Cooking with a Twist

veg-o-matic
1960s Veg-O-Matic

As a kid, I loved the commercials that appeared on television around the holidays featuring people who demonstrated those “slicer and dicer” kitchen tools. Slice-O-Matic, Chop-O-Matic, Veg-O-Matic…you get the idea. Their hands moved more quickly than a magician’s, and I expected a severed finger to surely end up in with the wavy potato slices or the tomato wedges! I remember wondering why my mother didn’t have one of those contraptions, but she always just stuck with her trusty, favorite paring knife.

I’m not really one for kitchen gadgets, myself, and was surprised to find a food spiralizer under the tree this past Christmas morning. Even if you haven’t made any of these spirals, yourself, you’ve probably seen some “ready-made” in the grocery stores, with squash seeming to be one of the most popular. The end results when using this bladed tool are basically vegetables or fruits cut to look like strands of pasta.

The spiralizers evidently come in multiple formats, from various types of rotary incarnations that help the users build arm muscles, to deluxe electric models, with mine being the rotary sort. I’ve experienced mixed outcomes, but still have many fruits and vegetables to try. Eggplant turned out to be too squishy, and the broccoli stems were a challenge, but do-able. My best results, so far, have been with zucchini and summer squash. I won’t resort to calling them “zoodles” or “squoodles,” but they really do resemble noodles and taste great!

The internet is awash with related recipe ideas, but I came up with one based on ingredients that I happened to find in my refrigerator and cupboards, so I’ve included it, below. Feel free to share your favorite spiralizer recipe in comments. In fact, one lucky commenter will be chosen at the end of February to receive a $5 Amazon e-card! Hmmm. Now I’m thinking about a cold spiralized beet salad for Valentines Day…

 Seafood Casserole

2 firm zucchini
2 firm summer squashes
Cooked fish, shrimp, or other seafood of choice (any amount you wish; canned works well, too)
Olive oil
Scallions/green onions (the leafy part, which is easiest to cut with kitchen scissors)
Garlic paste (optional)
Shredded cheese of your favorite type (optional)
Pimento slices, mostly for color
Bread crumbs

Spiralize your vegetables with the peel left on and spread out in an oblong casserole that has a bit of olive oil in the bottom. Add your seafood, onions, and garlic paste, if desired. Drizzle about two more tablespoons of olive oil into the mixture. Mix with a fork. Sprinkle cheese, if wanted, and bread crumbs over the top. Bake at 350-360 for 30-45 minutes until heated through.

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Cataloguing a Life

 

sears 1957
1957

 

When I was a child, the thick Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog was a staple in most homes. It contained sections for just about everything you could ever want to buy, it seemed, and offered another option for families who lived in more rural areas, like ours, with limited choices for shopping.

The large catalog came in handy for other things, too, like a “booster seat” for the tots who had outgrown their high chairs, but couldn’t quite reach the dinner table on their own. I remember a particular “snow day” from school when my sister and I had fun making “paper dolls” out of the previous season’s catalog. We carefully cut out the main figures and then found clothing on other pages that could be trimmed to fit. The joys of a simple childhood.

Years later, as a young mother with a child of my own, I saved “trading stamps,” which were given out by many of the grocery stores according to how much you spent. I pasted them into small booklets and watched the stack grow. Top Value was the main type I saved, and I spent considerable time perusing their mail order catalog to decide on the wonderful “premiums” that would be my goals. One of my older daughter’s first dolls, a sweet Kewpie in one-piece pajamas, came to live with us, thanks to Top Value stamps.

Penney's
1972

 

Around Thanksgiving, the J.C. Penney Christmas catalog was always a welcome sight in the mail. I spent hours poring over the pages to decide which gifts my daughters just couldn’t do without. This was also a great way to get ideas for grandmas and grandpas! Even though we had a few stores in our small town that carried toys, it seemed that the Penney’s catalog offered a much wider selection of brands, such as Playskool and Fisher Price. Playtime was better than ever with the likes of Happy Apple, Milk Wagon, and Chatter Phone. Our small house became a virtual village of Little People homes, schools, and farms. Pleasant memories.

Time marched on, and my children were nearly grown. By then, I’d finally earned my teacher certification and would have the opportunity to help other people’s youngsters learn and develop. I remember the excitement of securing my first teaching position and having the secretary hand me Lakeshore and ReallyGoodStuff catalogs to order materials for my new classroom, since we were located hours away from the nearest teacher supply store. It seemed too good to be true after all those years of study. I did, in fact, order some “really good stuff.”

Over the years, it seemed that I always ended up back in a remote area with very limited shopping. Fall typically brought the new catalogs from L.L. Bean and Lands’ End. Buying that new winter jacket at the END of the season when it was on sale was a much better plan, of course, but it was still great fun to look. The most welcomed catalogs in our part of Upper Michigan were the early spring arrivals from plant and flower companies like Gurney’s, Burpee, and Michigan Bulb. Those indicated that we WOULD, indeed, make it through another winter! I spent a great deal of time sketching ideas for our flower beds based on choices made for the local growing zone. Sometimes we bought through mail order, and other times we visited our local nursery. Either way, having those catalogs for handy visuals and information was priceless.

Life has a strange way of leading where we don’t expect. A few years ago, I found myself living on my own in a more populated area with every type of store you can imagine in close range. One rainy afternoon I was retrieving my umbrella from the floor on the passenger side of the car and noticed some papers under the seat. Pulling them out, I saw a grocery store flyer from my previous life, along with a Plow & Hearth catalog sporting my former husband’s name. I then remembered leaving for what ended up being our last road trip together. We had stopped for the mail on our way out, and I just shoved it under the seat to be forgotten. My only “hearth” nowadays is artificial, and I have no garden to dig in, much less “plow.” Quite the reminder about the changes in the fabric of my days.

The holidays have now passed for another year. Several weeks ago, I was surprised when I visited the bank of mailboxes in my apartment building lobby to find a Burpee spring catalog mixed in with the rest of my mail. It was actually addressed to me and not just to “current resident.” They found me! Guess the nice folks at Burpee don’t know, or care, that I currently have no need for plants and seeds, or any of the related supplies. I’m hanging onto it, though, and won’t admit just how many times I’ve peeked at its pages. Who knows what the future may bring.

chipmunk garden flowers

 

Love Trumps Hate – Your Help Please – Repost by Anne Lee Wissinger at Nerdy Book Club

Just my small way of trying to counteract intolerance and racism. Please read this wonderful repost by Anne Lee Wissinger at Nerdy Book Club!

Nerdy Book Club

January 12, 2018

Dear Nerdy Book Club Friends,

Over the past week I have read some important books: The Truth As Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor, re-read Love by Matt de la Peña and Loren Long, re-read Martin Rising by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney, and Projekt 1065 by Alan Gratz.

The themes of these books wash over me and taunt me. Will you be as brave and courageous as these characters and the writers and artists who created them?

This morning it seems like some kind of cosmic call to action that such racist comments were made by the President on the eve of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.   It is also my daughter’s golden birthday today, turning 12 on the 12th. She goes to her middle school 40 minutes early each day because she is afraid of the bullies who congregate at the…

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A Canine Christmas Carol

house for blog final 001“Are you there?” muttered the man into his pillow.

The sound wakened New Dog, who had been snoozing downstairs in his own resting place. Is he talkin’ to me?

Others had lived there with the man before New Dog’s time, but he didn’t know very much about them. He caught a whiff of First Dog on the carpet, every so often, and was sometimes tempted to chase his elusive shadow that dodged throughout the plants in the garden.

On occasion, New Dog sensed the essence of a woman moving through the house. She was always just beyond his reach when he tried to follow. These Others occasionally came up in conversation when his person talked and the dog’s ears stood at attention. The man referred to them as ‘Mr. Boo’ and ‘Sweetie Pie,’ but didn’t offer much detail. What was their story?

New Dog slept in a large crate that afforded a clear view of the eating and sitting areas. He had a comfy stuffed animal and stayed safe and warm, even as the cold winds dumped frosty white beyond the door.

A tree with little, sparkling lights had recently shown up in the sitting room, and his man had held up a stocking, stuffed almost to popping, that very night. “Tomorrow,” he had promised, with a smile.

Circling several times, New Dog rediscovered just the right spot and soon settled back into a steady pattern of breathing. The line between wakefulness and sleep turned to a blur.

What’s that?  His head jerked up, and he watched another canine pass his crate on furry paws that didn’t seem to quite touch the floor.  New Dog then realized that his own coat was almost the same dark shade as that of his predecessor.

First Dog kept moving, and he joined a hazy figure that appeared in the food room. He let out a quiet little “yip,” and the shadow of a woman threw him a treat. She smelled of flowers, and her smooth, dark hair was flecked with silver that shimmered in the slice of streetlight shining through a window.

Sweetie Pie?  The woman’s voice was soothing and escaped into the air like music that had been silent for too long.

New Dog blinked and swiped at both eyes with his right paw. Are they really here?  The misty figures still remained when his gaze returned.  Maybe they’ll stay if I keep quiet. Dream or reality, he peeked at them, unmoving, from his prone position. The visitors continued their reunion of nuzzles and hugs.

After a while, his man walked down the stairs to join them, as the dancing snowflakes accelerated outside the window. Content, sleepy and cozy, New Dog had a front row seat to the movie of their used-to-be life. The couple loved and laughed. Bulbs twinkled merrily on the tree. First Dog barked and pranced. Lights on the tree became dim. The people began to argue and then cried. Their dog grew weary and still.

No… New Dog blocked out the sounds by covering his ears with front paws. Darkness overtook him.

When morning sunlight appeared, so did the solitary man, with promises of goodies from the stocking.

As soon as his crate door was opened, New Dog ran from one room to the next sniffing the floors. Not there. His man looked on in puzzlement. The dog returned to each room for another pass and searched in every corner. Gone !

He considered his options and strutted past the man holding the stocking. With no concern for lost treat potential, New Dog sidled up to the tree and peed on the trunk.

What Makes an Effective Writing Critique Group Member?

 

 

sandwich-155786_960_720[1]
The “Sandwich” Approach
I’m very thankful for the two local critique groups that I attend and always leave feeling renewed and inspired. One is a well-established combination of writers from all different genres. I lead the second one, which is a newer compilation of writers and illustrators for children’s literature. Each group meets in person monthly, and occasional digital critique swaps are also requested and take place in between our gatherings. Since I’ve been taking part and observing for some time, now, several aspects for effectiveness have jumped out at me and motivated the following suggestions:

*When commenting in writing or orally, try to start out with a positive, follow with suggestions, and possibly end with another positive, as time allows (“sandwich” approach)

*Point out specific sections of the pieces for examples whenever possible, instead of speaking in generalities

*Keep in mind “nerves” and any misgivings you may have had when you first joined the group, upon greeting new attendees

*When receiving feedback, try to listen to a member’s full comments before responding with an explanation of your thinking or reasoning (this can be difficult to do!)

*Share your successes AND your disappointments, which can help to form connections between members

*Offer critiques on a continuing basis, even during those times when your own work is not being shared

Am I ALWAYS successful in remembering to do each of these things? I admit that I’m not, but these are my goals, since I can see how these strategies work so well when implemented. Feel free to add comments with ideas you’ve found to be especially helpful in your own groups!

Windows Open!

open windows pixabay no attribution required

In the Midwest, the invigorating change of the seasons was often marked by melting or returning snows, reappearance or disappearance of greenery and flowers, along with changes in the patterns of wildlife visiting the yard. In Texas, transformations related to precipitation, flora and fauna are much more subtle to the non-scientific eye. For me, the main difference is whether or not I can comfortably open my windows. With a twenty degree drop in the temperature since yesterday, today is one of those marvelous days to open the windows wide.

This may sound like such a simple and even mundane act, but it’s an activity that many Texans, who are accustomed to such high temperatures, often seem to overlook. Indeed, many of the local apartment buildings, including my own, do not include window screens. That presents a choice to be made: leave the windows closed at all times, open them and risk unwanted flying visitors, or add some sort of protection. During my first autumn here, I remembered a type of free-standing window screen from childhood that opened like an accordion to fit various sized apertures. Where was my handy neighborhood hardware store when I needed it? Impatience had a hold on me, and ordering through the internet would have taken too long. Surprisingly, I found several at Wal-Mart, after sifting through a pile where many seemed to be damaged. I was on my way to opening my windows.

The next issue was how to make sure the new screens didn’t fall out onto those passing below, since their fit into the window opening isn’t exactly fool-proof. I found articles posted by individuals on the internet about just this topic, with suggestions that involved carpentry (not for me), Velcro, and removable adhesive putty. I went with a white version of the latter, since I was familiar with its easy and mess-free use from mounting things on my classroom walls as a former teacher. Just one little wad on each wooden end piece, while leaving my window closed a little farther than the height of the screens, and I secured them in place. Depending on the configuration of your windows, this may not be an air-tight fit, and you might still need to be on the lookout for small insects. I would certainly avoid these types of screens if I had a curious pet or young child.

Today’s cool breezes feel glorious. I can hear light traffic noises, occasional bird calls and distant voices. When opening the windows, we also put ourselves out there and share somewhat personal snippets of our lives, such as escaping cooking smells, voices, and the sounds of our favorite music, television program or current audio book.

The act of writing is a bit like opening windows. In sharing memoir and personal essays, we reveal our beliefs, feelings and memories to the world. Even in fiction, we raise the sashes that protect our personal experiences on which plots and characters are often based. We take a chance on rejection, disregard, or disagreement when opening ourselves up to the public, whether we share through a critique group, blog, website, self-publication, or if we publish in a traditional format. The potential rewards are many. Other writers and the public at large often embrace our written ideas and may offer helpful feedback, as well.

As writers, we should try to avoid being fearful of the results, take chances, and open our windows to the world beyond.

Collecting Memories

As a typical kid growing up in the 1950s, I collected the usual sorts of things, like pretty stones, smooth driftwood, multi-colored marbles, favorite books and treasured dolls. I wasn’t really much of a “pack rat,” though, and by the time I moved away from home the only parts of those collections that remained were a set of Trixie Belden mysteries and a few Barbie dolls.

As the years went by, the basis for my taste in collectible books remained much the same: heavy on the mystery and brimming with nostalgia. Most of the books I’ve sought out or have purchased after being pleasantly surprised by their appearance hold a connection to the past. When my life hit a U-turn a few years ago, and I was faced with downsizing from a house to a small apartment, my treasured book collection took a necessary but serious hit.

map backWhat remains is a selection of childhood chapter books, Golden Books related to memories but collected as an adult, author-signed novels, and a few vintage tomes that are too wonderful (and smelly) to ever discard. The largest set in the lot is my Dell Mystery Map Backs. As a child, I loved books that included illustrations of maps. Imagine my delight as an adult to discover these wonderfully “campy” mysteries with the great front cover art (although sometimes a bit lurid) and maps on the backs to match the stories. When moving day arrived, the only map backs I had parted with were a few duplicates.

Luckily my apartment has ample kitchen cupboard space, since my other main collecting activity has turned toward dinnerware, including Luray Pastels, Fiestaware, and Blue Willow. I really can’t bear to part with most of the pieces, since they were handed down to me from my grandmothers, mother, and several aunts.

Luray

The delicate scrollwork and pastel tones of the pink, blue, yellow and green Luray originated in West Virginia, near the Luray Caverns, from 1938-1961 and were made by Taylor, Smith, and Taylor Company. The set I now have once belonged to my mother’s older sister, and they often make me think of our homes in Michigan. The only piece that I use daily is the yellow salt shaker, and my favorite example that’s on display is the blue teapot. For a period of time, light gray additions were also produced, but never caught on in popularity and were then dropped. Pieces in that color are now highly collectible, and I’m happy to say that I hung on to the gray Luray platter that I bought “for a song” some years back.

fiestaware multiAlthough Fiestaware, which is produced by the Homer Laughlin China Company, also of West Virginia, was introduced in 1936, my pieces are not in the realm of vintage, unless that includes a set purchased through the J.C. Penney catalog in the 1990s. I had admired these colorful, sturdy dishes at the homes of friends as a child, and when I had the chance to purchase dinnerware of my own they seemed like the logical choice. Fiestaware is available in a wide range of colors, and my set is composed of deep pastels, including turquoise.  Over time, I’ve also added select pieces in red to be used as serving dishes. I often make use of the small plates and bowls while “cooking for one” and display the reds in my Hoosier-type cabinet in the fall and around the holidays.

Blue WillowWillow is an elaborate design that has been used on kitchen ware for hundreds of years and probably got its start as Spode transferware. Various colors have been used, and mine is all of the popular blue variety. The lovely scenes that are depicted include detailed buildings, gardens, bridges, and figures, which found their inspiration in wares that originated in China. Various companies appear to use these patterns, and my wide assortment came from both grandmothers, my father’s oldest sister and my mother. They all remembered that I had expressed an interest in those dishes as a child, and that fact makes me treasure them even more. I sometimes use the small bowls or plates and regularly display my favorites. The patterns vary and several that really catch my eye are the ones made in Holland that include camels in their designs.

No matter which type of collecting, my favorite objects will always be those that invoke a memory of the past or the air of childhood. If you were to ask my grandchildren about what I collect, they would probably say “roosters,” and I admit that quite a few of them in various incarnations do reside in my kitchen. Although only a few of them are connected to childhood, like my mother’s egg cups, I’ve had most of them for years. If the roosters could talk, they would tell stories about the history of my former life and marriage, including observations on all of the interesting kitchen renovations where they have “lived.”

As far as the Trixie Belden books and Barbie dolls that I took away from my childhood home as a newly minted adult, I still have them. The pages are somewhat discolored and brittle. The words and pictures still carry a type of intrigue and predictable comfort that I hope to instill in my own writing for children. Barbie and Ken make a curious couple, with his right arm missing and her bouffant hair somewhat worn off from the back of her head. They’re still smiling, though, after all these years.Barbie and Ken