Ah, the holidays. The season has arrived when one can turn on the TV at any given time and see biting weather forecasts, flight delays and Angel Tree thefts. Not to mention the open houses and secret Santa gift exchanges with people you’d rather avoid.
The cheer only lasts a month. Enjoy it at your own peril.
More than a week ago, as I drove by the local outlet of a national electronics retailer, I saw what amounted to a semi-primitive campsite to the east side of the entrance. Did the business have some sort of promotion going on? Had times become so bad for the fledgling company that they began offering camping locations on their sidewalks? Nope. It was just someone securing his place in line for Black Friday, the busiest retail shopping day of the year — called such because it’s the day that retailers expect to make it ‘into the black’ for the fiscal year.
For whatever reason, driving to the local Walgreens between Thanksgiving and Christmas is akin to skating on an ice-covered pond in 70-degree weather.
There are still plenty of us who count on couriers to drop our gifts at our doorsteps, but we still must venture out for unimportant things such as food, toiletries, prescriptions and such. For whatever reason, driving to the local Walgreens between Thanksgiving and Christmas is akin to skating on an ice-covered pond in 70-degree weather.
Not only are motorists surlier than normal during these few weeks, many of them seem to become colorblind — not realizing the difference between green and red. Their depth perception also declines tremendously, as they tend to ride within six inches of the next car’s bumper. And God forbid that poor Grandma Grunt should have to go the market for her supply of prune juice. Even the thick metal and glass of her garage-kept 1967 Buick aren’t thick enough to mute the profanity and horns that she’ll hear when she accidentally leaves her turn signal on for a mile or three.
I pretty much lost interest in decorating the Christmas tree at about age … zero. Even as a child, arguments ensued over eggnog and hot chocolate as Dad tried to figure out the culprit bulb. It never ended pretty, although the tree looked good most years. And nothing’s changed. Even this year, as the family placed seasonal accoutrements old and new on the tree, there were debates about who gets to hang the candy canes — as if there weren’t 50 pieces.
As for lights on the house, I did that. Once. It was 1995. Who knew that using a staple gun would short out eight hours of cheek-freezing lip-chapping work? Never again.
But we still make an annual journey to see the lighting work of others. We usually begin with high hopes — Christmas music and hot chocolate in the car — and wrap it up when one child has been discovered listening to pop music via some hidden headphones and another begins screaming about not wanting to be ‘touched’ in the back seat. Ah, the memories of being distracted and nearly rear-ending other gawkers. Priceless.
I get a certain feeling of satisfaction when acquaintances see my stories come to life. Case in point: the family Christmas photo.
As a child I purposely screwed up more photos than I can remember. I’m probably one of the few people who received an old fashioned butt whipping on my birthday — I was 33. Seriously though, Dad was never happy when I faked blowing out the candles or crossed my eyes at the last possible second. It could’ve been that most of those photos were costly in an era of flash cubes and film.
My son, who turns 18 in a few months, had his own experience with my Dad about 10 years ago. And my wife was there to see the whole thing.
‘OK kids. Y’all smile,’ My dad ordered as Christopher, Brielle and Alexandra sat on our hearth in their Christmas attire.
‘Heeee..’ Chris blurted out, trying to be humorous.
‘That ain’t a damn bit funny Christopher,’ Dad barked. ‘I’m over here taking this picture for your mom and dad and don’t think I won’t whip you.’
The boy seemed to ignore his grandfather’s warning, despite that I stood in the background motioning to him otherwise. I’d also whispered to Catherine that Dad probably wouldn’t spank Chris as hard as he used to spank me, since he was becoming an old man.
‘Chris,’ I said ‘just smile for the picture and quit acting like a fool.’
But neither did my instructions work. The boy would need some old-school discipline and my father was just the man to instill it. — After a close face-to-face talk with my Dad, during which the boy felt the strength of the old man’s left hand as he pulled him away from the fireplace, Chris changed his demeanor.
And now our family albums feature a photo — taken with a digital camera — of a teary-eyed boy who’s faking a smile. I (truly) feel his pain.
Yes, the holiday season hovers over us like a Scotch-drinking Santa or named Nor’easter. Joy. Joy. Joy.
Want to receive notifications of my Confessions in your email? Just click here. I’d also love for you to join me on Facebook (click the ‘like’ button), Pinterest and Google+. — Special thanks to Megan E. ‘Water Ain’t Just for Drinking’ Hawkins at The Underground Writer for editing this piece.
I rarely taste (chain) restaurant food that I want to duplicate. This is one of the few.
Austin-based Schlotzsky’s is mainly a southern eatery, though they are scattered about the U.S. Except for Alvin Ord’s (a much smaller chain born out of a Schlotzsky’s business squabble), there is no place with such addicting bread. It’s crisp yet spongey. Light yet yeasty. Delicious in every sense of the word.
I was once told by a Schlotzsky’s franchisee that the proprietary bread recipe changes annually, depending on that year’s wheat crop and other variables. I’m not sure whether he was offering up gospel, or trying to ensure my continued patronage. Regardless of those so-called variables, this recipe is as close as they come to the $12 sandwiches served at Schlotzsky’s. In fact, I dare you to find a difference — other than the wrapper and the kid working the drive-thru.
Spot-onzsky Sandwiches (Schlotzsky’s Original® Copycat)
1 recipe – Sourdough starter
2½ cups – Bread flour
1 cup – Lukewarm milk
3 tsp – Granulated sugar
1 tsp – Kosher salt
1/2 tsp – Baking soda
2 TB – Cornmeal
2 TB – Sesame seeds (optional)
In a large bowl, combine milk, sugar, salt and baking soda. Add sourdough starter and mix well. Add flour in small amounts to sourdough mixture, combining well between additions (I use a stand mixer with a dough hook), until smooth.
Spray two 8-inch cake pans (I use the disposable version) liberally with non-stick spray. Scatter 1 TB of cornmeal in each pan. Flour hands (dough is very sticky) and divide dough in half. Place each half in a cake pan. – Don’t bother trying to spread dough to the edges, as this will take care of itself during rising. – Spray dough with non-stick spray, cover and put in a draft-free area to rise for about an hour.
Preheat oven to 375ºF.
Give the dough another light coating of non-stick spray. Scatter a TB of sesame seeds, if using, atop each bun. Bake on middle rack of oven until lightly golden and toothpick comes out clean from the center, about 18-20 minutes.
Allow buns to cool on rack for at least 15-20 minutes before slicing.
Shredded Iceberg Lettuce
Black Olives, chopped
Red Onion, sliced
1/4 cup (per sandwich):
- Shredded Sharp Cheddar
- Shredded Mozzarella
5 slices (per sandwich):
- Cotto Salami
- Genoa Salami
- Thinly-sliced Ham
Spread Cheddar on bottom half of bun, then top with black olives and salamis.
Spread top half lightly with mayonnaise and sprinkle lightly with garlic powder. Add Mozzarella, then ham.
Place both halves – open face – on a baking sheet and bake (in the 375ºF oven) until cheese has melted and meats are beginning to brown around edges, about 5-7 minutes.
On bottom half, add lettuce, onion and tomato. Douse with yellow mustard. Place halves together and slice into quarters.
Serve with your favorite chips (I like salt & vinegar potato chips with these. Not sure why.) Easily feeds 5 people.
2 cups – Lukewarm water (about 110ºF)
1½ tsp – Sugar
1 packet (1 TB) – Active dry yeast
2 cups – Bread (or all-purpose) flour
In a large bowl, combine water, sugar and yeast. Set aside until yeast blossoms (becomes foamy), about 5 minutes. If the mixture does not become foamy, discard and try again with fresher yeast. — Whisk in flour until mixture is smooth. Cover and place in a draft-free location for 8-12 hours. The resulting product should be bubbly. Use immediately (in this recipe) or refrigerate for later use.