Monday, August 31, 2009

"If you have a husband who likes to cook..."

"Pamper him! Encourage him! You are lucky indeed, even though you find yourself only a fetch-and-carry handmaiden while his genius glows."

So says the cookbook Dishes Men Like, which we found on an excursion to the Washington Antiques Fair yesterday. Publication date: 1952. Surprised? I thought not.

The text continues:

"But men are wise, not one in a thousand really wants to take over the job....So, what do we do? It goes without saying that most women choose dishes men like. And men have quite definite likes and dislikes about food. For instance, they like Lea & Perrins, the Original Worcestershire Sauce."

Yes, this fabulous little tome features 52 pages of recipes, all of which use Worcestershire Sauce in some way, from the basic--"Deviled Crackers," in which you cream a half cup of butter with a teaspoon of Worcestershire, spread it on some saltines, and bake the for five minutes--to the fancy, like "Chicken Livers and Mushrooms on Toast."

Speaking of mushrooms, we also picked up this cookbook, put out by the makers of B in B mushrooms, the cover of which would seem to suggest that mushrooms are cannibalistic. "Turkey Wiggle," anyone?

Personally, I think both the men and the mushrooms should clear out of the kitchen and make way for the adorable penguin chef who not only cooks, but serves.

The corporate cookbooks from the 50s and 60s stand in stark contrast to this final one we found, published by the West Penn Power Company in 1943, that extols the virtues of growing and preserving your own food. This one folds out and the whole center spread explains the proper canning methods for fruit, tomatoes, "non-acidic vegetables," and meat.

That's been on my mind lately, since every so often I'll make a giant batch of tomato sauce and can it. Several of the jars I put up last time went bad, though they seemed to be sealed. When I made some a few weeks ago, I just decided to freeze it instead (yo, penguin: a little help here!). But now that I have what looks to be a fairly definitive (if 76-year-old) guide, maybe I can figure out what went wrong.

Not bad for a dollar.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Play ball

Though I would never call myself a big sports fan, somehow summer never seems complete without taking in a baseball game. I love the sheer languor of the game, which seems perfectly matched to the season.

We went to our first Pittsburgh Pirates game on Friday night, after talking about it for two years. PNC Park is one of those new-old-fashioned ballparks, and it works, in much the way Coors Field in Denver does. Like Coors Field, it makes the most of its setting: the ballpark is on the North Shore of downtown, right on the Allegheny River, and the view of the skyline and the Roberto Clemente Bridge is spectacular, especially as night settles in and the skyscrapers light up.

To be honest, I couldn't care less about the game itself. For me, the appeal lies in the experience: being in the stands on a hot summer afternoon or (in this case) on a balmy evening, drinking a ridiculously expensive, generally awful beer from a can or a plastic cup. And what I really enjoy are all the weird rituals of the game.

There are the universal ones: the "group sings" of the national anthem and "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," the traditional taunts, the wave, the seventh-inning stretch, the cries of the vendors as they hock their wares through the stands: "Ice-cold BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEER here." Or, at PNC Park, "Yingling here!" (Spelled "Yuengling," but pronounced locally like the first and last syllable rhyme.)

The most interesting local tradition in Pittsburgh, though, is the Great Pierogi Race between the fifth and sixth innings. Sponsored by Mrs. T's, the race features four people dressed in oversized pierogi costumes who race each other around the periphery of the outfield. Lest you think that all pierogies are alike, making it impossible to tell which one won, these are distinguished by flavor and attire: Cheese Chester, Oliver Onion, Sauerkraut Saul, and Jalapeno Hannah.

The Onion won on Friday night, as did the Pirates, 5-2 over the Cincinnati Reds. The Pirates hit two home runs and rookie Andrew McCutchen had an impressive hit that looked like it was also going to go all the way but was caught after bouncing off the outfielder's glove, but nevertheless got McCutchen a triple.

Perhaps because their record this year is pretty dismal, the Pirates are waxing nostalgic about the 30th anniversary of their championship 1979 season. So all night the scoreboard would occasionally light up with clips from TV shows of the era, and the loudspeakers featured snippets of memorable tunes from that year: "Le Freak," "September," "Rock Lobster," "Shake Your Groove Thing." Nostalgia piled on nostalgia: just what a baseball game should be. And it was Dollar Dog night, so we didn't even feel completely bankrupt by the end of the evening.

Really, what more could a person ask for on a beautiful Friday night in August, the last weekend before the semester starts? It was the perfect way to cap off the summer. So when classes start tomorrow, I feel somewhat more ready to say "Play ball!"

Thursday, August 20, 2009

It's in the house

Last night, about 11:30, I was asleep, or nearly so, while Rose was reading in "Big Blue," the comfy chair, and suddenly she says (loud enough to wake me up), "There's a bat in the house!"

I leapt from the bed, and we hustled over to the door where Rose slipped out of the room and I tried to figure out what to do next. All the while, the bat is circling, circling in the erratic way bats have. First, I opened the window screen, hoping maybe it would just fly back out. No luck. My next idea was to strip a pillowcase off one of my pillows and run around the room, leaping into the air to try to catch the thing whenever it came close. (Leaping was necessary: our ceilings are high, even on the second floor; Rose certainly heard the sound of me leaping, although there was no japing.) Amazingly, on the dozenth or two-dozenth try, the bat was inside and I quickly scrunched up the opening to keep it there.

Now what? I hesitated, then decided just to take it downstairs, go outside and let it go. No problem, only I had to kind of shake it out of the pillowcase. But then it plopped out and (as I told Rose later) "flew away, just like Dracula."

Back to sleep, until about 5:15, when it all happens again. Rose--out the door, door closed. But this time, I'm much sleepier, and I again moved the screen: but this time, the screen tried to fall out, so I just pulled it into the room. And when the bat came my way, I used the screen to "bat" it right out, for a home run. But no going back to sleep this time.

Amazingly, when Rose looked at the Bat Conservation website, a pillowcase was actually recommended as a capturing method. But so was rabies testing recommended--which we skipped. It never occurred to us not to let it go.

One tends to think of a house as a place to keep things in ("A place for my stuff," as George Carlin put it), but I guess I need the reminder now and then that a house is even better for keeping things out. Let's hope that's the last of the bats.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Necessity is the mother of...a big (but tasty) mess

This morning I was flipping through the current issue of Better Homes and Gardens, and saw this recipe for Spiced Beef Kabobs with Mashed Carrots .

It sounded good, and also like a good way to use up some of the yellow squash and zucchini we have lying around. Frankly, those get old fast. And we skipped the mashed carrots, since those don't sound good any time of year, but especially not on a hot August day.

While I was out running errands this afternoon, I stopped by the Giant Eagle and picked up some beef, some mushrooms, and some grape tomatoes, and went home and spent an hour or so making the marinade, cutting up the beef, and chopping vegetables.

A couple hours later, I returned to the kitchen planning to start soaking the wooden skewers so they wouldn't burn up on the grill. I looked in the drawer where I thought they were. Nothing there. I rooted through a few other drawers and cabinets. No skewers anywhere.

Suddenly, I had one of those post-move realizations I figured we were done with after two years: they were in that drawer in Greeley, but they didn't make the move to Morgantown.

Not that you can't find shish-kabob skewers in Morgantown. But I really didn't want to go out to the grocery store again (you have to drive, and it's a guaranteed half hour out of your life even to just pick up one thing). And I was mad at myself for not checking before I went to the grocery store earlier. What was I thinking?! Why did I just assume that I still had them?!

Tom gallantly offered to go to the store with me to buy some. (You'll note that he didn't just volunteer to go himself. This still meant getting in the car and making a second trip to the store, this time with the guy whose chief pleasure in going to the grocery is ogling the potato chips and donuts.)

We started looking around for possible skewer substitutes. One pair of wooden chopsticks in the drawer--that'll work.

Twizzlers? Nah.

Then Tom remembered: how about cutting some of the longer branches off our rosemary plant and using those? Great! Unfortunately, the longest stems on our scraggly bush are only about five inches long.

Still looking around, I came across a package of rice noodles.

"Hey, if this works, would you be embarrased to put your name to it and send it in for the Cook's Illustrated tips page?" I asked.

If you're not familiar with the magazine, each month Cook's Illustrated has a two-page spread of tips sent in by readers. While most of them are useful, there's always one that's either so obvious or so weirdly compulsive that you have to wonder if it wasn't planted there as a joke.

As an example: the current issue includes the following tip for "Sponge on a Rope": "1) Poke a small hole in the sponge. 2) Thread a string through the hole and loop the sponge over the neck of a spray bottle filled with vinegar and water or any cleaning solution."

How, I can hear you asking yourself, did you ever keep your kitchen clean before?

But no matter how dumb the tip, each reader who has one accepted gets a year's subscription free, which is no small deal, since the regular rate is $25.

Well, long story short: we don't recommend using rice noodles in place of shish-kabob skewers. Back to the drawing board.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Commerical jingles you won't hear on TV these days

So, awhile back I'd dried some sheets on the line in the basement, and asked Tom to come help me fold them, if he had the time.

As he came down the basement stairs, he was singing "If you've got the time, We've got the beer... Miller Beer."

For some reason that touched off a whole nostalgia fest about bad beer and wine jingles we remembered from our 1970s childhoods:

"Here's to good friends, tonight is kinda special.... Tonight, let it be Lowenbrau."

"Head for the mountains, Head for Busch Beer."

...and of course,

"Riunite on ice, Reunite--that's nice. Riunite, Riunite, on ice!"

and the immortal slogan, "We will sell no wine before its time." Sadly, an entire generation only knew Orson Welles from those Paul Masson wine ads. It was kind of a shock to see the handsome young version of him in movies later on.

Which leads us to wonder: thirty years or so from now, will the kids of today be folding sheets and singing "Viva, Viagra"?

It came from Columbus...sorta.

We just got back from a quick trip to Washington, D. C. Tom was there to read grant applications for the NEH, so I got to spend all day Tuesday exploring the Mall. We realized that we hadn't been to DC for at least ten years (we were very happy to realize we'd never set foot in the place during all of W's tenure in the White House).

The last time we were there, we saw this Roy Lichtenstein sculpture, "House I," on the Mall, but the the Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery of Art, where the piece is now located, was just then under construction. It's completed now and it's a beautiful space to wander around. And "wandering" is definitely needed to appreciate the weird trompe l'oeil effect of this piece!

I also saw an exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum titled "1934: A New Deal for Artists." It's a collection of just a handful of the 10,000+ works of art created in 1934 for the short-lived Public Works of Art Project.

I've been totally fascinated by the WPA arts projects for several years now, but had never heard of this particular initiative...but fell in love with a number of the paintings on display.

This particular painting by Douglass Crockwell, titled "Paper Workers," interested me because of the weird Lego-like human figures...and because Crockwell apparently was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1904.

Lichtenstein attended Ohio State University and received both his B.A. and MFA in fine arts there in the late 1940s/early 1950s, and his late sculpture "Brushstrokes in Flight" is one of the first things you see upon landing at the Columbus airport.

After years of being warehoused outside in a niche between the parking garage and the airport itself, the local powers-that-be finally wised up and moved it inside. Any wonder these artists left Columbus?

To see a slide show of all the works in the 1934 exhibit, click here. Starting in late January 2010, it'll be touring the U. S., with stops in Pittsburgh, Ft. Wayne, Orlando, Oklahoma City, Montgomery, Muskegon, and Portland. I highly recommend seeing it if it's showing near you!