Party: Iowa sushi

I was invited to a beach party, and yesterday, I unleashed the summer potluck snack of my childhood on an unsuspecting group of acquaintances: pickle roll-ups. My mom used to make these when I was a kid for just about every single potluck-style family gathering, and I loved them. Mostly, I loved the flavor of the cream cheese and the corned beef and only tolerated the pickle, so I tried to get all of the end pieces as she rolled and chopped these.

My parents cooked quite a bit when I was little, but other than a few family recipes, it wasn’t gourmet stuff. I was a meat-and-potatoes, Lunchables, Kraft mac-and-cheese, Spaghettio’s-lovin’, hot-dog-eatin’ true Midwestern child. Save for thick homemade chicken noodle soup, pickle roll-ups, “Spanish” rice (it just had tomato soup in it), deviled eggs, no-bake cookies, and a few other family treasures, my parents just didn’t have many specialties. But these gems, these pickle roll-ups, were special to me growing up. When they were made, I knew that there was something special coming up, like a family picnic or a holiday, and that I’d get to see my extended family.

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So when I was invited to this party, I tried to figure out what to bring. It occurred to me at the last second that pickle roll-ups would be fast to prepare and require only cheap ingredients, and I needed groceries, anyway. But as I made these, I started to remember. She let the real cream cheese warm up on the counter instead of using Philadelphia’s “whipped-style” and the glue it became held together much better. The cheap Buddig packets of corned beef used to be slightly thicker, and square-shaped, which meant the pickle roll-ups of my childhood didn’t tear quite as easily. She spread the cream cheese on the meat, rolled the pickle, and then let the uncut rolls chill in the fridge, helping the whole thing stick together before she cut them the next morning. I begged her to cut one or two the night before any potluck, and I’d forgotten all about that until I started cutting these rolls and they just started falling apart in my hands.

Needless to say, it was a pickle disaster. I actually gave up on the last half dozen pickles and just threw the unsheathed suckers on the plate because I was ready to be done with the mess! I made two trays of these suckers, and only used up almost two large jars of pickles, one cream cheese tub, and five Buddig packets. I still have to figure out how I’ll use two more tubs of “whipped” cream cheese, one large jar of pickles, and three packets of cheap corned beef sometime in the next hundred years.

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I made the rolls sitting in front of the television for something to do, and forgot to put them up high before I jumped in the shower for a quick rinse. I jumped out of the shower, and it hit me…shit. Sure enough, this little piggy had eaten the cream cheese and corned beef off of about 30-40 pickle slices. My eight-pound dog was so bloated and apologetic after I caught her binge-eating the skins of the finger food, just like when I was a kid. I think I actually hurt her dog feelings when I yelled at her and she crinkled her little forehead.

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The second pan was left untouched, and subsequently made it to the party. I also took three pounds of bacon and spent about an hour cooking it in the hosts’ kitchen — so we could “roast a pig” at the beach party. I had a total blast and danced the night away, drinking and making out with strangers, wearing tiny sunglasses and kicking around tiny beach balls, flipping through a book of pictures gay men drew of vaginas. I learned a new phrase for the potluck dish of my childhood last night from the host: Iowa sushi. It’s perfect.

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Kitchen remodel: part two

My dad and I haven’t always had a great relationship. I’ve done some dumb shit, and so has he, and we mostly dealt with our respective difficulties with each other by making our visits sparing and short. Over the last few years, I’ve tried to change that by asking both of my parents, separately, to do things I think they’ll enjoy. About two years ago, when asked what I wanted for my birthday, I asked my dad to paint the living room of the very crappy, falling-apart farmhouse I was renting. Sure, the living room needed painted for my own sanity — it was a disgusting institutional olive dingy green color — but I really wanted to spend the time with my dad, learning the trade he’s spent the last 43 years of his life doing.

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So when my dad offered — on his birthday this time — to paint my kitchen and bathroom for me as I continue to update my house, I happily agreed. Not only am I getting a very professional paint job, but it’s a good way for us to spend time together, without the need to fill every silence with words.

“I am here. I do care. Yes, I do want to spend time with you, dad.”

After I moved into my house, the entire thing needed repainted and the floors needed done. I lacked most of the basic tools for either one of these things, but because of the farmhouse experience, I had the skills to paint the house myself. My dad set me up with some tools: rollers, brushes, roller extender, rags, screens, a small bucket, and this ladder. I set to work and did a perfectionist’s job of painting the entire house, except the kitchen and bathroom.

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This ladder has been around as long as I can remember. It was the ladder that accompanied my dad to every side-work project he used to work to fund my private school education and riding lessons and swim team fees, as he stayed up far later than our bedtimes and was nearly always gone by the time we woke up for school. Between work and side-work, he’d pick my sister and I up from school, exactly on time every day at 3:15, dropping us off at sports as needed.

This was the ladder I used to climb so high up when I was little, perching on top, closing my eyes, and pretending I was atop a racehorse. I loved it when the breeze flowed through the garage, and hated when my mother caught me and made me get down. In her mind, that six-foot ladder may as well have been dangling me off of a cliff.

It was the ladder my dad used to fix anything we needed on or inside of the house. While I grew up in a fairly nice house in good repair, he was always painting something, or retrieving something from high up in the garage attic. This ladder was an ever-present part of my life.

I was so surprised when my dad told me I could keep “this old ladder.” He doesn’t know that I remember or care about these things, but this ladder will be the thing I remember my dad by, always. I left his initials on the side, the rags tied around it, and the blue electric tape holding together part of the bucket holder because I love that every bit of it was something he sweat over and spent his life on top of, for me and my family. Maybe to him it’s some old ladder, but to me, it’s an heirloom part of my family.

This ladder is a really, really cool thing to me. I haven’t decided whether I’ll take it out to my own garage, now, and set it up with a rope for reins (nevermind I own a real ex-racehorse, now!), or whether I’ll put it in my dining room and cover wooden shelves with fabric and display some of my favorite things that way.

Leftovers: breakfast tacos

I had just a little bit more of that taco meat left over from making stuffed tomatoes, and couldn’t stand to not use it and the other ingredients that I either had to use or let expire. The avocado was perfect, the cilantro was use-it-or-lose-it, and the tomatoes and tortillas needed to be used, stat. I was feeling like a big burst of protein and needed the extra fat, so I whipped these up in less than five minutes.

Zapped the tortillas in a skillet for a minute each. Two eggs, scrambled in a skillet with 1 tbsp unsweetened almond milk for fluffy-ness. Reheated taco meat in the microwave. Chopped cilantro and cherry tomatoes. And mushed-up avocado with a touch of lime, cayenne, salt, pepper, and a tiiiiiny bit of white sugar.

While making the eggs, I remembered how my mother used to make our scrambled eggs in the microwave. She’d fill the glass measuring cup with two or three eggs, break the yolks and whisk in a bit of cow’s milk with a fork until they were a bit bubbly. After a minute, she’d stir again and break up the solid egg mass that formed. Another minute, and the easiest scrambled eggs ever came tumbling right on to our plates. I only ate them with ketchup and even then, barely tolerated them. In my most broke years of college, when I had my first studio apartment, I’d make my eggs this way because I didn’t know how to make them any other way, and I couldn’t afford a failed experiment.

It wasn’t until I discovered eggs cooked over hard much later that I began to love the flavor of the yolk of the egg. I put up with the whites occasionally to get to the yolks, but hated their rubbery texture and the lack of flavor. After I spent a few years working in breakfast diners, I no longer wanted anything to do with eggs, or fake eggs, or whatever that smell was from those generic plates. It was several years before my desire to eat eggs came back, but now I happily eat them — my way.

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