Sunday, June 17, 2018

Painless History Lesson

You may know that I post a music blog on Sundays, an attempt to familiarize my church friends with a broad range of hymns imported from other faiths. Mining YouTube for examples of these songs, performed in church services, concerts and tutorials, I frequently run across Britain’s royal family, standing in their Westminster Abbey places, singing hymns from their printed programs.

There’s always Queen Elizabeth, dressed in her matching dress, coat and hat, scanning the crowd before she peeks at the words again.

Who knew that her genealogy stretched back to an orphan girl plucked out of France? Aren’t the royals supposed to descend from the small club of cousins raised in the various capitals of Europe?

Well, maybe you did know about Katherine Swynford. But if you didn’t, Anya Seaton’s historical novel, Katherine, would be a painless way to catch up on your royal genealogy.

Katherine’s mother died after childbirth. Her father, a faithful soldier of the king, took an arrow to the heart. Katherine and her older sister, Philippa, shipped off to the grandparents. Things were fine until the Plague showed up, killing off grandma, grandpa, the servants, etc. 

The Queen of England, Flemish like Katherine’s kin, reached out to rescue these two girls. She took Philippa into her own court as a lady-in-waiting. She sent Katherine to an English convent, “delivered from a cart, along with a side of beef and a half a ton of wine.”

Seton starts the story just after Philippa summons her sister out of the convent. Katherine enters the palace on the night of a royal banquet. The waiting ladies strip off her traveling clothes, burn them, button her into somebody’s 3rd-best dress and usher her off to dinner where, wide-eyed, she takes her first look at the VIPs “in their golds and scarlets, their ermines and coronets, their gauzy veils and jewels.”

Oh Katherine, you have no idea what lies ahead.

The only thing that could have made the read more rewarding was stopping (quite often) to look up unfamiliar words. But I just wanted to keep reading, so I bumbled through, guessing as I flipped the e-pages. “Solar” is a bedroom, I think. “Cochineal paste” is some kind of cosmetic. “Flagons”?  “Coffers”? Oh, let’s just get on with it. I want to know if the monk dies.

Photo credit:  nancepants on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Sunday, June 10, 2018

She Flipped That Omelet And . . . .: Seafood Edition

I don't know why it has taken me so long to attempt crab cakes. I mean, I've eaten them. I've visited Maryland, the state where they're common as pork tenderloins are in Indiana.

I even wrote a book set in Maryland, so presumably my heroine and her best friend know how to eat whatever comes out of the sea.

Why haven't I gotten around to this yet? Wouldn't it be nice to not depend on Red Lobster or pricey coastal vacations to get these subtly sweet little treats?

Well, tonight was the night. I gathered up the panko crumbs and the lemon juice and the Old Bay seasoning (or a fake substitute), the crabmeat (also a fake substitute).

And when I flipped those cakes in the pan . . .

Behold: Crab Cake Hash

The world was never the same after that guy at the St. Louis World's Fair scooped ice cream into a folded-up waffle, nor after that lady in the Toll House tossed chocolate morsels into her butter cookies. I'm sure I've made the same leap in food history tonight.

If you'd like to try your hand at this classic, here's the recipe.

Myself, I think I'm owed a beach vacation, so I'll just head on over to Air B&B now. 'Bye.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Soup and Fudge

Fall asserted itself yesterday. In the morning, I walked into the grocery store wondering, Do I really need this sweater? In the evening, we attended a cookout in a yellowing cornfield and shivered while a drama-queen of a rainstorm blew in on the party.

So yes, I guess I am ready for Beef Noodle Soup.

Here's the bread recipe. You might go a little lighter on the herbs if they're ground instead of leafy. They got a tad bitter, though I could still taste the buttery crispness underneath.

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My daughter returned from her vacation with four slabs of fudge, all for her mother, whom she loves very much. Which made me wonder, Why am I making more fudge?

I may not have eaten up those four flavors, but we know they won't last forever. That last bite could bring on fudge bereavement. Isn't it comforting to know that, with a few always-available ingredients, we can whip up a new batch in no time at all?

The recipe for Sea Salt Chocolate Fudge never mentions buttering that foil-lined fan. Oh, be wise! Butter generously!  I've got a fight on my hands, freeing the rest of the fudge from the pan.

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Tune in next week for a discussion on a book that I'm sure you've heard of.  (And hopefully, a repaired website.)

Sunday, October 1, 2017


Still having website troubles, so here we are on Blogspot again . . .

This is a cookie for the indecisive sugar fiend.

When you visit the recipe site, you will find a more beautiful sample of the finished product. I used a rather large cookie scoop, and cookies that big take 17 minutes to bake!

As for the review of the extra-large book that I know you're all waiting on, I can report that I passed the pictures in the center last night. There's hope.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Rosemary Chicken Salad Sandwiches

Alas, Read Fast, Eat Slow is down. I don't want to deal with it tonight.

Here's something tasty for you, while I read a marathon book:

Yes, I know the title says "sandwiches," but I was rich in tortillas this week, so I ate this crunchy chicken salad as a wrap.

The website brags on the wonder of smoked almonds. I did not know such things existed. Will this mean a trip to the "special" grocery store a half hour away?

Nope. I was relieved to find them in my own grocer's nut aisle.

And they are tasty. I must have been pretty loud with my enjoyment because, next time I checked the pantry, there were my cashews, softly weeping.

You can find the recipe here. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Why Won't Anybody Tell Us Anything?

First, two announcements:

1. in is the shop for some repairs. I really hope to be back there blogging by next week.

2. Recipes will no longer be a regular feature on the blog. Expect occasional appearances of great food, but mostly, we're going to talk about books.

Thanks for checking in here. I love my readers.


“How would you like to live in Chicago?” my husband said one day.

“Hmmm,” I said, as visions of adventure and skyscrapers paraded through my head.

We’ve had conversations like this throughout our corporate-gypsy marriage. Prospects of Chicago or Xenia, Ohio, or some small place in Mississippi that I can’t remember have been our mind candy for years.

photo credit 

So I could relate to the women in Tarashea Nesbit’s The Wives of Los Alamos.

“How would you like to live in the Southwest?” their husbands asked them.

“Hmmm,” the wives said. “Where in the Southwest? What would you be doing?”

Their husbands could not tell them.

Butte in New Mexico

You probably know that Los Alamos is where they built the bomb that we dropped on Hiroshima. But back then, it was all top-secret stuff.

It all started with a man ringing their doorbell and asking if the professor was home. Then the husbands asked the wives, “Would you like to . . . “ Then more mysterious men turned up to interrogate them about that Communist club they had joined back in college.

Then: “We watched [our husbands] disappear into train terminals, through the doors of unmarked black sedans, down airport runways, and we were left behind, overwhelmed. We called our friends . . . And they met us . . . At our house with a . . . Chicken casserole and a flask. . . . We wanted to tell them everything we knew . . . But we could not.”

Once the wives got “there,” to the Southwest, wherever it was they were going, not that anybody would tell them where, they faced what amounted to a camp painted a uniform olive green. Maybe their house had been built for them, maybe not. The altitude, the dry climate, the hand-cranked wringer washers—all of it was new and strange.

Mind you, these women were not the sort of girls who stood in a farm yard calling “Soo—eeee, soo-eee, soo-eee!” before throwing grub to the family sow. These were women who wore high heels. They held college degrees half as brainy as their husbands. The Paris they heard about on the news was no remote and exotic idea; it was where they had studied abroad for a summer. And as for laundry, they hired people to do it.

But here they were in New Mexico, hand-cranking those wringers, the machines their mothers washed with, hanging their husbands’ boxer shorts and their babies’ diapers on the line, then bringing them in the next morning, “square little ice boards.”

They leaned on each other. They ditched the heels, taking up blue jeans and boots. They showed the newbies around, “here are the quonset huts, here are the trailers,” and smirked at them for still wearing the high heels.

And they all wondered: what could our husbands be up to in the Tech Area? There were even women scientists up there. The wives cozied up to them, hoping to pry the secret out. But all lips were sealed.

Then one day, they found out.

Norman Ramsey signs Fat Boy

Drawing on memoirs of wartime Los Alamos, Nesbit novelizes the three-year internment of women who just happened to be married to men who “wanted to know if their theoretical predictions could become a physical reality.” 

I read it eagerly, all the while imagining myself stuck in some small place in Mississippi and nobody willing to tell me what the heck we were doing there.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

On a Bridge to the Past

Suppose I had not bought this house.

After all, I tried pretty hard to buy one in the town down the road. We lived there once upon a time, and I still swim in a warm bath of memories every time I slip down there. I remember how I felt sitting at this stoplight. I remember sunlight at this exact angle as I drove down Main Street before. 

We could really have done up this warm-bath-in-memories thing royally because, while we hunted for houses, what should show up in the MLS but a home we lived in before. The interior was painted all cute and somebody finally installed a dishwasher in the kitchen. Yes, it was smaller than what we’d been living in, but we were on a mission to downsize.

We didn’t take the bait.

We did, however, bid on a house two blocks away, loving its gleaming hardwood floors and granite counters. But even that proved more than I could take.

I was a different person when I last lived on those streets. I’ve figured out a few things since then and if I woke up and looked out on the same trees, I would have felt like somebody moved my Candy Land marker all the way back to Start.

In Richard Russo’s That Old Cape Magic, 57-year-old Jack Griffin grapples with his own past as he drives over the bridge to Cape Cod, on his way to a wedding.

He rode over that bridge in the back of his parents’ car every summer.

Mom and Dad attended Ivy League schools, assuming all the while that they would teach there. And if not the Ivy League, then a smaller East Coast college would do.

But they ended up in Indiana.

Snobby and lacking any talent for happiness, Mom and Dad got their East Coast fix vacationing on the Cape. Living all year for this hiatus from life’s cruel joke, they spent their week snatching up real estate magazines and snubbing anybody who tried to befriend them.

Can’t we just imagine the parental voices that play in Jack’s head? Not to mention the words that slip out of his mouth. Yes, Jack admits he inherited the worst parts of each parent.

Jack also honeymooned on the Cape. Oh, the plans he and Joy made as they holed up at their beach-side cottage in Truro thirty years ago

Today, though, they’re a little like a bookshelf. When you first set it up, the books sit up straight. They’re organized—biographies here, novels over there. How-to books up high, children’s books down low.

After awhile, Abe Lincoln gets shoved in beside Dr. Suess. They both slouch. They wear a coat of dust. Somebody needs to tidy this place up, but nobody wants to.

Yeah, that’s where Jack and Joy’s marriage is these days.

So Cape definitely launches on a gloomy note.

But it’s not all hopeless, I promise.

And Joy’s twin baby brothers definitely liven things up. These two Marine-Corps oafs ache for somebody, anybody, to insult them, because there’s nothing they love better than to throw a punch.

Language cow patties. 

 If you need something to pull you through Jack’s midlife taking-stock, you might whip up some Simple Sweet and Spicy Chicken Wraps. With a little bit of honey hiding in both the spread and the chicken, this dish earned a lot of love from me.