Maybe Ostrich *Should* Be on the Table

Remember a month, or maybe six weeks ago, when I was talking about my lack of cooking ability and how it was fine because being a middle child, I’d never have to worry about being in charge of a Thanksgiving dinner? (No? Check it out here.)  I figured it would fall to the older sister or the only boy of the family, leaving me free to wander in and out of the kitchen, sampling as I pleased and then sprawl on the couch to watch my fantasy players mop-up during the holiday games.  Well, it turns out, Thanksgiving is headed my way, with a vengeance!

(On a side note, you hear a lot of complaints about being a middle child, but I figure, if you play your cards right, you’ve got the best of both worlds. Having on older sister who was good at cleaning got me out of many a chore. I’d do mine poorly and soon enough, they’d get passed off to her. At one point, I remember the bathroom being on my list of Saturday chores. I’d go in there with my oh-so-80’s boom box, turn on the radio with the door shut and “get to work.” All I needed to do was spend about twenty minutes and make it seem like work had been done. By splashing cleaning powder around the tub, the room had the smell of detergent, which means I worked. Occasionally leaving a trace of powder was also helpful, as it showed I’d really scrubbed. I’d be sure to run water long enough that it was convincing and then swirl some cleaning fluid around the toilet with the brush, again, keeping up appearances and smells. With that done, it was time to unplug my radio and move to my next Saturday morning chore.  It wasn’t long before the majority of the “real” cleaning jobs were reassigned to my sister, while my list included the ever-so-important chore of vacuuming the hallway and emptying the bottom rack of the dishwasher.

On the other end of the family tree, is my younger brother, who, to be fair, got away with a lot, but because he is a boy, bigger things were pushed his way, skipping right over me.  Time to haul hay? My siblings were the bale-buckers while I drove the truck, only occasionally hitting the gas just a little too hard or braking a bit too suddenly.

So middle children, have heart! Play your in-between role for all it’s worth. It can be done.)

But I digress. Thanksgiving. Yes, I am hosting one this year. And not a small one. Right now, my RSVP count is hovering right around the forty-five people mark. That’s right. I’ve gone from never having a Thanksgiving responsibility, beyond calling dibs on the wishbone, to planning and organizing an event for nearly four dozen adults and children.

With just a week until the big poultry eating day (big-poultry to be eaten or big day on which to eat poultry? You decide!), I’ve put in my meat order and am quickly assessing the tableware needs. Luckily, Chengdu has an American-style bakery in town that is cooking turkeys, so they’ll prepare the four birds, but at a price. Those suckers cost $92 each! That’s US dollar rates, by the way.  When I mentioned this to my mom in an email the other day, she responded by asking if they were possibly ostrich. She has a point. Considering wild turkeys wander across the ridge near my parents’ cabin on a regular basis, it’s a little painful to be paying so much, but that’s the name of the import game. If it were ostrich, I could get away with just one, rather than the four headed our way next week. Maybe I should consider a larger poor-at-flying poultry for next year’s festivities.

The birds are taken care of, decorations are ready to go (thanks to Thad’s recent State-side trip), a work order for the room set-up has been placed and now it is a matter of side dishes and desserts. The Foreign Service, in some ways, reminds me a lot of the Mormon ward I grew up in. We too are a potluck community! Nearly every event, whether it be a gathering at the Marine House, a back-to-school pool party or a Thanksgiving dinner, hinges on the attendees hauling along a dish or two for the crowd. Our current sign-up sheet is filled with holiday classics: green bean casserole, sweet potato pie, cornbread, as well as pumpkin pie to top it all off.

“I can’t cook a Thanksgiving dinner. All I can make is cold cereal and maybe toast.” muttered the lovable Charlie Brown in his eponymous Thanksgiving special. He and I are obviously twins, at least when it comes to kitchen-skills. (I have much more hair than him and would never wear a yellow shirt with a giant zigzag across the front. Twins in the kitchen, not in the style department.)  I may not be cooking the entire dinner (I did sign up for my old sit-down-dinner standby- rolls, which will actually be made by my ayi!), but I do have a whole lot of organizing and preparing to do in the next seven days so that the Foreign Service Officers and their families can enjoy a taste of America with a traditional Thanksgiving feast.

Good grief, there’s a lot to get done!

“C” is for Cookie, That’s Good Enough for Me

Now what starts with the letter “C”?
“Cookie” starts with “C”!
Let’s think of other things that starts with “C”!
Uh. . .Uh. . . Who cares about da other things?!

-Cookie Monster

If Cookie Monster just added “Christmas” to his list of “C” words, that would be good enough for me.  I figured there was no better way to celebrate the holiday season that to marry these two fabulous “C” words and get my bake on!

The idea of a mass-baking day came to me a few weeks ago in the midst of Chinese class.  There was a point in class when one classmate was really struggling with a grammar point, so while he and the teacher went through a series of sentences using said point, I wisely used that time to make a list in the back of my notebook of soon-to-be cookie recipients.  It didn’t take long for the list to grow from a handful of people to the point where hundreds of cookies would be needed, but that just added to the fun of what I shall dub “Koo-Koo for Cookies Day!”

With a few other moments of not following along with the ever-growing vocabulary list, I had not only a receiver list, but an equally long list of goodies to be created.  Scheming complete, it was time to put the plan into action.

On Saturday morning, while it was a brisk thirty degrees outside, I bundled up and headed to the closest grocery store.  This journey requires me to cut through a shopping center, a mall and a parking garage. Bundled in my winter finery, the outside portions of the trip where quite comfortable, but that comfort in the elements translated directly to near heat stroke inside the buildings. Between puffy coat, scarf and hat, my grocery cart was more outerwear than it was food items.

The first annual (annual implies there will be future occasions…we’ll optimistically assume such an event will again take place, but next time in Chengdu) Koo-Koo for Cookies baking list included holiday classics such as gingerbread cookies, peanut butter cookies, chocolate chip cookies and holiday sprinkle doused sugar cookies.  To round out this diabetic induction, I also got the fixings to make chocolate pecan treats.  Shoving aside my unwieldy pile of Arctic-ready clothing also stacked in the cart, I made my way to the checkout stand where I quickly calculated that spending an extra $1.99 to purchase what is possibly the world’s largest canvas bag was a much better deal than losing all circulation to my extremities, which is surely what would have happened had I looped numerous plastic bags over each arm to schlep home.

Gigantic reusable grocery store tote slung over my shoulder mirroring Mr. Claus’ upcoming ventures, I made my way back through the parking garage, the mall and the nearby shopping center, feeling the wrath of the overheated buildings.

With dawn breaking on Sunday morning, I excitedly got up to begin the cookie construction process.  Dough was prepared. Cookies were created. Some were rolled in sprinkles of various holiday motifs (red and green for the Christmas revelers, blue for those lighting menorahs this time of year). Cookies were baked. Cookies were cooled. Cookies were stacked high on plates dotting what little counter space is available in ye ol’ mo-partment.

Six hours later, I successfully pulled the last of the sweet goodies from the oven. The results included two hundred cookies plus one hundred chocolate pecan treats, minus the various items that Thad occasionally wandered through to “taste-test.”  While it may be a horrible flashback to middle school math problems, the sum of the day is easy to calculate- deliciousness!

Once the delightful goodies were complete, the lack of counter space again reared its ugly head.  Without our dear floppy-eared Basset hound Mabel to make her move, it was easy enough to expand into the entryway, where snowman-esque winter plastics plates (the not –so-distant relative of that lovely summer plastic ware peddled by Target when the warm weather arrives) were strewn across the floor and piled high with scrumptiousness and covered over in holiday-themed Saran Wrap. Shiny bows topped off each platter, making the final product not only tasty, but festive as well.

Christmas came early at FSI this week!  There is no better way to greet a Monday than to pass out fifteen plates of holiday cookies. I had to laugh, when I wandered out of class during the afternoon break, I saw my cookies in the hands of nearly every person I passed in the hallway. Everywhere there were  cookies in hands and smiles on faces. It seems Koo-Koo for Cookies day was a success!

(This little boy is Julian, the son of one of my Chinese classmates. Cute kid and a cookie is the holidays at their finest.)

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It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas!

An array of international Santa Clauses, a giant, glowing evergreen tree, hoards of ice skaters bundled in puffy jackets, colorful scarves and a rainbow of beanies, and a cup of steaming, smooth hot chocolate all mean just one thing- Christmas is in the air!

The Christmas season, in my little world, has a definite period of time in which it fits. (Thad calls it arbitrary, but it makes perfect sense to me.) Christmastime starts the day after Thanksgiving, although I did not partake in any pre-dawn shopping madness, and continues through the end of the year. Once the turkey is devoured, the mashed potatoes have been ingested and the yams have been lovingly crammed down the kitchen sink disposal, Christmas can officially commence.

I love seeing the houses decorated in lights (although I can do without blow-up Snoopy and his cohorts in yard after yard), the malls and stores with wreaths hung and the familiar ringing of the Salvation Army bells. The all-Christmas-music-all-the-time station is officially the go-to radio station for the next four weeks.

As we spent Thanksgiving weekend in Greensburg, Pennsylvania with Thad’s dad’s side of the family, we had a chance to go in to Pittsburgh on Saturday night to officially kick off Christmas merriment.  After a great meal of hotpot at a rather authentic Chinese restaurant, we headed downtown where the city has an enormous Christmas tree lit and decorated, surrounded by an ice skating rink. The weather was great for a late November evening and we comfortably strolled through the masses awaiting their turn to take to the ice. Nearby, the windows of the office buildings were filled with gingerbread houses that local Girl Scout troops and school kids had created and built.

An attached atrium housed another gigantic tree, surrounded by even more gingerbread creations. I think the rules of the contest allowed for any edible construction materials, as graham crackers seemed to be the foundation of choice, with everything from ice cream cones to Oreos being injected into the creative process.  I do have to question the authenticity of several of the elaborate projects that assert to be from preschool-aged students, but are obviously creations of their helicopter-mothers and overly-involved, Boy Scout Troop leading fathers.

The outside edges of this elegant, glass walled/ceiling-ed area were lined with beautifully carved statues of the various images of Santa from around the world.  While I am not sure how factually accurate the stories accompanying each display were, the statues themselves gorgeously combined the romantic feel of the Christmas spirit and the culturally known aspects of each countries celebrations.   (The Chinese Santa, while correctly being called “Old Man Christmas” told a weird tale of gift giving at the holiday season that had an ancient vibe to it that just would not hold up in a history lecture.)

With the Thanksgiving carb-fest completed, all it took was a little Christmas music, a chill in the air and some twinkling lights to make me giddy for the overdose of red and green, of penguins and reindeer, of elves and Mrs. Claus and of shopping and wrapping that will occupy my free time for the next few weeks.  The Christmas season is here and I couldn’t be more thrilled!

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