Monday, January 26, 2015

Are You Underemployed?

Take the quiz!

Please answer "yes", "no", or "Not sure, can you ask me again when I'm sober?" to the following questions:
  1. Are you over 18 years of age and have a high school diploma?
  2. If so, does your current employment require the use of a hairnet?
  3. Is your "boss" or "supervisor" more than 10 years younger than you are?
  4. If so, has she ever left her belly ring under your keyboard?
  5. Do you have an advanced degree?  That you can remember?
  6. If so, is it in Psychology?
  7. Do you watch "reality" TV shows?
  8. If so, do you feel compelled to discuss them at your job?
  9. Are you ever shocked by your fellow employee(s) work wardrobes?
  10. If so, is it because their attire is truly shocking, or are you just a crabby old bitch?
  11. Are you required to ask permission to go to the restroom at work?  (If you are an air-traffic controller or a guard at Buckingham Palace, please skip to question #13.)
  12. If so, are you also required to clean it?
  13. Do you punch a time clock?
  14. If so, does your company go into a tailspin if you go over 40 hrs/wk?
  15. Do you work enough hours to qualify for benefits at your job?
  16. If so, do they actually give them to you?
  17. Does the word "inventory" depress you?
  18. If so, have you sought medical attention and did you manage to score a prescription for marijuana?
  19. Do you start work before 8:00 am?
  20. Or leave after 8:00 pm?
  21. Do you take public transportation?
  22. By choice?
  23. Are you required to follow a script when greeting a customer/visitor to your workplace?
  24. If so, does it make you sound like a lobotomized six-year-old?
  25. Is there a "no gym shoe" rule at your place of employment?
  26. If so, is it difficult to enforce?
  27. Do the words "on fleek" mean anything to you?
  28. Do you consider yourself more intelligent than your superior?
  29. If so, is he/she from Michigan?
  30. Are any of your co-workers from Indiana?
  31. If so, do they own motorcycles?
  32. Has the carpeting at your place of employment ever been cleaned?
  33. Do you work for a woman with a fiance?
  34. If so, does she spend an inordinate amount of time on the job planning her "destination" wedding?
  35. If so, has it been more than two years since their first child?
  36. If so, has she managed to take off the "baby weight"?
  37. Do you suffer from "Top 40" brainworms?
  38. Do you earn less than $15/hr?
  39. In spite of the fact that you have a college degree, graduate work, 2 certifications, 20 years of experience, and stellar references?
  40. If so, has "Thanksgiving dinner" become the stuff of urban legends for you?
Scoring:  Unfortunately, if you answered "yes" to any question #2 through #40, you are tragically underemployed.  Sorry.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending how you look at it), I can happily say that questions #2 through #40 are no longer relevant to me.  Which makes this particular forum for thoughts on the trials and tribulations of underemployment increasingly difficult to maintain.
And probably means that it's time to move on.  I have now published over 300 essays on the subject of underemployment, failing to attract an actual publisher.  What I did attract was a "following" who became friends and companions and sympathetic listerners during my walk-of-shame of the last five years.  Much better than a publisher.
I am not about to give all that up.  Though I am starting a new blog (coming soon to a screen near you!), "Underemployed Is the New Organic" will continue, in a somewhat reduced capacity, until it revs up again when I get a new job (underemployment, of course, because it's just too much fun) or the 2016 presidential election.  Rest assured that a veteran voice of the underemployed will be here to make fun of Sarah Palin, whenever and wherever the opportunity should arise.  (In truth, I should be making fun of her speech in Iowa last weekend, which contained the truly horrific observation: "The man can only ride you when your back is bent."  But I think it stands on its own.)
Keep watching this space.  And I'll keep watching yours.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Fashion for the Polar Vortex

So, where's my global warming?

As I sit here on my seventh day of climate-imposed imprisonment, I ask myself that question.  I had such high hopes.  I thought Chicago was just going to turn into - oh, say, Kentucky.  In my naivete, I imagined wearing cute little jackets and Uggs throughout our globally-warmed winters.  And "hat head" would be an unpleasant memory to drone on about to our grandchildren.

But it was not to be, since global warming doesn't quite work that way, as demonstrated by the effect that the giant ice cube-in-residence in Lake Michigan had on Chicago's weather last summer.

My prison term has included hard labor, as I have also been shoveling snow.  Lots of it.  Just as well, because it's pretty much the only exercise I get these days, and sitting around the house for too long leads me to indulge in idle speculation about things like why Janet Yellen doesn't use eyebrow pencil.

Yes, I've been shoveling snow and, I must say, looking damn cute doing it.  I am a firm believer in wearing make-up, nice clothes, and perfume.  Each and every day of my life. 

Some might find this excessive.

But shoveling snow, and the other hardships of life in the polar vortex, is dispiriting.  It's cold.  It's dark.  Christmas is over, and football season will soon come to an end.  Wave after wave of arctic cold and snow is crashing down on us, and the winter "holidays" we celebrate to enliven our flagging spirits are grim, ludicrous, or boring.  I cite, as evidence, Groundhog's Day.  Obviously, we are dealing with a mental health issue.
I hear you.  "Oh, I'm not going to see anybody today."  But that's not a viable excuse.  Are you going to pass by a mirror?  Then you're going to see somebody.
This is no time to cave.   When the going gets tough, the tough wear cashmere.

What if you ran into your high school sweetheart?  It's not impossible, unless he is no longer counted amongst the living.  That's my benchmark.  What if my high school sweetheart suddenly turned up at my door as my new mailman?  UPS driver?  a Jehovah's Witness?  What if I bumped into him while picking up cat litter at Walgreens?  Would I be dressed for the occasion?  (Do not use this as your benchmark if your high school sweetheart dumped you right after prom or is currently in prison.)

Anything can happen.  The wise are prepared.  When I asked my aunt, 92-years-old and hospitalized after a cardiac incident, what she wanted me to bring her from home, she said, "Lipstick.  A red one."
That's a lot to live up to.  My aunt understood that, at her age, the odds that one of her ex-boyfriends would be wheeled into the room across the hall were not insignificant. 

Dressing for a polar vortex event need not be mutually exclusive with being chic.  Study Julie Christie in Dr. Zhivago.  A veritable Polar Vortex Pin-up Girl.  That woman could rock a turtleneck.  Good thing.  If you remember, she had two boyfriends show up at her door.  And that was in a snow-buried house in the middle of Freaking Nowhere, Russia.  (BTW, that hat is available at Urban Outfitters.)

Here are some Fashion Do's and Don'ts for Sub-Arctic Conditions:
  1. DO try to avoid wearing black turtlenecks if you are over 50.  They tend to highlight the progress your jawline has made towards becoming acquainted with your feet;
  2. DON'T mate with people who wear shorts in the winter.  Why would you want to inflict that DNA upon your progeny?
  3. DO use whatever sense God gave you in your choice of footwear.  There's a lot to be said for being ambulatory;
  4. DON'T appear in public places wearing any article of clothing that contains the word "sweat" in its description.  An exception will be made for Harley-Davidson hoodies that say "Hammond, Indiana" on the back, because that's just too brilliant; 
  5. DO wear brightly-colored accessories.  It increases your chances of being visible to a motorist, though a bicyclist will still mow you down.  But, please, no chartreuse.  
All this takes discipline, but - trust me - it's worth it.  As I shovel the snow in subzero temperatures, as it mocks me by blowing straight back into my well-moisturized face, I feel better knowing that my waterproof mascara is up to the task.

And, Janet, I've come to the conclusion that a touch of Anastasia Beverly Hills may be just what this economy needs.   

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Underemployed 2014 Year in Review

My favorite Elvis story is one about him sitting in his hotel room watching TV, on which some guy was singing, Robert Goulet or somebody of that ilk.  Elvis picked up his gun (never far away), shot out the screen, and said:

"That'll be enough of that shit."

I sometimes feel the same about the news and have found myself, on more than one occasion, wanting to run screaming from a room to escape Wolf Blitzer.  The relentless assault of news stories on a neverending stream of crises sometimes comes perilously close to a fine line between keeping people informed and out-and-out racketeering.  I present, as evidence, Fox News and The Weather Channel, the regular viewing of either, I speculate, is more dangerous than my smoking habit.

So, in looking back over 2014, I will try to avoid the depressing global events, no easy task this year, and try to bring a smile to my un- and underemployed brothers and sisters, in some small way making up for their lack of a paid holiday and a Christmas bonus.

As always, my thanks to Wikipedia for providing me with one-stop shopping for most of my information and for not pressing charges against me for plagiarism.  I almost made a donation to you today.  I really did.  But I decided against it after reading - on your site - about the multiple successes hackers have had with credit cards in the past 12 months.  You guys should really have people standing outside of Starbucks ringing bells and taking cash in a kettle.  I would TOTALLY put a C-note in a Wikipedia kettle.  Think about it.

And now...

Latvia joins the Eurozone and adopts the euro.  Recreational marijuana stores open in Colorado.  Latvia wants to know how many euros for an ounce.  In North Korea, Dennis Rodman sings Happy Birthday to Kim Jong-un, and suggests that the North Korean leader should visit Colorado to "mellow out".  Spain invites Sephardic Jews to return after 500 years of exile.  Sephardic Jews say, "Seriously?"  Justin Bieber surrenders to the Toronto police to face assault charges and to get his name in the tabloids, but the charges are dropped because nobody wants to admit they've been assaulted by Justin Bieber.
The XXII Winter Olympics open in Sochi, Russia.  As part of the opening ceremonies, Russia annexes Crimea.  It is interesting to note that the most newsworthy items at this Olympics involve the adoption of stray dogs.  A new species of giant jellyfish is discovered on a beach in Austrailia, though a closer look reveals it merely to be a vacationing Chris Christie.  Ballroom dancers and aerobics classes pop up in the middle of an anti-China demonstration in Vietnam, arranged by the government to disrupt it.  President Obama immediately deploys 1500 ballroom dancers and aerobics classes to Iraq.  The Sinaloa cartel drug lord known as "El Chapo" is arrested in Mexico.  The Swedish Public Employment Service invites 61,000 people to the same job interview.  By mistake.  Or so they say.  On the next day 61,000 people in Sweden sign up for ballroom dancing and aerobics classes.
Venezuela severs ties with Panama, accusing the Central American nation of a plot against the Venezuelan government.  Nobody notices.  Russia is suspended from the G8, the Council of Europe, and the NFL.  Scientists believe they have discovered the largest giant virus ever known, and wonder how it got to be the governor of New Jersey.  An Irish fruit company merges with Chiquita to form the world's biggest banana company, which is promptly annexed by Russia.  Colorado reports $2 million in taxes from marijuana sales in January.  Russia annexes Colorado.
The Parliamentary Assembly of Europe strips Russia of its voting rights.  President Obama imposes economic sanctions on companies and individuals close to Putin.  NATO suspends all cooperation with Russia.  Angela Merkel sends Putin to bed without his supper.  The Catholic Church canonizes Popes John the XXIII and John Paul II, but admits to "buyer's remorse" when it comes to John Paul II.  Bank of America agrees to pay $727 million to their customers for "relentless pestering during dinnertime from telemarketers", and another $45 million to government regulatory groups for being a giant douche bag.
The Royal Thai Army overthrows the government of Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan for "excessive and irresponsible" abuse of the alphabet.  The EU puts Vladimir Putin on the "naughty list".  The International Institute for Species Exploration announces the Top 10 New Species of 2013, one of which is a glow-in-the-dark cockroach (Luchrishormetica Christae).  The Netherlands extradites the Sinaloa cartel drug lord known as "El Chino Antrax" to the United States.
Germany wins the FIFA World Cup.  The world is less than enthusiastic about this.  North Korea reports that it has arrested an "American tourist" for "inappropriate behavior" which is quickly labeled a redundancy.  Putin's personal envoy warns Finland not to join NATO, which is okay by Finland, since they would rather become an American State, preferably the state next to Colorado.  Scientists identify a new species of elephant shrew living in a large house in Trenton, New Jersey.  "Putin khuilo!", a song whose title translates into "Putin Is a Dickhead", hits the #1 spot on Ukraine's Top 40.
Togo formally recognizes Kosovo.  Nobody knows why.  The Sinaloa cartel drug lord "El Vombatido Guapo" is apprehended in California at a Katy Perry concert.  An employee of Germany's intelligence was arrested for spying on a committe investigating spying.  Angela Merkel fails to see the humor in this.  Joko Widodo is elected President of Indonesia, and is credited for having the silliest name for a human adult male in the history of the world.  As part of the victory celebration, Dennis Rodman flies to Indonesia to sing "Putin khuilo!" to him.
The Russian Consumer Protection Agency bans "Kentucky Gentleman" from its list of imports, citing harmful additives, to the dismay of legions of Russian trailor-park residents.  (It is worth noting that they didn't ban any of the good stuff.)  Russia also bans all fruits and vegetables from the US and EU, which they never ate anyway.  The San Antonio Spurs becomes the first major American sports team to hire a female coach, breaking with the National Basketball League's policy on "girl cooties".  The Solomon Islands recognizes Kosovo, which means something to somebody, but Lord knows what.  Texas Governor Rick Perry is indicted on a charge of felony abuse of power, a boost to his approval rating in Texas, and begins wearing "nerd" glasses to counter the popular perception among other American voters that he is a hopeless idiot.  Ten armed Russian paratroopers enter Ukraine "by mistake" ("I told you to stop and ask for directions!"). 
A fire severely burns a giant white rabbit statue in Taiwan (I guess you had to be there).  Putin warns Ukraine that he will limit access to Russian markets if Ukraine honors its trade agreement with the EU.  Ukraine doesn't care, since they can now get "Kentucky Gentleman" elsewhere.  The small Pacific country of Nauru runs out of money, and has to rely on bootleg copies of "Dennis Rodman Sings Asian Favorites" as currency.  North Korea announces that Kim Jong-un is suffering from "discomfort", which - as anyone who has ever been told by their doctor to expect some "discomfort" knows - is dire news indeed.  North Korean doctors tell him to fire off two rockets and call them in the morning.  The Sinaloa cartel drug lord known as "El Tamale Salvaje" is arrested in Tijuana in the company of a lost Russian paratrooper.
The Sinaloa cartel drug lord known as "El Intestino con Patas" is taken into custody while attempting to smuggle "Kentucky Gentleman" to pro-Russian rebels in Crimea.  Over a hundred soccer fans are arrested by the KGB in Minsk for singing "Putin khuilo!" at a game.  Russia is denounced by Sweden for being a "huge pain-in-the-ass".  Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip Two crashes and burns in the Mojave Desert.  No surprise to anyone who's ever flown on Virgin Atlantic.
France sets a new record for unemployment at the European Union Unemployment Olympics, held in Madrid.  Greek labor unions go on strike to protest government measures to wake them up in the morning.  Russia plans an "alternative Wikipedia" in which "khuilo!" will now be defined as "a great guy and a real stud!".   The Sinaloa cartel drug lord known as "El Hombre Quien a Nadie Le Gusta Ni Siquiera Su Propria Madre" is arrested in Las Vegas while attempting to recruit ballroom dancers and aerobics classes to participate in the Mexican drug war.
The United States resumes normal relations with Cuba, because Cancun "is just too crowded and full of college students and Sinaloa cartel drug lords."  The Cuban people are overjoyed by the news that they don't have to stock "Kentucky Gentleman" for Russian tourists any more.  Denmark files an official claim to the North Pole, inciting pro-Santa rebels to occupy the toy factory.  Sony cancels the release of the movie "The Interview", a fun comic romp about assassinating Kim Jong-un, due to threats from hackers, allegedly North Korean.  National and international mayhem ensues, and Sony changes its mind, deciding to go ahead and release the movie on a limited basis, thereby ensuring that it makes far more money than it actually merits.  The CEO of Sony gets a big-ass Christmas bonus.  Vladimir Putin places price controls on vodka, a boost to his approval rating, but declines to wear "nerd" glasses to appear more intelligent, preferring to take off his shirt instead.  Pro-Santa rebel hackers take down Playstation Network and Xbox Live on Christmas Day, and establish the Independent Elvish Republic of the Not Quite Magnetic North, severing ties with Denmark and a large number of polar bears.  Togo recognizes the Independent Elvish Republic of the Not Quite Magnetic North.  Togo gets its Playstation Network back.
And this brings us around to a new year.  2015.  Time to go drink and consider some resolutions.  I will probably be looking for a new job in this year, so a good resolution for me would be to go back to school and get some marketable skills.  I hear there's a big demand for ballroom dancers...
Happy New Year!

Friday, December 26, 2014

A Most Happy Day

My knowledge of popular culture is sketchy, at best.
My reading material tends to stay safely in 19th century England, and my television viewing consists of:
  1. Sports; and
  2. "Sherlock".
I sometimes venture out of these boundaries.  For example, I also read mysteries (ones with reasonably good manners), non-fiction (not about war), and humor (thank you, Libby Gelman-Waxner).  I have been known to enjoy the occasional episode of  "Modern Family", "Arrested Development", and BBC productions.  Once upon a time, I also enjoyed soap operas, since it was explained to me by a highly educated person that soap operas were modern mythology, with archetypal (and well-dressed) beings in archetypal circumstances and providing us with guidance, both morally and sartorially.  But no more.  Soap operas have been replaced by talk shows, and society has not been improved by this.
However, I am not a tabula rasa.  I have managed to pick up quite a few factoids over the years, due to the double whammy of an insatiable thirst for random information and a regrettably good memory.  In fact, I sometimes feel wistful watching Jeopardy, thinking, "Alex!  I'd be your girl, if it weren't for those pesky 'Current Events' categories!"
The problem is that the information I have managed to acquire falls into some strange categories, much as my life has fallen into some strange categories (see previous post, "How to Open a Bottle of Wine" from my "Big Bang Theory" days).  One of the categories of which I can claim almost complete mastery is "Sitcoms of the '60s, '70s, and '80s".  During my mother's long illness of the past few years, we watched a lot of reruns on TV, the better to reinforce her preferred version of reality in which the last quarter century basically never happened.
But it came in handy the other night.
I was at a well-known jazz club in Chicago with my husband.  It was "big band" night, and we have an old friend in the band for whom we had a Christmas present.  Chatting with our friend before showtime, he mentioned that the band was going to feature a celebrity singer that evening.  "Some guy from a TV show in LA," was how he put it.
"Do you know any singers on a TV show from LA?" my husband asked me, as though - somehow, behind his back - I routinely commandeer the only television set in our house to watch people sing and - also, somehow - I know that they are singing in LA.
"No," I said, giving him the short answer.
"Lemme see if I can find out who it is," said our friend.  He hollered over to the bandleader. "Hey! Who's the guy singing tonight?"
"Donny Most."
From the edge of my consciousness, I got a glimmer.
"What's the name of his show?"
"Happy Days."
My husband again deferred to what he persists in believing is my pansophy of all-things planet Earth.  "Do you know what that is?" he asked.  For the record, my husband's body is inhabited by a series of aliens on vacation from another galaxy and, for the last 30 years of marriage, I've been acting as sort of a tour guide.
I tried to explain "Happy Days" to him, but after a few seconds his eyes glazed over as the current visiting alien retreated to a safer place.  Just as well because the saxophones were starting up.
We were sitting at the bar, having cocktails and listening to the music, when I noticed a handsome older gentleman sitting across from me, swinging just a little harder than your garden-variety Chicagoan would have been.  Transposing Ralph's face onto his, I soon ascertained that this gentleman was, indeed, Donny Most.  And I, in spite of being a callous sophisticate, was a bit thrilled.
After a few instrumental numbers, the bandleader stepped up to the microphone:
"Ladies and gentleman, thank you for coming tonight.  A little later on, we have a special guest for you - Mr. Donny Most!"
A polite smattering of applause.  What???  
Peasants!  Yahoos!  Provincials!  Hewers of wood and drawers of water!  Iowans!
One would think that SOMEBODY amongst these Philistines would react with entirely appropriate appreciation to this brush with celebrity.  I wasn't expecting a selfie-seeking mob of Taylor Swift magnitude, but a little enthusiasm - respect the man, if not the role - would have been nice.  But this is Chicago, preposterously located in the Midwestern United States, and the audience was chiefly made up of a combination of jaded old hipsters and that segment of the population who wears jeans and fair isle sweaters to a nightclub.
Whatever.  I was underwhelmed by the response and began to imagine what Ralph might be feeling.  And it wasn't good.
Well, not on my watch.
I grabbed my little notebook and scribbled a note: "I heard you sing on Happy Days.  May I please have your autograph?".  I rushed over to Mr. Most, and thrust the notebook into his hands with what I would like to think was a winning smile.
"I don't have my glasses.  I can't read this," he said.
Undeterred, I read him the note and he gave me his autograph, all very nice and friendly about it.  That made me happy.  I hope he was happy, too.  "What I'm going to sing is different from what I sang on 'Happy Days'," he warned.
"I know."
Then he got up and SANG, thrilling us with Nat King Cole's "Love" and warming our cold Chicago hearts with Sinatra's "The Summer Breeze".  And he was good.  "Very good," said my pleasantly surprised husband, whose alien-in-residence is particular about jazz vocalists.
After his numbers, I gave Donny/Ralph the two-thumbs-up sign across the bar.  And at the break, my husband offered him sincere congratulations on an enjoyable - nay, courageous! - performance.  It is not an easy thing to sing.  It is less easy to sing with a 17-piece band.  That you've never rehearsed with.  In front of people. 
Who can't quite remember where they've seen you before...
Lucky me.  I spent ten minutes of my Holiday Season 2014 hanging with Donny Most.  Jazz Singer.  Ralph.  Friend of Richie Cunningham and Arthur Fonzarelli.  It's a great "bar story", the kind that only gets better after a vodka martini, and one of the memories I will always cherish of this Christmas, another of which involves a hedgehog named Roger. (This is true and not fiction and would also be a great bar story, but more of a shot-and-a-beer variety.  Maybe two.)
Thanks, Santa. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Very Merry Connie Pappalardo Christmas

Hello, again, from Connie Pappalardo.
It's Christmastime, which means one thing to the female contingent of a Sicilian-American household: 
For the benefit of "out" people (non-Sicilians), this is pronounced koo-che-DAH-dee.  Also referred to as "Sicilian fig cookies", "Sicilian Christmas cookies", "Italian fig/Christmas cookies", or simply "the figs" as in, "You gonna make the figs this year?"  I have never heard them referred to in the singular.
Cuccidati is an ancient recipe, pre-dating Columbus if you judge by the ingredients, all of which are pre-Columbian, except for some sugar in the dough.  Of course, there are certain people - and you know who you are - who feel that everything has to have chocolate in it and (I shudder to think) add chocolate chips to the filling.  If you do this, stop it.  It is an infamnia.
Every Christmas season, we baked cuccidati at my grandmother's house.  When I say "we" I mean the donne of the family, and male children under the age of twelve.  The non-Sicilian daughter-in-laws were expected to partake, but were closely monitored.  Adult males were not invited to this gathering, even if they were so inclined to be, which they definitely were not.  In fact, most of them resented the invasion because it took over the kitchen (the main room in a Sicilian household), and I once even heard my Grandfather snarl, "Big deal.  Buy some Fig Newtons and put frosting on them."  This, of course, was greeted with the mal occhio from my Grandmother, but otherwise ignored.  Take into consideration that my Grandfather eschewed ricotta in his lasagna and the fact that baking cuccidati is a leisurely activity spread out over 2-3 days, and that's sort of an explanation.
I'm going to share my family's recipe with you.  Yes, it's complicated and yes, it will probably take you three days.  But learn how to make cuccidati and you can have your pick of handsome Sicilian men to marry (check their work history first).
Call your sisters.  Put on your hoop earrings and your red aprons.  Leave plenty of time to argue about who's got the "right" recipe.  And prepare to get sticky.
Day 1:  Dough
3 lbs of cake flour (13 1/2 cups.  I looked it up.) 
6 tsp of baking powder (yes, six)
1 1/2 cups of sugar
1 tsp  of salt
3 sticks of butter (really)
1 cup of vegetable shortening (Crisco) or lard
2 cups of milk
Sift together (or stir together, I'm not the kind of girl who "sifts") the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt.  In a really big-ass bowl.  With a pastry cutter, cut in the butter and shortening until crumbly.  Gradually add enough milk to make a medium-soft dough.  Knead dough for 10 minutes, or until smooth and satiny.  Place in a covered bowl or container and put in the fridge at least an hour (better overnight).  Bring to room temperature when ready to use.
Day 2:  Filling
1/2 lb of dates
1 1/2 lbs of dried figs, as soft as you can find, hard tips trimmed
1 cups of blanched, slivered almonds
1/4 cup candied, chopped citron
1/3 cup of raisins
1 small bottle of orange marmalade (or a cut-up orange, peel and all)
3 Tbl of honey
1 tsp of ground cinnamon
A little whiskey (The good stuff, and just a splash, because you get to drink the rest.  My Grandmother preferred Manhattans.)
Toast your almonds in a 300 degree oven until they're golden and you can smell them.  Chop the dates and the figs.  Combine the dates and figs in a big bowl with all the other ingredients, except the almonds. Put through a food grinder*, using a coarse blade.  (Add a teaspoon of water now and then, if needed, to keep things moving.)  Chop up the almonds and stir them into the ground mixture the best you can.  Gather into a ball, wrap in Saran Wrap, and put in a cool place until ready to use.  Some recipes say that this mixture will keep for a week.  I am of the opinion that you could put it in a time capsule and bury it in Boston and three hundred years from now someone will be able to make cuccidati.
*A few words about food grinders.  I'm talking about the kind that my grandmother used that looks like something that would make Dick Cheney's eyes light up.  They are easy to find in second-hand stores, and will be until the yuppie kitchen boutiques "re-discover" them and start selling them for the equivalent of a downpayment on a car.  I suppose you could use a food processor, but I wouldn't know, having never used one.  Try it.
Day 3:  Baking and Icing
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.  Roll dough thin and cut into rectangles about the size of an index card.  Put a teaspoon (more or less) of filling, shaping it like a Tootsie Roll, on top of each rectangle.  Fold closed tightly and pinch the ends.  Make 2-3 little slashes on one side of the cookie and shape it into a "C".  Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet (thank God!  I hate greasing cookie sheets) for 17 to 20 minutes, or until cookies are very lightly browned.  Let cool.  Ice cookies with the icing recipe (below).
Icing ingredients:
1 box of confectioner's sugar
6 Tbl of warm milk
2 tsp of lemon extract (the real stuff)
2 tsp of vanilla extract (ditto)
Mix all ingredients in a bowl.  Add a little more milk, if icing is too thick.  Ice cookies, spooning the icing on, and sprinkle some colorful little nonpareils on them -fast! - while the icing is still moist (this is one of the times in life when small children come in handy).  Do ten cookies or so at a time.  You may need 2 batches of the icing, depending on how thick you lay it on.
That's it.  Trust me, it's easier than it sounds.  The Manhattans help.  If you find that you have extra dough, you can bake the cookies without the filling and the sprinkly things on top.  Which your man will probably like better than the figs because, of course, he doesn't appreciate anything.
Buon Natale.  And, btw, NOBODY sings Ave Maria like Perry Como.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014


The most interesting part of travel - if not the best part - is coming home.
I have always looked forward to returning home as much as, or even more so, to the journey itself.  Coming home encapsulates the travel experience in one's mind, commending it - as a whole - to a place in memory to be considered and pondered and referenced for the rest of one's life.  Upon arriving home, I am always greeted by the obvious changes that have occurred in me between the time when I departed and the time when I returned.  Other changes, more subtle, gradually become apparent over time, and the outcome is that home is not the same.  Because I am not the same.
Coming home throws one's journey into high relief, as the new merges with the old, refined with each re-telling when someone asks, "How was your trip?"
My friend, Babs, labels this phenomenon "re-entry", a soul-cleansing mental and emotional readjustment to the familiar, and is so addicted to it that she leaves town pretty much every weekend.
Of course, being away only for a weekend produces a somewhat diluted form of re-entry.  It is certainly possible to undergo a significant life-changing revelation upon re-entry into one's native environment after just a few days' wanderings, but it is far more likely to simply feel a new appreciation for having 24/7 access to a washing machine.
Generally, the length of time away corresponds to the intensity of response to the stimulus of re-entry.  A weekend away makes you realize that you missed your pillow.  A year away may entirely erase your national identity, though it may return as nostalgia.  Recently, I was in Spain for a month.  I have been away for this length of time before, studying languages in other countries, and I have noted that:
  1. After one week, you recognize your dependence on American restaurants and pop music;
  2. After two weeks, you are cured of these dependencies as they have been replaced with a lifelong hankering for - say - gelato and hairy men;
  3. After three weeks, you appreciate the absurdity of water bottles and Fitbits, neither of which you will ever again display in public;
  4. After four weeks, you have a new place to call home.
After a month in Spain, my re-entry discoveries were:
  1. "Everybody here speaks English!" and
  2. "Wow!  Look at all these new clothes!"
Which is what happens when you live for a month out of a 20" suitcase.
Overall, it was a happy homecoming, but one piece of news awaited me that somewhat dimmed the glow:
Benedict Cumberbatch is getting married.
Understand that, outside of his Sherlock persona, Mr. Cumberbatch holds very little attraction for me.  He's just a dorky - albeit talented - young man.  Too young for me, and I would no more expect to kindle romantic feelings in him than I would for Sherlock to work himself into a frenzy of passion over a delighted Mrs. Hudson.
Still, it was a disappointment.  More like insult added to injury, since the last few years have also seen me dropping both Paul McCartney and George Clooney from my fantasy dating pool.
George, I could accept.  His new wife is young, beautiful, stylish, an Oxford graduate, and an international human rights lawyer.  Which is SO FAR out of my league...well, I can't even describe it.  The gulf is just too great.
Paul, however.  I really thought I had a shot with Paul.  Not that Nancy isn't young and beautiful, she is.  But her name is "Nancy" and not "Amal" and she works in the transportation industry, not saving war orphans.  Even throw in Nancy's relation to Barbara Walters and I could still put up a fair fight. 
But such is the nature of fantasy teams, and all I have left is Peyton Manning and John Cleese.  Both are happily married (as am I), so that precludes further disappointment on my next re-entry, to which I now acknowledge my own addiction.  Maybe a trip to Italy (gelato and hairy men), or to England (pints of ale, and a chance - however remote - of running in to Mr. Cleese).
Either way, I'm already looking forward to coming home.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Connie Pappalardo Stuffs a Turkey

Hello, my name is Connie Pappalardo, and today I'm going to tell you how to stuff a turkey.  Actually, I'm going to tell you how to make the stuffing, and you can do what you want with it. 
(BTW, I'm "guest blogging" for my underemployed friend here.  Copyright:  November 23, 2014.  So don't go getting ideas.)
The secret to stuffing a turkey is - ha! - you don't.  Listen to me, I know of which I speak.  Stuffing a turkey is a PAIN IN THE ASS.  On many levels.  To begin with, you have to stuff the thing, no big deal in and of itself, but there are rules:
  1. You have to put the turkey in the oven immediately after stuffing it;
  2. You have to unstuff it before you eat, but not too long before you eat;
  3. You have to hop up from the table right after the last spoonful of cranberry sauce passes your lips to put it all away...
...before the nasty bird microbes start to interact with the nasty egg microbes in the stuffing, because that's going to kill you at room temperature.
I like to keep things simple, so I avoid the little bastards altogether and bake my stuffing "on-the-side", as we used to say.  It gets nice and brown and crunchy on top.  If you're rabid about it, you can baste it - before baking - with some of the turkey bastings. 
I recommend baking the stuffing in those little foil cake pans, the kind that come 3-to-a-package at the grocery store.  That way, you can eat a few pans at Thanksgiving dinner and freeze the rest, in dinner-size portions, and have ready-to-go side dishes.  If you're looking to avoid seasonal blimpdom, you can send any uneaten pans of stuffing home with your guests, no repackaging required.  For the record, I am IN NO WAY above serving the stuffing in those foil pans, because - in my opinion - it's all about the food.  Not that I don't appreciate the sight of a lovely table but, once you start eating, who the hell cares?  If you do, lie to me.
This recipe is from my Sicilian-American grandmother who - in a show of patriotism - always allowed space for a turkey and trimmings alongside the lasagna at Thanksgiving.  I have modified it in two ways:
  1. I have cut the recipe down by two-thirds, size-wise.  Triple it if you're feeding three rooms full of an extended Sicilian family.  You know, the inner-circle table and the outer circle table and the kids' table.  Geographically arranged to allow for maximum yelling;
  2. I leave out the sage at the request of my husband.  This, a Sicilian woman always does:  she cooks according to the tastes of her husband, even if he wouldn't know a sage leaf if it jumped up and bit him on the butt.  She understands why he married her.  Digressions from this tradition are few and far between, even to accomodate small children.  Let me illustrate one of the main differences between the Sicilian-American Table and the Very White American People's Table.  Very White American People cook some God-forsaken pap that they think their kid will like, or they get all tough-love about it and serve the food that Mommy and Daddy like and make the kid sit there until he eats it.  Or at least tries it.  A Sicilian woman does not do this.  She cooks what her husband likes, and the kids can eat bread and butter, whatever.  Which they love.  They grow up at least knowing what good food looks and smells like.  And they learn to like lentils.
Feel free to add sage, without fear of repercussion.  Or oysters, or cranberries, or quail beaks.  Whatever floats your boat.  Just remember that if you do, I'm not responsible for the results.  But this recipe will stand up to just about anything.
The ingredients:
3 large loaves of cheap white bread, cut into 1-inch (or so) cubes
4 cups of celery, chopped into small pieces
4 cups of onions, diced
1/2 cup of fresh Italian parsley (the flat-leaf kind, it's better), chopped fine
3 sticks of butter, melted
3 eggs
1 Tbl salt
1 Tbl fresh ground pepper
The recipe:
  1. Prep your bread.  After cutting it into cubes, you can do this in one of two ways: either toast them slightly in the oven, or leave them out somewhere safe for a day or two to get a little stale.  I like the second method because I have no time or patience for anything.  Personally, I put mine into a (clean) brown paper grocery bag and then put another bag on top (like a condom) to keep out the vermin, and leave it on the kitchen counter for a few days.  The only thing you have to remember with this method is to go into the bag once in a while to toss the bread around, so it doesn't get moldy;
  2. The day before Thanksgiving, saute the celery and onions in butter, and store (covered) in the refrigerator overnight.  WHATEVER you do, NEVER put raw chopped onions in the fridge, which will make your milk - and everything else - smell like a Chicago hot dog;
  3. On Thanksgiving, put the stale bread in the biggest pot you have.  Run some cold water over it and press it down with your hands.  Keep doing this until all the bread is wet and you're getting a little  surplus water, which you will pour out.  It's a good idea to take your rings off before you do this;
  4. Right there in the pot, add all the other ingredients to the bread.  Mix well with a big spoon.  This takes some muscle.  When you're done, you'll have worked off your first piece of pie;
  5. With the same big spoon, put the stuffing into the cake pans.  You should get four to six of them;
  6. Cover the pans with foil and put them in the fridge until they're ready to be baked;
  7. An hour before the turkey is done, uncover the stuffing and bake as many pans as will fit in the oven with the bird.  You can bake more, if necessary, while you're eating. 
How easy is that?
As far as the turkey goes (unstuffed), just put it in a big foil roasting pan into a 325 degree oven and roast it until it's done.  For a big, fresh turkey that should be about four hours, but ask the guy at the meat counter.  If you want to take the guesswork totally out of it, stick a meat thermometer into the thigh and the turkey's done when the thermometer says 165 degrees.  The science know-it-alls say we don't even have to wash a turkey any more.  My aunt says you still need to wash the blood off of it, and - putting it that way - I see her point.  You also might want to check for - and remove - any feathers, and don't forget to take out the neck and gizzards first, but I'm not talking to a stoonahd, right?
I would be remiss in my duties as a Sicilian-American kitchen capo di tutti capi if I didn't tell you what to do after dinner is over, which is usually signalled by your male diners turning on the second half of the football game.  Designate any food still on the table as "doggy bag" or "leftover" and package accordingly.  Stack the dishes in the sink.  But first, take a tall-size plastic garbage bag, put the turkey in it (roasting pan and all), secure tightly, and stick it on the bottom shelf of your fridge.  Remove any drawers that get in your way.
After all, it's your holiday, too.  And that bird isn't going anywhere.
Now relax and have some pie and coffee. 
After the game, of course.