Monday, December 5, 2011

Blogger Reads Sci-Fi, Survives

By request, I offer you POOR MAN'S LOBSTER as our recipe for the day:

8 boned and skinned chicken breast halves
1/2 c. soy sauce
1/2 c. pineapple juice
1/4 c. oil
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 TB brown sugar
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. pepper

Mix together all ingredients except chicken. Marinate chicken in the mixture for 3 to 6 hours. Drain well. Broil on second shelf 6 to 10 minutes on each side. Serve with melted butter and dip as with lobster. Calories equal 280/serving, unless most of the oil drains off. But then I guess you make up for that with the butter.

Recipe from a community cookbook.

I never have dipped this in butter, because I have never eaten lobster. We save that kind of thing for Abbey, the adventurous one in our family. She vowed to try lobster on a family vacation to Maine. We all sat around watching raptly as she tore off the legs and dug out the meat. Yes, she loved her little lobster feast. As for the guts, not so much. But they don't warn you about those, do they?

Over on the Finished Book Pile, we have I'll Go To Bed At Noon by Gerard Woodward. We've reviewed Mr. Woodward here before and, in that story, we thought the family who camps every summer in Wales was kind of bland. But now the family of Aldous and Colette Jones has grown up. Colette's brilliant, piano virtuoso son is a raging alcoholic, whose mind games and destructive bent make for never a dull moment in the Woodward household. Colette's brother drowns the sorrows of his new widowhood in drink. And Colette herself rather likes to while away the hours at the pub. The lady can put away a pint or two.

I wouldn't want to live any of it, but it was an instructive read. Includes some whiffs of cow patties.

Next up, we have Dying Inside by Robert Silverberg. Mark this one down for history: your favorite book-and-recipe blogger just read herself some science fiction. However, this was not the alien/space travel type. Silverberg's main character can read minds. For good or ill, he can just burrow in there and know what his sister has been up to, or his roommates. When he meets a fellow mind-reader, he can tell when his own mind is being penetrated.

Sometimes, what he learns frightens him away. Once, when presidential candidate Richard Nixon was in town, the main character went down to the street where the motorcade passed by, just to experiment with getting in to Nixon's brain. What he found there frightened him so badly that he refused to vote ever again.

But in middle age, he begins to lose his gift.

Fascinating. Frequent, fleeting cow patties.

Next up, What Happened to Anna K.? by Irina Reyn. I needn't give you any hints about the plot because, supposedly, this story is a contemporary version of Anna Karenina. (Does this mean I have to go read the real thing, just so I know that last sentence is true?) Reyn set her version in New York among Russian Jewish immigrants. I loved peeking into their lives, their meals of sausages, beets and vodka, their wedding parties at Queens restaurants, their obsession with money, their strange nostalgia for a frozen and miserable homeland.

Reyn reveals "the Russian soul" to her readers. "Does it have anything to do with . . . the addictive qualities of vodka? Wars fought with little training, shoddy clothing, and primitive equipment?"

It was a yummy book.

Friday, October 14, 2011

There Are Bad Days and Then There are BAD DAYS

Go ahead, name me your worst. Your kid forgot his lunch. The cop behind you turned on his lights. You cut your finger while making dinner. You got laid off. You backed the car into a Hummer. The doctor called you back for a "consultation" after the tests. You found icky stuff in the computer's history.

I'm impressed by your troubles, really, I am. But I can top them. Not with my own, thank goodness, but over on the Finished Book Pile, we have Son of the Morning Star by Evan Connell, chronicling the life of General Custer, a man who had one very Bad Day.

It starts out gory, following a few cavalry soldiers as they come upon a scene of barbaric slaughter (missing scalps, evisceration, long gashes down limbs, arrows sticking out of delicate places).

So what happened at Custer's Last Stand? Well, we aren't sure. All the eyewitnesses ended up scalped, eviscerated, gashed and pierced. (See paragraph above.)

What we do know is that Custer was a mean dude. His cavalry had the highest desertion rate of them all. And why not, when he marched his men in 120' heat, making them wear their full wool uniforms and carry pounds and pounds of equipment?

He rose fast in the army, but historians agree that he ascended on a bubble of other men's brilliance and strategy. Custer's only strategy was to yell "Charge!" and plunge in. And it worked. Until one very Bad Day in 1876 when it didn't.

Connell's book circles around in time, examining all the theories and eyewitness accounts about the man. I was never sure the author had any organization in mind at all. But I stuck with it for all the tidbits that came up. For instance, I would not have wanted to miss the story of Mrs. Nash, who traveled along with the 7th Cavalry as laundress, midwife and baker of pies extraordinaire.

Near the end, all that circling tightens until he introduces some new eyewitnesses. When I finally closed the book, I walked away with the sense that I could see Custer in his last moments.

Next, we have Martin Dressler by Stephen Millhauser. Martin is a dreamer who comes of age at the end of the 19th century. He is the kind of restless soul who always looks for the next big thing to build. It's mildly interesting but, Mr. Author, I spent the whole book wondering why you didn't resolve the matter of Martin's women. He married Woman A. Woman B had every right to expect he'd marry her. Do you really think flesh-and-blood women react the way she did?

As for your recipe, we feature QUICKER CHICKEN AND DUMPLINGS. This implies that there are more tedious ways to make chicken and dumplings, don't ask me what they are. Unless it includes plucking an actual chicken. That I know something about, and it is tedious indeed. That is, until it comes to the part about getting the very last bits off, the ones that are too much trouble to pluck. For that, my mom poured a little rubbing alcohol into a jar lid, lit it and burned off any final fuzz off the chicken carcass. Open flames always make the kitchen more interesting.

Come to think of it, I didn't really know what a dumpling was, until I tried this recipe. Basically, they are dough balls. Well, they cook up like a biscuit, but the broth they cook in makes the outsides gooey.

Cooks probably never fix foods they don't like, which might explain my dumpling ignorance. My mom loved crispy and crunchy, while I loved gooey and squishy. She loved throwing in a little of this, a little of that. I loved to measure ingredients. She loved dogs. I loved cats. She loved the countryside. I loved the city. She loved . . . wait, I'm getting off the subject here, aren't I?

Anyway, this recipe saves you untold effort, not that we know what it is, and fills you up on a wintery night.

Quicker Chicken 'n Dumplings

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Last Person in the 50 States to . . .

OK, I'm pretty sure I'm the last person in the whole United States to read The Help by Kathryn Stockett.

But just in case I'm not the last, let me tell you that you will, like about 12 million other people, enjoy reading about Minny, the big-mouth maid who gets fired for doing something Terrible/Awful to her employer. (The Terrible/Awful wasn't what I expected. It was better.)

You will enjoy reading about Hilly, the queen bee of the Jackson, Mississippi Junior League.

You will like Skeeter, the too-tall white girl with the frizzy hair, who gets an idea that seemed a little contrived as a plot device but eventually earned its keep.

You will enjoy riding the bus home with the maids and hearing them talk about the white people they serve.

Yep, it's no wonder you have to fight for a place in the long line at your library to read this book.

In honor of Minny, the big-mouth maid who makes the best caramel cake in the world, I offer you:

Banana Fudge Cake

We recently enjoyed this cake in honor of a certain two-year-old's birthday. The honoree, upon arriving at his beloved grandma's house, ignored his grandma and went straight for the big red box with the picture of a trike on it. I do believe that helping grandpa assemble the trike was the most fun he had all day. He carried wheel parts around. He brandished screwdrivers. He checked grandpa's work and made sure grandpa stayed on the job.

When the trike was all done, so was dinner. But do you think we could get him to sit down for some macaroni and cheese? Nooooo.

Really, I don't know what else we could expect from the little fellow.

He can't even reach the pedals yet. But that doesn't stop him from (as Emma put it) Fred-Flintstoning his way across the floor.

He was, however, willing to take a break for a piece of this cake.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Good-bye Powell's

My favorite source of books ideas just dried up. For several years now, I received a daily e-mail from, which introduced me to books on everything from Amish teens to amusingly fake biographies. You know, all the stuff you read about here. But now they have gone "on hiatus."

But that's OK. In the first place, their book ideas ran farther and farther afield from my interests (comic-book style novels about post-modern losers anyone?) and second of all, I probably have three or four years' worth of books on my reading list. We're a long way from drying up around here.

So, to check off a few more items on that list, the Finished Book Pile today includes Our Story Begins by Tobias Wolfe. This short story collection was a little spooky because the author looks like a guy in my writing group. His stories even have the same tone.

My favorite in the bunch was "Firelight," which begins: "My mother swore we'd never live in a boardinghouse again, but . . ." Something about unsteady mothers and squalor draws me right in, I guess.

Reading Tobias, I discovered that I never think of story characters as good-looking. They have lumps and flaws enumerated by the author. They have problems, else they wouldn't be worth writing a story about. But if the story ever makes to film, suddenly they become good-looking, though they still have all their terrible problems.

Next up, One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson. Atkinson's story starts with a road rage incident, interrupted by a meek and bumbling crime writer. So many threads to this story and so many characters left me wondering how the author would pull it all together. But her characters were so entertaining (loved that meek and bumbling writer!) that I just sat back and let her worry about it.

And finally, we have And His Lovely Wife by Connie Schultz. Schultz is a real life columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. When her husband ran for Congress, she took a break from the newspaper and followed him on his campaign, endlessly introduced as "his lovely wife." It was a nice backstage look at political life.

As for your recipe, I invite you to buy a brownie mix (one with chunks in it) and bake it. That's what I did recently. I've been on vacation, living in a tiny apartment with a kitchenette in New Jersey. John and I fed ourselves on easy stuff, like Hamburger Helper and Birds Eye frozen sweet and sour chicken. The Birds Eye stuff was the kind of thing where you open the bag, look at all the frozen chunks and wonder how it can possibly be dinner in just four minutes. But it was great.

So, go ahead and imitate all that non-cooking if you want to.

Sorry to say, it will be a little harder for you to imitate the part where I take 4-mile walks around a darling but pricey Jersey suburb, as well as the part where I ride commuter trains into Manhattan and hang with the fashionistas. Not that I could be mistaken for a fashionista, since this year's look is skirts just below your bum. And I do mean Just Below.

It was my dream vacation. There's just nothing quite as nice as sitting on a park bench in the middle of the city, watching lovers kissing by a fountain, or tourists clutching their guidebooks, or uniformed children walking home from school.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I'll Bet It Was a Mistake

Sometimes I wonder how foods were invented. Who was it that dropped his dinner of raw meat into the fire and decided that, hmmm, it tasted better a little bit singed? And who figured out that if you stirred fungus into your bread, it would get all puffy? And whoever looked at a fuzzy, ugly kiwi and knew there was something to eat in there?

I think this post's recipe was somebody's kitchen mistake. Somebody got hold of Grandma's cake recipe and either missed an ingredient or forgot where they left off when the phone rang, and then stuck it in the oven and then, ten minutes before the timer rang, smacked themselves on the forehead and, "Wait! What about the eggs?!"

Then, when the whole family finished dinner and sat there feeling sorry for themselves because the cook hung her head over that messed-up dessert, I wonder if the father, who was one of those hardy eat-anything types, got up and dug into the cake pan anyway because sometimes even a messed-up dessert is better than none at all. And what the father found was some cake on the bottom and some cake on the top and a bunch of runny sauce in between. And he put it into a bowl and mulled his first mouthful and said, "Hmm, this is not so bad. All it needs is some ice cream."

And a new dessert was born. Nobody wanted to call it Cook's Mistake, so they called it Pudding Cake, to make it sound like they'd planned it that way all along.

This version, from my very spattered Betty Crocker Cookbook, is called Hot Fudge Sundae Cake:

1 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 TB cocoa
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup milk
2 TB oil
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1 3/4 cups hottest tap water
Ice cream

Heat oven to 350'. Mix flour, sugar, 2 TB cocoa, baking powder and salt in ungreased square pan, 9x9 inches. Mix in milk, oil and vanilla with fork until smooth. Spread in pan. Sprinkle with brown sugar and 1/4 cup cocoa. Pour hot water over batter.

Bake 40 minutes. While warm, spoon into desert dishes and top with ice cream. Spoon sauce from pan onto each serving. 9 servings @ 240 cals each, not counting the ice cream.

Over on the Finished Book Pile, we have Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres. The story takes you to a Greek Island as World War II rages around Europe. This is a book for people who love following the village doctor around, as well as the village communist, the village strongman. You can cheer on the characters that fall in love, and then grip the pages in your white-knuckled hands as the war finally comes to their shores.

Either the author carries a huge grudge against Germans, or the Germans were the cruelest buggers around. At any rate, he writes a delightful story, even if the ending is lame. No cow patties.

Next up, we have Family of Strangers by Deborah Tall. Ms. Tall asked her father who he was, where he came from, what his parents were like, and Mr. Tall barely grunted out any answers at all. So Ms. Tall hunted down the facts for herself.

It's a very genealogical memoir, and that's not praise because genealogy buffs, in my opinion, are not good story-tellers. It's fascinating to dig in to dusty records and find things. But when you tell the rest of us what you found, you need to package it up nicely. No overload of details, please, i.e.: "I asked the graveyard tender about . . . and he said they are all in the back row but it turned out there were two gravestones three rows up." No thicket of characters, i.e.: "my uncle's wife's sister's grandfather's . . . "

I stuck with it, no matter how lost I got. For one thing, it read fast. Each page was like a prose poem on loss and searching (she outdid herself, reaching for imagery), lots of white space on the page. And there was some small pay-off at the end, even though her search lead to one of the most depressing places on earth.

Next up: Renato's Luck by Jeff Shapiro. About the waterworks guy in some town in Italy. I gave it the old 10% try and felt that I was in the hands of an amateur. So I moved on to:

Niccolo Rising by Dorothy Dunnett. This is part of a series that takes you Europe sometime in the Renaissance and leads you through the intrigues of shipping merchants and patron princes. Open the book and the first thing you see is a four-page cast of characters, all of them with fourteen-syllable names or titles. It was quite daunting. I gave it the 10% try, too, but gave it up. Not that you should. Lots of reviewers on Amazon praised the series for its depth and drama, but a few of them felt just like I did: "I made several attempts to penetrate this novel . . . completely baffled . . . could not explain on pain of death what I just read."

But go ahead. And good luck.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Twisting with Oliver

There are books written by fingers that fly over laptop keys and there are books written by the scritching of quill pens on yellowed scrolls.

I tend to read more of the former. But once in a while, it is good to open one of the classics. Therefore I embarked upon Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist.

I'd call it the equivalent of Eating Your Literary Carrots. I had to push myself to get through it. But a book shouldn't be ignored just because its place on the shelf has been crowded up with the recent and the exciting.

I know, vaguely (like the first lines of songs) about the musical, Oliver. My sister spent her personal monies on soundtracks of every Broadway musical she could get her hands on. So, as I read Dickens, I hunted for the places where the songs would fit in to the story. "Oliver, Oliver, never before has a boy wanted more . . ." was easy to spot. So was "I Shall Scream." I might even have found where "Oom-Pa-Pa" belongs, but I never could quite pin down the right spot for my favorite, "As Long As He Needs Me." In fact, I'm re-thinking Nancy as a lead part for glamorous actresses. The "he" that needs her is Bill Sykes, a man of unrelenting filth and cruelty. And I don't see how Nancy herself avoided being wracked by social disease, even one as innocent as tuberculosis.

The word "Dickensian" connotes stories of people living in unrelenting sadness and squalor. But Dickens' quill pen actually produced a good deal of satire. Thank goodness humans can be insufferable fools, giving the author ample material for his wry sense of humor.

As for your recipe, I bragged one evening about our yummy and easy supper of Grilled Pizza Sandwiches. She to whom I bragged insisted that she wanted to eat this wonderful thing, too, so here goes:

Grilled Pizza Sandwiches

These sandwiches call for salami, which I find unappetizing. I replace it with Canadian bacon.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

I Thought I'd Escaped Afghanistan

You have probably read three times as many books as I have since we last met. That's because you probably don't fall asleep every time you sit down to read a chapter. What's up with this extreme nappiness?

But anyway . . .

First up we have The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux. Theroux has my dream job: go places, then write about them. There's probably a catch though, like going places I wouldn't want to visit. Theroux took a regular patchwork of trains all across Asia. You might think Asia would be a memorable and scenic place to visit. But our author doesn't sugarcoat things at all.

Here's what we know, thanks to his troubles on all those trains:

Great swaths of this planet are not very exciting to look at. Turkey comes to mind, as does Siberia. And Afghanistan where, Theroux reports, there is "not a single mile of railroad track." (And here I thought I'd escaped Afghanistan by tossing aside Rory Stewart's book.) He got across the world's least fortunate country some other way, I don't remember how.

Then again, some spots on earth are quite lovely: Thailand, Vietnam.

So if the scenery outside the train window is often dull as dishwater, what does the travel writer write about?

Well, his fellow riders provided rich material: The Russians packed odd train picnics for themselves. The Japanese acted like automatons. The Vietnamese, their lives disrupted by years of war (Railway Bazaar was written in the mid '70s) found the most resourceful ways to carry on with life. And the Turkish are still wearing clothes from the '30s, because that's when their leader brought the country into modernity, adopting Western clothing and habits. They just got stuck there, that's all. (Maybe Theroux's follow-up book will catch them wearing denim and tube tops. I'll let you know when it comes up to the top of my reading list.)

As for the Ceylonese, they were starving when Theroux visited. But many came to his literature lectures (he gave a few along the journey). And why would they care about literature, when they had life-and-death matters on their hands?

They came because every lecture included a dinner. They came and gorged themselves silly.

The book includes quite a few cow patties as Theroux passed through Thailand and Japan. Theroux approaches them partly as a married man far from home, and partly as a social observer, commenting on the national character.

Next up, Howard's End by E. M. Forster, is a drama of English class boundaries. The cast of characters includes the Schlegel sisters, independent girls who come from old money and a bit of German blood landed in England; the Wilcox family, up-and-comers who constantly strive to hang on to their relatively new wealth; and Leonard Bast, who stands in for the rest of us. He's a working man, but decisions made by the other two classes could, at any moment, topple him into ruin.

Mr. Wilcox kicks off the story by giving Mr. Bast some advice. What I found fascinating is Forster's study of each class's awareness. Mr. Bast tries to push in to the upper classes, but the penny-pinching habits so necessary in his life give him away. On the other hand, the Wilcoxes and the Schlegels have no idea what the stakes are for those who must work for a living.

As for your recipe, I have learned that my mom's stacked enchiladas, which are not anything like the rolled ones you see in stores or restaurants, are actually genuinely Honduran! That's right. Mercy used to eat them stacked. But she never knew the recipe. And my mom never wrote hers down either, not to mention that her enchiladas included something called "chili brick," which doesn't exist anymore.

I remember enchilada night as a night of gorging. When you like something that much, you figure out a way to make it. Judge for yourself, but I think I've come up with something that comes pretty close:


1 lb. ground beef
1 pkt (1.75 oz) chili seasoning mix
1 can (46 oz.) tomato juice
3 TB cornstarch
1/2 c. cold water
Vegetable oil
2 pkgs. (10 each) corn tortillas
1 lb. cheddar cheese, shredded

1. Fry ground beef; drain. Add chili seasoning and small amount of tomato juice.
2. Heat tomato juice in saucepan. Add burger mixture. Mix cornstarch and water, add to tomato juice. Bring to boil, then reduce heat, cooking and stirring until slightly thickened.
3 Heat small amount of oil in large skillet. Fry each tortilla a few seconds on both sides. Drain or blot excess oil, then place on dinner plate. Sprinkle with cheese, top with sauce. Add more layers as desired and serve. Continue until no one can eat anymore.

Calories come to about 258 per layer.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Eat Up Strawberries Now!

Somebody came to my house today, opened the fridge, saw a telltale stack of sheets of wax paper and hollered, "Crepes! I'm eating them all!"

Not so fast there, sister. You're gonna have to fight me for those.

I'll bet you are busy this month, looking for ways to enjoy strawberries. Around here, we let everybody else do the shortcake thing while we eat ours with crepes. (Oh, and we've discovered that they're heavenly when dipped in Nutella. What? you ask. The strawberries? Or the crepes? Well, both. I can't decide which is more heavenly.)


Crepes (below)
3/4 cup chilled whipping cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup sliced fresh strawberries
Powdered sugar

Prepare Crepes. Beat whipping cream and 1/4 cup powdered sugar in chilled bowl until stiff. Fold in strawberries. Spoon about 2 TB of the strawberry mixture onto each crepe; roll up. Place 2 crepes seam sides down on each dessert plate; sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serves 6, about 340 cals. each.


1 1/2 cups flour
1 TB sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups milk
2 eggs
2 TB margarine, melted
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir in remaining ingredients. Beat with hand beater until smooth. Lightly butter 6- to 8-inch skillet; heat over medium heat until bubbly. Pour scant 1/4 cup of the batter into skillet; immediately rotate skillet until thin film covers bottom.

Cook until light brown. Run wide spatula around edge to loosen; turn and cook other side until light brown. Stack crepes, placing waxed paper between each. Keep covered.

Makes 12 crepes (but my last batch made 16-18) at 105 cals. each.

Recipes come from my very spattered Betty Crocker Cookbook.

Other good filling are: applesauce, mint chocolate chip ice cream, nutella & bananas, pudding, jam. I'm sure you can think up more.

As for the Finished Book Pile, we have today War Against Parents by Sylvia Hewlett and Cornel West. You can use this book to fire yourself up before you attend a feisty school board meeting. Or you can just read it to make you want to crawl back in bed and hide under the covers. Either way, it offers a lot of its information in percentages, i.e. "90% of poor children don't get x, y and z" or "78% of working parents say they have a hard time meeting A B & C."

They describe how the GI Bill created a golden age for parents. Assistance with education and home loans was a great help for families. Unfortunately, a few societal changes have wiped out all the advantages those GIs enjoyed.

I was especially steamed by reading how companies lay off scads of people to boost their profits and stock prices, then give out-of-sight salaries and bonuses to their executives. In the same year. This is a most immoral practice, in my view.

Hewlett and West offer up a Parents' Bill of Rights, things like a living wage and parental leave.

It's a great set of ideas but, in the end, the authors fail to account for things like backlash and simple human will. For instance, we can compel companies to offer several weeks of paid parental leave, but what's to stop them from deciding to take their jobs offshore, where they don't have to fund such expensive measures?

Or, you can declare schools a drug-free zone, but there's always somebody who loves to be sneaky, carrying their drugs right past that drug-free zone sign.

Or, how about another idea of Hewlett and West's: unwed mothers should be "forced" to live with more experienced mothers, who will show them how to raise a child properly. Where are you going to find women who will rise to the occasion? I'm an experienced mother, and you don't see me stepping up.

Still, the authors try their best and you might enjoy their book.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Color of a Story

Well, it's been kind of dull around here.

One cat is on a diet. So it's dull for the cats, too. They sit around, staring at me, waiting for me to fill the trough. The frail cat looks at the fat one with an especially hateful glare. You're the reason we're in this fix!

Not even the Finished Book Pile has been that scintillating.

First up:August by Gerard Woodward, the story of a kind of a quiet, ordinary, got-our-problems family, who vacations every summer in a farmer's field in Wales.

Excitement-wise, it's kind of a brown story, a light beige-brown. The jacket copy proclaims Woodward's book (this is the first in a trilogy) full of deadpan wit. I've told you before that I need my wit just a little bit wet, or else it slips right by my wit-detector. Nevertheless, I stuck with the story. I wouldn't want to be the main characters Aldous and Colette or their four (or five?) children, but I was curious enough to follow them through the years.

In a particularly quirky twist of the story, Colette develops an odd habit. Today, there would be a 1-800-get-help line they could call, but back in the '60s, nobody had come up with that sort of thing yet.

No cow patties (except the real ones in that Welsh farmer's field).

Next up, we have In Between Places by Rory Stewart. The author, a Scottish journalist, walks across Afghanistan, the unluckiest land on this entire earth. He starts his journey two weeks after the U.S. threw over the Taliban. The new government provided "guides" to accompany him, but Stewart did his best to lose them.

Personally, I would have gone farther down the list of countries and chosen to walk across somewhere like Austria. Still, he made me want to walk to the grocery store, to church, to Wal-Mart; to get the little granny shopping cart that goes with these jaunts.

My daughters poke fun at my "granny cart" dreams. But the kind of people who roll these things into Whole Foods call it a "shopping trolley." See? Not so uncool anymore! Say it with me now: SHOPPING TROLLEY. And stop that snickering.

But anyway, back to Stewart. I'm sure there are interesting things to know about Afghanistan. And his journey was certainly a daring one. He was just about to head into some Himalaya-high mountains, snowy mountains mind you, and I thought I ought to stick with him, just to lend him moral support.

But then he announced that he'd been wearing the same socks for eight days. This killed off my already-faint interest in Stewart and the unluckiest country in the world. I left him to tackle the snowy mountains all by himself.

I guess this book had a color to it too: dirty white.

Thankfully, next up we have a pink book. Literally. The cover is pink. You know a pink book will be easy to read. The Aqua-Net Diaries by Jennifer Niven is a memoir of growing up in Richmond, Indiana, and dreaming of the day when she can escape her dull hometown.

Niven's great at explaining the social castes of Richmond, the dizzy excitement of a first boyfriend, the hunger of driving around on Friday night, looking for something to do. Oh, she found it all right. They drank. They smoked a little pot. They cut class now and then and sped all the way to Dayton, Ohio, for lunch. No mention of how dangerous the speed or the beer or the pot might have been. It was all good memories, according to her.

Since leaving Richmond, Niven has been busy writing, selling movie options and taming her massive '80s hair.

It was an OK read. No cow patties, just "normal" teenage mischief.

As for your recipe, perhaps you, like the cats, are on a diet and would die for something tasty to break up the dullness of your dinner hour. You can try:

Jiffy Jambalaya

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bathrobe Day

April 27th --

Today, we have a big, thick one on the Finished Book Pile, The Winthrop Woman by Anya Seton.

This is an older book, written when I was just a twinkle in my father's eye. But good story-telling never gets old. The book revisits the horses, lanterns and cloaks era, lots of "prithee" and "forsooth," which is always nice to get back to once in a while.

Seton set her story in England when matters between the king and the Puritans reached an impasse, prompting the Puritans to sail off to the New World. I think they expected gentle English meadows. What they got was a howling wilderness, a challenging place indeed.

Not that the story dwelt on the perils of pioneering. No, no, it was pulled along by plenty of frustrated romance. Then, somewhere in the middle, our Winthrop Woman is accused of being a witch, which made for some dull and improbable reading, since her accusers came off like cardboard characters. And I said, "Prithee, whence wenteth the frustrated romance?"

But then a hero from early in the story rode into town and the romantic stuff took off again.

So, even though my bathroom needed a thorough cleaning, the sheets needed to be changed, and I should have made a grocery list and written a couple thank-you notes and--whoopsie! Did I say I would call the people I visit teach tonight?--it was just . . . you know, sometimes you reach the point when you're so hooked, you just have to toss the to-do list and read those last 100 pages.

Yep, I spent the day in my bathrobe, with yesterday's mascara ringed around my eyes, turning the yellowed pages. And it was worth it!

The shame of it all is that my husband works at home. What's he to think when he's on the south side of the house being industrious and finds me on the north side, being hopelessly indolent? And he knows I'll be indolent again because, as I write this, the Royal Wedding is a couple days away and there I'll be, on the couch, remote in hand, hour upon hour. I promised him I'd at least make dinner on Royal Wedding day and he just laughed.

May 1st --

Ha! Yes, I did come through with dinner on Royal Wedding Day. Why, friends and family came over to watch it (I TiVoed it on two channels). I couldn't let them starve!

We ate:

Savory Beef Fajitas

Chocolate Oat Squares

We rounded out the meal with chips and salsa, and fresh pineapple. And leftover Easter candy. And doughnuts.

It was a day of decadence. But we got the Prince married off.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Can Russia Possibly Be Interesting?

Well, today we have, on the Finished Book Pile, The Dream Life of Sukhanov, an elegantly written and richly imagined novel by Olga Grushin.

At first, I wasn't so sure. A quick glance over the jacket copy left me reluctant to plunge in. The story centers on the 50-something protagonist. Who wants to read a book about someone in their 50s? I thought before I, of course, remembered that I'm in, er, that is, near, er, that is, closer than some of you to my 50s.

And who would want to read a book set in Russia, the most frozen and depressing place on earth? But Sukhanov's Russia is a place of champagne, fine wool coats, parties under chandeliers. He belongs to the privileged class, you see, although events fix that. Best say no more, lest I give things away.

The story can get a little confusing as it shifts between the real world and Sukhanov's dream world. It took me a couple rounds to recognize the we're-in-dream-world signals, but I picked up on it. At the very end, though, I wasn't sure what was real and what was not.

I liked it. And no cow patties.

As for your recipe, I've got a menu for you today. When I fixed this for guests, they accused me of cooking all day. Nope, this meal wasn't all that back-breaking. I spent a half hour in the afternoon, making (and I have posted this one before):

Cashew Turkey Pasta Salad (except I use chicken)

An hour or so before serving time, you can start on:

Creamy Chocolate Mousse

When the mousse is done, start right in on the main dish:

Raspberry Chicken Sandwiches

I find Taste of Home's version a little unwieldy, so here's my version:

1 cup chili sauce
3/4 cup raspberry preserves
2 TB red wine vinegar or cider vinegar
1 TB dijon mustard
6 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
2 TB olive or vegetable oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
6 sandwich buns
6 slices Muenster or Provolone cheese
Shredded lettuce

Flatten chicken breasts to 1/4-in. thickness. Place in a ziploc bag. Add oil, salt and pepper. Seal bag and turn to coat.

Coat grill rack with PAM before starting the grill. In a small saucepan, combine chili sauce, preserves, vinegar & mustard. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 2 minutes. Set aside half for serving and use the remaining sauce for basting.

Grill chicken, uncovered, over medium heat for 5-7 minutes on each side or until juices run clear, basting frequently the raspberry sauce. Top with cheese. Remove and place on buns. Serve with lettuce and more raspberry sauce. YIELD: 6 servings, 495 cals. ea.

My guests brought Sun Chips and a salad of spinach, strawberries and almonds. We ate hearty, then we played games in which the quiet ones among us revealed their competitive side.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

I Can't Stay Away From This Stuff

Let's start this time with the food.

Chili Corn Bread Salad

I don't want to stay away from this stuff. I want to eat the whole pan! This is why I need a life of the mind, so I don't languish, thinking of the corn bread, the bacon, the cheese, the gooey ranch dressing stuff, the . . .


Where were we now?

Oh, yes. Life of the mind. Reading books and all that.

So I read Mercy of Thin Air by Ronlyn Domingue, about a woman who dies, but stays "between," which means she hangs around the living, spying on them, creating cool breezes, moving mugs and pens, whatever. That might make it sound like a comedy, but Thin Air takes itself pretty seriously.

The story moves around in time. We're in the 1920s when the main character dies, then we move to the present, then before she dies, then . . . Keeping all the characters sorted out was beyond me. People float in and out (literally! being dead and all). And finally, the author shows an insufferable contempt for people who don't believe the way she does.

I'm not sure how a book like this made it through the editorial catch-nets.

I gave it up. It certainly wasn't enough to keep me from thinking about cornbread, and cheese, and bacon and . . .

Whoa. Let me get ahold of myself here.

Why don't we move on to Apex Hides the Hurt by Colson Whitehead. The unnammed protagonist is a professional namer. Corporations call him in to re-ignite their brands--be they medicines, candies or styrofoam cups--with a zippy new name.

So a quiet little town that's in the middle of remaking itself into a booming, business-friendly burg calls him to re-name the place, something that will project its new, forward-thinking ways.

Everybody has a different opinion of what this name should be. The great-grandson of the tycoon that brought barbed-wire manufacturing to the town thinks one thing. The mayor, a descendant of the freed slaves that founded the place, thinks another. Add to that the relentlessly cheerful entrepreneur who's bringing in new business and all his opinions and you have tugs in every direction.

Apex was a witty and enjoyable ride, roasting all the ingredients of a town and contemplating what names mean to us all. I think you might like it.

Friday, March 18, 2011

He and I Aren't the Same Kind of Cook

Let's start today with The Finished Book Pile.

We have If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This, a collection of short stories by Robin Black.

Her conversational little stories grew on me. Black writes about quiet people, many of them aged and broken down. Mostly, I remember Jean, hiding her stroke-affected arm in a fancy-scarf sling, claiming it's some small injury. Her daughter has come home for a few days. Is she home to help out? Or is she up to something else? What are those odd night-time noises?

It's not the most memorable book, but it has some nice moments. Minimal cow patties.

Next up, The Saucier's Apprentice by Bob Spitz.

You know, you go to the big downtown library and you pick your book off the shelf. You take it to the front desk and hand it to the girl who works there. Now these library types are quiet people who don't always look you in the eye. They put up with their low-paying jobs because the love being around books, love handling them. They love books more than they love people, I'm pretty sure. It's a not-quite-human experience, this passing your book back and forth and bleeping it through the check-out scanner.

But I gave The Saucier's Apprentice to the girl and her eyes lit up just a little bit and she peeked out from her quiet, withdrawn face. "Best title ever," she said, as she cracked a tiny smile.

And a darn good read. Mr. Spitz's life ran aground. Being a man who loved to throw dinner parties for his friends, what better way to soothe his sore soul than to send himself to a few cooking schools in Europe? With every delightful turn of phrase, the reader travels along with him as he and another man turn the act of making souffle into a contest of manhood; as a snooty French chef refuses to teach Spitz anything until Spitz shows he can make a decent omelet (guess how many omelets it takes); as an American expat woman introduces Spitz to the art of cooking rabbit.

Spitz can't do it. To him, they're bunnies, soft and adorable, with cute long ears. But the woman goads him further by taking a jar off the shelf, pulling out a dark and ominous object and making him eat it. Find out for yourself what it is.

Spitz includes his cooking-school recipes. I don't plan to try them, because he and I are not the same kind of cook. He likes simple, local ingredients, and improvisation. I like sure-bet formulas and don't get the vapors from ingredients like Velveeta and ketchup. However, I loved reading about chefs who flick the pan just so and the omelet slips out perfectly. Or they push the knife just so and the meat pops right off the bone. I loved reading about people who sat on terraces in what sounds like the most beautiful scenery on this earth and said, "MM-MM-MM" as they ate marvelous things.

Which brings me to our recipe for this installment:

Something Special Salad

I could not stop saying, "MM-MM-MM" while I ate this.

I've told you before that I just can't think of things to put in salads. Somebody has to tell me exactly what to add. I know that the rest of you don't have that problem, judging by the salads that you bring to my house.

Unless you're stealing your ideas from elsewhere, like I do. After all, stealing ideas is what we're all about here at Bye-bye Nesquik, no?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Traveling Husband

I always thought I'd make a great army wife--independent, able to tolerate the absences. That is not to say I never want my husband around, you understand. It's just that there are little perks, like reading in bed late into the night. Or traveling with him while somebody else pays the hotel bill.

Well, I got my traveling man and I have followed him to places that fed my appetite for exotic. Riiight, you say. You find something exotic about small towns in Texas that, even though they're 100 miles from the border, they feel like they're in Mexico? Or minor cities in Michigan where the calendar says spring but the morning air sure doesn't?

Hey--don't make me feel bad, OK? Maybe I would like to have grown up in a New Jersey suburb. The malls would have been great, not to mention that great pulsing city to the east.

Alas, I started this life somewhere a bit duller than that so, you see, I am way too easily entertained.

Then there is the downside to the traveling husband: when you're not tagging along with him, he leaves you behind with all his children.

It was never clearer, this downside, than at dinner time. Dinner is supposed to be a little oasis in the day. But when the kids were young, I was always jumping to cut their meat or catch their spills. This is not fun at all, I told myself many, many times. Then, when the kids got older and he left me behind, I had to answer all their trick questions like, "I know you said I couldn't play outside if I didn't practice piano, but my friend is lonely because her mother isn't home from work and she will probably hurt herself if somebody doesn't keep her company . . ."

Now that the kids and their trick questions have departed, dinner minus the traveling husband means that, whatever I fix, I will be eating for days on end. It had better be something that I like. To that end, I share with you:

Hobo Meatball Stew

I think the magic in this sweet-tasting stew is (now, don't make me feel bad again) the ketchup. See, it's not just something to smother over burger and (shudder!) eggs, is it? So, maybe there's enough cold weather left in your neck of the woods that one more night of stew will be just the thing.

Over on the Finished Book Pile, we have The Chosen Place, The Timeless People by Paule Marshall. Written in the '60s, this novel portrays Americans sociologists who descend on a Caribbean island bent on lifting the natives out of their poverty and backwardness. I think Ms. Marshall was a Caribbean native, so that tells you right there who the good guys are going to be. The pace ambles along as slow as a steamy tropical afternoon. I read it with a detached feeling until, far into the story, a couple of the them reveal the forces that drive them.

One of the weirdnesses of the book is all the African people living in towns with very British names.

Cow patties? Mostly a few whiffs, but one of 'em is long and uncomfortable and on the Brokeback-Mountain side of things.

Next up, Elizabeth Street by Laurie Fabiano, "a novel based on true events." It reads like a well-done family history, where someone has taken the trouble to set the scene and add dialogue. (Fortunately, unlike many family histories, Fabiano's Italian immigrant forebears lived through some horrific events. Not much fun for them, but great reading for us.)

Now, a well-done family history with scene-setting and dialogue is not quite a well-written novel. Midway through, Fabiano decides to stretch herself and add some plotting. The Black Hand kidnaps a family member (true event, I think) and a couple other family members whet their sleuthing skills a la Nancy Drew. "Whaaaat?" I say as I read on. "This woman is seven months pregnant and she tackles the bad guy? Especially when, two pages ago, she complained that her feet hurt her so bad. And a couple pages later, she's limping home on those bad feet again? This is so improbable!"

Why don't you just read it up to the point where the book goes awry and I'll tell you how the kidnapping turns out?

No cow patties.

Forget the Flowers, Forget the Lacy Card

In case you still haven't thought of anything to give to your sweetie on Valentine's Day, I know that I would think kind thoughts about anyone who gave me a plate full of --

Cookie Dough Truffles

The first time I tried these, I used milk chocolate, then served them to guests. How polite humans can be. Those things were sweet enough to gag on, but my friends never let on with any actual gagging. But they didn't take seconds either.

The candy coating can be as simple as the 1-oz. squares of semisweet chocolate found in the baking aisle. I thought it would have to be something special. My mom used to dip chocolates and they would discolor once they cooled. But my truffles, stored in the refrigerator, stayed a rich chocolate brown. Some leftover chocolate left out at room temperature, though, hardened up and took on pale streaks.

Over on the Finished Book Pile, we have Solar by Ian McEwan.

McEwan's been a pretty hot writer for the last few years. He's the kind of guy that could probably call up Oprah or Larry King (oh, wait. Are those even on anymore?) and get on their shows without having to beg or anything.

In his latest novel, he presents a middle-aged protagonist, Michael Beard, who won the Nobel Prize for physics. But that was long ago, when he was young. He hasn't had an exciting idea in decades. And his fifth marriage is failing. And he's growing a pot belly.

Suddenly, a freak event changes his career luck.

Michael Beard isn't a likable man, but his drily funny misfortunes had me squawking out loud. This is a mild spoof on the panic and do-goodism inspired by global warming.

McEwan's weakness, this time around, is never quite tying up all the plot threads by the final page. But it was a fun ride nonetheless.

Cow patty count is 4 out of 10.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Where Aussie Tours Probably Don't Take You

I just finished Paul Newman by Shawn Levy, which described a charmed life from when Paul was the child of a prosperous sporting-goods dealer in Cleveland, until he was a vigorous old man, darting between movie sets, race tracks, the Newman's Own company and his beloved philanthropies.

Did it feel a little naughty to keep the book-cover picture of a shirtless Paul in his primest prime on my nightstand for a week or so? Yeah, kinda. Let's just say it was an easy book to pick up. I was always eager to read on. This does not, repeat, does not, make me one of his nympho fans, the women who constantly pushed Joanne and the daughters aside, just to stand speechless and panting before him.

I am, however, adding his eight or nine best movies to my Netflix queue. What's funny is that he made a ton of clunky pictures. But his best work was so good that he remained a titan of the movie world.

He started on a lark, in college, playing in the kinds of skits where you make fun of the professors and fellow students. It struck him as a handy way to avoid the sporting-goods business. So, with a wife and baby son, he went off to Yale Drama School. That was where he faced his first class exercise, discovering that he'd have to dig deep and show actual emotions. Yikes!! This was certainly not the same as being a funny man back at Kenyon College!

So he became a Method actor, the kind that's always asking, "What's my motivation?" These folks are a headache for their directors and fellow thespians. But the development of his craft over the years--well, show it to me, Netflix, as he grows from the young man whose actorly wheels could be seen turning in his head to the seasoned pro whose most subtle glance said volumes.

Anybody want to watch with me?

Also on the Finished Book Pile: The Turning by Tim Winton, a collection of short stories set in a workaday town on the western coast of Australia. They depressed me at first. "Angelus" did not sound like a town I would want to live in or visit, in spite of the seaside atmosphere, the whales swimming by just beyond the point, or the surfing that residents did over Christmas break. But as I met the same people in several stories, I got caught up in their lives, particularly the policeman father. He was the only straight cop on Angelus' crooked police force. Would he hold up under the pressure? Would his marriage survive? Would his sons pull out of childhood unscathed?

And now for something tasty, you can try:


9 lasagna noodles
1 10-oz pkg frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained (I used chopped broccoli; my family thanked me heartily for this substitution)
1 c. Parmesan cheese
1 1/3 c mozzarella cheese
1 1/3 c cottage cheese
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 TB salad oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, chopped
2 8-oz. cans tomato sauce
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. each: dried basil and oregano.

Cook lasagna. Drain. Pour cold water over noodles. Set aside. Mix 3/4 cup Parmesan, the mozzarella, cottage cheese, spinach/broccoli, nutmeg, salt & pepper. Spread 1/4 cup of this mixture on each noodle. Roll up and lay, seam side down, in a 7x11 baking dish. (I had leftover cheese mixture, which I sprinkled on top.)

Saute onion and garlic in oil. Add tomato sauce, sugar and herbs. Cook 5 minutes. Pour over rolled-up noodles. Cover. Bake at 350' for 30 minutes.

I think I always made it wrong before, setting the rolled-up noodles on their ends, like cinnamon rolls. The pan didn't look very filled-up that way. Stuff fell over. It was a mess. How handy for you that I've already made that mistake, so you don't have to. Just lay those noodles down on their sides, lazy-like, and it will all look and taste right.

This dish passed the Skooby test, big time. Calories, for those of you that care (and he didn't), are 277 per swirl.

Recipe from one of those community cookbooks. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Behind the Scenes

I'm having myself a few sick days here. Gone from cold to croup back to another cold.

The upside of all this is sitting on my bed, ordering instant movies from Netflix. Tortilla Soup, Bottle Shock, There Goes the Neighborhood, and For Your Consideration.

Neighborhood and Consideration were total screwball movies, great mood-lifters. I was especially in the mood for Consideration because it played out behind the scenes of a movie set and I had just finished Waiting on the Weather: Making Movies with Akiro Kurosawa by Teruyo Nogami.

I've heard of this famous director, but not yet seen any of his work. Nogami served as a script girl on a dozen or so of his pictures. The book would probably mean more if all the names she dropped--movies and actors--were familiar ones. As it was, they were just a collection of syllables, unless they appeared in enough of her anecdotes for me to form a picture of the person.

However, I mined a treasure or two from Nogami's memoir.

First, there was Kazuo Hasegawa, an actor who oozed sex appeal. One sidelong look from him melted the women, yes it did. One time, the company descended on a fishing village. All the villagers let their work slide for a day, to watch the movie-making. Hasegawa, on a boat in the little bay, came out and "bestowed flirtatious glances on the fishermen's wives. When he swept the starboard boats with his gaze, rapturous cries rose up from that side, and when he did the same on the port side, identical cries could be heard from there."

Turning to the crew, he said "'Well, whichever way I face, I guess I can't pee here!'"

Nogami's tales of working with animals delighted me. Tigers, horses, ants . . . Yes, ants. How do you get ants to follow your script? First, collect 50,000 of them with a vacuum. Next, kill 30,000 to crush them and make a pheromone trail for the others to follow up a tree, just as the script demands. Does it work? Read Nogami for yourself.

Next up, Horns by Joe Hill. Hill dreamt up a fascinating premise: his protagonist wakes up after a night of drunkenness only to find horns growing out of his head. No one can see the horns, but when they are around him, they confess to terrible things they have done or want to do. It could have been an illuminating portrait of human nature. Unfortunately, Hill threw in three or four cow patties per page so I slapped the book shut somewhere before page 20, brushed off the muck and went on to something else.

Next up, Searching for Whitopia by Rich Benjamin. That's "white" combined with "utopia." Benjamin, a black man, visits some of the whitest counties in the U.S. (he stops in St. George, as well as in Coeur d'Alene) and concludes that all us honkies just want to get away and live in nearly-million-dollar homes in gated communities in the exurbs. (Exurbs are the raw-but-developing towns beyond the suburbs.) To be fair, Benjamin is a pleasant fellow who throws excellent dinner parties for his new white friends. He also admits that all the white folks he met were affable and kind. He knows we are tired of being called prejudiced. For now, he blames systemic factors for keeping blacks down, i.e. zoning, blacks' difficulty getting home loans in decent neighborhoods. And he concludes that blacks need to solve a few of their own problems if they want to get ahead.

But let me just go on record as one who has never, will never, afford a nearly-million-dollar home. If I could, I'd be living in Brooklyn, next to the author. Furthermore, I resent gated communities and I'm tired of the exurbs even though I always end up there because I get priced out of the lovelier, more established, more walkable neighborhoods that I adore.

We may look like dough, Mr. Benjamin, but we aren't all rolling in it.

As for your recipe, I call it Campbell Spaghetti, though that's not very accurate. It was supposed to be a spaghetti sauce made from Campbell's Tomato Soup, but I got lazy one day and did something else with it. We all liked it. My husband hints for it often. It doesn't do him much good; I'm a queen-of-my-own-kitchen sort of cook, but her majesty deigned to fix it twice in the last few months.

CAMPBELL'S SPAGHETTI (or whatever; shall we have a naming contest?)
1 lb. ground beef
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chopped onion
2 cans (10 1/2 oz. each) Campbell's Tomato Soup
1 soup can water
1 tsp. salt
1 bay leaf
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/8 tsp. thyme
1 1/2 cups macaroni, dry

Brown beef, garlic and onion. Blend in soup, water and seasonings. Stir in macaroni; cover and simmer 20 minutes. Makes 6 servings, 335 cals ea., for those of you that care.

See? Isn't that a lazy recipe? What I like best about it is that the macaroni, if you do it right, ends up just on the squishy side of al dente. Mmmmm.

Top with parmesan, if you think you have to.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Homework Done

All righty, then. I've made it through the major Europe homework books, the big tomes, the 900- and 600-page, too-big-to-read-in-the-bathtub books. I can tell you about the good tidbits, and warn you about the slow-going parts.

First up, Austerity Britain by David Kynaston, describes England just after WWII. I never understood just how bombed out they were. The nation had a terrible housing shortage. So that was problem #1 to be solved.

After suffering through all the deprivation, the people just wanted the government to take care of them. So 1945 was the beginning of the British welfare state.

Kynaston's book swings between people's personal accounts of rationing, i.e. how many coupons meat cost and how terrible it was, how hard it was to get nylons, and even the rationing of electricity. Imagine going into a shop where the clerks worked by candlelight because electricity ran only five hours a day.

The greater portion of the book is brainy, political stuff, like a long article in The Economist or something. I'm talking articles with no pictures, you understand.

My second bit of homework was Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong by Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow, who promise to tell readers "What makes the French so French." On the train from London to Paris, I read a magazine article about a growing community of French expatriates in London. They loved the freedom of England, but missed the french bread. After reading the Nadeau-Barlow book, I understand a little better about the freedom; their description of higher education in France paints a picture of an ultra-competitive system, one where your fate is sealed early. If you cannot gain entrance into the Grand Ecoles, which are a mighty big step above their so-so universities, you will never amount to much.

Nadeau and Barlow also discuss the French welfare state, the expectations people place on their government, their willingness to pay the high taxes that this sort of state requires.

They also promised to tell me why the French, "who smoke more cigarettes, drink more alcohol and eat more fat,. . . have fewer heart problems and half the obesity rate of the British." I don't remember what the authors said about this, but I can tell you that I saw some very slender French girls in a cafe on the Trocadero, mowing through a lunch of French fries and cheese-draped bread. How do they do it? I wondered as I picked through my turkey salad.

Sixty Million Frenchmen also includes a lot of political stuff.

I'm sending the book to Abbey. I eagerly await her opinion on it. But please return it when you're done, girl. That cute little paperback is an actual souvenir from a Paris bookstore.

As for your recipe, we feature:

Sour Cream Fan Rolls

Perhaps the recipe's instructions to cut strips of dough, stack them, etc., cut some more left you just as paralyzed as it left me. Truly, I can't be bothered with all that. Just roll each blob of dough into a circle, cut into wedges, roll up like crescent rolls, and you will have some fat, tasty rolls without the frustration of all that cutting and stacking.