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.