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Saturday, November 19, 2011

We’re Not in New England Anymore, Toto


A few weeks ago, my family went back east to New England to visit my grandfather. Every time we go we stop by the local cider mill to buy cider (my hands-down favorite beverage of all time), freshly baked cider doughnuts, buy local apples, taste test the homemade wine and watch the family that runs the mill operate the old-fashioned wood press that still produces all their cider. The whole things reeks of New England-ness and I just love it.


The press. For more info go to http://www.bfclydescidermill.com/
When we returned home, mum and I decided we would take a trip out to a cider mill here in the Kansas City area. We had heard lots of good things about it and were craving more doughnuts and apples...those little locally grown ones have ten times more flavor than grocery store apples. It’s like comparing apples and...well...apples.
An hour’s drive later, we pull into the gravel parking lot of the famous cider mill. It was all downhill from there. Far from being a quaint destination spot, it was more like a roadside attraction. I expected to see a sign boasting “two headed cow around back.” The parking lot smelled so awful I kept gagging...it was like someone had eaten a ton of cheese then vomited it all over. Gross.
The “mill” itself was a stainless steel, mechanical contraption you could watch from behind a fingerprint-smudged Plexiglas wall. A band straight out of the movie Redemption played country music on a makeshift stage, and a food truck from the local church was serving food. Exchanging disappointed looks, we went into the gift shop to poke around. Nothing in there was local. The apples were all from Michigan, and the snacks, beverages and knickknacks were all national labels you could buy in any grocery store. 
In a last ditch effort to salvage the trip, we bought some cider and “fresh, homemade doughnuts.” While I’m sure the doughnuts were homemade, they were chewy and cold, having been pre-packaged in paper bags and piled behind the counter for the cashiers to hand out. 
We contemplated checking out the corn maze next door, but would have had to walk across the vast, cheese-vomit wafting parking lot. In the end, we drove back home after spending less than 15 minutes at the cider mill. 
This was not our first attempt to seek out the charms of New England in the grasslands of Kansas. Last year we went blueberry picking, one of our favorite past-times in New Hampshire when I was little. The picking itself was really fun, although my mother’s competitive streak meant I spent most of the time trying to keep up with her as she zipped from bush to bush hunting for the best berries. Not really the relaxing bonding experience I had expected. 
All was going well until we made our way back to the gift shop/weighing station to pay for our haul. Inside the shop was a large replica of Noah’s Ark made from popsicle sticks (okay...arts and crafts...cool). Then we started reading the signs posted on it: explanations of how Noah could, and did, bring dinosaurs on the ark (red flag, red flag). Suddenly the large dinosaur statues that dotted the farm made a lot more sense (I had thought they were just there to entertain the little kids).
Apparently, Noah had collected 2 of each kind of dinosaur egg, making for much easier transport than taking live dinosaurs onboard. A sensible argument minus the fact the timeline is off by several millennia.
There wasn’t a sign describing the specifics of dinosaur egg selection, so I’m still baffled as to how Noah knew which eggs had boy dinosaurs and which had girls dinosaurs inside, thus ensuring a pair capable of mating and propagating the species. I nearly asked the nice young girl behind the checkout counter but decided against it. 

Boy and girl eggs...
All in all, I think we’ll stick to New England for satisfying our foraging desires. I love the Midwest, but in some categories it just can’t compare.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

End of an Era


It’s been a while since The Pink Milk Crate has boasted anything new...the past few weeks have zipped by at lightening speed. I am ashamed to have missed out on posting during what is perhaps the most important nesting season of the year. But I’m back on track and excited to share all the decorating, food and crafting things I’ve been up to lately.
Perhaps most interestingly, I should tell you that my pink milk crate will be of no use to me this holiday season. I have been disenfranchised. 
Let me explain.
My mother isn’t exactly a holiday Scrooge, but she’s close when it comes to the trappings and trimmings department. Getting us into the holiday spirit with holiday decor was always my dad’s department. He would carve pumpkins with me and my brother and make a Halloween dummy out of an old shirt and pants stuffed with leaves. He would hang Christmas lights on the house and take us out to the tree farm to cut down our own tree. My mom has always been more of a Home Depot-tree kind of lady. 
Since my dad passed away, generating holiday spirit has been left to me. My mom and brother like the results but don't care enough to put the work into it themselves. I generally carve Halloween pumpkins on my own, decorate the house for Thanksgiving, plan the holiday meals, and fight for the right to put up Christmas lights and a real tree. It has become my annual duty and pleasure. It's a way for me to feel close to my dad again and to express my creativity.
This year, Halloween progressed as usual. I carved pumpkins and used the remote-operated flameless candles my mom insists are more sensible than real tealights (they are actually pretty cool, I must admit). Since my mom, brother and boyfriend were all working, I handed out candy to the kids on my own. Then, a week later, just as I was preparing to launch into my holiday Martha Stewart mode, my mother had a moment of clarity.
I was sitting in the den flipping through Pottery Barn magazine for decorating ideas when my mother came in and flopped down in a chair. “Eliza,” she said, “I think my problem is that I think all the holiday trappings are a hassle. And when you think they are a hassle, they become one. This year I am going to get into the spirit.” I was elated. 

Then the other shoe dropped: “I’m not very good at it though, will you help me?”
The famous mom-phrase. Here is the thing about my mother: she is incredibly artistic. She really just wants a sounding wall, not help. So this is how our “will you help me with something artistic” conversations usually go:
Mom: “I need some ideas.”
Me: “How about x, y or z?”
Mom: “Hmmm...I’m thinking more f.”
Me: “Well then we could a, b, and c to get that look.”
Mom: “Or how about this?"
Me: "Okay."
Mom: “I just don’t know. You do it, you are better at this than me.”
Mom leaves. I start doing my thing. Mom re-enters the room.
Mom: “That looks great! How about we do it like this though?” *fiddle fiddle fix fix fix*
This formula is so predictable it’s become a running joke in our family. Needless to say, the house looks great for Thanksgiving, but I have been relegated to support staff rather than director.
She went with a "natural" theme. The white bowl had a lovely arrangement of pine cones, mini gourds and large acorns but the cats thought it was a buffet, so it will, sadly, remain empty until Thanksgiving dinner itself. Then the serving pieces will hold food. Ah, form AND function.

From the other side. Note the adorable owl pitcher and the small candle-filled urns along the windowsill. Our Thankgiving tablescape will have a similar vibe.
Dried arrangements made from the last of our hydrangea's fall blooms are scattered around the house in cat-proof areas. The colors of the blooms are amazing!
It’s taken some adjusting and a lot of patience, but overall I’m glad. It’s nice to have another holiday-enthusiastic person around. We have already discussed doing an “Old Hollywood” type theme for Christmas, with crystal candlesticks and lots of gold, silver and white. There is talk of roasting a duck and making the calorie splurge for our favorite gruyere-smothered brussels sprout dish.
And my mom hasn’t even once mentioned getting a fake tree. Now THAT is progress.