Tag Archives: Christmas

Got Christmas Spirit? Don’t Ask.

smileysnowman-768212Christmas spirit is a holiday gift meant to spring up from spontaneous acts of generosity. You don’t ask for it–it happens when you least expect it from a friend or stranger overloaded with holiday goodwill and sugar-laden treats. But somehow due to the heavy rotation of stories like A Christmas Carol and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, people believe it should be shared at all times in December. They even demand it!

Too bad though I don’t want to give anybody anything. By this time of year I’ve given so much to so many people throughout the year that I want to give to myself and no one else. That doesn’t make me a Grinch, it just makes me someone who wants to be left alone. For instance…

Just last week I went to an outdoor public holiday sing-along. I arrived early to get a good seat under a heater with a great sight line for my two-year-old son to watch the band. A woman who arrived later demanded I move over one so she could sit next to her grandson on our row. Forget the fact that there were plenty of empty seats around us or that the seat I had was empty because it was for my son who was with grandma using the potty, her wish for that chair was more important because she wanted to enjoy this holiday event with her grandson. And besides, she informed me, “You can’t hold seats for people. I can get a security guard and have you taken out!”

Then a woman in front of me got into the mix and told me to give the woman my seat. I explained that it was my son’s seat. “Oh like he’s going to watch.” “He will,” I told her proudly, “He goes to concerts.” She rolled her eyes, “It’s Christmas! Can’t you show a little Christmas spirit?!” No I couldn’t and nor did I want to. And neither did that lady in front of me because she never offered her seat to grandma either.

A few years back on Christmas day I went to see the opening of a movie with my husband. Once again, I arrived early. I walked in, counted the rows and the chairs to pick out the two most dead center seats. With our spot secure, my husband went to grab some concessions.

During this time the theater started to fill up in the middle but everywhere else there were plenty of seats. Then one guy came up and saw some empty seats on our row and asked that I move down. My brain froze. I didn’t want to move but my well-trained guilty conscience suggested I move over even if it meant denying myself a perfect seat. But knowing that this way of thinking is what causes me to be emotionally drained by the end of the year, I told the man, “No.”


The man’s eyes widened. “It’s just a couple of seats down,” he retorted. I looked around and saw there were still plenty of other seats available. “No,” I said again. The man’s friend showed up and the man moved on, but not before snarking back, “Great Christmas Spirit.” Everyone on my row then looked at me as if I had broken an unwritten rule. I thought I had done something admirable. At last I was thinking of myself before others. Merry Christmas to me! I shrugged my shoulders and looked up to watch the pre-show.

Then a couple came up and asked if I could move over. “No,” I said. Once again I was met with looks of dismay, “Seriously?” “Yes,” I said again. As a favor I pointed to some seats down the way. The couple twisted their faces and puffed, “Merry Christmas!” “Merry Christmas,” I said right back but not as angrily.

My husband finally showed up with popcorn and drinks when another couple (I sh*# you not) came up and asked us to move over. Before I could say no and tell my husband about everyone else who wanted me to move, he moved over. Then him and the couple waited for me to move. I didn’t. When it became clear I had no intention of ever getting up my husband looked at me like I was crazy and asked, “Aren’t you going to move over?” “No,” I said.

My husband was mortified, “Why don’t you just move over?” “Because I want this seat,” I told him. My husband begged me with his eyes to move over. I kept my coat in my seat and told him I would see how the new seat was. I moved over and sure enough it wasn’t perfect. And for a few seconds as I sat there in that less than perfect seat I thought, “I fought hard for my spot. Why do I have to move over just because it’s what my husband wants? That’s not even what he wants, it’s what they want? Why doesn’t he do what I want?” I looked at my husband with much love knowing he’d be hardheaded about thinking I was hardheaded and got up, moved back over to my seat, took my popcorn and said to all three waiting on me, “No.”

“That’s really nice of you,” the couple huffed at me while the theater filled up more and more around them. I replied, “Thank you,” because by now I was enjoying being the sh*%head everyone was making me out to be. Desperate, the couple tried one last tactic: reasoning. “Is it that bad of a seat? Can’t you just move over one place?” Tired of the back and forth and wanting to enjoy the pre-movie show, I chomped on my popcorn and said, “You asked me if I could move down. That means I have a choice in the answer. I gave you my answer.”

Then like an army of reinforcements coming over the hill to save a falling army, a woman behind me yelled out, “Leave that poor woman alone! She said no! Why does everyone keep asking her to move over?! She was here before you were! Get here early if you want this seat!” I turned around and thanked her.

So now when I think of Christmas spirit, I don’t think of sweet strangers handing over free mugs of hot cocoa, I think of anyone courageous enough to defend those of us in great need of being a little greedy at this most needy time of the year.

Pictured: Smilin’ Snowman, ShazzMack, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Commercial-Sharealike 2.0 license

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Christmas Cooking Challenge – Part II Lost in Translation

Rene and Mom

Rene and Teri battle it out

By December 23, I was so ready for this Christmas Cooking Challenge. Oh sure, my mom had tradition and flan on her side, but after weeks of stressing over what to make, I, the next generation, finally came up with a menu that would be delicious, could be eaten by a vegetarian and a dad with gout, and that paid tribute to some of our heritage while steering clear of Cuban Noche Buena dinners (so I wouldn’t step on anymore toes and find myself having to cook again). While my mom enjoyed her holiday vacation relaxing as I would have, watching Korean Soap Operas with my dad, I cooked for two days to make the following recipes (most from www.epicurious.com):

Delicious Onions with Cabrales

Roasted Sweet Onions with Cabrales

Roasted Sweet Onions and Cabrales (Spanish Blue Cheese)
Parsnip Bisque
Ground “Beef” Collard Green Bundles with Hazelnuts and Golden Raisins
Roasted Beets with Onion Marmalade and Parmesan
Manchego and Membrillo (Quince Paste) Napoleons
Cranberry Brandy Jelly
placed in a can as an homage to my mom
No Knead Bread
And for Dessert: Flan
–which thankfully my mom made after much begging from my nephew, myself and family. Some things are just too precious to give up.

My Mom’s Flan Christmas 2011

End result: all plates licked-clean! That’s right! Different with dietary restrictions was still delicious. I proudly asked my mom what she thought of my multi-course meal. She replied in an unusually delicate high-pitched Cuban accent, “Eeet was good.” She seemed hesitant to say much of anything else so I asked her if she needed me to interview her for the blog to help her sort out her thoughts. Without hesitation she responded in not so high a pitch, “No.” The next day I reminded her that I needed her blog post by Wednesday or Friday at the latest, so if it was easier for her, the interview process would take no time. “No,” she said as she put on her reading glasses and headed to her home office. She told me she wanted to write her thoughts down and assured me she would get it done. I explained that I wanted it before the new year because afterwards people no longer think of Christmas. She shot me a look and then reminded me in great detail, why that way of thinking is wrong since Christmas season continues past December 25. Noticing that she was going off course I immediately veered her back into her home office to write and left to visit my husband’s family for the remainder of the trip.  I couldn’t wait to hear what my mom had to say and on December 30th I received her response to my dinner:

“O.K .So now I get to defend my wonderful cuisine after my sweet daughter spent her time the other day criticizing it, saying horrible things that seemed funny at first, but then, when I realized each one of the words or better said, adjectives she used referred to my cooking or food, it dawned on me!!!!…….how serious an issue this is.

But before I get into the food part, I will remind you that even though it is December 28th, we are still in the Christmas season which started on the night of Dec. 24th and ends on January 9th or the Baptism of the Lord’s day, so please do not let yourself be guided by the materialistic culture which starts throwing away Christmas trees even by yesterday the 27thIn between, there is the wonderful day of Epiphany or the Three Wise Men’s Day that brought you all your Christmas gifts.  Do you remember Rene? That is why the Nativity set with the Holy Family, the little sheep, shepherds, donkey and cow, stay put beside our Christmas tree until the “real” Christmas season ends. I am not getting away from the subject but Rene this is just a reminder…….

I told you.

“This ties up with our Christmas meal tradition.  Ja Ja [Spanish for Ha Ha]….yes, when I read your comments about it, at first I laughed but as I finished reading it …….it dawned on me!!!  Hey, she is criticizing not only me, but “my” wonderful Cuban culture smelling food!!!!

First, you have to be grateful for the most wonderful Cuban mom the world has ever known. Second, be grateful that I fed and pumped B vitamins into you to prepare you for any future hard times that might come your way (not all moms do that), or in case you would marry a vegetarian thin guy with no understanding of roasted-pig-loving Cubans (which you did).  Third I was such a perfect mother, that I was very aware not to let you or your siblings have too many sweets, saving your future husband hundreds of dollars in dentist’s fees. 

And you did not get fat on account of my cooking, you had milk, eggs or meat, bread, etc. everyday as the pyramid of food suggests.  What more perfection do you expect from a mom?

Stop saying that my food smelled too much……and if it did, it was because it was the “real” thing, not the fake meat you eat now.  No wonder it does not have any kind of smell at all!!!!  Mine had that great smell depending on how I felt that day: if I was happy I would use more garlic, if not I would use maybe more onions, if I was angry I would overlook taking out the bag of giblets in the “American turkey,” but that was what made my cuisine “unique”.

Dear daughter, that is what tradition is all about, the same smell, the same ingredients, the same cook, the same food …..the Yuca, the roasted pig (better with an apple in his mouth), the ripe sweet plantains, and the black beans CUBAN STYLE (only Cubans do them right, and I do them better right from the can, but I know how to dress them up the right way so they come out YUMMY).  Then the salad could not be left out. Even though your grandfather thought that was horse’s food, that along with the yams had to be part of our Cuban Noche Buena as a way to acknowledge the place of you and your siblings’ birth place…the U.S.A. 

The only thing missing in our Noche Buena most of the time, was not being in Miami with the rest of the family and having the same old good, loud, energetic and democratic conversation where everyone has the same right to talk over the other person’s loud voice.”

I beg to differ. Though the clan in Houston is small, it is just as loud and proudly opinionated.

“One thing I can say about you cooking the whole meal this year as my punishment for all your criticism…….is that it did not smell one bit, and that my dear daughter, does not help to make memories, where your family one day can blame you for all their “natural”  imperfections or for that matter start a TRADITION.  One last thing I will say in favor of my smelly, same old same old food for Christmas, is that you will always remember it no matter where you are on Christmas Eve.   Chao Chao.”

Where did she get the idea that I thought her food smelled bad? I reread my blog and found the sentence she took to mean that I thought her food stunk:

“What I especially find interesting about the family TDay meal is that it somehow always reeks a little of the same dishes mom used to make almost every day of the week.”

Although my mother and I speak the same languages, some things don’t translate well–especially the word “reeks.” I felt horrible. Already I felt kinda bad when I heard that my Thanksgiving blog offended my mom, but I felt bad the same way you feel in an embarrassing moment, like forgetting to lock a bathroom door and getting caught with your pants down–it’s awful but in the end it’s kinda funny. That’s what I thought the plane of emotions were for this whole Christmas Cooking Challenge, until I read her retort. Do you know how insulting that is? A cook can be told something tastes bad, fair enough, but smells bad? When food tastes bad you think of other foods that taste bad, but when food smells bad you don’t even think of food, you think of every disgusting odor in the world that has nothing to do with it: Port-O-Potty’s, litter boxes, dirty laundry, that dude on the bus. In her mind I might as well have kicked her in the gut and posted a photo of the kicking in action on the internet. She was so upset she didn’t even get to writing about my food. Man, oh man. Needless to say I spent the rest of 2011 hugging her, kissing up to her and trying to explain the different uses of the word “reeks.” After awhile she finally started to sort of believe me and has been calling me ever since to get the recipes I used for Noche Buena, one by one.

So what did I learn from all this? 1. Talking sh** causes wars. 2. Remember when you were fifteen and irritated and you told your parents that they didn’t understand you? Guess what? You were right, so it’s best not to mess with them.

Happy New Year everyone!

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Christmas Cooking Challenge

From the look of things you would think all was right in the world – Kim Jong Il is dead, snowstorms are causing airport delays, and holiday vacation is just around the corner. Little did I know that I was gonna be stuck cooking Christmas Eve dinner this year.

Now I love the holidays, not just for the lights, the sweets and the silly fun of it all, but also the chance to be a carefree kid again as my parents inevitably reclaim the grinding daily duties of cooking, cleaning and taking care of most everything. But thanks to my blog post THANKSGIVNG WITH FRIENDS OR FAMILY in November, I am screwed. My dad was reading it and let my mom take a look. She finally got over her feelings about it and called to tell me in her thick Cuban accent, “I read your blog. It was vedy, vedy funny. And then I got vedy, vedy angry.” As a result, my mom told my family that she is going on strike and handing the job of cooking Christmas Eve dinner (Cubans do their eating on Christmas Eve not Christmas Day) to me so she can write about my cooking on the internet. [Parker Platform is reserving a spot for her rant.]

Although I wish I could go into this with no cares, easily creating a menu that would knock her socks off, I’ve instead had to spend my holiday stressing. Not only is my husband vegetarian (not vegan), but my Dad has gout and doesn’t know that it’s better to watch your diet during the rest of the year so you can take advantage of the good stuff when it counts during the holidays. As a result, my menu must be awesome without meat, shellfish nor certain fishes, no purine rich foods like mushrooms, cauliflower, spinach, and well basically any fun foods that make a feast festive. So wish me luck as I come up with something that says Christmas but lets the Vegetarian partake and Gout Boy not go immobile. Stay tuned next week for the results and my mom’s vengeance review. She has assured me that she will show no mercy.

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