Keep Moving

A Christmas gift from our grandson at Cal

Let’s begin today’s BigLittleMeals with a quiz:

Give me the name of the author who…

  1. Was born in Sacramento, California
  2. Descended from members of the original Donner Party
  3. Used a line from a Yeats’ poem as the title for one of her books
  4. Received her degree in English from Cal (otherwise known as Berkeley for those of us who didn’t grow up in Northern California)
  5. Was a Barry Goldwater supporter
  6. With her husband, wrote the screenplay for 1976’s A Star is Born, starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson (I LOVE Kris Kristofferson!)
  7. Wrote “You were meant, if you were a Californian, to know how to lash together a corral with bark, you were meant to show spirit, kill the rattlesnake, keep moving.”
  8. Confessed to having a coke every morning before she started writing

Did you get it? If not, keep reading and I’ll divulge the name at the end of this blog :). If you didn’t get it, you’ve missed out on knowing about and enjoying the works of a really fascinating and complex writer.

Yeats’ poem is also worth highlighting, especially given the fact that he wrote it in 1919 – in the midst of the Spanish flu pandemic. Probably the most disturbing lines for us living through the last few years are these:

Yeats and Falcon

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold

My mystery author refers to this Yeats poem as she begins her famous essay:

The center was not holding. It was a country of bankruptcy notices and public-auction announcements and commonplace reports of casual killings and misplaced children and abandoned homes and vandals who misspelled even the four-letter words they scrawled.

It was not a country in open revolution. It was not a country under enemy siege. It was the United States of America in the year 1967, and the market was steady and the GNP high, and a great many articulate people seemed to have a sense of high social purpose, and it might have been a year of brave hopes and national promise, but it was not, and more and more people had the uneasy apprehension that it was not. All that seemed clear was that at some point we had aborted ourselves and butchered the job, and because nothing else seemed so relevant I decided to go to San Francisco. 

Upon re-reading those lines, I actually found them to be comforting. It’s easy to forget that we’ve had really hard times in the world before this Covid pandemic laid siege. And it’s an eye-opener that the author is describing the year Andy and I married – 1967 (not incidentally, that’s also the year Andy got drafted, as the Vietnam War got going). And just so you know – in today’s Andy’s Corner, we learn of Andy’s “connections” to the two main characters in one of this author’s most famous essays.

San Francisco – 1967

But on to less disturbing thoughts and more about California and rattlesnakes. We hadn’t lived in Glen Ellen, California very long before one of my new clients from my days as a gardener (remember MiniBlooms?) told me how years ago she had shot and killed a rattlesnake that had bitten her young son. I guess we native-born Coloradans aren’t nearly as tough as the best of these Californianos. The first and only time I confronted a rattlesnake, I screamed for Andy to come do something (Andy, of course, is a native-born Californian, so that explains his killer instincts when confronted with a snake).

And leaving rattlesnakes behind (thankfully), we can next consider the author’s suggestion that real Californians know they must keep moving. Hopefully, that won’t entail moving out of California (which is a headline practically every other day), but will entail moving forward, not stagnating, not letting pandemic morose overwhelm us.

My soon-to-be-named author used Coca Cola to get moving in the morning, so we’ve got a Coke recipe for you to try. Andy and I gave up drinking Coke years ago – and only buy it now when a certain family member arrives for a visit and requests it – though we adamantly and self-righteously refuse to buy Diet Coke or cans of Coke – and will only consider a bottle of Mexican Coke. But that doesn’t keep us from LOVING this cake. Crazy what a little Coke can do! (note: I said A LITTLE. I just read that Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) routinely drinks 10-12 bottles of Diet Coke…a day – and she’s in the news not only for her junk food addiction and her overuse of Ibuprofen but because she just had emergency surgery for ulcers).

So here’s a final hint for my mystery author quiz: she made a big deal about NOT drinking Diet Coke – yet she was incredibly – almost abnormally – thin.

And (I’m sure y’all already know) – The quote is from the essay “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” and my mystery author is Joan Didion. RIP

Coca-Cola Chocolate Snacking Cake

Coca-cola Chocolate Snacking Cake

Recipe is easily doubled – and then baked in a 9″x13″ pan. Pepsi can be substituted for the Coke. Recipe adapted from

  • 1 c flour
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp Diamond kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 6 oz Coca Cola
  • 1/2 c butter, cut into small cubes
  • 2 T unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 c  buttermilk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8″x8″ baking pan.

The cake will keep well for 3-4 days, either at room temperature or refrigerated. It freezes beautifully.

We prefer the cake with just powdered sugar on top, but if you want a frosting – and want to use up the rest of the bottle of coke – here’s the one recommended

  • 6 oz Coca Cola
  • 1/4 c butter, cut into small cubes
  • 2 T unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 c powdered sugar, sifted

In a small saucepan, bring the coke to a boil over high heat and cook until the liquid is reduced to about 1/4 c.  Stir in the butter and cocoa powder until the butter is melted, then remove from the heat. Add the powdered sugar about 1 cup at a time, whisking until smooth. Pour immediately over the hot cake in an even layer. Allow the cake to cool to room temperature before serving.

Recipe brought to you by and Andy and Ann.

And Just Like That

And just like that – 2021 is coming to an end. Whew. And Sex and the City has returned – rebooted and renamed And Just Like That.

I won’t be snarky and give you my assessment of this new version of Sex and the City, but I am enjoying revisiting and falling in love again with the gorgeous song that concluded the 2008 movie of Sex and the City.

It’s New Year’s Eve and Carrie Bradshaw is dashing through the snow and cold (in her fancy fur coat and Chanel boots) to Miranda’s house so that neither will be alone at the strike of midnight – and we see all of the other SATC characters celebrating the approach of the New Year in their own special ways.

The scenes are fascinating – but it’s the music that makes it. Mairi Campbell, a Scottish singer, sings a version of “Auld Lang Syne” that is breathtakingly beautiful…so much lovelier than our standard version of the song.

This is Mairi Campbell singing her beautiful Auld Lang Syne – the same version as heard in the movie. Be sure to watch the video until the end. It’s so so sweet when the children join in.

Of course, hearing that song makes me think of old acquaintances (and in Andy’s Corner, Andy, upon hearing that song, has questions about it). Speaking of old (auld?) acquaintances, Janet, a special friend from college and my roomie during our 1st year out of college when we lived in Upland, California, just sent me a recipe from her Aunt Mable, whom I was lucky enough to meet when she visited us in Colorado Springs in 1966.

HBR stands for Hot-Buttered Rum! La duh. 🙂

When I asked Janet why her aunt had put (“Sh!”) beside the “HBR”, she asked Mable’s daughter, Ann, who recalled that their home state of Oklahoma had not ended prohibition until 1959, even though the U.S. had ended it in 1933! Ann wrote, “Mab certainly wouldn’t have wanted people to think she was pushing booze since it wasn’t legal in Oklahoma, so she put her finger to her lips and said, ‘shhhh.'” 

And Ann continues, “I just finished using the recipe to ward off the chill of a dark and dreary early evening at my good house!

So – just like that – we’re ready to toast to a new (and surely better) year – with Aunt Mable’s Hot Buttered Rum. It’s legal now…even in Oklahoma.

Here’s to old and new acquaintances – and to 2022!

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It’s All About Lagom

Hygge (which we wrote about affectionately back in November of 2020) is now apparently “out” – and Lagom is “in.” I can’t believe that someone like me – who has been certified to have 55%+ Swedish DNA – could have ever written about the Danish Hygge BEFORE writing about the Swedish Lagom! How embarrassing.

But now I’m back on my ethnic track and ready to share my grandparents’ culture with you :). Meanwhile, Andy is sharing something about his Belgian grandmother in today’s Andy’s Corner.

What is Lagom? Lagom is a Swedish philosophy which roughly translates to “not too much, not too little.”   Lagom encourages us to create a happy life by choosing to live a balanced and fruitful existence. Here’s a short little video if you want to know more.

According to an article in the UK’s Town & Country House, “While hygge is all about staying in with family (and potentially never changing out of your cashmere pyjamas), getting cosy and chatting with friends in a coffee shop, basically taking the time to enjoy a moment of contentment (whatever the weather), lagom is all about moderation. Rather than seizing the moment (of hygge, if you will), it’s about living a frugal life with just enough possessions; everything functional and a life in balance.”

Too much?

Lagom is pronounced “lah-gom,” (“lah” like fa la la and “gom” rhymes with tom).

As the holidays and 2022 rapidly approach, working on lagom sounds like a good idea. Not too many nor too few gifts; not too much nor too little food. Not an overly-decorated nor under-decorated tree. It’s been so easy during this pandemic to shop online excessively (here’s lookin’ at me) or be too reclusive or, yes, overeat.

Case in point: caramel sea salt chips. We discovered them when our friend Connie invited us to lunch and served us cookies made with them. We brought a sackful of cookies home with us – and suddenly it seemed both Andy and I were sneaking another…and another…and another cookie from the brown paper sack. It was as if we couldn’t stop.

So, of course, I knew I had to get the recipe for my blog. Connie uses Trader Joe’s chips but I also found some Hershey’s Sea Salt Caramel Chips. Andy and I decided to do a taste test (there was no clear winner) – and our addiction to these little chips got worse. Literally, if a bag is open I can’t stop eating them, and I can’t think of any other sugary sweet thing that impacts me that way. I guess I should have suspected that I had a caramel addiction when I couldn’t quit binging on our Caramel Dessert Sauce; it’s so finger lickin’ good. How do I get my lagom back? HELP!

Lagom…moderation in all things. A worthy resolution for 2022?

TJ’s Caramel Sea Salt – or Hershey’s Sea Salt Caramel – Baking Chips. OMG. Gimme more!!!!!
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The Worst Christmas Song – Ever

I had no idea that ranking Christmas songs (from worst to best) is all over the web, so when I saw the ranking by Alexandra Petri in the The Washington Post, I was intrigued. Petri picked “The Little Drummer Boy” as the worst ever. I beg to disagree. IMHO the worst Christmas song ever is John Denver’s “Please Daddy Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas.” What was he thinking?

If only John and I could have a conversation, I’d say…

“Oh, John, you were such an important part of my young life. How I loved “Rocky Mountain High,” “Annie’s Song,” “I Guess He’d Rather Be In Colorado,” “Sunshine on My Shoulders.”

Your lyrics to “Rhymes and Reasons” still resound today – especially during this on-Covid-alert holiday season:

So you speak to me of sadness
And the coming of the winter
Fear that is within you now
It seems to never end

For the children and the flowers
Are my sisters and my brothers
Their laughter and their loveliness
Could clear a cloudy day

And the song that I am singing
Is a prayer to non believers
Come and stand beside us
We can find a better way

And, John, I’m sure we’d all agree that your songs were generally a little schmaltzy, a little philosophical, kinda sweet – and usually uplifting. Yet the song you wrote that will stay with me forever is Leaving on a Jet Plane” (“I’m leaving on a jet plane; don’t know when I’ll be back again”). You recorded it in 1969, and in March of that year Andy and I hugged and kissed and cried and said good-bye to each other at the San Francisco airport; I flew back to Colorado and he flew to Vietnam for the start of his one year of service there. We were practically newlyweds. So I guess it’s not surprising that both Andy and I tear up and get goosebumps when we hear that song – even now more than 50 years later.

Lyrics from Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane

I was getting my holiday music organized the other day (I traditionally begin overwhelming Andy with my Christmas song tracks on the day after Thanksgiving) and was humming this one…and that one…and inadvertently started humming The Worst Christmas Song – Ever. The lyrics are brutal and sad and anything but Christmasy.

Why in god’s name did you record “Please Daddy Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas,” John? We found out after you died in that plane crash that you had a dark side most of us weren’t aware of, so maybe that explains a little. But you first recorded this in 1973, when it seemed you were on top of the world. Didn’t you realize how dreadful that song was – and how wrong for the holiday season?”

I guess we all have dark sides. In today’s Andy’s Corner we get a closer look at the dark bark side of Wynn, our 5-month-old Cardigan Welsh Corgi.

Now – to lift our holiday spirits – and to counter John’s depressing song – I’d like to propose a toast…and hope that a toast is not inappropriate under the circumstances. Here’s to holiday Mocktails!

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It’s Not So Cheesy

I think I discovered the poetry of Billy Collins when I saw this TED talk: Two Poems About What Dogs Think (Probably). You have to watch the whole thing, since the 2nd poem is the best – or the worst – depending upon your sense of humor and love of anything acerbic…or your love – or maybe dislike – of dogs.

Billy Collins, who is now 80, was Poet Laureate of the U.S. from 2001-2003. During those years, he created “Poetry 180” through the Library of Congress. Collins picked 180 poems that he felt would appeal to high school students and which, he suggested, could be read or listened to at the beginning of the school day…following announcements.

There are lots of great poems to read on that list, even if you’re not a teenager, but this one especially appealed to me:

At department parties, I eat cheeses
my parents never heard of—gooey 
pale cheeses speaking garbled tongues.
I have acquired a taste, yes, and that's
okay, I tell myself. I grew up in a house
shaded by the factory's clank and clamor.
A house built like a square of sixty-four
American Singles, the ones my mother made lunches
With—for the hungry man who disappeared
into that factory, and five hungry kids.
American Singles. Yellow mustard. Day-old 
Wonder Bread. Not even Swiss, with its mysterious
holes. We were sparrows and starlings
still learning how the blue jay stole our eggs,
our nest eggs. Sixty-four Singles wrapped in wax—
dig your nails in to separate them.

When I come home, I crave—more than any home
cooking—those thin slices in the fridge. I fold
one in half, drop it in my mouth. My mother
can't understand. Doesn't remember me
being a cheese eater, plain like that. 

- Jim Daniels

Cheese is also the topic of today’s Andy’s Corner. Or I should say “fromage” is his focus?

Of course, I remember Kraft American Cheese slices, but cheese nostalgia for me would be Bond-ost. Focusing on her Swedish heritage, my mom would make a special effort to get to Denver to buy Bond-Ost for our holidays. And it had to be the one with caraway seeds. She’d pair it with knäckebröd or limpa, which is a wonderful, slightly-sweet Swedish rye bread (will my Thanksgiving guests ever be surprised when they get that nontraditional pairing for our November 25th dinner!).

I’m guessing American Cheese slices will not be part of many holiday menus. In fact, recent articles bemoan the fact that Millennials are “killing” American cheese, by demanding fancier varieties, though a great quote from this Time (via Bloomberg) article states “American cheese will never die. It has too many preservatives” (my apologies to my cousin-in-law who was a VP at Kraft for years and enthusiastically supported and shared their cheeses).

So, as we – apparently – say good-by to the packs of “Kraft 64 American Cheese Singles,” I’d like to offer up this nostalgic recipe for Easy Mac ‘n Cheese. You can buy several packs of the cheese slices now – before they’re gone from the shelves – and then make the recipe…say within the next 10 years or so, since the cheese should still be good (just kiddin’…sort of!).

In addition to this Mac n’ Cheese, here are some other recommendations for your Thanksgiving dinner:

Spiced Pine Nuts, Pecans, and Pumpkin Seeds
Sweet Potato and Pomegranate Salad
Super Simple Sage-y Roasted Turkey Breast
-Southern Cornbread Dressing
Brandied and Baked Cranberries
Green Beans with Ginger and Garlic
Pumpkin Creme Brûlée

And, of course, follow Thanksgiving day with this fabulous leftover Turkey Bone Gumbo.


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