On the impermanence of life or how pastries and cleaning out the freezer make us ponder our own mortality

Apple fritter bread is ephemeral and that makes us sad

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Lake Superior as seen from the cottage we rent.

  1. The place Marido and I love most of all in the world (or maybe the second most in the world – Spain is in the running now for The Best Place In The World) is Madeline Island in the Apostle Islands in (on?) Lake Superior.
  2. I am on A Mission to use inventory. That is, I want us to eat the food we have in the freezer and in the pantry before we buy more food. (!Hay comida en la casa!)
  3. We buy a dozen (absolutely delicious) cinnamon rolls from Coco Bakery in Washburn every year and keep them in the downstairs freezer, rationing them out carefully.
  4. If Marido dies before I do or if he is hospitalized, I am going to eat them all myself and not feel guilty.
  5. Two summers ago, we found apple fritter bread at the IGA in Washburn and brought the leftovers home.
  6. Because we were full of pie and turnovers from Judy’s Gourmet Garage and of all the extra goodies they had at Coco, like the chocolate babushka thingy.
  7. Last summer, we tried to find more of the IGA apple fritter bread but to no avail. They have stopped making it.

Me: Are you going to start eating those cinnamon rolls we brought back from Coco last summer?

Marido: I don’t know.

Me: And there’s an apple fritter in the upstairs freezer! Bottom drawer!

Marido: Also, your Fritos.

[What? You don’t buy yourself a bag of Fritos for your birthday, eat a few, and put the rest in the freezer?]

Marido: Oh! It’s the last bit of apple fritter bread!

Me: You need to eat that. It’s old and it’s taking up room in the freezer.

Marido: But – when I eat it, it will be gone. And it will never come again. I am afraid to finish it because when I do, we will never have any more again ever.

Marido: Two summers ago, I wasn’t working and I wasn’t running for office [long stories] and I was happy.

Marido: But now, I’ve lost my freedom.

Me: And then you’re going to die and in the meantime, there’s not more apple fritter bread.

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Not apple fritter bread, but churros y chocolate is a pretty good second. Or maybe even a first.

 

Snow is NOT PRETTY IT IS EVIL

You guys in the South or wherever who talk about how pretty it must be to see snow? Look at a photo. Trust me you do not want to see it live.

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Do you know what I will spend the next two hours doing on this fine Saturday morning when Marido is out of town for work?

I will be shoveling.

I will be shoveling the already six inches of snow that has piled up in our long driveway and on our sidewalk. (It’s still snowing.)

It’s not fun.

It’s not pretty.

It’s hard work and it’s only 13 degrees outside.

Maybe it will be fluffy snow that I can push to the side.

But probably not. It will probably be wet, heavy snow that is too heavy to push, which means I have to pick up half a shovel at a time and then walk it to the place where I can dump it.

There is nowhere to put the snow for half the driveway. There is a narrow strip of garden on the neighbor’s house side. Our house borders the driveway directly.

When you run out of space on the neighbor’s side, you have to carry the snow either to the front yard or the back yard.

At the end of the driveway by the street, we cannot put snow in the yard on the south side because there is a fire hydrant there. If the snow gets too high on the north side – and it does, you have to carry the snow somewhere else.

Maybe if you are really strong with amazing core strength, you can lift the shovel high enough to drop the snow on a snow mass that is five feet high.

I am not strong enough.

I hate snow. And you people who like it?

You are wrong.

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Casserole is the key, says noted author

Another droplet of wisdom from The South

I have been watching “A Chef’s Life,” which I highly recommend. It’s a show about a woman who was sure she would leave where she grew up – eastern North Carolina, where her father had a pig farm, and never return. She went to New York and became a chef. When she and her husband, also in the restaurant business, wanted to open their own restaurant, her parents said they would help her, but only if she moved back home.

It’s a show about food and family and being a fish out of water only you know the water and maybe the water wasn’t that bad, now that you think about it.

Yesterday, I watched an episode about casseroles. Sheri Castle was the guest. She has written a cookbook called, The Southern Living community cookbook : celebrating food & fellowship in the American south, and she described casseroles thusly:

The purpose of a casserole is to feed the hungry and comfort the heartbroken.

Which means it would be the perfect companion piece to the cookbook my friend Kim sent me: The Southern Sympathy Cookbook, which has recipes for funerals. They are also appropriate for new babies.

About funeral foods. And new baby foods. You guys do that, right? If a friend is sick or suffers a loss or, happier, has a baby, you cook food for her. You do that, right?

(It goes without saying that you write a condolence note when someone dies. You write it by hand on a notecard and address an envelope and put it in the mail.

You do not, as one funeral home suggested when I called to ask if they would forward a note to a friend whose 42 year old husband had died of a heart attack overnight while he was sleeping next to her and I didn’t have her mailing address and didn’t want to bother her with such a request at such a time, just write something on the online obituary page. Right? You don’t do that?

Because – and I can say this because I know I am among friends, THAT WOULD BE TACKY.)

Anyhow. Back to baby food. My co-worker – let’s call her Clara – had a baby two weeks ago. The day after the baby was born, our boss asked me if I had organized any kind of meal train because he wanted to know when he could take something to her.

(Our boss is a lovely human being.)

I asked Clara’s best work friend, Suze, if Suze was organizing anything, and Suze told me that when she had a baby, her job sent her flowers.

Which I thought was nice but – not as useful as food.

So I ignored Suze’s advice and spent the week cooking and yesterday, I took food to Clara and her husband.

Clara has Very Strong Boundaries, which is fine, and is not a hugger, which is also fine. But when I was leaving, she said, “Give me a hug!”

And I said, “Whoa! MOTHERHOOD HAS CHANGED YOU!”

And she smiled and she hugged me so I think food instead of flowers was The Right Thing To Do.

(That is not a casserole above – that is a chocolate cake I made. I couldn’t find a casserole photo. (And they tend not to photograph so well, right?))

 

 

When it’s winter and you are in the throes of an existential crisis and the only way out is hotdish

And then you argue with the librarian about the proper role of Tater Tots in a hotdish – or in a casserole – and what is the proper name for it, anyway?

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Not hotdish. Not casserole. I couldn’t find a good hotdish/casserole photo. But this is still pretty darn Wisconsin.

OK. Here’s the truth.

My people do not call it “hotdish.”

We call it “casserole.”

But – I know what hotdish is (I liked Prairie Home Companion before he went off the rails and also, My People are from Up Nort) and when I saw the hotdish cook-off fundraiser at the Hazel Mackin Community Library in Roberts, WI, I wanted to be part of it.

Because I know what hotdish is.

It is hot and comforting and it has crushed potato chips on top.

I suggested to the librarian at my library that we have such an event.

Librarian: But we don’t call it “hotdish” down here. That’s a Minnesota thing.

Me: Fine, but we can still have the contest. And then, we can watch Midwestern passive-aggressiveness where if people don’t like the dish someone else made, they can just say, “Well. That’s different.”

Librarian: Right! “That’s not how I would have done it.”

Me: That’s a throw-down right there. Even so, is it wrong in the dead of bleak winter to have a bunch of people bringing in hot dishes covered with potato chips?

Librarian: POTATO CHIPS? WHAT? NO!

Me: What?

Librarian: WHO PUTS POTATO CHIPS ON TOP OF A CASSEROLE?

Me: The people who are doing it right!

Librarian: No! Tater Tots are what go on top!

Me: Are you nuts? Tater Tots form the base!

Librarian: No, no, no. A hotdish consists of – you got your meat, you got your vegetables, you got your creamy cream of soup stuff, and den you got Tater Tots on top of all of dat. And when dey are crisp, den you put some cheese on da top.

Me: I am pretty sure that the Tater Tots are the base, but the only Tater Tot casserole I ever had was made by a roommate from Oklahoma.

Librarian (rolling eyes): Oklahoma? The Tater Tots. Go. On. The. Top. And – let me see – according to google, a casserole is “is a large, deep pan used both in the oven and as a serving vessel.”

Me and my friend D: That’s just wrong.

Librarian (shrugs): That’s what it says.

Me and D: The casserole is what’s INSIDE the dish. They don’t know what they’re talking about.

Librarian: Written by people from Somewhere Else.

Me: Speaking of Somewhere, when did you guys learn that it is Not Done to put macaroni in your chile?

Librarian: Ummmmm.

Friend D: Ummmmm.

Me: Because when I moved to Texas when I was a kid, I thought, “They are not doing it right! They don’t have any macaroni in their chile!” And then I realized nope,  it was my mom doing it wrong.

Librarian: Hamburger Helper.

Me: Not my mom! Hamburger Helper was for Fancy People.

Friend D: Yeah. Macaroni is what you use when you have to feed a big family.

Me: Or when you’re my mom. Who probably learned it from her mom. Who had to feed a large family.

PS I am not sure where King Ranch Casserole, my favorite, falls on this spectrum.

PPS And I am definitely not sure where the atrocity of pizza cut into squares started. It’s the custom in Milwaukee – why, why, why? – and every time we have pizza at work, I have to re-live the nightmare of not being sure of getting the proper balance of crust to non-crust pizza parts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because All The Cat Photos Should Be On The Same Page

And now, as befits a blog about cultural differences and being the Other, we explore the strange world of Engineers, where they speak their own language and have their own odd little wayscats 1

Marido and I went to Spain recently, which was amazing and wonderful and we are trying to figure out how to move there permanently or to get a pied-à-terre there.

(Marido’s words – he likes to be fancy plus he took French in college but will only speak it with me because he is worried about not being perfect, whereas I, who had only a year of French in high school from a teacher from South Carolina who introduced herself saying, “J’ay may apayelle Madayam Hayzeldon,” which means my French accent, which is already corrupt from my Spanish, is even worse than it would be otherwise, am perfectly willing to mime and sound stupid by asking for, “lo chose que boi de la – moooooooo! moooooo!” And guess what? The shopkeeper gave me milk so yeah I get what I want even if I have to look like an idiot.)

Where was I?

Oh. Marido likes to sound fancy, but only to me. And that French doesn’t do him any good in Spain but he is lucky because he travels with me and I speak Spanish fluently. (I don’t have to mime anything, not even milking a cow.)

We love Spain. We love the food. Marido loves the late night life. I don’t but I’m on vacation so what do I care? I can stay up late if I don’t have to get up at 5:54 a.m. to go to work, something both Marido and I have had to start doing again because Christmas vacation is over and The Man is calling.

As Marido noted the other day, “This having to work thing is keeping us from living our Best Life.”

When your husband channels Oprah.

Who knew?

Anyhow.

We are back from Spain and we were also there two years ago so I decided it was time to make the photo book of Spain photos already so I spent a few days putting it together and I asked Marido to look to make sure I wasn’t leaving out any photos he wanted to include.

And you know what his comment was?

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“Those cat photos should be on the same page. They’re of the same cat. They should be together.”

 

Yes, I am writing about bathrooms again

Seriously, Europe, we love you and all – you are the mother continent for many of us, but what is your problem with showers? Is it Not Invented Here syndrome? Because really, you are cutting off your nose to spite your face

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Alas, I do not have an answer for the Great European Shower Problem. Marido and I have encountered it in Germany, France, and Spain. I can’t remember if I have found it in Italy, Greece, or Turkey – I think I was just happy to be able to afford to stay in places with running water when I was traveling there.

But now, I am older and I don’t do the shared bathroom thing anymore or the taking my own towels and toilet (see how I did that?) paper anymore. I am done with that.

I expect a hot shower with the hot and the water both staying in the shower and not leaving for outside the shower, but we have not been able to find hotels that offer such luxury. Maybe we are not paying enough. Maybe they save the Good Showers for the people who are willing to spend some money.

Which is not frugal Marido and me. I mean, we will pay to have a roof over our head, but I guess we don’t pay enough for the Good Showers.

Anyhow, the story I actually wanted to tell was an extension of the potty parity post. Remember how I wrote that we will not have true equality until we all wait the same amount of time to pee?

I don’t care how it happens. Ideally, there would be more women’s stalls so women would not have to wait, but if by some dark magic, 67% of all the men’s facilities were wiped out and men had to wait in long lines, I am petty enough that I would rejoice.

Unfortunately, the trend seems to be going in the opposite direction.

That is, women are being forced to wait even longer so men don’t have to wait even as long as they do wait, which we all know is not long at all. Like about two seconds. Have you ever seen a line for a men’s room? I have not.

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At work, there was a leak in the 2nd floor men’s room. They had to close both the first and the second floor men’s rooms.

Which – whatever. I don’t care. We have a gym in our building and the men had a bathroom they could use in the gym. Three stalls.

There are about 250 people in my office. Seventeen of us are women.

When my intern started two summers ago, on her second day, she came to my desk, looked around, leaned over, and whispered, “There are never any other women in the ladies’ room!”

“I KNOW!” I said. “It’s one of the best things about working with all men!”

Anyhow. All the men had to use the men’s locker room restroom.

The women carried on, carefree and happy, as we should be.

Until someone decided that this having to wait for the bathroom was simply too much to bear.

And decided that the solution was to close the women’s locker room to women and open it as a men’s restroom.

Which meant that the women who wanted to exercise in the gym could not.

Because there was nowhere for them to change from their work clothes into their exercise clothes.

Or to take a shower.

Or to just wash up at the sink.

Because heaven forbid that men have to wait. Because – men should never have to wait to pee. Ever.

 

 

 

 

The Party of Sleeves, Pockets, and Potty Parity

Vote for me and I will end this madness

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See that? See that photo?

That is a photo of a stall in the women’s room at the airport in Amsterdam. Yes, I know I am talking about toilets. I am posting a photo of a toilet.

(Today, at work on a skype call, a non-native English speaker said of his non-native English speaker co-worker, who just – disappeared – from the call, “I think she is in the toilet.”

Which sounded odd to my American ears, but Lord knows what I’ve said in Spanish so maybe I should just take this back.

Or not.

Point is, yeah, toilets are around and so what?)

Anyhow.

Do you see how many hooks there are?

FIVE. FIVE HOOKS.

The Dutch get it.

Women in the airport have Stuff.

And we need a place to put it that’s not on the floor.

Although I swear I could have eaten off that floor, it was so clean. Indeed, I even had a conversation with the lady in charge of cleaning the bathrooms. She saw me taking a photo – as one does in a ladies’ room in the airport – and started talking to me.

“People come from all over to look at our new bathrooms!” she told me. “Even Japan!”

“It’s very nice,” I said.

She bent down to pick up a stray piece of paper towel. “I have been cleaning bathrooms here for 19 years,” she said proudly. “I start here when I come from Surinam.”

NB – Dutch is the official language in Suriname, but there is a creole language spoken there as well. So this lady probably speaks at least three languages: Sranan, Dutch, and English.

I have only two, plus enough French to find the bathroom and to get through immigration at Charles de Gaulle, although I never want to fly to or through that airport again.

Anyhow. She beamed as she showed me around (I had a four-hour layover, so I had time). She agreed with me that five hooks is finally getting to enough hooks for Stuff – purse, coat, hat, scarf at the least – and that the stalls had enough room to bring in a roller bag.

US airport authorities. I am looking at you. Have you ever user-tested the ladies’ rooms?  A college friend builds the terminals for Delta. I need to ask him about this.

But I bet the answer is no.

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Or maybe the answer is, “We do and we tell corporate we need more money to add more space but they tell us no,” which is probably closer to the truth.

Although if you are going to user test a bathroom, you need to be a woman. Because only a woman knows that the beautiful sinks in the photo above are too – what is the word? – deep? Whatever it is when I try to wash my hands and discover I have to lean way way over just to reach the tap.

And I am 5’5″, which is taller than the average American woman.

If I, who am taller (not much) than average, have a hard time reaching the tap without discomfort, then what about all the women who are shorter than I am?

So here’s my pitch:

I am going to run for office on a platform of potty parity, which will include potty comfort and space.

We will not have true equality until everyone pees in the same amount of time.

That is, men – either they build twice as many women’s stalls as they do men’s or else you guys have to wait in a long line to use a public facility.

We. Are. Done.

Also. We want sleeves on our work clothes. All that stuff on TV with women in sleeveless dresses in professional offices? Maybe in California, but in Wisconsin, we have this thing called winter and we don’t like to be cold.

And pockets. We also want pockets. The only place I have pockets is in my pajamas.

I will leave you with that thought.

No. With this one.

How much do designers hate women that they will not give us sleeves and that the only time they give us pockets is in our pajamas?

Dill pickle soup is awesome, y’all

I have said it before and I will say it again – we are not fat in Wisconsin because our food is bad. We are comfortable and padded for cold weather because the food here is delicious.

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Here is the headline:

This Dill Pickle Soup Recipe Is Taking the World by Storm

And here is the reality.

This is not news. This is not new.

The world knows about dill pickle soup.

Wisconsin knows about it.

Up here in the 414, we have been eating dill pickle soup for – well, I have since the first time I went to Polish Fest in 2009, which was when Marido took polka lessons with me and the little old man who was teaching told us, “Youse are generally doing pretty good today!”

We loved him. He’s the best dance teacher we have ever had.

Marido has not enjoyed other dance classes we have taken, where the instructors are not so tactful with adult learners or they do what the couple teaching at the West Allis K of C hall did, which was to refer to the dance partners as, “the leader” and “the follower,” even though every student couple was male-female and each time they told the leader to do something or the follower to do something, you could see everyone take an extra beat as they ran the instructions through their heads as they translated and tried to figure out if they were leaders or followers.

And then Marido got all flustered because the teachers made us change partners, which is comme il faut, but Marido did not like that.

Anyhow.

Marido and I go to Polish Fest every year and it’s so much fun. It’s full of little old ladies and little old men and little kids dressed in their Polish costumes and lots and lots of really good food, including Dill Pickle Soup.

Neither Marido nor I had ever heard of such a thing and we were suspicious, as you would be if confronted with such an oddity, but we decided, nonetheless, to try it and we were not sorry.

Dill pickle soup is delicious. It’s sour and creamy and hot and substantial and I promise if you try it, you will not regret it. If you consider yourself a sophisticated eater – a gourmand who appreciates world cuisine, then you need to try this soup.

You may thank me later.