Draniki

It’s Dead Week.

I think what they fail to mention is that dead week somehow manages to fall always during a week of nothing but depressing weather, in which people will insist on engaging in excessive douchebaggery on and off campus.

For example, my friend Suzy Q’s ex boyfriend, who chose to throw a tantrum over the phone with her–while she was at the lady doctor.

Or Uji’s neighbors, who chose to have loud, obnoxious sex (lots of headboard-banging, thankfully indistinguishable gibberish, and terrier-inspired sound effects) and then turn on a noisy  blowing-things-up movie, starting at 12:30 on a school night.

It’s still better than waking up to hearing your neighbor beating his girlfriend, but it does make one wonder if common courtesy is a thing of the past or if people really are that stupid.

At any rate, Uji has his deadlines and I have mine, so I’m taking some much-needed time to study at home.

The Squidge has graduated from squidging to crawling, so when I got home today, there was a makeshift baby gate comprised of various rubbermaid totes, laundry baskets, a diaper box, and a yoga mat stretching from the living room baby jail to the couch–effectively penning the child in the living room. About two weeks ago, Kali re-arranged the living room to make more room for crawling babies and the like, so she’s got a sizeable space that’s dedicated to her use.

This is evident based on the ratio of baby toys to floor space being somewhat disproportionate during the Squidge’s waking hours.

The boys were zombified for most of the evening by that infernal contraption known as the Nintendo DS. I saw each of them twice, when they came out to ask their dad to help them catch a Pokemon and then again when I knocked on their door to tell them that their mom had been calling them for five minutes to come and eat supper.

Apparently, it’s the first time in two days either of them has had video game time; Kali and the Dork-In-Law grounded them from technology for stealing a pint of ice cream out of the freezer and then hiding the emptied container on the top shelf of their closet.

Kleptos.

Dozer has been hoarding shiny things since he was a toddler. He used to pick up anything from tinsel to earrings to car keys and stash them under a corner of carpet he pulled loose under his bed in the trailer.

Nowadays, he steals food and eats it, stashing the wrappers in his pillowcase. I once found half a granola bar in there.

We’re not really sure why he keeps doing it, or why he keeps the wrappers instead of tossing them, which would be less likely to incriminate him. My guess is he’s nervous about Evil Mom Powers noticing fruit roll-up cellophane in the garbage when no fruit roll-ups had been rationed out. At some point I had the same fear; my answer was to shove that incriminating shit as far down into the trash as my grubby little arm could reach.

I don’t get it.

The kids don’t starve.

They get snacks when they ask for them, except around meal times or if they’ve been in trouble within the last ten minutes.

We teach them that stealing is wrong, mostly because we want them to do better than we did, and because Kali takes careful inventory of the kids’ food to see to it that they always have enough to eat. Something like four missing string cheeses means a day without two apiece in a school lunch. Stolen suckers mean no treats after dinner. Stolen ice cream, however, meant an invasion of Mom’s sanity stash.

Which is an act of war in this house.

For our part, about once a week, one of us will get the wild hair to cook a big family-style meal. This week was meatloaf. It was amazing. The trick is to stretch the beef with a little pork for flavor.

The rest of the time (when we’re not pulling an Iron chef on a shoestring) we fix the boys something simple that six-year-old Demonic will eat without fussing, that’s substantial enough that ten-year-old Dozer will be full after finishing, and then the adults scrounge for something to hold body and soul together.

Tonight I made Draniki, which is cheap-and-easy Belorussian potato pancakes. They’re filling, they have protein from using egg and/or sour cream as a binder, and they cost about ten bucks if you have to buy everything to make them, down to the salt. If you are like most Americans, you already have eggs, butter, and salt at home. I did. The potatoes and sour cream cost a whopping four bucks, because I only use yellow potatoes. Russets would have made it three.

Grate two medium or one large potato into a bowl, squeeze out the water (you can sav the starch if you’re feeling authentic or miserly) crack an egg in, add a pinch of salt, and mix with a fork. Heat a tablespoon of butter on a skillet or griddle or what have you on medium heat. Scoop some potato slime into your hand and flatten it into something ovoid and not even slightly resembling a pancake and slap it on the griddle (that’s what I used tonight. It sucked, because the damn thing is aluminum and bows up in the middle.) When the egg solidifies and the Draniki can be flipped, do so and cook until there are little brown spots on both sides. Garnish with sour cream.

I realize that I have a peer reviw due tomorrow and a draft for my last undergrad paper ever in the works that needs drastic revision. However, cooking meals for onself, even small ones that are basically Slavic Bachelor Chow, is important to maintain the well-being. When you cook for yourself, you are creating your own sustenance. You are bringing certainty to your life. You are asserting your place as a resident of your home, thereby creating an anchor for yourself for when times get really tough. In the worst days before I left my old place, I cooked more food in that kitchen than I ever have in any other place I’ve lived. Part of the reason was the uncertainty of where I would be running away to. Part of it was to make gifts to my host for the evening. Part of it was to hold on to my position as Lady of the House, in spite of the fact that being at home repulsed me. It’s important to be master of one’s domain, even if it only extends as far as the stove.

Tonight, I may sneak off to Uji’s and study on his couch.

But I will be happier for having a belly full of simple food prepared by my own hand.

Let the week be dead; I have Draniki and therefore I will live.

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I Meet Uji’s Family

So, this post is LONG overdue and essentially I’ve been putting ot off for lack of pictures and ridiculous goings-on that I will explain at length later.

I wrote this the day after Easter, I think, or at least in that week:

Since Uji and I declared our love for one another, I’ve harbored this dread of, “Oh Shit, I’ll have to meet his family, they’ll figure out I’m a warthog in a college student suit, and they’ll hate me.”
That is not at all what happened.

So far, I’ve met his parents Juan and Maria, his middle brother Rob, and Rob’s lady-friend Mandy.

They are effing RAD.

Uji and I met them at the Old World Deli for a chese plate and a few bottles of wine on Saturday. Uji, who is Catholic, does not eat meat on Fridays during Lent. (Nor does he eat goldfish or drink sidecars, which he says are his favorite cocktail.) This meant that after he introduced me to his parents, who both hugged me by way of greeting, he loaded up his plate with enough cured meat to give a large German a coronary, nevermind a smallish Mexican-American.

“We call ourselves ‘foodies,” Juan explained to me, passing Uji a bottle of something sparkling and dry from…God, where was it from? I had a few glasses, so my memory is a little fuzzy. There was a cured meat with mole (MOL-eh, not the burrowning rodent spices,) a complex Rose, and a beautiful sunset.

As we spoke, I did my best to sign at the same time, so Uji and his brother Rob would be in on the conversation (and so Uji could come to my rescue if I said something befitting of a warthog.)

“You sign so fast!” Maria exclaimed, putting an approving hand on my shoulder.

“I have a good teacher,” I replied, finishing my wine a little quicker than might have been couth. I’m really kind of bad at accepting compliments.

“That’s true, you have; but Dad over here signs so slow, and he’s had all these years to have to learn how to communicate with his kids! We tease him.”

“Everybody picks on me,” Juan said with a half-smile.

As the afternoon wore on, I discovered that the Rodriguez family is very tight-knit. The boys visit their parents regularly, including Uji’s oldest brother Juanillo, who lives a two-hour drive away with his wife and baby girl. “We raised the boys that family was important from a very young age, so we’ve always been very close,” Juan explained.

With my bizarre family (my parents and so forth, not my sister’s bizarre family,) there has always been a divide. I had two Christmases growing up, and two birthdays, but only ever one parent in the room at a time from the age of six onward. The last time I saw both my parents sit down to dinner together was my high school graduation, and it was in a restauraunt, with my very extended step family sitting in between my mother and father.

At my sister’s house, we are all as generous as we can afford to be (usually more so) and everyone in the family understands that any act of generosity is one of self-sacrifice that might create problems later down the road for lack of this-and-that. We remain generous no matter what, but the lesson I’ve taken away from my sister’s family is that it deosn’t matter what your station is in life–you can live comfortably, as Uji and his family do, or you can live wherever you find refuge, as my sister’s family and I do.

My Sestra on the back of a hog at a biker run.

Generosity is necessary within the family, and it always costs something. But without that sacrifice, how do you know if you are family?

What I’m trying to get at in this long-winded ramble is that I have a new branch of family, and they have the grace of my parents and the kindness of my sister all in one.

In my poverty, I learned a kind of pack-mentality in regards to my family–bring home food no matter what. Keep shepter over your head no matter what. Protect and nurture the little ones no matter what. Uji tells me his parents have worked very hard all their lives for their affluence, and I doubt with a fervent desire that they never lived anywhere as gross as my family’s old trailer. I learned my kindness out of a need to be kind that rooted itself in the needs of others around me. Something tells me kidness is not something Juan or Maria ever had to learn. Like their son, they simply ARE.

Uji and his older brother Rob on Easter Sunday. Uji refuses to eat ham, but will devour prosciutto wholesale.

Blogging Shitstorm Part Three: Farzan

The final installment of Blogging Shitstorm features a little anecdote from work, because a) I love my job and b) I haven’t written a thing about it.

Also, sometimes I get paid to act a fool.

One of the best things about working in the same place for three years is that while there are companies out there that attempt to call themselves “families,” the writing center actually is a family. We all study the same stuff, we rely on one another and learn from each other, and this extends beyond just other tutors–for all the time I spend in class learning about what makes good writing, I learn about the same amount from a shift at work, from my classmates.

Because I work at a community college, there’s a large portion of our clientele that is regular and largely made up of older returning students.

Like Farzan.

Farzan is 67 years old, a retired mechanic from Afghanistan, and he’s been a regular client of the writing center where I work for three years. He came to us with minimal English, wanting to work on grammar and conversation so he could pass the citizenship test.

“You have time?”

“Hello, Farzan! Of course I have time.” He nods, rummaging in his school bag for a moment.

“What can I do for you today?”

“We start in five minutes, okay?”

“Ok.”

I smell turmeric and ginger.

On the table, Farzan has laid out Pakora, which are these spicy, deep-fried veggie cakes he makes every once in a while to share with us. “Cerri,” he says, accent on the I, “You can have one, you like.”

“Oh, thank you so much, Farzan!”

They are the only Afghani food I’ve ever eaten, and they’re dear to my heart.

“These are really good, thanks, Farzan. Do you have a big kitchen?” My co-worker Mike asks, scarfing one. Farzan shakes his head, wiping crumbs out of his neat, greying moustache with a kleenex.

“I want open restauraunt, but who can help? My sons, nephews, another, too busy. Have jobs, cannot help. Maybe I find five people, I open Afghani restauraunt. Good food. Special food.”

Farzan has family pictures of meals like this one, that he cooks for special occasions.

“I’d eat there. What veggies did you use this time?”

“Potato, cauliflower, basil flower, ginger, hot pepper, another.”

“I like the basil in there.”

“Oh, it’s too spicy!” someone complains over my shoulder.

“No, it’s not! They’re perfect. Delicious. You’re just a wuss.” I’m from Texas and I keep at least two bottles of hot sauce around at all times because food demands spice.

“Spices healthy,” Farzan agrees with a smile.

We each start a cup of shitty bagged tea and get down to business.

Farzan’s new goal, since becoming an American in October, is to become proficient enough in English that he can go abroad to become a Farsi interpreter.

“Cerri, there is problem, these countries. Many people pass away every day. Dangerous places. Bombs every day.”

Farzan survived the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the subsequent revolt, the Taliban, the American occupation, the loss of his business, the loss of family members to sickness, and war-zone conditions, which he said is a fact of  life every day in his home country.

“Our country very rich. Our people very smart. On this side,” he explained, holding up his time card, “China,Russia,Pakistan, Another. This side, NATO. Communism party here, imperialism party there. All want Afghanistan.”

We work on grammar for a while and  I note his improved understanding of the preterit tense. His only mistakes are spelling errors, the product of English irregular verbs. I mull over what he’s said, the war, and how even though there are situations in the world that seem damn near unfixable, there are people like Farzan who want to fix them, and people like me that are fortunate enough to know those people.

Sunday Snippets: Moving, Rupocalypse, and My Mad Kitchen Skillz

Friday:

Pried the boys loose from their computers because there was a TV show about outer space on and it seemed like the lesser of two evils. Kali has decided that Demonic is developing an addiction based on how much he asks to be on the computer. I think this is kind of funny, since she smokes cigarettes.

It's not just my family--Everyone on Earth is a Galactic Hillbilly.

Also, since it was my turn to cook, I got the family to try Pasta Primavera! (I WILL CONDITION THEM TO LIKE HEALTHY FOOD…. O.o) …It seemed like a good dish because it had stuff the kids would eat, a familiar spice palate, and it has tomatoes as a key ingredient. They are out-of-season, but I LOVE ME SOME TOMATOES.

Saturday:

MOVE DAY ONE!

The Dork-In-Law is amazing because he helped me get my stuff out of the old place and into their storage and kept me from having a nervous breakdown over the stench of pot smoke and dirty socks in my old hallway or the fact that some douche-stick poured like half a can of Rolling Rock into my bike helmet and then left it in the milk crate I have strapped to the back-tire rack.

Three guesses as to who THAT could have been.

Also, in spite of the fact that I HAVE NOT WORN FULL MAKEUP IN OVER THREE MONTHS I wound up teaching the renter how to do her makeup because it was Rupocalypse Weekend, so we’d all been watching drag queens for six hours. It seemed like the thing to do.

I do not own the Lady Bunny. She owns ME.

I got my sister to try a caper from my refrigerator-refugee box and she liked it.

Also, I introduced the boys to ginger as a cold remedy. Demonic refuses to try it because he has no idea what the hell ginger is and Dozer likes it. Dozer’s cough is getting better. Demonic’s is worsening, to which I’m going to tell him, “I TOLD YOU TO TRY IT, BOY.”

Ginger Water For Coughs and Upset Stomachs (for children. Add more ginger for adults unless you are a spice wuss like my sister.)

1 tsp. ground ginger, FRESH, not powdered. Grind by hand if you’re a champ, in the coffee grinder if you’re pressed for time, or scoop from the Trader Joe’s  jar if you’re lazy and me.

1 Tbsp. honey

1 coffee cup of simmering water

Steep all ingredients in coffee cup for ten minutes and pour over ice in a larger container. Add and dissolve ice until the mixture is lukewarm. I do this in a cocktail shaker. PARENTING.

Serve half a juice cup at a time, as needed, until symptoms abate. Colder is best for the nauseous patient.

Sunday:

MOVE DAY TWO.

And the final day at that! Thank God.

“Do you wanna take the trash down or leave it? It’s not like that dickhead’s gonna give you back your deposit.”

“I’ll take it down. I’m pissed off but it wouldn’t be decent to leave it.” But I sure as hell ain’t sweeping. Or mopping. And I don’t give a fuck if I tracked mud on the stairs.

I got a housekey to my sister’s, came home and watched more Rupocalypse, and at around six, my sister shoved me out the door and said, “Go do your homework!”  She is taping the rest of the hot tranny mess so we can watch it together later.

ALSO:

Ima cut you.

This is the dysfunctional cat.