Tales of a wandering lesbian


A trip to see my family is a trip regulated by meals.  We’re planning lunch and dinner while eating breakfast.  My trip this Christmas was no exception.

The first meal I had with my parents was on the way back from the airport.  Dad was excited about a barbecue place, and I wasn’t so hungry, so we headed to some ranch-styled chain near the Boise mall.  I was still finding it difficult to figure out what to eat (a problem since my return to the states).  I thought a barbecue joint would probably have exactly one option for a vegetarian, which would make my choice easier, but this place had two – so I ordered both.

When we sat down at the table I laughed out loud.

BBQ roll

Along with several bottles of bbq sauce, Each table was outfitted with its own roll of paper towels – you know, just in case.  I ate about half of the salad and side of mixed veggies I ordered, and packed the leftovers home.

The next morning’s breakfast was much more exciting.  Like Portland, Ketchum has a number of really excellent restaurants.  Eating at restaurants I knew meant ordering from familiar menus.  This morning it was “Huevos Kneadery” at “The Kneadery”, a restaurant that has been around as long as I can remember.  Eggs (over-medium), black beans, cheese, salsa, avocado and sour cream in a tortilla or two occupied me as I remembered how to eat again.

Huevos Kneadery

The fresh cookies on the way out helped, too.

The following days were filled with several pizzas, frequent coffee outings (my dad likes to go every Wednesday and Friday when the local paper comes out), and fantastic home-cooked meals.  The most important of those meals was, and always is, Christmas dinner, when we have my mom’s ravioli.

There is a day sometime in November that is set aside for ravioli-making.  Mom gets out the food processor, the pasta-rolling machine, and her immense Formica cutting-board.  Dad sets aside the better part of the day to assist in the folding, cutting and crimping that will ensue.

Over the years, I’ve watched them assemble the pasta, and on occasion, have been allowed to help as well.  The making of the ravioli is serious business.  Everything from the amount of flour on the cutting board to the type of fork used to crimp the edges makes a difference in the way they turn out.  Mom, who grew up watching her grandmother hand-roll the pasta dough is a master.  Dad, the heir to a distinctly non-Italian, German tradition, has proven himself a capable helper.  I, however, have proven that I can push too hard with the fork, turning a well-crimped edge into pasta fringe.  I can whip up a darn good timbalo or saffron ricotta sauce, but the ravioli is an item I’ve yet to master.  I’m hoping to take on the challenge in the next year or so.

The ravioli come in two kinds on Christmas:  cheese and meat.  The cheese version is ricotta and spinach, and the meat is ground beef and spinach (correct me if I’m off, Mom).  Both are delicious, and until last year, Mom’s ravioli was one of the few exceptions to my vegetarianism.

In addition to the ravioli, Mom makes her sauce from scratch.  She starts with a roast – or two – tomato paste and sauce and other stuff, and lets it cook all day long.  One of the great treats of going home is walking into the house in the afternoon to the smell of the sauce simmering away.  From the time she was tall enough to lift the lid, my sister has been sneaking tastes.  First it was with string-cheese dipped into the deep red sauce.  More often now, it’s with bread – my mom’s excellent rolls if they’re available.

No, the sauce is not strictly vegetarian, but I remove as much of the meat particles as I can see, and remind myself that even the Dali Lama eats meat every other day.  I might eat only the cheese ravs, but I’m not willing to give up the sauce.

About an hour before dinner is served, the grand ravioli count begins.  A complex calculation takes place.  It includes the number of people in the room, their relative hungriness, as well as an evaluation of past performance on the part of the eaters.  Some kind of an algorithm is employed to tell my mom and dad exactly how many dozen meat and cheese ravioli should be brought from the basement freezer where they have been stored, spread in single layers, in plastic bags.

The ravs are big.  The squares measure about 3-4 inches on each side.  Cooking takes a while, and is done with extreme care and delicacy.  If one bursts, the parts are fished out to be tested, or added to the leftover bin.  Not much is ever wasted.  They are too precious.

There was one year my family didn’t spend at my parent’s house.  I had surgery, and my family came to Oregon for Christmas.  Along with presents, they packed ravioli and sauce in a cooler.  And there was a fabled year when mom sent a similar care package cross-country to her sister who was spending the holiday in Massachusetts.  Nothing interrupts the ravioli.

When it is time, the ravioli are brought to the table last, after everyone is seated, and remain in the center of the table, people passing plates to those sitting closest, and calling out orders “2 meat and 3 cheese!”


When the ravioli are made, they are marked.  They are pierced one way with a fork for cheese and another for meat.  Even though they are placed on separate ends of the platter, the markings can help with identification.  And Identification is something of an art at the dinner table.  “That’s a cheese.”  “No, it’s a meat.”  “Give it here and I’ll find out.”  The cheese seem to flatten out while the meat poof up ever so slightly.  It’s more of a parlor game to see who can identify them the best.  Nobody is really disappointed if they end up with the wrong kind on their plate, and I can always find someone to take a stray meat rav off my hands.

In my mind, there are three things that must accompany the ravioli – aside from cheese, I mean that’s just a given: a great crystal bowl of sauce and meat, just in case; my mom’s rolls (they are super-tasty, but super-sticky to make); and olives.  Pitted, extra-large, black olives are always passed around the table for my mom, aunt, sister and me to put on our fingers and wave around briefly before devouring them.  There are always other things on the table for Christmas.  A ham was incorporated into the meal when my brother-in-law was incorporated into the family.  A few slices are eaten, but the main attraction is the ravioli.

We each have our own ways of eating them.  I favor a quadrant approach.  I carefully cut each rav into four, square pieces.  They are perfect bite-sizes (pretty much the size of your average store-bought ravioli).  That way each bite has the same proportion of dough to filling.  It is a tradition of rituals, and the method of eating is a deeply personal one.  (I’d never think of criticizing the way someone eats their ravioli.)  There are others, however, that are distinctly communal.

As the eating begins, so does the counting.  A close accounting is kept, and regular reports made to the table, as though the number of raviolis a person eats secretly determines whether they will get into heaven.  There are great ravioli controversies surrounding the most consumed by one person at my mother’s table.  There is a legend of a guest eating 21 in a sitting.  I was there for the alleged incidentt, as was nearly everyone else in my family, but over the years the number has become so fuzzy that none of us knows  exactly what happened that night.  (It wasn’t Christmas, so I’m pretty sure the accounting wasn’t as critical.)  I know that I, personally, have maxed out at 14 ravioli, and my aunt at 12, because we were competing one year.  (I won.)  But, in a sane year like this one, I stopped at 6 and had room for pumpkin and apple pie.

Every year someone exclaims the ultimate praise, “I think these are the best you’ve ever made!”  Most years, Mom smiles kindly and goes back to eating – the ravs are always good.  But some years, she looks down at the piece on her fork, studies it carefully, and nods her head, “they really are good this year, aren’t they.”  And then one of us will pass a plate calling out “I want that meat one right there – no there.  Thanks!” as another of us waves an olive-laden finger in the air.

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January 6, 2010   1 Comment

Christmas in the mountains

Christmas in Idaho, for me, is magical.  The place where I grew up is one of those mountain locations that looks more like a postcard than anything else.  Many days have some kind of precipitation, whether it’s thunderstorms in the summer or snow flurries in the winter.  Every day, however, is marked by a beautiful clearing of the sky that is eye-watteringly blue.

There are some things that happen every year when I go home.  Christmas eve is marked by a soup-feed at my parents house (usually attended by the priest who will be celebrating evening mass), evening mass at my childhood Catholic church, hanging of stockings, a morning feast, and the crowning event, a Christmas ravioli dinner.

There are other things that are unexpected, variations that make the holidays interesting.  Yes, my sister and I will get in trouble for whispering and giggling in church, but the results vary.  We didn’t do it much as kids, when we were busy serving as altar-girls, but as adults, it seems that we can’t help ourselves.  “I’m sitting next to Kristin!” my little (30-year-old) sister demanded.  I climbed over my grandparents and mother to kneel next to her at the bend in the pew, my knees widely straddling to different kneelers.  We kept it together until my mom turned us in to my grandmother for whispering.  The resulting boxing motions made by my 89-year-old, heathen grandmother sent me into fits of stifled laughter that brought tears rolling down my cheeks.

When the mass got to the “prayers of the faithful,” a time when parishioners pray aloud their hopes for world peace, the healing of friends and family members, and the memories of lost loved ones, my sister gripped my hand tightly.  It wasn’t because she was distraught or devout in her prayers.  It was to keep me from saying anything.  As an adult, I’ve found the prayers of the faithful a nice gesture, a time to fix the positive thoughts of those in the high-ceilinged room on the betterment of all.

During a previous Christmas mass, I opened my mouth to voice a prayer for a family-friend who had suffered an accident and was undergoing a difficult recovery.  I imagined the positive energy floating to the hospital bed, and the warm feeling the family would feel knowing that people were sending love.  I didn’t hear the gasps down the pew when I said the name, but it became clear that I’d let a cat out of the bag as soon as mass was over and groups of people darted in my direction.  Apparently, the accident wasn’t public knowledge and I’d missed that piece of information.  Fortunately, my family clued me into the situation, and I was able to rapidly employ Jedi mind-tricks.  When we got home from church, the message light was already flashing on the phone, the sign of a truly small town.

From that point on, we referred to the incident as “the time Kristin ruined Christmas”.  This year, however, I kept my jaw firmly clenched and my sister and I celebrated when I made it through mass without ruining the Christmas of 2009.  I left it to the frozen, overburdened powerlines to try to do that.

As we drove down the road to my sister’s house after Christmas mass, she noted that the streetlights were out.  I watched as porch lights extinguished at the passing of our truck.  Pulling up to the house, we saw the telltale sign of jerky flashlight bursts against the inside of the window coverings that told us the power was out.  We walked Cathy to the door and told her to come to the parents’ house if it got too cold.  Her parents-in-law were visiting, and the temperature was dipping below zero (that’s Fahrenheit, people).

When we pulled into Ketchum, a 20 minute ride from Cathy’s house, we found the traffic-lights were out.  That meant it was a darn big power outage – on Christmas Eve.  Fortunately, the lights were on at my parent’s place, so I powered up my laptop and climbed into bed, ready for a Christmas ritual of my own.  Woot.com is one of my online loves.  It’s an electronics clearing house that posts a new item every night at midnight central time.  Every so often, they post something called a “Random Bag of Crap” – $3.00 for 3 pieces of random electronics (and other stuff).  Everything from blow-up tiki huts, to Nintendo wiis and insulated beer mugs for $3.00.  Hundreds of thousands of people compete for these coveted items.  Usually the BOCs are posted randomly – but Christmas is one of the few days you can plan ahead to be ready for them.

So I sat in bed with 7 minutes to go, my account loaded and my credit card at the ready.  And then the power went out.  NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooo!!!!  The wireless router was no longer available.  I stayed up for the next 7 minutes, hoping that the power would roar back up in time.  At about 10 after, I gave up the ghost, dug around for my headlamp, and tried to get some sleep.  Surely, the power would be on by morning.

When my dad bought a generator for the Y2K meltdown, I laughed at him.  We sat in front of the tv and watched the celebrations in Australia and China as nothing happened.  Fireworks went off and the lights stayed on.  No computers burst into fire and no bank accounts were lost.

The generator stayed in the garage for 10 years, next to the 5 gallon container of gas.  When we woke up this year on Christmas morning, it was 55 degrees in my sister’s house, and you could see your breath in many houses in the valley.  But, at the Flickinger house, it was a different story.  Walking up the stairs to the kitchen, I saw a funny blue light.  Candles were lit and my mom was warming water for hot drinks; the 6 gas burners of the stove were on high.


Soon there was a roaring fire in the fireplace, and the sound of my dad pull-starting the generator in the garage.

It took a while to get the 10-year-old generator going, but he had it up and humming, and powering the furnace before breakfast.  Breakfast, however was on the barbecue.  For the past 5 or 6 years (maybe longer), we’ve had the same thing for Christmas breakfast.  It’s a breakfast strada.  A what?  A breakfast strada.  Here’s how it works:  You take a box of Eggo waffles, cheese, ham (if you like), and layer them in a 13×9 baking dish.  After 2 layers of each, you pour a scrambled egg mixture (including milk and cayenne pepper) over the top.  Bake and devour.  Just for the record, you can bake it on a barbecue, though it might result in a slightly burned bottom.

By noon, we’d eaten, opened our presents, played monopoly (another Christmas ritual for my bro-in-law and me), and started setting the table for Christmas dinner.  Mom had already calculated what parts of the ravioli dinner could be cooked on the gas stove, and practically giggled when she told us we could do everything without the power.

But the Christmas gods are just, and they like ravioli as much as the rest of us.  They didn’t want to take chances.  Right on time, the power clicked on.  17,000 people had been without power for 15 hours on a really cold day.  But all was well now.  Furnaces roared to life as Mom dropped the first raviolis into the boiling water.  Nothing could ruin Christmas now.

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January 4, 2010   Comments Off on Christmas in the mountains