Sunday, March 30, 2014

Somewhere Between King James English and "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen"

"Did you find everything all right today?" said the grocery store cashier.

"Yes, I did, and I was looking for a lot of weird stuff," I told her.

Like spreadable goat cheese.   And pesto.  And roasted red peppers.

We've got a Fast Sunday tradition around here of eating a big meal made made from all new recipes (also known as Dishwasher's Dismay). Currently, we're working our way through a magazine feature on tailgate meals.

You never know with new recipes whether the stuff will actually taste good.  But today was a winner!

Get yourself acquainted with the fancy-cheese section of your grocery and store and make:

Italian-Style Sandwiches

I found the roasted meat in the lunchmeat section, somewhere between plastic-packaged ham steaks and tubs of ready-made mashed potatoes.  The store didn't have ciabatta rolls, but I'm sure you can find something exotic to try.  As for arugula, I couldn't be bothered to hunt very hard.  Good old leaf lettuce did us fine.  Serves 4.  On 4-oz. rolls, our sandwiches came in at 820 calories each.

 Layered Cornbread Salad

We've featured another cornbread salad on Bye-Bye Nesquik before.  It remains our favorite, but today's is still good enough to make it onto the official Bye-Bye Nesquik master list. 

Once we'd had time to digest a little, we ate:

Pineapple Upside-Down Carrot Cake

Let's try the whole meal again sometime, and on an actual tailgate.  Or on a picnic table beside a river bend.  Or on a bench in Central Park.  Doesn't matter; just somewhere out there.  (Can you tell I'm dying for picnic weather?  I'm sure you are, too.)

I'm trying to distract you with a lot of cooking because I have not finished my current book, The Blithedale Romance  by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  Hawthorne, as we've mentioned here before, is a tough row to hoe.  His language falls somewhere between King James English and "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen."

But Blithedale is actually rather funny.  The  main character, a stand-in for Hawthorne, plays the smart-mouthed grump in this tale of Boston elites intruding themselves on plain country folk.

Hawthorne based the story on his days at Brook Farm, an experiment in socialist living.  He and his artist friends conceived the idea of living off the land.  They believed they would achieve a form of moral justice, with some time on the side for writing poems and painting landscapes.

After a summer of shoveling a great deal of manure, and no time to write so much as a paragraph, the disillusioned Hawthorne hasted himself back to Boston to take up his former studious life.

I could've told him things would end that way.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

I Want This Man's Job

I have surely missed my calling.  I want to be Hank Steuver and write books like his Off Ramp.

When he hires on at the evening newspaper in Albuquerque, all the exalted beats are  already taken--the crime beat, the schools beat, the "drunk Indians" beat.  So they give him the leftovers.  He's free to write whatever strikes his fancy.

He wanders into the odd corners of life and writes stories on storage units, or adult night at the skating rink.  Or the fate of bowling. Did you know that professional bowling tried, at one time, to be taken seriously as a sport?  When you think of bowlers, what sort of body comes to mind?  Not exactly athletic-looking, is it?  

Or how about the chapter on funerals?  Steuver rides along with the Austin, Texas, fellow who set up a funeral home in a strip mall.  His rock-bottom prices drive the competitors batty. The nerve!  Caskets made in Mexico?  With door hinges!  Where's the respect for the dead?  

Where's the respect indeed?  As Steuver tells it, there are "enough dead people every year in Texas to support 570 funeral homes."  Yet, 1300 manage to stay in business.  How do they do it?  Rampant gouging, no doubt.  (But this is a particular soap box of mine, from which I will now step down.)   

What Steuver finds is that we are basically stuck with ourselves.  But we forget about it by reading about other people's stuckness.  Or by tracking them down, reporter's notebook in hand, camera slung over the shoulder, and writing down their stories.  So, how many gifts do you expect at your wedding?  What makes you shop at Target instead of K-Mart?  What's behind the door of that storage unit?  Christmas decorations?  Broken vacuums?  And, "Who knew that a sixty-five-year-old man could figure skate (on roller skates) and look like a beer-gutted swan on a lake of neon?" 

Yes, I think I could love covering the off-beat like Steuver's.   It has to be better than the crime beat, the schools beat, even the drunk Indians beat. 

Finally, all those grown-up skaters go to Trudy's afterwards for margaritas.  If I could trust myself to stay upright on a pair of skates, I would use up my roller-drome calories by treating myself to:

Peanut Butter Cashew Sundaes 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

I'm a Quitter

 You should eat what you want on your birthday.  

I sorta wanted one of these:  

But then I wouldn't have had room for a favorite birthday main dish.  So I'll just have to make the trip to Gigi's Cupcakes another day.


1 lb. ground beef
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 1/4 cups water
1 can (8 oz.) tomato sauce
1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
1/4 cup uncooked long grain rice
3/4 tsp. salt
1 package (11 1/2 oz) corn chips
Assorted garnishes: sour cream, grated Monterey jack or Cheddar cheese, sliced ripes olives, diced green pepper

In a large skillet cook together ground beef, onion, and garlic until beef loses its color and onion is soft; drain off excess fat. Add remaining ingredients except corn chips; cover and simmer 20 minutes. Serve over corn chips with any desired garnishes.

 Recipe from Winifred Jardine's Managing Your Meals

Thank goodness for a week of favorite foods, because my stack of books has been so trying lately that I quit one after another.

If you want to finish Samantha Hunt's The Invention of Everything Else, you will need to have a thing for the scientist, Nikola Tesla.  She introduced him as a pigeon-feeding recluse living on the 33rd floor of a New York hotel.  A young girl in the hotel befriends him.  I don't care how much they both love pigeons; a friendship between an old man and a young girl creeps me out too much.  This is not to accuse Hunt of dirtying up what may be a perfectly innocent story.  To me, her Tesla was like an airplane seatmate that I'm perfectly happy to avoid conversing with.

Next, I tried  Bad Things Happen, a murder mystery by Harry Dolan.

Now, I respect mystery writers.  They take on a tough job, planting all those clues and giving you reason to suspect the grumpy piano player at the bar, or the troubled city manager with the gambling problem, when all along it was the star student who spends her summers on mission trips.

Yes, I respect what they do.

But there are special potholes that only mystery writers are prone to fall into.   In the search for clever, never-been-done plot twists, something that will really keep us guessing, they can twist human behavior so far out of shape that nobody's really acting human anymore.  Somebody swings a bottle at someone's head.  Somebody inaugurates an affair.   Nobody seems desperate or lonely enough to commit such rashness.  But they plunge ahead anyway, just because we need action that keeps the reader guessing.

Could it be that my brain is diminished from reading a fluffy novel last week? 

But let me just get this off my chest:  The affair is between a woman with long, flowing blonde hair (my goodness, I'm so surprised by this) and the main character.  Mrs. Blonde Hair has no particular complaints against her husband.   She suffers no clinical nymphomania symptoms.   She just gets  up one day and pursues the narrator.

Can you say "author fantasy"?

Mr. Nesquik recently completed a knights-and-druids series wherein a wizardess captures men and beds them 'til they're plumb worn out and begging for mercy.

Uh-huh, they'd all like to meet such a female.

Me, I just want to walk into the cupcake store and eat myself silly.  


Sunday, March 9, 2014

I"m Taking This Lady to the Beach

It's the book cover that got me.

It sat on the endcap of the library shelves and, after a winter of heavy reading, I needed a little fluff.  So I plucked Beth Kendrick's The Week Before the Wedding off its little display shelf and took it home.

I whipped pretty quickly through this story about a woman all set to marry a surgeon, at a cute little inn in Vermont no less.  And then, her ex-husband shows up.  He was a college boyfriend, the biggest mistake of her impulsive youth.  But he's all grown up now, and he produces movies.

I could see it on the Lifetime channel.  No, wait.  Lifetime movies are downers, wherein beautiful women meet perfectly nice men who turn out to be psychos.  So let's say Hallmark channel, instead.  Maybe the story started a little rough, with college kids that sound like they're thirty, and maybe the end got all sicky-sweet, when she decided that her true love was . . . nope, better not spoil it for you.   But in between, with a cast that includes a flashy, four-times-married mother, a proper pearl necklace mother-in-law, some catty aunts and a stepsister who thinks nothing is a good time unless it includes tequila and half-naked men,  Kendrick wrote a lot of snappy lines which any Hallmark-channel actor will be proud to utter. 

Amazon readers say the cover picture is what drew them in, too.  They say it was a great beach read.  That's good to know.  I've got a beach day in my future and I think Miss Kendrick needs to come along with me.  Which of her other books should I try?   The Pre-Nup?  Exes and Ohs?  The Lucky Dog Matchmaking Service?

As for good eating, here's a simple little cake that would look very plain-Jane next to all the other confections on Pinterest, but oh my, it's hard to stop at one piece.  So I didn't.

Chocolate Appesauce Cake

Sunday, March 2, 2014

My Quirks are My Gift to the World

Aaaaand, we are snowbound again,  at least so far as church is concerned.  The bishop also postponed Fast Sunday.  What a wise move.  Who wants to starve without meetings to distract you?  Who wants to be housebound with famished children and  a grouchy spouse? 

Then again, I can't imagine his wife being grouchy.  

But me?  I don't take hunger well.  And as soon as I read the word "postpone" in my Facebook feed, I rushed downstairs and celebrated my reprieve with a tuna sandwich, some Doritos and a couple chocolate chip cookies.   

I must still be in starvation mode, 'cause I'm dreaming of foods.  What I'd like to find before me right now is some:  

This week's book, which I have not quite finished, celebrates quirks.

Are you the happy owner of a Roget's Thesaurus? (No, that is not this week's book.)  Oh, good, me too!

I always imagined it had been created by an army of wordsmiths, toiling away deep in some British library.

But no, there was a real Peter Mark Roget.  As chronicled in Joshua Kendall's The Man Who Made Lists, Roget lived through a rocky, unsettled childhood.  Peter was a mere tot when his father died of tuberculosis.  Peter's mother didn't cope well with widowhood. Or rather, she coped by moving the family two or three times a year and by hovering insufferably over the boy. Case in point:  When Roget went off to medical school, Mama made him promise not to touch the sick people.

Peter coped by making lists.  "As a boy, Roget was compelled to crank out his word lists. Without this outlet, he may well have lapsed into the madness that gripped numerous family members."  His notebook "represented his discovery as a boy of eight what was to be his calling.  He had stumbled upon an all-encompassing intellectual pursuit: classifying the world." 

By adulthood, he suspected that his lists might be useful to the public, helping them communicate their ideas with more precision.  By the time he finally refined his lists into a real book and offered it for sale, the world grabbed it up.  Poets, novelists, scientists, letter-writers and students found, in Roget's Thesaurus, a tool that opened their minds like a flower.

I have felt that mind-opening.   In the classic editions of Roget, all his synonyms fall within 1,000 categories.   If you think you're trying to say something about "stealing" but "rob, purloin, pilfer and filch" don't quite nail the idea, your eye might wander over to the facing page, where it sees stealing's sister idea, "taking."  You realize that--Aha!--you really meant "snatch."

Modern editions of Roget, not to mention online thesauri, rob you of this fine-tuning experience.  They arrange the word concepts dictionary-style and, for all the speed which you can track down mere words, it's just not the same.

Places like the grocery store have already figured this out.  Really, can you imagine wandering down an aisle stocked with paper towels, peanut butter and pepperoni?   Pushing your cart one aisle over and finding the marshmallows, mangoes and magazines?  Isn't there something about seeing all the Mexican food together that spurs ideas?   I like the flour tortillas, but what about trying the spinach this time?  I don't know about the taco sauce.  Maybe some queso dip would hit the spot. 

Kendall's book trudges through some dry chapters.  I had almost concluded that Roget, in spite of his great gift to mankind, might not be worth more than a long newspaper article.  But then this fussy, reclusive man got caught in War.  And Love. 

At the very least, The Man Who Made Lists may make you feel better about your own quirks.