Sunday, August 31, 2014

We'll Buy More Sunday Clothes

The sound of Sunday morning around my childhood home was filing-metal sound of Mom's spoon in the saucepan, stirring the jello until the ice cubes melted.  

By dinner time, a meatloaf showed up on the table, paired with some Rice-A-Roni, some peas, and that jello, and she considered her duty fulfilled.    

But Sundays require dessert, no? 

Mama didn't trouble herself with a lot of cooking experiments when it came to family meals.   (Which doesn't meant she wasn't adventurous.  There was her cake-decorating phase, her wedding-mint phase, her sugar-Easter-eggs phase, her goose-eggs-with-birds-and-bunnies-tableau-inside phase.)  But sometimes, you don't need much to keep your sweet tooth sweet.  A little of this:

topped with a spoonful of this:

And everybody's happy.
In my case, make it Cool Whip.  Unlike my mom, I don't have cows and a steady supply of cream just begging to be eaten up.

You can put your whipped creamy stuff on: 


3/4 cup egg substitute
2 cups unsweetened applesauce
1/3 cup milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 package white cake mix (regular size)
1 package (0.8 ounce) sugar-free cook-and-serve vanilla pudding mix
2 tablespoons brown sugar substitute
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

In a bowl, beat egg substitute for 1 minute on medium speed. Add applesauce, milk, oil and vanilla; mix well. Combine remaining ingredients; gradually add to applesauce mixture. Beat on medium speed for 3 minutes. Pour into a 13-in. x 9-in. baking pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Yield: 15 servings, 225 calories each.

Or, put it on:


1 pkg. (4-serving size) jello chocolate instant pudding and pie filling mix
1 pkg. (2-layer size) chocolate cake mix
4 eggs
1 cup water
1/4 cup oil

Blend all ingredients in large mixer bowl; then beat 2 minutes at medium speed. Bake in greased and floured 10-inch tube pan at 350' for 55 to 60 minutes, or until cake springs back when lightly pressed. Cool in pan 15 minutes; remove from pan. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar (1 TB).  Makes 16 servings at 225 calories each.  Not counting what you put on top of it all.

You don't suppose there's some unwitting theme here between Cool Whip and the book I'm about to hawk to you, a book about finding oil?  According to, "You don't even want to know what's in Cool Whip!"  Eat enough of its ingredients, they say, and you could end up with autism, prostate cancer (if you have a prostate), and lab rat tumors.

Their solution?  "The real stuff:   Homemade Vegan Whipped Cream."

Now, that's something I don't want to know about.

But yes, I'm reading Bryan Burrough's Big Rich and loving the tales of the four Texas men who struck oil bigtime.

There was the Sunday that the future tycoon felt sure his well would come in, so he, the wife and the little kids trooped out to the salt dome, still in their church clothes.  The drillers drilled.  They struck.  And they all danced as the black goo gushed toward the sky and rained back down on them.  What the heck?  We're rich!  We'll buy more Sunday clothes!

Then there are the boom towns, where maybe 5,000 people scratch at the earth to grow a little cotton.  Then somebody finds the oil and the population swells up to 50,000, with prospectors, gamblers, prostitutes (Burrough always mentions the prostitutes) tripping all over each other.  Naturally, there are not enough houses to put them in.  There are not enough hotel rooms. There are not enough tents.  Some people end up renting barber chairs for the night.

I haven't gotten far in Big Rich, but if the rest of the book is as good as these first chapters, floors just might not get mopped this week.  Dinners might not get cooked.  Towels may not get folded.   Bills may not get paid.

Oh, wait, I'd better not skip the bills.  Just because I'm reading about people with no money cares doesn't mean I'm one of them. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Spreading Memories on a Bagel

Finished up Julia Glass' Three Junes tonight, while sitting outside listening to the cicadas.  It was a charming-enough moment, so long as I didn't think about the bedraggled mouse carcass somebody left on the deck. 

Many times, I thought of quitting this book.  In the third June, we meet up with a woman whose list of men is long and sorry and wrong.  While weekending at a Long Island house with one of these men, and pregnant by another, nothing much happens.

Millions of us fight to get our manuscripts onto editors' desks and this one makes it through.

Apparently, it was sandwich week at our house.  After last weekend's turkey/cranberry wonder, we followed up with:


1 medium sweet yellow pepper, julienned 
1 medium sweet red pepper, julienned 
1 medium red onion, halved and thinly sliced 
1 tablespoon olive oil 
1/4 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon pepper 
2 loaves (8 ounces each) French bread, halved lengthwise 
1/2 cup spreadable garden vegetable cream cheese 
3/4 pound thinly sliced deli smoked turkey 

In a large skillet, saute peppers and onion in oil until tender. Stir in salt and pepper. Hollow out the top and bottom of loaves, leaving a 1/4-in. shell (discard removed bread or save for another use); spread cream cheese over cut sides. Top with turkey and sauteed vegetables. Cut in half. Yield: 4 servings, 405 calories each. 

I was so sad when I took the last bite of this hoagie.  But there's a half tub of leftover garden vegetable cream cheese in the fridge.  Spread on a bagel, it goes a long way toward keeping my fond sandwich memories alive.  And I never had a thing for that cream cheese flavor before.  

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Almost Ravinia

Perhaps you've heard of Ravinia, the summer music venue in Chicago's North Shore suburbs.

It consists of four important elements.

1)  Music.  An orchestra plays.  What do they play?  It doesn't matter, especially if you sit in the cheap seats, i.e. the lawn.  To experience it more as background music and less like college-class appreciative listening is OK with me.

2)  The beauty of nature.  That would be the lawn, as I just mentioned, with its surrounding forest.  You could a film a movie of lords and ladies, bows, arrows and chain mail on Ravinia's grounds and probably get away with it.

3) People-watching.  Ok, no bows, arrows or chain mail showed up during my one time there.  But I'm quite sure the people parading past me and my folding chair were the lords of finance and the ladies of sorority life, people that were as accustomed to beauty and culture as I am accustomed to the aisles of Wal-Mart.  Yes, I was a tad bit out of my element.  But I paid the ticket price (the cheap lawn tickets), therefore I belonged.

4) Food.  We did the box dinner.  The sandwich was on thick artisan bread.  The brownie was solid as a brick, yet still chewable.  Stuffed with chocolate chips.  My, oh my, oh, my, what a brownie it was!  It was the kind of brownie that, when I finished, I looked over at my husband and hoped he couldn't finish his.  Too much for you?  Need any help with that?  

Sadly, my summer has not included any Ravinia.

So I did the next best thing, Indy's own Symphony on the Prairie.  This time, I packed the dinner.  I could hardly wait to get settled on the lawn and bite into Rice Krispie treats, watermelon and:


1 loaf French bread 
4 tablespoons margarine 
8 ounces sliced deli turkey meat 
8 slices provolone cheese 
8 slices precooked bacon 
4 tablespoons mayonnaise 
4 tablespoons jellied cranberry sauce 
8 slices fresh tomatoes 
4 lettuce leaves 

Preheat the oven broiler. 

Cut the bread into four pieces, and split lengthwise almost all the way through for four sandwiches. Spread margarine on the inside of each piece. Place on a baking sheet, cut side up. 

Toast bread under preheated broiler until lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove pan from the oven. 

Layer 4 pieces of bread with 2 slices each of the turkey, cheese, and bacon. Remove the remaining 4 slices of bread from the baking sheet and reserve for sandwich tops. Cool bread slightly, and spread mayonnaise onto the cut side of each of the 4 top slices. 

Place the bread with turkey and cheese under the broiler just until the cheese melts, about 1 minute. Remove from the broiler, and spread 1 tablespoon cranberry sauce over each sandwich. Layer with the tomatoes and lettuce. Place a top bread slice over each half, and serve.  YIELD: 4 sandwiches, about 830 calories each, if you use low-fat mayo and thin slices of cheese.

The only spoiler to this sandwich experience was the October-like chill out there on the prairie.  I shivered through the music.  Lots of other music-lovers had the smarts to wear long pants and closed shoes.  I seem to have a problem imagining warm days turning into cool nights.  

Another small problem with this delicious sandwich:  I opened a can of cranberry sauce, used a little bit and wonder what to do with the rest of the stuff.   So I tried:


6 chicken breasts
1 (16 ounce) can cranberry sauce (well, you're a little short, but it won't matter)
1 (8 ounce) bottle Russian-style salad dressing
1 packet dry onion soup mix

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

Place chicken pieces in a lightly greased 9x13 inch baking dish. In a large bowl combine the cranberry sauce, salad dressing and soup mix and mix well. Pour over chicken pieces.

Cover dish and bake at 350 degrees F for 1 hour, or until chicken is cooked through and juices run clear. Remove cover for the last 15 minutes of baking time. YIELD: 6 servings, 395 calories each. 

Over on the Book Pile, I'm still working through Julia Glass' Three Junes.  I mentioned the Brits on vacation?  Actually, the story focuses on Paul--newspaper publisher, Scottish, widowed.  Switching  between his sight-seeing in Greece and flashbacks of his marriage, we learn that his wife seemed awfully devoted to her collie-breeding business.  Or maybe she was devoted to something or someone else?

Moving on the second June, Paul has now died.  His three sons gather for the memorial service.   We get the story from the oldest son, a gay man who chose America over family closeness.  Again, the story alternates between flashbacks of his life back in New York, where all his friends grow more emaciated with AIDS, and the "now," as the bereaved gather to remember Dad and wonder about Mom.  Then one member of the family asks somebody for a big favor.  And I mean, a BIG favor. 

I haven't gotten to the third June yet.

It's a pleasant but slow-moving story.   It's got some big cow patties, but I could see 'em coming and I flipped the page.  


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Decisions, Decisions.

Can't say I've been reading books too much this week, but I sure have been staring at them lately.  I stared at this one:

and this one: 

and this one:

I've never had to make decisions like this before.

In the last year, you probably have fifteen friends that have published a book.  Well, count me in as number sixteen because, sometime in the next few weeks, Bye-Bye Nesquik will enter the fray.

So that's what I was doing at Barnes & Noble, pulling novels off the shelves, examining how much of the body or the building or the suitcase they put into the shot, why they used those colors and most of all, why that particular image summed up everything that happens between the pages.

And oh, there's more.  Like, what the heck is web-hosting?  And how do I let a lot of people know about my book?   And, for the author photo, do I pose with the rose between my teeth or do we use the log-flume shot they sold me at Six Flags?  (Just kidding!)

But I get ahead of myself.

In the past week or so, the cover artist has been busy snapping pictures of some children we know, and of a certain brown-haired man we know, then cobbling them all together in the drawing that will become the book's cover.

Oh, and he sketched this in, too:

It's one of my vacation photos, snapped right on the college campus in the town where the book is set.  

The other night, he came over with his paints and we decided on colors for the man's tie and the lawn chair and the frosting on the cake (chocolate, of course.  What else would you expect from Bye-Bye Nesquik?)  

Oh, hey, and what about the font?  So I went and grabbed a few books currently in my possession and we discussed little picky particulars of how letters look on a page.  Hey, isn't quibbling over font usually a way to procrastinate writing that term paper or church talk?  Well, no procrastination here.  Things got done.  

Yeah, I've been staring at books a lot, just not reading them.  I managed to conquer a few pages in my current read.  So far, all I can say is that it's about some Brits touring Greece and there's a busybody in the tour group.  

If I've disappointed you with no book recommendation tonight, perhaps you can console yourself with these squishy, fragrant and strangely sweet:


1 cup water (70° to 80°)
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 egg
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon each dried basil, oregano, thyme and rosemary, crushed
3-1/4 cups bread flour
2-1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
Additional butter, melted
Coarse salt, optional

In a bread machine pan, place the water, butter, egg, sugar, salt, seasonings, flour and yeast in order suggested by manufacturer. Select dough setting(check dough after 5 minutes of mixing; add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water or flour if needed).

When cycle is completed, turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. Divide dough into 16 portions; shape each into a ball. Place 2 in. apart on greased baking sheets. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 30 minutes.

 Bake at 375° for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Brush with butter and sprinkle with coarse salt if desired. Remove from pans to wire racks. Yield: 16 rolls, about 110 calories each.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Half Marathons for the Untrained

I must have needed the nap.

We are not morning church people this year.  We get the pleasures of sleeping in versus the pleasures of the Sunday afternoon nap.  When we arrive home, all we want to do is eat.  Bye-Bye Nesquik, if she wishes to be loved by all, had best start frying up the sausages and hunting down the measuring spoons.

But today, Bye-Bye Nesquik sat on her bed, sinking further and further down until she gave in completely.  

Little wonder.

I'm used to walking, a lot.  I can do ten miles at a stretch and still be cheerful (probably because I promise myself a Butterfinger Blizzard when I'm done).  But Friday, I decided to go for twelve miles.

Packing along extra snacks and cold water, I set out.  There was the shady park, where bikers and runners blasted past me.  There was the remote path where, on my right, I could peek through the fence at the cars speeding by on the freeway and, on the left, I saw a backlot full of old bus shelters.  There was a little restaurant row in a neighborhood that is fighting its way back from neglect.  (It's 75% there.  Keep trying.)  Then there was the nice part of town where the day spas and the art galleries lead the way into hushed neighborhoods with beautiful landscaping.

All the way along the route, I worried that I couldn't finish.  One shoe hurt. Not to mention that I was all too aware that if I turned right at the private high school campus instead of turning left, I could cheat my way back to my car sooner.

But  I didn't cheat.  And I'm glad, because it would have been sad to miss the really nice street with the tree-lined promenade down the middle.

But it was work all the way.  Twelve miles, as my daughter tells me, is just short of a half marathon.  I'm not doin' it again unless I get a picnic and a nap somewhere in the middle.  

So who's surprised that I conked out today?

However, everybody got fed.  Kinda late, but it happened.

Our Fast Sunday tradition around here is to try all new recipes:


2 (11-ounce) cans refrigerated pizza crust dough
Cooking spray
3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1 1/4 cups cooked Italian sausage
1 TB dried basil
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 450°. Unroll one dough portion onto a 15x10-inch baking sheet coated with cooking spray.  Lay the second portion on top.  Spread and adjust to fit pan; pinch layers together to seal.

Sprinkle mozzarella cheese over dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border, and top with sausage, basil, and tomatoes. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and pepper.

Bake at 450° for 2 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 425° (do not remove pizza from oven), and bake an additional 12 minutes or until cheese melts. YIELD: 6 pieces, 440 calories each.


10 chocolate graham crackers (the full sheets)
1 1/2 tablespoons butter or stick margarine, melted
1 large egg white
Cooking spray
4 cups vanilla fat-free frozen yogurt
3 tablespoons light-colored corn syrup
3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
1 tablespoon fat-free milk
1 (2.1-ounce) Butterfinger bar, chopped

Preheat oven to 350°. Crush graham crackers in a ziploc bag.  Add butter and egg white; mix with fingers until moist. Press crumb mixture into a 9-inch pie plate coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 8 minutes; cool on a wire rack 15 minutes. Freeze 15 minutes.

Remove yogurt from freezer, and let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes to soften.

Spoon half of yogurt into prepared crust. Combine the corn syrup, peanut butter, and milk in a small bowl, stirring until smooth. Drizzle half of the peanut butter mixture over the yogurt in crust. Sprinkle with half of chopped candy bar. Repeat the procedure with remaining yogurt, peanut butter mixture, and candy bar. Cover with plastic wrap, and freeze for 3 hours or until firm.YIELD: 6 pieces, 325 calories each. 

Over on the Book Pile, we're attempting Toni Morrison's A Mercy.  Ms. Morrison deserves to sit at the right hand of the masterful William Faulkner.

Trouble is, I can't abide Faulkner.

Ms. Morrison's story jerks forward and backward.  I would like to like this book, but with all its artful ambiguity, I cannot keep everybody straight.  Now, who's on the farm?  Who is the mistress of all this?  Who's pregnant?  Who lost a baby? 

Does she think readers lock themselves away in a lonely cabin, wholly absorbed, stopping only to brew a cup of tea or stand on the deck and gaze out over the valley?  I myself squeeze in a few pages after adding up last month's receipts, and a few more sitting in the food court at the mall, and a few more while waiting for my grandson to punch and kick his way through karate class.  Every reading session feels like I'm opening an entirely new book.  It doesn't help that the horse is named Regina and the people are named Sorrow and Patrician, unless I am missing some five-star symbolism here.

I read on, pretty much lost.  I shouldn't have to work this hard.

Although if Ms. Morrison can find me a lonely cabin with a scenic back deck, I will really buckle down on this thing.  

Sunday, July 27, 2014

On Lab Rats

Our lesson this week is:  give the author a chance.

When I opened M. T. Anderson's Octavian Nothing and read the first pages, I wasn't planning to stick with this story of a strangely grown-up-sounding boy surrounded by scholars.  They drill him in Greek and Latin and violin lessons.  They weigh everything he consumes, then weigh again when he excretes.  They exact capricious punishments when he answers a question wrong. 

But young Octavian grew on me.  He and his mother were captured in Africa.  She was royalty.  He has no memory of the old continent.  And now they are essentially lab rats at the Novanglian College of Lucidity.  Well, privileged lab rats.  When the college throws a soiree, the mother acts the hostess.  She's royalty, after all, a shimmering beauty with whom every man would like to converse.   

When the benefactor of the institute dies, a rich young lord from England arrives to examine the premises with a mind to sponsoring these scholars.  He strikes up a flirtation with Octavian's mother and makes her an offer--with a boatload of catches. 

This is Boston, just before the American Revolution.  The colonists' rumble with discontent.  Oh, and fear, too.  They suspect the British may foment a slaves' uprising, whence masters' throats will be slit as they sleep soundly in their beds.

So, no more Greek and Latin for Octavian.  He might get too smart.

Then there is the Pox Party.  Whether for the cause of pure science, or to keep war and soldiers at arms' length, the scientists sequester themselves with a few friends (and their slaves), infect them with a "mild" strain of smallpox, promising to nurse them through it with every modern remedy at their disposal.  This, we are told, is far preferable to getting one's smallpox epidemic-style. They can all play whist and stage evening music salons while they break out in pustules together.

I won't give away any more.

Anyway, for a book that held all the promise of a financial statement, the story sure picked up.

Neither did it hurt to read it while I sat on a fine bench in the town square of one of those charming suburbs that I love so much.  The "village" was having sidewalk sales that day and the streets were full of slim ladies in their yoga pants, shopping bags swinging from their arms as they tried on shirts, or strode past the granite walls of the bank building.  Children played in decorative tufts of prairie grass.  Stroller wheels clattered on the sidewalk bricks.  A couple commuter trains clanged by.  And cicadas sang.

Every town should be like this.  We especially need a version where we don't all have to spend a million or so to buy a house there.

Now that I'm back to ordinary life, operating the ByeByeNesquik College of Recipe Experimentation, it's looks like the lab rats are in for a week of sandwiches.  The fanciest one is:


2 tubes (8 ounces each) refrigerated crescent roll dough
1-1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded Swiss cheese
1/4 pound boneless fully cooked ham, cubed
2-1/4 cups chopped fresh broccoli
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Unroll crescent roll dough and place triangles on a 12-in. pizza pan, forming a ring with pointed ends facing outer edge of pan and wide ends overlapping. Lightly press wide ends together.

In a large bowl, combine the remaining ingredients; spoon over wide ends of rolls. Fold points over filling and tuck under wide ends (filling will be visible).

Bake at 375° for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Yield: 6 servings at 440 calories each.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Cobb Salad of Books

I would just like to know how many Post-It Notes littered Michael Connelly's walls as he worked out the plot to The Brass Verdict. 

We introduced the hero, Mickey Haller, last week.   Remember the man doing all the lawyer homework?  Yes, well, as his movie producer case proceeds to trial, the reader may want to take few notes, just to keep track of the bribes and the double agents and the grainy photos of people with possibly fake mustaches and maybe even the detective that brings Mickey these photos and acts as if he's protecting Mickey from all the murders going around.

I don't know whether to admire an author that can assemble such a Mexican train of surprises, or worry that he has counted up all the plot twists in his competitors' books and vowed to outdo them.

The result is a lot of action swirling around people I didn't care a whole lot about.  But if gets you through a plane ride, well, job security for Mr. Connelly. 

The tossed-in feel of Brass Verdict isn't so much different than what we ate this week.  Some lady in Iowa took a simple piece of chicken and kept adding things.  When you do something like that, how do you know when to stop?  All I know is, I liked it better this week than the first time I fixed it.


4 bacon strips 
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (4 ounces each) 
1 tablespoon butter 
1/2 cup barbecue sauce 
3 green onions, chopped 
1 medium tomato, chopped 
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese 

Cut bacon strips in half widthwise. In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until cooked but not crisp. Remove to paper towels to drain.   (I used the precooked bacon that you warm up in the microwave.)

Drain drippings from skillet; cook chicken in butter over medium heat for 5-6 minutes on each side or until a thermometer reads 170°. 

Top each chicken breast with the barbecue sauce, green onions, tomato and two reserved bacon pieces; sprinkle with cheese. Cover and cook for 5 minutes or until cheese is melted. Yield: 4 servings, 320 calories each.  

After eating this delicious chicken, I opened the microwave the next day and found the bacon still sitting on its greasy paper towel.  

I wonder if Mr. Connelly found a few Post-It Notes he forgot to use in his book.