A Jersey Shower Part 2

In family lore, it’s referred to as, “The Trip From Hell”.

But that’s not true.

New Jersey was a blast.  Our troubles didn’t start until we got on the road to come home.  More accurately it should be referred to as, “The Voyage Into Hell”.

And we didn’t even get a boat ride with a three-headed puppy.

The morning after the shower, we prepared to leave.  We were leaving with enough baby supplies and equipment shower gifts to open a home for wayward infants.

Our first stop was my Aunt Polly and Uncle Bill’s house.  Aunt Polly made us fresh scallops.  They were delicious and we all overindulged.

After lunch, we hit the road.

We stopped for road snacks and soda.  We put the soda into the cooler we had brought with us.  

When we were about halfway home, we stopped for dinner at a restaurant in Alexandria VA. 

As we ate, Mom started slowing down and got an odd look on her face.

“You guys stay here and finish up, I’m going outside, I think I need some air and to stretch my legs.”  Petey gave her the car keys, and she went out.

Petey and I continued eating, finished dinner, and I probably had dessert; I was eating for two, you know. 

We went outside and found Mom.

She was bent over, one hand hanging onto the side of our car, downloading her dinner and the lunch of scallops like she was trying to win a contest.  From the state of the blacktop around her, it wasn’t her first time, either.

She tried to stand up but was shaking so bad, Petey had to help her into the back seat while I ran into the restaurant to get her some ginger ale some damp paper towels.  As a nurse, Petey must have sensed something, because he emptied the cooler and sat it next to her, “just in case”.

We got on the road again, and since we were almost exactly halfway home, we decided to make a run for it.

Everything was okay for about forty-five minutes or so, then I started to feel funny. 

It was the weirdest thing.  I couldn’t describe how I was feeling then, and couldn’t begin to describe it now.  I just felt wrong; weirdly, weirdly wrong.  As we rode south on 95, I tried to figure this feeling out.

And all of a sudden, I was hanging over the highway guard rail, downloading like a champ.  The rest of the ride was a symphony of mom downloading in the back into that just in case cooler and me screaming for Petey to pull over.  After each highway download, I’d shake so hard he’d help me back into the car.

At one point I was in a truck stop bathroom trying to clean myself off, my cute little maternity outfit speckled with food I’d eaten in kindergarten.  Petey was outside trying to clean out mom’s cooler.

He told me later that as many sick people as he’d seen, he never heard the noises I was making.  He likened it to a Japanese movie monster.

Once home, he helped me change my clothes and took me to the hospital.  I needed fluids for The gestating Kid.  The doctor treating me prescribed nausea meds for Mom, and for Petey too, “just in case”.

Turns out, poor old Petey was as sick as Mom and I.  He’d just been holding it together to get us home. 

That stowaway we’d brought along?

It was the scourge of cruise ships and college dorms—norovirus. 

Our final shower gift.

Thanks for your time.

Contact me at d@bullcity.mom.

A Jersey Shower

I was five months pregnant with The Kid, and Petey, my mom, and I were driving north.

Unbeknownst to me, every living soul in New Jersey that was related to me in any manner was coming together to throw me a baby shower.

And this wasn’t a sweet, sedate Southern baby shower where one ate tiny little pimento cheese sandwiches, little pieces of cake, nuts, and sweet tea. 

A baby shower in New Jersey, or at least the ones thrown by my Italian relatives, is a very different kind of soiree.

First of all, the attendees are not the mother-to-be, her mother, mother-in-law, her sorority sisters, and a few older ladies from church.

When I say it was every family member, I’m not kidding.  This was every living sibling of my mother, their spouses, male and female, their children, their spouses or SO’s, their children, and anybody else who had a drop of shared DNA.  There were new babies, babies on the way, and a few gleams in various eyes.

The tables were groaning with bowls and platters of potato and macaroni salad, sausage and meatballs to pile on sub rolls, stuffed mushrooms, at least three kinds of pasta, and zucchini and eggplant parmesan.

The cake was neither small nor dainty.  It was a large, showy, whipped cream drenched confection that came from the local Italian bakery.  Even if every single guest was pregnant and eating for themselves and a litter of babies, there would have been more than enough food. 

I was still in the dark, party-wise, and didn’t know what was coming, so mom and Petey took me to the Englishtown mall.  It was January, and I had been disappointed that there was no snow when we arrived.  But at the mall door, I saw what looked like one last lonely mound of snow.  So, I decided to jump into it.

After I leaped into it with both feet, I discovered it was a mound of ice cream—sticky ice cream that splashed my sweet little maternity jeans from the knees down. We went in anyway (we really entered the mall because preparations were going full tilt putting the party together).  And Petey had been tasked with keeping me away.

Downtown Emglishtown, I spent a lot of time here as a child, when my family visited New Jersey.

I’m really glad about this mall visit, because of two memorable encounters I had.

The first was at a Body Shop store.  When I walked in, the salesperson asked if I was expecting.  Normally, this is a very dangerous question to ask, as I have learned to my own shame and embarrassment.  Now I wouldn’t ask a woman if she is with child unless said child is actively exiting her body.

But, she was right and I was thrilled to tell any and everybody that I was growing a human.

She gave me a gift bag of products for the new baby and mother.  Think baby wash and skin cream. 

The second encounter was revelatory.

It was at lunch.  The food court had a real Jersey deli.  I wasn’t able to eat rare roast beef because, pregnent, so I had a Reuben.  It was delicious, but the stellar part of the meal, that thing I’ll never forget, was the pickle.

It was the greatest kosher dill I have ever tasted.  It was crispy and balanced and perfect.  I wish I’d bought a barrel of them to bring home.

But of course, after the baby shower, there was no room in the car for a barrel of pickles.  There was barely room for the three and a half of us.  And we also had a stowaway.

Next week, I’ll share part two; the road home.

Thanks for your time.

Contact me at d@bullcity.mom.

The Ballad of Susan

When you’re a military kid, every house is temporary, usually only lived in for three years or so, then you pack up and move on.

We’d arrive in a new town with almost nothing; no house, no friends, no school, and aside from what we carried with us, no possessions. 

It would eventually become a pseudo-home, but it wasn’t a hometown, with history, extended family, and friends that you’ve known since diapers.

Living this nomadic life meant that our parents’ hometowns were designated “home”.

Granny and Pap-Pap’s house is gone, but here is where it stood in Pittsburgh.

Dad’s from Pittsburgh and on visits, we’d stay with his parents, Granny and Pap-Pap.  They lived in a house built right into a steep hill, so the kitchen and basement were on the same level, up the narrow, steep stairs, were the bedrooms and Pap Pap’s workroom, where there was a door which opened up right on to the backyard.

It was as if the house had sprung from of the slightly creepy, Byzantine imagination of Roald Dahl.    

My mom’s parents died years before she met my dad.

So, our home base in Jersey was at Mom’s oldest sister, my Aunt Polly and her husband Uncle Bill’s, our surrogate grandparents.  They had a huge yard, a damp, cool, slightly mysterious cellar that was under the house, and a kitchen cupboard dedicated to cookies, candy, and chips. 

When we lived on the east coast, we would often spend Christmas at both homes; a few days in one, six hours on a turnpike, then a few days in the other.

This particular year we spent the first portion of our trip in Jersey, so we were there when Santa came and opened our presents there.

One of my presents was a baby doll, but not just any old baby doll.  She was a Vogue doll, a well-made, beautiful baby with brown hair and bangs like mine, a soft body, and the sweetest expression.  Vogue dolls were the Rolls Royce of toy dolls; in today’s dollars, it cost about $100.  It was my main gift from the jolly fat man.

A couple of days later our family was in Pittsburgh. Once there, I was happily swilling my grandmother’s homemade grape juice, eating her potato bread, and following my older cousins Cookie and Gerry around like a Christmas puppy.

The first evening after dinner, my two-year-old brother Bud and I went upstairs to change into our pajamas.  I came downstairs, and my little brother hurried after, not wanting to be upstairs by himself. 

He took the first couple of steps, then lost his footing and tumbled down the rest of those treacherous stairs.  He landed in a heap at the bottom.  My mom, a world-renown worrywart and nervous mother was a writhing ball of frantic.

Luckily, the only injury was a busted lip.  They cleaned him up and settled in for a night of keeping Bud awake to watch for signs of concussion.

Then something rather curious happened.   

My bro had been wailing away, non-stop, ever since he fell.  When I came over to him, holding my fancy new doll, he suddenly stopped.  He was fascinated by her, and the only thing that kept him from hysterics was holding her.  I was persuaded to temporarily turn her over to calm him down.

I never got her back.

He named her Susan, shaved her head, and gave her a face tattoo with a magic marker.  She was his constant companion for years. 

To be honest, I don’t think Susan would have gotten from me anywhere near the love and devotion he showered upon her.

So, that injury-induced change of custody was probably for the best.

It is shocking how much this little guy looks like a toddler-aged Bud.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

The Family

There were seven kids in the Taber family.

Sonny was the oldest by a wide margin.  He was the child of the father Al’s first marriage.  After his first wife died, they moved to New Jersey.  There Al met and married Carrie.

The next oldest was Molly.  She appointed herself CEO of the children.  Molly was convinced she knew what was best for each and every member of the Taber brood.  She still does, but it always, always comes from a place of profound love.She married Bill, a boy who even at a young age had a black and white moral code that informed his life.  In many men this could make them insufferable prigs, but the young man’s belief system was based on humanity and compassion.  This made him one of the moral centers of the family he joined.

At one time or another almost every member of the family turned to Bill for guidance.  He pulled more than one relative from the edge of ethical or financial cliffs.

The next in line was Bobbie.  She married Bob at age 16, and they raised three boys.  A few years after Bob died, she passed away. It’s been nearly twenty years, but sitting around the dinner table, the family feels her absence. She was the cook of the family.  Her meals and desserts were legendary.  Her lemon meringue pie is still spoken of in the hushed tones one would use for black magic.

The next child was Tootie.  Her heart has always been so full of childlike joy that giggles regularly escape and erupt which fill others with that same happiness.  She married Dave, a young man in the Coast Guard.  They moved to North Carolina and started their family.  After Al and Carrie passed away, she chose to take in her younger brother and sister. Tootie, her husband, and children settled on the west coast.  And each and every day she lives her life full of the joy that continues to nourish her entire family, and everyone lucky enough to be around her.

The next child was a son, Tommy.  By this time, Sonny had his own family, so Tommy was both the baby and the only boy. This translated into a young man full of mischief, but fiercely protective of his family.  After serving in the Army, he married Sandy.

They had three children and Tommy, along with his bride, are still full of fun and mischief but also ready, at a moment’s notice, to throw down in defense of any member of the clan.The youngest daughter was Patty.  She was barely an adult when both parents died. She still lived at home with the youngest.  Vowing to keep her brother with her, she moved to North Carolina, where she met the man she would marry, Glen.  The couple had two children.

Despite the frequent moves that came with a military life, this unit became an enduring, stabilizing force of the Taber tribe.  They’re known for the consistent, thoughtful generosity shown to family–both traditional and the unofficial members acquired along the way.The youngest is Kenny.  The second half of his childhood was spent with Patty and husband.  He was uncle and older brother to their children.  He married Kathy, and joined the Coast Guard just like Glen.  They had two daughters and settled in the Northwest.  He lives thousands of miles away from his pseudo-siblings, but he’s only one phone call away from big brother detail.

This collection of souls may not seem all that much more special or interesting than millions of other families.  But I happen to know that they are, in fact, both unique and exceptional.

Because, Gentle Reader, they are my family.

Thanks for your time.

Cocoa Loco

Drop your butt and run…it’s Sinbad!

The other day Petey said something hilarious—Sinbad level hilarious.

You ready?

He said that there are some people who don’t like chocolate.  I know, right?  ROFL.

When I was a kid, there used to be pseudo-intellectuals that would claim to never watch TV.  But those same folks sure knew who Archie Bunker was, could name all the Brady kids, and knew who’d answer when you dialed BR-549.  They were boob-tube watching fakers.And as for chocolate.  There are two kinds of people: those who love chocolate, and liars.

Although I may occasionally shade the truth to spare feelings, “Oh my gosh!  What a baby!  Look at that face!”.  When it comes to that creamy, dark, tropical treat I’m a bona fide choco-phile.  Right now in my kitchen, not counting the Hershey’s special dark cocoa powder, there are twelve different chocolate items (jeez, written out like that, it does look a little coo coo…).

My point is, I really, really love all things chocolate: milk, dark, or in a serious pinch white chocolate (Which doesn’t actually contain any chocolate solids. True white chocolate only contains cocoa butter; thus its creamy white hue.). Today I have a special recipe.  It’s one that reminds me of a special treat from the mists of my childhood, when disco was king and Jordache jeans roamed the earth.

One summer, we were visiting my mom’s home state of New Jersey, and staying with her brother, and my god father, Uncle Sammy, his wife Candy, and their three kids.  One day, all of us kids were feverishly tap dancing upon the last nerve of every adult present.

We’d left them with but two choices; begin drinking heavily and keep it up for the duration of our visit, or get us kids out of the house to work off some energy, or as my mother so charmingly says, “Go outside and get the stink blowed off yuh”.With five kids from the ages ranging from 12 to four to look after, the grownups chose the alcohol-free option.  We packed up swimsuits, sandwiches, and flip-flops.  Sammy and Candy were taking us to their lake club.  It was set in a pine grove, with lots of shade, sand, and refreshment vendors.

We swam and played until lunch, and then to keep our full bellies out of the water, each kid was given two crisp new dollar bills, to spend as we saw fit. I probably got an icy bottle of coke, and a bag of chips.  I saw the Italian ice man.  I made a beeline to see what flavors they had.  They had the mandatory lemon, strawberry, grape, and orange.  But, they also had another flavor, chocolate.  That was a new one on me.

I ordered it.  It was amazing; like chocolate ice cream, but with no dairy.  It was deeply, darkly, intensely chocolate.  The flavor was rich, but not heavy.  It was a frozen, dark chocolate dream.

Since that day, every time I run into somebody selling Italian ice, I cross my finger and hope they have chocolate.  My dreams have always been dashed until I came upon the Italian ice cart at the state fairgrounds flea market.  They’ve got it, and it’s as delicious as I remembered.These days I don’t have to go all the way to Raleigh for my fix.  I discovered chocolate sorbet.  An ice cream company named Talenti makes one that I always try to have on hand.  It’s a little denser than an ice, but really full of flavor, not too sweet, and dairy-free, so it’s only 150 calories per serving.  It’s perfect when I want…no when I need, a big hit of chocolate.

The sorbetto comes in a plastic jar with a screw-off lid.  I keep my freezer at 0 degrees, but it’s always a spoon-able consistency because I throw the whole shebang into a gallon sized zip top bag.  It was a tip from The Kid.  Don’t know how it works, it just does.  It’s great for all frozen treats, and cuts down on both freezer burn and the potential for picking up weird flavors from fellow freezer denizens.

Occasionally I have a hard time finding the Talenti.  In that emergency situation, I make my own.  If you have an ice cream maker, it’s a breeze.  If you don’t; granita (a confection that’s frozen in a pan, and while freezing frequently scraped with a fork to create a granular texture) is an option.And the next time you meet someone who insists they don’t like chocolate, tell ‘em to stop, drop, and roll, ‘cause somebody’s pants are smoking.

Thanks for your time.

Emergency chocolate sorbet

Makes about 1 quartchocolate sorbet2 ¼ cups water

1 cup sugar

¾ cups Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder

Pinch of salt

6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

In large saucepan, whisk together 1 ½ cups water with the sugar, cocoa powder, and salt. Bring to boil whisking frequently. Let it boil, continuing to whisk for 45 seconds. Remove from the heat and stir in chocolate until it’s melted, then stir in vanilla and remaining ¾ cup water. Transfer mixture to blender (or use an immersion blender) and blend for 15 seconds. Chill mixture thoroughly, then freeze it in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. If mixture has become too thick to pour into your machine, whisk it vigorously to thin it out.

Chocolate porn.


Easter at my parents’ house this year was a culinary reenactment of the Civil War.Mom’s from New Jersey and my dad’s from Pittsburgh.  Jersey was also represented in her sister, Aunt Polly, and her brother and my Godfather, Uncle Sammy, and his wife Candy.My brother was born in Mobile, and his wife and daughters are NC born and bred.  Petey’s from a long line of Tar heels, and The Kid is 100% pure Durham. But, it was the food which starkly illustrated the North/South divide.

After decades of living in the south, Mom’s Easter spread was as traditional as seersucker and magnolia.  Ham, turkey, potato salad, baked macaroni and cheese, and all the other Dixie dishes you’d expect.

Then Uncle Sammy and Aunt Sandy arrived.  Maybe it’s a Jersey thing, but Sandy is also a lifelong member of the “OMG, what if there’s not enough food?” club, just like my mother.  She brought in piping hot pans of the kind of grub you’d get at a Yankee Easter spread.First up was ziti.  Ziti is the ham biscuit of the northern states.  Whenever there is any occurrence that necessitates the bringing of food; funerals, sickness, babies, there are pans of ziti.  Every well-stocked freezer has a pan or two; ready to go in the oven, or out the door.Although ziti is also a pasta shape the type of noodle in a pan of ziti is cook’s choice.  Both my aunt and mother favor rigatoni.  But I’ve made it with everything from actual ziti, to my fave, cavatappi; a long corkscrew-shaped, ridged tube.

Because I’m no fan of red sauce, I make ziti with my pink sauce.  But Candy’s dish is made with her own red sauce recipe, and was really tasty.  I asked her for the recipe, and she generously complied.

The second dish was stuffed zucchini.  I really liked it, but when I asked for this recipe, my suavity was turned up to 11.  I said, “I wasn’t expecting much, but I loved it…uh, I mean, uh…”.  Luckily, she’s met me and doesn’t really expect me to display a whole lotta tact and diplomacy, so she gave me this recipe, as well.Candy’s last dish was simply very thinly sliced kielbasa slow-cooked with sauerkraut in a crock pot.  It was amazing by itself, but it would be a revelation heaped onto a warm pretzel bun and slathered with mustard.

So the Easter dinner fare may have resembled a food-based dichotomy of the novel, North and South, but once we sat down to eat, it quickly transformed into an equal opportunity Appomattox. Because at that point, we all surrendered—to flavor.

Thanks for your time.

Easter zitisandy's ziti

2-28 ounce cans of tomato puree

2-28 ounce cans tomato sauce

2-28 ounce cans plum tomatoes, drained and run through food processor

1 teaspoon each, dried oregano and dried thyme

1 tablespoon dehydrated garlic

5 links sweet Italian sausage, removed from casings

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Salt & pepper to taste

24 ounces tubed pasta, uncooked

Cook pasta in heavily salted water 2-3 minutes less than directions state (you want the noodles very, very al dente, so it will hold up to baking without turning to mush).

Place sausage meat in large heavy pot and brown.  Stir in all tomato products.  Add spices and garlic.  Bring to a simmer and season, taste, and re-season if needed.

Stir cooked pasta into sauce, then pour everything into a very large casserole dish.  Cover with foil and bake at 350 for twenty minutes.  Uncover and top with mozzarella cheese.  Bake 40 minutes more or until browned and bubbly.

Let sit at room temp for 15 minutes before service.  Serves 10-12.

Stuffed zucchinistuffed zucchiniPreheat oven to 350.  Slice 7 or 8 zucchini length-wise. Using a spoon scoop out seeds and pulp, and place pulp in a skillet along with ½ diced yellow onion and a spoonful of dehydrated garlic.  Cook in a little butter until the liquid is mostly cooked out and veggies are golden-brown.  Stir in enough Italian-style breadcrumbs to stiffen the stuffing.  Spoon stuffing into zucchini.  Bake uncovered about 40 minutes, until the zucchini is tender, and the stuffing has browned.  Serves 10-12.