Thursday, July 18, 2013

You Can’t Go Away To College!
You’re Not Ready!

Dear Son,

As I count the dwindling days until you depart for college, it has become apparent that I have failed you. Miserably so.

Yes, you hold a high school diploma. Your AP exam performance has earned you college credit. And your grades and scores paved the way to substantial college scholarships. You remain, however, ill-prepared to leave home. And sadly, as is so often the case Chez Wiles, the blame can be plunked squarely on my parental shoulders. I tried, but I plainly didn’t try hard enough. Here are just a few lessons I have yet to successfully impart:

How to replace toilet paper. In the few remaining days before freshmen year begins, we will begin with this most basic of tasks. When I have shared my knowledge with you, you’ll be able to replace a roll of toilet paper – without prompting – in fewer than 60 seconds. Moreover, if I have done my job properly, you’ll also install said toilet paper in the proper direction – with the paper rolling over the top, and not from underneath. With this under your belt, next summer’s class -- Replacing Paper Towels 201 -- should be a breeze.

How to turn off a light. This summer, I gave you 100% responsibility for purchasing and changing all light bulbs here at home, in hopes that you’d recognize the necessity and importance conserving energy and managing our electric bills. At the very least, I thought you’d weary of constantly climbing up and down the ladder. Silly me. Still, I will persevere. Indeed, once you’ve mastered this skill, you'll also learn how to determine – entirely on your own and without parental eye-rolling– when any given light should be turned off. Even those dastardly lights outside the house and in the pantry.

Load the dishwasher. Here, I must congratulate you, as you have nearly mastered the task of returning dirty dishes to the kitchen. Now, though, I’m going to push you further than you ever thought possible, beyond the limits you’ve self-imposed, so you can get to the point of opening the dishwasher door and then, accurately placing each dish so it can be properly cleaned during the wash cycle. If this goes as well -- and I believe it can -- you’ll have the opportunity to earn extra credit by operating the garbage disposal. Otherwise, we can address that particular task next summer.

How to close a door. What does it say about me as a parent that I’d assumed this lesson to be self-evident -- that he who “opens” would naturally – even gladly -- take on the responsibility to “close.” And while I’ll grant that the consequences of an open door are hardly on par with global warming, your inability to properly close a door does lead to “local cooling,” as the air conditioning (for which I pay handsomely) flows freely into the garage, the backyard and crawl space. Similarly, the refrigerator door, when left ajar, contributes unnecessarily to an already air-conditioned kitchen. Perhaps the difficulty of this seemingly basic task lies in not understanding the needed action: Is it a push or a pull? Confounding, I know, but as you’ve noted many times this summer, you are now 18 years old. As such, I have faith in your ability to conquer this. With college beginning in 19 days, however, you must begin now.

How to manage email. I understand the issue here. Managing one’s email involves a number of seemingly absurd steps, such as: 1) Checking your email, 2) Opening your email, 3) Reading your email, and on occasion, 4) Responding to your email. When you acquire this sadly outdated skill, it will work to my benefit, as I am your most frequent email correspondent; however, I must also note that the your chosen university has announced its misguided, but firm, intentions to notify you, and only you, when tuition is due. Madness. Moreover, they insist upon notifying you (and only you) by email. What evil is at work here? Do they not know how to text? Only God, AT&T, and the Board of Regents know. Regardless, my darling Son, should your college tuition email remain unopened, unread, and unpaid, you will resume your less than promising life as yard boy living in the basement Chez Wiles. Surely, a person such as yourself, who can manage and sift through tens of thousands of digital downloads and can instantly (through means I do not wish to understand) procure virtually any television show or movie ever produced, can manage his email on a daily basis. You can do this, Son. I know you can.

How to cook. This may be my most appalling failure. As recently as last week, you declared that you didn’t know how to make a simple grilled cheese sandwich. Or a quesadilla. Or nachos. You even stated that bacon is “too hard to make.” It was a fork to my heart. So here, I share my "recipe" for grilled cheese. The key, you’ll see, is to use good bread and good cheese. Be sure to cut all the richness by serving with a pickle. And for bonus points, try cutting the sandwich on the diagonal. It’s more photogenic that way.

As you can see, Son, I’m here to help. Together, we can work through this, and you’ll be fine. And God willing, I will be, as well.

xxx ooo


Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Two slices of "good" bread (You know full well what I mean -- either whole wheat or a hearty French or Italian loaf. I do not want to find that over-processed mushy white bread in your kitchen. Ever.)

Yummy slices of cheese (You prefer sharp cheddar, pepperjack, edam, fontina or provolone. There is no such thing as American "cheese." Only American cheese "product" or cheese "food." Which doesn't sound appetizing because it is not.)

Softened butter

Heat a non-stick skillet or griddle over medium heat. Spread one side of each slice of bread with softened butter. Assemble the sandwich by laying one slice of bread, butter side down, in the skillet. Top with one layer of sliced cheese, and then, the remaining slice of bread, with the butter side facing out.  Cook slowly in the skillet until golden brown (may take 6-10 minutes). Flip carefully, and cook remaining side until golden brown. Slice diagonally, serve with a pickle, and thank Mom that you know how to cook.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Darling Daughter Packs Her Bags

“My 16-year-old is in South Africa.”

“My baby girl won’t be home for seven weeks.”

“Julia has abandoned me.”

A little dramatic, but yes, I’m struggling. And incredibly proud. From now until Labor Day weekend, Julia is participating in an exchange student program, at St. Anne's Diocesan College in a place called Pietermaritzburg. Some 8,500 miles away from home.  Nearly 9,000 miles away from me.

These past few weeks have been a safari-swirled whirlwind. Together, we’ve shopped and returned and researched and packed. We've made lists and made plans. But looking back, I know Julia did most of it on her own. She remembered her summer school assignments. She remembered gifts for her host and host families. She remembered to pack layers. She remembered her toiletries. She remembered hairbands and socks and she even remembered nail polish remover, because the school she’ll attend doesn’t allow nail polish. Or makeup. Or jewelry.

So what did I do? I reminded her to take chewing gum. I told her to pack a journal. And a pen. And in the end, when I didn’t know what else to suggest, I told her to pack cat treats for the feline member of her host family.

That's when I knew it was time for her to board that southbound plane.

She was ready. I may not have been, but Julia was. The only thing left for me to do was what I always do – cook. And bless Julia's heart, for her “last” supper, she asked that I make the first recipe I ever included in Feminine Wiles – Waffles of Insane Greatness.

I love that girl. Love her like crazy, miss her like crazy, and believe in her like crazy. And in 45 days, 15 hours and 21 seconds, I'll have the chance to cook for her again.

Maybe we'll make even make cat treats.

Waffles Of Insane Greatness
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 vegetable oil
1 egg
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

First step, unless you're only serving one other person, go ahead and double the recipe. These waffles are that good.

Then, in a medium bowl combine the dry ingredients, mixing well. Add the buttermilk, oil, egg and vanilla and mix well.

Now here's the hard part. The batter has to rest for 30 minutes. Seriously. Use the time to set the table, chop up some strawberries, brew some coffee and get the paper. Now you're ready.

Preheat your waffle iron and bake according to the directions on your waffle iron. Serve with butter and syrup. Or, the way Julia prefers -- with confectioner's sugar, strawberries and whipped cream.