Thursday, December 2, 2010

Still buried in British stuff

It takes a darn long time to finish a 900-page novel that purports to cover the entire history of England. But I'm within 40 pages of shutting Sarum forever and moving on to the other one I couldn't finish, Austerity Britain. (Not because it it isn't good. It's just finding the time to tackle a 600-page book. And not fall asleep while I read.) (Not that the book's so boring, it induces sleep. I just . . . doze off alot these days. New Year's resolution: take a daily nap. Start before New Year's Day.

Meanwhile, First Day of the Blitz was fun, even if it showed a lot of people running around in a panic. Yes, indeed, we saw some pocked and gauged buildings as we walked through London.

And The Diana Chronicles was wonderful to come home to after a day of navigating subways, walking in chilly fall breezes, and reading maps with too-small print.

The first and last chapters cover Diana's death more fully than I've ever read before, even describing what the first photographer saw when he opened the car. And in Paris, they know we tourists want to know all about her last moments. I didn't have to embarrass myself asking about her. They just offered up the info. "That's the Ritz Hotel, where Lady Diana stayed," they say in their adorable French accents. "Dodi bought the ring at that jewelry store over there." "Here's the tunnel where the accident happened, there at the 13th pillar."

Harrod's in London, owned by Dodi's father (until about three weeks ago) has an over-the-top Egyptian shrine in the basement. Ride the $33-million escalator down into the dark green-and-gold cavern and see Dodi and Diana's pictures, the ring, and a Sphinxy statue. And a lot of tourists armed with cameras. It was wild.

As for your recipe, I'm going to share my favorite rolls. I hope you have a bread machine, but if not, maybe you are clever enough to work around that point:

Buttery Rolls

So easy, I made them for a dinner a week before Thanksgiving, knowing I'd have to turn around next week and make rolls again.

Next time: the rolls we actually had for Thanksgiving. They're not as easy, but they were huge and squishy. That's how we like them around here.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Buried in British Stuff

I'm struggling here to get out from under the Unfinished Book Pile. Got a load of pages to read in the name of traveler research. There's Sarum by Edward Rutherfurd, "The Novel of England." It's 900 pages. I just passed the halfway point, and already had to renew it at the library. So far we've covered the prehistoric man who came down from the north in search of forests in the south and found--uh-oh!--water had broken through the lowlands, cutting him off from those forests. Now he lives on an island. We've also covered the Roman occupation; I loved all the ambitions roiling around there. Now we're reading about the guys that built the great medieval cathedrals. I cannot keep all the kings straight but I'm managing fine with all the love stories.

I had to pause partway into The Thames by Peter Ackroyd (a history of the famous river) just to read the fat books, so I wouldn't have to carry them around in my suitcase.

The other fat book is Austerity Britain by David Kynaston. This is 600 pages on how Britain got through WWII and the succeeding years. Sarum is taking so long that the odds of finishing Austerity or maybe even starting it before I climb on that plane are very dim indeed.

However, we will take along the normal sized books, which are:

The First Day of the Blitz, another one about WWII, and The Diana Chronicles. Yes! A little trash reading makes the miles fly by, does it not? I hope the Brits don't roll their eyes when they see that one in my hands. "Oh, you Americans, can't you get over her?"

I have read nothing to prepare me for France. It will just have to be experienced, and in a strange language, to boot. Abbey says they will be kinder to me if I at least try to speak their tongue. I shudder to think how I'm going to embarrass myself.

Anyway, your recipe for this installment is by request from Mercy, who is being quite social and having friends over for lunch. She thinks she'd like to feed them:


1 1-lb. loaf frozen bread dough
Sandwich filling (below)
Melted margarine for brushing on dough

On lightly floured surface, roll out thawed dough to 10x14-in. rectangle. If dough shrinks back, let rest for 15 minutes, then continue. Put on greased baking sheet.

Fill center third with choice of filling.

With knife, make cuts on outer 3rds of dough at 1-in. intervals. Fold strips diagonally over filling, overlapping to give braided appearance. Brush dough with melted margarine. Let rise until puffy.

Bake in pre-heated 375' oven 25-35 minutes or until golden brown. Slice and serve.

Sandwich fillings: (layer on dough)

Club: (4 servings @ 600 cals. ea)
1 6-oz. pkg turkey breast, sliced
1/4 lb. (abt 6 slices) bacon, cooked and patted dry
1 sm. avocado, skinned, thinly sliced

Ham and Cheddar: (4 servings @ 480 cals. ea)
1/2 lb. sliced ham
1 c (4 oz.) shredded cheddar cheese

Broccoli and cheese: (4 servings @ 460 cals ea)
1 1/2 c. cooked broccoli, chopped
1 c. (4 oz.) shredded cheddar cheese
2 TB dried chopped onion
1 tsp. onion salt

These recipes came from the now-defunct Best Recipes magazine.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

All Keyed Up for Backstage Gossip

This week on the Finished Book Pile, we have Making Americans by Andrea Most. Most examines how Jews invented the Broadway musical as a way to assimilate themselves into American life. Meanwhile, they created an idealized version of Americana, far rosier than the reality.

For instance, Rodgers and Hammerstein presented Oklahoma in 1943, a show full of optimism about pioneer life and a "Brand New State!" From what I've read, breaking in a new land was not all that perky. And never mind that in the ten years prior to the musical, desperate and dustworn Okies had been leaving the state in droves.

As I said in my title, I was ready to read some backstage gossip. But Most's book reads more like literary criticism, i.e. the symbolism of Joe Cable in South Pacific, what it means that Liat never says anything. To me, literary criticism is a suspect art. Amy Tan (The Joy Luck Club) once wrote about breathless students who had divined symbolism from her book ("The number four keeps recurring in your book. What is the significance of that?"). Tan says, "Just an accident, folks. I'm neither that good nor that organized of a writer to plant all that stuff in there intentionally." (I'm paraphrasing.)

So, what is the larger meaning of Joe Cable? All these theories can be fascinating. They might even be true. But Making Americans is certainly no beach book. Feels more like the lecture hall.

I also dipped into another Evelyn Waugh book, Put Out More Flags. It opens just as WWII is about to hit England. "It won't be that bad. The French will stop the Germans from bombing us." By eight pages in, I was already lost in a sea of characters, not to mention a lot of cultural references that I could only know if I read the same newspapers that Waugh read. It's probably a pretty good book, but the library wanted it back. So, with a combination of confusion and regret, I gave it up.

Coming up next: a horde of England books, to help me appreciate the things I'm going to see when I get there.

Now, since I'm typing all this with cold bony fingers, it's time for a soup recipe:

2 oz. bacon
2 slices onion
1 1/2 cups diced raw potatoes
1 can (16 oz.) cream-style corn
3 cups hot water
3 TB butter
1 cup evaporated milk
2 1/2 tsp. salt
Dash pepper
Some parsley or paprika

Chop bacon and onion coarsely and put into soup kettle; saute until onion is soft and bacon done. Add potatoes, corn, and water, cover and simmer until potatoes are tender. Add butter, milk and seasonings; reheat to boiling and serve piping hot with a little parsley sprinkled over the top, or a few dashes of paprika. Serves 5 at 240 cals. ea.

Let's just say that I'm so sad when the last drops of this soup disappear.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

In Honor of Angela's Visit . . .

Fountains. Vine-covered bridges. Monuments. Handsome old churches. Plazas and shady walking paths.

Thanks to Angela's recent visit, these are all some things I got to see in my home city, things I had forgotten about, things I never visit on my own.

After our tour, we returned home. David showed up soon. He practiced his medical skills on Skooby, and told me all about adjusting to his ward in Philadelphia ("Lots of West Africans. Now that we've gotten to know them, we love them") while I chopped vegetables for:

Summer Garden Pasta

We ate it with grilled chicken and a frothy, frozen dessert of pulverized strawberries and cream.

Over on the Finished Book Pile, we have Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann.

I wasn't sure I would stick with this one. It started with a dinner party of merchant-class Germans, set back in the time when gout was fashionable. As the party guests laughed at jokes I didn't get, and as I felt the 600-page heft of the book in my hands, I promised myself I could ditch it another 20 pages or so if it didn't get better.

Then I met Antonie Buddenbrooks. A young daughter of privilege, she goes around town mocking those beneath her, particularly an up-and-coming businessman whose beard is so yellow it looks painted. And he wants to marry her! And her parents push the marriage because he is obviously headed for great prosperity. It would be so fitting to unite the house of Buddenbrooks with Herr Yellow-Beard, would it not? But Antonie still feels nothing but disdain for him. What will she do?

Antonie, from age 16 to age 50, proved to be quite the drama queen, pulling me through these 600 pages, this fat feast of fortunes rising and falling. Oh, the trials God sends her! she exclaims as she dabs her hanky to her eyes, then recovers just enough to modestly say that she wouldn't dream of telling anybody how to run the funeral/the dinner party/the family business, then goes ahead and tells them how to do it anyway.

Every book needs a good drama queen.

Thomas Mann's most famous book is probably Dr. Faustus.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Cool Celtic Name Isn't Everything

Aiobheann Sweeney. That's the author of the book that I'm about to not recommend to you, Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking. I looked forward to seeing a picture of this person. What does an Aiobheann look like?

She was a nice brown-eyed, brown-haired Celtic type.

Her book rode along rather aimlessly, even sleepily. A motherless girl lives on a Maine Island with her father. They don't converse much. One day, he finds her a job in NYC and she goes to the big city to learn about life. (By then, I wasn't sure why Ms. Sweeney wrote the Maine half of the book. I guess it's fun to write about fog and boats.)

Anyway, off to the city. Our heroine, Miranda, faces a choice: boyfriend named Nate? Or girlfriend named Ana?

Many cow patties to skip over.

So let's talk about food instead. Here's a meal that went together pretty quickly on a Sunday packed with meetings and appointments. I was literally running from the moment I raised my head off the pillow until sunset. Oh, wait--there was a quiet half-hour after church, when I brought my sleeping grandson home, leaving the rest of the family in extra meetings. I sneaked myself a pudding, then donned my apron and started banging cupboard doors.

Which woke the boy up.

Honey-Dijon Chicken

Creamy Italian Noodles

Sunny Broccoli Salad

And how about cookies 'n cream ice cream for dessert?

Natalie says it tasted just right on a summer day.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I Failed at Faulkner, Now I've Failed at Rushdie

Did I ever tell you the story of the clamshells?

When we bought this house, we had three weeks before move-in day for John to paint away the rust color in the living room and the extreme orange in the loft. I thought it might be nice to pack him a dinner every night. I thought it would be cool to package it all up in a clamshell, just like fast food and doggy bags and things like that.

I went looking for styrofoam clamshells. Sam's Club had them--in packages of 100.

I could not give up my little clamshell idea, so I bought the whole 100 and hoped John would not tease me too badly about it.

I ended up not regretting that purchase because--you know what?--every time somebody has a baby and the ladies want you to sign up for a meal, one of the big headaches is deciding how to package it up.

No problem. Got ninety or so clamshells here.

Then we feed the missionaries by sending them Friday's leftovers.

No problem. Got eighty or so clamshells here.

Then Natalie comes to Sunday dinner. Talking her in to taking home some leftovers is easy.

And no problem. Got seventy or so clamshells here.

Anyway, I just used up my first 100 and went out and bought my second.

Here's what went into the clamshell this week:

Sausage French Bread Pizza

The original recipe called for raw vegetables, but I like them soft. Actually, just a bit blackened.

Over on the Finished Book Pile, we must admit that, again, we didn't finish something. Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children promises to tell the story of Saleem Sinai, who was born on the exact same midnight in which India gained her independence. Saleem tells his first-person tale to Padma (wife? girlfriend? housekeeper? I never figured it out) and takes so long to get to the actual birth that she complains bitterly about all the delays and tangents and "nonsense" in the story.

I couldn't keep everybody straight. I didn't like any of the characters. I didn't want to face a world where snakes come out of toilets. I kept falling asleep.

One day I opened the book and read, "It has been two whole days since Padma stormed out of my life." I wanted to say, "Wait up, Padma! I'm coming too!" And I closed this "marvelous epic" (says Newsweek) and picked up something else.

But I finished a book on CD. Restless me, I can hardly let a summer week go by without escaping to Chicago, or Cincinnati, or Louisville, or Columbus. The miles are long, especially after dark, and Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles really made the cornfields and the Taco Bell billboards fly by.

Tess' face kept changing as I listened to her soft little Cockney accent. My young Tess was Helena Bonham Carter. I could just see the abundant kinky hair. Later, when she defended that husband of hers and sounded kind of incoherent, she turned into Kristen Stewart. Then she turned into someone in my ward. Then, when she appeared in fine lady clothes, she went blonde (!).

And speaking of defending that husband, I just wanted to throw the book across the room. But I had no book and I was not in a room. I was on a freeway, defending myself against sleepy truckers and gotcha state troopers. I could only bang my fist on the steering wheel and cry out, "Come on, Tess! Get mad! Gosh, did wives really act like this?"

The ending was completely unexpected. Wrapping things up just as I pulled into town from Columbus, the final scene clanged like a sad bell while I drove across the reservoir bridge a few miles from home.

Oops, did I give away too much?

That Thomas Hardy knows how to spin a tale.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

I Need a Laugh Track

By now, we know that Scooby likes Cheerios, peanut butter, ice cream, brownies and, most especially, Honey Butter Ritz crackers. But anything pungent or garlicky makes his face screw up as if we had waved something three-days-dead under his nose.

He wouldn't have liked what I'm sharing with you this week. However, you are all adults. You are expected to appreciate flavor.

Vegetable Cheese Tortellini

As suggested by the Taste of Home page on which this recipe appeared, we ate it with burgers and banana cream pie.

And Scooby demanded some of that pie.

Over on the Finished Book Pile, we have Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh. Waugh (it's a guy) was a master of British humor. And while I'm convinced that the British are pretty funny (I've watched my share of BritComs), someone had to tell me that Pride and Prejudice was a comedy. I just didn't realize it when I read it. All that propriety gets in the way.

Now, if I see actors playing out the story, I get it, yes I do. I think I need the laugh track.

Anyway, I tackled Waugh, telling myself, "This is comedy. You watch out for it now." I actually caught myself bursting into laughter about three times, though I'm sure Waugh deserved more out of me. It's just that I'm one of his more handicapped readers.

So I recommend Handful of Dust, knowing that you are a little more loosened up, a little quicker on the uptake than I am. Have fun with it.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

La Leche League, Victorian Chapter

"Fruit and meat don't go together," said one of my children.

That didn't stop me, of course. Nor did it stop them from eating sweet and sour meatballs, chock full of pineapple.

Other cooks out there have been discovering wonderful ways to combine fruits and meats, sending their ideas to my favorite cooking magazines. This one came from a guy in New Jersey.

Chicken with Blueberry Sauce 

Over on the Finished Book Pile, we have The Wet Nurse's Tale by Erica Eisdorfer. The story is about a woman back in the day who, as you might guess, breastfeeds other women's children. Reading it often felt like I was attending a meeting of the La Leche League True Believers, Victorian Chapter. All the breast-feeding talk is pretty frank.

However, the story gripped me right away. I found it easy to put aside things like reading blogs and web-shopping for tote bags or whatever, and read about the upstairs/downstairs drama of servant life. But when Eisdorfer really wound up the tension, when she had me gasping and saying, "Oh, my goodness! Oh no!", her plotting took a turn towards the contrived.

Be warned: there are some cow patties. Susan, our wet nurse heroine, fell from grace and never quite picked herself up again.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Eating Cashews and Balancing Politics

It's been an excruciatingly boring food week. Sunday was a day of intrigue and upset affairs and I just couldn't pull things together enough to fix what was on the menu. Then my husband went off to Atlanta and there was little reason to cook anything at all.

Then one day, I don't remember when, I bought the ingredients I forgot to buy earlier and threw together:

Cashew Turkey Pasta Salad

I made half the recipe and sent some off with Natalie. I hope you ate it, Natalie, because if you didn't, I want it back. That was good stuff.

Over on the Finished Book Pile, we have Surrender Is Not an Option by John Bolton.

Bolton was a conservative ambassador to the UN. He also had a lot of jobs at the Department of State. Something about working for the government turns you into a person that writes in endless acronymns. Readers had better pay attention. If they don't, they will soon be deep into paragraphs about the EAP's position papers on the DPRK and they will have to read back a page or two to figure out that the EAP is the East Asia Pacific group and the DPRK is North Korea. And more of the same throughout the book. Bolton's world is one long game of Boggle.

The best parts of Surrender are the private asides that the government types say to each other, like "Maybe I should act more like Jesse Helms" or "This [committee] isn't worth a bucket of warm spit."

There's just an awful lot wade through, with a wide cast of characters. If Girls' State was the most meaningful experience of your young life, then you might find something interesting in here, but Surrender is nothing I'd risk an overdue fine for.

Plus, it's a little heavy for bathtub reading.

Next up, Independent People by Halldor Laxness. Once you open the pages, you will be thrust into the bleak moors of Iceland at the beginning of the twentieth century. However, things are so bleak, it seems like the middle ages. When the farmers gather, they never fail to discuss the worm problems in their sheep. The patroness of the town, who lives in a house with a tower and servants, stuffs up every public occasion with windy speeches about the nobility of rural life, though she hasn't the faintest idea how freaking hard it is. Our main character, Bjartur, reminds me of a certain crusty farmer I have known.

Back in the fifties, Laxness won either the Nobel or the Pulitzer prize for this book. His conclusion about humanity: most of them really can't afford to live. Like all good book prize winners, he was a socialist.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Calling all chemists, philosophers and other brainy types

How long 'til dinner? And I don't think there's enough of last night's leftovers. Jim and Mercy are on their way here, so that means extra mouths to feed (love it!). Maybe if I placate them with chicken nuggets, they will let me clean up the rest of the --

Bow Tie Chicken Supper

Over on the Finished Book Pile, we have Cute, Quaint, Hungry and Romantic by Daniel Harris. Harris reveals the choices advertisers make to appeal to our longings for cuteness, quaintness, coolness, cleanliness and so forth.

Harris also skewers us all for having such longings in the first place.

Are you into natural foods? Eating for the sake of your health? Then he will call you out for taking a vitamin, "one unobtrusive tablet, a deceptively small commodity that houses the entire farm within its fragile sucrose shell."

Do you love to be zany? "Zaniness," he says, "allows us to misbehave and yet minimizes our risk of being ostracized as eccentric." In other words, you're a chicken-hearted rebel.

Is glamour your thing? Well, the industry that sells it to us "turns women into malcontents always scheming against their wardrobes and thus keeps them returning to department stores." Translation: as soon as you buy that must-have pencil skirt, it will go out of style and they'll make you think you need an A-line instead.

While Harris reveals some interesting tidbits about the images thrust before us, he will surely burst the bubble on one or two of your favorite notions about yourself.

Contains a couple cow patties.

Next up, we have Mind-Body Problem by Rebecca Goldstein. I really doubt anybody I know would like this novel. The heroine is struggling through a graduate degree in philosophy and she eventually marries a math genius. Their conversations are so dry and high-minded, it's kind of unreal. That's not to say that Goldstein forgot to put any humor in her book, but I'm gonna say the dryness is Strike One against the book.

She's quite candid about her sex life. That's Strike Two. (And this tale feels very autobiographical.)

She's preoccupied with the question of what our true essence is. Our mind? Our body? Some variation of the two? To me, that's a resolved question. Strike Three.

But it was set in Princeton. That's why I stuck with it. Goldstein explains the place. I ate that part up.

Next up, Twinkie, Deconstructed by Steve Ettlinger. Ettlinger took his kids to the shore. Ettlinger bought them ice cream bars. Ettlinger's daughter read the label and said, "Daddy, what's polysorbate 60?"

So journalist Ettlinger embarked on a study of the ingredients in our foods, how they are formulated, and where they come from. Utterly fascinating. That fact that there is ground up bits of iron in the flour I eat didn't gross me out at all. Nor did the fact that shortening gets washed in hydrochloric acid (which is later washed out). An army of chemists out there have been experimenting with every conceivable element, peering under microscopes, perfecting one thing and another until they know just how to make a cake taste like its full of eggs and butter when it's not.

I wore out a little at the end when he got into the chapters on stuff like calcium caseinate and diglycerides (someone who has taken chemistry might follow it better) but I perked up again when he launched into food colors and flavors.

Let's just say that I now understand why I'm creaming the butter and sugar when I whip up a batch of cookies.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Wicked, wicked, yummy, wicked

I am desperately giving away servings of a wicked, wicked dessert right now. It's hard to know who to give it to, because half the ward is on a diet. Some are on diet teams. A few more women wear black armbands, on which are embedded a thingy that measures their metabolisms. When yet another woman showed up with black around her arm, I asked, "Oh, have you joined The Cult of the Black Armband too?"

"Huh? Oh, no, I just have tendonitis."

I feel an almost reflexive urge to join in. But then I remember: I've already done my thing. I get to sit out the weight-loss game, doin' my own version of the balanced diet which is: a few vegetables because, you know, you have to have 'em, and a considerable amount of chocolate because, you know, you have to have that, too.

One of the dieters was our dinner guest last night. Fortunately, her program allows one day off per week, so she could enjoy our wicked, wicked dessert with us. And we gave some more to a family whose boys, I hear, can polish off entire pizzas by themselves.

You think I'm going to give you the recipe for this wicked, wicked dessert, don't you? Well, first you get the recipe with the vegetables because, you know, you have have 'em.

Lemon Chicken and Rice

This one was quick to fix and good to eat. If John hunts for the leftovers, I'm sorry, but he's too late.

Now for your chocolate:

Banana Cream Brownie Dessert

Over on the Finished Book Pile, we have Dark Laughter by Sherwood Anderson. We've featured Anderson before--Midwestern writer, living about the time cars were invented. This time, he imitates Faulkner (and does it better), writing about a young newspaper reporter who chucks it all. Then there's the wife of the town tycoon who is vaguely dissatisfied, can't put her finger on what's wrong with her. Maybe you can see where this is going. Still, no cow patties in this book.

Dark Laughter was Anderson's best seller, though the critics liked his Winesburg Ohio best. I've liked everything I read by Anderson. I like visiting his slower era, but I wouldn't want to live there, unless they had GPSes and blow dryers and pizza that Anderson forgot to mention.

Next up, Edwin Mullhouse by Steven Millhauser. This one's a satire on biography. Young Jeffrey Cartwright writes the life story of his best friend next door, Edwin, who lives all the way to the ripe age of 11. Jeffrey presents Edwin as "an American writer" because he created a book of cartoons. Jeffrey may be imitating the classic Life of Johnson by Boswell. He affects a brainy, academic tone as he describes the small stuff of childhood. On Edwin in kindergarten: "Later he was fascinated by the yellow paper with its alternately dark blue and light blue lines." Or, "The tall white machines with their shiny silver handles fascinated him; he kept flushing and flushing, watching the jets of water shoot along the back from invisible holes in the top. He was puzzled and upset when he learned what the machines were used for, for he thought them a kind of upright bathtub."

At other times, Jeffrey slips into more ordinary tones, i.e. of Edwin's earliest writings: "[M]asterpieces they most emphatically were not. It is only my word against Edwin's, I know, but he is dead, and besides, I was the one who had to listen to that drivel."

Jeffrey the biographer includes far too much detail (all seven dozen or so gifts that Edwin gives his first love) and inserts himself into Edwin's biography far too often ("humbly" admitting that some of the starred papers on display in the classroom are his own), but I found it all fun. Millhauser, the real author, creates in Jeffrey, the fictional biographer, a delightful tongue-in-cheek portrait of childhood in the '40s and '50s. No cow patties.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

LIttle Colored Things in the Rice

Would I be bragging if I say this meal came out just like the magazine pictures? Or could it be that the dishes were so easy, any dummy could make them look nice?

First, we feature Chicken Parmigiana.

May you enjoy the aroma as this bakes. I sure did.

While it's in the oven, you have time to fix Zucchini Rice Pilaf 

I love restaurant rice or box rice mixes with colorful stuff in them. But I don't want to have to think of stuff to add in. Someone just tell me please. So here it is.

The recipe contributor suggests that if you abhor zucchini, you might substitute squash or mushrooms instead. If you abhor squash and mushrooms, I really don't know what to tell you.

Over on the Finished Book Pile, we have Living It Up at National Review by Priscilla Buckley. This is a fun look behind the scenes of running a magazine. I especially like the chapter on the young interns that crossed the office threshold over the years. In between the chapters on work, Priscilla squeezes in some chapters on play. Money was no problem; the Buckleys were the WASP-y sort with a named country home in Connecticut and a winter place in South Carolina.

Follow Priscilla as she bumps along on safari in Africa, or yachts around the Mediterranean, or rides a hot-air balloon over the hills featured in The Sound of Music. Then head back to the office with her as she directs traffic between the secretaries, the writers, the printer, etc.

Oh, my goodness, two books on the Finished Book Pile are unfinished! Yeah, I was just not in the mood for them. At one time, I would have thoroughly enjoyed Storm Over Rangelands by Wayne Hage, but I've exhausted myself on Hage's topic. Ten or fifteen years ago, I devoured everything I could find on the West, mostly to figure out for myself if all those childhood dinner conversations about danged power companies and doubled-danged environmentalists were John-Bircher-style rants, or legitimate complaints. Conclusion: the dinner rants were a little of both.

The development of the West is a fascinating tale, not that I expect anybody to corner me at the next family reunion to hear all about it. Joseph R. would have enjoyed this book but, unfortunately, he's gone off to his great leather recliner in the sky. Seeing as how it talked about grazing rights in the West, I can also imagine Uncle Grayson reading it, shutting it in disgust, picking it up again, talking back to it.

I gave it the old Read-10% try but I just didn't have the patience to finish it.

So, moving on, I also read 10% of Irish on the Inside by Tom Hayden. You baby boomers remember Hayden, right? Disrupter of the '60s political conventions? Senator from California? Husband of Jane Fonda? Aha, you do remember that one, don't you?

Hayden's worldview is all about identity and power and protest. "If the blacks get to complain about how they're treated, why can't we Irish complain too? We're not all about fiddles and Guinness Beer, you know."

Hey, I enjoy complaining. But going through life with your fist raised in the air? What's fun about that?

If I were Hayden, I would get a kitten and a laser light and mellow out.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Dreaming of Chocolate Lumps

Nesquik is my user name all over the internet and it's starting to play with my brain. I type it in and remember that wonderful chocolate milk of long-ago. I have moments when the urge to go down to the kitchen and mix up a glass washes over me and then I remember that it's all gone. And I'm sad.

On a happier note, Skooby is starting to grow teeth. I've been waiting for this. Grandchildren exist, as far as I'm concerned, to eat the stuff I give them. He seems to know the routine: arrive at my house, get locked into the high chair, reach for the honey-butter Ritz cracker that I hold out to him, and look happy while he gums it up.

I've been waiting to feed him (and his cousin ) cookies. I've held off long enough and tomorrow I give in to the urge. These are the cookies I've been dreaming of sharing with the little guys:

Cinnamon Crackle Cookies

Over on the Finished Book Pile, we have Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism by Donald T. Critchlow. I know, I know, Phyllis gets a bad rap. And she married herself the kind of last name that Hollywood agents would change half a heartbeat. But I really admire the lady.

For those of you who are too young to remember rotary dial phones, Phyllis was a housewife from the St. Louis area who led the fight against the Equal Rights Amendment. Actually, calling her "just a housewife" doesn't paint an accurate picture of the woman. Spurred by a Catholic sense of duty, she worked in Washington when she was a young single woman, which is where she learned the art of political organizing. After marriage and a first child, friends approached her husband Fred and asked him to run for Congress. He wasn't interested. "Then how about Phyllis?" they asked.

She didn't win the race, but she brought her considerable skills to bear on cause after cause. She fought against communism, for national defense, for Goldwater and Reagan. Not long before the ERA fight, she sat down to dinner with her husband and six children and announced that she'd decided to go to law school.

This is a woman who subscribed to 100 magazines and newspapers, who seldom got caught spewing mistaken facts. Her energy seemed endless, although she surely must have had household help. I just don't think she could have made all those phone calls, published all those newsletters, or run around Illinois making all those speeches without somebody back home to make dinner and clean the bathrooms. (I don't think money was a problem. Fred was a lawyer.) And when Phyllis' name became nationally known, she would hire a ballroom and throw a reception for her supporters.

Phyllis' enemies saw her as "doctrinaire, intolerant and self-righteous." Her supporters found her "logical, morally passionate [who] spoke on behalf of the average American." In later years, a very seasoned Phyllis had refined the art of maintaining her cool in a debate. When Betty Friedan said she would like to burn Phyllis at the stake, Schlafly calmly replied, "I'm glad you said that because it just shows the intemperate nature of proponents of ERA."

The book can be heavy wading. I endured the parts about nuclear stuff, but ate up everything the ERA fight. If the political stuff doesn't appeal to you but you'd like to read about the woman, I suggest Sweetheart of Silent Majorityby Carol Felsenthal. I think I read that one decades ago and enjoyed it.

Next up, Character Studies by Mark Singer. This book is a collection of profiles, all on "the curiously obsessed." People who collects Tom Mix memorabilia; a group of guys who meet every week to discuss how to find the skull of Pancho Villa (we didn't know it was missing!) and return it to Mexico. Then there is the chapter on Donald Trump, throughout which the author seems to be rolling his eyes. As Singer says, Trump, for all he has in this life, completely lacks a sense of irony. I really gotta read that chapter out loud to John.

Next up, When the Messenger is Hot a short-story collection by Elizabeth Crane. All of her stories take the tone of a gossipy friend, telling you her latest troubles over a couple tall cups of Starbucks' best. Some stories suffer from too many cow patties, some from a structure little better than a fleshed-out list. Crane's sentences run on and on. Taking her all in one chunk tried my patience some, unless it was a really charming or compelling story, i.e., "Privacy and Coffee," "Year-at-a-Glance,", "Christina" and "Something Shiny," which was about a girl who wrote her memoirs. Then Hollywood wanted to make them into a movie. Then the actress hired to play the author came to study her habits and mannerisms. Great fun.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

I thought of you, LD

Today, I've got something for the cooks that find themselves in a Boring Side-Dish Rut. We feature a salad. I'm pretty lazy about salads. I open a bag of pre-cut greens, toss in some grape tomatoes and slice up some cucumber and expect the diners at my table to be happy with it, week after week after week. Nothing else goes into a salad unless a recipe specifically tells me to put it in there. So let's do:

Swiss Tossed Salad

I actually prefer various bottled dressings over the mayo/sour cream one. The only problem with this salad is that the heavy stuff (the Swiss cheese) sinks to the bottom. It's hard to fish all the ingredients out of the bowl equally. But I like these flavors together. Thanks, Quick Cooking Magazine.

As for the finished book pile, I thought of Lora Dawn every time I picked up Playing Doctor by Joseph Turow, a book about TV doctor shows.

First, my doctor show anecdote: I grew up without TV--alas! Well, we had a TV, but it didn't work. My mom said it needed a picture tube. She said picture tubes were expensive. How expensive? I figured they must cost just less than a space rocket, an impression Mother never bothered to correct.

All this changed on general conference weekends. Mom and Dad left town for Salt Lake City. Noel and Hertha came over to "babysit" Jana and I. And they always brought TVs! For watching Saturday morning cartoo -- er, excuse me -- talks by apostles.

Well, OK, we did fit in a little secular viewing. Like the night we watched Medical Center. A young engaged couple came in to see the handsome Dr. Joe Gannon. The fiancee wasn't feeling too well. Dr. Gannon ran a few tests. Then he took her aside privately and told her she had . . . Gonorrhea!

I couldn't figure out why her fiance reacted with such stunned shock. I couldn't figure out why the adults in my own living room all looked at each other with nervous laughs.

"What's gonorrhea?" I asked.

"Ask your mother," Hertha retorted, with an end-of-discussion finality in her voice.

Anyhoo, Turow's book covers the mania that broke out when Ben Casey and Dr. Kildare began on TV in the early '60s. Women swooning! Women writing the actors for advice about their medical (even their gynecological) problems! Then, in the '70s, along came Marcus Welby, M.D. and Medical Center. Robert Young, the actor who played Welby, identified thoroughly with the role. After years of depression and alcoholism, he needed a personality to adopt, so he adopted Welby's. When the woman who played his nurse felt a little under the weather, he reached out and took her pulse.

Playing Doctor gets rather bogged down in discussions about the AMA trying to exercise control over doctors' TV images, and the networks constantly trying to figure out the perfect doctor-show formula while keeping the genre fresh. True medical-drama fans may find the book a little thin on behind-the-scenes anecdotes.

But even some of the network machinations can be interesting. For instance, Emergency!, in the '70s, was thrown on to the schedule against the very popular All in the Family. Network execs thought that there must be people out there who either didn't understand Archie Bunker, or couldn't stand him. Give them something else to watch! However, each Emergency! episode was written with three or four vignettes per show. The biggest, most expensive emergency (say, something with explosions) always fell in the third segment, right at 8:30 when, over on the other channel, Archie Bunker was just finishing up. Capture Archie's audience!

The book finished up with M*A*S*H and St. Elsewhere. Too bad it was written clear back in 1988. Wouldn't we love to know what Turow had to say about E.R. and Scrubs?

Next up: What Are the Odds? by Mike Orkin. "Chance in Everyday Life." I'm a few pages in and that's enough for me. I don't want my books peppered with equations and math-professor jokes. But if you're dying to know what the chances are that a tossed coin will turn up heads 100% of the time, or if you're trying to refine your casino strategy, give it a whirl. All the jacket praise says Orkin makes the subject fascinating.

I kinda like reading the Yellow Pages better.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

God on the Quad

Today we feature my birthday dinner, which I cooked myself, not that I minded one little bit. We had:


1 16-oz. can green beans
3/4 cup margarine
3/4 c. flour
4 c. milk
1 can (14 1/2 oz.) chicken broth
1 lb. cubed cooked ham
1 c. (4 oz.) shredded cheddar cheese
8 hard-cooked eggs, sliced
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
10-12 biscuits, warmed

Melt butter in saucepan; stir in flour until smooth. Add milk & broth; bring to a boil. Cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add ham & cheese, stir until cheese melt (do not boil after the cheese is in; nasty things will happen). Add eggs, salt, cayenne & green beans; heat through. Serve over biscuits. YIELD: 10-12 servings @ 295 cals each, if you divide it twelve ways. And not counting the biscuits.

Any of you who have eaten real Eggs Benedict may wonder why this is so far from the real thing. Well, the real thing has asparagus, doesn't it? I've checked myself over, trying to detect a desire to eat asparagus, and the desire is just not there. Therefore, the green beans.

The birthday cake was:


1 cups (2 sticks) butter or margarine
1/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1 tsp soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/3 cup buttermilk or sour milk*
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
Quick Cocoa Frosting**

In medium saucepan, combine margarine, cocoa and water; bring to boil over medium heat, cooking until butter is melted; set aside. In large mixing bowl, stir togetehr sugar, flour, soda, and cinnamon. Add cocoa mixture; blend. (Save cocoa pan, unwashed, for making Quick Cocoa Frosting.) Beat together buttermilk and eggs; stir into batter. Add vanilla. Pour into ungreased 15x11 jelly roll pan. Bake at 400' for 20 minutes. Five minutes before cake is done, begin to make Quick Cocoa Frosting. Frost cake as soon as it comes from oven.
*Note: To make sour milk, measure 1/2 TB vinegar into measuring cup; add enough milk to make 1/2 cup. Allow to stand for 5 minutes.
**Quick Cocoa Frosting: In medium saucepan combine 1/2 cup (1 stick) margarine, 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, and 1/3 cup milk. Bring to boil; simmer 3 minutes; remove from heat. Stir in 3 1/2 cups (1 pound) powdered sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla; beat until smooth. Pour over cake. Whole cake is 6650 calories. My recipe source (Winifred Jardine's Managing Your Meals) suggested adding raisins to the frosting, or even topping the cake with nuts. But why ruin a good cake?

As for the Finished Book Pile, we knocked off two works of non-fiction and one work of rather dated silliness. But here goes:

Naomi Schaefer Riley visited twenty religious colleges in America, including BYU and SVU and wrote God on the Quad: How Religious Colleges and the Missionary Generation Are Changing America. For one thing, it was refreshing to read about people who actually want to be good. All these colleges have a few things in common: rules about dating and drinking, a tendency against political protest and certainly an interest in how to blend sacred and secular knowledge. Baylor University, in Texas, loosened its ties to its Southern Baptist Convention out of a fear that their more fundamentalist wing might exercise tighter control over the school. Baylor wants to be religiously observant, but it wants to be a first-rate university, too. Indeed, that is something all the colleges on Schaefer Riley's tour sought after: academic respect. There are probably dozens more religious colleges out there that really don't measure up.

As for blending secular and religious learning, she says, "Cultural discernment, that is, teaching students the best of what secular culture has to offer and providing them with the tools for examining it themselves, requires constant vigilance and a lot of forethought from religious college leaders, but the rewards for success are tremendous. Striking the right balance means producing graduates who are unafraid of the world, can participate in some aspects of it, change other parts of it, and all the while maintain their religious grounding."

Schaefer Riley is Jewish. Her tour of colleges included Catholic, Evangelical, Jewish and even Buddhist schools.

Next up: Never a City So Real by Alex Kotlowitz. This book is part of a series of "A Walk Through . . ." Kotlowitz writes about Chicago. The other Walk-Through books feature places like Rome, Nantucket, even Portland, OR.

Kotlowitz takes the reader into parts of Chicago I'm sure I would never have gone on my own. The whole book is little close-up portraits of city personalities. He portrays artists whose work is ignored in their hometown, but loved in Paris; a woman who owns a diner; a pugnacious man who fights mob-controlled cronyism in the suburb of Cicero.

Kotlowitz's politics become obvious to the reader right away. He hails from people who enjoy a good sit-in or a nice brick-throwing union riot.

And finally, I read Mr. Dooley's Opinions by Finley Peter Dunne. I don't remember where I got Dunne's name, but he is one of those writers that you might have known about had you been around to vote for Teddy Roosevelt. Dunne has since slipped into obscurity--deep obscurity. Opinions was a volume of sketches between Dooley and his friend Hennessy. Think of the old hecklers in The Muppet Show. Give them an Irish brogue and there you have it.

Actually, I couldn't take all the Dooley stories at once. I had to break them up with some other short stories, so I dipped into some John Updike, some Raymond Carver and Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried." I really liked O'Brien's story about Vietnam soldiers. Look it up.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Poor little recipes need a note pinned to their shirts

Today we feature some of the family favorites, the dishes that the kids ask for again and again, mostly when they want to make something to take to the potluck dinner. The trouble is, every time they want to cook these favorite dishes, they can't find the copy of the recipe Mom sent to them.

So let's put them up here on the blog and be done with it.

Pizza in a Bowl


6 eggs
2 1/4 c. light brown sugar
2 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 tsp. light corn syrup
4 tsp. baking soda
1 c. butter (not margarine)
3 c. peanut butter
9 c. uncooked oatmeal
1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 c. M&Ms

In a large bowl mix all ingredients in order listed. Drop dough from well rounded tablespoon (or small ice cream scoop) on ungreased cookie sheets. Flatten cookies (six cookies to a sheet). Bake at 350' for 12 minutes. Don't overbake. Allow to cool 1 minute. These freeze well. 1/36 of this batch--and that's a mighty big cookie but why else do they call it "monster"?--equals 390 calories. Try not to overdo yourself.

Over on the Finished Book Pile, we feature Poor White by Sherwood Anderson. If you like a story that talks about a town and everybody in it--the strange guy out at the telegraph office, the huckster that schemes for wealth as he piggybacks onto somebody else's idea, the oldsters who can't stand change and the young folks who swirl with the ambitions of their age, you would probably like Poor White. Set in fictional Bidwell, Ohio, just as the machine age ushers in, it portrays a vigorous, hopeful time that I'm kind of sorry I missed.

The author, though, regretted the coming of the machines. His "most sensual" passages (according to reviewers) lament the passing of a bucolic age. Yes, I might like to have seen farm towns when they were full of people. These days, they're shells of their former selves.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The student snuck in some fun reading.

Along with all the Chekhov and O-Connor I read for class last fall, I snuck in some just-for-fun reading. There was Infidel, a memoir by a Somalian woman, Ayann Hirsi Ali. Her childhood was divided between Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya. Her father was often away, leading the resistance against a Somalian dictator. Finally, her mother, parked in Kenya, told him to never come back. So he didn’t. He went off and married another wife.

And there was Which Brings Me To You by Steve Almond and Julianna Baggott. Two lovers start with a one-night stand at a wedding, then back off and write each other confessional letters. I got a nice New York/Philly/Hoboken fix from it, but had to skip many cow patties.

That a person would have sex with so many other people is getting tiresome.

Anyway, here's a dinner that we ate and Jim and Mercy's house, right about the time that little Kimball finally started to catch on to what is day and what is night. His sleepy but marvelously patient parents sat down to:  French Country Casserole and Toffee Ice Cream Dessert.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Suspense and pathos

The spy book has me gripped.

It bogged down in the middle.

Then the author got involved in Watergate. Since he was a novelist as well as a spy, his story skillfully unfolded as he met G. Gordon Liddy, embarking on White House-assigned projects that may have been legally questionable, but felt perfectly normal to a CIA man who once organized the Bay of Pigs operation.

Then, as Watergate commences and builds in increments, he portrays small moments when he can feel that he's in a little bit of trouble, nothing big, he can clear it up soon. Then the trouble feels a little bigger, but he still doesn't get the whole picture. Then a reporter from the Washington Post calls and he's like, "Wait a minute. Why is this so interesting to you?" The sense of "Uh-oh" just grows.

For your recipe, here's what we enjoyed with soup and biscuits yesterday:  Bacon-Cheddar Deviled Eggs

Skooby wasn't sure he liked his little taste of deviled egg, but the rest of us chowed down.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Labor-pain reading

Been plowing through the books so fast lately (there are a lot of days I don't even leave the house. Go away snow!) that I think I've probably forgotten about some of them.

I read Go Down, Moses by William Faulkner, on recommendation of my professor from last semester. Faulkner's sentences go round and round and on down the page and I feel so bad that I'm not enjoying this terribly famous writer but, honestly, if you drove the way Faulkner writes, all the side trips and circles around the block and 7-point U-turns would get you to your appointment a week late.

The professor also recommended Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich, a collection of short stories that's actually called a novel. It portrays a couple Chippewa families in North Dakota that are poised halfway between life on the Rez and life in the city. Liked it much better than Faulkner, especially the title story.

Through the long night of Mercy's labor, I advanced through Therapy by Jonathan Kellerman. 'Twas a murder mystery, a very serviceable one, though the plot threads got a bit unwieldy towards the end. How do these authors keep all the suspects straight, especially if they have too many? Walls covered with Post-It Notes?

Currently reading American Spy, the memoirs of Howard Hunt, who served in the CIA. Did you know most CIA people are Ivy League graduates? Yep, they do a little para-trooping, a little propagandizing, then become a general or a cabinet secretary or something other important person. You just don't have the connections to get in if you got educated at Wayneville State U or someplace like that. But I'm not bitter. I don't want to be in the CIA. I couldn't take the tension of flying over the Himalayas into strange lands (as the plane coughs and lurches from lack of oxygen), wondering if my contact might murder me and figuring out how to turn Latin Americans against their current dictator.

Besides, I don't think spies get to spend a lot of time playing in the kitchen, which you must know is important to me. To that end, I share with you:  French Onion Pan Rolls

Eat them with soup. Then, when the onion-and-cheese stuff falls off--and it will--the soup catches it and tastes even better. Two rolls = 375 cals.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Rich boys

I had the happy accident this week of watching a movie that illuminated a book I had just read. I planned a nice mid-winter goof-off day in which I ate cookies and cashews, drank hot chocolate and watched a Tivo-ed "Sabrina," with Julia Ormond, Harrison Ford, and Greg Kinnear. As Ford and Kinnear, the rich brothers, traded barbs about who worked too much and who worked not at all, Dynasties by David Landes, came to life.

Landes wrote about famous-name family businesses (think Rothschilds, Fords, Guggenheims) and how they fared from generation to generation. Truthfully, much of the book was out of my depth as he talked about joint stock capitalization and Vichy France. But I got glimpses of personality here and there:

If Grandpa starts a bank, or invents a car, or strikes oil, who among his sons and grandsons will possess the talent AND the interest to keep the enterprise going? Just like in the movie, plenty of descendants would rather use all that wealth just for playing.

Would be a lovely temptation, no?

Now, when it comes to this installment's recipe, I debated whether to give you something workaday and practical, or something so yummy that you will blame the failure of your New Year's resolution on me. So I decided on both. You've probably already broken your resolutions anyway.

1 lb. ground beef
1 cup chopped onion
1 jar (30 oz.) meatless spaghetti sauce
3 1/2 c. water
1 pkg (16 oz.) frozen mixed vegetables
1 can (10 oz.) diced tomatoes & green chilies
1 c. sliced celery
1 tsp. beef bouillon granules
1 tsp. pepper

In skillet over medium heat, cook beef & onion until meat is no longer pink; drain. Transfer to slow cooler. Stir in remaining ingredients. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or until vegetables are tender. YIELD: 12 servings, 160 cals. each.

This was really great to come home to after feeling the nasty, icy wind that blew across the Wal-Mart parking lot this afternoon. We ate the soup with garlic bread from the bread machine.

Now, just so you don't overdose on nutritious stuff, I offer you BYU MINT BROWNIES.
1 c. margarine
1/2 c. cocoa
2 TB honey
4 eggs
2 c. sugar
1 3/4 c. flour
1/2 TB baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
Mint Icing (See step #2)
12 oz. chocolate icing (canned)

1. Melt margarine and mix in cocoa. Allow to cool. Add honey, eggs, sugar, flour, baking powder and salt. Mix well. Pour batter into a greased 9x13-in. baking pan. Bake at 350' for 25 minutes. Cool.
2. Prepare Mint Icing: Soften 5 TB margarine. Add dash of salt, 1 TB light corn syrup, & 2 1/3 c. powdered sugar. Beat until smooth and fluffy. Add 1/2 tsp. mint extract & 1-2 drops green food coloring. Mix. Add 3 TB milk gradually until the consistency is a little thinner than cake frosting.
3. Spread mint icing over brownies. Place brownies in the freezer for a short time to stiffen the icing. Remove from the freezer and carefully add a layer of chocolate icing.
If you cut the finished brownies into 24 pieces, each has 310 calories.

I know, I know, I gave you Peppermint Cream Brownies in the last post. But you really can't have too much of a good thing. Besides those were just gateway mint brownies. These are the hardcore stuff.

I made them for Mercy's baby shower. We needed two pans for the ladies. And of course, what would my husband think if I made these and didn't leave any for him? What would Jim think if I stayed at his house the night before, carrying these lovely treats, and none for him?

Well, Jim made it clear what he would think. So I made a third pan.

In the end, we had so many brownies that, even after I packaged up a nice personal stash of them, I was still giving them away to friends and begging John to take some to bishopric meeting.

The other food at the shower was a great big green and brown cake. (You can sense a color theme here, can't you?) It was a German chocolate cake, frosted with ganache, a smooth icing that hardens into a shell, and embellished with green fondant, rolled and cut out to look like ribbons on a present.

It was a sugar-lover's party, oh yes.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Illegal Food

I just finished Plenty by Alisa Smith and J. B. MacKinnon. The authors, a couple from Vancouver, spent a year eating only foods that came from a 100-mile radius of where they lived.

That would make me illegal by their rules. Am I prepared to do without chocolate chips? Cool Ranch Doritos? Lean Cuisine? Even if the authors claim that your average meal travels 1500 miles to get to your table? Not until I really, really have to. I myself am not about to scour the countryside, finding the local growers of squashes and nuts and honey. I already know some of the tyrannies of agricultural life (and it sure was funny to see the authors discover this. "Hey, James, we've got 160 lbs. of sweet corn here! Um, James, that lady said we have to shuck it, blanch it, cut it off the cob and freeze it tonight or it won't be any good." They stay up until 2 to finish the job. And what does this do to their relationship? Read the book and find out!) and I kind of like the predictability of a life lived closer to sidewalks than pastures.

I agree, there's some screwy things about our food system. Maybe I'll visit my local farmers' market and buy my green peppers there.

The variety of foods produced in lush and moody British Columbia was amazing. About the only illegal item they had to use was salt. Eventually, they learned how to make it: fill a pot with sea water, boil until dry and there's your salt.

It helped that James (or J.B.) was able to whip up stunning meals by looking at whatever food lay within reach and blending it together into something memorable and delicious. The closest I can come to that is what I had to do last week when the snow piled up and I didn't want to dig out and go to the grocery store. I was supposed to feed the missionaries so I had to come up with something filling, using only what was already in the house. Here's what showed up on the table:

6 oz. tube pasta
6 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature (like when do I ever have that laying around? But I did last Friday.)
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 to 2 TB dijon mustard
1 cups diced cooked ham or chicken (I used chicken)
1 (16 oz.) package frozen broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower, thawed and drained
1 (4 1/2 oz.) jar sliced mushrooms, drained (oops, didn't have that. So what.)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook tube pasta until just tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain well.
2. Add cream cheese and milk to pot. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until cream cheese is melted and well blended with milk. Add pasta and toss to coat.
3. Reduce heat to medium-low. Stir in mustard, meat, vegetables, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very hot and crisp-tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Serve topped with a sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese. Serves 4, 495 cals. each. From 365 Easy One-Dish Dinners.

To round out the meal, I made homemade bread. (I had the time, stuck at home and all that.) and Peppermint Cream Brownies: Mix 1 batch of cake-like brownies. Bake in two 9x13 pans that have been lined with wax paper, then greased and floured. Shorten the baking time because these layers are thinner. After the brownies cool, frost one layer with Peppermint Cream Frosting: Mix together 4 TB soft butter, 2 cups confectioner's sugar, 2 TB milk, couples dashes of red food color, 1/4 tsp. peppermint extract, 4 tsp. white corn syrup and a couples dashes of salt. {Place the unfrosted layer on top of the frosting, cut and then try no to eat too many of these. Should yield about 36 pieces at 140 cals ea. From the same disintegrating cookbook that gave us Chocolate Marshmallow Pudding, the founding recipe of this blog.

Next up: Redneck Nation by Michael Graham. The author grew up in South Carolina, hated the Bubba-ness of it all and fled to the North. But what did he find up there? A nation whose favorite sport is NASCAR, who watches reality shows on TV where people eat pig rectums, who is overly race-conscious. Hmmm, said he, sounds way too much like where ah cum frum.

Next up: She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb. Many cow patties, but I excuse most of them because I could see most of them clearly enough to step around them (except for the language) and because the author of this novel worked it all into the growth of the character. The story follows a girl from age 4 to 40, through her confusing childhood, her grossly obese teen and young adult years and her getting-it-together adulthood. I really enjoyed the journey.

Next up: One Foot in Eden by Ron Rash. This is Rash's first novel and it shows, a little. A murder takes place in up-country Appalachia. The book is firmly divided into sections: the sheriff's story, the husband's, the wife's, the son's etc. I had the sense of covering the same territory four or five times, but from different angles. A more skillful writer could have woven these threads closer together. Which is not to say I didn't like the book. I enjoyed the Appalachian lingo. I felt bad for the hard luck of the characters, whose were going to lose their land anyway when a new reservoir covered it all up.

Well, that's all for now. Talk to you again soon, unless a new grandbaby throws me off my schedule.