Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Mayonnaise Wars

Apparently I have something to learn about mayonnaise. Which is weird because I was always fairly certain that I had condiments down. Ketchup is Heinz. Worcestershire sauce is Lea & Perrins. Soy Sauce us Kikkoman. And mayonnaise is Hellmans. (Mustard is too tough to call given the number of varieties.) These things aren't questioned. They are constants. Realities. Facts of life like the sky is blue and the Earth is round.

But several recent conversations have caused me to rethink my views on mayonnaise.

The first was with a friend who shops for groceries at Aldi's. Aldi's is a chain from Sweden (I think) that sells a limited assortment of private label products at low prices. I went in there once and the lack of recogniizable brand names made me break out into a cold sweat. Anyways, this friend shops for all of his groceries at Aldi's but he has to have his Duke's Mayonnaise and so he occasionally makes a trip to Bi-Lo.

I asked him why Duke's - why not Hellman's? He laughed. I might as well have suggested he buy ground round over a black angus ribeye. I made a mental note to investigate this issue further.

Then, we were at a friends house for Thanksgiving. Despiter her modern home, she is a traditional country cook who grates her own cabbage for slaw and simmers a big old ham hock with her green beans. The oversize tub of mayonnaise on her counter was Duke's.

I asked her the same question I'd asked before: why Duke's? She said it was a Southern thing. She said it was the only mayonnaise to use and that in fact she used to ship some to a relative who lived in Colorado where Dukes was not available.

Shipping mayonnaise across the country? I felt compelled to learn more.

The thing that kept nagging at me was taste. I mean - how is that 2 mayonnaises could taste different? After all, isn't mayonnaise just oil and eggs? So I started out by comparing ingredients.

Hellman's: Soybean oil, water, whole eggs and egg yolks, vinegar, salt, sugar, lemon juice, natural flavors, calcium disodium Edta (used to protect quality).

Duke's: Soybean oil, eggs, water, vinegar, salt, oleoresin paprika and natural flavors.

Basically the same ingredients although with some noticeable differences - like the sugar in Hellman's and the paprika in Duke's. And as it turns out, these actually contribute to differences in taste.

In a side by side tasting comparing Duke's to Hellman's, Hellman's tasted sweet while Duke's was smoky. In fact, the lack of sugar in Duke's was extremely noticeable seeing as my whole concept of mayonnaise has been built on Hellman's.

As for which one I liked more, I don't know. But now that I am a Southerner, I'll be switching to Duke's.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...

Friday, November 24, 2006

Memories of Not-So Black Fridays

Before I begin, let me warn you that close family members have often commented on the...fuzziness of my memory. It's not that I can't remember stories. It's that my interpretation of events is often...questionable. I have a tendency to occasionally re-write the occasional detail. So what follows is my memory of the day now known as Black Friday. However, I make no claims as to its accuracy.

The Friday after Thanksgiving always marked the official start of the holidays in my family. We'd get up, pile in the car and drive out to the Toys R Us on Route 4 in Paramus, New Jersey.

I don't know how early it actually was, but it always felt pretty early. I don't think we were getting up at 5am, but we were usually one of the first ones in the store. I know because by the time we were getting ready to check out, the store would slowly be filling up with other holiday shoppers and the whole family would have this sense of relief that we were getting out before the madness began.

I have memories of walking up and down the aisles, loading carts with what would become Hanukkah and Christmas gifts.

In the game aisle, mom would search for whatever new games had been designated as Best of the Year by Games magazine.

Mom also had a list of gifts that we needed to purchase for cousins and other children.

I'd always spend as long as possible in the Barbie aisle, fantasizing about putting the entire collection in the cart. Then I'd wander over and marvel at the bikes - even though I didn't really ride one.

Once or twice, after Toys R Us, we went to Kids R Us and I even have memories of walking around an early incarnation of Woodberry Commons.

What I don't remember is massive crowds of people camping out the night before. What I don't remember is people pushing and shoving and trampling each other in order to get an extra 30% off. What I don't remember is the mystique of what has now become known as Black Friday.

Seeing as I was merely a child interested in presents, there very well could have been the consumer madness that I have been witnessing all morning on the news. I just don't remember.

But I do know that today always has and always will mark the official start of the holidays season for me.

Happy Holidays!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Rock and Holy Roller

They say that patience is a virtue. That good things come to those who wait. So forgive me for being such an absent blogger these days. But hopefully what I am about to write about will make up for my delinquency.

Marty & I spent yesterday evening at a Baptist church for a "singing."

In case you are wondering how we wound up at church for a "singing," we were invited by Marty's brother and his wife. We had been visiting them and their 10-week old son and the visit lasted longer than we had planned. They were headed to church and asked us to join them. Being with family, celebrating their son, it seemed like the right thing to do.

There is something about Baptist congregations that always astounds me. The level of their conviction in their faith. Their single mindedness in their spirit. The openess of their hearts.

I confess - not being Baptist, not believing what they believe - it can feel a bit awkward to be in their midst, especially when they stand up and raise their arms to be closer to God. When the room echoes with their "Amens" and "Hallelujahs." And yet, there is also something so incredibly moving about it. The pure passion with which they celebrate their beliefs is infectious. And not in a "I am thinking about converting" kind of way but more in a "I sometimes wish I had that much passion" kind of way.

I would say that Baptist churches are a dime a dozen down here, but the truth is I haven't been to all that many. What I can say is that they exist in mass proliferation. They range in size from small roadside shacks to large, modern day constructions.

Yesterday we were at Christian Freedom Southern Baptist Church in King's Mountain, NC. And in fact, we weren't actually in the church itself but in the auditorium of the high school that's also run by the church. The reason for the auditorium setting was that the singing featured the Crabb Family, a well-known, award-winning Christian Rock/Gospel group that Marty said reminded him of the Osmonds.

Despite their Christian roots, the guys looked like they could have been in any modern day band. One sported spiky, tousled hair and 3 days growth of facial hair. Another had shaggy long hair like David Cassidy circa the late 1970s. They wore faded jeans and skinny shirts. One sported Elvis Costello rims and a trendy cap. The girls seemed a little more wholesome - but the stage set-up - inlcuding 4 guitars, keyboards and drums - was all rock band.

I wish we could have stayed longer and heard more. Although we got to church at 5:30, the show, which by the way was SRO, didn't start until 6pm and the choir performed 3 "opening act" songs.

Still, we heard 3 songs by the Crabb Family and I have to say, they rocked...Holy Roller style. At one point I wondered how many songs you can write about God, faith and redemption. And then I thought that if you can write 1000s of songs about love, broken hearts, cheatin' boyfriends, unrequited love, and second chances, then why not God and faith.

All in all, it was a different sort of Sunay night from what I am used to, but it was very much a reflection of what life is like down here.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...

Sunday, November 12, 2006

My Greatest Challenge

I suppose I had some concerns when I moved to Lincolnton. Would the slow pace frustrate me? How would I cope without a well rounded selection of restaurants and bars for dining and entertainment purposes? Where would I shop? Could I find iced decaf anywhere?

But these were relatively insignificant concerns in the grand scheme of thing, and I have learned to cope with all of them. For now, I enjoy the slow pace and relish it. There will be plenty of time in the future for rushing and frenzy. I have learned to appreciate Outback and Red Lobster for an occasional night out, I have found a few gems like Willow Creek Inn for when I require a little something more and in all honesty, Zippers and Iron Thunder provide as much entertainment as the lounge at the W Hotel. As for shopping, Wal-Mart has proved to be an excellent panacea (although rumors that a Target is coming to Lincolnton in 2007 have me all a-flutter!). And we know how I've dealt with the iced decaf situation.

The truth is, these weren't really challenges, merely changes in lifestyle.

But I have - in the last 2 weeks - found myself face to face with truly my greatest challenge: driving at night.

I suppose driving 80 miles a day in and of itself was an original challenge. Then came the first time I drove in the rain. Drove in the fog. Drove in the dark. Drove on the Interstate.

My first trip into Charlotte after we moved down here, I white knuckled it the entire way on 85, convinced I would be crushed by a tractor-trailer. My body was so tense when I drove, I had to stretch when I got out of the car.

But I got used to driving. I took back roads instead of the highway. I drove slowly in the rain. I learned to use my lowbeams in the fog. And when I eventually found myself forced to drive on 85 on a trip to Atlanta, I took it slow until I got comfortable.

In fact, everything was fine until the accident. As I wrote right after it happened, the accident knocked me down about 6000 pegs. My confidence was shot. And although I am slowly regaining my confidence behind the wheel, I still hesitate when I change lanes.

Driving in the dark has been a concern for some time. As we approached the end of daylight savings and the days got shorter, it was staying darker, longer, every morning. My morning commute went from no darkness to nearly 30 minutes of darkness over the span of a few short weeks. The only upside was that it always got lighter in the morning. I knew, that at some point during the drive, I'd go from dark to light and all would be ok.

But then came the end to daylight savings and the start of 5:30pm sunsets. It was pitch black by the time I left the office, with no hope for any light.

I found myself hating 2-lane back roads which had once been my salvation because every time a car passed me in the opposite direction, the headlights would glare in my eyes and make it difficult for me to see. Could it be that the LASIK surgery I had 6 years ago was still affecting my night vision?

I found myself unsure of myself in the dark. I'd see headlights reflected in the mirror and have no sense of how much room I actually had to get over. Merging as always been a weak area for me (dating back to an early childhood merge mishap). Merging after the accident has been that much more difficult. And merging in the dark on top of everything leaves me nearly paralyzed with fear.

For the first time one night, I was not able to merge over the 2 lanes I needed to in order to get onto the loop to head home. Instead, I found myself on Highway 74 heading the wrong direction in rush hour traffic. It took me an extra 15 minutes and 5 1/2 miles to get back on the loop in the right direction.

Each night, I get into the car and my heart starts to pound. Anxiety sets in. I contemplate which route to take - which will be safest, which will be least stressful. I know most of my fear is psychological. I suppose I will learn to get comfortable driving at night the same way I learned to drive in the rain. Take it slow and steady. In the meantime, I am counting down the days until December 21st (39) because after that, the days start to get longer again.

The capper came last Tuesday night. It was raining. Driving in the rain at night had me sweating bullets all day. On numerous occasions, I contemplated leaving early. But I figured it wasn't a very good image to project professionally so I toughed it out.

While highway driving has proven easier at night, highway driving in the rain is generally a nightmare and 85 is usually peppered with accidents. So I opted for the back roads. They were pitch black. The presence of fog made it impossible for me to use my brights. Every time a car approached I'd slow to a near halt on the curving roads. I was so blinded by headlights I was unable to see directly in front of me and was not sure how much room I had before going off the road. As I wound my way towards 27, I kept a tight grip on the wheel. I finally got to 27 and turned onto the familiar (and thankfully relatively straight road).

The rain slowed. Traffic was light so I wasn't barraged with a steady stream of headlights. As I approached Lincolnton a wave of relief set in. I was so close to home, I could taste it. Until - what's that flashing light?

A vehicle was parked in the road several hundred feet away. A figure I couldn't see was waving a flashlight indicating I should go - where was he indiciating I should go?

It turns out there had been a terrible tractor trailer accident on 27. I had no choice -- I was being directed back to the back roads I had been so grateul to be off of just moments before.

The amazing thing was that I actually knew the back roads I was being directed to.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...


ps I did eventually make it home. One hour and forty minutes after I left Charlotte.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Goats v. Tractor

People often ask me why we got goats in the first place. Pygmy goats do not seem like a natural pet choice for 2 former urban sophisticates such as me and Marty.

I explain that the goats aren't pets, they are functional. I explain about our 2 acres of pasture and the fact that goats are good at keeping pastures down. I explain that Marty's parents, who inhabited this property before us, used to have upwards of a dozen goats who did just that. I explain that the alternative to goats was to buy a tractor, and frankly, the goats were a whole lot cuter.

Of course, everything I've just said is a big bunch of goat pellets.

Elvis and Ann-Margaret are terrible at keeping the pasture down. Whether it's because they are too little (although Elvis is not so little any more); whether it's because there's not enough of them; whether it's the fact that they are spoiled with twice daily servings of Goat Chow and all the animal crackers they can eat; whether it has something to do with the fact that they seem to enjoy eating tree bark and dead leaves more than grass. I don't know.

But whatever it is, we have to have our neighbor drive down from the top of the hill and bushhog our pasture with his tractor every few weeks.

As far as the role that Ann-Margaret and Elvis play in the Paris family dynamic, they are pets and we treat them as such. I suppose if I had 12 goats roaming the pasture, I wouldn't feel so attached to any one goat. But after all of the goat drama we've been through, Elvis and Ann-Margaret are survivors and I love them for it. They are no doubt members of the family, and for the amount of time and effort (not to mention the vet bills) that go into them, we probably could have gotten a dog.

Of course, the goat drama never really ends with us. They are both sick again. Worms. And Elvis has Coccshidia. This is a worst case scenario as Coccshidia requires twice daily doses of antibiotics for 4 - 7 days and Elvis is difficult to catch. I remember thinking when Ann-Margaret had Coccshidia over the summer, how grateful I was that it was her and not Elvis, as she was easy to grab, hold and squirt in the mouth with her meds.

Not so with him. For Elvis, after the first dose (which the vet was there to help administer), Marty and I relied on mixing the meds in with some food. We'd crush up cookies, add a little Chow and stir in the antibiotics. This worked twice, but Elvis fast caught on that something was up and has since refused to eat any tainted goods.

While I could handle Ann-Margaret on my own, Elvis is a two man goat. And the likelihood of Marty and I both being awake, home and mentally prepared for the task of catching and holding Elvis - not once, but twice - during daylight hours is slim to none. Frankly, once is a stretch.

This leaves us in a bad spot with no obvious or pleasant solution. I am hoping that our being out of town this weekend will leave Elvis so hungry for cookies and Chow, that he'll eat whatever we feed tomorrow when we get home.

On top of the antibiotics, I've got to worry about the 3 doses of dewormer he'll need in 3 days, and Elvis has recently been grooming Ann-Margaret obsessively which is probably an indication that he's getting ready for a roll in the hay.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...