Monday, February 23, 2009

Oh. To Be Thankful...

Yeah. I know that a Thanksgiving post in February is sort of weird. (Wait till you see my March Christmas post!)

This is a rewrite of an article I wrote previously, and I’m too into instant gratification to wait till November to put it in the blog. But more than that, in re-reading it, I am struck by two important facts: One, a lot of my Thanksgiving advice is just good advice for dinner parties in general, and Two, February is a really good month for a Thanksgiving redux, or as I like to call them, Fakesgiving.

I happen to be blessed with the kind of family that genuinely likes each other, and so our holidays are just enjoyable. But I have enough friends for whom the Thanksgiving visit home is a horror show, that amongst us we simply agreed to periodically have Thanksgiving just for the helluva it. And I don’t know about where you live, but here in Chicago, February and March are prime time for a good Fakesgiving. The weather is miserable, football season is over, and we all are in need of mashed potatoes, stat! (Watching Home for the Holidays is totally acceptable on Fakesgiving, by the way)

It’s probably going to get me some flack for my fellow Red Sea Pedestrians to admit that my favorite holiday isn’t a Jewish holiday, but a secular one. Don’t get me wrong, I love many of our ages-old holy days, and look forward to both the sense of connectedness they bring as well as the comfort of traditional foods and the company of friends and family. Rosh Hashanah, Passover…both solidly in my top five holiday-wise. I love a latke, I’m moved by matzo balls, get blissed out over brisket. I even heart a hamentashen. But none of the celebrations mandated by the Torah come close to inspiring the passion I have for Thanksgiving.

Deep down, I sort of think of Thanksgiving as a Jewish holiday. After all, it celebrates autumn, much like Sukkot. It is centered around a very prescribed traditional meal, sort of like Passover. It is a time to reflect on personal blessings, which is as much a part of Yom Kippur as the atoning part. And lets be frank, any holiday that devotes itself to total food indulgence has got to be something we Jews can get solidly behind, if not out and out co-opting it for ourselves!

As a home cook, Thanksgiving is my grail, my marathon, the ability to pull it off is a source of pride, and no moments of my year are as purely pleasurable as those brief moments of silence around the table when everyone tucks into their plates, followed by gradual exclamations of rapturous delight. And while there is always something a little bit new or different every year, the basics stay the same, and I’ve gotten a lot of it down to a science.

But science doesn’t mean clenched perfectionism.

With all due respect to Martha Stewart, you don’t need twenty four matching turkey shaped bowls for the soup to taste good, you don’t have to weave your own napkins, grow your own cranberries, or even make your own pie crust (or pie for that matter) for this day to be wonderful. Good food, prepared with love, and served with a smile is all anyone needs for the holiday to be sublime…to each at the level of their own ability.

For those of you who are thinking of tackling the big day, I’ve got some tips to help you out. The most important thing about Thanksgiving is right there in the name, be thankful. If you burn the turkey, make PB&J and laugh it off. And if at all possible, set yourself up for success with some simple advice and simpler recipes.

Firstly, know thyself. Do you regularly make your own puff pastry, serve towering souffl├ęs, and finish your sauces with homemade demi-glace? Then find any challenging menu that inspires you and have at it. But if you burn the toast four days out of ten, this isn’t the time to try anything complicated. Keep things simple, and don’t be afraid to get help with the hard stuff or fiddly bits. People love to participate, so let guests bring something to take some of the pressure off you. If you’ve never made pie crust, buy a good quality frozen crust. Look at local prepared foods sections of grocery stores and see who is offering side dishes and do a tasting the week before. If Whole Foods is making a killer stuffing, there’s no shame in serving it. Does gravy make you nervous? Add five or six whole peeled shallots to the turkey roasting pan along with your bird, and simply blend them into the de-fatted pan juices to thicken it easily without all that tricky flour business.

Thanksgiving is also a great time to connect with Mom, Grandma, or your favorite Aunt…call and ask for advice and recipes, they’ll be flattered and you’ll be amazed how many great tips they can give you.

So, if you’re getting ready for the big day, here are Stacey’s Thanksgiving Commandments:

1. Thou shalt buy a fresh turkey from a butcher, and brine before roasting.
I know Butterball seems like a good idea, but they are so filled with preservatives and salt and other unnatural stuff, they don’t really taste like turkey. Call two to three weeks before the holiday and have your local butcher order you a fresh turkey for pick up the day before Thanksgiving. Take it home and brine overnight using the brine recipe of your choice…mine is below. You’ll be delighted with the results.

2. Thou shalt discover how easy it is to make awesome cranberry sauce.
Cranberry sauce is not just the easiest part of the meal, it can be made up to a week in advance. It’s the perfect thing for even a reluctant cook to offer to bring to someone else’s meal, or an easy addition to your own. (and yes, I know some of you love that shimmering jiggling tube with all the ridges, and if you must, have some on hand…but do at least TRY homemade…you can always serve both)

3. Thou shalt not be ashamed to make the green bean casserole with the Campbell’s Condensed Soup.
Sure, I’m a foodie/crazy person, so I make my cream of mushroom soup from scratch before assembling the ubiquitous casserole…but honestly, it’s a tradition for a reason, the original recipe is pretty comforting and delicious, and easy to make, so even if you consider yourself a major gourmet, pull out the processed food version and serve with a smile. Ditto sweet potatoes with marshmallows.

4. Thou shalt not overdo the appetizers.
You’re going to spend two days cooking for this meal. Let your guests be hungry when they get to the table. Keep your pre-dinner nibbles to small bowls of nuts or olives or pretzels or the like, think basic bar snacks…you just want your guests to have something to nosh on with their pre-dinner drinks, but if they fill up on hors d’oeuvres you’ll all be sad when you get to the table and can’t manage seconds. (this is good advice for any dinner party…either plan heavy hors d’ouevres and a light supper, or vice versa)

5. Thou shalt not bother with salad.
I know it always seems like such a good idea to make a fresh green salad. But frankly, it takes up valuable space on a plate that should be devoted to fourteen different starches, and you’re just going to throw most of it away, since it will be all wilty and depressed by the time you go to put the leftovers away. No one will miss it.

6. Thou shalt not count calories, skimp on ingredients, measure portions, or whinge and pout about how bad the food is for you.
We are all very sensitive to healthy eating these days, and more than a few of us are dealing with the need to lose a couple pounds. THIS IS NOT THE DAY TO DO IT. Thanksgiving is, at its very core, a celebration of food and the memories that food invokes and the new memories created at the table. You do yourself, your host, and the day a disservice if you think of it as anything else, or deprive yourself of the sheer joy of this meal. If you’re the cook, don’t alter recipes with low fat/low salt/low taste versions of things. Don’t skip meals before, so that you aren’t blindly starving by the time you get to the buffet, and if you’re really concerned, fill your plate anyway you like, but don’t go back for seconds. Any nutritionist worth their salt will tell you that one meal cannot derail your overall progress, especially if you get back to your program the next day and maybe add a workout that week. And any counselor will tell you that the surest way to be cranky is to deprive yourself while all around you are celebrating. Give yourself a break…you’ll be amazed that if you give yourself permission to have everything you want, how easy it is not to overdo it.

7. Thou shalt not stuff your bird.
I can hear you crying about it now….you are used to the bird packed with stuffing, you dream about the really crispy good part in the front over the neck, why can’t we stuff our turkeys? Here’s why….one, a stuffed bird is the best way to get food poisoning. If the stuffing doesn’t get up to at least 180 degrees internally, it can breed bacteria, not fun. Two, in order to get the stuffing to 180, you are going to overcook the crap out of the turkey itself, especially the breast meat. Three, all that moistness you love in the in-the-bird stuffing? That is all the juices from the meat that are getting sucked out by the huge stuffing sponge, and you not only dry out your bird, you have many fewer juices with which to make gravy. Make your stuffing and bake in a separate dish, and if you really miss that dense moistness, melt a stick of butter in a cup of chicken stock and pour it over the stuffing ten minutes before taking it out of the oven. And get over it.

8. Thou shalt not test more than one new recipe for this meal.
Thanksgiving is a wonderful meal to add to, but don’t do everything at once. I know that the cooking mags have all sorts of new-fangled versions of things, but they have to reinvent the holiday menu every year. Experimentation is good, but if you change the whole thing up at once, people are going to miss their old standby favorites. Pick one dish that you think is ready for a revamp, and throw in that curveball. If you love it, add it to the repertoire. But don’t do the chipotle rubbed turkey, sweet potato tofu bake, barley stuffing, green beans with fresh ricotta, and sherried fig cranberry coulis all in one meal. Someone will weep openly, and everyone will have to run out the next day and make a few traditional items to get them through to next year.

9. Thou shalt not be a Thanksgiving Dictator.
If people want to help in the kitchen, let them. And don’t criticize the quality of their small dice, or the way they wash the pots. Ditto assigning specific foods to guests who want to bring something…if someone offers to bring a dish, ask them what they love to make or what they crave most about Thanksgiving and let them bring that. Who cares if you have two kinds of sweet potatoes, or both cornbread and regular stuffing? On Thanksgiving, more is more, and abundance rules. Besides, you have a three day weekend that needs quality leftovers.

10. Thou shalt be thankful.
We are all very blessed. Take a few moments to think about all of the gifts you have in your life, the family and friends who surround you, all of the wonderful things you may take for granted in the hustle and bustle of your day to day. Close your eyes, be joyful, and in all sincerity and humbleness thank the universe for your life.

Biglove,
Stacey


Here are some of my go-to turkey day recipes. Follow to the letter or use as a springboard for your own touches…

Brined Turkey

1 16 lb. turkey

Brine:
9 Q water
1 gallon apple cider
1 bottle Riesling or other fruity white wine
2 ½ c kosher salt
2 c brown sugar
8 bay leaves
2 ½ T coriander
1 ½ T juniper
2 T peppercorns
1 ½ T fennel seed
1 T mustard seed
3 onions-quartered
2 apples-quartered
1 bunch thyme

Boil 1 Q water with salt, sugar and all spices. Cool. Put in brining bag. Add rest of ingredients and turkey. Brine overnight. Remove turkey from brine, rinse and dry. Add an herb (or plain) butter under the skin if you like, and rub the outside with melted butter and season well. Put an onion and an apple in the cavity of the bird. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. In roasting pan, make rack of ribs of celery, carrots, sliced onion, 5-6 whole shallots, thyme. Put turkey breast side down, put in oven, and immediately reduce to 400 degrees. Cook 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 325, cook 90 minutes. Flip breast side up, cook to 155 internal temp, approximately another 30-40 minutes. Rest 30 minutes before carving.

Cranberry sauce

2 bags cranberries
1 ½ c port
1 c sugar
1 t salt
5 T orange juice
1 ½ t cornstarch
1 t ground mustard
1 t lemon juice
Zest of 1 orange
Pinch ground clove
Pinch fresh ginger
Zest of 1 lemon
½ c dried cherries-rehydrate in ¼ c port

Cook cranberries and port in a saucepan over med-high heat 10 minutes, until cranberries burst. Add sugar and salt. Whisk OJ, cornstarch, mustard, lemon juice in a bowl and add to berries. Stir to combine. Add rest of ingredients, cook 5-6 minutes more, cool.

Mashed potatoes

10 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes (peeled, cubed)
2 sticks butter, cubed
1 pt. whole milk, warmed (or half and half or cream, depending on how rich you like it)
1 pt. sour cream
1 bunch chives, chopped fine
S&P to taste

Boil potatoes till soft. Drain completely. Put potatoes through ricer, or just use hand mixer to mash. Add butter first, and then milk to just shy of your preferred texture. Once the potatoes are almost there, add in the sour cream and chives and season well. Hold in double boiler to keep warm…this is the dish I make while the turkey is resting, best when fresh.

Basic Stuffing

1 XL loaf country bread or French bread cubed and toasted till totally dry (2 lbs.)
1 pkg soft rolls or hot dog buns torn coarsely
2 ½ sticks butter
1 ½ c chopped onion
1 ½ c chopped celery
Celery leaves from 2 heads, chopped
¼ c chopped flat leaf parsley
Dried sage, thyme, marjoram (1 T each)
S/P to taste
4 lg eggs, beaten
1 box chicken stock…add as necessary to moisten.

Sautee veggies and herbs in 1 ½ sticks butter. Toss with bread. Add stock slowly till moist but not overly soggy. Taste for seasoning. Stir in eggs and mix well. Put in deep foil pan. Drizzle with melted stick of butter and sprinkle of breadcrumbs.

400 degrees 25 minutes covered, 20 uncovered. If you want extra moistness, melt another 4-8 T butter in 1 c chicken stock and pour over top when you uncover the stuffing, then continue cooking.

Pickled carrots
(great pre-dinner nibble! A bowl of these and a bowl of nuts are all you need.)

1 large bag baby carrots (2 1bs)
1 bottle apple cider vinegar
1 large jar honey
4 T mustard seed
1 bunch dill

Combine vinegar, honey and mustard seed in saucepan. Add carrots and cook over med-high heat till carrots are cooked but still crisp, 5-8 minutes. Store in pickling liquid in fridge. Before serving, drain liquid, add chopped fresh dill.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Hazards of Writing Fiction for a Living

I make up stories for a living. It's a good gig, all things considered. I mean, a lot of lawyers lie for a living too, but they have to wear suits and bill 80 hours a day, and I get to do most of mine in my pajamas with the TV on in the background.

But one of the problems with what I do is that it puts me in a constant state of observing life with an eye towards 'the story'. And occasionally, it backfires.

Now at the moment, I am single. I had not really considered that upon leaving full time employment, that there were not, in fact, a whole lot of straight single men wandering aimlessly around my apartment on any given day. So meeting guys is, to say the least, difficult. After 6 years and enough money to have bought pretty much everything on my current set of Amazon Wish Lists (yes, I have four, and no, do not judge me. But do feel free to send me presents!), I have officially given up on online dating. I am relying almost entirely on fix-ups and fate, which means that I am mostly dating myself. And while I’m excellent company, I wouldn't exactly mind adding someone else into the equation.

I thought this was the day.

I had lunch with a good friend, a local chef who I’m going to be working on a cookbook with. We ate a languorous late lunch with a really lovely bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. We laughed, made some notes, and scheduled a next meeting. I hailed a cab to take me to the building where I had left my car. And when I got in, I sat on something uncomfortable. A Palm Treo. Not MY Palm Treo.

I put the treasure in my purse, arrived at my destination, and retrieved my car. En route home, my pulse quickened.

This was it.

This was the way it happens.

I will call the first name on the call back list, explain that I have someone's phone, and give my number. A voice like honey over gravel will call me back, thank me for saving his life, and take my address. And then a tall, handsome, salt and pepper gent with a confident bearing will arrive at my house, tell me I am amazing and offer to take me to dinner to thank me for my Good Samaritan ways. We will talk easily until the restaurant closes, head somewhere for a night cap, and fall madly in love. For his birthday I will order a cake in the shape of a Palm Treo. He'll propose on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Washington, where I got in the cab. At our wedding we will toast Yellow Cab number 1472, and driver Alharardin Al-Jabar for bringing us together.

I pressed re-dial, and got a gentleman named Robert, who announced that he was a colleague of the phone owner at Rush University Medical School...so now I know that not only is my inamorata a doctor, but a professor type as well. He praises my good nature, takes my number, and promises to get the info to my future hubby.

I head home, chuffed. The phone rings. A voice like honey over gravel thanks me for saving his life, takes my address, and announces he will be by around 6. He jokes that he would call me from the car to tell me when he was close, but I have his phone. Sigh.

I primp. Not excessively, but I spruce up. Change clothes, add some makeup, tweak the hair, floss.

At six-fifteen I hear the gate unlatch. I look out the window. The gentleman heading up my walkway is tallish, cuteish, salt and peppery. I take a deep breath.

The bell rings. I go to answer it. He smiles broadly and hands me a small gift bag. "For you. For renewing my faith in people." As he hands the sage green bag to me, I catch out of the corner of my eye a glinting sparkle.

Of his wedding ring.

F**kety f**k f**k F**K!

He left and I came inside to unwrap my consolation prize.

A pound of chocolate covered raisins. A pound of Swedish Fish. A pound of salted cashews. Three of my favorite food groups.

So now, not only don’t I get a husband, I get to sit in my living room entirely without willpower and simply increase the size of my ample butt.

It is so hard to remember that I am not, in fact, a character in a romantic comedy.

Guess it is back to me and Law and Order reruns.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Confessions of A Food Jew

When people ask me what I love most about being Jewish, the images flash before my eyes.

Succulent slices of slow cooked brisket, moist with rich tomato-y gravy. Latkes, crisp on the outside, melting in the middle, with applesauce and sour cream. Light as air matzo balls, floating in a pool of brilliantly golden chicken soup, dense sweet noodle kugel.

I mean, yes, of course I love being a part of a religion that allows so many different ways to worship, that holds such a long tradition of philanthropy and artistry, that has such interesting traditions and rituals. Even though I have never been particularly observant, I chose Brandeis (Jew U.) as an undergraduate in large part because the school represented the best of educational excellence and social activism. But getting all the Jewish holidays off didn’t hurt my feelings. While my matriculation there did wonders for my Yiddish vocabulary, it didn’t make me any less secular. For me, someone whose upbringing always felt a little bit Jew-ish, as opposed to really Jewish, food is where I have always felt most connected to my people and my history.

Don’t get me wrong, my family isn’t non-practicing, we just found our own style. We may not have belonged to a temple, but my sister and I were both bat mitzvahed, we just did it with a private tutor instead of Hebrew school, and with a borrowed torah at our weekend place instead of on a traditional bimah. And for mine, a Chinese buffet luncheon to follow. We share the major holidays with friends and family, choosing readings from books in the living room over synagogue services. Our Passover Seders may be brief, but they have deep meaning and we take them seriously, adding our own traditions over the years.

But always, the celebration centers on food. Apples and honey on Rosh Hashanah, blintzes to break the Yom Kippur fast, tzimmes on Passover. I’m an accomplished home cook, and while my regular dinner parties are likely to be based in French or Italian peasant cooking, my Jew food is pretty spectacular, thanks to my paternal grandmother, Jonnie, who shared her knowledge, her recipes, her cookbooks, and her love through the holiday dishes she prepared.

Food, both the specifics of traditional recipes, and the generic feeling of gathering friends and family around the table, is always at it’s core a Jewish experience for me. Breaking of bread, or matzo where appropriate, sharing of stories, the sense of unity created around a dinner table, this is where I feel the most direct link to our shared past. I have always believed that when a people have been forced in their history to work hard at maintaining community, bringing people together for meals becomes an essential part of how you keep faith.

This blog is likely to be at least 50% about food, my relationship with food, my relationships with other people who love food…which is about the right percentage for any Member of the Tribe, a people known for spending most of any meal discussing in depth what the next meal should be.

There will be recipes. Lots of recipes. Most of these will be mine, or else accredited adaptations or borrowings. However, and this is VERY IMPORTANT, sometimes my recipes are things I’ve been making long enough that my addled pre-Altzheimers-almost-40-year-old mind thinks I made them up, when in fact it is entirely possible I have stolen them wholesale from an old friend or classic cookbook. This can happen because for eons now I have entered my culinary successes into my computer, keeping an extensive recipe folder. Helpful when one has subscribed to eight cooking mags for nearly two decades and often takes recipes from them. Often I riff on those, use them as a starting point, substituting things based on my personal taste or seasonal availability. If it works, it gets entered in the file. But I’ve never been good at adding notes to these, so I have no idea from whence they came or if I made enough changes to call them my own. On the one hand, this is great when I travel, because all my best dishes are in the laptop and if I am a guest in your home I can make you dinner (YAY!). However, until recently, I haven’t bothered to note whether the original recipe was mine or taken off of a website or pulled from the latest issue of Cooks Illustrated, which is not so good for posting on a public blog where one can be flogged for plagiarism.

SO…I will try and be diligent about only claiming credit for stuff I know I invented, and giving proper credit where it is due. But if you are here and spot your Great Aunt Ginny’s perfect Snickerdoodles and I don’t mention her…please shoot me a private e-mail and I will rectify ASAP. Please do NOT post a comment accusing me of grand theft recipe and implying that there is a special place in hell for me. I’ll just delete you.

Besides.

Jews don’t believe in hell. Especially Food Jews.

To start us off, one from the Jonnie Files:

Brisket

1 5 lb. beef brisket
2 t salt
¼ t pepper
2 yellow onions, sliced
4 ribs celery, sliced
1 c chili sauce (Heinz is good)
1 bottle beer (I like a pale ale, but use whatever you have on hand)
¼ c water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put water on the bottom of a heavy roasting pan. Season brisket with salt and pepper and lay on top of water. Spread onion and celery over the top of the meat, then distribute chili sauce evenly over the vegetables. Cook uncovered 90 minutes. Pour beer over meat, cover tightly with foil, and braise 45 minutes per pound of meat. Remove from gravy, defat liquid, and puree juices with vegetables. Put juice in container, and chill meat overnight in fridge. The next day slice meat across the grain and lay into baking dish. Cover with gravy, and put back in fridge. Reheat covered at 350 to serve. (1 hour to indefinitely!)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Flying the Friendless Skies

Okay, so I've recently become a neophyte road warrior.

My work has suddenly begun to require a tremendous amount of business travel, which I’ve never really experienced before. This seemed like a totally cool thing to be doing, and totally worth the purchase of an amazing new suitcase (Travelpro platinum 5 series 22 inch expandable suiter, thank you very much, and a suitcase I love so much I would date it...)

I don't even mind the frequent delays that accompany the travel, after all, even the best traveler can't control the weather. Plus I joined the Admiral’s Club, so delays aren’t so bad and if things need to get reworked the staff is really helpful and I don’t have to wait in lines.
However, it recently struck me that as individuals, WE have total control over our behavior when we travel. The behavior we indulge in when we are in the privacy of our own homes is one thing. The things our friends and family decide to put up with from us, that is their choice. But when in public, let me just say, behaving like a raging asshat actually impacts the world around us.

Take a recent trip. When I arrived at O'Hare, I found that my flight was delayed over 2 hours. I headed for the Admiral's Club in hopes of a quiet place to plug in my laptop and get some work done while waiting for the flight. I found a lovely location, a circle of chairs with an open outlet, and only one other traveler, quietly working away. I plugged in. Connected to the internet. Got to work. When a woman came by to offer drinks we ordered a matching pair of Diet Cokes, and made eye contact. Smiles. We know what the deal is. Aren't we lucky to have a nice place to wait out the weather?

Then they descended. A group of eight, talking loudly in what I think was Russian, pushing aside our suitcases, gesturing for us to move our belongings out of their way, and plopping themselves down all around us, even moving over other chairs from another area. The conversation got louder and louder, cocktails arrived, raucous laughter.

It should be noted that the club has private rooms available for meetings and gatherings, not near the hardworking quiet folks.

I left. I was way outnumbered and trying to be Zen.

Then a stroke of huge luck. Despite being number 22 on the standby list for an earlier flight, I got on, second to last. There was still an overhead space big enough for my suitcase. The seat was a middle one, not the best thing for my size 20 tush, but other than that, I was grateful. We got delayed another half an hour on the tarmac due to the catering truck not arriving on time. Because those itsy bitsy microscopic bags containing four pretzels the size of my earlobe are so necessary for air travel, or someone might feel neglected!

But eventually we were wheels up. And for the next two hours there were many lessons I wish I could have taught my fellow travelers.

LESSONS FOR HAPPY TRAVELERS

#1 I'm sure those papers are full of information that should not be shared with strangers. Let me recommend that you put them in your briefcase for safekeeping and take them home. Purchase a shredder, light the scraps on fire, immolate them to your hearts content. However, when you sit directly behind me and RIP PAPER INTO LITTLE BITS FOR 27 MINUTES WITHOUT STOPPING, it, um, is the weensiest bit irritating.

#2 Children are a little miracle. And I know from my friends with wee ones that sometimes in the least convenient moments, they get overtired, or scared, or their ears pop and they are in pain that doesn't make sense to them. I may have made a very personal choice not to have any children myself, but I have sort-of nieces and nephews (by choice, not by blood) and a 3 year old goddaughter I dote upon, so I am not a total idiot about the ways of the bitty ones. So when the little darlings on my plane begin to get inconsolable, I try very hard not to think of them roasting in a slow oven with a rosemary orange glaze. But when your child says "mommy, mommy, mommy..." over and over again at least 48,000 times, for the love of god ANSWER HIM. Do not sit and talk to your traveling companion as if you are completely unaware of his need for your attention.

This is where I PLEAD with airlines....I will happily pay an upcharge for childless flights. I'm not saying, I’m just saying…

#3 I appreciate that the second we land we are allowed to turn on our cell phones. As I had a car service coming to pick me up and my flight arrived three hours late, I absolutely made a QUICK CALL to let them know I had landed. I did not, however, have a fifteen minute conversation at the top of my voice about what Kimmy did at the AEPi party, and how totally smashed I was, and like, how excited I am to be coming home for the weekend. Nobody on flight 368 cares that you are a drunken ho who is totally flunking Sociology.

#4 When the flight attendants ask you to remain seated and stay out of the overhead bins until we arrive at the gate, and this will apparently come as a surprise to many, they G-ddammed mean it! You just sat for 3 hours, three more minutes is going to kill you?

#5 Bodyslamming the little old lady sitting on the aisle to wrest your rollabord out of the overhead so that you can wedge your ass in the face of the person next to you for ten minutes while waiting for the plane to disembark is just plain rude, and your mother would be ashamed of you. She raised you better than that.

#6 If you needed to stow your luggage further back than your seat due to the fullness of the flight, please wait until the plane is clear before heading back to fetch it. Swimming like a salmon upstream through the rest of us is likely to get you kneecapped.

#7 If you do not plan on taking the complimentary airline magazine or Skymall catalog with you, please note that it is not a good place to store your used gum. The seat pocket in front of you is actually not related to a wastebasket at all, and the patron coming after you is not so interested in your leftover kleenex or empty beef jerky packages. Stuffing such savory items way down into the pocket instead of just HANDING THEM TO THE ATTENDANT WITH THE GARBAGE BAG is just flipping lazy and gross.

#8 Just ask Martha Stewart. Bathing. With soap. Its a good thing.

#9 Flight attendants are in fact well-trained professionals in a high pressure service industry who have nearly 200 people to take care of. They even occasionally have to get everyone out onto the wings in the middle of the freaking Hudson, for chrissakes! They are not your personal slaves, punching bags, nor are they paid nearly enough to be treated like crap. They did not get together in a coven to conjure up a storm over O'Hare for the amusement of making your life difficult. They did not cancel your flight, lose your luggage, or fill up business class preventing your upgrade from going through. Their universe does not, in fact, revolve around you, and when you speak to them in a disrespectful manner, they do, in fact, gather in the galley and talk about your ugly green suit and bad comb-over, and assume, like the rest of us forced to listen to your pompous vitriol, that you are compensating for a very VERY small penis. Hypothetically.

#10 Your elbows. Belong. Somewhere relatively related to YOUR BODY. If they wander over near my breast one more time, I'm going to introduce my own little elbow to your balls.

#11 Friendly conversation on a plane is fine. I have met some lovely people on a flight, including one guy who I actually went on a couple dates with. But, I am not interested in becoming a cog in your pyramid scheme, purchasing life insurance from you, or hearing about the gumbo you ate last night. And when I have my laptop open and my headphones on, it is a sign, subtle though it may be, that I DO NOT WANT TO TALK TO YOU. Poking me in the arm and making me take out one earphone to hear that you hope your luggage made it on board is only going to make me cranky

ONE FLIGHT. On ONE plane, this is the behavior I witnessed, the irritations I was subjected to. But surely that can’t be normal?

Except, it, um, totally is.

Flight after flight, I become enraged, incensed, who are all these idiots and why are they always going where I am going? I hate that I have become the woman who eyes the passengers in the terminal and begins to mentally categorize them. “You with Bluetooth smoking in your ear, you’ll be the one who is rude to the flight attendant. You with the poncho, you’ll be the one at the end of my row who has to get up four times to pee during a two hour flight. You over there, with the baby, you will be the death of us all.” I find myself making snap judgments, based on looks, and what saddens me ever more than my own prejudices, is how often I am right.

Not that there aren’t the occasional good moments.

On one flight from New York to Chicago there was a young man of about five or six who was about as ill behaved a child as I have ever seen. Screaming at the top of his lungs, refusing to listen to his parents, making a racket of gargantuan proportions for nearly half the flight. I must have heard the phrase “I hate you!” bellowed at his parents about twenty times. At one point a man behind me said quietly but audibly, “I will pay anyone fifty bucks to punch that kid in the throat.”

Not trying to be funny. Just a sort of an exasperated general offer to the universe. I genuinely believe that if someone had, in fact, punched the kid in the throat, every one of us would have paid them fifty bucks, and the hero would have been able to afford business class next time.

Finally off the plane and waiting at the baggage claim, I happened to be standing next to the monster’s mother. She looked weary. Damien the Devilspawn was off somewhere with his father. And then a very kindly woman in a denim skirt and hand-knit sweater approached her. Her salt and pepper hair was in a low messy bun, and she looked as if she should smell of cookies. She smiled at the mother, tilted her head and said, in a voice full of compassion and deep personal understanding

“So, your son. He is autistic?”

The mother snapped her head up, eyes like daggers, mouth pursed into a tight line. Through clenched teeth, she replied

“No, he isn’t.”

The kindly stranger visibly jumped, muttered some apologies, and backed away, her entire response and body language screaming out ‘oh, sorry, so its just bad parenting then, didn’t mean to pry!’

I think it shows tremendous restraint that I moved to the other side of the carousel before laughing so hard I nearly passed a stone.

But I do think it is an interesting way to begin to address some of these behaviors. I am thinking very seriously of simply using this tactic on people who cannot behave appropriately. I’ll put on my sweetest most compassionate voice and just approach them and say

“So, you’re autistic, huh?”

I wish for you all an aisle seat with an empty middle seat, first bag off the carousel, and a cab driver who knows how to get to your hotel.

Getting Started

I've been an intermittent blogger over on MySpace, but it seemed time to take the bigger plunge and set something up that anyone can read. This space will eventually contain updates on my daily life, information on my writing projects, rants about stuff that cheeses me off, and probably enough stuff about food to make my personal trainer have an aneurysm. It will also contain some made up words, opinions about pop culture, confessions of past foibles, and occasional nostalgic essays about my childhood. Essentially the same crap every other blogger puts out into the ether. Since I'm new to this, I will start with re-posting some of my favorite stuff from MySpace, and some articles I wrote for Oy!Chicago online magazine. In the meantime, I hope you'll check out my website, maybe purchase and read one of my books.

biglove,
Stacey