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Archive for February, 2011

Movie lovers all over are waiting for Sunday for the granddaddy of all movie shows, the Oscars, and I’m one of them. I’ve watched the Oscars every year for as long as I can remember—always dreaming of the day I will walk up on that stage to receive the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. I’m still dreaming, but I’m pretty sure this fancy blog has carved out my path to greatness.

This year my friend Lori gets to attend the Oscars. Lucky! She has the best job ever and her production company just might be nominated for a Best Picture Award. And just a few weeks ago my friend Rachelle attended the Technical Achievement Academy Awards. And not too long ago, my friend Liz attended the Oscars herself. I can’t imagine a more deserving group, and I figure if I stay in their good graces, some of their honcho-ness will one day rub off on me.

So this Sunday evening, I’ll be parked in front of the TV and Jay will have to make and serve me dinner so I don’t miss a thing. I’m suddenly regretting posting the Creamed Corn Bake recipe…hopefully he’ll order a pizza.

When I was a kid we had an annual TV movie event at our house. After dinner we had to get cleaned up, put on our jammies and then form a line to have Mom put those old-fashioned prickly metal curlers in our hair. Once we were all curled up, we’d sprawl out in front of the TV on a big quilt to watch–wait for it–The Wizard of Oz!! It wasn’t like today where you can find it playing on TBS, or AMC or download it on Netflix to your computer. It came on ONCE a year, sometime around Easter. And you had better be ready! You could only go to the bathroom on the commercials…there was no pausing the remote. Remote? What was THAT?! Anyway, that movie was pure magic. Every kid was transported into the TV and skipped to the Emerald City right along with Dorothy. Well, except for the weenies who were scared by the Wicked Witch. Wimps.

While we watched that twister tear up Kansas, Mom would get to work in the kitchen. She would break out the big plastic electrical popcorn maker—that’s right kids…we didn’t have microwave popcorn back in the day. Microwave? What was THAT?! If you were a lucky rich kid, maybe your parents splurged on a Jiffy Pop so you could burn up your popcorn in that nifty little foil pan. But we had the old-fashioned popper, and I remember it was a nightmare to clean. Nobody wanted to wash that stupid greasy contraption…in fact Mom didn’t make us wash it, with that electrical cord hanging out and everything. Even when she did clean it, that greasy butter NEVER came off…there were permanent streaks on that orange plastic forever.

Mom had a secret ingredient for her popcorn. It wasn’t butter, it was Powdered Cheese in a can. And you know anything cheesy can’t be bad, and it wasn’t. We loved Cheesy Popcorn. Mom would serve it in the huge white metal pan with the red rim. It was the same metal pan that was used for soaking twisted elbows and ankles each summer. I had to psych myself up to eat the popcorn from it, because I always pictured someone’s foot sitting in it—no amount of bleach could make me believe I was safe from all those cooties. Not only that, it was the official Barf Pan, too, so you can imagine what else I pictured in it. If one of us was sick, that pan would sit on the floor next to our bed all night. It probably sat next to my bed on many occasions. See, on some days I would go outside and eat apricots off the tree in our backyard—to excess. This probably occurred every time Friday Night Casserole was on the menu for the evening (stay tuned for that future post), because hey, I had to eat something. Then in the middle of the night, I would puke up golden-colored apricot vomit all over my bedspread. My poor Mom–I’m guessing a few laundry loads of that and she trained us to roll over and barf into the pan. I wonder what happened to that old pan. Hmm…we probably buried it out in the backyard, next to the apricot tree.

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On a few occasions, most likely a Pay Day Friday, my family would go out for Chinese Food. That was pretty much the only Asian cuisine we knew of around the Vallejo suburbs back then. I specifically remember the Cathay Inn. Not a fan. Not that their food wasn’t good. Of course I wouldn’t know, the only thing I ever ate there were the deep-fried prawns. The only thing my family ever ate was the Sweet and Sour Pork and Chow Mein. However, this wasn’t your Sweet and Sour Pork and Chow Mein of today…I vaguely remember chunks of fat covered in limp bready stuff with bland red sauce and bean sprouts, maybe with a few noodles mixed in. I’m not sure the waitress ever handed us menus, because this is all we ever ordered. The prawns were a safe bet for my discerning palette, and even though I didn’t like fortune cookies (still don’t), at least there was the promise of a goofy fortune at the end of the meal.

I swore I hated Chinese Food until my sister, Coleen, dragged me to the Mandarin House in Napa as an adult and ordered Broccoli Chicken for me. I was in love. This was Chinese food??? What the hell were we eating as kids??? I don’t remember Orange Chicken!! Or potstickers!! Cashew Shrimp? Food, glorious food!!! Take me to a restaurant now, and all I want is Chinese, Japanese or Thai. Make it Asian please. Domo arigato!!

But I digress. When we couldn’t make it to the Cathay Inn, Mom had her version of Asian fare, and believe it or not, I think I actually enjoyed this one.

Ingredients:
• 4 packages of Top Ramen or any dried Asian noodles on sale. Alright, I’m exaggerating. Top Ramen probably cost 2-1/2 cents a package then, so I have a feeling my Mom splurged for it.
• Prepare the ramen in pot as directed.
• Don’t bother transferring the noodles to a big fancy serving dish–you don’t have one.

Prepare a few of these optional toppings:

Chopped green onions
Grated carrots
Chopped hard-boiled eggs
Cut up pieces of “Land-o-Frost” Pressed/Cooked Luncheon Meat
Sliced olives
Diced tomatoes
Chopped Spam
Canned peas
Raisins
Chopped canned green beans

Place each topping in its own special little bowl (substitute old margarine tubs as needed). Put the pot of Top Ramen in the middle of the table. Make sure to place it on the knitted potholder your youngest made for you in summer school. Space the little bowls equally around the pot (this is quite impressive if your kids’ friends come over for dinner). Put a teaspoon in each dish. Go to the small kitchen canister, dig your hand in past the stale saltine cracker packages and grab a handful of the soy sauce packets you saved from Chinese takeout. Place one at each table setting. Spoon some Top Ramen into each person’s dinner bowl, and let them dig into the toppings. If you want to make it extra special and expose the kids to some Japanese culture, be sure to turn on The Courtship of Eddie’s Father while they’re eating.

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My poor Dad was outnumbered. Four daughters, and he didn’t get to name any of us Brian Scott. But he had a good sense of humor about it–in the early ‘80s he said he wished he would’ve purchased stock in Kotex.

After working all day at Mare Island Naval Shipyard (which by the way was a prerequisite for men living in Vallejo) he’d come home, play monster with us for a little while, and then retire to the couch to watch Star Trek. He invented adorable nicknames for all of us: Tracy was Tracy Benacy, I was Lise Benise, Coleen was Coleenie Boleenie, and Melissa was Poodle Poodle Punkin Noodle. I’m fairly certain these names came about after a few Oly’s* on Pool Night with the guys in our garage–or it was just the result of being the victim of a family nickname himself. His given name is Donald Lee, but it was affectionately reduced to “Donalee” by relatives–apparently it took way too long to say Donald Lee.

One thing Dad could look forward to after a hard day at work was one of Mom’s meals. See, sometimes when we were pushing Spam casserole around on our plate, Dad was enjoying a cube steak or some other second-class piece of meat. He was the bread winner, and Mom made sure his queasy stomach didn’t suffer too much.

Dad made a few specialty dishes himself. Fried Egg Sandwiches with Miracle Whip comes to mind. Peanut Butter and Miracle Whip Sandwiches also come to mind, along with the bile rising in my throat. But Dad usually reserved his culinary skills for outdoor BBQ’s or camping. Each camping trip usually featured Beer Pancakes by Dad. These are a big hit. The problem is making sure there is some beer left over in the morning for them.

Donalee’s Beer Pancakes Ingredients:

These are pretty simple…any Dad should be able to handle it. Just substitute beer for the water or milk in the directions for your Pancake Mix. Fry up the pancake batter on a griddle. Serve them up and watch the little kids pretend to be drunk.

* Oly = Nickname for Olympia Beer

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Talk about your lactose intolerance. I wouldn’t drink a glass of powdered milk today if my life depended on it. If you’ve ever had to drink powdered milk, you have my sympathy. Hopefully you were at least able to drink the 50/50 mixture: half regular milk and half powdered milk. That’s how my Mom would make it. She had to stretch the real milk out by the end of the week for crying out loud — I mean a gallon of milk probably cost as much as 65 cents back then. Money doesn’t grow on trees people! At least it didn’t in my back yard in Vallejo, because I was always looking for it to prove my parents wrong. But I couldn’t see that well, so why I stared up at the trees, I don’t know.

I remember having to get glasses in the fourth grade. Oh, the humanity!! It was grade school suicide to walk into class with four eyes back then. I remember the day I had to pick out my glasses. When we went into the Optometry section of Kaiser Hospital, I expected to see a kid-size wall of specs to choose from. But the eye doctor led me and my Mom to a tiny cabinet, opened the tiny drawer, and there were two sets of frames to choose from: fat brown plastic octagon-shaped nightmares, and light blue cat eyes with three dainty star-shaped crystals in the wings. Really Kaiser Hospital? Thanks a lot. Well, I chose the cat eyes because I really wanted people to make fun of me. But, ohhhh man. As we left that hospital in the wood-paneled station wagon I looked out the window and “Ouila!!” I could see!!! I could see!!! I could see leaves on trees!! I could see the street names on street signs!! I could see people staring at my freaky glasses.

My new glasses also made it easier to read the chore list on the kitchen wall. We had a bonafide, handwritten chore list that Mom updated every week to change the chores around. Well, Melissa only had to pick up the apples that fell on the ground in the backyard, but the rest of us had all kinds of chores. This started in the late 60s with Tracy and I doing dishes. I can remember standing on a chair to wash dishes at the sink. Dang my parents were brave. Can you imagine how “clean” those dishes were?

When we were old enough, Mom had us kids “make the drinks” for the week. It was an actual chore on the list. We had three different plastic pitchers in the house, featuring the required groovy 70s colors: avocado, goldenrod and well, brown. Actually, we had lots of color coordination going on at our house. My Mom was very organized, or, maybe she just thought we were all developmentally disabled and color coding would help us in our day-to-day lives. We each had our own “color” for drinking cups, toothbrushes and hairbrushes. She even sewed a piece of colored embroidery thread into our socks and underwear representing our designated hue. I guess that was easier for her when she sorted laundry, and thank goodness, because I never wanted to wear my other sisters’ underwear. My color was green. I still love the color green, but I don’t sew it into my underwear.

Back to the colors for the liquid containers.

Avocado – This was your basic juice container, usually (hopefully) Tang. Yum, Tang. It would help us grow up to be big and strong astronauts. I loved Tang. It was so tang-y. I hated pineapple juice. It was from a giant can and we poured it into the avocado green container to make if fancy. But oh — hurl — the bottom of the pineapple juice container was almost as bad as the bottom of the powdered milk container.

Goldenrod – Specifically for Iced Tea or Kool-Aid. Our iced tea was not made with fancy tea bags … we had to use the fake iced tea powder from the glass jar. We’d just pour a ton of white refined sugar in there to make it drinkable. And obviously we did the same with Kool-Aid –a full cup of sugar for one pitcher … woah! Drink a green plastic cup full of that and get ready for Crazy Kid Calisthenics in the living room.

Brown – The dreaded Powdered Milk mixture. Boy, you had better mix that sucker up well. Blend all those chunks in nice and good, because if you ended up getting the last glass of “milk” from the pitcher, you were screwed. You would certainly do a beeline to the nearest sink after drinking a gloppy gulp of powdered milk chunklets. Of course, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the milky chunklets and the barf in your mouth as you heaved up the mixture. Milk … it does a body good!!

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