Slow Cookin’ Turkey Lurkey Blues

My dinner guests are hungry
They’ve come from near ‘n far
but If I don’t platter this birdie soon
They just might leave me in scars

I’ve got the slow cookin’ turkey
Slow-cookin’ turkey-lurkey blues.

The mashed potata’s are wow
Desserts are sweet and fine
But without that bird and gravy now
I’m apt to just hear whines

I’ve got the slow cookin’ turkey
Slow-cookin’ turkey-lurkey blues

The coals’ so hot they’re white
Please throw your firey heat
And cook my little turkey bird
So everyone can eat!

I’ve got the slow cookin’ turkey
Slow-cookin’ turkey-lurkey blues

Well two and two are four
And four and four are eight
But I have twenty guests who are
A knockin’ at my gate

I’ve got the slow cookin’ turkey
Slow-cookin’ turkey-lurkey blues

The sun’s behind the clouds
Oh man! It’s gonna rain
Looks like I’ll have to use
My neighbor’s oven once again

I’ve got the slow cookin’ turkey
Slow-cookin’ turkey-lurkey blues

HAPPY THANKSGIVING, EVERYONE!

Kathy Galgano

November 28, 2013

HOMEWARD BOUND (THANKSGIVING PART III of III)

This piece is dedicated to the memory of our dear friend, Patrice.

I needed two shopping carts to collect everything on my list, and this didn’t even include the turkey. I had ordered a beautiful bird at the mom and pop grocery store near my job; years ago only a handful of markets sold turkeys raised without hormones. That wasn’t the main reason I selected what I now call my “Save the Whale” turkey, however. These birds were fresh, not frozen for weeks on end, and my guests said they could taste the difference. That’s all that mattered.

Looking for ideas in my cookbooks, I landed on this one recipe for stuffing (we had never called it “dressing”), and immediately stopped turning the pages. It’s true that aromas can trigger very powerful memories, but I was instantly transported to another place and time merely by perusing a list of ingredients. Immediately, I was a kid with my family visiting Manhattan for the day. We’d see the sights and the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center in December, and then would stop to buy a wonderfully warm pretzel from a street vendor. On freezing days, I found these carts a bit of inviting warmth. I can recall the enticing aroma wafting from that stand. It was the chestnuts. Vendors scooped the warm nuts into little paper bags before handing them over to the customers, and I breathed in this drifting essence. I looked down at my page; I would recreate this memory. Roasted chestnut stuffing was on the menu.

Friends began to arrive early Wednesday evening. They brought cheese, crackers and chips, and wine, tossed their coats in the bedroom, rolled up their sleeves, some donning aprons, and grabbed peelers, knives and cutting boards. They were eager to get to work. Throughout the evening, the “Slicers and Dicers” peppered me with questions. “How far down do we need to peel the acorn squashes?” I answered, “You want to peel down to the bright orange.” “Got it.”

Next question: “What do I do with these chestnuts?” “We’re supposed to prick them with a knife before roasting them in the oven.” “Like this?” “That looks about right,” I said. Then I added, “Here, I’ll help you.” I was looking forward to working with the chestnuts. I had even called my dad about preparing them. In response to my question, Dad had said, “Prick them with a sharp knife.” That corresponded with the recipe’s description.

Next I heard, “Are you sure you want us to do two bags of potatoes?” “Sure, just peel ‘em all.” “Okay! You’re the boss.” I figured people would want seconds, right?*

“Do you want the bread for the stuffing cubed like this?” “That looks great,” I answered. We played music, sipped wine, and conversations filled the kitchen, dining and living rooms. There was the inviting expectation of a holiday in the air, and it just felt right.

With this group toiling away, I prepared the standard pre-Thanksgiving fare. When I gave the word, we quickly cleared the table and sat down to a dinner of pasta and meatballs, salad and garlic bread, just like all those times years ago with our friends who had moved to Germany. One time, a neighbor’s cat had wandered in our partially open patio door; the kitchen was so cozy and warm. Hours later, when only a few of the Slicers and Dicers remained, and we began to rearrange furniture for the next-day’s feast, a surprised, long-forgotten sleeping cat jumped down from his perch on a kitchen chair, hidden by the tablecloth. We had truly extended our family of friends that year.

So I had the chestnuts in the oven. The potato “KP” team was on a roll; I grew up believing that “KP” meant “keep peeling.” I was stirring the large skillet of sizzling sausage, diced celery and onion, and at some point would add the diced apple and fresh herbs. The chestnuts would be shelled, chopped and added, too. Early on Thursday morning, I would toss this savory blend in with the bread and eggs, and then stuff the enormous bird. While from year to year I may have changed recipes for stuffing or side dishes, there are a few established components of my turkey prep that I will never alter. An entire bottle of chardonnay gets poured into the bottom of the roasting pan, and I choose from fresh herbs, rosemary, sage, thyme, growing in my garden. Very early on, my visiting cousin had explained to me the value of draping bacon over the bird. The bacon drippings baste the main course. When our guest list included people who didn’t eat pork, I switched to turkey bacon. As I was stirring away that night, making one mental note after another, I glanced at the clock. It was time. Grabbing a potholder, I opened the oven door and began to smile. Just as I had hoped, I was back in New York City, next to a little cart filled with warm pretzels and chestnuts. What heaven. I knew the aroma was starting to drift because I heard a few others murmur “MMMMM.” Not bad for a first-timer, I thought. As I began to draw the tray out of the oven, it happened.

POP! POP! Chestnuts exploded in the oven. What a show! My dad had warned me that if they weren’t pricked deeply enough, the steam inside would cause them to erupt. I smiled again. Dad was 3,000 miles away and right again. I lingered in front of the oven. After a few seconds of all quiet, I withdrew the tray. More POPS! There were a few shrieks; I think they were mine. Bits of chestnut hung from the ceiling. They clung to the refrigerator, the walls, the floor, a few guests, and me. Nobody was burnt, thank Goodness, but what a mess! We were all laughing hard now, but I had gotten my wish! In all the years that I have been making Thanksgiving dinners, I have never lived that moment down.

Dinner was delicious, and there was good reason for this. Over the years, so many friends and visiting family members have pitched in, not only to complete the Wednesday night prep work, but to cook entire dishes, and to stir, mash vegetables, season foods, create desserts, prepare the cranberry sauce from scratch, make roux for the gravy, heroically attempt to keep up with the growing mound of pots and pans, and most importantly, remember to add charcoals to the grill each hour. And as carving is not my strongpoint, yearly I have relied on one guest in particular to help me. As the turkey rests on the counter, and I spoon the stuffing from it into a bowl, we all stop to enjoy the crisp smoky bacon that basted the turkey. Now that’s a fitting hors d’oeuvre.

Some years, we’ve rented tables and chairs and extra linens, even chafing dishes. With the extra tables, we have formed a giant “H” configuration in the living and dining rooms so everybody can be seated. The largest group was 34 people. Sometimes, I’ve knocked on neighbors’ doors requesting oven space because the briquettes weren’t catching in either grill (one grill for each bird.) A few times, the turkeys were done ahead of schedule, and my electric warming tray came to the rescue. The year we hosted 34 people proved to be one of those “Help! They just aren’t cooking!” years. My sister and her family were visiting. When my sister asked what she could do to assist, I quickly responded: “Play! Please play.”

My niece calls her mom a “human jukebox.” What a fitting description. While I was frantically checking my watch and chanting, “Cook, Turkeys, Cook,” my sis was leading the guests in an impromptu sing-along on our yard-sale-purchased upright piano. Who knew two opera singers would be in the crowd that year? The crew in the kitchen started to hum, too. After playing popular show and movie tunes, my sister segued into Beatles’ songs. The animated group was really into their pre-dinner show now. When I heard, “Deck the halls with boughs of holly,” I couldn’t even imagine the appetite this gang had worked up. The place erupted in cheers when I delivered my sing-song, long-awaited message: “The turkeys are done!”

Every year there comes a time when several of my returning guests approach me individually, and whisper, “Are we going to do it again this year?” I smile. My response is always the same. “Yes!”

Returning guests can’t wait to see the faces of new guests as they experience this time-honored tradition. It is the moment we have long awaited, or dreaded, perhaps. It is our signature Thanksgiving experience, and so we crank up the volume, loud. As the bowls of heavy cream make their way around the table along with the whisks and my ancient frilly pink apron or my moo cow apron with little cloth bovine ears on the bib, guests are inspired to work by the appropriate, mood-setting tunes. Well, that’s the idea, anyway. Booming is the Devo classic, “Whip it.” Guests recite, “Whip it. Whip it good.” The bowl gets passed to a newcomer. Someone places the apron on their neck. While whisking away, Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” comes up next on our personal Thanksgiving hit parade, again played at eye-popping decibels. It’s likely that not everyone has had a chance to whisk, and the bowls of cream aren’t quite ready. Now people are dancing to Weird Al Yankovic’s wonderful spoof, “Eat it.” Guests clap and groove to the beat. It’s a raucous affair.

Imagine this scenario as experienced by quite an elderly woman who spoke not a word of English. Our dear friend’s daughter brought her boyfriend and his grandmother for dinner. We had never met. A little unsure of what she would think, I went ahead with the tradition and just kept my fingers crossed. As the music rocked the room, she was the life of the party. Another time, a friend brought a guest whom we were excited to meet, but as I was behind schedule, I hugged each of them and handed over a large bunch of freshly washed parsley. “I’m so happy you came,” I told them. “Now, can you garnish all the plates with a sprig, please?” Another year a friend brought a colleague from Japan to our home. Experiencing his first Thanksgiving, this engineer settled in at the piano and played magnificent jazz. Somehow, guests found just enough room between tables and chairs to dance before dinner. It was a thrill.

Other years, it wasn’t just unlit charcoals that created drama. When the kitchen sink stopped up, we couldn’t run the water without catching it in pans lest we’d need to call out the rowboats. That year my husband’s family was here. Not only were my sister-in-law and brother-in-law fabulous cooks, they were quite handy with tools, too! Another time we had a small flood in our basement. No little plumbing issue is going to put a damper on Thanksgiving. One year I had to set-up a booth at a crafts fair I was participating in, to be held on Friday. Our family of friends took care of everything!

One neighbor really jazzed things up one time. Guests watched him as he walked back and forth in his yard outside our dining and living room windows. First, he wore a red wig. The next time he walked by, he modeled a different one. I don’t know how many wigs he owned, but he sported a different one with each pass. We were dining on seconds before somebody finally said something. Then, everyone howled. While they were perplexed, guests figured they should be polite, so they had said nothing. At my urging, my sport of a neighbor had advised me that he would “come up with something” for us that day.

Just like the Thanksgivings of years ago, everyone here always inquires about each other’s family living in other parts of the country. Over the years, many of us have lost loved ones back home, and sadly, we have lost one of our own, a dear friend with whom we shared every holiday and who always graced us with her presence, her spirit, her smile, her sense of humor, her great conversation, her friendship, and her incredible desserts. While we miss her, we feel her presence through time spent with old friends.

Unlike the Thanksgivings of years ago, we no longer think of ourselves as “transplants,” or “orphans.” We no longer play “Homeward Bound” with each meal. Each year, when our house is brimming and the living room windows are steamed up because of all the cooking, we build on the treasured memories of years past, and know that we are home.

Happy Thanksgiving, Everybody!

*Note to self: Making 20 lbs. of mashed potatoes is ridiculous.

Kathy Galgano

November 18, 2013

HOMEWARD BOUND – Thanksgiving Part II of III

I enjoyed inviting friends over to dinner, and my confidence level had grown dramatically having sliced and diced for our chef turned engineer friend so many times over the years. I grew up in a family that shared regional cuisines of Eastern and Southern Europe, and I gravitated to the Italian recipes.

Cooking was never scary. Well, not in the way you think. My mom and dad were adept in the kitchen and dad especially enjoyed the process, and we kids were expected to pitch in and help. Dad loved to play-up a mannerism that my mother and I found maddening. Dad talked while holding a knife. He would be telling us a story, and inevitably my dad would stop slicing or dicing or carving and start walking around the kitchen, swinging his arms and making his point, drawing circles in the air with the small razor sharp paring knife, or full-sized carving knife. I knew Dad used keen-edged blades; I watched him sharpen them on a stone before every cooking session.

“Carl,” my mother would call with exasperation. “Put down the knife!” Dad would be wandering around the kitchen, fully engaged in his story. My mother and I focused our eyes on his dominant, knife-wielding right hand as it cut through the air like a magician’s wand. He gesticulated wildly while nonchalantly forging ahead with his humorous story. He reacted to his own yarn, and smiled and laughed all the while seemingly unaware of the momentary kitchen angst he created. How Dad loved to tease! In his defense I have to say he never once dropped the knife; Dad’s grip was too strong to let that happen. My mother and I would look at each other and shake our heads as Dad wandered over to the sink, where I might be rinsing iceberg lettuce, or strolled the few steps to the stove to check out the pots my mother was stirring, still talking and waving his hands. At the conclusion of his story, Dad would return to his thick wooden cutting board wearing a broad smile, and dive into his work with great skill. We’d still be shaking our heads and he always pleaded innocence. Dad would look up at us and say, “What?” “What did I do?” My mother and I would sigh, maybe even roll our eyes in exaggerated exasperation, and then Dad would pull out his signature expression, contorting his mouth downwards to reveal his ridiculous “look ashamed” visage. Laughter erupted.

So while I’ve never been afraid to dive into a culinary project, I don’t remember recreating our friend’s fabulous Coquiles St. Jacques, those sumptuous scallops he made for us one Sunday night years ago. It was the first time I had ever eaten scallops, but I wasn’t going to confess that to our friend as I washed and cut vegetables. Nor did I tell our host and hostess that I had never before tasted barbecued ribs, let alone purchased them at the supermarket. I worked on the salad that night. The ribs were great and I became a fan. My comfort zone was in roasts and pastas and meatballs and chicken and fresh water fish and potatoes and vegetables in season and soups and stews. My mother was allergic to seafood, and we just never ate ribs; barbecues were for hamburgers and hot dogs and sausages. Pesto was a dish new to me, as well. My Italian grandparents hailed from Southern Italy, and pesto, traditionally a Northern Italian recipe, was not part of my family’s legacy. But I liked cooking and I liked my food processor and my gadgets, and so I dove into new recipes with enthusiasm.

I prepared dishes for our family of friends, and for loved ones who visited from the East Coast. I remember making homemade linguine for pasta Carbonara. One evening I spent a long while at a bookstore, searching for just the right cookbook. I purchased it and a paella pan and tried my hand at the dish I had enjoyed while living in Spain for a summer when I was in college. That book also taught me how to make Spanish tortillas; those potato and egg skillet dishes that can be eaten alone, or put between two slices of fresh bread for a great sandwich. When my study-abroad group took weekend bus excursions to tour different parts of Spain, the kitchen staff in our dormitory made these tortilla sandwiches for the ride. I loved them. I also tried my hand at my dad’s fabulous rolled steak, an Italian dish that takes a fair amount of prep time. The results were satisfying.

Frequently I called home and chatted with my folks, asking them how they seasoned or cooked different things. When I called for clarification of my father’s recipe for potatoes (all these recipes are passed to us by doing and watching – nobody writes them down), my mother bristled at my request. I wasn’t surprised. Dad made these roasted potatoes with fresh parsley and garlic and cheese. “The Good Kind Of Potatoes,” we called them. The cheese would crust on the edges of the roasting pan and we’d love picking out the charred pieces. How tasty! Mom used to ask, “What about all the other kinds of potatoes?” She made delicious cabbage with boiled potatoes, and dumplings stuffed with a potato mixture, and fried potatoes and yams and roasted ones. And she made tasty mashed potatoes. “Are those the ‘Bad Kinds’?” Again, there was the familiar head shake back and forth and accompanying sigh. Dad did his playful best to keep this recipe name game alive. “Kids,” he’d yell upstairs to us in the house on Sundays, “Do you want me to make ‘The Good Kind of Potatoes?’”  Naturally, the phrase, “The Good Kind of Potatoes” received particular emphasis. Our response was always an enthusiastic, “Yeah!” I just knew my mother was wincing. If Dad or we kids said the phrase “The Good Kind of Potatoes” more than a couple of times, inevitably, Dad would catch my mother shaking her head or sighing, and then would don his trademark expression, and we’d all laugh as he looked ashamed again.

The California chef turned engineer friend taught us how to make roux. I didn’t have the heart to tell my mom that this technique was better than hers for making gravy. No more stirring and stirring the pan drippings, trying to attack each little lump of corn starch or flour with the back of a spoon. This was a revelation, as was white pepper. A bowl of mashed potatoes seasoned with white pepper was beautiful.

So it just seemed natural that I would host Thanksgiving dinner for however many friends and family would be joining that day. What was the big deal?

Stayed Tuned for the third and final part of Homeward Bound!

Kathy Galgano

November 13, 2013

Homeward Bound – Thanksgiving Part I

The tradition started years ago, when we were out of college and making our way in the world. On that special Thursday in late November, with so many of us 3,000 miles away from family and home, it was the one holiday that proved a bit tough. Yet we had established a network of friends – our new family of friends — and one among us was a chef.

We spent many a Sunday afternoon at the chef turned engineer’s home, first in Silicon Valley and later in the nearby Santa Cruz mountains. Always on the menu was a spirited game of Trivial Pursuit which we played in teams, and some California wine, cheeses, crackers and bread, and fruit. Wine was a new foray for many of us and it was sitting around the board game table or stretching in front of the fire with the cat on cool, rainy winter afternoons listening to music that we began to appreciate the nuances of the varietals and blends. White zinfandel was a favored choice at first; the sweet, crisp taste was perfect for wine tasting neophytes, but in time, we uncorked bottles that were less sweet and more complex. Buttery chardonnays were in vogue and that became a favorite.

Sometimes we took a little hike, not always successfully avoiding the poison oak on the hillside, or visited one or two of the many wineries tucked in the steep hills of the local coastal redwoods. Or we could complete the drive in the Santa Cruz mountains “over the hill” and check out the sea lions in the pilings of the wharf in Santa Cruz. The sea lions barked that loud, deep, raspy call of theirs, and we playfully called back to them. Mostly, though, we enjoyed the company of good friends, and spent Sunday afternoons just relaxing together.

There was never any question as to where everybody would go for Thanksgiving. We all showed up at the chef turned engineer’s house on Wednesday evening after work and the process would begin. As more friends arrived, we would spread out from the kitchen into the dining room and even head to the coffee table in the living room, setting up shop, mincing onions and celery and parsley, slicing and cubing bread for stuffing, dicing carrots and preparing turnips and butternut squashes, and peeling potatoes, stroking downwards, so that the peels would drop directly into the brown paper bag placed under our hands. We would sip wines we brought to share, and work and talk and listen to albums while our host and hostess prepared a pasta feast for the crew. When word from the kitchen came, we’d clear the dining room table and enjoy a wonderful spaghetti dinner with homemade rolls and salad. After dinner, we’d wash up and put the final touches on our peeling, slicing and dicing, and lastly prepare the pumpkin pies. It might be close to midnight when we pulled the pies from the oven, but dinner prep was in great shape.

Early afternoon on Thanksgiving Day, as we walked through the front door, the aromas from the kitchen welcomed us. The scent of turkey and stuffing and vegetables and rolls brought each of us back home for a moment. There were smiles and waves and hugs as we made our way in and tossed our jackets in the bedroom and uncorked our wines, donned aprons and rolled up our sleeves to get to work. Many of us had already telephoned home and spoken to our families who were dining or preparing to dine at home three hours ahead of us. We all shared a similar story; family members were always happy to hear that their Silicon Valley “transplants” each had someplace to go for Thanksgiving. We understood. While it would have been nice to share the holiday with our families, there was something very special about embracing our own tradition.

Back then, we called ourselves “homeless.” That phrase hadn’t been coined yet to mean what it means today. Sometime during dinner our host would play “Homeward Bound,” by Simon and Garfunkel. While a bit melancholy, it was a fitting acknowledgment of our families back East. That mood didn’t last, however, as we enjoyed seconds of this amazing meal, and another glass of wine and great conversation with dear friends. Dinner was never hurried, and we laughed a lot. After a long while, we would gather up the plates and carry everything back to the kitchen. Somebody would make coffee and our hostess poured heavy cream into a stainless steel bowl. We’d unveil the desserts we had brought and the pumpkin pies we had baked just hours earlier, and again sat down at the long table. As we stirred cream and sugar into our cups, our hostess clasped a whisk and expertly turned the cream in the bowl. After a spurt of high-powered whisking, she turned, smiling broadly to the guest sitting next to her and hung her apron around his neck announcing it was his turn. As the bowl and whisk and apron made its way around the table, we cheered as each person worked a little whisking magic, and we each posed for the camera with that frilly apron wrapped around our necks. When the stainless bowl returned to our hostess, it was filled with perfectly whipped cream. Then, people sitting nearest to the pies and cakes began to cut slices, and we passed dessert plates around, filling each one with the tastes of the season, apple and sweet potato and pumpkin pies, and always something chocolate, with our hostess adding a heaping dollop of fresh cream onto each plate. It was fabulous.

One day, however, our dear friend, our host, told us that his job was taking him to Europe.  This was a great career move and of course, we were very happy for him, and offered our heartiest congratulations. Still, how could we not be saddened?  We were a tight group and our friendship was strong, so we knew that staying in touch would not be a problem, but this nearly weekly tradition was coming to an end. And then there was that big unanswered question hanging in the air … What about Thanksgiving?

End of Part One

Honoring Our Vets

When Dad and my uncles and aunts sat around a table or in yard chairs on summer days when we were kids, they talked about family and growing up in the “good old days” and Italian food and friends. Memories of the “good old days” usually did not include recollections of World War II, even though the youngest three brothers in a family of five boys and three girls served abroad at the same time. If one of the three youngest brothers did share a war-time story, it was a humorous anecdote.

Sometimes after supper, Dad would sit in front of a shortwave radio in the living room with a pad of paper and a pen in his hand, and transcribe the audible beeps that he heard into dots and dashes on the paper. After a while, Dad would look up and show us his work, and read aloud the code that sounded like musical gibberish to me. What always amazed me was the next part, when he read the message out loud, in actual words. Sometimes he would interrupt his own retelling of the message and say, “I didn’t get that word,” but most of the message was repeated, dot and dash, letter for letter, word for word. My lasting impression wasn’t that the messages were very interesting, but that these rapid tones actually meant something.

Dad served as a radioman on the USS Endicott, a Naval destroyer, and that’s why, two decades later, he could transcribe these messages at home. I know he sailed into a lot of ports around the world, and on one occasion he just missed meeting cousins in Italy when family members he had never seen received word that one of their own was on leave on their soil. His ship pulled anchor before they could reach him, though.

I know, too, that Dad bought a large bunch of bananas back to the ship while on one of his shore leaves, and his compatriots desperately tried to coax a piece of fruit off him. Dad refused. “Get your own bananas,” he told them. How he enjoyed this fresh treat. I also know that he learned how to shoot craps and even explained the game to us kids, though I never quite got the hang of it other than the part when you exclaim, “Baby needs a new pair of shoes!” as you let the dice fly out of your hand. And I know a few other stories, but not many.

One time, when I was all grown up, married and living across country, my parents flew out to see us and spend time with their young grandchildren. Dad and I were staining the deck in the backyard, and we talked about his Navy days a little bit. I remember saying that he never really told us what it was like; I knew that his ship escorted the fleet for the Invasion of Southern France. He stopped and looked at me, the paint brush in the air, and grew quiet. He was silent for several long moments. Then he said to me, “The sea was red.”

That should have been enough, but I wasn’t sure I had heard him correctly. The kids were calling me from inside the house. I repeated what I thought he had said on that summer’s morning. “The sea was red?”

The paintbrush that he had dipped in stain moments before still hung in his hand, though none of the stain was dripping onto the wood. He was an expert painter. Dad looked at me and said one word more. “Blood.”

And then he turned his head back to the deck and continued on with his work.

Kathy Galgano

Veterans Day – November 11, 2013

A RAUCOUS AFTERNOON

You can set your watch to our dog. At 6:30 every morning it’s time for breakfast and he stands on top of me. Unfortunately, this past Sunday, Sully didn’t understand that we turned the clocks back one hour, so it was 5:30 when he perched on me, much like a goat stands atop a rock to check out the sights and be tall, or whatever goats do when they stand on rocks. If I don’t wake up instantly, and usually that’s not a problem because we’re not talking about a teeny Chihuahua here, I’ll feel kisses on my face. Then he circles while standing on me. Now I’m wincing. But I’m awake, and I know that in seconds, I’ll be hearing the roar of the first jet engine taking off from the local airport, precisely at 6:30. On occasion, I can get him to settle down and give me a few extra minutes sleep, but it’s really hard to sleep with a dog perched on top of you, knowing that soon, those paws again will start to dig. Generally, I hop out of bed as soon as I can slide the dog off his perch.

Delightfully repetitive, Sully performs another ritual. Whenever a family member comes home, he races to the door, greets the family member with a few jumps and perhaps a howl or two, and then races back to the kitchen to dig through his basket of well-chewed toys. While the loved one is removing keys from the door, Sully is choosing just the right toy. This can be a ball, or a cardboard toilet paper tube that he loves to chase, toss into the air, grab and chew and toss and chase again, or, it can be a cute squeaky plush toy that is now torn and shredded, with stuffing falling out as he carries it around the house. Racing back to the front door, the dog drops the toy at the newcomer’s feet and expects reciprocation.

After running a few errands yesterday, I came home to one very happy doggie. He even howled in excitement when I pet him, and I obliged, flinging his pick-of-the-moment, a disgusting, worn, two-sided doggie toy into the air. In-between tosses, I hung up my jacket, and even started a little dinner. The dog ran into the family room, adjacent to the kitchen. Really into this game now, he was wagging his tail hard and smiling (Yes, dogs smile!), and stretching his backside high in the air as he waited for me to pitch the toy again. I hurled it far into the kitchen and the dog skidded and grabbed the shabby cloth, expertly avoiding hitting the wall, and ran back into the family room with it hanging from his teeth. Next there was this little tug-o’-war which I won but not before hearing another rip in the fabric. Oh, well. My next toss was supposed to go straight up, because the dog likes to catch things on the fly, but it landed on the back of the sofa. In an instant, Sully leapt on top of the sofa and was back on the floor, shaking the toy out of his mouth back to me. He is fast! I gave the toy a full-arm toss. Sully ran into the kitchen after it, and I watched as the toy arced high in the air on an angled trajectory. It plopped without a splash directly into the pot of near-boiling water on the stove top. This pot was going to hold pasta in a few more minutes.

I ran over to the steaming pot to see a well-worn green and yellow plush turtle floating on the surface of my pasta water, the two little embroidered eyes and smile looking up at me. It was absorbing the droplets of oil and salted water, but continued to float, and even spun a bit in the water. The dog was barking and running in circles looking for his beloved half turtle, half alligator. I was laughing so hard I couldn’t stand upright. The pot was steaming, the dog was getting more animated by the second as he believed I was hiding the toy as part of the game. Next he was jumping on me, starting to howl again. The old Smothers Brothers routine, “Mom Always Liked You Best” popped into my head. Remember that bit? The bird flew into a pot of hot milk and one of the brothers exclaims, “I don’t like cream of asparakeet.” In the spirit of that routine, I found myself thinking, Hmmm — I’ve never tasted mock turtle soup! And, What’s the chance I can hit that shot again? We’ve been tossing doggie toys from the family room since we adopted Sully a year ago. Maybe I should keep the pot there and try again? And, If I boil the thing to sterilize it, will it disintegrate? The embroidered eyes and smile still looked at me. Then the final line in the Smothers Brothers routine popped into my head. “And mom made me eat it!”

Tears were falling I was laughing so hard. I carefully grabbed a not-yet immersed bit of turtle from the pasta water; the alligator portion underneath was completely submerged. I ran to the sink in the laundry room, trying to avoid dripping hot water on me or the dog, who now was practically jumping into my arms. However, I quickly abandoned my efforts to try and wring the thing dry; it was going to take too long and the dog was beside himself. He was howling one long howl. I just stashed the toy for later. Seeing Sully’s other well-worn, disgusting but beloved two-sided half cat, half dog plush toy, I yanked it from the basket and carried on with the game, throwing it far from the pot and back into the family room.

The pasta was delicious.

Kathy Galgano

October 7, 2013

HEAD SCRATCHERS

  • The “Information Age” needs to explain how we can be living in the “Post-Modern” era. The last I looked, I’m not “Post- ” anything.
  • Other officials were unimpressed by the mayor’s statement that crack is only something he did while drunk. (NPR report November 6, 2013 regarding Toronto, Canada Mayor Rob Ford)
  • Astronomers using NASA data have calculated for the first time that in our galaxy alone, there are at least 8.8 billion stars with Earth-size planets in the habitable temperature zone.* Wow! Heaven is gonna be one interesting place!
  • For a Veteran’s Day sale, Fry’s Electronics has marked down the Airspeed Bagged Pet Vacuum. This must be for the Canine Division.
  • Dark matter and dark energy can be measured, even though nobody knows what they are. This one really boggles my mind!

*(Quote from NBC Science, Article by Seth Borenstien, The Associated Press, Nov. 4, 2013 http://www.nbcnews.com/science/8-8-billion-habitable-earth-size-planets-exist-milky-way-8C11529186)

Kathy Galgano

November 6, 2013

HALLOWEEN REPRISED

With about a hundred Trick O’ Treaters, (neighbors closer to the elaborately decorated “Halloween House” down the street get many times this number) and candy tossed to some cleverly-dressed parents, a few costumed kids jump to the top of my memory.

But for starters, I am saddened to say we didn’t get one single toddler who insisted on marching into our living room, believing he would be visiting with us for the evening. Last year, this kid was inconsolable. He had completed the requisite dressing up with parents fussing over him at home, had taken the nice long walk, (I’m guessing that to a toddler, a short block or two is enough), arrived at the door, and rang the bell via mommy-help. We hadn’t met before, but even the dog was happy to see him. Why wouldn’t he want to settle on the perfect height of a chair, the bottom stair in our house, and remove his wrap? From there he could relax, see everybody and easily pet the dog. This little kid really understood the rules of hospitality.

Think about it. Would you want to spend the money and time to buy or make a new outfit, then linger over looking your best, walk or drive to your friend’s house, anticipate the wafts of a fabulous meal as you ring the bell, only to be greeted by a smiling host, who, upon opening the door, shakes your hand, thrusts a doggie bag in your clutches, and bellows, “You look great! See you next year!”?

The only way we could get the toddler to make his next call, (and of course we told his parents they were more than welcome to stay and visit), was for me to leash the dog and accompany them to our neighbors’ house. The tears stopped flowing when we all took a friendly walk together; the little guy even held the leash. And once again, he rang the bell via mommy-help, and my neighbors opened the door and smiled and greeted him. The toddler marched into their living room and made himself comfortable. I didn’t wait around to see what happened next.

This year, lots of kids really fussed with make-up (or their parents fussed), to spectacular results. One little girl modeled a Dia de los Muertos costume. Her colorful and ornate dress was handmade, and her make-up was less skeletal, prettier. She looked beautiful. I can’t imagine how much time and patience it took for this team to achieve these expert results. Then there was the kid with a zipper realistically applied to his face. The zipper was open, and I could have sworn it could be zipped shut. Chilling and amazing!

But the kid who wins my Candy Corn award for embodying the spirit of their character (an award I just now devised) goes to a hobgoblin whose costume was quite popular this year. While I greeted kids one-by-one in a large group who all happened upon my door at the same time, I heard this familiar little tune from somewhere in the crowd: “Da-da dada dada dada, Da-da dada dada dada, Da-da dada dada, dada….” Each princess and ninja and devil and kitty cat and zombie and candy corn and tree and cell phone and Star Wars character (sadly, no Minions this year) selected a piece of sugary goodness from the bowl. The singing continued. Da-da dada dada dada…. He was last in the group, and when I looked up, I saw that one dad alone remained in the driveway. With great confidence, Batman selected a treat, still singing his theme song, and gazed up at me with a serious look on his face, and shouted, “Thank you, citizen!” He turned, ran down the steps, with his cape billowing as he ran, and joined his father, who was laughing even harder than I. Looking at the dad quizzically, I wondered if his boy had rehearsed this routine. The dad shook his head to answer my unspoken question, and exclaimed, “I had no idea!”

Runner-up goes to this very little guy who smiled when I remarked that I liked his magician costume, with cape and all. While he selected a treat, I asked him if he could provide me with a trick. He happily obliged. Removing his top hat, he waved his wand over it. Very quietly, he whispered something close to “Abracadabra” and reached inside the hat. He had a little trouble maneuvering a fabric panel, but moved it enough for me to see that a plush bunny was hidden inside. After a few more minutes of struggle, his mom helped him to extricate the rabbit, and he held it high. Pretty impressive! This kid was beaming. I tossed him a second candy as he turned to go. He earned it!

Kathy Galgano

November 4, 2013