Tag Archives: Holidays

Shirk the Valentine’s day game with the practice of romance

It’s Valentine’s Day. So, naturally I suppose I should take this time to write about the love that I have for my husband. I mean, as women, we expect this from our lovers correct? As women we are supposed to live for this day. At work, we wait for the dozen roses to arrive because this, we are programmed to believe, is the day that our lovers are expected to shower us with roses and chocolates. We look forward to a night out with our lover. Get dressed up, nice dinner with an even nicer bottle of wine. As women we are programmed for this shit.


Did I miss something? Is there a flaw in my genetic makeup, because I don’t buy into this holiday. In fact, my hubby and I don’t do anything extravagant or magnificent on Valentine’s Day. Do you want to know why? (Effin Artist: I’ll take a guess. Is it because if people knew we were celebrating a saint who was brutally martyred for his deep abiding love in Christ all the romance would be doused like a cold shower? No?)

Because, we are both secure in our relationship to know that we don’t need Valentine’s Day to tell each other that we are special to each other. (EA: Oh yeah, that too.) That we love each other. That we are dedicated to each other. If you are in a loving, committed relationship this sentiment should flow naturally from you to yours truly. (EA: “uh… I do like chocolate, I’m just saying…”)

Now, I must confess, before I go any further: I am not your typical woman. I am not overly romantic, nor do I need to be swooned over. I’m just not that way. My husband, I’m sure will chime in and agree 100% on this. (EA: Yes. I will chime in and agree.) We often joke that I am the man in our relationship. I’ll never forget the time that I bought him a mother’s day present. (EA: A ’95 Opus One. I nearly wept. I never got to drink it. I went into rehab before I opened it. Shit. Thanks for that memory baby. Happy Valentine’s to you too…) It’s a joke we share about our relationship, and this is the beauty in our relationship, that we can joke about this obvious switch of roles. (EA: Recently I told The Bride that she’s such a Marine. She comes home and expects me to put out. HOO WAH! I like a little sweet nothings if it’s not too much to ask… I did probably spend all day slaving over a hot stov….you know what, I’ll just stop right now before I have to check my own manhood.)

I’m confident in my relationship with my husband. I know that he loves me, and that he is 100% in love with me. I say to him often, “Honey you are stuck with me. My baggage matches yours.” I couldn’t imagine going through life with another. I’m lucky. He’s 100% present and all loving in our relationship. He puts my needs before his, always. (EA: Actually, I went back over the years and did the math. It’s 99.4% love, 87.7* present –it’s tough to be present even that much, cut me some slack– and 91.3% her needs first, but The Bride likes to say “One hundred percent” a lot and I don’t want to discourage her enthusiasm. But I’m not 100 percent, though 91.3% is not that bad.) I can’t remember a time when he didn’t do this (EA:I can but I’m not saying).

I find heart-shaped Valentine’s nearly every day that I spend with him. In the way that he wakes up next to me each morning, with a kiss on a neck and a “good morning, my love.” In the way that he always makes sure that I have a warm cup of coffee. In the way that he cooks me dinner each and every night. In the way that when he’s in the other room, listening to Pandora and our wedding song comes on (“I’ll Be,” by Edwin McCain) he turns it up, and I know that he’s thinking back to that beautiful day. In the way that he will run my baths, making sure to add bath salts or bubble bath, and the fact that he knows how much I love my baths really, really hot. In the way that he rubs my feet, and from time to time paints my toenails. He loves me for me, and wouldn’t change anything about me. He often says that he is most attracted to me when I’ve just woken up, bed head, no makeup on my face. I love this man. He will always be my beloved. (EA: “Well… if that’s not the best Effin Valentine’s Day card ever, I don’t know what is.. and wasn’t this about not wanting to do the Hallmark holiday?!)

When I think to the future, whatever God has in store, whatever doors open or shut I may not know about any of this but I know that he will be right by my side. He’ll be holding my hand or walking a few steps behind me, letting me shine and be me. Or, he might be carrying me because I’ve grown weary and tired of the day’s stresses. I don’t know what is going to happen to me in the future, where my life is going to take me but I do know that my husband will be with me, and he will be my biggest cheerleader. My champion. “The greatest fan of my life.”

My love – I love you truly, madly deeply.

(EA: I’ll admit, I’m a bit choked up right now. I love you truly, madly deeply as well. Happy Not Valentine’s Day. HOO WA!”)

Dough thoughts: a time to pause

I must have needed the time to think.

It was Christmas Eve, the final few moments before the family’s arrival and the previous few frenetic days of to-do lists, Christmas carols and relative quiet would explode in the bustle, noise and complicated wonderfulness of family. I looked around my kitchen and bowls of dough were everywhere. Literally, everywhere.

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I hadn’t thought about all this when I planned my Christmas menu. Now, as I looked around, I realized I’d spent hours working with dough. There were pizza doughs, and pasta doughs and doughnut doughs and bread doughs.

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Dough was rising and baking and evolving around me as I slipped away into kneading thoughts of my own. Dough is my Zen Garden. I went there without ever really knowing why, like a well-trained horse wandering back to the ranch house without the need of a pull on the reins.

I think somewhere in the back of my mind I realized that this would be my family’s first completely non-alcoholic holiday. I think it worried me, though I never connected with that until a couple of days of later. I’m sure this is why I gravitated to the dough.

Later the family arrived and we ate pizza and doughnuts and bread and all the treats I’d been busily making. We crammed into our little house and played games and likely annoyed each other but I felt … congruent. I felt like I was exactly where I needed to be. I felt OK, and I think those moments lost inside my head, my forearms flexing and straining, my grip twisting and smooshing the flexible life in my hands had a lot to do with it. Nobody seemed to care they were drinking sparkling water instead of Pinot Noir. What a gift.

My yoga teacher likes to say, “the body knows what it needs.” My doughworks were my body’s way of asking the overbearing mind to step aside and let it have it what it needed.

New revisions for new year– free of resolutions

I don’t do resolutions for the New Year. I do revisions.

For years I did the whole resolution thing. It’s a tired topic by now. We are split into two groups: those that try every year and those who know better. I’m in the latter.

If I lacked the discipline to fix up my life on Dec. 29, I likely don’t suddenly have it on Jan. 1. Only when I started living with daily intent did I find the discipline I badly needed to fix my life. I think it started in July a few years back. All I know is by January that year I was slimmer, sober and for the first time in my life disciplined. I didn’t need a resolution. I was living it and that has lasted now for several more years.

That doesn’t mean the effort doesn’t need tweaking now and again. I often stop and pause and refocus. I call these revisions. I take what I’m doing and tweak it, like tuning up an engine I’d imagine (since I have no idea how to tune an engine). I try to recapture a clearer sense of balance and better use of my time. I revise my plan for life to make sure its humming along with peak performance.

This new year I am aware of how many changes have come these last few months. I know my routines are out of whack and some practices are slipping through the cracks. I accept that it won’t always be the same. I resolve to  let some of it go, and refocus my energies on what I don’t want to see diminish. These are the revisions I’m making today for the months to come. From hoof to head I know I still have plenty of work to do, which I welcome. But I also celebrate the me I am now, rather than being absorbed on some fictional future me that will likely never emerge, no matter how many resolutions I muster.

I am free to be me, to revise as needed, to grow and most of all to celebrate in this moment. I am not besieged by my inadequacies and guilt that fuel most resolutions. It’s a relative small shift of thought, but on these first few days of the new year, I believe the focus is vital to starting the year off right.

Screw resolutions that make you feel bad. Instead revise and feel great.

Happy New Year.

Coal in my stocking: Back to the caramel drawing board

I believe I said this would happen.

Back during the hotly contested caramel week, things got a little dicey when my brother swooped in for the prize. My daughters were not pleased, especially when they compared notes and realized I sent them the same email once they heard the news the caramel wasn’t coming their way. I wrote:

“Too bad too, because you were way in the lead… you were going to be the winner for sure!”

My daughters are lovely, beautiful, confident, smart women. They also have a nasty streak. I knew there’d be hell to pay. Still, I let me guard down. On Christmas morning as we swapped our gifts, I didn’t see it coming when the oldest sweetly handed me a gift and said it was from “us girls.”

I opened it happily.

It was:

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Yep, you guessed it. Coal. In a Trader Joe’s caramel box.

So I’m making more caramel this week. If I don’t the next package could be a horse’s head.

These girls are Italian afterall.

Merry Christmas indeed. Like I said before, “tough crowd.”

Not to worry. The next morning we took everyone  on a hike in the mountains behind our house. The temperature was barely above freezing, like our beloved San Francisco on a windy night at ATT Park in late May.

“How long do you think this hike is going to be,” my oldest asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Well, I’ve heard 2 miles, 3 miles, 4 miles… I just need to know which is the most accurate.”

“I don’t really know. Maybe two miles, but it could be four. We’re going right up there,” I said happily, pointing to a peak nearly straight up.

I heard the grumbles. They made me happy. Coal huh? I got your coal right here!

Like I said, tough crowd.

But it’s the hard that makes it great right? And the hike was great!

Testing this week is like nectar of the gods

I have to admit, caramel intimidated me a bit when this week started. It seemed temperamental… exactly the opposite of why I do this nonsense.

The first batch of caramel was …. well … something other than caramel. It was gooey and tasted ok but looked white and slid around so I just made it into a sauce and served it at Thanksgiving in an apple crisp where it was good, but hidden.

So I knew what I was up against… Not to mention, expectations were high. Folks came hard after the caramel sweepstakes mailing to be sent out at week’s end (for those playing along from home, EffinArtists.com sends out a mailing each week to whoever bribes us the best…errr…. is the lucky winner of a surprise package of whatever we make for our test kitchen). Apparently, their confidence in me was, well, incongruent to use a term I learned way, way back before failing out of grad school.

Anyway, I do not shy away from a challenge. If caramel was going to mean mug me, then it was on. “Let do this!” I shouted as I walked into the test kitchen.

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I’m not even done yet, but as you can see from above, I made that caramel my … uh.. never mind. Let’s just say park bench and try not to lose our PG rating.

A few days into this project and I’ve given those worries the beat down. This stuff so far is bomb.com! Check out this gooey, gooey goodness…

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I can honestly say these cookies are so good I decided to make a list of top five best all-time cookies. These are on the list, which is still under development. I’ve lost at least an hour to pondering it, recalling cookies from days gone by. That was a good hour though.. ummm…

The bottom line is this stuff has game. To my lovely family vying for the surprise package at week’s end, here’s the translation: You need to step it up. I want a visit. Especially on Jan. 1-5 for someone to go snowboarding with me. So call me and make plans, then get in your car and head north. That’s the trump card this week.

Who says bribes don’t work?

Farewell to a beloved Auntie

Family is big with most people. At least we all give it some pretty good lip service of importance. With us, for all its complications, family remains foundational to all we do. From the day my grandfather’s boat (see photo above) arrived at Ellis Island, family has been our focus. That’s what makes Thanksgiving so wonderful as food and family pretty much sum up the holiday — even this year despite my Clark Grizwald turkey.

Each year at Thanksgiving my ties to family weaves through the distinct aromas in the kitchen. Each year I break out the old grinder from my Nonie’s restaurant of years ago and mash the ingredients that will become our signature green stuffing. Every time I break out the grinder or heat up the ancient cast iron pan, I can’t help but think of the woman who distilled in me the passion for cooking and for our culture and … for family. Family most of all. She lived 95 wonderful years but I miss her as I grind away. I’ll never stop missing her.

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This year the memories are thicker for many reasons, but not the least was the loss right after the holiday of my beloved Auntie, who lost a four-year battle with cancer. She may have always been too dramatic, too loud and likely very difficult. But she always made me feel loved and she was my favorite. She will be missed. My mother is now the only one remaining of the old Italians of my youth who gave me such rich memories. I’m glad she is here to anchor her generation to mine and to that of my children.

To end on a lighter note, I ask you… do you recall Green Eggs and Ham? Of course you do, if you of a certain age. Remember how disgusting it sounded? We all agreed with the guy in the book, “not in a car, not on a bar… I will not eat Green Eggs and Ham…” or something like that.

But Dr. Seuss had it right, and the green eggs and ham were delicious. Well, so too is GREEN thanksgiving stuffing. This Italian recipe goes back with my grandmother at least half a century and it is amazing how good it is. This is the only stuffing I eat. The grinder still drips stuff all over the floor and counters and that’s fine with me. I still grind the turkey giblets and whatnot because my grandmother knew what it was to be poor before she was successful and never lost the basic fundamental of using everything. And I still miss her every time I make it.

Green stuffing? Wonderful. Thanksgiving isn’t Thanksgiving without it.