Tales From A Hungry Life

November 24, 2016

10 Reasons to Be Grateful This Thanksgiving

by Maria Schulz

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving

Did you know that being grateful is actually good for you? There’s scientific proof that being grateful can have a dramatic impact on your life—keeping blood pressure low, making your immune system work better, and helping you get more sleep.

That’s good news, because Thanksgiving Day can come with its own stresses. Maybe you’re having a big crowd over and you have a million things to do. Or, maybe you’ll be a guest and some of the folks you’ll be seeing annoy the living daylights out of you. Plus, with all of the food being served, this holiday can wreak havoc on your health.

Everybody loves roast turkey

Everybody loves roast turkey

So…instead of focusing on the things that will drive us crazy today or make us fat, how about finding things to be grateful for? Here are some suggestions.

Family can be fun

Family can be fun

  1. Family

Sure, not everyone is blessed with the perfect family. But come to think of it, is ANYONE? Find me the perfect family and I’ll show you a pack of Yetis with the same last name. Sorry, folks—this mythical family doesn’t exist. We humans are imperfect and tend to get on each other’s nerves. Still, there are ways around this. Is your wacky, forgetful mom bringing her world famous mashed potatoes to the table? Be grateful. Is your annoying, messy, but somehow-still-lovable son home from college? Be grateful. Is Uncle Harry smoking his disgusting cigar outside—and keeping his shoes on his smelly feet inside? Be grateful. You get the idea.

Get out there

Get out there

  1. Friends

Some of us rely on the kindness of friends to make our holidays special. Maybe your family is a pack of psychos or they just live too far away to spend the day together. If you want to spend it alone, that’s great. However, if you are miserable because you feel you’ve been rejected by humankind on this day of thanks, accept an invitation to dinner with your stand-in family—your friends—or go help others at church, a soup kitchen, a nursing home, etc. Don’t just sit there like a Debbie Downer crying over your sad, tiny bird. Get out there and mix with people. You’ll be glad you did, even if those people are watching an awful lot of football.

Don't be that friend

Don’t be that friend

3. You woke up today! Hey, if that’s not a reason to be grateful, I don’t know what is. Be grateful that you’re up and about. Go participate in a local Turkey Trot. Go to church. Smile. Today is a gift. Treat it that way.

Run, run, run

Run, run, run

4. You’ve got all of your marbles. Metaphorically speaking, that is. And if you literally can’t find your pack of marbles, I’ve got good news for you: you can go online and score a big Black Friday deal on some new ones.

I've got a lot to be thankful for

I’ve got a lot to be thankful for

5. Your kids gave you one of those “I’m Grateful For” Turkeys with wonderful things written on all of the feathers. Somehow, you managed to score ahead of the dog, the iguana, and a pack of Legos. Be grateful.

6. When all the cooking and eating is done, you can watch football. Or the dog show. Or you can watch the parade while you cook. The point is, you can do whatever you please. If you have to work today, make plans to celebrate tomorrow or Saturday or whenever you can be surrounded by those you love or at least like enough to challenge to a wishbone-breaking feat of strength.

Or you can make your own "I'm grateful for" list

Go ahead, make your own “I’m grateful for” list

  1. There’s pie! Apple, pumpkin, blueberry, lemon meringue. Why wouldn’t you be grateful?
Best Ever.

Best Ever.

  1. NETFLIX! If watching sentimental movies or football is not your thing, go for Breaking Bad or Orange is the New Black. Turkey-binging and Netflix-binging. Perfect together!
Red, white, and imperfect blue

Red, white, and imperfect blue

  1. We are Americans. We live in a country that is not perfect, but it’s our country. The Bill of Rights lets us practice our beliefs, pursue happiness, and complain thanks to Freedom of Speech. We aren’t perfect and we’re able to say so. That’s a pretty amazing unalienable right and I’m grateful for it.
Plus you can read whatever you want

Plus you can read whatever you want

  1. Laughter is free. Yes, your family and friends may do things that annoy the stuffing out of you. Grandma may eat food off your plate. Your best friend Gerry may bore you with endless football commentary. Your beloved dog may have just barfed blueberry pie all over your rug. So what? Chances are your Thanksgiving Day disasters will live on in infamy. Today won’t last forever, and those people and pets who are driving you crazy won’t be here forever either. Be glad you’re where you are right now and laugh as much as possible.
the muppet movie

They look happy

Here’s a bonus reason to be grateful today: even if you’re watching your weight, dessert on Thanksgiving is MANDATORY!

Where have all the cookies gone?

Where have all the cookies gone?

Recipe: Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients:

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon clove

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

½ cup brown sugar

¼ cup white sugar

1 egg, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup pure pumpkin

1 cup chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Farenheit. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove together. Set aside.
  3. Use mixer (on medium) to beat butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until creamy. Add egg and vanilla.
  4. Turn mixer to low and add pumpkin. Slowly beat in flour mixture until dough forms. DO NOT OVERMIX!
  5. Fold in chocolate chips.
  6. Use a medium cookie scoop (or a teaspoon) and drop scoops onto baking sheet, two inches apart.
  7. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until edges start to brown.
  8. Remove from oven, let cool.

Enjoy!

So many reasons to be grateful

So many reasons to be grateful

So, what makes you grateful? What’s your favorite Thanksgiving treat? What was your worst turkey day disaster? Please leave a comment. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

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November 17, 2016

12 Thanksgiving Ideas that are Fun for Everyone

by Maria Schulz

Popcorn and toast, anyone?

Popcorn and toast, anyone?

Thanksgiving can be tricky. Sometimes, it’s a day when families catch up, laugh a lot, and enjoy their time together. Other times…not so much. There’s always a fun story about a drunken uncle, a bossy mother-in-law, or a whiney friend who sucks the life out of the party by telling everyone at the table about his recent bout with hemorrhoids or scabies.

Let me tell you about my latest illness

Let me tell you about my latest illness

Most people I know are NOT going to have the quintessential “Kennedy-esque” game of touch football on the front lawn while their giant turkey cooks to perfection. Come to think of it, the Kennedys probably weren’t even that happy to be together, touch football or no touch football.

We look just like the Kennedys

We look just like the Kennedys

Whether you’re off to a large gathering or just a small, intimate celebration, it’s always good to have ice breakers and conversation starters on hand. In that spirit, I thought I’d share a few ideas to keep your special day from going off the rails. Here are some of my suggestions.

Ready? Here we go...

Ready? Here we go…

Twelve Thanksgiving Games that are Fun for Everyone

  1. Take Bets. How long will it be before Grandma tells you how she worked 12 jobs at your age and you’re a lazy loser? How many male relatives will fall asleep with their pants undone while they snore in front of a football game on TV? How many lumps in Mom’s gravy? You get the idea.
Get your game on

Get your game on

  1. Break out the board games. That turkey is going to take a while. Why not get in a quick game of Life? Uno? Scattergories? Pictionary? Truth or Dare? Who’s Most Likely To? Never Have I Ever… (or Would You Rather… if there are kids around)? Cards Against Humanity? You can keep it clean for the kids and have lots of laughs.
  1. Set up a Group Pool/Prize. Yeah, maybe Aunt Sally couldn’t care less who’s playing football today. But I bet she’ll care if there’s money at stake, and it will keep people busy while you cook the turkey. You can also bet on the outcome of the Dog Show, a corny holiday movie, or murder mystery. $5 per person and the winner doesn’t have to help clean up.
While you deep fry your turkey

While you deep fry your turkey

  1. Play Telephone or the Minister’s Cat. Yes, these are oldies, but they’re always fun.
  1. Go outdoors between dinner and dessert. Play Bocce ball or Running Bases—adults and children alike can use some fresh air. Walk the dog while you’re at it. And yes, you can even channel your inner Kennedy and play a game of Touch Football.
Run off that turkey dinner

Run off that turkey dinner

  1. Stay inside. Play Wii bowling, football, or Olympics. Go on Playstation and play Walking Dead, Batman, Just Dance, or Dancing with the Stars.
You too can score a "10"

You too can score a “10”

  1. Use your cell phone and download the app for HeadsUp. It’s really just Charades, but you hold the phone up to your head so that everyone else can see the word, and the other people in the room try to give you clues about it. You have to guess before time is up. It’s quick, fun, and very addictive. Hint: if you don’t have a smartphone, you could just write words on cards and hold them up to your head while everyone else gives you clues. Sometimes old school is the right way to go.
  1. Play “Two Truths and One Lie.” Each person around the dinner table tells everyone two things that are true about him or her, as well as one lie. If someone guesses the lie, you take a shot (or eat vegetables, pie, etc.)
Are we having fun yet?

Are we having fun yet?

  1. Another great game is What If? This app comes with fun what if/but then scenarios that a person has to answer. The results are usually hilarious.
  1. Plan a TV or Movie Marathon! Choose a holiday themed comedy like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles to get everybody laughing (who doesn’t like John Candy?). Or, binge watch The Godfather Trilogy or Orange is the New Black together. Your call!
Those aren't pillows

Those aren’t pillows

  1. Put a slip of paper with a question on it underneath everyone’s plate. Before you pass the turkey, ask everyone to pull out the slip and, one by one, read and answer the question on it. Depending on the crowd, the questions could be, “What are you most thankful for?” “What are you least thankful for?” “Where did you spend your worst Thanksgiving (hopefully the answer isn’t your house).” “What was your first girlfriend’s name?” “What’s the most embarrassing thing you ever did?” “What was your worst job—and why?”
Better than a Magic 8 Ball

Better than a Magic 8 Ball

  1. Experience Your Own Version of Karaoke Madness. You know you want to unleash your inner Beyonce. Go ahead, make their day! But don’t take this one too seriously. It’s always better if you’re not very good.

Recipes:

Thanksgiving Appetizers

FNK Flat Content; 3-Ingredient Thanksgiving Appetizers; Opener

Let’s eat

Find everything from stuffed mushrooms and deviled eggs to ricotta stuffed bacon wrapped dates, spiced pecans, and goat cheese with fresh dill. It’s the perfect way to set the mood for a fun party that everyone will enjoy.

Cocktails!

What I'm Thankful For

What I’m Thankful For

If you want to do drinking games or just have some fun cocktails on Thanksgiving, check out these recipes on Food Network. There’s a Pumpkin Pie Martini, Bourbon Negroni, Apple Toddy, Cider Punch, and dozens more cocktail choices.

I've got a lot to be thankful for

I’ve got a lot to be thankful for

So, what are your family traditions on Thanksgiving? Do you eat and then crash on the couch until dessert is served? Watch the parade and dog show? Watch football games in between bites of turkey? Do a 5K Turkey Trot? Please leave a comment and let us all know. Happy Thanksgiving!

December 9, 2015

12 Christmas Wishes

by Maria Schulz

News flash: There are just 14 days left to shop for gifts. In the spirit of impending doom that this revelation brings to me, here are the things I wish most for this Christmas.

Wait! I'm not ready

Wait! I’m not ready

12 Must-Haves on My Christmas Wish List

  1. Time: there is never enough of this. I wish there was a gift card.
  2. Perspective: Cards! Gifts! Parties! Wrapping! Every year I get overwhelmed, yet somehow, I manage to get it all done without the world crashing to an end. I have to slow down, breathe, and keep things in perspective. As the Grinch realized when his heart grew 3X larger, “Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more.”Grinch
  3. Patience: lines are not a good enough reason for my head to explode. A few minutes of quiet reflection never killed anybody. I will stand there and smile. Or at least just stand there and not cry.
  4. Cheer: Just once, I would like to be one of those smiling people who walk around saying: Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Good to see you! I do live in New York, so that might be a bit of a struggle. But anything is worth trying once!
  5. Smiles: like the flu, smiles are contagious. Plus I read that when you smile, you trick your brain into thinking you’re happy. It’s a natural upper.

    They look happy

    They look happy

  6. Energy: as a child, I could walk up and down Bell Blvd., searching for the perfect gift. Now, I click on “buy now” and feel exhausted
  7. Wonder: remember when it felt like Christmas would never, ever, ever get here? Fourteen days was an eternity. I wish I could feel that way again.
  8. Joy: there was nothing better than the first year I had enough babysitting money to buy gifts for the people I loved. Now, I dread shopping. I want to banish my inner Ebenezer Scrooge and all that Bah Humbug. Deny thy father! Refuse they name! Okay, so I’m getting my English Lit all mixed up. You get the drift. I’d rather be more like Scrooge when he wakes up on Christmas day and joyfully buys toys for the Cratchet kids. I’ll get to work on that.

    Gifts!

    Gifts!

  9. Comfort: I will donate gifts to a very worthy cause—The Lexiebean Foundation, which collects gifts every year for a party they hold in honor of their pediatric cancer patients and families.
  10. Peace: I will pray for the day that we never have to worry about another senseless shooting
  11. Respect: that goes for everybody, including myself.
  12. Kindness: ‘Cause that’s what Christmas is really all about, Charlie Brown!charlie brown and linus

 

Recipe: Egg Nog

 

I’d go for the cooked version, but hey! Live on the edge if you must.

Cheers!

Cheers!

So, Hungry Lifers…what do you wish for this Christmas? Please leave a comment and let us all know. Thanks, and Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Good to see you! Now…that wasn’t so bad after all.

November 21, 2015

All You Can Eat, Or Not

by Maria Schulz

I was reading the Huffington Post’s “Weird News” section the other day when I saw an article titled “Woman Flips Out Over All You Can Eat Pancake Rule.” It seems that this lady FREAKED OUT because she was not allowed to share her $4 plate of all you can eat pancakes with everyone at her table.

all you can eat

When the waitress pointed out that “All You Can Eat” really only refers to YOU and not your table full of friends and relatives, the diner went crazy. She began screaming, swinging her fists at the waitress, and then went outside and started kicking in the door.

I mean, if you can’t feed a party of 12 with $4 worth of all you can eat pancakes, what is this world coming to?

4-all-you-can-eat-pancakes

Warning: May Cause Insanity

This story cracked me up, but it didn’t shock me. It’s only surprising to people that never worked in a restaurant or in retail. People who are normally nice and not insane really lose their minds when it comes to freebies or sales. As we head into the holiday season, I thought it might be helpful to give a few examples of Behaviors to Avoid When in Public. Ready? Let’s go…

lists

I’ll give you seven good reasons…

It’s An All-You-Can-Eat Soup and Salad Bar. But everything else will cost you. Diners would lose their minds when they couldn’t get an extra Coke for free, or when they had to pay for a slice of chocolate cake. You just ate 12 bowls of kale, iceberg lettuce, carrots, chickpeas, broccoli, fruit, chocolate pudding, and croutons, and downed enough soup to fill a river, for $7.99. But you’re going to beat me senseless for a 99-cent drink? I know croutons make you thirsty, but come on.

Yes, we run out of things sometimes. Shoppers would become apoplectic when a wine set that was on sale for $19 was out of stock. Never mind that it’s closing time on day 5 of a 5-day-sale. Or that the circular says we have very limited quantities and offer no rain checks. You want that wine set! You want that rain check! I should call every store on the globe to get it for you! Or maybe you could buy an identical wine set that costs the same thing? Nah.

baked potato

Life. Liberty. And the pursuit of baked potatoes.

Baked Potatoes Are NOT an Unalienable Right: when I worked at a local steakhouse, the lines would stretch out the door. By the time I was taking order #237, we would have run out of baked potatoes. Or beer. Or even steak. This would cause some customers to turn red-faced with rage. Shouts of “HOW COULD YOU NOT HAVE STEAK IN A STEAK HOUSE?”, “I WANT A BAKED POTATO!”, or “ALL I WANT IS AN ICE COLD BEER!” would ring out. Meanwhile, the manager hid behind the swinging door, only peering out long enough to whisper, “just give them a free salad plate and maybe they’ll go away.” Read all about my hazy crazy Salad Days in my book, Tales From A Hungry Life: A Memoir with Recipes, available at amazon.com!

Now available on amazon.com

Now available on amazon.com

No, this isn’t a flea market: one day, a man came into the store and offered me $5 to sell him a $300 tea set for $30. He insisted that I had agreed to do this for him the week before the sale. I had to explain that I had never laid eyes on him in my entire life, and since I did not personally own the tea set, I could not sell it to him for 90% off. Also, I didn’t want to go to jail while he sat at home admiring his almost free sterling silver tea set.

Tea_set

Warning: May Cause Insanity

Food always looks better on the commercial: lots of folks would come running in when we ran commercials about our specials. What they could never understand was why the shrimp was microscopically small or why the chicken didn’t look as fresh or delicious as the commercial made it seem. Folks, it’s all about the camera angle. Plus our 17-year-old chef isn’t very good at what he does.

Special Orders are By Definition specially ordered: if you want to place an order for an expensive, hand-crafted gift that you know will be shipped on a slow barge from China, why are you surprised that you can’t have it in time for cousin Susie’s wedding this Saturday? You’ve known about the wedding for months, right? No, I can’t get it for you in time. Sure, you can talk to my manager…but he can’t get it for you any faster either.

Donkey-on-slow-boat

Sure, your order will get here soon

When Confronted by Your Own Thoughtlessness, Insult the Personnel: when my friend got a college internship at a well-known theme park, one of his jobs was to ask patrons who were hoarding tables (but not actually eating) to please move on so that diners coming off one of the many food court lines could eat. One day, one of his fellow interns asked a man sitting at a table for hours to please relinquish it. The man became enraged and started screaming to his kids: LOOK AT THIS GUY! HE’S A LOSER! THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DON’T GO TO COLLEGE! WORK HARD IN SCHOOL KIDS, OR YOU’LL HAVE TO STAND GUARD OVER A TABLE FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIVES!

Recipe: Banana Pancakes

I chose this recipe in honor of all the people out there that go bananas in public. This recipe got lots of rave reviews, but as some of the reviewers said, add a little vanilla, some cinnamon, walnuts and whipped cream for a delicious treat. Make sure you cook them on low so that the outsides don’t burn AND the insides get fully cooked. No one wants mushy pancakes…it’s the kind of thing that might make you insane!

banana pancakes

Looks good to me

So…what’s your funniest Customer Gone Wild story? Please share it in the comments section. Thanks!

November 12, 2015

Don’t Forget Thanksgiving

by Maria Schulz

Popcorn and toast, anyone?

Popcorn and toast, anyone?

I got my first email about Halloween in July. Costumes! Candy! Makeup! Decorations! There were so many things on sale, and the drumbeat never stopped. Buy, buy, buy! Since I don’t have little children anymore, it was easy to ignore the constant Halloween noise everywhere I turned.

Now that the day has passed, I am ready to celebrate Thanksgiving. I love this time of year, with harvest festivals, pumpkin picking, and hay rides. I like thinking about all of the things that I have in my life to be grateful for. 

I even like thinking about what I’ll cook on Thanksgiving morning, while the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade blares in the background. Hi Snoopy! Hi Spongebob! There goes Big Bird! Is that 5 Seconds of Summer singing on a holiday float? Everybody, here comes Santa!

Papa Smurf!

Papa Smurf!

Except…we’ve launched right into Christmas. Toys! Decorations! Christmas TV shows! Christmas Carols! Santa! Peace on Earth, Good Will Towards Man! Red coffee cups! Oh wait, we’re not happy about that. Deport the makers of red coffee cups!

We’ve skipped over Thanksgiving entirely. It’s as if we can’t wait to rush out the door and buy everything we can lay our hands on. I’ve been getting Black Friday emails from merchants since July. WHY WAIT? They ask me. Well, maybe because I will never remember where I put that holiday gift if I buy it 5 months in advance.

Wait! I'm not ready

Wait! I’m not ready

Don’t get me wrong; I love the Holiday season. My kids and I always enjoy singing holiday songs, whether it’s Dreidel, Dreidel or Silent Night. As a tight family unit, we all love pulling the Christmas tree down from the attic, taking out each ornament and talking about where we bought it, arranging the nativity scene and hanging up the stockings.

So maybe my tree isn't as big as this

So maybe my tree isn’t as big as this

Actually, I get really frustrated and can never get the Christmas lights to work, the kids tell me I’ve bought too many ornaments, and then they beg me to stop crying over the ornament with the picture of my old dog in it. Meanwhile, my husband is outside climbing up and down a ladder, pulling off burnt-out lights, smoldering in a Christmas-decorating-induced rage. Once it’s done we’re all really happy though. At least, I think we’re happy. I can’t tell, because my kids have disappeared hours beforehand, leaving me to finish the tree alone.

presents

Hold on though…we aren’t supposed to be in holiday mode yet! I can barely wrap my head around shopping for presents and wrapping them (ugh) on December 20th, let alone 5 months earlier. I will never be one of those people finished shopping for everyone on my list by December 1st. Instead, I am that lady in a panic on Christmas Eve, running out for one last gift.

I've got a lot to be thankful for

I’ve got a lot to be thankful for

But why do I have to start my shopping, decorating, or even THINKING about the crazy holiday season when I’m wearing a tank top or contemplating where to go apple picking? Don’t think I didn’t see those Christmas decorations behind the Halloween decorations. What if I want to put up a turkey on my front door? Not a real turkey, but a cardboard one (a real one would just be weird). 

Why aren’t there Pilgrim and Native American decorations? What about those cardboard turkeys that have “what I’m thankful for” items written on their feathers? What about Charlie Brown singing “Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s House we go?”

Everybody loves roast turkey

Everybody loves roast turkey

I want my Thanksgiving moment! I want turkey, sweet potatoes, vegetables, and White Castle stuffing (okay, not very traditional, unless you’re from Bayside. Still). I want to play football on the front lawn even though I’m not a Kennedy. I want to watch March of the Wooden Soldiers while the turkey roasts! I want to think about all of the ways I’m lucky to live in this country of ours, with the people I love. I want to remember the people who have gone on to a better place, and no, I don’t mean New Jersey.

That's what Thanksgiving is all about, Charlie Brown

That’s what Thanksgiving is all about, Charlie Brown

What I don’t want to do is run over to whatever store is open on Thanksgiving Day and buy a cartful of Christmas gifts, while wondering why all of the salespeople look so sad. THEY ARE WORKING ON THANKSGIVING DAY! Duh.

Go old school! Stay home. Spend a few hours cooking whatever it is your family and/or friends will enjoy. Go traditional or go gluten-free, but whatever you do, just commit to it. Have one day when you actually slow down and enjoy the people around you. Turn your cell phone off!

Those aren't pillows

Those aren’t pillows

Talk to the people sitting there with you. Enjoy a meal together. Lay around and watch football or Planes, Trains, and Automobiles together. John Candy and Steve Martin always make Thanksgiving better! Afterwards, you can gather around the table for leftovers and dessert. Have your Camelot moment—go outside and play touch football together at halftime or at your own movie intermission. Who knows? You may just start enjoying Thanksgiving again.

We look just like the Kennedys

We look just like the Kennedys


Once the clock strikes midnight, you should all feel free to run off to your Black Friday lunacy. Enjoy! As a retail sales clerk from years gone by, I will gladly stay away. Man, do I love the internet.

Recipes:

http://www.southernliving.com/food/holidays-occasions/10-pumpkin-recipes/view-all

Tiramisu; Photographer: Alison Miksch; Prop Stylist: Buffy Hargett-Miller; Food: Erin Merhar

Tiramisu; Photographer: Alison Miksch; Prop Stylist: Buffy Hargett-Miller; Food: Erin Merhar


Pumpkins! Try one of these fantastic Southern Living recipes that feature pumpkins as the star. There’s everything from Pumpkin Chiffon Pie and Pumpkin Tarts to classic Pumpkin Pie, Pumpkin Pecan Bread, and Beer-Battered Pumpkin with Dipping Sauce.

So, Hungry Lifers: what’s your favorite thing about Thanksgiving? What food do you look forward to having on Turkey Day? Would you rather go shopping? Please leave a comment and let us all know. Thanks!

November 25, 2014

Thanksgiving Headlines

by Maria Schulz

The crowds at the supermarkets are in a frenzy…the parking lots are full…I can’t find the can of pumpkin pie I need…it’s starting to feel a lot like THANKSGIVING!

Popcorn and toast, anyone?

Popcorn and toast, anyone?

Yes, it’s that time of year again. The day when we gather around the town square, singing while holding hands, even though the Grinch just stole all our stuff. Oh wait, that’s Christmas. Never mind.

One thing I’ve noticed is that the same headlines come out on or around Thanksgiving every year. Here are the ones that I see without fail in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, or on the sorry morning after.

hurricane sandy

  1. Weather Alert: A major storm is about to hit!

That’s right: whether you live in the Northeast corridor, southern states, middle of the country or out west, there will probably be snow, rain, hail, a cold snap, high winds, or unseasonably warm temperatures. Which means, of course, that Mother Nature just doesn’t give a hoot about Thanksgiving, and may just be un-American.

  1. More People Than Ever are Travelling This Thanksgiving:

Approximately 50 million people will be in their cars or on a plane, driving or flying to spend time with family. The journalists will gather up a bunch of people to interview and show us lots of long lines at the airports or bumper-to-bumper traffic on the highways. Look at all of them! They are exhausted, harried, and full of regret. Which is exactly how they’ll look in a couple of days on the return trip home.

Don't let this happen to you

Don’t let this happen to you

  1. Man Blows Up House While Deep Frying Thanksgiving Turkey

Is it really necessary to deep fry an entire turkey? When did roasting the turkey fall out of favor? Watch for this news item to break by Thursday night or Friday morning. There’s always someone who pours a week’s worth of oil into the fryer and then leaves it unattended…and is somehow surprised when it blows up.

  1. Average American will eat 4500 calories at Thanksgiving dinner

That is, unless they’re also drinking. Then the calorie count soars to 6000…FOR ONE MEAL! If you’ve ever counted calories, this is the equivalent of 3 or 4 entire days worth of meals. But who stops at dinner? What about that 11 pm raid on the fridge that includes a turkey sandwich and a hunk of pie? My family (like most families) is not like the Kennedy’s at Hyannisport, playing football together after dinner. We’re gearing up for the next feeding.

Not us.

Not us.

  1. Average American Gains 5 pounds during Holiday Season

I think a French woman who is busy walking around Paris all day, wearing her designer clothing, eating goat cheese and grapes, drinking Champagne, and never getting fat, probably thought up this headline. Fat people don’t only live here in America. Send me to France, and I promise I will find you at least 5 of them. It’s the goat cheese, people!

  1. Turducken Is Still A Sensation On The Thanksgiving Table

A chicken, duck, and turkey walked into a bar…and ended up a Turducken. I hear this combo, when done right, is delicious. But it seems like another instance of gilding the lily. Do I really need to eat 3 different birds in order to give thanks? Can my fryer—and 10 gallons of oil—really handle this?

Um...wow

Um…wow

  1. Cherpumple is Latest Dessert to Hit Thanksgiving Tables

Just when you thought we couldn’t figure out another way to make pigs of ourselves (wait…is there a Pigturducken in our future?), here comes the Cherpumple. This concoction is a three-layer cake with an entire pie baked into each layer — a cherry pie baked inside a white cake, a pumpkin pie baked inside a yellow cake, and an apple pie baked inside a spice cake, covered with cream-cheese frosting. The creator of this King Kong of pies says that there are a lot of ways for this dessert to go wrong. Wow, I can’t wait to try it. I have a hard enough time getting one pie to come out right, forget about 3 pies baked within cakes and stacked all together.

  1. President Pardons Thanksgiving Turkey

So…after making poor Tom sweat it out in the days leading up to his Thanksgiving Day pardon, does the President think this is enough? I think he should give Tom the Turkey a job. Maybe he should be declared the leader of the House or the newest member of the Supreme Court. He’ll fit right in!

And you thought you were having a bad day

And you thought you were having a bad day

  1. Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt’s Mother Spend Thanksgiving Together

The tabloids have been dying for Brad Pitt to stand up and say: I MADE A MISTAKE! I WANT JENNIFER BACK! This despite the fact that he’s been with Angelina Jolie for 100 years now, and they have approximately the same number of children together. Plus, Jennifer Aniston is (reportedly) going to marry Justin Somebody and have 12 kids of her own, even though she may be 75 by the time this all happens. Listen, if Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt’s mother are friends and share some turkey together, good for them. They obviously have a more enduring relationship than Jennifer and Brad ever did. P.S. WHO CARES?

  1. Carbohydrate Coma Well Established Phenomena

What came first: the turkey, or the carb coma? Is it the tryptophan in the turkey that causes you to want to lie on the couch and watch all that football? Or maybe it’s the stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, biscuits, gravy, and twelve different pies you shoveled into your face, in addition to the 3 bottles of wine? Nah, it’s probably just the turkey.

Keep Papa close

Keep your enemies close and Papa Smurf closer

  1. Papa Smurf Feels Up Parade-Goer at Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Folks, if Mother Nature wants to crank up the ol’ wind machine on Thanksgiving Day, maybe they should ground Papa Smurf, not to mention all of the other balloons too. If 50 Macy’s employees have to tether themselves to ropes and hold Papa about 2 feet off the ground, what’s the point? On the flip side, letting Papa run wild and free could have some unintended consequences, especially when he decides to bust a move.

  1. Stampede At [INSERT NAME HERE] –Mart

Do we really need to have stores open on Thanksgiving Day? Yes, I know that greed and saving 99 cents are ingrained in every American’s psyche, but is the desire to get trampled to death also a core American right? What about the poor people who have to work these days?

My heroes

My heroes

I worked in retail a hundred years ago, and I never realized that those conditions would now be considered the glory days. You were off on a national holiday because the store was CLOSED. We got to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with our families, lay on the couch in a carb coma, and watch a million hours of football and The March of the Wooden Soldiers, just like God and the Founding Fathers intended. Then, we got up the next morning and were ready to meet the crazed crowds on Black Friday.

Because as Linus might say, “that’s what Thanksgiving Day is really all about, Charlie Brown.”

Recipe:

Cherpumple

Try it, if you dare.

As much fun as Turducken and Cherpumple

As much fun as Turducken and Cherpumple

Salted Caramel Cupcakes

This recipe was a winner on Cupcake Wars and has gotten rave reviews.

So, what’s your favorite Thanksgiving headline? Do you think Brad and Jenn will ever get back together again? Are you ready for Cherpumple? Please leave a comment and let us all know. Thanks, and Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

 

 

December 18, 2013

12 Things to Ask Yourself While Christmas Shopping

by Maria Schulz

Choosing the perfect gift for family and friends should be easy—right? You just take into consideration what the person you’re shopping for needs or wants, figure out what he or she likes to read or what movies they like to see, and think about their hobbies. Easy, right?

Well, no. WRONG. That’s because you may love someone very much but have no idea what to get for him or her. And the next thing you know, it’s the day after Christmas and the gift that you struggled to pick out for that special someone is for sale on e-bay.

http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/unwanted-christmas-gifts-end-up-on-ebay/story-e6frer4f-1225980581750

I thought I was done with my shopping, but then after wrapping gifts, I realized that I was no where near done. That means I will be out there with all of the other crazies, searching desperately for gifts. This leads me to become the dreaded Impulse Buyer. I have a feeling that I’ve gotten gifts from quite a few impulse buyers in my time. These gifts included:

  • A banana clip for my hair (I had short hair at the time)
  • A tupperware container that had nothing but cookie crumbs in it (someone must’ve gotten hungry while delivering this to me)
  • Enough body lotion to suggest that the gift-giver thinks I own an alligator and, oh yeah, I may have a dry skin problem
  • A box of soap that smells like mothballs
  • A pocket book big enough to hold several small children
  • Chocolate covered cherries (from someone who knows I’m allergic)
  • Gift certificate for a manicure in a nearby state

So how do you get your Gift of the Magi moment? You know, the one where the person you’ve just handed a gift leaps up, gift in hand, and throws his or her arms around you in a moment of pure, unadulterated joy thanks to your thoughtfulness, ingenuity and blazing insight into their hopes and desires? I’m not sure, but in the interest of helping myself—as well all of you other procrastinators out there who still haven’t finished your Christmas shopping yet—here are:

The Top 12 Things You Should Ask Yourself While Christmas Shopping:

12. Is this kitchen blowtorch something he wants, or am I buying it because it looks kinda cool, I think I can use it, and I have no idea what tools he really wants anyway?

Blowtorch, anyone?

Blowtorch, anyone?

11.  Just because she never wears makeup, does that mean I SHOULDN’T buy her a lipstick/foundation/eyeliner/eyelash curler combo?

10. It’s almost 10 p.m. and the mall is about to close. Am I buying this wheel of almond-studded cheese that’s big enough to feed an army of Wisconsin-ites because I am desperate, or because she told me she loves giant wheels of cheese?

9. Would I ever want to get a gift that’s a monthly subscription for fruit?

Great! Smelly exotic fruit

Great! Smelly exotic fruit

8. If there’s a skirt on sale that I know my sister would never wear in a million years, should I NOT get that skirt? ‘Cause maybe she’ll really love it.

7. Is my husband going to enjoy this Trivia Game about soap operas, or is this really for me?

Luke and Laura

I was at their wedding

6. Have you ever met a woman who was grateful to receive a vacuum on Christmas?

5. Will they guess that I did all my shopping at the 24-hour convenience store if I buy them a pack of beef jerky and a DVD of The Talented Mr. Ripley?

4. Are stuffed animals ever an okay “Big Gift” for a girlfriend?

If he intends to get a job, then maybe....

If he intends to get a job, then maybe….

3. Are feet-y pajamas appropriate for anyone over the age of 5?

2. There’s a big sale on Minion tee-shirts and socks. Is this romantic and playful enough for my honey?

Best. Gift. Ever.

Best. Gift. Ever.

1. He likes non-fiction and memoir, but can I get him Fifty Shades of Gray instead?

ANSWER KEY:

#12:

No. The kitchen blowtorch is a bad idea. Not just because it shows you have no idea what your man needs in terms of tools and you weren’t listing when he told you, but also because he may try to use it in your kitchen, and he could set your kitchen on fire. Put down the blowtorch and step away.

makeup kit

#11:

No. You should not buy her makeup. You just said yourself that she never wears makeup, what the heck does she want with a lipstick/foundation/eyeliner/eyelash curler combo? This is one of those gifts that may be perceived as an insult. PROCEED WITH CAUTION.

#10:

Yes. You are buying the almond-studded enormous wheel of cheese because you are completely out of ideas, the mall is about to close, and you don’t really care that the person you’re going to give this to will probably lay in her bed on Christmas night and weep because you obviously don’t know her at all. You are probably just hungry and definitely misguided. Nothing says, “you never expressed any desire for cheese, but I’m in a rush and don’t have time to be thoughtful” like a giant wheel of unwanted cheese. Stop. Think. Does she wear makeup? Get her a lipstick/foundation/eyeliner/eyelash curler combo. If not, you’re on your own.

makeup kit

#9:

No. I do not want someone else to choose my fruit and send me enough for an entire month, and many more months to come. Maybe there are people out there who will be delighted by this gift, but this is a tricky gift unless you’ve had a conversation that goes something like this: YOU: So what would you want more than anything in the world for Christmas?” GIFT RECIPIENT: I was thinking the other day that I don’t get enough fruit on a daily basis. A fruit subscription would be so wonderful, especially since I’ve been diagnosed with scurvy.” Otherwise, why the heck would you give this to someone? Chances are it’s not even the kind of fruit anyone wants. What if they’re all out of apples or pears, and they substitute it with something weird like durian or jackfruit? These are great basket ingredients on the TV show Chopped but not so great in your personal fruit bowl. It’s like you’re giving a gift that says, “Here. Eat some smelly yet exotic fruit.” Is there a chocolate subscription? Send that instead.

#8:

No. You should NOT get the skirt. I know this is a difficult concept to comprehend, but understand this: your sister won’t like this skirt. You know it, I know it, and your sister will surely know it. The sale price won’t make her love it (that’s all for you) so maybe look around the store and find something she’ll actually wear.

Still fits

Still fits

#7:

No. Your husband won’t like this gift, unless he spent his formative years: crying at Luke and Laura’s wedding; wearing an “I Shot J.R.” tee-shirt; and wondering if Days of our Lives will ever bring back the storyline where Marlena kills off every other main character. If this is the case, you probably don’t want everyone to know about it, so buy something else.

#6:

Yes. My grandmother was thrilled to get things like vacuum cleaners and irons for Christmas. However, she was a neat freak whose hobby was to clean endlessly. Most normal people do NOT want a vacuum cleaner or any other appliance.

#5:

Yes. Of course they’ll guess you did all of your shopping at the convenience store, because no one else in their right minds would buy beef jerky and  The Talented Mr. Ripley on DVD and think it was a great gift.

Talented_mr_ripley

#4:

No. Stuffed animals are NOT a great “Big Gift.” If you are buying something romantic (like earrings) and you put the earrings on a small stuffed bear, well that’s different. But woe to you if you buy a giant stuffed bear and he’s not wearing more diamonds than Beyonce and Jay Z combined.

#3:

Yes. Feet-y pajamas can be appropriate for adults, but that’s only if the adult in question works at Macy’s as an elf or because they enjoy being ridiculed by their family. If your gift recipient doesn’t fit into either of these categories, skip the feet-y pajamas.

elf shoes

#2:

Um, no. A minion tee-shirt and socks are the kind of gift you should give to your brother, child, or maybe your cat, if the shirt and socks are small enough. Neither of these things will translate into “romance” for your man. Yes, I know. Shocking!

#1:

No. Repeat after me: no man wants Fifty Shades of Grey as a gift. However, if you are looking for a book that is non-fiction, memoir, and includes recipes—well then, have I got a suggestion for you.

Tales From A Hungry Life A Memoir with Recipes cover

You can get the Kindle edition at amazon.com at:

http://www.amazon.com/Tales-From-Hungry-Memoir-Recipes-ebook/dp/B00H94R7II/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1386879684&sr=8-1&keywords=tales+from+a+hungry+life

If for some reason this link doesn’t work, go to amazon.com and do a search for Tales From a Hungry Life. It should pop right up.

How was that for some shameless self-promotion?

Recipe:

I feel better already

I feel better already

Comfort Foods

After a long day of shopping, there’s nothing better than enjoying something hot, delicious and oh-so-satisfying. You’ll find recipes for lasagna, mac-n-cheese, meatloaf and more.

http://www.food.com/comfort-food/home/package

So, Hungry Lifers: are you done with your shopping yet? What’s the worst Christmas gift you’ve ever gotten? Please respond: I will probably get inspiration for next week’s post from this comment. What’s the most comforting food you can eat afterwards? Please leave a comment and let us all know. Thanks!

February 15, 2013

Valentine’s Day: The Mourning After

By Maria Schulz

Always right

Always right

The big day—Valentine’s Day—has come and gone. You know, that special day when men feel horribly pressured to give gifts and be romantic and women wait by the window, watching for their life-changing big gift to arrive.

I grew up with boys, so I remember how much pressure there was to get a gift that sent the right message, cost the right amount of money, and satisfied some inner need of the girl. You know, the one that was never expressed in words but that she definitely expected you to understand—because after all, if you loved her, you’d know what she wanted without asking.

From lots of trial, error, angry girlfriends and even angrier breakups, the men I’ve known have figured out a few critical things about gift-giving in the minefield of Valentine’s Day.

The 10 Top Things to Remember Next Valentine’s Day

1) Do not ever, ever, EVER give your girlfriend a gift of jewelry that comes in a ring box, or one that remotely looks like a ring box, unless you are getting engaged. To do so will result in an immediate confiscation of all brownie points earned thus far, and long and unhappy days and weeks ahead for all parties.

Danger, Will Robinson!

Danger, Will Robinson!

2) Flower colors really do have meaning. For the love of God, do NOT give yellow roses (meaning: friendship) when you should give red roses (meaning: passionate love).

3) If you are just starting out with a new girlfriend, a small stuffed animal and a box of chocolates should be enough to satisfy the raging Valentine’s beast. But that’s only if she’s under the age of 17.

4) Never, ever give that same gift to a committed girlfriend, fiancée or wife, unless you want to learn the real meaning of regret.

5) Those commercials on TV for giant stuffed Teddy Bears are cute and funny, but don’t expect to see a 10,000-megawatt smile on your lady friend’s face when you hand her this gift. This mammoth dust-collector takes up an entire couch and should be expected to pay rent if he’s going to live with her full time.

If he intends to get a job, then maybe....

If he intends to get a job, then maybe….

6) When your girlfriend, wife or mother says, “Don’t get me flowers. I don’t need flowers!” what she really means is, “of course I don’t need flowers, but I’m saying this so we can keep up the element of surprise. You don’t need a big screen TV, but that didn’t stop you!”

7) Appliances are not romantic gifts. If you buy one for your girlfriend (even boyfriends don’t want one), you are not romantic. You’re lazy! Wait until February 15 to buy her that new coffeemaker. You won’t be sorry.

8) If you live in the tropics or are a small child, by all means gather up a freshly picked bouquet of flowers and feel good about yourself. All others: call a florist.

9) Don’t have much money? Put even the smallest amount of effort into the gift, and you will be thanked tenfold. If her favorite romantic movie of all time is Sleepless in Seattle, buy her the DVD or download the movie, cook her dinner (chicken Kiev or chicken nuggets, doesn’t matter as long as you try) and sacrifice one night of torture watching that chick flick for a gift that gives you romantic street cred.

A little romance

A little romance

10) Remember this Golden Rule: if your sweetheart works in an office and every other woman in the office gets flowers AND SHE DOESN’T, you will be in trouble. Don’t be that guy.

I have always enjoyed hearing others tell me about their Valentine’s Day gifts. The champagne/flowers,/engagement ring/best Valentine’s Day of my life stories are always lovely and charming, but give me a good old cried all night/crash-and-burn/fiery conflagration/worst Valentine’s Day of my life story, and I’m all ears.

From my many years of listening, observing, and oh yeah, being a girl, I have heard about (and lived through) many terrible Valentine’s Days. Here is a very unscientific poll of the worst Valentine’s Day gifts ever:

For the Ladies….

  • Mini-Vacuum
  • Toaster
  • Vest
  • Galoshes
  • Umbrella
  • Hats
  • Bag of M&Ms
  • Framed baby photo—of boyfriend!
  • Tickets to a wrestling match
  • Dead Flowers
  • No Flowers
  • Nothing

For the Men…

  • Frames
  • Ties
  • Shirt
  • DVD of any rom-com or chick flick
  • Key chains
  • Gloves
  • Flowers
  • Car Wax
  • Gift certificate for mani/pedi
  • Candles
  • Book of Love Poems
  • Downloads of your (note: not his. He doesn’t care) favorite romantic songs

I’ve gotten my fair share of terrible gifts in my time. Yes, that framed baby photo of the boyfriend was mine. I think I would’ve preferred a tee-shirt that said “I’m With Stupid!”

This would've been a better gift

This would’ve been a better gift

Luckily, I am blessed with a husband who is kind, considerate, and doesn’t listen to me when I tell him not to get me flowers. I have also gotten my fair share of terrific gifts, and even though they are not as funny as the bad ones, here’s a story about one of my favorites.

When I was 8, I took a bad fall. I had to wear a neck brace, suffered a terrible concussion, and sported a lovely, eggplant-shaped bruise on my face. My inability to walk around without getting dizzy and throwing up meant I had to stay in bed for 3 weeks.

Don't try this at home.

Don’t try this at home.

February 14th fell during that time, and I was feeling down since I thought I wouldn’t be getting any Valentine’s Day cards that year. But lo and behold, my 3rd grade teacher had all of my classmates make cards and write me letters. Mostly, they said: “Get Well Maria!” and “Come back soon! We miss you!” But here are the two that I enjoyed the most, for very different reasons.

Dear Maria:

I would’ve never sent you this card, but Mrs. G. made me do it. The class is much quieter without you and I can get a lot of work done. I don’t miss you but I am sorry you broke your head. See you soon.

Thomas

Then there was this one:

Dear Dear Dear Dear Maria,

Life just isn’t as much fun without you. I haven’t laughed once since you’ve been gone. There’s no one to share my snack with at snack time, and Mary Beth keeps playing her flute and singing “Kumbayah” but you’re not here to laugh along with me! Get better and come back soon. I miss you!

Here is some money to get you through. Have Chris go get you some Wacky Packs to keep you company while you rest.

Love XXOOXX,

Perette

P.S. Don’t listen to Thomas. He’s an idiot.

Change is good!

Change is good!

Perette taped $1 in change to my card, which was also decorated with hearts, flowers, kittens and puppies. She knew I was a sucker for kittens and puppies. $1 was enough for 4 wacky packs, so Chris and I could share. We sat in my bed and howled with laughter over our cards. Then, we almost broke our teeth on the hard-as-wood gum that came along with it. Those were good times and resulted in one of the best Valentine’s Days ever.

Gotta love 'em

Gotta love ’em

So Hungry Lifers…what’s your favorite Valentine’s memory? Best gift? Worst? Please help me continue my unscientific research and let us all know by leaving a comment below.  Thanks!

Recipe:

Chicken Kiev

chicken kiev

Yes, Valentine’s Day is over, but there’s a long weekend ahead. Go ahead and cook—and start earning those brownie points all over again.

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/chicken-kiev-recipe/index.html

Have the butcher butterfly the breasts for you and pound them to 1/8” thickness if you can’t do it yourself.

Enjoy!

December 22, 2011

Christmas Gifts

Filed under: Family,Food,food, family, fun, laughter,Uncategorized — talesfromahungrylife @ 7:34 am
Tags: , , , , ,

by Maria Lagalante Schulz

There was something magical about shopping for Christmas gifts that was so exciting when I was a child. I didn’t have a lot of money and I had scores of people to buy for—including my parents, brothers, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and friends.

My favorite shopping destinations in Bayside back then were Springfield Boulevard, Bell Boulevard, and in Flushing, it was Main Street (of course!).

After school, I would go shopping on Springfield with my friends, Ann and Maureen, and we would scour the aisles of small boutiques or larger drug stores to find gifts for everyone on our list. We would duck into Joe’s Pizzeria for a slice or two and a coke before walking home in the dark.

Other days, I’d head down Bell Boulevard with Chris, Joey and Paul, and we would search for scarves, gloves, statues, knick-knacks, costume jewelry, comic books, games and toys for our family members.

I loved how the Christmas decorations stretched high above and across the streets of Bell, with twinkling, lit wreaths and bows. Every store was decorated and music was always playing. As the temperatures dropped, I’d pull my coat closer to me and watch my breath come out in great billows of smoke as I and ran from store to store.

Searching for a parking spot and fighting with someone else over it never even entered my head. I couldn’t drive, and we walked everywhere. If I had wanted to go to a mall, I would’ve had to take two buses down to Queens Boulevard. Why spend my very meager funds on bus fare when I could walk?

On weekends, I would go with my mother and grandmother to shop on Main Street. We walked with our arms linked together, like monkeys in a barrel, as we headed towards our shopping adventures.

There were bargain bins to rifle through in Alexander’s, where we might find beautiful handbags or shawls. Then we would go into Korvettes where Chris and I would happily give my grandmother suggestions for gifts in the overstocked toy department.

Another favorite shopping destination for us was the Flea Market. Whether it was the Roosevelt Raceway flea market or the one at St. Robert’s, we showed up with our dollar bills crushed in our gloved hands, ready to find better gifts then Santa himself.

My sister-in-law Kathie would drive my mother, brothers and me to the Raceway. We would walk around in the cold outside for hours, and eventually work our way inside, searching for inspiration on a budget.

I would scan the stalls for things my family might enjoy. Anything Beatles-related was perfect for Jude; sweaters and flannel tops were good for Tony and Louie; albums and comic books were great for Joey, Paul and Chris. My father liked anything that had to do with Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart and the Yankees, while my mother was easy to please with soft sweaters, gold earrings or a shawl.

The St. Robert’s flea market had different kinds of finds. Chris and I would pool our money together and buy religious gifts for our parents or fun, kitschy gifts for the others. There was Golden Rule decorative plates, 8-track tapes of Gospel Music, statues of Mary and Jesus, or statues that said things like “World’s Best Grandma” or “World’s Best Golfer” there for the taking.

As Christmas roared towards us, I would head to Genovese Drugs on Bell Blvd. I had learned early on that the older people in the family liked getting cologne and perfume for Christmas, and that was great, because you could get gift sets for only a few dollars. Uncle Sal was always pleased with a Soap-on-a-Rope set, and I would run down there to get it before any of my brothers beat me to it. Uncle Don and Uncle Nick would enjoy Brut or Old Spice. Then of course, it was time to shop for my grandmothers.

Nonnie, Maria, Nonnie

The Christmas that I was 16, I had a part-time job that paid me a handsome $3.15 an hour (before taxes) and I managed to get gifts for everyone except for my two grandmothers. With just $10 left in my pocket, I stood there in Genovese Drug Stores searching for something I could afford for both of them.

My head spun with possibilities in the perfume aisle. My father’s mom loved Taboo perfume, and I could get a gift set for $7.99. My mother’s mother loved Jean Nate, and I could get her a gift set for $7.99. The problem was, I couldn’t get them both a gift–and this left me wringing my hands.

If I got the Taboo for Nonni on the Car (nicknamed this by a very wise young Jude because, well, she drove), I would make her feel loved and happy. Or, I could get the Jean Nate set for Nanny on the Bus (okay, you guessed it: she took the bus). But if I only got one gift and left the other one out, I would fuel all the jealousy and fighting that had been going on over me since the day I was born.

Both of my grandmothers suspected that I liked the other one better, and our family photo albums were filled with pictures of us all smiling, awkwardly, into the camera as my two grandmothers tried to hug me just a little bit harder.

I kept counting my money, wishing it would magically multiply and I would be able to make them both happy. I really didn’t favor one over the other. Mostly I loved them both, and sometimes I couldn’t stand either of them. I just didn’t want this to turn into the first missile launched in the great ” Bay of Grandmothers ” Fiasco I seemed powerless to stop.

Just as I had decided to make neither of them happy, an elderly lady came up to my side.

“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” the blue-haired lady said to me.

I frowned. “I need to get my grandmothers a gift, but I only have enough money to buy one gift. Someone is going to get mad. So I have to make them both unhappy.”

The lady laughed and squeezed my shoulder. “I’m sure your grandmothers will understand,” she assured me.

I shook my head as I put the Jean Nate and Taboo sets back. “You don’t know my grandmothers.” I replied.

I started to walk away, when the blue-haired lady tapped me on the shoulder. “Someone as pretty as you shouldn’t be frowning so close to Christmas. Here,” she said, as she handed me $10. “Make both of your grandmothers happy.”

“I can’t take this,” I said, but she just waved me off and walked away. I ran over to her and gave her a hug. “Thank you!”

I heard her laughing while I paid for my two gift sets and left the store. I did it fast, before she had the chance to change her mind.

Many Christmas seasons later, I can still remember that woman’s blue hair, twinkling blue eyes and wonderful laugh. No, she didn’t buy me the shoes I needed so my dying mother could look pretty for meetin’ Jesus, but she did make me realize how easy it is to be kind.

That’s what I try to remember whenever I hear stories about people spraying mace into other peoples’ eyes on Black Friday or stampeding over workers in their mad dash to get cheap flat screen TVs.

This year, my husband, girls and I went shopping on Main Street in Huntington. All of the stores were decorated, lights were shining, and we managed to get some very beautiful gifts (all wrapped by the people who worked there! How great is that?). We ducked into Starbuck’s for hot chocolate and cookies in between, and then went back outside, clutching our coats to our chests as great billows of smoke came out of our mouths.

Now it feels like Christmas.

Recipe:

Here’s a recipe for Hot Chocolate that also makes a great gift! It’s perfect for those of you who are on a budget and love making something special for the people you love:

Mocha au Lait

http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Mocha-au-Lait-Mix/Detail.aspx

Here’s another recipe that you can use to as a homemade gift:

Christmas Cookies in a Jar

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/christmas-cookies-in-a-jar/detail.aspx

So what’s your favorite memory of Christmas shopping? What do you love—and hate—most about it? Please post a comment and let us all know.

Merry Christmas!

November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving Memories

By Maria Lagalante Schulz

I can’t believe that Thanksgiving is here again. As the year rolls by, I’m reminded about all of the things that I have in my life to be thankful for. Everyone knows that they’re supposed to say “I’m most thankful for my family/friends/job/house/food on the table,” etc. Let’s just say that’s a given where I’m concerned. I don’t need a holiday where you stuff your face to remind me that I have been really blessed, although I’m glad that’s the national activity.

I've got a lot to be thankful for

So here are the Top Ten Things I’m Grateful for This Thanksgiving:

10. Occupy Wall Street has been allowed to protest

Our rights in action

 

Whether you embrace or reject this movement’s tenets and ideals, you have to be proud of our country. Our rights to Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly have been on display, and the people who hold all the cards—the money, the access to cronies in government, and oh yeah, the money—didn’t use their power to have everyone shot.  Not every country is so lucky. For all those people who grumble that the protesters should just shut up or go away, remember this: our country was founded by people who were willing to fight for the very rights that the Occupy Wall Street protesters are exercising today.

 

 

9. Dancing With the Stars is on again, and a former Veteran who almost lost his life fighting for our country is the best dancer on the floor

If you’re anything like me, you may feel pretty down some days because you don’t look your best or you feel crummy. So here comes J.R. Martinez, a young veteran who suffered severe smoke inhalation, horrendous burns over 40% of his body, and endured 33 surgeries after he drove over a landmine in Iraq.

But does he whine or complain, or talk about how the dancing bothers his old injuries? No, never. He gets out there with his dance partner, Karina, and dances his heart out. He is the most positive, beautiful person on that dance floor—and what makes it even better is the dude can dance. The finals are this week, and while I hope he beats out Ricki Lake and Rob Kardashian, I will find him inspiring either way for a long time to come.

8. No matter how much turmoil and strife there is out there, life is always beautiful at Disney World

The happiest place on earth

 

Everyone’s dancing and singing, fireworks go off constantly, and life’s a parade at Walt Disney World. You can raise a glass and sing along with the Oompah Band in Germany or learn how to belly dance in Morocco in Epcot’s World Showcase. Lilo and Stitch can’t wait to hug you, Goofy is on hand for some laughs, and Mickey Mouse is thrilled to see you! Of course, as my husband says, Mickey’s favorite game is “open your wallet and leave all the cash here,” but it’s still the happiest place on earth, as long as you keep the visit short enough.

 

 

7. Sister Margaret is not my 7th grade teacher any more

I failed to appreciate the beauty of having a psycho as my homeroom teacher, but let me tell you, it was all good stuff. When I was suffering through her arbitrary and unfounded hatred, I had no idea that I was gaining life skills that would serve me well throughout adulthood.

Back when I was young, I really liked almost everyone I went to school with. We were a small group who seemed to be in a world of pain, but we were in it together. Sister Margaret gave us tremendous material to use, and laugh about, for years to come. I now understand that she was a lonely person who lived with a lot of regrets, and she took that out on us.

I try to be compassionate to the other “Sister Margarets” in my life today. I also try to get a lot of material out of them for future laughs.

6. Writing is still the thing that I love to do

When I first realized that I was going to be a writer some day, I had a cheerleader in my life named Mr. Reines who would say, “you’re going to do great things!” He imagined me becoming the next Anne Tyler; published by the time I was 24 and taking the world by storm. Well, Mr. Reines is long gone, and so is my chance to get published by 24. But that’s okay. Even if I never go on to write a bestseller or the great American novel, I write because I love it and it makes me happy. Maybe I won’t be the next Anne Tyler. But I can still be the next Grandma Moses.

5. Sometimes, real love shows itself in the worst situations

Yes, it’s fun to watch romantic comedies and remember that feeling of falling in love. But everyone knows that feeling doesn’t last. It’s great to begin with, but you have to build something more substantial.

Real love shows itself when you care for someone who is sick or vulnerable and you pay more attention to his comfort and feelings then you do to your own. It shows its face when someone you love gets snubbed by friends or gets their heart broken, and you feel the pain along with them.

The movie “Yours, Mine and Ours” starring Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda explains this concept perfectly. In one of the final scenes, the mom’s daughter is thinking of sleeping with her boyfriend and the Dad is struggling to get the mom to the hospital to have her millionth baby.

This family makes mine seem small

Colleen North: [Helen is in labor and they’re trying to get her out the door and to the hospital] I know this is a terrible time to talk about it, but Larry says…
Frank Beardsley: I’ve got a message for Larry. You tell him this is what it’s all about. This is the real happening. If you want to know what love really is, take a look around you.
Helen North: What are you two talking about?
Frank Beardsley: Take a good look at your mother.
Helen North: Not now!
Frank Beardsley: Yes, now.
[To Colleen]
Frank Beardsley: It’s giving life that counts. Until you’re ready for it, all the rest is just a big fraud. All the crazy haircuts in the world won’t keep it turning. Life isn’t a love in, it’s the dishes and the orthodontist and the shoe repairman and ground round instead of roast beef. And I’ll tell you something else: it isn’t going to a bed with a man that proves you’re in love with him; it’s getting up in the morning and facing the drab, miserable, wonderful everyday world with him that counts.
[Leaving the house, they say good-bye to the little kids]
Frank Beardsley: I suppose having 19 kids is carrying it a bit too far, but if we had it to do over who would we skip… you?
Helen North: [getting into the car] Thank you, Frank. I never quite knew how to explain it to her.
Frank Beardsley: If we don’t get you to the hospital fast, the rest of it’s going to be explained right here!

I’m so grateful that I have someone by my side to face the drab, miserable, wonderful world.

4. Friends who have always made my life an adventure

When I was six years old, I was facing life for the first time without my twin brother beside me. Of course, he was right next-door, but I was terrified that I wouldn’t make any friends without him and his charming, funny self there beside me.

I remember the first time I saw Perette Murphy. She had pigtails, a perpetual smile on her face, and a ready laugh. I remember thinking that I would like to be friends with her, and lucky me, we became friends during the school year.

Perette would bring me home to her house, where her three sisters did a lot of yelling, crying, and screaming. Life with four girls was so different then life with six boys. For one thing, my brothers never cried. To start crying in their presence would have been like jumping into shark-infested waters holding a bucket full of chum.

The Murphy girls could cut you to ribbons with one sidelong glance and a comment about how fat or ugly you were. My brothers could be mean, but one minute, they were hitting you in the head and the next, they were laughing at your jokes. Perette’s sisters seemed to get angry and hold grudges, and they confused me.

Perette and her sisters were the ones who taught me how to hold my own in an entirely new situation, and how to even enjoy myself there. And several decades later, I’m still so thankful to be friends with that little pig-tailed girl.

3. Thanksgiving may get the bum’s rush, but I love celebrating it anyway

The big retail chains out there can’t wait to rush headlong into Christmas. I have been getting Black Friday offers since July, and when I was in Party City the week before Halloween, they had the Christmas displays ready to unveil—and that was October 20!

I refuse to let Thanksgiving pass me by without observing some traditions that I thoroughly enjoy. I love watching A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and still get excited when I see it advertised, even though I’ve had the DVD for years. Peppermint Patty reminds me of a lot of people I’ve known over the years, especially when she invites herself over for dinner and then complains about the menu. Hey, I think she has been to my house on Thanksgiving!

Popcorn and toast, anyone?

This time out, it’s Marci who plays the wise old soul (doing an admirable, Linus-like job) when she reminds Peppermint Patty that she invited herself, and owes Charlie Brown an apology. I think Marci is the best, even if she doesn’t seem to have eyeballs.

My husband, girls and I also love watching Planes, Trains and Automobiles on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving. I loved John Candy from back in his SCTV days, and he never fails to crack me up. The fact that he’s teamed up with Steve Martin, who I loved from the day he wore that headdress and sang “King Tut” on Saturday Night Live, means guaranteed laughs.

Who's been sleeping in my bed?

As annoying as John Candy’s character may be, I can’t help but like him. I enjoy Steve Martin’s straight man routine and find every ridiculous situation that they plunge into completely hysterical. My favorite quote from the movie is: “Those aren’t pillows!”

If I’m very lucky, I catch The March of the Wooden Soldiers on television the morning of Thanksgiving. I love Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy; their timing is hilarious and they still make me laugh like it’s the first time I’m watching that movie. I also loved Stan Laurel because he reminded me of my Great-Uncle Sal; he was quiet and contemplative, but had some of the best lines in the movie. You could always count on Uncle Sal to come out with jokes well worth waiting for at the Thanksgiving table.

Finally, I love watching The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. While I cook and bake, I watch the parade go by, keeping track of the floats and the imminent arrival of “the big guy.”

My father used to tell me to go downstairs and bring up my brother Jude to watch Santa’s arrival in Herald Square. Many years, I risked death at Jude’s hands because he was usually sleeping his big night off and was in no mood to see Santa, or any other living creature. Jude knew enough to come up, though, because if he didn’t, my father might just bang pots next to his head until he changed his mind.

2. I understand the importance of being prepared

When I was a little girl, Thanksgiving started in earnest for us about 4 days ahead of time. That’s when my mother would start cleaning, and I’d be sent out to the living room to dust the shelves, mantel and furniture, vacuum the carpets with baking soda, put away the piles and piles of paper that a house full of pack rats always accumulates, clean the bathrooms and start setting the table. Our one goal was to hear my grandmother come through the door and say, “Wow! The house looks so clean and doesn’t smell doggie.” That was the prize.

On the night before Thanksgiving, Mom and I would use a recipe we had from one of my Charlie Brown cookbooks and bake homemade bread. We’d make the dough and set it in bowls with a damp paper towel over it so that it would rise overnight.

So good

The next morning, I’d hear Mom get up while it was still dark to put the 20+ pound turkey in the oven. I’d come out to join her by about 7 am, when we would knead the dough and set it to rise. My mother would pull a tray of lasagna out of the fridge and we’d put that in the oven too. Then we’d baste the turkey, start making the sides, bake cakes and pies, and finally bake the bread.

The house smelled like bread, roasting meat, and lasagna, with an added layer of cakes, cookies and pies.

As the morning wore on, my father would run into the kitchen and yell, “Maria, Santa Claus is almost here! Go wake up Jude.”

See above.

1. I know who I’d invite to my Thanksgiving dinner

For me, Thanksgiving was always the holiday that meant family and friends around a great big dining room table, lots of loud arguments and laughter, and my mother’s wonderful cooking.

I can still see my Uncle Don carving the turkey, because my father had a knack of hacking it to bits. My grandmother would be laughing herself to tears over some story that Uncle Sal was telling from his vaudeville days. My mother would be running back and forth to the kitchen and then, finally, sitting down to join us.

My father, mother and brothers were shouting over one another, telling stories about their jobs, the gigs at nightclubs with New York’s Unemployed, and school. My grandmother would tell us about life as the president of her Senior Citizens Group and Uncle Don would describe how much he hated helping women try on shoes. Chris and I would jump in with our own stories about St. Robert’s or our favorite TV shows, like Barney Miller, All in the Family, or Dallas.

Sometimes, my parents would also include friends who didn’t have a place to go on Thanksgiving. Then, we’d add a second or third table that stretched out into the living room, and the noise level rivaled that of a jumbo jet. Ten different conversations were going on, and all of them were funny. I can still hear my Uncle Don laughing today.

Uncle Don, laughing

I wish sometimes that my girls and husband could come with me to Thanksgiving back when I was a kid. The table was cramped and you could barely move, but the food was wonderful, the conversation was rollicking and everybody seemed to be having a good time.

It’s hard for me to believe that my kids never knew my Uncle Sal, and don’t really have enough happy memories of my grandmother, Uncle Don, or my mother. They are so much a part of me that it seems like we should all be able to sit down together and share a Thanksgiving celebration.

I feel like my little family has missed out. But then I realize that my girls are lucky to have lots of first cousins, aunts and uncles on both sides, and we get to see them all over the Holidays. I hope one day they will be able to remember them all laughing and having a wonderful time.

And that’s what Thanksgiving is really all about, Charlie Brown.

Recipe

My Charlie Brown Lunch Bag Cookbook has a very simple bread recipe that my mother and I used to break out every year. Go ahead and try it—you’ll like it!

This bread is delicious

All-Star White Bread

1 package dry yeast

¼ cup warm water

1-cup milk

1-cup water

3 tablespoons butter

5 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons salt

6 ½ cups white flour

Dissolve yeast in ¼ cup warm water. Warm milk, 1-cup water, and butter together. Put into large mixing bowl. Add sugar and salt. Mix well. Add yeast (if the milk mixture is hot, allow it to cool before adding yeast). Add flour slowly, stirring constantly. Knead dough for 10 minutes. Set aside in a greased bowl in a warm place. Turn dough so all sides are greased. Cover bowl with a damp cloth. Let rise 1 ½ hours or until double in bulk. Punch down and knead for several minutes. Shape into 3 loaves and place in greased pans. Allow to rise until double in bulk. Bake at 450° for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350° and continue to bake for 35-45 minutes.

So hungry lifers…what are you most grateful for this Thanksgiving? Do you have a funny Thanksgiving memory to share? Post a comment below and let us all in on the fun.

Happy Thanksgiving!