Ah, Sweet Peanut Butter Treat of My Youth

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These peanut butter bars were a staple of San Diego public school cafeteria lunches from the 70s through the 90s (or so a quick internet search told me), and I remember them well. I loved these sweet, peanut buttery treats so much that I asked the cafeteria ladies for the recipe. The backside of the card notes the cooking temp (350-degrees) and the time (20-25 minutes) and I was very surprised to see coconut in the ingredients list. That I don’t remember.

I was curious to see how they lived up to memory, so last night we baked up a batch and wow, are they ever sweet. Definitely satisfied my recent craving for a peanut butter cookie, but I think I’m good for another forty years.

Whyyyy Would You Call It This?

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Another from the old family recipe box. There are a couple of things to puzzle over in this cornbread recipe, starting with the very questionable name. Gringo? Really? And is that because of the wimpy combination of cheddar and Jack cheeses? Then there’s the strange #303 delineation for the can of creamed corn. Now we’d identify the can size or amount by ounces.

Finally, I can’t say I remember ever eating this. I’m going to guess from the huge serving amount, that it was saved for large gatherings. If at all. What I do remember is the family going through many boxes of Jiffy cornbread mix, baked in corncob-shaped muffin pans.

Family Recipe: Crab Bake

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Here’s another from the green plastic recipe box archive, which I have no recollection of ever eating. Yet another recipe featuring cans of things rather than fresh. So much cream, so much mayo, so much white bread filler, and, with only a teaspoon of shredded (??) onion and half as much salt, so little flavor! Finally, nothing says 1970s like a cornflake crumble crust!

Is anyone else nervous that you let this dairy and crab concoction sit on the counter for an hour before you bake it?

A Culinary Time Capsule

Many years ago, while home over Thanksgiving, I came across my mother’s plastic green recipe box, crammed full of probably twenty years’ worth of culinary delights. My mother died in 1980, so when I pulled this box from its drawer (where it had been hiding in plain sight for a couple of decades) and finally delved in to see what was there, it was like opening a time capsule. A familiar, dated, comforting, and sometimes repulsive time capsule of cooking.

As we went through the recipes and pulled out some real gems, many of which I’d never seen (let alone eaten) before, we were howling with laughter, so hard at times it brought tears. I vowed to scan these recipes for safe keeping and to share them with friends. Many years after lugging this recipe box home on the plane, it seems the time is right. Here is the first of many edible (that’s debatable) delights (also debatable). Bon appetit!

I give you Eleanor’s Luncheon Salad. It’s an entire luncheon in a salad! I dare you to get through the ingredients list without feeling a little queasy.

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The Sounds of Baseball When We Need Them Most

Hey Cubs fans! Some good news. We may not have 2020 baseball (yet) but we can feed our souls with the sweet sounds of the game beginning April 1, when 670 The Score will begin broadcasting the entire 2016 postseason, one game each night. They’ll also have Pat & Ron giving some live thoughts before, during and after each game. Should be a treat.

Here’s a link to a schedule of the games.

The first game is on Wednesday at 6pm CST. I plan to treat it like opening day, wear my Cubs gear all day, maybe order out hotdogs for dinner, crack open a beer, and listen to the game. Who’s with me?

Backyard Sun

I had a bumber crop of volunteer sunflowers come up in the yard this year. It’s been a lot of fun watching the plants shoot up all summer long. For the past three week, the blooms have been opening up–how we marveled at the slow release of the first one–one by one, and the subsequent appearance of bees, butterflies, and goldfinches have been a welcome next act of the late summer show.

Cousin Henry | Decidedly Undecided

Cousin Henry
Anthony Trollope (1879)

A couple of caveats to kick off this review:

Caveat Number One: There is a very good chance that many of you reading this recommendation will dislike Cousin Henry, but that’s the very reason it makes such a good choice for a book club discussion. Every winter, my club (going two-decades strong, thank you very much) chooses a work of classic literature to discuss over high tea. It’s a lovely escape from the doldrums of the deep winter in Chicago–a special group outing, and a wonderful way to usher in another year of book club gatherings.

Cousin Henry, the titular character in Anthony Trollop’s novel, didn’t garner many sympathetic readers among our group. In fact, the three main characters, each unable to make up their minds to varying and frustrating degrees, had members throwing their hands up in annoyance. I, on the other hand, found it amusing and believable that Henry and his Uncle Indefer could not make up their minds to save their lives, while haughty Isobel stubbornly stuck to her guns (to the bafflement of some in the group.) In all, this book elicited strong opinions, which made for lively discussion.

Caveat Number Two: Cousin Henry is definitely not the book to start with if you’re coming to Trollope for the first time. Start with The Chronicles of Barsetshire series or the terrific How We Live Now, which my book club read a few years ago during the financial crisis, and wow, did that book ever seem contemporary.

All that being said, Trollope is a master when it comes to creating timeless characters, as he taps into human nature with characters that will have you nodding your head in recognition. So it is with Cousin Henry, who makes a life-changing discovery about his recent inheritance and cannot for the life of him decide what to do about it.

Henry’s indecision would seem to run in the family, as his lately departed Uncle Indefer, whose death triggers the story, was no better at making up his mind and sticking to it. Nearing his death, Indefer Jones vacillates over whom to name as heir to Llanafeare estate: either Isabel, the niece he loves like a daughter, or the only male heir, his odious nephew Henry. Days before his death, Indefer changes his mind yet again, and drafts a final will that leaves everything to Isobel. Upon his death, the latest will, rumored to exist, cannot be found and Henry is named inheritor. When Henry discovers the missing will, he slips it back into its hiding place and spends the remainder of this short novel vacillating over what to do. He cannot reveal it and he cannot destroy it, and there lies the crux of this amusing character study.

No; he could not himself destroy the document, though it should remain there for years to make his life a burden to him.

Henry and his uncle, paralyzed by an inability to just-make-a-damn-decision-already and stick to it. Alas, don’t we all know someone like them?

In These Crazy Times, When Events Feel Beyond My Control, I Knit With Purpose

Following the election, I quickly began to feel overwhelmed by the seemingly never-ending series of appalling, discouraging, frustrating, and frightening events that typify the current political and social situation. Thankfully, there are lots of resources that have mobilized to help focus resistance and provide individual citizens with ways to make their voices heard.

But I needed a way to make an immediate, personal difference, something that would allow me to channel my frustration and feelings of powerlessness into something positive. I hoped to find a local cause. The universe provided when I learned about organizations that collect hand-knit scarves to give to victims of sexual assault when they leave the hospital. The idea is to give victims something of warmth and comfort to get them home in the immediate, and perhaps give them solace and strength in the longer term. Even if they never wear it, a hand-made scarf can serve as a symbol of support and compassion.

I jumped on the idea. I love to knit because at the end of a project, you have something tangible, beautiful, and best of all, functional to show for it, and while I will never meet the individuals who receive these donated scarves, I’m content knowing each scarf will (hopefully) make a positive and immediate impact on someone’s life, even in this small way.

And so, over this past holiday season, I purchased yarn and scouted for new patterns to try. After I completed the first scarf, I hit a bump in the road when my repeated attempts to contact a well-known local organization met with no response. Once again the universe provided when a friend of mine attended an event at the Illinois Holocaust Museum that was part of the Women Hold Up Half the Sky exhibition. There she met someone who works as a crisis counselor for women in the ER, directly following an assault. During her volunteer shift, when this counselor receives a call, she heads to the hospital, where she advocates with the medical staff and law enforcement on behalf of the victim, providing support, counselling information, and items of clothing.

Though I have many personal knitting projects queuing up, I’ll continue to make time to knit scarves to donate and each year, as the weather turns colder, I’ll hand them off to my counsellor friend, with the hope that at worst, each scarf will give comfort to someone at a terrible time, and at best, will never be needed at all.