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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Breakfast in 2013

Free form snow men pannycakes!
Breakfast in the new year is going to be a lot more challenging, but more important than ever.  Less than a month has passed since those horrid events at Sandy Hook Elementary School; in that month we have witnessed the passage of Christmas and the ushering in of 2013.  While the nation continues to convulse over how best to defend the lives and the innocence of of our children, spending time with our children and our families is even more important today than it was yesterday.  The coming economic morass will serve as an even larger challenge while working families continue to struggle to make ends meet while still having enough of themselves left at the end of the day for the kids.  Which brings us back full circle to the whole point of this blog: breakfast.  We never know in advance the arrival of some senseless tragedy that will wrench away a family member, we cannot predict when medical calamity or job loss will render a family broken and brokenhearted. We do know that the measure of days available to have breakfast with our children, while they are still possessed of the magic of childhood, inescapably decreases with each and every day.  Have breakfast with your children.  Today. Now.

Breakfast during the holidays is a lost art.  In the week preceding Christmas, I wondered a few times about a  breakfast feast suitable for my craven, gift-sated children.  I even considered slaving through some Scotch eggs, until I saw that dish featured on some foodie show.  Too kitsch to be that memorable.  Finally free of the chains of work, I thought surely I would have time over the weekend prior to Christmas to find the ideal Christmas morning feast.  Instead, I spent four days (including Christmas Day) over-medicated on over-the-counter cold formulas.

Prefers not to have waffles and breakfast
meats on the same plate.
As the torn wrapping paper was cleared away, the children made preparations to play all the great new Xbox games that they had received in their Christmas bounty.  My wife quietly disappeared to the bedroom where she would stay most of the rest of Christmas Day.  I just didn't have it in me to fight through to the kitchen to try to create some last minute feast.  As it turned out, I had just enough energy to complete one dance routine with the 14 year old on Just Dance 4, before collapsing onto the couch in a Doc Holliday-esque coughing fit.

There was some growing trepidation as the kids worked their way through the stack of Xbox games, inevitably headed towards the Call of Duty Black Ops II game at the bottom of the stack.  My wife and I had made the decision some time ago that we would allow the boys to play some of the first person shooters.  The sting of Sandy Hook was still palpable, and I was beginning to second guess that decision.  As it turned out, I needn't have worried.  The boys dove into the Zombie maps.  They love the Zombie maps.  We play the Zombie maps with them.  The boys let me play long enough to try out some of the campaign, the portion of the game that features human on human violence.  After a few minutes, my cold medicine elixir was winning out, compelling me to seek room for a nap.  Handing over the controller, I expected the oldest son to continue on through the campaign.

While I crept off towards the promised land of sleep, I heard my oldest son explain to the youngest, "I really don't feel like playing the campaign.  Let's forget about that and just always play Zombies."  On his own, my son was eschewing realistic video game violence, and was convincing his little brother to do the same.

Then I felt really guilty in not holding the breakfast feast that morning, but I started to feel the return on the time invested in previous morning's breakfasts.  Witnessing my son using his own judgment, watching him trying to guide his little brother... well, that was the best present I received on the morning of Christmas 2012.  Those moments of realization when I see the hints of an adult in my children, that is why I readily make free-form snowmen shaped pannycakes, why I do stupid dance routines when stoned on NyQuil, that is why my wife doesn't let me bark too loudly when the kids pour a quart of syrup on a single piece of french toast, that is why we have breakfast for dinner and when Grandpa comes to visit, its why we make such a big deal out of going out for breakfast.  This is the reason I am a little happier when cooking up a batch of Awfuls and Pannycakes.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hardtack and Johnny Cakes

     While I haven't seen the movie yet, I suppose there is a lot to be learned from Daniel Day-Lewis' portrayal of Abraham Lincoln.  It appears that there is even more to be learned from a Civil War Thanksgiving and a room full of wired, rowdy little boys.
     Several weeks ago, we took our Cub Scout troop to the local Texas Civil War Museum.  Once we fought our way through the gift shop that was strategically placed at the front of the museum, we joined up with our museum guide.  I knew that we were going to get along famously when he introduced himself as our guide through the age of the War of Northern Aggression.
      After some hands-on explanation of black powder rifles and combat formations, our guide was ready delve into the artifacts at hand; but then he hesitated a moment.  Singling out the largest of our young scouts, our guide made a claim that I immediately discounted as a bit of sensationalism. According to the guide, our tallest scout who is only in the 5th grade, is the same size as the average Civil War combatant. Without a McDonald's and Starbucks on every corner of the battlefield, nutritional standards of the day limited the size of most men of the era.  This point seemed lost on most of the boys, but an unsettling tremor seemed to pass through the parents on the fringes while the boys passed around civil war era firearms and gear.
      Clearing the small arms exhibition, we got our first peek at some of the uniforms on display.  In an instant, it was clear that our guide had not been telling tall tales.  Our "towering" Webelo was as tall as the former owner of the uniform, and frankly it would have been a stretch for him to button the overcoat around him.  Imagining our Webelo in uniform, running through war-torn country side, was very disconcerting.
Some men write about Badges of Courage.
I write about waffles.
     Eventually the discomfort subsided, and the parents seemed to settle into the museum.  From my untrained eye, the museum has done an outstanding job and sports some impressive artifacts, including some fascinating pieces unique to Texas' role in the carnage.
     Between the building suspense around the new Lincoln movie, and the cook books I found in the gift shop, I wasn't able to shake the intrigue building in my mind over wartime rations and average build of your average 19th century male.  There seemed only one thing that made sense.  Time to treat the boys to a Civil War Thanksgiving Feast.
     Even in the age of Google and Amazon, it turns out that finding good war-time recipes is something of a challenge.  Measurements don't translate, ingredients have fallen out of favor, antiquated methodology can be an insurmountable obstacle for a guy that sometimes struggles with microwave popcorn.  After several trips to Central Market, countless hours on the Internet and a bit of a domestic showdown with my lovely wife, our feast was ready to serve.
I think Acme Brick uses the
same recipe for its bricks
as the Union used for it
     As a starting point, we were duty bound to serve up some hardtack.  How the Union Army was able to survive on hardtack and win the war is a mystery to me.  If you haven't had hardtack, whip up a batch.  Be sure to eat it before it hardens.  I saw some joking references to hardtack from the War of 1812 being shipped to soldiers on the front lines of the Civil War... but I almost think that could be pulled off.  Roaches and hardtack will both survive the apocalypse.  Johnny Reb had hardtack as well, but they also ate a lot of Johnny Cakes which we made by the bushel-basket full.
     Dried fruit was sometimes sent by soldier's families, so we had dried apples and dried plums.  With a tip of the hat to the saviors of western civilization, we whipped up a batch of Irish mashed potatoes, consisting of boiled potatoes and green apples.  The main course, the highlight of the night, was rabbit stew.  Yeah, real rabbit.  Not boiled chicken.  Rabbit.  The meal was completed with ginger snaps and sweet tea.
     To my great surprise, several of the boys settled on the hardtack as their favorite.  One dad commented while we looked on in amazement, "You like that hardtack?  I guess you are ready to be a soldier then."
     That's when it finally hit me, and hard enough that even I could understand.  In less than a decade, most of these boys will be old enough to wear a different uniform, replete with body armor and modern sidearms. My two sons are included in this group.  Suddenly 18 years doesn't seem to be nearly long enough to contain the substance of childhood.
2nd Lieutenant
Darryn Andrews.
     I thought about men like 2nd Lieutenant Darryn Andrews.  The last time I saw him alive, he wasn't yet 2nd anything, he was just Darryn.  The last time I saw him alive, we were burying his sister.  When he died, he was defending the lives of men not much older than the boys that turned their noses up at my rabbit stew.  I thought of the flag lines I had stood in with the Patriot Guard while a family said good bye to a young man or woman, most closer in age to my own children than to me.  I remembered the face of every mother that shook the hand of every stranger standing in the flag line, sharing tears, hugging strangers, expressing their gratitude where none was needed.
     If I thought it would really work, I would serve all my boys hardtack and Johnny Cakes every day if it meant they would stay little boys for just a little while longer.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Zombie Waffles

  Sometimes the purest joys of fatherhood are all about being cruel.
  For lots of reasons, Halloween is our family's favorite "fun" holiday.  There is no travelling, no temporary invasion of the home by distant relatives, and until recently, none of the frantic, crazed last-minute shopping that makes Christmas such a beating.  And so it came to pass that we recently made the first of many treks to the local Halloween headquarters.
Some participants not as happy as others
about breakfast being used as future blogging
  For the youngest member of the tribe, this was the first year that she would be able to remove herself from perceived threats, and communicate her displeasure.  She was going to be a busy girl on this particular trip.  As with all of the important family trips, we started the day with a hearty breakfast from a local cafe.  Everyone took turns discussing their favorite and most-hoped for holiday costumes.  The oldest boy tried to guess as to the latest innovations in fright technology.  My wife looked forward, with giddy anticipation, to the beginning of our annual "Scare Contest", which in recent years has been marred by controversy and angst.  Once breakfast was consumed and paid for, we were off to the land of fake blood and jellied gore.
Spends a great deal of time in the
Principal's office.
  Upon arrival, the youngest child started to sense right away that something was terribly wrong.  The soundtrack that looped hours of screaming and and scary music might have been a giveaway, or it might have been the full size, animatronic collection of skeletons, werewolves and serial killers greeting shoppers at the front of the store.  Whatever it was, she immediately climbed the entire height of her mother, and perched atop her head.  This was gonna be fun.
  The other children immediately separated to their assigned sections of the store.  The teenage daughter zeroed in on the costumes that seemed to get racier and shorter each year, just to hear me yell.  The boys raced off to see who could find the coolest, newest, most realistic looking props.  The wife disappeared with the baby wrapped around her head like a turban.
Child-care facilities were outstanding this year.
  I perused the big ticket items including the pop-up mummies, the digital mirrors with the green pixilated specters and the like.  Although I have had a life-long aversion to demonic possession (thanks to the Church of Rome) I did chuckle at the poorly engineered version of Linda Blair that was supposed to pop up from a flat surface and engage in animatronic horror.  But the torso was too tall for the base, so the base harmlessly popped up in the air while Linda Blair made seemingly empty threats to disappointed shoppers.
  The leading trend this year, much the my daughter's distress, is the zombified infant.  The line was greatly increased this year, and is nothing short of just creepy and disturbing.  I tried to find a fully articulated model that I could wrap around my head like a turban so that I could show my wife I am as much of a nurturer as she is.  Nothing doing though because as extensive as the line is, the technology has just not caught up to my needs yet.
Poor girl, had to use her butterfly wings
to fight off the zombie baby. Just shameful.
  Then I found the Holy Grail: a zombie duct taped to the top of a Roomba. This thing lurched around the room chasing whoever was closest, and the louder the scream the more aggressive the chase.  If I had the resources, I would employ an army of these beasts at the office.  I must have burned through twenty dollars worth of batteries letting this thing chase the youngest daughter across the store.  Neither my wife nor the store manager were pleased.  My daughter finally managed to take refuge behind the now motionless Linda Blair while the store manager suggested that we make our final selections and move on down the road.
Always looking to be helpful, my son
tries to show this nice woman how
the jumping spider works.
  My daughter is not someone to cross, and I knew that eventually there would be retribution. I just didn't know how soon.  At home that evening, the tribe disappeared while I took my usual late afternoon nap.  I was jolted awake by a small set of teeth gnawing on my forearm.  With crazy eyes rivaled only by those of her mother, my daughter looked up at me and in a guttural, Linda Blair kind of voice growled, "Brains! Give me brains!"  Then she paused and smiled and said, "Brains or candy!"  It took me twenty minutes to climb down off of my poor wife's head.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Hair Emergency and Hash Browns

     My son tried to throw me under the bus for hash browns.
     Over the summer, we married off my oldest daughter.  Yes it was a  festive, lovely time resulting in wonderful memories and the union of a new family, and all that other good stuff.  But the weekend also gave me the chance to learn about the wily ways of my oldest son, and that he is one to keep an eye on.
     The morning of the big day presented the opportunity to teach the oldest male child of the tribe some of the most endearing traditions long-held by our family. In no particular order, two of these lessons for the day were to stay gone while the women engage in their frantic preparations for the wedding; and, the search for a classic hot rod after breakfast trumps all else.  The day would become a learning experience for us all...
     On the drive into town on the previous day, I had spied what I believed to be the Holy Grail of Barretts and Barrett-kind, a 1968 Chevy El Camino.  This was the car that called to me like a siren's song, the piece of my father's youth that I sought out as my own, the artifact that had started wars and promised to lead to a breakout of world-wide peace if only I could make it mine.  My father and I have been known to disappear for entire weekends, travel into the wee hours of the night, cruise back alleys and off-road paths, looking for this monument to Detroit ingenuity. And now it was my son's turn to take his place behind the windshield.
     A search as serious as this requires a full stomach.  We found the only cafe in town, and nestled into a booth to try out the breakfast goodies.  The male child wanted one of everything, most of which I ordered. But I drew the line at a double serving of hash browns. He wouldn't eat them all, I probably would, and there was only one, angry Visigoth of a waitress serving what seemed to be the entire town.  This was not a good combination, and I was not paying extra for double hash browns disguised as a minor train wreck. Food,  hot rods, and then a wedding.  There was no room for food fights of any description on the day's agenda.  The boy was not happy, but seemed unsure as to how to voice his disapproval.
     Once breakfast was polished off, and the Visigoth adequately tipped, we were off for horsepower, carburetion, and bias ply tires.  My father and I mapped out the plan of attack for finding what I hoped had not been a central Oklahoma mirage; to my dismay, my son was practically asleep in the back seat, oblivious to what was going on around him.
     Just a few miles south of town, the Spousal EAS system was alerted and my phone practically leaped out of my shirt pocket. With some trepidation, I answered, but weakly tried to disguise my voice.
     Through the phone speaker, I heard chaos of the wedding preparations.  Women of all ages were crying, children were screaming, things were being flung against far walls.  In the background I thought I could hear Sponge Bob being tied to a stake.  Through the clatter I heard my wife say, and only on the very edge of calmness, "Honey, I have a problem here."  I managed to fight my instinct, which would normally have been to quip, "I will say you do."  Since I had left her with her step-daughter and my ex-wife, for once I fought the instinct and instead asked calmly, "What can I do to help?"
     "We are having a hair emergency."
     I breathed a sigh of relief.  Hair emergency.  Not a blown fuse, a small interior fire, or a broken arm.  Hair emergency.  This firmly falls in the category of not my problem.
     "Ok, I'll bite.  What is this hair emergency you speak of?"
     My lovely bride explained that her, one of a kind, high dollar, high precision, ivory handled, teak inlaid hair brush was no where to be found.  Without its magic like qualities, she would be unable to turn the ladies, and primarily the bride to be, into the stunningly manicured wedding party that had been promised all.  I was distracted by a road side snow-cone stand.  I still didn't grasp the emergency.  And then she hit me right where it hurt.
     "I need you to drop whatever you are doing, go to Wal-Mart and get another one of a kind, high dollar, high precision, ivory handled, teak inlaid hair brush or your daughter isn't getting married today."
     My mouth fell open, but no sound came out.  After millions of years of evolution, some part of my brain knew better than to protest, and I certainly couldn't preempt a wedding because I felt the primal urge to find the mythical '68 El Camino.  I heard myself say, "Yes dear. We will be back in just a bit."
     Dear old dad glanced away from the road just long enough to disapprovingly grunt.  The male child in the back seat snapped his head towards me, suddenly fully alert.  Even he sensed that we were speeding towards some crossroads from which there was no return.  Dad glanced across the console at me again.
     A curious wave of prepubescent smugness washed over the headrest from the direction of the back seat. I should have sensed the warning signs, but I was too distracted by the complex mathematical and logistical planning that would be required to find the El Camino and still be back in town in time to save the wedding.
     By the time we rolled into the neighboring town, where I was certain I had seen the mechanical unicorn just the day before I was so antsy I must have looked like a five year old doing the "pee-pee" dance.  The universe was on my side this sunny Saturday morning though, as the El Camino rolled to the curb just as we turned the corner.  The car, the seller, and the buyer converging to the same location in time, just as planned. Then the plan fell completely apart.
     The badges on the car were all wrong.  The top was not original and the color was all wrong.  Worse yet, the original engine had been replaced with a boat motor.  Even if the car were all original, it was $5000 over priced.  The male child was supposed to be learning from this experience, and even though he had no interest in the car, he seemed oddly pleased with all of the world around him.  I started shoving bodies back into the Barrett-mobile, intent now on locating that one of a kind, high dollar, high precision, ivory handled, teak inlaid hair brush and rushing in at the last possible minute in order to save the day and be the hero.
     Fifty two minutes later, hair brush in hand, I burst through the door, expecting a parade befitting a war hero, complete with ticker tape and maybe a marching band.  Instead, I was forced to dodge a flying mega-tray of mascara and a hail of half eaten Jolly Ranchers which stuck permanently to the first surface they reached.  Over the din of crying and curling and polishing and screaming, I heard an accusatory voice say that we had missed pictures and would have to stay after the service.  Uh-oh.
     Just like a rolling thunderstorm broiling across the Oklahoma Plains, a whirling dervish of wives, ex-wives, daughters, step-children, half-siblings, strange children with thick glasses, grand-children and mother-in-laws began swirling into SUV's in a haze of powder makeup and eye-shadow.  I felt my self being swept into the chaos; for a moment I thought I saw a jeweled slipper and a flying monkey in the shadows of the autumn rust haze.
     Somewhere in all the chaos, my beautiful daughter (with hair intact) got married, and took another man's name.
     Then came the pictures.  First the in-laws, then the ex-laws, and then just the children.  Finally, it was time for the Barrett tribe.  Just as we had assembled on stage and the pictures began, the male child looked at me and winked, then said, "Mommy, why is a hair emergency called a 'her' emergency, and why does it always have to take a back seat to hot rod hunting?"  I felt my wife's head snap to the side as though she were giving herself lateral whip lash while my ex-wife bored a hole through my chest.  At least three different style of women's shoes bounced off my forehead as the shutter memorialized the image.
     The next morning, we took the blushing bride and the new son-in-law to the same cafe for breakfast.  I sat in the corner at the kids table while the male child sat with the grown ups.  He got a triple order of hash browns.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Happy Birthday Little Brother

     My favorite breakfast is raw bacon.
     Well, let me re-state that.  My favorite breakfast story involves raw moderately raw bacon.  Several years ago, when I was still in law school, my little brother was stricken with the thought that he and I needed to take our father on a camping trip.  To put this idea into context, the closest the three of us had been to camping together was that night in 1982 when Dad locked himself out of the house and the three of us thought we were going to have to sleep outside until Mom showed up to save the day.
     Having some camping experience in my background, but having had even more experience with travelling with my father, my brother and I agreed that regardless of what happened, we were leaving for out trip no later than 2:00 pm, so that we had plenty of time to arrive at our destination and still have daylight to set up camp.  At 6:00 pm, we were still standing in the middle of Academy Sporting Goods while Dad tried to decide between the all-inclusive titanium mess kit with a built in space-age one size fits all spork, or whether he was going with the jewel-encrusted flatware set that had been carried to the summit of Mt. Everest just after returning from a mission on the space shuttle.  I think he also bought a package of socks for the weekend.  By 9:00 pm that night, while we were setting up tents under the glow of headlights and watched as a den of hungry wolves began to circle, I was wondering if this camping trip were such a good idea.
     There are a few less obvious hazards involved in setting up camp so late at night.  For instance, we were unaware at the time that the camp just above us was populated by a family of Baltic origin with little in the way of English skills or camping experience.  We also failed to notice the worn trail between our camp site and theirs.  So, at 3:00 am that morning when the bears showed up at the neighboring camp site to partake in the bags of food that had been left out, the three of us woke up to the the yelling of Russian curse words, banging of pots and retreating bears brushing up against our tent as they ran away on their well-travelled trail that we were sleeping on.  I am pretty sure there was at least one Yeti running with the bears.
     The next morning, while smirking at the mess in the Baltic Hinterlands, we ferried our food stuff out of the car and down to the camp site to make breakfast.  Although we hid this from our respective wives, my brother and I were beauty in motion as we hustled around the campsite preparing breakfast.  We moved like a well-oiled, spatula wielding, breakfast cooking machine.  My father however, is less used to cooking and even more unfamiliar with the ways of the hardy camper.  In my minds eye, breakfast looked like a time-elapsed photo with my brother and I bustling around while dad supervised from his perch at the table.
     In my own haste, I lost track of what my brother was doing.  Before I knew what was going on, he was serving my father a big helping of bacon.  Pasty white, limp and lifeless raw bacon.  He was half way through his first piece before I could stop him.  I flung the jewel encrusted flatware, pots, pans, condiments and raw bacon aside in a gallant effort to save my father the ravages of raw bacon and took over the bacon duty before my brother could infect us all with Mad Pig disease, or some such ailment.
     I tell that story every time the family gets together, especially on camp outs.  It is my favorite breakfast story.  (In protest, Dad still claims the bacon was just fine and tasted great.)
     My little brother took his own life last February.  Today would have been his 38th birthday.  Go out of the way to eat breakfast with your loved ones, the next breakfast is never guaranteed.  For good measure, go ahead and cook the bacon a few minutes longer...

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father's Day 2012

Copyright 2012 Conde' Nast
     I nearly blew the vein in my forehead for Father's Day.  That one that bulges out at work whenever, well, pretty much all the time I am at the office.  The vein that tells me it is time to go sit and stare into fire. 
     Saturday morning found me refereeing a dispute between my sons, coming to grips with the pending marriage of my oldest daughter, and worrying over my niece and nephew facing their second Father's Day without their dad.  And I hadn't had any coffee.  Bad things are sure to follow.
     While still trying to figure out the cultural "magic" of Twitter (mostly trying to figure out how it is supposed to help me sell enough books that I can send my law license back to Austin), I happened across a story relating a recent controversy because Wired magazine ran a special issue about fathers, just in time for Father's Day.  Applauded and encouraged dads. Perhaps even celebrated fathers for a paragraph or two.  It seems that someone got twisted because Wired was running the risk of alienating mothers.  I can't find the link now, if you are really interested, Wired's Geek Dad blog has a podcast about the sordid affair.  But the whole issue peeled the scab off of the wound started long ago by the portrayal of fathers in Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants.  Wired has parenting blogs, one for Geek Dads and one for Geek Moms.  Check them both out.

When paying for a billboard is out of the question...
      Having resolved the dispute between the male children of the tribe, I started to pick through my breakfast, still trying to shake off the growing sense of unease.  So I returned to the more comforting arms of Facebook, looking to see if there were any new mentions or reactions to Barge Pilot.  A former employee of mine had posted a short rant about men that don't pay child support and and don't pay any attention to their kids, all substantive and righteous concerns.  Something rubbed me the wrong way, and suddenly breakfast was no longer the highlight of my day.

Powdered sugar, for the softer side of Dad!
     This over-wrought rendition is my long hand version of why, rather than putting together a breakfast story I am leaving behind some fun pics and links.  While it is probably too late to order that mondo-cool multi-purpose tool with a built in hammock hidden in the handle, it is never too early for a tasty little breakfast treat.  Celebrate Father' Day with some Awfuls and Pannycakes!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Barge Pilot is Retail!

Even though Barge Pilot won't be available through Amazon for another week, I have a few copies that can be purchased for Father's Day gifts directly from the printer!  Hurry over to CreateSpace for your early copy!