Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Coming Home

I knew I had found my homeland when I began to recognize the heavy-browed people of generous proportion sweating through their clothing, their roughhewn features the genetic result of millennia of undiluted peasant stock.  Forever operating under the assumption that my hyperactive sweat glands were some cruel anomaly, I had finally discovered an entire creed of people whose evolutionary trajectory had set them on a path of perspiration profusion.  My people.  This primal cognition allowed me to overcome the self-consciousness induced by my sweat-stained shirt and freed me to pursue my more definitive anthropological work - comparing cankle size and structure.  I was home.

Tiny & Mary take Europe!

In my youth, I was nagged by a jealousy of the kids who spoke to their parents in Polish, Spanish, Portuguese.  I could never come to terms with the fact that, while many of my friends went to Japanese School, Chinese School, Hebrew School, the most exotic school I would ever attend was "public."

The Island of Rab, Croatia
How's that for exotic?

Where some children were stymied by the overabundance of colorful options, I always knew exactly what food I would bring to represent my heritage on Culture Day, a pristine loaf of plain, white bread (more than likely with the crusts removed).  With a surname of Slavic derivation, we practiced no language, no no music, no culture that could substantiate the claims of our ancestry.  Certainly, I'm grateful to be American but I felt an urgency to connect with the land that gave me my name, my history, and my nose.

We weren't forty minutes into Croatia when we saw the sign!!

The Yugoslavian surname Simich (Simić/Šimić) puts the bearer pretty firmly in one of two camps, Serbian or Croatian (based almost entirely upon the presence/absence of the caron - that little "v" above the "S").  Knowing little about our paternal genealogy beyond its origins in the former Yugoslavia, the search for our roots was limited to Croatia by the strict policies of the car rental company; liability prohibited us from crossing the borders into Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, or Bosnia-Herzegovina.  This trip and the forbidden, albeit very minor, detour through Bosnia would have tickled the mischievous heart of my genealogy-loving dad to no end.

Treading the well-worn paths that many Simiches have surely trod.

We couldn't help but think of our dad throughout our Croatian sojourn.  He was with us.  In fact, so deluded by the fantasy of coming face-to-face with my father (or his Croatian doppelganger at least), I kept a watchful eye out for a happy, hulking brute entertaining crowds of people with tall tales and home cooking.  It wasn't to be.  The reality of his mother's Swiss heritage would have certainly played a role in his genetic makeup, making him not so solidly Slavic.  Nevertheless, the dominance of these Eastern European genes had me convinced that I saw a relative or two.

Are you my uncle?
Painting in panties with peacocks is a longstanding family tradition.

Too many viewings of The Parent Trap had me secretly wishing that I might even find a long lost twin whose very existence explained my face and the way it looks.  The satisfaction of such an encounter would have been profoundly tempered by the horror that there were two unfortunate souls wandering the earth with my ugly mug!

I was immeasurably comforted by my bus buddies.

There is an innocent disregard for time and law in coastal Croatia that felt organic to our independent spirits.  From the barefoot construction workers wearing naught but speedos so they could enjoy intermittent dips in the Adriatic to the bus driver who held us hostage during his break, it is clear that the acquaintance Croatians have with rules and regulations is decidedly casual.  Having long attributed our collective disposition to a carefree coastal upbringing, I began to consider the possibility that an affection for the sun and the sea, combined with a genuine mistrust of authority, might very well be hereditary.

Don't tell us what to do; we'd rather be boating!

After several wonderful days of sun-drenched swimming and stair climbing, wherein I earned plenty of blisters on both my feet and forehead, I came to realize that no matter how deeply I connected with the sights and sounds of Croatia, even on my best day I'm still only Yugoslavian-American.

I mean, in the most heinous of un-Croatian activities, I swam with a shirt on.
Let's make #swimshirtsareforheroes a thing, okay?

I probably shouldn't admit it but the American in me hates minding my own business.  From the one time I felt it my duty to firmly correct the behavior of an elderly woman for demeaning a cashier to the multitude of times I have been forcefully awoken out of a comatose-like trance whilst staring at a scene unfolding before me, I continue to insinuate myself into situations which I obviously do not belong.  As evidenced by the regular rivulet of drool coursing down my chin, the staring problem has indeed become pathological.

Some people call me a Croatian cowboy.

The American in me is silly.  If there are bubbles being blown, I will giddily chase them.  If there are fart noises to me made, I will make them fervently resound.  If there is music playing, I will dance (remind me to tell you about the time we spontaneously learned a folk dance and joined in the video of a Spanish tourist group in old Dubrovnik).

Post fiesta siesta...

The American in me is probably louder than necessary, overly smily, and unilingual.  My high school German might have helped a tiny bit in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland but crossing the border into Croatia left me dumbfounded.  I had no basis for understanding Croatian and still refuse to believe that an entire region can communicate everything it needs to say with merely a series of "sh" and "ch" noises.

"She chose to share her snowy charms
and showed her clothes were bleached."
I guessh I shouldn't casht the firsht shtone...

Genealogical research seems to be all the rage currently; I can't say that I'm really all that interested in searching out the historic celebrities with whom I might share a second-string strand of DNA.  Rather, my search was for a sense of knowing and a place of belonging.  I found it for a time in the ham-and-cheese fritters, the crinkle in the corner of the eye of the man who resembled my grandfather, the smooth limestone pathways of the old cities.  I found it in the slow pace, the love of family, and the connection to the land.

Heck, I even found it in seeing the granny panties sway on the line...

My blissful daydreams of what might have been had my great-grandparents remained in the old country were occasionally shadowed by darker images of communism and civil war.  Visiting Croatia left me torn between gratitude for my "American-ness" and wistful for a way of life that is uniquely European.  Like it or lump it, I am the sum total of each weighty branch of my family tree; the Yugoslavian branch had long felt like a stump.  My hope is that we nurtured it with plenty of Dalmatian sun and water (enriched by good, old-fashioned American dirt).

I'm going to choose it's a branch of bougainvillea.

I will still envy those childhood friends for knowing who they were and from whence they came from their earliest days.  I will probably complain (exclusively in English) about my contemptible lack of language skills - I am American after all.  I will always cherish my first trip to the land of my people; I will be equally grateful for a loving family to whom I can always return.  Croatia's sky and the sea will continue to call me but until my next adventure in the old country, I know that I am home.

Dubrovnik, Croatia (2016)

Cheers!

Mr. Tiny

Monday, May 2, 2016

Kitsch-en Kounter: Cinco de Mayo CHURRIOS Burro

Have you ever created something that works out surprisingly well on your first try only to be foiled by over confidence in a subsequent attempt to recreate it?  Well, get ready...

During the holidays, I decided to exploit the possibilities of my
rabbit-shaped cake mold for a last-minute, potluck dessert.

When there is no time for a cake but there is a houseful of christmas cookies, assorted candies, and a box of Rice Krispies (more than likely generic), I feel like that charmed Chopped contestant who, instead of being afraid of the mystery basket's contents, realizes he is the only one who knows to remove the membrane from prairie oysters.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Rice Krispies Reindeer - not
perfect but pretty solid for  an impromptu holiday treat!

Using a bread knife to saw chocolate-covered pretzel rods, I refashioned
them into antlers by melting the chocolate with a barbecue lighter and
"gluing" on the remaining pieces.  The ears are the neighbors' homemade
biscotti, the eyes are jordan almonds, and the details are rendered in
chocolate icing.  A snowy bed of coconut is dressed up with a few holiday
decoratifs.  The nose, of course, is a bright-red maraschino cherry!

As I never did a proper "Kitsch-en Kounter" post about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Rice Krispies Reindeer during the holidays, I felt it was acceptable to recycle the idea for Cinco de Mayo...but Rice Krispies seemed like old hat.  Then I remembered the small batch of marshmallow-Honey Nut-Cheerios (cough, store brand, cough) squares I made.  With a scant bag of Cheerios and the dregs of a marshmallow bag, I created a dessert from which we have coined the name "Churrios" for a flavor profile complimentary to that of Mexico's favorite donut stick!!!

The makings of Churrios!

It becomes acutely apparent that your father was an unusual man when your adult brother comes over for a visit and wants to "make a craft."  A lone picture exists of the one time that our dad tried to take us fishing, learning quickly that his sons were destined for different things. And so we found ourselves, two thirty-something brothers, not comatose in front of a football game, not parked at a sports bar, not playing video games, or concentrating on the contents of an automobile's engine compartment, rather brainstorming in the kitchen for ways to transform a Rice Krispies Rabbit/Reindeer into a Churrios Burro (Burr-io?).  By word and deed our dad encouraged ingenuity and creativity - culinary and otherwise - over what might be considered more masculine pursuits.  He was cool.

Included in our brainstorming session were ideas for presentation.
I quickly found one of my vintage Mexican tablecloths but immediately
became crestfallen when I  realized that I had recently discarded a bower
of paper flowers and even a mini Mexican flag...

In cooking, crafting, and sewing, my priority is always to make the most of what we have on hand.  With all the urgency of panicky usher seeking medical relief for a theater patron, I screamed, "Is there a miniature sombrero in the house?!!"  In a home where the answer to that query can come so rapidly in the affirmative, one might assume that there wasn't anything for which this project could go wanting; the Churrios Burro, however, required a very special trip to the store.

For what would a Churrios Burro be without some Chiclets and Bandera de Coco?

Nobody's immune to the chiclet-teeth Hollywood makeover!

A tad over-anxious, we un-molded the Churrios Burro before he was quite ready.  I made a cinnamon frosting with coconut milk to add some highlights/character but by the time our little Burrito was assembled, there was no time for superfluous adornments before he began to implode.

With dead M&M eyes, a blanket of flattened Bandera de Coco, a single, snaggle chiclet
tooth, and that miniature sombrero, our Churrios Burro had to hit his bed of Mexican-flag
coconut before he fell completely apart.

The lighting inside wasn't so hot; we wondered if a trip outside would improve the situation...

Clearly, it didn't...

This Churrios Burro is suffering from the dreaded "Cinco spread."
Our impatience combined with the large format of Cheerios might have
made the molded dessert a questionable choice BUT, because it still
tasted delicious, I will share the recipe without feeling like a total ASS!

CHURRIOS RECIPE

Ingredients:

1 stick of Butter
1 16 oz. Bag of Mini Marshmallows
1 17 oz. Box of Honey Nut Cheerios (or generic equivalent)
1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Cinnamon-Sugar for dusting

Directions:

In a heavy-bottomed dutch oven or stock pot, brown the butter (really, it makes a delicious difference).  When the butter is browned, add the entire bag of marshmallows and allow them to melt (stirring constantly).  Once the marshmallows are melted, remove the pot from the heat and stir in the cinnamon, vanilla, and cereal.  Press the combined mixture firmly into the mold of your choice.  Once set, remove the Churrios from the mold, sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar and decorate for your chosen holiday extravaganza.

But be patient before un-molding or he'll never be able to say "Heeyaw, Heeyaw, Heeyaw!"

"The Donkey Serenade" - Glenn Miller with The Andrews Sisters (1940)

Feliz Cinco de Mayo!!!  Now go make an ass of for yourself!


Cheer-ios!

Mr. Tiny

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Once Upon a Time in STORYLAND...


Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lived an adventure team who dreamt of a grand holiday in Storyland.  Combining their life savings, amounting exactly to one hill of beans (albeit magic), they discovered they had just enough for the railroad fare from their humble village.  And so they packed their meager belongings for the long passage north.

Never having ridden a proper locomotive, they thought the
train ride would be the most harrowing part of their journey...

That is until they came under the attack of a not-so-reluctant dragon!

Filled to the brim with immersive attractions based on history's most beloved fairy tales, Rotary Storyland (nestled in the verdure of Fresno's Roeding Park) is every child's dream come true.  So child-centric is it, that some well-intentioned locals advised us to bypass Storyland in favor of more sophisticated diversions.

They'd obviously never met the wacky tacky adventure team!


Built in 1962, Storyland, is the kiddy pool to the "deep end" that is Rotary Playland (1955).  Directly adjacent to Storyland,  Playland is a contemporary of its decidedly-overwrought neighbor to the south, Disneyland.  Within its gates, it appears that park goers can ride carnival-style rides in a lakeside setting, but as we whizzed by on the train we were barely afforded a view of Playand's many wonders.

We did, however, manage to catch a glimpse of an amazing drinking fountain where to hydrate
is to defy death; for a cool sip one must stick one's head inside the mouth of a man-eating lion!

And pictures simply do not do justice to the radiant colors being applied to the whirlybird helicopters.

As Playland was not yet open for the season, we stuck to our original plan and continued on our trek to to Storyland.  Acting the big shot, I strutted up to the ticket booth and placed my order for four adult tickets.  Imagine my confusion when the charming attendant inquired if there were any actual children in our party.  When I answered in the negative, she indicated that Storyland is closed to adults unaccompanied by minors.  Thankfully, our respectful protestations - accompanied by the flashing of a wacky tacky business card - resulted in VIP entrance to the park!

It quickly became evident that we were indeed
quite a bit larger than Storyland's typical clientele.

Large though we may be, our all-access pass revealed some of Storyland's most well-kept and, dare I say, dirty, little secrets.

Example: Humpty Dumpty didn't fall...he was pushed
Example: One word - "extensions"

Example: In spite of what Alice will tell you, eating this will not make you smaller.

Example: Little Miss Muffet was a curd thief and whey rustler; even the tuffet
belonged to Mr. Spider (Storyland's most respected cottage cheese magnate).

Example: Goldilocks was in serious cahoots with the three bears...like Baby Bear has two mommies.

Example: There was no hill to fall down; Jack and Jill were plastered.   

Example: Little Boy Blue was under the haystack but he wasn't alone...and they weren't sleeping.

Example: It is the witches, in fact, who get stitches.

Example: Hansel & Gretel were fools - every fairy tale cottage comes complete with an escape hatch.

Example: There was no house of straw...
There was no Big, Bad Wolf...
The Three little Pigs were guilty of perpetrating Storyland's biggest insurance fraud.
Example: The Gingerbread Man is totally catchable.

Example: Little Red Riding Hood was notorious for sampling the forest's many varieties of mushrooms.
The subsequent hallucinatory episodes included wolves, grandmothers, and...
Imaginary tea parties.

Example: After the foreclosure, Sleeping Beauty's Castle
was auctioned off to a new owner not of royal lineage but... 

To The Beverly Hillbillies.

Example: No matter how hard you try, the house is not edible.
Trust me.

Example: It's easy to get swept away in the fantasy but...
There would be no princes that day...
When all we had was a bunch of horny toads!!!

Example: Dorothy did not miss the Scarecrow most of all.
She left him to farm beets with his equally-brainless kin.

The best thing I learned at Rotary Storyland is that my family is much more funner than what your family is!!!

Even after the Mary-Go-Round...

video
broke down.

And we always live "Happily Ever After."

So when do we get our own show?!?!!



Rotary Storyland & Playland
(Inside Roeding Park)
890 W Belmont Ave
Fresno, CA
(559)486-2124

storylandfresno.com


Cheers!

Mr. Tiny