Sunday, May 22, 2011

Mini Mighty Magpie

It’s no secret that I didn’t come to this family organically.  I’m the luckiest of lucky because not only did Wee Me have my wacky Italian bloodline and it’s people but, because my uncle married smart, I was also inherited in to an equally wacky family with big hearts, big belly laughs and big brimming kindness.  I was 9 when I moved in with my aunt and uncle and until then, I was used to seeing my Nonna every day.  I'm sure that that fostered my always-instant connection to the granny set at large.  And while everything changed for me that summer, I was also graced with my aunt’s parents--my grans south: Uncle Harry and Auntie Micki.

Me & The O'Gs circa 1995
Auntie Micki was in her 50s when I became a permanent fixture and was there from the get go.  It was she (in her peep toe Sbicca clear 4 inch heels, thank you.) and my Auntie who came to fetch me with my sassy mini side-braid and (unfortunate, horizontally) blue and white striped culottes that first day, and drive me toward my new life, my reconfigured childhood.  She made it seem like the most normal thing in the universe that her daughter was inheriting a kid and that even though we’d only seen each other a few times a year on holidays until then, this full time transition in to their family was going to be a piece of cake.  I got to spend lots of time with her that summer and I feel so lucky to have had such special moments with her.  A couple times a week I’d get dropped off before sunrise where I’d  lurch straight to the twin bed she’d have turned down for me, because no kid should start their summer days at 5am.  I’d collapse for a few hours in the cozy, perfectly warn bed* and wake up to find my 6 month old cousin Dana dropped off for the day, too.  We’d sit at the silver-starred Formica kitchen counter and have breakfast and plan our adventures** for the day.   
Micki/MickiMa/MickiO’G/Mags/Maggie/Magpie/Margaret/Marguerite/SMags/SMaggletooth was feisty and no-nonsense and spunky and fancy.  I mean she was, afterall, Miss O’Keefe & Merit 194something and we’ve got the formal publicity shot (somewhere!) of her draped across a(n) (unlit)stove to prove it.  She’d start every day of domesticity with her makeup perfect and her hair (which she used to wrap in toilet paper every night) did.  She also rocked a cocktail ring like it was her job.  I learned lots of lessons from her.  So, so many things from that little Armenian firecracker of a lady—she was no bigger than a minute at about 4’11” and probably 100 lbs. –but she was a force to reckon with, especially when she was giving the 6’3” strapping Irish husband she adored the what-for***.   She was a sister, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a great-grandmother and an auntie.  She loved chocolate and dessert in any and all incarnations and in these last years when she couldn’t keep anything else down, she was always able to miraculously kill a box of See’s, eat 14 cookies and drink her Chablis****.  She left an imprint on everyone she met and I am grateful always for all of the memories I have of her and the things she gave to me:

Busy summer mornings followed by lazy summer afternoons of “Match Game” and “All My Children”.  Erma Bombeck and joke books.  Spending hours and hours looking through all of her photo albums where she was almost always laughing or eating in every shot...sometimes both.  Uncle Harry coming home on the hot summer afternoon of their anniversary to find his bride of 30-something years crammed in to her wedding dress.  My love of oatmeal and her perfectly scrambled, never to be duplicated eggs*****.  Perfect, buttery rice pilaf.  The art of hiding valuables in the Rice Crispies and sweet treats for personal consumption tucked in the empty fish stick box in the freezer, always having Sees Candy at the ready and using the empty boxes to store 562846 sets of plastic ware.  Always having stacks and stacks of pink butcher paper for all of my very important art projects.  The smell of her gardenias, the lemons and grapefruit from her trees and her always flowering plumeria.  After back surgery, in a medicated haze from her hospital bed, looking me right in the eye to say: “I really, really hope all of the confetti fell out of my underpants in there.”******, her cure for insomnia: a slug of whiskey, preferably from a miniature airplane bottle.  Her weekly hairstyle appointment, her perfect manicures, seizing an opportunity to re-use a greeting card if someone signed it in pencil, Christmas Day breakfasts and buffets, teaching her to use her “micro”, Easter spreads in her patio and egg hunts, New Year’s Day parties, staring at her on New Year’s Eve 1985 when she stood in the living room calling me in the kitchen on the house phone from their business phone in her pajamas and party tiara to holler “Happy New Year!” at me…we were 6 feet apart.  If she thought you were bragging: “Oh, well…pin a rose on your nose.”  On people who had bad salutation manners: “What?  No “hello”? No “how are you”?  No “go to hell”?  Hrmph!”.   She loved to feed people, she loved to squeeze to-go ketchup packets in to her big bottles, she confiscated Sweet & Low from restaurants for home use, she hoarded new shower caps from hotels to cover chips and dips from flies at outdoor parties*******, made the very best gravy at Thanksgiving, taught me that beating some sugar with a block of cream cheese and a drop of food coloring makes perfect frosting for springtime cupcakes.  Our girls trip to Vegas--just me, Auntie Micki and AD celebrating our December birthdays.  Have you ever known someone to get rated and score two free nights by playing quarter slots?  I do, and it's her.  And she always, always introduced me as her granddaughter without apology or explanation to people who found this confusing.
Heaven got a new angel last night.  My sweet aunties said goodbye to their Mommy and after 88 years of life and laughter and love and family, surrounded by our deepest gratitute and affection for the woman she was, Auntie Micki quietly left us to be reunited with her one true love at the pearly gates and get busy flitting about with the business of catching up with so many people that meant so much to her.  Her version of resting in peace, I’m certain. 
We sure will miss her a whole lot down here.                   
*With the comforter safety pinned 45728 times to the top sheet…for ease of bed making.  Brilliant!
**Adventures?  Usually helping her clean the house and plan dinner, eavesdrop on her phone calls with Lucille the Neighbor, play Businesslady by making Dana sit in her highchair across from me and pretend-interviewing her to be my assistant (I never gave her the job.  Insubordinate!), and sneaking Mags’s Jackie Collins books under the gardenia tree to scan them for smut before she noticed they were missing.  9 year old me knew how to party.  Clearly.
***It was like watching a Chihuahua try to boss a Great Dane.
****Believe it.
*****It’s the butter!  And the pan!  And the Lawry’s Season Salt! I just know it.
******Uh, so do we.  I guess.
*******Oh, yes, girl.  She totally did. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Meringue merengue

Well, it’s come to this.  Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I’d fall for it.  But I did, you guys.  I really did.  I fell and I fell hard, people.

For the meringue.   That's heard (read?) me.  The. Meringue.
Now, I know what you’re going to say because I said it, too: “Meh.  I’m just not a meringue person.”  Yeah, I said it.  And when I shared my loot last week three of my people said exactly that, too.  And then they ate one.  And they were smitten.  And then they ate two more. You can tell by the look in their eyes after they take that first bite.  It’s part glee, part surprise, part joy.  But it’s all good.
To be fair, I haven’t had loads of experience with meringues.  They typically don’t interest me, so I can stay away from them pretty easily.  I considered them a waste of a sweet treat.  One time I was at Joan’s on Third  and they had these cute little bags of hazelnut meringues and they were so twee—with their itsy bitsy bag tied up with a cutesy little ribbon—and since I’m a sucker for good packaging, I bought them.  I ate two.  They were fine.  Kind of crunchy and super-sweet.  Just sort of eh.  But if I’m craving something decadent and trying to satisfy my sweet teeth, those ain’t cuttin’ it.  I walk right by them at Trader Joe’s.*  And I always scrape the goop off of the top of lemon meringue pie (What’s the point of it there?  There isn’t one…that’s what.) to get to the good stuff underneath.  I’ve seen Nigella make pavlova, which seems to be a giant meringue you try to eat like a weird flat cake, and all it did was make me change the channel.  Boring.  I felt like meringue was a place-filler; a waste of my attention.  Until last week.
So, last week I was minding my own beeswax, as I do, but also eye to eye with about 46299374 egg whites.  I’d made a round of espresso crème brulee** and needed as many yolks, so had all of the whites saved for something else.  One egg white omelette in, I realized I needed to either freeze those suckers or use them lickety split because they shouldn’t just be left to loll about in my fridge without purpose.  So I turned to Alice Medrich--one of my favorite go-to baking gurus--and, as luck would have it, she had the answer.  In spades.  Meringues! ***
Dark chocolate hazelnut pillows. For angels! 
You guys!  They couldn’t be easier.  You just beat up those whites until they’re shiny, add a little sugar and then fold in whatever other loot you have on hand, plop them**** on to a baking sheet and then bake them for approximately 67 frillion thousand hours*****.  And then they are chewy and sweet and creamy and DELICIOUS.  So very delicious.  Like, surprisingly delicious.  Like, “Seriously?!  Meringues?” delicious.   Now I’m hooked!  I made the chocolate hazelnut****** ones that I had a hard time sharing, and then I made peanut butter ones, which were ooey-gooey and just like a fancy Abba Zabba. 
And now I'm like super-crazed with all of the possibilities.  What else can I throw in there?  Can I make a savory meringue, for soups or something?  Kind of like a weird crouton?  I also want to make a meringue-like layer cake!  And eat it!  And caramel or coffee ice cream with some sort of meringue bit-lettes in there.  I'm crazy!  
Consider yourself warned, internet.  For real.  

* Like I’m really going to pass up the mini dark chocolate peanut butter cups for a tub of hard froth?  Think again, Joe.
***This book is like a cookie bible!  You know I reserved it from the library before it even came out.  Nerd alert!
****I used my mini ice cream scooper because I like it.
*****Okay, just 2 hours, but then you also have to let them cool in the oven for a 168 years.  Hurry up!
******I’ve had 3 dreams about them.  This is no lie.