Saturday, April 17, 2010

Dreaming of Chocolate Lumps

Nesquik is my user name all over the internet and it's starting to play with my brain. I type it in and remember that wonderful chocolate milk of long-ago. I have moments when the urge to go down to the kitchen and mix up a glass washes over me and then I remember that it's all gone. And I'm sad.

On a happier note, Skooby is starting to grow teeth. I've been waiting for this. Grandchildren exist, as far as I'm concerned, to eat the stuff I give them. He seems to know the routine: arrive at my house, get locked into the high chair, reach for the honey-butter Ritz cracker that I hold out to him, and look happy while he gums it up.

I've been waiting to feed him (and his cousin ) cookies. I've held off long enough and tomorrow I give in to the urge. These are the cookies I've been dreaming of sharing with the little guys:

Cinnamon Crackle Cookies

Over on the Finished Book Pile, we have Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism by Donald T. Critchlow. I know, I know, Phyllis gets a bad rap. And she married herself the kind of last name that Hollywood agents would change half a heartbeat. But I really admire the lady.

For those of you who are too young to remember rotary dial phones, Phyllis was a housewife from the St. Louis area who led the fight against the Equal Rights Amendment. Actually, calling her "just a housewife" doesn't paint an accurate picture of the woman. Spurred by a Catholic sense of duty, she worked in Washington when she was a young single woman, which is where she learned the art of political organizing. After marriage and a first child, friends approached her husband Fred and asked him to run for Congress. He wasn't interested. "Then how about Phyllis?" they asked.

She didn't win the race, but she brought her considerable skills to bear on cause after cause. She fought against communism, for national defense, for Goldwater and Reagan. Not long before the ERA fight, she sat down to dinner with her husband and six children and announced that she'd decided to go to law school.

This is a woman who subscribed to 100 magazines and newspapers, who seldom got caught spewing mistaken facts. Her energy seemed endless, although she surely must have had household help. I just don't think she could have made all those phone calls, published all those newsletters, or run around Illinois making all those speeches without somebody back home to make dinner and clean the bathrooms. (I don't think money was a problem. Fred was a lawyer.) And when Phyllis' name became nationally known, she would hire a ballroom and throw a reception for her supporters.

Phyllis' enemies saw her as "doctrinaire, intolerant and self-righteous." Her supporters found her "logical, morally passionate [who] spoke on behalf of the average American." In later years, a very seasoned Phyllis had refined the art of maintaining her cool in a debate. When Betty Friedan said she would like to burn Phyllis at the stake, Schlafly calmly replied, "I'm glad you said that because it just shows the intemperate nature of proponents of ERA."

The book can be heavy wading. I endured the parts about nuclear stuff, but ate up everything the ERA fight. If the political stuff doesn't appeal to you but you'd like to read about the woman, I suggest Sweetheart of Silent Majorityby Carol Felsenthal. I think I read that one decades ago and enjoyed it.

Next up, Character Studies by Mark Singer. This book is a collection of profiles, all on "the curiously obsessed." People who collects Tom Mix memorabilia; a group of guys who meet every week to discuss how to find the skull of Pancho Villa (we didn't know it was missing!) and return it to Mexico. Then there is the chapter on Donald Trump, throughout which the author seems to be rolling his eyes. As Singer says, Trump, for all he has in this life, completely lacks a sense of irony. I really gotta read that chapter out loud to John.

Next up, When the Messenger is Hot a short-story collection by Elizabeth Crane. All of her stories take the tone of a gossipy friend, telling you her latest troubles over a couple tall cups of Starbucks' best. Some stories suffer from too many cow patties, some from a structure little better than a fleshed-out list. Crane's sentences run on and on. Taking her all in one chunk tried my patience some, unless it was a really charming or compelling story, i.e., "Privacy and Coffee," "Year-at-a-Glance,", "Christina" and "Something Shiny," which was about a girl who wrote her memoirs. Then Hollywood wanted to make them into a movie. Then the actress hired to play the author came to study her habits and mannerisms. Great fun.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

I thought of you, LD

Today, I've got something for the cooks that find themselves in a Boring Side-Dish Rut. We feature a salad. I'm pretty lazy about salads. I open a bag of pre-cut greens, toss in some grape tomatoes and slice up some cucumber and expect the diners at my table to be happy with it, week after week after week. Nothing else goes into a salad unless a recipe specifically tells me to put it in there. So let's do:

Swiss Tossed Salad

I actually prefer various bottled dressings over the mayo/sour cream one. The only problem with this salad is that the heavy stuff (the Swiss cheese) sinks to the bottom. It's hard to fish all the ingredients out of the bowl equally. But I like these flavors together. Thanks, Quick Cooking Magazine.

As for the finished book pile, I thought of Lora Dawn every time I picked up Playing Doctor by Joseph Turow, a book about TV doctor shows.

First, my doctor show anecdote: I grew up without TV--alas! Well, we had a TV, but it didn't work. My mom said it needed a picture tube. She said picture tubes were expensive. How expensive? I figured they must cost just less than a space rocket, an impression Mother never bothered to correct.

All this changed on general conference weekends. Mom and Dad left town for Salt Lake City. Noel and Hertha came over to "babysit" Jana and I. And they always brought TVs! For watching Saturday morning cartoo -- er, excuse me -- talks by apostles.

Well, OK, we did fit in a little secular viewing. Like the night we watched Medical Center. A young engaged couple came in to see the handsome Dr. Joe Gannon. The fiancee wasn't feeling too well. Dr. Gannon ran a few tests. Then he took her aside privately and told her she had . . . Gonorrhea!

I couldn't figure out why her fiance reacted with such stunned shock. I couldn't figure out why the adults in my own living room all looked at each other with nervous laughs.

"What's gonorrhea?" I asked.

"Ask your mother," Hertha retorted, with an end-of-discussion finality in her voice.

Anyhoo, Turow's book covers the mania that broke out when Ben Casey and Dr. Kildare began on TV in the early '60s. Women swooning! Women writing the actors for advice about their medical (even their gynecological) problems! Then, in the '70s, along came Marcus Welby, M.D. and Medical Center. Robert Young, the actor who played Welby, identified thoroughly with the role. After years of depression and alcoholism, he needed a personality to adopt, so he adopted Welby's. When the woman who played his nurse felt a little under the weather, he reached out and took her pulse.

Playing Doctor gets rather bogged down in discussions about the AMA trying to exercise control over doctors' TV images, and the networks constantly trying to figure out the perfect doctor-show formula while keeping the genre fresh. True medical-drama fans may find the book a little thin on behind-the-scenes anecdotes.

But even some of the network machinations can be interesting. For instance, Emergency!, in the '70s, was thrown on to the schedule against the very popular All in the Family. Network execs thought that there must be people out there who either didn't understand Archie Bunker, or couldn't stand him. Give them something else to watch! However, each Emergency! episode was written with three or four vignettes per show. The biggest, most expensive emergency (say, something with explosions) always fell in the third segment, right at 8:30 when, over on the other channel, Archie Bunker was just finishing up. Capture Archie's audience!

The book finished up with M*A*S*H and St. Elsewhere. Too bad it was written clear back in 1988. Wouldn't we love to know what Turow had to say about E.R. and Scrubs?

Next up: What Are the Odds? by Mike Orkin. "Chance in Everyday Life." I'm a few pages in and that's enough for me. I don't want my books peppered with equations and math-professor jokes. But if you're dying to know what the chances are that a tossed coin will turn up heads 100% of the time, or if you're trying to refine your casino strategy, give it a whirl. All the jacket praise says Orkin makes the subject fascinating.

I kinda like reading the Yellow Pages better.