Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Yeah, the dog's crazy but he's hers

Published Feb. 25, 2008

I'm afraid my friend's dog is going to kill her.
I don't mean bite-and-maul kill her.
I mean drive-her-crazy, deprive-her-of-sleep kill her.
He's a Jack Russell terrier, and although he's 12 years old, he's spry as a pup.
When we go over to visit, the dog greets us as we walk through the back door. He barks, spins around in a circle, barks again and then takes off for the living room, presumably to let my friend know she has company - as if she hasn't figured it out yet.
The drill is always the same. As we walk into the living room, my friend walks toward the door and puts the barking dog on a leash outside.
She shuts the door and invites us to sit down.
But before we hit the sofa cushions, the dog starts barking again. My friend gets up and lets him back inside.
He's almost as excited to see us this time as he was when we first walked through the door. He races around, jumping up on each lap to (try to) lick our faces.
My friend sits down on the floor, picks up a chew toy and calls the dog. He comes running over and she heaves the toy toward the kitchen. The dog chases it.
He brings it back to her.
You would think this would be a distraction, but my friend carries on a conversation as if there wasn't even a dog in the room let alone this one.
"Know how many times this dog got me up last night?" she asks as she heaves the chew toy down the hallway toward the kitchen.
"Four. Four times," she says, not waiting for us to answer.
"He won't let me sleep. He whines until I get up and let him out and then as soon as I get back in bed, he starts barking to come back in," she says as she heaves the toy again.
"Tomorrow he's going out in the back when I go to work. It's not supposed to be so cold," she says as she lets the chew toy fly again.
She sometimes leaves the dog in the fenced backyard, where he has a dog house, hoping he will spend the day running around like a lunatic and tire himself out so he will sleep at night - and then she can, too.
Sometimes it works.
When it does, he only gets her up twice in the night instead of four times.
The University of Minnesota recently did a study and found that a person who owns a cat is 40 percent less likely to die of a stroke or heart attack than a person who owns a dog or has no pet at all.
I consider telling that to my friend whose dog is going to give her a stroke - never mind not prevent one.
But first I have to figure out how to do that. She really does love that dog - despite everything. And I don't want her to think I don't like him. He really is sweet - when he's sleeping.
"Know how long these dogs live?" she asks, breaking my train of thought.
She pulls the toy back and forth to get it out of the dog's mouth.
"Seventeen years," she says as the dog lets go so unexpectedly that she has to catch herself to keep from falling backwards.
"That means I have five more years of this," she says as she whips the toy toward the kitchen like a knife-thrower.
"Then," she says, "I'm going to get a cat."

Where will I get down on my knees for a bargain?

Published Feb. 18, 2008

Value City is closing.
Sadder words were never spoken.
To me.
For you see, you either love or hate shopping at Value City. There is no in-between.
But the people who love it - me - find a lot of good bargains there for the people who hate it - my husband, my sons, my mother, my brothers and just about everyone else I know.
It's a place for treasure hunters - and people who don't mind crawling around on the floor looking for those treasures.
I was there at Christmas time, looking for presents - specifically sheets and men's dress shirts.
Get a shopping cart - if you can find one - and follow me on that Christmas shopping trip.
But first we have to get into the store, and that's not easy. There are tables laden with seasonal items - today it would be Easter baskets; at Christmas, it was wrapping paper and popcorn tins - that seem to have been placed close together to keep us from getting in the store, but we will not be deterred. Just push the cart hard and squeeze through.
The sheets are over to the right.
The shelves are lined with sheets of every color, good sheets with high-thread counts - and cheap. But they are packaged separately, the fitted sheet, the top sheet and the pillowcases.
There seem to be a lot of packages of tan sheets. I pull a couple of them off the shelves. The colors are close but not quite matching. I pull out a couple more.
Pretty soon I have more than I can hold, and none of them match. I put them all on the floor. I never realized there were so many shades of tan.
I keep pulling them off the shelf and soon I put another pile on the ground.
Then I get on my hands and knees to re-sort my piles.
Not a match in the lot.
I put them all back on the shelves. It's hot in here. I take off my coat, lay it over the top of the cart and survey the selection again.
White. White is white, right?
When I start pulling white sheets off the shelf, I realize that there is white and cream and patterned white.
Let's forget about the sheets.
I walk around the perimeter of the store toward the shoes. I don't really need any shoes but it's fun to look. I especially like to look at the women's shoes - fancy high heels - in size 12 and bigger. Who wears those?
Maybe the women who go with the men who shop across the aisle in the big-and-tall department, where I have seen size 6X.
Housewares are on the far side of the store.
In the clearance aisle are flower vases and baskets and picture frames. Lamps and candleholders and "art" objects. Some are broken and many are missing their mate - kind of like the sheets - but it's as fascinating as any shopping trip you can take.
The last stop is the dress shirts. I see a sea of lavender and an occasional bright blue or yellow on the shirt tables. This isn't looking promising.
In the end, I find a black shirt in the size I want to get but put it back. I'm simply too exhausted to weigh the merits of that shirt.
I head toward the checkout. Hours have passed since I squeezed past that wrapping paper, and I have nothing in my cart to show for it.
But that's the thing about Value City. You always knew that even if you didn't find something that day, you'll find something next time.
Except that soon there will be no more next time.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The son shines, whether or not his house does

Entry Number 8,687 in things they never tell you when you have a baby: Some day that baby will grow up and get his own place and you — the mother — will be a houseguest there.
Mother. Houseguest. Mother. Houseguest.
How can one possibly be both those things?
My husband and I recently spent a long weekend with our older son who lives in Denver.
He has a very small two-bedroom apartment and a roommate who was gone for the weekend.
So there we were, three people in about 550 square feet of living space for three days.
The place was very clean, especially for a place that houses two working men.
But … (yes, there’s always that “but,” isn’t there?)
It was Super Bowl Sunday and we decided to make some party food and hang around the apartment to watch the game.
We went to the grocery store and picked up the ingredients we needed. When we got home, I set off for the kitchen to cook and the men watched the pre-game show in the living room.
The kitchen was clean and the countertop was cleared off but the dish-drainer — with its bad design containing a hundred nooks and crannies — was in dire need of some scrubbing.
That was the first dilemma I found myself in: Am I a good mother or a meddling houseguest if I clean it?
Would the chore be appreciated or seen as an insult to his housekeeping?
Well, I cleaned the dish-drainer. And while I was at it, I took everything off the counter and wiped it down.
Ahhh. Now I could cook.
“Thanks for cleaning up,” my son said when he came into the kitchen during a commercial break to check on me.
It sounded sincere enough.
So, I went in the cupboard to get out a pot for the chili and a pan for the cornbread. Well, I found a pot, lots of them actually, but the only thing vaguely resembling a pan was a cookie sheet. Wouldn’t work for making cornbread.
I started a mental list of things I would buy for my son when he was at work the next day.
And that was the second dilemma I found myself in. Was I still supposed to see there were necessary items missing from his cupboard, or should I respect his definition of “necessary”?
Well, I went to the store and bought a square baking pan the next day, along with some dish rags, a serving spoon with no slots — because all he had in his drawer were slotted ones — a garlic press and a couple of other things.
“Thanks for buying all that stuff,” my son said when he got home from work.
It sounded sincere enough.
While I was staying there, I tried to be a good houseguest. I cleared my stuff out of the bathroom when I was done. I reused the bath towel he gave me. I tried to be as unobtrusive as a mother could be.
We really did have a great time.
After three days, we left, my eyes brimming with tears as usual.
I think next time I visit, I’ll try to tell him what I really want to tell him — how proud I am of him. How proud I am that he has managed to make his way in life.
Without cornbread pans and garlic presses and dish rags.
And, of course, the thing I’ll never be able to say.
Without me.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Hurka recipe

After I wrote the column below, I got many requests for the hurka recipe my grandparents used. I e-mailed my aunt, Anita Csincsak, in Tecumseh, Mich., for the recipe because it was her husband, Dick, who inherited the hurka maker when my grandparents died.
Anyway, this is what she sent me:

Hungarian Hurka, from Dick Csincsak

Pork Liver 2& 1/2 lbs.
Pork Heart 2 & 1/2 lbs.
Fresh Side 2 & 1/2 lbs.
Pork Shoulder 4 & 1/4 lbs.
Rice ( 4 cups) 2 lbs.
Onions 1 lb.
Lard 1 lb.
Salt 3/16 cup
Pepper 1/8 cup

Boil pork livers and hearts until punctured when they do not bleed.
Cook the fresh side and pork butts ( or shoulder) in a separate kettle.
Cooked diced onions in the lard.
Cook rice.... one cup rice per 2 cups water
Grind the cooked meat and add to the rice, onions and seasoning
Stuff hurka and boil in water till they rise.
Let set and package..

Patti, there is no way a novice could make this without someone showing them.
... Love you Aunt Nin

So, hope that helps all you little hurka makers.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Opposite of fast food? That'd be hurka

Published in The Chronicle Feb. 4, 2008

Some people have stories about their ancestors picking up muskets and going out into the wilderness to hunt for food.
Me? I have stories about my ancestors picking up a meat-grinder and going into the basement to make sausage.
My grandparents had a very limited list of things they would eat, mostly things familiar to Eastern Europeans that you couldn’t find in an A&P, a Stop&Shop or a Pick ’n’ Pay.
Things such as a Hungarian rice sausage called hurka (pronounced who’d-kuh), which was made with pork shoulder, onions and rice -- and other things you probably don’t want to know about.
My grandparents made their own hurka because shadier sausage-makers used ingredients not to their liking – things such as pig snouts and ears.
None of that for my grandparents. They only wanted the “good” stuff – things such as pig livers and lungs.
Scary as that sounds, it was good stuff.
And unfortunately, when my grandparents died, so did the hurka making. It is just too much trouble.
These days, the only time we get hurka is when my parents order some from a local Hungarian church and share it with us. My dad brought some over last week.
When my grandparents made hurka, it was quite an operation -- an operation that would never be done in a kitchen. The grease and the mess made it no job for a spotless Hungarian kitchen.
That’s why my grandparents had a second stove in the basement where grease and mess belong. It was in a small room off the basement TV room.
If you are old enough, you probably remember those basement TV rooms people had before there were family rooms. They contained furniture and TVs deemed no longer good enough for the living room.
It was in this big TV room that the actual sausage-making took place.
Along one wall was a long table that my grandfather had fashioned out of plywood and scrap lumber. It was covered with a vinyl tablecloth that was thumb-tacked under the edge.
On that table was the sausage-maker, a heavy metal appliance that looked something like a meat-grinder only bigger. Next to the sausage-maker was a pan filled with water in which sausage casings – another thing you don’ really want to know about -- were soaking.
The cooked rice and meat products were brought from the stove to this table where the meat was ground, mixed with the rice, seasoned and loaded into the sausage casings.
My grandfather would take a sausage casing out of the water and push it onto the sausage maker spigot the same way pantyhose are gathered on your foot before you pull them up your leg.
Then he would crank the machine and the sausage mixture would slowly fill the casing. My grandmother would guide the plump link, pull it off and curl it into a ring. She’d place the ring on a tray to await packaging in white butcher paper. They would repeat the process until they ran out of mixture or ran out of casings, whichever came first.
And then my grandmother would bake some of the hurka in a cast iron skillet in the oven for any helpers -- or kids who were hanging around.
Mmm, I can almost smell it cooking.
Wait, I can smell it cooking.
I put some in the oven – and I think it’s just about done.