Tuesday, December 25, 2018

2018 holiday survival guide.

happy holidays, dear one! hope this letter finds you well! your mother and i have been wondering why we haven't heard from you since the day you drove your prius clean through your neighbor's tomato plants (and what was, frankly, an overpriced backyard playset, if you ask me) and called us drunk at 3 o'clock in the afternoon demanding five thousand dollars to rectify the situation. i told you not to get that hippie car. if you'd been driving a vehicle that actually made noise that poor dog might've had a chance! and even though the only time you called before that was to chokesob in my ear something about a cell phone and a public toilet, i gladly cashed in my jc penney stock to send you the money. all i asked was for you to come over and listen to aunt brenda complain about her love life for a few hours while cleaning out the basement, and you changed your phone number! also i'm sorry about all those memes i shared, but i didn't hear about all that russia business until a few days ago and i think that blocking me off your facebook was incredibly premature. the cats are fine, your mom is bored with me and has taken up needlepoint as an alternative to talking to me so she currently spends most of her time putting their names on things that don't actually belong to them. why do i need a dishtowel with mister little jeans stitched on it?! i'm spending my free time flirting with ihop waitresses and taking jazzercise classes at the Y. anyway, sorry to hear you won't be spending christmas with us and your sister. she asked for something called a "vape pen" but no one at the stationery shop at the mall has ever heard of that! i admire her, she's always ahead of the curve. anyway, we'd be happy to buy you a coach class amtrak ticket to come here if you find yourself hungry for your mom's creamy jello mold! i suppose we'll hear from you next time you need money for sudafed or to hide a dead body. love always, your dad.

bah humbug, cuties! it's that time again! good luck dealing with your terrible families! behold, the 2018 survival guide for dealing with your kids being out of school and in your face for two whole weeks:

1 make some food. i like to do a christmas lunch because meals that happen at night mean you have to spend the entire fucking day either thinking about or preparing them and that is a good way to stress yourself into a panic attack and also hate your life. if the meal is on the table by 1230 then guess what? YOUR DAY IS OVER. oh i'm sorry, did you really think i was going to pause mingle all the way to get up and baste a turkey or whatever? did you honestly believe that a pumpkin pie is more important than watching the christmas contract in my mistletoe pajamas? that's why you do a lunch, because you're gonna get up in the morning anyway, so why not just make a casserole at noon then spend the rest of the day crying on the couch. this year i did a lasagna in homage to cate blanchett's character in notes on a scandal (that is a very very deep cut, and if you understand that reference i love you forever) and because you can just make it and plop it down like "have fun eating this for the next three days." this version has meat but i think i can figure out how to make it veg at the end.
9 lasagna noodles
1 lb ground mild italian sausage
3/4 lb ground beef
1 medium onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced (i do not do this, i scoop a few tablespoons from a jar)
2 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes
2 6 oz cans tomato paste
2/3 cup water
2 to 3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons dried basil
3/4 teaspoon fennel seed
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided (this is not enough)
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper (this either)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 carton (15 ounces) ricotta cheese
4 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
(a note: the original recipe called for fresh parsley, which i do not have and did not buy, because the bunches at the store are always way more than i will ever actually use and it just gets so wet and slimy and grosses me out so i skipped it. if you are not a lazy sack of shit it calls for 3 tablespoons of minced for the sauce and a quarter cup to mix with the cheese but seriously, this is one of those steps that makes an easy recipe an irritating one and why go through that? the wise men didn't care about parsley!!)
-cook the noodles, a little less than the package says to. drain them and set aside.
-make the sauce. cook the meats (season it for baby jesus' sake) with the onion in a large dutch oven until there's only a little pink left, add the garlic and stir it while cooking for another minute. the recipe says to drain it and MAYBE YOU SHOULD but i most certainly DO THE FUCK NOT. i like to say it makes for a richer sauce and maybe that's true but i'm never flipping a cast iron pot over if i can fucking help it, so rich sauce or not i'm not doing that.
-add all of the tomato products, the water, and the basil/sugar/fennel. i forgot the water at first and it didn't seem to have a negative effect. salt and pepper it just because, then bring to a boil. reduce the heat to a simmer and taste it; adjust seasonings accordingly. (at this stage i added more fennel because i'm a fennel monster, and this is probably a good time to admit that i don't measure dry seasonings because i'm an excellent eyeballer. but if you don't cook a lot you should measure just in case, so you don't blame me when your food is gross.)
-let the sauce cook for 30 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally.
-mix the ricotta and egg in a bowl. this is where you'd add the other parsley if you're using it but here is my trick: grate a little fresh nutmeg (or tap some of that mccormick in) into the ricotta. trust me, it's good. i like to add nutmeg to a macaroni and cheese roux, too. shit's delicious.
-preheat your oven to 375°. spread 2 cups of sauce into an ungreased 13x9" baking dish. layer with three noodles and a third of the ricotta mixture, sprinkle with 1 cup mozzarella cheese and 2 tablespoons parmesan cheese. repeat the layers twice then top with remaining sauce and cheeses.
-bake, covered, for 25 minutes. then bake, uncovered, 25 minutes longer or until bubbly. let stand 15 minutes before serving, then retire to your cool, dark bedroom for the next three days. you fucking earned it.

vegetarian option? okay i'm just spitballing here so if it doesn't work don't hate me!!
-sauce: i would do everything the same except instead of cooking meat with the onion i would cut up some red and green bell peppers, a diced carrot or two, throw some sliced mushrooms in, and maybe a small chunked zucchini and cook those in a tablespoon or two of butter (salted and peppered) for like 5-8 minutes, then add the tomatoes etc. i would probably skip the fennel just in case it works less well with veggies than sausage.
-ricotta: wilt a few bunches of baby spinach in a large skillet (warm a little olive oil over medium heat, toss them in, sprinkle with garlic salt and cover it, cook under wilty) then gently fold into the egg/ricotta/nutmeg mix
-all the other directions are the same (noodle, sauce, cheese, repeat) but watch the cook time because i bet it's shorter. but i don't know because i'm literally just making this up. MAKE IT AND REPORT BACK.

2 read some books? so for over a year now i have been reading and recommending books for marie claire magazine, which is hilarious to me. i am an actual shitgoblin, so the idea that something i write is in a magazine with lithe beauties draped in expensive couture that i could barely cram a forearm into is a riot. it is the hardest job i have ever had. i mean, it's not heart surgery or whatever but please try to distill the plot of the last book you read into 75 cohesive words while also weaving in some blurb-y phrases that aren't the last five things you said about the books you read last month in a way that's not going to stress out the fact checker. IT'S DIFFICULT, OKAY. anyway, i have always been a reader, but now i gotta be a fucking super reader. which has turned me into that annoying person who starts every conversation with "you know what you should read...?" and i'm not being pushy or competitive, it's just that i am filled with this wealth of information and i only talk to like three people every day so as soon as i encounter a new adult person i just open my mouth and "have you read the golden state yet?" is the first thing that comes tumbling out. i don't even bother introducing myself anymore, i just shove whatever book i have in bag into the person's face and immediately turn and walk away. here are some things i've loved recently that you can read while refusing to go outside in the cold:

-"training school for negro girls" by camille acker (summary from the back: when you're black and female in america, society's rules were never meant to make you safe or free. camille acker's relatable yet unexpected characters break down the walls of respectability politics, showing that the only way for black women to be free is to be themselves. more here)
-"a guide for murdered children" by sarah sparrow (summary from the back: we’ve heard it said that there is no justice in this world. but what if there really was? what if the souls of murdered children were able to briefly return, inhabit adult bodies and wreak revenge on the monstrous killers who stole their lives? more here)
-"heartbreaker" by claudia dey (summary from the back: it’s 1985. pony darlene fontaine has lived all her fifteen years in “the territory,” a settlement founded decades ago by a charismatic cult leader. in this strange town run on a sinister economic resource, the women crimp their hair and wear shoulder pads, and the teenagers listen to nazareth and whitesnake on their walkmans. pony’s family lives in the bungalow at the farthest edge of town, where the territory borders the rest of the wider world—a place none of the townspeople have ever been. except for billie jean fontaine, pony’s mother. when billie jean arrived in the territory seventeen years prior—falling from the open door of a stolen car—the residents took her in and made her one of their own. she was the first outsider they had ever laid eyes on. pony adores and idolizes her mother, but like everyone else in the territory she is mystified by her. one night, billie jean grabs her truck keys, bolts barefoot into the cold october darkness—and vanishes. beautiful, beloved, and secretive, billie jean was the first person to be welcomed into the territory. now, with a frantic search under way for her missing mother, pony fears: will she be the first person to leave it too? more here)
-"all you can ever know" by nicole chung (summary from the back: nicole chung was born severely premature, placed for adoption by her korean parents, and raised by a white family in a sheltered oregon town. from childhood, she heard the story of her adoption as a comforting, prepackaged myth. she believed that her biological parents had made the ultimate sacrifice in the hope of giving her a better life, that forever feeling slightly out of place was her fate as a transracial adoptee. but as nicole grew up--facing prejudice her adoptive family couldn't see, finding her identity as an asian american and as a writer, becoming ever more curious about where she came from--she wondered if the story she'd been told was the whole truth. more here)
-"my body is a book of rules" by elissa washuta (summary from the back: as elissa washuta makes the transition from college kid to independent adult, she finds herself overwhelmed by the calamities piling up in her brain. when her mood-stabilizing medications aren’t threatening her life, they’re shoving her from depression to mania and back in the space of an hour. her crisis of american indian identity bleeds into other areas of self-doubt; mental illness, sexual trauma, ethnic identity, and independence become intertwined. sifting through the scraps of her past in seventeen formally inventive chapters, washuta aligns the strictures of her catholic school education with cosmopolitan’s mandates for womanhood, views memories through the distorting lens of law & order: special victims unit, and contrasts her bipolar highs and lows with those of britney spears and kurt cobain. built on the bones of fundamental identity questions as contorted by a distressed brain, my body is a book of rules pulls no punches in its self-deprecating and ferocious look at human fallibility. more here)

i don't get paid for these recs, i just read a lot and get real excited about good books. all the hyperlinks i added here (YOU'RE WELCOME) go to indiebound, because i spend a lot of time skulking around indie bookstores and no one ever kicks me out, but by all means get your books wherever you like to get your books. speaking of, have you read the golden state yet???

3 watch a bunch of shit on tv. soooooo, i watch basketball on christmas day. and i'm not trying to show off how butch i am, i just really enjoy basketball. here's the thing about why i watch sports: sports games take a loooooong fucking time. which means you have a built-in excuse to spend many uninterrupted hours in front of the television. i grew up in the 80s without cable television, which meant that on the weekends i was limited to: reruns of mr belvedere and small wonder on channel 32, whatever weirdo movies svengoolie was showing on channel 9, or the wide world of sports provided by the major networks. listen man, i grew up in a house with a plastic football phone and a framed photo of walter payton in the kitchen. i was never gonna play any sports, but i learned very early on how to watch them. anyway, here's some other stuff i've been watching when i should be working that you can watch if you can pry the remote away from your toddler:
-vanderpump rules (bravo)
-rupaul's drag race (vh1)
-killing eve (bbc)
-escape at dannemora (showtime)
-younger (hulu)
-the great british baking show (netflix)
-top chef (bravo)
-shut up and dribble (showtime)
-the circus (showtime)
-wanderlust (netflix)

4 buy some stuff you definitely don't need!! i am my own santa claus, and i never take a day off. i don't like to put a bunch of pressure on people to get me things i actually want, mostly because receiving gifts is very embarrassing! how do you know what to do with your face when someone as staring at you as they're forcing a thing you don't want and can't use into your life? i'm too old for gifts. everything i want is impractical or expensive or require's a written prescription. so if you insist on getting me something you're going to demand to watch me open, just get me a party size bag of doritos or a lip balm that doesn't smell. or nothing. just hug me and get me a glass of water. this year i bought myself, and have linked for your convenience:
-some gorgeous paper wreaths from grace d chin
-candles from rosmarino 
-new glasses from warby parker
-"foods before dudes" tote bags from brinehound
-this incredibly soothing serum that smells like rich people from OLO
-a jumpsuit i am prepared to both live and die in from universal standard
-this bright and cheerful purple nail polish from china glaze
-the perfect hair pomade from oyin handmade
-shiny pretty things from mactaggart
-lavender-scented cbd cream
-something called "disco nap cheek gloss" from flesh
-this planner i absolutely will not use no matter how much i carry it around pretending will from bando

i hope that whatever your holidays look like, you at least get to spend it with people who don't get on your last fucking nerve while eating whatever makes you happy and watching whatever you want in the quietest room you can find. i have to write a book in the next week and a half, so i will spend most of my waking hours paralyzed by impostor syndrome with a diet coke IV connected to the largest vein in my body. merry merry, happy happy!