Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Scent of Spring

I am pretty sure winter is over and done because when I go out on my walks, I get hungry.  Ah, the sight of neighbor men standing on their back deck, poking at whatever smokes on the grill, then slapping the lid shut!  Ah, the scent of charbroiled meat floating in the air!  And meat is not even something I crave. 

Well, I do, when I'm out walking.    

Mr. Nesquik talked me into visiting one of those shops where we buy half the cow.  I was prepared to part with some significant money, but we came out with about three steaks.  Oh, believe me, we still spent a frightening amount because this particular shop is all about organic.  

The steaks sit like buried treasure in the freezer, and I feel a sense of awe every time I see them reposing next to the stone-cold blueberry bagels.  I don't think I should let Mr. Nesquik cook them unless it's an occasion

And how will we know if the organic version, all grass-fed and everything, actually tastes better than the normal steaks from our local Kroger?  Any hunk of meat tastes delicious when we soak it in:


3/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons ground mustard
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1-1/2 teaspoons pepper
1 teaspoon salt
2 garlic cloves, minced

In a small bowl, whisk all the ingredients. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Use as a marinade for beef, pork, chicken or shrimp. Yield: 2 cups.

As for reading material, I'm about to give up on Kate Atkinson's Case Histories. She starts with three rather captivating crimes, all occurring years apart from each other.  Each case ends up in the lap of a sad-sack British private eye.  I have been promised that "startling connections and discoveries" will emerge, but if these workaday Brits don't quit filling the pages with little ponderments on the Latin root of this word and that, I'm never going to make it to whatever it is in here that "positively sparkles with . . . constant page-turning delight."   Much less, all those "startling connections and discoveries." 

I will sit down with Atkinson once or twice more.  If I find myself wanting to go gaze at those steaks instead of turning the pages of her book, that's it, she's gone. 


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Too Much of a Good Thing

Somebody I know just came into wealth of black beans.  Asked to provide nine cans for a church dinner, she dutifully poured them into her crock-pot and delivered the goods.

No one ate a single bean.  Which leaves her with too much of a good thing. 

In an effort to help her deal with this misfortune, I offer:


1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes 
1 can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained 
1 cup salsa 1 tablespoon taco seasoning 
6 flour tortillas (8 inches), warmed 
Shredded lettuce, shredded cheddar cheese, sliced radishes, chopped tomatoes, sliced green onions and  sour cream, optional 

In a large skillet coated with cooking spray, cook chicken over medium heat until no longer pink. Stir in the beans, salsa and taco seasoning; heat through. Spoon the chicken mixture down the center of each tortilla; roll up. Serve with the toppings of your choice if desired. Yield: 6 servings, 280 cals. each, not counting "the toppings of your choice." 

Ms. Many-Beans has also requested Bye-Bye Nesquik's official chocolate chip cookie recipe.  You know, the one from the cookbook page well-spattered with decades' worth of butter and vanilla.  So, thanks to the Betty Crocker cookbook (whatever edition was on the shelves when Bye-Bye Nesquik established her household), here you go:


1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar 
2/3 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup shortening
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
3 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 package (12 oz.) semisweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 375'.  Mix sugars, butter, shortening, egg and vanilla.  Stir in remaining ingredients.

Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls about 2 inches onto ungreased cookie sheets.  Bake until light brown, 8 to 10 minutes.  Cool slightly before removing from cookie sheet.  Total recipe = 6740 calories.  

Bye-bye Nesquik's cookie secret is to bake them until they're barely set, then let them sit on the sheets until they flatten.  This makes for a cookie whose middle is on the chewy side of underbaked.

So, seeing as how the rising generation of cooks gets all its recipes from the web, do they spatter the butter and vanilla all over their computer screens?  If so, I assume they clean it off.  But when they die, how will their children ever know, Yep, this is the official birthday cake Mom always made for Dad?

I have still not finished Hawthorne's Blithedale Romance.  Hawthorne is, no doubt, one of our High Priests of Literature.  But sometimes all those words are, like nine cans of beans in a crock-pot, more than what anybody can use up.  I find myself attempting to translate his prose into the speech of the T-shirt-and-jeans era.  It's a time-consuming way to read, let me tell you.

But let's try it, just for fun:

“Why are you so secret in your operations?” I asked.  “God forbid that I should accuse you of intentional wrong; but the besetting sin of a philanthropist, it appears to me, is apt to be a moral obliquity.  His sense of honor ceases to be the sense of other honorable men.  At some point of his course—he is tempted to palter with the right, and can scarcely forbear persuading himself that the importance of his public ends renders it allowable to throw aside his private conscience.  O, my dear friend, beware this error!  If you meditate the overthrow of this establishment, call together our companions, state your design, support it with all your eloquence, but allow them an opportunity of defending themselves.”  -          N. Hawthorne

“What have you got to hide?” I asked.  “Not that I’m judging, but it looks to me like most do-gooders start to think their ends justify the means.  Pretty soon, they're cutting corners.   Look, buddy, don’t try it.  If you’ve got plans to turn the farm into some halfway-house, don’t be a sneak about it.  At least ask the rest of us what we think.” -          B-B. Nesquik

Phew!  What an effort.  I wonder what would take longer -- eating up all the beans, or translating the remaining 250 pages.


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Somewhere Between King James English and "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen"

"Did you find everything all right today?" said the grocery store cashier.

"Yes, I did, and I was looking for a lot of weird stuff," I told her.

Like spreadable goat cheese.   And pesto.  And roasted red peppers.

We've got a Fast Sunday tradition around here of eating a big meal made made from all new recipes (also known as Dishwasher's Dismay). Currently, we're working our way through a magazine feature on tailgate meals.

You never know with new recipes whether the stuff will actually taste good.  But today was a winner!

Get yourself acquainted with the fancy-cheese section of your grocery and store and make:


1 (5.3-oz.) container spreadable goat cheese
2 TB. pesto with basil
1 (12-oz.) package ciabatta rolls
1 pound thinly sliced Baked Pork Loin Roast (about 24 slices)*
1 1/3 cups firmly packed arugula
1/2 cup jarred roasted red bell pepper strips

Stir together goat cheese and pesto. Spread goat cheese-and-pesto mixture on cut sides of rolls. Layer pork roast, arugula, and remaining ingredients on bottom halves of rolls. Cover with top halves of rolls.

I found the roasted meat in the lunchmeat section, somewhere between plastic-packaged ham steaks and tubs of ready-made mashed potatoes.  The store didn't have ciabatta rolls, but I'm sure you can find something exotic to try.  As for arugula, I couldn't be bothered to hunt very hard.  Good old leaf lettuce did us fine.  Serves 4.  On 4-oz. rolls, our sandwiches came in at 820 calories each.


1 package Jiffy corn muffin mix 
1 (12-oz.) bottle Ranch dressing 
1/2 cup lite mayonnaise 
1/4 cup buttermilk (did the vinegar-in-milk trick for this)
1 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper 
1 (10-oz.) package romaine lettuce, shredded 
2 large tomatoes, seeded and chopped 
2 large yellow bell peppers, chopped 
1 cup diced celery (about 3 celery ribs)
2 cups (8 oz.) shredded Cheddar cheese 
10 bacon slices, cooked and crumbled 

1. Prepare corn muffins according to package directions; cool completely (about 25 minutes), and crumble. Stir together dressing, mayonnaise, buttermilk, and pepper until blended. 

2. Layer shredded lettuce, crumbled cornbread, and next 6 ingredients in Mason jars or a 6-qt. bowl; spoon half of dressing mixture over top. Cover and chill 3 to 24 hours.  Serve with remaining half of dressing mixture on the side. Serves 6 at 525 calories each. 

We've featured another cornbread salad on Bye-Bye Nesquik before.  It remains our favorite, but today's is still good enough to make it onto the official Bye-Bye Nesquik master list. 

Once we'd had time to digest a little, we ate:


1/4 cup butter
2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 (20-oz.) can pineapple slices in juice, drained
7 maraschino cherries (without stems)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups grated carrots

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Melt butter in a lightly greased 10-inch cast-iron skillet or a 9-inch round cake pan (with sides that are at least 2 inches high) over low heat. Remove from heat. Sprinkle with brown sugar. Arrange 7 pineapple slices in a single layer over brown sugar, reserving remaining pineapple slices for another use. Place 1 cherry in center of each pineapple slice.

2. Beat granulated sugar, oil, and eggs at medium speed with an electric mixer until blended. Combine flour and next 4 ingredients; gradually add to sugar mixture, beating at low speed just until blended. Stir in carrots. Spoon batter over pineapple slices.

3. Bake at 350° for 45 to 50 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in skillet on a wire rack 10 minutes. Carefully run a knife around edge of cake to loosen. Invert cake onto a serving plate, spooning any topping in skillet over cake.  Serves 8 at 425 cals. each.

Let's try the whole meal again sometime, and on an actual tailgate.  Or on a picnic table beside a river bend.  Or on a bench in Central Park.  Doesn't matter; just somewhere out there.  (Can you tell I'm dying for picnic weather?  I'm sure you are, too.)

I'm trying to distract you with a lot of cooking because I have not finished my current book, The Blithedale Romance  by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  Hawthorne, as we've mentioned here before, is a tough row to hoe.  His language falls somewhere between King James English and "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen."

But Blithedale is actually rather funny.  The  main character, a stand-in for Hawthorne, plays the smart-mouthed grump in this tale of Boston elites intruding themselves on plain country folk.

Hawthorne based the story on his days at Brook Farm, an experiment in socialist living.  He and his artist friends conceived the idea of living off the land.  They believed they would achieve a form of moral justice, with some time on the side for writing poems and painting landscapes.

After a summer of shoveling a great deal of manure, and no time to write so much as a paragraph, the disillusioned Hawthorne hasted himself back to Boston to take up his former studious life.

I could've told him things would end that way.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

I Want This Man's Job

I have surely missed my calling.  I want to be Hank Steuver and write books like his Off Ramp.

When he hires on at the evening newspaper in Albuquerque, all the exalted beats are  already taken--the crime beat, the schools beat, the "drunk Indians" beat.  So they give him the leftovers.  He's free to write whatever strikes his fancy.

He wanders into the odd corners of life and writes stories on storage units, or adult night at the skating rink.  Or the fate of bowling. Did you know that professional bowling tried, at one time, to be taken seriously as a sport?  When you think of bowlers, what sort of body comes to mind?  Not exactly athletic-looking, is it?  

Or how about the chapter on funerals?  Steuver rides along with the Austin, Texas, fellow who set up a funeral home in a strip mall.  His rock-bottom prices drive the competitors batty. The nerve!  Caskets made in Mexico?  With door hinges!  Where's the respect for the dead?  

Where's the respect indeed?  As Steuver tells it, there are "enough dead people every year in Texas to support 570 funeral homes."  Yet, 1300 manage to stay in business.  How do they do it?  Rampant gouging, no doubt.  (But this is a particular soap box of mine, from which I will now step down.)   

What Steuver finds is that we are basically stuck with ourselves.  But we forget about it by reading about other people's stuckness.  Or by tracking them down, reporter's notebook in hand, camera slung over the shoulder, and writing down their stories.  So, how many gifts do you expect at your wedding?  What makes you shop at Target instead of K-Mart?  What's behind the door of that storage unit?  Christmas decorations?  Broken vacuums?  And, "Who knew that a sixty-five-year-old man could figure skate (on roller skates) and look like a beer-gutted swan on a lake of neon?" 

Yes, I think I could love covering the off-beat like Steuver's.   It has to be better than the crime beat, the schools beat, even the drunk Indians beat. 

Finally, all those grown-up skaters go to Trudy's afterwards for margaritas.  If I could trust myself to stay upright on a pair of skates, I would use up my roller-drome calories by treating myself to:


1/3 cup light corn syrup 
1/4 cup peanut butter 
4 scoops ice cream 
1/2 cup salted cashews

In a small bowl, combine the corn syrup and peanut butter until blended. Serve over ice cream; sprinkle with cashews. Yield: 4 servings, 465 calories each, assuming 200 calories of ice cream.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

I'm a Quitter

 You should eat what you want on your birthday.  

I sorta wanted one of these:  

But then I wouldn't have had room for the main dish that uses these:


So I'll just have to make the trip to Gigi's Cupcakes another day. 


1 lb. ground beef
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 1/4 cups water
1 can (8 oz.) tomato sauce
1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
1/4 cup uncooked long grain rice
3/4 tsp. salt
1 package (11 1/2 oz) corn chips
Assorted garnishes: sour cream, grated Monterey jack or Cheddar cheese, sliced ripes olives, diced green pepper

In a large skillet cook together ground beef, onion, and garlic until beef loses its color and onion is soft; drain off excess fat. Add remaining ingredients except corn chips; cover and simmer 20 minutes. Serve over corn chips with any desired garnishes.

Thank goodness for a week of favorite foods, because my stack of books has been so trying lately that I quit one after another.

If you want to finish Samantha Hunt's The Invention of Everything Else, you will need to have a thing for the scientist, Nikola Tesla.  She introduced him as a pigeon-feeding recluse living on the 33rd floor of a New York hotel.  A young girl in the hotel befriends him.  I don't care how much they both love pigeons; a friendship between an old man and a young girl creeps me out too much.  This is not to accuse Hunt of dirtying up what may be a perfectly innocent story.  To me, her Tesla was like an airplane seatmate that I'm perfectly happy to avoid conversing with.

Next, I tried  Bad Things Happen, a murder mystery by Harry Dolan.

Now, I respect mystery writers.  They take on a tough job, planting all those clues and giving you reason to suspect the grumpy piano player at the bar, or the troubled city manager with the gambling problem, when all along it was the star student who spends her summers on mission trips.

Yes, I respect what they do.

But there are special potholes that only mystery writers are prone to fall into.   In the search for clever, never-been-done plot twists, something that will really keep us guessing, they can twist human behavior so far out of shape that nobody's really acting human anymore.  Somebody swings a bottle at someone's head.  Somebody inaugurates an affair.   Nobody seems desperate or lonely enough to commit such rashness.  But they plunge ahead anyway, just because we need action that keeps the reader guessing.

Could it be that my brain is diminished from reading a fluffy novel last week? 

But let me just get this off my chest:  The affair is between a woman with long, flowing blonde hair (my goodness, I'm so surprised by this) and the main character.  Mrs. Blonde Hair has no particular complaints against her husband.   She suffers no clinical nymphomania symptoms.   She just gets  up one day and pursues the narrator.

Can you say "author fantasy"?

Mr. Nesquik recently completed a knights-and-druids series wherein a wizardess captures men and beds them 'til they're plumb worn out and begging for mercy.

Uh-huh, they'd all like to meet such a female.

Me, I just want to walk into the cupcake store and eat myself silly.  


Sunday, March 9, 2014

I"m Taking This Lady to the Beach

It's the book cover that got me.

It sat on the endcap of the library shelves and, after a winter of heavy reading, I needed a little fluff.  So I plucked Beth Kendrick's The Week Before the Wedding off its little display shelf and took it home.

I whipped pretty quickly through this story about a woman all set to marry a surgeon, at a cute little inn in Vermont no less.  And then, her ex-husband shows up.  He was a college boyfriend, the biggest mistake of her impulsive youth.  But he's all grown up now, and he produces movies.

I could see it on the Lifetime channel.  No, wait.  Lifetime movies are downers, wherein beautiful women meet perfectly nice men who turn out to be psychos.  So let's say Hallmark channel, instead.  Maybe the story started a little rough, with college kids that sound like they're thirty, and maybe the end got all sicky-sweet, when she decided that her true love was . . . nope, better not spoil it for you.   But in between, with a cast that includes a flashy, four-times-married mother, a proper pearl necklace mother-in-law, some catty aunts and a stepsister who thinks nothing is a good time unless it includes tequila and half-naked men,  Kendrick wrote a lot of snappy lines which any Hallmark-channel actor will be proud to utter. 

Amazon readers say the cover picture is what drew them in, too.  They say it was a great beach read.  That's good to know.  I've got a beach day in my future and I think Miss Kendrick needs to come along with me.  Which of her other books should I try?   The Pre-Nup?  Exes and Ohs?  The Lucky Dog Matchmaking Service?

As for good eating, here's a simple little cake that would look very plain-Jane next to all the other confections on Pinterest, but oh my, it's hard to stop at one piece.  So I didn't.


1/2 cup butter, softened
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking cocoa
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups applesauce
1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons sugar

In a bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine dry ingredients; add to the creamed mixture alternately with applesauce. Pour into a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking pan. Sprinkle chocolate chips and sugar over batter. Bake at 350° for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Yield: 16 servings, 305 cals each.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

My Quirks are My Gift to the World

Aaaaand, we are snowbound again,  at least so far as church is concerned.  The bishop also postponed Fast Sunday.  What a wise move.  Who wants to starve without meetings to distract you?  Who wants to be housebound with famished children and  a grouchy spouse? 

Then again, I can't imagine his wife being grouchy.  

But me?  I don't take hunger well.  And as soon as I read the word "postpone" in my Facebook feed, I rushed downstairs and celebrated my reprieve with a tuna sandwich, some Doritos and a couple chocolate chip cookies.   

I must still be in starvation mode, 'cause I'm dreaming of foods.  What I'd like to find before me right now is some:  


2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon quick-rise yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup warm water (120° to 130°)
1 tablespoon canola oil

1/4 to 1/3 cup prepared Italian salad dressing
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
Dash pepper
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

In a large bowl, combine 2 cups flour, yeast, sugar and salt. Beat in water and oil until blended. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough.

Turn onto a floured surface; knead for 1-2 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 20 minutes.

Punch dough down; place on a greased 12-in. pizza pan and pat into a 12-in. circle. Brush with salad dressing. Combine the seasonings; sprinkle over top. Sprinkle with cheeses.

Bake at 450° for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm. Yield: 1 loaf (16 pieces, about 95 calories each).

This week's book, which I have not quite finished, celebrates quirks.

Are you the happy owner of a Roget's Thesaurus? (No, that is not this week's book.)  Oh, good, me too!

I always imagined it had been created by an army of wordsmiths, toiling away deep in some British library.

But no, there was a real Peter Mark Roget.  As chronicled in Joshua Kendall's The Man Who Made Lists, Roget lived through a rocky, unsettled childhood.  Peter was a mere tot when his father died of tuberculosis.  Peter's mother didn't cope well with widowhood. Or rather, she coped by moving the family two or three times a year and by hovering insufferably over the boy. Case in point:  When Roget went off to medical school, Mama made him promise not to touch the sick people.

Peter coped by making lists.  "As a boy, Roget was compelled to crank out his word lists. Without this outlet, he may well have lapsed into the madness that gripped numerous family members."  His notebook "represented his discovery as a boy of eight what was to be his calling.  He had stumbled upon an all-encompassing intellectual pursuit: classifying the world." 

By adulthood, he suspected that his lists might be useful to the public, helping them communicate their ideas with more precision.  By the time he finally refined his lists into a real book and offered it for sale, the world grabbed it up.  Poets, novelists, scientists, letter-writers and students found, in Roget's Thesaurus, a tool that opened their minds like a flower.

I have felt that mind-opening.   In the classic editions of Roget, all his synonyms fall within 1,000 categories.   If you think you're trying to say something about "stealing" but "rob, purloin, pilfer and filch" don't quite nail the idea, your eye might wander over to the facing page, where it sees stealing's sister idea, "taking."  You realize that--Aha!--you really meant "snatch."

Modern editions of Roget, not to mention online thesauri, rob you of this fine-tuning experience.  They arrange the word concepts dictionary-style and, for all the speed which you can track down mere words, it's just not the same. 

Places like the grocery store have already figured this out.  Really, can you imagine wandering down an aisle stocked with paper towels, peanut butter and pepperoni?   Pushing your cart one aisle over and finding the marshmallows, mangoes and magazines?  Isn't there something about seeing all the Mexican food together that spurs ideas?   I like the flour tortillas, but what about trying the spinach this time?  I don't know about the taco sauce.  Maybe some queso dip would hit the spot. 

Kendall's book trudges through some dry chapters.  I had almost concluded that Roget, in spite of his great gift to mankind, might not be worth more than a long newspaper article.  But then this fussy, reclusive man got caught in War.  And Love. 

At the very least, The Man Who Made Lists may make you feel better about your own quirks.