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Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Catcher in the Rye

I read books the way kids watch movies on DVD – find one I like, buy the book and read it again and again. And again.

I first read Catcher in the Rye when I was in high school. It was not a school assignment. In fact, I might never have heard of it were it not for a short story I read in a girl’s magazine. The boy in the story talked about reading The Catcher in the Rye because it was the only book a kid in high school was allowed to read that was full of language he would get slugged for using around his mother. High praise indeed, for a high school girl, and reason enough to check the book out of the library.

I read the book and immediately fell in love with both Holden Caulfield AND J.D. Salinger, quite missing the point that those very emotions would have alienated me from both author and character. Such is teenage love & angst.

I read the book with no thought of discussing it in any setting, certainly not a classroom one. But a few years later I met a boy and found that he had read the book and had strong opinions about it. We discussed it at length over coffee at Howard Johnson’s. We also discussed the movies The Graduate, 2001 A Space Odyssey and a few others. His propensity for “narrating” the movie and providing his version of director’s commentary during the film prevented me from seeing many films with him, and his insistence on a relationship deeper than I was prepared for at that time ended our budding friendship before it had a chance to develop into something more. His loss.

Apparently there is lots of symbolism in The Catcher in the Rye regarding Holden's red hunting hat, his sister, his brother Allie, dying of leukemia and his sense of disappearing. Funny, when I read the book I just thought it was about a malcontent teenager who did not want to accept responsibility for certain actions and who did not want to proceed with growing up to adulthood. I just cannot imagine Salinger deciding to write this book as an allegory filled with symbolism. I think Salinger was writing about himself and his own unwillingness to grow up. I think if I had written this book that’s what it would have been about.

I remember reading Watership Down by Richard Adams for a school assignment. I had a hard time drawing the symbolic inferences the instructor seemed to want us to. I felt much better when I later read an interview with Adams. When asked about the hidden meaning in the book he replied there was none. He just wanted to write a book about rabbits.

Although I have read Catcher in the Rye countless times, it was all I could do to get through Watership Down, and I do not believe I will ever read it again. I have kind of outgrown Catcher in the Rye, too, and would not be reading it or writing about it if it had not been a book club selection. Yes, it was my turn to choose the book this month. Catcher in the Rye was the only thing I could think of. I’ll let you know if I enjoy re-reading it to remember all the parts I have forgotten.

Quotable Quotes: in the category I Guess That About Says It All

"All morons hate it when you call them a moron."
- J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Windows Extra

Last weekend was warm(ish) after a week of dank, cold, rainy. We left the doors open on Sunday. Little girl did not know what to make of it. After running to and from the open front door several times we figured she thought it was summer again and wanted all the windows open.

We obliged by opening the bathroom window, giving her a choice of vantage points. She was like a little kid on Christmas morning, trying to decide which present to open first.

The windows stayed open most of the day and by evening she retired to her hidey hole, warmed by the central heating, which we turned back on after closing the windows again when it got too cold.

Quotable Quotes; in the category Gone But Never Forgotten

"No amount of time can erase the memory of a good cat, and no amount of masking tape can ever totally remove his fur from your couch."

Leo Dworken

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hyacinth for the Soul

I have been on a flower kick lately. Flowers go on sale at the grocery store and I ask Bill to buy me a bunch.

A few weeks ago it was gladiolas. He brought them home, flaming pink, along with a bunch of equally flaming coral colored roses. Without being asked he tossed the two bunches on the kitchen counter and stated "they were pretty so I bought them". What a guy!

I placed them into two vases at first, but each looked wimpy and incomplete. Then I placed all the glads in a shorter vase and placed the roses at the base of the tall spikes. Within a day or two all the glads had opened and the effect was stunning!

A few weeks went by with no sale prices low enough to entice me until last week. I thought I had asked for a generic bunch of flowers but what Bill brought home was a bouquet of multi colored roses - red, pink, creamy white tipped with rose, yellow, and I placed them all in a vase. They did not have the desired effect.

This week glads were on sale again. Bill said when he got to the store the sign said they were two bunches for the price of one. He brought home a bunch of the pink and another bunch of deep purple glads. Even the stems were a deeper green than the other bunch.

I tried to figure out what to do with them. The roses from the week before still looked pretty good so I rinsed out the vase and cut the glads down to manageable size, interspersing the two colors in the vase. Instead of placing the roses in another vase, I cut them just a bit shorter, both to make room and to give them a boost, hoping they would last a few more days. I interspersed them with the glads and hoped the pink and purple buds would open before the roses faded completely. Glad blossoms open from the bottom up.

Enjoy the pics as I enjoy the blooms.

One of Betty Smith's characters said, in her book "Joy In The Morning", "Man does not live by bread alone. He should also buy hyacinth to feed his soul. I read that somewhere". Well, I read that somewhere too. I don't have hyacinth but I have gladiolas and roses and my soul is enriched.

Quotable quotes; in the category Don't Give Me Flowers When I'm Hungry!

"Man cannot live by bread alone; he must have peanut butter."
James A. Garfield

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Windows 2009

This past summer was cooler than usual - or at least cooler than the past few have been. We hardly turned the air conditioner on all summer and we kept the windows open most of the time, closing them only when the temperatures got into the 90s and the humidity became oppressive. It was lovely to have fresh air circulating all summer.

Little girl seemed to enjoy having the windows open, too. She divided her time between the bathroom and bedroom window, and the open front door. Considerate cat folk that we are, we kept a stool by the front door so she could sit and observe her world at ease, not having to stand on her hind legs with her paws resting on the screen.

I am pretty sure she appreciated the effort.

Alas, this week we turned on the heat. We had to. Although I like the cool weather, it was nigh onto 60 degrees in the house. Too cold even for me. I set the thermostat for a balmy 62 degrees and enjoyed warm toes and a sweater.

Most cats look forward to furnace day. Our boys loved it. They knew when the furnace would cycle on and when the warm air would pour forth from the vents. They each had their favorite spots (Bill's lap among them) and sometimes had to jockey for the best position.

Little girl could not seem to care less about the furnace heat. She wants her windows! We opened them again over the weekend and kept them open as long as we could but by Monday night they were closed again. Poor baby, she trots back and forth from the bathroom to the bedroom to the front door, gently nudging at the blinds and wondering where her scenic vistas have gone.

We promised her we would open them again if it got warm enough. She would not respond. She is mad and she wants her windows. I hope next summer is a cool one.

Quotable Quotes; in the category Who Shut MY Window?

"In a cat's eye, all things belong to cats."
English Proverb

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Which Sandwich is Which?

The Cuban Sandwich, or Cubano, has been getting a lot of press in Chicago lately. Simply speaking, the Cubano is a hefty sandwich of sliced ham and roast pork, cheese and pickle, layered on a hearty roll with mayo and grilled in a sandwich press.

The Cubano's cousin, the Medianoche (midnight sandwich) is about the same with a few differences. A cursory search of the web shows the Midnight is so named because of the time it is usually eaten, late at night maybe after dancing. It might be smaller for lighter appetites, sweeter than the Cubano due to an enriched egg bread instead of the roll, and/or have lettuce and tomato layered with the other ingredients. One friend told me the Medianoche was not grilled (maybe too much trouble at midnight?) but web sources show it grilled in the same way as the Cubano.

Back in the day, I used to enjoy a Slim Jim sandwich at the Big Boy restaurants in the Detroit area. This was a distant cousin of the Cubano - sliced ham and cheese with "secret sauce" grilled on a "Grecian" roll. Close, but no Havana Cigar!

Enjoy your Cubano with a cup of Cafe Cubano, or as I like to call it, "Have a little coffee with your hot milk"! The Medianoche might go better with a beer, unless you are unaffected by late night caffeine, you're drinking decaf, or you made the Medianoche at noon!

To properly enjoy your Cubano you'll need Pernil - seasoned roasted pork. Failing that, roast your pork in the usual way and make sure to keep enough leftovers for sandwiches later in the week. This may become part of your repertoire.

You need bread - Italian, French or Cuban style. The kind of bread you might use to make homemade garlic bread or a Dagwood or Submarine Sandwich. Slice it in half and spread with mayonnaise. Layer on sliced ham and roast pork, slices of Swiss cheese and pickles. Use sweet or dill. The long pickle slices may be easier to handle. Wrap the sandwich in foil (optional but recommended, especially if you will be heating the Cubano in the oven, or if you have brushed the outsides with melted butter).

Cook the sandwich in a panini or sandwich press. Your George Foreman grill will make a good substitute (you may have to cut the sandwich into smaller portions to fit). Use a grill pan, if you have one, or just use a cast iron skillet. I recommend low heat, preheating the skillet with another smaller skillet resting inside, so the insides will heat and melt while the outsides toast rather than burn. Place the smaller skillet on top of the sandwich and press. You will have to flip the sandwich over to toast both sides (not necessary with the grill or panini).

For oven cooking wrap the sandwich in foil and place on a baking sheet. Place a second baking sheet on top and weight it with your heaviest cast iron pan. Heat in an oven preheated to 350, about 30 minutes until hot and toasty. Unwrap and slice on the diagonal into serving pieces.

For a great recipe for roast pork, google "Pernil" or "Daisy Martinez".

Quotable Quotes; in the category Ah, but THIS I understand!

"Too few people understand a really good sandwich".

James Beard

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Some Dim Sum?

I love dim sum. But I hate crowds. If we go for dim sum on Sunday mornings there are lots and lots of people. There are also many extra goodies on the tea carts that are not available other days of the week. If we go on Saturday mornings, there are fewer people but usually only the basics are available - shiu mai, shrimp dumplings, funn roll and other favorites. We go on Saturday. It's a toss up. We miss out on some of the fancier (read expensive) things like lobster roll, but we don't have to battle the crowds for parking and maybe our bill is a little smaller.

I love sticky rice at dim sum, the kind that comes wrapped up in a lotus leaf. I also love the sticky fried rice at dim sum, the kind that comes on a small plate covered with an inverted clear plastic dome. There are always a few slices of Chinese sausage on top of the rice. I love that sausage. Nothing else tastes like it. Not even chicken.

We usually get the fried rice. Why? Because Bill says the sticky rice I make at home is better than the version we get at dim sum. I'm sold. Compliments go far, and we have the added bonus of not having to unwrap that ungainly lotus leaf all over the table and try to neatly portion out the rice and goodies inside.

Sticky rice is not hard to make. I takes a long time because the rice and lotus leaves have to soak in water overnight, and it takes an hour or more to cook in the steamer basket. But the actual preparation is not difficult or time consuming, and the ingredients are readily available. Sort of. If you live in Chicago or another bustling metropollis with a vibrant Chinatown. And getting the special ingredients, while a challenge perhaps, is also a part of the adventure.

If you would like to make sticky rice at home, here are the ingredients and methods I use. Give it a try - or else try dim sum next time you have the urge to eat something "different", fun, and tasty.

Sticky Rice Steamed in Lotus Leaves

3 cups glutinous (sticky) rice
3 large dried lotus leaves
½ cup dried chestnuts
8 dried black mushrooms (or shitake)
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper

Filling

2 teaspoons vegetable or peanut oil
2 Chinese sausages thinly sliced diagonally
¼ pound diced boneless chicken thighs
4 thinly sliced green onions
2 minced cloves garlic
2 teaspoons minced ginger
¼ pound thinly sliced Chinese Barbecue Pork
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
2 salted duck eggs (optional) whites discarded and
yolks cut in half (I use regular hard cooked eggs, white and yolk)

Allow time for overnight soaking to prepare this dish. Although the preparation and cooking are lengthy, it is a fairly simple dish to prepare and requires little hands on work. If you do not have a wok and bamboo steamer you can substitute a large stock pot (the one you use for boiling pasta) with a steamer rack. If you have a pizza pan that is full of holes (intended to brown the pizza crust) that would work too. The fragrance of the lotus leaves steaming will make your kitchen smell like a Chinese tea room. Settle down with some Pearl S. Buck and enjoy a good read.

Soak the rice overnight in water to cover; Soak the lotus leaves in a large pan, dishpan or basin with water to cover; Soak the dried chestnuts overnight in a small pan of water to cover. Next day, drain and cover with fresh water and parboil for five minutes, then drain again; Soak the mushrooms in warm water to cover for 30 minutes. Drain, remove and discard the stem, and slice the caps.

Line a bamboo steaming basket with 2 of the lotus leaves, pointed centers downward, overlapping and allowing the edges to drape over the edge. Drain the rice and season with salt and pepper. Spread it evenly over the leaf lined basket.

Heat a wok or skillet over medium high heat. Add oil and heat. Add sausages and chicken and stir fry one minute. Add 1 tablespoon of the green onion, the garlic, ginger and mushrooms, and stir fry one minute. Add the barbecue pork and dried chestnuts and cook another minute. Remove from the wok and add the oyster sauce, dark soy sauce and sesame oil.

If using duck eggs (or regular eggs) arrange them over the rice. Spread the remaining filling evenly over and sprinkle with another tablespoon of green onion. Place the 3d lotus leaf over the top with the pointed center facing up. Tuck the edges of the leaves into the steamer and place a heatproof plate upside down over the top to hold them in place.

Cover the steaming basket (if using a stock pot, cover with the pot lid) and place it over a wok of rapidly simmering water. Steam over medium heat about one hour until the rice is tender and translucent. Add more boiling water to the wok or pot as needed.

Remove the lid and the plate (careful, it’s HOT) and unfold the lotus leaves, draping over the edges of the steamer (you can buy a darling, if flimsy, set of tongs just for removing plates from the steamer at a Chinese grocer). Garnish with the remaining green onion if desired. Place the entire steamer basket on a platter and serve with fragrant Oolong tea and fortune cookies.

Notes: Glutinous rice, also called sweet rice or sticky rice is very short grained rice that becomes starchy and sticky when cooked. It is often served as a dessert with sliced mango and is usually soaked before cooking. It can be found in Asian markets.

Lotus leaves can be found in Asian markets. I have found them stacked and wrapped in a plastic or cellophane wrapper, about a dozen or so leaves per package.

Chinese Barbecue Pork, Chinese Sausages, dried chestnuts, black or shitake mushrooms and dark soy sauce can be found in Asian markets, especially if you have a Chinatown area near you. If you cannot find or do not like some of the ingredients they can easily be omitted or substituted. Regular soy sauce for dark for instance, roast pork instead of barbecue, etc. You can also use regular button mushrooms. The sesame oil and oyster sauce are fairly essential but should be readily available. I know of no substitute for the sweet Chinese sausages.

If using salted duck eggs, they must be cooked before using. Scrape off the black coating and wash, place in a pan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer 10 minutes. Rinse, cool and remove shells. Use only the yolks in your recipe.


Quotable Quotes; in the category Where Shall We Go For Dinner?

“Never eat Chinese food in Oklahoma.”
Bryan Miller (NY Times Restaurant Critic)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

It's Nice. It's Nicoise.

I love Nicoise salad. And I love using up leftovers, just as much as I hate recipes with lots of fussy steps. Many recipes for Nicoise salad involve steaming green beans, boiling potatoes and eggs, and other redundant activities. Named for the Nicoise olives from Nice in France, this is a great summer meal and can be made quickly from leftovers if you plan ahead.

Make vinaigrette by mixing a few spoonfuls of Dijon or grainy mustard with about ¼ cup lemon juice and balsamic or wine vinegar, salt and pepper and fresh or dried herbs. Whisk in about ½ cup olive oil and set aside (you probably want about ¾ cup altogether). Hint: Make vinaigrette part of your routine so you always have some on hand. It keeps well in the fridge and is ready at a moments notice.

Boil some red or new potatoes, the small ones with the thin skin. Peel if you wish or just scrub. When tender, cool until you can handle them. Slice and toss with some of the dressing. Hint: Next time you cook red or new potatoes, fix a few extra and plan to have Nicoise salad soon.

Steam some green beans and other vegetables like broccoli, asparagus, then cool and dress with the vinaigrette. Hint: See those potatoes? Ditto the green beans, broccoli or asparagus.

Slice red or yellow peppers, raw zucchini, radishes, celery, carrots, green or red onion, garbanzo beans, and add some of the dressing. Use any vegetables you like or have on hand. The dressed vegetables can stand in the fridge a few hours of a day or two, until needed. Hint: Those last few - if you dress the veg with the vinaigrette and keep it in the fridge until needed, your salad can be assembled in seconds.

Cook a few eggs by placing them in a pan of cold water, bringing slowly to a boil, simmer about a minute or two then cover and turn off the heat and let stand 13 minutes. Cool in cold water. Hint: You know where this is going, right? You guessed it. Make egg salad or eggs for potato salad and fix a few extra.

To make the salad, for each serving, line a plate with washed and dried salad greens. Scatter over the top the green beans, asparagus, and other vegetables. You can place them in sections or mix them all up. Place a small can (or half a regular sized can) of drained tuna on top and garnish with slices or wedges of tomato and hard cooked egg. Look for Italian tuna packed in olive oil. (You can also use a small fillet of grilled or seared tuna).

Top off the whole thing with a generous handful of Nicoise black olives, or any cured black olives such as Kalamata. Drizzle any extra dressing over the top and season with Kosher or Sea Salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Make a family sized version by increasing the amounts accordingly and arranging on a large platter.

Quotable Quotes; in the category What Can I Have For dinner - - - Or What Can I Remember Having Had For Dinner?

“Leftovers in their less visible form are called memories. Stored in the refrigerator of the mind and the cupboard of the heart.”

Thomas Fuller, 17th century author.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Tasty! Yes!

We ate in a new (to us) restaurant last week. One of those places that we have driven by a thousand times, always meaning to stop, never finding the right moment. We are adding this to our list of "take our friends here" places.

The restaurant is called Smak Tak. Apparently that is Polish for Tasty! Yes! It's true. This is a tiny store front on Elston Avenue, just a short drive from the house. Inside it looks like somebody's log cabin. Perhaps at one time it was intended as a tavern, or maybe this is the way Polish restaurants are supposed to look. Looks aren't everything. But being cute AND having good food are both good things.

The menu is small but appears large, because the left hand page lists all the dishes in Polish, while the right hand page lists all the same dishes in English. Choosing is not made any easier by the few photos of laden plates of food which adorn the menu.

This place serves one of those "I will have to get that next time" dishes. It consists of a Hungarian potato pancake generously wrapped around a healthy portion of Goulash and adorned with sour cream and two or three vegetable salad selections. Other choices include Bigos (Hunter Style Stew) pork loin served with fruit, Pierogi and Potato Dumplings. Shish Kebab and BBQ ribs are also listed. Entrees range from $9to $12. Each includes potatoes and at least two vegetables or salads, chef's choice.

Stuck into the menu is a plain white sheet of paper listing the specials of the day. This takes the form of a $15 full meal and includes your choice of 2 or 3 soups, your choice of entree, potatoes, bread, vegetables and dessert.

On our visit, Bill ordered the special. Some kind of dumpling resembling round Pierogi, a generous basket of bread and butter, mounds of cucumbers in sour cream and shredded, pickled beets. The dumplings were swimming in melted butter, which Bill felt somewhat made up for the brilliant fuchsia beet juice encroaching on their space. Bill chose the chicken noodle soup (I would have opted for the mushroom) and also had a slice of torte as his dessert (no choice of dessert was offered).

I ordered the pork cutlet. A piece of pork, pounded thin and flat, large enough to be imposing on the platter-sized plate which held it and blanketed with sauteed mushrooms. Three small ice-cream scoops of mashed potato, garnished with minced parsley and dill, and mounds of shredded carrot salad and good red cabbage (I don't know how to spell Rotkohl).

The food, along with two slices of bread and butter, was enough that I was able to take home two of Bill's dumplings and one scoop of my potatoes, along with the uneaten portions of salad for a nice lunch the next day. We shared the slice of cake, which was drizzled with Hershey's chocolate syrup and which the wait person presented with two forks, due to her powers of insight.

Although the place was empty when we arrived, and a quick read of the restaurant reviews decorating the walls indicated that evening crowds were not the norm, at least three other tables (of the 10 or so available) were occupied while we ate. Apparently construction crews and other hearty eaters frequent the place for lunch, less so at supper. But no liquor license means you can bring your own choice of beer or wine and appropriate glasses will be offered without asking.

This is not a typical Polish all-you-can-eat buffet and lacks something in the "stuff yourself" factor. But the well prepared food, nicely presented in pleasant surroundings and not too expensive make it a hit. We will be back. Hopefully with friends. Hopefully soon.

Quotable Quotes; in the category But Fish Wasn't Even On The Menu!

"Fish, to taste right, must swim three times - in water, in butter and in wine."
Polish proverb

Saturday, April 18, 2009

You're Smokin' !

About a year ago, a restaurant called Smoque was reviewed on our local TV restaurant review show. It got high marks. It should. I hesitate to highlight it here lest it become overrun with barbecue hounds. Then again, the lack of comments on my posts suggests that teeming hordes are not clamoring to read my blog, so maybe we're safe.

Another little place opened in our neighborhood a couple months ago. They serve the ubiquitous Chicago specialty "Italian Beef" (roast beef sliced paper thin and simmered in a broth heavy with spices and herbs, served on a hearty roll with some of the "jus" and "sport" peppers optional. I do not care for this delicacy even when it is well prepared. This place, well, soaking leftover sliced beef in hot water just doesn't cut it. Even if they try to spare the customer from eating bad beef by serving miserly portions.

Likewise their "barbecue pulled pork sandwich" was a major disappointment. Some kind of pork, cooked and pseudo shredded, scantily dabbed on a doughy bun with a smidgen of commercial barbecue sauce - uh, ya, no!

This place, so close, makes me glad to know that when I want GOOD barbecue, I can get it. At Smoque, not here! Smoque serves up delicious shredded pork or sliced brisket, cooked/smoked to melting tenderness and each served with an appropriate sauce, engineered especially for the taste and texture of the meat. Each is served on a glossy crusted roll with hand cut fries. We usually get one of each sandwich, cut each in half and swap, and divvy up the generous portion of well cooked fries.

We have not yet tried the chicken or ribs. I have no reason to think they will not be delicious. Apart from an excellent vinegary cole slaw, the other sides we have sampled are, in my humble opinion, unnecessary - good mac & cheese and cornbread and serviceable beans. The dessert, an individual peach cobbler, could not stand up to the memory of dad's homemade cobbler, cooked in a cast iron dutch oven in the campfire. I'd rather have more fries or another bite of that brisket.

I know some people believe that "real barbecue" cannot be had in Chicago. I don't care about that. I care about good. The barbecue at Smoque, real or imaginary, is good.

Here's a hint. Call ahead and place your order. When you breeze in (if you can find a place to park) and sail past those in line, you will enjoy their dismay that they did not think of it too!

Quotable Quotes; in the category Can't talk, eating!

"Smoke is the soul of true barbecue". Steven Raichlen, Barbecue University

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Palms

Tomorrow is Easter. Last week was Palm Sunday. I used to love Palm Sunday as a kid. We were given palm fronds at church. Anytime I was given ANYTHING I thought it was special.

At home, we placed the palms over and around crucifixes, paintings of Mary, and any other place that was appropriate. When we were very young we even had a little holy water font on the wall - a small dish to hold holy water, with the likeness of a saint or an angel behind it. We were supposed to dip our fingers into the holy water and bless ourselves each time we entered or left the house.

There was a large container of holy water in the vestibule of the church. Occasionally, we brought a small bottle to fill and take home, to keep our little font filled. Our home font eventually disappeared. I have not seen one in a home for many, many years.

The palms I received in Baptist or Methodist churches were different from the palms I used to receive at our Catholic church. Ours were long and slender. Theirs were a single branch with many short leaves branching off the center stem. I liked ours better - what you're used to, I guess. Since I have been singing in the choir at the Community Church, I get the same kind of palms I used to get as a kid. I like them. They remind me of the "old days".

At one time I became intrigued by palms folded and woven into crosses, roses and other shapes. I determined to learn to make them. On Palm Sunday, I take home extra palms and fold them into numerous palm crosses, which I then take back to church on Good Friday and leave them on the table for everyone to take home. Lately, the children have been making palm crosses in Sunday School, but I still continue to make mine.

Sometimes I give them to friends and neighbors and once, I sent them to my brothers and sisters, hoping they would be mailed before they dried out completely and were crushed to bits in the envelopes. The crosses twist and curl as they dry - you could dry them in a phone book or under a heavy weight to keep them flat, but I don't bother.

I made palm crosses this year. I was going out with friends and brought a couple of crosses for them. To my surprise, they gave me two crosses they had brought home from church. Theirs were folded the same way mine were, only the palms had been cut short before folding. Thus the crosses were uniform in size, and appropriately scaled to be worn as pins (a straight pin was stuck into each, for attaching to one's lapel).

This year's palm crosses were placed on the table in the vestibule. I hope they will be taken home. Last year they were left and later someone had laid them on tables and desks all over the church, apparently unwilling to throw them away.

If you would like to fold palm crosses and don't know how, here is a link that can show you. Leave your palms long as I do, or cut them short, about 6 - 8 inches long should do it. Split the palms to about 1/2 inch widths, or try folding a cross from an un-split leaf and enjoy the bulky cross that results. You can fold the long points into the middle, or leave them hanging long, or wind them around the cross piece and thread them through the final wrap. I make them all ways. They are all pretty and fun.

Happy Easter!

Quotable Quotes; in the category But I Spent All My Money On Jelly Beans And Marshmallow Chicks!

"Those have a short Lent, who owe money to be paid at Easter."
Benjamin Franklin

Saturday, April 4, 2009

It's Electrifying!

A few weeks ago the light in our kitchen ceiling fan went out. Several months before that, the light in the kitchen hall had gone out. We had not gotten around to replacing that so we went to Menards to check out fans and light fixtures.

We could not find the fan/light combo we wanted and the neighbor who would be the one replacing it was at a month long seminar so we did not feel the need to hurry. We continued to shop for fans, not finding anything we liked, learning that Sears no longer sold the massive stock of fans and light fixtures they once did.

Then I saw a tiny display of switches. One was designated as a light switch (pull chain type) for a ceiling fan. Could it be that only the switch had broken and the light still worked? It would only cost about four bucks and a little time and effort to find out.

I questioned Bill who said he could not stand on the ladder long enough to make the change. He did believe he could guide me as I was able to abide the ladder legs and we decided to try - on a bright, sun-shiny Saturday afternoon two weeks before said neighbor was due back.

It took the better part of an hour. I had to remove and reattach the switch twice because wouldn't you know, it only fit if everything was lined up properly to the original configuration (although there was no marking to indicate where that was).

At last, the new switch was installed and tested, the glass light shades washed, dried and replaced and the tools and ladders put away. And not a moment too soon as the afternoon sunshine was fading into evening dimness.

I feel as if we got a new ceiling fan and a sense of accomplishment all for $4. The fact that the house has not blown up is a bonus.

Quotable Quotes; in the category How Shocking!

"Electricity can be dangerous. My nephew tried to stick a penny into a plug. Whoever said a penny doesn't go far didn't see him shoot across that floor. I told him he was grounded."

Tim Allen

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day!

Or as I used to say in grade school, Valen-Times!

Over the past several years I have given Bill a hand made valentine to mark this occasion. Sometimes it's a paper confection adorned with ruffles and paper lace doilies, vintage illustrations and artistic embellishments. Other times it is a knitted, crocheted or tatted heart.

Patterns for new designs are getting harder and harder to find. In case you are inclined to create a unique handmade valentine for someone, here are links to a few of my favorites.

This is a darling chubby 3D heart in the Amigurumi style.

The instructions for this heart were a bit of a challenge to decipher, but the result is a charming granny-square style heart with a picot edging.

Here are instructions for a whimsical garland of hearts. Try making the hearts in multi-colors for use year-round.

I usually stuff the hearts with lavender to make sachets. Bill seems to like them. I know I enjoy making them, and I hope you do too.

Quotable Quotes; in the category What's Love Got To Do With It?

“From Jesse James to Loeb and Leopold, from the perpetrators of the St. Valentine's Day's massacre to the Lindbergh kidnapper and beyond, our celebrated delinquents have become a part of the national heritage.”

F. W. Dupree

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Chicken Salad

My sis and I got into an email exchange about chicken salad (it started with Spam - don't ask me how). The emails and links she sent were so entertaining (at least to me)I decided to post them as a blog entry. Enjoy.

From sis:
All time favorite chicken salad EVER in the history of the world:

Chunks of cooked white meat chicken – don’t you dare shred it or mince it or let it turn to mush
Celery cut in small dice
Green or red grapes or both, sliced in half
Roasted salted pecans, some halves, some roughly chopped – note SALTED pecans
Best mayo you can find
Salt and pepper to taste

Proportions are up to you. Probably something like four parts chicken to one part celery to one – two parts grapes to one part pecans? Maybe?
Mix it all up together with enough mayo. Put it in a pretty bowl and garnish with pecan halves and some grapes.

The sweetest old Jewish lady in the world used to bring this to a writing class where we would do a potluck for the last class every semester. It’s excellent on crackers, divine on croissants, perfection in puff pastry shells, delicious as a salad on a plate with some sliced melon, berries, pineapple, lettuce and whatever, with maybe a dribble of poppy seed type dressing for the salad part. And unless you want mom to return from the grave and haunt you for the rest of your life, do not even think about putting anything remotely like an onion anywhere near it. Seriously, she’ll have a cow. I used to make this for her and she loved it, but she was positively militant about no onions in chicken salad. Ever.

And my reply:
Best Chicken Salad memories

1-ate with mom at (I think) Schraft's - that used to be in the Somerset Mall, not in a store, out in the mall. It later became that restaurant where Josh worked and we went after mom's memorial.

I think this was my formal intro to chix salad and mom talked about Schrafts and "lady lunch places".

(side note 6 huge Canada geese just flew by my window and something made them turn around and go the other direction - sun on their bellies).

2 - friend at work whose daughter got married - her girlfriends threw a shower. Entire menu consisted of
Mimosas
Chicken salad (chicken chunks, grapes, slivered almonds)
on mini croissants
bowl of beautiful fruit salad
cake
end of story.
most elegant shower EVER.

3 - with a friend at standard diner/cafe/coffee shop. A lunch special was a half cantaloupe filled (FILLED) with chicken salad.

It was very good chicken salad and in that moment I understood why women like this kind of food. It could turn me off burgers . . . maybe . . .

4 - Deli/diner that serves half sandwich and soup or salad. I order the chicken salad. One time they served it on Challah bread. I may convert.

mmmmmmmmmmm. . . . . . . chicken salad . . .

Sis countered with these links to a pic of ladies dining in Schraft's circa 1978, and a lovely remembrance of Schraft's just after midnight on an Easter Sunday. Lovely.

Now, go and make some chicken salad and be sure to make extra for me!

Quotable Quotes; in the category Which Came First?

"You can't set a hen in one morning and have chicken salad for lunch."
George M. Humphrey

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Deer, Deer!

Imagine my surprise when I came out of church last Sunday to find two deer standing on the lawn near the walk.

There had been a congregational meeting that morning so nobody had left the church yet, except for a few members of the choir. Bill was waiting in the car for me and he had left a good 20 minutes earlier (I had to file some choir music and pull more for the upcoming Easter season) so when I left it was likely there had been little foot traffic to disturb them.

I knew deer had come into the neighborhood because I had seen their tracks in the snow on my way to choir practice a couple Thursday's ago, but I never expected to see them so close, in broad daylight, at 11 am on a Sunday morning.
I should explain I live in a densely populated area (Chicago, IL) and that one does not usually expect to see deer in a busy metropolis. But I also live near the forest preserves which serve as picnic areas and parks to area residents. There has been a thriving population of White Tailed Deer in the area for as long as we have lived there. But it is still a surprise for a "city girl" to come across a pair of deer only a few feet away.

We usually see then in the evening when we drive home past the forested area. They are usually in among the trees but sometimes we see them crossing the road or grazing in the yards of the houses along the road.

It had been quite cold in Chicago, and we have had snow on the ground for the past several weeks. I'm sure the deer in the area are having trouble finding enough to eat, prompting them to be a little bolder in their search for food. That's probably why they were willing to venture through this settled neighborhood during the day.

I stopped, surprised, and stared at the deer closest to me. He (she?) stared back and seemed a little affronted. Probably he (she? it?) expected me to keep walking and was taken aback when I stopped and stared.

After a moment he moved his head side to side (not sure if he was trying to see me or to see past me) and then stamped his front feet in the snow. I continued to stare (am I rude or what?) and he waved his head and stamped again.

His companion began to look uneasy as well so I moved slowly to the car hoping to call Bill's attention to the deer. Bill loves to see deer. Bill was dozing in the car. I pressed on the bumper to wake him and he seemed to nod to tell me he had seen them. But when I got in the car, he said he had not noticed them.

How can you not notice two full grown deer less than 10 feet from your car in broad daylight?

As I walked past, the deer retreated a few feet to stand between the two giant pine trees on the church lawn and stayed there until we drove away. We did not see any more deer on our way home that morning. I think the two I saw, so close, was enough!

Quotable Quotes; in the category There's No I In Team!

"They run like deer, jump like deer and think like deer."
Charles Barkley on the Portland Trail Blazers.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Look At The Orange Marmalade!

Citrus fruits are at their best right now and as usual, I bought too much. Clementines from the grocery store, grapefruits from the place in Texas where I buy pears and cheese for the in-laws for Christmas, something called "Honeybells" from a place in Florida that runs a half price special in the women's magazines every few years. The result is citrus that I have to use NOW or else throw it away, which is something I hate to do.

So I decided to make marmalade.

I love to make marmalade and I love to eat it. Marmalade was something I hated as a kid (I think it's a rule that kids have to hate it) unless it was the generic Smucker's brand that had too much sugar. Marmalade is basically a way to use the whole citrus fruit (including seeds) to make something bitter and sticky to spread on toasted English muffins. As an adult, I love it.

I have made marmalade from grapefruit, from oranges, from the can of Seville oranges you can buy at Le Store Expensive, from the calamondon oranges I got from a little tree that I bought at the grocery store. Twice I got about 6 little oranges from this tree (before it died) - enough to make a jar or two of delicious marmalade. I've even made marmalade from kumquats (the BEST)! This time, I made marmalade from the clementines that were not going to be nice to eat in a few days. The resulting spread is quite tasty.

I am a casual gourmet. I start out with great intentions and slice the fruit as thin as possible. After a while, though, I get a little careless and my slices are less exact, a little chunky, a little misshapen, but I figure the fruit is going to cook for a long time and the rinds will be tender, if chunky, so it really doesn't matter (ask me about the first marmalade I ever made, which found its way to my dad, who loved it).

I have a recipe that I always use. I may look at other recipes but I always return to this one. Mostly because I don't even have to look at the recipe to remember exactly how to make it. It's so easy I can write it down from memory. Making marmalade may look like a lot of work (it's a three day process) but the actual hands on time is only a few minutes a day, once you have sliced and measured all the fruit.

You may wish to process the finished marmalade in sterilized canning jars. Or you may wish to simply put the finished jars into the fridge where it will keep for quite a long while. Either way, you'll have a superior home made product that will be delicious on your morning toast or especially good on a toasted English muffin. And be sure to try it on a toasted bagel with a little cream cheese.

My Favorite Marmalade Recipe

Citrus fruit (use any fruit or any combination of oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit, tangerines, kumquats, Meyer lemons, Calamondons, etc).
Sugar and Water

Slice the fruit, peels and all, as thinly as possible. I usually cut it in half (quarters for the larger fruits) then slice across into thin strips. Place in a large measuring cup as you go and keep track of how much you have. Pull out the seeds and keep them on the side.

Place all the sliced fruit, pulp and juice, into a heavy pot at least twice as deep as the amount of fruit you have. You may place the seeds in a little bit of cheesecloth and tie it into a bundle and place that in the pot. Some recipes say the seeds add flavor and the cheesecloth makes it easy to retrieve them from the pot. They will be discarded later - or just trash them now if you don't want to bother.

Measure water equal to the amount of fruit you have and add it to the pot. Bring to a boil and boil about five minutes. Allow to cool, then cover the pot and place it in a cool place for 24 hours.

Next day, bring to a boil again and boil for 10 minutes. Again cool, cover and let stand in a cool place overnight.

Next day, measure the fruit again and add an equal amount of sugar (I usually skimp a bit on the sugar, adding maybe 3/4 cup sugar for each cup of fruit). Bring to a steady rolling boil and cook until it thickens and gels (or until it measures 220 f on a candy thermometer - 12 degrees above the boiling point of water).

Meanwhile, you will have washed your jars and lids and bands and kept the jars in hot water and simmered the lids and bands in a small saucepan of water, and prepared a canning kettle of water for processing.

Ladle the hot marmalade into the hot jars, wiping off the rim and topping with a lid and band. Place each jar in the canner and when the canner is full, process for 10 minutes, remove jars from the canner and allow to cool in a draft free place. Next day, check the seals and remove the bands. Your marmalade is suitable for gifting if you use a pretty jar and a fancy label.

Quotable Quotes; in the category Do You See What I See?

Q: What did the chick say when he saw an orange?
A: Look at the Orange Mama Laid!!!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Last time, I blogged about this picture and the black shoes. Now I am going to tell you about the coat.

Back in the day, this was popularly known as a "cotton candy coat". Do you remember them? They were very lightweight spring coats, always jacket length and always with wide sleeves and wide cuffs. They were made of an obnoxiously fluffy material not unlike the fleece we know and love today, but without any of the warmth and cuddle quality of today's fleece fabrics. Instead, this was scratchy and had no insulating quality. Not warm enough for cool spring days, too hot for warm spring days, the kind of garment that could only be worn one or two days in alternating years depending on the whims of the weather patterns.

All the girls wanted one.

We used to get boxes of "hand me downs" from friends of our parents. The dress I'm wearing in the picture was another hand me down, possibly from these very same people. They had a grown up adult daughter with the fabulous name of Kippy! Probably her name was really Katherine but who wouldn't rather be called Kippy?

Kippy was tiny, probably not much taller than five feet or so and probably no bigger than a size 6 (the equivalent of today's 2 or even 0). That's why we girls were able to wear her adult clothes, the simpler styles anyway. Mom probably had to hem some of them but at least we had something to wear, even if it might not fit just right or be a season or two out of style.

Kippy must have belonged to a country club or been married to a doctor or some other circumstance which required her to have expensive and glamorous clothes. We suspected her of shopping at Jacobson's in Detroit - not the more globally oriented Hudson's and certainly NOT Federal's or any of those department stores!

How else would she be able to pass down to us pink satin formals cut just like Jackie Kennedy's, or those amazing and wonderful clear acrylic see-through high heels? When we saw those in the box it was every dress-up girl for herself. Can you say Cinderella? And they fit ME!!!!! For a few weeks, anyway, until I had to admit defeat.

But that pink cotton candy coat was the creme de la creme! The magnum opus! The Piece de resistance! Too small for my older sister, too girlish for my mom, it could only be meant for me, and for one glorious spring I got to wear it. So it was a season or two past its prime, who didn't keep a coat and wear it for another year? (Look closely at the picture and you'll see it was too big - but wait another year? Not when I had a genuine fashion item within my grasp! A lifetime of hand me downs and catholic school uniforms made me hungry for any fad or fashion and I was not going to let this one pass me by!

Sadly, the coat came to an unfortunate end. A classmate, who shall remain nameless, fell under the spell of the "popular girls". You probably already know I was not nor was I ever to be a "popular girl". Not then. Not ever.

Funny thing was, this girl and I were friends. We were in scouts together. I went over to her house after school. We played together on the playground at recess (schools still had recess in those days).

But for some reason, the popular girls decided to cause some mischief. Probably they made up some story about something I had said about her or some such thing. Who knows really, all I remember is that suddenly and without any apparent reason, she and I were no longer friends.

One day, open warfare erupted on the playground. I cannot tell you how it started because I have forgotten, if I ever knew. All I know is that suddenly the popular girls were yelling at her to "get her" (meaning me) and then she was chasing me around the playground and throwing an orange from her lunch at me. Of course, I ran.

Although she missed, orange juice found its mark on the fluffy non-washable coat. And then she caught me. She ground both halves of that cut orange deep into the fabric of the back of my coat. Without even looking I knew the coat was ruined. And there was no chance there would ever be another. Even had my mother been willing to buy one, they were out of date and no longer available for sale.

Like air escaping from an popped balloon, like a dream fading in the waking moments of morning, like a gull wheeling on the horizon - - - okay, let's reel it in a little - the point is, that was the end of that fabulous episode in my life. Ground into a sticky, pulpy mess of orange and acrylic fiber. Gone, never to be recovered.

This was just one in a series of childhood disappointments - like the favorite nightgown, outgrown and worn to a tatter, the toy elephant that disappeared mysteriously (probably right at the time my mother decided I was ready to outgrow it), and countless other disappointments, I would get over it. I did get over it. Until a picture from the past arrived in the mail to remind me.

Quotable Quotes; in the category I Guess I Don't Have Either . . .

"Fashions fade, style is eternal."

Yves Saint Laurent