Sunday, March 30, 2008

Keeping it Real in DC

For the second year in a row, we spent Easter in Washington DC and attended the White House Easter Egg Roll. I sense your shock: Mom complains about traveling with children and then…continues to travel with them for 7 hours in a van. Since we’ve recently driven to West Virginia, anything less than 12 hours is a cake walk. And besides, it gives me fodder I tell you.

The drive down to DC went without a hitch. We loaded up sleeping babes at 2:30 a.m. and headed off into the night. We managed to miss all the heavy trailer-truck-traffic, and semi-conventions that litter southbound 95 between Connecticut and (let’s face it) Maryland. The children awoke around 6:30 a.m. and lasted at least another hour with piles of pre-packaged breakfast bars, snack crackers and juice boxes. Stopped for breakfast at around 7:30- 8:00 a.m. at Crackerbarrel.

There is something about Crackerbarrel that beckons to me while on a road trip. Our family has had one or two good experiences at this restaurant, apparently which is what I hold onto when we decide to eat there again. It has a fun Country Store Atmosphere. It’s got a Good Time Family Feel to it. It has community checkers for heaven’s sake, and jump-a-peg games at the table. (That have been touched by who knows how many non-hand-washing bathroom users, but don’t get me started.) We eat a marginal breakfast, blend in perfectly, get back on the road, and once again, swear we won’t be stopping by another Crackerbarrel anytime soon.

Before going further, I need to explain a couple brief points about why we were headed to DC. We would never be going to the Egg Roll if it weren’t for the family connections that got us in. We also wouldn’t be staying at the hotel we stayed at, except that it is a sponsor of the Egg Roll, and therefore the rooms are more reasonable for Egg Roll guests. So our reservations were at the Mayflower Hotel; made famous by the many Treaties that were signed there, the Inaugural Balls that were held there, and oh yes, Mr. Spitzer’s indiscretions.

The Mayflower Hotel is not only beautiful, it is teeming with Important People; Businessmen, Congresswomen, Government Officials, and no doubt Influential International CEO’s. None of whom I would ever know even if they introduced themselves and handed me their vita. Everyone dresses in black. Everyone carries an Italian leather briefcase or satchel. And quite a few people had trendy curly-wire ear-pieces in chic flesh tones, on the edge of their martini seat, waiting for an urgent errand to run.

Enter: Big Green 2002 Dodge Caravan with Black Top Luggage Carrier,(which might as well have been spewing black billows of carbon emissions and humping the asphalt with hydraulics and a horn that played “La Cucaracha.”)

There is nothing quite so patriotic as driving up to the front of the Mayflower beneath multiple American flags waving proud, and unloading three children, two all-niter adults, five large suitcases, a dusty stroller, pack-and-play and two arm-loads of van-toys and activities. They must have known we were coming, because I’m quite sure that I heard Green Acres piped loudly out onto Connecticut Avenue, and in a reverse Cinderella moment, felt like all of my family had a few missing teeth and remains of Crackerbarrel eggs and toast on our shirts. I instructed my older two children to QUIETLY sit on the steps inside and try not to draw attention to themselves. This being difficult to accomplish while holding a cardboard box with travel games, an Ihome radio and an armful of colorful winter jackets. (I forgot to pack the kid’s black trenches.)

I try to check in. Our room isn’t ready, but the suitcases are already on the bell cart, and we’d love to Valet the car, but there’s a problem.

The van won’t fit in Valet parking with the roof rack on.

So my husband adjusts his suspender straps, scratches his thigh, spits in an old copper urn that appears out of nowhere and proceeds to un-hook the roof rack. We’re not sure at this point if the thing will fit in the van. We didn’t think to problem solve that before we left. And if it doesn’t? I suppose we would have pallbearer-walked it up to the 6th floor and embraced it as a new and modern couch. Luckily, after a substantial tip to the Valet, the Valet manager “found room” for it back in storage. Meanwhile, I’m trying to check in with the-baby-on-my-hip, proverbial bra-straps showing, tattoo of whiskey bottle on forearm. The Front Desk Man is very helpful, overly accommodating, and after each comment says my name, “Mrs. Vee-doh-Nee.” I liked him. Even with the puppet strings. I call my Family Connection, explain the circumstances, and put the Front Desk Man on the cell with my Connection. In a few minutes, we are checking into my Connection’s suite. I’m always amazed at my Connection’s ability to get things done. We are now able to unload all of our gear and figure out what we are going to do next. Actually we were just waiting for all the people who might have been down in the lobby to leave, so we are unrecognized on our next jaunt to the first floor. (Kind of like when you are using the public bathroom and you wait until all the people leave so no one will know it’s YOU that stunk up the joint. C’mon. You all know you’ve done it.)

Since my Connection had to work to get things finalized for the Egg Roll, we were able to watch her daughter. The kids all get along great and only helped solidify our status as “Typical American Family,” as we left the hotel with (now) four children. We took the kids to the Air and Space Museum, Museum of Natural History, and the World War II and Lincoln Memorials. The Egg Roll was a great hit as well, with characters from Kung Fu Panda to Strawberry Shortcake. We even got to see the President give the Welcome speech, from under the balcony on the South Lawn. The kids were impressed, but the Jonas Brother’s performance upstaged ol’ GW as far as the kids were concerned. We rolled eggs, took pictures and rubbed elbows with the few thousand people who were also at the festivities. And while many kids were in their Easter best—fluffy lavender and pale yellow dresses, shiny white dress shoes with slick leather bottoms and little boys in clip-on ties and blue blazers—my kids had on jeans and sweatshirts, winter hats and tennis shoes.

The only difficult thing we encountered while in DC was trying to find a place to eat that didn’t have white placemats and wine glasses on the table; a place where, say, a baby could throw food on the floor without alarms going off in the kitchen. A place like, well, Applebees or …..Crackerbarrel.

All had a memorable time, even if we didn’t fit the usual guest profile at our hotel. Instead of visiting the front lobby bar for posh drinks, we got hot water for the baby bottle. Instead of traveling in a fashionable three-wheeled black stroller, we left pushing the squeaky navy-blue monstrosity replete with clear vinyl rain cover, cameras, snacks, toys and tourist maps. Instead of eating brunch at the hotel restaurant for $79 a person, we paid $27 at a place down the street. Heck, instead of courting a second relationship, we were on a family vacation adventure. I like to think we helped keep it real for all those DC politicians. A little glimpse of the constituency that they serve.

And here's a shout out for my Connection, without whom all these wonderful family memories would not be possible. Thanks a million and we love you!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Chalazae Baggage

Since we are getting to know each other pretty well, I feel it would be appropriate at this juncture to share another of my neuroses with you. No, not more info on bathroom or potty germs, although I could blog for days on the nastiness of those subjects. This particular neurotic tendency I can only blame on my mother. In fact, during one recent beautiful mother-daughter sharing moment, I did confide to her that of all the bags she handed me in my life, the one I wish she would have taken back is The Squiggle.

[Backstory]
Woman sits in diner. Orders a piece of pumpkin pie. Pumpkin pie? You ask. Yes. Silly, little, innocuous, Thanksgiving-special, pumpkin pie. Woman cuts into pie. Is about ready to swallow bite. Wait…what’s that she sees? What IS that staring back at her from the custardy-goodness? It’s white. It’s stringy. It’s the dreaded squiggle. Woman puts fork down, still with bite attached. Disgusted, dismayed, with bile rising in her throat, the woman stands on bench in diner, (garnering only a few odd glances) and in Scarlet O’Hara fashion proclaims, “As God is my witness, I will never eat another squiggle again!”

[Real Time]
I’m not sure how many of you inspect your eggs, say when you bake, or crack them into a bowl for your morning scrambled, but there is, in fact, a white, squiggly, stringing looking beast inside every one of them. My mother’s personal life mission, (aside of, say, raising three daughters in a good and proper manner, or being a dedicated teacher) therefore became to rid our household of all squiggles. When I was a child learning to cook, my mother showed me how to break the egg into the bowl, get a spoon, and using your index finger and the spoon remove both squiggles from the egg before using it in your recipe. This process was not optional. You were never, never to leave the squiggle in, not even when it was difficult to see, or it slid off the spoon and back into the egg white. You searched for the sucker. You chased it around the bowl. You dove in there with your suit on dammit, and didn’t even think about coming up for air until you had your mits clasped tightly around TWO SQUIGGLES. This Olympic-worthy sport was to be performed whenever you used eggs. In cooking. In baking. And ESPECIALLY when eating them in pure form; scrambled or over-medium. In fact, when mom checked on your recipes, her questions weren’t, “Did you remember the baking soda?” or “Did you sift your flour?” but “Did you remove the squiggle before you put the egg in?”

Now I really would like to have been there, that day in the diner, when my mother’s psyche was damaged by the white, nasty squiggle. Maybe I could have helped her process what she saw: “No mom, I think you’re wrong. It’s not a squiggle. It’s probably a loogie.” Not that having throat phlegm from a sweaty cook in your pie is more appetizing, but it would be a neurosis I could handle. It would have been a lot easier to prevent sweaty cooks from coming in my kitchen and hacking in the mixing bowl, than trying to remove the little devils from every egg.

You can imagine the look of horror on my husband’s face, the first morning after our wedding that he makes me eggs, when I ask him, “Did you remove the squiggle before you cooked those?”
“The what?”
“The squiggle. You know that white, stringy thing in the egg?”
“No. Why would I remove that?”
“Because it’s nasty. Because all real cooks remove the squiggle. Because that’s what my mom does.”
“No. The squiggle is in there.”
“I can’t eat those eggs then.”
Silence.

After a bit of research—in the form of watching Alton Brown’s Good Eats—I learned that squiggle is not, in fact, rooster sperm (as my uncle told me) or anything dreadedly nasty, but simply wound-up egg white. The proper term is Chalazae; pronounced (kul-lay-zee) and its job is to keep the egg yoke centered inside the egg white. The more firm and pronounced the chalazae, the fresher the egg. It starts to break down as the egg ages. So when you crack open your egg, and find that the chalazae is all milky looking, it must have come from a senior citizen chicken.

After all this knowledge, and being the grown-up that I am, you’d think it would be easy for me to let go of this chalazae baggage. Yes, I know I eat them all the time and don’t realize it. Yes, I understand that even fine restaurants don’t remove them. Yes, I am fully aware that when I blend it up with the mixer and bake it in the oven, it disappears and I will never know the difference. After all, it’s only a bit of spun egg white.

This knowledge helps me only a little. If I am baking something for the kids class, or the neighbors, or a party, I will crack the egg over the mixer and turn it on fast before I can change my mind and yank out the squiggles. However, just this afternoon, after cracking the eggs into the mixing bowl of brownie batter, I didn’t work fast enough. The chalazaes were firm and long and staring at me, and with bile rising in my throat, I went in with a spoon and removed them. And of course, if I am eating an egg in pure form, such as scrambled or over-medium, they must be, have to be removed. My husband—smart man that he is—has since learned to lie to me about the squiggle. Of course he removes it when he cooks. Of course those are eggs-sans-squiggle on my plate. Of course, of course, of course.
My husband really loves me.