Yet, it is.

That’s because every brand of toilet paper wants to create the illusion that you can get a deal. Why buy a regular-sized roll when you can buy 2x rolls? Why settle for twice the toilet paper, with you can get a megaroll 4-in-1?

Invariably, I spend far too much time examining the total length and calculating price per roll or price per sheet (and it’s rarely the breakdown per unit that the store gives you on the shelf price tag). Then I have to figure out whether a megaroll will actually fit on my toilet paper holder. Then I have to consider how much storage space we have at the moment and whether it will hold 24 super gigantic rolls, or if I should go with 16 quadruple jumbo rolls (we do not have warehouse-club-sized storage at home). Or maybe just a four-pack double roll is all we can get on that trip. There are calculus problems that are simpler than this kind of math.

The choice is paralyzing and anxiety-inducing — and it’s weird because having some choice is good. I like having different flavors to choose from. I appreciate finding low-sodium options or lactose-free options or new brands. But toilet paper doesn’t have that same excitement–or maybe it’s because their sizing just doesn’t make sense. It’s not small/medium/large; it’s 12 rolls = 24/6 rolls = 24 rolls, etc.

What you never see? A roll.

[There are also no triple rolls, which makes me even more suspicious–and sad, because a triple rolls, I think, would really be the sweet spot for having fewer rolls and being the optimal size for my toilet paper holder.]

Everything’s a multiple of a roll, so that you’re getting some multiplied deal, but you never actually get to see on what the companies are basing these so-called deals. Trust us, they say, we’ve done the math for you!

But I don’t trust them. They’re trying to make money, not lose money by giving me a sweet deal, and that’s part of my frustration. I just don’t trust the packaging, so I have to do the math myself, which takes far longer than I want it to, which just adds to the anxiety and frustration around making a choice.

I don’t quite understand why it is that way–once I get it home, it’s still just toilet paper. But now it’s got an aura of resentment. Have I made the right choice in sizes? Do I have to put it back on the list almost immediately and go through the process all over again?

I’m looking forward to the day where I stop caring about this so much–or maybe I just send the Boy to get the toilet paper from now on.

 

 

The Ma Jaracz Cookie Train Comes to Town

9 Dec

I’ve got the song “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas” in my head and not because it looks like Christmas outside. It doesn’t. Where it’s beginning to look like Christmas is my belly, thanks in part to Ma Jaracz.

Every year my mother sends out a big package of Christmas cookies. She gets her Martha Stewart on the day after Thanksgiving and makes probably 15 different kinds of cookies. Me? I make a mean chocolate chip, and every once in a while I forget what a pain it can be to make cut-out cookies, so I’ll try a batch of those. I like baking, but I’ve never gotten into the same Christmas cookie-making habit.

This week the annual package came. It’s meant for sharing among who’s ever in the household (depending on who’s visiting for the holidays), but due to dietary preferences, no one else does. So it’s me. And the box. Of large samples of 15 different kinds of cookies, packed matryoshka-style, with each batch in their own individual zipper bag, and then those zipper bags are packed in larger zipper bags. I’m sure if Hefty made a super-jumbo zipper bag, she’d pack the jumbo bags in it too.

When the box came this week, the Boy said, “Oh, that’s nice,” and then properly ignored the enthusiasm with which I dug into the bags of butter-laden treats that would wreck havoc on his digestive system. Which means that the embodiment of my Christmas childhood is all mine. Two jumbo zipper bags of mine.

I’ve been carrying them around the house like a security blanket, digging into toffee bars, Special K cookies (this year without the weird red and green jellies! Yes!), a bunch of variations on sugar cookies with colored sugar and more, whenever I can. I’ll look at the Boy with a mouthful of cookies and think, “You poor sap. You don’t know what you’re missing! THIS IS CHRISTMAS!!” And if my brain accidentally talks to my mouth during this thought process, I spray crumbs all over the place. The Jaracz Christmas is known for its classiness.

And while you might think, Well, Jill, it’s kind of obvious that you might have some Christmas belly going on because you’re eating a ton of cookies every day, let me qualify that. If you’re familiar with Ma Jaracz’ cookies, you’d know that eating a ton of her cookies was par for the course.

See, my mother used to be the master of the miniature cookie. If you made a regular-sized cookie–and for argument’s sake, let’s call “regular size” a Chips Ahoy–the Ma Jaracz version would be about a quarter of the size. I’m not fooling. I think in her mind she made teeny cookies for a couple of reasons: She used to give away tons of plates of cookies every year, so small cookies stretched the batch a lot longer; and smaller cookies meant you could try more of them and not stuff yourself (well, you might still stuff yourself).

However, Ma Jaracz has gotten older, which means her vision’s going a little bit. Now she’s making the large print version of her cookies. The jelly in a jelly thumbprint cookie is actually the size of a thumbprint and no longer the size of a pencil eraser. A toffee bar is four bites instead of one. A melting moment melts in your hand because you have to take so many bites that your body heat starts disintegrating it before you can pop it all into your mouth.

After a few days of eating cookies, my stomach is protesting, but I’m having a problem being reasonable and putting some in the freezer for later. I want my security blanket of Christmastime, and I want it now. I’ll deal with the weight gain sooner (preferred) or later, of course, and once they’re gone I’ll definitely cut back on the–Wait. Is that a snickerdoodle? Score!

Postcard from the Suburbs

15 Feb

“Are you sure you don’t want a ride?”

The Doctor and I are at our childhood church. She’s in town to visit her mom; I’m here to take care of Ma Jaracz post-knee replacement surgery. We decided to walk to church because it would be good for us. A dumbfounded mother of a guy who was in our class keeps offering to drive us home because it wouldn’t be that much trouble, and it was a pretty far walk for us.

Before my arrival I’d been recruited to take my mom’s place serving coffee on the first Sunday I was here. Within 48 hours of my arrival, I was recruited to fill her spot in the handbell choir on the second Sunday. It’s been nice to be helpful.

The problem now though is that I haven’t been very helpful to myself–surgery means a lot of people bring food over. A lot of food. And desserts. For the first few weeks of recovery, I’ve had to stay close to home to be at the ready when needed, so my exercising quickly became limited to two main activities: Walking the dog and lifting the fork (or beer) to my mouth.

By my second Sunday in the ‘burbs, I’d noticed just how much I wasn’t moving. Everything’s by car here because why would you want to walk when you can drive? And if you’re driving, I certainly hope you didn’t have to park too far from the entrance of wherever you’re going. And heaven forbid you walk the half-mile (if that) to church. Life in a Midwest American suburb is hard–take it easy when you get the chance.

My waistline has really taken that advice to heart, and I can’t help but notice just how much I have been eating this past month. Stress eating. Feeling guilty about having all of this food on hand from people who so want to help and bring us meals that each feed a half-dozen people so that we don’t have to worry about cooking or eating take out. Problem is that each meal is approximately 4 1/2 more servings than we need per meal, since Ma J isn’t eating a ton. Even though they’re meant to cover multiple meals, when multiple people bring a multi-meal dish, well, that’s a multiplication problem.

We can’t freeze all of the overflow because she prepared for this event by filling her freezers (that’s freezers, plural) with meals and ingredients. That means a good chunk of this food has gone into my belly. My ever-expanding belly that doesn’t get a chance to digest it because I’m also not sleeping much. By the way, did you know that cooked carrots are delicious with dill–and brown sugar and butter?

At any rate, it’s all added up and shown me that life in these Midwestern suburbs has been kind of hard this month. But that doesn’t mean I should take the best parking spot and make that the easy factor in my life. It’s really time to change up some eating habits, some ways of thinking, and a lot of ways of eating–though that’s a lot easier to say than it is to flip on the switch that gets it done. But I think I can make that change, and I suppose that’s the first step to a better reality. If I’m wrong, just lie to me and tell me that it’s so. I’ve got a really long way to climb, and right now I need to believe that I can do it because the new additional poundage on me is saying I can’t.

Winning at Lammington Roulette

4 Jun

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Back to Australia, where we’re on our last day on the road, and I still haven’t found a proper cream-filled Lammington. After leaving Buchan, we stopped for an excellent breakfast in Bruthen. I had high hopes for the small town’s bakery, but it didn’t even have Lammingtons. Onward.

We kept driving toward Melbourne and while going through the much larger town of Sale, I saw a bakery and we stopped. You know how you go to Europe and try to pronounce the name of something, and they have that way of correcting you where their tone of voice implies, “You ugly American. Our vowel pronunciation is much more civilized than your nasally twang. Always, always are our ‘a’s’ pronounced ‘ah”? It now doesn’t really matter where I travel, I automatically assume that if I’m outside of the United States and Canada, an ‘a’ is always pronounced ‘ah.’ Hence in Sale, I called it “Sah-lay.” Susy immediately corrected me. “It’s Say-el.” Gah! I’m showing not just my ugly American, I’m pulling out my ugly, pretentious American!

Anyway, Sale is where we hit the jackpot. They had Lammingtons! They had cream Lammingtons! They had cream Lammingtons in both chocolate and strawberry coating! JACKPOT! I got one of each–even though they were huge, I couldn’t resist–and back into the car we went. I scarfed down one of them throughout the rest of the journey and saved the other for breakfast the next day.

Both were fantastic–and they had jam in them as well! Cream and jam Lammingtons? BONUS JACKPOT! While they were completely delicious, I almost had to agree with Kill C.’s sentiment that, “The best part about finding cream Lammingtons is that I don’t have to eat anymore Lammingtons.” Until one of our clinic students found out we liked them and made a batch for us that night. Homemade, they were even better because the frosting was spread really thickly. Man, I can still taste those now. It’s a good thing I don’t have a recipe (yet) or that America hasn’t heard about this treat–we’re hip to the cupcake, whoopie pie and donut now. Lammingtons could be just around the food trend corner!

The Anzac Biscuit that Got Away

20 May

I’ve been home for a week now, and I’m still thinking about this one Anzac biscuit that I did not purchase and devour. Mistake?

Let me back up for a second and explain the Anzac biscuit (note to Americans: biscuit = cookie). This biscuit is in honor of Anzac Day, which is on April 25 and honors the anniversary of Australia and New Zealand’s first major military action on Gallipoli during World War I (Anzac = Australian and New Zealand Army Corps). As time passed and the globe experienced another World War, the day’s come to be an honor and memorial to those who’ve served in the Anzac armed forces, To an American, Anzac Day is basically Memorial Day on steroids. It’s a big deal. BIG deal. Everywhere you go, you’ll see billboards and public transit ads promoting memorial services and marches. I think it’s pretty cool, and although I’ve never been able to be in Australia or New Zealand for Anzac Day proper, I can appreciate how they honor those who’ve sacrificed for their country.

One of the traditions that go along with Anzac Day is the Anzac biscuit. This is a treat I found out about on an earlier trip to Australia, and now I know that if I’m there in April or May, I can find them. I’m sure that food manufacturers and bakeries have found a way to offer them all year round, but I’d like to think of them as something special, like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Egg, that you only get once a year. The Anzac biscuit is a non-chocolate, non-egg cookie that was made for soldiers in the war. Eggs were in short supply, so they used a golden syrup to hold this rolled oat, flour, butter and coconut mixture together. The result is a golden cookie that I find to be pretty tasty.

Since I got to Australia after Anzac Day, I wasn’t sure I’d find them (my Qantas flight–sometimes a good source for them–didn’t come through, so on the flight over I thought I was too late); however, it didn’t take too long after we got off the plane to find a cafe that had a jar of them. After spotting a manufactured package of them at the grocery store, I have a feeling that they’ve turned into something similar to the Reese’s (insert holiday-shaped peanut butter cup) phenomenon, where you can buy them year-round. I kind of hope I’m wrong about that, but Aussie reader, you can clue me in. Of course, soon thereafter, I embarked on my lamington challenge, which pretty much took up the share of stomach I was allowing for sweets, so I eyed most Anzac biscuits from afar, including the one I saw at the Bodalla Dairy Shed.

Once we picked up our Bateman’s Bay cabin and packed up the car, we headed south. First stop: Cheese. The Bodalla Dairy Shed produces small-batch cheese and yogurt and milk (and delicious-looking milkshakes, which I also passed on). The cheese is delicious–and they have a bunch of interesting varieties. As we were checking out, I saw the Anzac biscuits. Big ones. Delicious-looking ones. However, I’d stuffed myself with kangaroo breakfast burrito and had just tried every kind of cheese they sold. In the back of my head, I thought about the amount of weight I’ve gained over the last few months and how I really should work on getting that back off at some point. I didn’t really need a giant Anzac biscuit. Even though I’m on vacation. Even though I don’t see them at home. Even though it looked absolutely fantastic. And in a major display of willpower, I passed.

At our next cheese stop in Bega, which was more of a commercial outfit than Bodalla, I caved and got a sugar cookie with Smarties in it. It tasted pretty bad, and I didn’t even eat it all. So much for will power. The bitter, crumbly disappointment of this disaster made me wish I’d just gotten the Anzac biscuit and somehow not gulped it all down right away. It was big. I could’ve portioned it out. So much for plans and futile attempts at personal improvement. So much for what may have been the best Anzac biscuit I’d ever tasted. Or maybe not. Maybe I took a tiny step in the right direction. Maybe that Anzac biscuit was just a concrete disk. Maybe it was the better choice after all.

There’s a Barbie–Where’s the Shrimp?

18 May

On our second night in Bateman’s Bay, we decided to make use of the big grill and picnic tables by our cabin and got all the fixings for a big communal dinner. For me, these kinds of dinners make the best memories. From the grocery shopping to doing the dishes, the entire process is completely enjoyable because you’re a group of five separate people and here you are building something together. Sure, it’s just a meal that you’ll end up consuming, which means after a day (including leftovers for the breakfast burritos), the tangible elements have disappeared. However, the sense of community you’ve built in those few hours remains–along with the knowledge that Susy knows her way around the BBQ and Panti makes a mean breakfast burrito.

Communal dinner starts with a trip to the grocery store, which is a highlight for me on any trip. When I travel, I like to see how other people live, which means knowing what they eat. In a different country, it’s fun to see how American brands are marketed (smaller bags of Doritos, for instance), and it’s interesting to see regional food differences. In Australia, the grocery stores are a gateway to Tim Tams, unusual flavors of potato chips (camembert and quince, anyone?), ginger beer, and Australian yogurt.

This dinner meant the opportunity to sample some kangaroo meat, which is probably easier to find in the grocery store than it is to find on a restaurant menu. The meat tastes a little gamey and can dry out quickly if you cook it too long, so marinade and quick cooking helped. We also had sausages, potatoes, corn on the cob and salad. Panti, who mainly eats vegetarian but does have fish now and then, decided he wanted to make shrimp shish kabobs, which Susy obligingly tossed onto the grill, much to our stupid American delight. We ate like royalty but still had leftovers for the next day’s kangaroo breakfast burritos.

Our little feast helped take the rest of the edge off of what had been a lousy morning, and I hope the memories will eventually completely overshadow that time so that I only remember the goodness of this trip.

Bakery Lamington Roulette

8 May

An aside from the travelogue to fill you in on the challenge that Kill C. and I are embarking on: Find the best lamington.

The lamington is a square of spongecake dipped in chocolate and coated in coconut. The better ones are filled with jam or cream. I know this, yet on our first trip to a grocery store, I purchased a six-pack of grocery lamingtons, much to the horror of the NSOs at our first clinic. They kindly informed us that grocery lamingtons are far inferior to bakery lamingtons and that jam and/or cream-filled laminations are far superior to the plain lamington.

We’ve yet to find a filled lamington, though it’s not for lack of trying. Almost every stop we make, if fresh lamingtons are available, one or both of us are trying. It’s quickly become a game of roulette–take a bite and see if you’ve hit the jackpot.

Oh, sure, at a bakery I could ask. And we could purchase a tray of grocery-bought jam-filled lamingtons (and maybe Kill C. did), but what’s the fun in that? Besides, a bit of really good sponge cake is hard to turn down, especially when laced with chocolate and coconut. I suppose I could claim that I want to learn how to make them at home, so I’m, um, doing research. This is partially true–I wouldn’t mind learning how to make them, but after the amount I’m eating, whether or I not should is the better question.

We’re a few days in and still haven’t won. We’ll keep trying though. Someday we have to win, no?

The Other ANTM

30 Apr

One of the great things about flying Qantas is that you get to enjoy a pretty massive personal entertainment system that will entertain you for many more hours than your flight lasts. Case in point: It has four or five newer movies I’ve wanted to see, but it also had three episodes of “Australia’s Next Top Model.” Being a sucker for reality TV and having watched many a cycle of the American version, I couldn’t resist.

I’ve gotta say, it’s a little different than the American show. First off, during downtime when the models are just hanging around the house, many of them read actual books. For fun. I saw this happen twice in one episode and then again on another. When have you ever seen the American contestants read more than Tyra Mail?

Secondly, when an episode is teaching the models to face their fears by touching all kinds of strange animals, the Australian models have every right to be scared out of their minds because 90℅ of the wildlife in Australia will kill them–and the remaining 10℅ wants to but they’re just too lazy.

Thirdly, reality competition franchises get a bad rap when the judges aren’t as good as the original, and let me just say that Didier Cohen is no Jay Manuel. Didier is American (the Aussies can’t love our accent, can they?) and looks and sounds like he’s taken umpteen rounds of media training that’s designed to suck every ounce of personality out of him. I heard Miss Tyra summarily fired Jay, Nigel Barker and Miss J. Australia should snap up that motley crew (though I do like the Australian photographer guy) and put some life into the production.

Now, none of these differences made me stop watching, and I quickly went through the three episodes on the system–only three! They were just as captivating: posing, teens being teens, and in one, a contestant got sent home for choking another contestant.

OK, maybe it’s not so different from the American version after all.

It’s the Kingier-Size Snickers

27 Apr

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This weekend the Boy and I stopped at a plaza on the Mass Pike to grab a drink and a snack while en route to a send off dinner for one of the Boy’s former co-workers. We grabbed our goodies, and the Boy went straight to the checkout line.

I, on the other hand, wandered around a little because you never know what you’re going to find. Lo, and behold, I found the biggest Snickers bar I’d ever seen. One full pound of chocolate, peanuts, nougat and caramel that was more loaf than candy bar. It’s meant to be cut up and shared, but you know there’s some trucker out there just gnawing on it for days.

“Hey, B!” I yelled.

He took one look at it and said, “Get it!”

I brought it up to the cash register, and this was where we learned one of the mysteries of pricing: It cost $14.99 for one, but you could get two for $20.

And this is why we showed up at a restaurant with two pounds of Snickers bar, which probably turned out to be much better than any dessert on the sub par menu.

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It's the length of a 20 oz. Coke!

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