Monthly Archives: November 2010

A Man and His Upside Down Cakes

If I do most of the baking, it’s not because he can’t — in fact yeast doughs are his baking bailiwick. He’s capable of puff pastry and profiteroles, cream puffs and cookies, gougeres and ganache. But I tend to the sweet side of the kitchen and leave him to bread, pizza dough and pannetone.

With one giant exception: anything upside down. (He’s the Tarte Tatin guy, for example.) I’ve never met a man as mad for upside down cakes as Lou is, was and ever shall be. It’s the only cake he makes on a regular basis, starting from about three days after we were married. When Honor’s day care, (the amazing Chase House on Chicago’s near west side) held a bake sale I think the other moms would have rioted and dumped him on the el tracks (Ashland stop) had he not produced  his signature cake. It was the full-dress number: crushed pineapple, pineapple rings and marachino cherries. One mother admited that when she worked the sale, she’d hide the cake and buy it herself. “Girl, my kids tore it up!”

Now, I like PUDC, but presented with the dessert tray, I’d likely make a another choice. With Lou it’s different — he craves something from a skillet, that started with a layer of fruit on the bottom. I’ve discussed our resolution to eat dessert second, rather than skip in entirely, and he’s produced two upside down cakes in a week and a half.  (We cut it in two, and present the other half to our neighbors, because we love them and because we have a one serving rule. We both have a bad feeling about having a whole cake in the house — it might be gone before bedtime.)

I’ve written here about the Joys of Jiffy, and it’s been on sale. One night Lou remembered a few plums rattling about in the produce drawer, pulled them out and opened two boxes of cornbread mix. He added some sugar to the batter, and made the topping — three tablespoons of butter and 2/3 cup brown sugar. Let it bubble, arrange plums in the sugar and pour the batter on. top. Bake.

(I forgot the sprinkle of walnuts.) It was very, very good,

Lou liked it so much that he pondered on Priscilla’s corncake recipe  (one package Jiffy white cake mix, one package Jiffy cornbread mix) and returned from the store a couple of nights ago with his baking booty. It included a can of crushed pineapple.

It’s a terrific idea, especially if you do as he did — sub pineapple juice for the water. Me, I missed the rings and the cherries, and I told him so.

He’s been sitting next to me as I type, and gosh darn if he hasn’t come up with another upside down idea — a fruit and yeast dough coffee cake. “You see, I’ll make one of those five minute bread doughs — the challah  recipe. It’s soft and spreadable. Just a few apples …”

I’ll report, and I know it’ll be soon. He’s a man with a mission.



Filed under A Couple of Bucks, Food, History

Site of the Day: The British Monarchy

Queen Elizabeth has a Facebook page. Go revel:

No, you can’t Friend her. But you can read the Court Circular!  One or another of her lame sons or grandsons are doing Good Works (when they’re not dressing inappropriately at Hallowe’en parties, fighting in Afghanistan , pushing organic produce or playing polo.) You can see pix of ambassadors presenting their credentials. Endless pix in what I can only describe as Queen chic . She’s not a bit chic, but I admire her matchy matchy outfits, always with a hat. I love hats.

I saw the Queen once, when I was a toddlesr. She and her newlywed husband drove in an open car  around the track at the Semanaire St. Joseph in Trois-Rivieres. She was young and beautiful, the Dook was young and handsome. Then time happens, kids happen, the Empire dissolved.

Unlike most Canadians, Kiwis, Indians and Aussies I was raised in a Jacobin family. My father was vocal in his loathing of the monarchy, rich twits with no clue. Even my Nana, who was born in England, despised the whole House of Windsor, and she saved her bile for the beloved Queen Mum. Poor Nana, she would have made a fab Queen Mum.

So this site is for retro fun, disengaged from the reality that Queen Elizabeth might be the only member of the House of Windsor with two brain cells to rub together, great hats and a bunch of weird kids. And that royal hubby, quite mad .

For followers of Brit soap operas, it’s just Coronation Street with money. But I can tell that’s it’s going to become a guilty pleasure. BTW, Camilla rocks hats too.


Filed under Free, History, Media, Politics, Site of the Day

When I Hear That Whistle Blowing

Unlike the Man in Black, when I hear that whistle blowing I don’t hang my head and cry. I snuggle deeper into my pillows and give thanks. It means I’m going to sleep.

Nothing, nothing works like the hoot of a train as a soporific. Not a hot bath, not chamomile tea, not warm milk (yuck) not a belt of bourbon. I’ve never been a great sleeper, and the older I get I suspect that’s because of my frantic dream life, which wakes me up exhausted and appalled. (Dr. Freud on 1.)

That whistle, that chugging  — my college friend Llyn said her father called it” TO Chicago FOR  tobacco”  is like intravenous Ambien. The long rumbling roll of the freight cars, that rhythm, the knowledge that life is going on and  and goods are being delivered to somewhere… I listen to it, under my Ikea duvet, and I sleep.

The EJ&E  tracks are about five blocks away, and mark the boundaries between the ‘Ville and Fermilab. The mighty CNR (Canadian National Railroad) bought the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern this year and the flap about it is wild. Because the CNR is running more trains through the EJ&E tracks, the city fathers are making them put up a sound-suppressing wall. The CNR is doing it, but my question to my ‘Villian neighbors is “For God’s sake, why?”

You nitwits, you’ll receive more train poetry and music. ” TO Chicago FOR tobacco. TO Chicago For tobacco. TO Chicago FOR tobacco.”  I want the chuggachugga as my last slip into the dreamland Great Beyond.


Filed under Born in Chicago, Free, Into the Mystic, On the Street Where I Live

Crafting Christmas — Mostly Martha.

I bow to everyone who looks to Martha Stewart for a new Christmas decor every year, for glam new table settings, for using Martha Stewart brand glitter on everything from Christmas cards to felt Advent calendars. From Her Greatness, I’ve learned to twist rickrack into a creditable-looking candy cane, how to make homemade soap, crochet Christmas ornaments , and shake my head at the brilliance of her staffers who crank out ideas like this:

I mean, some gumdrops, sprinkles and powdered sugar? Brilliant.

Or this felt stocking — so chic, and a kid could make it.


As a matter of fact a kid, my daughter whipped up an earlier MSL felt stocking when she was fourteen:

My lousy photography doesn’t do it justice — it’s the fabbest stocking I’ve ever seen.

But all these Martha offerings aren’t helping me this November; I can’t figure out what the heck presents I’m going to make for Christmas. My family and friends are aproned-out.  But I’ll take this opportunity to show you one I find particularly fetching: “Lady in Blue.” It was a commission from my Apron Patron Patty, for a friend who’s decor is wall-to-wall blue. (Note: Blue is a beautiful color — skies, forget-me-nots, Blue Willow, Lake Huron, sapphires, and my daughter’s eyes. But I can’t wear it — it makes my skin look as if I should be sporting a toe tag. And blue rooms make me feel, well, blue.)

The old-timey calico print:

The dark side: blue cornflowers:

Speaking of blue , I have a top drawer stuffed with Tiffany boxes, the remnants of wealthier times. Believe me, I have no quarrel with giving or receiving store-bought prezzies. Sure, I can sew, but if I’m giving a gent a dress shirt I’ll spring the bucks at Brooks Brothers; they do it so much better. I love giving and getting books, and receiving a top-up to my Guerlain perfume stash. But even when I had disposable income I made Christmas presents, just because I like to.

Last Christmas my sister-in-law Hilary baked us a huge tin of delectable cookies and squares. We didn’t open it until we returned home and I remember thinking: “Thanks, Hil! January is so much better because of you!”  Maybe I should be thinking about food gifts? Or maybe whip up a batch of our world-class limoncello? Nah — our Christmases involve crossing borders and carryons.

Here’s what I have in-house: Dead Sea Salts, from the real Dead Sea. Slabs of wax. Dried rosebuds. Fabric. Meltable soap slabs and an assortment of exquisite essential oils. Pipe cleaners. A pantry and a bar. Piles and piles and piles of paper. How to combine them (I ask myself) into different prezzie guises than they appeared at previous Christmases?

Any ideas? What are you making this Christmas?

I’m signing out to head back to



Filed under A yard of fabric, Apron of the Day, Body, Books, Food, Holidays, Home, Paper, Scent, Worth it anyway

Election Night Nosh

The night that Pierre Trudeau became Prime Minister of Canada is the first election night I remember. I’d spotted him early, because of an article in McLeans, and as a young teen I thought he was the coolest guy on earth — cooler than Stevie Winwood, cooler than Glenn Gould, cooler than Jerry Lee Lewis. He wore sandals into the House of Commons, sported a red rose in his buttonhole every day, and met up with John and Yoko when they did the Bed-In in Montreal.

It must be noted that Pierre Trudeau got Canada a constitution.

I can’t remember what we ate that election night, but I’m sure my mother served up a memorable meal — except that I can’t remember it . My parents were excited as I was, watching the CBC returns on the old  b&w.

I’ve never missed an election night since. I sat in the Student Union at McGill, eating soggy fries and seeing Hubert Humphrey go down. Carter, Reagan, Clinton, two Bushes, Obama. I realize that Election Night, while we’re watching the returns, joyful or disgusted, we’ve drifted into Election Night Nosh tradition.

It’s snackie night, clean out the freezer night, cheap cheerful food night. Because the coverage goes on and on, there’s a leisurely feel: it the news is bad, why not be in the kitchen frying up that half package of pot stickers from Trader Joe’s? If the news is good, you can run from the kitchen where you were making guacamole from a couple of elderly avocados. When things get grim, it’s just as well to be deaf over the stove, cooking up the end of a bag of frozen shrimp in a spicy sauce to throw over a bed of rice.

It’s like a low rent Oscar Night party. Thankfully there are no musical acts, no evening gowns, no comedians. But trust me, I care about a swing district in North Dakota more than I care about Best Director. Excuse me while I bite my nails and stir up a wok of fried rice.


Filed under A Couple of Bucks, Born in Chicago, Food, History, Politics

Bringing Out the Vote

(I swiped this image from my buddies at www. Thanks, guys.)

For reasons to long and twisted to enumerate here, after almost forty years in the USA I’m not an American citizen. It’s tough living in a country you love, being a political junkie, and not being able to vote. On Saturday a spritely voice on the telephone asked me to be a  part of a Bring out the Vote drive for our local Congressman. He’s a Fermilab scientist, a small businessman, and has been endorsed by every newspaper in Illinois, both liberal and conservative. His opponent is against a woman’s right to choose, whether it be rape, incest or losing her life. He has one high-profile endorsement: Sarah Palin. You wouldn’t think our guy’s seat would be in danger, but this year, it is.

I told the sprite, “Sure. Sign me up.” And so it was today that I was handed a map, and a list of voters registered to the party but hadn’t voted recently. That’s the Bring Out the Vote thing.

We met at a sympathizer’s house, who’d donated her garage to the Get Out the Vote people. We got a spirited role play from the dude in charge, instruction on the best way to roll and insert a flyer into a front door so it doesn’t fly away, and were handed a map, some literature , and a list of registered voters who haven’t dropped into a polling station for a couple of election cycles

Our largest paper demographic lived in the Woods of Wayne. The WoW is a square mile of the most outta control upscale new housing development I’ve ever seen. Now, it avoids the McMansion slur — the mansions are set on large, gorgeously landscaped lots, every house is different, and I can’t believe that there are still enough people in this economy with the moolah to set up Hallowe’en trees, to sport lions on their brick gateposts, and to avoid the vulgarity of streetlights. (Wayne is horsey, by the way. A horse trailer snuggles up to the Porsche in the circular driveways.)

Then we crossed Smith Road, and not two hundred yards away were sixties split levels, rusty pickup trucks and guys in Goth teeshirts opening the doors — I think they borrowed them from their grandsons.

Here are a few observations:

1) Tha larger the house, the smaller the dog.

2)The pricier the neighborhood, the less likely the existence of streetlights.

3)Even the wrong side of Smith Street was poorly lit.

4) If a voter’s age is listed as fewer than twenty-five years, they’ve moved out of the house.

5)You can understand, talking to the parents, why their kid’s decision might have been a protest vote. Trust me.

6) It gets dark early in Illinois in November. What with the zero streetlights,half of your shift consists of backing up and trying to make out an address on a mailbox with your brights on.

7) New evidence to reinforce a cliche: Midwesterners, if you can find their houses, are polite.

The details were annoying. (“Is this 336 or 384? Where are the damn streetlights?) I’m shameless in asking strangers to do something that’s important to me — I’m never shy about this. I loved seeing a part of my county, close up, that I never knew existed. But you know, here’s the thing: even though I can’t vote, I could be part of the process. It makes me cheerful.


Filed under Born in Chicago, Free, History, How Cool is That?, Worth it anyway