Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Fat Tuesday!

I completely forgot yesterday was Fat Tuesday.  It wasn't until I read about one of the Mardi Gras parades that I remembered.

Fat Tuesday is one of the days I most miss Michigan.  We always looked forward to a nice, plump, creamy-filled, sometimes still warm, paczki (pronounced PUHNCH-key - it's got a soft double O sound, somewhere in between noon and punt).  Paczkis are Poland's gastronomic gift to the world.  Most people look at them and say, "Oh, it's a filled doughnut."  Oh, no, no, no.  Anyone who says that has never had the pleasure of letting one of those gooey, powdery morsels pass their lips, swirl around the inside of their mouth, and then lovingly slip down the throat and settle into the stomach with a satisfying goodness.  

And for those who say they've had paczkis, but have never had one from an authentic Polish bakery in Hamtramck (Ham-TRAM-mick), Michigan.  Fat Tuesday in Hamtramck is like Black Friday at Toys R Us.  People line up for hours to take home a box or two of sweet goodness.

Heaven on Earth?  Pretty darn close!

My favorites are Bavarian creme and strawberry.  The hazard to liking strawberry is it's very similar in appearance to raspberry.  Most people have an irrational predilection towards the latter, making for a very unpleasant surprise when expecting the former.

When we moved to Tennessee, I looked a few times for paczkis without success, but I didn't have too high of hopes because I knew they need a higher concentration of Polish immigrants, like in Hamtramck. I always thought that with all the Michigan "immigrants" to the area, that some pastry shop would capitalize on filling the void by filling the stomachs with lots of sticky sweet filling.  

A few years ago, I found paczkis in a Publix.  I heard people rave about Publix's bakery, so I thought they might have them.  I practically danced to the checkout line when I found some.  I prattled on to the cashier about how she hadn't lived until she ate on those.  She smiled at me like she was making a mental note to buy pepper spray on her way home.

I buckled the box into the car seat because I didn't want anything to happen to it.  I rushed home to give one to my Sweetie, and to my second wife (yeah, I'll have to explain that one sometime), who grew up in Michigan.

Bleah.  Oh, the sorrow.  They were poor imitations.  It was box of a half dozen poser paczkis.    Now I fully understood the sorrow of Lent.  (Ok, maybe that's a little too melodramatic.)

So, if on a Fat Tuesday in the future you find yourself in Michigan, or in an area that has a large number of people of Polish descent (corrected), I encourage you to throw off any caloric concerns and heap culinary merriment on your tongue in the form of a little ball of fried dough.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Big Surprise

What was the big surprise? A card.

You know what the best thing about being unconventional is?  That even when something
"normal" is done, it's refreshing because it's not expected.

And, technically, I didn't spring the card on her at that time.  It was hidden in the car, and I pointed it out when we arrived at the restaurant.  She did, however, wait unti after we ordered to open it.  But only after exclamations of "What did you do?", and "I didn't get you anything", and "I didn't think we were going to get each other anything."

Of course, she was greeted with something red and frilly and mushy.
Standard V-Day Accoutrement
You don't get to see the inside - I don't want you to see how I fumble over words when I don't have Ctrl-Z and a delete button within reach.

And, well, maybe the BIG surprise wasn't so much the card.  The card wasn't the only thing in the envelope.  There were a few pieces of paper wedged inside the card.  First, there were two of these:
21st Century version of an E Ticket
Yes, that's a ticket to see the Trans-Siberian Orchestra in concert.  You may think you haven't heard of them, but au contraire.  It's likely you've seen this somewhere on the interwebs (it's only had over 31,000,000 views):

Most people know them for their awesome, electrified, rockin' versions of Christmas classical songs.  They excel in combining Mozart with more volume, Pachelbel with power rock, and Ludwig with, uh, Ludwigs.

What they're also masters at is making a concert a visual experience as much as an auditory one.  Here's a clip of them on stage.  Two things: first, jump to about 3:00 minutes in for the music, and second, this was in 2003.  They've had nine years to make it even more exceptionally mind-blowing.
The downside to their tour is that it's not coming to Nashville.  The next closest location is Chattanooga.  So that's where we're headed. 

Past experience has taught us the balcony is prime real estate, not the floor.  That's the best place to be immersed in the production.

In high school we often drove 2.5 hours - on school nights, no less - to go to concerts in Oklahoma City and drive back home afterward.  With age comes wisdom - and the inability to drive that late.  So, we're making an excursion of it, taking a trip like we haven't done for a few years.  We're spending the night on the Delta Queen.  I also printed out this picture and included it in the envelope.

It doesn't go anywhere, but it's also not a Days Inn.  (I was going to compare it to a Holiday Inn Express, but that would make us look less smart.)

Another thing we're looking forward to is sampling Chattanooga's tea rooms.  Those should be fun to visit, like this, and this. There's also one on the Delta Queen, but sadly, I think it's closed for the season.

We have that to look forward to next month.  That capped off the VD Eve dinner.

The following night, Sweetie one-upped me in the "not getting each other anything" department with a home-cooked meal.  Complete with my fave, Red Velvet Cake.  I didn't think to take a picture of the rest of the meal.  Take my word for it - it was delicious.
It's amazing how she can make 1/2 a cake.
It's not like I ate that much.... (ahem)
Cards, dinner, cake - a pretty typical Valentine's Day for most people.  Fortunately, we're not like most people.

Did I mention how much I like Red Velvet Cake?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Post VD

Of course, I'm talking about Valentine's Day (what did you think I meant?).
Alright, so it was a cheap ploy to get you to read, but it had to be done this one time.

That reminds me of a story.  In high school, our English teacher told us plan she had in case she ever decided to become an author.  The first book she intended to write would be a smutty, scandalous book that people would be sure to get everyone's attention.  Then, the second one would be all pious and boring, but a lot of people would buy it just to see if it would be as bad as the first.  (At that point, the internet was still a non-graphical government application - there weren't any pesky bloggers around to instantly share their thoughts with thousands of people or less than a dozen all at once.)

Enough of that sidetrip.  Back to today, and to Valentine's Day.

Years ago we did away with the "normal", obligatory Valentine's stuff.  Flowers die - or are eaten, and subsequently regurgitated, by cats; cards are thrown away with a tinge of guilt; neither of us needs chocolate (I'm not a big fan of it anyway); usually money for necklaces, watches, earrings, diamond-studded grills, has been allocated to diapers, food, mortgages, band fees, and other mundane obligations.  Also, we've never felt our expressions for each other should be dictated by the calendar.  I prefer the spontaneity.

This year, Sweetie's schedule caused her days off to fall on Monday and Tuesday.  Since she has to get up even before o'dark:30, she's generally done for the day by 9:00 on the nights before she works.  We decided to go out to eat on Monday so we wouldn't have to be concerned with the time.  It turns out, that was never a concern. 

If you ever want to literally avoid the rush, go out to eat the day before Valentine's Day.  The restaurants and the servers will appreciate it.  Since we don't go there very often, we went to Applebee's this year.  (We just had pasta on Sunday, so we decided to skip Olive Garden this time.)  We were one table out of five others that were filled.  If restaurants allowed crickets inside, I'm sure we would have heard them. 

Our server's name was Gage.  I've heard of kids named things like Paris (no, not that one), London, Angel (as in Angeles), and Dallas, because of their conception location, so I couldn't help thinking if we were in Oklahoma he would probably be asked about his name a lot.  (Gage, OK)  He treated us like royalty, like we were his only customers.  We weren't because he had one other table to wait on - seated right next to us, of course (!).

So, we ordered a nice meal, and then I sprang the surprise on her.

Check back to see what the surprise was.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

What's in a Birthday?

A month ago was my birthday.  I've had people ask me what it feels like to be reaching the end of my 40's.  My daughter even said, "Ooo, just one more year before you're a half century old."  With comments like that, one would think it would make for a distressing time.  Actually, birthdays haven't bothered me much over the years.  All except for one.

The only birthday that gave me pause was three years ago.  That was the year that I "outlived" my Dad.  It was the year I reached the age where I was older than he was when he died.

I don't have a lot of memories of my dad.  One thing I remember is he taught me to tie my shoes. That was when he was he was a milkman, driving a truck for Plains milk. It was also before I started school. I rode with him a few times, driving what seemed was ALL over western Oklahoma, even up into the Panhandle. For all I know, it was probably only a 30 mile radius.  I even once got to take the wind out of someone's sails when they accused me of being fathered by the milkman.  I just said soberly, "Yeah, I was. So what?"

He was a stern disciplinarian, but I only remember being paddled by him once.  And I deserved it.  I definitely deserved it.  I threw a rock through a pane glass window of an abandoned building on the town square. 

There was another time I was playing hide-and-seek with the family, only they didn't know it.  I was hid really well.  Then I got sleepy and dozed off.  I think they were a little panicked when they discovered I was missing.  I thought it was a fun game.  No one else, especially Dad, saw the humor.  He was upset, but he didn't spank me. I don't know if I would've been so lenient in his shoes.

I don't have a lot of memories of him because his life was cut short by an unfortunate accident in the service station he owned after giving up the milk route.  That was back when you went to the gas station and never got out of your car if you didn't want to.  In case you don't remember, there was a time when you'd just sit in your car while one or two attendants took care of the gas, washed the windshield, checked the oil, tire pressure, and usually did it with a smile.  Carmax parodied it excellently in this commercial:

It was also back when gas prices were only specified by numbers to the right of the decimal.  It was also when we weren't wimps, and only gas with lead was sold. 

Kinda like this, but there was Regular and Unleaded, not Premium.
Also, it was all about half these prices.

Some of my fondest memories of my Dad were at that gas station.  I knew where the magical key to the Coke machine was kept.  This magical key opened an outer door, inside of which was a little lever that when toggled twice, would allow a bottle of Coke to be extracted from the machine, no money required.

After getting a Coke -- original Coca Cola, with sugar, not High Fructose Corn Syrup -- I would go behind the counter and get a bag of peanuts to pour into the bottle.  Mmmm, peanuts in Coke.  I tried it once with HFCS Coke.  It's not the same.

Another way I kept myself entertained was to jump on the hose that laid across the driveway and make the bell ding -- until I got in trouble...

When I was in the third grade, I remember playing outside our house when people came by and got Mom, and she rushed to the hospital.  I didn't know what was going on.  Later that day, my grandparents took me to the hospital. That was when I found out there was a horrible accident as Dad and a coworker were fixing a flat on a front tractor tire.  It was a split rim tire, and because of a flaw, it exploded as they were inflating it (that's my understanding of what happened).  Dad was leaning over it when it blew.  The rim went straight up in the air with so much force it put a 3-foot hole in the ceiling.  His coworker was holding onto it and lost some (two? three?) fingers.  Dad didn't make it through the night.

I think this is a split rim tire.

I don't remember the day like I would later remember days like when the Challenger shuttle exploded, or the Murrah building was bombed, or the World Trade Center fell.  I know because of documentation that it was May.  I remember it was warm.  I was in the back yard doing "something."  I think as a child, one would probably block most details as protection from the trauma.

Cyrus Leo Plymesser, Jr.
1927 - 1972
This is the only picture I have of him.  He wasn't one for having his picture taken.  It was shot next to the gas station, so I know it's one of the last pictures of him.

I've never really unpacked this memory before now. Maybe it's because it was 40 years ago this year. Maybe it really is the season of life of which I'm in denial. I will say that this has been somewhat cathartic to type it out.