Making Lists

July 21, 2018 11:01 AM

I’m a big fan of people watching and eavesdropping in on conversations.  It’s honestly not that I’m nosy; I really don’t care how other people live their lives. But I do enjoy watching the interactions people have with each other and I often try to guess the nature of their relationships. They become characters in my own little story. I’ve seen a lot of interesting interactions over the years and I’ve even used some of them as inspiration to write actual stories. I’ve decided to set up a separate category on this blog where I can share the interactions I have observed that have touched me through the years. It’s called “Interesting Folks”. This will be the first entry.

Dennis and I went to the farmer’s market in Waukesha this morning and, afterward, we went to a local restaurant for breakfast. It was peak breakfast time and it was crowded, so we took the only open booth. This booth happened to be across from a booth where a woman, probably in her late thirties, sat with an elderly couple. I assumed they were her parents.

The elderly man sat on one side of the booth, the elderly woman shared the other side with her daughter.  Immediately, I was reminded of going out for a meal with my parents. This was always the seating arrangement for us, too.

The first thing I heard the daughter say, in tone that was slightly too enthusiastic to be entirely genuine, was how nice it was to see them once a week. She got no verbal response from her parents. The father smiled, the mother didn’t react — or she didn’t react enough that I could see it out of my peripheral vision.

There was silence until the daughter brought up an entirely new topic of conversation after twenty seconds or so had passed. She elicited a few words from each with that topic, but no real back and forth conversation ensued.

And so it went for their entire meal. The daughter tried various topics of conversation and the parents responded with a few words before the silence returned and the daughter introduced an entirely new topic. I wondered if the daughter had a list of topics stashed in her purse (like I used to have when I went out for a meal with my mom) where she could “check her phone” and glance at it if the conversation really hit a wall. I remember my mom used to carry a list of topics in her purse when her and my father took my grandma out for a meal.

Don’t get me wrong, the interactions of this family were not at all unpleasant. But they weren’t the effortless chatter that comes from a family that is truly comfortable together, either. I could feel all three of them trying, each parent spoke a little and asked the daughter an occasional question. The daughter was attentive and responsive to both her parents and remained upbeat and enthusiastic throughout the meal. It was the strained dynamic, though, of three people who love each other, but aren’t connected the way they once were and are struggling to find common ground.

As I sat there, I felt the daughter’s struggle; the attempt of an adult child trying to reach out to elderly parents to bridge the gap that has grown from passing years, and diverging lives. I felt the struggle of the parents, too; trying to connect with an adult child with whom there is little in common with now except for shared memories and shared DNA. There was probably a sense of relief for all three, and then a sense of guilt, when the meal was done and they could go their separate ways.

This family reminded me of my experiences with my own parents, especially my mom. After my dad died, I would take her out for a meal two or three times a week. Often, Dennis and my son would join us. Sometimes not. It was difficult to come up with conversation, especially since, if I didn’t see her, I would talk to her everyday on the phone.

Unlike the family next to me, my mom would come armed with her own topics to introduce when the silences fell heavy on the table. She probably had a list in her purse, too. I found a list of topics to discuss with me that my mom made and saved, next to her phone, when I was cleaning out her house.

Cats

Tony

The Americans (one of mom’s favorite shows)

What you made for dinner

I kept it, tucked away in a shoe box, along with her glasses and the small stack of recipes she still used.

Is it sad, that a mother/daughter relationship gets relegated to a list of topics of conversation on a piece of paper? It is. I know it doesn’t happen in all families, but it did in mine. And, I believe based on what I saw today, it does in others, too.

I wanted to reach out to the daughter and tell her I understood the struggle, the responsibility, and the loss, that she was probably feeling. Nothing underscores how far life has taken you from a parent than having to grasp for common ground in which to share.

I was reminded of my mom earlier, today, too, at the farmer’s market. I saw the beautiful bouquets of flowers that were for sale, and it reminded me of the times that I bought one for her. It made me miss her, even though our conversations didn’t come easy in the end.

Was I right about the interactions of this family at the restaurant? Maybe they were acquaintances and not even family at all. I’ll never know, but it doesn’t really matter. They touched me and made me remember my mom, so whatever the true relationship is, they’re a family to me now.

11:59 AM

 

To Fair or Not to Fair, That is the Question

July 19, 2018 10:39 AM

Have you noticed that I devote a lot of my posts to food? I think I need a new hobby. You may think, based on the title, that this post is not about food, but about a fair. You would be wrong. This post is about fair food; my very favorite fair food, the Swiss in Rye on a stick.

swiss and rye

The pinnacle of fair-food, in my opinion. (picture from Shepard Express)

The Swiss in Rye is a large chunk of Swiss cheese stuck on a skewer, dipped into a Rye batter and deep-fried until it reaches the temperature of hot, molten lava. It’s served with brown mustard and lots of napkins.

It is, and has been, my favorite fair treat for the last twenty years. It’s hot and crispy and gooey and salty and a wonderful mix of all things bad for you.  Cholesterol? Check. Fat? Check. Calories? I don’t even want to know.

The Swiss and Rye is found only at a food truck called Hot Wisconsin Cheese. It even has a cow print painted on the truck.

hot cheese booth

Of course, such a treat as a chuck of cheese, deep fried and battered, would come from a place with Wisconsin in it’s name. We do love our cheese!

The Hot Wisconsin Cheese food truck can be found at State and County fairs throughout the Midwest. Their Facebook page says they travel as far as Florida during the winter months. (Lucky them!)

Typically, I get my yearly cheese fix from them at the Wisconsin State Fair. It’s the first place I visit when we go to the fair. Often, it’s the only food place I visit, if I fail to control myself and consume the whole thing. That happens a lot. I can tell you from experience, that if you eat an entire Swiss and Rye, you will not be hungry for the next eight hours, at a minimum.

Dennis and I could share a Swiss and Rye. But, honestly, I really don’t like sharing my Swiss and Rye. I was an only child. That’s my excuse.

In order to enjoy all the other bad-for-me-treats that I like to sample at the State Fair, I have to either restrain myself and only eat a quarter of the Swiss and Rye (not likely), stay at the fair long enough to get hungry again (also, not likely. We’re done after 2 or 3 hours) or visit the State Fair on multiple days and only get the Swiss and Rye once. (For the record, if I do get Swiss and Rye on subsequent visits, I do share with Dennis. It’s just the first one that’s all mine.)

Option number three, visit the fair on multiple days, is what we’ve done most often in the past. It works well and it gives us a chance to see different bands throughout the run of the fair, too. When we get sick of the crowds after a few hours we can leave, knowing, we’ll see whatever we missed the next time we go.

Two years ago, I came up with a fourth option. Attend another event where the Swiss and Rye is served. This would allow me TWO opportunities to get it within the year. (We won’t go into the discussion as to whether I should be eating this twice a year. I shouldn’t. I shouldn’t even be eating them once a year, but that’s besides the point.)

This weekend, the Swiss and Rye opportunity is presenting itself in the form of the Waukesha County Fair. They’ve had a Hot Wisconsin Cheese Truck there the past two years. Although, I didn’t see it listed on their Facebook Page or on the Waukesha County Fair’s list of vendors, so I’m wondering if they’re there this year.

Waukesha County Fair is a fairly good-sized county fair and it had the usual local 4-H displays, some animals, a midway which we never go to, and a smattering of vendors selling windows and hot tubs. Occasionally, they have a band from the 80’s I’m interested in seeing, but they don’t this year. So, therein, lies the conundrum Dennis and I are facing.

Do we go to the Waukesha County Fair just to get the Swiss and Rye which may not even be there this year? That’s a lot of money to spend for admission and parking for a hunk of deep-fried cheese that I really shouldn’t be eating anyway.

On the other hand, there is a very small window in which I can get the cheese, and it’s supposed to be warm, and sunny this weekend. Walking around the fair, eating cheese and people-watching doesn’t sound like a bad way to kill a Saturday afternoon.

Back to the question I posed earlier. To Fair or Not to Fair? At this point, I think Not to Fair, but only because I’m not certain Hot Wisconsin Cheese is there. If anyone happens to attend the fair and sees the happy little food truck painted yellow with black cow markings, please comment and let me know. I will be forever grateful. My thighs, however, will not.

Did I mention we’re trying out another swim spa option this weekend?

11:07 AM

Who Says You Can’t Relive your Childhood?

July 15, 2018 6:35 PM

It’s been one of those days for the past two weeks. Whatever inconvenient, irritating, and unpleasant event that could occur did. None of it was a life-changing event, thankfully, but it hasn’t been the greatest month either.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, this is the around the time my mom died last year. She went into the hospital on June 25th and died July 10th. I handled the one year anniversary, okay, I think. I also know that it did cast a shadow on the last few weeks, which didn’t make them easier.

It all started about three weeks ago when one of my cats got a virus. Which he gave to one of our other cats. Who gave it back to him. On top of this I got sick, too. This caused the New Jersey trip to be cancelled for me and for Dennis, who had to stay home and take care of me.  That meant no testing out the swim spa, no Italian dinners and no uninterrupted writing time in the hotel for me. That also meant no cash back on my non-refundable plane ticket.

In addition to me and my and cats being sick, our appliances got sick, too. First, the hot water heater started leaking. Got that replaced just in time for the washing machine to break. And when I say break, I mean BREAK. As in the water shut off valve didn’t shut off and the washing machine flooded the laundry room, bathroom, hallway and half the kitchen.

flood kitchen

Kitchen during mid-clean-up. The water made it to the fridge. The soda on the counter was rescued from the flooded hall closet.

flood dennis

Dennis mopping up the mess. We have since invested in a wet/dry vac.

It only ran for 10 or 15 minutes before I noticed a pond of water in front of the kitchen sink, but it was enough time for the water to seep through the floor boards into the finished basement where it soaked ceiling tiles and carpet.

ceiling tiles 2

Bulging ceiling tile ready to dump water everywhere.

Unfortunately, the water didn’t impact the stove. It survived. The side counter took a hit, however, when Dennis was moving the stove out so we could dry the floor.

counter

Nothing a little super glue can’t fix.

We eventually got everything cleaned up but we’re now without a washing machine until the middle of this week. Great fun.

In the midst of the chaos, I was on Amazon searching for a book to download when Amazon suggested that I might like to buy some Chuckles. The candy. Remember Chuckles? The soft, chewy fruit candies that are crosses between Jujubee’s and gum drops?

I loved Chuckles as a kid. I didn’t know that they even made them anymore. Why, yes, Amazon. I would like to order Chuckles, thank you very much.

Since I liked Chuckles, Amazon then suggested I might like Brach’s Nougats with bits of gum drops in the them. OHMYGOD! I loved, loved, loved those as a kid! Even more than Chuckles. Yes, of course, Amazon. Send me those, too.

After the nougats, came the suggestion of Brach’s caramel chews. The flavored ones with vanilla, maple, orange and chocolate. Yum! Who doesn’t love those? Bring ’em on, Amazon.

I’m sure you can see where this is heading. Amazon suggested yet another favorite from my youth — although, this was more college years than pre-teen years. Sunkist fruit chews. The soft, gelatinous chews in raspberry, lime (my favorite), and grapefruit. Delectible! I remember driving to college munching those on a way there, listening to Bon Jovi. Gotta have those, too.

Isn’t Amazon’s One-Click ordering a wonderful thing? Okay, maybe it isn’t, but I thought it was at the time and I was in a very good mood when I was done. For the first time that week. And it’s not like I bought everything Amazon suggested. I turned down the Bit-O-Honeys and the Candy buttons (remember those? The dots you picked off the paper and ate. Except I always ended up eating some paper that got stuck on the candies, too).

After my little shopping spree was over I casually mentioned to Dennis over dinner that I ordered some candy from Amazon. I didn’t tell him how much I ordered.

The one downside to ordering candy that is hard to find in stores nowadays, is that it only comes in bulk on Amazon. As in three to five pound bags. At a minimum.  I kind of bought A LOT of candy.

Thanks to the magic of Amazon, three out of my four candies were delivered the next day. When Dennis went to pick up the box I warned him again that I ordered several kinds of candy and that they were all stuffed in one box.

It was a small, unassuming box. Maybe a little larger than a shoe box. But it was a densely packed box that had a fair amount of weight to it Dennis went to pick it up and I heard a distinctive, “oof” when he lifted it followed by a surprised look on his face. I reminded him that I told him I ordered several kinds of candy and three of the four were in that box.

He just nodded and dropped the box on the table with a thud.

I opened it up and it was glorious! I felt like a kid in Willie Wonka (the original with Gene Wilder, of course) who went into the room where everything was edible. All my childhood favorites were there in one sugar-laden, calorie-intensive, mood-altering box. It blasted me right back to my childhood where I was watching Happy Days and eating my allotted three pieces of candy a night.

That’s the good thing about being an adult and dealing with canceling trips, sick animals, and over-flowing appliances. You can eat more than your allotted three pieces of candy in a night.

And I did. For several days in a row. And it made me happy during a week when I wasn’t feeling very happy at all.

I hope that I am still as happy with my impulse purchases a year from now when we’re still working our way through twelve or so pounds of candy.

candy

Three of the four bags that I ordered. I ate the Chuckles first.

7:18  PM

 

My Curmudgeonly Celebration

July 4, 2018 11:14 AM

This morning, I embarked on another baking project using a Cook’s Country recipe. It wasn’t nearly as complex as the last one, but it was still way more putzy than the original.

My masterpiece for the day? Rice Krispie Squares with red, white and blue Rice Krispies which are my nod to celebrating the 4th of July.

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It’s not that I don’t like the 4th of July. It’s fine. I’m not a big fan of sitting outside watching fireworks with crowds of people. We don’t go to fireworks. Nor am I a fan of eating outside, so that rules out barbecues and picnics (not to mention the fact we aren’t invited those sort of events, anyway). I know, I sound like a curmudgeon, don’t  I?

This year, we are celebrating the 4th in our own way. We’ve got a few games planned for this afternoon that we’ll be playing and then we are going to Melting Pot for dinner. I expect Melting Pot will be empty, but who knows? Maybe there are other curmudgeon people out there like me who’s idea of a 4th of July Feast is dipping a wad of bread into hot cheese. (Yum!)

I want to be home before dark and the fireworks begin because the noise freaks out the dogs and one of our cats. Not that being with them does much good, they’re still freaked out, but at least they’re not freaked out and alone.

One of my first memories in life is actually from freaking out on the 4th of July. I remember being in my crib, crying because of the fireworks going off next door to our house. My father was irritated and he wanted to go over to the neighbors and tell them to be quiet, but my mother said he couldn’t do that because it was the 4th of July and it would be over soon.  Not sure how old I was, but I know I was in a crib, so maybe 2 or 3, at the most.

I remember another 4th of July with my parents when I was about 13. My mother decided we needed to do something different for the holiday so she dragged me and my father to a civil war re-enactment at a Military Academy near our house. I remember it because I was so miserable. We all were. It was sunny and hot. The re-enactment was in the middle of field that we had to walk forever in knee high prickly grass to get to. Then, being a civil war re-enactment, they started shooting blanks from cannons, so it was loud and stinky. I think we lasted an hour for the entire outing, including the time it took to walk into the field and back out again. We practically ran back out we were so anxious to leave. It felt wonderful to get back home into our air conditioned house and finish the book I had been reading. I guess I’ve been a curmudgeon all my life when it comes to 4th of July activities.

Okay, not my entire life. I remember one year I went to Summerfest on the 4th of July with a boyfriend. I was seventeen, almost eighteen, and I thought it was great fun. So, I guess there’s been pockets of times where I’ve embraced more socially-focused celebrations. I’ve gone to a few card parties on that 4th of July and those have been fun. But’s it’s playing cards. Playing cards always trumps my non-social, curmudgeon tendencies.

Unfortunately, this 4th of July reminds me of last 4th of July, which was not good. I know I have my blog post from last year, however, I haven’t and won’t read it. I remember the content and where I was at emotionally, all too well. So I’m trying to not remember too much about that this year.

So, back to the original topic of this post — I digressed a bit there — how did my next baking recipe from Cook’s Country go? Making Rice Krispie treats is pretty easy and a pretty basic recipe, so how much more work could the Cook’s Country recipe really be? And how much better could the product be?

In terms of cooking, it called for weighing the quantity of 10 ounces of cereal instead of measuring it. Okay. Did you know there are 10.10 ounces in a standard Rice Krispie box? Not sure that I really needed to weigh that, Cook’s Country, but now I know. (And I threw caution to the wind and I threw in the .10 ounces.)

The recipe called for 20 ounces of marshallmallows, but I could only find 16 ounce bags, so I weighed those, too. I’m very impressed that there are exactly 16 ounces of marshmallows in a 16 ounce bag. I weighed out the extra four ounces of marshmallows after I retrieved the marshmallow that the cat stole when it fell on the floor. (I’ve read that cats can’t taste sweet flavors. Herbie does not agree.)

It also called for a stick a butter which is not quite double the amount of butter the original recipe calls for on the back of the cereal box. Extra butter is always a good sign of a tasty outcome.

The recipe also called for vanilla which I’ve never used in the recipe before.

Cooking it was the same as any other recipe. It was sticky, I got marshmallow all over me and the stove. At the end, the recipe instructed me to pat the treats down with wet hands once I got the gooey mix into the pan. So I did that. And promptly burned the hell out of a finger. Marshmallow gets HOT. It STAYS hot. And when hot marshmallow gets on your skin it hunkers down and burrows in the for the duration. There is no quick wipe off on the towel. I don’t think it’ll blister, though. Thanks, a lot, Cook’s Country. Next time I’m using a spatula.

Now for the most important part? How do they taste? Was the weighing and measuring worth it?

Yes! Unequivocally, yes! The are buttery, and firm enough to hold together but soft enough to pull apart (with strings of gooey marshmallow) and eat.

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Another Cook’s Country success in spite of a burned finger. But what the heck, what’s  the 4th of July without a burned finger or two? Plenty of people will have them after the home fireworks and sparklers tonight. This 4th of July curmudgeon will finally fit in.

Happy 4th of July, for those of you in the US. Be safe and enjoy, however you choose to celebrate.

11:45 AM

 

 

Battle of the Ear Worms

July 1st, 2018 6:57 PM

Oh, I love to cook, I love to bake, I guess I’ll make an acorn cake.

This little rhyme has been going through my head all day. It’s from a children’s book, one of my favorites, called Miss Suzy. Miss Suzy is a mild-mannered little gray squirrel who likes to bake and clean in her house at the top of her tree. One day, some nasty brutes, the red squirrels, invade her home and she’s forced to evacuate. Thankfully, the tin soldiers who befriend Miss Suzy defend her against the red squirrels in the end. (Sorry about the spoiler.)

Miss Suzy

Isn’t Miss Suzy cute?

suzysong

I don’t think I’ve read this book for forty-five years, at least. But I still remember the plot, the characters, and the rhyme. Please don’t ask me what I made for dinner on Friday night. I won’t remember that.

The reason for the rhyme running endlessly through my head today is because I made a peach coffee cake this morning. From scratch. This is a significant thing for me. I’m not a big baker. I like to cook, and while I can bake, I find it to be tedious. Plus, my tastes tend to run more toward savory treats than sweet ones. I’ll take bowl of fresh, hot buttered popcorn over cookies or cake any day.

I do like coffee cake, however, since it isn’t too sweet. When I make it, which is about once every couple of years, I always opt for the recipe on the back of the Bisquick box, which is fine. However, the recipe that I used today was from America’s Test Kitchen, my absolute favorite source for recipes. You know how there’s some chefs that make recipes sound so good but when you actually make them they’re awful? (I’m looking at you Rachael Ray!) America’s Test Kitchen (and Cook’s Country and Cook’s Illustrated — they’re all the same organization) has never, ever steered me wrong. Their recipes always work out. Always. Which was what gave me the courage to try a cake from scratch.

Their recipes are not easy, mind you. The often have fifteen or more ingredients and they are, as my mother would say, “putzy”. So was this one. I had to slice two peaches in 1/2″ slices and macerate them in sugar and a pinch of salt for a half hour in order to extract two tablespoons of peach syrup. Which I did. I had juicy peaches so I actually got three tablespoons of syrup. I know you can’t futz with liquid to dry ratios in baking, though, so I didn’t throw the extra tablespoon into the batter, even though I was tempted. I threw it in a glass with some diet Pepsi and gave it Dennis. (He loved it! He said it tasted alcoholic and that made him happy. I’ve decided not to analyze the meaning behind that comment).

In addition to fresh peaches I also had to dig out vanilla and almond extract (I actually had some to my surprise), peach preserves and a 9″ spring form pan. That one was tricky. I knew I had one because Dennis had a set of spring form pans he brought with him when we got married. Not being a baker, I’ve never used them in the 10+ years we’ve been married.

Then there was the usual butter, cinnamon, flour, sugar (white and brown), baking powder and sour cream. There was a three-step assembly process that each required seperate bowls — wet ingredients, dry ingredients, and the topping ingredients (as well as the macerated peach bowl, the strainer and the additional bowl to catch the peach juice. I think I used every bowl I own. The counter and sink were strewn with bowls, utensils, and measuring cups. This is why I don’t bake, I thought to myself half way through. Miss Suzy was nuts; clean-up is going to be a bitch.

So I began assembling the cake. I measured, I hand-blended, I mixed, and I whisked while the entire time Miss Suzy’s song ran though my head. Oh, I love to cook, I love to bake, I guess I’ll make an acorn cake. 

Forty-five minutes in, I wanted Miss Suzy to shut the hell up already. I played one of the darkest, most haunting songs I could think of to drive Miss Suzy out of my head. “Take Me to Church” by Hozier. It didn’t work. Apparently, my ear worms are multi-taskers because Miss Suzy’s rhyme and Hozier’s song have been alternating running through my head ever since. It’s an interesting combination to be sure. Take me church, I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies…

Here is a link to the YouTube video of Take me to Church by Hozier, in case you’ve never heard it. (I cannot be held responsible if it runs through your head for the next three weeks).

Finally, it was time to get the batter into the spring form pan. Spring form pans are tricky. If the bottom isn’t in right you end up with a mess in the bottom of the oven. I was very, very careful to make sure I got the pan put together securely before I put my precious batter inside. (I was a good hour in, with another hour of clean-up in front of me. No way was I wasting that batter.) …I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knives…

The spring form held the batter, thank goodness, and then it was time to arrange my 1/2″ slices of peaches, that were now sticky and slimy from macerating in sugar, into a concentric circle on the top of the pan. Sure. Piece of cake. Oh, I love to cook, I love to bake…

Or not. My concentric circle wasn’t all that even. it was more of a concentric blob than a circle, but I was losing patience at this point. Besides, I reasoned, the concentric circle gets covered up with the crumble topping. No one will know.

peach1

My non-concentric peach blob with crumble topping ready to go into the oven.

Once I covered my not-so-concentric mess with the crumble topping it looked pretty good. Time to bake it. Take me to church…

The recipe said it should take forty-five to fifty minutes. However, my stove has been flaky so I truly had no idea how long it would take. I set the time for thirty minutes and kept checking on it from there. Forty-five minutes in it started to smell really, good. It ended up taking an hour ten minutes to finish and I was afraid I dried it out with all the extra cooking. I really need a new oven. I bet Miss Suzy didn’t have these problems. I’ll worship like a dog…

I finished cleaning the kitchen about five minutes before the cake was done. This sucker better taste good. I took it out of the oven and it looked perfect. Just like the picture on the recipe. My non-concentric blob was totally obscured by the crumble as I expected.

peach 2

The finished product cooling.

Did I dig in and confirm my efforts were worth the end product? I did not. Because the damn cake had to cool for two hours. I pried the outside ring off it at an hour, and I was relieved it didn’t stick.

Finally, it was cool enough to try. At this point it was 4:45 and I was getting dinner ready being the busy little squirrel I was today. (Personally, I think if one bakes, cooking should not be required in the same day. That’s double the dish duty. Just sayin’).

So how was the end result? Amazing. It’s probably the best coffee cake I’ve ever had, hands down. I saved out two pieces for dessert tonight and I cut up and froze the rest. No way is any of that going to waste.

peach 3

Yum! It turned out perfect.

Oh, I love to cook, I love to bake, I guess I’ll make an acorn cake. 

The cake experience was a success but, unfortunately, the battle of the ear worms continues to rage on with no relief in site.

7:36 PM