Category Archives: Humor

COOKBOOK CLUTTER

I love books in general, including cookbooks, many of which make good reading, even if I never get around to actually cooking from them. It pains me to divest myself of books. But some of the cookbooks I’ve collected over the decades have overstayed their welcome, taking up valuable real estate in the kitchen.

Here’s what I got rid of:
How to Cook Without a Book –Ironic, don’t you think?
Rachael Ray 365:No Repeats – lots of similarities, though. Think Garlic Shrimp, followed by Garlic Shrimp with Orzo. This book oversold itself a bit.
The Great Big Cookie Cookbook – See my post entitled “The Dark Side of Cookies.” The two grandsons who always wanted to bake cookies have lost interest in helping. Now they just want me to bake the cookies so they can eat them. I’ll stick with the 4 or 5 recipes from my mom’s collection.
1000 Classic Recipes From Around the World – Beef and Broccoli is the only one that made it into my rotation. I used to feel guilty about the other 999. Now that the book is gone, so is the guilt.

I’m on the fence with Julia Child – The Way to Cook– Aspirational, and purchased after seeing “Julie and Julia.” It seems sacrilegious to get rid of Julia, the icon of cooking. Will she haunt my kitchen if I don’t keep her cookbook? I do admire her, though, especially her famous quote, “You can never have too much butter,” which I have thoroughly taken to heart.

What’s left?
Among others, my 43-year-old Betty Crocker, the go to for basics like gravy and butter cream frosting. Also a source of humor. The back section contains hints on making mealtime interesting for your family. Here I read that I should have a cheerful centerpiece at the breakfast table, ideally a new one every morning.
Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook, Barefoot Contessa Family Style and a couple of thick grilling cookbooks. Honestly, we don’t grill that much, but we want to. And fifty cents apiece at a garage sale is a pretty good deal.
Jan Karon’s Mitford Cookbook and Kitchen Reader. This one is for reading, dreaming, and getting lost in excerpts from the Mitford books. I don’t think I’ve ever cooked anything from this book, but someday I really and truly am going to make Esther’s Orange Marmalade Cake. There’s a lot of butter in Mitford. Julia would approve.

I’m keeping a pile of five or six church and community cookbooks, bursting with recipes for fried chicken and every German dough dish imaginable, including a multitude of cheese button recipes. Typical is a “salad” of jello, marshmallows, cream cheese, real whipped cream and mayo. Main dishes include Rice and Hamburger Hotdish (with cream of mushroom soup in a supporting role; also note that “hotdish” is the Midwestern word for “casserole”), Chicken Ole (cream of mushroom AND cream of chicken soup), and Cowboy Dinner. This one involves kidney beans, which I’m pretty sure cowboys didn’t eat, and if they did I feel sorry for them.

The dessert sections in these church and community cookbooks are the largest categories, with names like Goop Cake, Apple Turnovers and Bible Cake. This is the stuff of the magnificent church potlucks of my childhood. Though I don’t cook like this, I can’t part with the memories of the dear people who unwittingly killed their families with jello and cream of mushroom soup. It would be like throwing out a Bible. I can’t do it. So these bastions of nutritional suicide will remain in the museum section of my cookbook collection.

On to the loose recipes in file folders. The grease-stained, juice-splattered ones have become sacred and shall be kept forever. I threw out a lot from each category, but kept all the dessert recipes. I don’t know why. I look at them often and longingly, and conclude that unless I’m cooking for a crowd (which hasn’t been possible in almost a year), I’d be a fool to make a caramel cheesecake or a triple chocolate-pecan pie. It would be self-destructive for a person who’s able to justify eating pie for breakfast.

Before I go, here’s one of the sacred recipes from the file folder. I promise you it’s delicious, even the Brussels sprouts component. I sometimes serve it with a kale salad, but that might be pushing it.

BRUSSELS SPROUTS GRILLED CHEESE
2 tbs olive oil, plus more for brushing (you could use butter instead, very soft or melted)
¾ lb. Brussels sprouts, very thinly sliced
1 shallot, finely chopped
8 slices whole grain bread
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tbs. prepared mustard
8-10 oz shredded fontina cheese

In a large skillet, heat 1 tbs oil over medium. Add sprouts and shallot, season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 8 minutes.

Brush one side of each slice of bread with oil. Sprinkle with the parmesan, pressing gently to adhere cheese to bread. Turn the slices over and spread with mustard.

Layer 4 slices with half the fontina, the sprouts/shallot mixture, and the remaining fontina. Top with remaining slices of bread, parmesan side up.

Heat remaining 1 tbs oil over medium and cook the sandwiches until toasted, 3-4 minutes each side. Or you can go the route of the fake panini press with a preheated George Foreman grill coated with cooking spray.

LOST

Covid19 has caused tons of trouble, and a few weeks ago it made me lose my phone. Who knew a virus could be this nefarious? But I’m getting ahead of myself.

To be honest, I lose my phone an average of three times a week. Fortunately, I lose it in my house, so I know the search parameters. Even so, I can waste a good twenty minutes retracing my steps, and often find it in weird and obscure places. On top of the bookcase in the downstairs bedroom? I have no memory of being in this room. And why would I stick my phone up there anyway? Often my missing phone is discovered under a pile of magazines and books that seem to litter the family room. Or stuck between the couch cushions.

When my husband is at home, it’s simple. I use his phone to call my phone, holding it like a Geiger Counter as I search the house. When he’s out of the house, I’m sunk. Before we got rid of the landline, I’d use it to call myself. No more. I’ve considered reinstating the land line just to give myself more options, even though you can also lose a cordless phone. The original, corded phones were the best. You always knew where your phone was, right there on the wall, and it had a leash to keep you from wandering too far. Some days I just want to go back.

Why don’t I simply keep my phone in my pocket? There are three problems with this: 1) some of my clothes don’t have pockets; 2) ladies’ pockets are pretty small; 3) On the occasions I do use a back pocket, I fear my phone will take a dive into an unpleasant receptacle in the powder room.

The lost phone saga kicked up a notch when I was out shopping a few weeks ago. I got into my car to drive home, and realized my phone was missing. Full on panic engulfed me. I instinctively decided to call my husband for help and advice, then realized I couldn’t call him because I’d lost my phone.

After dashing into the two stores I’d just left, retracing my steps, asking if a lost phone had been turned in, and coming up empty, I drove to my husband’s office. He immediately began calling my phone, over and over. He kept calling it while we dashed home to inhale our lunch, literally. It took five minutes. We then drove to store #1 and perused the parking lot.

Where did you park, my husband wanted to know. You mean the exact spot, I asked, incredulous. Yes, that was what he meant, but I could only give the general area, as in here, in this parking lot. I waved my arms expansively to emphasize my point. He prowled around, dialing. No phone rang from the pavement. We went into the store, and I headed in the direction where I’d last been. As I got deeper into the store, I heard a phone, my phone, like a child calling for its mother. I followed the cry and found it exactly where I’d left it, a dark phone propped up on a shelf of folded dark sweaters, nearly invisible.

Here’s where I get to blame Covid19. In this store the dressing rooms are closed. Because apparently the virus will infect me if I use the dressing room, but not while I’m walking around the store touching the merchandise, picking things up and putting them back. In addition, the mirrors that used to be attached to the pillars in various places around the store have been removed. Even if you only want to try on outerwear, as I was doing, there’s no way to see how it looks on you. So I had very cleverly opened the camera app on my phone, turned it to selfie mode, propped it up on the sweater display and used it as a tiny mirror while I tried on jackets (which didn’t work very well; life-size me didn’t get any helpful information from tiny me) and then went merrily on my way.

The relief at recovering my phone was immense, followed by a sad realization of how dependent I am on it. My life stopped when I couldn’t find it, and bleakness ensued when I pondered the idea of starting a relationship with a new phone. But what do I expect when I carry with me a tiny machine that is phone, camera, calculator, calendar, metronome, dictionary, stopwatch, alarm and timer? Not to mention portal to email and the internet. What have I done to myself?

This is a deep philosophical question that deserves serious consideration. But there’s no time for that now, because once again I have misplaced my phone. I know it’s here somewhere…

PRESTON AND THE GAS THIEVES

Sunday mornings when I was kid, the radio was on in the kitchen while we ate breakfast and got ready for church. We listened to “Radio Bible Class”, which started things off with a male quartet singing the theme song, “Tell Me the Story of Jesus.” Part of the lyrics went like this:

“Tell me the story of Jesus
Write on my heart every word.
Tell me the story so precious.
Sweetest that ever was heard.”

This song was a staple in our church services, and by the time I was eight I must have heard and sung it scores of times. I knew it by heart. But when the quartet got to that third line, “Tell me the story so precious,” what I heard was, “Tell me the story of Preston.”

Preston? Who was Preston? Looking back, it must have been the combination of static and a cheap radio that made me hear the words wrong. Or maybe this quartet had really bad diction. But I didn’t know that at the time.

I heard what I heard, and I spent a year or two of my Sunday breakfasts wondering who Preston was. Not a disciple, as far as I knew. Did Jesus have a brother nobody had mentioned? And why were these men singing about him?

I could have just asked my mom and dad. But I didn’t. Maybe it was because Sunday mornings were pretty chaotic, what with my parents having to feed and dress five kids under the age of nine, and get them pottied, teeth brushed, and in the car and on the road. Especially in the winter, when everyone had to be swathed in coats, hats, mittens and boots. The atmosphere didn’t lend itself to musical or theological questions, which is ironic, because we were getting ready for church. And then I’d forget about it until the next Sunday morning, when once again I was presented with the mystery of Preston.

There were other times in my childhood when I didn’t ask. Once, when I was five or six, the whole family was coming home from visiting relatives. It was dark, past our bedtimes. As we turned onto our long gravel driveway at the farm, Dad paused to scrutinize the tire tracks illuminated by the headlights. Any farmer worth his salt knows the tire patterns of all his vehicles, and can pick out an intruder.

Here was a tire track that didn’t belong.

“Gas Thieves,” Dad pronounced, shaking his head. Like all farmers, he had his own bulk gas and diesel fuel supply, stored in big metal drums on elevated stands. There were no sophisticated locks back then. It was easy for nefarious characters to cut the padlocks and drain the fuel. I didn’t figure all this out until I was older. But that night in the car I perceived this wasn’t a good situation.

When I heard “gas thieves,” I immediately conjured up an image of huge birds, kind of like roadrunners, who stole gas from farmers. I’d probably never heard the word “thieves” before, but instead of asking questions, I made up an explanation that made sense to me. It gave me a delicious quiver to think of these strange creatures. It didn’t occur to me that gas thieves were ordinary humans, albeit sneaky and dishonest ones, driving around in pickup trucks, siphoning gas from innocent farmers.

In retrospect, I’m surprised at my lack of questions about Preston or gas thieves, especially since I grew to be a question asker. Maybe I wasn’t very smart back then. Or maybe I was just a kid with a big imagination. Kids inhabit a world of narrow experiences, and only know what they’ve seen and heard. Any explanation they can come up with is the truth, as far as they know. They simply don’t know that they don’t know.

But say I HAD asked the adults about Preston or the gas thieves. Being a kid wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting, Nor would I have these amusing stories to write about. We all need a little levity these days.

Preston and the gas thieves, I thank you for your help.