Sunday, December 29, 2013

One Holiday Bleeds Into Another

Our holidays are all mixed up.

People around here are throwing parties, assuming that we can come because all the Christmas madness is behind us.  But ours is just getting started, with kids trickling in to town, sprinkles from Christmas cookies littering the kitchen counter, and Mr. Nesquik's hands all cramped up from addressing the Christmas cards.

And to further twists things around, we ate Easter Brunch Lasagna for dinner, if only to use up the Christmas ham.  Emma said it was "weird but wonderful":

As for books, I made a valiant attempt at Peter Carey's "irrepressibly funny" Parrot and Olivier in America.  But I just don't get it.  I have laughed more during a mammogram than I have while reading this highly confusing story.  You may try it yourself and prove me wrong.  Let me know how it goes.  

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Merry Christmas, Be Glad I Didn't Try Something Tricky

I just escaped the kitchen.  I had such fun, playing with the butter and sugar, the red food coloring and the rolling pin.  This is a lot easier than I thought, I told myself as I rolled out near-perfect rectangles.   Then I put the red rectangle on top of the white one, rolled it up jelly-roll style and . . . and that's where it all went wrong.

This was also my week for making treats for visiting teachees.  They should be glad I did not attempt something so tricky as the above cookies.  No, prudence prevailed (and time was short) so instead, they got:

Honeycomb Goodies 

Also, my reading life suffers.   A novel set in early America sits ignored on my nightstand.  I seem to be too busy pointing and clicking on Amazon and a few other sites that I won't mention, lest the wrong people see and get their surprise spoiled.

Not that the author made it easy.  He promised a story set in America, but sixty pages in, the two main characters have not yet gotten on their boats in Paris or Liverpool or wherever and crossed the Atlantic.

We shall see if this author redeems himself. 

Merry Christmas to you, and when all the excitement ends, the long and boring month of January awaits us all.  But why be sad?  Stock up on books and ignore the wind, the ice, the dismal gray skies. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Is the Man That Hath His Quiver Full of Them Happy?

The snow just keeps falling around here.  The wind blows down our necks.  In the hours before the storms hit, the stores empty of bread and milk.

That's OK.  Why go anywhere?  Why not just stay home, buried in Brady Udall's The Lonely Polygamist? 

Despite an improbably slapstick opening chapter, I lived in reading heaven for a week.  Golden Richards has four wives and twenty-eight children, and this massive household (three houses, actually) is out of control.  Golden leaves Utah's Virgin Valley every week for his big construction job over in Nevada.  He's building a nursing home, he tells the wives, except it's something else entirely.

Meanwhile back at home, first wife Beverly runs the clan with an iron will and a great many placards posted all over her house:

Please Place Shoes in Shoebox --Neatly and Quietly
Remember: Use Only Your Toothbrush and Your Toothbrush Only
Boys:  AIM!!! Please and Thank You.   

Fourth wife Trish longs for his attention, which leads to a running gag involving a piece of gum.

And Rusty, the chubby, almost adolescent child who falls somewhere in the middle of the pack, is caught trying on his sister's underwear, which earns him yet another banishment to his bedroom, and no dessert.  Don't let the underwear business turn you off to Rusty.  He is such a loveable misfit, I didn't know if I wanted the family to come to their senses and treat him nicer, or if I wanted to see his grand plans for revenge play out. 

Udall writes frankly about people's sex lives; how can you take on the subject of polygamy and not follow the characters into their bedrooms?  But he keeps it all in the service of getting the story told.  We peek through the keyhole long enough to understand what happened, then we move on.

And we meet such lovable and droll desert characters along the way:   The other seven apostles of Golden's fundamentalist sect.  (They haven't worked their way up to twelve yet.  "You'd think," says their leader, "that an outfit like this would grow.  But we just keep shrinking.")  The boss on the "nursing home" construction sight.   A creepily observant ostrich.  The wives, the tenants of Golden's rental houses, the "plyg kids," the sheriff, and even the atomic bombs going off in the nearby desert.

Yep, it was a good time for the snow to fall. 

And for dinner, we had  Slow-Cooked Chicken and Stuffing, which might have gone a long way toward feeding Golden's clan, except that the family kept dipping in for second and third servings. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Those Crazy Dreamers

I used to have a powerful People Magazine habit.  I kicked it, much to the relief of my husband. But I remember what I liked best about it--story after story of people who clung to their crazy dreams.  Much to the consternation of all who knew and loved them, they threw their all into making jewelry, or raising ostriches, or singing in backwater bars in Texas.  And their dreams worked out.

So how about an entire book about somebody's dream?

In Outcasts United  by Warren St. John, Luma Mufleh grows up in a prosperous family in Jordan.  She can expect a good education, a good marriage, a few Mercedes in her driveway. But she just wants to go to the United States.  She's not sure what she wants to do there.  She ends up in an Atlanta suburb, coaching a girls' soccer team.

On a grocery run to a store that carries some of her favorite middle-eastern foods,  she makes a U-turn in an apartment parking lot and finds a group of barefoot boys playing soccer "with the sweaty mixture of passion, joy, and camaraderie" that she remembers from her own country.  As she learns more about these boys, her dream takes shape.

They come from Bosnia, Liberia, Afghanistan, the Sudan and other war-torn countries.  After fleeing murder and plunder, after living in refugee camps and applying for asylum, they find themselves settled in some dilapidated apartments in Clarkston, Georgia.

Clarkston, a peaceful town at the end of the commuter train line, isn't sure what has hit them, but they mostly don't like it.

At any rate, Luma forms a few soccer teams and begins coaching the boys. Clarkston's mayor refuses to let them practice on the greenest fields in town, relegating them a rutted, glass-strewn patch of dirt behind one of the town's worst elementary schools.  And the boys themselves present no small challenge.  "After the trauma of war and relocation, many refugee kids had severe psychological and behavioral problems."

Outcasts is a fascinating look at political asylum, a growing phenomenon in American life.  It is also an account of a woman who gives her all on the soccer field, as well as her car if they need rides, her wallet if they need groceries and her time, if their parents needs help filling out endless forms in a strange language.

I could never be Luma Mufleh.   For one thing, the woman has no time to cook, even something as quick as:  

French Toast Sandwiches 

This is your first installment of french toast sandwiches.  I tasted something similar and quite heavenly at the Frango Cafe in Chicago's downtown Macy's.  I intend to reproduce it at home and share it with you, so wish me luck and keep your griddle ready. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Literary Cheese Puffs

A Montana cowpoke that falls for a night-class teacher.   Two brothers that would like to throw each other off the ski lift.  A father in mourning, doing what he should've hired a detective to do.   An Argentine aristocrat, longing for the old days.

These are some of the people that appear in Maile Meloy's short story collection,  Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It.

Meloy's characters just want to know that they matter to someone.  No, wait.  Only half of them pull your heartstrings that way.  The other half display monumental selfishness, throwing their near and dear away like empty water bottles.  Meloy's tales kept me on her what-will-happen-next hook, but when I closed the last page, I couldn't remember a single one of them.  It was as if I had wolfed down a bag of Cheese Puffs.  Airy and unsatisfying, they only make you want to search the cupboards for some other junk to fill the void.  

Maybe the trouble with short stories is that the reader moves from one person to the next--college girl, wronged wife, pitiful floozy--never knowing enough, never stopping long enough to care.  I can see the most interesting people in Wal-Mart, wearing what ought to be pajamas, and forget them a half-hour later.  But as for people at church, I remember their hometowns, their wardrobes, their visiting relatives and their oddest comments in Relief Society, simply because I'm with them long enough for all this minutiae to build up and stick.

But let us recognize Meloy for her many awards.  She writes a well-constructed tale.  A lot of well-constructed tales, actually, even if they are populated with people you wouldn't want as neighbors or relatives.  

As long as we're dealing with fleeting characters, why don't we celebrate one of nature's most fleeting foods -- the strawberry.

My mother-in-law grew strawberries, sending jars of freezer jam to our house every June.  The jam lasted not much longer than the third week in July.  The second-best way of remembering Grandma and her strawberry crop was the jello she brought to holiday dinners, rich and thick with berries she had frozen the summer before.  The woman hates cooking; she would rather spend Christmas playing with the kids and their new toys, then serve pot pies for dinner.  On the effort scale, this jello was as high as she would go.

For my children, a  holiday isn't holiday without:


1 container (16 oz.) frozen, sweetened, sliced strawberries
1 package (6 oz.) strawberry jello
2 cups boiling water
2 bananas
2 cups mini-marshmallows

Partially thaw the berries in the microwave, 1 minute at 30%.  

Dissolve the jello in boiling water.  Add the berries, stirring until they break up into bite-sized chunks.  Chill for 15-20 minutes, or until syrupy.  Slice the bananas, stir into the jello mixture.  Stir in marshmallows.  Pour into a serving bowl or 9x13-inch pan.  Chill for four hours.  Serves 8 at 200 cals. each. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Maiden Voyage

Look at my new toy--holds 7 quarts!

It got a workout tonight.  We invited a family of beautiful children and their charming parents to join us for dinner.  In addition, our kids came home for the week--Yay!  This qualifies as feeding a crowd, no?

On its maiden voyage, the crock pot cooked a double batch of:

Italian Bow Tie Supper

For dessert:

Pineapple Layer Cake

I consider company for dinner as my reward for finishing Wishin' and Hopin' by Wally Lamb.  Despite a book jacket of shiny Christmas tree balls, the story was only vaguely about Christmas.   Mostly it was a profane little comedy about fifth-grade boys clashing with the nuns at their school.  The protagonist hangs out with the class slacker, a 12-year-old already carrying condoms in his back pocket.  You are forewarned. 

On this Thanksgiving week, may you load up on happy memories as least as much as you load up on stuffing and pie.  As for me, my house is is full of people to cook for, which is one of my reasons for living, if you haven't guessed that already. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Out Night-Owling My Night Owl Self

I woke up on Saturday with a powerful case of short-on-sleep eye bags, not to mention styling a total bedhead.  That's what happens when you're up until 3 a.m., finishing David Wroblewski's Story of Edgar Sawtelle.  

Even if he wrote a few chapters with his perfumed-prose pen, the story gripped me. 

Although it occurs to me, in the light of day, that we never learn why the bad guy was bad.  What did he want that made him do -- well, I can't tell you what he did.  That would be giving it away.

And another thing:  why did Edgar -- oh, I can't tell you that either.  But what Edgar did was as puzzling as me mixing up a stiff glass of chocolate milk, then dumping it down the kitchen sink.  Plots have to make a little more sense than that.

Readers on Amazon mentioned the story's parallels to Hamlet.  Thanks to my sub-standard education, I never picked up on this.  Will I actually have to read Hamlet now?  Am I supposed to plug the bad-guy motivation from there into Wroblewski's story and call it good?

Still, I congratulate the author.  He kept me up until 3 a.m., didn't he?   He made this night-owl out-night-owl herself.  And this was a first novel, by the way.

But I think he owes us something on what drives the bad guy.

Now, having slept off my Edgar Sawtelle reading binge, I'm back to thinking about practical things, like what to fix for Sunday dessert: 

Easy Apple Crisp

You're on your own for the ice cream.

Next book:  a Christmas story.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Nice Doggie, Nice Doggie

If Oprah liked it, will I like it?

That's not exactly why I picked up David Wroblewski's The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, but I can just imagine Oprah holding up this thick book on her TV set and sincerely bearing testimony that it will hold you in its grip clear up to the last harrowing page.

Actually, I have no idea how harrowing things will get, but from the halfway point where I now sit, the antagonist is somebody I sure wouldn't want next door to me in one of those hotel rooms with the shared door.

Edgar is born to a family of dog breeders.  He has no voice.  When one of the dogs notices baby Edgar crying in hunger and no sound coming out, she knows she has found her Important Job.  Wake up momma and get her to feed him.  Go everywhere with Edgar and watch out for him. 

So I'm reading along, getting all heart-warmed by a dog, and wondering what's happening to me.  Why, just weeks ago, I said nice things about the two doggies at my daughter's house--"They are kind of gentle.  Oh, you sweet pooch," pat, pat.  You don't know how it disturbs me to admit these things, but OK, there's something sweet about an animal companion that waits for you to come home, that follows you around as if your business is her business, that knows what you want for your birthday . . .  Oh, wait, that's probably a bit much to ask.

If I were you, I wouldn't lay down money that I'm about to bat for the other team.  And besides, my cats do wait for me at the door and they do follow me around.  So I feel loved.

It's just that I get, if only a little bit, why all those people who choose an animal that has to be walked (rain, snow or ice) and that chews their boots and that slobbers on them . . . Ok, I get why they might feel all nutty with love for these creatures.

Anyway, back to Edgar.  His uncle appears on the dog farm.  The man is impulsive.  Or maybe he's dangerous.  Or maybe he's changed and isn't all that anymore, but the uncle and Edgar's dad sure do have a lot of arguments.  And Edgar's dog isn't much help on the day he has to call the early '70s version of 911.   

So here I am, halfway through the book, where things are just crackling with danger.  The house could use a good vacuuming and it's not gonna happen until I see Edgar through his troubles.

However, I do manage to feed people around here.   After laying about for a week, I re-entered the kitchen and produced:

 Microwave Pizza Dip


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Outsmarting Your Off Days

I'm kind of laid-up at the moment, which calls for the family to eat straight out of the Costco freezer section.  Tonight, it was some kind of chicken-patty-and-cheese thing that moms can nuke for the kids' after-school snack. Billed for "smaller appetites," I requested that the cook fix me three, because my appetite is more than a distracted child's.

You need contingencies for these times when the cook is not up to it, or when the kitchen is a disaster.  Which reminds me of the time when Mr. Bye-Bye Nesquik was in one of his project moods.  I knew the day was going to be the kind when we turned on the faucet and it coughed up grime, not to mention finding my counters crowded with hammers, copper wire, paintbrushes and whatever else the mister needed for his project.   

I figured I'd get in there before he did, put a nice potato soup in the crockpot and leave it to simmer while he tore and built and cussed and went to the hardware store for more copper wire, paint or whatever.   Yes, at the end of the day, after all the chaos, we'd all have a steamy, salty reward waiting for us. We would avert hunger, and ill-tempered desperation. 

When dinner time came around, I lifted the lid off the crockpot and braced myself for the head of steam wafting off that wonderful soup.

And the soup inside was . . . . cool, the potatoes . . . . hard.

Because Mister's project included turning off the power to that particular outlet. 

Could've used a freezer full of Costco chicken-patty things that night, oh yes.

Or I could've used this SKIER'S STEW, because it would've cooked in the oven, on the side of the kitchen the mister didn't touch.

2 lbs. stew beef, cut in 1 1/2-inch cubes
8 medium potatoes, quartered
8 large carrots, cut in fourths
2 bay leaves
1 pkg. (1 1/2 oz.) dried onion soup
1 can (10 3/4 oz. cream of mushroom soup
1 can (10 3/4 oz.) cream of celery soup
1 can (8 oz.) tomato sauce

In large Dutch oven or heavy pan with tight-fitting lid make a layer of beef, then teh vegetables. Top with bay leaves, soups and tomato sauce.  Bake at 325' for 3 hours, 15 275' for 6 hours, or at 250' for 8 hours.  Or cook on high for 4 1/2 hrs.  YIELD: 12 servings, 395 cals. each.

From Managing Your Meals  by Winnifred C. Jardine.  Also available at: 

Meanwhile, I finished Lisa See's Shanghai Girls, in which she spends the second half of the book zooming out with a wider lens, attempting to document everything that the Chinese suffered as they came to America.  She bites off a lot, but narrows it all down to the personal drama again at the end.  Overall, I'm recommending it as a good read.

Next book:  562 pages, set in the backwoods of Wisconsin.  Since I'm not cooking for anybody this week, what else do I have to do? 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

No Chopstick Snobs Here

When Lisa See sat down to write Shanghai Girls, she surely drew upon her immigrant parents' stories, rich material that schooled her in the dialects and the varied quarters of the city and the complications of bound feet.  She must have been one of those good children who want to hear the old stories again and again. 

How else could she make it sound so real? 

Then I checked her picture on the back of the book jacket.  I expected shiny black hair and high cheekbones.  Instead, I found myself staring at a woman with auburn hair and round eyes.

Which makes her novel all the more remarkable an achievement.   Her body of work captures the culture so well that the Organization of Chinese American Women recognized her as their 2001 National Woman of the Year. 

"We are kaoteng Huajen--superior Chinese--who follow the religion of ch'ung yang:  worshipping all thing foreign, from the Westernization of our names to the love of movies, bacon, and cheese," explains Pearl, the narrator of Girls.  Pearl and her sister, May, enjoy the run of the city, traveling to the neighborhoods that resemble Paris and modeling for the "beautiful girl" calendars that advertise wine, soap and cigarettes.

But then their daddy can't pay his gambling debts.

His solution?  Arranged marriages.  Oh dear.

Let's stop a moment and consider how we all might have ended up had our own parents had their way in matrimonial matters. 

Arranged marriage seems to depend on who your parents know and respect.   Mine knew a lot of farm boys.  One of my sisters went out with a son of the land, a boy who surely knew how to bale hay, set irrigation pipes and rise early for the morning milking.  Maybe he even had some nice farm-boy muscles.  But never mind that.  This isn't what parents look for, is it?

So they could have cast their eyes round about their wider circle, seen this young man and decided he would do. 

That he boasted of killing mice with his bare hands would not have bothered them at all.  But once my sister heard his mouse story, she was in a hurry to get home.

Mom and Dad urged another sister toward a confirmed bachelor, a middle-school gym teacher who could not look a girl in the eye.   "All he needs is a good woman.  Could really set him straight."

Like marriage is a field on which to exercise your humanitarian impulses.

Anyway, back to May and Pearl.   Once they get husbands and come up with a plan to escape the yuckier parts of the deal, war intervenes.   And our story takes off at a gallop.

I haven't finished it yet, but I eagerly await the next fifty pages of surprises.

On a side note, May and Pearl end up working at a tourist attraction, serving "Chinese" dishes that they never heard of at home.  Yeah, I know the menu at your local Ho Wah Buffet probably isn't all that authentic.  But given the choice between pickled eggs, or crisp-fried eel and the fake stuff, I'll take the fake.

I spent a summer waiting tables at my hometown's "Chinese" dive, the Golden Pheasant, and couldn't understand the appeal of the chow mein or the egg foo yung that I carried out of the kitchen all night long.   Ever tasted canned chow mein?   It's one of the world's least exciting foods.

But I got hungry by the end of the shift.  And the carton of leftovers was free.  And it was remarkably tasty, nothing like that canned stuff.  So there I'd be, counting my tips at 2 in the morning, munching on the chicken and onions and celery.

I found a chow mein recipe (in the same cookbook as Bye-Bye Nesquik's flagship dish, Chocolate Marshmallow Pudding) and played around with it until I got that slightly sweet Golden Pheasant taste.  Works for me, but then I'm not snobbish about my Asian food.


1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 TB vegetable oil
2 cups diagonally sliced celery
3 medium onions, sliced
3/4 tsp. salt
2 cups water
1 TB brown sugar
1 TB soy sauce
3 TB flour
1/2 cup cold water
1 (16 oz.) can assorted chop suey vegetables
4 to 5 cups chow mein noodles 

Cut chicken into thin strips. Saute' for 5 min in oil, until delicately browned.  Add celery and onions and cook 2 or 3 minutes longer until slightly softened.  Add salt and 2 cups water; cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.  Add brown sugar and soy sauce; whisk together flour and cold water until smooth.  Stir into chicken/celery mixture, bring to a boil and cook until thickened.  Add drained chop suey vegetables and continue cooking until thoroughly heated.   Serve over chow mein noodles.  YIELD: 5 servings, 410 cals. ea.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

How Not to Kill Off Characters

A postmistress withholds letters that pass through her hands, changing the lives of the citizens of her Cape Cod town.

That's the promise dangled before readers of Sarah Blake's The Postmistress.   What a tempting story! I said as I opened Blake's book.

Trouble is, she didn't keep her promise.   I'll admit that I kept turning the pages, hungry to know what happened to the three stars of her tale.  But I put up with a heap of overwrought prose ("Darling!" says the newlywed doctor, rushing back to his petite wife when he really should be getting out to that mother in labor),  a helping of improbable plot points ("The war has broken me!" says the female reporter, who then goes about acting quite unbroken), and a big smack of unintentional humor.

We find that humor in death.  Postmistress is set at the beginning of World War II.  All of England hides in cellars and bunkers as Luftwaffe planes buzz overhead.  America debates with itself whether to lend a hand.    Somebody dies.  You would expect as much, this being a war story and all.  And the possibilities for killing off characters in a war book are rich and varied.  But Blake chose to . . .

Well, let me put it this way.  Suppose I set a story in a steel mill, one rife with labor troubles.  If I need a death, I can make a bridge beam fall on the foreman.  Or I can send the idealistic hero down a dark alley where he meets three looming shadows, one of whom carries a steel pipe.  And let's not forget the morbid possibilities in a molten vat of liquid iron.  There's a screaming way to die, oh yes.   So why, with all these choices at my fingertips, do I make the secretary die from a bad baloney sandwich? 

Yes, when Blake killed off Character X, it felt like Billy Crystal photo-bombing a Lifetime Movie.

And the postmistress got less time on stage than the war reporter.  

But I hung around, even if my patience wore thinner with every passing chapter.

Another funny thing:  I was more than eager to get my hands on a new story, having spent so many weeks laboring through Anna Karenina (where, by the way, every single word and gesture of every single character rang true, and the translators kept the prose as clear as water).  So I open up my new book and what do I find?  One of the characters reading Anna K

With such reading woes, I'm lucky I get to eat the yummy Turkey Broccoli Hollandaise this week:

I shall be very happy lifting a forkful of this to my mouth.  Unless, of course, I choke on a chunk of turkey, or mortally cut myself opening the can of french-fried onions, or slip on a squashed floret that has dropped to the floor, or . . .

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Standing on Top of Mt. Tolstoy


THE BOOKMARK (that thin thing near the back cover).

Abbey says this is a mouthful.  

'Nuff said.

Now, let's wrap it up with  Gourmet Deli Turkey Wraps.

 Maybe you to leave out the bleu cheese.  I left out the walnuts.  No harm either way.  

Sunday, October 6, 2013


I’m skulking. 

I’m sitting in my darkened car on a cul-de-sac in my neighborhood, cornfields on the left, fine, 2700- square foot homes with Halloween decorations on my right.  I'm just waiting around here.  

The woman who lives at the end of the street says a certain cat’s been coming around every night, sneaking in her garage, eating her own cat’s food.  It looks suspiciously like the cat in the pictures posted all around the neighborhood for the last two weeks. 

Those would be pictures of Bye-Bye Nesquik’s lost Daisy. 

Emma and I sat in this cul-de-sac for more than four hours last night.  No sighting.  Maybe we can blame the persistent rain. 

Jim calls us Cagney & Lacy.  I tell ya, these stake-outs are considerably more boring than on TV.  

Tonight the weather is clear, and I’m holed up solo until 1) the computer battery runs out; 2) the phone batteries—all three of them—expire; and 3) until my contacts bother me so badly that I won’t be able to tell the difference between a cat and a leaf. 

Oh, and here comes a neighbor with a flashlight.  He wants to know what I’m doing on his street.  Just being a cat-lady, that’s all. 

It would be nice if I could knock off another hundred pages of Anna Karenina while sitting here.  Hard to read in a dark car though.   I may or I may not find myself making a Sunday Kindle purchase in the next few hours.    

If it weren’t so nippy, I’d be sitting outside in one of those handy fold-up-take-to-the-park chairs.   But our faux summer seems to have left us.  In honor of the newly-crisp weather, we’ll be eating
Chunky Veggie Chowder this week.  It’s one of those soups that tastes even better the second day.  So get out your veggie-cutting knives, loosen up your soup-stirring wrists and enjoy!

Note: 12:30 a.m.,  cat spotted, but it doesn't look like mine.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Pain Meds for the Hurtin' Heart

See this cute thing?

I got a new phone a couple weeks ago, and decided to make this picture my wallpaper.  It's my cat, Daisy.  I just wanted to adore her every time I looked up the weather or checked my e-mail.

And not a week later, she disappeared.

I have bawled all week--at home, out walking, sitting in the Office Depot parking lot, clutching a few dozen freshly-copied "Lost Cat" flyers. 

I know, I know.  It's not the gravest tragedy in the world.  I get that.  I know a woman whose house is filling up with hospital equipment because her husband isn't getting better.  I know another woman living on dreadful green food, trying to beat cancer for the third time.  Yet another holds her newborn, still trying to absorb the news that he will never have the life other children have.

Not to mention a lot of people I don't know who are getting shot at--on the battlefield, at work, in malls.

Yes, I know I don't own all the sorrow in the world. 

Still, what is all this pain?

One night after dinner, a crushing sense of emptiness came down hard.  I launched into a round of overchecking Facebook and e-mail, flipping through the newspaper for some picture or story I hadn't seen already.  Or maybe couple more slices of frozen pizza would do it.   

What's going on here?

Well, what's going on that we're casting about for some way to feel better, and none of it is working.  

I've relied on this to figure out what to do next.  Not every possibility is a probability, say the experts.  I've leaned toward the Panicked Cat theory.  For cats like Daisy, who go out every night, who love their owners but hide when company comes, scary things interrupt their going-home routine.  They hide out, probably within a five-house radius.  Maybe in three days they will work up the confidence to make a dash for home.  If not that, seven to ten days of hunger and thirst eventually drives them out of hiding.

We're at seven days now.

We've been through this before.  Gatsby disappeared, returning at about seven days in spite of reports of coyotes in the neighborhood. But with her five pounds to his twenty, she just isn't as coyote-proof.  Oh, but I would just love for all this to blow over, to come back and tell you, "I did a lot of bawling over nothing."  But I'm kind of flickering out here. 

The only feel-better trick that has worked is diving deep into Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.  So here's the prescription and dosage:  Twenty-five pages of rich and miserable Russians.  Take as often as needed.

As for your recipe, this has been a week of family standing around, like cats by their dishes actually, and wondering when I'm going to dole out dinner.  They've heard "Figure it out for yourself" quite a few times.   

But at some point, you just have to get up and function.  So, life resumed again with Ravioli Casserole.

I may be back to running the kitchen. But it's not an entirely safe room.  It contains the back door, which I check far too often, just in case her cute little face peeks through the window.

Why don't I go take some more Tolstoy now?  

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Not For the Bathtub

Still in the middle of Anna Karenina.  I'm sure you're not surprised to hear this.

I wonder what kind of all-nighter I would have to pull (or how many all-nighters) to see the pages fly all the way to the last dramatic speech (I peeked.  Somebody makes a speech, but I didn't check too carefully who it was, because we want to be surprised, don't we?)  This one probably needs a combination of late nights plus eating meals alone plus running hot baths and reading until the water turns cold.

On the other hand, this is no bathtub book, not unless one is accustomed to holding something the size and heft of a box of diapers above water level, for an hour or so.

Once upon a time, I plowed through a chain of fat books, one right after the other.  John Adams, by David McCullough--600+ pages.   Witness, by Whittaker Chambers--800+ pages.  The Firm, by John Grisham--400+ pages.   And all this during the months we were trying to sell a house and move to Chicago.

In fact, the boxes were packed, the truck loaded and the keys surrendered, and I still had not finished Chambers' book.  I held on to it one more night, vowing to swing by the library on our way out of town the next morning.

We settled into two motel rooms and roamed the nearby streets until businesses began to shut down.  Then, back in our room, the kids discovered The Safe.  It sat in the hotel closet.  Oh, what fun to take your sister's flip-flops and lock them away from her!  Ha-ha!

Eventually, some joker tucked my library book into the safe and forgot the combination.  The hotel staff would come by in the morning and get it out, but meanwhile, I was a bored and desperate woman shut up in a hotel room with some not-very-funny kids.  I needed something to read.  Even the phone book would do.

I looked toward the nightstand and saw two of them.  Even better, someone had left a magazine tucked between them.  It was one of those thick magazines, like Glamour or Mademoiselle's super-double fall preview issue.  Ah!  Saved!

I pulled it out, eager for lipstick ads and advice columns and chatty TV-star interviews.  And I found--


Whoa!!!  A little too much mademoiselle here!

It was nice of some hotel guest to share it with us.  We caught the spirit of sharing right away and offered it to the hotel staff.

Anyway, perhaps I'd have more time to finish fat books if I fed the family Hamburger Helper weeks on end.  But Bye-bye Nesquik cannot stand kitchen boredom and this week she vowed to use up a couple links of Italian sausage that had languished for months in the freezer.  This is what happened to the sausages:

Aunt Rita's Italian Stew  

Sunday, September 15, 2013

It Depends On Who's Doing It

As I continue to swim my way through Tolstoy's Anna Karenina (The self-deceptions begin!  The malicious gossip abounds!), the back cover provides a clue to why the book is such a joyful read.

In praise of the translators, Caryl Emerson, Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Princeton University, says, "At last, a version of Tolstoy's great novel that is neither musty, nor overly modernized, nor primly recast as a Victorian landscape."

So it all depends on the translation, does it?

I wonder what the two translators could do with a Hawthorne novel.  Try a little Hawthorne for yourself and maybe you'll agree that his overwrought English is nearly as difficult as Russian.   

In the Bye-Bye Nesquik kitchen, we have a frequent Sunday dinner guest, The Boyfriend.  Maybe his appearance was supposed to send me into paroxysms of worry.  How shall I impress our guest? 

Or maybe I decided to let him worry about impressing me.  (And I am impressed.)

At any rate, I didn't over-trouble myself, and proceeded with the humble-but-yummy dish that was on the menu before we knew he was coming.

"So what did your girlfriend's mom feed you?" his friends asked once the ordeal was over. 

"Egg Salad Tacos," he told them.

Which they found terribly funny.  The next time he came over, they wished him well.  "Enjoy your tuna tacos," they told him.

Humph!  I'll bet if Rachael Ray trotted out the hard-boiled eggs and the taco shells and the sharp cheddar (the secret to its yumminess) on her show, Egg Salad Tacos would be the hippest food of the week.  People would make their own spin-off tacos.   You'd see special salsas for it on Pinterest.

It all depends on the source, doesn't it?

I got the recipe from Southern Living.  Does that redeem me?


4 large hard-cooked eggs, chopped
1/4 cup (1 oz.) shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1 TB chopped green onion
2 TB lite Miracle Whip
2 TB salsa
1 TB lite sour cream
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
6 taco shells
Lettuce leaves
3/4 cup (3 oz.) shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
Additional salsa

--Combine first 3 ingredients in a medium bowl; set aside.
--Combine Miracle Whip and next 4 ingredients; fold into egg mixture.
--Line taco shells with lettuce.  Spoon egg salad evenly into taco shells. Sprinkle 2 TB cheese on each taco.  Serve with salsa.  YIELD: 6 servings, 200 cals each, but I can't confine myself to just one taco. 

Tonight, we fed The Boyfriend  Maple Teriyaki Salmon Fillets.  It was the most eager eating I've ever seen from him.  Take that, oh hipster friends!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins With . . .

I need your pity and your patience.

Actually, no, I don't need the pity.  But the patience, yes.  I have embarked on the Russian novelists, namely Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.  It's going to be weeks before I can say, "I've finished this great book and I actually know what I'm talking about when I bandy the name Tolstoy about."  But, just as the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, a book of 800 pages begins with 1 page.

And what a page it was.  A household in disarray, a guilty conscience.  I thought the great Russian novels were supposed to be boring and difficult.  But, except for the character names, which are a mouthful, I'm enjoying the ride--all the ice-skating, the oyster-eating, the blushing and the insulting going on with the Oblonskys and the Shcherbatskys and the rest of the gang.  

Since I won't have anything to talk about in the near future besides Karenina, are you interested in books I have read in the past?  I've done a few posts like that recently and my vague impression is that reader interest plummets when I do it. 

So speak up.  Cast your vote.

Meanwhile, we all have to eat, so I'll keep the recipes coming.  

We needed a quick dessert today.

My dessert story starts on Thursday, when I went to the music store.  Very dangerous place for a woman like me.  I told myself I was only going to ask about one book.  Once that was done, my next lie-to-myself was I'm just going to look through these bins and see if anything interesting catches my eye.  Before I knew it, a spirit of greed gripped my soul and I was surrounded by a half-dozen books, wanting all of them.   I didn't lose all my self-control, but then, anybody can say that when they want the whole cake but only eat three fat pieces.

Anyway, I own some new music books.

And I couldn't play through them because I had to leave town the next day.    They kept playing through my head while I was gone.  Not that I wasn't having a good time.  But while walking through some tres chic neighborhoods and eating at a cute breakfast place with my husband and changing clothes in the temple, I couldn't quit thinking about the Bach and the "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" and the Christmas tunes and the . . . .   Ay-yi!   The noise in my head!

Back at home, I lusted for them all the more.  Every time I walked by, I would take a peek, maybe pet the pages lovingly.  But we needed groceries.  And the laundry?  Situation Critical there. 

Finally, around nine o'clock I was free.  I took one book to the church to play through it on the organ.  I stayed until nearly midnight.

It's nothing unusual for me to skid through church short on sleep.  Usually, I stay up too late Saturday nights making Sunday desserts.  But today, I was short on sleep and dessertless to boot.

So,  Crispy Pretzel Bars to the rescue!

See?  Quick dish.  Shouldn't steal too much time from your Sunday nap.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Some People Call it Geezer Romance

I spent my evening the way a family gathering should be spent--talking with the family.  Actually, it was more than just talking.  It was a lively discussion about the problems some people have with church and how to figure out what the real rules are.  This is my excuse for not having gotten very far with Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson, but it's a pretty good excuse, if you ask me.

I'm sure I can sneak in some more reading here and there, but what I have covered so far is a drily comic story of a widowed British gentleman, caught in a moment of bereavement.  There's conflict over a family heirloom.  There's a visit from the three town busybodies, one of  whom is single.  The other two busybodies make sure she's dressed-up, made-up and perfumed up.  Then they shove her forward to express condolences and make pleasant conversation.

Then there's the Pakistani woman who owns the village convenience shop.  A cup of tea starts a friendship.  Then, more tea, more friendship.  Nobody's calling this thing a romance yet but, my, my, the major's step sure is lighter when Mrs. Ali comes around.

No telling what the proper Britishers villagers will think of a romanc . . . er, . . . friendship between one of their own and this foreiger lady.

I'll keep you posted.

In the kitchen (mine, not the Major's), I decided not to let the remainder of a jar of Alfredo sauce go bad.   Don't we love websites where we can type in an ingredient and a recipe appears before our eyes?

Summer Squash Chicken Alfredo

Yep, this is the one where I got rid of the sauce, but now I own a wealth of sun-dried tomatoes, all looking for a way to get on to Bye-bye Nesquik's dinner table.  I'm sure allrecipes will furnish some tasty options.  Hopefully, this doesn't become some vicious cycle where using up the tomatoes requires balsamic vinegar and cooking with the vinegar requires pine nuts, ad infinitum.   You get the picture, I'm sure. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Yer Doin' It Wrong

Alas, the poor we have with us always.

I think we all know it's not a good idea to hand them money in perpetuity.  And surely we've figured out that warehousing them in urban high-rise projects isn't working well at all.

But what to do, what to do?  

If only we had some data to help us figure out what might work better.

Oh, well, look at that.  We do!  Marvin Olasky wrote The Tragedy of American Compassion, back in the '90s, or maybe earlier.

Olasky documents charity in early America.  Churches, civic associations, immigrant societies all reached out to help the destitute in their communities, offering sleeping rooms, jobs, coal, food, God.  They took the view that mankind could be sorely tempted to live off the labor of others; that people down on their luck needed a "hand up" more than a handout.  Some people couldn't help the troubles that befell them, but some could and they should be expected to overcome the habits that kept them down.

Olasky also tells the story of an opposing point of view:  mankind is inherently benevolent and the reason that poor can't stop being poor is because they have never been placed in a situation where they can thrive.  Therefore, we need to provide them housing and a guaranteed income.  To  my surprise, this idea has been around quite a bit longer than Roosevelt's New Deal.  Olasky traces it back to 1840. 

His many facts and figures demonstrate that charity worked well in early America because giver and receiver knew each other.  Giver could better discern the needs of someone in his community, someone with who he had a relationship.  I was amazed--no, fatigued--by accounts of busy volunteers offering rooms in their homes to the destitute, delivering coal, gathering up clothes, patiently preaching a better way to the alcoholic and the fallen woman.  They stayed close enough to the poor to smell them.  They spent their time much more than they spent their money. 

Who knows if they got a little judgmental as they made the call between who deserved help and who didn't.  Maybe they didn't understand mental illness or alcoholism.  But they did an awful lot of good. 

It sounds like all of early America was one big Relief Society.

Heavy on statistics, Tragedy is no beach read.  Would the people I know enjoy this book? I ask myself.  Likely not.  It's more for the specialist, the academic, the politician.  None of you are secretly a United States Senator, are you?  I didn't think so.

So, it's out there if you want it.  I downed it as a big serving of literary vegetables, and I'm none the worse for it, just eager for a big helping of fiction now.

As for vegetables, here is a tolerable way to sneak them into your diet:


1 lb. sweet Italian sausage links
1/2 cup water
2 medium onions, quartered and sliced
2 medium green bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1 medium red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
2 medium zucchini, choppped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tsp. basil
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/2 cup chicken broth
6 hoagie buns, split (toasted maybe?)

1. Place sausage links in a 10-inch skillet.  Add water and cook, uncovered, over medium-high heat, turning occasionally, until water evaporates, about 10 minutes.  Reduce heat to low and continue cooking, turning occasionally, until sausages are lightly browned, about 5 minutes.

2. Remove sausages to a cutting board; cut diagonally into 1/4-inch slices.  Return to skillet and cook, over medium heat, stirring, 8 to 10 minutes, or until well browned.  Remove to a dish.

3. In same skillet, cook onions over medium heat, stirring occasionally, 4 to 5 minutes, or until limp.  Add red and green peppers and zucchini and cook, stirring occasionally, until zucchini is tender, about 10 minutes.

4. Add browned sausages, garlic, basil, oregano, and broth.  Heat to boiling, reduce heat to low, and simmer 10 minutes.  Serve on buns.  Probably works better open-faced.  Serves 6 @ 355 calories, assuming an 180-calorie bun.

This is what we shared with the missionaries this week.  I deliver our Friday-night leftovers to them for their Saturday meal.  I never know if they like it, if they throw it out, or if they eat the dessert on Friday at midnight and let the rest rot in the fridge.

If they didn't like this one, I wish they would've sent it back.  I fondly remember the zucchini.  That stuff is pretty good, browned in sausage juices and steeped in a tasty broth. 

From 365 Easy One-Dish Meals by Natalie Haughton.