Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Eating Day!

The holidays are here, which means it's time to bloat the twenty extra pounds I normally carry around with me to a seasonally appropriate thirty. It also means massive quantities of food must be prepared in order to provide at least five pounds per plateload, regardless of whether we're talking about a salad plate, a dinner plate, or a dessert plate.

Yesterday (Christmas Eve-Eve) was primary cooking day for our Christmas day celebrations. In two days, we will feed a total of eight people -- the five who live under our roof, plus my parents and Brother Tom. Naturally, then, we browned three pounds of sausage, rolled eight pounds of beef and pork into meatballs and browned them, then tossed all of that browned meaty goodness into a vat of homemade sauce.

Next came cookies. Simplicity was the motto of the day, so we kept it to one kind of cookie -- the ubiquitous peanut butter Kiss cookie -- that could be easily thrown together and baked without distracting too much from the browning of the meatballs and sausage. Fresh from their morning meat-rolling calisthenics, the kids helped roll out four trays of peanut buttery deliciousness, in addition to shucking several dozen Hershey's Kisses.

After a brief break to clean a pan, or seven, it was time to experiment with something new -- cinnamon pumpkin roll with chocolate mascarpone ganache.

I've baked many things, but never a finished cake that had to be rolled. It seemed like an awful lot of work to go through just to create a delivery method for getting pumpkin cake and chocolate ganache to my mouth, but I was game. Besides, Giada de Laurentis and the Food Network wouldn't steer me wrong.

To Giada's credit, both the cake and the ganache are amazingly delectable, however rolling the pumpkin spice cake might not have been my finest culinary hour. I passed the first test, flipping the pan and dropping the cake onto a towel dusted with powdered sugar. Trouble is, my definition of dusting is slightly more aggressive than Giada's. The cake landed with a satisfying plop and shot powdered sugar up and out like a Christmas-tinged mushroom cloud full of elf fairies and pumpkiny aromas. The next bit, actually rolling the cake without breaking, mangling, tearing, shearing, or otherwise causing traumatic damage to said cake, was less messy but much more sketchy. In the end, I manhandled it into something that roughly resembles a rolled cake.

Today continued with more baking. After all, you can't serve seventeen pounds of meat and sauce without homemade Italian bread, and where one loaf might suffice, two certainly will provide that measure of overkill necessary for a proper holiday feast.

Oh, did I mention the cannoli? Yeah, I bought twenty pre-made cannoli shells (half of them covered in chocolate, because they were there) and prepped two pounds of filling so we can stuff them on Christmas day short before we sit down to eat our six-and-a-half pounds of meat, sauce, pasta and bread each. That way, the cannoli can set up in the fridge without getting the shells all soggy. You have to plan ahead for these things, you know.

The end result is that, by the time we tuck the kids into bed tomorrow night, I should have gained almost the entire extra ten pounds. I'll leave a tiny bit of space for that last cookie before bed.

© 2014 Mark Feggeler

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Progeny Perfected

You might think your children are special, but mine really are.

I know all parents believe their kids are beautiful, handsome, smart, talented, witty, mature and precocious. Problem is, only one pair of parents can believe that and actually be correct. My intent here isn't to tramp muddy footprints all over your dreams of being the perfect parent. You've tried exceptionally hard to raise perfect children and your kids genuinely appreciate your efforts. I'm here to point out the simple fact that our kids make yours look like they came from the reject bin at Big Lots. No offense.

Take the Italian, for example. The Italian has read more books this year than I have in my entire life, which really isn’t much of a comparison, because my reading skills loosely match those of an underdeveloped Gibbon monkey.

He's also a blossoming computer whiz. The Italian's idea of light entertainment is to prepare point-by-point comparisons of this year’s Apple Worldwide Developers Conference to last year’s Apple Worldwide Developers Conference. He’s thirteen. When I was thirteen, I was more concerned with which episode of Gilligan’s Island would be on after school than I was in getting the inside scoop on the latest advancements in world technology. When I was thirteen my brothers and I were content with playing Dig Dug off five-inch floppy discs on our Commodore 64. The Italian has been breaking out the laptop each morning to teach himself HTML coding over breakfast. And, well, why wouldn't he?

Then there’s the German. The German is sweet natured to a fault, he's an ace hockey goalie, and he plays saxophone as soulfully as a sixty-year-old in a smoke-filled night club. And he enjoys practicing. When I was his age, I recorded myself playing the trumpet for ten minutes and hit play twice to fill out the rest of the half hour I was supposed to be practicing.

The German also is our Lego master. I’m not talking about the 30-piece police car Lego set we got for Christmas forty years ago that I'm still trying to figure out how to put together. I’m talking about 2,000-piece movie prop replicas that are half assembled before the wrapping hits the floor. I’m talking about sitting at a laptop to program code for a WiFi Lego robot that recognizes different colors, utilizes touch sensors, and performs complex tasks.

Between the two of them, the twins have the necessary knowledge and access to technology to hack our online banking and transfer our assets to offshore accounts, all while holding us captive in our own basement with a robotic Lego army.

The ring leader of our perfected progeny is Our Daughter. If I even attempted to maintain half the busy schedule Our Daughter keeps on a daily basis, I would have been dead three-and-a-half years ago. I can count on one hand the number of clubs I joined during my K-12 years, yet this girl's resume reads like an alphabetical listing of every possible extra-curricular activity available.

She's also taken more AP classes than I have clean pairs of underwear. I'm lucky I know how spell AP. She wants to graduate with honors, get a bachelor's degree in biology, a master's degree in dentistry, and ultimately become an orthodontist. At her age, my only goal was to pass the next test and avoid anyone at school who might be interested in giving me a wedgie. Our Daughter has the next ten years of her life planned out whereas my long-term goals include gassing up the car and making sure I leave enough time after getting out of bed each morning to reach the toilet before I wet myself.

I'm certain many of you reading this are making all kinds of mental notes in preparation of a rebuttal of my assertion that my children are better than yours. You're wasting your time listing out your childrens' grade point averages, academic accomplishments, personal triumphs, and tallying the number of times they've been Snapchatted or re-Tweeted. Please, if it makes you feel better, go ahead and launch a well-prepared defense of your children. So long as you're prepared to eventually acknowledge the unquestionable superiority of my kids, we won't have any trouble.

© 2014 Mark Feggeler