Thanksgiving, Muppet Family Christmas and a Magical Cat

I have learned over the years of blogging that a catchy title really makes a difference in readership. So, I suppose I need to produce a magic cat now. Okay, I don’t have a magic cat but I do have a picture of a very fat cat named Sox who let me dress him as a reindeer. He’s a good sport.

So, as I type this I am three beers and a whole turkey dinner into the holiday. We watched the Lions get beaten (again) and now it’s the third quarter of the last NFL game of the night. It’s always a little sad to carry the plate to the sink as we wave goodbye to another Thanksgiving, but to live is to die and now my focus is on Christmas entirely. And do you know what that means?  Nothing! I’ve been on Christmas since October 31st so making things official will just breed contempt for my last three weeks. No, I’ll just yap about my favorite holiday special of all time that, for some reason, isn’t very well-known. I hate that!

The Muppet Family Christmas was a gem of the mid-eighties that hasn’t had any air time in years. I don’t really know why because it is a true Jim Henson creation that combines not just the Muppets but Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock. As a child who relied on Sesame Street for basic reading and math, Muppets for what is relevent in entertainment and Fraggles for…what happens underground, this Christmas special was like the meeting of the titans for anyone who still wears Oshkosh overalls. It was and still is amazing. Let’s try to break down this very busy special.

We begin with the entire Muppet cast driving in an old beater with Fozzie at the wheel. Seems a bit senseless to put everyone in a truck, driven by a bear in a blinding snow storm but I need to remind myself that they are muppets. Anyway, the whole crew is singing carols and most jolly because they are headed to Fozzie’s mother’s house for a surprise Muppet family Christmas vacation. Only thing is…Fozzie’s mother took six months of surfing lessons soooo….

Wait a minute, this bear isn’t dressed for winter weather! Apparently, Momma Fozzie had other plans for Christmas and is packed and ready to leave for Malibu. The Muppets better hurry up or Animal will most likely shit on the doorstep out of sheer disappointment. But before she goes she needs to wait for her seasonal renters.

And the renters are none other than the antagonists from Fraggle Rock; Doc and Sprocket. I love Sprocket and he is by far, my favorite Henson character. Well, it looks like  Doc and dog are there for the goal of having a nice, quiet Christmas; far away from their Fraggle pests (so they think). Little do they know that in the driveway is about a hundred wild mutant creatures made of carpet with a showbiz talent coming to alter their intentions. Enter the Muppets.

Man, when a hundred of these things are in a room things get confusing. But knowing her plans for a tropical heat wave vacation is down the tubes and her six months of surf lessons are for not, she warmly welcomes all the “weirdos” much to the chagrin of Doc and Sprocket. But they get over it. By the way, where do you take surf lessons in the country?

In a humorous moment, Doc asks Sprocket if these are the Fraggles he has been trying to tell him about. Sprocket gives his best “sort of” shake of the hand. It’s about as cute as you can get.

So we have a house full of Muppets and one human minus one pig. It seems that Miss Piggy is still in the city finishing all the stuff a famous pig has to do. But it’s okay, she will be along shortly. Until then there are more visitors to come. Like this iconic Swedish character.

Boom! The Swedish Chef is in the house (after slipping on the icy patch) to cook the “gobbla gobbla Kreeesmas Tuuurkeeeee”. This is shaping up to be a special that doesn’t hold back. Of course shortly after his arrival the turkey himself shows up, sporting sunglasses and a tennis racket under the impression he was invited (by Chef of course) to a winter vacation. Greeted by Gonzo, he is warned of the impending doom that was to await him should he not leave, but his warnings go unheeded and the turkey blows off the danger. In an ironic statement Gonzo bids him farewell stating, “see you at dinner”. Hilarious.

Mean while in the kitchen, Kermit and his nephew Robbin share a touching and reflective moment as they sing “Jingle Bells” but are quickly interrupted by Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem and their version of “Jingle Bell Rock”. I never realized what an awesome band name that was until now. I wonder if they have an album? Seriously.

Slowly the Muppet family grows as Rowlf the Dog arrives and keeps the running gag alive by slipping on the icy patch at the door. He shares a humorous conversation with Sprocket as they  trade “Bark! bark! Yeah, woof! woof!”. Dog talk. Then Rowlf spots the piano and another musical starts and the scene slides to Fozzie and a snowman sing “Bear and a Snowman” and do a stand up comedy sketch that seems to go over well with all the wild animals outside.

After cracking up the muppet animals that can sing, talk and discern humor but apparently not wear clothes or live indoors, they take advice from a penguin and decide to continue the comedy team. Excited, Fozzie races to pass the idea by Kermit but havoc once again rears its head and the Swedish Chef is trying to cook Sprocket the dog after being tricked by the turkey. Doc intervenes and states, “I don’t care if the turkey says the dog is a turkey, the dog is not the turkey, the turkey is the turkey, you turkey.” Well said, Doc.

After that scuffle was resolved, Skeeter finds old muppet baby movies and everyone(thing) gathers in the den to watch. I maybe mistaken but I think this scene inspired the popular 80’s Saturday morning cartoon, Muppet Babies on ABC. Don’t hold me to that, but the timeline matches up.

So, guess what? Something else is happening! Man, this Christmas special has a lot going on and probably isn’t the best one to recap. Bare with me because this show has a special nostalgic connection and I think I maybe writing this tonight for myself rather than for entertainment value.

Great Ceasar’s dick! It’s the entire gang from Sesame Street and they are coming to celebrate Christmas with the Muppets in an already crowded country house.

In another endearing scene we see Bert and Ernie engage Doc in what they call “small talk” by informing him what every letter for every word he says begins with. Doc, seemingly in a much better mood, cheerfully states he’s off to build bunk beds which almost sends Bert and Ernie into hysterics by hitting a double ‘B’ word.

Again, we switch gears and we find the Swedish Chef has finally caught up with the sly turkey in the kitchen and he finally admits he is what he is. But, before accepting his fate he let’s the Chef know that he’s not the only fat bird in the house. “Gobbla Gobbla Humonga!”

Well, with all this goodwill through the house we need a subplot that brings worry to Kermit and that is the fact a huge blizzard approaching the house and Miss Piggy is still not there. We find this out by an emergency broadcast warning that barometers are falling sharply. Haha.

What makes this special…well…special is the interaction between all the Jim Henson characters. Like this priceless moment between Janice (Electric Mayhem guitarist) and the Cookie Monster.

Little does Janice know that she is offering cookies to a creature that would rip her arms out of socket for a crumb. Cookie Monster ravages the cookies as Janice could do nothing but look in shock. This scene is worth a thousand words but I feel I am only worthy enough to dedicate fifty.

With the weather cold enough to “freeze your winnebego” Kermit becomes increasingly worried about Miss Piggy. This is a perfect opportunity for Fozzie to distract Kermit from his worries and introduce his new comedy act. But little does he know his nemesis critics have joined the festivities and are waiting for something like this. And boy do they rip the bear and snowman a new one!

While the critics stomp the piss out of Fozzie and the Snowman’s comedy sketch, Big Bird checks out the kitchen, unknowingly into the clutches of the Swedish Chef who wants to serve him as the Christmas bird. But, as disarming as Big Bird is in nature, he gives the Chef chocolate covered bird seed because he knew his home was far away in Sweden and this gesture took the Chef off guard as the two engage in, you guessed it, a song.

I remember this scene as being one of the funniest as a kid because hearing the Swedish Chef sing “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” is about the most hilarious thing I can think of. Today, I wonder if he really was singing is Swedish or it’s just a lot of made up gibberish. If it was real, man, Sweden got fucked on a language.

Big Bird inadvertently saved his beak and the Chef decided to cook “Cran un boochers” or as we call it, shredded wheat and cranberries, which just happens to be Big Birds favorite. I think everyone else is going to be pissed.

Well, the weather just isn’t letting up and Kermit is getting more and more anxious by the minute. Doc sees the worried frog and offers to go out and look for Miss Piggy. In a momentary loss of his mind he asks how he should recognize her to which Kermit replies, “she’s a pig”. Brilliant. It’s nice to see Doc taking to the weirdos.

After Doc leaves, Kermit’s annoying cousin Scrappy…er…Robin calls him downstairs to investigate something he found. It looks to be something Kermit had told Robin about in stories and that is a genuine…

…Fraggle cave. I had no idea these Muppet/Henson creatures knew about each other. Then again, I had no idea that a 33-year-old guy could care about this. (me) But I do.

Robbin and Kermit explore the cave for approximately three seconds before running into a family of Fraggles. They, of course, broke into a song about the Fraggle version of Christmas and how they too share the tradition of giving. Their’s, however, kind of sucks because all they do is re-gift an orange pebble over the past thirty-seven years. If they knew about a Muppet’s Christmas that pebble would be passed to no one.

There’s a commotion happening upstairs and the frogs have to depart from the Fraggle cave but not before they give Robbin the pebble in the spirit of their godless holiday. There goes that thirty-seven year tradition.

Well look is tardy to the fuckin’ party? Miss Pig! And she managed to talk Doc into dressing up like some Canadian Mounty. I would have liked to have seen that. Do you think the old guy stripped down to his briefs in a blizzard just because a pig asked? I bet she is packing heat and Doc had one option or face a chance of being found in April when the snow dunes melt.

The next ten minutes of this special is filled with about twenty Christmas songs while the entire muppet family sits in the living room. Any other movie, this would be unbearable. But because it’s the Muppets, this scene is amazing. I, at times, turn this part of the movie on just for the music and drink my eggnog. I love it.

The last scene is my favorite. In fact, it’s the entire reason I wrote this painfully long and redundant recap of this special. I get teary every time I see it. A cameo by the creator and largest part of my childhood entertainment made this show. Jim Henson was a good man who made educational shows, bridged gaps in a racial divide, inspired creativity and blessed my childhood with an array of iconic characters. Of all the imaginateers and creators, his death was the hardest for me. I think maybe it was the thought that all these Muppets no longer have their creator behind the magic and in a way, they passed too. But we have this to remind us that imagination never really dies and that, I can be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Christmas Non-Jolly Traditions. Actually, Terrifying Is The Word.

Oh, Christmas traditions are a funny thing, eh? We put a dead tree in the living room and wrap it in electric wires, hang socks over a fireplace, drink booze at work parties, exchange gifts we know people will either give away the next year or return, wear sweaters that would make a crazy old lady wince, bribe our kids with gifts if they are good and use a made-up fat guy as leverage, and listen to music that we love until December 26th then completely hate. And all this has to do, somehow, with the Son of God being born in a barn. Trying to explain this holiday to an extraterrestrial would be difficult if not slightly embarrassing but if we compare our traditions with that of other countries, we may come off as silly but at least we aren’t creepy and sadistic. Let me shed some light on a few traditions other countries have on this holiday of holly jolly.

Let’s start with the Scandinavians. Apparently it’s bad news to go out the night of Christmas Eve because this is the night when trolls, goblins, witches and ghost are said to roam the land and before dawn they are the craziest. To venture out means certain death so pray there isn’t a late night run to the local mart for more cheese and beer.

The Swedes take it a step further by actually setting a table with a huge feast for dead relatives to return from the grave and party all night. The (living) family members close off the room, go to bed and not dare return until morning. They observe any signs that there was a ghostly gathering the morning of Christmas and I guess…open presents? No idea.

In Wales, it’s said dogs that howl during the night on Christmas Eve will go mad by years end. They also make a point to keep a candle lit through Christmas day and if it should go out means there will be a death in the house soon. Oh! Also if you cast a shadow on the wall and it appears headless you are totally fucked. I’m not making these up.

Another odd Netherlands tradition or folklore is to clean all of your Christmas decorations by February second and if you are late or leave behind any needles from wreaths or a tree, that is how many spirits and demons you will have for the rest of the year. This folklore I happen to like because seeing neighbors with Christmas decorations up any longer than a month after December should result in at least a curse.

Here is my personal favorite and it hails from Austria. I am not sure how cute elves were brought about as St. Nick’s assistant because the origin of Santa has a demon named Krampus helping him out. Yeah, a demon who tags along with him to handle the “naughty” list. Did I mention he is a rape demon too? Apparently he is described as an incubus that preys on sleeping people and follows around St. Nick delivering beatings to bad kids and the really bad ones go with Krampus down to Hell. This reward to punishment ratio seems a little bit one sided. If you are good you get a bunch of candy in your shoe. Bad, you get raped, beaten and dragged to Hell.

Damn, Santa is kind of a sick jerk.

Comfort Holiday Food or CHF For Short

Wow, I never thought a title could be so stupid until I actually saw it typed. And yes, it is amazingly bad so I will leave it. Then again, it does cut to the point of this pointless blog and today I am writing about an easy concoction that any dude can follow. Seriously, if you can’t make this I…I just feel for you. Turn your kitchen into an indoor pool or something because you are obviously like Ozzy Osbourne trying to make breakfast. So let’s get started on this holiday-cold weather-need a sweater-don’t care about calorie CHF for the season: Will-Bill’s take on Shepard’s Pie.

Have you ever had truly authentic Irish food? Not what you were thinking, was it? No, these folks are great at whiskey but when it comes to food in Ireland, I can say from experience, you need an unassuming tongue. But what do I know? I hail from the land of Cheeseburgers. And that being said I have turned Shepard’s Pie into just that…a mashed-up cheeseburger.

First on the list of list is to brown the meat. I always go with the 80/20 because I saw Alton Brown cooking with it on TV and if it’s on TV it has to be right. With the meat I usually add a table-spoon of salt and pepper but thanks to the good people at McCormick, they have their own version that I add to almost everything now.

McCormick’s Grill Mates have a Montreal Steak seasoning that is good on almost everything. If you are worried about your sodium level, they boast to have 20% less salt but lets face it, it’s still a shit load of salt. THIS IS COMFORT FOOD! Read about seaweed and poached kale diets on some other blog. Douse this seasoning liberally to your meat and continue to brown.

Ah, nature’s flavor sponges. I take a package of mushrooms and quarter them. Why do quarter them and not slice, you ask? I really think they are better this way. Don’t worry, mushrooms absorb everything so they shrink. They’ll still fit.

No dinner that I cook is void of these three ingredients: jalapeno, garlic and onion. I chop the jalapeno into halves and add them to the meat right away. (Don’t forget the seeds!) Next I slap-chop the garlic and onion to oblivion. God I love the SlapChop. The only thing I hate though is removing the damn skins from the garlic. But there is no way around it so I guess I will always have to do the whole smash, cuss and peel method. See below.

Alright, the meat is drained (often), and the garlic, pepper, onion and ‘shooms are added. I reduce the heat, cover  and let the mix…mix. Now go to the fridge and get a second beer. GO TO THE FRIDGE AND GET A SECOND BEER!!!

While you are giving the mushrooms time to simmer and soak in the jalapeno and garlic, it’s time to bring out the second phase. I call it “Phase Two”. We are adding one and a half cans of cream of mushroom soup (fat-full kind) and one can of drained whole corn. Usually peas are added too but a certain someone who will be eating this hates peas. I can’t think of a substitute so corn is going solo.

When you feel that the mushrooms have taken in all flavor they can we add the soup and corn, cover and let simmer for about five minutes or so on low heat. By now the smell of garlic should be chasing all vampires out of you attic. I assume that your beer is almost done so head over to the fridge and get another. If I have to say it one more time….IF I HAVE TO SAY IT ONE MORE TIME!!!!!!

We are almost there so next comes the third phase or as I like to call it, “Alpha one”. You need to bring four cups of water to a boil in a medium size pot. Once you have achieved a boil, remove the pot from the heat and pour in two bags of Idahoan instant potatoes and whip with a fork until firm. Why instant and not real? Because I’m not a real cook. These potatoes take less time than Kraft Mac&Cheeze so be ready for them. And by read I mean you need to pour the meat’n-stuff into a cooking pan like so…

God, that looks like the worst brownie in the world, doesn’t it? I looks like you invited an old Eastern Euro-Bloc guy to a holiday office party an assigned him deserts to bring. He would say, “I vill bring brownies for holiday party and you vill like!”. I imagine he would look like this.

I forgot what we were doing. How’s your beer?

Now we pour the potatoes over the Bosnia Brownie (I served 3 consecutive years over there. Let me have that joke!) and spread them over the top much as you would ice a cake.

For the final phase or Phase “I don’t know, Margo” we will add an entire bag of cheese. Generally I use cheddar but when I see the word “new” on a bag I buy it immediately. Now, I forgot to tell you to preheat the oven to 375 but I assume you aren’t reading this in realtime as you cook. If you are, then I love you. But sorry, you need to preheat the oven to 375. Time for another beer or SO HELP ME! Cover the whole…casserole(?) with aluminum foil and bake this masterpiece for 25 minutes.

After all that work you should be looking at something similar to this. Wait till it cools before digging in. I feel like I have to say that for some reason. This is an easy dinner that most anyone will like unless they hate beef, mushrooms, garlic, cheese, potatoes, onions, jalapenos or life. In that case there are TV dinners.

ANNOUNCEMENT! The Practical Cook and I are challenging each other to a video review where we assign one another to holiday items to, well, review. Later today I take on that challenge and it will be posted right here. Rock on and be merry, Harry!

Holiday Cocktail Tales

Here is the first segment of the new Holiday show for Veggiemacabre.tv. It is a little video covering a few of my favorite party libations with some quick ways to make them. But be warned, they can be a little stiff so make sure, especially in a company-party environment, that you drink them sparingly or find yourself with a lampshade on the head and telling your boss what you really think of his golf swing. I tried to keep the nonessential chatter to a minimum but you know me…never one for brevity.

I’ll post the recipes shortly but until then please enjoy the video and let me know some of your holiday creations!

Eggnog. How it should be. Take note.

Oh yeah, there is a moment when the video gets a little wonky and it looks like I am in a bad dubbing foreign video. Keep watching because my voice soon meets my lips. Just a weird quirk I suppose. I am not quite the Practical Cook, I know.

Hardnose Hatcher

I always wait to pull the Holiday trigger after Matt does at X-Entertainment and though it feels early, I am already in full swing. This time of the year gets busy fast so if I want to squeeze all the fun in the season, it has to start now. But much like a sixth grade Sadie Hawkins dance, it’s hard to get the party started. How can we kick off the” Thanksmas” celebration? I think I will dissect a little McDonald’s holiday commercial from the Thanksgiving of 1987. If you don’t know her you soon will. “Hardnose” Mrs. Hatcher.

Long ago, when I was a kid, the McDonald’s corporation actually had decent, heartfelt commercials that were not only catchy but had cute messages like appreciate your teachers, don’t count out the elderly and having a part time job at McDonald’s was something your five year old would be proud of. Today, well, we have Happy Meals in bags with apples and Ronald McDonald does yoga while pitching child-size bottled water. Life today is devout of story and only filled in with sound bites and catch phrases. I miss the days of “Hardnose” Mrs. Hatcher.

This commercial will always be a holiday classic because it has been preserved in a VHS copy of the Claymation Christmas Special that aired on CBS back in 1987. The story is about a tough teacher from the perspective of a third grade class. They sing this cute song to the tune of the McDonald’s 1980’s theme “Good time for the great taste of McDonald’s” and explain what a total bitch she can be. As you can see above, she is shooing way the token ass-kisser of the class. Everybody was an equal maggot in Mrs. Hatcher’s class.

She paces the aisles of the classroom like Darth Vader, demanding to open the text books to a certain page or face a probable fate of a public chastising. The look of intimidation is reflective of the faces of the kids. Mrs. Hatcher has a standing rule of absolute no fuckery.

No matter what the excuse, like the legitimate “homework flew out the bus window” line, it doesn’t hold water with Mrs. Hatcher. She knows that homework only is eaten by dogs. Her ancient Kulu Flatchu “Stare of Truth” brings this lad to his knees, confessing the fact that he didn’t do it. One thousand knuckle push-ups in the back of the classroom!

The only reprieve from “Hardnose” Hatcher was an occasional substitute  teacher. The collective sigh and low-fives clearly express the constant tension and standard these kids are expected to uphold.

But soon the ways of Mrs. Hatcher prove to have an ulterior motive as inspiration and determination showed the kids that they can achieve anything through hard work. Hard work and an occasional hickory lashing on the side of the school building. (that’s on the extended studio release) When things got tough, she made them stick to it. As seen above, it appears that Jimmy Sad-Face finally mastered the dreaded cursive “Z”. Mrs. Hatcher maybe a “hardnose” but she was also a softheart. (God shoot me)

At thirty-seven seconds into the commercial we reach the last day of school and all the kids may have whip scars and calloused knuckles but hell if they haven’t mastered long division! The kids have a “Hardnose Hatcher” day of appreciation at the local McDonald’s as the class bitch announces exactly what they gave her from the menu. I think this was the #two on the menu back in ’87 but Mrs. Hatcher demanded that no cut-corners will ever be tolerated so she had to spell out the prehistoric McDLT, drink and fries. Mrs. Hatcher was pleased.

But we aren’t quite done yet. The third grade class still had one more parting gift for their teacher. Jimmy Sad-face is elected to present a t-shirt with everyone’s signature to her with the tear-jerking words “we’ll never forget ‘cha”. Jimmy Sad-Face isn’t thrilled with his name but it beats his second grade name of Jimmy Shit-His-Pants.

What’s this? “Hardnose” Mrs. Hatcher has the capability of emotion? It’s okay, Mrs. Hatcher. The year is over. Feel free to crack your horsey smile just once. The kids deserve a little peek at what’s behind that tough exterior. Summer is long to a third grader and next year is the big world of fourth grade. Your sweaters and lipstick stained coffee mugs will be a distant memory.

So, in just a over a minute we covered an entire school year and the legacy of “Hardnose” Mrs. Hatcher. It’s funny to look back at this because in 1987 I was the age of a third grader… I think. I remember watching this with an empathetic nod as the kids are forced to devote the third grade to Mrs. Hatcher when the next door class had the hot twenty-three year old fun teacher. I think everyone of us has had a “Hardnose” Hatcher. And in all honesty, they are the ones that we remember the most.

You just read a breakdown of a commercial from 1987. Feel good about that? I am sorry. If you have a spare minute you can watch it below and have the tune in your head till 2087.

Guess what??? It’s that time of the year again and Thanksmas season means that VeggieMacabre.TV has now switched gears. Come check out the new layout and soon all the X-Mas adventures will begin.