Monday, August 31, 2015

Guilty Secrets

Everyone has guilty secrets.  Most, we assume, are small ones.  I have mine which, at my age, I’m not longer quite so guilty about.  They are small secrets.  I don’t, for example, put panty hose over my head and rob banks (although I could use the money).  There are no crimes, major or minor, in my list of guilty secrets.  But it’s time to clear this particular closet:

—My favorite pizza is Tombstone frozen.  People roll their eyes when I tell them that, especially since I live in Chicago, famous for pizza.  I don’t like our Chicago deep dish either.  But Tombstone pizza, bumped up a bit with more cheese, some fake hamburger, slices of tomatoes, and fresh mushrooms, and you have my idea of a perfect pizza.  So sue me.
—I don’t like my pasta al dente; I want it, if anything, overcooked.  Why eat raw pasta?
—I love Jeopardy! in the afternoons.  Assuming I can get the ABC channel, which I can’t always with my antenna reception.  But I love sipping my afternoon coffee and proving that I really don’t know as much as I would like to think I do.
—I can rarely pass a 7-11 without getting a Slurpee.  But I am a man of discriminating taste: I only drink the cola flavor.
—I don’t buy ice cream often, but when I do I do not dish it up; rather, I eat it right out of the carton.  I’ve never claimed to be elegant.
—I prefer white rice to brown.  I know brown is healthier, but, perhaps because white rice is what I grew up on, I prefer that.
—One of the great joys of retirement is an afternoon nap.  Anywhere from noon to 4:00 you may find me recumbent, snuggled up with my cat Jake.  I never nap for long, usually about half an hour, but it is a regular part of my afternoon and it never seems to interfere with night sleep.  And to make sure I’m not disturbed, I turn the ringer on my phone to silent.

As sins go, this is a pretty pallid list.  But it’s all I’ve got to offer.  But there’s always the chance I might still rob that bank.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Catching Up

I read quite a bit.  Not as much as I used to, what with poor eyesight, knees and a hip that ache if I sit more than 15 minutes, and a multitude of distractions which I no longer seem able to block out.  Still, I do read as much as I can.  In my callow youth I felt like every book I started I needed to finish, no matter how hard or boring.  I’m not sure why I felt that way, but I did.  But since I’ve retired, I’ve let that attitude go, and now I read as long as I’m interested, and then I stop.  But sometimes, in recent years, I’ve stopped reading something I was actually enjoying but put aside for something else—and then haven’t gone back to the book.  It’s time I did some catching up, so I’m resolved to finish some important books that I stopped mid-book for some reason I no longer remember.  Here are the main ones on my list:

Moby Dick I read in college (prior to 1971) and recently decided to read again.  I stopped about halfway through to read something else, probably easier.  It’s time now to finish that sucker off.  And having read it before isn’t an excuse.

Ulysses, by James Joyce, is a famously difficult work.  I was reading it in conjunction with a Teaching Company DVD course on the book.  I’ve not read this one before, and it’s considered a major masterpiece of English literature, so I definitely need to go back and finish it.  Besides, some close friends have read it and, while we’re not in a race, I want to keep up with them.  So, after Moby Dick, it’s back to Ulysses.

The Iliad I’ve read many times, taught once, and studied recently in my four-year Basic Program for Liberal Education for Adults at the University of Chicago.  But after reading Why Homer Matters, by Adam Nicolson, I felt I wanted to read The Iliad yet again.  And about halfway through I got distracted by something, no doubt lighter and less . . . classical.  Alexander McCall Smith?  I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.  But I love The Iliad, and it is certainly worthy of another read.  So that’s number three on my catch up list.

Number 4 is indeed exceedingly difficult: all seven volumes of In Search of Lost Time (until recently usually called, somewhat inaccurately, Remembrance of Things Past).  This famously tough read by Marcel Proust has long been on my list to read; in fact, I’ve read the first two volumes already, some years ago.  And then twice (!) I got about a third of the way through volume three and gave up.  At least I’m not alone there: a little research and I found out a lot of people bog down in volume three.  At least that’s what I want to believe.  But I’m not getting any younger, so if I’m ever going to read all of In Search of Lost Time, I shouldn’t tarry too long.  Except it’s been so long since I read Swan’s Way and Within a Budding Grove that I’m going to have to start the whole process over again—accompanied by some coffee and madeleines: read Swan’s Way to understand about the madeleines!

There are other classics I need and want to read (Emma and The Prelude, for example), but that’s a different category.  And then there are some classics I will never read (Finnegan’s Wake is one).  But the four just listed I started and didn’t finish.  It’s time to bring those books to a close.  I’ll keep you posted on how I do!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Making Pickles

I can be, and have been, called a lot of things.  “Domestic Goddess” is not one of them.  Although there have been a few times in my life where I cooked on a slightly higher level, there haven’t been many.  And recently, most of my cooking involves reading the instructions on a frozen dinner from Trader Joe’s.  But I recently ran across a recipe for refrigerator pickles which looked good—and easy.  And so it turned out to be.

Refrigerator pickles are canned in the ordinary way, except the final steps of pressure cooking, sterilizing, and preserving for all of eternity are not used; the pickles are simply kept in the refrigerator until eaten, and they can be kept for “up to” three months, whatever that means.

Over several days I collected all the ingredients (see the recipe below), followed the instructions to the letter (with some minor exceptions), and the results you see above: delicious pickles!  And they aren’t going to last three months, either.  I’ve already gone through two jars and am on the third (of five).

My next kitchen magic:  madeleines!  These are the small sponge cakes, baked in a special muffin tin, each mold shaped like a seashell.  They are always associated with Proust and the opening of In Search of Lost Time.  I’ve already got the pan.  I just need to get the Moxie, and a few ingredients, to attempt them.  No doubt I’ll give a full report here.  I should also, while I’m at it, finish reading In Search of Lost Time.

In the meantime, here is the refrigerator pickle recipe for interested parties:

10 cloves garlic peeled
2 cups white vinegar
6 teaspoons kosher salt
Several sprigs fresh dill
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1 teaspoon mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns

6 Kirby cucumbers, quartered lengthwise [I used organic, unwaxed cucumbers]
6 medium carrots, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
A handful of green beans
A few pieces of cauliflower
2 jalapeƱos

1.  In a medium saucepan, boil 4 cups of water; reduce to a simmer and add garlic.  Cook 5 minutes.  Add vinegar and salt; boil.  Stir until salt dissolves.  Remove from heat.

2.  In two 1-quart mason jars [I used 5 1-pint jars], add dill, seeds and peppercorns.  Using tongs, remove garlic from brine and add to jars.  Pack jars with vegetables and chilies.

3.  Bring brine to a boil and pour over vegetables, to cover.  Cool, cover and refrigerate.  The pickles are best after a few days and keep for up to 3 months.

[Source: June/July 2015 issue of AARP Magazine]