It Takes a Christmas Village to Raise a Snow Angel

ponderous chainI’m usually not so taken with Christmas in early December.  By this time I’m wrapping myself in a weighty coil of holiday defenses that I’ve been acquiring over the years.  It’s a sort of layaway agreement I have with the good spirits at Scrooge & Marley.  They tell me I’m working on a “ponderous chain” indeed.

But from the residual calm and goodwill from my recent trip to Cancun, I joined the family in a visit to a local Christmas village this weekend.  It is normally costumed as a country outpost that spews charm from a dozen stores selling candy, confederate flag bikinis, and cigar boxes featuring a nonchalant Christ waltzing up Calvary with a cross that must’ve been made of balsa wood.  But the village has now been transformed in the traditional way, with string lights stapled to every square inch of the place and an endless loop of Jose Feliciano blasting through speakers camouflaged as trash cans and rocks.

According to the posted schedule of events, “The Snow Angel” was to appear in the exhibit hall fifteen minutes after we arrived.  Not knowing what Snow Angel was, I felt this might be the only chance I had to find out, and that it could be our last chance to get a decent family picture for a holiday card.  So I dragged my son wearing his holiday best – a Hawaiian shirt (Mele Kalikimaka is the thing to say!) and polyester athletic shorts – and my daughter dressed in every shade of purple from maroon to periwinkle, up the hill with a growing concern that we may have to wait in a long line of snow angel enthusiasts.

After a moment of wandering around inside the hall, we found the queue.  And as a few other families trickled in, the trumpets rang out from above and we looked up to see the Snow Angel dressed in sparkly white, standing on a balcony, and miming a pre-recorded greeting over the PA.  She was a short woman who, because of the high unemployment rate, was probably just happy to have a job, though not so happy to overcome the fear of walking down the long staircase with all that angel gear, wings and fluff.  As she took a seat on her throne, I saw more clearly the huge plastic mitre on her head and that, from the side, it looked like a gravy boat.  Poor thing, I thought.  She couldn’t possibly be doing this for the money.  Maybe she was in a bar fight and this was the sentence from a judge who desperately needed a vacation.   

Before I knew what was happening, one of her gendarmes, a large man in a white high school marching band uniform, ushered my kids up the stairs to the Snow Angel.  In the past, each time we have visited Santa, I have taken care to coach them on the Santa-Child dialog that us adults know well:

Santa:  Asks for Child’s name

Child:  Gives it

Santa:  Inquires as to Child’s self-judgment of his/her behavior over the past 365 days, as if this is a reasonable request.  Would, for example, pushing your sister in front of a bus be cancelled out by, say, single-handedly dismantling an Islamist sleeper cell, or does it average out to something merely “fair?”

Child:   Despite reservations, gives “good” self-evaluation

Santa:  Listens to Child’s milquetoast judgment while studying body language, scanning for fidgeting and sweaty upper lips or other evidence of lying and guilt.  After an intentionally long moment of silent staring, known within the Santa Guild as “yuletide waterboarding,” asks Child what he/she wants for Christmas.

Child:  Mentions a few toys, then urinates on Santa’s leg.

Santa:   Dreams of the 40-year old scotch he’s already given himself as an early Christmas present.

But, as I watched my kids sit with this woman, I realized I had no idea what they were supposed to do, or say.  I had given up my children without any kind of holiday compass.  Surely Snow Angel wasn’t boggarting Santa’s judgment for toys racket.  Maybe she could reveal scores and other details of future sporting events.

The kids spoke to her for a moment and upon their release we were escorted by another drum major to the “Buy these overpriced pictures or we’ll tell Child and Family Services about you” counter.  After our purchase, as we walked back into the village with fuzzy pictures in my hand and guilt in my heart, I asked them what they said to Snow Angel.  What she said. Did they ask for anything? Will the Falcons finally win a Superbowl?

“She said she knows Santa,” my daughter said.

And with just over three weeks left until Christmas, I found that old holiday spirit again, telling me it was time for another link on my chain.  And I wrapped myself up in its cold and steely warmth.

This Food’s Here to Represent!

Early in our relationship my wife and I went to a family cookout where coon was served.  This made both of us uncomfortable, but my god, why?  Finding and killing a critter that rummages through the garbage, cleaning it, and roasting the shit out of it – that, I thought, is quintessential southern cooking.  But apparently, there is more to southern cooking than contracting rabies. 

Since then we’ve added two children to our family so that I could experiment with my own dinner creations.  Occasionally, my kids will love a particular meal but, of course, when I make it again a bad moon begins to rise, FEMA trailers pull in the driveway, and specialists are dispatched from the Vatican with the tools needed to perform the Rite of Exorcism.  But now I know it’s not what’s in the meal that is important, rather its presentation.   

So when I stumbled upon a 1976 series of Southern Living cookbooks I knew I’d hit the jackpot.  Though we may chastise the music and dress of our former 70s selves, they were onto something when it came to food. 

Here are a few recipes that I have resurrected and updated.  Bon Appetit!

Iwo Jima Cornish Hens – It might take you a couple of shots to get this one just right – with each hen reaching the top of Mt. Pilaf and holding up weeds from your back yard while trying to shake off the life-preserver glued to its back.  But once you do you’ll have an iconic meal that will stay with you forever.  Seriously, it will stay lodged in your colon for the rest of your life.  But at least that won’t be very long. 

 

BDSM Wild Duck – When you show this recipe to the birds you stole from the local pond, you’ll have to give them the old “Gimp” treatment from Pulp Fiction so they can’t escape.  Just tie them down with the rainbow suspenders that you refused to donate to the yard sale and you’ll have yourself a grunting good time.

 

This one is aptly named, and I’m serious, Lord Jim’s Mincemeat Plum Pudding, referring to Joseph Conrad’s novel Lord Jim.  As in his better-known Heart of Darkness (later adapted into the movie Apocalypse Now), Conrad creates a complex psychological landscape.  Likewise, the domestic chef must manifest this meal as a metastasizing molten mountain, its true ingredients masked by a mesmerizing maze mold.  It should be served with a large jar of stale, crushed Utz pretzels, as pictured.

Roasted Ham with Doo-Doo of Rabbit – Roast the ham on a spit in the fireplace, and towards the end knock it over to give it a nice coating of ash.  After letting it sit there awhile and cool off, the kids’ fluffy pet will happily snuggle up and add its natural side-item to this family favorite.

 

Raw Egg Pie with Murdered Starfish

 

Emasculated Bulls on the Half-Shell

 

He Sleeps with Catfishes – As in the old country, loose lips will get you a mouth full of parsley and sunk to the bottom of a nearby body of water.  No need to cook here.  Just wrap up the raw catfish fillets, toss a shovel load of dirt on top while saying a few Hail Marys, and leave it on the doorstep of your loudmouthed neighbor who will surely get the message.

 

[p.s. the spawn of this idea came from a book named The Gallery of Regrettable Foods by James Lileks that I saw some years ago. You should check it out. ]