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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Soup's On

I made soup again. It was the best kind of soup - practically free and effortless (read made from leftovers). I made a pot roast on the weekend and the leftover meat, veg and "gravy" decided to become beef barley soup.

When we were kids, once in awhile we had what I thought of as "soup night". This was one of those rare suppers when we got enough to eat AND enough of food that we really liked. In my recollection, mom made a lot of things that I really liked, like spaghetti, steak and salad, roast beef, but she also made a lot of things that she either did not know how to cook, or that kids (or I) just did not like, like stew, Swiss steak, kidneys.

Indeed, once when I went camping with Pat we stopped at Tony's near the Willow Run airport (somebody correct me if I got that wrong) by Saginaw. As Pat said, slyly, "you'll like the stew - it's just like mom's". And it was. A bowl with a hunk of tough, gristly beef, a huge hunk of potato, another of carrot, all swimming in a thin, pale flavorless broth. That and all the bread you can eat for $1.50.

It wasn't until I was grown up that I learned that things like beef stew and pot roast were supposed to taste good. I worked at the Anderson's Music store in Royal Oak for a short time. My boss, who wore a handlebar mustache and flamboyant bow ties, often sent me to the grocery story on Main St. (now called The Cedars) for bread and cold cuts so we could all have sandwiches. Or he would bring in food and invite everyone to have lunch with him. Once he brought in lamb stew that his wife had cooked and invited me to have some. I declined. I didn't like stew. But he insisted so I had some. It was delicious! Tender, savory lamb in rich gravy, feather light dumplings perfectly done. I continue to search for the recipe to this day.

Somehow, on soup night, mom always seemed to get it right (unless she added too much water to the soup). On soup night we could all have as much soup and crackers as we wanted. And as a bonus, we each got a sandwich made with the elusive and tantalizing thuringer sausage that dad loved so much. Soup and sandwich may not sound like much, but crackers and margarine were cheap and filling and the hot soup was free flowing.

I'm guessing mom's flavorless leftover beef stew was probably turned into hearty beef and vegetable soup, where it was much more popular in its second incarnation.

The soup I made this week consisted of my leftover pot roast with the addition of a can of chicken broth, a half can of leftover corn kernels and about a half cup of barley. I also added a little extra water and a bit of bullion to re-adjust the seasonings. Not only was the soup (to my palate) delicious, it looked fabulous. In fact, it looked exactly like the soup I remember from soup night at home. I dished myself up a bowlful and spooned a big dollop of sour cream in the middle, just like mom used to do. That soup and a plate of crackers and Herkimer cheddar cheese took me back to supper on Sixth Street. I nearly cried. Bill wondered what I was upset about so I had to tell him.

Incidentally, Bill also partook of mom's perpetual stock pot. Brents will recall that there were times when mom kept a stock pot going on the back burner for days. Any leftovers went into the pot and the resulting concoction changed almost daily. Stew would turn into soup. The addition of beans and spices would turn that into chili and leftover pork and new spices made it barbecue for sandwiches.

Bill was visiting from Chicago one weekend and asked what was in the pot. I told him I didn't know but he was welcome to have some. It turned out to be mom's chili, which as I recall was quite good. Bill is a chili connoisseur. He served himself and pronounced it one of the best chilis he had tasted.

He came over the next day and saw the pot on the stove and asked if he could have another bowl of "that chili". But mom had added some diced meat and other mystery ingredients. Bill said it wasn't chili, it was barbecue. I told him the pot had never left the stove and contained everything it had the day before, and then some. He didn't believe me. He thought she had made a whole new pot of something else. He didn't know her very well, did he? He still talks about mom's delicious chili and barbecue to this day.

Next time pot roast is on sale, buy one. Be sure to buy enough for your dinner and some leftovers. You'll like the barley soup a couple days later. Here are my "recipes". You'll note I don't really measure. Don't worry, yours will be good.

For Pot Roast

Saute a chuck or other appropriate cut of beef (mine was a boneless blade roast) in a non-stick skillet until well browned on all sides. Meanwhile, place in a stew pot or dutch oven a couple carrots, celery stalks and onions, peeled and cut into large pieces. Add the beef along with a cup or so of red or white wine, some tomato sauce, juice or paste (or even a glob of ketchup) or fresh or canned tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper and a little cayenne or red pepper flakes. Add a bouquet garni or some herbs de Provence and a few bay leaves.

Add enough water (use this water to "deglaze" the skillet) to almost cover the meat and place the pot in a 350 degree oven. After about a half hour turn down to about 250 or 275 and let it simmer several hours or until the meat and vegetables are tender. If you want a thick gravy you'll have to flour the meat when you brown it or add thickening to the broth. I left mine as it was and it was delicious.

You may wish to add potatoes, peeled and cut up, for the last hour or so of cooking. I made mashed potatoes instead and I served the pot roast (it was more like stew) in bowls with a scoop of mashed spuds alongside and the broth spooned over the whole thing (incidentally, I would make beef stew the same way, just cutting the meat into bite size pieces first).

You can serve this with bread and a salad, or just by itself. Put the leftovers in the fridge for soup a day or two later.

Beef Barley Soup

Before you put your pot roast or stew away, cut all the meat and vegetables into small dice. Put this and the leftover broth in the fridge in the same or separate containers. Chilling the broth or gravy in a separate container makes it easier to remove the layer of fat that will rise to the top of the chilled liquid.

To make your soup, remove any chilled fat and discard. Place your leftover meat, veg and broth in a soup pot or sauce pan and add a can or so of chicken broth (or water and bullion). Also add any leftover vegetables you have on hand and any additional fresh, canned or frozen vegetables. Peas, carrots and green beans are all good. Also add a half cup or so of barley. Bring to a simmer and cook until the barley is tender, about 40 minutes.

Taste the soup and season if necessary. A splash of balsamic or wine vinegar will brighten it up. Tomatoes or tomato soup or juice will also perk up a bland tasting soup.

Prepare some cold cuts or leftover ham, turkey, roast beef or what have you for sandwiches. Serve with plenty of crackers and cheese and add a dollop of sour cream to your bowl of soup if you wish. And eat hearty!

Quotable Quotes; in the category Eat Your Own Words.
"I live on good soup, not on fine words".
Moliere

Friday, November 2, 2007

They Dined On Mince And Slices Of Quince

A couple years ago I planted a quince tree in my yard. This was to appease me for the three apple trees and two fig trees that never bore fruit, a multitude of blueberry bushes and various and sundry other failed gardening exploits.

Last year there was a single quince fruit on the tree. A squirrel (or the brats next door) got to it before I did. This year there were about a half dozen fruits, large and small, that I was able to pick.

My plan was to make quince jam, something I have never tried. I had no trouble finding recipes. Perhaps the most interesting are those in a book called Seven Centuries of English Cooking. This book features recipes for foods that might have been prepared and eaten by anyone from King Richard II through Queen Elizabeth II and anyone in between. The quince recipes are numerous and complicated sounding - find the book at Amazon.com .

Nowadays, recipes use modern English and don't usually call for "butter the size of a walnut" or instruct the cook to ftir with a fpoon of woode. They're easier to understand but less fun to decode.
I've read that quince is the ancestor of apples and pears, and some believe it was the fruit that Eve ate on the sly in the garden. I don't know how, it's hard as a rock and not very good unless it's cooked with sugar. But I also read that there is a variety of quince that ripens soft and sweet so there you go.

I peeled my quinces, cut them into wedges and hacked out the seeds and core. You can tell they're related to apples although they have WAY more seeds and the "core" is more like a lot of separate cores all through the middle. I guess the recipes that ask you to tie the seeds in cheesecloth and cook along with the fruit are hoping you won't end up wasting half the good stuff.

Quince contain lots of pectin, which is what makes jams and jellies gel. Most of it is in the seeds and skins so I guess tossing those parts is about the same as cooking bacon and wasting 75% of what you bought by throwing out the grease (that's why I always save bacon fat and use it for cooking).

You can make your own liquid pectin for use in other jellies by boiling the seeds and skins in water and saving that for later. There are even recipes for making jelly from apple cores and skins when the apples were used for pie or other recipes. The thrifty housewife was careful not to waste anything.

I chopped my quince fine (not easy as it was really hard) and covered it with water, simmered about a half hour as instructed, then added the sugar and cooked it down into something that resembled chunky apple sauce. As it cooked it got a lot thicker than apple sauce and turned a golden amber color.

I poured it into jars and put them into the pot for processing. As always there was a little left over, which I put into a small jar to go right in the fridge. When I removed the jars from the canning pot about 15 minutes later, I found that the processed jam had turned a deep rosy peach color while the jam that was not processed remained golden. An interesting observation.

I left the jars to cool overnight and then removed the bands for storage. I made some toast and spread on some butter and some of the jam. It did not smell like apples. It smelled like roses and honey. The texture was thick and sticky. The "chunks" dissolved as I spread the jam with my knife.

I couldn't tell if I liked it or not. But the color was beautiful. I decided I would make jam tarts using a kolacky pastry and bake the tarts in my mini muffin pan. Here's the recipe.

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 small package (3 oz.) or half of an 8 oz. package cream cheese
1 cup all purpose flour

Let the butter and cream cheese stand in the bowl at room temperature until softened. Add the flour and beat to combine well.

Form the dough into a disk about an inch thick, wrap well and let rest about an hour.

You can roll the dough out about 1/8 - 1/4 inch thick and cut with a small circular cookie cutter, or you can form it into small balls and flatten each one. Use a mini muffin pan (the kind you might use to make mini quiche or those little pecan tarts that Bill's mom makes at Christmas). Press a dough circle into each muffin cup and bake at 325 degrees until golden. Allow to cool and remove from the pan. Fill each tart with a spoonful of quince jam or jam of your choice.

You can also use this dough to make kolacky or rugelach. For rugelach, form the dough into 2 disks and roll out into thin rounds. Brush each with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Sprinkle on some chopped walnuts or pecans and cut into wedges like a pizza. Roll each up from wide end to center point and bake on a parchment lined sheet at 325 degrees until golden.

For kolacky just cut the dough into squares or rounds, place a dab of jam in the center, fold two sides or corners into the center and pinch to seal, and bake as above. Dust with powdered sugar when cool.


Quotable Quotes; In the category I Don't Care For Elderberry Wine!
"But you haven't tried the quince!" from Joseph Kesselring's play Arsenic and Old Lace

Monday, October 1, 2007

Soup Of The Evening, Beautiful Soup!

I made a pot of creamy cauliflower soup yesterday. It was delicious. Bill will not agree but he will eat a small bowlful and he may even eat a little the next day.

We had been to Barnes & Noble where I bought a book called The Soup Bible. Bill loves soup so I figured this would be a good investment. I would have 200 soup recipes in one place and could fix a different one every day.


This book is beautiful enough to be a coffee table book, with color photos on every page. Most of the recipes look fairly simple and don't call for esoteric ingredients. Even so there are recipes for Thai hot and sour soup, cold soups, fruit soups and every kind of bean soup you could imagine.

But the recipe I used for my cauliflower soup was one that came out of my head and out of the ingredients on hand. I did check the book and found a recipe that was close and included flageolets, whatever those are. From the illustration they appear to be pale green kidney beans.

To make my soup I dice some onion and saute it in olive oil with a little minced garlic, salt and pepper. If I had carrots and celery I might dice those and saute them too. A little thyme, savory, marjoram and crushed red pepper flakes are added, as well as some Goya Sazon or Adobo seasoning. Not too much or it gets too salty.

While the onions are going I trim a head of cauliflower and cut it into chunks or slices. Add these to the pot and saute a few minutes, then add a couple of cans of low sodium chicken or vegetable broth. If you think it needs more liquid add about a half a can of water and a spoonful or two of chicken or vegetable bullion. Again not too much (salty). You can also use your own homemade soup stock.

Simmer about 20 minutes or so until the cauliflower is very tender, then remove from the heat for a few minutes. You can puree this in a blender or food processor but it's easier (and more fun) to use an immersion blender. If you don't know what that is, it's a long stick with a motor and cord at one end and a mini blender blade at the other. Stick the business end in the pot of soup, plug it in and press the button. The soup will swirl around and become a smooth puree. Careful - it will also splash a little and it's still hot!

When smooth and creamy, remove the blender and wash it right away. I do this by filling a cup with hot water and a drop of dish soap and running the blender in it for a minute, then I rinse under hot water. Easy cleaning!

To finish the soup reheat and add a little cream, milk or half & half. Also add some shredded cheddar, Swiss or other cheese, say about a half a cup or so, and some grated Parmesan cheese. Taste for seasoning first and don't add the Parmesan if it's already salty enough. Add a little pepper if necessary.

This is good served with croutons or cheese crackers like Cheez-its or Goldfish crackers. It's also good with those refrigerator dinner rolls made with ham and cheese.

Open a package of refrigerator dinner rolls and separate into individual rolls. Place a small slice of ham and a bit of Swiss or cheddar cheese on each and roll up crescent roll style (it's okay if the ham and cheese poke out the sides). Brush with melted butter or cheat and spray on some vegetable oil spray. Sprinkle with Lawry's seasoned salt or Old Bay seasoning and bake according to package directions, about 13 minutes at 350 or 375. These and a bowl of soup make a good lunch or dinner.



If you're so inspired, check out The Soup Bible at Amazon.com or, at the very least, read the chapter in Alice In Wonderland where the Mock Turtle sings the song about "beautiful soup, beautiful soup, soup of the evening, beautiful soup."



Quotable Quotes; in the category He Must Have Been Talking About Me!

"Only the pure of heart can make good soup."
Beethoven

Friday, July 27, 2007

In A Pickle

Last time I posted a bread recipe. Here are recipes for pickles that are nearly always served with meals in Middle Eastern restaurants.

I'm really fond of the pink turnip pickles. The first time we ate at Bethlehem on Clark Street in Chicago we were served a small dish of these pickles, and some small, hard, very sour green olives. They were my favorite part of the meal - almost.

After eating these pickles in countless restaurants all over Chicago I finally asked the server what they were called. He looked at me for a moment as though I were insane, then said, tersely, "turnips".

I probably turned pinker than the pickles and somehow managed to let him know I wanted the name of the pickles in his language. His opinion of me did not seem to improve as he shrugged and muttered what sounded like "lef".

I have since seen recipes for these pickles called "torshi lift", torshi left" and "kabees el lift" so I guess that's what he was telling me. I'll stick with turnips.

Turnip Pickles

1 lb white turnips quartered if small,
or cut in 1 inch chunks if large
1 small beet scrubbed and sliced
1 1/4 cups water
2/3 cups vinegar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar

Place the turnips and the beet into a jar large enough to hold them - one that has a close fitting lid.

In a non-reactive pot (glass, enamel or stainless steel) Combine the water, vinegar, sugar and salt and heat, stirring, until salt and sugar are dissolved. Cool, then pour over the turnips in the jar. Cover the jar tightly.

I store these in the refrigerator. They are ready to eat in a week.

Note: The beet is there to color the turnips, but you can eat the slices if you wish.

Quick Middle Eastern Style Pickles

8 cups of vegetables, cut in chunks
I use a mix of cabbage (outer leaves removed), cauliflower, carrot, celery, onion, red, green or yellow peppers, green beans, radishes, peeled garlic cloves, etc.
red chili pepper flakes or cayenne pepper
2 cups vinegar
2 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon kosher salt

Place the vegetables, tightly packed, in large jars. I like to mix them up so you get a mix of pickles when you dip into the finished pickles.

Add a chili pepper, some chili pepper flakes or some cayenne pepper to each jar, to taste, for spicier pickles.

In a non-reactive pot (glass, enamel or stainless steel) heat the liquid with the salt until salt is dissolved. Cool, then pour over the vegetables in the jar. The vegetables should be completely covered.

Cover jars loosely until completely cool, then cover tightly and keep in the fridge (the original recipe says they can stay on the counter a few days but I put them right in the fridge). Pickles are ready to eat in a few days and will improve after a week or more. Keeps refrigerated one month.

An easy to make salad, often served with felafel and schwarma, is Jerusalem or Lebanese salad (depending on the restaurant). Basically, it's diced cucumber and tomato dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, parsley and tahini. Sometimes it contains onions, never lettuce. This is good to eat with your pilaf or to stuff into your felafel sandwich.

And for a refreshing beverage to go along with your Middle Eastern meal, make some mint tea.

Fill your tea pot with the usual amount of tea. Any black tea will do. Add a handful of fresh mint leaves or a spoonful or two of dried mint. (If you don't have mint growing in your yard, find a friend or neighbor who does). Add boiling water and steep about five minutes. Serve in glasses or cups with lemon and lots of sugar. Sugar cubes or lumps are especially fun.

Don't get pickled!

Quotable Quotes; In the category Look Ma! No Hands!

“I don't want a pickle, just want to ride on my motorsickle.” Arlo Guthrie

Friday, July 20, 2007

Bread

I received some requests from family members for recipes so I will be posting some occasionally.

This recipe comes from a family cookbook that someone brought into Bill's shop to be copied for family members. It is titled "Arabian Recipes" and appears to have been "home published" and illustrated with hand drawn pictures, mainly of certain implements (like a felafel mold) and techniques (like rolling up pastries).

Here is a recipe for bread that is similar to that served in some Middle Eastern restaurants. We have had bread like this at Kabul House in Skokie and at Cafe Denir on Lincoln Avenue near the Athanaeum Theatre. It is similar to a foccacia in that it is dimpled all over in a regular pattern, and is soft and puffy. The bread we were served had been sprinkled with black sesame seeds before baking. It is a delicious bread for dipping in yogurt or sauces, for scooping up things like baba ganoosh, or for topping with tidbits from your plate, sort of an open face sandwich.

I imagine it would be good to use in a fattoush salad when it is stale. When it is fresh and warm, it is delightful.

Middle Eastern Bread

1 cup warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups bread flour
(you can substitute up to
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
in place of the same amount
of bread flour if you wish)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon yeast
1 beaten egg yolk for glaze
nigella, black sesame or
poppy seeds optional (see note)

Follow the instructions for your bread machine and use the dough setting. Or, dissolve the yeast in the warm water with the sugar and a hefty pinch of the flour. Let stand in a warm place until foamy and yeasty smelling, about 20 minutes.

Add the salt and stir, then the olive oil. Stir in the rest of the flour a little at a time. If you have a Danish Dough Whisk (pictured here) the job may not go any faster but it will be more fun and you will feel like a professional baker.

Turn the dough out to a floured surface and knead until smooth, then oil your bowl and put the dough back in, turning to coat with oil. Place a piece of oiled plastic wrap down on the dough or cover with a damp dish towel (not a terry cloth one) and set in a warm place to rise until doubled, about an hour or so.

When risen, or when the bread machine beeps, cut the dough into three equal size pieces and roll these into balls, then into 6 inch circles. Cover with the oiled plastic again and let rest 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 450º f.

Dimple each dough circle all around with your finger tips until they are about 1/4 inch thick. Press your finger tips all across the circle to form dimpled rows and ridges, then turn the dough 90 degrees and repeat in the other direction.

Brush the tops with beaten egg and sprinkle with the seeds, place onto an oiled baking sheet and bake 9 - 10 minutes until puffy and golden. Serve at once.

Note: Nigella seeds, also called black onion seeds, are tiny, angular, deep black seeds with a nutty, peppery flavor. They can be found in Middle Eastern and Indian markets.

If you prefer, brush with olive oil instead of egg and omit the seeds.


Fattoush Salad

Prepare your favorite salad of shredded romaine lettuce, tomato, diced cucumber and other greens or vegetables such as radishes, onions, etc. Garbanzo beans are a good addition. Make a vinaigrette of a few tablespoons each lemon juice and vinegar, pinches of salt, pepper, a dab of spicy mustard and some basil or oregano. Whisk in olive oil to taste.

Tear or cut leftover bread from the above recipe (or use pita bread) into small chunks and toast until dry and crispy on a cookie sheet in a 350º f oven. Watch carefully that it doesn't burn, and allow to cool.

Toss the salad with the dressing in a large bowl. Scatter most of the bread bits in and toss again, garnishing with remaining bread bits.

Quotable Quotes; In the category bread or circuses?

“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

My Oh My Oh Mio!

Let me confess right up front the only reason I'm writing this entry is cuz I have PICTURES TO POST! And that's such a rare occurrence for me, I just had to do it.

We travelled to northern Michigan a few weeks ago. If you ever want to spend an entire day driving a straight line to nowhere get on US 131 just north of Grand Rapids MI and keep going. Or get on US 127 south of Houghton Lake and do the same thing. These are the kinds of highways that cause hypnosis and put you to sleep. especially when it's in the upper 80s and there are no clouds in the sky and you don't have air conditioning. If you have a cat with you, barfing in the back seat, so much the better.

Once there, though, the trip became worthwhile. We checked into our motel and drove over to the public access site on the Au Sable to meet Johnny and Tony and Mary. Sadie was with her, of course. After the guys got out of their waders we headed over to the restaurant that had the Friday Night Fish Fry (read every restaurant in Michigan). Only Bill was hungry enough for seconds. I love it when you ask for "a couple more pieces and a few fries" and they bring you another entire order.

Out motel was not the Ritz. I am told that the motels in the area are frequented mostly by hunters and fisherman, less often by vacationers, like us. I am further told that hunters and fisherman are less inclined to concern themselves with amenities like clean showers and floors. They apparently care more about a fridge where they can keep their perishable bait. And their beer.

Bill and I were vacationers. We would have preferred cleanliness over fridgeliness (although we did have a bottle of capsules for Otis that had to be kept refrigerated). Yes, we brought Otis with us. We were unwilling to leave him kennelled at the vet for four days and could not find anyone able to give him his injections so he came with us (thus the previous reference to a barfing cat in the back seat).

Otis hated the drive to Mio. He did not seem to mind the motel. Being confined to one room, we heard him eating and drinking in the middle of the night, which he did several times. He had his pick of beds to sleep on and had the whole room to himself while we were touring during the day. It seems the only thing he did not like was the chair, which had probably served as a dog lounge to previous tenants of the hunter variety. In this picture, he shows his disdain in the way he knows best. Animals and children can express things we are often unable to say ourselves.

We drove over to Harrisburg where we stopped to walk on the shore of Lake Huron, site of many past camping trips and fond memories. In fact, Harrisville on Lake Huron may be the first place the Brents all camped together as a family, but I'm not sure. There are certainly family movies (Brentwood Productions with the famous Pink Privy logo) featuring a be-diapered Madeline toddling along the shore eating pebbles ("those aren't petoskey stones", dad would always say when we watched the movies). But I'm not sure - I think the family may have camped at Rollway's Resort, wherever that may be, the year before.


Sadie had fun trying to herd the ducks and geese swimming in the lake. We had fun watching her. Like most dogs, Sadie loves water. Unlike many dogs she does not lap up water from a lake or river. Instead, she wades in just until her chest touches the surface of the water, then she squats down until it's up to her chin and she "bites" the water to get a drink. Sadie is an awesome dog.

Mio is the place where the Kirtland Warbler makes his summer home (he winters in the Bahamas). This little bird nests only at the base of a tree called a Jack Pine which, as far as I know, grows only in this area of northern Michigan. The Kritland is sometimes called a Jack Pine Warbler. The pines are scruffy looking trees not unlike the pitiful example Charlie Brown chose for the pageant in the cartoon we all know and love. The pine cones will only burst and go to seed when the trees are extremely old, or under intense heat. Thus the forestry department stages controlled burns to ensure the pines continue to reseed and grow, and the warblers will have a place to nest.

Dad and the boy scouts did a giant exhibit on these warblers at one of the scout expos. Mack Lake in the Huron National Forest became our favorite place to vacation and we returned again and again.

It was fun to go back. We had a good time. I hope we'll do it again.

Quotable Quotes; In the category Damned if you do . . .

Camping is nature's way of promoting the motel business.
Dave Barry

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Emperor's New Clothes?

I have a whole bunch of new clothes. Okay, not really, it just seems like I do.

For over 20 years I have kept two boxes (and various and sundry other) of old clothes that were too good to throw out even though I could no longer fit into them. You know the story, one day I'll . . . and they're too good . . . and I looked so good in them . . . and they were my favorite . . . and a million other reasons not to get rid of them.

We emptied the closet when we repainted the bedroom several months (a year?) ago. Somehow the two boxes, three crates, multiple shopping bags and various and sundry just didn't quite fit back into the same space. Seriously, we didn't do anything to alter the size of the closet, the stuff just would not fit.

Then, a miracle happened. Me TV, Channel 23 in Chicago, started showing reruns of some of those great (horrible) shows from the 80s. Who's The Boss, Charles In Charge, The Facts Of Life, Gimme A Break, and I realized - there was absolutely NO WAY IN HADES I was ever going to wear those 20 year old clothes again. I was not going to save them and cut them up to make quilts or pillows. I was not going to look at them without being sick.

Seriously, the sight of Tracy Gold, her hair tied up like a frowzy willow with a shiny gold lycra schmata (Yiddish for "rag"), a similar lycra thing in electric blue swaddled around her hips, a wildly floral skirt swishing around her leggings-clad skinny legs and an equally garish "thing" serving as blouse (can you say SHOULDER PADS?) was all it took for me to realize the stuff in those boxes, crates and bags had to go. NOW!

So Bill built a shelf system to fit on the existing closet shelf. Off to Ikea we went to buy the exact size of plastic drawer/boxes I needed to fit the shelf, and back home to a weekend of closet clearing. The two boxes? OUT! The crates full of old t-shirts and never worn exercise clothes? OUT! The bags of shoes? GONE! The miscellany of dresses, blouses, skirts and jackets hogging closet space? HISTORY!

I was merciless. I pulled out what I could reach and shoved it aside, quitting only when there was no more space outside of the closet to put the stuff. That first weekend two crates were emptied and refilled with exercise clothes, shirts, shoes and other items and given away to charity. The other stuff is hanging on the coat rack or shoved in the living room waiting for the next pick up day. The plastic boxes are nestled on the shelf, and lovingly folded within are winter sweaters and other clothes that I actually do wear.

The bonus? Room enough to actually slide the hangers from side to side. Room enough to actually get IN the closet to see what's there. Room enough to actually hold the clothes I do wear all the time. No more clothes stacked up on chairs and dressers in the bedroom - now they're IN the dresser!

And best of all, skirts and blouses I had forgotten I had (which fit and which ARE in style) are now visible, accessible and WEARABLE! I'm wearing one today. It's like having new clothes that I didn't have to shop for or pay for! And when I go home tonight and change my clothes, I know I'll have a place to put it so I can wear it again in a week or two.

Next charity pick up date is Monday. My goal is two boxes, minimum! I'll be busy this weekend!

Oh yeah! I also went diving in the front closet and pulled out a wonderful Victorian black widow's dress, my costume as Mrs. Sowerberry in Oliver a few years ago (long enough ago that it no longer fits). Remove zipper, hem the now open back seam and it's ready to go to Tony for his Photo Costume collection, complete with black widow's cap and black mourning apron. He'll love it, and I get to hang up a coat! Yippee!

Quotable Quotes: In the category No thanks, I'm just looking.

"Distrust any enterprise that requires new clothes".
Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

I Like To Do That Too!!!

You'll notice I added another link. Click on the Hello my name is Heather link and scroll down to the green, yellow and orange crochet hooks in the March 2007 archives. Pay attention to the colorful buttons, thread and other things as you pass. This is a site Louise sent to me and I love the topics and the photos - especially her predilection for lime green and those pinks and pastels. I like her baby booty patterns and the candy looking crochet hooks. Face it, anything that looks like candy has to have something going for it.

I love to make and do - always have. Although I never got around to creating an internet business or "officially" designing, I continue to search out and be inspired by other-people's-patterns. And every once in a while, I make up something original all on my own.

A couple years ago I started making my own gift bags for Christmas presents. I don't know where I got the idea - it was probably inspired by a combination of sources. And the fact that I save everything because it is guaranteed to be something I desperately need within 13 minutes of the garbage truck picking it up once I throw it away after holding onto it for the last 18 years "just in case".

I save paper. Seriously. Lately some companies have been using brown kraft paper as packing material. Long, long sheets of it, crookedly torn off at the ends. I guess they don't have it in a roller with a cutting blade. I can't bear to throw it away. It's better than any old brown bag and NO PRINTING ANYWHERE ON IT!!!

To make a bag, I cut the paper to size, cut a long strip for a handle, wrap the bag section around an appropriately sized box, fold in and glue the bottom so the bag will stand up, and let dry. Then I fold over the top two times (for strength) and fold the strap piece in half twice (for strength), gluing each fold. I tuck the ends of the strap under the folded over top of the bag and glue that, and glue the strap so it stands up pertly from the top of the bag.

It's done. But you can decorate it if you want to. Stickers, glitter glue, scraps cut from wrapping paper or old greeting cards, cut 'em out and stick 'em on. If the brown paper is a little crinkly, the fix is easy. Just smoosh the whole thing and then smooth it out again. Now it looks like you meant it to be that way!

I guarantee even you mother-in-law will like her present if you stick it in a hand made paper bag. I mean, who else in the world bothers to MAKE A BROWN PAPER BAG FROM SCRATCH???

Anybody???

Listen, this is how I keep my sanity. This is why they make jokes about basket weaving and knitting as therapy. Seriously, there comes a point when you are working something out when part of your brain just turns off . . . "let's see, if I cut this piece this long and stick this part under here . . . "

Next thing you know you are in a zone and when you "wake up" you have a beautifully hand crafted brown paper bag. It's amazing!

I was trying to come up with an idea for something to give some of the "girls" in my life - nieces, friend's daughters, children and young adults. The past few years I have saved make up bags - the kind you get free-with-purchase when you buy something at the Clinique or Estee Lauder counter so you can get a free lipstick.

I have filled these bags with everything from candy to cosmetics to baseball cards but I was running out of ideas. Then I decided I wanted to crochet something. Probably 'cuz my crochet hooks and some thread were in the room. What did I come up with? Lip Balm Cozies. You read that right.

Lip . . . Balm . . . Cozies . . .

If I had a digital camera I'd post a picture of them.

Here's how I made them. I crocheted a few stitches to see if it was going to be the right size then I just went to town. Oddly enough my little finger is just about the size and shape of your average chapstick. As I crocheted around and around the thing just kind of fit itself over my pinkie, like the finger of a glove. When I got near the top I worked in a few beads (which I had strung onto the thread beforehand) around the top. Then I crocheted a l - o - n - g string as a sort of a handle and added a few beads into it as well.

Note to self: make handle longer - everyone who got one tried to loop it around their neck like a necklace.

Why a lip balm cozy? Probably because I've never seen one. And everybody knows that the best gifts are things that are unique and have virtually no practical use whatsoever. And when they take up no space and pretty-up some mundane object most people take for granted? All the better!

Maybe next time I'll melt some bees wax, add some lavender or peppermint oil and make my own lip balm. Maybe.

Quotable Quotes: In the category You And What Army?

"I tried being reasonable. I didn't like it". Clint Eastwood

Monday, April 9, 2007

But I Have Nothing To Wear!

Anyone who knows me knows I've been involved in theater since . . . what time is it???

The kind of theater I'm involved in often means I am responsible for costuming myself. The kind of theater I'm involved in means style and accuracy are not often as important as being sure I have something - - ANYTHING - - to wear. I have made/scrounged costumes for everything and everyone from Agnes Gooch to Dolly Levi to Can-Can dancers with lots of Neil Simon in between. A wide variety of characters, periods, styles shapes and (over the years) sizes.

I used to keep a costume closet in the basement - one of those tin things that Bill calls a chiffarobe - but we recently bequeathed that to Don & Louise. I think they reinforced the doors and keep it in the barn to store the kinds of things that raccoons like to scavenge.

Now I have a tiny closet upstairs which will not hold all the costumes I keep. I'm glad I keep them. Last summer, when the costumer was late getting things ready for the school opera because the big fancy opera company (nudge, wink) for which the shop was also doing costumes for Marriage of Figaro, kept changing their minds about the designs, I loaned a bunch of my stuff for my teacher's original opera The Patriots, set during the American Revolution. Skirts, blouses, aprons, waistcoats, most of the women in the show wore something that belonged to me.

When the opera was over, all that stuff just would not go back into my tiny closet, so it sat for a year on a chair in the living room until I couldn't stand to look at it another minute and had to do something. God forbid I should discard a favorite vest or apron. Who knows when SOMEONE might need to borrow a costume again?

Still, this activity requires occasional sorting, weeding out, and discarding of garments no longer in use. Sort of like the semi-annual closet cleaning that used to be done by our grandmothers. I do it too (every few decades).

A couple of times I scoured my costume closet and sent off some things I could no longer wear. A bunch of them went to the church down the street for their theater program. It was gratifying to see 90% of the cast of Meet Me In St. Louis wearing Sarah's Junior Prom dresses from the 70s and costumes I had worn as a nearly anorexic Mrs. Strakosh in Funny girl. Other things went to the park district theater in Skokie. Over the next few shows it was interesting to see children wearing vaguely familiar garments and realize in the second act that they were cut down former "somethings" I had once worn and since donated.

Somehow, I continue to make and collect new (old) things. Hats are the most fun. A flat black straw hat I swathed in aqua nylon net and adorned with rainbow ribbons and the eyes from a dozen peacock feathers; a cheap straw "red hat lady" hat clouded with red tulle, bedecked with a large silver and black velvet shoe clip and two pheasant tail feathers sticking nearly 2 feet straight up into the air; they get better each time.

Now Tony tells me he and a friend are going into the We-Will-Photograph-You-In-A-Costume business and is in need of Victorian and Edwardian flavored garments. Alas, I have given most of that stuff away. But I started a box for him. So far it contains a vaguely Arrow Shirt with a narrow collar, a pair of natty suspenders, a ladies Sailor middy-blouse, a gaudy turquoise two piece "Tailor-Made" ala Eulalie Mackechnie Shinn from The Music Man.

And the piece de resistance, Bill's old high school marching band uniform. A real piece of vintage nostalgia. Not the mod'ren polyester baby blue false-fronted abomination worn now-a-days but a real old style (looks like a train conductor's) uniform in dark blue with lots of braid, cording, epaulets and military style buttons. And Tony tells me he has a conductor's cap that is the image of what Bill wore when marching around Maxwell Park, and we could hear them clear across town on summer mornings or autumn evenings.

What's my point? It's hard to let these things go! Everywhere today we are being told by Oprah, Suze Orman, Fly Lady et al to clear out our closets and get rid of things. Heaven knows I need to do this. I have clothes I haven't worn in 20 years. Fortunately, now that they are showing re-runs of Who's The Boss and Growing Pains on Network TV, I have visual proof that I will NEVER wear these things again, even if I do miraculously lose 150 pounds overnight.

Somehow that doesn't make it any easier to let these "things" go.

I have been purging "things" for over a year. Each month a box full of stuff goes out on the porch to be picked up by the Purple Heart Veterans. Each month it's like pulling out my own teeth to garner these things from closets and shelves and pack them into those boxes, never to be seen again.

The funny thing is, though, that once they're in the box, even before they make it to the porch, I've already forgotten all about them. I certainly don't miss them once they're gone (well, maybe a couple things, but even now I can't remember what they were).

I'm glad to find good new homes for these things that I once used and loved. Especially if I have first hand knowledge of where they are going. If I'm lucky, I'll see them live on in the next play, or maybe Tony will send me some pics of his customers wearing them. But the funny thing is, no matter how many boxes I put out, there always seems to be more STUFF! Does it ever get any less?

Maybe if I keep going, I'll finally come across that THING that I lost years ago, that I've been searching for all these months . . . if only I could remember what it is!!!

Quotable Quotes: In the category They're Not So Little Anymore!

"Housekeeping ain't no joke".
Louisa May Alcott

Monday, March 26, 2007

With Milk Or Cream And Sugar!

I'm a little annoyed, but secretly pleased at the same time.

I just walked by the coffee place at work. This is like a mini-starbux where you can get coffee drinks, specialty teas and sandwiches at ridiculously high prices. But they give you those nifty cardboard cup "sleeves" so I guess it's not all that bad.

Here's what I'm annoyed/pleased about.

As I walked by, I came in from the outside. The door to the building is next to the coffee stand. Some of their supplies are visible through the window from the outside, but not visible when you stand at the counter because they are obscured by machines and people.

Through the window, I saw cans of Hershey's syrup - - - those giant gallon size cans like they sell at the Mega-Lo-Mart. Dark shiny brown tin cans emblazoned with the Hershey's emblem.

I'm not sure why I'm annoyed. I guess it's because I at least like to preserve the illusion that my $5 cup of mocha-java-frappa-chino contains real, quality ingredients. Not that Hershey's syrup isn't a quality product, but it kind of spoils the ambiance to know that your coffee became "mocha" simply by the addition of the same thing that turns your kid's milk into a treat rather than a chore. I mean, maybe I'd feel better if it was a giant can of Ghirardelli or Valrhona chocolate syrup. Maybe.

But I am secretly pleased because Hershey's chocolate syrup is exactly what I use when I make a mocha-java-frappa-chino at home.

Yep!

I'm a secret junk-food-coffee-drink junkie.

Here's how I make 'em.

Make a pot (or even just a cup) of coffee as strong as you like it.

Heat some milk in a pan or in the microwave. Add a good glug or two of Hershey's syrup (or Nestle's or the store brand, it really doesn't matter). You could also just add a couple squares from a Hershey's chocolate bar or a couple of Frango Mints, a spoonful of m&m's, whatever - just so long as it's sweet and chocolaty. Hey, you could even add some Swiss Miss hot chocolate powder. I'm telling you, anything will work!

Get out a coffee mug or latte cup or whatever you like to drink from. Just be sure it's big enough to hold the coffee and the added milk. Pour the prepared coffee and the hot chocolate milk into the mug. Stir to be sure it's well blended. And be absolutely sure not to leave any of the chocolate in the bottom of the pan (you can probably heat it right in your cup if using the microwave - no chance of wasting any)!

Now, just to be sure your specialty coffee drink falls into the junk-food category (why drink it otherwise), get out the can of Ready-Whipped dessert topping, give it a few good shakes, and squirt on a swirly dollop of heaven.

And if you have any, and if you're serving this to your mother-in-law, or if you just really love yourself, sprinkle some chocolate shavings on top of the whipped cream. The crowning touch!

Enjoy!


Quotable Quotes: In the category I'll have what she's having.

"Coffee, coffee I must have, and if someone wishes to give me a treat, ah, then pour me out some coffee"!

Lieschen's Aria from "The Coffee Cantata" by J. S. Bach

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

So Much Food, So Little Time . . .

There is a restaurant near us called Wholly Frijole. Don't let the name fool you - this tiny eatery serves up gourmet Mexican food that you would willingly stand in line for. I have, and I don't stand in any line for anything!

When they first opened they had a single tiny room with maybe four tables for four and a short row of those tables-for-two-across-from-each-other down the center of the room. Shove them all together and you had a table for 6 (or 8 if they could wrangle extra chairs). Leave a inch of space between each and there were three "couples" tables at which you could admire what the diner next to you was having without turning your head.

It was worth it.

Since then they have expanded into the store front next door. The decor of the new room does not show the care and artistry employed in the original, which features air brushed cacti, sunsets and red and green starbursts, but the extra space makes about 30 additional customers very very happy.

This place serves salmon, lamb, fillet, red snapper, as well as traditional tacos and burritos, all expertly prepared and all featuring their signature chipotle mashed potatoes and a tiny ceramic dish (think paper-cup-of-cole-slaw-with-your-hot-dog-platter) of the house beans. The chef used to be on staff at one of the swank Mexican restaurants in Wicker Park - the one with a name I can't pronounce that means "grasshopper" or something like that.

Dishes come with your choice of soup or salad. If they have tortilla or black bean soup go with that. If you're with Bill, order the house salad. He'll let you taste his soup. The best of both worlds. My favorite dish is the grilled vegetable plate - slices of onion, jicama, chayote and other vegetables grilled and leant up against a mound of the mashed potatoes and garnished with a grilled green onion tied in a knot. rrlllggghmmm (Homer drool).

The other day, I made tortilla soup at home. There was a recipe in the paper. I didn't follow the recipe exactly, but the soup was good. You need proof? Bill took the leftover one inch of soup to work the next day to eat with his left over spinach pie. Bill doesn't eat ANYTHING he doesn't love.

With my soup I had a salad. I based it on the house salad at Wholly. While I could duplicate neither dish exactly, my efforts were worthy of repetition and of sharing. Here are approximate recipes.

Tortilla Soup

Cut a few stale leftover corn tortillas into 1/4 inch wide strips and fry in hot oil until crisp. Drain and reserve (or just use some store bought tortilla chips).

Saute minced garlic and onion in olive oil with a bit of canned chipotle pepper and its sauce, some cumin, cayenne, salt, pepper, dried parsley and dried oregano. Add about 1/3 can rinsed garbanzo beans and smash them so Bill won't know they're in there.

Add a 15 oz. can of chicken broth, an 8 oz. can tomato sauce and enough water to rinse out the tomato sauce can. Add about 1/4 to 1/2 cup canned or frozen corn kernels and heat to simmering. Taste for seasonings (I added a splash of lime juice - vinegar is also good - and a dash of tabasco) and serve with a dollop of sour cream and the tortilla "croutons" for garnish.
2 generous servings.

Wholly Salad for One or Two
(Bill doesn't eat salad)

Wash and dry five large romaine lettuce leaves. Slice five radishes and dice some tomato.

In a salad bowl place a dab (about 1/2 teaspoon) of spicy brown mustard, a blob (a few tablespoons) sour cream and a few bloops (a few tablespoons) olive oil. Season with salt, pepper, dill and other herbs of your choice. Mix well.

Add the lettuce, tomato, radishes, and about 1/4 can rinsed garbanzos and about 1/4 cup corn kernels and toss well. Some shredded carrots or red cabbage would not be out of place. Garnish with a few more of the tortilla "croutons".

I don't know how to make chipotle mashed potatoes but how hard could it be? I imagine you'd want to cook some garlic with the potatoes and when mashing, add some of the sauce from the canned chipotles or (if you want to bother) some of the chiles that have been mooshed in the food processor.


A little rant: It should never be 72 degrees f in March in Chicago - even if it's only meeting and not exceeding the record for the date.


Quotable Quotes: In the category Bread or Democracy

"Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what's for lunch".
Orson Welles

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

But What Do I Say NOW????

I can see this might be a daunting venture. Somehow, when I knew I was going to send a newsletter every three months or, later, every year, it was no problem to find new things to write about. I just kept a file of topics and half written essays to pull from, collected quotations I liked, filed recipes and craft ideas and sometime in November, pulled them together into a newsletter to be included with my holiday card mailing. But now I have this BLOG breathing down my neck demanding I come up with something clever and wonderful all the time.

I think the problem is its immediacy. With the newsletter I had time to write and edit, copy it, write out envelopes, fold, stuff and mail it. But with this blog thing, with a single keystroke it's out in the blogosphere for all to see RIGHT NOW!!!!! Oh, the pressure!

Saturday night was Louise's mom's 90th birthday party. The family planned a party at the Suparrosa restaurant in Woodridge. That's about a 40 minute drive (depending on traffic) and two toll booths (one on 294, one on 88) from our house in Chicago. You pay attention more when you are caravaning with two other cars. You notice crazy drivers more and wonder why in the world you willingly put yourself in a situation where you have to share the road with such people. Like calmly sitting in the dentist's chair and allowing him to put a hypodermic needle or a high speed drill in your mouth without protest. But I digress.

We had a private room closed off from the rest of the restaurant by a wall of French doors. The floor was uneven stone, the walls painted in that blotchy Tuscany style in shades of sunny peach, golden yellow and creamy beige. There were picture boards everywhere. The fun part was trying to remember in whose house you had seen some of the pictures before - - - that one is in a frame in Louise's mom's dining room. That one is on the bookshelf in Louise's living room next to the TV. I know I saw that one before, but where???

Dinner started with trays of bruschetta and antipasto - thin slices of salami, capicola and mortadella; mozzarella rolled into cones and stuffed with black olives; artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers. Then came a nice salad, pasta marinara, luscious green beans, Chicken Vesuvio and (what do you expect, this is Louise we're talking about) sausages cooked with peppers. And on each table was a plate of roasted garlic cloves drenched in olive oil with a mound of grated Parmesan cheese to dip the bread in. Yummmmm!!!!!

Before dessert, Louise's brother Chris asked if I would lead the guests in singing Happy Birthday. Being properly educated I felt equal to the task and graciously accepted the challenge (after first threatening to leave the room). If you can believe it, this was the first time I can remember when a group of 50 people, with no accompaniment, managed to sing Happy Birthday all together, in tune and on key. Either I'm a great leader or they all are fine musicians. You be the judge.

Louise's maiden name is Kardaras. In-laws with bakery connections brought the birthday cake and a whole tray of baklava cut in huge restaurant-size pieces. What goes better with an Italian dinner than Greek pastry? Good coffee!

Quotable Quotes: In the category And what will you be having?

"My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four. Unless there are three other people". Orson Welles

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Beginnings

Friends and family have been urging me to put my madKnews newsletter online. This past holiday I did so with my first e-mail edition. I guess that broke the ice because now I'm taking Kathryn's advice and jumping headfirst into the wonderful world of blogging.

SPLASH!!!!!

But now that I've made it through the hard part (picking a suitable picture) I'm stuck with the insurmountable task of finding something to say. So to make it easy, I'll tell you about the picture.

In 2003, I graduated with a Master of Arts degree in music. One of the requirements was to perform a graduate recital, which took the place of writing a thesis paper. Of course, writing the paper was also an option, but who wouldn't rather slave for a full year choosing, researching and rehearsing songs that you might not otherwise choose to sing? And to make it even more fun you got to write a bibliography and program notes so in a sense, it was double the fun!

My challenge was made even greater because I prefer to sing humorous songs and while my advisers allowed me to plan a humor based program, I still had to adhere to the academic guidelines. It was hard work finding songs that fulfilled all the requirements AND would still be at least moderately amusing to my audience (songs that may have been funny to audiences a few hundred years ago were less likely to be funny today on all but the most cerebral of levels). But when I discovered that Rachmaninoff had written a comic song, I knew I was in business.

The drawing, which the designer at the printer dubbed the "Laughing Diva", was done by me. I wanted something fun to put on my program cover and posters and post cards and it was a case of me saying "I want something sort of like this" and the printer, who is also my spouse, saying "Why not just use that". So I did. The designer scanned my line drawing into a file and my personal logo was born. My posters and program were printed on card stock of the same lime green as the blog design and a theme was born. I love my laughing diva and I make offerings to her regularly to keep her appeased.

Everybody sing!

Quotable Quotes: in the category Divas are like that

"I would not kill my enemies, but I will make them get down on their knees. I will, I can, I must". Maria Callas