every girl needs a greek chorus

a blog about hope


2 Comments

Walking in My Shoes

As a woman who highly values her feet, I am delighted to hear that “ugly” shoes returned to fashion this summer.

I’m an equal opportunity shoe lover.  Expensive.  Cheap.  Practical.  Foolish.  My shoe fetish has nothing to do with sex.  It’s genetic.  Like my high blood pressure and high cholesterol, I inherited a proclivity for splurging on shoes from My Mother.  I am short, but My Mother is Tiny.  At 4’ 10”, she wears a size 4-1/2 shoe.  Actually, she wears a size 5-1/2 shoe, because she can’t find her real size.  In the 1950s, size 4-1/2 was used as the “sample” size.  She bought her shoes at a “sample shoe” store in an office building in downtown Detroit.

In early spring and early fall, she received postcards announcing that the sample shoes for the coming season were ready for sale.  We took the bus downtown and walked to the building, got into one of those funky old-fashioned elevators with a gate and a lever to drive the car up and down the shaft.  We would walk into an office crammed, floor to ceiling, with boxes of shoes and boots; pumps, flats, sandals, slingbacks, and mules, in spectacular colors and buttery soft Italian leather.

Mom didn’t skimp on our shoes, either.  Although she made our clothes, she insisted that shoes of quality were a good health investment.  We got new patent leather shoes at Christmas and white shoes for summer, along with a pair of sandals, and, eventually, a pair of sneakers.  When we started school, we got school shoes.  Being the 1950s, I wore saddle shoes in the primary grades with my fluffy dresses or shoes with a perforated design in the toes and an ankle strap.  I always envied the girls who had shoes whose ankle straps could be swiveled behind the heel so that the strap didn’t cross the top of their foot, the same reason that I hated t-strap shoes.  My Mother didn’t like that, so I used to trade shoes with my girlfriends for a few hours each day.

More than anything, I think that good shoes were a good mental health investment.

When I remember holidays and special events, I think of shoes.  For Christmas 1966, I had a pair of gold suede flats with a little gold buckle that I wore with a long-sleeved Kelly green cotton velveteen dress with ecru lace trim.  So mod.  My junior year in high school, I wore “baby doll” shoes, black leather Mary Janes, to go with my “baby doll” dresses.  In college, where tramping between classes in 0° temperatures required long underwear, I started collecting boots.  I remember having a pair of brown lace-up boots that I wore with a camel-colored maxi coat.  Even my wedding shoes weren’t just plain white; they were peau de soie (silk) with embroidered flowers on the toes.

If you keep shoes long enough, they come back in style.  Square toes and chunky heels from 1968 have returned at least twice in my lifetime. I saw that flare-legged pants are making a comeback.  They, of course, require a chunkier shoe.  How do I know this?  Remember, I’m 63 years old and have seen this trend like a revolving door.  The designers get you to buy their wide-legged pants and longer skirts and chunky shoes and sweaters for a few years, and, just when you get to feeling good about yourself, hiding beneath layers of bulk, they bring back capri pants and leggings and crop tops and stilettos and send you running to the gym — or running for dessert in despair.

See these two vastly different shoes?  Comfortable classics, yet a decade apart in age, they are still my favorites. The black suede Stuart Weitzman with the square toe and chunky heel was purchased c. 1992 and was worn in two different plays, masquerading as shoes from the 1930s and 1950s.  The pointy-toed Ferragamo was purchased c. 2002.  It’s been busy the past few years with pencil skirts and peg-legged pants.

I read that Queen Elizabeth II expressed her displeasure at the navy wedge-heeled shoes (also Stuart Weitzman) favored by her granddaughter-in-law, Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge.  Kate, of course, also popularized the ridiculous trend of nude platform stilettos a few years ago, an easy trend for a woman surrounded by bodyguards and her own prince to keep her on her feet.  Someone should send a memo to Lady Gaga’s bodyguards, because her platforms are unbelievable and trip her up all the time when dodging the papa-paparazzi.

The Daughter had a pair of the nude patent leather platforms, which she wobbled in, like Bambi on the frozen pond, all the way across a stage for her college honors convocation.  I was torn between admiring her fashion sense and trembling in fear that she would fall.  Of course, every other coed was wobbling in a similar pair, so I was not the only parent having palpitations.

I, myself, have more beige shoes and sandals than any other color for two reasons; supposedly, nude pumps make your legs look longer (eg., ballet shoes usually match tights) and neutrals go with everything in every season.  My short legs need all the lengthening they can get, but I’ve already fallen off shoes once in my life and don’t want to ever again spend two months in a leg brace.  And, yes, I own my own share of restaurant shoes.  You know.  Those shoes that make your legs look fabulous but that you can only stand to wear from the house to the car to the restaurant to the car to your house with, maybe, a nerve-wracking side-trip to the ladies’ room?

Today, I’m more likely to wear a plain dress and an interesting shoe to set it off, like jewelry; an Eileen Fisher sweater and skirt with a suede boot with wedge heel.  “Don’t look at me; look at my shoes.”  Of course, one man I dated found my boring, tent-shaped Eileen Fisher dress alluring, so I’d probably better go easy on the combination.  Too much excitement could probably kill a guy so old that he finds sedate clothing and ugly shoes a turn-on.  I need a guy who appreciates me so much that he’ll take me to a restaurant worthy of restaurant shoes. Now, THAT’S a turn-on to me!

photo (4)Keeping in the spirit of “ugly” shoes, described as Birkenstocks (which never went out of style in some Baltimore neighborhoods, which tells you everything you need to know about Charm City), I bought these Dansko sandals.  You may recall that I fell off a ridiculous pair of platform sandals and fractured my right patella, three years ago.  These are designed by the folks who know how to make shoes that doctors and nurses wear on their long, grueling shifts, so I hope they know what they’re doing with shoes for aging and fragile fashionistas who can’t afford another fall.  They cost about as much as some of the chic designer styles.

While my deteriorating knees and pocketbook have slowed my shoe “investing,” thanks to a now-defunct local outlet store, I’ve stocked up on enough diverse designer rejects from Saks and Neiman Marcus to keep me rotating styles at the whim of designers until one of my pretty little feet is in the grave, so, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!


10 Comments

The Condensed Version of Me

photo (3)

Me – c. 1956

[This is my first-ever blog post, published July 22, 2014.  I like to think of it as a measuring stick of the past year.  My surgery sites were still raw; my abs were a flabby mess; I hadn’t started exploring online dating; and I had no idea why I was telling my story.  People tell me that I’m brave for being honest and that they share many of my frustrations with modern life, which has lost so much graciousness, despite technology and political correctness.  If nothing else, I make most of you laugh, so, who am I to complain?  Thanks for joining me on my spiritual journey!]

Last night, I did something with my daughter that I never would have done with my mother.  We stood in front of my bathroom mirror comparing our naked breasts.  Stay with me.

Did you ever do that with your mother?  Neither did I.  I’m 62, raised in the 1950’s & ’60’s by a mom of the 1930’s and ’40’s.  Her most damning phrase was “That’s tacky.” Until I was nearly 40, I worried about being dirty, wrinkled, mismatched, frizzy, and tacky.  My two earliest childhood memories are learning to tie the laces of my white high-topped, leather shoes into tidy bows and being fitted for white cotton gloves.  I couldn’t have been older than four, but I was mesmerized by the little drawers of gloves in the girls’ department at the J.L. Hudson, Company in downtown Detroit.  Plain or bows?  Are you kidding me?  I wanted the ones with the shiny pearl buttons!

Maybe your parents were “progressive.”  Mine came from that pragmatic, Depression-Era generation of hardworking blue collar-to-middle-class families with what are currently called “traditional values.”   My father, a first-generation Italian-American and proud Marine Corps veteran, leaned toward the conservative.  My mother’s family was from the fearless stock of English-Scots-Irish who settled Kentucky in the 18th century.  No whining allowed.  Have a problem?  Figure out how to solve it or climb over it and move on.  My sister and I were expected to go to college and graduate.  I learned to sew, cook, manage money, mow the lawn, change a tire, check the oil, mix concrete, and lay bricks.  Before feminism took hold in the 1960’s, we were learning to survive.

Mom was a minor progressive on matters of feminine independence.  When I begged for one of the newly-marketed “training” bras that my girlfriends proudly wore, my mother scoffed, “What are they training?  You don’t want to wear a bra.   They’re uncomfortable, and besides, you don’t have anything to put in one.”   [Be careful what you wish for.]

In the 5th grade, the girls in my class, accompanied by their mothers or a female guardian, were treated to the Disney-produced and Kotex-sponsored The Story of Menstruation.  (Sex education in the mid-20th century.) On the walk home after the screening, armed with pamphlets, Mom’s only comment was, “When your ‘time’ comes, they’re in the linen closet.”  Well, yes, I saw a small box of Kotex pads, but what were those mysterious paper-wrapped sticks in the Tampax box that was replaced much more frequently than the Kotex box?

Two years later, my ‘time’ arrived.  Mom showed me how to loop the gauzy ends of the bulky Kotex pad through the metal teeth in the “Sanitary Belt” yet encouraged me to use tampons.  At the age of 12, I was squeamish, more by the idea of having such a conversation with my mother than the actual process.  Well, I lie.  Probably more by the process.

She rolled her eyes and said, “You don’t know what you’re missing.”  Huh?  I’m going to put that hulking dry, cardboard thing where?  [Listen to your mother.]

By the time I was 17 and desperate to wear a bathing suit for my waterskiing boyfriend, she had the last laugh.  “I can’t help you with this.  You have to go into the bathroom and do it yourself.  Here’s the hand mirror.”

She was right, of course.  They were waaay better than the monthly bulkiness, the shifting, and the inevitable leakage.  She-who-claims-to-know-everything suddenly turned into a font of wisdom.

Seven years later, at age 24, I was recovering from a complete hysterectomy.  (No, it wasn’t due to the tampons.)  I had a raging case of endometriosis.  Cysts as large as volleyballs and baseballs, according to my doctors, pulsated in my ovaries, and others were exploding like tiny time-bombs, gumming up my insides.  In her droll and always honest way, my mother asked, “What are you going to do with all the money you save on tampons?”

Now, my own daughter is 22 and has little knowledge of and no use for white cotton gloves, but,  I am proud to say, she recognizes “tacky” when she sees it.    I’m not going to embarrass her by discussing her introduction to tampons, but let’s just say that it involved a mirror, a wet suit, and sharks.  Well, no, there were no actual sharks in the bathroom with us, just a discussion about their olfactory sensitivity.  There was also no dry, hulking cardboard in sight, just marvelous, smooth, modern plastic.

The Daughter and I, pre-op, May, 2012.

The Daughter and I, pre-op, May, 2012.

Two-and-a-half months ago, I had reduction mammoplasty (google it—I’m still my mother’s somewhat-squeamish daughter).  You see, my five foot-tall frame appeared to be on the verge of toppling over at any moment, as I could no longer straighten my shoulders.  I stuffed myself into minimizer bras and swathed myself in baggy sweaters.  What seems like a glamorous blessing really is a pain in the neck—and the spine and the shoulders and the self-esteem.  Turns out, I was carrying over two pounds of extra weight on my chest, like strapping a Yellow Pages directory between my armpits.

My daughter, the critical care nurse, was a great caregiver.  You know.  What we hope our children will be for us in our old age?  During the three-and-a-half hour outpatient (!) surgery, she returned to her nearby apartment to play with her cats and to catch something on Xfinity On Demand (which, to me, means it can be watched at any time other than when your dearly beloved is in surgery).

In fairness, I easily survived the surgery; she drove me home, stayed overnight, changed my massive ice packs, expertly stripped, emptied, and measured my bloody drain tubes every four hours, and force fed me oxycodone.   OK, OK.  She didn’t shove it down my throat, but she gave me the Nurse Ratched routine and insisted I swallow it.  [Note to self: Revisit that mirror/wet suit incident and a caregiver who is my sole heir.]

Last night, there we were, looking at our naked breasts, noticing how different they are.  My rehabbed pair appear to have been transplanted from a stranger and are oddly and happily perky for a 62-year old woman.  They are also subtly scarred, bruised, and lumpy and will be for at least another year.  Just like my hysterectomy scar, traces of this recent surgery will always remain.  But, I figure, the boy for whom I was willing to experiment with tampons has been gone for three years, and I don’t expect anyone other than a medical professional will ever get close enough to notice.

Oh, come on!  Put your tiny violins away!  Insurance paid for most of the surgery.  I feel fabulous and can see my feet for the first time in years.  My girlfriends say I look 20 years younger.  My new, youthful bustline (as Jane Russell would say in the old Playtex commercials) has inspired me to work on my abs, now that I can see how flabby they are.

My mother, at 86, still knows everything and feels free to dole out advice.  These days, she rarely tells me

Playing with a selfie stick, July, 2015.

Playing with a selfie stick, July, 2015.

that I look tacky, but I still wouldn’t dream of sharing my breasts with her in a mirror.  My daughter isn’t embarrassed to discuss anything with me, although I have learned to text “TMI” to her when she makes me squeamish.  I am easily old enough to be her grandmother, so the generational chasm between us is often profound.  And, yes, both she and my mother approved this post, so, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo gloria!


Leave a comment

A Sweet Little Fishy Story

FullSizeRender (1)

Caramelized Salmon

When we adopted The Daughter, we were old.  I’m not kidding.  We were 47, which is pretty old to adopt your first child, an 8-year old.  As My Mother said, “At least she’s housebroken and has all her shots.”  We learned that there’s a perfectly good reason that young people have children; you need a lot of stamina and patience, which certainly diminishes over time.

We all had a lot of adjusting to do.  Some of it was easy.  The Veterinarian covered fixing breakfast for her every morning at the ungodly hour of 6 am, an hour when I’m not sure who I am, much less where the kitchen is located.  Our long-awaited princess would wake up to his special omelets or French toast or garnished oatmeal.  None of that oatmeal out of an envelope.  This stuff was cooked and sweetened and spiced and bathed in warm milk.  I don’t think he ever prepared himself for one of our “date nights” as well as he prepared breakfast for her.  My responsibilities included lunch, dinner, laundry, and chauffeur, the same things I’d been doing for him for 27 years.

In the beginning, the kid never grumbled about the food she was served, once we weaned her from chicken nuggets, which we did immediately.  She loved to try new foods.  A week after her arrival, we traveled with her to New Orleans on a business trip, where she told the waiter at Commander’s Palace that the Parmesan cheese being grated, tableside, onto her salad smelled like “throw up.”  Being N’Awlins, the waiter laughed and said, “It sure does, honey.”  She scarfed it down.  A month later, we knew we were in BIG trouble when we took her to the Cheesecake Factory, and she told the waiter, “I’ll have the grilled chicken Caesar with freshly grated Parmesan, please.”

We persevered in introducing her to new foods.

“Do you eat fish?”

“Uh-huh,” she shook her blond head up and down, blue eyes peering out of her little wire-rimmed glasses.  She bore an uncanny resemblance to Felicity, the American Girl doll, with her dimpled arms and cheeks.

“Do you like fresh salmon?  It’s not like that stuff in a can.  I’m going to coat it with sugar and sauté it in a hot skillet.  You’ll like it.”

Her head bobbed.

She was more than willing to eat caramelized salmon, asparagus in nutmeg butter, and herbed rice with toasted pine nuts.  I thought I was a genius.  Surely, there were few households with an 8-year old eating gourmet cuisine.

At Christmas that year, our family was invited to a “casual-chic” Christmas party at the swanky home of some benevolent friends.  She was introduced to the host’s little nephew, and the two trotted off into the big house, while we headed to greet the roast pig that was lounging on the dining room table.  About 20 minutes later, one of the guests came up to us.

“Are you with the little blond girl with the glasses?”

“Uh, yes,” The Veterinarian and I looked at each other in panic.

“I’ve never seen a child that young eat so many raw oysters.  How’d you get her to eat them?”

“She’s eating raw oysters?”

“She and a little boy are on the deck slurping them down as fast as they’re shucked.  It’s pretty funny, actually.”

We hurried outside to find her surrounded by a crowd of amused adults, poking at shellfish on a gas grill.  In 20 minutes without us, our host had taught her to eat raw oysters and steam mussels on the grill.

“These are really good,” she giggled.

“How many have you eaten?”  Pictures of partially digested shellfish reappearing on the backseat of our car swam before my eyes.  She shrugged.  “Ok, kiddo, let’s go have some potatoes or bread.  How about some bread?  Lots and lots of bread.”

As the months passed, she started to exhibit food preferences.  Food she was willing to eat when she came to live with us was suddenly unacceptable.  In the spring of her first year with us, her school’s PTA solicited favorite family recipes. Thinking I was the Best Mother Ever, I dutifully contributed our family’s favorite meal, caramelized salmon, asparagus with nutmeg butter, and herbed rice with toasted pine nuts.

“Ha!  No pasta salad recipe from this family,” I smugly typed up my contributions.  No boring cereal-based snack mix.  No crescent roll-wrapped wienie chunks.  No sirree.  We might be older than any of the other parents, but with age comes knowledge and sophistication, the kind of sophistication that can be useful to a child.  I’ll show you how to parent, you snarky people.  You won’t make room for my kid in your scout troop?  (“Your daughter should have started in first grade,” I was told, “because our troops don’t have any room for newcomers.  Maybe you should start your own troop.”)  Ha!  We don’t need your stupid scouts and your stupid cookies and dorky crafts.  Our kid plays the cello and eats fish that isn’t chopped up into “stix.”

In September, the family cookbooks were distributed and came home in The Daughter’s backpack.

“Oh, look,” I squealed like a — like a — well, like a little pig, “here’s our recipe!”  The Daughter looked over my shoulder and screwed up her face.

“Caramelized salmon?”  she asked.

“What?”

“I hate that stuff,” she shuddered.

“What do you mean you hate that stuff?  It’s our family’s favorite meal,” I protested.

“No, it isn’t.  Steak is my favorite meal.  Steak with Béarnaise and garlic mashed potatoes and broccoli.  Or spinach soufflé.”

“You don’t like asparagus with nutmeg butter?”

“Blech,” she spit out her tongue.

“What about the rice?” I asked timidly.

“I hate those nut things.”

“You mean the toasted pine nuts?”

“Whatever.  They’re like bugs.”

“You eat smoked salmon.”

“That’s different.  I love smoked salmon.”

“But — but — you always clean your plate.”

“Yeah, well, I know it means a lot to you, so I ate it, but I’m never eating it again.”

The honeymoon was over.  I had been hoodwinked by an 8-year old, but I took heart; one of her favorite foods was broccoli, and she knew the word Béarnaise.  I flipped through the cookbook.  Actually, I didn’t know if I could explain to the other mothers that my kid ate raw oysters and escargots and real sushi (not California roll) and all kinds of mushrooms, when I wasn’t sure it was acceptable in our community to have mothered an under-age foodie.

Now that The Daughter lives on her own, she has rediscovered cooked salmon (she’ll eat it pan-roasted with an aged balsamic garnish, but still not caramelized) and asparagus and rice (without nuts), so, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!

CARAMELIZED SALMON

Sugar coat

Sugar coat

This may seem a little tricky, but it’s deceptively easy to make.  The sugar doesn’t really sweeten the fish but adds a glossy coating.  If you aren’t familiar with cooking sugar at high temperatures, here are some very simple points to remember.

When heated, sugar changes property significantly.  It melts, browns, and, as it cools, will harden on your utensils and in the pan and affix to anything it touches, like hot glue, and about as dangerous.  Excess sugar will burn in the pan, so turn on your exhaust fan before starting.  Because the caramel hardens to anything it touches, you will need to put each fillet on its individual serving plate.  Not to worry!  Because it’s completely soluble in water, clean up is a breeze.

Ingredients:

Two cups of white, granulated sugar, measured into a pie plate

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

2 four-ounce skinless salmon fillets, about ½ – ¾ “ thick (Note:  fillet means boneless)

2 Tablespoons olive oil

Directions:

Season salmon with salt and pepper to taste, and press one side into the sugar until it is lightly coated.  Carefully turn over and press into sugar.  Leave the fish in the sugar while you prepare the pan.

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat for 30 seconds.  You don’t want the heat to be so high that the sugar caramelizes before the fish cooks.

Caramelizing salmon - don't worry, all that burnt sugar dissolves in water.

Caramelizing salmon – don’t worry, all that burnt sugar dissolves in water.

Carefully place each salmon fillet into the oil.  Cook 1½ minutes without moving, jiggling, swishing, etc.  Then lift one corner of the fillet to peek at the color of the coating.  It should have started to brown but not burn.  (If the fillet browns too quickly, remove the pan from the heat and reduce temperature to medium-low.)  Cook another minute, then carefully lift the fillet.  The sugar coating should have all caramelized; if not, cook another 30 seconds.  Again, you don’t want the sugar to blacken, but a little blackened edge is ok, if you need to get the fish cooked.

When lightly caramelized, turn the fillet over to the other side and cook another 1½ to 2 minutes.  Remove to each individual serving plate.


Leave a comment

The Myth of Red Velvet Cake

Red Velvet Cake with Buttercream Frosting

Red Velvet Cake with Buttercream Frosting

There are red velvet cakes, and then there are Red Velvet Cakes.  In the past five years, that staple of Southern cooks has been co-opted by trendy websites, blogs, magazines, chain restaurants, and cooking shows.  Somewhere along the way, the original recipe has permutated.  I, myself, have adapted the recipe that was passed on to me by My Mother, who got it in the 1950s from her sister who lives in Atlanta. Turns out, it may not have originated in the South at all.

As in religion, mythology explains the creation of something.  It doesn’t mean it isn’t true, it only posits a basis for everything that came after.  A search on Google shows as much speculation about Red Velvet’s origins as it does about its ingredients.  Some say it is based on so-called “velvet” cakes of the 19th century, which incorporated a little cocoa or almond flour to soften a cake’s texture.  Some say that the characteristic “red” color began with the redness of the cocoa or that of the brown sugar that was used.  Some say it originated at the Waldorf-Astoria.  Some say it originated at Eaton’s Department store in Toronto.  Some say its current incarnation was promoted by the Adams Extract company in Texas.

As with religion, no one can agree, so I’ll stick with my own lore of what a Red Velvet Cake should be, how it should look, and how it should taste.  I simply NEVER buy one in a bakery or restaurant, because they never correspond with the mythological essence stored in my brain.  I am a Red Velvet connoisseur.  I’ve been eating them for over 50 years.  It is my birthday cake of choice, and a birthday cake should always be exactly what I expect it to be when the fork hits my mouth.

The red color has always been controversial.  Before anyone was talking about carcinogens in food, one of my fourth grade classmates objected to the Red Velvet cupcakes that my mother sent to my class in honor of my 10th birthday, in 1962.

“EWWW!!!”  Teddy Rollo (name changed to protect the innocent) shrieked, after biting into one.  “It’s OX BLOOD!!!”  He dropped it on the floor.

“No, it isn’t!”  I shouted at him, as kids all over the classroom spit out my favorite cake.

“Then, why is it red?”  He stuck his buck-toothed, freckled face in mine.

“It’s food coloring!”  I snapped.

“Oh, for goodness’ sake,” our teacher yelled over the clamor.  “It’s cake!  There’s no blood involved, Teddy.  Settle down, class!”

“It’s just too weird,” one girl said to me apologetically and shrugged.

I was horrified to see half-eaten and uneaten cupcakes dumped in the trash.  What was the matter with these kids?  My mother had slaved over three dozen cupcakes for nothing.  I felt bad for her.  I felt bad for myself, and then I saw several untouched cupcakes left in the box for me, me, me!

Ten years later, the Soviets released a study that concluded that Red Dye No. 2, whose common name is amaranth, was a carcinogen.  Responding to public outcry, the FDA began its own study, which concluded that, in high dosages fed to female rats, there was a significant increase in the number of malignant tumors in the rats.  It was banned in 1976.

Uh-oh.  Would this be the end of Red Velvet Cake?  Nope.  Even though Red Dye No. 4 was eventually also prohibited as a food dye, Red Dye No. 40 continues to be acceptable in the US, despite the fact that it is banned in Europe, which, along with Canada, approves of Red Dye No. 2.  Did you follow that?  I had to google them all several times to make any sense of it.  Long story short, I buy my Red Dye No. 40 in bulk, so you can’t take Red Velvet Cake away from me.  I use two full ounces of it in mine, so that I get that authentic oxblood color.  I see those wimpy pink imposters that only use one ounce.  Tsk-tsk.  smh

Perfection!

Perfection!

I prefer a good French buttercream or my faux French buttercream frosting made with hot milk and granulated sugar, because I’m not a cream cheese frosting fan.  I find that the tang of the cream cheese clashes with the almond flavoring in the cake, and, if the cake is made traditionally with buttermilk and the vinegar-baking soda mixture, it doesn’t need any more tangy-ness.  In my so-called research, I found Red Velvet cupcakes frosted with almond-flavored cream cheese that might be tolerable, but I’d still rather have the frosting that my brain and stomach tell me belongs on Red Velvet cake.  Why mess with perfection?

My Sister made me a Red Velvet Cake for my birthday yesterday because she is The Best Sister Ever.  The cake was soft and tender; the frosting did not have a single crunch of undissolved granulated sugar (my biggest challenge in making that frosting).  And I had a big giant slice of perfection for breakfast this morning, also a family tradition.  After all, there are no calories on your birthday or the morning after, so, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!

 

RED VELVET CAKE

Ingredients:

2 oz red color

3 Tablespoons cocoa powder (do not used Dutch-processed)

½ cup vegetable shortening, softened (I use ¼ cup unsalted butter and ¼ cup shortening)

1½ cups sugar

2 eggs

2¼ cups all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 teaspoons almond extract

1 Tablespoon vinegar

1 teaspoon baking soda

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°.

Grease three 8” or two 9” cake pans with butter and line the bottoms with buttered parchment paper.  Set aside.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and salt.  Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, blend food coloring and cocoa to form a paste.  Add the shortening and sugar, and cream thoroughly.  With mixer running, add eggs one at a time until blended.

Mix in ¼ of the sifted flour mixture, alternating with ¼ cup buttermilk.  Stop mixer and scrape bowl and beaters.  Continue adding the remaining flour, alternating with the remaining buttermilk, beating thoroughly and scraping the bowl and beaters after each addition of buttermilk.  It’s important that the flour doesn’t clump into ugly white blobs in your pretty red batter.

Stir in the vanilla and almond extracts.

In a small bowl, stir together the vinegar and baking soda and then stir the mixture into the batter.

Pour batter equally into the prepared cake pans.  To decrease the number of large air bubbles trapped in the batter, run a sharp knife in an “s” shape through the batter in each pan.  Lift each pan about 1” off the counter and let drop onto the counter.  The larger bubbles will rise to the top and either break or can be broken with a toothpick.

Place pans in preheated oven and bake 30 minutes.  Insert a tester (toothpicks work just fine) into the center of each layer.  If it does not come out clean, bake another 5 minutes and retest with a clean tester.  In my oven, an 8” layer is usually done in 30 minutes.  The thicker 9” layers may take an extra 5-10 minutes.  But be careful that the edges of the cake don’t become brown.

When tester comes out clean, remove pans from the oven and place on a wire rack.  Let cake layers cool in the pans for 10 minutes.  You should see the cake’s edges pull away from the pan as it cools.  If not, gently run a plastic knife around the edge and wait 5 more minutes.

Place another cooling rack on top of the pans and flip.  Remove pans from the layers and the parchment from the cake and cool completely.  Frost with your favorite white frosting.

CAUTION:  I always lick the bowl and beaters, because I’ve been doing it for over 50 years, but it makes my mouth really red.  It also might give me salmonella, if the raw eggs in the batter are bad.  I don’t worry too much about it.  The red dye probably will kill me first.


Leave a comment

Twins

geminiAngelina Jolie and I have more in common than you might think.  We are both Gemini and share the same birth date, June 4.  I’m not bragging or anything, but she and I have been incredibly lucky in life.  We’re both fabulous actors.  We both were married to incredibly handsome and accomplished men and adopted beautiful children from exotic locales.  Well, in my case, Denver isn’t that exotic — exciting but not that distant.

Ms. Jolie and I are also missing our uteri.  When she wrote in the NY Times about her hysterectomy at the age of 39, I almost wrote to her to say, “Don’t worry.  It’s a piece of cake.”  I was 24 when I had my hysterectomy, and my life clearly didn’t end. I didn’t shrivel up.  I didn’t grow a beard or start singing bass.  I didn’t gain 50 pounds.  My husband didn’t leave me.  In fact, men still hit on me when he wasn’t around, because they just can’t tell.  You think no one’s going to hit on the beautiful Angelina Jolie because she’s missing a few body parts?

I’ve been without my uterus for almost 40 years and can’t say that I’ve missed it.  So what if I have a little untimely sweating?  It’s a small price to pay to stop menstruating, and pregnancy has never looked like a day at the beach to me.  When I was a little pudgy around the middle a few years ago, a stranger ask me if I was pregnant.  Was I embarrassed?  Heck no!  I was pretty excited that they thought I was young enough to be pregnant.  Woohoo!

Twins

Twins

Strangers frequently comment on how much The Daughter and I look alike.  Coincidentally, we are both short, and the corners of our mouths turn down naturally.  Our hair is the same color, thanks to my hairdresser.  (I have no idea what color mine really is any more, but I suspect it’s mostly white.)  I blame the “Stockholm Syndrome,” where the captive begins to identify with the captor.  There’s a lot more to parenting than passing along your DNA.  If you’re good at it, you pass along your values and instill your child with courage, perseverance, kindness, and hope, the character stuff that hasn’t yet been isolated on a chromosome.

I’ve had a lot of practice making lemonade out of lemons in my almost-63 years, and I’m always amazed at how a miracle pops up to lift me when things seem especially dark.  Why, just last week, it dawned on me that, because I’ve never been pregnant, I don’t have any stretch marks.  It made me laugh out loud, it was such an absurd thought.  On the other hand, find another 63-year old woman who can say that.  Now, I just need to figure out how to work that into my online dating profile.

Happy Birthday, Angelina!

DATE UPDATE:

I decided to give the dating site Zoosk a look-see because it claimed to be free.  Actually, it’s so confusing that I can’t tell what’s free and what isn’t, because now they tell me there’s stuff I can’t see, people I can’t contact, whatever.  Anyway, they have a feature called “Carrousel” where faces flash up, and you’re supposed to click “No”   “Maybe”    or    “Yes”.  You get a gold coin for each “Maybe” or “Yes.”  I have no idea what the coins are for, and I really don’t care.  This isn’t my kind of game.  I’m not a gambler, although online dating is a crap-shoot.

I’m shallow.  I’m a visual person.  I always judge books by their covers, which is probably why I haven’t found a serious date yet.  There seems to be something wrong with every photo that I see.  Again, I can’t stress enough that the fault lies with me, not with what are probably perfectly ideal men for normal, God-fearing, kind, decent, gracious, loving women.  No, I’m persnickety.  For instance, I am not attracted to profile photos of a man who

wears a Crocodile Dundee hat,

a cowboy hat,

a cowboy hat with a string tie and leather vest,

or a straw cowboy hat with a picture of a spitting cobra;

a bad toupee or a woman’s wig, even if it’s part of a Halloween costume;

a sombrero, beret, balaclava, or any kind of headscarf, including bandanas;

a captain’s hat, unless he’s in the Navy or Capt. Stubing;

a baseball cap with a suggestive slogan and especially not a backwards cap;

or a “Steelers” cap.

I don’t want to know anyone whose profile name includes the words “Snake bit” or “Luv,” “Hung,” “Kiss,” “Baby,” “4 U,” “Skin,” “Brst” (regardless of your choice of vowels), or “Steeler.”

I always skip photos of men whose eyes are closed, have partially hidden faces, look dazed and confused or Tased or are frowning;

or out of focus;

who are missing all or most of their front teeth  (please, no hate mail);

who wear more jewelry than I do and/or forget to remove their wedding bands (I told you I was persnickety);

who are covered in sweat or standing in a cemetery or using fingers to “shoot” at the camera (yep, I’ve seen ’em all).

I am wary of men whose style-icon is Donald Trump;

who look like they still follow the Dead, with locks longer than mine and carrying AARP cards;

who were stuck all winter in Donner Pass without a razor.

Men, don’t choose photos if your cellphone is visible as you take your selfie;

your computer monitor is reflected in your glasses so your eyes look like they’re glowing;

you’re being hugged/kissed by a woman who clearly isn’t your mother (especially on the mouth—ew!);

your photo shows five men, and you’re……..which?

your photo is date-stamped 2005;

your photo is an actual photo of Jack Lord from the original “Hawaii Five-0” (true);

you have photo-shopped stars and/or hearts on it;

you appear to be choking your dog/cat while restraining it;

you are up to your elbow in the mouth of a catfish;

your motorcycle is bigger than you are;

your car is the most prominent feature in your photo;

your dress shirt is unbuttoned to your belt buckle, exposing things that are best hidden until we know each other better—if ever;

you’re wearing a sleeveless sweatshirt, tank top, or wife beater, even if you have guns of steel.

And, for the love of all that is good and holy, NO SHIRTLESS PHOTOS!!!!

Especially if you’re on a beach in swim trunks with a Crocodile Dundee hat and a Duck Dynasty beard, because nobody, but NOBODY wants to see that.  (Having seen that, I may never be the same again.)

I couldn’t make this stuff up, folks.  It writes itself, so who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!


Leave a comment

Secret Ingredients

I received a wonderful gift for Mother’s Day.  My Mother fixed dinner for us.  We were in shock.  In the TVLand of the 1950s, the stereotypical mother cooked three fabulous meals a day for her grateful family.  Mine did not.  At least once a week, My Dad would walk into the house, note that the stove was empty, and say, “I guess we’re going out to eat.”

Although it seemed like a great treat to have her fix dinner for us, there was some trepidation on our part.  For the past 40 years, I have been the family cook for Important Holidays and Other Significant Occasions.

“She says she’s making roast beef,” My Sister informed me.

“What?!”  I was incredulous.  I’m the succulent beef roaster, served with freshly-grated horseradish root, port-laced au jus, glazed carrots, and crispy Yorkshire Pudding.

“Mm-hmm.”  She muttered.

“But she doesn’t like to cook.  Maybe we should order out Chinese or Italian.”

“I offered, but she said she wanted to make roast beef,” My Sister sighed.

I considered bringing a bottle of red wine, because I can eat anything, even mushrooms, if I gulp them with copious amounts of wine.  My Mother thinks that all meat should be served well-done, which means gray and dry.  After living with The Veterinarian for 42 years, I now eat beef medium-rare and, occasionally, even carpaccio, if the kitchen is trustworthy.

When dining out with My Mother, we pray that she orders fish.  I have seen her fight with waiters over meat that she said was presented still “mooing” and have seen chefs in perfectly fine restaurants refuse to serve her prime rib well-done.    We grovel with the waiter when she orders beef, begging them for an “outside cut.”

It turns out that we needn’t have worried.  She made pot roast, one of  my favorite recipes.  Still, she grumbled.

Secret Ingredient

Secret Ingredient

“I couldn’t find canned French onion soup at any of the grocery stores,” she said, “no Campbell’s, no Progresso, not even a generic store-brand.”

The key to her pot roast is two cans of Campbell’s French Onion soup.  It’s the only soup that I ever cook with, and I only use it to make pot roast, because, well, it tastes like Mom’s.  It isn’t too salty, like that dry soup mix, and it doesn’t have mushrooms.  You simply dredge a piece of lean chuck roast in flour with salt and pepper, brown it on all sides in hot oil and drain on paper towels.  Then, you pour one can of the soup in the bottom of a Dutch oven or slow-cooker, top it with the meat, whole peeled carrots, and celery (with the leaves), pour another can of soup over the top, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to very low and simmer for at least 2-1/2 hours.  Alternatively, you can cook it, covered, in a 325° oven, which My Mother did.  Hence, roast beef.

Of course, a lot of sliced onions and beef broth will give the same effect, but I think that  piece of pseudo Swiss cheese in the soup can makes a richer sauce.  Yes, I’m delusional.  Although I’ve not read the soup can’s label, it’s probably a mess of chemicals, but I just don’t care.  It’s the taste and the memories that make the difference.

My Mother finds gravy a challenge, too, although this time it was nearly perfect.  She strains the broth to remove the vegetables and globs of fat and meat and reheats it in a saucepan.  Then her technique gets a little “dicey,” as she takes her ancient, empty jar of Taster’s Choice instant coffee crystals, into which she places flour and — yikes! — cold water, which she shakes vigorously, increasingly complaining that it won’t smoothly blend.  She stirs this into the hot broth and tries to stir out the inevitable lumps with a spoon.  This produces more grumbling.  I offered to make the gravy, but she wouldn’t let me near the stove.

Let me tell you how to really make gravy.  You start with two tablespoons of hot fat — strained pan drippings or butter — and slowly whisk in two tablespoons of flour, until the mixture is smooth and bubbling.  To make more gravy, use more fat and flour, in equal proportions. Then, and only then, do you slowly whisk in enough hot broth to make a thick gravy.  It’s better to have gravy that’s too thin, because you can always reduce it by simmering (or boiling, if you’re really pressed for time).  If it’s too lumpy, just pass it through a sieve.  No sweat.

With My Mother and My Sister, 1958

With My Mother and My Sister, 1958

All in all, our meal did just what a Mother’s Day dinner should do, evoke memories of family and love, which puts the comfort into food.  No one had to get dressed up or grovel with waiters or dodge the traffic in downtown Baltimore headed to hear the Artist-Once-Again-Known-as-Prince in his “Rally 4 Peace.”

DATE UPDATE:

I had two dates with a mostly pleasant widower a couple of weeks ago.  I don’t think I’ll hear from him again, which is ok.  We disagreed about voting (I do; he hasn’t for 20 years), current events (he doesn’t pay attention to the news; I do), and the hospitality of the French.  I have never had a bad time in France.  He hates the French.  That’s a quote, not a paraphrase.  He said that the French are only nice to me because I speak French.  I pointed out that The Veterinarian didn’t speak French at all.  I pointed out several occasions when the French have been extremely gracious to me, my family, or my friends, but he wasn’t convinced.

I told him about a train trip in France where some young people made rude remarks about Americans.  Two middle-aged Frenchmen sitting in front of us got up and chewed the kids out.  On their way back to their seats, the men came to us and apologized in English.  I replied in my choppy but intelligible French with beaucoup smiles.  Graciousness when traveling goes a long way to effective communication with others.

My date remained unconvinced, and in the end, I didn’t see myself traveling any place with him, much less through the remainder of my life.  Oh, yeah!  And he doesn’t drink wine.  Maybe that’s why he doesn’t like France.  Maybe that’s why I don’t like him.

I received an email from a man who said he was a medical researcher and teacher with a PhD.  He wrote to me, “Hi!  Cute photo!”  I read his profile essay, which said he was born in Canada, and skimmed his other profile information, noting that he had traveled a lot and lived abroad.

I thanked him for his compliment and said, “I grew up in Detroit.  Where in Canada were you born?”

His response?  “Hmmm.  I guess you didn’t really read my profile…”

Mystified, I re-read his profile, which still only said that he was born in Canada, but down below, under the notes section, where I noticed again that he refused to comment on his “Faith,” that he speaks English and French, and then, near the bottom, under “Favorite Hot Spots,” between “Love NYC and San Francisco” and “lived in Tel Aviv” that he was born in Montreal.  Oops!  My bad.  That’s why I was a better English major than chemistry major, failure to note the minutiae.

I replied, “Sorry.  I did read your profile, but the items under “Hot Spots” didn’t stick in my memory.  Bonne chance! [Good luck]”  I wanted to say, “Sorry, Professor, I read your profile but didn’t realize there would be a quiz.”  Yes, I made a mistake, but a little graciousness on his part would have been nice.

Yesterday, a man who lives 50 miles away in Washington, DC and whose profile claims to only be interested in women within 40 miles, asked me to Skype him.  I know how lame I sounded telling him that I don’t have access to the internet except through cellular data.  I told him I would be happy to correspond by email, citing my geographic undesirability.  Of course, he hasn’t responded.

Then, there was this guy, whose grammar is questionable: “Oh boy do I love the sarcasm.  I am that way as well.  Your profile is a great read & in person I bet it’s a million times better.  Now that I am retired I had made several considerations.  I opted out on all of them except for going to hell in a hand basket.  I haven’t been there yet.  Oh wait, I’ve got that covered.  I use [sic] to live in New Jersey…”

“Do I sound that wacky in my profile?”  I fretted.  I reconsidered myself and rewrote my profile to sound more gracious; sweet, gentle, kind, patient, forgiving, loving, tolerant, demure, meek, etc., etc., etc., a ruse that I have tried in the past without success.

Today, I received this from a man in Pennsylvania, “I enjoyed reading your profile.  It was clear, direct plain … and positive.  I do not seek a reply.  You have a very interesting personality.”

I translated this as:  “For God’s sake, don’t write to me, crazy lady!”

By the way, My Mother, who isn’t crazy about France, either, loved the blouse that I bought for her birthday last October and then lost and didn’t find in time for Christmas and finally gave her for Mother’s Day.  She gave me a giant Tootsie Roll, my favorite childhood candy.  We shared love and comfort on Mother’s Day, so, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!