This Is How It Goes

Smile at the Nashville skyline and become a little giddy about seeing your family again.

Almost fall into the toilet in the bathroom when Kelly Pickler abruptly and loudly welcomes you to the Nashville airport over the intercom.

Observe a middle-aged woman and a young gay man at baggage claim embrace each other and cry for a long three minutes. Try with all your might not to cry too.

Notice more gray hairs in your dad’s beard and marvel at how your mom never ages.

Feel supernaturally tall in your childhood home after coming from your sleek modern apartment with high ceilings.

Lay on your stomach on your old bed and peruse the books on your shelf, a chronology of your adolescent and college years.

Shop at Kroger with your mom for Thanksgiving stuff and pray you don’t run into someone you know.

Begin feeling the symptoms of dehydration from sitting in the same chair for hours reading, symptoms you recognize because of every Harry Potter book release of your young life.

Read too much thoughtcatalog and come to terms with the 20-something hipster you probably are.

Drive around your empty college campus with pangs of sadness for a time of your life you will never get back and for memories you had almost forgotten. Compare the person you were in college to the person the “real” world turned you into.

Cross a threshold in your relationship with your mother by talking about times when you were drunk.

Spend hours combing through your brother’s massive itunes library for songs to burn and asking his opinion on every artist.  Wish that you could hang out with him more often because you feel like you might be a better person.

Become irritated that you aren’t able to come and go at your leisure without having to tell anyone where you’re going or who you’ll be with.

Enjoy talking for 5 hours to someone you haven’t seen in 5 years, mostly while in a dark classy bar sipping on sidecars that make you feel warm and more acutely post-college.  While walking out, observe a couple giggling continuously while crossing a street for no apparent reason.  Then do the same in reaction.

Drink sangria and sing along with Al Green while making mac & cheese with bacon and caramelized onions for Thanksgiving.  Feel more intoxicated by the smell of bacon than the sangria. Be complimented by two people over the age of 45 in your taste in music.

Spend 30 minutes writing personalized thanksgiving texts to the people you care about and hope that you didn’t forget anyone.  Literally “lol” when one person recognizes the gesture while accusing you of sending the same one to all the people you know of the same name.

Be asked by two family members if you have a boyfriend.  Say that you are too busy making big bucks as a teacher.

Be asked by your mother about the boy who texted “Happy Thanksgiving” to you while your phone was innocently near her. Tell her that he’s your lover and he’s pregnant and that you’re the father.

Eat the cranberry sauce you made from scratch with a spoon, turkey be damned.

Inhale copious amounts of second hand smoke from cigarettes and the fire pit your dad bought without your mom’s permission.  Sing Al Green again around the fire with your childhood friends after changing your dad’s country pandora station.

Share stories about your students and your job because you can’t help yourself and don’t have much else to say.

Laugh and laugh and laugh.

Watch the younger people play a classy game of beer pong on your parents’ oak dining room table while you try to stay up past your old person bedtime.  Bang your head against the iron chandelier accidentally.  Feel more awake.

Peel your clothes off before collapsing into a deep post-Thanksgiving sleep still smelling like a bonfire.

Cry and cry and cry.

Scream CONGRATULATIONS into the phone for a friend that got into medical school and feel like you got into medical school too.  Pop open a bottle of beer to celebrate 400 miles away from him.  Become momentarily worried that you don’t know what you’ll be doing a year from now.  Only momentarily.

Play Al Green again while writing this because he just makes you feel good, dammit.  Be embarrassed to wish for a split second that you were in a cheesy rom-com so someone would take your hand and slow dance with you because the holidays will make you feel lonely sometimes.

Pack your bags and think about the people you didn’t get to see while in your hometown.  Promise to see them at Christmas.  Hope that reality doesn’t smack you in the face too hard when you get home and that you don’t find spiders in the storage closet that holds your Christmas tree.

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City Girl Snobbery and Country Girl Guilt

“We need to get out today,” my mom said at the breakfast table, staring at the rainy windowpane.

“And do what?” I asked with a mouthful of cheerios.

“Well we can go to Walmart…We can go to JCPenny, watch old ladies buy polyester pantsuits for Thanksgiving…”

I laughed, but my mother had just snarkily summed up the most thrilling activities in my hometown.

Now it’s possible that I have a skewed perspective; I’ve been spoiled for almost 6 years.  I lived and went to college in Nashville, Music City, significantly more entertaining than my small town.  Plus I was in college, so there was, ahem, plenty of fun to be had.  I’ve been able to experience other cities such as Chicago and New York, and now I live in Dallas, the 9th largest city in the US, a city with plenty to do and see.

I’m spoiled, I know it, and I kind of feel guilty about it.  When I come back to my hometown I feel like a snob.  I can’t just hop over to a Whole Foods or Central Market and buy my favorite local milk or a unique food I’ve never tried.  I don’t have my choice of dining options in all styles from all corners of the world, from taco truck to fine restaurant.  I can’t walk to an art museum and browse.  Hell, I can’t even browse a bookstore.

I can go to Walmart.  I can go to JCPenny and watch old ladies buy polyester suits.  Actually I can go to any number of places and watch old white people do things.

When I come back now, I find myself repeating “In Dallas we have this and that.  In Dallas I can do this and that.  In Dallas I would be blah blah blah.  Dallas Dallas Dallas Food Food Dallas.”

Have I become a city girl?  Or worse, have I become a Texan???

Jokes aside, I am a city girl.  I need variety, movement, diversity, modernity, and some damn good culinary options.  My hometown has just always felt too small for me.  And though I really like Nashville, Tennessee has always felt small for me too.  But people I love love Tennessee, so I try not to sound like a broken record about Dallas for fear of sounding like a snobby d-bag.  And there are things I love about Tennessee…but not many are in my hometown.

So what did my mom and I do today?  We left.  We drove 45 minutes to Cool Springs. Went to Whole Foods.  Bought some delicious Olive & Sinclair artisan chocolate, a local Nashville company while there.  Browsed Barnes & Noble.  Watched Puss in Boots at a once-nice-now-shitty movie theater.  And we were still scraping for things to do.  If not for the heavy rain, I might have suggested driving the extra 15 minutes to Nashville, but that will be another day.  We took the scenic route back home.  There are beautiful things here, but today the rain and season casts a depressing pallor over everything and obscured one of my favorite things about Tennessee: the gorgeous sunsets.  Something else for to save for another day.

Moving and Pizza at Olivella’s

God I suck at titles.  My summer vacation is quickly drawing to a close and I’m terrified.  I’ve already hit many of my summer benchmarks:  a trip to Chicago to see my brother, taking my certification test, seeing the LAST Harry Potter movie, and now…I’m moving.

My roommates and I are moving to a new apartment in Dallas, mostly to try out a new area in the city.  The process has been frustrating and annoying, but tomorrow we are finally getting our stuff into the new apartment and starting the slightly more fun process of getting settled.

The tough thing about moving is timing.  For example, when do you pack up all your food and kitchen stuff?  Too early and you’ll spend too much money on restaurants and wasted groceries; too late, and you’ll end up doing slapdash last-minute packing that will result in some broken dishes.

I managed to strike a pretty good balance during this move.  Last night, I tried Olivella’s Restaurant in University Park.  It’s an Italian restaurant, starring many delicious varieties of thin crust pizza napoletana.  The small restaurant has an old-fashioned homey ambience that makes it feel like you’re eating pizza in Italy at a family restaurant.  The pizza is also delicious, but personally I’m a big fan of thin crust.  We got the Snow White (ricotta, mozzarella, oregano, garlic & olive oil) and the Rustica (tomato sauce, sausage, bell-peppers & mozzarella.)  My only regret is that I didn’t try their Nutella Mousse dessert.  Next time…

Happy Holidays

“Ms. B, I think you’re as excited as we are about Christmas break…”
As one of my students very astutely observed, teachers are just as excited, if not more excited, about breaks.  The three weeks between Thanksgiving break and Christmas break is an agonizing time, but I got through it and now I am eating bon bons in my new pajamas.
One of the obvious reasons I love the holidays is the copious amounts of delicious food.  The leftovers tend to linger around the fridge for a week, but I decided to save the leftover yuca to make some frituras de yuca, or yuca fritters.
Yuca is a root with a similar taste and texture to potato.  A traditional way to cook it is boiling it and making a mojo sauce (garlic, onion, and other seasoning) to go over it.  I used the leftover yuca from Christmas Eve (Nochebuena) Dinner to make fritters.
I didn’t need to use much seasoning since the yuca already had the mojo.  First I reheated it in the microwave to make it easier to smash.  After smashing it I added some chopped leftover Christmas ham, sea salt, black pepper, paprika, dried parsely, 1/4 tsp baking powder, and 2 beaten eggs.  I mixed and mashed it all together while I had about an inch of vegetable oil heating up in a deep saucepan for frying.
Once it was well mixed and the oil was hot, I shaped the batter into small little patties and fried them in the oil until they were golden on both sides.  I took them out of the oil with a slotted spoon and placed them on a plate lined with paper towels.  Finally, I sprinkled them with a little sea salt.  I really wish I would have had some lime juice to sprinkle on top but we didn’t have limes.
The result was a fluffy, crispy fritter.  I served them to my family and they really enjoyed them.  I had felt like making something because I had been leafing through my Christmas present How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman and felt inspired to cook.  I didn’t do much cooking for the Christmas dinner but I did make my flan.  I hadn’t made it in a couple years so I was a little worried but it turned out just fine. : )