Pages

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Zoe vs. the Recipe Post

(Note: This recipe post is not Zoe related. Unless you see making struffoli as a metaphor. After all, Zoe also took a long time to make and she's often sticky.)


Struffoli 
An Italian Christmas Tradition
I believe it was the poet Emily Dickinson who said, “Tradition is the thing with festive wings that beats you about the face unless you pretend to still believe in Santa Claus.”
Or something like that.
Anyway, the holidays are a time when traditions must be observed. Or the baby Jesus will be displeased. Such was the impression I received as a child.
My mother is Italian, and for many Italians, Christmas Eve is the bigger event. Dinner is the Feast with Seven Fishes: lobster, shrimp, mussels, stuffed clams, seafood salad with scungilli and calamari. And finally canned anchovies. For the technical win.
We open presents at midnight, not waiting for Christmas morning, and after that we have dessert, which then sits in our stomachs till after the New Year.
Along with this strict schedule of events, six types of cookies or desserts have to make an appearance after midnight. This means that every year my mother starts baking before Thanksgiving, and then freezes the goodies that won’t stay good.
Chief among desserts, and the one she makes last, is the traditional Italian dessert called struffoli.
You may have heard of it; you’ve probably seen it. These honey balls are often arranged in the form of a Christmas tree or sometimes a wreath. They’re covered in sprinkles and, sometimes, the candied citrus bits we confront with horror in Nonni’s fruitcake.

Mangia!

My mother doesn’t do the candied citrus. She also bakes mostly from memory, from a recipe handed down from one Neopolitan mother to the next.
The first thing I noted when she gave me the recipe was that she spelled it “Struffle.” That didn’t seem right given how we’d always pronounced it, so I asked Google. In return Google inquired: “Do you mean struggle?” This will be important later.
Now, I’m a slave to tradition like anyone else. And knowing my sister, who either orders dinner or eats out seven nights a week, I realized I’d have to be the one to carry on the Christmas cookie/dessert tradition, especially struffoli.
One problem: I didn’t really like struffoli anymore.
The main culprit behind my waning affection is my stomach. I can no longer digest them. 
Struffoli not only takes a long time to make but an even longer time to leave your system. They go in as hard balls and they pretty much come out the same way, only considerably less merry.
Now that I’ve primed the pump, here’s the recipe as supplied by my mother, followed by my commentary.

Ingredients
6 eggs
4 cups flour
3 tsp. baking powder
Olive oil
Jar of honey (size unspecified; “y’know, a jar”)
Non-pareils or sprinkles

Directions
1) Mix everything together. Work with hands until smooth.
2) Make long strands with dough. Cut into little marble-sized pieces.
3) Fry in olive oil, in batches. Scoop out when done and place on paper towel. (This is the part that takes forever, and seems longer, as you occasionally get spattered with hot oil.)
4) Heat the honey in a pot. Mix until the struffoli is covered in honey. Add sprinkles and toss.
Yield: Enough for the family as well as the neighbor she exchanges desserts with. (This is optional; you don’t need to give any to my mother’s neighbor.)

Questions?
Yes, many.
The ingredients seemed sparse, her directions loosey-goosey, and her yield inexact.
This is probably the result of her measuring by eye and filling in the details with her memory. After all, she’s been making this dish every Christmas for more than forty years.

"I felt a funeral in my brain"
was inspired by an unsuccessful
attempt at making struffoli.

When I’d researched the spelling for struffoli, I’d also clicked on a few recipes and noticed that they had a lot more ingredients.
Most notably: sugar. And salt. But also lemon zest. Or orange. Some had vanilla. Some even had grappa.
I questioned my mother about these discrepancies.
She said, "Well, you can do that. If you want." But she likes it plain.
“What do you need all that sugar for? The honey is enough.”
And I was given to understand the grappa idea was just nutso.
So there you have it . . . a Christmas tradition: family, food, and holiday spirit, with my mother’s struffoli as the tie that binds. Literally.



Zoe: 73*; Universe/digestive tract: 0

*Technically, Zoe didn't "win." Except she always wins and wanted that noted. (I don't make the rules.)


For more of Zoe's hijinks, follow me on Facebook and on Twitter at @zoevsuniverse
I need a win here, people. 

To get piping hot updates delivered to your inbox 
every Thursday, click here.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Zoe vs. the Top 7 Holiday Movies

Hi! Zoe here. I'm four. Next day I'll be five. But today, I'm reviewing the supposed top 7 holiday movies and other seasonal programming (according to big people).
So put on your Santa hats. But don't pull them over your ears or you won't be able to hear.

1. A Christmas Story 
Some guy wouldn't stop talking over the movie. It was distracting. And the boy never really did shoot his eye out. So that was kind of a letdown.
The kid was weird. He got his tongue stuck to a pole and he washed his mouth with soap. My daddy laughed at the boy's dad because he was funny. So was the lamp. However, there were no cute baby animals looking for their mommies.
Theme/lesson: Man's inhumanity to man. If you're into that kind of thing.
I'm giving it 2 puppies out of 5. 


2. It's a Wonderful Life
In a world without color a boy grows up. Three stars in the sky talk about the boy. The boy wants to take lots of trips but about ten minutes in you know he's never going anywhere.
There's a little girl named Zuzu who likes her flower so much she gets sick. Then there was a guy who was supposed to be an angel but he didn't have wings, so that was harder to swallow than uncooked broccoli (or cooked, for that matter).
Again, there were no cute baby animals who needed to find their mommies. There was one mention of ducks but I didn't see any.

Everyone thinking what I'm thinking? After
the New Year, Uncle Billy needs to be put down.

Theme/lesson: Our relationships are like a web and we are all pervy little spiders who live there with our friends. Unless they are failures.
I'm giving this movie 1 puppy and an invisible duck.

3. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
First of all, spoiler alert, he didn't really. Or at least he gives everything back. He was a bad mommy to his dog. I liked the dog.
The Whos were weird and scary except for Cindy Lou Who, who by my calculation was about two years younger than me, and had no feet, which was sad except she didn't seem too broken up about it. She kind of floated.
The Grinch was green. There was a song. I like this author's other stuff so I'm willing to give this 3 puppies.
Theme/lesson: Share. Or, short of that, don't steal.

4. A Charlie Brown Christmas 
I watched for two whole minutes and when nothing was happening but soft jazz I asked Mommy to shut it off and put on The Lego Movie instead.
No puppies for this one, even if there was a dog. I mean, the dog wasn't even looking for his mommy. He seemed too self-possessed. Also, his owner was a whiner. And believe me I know.
Theme/lesson: Didn't need to watch to know it was about unrealistic expectations leading to inevitable crushing disappointment.

Charlie Brown needs a blanket like mine.
And by "mine" I mean I'm going to wrap it
around his neck if he doesn't stop kvetching.


5. Elf
I liked this one. Mommy made me hot chocolate and put marshmallows in it. I also had a cookie which had M&Ms on top and I bit off the M&Ms and licked the flecks of M&M shell I couldn't get off and I plan to have more of the cookie I licked tomorrow.
Mommy thinks I will forget but I won't forget.
Buddy was funny. He liked revolving doors and elevators. And candy for breakfast.
Mommy said, Don't get any ideas. Too late. But really it was an idea I'd been entertaining for a while.
I missed the middle of the movie since I was busy jumping up and down and running in circles and stopping Mommy when she  tried to take my hot chocolate and cookie away but then I wanted to see the end with Santa's sled and the reindeer.
Theme/lesson: Be yourself. Or: Believe in yourself. Or just: Believe.
I'm giving this one 5 puppies but taking one away because there were no cute baby animals trying to find their mommy and daddy, just a tall elf looking for his dad and that was the least interesting part. I don't know how many puppies that leaves since I don't know how to subtract yet.

6. A Christmas Carol
No cute baby animals looking for their mommies. And no lady named Carol ever showed up.
There were ghosts though. That was okay. The last one was scary.
This is another one that takes place in a world with no color. It's about an old guy who's not very nice. At the end he turns nice but it's too nice so you don't trust it and he gets too friendly with Tiny Tim and that's kind of creepy but then again so is Tiny Tim.
No puppies for Scrooge! Okay, maybe one puppy because he has ghosts for friends, which is pretty hard-core.
Theme/lesson: Be nice, even if it seems fake, and you'll get invited to parties.

7. Die Hard
So this mommy's husband goes to a Christmas party in a building where the mommy works and crazy stuff goes down or it's about to but my mommy saw I was in the room and turned it off.
That usually means something is good so I'm going to assume it was about cute baby animals looking for their mommies and daddies. In a big office building with elevators. And lots of explosions. And daddies in tank tops, which is silly.

Rudolph? You ready to light this mofo up?

Theme/lesson: Be stealthy or you'll get caught, either by your mommy or fake German terrorists.
This one gets all the puppies.
Happy watching! 
Zoe: 72; Universe: 0


For more of Zoe's hijinks, follow me on Facebook and on Twitter at @zoevsuniverse
I need a win here, people. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Zoe vs. Gordon Gekko

This may be the first holiday season where Zoe really gets it. And by "gets it," I don't mean the holiday spirit. I mean, she thinks she deserves to "get" everything her acquisitive little heart desires.
Every time a toy commercial comes on in the middle of a cartoon, Zoe's focus increases by a factor of ten. She doesn't even break her gaze from the TV when she says, "I want that. Can I have that?"
Vampire high school doll. Superhero dinobuddy. Kinetic sand. Daily our mailbox is inundated with toy catalogs, and Zoe pores over them, her face lit with an avaricious glow.
If there were such a thing as a Christmas spirit animal, Zoe's would be a Gekko. Not a spelling error. I'm talking about Gordon Gekko from the 1987 film Wall Street, the personification of greed.
A few nights ago I dreamt Zoe entered our bedroom wearing a blue shirt with a white collar. She also had on suspenders, which I know I didn't buy for her and which were clearly an affectation, as she wasn't wearing pants.

Santa? A red-suited weirdo
with zero killer instinct.

As I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, she jumped up on the bed, straddled my legs, and started talking at me.
"Greed is good," she said. "Greed is right; greed works. It clarifies, cuts through."
"Why are you quoting Gordon Gekko?" I asked her.
"Who's that?"
"Well, Michael Douglas---"
"Look, buddy, Mommy, pal, Christmas is coming and for a player like yours truly that means only one thing: windfall time."
This was highly unusual. In our waking life, Zoe did not understand the concept of money. In fact, when we'd passed a toy store the week before and she saw a firetruck she wanted, I'd asked her if she had money, and she suggested I fa la la myself to the "money store." 
In the dream, Zoe was still talking. "Are you liquid, Mommy?"
"Do you want water?" I started to get out of bed.
"Don't be coy. Coy is for wimps who'd rather piss their Brooks Brothers suit than say what they mean. By liquid I'm talking about the green. The green that's greener than a street-corner Christmas tree. I'm talking M-O-N-E-Y. You can take your Elf on the Shelf and stash him in the place that rhymes with stash. And also cash. That candy-ass snitch for Santa needs to know: you're a player or you're garbage."

The salad days. Before the bubble burst and
Jingles went to jail for insider trading.

I was speechless. What had happened to the little girl who liked My Little Pony? The sweet angel who thought friendship was magic?
Apparently friendship was for suckers, but, for the record, you could still buy her a Pinkie Pie or Twilight Sparkle toy even if she no longer subscribed to the Equestria worldview.
"Christmas is not just about getting gifts," I tried. "And you have enough toys as it is."
"It's not a question of enough, pal, I mean, Mommy. Other kids might be satisfied with a toy or two, a few baubles in their stockings, but that's because they're sheep, and you know what happens to sheep? They get slaughtered. They also say, Baa!"
"Do you really need material possessions to show my love for you?"
"Love." She made a scoffing sound. "Love is a fiction created by people to keep them from jumping out of windows."
"That's a jaded perspective. Even for a four-year-old." 
"Lady, it's all about the bucks, the moolah, the Benjamins; the rest is conversation."
"Okay, that's it. Time to go back to your room, young lady."
"You're not naive enough to think we're living in a democracy, are you, buddy?"
"Shouldn't that be my line?"
"Nobody likes a crybaby. Unless it also pees and poops. In fact, there was one just like it on page 46 of that catalog you mistakenly put with the recycling. Don't worry. I fished it out."

The Tio de Nadal. An improvement over
Elf on the Shelf. Click here. Trust me.

"Okay, now you're off book. Gordon Gekko never said any of that in Wall Street."
"You're forgetting the sequel, which came out in 2010, coincidentally the year I was born. . . . Money Never Sleeps."
"Not just money," I said as I ushered her out of our bedroom. But then she took a detour to the bathroom saying she had to drop a deuce. Just like that doll. The one on page 46.
As she perched on the bowl she told me shipping was free if I acted quickly. And wasn't a chump.
Zoe: 71; Universe: 0

For more of Zoe's hijinks, follow me on Facebook and on Twitter at @zoevsuniverse
I need a win here, people. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Zoe vs. 30 Days of Gratitude

Zoe here. In honor of my fifth Thanksgiving on this earth, I figured it was time to share what I'm grateful for. Or Mommy figured it was time. Six of one, yada yada.
You've probably seen those 30 Days of Gratitude lists all over big peoples' computers. Mommy has never taken part so I don't know why I have to, but anyway here's my 30. (I can count higher but I don't want to rub it in the faces of those who can't.)

I think they're too big for their mommies to pick up.

30 Things I'm Grateful For: A List from Zoe (Me)
1. Apple juice
2. Apple juice
3. Apple juice
Now that that's out of the way . . . 
4. Pasta, the circle kind. (Ed.: wagon wheels.) I could eat them every night. (Ed.: She does.)
5. Going to the park.
6. Riding my tricycle in the park.
7. Riding someone else's tricycle in the park.
8. TV
9. Paw Patrol. Dora. Dora and Friends. Paw Patrol. Team Umizoomi. Paw Patrol. Bubble Guppies. Super Why! (This one may change.)
10. Rocks
11. Frozen
12. My toys from Frozen
13. My Elsa costume
14. That I can shoot ice from my fingers. (Ed.: She can't.) Tchoo! Tchoo!
15. Mommy's phone. It has games.
16. Friends. I can show them my Frozen toys which they don't have and they can feel good for me and pleased that I am their friend.
17. That I'm this big. (Ed.: Um . . . forget it.)
18. The pigeon in Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus because he's allowed to yell even though it's bedtime.
19. My routine. It gives me a semblance of control in this chaotic world. I DO NOT have OCD, as Mommy "jokes." She needs to stop stigmatizing me.
20. Chocolate milk 
21. Presents. 
22. Hot chocolate
23. Tickle fights
24. Chocolate
25. Rice Krippies 
26. The yellow horse that loves me and is my favorite. (Ed.: coin-operated horse she won't let me put money in.)
27. Grandmas and assorted others---aunts, uncles, and cousins---who do my bidding.
28. Daddy, who is wrapped around my finger
Let's see . . . who or what am I forgetting. . . ?
29. Harley! Our cat! I'm so so thankful she is in my life. She lets me pet her and I just love her so so much.
I'm getting a dirty look from . . . oh that's right:
30. Mommy, because she's always ready to drop whatever she's doing and play with me. Stop typing now, Mommy. And can you get me juice? Thanks in advance.
Happy Thanksgiving---we'll see you in two weeks!

Hate to be a jerk but where's the ketchup?

Zoe: 70; Universe: 0

For more of Zoe's hijinks, follow me on Facebook and on Twitter at @zoevsuniverse
I need a win here, people. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Zoe vs. Mommy Land
(formerly known as
Candy Land)

Candy Land from Hasbro is the board game most children cut their teeth on. Or maybe it's the first game board children bite? Or maybe it's that they bite you in frustration when they lose.
No matter. The point is someone gave Candy Land to Zoe for her birthday so we started playing it the other day.
This is a good first game for children. It says so right on the box. Candy Land tests a child's aptitude for the three C's: counting, colors, and candy. Zoe rates high on the last two, and if what she's counting is candy, it's a clean sweep.
Our Candy Land has a spinner. When I was a kid I think it was a deck of cards with colors on them, not a spinner, but time marches on. (Note: unless you're playing a board game with a small child.)

A golden era, when I played, unaware of the
suffering of others.

The spinner has two sides: one with colored squares and one with characters and their locales, from Princess Frostine's Ice Palace (shades of Elsa from Frozen) to Lord Licorice's Lagoon (aka, where my game piece was to spend an eternity) to King Kandy's Castle itself. This is the side we used.
Zoe chose her game piece, a red blob with the face of an angry hemorrhoid. (Research revealed this was one Giggly Gumdrop.) Then she chose mine: Mally Mallo, which I tried not to see as slander since I am, after all, white and cushy.
Then Zoe "spun," by which I mean moved the arrow to where she wanted to go. According to Hoyle, be damned.
She "spun" for my game piece too, thus my status as squatter in Lord Licorice's Lagoon.

Candy Land, the movie.
(Go back and read that sentence
until it makes sense. It's ok; I'll wait.)

So Zoe and I played. Over and over. For what seemed like hours. (Interesting fact: the woman who invented the game in 1945 had polio. Hardly surprising since the game is clearly born of suffering.)
And as I sat, a prisoner, on the rug next to Zoe, while Mally Mallo malingered, my mind growing as numb as my butt, I hallucinated a new version of Candy Land, just for tired mommies like me. . . .

Mommy Land (from Hasbroken) 
Choose your game piece: a) an empty coffee mug, b) a jogging stroller, c) a stained shirt in what-was-she-thinking white, or d) a desiccated French fry (may be actual desiccated French fry found under your couch; your child will most likely lose one of the game pieces anyway).
Spin the wheel and commence moving along squares in muted colors more appropriate for your aging palate, or is it palette? Anyway, lots of gray. Because that's soothing. 
First stop: Sleep-Deprived Swamp, the domain of Princess Lollygag. You're so tired you can barely move and yet you're still faster than a four-year-old who stops to look at every rock she passes, interrogate you as to its properties, then disagree.
Grab another cup of tepid coffee and move on to Forgetful Forest, where Baroness Von Talks-Too-Much just won't stop talking until you can barely think. What did you come here looking for? Was it your glasses?
When you finally figure out they're on top of your head, you may stumble on to Kale Canyon, roamed by Lady Licks-Some-Stuff. Gone are the days when you can eat anything, so you best get your daily dose of roughage. Then feel those leafy greens turn as your child eschews her water bottle, preferring to lick the rainwater off a dirty handrail instead.
Queasy, eyes at half-mast, press on to Heartburn Hill, where Countess Kicks-Your-Crotch jumps about, heedless of personal space, kicking and punching until she lands one smack in your baby maker. Ugh, is that your Kale making a return appearance?
On your knees now, you crawl to Mashed-Potato Marsh. Keep serving up them taters mashed with butter and mozzarella cheese. It's all she will eat!
Here, Miss Mayhem greets you with energy to spare. As well as poop, the latter of which arrives with dismaying frequency and equally startling announcements---"Mommy, poop"---belying the amount of starch she's consumed.
Next, ease gingerly around the Bay of Unreasoning Fury, but if you can’t get past unscathed, attempt to mollify Fraulein Frenzy with a tasty treat. (Beware of giving her too much sugar though!)
At the end of the day, try to hang on as you navigate through Lego Archipelago, where the Queen of Complaints whines behind you to let you know you're not done yet. She's not tired! And besides, she can't sleep because her foot hurts. She's making that up! She got the idea seconds ago when you screamed after stepping on that Lego. She is not to be outdone!
Better wrap up that aching foot and slide those orthopedic inserts in your Toms because guess what's ahead? Why, it's Sleep-Deprived Swamp.
Again? Yes, because unlike Candy Land, where the game ends at King Kandy's Castle, Mommy Land's board is a circle. There's no end to the fun! 
Now how's that for a sweet surprise?

Dear Fam: By the time you read this I'll be
"resting" comfortably at St. Barnabus' Sanatorium.
I burned Junior's board game. Cheers!
P.S. You'll need to buy more Scotch.

Zoe: 69; Universe: 0

 For more of Zoe's hijinks, follow me on Facebook and on Twitter at @zoevsuniverse
I need a win here, people.