The girl and the coconut

1911682_10152374152010493_1094622657382436955_nIt was a long time coming. Little Gabrielle Baker, who’s not so little anymore, sat in the doctor’s office playing a game on her phone. She sat on that pleather mattress — not pink, not orange, not brown — doctor’s offices have, swinging her long legs, looking quite a bit less nervous than her stepmum.

That stepmum was talking incessantly, telling her how fine everything was going to be, telling her, in fact, just often enough that it was betraying her doubt.

But then in walked the allergist, who is happily my friend Sarah, and stepmum could shut up.

“Are we ready?” Sarah said, with a big smile on her face. “Did you bring it?”

I handed her the bag of sweetened flaked coconut she’d asked me to bring.

“Let’s do this,” Sarah said.

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A party to remember

IMG_0695A few weeks ago, I walked into the local pub the Tap on Main to discover all of my friends banded together at the end of the bar waving little American flags. “The Star Spangled Banner” was playing on the stereo. A little table had been decorated with gingham linen, white roses, Coca Cola, apple pie and patriotic cupcakes. And as I walked toward my friends, crying of course, I had to walk under a huge flag hanging from the ceiling.

It was the surprise of all surprises, one my friends had thrown me for passing my citizenship test, the last step before I can be naturalized as a citizen.

Admittedly, I had the feeling something was in the works before we got to Tap. This was largely because my husband was acting shifty before we left the house. We were supposed to meet our friends Sarah and Scott at the Tap by 7. But from 6:45 to 7:04, my husband’s phone kept vibrating, jumping around on the kitchen island like an alarmed bird.

“Work stuff,” he sniffed and started tapping on keys with his hand covering the screen.

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The road to citizenship

IMG_0698Last Thursday, I walked into the local pub The Tap on Main to see a huge American flag hanging from the ceiling. “The Star Spangled Banner” was playing on the stereo, and bottles of Coca Cola, apple pie and patriotic cupcakes sat on a table nearby. But most importantly, at the end of the bar was a big group of my friends, all of who had gathered just for me.

Earlier that day, I’d driven to Louisville to take my citizenship test, the last step before you are naturalized as an American. I’d been studying for it for the past week and now knew: Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. James Madison was the main writer of the Constitution. The Constitution was adopted on July 4, 1776. Not 1767, but 1776. 1776. 1776.

Studying for this test, which consists of knowing the answers to 100 questions about American civics and geography, had been interesting. Finally, I was getting some things cleared up in my head. For example, I’d always thought the Declaration of Independence had happened after the Revolutionary War, after the Americans had won and “declared” victory. I had had no idea that the Louisiana Purchase was the purchase of such a huge piece of land, extending all the way to the Canadian border. And I’d always just associated Benjamin Franklin with kite flying, not libraries, the post office or writing the Constitution.

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To the beat of my typewriter

typewriterWhile we all nestle under the blankets and enjoy our winter wonderland views this week (best blizzard ever!), here’s a little tale from typing class, circa 1993. I thought of this shortly after I wrote my home ec column a few weeks ago when some of my friends and family started sharing their own memories of cooking and sewing. Turns out, mean home ec teachers are not that unusual. But typing? Everyone seemed to love typing class.

I certainly did and will never forget the name of my teacher: Mr. Partaker. Unfortunately this is because Mr. Partaker had a stutter and, of course, his name started with P, which is the worst letter on which to get locked on repeat. So you can imagine how it went over with 15-year-old kids when he introduced himself.

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Running away from FaceTime

IMG_0681Last night, I went to retrieve Gabrielle’s laundry basket from her room. Upon reaching the top of the stairs, I could hear her chatting happily away and presumed she was on the phone telling her mom about her day. But when I opened the door, I saw she was in her bathroom, an en suite, taking her contacts out.

“Oh, hi,” she said. “I’m just FaceTiming with Chloe.”

Indeed, there sat her phone propped up against her sink. A pretty girl appeared on the screen, looking rather Zen.

“Chloe, this is Tara.”

Realizing I was, in essence, on display for a stranger, I jumped back behind Gabrielle’s bookcase.

“Oh!” I said. “I didn’t realize.”

From my hiding place, I called out: “Nice to meet you, Chloe.”

I started smoothing down my apron, which thank God I had on. I’d had an unfortunate bra chafing incident after an 8-miler earlier in the day and had been forced to wear my tank top “au naturel” for the rest of the night to let the welts settle down.

“That’s my stepmum,” Gabrielle said. “Tara, you can come out now. It’s OK.”

I pulled out from behind the bookcase, gave Chloe an odd military salute out of sheer panic, and booked it out of there.

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The horror of home ec

262e9bcdd52f3001f6886058f056ef16When I was writing about coupons, recipes and living the life of a good housewife last week, it reminded me of my own education in home economics. I hadn’t thought of those classes since, mmm, the minute they ended, but I did realize last week what an unusual nightmare they were.

Although you’d think they’d be all about cinnamon and the comforting hum of sewing machines, alas, they were not. My home economics teacher was the meanest teacher I’ve ever had. For the past week, I’ve tried hard to remember her name and have finally accepted that, out of sheer PTSD trauma, I must have blocked it out.

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The thrill of an organized life

unnamed[1]When my sister-in-law Teresa saw my face after I opened my Christmas gifts, she knew she’d made a slam dunk. In my hands were three books that were, essentially, going to make me a better person.

The anchor of the three is a binder containing plastic sleeves into which you insert recipe cards. The goal of these cards is to create a go-to place that documents how to make your fave dishes.

My mom had one of these and, throughout my childhood, I loved paging through it. Actually, flipping through it more like, as her plastic recipe cardholders were pasted in two descending columns inside the book. I loved looking at the spills and stains on the cards, the different handwriting belonging to people who had given my mom their recipes. There was something remarkably comforting about the book, this bible of sorts, and not just because its pleather cover was 1970s brown.

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Kitchen Salvation

20120103-185714-GFTues-Croque-Monsieur[1]It was a croque-monsieur that finally yanked me out of my bad mood last week.

It was a cold, snowless night and we were at a friend’s house for dinner. All four of us chatted comfortably around the kitchen island for a while, and I was reminded of the joy of small gatherings as opposed to the giant blow-outs we hosted over the holidays.

Then the woman, whose name is Hannah, started making a béchamel sauce, and layered fresh ham on slices of toasted brioche. Once the milky sauce had thickened, she poured it on the ham, topped it with another piece of bread and sprinkled grated gruyère cheese over everything. Then she popped it in a hot oven to let things get bubbly and golden.

As I cut into my beautiful French sandwich, which was paired with a simple salad, I felt renewed. The kitchen. The kitchen is what I needed to inject myself with the inspiration of a new year.

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Out the window

IMG_0424I’ve spent a lot of the last two days looking out the window. Partly because I am thinking, but partly because I am wishing it were different out there. So far, the winter weather has been pretty cheesy. Lots of precipitation when it’s strangely warm, lots of sun when it’s cold. This has resulted in no real snow and, frankly, it’s getting depressing.

I think I am feeling this way, however, because I am fat from Christmas and I am facing three good months of the Usual Routine. “Dum, dum, dum,” that phrase should be followed by. Every time I say it, I am reminded of John Bailey’s Usual Muck. Until we all boycotted it, we would eat this on our skiing trip every year. It was basically a stew with yesterday’s leftovers combined with a few fresh ingredients. John would add cumin and mustard and some other random stuff and then we would sit and eat. For the first few days, it was kind of fun, made you feel like you were camping. But after day three? Take me to a restaurant or take me back to Kentucky — I am sick of muck.

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A bagel Christmas

bagelsOur house is fragrant with poppy seeds, sesame and dehydrated onion right now, and I am trying desperately to contain myself. The source of this loveliness is three firmly folded paper bags containing, as far as I’m concerned, the equivalent of food gold.

A few months ago, we met our newest best friends, Becca and Rick, who happen to be two of the best cooks I’ve ever met. A few weeks into our friendship, Rick presented us with a warm bag of bagels that he’d made himself.

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