Sunday, April 27, 2014

Oh, No, We Missed the Lutheran Marriage Encounter!

We checked into a Chicago hotel Friday night and soon discovered that we were sharing the premises with the Lutheran Marriage Encounter.  All those nice people walking in with their notebooks--I wonder what they hoped to improve over the weekend.  

Half the fun of hotels is sharing them with Groups.  We've passed through lobbies full of Mary Kay reps (High heels!  Perfect faces!  Pink Escalades!) and kiddie pageants (High heels!  Perfect faces!  Pink sequins!).

I really regret not crashing that kiddie pageant.  No, it's not the little girls I want to see.  It's their mothers whose hearts beat with hopes, dreams and savage competitive fervor.

Sadly, all I got to do was sit by the front door, watching them tote in wig heads and cosmetic cases and plastic-draped dance costumes. Some day, though.

I wonder what it would have been like to crash the marriage encounter.

Well, wonder no more!   They have a website. 

It says couples spend 48 hours "in a relaxed and private setting," "time away from daily pressures and responsibilities."  Everybody sits through a presentation. Then they get an assignment question and go off to discuss it in private.  They come back for another presentation, another question.  Repeat until 48-hour clock runs out.

One page on their site offers help with "dialog":  "Having trouble coming up with good questions?  These should help."

I guess Mr. Nesquik and I could just fix ourselves with all the handy questions provided by the Lutherans.

So, let's get started, shall we?

"How do I feel when you reach out to others more than me?"
"When I think of taking the day off, I think of . . ."
"How do I feel thinking of standing at the end of your coffin?"
"Scripture dialog:  Song of Solomon, chapter 7, verses . . ."

Whoa.  Back up.  Never mind.   

At any rate, all our Chicago plans left us too busy to improve our marriage.  Not only that, but I made a pittance of progress on Kate Atkinson's When Will There Be Good News?  I can, however, tell you more about the characters you'll meet, should you decide to pick up this engaging read.

Last week, we talked about Reggie, the British nanny.  Reggie tends the child of Dr. Hunter, a woman who trusts rather too much.  She married a man she treated in the emergency room.  His business interests include "a little of this and a little of that."  We can't be sure all his businesses are on the up-and-up.

Then there's Louise, a police detective who knows she thinks too much about death and danger and mayhem.  She saw a therapist for awhile and she got as far as imagining a nice trunk at the bottom of the sea, a place to toss all her negative thoughts.  But when she tried to replace them with positive ones, she couldn't come up with any.

The sad-sack guy detective from the last Atkinson book shows up  again in Good News.

I'm eager for more.  If only life would slow down a bit  . . .

At this frantic pace, I only have time to cook things like:

Cool Cucumber Pasta

We love this salad, even when I leave things out, which I did today.   But that's how things have been lately. My house is a turmoil of unpacked luggage and unsorted mail. I went to Kroger, but forgot the credit card.  I made dessert and forgot to turn off the oven.  It spent all night cooking its own air.

And my marriage remains unencountered, my library book unfinished.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

I Need a Few Shortcuts

You can play all day Saturday.  Or you can work on a multi-course Easter dinner.  You can't do both.

Or maybe you can.

I played all day, visiting an aquarium full of tropical fishes, alligators, sharks and tourists (my favorite animal, by the way).  Then I visited a grocery store stocked with more varieties of beer, cheese, soda pop, international cookies, jelly beans, breakfast cereal, cake truffles, pet kibble and even insects than you ever thought possible, . . .

 . . . Then came home and tried to create dinner.

Anything's do-able, with a few shortcuts, like: 

Quicker Lemon Angle Food Supreme

In spite of how much Kate Atkinson's Case Histories annoyed me, I finished it.  Too  many characters trooped through the pages, leaving cow patties along the way.  

Why I would embark on yet another of Atkinson's books I can't explain.  But here I am, up to page 37 of When Will There Be Good News?    I'm already enjoying her wry young British nanny, Reggie.  Reggie comes from the wrong side of the tracks.   Her mother has been through many men.  Her brother slips away from family occasions to steal computers and phones.  Reggie is admitted to a "horrible posh school" on scholarship, on account of her father dying in the service of his country.  Naturally, she doesn't fit in well.  When she escapes, she becomes a nanny to a doctor mom.

Reggie is smart, observant and rather likeable.

By page 37 of the last book, I had met characters that should win the Nobel prize for World's Unhappiest Family.   Things already look much better in the new book.  But we'll see, will we not?   

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Scent of Spring

I am pretty sure winter is over and done because when I go out on my walks, I get hungry.  Ah, the sight of neighbor men standing on their back deck, poking at whatever smokes on the grill, then slapping the lid shut!  Ah, the scent of charbroiled meat floating in the air!  And meat is not even something I crave.

Well, I do, when I'm out walking.    

Mr. Nesquik talked me into visiting one of those shops where we buy half the cow.  I was prepared to part with some significant money, but we came out with about three steaks.  Oh, believe me, we still spent a frightening amount because this particular shop is all about organic.  

The steaks sit like buried treasure in the freezer, and I feel a sense of awe every time I see them reposing next to the stone-cold blueberry bagels.  I don't think I should let Mr. Nesquik cook them unless it's an occasion

And how will we know if the organic version, all grass-fed and everything, actually tastes better than the normal steaks from our local Kroger?  Any hunk of meat tastes delicious when we soak it in:

All-Seasons Marinade 

As for reading material, I'm about to give up on Kate Atkinson's Case Histories. She starts with three rather captivating crimes, all occurring years apart from each other.  Each case ends up in the lap of a sad-sack British private eye.  I have been promised that "startling connections and discoveries" will emerge, but if these workaday Brits don't quit filling the pages with little ponderments on the Latin root of this word and that, I'm never going to make it to whatever it is in here that "positively sparkles with . . . constant page-turning delight."   Much less, all those "startling connections and discoveries."

I will sit down with Atkinson once or twice more.  If I find myself wanting to go gaze at those steaks instead of turning the pages of her book, that's it, she's gone. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Too Much of a Good Thing

Somebody I know just came into wealth of black beans.  Asked to provide nine cans for a church dinner, she dutifully poured them into her crock-pot and delivered the goods.

No one ate a single bean.  Which leaves her with too much of a good thing. 

In an effort to help her deal with this misfortune, I offer:

Soft Chicken Tacos  

Ms. Many-Beans has also requested Bye-Bye Nesquik's official chocolate chip cookie recipe.  You know, the one from the cookbook page well-spattered with decades' worth of butter and vanilla.  So, thanks to the Betty Crocker cookbook (whatever edition was on the shelves when Bye-Bye Nesquik established her household), here you go:


1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar 
2/3 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup shortening
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
3 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 package (12 oz.) semisweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 375'.  Mix sugars, butter, shortening, egg and vanilla.  Stir in remaining ingredients.

Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls about 2 inches onto ungreased cookie sheets.  Bake until light brown, 8 to 10 minutes.  Cool slightly before removing from cookie sheet.  Total recipe = 6740 calories.  

Bye-bye Nesquik's cookie secret is to bake them until they're barely set, then let them sit on the sheets until they flatten.  This makes for a cookie whose middle is on the chewy side of underbaked.

So, seeing as how the rising generation of cooks gets all its recipes from the web, do they spatter the butter and vanilla all over their computer screens?  If so, I assume they clean it off.  But when they die, how will their children ever know, Yep, this is the official birthday cake Mom always made for Dad?

I have still not finished Hawthorne's Blithedale Romance.  Hawthorne is, no doubt, one of our High Priests of Literature.  But sometimes all those words are, like nine cans of beans in a crock-pot, more than what anybody can use up.  I find myself attempting to translate his prose into the speech of the T-shirt-and-jeans era.  It's a time-consuming way to read, let me tell you.

But let's try it, just for fun:

“Why are you so secret in your operations?” I asked.  “God forbid that I should accuse you of intentional wrong; but the besetting sin of a philanthropist, it appears to me, is apt to be a moral obliquity.  His sense of honor ceases to be the sense of other honorable men.  At some point of his course—he is tempted to palter with the right, and can scarcely forbear persuading himself that the importance of his public ends renders it allowable to throw aside his private conscience.  O, my dear friend, beware this error!  If you meditate the overthrow of this establishment, call together our companions, state your design, support it with all your eloquence, but allow them an opportunity of defending themselves.”  -          N. Hawthorne

“What have you got to hide?” I asked.  “Not that I’m judging, but it looks to me like most do-gooders start to think their ends justify the means.  Pretty soon, they're cutting corners.   Look, buddy, don’t try it.  If you’ve got plans to turn the farm into some halfway-house, don’t be a sneak about it.  At least ask the rest of us what we think.” -          B-B. Nesquik

Phew!  What an effort.  I wonder what would take longer -- eating up all the beans, or translating the remaining 250 pages.