Bring on the Holiday Schmaltz

HermyEvery Thanksgiving, my family watches White Christmas, a two-hour schmaltz-fest featuring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and enough saccharin-soaked musical numbers (punctuated by “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”) to induce a sugar coma in even the most die-hard, cheesy holiday movie fans.

I love it.

From the opening scene, which shows a troop of soldiers celebrating Christmas in 1944’s war-torn Europe, to the parody of a Martha Graham dance sequence called “Choreography,” to the closing scene with all that snow, it makes me smile, it makes me laugh, it makes me think of all the holiday seasons past watching this silly movie with my family.

And I can’t say it’s the only schmaltzy holiday film I love to watch. As I’m baking cookies, wrapping presents, writing holiday cards and drinking eggnog (vodka optional), I always have a holiday movie on in the background. There are dozens of holiday movies I can choose from, but here are the ones that make me turn my attention away from the task at hand to the screen because I just can’t not watch.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. What’s not to like about a story that includes Hermy, the Santa’s elf who wants to be a dentist, an island full of misfit toys, a gold prospector named Yukon Cornelius, and of course Rudolph, the ultimate misfit? Yes, the songs are lame, but the message -- that everyone is different and that’s okay -- made a big impression on me when I first watched it on TV when I was six. It never convinced me though that being a dentist was a better gig than working as a toymaker in Santa’s workshop.

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20 Things to Be Thankful For: 2014 Edition

cowboybootsIf you're a regular reader of One Thing New, you know that Thanksgiving is our favorite holiday. We enjoy giving some thought to all the things we're thankful for, knowing that it will help us keep our perspective and enter the holiday season in a calmer, happier state of mind. What are we thankful for this year? Well, for starters:

1. Skype

Talking to anyone in the world in real time, for free? That’s pretty darn amazing – especially when a family member is living abroad.

2. White Christmas

It’s a movie our family watches every Thanksgiving. Yes, it’s corny. But we love it. 

3. Stay-at-home parents

I'm sharing class parent duties this year. As far as school involvement goes, that's pretty much all I can handle. But it's primarily the stay-at-home crowd that runs the PTA and the school enrichment program. They give back so much more than I do -- and all our kids benefit.

Read more: 20 Things to Be Thankful For: 2014 Edition

Getting to Know My Father’s Funny Bone

BrockLast April, my father passed away. That event, for me, was sad-ish, but not tragic or heart breaking. In life as I knew him, my father, Brock Brower, was not an easy person. In fact, he was downright difficult and sometimes scary -- not an easy combination for a child, or a teen, or even a young adult.

Since his death, though, I’ve come to know and remember him differently. My father was a writer, and in the past few months I’ve had the gift of the words he left behind, which have provided a sort of access to his inner world.

While he was alive, my father never overtly encouraged any of his family to read his work, which included several books, short stories, numerous articles and a large collection of poetry written during his last years. He did give us copies of his books from time to time, and would share special poems written for weddings, anniversaries and birthdays. He had a masterful, comprehensive and sometimes impenetrable vocabulary, and we considered ourselves ahead of the game if we understood half of what he read at those events.

One of his dying wishes, however, was that I and my four siblings celebrate his life with a reading of his work. To do this, I had to read it. I was initially dreading the preparations for the memorial event, but once I started I learned something new about my father: Underneath all his bloviating was a really funny guy who could make me laugh out loud, long and loudly.

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You Know How To Whistle, Don't You Steve?

aladdinIt was a rough week for movie fans.

First, comedian Robin Williams died after suffering from severe depression for many years. His death sent the world into shock and prompted moving tributes from fellow comedians Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal, describe the loss, and from President Obama, who made a nod to Williams’ debut as an alien on the TV show "Mork and Mindy:" “He arrived in our lives as an alien -- but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit.”

The next day, actress and Hollywood legend Lauren Bacall died at the age of 89. With her debut in the 1944 film “To Have and Have Not” alongside the man who would become her husband, Humphrey Bogart, Bacall projected “an indelible screen persona: that of the tough, quick-witted American woman who could fight the good fight alongside her man,” noted The New York Times in its obit.
Everyone has their favorite movies and favorite moments from these two very talented stars. Here are my picks (with a big thank you to YouTube):

Read more: You Know How To Whistle, Don't You Steve?

Joining the Sharing Economy. The Real One.

Anita and her family lived next door to the first home my husband and I ever owned, in a quaint San Francisco neighborhood. I knew from the start we would get along -- she brought over a plate of homemade Greek butter cookies to welcome us.
Over the next few years, Anita, her husband, and her teenaged son became good friends, helping us with babysitting, driving me to the doctor when my toddler was injured and I was too shaky to get behind the wheel, and inviting us over for many dinners with their extended family of relatives and close friends.
From her, I learned about parenting, about Greek traditions, and about how to fight to win after a disgruntled neighbor threatened to destroy our close-knit neighborhood association by suing everyone she disagreed with. But that’s another story for another day.
What really made the day-to-day so great, and why I still think of Anita as the best neighbor I’ve ever had, is that she introduced me to the joys of cooperative cooking, or dinner swaps. She’d call me in the morning, telling me she planned on baking a ham that day or letting me know she was whipping up a tray of spanakopita. I’d make the vegetables and a salad. Come dinner time, we’d swap platters and dinner was done. When you’re a working parent with small kids, having a delicious meal without going through an enormous effort is a huge deal.
We'd also split the bounty from our visits to the local farmer’s market, which took turns visiting on the weekends. And when she baked, I knew my cookie jar would be full – and it would prompt me to return the favor my baking the cookies and cakes that came easily to me.
I thought about Anita recently as I was listening to NPR on the drive to work last week and heard Chris Kimball, host of America’s Test Kitchen, talk about the foods we should make at home rather than buy at a store. His list of foods, easy to make and more cost-effective when homemade, include graham crackers, instant-aged balsamic vinegar, and coconut-milk whipped cream (dairy free).

My first thought was, ‘Who the heck has time to make all that stuff?’ But then I thought about my years living next door to Anita. We would have divided and conquered, with her baking the graham crackers and me whipping up the coconut-milk cream so our families could both enjoy a homemade and easy dessert.
This is the kind of sharing economy I can get behind (like carpools, the original ride share system.)  I realized, since moving away from Anita and dealing with a bigger job that leaves me even less time at home, that I haven’t synced up with any of my current neighbors on sharing food adventures.  
And that’s a shame, because I have a completely fabulous recipe for olive oil crackers. They’re quick and easy to make and taste so much better than the expensive gourmet ones you’ll find in stores. It takes less than half an hour to whip up a batch that can easily feed eight people (more if there are kids in the mix).
I encourage you to try it out – but only after you find a neighbor or friend willing to make hummus or some other spread. That way you can share the load. -- Connie Guglielmo
Easy Olive Oil Cracker Bread
1/3 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh chopped rosemary
1 ¾ cup unbleached white flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt (I use sea salt)
½ cup water
1. Mix olive oil with rosemary. Let sit for 30 minutes or more so the oil is infused with flavor from the herb.
2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
3. Put flour in a bowl and add the baking powder and salt. Then make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the water and olive oil. Mix, knead and form into a ball.
4. Break the ball up into 4 smaller balls.
5. Roll out each ball into a thin sheet. How thin? Well, this is a matter of opinion. I don’t like my crackers super thin because I think they get too brittle and break up into dust when you bite into them. But if you make them too thick, then your crackers can be gummy. So do a test on the first one -- roll it out to the thinness of flat bread, bake it and see what happens. Then you can adjust for the next cracker.
6. Place the rolled out dough onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment. If you have a baking stone, place the parchment right on the stone. Bake for about 6 to 8 minutes. Baking time will depend on your oven and how crispy you want the cracker. Again, do a test with that first dough ball and see how it goes.
* Note: Once you get the gist of making the cracker bread, try substituting the chopped roasted garlic for the rosemary. The key, as I note above, is to put the garlic in the olive oil and let it sit for a while before you mix your dough. Trust me, it just tastes better that way.
July 31, 2014

Missed our last issue? Here you go:
A *Third* Helping of No-Calorie Comfort Food for the Brain

If you liked this story, you might also like:
Breakfast, Solved
Confessions of a Tomato Snob
Hot Bread in 30 Minutes. No Fuss. No Fooling.
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Image courtesy of Rebecca Siegel 

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