every girl needs a greek chorus

a blog about hope


2 Comments

Cooking fresco

Prodotti freschi

Prodotti freschi

Tomatoes are everywhere, stacked in beautiful piles at farm stands.

I always knew that we were in the dog days of summer when My Mother picked tomatoes from our suburban garden and lined them up on a windowsill to ripen.  She made BLT sandwiches, tomato sandwiches, and a salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions dressed with red wine vinegar, oil, a pinch of sugar, and salt and pepper.

Too bad I don’t like tomatoes.  I should clarify.  I don’t eat raw tomatoes.  I don’t like the acid or the texture.  I don’t eat soups or sauces made with tomatoes that haven’t been seeded or peeled.  When dining out, I even inspect marinara sauce and pizza for seeds and skins.  Actually, I never order marinara sauce in a restaurant.

Today, I want to talk about what I do with fresh tomatoes in tomato season.  Oh, I know what people like with their tomatoes.  Just because I’m plagued with Picky-Eater Syndrome doesn’t mean that I can’t figure out how food should taste (as usual, I realize that I’m not making sense to most of you).  For our church cook-out this Sunday, I’ll make a platter of sliced tomatoes drizzled with a best-quality olive oil and garnished with sliced or fresh mozzarella, salt and pepper, and fresh basil.   The Veterinarian liked his tomato salad with Vidalia onion, but raw onions are a fellowship-killer, if you know what I mean.

Blessed with wonderful friends and clients in our veterinary practice, we never had a shortage of seasonal produce.  Once I learned to peel and seed tomatoes efficiently, I turned them into soups (Julia Child’s “Potage Magali,” a Mediterranean tomato and rice) or salsa or jambalaya or traditional tomato sauce, which I froze in baggies.

photo 3 (1)Then, I discovered this wonderful pasta sauce which not only uses fresh tomatoes but also that other bounty of late summer, fresh basil.  Many, many years ago, I watched someone make this on television and scribbled down the recipe, and, like most everything that I cook, I adapted it to suit my picky taste.  I do remember that the tomatoes were to be seeded and peeled, so I’m not adapting that.  I call it “Penne Rigate alla Vodka with Basil and maybe Mushrooms.”

In researching this recipe, articles repeatedly mentioned that it was an “American” pasta dish, not authentically Italian.  Curious, I pulled out my American edition of the Italian classic cookbook “The Silver Spoon” (“Il cucchiaio d’argento”), and there it is on page 298.  Now, this was advertised by Phaidon, the publisher, as “The bible of authentic Italian cooking.“  If the online authorities are correct, the Italians have borrowed an Americanized Italian dish; the great Melting Pot is flowing east, across the Atlantic to the Old World. However, “The Silver Spoon” contains no recipe for that known New World creation, Fettucine al Fredo, so I question the online authorities.  But, really, who cares?

Each online recipe is different (some include bacon or oregano, almost none have fresh basil), so which is the “authentic American penne alla vodka”?  In the culinary world, where the word “fusion” gets attached to traditional cuisine to indicate a blending of cultural influences, perhaps this is “Italian Fusion.”  Cooking is all about improvisation, using what’s available, using your own preferences or dietary requirements, creating something out of nothing, like art.  As a picky eater, I’ve been creating culinary art as long as I have been cooking.  That’s why I always recommend that you start with recipes and adjust them until they taste right to you.  Yes, it’s trial and error, and you’re going to err — a lot, in the beginning, but cooking with a fresh eye is an art and incredibly satisfying.   I have so little control over the rest of my life, but, when I’m in my kitchen, or even cooking in someone else’s, I am the Mistress of my Domain, so who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!

Penne Rigate alla Vodka with Basil and no mushrooms

Penne Rigate alla Vodka with Basil and no mushrooms

Penne Rigate alla Vodka with Basil and maybe Mushrooms

I should explain the name.  When I saw this made on television, the chef included mushrooms, which aren’t on this picky eater’s palate.  Thankfully, the Veterinarian and the Daughter weren’t even remotely as picky, so adding sautéed mushrooms gave the delicate sauce a little heft.  I imagine that you could also blend some of the cooked mushrooms into the sauce, but I wouldn’t eat that.

It isn’t difficult to peel tomatoes, but it’s a little trickier to seed them.  Bring a pan of water to boil and put in your washed tomatoes.  Return to a boil and simmer for three minutes.  Remove and plunge tomatoes into a bowl of icy water.  When cool, skins should slip off easily.  Cut the tomatoes in half and remove seeds and the stem end.  Measure tomatoes after peeling and seeding.

One last caveat:  Be sure to heat the sauce carefully after the vodka is added.  I once was gabbing with a friend on a flight and writing this recipe and my recipe for tortellini with prosciutto, peas, and fresh basil for her from memory.  Not paying attention, I wrote the ingredient “vodka” at the end and forgot to write “heat the vodka until the alcohol evaporates” in the directions.  My friend and her husband were overcome by the sauce in more ways than one.  By the way, this is the same veterinary spouse who ate my splintery cheesecake.  It’s a wonder she trusts any recipe that I give her!

2 Tablespoons butter

2 Tablespoons olive oil

¼ cup chopped onions

4 cloves garlic, chopped

2½  cups peeled, seeded, and chopped meaty tomatoes (such as Roma/Plum, about 8-10)

1 cup packed fresh whole basil leaves (dried won’t do), reserving little sprigs for garnish

Salt and pepper to taste

¼ vodka

½ cup heavy cream

Parmesan, freshly grated

One pound of penne rigate (ridged), cooked

Optional:

½ pound sliced mushrooms, sautéed

Red pepper flakes

Directions:

In a 2-quart saucepan, heat butter and oil over medium-low heat until butter melts.  Add onion and garlic and sauté until soft.  Stir in tomatoes, cook for one minute; stir in whole basil leaves, salt, and pepper, and simmer for five minutes.

Remove from heat and add vodka.  Return to heat and simmer for two minutes or until alcohol evaporates.

with The Daughter as my sous chef

with The Daughter as my sous chef

Remove from heat and carefully spoon mixture into food processor or blender.  [Or use an immersion blender right in the pan.]  Add heavy cream and process just until blended but still chunky.  Return to pan over low heat.  Adjust salt and pepper to taste or add in optional red pepper flakes to taste.  Stir in optional mushrooms.  Heat through.

Spoon sauce over hot penne rigate in individual dishes, garnish with freshly grated Parmesan and with fresh basil sprigs.

Makes four servings, without the mushrooms; six with the mushrooms.

[Note:  If you don’t sauce all of the cooked pasta, let it cool and freeze in zippered bags.  When ready to use, bring 1-1/2 quarts of water to a boil and drop in the frozen pasta.  It will reheat in 3-5 minutes, and any freezer dehydration will reconstitute.]


Leave a comment

Dizzy for Daiquiris

Havana ClubIt seems I actually may get to Cuba before I die, since the U.S. has resumed diplomatic relations with the largest nation in the Caribbean.  I’ve always wanted to see the pristine beaches and the incredible rain forest, the Spanish colonial architecture and the old American cars.  Oh!  And I can’t wait to bring home the rum.

When most people think of Cuba, they think of angry guys with beards, cigars, Cuban sandwiches, and rum.  I buy Havana Club rum when I’m in Grand Cayman to mix with Coca-Cola and a squeeze of lime.  It’s dark and rich with a hint of molasses, and the seven-year old sipping blend is about as smooth as some single-malts I’ve had.

One of those pristine beaches, near Santiago, provided the name for my favorite summer heat-quencher, the Daiquiri.  I’m talking about real Daiquiris made with limes, not that sickly sweet stuff that comes out of a mega-blender like a Slurpee.  In the early 20th century, legend says, some American engineers with a lot of time on their hands came up with the perfect antidote to the oppressive tropical heat.  It became popular in Havana’s bars and nightclubs, attracting the attention of Ernest Hemingway, no less, who inspired a variation, with grapefruit juice and maraschino liquid, that bears his name.

How a simply elegant drink became synonymous with strawberries or bananas and an avalanche of crushed ice, I’ll never know.  Over the years, whenever I’ve asked for a “lime” Daiquiri at a beachfront bar, the bartender has looked at me like I was nuts, until one day on Key Biscayne.

We were on vacation in south Florida in July.  That may sound like torture to you, but our Maryland beaches are darn hot and humid in the summer and more expensive than a luxury hotel in Miami, where it’s the off-season.  As we were sitting at the deserted pool, I begged the Veterinarian to surprise me with something icy-cold from the bar.  He returned with a plastic cup full of the most heavenly Daiquiri I’d ever had.

“Look, I got you a real Daiquiri!”  he said, proudly.  “Hey, don’t drink it so fast.  You’re not getting another one.  I never would have ordered it had I known that it cost $15.”

“What?!”

“The rooms may be cheap here in the summer, but the bar drinks are pretty stiff in more ways than one.”

They were so irresistible that I think we splurged on one more during our week’s stay, but when we returned home, we experimented until we came up with the perfect replica.  You have my permission to adjust this to suit your own taste, but you can’t use anything other than fresh lime juice or white rum.  Frozen limeade is too sweet.  Bottled lime juice is too bitter. Dark rum is just ugly in the glass.  Corn syrup is too thick. I’ve tried to use artificial sweetener, which mixes well in the icy rum and lime, but the sugar syrup makes a smoother drink.  You can add more syrup, if you’d like a sweeter drink, but it cuts the all-important thirst-quenching properties.

¡Salud!

IMG_5722

Still life with lime

Daiquiri – makes one drink

2 ounces white rum

1 ounce simple sugar syrup (see recipe below)

Juice of one freshly-squeezed lime

Ice cubes (not crushed)

Measure rum and sugar syrup into shaker full of ice.  Squeeze in the juice of one lime.  Shake and serve over ice in tall glasses.  Garnish with lime wedge, if desired.

Simple Sugar Syrup

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup hot water

Don't you feel cooler already?

Don’t you feel cooler already?

Place sugar in small, heavy saucepan over medium heat.  Stir in hot water until sugar is dissolved, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer mixture for 15 minutes.  Cover tightly with a lid and remove from heat.  Let sit until room temperature.  Pour into clean glass jar and store in refrigerator until ready to use.

[Note:  Because the mixture is boiling when you cover it, it will stay sterile while it cools.  Do not lift the lid while it is cooling, and refrigerate promptly within 60 minutes.]


1 Comment

Function, Form — and Flames!

It must be July.  Heat waves are coming in, well, waves.  Yawn.  I’m not sure why the weather broadcasters are so frantic.  It’s called summer, people!  Remember when we had all that snow in February and March? I know that farmers in our area hope to save their crops from the deluge of rain we’ve gotten, but I just enjoy the warmth.

Every July, during what turns out to be the hottest weekend of the summer, the arts community in Baltimore throws a three-day festival they call “Artscape,” celebrating art of all kinds, visual, graphic, pottery, jewelry, glass, music, dance, and even culinary.  After all, what kind of festival doesn’t need food?  Last weekend, there were the usual hot dogs, grilled sausage, pizza, crab cakes, Boardwalk fries (doused with vinegar), funnel cakes, and even Thai and vegetarian specialties.

Tiny house from True North Guide Lab

Tiny house from TrueNorthGuideLab.com

But I wasn’t there to eat. I went to see my friend, Byron,  who was exhibiting and promoting his social enterprise model, featuring a micro-dwelling, or “tiny house” that he developed. His mission is to teach students the skills to build affordable housing for residences, businesses, studios, etc.  As Louis Sullivan, the great turn-of-the-century architect said, “form ever following function.”

During Artscape, Byron stayed in his tiny house, even when the temp hit 97, attracting all kinds of people, including a little boy from Honolulu who told me, “I’m going to build myself a tiny house and live in it.”

Tiny House becomes part of

Tiny House becomes part of “Artscape.”

If you’ve ever purchased anything at Ikea, you get the idea.  There’s simple beauty, innovative design, and economical construction.  Byron applies this idea to changing the way people consume resources, occupy space, and provide basic shelter.  Taking it one step further, he proposes to teach design and construction skills to young people who need it the most.  He explains it all on his company’s website, truenorthguidelab.com.

The Veterinarian would have loved a tiny house, which is the size of the first sailboat that we owned but with more headroom.  The walls are reinforced canvas over plywood. There’s the usual, large single berth for sleeping, a U-shaped settee and table that convert to another berth, and a three-burner cooktop.  Retractable solar panels provide energy for the LED lighting, stereo, and 12-volt fan.  As in marine design, there’s a place to stow everything, clothes, tools, food, supplies, cooking utensils.  Essentially, it’s smaller than my kitchen, which causes me brief guilt pangs about my carbon footprint.

Maybe he isn’t just educating youth; maybe he’s educating us about the excess of our lives, the flotsam and jetsam to which we’ve become addicted.  Friends were astounded when I wrote about my skillet collection in Pot Head.  Do I really need specialized cooking equipment that only gets used once or twice a year?  Do I really need eight whisks or 50 cookbooks?  Seven sets of china?  Dozens of glasses with specialized uses?

Could I prepare gourmet meals in a tiny house?  Well, yeah.  I’ve done it on boats, cooking on two-burner propane stoves with gimballed ovens.  I once met a French woman who sold crêpes (savory or dessert) from her 30’ sailboat anchored in the harbor of the Caribbean island of Bequia (one of the few places where the International Whaling Union sanctions traditional whaling with hand-thrown harpoons from small, open sailing dinghys, by the way).  In the afternoon, her husband would come by in a dinghy to take orders and return in the evening to deliver them.  Crêpe batter requires one mixing bowl, a fork or whisk, a small sauté pan, and one burner.  So simple.

On another sailing trip, halfway around the world on the beach of a tiny Thai island, I had the best shrimp tempura of my life, made by a woman cranking them out in one small sauté pan over a single propane burner.  Like the crêpemaker in Bequia, she used one mixing bowl for the batter and something to whisk it together.  There were a dozen of us gathered for dinner at an open-air grill, and she served us all in an efficient and timely manner, putting so-called “Iron” chefs to shame without a Ninja, Cuisinart, or electric deep-fryer (mine has gathered dust on the floor of my pantry closet for almost 20 years).

What kind of meals could I make in a tiny house with the one skillet?  Anything stir-fried (sayonara, wok).  Grilled sandwiches (arrivederci, panini grill).  Fajitas (adios, fajita griddle). Thinking completely off the top of my head, I probably could make an apple tart, if I topped it with something pre-baked, like shortbread (adieu, tarte tatin pan).  I’ve seen recipes in which fresh pasta is simmered in simple sauces, and my shrimp étouffée only takes one pan.  Even those old college standbys, hamburger stroganoff and tuna jambalaya (made with Rice-a-Roni — don’t judge it until you’ve tried it — I just can’t cook treats like Tournedos à La Vallière for myself every day, although it, too, could be done, laboriously, with just one pan).

No boat trip or visit to the tropics was ever complete without the Veterinarian’s version of the New Orleans classic, Bananas Foster.  In the Caribbean, there were bananas, butter, sugar, and rum in every port.  The ice cream was more problematic; it doesn’t always survive the dinghy trip from shore to boat successfully.  The same small boy in the Veterinarian’s heart, who would have loved living in a tiny house, also loved setting things on fire, but, for safety, he probably would have stepped outside it to flambé his dessert. In Mexico, he learned the showman’s trick of tossing the nutmeg into the flames to create “stars.” It was pretty spectacular on the back of a boat after sunset.

Flambéing terrifies me, so I light the rum with a long lighter or match, instead of using the stove’s flame to ignite it.  As I used to say to the Veterinarian in my best “schoolmarm” voice, “Be careful!”  Not only are the flames hazardous, but the hot syrup can produce a nasty burn.

Bananas Don

Bananas Don

Bananas Don – Serves 6

4 ripe bananas, peeled and sliced lengthwise and then in half, crosswise

¼ cup butter

½ cup dark brown sugar

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ cup orange-flavored liqueur, such as Grand Marnier or Triple-sec

½ cup dark rum

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

Vanilla ice cream

Have all ingredients mise en place (ie, measured and ready) before starting.

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter.  Stir in brown sugar and cinnamon until melted, smooth, and bubbly. Gently stir in the orange liqueur.  Add the bananas and gently cook on both sides until they start to soften, about two minutes.  Turn off the heat and remove from the burner.

Be careful!

Be careful!

Pour rum onto the top of the banana mixture and ignite with a lighter or long match.  Toss the nutmeg into the flames.  Carefully return the pan to the burner; gently swirl pan until flames die out.  If mixture is too thin, remove the bananas and cook the sauce down to the consistency of syrup.  Serve over ice cream.

[Note:  You can prepare the syrup through the addition of the orange liqueur, and carefully pour into a glass, heat-proof measuring cup or storage jar and keep in the refrigerator.  Reheat small amounts in a sauté pan, finishing with the bananas and rum.]


Leave a comment

Let the Grills Begin!

Father’s Day is upon us!  Summer is here and so is the traditional grilling season.  It used to be a novelty to cook outside before the advent of gas grills, when men did most of the grilling.  I remember my dad building charcoal fires and fanning flames.  He would terrify My Mother by shooting lighter fluid from the bottle at coals that wouldn’t catch fire properly.  I saw a man do that with a bonfire recently.  Ah, men.  Always the heart of 12-year old boys.  Gotta love ’em.  smh

Grilling Indoors

One of the reasons that we bought our house in 1981 was its indoor grill.  A modified A-frame, it was built in 1968.  The open brick chimney goes up through the central portion of the house, dividing the living room from the kitchen/dining area.  On the living room side is a raised hearth and fireplace.  On the other side is a built-in grill.  What a luxury in the winter or on a rainy day to build a charcoal fire and grill!  Or, for Thanksgiving or Christmas, to burn a log while we eat.

About 10 years ago, we won a fancy stainless steel gas grill and put it on the deck outside our back door. The charcoal grill is rarely used any more, because it’s so easy to pop out the back door and fire up the gas grill in any kind of weather, as easy as turning on the stove.  If I decide to have Caesar salad with grilled chicken, I just fire up the grill and make my one little chicken breast half.  I wouldn’t bother if I had to make a charcoal fire.

One of my favorite recipes translates especially well to grilling at home, at a picnic, or even on a boat. The chicken transports handily in its zippered plastic bag, and the mess of the marinade is easily disposable.  Anybody can make this chicken.  You can grill it on a grill or in a grill pan,  or even bake-and-broil it.

Here’s what it takes:

1 large zippered plastic bag

1 cup prepared Dijon-style mustard

¼ cup olive oil

2 teaspoons of your favorite hot sauce (I use 1 Tablespoon Tabasco); or to taste

6-8 chicken parts (meaty parts, like legs or thighs; I always use skinless, boneless breasts)

Gas, electric, or charcoal grill; stovetop grill pan; broiler pan for oven

Instant-read meat thermometer

ONE Tablespoon

ONE Tablespoon of Tabasco — you read that right.

In the plastic bag, combine mustard, oil, and hot sauce.  Add chicken parts and securely close.  Shake chicken in mustard mixture to coat thoroughly.  Place on a pie plate or glass baking pan and refrigerate for 2-6 hours.  The pie plate keeps your refrigerator from becoming a mess, should the bag leak, and gives you something to carry the chicken to the grill.

To grill:

Season cold grill or grill/broiler pan with a little vegetable oil.  Moisten a paper towel with a little oil and, holding the towel with tongs, wipe the grill.  Oiling the grate keeps the chicken from sticking.

Preheat gas grill or oven to 350° (convection oven to 325°) OR

Preheat grill pan for 1 minute on medium-high.

Remove chicken from plastic bag (melted plastic is toxic and too chewy, in case you didn’t know) and spread mustard coating evenly over chicken.

IMG_5290Place chicken parts on grill or in grill pan, cover, and grill for 7 minutes.  Turn 1/4 to make the “diamond-shaped” grill marks and grill 3 more minutes.

Wash out the pie plate so it’s clean for the cooked chicken.  Never put cooked chicken on a dirty plate.  (Google:  salmonella)

Turn chicken over, placing thickest part of chicken closest to the heat, but not directly over the flames and grill for 7 more minutes, or until thermometer inserted into the thickest part reads 160° for boneless breasts and 165° for thighs and breasts on the bone.  If it reads less than 160, clean the thermometer and cook the chicken a little longer.  (Again, Google:  salmonella)

Test until thermometer reads 160.

Cook until thermometer reads 160.

Serve with grilled vegetables and potato salad.  Or just a hearty green salad.  Overachiever that I am, in chilly weather, I serve it with toasted walnut risotto and asparagus roasted or grilled with garlic oil.  And lots of crusty bread with dipping olive oil.  And red wine (trust me on this) or a gigantic chardonnay.

Leftover chicken is delicious on a salad or mixed with a little mayonnaise into a salad or diced up in a cream or pesto sauce over pasta.  The possibilities are endless!


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.


2 Comments

Feelin’ Crabby

Chesapeake Swimmer

Chesapeake Swimmer

How ‘bout dem O’s, hon?  Baseball season started this week, and here, in Baltimore, it’s also the start of crab season, the crustacean, not the grass, although that is starting up, too, after a ghastly frigid winter.

Growing up in Michigan, my knowledge of fresh seafood was limited to fried lake perch and steelhead trout, the latter of which, by the way, is better than any salmon you’ll find in Alaska or Scotland.  Occasionally, you’d get frozen shrimp or scallops or, in the very best restaurants, you’d find a tank of cold water lobsters.  In the 70s, King crab and snow crab legs started showing up on seafood buffets, but the Veterinarian, a Virginia native, used to wax poetic about blue crabs, of which I’d never heard.

“Were they sweet?” I asked.  Yes.  “Did you swish them around in butter?”  No.  He told me they were steamed with a salty, spicy coating, unless they were soft, when they were gently sautéed in butter.  I couldn’t grasp what he was talking about.

One summer, when we were still in college, we made a car trip to Williamsburg, Virginia to visit his family. We ate all the local specialties, Smithfield ham and ham biscuits and peanut soup and, heaven forbid, cornbread loaded with sugar (the great debate of our marriage — sugar or no sugar in the cornbread).  Still, he was on a quest for crabs, which took us down the Colonial Parkway toward Yorktown, that flat bit of marshland where the British general, Charles, 1st Marquess of Cornwallis, surrendered King George III’s army to General George Washington, ending the war for independence.

The Veterinarian had childhood memories of a seafood restaurant called Nick’s Seafood Pavilion.  It was a quirkily elegant place of larger-than-life copies of Classical art and a vast menu of everything briny.  Not recognizing most of what I saw, I safely ordered the fried scallops.  My husband was beyond excited to have his fondest dreams come true; soft shell crabs were on the menu.  I knew he liked all manner of unusual food (he was the first person that I ever saw eat a whole lobster, and he ate really stinky cheese before stinky cheese was fashionable), but I had no idea what to expect.Nicks_Seafood_3

Our waitress brought me a beautiful platter of plump, delicately breaded and fried scallops.  I was oohing and aahing over them, when I was abruptly distracted by the platter she set in front of the Veterinarian.  It contained what I thought were two enormous insects that had been breaded and sautéed, a plate full of spindly legs.

“Oh, man!” he beamed.

“What happens now?”  I asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Where’s the shell?  How do you get the meat out?”

“The shells are soft, so you just cut them up and eat them.”  He picked up his knife and fork and started slicing through the delicate little body.  “As they grow, they shed their shells periodically, which makes them soft and vulnerable but really tasty.”

“Oh, dear God,” I mumbled and stared at my plate.  I couldn’t even watch the carnage.  “If those were crawling on land, people would be swatting them.”

“You want to try one?”  I looked up to see a spindly, battered leg hanging from his lower lip like a cigarette.

“Of course, not!  That’s disgusting!”soft shell crab sandwich

But a more disgusting consumption of soft shell crabs was yet to come.  Not long after we moved to Maryland, we went to lunch at a little restaurant on the Chesapeake Bay, where he ordered a soft shell crab sandwich, which is nothing more than a sautéed crab on lettuce and tomato, between two slices of white bread slathered with mayo.  And, yes, the legs hang out of the crusts of the bread, and you eat the whole thing.  Well, I didn’t, but he did, and he even taught the Daughter, who hails from Colorado (long story), to enjoy them.

In Maryland, eating steamed crabs has its own etiquette.  Newspaper or brown butcher paper is spread on a table, usually outdoors.  The crabs are steamed by the bushel-full in a crust of Old Bay spice (a blend primarily of salt, red pepper, celery salt, black pepper, garlic salt, white pepper, onion salt, paprika, and more salt) and dumped on the table, with their bright red bodies and legs and shriveled up black eyes staring at you.  Then, diners take sharp knives and wooden mallets to pry open the shell, crack open the legs and claws.  They scrape off faces (of the crabs, not the people) and the lungs and all that other slimy-looking gunk that only an experienced Marylander recognizes.  The process takes hours.  No kidding.  Hours.  You can sit down at 1 in the afternoon and still be sitting there at 8 in the evening.

Maryland Heaven

Maryland Heaven

Since I prefer not to dismember my food before eating, I am always the wet blanket at a crab feast for hours, a social problem that many transplants to Maryland never get over. If I’m lucky, there will be Silver Queen corn dripping in butter, maybe saltines, and, if the stars are aligned, there might be Maryland crab soup, or, if I’ve been living right, a crab cake or two.  If I can manage to look really pathetic, someone will pass me a lump of crabmeat, the prized nugget on the back of a crab.  There are only two per crab, so I must wait patiently for hours.  No one likes to give up their lumps.  Basically, I sit there for hours watching people play Whack-a-Crab for hours.  Did I mention how long it takes?

Traditionally, the Baltimoreans (not to be confused with the Baltimorons) crack open a Natty Boh (or something from my friends at Heavy Seas) to kill all that salt in the Old Bay and follow it all up with Berger cookies for dessert.  Any crabs that aren’t eaten are picked over for soup or crab cakes the next day.

You see, I love blue crab meat.  There is nothing better, but I simply cannot pick crabs by pulling off their spindly legs and ripping open their shells with my bare hands.  All through the long, cold winter, I dream about Crab Cakes (broiled, not fried, for me), Crab Imperial, Hot Crab Dip, Crab and Smithfield Ham, Crab Balls (no, crabs don’t have them, but you can make them), Crab Claws, Crab-Stuffed Rockfish, Cream of Crab Soup, Maryland Crab Soup, and Crab Quiche.  Now, if I can only understand the local fascination with lacrosse, I might become a true Baltimoron.  I already make the best crab cake in Bawlmer, hon, so, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!

Maryland, My Maryland Crab Cakes

Crab cakes are controversial around here.  Fried or broiled?  Binding or not?  Old Bay or not Old Bay?  That’s the question.  Well, if they’re Maryland crab cakes, I think they need just a tiny bit of Old Bay, but not so much that it overwhelms the sweet crabmeat.  I broil mine, because it seems a shame to turn any crabmeat into dry crusty flakes.  And, if you’re a genius cook, skip the binding.  I am an experienced cook but no genius.  I like a little soft bread crumbs to hold the thing together as it cooks, so it doesn’t ooze into a mess on the baking sheet or fall apart when you’re trying to plate them.

For a special treat, make a sauce by boiling down heavy cream to thicken it, and stir in a little prepared stone-ground mustard to taste.  I like mine just slightly tangy, a perfect complement to the sweet little cakes.  And fresh Silver Queen corn sweetens the deal as an accompaniment in the summer.

I’m sorry to say, if you can’t get fresh, blue crabmeat, the other stuff just doesn’t work.  Also, gently pick through the crabmeat to remove all remnants of shell, cartilage, seaweed, or other unsavory looking items.  Nothing worse than a mouthful of shell.

1 large  egg

½ cup    mayonnaise

1 tsp      Old Bay seasoning

½ tsp     ground pepper

1 tsp      fresh lemon juice or dry vermouth

1 tsp      Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp      garlic powder

1 pound jumbo lump blue crabmeat, well-picked over

1 slice   soft white bread, finely crumbed

Preheat regular oven to 400° or convection oven to 350°.  Prepare a baking sheet with butter, cooking spray, parchment, or a silicone liner, and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk egg until yolk and white are combined.  Whisk in mayonnaise, Old Bay, pepper, lemon juice, Worcestershire, and garlic powder until smooth.  Gently fold in crabmeat, taking care not to break up lumps.  Sprinkle bread crumbs over the surface of the mixture and very gently fold in.

For dinner-sized servings, scoop crab mixture into six mounds on the baking sheet.  Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes or until lightly browned.  If using a regular oven, you may need to run them under a broiler until lightly browned.

For cocktail-sized servings, scoop crab mixture into 12 mounds on the baking sheet.  Reduce baking time to 10 minutes or until lightly browned.

Optional Sauce:

1 pint of heavy cream

2 teaspoons of coarsely-ground mustard (or to taste)

Heat heavy cream in medium-sized skillet until boiling and thickened.  Stir in mustard and remove from heat.  Spoon onto serving plates and top with crab cake and optional cooked, Silver Queen corn kernels and sugar snap peas.


Leave a comment

With Every Xmas Card I Write…or Not

Advent starts on Sunday, so I guess I’d better finish those Christmas cards that I started on October 13, 2011.  Yeah, I’m slow but not that slow.  I took them with me to North Carolina on the ill-fated scuba trip and never got around to finishing them.   Gee.  I can’t imagine why.

Happy Thanksgiving from my nutty family!

Happy Thanksgiving from my nutty family!

Actually, I understand why I didn’t finish them in 2011, and I thought I could stretch the pity-factor into 2012, but by 2013, I had immeasurable guilt because I hadn’t written the two previous years.  Last year, I noticed that I received fewer cards than in the past, which saddened me, realizing that you reap what you sow, or in this case, you get what you send.

Unfortunately, I can tell from last year’s cards that three old friends still think that the Veterinarian celebrates the holidays on Earth, and I can’t quite figure out how to break the news to them.  Christmas is a brutal time to tell people that he celebrates with real angels now.  Of course, when would be a good time to tell them?  The bleak midwinter?  Easter? (Possibly.)  Halloween or All Saints?  OK.  I’m going to bite the bullet and send those grim messages prior to December 1.  No, really, I am.  I swear.  I’m going to send them.  Cross my heart and hope to —- well, that’s a bit inappropriate, don’t you think?

I love Christmas cards.  I even love Christmas letters.  I don’t care if you send me one of those ridiculous, snarky letters about your genius kids (grandchildren, now, I guess), adventure travel, luxury beach house or ski chalet, or even your yacht or motorhome that’s probably bigger than my house and sucks up more oil than my furnace did last winter.   I just want to know that you are alive and thinking of me, because I am absolutely thinking of you.  Perhaps we haven’t seen one another in 10, 20, even 30 years.  I don’t care.  I remember that you touched my life for good in some way.  If you treated me poorly, then I don’t remember you at all, but it still would be entertaining to hear from you.  Selective amnesia?  Perhaps.  But, as we age, we may not remember each other at all next year.

And if you aren’t as verbose or as attention-hungry as I am, don’t worry about not sending a letter.  Your signature in a pretty card celebrating any of the many holidays will do.  I’m happy to celebrate any occasion with you in any language, although I must admit, every year I eagerly await a Christmas letter from a certain dog from New Jersey.  Yeah.  You know who you are.

My cards will have the word “Christmas” in them, for sure, and probably wish you a Happy New Year, too.  You can’t get people to agree on peace and goodwill any other time of the year, but you can for a couple of weeks in December.  I’m happy with “Christmas” or even “Xmas,” as the early Christians did, or “Hanukah” or “Chanukah”.  Just don’t bother with “Season’s Greetings” because winter is not a season that I celebrate.  And really, no one puts up a “Seasonal Tree” (at least, I hope not).

Xmas Shrubbery in the shape of the United Kingdom

Xmas Shrubbery in the shape of the United Kingdom

Ah.  The Christmas tree.  I do like a pretty tree.  For many years, the Veterinarian had a client who raised nursery stock and always pruned one tree especially for us.  They were about 10 feet tall and stunning.  Then, the poor man had a tractor accident and gave up tending his nursery stock entirely.  We still went to his farm every year to cut down a tree.  By 2010, they were all well over 20 feet tall, so the Veterinarian would brazenly cut one down and remove the top 12 feet for our tree.  Can you imagine how that worked?  In 2010, the Daughter and I complained that we had moved into “Christmas Bush” territory.

For our first Christmas without him, in 2011, we went to a local nursery three days before Christmas and acquired a beautiful 9 foot spruce on sale for $30.  It was stunning, and it shed needles like crazy.  The next year, I bought a 9 foot artificial Douglas fir, which I can put up and take down by myself without hacking off limbs or trunks or wrestling with lights.  It’s every bit as pretty, doesn’t shed needles, and doesn’t need watering. By the time I’ve wept over every ornament, from my grandmother’s ornaments c.1935 into the 21st century, it doesn’t matter what they’re hanging on.  Christmas has arrived.

I’m not a Black Friday shopper.  My favorite shopping day is the last Saturday before Christmas.  The sales are even better, if you aren’t shopping for the latest electronic toy, and the first spring clothes (aka “resort wear”) are already appearing.  By that time in late December, I’m ready to start thinking of balmy breezes and palm trees and rum and Coke, not rum and eggnog.  I get to the mall just before it opens, when there’s plenty of parking and few shoppers.  I always leave by 11am, when the unruly hordes appear, i.e., men who left their shopping until the last minute.  I hope their significant others enjoy tropical prints, perfume, or Hickory Farms.  Of course, the wives of recalcitrant shoppers get good jewelry, because that’s all that’s left.

Well, I’d better put down the box of Puffed Wheat and get my yoga pants off the sofa.  The Zumba Gold dvd calls.  My Fitbit complained that I overate yesterday.  Shouldn’t have had that third slice of pizza just because I had wine left in my glass.  I recently finished off the Halloween candy and am facing Thanksgiving carb overload while the specter of eggnog breathes down my neck.  I’d better start shaking off the fat.

A prospective online date asked if I like to work out.  I said, “No, I don’t like to work out.  I hate it with a passion, but, even more, I hate Spanx and can never remember to suck in my stomach, so I work out.”  All of these dates want a woman “who keeps herself in shape.”  Have a look in the mirror, guys.  Speaking of which…

DATE UPDATE:  Last week’s date was interesting.  I quite carefully measured how long it would take the conversation to turn to me, and, as usual, it never did.  I’ll give him this, his stories about war, politics, and religion were entertaining, and our conversation was interesting.  Of course, I am almost never at a loss for words on any topic. After 90 minutes, he stopped in mid-sentence to comment, “You’re really smart.”

I smiled and said, “Oh, I know a little about a lot, just enough to make me dangerous.”  It went right by him, as he resumed his lecture.

When lunch was over, we took a turn around the adjacent art museum, which almost made it worthwhile.  Wandering through the museum’s world-famous collection of Impressionist and Expressionist art, amassed by a pair of Baltimore sisters, I commented, “Don’t you think it’s fascinating to see paintings collected by young women from Baltimore who just happened to make the acquaintance of the most renowned artists of their time?”  (For the sake of brevity, I paraphrase.)

He just shrugged and continued to talk about the state of the papacy, until, finally, an Andy Warhol canvas entitled “Rorschach” brought to his mind a peculiar story about being tested by the NSA (i.e., the National Security Administration) with ink blots.  Some of you may see where that went.  He was too matter-of-fact to be salacious, so I had to turn away to stifle my laughter, when I realized he was unaware that the young museum guard was startled by our graphic conversation.  Yeah, kid, some of us old folks are still aware of our body parts.

Last night, I had a lovely date with a man who also has interesting stories, and — are you sitting down? — he wanted to know all about me!  So, who am I to complain?  Happy Thanksgiving!  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!