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.