Sunday, June 29, 2014

Give Me Some Connecticut Banality

This is a tale of missed opportunities.

Evidently, CHICKEN ORIENTAL SALAD is so good that if you don't hunt down the leftovers promptly, it will be too late.

2 chicken breast halves 
2 TB slivered almonds, toasted or not as desired* 
1/2 head cabbage, finely chopped, about 4 cups (I used a 16-oz. bag of coleslaw mix.)
1 pkg (3 oz.) Ramen oriental noodles, chicken flavor 
1 TB sugar 
1/2 cup vegetable oil 
1 tsp. salt 
1/4 tsp. pepper 
3 TB vinegar 
salad greens 
tomato wedges 

Cook chicken in small amount of water, covered, until tender, about 20 to 30 minutes. Dice to make 2 cups. 

Combine chicken with almonds, cabbage and uncooked noodles that have been broken up with envelope of seasonings; set aside. 

In glass jar combine sugar, oil, salt, pepper and vinegar; shake until blended. Pour over salad; toss. Add more salt and pepper as needed . Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or as long as 24 hours. Serve on crisp salad greens garnished with tomato wedges. Makes 8-10 servings, 205 - 165 calories each.

Over on the Book Pile, Bye-Bye Nesquik has tackled Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates.  Maybe you caught the movie with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.  Or maybe you skipped it due to the R-rating.  

I'm betting the latter, so you will need me to tell you that Kate and Leo play April and Frank Wheeler, a suburban couple who look down on the banality of it all.   Leo hates his job in the city.  It is eight hours of looking busy, handing papers off to somebody else on the Fifteenth Floor.  Let Ordway deal with the Toledo problem.  

At home, a neighbor drops off plants for the yard and he has no idea what to do with them.  His wife beats back unhappiness by signing on with the community theater, but their play is so beset by amateur flubs that she plummets into a funk after opening night.  No matter how much Frank attempts to comfort her, April only wants him to "take your hands off me."   

Frank and April have friends, the kind of couple you go steady with just because they're your age and they live right down the road.  They need Shep and Milly--who else will play audience when Leo makes his speeches about all this banality?--and they despise them--"Honey, please tell them we can't go out later.  Say it's because of the babysitter or something."

Is that all there is in life?  

As the book jacket tells us, "they have always lived on the assumption that greatness is only just around the corner."

One night, Frank rides the train home from work and finds his moody April suddenly forgiving and happy.  She reveals a plan to inject meaning and zest into their lives.   Oh, yeah, I've had plans like that.  

I just want Frank and April to know that I would have loved to sample some of that Connecticut banality.  However, such things were always out of my reach, so I keep turning the pages of Yates' book, fascinated by the troubles of the unknowingly privileged.

If you know the ending, please don't spoil it for me just yet. 

Credits: Managing Your Meals by Winifred Jardine.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Awarding Myself the Sceptre

It was almost Christmas time.  We had a little vacation time left for the year, and a little vacation money.

Chicago beckoned.  

We booked one of those little boutique hotels (thanks, Groupon), and found ourselves a short walk away from the marble and brass and holiday windows of the city's best stores. 

I don't know how we decided on lunch on the seventh floor of Macy's (formerly Marshall Fields'),  but there we were, and hungry.  And there it was, the Frango Cafe.

It jumped off the menu right at me, the Cobblestone Sandwich.  When it showed up and I began to eat, I made noises ladies shouldn't make in public.  I vowed to come back and eat it again.

Was it the second trip back, or the third?  Doesn't matter.  I grew covetous and proud as I chewed on that delicious bread.  I grew sure that I could make this sandwich at home. 

I had no idea how many tries it would take.  Mr. Nesquik, licking cinnamon off his lips, said I probably needed another research trip.  I took him up on the idea so fast, the wheels of my suitcase possibly left skid marks across the floor.

Up there on the seventh floor, I asked the waitress, "Do they do this?  Do they do that?"  She didn't know, but she sent the chef out, who explained things nicely.  (She also left out a couple key steps, but I caught on anyway.)

When I finally made the last refinement, the universe twanged.  The sandwich smelled right.  It looked right.  It felt right.  It tasted . . .  uh-oh, here we go again, making noises ladies shouldn't make in public.

May I present:


It's a lot like a Monte Cristo. Just in case they copyrighted the name, maybe I should call my version the Monte Kristen, ha!

1 egg 
2 TB milk 
¼ tsp. sugar 
dash of cinnamon
pinch of salt 
2 slices Cobblestone Bread (1 3/4 oz. each) *
1/2 TB lite mayonnaise 
2 thin slices Swiss or provolone cheese 
2-3 oz. deli-sliced turkey 
1½ slice bacon, cooked crisp

Whisk together the egg, milk, sugar, cinnamon and salt.  Set aside.
Spread mayonnaise on one side of one slice of bread. Dip the opposite side in french toast batter.  Place on a lightly buttered griddle.  Top with one slice cheese, half the turkey, the bacon, the remaining turkey, and remaining cheese. 

Dip "outside" of remaining bread slice in batter.  Top sandwich with undipped side of bread.  

Grill on medium heat. Enjoy!  About 730 calories, but so worth it. 


2 packages active dry yeast (4 1/2 tsp) 
3/4 cup warm water (105 to 115') 
2 cup lukewarm milk (scalded then cooled) 
3 TB sugar 
3 TB shortening 
1 TB salt 
7 to 8 cups flour 
2 TB water, divided 
2/3 cups packed brown sugar 
2 tsp. cinnamon 
Butter, melted. (1 TB) 

Dissolve yeast in warm water in large bowl. Stir in milk, sugar, shortening, salt and 4 cups of the flour. Beat until smooth. Mix in enough remaining flour to make dough easy to handle. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Place in greased bowl; turn greased side up. Cover; let rise in warm place until double, about 1 hour. (Dough is ready if indentation remains when touched.) 

Punch down dough; divide into halves. Roll each half into rectangle, 18x9 inches. Mix brown sugar and cinnamon; set aside. Sprinkle each rectangle with 1 TB of water, then spread half of cinnamon-sugar mixture on each rectangle. Roll up each rectangle into loaf. Pinch edge of dough into roll to seal well. Place loaves seam sides down in 2 greased loaf pans, 9x5x3 inches. Brush lightly with melted butter. Let rise until double, about 1 hour. 

Heat oven to 425'. Place loaves on low rack so that tops of pans are in center of oven. Pans should not touch each other or sides of oven. Bake until loaves are deep golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Immediately remove from pans.  Makes 2 loaves, enough to make sandwiches for a crowd, or eat yourself silly.  

Over on the Finished Book Pile, I can now say good-bye to the Patrick Melrose novels, in which unhappiness abounds.   We've already talked about them enough and we're ready for something different. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

I Can't Believe I Didn't Try Before

Curses!  Foiled again!

I'm dabbling in the art of reproducing something great I ate at a restaurant.  Been at it for months.  Been back to the Chicago restaurant so many times, they're starting to remember the odd-duck lady who dissects the food on her plate like just so much pinned frog.

There's a reason I like cookbooks and recipe sites.  Somebody else has tweaked the sauce, eaten the almost-rights and borne the suspense.  So why did I cast off into the uncharted seas of cookery?

Well, the memory of this menu item sticks to me like cat hair, which we all know never lets go.  Some people hear a band and they MUST snag concert tickets.  Some see a pair of spike heels and they MUST own them.

I just MUST.

I thought I would have results to share with you tonight, but I'm still not satisfied.  My motto seems to be "Wait!  Let me try it one more time."  My family rolls their eyes so much, they risk permanently staring at their pre-frontal cortices.

At least they eat all the versions I feed them.  "Mom, it's fine.  This is really good."

"No, it's not quite . . .  not quite right yet."

Therefore, what you get tonight is:

So easy, I can't believe I didn't attempt this before. 
(Actually I did, in a half-hearted way )

The recipe instructs us to "Insert toothpicks in strawberry leaves.  Holding by the toothpick, dip the strawberries into the chocolate mixture. Turn the strawberries upside down and insert the toothpick into styrofoam for the chocolate to cool."  I just held them by their leaves and let them cool on a wax-paper-lined cookie sheet.  I chilled them for 20-30 minutes.  Then they lifted off the wax paper easily.   Thirty-eight calories per medium berry, probably more for large ones.  And no fancy white drizzles in my kitchen.  I have never mastered drizzling.

Still reading Edward St. Aubyn's Patrick Melrose novels.  After finishing Some Hope, I caught up to where I originally started in Mother's Milk.  

You may recall young Robert, son of Patrick, who describes his birth.   Father Patrick has taken his young family to dwell at his mother's estate in the south of France, which Patrick will not inherit because Mummy has dedicated the house to the Transpersonal Foundation, offering it as a haven where people might "connect."  No one knows what they are connecting with. 

The charm of Mother's Milk  is in seeing everything from little Robert's height.  Puzzled by adult conversations, he escapes to stare into the fish pond.  Then one of the people trying to "connect" happens along and tries to convince him to listen to the fish which "bring us messages from the depths." 

Good luck, little Robert, figuring out these adults. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Scalloped Nerves

Oh, sure, of course I got out my little watermelon-sculpting knife and created this scalloped beauty, which I pridefully carried to the family picnic yesterday.

Ha.  No. It traveled to the picnic in an ordinary Rubbermaid bin. 

Though it would have been easier, I tell you, to cut that shell and each little melon ball, too, using rusty nail clippers, than it was to get this picture out of my disco-era cookbook and onto this blog.

The only thing scalloped around here is my nerves.   


1 large oblong watermelon
1 cantaloupe
1 honeydew melon
1 pineapple
2 peaches or nectarines
2 cups blueberries
Honey-Lime Sauce

Scoop balls or cut chunks of the melons, using about 3 cups each. Remove rind and core from pineapple (or have Kroger do it). Cut fruit into bite-sized pieces. Mix with melon balls; cover and refrigerate. Just before serving, slice peaches. Drain melon balls and pineapple pieces. Mix all fruit in large bowl. Drizzle with Honey-Lime Sauce. Pour fruit into watermelon shell. Garnish with mint leaves, if desired and serve immediately.

1/2 cup ginger ale
3 TB honey
2 TB lime juice

Mix all ingredients.  Drizzle over fruit.

Back in the Patrick Melrose novels, we have finished installment #2, Bad News, in which Patrick constantly shoots drugs into his battered veins while the cask which holds his hated father's ashes falls into his hands.

In book #3, Some Hope, Patrick swears off the drugs but fails to take up anything that might fill the void.  His crowd, some of whom are still unaware that he would gladly have booted Daddy's ashes over a bridge railing, gather for a high-society birthday party.  Romantic treacheries abound.  You'd think Shakespeare had whispered plot hints into the ear of author St. Aubyn.  Add in the modern twist of Patrick's old drug dealer making light of his Narcotics Anonymous meetings and you've got yourself a small village of characters, all of whom regard each other as ghastly, but wouldn't miss that birthday party for the world.  I wonder whose reputations will still be intact the next morning.

Credits:  Betty Crocker Cookbook, ca. 1982

Sunday, June 1, 2014

And At Do-Re-Mi, We Find . . .

So, I went back to Do-Re-Mi, so to speak, in Edward St. Aubyn's Patrick Melrose novels and found quite a cow-patty-laden beginning.

In the first of this quadrilogy, Never Mind, poor five-year-old Patrick lives under the rule of a father that charms people only to humiliate them later.  Lured in from playtime by his father's piano playing--a tune the Daddy composed especially for Patrick--he stands before the man, ready to please.  "Shall I pick you up by your ears?" the father gently teases.  With the boy sufficiently softened up, the father makes good on his tease/threat and Patrick hangs in the air, convinced that "his ears were going to be torn off, like the gold foil from a pot of cream."  Dad ignores the boy's whimpers, then caps off the experience with fatherly advice:  "Always think for yourself.  Never let other people make important decisions for you." 

And it gets much worse. 

Much of the first novel is a house party, populated by this daddy-of-bad-surprises and his thoroughly demoralized wife.  Guests include a serially-married piece of British gentry who brings along his hippie girlfriend of the moment; plus a philosopher, who also brings his date, an American journalist, a woman with enough detachment to see through Bad Daddy, at least a little. 

The British gentlemen misses women who can give him intelligent conversation, but at a flash of the hippie girlfriend's legs, he forgets all about intelligence.

And they all meet to drink wine and gossip wickedly.  The weed-fortified hippie girl, too dazzled by the glorious south-of-France estate on which they spend a weekend, doesn't quite catch on to how much fun this isn't. 

Why would I read about such cruel, self-absorbed people?   Well, their world is untouched by the fears and frustrations of mine, so I go there for a visit.

The cow patties are truly distasteful.  I'm not recommending, just reporting.

By now, I have moved on to the second installment, Bad News.  Patrick is now twenty-two.  His father has just died.  Patrick flies from London to New York to identify the body.  Naturally, he doesn't mourn.  No, it's more like a celebration, bingeing on heroin.  Then again, this is a pretty sorry way to celebrate, as Patrick spins out of control.  Shall I call my New York dealer?  No, I definitely won't call him.  I'll leave this restaurant and go straight back to the hotel.  Tell you what.  I'll just ring him up and if he doesn't answer, then Fate has spoken.  No dealer tonight.  D---!  Why doesn't he answer. Well, maybe I'll just swing by and pay him a social call.

I recall a story in People Magazine wherein a rock star admitted that, at first, drugs were fun.  Then, they were fun with problems.  In the end, it was just the problems.

We know that Patrick will become the father of little Robert, whom we mentioned last week.  So we await better days for this boy who grew up with such a bad excuse for a father.

After a dip into this world, I return to my own, where I cook my Fast Sunday meal: