Monthly Archives: June 2010

Corn, Shrimp, Basil and Butter: 5 Minutes to Fab

I was chatting with Honor awhile back, and she mentioned that she and John had hosted a little dinner party. Her guests had all but raised their plates to their mouths and licked them — previous guests had in fact licked the dishes with the remnants of Ina Garten’s Chocolate Pudding. Like the pudding, the recipe was flat dab simple.

“Well, you cut the kernels off some corn and don’t throw away the milk. Put a couple of tablespoons of butter in a pan and poach the corn and the corn milk for a few minutes until the shrimp is cooked. Then add a lot of sliced fresh basil and salt and pepper.”

“Mom, don’t you remember this recipe? It came from some Gourmet quick-cooking book you Dad and gave to us before we were married?” Um, no, Love. I own a lot of cookbooks and this recipe never registered. But it should have!

The odd thing about this recipe is that although the tastes are amazing, it’s one of those recipes I can’t place on a map. Corn is Midwestern, though I know that the five-for-a-dollar awesome ears I’m getting from the local supermercado aren’t from the Midwest, not in June. Shrimp can be from lots of places. Basil skews Italian, and Italians know shrimp, but their corn turns into polenta. It’s a kind of culinary sport.

This is a Treat Dinner for me, accessible only when I can find great fresh corn. The basil tonight is from my garden, but most supermarkets stock fresh  basil in clear plastic boxes year round and finding shrimp isn’t a problem. Tonight’s total for two diners is 40 cents for corn and three bucks for shrimp. Because Honor had mentioned the Gourmet provenance of this recipe I went clicketty at epicurious and here’s the recipe in it’s d’uh simplicity. In my d’uh stupitude I didn’t realize that my camera’s battery is dead, so no picture.

There’s just something unexpected and otherworldly about how this dish tastes. Fresh, rich, pure –what I long to be.



Filed under Five bucks or fewer, Food, Home

Will the World Cup and Univision Teach me to Grok Soccer?

I hate not liking things that have proved to make millions, even billions, of people cheerful. I want every reason for good cheer, and I’m sad that I dislike bluegrass, harpsichords, NASCAR, hotdogs  PBJs and pina coladas. But history has proved that I can learn and stretch and change:I was wrong to loathe country music and Gustav Mahler, for two. But I’ve never felt any  more enthusiasm for the Beautiful Game than I do for golf. Or watching paint dry. In fact, I prefer watching paint dry, because then I’ll know when I can hang my pictures

My two favorite sports are tennis and hockey — games that don’t have anything in common except for edge of the seat speed and technique. I’m fond of baseball,  NBA final basketball, and Pairs figure skating.  I don’t get to watch enough badminton or high hurdles or caber tossing. What’s impossible to avoid are games played with a large ball on grass.

I come from a football family: my parents were fans, and watched every NFL, CFL and college game. Heck, if they’d has cable back in the day they’d  have watched Australian Rules.I watch the Super Bowl and that’s it. One game a year.  Huge men so padded and helmeted they could be prototypes for Ironman’s suits. That’s not true with soccer — the lads are out there in shorts and jerseys, but they can’t throw a pass or  tackle, they run up and down a giant pitch for ninety endless minutes and the score may be nil/ nil. Where’s the beauty? Where’s the excitement? I’m thinking cricket would, in comparison, be a thriller.The only big ball game I like is rugby. It’s the best of all football worlds:

  • It’s unapologetically brutal.
  • Shorts and jerseys, no pads
  • Tackles
  • Lateral passes
  • Footwork
  • No injury time outs, so substitutions

For me soccer, or (better) futbol is:

  • Boring
  • Endless
  • Boring
  • Endless

But I do understand the great world gathering that is the World Cup. I was in Ottawa in 2007 when the FIFA U-20 was played and was astonished –that staid city was electrified. My father’s house is ten blocks from the stadium and we couldn’t park on the street for the traffic overspill. Cars roared by flapping Panamanian flags. The earth moved from the roars. Every hotel room for a hundred miles was sold out. It was deeply cool to be there.

So today I forced myself to watch the USA/England match on ABC. because I wanted to understand the power of this game that mesmerizes the whole world. I wanted to love it, to feel the passion, to figure out why I can’t get all cheerful because it’s World Cup. My neighbor kids have been out day and night playing footie in the streets and on the lawns.

Well, I felt bad for Green for flubbing that save, but I have to say that is was the same old same old. Men running about, treating the ball to their heads and feet and knees and nothing happening. For ninety minutes! I expressed my disenchantment on Facebook  and my buddy Ivan said: “Watch it on Univision.” I flipped the channel and it was an alternate reality.

Same teams, same boring sport, and, to my shame, I don’t speak Spanish. But the pure passion of the play-by-play reminded me of watching a Habs game on French CBC. I was glued. Maybe Univision will provide the path to a cheap and cheerful sporting enthusiasm for me. Maybe if I watch enough matches I’ll figure out why this dud boring game is called The Beautiful Game. I hope so, so bad.

If any of my Spanish speaking friends could provide me with a crib sheet of Spanish soccer speak, I’ll be forever in your debt. I’m going to try so hard to love soccer: maybe I’ll some day appreciate the Blue Mountain Boys. Or calves’s liver.


Filed under Media

Larkspur: My Perennial Annual

I’ve made so many gardening gaffes, and  spent so much money on plants and seeds that I might as well have rolled up those dollars and lit the grill with them. That’s not to say that all my experiments in horticulture flat-out died — I wrote about my losing battle with Russian Comfrey here:

So it’s with pride and bemusement that I’m going to talk about one of my successes: Larkspur.

I bought a package of seeds seven (eight?) years ago and blithely threw them around near the front door. Nothing happened, not one single hopeful seedling. I shrugged it off with that summer’s other failures, and walked around to the rear of the house to smell my roses.

The next spring I noticed tiny lacy fronds peeping up that didn’t look like any of the vigorous weeds greeting spring with their usual enthusiasm. I decided to leave them there. A month later I had a solid 2’X6′ patch of waving larkspur in shades of blue from cobalt to baby, with a few pink beauties here and there. Folks, don’t do as I did: read your seed packets.

“Plants seeds in late fall or early spring when weather is cool.” Like annual poppies, larkspur (consolia ajacis) needs to be cold, even frozen before it germinates. And because the self-scattered seeds like a few months nap under a blanket of snow, my larkspur has greeted me every June since.

I learned about the poppies in exactly the same scenario, by the way. You’re probably thinking: “Well, duh! No wonder this clueless woman makes so many mistakes — she won’t even read the package!” You’d be 80% right, but trust me, I’m improving in this direction. Twenty five years of horticultural disaster will pound in a few lessons:

  • I lust after my father’s magnificent delphiniums. Fifteen examples of pricey failure-to-thrive was what drove me to try larkspur. Larkspur works for me, delphiniums don’t.
  • Never accept a garlic chive plant from a gardening neighbor, unless you want to till over your entire garden every single year. They spread, they smell if you’ve got a hundred hardy plants, and even tilling won’t eradicate them.
  • Always accept any other plant from the same neighbor.
  • Hybrid tea roses aren’t enough bang for the buck, and rarely smell like roses.
  • I suck at growing vegetables, so except for my lone tomato plant, and lots of herbs, I’m just gonna hit the farmer’s market.
  • I love growing annuals from seed, especially if they’re reliable and I can identify them.




And Morning Glories. These are three more varieties I can count on.

I love growing flowers by direct seeding — it’s just taken me way too long to form my list of Old Reliables. I add zinnias to that list but this summer I forgot my zinnies. I’ll regret that come August. Talk about cheap and cheerful!

I’m fond of the varieties of vintage flower and vegetable seeds from Renees Garden Seeds, formerly Shepherd’s Seeds. Quality is excellent, the selection is very cool, and the packets are so pretty!

What are your Old Reliables from a seed package? What am I missing out on?

I’m off to the Farmer’s Market in the ‘Ville. I hope that this year I’ll find more farmers and fewer jewelery stands.


Filed under A Couple of Bucks, Free, Growing things, Home, On the Street Where I Live

The 3X5 Index Card: Oh, the Possibilities

I’ve never used an index card for any of the uses that spring immediately to mind — taking notes, making lists, storing recipes or keeping files. But paper person that I am, I’m never without a slippery package of the cheap little fellas and I go through them so quickly you’d think I was a fifties era grad student working on my thesis about the saints of 12th century Estonia.  And I’m no Nabokov, who’d write separate scenes from his novels on index cards then shuffle them around until he found a plot line he liked. (That might be fun, though.)

I once had a printer that fed them effortlessly — man that was fun! When I traveled I’d print out a pic on the cheap stock and make my own postcards. The early Kodak digital camera that paired with the printer has long since been retired and I still miss it.

But I make, in about a half a second, my own correspondence cards: (I own a couple of rubber stamp alphabet sets.)

Speaking of stamps, I carve a simple stamp every year when I make my Christmas cards. The gift tags match. Oh, how I love my cheapo old paper punch…I’m ashamed of displaying my first stab at stab binding, but I carry this baby book around in my purse. It’s sturdy — bless those card stock pages.

A pair of scissors and a 3X5 = a 3″ X  2 1/2″ pop up card:

Or a pop up place card:

And I haven’t even begun to consider the purposes to which a cheap rectangle of thin cardboard could be put. Mini paper dolls? Primitive funnel? There has to be a perfect origami application somewhere…

How do you use this outdated piece of office technology?


Filed under Less than 50 cents, Paper

Refrigerator Magnets, Your Way

Compared to Louise Greenfarb, who lives in Las Vegas, I’m a piker. I have 10 refrigerators magnets, which seems like plenty to me. The Guinness Book of World Records credits her for  29,000 and counting. That’s nuts — but who am I to judge relative nuttiness?I’m sure Louise didn’t spend an hour today making pompoms to top car antenna sleeves.

I don’t remember any magnets on my mother’s Frigidaire when I was growing up. It turns out that I was in college when William Zimmerman from St. Louis  took out the first patent in the early seventies.  Forty years later 80% of fridges in developed countries sport a magnet or six.

Here is my collection, minus one that hangs on the front door to hold down the postcard from the Purple Hearts reminding me to get that box of old paperbacks and bag of my redundant Dress for Success togs onto the front porch on the right day.

I don’t as a rule keep magnets on the fridge — the fridge sits near the stove and it’s a pain to shuffle them around when I wipe it down. I hang them on the garage door that opens from the dining room. As you can see, my magnets are utilitarian — they either hold something up or provide information  : my sister-in-law’s work number, or the dates of the ‘Ville farmer’s Market (tractor.) My faves are the four stainless jobbies, which I pickled up at a housewares shop in Ottawa. Their force fields are so strong that thet leap out of my hand and onto the  metal with a thunk. The two clip style magnets could hold a two hundred page manuscript, and  I could slip a five pound bag of potatoes over the hook — its brawn is being wasted on that potholder.

This cunning little tart is my favorite. Not only does it take the guesswork out of pan size conversion, it hides a tape measure, and it’s plenty strong.

The Guido Reni Santa Cecilia and Rembrandt’s portrait of his son Titus are happy memories of a visit to the Norton-Simon Museum in Pasadena. And isn’t that why we buy magnets? We never go out to the hardware store with “Buy refrgerator magnet” on the list between the masking tape and the tomato food. We buy them as souvenirs, to keep or to give away when we get home. They’re cheap, they’re cheerful, and they’re a tiny snapshot of a beloved place or a happy time.

Lloyd and his coworkers have a tradition: at the beginning of the year they start with a blank canvas of a fridge door in the break room. When they go on vacation they must bring back a souvenir magnet, and the collection grows as the year marches on. What fun! Maybe it would be cool if I collected magnets of paintings only by Guido Reni — that could be a lifetime museum pursuit.

How many magnets do you own? What are your favorites? Is your collection carefully curated or all over there thematically? Do you color code them? And are there uses for them that I haven’t thought of?


Filed under Art, Collections, Five bucks or fewer, Home, The Great Outdoors

My Fitness Plan: Pretty Painless( Cheerful) and Free ( Cheap)

In my post-partum twenties I wrecked my knees by running on Chicago sidewalks in Keds — I couldn’t afford real running gear. In my thirties (time capsule moment) I sweated with Jane Fonda — not with a video, but to an LP on a turntable! I stopped when I was fit and skinny, and when I just couldn’t stand the back pain doing all those abs exercises sitting up from a hard floor.

In my forties I got serious about one muscle group: my upper arms. I started with one military (not Girl) pushup, and after six months and a couple of drinks I’d astound fellow party guests by giving them fifty. (Lou criticized my form throughout, and I was grateful —  if I was gonna embarrass men half my age I didn’t want any technical points taken off.)

A thread through all this is yoga. Post-partum, I watched “Lilias,Yoga and You” on PBS when Honor napped and I threw down the occasional Sun Salute. This was the seventies, and the first wave of Yoga Fever. I was interested enough to go to Kroch’s and Brentano on Wabash and buy a thick paperback called something like Yoga. It featured every asana ever conceived by any Indian God or Goddess, excellent written instructions and great photos of a gorgeous blonde hippie chick to inspire me. Damn, I wish I still had that book. It was excellent with no woowoo about it.

I was always the last girl to be picked for a team in gym class, which doesn’t haunt me because I was too dim about athletics to care. Hey, I wouldn’t have picked myself: I had no clue about competition in sports –I still don’t. For me, fitness is a private thing: you might have noticed that I learned about it from books and 33 rpms. And I’ve never joined a gym, a fitness center or paid for a yoga class. I’m a fitness autodidact.

This is the one area of my life where I’m a Scots puritan. The idea of paying someone to do something I should have the fortitude to do myself makes me crazy guilty.

When I got canned I thought that my new life on my ass would make me fat. It didn’t. I’ve lost weight without trying — while reading thrillers on my tummy on the couch and strolling the intertubes. The reason is, of course, that I’m not stressed and bored, and there isn’t a snack machine dispensing medicinal Cheetos and Mars Bars. My typical redunadant lunch is a poached egg on toast or a tuna salad sandwich. And no longer do I hit McDonald’s on the way to work for a bacon egg and cheese biscuit or the BP station (!) for an asiago bagel with a schmear.

I’m not fat, but I’m old. A few years ago I said: “Mummy, you’ll tell me when my arms are too flabby to wear a sleeveless blouse. Promise?” She said: “Sure.” and I know she meant it. I’m wearing a tank top today and getting away with it — no dewlaps — but I want guns like Nadal or Stosur. So last night I pressed out five pushups. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t pretty but I did it. I’ll add, starting tonight, the greatest, most effective, painless ab excercise in the world: I call it the Standing Yoga Pressup.

Plant your dawgs a foot apart, and put your hands on your bent knees. Exhale. Then roll your abs upward, and  push them down. Repeat until you run out of breath. Do it again.

Like him. It’s as effective as all those situps and pretty painless.

Then there’s the after-you-brush-your-teeth spine exercise. Raise your arms above your head in a backwards angle. Then slowly, slowly, slowly bend forward, never pushing, just letting the weight of your arms drag them to the bathmat If you can’t put your palms to the floor it’s no biggie — the beauty of yoga is that you get all the benefits of trying, even if you don’t succeed.

I’m making a vow to these basic three exercises: until my pushups improve I can fit them into ten minutes a day without major pain or stress. There’s a hole in this fitness program a tennis court wide — the aerobic thing. God, I hate sweating! And I don’t have the right shoes. And I wilt in the heat.  And I’m lazy. Does weeding count?


Filed under Body, Born in Chicago, Free, History

Catching Up at C &C

This is going to be a mingy  on-the-fly blog post, because it’s been that kinda coupla of days.

Yesterday was library day and Post Office day, always a bitchin’ combo. I mailed out a couple of packages and bought those Animal Rescue stamps — the ones Ellen’s the Spokeswoman for. When you live in the “Ville, even the Post Office employees know  you. They whip out that binder of stamps when they see me in line — they know what I’ve bought, what I haven’t, and what I like. And they know that when they say “Do you need stamps?” it’s not just the professional written-in-stone sales template from the Postmaster’s Office. They know I’m a sucker and I’ll buy something.

I tagged a couple of antennas in the PO parking lot. HeeHee!

The haul from the library: Kim Severson’s “Spoon Fed,” Julie Orringer’s “The Invisible Bridge,” Louise Penny’s “A Rule Against Murder,” Laurie R. King’s “The Moor, Donna Leon’s ‘A Question of Belief ” (which Lou hijacked,) and Patti Smith’s “Just Kids.”  That should hold us for a week.

Today, I made the caftan, which in its seersucker is an amusingly Sloane Ranger/Preppy kind of caftan. It fits the bill for what I was yearning for back here:

It’s cool,crisp and it flows. I’ll make it again in shorter, more decorated and chicer versions, but I’m happy with the template. My model is fine showing off aprons, but the caftan thing — not so much. He refused to show off the line of the sleeves or do any serious posing. Willow got into the shot, of course.

Trust me here: It looks better on me.

Last: if you follow my food writing, “The Daily Gullet” at published a piece combining my passion for Procul Harum and White Sauce: A Whiter Shade of Sauce.


Filed under Library Card, Media, Needlework