Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Please Try

Tonight, let's start with the Carson Christmas plate, part 2, in which we feature: Homemade Snickers!

This takes all day, sort of. You make it in four layers, taking time between each layer to let things set.

Chocolate Caramel Candy

Even better the second day. If they last that long.

I'm cheating on the Finished Book Pile, since it's taking me quite a long time to finish our featured selection: Model by Michael Gross. It's nonfiction, "the ugly business of beautiful women," weighing in at just under 500 pages.

The fun parts are the discovery stories of all these posing beauties; also a little bit about how modeling agencies started. John Robert Powers was an out-of-work actor who found himself running a clearing house for movie extras. He suddenly thought, "Hey, there are commercial photographers out there looking for models. And I know dozens of out-of-work actors and actresses. Why not bring them together?"

The book also details the wars between modeling agencies, stealing one another's girls. In fact, too much detail. Sometimes I get the feel that every paragraph equals an author's note card (must have been 3200 miles of note cards, laid end to end) and he tells me about agents, photographers, editors, names names names of people I never knew or needed to know.

But here I am, sticking with it. Right now, I'm in the '70s, where everybody is snorting coke while they work, although I notice that many of the real supermodels stayed away from the drugs, which seemed to contribute to the longevity of their careers. At any rate, a great deal of mischief goes on, but doesn't count as cow patties, because it is rendered such a reporter-like tone. And as the book progresses through the years, the pay rates keep going up, from $5/hr in the '30s to $25,000/day in the mid-'90s.

Even though I'm taken with the tarnished glamour of it all, I think one retired agent summed it up best when she said (and I paraphrase) We put these magazine pictures before the public and say, You will never look like this, but please try.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Forty Wiped Out

I look forward to Natalie coming over tomorrow. The plan is to make and bake Christmas treats.

The problem? Food doesn't sound good right now.

Our ward had a Christmas party last Friday night. It was a Night in Bethlehem, with people dressed in biblical clothing, walking around the "market," getting sandwiches, fruit, hard-boiled eggs, olives at the different booths.

After the party, everybody was healthy just long enough to speak and sing at the Saturday night session of stake conference. Then they started going down, a regular roll-call through the ward list, reports of this family and that stuck at home, throwing up. According to the bishop's count, forty people got sick.

It hit John pretty hard. I caught an extremely light version a couple days later(I didn't eat anything but a brownie at the party) but I still don't want to do anything but languish. All the Christmas treats that I'm usually dying to eat are a big "meh" to me right now.

However, you may be feel like gorging. So I offer you The Carson Christmas Treat Plate, part 1.

SUGAR COOKIES, big batch
2 cups margarine, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. lemon extract
6 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda

In a large bowl, cream butter adn sugar. Beat in eggs, vanilla and lemon extract until light and fluffy. In a large bowl, combine flour adn baking soda. Gradually stir flour mixture into egg mixture until blended.

Chill dough (or divide in four parts, form into logs, wrap in wax paper, then tin foil and freeze for up to 6 months). Roll out dough and cut into shapes. Bake on greased cookies sheets, at 350' for 8-10 minutes.

The big secrets are to keep from handling the dough too much with your hands, and to roll kinda thick. We frost our with Vanilla Butter Frosting (see the Memorial Day entry) and throw red and green sprinkles on top.

CARDAMOM COFFEE BREAD or, really good braided bread.
2 pkg. active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (105'- 115')
1 tsp. sugar
1 12-oz. can evaporated milk
7 to 8 cups flour
1/2 to 1 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom (this is a Scandinavian spice; don't skimp out on it)
4 eggs, room temperature (warm them up in a measuring cup of hottish water)
2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 slightly beaten egg
2 TB. milk

In a large mixer bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Stir in 1 tsp. sugar adn let stand for 5 minutes.
Heat milk to 105'- 115'. Add milk, half the flour, 1/2 to 1 cup sugar, cardamom, 4 eggs and salt to the yeast. Beat with electric mixer till smooth. Beat in the butter.
Stir in as much remaining flour as you can with a spoon. Cover; let rest 15 minutes. Turn out onto a floured surface. Knead in enough remaining flour to make a moderately stiff dough that's smooth and elastic.
Place in greased bowl, turn to grease surface. Cover and let rise in a warm place till doubled (1 to 1 1/2 hours). Punch down dough. Turn dough onto cutting board; divide into 3 portions. Divide each portion into 3rds. Shape each piece into a 24-inch rope.
Using 3 ropes each, shape into 3 braided loaves; tuck under ends. Place on lightly greased baking sheets. Cover and let rise till doubled (about 1 hour).
Mix egg and milk; brush over braids. Bake in 375' oven for 20 minutes or till golden. Makes 3 loaves. This freezes well.

One of my college roommates learned to make this on her mission to Finland. One night, she made it at our apartment, then went off on a date with her fiance. Um, there wasn't much left when she returned.

I never got the recipe from her, but I saw this one in a magazine years later. Comes close enough. Goes fast at our house.

As for the Finished Book Pile, we have Angry Housewives Eating Bon-Bons by Lorna Landvik. This is one of those novels that follows the characters for years. Five women form a book club in Minnesota and the reader watches the ladies go from idealistic young wives to wise, mature women. One character takes on all kinds of '60s causes, marching in protests, fighting for Social Justice in every conceivable corner. She's tiresome until she mellows out later. Cow patty count is medium low.

Then there's Saturday by Ian McEwan. This isn't McEwan's best book. He's famous for Atonement but this one will do as a fairly clean, upper-crust story. Having just been through a writing class where the professor railed against "static action," (that's the stuff the character does every day,i.e. he got up, he shaved, he ate breakfast) and urged us on to dynamic action, upsetting the order of things, making the characters more miserable with every page turn, I wonder how McEwan's manuscript would have fared in this class. Yeah, a couple big things happen in the story, but there's a lot of what he had for breakfast and how the city square outside his lovely London house always looks. Hey, I kinda like that stuff. And if you're curious about brain surgery, you get to go into the operating room with the main character and look over his shoulder as he "cooks the nerve by radioactive thermocoagulation" and a dozen or so other goodies like that.

Monday, December 14, 2009

If I were there . . .

Hi, class is done. I'm back.

I don't think anybody is in the mood for a book review right now, so we'll skip it this time.

But we can still talk about food.

If Hertha's sisters could manage to gather Hertha's children for a talk-it-out session this week, and if I could be there, here's what I would feed everybody. It was comfort food and then some when John and I ate it the day after Thanksgiving: Cheesy Chicken Subs

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Hey folks,

This blog is suspended until the middle of December. I'm taking a writing class. I'm swamped. I've got to let a couple things go and this is one of them.

See you then.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Some People Need More Editing

Let's start today by discussing sins committed by writers.

I read another book by James Freeman. No, that's not right. I made an attempt to read Ishi's Journey but I gave it up. You may remember that Freeman is a teacher at Bucks County Community College, whom I met at my writer's group.

Ishi's Journey was certainly a good idea for a book: based on a true incident, a northwest Indian, living the primitive life, wanders into a 1911 slaughter house. Culture shock ensues. Trouble is, stone-age man doesn't meet modern Americans until 3/4s of the way through the book. Then, instead of dramatizing the actual meeting, Freeman apparently copies into the book what appears to be a news clipping of the event. I peeked ahead, saw a scene or two where a couple anthropologists sit around a campfire with Ishi and draw stories out of him. And I quit the book.

Freeman, that's the reason I gave up on you before. Tale-telling by your characters is no substitute for plot.

Next, we have Sin and the Second City by Karen Abbott, a non-fiction account of a couple famous madams in Chicago and the religious and legal crusaders that tried to shut them down. There are some cow patties, but the book reads like a novel. I thought Abbott's tone might be: ha-ha, look how the madams got away with it despite those prim and proper prudes. But she actually showed some respect for the ministers and prosecuters who fought a long fight against vice. Did they win? What? You think I'm going to tell you?

Next, may I recommend Long After Dark, a book of short stories by Todd Robert Petersen. It comes from Zarahemla Books, a publisher that offers LDS literature with a little edge to it. Petersen's characters aren't sweetly perfect. They have their share of troubles. But that, my friends, it what makes for engaging literature.

I had a little trouble getting the point of Petersen's novella, the last entry in Long After . . .. But I stuck with it and it came together for me.

Next, I read a heart warmer, Once Upon a Town by Bob Greene. This is the story of North Platte, Nebraska, a town isolated out in the Sand Hills region, whose citizens decided to operate a canteen for the World War II soldiers that passed through on the trains every day. They didn't have a budget or an expense account. They lived under the strains of food rationing. Yet out of the goodness of their hearts, they provided cakes, sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs, milk, fried chicken, etc., etc., to millions of surprised soldiers.

Finally, I finished Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker series. In Heartfire, the last volume, Alvin goes to trial for witchery up in New England, a place where don't take kindly to such things. A couple historical names you will recognize appear in the story, sparking things up a bit.

And now for your recipe, Sunday Football Sandwich Sensation is something I've always been hesitant to make. I went cross-eyed looking at the list of ingredients. The finished product was a mouth-stretcher. And all the exotic ingredients fell out as we tried to eat the thing.

But I get the idea of it now: you make a small salad and use it to garnish and flavor a rather basic sandwich. Here's the official list of ingredients (and my notes on good-enough substitutes)

1 (1 1/2 lb.) round unsliced Italian or French bread (I used squishy hoagie buns)
1 (6 oz.) jar sweet fried peppers w/ onions, drained (I found something with peppers but no onion in the olives-and-pickles aisle. The peppers sat in a garlicky oil which I drained off before I sliced them haphazardly)
1 (4 1/4 oz) can chopped ripe olives, drained
1/2 head lettuce, shredded, about 4 cups (hey, I love the bagged stuff)
1/2 cup bottled Italian dressing
1 1/2 lbs. thinly sliced deli meats like mortadella, salami, and pepperoni (Um, those are yucky. But honey ham and smoked turkey were great)
1 lb. thinly sliced deli cheese like mozzarella and provolone (Or Swiss, sorry if it ruins the ethnic purity of the sandwich)
2 large tomatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick.

Split the bread. Mix the pepper stuff, the olives, the lettuce. Add the dressing and toss to coat.

Put some salad on one side of the bread. Layer on the meats, cheese and tomatoes. Add more salad. Top it off with the other half of the bread.

This is how John and I fed ourselves one night last week, while living in a Louisville hotel room with a kitchenette. It was the food of happiness. I wish I had another one of these sandwiches right now.

I'd tell you the calorie count, assuming of course that you care, but I think my calculations are based on using those yucky meats. So my numbers are wrong. I'm too lazy to re-do them at the moment. I'd really rather read my next book right now. It's about sororities. Oooohh, the cattiness!!

Thursday, August 13, 2009


I came home from the family reunion and found that my cat-sitter had raided my cookie stash. At least she left two for us.

They were MRS. FIELDS COOKIES, or I think so anyway. The newspaper I got them from called them "$250 Cookies." Back then, a story was going around that somebody called the Mrs. Fields Company and asked for the recipe, agreeing to pay the $2.50 they demanded. When she checked her credit card bill, she'd been charged $250. In revenge she published the recipe far and wide.

So here is the version I use:

2 cups butter, melted
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups brown sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
4 cups flour
5 cups oatmeal
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1 (24 oz.) pkg. chocolate chips
1 (7 oz.) Hershey bar, grated

Cream sugars and butter. Add eggs and vanilla. In separate bowl, mix flour, oatmeal (measure out the 5 cups oatmeal, then put small amounts in blender and blend until powdery), salt, baking powder & baking soda. Combine all mixed ingredients, add chips (the dough can hold only about 18 oz. of chips. I'm sure you'll figure out something to do with the leftovers) and Hershey bar. Make golf-ball sized cookies & place on ungreased baking sheets 2 in. apart. Bake at 375' for 9-11 minutes.

As you might guess from the quantities, this makes a big batch. Hope you have a bath-tub sized mixing bowl.

When we made our first batch years ago, I was all ready to start spooning out the dough. Then the oven caught fire. Sparks and flames burst out of the electric elements inside. The oven made zinging and zapping sounds. I yelled at Jim to call the fire department. He was about 14 at the time. "What do I tell them?" he said.

"That we're having a fire!" Then I ran down in the basement and turned off every switch in the electric box.

Cutting off the juice quelled the fire. But we were jumpy with adrenaline the rest of the night. And we had a big bowl of cookie dough and no oven to bake it in.

We talked the neighbors into letting us bake it at their house. It wasn't hard.

Oh, and for those of you that care, the entire recipe rings in at 14,600 calories total. 1/4 cup of dough is probably 313 cals.

As for the Finished Book Pile, we'll start with Another Place at the Table by Kathy Harrison. This woman worked for the Head Start program. She saw so many needy kids that she decided to become a foster mom. A hundred kids later, she wrote a book (when did she find the time?) that I really couldn't stay away from. I was simply in awe of how she handled crises like convincing a very dirty little victim of sexual abuse to take a bath. The social workers, the counselors, even the lawyers exhibited amazing people skills. Walking with her through the tough moments kept me gripped. For instance, whenever she gets new child, she takes them to a doctor for a thorough examination. So there she sits, in the waiting room, with a bruised and battered baby, and all the other parents giving her accusing looks.

Next up, The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta. I feel like I'm making less of a report and more of a confession. Ok, ok, the book was full of cow patties, but it's just the nature of the subject. I stuck with it for the sake of opposition research. It wasn't hard to figure out the author's bias: Abstinence is crock. His heroine is forced to teach it anyway, thanks to the crazy members of the something-something Tabernacle that's taking over the town, even the whole country! A person like me, who believes we ought to give abstinence a chance, reads a book like this just to know if these Tabernacle types are portrayed fairly. Perrotta does his best to make them into real crazies. The minister, once a normal, lowly worker in an electronics store, has a mystical, almost electrical conversion when he finds a Bible he had tossed under his desk, whereupon he proceeds to destroy all the evil TVs and computers throughout the store.

Right, Perrotta.

A Barbie-doll of a woman comes to the school to plug for the Abstinence Ed. program, telling the assembled students that she's a 28-yr.-old virgin with a hot boyfriend, and showing pictures of their vacation together in the Caribbean.

Right, Perrotta. Abstinence requires a few buffer-zone rules. It's not just "no sex," it's "no just-the-two-of-you vacations with your hot boyfriend."

It's a good read, but the author's jacket picture--crossed arms, ironic smile--told me that he just doesn't get the sincerely religious person. Only one of his Tabernacle people was a fully fleshed-out human being and half the story is about whether Tim will hold up, or whether he will crumble under the dictates of his faith.

In the end, I was angry at wacky believers as well as at too-cool-for-you unbelievers.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Stuck in Europe

Well, to finish out that thick book pile, we're going to concentrate on Europe and the Americans who, for one reason or another, can't quite stay away from the Continent.

Sonia Pilcer wrote a volume of short stories The Holocaust Kid that sounds pretty autobiographical. She's the child of Holocaust survivors, so her Great Burden in life is that every time she complains about her teenage angst, her parents say, "What? You have it so hard? Is this why we survived, so you could turn out like this?" As a teen in a gritty New Jersey neighborhood, she adopts a tough-girl persona, smoking, smacking her gum, teasing her hair four and a half inches out from her head. Moving on to young adulthood, she is "sexually liberated." (If, while reading along, a professor appears, a major cow patty lies just ahead.) (And no, no, no, I don't tell you these things so you can turn straight to them!) As she matures and gets more sensible, she meets others like herself, "2G," meaning the second generation after the survivors, and all of them are obsessed with their parents' concentration camp experiences. All of them create "art" with a concentration camp theme.

The House of the Seven Sisters
by Elle Eggels is set in Holland. It's about a baker who abandons his seven daughters, leaving them to run the business. It spans WWII down to the '90s, yet it reads like a fairy tale, because so many characters are the butcher, the baker, the candle-stick maker. If they were cashiers, or system analysts, or HR people, it would definitely sound American and crisply modern. If you like stories that lead you from the narrator's childhood, wherein she tries to make sense of everything the older folks do, to her own days as a grandmother, and if you can keep the names of seven sisters straight, you might look up this one.
Finally, The Red Passport by Katherine Shonk, is another volume of short stories, this one set in post-Communist Russia. Americans wander through each story, and the Russians resent them for their excess of money, of leisure, of compassion. In one story, a grandmother moves back to her home near Chernobyl. She can't understand why her family tells her not to live there, why she can't eat those onions in her garden. Why, look at them! They've never grown so robustly before! Another story is about a mail-order bride, returning to care for a sick relative. Her young American daughter believes the fanciful stories her mother tells about how and why she departed Russia long ago. That is, until a Russian cousin reveals a few more details.

And finally a dessert so big, you're going to need to invite everybody you know over to help you eat it.

2 c. crushed chocolate graham crackers, (about 20 squares)
1/3 c. margarine, melted
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 gal. mint chocolate chip ice cream, slightly softened
1 cups semisweet chocolate chips (or 1/2 c. semisweet and 1/2 c. milk chocolate)
1/3 c. margarine
1 c. powdered sugar
1 12 oz. can evaporated milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 8 oz. container Cool Whip

1. In a bowl, combine crushed graham crumbs, 1/3 c. melted margarine & sugar. Press into bottom of a 15x10 baking pan. Chill in freezer for 15 min.
2. Cut ice cream into 1/2-in. thick slices and lay over the crumbs. Cover & return to freezer.
3. For chocolate sauce: in saucepan, melt chocolate and 1/3 c. margarine. Add powdered sugar and milk. Cook and stir for about 20-25 min. Add vanilla.
4. Pour sauce over ice cream and return to freezer for about 30 minutes or till firm.
5. Spread Cool Whip on top; freeze again until serving time. Makes 32 servings @ 240 cals each.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Parade of books

OK, it's been a while. And the Finished Book Pile stands pretty high. Let's clear it out before it falls over on one of the cats or something.

First up is Parade of Days by James Freeman. Freeman is a Pennsylvania guy. He spoke to our writing group in Allentown. He brought, of course, a few copies of his books to sell. I bought one about a primitive Native American that walks into modern-day America, based on a true story, but I decided not to spend my money on Parade because he said he laced it with sex scenes. He dedicated the proceeds to some cause and, "Since sex sells, I thought if I spiced it up a little and it helped to sell more books for a good cause, all the better." And his eyebrows went waggle, waggle.

Well. I would not help his good cause. But I would search for Parade in libraries and step lightly around the cow patties, as you must know I pretty well do.

Alas, not many pages into his book, I shut it for good. The first irritant was a certain over-formality, a common sin committed by several other writers in my critique group. Freeman's story tells about an odd little collection of humans that take up residence in the air ducts in the library at Bucks County Community College (where Freeman teaches). When the library closes, they fan out and help themselves to the food in the employee lounge fridge, to the library books, to pieces of paper. The librarian, who is a librarian at Bucks County Community College, is naturally mystified by the disappearance and re-appearance of these items. One of the strange people, who used to have a normal life like the rest of us, was once a student or teacher or something at Bucks County Community College. Can't Freeman just say "the college"?

The second irritant was when the characters sat down for a snack on some of their stolen food. The old lady of the group, who could be as quirky as your local homeless shopping cart lady, or as normal and lovable as your pie-baking grandma (Freeman couldn't decide which version to go with) tells a story about a girl who bears a mulatto baby. Now, when your author stops his story to let one of his characters go, "There once was a . . . ", I suspect he is just stuffing the book with something he wanted to say but which doesn't fit into the plot. Or maybe it ties in somehow a few chapter ahead. Since I knew, however, that the chapters ahead contained cow patties and since I felt like I had exercised enough patience with amateur writing, I put Freeman away. His original idea sounded promising. It just didn't lift off the runway.

Next up is Coupon Girl by Becky Motew. This book is apparently part of a series called "Making It," stories about young career girls. Coupon Girl was such a fun read, as well as a peek into an unfamiliar world, that I'm tempted to add the other titles to my list. Jeanie, the main character, sells advertising promotions, or coupons. She pays visits to all the local characters--the orthodontists, the pizza makers, the ice cream scoopers and talks them into running a buy-four-get-one-free promotion, or whatever. Meanwhile, she tries out for a local production of The Sound of Music. Egos and mishaps abound.

Now when I open up the mail and find coupons for tooth whitening and carpet cleaning, I know that somebody had to walk in that business and convince the owner to offer a deal, that the owner hopes the offer will attract new customers.

Third up is High Lonesome: The American Culture of Country Music by Cecelia Tichi. Which is just what it says, plus photos of the country stars. For the bulk of the book, Tichi waxes on about what country music says about "the American culture of loneliness" or the romance of cowboys, or the tension between home and making it out there in the big wide world, or even roses. Is she reading things into these songs that aren't there? I'm not sure, but she convinced me to give Emmylou Harris a try. Her book includes a CD, showcasing many of the artists she talks about.

My favorite part of Tichi's book was an interview section. She focused on artists that came to country from some other form of music--opera, rock, classical violin. Country artists, if you ask them about their craft, claim they just come by it naturally (then complain later that no one takes country seriously because it's so natural that there's no skill involved). Tichi argues that of course it take great skill, but artists immersed in country their whole lives have a hard time explaining their skills. On the other hand, artists who come from a different genre are like people who have lived in two cultures. They are more able to define and compare..

So, now we have cleared out half of the pile. We'll get to the rest in a few days. Meanwhile, here's your recipe. It’s shamefully easy, the kind of thing you can prepare while you’re still groggy from your Sunday nap: Chicken Broccoli Shells

Friday, June 19, 2009

Warning: Gooey

This will have to be quick. I'd rather be outside in heavy traffic on this nearly 90-degree day.

Actually, no that doesn't sound so good. But I've got to return a book to Carmel and, if I can fit it in, hunt for some Nutella. Abbey has been bragging on it. Mercy says it's "rilly, rilly good!" Carmel is the sort of town where the grocery stores might stock this exotic stuff and we do want to know what the fuss it about, don't we?

So, here's your recipe for this installment:  Chocolate Caramel Cupcakes

Warning: These are really gooey. We made messes on our fingers, our faces, the table, our laps, and we are adults here. I can just imagine what might happen to children.

Our dinner guest, John's widowed home teaching partner, was very smart. He ate his with a fork. He must get invited to dinner a lot, because he sure knows how to handle Tricky Foods.

Over on the Finished Book Pile, we have now put Alvin Journeyman, book 4 of Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker series behind us. Loved the judge in the trial scenes. Some great character development all through the town of Hatrack River. Loved the nasty, jealous brother, Calvin (not his nastiness, just for the drama he created). However, I just have not warmed up to Peggy. Last time I liked her was in Book 2. I can't give away what happened to her in Book 3, but read it yourself and tell me whether you agree or not.

Also, every time the story veers toward the Red Man, I say to myself, "Huh? What? How much longer do I have to put up with this?"

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

With WALL-E Staring at Me

I feel like you're right here with me. John must have dug through one of the moving boxes. He found the webcam and now it perches here on the computer monitor, giving me the creeps. But hey, I decent, so what am I worried about?

I guess I like my buddy, The Governess, my GPS. We go places together. She talks to me. She doesn't stare at me, all perky and eager-looking, like WALL-E here.

Anyway, today we feature a dinner that may have tasted good on its own merits on Sunday. Or maybe it was just because we were starved from fasting.

Greek Ham Wraps

I wasn't sure I would like these wraps, owing to the feta cheese. The first time I tasted feta, I decided I certainly wouldn't send any troops to invade Greece just to get more of it. \

The picture in Quick Cooking Magazine added a fancy tie made from a strand of green onion. But even when I am not starving, I can't be bothered with that kind of thing. Calories, for those of you that care, come in at 395.

Raspberry Cream Cheese Bars

We cannot have treats like these sitting around calling to us, so we boxed up a bunch and walked them over to the neighbor's house. Time to reciprocate for the brownies she brought after we moved in. She was setting up a "workout center" in her basement, something she got for free from a friend. If our stunning blonde neighbor works out, then she and her family can afford to help us eat up these dangerous treats.

Over on the Finished Book Pile, we attempted The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Fowler. Readers have to know Austen's books pretty well to keep up with what the characters discuss at their club meetings. The author included synopses and reviews on Austen in the back of the book, which might have helped me. But anyway, not long into the book, the ground got thickly littered with cow patties, so much that there really was no place to step for awhile. Sigh. Do we even care about these characters? I asked myself. No, we do not. So we gave it up.

Then we moved on to Prentice Alvin, #3 in Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker series. This one includes runaway slaves, deep dark peril for Alvin, unfair/misguided masters, brawling married couples, lots more stuff to pique the interest of LDS readers, and some very nice moments of dialogue between the crusty supporting characters. Oh, and we get hints of love and longing. Alvin is growing up, after all.

Sometimes Card gets a little too talky, but we will forgive him and move on to book #4.

Monday, June 1, 2009

From Our Southern Kin

I'm about to reveal to you one of my best secrets.

Down there in Isonville, Kentucky, they've got a volunteer fire department to mind those little flare-ups that happen when, say, somebody tosses a cigarette out of his truck and it lands in the woods at the roadside. To earn money for a new (probably used) pumper truck or some hoses or something, they have to do a little fund-raising.

Enter Kristen, long-lost relative, in the year they sold their Isonville Volunteer Fire Dept. #889 cookbooks. What do our southern relatives eat? Escalloped Summer Squash, Red Velvet Cake, Kenney's Home Fries and lots of the same Cool-Whip-and-pudding desserts that the rest of us like.

Headlining the "Bread, Rolls, Pies, and Pastry" section is a little treasure called Angel Flake Biscuits:
5 cups all-purpose flour
3 tsp. baking powder
3 TB sugar
1 tsp. soda
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cups vegetable shortening
1/2 cup lukewarm water
2 cups buttermilk

Sift together into mixing bowl, flour, baking powder, sugar, soda and salt. Cut in shortening. Dissolve yeast in lukewarm water; add to flour mixture. Then add buttermilk. Work together with large spoon until all flour is moistened. Cover bowl; store in refrigerator. When ready to use take out amount desired. Roll out on floured board to 1/2 inch thickness. Cut with biscuit cutter. Place on greased cookie sheet. Bake 12 minutes in 400' oven. NOTE (theirs): This recipe makes 6 dozen light, flaky biscuits. The dough will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator.
NOTE (mine): I thought they liked big biscuits down there. If it makes 6 dozen, they must be no bigger than Whoppers. When I make them, they are big and sweet and puffy and kind of hard to stay away from. Anyway, for those of you that care, divide 3,875 by the number of biscuits you get, and there's your calories.

Grandma Ison once lamented that she could never make light fluffy biscuits like her mother could. I sent her this recipe and even some brand-new biscuits cutters with handles on them like they have at McDonald's and I think all of it promptly got lost and forgotten in one of her drawers. Anybody willing to dig out the cutters and make these for her?

Over on the Finished Book Pile, we have Red Prophet by Orson Scott Card, the second book in the Alvin Maker series. This one required more patience. "Harsher, bleaker and more mystical than Seventh Son," said one reviewer. Quite true.

I had to endure a great deal of Red Man talk about White Man bad, kill the land, go back on boat where come from. And I can't help but read a book as if were already a movie, which makes me puzzle over how the actor is going to say lines like "This is the oath of the land at peace" without wishing he'd been called up for a Pepsi commercial instead.

Despite all the magic, Card's story follows history and geography closely enough that I'm apt to open my next history book and feel shocked that certain real-life players died after certain real-life battles. "No, no! Alvin healed him!"

But I'm sticking with the series. It's all going somewhere. Right, Melanie?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Prom Dining at the Food Court?

Ah, Memorial Day. Best one in a long time. Mercy introduced us to Bexley, where the streets are shady, the vast lawns are landscaped by skilled hands, the driveways are long, curving, bricked, and the houses -- excuse me -- the manors are dignified. At one of the larger ones, I expected Captain Von Trapp to pop around the corner and scowl at me.

That is not all. We found what appears to be the favorite mall of Columbus' teenage girls. At one table in the food court, eight kids were dressed for prom night--sequins and dramatic eyeliner on the girls, bow ties and nervous clowning on the boys. A few tables away, another young group dressed for the Goth prom looked like they were all peeved at each other.

On Monday, Mercy directed us to a shady park. We met Martha and her boys. We ate. And here is what we ate, so you can eat it too:

Curry Chicken Croissants

Country Baked Beans

Fruit Salad w/ Apricot Dressing

COCOA FUDGE CAKE (It was John's birthday. Thanks, John, for giving us an excuse to eat cake)
1 2/3 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
2/3 cup cocoa
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup shortening
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla

Heat oven to 350'. Spray a 9x13-in. pan with PAM. Beat all ingredients in large mixer bowl on low speed, scraping bowl constantly, 30 seconds. Beat on high speed, scraping bowl occasionally 3 minutes. Pour into pan.

Bake until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes; cool. Frost with Vanilla Butter Frosting.


3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup margarine
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
About 2 TB milk

Mix all ingredients until frosting is smooth and of spreading consistency.

Over on the Finished Book Pile, I really have finished Alice Munro's View From Castle Rock by now. In the second half, I liked "Hired Girl" and "Home."

"Hired Girl" is one of those stories that, while I read it, I kept saying, "Yep, that's the way it is." The young heroine spends the summer working for people that own an island. In her mind, she's a person. But when she prepares lunch one day for the mistress, the mistress' daughter and herself, she carries the three plates out to the patio. "Oh, no, no," says the mistress. "Only two plates. You'll be eating in the kitchen." Great examination of class boundaries.

"Home" is the kind of story that, while I read it, I wondered how it would have been if it had happened in our family. The narrator visits home. Her mother has died. Her father has re-married. The sights along the route are the same, the kitchen is the same, but the table and chairs have been moved to the barn, the front rooms re-papered. "I don't go into the front room now to rummage in the piano bench for old photographs and sheet music. . . . The books that used to lie under beds and on tables all over the house have been corralled by Irlma, chased and squeezed into this front-room bookcase, glass doors shut upon them." It was a story about change, and what the changes say about who is in charge, about who hangs on to sentimental feelings and who lets them go.

No cow patties in Munro's stories, only some strong whiffs.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Not that I really want to see January again

Don't want to overwhelm ya'll or anything, but I have more good stuff to share.

For instance, January is a long way off, isn't it? January is when the little Girl Scouts in your neighborhood come around and offer you cookies. January is when you can look forward to your Thin Mint fix. Of course, the seven boxes of Thin Mints you order won't show up until March. And March is a really, really long way off, isn't it? Are you sure you're gonna make it 'til then?

No? Getting a little shaky?

I hear ya. So let's tide ourselves over with Mint Sandwich Cookies.

"Store in an airtight container at room temperature," says the recipe.  Who are they kidding? Yeah, and the Girl Scouts say you can store their cookies in your freezer, but that only works if nobody in your thieving family knows where the freezer is (or how to open it).
Your best source for chocolate candy coating is the craft store. I found it near the cake decorating supplies. If any of you are experienced dippers, maybe you can give me some hints. I used toothpicks to shove the cookies around in the chocolate, then tongs to pull them out. If you've got a better way, I'll listen.

After the leftover chocolate hardened for a few days, I tried to warm it up and dip strawberries in it. Most chocolate-dipped strawberries look like Eliza Doolittle at the ball. Mine looked like Eliza on the streetcorner. But they tasted so good, John and I didn't care.

As for the Finished Book Pile, we'll cheat again and report on the half-finished View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro.

Miss Munro scoured her Scottish genealogy and spun the facts about all those uncles, aunts and grandparents into short stories. She inserts herself into the stories with phrases like "I remember . . ." or "Uncle James wrote a letter that said . . ." so they read a little more like a well-done history than a traditional exposition/complication/resolution story arc.

When she can get away from the "I remember"s, she keeps me turning the pages as the characters bob along on the ship to America, then on across the prairie. She makes them real. This one's an old fool. That one's an irritable wench. Here's your good and patient big brother. There's your conniving young son. Who stole the baby? Why did the villagers play that terrible joke on the brother and sister?

The family stories make up the first half of Munro's book. The second half is . . . um . . . 'scuse me while I go read the second half.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Set in Idaho??

The empty nest thing is going fine, thank you, so far. What we lack in excitement, we make up for by digging into the next library book, which means that the Finished Book Pile is a small stack which we must catch up on.

First, there's Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination by Helen Fielding, who wrote Bridget Jones. Olivia starts on a pretty good hook. British Olivia has, well, an overactive imagination and its gets her in trouble on the job; she's a journalist. She longs to cover hard news, important stuff. But her editor, weary of her embellishments, sends her to cover the launch of a new face cream in Miami. Olivia meets the face cream magnate, who looks eerily familiar, like . . . like . . . Aha! Like a very famous bad man (I won't spoil it by naming him) who, in the face cream business, has devised a perfect cover for doing his bad deeds.

Olivia feels rapidly written. As Fielding threw more characters and plot twists in my path, I said to myself, Ah, Miss Fielding has decided to try her hand at mystery.

Things gel at about page 200 and, mind you, this is a 300-page book. If you decide to take it on, expect a cow patty count of about 1 1/4.

Next, we move on to The Sheep Queen by Thomas Savage. Have you ever read a novel set in, rarest of places, Idaho? Well, don't miss your chance. Read this one.

On the book jacket, Savage is praised for his mastery of the simple declarative sentence and I agree. It was a pleasure to read him.

In his story, a child is given up for adoption. Then she grows up and starts searching.

For me, the resolution wasn't terribly clear or satisfying, but I enjoyed the journey. It was a little hard to keep the names straight--birth mother, adoptive mother, birth mother's false name on the certificate, Thomas somebody in this generation, another Thomas in the next. I should have made a chart as I read, but I pretty well got the idea. I would not be able to explain it all to you, but why should I? Read it yourself.

No cow patties.

Meanwhile, if you need an idea for something to eat, I suggest:  Olive Cheese Bread

Anybody watch What About Bob? Anybody remember him moaning and sighing through the family dinner scene? I've watched people do the same over this bread.

But do take precautions. I served it at a luncheon of friends. I talked. I laughed. I smiled as I hugged them and sent them out the door. Then I looked in the mirror and saw the little olive bits stuck in my teeth.

Monday, April 27, 2009

In the college-girl kitchen

I'm living the college-girl life this week. I'm shacked up in Emma's room, where I find a wall calendar with due dates for assignments, textbooks stacked beside her bed, and the student herself frowning over her schoolwork.

So if you get the urge to cook while visiting a college student/working girl, the food better be quick and require minimum kitchen equipment. Out of all the dinner ideas I brought to her, Emma said, "Let's definitely do this one."



YIELD: 7 doz. 2-in cookies which, if you can make them that small, will have 64 calories each. Goodness, who could possibly make them that small? We came out with 39 cookies and three (or was it four, Emma?) spoonfuls of raw dough.
If the dough seems a little sticky, throw in a couple spoonfuls of flour.

As for the Finished Book Pile, I forgot to mention Freakonomics by Steven Levitt. Finished it weeks ago. Returned it to the library rather efficiently. Forgot it while I dove into research-type reading.

Levitt, as economists go, can't keep his mind on truly boring economic stuff, but spends his days wondering about questions like Do schoolteachers cheat? and What were your parents telling the world when they gave you your name? Being an economist, he's comfortable with numbers and data, which he uses to answer these compelling little questions. Title chapters include: "Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live With Their Moms?" and "What Makes a Perfect Parent?"

I'm currently working my way through Mark Winegardner's Crooked River Burning, a novel about . . . Cleveland. Hey, out in the Midwest, they call Cleveland "the mistake on the lake," referring to the time when it had polluted its waters so badly, they caught fire.

So what has Winegardner got to say about Cleveland?

He starts his story back in the '40s when, according to the jacket, "Cleveland was America's sixth biggest city," a decent place, a hometown to be proud of. His story, complete with star-crossed lovers, advances to 1969, by which time Cleveland had lost population and prestige. Readers like me are willing to let Winegardner tell us: what happened?

Readers like me are not, however, willing to read about Cleveland Indians' baseball games. Winegardner likes to give us blow-by-blow accounts of famous games, or infamous ones, I don't know and don't care. Easily skipped.

He's a fun writer when he's not trying to be too glib. I can see him sometimes, taking a writerly break, making a sandwich and repeating to himself some phrase he just wrote, feeling awfully proud of it, juggling the mayo and the mustard playfully as he puts them back in the fridge.

Cow patty count for this book is 2 1/2 or 3 out of 10.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Too Much High-Livin' for Cookin'

Yes, Emma. Me and my laptop at Panera. I've joined the . . . the whatever-it-is-now generation.

Anyway, it was a high-living week, dashing down to Louisville on Wednesday to join my husband on his business trip. On Thursday, I wandered home in time to meet our guests, Jim and Mercy, who arrived at midnight. On Friday, Jim and I took Mercy to Chicago, where she'd never been before. "Pretty much like New York," she pronounced, "but I don't like the wind." When we could not find our way out of town, we learned that it does indeed matter whether you put the GPS in drive mode or pedestrian mode. Meanwhile, we drove around, quite lost, in some cool neighborhoods that bear further exploration. Once the GPS started being nice to us again, we drove home, arriving late, only to turn around the next morning and return to Louisville for a temple trip.

So after a few days like that, when you get back to the house, and the cat's litter box is full, and the laundry rises out of the hamper, climbing halfway up the wall, you still have church music to practice and something to get at the store, your wallet says you've already eaten out too much and--oh my goodness, when did there get to be so many dishes?--what do you fix to eat?


As we go to the Finished Book Pile, we'll have to cheat just a little because we are not quite finished with Wendy Holder's Farm Fatale. This British novel is all about Londoners that think the country is peaceful, quiet and charming. So they decide to move there. You can well imagine the antics that follow. It's a fun read. Holder loves puns; to her credit, I don't remember any groaners.

Since this is a book about country life, we'll call the parts you should skip "cow patties." The chapter on Samantha's party is thick with 'em. Otherwise they are just now and then throughout the story, so just step carefully and you can avoid them.

Holder's earlier novels sound interesting, though I don't think I'll get to them anytime soon. They are: Simply Divine, and Bad Heir Day.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

How to Fake an Enchilada

Well, starting with The Finished Book Pile as I sit here in a Panera in Louisville, we have Invisible Ink by Carl Veno. The jacket bills Veno's book as a bunch of short stories by a master storyteller. What it turns out to be is a memoir by a self-admitted "bronze-medal" kind of news reporter (compared to the "gold-medal" types he knew who really went somewhere in the business) who bounced around from one minor newspaper to another. The "short stories" are just chapters in his life which, if anybody takes on the task of writing their life history, is the only sane way to undertake it. Not far into the book, I started examining information about the publisher and--just as I suspected--self-published. But an OK little tour through Orlando, Yonkers, Newark and eventually Quakertown, PA, where he worked for newspapers that are mostly defunct now. Oh, ooops, shouldn't have given that away.

Next up, Seventh Son by Orson Scott Card.

I'm not usually a fan of fantasy writers, but this book appeared on a list of best all-time Mormon novels. And I can get Card's books in my local library.

It's been a long time since I enjoyed a book as much as I enjoyed this one. Seventh Son went by way too fast. It's the first in a series of five books about Alvin Maker, a little boy in frontier America born with special powers. Mormon readers will take special delight at all the symbolism hidden in there just for us. I love all the subtleties between the characters, the way Card had them saying one thing while meaning another. I loved the interaction between the children in the family--fierce loyalty right next to murderous competition. And I got very caught up in the forces that both threaten and protect Alvin. Can't wait for the next four books.

As for kitchen stuff, we just tried Cilantro Chicken.  Everybody around the table thought it tasted like enchiladas.

I made a little extra and sliced up the leftover breasts for sandwiches on one of those too crazy-to-cook nights.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Thank you for returning it to the library

Hey, I finished The Kite Runner last week. I'd tell you all about, but I'll bet you've read it already. The reason I'm so late getting around to it is that I've been waiting for you to return it to the library.

Next book up was Verandah People, a collection of short stories by Jonathan Bennett. It was so-so. I put up with it because it was a mini-trip to Australia, where all these story characters sit out on their seaside verandahs, leading not very happy lives. Hey, if I could sit on a seaside verandah in Australia, I'd be happy.

If you decide to take on the book, but don't like yucky stuff, skip "The Slow War Cry of Grammar."

Now I'm slogging through The Knitting Circle by Ann Hood. The book jacket is covered with liberal praise from other authors I have read and enjoyed, but I must be missing something. Knitting is a Lifetime Channel movie tucked between bookcovers. All the drama feels trumped up, with just enough lovely jaunts to Europe thrown in. All the characters have pretty jobs, the kind soap opera characters might have. Real people spend their days making phone calls for collection agencies, or providing respite care for handicapped children. Hood's people own knitting shops, or blow glass, or run darling little bakeries where they make delicate pastries all day long. They own charming beachside cottages on the East Coast on their knitting-shop pay. Hey, do you know how much charming beachside cottages cost?

The most sympathetic, humane woman in the book falls in love with another woman. I guess it turns out badly; I'm not sure because I skipped that part. Now that I'm 3/4 of the way through, things are finally getting truly terrible for the main character, which means that the story is finally picking up.

All in all, Kite Runner was far superior--great description, spare prose, credible characters and real drama.

Since I didn't offer you anything new and compelling to read, how about a great cookie recipe:

Mix together:
1 cup sugar
3/4 c. vegetable oil
Beat in:
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix together and add to the sugar-egg mixture:
2 1/2 c. flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt

Stir in:
1 - 10 oz. pkg. mint chocolate chips
Form into balls and roll in:
1/4 cup sugar
Place on cookie sheets. Bake at 350' for 8-10 minutes. For those of you who care, the whole batch weighs in at 5784 calories.

If you can't find mint chocolate chips, just use regular ones after adding 1/4 tsp. mint extract to the dough. Or maybe 1/2 tsp., I can' t remember. Just make sure the dough smells minty.

Our Crystal Lake bishop's wife made these at Christmas time and brought them to book group. As we all traded goodies, we were encouraged to take enough home for the family. So I took plenty of these. And they just never made it home. Not sure where they went ;-)

Monday, March 16, 2009

But, we're not Amish.

Well, I just didn't eat anything interesting this week. I passed up my chance for a Sonic Blast in Louisville (Abbey got the Reese's PB) because I was saving room for dinner at Indy's best Italian restaurant that night. But after more than an hour waiting for a table, John and I gave up and drove through at Fazoli's. That is so lame, but that's just how things turn out sometimes.

So I can only feed your minds this week. If you're hungry, go to Emma's blog. Things are rather meaty over there right now.

Over on the Finished Book Pile, we have Rumspringa by Tom Shachtman. Delving into the Amish culture, Shachtman explores the "running around" period that Amish parents grant their 16-and-up children, wherein they are free to roam without supervision, sampling the wares of the outside world, deciding whether to "join church," settle down in the Amish life or not.

It is hard to believe that such a strict, traditional people allow their kids a window of time to smoke, drink, sleep around. (I've got my own rumspringa child. I just want to tell her, "But dear, we're not Amish.") Shachtman examines: how much do the parents know about what goes on? Is a sheltered Amish childhood adequate preparation for meeting The World and its temptations? How many kids, in the end, opt for Amish life and why? And as for the ones who don't, why not?

Shachtman follows several youth through their rumspringa and beyond. We get to be the fly on the wall, watching them choose between wild parties and traditional "singings," cashiering at the tourist restaurants, driving fast for the first time, negotiating with a parent who offers a fully tricked-out buggy "if you'll just end this running around and join church now."

Shachtman also draws a picture of what it means to choose the Amish life: How do the they adapt to a changing world? What rules do they change and why? Would the religion survive if it allowed education beyond the 8th grade? What happens to those who leave the church? And, finally, what about the Amish is worth emulating and what should the Amish learn from the rest of us?

The author concludes that Amish youth could spend their allotted running around days hiking in the Rocky Mountains, or tracing their roots in Switzerland, or moving to Chicago and studying biology or in any number of world-widening pursuits. But with their short educations and sheltered childhoods, they don't know enough to even dream about these things.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Haste, oh haste, oh haste away!

Let's just get to the food right away, shall we? Today, we feature:   Honey Chicken Stir-Fry

This is the kind of recipe where I hide the leftovers behind something ugly, hoping the family will forget about them, so I can have them for lunch the next day.

And as for something to read, last time I mentioned George Ade, whose collection of writings I had just started. Now that I've finished the book, I want to rave about George's best, which was his treatment of musical comedy. In one story, a wife drags her husband to the opera. He thinks it's ridiculous and, just to make his point, writes his own little opera in which a fire alarm rings in a city apartment building and all the residents stand around singing about how they really must get out to save their lives--"Haste, oh haste, oh haste away!--but they just keep standing around singing. Then there was "The Sultan of Sulu," probably Ade's most famous work, a 3-act (or maybe 5-act, can't remember) play in which a bunch of soldiers land on the island of a sultan with 8 wives and proceed to Americanize everything. The song lyrics rival Gilbert and Sullivan. Finally, I could not wipe the smile off my face as I read Ade's essay poking fun at the all the conventions of the musical comedy.

In the dry period between returning the last stack of books to one library and getting a new stack at another, I am catching up on my periodical reading, namely Irreantum, one of the Mormon journals. After a hiatus in publication, they put out a double issue last fall from which I'd like to plant a big virtual blue ribbon on the chest of two authors: Darin Cozzens and Emily Milner.

Cozzens' short story, "Reap in Mercy," tracks two farming neighbors from the point of view of the serious, responsible one. Resentment builds through the years as the narrator watches the other get away with carousing, though repenting just long enough to try to go on a mission. Later, the narrator finds himself drawn in when his nemesis always gets "in a bind," the kind of bind that sends the him to work in the other guy's bean field at the expense of his own beans. Then the neighbor goes through his know-it-all period. Won't reveal more.

Milner launched her essay, "Beauty for Ashes," with remarks about the show, What Not to Wear. This is one of my favorite shows, so Milner hooked me right away, never mind her criticisms of dear old Stacy and Clinton. I liked peeking into her mind as she considered how she looks (pockmarked and overweight) and how people respond to it. Since I visit teach Milner's sister (lovely cheekbones, abundant curly hair, exercise enthusiast), I kept trying to picture what Milner really looks like.

Well, that's it for now. I'm off to stir tonight's spaghetti sauce.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sorry, it's not exotic cheese

Today, we're going to go to the Finished Book Pile and see what we have there.

First up is Laura Kalpakian's novel, These Latter Days. If that sounds Mormon-y, it is, although the characters are highly imperfect. It's really kind of amusing to see them thinking, Well, this is really against the Word of Wisdom, but here goes (Note to my posterity: this is only funny in fiction). Sometimes it was hard to tell if I was reading the characters' misperceptions of church doctrine, or the author's. That Mormons believe we enter heaven two by two, and thus the importance of marriage, came up again and again, but they are all confused about it. Nobody seems to think there is any place in heaven for single folks, and they also are sure that if your spouse messes up and goes to hell, there you go right along with him. By the end of the book, it's pretty clear that Kalpakian has no use for the church or its leaders. But I read on anyway, citing the motto: We Don't Adopt Other People's Grievances; We Only Nurture Our Own. Besides, it was a delicious saga, great to turn another page and learn what happened to all the children when they grew up, who married who, who broke who's heart.

Next, I read The Argument Culture by Deborah Tannen. News stories present everything as two extreme sides. Lawyers fight to win, not to find the truth. Everything is too much shouting and debate. It was one of those books that makes me say, "I guess so. But there's not much I can do about it." Tannen's fire for her subject grew when she wrote an earlier book, went on talk shows to publicize it, and was constantly thrown into debates that kept her from getting her message out. Or they didn't want her on if she wouldn't go along with the pit-one-against-another format.

Next, we have The Day the Earth Caved In by Joan Quigley, an account of a mine fire burning for decades under the town of Centralia, PA. It starts when the earth opens up and swallows a 12-year-old boy.

Centralia was not terribly far from Bethlehem, where I used to live. I've seen towns like it, "coal-cracker towns" the locals called them, hard-bitten, shabby places. Besides the main story, I loved for book for explaining those towns to me, i.e. who immigrated there, people who live their whole lives in a 5-mile radius, related to everybody, thoroughly caught up in the high school football games and bowling leagues of the community.

After that, I read Hack: How I Stopped Worrying About My Life and Started Driving a Yellow Cab by Melissa Plaut. Ah, New York! I miss it. Following Plaut in her cab was a delicious virtual return to the throb of the Big City. Be warned, though. It's a pretty profane little book; Plaut sees the underbelly of the city, which I happily managed to avoid when I visited. And when she wants to relax, she and friends head for their favorite dyke bar. Still, she's a thoughtful writer and someone who's trying to be a decent person, in her own way.

Now, I'm reading a collection of short stories, fables and essays, The Best of George Ade. He's a Hoosier writer from days of yore--like, he went to college in the 1880s. I was charmed right away as I opened the first page and read:

"Two Sisters lived in Chicago, the Home of Opportunity.
"Luella was a Good Girl, . . . but she was Plain, much. . . .
"The other Sister was Different. . . .
"From earliest Youth she had lacked Industry and Application.
"She was short on Intellect but long on Shape.
"The Vain Pleasures of the World attracted her. By skipping the Long Words she could read how Rupert Banisford led Sibyl Gray into the Conservatory and made Love that scorched the Begonias." . . .

I thought I have to read this out loud to John. I tried, but it didn't translate well. We didn't catch lots of Ade's slang; also, the hearer misses the wink-wink message conveyed by the capitalized words. I could tell that John was Working Hard at Showing Interest.

But it still makes a great private read. And it's clean. I need something clean after Plaut's book.

And now, for a recipe that you might find appealing: Cheesy Wild Rice Soup

I took the soup to John's father's 95th birthday party last Saturday and when the other Carson wives wanted the recipe, it was so simple, I could write it down for them right there. When she saw the ingredients, one sister-in-law's enthusiasm appeared to cool a bit.

Maybe she thought the soup got it's cheesy groove from that $7-a-wedge imported stuff, but no, it's only Velveeta. Some people have scruples against Velveeta. But I don't see what's so bad about it. My cat likes it.

Oh, wait, that's probably no compliment to Velveeta.

Monday, January 26, 2009

I'm dedicating this blog to the food I loved most. But it went away.

A year ago, the folks at Nesquik decided to change their formula. "Looking for less sugar?" it said on the new label. No, actually I wasn't. I liked the classic formula just fine. But nobody asked me, did they? And nobody responded to my indignant e-mail. And nobody noticed that I was Nesquik's most faithful customer. I mixed so much Nesquik into my milk that I'm sure I kept the company afloat for years.

To their credit, they got a pretty sweet, un-fakey taste to their new formula. But it's missing the lumps. When I whipped up the old granular stuff, a few lumps always rose to the top and they were the best part of the whole treat.

I managed to buy up a dozen Sam's Club-sized cans at a discount store before the stuff completely disappeared. This supply lasted me fifteen months. Then, just as we were about to move out of an apartment and into a new house, I had one, um, dose left.

I saved it, to eat in the new house.

Then it was bye-bye Nesquik.

But I still like my afternoon shot of chocolate.

So I have found a pretty darn good substitute, which I might even like better--Chocolate Marshmallow Pudding:

2 1/2 TB margarine
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
7 1/2 TB baking cocoa
1/4 tsp. salt
2 1/2 cups milk
1 egg, well beaten
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 3/4 cups mini marshmallows

Melt margarine in microwave. Blend flour, sugar, cocoa and salt in a big microwave-safe bowl. Gradually whisk in milk and margarine until smooth. Microwave, uncovered, on high for 3 minutes. Microwave 5 minutes longer or until thickened, stirring after each minute. With an electric beater, beat 1/4 cup chocolate mixture into the egg, then return all to the main mixture, beating well. Microwave 2 minutes longer, stirring after first minute. Stir in vanilla. Fold marshmallows lightly into hot mixture. Let stand 5 minutes. Gently fold mixture over 2 or 3 times, then turn into serving dishes. Serves 4 and, for those of you who care, each serving is 300 calories.

I got this recipe from a really old cookbook (think pincurls and seamed hose) and adapted it to the microwave so it would be quick and I wouldn't have to labor so hard for my daily afternoon chocolate bliss. It's pretty hard for me to share my stash with anybody, since it now takes about 25 minutes to stir up an afternoon treat that used to take 10 seconds. That's why I just taught you how to make it so you won't need to beg any from me.