Saturday, July 30, 2011

Me vs. Blogger - I lose!

I just wanted to fix some spacing errors in my latest post.  Is that too much to ask?   I guess I should have left well enough alone.  Blogger has a habit of inserting extra spaces into my posts at random.  Usually I can open the "Edit HTML' tab and fix things, but in tonight's battle,  Blogger kicked my a**.  

Rather than removing the eroneous spaces, it removed the formatting for the first page of my blog.  Not the entire blog, mind you, just the first page.  Every attempt to recover the formatting just made matters worse.  I'll spare you all the ranting and cussing and fist-pounding - but I eventually had to reconstruct the entire post and delete the original, which means I lost all the comments. 

I know that seven of you had taken the time to leave me a thought, and I appreciate it.  I had read all the comments before they disappeared, and they were still in my reader, so I was able to re-post them under my own name.  It looks a little odd, but at least they're not gone completely.   Please don't think that I intentionally deleted you.  It's just that sometimes Blogger really sucks, bless it's heart!

La cuisine française

Paris in July is coming to a close and I saved the best for last - food!  When I signed up to participate in this month-long dip into all things French, I joked that my French food knowledge was limited to cafe-au-lait, croissants and pie a la mode.  Howeveras I searched for recipes, I discovered that we eat more French food than we realized.

Haricots Vert a la Creme are simply green beans in a white sauce (bechamel) just like my mom and grandma made each summer when we had fresh beans from the garden.

Pommes de Terre Sautees would be called "fried potatoes" at our house though, technically, they are sauteed.  Saute - To cook over high heat in a small amount of fat in a sauté pan or skillet.  I also add onion.

Pate a Choux is the dough for creme puff shells.  I once made over 300 shells for a graduation reception (we stuffed them with a variety of fillings - savory and sweet), so I'm very familiar with that recipe.

Creme Patissiere 
is a basic custard like I use to fill the Pate a Choux or as the base for coconut- or banana-cream pie.

For my attempts at trying some new French recipes, I got ideas from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking  and Ina Garten's Food Network specieal, Barefoot in Paris.  My goal was to find recipes that were not too expensive (fillet mignon), too time-consuming (cassoulet) or that did not require too much oven time on a 100 degree day.  Here is what we sampled:

Ratatoulle - Eggplant casserole with tomatoes, onions, peppers and zucchini.  Great summer dish to use all the fresh ingredients from your garden.  We didn't raise eggplant or zucchini, so I had to get some help from the grocer, but still delicious.  (Recipe can be found on page 504 of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol.1)  Julia suggests that, as the casserole is "strongly flavored" it best accompanies plain roast or chicken.  We paired it with...

Biftek Hache' a la Lyonnaise - Ground beef with onions and herbs.  Would most likely be called "hamburger steak" in an American diner.  Hamburger is mixed with sauteed onions, egg and seasoning, shaped into patties, dusted with flour, sauteed, and served with a sauce made from the pan drippings and either beef stock or wine.  (MTAOFC, Vol. 1, p. 301)

Roti de Porc Poele (casserole-roasted pork) served with Sauce Moutarde a la Normande (mustard sauce with cream).  Again, the meat is traditional - a pork roast, lightly seasoned, browned first then finished in the oven. (Yes, I caved and let the oven run for two hours.  Fortunately we were having a slightly cooler day.) The adventure was in the sauce which consists of the meat juices, vinegar, cream, mustard and butter.  Once the cream is added, the sauce is simmered for about 8 minutes.  I think I let the temperature get a bit too high and the cream separated, making for a strange-looking sauce, but the flavor was still ok.  Actually, we were disappointed that there wasn't more flavor to the sauce.  The mustard didn't come through very well.  (MTAOFC, Vol. 1, p. 382)

Crepes with Creme Patissiere and fresh berries.  Yum!  That's all, just yum!

And my favorite (well, except the crepes, duh!):

Herb-baked Eggs 
(Recipe from Ina Garten)

1/4 t. chopped thyme
1/4 t. chopped rosemary

1/4 t. chopped garlic
1 T. chopped 1 T. parmesan cheese
Combine and set aside.

6 eggs - yolks left whole, divided into two bowls (3 eggs per serving)

In bottom of individual ramekins (approximately 6" across), place 1 t. butter and a splash of cream (adjust to your tastes).  Place under broiler for about 3 minutes or until it becomes bubbly and brown.

Remove from oven and gently slide three eggs into each ramekin and season with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle 1/2 of herb mixture onto each serving.  Return to broiler for about 5 minutes, until egg whites are just set.  Serve with toasted baguette.

The size of the dish you use is key to the success of this recipe.  The ramekins I have are slightly too small, which means it took longer for the egg whites to cook, which meant the yolks began to set.  The idea is for the yolks to still be runny.  The eggs were still De-Lish!, but not quite what they should have been.  Guess I'll just have to run to Target for some larger dishes!  I hate when that happens!

This post is part of Weekend Cooking, hosted by Beth Fish Reads

Paris in July is a month-long event sponsored by Tamara @ Thyme for Tea and Karen @ BookBath

Comments were accidently deleted and have been reconstructed as best I could.  

Friday, July 29, 2011

New Review Policy and Some Southern Charm

Bless your heart - phrase used by Southern women to excuse themselves for speaking ill of someone else.  As in "She's as ugly as a mud fence, bless her heart."  (Urban Dictionary)

All my attempts to review Chasing Fire by Nora Roberts felt like they should end with "bless her heart".  Not that it's a bad book - I enjoyed it.  It's just that it's Nora Roberts and this is bestseller number 4,295,974.  There's really nothing left to say.

Even the professionals, while not panning the book, struggled to say something original.

Publishers Weekly: "Roberts fans can expect another bestseller." 
Barnes and Noble:  "Nora Roberts at her best."
Library Journal:  "another enthralling romantic thriller"
Kirkus Reviews:  "hair-raising smoke-jumping sequences along with the obligatory thrills, sex and a mystery even the greenest armchair sleuths will be able to solve"

So, I am implementing the Prolific Author Review Policy on our blog.  In future, when I read the newest link in a well-known author's chain of bestsellers - unless it is a total break from their usual style - I will not be writing a full review.  Rather, I'll just let you know that the author is still alive, I read their book, all is well.  It will save you the hassle of skimming past my review and hitting delete, bless your heart.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Good Night and Good Luck

I am sad today.  As most of you already know - and by "most of you" I mean "those of you who actually look at the news more than once a week and don't rely on blog posts for all your information" - Borders/Waldenbooks stores are closing.  That just makes me sad.

I know, it's a "sign of the times".  E-readers are the future of book publishing.  On-line mega-marts are the current, convenient way to shop.  But, I don't want to be current.  I want to touch the glossy paper, feel the weight in my hand, turn it over to read the blurbs, flip through the pages.  I want my Waldenbooks!

But Tami, you can find those things at any book store or library.  What's so special about Waldenbooks?  I'm glad you asked.  I have lived my entire life in the Midwest - Kansas, Colorado, and Nebraska.  Not the high-population areas like Wichita, Denver or Omaha, but out in the sparser sections, where things tend to be fewer and farther between.  Where there's not a shopping center on every corner, and going shopping is a bit more intentional than dashing to the mall between stops at the dry cleaner and the grocery store.  It is not unusual for us to live 100 miles or more from even the smallest mall.

When we make that trek "to town", after making our extensive list and checking it twice because we may not be back for a couple weeks; after driving to Wal-Mart, two grocery chains and Walgreens looking for the only anti-itch shampoo that works; after searching to hell-and-gone for "that car part store out there on the west side.  You know, right by that place that used to be a Mexican restaurant, just past the John Deere dealer. You can't miss it," to pick up some thingamajig Hubby needs; after a full day of arguing over back-to-school shoes and violent video games and "No, that shirt is not appropriate for a twelve-year-old!" . . . there it was.  The promised land at the end of the mall.  The Holy Grail of all-day shopping incursions. Waldenbooks!  Leave the kids at the arcade with every quarter in your purse, forget the defrosting groceries in the car, just give me fifteen minutes of silence to absorb the pure joy that is (or was) Waldenbooks.

But wouldn't any bookstore give you that same rush?  Yes, but there weren't any other bookstores.  Waldenbooks stores were a staple in the malls of rural America, or at least my part of it.  Their competitors were a "big city" thing.  

The decline of that trend has not totally passed me by.  I have been surprised several times recently, when shopping an unfamiliar mall during our travels, to turn for the expected Waldenbooks and be disappointed.  It's like reaching for your glasses on the nightstand to find them missing.  "But it has to be there.  It's always there."  I have also noted the rise of Hastings stores in smaller towns, and they're almost as good but - because they also carry music, video games, and movies - they are "a store with a great book section" rather than a "bookstore".  Same contents, different atmosphere.

The kicker to all this whining is that the closing of Borders/Waldenbooks stores does not directly affect the availability of books for me.  Because we recently moved to the east end of Nebraska, we are closer to the "big city".  
The closest Waldenbooks is eighty-five miles from Green Acres.  Within that same approximate radius, I still have Barnes and Noble in Lincoln (85 miles), Topeka (88) and Council Bluffs (88).  There are also Hastings stores in St. Joe (65 miles) and Topeka, as well as in both towns where our kids go to college.  I will not be without the occasional bookstore fix.

What I will be without is yet another piece of my history, and it's getting tiresome.  I know I'm sounding a bit like an old geezer - "Back in the good old days we had a bookstore in every mall.  We didn't have those new-fangled on-line stores.  We had real stores where you could touch the books, kick the tires, see what we were buying." - but I don't want progress, I don't want change, I just want my Waldenbooks!

"Gentlemen, an old soldier salutes you and bids you farewell." -  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventures of Gerard

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Paris in July: Film and Fiction

Though vacation detoured me briefly, I am still on my virtual tour of France.  This week I am combining parts two and three of my planned four-part journey (music, movies, books, food).  I elected to read Chocolat by Joan Harris and Mrs 'Arris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico.

Chocolat:  The overview of Chocolat found on Barnes and Noble's web-site describes the story this way . . .
In tiny Lansquenet, where nothing much has changed in a hundred years, beautiful newcomer Vianne Rocher and her exquisite chocolate shop arrive and instantly begin to play havoc with Lenten vows. Each box of luscious bonbons comes with a free gift: Vianne's uncanny perception of its buyer's private discontents and a clever, caring cure for them. Is she a witch? Soon the parish no longer cares, as it abandons itself to temptation, happiness, and a dramatic face-off between Easter solemnity and the pagan gaiety of a chocolate festival.
. . . which begs the question, "Did we read the same book?"  While there is nothing totally false in that description, it misses the essence of the story.  It is about finding balance, about public persona vs. private desires, about secrets and acceptance and freedom.  Seeing as the book is over ten-years-old, I'm assuming most of you have either read it or seen the movie.  If not, do it right now - I'll wait. . . . . .  

As far as how it applies to the Paris in July theme, it really doesn't.  Although it's set in France, it doesn't need to be.  Other than the fact that "chocolat" sounds so much sexier than the English pronunciation, the story is universal.  

Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris:  I try to avoid cliches when writing reviews, but my mental thesaurus is stuck on "delightful" to describe this book.  I know...makes you want to run, screaming, for...well, for whatever it is you run screaming for when something is sickeningly sweet.  But that's really not a complete description.

Mrs. 'Arris (that's Harris with some variation of British accent) is a charwoman (or cleaning lady) in London - sixtyish, widowed, making a meager living.  When she sees a dress designed by Christian Dior in her client's apartment, she deems it the most beautiful thing she's ever seen and decides that, regardless of impracticality and enormous price-tag, she must have one.  Her determination to pinch pennies finally allows her the trip to Paris to select her dress.  Every review I've read talks about the people she meets on this trip and how she affects their lives - which is a good story - but, I think the real lesson is in Mrs. 'Arris's reaction to the unfortunate events when she returns.  Although quiet and sweet and delightful, this is also an eloquent story about finding true beauty.

This was a re-read for me, and I knew going in that the Paris setting isn't really important.  She could just as easily been headed to Milan for an Armani gown.  So, as a choice for Paris in July, perhaps not the best, but I love this story and will take any excuse to visit Mrs. 'Arris.   Paul Gallico actually wrote four books involving Mrs. 'Arris and I am currently reading number two, Mrs 'Arris Goes to New York.  I'm sure you'll want to mark your calendars or your Blackberry or whatever it is people mark as a reminder these days, to check back for my review.

Both of these books have been made into movies and, as usual, I think the books are better.  However, in the case of Mrs. 'Arris, only slightly.  Angela Lansbury as Mrs. 'Arris was plucked directly from my imagination.  Perfect casting!  

Movies: As far as other French-related movies, one win, one loss.  I watched Funny Face and An American in Paris.  Not a fan of Funny Face!  Audrey Hepburn may have claimed (via lip-synch) I Could Have Danced all Night in My Fair Lady, but don't confuse stamina with talent.  Partnering with Fred Astaire would be daunting for even the best dancer, so she really didn't stand a chance from the start.  And her dancing was much better than her singing.  Also, the idea of a 58-year-old Astair and a 28-year-old Hepburn as a couple just didn't work.  The gorgeous costumes by Edith Head were the saving grace of this lack-luster film.  

An American in Paris, was a much bigger hit with me.  Gene Kelly may be the suavest (is that a word?) man ever.  Suave: displaying smoothness and sophistication in manner or attitude.  That is Gene Kelly in a nutshell.  He even walks with grace.  I could watch him dance all night!  Once again (I'm detecting a theme) the Paris setting was almost an afterthought, at least as far as inspiring me to go there.  But I do now have a burning desire to tapdance on a grand piano.

Paris in July is a month-long event sponsored by Tamara @ Thyme for Tea and Karen     @BookBath

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Dreaded Vacation Slide Show

Sorry to disappoint, but I've decided to forego the customary tedious showing of vacation photos.  You put up with enough of my endless rambling - looking at all 170 photos would be above and beyond.  The two photos below pretty much sum it up.
The three ladies and two kids on/near the steps belong to us, but this photo is really just to show you the beautiful setting where the reunion was held.   One branch of the family lives in this community and we were able to use their pool and clubhouse facilities.  Perfect!
And this is us.  Left to Right:  Steph (Dave's sister), Amy (our oldest), MacKenzie (Mitch's girlfriend), Mitch (son), Zerrik (grandson), Trey (grandson), me, Dave, Amanda (daughter), Kate (niece), Layton (Amanda's boyfriend).

I'm actually not much of a camera person.  In fact, at the moment the only cameras we own are the ones on our phones. These shots came from Laura, the family photographer, via Shutterbug.  I have found that when I try to preserve an event in photos or videos, I usually end up missing most of the event itself, so I store my memories in my head and rely on the generosity of those more talented.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Round 'Em Up and Head 'Em Out . . .

"The family - that dear octopus from whose tentacles we never quite escape, nor, in our inmost hearts, ever quite wish to." -Dodie Smith 

Art courtesy of
We have returned from our combination family reunion/vacation - happy, grateful and exhausted, tinged with moments of sadness.  We gathered in sunny, balmy Oklahoma CIty, where the daily high temperatures were 103+.

I inherited this family by marriage, but they always make me feel like I belong, or perhaps, after 29 years, they've just given up on getting rid of me.  Either way, I look forward to seeing them and love the time together. 

States represented were Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Texas, New Mexico, Tennessee, California, and Colorado.  The Louisiana and Pennsylvania contingents couldn't make it this year.  The people are as diverse as the states where they reside.  They are farmers, bankers, preachers, students, Viet-Nam veterans, school administrators, elevator managers, a former navy seal, teachers, pilots, a Harvard MBA, 
librarians, doctors, lawyers and, yes - if you climb high enough in the family tree - even an Indian Chief.  
"The great gift of family life is to be intimately acquainted with people you might never even introduce yourself to, had life not done it for you." -Kendall Hailey
There was swimming and patio living for those who wanted to brave the heat; and games, chatting and picture albums in the air-conditioned clubhouse for the less hardy (or less insane, depending on your point of view).  And food - always food - including some of the best BBQ you'll ever find.  On Sunday morning we held a family worship time - remembering those we've lost since last we gathered, welcoming the new additions, and celebrating the family's amazing legacy of faith - then sang a tearful rendition of Blessed Be the Tie That Binds, and went our separate ways.  If you're not familiar with that old hymn, it's verse four that got all the faucets running:  
When we asunder part, it gives us inward pain. But we will still be joined in heart and hope to meet again.
The trip also included a mini-family reunion with our kids/grandkids.  We picked up Amanda in Manhattan on the way, then met up with Mitch and his girlfriend, plus oldest daughter, Amy, and her two boys when we got there. Our whole crew together for forty-one hours!  Oh, joy!  Rapture! (*name that movie.)
Some family trees have beautiful leaves, and some have just a bunch of nuts. Remember, it is the nuts that make the tree worth shaking.
Amanda's boyfriend arrived from Amarillo on Saturday night, Mitch left Sunday at noon to head back to work, and the rest of the circus loaded up and paraded to Monkey Island Resort on Grand Lake in northeast Oklahoma.  If you're looking for a family-friendly vacation destination, this is a good, if slightly pricey, choice.  And you know, it's possible I'm just out of touch on what things are going for.  We rented a ski-boat for a couple hours, played golf, swam and played games.  And food - still more food.  

I won't reveal any more, (you mean there's MORE?  Groaning and eye-rolling!) lest you not return for my promised slide-show which contains twenty-seven eight-by-ten color glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back explaining what each one is. (**More points if you can identify that reference.  Hint:  It's from the days of record albums.) 

Like branches on a tree, we grow in different directions, but our roots remain as one.
* The Wizard of Oz - spoken by the Cowardly Lion
** Alice's Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie