Sunday, July 28, 2013

My Holocaust Education

The first thing I saw on the SMU campus was the fountain, a golden ring of water and light in the night air. 

The next morning, it was the buildings, topped with domes, borne up by columns.  They were so different than BYU's, less boxy, more like something plucked off the shores of the Potomac River and transplanted to the gummy clay soil of Texas.

The next wonder was the thunderstorms.  Oh, how they rocked and crashed through town, making the trees wave like scarves!  Oh, the rain they dumped, hosing down the sidewalks, splattering against the windows!  This, too, never happened back in the desert I came from.

I landed there in a lull.  It was a lull in their school schedule, the dorms summer-empty.  It was a lull in my life, fresh out of college with my little-bitty associate's degree.  I had a job in the SMU library, but I had no place to live.

They gave me one of those empty dorm rooms for a few weeks.  I hadn't quite made friends yet, or figured out where to do my laundry.   But the thick book in my hands kept me company.   While those thunderstorms shook the ground, I read War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk.  I had started its prequel, The Winds of War, back at BYU and was so caught up in the plight of the scholarly Aaron Jastrow and his niece, Natalie, that I plowed on to W & R.

Aaron, a famous Jewish author, lives in Italy.  Natalie assists his research for his next book.  Some guy named Hitler is causing trouble up in Germany, and rumors abound of Jews being rounded up and sent off to the east.  But they are only rumors, right?  And all is peaceful and studious at Aaron's villa.  Surely it isn't all that dangerous to stay put, right?

Wouk's novels were a graphic and unforgettable education on the Holocaust. 

It seems callous to change the subject from death and war to muffins, but Bye-bye Nesquik promises a recipe with every post, and she delivers.   This week, it's:

Sour Cream Blueberry Muffins

As if blueberry muffins weren't good enough, these get sprinkled with a good quantity of sugar on top.  I have heard that there are people who don't like eating anything too sweet in the morning, but I believe these people need to get help.  If you've been around here long, you know how tirelessly I have worked to ensure that people's diets are sufficiently sugar-y.   You're welcome.  

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Your Relatives are Crazier than Mine

Let's talk relatives.

Mine are pioneer stock.  Life's hardships--Relief Society callings, cow milkings and keeping journals that will inspire posterity to good works--have turned them into an even-keeled, responsible, self-effacing lot.  There is hope, however; our rising generation includes a couple jailbirds.

You might think I have nothing to regret, surrounded by people so nice and normal that we can clear out and sell the family house without a single dramatic outburst.  But I once read Florence King's Southern Ladies and Gentlemen, laughed myself silly and, upon closing the book, regretted that we had no crazies in the family line.  Why couldn't Mother throw a fit about a ruined hat once in a while? 

Miss King had her aunt Evelyn, who once believed that her womb had fallen out.  Southern women, King explained, nurse a preoccupation with their wombs, part of their frail-and-delicate act.  Southerners, she further explained, are pre-Copernican.  Copernicus, you will recall, is the guy that told us the sun does not revolve around the earth, but the earth around the sun.  So Southerners, as pre-Copernicans, do their best to make the world revolve around them.  Thus, all their vapors and their Aunt Evelyns.

You can skip the chapter on their sex lives, if that isn't your tall glass of ice tea, and there will still be plenty of Southern craziness to keep you entertained.

As for Southern food, in all my years of subscribing to Taste of Home, I noticed that all the recipes submitted by readers from Tennessee, Georgia and the like contained Cool Whip or pudding, or cooked in the "icebox" or on the grill.  Must be too hot to turn on an oven down there. 

Here's a dessert that shouldn't make you wilt in the kitchen:

Layered Banana Pineapple Dessert

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Chocolate Sales are Up. No, Down. No, Up.

We're talking chocolate tonight.

We can start off with the recipe for CHOCOLATE-DATE-COCONUT CAKE.

1 cup chopped dates
1 cup hot water
1 3/4 cup flour
3 TB cocoa
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
6 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup flaked coconut

Cover dates with water in small bowl; set aside.  Stir together flour, cocoa and baking soda; set aside.  cream butter, sugar and vanilla until fluffy.  Beat in eggs one at a time until well blended.  Stir in flour mixture alternately with reserved dates and water until well blended.  Stir in 1/2 cup chocolate chips.  Pour into greased 13x9 baking pan.  Sprinkle with remaining chocolate chips and the coconut.  Bake in preheated 350' oven 40 minutes or until it passes toothpick test.  Cool on rack.  Serves 12, 455 cals. ea. 

Back when I was a teenager who didn't know how horrible I looked in pink, my mom used to buy Woman's Day magazine at the check-out.  Every issue included a little insert on dull, rough paper, "Collector's Cookbook."  Each insert featured a theme, i.e. peanuts, casseroles, bar cookies, and I would mine these little booklets for recipes to try.  (Thank you, LD, for patiently eating the Peanut Soup).

It was such a rich motherlode, I couldn't try it all fast enough.  So I stuffed recipes into my file box.  We're not talking google or cut or paste here.  We're talking typing it out on cards, on a typewriter that was older than Social Security, mind you, and leaving the errors in (baking sida anyone?) because they were such a headache to correct.

Nor were these little booklets brightened up with pictures of the recipes.  I think there were drawings, artfully arranged sketches of eggs or tomatoes or other ingredients.  And anyway, if I saw a picture of the above-mentioned cake, I doubt I would have exclaimed, "Oh, I have to make that!"   No, it's not really a looker.

But I took a chance on this silly little cake (Dates?  Where'm I gonna find those?  What do they look like?) carried it off to a family reunion and, after the first piece, kept going back for more.   

And we're talking chocolate because, over on the Finished Book Pile sits Robert Cormier's Chocolate War.    I believe this is the first banned book we've featured at Bye-Bye Nesquik.  Set in a New England Catholic school, it tells the tale of a freshman boy who refuses to sell in the school's annual chocolate sale.

It's Lord of the Flies, preppie edition.  The boys are beasts--cruel, profane, sex-charged.  The ones who aren't cruel are cowards.  The ones who aren't cruel or cowardly are . . . well, I can't give that away.

If you want a clean story, this isn't it.  But Cormier, a reporter, crafted a fascinating tale, which kept me up waaaay late. 

Which paved the way for me to start in on Anthony Elliott's Making the Cut:  How Cosmetic Surgery is Transforming Our Lives.  

I'll bet you're thinking it's a pretty juicy read.  In Elliott's hands, not so much.  He can be awfully academic about the whole thing.  And if I had an M&M for every time he used the word "celebrity," I'd be lying here, surrounded by a few empty party-sized bags.

He reports that women are going in to their doctors and asking for Angelina Jolie's lips and cheeks.  Really?  They think they can be changed from Betty Blah to Petunia Perfect?  There's only so much you can do to catch up to the genetically blessed.  However, if you've got a body part or two that bothers you, it can certainly be improved.   Not made into Cher/Angelina/Princess Di.  Just improved.

I'll confess:  I've dabbled in this stuff.  Was it because I wanted to look like Cher/Angelina/Princess Di?  I don't think so.  We all know they're from an outer galaxy of loveliness, surrounded by make-up artists, Pilates coaches and frightfully-priced hairdressers.  What they have, we can't get.  

But when I'm out on the street, following some girl who has perfectly smooth legs, and I can see that, yes, real people are built like that, I start to covet. 

But that may be part of Elliott's point.  When cosmetic surgery infiltrates the culture, how do you know whether the smooth legs you see on the street were born that way, or doctored?

Elliott included a most interesting chapter on surgical tourism.   Book your makeover in Malaysia, enjoy sun, sand and ocean as you relax and recover far from your daily cares.   Tell you what:  I doubt you'll step on to the beach.  I doubt you'll even look out the window of your luxury medical suite.  Bruised, swollen and sore, you will be saying "AAghghhg" as you ease yourself upright to eat your medical jello.    

Finally, I found myself a lovely spot to open up a third book this week.  Parked in front of the monastery in quaint little Oldenburg, Indiana, "village of spires,"  I opened up Mary Gaitskill's short story collection, Don't Cry.  The first story was a parade of puzzling, unappealing 20-somethings.  I enjoyed none of it.  Is it better to sit in a dirty diner, reading Tom Wolfe?   Or to sit on Main Street in a town like Mayberry (but with spires), wishing to toss a book into the trunk?

At least the monastery's stone walls and shady lawn were lovely.  And I got a nice Opie vibe from watching a kid bounce his basketball down the sidewalk. 


Sunday, July 7, 2013

In Praise of Grumpy People

I have one cheerful child.  Which feels like a mismatch.  I certainly don't regret having this child, nor do I wish to trade in the rest of the family, the whole funny, grumpy, quirk-filled, moody, delightful lot of them.  What I'm saying is that I have no idea how we got the cheerful one. 

You'd think all the chocolate we consume around here would arrest our grumpiness, but no, it just keeps the chocolate industry alive.

Maybe you're a more cheerful type.  And maybe you wouldn't like Elizabeth Strout's story collection, Olive Kitteridge, and its grumpy, gangly, aging and blunt namesake heroine.  She is a retired junior high math teacher, the kind the students feared.

As for myself, I have no business playing better-than-thou to grumpy people.  And I kind of liked all these stories where Olive wove in and out, sometimes the star, sometimes a bit player, sometimes absent while the author highlighted some of the other washed-up citizens of Crosby, Maine.

Look a little closer and under that crusty exterior, Olive possesses a warm heart.  She talks a former student out of a vague but desperate act.  She breaks through the shell of an anorexic girl.  She makes peace with an enemy.  One night when she ends up in the hospital and disaster strikes, Olive turns up as the bravest of them all.

Her sorrows are deep and it isn't fun when she finally has to face the pain she has caused. 

But I liked her.

One of the things that makes me grumpy is going without food.  So after today's fasting, I cheered myself and everybody else up with --

Cheesy Beef Spirals, in which one piles nearly every gooey processed dairy product that can be found in a supermarket

Please send me your ideas for using up the rest of the Velveeta.