The Scent of Revelry
Growing up in a large catholic family (with two brothers and three sisters) was accompanied by a healthy dose of mayhem. Being the first born I was lavished with “you are the apple of my eye” attention, but that ended about a year later with the arrival of my brother Paul. Like clockwork subsequent siblings joined the party embedding a strong singular mantra in each of us, “What about me!?”
It was soon learned by the clan that whoever yelled the loudest was a good candidate to catch Mom’s ear above the din of other pleading voices. It usually worked, but crying babies would generally swing that motherly radar knocking out the other competition. The neighborhood always knew when the Spalenka’s were home.
This was especially evident at the dinner table, which started out calm enough but soon escalated into a giant OHM vibration as everyone attempted to talk over everyone else. A downpour of conversations about wanting more mashed potatoes or chicken or whatever, lamps getting broken, who tore the Barbie arm off, who tracked mud on the kitchen floor, stop throwing food, essentially versions of “What about me!?” turning into “What did I do now?!”
Visiting friends were initiated into the family way with this dinner of decibels. Watching each of them handle this shock and awe was a testament to their fortitude or not and was revealed by whether they ate, or stared wide eyed at the phenomena. Many times the TV blaring in the next room added to the complexity of volume. The meal was consumed quickly and everyone departed. My Mom took on that glazed eyed zombie look, and slowly cleaned up the dinner carnage.
This gives you a precursor into what would happen when the holidays would roll around and all the Spalenka families got together! My Dad’s sister and three brothers with all their kids (this made 24 kids in all) turned mayhem into insanity pretty quickly. But what sweet insanity! For us kids “What did I do now?!” turned into “What can I do now?!” and just “Wow!”
The meals became gigantic feasts with roast beef, hams, turkeys, chickens, barbecuing in the afternoon air. This was California where barbecues are held all year long. Every sort of salad, from green, to macaroon filled giant bowls, and of course all the after dinner cakes, pies, cookies, and sweets.
One of these sweets always stood out because in a way it represented this revelry and spirit mayhem. I will never forget my Dad and his siblings making popcorn balls! They popped up the corn and filled several paper bags, then heated up the corn syrup in different colored batches. When the corn syrup was at just the right bubbling temperature they would dribble it over the popcorn in a large porcelain bowl and turn it with a gigantic spoon. The family would line up and stick their well buttered and or ice immersed hands into this scalding hot stickiness and form balls very quickly while shouting, swearing, and laughing at the same time. One after another they jumped into line, picked up a glob of molten sweetness and with loud expletives molded it into a family ritual. It was a circus of the soul creating multi colored treats that we kids inhaled and ate with a relish. When the Christmas presents were opened the adrenalin rush was complete, with all senses spent.
So my family upbringing especially during the holidays have included the scent of chaos, and a loud rebel yell. Ultimately this helped me keep a focus on the eye of the storm and kept me on my toes.“What about me!?” has morphed into “What is the possibility?!” as I continue to navigate the Spalenka whirlwind of love.
Here is a Popcorn Ball recipe for you to try. Make sure you bring the temperature of the mixture to a hard-crack. Have a cup of cold water near you and when the temperature is close to 300 degrees drop a little of it into the water. If it makes a cracking sound your ready! Don't overcook or you will burn it.
* 2 cups white sugar
* 1 cup light corn syrup
* 1/2 cup butter
* 1/4 cup water
* salt to taste
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar (optional)
* 5 quarts popped popcorn
1. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar, corn syrup, butter and water. Stir and heat to hard-crack stage or 300 degrees F (150 degrees C). Remove from heat, add vanilla or vinegar; mix well.
2. Pour slowly over popped popcorn while stirring. Wait 1 minute and shape into three inch round balls. Mixture will be very hot so have a bowl of ice to cool your hands.
This recipe is from AllRecipes.com
~ Gregory Scott Spalenka
See Greg's artwork at his website Spalenka.com
Currently Greg is empowering Artists to follow their vision with his workshop's Artist As Brand™. Check out the debut of the Artist As Brand blog on January 1st!
Images: ADVENTure blogging banner by Roxana Villa, ArtHeart painting ©Greg Spalenka and video by David Spalenka, edited by Greg.
This is a great family story! It reminds me of my grandfather's famous molasses popcorn balls - he made them on Halloween back before everyone was afraid to eat homemade treats. What a blast you must have had!
Yes there really was an art to making great popcorn balls. If you did not cook the sugar mixture to the right temperature it turned the balls into a gooey sticky mess. If you cooked it a tad too much it burned, ugh burnt sugar. So you had to reach the moment when the fire brought the solution into perfect balance.
You have to tell me -- is that your actual family making the popcorn balls or just a random one from the same (?) period - Madmen? - doing the same thing!
Great story, so amazingly different from my own family etc., incredible how diverse we all are yet we all end up here together!
Off to have a French Xmas ever meal -- Merry Happy Everything!
That is actual footage of my dad's brothers and sister making popcorn balls (my dad was shooting the film with his wind up 8mm movie camera).
Viva La Difference!
Wendy, do share with us what a French xmas meal is like? My mother was just here at our home for Xmas Eve dinner. She shared what Christmas was like for her as a little girl in Argentina.
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