Category Archives: Meat & Potatoes

Puuuurfect Pancakes

PREPARATION TIME: Significantly longer than it takes to prepare entrée without a feline helper—or without assistance from children drunk with amusement over said feline and his asinine antics.

SERVES: As many poor souls who dare to partake—despite knowing all the facts.

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup dry Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix

¾ cup milk

1 T oil

1 egg

Dash of saliva, eau de pussycat

Tuft or twenty of black fur (see above)

Trace of cat breath (don’t ask)

INSTRUCTIONS: Combine dry pancake mix and milk in a bowl. Set aside on counter. Instruct children not to blow on flour-like heap or to stir clumps of milky mixture with their fingers—no matter how tempting that might be. Search high and low for oil and fresh egg, employing great care not to trip over children or ravenous cat in the process. Set egg and oil on counter and begin search for measuring spoon. Warn children (hand on hip and finger wagging is optional) not to spin or juggle egg—no matter how tempting that might be.

Become thoroughly engrossed in some inane activity like talking on the phone (with husband who SHOULD be home helping with dinner), checking e-mail or responding to 324th child-generated question of the day. Set table. End activities and return to pancake disaster-in-the-making. Work self into frenzy upon sighting cat on counter with head totally immersed in bowl. Throw both hands up in the air and then on top of head (hair pulling is optional) while giving children patented incredulous how-could-you-NOT-tell-me-he-was-in-the-batter?!! type of look.

Really go ballistic when eye-contact is made with little black bastard, now abundantly bedecked from nose to tip of whiskers with flour/milk mixture. Begin fuming profusely from the ears when cat nonchalantly blinks and licks his lips as if to say, “It’s simply marrrrrrvelous.” Bolt in the direction of furry four-legged miscreant, screaming louder than when he shattered favorite butter dish and shredded children’s school calendar—just because. Chase wily little demon around the house like a madwoman bent on thrashing his sorry patutie, while simultaneously launching a lengthy and colorful tirade, recounting each and every misdeed for which he was responsible and all that could have possibly been WRONG with the decision to ADOPT said cat. Kick and pummel self repeatedly for having caved-in to kids’ begging and whining for cat, for becoming attached to his fuzzy little face in the first place and for ever thinking his ridiculous pranks were cute.

Catch breath and regain composure while dismissing feelings of utter rage and loathing toward cat. Give up on locating him for the time being. Vow to thrash him next time. Accept the fact that THERE WILL BE A NEXT TIME. Return to kitchen. Reassure ashen-faced children that you haven’t killed their pretty new kitty. Instruct them not to repeat the words Mommy shouldn’t have said—no matter how exciting that might be during Show and Tell.

Warm griddle or fry pan to medium-high heat or until a few drops of water sizzle upon contact—with pan or with furrowed brow. Remove tufts of fur from flour/milk mixture. Add remaining ingredients to bowl. Mix well. Convincingly explain that all those silly cat germs—now housed in the batter—will surely be killed once we “…put it on the stove and cook the bejesus out of it.”

Pour batter onto heated surface (in desired shapes and sizes), ignoring children’s persistent requests to “Make him one, Mommy! Make him one!”

SERVE & ENJOY: Resist the urge to noticeably inspect pancakes for traces of fur, etc. and deny all claims that… “Mr. Binks helped us make pancakes, Mommy! I think I can smell his breath in here!”

Heaven forbid you give him that kind of satisfaction.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2006 Melinda L. Wentzel

 

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Filed under "S" is for Shame, Cat Chronicles, Daily Chaos, Home is Where the Weirdness Lives, Meat & Potatoes, Ode to Embarrassment, Rantings & Ravings

How to Win Friends and Influence Children

Dale Carnegie might have made his New York Times bestseller even more successful had he known what I now know about motivating others—especially the mulish imps with whom I reside. He could have rocked the world with the groundbreaking information I’ve painstakingly gathered from the field (i.e. the Mommy R & D Laboratory).

The beauty of said discovery is that, in essence, it is ridiculously simple—my kids will do anything for a chicken nugget. Homework standing on their heads. Soccer drills during a monsoon. Strep tests with glee. They’ll even take a bath and clean their room on a Saturday, which elevates the validity of positive reinforcement to an unprecedented level of acceptance. Without question, if a savory nugget is the prize (warmed to perfection or stone cold), I can consider the unpleasant task at hand done. And if the esteemed chunk of meaty goodness came from Tony’s Deli—all the better.

Case in point (as I tucked one of my cherubs into bed recently): “I’m afraid you probably won’t be going to school tomorrow, Hon. Not with that fever.” A pall then fell over her face—as if I had announced the sun didn’t like us anymore, so it would be moving to another galaxy, ending life as we know it.

“But we’re having chicken nuggets for lunch tomorrow, Mom,” a tiny voice whimpered from beneath the covers, the hovel where the smallish being in question shivered and shook thanks to that wretched sister-to-malaria she had undoubtedly contracted.

“Nuggets?” I thought to myself, completely baffled by the inane notion that a piece of poultry could wield such power—enough to inspire a sickish child to drag her sorry self to school. I expected a far different plea; one that perhaps involved the cute boy with the Sponge Bob lunchbox or gym class with those beloved scooterish devices or a library full of “…my favorite horse books!” all of which would have been sacrificed on a day home from school. Not once did I hear, “But Mom, I’d miss my friends and my teacher and the best bus driver in all the world!”

Nope. Chicken nuggets ruled. Go figure.

“And anyway, I’d miss soccer practice, and all that sloshing around in the mud…and my coach…and my team…and I wouldn’t be able to look for worms afterward to add to my collection! It’s not fair, Mom; I have to go to school. I just have to. Besides, it’s the last time the cafeteria ladies will make chicken nuggets for me this month and I’d have to wait until December to have them again!”

Given that this strange child of mine likes a grand total of two meals on the school lunch menu (fish sticks and chicken nuggets, but not chicken tenders or poppers because dear God, they’re INFINITELY DIFFERENT than nuggets!), I understand her dilemma. Completely.

“Okay, you can go to school tomorrow if you don’t wake up feeling absolutely horrible. But just for the record, it’s against my better judgment,” I said grudgingly, having caved yet again. But part of me cheered the news, comforted in the knowledge that I wouldn’t be saddled with a whiny child all day, longing for her precious chicken nuggets, enraged with me for having deprived her of that which she adores. I have enough trouble being labeled Meanest Mom on the Planet.

At that, she breathed a great sigh of relief and snuggled deeper into the sea of blankets. All was right with the world. “Thanks, Mom.”

“So what’s the big deal with chicken nuggets anyway? It seems as if that’s all you ever like to eat.”

She then reminded me of the note she had scrawled some time ago, highlighting for my benefit (as well as for the cafeteria personnel’s future reference) what specific menu items currently meet with her approval. Among a host of other things she considers tasty, the list included chicken nuggets (or more affectionately, cicen nuggets).

I stand corrected.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Daily Chaos, Home is Where the Weirdness Lives, Kid-Speak, Meat & Potatoes, Mushy Stuff, School Schmool, Sick-O Central, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

Half-baked

I love clams. To the point of being dysfunctional, most might say. Those warm and wonderful little nuggets of fleshy goodness have been the object of my affection for longer than I’d care to admit. But here I am, telling all about my pitiful obsession with little neck clams.

They’re best bathed in butter. Plucked hot and steamy from a monstrous pot on the stove or from a metal garbage can resting atop a wood-fired pit—which is how my friends from Canton cook ‘em. Almost every summer. It’s tradition to gather there amidst family, friends and mosquitoes in their sprawling backyard, whacking at whiffle balls, tossing Frisbees and crowding around that glorious can, the one that also houses corn-on-the-cob, foil-wrapped potatoes and other picnic-ish items that really don’t matter much when clams are part of the meal. In my mind, clams ARE the meal.

The other stuff is just peripheral. A perfunctory afterthought designed to woo non-serious clam eaters there, or to serve as a cover for people like me who plan to gorge exclusively on those brackish bits of joy with wild abandon. I’ve found that it’s surprisingly easy to mask such gluttonous behavior. A carefully placed wedge of watermelon or scoop of potato salad can hide a mountain of clams and a vat of butter. Bouncing around from table to table with a fresh plate throws the casual observer off, too, especially when coupled with idle chitchat. Gluttony becomes all too conspicuous, however, if you wear a path to the same spot to devour those delectable little indulgences, pausing only to breathe and to mop the embarrassment of schmutz from your chin. Apparently, I am not alone in my thinking. Others agree that clams are downright slurpable. Swines—every last one of us.

My friend Pat has admitted to consuming 22 dozen in one sitting and estimates his lifetime consumption of the lovely little gems as “incalculable.”  From other accounts, that may well be a conservative approximation. Some other friends have been known to refrain from eating ALL DAY, right up until the time of the big event, in order to arrive primed for epic feasting of all-things-clamish. Of course, I admire these folks beyond compare and recognize that I simply don’t possess that level of commitment. Not yet anyway. But there’s always hope. And always another clambake to pencil in on the calendar.

My husband said he once saw a guy eat 32 dozen at the Wheel Inn. Throngs of people gathered around to watch as if he were some sort of sideshow freak. It’s no wonder. The man recklessly scooped them out of their shells, dumped them a dozen at a time into a Styrofoam cup brimming with melted butter and chugged ‘em down like raw eggs. I don’t get it. Where’s the joy in that? Where’s the romance? It’s too rushed, dispassionate and superficial. Quite frankly, I think it smacks of casual dining. Gasp!

By contrast, I’ve been known to become thoroughly engrossed while eating the silly things, one sensual bite at a time. Admittedly, the world around me melts away and I become completely enraptured by the whole experience—weak with pleasure. So much so that I can block out the maddening blares of my dryer, insisting that I fold the laundry NOW. I can also silence the persistent demands and the relentless bickering of my children, waging war over Mrs. Smith’s fish sticks or over a stupid yellow cup into which I have been instructed to pour milk. What’s more, I’ve nearly perfected the art of appearing interested in discussions that float over the dinner table, nodding my head and contributing appropriately to conversations without ever really being present mentally. Of course, this frees all my senses for more important matters—like savoring my beloved clams.

One time I just stood at the counter, blissfully slurping the freshly steamed batch my husband had so lovingly prepared for me. I never once gave a thought to moving to the table like a civilized individual might be inclined to do. Nor did I share, except maybe one or two. I can’t remember such details. Fifty or sixty clams later I came up for air and slipped back into consciousness. Back into being a mommy and a wife.

Apparently, the appeal of clams is not a new thing. A Cnn.com article I read last week (“Study: Early humans threw clambakes”) certainly adds credence and validation to my obsession. A new archeological find in South Africa (author of the study: Curtis Marean, ASU) revealed evidence suggesting that humans living 164,000 years ago harvested seafood (including clams), cooked them over hot rocks and then perhaps gathered together to eat them. This is in fact about 40,000 years earlier than previously thought. News like this makes my heart glad.

As does learning that we’ll be having clams for dinner. I get giddy just thinking about it.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2007 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Me Myself and I, Meat & Potatoes, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

Crutches

I never completely committed to memory the instructions for making hard-boiled eggs, which doesn’t say much about my prowess in the kitchen—or the lack thereof. Generally speaking, I know what’s involved, but I struggle mightily with the specifics (i.e. how much water is required, whether it should be hot or cold to start and when, exactly, the boiling should cease and the simmering should begin). I’m challenged in the culinary arena to say the very least. (Confession: Some days I need a compass, a map and volumes of inspiration just to find the fricking stove).

Oddly enough, though, I know that on page 267 of my faithful Better Homes & Gardens cookbook those elusive egg-related answers await me. Go figure. I can’t remember a stupid recipe (that’s all of three steps long), but the page number I’ll need to get the job done is etched in my head permanently. It simply defies all logic and understanding—especially given the rarity of my kitchen-related ventures.

Interestingly, two-hundred sixty-seven isn’t my favorite number. Nor do the individual digits hold special meaning for me in any other context. And yet there it is, appearing instantaneously in the clearing of my mind, having made its way through the tangled forest of facts and figures housed there. A prized nugget of information that, intentionally or not, I tucked away at some point in my illustrious hard-boiled egg-making career. A crutch I turn to in times of need.

Likewise, I have difficulty remembering the exact wordage for Confession and Forgiveness, so each Sunday I mumble and stumble my way through the first few lines, hoping like crazy that my brain will eventually kick in and send the correct message to my lips. The Nicene Creed sometimes stumps me, too (hence, the moronic mumbling). But invariably—almost without thinking—I can churn out the page numbers on which each of the desired passages can be found—which is strangely wonderful, I guess. An uncannily remarkable and hugely perplexing talent all rolled into one (like reading upside-down and sideways to kids so they can see the pictures). But it’s not as if I deliberately tried to emblazon those numbers there. I can’t even rattle off my stinking cell number without first tapping my husband (the human Rolodex) or scanning the skies for some sort of cosmic clue. Nor can I readily recall which of my brood is allergic to the cillin family—which, needless to say, helped me capture the World’s Most Pathetic Mommy Award last year.

So what should I make of all this—that I’m lazy, exceedingly dependent or perhaps, just plain stupid? Then again, maybe my adeptness is a sign of brilliance and/or extraordinary resourcefulness in the face of adversity. Who knows?

Regardless of why it happens, the fact remains that it happens. There is absolutely no denying that when all else fails, I rely on my crutches to save the day. I’ve found that people can be crutches, too. I can’t put a price on the deluge of desperate phone calls I made to my mom as I clumsily managed motherhood for the first time—stressing obsessively over every little and not-so-little thing, like a blackened umbilical cord dangling by a sinewy thread.

“What have I done wrong?! Is that SUPPOSED to happen?! And why, oh why, won’t she stop crying…sleep through the night…smile on cue…and somehow TELL ME WHAT SHE WANTS?! And what’s with the mustard-y poops and the geysers of spit up and the white bump-ish things on her nose and the crusty stuff on her head and the tiny red spots she’s peppered with?! (Furthermore…) I can’t figure out the car seat straps…I can’t get rid of the bags under my eyes…my shirt gets soaked whenever she (or any other bundle of neediness) cries…my diaper bag is big and bulky and already I’m sick of hauling it around…I feel fat and frumpy and about as interesting as dirt…I can’t find time for a shower…a sandwich…a decent nap…or even three minutes to flip through a stupid parenting magazine—which, by the way, does nothing more than make me feel like a complete failure—I can’t even RELATE to the perfect little world they live in…oh, and the baby choked on a cracker this morning…fell out of her crib…rolled off the bed…licked the cat’s tail (and so on)…. I’m sure I’ve ruined this child FOR-EVER!!!”

Mom, sage and savior that she is, must have sensed the panic in my voice and so with each little (and not-so-little) catastrophe I presented, she spoke clearly and calmly, guiding me through the storm, filling me with the sense that I could do this and that the world really wasn’t crashing down all around me. “Things will get easier,” she promised, and I would be a good mom—despite myself.

Well, I have yet to see hard evidence supporting the entirety of that statement, but I remain hopeful that some day—with or without crutches—I’ll get there. In the mean time, Mom’s on speed dial.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (STILL doubting my ability to mother).

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Me Myself and I, Meat & Potatoes, Mushy Stuff

That’s Corny

It has been said that you can tell a lot about a person by how they eat an ear of corn. Who needs fancy-schmancy personality inventories or the opinion of some accredited guru to learn the depth and breadth of someone’s quirkiness? Just watch them eat. The proof’s in the puddin’—or in the corn, so to speak. All sorts of dining-related peculiarities surface once those steamy plates of golden-y yellow are set before a hungry crowd. And I’d daresay the oddities are stunningly similar to the ones exhibited when they’re NOT chowing down on anything—least of all, those sweet and succulent kernels of perfection.

Just for fun, I decided to test my theory by conducting a little research of my own—at the kitchen table, of course, where most of life’s important discoveries are made over Spaghetti-O’s, Kool-Aid and tuna casserole. So is it any wonder that such vital data would be best gathered there? Perhaps the only location or event better suited for said clinical study would be at a backyard barbecue or at a mid-summer’s family reunion; but then again, my clipboard and frenzied note-taking might frighten the subjects and skew the results. At our modest dinner table, the variables were controlled as much as humanly possible and the gathering of information was discreet in order to maintain the integrity of the analysis. Needless to say, names were changed to protect the eccentric.

There was the child with buttery elbows who nibbled and gnawed at the cob, slowly and methodically inspecting each and every row upon completion, ensuring that no kernel was left behind. Pun intended. She would then return, typewriter-style, to the left-hand extreme and repeat. She had a system, sound reasoning and a need for logic and order. Naturally, fastidiousness is nothing new to this particular individual. For a long time she got her jollies by stringing a 30-foot procession of plastic cups and saucers, pots and pans across the floor through the kitchen and into the dining room (arranged first by size, then by color). She did the same with Beanie Babies. And Matchbox cars. And books. And pillows. Finally, with animal crackers. So truthfully, it was no surprise to discover how she might tackle an ear of corn. No doubt, a future candidate for OCD.

My other smallish nibbler employed a completely different strategy for the task at hand. She picked and pecked at those plump little nuggets of corn like some deranged bird, striking randomly and fiercely with every pint-sized bite. No identifiable pattern ever emerged. At least none that I could see—except for the flecks of yellow sprinkled on the floor, perfectly outlining her chair. There appeared to be no method to her madness. No logic to her lunacy. Once again, the personality characteristics in question matched uncannily—she’s a veritable live wire, bouncing from one thing to the next, blessed with the attention span of a gnat. Of course her corn would be consumed with haphazard flair. The typewriter thing just wouldn’t fly. Not for this free spirit.

Captain Quirk (not disappointingly) earned his stripes yet again, proving to me (and soon, to many) that his weirdness is without limit. A nonconformist to the core, the man devours corn-on-the-cob in perhaps the most unorthodox manner in existence. He begins by gnawing kernels from left to right, pausing in the center of the cob only to return to the left end again. He rolls it precisely one-quarter turn and follows with the very same action, over and over until exactly one-half of the ear is consumed. He then does the unthinkable. He sets it down on his plate to eat (Gasp!) something else, returning to it later. A heinous crime in most states, I am certain.

I, personally, don’t surface for air until the job is finished, classic type-writer style. And I’d never dream of touching a hamburger or hotdog in the midst of a session with hot, buttery corn-on-the-cob. It’s absurd even to entertain such foolishness. Pass the potato salad? Make idle chit-chat? Fat chance. I’m in a zone.

Quirky? Nah, just passionate about my corn.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (where napkins are entirely optional).

Copyright 2006 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Captain Quirk, Daily Chaos, Meat & Potatoes, The Chicken Man, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction