Thursday, November 20, 2014

We've moved!

Come visit my new blog here.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Romance Atheist

Amazon readers warned me about Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon.  "Huge, tough book. . . . very clearly a masterpiece."     "Talking dog. . . . Mid 18-century prose style."

I mean, the size alone:

Sheesh!  Eight-hundred or so pages!

I dug in anyway. I found it delightful, got right into the pirate-era lingo, had no trouble "hearing" the two famous surveyors joking with each other.

At least until page 18 or so, when the talking dog entered at stage left.

And I couldn't do it anymore.

So, what else is out there?  

Well, since I've dipped my toe into the self-publishing ocean, maybe I should take a look at who else might be swimming around, particularly those paddling in my same little cove, the bay of LDS fiction.

I found a string of possibly delightful offerings and saved them to my wish list.

First try goes to The Husband Maker by Karey White.

Before we look closer at White's book, let me clear up a thing or two  This book is a romance. I can no more write a romance than I can sing a solo, which is to say that if I tried, people would beg me to stop, please, you're hurting us..

I couldn't come up with a Love Interest. Romance books are liberally supplied with men pretty enough to make your palms sweat and your mouth say inane things. Rich enough to buy their own islands. Interested enough to ignore entire sororities dressed in short shorts while you make up your mind whether you want them around or not.

Oh, and available.

Has anyone ever seen this creature?

Me neither.

And if I cannot see it with my own eyes, hear it with my own ears, I cannot believe in this . . . this being who dwells somewhere out there in the ether, and makes the earth move. Which makes me, I guess, a romance atheist. 

Not that books full of impossible characters can't get themselves sold. Weren't we just discussing a talking dog?  And don't we know that books full of wizards, vampires and aliens fly off the shelves? 

But in the end, all fiction is, um, unreal, right?

So I swallowed my prejudices and opened White's book and met Charlotte, a mid-twenties graphic designer in San Francisco.  White gave her some adorable flaws.  The girl snorts when she laughs. She's 5'11".  We all know it's hard to find a good man, but Dear Charlotte's got it even tougher, because she'd like to find one that towers over her.

Back in high school, one prom date was four inches shorter. When the photographer lined up all the couples for pictures, he switched Charlotte to the back row with the boys, and the date to the front, humiliating two teenagers in one fell swoop.

Anyway, everybody she dates marries the next girl they find after they break up with Charlotte. People are starting to talk about her little jinx.

Into Charlotte's life comes Kyle--rich, handsome, attentive and available. But somebody named Angus hangs around a lot, too. He's known Charlotte since high school, never dated her but witnessed all her awkward proms.

I'm only part way through Husband Maker, but strongly suspect that Angus is meant to be more than just Charlotte's guy-confidante. I will have to let you know.

White's easy humor greases the gears of this story, even if she tosses in a few too many stories of Charlotte's long-ago dates, the ones before the jinx took hold.

Husband Maker never calls anybody LDS, but Kyle and Charlotte definitely dwell outside the hook-up culture, even though they live in the age of iPhones and Pinterest. They go on planned dates, like a cheese-making adventure, which might be even more datey than real LDS kids manage to do these days.

Hopefully Charlotte will find the right guy, settle down and fix wonderful dinners like Chicken Pineapple Stir-Fry.

This might be my favorite stir-fry. The tasty secret is--ketchup! Bye-bye Nesquik really doesn't need fancy sauces to be happy.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Who Ruined Halloween?

I have awesome weather powers.

Some days I get a longing for a one of my favorite creamy soups. Nah, the weather's too warm, I think. But I defiantly write it on the menu for, say, Tuesday, and by Tuesday, a cold rain blows through town and everybody is glad to sit down to soup.

A little soup weather on Halloween this year would have been welcome. What we got instead was pure nastiness. We got the kind of wind that crawls down your neck and makes you sorry you have to walk across the Kroger parking lot. We got little trick-or-treaters, their arms shaking as they stood on the doorstep, holding out their open pillow cases. We got their little faces pinched up with misery. We got a battle with the storm door, the wind shoving it against us while we serviced the brave and determined hordes that wanted their candy. 

I might be to blame for this unwelcome blast of January-in-October. Perhaps I brought it on by reading Alice Munro's short story collection, Too Much Happiness.  She sets her tales in her native Canada. So while I innocently read about somebody named Joyce driving home from work through falling snow and lashing rain, or somebody named Roy getting stuck in the woods while the snow covers his tracks, storm clouds gathered over Bye-Bye Nesquik's neighborhood and spoiled the evening of a few hundred Power Rangers, Ellas and zombies.

I apologize.

But Munro is the Meryl Streep of short-story writing. Nearly everything she creates possesses a truffle-like perfection. She makes it look easy when it most certainly is not.

Her characters ride a bus to visit somebody in prison, or share a dorm room with someone of mysterious means, or hide from the outcast that wants to be their friend. They are quiet, often bookish people, who watch bolder types get away with things.

However in one story--I won't give away which--one of these quiet ones strikes back.

It reminds me of the instructions I once read in a tourist guide: cities have muggers, it said. The smart thing to do is carry a mugger wallet. Your real wallet holds your wad of cash, your complete deck of credit cards. The mugger wallet contains ten dollar bill, and maybe one of those fake paper cards, just as a nice touch.

The mugger approaches. You take out your mugger wallet, throw it hard and far, then run fast in the opposite direction. I have no idea if this works, but it was comforting to pack it along, even if it could cost me ten bucks.

Anyway, Munro's character, the one I won't give away, sticks up for him/herself with a mugger-wallet mentality.

Book contains one lengthy cow patty.

I'll be done with Munro's collection tomorrow and then maybe this unseasonable weather will ease up.

As a failsafe, I added Taco Crescent Bake to the menu, a yummy supper dish that goes great with a crisp fall evening, do you hear me, o weather gods?  No need to deliver us a stinging, howling, Arctic whiteout.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sneaky, Snaky Behavior

"I can see you want everything, . . . [k]ids, husband, career. The whole superwoman thing."

So says one character to another in Rachel Pastan's Lady of the Snakes.

Pastan's novel begins when Jane, the aspiring superwoman, gives birth to a daughter. She loves the little tyke, of course. But after a couple weeks of the foreignness of motherhood, Jane longs to get back to her dissertation. That is when she discovers that it isn't easy to get much done with an infant around. As for Billy, Jane's husband, his life doesn't change much.

Jane writes her dissertation on the wife of a second-string Russian novelist. While he went about philandering, his wife bore him seven or so children. The more Jane reads the woman's letters and diaries, the mores she sees how all the heroines in the husband's novels looked and sounded a lot like the wife. And on her worst days, mind you.

What a cad.

And maybe a plagiarist, too, for by the time Jane snags a prestigious professor job, her close reading of Mrs. Russian-Novelist's letters turn up passages that Jane feels she has read before. Say, in the husband's novels.

If she thinks she's going to expose all this cribbing, she will have to get past an aging colleague who built his reputation on showcasing the Russian novelist's "brilliance." The intrigue between Jane and her nemesis resembles the race between Channel 5 and Channel 8, each trying to scoop the other.  And Jane fights with a handicap: when things fall apart at home, who has to drop the meetings and the research trips?  Billy?  Or Jane?

Lady of the Snakes can be a challenging read. Pastan weaves in long quotes from the fictional novelist and his wife. Eventually, this device kills the pace of the story. Still, Pastan tackles the differences between men and women, what they can accomplish, who gets credit and who bears the burden of distraction.

The only thing getting scooped around here today was cookie dough. I worry that I should be sharing recipe adventures, some creation for which I ground the vanilla beans myself. But really, have you ever seen anybody turn down a chocolate chip cookie?


3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter 
1 cup granulated sugar 
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar 
1/2 cup peanut butter 
2 eggs 
2 tsp. vanilla 
2 1/2 cups flour 
1 tsp. baking soda 
1/2 tsp. salt 
1 package (11.5 oz.) milk chocolate chips 

Heat oven to 350'. 

Beat butter, sugars and peanut butter in large bowl with mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Blend in eggs and vanilla. Mix in flour, baking soda and salt. Stir in chips. 

Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. 

Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool 2 minutes; remove from cookie sheets onto wire racks. 

This recipe comes from a Parkay box, long long ago.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Coming Soon!

Dear Bye-Bye Nesquik readers,

We pause our regular programming just long enough for me to seize the spotlight for a minute. And we have some business to conduct.

Item 1: I wrote a book. Never mind how long it took me, but here we are today, just about ready to foist this thing on the public.  Here's how it will look on Amazon when it comes out on November 7th:

"Welcome to the world of the Runyons and the Feldsteds, two Mormon families in 1970s Maryland. Far from their Western American roots, they cling to each other like exiles clutching a precious box of topsoil from the old country.

"In The Boxford Stories you will meet Ada Runyon who always turns to Ruthalin Feldsted when she needs an ear—sharing her deepest confidences, her everyday musings, and her bits of horrified gossip. Yet Ada dies inside whenever Ruthalin’s country-cousin manners poke out in public.

"Latham Runyon, a history professor, and Erval Feldsted, a hospital engineer, bond every Sunday night over gooey desserts and vigorous religious discussion, a game their children call Stump the Rabbi. Underneath their balding heads and graying temples, each man desperately seeks a sign that God would choose him as a buddy.

"The Feldsted and Runyon children, running breathlessly through each other’s houses and backyards, have long considered each other substitute cousins. However, Ginni Runyon plots to change herself from the girl next door to the girl Marc Feldsted can’t live without.

"And when Boxford’s Mormons mix with the rest of the town, everybody could use a field guide to the other species.

"Laugh, cry, and shake your head with the Runyons and Feldsteds as they make their way through the decade that brought us leisure suits and urban decay."

Item 2:  I'm offering you a little freebie.  Starting October 27th, Bye-Bye Nesquik will post daily installments of "'Atta Boy," one of the stories in this book. Get your reading fix, Monday through Friday that week.

Item 3: Sometime in November, Bye-Bye Nesquik moves to the official author website,  I will let you know when we make the jump, but if you still land here after the move, we will find a way to get you there.

I may make other changes, new name maybe, but I still plan to talk about books and recipes.

Meanwhile, dine on this yummy APRICOT SALSA CHICKEN:

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Catch and Release

A few artfully-arranged ponds dot our neighborhood. The powers that be stocked them with fish, then posted the rules.

According to the signs next to the ponds, only neighborhood residents are supposed to fish there. Now, do I know my neighbors? Could I recognize twenty faces? Ten? Barely. But when I see some guy in a t-shirt casting his line, and a truck parked nearby, I'm pretty sure he's not my neighbor. If he was, he could have walked to the pond, right?

We get a lot of these "guests." One woman grew so annoyed at the "guests" near her house that she pulled out her camera and snapped pictures of the offenders and their license plates. Myself, I figure I've got no right to police them, not when I'm a frequent trespasser in a great many other neighborhoods, parking at their pools and playgrounds and walking a few miles on their sidewalks.

Another rule at the ponds is "catch and release." I have no idea if the little fishies get tossed back into the water or not. They could be headed straight for somebody's fry pan (inedible as they are) and I would never hear their cries of panic. I'm just as oblivious to the relieved ones swimming in the depths after a brush with somebody's hook and lure.

Not all the caught-and-released are so happy with their fate, at least not in The Opposite of Love by Julie Buxbaum. Here's a story in which the heroine, a young attorney in Manhattan, senses that her man is about to buy the ring and ask the question. So she throws him back in the pond.

Then she wonders if she did the right thing. Not that her fish is terribly willing to be caught again.

I don't know how it all ends yet, but Buxbaum's story explores why a girl does such a thing. After all, her friends thought he was the perfect catch.  He was a doctor, and handsome, and looked endearing when he took Sunday afternoon naps on her couch, his hands clasped across his chest.

Do our heroine's problems have anything to do with her distracted daddy, who is busy playing senator in the state of Connecticut? With an absent mommy, who died of cancer half a life ago?

Buxbaum's writing can really sparkle. But in between the great stuff, she tosses in a lot of heroine-wakes-up-late-scrambles-to-throw-herself-together. Also, there are brief but frequent cow patties, totally unnecessary, but so much a part of Buxbaum's world that she would be genuinely puzzled to hear that some of us really don't find them very funny.

So, you are forewarned.

Our heroine, skittish as she is, doesn't seem like the type to bake a batch of MAN-CATCHER BROWNIES. We baked them here at Bye-Bye Nesquik, and we don't have any men that need catching, or releasing either. We just like stuff that is gooey and chocolatey.

30 Kraft caramels, unwrapped
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1 15.25-oz. package German chocolate cake mix
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350' and line the bottom of a 9x13-in baking pan with parchment paper. Melt caramels with 1/3 cup of the evaporated milk in a small saucepan, stirring mixture occasionally; set sauce aside.

Stir together cake mix, melted butter and remaining 1/3 cup evaporated milk to form a dough. Press 1 1/3 cups of the dough into the pan in an even layer. Bake until puffed but not cooked through, about 7 min. Remove from oven and pour caramel sauce evenly over the top. Sprinkle chocolate chips over caramel in an even layer.

Top with remaining dough, crumbled into bits and scattered. Return to oven. Bake until brownies are puffy and set, 10 to 11 mins. more. Cool completely and cut into squares.  Makes 16 brownies, 285 calories each.

This recipe appeared in the now-defunct Ladies Home Journal.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Red Hat Doesn't Fit

I can't argue with success.

Haywood Smith has published a decent-size list of books, several of which belong to her Red Hat series.  So, anticipating a tale full of lively menopausal characters like the red-hatted ladies you may have spotted at your local airport, I opened Smith's Ladies of the Lake and commenced her tale of four sisters, Dahlia, Rose, Iris and Violet.

The action jumped from menopause to childhood and back again. I wasn't sure if the point of it all was Mama's quirks, or Grandma's, although if Smith based this on some real grandma, such a lady would have been so over-the-top, you couldn't not write about her.  I mean, if Grandma steals a gun from the neighbor, adheres to Buddhism, and bore Mama illegitimately, that's just too rich to leave alone.

It also might be too rich for even fictional credibility. Along with Grandma's exploits, wacky new facts just kept coming at me.  Before long, the story was like an umbrella with ornaments hanging from every rib.

So let's just acknowledge that lots of readers love Smith's books. I, however, didn't last long.

If you happen to be a Smith fan, don't expect anything new out of her for awhile. She's currently pitching in on the care of a grandchild who suffers seizures and needs medical marijuana. According to Smith, marijuana's wonders can be delivered via nonintoxicating extract. I wish  her and her granddaughter well.

I myself got rather intoxicated with the soup my daughter-in-law made today. I've never posted an untested recipe on Bye-Bye Nesquik, as in something I haven't personally cooked and enjoyed. But I figure that eating up a whole bowl and wishing I could lick the Crock-Pot clean qualifies as sufficient testing.  So even if I haven't made SLOW COOKER CREAM CHEESE CHICKEN CHILI with my own hands, you can bet I will, and real soon:

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Good-Bye Plan A

I listened to a lot of southern accent this week.  So I had no trouble hearing John Grisham's Ford County characters in my head.

Ford County is a short story collection, heavy on lawyers because, as I think we all know, Grisham was one before he made it big in book world.

His tales, set in Clanton, Mississippi, introduce us to a disgruntled plaintiff, to an unambitious lawyer who wants to chuck it all, and more.  In a story that still leaves me smiling, the biggest hustler in the county matches wits with the blandest man in town. And then there's the cigarette-puffing family that piles into a van to visit little brother in jail.  Little brother has been busy behind bars, working on his literary career, his music career and his exoneration.

Just think how much poorer the world would be if John Grisham's Plan A (Be a baseball player!) had worked out.

Speaking of foiled Plan A's, the woman who submitted the following recipe to Taste of Home said she aimed to make a chicken caesar salad but looked in the freezer and found herself short on chicken. So she got creative and threw together:

I improvised on it myself, since I was missing a few supplies today.  I baked 4 Tyson's chicken patties, divided a Caesar salad kit between my husband and myself and served the cut up patties on top.  That takes the calorie count up to 605.

Added King's Hawaiian rolls. And we were happy.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

What Keeps Us Up at Night

Like turning down the wrong hallway in a bad dream, I opened a book that tossed me right back into my sophomore year.

Joan Bauer's Peeled follows an eager reporter at the high school newspaper who investigates the threatening signs that appear at the town's haunted house. Our girl reporter wants to get the story before the town newspaper breaks it, yet no one takes her seriously.  (Honey, it's because you write for the high school paper.)

The town's claim to fame is growing apples.

I'm not sure how this story ended up on my list, because I get my book hints from sneering hipsters. Every title takes years to work itself up to the top of my list and, by then, I simply have no idea where I ran on to it.

I can't speak for the rest of Peeled, but from what I read, the author missed no chances to toss in an apple pun, or an apple place name.  In any case, I need to get this thing back to the library post-haste, where it can be found by some young, eager reader who will appreciate it more than I did.

In its place, I picked up Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder.

The fist you're looking at is painted like the flag of Burundi, one of the least fortunate countries in the world.  It's right next door to Rwanda, if that tells you anything.

In Strength, a young man named Deogratias arrives in New York City from war-torn Burundi and begins to make a living delivering groceries. If I had met him, I would have mistaken him for a lowly cowherder, completely missing the fact that he once attended medical school. Not only that, but an emaciated cowherder whose pants can barely hang on to his sunken hips.

People who knew Burundi wondered how he managed to make it out of that hellish country. All I will say is that story includes a lot of fleeing the by the dark of night and a lot of stepping over dead bodies. As you might guess, Deogratias hates to go to sleep. The nightmares that wake him up--oh my!

How does one make sense of so much evil in the world? people ask. "But look at all the good," Deogratias tells them.  Look at all the small miracles that helped him along the way--the remarkable woman at the Burundi/Rwanda border whose cool stealth saved him from getting herded into yet another massacre, or the former nun in New York who placed call after call until she secured him a place to live and a chance to resume his education.

Kidder reigns as the master of nonfiction. If I were you, I would not miss some of his other highly engaging books, such as Hometown and House.  Everybody has a story and Kidder is the man who hangs out and takes notes until he can discern the central drama of his subjects' lives.

Now, just in case your own life takes a bad turn, you might want to pick up 100-Day Pantry by Jan Jackson and try a few of her ideas.

Jackson offers up 100 recipes that can be cooked with shelf-stable foods.  You can cook the everyday versions--using fresh onions, celery and peppers.  If you like one dish, stock up on the canned and dehydrated ingredients, then thumb your nose at ice storms, unemployment and whatever else bolts you awake at night.  Go at it full tilt, stocking up for each recipe and you have--ta-da!--a 100-day pantry full of potential comfort food. 

Every few weeks, I've slipped some of Jackson's dishes right under the noses of my handy subjects who may or may not suspect what I'm up to.   So far, the score is 3 yeps and 1 nope.  This one was surprisingly good:

(everyday version)

2 (12-oz.) cans roast beef with gravy
1 (15 oz.) can green beans
1 (15 oz.) can corn
1 (15 oz.) can peas
2 (15 oz.) cans carrots
2 (15 oz.) cans diced potatoes
1 (10 oz.) can tomato soup
1 (10 oz.) can cream of celery soup
1 (10 oz.) can cream of mushroom soup
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 TB Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp.salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

Do not drain cans. Mix all ingredients together in pot and heat through.  (My goodness, what laborious cooking this is!)  Makes 12 servings @ 190 calories each.

Consult Jackson's book on ingredient substitutions for the emergency version.

Photo Credits

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Down the Bloodline

We finish Bryan Burrough's Big Rich with tales of the great oilmen's posterity. As you might guess, the children of the rich can range anywhere from responsible and handsome fellows who grow the business and get invited to join the best clubs in Dallas, to cocaine-snorting ne'er-do-wells who own great football teams and attend cheerleader tryouts for all the wrong reasons.

My own brush with oil heirs was my first job out of college. Some library I had never heard of offered me a job.  They were attached to Southern Methodist University, but they weren't the main library where students crammed for finals, or where you hunted down a novel, took it home and stayed up all night with it.

No, this was a Special Collections library.  In Special Collections, the books never leave the building.  Professors, writers, researchers come to these temples of knowledge and scribble notes from the books therein, filling up on material for their own books.   Burrough himself probably sat in a few of these research libraries.

"Special" means the library concentrates on a narrow band of knowledge, say Great Lakes history, or history of labor unions.  My library at SMU had its beginnings as the personal collection of Mr.D., an oilman I had never heard of in my life, and his pet subject was Western Americana.

As a side note, all his books about the settling of the West, the water issues of the West, ad infinitum, would not be complete without including some of the big players in the region which means the Mormons. We dusted and tended a good deal of shelf space given over Joseph Smith and everything that came after him.  And deep in the temperature-controlled vault, where they kept the really valuable stuff, we stored original editions of the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants, which we were never to handle without first donning cotton gloves.

Anyway, the original collection was in Mr. D's home.  He willed it to the university upon his death. Perhaps it was was Mr. D's money that built the building, too. Now, my job was just a job, but walking into that building, entering a vast hall of fossilized limestone and walking up the forty or so steps to the hushed confines of library-ness, left me awestruck every day.

Mr. D was such an obscure oilman that I never expected to run across him in Burrough's book.  But there he was on page 152, playing a walk-on role. In the postwar years, Texas was the king of oil the world over. Then rumors popped up about the Mideast and what just might lie under all that desert sand.  A top Roosevelt aide chose Mr. D to cross the world and camp out with the Bedouins. His top-secret mission: investigate the rumors; see if American companies could get a piece of the action.

Evidently, he survived the mission.

But back to his library. Mr. D's son, Mr. D the Second, also added his hobby collection: railroad history.  In addition to books, we kept file drawers of his train pictures.  To my eye, each one was indistinguishable from the next. But train buffs the world over knew that if they wanted really good stuff, we were the library to track down.

Then there was Mr. D the Third.  He was still a young man when I worked there, a student at library school. His contribution was to come in every so often and sort train pictures.  One day, he hinted that when he finished library school, he would no longer be willing to work gratis. I'll never know if Mr. D the Third achieved this professional status. All I know is that he was in his fifth year of study, and library school is only two years long.

So, as far as the D bloodline was concerned, they landed somewhere between solid billionaire status and losing it all to cocaine and cheerleaders.

And we will now celebrate the end of oilman stories with a nice bit of:

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Finding the Next Best Thing

I wish I had kept count of the miles I have walked this summer.  We have got to be talking over five hundred.  

And oh, the things I see!  The neighborhoods I want to move into! I used to suffer from house envy, but now I've calmed down to mere neighborhood envy. 

Then again, if I picked up and moved, I would have to give up something I love, something I have never had before and will never find again--the view out my kitchen window:

It is all curved lines, and people-watching.  I can see the main boulevard through the neighborhood.  I can see the walking paths, and everybody strolling, biking or hauling their children in little red wagons.  

Up until Thursday, this wonderful view was marred by a window like this:

That middle bar sat right at eye level.  I either had to stretch or slouch to look out on all the backyard beauty.

But, all fixed now.  New window.  Thank you, Mr. Nesquik.

Of course, if I had a bathtub full of money like the folks Bryan Burrough writes about in Big Rich, I could keep the view from my kitchen window and add, oh, seven more kitchen windows, hopping from one to the other in my fleet of private planes.

In other words, I have advanced from the chapters where the tycoons discover the oil, to the part where they figure how to spend all the moola.

When we lived in Texas, my husband once sat on a plane and listened to a woman from Lubbock, "just flyin' to Dallas to get mah hair done."

With that kind of money, you don't have to choose whether to buy yourself a ranch in Montana or in Mexico.  Just buy both.   

Of course, when you move up into this league, you acquire a whole new set of problems.  One of Burrough's chapters begins with this gem somebody overheard one day in Houston: "It's been a hard day all around.  First, my wife's pet kangaroo has to go and get poisoned, and then somebody stole my midget butler's stepladder."

Back in this heyday, oilmen liked to own a few airplanes but didn't much care about buying yachts.  What cruises they took, they complained about all the wine, preferring, instead, more bourbon, more "barbecue, greens and black-eyed peas." 

Little wonder old money looked on and called these people "Texicanus vulgaris."  But who cared what old money thought?  Texans just went on throwing parties where champagne flowed out of miniature oil derricks.

In my Dallas days, I was the ward organist, just like now, and I had no car.  I had to walk to the church every Saturday, which meant meandering through Highland Park and University Park, two millionaire enclave cities surrounded by Dallas itself.  Oh, the pink marble mansions!  The broad circular driveways!  The magnolia trees and azalea bushes, everything professionally tended!  The gleaming Mercedes, Beemers and Porsches!

I could've taken dozens of different routes through this wonderland, and I aimed to try them all, no matter now hot those Texas afternoons got.  I mean, I was already hooked on walking before I arrived, but the Park Cities were like smoking walker crack. 

My walks these days are probably about finding the next best thing to Highland Park.  Pockets of loveliness abound out there.  I see beautifully terraced backyards, perfect for entertaining all one's friends.  And I covet.  I see streets where everybody can walk to the library, the grocery store and the ice cream parlor.  And I covet.  I see houses convened around darling little parks with pretty benches and paths.  And I covet.

But if I traded what I have for what I don't, there goes my perfect kitchen window, with its inimitable view.

So that's where I'll be, inside my kitchen, looking out.

Oh, and cooking things.  This week, we get:

One reviewer said the filling was a little bland, and I agree.  She suggested using a sharper cheese.  I thought about adding more salt to the dough.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

We'll Buy More Sunday Clothes

The sound of Sunday morning around my childhood home was filing-metal sound of Mom's spoon in the saucepan, stirring the jello until the ice cubes melted.  

By dinner time, a meatloaf showed up on the table, paired with some Rice-A-Roni, some peas, and that jello, and she considered her duty fulfilled.    

But Sundays require dessert, no? 

Mama didn't trouble herself with a lot of cooking experiments when it came to family meals.   (Which doesn't meant she wasn't adventurous.  There was her cake-decorating phase, her wedding-mint phase, her sugar-Easter-eggs phase, her goose-eggs-with-birds-and-bunnies-tableau-inside phase.)  But sometimes, you don't need much to keep your sweet tooth sweet.  A little of this:

topped with a spoonful of this:

And everybody's happy.
In my case, make it Cool Whip.  Unlike my mom, I don't have cows and a steady supply of cream just begging to be eaten up.

You can put your whipped creamy stuff on: 

Or, put it on:


1 pkg. (4-serving size) jello chocolate instant pudding and pie filling mix
1 pkg. (2-layer size) chocolate cake mix
4 eggs
1 cup water
1/4 cup oil

Blend all ingredients in large mixer bowl; then beat 2 minutes at medium speed. Bake in greased and floured 10-inch tube pan at 350' for 55 to 60 minutes, or until cake springs back when lightly pressed. Cool in pan 15 minutes; remove from pan. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar (1 TB).  Makes 16 servings at 225 calories each.  Not counting what you put on top of it all.

You don't suppose there's some unwitting theme here between Cool Whip and the book I'm about to hawk to you, a book about finding oil?  According to OrganicAuthority, "You don't even want to know what's in Cool Whip!"  Eat enough of its ingredients, they say, and you could end up with autism, prostate cancer (if you have a prostate), and lab rat tumors.

Their solution?  "The real stuff:   Homemade Vegan Whipped Cream."

Now, that's something I don't want to know about.

But yes, I'm reading Bryan Burrough's Big Rich and loving the tales of the four Texas men who struck oil bigtime.

There was the Sunday that the future tycoon felt sure his well would come in, so he, the wife and the little kids trooped out to the salt dome, still in their church clothes.  The drillers drilled.  They struck.  And they all danced as the black goo gushed toward the sky and rained back down on them.  What the heck?  We're rich!  We'll buy more Sunday clothes!

Then there are the boom towns, where maybe 5,000 people scratch at the earth to grow a little cotton.  Then somebody finds the oil and the population swells up to 50,000, with prospectors, gamblers, prostitutes (Burrough always mentions the prostitutes) tripping all over each other.  Naturally, there are not enough houses to put them in.  There are not enough hotel rooms. There are not enough tents.  Some people end up renting barber chairs for the night.

I haven't gotten far in Big Rich, but if the rest of the book is as good as these first chapters, floors just might not get mopped this week.  Dinners might not get cooked.  Towels may not get folded.   Bills may not get paid.

Oh, wait, I'd better not skip the bills.  Just because I'm reading about people with no money cares doesn't mean I'm one of them. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Spreading Memories on a Bagel

Finished up Julia Glass' Three Junes tonight, while sitting outside listening to the cicadas.  It was a charming-enough moment, so long as I didn't think about the bedraggled mouse carcass somebody left on the deck. 

Many times, I thought of quitting this book.  In the third June, we meet up with a woman whose list of men is long and sorry and wrong.  While weekending at a Long Island house with one of these men, and pregnant by another, nothing much happens.

Millions of us fight to get our manuscripts onto editors' desks and this one makes it through.

Apparently, it was sandwich week at our house.  After last weekend's turkey/cranberry wonder, we followed up with:

I was so sad when I took the last bite of this hoagie.  But there's a half tub of leftover garden vegetable cream cheese in the fridge.  Spread on a bagel, it goes a long way toward keeping my fond sandwich memories alive.  And I never had a thing for that cream cheese flavor before.  

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Almost Ravinia

Perhaps you've heard of Ravinia, the summer music venue in Chicago's North Shore suburbs.

It consists of four important elements.

1)  Music.  An orchestra plays.  What do they play?  It doesn't matter, especially if you sit in the cheap seats, i.e. the lawn.  To experience it more as background music and less like college-class appreciative listening is OK with me.

2)  The beauty of nature.  That would be the lawn, as I just mentioned, with its surrounding forest.  You could a film a movie of lords and ladies, bows, arrows and chain mail on Ravinia's grounds and probably get away with it.

3) People-watching.  Ok, no bows, arrows or chain mail showed up during my one time there.  But I'm quite sure the people parading past me and my folding chair were the lords of finance and the ladies of sorority life, people that were as accustomed to beauty and culture as I am accustomed to the aisles of Wal-Mart.  Yes, I was a tad bit out of my element.  But I paid the ticket price (the cheap lawn tickets), therefore I belonged.

4) Food.  We did the box dinner.  The sandwich was on thick artisan bread.  The brownie was solid as a brick, yet still chewable.  Stuffed with chocolate chips.  My, oh my, oh, my, what a brownie it was!  It was the kind of brownie that, when I finished, I looked over at my husband and hoped he couldn't finish his.  Too much for you?  Need any help with that?  

Sadly, my summer has not included any Ravinia.

So I did the next best thing, Indy's own Symphony on the Prairie.  This time, I packed the dinner.  I could hardly wait to get settled on the lawn and bite into Rice Krispie treats, watermelon and:

The only spoiler to this sandwich experience was the October-like chill out there on the prairie.  I shivered through the music.  Lots of other music-lovers had the smarts to wear long pants and closed shoes.  I seem to have a problem imagining warm days turning into cool nights.  

Another small problem with this delicious sandwich:  I opened a can of cranberry sauce, used a little bit and wonder what to do with the rest of the stuff.   So I tried:

Over on the Book Pile, I'm still working through Julia Glass' Three Junes.  I mentioned the Brits on vacation?  Actually, the story focuses on Paul--newspaper publisher, Scottish, widowed.  Switching  between his sight-seeing in Greece and flashbacks of his marriage, we learn that his wife seemed awfully devoted to her collie-breeding business.  Or maybe she was devoted to something or someone else?

Moving on the second June, Paul has now died.  His three sons gather for the memorial service.   We get the story from the oldest son, a gay man who chose America over family closeness.  Again, the story alternates between flashbacks of his life back in New York, where all his friends grow more emaciated with AIDS, and the "now," as the bereaved gather to remember Dad and wonder about Mom.  Then one member of the family asks somebody for a big favor.  And I mean, a BIG favor. 

I haven't gotten to the third June yet.

It's a pleasant but slow-moving story.   It's got some big cow patties, but I could see 'em coming and I flipped the page.  

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Decisions, Decisions.

Can't say I've been reading books too much this week, but I sure have been staring at them lately.  I stared at this one:

and this one: 

and this one:

I've never had to make decisions like this before.

In the last year, you probably have fifteen friends that have published a book.  Well, count me in as number sixteen because, sometime in the next few weeks, Bye-Bye Nesquik will enter the fray.

So that's what I was doing at Barnes & Noble, pulling novels off the shelves, examining how much of the body or the building or the suitcase they put into the shot, why they used those colors and most of all, why that particular image summed up everything that happens between the pages.

And oh, there's more.  Like, what the heck is web-hosting?  And how do I let a lot of people know about my book?   And, for the author photo, do I pose with the rose between my teeth or do we use the log-flume shot they sold me at Six Flags?  (Just kidding!)

But I get ahead of myself.

In the past week or so, the cover artist has been busy snapping pictures of some children we know, and of a certain brown-haired man we know, then cobbling them all together in the drawing that will become the book's cover.

Oh, and he sketched this in, too:

It's one of my vacation photos, snapped right on the college campus in the town where the book is set.  

The other night, he came over with his paints and we decided on colors for the man's tie and the lawn chair and the frosting on the cake (chocolate, of course.  What else would you expect from Bye-Bye Nesquik?)  

Oh, hey, and what about the font?  So I went and grabbed a few books currently in my possession and we discussed little picky particulars of how letters look on a page.  Hey, isn't quibbling over font usually a way to procrastinate writing that term paper or church talk?  Well, no procrastination here.  Things got done.  

Yeah, I've been staring at books a lot, just not reading them.  I managed to conquer a few pages in my current read.  So far, all I can say is that it's about some Brits touring Greece and there's a busybody in the tour group.  

If I've disappointed you with no book recommendation tonight, perhaps you can console yourself with these squishy, fragrant and strangely sweet HERBED DINNER ROLLS.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Half Marathons for the Untrained

I must have needed the nap.

We are not morning church people this year.  We get the pleasures of sleeping in versus the pleasures of the Sunday afternoon nap.  When we arrive home, all we want to do is eat.  Bye-Bye Nesquik, if she wishes to be loved by all, had best start frying up the sausages and hunting down the measuring spoons.

But today, Bye-Bye Nesquik sat on her bed, sinking further and further down until she gave in completely.  

Little wonder.

I'm used to walking, a lot.  I can do ten miles at a stretch and still be cheerful (probably because I promise myself a Butterfinger Blizzard when I'm done).  But Friday, I decided to go for twelve miles.

Packing along extra snacks and cold water, I set out.  There was the shady park, where bikers and runners blasted past me.  There was the remote path where, on my right, I could peek through the fence at the cars speeding by on the freeway and, on the left, I saw a backlot full of old bus shelters.  There was a little restaurant row in a neighborhood that is fighting its way back from neglect.  (It's 75% there.  Keep trying.)  Then there was the nice part of town where the day spas and the art galleries lead the way into hushed neighborhoods with beautiful landscaping.

All the way along the route, I worried that I couldn't finish.  One shoe hurt. Not to mention that I was all too aware that if I turned right at the private high school campus instead of turning left, I could cheat my way back to my car sooner.

But  I didn't cheat.  And I'm glad, because it would have been sad to miss the really nice street with the tree-lined promenade down the middle.

But it was work all the way.  Twelve miles, as my daughter tells me, is just short of a half marathon.  I'm not doin' it again unless I get a picnic and a nap somewhere in the middle.  

So who's surprised that I conked out today?

However, everybody got fed.  Kinda late, but it happened.

Our Fast Sunday tradition around here is to try all new recipes:

Over on the Book Pile, we're attempting Toni Morrison's A Mercy.  Ms. Morrison deserves to sit at the right hand of the masterful William Faulkner.

Trouble is, I can't abide Faulkner.

Ms. Morrison's story jerks forward and backward.  I would like to like this book, but with all its artful ambiguity, I cannot keep everybody straight.  Now, who's on the farm?  Who is the mistress of all this?  Who's pregnant?  Who lost a baby? 

Does she think readers lock themselves away in a lonely cabin, wholly absorbed, stopping only to brew a cup of tea or stand on the deck and gaze out over the valley?  I myself squeeze in a few pages after adding up last month's receipts, and a few more sitting in the food court at the mall, and a few more while waiting for my grandson to punch and kick his way through karate class.  Every reading session feels like I'm opening an entirely new book.  It doesn't help that the horse is named Regina and the people are named Sorrow and Patrician, unless I am missing some five-star symbolism here.

I read on, pretty much lost.  I shouldn't have to work this hard.

Although if Ms. Morrison can find me a lonely cabin with a scenic back deck, I will really buckle down on this thing.  

Sunday, July 27, 2014

On Lab Rats

Our lesson this week is:  give the author a chance.

When I opened M. T. Anderson's Octavian Nothing and read the first pages, I wasn't planning to stick with this story of a strangely grown-up-sounding boy surrounded by scholars.  They drill him in Greek and Latin and violin lessons.  They weigh everything he consumes, then weigh again when he excretes.  They exact capricious punishments when he answers a question wrong. 

But young Octavian grew on me.  He and his mother were captured in Africa.  She was royalty.  He has no memory of the old continent.  And now they are essentially lab rats at the Novanglian College of Lucidity.  Well, privileged lab rats.  When the college throws a soiree, the mother acts the hostess.  She's royalty, after all, a shimmering beauty with whom every man would like to converse.   

When the benefactor of the institute dies, a rich young lord from England arrives to examine the premises with a mind to sponsoring these scholars.  He strikes up a flirtation with Octavian's mother and makes her an offer--with a boatload of catches. 

This is Boston, just before the American Revolution.  The colonists' rumble with discontent.  Oh, and fear, too.  They suspect the British may foment a slaves' uprising, whence masters' throats will be slit as they sleep soundly in their beds.

So, no more Greek and Latin for Octavian.  He might get too smart.

Then there is the Pox Party.  Whether for the cause of pure science, or to keep war and soldiers at arms' length, the scientists sequester themselves with a few friends (and their slaves), infect them with a "mild" strain of smallpox, promising to nurse them through it with every modern remedy at their disposal.  This, we are told, is far preferable to getting one's smallpox epidemic-style. They can all play whist and stage evening music salons while they break out in pustules together.

I won't give away any more.

Anyway, for a book that held all the promise of a financial statement, the story sure picked up.

Neither did it hurt to read it while I sat on a fine bench in the town square of one of those charming suburbs that I love so much.  The "village" was having sidewalk sales that day and the streets were full of slim ladies in their yoga pants, shopping bags swinging from their arms as they tried on shirts, or strode past the granite walls of the bank building.  Children played in decorative tufts of prairie grass.  Stroller wheels clattered on the sidewalk bricks.  A couple commuter trains clanged by.  And cicadas sang.

Every town should be like this.  We especially need a version where we don't all have to spend a million or so to buy a house there.

Now that I'm back to ordinary life, operating the ByeByeNesquik College of Recipe Experimentation, it's looks like the lab rats are in for a week of sandwiches.  The fanciest one is BROCCOLI HAM RING.