Do you ever wonder why Thanksgiving, our national day of excessive eating, is followed by a national day of excessive spending? Maybe on the Friday after Thanksgiving we are collectively in a food coma, propelled, arms stretched out zombie-fashion, straight to the malls for more. More of something. More of anything? This has always mystified me, since it is only logical that the best day to shop is the day after Christmas. If you play your cards right, and just ask for cash, you can buy a 70%-off cashmere sweater. Now that is shopping. Otherwise, I’m ambivalent.
The week before Thanksgiving I determined to beat the rush and head to Ikea on an ongoing mission. It started in September on a trip to drop off our college freshman at school. Guided by the contents of our car, I deemed it impossible that my son would need a single thing more for his room. I was wrong, so wrong.
So we decided to take a trip to Ikea. Before we even entered the store my husband bowed out, putting himself in charge of finding a fan for College Boy’s furnace of a room elsewhere. College Boy and I exchanged tacit looks of relief. The only thing worse than two people trying to focus in a mega-maze is three people trying to focus in a mega-maze. We emerged with an embarrassing amount of stuff, admittedly kind of nifty. One such nifty item was a futon chair that folded down flat for naps or visiting guests. The only problem was that the futon was white and the navy blue covers were only available online. Never mind, I assured College Boy; I will order the cover from home and have it sent to you.
And so ensued an epic saga worthy of an epic Scandinavian shopping outlet. The covers were not available online as promised. A phone call yielded an answering message stating that there would be no phone calls to real live people. Online communication revealed that the futon covers were not available online. Uh, I knew that.
‘So what do I do for a college boy with no car who needs a cover?’ I asked (online.)
‘Futon covers are not available online,’ they replied (online.)
Hmm, I registered a complaint, but it didn’t make me (or anyone, if they actually care) feel better, or, more to the point, solve my problem.
Frustration fueled resignation fueled non-action. Two months later, however, news from College Boy that the futon was showing signs of grime triggered a renewal of mom-on-a-mission-mode. I decided to make the 35-minute trip to the local Ikea to purchase the cover. I checked (online) to see if it was available in that particular store and the answer was no. Was I skeptical? Yes, I was. Did I decide to go anyway? Yes, I did. As I was about to leave, I announced my intentions to my husband. “Don’t you think you should give them a call first to see if they have it?” he asked, reasonably. I replied, rather heatedly, “IT WOULD BE EASIER TO CALL THE WHITE HOUSE AND ASK TO SPEAK TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES THAN TO TRY TO SPEAK TO A LIVE PERSON AT IKEA!" I was about to launch into a rant, when I noticed a familiar look on his face. It was the look that says,
Please don’t tell me. I really don’t want to know the details right now. Or ever. If you start to tell me, I will back out of this room on my way to an urgent phone call in my office.
There are some things a mother just has to bear on her own.
After the 35-minute drive that turned into an hour’s drive because of roadwork, I pulled into the parking lot. It took a while to locate the entrance to the store and then a parking place within walking distance to said entrance. I parked in row H. I know myself in these situations. I know that when I emerge from the vast desert of a shopping outlet that I will have no idea where I left my car. I will be asking myself, where the hell did I park? Hence, row H. Before I left the car, I told myself that I would go straight to the futon chair department and immediately proceed to the checkout if I was successful. Forty-five minutes, tops. I am such big, fat liar.
First of all (I warned you this was a saga,) after a long drive, I needed to locate the ladies room. This took at least one-third of the allotted time. Then, I needed to fortify myself with coffee. I entered the food section and was immediately distracted by the cafeteria. Cafeterias, especially in foreign countries (and Ikea is practically a foreign country, right?) hold a mesmerizing fascination for me. I considered the Swedish meatballs, and I confess, I was tempted. Then I saw a large, gray mass of them on a fellow diner’s plate. I decided to pass and settled for a piece of almond cake and a cup of coffee to the tune of about $2.75. You have to hand it to them; they stick to their bargain mission. The almond cake was better than expected, with a pleasingly thin layer of slightly too bright yellow buttercream on top. It was not, ‘I’ve got to buy this and bring it home good,’ but restorative nonetheless.
Now I was ready to take on my mission. I found the futon chairs right away, and low and behold, yes, there were the covers, and they were available to purchase in the store! That was so easy, I thought, oh I’ll just take a quick peek in the house wares department. Ha!
Soon—I couldn’t say after how long—my sense of time ebbed to the fuzzy edges of my consciousness. I worked my way through the rest of the store on the way to the pick-up area. I came away with pretty paper napkins, blue potholders, gray linen dishtowels, glass storage jars, small glasses to hold little cocktaily gifts, cute paper cones for hanging on the Christmas tree, and the most adorable red muffin tin I had ever seen. No, I did not need another muffin tin, but I succumbed after considering how much time I was wasting arguing with myself. There were many, many things I resisted. I must have spent a full ten minutes debating the purchase of place mats. They were so cheap! And in the end, I thought, they look so cheap! I know I will regret it in a few weeks and they will lie around for years reminding me of impulsive shopping follies.
It is best not to go to unaccompanied to a mammoth Scandinavian shopping warehouse.
By the time I arrived at the check-out I figured I was out of the woods. I made my purchases and then, just before the store exit, I saw the Food Section. I hadn’t counted on that. The first thing I spotted was a tin of ginger cookies. I had to have that tin. No matter how bad it gets over the holidays, those happy pictures of children in the snow just scream everything’s going to be all right.
And then there was an enormous tub of lignonberries. I needed that for my friend Kathy who makes enormous tubs of Swedish meatballs and gives us beautiful Swedish feasts. I thought of her husband when I passed by the refrigerated case with the herring: herring pickled in marinade, herring in dill sauce, herring in mayonnaise, herring in mustard sauce, herring in garlic sauce, herring in black currant marinade, herring in lemon marinade. Who knew? Claes would have a field day here. Alongside the herring I found assorted cheese spreads, one with crayfish even, and a variety of fish pastes. My favorite, “fiskbullar,” was a tube of creamed smoked roe imprinted with the smiling face a young blond boy. I wondered, do Swedish teenagers really love fish paste that much? Or was the grin saying, Mom, you are out of your mind if you think I’m going to eat that.
I bought some Swedish Fish, a staple of my son's childhood, and Jelly Rats, but decided against the salty licorice candy. There was more, so much more. Luckily I was too tired to make any more decisions. I grabbed the carton of Swedish Rye Bread Mix. The instructions say just add water directly into the carton and shake. That’s a new kind of shake and bake that I could not go home without. And guess what? Just to make life easier, there is a separate cash register right there by the exit. Now where the hell did I park?
Who wouldn't want a gift of these to make on Christmas morning? There’s a bit of measuring involved in the mix, which makes it even sweeter for the recipient to have most of the work done for him/her. You can make up as many of these as you wish at once if you have a big enough bowl. Just be sure to write out the doubled or tripled proportions to help you stay focused.
Bag and label the topping mix in a small plastic bag. Pour the rest of the mix into a coffee bag or pretty jar, then place the topping mix on top. I found this coffee bag at The Container Store—they have plain ones, too which you or your child could decorate with stickers. Print out the directions and glue them to the bag or jar with glue stick so they don’t get lost.
Apple Oat Spice Muffin Mix: A Holiday Gift Idea
TOPPING (makes 3/4 cup)
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup rolled oats
3 tablespoons sucanat or brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cloves
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped pecans
1. Combine the topping mix ingredients and place in a small plastic bag. Label the bag "Topping." (Take no chances.)
MIX (makes 3 cups mix)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons ground flax seed
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
2/3 cup sucanat or brown sugar
1/3 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/3 cup coarsely chopped dried apples
1/3 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1. Combine all the dry ingredients and spices in a large bowl and whisk well to combine them thoroughly. Stir in the oats, apples and pecans. Pour into a coffee bag or pretty jar.
2. Place the topping packet in the container on top of the mix. Attach the directions to the bag with glue stick.
For this mix you will also need
1 stick unsalted butter
2/3 cup milk
TO MAKE 12 MUFFINS:
1. Heat the oven to 375°F. Line a muffin tin with 12 muffin cup liners.
2. Melt the butter (in the microwave for 30 seconds or in a pan on top of the stove.)
3. Pour the topping mix into a bowl and add 1 tablespoon of the melted butter. Mix with your hands to thoroughly coat the topping with the butter. Set aside.
4. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, and remaining melted butter together. Add the mix and stir just until combined. Divide the batter among the muffin cups and top each muffin with a scant tablespoon of the topping. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes.