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.