A Winner, a Baker & BF

First of all, congratulations to Annie of Annie Off Leash! She’s a winner!

Annie is the lucky reader who is getting my first giveaway–a beautiful Art Meets Glass original, pomegranate pendant, created by Marsha Anderson. So, Annie, please email your mailing address to monicastangledweb@gmail.com, so it can be shipped out to you. And, thank you to everyone else who participated. I so appreciate you tweeting the news!

Thanksgiving was at my house this year. Once a year, I cook to my heart’s content, and this was it. I made just about everything from scratch, which is why it’ll probably be another year before I do anything like this again. The best part was that I decided to bake the bread for our meal, something I haven’t done in over 15 years!

Here's what my Grand Champion Dill bread looked like just before baking.

Some people think baking bread is a daunting task. I know, because I used to be one of them. And I don’t know why I stopped (blame it on not enough time in the day), because baking is such a pleasure. It’s soothing, relaxing and rewarding. Now, I do not own a bread machine, as I don’t consider using one to be really baking.  If you ask me, it feels a bit like cheating.

I prefer the old fashioned way. I take the temperature of the water before I mix in the yeast. I let my dough rise several times. I split it in thirds and make long strands, which I then braid together. Brush on egg yolk, then I pop it in the oven.


I’ve baked this bread before and the recipe I used, Grand Champion Dill Bread, is from the 1979/80 issue of Better Homes & Gardens Creative Ideas: Baking Ideas. If you happen to have that issue around, as I do, it’s on page 16. If not, please see recipe below. Let me tell you, the aromas while it’s baking are absolutely heavenly and the bread itself, piping hot from the oven, delicious.  I was afraid I might have forgotten how to bake bread, but, happily, it all came rushing back. Like riding a bike. So, I may be baking bread again soon.

Now, here’s how I managed BF (Black Friday).  My son and I went on a reconnaissance mission. Which means, we gathered by his computer to review the Black Friday circulars at a website devoted to just that (bfads.net). We then made a list of what we both wanted and, while I manned our secret headquarters (aka, my home), he plunged into the night, to stand in line at Best Buy.

Traveling incognito, he arrived a half hour before opening, and quickly discovered the parking lot was already full. He was about to yell, “ABORT, ABORT!,” when suddenly he realized there was parking available across the street. He then fell in line, with about several hundred BF shoppers, a line that wrapped once around the store. By 12:15 a.m. he was in, and our mission was underway: to search out the items on our list.

Meanwhile, my job was to be on standby (like one of those phone operators in India). Periodically, he’d call me to have me check prices online, verify product codes, and check availability. Isn’t technology amazing?

I only had two items on the list we made: the latest Harry Potter film just released on DVD, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. It was on sale for $9.99. Also on my list, a blu-ray disc player selling for a low $39.99, which we knew would be a long shot as, at those prices, they always go fast.

Success! More or less. Despite being told they were out of the blu-ray disc players, he found a lone one, discarded in another aisle, no doubt by someone who had changed their mind. As for the DVD, he picked up the right one, then at the last minute, he switched the it  for a version that claimed to be in 3-D, as he had recently purchased for himself a 3-D television and wanted to try it out.  Unfortunately, in the excitement of the moment, he didn’t notice that the 3-D version was actually part one of The Deathly Hallows and not part two.

The upshot was that I got to lounge around and relax with a movie on TV while he ran around like crazy gathering his purchases.  He did say that everything was nice and orderly and the people, including the customers, were rather helpful. The worst part? The line to pay. It took him over an hour to get through that line.

So how about you? How did you spend Thanksgiving and Black Friday?

Grand Champion Dill Bread

1 package active dry yeast

¼ cup warm water

1 cup dairy sour cream

1 beaten egg

1 tablespoon butter or margarine, softened

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon dill seed

1 tablespoon dried dill weed

1 teaspoon salt

4 to 6 cups unbleached flour

1 beaten egg yolk

In large mixing bowl, sprinkle yeast over warm water. Stir in sour cream, beaten egg, butter, onion, sugar, dill seed, dill weed, salt and 1 cup of the flour. Beat with spoon till well blended. Stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can with a spoon. Turn out onto lightly floured surface; knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately stiff dough. Continue kneading till smooth and elastic. Place in greased bowl; turn once to grease surface. Let rise till double, 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours. Punch down; divide in thirds. Cover; let rest 10 minutes. Roll each third to an 18-inch rope. Place on greased baking sheet; braid. Combine egg yolk and 2 teaspoons water; brush atop loaf. Bake in 350 degree oven for 35 to 40 minutes. Makes 1 loaf.

The Road Taken: Living Amid Demons

Chapter 6:  They say it rains more in Seattle than just about anywhere else, but that’s not true. After G moved to Seattle he became an expert of sorts about the city and would often enjoy telling me how, drop per drop, it rained more in New York each year, than it did in the Northwest. G explained that while we had more cloudy days in Seattle, when it did rain, it was more often a drizzle than an actual downpour. Yes, G had become one of those Seattleites who feels a need to protect their city from stereotyping, and from those who assume Seattle to be synonymous with rain.

But none of this mattered to me on the night of the dinner we were hosting for Lia and Miles, our first dinner party as a couple. We planned the dinner, made a list of what needed to be done and which of us would do it. G made the quiche, I made the salad. He made the drinks and I set the table.  I also made dessert, a chocolate peanut butter pie that called for a ready-made graham cracker crust.  It was a no-bake recipe that I had cut out from a magazine, and my plan was to prepare it as soon as Stan and Jeannette left the house, so as to avoid any eye rolling from Stan.

Everything was in place. Stan and Jeannette were going out to a party that a colleague from Stan’s lab was throwing.  Of course, it was hard for me to imagine that Stan actually had any friends, but for all I knew, his colleague must have felt obligated to invite him, simply because everyone else from the lab was going. Meanwhile, Marigold was heading out to Issaquah to spend the weekend with friends.  At last! G and I were going to have the place to ourselves.

We planned for everything, except the rain.  And not the usual drizzling rain. Nope. We’re talking hardcore, menacing, rain. The kind you get in a horror movie where everyone has to seek solace in a dilapidated house, replete with demons. Buckets of rainfall, comes to mind.  So, too, gusty winds, and, naturally, treacherous roads, as was being reported on the news.

Don’t go out if you don’t have to, a reporter from KING news warned from her outdoor perch, somewhere along Puget Sound.  The winds blew violently against her trench coat, pummeling the poor woman in the blustery night.  Marigold, took one look and declared, “I’m not driving to Issaquah tonight. Not in that.”

Stan and Jeannette headed to their party on Capitol Hill, but only to get caught in traffic waiting to go over the University Bridge, a draw bridge that had become stuck in the raised position. Soon enough—too soon if you ask me—Stan and Jeannette gave up and returned home. The raised bridge and inclement weather also kept Lia and Miles from coming.

“We better do this another night,” said a disappointed Lia over the phone. I sighed. Marigold was right. It just wasn’t worth going out on a night like this.

“Anyway,” remarked Stan, “All’s not lost.” He cracked the oven door open and took a peak at G’s swiss cheese and mushroom quiche, still baking.  The savory, buttery aroma filled the air.

“At least we get to eat a fine dinner,” he added. Looking at me, he offered his version of an olive branch, “How about I finish setting the table? I’m famished!”

I looked at G, hoping he’d say something, find a way out of this predicament. But G looked at me and shrugged, as if to say, “What can we do?”

This is when I wanted to cry. All our effort for our first dinner party, and we’re dining, not with our friends, but with our housemates? The same ones who have found multiple, passive aggressive ways to make me feel like, well, Yoko Ono honing in on the Beatles?

In the corner of the dining room, there was a small oak hutch. It belonged to Stan, an heirloom from his grandmother. The cabinet was empty as Stan didn’t want to use it and run the risk of one of us damaging it by opening and closing its doors repeatedly.  I found myself wanting to crawl inside the little hutch, to escape and be alone in my gloom, away from this dilapidated house, amid demons that had it in for me.

Instead, I ignored Stan. So much for the best-laid plans. This is not what I expected or wanted, and it was all I could do to hold back my tears. As I finished making the chocolate peanut butter pie, pouring the batter into the graham cracker crust, Stan noticed the dessert for the first time.

He grabbed the recipe that I had cut out from the magazine, which called for peanut butter, melted chocolate and, yes, whipped topping, an item that would never have been found in Stan’s side of the fridge. He read the list of ingredients, then looked at the dessert.  Shaking his head in disbelief, he said curtly,

“You’ve got to be kidding! There’s no way we’re eating that tonight. No way! “ He looked at G, hoping for support, but, thankfully, got none.

There was only one step left to preparing the dessert. It needed to be chilled for an hour so that the chocolate peanut butter concoction could set.  I looked at the dessert. It had turned out beautifully, with a smooth, finished look. I could smell the chocolate and the peanut butter mixed together. I had licked the spatula and found the combination of ingredients perfect. Just enough sweetness. This was one of my favorite desserts, which I had lovingly prepared for friends who were no longer coming.

I grabbed the chocolate peanut butter pie and, lifting it high over my head, smashed it on the kitchen floor. It landed inches from Stan’s feet, splattering chocolate on his shoes and jeans.


As I ran to my room, I felt the tears burn my cheeks, and it felt good.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Growing up, whenever we traveled to Venezuela, the relatives we visited most were on my mother’s side. She had five sisters and a brother, and collectively she and her siblings had six spouses and 23 kids, which made for robust family get-together’s, lots of dancing, and plenty of tasty, Venezuelan dishes.

My uncle, far right, sometime in 1953.

Yet of all my uncles, the one who was most dear to me was on my father’s side and we didn’t have to fly to Caracas to see him. Like us, Tio Emilio lived in New York, just a train ride away. And yet we didn’t see him much and we never visited his home. Tio Emilio had a wandering soul and wherever he went, he seemed to have one foot out the door. Which is probably why he joined the United States Navy and why he now worked for a cruise line. To see the world. But when he returned, it was always a big deal.

I wasn’t sure what his job on the ship was, but I imagined he was a world-class chef, preparing culinary delights for the passengers. Later, I learned that he was more of a cook’s aid, washing dishes and peeling carrots. It didn’t matter. In our home, he was our very own master chef, whipping up sumptuous meals for all of us.  Hands down, his was the best Venezuelan paella I’d ever tasted.

A visit from Tio Emilio generated much excitement. My mother would put on her best dress and bring out the fine china. She’d then follow my uncle around the kitchen as he chopped, basted and stirred. Like a shadow, she’d be ready to provide him with his every need. Olive oil? Check. Garlic? Check. Green pepper? Raisins? Check, check.

Looking suave in Manhattan, 1960.

Scooping up the chopped onions and garlic, he’d toss them into the simmering pan. He’d wait for the onions to turn translucent before adding the peppers, tomatoes and saffron. All the while, Tio Emilio would sip wine and smile serenely as the aromas from the pan signaled his masterpiece would soon be ready.

While my uncle worked his magic, my mother would regale him with the family stories he had missed while away. How I loved to see them together! They were as one in the kitchen—laughing, chatting and drinking, truly enjoying each other’s company. Which is why I hated the long spells of not seeing my uncle.

He appeared and disappeared months at a time.  When is he coming back?  My parents wouldn’t say. Years later, I learned the reason for the long absences. My uncle was living a double life: the one we saw and the one we weren’t allowed to see. Turns out, my uncle was gay.  Don’t ask, don’t tell.

I wondered what it must have been like for him to have to hide this part of his life from us and, I assume, from the world at large. In a way, I was jealous of those in his inner circle, the ones that knew him in a way I could not. At the same time, my heart went out to him, for not being able to live openly, freely. I wanted to let him know it didn’t matter to me.  But I never said a word. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was our motto long before the words took meaning.  Eventually, I moved away from New York and saw my uncle even less.

Then one day, my father called to tell me my uncle had died. Cause of death was kept as hidden from us as his homosexuality once had been. I heard he died from alcoholism. I later heard it was complications as a result of being HIV positive. It didn’t matter. Silently, in the darkness of my Seattle home, I mourned for my uncle and for all that could have been.

A few days later I received a package in the mail with a note written by my father:

“Hija, your uncle wanted you to have this.”

Peeling away the layers of brown wrapping and tissue paper, I discovered a photo album simply labeled, “Fotos de Emilio.” It was filled with black and white pictures depicting his life as a gay man, intermingled with a few photos of his nieces and nephews. Here, at last, both worlds came together as one.  Pictures of his world travels and of time spent with friends and with family.  My uncle. How handsome, how debonair.  A kind and tolerant man, who lived his life with civility and solitary dignity. Here was the life he never spoke of, but in the end he wanted me to know. In his own way, my uncle was telling me, this is what mattered most. This was his legacy to me.