Sunday, December 26, 2010

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

Here's one last pumpkin treat to enjoy before Pumpkin Treat Season officially ends on January 2nd. I based this recipe on my friend Kelli's recipe for pumpkin dinner rolls. I replaced most of the white flour with whole wheat flour in order to make myself feel better about all the brown sugar I've added. And the butter. And the cream cheese frosting.

I made these once and when they were gone, we ended up with left over frosting. So I made some more cinnamon rolls. Then the frosting ran out. So I made more frosting for the remaining rolls. Now there are only a few cinnamon rolls left, but half a bowl of frosting. This is getting scary.

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

2 cups milk
2 cups canned pumpkin
1 cup butter, melted
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. salt
2 T. yeast (or 2 envelopes)
9 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups white flour
melted butter to brush on dough
brown sugar
ground cloves

for frosting:
8 oz package of cream cheese
1/2 stick of butter
four cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
maybe a little milk

Scald milk. Combine scalded milk, pumpkin, melted butter, sugar, and salt in bowl of mixer. Add yeast and half of flour. Mix thoroughly. Add the rest of the flour and mix for about five minutes. Cover and let rise until doubled. Punch down. Divide dough in half. Roll out dough in a large rectangle. Spread with melted butter. Sprinkle generously with brown sugar. Pretty much cover the dough. Sprinkle liberally with cinnamon, ginger and ground cloves. Roll up dough starting on a long side. Cut into rolls with a serrated knife. Place them on a greased cookie sheet, leaving space between each roll. Cover lightly with a clean dish towel and let rise for about twenty minutes. Repeat with other half of dough. Bake at 375 for about 18 minutes. Mix all frosting ingredients together until creamy. Lick beater.

You could add raisins and or  pecans to the rolled out dough. Yum.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

"Here We Come A Caroling..."

We have these amazingly talented next-door neighbors. They are very musically gifted. They’re pretty much professionals. They and their extended family and all their friends. Music is what they do. And at Christmas time, they’ve been known to do it in the form of caroling around our neighborhood. Only I’m realizing that they haven’t been around in several years. At least not to our house. And I’m pretty sure I know why.

There was a caroling incident.

One evening during a Christmas season past, Kent and I arrived home from somewhere. Our teenage boys were goofing around, as usual. One of them, (I think it was Kurt) said to another one of them (I’m pretty sure it was Jeff), “Oh yeah? Well, I’m telling Mom what you did to the Petersons tonight.”

“What did he do to the Petersons tonight?” I demanded.

Jeff immediately jumped onto Kurt’s back and tried to stifle him with a hand wrapped around his head, covering his mouth. Kurt probably licked it or something. Maybe tried to bite it.

“You did it, too, Kurt,” he accused, as he fell to the floor with a thud. “It wasn’t just me.”

“WHAT DID YOU GUYS DO TO THE PETERSONS?” I was a little bit nervous by now and when I get nervous, my volume increases. Kent and I have always been good neighbors. Considerate, polite, conscientious. What had these hooligans we call sons done?

“The Petersons came to our door Christmas caroling,” Kurt told us.

“Yeah, and Kurt didn’t want to go to the door,” Jeff was quick to add.

“Neither did you!”

“So what happened?” I demanded, rather impatiently. Was I going to have to be making amends after I heard whatever this was leading up to?

“So they were singing, and we didn’t want to go to the door. It’s so awkward when people sing to you. And Joel came downstairs and was going to get the door, but we stopped him. But I think they heard us. Anyway, we just stood still and tried not to move after that. I know they knew someone was home ‘cause they kept singing. I swear they sang about four songs waiting for someone to come to the door.”

And then Kurt started laughing. And Jeff attacked him again.

“And then Jeff, while they were standing there singing, turned off the porch light!”

Oh my gosh. So they knew someone was definitely home.

I looked at Jeff. He flashed a smile at me. The kind that says, “You’re not really going to get mad at me, are you?”

I shook my head and walked away.

I’ll come right out and say it: Christmas caroling can be awkward. I’m talking about when you are the recipient. It’s awkward in the same way that Happy Birthday is when you’re the one being sung to. You stand there feeling uncomfortable, wondering where you should look, and wearing a goofy smile. But Happy Birthday is relatively short and then you blow out the candles. If you could sing along it would help. But you’re not supposed to sing Happy Birthday to yourself. Nor are you supposed to join in with the carolers. I would never attempt to join in with the Petersons. I’d ruin their beautiful harmony. If I just had something to do while they sang… Maybe wave my arms around in a conducting pattern. As if that wouldn’t embarrass the kids. Maybe I could just tap my foot and nod in time to the music.

Anyway, I’ve missed the caroling. The Petersons haven’t come, and neither has anyone else. Maybe all the other carolers (like the Crafts and their extended family – some other very musically gifted neighbors of ours) heard the word that our family was inhospitable to their kind. But our boys have grown up. Mostly. And I think I’ve matured enough over the years to enjoy the music without feeling awkward.

Please come and carol to us. If you come and sing to us, I promise I won’t look around awkwardly, or wear a goofy smile, or pretend I’m conducting you. I'll be mature. I’ll just enjoy your beautiful talent and spend those few moments feeling the Spirit of Christmas in a way that I realize I've missed.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Santa Claws And Other Creepy Ornaments of Christmas

I have a Santa-themed Christmas tree. Years ago, I mentioned to my mother that I was thinking about collecting Santa ornaments, and that’s all it took. Every year since then, I have found a new Santa ornament tied onto my Christmas present. Our Santa tree isn’t especially beautiful. When you look at it, you definitely don’t think “department store tree” or anything like that. But it’s not your typical let’s-throw-every-ornament-we’ve-ever-owned-on-it kind of tree, either. I actually really like that kind of tree a lot. With lots of big, colored lights and individual strands of shiny silver icicles. It would be topped with an angel or a star that some kid had made back in the 1940’s. I haven’t actually seen a tree like that in years. That’s the kind of tree that inspires that magical Christmas feeling of childhood, if you ask me.

But somewhere back in the 1980’s or so, beautiful trees became the fashion. I admit that I was caught up in trying to achieve a certain designer-floor-model look throughout the early years of my marriage, but finally concluded that it wasn't my thing. I just don’t have that type of creativity. That’s when I thought of collecting Santa ornaments. And my mother started buying them and sending them to me on my presents. Thanks to her, I have quite a large collection. When you look at our tree as a whole, it’s quite pleasant to behold. I do have some ornaments on it that aren’t Santas, but I mainly stick to red, white, gold and silver. I have several angels that I place high up around the top where, being less secular than Santa, they can be a little closer to Heaven. We have little wooden sleds with our names on them that we painted as a family one year. And there are the Lillian Vernon crocheted snowflakes I bought one year back when I was still attempting to create a beautiful tree. I think they work on this tree. I’d say it’s a passably pretty tree.

Until you get up close.

When you get up close and really start looking, you’ll see several Santa specimens that can only be described as unique.

Or ugly.

Or scary.

Probably the strangest one is the one I call Santa Claw. It’s handcrafted out of an actual lobster claw. Creepy, huh? It gives a whole new feel to the lyrics “You better watch out, you better not cry…”

I also have a Santa Gourd. Santa’s face is hand-painted on a dried gourd.

There’s Santa Star Fish, which actually looks pretty cute until you start thinking about it.

And Santa Milk Weed Pod.

How about Santa Cape?

For those of you who are unfamiliar with New England geography, it’s the shoreline of Cape Cod, where my mother found and purchased these Yuletide treasures. There are some very creative artisans on Cape Cod, and they are represented on my Christmas tree.

 I’ll bet everyone I know from New England has a Santa Claw ornament.

If you have one of those family friendly, colored-lights-and-tinsel trees, with ornaments the kids made in elementary school, maybe a chain with links made out of construction paper, and a foil-covered star on top, call me. I’ll come right over and enjoy the nostalgia. And you can come over to our house and I’ll introduce you to Santa Claw. Just remember, “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake…”

I hope your Christmas isn’t quite as creepy as ours!

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Black Beast - a perfect holiday dessert

I got this recipe for a flourless chocolate cake from my mother years ago. It's called La Bete Noir, which translates as The Black Beast. The phrase is used in French to refer to something generally avoided or disliked.Yes, we should generally avoid this dessert. Dislike it? Impossible.

La Bete Noir

makes 16 servings

for the cake:
1 cup water

¾ cup sugar

9 Tablespoons unsalted butter

18 oz. semi-sweet chocolate (I use good chocolate chips)

6 large eggs

for the ganache:

1 cup heavy cream

8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 or 10 inch diameter springform pan. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper cut round to fit. Butter the parchment paper. Wrap three layers of heavy duty aluminum foil around the outside of the pan, bringing foil to top of rim.

Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Melt butter in large saucepan over low heat. Add chocolate and whisk until smooth. Whisk sugar syrup into chocolate mixture. Cool slightly. Add eggs to chocolate mixture and whisk until well-blended. Pour batter into prepared pan. Place cake pan in large roasting pan and add enough water to roasting pan to come half way up the side of the cake pan.

Bake cake until center no longer moves when pan is gently shaken---about 50 minutes. Remove from water pan. Transfer cake pan to cooling rack. Cool completely in pan.

Bring heavy cream to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat. Add chocolate and whisk until smooth. Pour over cake (still in pan). Gently shaketo evenly distribute ganache over top of cake. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours to set ganache. Cover and refrigerate until served. Cut into wedges to serve. To get a clean cut, rinse large knife under hot water after each cut.

At Christmas time, I like to serve it with peppermint whipped cream.
Whip heavy cream until almost ready. Add some powdered sugar. Finish whipping. Fold in crushed candy cane. If you let it sit a while in the fridge, the candy cane dissolves. Stir it up before serving. Put whipped cream in a ziplock bag. Cut off one corner. Squeeze out in dollops onto cake slices. Sprinkle extra crushed candy cane over top.

The rest of the year, it's fabulous with raspberry sauce.
Thaw 2 (10 oz.) pkgs. frozen raspberries. Squeeze out syrup through fine strainer or cheesecloth. Add enough water to make 1 ½ cups. Heat on stove. Mix ¼ cup sugar, 2 Tablespoons cornstarch, and a pinch of salt in small bowl. Add to syrup. Cook until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in ¼ tsp. almond extract (real or imitation).

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Personal Hygiene - keeping it in the bathroom

A few years ago I witnessed something at the Costco gas pumps that I have not been able to forget. A middle-aged woman stood by her car as she waited for her tank to fill and flossed her teeth. Right there in front of all the Costco gas pump patrons and the attendant, she flossed her teeth. Her entire set of teeth. Is this normal? I’ve been thinking about her for years. What kind of person must she be? What might she be doing right now? Wearing a facial mask while she grocery shops? Shaving her legs at the public swimming pool?

I’m a firm believer in keeping one’s personal hygiene in the bathroom. I’m okay with a woman pulling hand lotion out of her purse and using it in public, or reapplying lipstick in the car using the little mirror on the visor. Anything else needs to stay at home.

I have a friend who once told me her pet peeve is people clipping their nails in church. Which means she has actually seen people clipping their nails in church. Who would do that?

I have a young college-aged friend who recently admitted to me that she has washed her hair in a Wal-Mart sink. But she was on a cross-country road trip. Under cross-country-road-trip conditions, I might have been tempted by a Wal-Mart sink, myself.

But all of these examples of public grooming – flossing, nail clipping, hair washing – are nothing compared to what I saw last summer while stopped at a red light. I just happened to look over at the car alongside me, and there was a twenty-something-year-old woman washing her armpits. I’m not sure what she was using. It could have been an actual wash cloth, a moist towelette, a diaper wipe. Whatever it was, she was scrubbing furiously with it. And when she saw that I was looking her way, she quickly stopped and looked at me like she was trying to figure out if I had seen what she was doing or not. I politely turned away. After about five seconds I looked again. She was scrubbing away at the same pit. Again she quickly stopped and looked at me with a worried expression. I politely turned away again, with a big grin on my face. This was getting to be rather fun. I jerked my head back in her direction. Down came the arms. Unfortunately the light turned green and I was forced to give it up. Hopefully she did, too.

I am all in favor of a thorough personal hygiene regimen. I like it when people are clean and well-groomed. I’m glad the woman at the Costco gas pumps has a flossing habit. I just find it odd when people commit acts of personal hygiene in public. Please, floss, clip and scrub regularly, but do it in the privacy of your bathroom!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Please Pass the Gravy - a plan for a stress-free Thanksgiving

Yesterday afternoon, my husband and I put the Christmas lights up in our backyard. (Yes, we put lights in our backyard. See December24, 2009 post "Christmas Lights.") We usually don't turn them on until the day after Thanksgiving, but after we got them up yesterday, I couldn't bear to unplug them.

"Just tonight," I told Kent. "Then we'll wait till next Friday."

Then, late last night, it began to snow. Christmas lights look so much prettier with snow. Kent had gone to bed. Joel was still out with friends. I was making my Thanksgiving gravy ahead of time. (I got the idea from my friend, Judy. She's a wonderful cook and she has a fabulous recipe blog - With the wonderful smell of roasting turkey filling the house, that unique stillness that only comes when it snows at night, and the glow of colored lights out the family room windows, I was really enjoying a peaceful start to the holiday season. A little soft Christmas music playing in the background, a steaming cup of peppermint tea...

And on Thursday, when the turkey comes out of the oven, I won't have to stress about making the gravy. If I want to, I can make some more, but I won't have to worry about having enough drippings or ending up with lumps. Because right now, I have half a gallon of really good turkey gravy in a Ziplock bag in my freezer.

And as the holiday season starts to pick up and get stressful (our daughter is getting married a week before Christmas), I have last evening to look back on.

Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy

6 turkey wings, drumsticks or thighs (I used thighs)
2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
1 cup water
2 quarts chicken broth, divided
3/4 cup chopped carrot
1/2 tsp. dried thyme (I used sage instead)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons butter
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Arrange a single layer of turkey pieces in a large roasting pan. Scatter onions over the top. Roast in preheated oven for one hour and fifteen minutes.

Place browned turkey pieces and onions in a 5 quart stockpot. Add the one cup of water to the roasting pan and stir and scrape up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Pour the water into the stockpot. Stir in 6 cups of chicken broth, carrots, and thyme (sage). Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for one and a half hours.

Remove turkey pieces from the pot and place on a cutting board. When the pieces are cool, remove skin and discard. Take the meat from the bones and save for another use. (Freezes well.) Strain contents of stockpot through a large strainer into a 3 quart saucepan. Press on the vegetables to remove any remaining liquid. Discards the vegetables and skim the fat off the liquid.

Bring the contents of the pot to a gentle boil.

In a medium bowl, whisk flour into the remaining two cups of broth until smooth. Gradually whisk the flour mixture into the simmering turkey broth. Simmer 3-4 more minutes or until gravy has thickened. Stir in the buttter and pepper. Add more sage (or any seasonings) to taste.

Serve immediately or pour into containers and refrigerate or freeze.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Placemat Totes - part of the "Every Weird Thing..." series*

A young friend of mine named Jessie has a really cute tote bag she uses on Sundays to cart her scriptures and other church paraphernalia around in. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes known as Mormons) attend three consecutive hours of church meetings on Sundays. Yes, three hours. Really! First we attend our main church meeting, known as Sacrament  Meeting (See February 26, 2010 post "Now Go Sit Down"). It lasts for seventy minutes. Then the adults and youth attend Sunday School classes until the end of the second hour. During the third hour, the women attend Relief Society (see my first ever blogpost  "The Visiting Teacher" posted on July 8, 2009) and the men go to Priesthood Meeting. There are youth meetings for ages twelve to eighteen during the last hour, too. The children attend what we call Primary for both the second and third hours. There is also a nursery provided for babies between eighteen months and three years. In order to run all these classes and programs, everyone in the church has a responsibility. Maybe you teach the five-year-olds in Primary. Maybe you're in the presidency of the Sunday School. Maybe your responsibility keeps you busy on a day other than Sunday and you just attend to hear lessons prepared and given by others. Either way, a good L.D.S. church member always has books. And Kleenex. And maybe highlighters. A baggie of Cheerios for a small child. Breath mints. No-doze. (Just kidding - Mormons avoid caffeine.) Anything we might need to sustain us through three hours of church. And my young college-age friend, Jessie, has a really cute tote bag she uses on Sundays to haul all this stuff around in.

"Jessie, I love your bag," I told her one Sunday.

"Thanks. It's made out of a placemat."

Ha! Who'd have thought?

Many months later, I found myself needing to come up with an idea for a homemade gift. My responsibility in the church is in the Relief Society. Occasionally, the Relief Society holds additional meetings during the week. (Because sometimes three hours of church on Sunday is just not enough.) At these meetings we might learn a new skill, be educated on a topic, have a parenting class, go on a field trip to a museum. My job is to coordinate these weeknight meetings. We decided to have, in conjunction with our Annual Soup Dinner, a Homemade Gift Ideas Night. Women could share ideas for homemade gifts, giving help to whatever degree they felt comfortable. They could simply show the item. They could provide an instruction sheet. The could give a link to a website. They could offer personalized instruction to anyone who might want to make their item. As one of the women in charge of this activity, I felt like I needed to come up with an idea.

Jessie's placemat tote bag!

I actually made three of them. It was really easy. I'm pretty sure chimpanzees could be trained to produce these bags.

All you need is a placemat and a yard of grosgrain ribbon. And a sewing machine. If you can sew forward and backward in a straight line, you have the skill necessary to complete this project.

Step one: Fold the placemat in half (the hamburger way). Stitch along the sides. Make sure to backstitch at both ends.

Step two: Flatten the seam allowance open and form corner into a point.

Measure 2 1/2 inches from point and mark with a pencil. Both sides.

Step three: Stitch across from one pencil mark to the other in a straight line, backstitching at beginning and end. Repeat steps two and three on other corner of bag. Turn bag right-side-out. Voila!

Step four: Cut the yard of ribbon in half. Cut a notch out of each of the four ends by folding the ribbon in half ( the hot dog way) and snipping out a triangle. Make sure you snip in the right direction!

Step five: Position ribbon on bag. Stitch a small box-shape to secure in place. Stitch over it three or four times for added strength. Repeat with remaining ribbon ends so that you have two handles on your bag.

Step six: Load up bag and go to church. Don't forget the No-doze. Just Kidding!

*Every Weird Thing You Wanted To Know About Mormons But Were Afraid To Ask Because Then The Missionaries Might Show Up At Your Door

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Pumpkin Treats

Time for pumpkin treats!

Last week I realized that I had yet to enjoy a pumpkin treat this fall. I opened our neighborhood cookbook and found a recipe for Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread, submitted by my friend, Jodie. I knew it would be wonderful because all of Jodie's recipes are wonderful. Only one problem: I'd recently recommitted to eating healthy. Maybe we (whomever it is out there I make these commitments to and I) could compromise. How about if I changed the white flour to wheat flour and replaced the shortening with applesauce? And the chocolate chips with raisins? I did, and it was wonderful.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Bread with Raisins

2/3 cup applesauce
2 2/3 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 2/3 cups pumpkin
2/3 cup water
3 1/3 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves
2 cups raisins

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a bundt pan with non-stick spray. In large bowl, mix together applesauce and sugar. Beat well. Stir in eggs, pumpkin and water. Mix flour and other dry ingredients together in another bowl. Add to pumpkin mixture. Mix well. Stir in raisins. Pour into prepared pan and bake for about 70 minutes. Bread is done when a toothpick or skewer inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool for about fifteen minutes, then invert onto a plate.

Okay, how about a couple of not-so-healthy pumpkin treats? I'm not making them this year- I'm only telling about them.

Pumpkin Bread Pudding  (also from the neighborhood cookbook - Deniece - another excellent cook)

6 T. dark brown sugar
1 cup raisins
2/3 cup hot water
1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin
4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups milk
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. allspice
pinch of salt
1 (12 oz.) loaf day old bread, cut into 3/4 inch cubes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a bundt pan and sprinkle with the 6 T. dark brown sugar. Set aside on a baking sheet. Place raisins in a small bowl and cover with hot water until plump. (I've made this without the raisins. Still really good.) In a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin, eggs, sugar, milk, vanilla, spices, and salt. Toss in the bread cubes and stir gently to evenly coat. Let stand for a few minutes. Fold in the raisins. Put in prepared pan and press down slightly to make level. Bake for about 40 minutes or until custard is set in the center and top is golden. Let cool slightly, invert onto a plate and dust with powdered sugar. Slice and serve. This is my children's favorite fall dessert.
 Deniece gives a recipe for macadamia sauce to go with it. I've never made it. I think it's really good as is. I did put caramel sauce on it once and that was really good.

Pumpkin Pie Shake

vanilla ice cream
canned pumpkin
brown sugar
ground cloves

If your blender works better than mine, put all ingredients in blender and blend. If not, put all ingredients in large bowl and mash with a potato masher. All amounts are to taste.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Never Eat in the Dark - A Cautionary Tale

It’s almost Halloween. I’ve recently seen recipes for Dead Flies on Rye, Monster Brain Dip, Eyeball Soup, Gorilla Sweat, Bloody Fingers and Body Part Punch. I even saw one for Varicose Veins on a Leaf. Most years I’m okay with these things. I mean, we know what they really are, right? They’re just regular food items that we eat every day. But this year, I’m staying away from these kinds of treats. I had a horrifying Halloween treat type of experience in my basement about a week ago. (Insert shudder here.)

I had been planning to watch a girl movie one evening on our big screen TV in the family room. I've lived with all guys for several years now and I don’t often get to watch what I want to watch. But this was going to be my night. Then our son, Kurt, turned up at the house with a girl. They had plans to watch a movie. A specific movie. They weren’t interested in watching my movie. Kurt graciously suggested that he and his date watch their movie in the basement.

He wanted to take her down to the basement?


I couldn’t let him take her down there. If she went down there, she might never come back up. And then her roommates and family members would surely ask questions.  It’s definitely a family-members-only area of the house. It’s a guy kind of place. Joel lives down there. It has a faint smell of boy. There is almost always an assortment of dirty socks and dirty dishes on the floor.I sometimes refer to it as The Pit of Despair. But there was no reason I couldn’t take my movie down there and let Kurt and this young woman watch their movie on the good TV.

I decided to take a little snack down with me. Everybody else eats down there. I might even leave my dishes when I was done and make Joel clean them up later. He’d never know they weren’t his. I got a cereal bowl out of the kitchen cupboard. I poured in some Cheerios, some raisins, and some salted mixed nuts. My own healthy trail mix, right? It was that or ice cream and I'd been trying to make smart food choices.

I descended into the basement with my DVD. I got the movie going, wrapped myself up in a blanket and settled down on the futon. It was surprisingly comfortable. I ate my snack as I watched the movie. The sweetness of the raisins and the saltiness of the nuts – I love a sweet and salty combination. About fifteen minutes into the movie I scooped up the last little bit into my hand and put it in my mouth. I began to chew. I did not get the pleasant sweet and salty sensation I was expecting. Instead, my mouth was flooded with a terrible, horrible taste. I’ve never tasted anything this bad in my life. And that includes olives. I should have spit it out, whatever it was, into the cereal bowl. You would think I would have spit it out. I didn’t though. I kept chewing. I really can’t explain why. I think I thought that if I kept chewing I would have to get to that sweet-and-salty taste. After all, I knew I was eating Cheerios, raisins, and mixed nuts, right? I had filled the bowl myself. I kept chewing. It was horrible. And then…I swallowed. I have no idea what I ate. I was in the basement. I was in The Pit of Despair. Who knows what might have crawled into that bowl while I was watching my movie. In the dark. I had turned all the lights off. I’ll never eat in the dark again. And so much for my attempt at healthy eating; I had to eat a bowl of ice cream after all to try to get the nasty taste out of my mouth.

Four days till Halloween. If I’m offered anything called Worm Burgers or Stuffed Roaches,  Black Widow Spider Snack or Bug Guts, I’ll be politely declining.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

One Ear at a Time

I can only hear things with one ear at a time.

I’ve been trying to explain this to my family for years. It has mainly to do with talking on the phone. Actually, with listening on the phone. I’ve never been a big telephone talker. I only call people if I need to tell them something. I tell them and then hang up. If I feel like chatting with someone, I’d rather do it in person. Probably because I talk with my hands. Okay – with my whole body. (I remember being with a group of friends once and one of them saying “Hey, I know! Let’s tie Melinda up and see if she can tell us a story!”) When I’m on the phone with someone, I guess I don’t feel like I can wholly express myself. So I mostly listen.

When I’m holding a phone up to my left ear (I’m left-eared when it comes to phones), and somebody starts yakking into my right ear, I can’t make out what either party is saying. Maybe I’m aurally challenged. Maybe I’m just a little slow. None of the people I live with seem to have this problem. My kids can have loud music playing in one ear and carry on a conversation with the person in the other ear with no problem. If the phone is for my husband and he’s watching a game on TV, he doesn’t even turn it down. Of course I suspect he wants whomever called him to realize he’s in the middle of a game and hang up, but he seems to hear it all just fine.

Maybe because I’m usually listening on the phone, my kids think I’m just holding it there, pretending. Because invariably, when I’m on the phone, my children will start talking to me. I immediately start waving my free hand around as if I’m swatting away a swarm of gnats. I give the kill gesture, the blade of my hand passing against my throat. I make the shush sign. I glare as hard as I can. None of these deter them. They keep talking at me. I have no idea what they’re saying and I have no idea what the person in my left ear is saying. I hurriedly walk to another area of the house, begging the pardon of the person in my left ear. My children follow me. They’re still talking.

Today I was on the phone when Joel got home from school.

“I’M HOME!” he hollered at me in a deep theatrical voice, even though he was only ten feet away from me and could see that the phone was up to my left ear. He gets this from his father. Kent always hollers a greeting of some kind in his loudest voice (and almost always in a foreign language – see January 2010 post “The Foreign Language House”) when he gets home from work.

Kill gesture. Swatting at gnats. Glare. I managed them all at once.

“Oh, Gee. Nice way to greet your son after a long day at school,” Joel chided me.  His feelings were hurt.

I think he thought I was just holding the phone up to my ear, pretending again.

After I hung up, I once again tried to explain how I can only hear things with one ear at a time.

“Joel, I just spent twenty minutes E-NUN-CI-AT-ING to a computer, trying to reach a live person who could answer my prescription benefits question. I finally got a living human being on the line just as you burst through the door, all big and loud. What did you want me to do?”

He looked up at me from the chair at the computer desk.

“I wanted you to hang up and give me a hug.”


He held out his open arms.

I gave him a hug.

(Big sigh)

Maybe I could add another motion to my repertoire. Gnat swatting. Kill gesture. Shush sign.

And a hug.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Book Review - Baking Cakes in Kigali

I just read a wonderful book called Baking Cakes in Kigali. It was written by Gaile Parkin, published in 2009. Ms. Parkin was born in Zambia and has lived and worked in many different African countries. She has written textbooks and children’s books but this is her first novel for adults.

Baking Cakes in Kigali is set in present-day Rwanda. The main character is Angel Tungaraza, a native of Tanzania, who has moved to Kigali with her husband, Pius, and their five grandchildren. Angel runs her own business, baking and decorating cakes for all occasions. She is a “professional somebody” who puts a lot of thought and love into each cake she bakes. As she meets with potential customers, she always serves tea because the choosing of a cake is very important business and mustn’t be rushed. Angel has a way of inspiring confidences. She is a keeper of secrets. Through her encounters with others, we learn about some of the horrible things that haunt this African nation, including genocide and AIDS. Angel is able to help many of her friends with their problems, and by doing so, she is finally able to face up to her own family’s disturbing history.

How can a book be so charmingly written, yet deal with such devastating topics? I think it's a great way to learn a little about another culture. It reminded me a lot of The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency series. If Precious and Angel ever met, I’m sure they would become very good friends.

Friday, October 1, 2010

What Was He Thinking???

One day when my son, Kurt, was about three and a half years old, I took him to a salon in the mall to get his hair cut. One of the girls took him across the room, seated him on a booster, fastened a drape around his neck and began to cut his hair. I sat in the waiting area with six-year-old Carolyn and Baby Jeff. Kurt was quite a gregarious little guy (this was before I scarred him for life - see July 2010 post "Scarred For Life") and although I couldn't hear what he was telling her above the noise of the hair dryers and the voices of the other patrons and stylists, I could see that he was chatting away to this young woman as she clipped. Then there was one of those natural lulls in the conversations around the room that occur every so often (and everyone thinks about Abraham Lincoln), and just then, Kurt turned around in his little booster seat and yelled across the room to me,

"Hey, Mom! Remember the time you cut my ear off?"

Really, I can't remember what my reaction was. Besides the surprise, of course. But I can remember every head in the salon turning to look at me. I have no idea what posessed him to make this claim. I have never cut off any of my children's ears. Or any other body parts. I did cut his hair once or twice when he was really little, but I swear I never even nicked him! Who knows what he was filling this girl's head with up to that point. I wonder if she's still telling this story? And who knows what else!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Baby of the Family or The Case of the Missing Dress Socks

Kent and I are down to one child. The other three are technically adults and live away from home. Carolyn is twenty-four, a college graduate, soon to be married. Kurt is home from an L.D.S. mission to Brazil (see January 19, 2010 post The Foreign Language House), lives in an apartment with a bunch of guys, and attends B.Y.U. Jeff is currently serving a mission for the church in Germany.

That leaves Joel, our sixteen-year-old. And he has dreaded this.

"Joel!" I tell him. "It's going to be great! Just the three of us! We'll spoil you!"

"Oh yeah? How?" He knows we've never been indulgent parents. Nobody could ever accuse us of spoiling any of our children in the past.

"Well, we'll go out to eat more often now that there are only three of us, " I tell him.

He'd rather have his brothers in-house to wrestle with. They're at it constantly when they're together. A couple of weeks ago, Kurt came over to the house for a visit. I was working in the kitchen. I opened the pantry door and Joel was in there. He quickly put his finger to his lips before I could scream. I shut the door. He was carrying out a plan to attack Kurt. I don't know how long he was willing to wait in there. I guess he knows that one of  the first things Kurt will do upon arrival at the house is look for something to eat.

"And we'll maybe go to a movie once in a while before it gets to the dollar theater!" I tell him.

He'd rather have a live-in ping pong partner. He and Jeff drove us crazy. Sometimes we had to tell them they couldn't play. Did you know ping pong is a violent sport? Jeff is the worst. He's a terrible winner and a terrible loser. He chased Joel and beat him with the paddles after every game.

And Joel misses that.

"Think about Christmas," I tell him. "The grown-up kids won't get as much."

It's no good. He misses his siblings. Even though he now occupies three bedrooms, he misses them. Three bedrooms. Really. This is the way he is being spoiled now that he's the only one left. Forget the dinners out and the movies. Three bedrooms. And not one of them is clean. He basically has a clothing bedroom, a sleeping bedroom and a school books bedroom. Although lately he's been sleeping in the clothing bedroom.

One day last week, Kent was looking for a pair of socks to wear.

"I don't have a single pair of dark socks clean," he told me.

"Well, I just did a dark load the other day." I was quick to defend my homemaking skills.

Then I had a thought. Joel, because he's generally not spoiled, does his own laundry. But he only washes what he needs. The rest stays on the floor in his clothing bedroom. I went in there. I found twenty-four of his father's dark socks around the room. You see, every Sunday morning when he gets dressed for church, Joel goes into our room for a pair of dress socks out of Kent's drawer. Then, when he takes them off, he throws them on the floor of his clothing bedroom. He doesn't wash them because he doesn't need them.One Sunday in a week. Twenty-four socks. That's three months of church socks on the floor of his clothing bedroom. Now when the other boys were living here and each taking a pair of dress socks out of Dad's drawer every Sunday, he never could have gotten away with it for three months.

The other night, while Joel was at basketball practice, Kent and I did a service project for him. We cleaned one of his rooms.

Has this kid got it made or what?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

How To Feed A Crowd - cheap and easy

My husband and I are affiliated with an L.D.S. congregation of college students. (See October 2009 post A Pediatrician's Advice or February 2010 post Now Go Sit Down.) They all live in an apartment complex in Provo, near Brigham Young University. Twenty-six apartments with up to six kids living in each one. We like to have groups of them over for dinner on Sundays. We usually invite two or three apartments at a time. It's a fun way to get to know them better, and many of them like the chance to be in a house now and then. If I had a dollar for every time one of them said "Real carpet!" upon hitting our family room, I'd probably have enough money to pay for a fair amount of the food I serve them. Feeding all these students as well as our own kids (and usually some of their friends) could get expensive. But I've figured out how to feed a crowd, cheap and easy. I've got it down. I make the same meal every week. They seem to love it, and, believe it or not,  my family doesn't even get sick of it.

I make a big pot of Lasagna Soup and two pans of homemade foccacia bread. I put out ingredients for make-your-own-salad, including torn up hearts of Romaine, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, and green onions. If I happen to have anything else that would be good in a salad, I put it out as well. They can also use the Parmesan cheese that I put out for the soup in their salad if they want. Then I make an easy dessert. Sometimes apple crisp in the Dutch oven, or Texas sheet cake. Maybe cupcakes and let them frost their own. I usually have vanilla ice cream to go along with any of these.

I got the soup recipe from my friend and neighbor, Cherie Peterson. She's an excellent cook. Her family actually calls it Freakin' Good Lasagna Soup. And it is.

Here's the recipe:

1 lb. ground beef

1 small onion, chopped

1 large clove garlic, minced (I actually use garlic-in-a-jar)

1 (15 oz.) can tomato sauce

1 (28 oz.) can Italian style petite diced tomatoes

1 tsp. beef bouillon (1 cube - I like the granules because you don’t have to unwrap them.)

3 tsp. chicken bouillon (3 cubes)

4 cups water

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tsp. dried thyme

1 tablespoon dried basil

crushed red pepper flakes

about 5 lasagna noodles, cooked and cut into bite-sized pieces (a pizza cutter works well)

mozzarella cheese, grated

Parmesan cheese, grated

Ricotta cheese

Heat a little olive oil in a good sized pot. Add onion and garlic and sauté until golden. Add the ground beef and brown it. Drain fat and return ground beef mixture to pot. Add tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, bouillon, water and seasonings. (Adjust seasoning amounts to your taste. I never really measure.) Heat to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer. Add cooked lasagna noodles. To serve, ladle soup into bowls and top with ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses.

When I make this for a crowd (maybe twenty people), I triple it and use a whole box of lasagna noodles. Be careful with the crushed red pepper flakes!

So, on to the foccacia bread. It's really easy to make. Really! And so good.

Foccacia Bread

6 cups flour

2 cups warm water

¼ cup oil

1/4 cup sugar

2 tsp salt

1 ½ Tbsp yeast (2 single use packets)

6 oz. grated Parmesan cheese

2 Tbsp Italian seasonings

2 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 tsp salt

Combine 3 cups of the flour, water, oil, 2 tsp. salt, sugar, and yeast in a large mixing bowl. Mix with beaters or dough hook for 5 minutes. Add remaining 3 cups of flour and knead for 5 minutes (by hand or in mixer). In a separate bowl, combine cheese and seasonings. Add ½ of the mixture to the dough and knead it in for 2 more minutes. (Sometimes, I make it to this point the night before, spray the inside of a plastic grocery bag with non-stick spray, toss the ball of dough into the bag, tie the top up and put it in the fridge. The next day I take it out, let it warm up a little and proceed.) Lightly cover the dough with oil place in a bowl, and let rise for 20 minutes. (If you had it in the fridge overnight, skip that. Just start here after the dough has warmed up a little.) Roll the dough out a little bigger than a baker’s half sheet (large cookie sheet with sides---11 x 17). Spray the pan and place the dough in it. The dough will retract a little; make it fit the pan. Spread the olive oil on the dough. Add the last 1/2 tsp. of salt to the cheese mixture. Sprinkle the mixture over the dough. Let rise for 15 – 20 minutes. In the meantime, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Poke the dough gently but firmly enough to leave depressions over the dough’s surface. (If you forget to do this, don’t worry about it! I usually forget.) Bake for 15 minutes, placing aluminum foil lightly over the top for the last five minutes to avoid over-browning. You might need to add a few more minutes of baking time, depending on your oven.

 (This bread is really good for sandwiches. Cut in squares and split in half lengthwise.)

I serve this cheap and easy meal most Sundays from September through December. (In January I change it up by making Pasta Alfredo instead of the Lasagna Soup. Maybe in January I'll post that recipe.) If you're in the neighborhood, drop in and join us. What's one more mouth when you're already feeding a crowd?

October 24th update: There is a pasta shaped like little lasagna noodles. It's called campanelle. Target sells it. It's a little cheaper than a box of lasagna noodles, and a lot more convenient to use. Also, I've been making the bread with four cups whole grain wheat flour and two of regular white flour. It's really good and I feel a lot better about eating it. For the students, I make a pan of white and a pan of wheat.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Growing Up

I just came across this piece I wrote up years ago. I had been asked to speak to a group of young girls from church on the importance of getting an education and preparing for the future or something like that.

I can remember being a very little girl and thinking that growing up was all a big hoax. I'm not kidding! I really didn't believe that my parents had once been children. That they had been born as babies into this world and grown to adulthood was inconceivable to me. Nobody could live that long. The days I knew moved altogether too slowly to make that possible. I truly believed that these two people, my parents, had been put in place on the earth as fully-formed adults, with manufactured histories, for the sole purpose of being my parents. They could tell me all the stories of their childhoods they wanted; I inwardly shook my head and doubted their actuality.

It's no surprise then that I lived my childhood day to day, thinking it would never end. I didn't seriously consider "what I wanted to be when I grew up." I didn't even consider it non-seriously. I thought I'd be a child forever. Well, in spite of what I wanted or believed, the years went by, a few changes occurred, and I found myself a teenager. This was okay though. It was a lot of fun. I had fun friends and good times. I was also a good student and I enjoyed learning and I loved to read. But it never crossed my mind that I should be planning ahead. I thought I'd be a teenager forever. College never crossed my mind until my sister, who is just nineteen months older than I am, was filling out college applications. Two years later, I found myself at Brigham Young University.

Boy, was it fun! And the classes were okay, too. But guess what? Two years went by and I still hadn't given much consideration to what I wanted to be when I grew up. I thought I'd be a college student forever. And then all of a sudden, I knew without a doubt, that growing up was no hoax. I had to choose a major and choose one fast. For the first time in my life, I was forced to look ahead. I considered different subjects I could study, and decided I'd like to be a teacher. I went ahead and majored in Elementary Education, thinking it would be fun to work with children. Maybe I would be able to convince some of them that, yes, they would grow up someday. About the same time I decided on a major, I met my future husband. Naturally, the thought of marriage had never entered my mind at any time prior to this. Let alone the thought of someday being a parent. As I continued with my studies, however, I could see how my education would not only prepare me to have a career as a teacher, but the things I was learning I could put to use in raising my own children someday.

Well, I got married and finished my education and eventually we had our first child. The most important thing to me was being a mother. I worked as a substitute teacher until our baby was born, and then I put all my energy and education into raising my children. And the education didn't stop there. I'm a firm believer in continuing education, even in an informal way. I have continued to educate myself through reading, keeping up on what's going on in the world, and taking occasional classes. I am a teacher every day. I pass on my knowledge to my children. I encourage them to learn all they can and to look ahead!

Recently I have started substitute teaching again. My youngest child is in school all day and the schools are short on substitutes. I thought I'd try it out and see how it goes. If it doesn't interfere with my most important job of being a mother, I'll keep it up. I have found that I really enjoy teaching. I feel a sense of satisfaction when I can explain an idea to the kids (either at school or at home) and they get it! It's very rewarding.

I wasn't able to be a child forever. I wasn't able to be a teenager forever. I wasn't able to be a college student forever. But guess what? A mother and a teacher I can be forever.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Chicken on the Bones - with Skin!

Remember when we used to eat chicken on the bones? With the skin? If for some reason we wanted chicken without bones and skin, we boned and skinned it ourselves. It wasn't the most pleasant task in the kitchen, so we usually just cooked it as was. Then along came conveniently boned and skinned chicken breast halves, individually flash frozen and available for purchase in giant bags at places like Costco, and for a pretty good price. Is it just me or is there something spineless about boneless-skinless? (I really just wanted to say that. I actually love the convenience of boneless-skinless chicken breasts.)
Here's a recipe for the world's best chicken. It has to been made with bones and skin intact. I've tried it without. Don't even bother. Really - chicken with bones and skin. Try it. I promise that everyone you serve it to will love it. Young people might want to know what kind of animal it is that comes to the table with bones and skin. Just make something up.

Parmesan Chicken Breasts

6 chicken breast halves with bones and skin
1 cup bread crumbs
2/3 cup Parmesan cheese (just the dried powdered kind in the can)
2 Tablespoons dried parsley
1 Tablespoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
1/2 cup melted butter
2 cloves garlic, minced (I use garlic-in-a-jar)
4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (don't even think about bottled lemon juice - for anything!)

Combine bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, parsley, salt and pepper. Set aside. Combine melted butter, garlic and lemon juice. Rinse chicken breast halves under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Dip chicken pieces in butter mixture and then in bread crumb mixture. Place in 9 x 13 pan. Pour extra butter mixture over chicken and sprinkle with paprika. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Let Them Eat Cake

Actually, I’ve never been a huge fan of cake. I have always preferred gooier desserts. Give me pie or bread pudding or trifle over a piece of cake any day. Unless it’s a particularly gooey piece of cake – maybe it has lots of filling between the layers. Then I’d be happy to indulge.

But recently I’ve had two experiences with cake, one literal and one literary, which are forcing me to reconsider my dessert options. And my breakfast options, too, I’m afraid. And my middle-of-the-afternoon-how-to-fulfill-the-craving options. Late at night…

A friend of mine e-mailed me a recipe for 5 Minute Chocolate Mug Cake this summer. It was one of those “I’ll send it to five people, then you send it to five people…” pass alongs that we usually take one look at and that’s the end of it. Oh, if only I had deleted it. Instead, I’ve had chocolate cake every day for the past week. It’s ironic because I’m pretty sure one of the selling points of 5 Minute Chocolate Mug Cake is that you’re only making a small amount and therefore won’t have a whole cake to work your way through. You know how we hate to waste things. We’d rather get fat. But now, I’m never more than a few minutes away from hot, gooey chocolate dessert. It’s really gooey. It’s the chocolate chips that make it so. In the recipe I received, the chocolate chips were listed as optional, but they really are a must. The first time I made it I left them out because I didn’t have any. Chocolate chips don’t last long in our house, especially if the bag’s open. The final product was no big deal.

Oh, why didn’t I leave it at that?

I bought some on my next trip to the store. Semi-sweet. Came right home and tried the recipe again.

Oh my goodness.

Don’t do it.

I’m going to print the recipe here just so you’ll know what not to do.

5 Minute Chocolate Mug Cake

4 Tablespoons flour

4 Tablespoons sugar

2 Tablespoons cocoa

1 egg

3 Tablespoons milk

3 Tablespoons oil

3 Tablespoons chocolate chips

a small splash of vanilla

1 large microwave safe mug

Add dry ingredients to mug and mix well. Add the egg and mix thoroughly. Pour in the milk and oil and mix well. Stir in chocolate chips and vanilla. Microwave on high for 2 minutes. Cake will rise over the top of the mug, but don’t be alarmed! Tip cake out onto a plate or eat out of the mug.

I will redeem myself a little by telling you that every time I’ve made it, I’ve shared it with one or sometimes two other people.

And I’ve hidden the chocolate chips in a place they’ll never find them.

I just polished off my second cake experience this summer – Jeanne Ray’s Eat Cake, a delightful novel about a woman who bakes cakes and feeds them to her family in order to alleviate stress. Her husband ends up losing his job and seems to be on the brink of a mid-life crisis, but she steps up her cake baking and saves the day. The book includes recipes for several cakes.

Fortunately they all take longer than five minutes to make.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bodily Remains

We were at a family gathering one day a number of years ago. One of our nephews, who shall remain nameless, had recently lost a tooth.

“Did you put it under your pillow for the Tooth Fairy?” I asked him.

“Nah,” he replied. “I keep my baby teeth and string ‘em on a necklace.”

Whoa! Visions of voodoo and restless natives. But hey – I appreciate creative thinking. And it might be worth forgoing the dollar each time in order to create a piece of personal history – an heirloom that future generations would be sure to fight over: Time to divvy up the worldly possessions. Whoever gets the grand piano must also take the baby tooth necklace. And wear it.

I got a lot of mileage out of it. Whenever the subject of the Tooth Fairy came up, I’d tell about my nephew and his add-a-tooth necklace. I’m a substitute teacher. This always went over really well with the elementary school crowd.

But then one day a couple of years later I asked Mark (Whoops! Sorry, Mark.) how his baby tooth necklace was coming along and he looked at me like I was crazy! He claimed to have no idea what I was talking about.

Had I dreamed the whole thing? What a let down. I’m hoping I at least managed to convince a few grade schoolers to take up the craft.

I’ve read enough old-time novels to know that people used to will their relatives (usually poor, distant relatives who could have used a lot more) a ring made from their hair. Their deceased hair. To remember them by. Makes my ring finger itch just thinking about it.

Recently one of my Facebook friends posted a link to the website of Psyche Cremation Jewelry. Obviously I’m interested in this kind of thing, so I immediately clicked on the link. I’ve never heard of anything like this before. The page was quite intriguing. “Memorialize your loved one in hand blown cremation jewelry.” I especially liked where they asked “What makes Psyche Cremation Jewelry unique?” Does anyone really need to ask this? The small business owner will take the cremated remains of your loved one, be they human or pet, and craft them into a one-of-a-kind piece of jewelry. Picture in your mind a pendant, the design of which incorporates the letters in “Uncle Ed.”

“Oh, how sentimentally thoughtful,” a friend remarks to you. “A necklace to remind you of your Uncle Ed.”

“Actually,” you respond, “this necklace is my Uncle Ed.”

Years ago, my grandmother’s husband died. I think he had been both her second and fourth husbands. She had him (them) cremated. His ashes were placed in a receptacle of some kind and given back to her. Somewhere along the timeline of death and funeral arrangements, my aunt and uncle ended up in possession of the remains for a few days. Aunt Norma refused to be left home alone with Ruel’s remains so Uncle Larry put them in the trunk of his car. One evening he had to attend a leadership meeting at the church. It started to go a little long. After a while he excused himself.

“Sorry, I’ve got to go,” he said. “I’ve got my father-in-law out in the car.”

They all felt terrible that Ruel had been out in the car so long. They plied Uncle Larry with extra refreshments and insisted he leave right away.

Pretty handy, huh?

A few days ago, in the hopes of engaging me in a political discussion, my husband asked me if I thought it should be legal for people to use the art of taxidermy to preserve their dearly departed kin. A taxidermist actually lives in the house behind ours (and it’s only a little bit creepy). I told Kent that even though he might get a good deal on me from the neighbor, I didn’t recommend it. I’ve seen Mrs. Bates in her fruit cellar. She’s not a pretty sight.

Better to go with the jewelry.

Monday, August 16, 2010

"Please Pass the Worcestershire Sauce" - A Guide to Pronunciation

Last Sunday, one of my neighbors called me up.

"I found this recipe I want to try, but I don't have a couple of the ingredients. Do you have any Worcestershire sauce?"

Only she actually said "Wor-ses...Wor-ches...Wor-ses-cher-shy-er sauce."

"Worcestershire sauce?" I flawlessly responded. "Sure. Come on over and get it."

I've been listening to people trip over this word for nearly thirty years - as long as I've lived in the West. In Massachusetts, where I grew up, there is a city called Worcester, named after a place in England. Because we New Englanders grew up knowing how to pronounce this place-name, it's been a lot easier for us. We've always been able to just roll it off our tongues.

And you can, too, after completing this brief tutorial. It's time for everyone to learn how to pronounce the name of this common condiment.

The biggest mistake people make occurs in their division of the word into syllables, a natural technique we use when sounding out words. With this word, you have to think about it a little differently. It seems natural to divide it up like this: Wor-ces-ter-shire. But instead, you need to divide it like this: Worce-ster-shire.

Let's begin with the first syllable: Worce. The first thing you need to do in pronouncing this syllable is to drop the letter r. (Again, we New Englanders have had a leg up. We drop all kinds of r's. We also add them to the ends of words where they don't belong.)  Go ahead and try it. It should come out something like this: woos. (oo as in look) Try it again. Woos. There! Very good.

Next syllable. Pretty straight forward: ster. Just like it looks. Actually, in New England, we would drop off the r and say "stah." This won't be necessary.

Now try stringing the two syllables together: woos-ster. You'll notice that when you do, you have two s sounds in a row. Combine them into one. Wooster. It does not rhyme with rooster. Remember, oo as in look. Try it again. Wooster. Very good!

Final syllable: shire. We are not hobbits. We don't live in the Shire. Let's pronounce it like this: sheer. Good!

Now, try it all together: woostersheer. Excellent! Add the sauce and you've got it.

Worcestershire sauce.

I feel so much better. Now, call me up and ask to borrow some. I've got a whole bottle in my pantry.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Scarred For Life

My son, Kurt, claims that I scarred him for life. As he was growing up , it was nearly impossible to get him to make necessary phone calls, speak to adults he didn't know well, or answer the door if he knew it was a solicitor. It all stems back, he claims, to a bad experience he had as a little boy. Maybe around age eight. And it was all my fault. He claims.

I belonged to a neighborhood book group and it was my turn to choose the book. I chose Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. As the hostess and presenter, it was my responsibility to find out how many copies of the book were available at the public libraries, price the book, and take orders from anyone in the group who wanted to buy their own. I did this, and then ordered the appropriate number of books from a local bookstore. When they came in, I distributed the copies and collected the money from those women who had ordered them. Except for one. I had trouble catching one woman at home. The book sat on my kitchen counter for a couple of weeks. The date for book group was approaching. I needed to get the book to Laura Hughes so she'd have time to read it before our meeting. And besides, the woman owed me money!

I had just returned home from somewhere, and as I had driven past the Hughes's house, I had seen signs of life. I hurried into the house and picked up the book off the counter.

"Kurt!" I called to my son. "I need you to do me a favor, Bud. Take this book over to the Hughes's and tell Sister Hughes* she owes me $7.35." (or however much)

Off he went.

A few minutes later, he returned, still in posession of the book. And he looked a bit upset.

"What's the matter?" I asked. "Weren't they home?"

"Yeah, but they didn't want it."

"What do you mean 'they didn't want it?' Did you talk to Sister Hughes?"

"No, Brother Hughes came to the door."

"Did you tell him his wife owes me $7.35?"


"Well, what did you say?"

"I said, 'My mom's selling these books and they're $7.35. Do you wanna buy one?' and he said 'Aahhh, it looks like a really good book, but I don't think we'd be interested.'"

I could see his ears burning and he was about to cry. He felt humiliated.

Somehow I guess he thought I was trying to bring in a little extra money for the household budget.

"Kurt!" I exploded. "I'm not selling books! She ordered this book and I'm just trying to deliver it!"

I guess I should have taken the time to explain to him what it was all about before I sent him off on my errand. And now I was feeling a little humiliated as well; Jim Hughes was under the impression that I was sending my kids around the neighborhood peddling books!

I took Ethan Frome from Kurt and headed over to the Hughes's. Jim Hughes answered the door. He looked surprised.

I immediately spoke up.

"I'm not selling books door-to-door," I assured him. "Laura ordered this for book group. Would you please give it to her and tell her she owes me $7.35? She can get it to me whenever."

Poor Kurt. We still argue about it.

"It's not my fault!" I tell him. "If you had just said what I told you to say, it never would have happened."

"Mom," he insists, "How could I have known? It sounded to me like you were selling books. I felt so stupid."

Scarred for life.

I don't know. Maybe I should offer to pay for therapy.

*In our church, we call each other Brother or Sister So-And-So. In Utah, since almost everyone is L.D.S., this is what the kids call everyone instead of Mr. or Mrs. Except at school. At school, they say Mr. or Mrs. When I substitute teach for neighbor kids, sometimes they slip up and call me Sister Gassman and then they say "Whoops! I mean Mrs. Gassman!"

Monday, July 19, 2010

Raspberry Chipotle Pork Tenderloin

This recipe for pork tenderloin is fabulous. They sell Fischer and Wieser Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Sauce at Costco and I found the  recipe in a small booklet attached to the neck of the bottle. I also buy the pork tenderloins at Costco. They come in a two-pack, with two tenderloins in each pack. I have made this in the oven several times, but yesterday I grilled it. Inside or outside, you will need a meat thermometer.

1/2 cup olive oil
2 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
1 T. minced garlic
1 tsp. sea salt
1 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 (about 1 lb. each) pork tenderloins
1 3/4 cups Fischer and Wieser Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Sauce

Heat a gas or charcoal grill to medium heat (350 degrees). Combine the olive oil, rosemary, garlic, sea salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Whisk to blend well. Place the tenderloins on a baking sheet and rub generously all over with the seasoned oil. Place tenderloins on grill and immediately turn down to between medium and low. Shut the lid. Grill until meat reaches a temperature of 145 degrees, turning often as it cooks. While meat is grilling, heat the sauce in a small saucepan on the stove. When meat is done, place it on a platter and cover with aluminum foil. Let sit for ten minutes. Slice meat in 1/2 " to 1 " thick slices and arrange on platter. Pour sauce over meat and serve.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Enter Mrs. Belchamber... by Elizabeth Cadell

I love to read and I’m always asking family members and friends for book suggestions. They always have titles to recommend. The problem is that I don’t write them down. I repeat them very deliberately a couple of times and think my brain will be able to just call them up when I get to the library. Never happens that way. Once in a while I write them down, but do I ever have the paper with me when I get to the library? I almost always end up wandering the aisles, scanning the shelves, picking up and reading the inside cover or the blurb on the back. (However, the blurb on the back almost always has a large sticker over it that prevents you from reading it. Why do the library people do this? It’s maddening.) Actually, wandering the aisles of a bookstore or library is one of my favorite ways to spend time. I’ve discovered some of my favorite books this way, as a child and as an adult.

Several years ago, I came across a book in the large print section of the public library. This was before I even needed large print. I’m so glad I looked. It was called Enter Mrs. Belchamber… by Elizabeth Cadell. It looked kind of fun, so I checked it out. It was a fast and easy read and absolutely delightful. It had the feel of one of those great old-time movies (the book was first published in 1951) and as I read, I was picturing it on the big screen of back-in-the-day. Mrs. Belchamber is an unforgettable character. I won’t even try to describe her. This is a story about a young twenty-something-year-old Englishman who finds himself the legal guardian of three orphaned French children. As they are traveling by train from France to England, the young man and these children encounter the elderly Mrs. Belchamber. She attaches herself to their party, and, for reasons of her own, refuses to budge. It’s a sweet, simple story. It’s humorous and romantic, and maybe a little cheesy in some of the dialogue between a couple of the characters. But it’s a lot of fun. It's nothing literary, and you're not going to learn a thing from reading it. It's purely for entertainment. And the entertainment is refreshingly pure.

Elizabeth Cadell (aka Harriet Ainsworth) lived from 1903 to 1989. She was British, born in India. She wrote 52 light-hearted, humorous novels with a romantic bent. This is the only one I’ve read.

Elizabeth Cadell

I now own a copy of Enter Mrs. Belchamber... If you feel like something simple, light, and pleasant,  come over and borrow it.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Homemade Ice Cream

A lot of people make homemade ice cream in the summertime. When I was growing up, we always made it on the Fourth of July. We had an old fashioned hand-crank ice cream freezer. Sometimes we'd fuss about having to crank, and our mother always told us that hand-cranked was so much better than what you got from the electric kind. My mother would prepare the base and pour it into the metal canister. She'd get the freezer all set up on the driveway or in the garage and layer the ice and the rock salt between the wooden bucket and the canister, and attach the crank mechanism across the top. Then she'd call to all of us kids.

"If you don't crank, you don't eat!"

That was the rule. There were always cousins and friends around. The smallest of us would crank first, when the work was easiest. Easy but tedious. As the mixture began to freeze, the dasher had a harder time moving through it, and the cranking became more difficult. By the end, the adults would take over and finish it up. We never ate it until night time, after the fireworks. We'd all walk down to the beach just before dark and claim a spot either on the sand or on the footbridge. The fireworks were set off out over Lewis Bay. It seems like as many years as not it was too foggy to see them. But we still oohed and aahed as we listened to the cracks and booms. Then we'd walk back up to the house and have ice cream. Maybe the fireworks were sometimes disappointing, but the ice cream was always fabulous.

As soon as we'd all grown up and moved away, my mother bought herself not one, but two electric ice cream freezers. Electric? We all thought she'd sold out. But we didn't mind that she had two of them. Married kids, grandkids, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors and friends continued to show up for fireworks and ice cream for many years. My mother would start making batches of ice cream a couple of weeks ahead of the holiday, pack it in containers and keep it in the freezer. Her specialities were lemon and raspberry.

Lemon ice cream, you ask? Yes. It's my favorite.

Okay, so some people will have a problem with these recipes because they contain uncooked eggs. Here are my feelings about it. How many of us eat cookie dough before we bake it? I do. And I love to lick the beaters when making a cake. Raw eggs don't make us sick. In order to get sick from raw eggs, three things  have to happen. First of all, the chickens have to be sick. Secondly, the eggs that the sick chickens lay have to be contaminated by chicken manure. And then the bacteria has to get from the shell into whatever you're making when you crack the egg. The chances of this happening are very slim. It's a risk I've always been willing to take. Maybe because I grew up occasionally eating things containing raw egg and I never got sick. My boys make smoothies and throw in an egg or two for the protein. Never been sick. I imagine I'll change my mind once it happens, but for now, I'm living on the edge.

If you are worried, you could still use these recipes and before freezing them, heat the mixture on the stove until it's hot enough to kill anything. Stir constantly. Then you'd probably want to strain it before freezing to remove any little pieces of egg that might have cooked. You would also need to chill the mixture really well before freezing it. Your final product would probably taste a little custardy, but i'm sure it would still be yummy.

Or, you could live on the edge.

My Mom's Lemon Ice Cream (makes one gallon)

1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups sugar
2 cups light Karo syrup (corn syrup)
5 cups whole milk
1 quart heavy cream
4 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt

Whisk together eggs, sugar,and Karo syrup in a large bowl. Whisk in lemon juice. Then stir in milk, cream, vanilla, and salt. Freeze in ice cream freezer according to manufacturer's directions.

My Mom's Raspberry Ice Cream (makes 5 quarts)

6 cups fresh raspberries
2 cups sugar
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 1/4 cups sugar
3 3/4 cups whole milk
3 cups heavy cream
3 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/3 tsp. salt ( I don't have one either - more than 1/4 and less than 1/2)

Puree raspberries, 2 cups sugar, and lemon juice in blender. Strain through a fine sieve or layers of cheese cloth to remove seeds. Whisk together eggs and 2 1/4 cups sugar in a large bowl. Whisk in raspberry puree. Stir in milk, cream, vanilla, and salt. Freeze in ice cream freezer according to manufacturer's directions.

Peach or Strawberry Ice Cream (makes about 6 quarts - maybe a little more)

8 eggs, lightly beaten
2 2/3 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
8 cups cream*
fresh strawberries or fresh peaches
1 more cup sugar, or maybe two

This is my recipe, so naturally I have no idea how much sugar or fruit I actually use in it. Taste the mixture before you freeze it. If you need more, add more.The amount of fruit doesn't really matter too much. The more you put in, the fruitier it will taste and the more it will make. Cut up the fruit and toss it in a bowl with the cup of sugar (or more - probably more). Then mash it up with a potato masher. Mashed fruit is better than whole chunks. Whole chunks of fruit tend to be icy in the final product. Whisk together eggs and 2 2/3 cups sugar. Add mashed fruit. Stir in cream and vanilla. Freeze in ice cream freezer according to manufacturer's directions.

*If you wanted to, you could use whole milk for part of the cream.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Fast Sunday: part of the "Every Weird Thing..." series*

In our church, the first Sunday of every month is known as “Fast Sunday.” Many people, especially my kids, ironically consider it to be the slowest Sunday of the month. During this twenty-four hour period, we go without food or drink for two consecutive meals. We then donate the money we would have spent on those meals (and usually more) to the Fast Offering fund of the church. The church uses that money to aid the needy, locally and around the world. While fasting, we pray for the poor, that their needs might be met. We also use this time to pray for help with specific problems that we or our family members or friends may be facing, the idea being that fasting aids in bringing us closer to the Spirit of the Lord. When we fast, we show our Heavenly Father that we are willing to sacrifice in order to receive His divine assistance in our lives and in the lives of others.

Our main Sunday meeting is called Sacrament Meeting (See February 26, 2010 post “now go sit down”), however on Fast Sunday, we refer to it as Fast and Testimony Meeting. Rather than have assigned speakers for this meeting, members of the congregation are given the opportunity to come forward and share their testimonies of the Gospel with everyone present. Many of the women who do this get quite emotional. And my kids can tell you exactly which ones they are. When they see certain women stand and walk up the aisle to get to the podium during Fast and Testimony Meeting, they’ll lean toward the family member seated next to them and make a bet about how soon the woman will cry:

“Two sentences.”


"Six words.”


“Before she even starts.”

Hey, women get emotional. And maybe we feel the Spirit more strongly than guys do. We’re definitely more sensitive, as a rule, than men are. So there.

Another common occurrence on Fast Sunday is the naming and blessing of new babies, known in other churches as Christening. In other churches, this ordinance is performed by the priest or minister, and sometimes includes a baptism. In our church, all worthy men are ordained to the Priesthood, and therefore, are able to name and bless their own children. This is generally done at the beginning of Fast and Testimony Meeting, before the Sacrament is passed to the congregation and before the time is turned to the congregation for the bearing of testimonies. The father (or another worthy Priesthood holder) carries the baby to the front of the chapel. He is accompanied by male relatives and friends (also worthy Priesthood holders) who have been invited to participate in the ordinance. They stand in a circle. The father holds the baby out on his two hands in the center of the circle. Each of the men places a hand under the infant for added support. The father then offers a special prayer during which he names the child and pronounces a blessing upon the child that will help him or her throughout this life. During the blessing, an odd thing almost always occurs. It has nothing to do with the ordinance, and is not an official part of Mormon doctrine. The men invariably start rhythmically bouncing the baby up and down on their outstretched hands. This may have started out as a way to calm an upset infant, because naturally some babies cry during the procedure. But I’ve always wondered if sometimes it’s why the baby cries. Sometimes I get this silly picture in my head of a circle of men, each holding onto the edge of a receiving blanket, tossing the baby repeatedly high into the air of a big top.

A few months ago, some neighbors of ours named and blessed their new baby in Fast and Testimony Meeting. The dad carried little baby Esther to the front of the chapel. The male relatives and friends also went forward to form the circle. I was too far back in the congregation to see how soon the bouncing began, but fairly soon, Esther started crying. Actually, crying is an understatement. Esther wailed. Wailed might be too mild a term to use in this instance as well, but I can’t think of another word right now. Screamed? Esther screamed through the whole thing. Toward the end of the blessing, the dad included something like, “And we hope that someday you’ll be able to look back on this day with fonder feelings than you’re having right now.” I thought it was great. Why shouldn’t she cry? I, of course, was picturing the big top.

Later in the morning, as we were waiting for Sunday School to begin, I was talking to Esther’s mother.

“That was a beautiful blessing,” I told her. "And I loved that she screamed through the whole thing,” I added sincerely. She looked at me kind of funny for just a second. Then we talked about other things, and she went to sit in another part of the room where she had set her belongings. After a minute, she got back up and came over to me.

“You know, while I was sitting in Sacrament Meeting,” she told me, “I caught a glimpse of you and I thought ‘Melinda probably thinks it’s great that Esther screamed the whole time. And that it didn’t matter or ruin it or anything.’”

How disturbing, I thought, that someone has figured out the inner-workings of my mind.

Esther’s fine. Like all those other women in Fast and Testimony Meeting, she was just feeling the Spirit.

* Every Weird Thing You Wanted To Know About Mormons But Were Afraid To Ask Because Then The Missionaries Might Show Up At Your Door

Monday, June 21, 2010

Bobwhite! Poor Bobwhite!

I’m descended from the Eastern Quail, nicknamed the bobwhite, after the conspicuous call it makes: bobwhite! poor bobwhite! My grandfather was Bob White. My father is Bob White. In our family, we all learned to whistle like a bobwhite before we could speak in full sentences. We were raised amid a huge covey of quail, ranging from small statuary to printed renditions on cocktail napkins. Quail where everywhere in our home as well as in my grandparents’ home. My grandfather had a sign made that spanned the space above his garage door. It read “Quail Haven.” It certainly was. My grandmother even had twelve place settings of fine quail china, along with every obscure serving piece the company manufactured.

My grandmother and mother were both really good sports about the whole quail thing. More than good sports, actually. They encouraged it. This was back in the day when, not only was it customary for a woman to take her husband’s last name upon marriage, but his first name as well. My mother and grandmother were both known as Mrs. Robert White for many years. They were bobwhites, too.

Naturally, when my parents produced the family heir, they named him Bob White, III. (Insert birdcall here.) Eventually, this littlest bobwhite grew up and found himself a mate. Julie is a modern woman. Although she consented to take his last name, I doubt very much she’s ever considered herself a quail. They have one child, our niece, Rachel. Not Roberta or Little Bobbi White. In fact, my brother insists that had she been a boy, she would not have been Robert White, IV.

I’m afraid our line of the Eastern Bobwhite Quail is dying out.

Out West, where I live, we don’t have bobwhites. People don’t even seem to know about them. One time when my mother was here for a visit, she and I were looking around in a boutique. My mother saw a little quail figurine on a shelf.

“Maybe I should buy this,” she said. Then, turning to the sales girl she proudly announced, “I’m married to Bob White.” It was like she’d said “I’m married to Brad Pitt,” only the girl had never heard of Brad Pitt.

“Mom,” I jumped in. “They don’t know about that here.” Then of course I felt like I had to fill the poor girl in on the whole bobwhite thing. I'm pretty sure I even whistled for her. She was very patient and acted like she got it.

No bobwhites here, but we do have their cousins, the California Quail. These are the ones that sport the little fishing lure on the tops of their heads. They moved into our neighborhood about a year ago. They run all over the place. They also have a very distinct call. Two of them, in fact. The first one sounds like they’re crying “Chicago! Chicago!” It also sounds just like my husband’s airless paint sprayer. The second one sounds like they’re calling “Kurt!” It drives my son, Kurt, crazy. He’s really spooked. He’s been out of the country for the past two years so this is the first time he’s heard them.

“I always think they’re calling me,” he says, looking around warily. “It’s creepy. And they want me to move to Chicago.”

My mother has the quail dishes now, and wonders what will become of them after she’s gone. Bob and Julie think they’re hideous, so they don’t want them. I think her only hope of keeping them in the family is if Kurt marries an old fashioned girl and they move to Chicago.