Friday, May 25, 2012

The Butter Battle

There is a long-standing disagreement between me and My Lovely Wife that predates the births of our children and even our marriage.

Way back when -- almost exactly 20 years ago when our hearts first went all twitterpated over each other -- there were many distracting idiosyncracies we each carried into our relationship. Most of those quirks stemmed from our base personalities.

Me: forgetful; disorganized.

Her: memory like a steel trap; a demand for structure that could take the holler out of the toughest drill sergeant.

Some disparities came from our differing upbringings. For instance, we didn't wash bath towels every day. How dirty can they possibly get from one use? After all, you should be at your cleanest when you use them, right? But not so in her house. Bath towels were washed daily, regardless of their dormant potential for additional absorption and their relative lack of contaminants. As most couples do, we found ways to address these kinds of issues by adopting one partner's preference or creating new protocols we could call our own.

One pesky issue, however, has lingered for two decades. In my mind, it is a matter of common sense. For My Lovely Wife, it is a matter of order. No matter how you look at it, buttering corn on the cob is a loaded issue in our home.

An unacceptable result of
barbaric behavior.
I grew up employing a simple method for enveloping my corn in buttery goodness. A dish holding a stick of margarine would be placed on the table and my family would take it in turn to roll their cobs on it. Sure, by the time everyone's corn was adequately buttered the stick looked like an animal had attacked it, but the process exemplified efficiency. It never occurred to me, nor had it ever to any rational person, this method might strike some as disturbingly barbaric.

Try as I might, I could never make My Lovely Wife acknowledge the benefits of the rolling technique. It went against every fiber of her nature. It resulted in corn-tainted margarine that no longer could serve any other purpose. It simply was not the kind of thing a person teetering on the brink of OCD (on a good day) could tolerate.

For years we have tried to come up with a suitable solution. Many times I've fought with little pats of margarine, watching helplessly as they slip from between my knife and the cob only to land on some unsuspecting meal item that has no business mixing with margarine. Then there were the experiments with squeeze margarine. That oozing, chemical-flavored, I-can't-believe-it's-not-giving-me-cancer grease in a bottle is no substitute for the real thing.

Then, maybe a week ago, an amazing thing happened. Our Daughter and I managed to weaken My Lovely Wife's resolve and place a stick of margarine on the table for rolling. She didn't like it, but she went along with it. Then last night we tried it again. We all rolled our corn and mangled the margarine, perhaps a little too gleefully in my case.

As we sat there digesting, My Lovely Wife looked innocently at me and said: "That really does make it a lot easier to butter your corn..."

© 2012 Mark Feggeler

Monday, May 14, 2012

Dear New York

Long Island, to be more specific.

It's where I grew up. A place full of fond memories, familiar smells, delicious foods, and ghosts of friends past. The friends aren't deceased, but the versions of them that exist in my mind are long gone. We are all older, balder, fatter, except for the ones with bad toupes and those who can't blink anymore because of one too many plastic surgeries. Judging by their Facebook profiles, many of them, like me, have moved off the island to settle elsewhere. Others didn't wander too many miles from home.

As the plane flew low today under the canopy of clouds covering Brooklyn, I watched the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island pass by. The skyline of Manhattan presented itself, the new Freedom Towers standing tall in the Financial District not far from Battery Park where I once attended an Earth Day celebration in the early 90s with college friends.

It's amazing to me how many baseball diamonds you spot from a few hundred feet up as you pass over Queens. In some places you can see six or seven fields all squeezed in next to each other with shallow outfields and barely any room for bleachers. Baseball was the sport I followed most closely during my formative years. The pastoral simplicity of the game, bursts of excitement punctuating a two-hour pitchers' duel, the crescendo of the crowd as the count runs to 3-2 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and the tying run on second. It's a shame our nation is losing its patience for the game.

What strikes me hardest each time I return for a visit with family, or in this case for work, is the overwhelming sense of claustrophobia.

Maybe it all relates back to that same feeling you get when you return to your old elementary school. You'd swear someone came in and lowered all the water fountains and miniaturized the toilets. The cavernous hallways have narrowed and the ceilings hang far too low. Even the people seem smaller.

That's how every block looks to me as I drive through once familiar neighborhoods. Smaller, less familiar, less significant. The landmarks have all changed, empty lots now have two or three houses crammed onto them, and I unkowingly speed right by the house in which I spent the first two decades of my life. I can't even be sure I could walk the path from the old house to McVey Elementary School, something I did hundreds of times as a kid, without the help of my GPS.

A short time on Long Island is all it takes to remind me how much I enjoy the openness of my semi-rural North Carolina community. Much like my time in college at Plattsburgh, NY, I am smitten by the relaxed nature of the people and the elbow room we have between us.

I can't help feeling a little sorry for the people who never left Long Island, but I'm sure many of them would feel sorry for me for leaving, if they ever had cause to think about me. Long Island was a wonderful place to grow up, and there is nothing about my childhood I would change. I suppose, if we're fortunate enough, we all just naturally gravitate to the place we feel most comfortable.

If we're really lucky, there might even be a few baseball fields nearby.

© 2012 Mark Feggeler

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Cupcake Declaration

When did cupcakes earn such lofty status in American culinary culture?

And why are the gastronomical pimps at the Food Network and the Cooking Channel so damnedly determined to shove them down our throats? Not too long ago, the primary audience for cupcakes was children. Not that they were happy about it, but cupcakes have always been an easy, dry-mix-in-a-box solution to providing enough treats for a school function.

Your kid having a birthday and you want to send something to school for his or her class? Buy a three-dollar box of Duncan Hines Chocolate Fudge Cake Mix, add a few eggs, some vegetable oil, and bake for 20 minutes. You're done! Cross it off your list and move along. Some kid in their class doesn't like chocolate? Too freakin' bad. Little fascist can bring vanilla when it's his turn.

Really, I have nothing whatsoever against the cupcake as a concept. I don't hate them as some people purportedly do. I simply don't understand the groundswell of cupcake counterculture occuring across the country in recent years.

More and more, it seems, people who think they can bake AND run a small business are investing their lifes' savings into storefronts with cutesy names like Polka Dot, Sprinkles, Little Cupcake, and my personal favorite Cupcake Cupcakes. Genius marketing ploy, if you ask me, repeating the word twice just in case you're too mentally impaired to understand what a store with only one "Cupcake" in its title is trying to sell you.

If these people want to blow their children's college funds on some self-employment pipe dream in which they bake happily to the end of their days like freakishly huge Keebler elves, that's fine with me, but I don't have to endorse it, which is exactly what it seems every food-oriented piece of propaganda I come across is telling me to do.

Magazines, blogs, television, billboards-- everywhere I turn these days I see cupcakes. There are red velvet cupcakes, peanut butter cupcakes, hazelnut cupcakes, key lime cupcakes, carrot cupcakes, coconut cupcakes, mango coriander pound cake cupcakes, peach cupcakes, pineapple cupcakes, pumpkin cupcakes, pink grapefruit cupcakes, gingerbread cupcakes, gingerbeer cupcakes, crystalized ginger olive oil cupcakes with lime buttercream, stuffed cupcakes, fried cupcakes, mini cupcakes, and giant cupcakes that defeat the entire purpose of the cupcake and if they weren't shaped like cupcakes we would simply call them cake.

I, for one, refuse to subscribe to this newfound belief in the almighty power of the cupcake. We're Americans, people! We eat doughnuts by the dozen and cookies by the sleeve. We were born and bred to satiate ourselves with mass quantities of sugary sweetness, not delight in the pristine delicacies of a pretentious treat costing $4.99 for a single serving.

So, all you fancy shmancy cupcake lovers out there, get over yourselves and leave me in peace with my box of Duncan Hines.

© 2012 Mark Feggeler

Saturday, May 5, 2012

I Didn't Run for Dog Catcher

If time has taught me anything, it's that three decades really isn't all that impressive a length of time. Trends change, children grow and change, I change my underwear, but people generally stay the same.

In the past forty years our society has mastered television remotes and online banking. We've learned to set TiVo to record our favorite shows while we're out surfing free WiFi at Starbucks on our smart phones, downloading digital music to our iCloud accounts, and uploading video files to YouTube. But none of that changes the fact we still laugh at fart jokes, talking animals, and video clips of men getting hit in the crotch with sundry items. If we've really advanced so much, then why  was "The Three Stooges" one of last month's top-grossing movies?

So, it shouldn't come as a surprise that our public institutions also remain mired in their old ways. Now don't go fretting that I'm about to jump off into a diatribe about bank scandals or corrupt politicians. I'm thinking a little closer to home than that, like our local Animal Control center.

Back when My Lovely Wife was a child, she was attacked and bitten by a neighborhood Collie. When her mother called Animal Control for help corraling the dog so it could be tested for rabies, the Animal Control experts told her she would have to catch the animal herself before they could run tests. So much for "animal control." She tried her best, using some of the finest cuts of meat from her freezer, but the beast evaded capture (and probably put on a few pounds).

In the end, frustrated and contemptuous, my mother-in-law called Animal Control and informed them, in no uncertain terms: "I didn't run for Dog Catcher. You did." Then she promised to call their office every time she spotted the animal, no matter what time of day or night. They arrived shortly thereafter and hauled the dog off for testing.

Just the other night, while we were out taking our poodle, Lily, for her final walk of the evening, a neighbor's massive dog tore out of its yard, grabbed Lily in its powerful jaws and flipped her three feet into the air. The attacking dog, a thick-bodied creature that looks like a mix between bulldog and pitbull, was going for the tried and true snap of the neck, but fortunately for Lily it managed to grab only her ear. Although for a split second it looked like it was going to take another shot at finishing the job, the dog ran back to its house without inflicting further injury.

Long story short, Lily is okay. Two small puncture wounds at the base of the ear and $100 in vet bills later, she is back to her spunky self.

Our first reaction was to speak with the family. Without going into great detail, I am satisfied they understand what they did wrong and have accepted full responsibility for it. Many apologies have been offered and promises the dog will not be allowed to run free again. Even so, it occurred to us two days later we should have reported the incident. After all, if they don't live up to their promises, next time it could be one of the neighborhood kids that gets attacked.

When I called Animal Control, the woman at first seemed mildly confused by what I was trying to do. Yes, I had to repeat twice, I wanted to report an incident of one dog attacking another. She started take my information, then stopped to ask one of her coworkers what to do.

"How do I fill out a report of a dog attacking another dog?" I heard her whisper.

Surely, I couldn't be the first resident of the county to file a report with Animal Control such an incident? The very name of the institution suggests it is staffed by people responsible for controlling the behavior of animals, yet the staffer answering the phone doesn't understand why I'm calling to report an out-of-control animal. The story of my mother-in-law's experience drifted through my mind. I wondered in what way they would put the responsibility of policing this matter back on to me.

The woman found the proper form, however, and took my report. One of their investigators would be following up. It seems Animal Control has, indeed, advanced a little since the 1980s.

© 2012 Mark Feggeler