Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sunday #14: Dinner in Yakima

Sunday #14 was three Sundays ago now.

It involved going to my parents' house about 150 miles away, and ditching my kids there for Spring Break. Oh yeah, I also offered to stay and make Sunday Dinner for everyone. It sounded fun to me.

And it was - I got to see some folks I hadn't seen in years, and my grandma and her boyfriend/husband drove over from Hermiston, Oregon to spend time with us.

Before we even got there I was really excited to write about it, but since then I've been stalling.  Every time I'd think about settling down to write it I found I just didn't want to talk about it. When my loyal fanbase (7!) started to inquire about the drag-assery I had more than enough excuses.

See, the PC is in our bedroom, so holing myself up to write cuts me off from everything.
Also, my work was pulling some real dick-moves a couple weeks back and I wasn't in the right frame of mind for it.
And see, I really didn't wanna and, oh yeah,  I was dead at the time.
Some of these excuses, while true, still don't explain the whole of my reluctance.

So I found better things to do - like sleeping, or watching Babylon 5 (or, B5 being finished and me plummeting towards desperation, Single Female Lawyer.)

So what was my problem?

I hate my grandmother.
And I love her.
And lots of other stupid feelings that mostly keep adding shit to the "hate" column.

And she was there the whole time.

But whatever! This ain't no bitch n' moan about family crap, this is a food blog! To the menu!

Olive Garden Salad type Salad

Since I wasn't cooking in my own kitchen I made sure to bring some tools and ingredients (microplane grater, cider vinegar, spices) so we wouldn't have to guy buy something that we only needed a tablespoon of. After we sorted out what we had and didn't have we went to the store.

Socks were an important ingredient, particularly for those that didn't pack any.
Sorry for the blurriness. Time and
Space are different on the other
side of the mountain.

Once ingredients were purchased we lazed about, because it was Saturday and folks started to show up.

My grandmother showed up with her boyfriend/husband. My nephew Tobin came over so he and Max could be awesome together. All the grown-type folks sat around and talked and mom made Pot Roast. Everything was all right.

Well, as all right as you could reasonably expect, given the company.

We spent that night at a Motel 6 with grandma and her guy. When we got there Mr. Boyfriend/Husband paid for two rooms and didn't let us help, but made sure to say there were only three of us to make sure he didn't get charged an extra 3 bucks. Also, where was his Senior Discount. Also some more, why couldn't we get adjoining rooms on the bottom floor? I'm sure there was a "gall-durn" in there somewhere too. You know, typical Grampa Simpson fare.

There was about 20 minutes of visiting and everyone was sent to bed. We could have saved them 50 bucks by staying at my Mom's but there would have been an issue about it. See, earlier we'd suggested we could share a room with them so we could have more visiting time, because Grandma had been making remarks about it. The remarks encompassed whether or not Mark and I would actually show (we almost always do, gramma) and more subtle remarks about mom not being able to put them up for the night (that one's a long going issue where the old folks don't understand/care that my parents aren't allowed to have big stupid dogs or big stupid camper-trailers on the property.)

The above seems to have wandered off the path for a bit. It was all part of the Yakima Adventure though, and sort of feeds into my whole reluctance to write this thing out.

We left early and got home so I could get with the preparations.
The Filling:
I was basically working from the back of the box of noodle shells but, as has been discussed before, I don't really do recipes.

I started by mixing a double-batch worth of ricotta, egg, mozzarella Parmesan and seasonings together and divided it into two separate bowls. Aside from the spinach manicotti I'd decided to do a sausage and cheese filling so those horrified by vegetables wouldn't be offended.

Once that was done I added freezerland chopped spinach that had been thawed and squeezed to death to one bowl:
Mmmm, right?Let's call it dinner now!

Moving on to filling #2.
Mushrooms, onion and garlic go into a skillet.
Completely unfamiliar!.

I was mincing mushrooms for a long time, so to keep things from burning I'd stir the browner bits to the edges of the pan and add the new stuff to the middle. It worked out okay.

Once that was done I added Italian sausage that I'd pulled from their casings and cooked that until it was cooked.
Behold: Mark cooking sausage

Once that was done I dumped the ricotta mess into the pan to make for easier stirring.
Not completely unfamiliar looking

Time to stuff:
I'd heard you could go ahead and stuff the pasta tubes dry, and that with enough sauce they'd soften up while baking. Alternatively, the package said to completely cook them and then try to stuff floppy noodles. Right.

I opted to cook them 4-5 minutes (the package said 7-9, the time the online instructions gives seems more reasonable) and that seemed to work really well. I laid them all out on a sheet of foil to cool and then got to stuffin'.

It wasn't as hard as I'd worried it would be. In my original plan they were all going to be smooth cheese and I was going to pipe in the filling with a freezer bag. That so wasn't going to happen with stringy spinach and sausage wad fillings though.

What ended up working for me was holding the noodle loosely in my fist, with the opening of the tube even with the top of my hand. Then I piled a blob of filling on the opening and poked a little at a time with my index finger.

Like so:
heh. hehe, heh.

While I was stuffing I cooked even more sausage and then drowned it in three jars of store bought sauce. I think I ended up using a cheese&garlic as well as an olive&basil flavor. It turned out pretty well.

Once everything was ready I spread enough sauce on the bottom of the baking pans to just cover it, and then layered in noodle tubes and covered everything with sauce.

Those look so messy and fingered because I kept trying to figure out how to get them all to fit into to aluminium roasting pans. I made so much I ended having to use a third pan. I apparently thought we were feeding Everyone Ever, rather than six adults and four children.

Mozzarella and Parmesan got sprinkled over both ( that third pan went in the fridge) and into the oven it went. At, oh, we'll say 375. For... some amount of time (befor they were burned, that's for sure!) Who needs specifics?

While that was baking Mom was getting the table set and the kids set up in the living room and I was getting salad and bread together.

I got everything laid out on the table and called folks to dinner.

I don't know how "Olive Gardeny" the salad was this time.
It looked the part in presentation:
This bowl came home with me. Thanks mom!

But the dressing was too tasty, too garlicy, and probably also too fattening to qualify for Olive Garden dressing. I don't know what I did. It was a base of mayo, sour cream, milk and parm; plus seasonings, sugar, vinegar, and a couple cloves of garlic. Everyone liked it but the old people and the children, so I must have done something right. Pity that I completely free-handed it and have no idea how to exactly replicated it.

I served blue-cheese on the side and I think it really made the salad. My Dad said so, so it must be true.

Double Thumbs Up!

Mmm, bread for dinner.

Like his best buddy Max, Tobin would also
opt for a bread-only dinner.
It's okay, handsome. I still love you!

Ayla approved. Sure her plate was still full, but
do you see the THUMB? Approved!

My folks like it, so that's awesome. Not that it's hard to please them. I think, though, that I've made a couple overly ambitious meals that will always leave them a little unsure of my kitchen adventures (thai curry night, anyone?)

Also, I'm leaving my folks' pics out, because I'm nice that way. As predicted, Mom was semi-mortified that I used her toddler-painted pic last blog, and my Dad doesn't want Skynet having any more photo idents of him than it already does.

And what did our other guests think? Who knows. They said they liked it but you can never tell. My grandmother covered everything in ranch and Ken fingered all the olives- not the ones in the salad, the bowl of extras to the side. Because even though they were the first ones at the salad, and even though there was already an entire can on top of it, he had to make sure he got his. Gall Durn and such.

And really, I'm not that interested in what they thought, because...

(You may want to scroll to the end or close out all together here. I'm going to bitch and moan about family stuff and who wants to be bothered with that on a semi-humorous food blog?

So, read on if you want, or pic up at the next row of stars. )

Internet, meet Grandma Freda and her Boyfriend/Husband* Ken.
(*Mark is an Internet minister, and married them in our backyard a few years back. Depending on your beliefs, you can consider that a real marriage or not. My mom doesn't. I don't think Gramma does either, but for mostly hypocritical reasons  she insists that she is.)

You musn't look them directly in the eye.

I've been avoiding writing this blog because of these two, but mostly because of the one on the right.
Because I had some things to say about how she made us feel that whole weekend, and about how she's made all of us feel our whole lives.

I've found in the three weeks since this dinner that my annoyance with her has abated enough that I don't really feel the need to out her hatefulness to the whole of the Internet.

Right now, reading this, my mom is probably getting half-mad because I took the time to make fun of Pot Roast Night on the last blog, but won't take the time to bitch about gramma here. My mom is all about the equal/equal.

I have to point out the difference. Pot Roast blog was all about love. It really was. My mother and I have come a long way in our relationship, I think. My mom was a lot of things when I was growing up, but mostly she was absent, and when she wasn't it was obvious that she wished she was.

She's sorry, though. She genuinely is. Just like any of us who look back on how we were and either laugh or cringe, she has perspective now.

So do I.

I think I now have a better idea of the person she was when I was a kid. It doesn't mean everything was okay. It just means that we've both recognized that it probably wasn't an awesome time for either of us, and we've (mostly) moved on from there.

But with gramma there's no where to go. I can't say "oh, that's my gramma, she was this and that when I was little, but that's okay because she's different now." because she's not.

She doesn't see anything wrong with how she treated her kids back then, how she treated her grandkids later, and she doesn't see anything wrong with how she treats people now. She's just... really a horrible person.

But see - we've all invested YEARS in pretending she's not. It's a game she's convinced us all to play.

So when I was cooking on Sunday, and she had my mom take her to Costco to buy after-dinner dessert, Mom wasn't supposed to act like there was anything weird or wrong with Gramma yelling at Ken in front of a store full of people.

Why the yelling? Because he didn't want her to buy 6 pounds of ground beef and drive it an hour and a half home to 3 freezers literally filled to the brim with food. Much of which hasn't been edible for years.

Sounds like a reasonable request, but not when you're getting in the way of some one's compulsion. My grandmother is a hoarder. But we don't talk about that either. We pretend it's normal for someone who eats about 800 calories a day (and a fistful of oxycontin) to need 20 lbs of tomatoes because they're on sale and nevermind that they'll all be rotted before she gets through a pound.

Because if you don't play the rules of the game then your 78 year old self gets screeched at in the middle of Costco.

And if you're little, and no one is watching, other things happen. It's not so much a lot of physical abuse - mostly she works in humiliation. With her, it's an art.

But, okay, it'd be one thing if she treated everyone like that. If she really just was a horrible person all of the time. She's not though. There are people she adores and who truly can do no wrong and whom she practically breaks herself for.

And I guess that would be okay too, if there's wasn't so much light and dark to her behavior.

When you see someone, and authority figure, treat one kid in particular so horribly for so long - and justify it all the while, it starts to make a sort of sense. Then you're working for her. You're her eyes and ears.

So... baggage man, there's a lot to get over.

But I was going to be damned if I was going to post this blog and talk about what a great time I had with my Grandma.

Don't I look happy, though? And doesn't she look not-evil?

It's easy for me sometimes. I guess I'm lucky I used to be a favorite.

That's the bitch of it. Mostly she treated me great. My brother, not so much.  It's bad enough to see someone you love treated like shit, but it's a whole 'nother mess to try to resolve that dissonance (he must have deserved it, gramma wouldn't treat him like that if he didn't / he didn't deserve it, my gramma is an awful bitch/ I love my grandma, but man do I hate her?)when you're a kid.

Her youngest son visited this same day. He was not a favorite. It's fair to say he was the least favorite. Grandma didn't get too physical with most of the grandkids, but apparently she was a little more exuberant in her younger days. Life was pretty miserable for this particular uncle.

And, surprise surprise, he didn't make the best choices after growing up.
And really, he's kind of a piece of shit in my book.
But - would he have made the same choices if he hadn't spent his whole childhood being the focalpoint of her anger and aggression? Was he also so caught up in playing along with her insanity that he couldn't explain it any other way than to blame himself?

There's no question that parents fuck you up. It's their job. I'm fucking my kids up right now and someday I'm sure they'll tell me all about it.

And it's also your job to transend all that shit and make a life for yourself - your choices are your own, and all that.

But just how much shit can someone be expected to overcome?

So, she lent him some money once. It was pretty generous of her, and totally surprising. He was facing prison though, so maybe she was worried what people would think if she didn't help.

Also, I think it's fair to say he's spent his entire life under the federal poverty line.

While he was visiting (with a girlfriend, her daughters and his son in tow) it came up that he'd gotten his girlfriend a small bauble. Nothing big, just something to tell his girlfriend that he loved her. We're talking may half a days wages here ( FPL wages, mind.)

She took that opportunity to remind him and everyone else that He Owes Her Money, and She Sure Coulda Used It! In front of everyone. You know, in case there was sale on chest freezers since all three of theirs are full.
And while I suppose that's true that he owes her money and that it is her money, everyone knew it wasn't about that. It was about letting the humiliation continue, and making sure that no small amount of happiness be allowed for some people.


I could go on and really, I already have way too much.

Just... Even though she wasn't that bad (she barked at my mom a few times for beign loud, and made the obligitory comments about peoples' weight - mostly she stuck to shitting on Ken and my uncle) during the visit, all of these little things get added to the giant pile of shit that she's done to people in her life. Things she doesn't even acknowledge, isn't sorry for, and fully intends to keep doing.

When it came to write the blog two weeks ago I was stuck between being honest, and continuing to play the Gramma's Great game and acting like everything was great.

I could have simply not said anything, but that's just a different version of the game.

So, sorry for the big delay in posting this blog.
Sorry also for all the gramma drama in it too.

Next time we get back to our regularly scheduled program, promise.

There'll be future visits to Yak, I'm sure. Now that this is all out there though, it won't be so hard to play the game when I blog. It'll be easier because you'll all know that's all it is and I won't have to explain (if this ramblethon can be called an explanation) myself when and if I mention her.
So yes! Dinner was great, everyone loved it. I'd call it one of my best successes. Right up there with the butterflied chicken and the ham dinner.

Grandma had my mom take her to Costco earlier that day and brought back cheesecake and apple pie. Both were really good. You'd think that two giant Costco desserts would have been enough for 10 people, but I hear Grandma had to be talked out of buying a third. I had a slice of cheesecake and took some apple home. Grandma packed up the rest and drove it back to Hermiston.

Shortly after dinner Mark and I left and drove back home to celebrate a childfree week with boredom and monotony.
It gets quiet around this place when there aren't kids to boss around and force homework and room-cleaning on.

It was good to get them back, and good to have them at the table for Sunday #15. 

I love my kids.

I work and commute the better part of my day. I really only get home in time to put the kids to bed. I feel more and more like a weekend parent.

A long time ago I talked about the first Sunday of this year. How unpleasant it was and how bad we all were at just sitting around the table and having dinner together.

What I think I felt back then was that we were in a steady drift towards having a relationship a lot like I had with my mom. Meaning - not a great one. I was beginning to not know my kids.

So, yes, let's keep fixing that.

This Lifetime Movie Moment brought to you by Coca-Cola.


  1. I am constantly amazed by you, Denise. I know you like to poke fun at yourself for being a slacker, but honestly, you're one of the most ambitious, brave people I know. I know where you came from, because it's a lot like where I came from. And the fact that you are constantly striving to do better than that, be more than that - it's inspiring. It would be so easy to fall into familial habits. It would have been so much easier for you to stay in Yakima and keep working at Taco Bell, but you didn't. I don't know what kind of backlash you will have due to this, but I do know how miserable it can be and that you braved it for the sake of honesty. There's a great shortage of bravery and honesty in blogs, and the world in general.

    Also the manicotti looks delicious! I've never tried the home made version of it - mostly because it's a lot of work that half of my kids wouldn't want to eat.

    Maybe if we can get our crap together and get super ambitious sometime, we can do a Sunday dinner together! I'll make Max eat vegetables, MWAHAHAHAHA!

  2. Thanks, baby :)

    Getting together some Sunday would be awesome. Maybe sometime this summer when the sun comes out!

  3. I'd like to get a picnic table and do lots of outside dinners this summer. Wouldn't that be fun? We could fight off the bees and ants! Imagine the photo ops!

  4. That sounds super fun :)

    We need to think us up a menu!

    Or wing it, one of those.

  5. I would like to thank you for posting this, as well. I... well, I've talked about appreciating your honesty here before, and I do now, too.

    (And everything Corina said about you striving to better yourself matches what I've seen. You've come a really long way since we met. Keep it up.)