Sunday, August 31, 2008

Bat out of you-know-where

On Friday evening at dusk -- that gorgeous time when the sun is down, but there's still light in the sky, and the heat of the day is finally burning off -- my husband and I were coming home from our date at the Chinese restaurant.

We were sitting at a stop light downtown, with no other cars around us, which was unusual. Except for some people with little kids still lingering by the fountain in the city square (the fountain has those squirty things in the ground that toddlers like to play in), it was deserted. All the workday traffic was gone and there was an unaccustomed hush that was very pleasant.

Which is probably why the bat felt so free to make its presence known.

As we sat, a bat swooped down from somewhere near the top of the YMCA building and did an extravagant figure-8 in front of the van, close enough to be easily visible, but not so close as to send me diving into the rear of the vehicle, screaming and and sticking my head under a seat to protect my hair. It dove and rose, fluttering around in a show-offy kind of way, until the light turned green, at which point it got in the same lane we were in and sailed off grandly toward the next traffic light.

Which put my husband and me in the strange position of chasing a bat down a city street as it vigorously headed north. I wanted so much to lean my head out the window and shout, "EEEE-WOOOOOOOO EEEEE-WOOO WOW-WOW-WOW-WOW!!!!" like a police cruiser's siren, but my husband wouldn't let me.

I like to think that some other concerned citizen made an arrest later and that the bat was released on his own recognizance.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Goodbye, swim club!

Meelyn, Aisling and I stayed at the pool for an unprecedented five hours today and I am now more suntanned than anybody you know. No, more suntanned than her. There is no use in arguing about this. I am a lovely, goldy-brown color achieved through determined application of SPF 30 lotion (PABA free) and Hawaiian Tropics SPF 4 oil for the late afternoons when the oldies station is on. The smell of coconuts and the sound of Paul, Linda and the rest of the Wings singing "Band on the Run" takes me back to the summer before my seventh grade year in such a profound way, I can almost open my eyes and see White Estates pool and my friend Lisa baking on the towel next to mine.

My towel, if you'll believe it, bore the legend, interspersed with many brightly-colored flowers, "Make Love, Not War." How a 12-year-old from a staunchly Republican family wound up with such a beach towel, I don't know. But it was 1974 and that's just how things were, I guess.


I had a lovely time, reading and reading and getting in and out of the pool as my body temperature dictated and eating my turkey sandwich from Subway. It was glorious. The oldies station played every song I'd ever hoped to hear that day, and I sang along under my breath, after furtively looking around to see if anyone was in hearing distance.

I missed Kieren and Dayden with a lump in my throat, once or twice.

As we packed up the floats and the towels and the coolers and our swim bags, one last song for the summer came on over the loudspeakers.


Oh, won't you stay just a little bit longer

Please, please, please, please tell me that you want to

Now, your mommy don't mind

And your mommy don't mind

If we have another dance, just one more

Say you will


You think there weren't some tears in my eyes at leaving this happy place?

"Are you crying?" Aisiling asked curiously.

"It's nothing," I replied. "Just my allergies."


Won't you stay just a little bit longer

Come on and say you will....

Last day at the pool

The girls probably won't even be out of bed for another half hour, but I've been in my bathing suit ever since I opened up my peepers this morning. The first thought in my head was: This could be the LAST DAY we can go.

Saturday might work, but it would be a little difficult since we'll be going to 5:00 Mass and Aisling needs to get to the church to do some practicing beforehand. That doesn't leave us much time to loll around at the pool in our usual leisurely there-for-three-hours fashion, considering that the pool doesn't open until 11:00.

Sunday is out because we're going to brunch with my grandparents and the rest of the fam, and then my husband is going to mow my parents' lawn, since they're out of town. While he does that, the girls and I are going to go visit our other grandpa, who recently had to go to a nursing home because of his advanced Alzheimer's Disease.

Monday, we're having company. I've already got the little Playmate cooler sitting out on the table. I've got some cash to buy us lunch, probably at Subway or somesuch, since the snack bar is rapidly running out of foodstuffs; we were desolate when they ran out of soft pretzels.

We'll have to clean out our locker for another year, bringing home the shampoo and conditioner and body wash and bottles of sunscreen. Plus the pool toys we played with all summer, with the boys....

I'm really trying hard not to be sad about this, but not being very successful.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Redolent of freshly baked bread

As I sit here typing, wafting all around me is the aroma of whole wheat bread baking. It smells SO GOOD, I want to take great big bites out of the air, although on second thought, that would probably just make me belch. And then Meelyn, who finds bodily noises unaccountably hilarious, would screech with laughter like a monkey and Aisling would loftily say to her "Were you born in a BARN?" and I just don't feel like getting into it.

Tonight for dinner, we are having the bread and beef-barley stew and I plan to close the curtains over the big dining room window and ask everyone to pretend it is a rainy, chilly night in mid-October.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Woe is not me

Today? When we were unloading and moving and reloading bookcases, with several hundred books plus little decorative items and family pictures haphazardly piled and stacked all over the dining room table and floor?

Guess what I found, on the bottom shelf of the bookcase we moved?


I thought they were lost and gone forever, but they've been found again.

I credit St. Anthony. Thanks, Uncle Tony!

No appreciation whatsoever

We finally had to break down and buy a new bookcase, one of those really classy ones made of particle board that your husband puts together in the living room, cussing sotto voce and stepping on little screws barefoot. Which leads to more cussing, with a voce that is not in the least bit sotto.

The task of the female membership of the family -- me, Meelyn and Aisling -- was to unload one entire big bookshelf, move it down the wall, put the new bookshelf in between the unloaded, moved shelf and the other shelf, which was able to just stay put.

The girls went to the Y this morning to exercise, and I spent the hour I had by myself unloading, dusting, and making sure piles of books on the floor and the dining room table didn't turn into some kind of freakish avalanche that would trap me in the dining room and prevent me from eating lunch. When they came home, we moved the new bookcase into its place and started reloading to the accompaniment of two girls carrying on like I'd told them I was sending them off for a few weeks of labor on an oil rig with unpaid overtime.

"Whhhyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?" Aisling whined in the nasal tone that never fails to make me want to start screaming. "Whyyyy do weeeeeeee have to do this? Why can't youuuuuuu dooo it?"

"Yah, weeeee went to the gyyyyyyyyym while youuuuu stayyyyyyed home, so weeee already did enough work for todaaaaaaaaaaay," Meelyn joined in.

Well, it wasn't pretty. And it all ended up with the two of them being grounded from the computer for today. So not only did they have to help with the books anyway, I also don't have to share the computer. Snnap!!!

While Meelyn was loading some photograph albums onto the bottom shelf, she noticed a loose photograph, one of my great-grandmother, Hazel Williams Houser, taken when she was perhaps a year old, wearing a fancy dress, all billowing skirts and carefully pin-tucked bodice. Her sweet blonde hair was combed into a little frill on the top of her head and her wee buttoned boots are sticking out of the bottom of her skirt in an adorable fashion. The photograph is very beautiful in its sepia tones and I've been keeping it in that album since my mother gave it to me because I haven't been able to find a frame that would do it justice.

"Who's this?" Mee asked, holding out the photograph for me to see.

"Ah," I said fondly, looking at Grandma's precious, pouting baby lips and the little dimples on the knuckles of her chubby hands. "That's your great-great-grandmother, the one I often stayed with when I was a little girl, on the farm in Luray. That's the grandma who would drop everything she was doing to play Old Maid with me, and she'd take me to pet the lambs, and she always had popsicles in her deep freeze on the back porch."

Meelyn studied my cherished photograph and said, "When was it taken?"

I thought it over and said, "Ummm, maybe 1897?"

Meelyn took one last look at the picture of her ancestor, a person I dearly loved, and put it back in the album, slamming the cover shut with a bang. "Well, that is one ugly picture. All those dark colors make her look like she's possessed or something."

Sometimes, you just want to run away and join the circus.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Falling tears

On Friday morning, I went to early Mass and then stopped off at the grocery store down the street from the church afterwards to pick up a few things. The store is an innocuous looking Kroger, but it's the one I've written about before that the meth dealers in my city seem to frequent; it's not unusual to note among the clientele amped out people wearing cunning little crack pipes on chains around their necks. I'm not sure if this is supposed to be a fashion statement or a subtle advertisement that they're in the market for some rock.

But then, I'm the one in there wearing a two inch crucifix necklace. People probably wonder if I'm a really big nun who has forsaken scapular, guimpe and wimple or a vampire slayer.

Anyway. I was pushing my cart down an aisle and there was another woman pushing her cart towards me at the other end. She was very noticeable because of her hair: It was parted in the middle and the left side was black and the right side was blonde, kind of like Cruella de Vil.

As she got closer, I couldn't help but notice that she had two terribly blackened eyes, like her face had met the dashboard in a car crash. I sucked in my breath in pity as she drew closer, noting her slouching walk and defeated air: her body language spoke volumes. Here was a person who seemed sunk in melancholy, weary and apathetic.

But then she drew closer still and I realized that what I had taken for two black eyes was actually a tattoo: She had a Lone Ranger-type mask tattooed on her face.

I like to think that it takes a lot to shock me. Or maybe that I'm unshockable. But it turns out that I am so capable of being shocked, it can make my hands shake.

She looked at me briefly, her eyes sliding to my face, probably to gauge my reaction to her appearance -- or her plight, it's hard to say which. I only had the smallest instant to make sure my mouth wasn't hanging open and my eyebrows weren't all raised up to my hairline. I have a problem with that, as I noted a few posts down from here. But I swiftly made a mask of my own face and her lackluster eyes, with a tiny ember of defiance burning inside them, slid away from mine like a water snake slipping into a stream.

I was dumbfounded, and I am not usually a person who is much fazed by tattoos. But this seemed to be so much more than just permanent, personal body art. This looked like a cry for help.

I wonder who she was, why she did that to her face.

I did the rest of my shopping mechanically, going throught the self-check lane and swiping my few items without paying much attention, feeding my ten dollars into the bill acceptor. I took my bag and went out to the van, where I surprised myself by sitting there for a few moments, quietly weeping for the woman in the self-imposed mask.

Woe is me

I am starting to get in a bread-baking kind of mood, which means hauling the bread machine out from the appliance garage, conveniently located under a counter and so deep that I practically have to stand on my head to get it. That, or yell and make one of the girls come get it. I do have my sneaky ways.

So anyway, I bought a new jar of yeast and a new bag of whole wheat flour, because I absolutely love the way the bread machine does whole wheat bread -- it is as different from the grocery store's whole wheat sandwich slices as a beautifully scented candle's aroma is different from cigar smoke. I was prepped.

Then I went to look for the two little leaflet cookbooks that go with my bread machine. One came with it and the other was one I ordered from the company, which I believe is Rival. My bread machine is either ten or eleven years old and still going strong and those recipes -- about forty in all, with everything from oatmeal bread to potato bread to dinner rolls to pizza crust -- have been my mainstays. I have always kept those two leaflets in the red three-ring binder I keep all my family recipes in.

Only when I looked in there on Friday, they were gone.

The last time I used the machine, which was early in the spring, I must not have put them back.

But where did I put them? I haven't a clue.

Without them, my bread machine is pretty much useless, and I am the saddest, bread-hungry person you have ever seen.

Where? Where?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Olympic-sized irony

Does anyone else find it paradoxical that so many of us are staying up late to watch Olympic athletes -- with their muscular, healthy, well-trained bodies, swimming in pools, diving off platforms, running on tracks, playing on courts or fields and flinging themselves pretzel-wise around gymnastics equipment -- while we in TV Land steadily grow more tired and draggy, with eyes that look like two holes burned in a blanket and attitudes that tend toward the sharp and snappish both before and after coffee and needful of a nap right during the time of the afternoon when we all know it is impossible to take one?

This is the first time that I've ever suspected that the Olympics could kill me if they went on longer than two weeks.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Whisk Wednesday Assignment #13, Part 7 -- Potage Ambassadeur (Split Pea Soup with Bacon, Sorrel, and Lettuce)

I stood alone in the rain on a corner, holding out my hands beseechingly and saying, "Sorrel. Sorrel. Won't someone give me some sorrel? Or show me where to buy it? Or, I don't know...maybe tell me what it is?"

1. Any of several plants of the genus Rumex, having acid-flavored leaves sometimes used as salad greens, especially R. acetosella, a widely naturalized Eurasian species. Also called dock4.
2. Any of various plants of the genus Oxalis, having usually compound leaves with three leaflets.

Oh. Well, that certainly clears things up.

I searched through the produce departments of several different markets and sooper-sized groceries and could not find sorrel. I hope it doesn't have some kind of magical taste that turns a simple pot of split pea soup into a classy dish worthy of Marie Antoinette, because if it did, we missed it.

However, this was also a very easy soup to make and let me tell you -- it is delicious. Delicious! Nothing went wrong this week, well, unless you include not being able to identify sorrel in a lineup of suspicious-looking fruits and vegetables.

Potage Ambassadeur was made up of homely, comforting split peas, carrots, onions, leeks, garlic, rice, bacon and heavy cream, all cooked together in a nice, hearty porridge -- a potage, which means "thick, creamy soup" -- that whispers "Cold, rainy evening in late October" into your ear. I can hardly wait to make this again in the autumn, when the aroma of it cooking on the stove will make everyone in our big, chilly barn of a house feel all warm and cozy.

Meelyn, Aisling and I did take a few liberties with the recipe, though.

1) I made the executive decision to not use bacon, since we were already dealing with butter and heavy cream. I used Canadian bacon, which was very delicious. In the past, I've always eaten split pea soup with ham in it.

2) The three of us loved the rustic peasant look of this soup and we couldn't bring ourselves to purée it in the food processor. It's so adorable with its little peas and bits of carrot and leek and onion and Canadian bacon. It is a happy-looking soup. Don't ask me to explain that. Just make it yourself and then stand at your stove and giggle at its preciousness. If soup were a baby, this one would be both Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen in the early years of Full House, back when they were just learning how to talk.

3) I have GIVEN UP on trying to make a bouquet garni hold together, so I am now putting all my aromatics (parsley, thyme, leek, bay leaf and celery) in a little cheesecloth bag and tying it up in a cute little bundle.

That's all I have for you this week, because it has been a hella day (sorry, Mom) and I have a headache that is about to split my head, just like a pea.

We're done with soupes and moving on to entrées!

Next week! Steak Mirabeau (Beef Tenderloin Steaks with Anchovy Butter) page 426-427

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The glory of homeschooling

The public and private school students (who all operate off the same calendar) in our community started school yesterday morning. The school bus stopped outside our neighbors' house across the street and their three teenagers climbed aboard; As I peered through the blinds of my bedroom window, yawning, I'd have expected to see happier faces on members of the French aristocracy as they were pushed onto the tumbrils on their way to a date with the guillotine. None of the three clung to the doorframe with their fingers and had to be pried off, yelling that they don't need no education or anything, but still. Misery appeared to be the order of the day.

On the other hand, we at Our Lady of Good Counsel Middle and High School don't start until September 2. We get away with this by not having teacher in-service days, parent-teacher conference days (I usually just lock myself in the upstairs bathroom and mutter to myself about how I could be doing a pleasant, easy job in a foundry somewhere) and snow days. It's amazing how those things all add up on the public school calendar.

We began our remaining two weeks of summer break by going to the pool at noon. As we suspected, the only other people there were retirees, mothers with toddlers, and other home schoolers. Benches were lavishly available, the snack bar was doing a brisk business in ice creams and tenderloins; I lolled on my bench and read my book, feeling delightfully lazy. I felt so delightfully lazy that I later on felt dreadfully guilty and sat up and finished writing the syllabus for the British Literature class I'm teaching.

I felt that expected pang of sadness that hits me right in the solar plexus at this time of year. The swim club is a cherished place for the four of us because we can go there and leave everything behind. It's like stepping through a looking glass or pushing our way past the fur coats in a wardrobe...magical. I hate the thought of it's being closed up from September until the end of May; driving past the club in the winter and looking at the leafless trees and the forlorn and empty parking lot is always very gloomy. Sometimes, when it feels like winter will never end, I go over there and trundle up the long, curving driveway in the van, the tires squeaking and creaking over the snow. I don't know why. Maybe just to remind myself exactly how much winter stinks? To torture myself with memories of summers past? Now that I've typed that out, it sounds really stupid. I'd better quit doing that.

Anyway, the girls and I stayed for almost four hours and we were all a bit pink when we left. But we were also deeply relaxed and happy. I think I'll try to remember that this coming winter.

Monday, August 18, 2008


We have new next-door neighbors, a divorced father with two sons. One is in his early twenties and the other is a boy who looks to be around sixteen or seventeen. The father seems a bit overwhelmed and the sons, as so many young men seem to be today, are largely inarticulate and completely incapable of looking you in the face and saying hello like gentlemen. The most they can summon up is a grunted "hi" when you see them in the driveway.

(Although with some of the things young men seem to say nowadays, I should probably be grateful. The other day, the girls and I were following a twenty-something man who was driving a truck slowly down one of our city streets; he spied a friend ambling along the sidewalk and shouted out in a friendly voice, "Hey, how are ya, ya big b*st*rd!"

The guy on the sidewalk called back, in an equal amount of bonhomie, "How's it goin', you son of a b*tch!!!!!"

My ears were about to bleed at that point and the girls and I looked at each other, wide-eyed. I took a deep breath and said, "I wonder what Mrs. Gertz or Mrs. Williams would do if I greeted them like that in the parking lot of O'Charley's at the next Moms' Night Out?")

Anyway, back to the neighbors, we were getting out of our car and the father and his younger son were getting out of their car at the same time the other night, so my husband and I exchanged pleasantries with the dad. The son was looking at Meelyn, and as he passed us, he was very obviously preening like a young peacock.

He said hello in a civil manner, accompanied by a nod of the head that was obviously intended to give off great waves of Brad Pitt-like coolness. But as he walked past, I couldn't help but notice that the belt of his jeans was firmly cinched around his upper thighs, leaving his entire backside, neatly covered in a dapper pair of Black Watch tartan boxer shorts, exposed for all the world to see as he swaggered on down the driveway to his front door.

It looked so silly, an incredulous grin broke across my face. WHY do some teenage boys wear their pants like that? Is it supposed to be gangsta? Is it to allow a freer flow of air around the buttocks to eliminate the possibility of chafing? It must be something, but one thing it definitely can't be is comfortable. I mean, really.

You know how you can feel someone looking at you? Well, he felt me looking at him, although I'm sure he was hoping it was Meelyn. He turned his head and gave a glance back over his shoulder that I don't think even Enrique Iglesias could have bettered. Unfortunately, all he saw was middle-aged me, and me with a smirk on my face.

I have never had one of those faces that can stop looking naughty at the proper time. Always, always, I was the kid who stuck my tongue out at my mother just as she turned around and caught me. Or rolled my eyes. Or -- once -- gestured obscenely, and she nearly took my arm off at the shoulder for that one, so I never did it again. So this kid caught me looking like a gargoyle and he immediately whipped his head back around and studiously examined the sidewalk until he got to the front steps of his home, which he went up with alacrity. But not before giving his sagging pants a firm hitch, which didn't work.

I wanted to call helpfully, "Yoo hoo! Young man! I can still see your butt!" But I thought maybe I'd already damaged him enough and it's not nice to toy with people.

Meelyn was oblivious throughout this entire episode, and as we climbed our own steps, she opened the door for me and asked innocently, "So what are you giggling about?"

Friday, August 15, 2008

Freshman Year Course Work

I sat down this morning to begin planning out Meelyn's freshman year, laying the groundwork to write weekly lesson plans for the first semester of the year, get the daily log book started and the portfolio system we're using all set up. And wow. It looks like a busy schedule (for BOTH of us), but that's high school for you.

Each class has to meet the time requirement for 160 half-hour sessions (or 80 total hours), which I don't think will be a problem. At least, right now I don't think it will be a problem, but you may want to check back in here in October or January, which are typically the two bad mojo months in home schooling.

Here's what she's doing for her freshman year at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, which meets at our dining room table.


Grammar (EN-G9): Analytical Grammar -- 17 units 1st semester, units 1-10/2nd semester, units 11-17
Vocabulary (EN-V9): Wordly Wise 3000, Grade 9 -- (this book is still on its way to our house)
Literature (EN-BL): The Poetry and Prose of England -- (I'm teaching this and still writing the syllabus)
Beginning Logic (EN-BL): The Fallacy Detective -- 36 lessons1st semester, lessons 1-19/2nd semester, lessons 20-36


MUS Pre-Algebra -- 30 lessons 1st semester, lessons 1-15/2nd semester, units 16-30


Exploring Creation with Biology (Apologia) -- 16 modules 1st semester, modules 1-8/2nd semester, modules 9-16


Rosetta Stone Latin American Spanish, Level 1 (Homeschool Edition) -- 45 lessons 1st semester, Units 1 & 2 (lessons 1-22)/2nd semester, Units 3 & 4 (lessons 23-45)


Baltimore Catechism 3 (still waiting on this in the mail)


Art History (FA-AH): A Short History of Modern Art (Janson & Janson) -- (I'm designing a course for the girls based on this book; we'll arrange our tours at the Indianapolis Museum of Art to go along with what we're reading.
Drawing (FA-D): Art lessons in Tipton


Studies in Shakespeare (EN-SS): The Shakespeare Workshop -- 2 workshops1st semester, Macbeth/2nd semester, Henry V


Volleyball (PE-V): fitness training, practice and games (1st semester)
Personal Fitness (PE-PF): Mini-Marathon training

FEAST DAY! The Assumption of the Blessed Mother

I love this gorgeous painting by Peter Paul Rubens, which dates from 1612. The little cherubs are so pink and sweet, so eager to escort her to her home in heaven. And the people on the ground, who were presumably gathered around Mary's death bed, are so enormously human: some of them are looking up into the sky, either in shock or in wonder. A few others (and I would have been in this group) are staring down at the empty shroud in bewilderment. "Huh?...Hey! What the?... Where'd she go?"

But Mary herself moves me so much. In some paintings of the Assumption (one of the most depicted religious scenes among artists), Mary travels upward with her hands folded against her stomach, whether out of her demure humility or because she was afraid she'd suffer from motion sickness, we don't know. But in this painting, she's reaching upward, ready to fly, face radiant. She's ready to be reunited with her boy. You can feel it.

And what a reunion that must have been, yes? I always picture Jesus's ascension into heaven as a very bittersweet time for the apostles and the rest of His followers, gathered there on the mountainside. But none must have felt that pang more than Mary. On the one hand, she must have had the enormous joy that her son had accomplished what he'd been sent from his Father to accomplish. And imagine how she felt at having him back for those several weeks after his resurrection, restored to her whole and in perfect health and even able to do some amazing things he hadn't been able to do before. What mother wouldn't rejoice in that, especially after what she'd been through as she went alongside him during his Passion?

But then there was the moment of parting. How did they say goodbye, I wonder? Maybe in a private, wistful moment before the crowd gathered? Maybe Mary and John and Jesus gathered in the kitchen at John's home and Mary made coffee for them all and they sat and talked companionably until Jesus said, "Well, it's about time to go..." and then John drained his mug and murmured some excuse about needing to go check on the goats or something, in order to give mother and son a moment alone. Jesus would have reminded her that he would always be with her in the Eucharist -- Body, Blood, Soul, Divinity -- as close as he had been before he was born. Even closer. That her role as the ark of the New Covenant was still continuing in their communion together.

And she, I think, would have always been brave and full of faith, always giving her yes to God, even when it hurt. She would have smiled as she sent him on his way.

I don't think this is a matter of dogma, but from what I've read, the Church seems to believe that Mary lived to be around sixty-three years old or so. Considering that she was probably around forty-nine when Jesus ascended into heaven, she had a good number of years on earth with his physical Presence at Mass, but without his shoulders to hug or his kiss on her cheek or the smell of his neck -- every mother knows her child's own smell, from infancy onward -- in her nose. So is it any wonder that she's reaching upward in that picture, glowing with happiness? Her wait was over.

I like to think of all the saints and angels lining up on either side of heaven's main street and falling to one knee to honor the one who was "blessed among all women" as the honor guard of baby-angels led her royal procession. But then I also like to think of that moment when a grown son, boyish again with a shout of joyous laughter, lifted his mom off her feet in a bear hug and swung her around the throne room, his bearded cheek scratchy against her skin.

For the rest of us, Mary represents the wonder of all God's own entering heaven. What a happy, happy feast day.

Here's a nice piece from Catholic Culture on the history of the Feast of the Assumption and Pope Pius XII's definition of the dogma, which was declared on November 1, 1950.

You can also read more about the Feast of the Assumption on the Saint of the Day widget on the left side of the page. Just scroll down a bit.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Whisk Wednesday Assignment #13, Part 6 -- Soupe à l'oignon gratinée (Onion soup)

The first time I had French onion soup, it was made by my grandmother, who was known as Ma. She was crazy about Julia Child, so it may well have been one of Julia's recipes; all I know is that it was pretty darned tasty. Ma had some of those little French onion soup bowls with the wee little handles on one side (I have me eye on a set of four Pfaltzgraff ones on e-Bay that match my dishes and I'm thinking about asking my husband if he wants to get me an early Christmas present), and let me tell you: Nothing shouts "PRESENTATION!" like a French onion soup bowl coming out from under the broiler with browned cheese going over the edges, a toasty blanket of melty goodness.

And then I took my first bite and found the crouton. Ahhhhh....

Since I don't have French onion soup bowls, my soupe à l'oignon gratinée made its appearance in my little ramekins, which also match my dishes. (Here are some onion soup bowls from Le Creuset.) It worries me that I am very excited about having EVERY MATCHING PIECE OF POTTERY in the Yorktowne pattern that ever was turned out of a Pfaltzgraff kiln. We received sixteen place settings plus little odds and ends like salt and pepper shakers and butter dishes as wedding gifts and my urge to add to what I already have remained latent for many years, but now it's come back in the same manner that full moons come back around for werewolves.

What is this madness that has seized me? Since the Yorktowne pattern made its debut in 1968 as a tribute to early American salt-glazed pottery, you'd better believe that the good folks at Pfaltzgraff have had a bunch of busy years to think up different items like corn on the cob holders, tulip mugs, teapots, cheese servers and casserole dishes to drive undisciplined people like me into a collecting frenzy. Where will it all end? Possibly with me owning so many dishes purchased for $3.99 plus shipping on e-Bay that we'll have to move into a whole new house, leaving this one as Shelley's Museum of Bourgeois Stoneware. I don't mind being the curator, but I don't want to do the dusting.

(I do promise to stop short of the Fan Blade Appliqués. Because when I saw them, I realized that there can be too much Yorktowne...)

Anyway, back to the soup...

This soup was very easy to prepare. All you had to do was slice the onions nice and thin, throw them in a pan with some butter and cook until they caramelized nicely, throw in a little flour, some white wine and water and a bouquet garni, and there you have your soup. I was surprised that I didn't have to make beef stock, and actually very glad that I didn't have to go to the trouble.

The only trouble I did have is that I just can't get this food from Le Cordon Bleu at Home salty enough. I know it's not just me, because I read the blogs of my fellow Whisk Wednesdays members and they seem to be salting things a lot, too. Hmmm.

I toasted little rounds of baguette and grated up the Gruyère to put on top, planning on serving dinner to my family while the ramekins of soupe were getting all melty in the oven. I don't trust my broiler, so I never use it; instead, I heated the oven to 4250 F and let it go from there.

But all was not rosy -- or maybe "oniony"? -- on the way to this week's Whisk Wednesdays recipe, my friends. I had two problems (one minor, one major) that affected the way the soup turned out.

1) The bottle in my fridge that I thought was dry chardonnay (Robert Mondavi Woodbridge chard) was actually a bottle of Oliver Winery's soft white, which is definitely on the sweet side. The soup didn't taste bad at all with the sweeter wine, but I wonder what it would have tasted like if I'd been able to use the chardonnay I thought I had, which I subsequently remembered finishing off last week during a time when the girls were driving me crazy.

2) The soup was so unsalty when I first finished it -- and that was after a generous application of coarse sea salt straight from the box -- that I added enough to make it taste good. (And it did taste good! I do have that success to clutch to my heart during the darkest hours of the night.) Before I served the finished product to the fam, I sat down with a tiny serving of soup, crouton and cheese and was horrified to find that the Gruyère was very salty; combined with the soup, it was just awful.

Fortunately, I remembered Ma's way of dealing with salty soup, which was to peel a potato, cut it in half, and then simmer the potato halves for twenty minutes in the soup: the starch in the potato is supposed to suck some of the brininess out of your soup. So I tried that, but I'm not sure it worked.

When the soup came to the table tonight, it looked adorable. A very cute soup! The cheese had melted and browned a bit and bubbled over the ramekins and the soup itself was a nice deep golden brown color and as I picked up my spoon, I was so happy that I'd remembered that little housewife's trick with the potato.

And then I took the first spoonful. Zut alors, but was that a salty soup! We all took about four bites and had to give it up. I blame the cheese. I can't remember what brand it was, but it was waaaay too salty and I'll never buy it again if I can recognize the package, which I probably won't be able to, as Aisling would say. The soup was very good without the cheese and the cheese was good without the soup, but together, they were cringe-making.

It was par for the course tonight, though. I made buttermilk biscuits that didn't rise and I didn't make gravy because we ran out of milk and the green beans were barely warm and the potatoes were downright chilly and if you don't mind, I think I'll just go and get the rest of that bottle of Oliver's soft white and go sit on the back steps and think moodily about e-Bay auction I lost for a two-tier tidbit tray to some sneaky sniper who came in at the last moment and stole it from me.

It was Yorktowne. It was mine. And I was robbed.

Better luck next week on the soup (I've been on a real run of flops lately, which is destroying my confidence, just in case you wondered).

Potage Ambassadeur (Split Pea Soup with Bacon, Sorrel, and Lettuce) page 462

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


On Sunday afternoon, the family met at my parents' house for a birthday party. Even though several of us had barely had time to make room in our stomachs for more food after that State Fair experience, we had ribs and potatoes and green beans and corn-on-the-cob and a bunch of other stuff, including chocolate pudding cake, chocolate chip cookies, a peach galette (which I had made that morning, refining my technique from the first time I made it) and a candy bar pie.

After lunch, the birthday presents were passed around, and I was surprised when my mother stuck a card in my hand. It wasn't my birthday; it was my brother's. I just figured it was one of my mother's nice things; she's very good about writing us all nice little letters every now and then telling us why she and Poppy love us, so I prepared to dab at my eyes with a paper napkin.

Instead, I opened one of those thinking-of-you type cards that had a strange, official-looking document inside it. It looked slightly familiar, but I couldn't quite place it. I took it out and unfolded it, and after a moment of squinting and hem-hawing, I realized I was looking at the title to a car.

My mom and dad have given Buddy, their Chevy Blazer, to us, him with his new transmission. I was so surprised that I sat there, my mouth hanging open unattractively. I looked at my mother, who was sitting next to me, a huge grin on her face.

Needless to say, there was a LOT of hugging and exclaiming going on for about the next ten minutes.


Indiana State Fair Re-cap -- In Which We Fall in Love with Zonkeys

The seven of us (Meelyn, Aisling, Kieren, Dayden, Nanny, Poppy and I) were at the State Fair on Friday. Consequently, I had to sit down for a moment and dry the tears that were welling up in my eyes when I found out that the draft horses, my favorite part of the fair, wouldn't be arriving until Saturday.

I found comfort in an unexpected place with some unexpected creatures. The creatures were zonkeys, a cross between a zebra stallion and a jenny, which is a female donkey. (Here's a nice Wikipedia article about donkeys; scroll down to Donkey Hybrids to read about zonkeys, and if "donkey hybrids" sounds like a vehicle that operates on both an internal combustion engine and donkey-power, I just can't help it.) The unexpected place was the Horse Barn, a place that I did not even want to go when I found out there weren't any Belgians and Percherons in it, but the zonkeys were there and they were the sweetest, most adorable little babies I've ever seen and I immediately asked my dad if he would buy me one of those instead of a corn dog.

He said no, but I can always hope for Christmas.

The zonkeys were all in their little stalls in the part of the Horse Barn that was opened up for petting the animals. All of us except my dad eagerly extended our hands out to pat the pretty little things on their necks, noses and backs, and they responded with friendly curiosity, regarding us with big, long-lashed eyes, their long ears flicking back and forth.

Their noses and bodies were all typical donkey -- white muzzle, sleek grey coats -- but their legs were all zebra, with tall, stripy stockings that came demurely up above their knees.

I was absolutely enchanted and would like to name my Christmas zonkey "Sugar."

Indiana State Fair Re-cap -- In Which I am Totally Offended as a Church Lady by the Prize Winning Photograph

As I stood in front of the prize winning wedding photo in the Home and Family Arts Building, I could practically feel Dana Carvey's Church Lady invading my head and saying, "Well! Isn't this wedding photograph just very speshhhhhhhhal? I wonder who could have been the inspiration for this picture, hmmm? Could it have been....Satan??!!"

(Seriously. I am wound so tight, I am just like her in many ways. I know that is very disturbing, but all I can say is that if the inside of my head scares you, you should see the inside of my purse.)

The photograph was huge, of a bride and groom sitting on the steps of the church where they were presumably just wed. The photographer managed to capture the moment just as her long tulle veil was caught by a playful breeze, lifting it up in the air in a graceful series of swoops that was just magical.

And then my attention was caught by the fact that the bride was sitting between the groom's legs with her back resting against his chest, but her legs were flung as wide as the branches of that chestnut tree in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's ode to the village blacksmith. And not only that, but the skirt of her gown was hiked up around her knees, with the groom's hands tangled in the folds. Near her left leg was a small view that went straight up her inner thigh. You couldn't quite see "all the way to China," as my mother used to delicately put it, but the whole effect was of two people who could hardly wait for the photographer to be finished with his dumb pictures so that they could get down to the business of being married, if you know what I mean. Way down.

It was a graceless and unattractive pose, and unless the photographer was going for the contrast of the faerie-like beauty of that wind-caught veil and the shlumpy, legs akimbo posture of the bride, I just couldn't see the purpose of it.

I sniffed dismissively to Aisling, Kieren and Meelyn that that certainly wasn't a very ladylike pose and her mother was likely not going to want to display it on the piano. (I remarked aside to Meelyn and Aisling that those had better not be the steps of a Catholic church that hussy was sitting on.) I later said to my mother that the photograph could have been such a beautiful study on the joy and innocence AND SANCTITY of matrimony, and instead, it looked like really well-dressed soft porn.

Yes, I said that. Soft porn. And you know what? I'M NOT SORRY.

Monday, August 11, 2008

TUESDAYS WITH DORIE (In spirit, on Sunday) - Chocolate Pudding

If you want to taste something yummy beyond belief, then go get out your Baking: From My Home to Yours cookbook by Dorie Greenspan (you do have this cookbook, don't you? If you don't, scroll about one-fourth of the way down on this page to the product search box, which is right below the Books We Love widget, and order that thing) and make the chocolate pudding recipe on page 383. It is deeeeeeee-licious!

I have never been much of a fan of instant pudding. It just doesn't taste good to me. But making pudding over the stove is such a bother. The pudding does taste better, yes, but all the stirringstirringstirring is dull. The nice thing about Dorie's pudding is that it doesn't require massive amounts of stirring because you'll be using the food processor to do most of that for you.

The other great thing about this pudding -- well, other than the taste -- is that you'll use the food processor and one medium-sized saucepan, plus your ramekins. There are a few assorted utensils such as a whisk and a spatula, but the clean up was surprisingly easy. Most of what you do involves moving ingredients from the processor to the saucepan and then back again.

Meelyn, Aisling and I put this delicious, comfort-food dessert together in about fifteen to twenty minutes, and I feel that most of that time was spent looking over the instructions so that I wouldn't leave something out or add ketchup or another wrong ingredient and mess it all up. It was foolproof, and I know a little something about that.

The pudding calls for both unsweetened cocoa powder and bittersweet chocolate (accompanied by plenty of sugar), which gave it a finished, grown-up kind of taste that made me think that this was not my pre-school niece's pudding cup I was eating: this was rich, dark and creamy chocolate to swoon over. The texture was smooth and also firm and thick; it didn't instantly dissolve into a little bit of nothing in the mouth, but stayed there long enough for a chocolate lover to savor the goodness.

Dorie suggested pouring the pudding into six ramekins. I was so delighted that I only have four.

I highly recommend making this really wonderful pudding. It's uncomplicated enough for a family dessert, yet sophisticated enough to serve adult guests after a dinner of some down-home fare.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Indiana State Fair Re-cap -- In Which We Eat So Much Food, We're Banned from Riding the Trolley

Don't worry, I'm just exaggerating. We weren't really banned from the trolley, but we probably would have been if we'd tried to get on, after all we ate. It was disgraceful, it really was. But boyoboy, was it ever good.

Here's what we had. Some of it was shared, some of it we clutched to our chests and growled if anyone approached and said, "Can I have a bite of that?":

1. foot long corn dogs

2. ribeye steak on a stick

3. elephant ears

4. cheese fries

5. Italian sausage sandwich with bell peppers and onions

6. Pineapple Whip

7. deep-fried cookie dough

8. chicken quesadilla with salsa and sour cream

9. corn on the cob

10. popcorn

and the coup de grâce...

11. deep fried Bananas Foster cheesecake on a stick

I personally tried the last item, feeling that since I talked it up so much in this post, the least I could do was take one for the team and eat some. It's a tough and rugged job, but someone has to do it. And I am all about serving the community. That's me: generous and giving.

The bowl of cheesecake on a stick and ice cream was $4.00 and worth every penny. There were three chunks of cheesecake, which were deliciously melty inside their crispy crust. The vanilla ice cream with caramel sauce went really well with the cheesecake, providing cool creaminess to contrast with the warm creaminess of the cheesecake. The banana flavor was really pronounced and it was a totally awesome dessert.

Do yourself a favor, though, and eat this dessert next to one of those hand-washing stations; there's one on Main Street just a little ways east of Urick Concession's main booth. Kieren, Nanny and I all had this dessert and we were all a sticky mess afterwards. I thought I was going to have to take an entire sponge bath afterwards.

The roasted corn on the cob was particularly good this year. I shared an ear with Meelyn -- and it was DIPPED IN BUTTER as the good Lord intended it to be. I love being able to hold the ear by its husk because those little corn pokers scare me. I always wonder if my next bite is going to be the one that pierces my tongue.

My steak-on-a-stick was absolutely delicious, so tender and good. I had a hard time choosing between a pork chop sandwich, but I was glad I chose the steak. You get a lot of steak for the money, too, I felt: it was $6.00 for an à la carte portion, and I got three sticks, each with three or four good-sized chunks of meat on it. It took me forever to eat and everyone got restless sitting and waiting on me to finish.

Nanny got the pineapple whip and pronounced it delicious; Kieren got an elephant ear which he shared with the girls. He offered me some, but I was off sweets for the day after that deep-fried cheesecake. I opted for some Indiana-grown popcorn instead.

This year's fair food was a delicious experience and I enjoyed every single bite.

Indiana State Fair Re-cap -- In which we lose a seven year old, and find him again

Friday, the day we went to the State Fair, set a record for attendance. We got there early enough that the midway was wide open, with no waits for any of the rides the kids wanted to go on, but every other place we went was pretty crowded. Especially at the concessions stands.

The seven of us -- Meelyn, Aisling, Nanny, Poppy, Kieren, Dayden and I -- were leaving the Home and Family Arts Building, where many 4-H projects were displayed, to go to the Hook's Museum and Soda Fountain, which is always a fun place to visit. We were debating whether to walk under the portico of the Home and Family Arts Building, where we would be in the shade, but where we'd also have to go down a flight of steps; I was using my cane, but my knee was getting pretty hurty by that time, plus the ankle I smashed was sending up some warning signals of its own.

As we walked along, deciding, we finally thought we'd just walk in the sun to the corner of Main Street and State Fair Boulevard and go along the flat route. Dayden had been up in front of us, wildly flinging about an inflatable sword he'd won by playing High Striker, that hammer-and-bell carnival game. We were all keeping our distance because we'd all been poked by it several times, but he was right there in plain view.

However, the time came when we needed to consult a map, and while we were doing that, Dayden somehow wandered off under the portico while the rest of us walked on toward the corner. It was a very short distance to the corner, so we hadn't gone far at all when my mother sharply asked, "Where's Dayden?"

We all looked about us, but none of us saw a small blond boy in plaid board shorts and a red t-shirt that read "I Didn't Do It" on the front, carrying an inflatable sword as long as he was. If you've ever been in this situation with a child, you know the immediate sense of disaster that seizes you by the throat and makes it so hard to swallow. Or breathe.

My mother immediately whirled around and went back the way we'd come, calling his name. The rest of us stood like statues, shocked. Finally, I said, "Come on. Nanny went straight. Let's head over that way, in front of the building."

Everyone followed, all of us scanning the crowds and calling his name. We fetched up beneath the portico, still calling and looking around. I was willing myself not to panic. Not. To. Panic. He'd been gone all of forty seconds -- although it seemed more like forty hours at that point -- and he couldn't have gone far.

"I SEE HIM!" Aisling screamed. "He's right down there! I see his shirt!"

"Where? Where?" I cried, swiveling my head around. "DAYDEN! DAYDEN!"

"He's down there, at the other end of the building! Do you want me to go get him?"

"Yes! Run!" I said, and Aisling took off like a shot. A few seconds later, she was leading Dayden back with her arm around his shoulders; I was absolutely stricken to the heart to see that he was sobbing, knuckling his fists into his eyes, his chest heaving.

"Dayden!" I called, and he looked up at me. I wish I could have run to meet him, I was so happy to see him. I held out my arms and he came to me; I wrapped my arms around him and held him as close as I could, kissing his sweaty little head and whispering, "It's okay. You're okay. You're not lost. We have you now. Jesus was watching over you and He helped us find you, honey. It's okay."

Long after his sobs stopped, he continued to shiver in spite of the heat and I said, "Do you want me to say a little prayer, that the Holy Spirit will bring you peace?"

"Yes," he said, his voice and chin trembling.

So I prayed. I don't even know what I prayed, but I was praying for myself as well as for him, I know that. It's amazing how easy it is to torture yourself with all the terrible what-ifs, even when a scary situation has been happily resolved.

Dayden's breathing began to slow down and I gave him one extra hug, just because he's at that age where he doesn't pass out hugs and kisses as generously as he did when he was about four. I let him go and stood up; everyone else was gathered close around us and everything was okay then.

We started off towards Hook's again and as we began walking, I asked Dayden, "Would you like to hold my hand?" His immediate response was a fervent "Yes!" and he clung to my fingers fiercely.

Aisling told us later that when she got down to where Dayden was, two elderly ladies were standing with him and they'd already summoned a state trooper, who was approaching when Aisling ran up shouting his name. I was so glad to know that concerned people had already noticed a small, scared boy wandering alone and that they'd quickly taken steps to reunite him with his family.

So as it turns out, those state troopers aren't just there to make sure you have butter on your corn, they're also there to find your nephew if you momentarily misplace him.

Saturday, August 9, 2008


Book: Twilight

Author: Stephenie Meyers

Publication info: 498 pages (softcover), young adult fiction, published by Little, Brown & Company, New York, 2005

Jacket blurb: "About three things I was absolutely positive. First, Edward was a vampire. Second, there was a part of him -- and I didn't know how dominant that part might be -- that thirsted for my blood. And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him."

My rating (out of five stars): * *


As a child, I grew up watching every vampire movie I could clap my saucer-sized eyes on every time my parents played cards with Howard and Bea or Charlie and Sue. They always had such a high old time eating snacks and dealing out endless hands of euchre around the dining room table that Christopher Lee and Frank Langella began to seem like tall, unfriendly babysitters who stayed with me and my brother and assorted "company kids" and freaked us all out on a regular basis.

So first of all, let me say that this novel about a girl who falls in love with a vampire, is good. Stephenie Meyers is no Jane Austen, but then she never claims to be. But she can tell a good tale and spin it out plausibly, keeping her plot moving forward through the expected exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution, although the resolution was understandably a bit weak, since three more novels follow Twilight. Her character development was the element that suffered the most in this story, in my opinion, but since the intended audience is teenage girls, they might not be as fussy in this regard as a middle-aged English teacher would be.

The main character is a high school junior named Isabella Swan. Bella's parents divorced when she was an infant and she's been living with her mother, Renée, in Phoenix since then, spending part of each summer with her father, Charlie, in the small town of Forks, Washington. Bella dislikes Forks because it is dreary in terms of both weather and opportunities for entertainment, but at the beginning of the novel, she is moving back there to live with her dad full time.

The reason for the move is not a strained relationship between Bella and Renée, but rather because Renée has recently married a nice man named Phil. He's a minor league baseball player who travels a lot, meaning that he and Renée can't be together as much as they'd like because Bella has to be in one city, in school (if they'd ever heard of homeschooling, they might have considered that option and then this book could have ended on page three.) So Bella does what she thinks is the right thing and goes off to her dad's.

Bella seems like a good girl, a fairly ordinary teenager. She's a loving daughter to her dippy mother (referring to her several times as her "best friend") and a fairly dutiful, if not warm, daughter to Charlie, whom she seems to barely know. Charlie appears to love Bella and is glad she's come to live with him, but is at the same time bemused at becoming a full-time dad so suddenly. He's set in his ways as the bachelor chief of police in the small town, and doesn't allow his work schedule or his love of fishing to suffer in the presence of his only child. He really seems oblivious and grants Bella an extraordinary amount of freedom.

Charlie probably figured that there wasn't much trouble to get into in Forks and presumably as the police chief, he'd be in a position to know, but still. He didn't meet with my approval, even though Bella tried to excuse him on the grounds that he and she were both very reticent people.

One aspect of Bella's character that I immediately frowned upon was her readiness to keep things from her dad; to tell him she was going to do one thing when she intended to do another. This was played off as a desire not to worry him, and I don't buy it. If a teenager is getting ready to do something secretly to spare a parent from concern, that almost always means that the teenager is acting out of self-interest. But other than that, there wasn't anything about Bella to dislike. She was level headed and seemed mature for her age.

Until she met Edward.

Edward Cullen, of course, is the vampire. He's an extraordinarily handsome young man, and if you don't believe me, just ask Bella. Because she'll tell you. Over and over again, she'll tell you. His eyes, his hair, his skin, his physique, his intelligence, his athletic prowess...even his breath. Yes, you read that correctly. Several times throughout Twilight, she comments on the purity and sweetness of Edward's breath. Which is like, geeeesh, girl....GET A GRIP.

Edward himself is a character as mysterious and tormented as Heathcliff, as distant and cool as Mr. Darcy and as gallantly suave as Rhett Butler. He teases Bella a bit about her lack of gross motor skills (the girl is always tripping and falling over things, bruising her shins and bumping her head) and it turns out that one of the benefits of their relationship is that he is phenomenally coordinated and saves her from being concussed, among several other things.

Like any other teenage boy, he enjoys showing off his athletic prowess and Bella nearly becomes incoherent in her adoration. If you were her parent, you'd want to cool that thing off right then and there, but of course Charlie can't do that because he wasn't informed about his daughter's new boyfriend.

In his defense, Edward can't help it that he's a modern Adonis. He's very nice to Bella (once he gets over wanting to kill her by sucking all the blood from her veins, that is), yet very guarded and rather dismissive toward the rest of the population of Forks High School, although they're a friendly bunch of kids. He's charming and says all the right things that would make any teenage girl swoon. He even appears to mean them, but to that I can only say that he's not really a teenager. He just looks like one. (One of the weaknesses of Meyers's character development is that I never could figure out why Edward was so wildly attracted to the very ordinary Bella. Or maybe that's going to be explained in one of the other books in the series.)

Other than the fact that he's a creature of the night, Edward is the kind of boyfriend every parent dreams about because he is very protective of Bella and keeps his own urges -- both homicidal and sexual -- reigned strongly in. Their relationship is very chaste and limited to several brief kisses.

Twilight has a moral tone to it that I admired. Bella, immature at seventeen, can't figure out why Edward just can't bite her and make her into a vampire so that they can go ahead and be together forever, and this is when she's known him for all of four months. Edward points out that this would be an extremely unethical thing for him to do: first of all, he has pledged with his conscience to not bite humans, and she's asking him to do something that would violate that conscience, which would be harmful to him. Not to mention harmful to her.

Plus, he reminds her that being Mrs. Edward Cullen is going to be for keeps, forever. And in their case, we're not talking about "until death do us part," because these folks aren't going to die; she hasn't possibly had the time or the life experience to consider all of the ramifications of such a hasty decision.

Thirdly, she wants him to bite her without telling her parents about this, experience she's about to make. Edward counsels her that this is a really, really bad idea. Parents have a right to know when their daughters are about to become the living dead.

Bella, through all his reasoned responses, just keeps whining, "But you're going to be seventeen forever! I'm going to be eighteen soon! I'm going to be older than you are through eternity! Waaaaaaahhhh!!!" Like that's going to matter in about three hundred years.

Which just goes to show you how completely unready she is to make such a huge leap into the unknown. Meyers carries that theme along like every argument you have ever heard about teenage sex and pregnancy, teen drug and alcohol use. By the time a girl reaches the last page, she'll have no leg to stand on when it comes to believing it should be okay for a person her age to get birth control or an abortion without her parents' knowledge. All a mom or dad will have to do is hold up one hand and say, "Neh neh nehnehnehneh....remember Twilight, dear?"

There were three things that really bothered me about this book, though, and those things concerned possible lessons teenagers could pick up from Meyers's casual treatment of some very important subject matter.

::The first I've already mentioned, and that's Bella's immediate dependence on Edward to get her out of every mess from breaking a glass on the kitchen floor to rescuing her from mugged and/or raped to saving her from a predatory vampire, one who has not sworn, as Edward and his family did, to live without drinking human blood. In many ways, she gives up a lot of herself, totally surrendering to Edward's leadership.

So it's a good thing for Bella that Edward (and his family) have her best interests at heart. But what about all the other girls reading this book who don't have a trustworthy Edward looking out for them, but instead have a guy who says all the right things because of ulterior motives and not out of the purity of his agape love?

::The second bothersome concept in this book is also one I mentioned previously, and it is Bella's desire to keep her father -- a grown man and a police chief -- from "worrying" needlessly by keeping him in the dark about what's going on with Bella, even when her life (and his, by extension) are threatened by the predatory vampire. Call me crazy, but adult have the right to know what their children are doing, especially if they are in some kind of difficulty or danger.

This business about keeping Charlie on a need-to-know basis is a bunch of crap, frankly. Bella even does something deliberately cruel to her dad and justifies it by saying that she didn't want to do it, but had to do it because it was the best way to protect him. WRONG.

::The third issue is one that just makes my skin crawl and I honestly can't believe that Stephenie Meyers's editor didn't cut it out. Edward, among having the perfect hair, skin, teeth, breath, et cetera, is also able to do a number of supernatural things, like run reallyreally fast and kind of appear and disappear (maybe by becoming a bat or a shadow like Dracula?) As the plot unfolds, we find that Edward has been coming into the Swan's house by night and watching over Bella as she sleeps.Without her permission, or most importantly, her father's.

Watching over her as. She. Sleeps. To protect her even while she dreams, he says.

Girls, I'm sorry, but this isn't sweet and romantic behavior. This is creepy, obsessive stalker behavior and Bella should have risen up in a furnace of white-hot indignation and told him a thing or two about personal boundaries and personal privacy and respect, right before she doused him with a bucket of holy water.

But what did Meyers have Bella do?

First, she had Bella balk, troubled by the fact that Edward has been standing sentinel at her bedside, presumably watching her drool and scratch and fart....and talk in her sleep. But then, a typical smitten girl, Bella acquiesces to this invasion of her privacy. And is okay with it. Even a little flattered that this handsome, charming vampire loves her so much, he can't even bear to be separated from her when she sleeps.

That is not the reaction a normal person should have when she's just discovered that she's being spied on, particularly in a vulnerable time like sleeping. A normal mature person, anyway. Which kind of shows us all that Bella is not ready for even the limited relationship that she and Edward have; never mind about anything more permanent. She is far too willing to subjugate herself to his authority, even though he is a benign leader.

Bella accepts what Edward tells her, and is willing to make herself an open book, while he remains a bit aloof. She's willing to trust him completely with her safety, without ever thinking what she can do to save herself from harm.

And most worrisome of all, she allows Edward to take the place of her father as her main counselor, guide, teacher and protector. That's not a wise idea for seventeen year old girls, even fictional ones.

Because of the seriousness of the last three issues, I can only give this book a two-star rating for Meyers's skill in storytelling and forwarding her plot with finesse. The character development was very spotty (although I'm willing to cut her some slack because of Twilight's being the first book in a four book series). In some ways, it was very morally commendable, but I find that I just can't get past those last three things.

I recommend that parents proceed with caution before allowing their daughters to read this book. If it's allowed, it definitely seems like the kind of book that a mother is going to want to read first so that she can discuss it with her teenager. This isn't Anne of Green Gables, Mom. You should be prepared to talk this book over with your teenage girl.

Indiana State Fair Re-cap -- In Which I am Colossally Disappointed by a 40 Foot Colon

Meelyn, Aisling, Kieren, Dayden, Nanny, Poppy and I piled into Nanpop's minivan yesterday and drove to the Indiana State Fair to spend a happy day of riding on rides and eating, playing carnival games and eating, touring the livestock buildings and eating, going through the 4-H fine arts and crafts exhibit building and eating, getting Dayden's picture taken by Tony Stewart's car and eating. And eating.

But one thing we also did was go all the way over to what seemed like Terre Haute or maybe even the Illinois border to go to the Clarian Healthly Lifestyles Pavilion and tour the "colossal colon" I heard about on 93.1 FM-WIBC earlier in the week. I'd like to point out here that I was the only one in the group that wanted to go; even seven-year-old Dayden, whom I had pegged as a sure thing for wanting to go through the colon, was unenthusiastic. So I had to cheer on our little band, some of whom showed signs of rebellion and kept getting sidetracked by deep-fried Twinkie and corn dog concessions, by saying in a perky voice which grew gradually more rebuking, "This is going to be fun. How many people can say that they walked through a colon? This will make a great story for my blog! Oh, you complain now that it's too far to walk, but you will all thank me later. Yes, you will, so stop lollygagging along like that. March!"

Panting, we made it to the pavilion where my dad very kindly held the door open for about sixty people, all of whom were pushing baby strollers that were the size of Volkswagons. There must have been some pre-school thing going on there, and as much as I love to watch the antics of little kidlets, I was totally focused on that colon. We finally made it inside, me forging ahead and everyone else stravaging along behind, as Mary Poppins noted when she walked in the park with Michael.

And there it was, straight ahead. My first impression was the remembrance of a Joan Rivers comedy routine I saw about a hundred years ago where Joan chatted about going to England for the first time. She had gone to Salisbury Plain to see Stonehenge and was decidedly underwhelmed by the experience. "People always say, 'How did they get those stones up there?' and I can tell you how they did it," Joan said snarkily. "They just reached down on the ground and lifted them up. Seriously! Stonehenge was just a tiny little place."

The "colossoal" colon struck me in that same manner. Where was the forty feet of walk-through educational experience I'd so been looking forward to? The only person who could have walked through that colon was my niece Kiersi, who is two. And she can't read, so the depictions of colo-rectal woes and their accompanying explanations would have done absolutely no good. It looked more like a larger-than-life earthworm exhibit built by a sixth grader than a giant colon.

Dayden did halfheartedly crawl through it a couple of times, but he's not at an age where his colon matters much to him. My mother gamely went to the little info-windows that were sliced into the colon tissue (bleeaaaaarrrgghh) and read about polyps and the like, but my dad, Kieren and the girls kept their distance and kept shifting from foot to foot in barely concealed impatience.

I stood alone, crushed. Even a free pamphlet about maintaining my colon health couldn't cheer me.

So I have no story to relate about polyps the size of basketballs and hemhorroids as big as canned hams. I have nothing to tell about Coco, the Colossal Colon, nothing at all.

So if you'll just un-read the preceding eight paragraphs, we'll be back at square one and good to go.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Why we visit the eye doctor

Aisling had her annual optometrist appointment today -- her prescription has changed every year for the past four years -- and so she and I set off for his office, which is about forty minutes away.

This is always a pleasant trip, because it involves no interstates, just state roads that meander through the countryside. The corn and soybean fields were particularly lush-looking today, after Monday's soaking rain, and the cows were placid and the horses were serene and the llamas at the llama farm we passed were just as haughty and unsociable-looking as they always are.

We happened to see some undomesticated livestock today, too. While we were driving up and down on a hilly, curvy road, I saw several deer prancing through a corn field to the north, headed to a soybean field to the south, right across the road in front of us, close enough to be thrilling, but not close enough to, say, total the car.

They were fat and frisky from feeding on fresh produce and the first one, a big stag, leaped across the road in fine form, his antlers worn proudly on his head.

"Look, Aisling! Deer!" I said excitedly. A doe followed the buck, bounding just as exuberantly; a second doe hesitated briefly and then jumped across the road in a frantic scramble.

"Where? Where?" said Aisling, swiveling her head back and forth like a tether ball on a pole.

"There! They just crossed the road! They're running up the hill!"

"Where? Where?"

"THERE!" I shouted, pointing.

"Oh, there! Yes! I see them! Wow, four deer! That's pretty cool!"

I didn't have the heart to tell her that the fourth deer was actually a tractor.

Her new prescription will be in in ten days.

TUESDAYS WITH DORIE (in spirit, on Thursday): Summer Fruit Galette

I am not part of the Tuesdays with Dorie baking group, which is a list of internet chums who are baking their way through the most excellent cookbook by Dorie Greenspan titled Baking: From My Home to Yours. But Kayte did persuade me to buy the book, which she insisted was full of delicious recipes that even a klutz like me couldn't mess up too badly. Well, she didn't put it quite that baldly, but really, it's the truth. For instance, my idea of baking cookies? Purchasing a package of those break-and-bake oatmeal-raisin or Tollhouse and slinging them on a baking sheet. The timer goes off, and there: I baked cookies.

You can see what raw material Kayte is working with as she ushers my trembling and pumpkin-shaped form out of the Land of Cans and Boxes.

So anyway, two weeks ago, the assignment for the TWD bakers was to make a Summer Fruit Galette. A galette is a rustic, rather free-form pie of French origin, and it immediately struck my fancy because I could clearly picture St. John Vianney, one of my favorite saints, eating les galettes as a child: he grew up on a farm in the tiny town of Dardilly, near Lyons, at the end of the late seventeenth century and the beginning of the early eighteenth, and his mother, a sonsy housewife, seems like exactly the type who would have served a fruit galette to her big family.

Kayte emailed me and said, "You have to make the Summer Fruit Galette from Dorie's book. It was easy and it was SO GOOD."

Making the Summer Fruit Galette (we used peaches) was very easy and the results were amazing. Plus, Meelyn, Aisling and I got the chance to debut some new stuff, namely our marble baking slab, our marble rolling pin and Nonny, the new food processor.

The first part of preparing the galette involved making the crust, which had to chill for an hour before rolling. Nonny was as easy as pie - or galette - to put together and operate, and we got her a-whirring on the frozen butter, frozen shortening, flour and sugar. Those crust ingredients came together splendidly and with very little effort; before I knew it, I was wrapping a disc of dough in a piece of plastic wrap and placing it lovingly in the fridge.

While the dough chilled, we skinned the peaches by blanching them in boiling water and then popping them into an ice-water bath, another task which sounds vaguely threatening, like something Tony Soprano might do to a guy who was found wearing a wire, but it's actually foolproof. Only Meelyn found out that the peaches sans skin are slippery little devils.

I experienced one huge problem during the rolling out of the dough, and that was that it stuck vigourously to the marble slab. I thought I'd floured the slab enough, but apparently not. What I need to do, next time, is use parchment paper, like Dorie recommended. I didn't have any on hand, so I thought I could get away with not using it, but no. Not so much. I had to peel the crust off the slab with my fingernails, which resulted in a not-very-attractive crust, but fortunately, the ugliest part was the part that was getting ready to be covered with peaches.

Once the crust was on the baking sheet, the instruction was to use a nine-inch cake pan as a template (the crust was rolled to a 13" diameter) and score around it so that you'd know where the fruit was supposed to go. But before the fruit went on, a complimentary flavor of jam was spread on.

In the book, Dorie recommends ginger preserves, which she says are similar to orange marmalade. I couldn't find ginger preserves at my small local grocery, so I chose Smucker's Sugar-Free Apricot Preserves, hoping that the Splenda used to sweeten the apricots wouldn't turn bitter in the heat of baking, like an old woman who's led a hard life.

The preserves went on, the peaches went on and then the girls and I turned up and "pleated" the edges of the crust around the fruit. It was very simple, and gave the dessert that "pie" kind of look without all the crust-crimping you have to do.

The galette went into the oven to bake for twenty-five minutes.

The final step was to pour a simple, four-ingredient vanilla custard (which I had made earlier, while the dough was chilling) in around the nooks and crannies of fruit and crust. This took about half the amount of custard, so I'll keep that in mind the next time, and maybe fill up a little ramekin with the remaining custard. Or perhaps increase the recipe and use some for the galette and then fill up a bunch of little ramekins with the remainder. Because vanilla custard? It's goooooood.

Fifteen more minutes in the oven, and there was our first ever Summer Fruit Galette, my first attempt from Dorie's book. I can't post pictures right now, but my galette looked just like everyone else's in the TWD group, which made me very happy.

It was absolutely and utterly delicious. The only thing I'd change, other than using parchment paper next time, is that I'd sprinkle the galette with some cinnamon-sugar (or maybe cinnamon-stevia, in my case) over the top before the second baking.

(Here's a picture of Shari's from that week, only she used berries in hers, plus there was some instruction not in the book that had to do with baking the galette in a paper bag, which presumably was to keep the crust from unfolding.)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Whisk Wednesday Assignment #13, Part 5 -- Consommé Madrilène

I want to be totally frank with you and just say right up front that if you intend to prepare and eat the Clear Soup of Madrid, be prepared to do so with a salt shaker or a salt cellar or one of those big blocks that deer lick in the winter somewhere close by.

Otherwise, you might have the same experience the girls and I had this afternoon, when we gathered with pleased expectation around little mugs of consommé and each took a sip from our spoons and swallowed what tasted like dishwater that had had a tomato and a chicken dipped in it.

(Or an ocean. Oceans are good source of salt.)

Consommé Madrilène was not difficult to prepare, especially since I already had the chicken stock frozen flat and stacked neatly in freezer bags. I pulled one out (I freeze things like stock in four cup portions, which was fine for this recipe, since I intended to cut all amounts in half) and let it thaw in the fridge yesterday.

Today, all I had to do was get it out and pour it into a saucepan and allow it to come to a boil. While that was happening, the directions instructed me to make a meatloaf. Yes, you read that correctly: I made a meatloaf. I made it out of ground chuck, an egg white and herbs, as well as some leek, celery, carrot and chopped tomato. All this was supposed to be stirred together in a mixing bowl and Aisling, who was chopping vegetables with our newly sharpened chef's knife said conversationally, "I thought you said we were having quesadillas for dinner."

"We are," I said, stirring in the celery she dumped into my bowl.

"Then why are you making a meatloaf?" she asked in a reasonable tone.

"This is not a meatloaf. This is.....a filter."

"A filter?" Meelyn queried dubiously. "Like, for water? Or....for the central air?"

"No, it's a filter for the soup. This, er-....meatloaf will kind of float on top, if I'm reading the directions right, and it will draw all the little bits of herbs and all that kind of thing out of the chicken stock so that when it is finished cooking and it's been chilled, it will be as clear as glass and we'll be able to see the pattern on the bottom of our soup plates."

"Is that important, seeing the soup plate's pattern?" Meelyn asked politely.

"I'm thinking yes."

"But when you make a real meatloaf, you just put it in that baking pan," Aisling said, doggedly pursuing her own train of thought, and a very special train it is. So special, in fact, that passenger space is limited to one. "So what are you filtering then?"

"My thoughts, Aisling," I sighed. "My wicked thoughts."

She regarded me over her glasses. "You might want to be careful, saying things like that. Because I could believe you, you know, and tha-..."

"ANYWAY," I interrupted, giving her a quelling sort of look, "the consommé has to simmer with this meatloa-...I mean, filter on top of it for forty-five minutes, and when it's done, we'll pour the soup off the bottom and that will be our finished product."

Aisling looked at me suspiciously. "What happens to the meatloaf?"

"I'll just run it down the garbage disposal," I shrugged. (Actually, I was feeling guilty about that, but I have no idea what I would do with a wet, boiled meatloaf after it had filtered my consommé. I can't feed it to the dogs, because it would be much too rich for their delicate digestions, and I can't see my family being enthusiastic if they asked what's for dinner and I replied "wet boiled meatloaf sandwiches.")

(Or maybe you could eat a bowl of Consommé Madrilène while floating on the Dead Sea, which is so salty, fish and plants can't live in it. It will also support your body weight because the specific gravity of the Dead Sea's water is so high. The guy in this picture is reading a magazine, but I don't see why he couldn't be eating a bowl of cold soup, do you?)

The girls looked disapproving, so I distracted them by mixing the meatloaf with my bare (clean) hand.

The filter apparently worked just as it was supposed to, because the consommé came out of the saucepan as clear as a June sky, only golden instead of blue. There was some kind of bizarre instruction to drag strips of paper towel across the surface of the soup to soak up any fat left over from the stock or the ground chuck, but what is that all about? We did it just to say we'd done it, but I think it makes a lot more sense to just chill the soup and take the solidified fat off later. It didn't really work all that well, anyway. There was a tiny bit of fat on top of the cooled soup and I just lifted it off and discarded it.

So that brings us back to the moment of tasting and a feverish wielding of the salt shaker over our mugs. Salted, it had the flavor of rich chicken broth and tomato, and it was indeed very clear, but other than that, I was underwhelmed. I'm not certain what good the leek, celery, carrot and aromatic herbs were supposed to do, because they were all used in the original stock, which was already tasty. And I found out that I'm not a chilled soup kind of girl. The soup seemed more like a beverage than a soup, like Clamato. The sort of thing that might welcome a shot of vodka. Or, you know. Two shots. You know what, just make mine a Bloody Mary and you can have my soup, okay?

(Or the Bonneville Salt Flats. If you're reading in Utah, you could drive really fast across the plain while holding a bowl of Consommé Madrilène out the window. That would probably help.)

Oh, and I forgot to get the red pepper and extra tomato to dice and float on top, which would have been very cute.

Next week! Soupe à l'oignon gratinée (Onion soup) pages 48-49

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Tuesday Toot! (August 5)

My Tuesday Toot for this week is that I....uhhhmmmm....lessee.....It's hard to think of these things sometimes. Aha! I've thought of one!

I make really beautiful soap. Really nice. It started out as a hobby many years ago and then turned into a business which turned back into a hobby again because as it turns out, I can't run a business and continue breathing at the same time.

Anyway, I made all kinds of gorgeous bath soap -- soap with lovely, exotic oils; soap with fragrant, delicious scents; soap made with Dead Sea salts, goat's milk, French green clay and pure silk fibers.

I've been getting this strong desire to get out my soaping equipment and whip up a nice batch, maybe just a couple of pounds for the fun of it. Soap making is something I love to do and it's something I'm actually good at. Which makes it even more fun.

My new food processor and I get to know one another

Because things have been so busy around here, I just now got the chance to take my new food processor out of its box and introduce myself to it, even though Katie gave it to me last Thursday evening. I wanted to have some time to look it over and read its little booklet when no one would be leaning over my shoulder, breathing heavily on my neck and saying, "What's that for? What's that do? Will you make me a smoothie? Please? When is later? Ten minutes from now? Twenty minutes? Half an hour? Gosh, you're so cross all the time..."

So I waited until this afternoon, when the people in my life who lean over my shoulder and breathe on my neck were at volleyball practice.

Its name is Bravetti EP 199 and when I finally struggled it out of its styrofoam nest and set it and all its peripherals on my kitchen table, I immediately hung my head and said, "I'm not worthy."

It has the typical chopping, slicing and shredding blades, but there's also a french fry blade. A whisk attachment. A dough hook. A citrus juicer. Large and small juice reamers, complete with filter. There's a blender and a coffee grinder and I don't know what-all...there may be a sewing machine and a carpet cleaner with a steamer attachment for the drapes and a riding lawn mower, for all I know.

The food processor sat there, looking sturdy and reassuring, trying in vain to convince me that it wasn't as alarming as it looked, that we could grow to be close friends. I timidly reached out one finger to touch its lid and thought what a nerve I had, to think that I would just brazenly throw some tomatoes into it and make salsa with a hey-nonny-nonny, or maybe I mean an olé. These things take time and you can't rush a good relationship.

RECIPE: Salmon filets with Chive Cream Sauce from Le Cordon Bleu at Home

[I added this post to the Whisk Wednesdays section because of the Chive Cream Sauce. -SM]

I bought some salmon filets a couple weeks ago, and the first chance I've had to use them came last night when I was desperate for something fast and easy to make for dinner. It was Monday, you know? And I was worn out from a busy weekend and wishing I could just pull a few handfuls of grass up from the yard and say, "Here. Salad. Eat it."

I thawed out the salmon beforehand, and in a desperate bid to make it look AS IF I CARED (because let's be real: sometimes I just don't and I know you don't either, but adulthood is largely a matter of faking enthusiam for certain people, events and household tasks, don't you think?), I went paging through Le Cordon Bleu at Home to see if I could find an easy sauce for fish. Et voilà! I found one on page 204 and happened to have every single ingredient on hand.

This recipe was extremely simple and my entire family highly recommends it.



1 1/4 cups heavy cream
salt and freshly ground pepper
Juice of 1/2 lemon, strained
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon (I used 1 teaspoon dried tarragon)


Allow the cream to come to a simmer in a small saucepan. Season with salt and pepper; stir in the lemon juice. Bring to a boil and cook for 3-4 minutes -- KEEP AN EYE ON IT or you will have a sad mess on your cooktop. Remove from the heat and stir in the herbs.

That's it. Really. I promise. The sauce thickened upon standing and the herbs infused their flavor into the cream and the lemon flavor was very delicate, just perfect for fish.

I sautéed the thawed salmon in my cast iron skillet in a small amount of oil and two chopped scallions and two cloves of garlic, allowing it to cook for four minutes per side over a medium-low heat and sprinkling it with pepper and a little sea salt.

The salmon with the sauce was served -- unimaginatively, I admit -- with baked potatoes and green beans. But the green beans were the frozen variety, not from a can, so I think I deserve credit for that.

Big love to Katie

Last week, I posted that I needed to buy a food processor so that I could make salsa. And pie crusts. And grate a heel of Parmesan without little bloody flecks of skin from my knuckles decorating an otherwise pristine mound of cheese (I know that just made Kayte want to throw up, hahahahahaha.)

Imagine my delight when my phone rang the other day and it was Katie, who said in her quiet, ladylike voice, "I've been reading your blog."

Hastily, I cast my mind back over my last few posts. Had I said anything too outrageous? Had I been accidentally flippant about some sacred subject? Because I did that once back in May and she gave me That Katie Look, which made me want to slump over, abashed, and kick my toe on the carpet, mumbling that it warn't my fault I wasn't brought up no better than that. "And?" I asked feebly.

"I have a food processor you can have. It's been out in the garage waiting to be taken to Goodwill, because I already have another food processor. My mother-in-law bought this one for me and I don't want it, so you're welcome to it, if you'd like it. I can bring it to you tonight."

Now see how she is? I now have this very nice food processor that was totally free, which reminds me yet again what a generous and giving friend she is. I am very blessed to have so many generous people in my life, friends and family alike, and Katie is one of my most loved, although she's so reserved and I'm so, er- high-spirited, that she'll probably worry that I'll try to give her a hug the next time we meet. Sometimes it is hard for me to reign in my exuberance, especially when people give me presents.

New amazing invention

You know the pathetically un-sharp knives in my drawer I whine about every so often? Well, as it happens, THOSE KNIVES ARE NO LONGER UN-SHARP.

You see, yesterday I was in the kitchen gadgetry aisle at a store -- never mind which one, because as it turns out, you can find these things, like, everywhere -- and I happened to see an unusually-shaped object that I could not figure out what it was, as Aisling would say. I slid the object off its hanging display and read these words: Knife Sharpener.

Knife sharpener??!!

You mean.....?

And I can...sharpen?


This find ranks up there with the new potato peeler I bought about a month ago. My old potato peeler finally fell apart, and I was so glad because that thing was so dull, it wouldn't even peel soft butter. When I put it in the kitchen wastebasket, I thought back and realized that I'd had that potato peeler since I moved out of my parents' house, which was twenty-two years ago. Yes, that was my first potato peeler I bought as a Young Woman with a Career.

I'm not sure why I felt I had to keep on using that peeler. Maybe I was under the impression that we on this mortal coil were under strict rules for owning one potato peeler per lifetime, I don't know. But I do know that my new potato peeler cost all of $2.49 and it doesn't make my hand hurt and it peels potatoes like a champion.

You know what I'm going to do when it is no longer sharp?


Likewise, with the knives. I thought you just had to keep using them until they got to the point where it would be easier to just try to rip your pork chop apart with your teeth like a dog. At the church I went to when I was growing up, there was an elderly gentleman who came to the annual bazaar to sharpen knives (I always wanted him to sing the song "Who Will Buy?" from Oliver! ...."Knives, knives to grind..." but he wouldn't, I'm sad to say.) When he passed away, I guess somewhere deep inside I must have thought that there would now be no sharp knives ever again in the world, no never. Because, a knife sharpener? That you can have at your own house? I didn't know you could have one of those.

My knife sharpener is just a little thing, kind of shaped like an egg. It cost $10, but there were some other electric sharpeners (electric!) on the shelf below the gadget display and those cost anywhere from $29.99 to $69.99.

I was kind of scared of them.

So my new knife sharpener came home with me last night and I sharpened all the knives I could lay my hands on. I even got some out of the dishwasher and hand washed them: that's how awesomely proud I was of this new acquisition. I am please to say that my knives are now as sharp as my mother's ten million dollar set of Cutco knives that can still julienne a human hair, even after seventeen years of going through the dishwasher. (I don't think the enormous block of Cutco knives she and my dad bought one summer from Pat's friend Brad, who is now a veterinarian, actually cost one million dollars, but it was somewhere close to that. An outlandish price for knives, I thought at the time, but I have to admit they still look and cut like brand new.)

I have no explanation for why I, an educated woman, did not know of the existence of knife sharpeners. If my ignorance bothers you, just remind yourself that I know a lot more than I need to about the questions in the Trivial Pursuit Genus I edition and let it go. I do know that I just diced three onions and two cloves of garlic for some barbecue sauce I'm making and it was so simple and so easy. I love my new knife sharpener!!!