O (No) Christmas Tree

This year we had it in our minds that we would forego the corner Christmas tree lot, and make a trip out to a tree farm where we would make some yuletide family memories with a chainsaw and some rope.

We packed up the kids, headed northwest a couple of hours until we found a tree farm that promised some sort of forestry-approved, reasonably environmentally-responsible trees.

Upon pulling in, we noticed the trees didn’t resemble the ones we typically spent way too much on for being cut sometime around Labor Day and bundled in cold storage until their branches petrified–these were of a softer, gentler needle. Sort of like feather dusters. Or deadly anemones.

We were greeted by the owner of the farm who explained their practices and the way things were done–4 fields of different varieties of trees that would be cut by their staff when we chose one, replaced by more several more when it left. She handed us a color-coded price sheet which my husband and I exchanged looks of shock–the largest tree was literally hundreds less than what we have paid in years past.

This is when things started heading south–much as where we should have gone to the nearest Target for an artificial tree.

Because they were an organic farm, no pesticides were used. (Good!) Instead, they relied on more “natural” methods. (Also good.) She held out a small brown ball that looked like a cross between a pine cone and a hazelnut. It was an egg sack from the praying mantises that lived here and they were all over the trees doing what they do. (Good, I guess.) They would be removed from the tree when we bought it, but in case any were missed we should remove them ourselves. (Wait, what?) And if we all missed any egg sacks, not to worry, they would hatch and die after about two days. (Oh, hell no.) But not to worry still, “they don’t bite.”

The kids were thrilled, we were horrified, but trudged on nonetheless. The trees were of a much different variety than what would be considered “traditional Christmas.” They were of varying sizes–from 6 inches to 600 feet. We tried to find something in the middle that wasn’t already decorated with squirrels, birds’ nests, bee hives and of course, large egg sacks–but those naturally unadorned trees were tough to come by. “I think we have to switch up our standards this year,” I said to my husband after about an hour. “How about just picking the least likely to kill us in our sleep,” he replied as the Lorax ran across our path.

Perhaps it was as simple as when choosing your own lobster from a tank and dinner seems less appetizing once you see it with rubber bands on its claws. Or maybe the tree just objected to being relocated from some sort of burial ground. Or maybe it was a curse from some very pissed off elves who couldn’t bake cookies there anymore; but some metaphysical phenomena happened on the way home with the Christmas tree.

I don’t know if much of the tree blew off the top of the car (along with dozens of bug larvae I hope) or if we bought it that way, but by the time we got it home and up half of the absolutely gigantic tree was gone. Literally 50% of the branches no longer had any needles on them. There was no “wall side” of the tree, there was “Oh God, what closet is big enough to hide that log pile in?” sides. Charlie Brown tree? This was the Buster Brown tree–it looked like someone had walked all over it in bad shoes. Or the Bobbi Brown tree that no amount of make-up could hide its hideousness. And perhaps more identifiable with Leroy Brown–it looked like a jigsaw puzzle with more than a couple of pieces gone.

I tried to polish the tur..ahem, tree, by putting lights on it. A lot more lights. Enough to blind on-lookers so they wouldn’t turn to stone. The good news was that the thing was still ginormous–plenty big enough for Santa to leave lots of presents under, like an industrial drum of sap remover and stronger eyeglass prescriptions. But I fear no amount of decorations are helping to disguise the tree’s physical and maybe even spiritual deficiencies. So far the reactions of the few that have lived to see it have been, “Your tree terrifies me.” And “It makes me sad,” “Bless your heart,” and “Mommy, did the tree just move by itself?” accompanied by tears. What started out as Yuletide fun has quickly deteriorated into a “Yule be sooorrryyy,” from a little ghost girl’s voice from inside the tree.

I pen this not only as a cautionary tale to I don’t know exactly what, but mostly because I’m home alone with the tree right now and want some written record of my existence. It’s already sucked up a few gallons of holy water, but I’m not sure that will prevent the spontaneous combustion that will most likely occur. I ask not for your pity or worry, just a request that if you are so inclined, please pray for me.

As I know the thousands of mantises I hear hatching in my living room are at this very minute.

Merry Chrissssssss…………..knsld’kfh’owefh’owIf……….

©2013 Tracey Henry

I'm surprised it allowed its image to be captured on film.
I’m surprised it allowed its image to be captured on film.

The Real Cost of Thanksgiving Dinner

As you complete your last-minute Thanksgiving grocery shopping today, you might find yourself in bewilderment over the recent released statistic that the average cost of the Thanksgiving meal for ten people is $49.04.

You may have some trouble reconciling your 8 foot long grocery receipt for a much larger amount with that very misleading number.

So for clarification for you and my husband, here is what the folks at the American Farm Bureau Federation say it costs compared to actual reality on the planet earth.

These 3 ingredients cost more than $49.04.
These 3 ingredients cost more than $49.04.

AFBF claim the average turkey cost: $21.76

Real Cost:

Turkey………$21.76
Peanut oil….$68
ER co-pay…$50
Replacement sod from under the fryer….$60
New Turkey cooked in oven….$38

Average potato cost: $2.99 per 5 lb bag (*Not listed on the survey because the AFBF is going low-carb this Thanksgiving I guess)

Real cost:

Potatoes……$2.99
extra peeler…$4.99
Band-Aids…..$1.99

Average cranberry sauce: .99

Real cost:

Can of jellied cranberries…. .99
Can of chunky………………… .99
Fresh cranberries……………. $2.42
Serving bowls for 8 different kinds of cranberries…… $58

Average cost of a box of stuffing: $2.67

Real cost:

Bread, sausage, onions, celery……$10
Therapy after public shaming for using boxed stuffing….$14,000

Average cost of 3 lbs of sweet potatoes: $3.36

Real cost:

Sweet potatoes……$3.36
Butter…………..$2.00
Sugar…………. .50
Marshmallows…..$1.50
Gym membership……..$39 per month

Average cost of 12 “Brown and Serve Rolls”: $2.18

Real Cost: $2.18 x 10 people because after product re-sizing the average size of 1 dinner roll is the same net weight as a crouton….$218.00

Average cost of 1/2 pint of whipping cream: $1.85

Real cost of whipping cream at gas station at 3:00 on Thanksgiving Day…$6.00

Average cost of a pound of green peas: $1.54

Real cost:

No one on the continental U.S. can get fresh peas in late November, so the cost of some other green vegetable like asparagus…..$4.99 per pound

Official Inquiry by Taxpayers as to what bizarre things the Farm Bureau eats on Thanksgiving with all of these peas and no mashed potatoes: $28 per household

Miscellaneous items not listed in the survey but real costs this Thursday nonetheless:

Pot of coffee………………$1.00
Pot of decaf……………….$1.00
Pot of “special 21+” brew……$3.50
Pepto-Bismol after eating boxed stuffing…………..$4.50
Dish soap to wash Thanksgiving dinner for 10….$1.69
Stain stick for Uncle Murray’s side of the tablecloth….$2.00
Extra batteries for the remote control to rewind the parade 10 times so everyone has had a chance to see the Snoopy float….$7
Antibiotics because that green-nosed nephew did in fact have Strep…$10 + Minute Clinic visit Thursday night

Total Cost of Thanksgiving Dinner for 10 in 2013….$14,710.23*

*Does not include my legal fees or retaliatory price-gouging for Thanksgiving 2014.

©2013 Tracey Henry

Thanksgiving Primer

With the big holiday only a mere week away, I present to you this friendly, albeit no-so-helpful, Thanksgiving Dinner Primer.

Turkey

This is the most over-thought protein in the world. There are built-in thermometers, specifically-crafted deep-fryers, brining bags the size of Samsonites and special 1-800 hotlines to cook the easiest part of the entire Thanksgiving meal. If you find yourself calling a hotline to tell you how to throw a bird in the oven and cook it until it’s 180 degrees, you’ve got bigger problems than Butterball can solve.

Gravy

Here’s where a hotline is actually needed because it’s the most complex component on the menu. Caller: Hello? My gravy is filled with lumps and the color of a cotton ball. Gravy expert: Sounds like you have enough flour in there to make about a dozen Parker House rolls. Please hold while I transfer you to the yeast hotline.

Potatoes

No matter how many pounds you bought, it’s not enough. Double, triple, square the amount you think is too much. Become Idaho. I’m talking enough starch to stiffen all the collars in Vatican City during Advent. Enough for all the sheets on Martha Stewart’s estates. So much that Dr. Atkins returns from the grave to make you a steak dinner. You must make all of the potatoes.

Relish tray

This is an often over-looked dish on the Thanksgiving table. That wonderful separated spread of gherkins, dill pickles and roasted peppers. You may be tempted to skip this item when you realize how many extra items you actually have to buy, but if someone isn’t trying to eat a turkey leg with ten black olives stuck on their fingers, it’s not really a family holiday.

Cranberry Sauce

I’m guessing that cranberry sauce has become an American Thanksgiving staple not insomuch from culinary tradition, but more to stave off bladder infections for women standing 12 hours in front of their stoves perfecting lump-less gravy with no bathroom breaks.

Stuffing

Now I don’t get all Chief Judging Judge and Miles StanJudgish on what people put in their Thanksgiving stuffing. Cornbread, white bread, apples, oysters–whatever you want is good by me. I can’t promise that I won’t get all Sally Salmonella on you if you cook it inside the bird instead of safely along side of it, however.

Sweet potatoes

You may not think that sweet potatoes are needed if you already have mashed potatoes, but you would be wrong. Again, it just wouldn’t be a proper family holiday without a bad Popeye “I yam what I yam” impression and a fist fight over marshmallows.

Root Vegetables

This is where the meal gets dicey, and I don’t mean how to cut the carrots. There are those among us that insist on weird objects like turnips, rutabaga and creamed onions. I have no frame of reference for these things. For me, they are not just foreign items on my holiday table, but from a different century. But I assume they pair nicely with mincemeat pie and aspics.

Pies

Speaking of pies, yes to all of them. Apple, pumpkin, pecan. It’s a little known historic fact that Native Americans gave the Pilgrims diabetes on the first Thanksgiving in return for that small pox favor.

Wine and other adult beverages

I like a nice Pinot Noir with my turkey, but by the time I get a meal cooked for 18 people with 77 different @#$#% side dishes to accommodate every guest’s personal Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving, peeled my weight in potatoes, and snuck in six calls to the turkey hotline; I will drink white, red, or the moonshine I accidentally made when I tried to Sous-vide the creamed corn to save oven space.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

For Scott Garrett, a loving man who loved to laugh. We’ll miss you, Hazel.

Hazel

©2013 Tracey Henry

What a crock

Admittedly, my biggest kitchen failures usually come from a Crock pot.

If you forget about the first time I made Tiramisu without sugar or my passive-aggressive relationship with yeast, the Crock-pot is my next greatest culinary nemesis.

Oh, I do fine with chili, soups or beans because that’s what slow-cookers are made for–heating things together that love to hang out all day without any hopes of self-transformation from what goes in to begin with. It’s when I stray from this intended purpose and expect a hunk of meat, a can of soup and a tube of refrigerated biscuits to become Beef Wellington after 8 hours on my counter that I run into difficulty.

Such was the case this week when I saw a Crock-pot recipe for a cider-braised pork tenderloin in which I had all of the ingredients and didn’t have to go to the grocery store which already was a victory for me.

It called for a slather of honey mustard on the pork, then apple cider and cut fresh apples on top. I knew it was an incongruous and incomplete combination as I placed it all in there but I was so hopeful that I just replaced the lid and like Jane Jetson, waited for a complete and delicious meal to magically emerge even though utter crap just went in.

When we returned that evening, the house was supposed to smell all roasty, porky, and fall-y, but instead the aroma was more baby-foody with a hint of wet dog at a state fair. When I removed the lid, it looked pretty much like it did that morning except it was all one color and texture–wet, sad, beige and defeated.

Before calling for pizza, I tried a small bite to confirm what I already suspected by sight and smell.

Dry, flavorless, a little chewy with a fermented aftertaste; the familiar taste of another Crock-pot catastrophe.

I’m not sure what the moral of this story is–other people cook fish in dishwashers and chicken in microwaves and maybe even bake bread in popcorn poppers for all I know–but for me cooking much in a slow cooker is Crock full of disaster.

©2013 Tracey Henry

A tree falls in Nashville

Last weekend in our backyard…

Me: The tree guy came and took down most of the dead trees in the backyard except for one. He said he would have to come back for that one with different equipment because it was too big.

My Husband: That one by the fence line? That’s no big deal, I can take that down myself.

Me: Uh, I’m pretty sure that the tree expert said it was a particularly difficult removal, so maybe we should leave it to him.

Him: And have him charge us a grand for something I can do with my car and a $5 towrope in an afternoon? No thanks.

Me: But we aren’t allowed to remove any trees without HOA approval that are over six inches in diameter.

Him: That’s close to six inches.

Me: That’s what all men say. Anyway, I really think it’s bigger than you think and too close to the fence.

2 hours later…

Him: I’ve got all of the equipment set.

Me: (Looking at the meager and inadequate supplies.) You have a reciprocating saw, a leather belt and a clothesline. You could probably take down a bonsai tree by Thanksgiving or dry a beach towel with that.

Him: Whatever. You obviously don’t know physics. If I cut it on this side, and anchor it here, and attach a come-along this way, it should fall right into this clearing, missing all structures.

Me: Come-along with me to county jail because if it falls a foot in any other direction it will take out the Opry radio tower. It’s seriously a big tree.

Him: Video killed the radio star, not an old tree with Dutch Elm disease. Let’s get started while no one is working in the community office, mkay?

Me: Fine, but only because you’ve already chipped away at both sides of this trunk like a cartoon beaver and we can’t leave it like that or it will come down on the next jogger with too loud of an iPod that comes down that walking path.

Him: Hopefully, they’ll be biking instead so they’ll be wearing helmets.

A few minutes later, my husband, son and a wide-eyed intern are pulling on different ropes on a tree so large that if it were non-deciduous would be in Rockefeller Center with Rockettes hanging from it. It teeters, shakes, and rocks back and forth until it finally falls at a 90 degree angle away from the intended spot, hitting the swing set before landing against another tree right in front of the new fireplace and patio.

Him: (Emerging from a dust cloud of sawdust, leaves and stray branches) WOOOHOOO! Did I break anything?

Me: (Surveying the impossibly lucky angle that the stupid tree fell against the steel bar of the play set and cradled against another tree while sparing the neighbors fence, the porch, my son’s head, and the Intern’s spirit) Just 46 HOA covenants.

Him: (High-fiving the boys.) 7 less than last weekend!

Me: And my writer’s block.

©2013 Tracey Henry