Tag Archives: picnics

Half-Baked

I love clams. To the point of being dysfunctional, most might say. Those warm and wonderful 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.

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 used to cook them each summer. It was tradition to gather there amidst friends and mosquitoes in their sprawling backyard, whacking at Whiffle balls, tossing Frisbees and crowding around that glorious can, the one that also housed corn-on-the-cob, foil-wrapped potatoes and other picnic-y items that didn’t matter much when clams were on the menu. In my mind, clams defined the menu.

Everything else was peripheral—an afterthought designed to woo non-serious clam eaters, or to serve as cover for people like me who planned 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 shame. Bouncing around from table to table with a fresh plate throws off the casual observer, too, especially when coupled with idle chitchat. Gluttony becomes all too conspicuous, however, if you wear a path to the same spot to indulge, pausing only to breathe and to mop the embarrassment of schmutz from your chin. Apparently, I am not alone.

My friend Pat has admitted to consuming 22 dozen little neck clams in one sitting and estimates his lifetime consumption as “incalculable.” Some other friends have been known to fast until the big event in order to arrive primed for epic feasting of all-things-clam-ish. Of course, I admire these folks 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 my calendar.

My husband said he once saw a guy eat 32 dozen. Throngs of people gathered around as if he were a sideshow freak. It’s no wonder as the man recklessly scooped them out of their shells, dumped them by the dozen into a Styrofoam cup brimming with melted butter and chugged them down like a beast. I don’t get it. Where’s the joy in that? The romance? To my mind, that sort of behavior qualifies as rash, dispassionate and superficial. Moreover, it smacks of casual dining.

Admittedly, I’ve been engrossed while eating the silly things. The world simply melts away and I become weak with pleasure, enabling me to block out the maddening blares of my clothes dryer and to silence the persistent demands and relentless bickering of my brood. 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 inhaling the freshly steamed batch my husband had so lovingly prepared for me, never once giving a thought to moving to a table like a more 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 the here and now. Back into being a mom and wife.

Apparently, the appeal of clams is not a new thing. A CNN.com article I once read adds credence and validation to my obsession. An archeological find in South Africa 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. 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. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2013 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "S" is for Shame, Endless Summer, Meat & Potatoes, Normal is Relative

A Family Affair

I’m quite sure I’ve attended plenty of social gatherings that have fueled MORE anxiety within me than the five-generation brand of reunion my husband’s family hosts each June, only I can think of none at the moment. In a word, said get-together is a behemoth-sized affair during which minutes are read, motions are made, budgetary concerns are discussed and officers are elected. Yes, elected—ostensibly, over three-bean salad and barbecued chicken. It sounds absurd. I know; especially if you hail from a small clan like mine—one that would be hard-pressed to polish off the deviled eggs and blueberry pie. Never mind come to a consensus on anything.

However my husband’s crew (to include his seven aunts and uncles and more first, second, third and fourth cousins than I can readily wrap my mind around) is a different story altogether—one that features in excess of 30 picnic tables, a monstrosity of a salad bar lined with buckets and buckets of ice and a table that houses sinful quantities of steamed foods. And let us not forget the grill that is roughly the size of a well-nourished water buffalo and the hydraulic lift called upon to hoist the beast at will. That said, his family views the whole let’s-get-together-and-have-a-picnic seriously.

As one might expect, fliers are mailed out months in advance of the occasion, urging everyone’s participation and a supply of pertinent updates so that the database (yes, the database) can accurately reflect any changes that may have taken place in a year’s time. Needless to say, the aforementioned lineage can, indeed, be graphically represented with a roots-trunk-and-branches sort of family tree—as long as it’s a sequoia.

Confession: I dread my husband’s family reunions because, of course, I am a social misfit who has great difficulty interacting with throngs of people—people I cannot remember to save myself. Nor can I recall who is related to whom, from whence they came and of what they speak. Translation: I struggle to interpret much of the convoluted speech patterns thick Pennsylvania Dutch that pervades the airspace beneath our larger-than-life-sized pavilion. Granted, the event described above smacks of a small convention in a large tree-lined field, one that is perhaps capable of unnerving many a dutiful wife with kids in tow—especially one who is fairly preoccupied with the notion of keeping her brood out of poison ivy patches and away from the cussed cornfield that is likely teeming with ticks. But I digress.

That said, I’ve learned to embrace the experience by dividing it into three basic stages, each of which lasts for an undetermined, yet finite, period of time. Initially, I clamber out of our Jeep-turned-oasis and make my way to the celebrated pavilion, mindful of the wretched plants and blood-sucking vermin that collectively seek to ruin my day. I then receive a warm welcome from swarms of people who converge upon me like a small, yet suffocating, army. I can only guess that this is what a panic-stricken amnesiac must feel like, surrounded by a sea of friendly faces, not one of which is readily recognizable. Lord only knows why they tolerate a lout like me.

My husband, being the gregarious creature that he is, immediately begins to mix and mingle with one and all, taking great pains to re-introduce me to everyone I ought to know but have sadly forgotten. I, of course, smile and nod, resisting the overwhelming desire to whip out a big, fat marker and scrawl everyone’s name on his or her brow. Heaven help me if there’s a quiz.

After the swell recedes I relax a bit, reveling in the knowledge that EXACTLY NO ONE within my husband’s entire family mistook me for the first wife. For that alone, I love them dearly. True to my less-than-gregarious/socially-inept self, I then attempt to fade into the woodwork by finding a table, filling my kids’ plates and hoping like crazy they didn’t stuff themselves silly with snacks en route to this feast to end all feasts. My charges and I then toss a Frisbee around in the field that encircles the picnic area, because it would be decidedly gauche to graze ALL damn day.

Once we’ve become thoroughly exhausted (and rightly retreat to the lemonade-infused refuge of the pavilion), that is the point at which I usually stumble across someone I actually know. Not surprisingly, I barnacle-ize myself to said buoy-like individual, refusing to let him or her leave my side until we’ve talked about practically everything from the Boston Red Sox to the brownies that were slightly addictive. Eventually, though, the crowd begins to disperse, wending their way through the grassy field—dishes and Frisbees in hand, smiles and hugs all around.

I can only hope I continue to be a part of such a wonderful (albeit, freakishly large) family—one that really knows how to host a reunion, 80 years and counting.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (hoping to guess the weight of next year’s watermelon). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Family Affair, Normal is Relative

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