Yorkshire Pudding is not pudding

I’ve got to admit, I didn’t know what Yorkshire pudding was either until my wife made some for a fancy meal years ago. We were entertaining a real food snob and Alex wanted to impress. Well, impress she did, as this guy had never had Yorkshire pudding outside of a restaurant.

So yesterday we were shopping for our Christmas meal and we got a standing rib roast. Just watching the butcher carve this beautiful meat, we decided to have him set aside a small portion for us to cook that very evening.

My wife is the chef and I am almost her sous chef. I prep stuff and clean dishes like no one’s business, but apparently that doesn’t get me the title of sous chef. According to Alex, I have to learn to actually put something together without her guidance, but exactly the way she would do it, before I can claim any such title.

I know my way around a kitchen, waited tables in some fine restaurants, and can even order in French when I have to, but I do not have the cooking finesse of my wife. The first thing I ever cooked her was a hastily broiled pork chop (yes I said broiled– I didn’t have a grill at the time). My second attempt was a pan-fried salmon, to only find out afterward she doesn’t like salmon. Third time was not a charm, as I did chicken and onions and zucchini with a Dijon-mayo sauce wrapped in tinfoil to cook. Maybe it was the presentation on that one, as the chicken came out pretty moist.

But I have yet to master Alex’s nuances. And trying to help someone like that is like trying to help Van Gogh paint. I’ll just clean those brushes for you, okay Vince?

I watched as Alex whipped up a couple eggs in a bowl, added some flour, and some milk. Then she turned to her magical spice drawers and grabbed a pinch of this and a pinch of that to add to the bowl before putting it in the fridge. Later, she pulled out the roast and told me to place the empty cupcake-looking pan in the still hot oven. “It’s empty,” I said. “I know,” she answered, as she does when I say something stupid. A few minutes later she had taken the drippings from the roast and had me remove the empty cupcake-like vessel so she could add a little pan dripping to the bottom of each cup. She then grabbed the cold egg, milk, flour and magic spice mix from the fridge and filled each cup with this concoction.

I saw all of that happen right in front of me, and I still don’t know if I could execute it. I did, however, help eat those perfectly puffed “puddings.” All of them. They don’t save, I swear.

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Going Grinch

In LA, we lived one neighborhood over from a place seasonally dubbed “Candy Cane Lane.” Come December, it’s a Christmas wonderland. Cars line up for miles to drive through. I couldn’t imagine buying a house there say in July with no clue, then December 1’st you open your front door to find yourself in Whoville.

Any other time of year, it looked like any other Valley neighborhood with ranch homes, two-story Spanish redos, and garage conversions… which is what always got me: Without garages (or basements for that matter- LA doesn’t do basements) where did they store all the Christmas stuff? There were thirty-foot Santa’s, autonomatronic elf shops, working trains, and lots of smoke and mirrors. And the amazing thing was that these people did the work mostly themselves. Granted, many of them either worked in the entertainment industry, or knew people who did, so getting all the smoke and mirrors was not that difficult.

Now that we are out here in the Atlanta suburbs, it looks beautiful this time of year. There are classy white bulbs following impossible-to-reach roof peaks, giant snowflakes lit up in giant maple trees, and icicle-lights dripping down many a house. But this stuff is done by professional lighting companies, not homeowners.

Our first year here, Alex said she wanted lights out front, so I put a horizontal strand above our front porch. “Can’t you get them to follow the shape of the house?” she asked after not being too impressed with my first offering. “Well, yeah, if I had a thirty-foot ladder, a helmet, and some climbing gear,” I only half-joked while looking up at our high-peaked roof. So, I did what I thought was the next best thing and wrapped our front trees with lights as high as I could (fortunately they were still young and relatively short trees). A few hours later I proudly showed off my work. “Nice,” Alex said, but I got a whiff of patronization. “Hey, we can’t all afford a lighting crew,” I said.

We used to make fun of Candy Cane Lane. It was tacky, but I kind of miss that “do-it-yourself” spirit. In fact, after realizing I’d never be able to keep up with the Jones’ out here, I asked Alex if we could go the opposite direction and steal a page from the Candy Cane Lane playbook. There was a family there who was either really fed up, or possibly Jewish and didn’t celebrate the holiday, who simply put a Grinch in their front window and lit it up with a spotlight so it was the only thing you saw at that house, sitting amongst all the crazy colored lights and moving giant objects of a Candy Cane Lane Christmas.

We bought a Grinch and everything, but Alex said no, not going to happen. I’m keeping the Grinch just in case she changes her mind though. Better shop for a good spotlight too.

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The Elephant Under the Christmas Palm Tree

Our first Christmas in Atlanta, Alex wanted to go all-out with the decorations. The problem was, we only had enough decorations for an average size home like the one we’d just left in LA, where our Christmas tree was a fake palm tree (more room for presents underneath, I’d say).

Our Atlanta home was much larger. Like a friend told us when we bought it: “You buy an elephant, you’ve got to feed an elephant.” He couldn’t have been more accurate.

The first thing we fed this elephant was bark. A few months earlier, when our pine straw started to thin and turn gray we got a nasty-gram from the neighborhood association.

People in Atlanta use pine straw in their islands– the areas of yard that aren’t grass or bushes—to keep down the weeds and pretty up the dirt (or red clay). The reason I was surprised by this nasty-gram was our islands were thinning and turning a bit gray, but they certainly weren’t weed infested. Either way, the all-powerful neighborhood association threatened fines, so I went looking for pine straw.

Alex, being much smarter in these matters, suggested we look at bark: “It’s more expensive, but the pine straw will just thin out and turn gray again within 6 months, bark will last for a year or two at least.” We ended up with a dump truck full of bark on our driveway that we thought we could disperse without any help. A week later with the driveway still blocked, we called some laborers.

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Who knew when calculating expenses to figure in pine straw or bark? This was going to be a lean year.

So here I was up on a ladder, hanging Christmas lights on the gutter. Alex noticed the neighbors had their lights all the way up to the peaks, and she wanted to know why we couldn’t do the same. “Famous last words,” I said as I explained to her that our 10 foot ladder would not begin to get me to our 40 foot peaks, and I wasn’t about to climb our steeply angled roof.

Hiring someone to help was also out of the question. The lighting business, like the lawn-mowing business, here in the tony suburbs of north Atlanta was elaborate and expensive– and not just for the holidays: There were every-night spotlights for everything from trees and bushes, to the architectural features of your home and even roof peeks.

The best I could do was a straight line of icicle lights across the front gutters. I wasn’t real impressed with my low wattage effort, and suggested we just put our stuffed Grinch in the window with a spotlight on it instead—no other decorations necessary. Alex actually gave the idea a second of thought, but didn’t bite.

We shopped for a tree, but couldn’t swallow the cost and hassle of a real one. “Why don’t we bring a little So-Cal to Atlanta?” I suggested. Alex laughed, and surprisingly said yes to the fake palm. This turned out to be the Christmas item of ours that everyone agreed was the coolest, and one that we continue to use to this day.

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Ornament Exchanges, Gun Clubs and Steel Magnolias

Being new to Atlanta and all, my wife and I decided to be social and not turn down too many offers. This led to some interesting outings. Mine were pretty standard like men’s poker, steak night or sports related gatherings. Alex’s got a little out there.

The ladies ornament and cookie exchange had her working in our kitchen all day to turn out cookies that Martha Stewart would have approved, only to get in return an assortment of child-made concoctions with sprinkles. There was even a redneck cookie of the likes she’d never seen—a saltine dipped in some sort of waxy chocolate (don’t get me wrong, I tried every cookie she brought home—we were trying new things after all).

The event was an all-women ordeal, and being a neighborhood with new construction, not everyone was acquainted. The hostess told the ladies to stand up and introduce themselves stating name, how many kids, and something interesting. Alex was already feeling the pressure just being with all these new people, but now she had to be on the spot in the spotlight. Since we don’t have kids, she mentioned our cats, and since she didn’t like to brag or name-drop she did not mention the time she met Michael Jackson at a private party in a Turkish penthouse, but said something about us just moving here from California.

The ornament exchange part of the evening turned into a somewhat nasty affair. Everyone brought a gift-wrapped ornament, and put it in a pile on the table. Numbers were drawn, and number one chose a gift off the table at random, then number two had to decide rather to steal the one just opened, or grab from the unopened pile on the table. This whole thing involved stealing and coveting and scheming to get the ornament you wanted to go home with, not to mention the shame if your ornament was one that nobody wanted.

The apex of interesting outings, however, had to be the book club/gun club combo. Most book clubs seem to turn into either a wine or gossip-fest. In Georgia they up the ante with firearms. Sometimes saying yes to everything makes you vet stuff a little less than you normally would, so Alex was more than surprised when her book club ride pulled into the local gun range. Yes, these were genteel, book-reading women, but they could also handle a gun: That’s one definition of a steel magnolia for ya’.

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