Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sneaky, Snaky Behavior

"I can see you want everything, . . . [k]ids, husband, career. The whole superwoman thing."

So says one character to another in Rachel Pastan's Lady of the Snakes.

Pastan's novel begins when Jane, the aspiring superwoman, gives birth to a daughter. She loves the little tyke, of course. But after a couple weeks of the foreignness of motherhood, Jane longs to get back to her dissertation. That is when she discovers that it isn't easy to get much done with an infant around. As for Billy, Jane's husband, his life doesn't change much.

Jane writes her dissertation on the wife of a second-string Russian novelist. While he went about philandering, his wife bore him seven or so children. The more Jane reads the woman's letters and diaries, the mores she sees how all the heroines in the husband's novels looked and sounded a lot like the wife. And on her worst days, mind you.

What a cad.

And maybe a plagiarist, too, for by the time Jane snags a prestigious professor job, her close reading of Mrs. Russian-Novelist's letters turn up passages that Jane feels she has read before. Say, in the husband's novels.

If she thinks she's going to expose all this cribbing, she will have to get past an aging colleague who built his reputation on showcasing the Russian novelist's "brilliance." The intrigue between Jane and her nemesis resembles the race between Channel 5 and Channel 8, each trying to scoop the other.  And Jane fights with a handicap: when things fall apart at home, who has to drop the meetings and the research trips?  Billy?  Or Jane?

Lady of the Snakes can be a challenging read. Pastan weaves in long quotes from the fictional novelist and his wife. Eventually, this device kills the pace of the story. Still, Pastan tackles the differences between men and women, what they can accomplish, who gets credit and who bears the burden of distraction.

The only thing getting scooped around here today was cookie dough. I worry that I should be sharing recipe adventures, some creation for which I ground the vanilla beans myself. But really, have you ever seen anybody turn down a chocolate chip cookie?


3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter 
1 cup granulated sugar 
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar 
1/2 cup peanut butter 
2 eggs 
2 tsp. vanilla 
2 1/2 cups flour 
1 tsp. baking soda 
1/2 tsp. salt 
1 package (11.5 oz.) milk chocolate chips 

Heat oven to 350'. 

Beat butter, sugars and peanut butter in large bowl with mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Blend in eggs and vanilla. Mix in flour, baking soda and salt. Stir in chips. 

Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. 

Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool 2 minutes; remove from cookie sheets onto wire racks. 

This recipe comes from a Parkay box, long long ago.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Coming Soon!

Dear Bye-Bye Nesquik readers,

We pause our regular programming just long enough for me to seize the spotlight for a minute. And we have some business to conduct.

Item 1: I wrote a book. Never mind how long it took me, but here we are today, just about ready to foist this thing on the public.  Here's how it will look on Amazon when it comes out on November 7th:

"Welcome to the world of the Runyons and the Feldsteds, two Mormon families in 1970s Maryland. Far from their Western American roots, they cling to each other like exiles clutching a precious box of topsoil from the old country.

"In The Boxford Stories you will meet Ada Runyon who always turns to Ruthalin Feldsted when she needs an ear—sharing her deepest confidences, her everyday musings, and her bits of horrified gossip. Yet Ada dies inside whenever Ruthalin’s country-cousin manners poke out in public.

"Latham Runyon, a history professor, and Erval Feldsted, a hospital engineer, bond every Sunday night over gooey desserts and vigorous religious discussion, a game their children call Stump the Rabbi. Underneath their balding heads and graying temples, each man desperately seeks a sign that God would choose him as a buddy.

"The Feldsted and Runyon children, running breathlessly through each other’s houses and backyards, have long considered each other substitute cousins. However, Ginni Runyon plots to change herself from the girl next door to the girl Marc Feldsted can’t live without.

"And when Boxford’s Mormons mix with the rest of the town, everybody could use a field guide to the other species.

"Laugh, cry, and shake your head with the Runyons and Feldsteds as they make their way through the decade that brought us leisure suits and urban decay."

Item 2:  I'm offering you a little freebie.  Starting October 27th, Bye-Bye Nesquik will post daily installments of "'Atta Boy," one of the stories in this book. Get your reading fix, Monday through Friday that week.

Item 3: Sometime in November, Bye-Bye Nesquik moves to the official author website,  I will let you know when we make the jump, but if you still land here after the move, we will find a way to get you there.

I may make other changes, new name maybe, but I still plan to talk about books and recipes.

Meanwhile, dine on this yummy APRICOT SALSA CHICKEN:

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Catch and Release

A few artfully-arranged ponds dot our neighborhood. The powers that be stocked them with fish, then posted the rules.

According to the signs next to the ponds, only neighborhood residents are supposed to fish there. Now, do I know my neighbors? Could I recognize twenty faces? Ten? Barely. But when I see some guy in a t-shirt casting his line, and a truck parked nearby, I'm pretty sure he's not my neighbor. If he was, he could have walked to the pond, right?

We get a lot of these "guests." One woman grew so annoyed at the "guests" near her house that she pulled out her camera and snapped pictures of the offenders and their license plates. Myself, I figure I've got no right to police them, not when I'm a frequent trespasser in a great many other neighborhoods, parking at their pools and playgrounds and walking a few miles on their sidewalks.

Another rule at the ponds is "catch and release." I have no idea if the little fishies get tossed back into the water or not. They could be headed straight for somebody's fry pan (inedible as they are) and I would never hear their cries of panic. I'm just as oblivious to the relieved ones swimming in the depths after a brush with somebody's hook and lure.

Not all the caught-and-released are so happy with their fate, at least not in The Opposite of Love by Julie Buxbaum. Here's a story in which the heroine, a young attorney in Manhattan, senses that her man is about to buy the ring and ask the question. So she throws him back in the pond.

Then she wonders if she did the right thing. Not that her fish is terribly willing to be caught again.

I don't know how it all ends yet, but Buxbaum's story explores why a girl does such a thing. After all, her friends thought he was the perfect catch.  He was a doctor, and handsome, and looked endearing when he took Sunday afternoon naps on her couch, his hands clasped across his chest.

Do our heroine's problems have anything to do with her distracted daddy, who is busy playing senator in the state of Connecticut? With an absent mommy, who died of cancer half a life ago?

Buxbaum's writing can really sparkle. But in between the great stuff, she tosses in a lot of heroine-wakes-up-late-scrambles-to-throw-herself-together. Also, there are brief but frequent cow patties, totally unnecessary, but so much a part of Buxbaum's world that she would be genuinely puzzled to hear that some of us really don't find them very funny.

So, you are forewarned.

Our heroine, skittish as she is, doesn't seem like the type to bake a batch of MAN-CATCHER BROWNIES. We baked them here at Bye-Bye Nesquik, and we don't have any men that need catching, or releasing either. We just like stuff that is gooey and chocolatey.

30 Kraft caramels, unwrapped
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1 15.25-oz. package German chocolate cake mix
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350' and line the bottom of a 9x13-in baking pan with parchment paper. Melt caramels with 1/3 cup of the evaporated milk in a small saucepan, stirring mixture occasionally; set sauce aside.

Stir together cake mix, melted butter and remaining 1/3 cup evaporated milk to form a dough. Press 1 1/3 cups of the dough into the pan in an even layer. Bake until puffed but not cooked through, about 7 min. Remove from oven and pour caramel sauce evenly over the top. Sprinkle chocolate chips over caramel in an even layer.

Top with remaining dough, crumbled into bits and scattered. Return to oven. Bake until brownies are puffy and set, 10 to 11 mins. more. Cool completely and cut into squares.  Makes 16 brownies, 285 calories each.

This recipe appeared in the now-defunct Ladies Home Journal.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Red Hat Doesn't Fit

I can't argue with success.

Haywood Smith has published a decent-size list of books, several of which belong to her Red Hat series.  So, anticipating a tale full of lively menopausal characters like the red-hatted ladies you may have spotted at your local airport, I opened Smith's Ladies of the Lake and commenced her tale of four sisters, Dahlia, Rose, Iris and Violet.

The action jumped from menopause to childhood and back again. I wasn't sure if the point of it all was Mama's quirks, or Grandma's, although if Smith based this on some real grandma, such a lady would have been so over-the-top, you couldn't not write about her.  I mean, if Grandma steals a gun from the neighbor, adheres to Buddhism, and bore Mama illegitimately, that's just too rich to leave alone.

It also might be too rich for even fictional credibility. Along with Grandma's exploits, wacky new facts just kept coming at me.  Before long, the story was like an umbrella with ornaments hanging from every rib.

So let's just acknowledge that lots of readers love Smith's books. I, however, didn't last long.

If you happen to be a Smith fan, don't expect anything new out of her for awhile. She's currently pitching in on the care of a grandchild who suffers seizures and needs medical marijuana. According to Smith, marijuana's wonders can be delivered via nonintoxicating extract. I wish  her and her granddaughter well.

I myself got rather intoxicated with the soup my daughter-in-law made today. I've never posted an untested recipe on Bye-Bye Nesquik, as in something I haven't personally cooked and enjoyed. But I figure that eating up a whole bowl and wishing I could lick the Crock-Pot clean qualifies as sufficient testing.  So even if I haven't made SLOW COOKER CREAM CHEESE CHICKEN CHILI with my own hands, you can bet I will, and real soon: