23 March 2010

The Very Little Things

It doesn't take much to amuse me. Here are some of the "little things" that have brought a smile to my face lately.

Being able to roll down all the windows and open the sunroof.

Discovering that a baking soda and water solution gets rid of powdery mildew, which was plaguing my rosemary. (Thank you, Mrs. Odell.)

Gel inserts for my running shoes. What's more, they came in a pink be-flowered package.

Finding a gorgeous marble chessboard in the stuff Jared hauled from a recent job-- and putting it in my kitchen to roll out pastry.

Being called "Mrs."

Those little scraper things that come with Pampered Chef stoneware. Why did I never realize their amazingness before? They work perfectly not only for pizza stones and muffin tins, but any time you want to avoid getting sticky junk all over your sponge: i.e. flour-encrusted rolling pins, doughy mixer blades, and horribly burnt pots (ohh, that's another story altogether).

22 March 2010

More Coffee Shop

Borders’ Bookstore is much different from Panera. (I think I like it more.) There has a really interesting variety of people, yet fewer loud teenage conversations, and actually—-and this might be why I like it so much—-it reminds me of AJ’s Café at Hillsdale. Good memories.


Is it weird that I concentrate better when there are a lot of people around? Silence distracts me. I guess I work best in a fairly “active” environment, but where the conversations are subdued and the music is tame. In other words, where I can see movement but not have to participate in it—-where I can hear some noise but not have it drilled into my head.


Also, I do not like coffee syrup flavorings. I don't think I have ever had one that didn't leave a weird taste in my mouth. Have you?

18 March 2010

the only reason my brothers haven't disowned me . . .

. . . I'm pretty sure, is that I like to make these oatmeal chocolate chip bars and give them some. If it weren't for these, my enjoyment of popped collars, imagist poetry, and the occasional shot of Taylor Swift might kick me to the familial curb.

By the way, these ship well. Send them to hungry college students and you'll win hearts forever. I know.


Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Bars

1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 large eggs
3 cups quick oats
1 cup unbleached white flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips*

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees; lightly grease a 9x13 pan.
2) Cream softened butter and sugar in mixing bowl.
3) Add vanilla and eggs, and beat thoroughly.
4) Stir together oats, flour, baking soda, and salt in separate small bowl.
5) Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture and stir until thoroughly combined.
6) Stir in chocolate chips.
7) Spread dough evenly in greased 9x13 pan and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Cool and cut into bars. Gobble.

*I like using mini chips. They spread through the bars more evenly, and don't get in the way of slicing.

15 March 2010

Reading List Suggestions

This must be one of the funniest blogs I have ever read, and its author sounds suspiciously like me: Ezra Pound Cake, a cook-o-centric blog written by an English major, writer, baker, and all-around foodie whose name is Rebecca. And her husband's name starts with J. I'm not making this up.

Anyway, I just discovered Ezra Pound Cake and I'm delighted to make its acquaintance. The writing is fabulous (in an irreverently clever and sometimes sketchy manner), and the recipes look equally fabulous (planning to make the coconut cupcakes and rosemary roasted sweet potatoes verrrry soon).

In the real-book realm, I'm finishing David McCullough's biography of Harry Truman (aptly titled Truman) and would highly recommend it. Just read The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton in preparation for a new American Lit class I'm developing for the fall, and that's great too. I love counting book purchases as "business expenses" . . .

09 March 2010

nom nom nom.

Ooh, we like creamed spinach. We definitely do. (Points if you recognized Eloise's voice there.) As is becoming the usual, the base recipe for this gloriously rich and satisfying version came from Smitten Kitchen. How would I cook without the internet?

This is one of those things that looks boring and is absolutely NOT.


Simple* Creamed Spinach

2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup warm whole milk (or a mixture of milk and cream, or all cream if you're feeling especially luxurious)
16 oz package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
salt and pepper to taste

1) Melt butter on medium heat in skillet. Saute onion for a few minutes; add garlic, lower heat, and cook covered until translucent and soft, about 7-10 minutes.
2) Whisk in cornstarch gradually to form roux (which is just a snooty name for butter-flour paste. But I like using the snooty names) and continue to whisk until lumps are gone, about a minute.
3) While still whisking roux and onion, add milk in a slow steady stream. Increase heat just a tad and bring to low simmer, still whisking, until nicely thickened.
4) Add spinach and stir until smooth. Let spinach warm through, and add salt/pepper to taste.
5) Devour-- serves about 3, depending on how hungry you are.

I like this more than the fancy-pants Parmesan or ricotta or herbes de Provence or whatever versions. It's good with everything.**

*Simple here meaning fast and easy, with a minimum of ingredients and requiring no equipment fancier than a whisk. Simple not meaning "yawn." There's some of this in the fridge right now and it's screaming my name, despite the fact that I already had lunch.

**Okay, maybe not with baked oatmeal. But you know what is good with brown-sugary hot baked oatmeal? Sliced banana. I just discovered that banana goes with oatmeal like, I don't know, insert bad cliche here. But it's heavenly good.

05 March 2010


Etymology: Medieval Latin, ultimately from Greek parapherna , a bride's property beyond her dowry, from para- + phernē dowry, from pherein to bear. At one time it meant the separate personal property of a married woman, which she can dispose of by will and sometimes according to common law during her life. Now we use it to refer to any accessories or equipment, no matter to whom it belongs!

Hmm. I found that etymology interesting. But then I started thinking about my paraphernalia (in the medieval sense), and how I don't really view it as "mine" any more . . . the things I brought with me have melded into our common holdings and I can't even remember what most of those things were in the first place. I like it better that way, and I don't feel the need to keep tabs on "my stuff," as if I had to protect it from thieves. Neither of us has a mental list of private belongings; we don't need to keep things separate, we don't need to label it Mine and Yours. It's all Ours. I was surprised at how naturally that transition occurred.

On a completely unrelated note, there's a groundhog running across the field right now, and it's so cute I can't believe my husband (and brothers-in-law) can talk of "shooting groundhogs" with such glee. Yes, I know, the first time I find a groundhog hole in the backyard I'll want to get the gun myself. But the little fuzzball hasn't done anything to me yet.

02 March 2010

Coffee Shop Musings

I'm sitting here at Panera, writing study guides on "compassion and purity in Jane Eyre" and "how to outline persuasive essays." Having a blast-- okay, yes, I'm a dork. So?

There are two adorable old ladies sitting in the booth across from me, drinking iced tea and swapping knitting patterns (and doctor stories). Also a great gray-haired couple a few booths over, sharing one another's soup and looking thoroughly pleased to be together after however-many years. Also a sharply dressed gentleman all by himself-- I hope he has a wife and several rambunctious children at home. He looks very nice, with a mischeivous sense of humor, the sort who is extremely dignified in the office all day and then wrestles with his little boys all evening.

Now it's 3:00 and a new crowd has come in. Well, the knitting ladies are still here, but the late-lunchers have arrived. Across the way sits a smitten pair of high school lovebirds, she with heavy duty makeup and glossy blonde-streaked hair, he obviously an athlete-- I'm thinking track and field-- but too self-consciously cool to be a "jock," in his trendy plaid and precisely tousled brown curls. (It's amazing how much work it takes to look casual. Just as much effort as looking formal.) Studying the soda machine is a tall and very pregnant young woman, who has managed to look stylish despite having a stomach big enough for three watermelons. I suppose it helps that she's six feet tall with supermodel legs. Bless her heart, I hope that baby comes out soon...

Three nineteen-year-olds in another booth are talking about "like, what's new?" and comparing "what's happened since we graduated" stories. I know their age because they decided to figure out who was the youngest, and discovered that the guy is, giving rise to teasing from the two girls. Anyway, one girl is married and has a two-year-old daughter. The other keeps reminiscing about the good old days of high school (as if she didn't just leave those "good old days" eight months ago). It's kind of pathetic. And then the guy's been dating the same girl for four years and is quite proud of it, but apparently no marriage plans. "I don't want to grow up and support myself," are the exact words. He is currently proclaiming himself "totally unmotivated" for college, and the girls sympathetically say, "Oh gosh, yeah."

What a life.

I realized, listening to this trio, that I'm an old married person in their eyes. That's funny.

All for now. I'm packing up my computer and heading out-- enough observations and study guides both.