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fancy schmancy delancey

There’s a quiet little movie from 1988 that I absolutely love, although it probably didn’t pull in big numbers at the box office and you may not even have heard of it. Crossing Delancey. To me, it’s a sweet little love story with a basic plot. Girl meets boy; girl is pursued by boy; girl thinks boy isn’t smart enough / ambitious enough / sophisticated enough; boy goes his own way, proving her wrong; girl pursues boy before it is too late; girl and boy fall in love. The end.

The film is set in New York – largely in the Lower East Side of Manhattan (Delancey Street) – where Isabel (played by Amy Irving), frequently visits her elderly, meddling Jewish grandmother. On one such visit, Isabel discovers that, without her knowledge or assent, she has been “matched” (no, not by Tinder – by an old-fashioned matchmaker) with Sam (Peter Riegert), an attractive and truly good man. The problem for Izzie? Sam sells pickles for a living. Sure, he owns the business, but the pickles part just doesn’t work for her. (Did I mention that Isabel works for a highbrow, uptown bookseller and pals around with the hoity toity of New York City’s literati?)

Of course, eventually she sees the light and realizes that well-educated, well-read, well-dressed Sam is the perfect match for her and that she has been, well, there’s no other way to say it, acting way too big for her britches (or her perfectly imperfect, arty ’80s wardrobe).

The charm of the movie lies in Sam – his quiet, unexpected sense of humor; his absolute kindness and decency; the respect with which he treats Isabel. To say nothing of the fact that he smells of vanilla because he soaks his hands in it to rid them of the scent of pickles.

Which brings me to the subject of good guys in the movies. Characters who become swoon-worthy because they are so decent and just plain nice. Who win the leading lady not necessarily because of good looks but because of their good acts. Who offer substance versus flash.

Characters who put the “men” in “mensch.” To wit:

Steve Martin in It’s Complicated. A vulnerable, sweet-with-a-capital-S, smart, and good-natured architect whose heart is still wounded from a divorce, Martin’s character, Adam, steals the heart of Meryl Streep’s character, Jane (also sweet, also smart, also vulnerable and a highly successful entrepreneur) – luring her away from the arms of her selfish (albeit rich and Porsche-driving) ex-husband. Not complicated at all.

Jack Black in The Holiday. An absolute sweetheart of a movie-score composer, Black’s character, Miles, is the good friend that Kate Winslet’s Iris needs after being so mistreated by her bottom dweller of a non-committal, cheating, sometimes-boyfriend, Jasper (who gets engaged but continues to string Iris along until she says enough is enough). Adorable and adoring, generous and generally a gem, Miles unbreaks Iris’s heart by giving her his heart, wrapped in a big red bow.

Colin Firth in Bridget Jones’s Diary. It’s hard not to expect that Mark Darcy (echoing the Mr. Darcy of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice) will win the day, but things don’t go well at first. Held in not-so-high esteem by everyone’s favorite can’t-get-her-act-together heroine, Bridget (Renée Zellweger), Mark is the underdog against the devastatingly handsome and naughty Daniel (Hugh Grant), whom Bridget has set her sights on. But Daniel turns out to be the dirty dog we knew he would be (no offense to dogs) and Bridget finally sees that Mark is the one for her – solid, dependable, distinguished, romantic. And a great kisser. Dear Diary.

Simply put, fancy that.

©2023 Claudia Grossman

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she sells seashells

Many of you may know of my enchantment with mermaids and how they are the inspiration for my first novel, The Mermaid Mahjong Circle. What I have not shared previously, though, is this account from my childhood that, along with a myriad of storybooks and their illustrations, has made mermaids forever magic to me.

Living on a coast, whether it be the East or the West, has been a constant for me, meaning that the beauty of a beach has never been far away. And while I’m not a swimmer, a beach stroll, be it during a peaceful sunrise on Cape Cod or a splendiferous sunset in Santa Barbara, has always been a privilege I have never taken lightly. Few joys can match the perfection of a fall afternoon strolling on a deserted Long Island beach, snuggled into a scarf to keep out the chill, taking sips of hot chocolate or hot apple cider to stay warm. Or the absolute pleasure of that first bite of a homemade sandwich on a brilliant July beach day in Half Moon Bay – simple fare tasting so special because of the salt air and even the few grains of sand adding a distinctive summertime crunch. Or the seashells.

Seashells have always seemed like storybooks to me. In sun-faded, sea-washed shades of ivory and rose, pale pink and soft peach, swirled with violet and caramel tones, silver and mauve, they hold the stories of the creatures that once inhabited them, of the ocean waves that have tossed them, and of the beaches on which they have been strewn, often to be picked up again and again. Scallops and whelks, lady slippers and clam shells, sand dollars and turbo shells – all hand-colored by nature, some pearled, others matte, still others translucent from time. These are the pieces of magic, of make-believe, of imagination that enhance every beach outing for me and have forever.

Every beach walk always brings to mind a memory of a little girl on a Cape Cod beach back when I was young. I saw her one day – a delicate sprite – sitting nearby on the beach with a sign reading, “Fresh Found Seashells – 10 Cents Each!” She had all of her seashells spread in perfect concentric circles on the sand around her as she waited for beachgoers to stop for a moment and browse. Her long hair curled all the way down her back and mixed with the shells as she sat there, and her eyes, an unusual blue-gray-green, shifted in color the same way the ocean changes color as the clouds skirt above it. She seemed almost to be a fairy child, practically glowing in the rays of sunlight that touched her, while pieces of sea glass and abalone, mixed in with the shells, added their glimmer to the setting.

I so wanted to approach her and look at the seashells she had gathered. But I was too shy, so I just watched from a few feet away. I thought it was curious that people passed by without stopping even though she made such a beautiful picture. It was almost as if she weren’t there at all but merely an ephemeral vision in the sand. At one point, she looked up from her shells and smiled at me, lifting one hand to beckon me over. Embarrassed at being caught staring, I quickly looked away.

Later that evening, when my mother was tucking me in for the night, I asked her about the girl selling shells. “There was no little girl selling shells,” she told me, puzzled. Neither did my father remember seeing her when I asked him about it as he turned out my bedroom light. “It must have been a dream,” he concluded. “All that sun made you drowsy and you fell asleep for a while on the blanket.”

A dream? Perhaps. Too much sun? Maybe. A figment of my imagination brought on by all the storybooks I loved and hoped one day to write? Could be. But one thing remains unexplained. The sweetly pink, perfectly scalloped seashell I found in my sand pail when I picked it up to take it to the beach the next morning.

I hadn’t put it there but I like to think that she had.

Magic indeed.

© 2023 Claudia Grossman

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so i married a rock star …

… whose career went no further than the middle of seventh grade. But still.

B. was little as a kid, born in December when all of his classmates and buddies were born earlier in the year and, as a result, went through their growth spurts sooner. As such, his two goals before reaching his bar mitzvah at age 13 were a) to be 5 feet, and b) to weigh 100 pounds. (Little kid, big dreams.)

But, small as he might have been in stature, he more than made up for it in personality, energy, and his never-ending ability to make himself known. (FYI, for those who don’t know him, he is now average height and weight but still has a big personality and a lot of energy – the uncaffeinated kind.)

But I digress. Back in fourth grade, B. wanted to be part of the school’s recital band, and drums were his instrument of choice. To the percussion section he was assigned. But given that there were fifth and sixth graders who were already the named drummers, he was designated to – wait for it – the cymbals.

The cymbals. Two huge disks that were almost as big as he was tall, that he held in both hands and crashed together with huge enthusiasm – and volume. Not the focus of the band, but certainly stealing the spotlight with a grand gesture each time it was his turn to play. The picture of him in my mind (tiny and adorable) with this big, big sound coming from his corner just cracks me up.

My favorite part of this story is when B. and his fourth-grade buddies formed their own band – just three kids playing in the living room for the love of music. Their name? Get ready for it – Nitro and the Dynamites. I kid you not.

Me: Who thought of the name?

He: Me.

Me: Who was Nitro?

He: (a bit indignantly) Me.

Me: (trying not to laugh) And did you have a special drum set at home?

He: (looking at me pityingly) Of course. It was a gold sparkle drum set that said Nitro and the Dynamites across the bass drum. Like the Beatles.

Me: You had a customized bass drum?

He: Well …

Me: (thinking this is too good to let go of) You had a bass drum printed with the name of the band?

He: Not exactly.

Me: Then what exactly?

He: I customized it. (Proud of himself)

Me: How?

He: Remember oaktag?

Me: Of course.

He: I cut out a big circle from black oaktag, wrote the name of the band on it in gold glitter, and attached it to the front of the drum.

Me: Wait – you used Elmer’s Glue to write the name and then sprinkled it with gold glitter and shook off the excess?

He: (looking uncomfortable) Yeah. I was a kid.

Me: (kissing him) That is the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard.

He: Really? (looking both suddenly shy and pleased with himself) I even had a boom mic over my drum set.

Me: Stop. You’re killing me.

B. finally had the chance to play the drums in band in fifth and sixth grades (“I brought my own drumsticks from home,” he says proudly), and it looked like his rocker career had taken root. At friends’ bar mitzvahs in mid-seventh grade, the event bands would let him sit in, and my husband (first a lawyer and now a college professor) would wail away on the drum solos to “Wipeout” and “Hawaii Five-0” like nobody’s business. “Did you have any groupies?” I’ve asked him jokingly. “I was a little kid,” he responds, as if I’d asked a silly question (which I had). But his answer has always been accompanied by a little dreaming-of-being-a-rock-star smile.

But junior high (seventh grade in those days) had combined several elementary schools with lots of drummers, and B. lost interest in being one of many. His interest was channeled instead into growing to love rock music and its very best drummers – Charlie Watts and Keith Moon at first, the incredible Max Weinberg a bit later on (evidence of the latter being our five forays to see the E Street Band in concert). It expanded to a love of so many kinds of music (jazz and big-band, anyone?) and to a wide range of musical artists – musicians, songwriters, and vocalists.

His passion for music and his admiration for those who create and perform it is an absolute joy to see and to live with. (“I’m just in complete awe of anyone who can sit down and make music,” he says not infrequently.) And for those who might be curious, yes, Nitro still exists – each time B. breaks out into that opening riff from Five-0 (using his hands) on the dining room table.

The beat goes on.

©2023 Claudia Grossman

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nosh, nosh, who’s there?

To understand that noshing is an art is to realize one of life’s great joys. Yes, a nosh is akin to a snack; to nosh is to nibble at a non-mealtime. But it is so much more – and to nosh like an expert, you need to understand some of the guidelines.

Most important, a nosh is not just any bite. It’s a taste of something particularly delicious at a time when you may not even realize that you’re hungry and craving that very thing. It’s a snack with attitude. With an extra helping of comfort. With a sense of humor. To wit:

A slice of pizza (or two) is lunch. A nibble of cold pizza the next morning before breakfast? A nosh.

Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings is a meal, obviously. But a half-sandwich of cold stuffing and cranberry sauce on a dinner roll with hot gravy for dipping? That’s a nosh. (Extra points if it’s at one in the morning while everyone else is asleep.)

You know that long, empty space between lunch and dinner? Sure, an apple is a healthy snack. But is it a nosh (aka does it feed your soul)? Not unless it’s baked into a strudel, served with a tall glass of cold milk, and has somebody’s great-aunt Shirley on the other end of it, urging it on you (even though you’re not all that hungry, you’re trying to watch your calories, and you never eat between meals). “So you’ll eat a bite or two to hold you over until dinner,” Shirley cajoles. You do, and you have to admit she was right – nothing quite compares to that fresh-baked strudel on a cold, wet, winter afternoon. Congratulations, you’ve just become a nosher.

Try this one. A mug of bone broth while curled up on the sofa enjoying a good read – nosh or not? Not so much (the broth, not the read). A nutritional break, at best. But a bowl of savory wonton soup with shreds of roasted pork and slivers of scallions floating around (plus those crispy noodles on top), with your book propped up against the rim? That’s a nosh.

A nosh has to have heart – it has to have some fun attached to it. Yup, hummus served with fresh carrot sticks is good for you and includes a bunch of food groups. But how much heart does it have? How much does eating it make you smile? Now compare that to a piece of carrot cake with cream-cheese frosting; it’s got multiple food groups too – carrots and nuts and dairy from the frosting – but it’s way more fun. Again, the nosh wins out.

I realize that at this time of year, when so many of us are resolving to lose a few extra pounds, to eat better, to get into shape, that noshing may be off the table (no pun intended there). But in my mind, it’s important to indulge occasionally (or frequently, wink, wink) in order to keep on an even keel. Never underestimate the feel-good power of the perfect nosh (homemade guacamole and chips, anyone?).

Look at it this way. Compare a nosh to a warm hug. Sometimes it’s exactly what you need. Even if you don’t realize it.

Aren’t you glad I didn’t say banana?

©2022 Claudia Grossman

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snow place else

While LA is certainly home sweet home to this self-professed California girl, this time of year brings a certain fondness for my early years in New York City. There really is no place else like it during the holidays – at least in my growing-up memories.

Back then, New York City in December had a certain magic that I’ve not seen elsewhere since. I grew up about 30 miles outside its sparkling skyline, and the holiday season meant trips into The City to take it all in. To wit:

Legendary Fifth Avenue seemed dressed up in its holiday best, its store windows filled with magical, moving figures set in holiday scenes, with crowds at each one, transfixed by the show. From B. Altman at 34th Street and Fifth, to Lord & Taylor on 38th, to Saks Fifth Avenue on 51st, the street was one amazing holiday card brought to life. My mother and I would walk block after block, pausing at some point for lunch in one of the then-elegant department-store restaurants. No matter how cold it got (and it felt really cold back then), the promise of a hot pretzel from a street cart (something that has never tasted as good anywhere else) was all I needed to keep warm.

We would meet my father after his work day ended and then explore even more, the city now brilliantly aglow. There was the Rockefeller Plaza tree with its zillions of lights. A gigantic, invisibly suspended snowflake at 57th Street. Cartier, wrapped in a huge red ribbon; Tiffany, its windows overflowing with jewels (bigger and brighter in my young mind, I’m sure, than in reality); FAO Schwarz, its irresistible musical clock luring us in and its gigantic teddy bears and overflowing abundance of toys making it hard to leave.

New York offered far too much for one holiday excursion, though. I remember a Sunday afternoon visit each year to see The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center. While I had always dreamed of being a ballerina as a little girl, my shyness kept me from taking ballet lessons. But The Nutcracker gave my heart and my imagination fearless freedom, and I loved those performances dearly. Tutus, dancing candy canes, the luminescent Sugar Plum Fairy – and the soaring music. Thinking about it now gives me the same shiver of joy.

And then, of course, a trip to the magnificent Radio City Music Hall to see the Rockettes and a holiday movie. It didn’t matter much to me what the movie was. Seeing those dancers kick in absolute, perfect unison never failed to delight me. Santa arriving on stage afterward always seemed far less exciting than that amazing line of women.

Chrismastime in New York City back then was like the stars being aligned in a way long gone today. There was the cold weather, of course, meaning rosy cheeks, mittens, and the promise of snow flurries. There were the classic department stores. There was the idea of getting dressed up to go into The City. And there was, above all, a sense of innocence. The innocence of a little girl whose eyes got wider each time a new bit of holiday magic came into view. The innocence of a city that believed in the miracles of the season. And the innocence of feeling safe in a snowglobed world.

May we all find a few moments this holiday to feel that kind of innocent joy again. To laugh with family or friends or both. To welcome a bit of comfort into our days and magic into our nights. To remember our childhood dreams and to dream of good things to come. Happy holidays, one and all.

Visions of sugar plums, indeed.

©2022 Claudia Grossman

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fowl play

This Thanksgiving post originally appeared several years ago – this updated version (more laughs included) is dedicated to all those who prepare a Thanksgiving feast, big or small, for friends and family. Thank you for all the love and effort you put into it – and happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Something isn’t exactly right at our place on Thanksgiving. In truth, I suspect foul play. Because up until recently, most of our Thanksgivings, while certainly warm and joyful, have been haunted by the specter of, there’s no other way to say it, turkeys past. And by that, I mean the Thanksgiving meals that both B. and I grew up with – perfectly roasted turkey, perfectly carved turkey, perfectly ready-when-company-arrives turkey. But our Thanksgivings? Not so much. Leading me to conclude that my favorite Thanksgiving dinner is the one someone else cooks. To wit:

The Very First Turkey Thanksgiving. I had never made a turkey before, so I watched hours of the food channel in order to prepare for the feast (we were having just a couple of friends over). It seemed that every cooking-show host, while stuffing their turkey, warned against overstuffing. I, as a result, became hysterical when B. started adding spoonful after spoonful into the bird. Me: “Stop! Stop! Stop!” He: “What? What? What?” (Two former New Yorkers, we speak in exclamation points and multiples.) Me: “If we overstuff the turkey, something terrible will happen!” He: “What, exactly?” Me: “I don’t know … but I think the bird explodes!” He: “Does that seem realistic?” Me: (after breathing into a paper bag to stop hyperventilating) “Oh … I guess if you overstuff the turkey, the stuffing just spills out.” He: “There you go.” Me: “Shut up.”

The Turkey that Wouldn’t Get Done Thanksgiving. When my in-laws came to visit us one Thanksgiving (different apartment and oven), I was well prepared. This time there’d be no foolishness about overstuffing, no lack of confidence about a perfectly cooked turkey, and not one proverbial feather out of place. Wrong. When the three-hour cooking time for the turkey grew to four, five, and then six hours, I knew that something was afoul. The internal temperature had yet to reach the proper number (another food channel directive), and so we cooked on and on. At seven hours, the turkey was done (temperature-wise) and done (tough stuff). Turns out, our oven was not working correctly. Call it 50 degrees of miscalibration.

The Whose Thanksgiving Is It Anyway? Thanksgiving. Ah, yes. The time that one of our guests decided that she was Martha Thanksgiving Stewart – and decided to make our Thanksgiving celebration her very own. Without asking and without delay, she rushed to the table (nicely set, if I say so myself), removed the flowers at the center, and replaced them with a pair of turkey-shaped candles (not candlesticks, because that would have been bad enough, but candles). She then reorganized the refrigerator (that is, shoved all of my platters and bowls aside) to make room for her jell-o mold in the shape of a yes, you guessed it, turkey. And finally, the pièce de resistance – she showered the table with turkey-shaped glitter. The. Entire. Table. And the floor. We were crunching tiny metallic turkeys underfoot for the next two weeks.

The Bye Bye Miss Pumpkin Pie Thanksgiving. Last year’s, known in our home as The Thanksgiving the Oven Died. Enough to make me want to consume vast amounts of whiskey and rye. Enough said.

Despite all the misadventure, I do love Thanksgiving, albeit not the turkey. So for years, not one giblet showed up in my kitchen. Instead, I made brisket with all the Thanksgiving sides (tip: it makes great leftovers).

Due to popular demand, though, it seems that turkey (breast) has made its way back onto the menu here. But it’s okay, I’ve got this one under control. I’m fully confident (well, sort of) that it will turn out perfectly without incident. If not, there’s always extra pumpkin pie (purchased from the bakery) for everyone to fill up on.

What could go wrong?

ⓒ2015, 2022 Claudia Grossman

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checking all the boxes

We all know of women who are renowned for their accomplishments; women who have made a name for themselves on the national or international stage; women who have changed lives with their innovations, their breakthrough talents, their extraordinary hearts and brilliant minds. And for them we are left thankful and in awe, on our feet, applauding. Brava.

This post is about a woman whose universe is much smaller, but whose impact is hugely meaningful on a daily basis. Someone who puts her heart into each interaction every day (and we’re talking hundreds of face-to-face encounters); someone whose quick mind and amazing memory engender countless smiles of appreciation; someone who has made myriads of lives better by showing what it means to put herself into her work, by showing how much she cares, by showing up. By checking all the boxes.

No, she’s not a doctor, although she’s lovingly tended to her share of scraped knees and assorted owies, cared for an elderly parent over the past several years, and listened to a litany of workplace woes. She’s not a lawyer, although she’s settled lots of kids’ skirmishes and on-the-job customer issues for decades. She’s not famous by celebrity standards, either on a marquee or on social media, although she’s incredibly well-known among her weekly audience of fans. She’s not a scientist, although she seems to have the science of human behavior down pat. And she’s not an artist per se, although what she leaves as she retires this week is some kind of beautiful.

This woman is a supermarket checker, or at least she was until a few days ago. She held the very same job for more than 45 years, ever since she was 15, and she retires now having touched thousands of people over the decades with her charm, her decency, and her absolute niceness. Starting in high school and continuing through college, through marriage, divorce, and single motherhood, through her own series of life’s ups and downs, she has persevered. And done so wonderfully and meaningfully.

Having been her customer for 25 of those years, I’ve come to know her well (although I’m not the only one who would wait a little longer on her line just to have the chance to chat during the checkout process – probably why her line was always the longest). She’d always, always remember to ask about family, about how B.’s teaching was going, about how my writing was going, about when he and I were going up to the Bay Area for our next vacation. About how our respective moms were doing, about how my health was, about how much she enjoyed my book. And she loved (loves!) to talk about her son (now a grown man) and his bright future. Unbelievably, I’d hear her have the same kind of detailed, specific conversations with her other long-time customers, too, always remembering the ins and outs of people’s lives. And always caring enough to ask.

So there she was earlier this week, wearing a glittery “I’m retired” tiara and matching sash on her last day at work, continuing to ring up groceries while customers and coworkers stopped by in a steady stream, offering congratulations and best wishes and telling her how much they would miss her. And I was certainly one of them, handing her a bouquet of white hydrangeas and wishing her all the best. “It’s been wonderful serving you and knowing you all these years,” she told me warmly. “And I hope that you and B. get the chance to retire to San Francisco. I know how much you both love it there.” That last comment did it – I found myself welling up at her remembering how much that city means to us and having the insight to understand how wonderful that dream might be.

She’s moving to the other side of the country in a few months, relocating to be near her son and his growing family. This born-and-bred California girl is off to explore the next chapter of her life with an open heart, an open mind, and open arms. To those who are about to meet her, believe me, you’re in for something – and someone – special.

Check her out.

©2022 Claudia Grossman

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is it chili in here?

It seems that more and more these days, the little imp who loves to mess around with my efforts in the kitchen is alive and well. Baking doesn’t seem to be its focus, thankfully, but cooking certainly is – let’s just say that the imp strikes so often that the person at the takeout pizza place and I are on the verge of becoming BFFs. I could blame the oven, but nope, my baking turns out just fine each time (way to go, let’s put that jinx opportunity out there for the imp to jump on). But my cooking endeavors? Just not going very well right now. I’m pretty sure it’s a phase (I certainly hope so), but I’m also pretty sure it’s enough already.

Last night’s effort was the latest of these foibles. And it all started out so well. To wit:

I make a really good turkey chili, if I say so myself. So good, that it doesn’t even need the tomatoes that I leave out (B. hates canned tomatoes). So good that it doesn’t need a bed of rice under it. So good that whether you pair it with with a cold beer or a decent Cabernet, you’ll be very happy. (If you’d like the recipe, let me know. No pressure. But it really is very good.)

Rather than leave a good thing alone, though (who me?), I decided to try something different yesterday. Something creative. Something that looked amazing when it came out of the oven but, well, things are not always as they appear.

While I almost always make cornbread to go along with the chili, this time I thought, why not save some calories (we eat far too much of the cornbread when I make it – it’s more like, would you like some chili with that cornbread instead of the other way around). Why not top the chili with the cornbread batter instead of making a whole pan of the bread? Kind of like a shepherd’s pie or pot pie effect. Also, I was going for an Ina (Garten), homecooked vibe. Sounds good, right? One would think so.

So I set to work, cooking the chili on the stove, then ladling it into a pie plate. Next I prepared the cornbread mix according to the package directions and spooned the batter atop the chili. Except. It seems that I had packed the chili almost to the very top of the pie plate so that now the batter hovered dangerously close to the rim. And we know that cornbread rises as it bakes. (Disclaimer: I did, in fact, use the entire bowl of batter to cover the chili. It just looked so naked without a nice snug blanket of cornbread covering every single inch.) Fearing overflow, I spooned some of the batter off the chili.

But it takes a lot more than a tricky batter to ruin my perfect ballgame. (Or so I thought.) Into the oven the dish went and 30 minutes went on the timer. About 15 minutes in, I realized we were in the danger zone. The batter was rising beautifully – up, up, and over the edge of the plate. Quickly, I pulled a cookie sheet out of a drawer and then carefully, oh so carefully, removed the chili from the oven, slid the cookie sheet in, and placed the pie plate back on it. Extra points for avoiding spills all over the oven; lost points for opening the door, thereby lowering the oven temperature. Minutes put back on the clock.

And then, the big moment, The cornbread crust was golden brown on top and smelled heavenly.

Until all hell broke loose. I took my masterpiece out of the oven, let it cool a few minutes, and spooned out a picture-perfect scoop – steaming, bubbly, tempting. But wait – what was that? Under the beautiful, golden cornbread crown was – oh, no, no, no. Rivers of uncooked batter, obeying the laws of physics, gravity, and Murphy, were now making their way throughout most of the chili. I lifted off the entire cornbread lid (nibble-worthy only at the very edges) to find that 90% of it had just not cooked through. Sheesh.

The good news? I did manage to scoop out enough unbattered chili from the bottom of the pie plate to make two small servings (I wanted us to eat lighter, right?). The bad news? The cornbread was theoretically a loss. The other good news? At least there was a half-full bag of tortilla chips in the pantry (way to look at the situation as half full).

What went wrong? Maybe I should have kept it in the oven longer and covered the top with foil to keep it from over-browning. Maybe I should have gone with a much thinner layer of batter. Maybe I should have left things alone and made the chili the way I always have and baked the cornbread separately.

Maybe we should have had popcorn for dinner.

Half-baked.

©2022 Claudia Grossman

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if they only had a clue

I’ll admit it – I’m probably the only person out there who can’t stand The Wizard of Oz. What was meant to enchant, enlighten, and entertain just leaves me endlessly edgy. While I know that the film has been a classic since its 1939 inception – and while I get how the transformation from black and white to full-blown, glorious color (especially back then) is a magnificent achievement – for the life of me, I don’t understand how the events captured on screen don’t scare the living daylights out of everyone. But maybe that’s just me. To wit:

For starters, we’ve got the tornado that lifts Dorothy’s house up, up and away – until it comes crashing down on a person. A person! Okay, a witch, but still. That pair of legs that sticks out from the house’s foundation and then just rolls up and disappears – am I the only one that finds that event the least bit disturbing? (Of course, I also shiver whenever I pass Halloween decorations depicting fake hands reaching out from the grave, so that might explain my discomfort.)

Once she “lands” in Oz, who comes to greet Dorothy but a singing, dancing mob, crowding around her and accusing her of witchcraft, followed by the Glinda the Good Witch (again with a witch?) dispatching her on a journey down the yellow brick road in order to find her way home. Are you kidding me? I’ve just crash landed in a strange, strange place, all I want to do is get back to Kansas, and you’re sending me on a head trip to figure it out by myself. Really? And before she leaves, Dorothy is given a dead witch’s shoes to wear? Just ugh (although those ruby slippers are super sparkly).

Then, of course, there’s the Scarecrow of if-I-only-had-a-brain-fame. (Am I the only one seeing a clown face here? Yikes.) The if-I-only-had-a-heart Tin Man. (Right, like seeing a humanized oil can talk isn’t too scary.) And the inexplicably Brooklyn-accented, if-I-only-had-the-nerve Cowardly Lion. (Watching the King of the Jungle reduced to a big crybaby in what looks like a bad onesie is frightening in its own right.) Not exactly the three magi. Not exactly inspiring confidence. Not exactly cute and comforting. But exactly what I’d imagine to find on a bad acid trip.

And, obviously, the Wicked Witch, clearly one of the scariest female characters captured on celluloid, right up there with Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) in Misery, Baby Jane (Bette Davis) in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, and Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) in Fatal Attraction. And you’re turning her loose on children? Her “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog too!” scared me to tears decades ago and still does today. (B. has no such problem here. He’s an adult.) But as evil as she is, the scene of the Wicked Witch melting away is pure horror, her “I’m melting…” lingering in my mind long after lights out.

Speaking of Her Evilness, let’s look at the archetype for all evil spirits everywhere – those terrifying, soulless, black-hearted Flying Monkeys. Just writing about them here scares me into thinking I’ll conjure them up. The embodiment of fear, the Flying Monkeys are enough to keep any child (or, in my case, adult) from thinking twice before misbehaving. Nightmares of being carried off in the claws of one such creature have followed me for weeks each year after watching the movie.

Let’s consider this for a minute – who puts wings on monkeys from hell and thinks that that’s okay for a children’s story? For this one I blame the author, Mr. Baum. Just reading about these creatures is bad enough – a kid’s imagination will do the rest. But we’re talking about the movie here, and MGM has certainly done its share to ensure that lots of little kids require therapy as adults (no, you can’t blame it all on overbearing mothers).

Of course, no children’s movie would be complete without a universal political statement. Think about it. The idea of a little man behind the curtain, a coward himself, pulling all the strings to control his world and make everyone afraid – it’s a theme as old as time. Brilliant as social commentary. Beyond upsetting to little-girl me (the whole idea of someone hiding behind a curtain – really?) and monumentally scary to grown-up me (art imitating life is not always pretty).

So there we go. Sure, Dorothy finally figures it out at the end with the help of Glinda (couldn’t the so-called Good Witch have told Dorothy how to get back home at the start?). With three ruby-slipper clicks, Dorothy is back in Kansas. Looking up at clown-faced, scarecrow-now-farmhand Zeke. No. Just no.

Sorry, but I’ll take my children’s movies a bit less on the sociopathic side. The world is a scary enough place without having to worry about a stray Flying Monkey swooping down.

Adieu, yellow brick road.

©2022 Claudia Grossman

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girls’ night out

I originally wrote this post a few years ago. But the message and the relevance seem particularly apt today (and the humor so truly needed). So for every woman who longs for change – now is the time to lose the glass slipper. And vote.

So Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty walk into a bar. Ever-after can be long – especially when it’s not so happily – and it’s time to let down their hair (Rapunzel notwithstanding) and get real.

“A pitcher of Margaritas, Walt,” Snow calls out to the bartender. “And keep ’em coming.”

“So girls,” Cinderella says, “my feet are killing me.” The other two look at her sympathetically.  “It’s these damn glass slippers,” she continues. “They’ve got no flexibility, zero padding, and the arch support isn’t very stable. Plus, they come in one color – clear.”

“Then why wear them?” asks Sleeping Beauty.

“Because apparently that’s my story line,” Cindy explains. “And I’m tired of it.”

“I hear you,” says Snow. “If I have to continue cooking, cleaning, and singing with little birds just to keep seven men with silly names happy, I think I’m going to scream.”

“I’m just so tired all the time,” Sleeping Beauty sighs, licking the salt from her Margarita glass for sustenance. “I can’t seem to get my energy back after sleeping for years. And then what do I wake up to? Some so-called Prince Charming who just wants me to ride behind him on horseback forever.” She yawns. “Boring.”

“Did you say Charming?” Cindy raises her voice, her peaches-and-cream complexion turning red. “That’s the name of my glass-slipper fetishist prince!”

“What a glasshole!” Snow pipes up, causing some of the bar patrons to turn around. “That’s the name of the guy who keeps promising to take me away from being housemother to what’s turned out to be the most annoying bunch of psychologically challenged frat boys ever drawn.”

“Yup, that’s the name of the character who kissed me awake.” Sleeping Beauty nods. “And between you and me, what he doesn’t know about kissing could fill a story book. Plus, he could use a breath mint.”

“I’ve had it,” Cinderella stamps her foot. The sound of glass shattering is heard. “Enough with all this. I’m going to start wearing Nikes – and then I’m going to start my own shoe line.”

“You go, girl!” Snow cheers. “I’m going to open my own bed and breakfast. I’m not dopey, bashful, or grumpy, and I don’t need some three-timing spoiled loser to run my life!”

“And I’m going into scientific research,” Sleeping Beauty says excitedly, her energy returning by the minute. “I want to study sleep disorders and start my own clinic.”

“Another pitcher!” Cinderella orders. “To hell with the midnight curfew!”

“You’re all so cute when you get animated,” comments a guy at the bar, oozing with familiar cheap charm.

“Yo, Prince Smarming, go find yourself some two-dimensional women to save,” Snow hoots. “And don’t let the door hit your horse’s ass on the way out.”

Once upon a time. For a change.

©2016, 2022 Claudia Grossman

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