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February Takes the Wheel

Art by Britton Sukys
Art by Britton Sukys

I am not my car.

I have to remind myself of this frequently so that I don’t take it personally that this little custom Bug has drained nearly four-thousand dollars from my bank account over the past four months. Bad brakes, bald tires, busted lights, broken water pump, shredded timing belt, defunct alternator and a drained battery, all repairs that make sense when I consider it’s a twelve-year-old car with one-hundred-seventy-thousand miles that drove eighty miles a day for the past seven years, shuttling me to and from work without one roadside breakdown.

However, this wave of auto service occurs at the same time that I am stepping away from my career after twelve years of driving towards a goal that I never reached.

Like this little Beetle that we call the “Americar” (the car’s Captain America origin story starts at 19:50 in this video), I’m spending my own time in the shop, tweaking my timing and recharging my psychic batteries. As much as I’d like to be blazing down the road toward that next big thing, I have to take the time to get my wheels back in shape. And, every time I get one system tuned-up, I find another mechanism that demands attention. Sometimes, I’d like to just buy a brand-new model of me and sell this old junker of a life for whatever it’s worth.

Luckily, I have a great mechanic who cares deeply about his work. For the past week, as one new problem after another cropped up in the little Volkswagen-that-Could, he has insisted on keeping the car until “it’s right for you”. He has told me several times, “it’s not worth it to give it back to you if it can’t run the way you need, if it’s not as nice as can be”. It’s my nature to look for deeper meaning in every relationship, and the intensity with which he said that to me made me suspect that I should take the same attitude with myself.

I am not my car, but I’ve driven it the same way I have my own body: fast and hard and with as few breaks as I could manage. For all that, both the car and I fared pretty well. But, at some point, even a machine needs a pit stop. And, if a marvel of German engineering is worth a little work and time to get some more life, then maybe I am too.

With that in mind, I put together a video playlist of music for this period of time when I’m out of the driver’s seat.

 

Dirty House “Sock Oracle”

Chaos is a fundamental force in the Universe, so it’s appearance must reveal some cosmic truth. This is the only way I can interpret the recurring vision of a lone, dirty sock, far from its mate, embedded in totally unrelated objects.

I lecture my children constantly about the need to put dirty clothes in the hamper, so I have to believe their failure to follow my orders is a way in which the Great Beyond is trying to get my attention. It’s the only thing keeping me from turning into Miss Hannigan, swilling gin and screeching at my Little Orphan Annies.

Today’s Sock Oracle is most certainly a reminder of the powerful bonds we must build between parents and spawn, I mean, offspring.

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Dirty House Cat

 

02-21-13 Dirty House Cat

In most magazines, any felines are contentedly snoozing in some glittery ray of sunshine or gazing wisely from a perch on the back of an exquisite antique chaise lounge. Not in this house.

My drafty 1922 townhome is so cold that if I step in front of the fireplace, it diminishes the warmth enough to draw my cat’s ire. You may notice the hearth is in need of a new paint job, but I’m happy to say the pattern on the rug hides most of the cracker crumbs.

The Difference of a Few (Million) Miles

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Art by Britton Sukys

If I’m feeling especially stressed, I can calm myself down by closing my eyes and imagining the Earth, as viewed from the Moon. The picture of our little blue marble, hanging in the darkness, immediately reminds me how tiny I am, and by extension, how ridiculously small my problems are.

In recent years, though, I’ve been able to imagine an even wider perspective on the planet. Human-made robots  now give us the eyes to see the world as it would be seen by the Martians that don’t exist. (It turns out that intelligent life on Mars is actually us.)

Following the recent meteor landing in Russia, and the concurrent asteroid side swipe of Earth, I’d love to see Mars video of that space action. Not only would it look cool, but it would make the potential destruction from that kind of collision seem a lot less scary.

In all my self-soothing lunar imaginings, I never considered that some object hurtling through the vacuum could make my problems disappear in a fiery explosion. Suddenly, I’d like a safer distance. It so happens that HG Wells already considered this event, and wrote a profound – and profoundly terrifying – short story about it in 1897.

This is my reading, with the images of that Chelyabinsk fireball still fresh in my head, of ‘The Star’.


My Secret Sweetie Pie

Sweetie Pie Fixins

 

“Don’t give this recipe to anyone,” my sister wrote in the e-mail, “You can give them a different recipe and let them wonder why it doesn’t turn out as good as it does when you make it.”

Keeping a secret is not my strength. I like to tell people that’s why I went into radio, so I could at least make a living by spilling the beans. But, Eloise’s recipe for Sweet Potato Pie is sacred.

Eloise was a family friend of my brother-in-law down in Greenville, Mississippi. My sister only got the recipe because she married into the family. I got the recipe because I cried like a baby until she told me. So, despite my delicate condition surrounding confidentiality, I won’t be sharing the official preparation.

However, hiding something this wonderful from the rest of the world just seems like cruelty. If I could, I’d make this pie for every person I meet. My son has suggested that the pie could be my next career, just a pie stand with slices of this. I won’t be doing that.

As for my sister’s suggestion that I share a different recipe, well, I couldn’t bear someone to make this for themselves and then doubt that I could write a good recipe. So, since I can’t keep such a delicious, transcendent dessert all to myself, and since I’m fit to burst with wanting to share a secret, I will share my own version of the pie. This is actually how I make it most of the time because the secret recipe is so decadent that I can’t even bring myself to make it more than once a year. This isn’t Eloise’s pie, but friends still eat it with big smiles and bigger mmmmmm’s.

A couple secrets that I employ:

1. Roast the sweet potatoes in a 400 degree oven for an hour or hour and a half. I find this makes them even sweeter than if you boil or microwave the potatoes. I always get garnet sweet potatoes, poke them all over with a fork and leave them in the heat until the sugary syrup starts bubbling out of the holes.

2. The recipe calls for vanilla, but I also add a teaspoon of another, secret flavoring. (Hint: It rhymes with “Frisky”, which, incidentally, is how anyone you share this pie with may feel about you.)

 

SWEETIE PIE

 

2 medium-size sweet potatoes, cooked and mashed

1 stick butter, melted

0.75 cup sugar

3 eggs, well beaten

1 cup cold milk

3 Tablespoons flour

0.5 teaspoons nutmeg

1 teaspoon vanilla

 

+ Preheat oven to 400 degrees

+ Have ready a pie crust, already in the pie pan
(Another secret, I use Marie Callender’s frozen, in-pan, pie crusts. My grandmother would tsk at me, but this is one shortcut that saves my sanity.)

+ In a large bowl, mix mashed sweet potatoes and butter

+ Add sugar to sweet potato/butter mix, stir until well incorporated

+ In a separate bowl, whisk flour into the cold milk. Whisk *really* well, so that there are no flour clumps.
(If a few small lumps get in the pie, it’s not the end of the world.)

+ Mix flour/milk mixture into the potato/butter/sugar mix.

+ Mix nutmeg and vanilla (and that secret ‘Frisky’ ingredient) into the mix.

+ Pour mixture into pie crust
(One more secret: I often have a little more filling than can fit into the pie crust. This stuff is too good to throw away and the raw eggs make it a bad idea to just slurp it up with a straw. I will pour the extra filling in a buttered glass ramekin and bake it in a bain-marie beside the pie.)

+ Bake pie at 400 degrees for 35-45 minutes, until the filling puffs slightly, the center looks firm and the top is just a little brown at the edges.

+ Let pie cool for 30-45 minutes before serving.

 

This pie is lovely with a huge dollop of fresh whipped cream. I have fallen in love with making my own whipped cream, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with Cool Whip. That said, I always follow this piece of my sister’s advice (since I don’t when it comes to secrets), “Try a slice first without cool whip to get the full effect.”

 

Sweetie Pies

 

Megan Springs Forth

Megan sitting on Chair in Studio

A playlist to supply the juju needed for leaping forward into the next season of life.

Get the full listening experience, autoplay and all, below. Or, scroll down for the individual list of videos.

 

1. The Village Green Preservation Society – The Kinks

 

 

2. Sweetheart Like You – Bob Dylan

 

 

3. The Lady Don’t Mind – Talking Heads

 

 

4. Life is Good – Los Lobos

 

 

5. Baby Please Don’t Go – Big Joe Williams

 

 

6. I’ve Been Working – Van Morrison

 

 

7. Luke and Leia – John Williams

 

 

8. Something So Right – Paul Simon

 

 

9. I Am Weary (Let Me Rest) – The Cox Family

 

 

10. Presbyterian Guitar – John Hartford

 

 

11. No Children – The Mountain Goats

 

 

12. Cha-CHING!

 

13. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots – Flaming Lips

 

 

14. You Will Not Lose – Allen Toussaint
(My favorite video on the list, btw.)

 

 

‘The Girl Who Went Right’

 

Rachel Wilestky, in the braver of her two shirtwaists

 

Growing up in the 70’s, I got the impression that women were entering the workforce for the very first time in history. Although I later learned about women assuming all kinds of jobs during World War II, it still seemed that working women were an anomaly.

So, it was interesting to read this story from Edna Ferber, published in a women’s magazine around 1913. She tells the tale of Rachel Wiletsky, a young woman in Chicago trying to make her way as a shop girl. With a knack for selling, she moves from a shoddy bazaar to a high-end department store job, only to find that beautiful clothes and accessories often mask very ugly personalities.


Better Than Bo-Berry

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For my son’s eighth birthday, he wanted Bo-Berry biscuits.

We live thousands of miles from the nearest Bojangles’. I can’t swing the airfare for drive-through. But, once he put Bo-Berries in my brain, I started jonesing for the sweet and savory treat.

Help me, food blogs, you’re my only hope.

First, I saw this Bo-Berry recipe from a former employee. That’s how I learned Bojangles uses blueberry-flavored pellets rather than real blueberries. I should have guessed this. Did I really expect purity from a fast-food restaurant?

That revelation may or may not affect my consumption of future Bojangles’ biscuits. However, it definitely gave me the confidence that I didn’t need to be dazzling to make something even better. After all, I’d at least use real dried blueberries.

Dried blueberries. That’s the trick. Frozen or fresh ones are just too juicy. Put in too many and the biscuits are soggy. Too few blueberries and you’re just not getting the punch.

I pulled out my trusty “Joy of Cooking” and found a recipe that added some cornmeal to a basic biscuit dough. I like mixing in some kind of other whole grain to white flour breakfasts, like biscuits or pancakes or muffins. The treats still give me that nice weekend morning sugar rush, without getting loopy on the carbs.

These are the modifications I made to the “Joy of Cooking” recipe:

– I added 1/2 cup dried blueberries and the zest of one lemon to the dry ingredients.

– Since I didn’t have buttermilk, I added the juice of 1/2 lemon to 3/4 cup half-and-half.

– I mixed up the biscuit glaze with 1 cup powdered sugar, the juice of 1/2 lemon, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and 1 Tablespoon water (or so, just enough to make the glaze thin enough to drizzle over the tops of the biscuits, after they cooked).

 

Better than Bo-Berry Biscuits

+ Preheat oven to 450.

+ Have a baking sheet ready.

+ Mix these DRY INGREDIENTS in a large bowl:

1.5 cups all-purpose flour
0.5 cup cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
0.5 teaspoon baking soda
2 Tablespoons sugar
0.5 cup Dried Blueberries
Zest of 1 lemon

+ Mix these WET INGREDIENTS in a separate bowl and let stand while you do the next step:

0.75 cup half-and-half (you could also use any kind of milk, but this makes the biscuits even richer)
the juice of 0.5 lemon

+ Thinly slice:

5 Tablespoons FROZEN butter

+ Using a pastry cutter, cut the thin slices of frozen butter into the DRY INGREDIENTS. When the butter pieces are about the size of the dried blueberries, use your fingers to smash the butter bits flat. This helps make the biscuits flaky. You don’t want the butter to start getting soft or melty, though, or the dough gets gummy.

+ Add lemon/milk mixture to the butter/DRY INGREDIENT mixture. Use a rubber spatula to mix them together. You’ll eventually have to get your hands dirty and knead the dough until it all holds together in a ball. It takes about 30 seconds of kneading.

+ Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface, like the counter or a large cutting board. Pat the dough into a rectangle, about 0.5 inch thick.

+ Cut the dough into even squares, about 2 inches each.

+ Place biscuits on baking sheet. Put in preheated 450 oven. Bake 10-12 minutes.

+ Whisk together these ingredients in a small bowl for the GLAZE:

1 cup powdered sugar
Juice of 0.5 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-2 Tablespoons water (enough to make glaze drizzle off a fork)

+ Take biscuits out of oven and let them cool on a wire rack for 2-3 minutes.

+ Use a fork to drizzle the GLAZE over the still-warm biscuits.

+ Eat a few before you let anyone else know they’re ready or you might not get any!

 

The result? Better than Bo-Berry Biscuits.

Sweet, filling and a little crisp around the edges, these biscuits fulfilled my homesickness without sending me into a full sugar crash. The eight-year old proclaimed them a success, and immediately asked for blueberry pancakes tomorrow.