Friday, December 20, 2013

Holiday traditions

This time of year is all about traditions. You can ask just about anyone and they will happily tell you about their holiday traditions and all of the fond memories they have surrounding said traditions. It doesn't matter which of the plethora of holidays you are (or aren't) celebrating, it is still a season of celebration and with that comes traditions.

Growing up I can remember a tradition of making gumbo on Christmas Eve. Our big dinner was always on Christmas day, so the night before was much more casual. A meal that could be cooked started early and mostly ignored for the rest of the day until it was time to eat was ideal. My grandmother had a recipe she learned from some little old Cajun woman in Lake Charles when my grandfather was stationed there. Her gumbo was sort of a big deal (or so I am told because I never ate it as it had seafood in it and I don't eat seafood).

There was one year that we all awoke Christmas morning to the great Freezer Gumbo Tragedy. Late Christmas Eve my mom and aunts had ladled the left over gumbo into gallon sized ziplock bags. The bags were then taken and placed in the large 6ft standing freezer in the garage. It wasn't until the next morning that we discovered that the stacked bags of gumbo (on the top shelf might I add) had burst open from having been stacked one on top of the other. The gumbo had oozed down through all the other shelves, covering all the other food, and then puddling on the floor of the freezer and began to freeze.

There are pictures somewhere of my mom and my aunts cleaning the gumbo out of the freezer. They found it much more amusing than my grandmother did. I can remember them all giggling about it even as they cleaned. Everyone swore we would never get all of the gumbo out.

That freezer is still in the garage. A few years back (probably 20 years or more since that happened) the motor on the freezer began to go out. My grandmother had someone come out to fix it. When the technician pulled the freezer out from the wall there were still some old rock hard shrimp underneath.

Now that I am grown up I never really get to make it home for Christmas. I live 5 hours away from my family so it is not exactly a quick trip. There are always issues of getting time off for both myself and the husbeast, and then the issue of whether or not we can actually afford the trip. Normally we make it down to celebrate a weekend or two after Christmas actually occurs.

Still, just because I am not home does not mean I can't have a little tradition. For the last four years at least we have had gumbo as part of our pre-Christmas tradition. In my household we do our big dinner on Christmas Eve so there is no gumbo that night. The days preceding Christmas Eve are fair game. My very Cajun husbeast happily makes a giant pot of gumbo (chicken and sausage only so I can enjoy it too) for everyone to enjoy as we prepare for the big day.

The other tradition that stands out in my mind from Christmas as a child was the potato clock. Yes you read that right; potato clock. I am certain that it started out as a joke. One year someone (probably my Uncle Bob knowing him) gave someone else a potato clock. I have no real idea why anyone would give anyone a potato clock, but it happened.

The next year someone else got the same potato clock as a regifted present. That potato clock was thereafter passed between family members for years. Some years it would not show up. Sometimes it would be a few years before it made its way back under the tree. Eventually though it would show up and we would all laugh at its reappearance.

I am not certain anyone ever opened the box to see if there really was a potato clock in the box. I have to assume if there was another gift inside someone would have made mention of it. Then again they might simply have been waiting for someone to open it up and find the real prize within. I don't really think it matters. I think the smiles and laughter that accompanied it were enough of a gift.

Traditions are important. Whether it is a family dish, a novelty toy, or a movie that must be watched, everyone has something that helps make the holidays. They are the things that years later we can look back on and smile fondly. They are the things we remember and have great strength and power to them.

They are things that will always make you smile and laugh and will make other people wonder why an ancient shrimp under the freezer is so damn hilarious.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Waitressing woes

When I was in college I worked for a little Chinese restaurant during the spring semester of my sophomore year. It was a mostly miserable experience. I have had worse jobs mind you, but there is something uniquely unpleasant about waiting tables that just sort of sticks with you forever.

The restaurant was not considered a nice restaurant. Don't get me wrong, the food was fantastic. I think it was by far the best Chinese food in town. In fact it is some of the best Chinese food I have had. When we go back to visit family up that way we always make sure to get at least one meal in at this place.

Great food aside, the atmosphere was lacking. It was in a building that had once been some sort of fast food chain with a decor upgrade to make it look more traditional kitschy Chinese restaurant. There was a drive thru at the restaurant and you ordered your food at the counter. Nothing about this screamed fine dining. It made everyone who came in think of it more like fast food Chinese and they liked to treat us as such.

While you ordered at the counter, the rest of the dining experience was more like a normal restaurant. Someone brought you your drinks and your food. A waitress (because at the time the only men in the restaurant cooked or were the owners sons who just mooched our tips) would come by to refill your drinks, get you anything you needed, and in the end clear your table. No one was assigned to a table per se, but we tended to stick to one section if we weren't busy.

We did work for tips sort of. We were paid more than a normal server but a lot less than minimum wage still. Since we weren't assigned tables we tip shared. Can I just say that tip share is evil. We had one girl that never worked. She would sit and chat with friends, stand and stare into the order window ignoring customers, or disappear completely but still get an equal cut of the meager tips that we earned. We started pocketing tips when she worked and secretly meet in the parking lot at the end of the night to tip split without her.

I remember one night, prom night to be exact, we got a couple dozen kids coming in pre prom for dinner. Amazingly these kids almost all left tips. As my coworker and I were clearing tables two girls, who were actually too young to go to prom and had just dressed up to have dinner with their friends, were still lingering at a table. As they got up to leave they saw a $5 bill sitting on the table and one girl scoffed to the other "Someone left a tip. That is so stupid, you don't tip here." and then she reached for the money.

I have moved faster in my life, but not many times. I crossed the room in a blink of an eye and snatched the money out from under her hand. I fixed the teenager with a death glare and as politely as I could informed her that yes, we do work for tips, and she should think twice about trying to steal from servers in the future. I turned and pocketed the tips off of all the other tables quickly before returning to my cleaning duties.

Aside from poor tipping habits a number of the patrons treated the restaurant like a fast food joint. I remember one day a woman came in with 5 children between the ages of 3 and maybe 9. She insisted on ordering all of them a regular portion of chicken fried rice. Our portions were huge. I almost never finished a full plate and I have a healthy appetite. Still we couldn't convince her to get a childs portion or allow the kids to share.

Now I don't have children, but even then at the age of 19 I knew what very young children were prone to do with heaping piles of rice. For the next 45 minutes my coworkers and I stood and watched helpless and horrified as these children proceeded to destroy the booth they were in. They threw the rice at each other, at the window, on the floor, at other people. They got on the floor and ground the rice into the carpet. They turned over all the sauce containers and emptied out the salt.

All the while the mother just let them do that, while also being ridiculously demanding on the staff. She would shout at us across the restaurant to bring her more drink or another fork since her kid had thrown yet another one at the floor. She was rude and snapped at us constantly. I was the one who ended up helping her, and I was as polite as possible though it was hard not to just slap her.

When she finally left, hauling her rice covered hellions with her, she did not leave a tip. I stood with a bucket and the rice scraper (it was like a squeegee for the carpet to get out ground in rice) staring at the mess and hating my life. It was the single worst clean up I ever had to do in that restaurant and it was all in the space of one booth.

After a few minutes of wiping down everything and scraping rice a man walked up to me with his 6 year old daughter at his side. He politely interrupted my rice scraping and told me he had watched the entire debauchal happen and how impressed he was with how I handled all of it. He wanted to apologize for how that woman acted. Then he handed me a $10 bill and walked out.

I was stunned. What was even more shocking was the fact that when I finally made it to his table (15 minutes later) to clear it, there was a $5 tip there as well. The man tipped me for his meal and for the woman as well. It was one of the few moments that I didn't mind working in that place.

The only other truly nice moment I remember from that job was on my very first day. I had no idea what anything on the menu was, I had no idea how to work the register, I had no idea how to work the drive thru, I had no idea how to write out an order, pretty  much I was clueless and terrified. The other girls were trying to help, but not doing a great job of it.

The very first order I took was for, what I would find out later, a regular. All the girls knew this woman but they failed to tell me that they knew her well enough to know she never ordered what she wanted. She had a bad habit of ordering one thing but meant another. I want to say she ordered crab rangoon when what she wanted were won tons. This was a pretty significant difference in food and in price.

When I took her the order she immediately snapped at me that I had taken her order wrong. I was mortified. I apologized up and down and went back to fix things. I looked at the ticket to verify I had written down what came out of the kitchen. I went to one of the other girls in a panic and she chastised me for obviously taking the order wrong.

I felt like an idiot. It was my first day and I had already screwed up. I was fairly certain that I was not going to be able to keep this job for very long. It was miserable. Not really the way you want to start a job.

I corrected the order and then slunk back to the counter to wrap silverware since that seemed safe. I sort of wanted to cry. No one had told me at this point that the woman always made this mistake. Apparently they had just all forgotten this simple fact. I would have never really known if it weren't for the woman telling me herself.

As she went to leave she came up to me and apologized for snapping and for upsetting me on my first day. She said she realized after that she had ordered the wrong thing and that normally the other girls just corrected the order and brought what she really wanted. She was so very sweet about the whole thing that I suddenly didn't feel bad about it at all. She also slipped me a $5 bill before she left to further apologize. It was actually the only time I ever pocketed a tip and didn't share it with anyone else.

Overall it was an experience I would happily never repeat. Like I said, I have had jobs that were worse, but that doesn't mean this was something I enjoyed. It did however give me many insights into people in general. It made me look at my food servers in a new light as well.

Because of that job I almost always tip something. I think in the decade since I had that job I only walked away without tipping once, and that was a spectacularly bad service. I will leave 'bad' tips if the server is rude or incompetent, but even then that is a 10% tip at minimum. I typically tip between 20-30% depending on the service I get. I will leave an extra tip if I see a server get stiffed. I always am polite and apologetic if I think I am being overly fussy or needy.

Basically I learned to never be the customer who sends my server home in tears wanting to quit their jobs. I strive to be that customer that makes waiting tables just a little less miserable. I think that is a good lesson for us all.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Customer service

The world is full over over entitled jackholes*. I am not referring solely to the generation of 4G cloud pampered kids; I am referring to the populace in general. I suppose that is a little unfair considering I do not have vast dealings with non Americans, so I will amend my statement to only include my fellow Americans as over entitled insufferable jackholes.

Nothing makes this more apparent than the holidays. We enter the season of love, giving, togetherness, peace, joy, cookies, and consumerism and discover that the vast majority of people have absolutely no idea how to behave like a decent human being. All you have to do is spend 20 minutes in any busy retail environment to see multiple painful examples of this reality.

This has been the week of my car having very expensive tire related issues. I have had to deal with mechanics who may or may not have been screwing me over and then had to add onto that very large bill two brand new tires. I was cranky for multiple reasons, but I wasn't taking it out on the nice young man at the tire shop. He gave me a total that was less than what I expected, said it would be at least two hours, and all I did was sigh, smile, pay, and quietly take my seat.

I did this because I always try and be a decent human when dealing with people in a customer service capacity. It is not this kids fault that there were 15 cars ahead of me at 4pm on a Monday. It isn't his fault what happened with my mechanic. It isn't his fault that my car decided to have these problems a week and a half before Christmas. I wasn't going to take out my frustration on him because that would just be wrong.

So I sat there for two hours (without a book, which again was no ones fault but my own), and like the other 10 people sitting there kept to myself and just accepted that I was losing out a chunk of my evening. Sadly there were several shining examples of what is wrong with this world.

There was a wealthy 19 year old girl that called her father to yell at the poor guy at the counter because she had driven her car around on low pressure and ruined her tire. There was the man who cancelled and order and read the guy at the counter the riot act because they had taken too long in shipping his tires. They apparently shipped the day after he ordered but got diverted due to the ice storm, to which he said wasn't his problem and they should have gotten his tires there despite the roads being shut down.

The one that really was the winner of the night was the woman who walked in about 5 minutes after they closed. This is the sort of tire shop that 'closes' at 6 so that they can finish working at a decent hour. Normally they lock the doors at 6 so that they don't have any new customers come in. Unfortunately the guys were all handling the last couple of people who had come in just before 6 and they hadn't made it to the door yet.

This woman comes rushing in, looks around, notices they are all busy, and leaves. I watched her hop in her car and then go to find a parking spot. There were at this point 19 cars still waiting to be serviced, so the lot was pretty well full (it is a very small lot). About a minute after she walked out the young man came over and locked the door. Another minute or two passed before the woman showed up again to find the door locked.

She absolutely lost her shit. I watched as she yanked and rattled at the door, waved her fists angrily, and shouted what I assume were not nice things. The young man had to excuse himself from the customer he was helping to go open the door for this woman. As soon as the door was open she began shouting at this young man.

Woman: I was in here before you locked the doors! I went to park and I come back and you lock me out?!

Young man: I am sorry I never saw you walk in, I have been out front the whole time.

Woman (still shouting): I was in here. I had to go and park but you have no parking.

YM: Yes mam we have 19 cars waiting to be serviced, they are taking up most of the spaces.

Woman: Well I had to park all the way at the end because you have no spaces up front for me.

YM: Yes mam, I am sorry about that but we are busy and the parking lot gets full when we are busy.

Woman: Well I was here.

YM: Yes mam, and you can come in, I am sorry about that. How can I help you?

Woman: We are going out of town next week and I need an alignment now.

YM: Well mam there is going to be at a minimum a two and half hour wait tonight, possibly longer.

At this point the woman's husband steps up

Husband: Would it be better if we came back in the morning?

YM: Well of course it would be, we probably wouldn't have anyone in line before you and could get you finished in 45 minutes. If you really want it done tonight though we can do an alignment tonight, it isn't like I want to go home at any point tonight (by this time he was not attempting to hide his sarcasm) 

Husband (obviously missing said sarcasm): Oh good then we will do it tonight.

The poor guy just stared at them a minute before ushering them back to the counter.
After they had finished all the paper work the woman asked again how long it would be. The young man told her again it would be close to three hours at this point before her car was ready. She looked around at all of us playing on our phones and then back to the young man and asked, without hiding her disdain, "We don't have to wait here do we? That is a really long time."

I watched as this poor guy stopped and made himself swallow whatever nasty comment had popped to mind. He took a deep breath and shook his head. He told her "No mam, you don't have to stay here and wait for your car. We will stay here extra late to make sure that your car gets an alignment, but you don't have to be inconvenienced by having to sit here wasting time for the next three hours, we will call you when it is ready and then sit and wait for you to get back to pick it up."

I can't help but to imagine that that poor guy had to sit there waiting for them to come get their car well after everyone else was done and gone.

These people were awful. They did not have an emergency with their car. Their was nothing urgent that couldn't wait until the next day. They were made well aware that they were going to make the staff of the establishment stay late on what was obviously already going to be a late night. They were rude to the guy and yelled at him because he had been doing his job. He was nothing but polite (if not a little snarky) and he went out of his way to help them. He easily could have told them to come back the next day, but he did the good customer service thing and defused an angry customer.

We have become a nation of people who expect to be able to have any problem solved immediately. We want 24 hour customer service that can fix every issue no matter how trivial. We don't just want someone there to help us when our power goes out, our credit card is stolen, or our car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Those are all things that are reasonable to want immediate help with. We also want someone there to handle 'problems' that are nothing more than wants and whims.

We don't think about the fact that in order for us to have someone there on the weekends, holidays, and after hours, that we are making someone give up their weekends, holidays, and after hours time. We don't think that those people, while it being their job, might not want to give up that time to work so that you can have support on your brand new Kindle. Yea it would suck to get a new toy on Christmas that doesn't work, but it sucks more to expect someone to give up their Christmas just in case your toy doesn't work.

I think that everyone should be forced to work two very specific jobs for at least 6 months of their lives. I think everyone should have to work as a server at a non fine dining restaurant and I think they should be forced to work in some form of customer service, preferably retail customer service. There is nothing like counting out your tips after having dozens of people yell at you and kids throwing food at you to make you appreciate everyone who ever served you food before. There is also nothing like coming off a 10 hour retail shift, or phone support shift, to make you want to give a hug and send chocolates to every person who has ever helped you in a store.

I have worked in both of these situations and because of it I am a better customer. Really what that is what it comes down to; being a good customer. Yes it is the job of the person in customer service to be helpful and courteous. They are being paid to serve you. What they are not being paid to do is to be treated like some second hand citizen. They are not there for you to scream and yell at them. They are not there for you to take out your frustrations on. They are not there to be your punching bag.

Service is a two way street. If they are there to help you, you should be thankful that they are willing to do this job, possibly giving up weekends or holiday time to do it, and you should treat them with respect. If you are angry or frustrated keep a calm tone and explain to them that you are angry but not angry at them, and while you may get loud or a bit ranty it really isn't their fault and you are sorry if it comes across that way. You should do your best to not make their jobs and lives harder, especially if your problem isn't an emergency.

Yes you will come across people in the service industry who are incompetent, inconsiderate, inept, or are completely disinclined to actually help. Yes at that point you can be justified in getting angry at them, but that still doesn't give you the right to be a jackhole to them. Call their manager, tell them what the problem is, explain things in a rational way like civilized people should do.

Keep these things in mind this holiday season. As the world is rushing about like chickens with their heads cut off, remember that this is a season of peace and joy and happiness. Remember that the season is about being together with people you love, not about the things you give. Remember that everyone is in just as big a rush as you are and that patience and understanding really could be the best gift you could give to some poor stranger who is trying their hardest to make everyone's holidays work.

Most of all remember to treat people the way you would want to be treated.
Don't be a holiday jackhole.

* I am writing at work and the last thing I need is someone to walk by and see me repeatedly typing expletives, so I just combined two of my favorites. If you don't get it, your friends are nothing like my friends.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Scratching at a thought

Observations on itching-

- Every time I put my gloves on to go outside I get an itch. Whether it is my nose, or cheek, or thigh, something starts to itch and I am unable to scratch it because of the stupid gloves.

- As soon as I take my gloves off all itching stops.

- When I get to the perfect comfy position in bed and am almost asleep I will get an itch that will require me to move out of my comfy position. If I do not give in and scratch the itch it will become agonizing quickly. If I do scratch it then it will simply migrate indefinitely.

- When I wear shoes that are impossible to get out of (like my knee high boots) the sole of my foot will randomly start itching.

- It is impossible to scratch an itch through denim, so inevitably the only place you will itch while wearing jeans is in a place that you can in no way access without taking off your pants or looking incredibly inappropriate.

- When I am having a super good hair day my scalp will start to randomly itch requiring me to mess up my hair.

- If I wear eye makeup my eye will itch and require me to either rub it and smear my makeup or ignore it which will cause my eyes to water and make my makeup run.

- Anytime I ask someone to scratch my back I become incapable of giving them directions on how to locate and destroy the itch.

- Anytime I scratch someone back I am incapable of following their directions to find the itchy spot to scratch.

- Having been a child very prone to hives the worst places to have hives/a rash/a terrible itch are as follows: Under your nails, between your toes, behind your elbows and knees, your armpits, inside your ears and nose, your gums. All of these places are difficult to scratch without causing pain or will not stop itching no matter how much you scratch because they are body parts constantly in contact with another body part.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Kitchen Win: Ingenuity Pot Roast

When the weather takes a turn to the cold I immediately want to start cooking warm hearty meals. I want to make giant pots of soup, and loaves of warm crusty bread, and stews, and all of those rustic hot dishes that you associate with the cold weather. To be honest though I never actually seem to do this.

For one thing, I do not actually like stew. The few times I have made it I always make the remark afterwards of "Oh yea, I am not a stew fan.". I have also never baked a loaf of bread in my life even though I own a bread maker. I think it is out of laziness or possibly the fact that my Kroger has a really decent bakery in it.

Still this urge is overwhelming sometimes and I just have to give in. With the impending icepacolypse last week I decided I wanted to try my hand at pot roast. I know for a fact that I adore pot roast so it was a pretty safe plan for something tasty to eat. I could put it on early on one of the ice days and come supper time we would have a warm hearty meal to fill our bellies.

I set out last Wednesday to first off find a recipe for pot roast that looked good. Again since I never follow through on these cold weather cooking urges, I have never actually made pot roast. I know the basics of a pot roast but I wanted to see if there were any tricks I could incorporate into my cooking. Always take pro tips when you can.

The search was frustrating. I discovered almost instantly that the crock-pot craze that has been going strong lately was more of an epidemic than I thought. We have turned into a crock pot nation. People have apparently stopped slow cooking in anything other than one of these electric wonder machines. It is the no thought cook alternative that makes people happy.

Here is the thing; we are a crock-pot free household. First off I have never in my life so much as heated up queso in a crock-pot. We didn't own one growing up. I learned to cook things that require slow cooking the old fashioned way; on the stove or in the oven. Spaghetti sauce and soup were things that simmered on the stove top and were lovingly attended to all day long. Roasts went into the oven. We used a dutch oven when needed. This was just how I was raised so I have no idea how to cook in a crock-pot.

Secondly, the husbeast refuses to eat from one. Don't get me wrong, if we went to a friends house and they made us dinner out of a crock-pot I am pretty sure he would eat the food, but mostly because he is polite. When he was growing up his step father had no teeth and had an intense love of a crock-pot. Apparently their meals would be put in the crock-pot and cooked down until they were basically hot soupy mix. He says it was the day he got a steak that he could drink through a straw that he swore he would never eat from them again.

So in the interest of a happy marriage, I do not even attempt to use a crock-pot. I am fairly certain if someone gifted us one under the theory that if he had good food out of one he would change his mind, one of three things would happen. 1) He would throw it in the garbage. 2) He would re-gift it. 3) He would leave it in the box, in the attic, and years from now the next owners of our house would get a surprise bonus of a crock-pot with purchase of house.

So crock-pot recipes don't really do me much good. I know that I can apply the same principles to a dutch oven, but still I would like to see a few more recipes that do not rely on the wonder gadget. Maybe that is just me being old fashioned or whatever, but it is how I am.

I finally settled on something that sounded good to me. I went with red onion (because we like red onions more than white onions), mushrooms (because while I didn't see any recipes involving mushrooms, we love mushrooms), baby carrots (because they come pre-peeled and I am lazy), and small red potatoes. There is apparently a huge debate between small red potatoes and mashed potatoes, but I don't really care. Potatoes are potatoes and these were easier, and this meal was all about the easy. I also decided that I would use lots of garlic and some red pepper to give it a little kick. My plan was sounding like a winner.

The plan was to cook this on Saturday, however time got away from me and that did not happen. Sunday also was a bust. Finally I managed to get around to cooking it last night. I had all my ingredients, and was ready to go. All I needed was my dutch oven and we were in business.

Now I have never used our dutch oven. Like I said I never manage to follow through on the urge to cook foods that would go into a dutch oven so it is a fairly useless piece of equipment in our world. Still I knew that at some point someone had given us one. I just needed to find it.

After a thorough search of the kitchen I realized that I was apparently wrong in my assumption that we owned a dutch oven because we clearly don't. This did complicate matters. I discovered in fact I do not own any deep baking dishes or roasting pans. My pyrex was woefully undersized for the task at hand. In the end I discovered I only own one oven safe dish that was an appropriate size for this sort of roast; an old soup pot (which honestly was a little too small, but I am good at making things fit).

Necessity is the mother of invention though, so I made due with what I had. I quickly seasoned and then seared the meat and tossed it in the pot. All of the veggies then also got the same treatment. After they were all in the pot I poured in some beef stock and added more seasoning. This was pretty simple after I found something to cook it in.

I covered the top with a ton of tinfoil and then shoved it into the oven at 275 and walked away. I think honestly that walking away was the hardest part. I have a want, no a need, to futz with my food. The solution ended up being to just leave the house and go run errands so I couldn't give in to the temptation to open the pot and look.

After a little over 3 hours I finally pulled the pot out of the oven. Honestly it was supposed to stay in at least another 15 minutes, and I would have loved to leave it in another 45. The thing is it was already almost an hour and a half past our normal dinner time and I was getting to 'fat girl needs a sammich' phase.

I told the husbeast that it was time to see if the pot roast turned out or if we would be ordering a pizza. I pulled the meat out of the pot and was pleased. It wasn't falling apart tender, but it really was almost there. I popped a piece in my mouth and it tasted pretty damn good.

Once I had gotten all of the meat and veggies out of the pot I grabbed some corn starch and salt and went to making a gravy out of the leftover juice. I was worried for a while that I had added too much corn starch, but then the consistency came together perfectly. I actually think that the gravy was by far the best part of the entire meal.

I heated up some rosemary potato bread that I had picked up at Kroger, and added that to the side of a heaping steaming bowl of pot roast and settled in on the couch under a blanket to enjoy. Other than the fact that the meat wasn't as tender as I hoped for, I thought it turned out wonderfully. The husbeast agreed with this assessment. He even pointed out that he did not try and put ketchup on it (which trust me is no small miracle).

In the end I call this a total win. With a little ingenuity, a lot of determination, and the inspiration of some very frigid weather, I think I have come up with a meal that could easily, and happily, be repeated. Now I just need to go out and buy an actual dutch oven.  

Friday, December 6, 2013

Chicken Little Syndrome

If you are from the north, or anywhere that is snows on a fairly regular basis, you will probably find today's post a little on the absurd side. I promise you that what follows is an accurate representation and I am in no way exaggerating. You only need to spend one day in Texas during an ice storm to realize how truthful I am being.

We are having an ice storm in Dallas and the world is coming to an end. As soon as the weatherman foretold of the coming icepocalypse the entire metroplex lost its everloving mind.  Nearly every man woman and child could aptly be renamed Chicken Little at this point in time. It doesn't matter that we have lived through storms just like this before, some even worse, this will always be the reaction. Every. Single. Time.

The first symptom of the oncoming icy doom is an intense fear of being trapped inside for long periods of time and not having enough food or water to survive. I know that according to the forecast the wintry mix is only supposed to last for two days, but that means absolutely nothing. The inability to drive for more than a day means we will all starve to death.

I totally agree that you should have a stock of food and water in case you are stuck at home and the power goes out or your pipes freeze. Of course you should probably keep a case of water around your house for emergencies at all times. You should also probably always have at least two days worth of something to eat in your house, even if it is just peanut butter and pickles.

Going to the grocery store you would think that people never kept any food in their house whatsoever. The shelves are practically bare come the day before the storm hits. Notably the water aisle is desolate, canned soups are completely gone, most canned goods are pretty well picked over, and there isn't a frozen pizza to be seen.

Also, because of the high level of panic everyone is exhibiting, the general atmosphere of the grocery store is like the Hunger Games. I nearly got run over by an 11 year old in a school uniform because I stepped into the aisle as she was trying to rush by. Her mother didn't even pause to make sure I was alright or tell the girl to watch out. I have been grocery shopping the day before Thanksgiving and people weren't as mean and ruthless as they are the day before an ice storm in Texas.

Now that we have pillaged the grocery stores we are prepared to hunker down in our houses and wait out the end of days. All the food supplies are in the house, there is a stack of fire wood (if you are smart) in case the power goes out, and almost all work and school has been canceled well in advance. This is a good thing because Texans do not know how to drive in ice and snow.

First off we can't get into our cars. No one owns a suitable ice scraper unless they are a transplant from the north. The plastic things we can buy around here are only good for really light ice. When there is 1/2" or more ice coating your car that thing is going to break. I can't tell you how many people I have seen or heard of throwing hot water onto their windshield only to watch it shatter the glass underneath. De icing our cars is pretty much a Herculean effort. 

If we can manage to defrost our cars then there is the nightmare of trying to drive. I know my friends in the north love to roll there eyes at the way we panic over 1/2 an inch of ice on the roads, but that is a big deal for us. We don't get to practice how to handle our car skidding on black ice. Most of us have no idea which way to turn the wheel when you hit an ice skid. Most of us will end up in a ditch or someones back yard if we hit an icy patch with our cars.

Anyone who does venture out drives about 15-20mph the entire way. There is typically only one lane people drive in; the lane that someone before them created in the ice and snow. This lane normally straddles two lanes. Everyone is pretty much content to drive in a slow single file line with good distance between each driver mostly because we are (justifiably) almost as terrified of the other drivers as we are the ice on the road.

Highways are pretty well unthinkable in these weather conditions. We don't have the benefit of having salt trucks to run about spreading salt over the roads to help driving conditions. What we do have are sand trucks. I know my cold weather readers are probably cringing at the idea of pouring sand over ice on the roads. Trust me it is worse for those of us driving in it, but it is all we have. We only have maybe two days like this all year, why would we have salt trucks or snow plows?

In a couple of days the storm will have passed and the ice will have melted and people will become mostly sane and rational again. Everyone will comment on how the weather wasn't quite as bad as they expected, and make it like they weren't worried at all. They will all swear up and down next time they will be more prepared.

Then the next storm will come crawling in and Chicken Little will appear again.