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a blog about hope


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Pot Head

Blackened steakI was thinking about moving the other day.  As much as I love my house, which has taken 34 years to perfect, I’ve decided that it’s too much trouble for one little woman; the woodland pests (deer, ants, snakes), the icy gravel lane in the winter, the remote location.  The BFF and I really don’t need 11 rooms and three full baths.  I can’t get her to bathe enough, as it is, although she needs it, after chasing the aforementioned deer through the aforementioned woods all the muddy winter long.

I googled houses for sale in my neighborhood and found a solid brick rancher on a corner lot with a field across the road.  My imagination, as it usually does, went wild.  The price was great (sadly, it was a foreclosure).  A two-car garage and deck or terrace could be added.  The living room had refinished hardwood floors and a fireplace for my pellet stove.  There were no photos of the bedrooms or the two full and one half baths, but I imagined that they were serviceable, in a retro way.

Even the kitchen, with a recently installed stove and microwave and decent stainless sinks and faucet were usable.  The vinyl flooring was a mess.  No sweat to replace.  The refrig was missing.  No big deal.  I have a spare, if I have to use it.  The counter was a hideous red Formica.  Easily replaceable.  But I hesitated at the cabinets, which were plain, golden oak.  No trim.  No handles.  Probably strippable.  Probably paintable.  All things I have done a million times in my lifetime to other sketchy cabinets, but these cabinets were few…and far between.

I thought of my cooking equipment.  I thought of the number of cabinets in my own splendid kitchen and sighed.  Do I really want to return to the 1970s?  I have soooo much stuff, so many pans, so many gadgets, so much glassware and china and flatware and table linens.  Everything lovingly chosen for a specific purpose.  No “sets” with useless extras.

I could hang a pot rack again, but it wouldn’t hold everything.  I’d have to purge.  I gave a lot of things to The Daughter when she set up her own household, but there’s still so much stuff left in my conveniently-placed deep drawers and pull-out shelves.

I wouldn’t get rid of my two cast iron skillets.  One belonged to my grandmother and one was given to us as a wedding gift, holding a pineapple upside-down cake.  I use them both every week, and you can’t make a dark roux or blacken a steak or piece of fish in anything less substantial.  (Yes, I still blacken stuff, sometimes intentionally.)

Always blame the cook!

Always blame the cook!

I have two omelet pans, a Calphalon and a stainless-lined copper.  I already gave away a non-stick Calphalon omelet pan to The Daughter.  I blame The Veterinarian for those.  He was famous for his omelets and was always looking for the perfect pan.  I gave it to The Daughter because she makes omelets, and I don’t.

I have a non-stick 10” skillet and an enormous 12” Calphalon fryer with lid.  When I need that big pan, nothing else will do. I have a wok which I use more for deep-frying than as a wok.  I don’t deep-fry any more, but I wouldn’t part with it.  I have a cast-iron fajita grill and stove-top grill and a 12” griddle.  I might jettison the fajita grill.  It’s definitely superfluous.

That’s just the skillets.  Then, there’s the saucepans, stock pots, Dutch ovens, and gratin pans.  As outdated as they are, how could I part with my two remaining Club Aluminum saucepans, remnants of my earliest days of cooking?  You can really smash a potato masher into the larger of the two.  How could I part with the little Calphalon with the steamer insert, which, now that I’m cooking for one most of the time, is the perfect size?

Saucepans

My oldest saucepan was purchased with Gold Bell gift stamps.

I’ve ended up with two 3-quart Calphalon saucepans, thanks to the aforementioned woodland pests and, I suspect, bacteria.  I once carelessly left one of them unattended while I was boiling down some stock.  (Probably distracted by something stupid like the laundry or the BFF eating something inedible.)  The residue burned into the bottom of the pan so badly that I couldn’t get it out with soaking or steel wool.  It had become lumpy and completely unusable.  Thoroughly disgusted with myself, I threw the pan outside into the woodsy underbrush, where it lay for over a year.  (One of the many advantages of living in the woods without neighbors; you can chuck stuff into the brush.)  I trotted over to Target and bought another, this time, non-stick (so when it burns it will provide toxic fumes).

When the reject reappeared, in an accusatory manner, in the dead of winter, I retrieved it and was surprised to find that the black residue was gone.  I don’t want to know where or why.  I filled it with water, boiled it for 10 minutes, carefully observing it this time, and voilà!  Now, I have two 3-quart saucepans, one with a clear glass lid and one with a lid that strains the contents.  Both are useful, so neither is redundant, right?

The Italian gratin pan is a work of art.

I have two stainless-lined copper saucepans with lids and one solid copper for making candy (again, I blame the Dearly Departed for the excess).  There’s the enameled double-boiler, which also is small enough to make the perfect stovetop-to-oven casserole for one little woman.  There’s the Le Creuset Dutch oven in which I always make my butternut squash soup and Julia’s Boeuf à la Bourguignonne and a domed Dutch oven for my pot roast.  Don’t ask me to choose!  Same with my two stock pots, both of which have strainer inserts and one has a steamer basket.  I always strain my stock from one pot into the other.  How else could I make a clear stock?

I have two beautiful copper gratin pans, both works of art, especially the Italian one with the acorns on the handles, a spectacular gift from old friends.  I never part with works of art.

I have two roasting pans, one of which holds a 25-pound turkey on a rack.  What else could I use, once a year, on Thanksgiving?  Not that I’m roasting 25-pound turkeys these days, but, it could happen, couldn’t it?

I must not be the only one with a pan fetish.  The vacation condo that I stay in on Grand Cayman came equipped with a basic set of pans, two sizes of saucepans, two sizes of skillets, and a Dutch oven.  For the past three years, I’ve noticed that the other co-owners have added two skillets, a stock pot, and a roasting pan, some of questionable quality, I must say.  None of us is there for longer than three weeks, so you’d think the basic assortment would be sufficient.  I didn’t contribute to the pan collection, but I bought better knives and wine glasses.  First things first, I always say.  Now, if I could get them to replace the glass-topped electric stove with gas burners…

Yeah, my knife (not to mention sharpener) and stemware collections are subjects for other days.  I blame the Veterinarian for those fetishes, too.  How convenient!

DATE UPDATE:

I have been mostly inactive on the dating site.  I did receive the following email,

“Enjoyed reading your profile. It made me laugh, multiple times. 1st and last paragraphs are exceptionally honest, the others somewhat challenging. Understand not playing games, but playing nice may prove beneficial. But what do I know.”

He’s “currently separated,” so, probably, not much.  I answered,

“Thanks for the commentary!  I don’t know how to be less than honest.  I was with one man for 42 years and have no clue what men are looking for.  I can only be me.”

Pointlessly, he replied, “Sorry for the unsolicited commentary. It seemed you were a little frustrated and the scammers seem to pick up on that. It just takes a little time to get the hang of online dating, at least that has been my experience.”

I am happy to say that my profile seems to have deterred the scammers, as I have heard from just one in the past two weeks.  His profile name contained the words “sugary” and “muffin.” Before I ever read it — because, why would you read anything written by a man describing himself as baked goods? — his profile became “unavailable,” meaning that some other exasperated woman beat me to reporting him.  Get a load of what he wrote:

“Hello,
I pray that this letter meets you in good health. I really enjoyed reading your profile & everything you have to say about yourself …. I am a gentleman as respectful and considerate as I am passionate and focused. The most virile men, I think, are the ones that combine a steel core of resilience in adversity with a loving devotion to wife and family, and who want their families to be truly happy. [Points for that.] The small things matter: warmth, good conversation, and fun, the capacity to give and receive and to experience…I would appreciate it, if you could contact me on my personal email, so that i will contact you at my convenient and tell you more about me, my family and work…I’m not into finding girls in bars or parties i believe people i find here are responsible and are searching for the same thing. I humbly urge you to find time and convey your reply back to me .
Warm regards,
Dave
PS.. I went through your profile and pictures and I was like wow ,YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL, Quite enchanting!!!!!”

“Enchanting.”  No one ever uses that word any more outside of Disney films.  I am quite taken with the idea that I could be “enchanting.”  I don’t think of myself as an “enchanter.”  I’m more the “annoyer” or the “defender.”  My enchantments would be more like the seductive Siren than the hapless Helen of Troy;  more luring ships to the rocks than launching them to my rescue.

Maybe I am challenging on the outside, but, honestly, on the inside, I’m really a cream puff, full of sweet crème anglaise, gently thickened in the perfect double-boiler.  Cooking is quite sensual, obviously, which is why I just can’t part with my pots and pans or my kitchen.  They’ve served me faithfully, so, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!


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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.


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Happy Easter to all my Peeps!

Peeps!

Peeps!

Spring may or may not be upon us, but Peeps have been in my kitchen for about a month.  I remember when Peeps came in one shape (chicken) and one color (yellow).  On their website, the Peeps folks offer a year-round explosion of squishy rabbits, ghosts, pumpkins, reindeer, snowmen, Strawberry crème hearts, and sour watermelon and blue raspberry flavors, in colors like turquoise and lavender.

I’m a traditionalist.  Mine are yellow, and they are chickens.  Of course, they’re chickens, they’re Peeps!  Did you ever hear a rabbit “peep?”   Mine are purchased far enough in advance (and on sale the day after Easter) to become dry and crispy on the edges.  Of course, you can speed up the drying process by slightly slitting open the package.  Unfortunately, then I can hear them peeping at me.

Last week, I posted this on Facebook:

“OH, NO!  The package of Peeps has been opened!  Why did I do that?”

30 of my crazy friends wrote to agree with me.  Well, not all 30 are crazy.  I was surprised to find that even my most staid friends agree that the best Peeps are aged Peeps.  But, as my cousin said,

“Some are always willing to be eaten before their time.”

I’m a woman who has eaten in many Michelin-starred restaurants (for lunch, when it’s cheaper and seems incredibly more chic to be indulging in a leisurely lunch and a bottle of wine at mid-day), but a finely aged, sugar-coated, airy confection rivals the finest meringues, and I do love meringues.

I once had dinner with about eight veterinarians at the now-shuttered Le Bec Fin in Philadelphia.  My friend, a Philadelphia native and holder of multiple graduate degrees, had been intimidated to eat there, but, she thought, if she could get the globe-trotting Veterinarian and me to go with her and her delightful husband, she could cross it off her bucket list.  As we were in town for a conference, she started adding people to the reservation, telling them (as you sometimes must do with veterinarians),

“You have to wear a jacket and tie, cowboy boots are ok.  It’s going to be expensive, but you can afford it, and I don’t want to hear any complaining, because this means a lot to me.”

(I love her.  She’s as direct as I am.)

We had a riotous time from the get-go.  In that elegant bastion of Frenchness in the wilds of urban America, where the menu was entirely in French, the maître d’ was gracious and accommodating and, by the end of the evening, was telling us jokes.  At the end of a dinner made excellent by the company of friends and great service, the dessert trolley rolled up to the table, boasting every manner of sweet imaginable, and about six different meringue-based confections.  I asked the waiter,

“Which meringue do you recommend that I have?”

“I recommend that Madame has one of each.”

And I did.  It rivals the time I was served 10 different chocolate desserts at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago and the pistachio nougat on a pool of dark chocolate that the waiter in Dijon referred to as “dessert before dessert.”  (We had pre-ordered the Grand Marnier soufflé, which followed the nougat and preceded the petits fours which preceded the chocolate truffles.)

So, yes, I know my food.  And I know my Peeps.  They should be served aged, slightly crispy, and eaten rapidly.  A friend of mine says they’re great toasted over an open fire, but I don’t think I could bear to see my little friends go up in flames.

DATE UPDATE:

Let’s play match.com’s daily dating game “Which Do You Like?”Match game

The guy with a woman draped around his neck or the guy propped up on bed pillows.  Skip.

The guy in funky, Elton John eye wear with Rip Taylor hair or the unshaven guy taking a selfie of himself in a mirror but staring at the ceiling.  Skip.

The cute guy with a profile that could have been written by a four-year old or the serial killer squinting at the camera.  Hmmm.  This is a tough one.  The cute guy would be nice to look at for a couple hours, but I fear that his 12-year old self would monopolize the conversation.  Or, worse, that it’s a scammer.  Oh, well, let’s go with Cute Guy.  He won’t respond, anyway.

There are no winners in this game.  Of the many times that I have looked at a photo, made my choice, and written to someone, only two have responded.  One guy said, “We are not a match,” and the other said, “I am cruising on my sailboat and out of the country for the next two months.”  As the “experts” recommend, I am always polite and brief and ask a knowledgeable question about one of their interests that requires more than a “yes” or “no” answer.

For example, if you say you are a wine aficionado, I might ask, “Which wine do you like with turkey?“ because there are a lot of acceptable variables.  Could be a white.  Could be a red.  He could be a traditionalist or could be thinking out of the box (not of wine, I hope).  And wouldn’t I be an interesting date with whom to talk about wine?  Or food?

Or, if your profile photo is taken in front of the Eiffel Tower, “What is your favorite museum in Paris?” because I’m not wasting time with someone who would go all the way to France and not step into one of its many fine museums.  And wouldn’t I be an interesting date with whom to talk about art?  Or Paris?

Or, if you claim to be a pilot, I will ask, “Which airport has the best $100 hamburger?” because every general aviation pilot knows the joke about spending $100 in gas to fly to an airport to have a hamburger.   And wouldn’t I be an interesting date with whom to talk about aviation?  Or hamburgers?

Hmmm…maybe I should try dumber questions.  I bet these are guaranteed to get me a date.

To the guy who’s a homebody and likes to snuggle in front of a fire, “Would you like to take a nap on my comfy sofa while I clean the kitchen after I fix you a four-course dinner?”

To the guy in his alma mater’s sweatshirt holding a football, “Would you tell me all about that winning touchdown you made in high school?”

To the shirtless guy in swim trunks on a beach, “Want to compare tan lines?”

Finally, I have a word of advice for a particular gentleman who wasted my time for nearly three weeks:

If you initiate contact with me by commenting on my profile photos like a man besotted, writing “I would love to meet you” and “You are beautiful; let’s share a bottle of wine” and “You and your dog are beautiful; I could kiss you both” and you IM and email me multiple times with extensive information about yourself and your children and how compatible we are, and if I should respond favorably to all of this, and if you set up a future date with me, and if you subsequently never write to me again to confirm the date that YOU offered and don’t respond to my very brief inquiry (“Which wine should I have with my pizza, or should I look elsewhere?”) and if I google you and find out that you were lying about your age and, I suspect, your marital status, just know that the soft, warm breath of my dear friend, Karma, is breathing down your neck.

And with Karma for a friend, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!


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Cooked by the Book

How did you learn to cook?  Maybe you didn’t.  Some people learn from their mothers, but My Mother wasn’t very experimental.  She knew what she knew, and that’s what she cooked.  She made the usual comfort food, pot roast, fudge, and spaghetti.  She also made foods unique to where I grew up in Detroit, like stuffed cabbage with sauerkraut and City Chicken, and food from her old Kentucky home that no one north of the Mason-Dixon line had seen in the 1950s, like cooked eggnog, Red Velvet cake, and unsweetened cornbread.  She only owned one cookbook, Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook, so my exposure to international cuisine was limited.

The book that started it all for me.

The book that started it all for me.

The summer that I got married (1972), I worked for a lady who had traveled the world and who insisted that I needed a copy

of The Joy of Cooking, the 1971 edition of the classic by Irma Rombauer.  I had never heard of it and found it daunting, as I leafed through it.  Make my own stock?  What was wrong with Campbell’s soup in a can?  Béarnaise sauce?  What was tarragon?  Pâté à choux?  Cabbage paste? They seemed so exotic.  So time-consuming.  So uncomfortable.

The Veterinarian knew how to cook bacon, eggs, and that mid-Atlantic mystery food of his childhood, scrapple (Rapa-brand, of course).  His mother made the food of her Virginia childhood, fried chicken, fried chicken livers, and scrambled eggs with shad roe (the accompaniment to the scrapple).  She passed along to her son her mother’s recipe for chip dip, cream cheese flavored with Worcestershire sauce.

Armed with Joy of Cooking and the current edition of Betty Crocker, we set up housekeeping.  Within months, we gave our first dinner party for another couple.  We decided to have ham (because who can’t heat up a ham?), scalloped potatoes, a vegetable that escapes memory, and cheesecake for dessert.  From Betty Crocker, I had learned to make a medium white sauce for the potatoes, and the results were a revelation of creaminess.  The cheesecake was an easy recipe from my best friend’s mother.  I put the softened cream cheese in the blender with the eggs, sugar, and vanilla, and, when it stuck to the sides of the jar, I scraped it down with a wooden spatula, WHILE THE BLENDER WAS RUNNING.

That’s right, at our first dinner party, we served a dessert with extra fiber, wood chips.  We ran it through a sieve and were able to get out the big chunks.  I was near hysteria, until The Veterinarian pointed out that the graham cracker crust disguised the very tiny splinters that were left.  After all, he reassured me, the spatula was clean, and the wood was organic.  Washed down with enough Blue Nun wine, our dinner was a success.  (And the other couple remain dear friends after 42 years.)

Soon, we branched out.  We couldn’t afford to dine out often, so we cooked for ourselves.  There was lots of trial and error, but, mostly, we found that, with regular practice, cooking wasn’t so hard.  We watched Julia Child, Graham Kerr (the Galloping Gourmet), and a wacky minister who went by the name “Frugal Gourmet.”  We delved into that Joy of Cooking, whose step-by-step directions and explanations of buying and storing food revealed techniques and tastes that we had never imagined.  We started cooking with wine, real wine, not that salty stuff labeled “Cooking Wine.”  We started drinking better wine, too.

Old friends

Old friends

Then, I acquired a copy of Julia’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and we were off and running into heart disease territory.  I can still reproduce her signature Boeuf à la Bourguignonne, Carottes Vichy, and Coquilles St. Jacques à la Parisienne without looking at the recipe.  The Veterinarian perfected Vichysoisse [btw, you pronounce the final “s” because an “e” follows it — don’t let a snooty waiter bully you into saying, “Vishyswa”] and turning ordinary granulated white sugar and water into the perfect golden syrup for Crème Renversée au Caramel.  [Helpful hint:  Use a microwave.]

We acquired even more cookbooks, such as Pierre Franey’s 60-Minute Gourmet, which taught us to cook efficiently with fresh ingredients, and Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible, which explained the chemistry of baking.

Within 10 years, we were full-fledged foodies.  As we began to travel, restaurants famed and unknown were always on our must-sees.  We returned home to reproduce our favorite dishes either from memory or from their cookbooks, such as Union Square Café  in NYC (for the Tuna Burger and Garlic Potato Chips), The Inn at Little Washington (for the Butter Pecan Ice Cream and Caramel Sauce), Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen (Etouffée and Blue Cheese Dressing), The Ivy in London (Roast Poulet des Landes), and Hawaii’s Roy’s (Chocolate Soufflé).

The two very best recipes came from Chef Cindy Wolf of Baltimore’s Charleston.  She shared her stock and lobster bisque recipes, which The Veterinarian adapted and left me.  Yep, he actually left lobster and veal stock and a Paul Prudhomme gumbo in the freezer, proving you can’t take it with you.

We also created and adapted traditional recipes.  He used melted butter and added coconut to Toll House cookies to give them more crunch, and I used almonds in the graham cracker crust and folded in beaten egg whites to the filling of the classic Key Lime Pie recipe.  Over the years, we learned that there is no kitchen disaster that can’t be remedied, even if it ends up in the trash 10 minutes before your guests arrive.  The cheese course becomes the appetizer or the dessert, or, maybe the main course, if you turn it into fondue or pasta.

With the advent of Google, there is almost no recipe that you can’t find online.  In fact, you can find hundreds of recipes for the same dish and can pick and choose between them to create a unique version.  I learned to make my own Tom Kha Gai soup that way and have lowered the fat in the Cheesecake Factory’s Louisiana Chicken Pasta.

Some things never change.  I still use the Betty Crocker fudge recipe that My Mother used.  I still make the best real Red Velvet cake with Buttercream Frosting and an awesome stuffed cabbage with sauerkraut.  I’ve adapted the City Chicken to simmer in white wine and veal stock, unheard of in 1950s Detroit kitchens, and I actually learned to make that pâté à choux to reproduce Detroit’s favorite Sanders’ Hot Fudge cream puff shells.

Several years ago, a friend gave me a vintage copy of The Joy of Cooking, which started The Veterinarian collecting them.  Imagine my surprise to find, in the 1931 edition, the recipe for his grandmother’s cream cheese chip dip.  It survived the 1943 edition, but, by 1971, it had disappeared, maybe because it says to spread the mixture on the potato chips.  Who in their right mind would do that?  Not even the most ardent foodie, I suspect.  [Hint:  Stir a little milk into the softened cream cheese, add a few drops of Worcestershire and some grated onion, and the mixture will be thin enough to serve with chips.  Wouldn’t Irma Rombauer be surprised to know that it’s my good luck charm whenever the Baltimore Ravens play?]

DATE UPDATE:

My one month trial to chemistry expired, so the site “treated” me to a free month.  When I declined to renew my match subscription, they offered me three free months.  Good.  I’ll still have something to write about.

This morning alone, the scammers are either cloning each other, or there’s just one guy or gal with a lot of time on their hands.  The theme is “I will love to know you better [sic], as long as you have a pulse”, although I suspect that may be optional, if I, the “lonely” little widow, can provide access to my bank account.  You be the judge.

It’s not the distance that’s the potential problem.  It’s your multiple personality disorder:

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His profile disappeared because someone else complained about him before I opened the email.

From a man whose name leads me to believe that he is not the Catholic that he claims to be in any way, shape, or form:

Anything with a pulse

Anything with a pulse

From a man who is only slightly more discriminating, but pulse may be an option in the 105-year old date:

105?

105?  Really?  I’m soooo flattered to be included!

Finally, we can agree that this guy is still a “boy”:

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Well, I’m not lonely enough for that, so, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!