One Handshake Away

Six Degrees of Separation.  Or the Six Handshakes Rule.  The notion that everyone in the world is separated by just six other people.

Sociologists and mathematicians and political scientists have played around with this concept ever since 1929 when the Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy wrote a short story suggesting a game be played in which the players tried to make those links. 

University researchers in the 1950’s and 60’s were fascinated with the idea of human connectedness and started crunching numbers and publishing papers.  Intellectual stuff.  Andy remembers one of his sociology professors during his graduate school days at Colorado State University lecturing about how many folks we were just “one handshake away from.” The idea is you shake the hand of a person who has shaken the hand of a famous person, and that puts you one handshake away from the famous person.

(an update on these numbers:  Facebook research done in 2016 indicates we are now connected to everyone else in the world by only 3.57 people!) 

Well, I’m kind of fascinated with this too.  And I too suggest that in these days of isolation and boredom you might want to try outdo someone with a game of “I’m one handshake away from…”   Do it via Facetime!  Or Zoom!  Or Facebook (if you must).  Better yet, sit outside on your patio with a space heater going, carefully distanced,  and play it in person with your Besties.

Here’s our offering.  I’m covering the bright light side; Andy in Andy’s Corner has the dark side covered. See if you can outdo us.  I’m upping the ante a little by demanding that there be not only a handshake from your go-betweens – but a conversation.  In other words, just a “meet and greet” – and no talk – doesn’t count.

I’m one handshake away from Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower.  (My granddad was a U.S. Congressman for 18 years.)

Should I brag about my grandfather and THIS handshake?

I’m one handshake away from Julia Child (our daughter, Sara, sat beside her at a luncheon in Napa.  But Julia was elderly and slept most of the time; the conversation wasn’t great).

Julia – years before she met our Sara. Nice knife, Julia! Are you missing the point?

On a more modern note, I’m one handshake away from Maya Rudolph and Natasha Lyonne (our L.A. friend, Danielle, heads up their Animal Pictures.  FYI – Animal Pictures will have an apropos comedy special out on Netflix late October starring Sarah Cooper. The title? “Everything’s Fine.” We need that to be true!).

This New Yorker virtual “Festival” sounds great. Eclectic group, including Natasha and Maya…we’re one handshake away! 🙂

But here’s one that I think is a game-changer!  I’m one handshake away from Bobby Zimmerman Bob Dylan.  This is what my friend Carolyn has to say about Bob:

Here’s the scoop. We were both from Minnesota. We were both Jewish. So it was inevitable that we ended up at Herzl Camp together. Bobby Zimmerman was adorable (and became my best friend’s boyfriend at camp). He wrote poems that made us cry (about the drunkard’s son, and about a dog that got run over . . . if memory serves me right). I still have copies of those poems in the mimeographed camp newsletter circa 1954. Some four years later we ended up at the University of Minnesota together. He was a frat boy (Sigma Alpha Mu) and would pull out his guitar at parties and sing in his gravelly voice that didn’t impress us one bit 🙂 He claimed he was Bobby V and that he had recorded “Suzy Baby.” I have such a clear picture of him (end of summer, 1960) in his shades and a leather cap announcing that he was going off to New York to make it big. Ha! we said. Sure! we said. Lots of luck! we said. Little did we know.

Bobby and Carolyn at Camp Herzl

And here’s an amazing video – a must watch – of Bob just a few years after he left Minnesota “to make it big.” It’s a 1963 TV appearance; Dyan is 21, and he’s singing his fabulous – and still relevant – “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

It’s weird to be writing about handshakes when the news of the day is filled with stories about the end of handshakes, given the virus – and maybe viruses to come.  I hope – when safe – we keep hugging and shaking hands.  Amazing how much human contact seems to be needed.

Now to the recipes.  I could post a martini recipe in honor of Winston Churchill.  Too simple! He apparently preferred them with just gin – no vermouth.  Maya Rudolph is well known for the disaster following her Brazilian steak dinner in the film Bridesmaids. Maybe a recipe for a Brazilian steak? 🙂 Or I could find some famous Minnesota recipe in honor of Bob Dylan.  But then there’s Julia.  How can I resist? We are a food blog…theoretically. The problem with Julia Child is that I generally find her recipes way too complicated for the lives we’re living. But here’s an easy one and a delicious one: Clafouti. It’s perfect for the pears, plums and apples available in early fall.

Julia Child’s Clafouti

Julia Child's Clafouti

This was originally made with pears – in Mastering the Art of French Cooking – but you can use peaches, apples, plums and – to be most French-like – cherries.

  • 1 1/2 lb firm, ripe pears – or peaches, apples, plums, all thinly sliced – or cherries; if you are using apples, see the footnote below
  • 1 1/4 cup milk
  • 2/3 cup sugar – divided into 1/3 and 1/3
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 T vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup flour

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350F.

Combine the milk, 1/3 c of sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt, and flour in a blender. Cover and blend at top speed for about 30 seconds, scraping down the sides as needed.

Pour a little of the batter (about a 1/4-inch layer) into a buttered 9″ or 10″ baking dish or pyrex pie plate about 1 1/2 inches deep (a cast iron skillet also works nicely). Place in the oven for about 5 minutes–until the batter has slightly set in the bottom of the dish.

Spread the fruit on top of the slightly-cooked batter.  Sprinkle with the extra 1/3 cup sugar (unless you’re using apples – which you’ve already cooked in sugar). Pour on the rest of the batter.

Bake in the middle position of the oven for about an hour, until the clafouti has puffed and browned and a toothpick stuck into its center comes out clean.

Serve warm or at room temperature, with whipped cream or ice cream, if desired.

If using apples, saute the slices, 2 T lemon juice, and 1/3 c of the sugar in 2 T butter in a frying pan over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring and turning. Add a pinch of cinnamon. Add that to the slightly baked batter and cover with the remaining batter. Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

I Have Eaten the Plums

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I understood nothing in my “20th-Century Lit” class which I took in 1963 at Colorado College.  NOTHING.  We read pages and pages of poetry, and each poem left me more confused – and wondering why in god’s name I thought I could be an English major.  (I should note: Andy had similar fears about being a college professor.)

I wasn’t the only one confused.  After a good friend wrote a lengthy (and hysterically naive and incorrect) response to a test question in her lit class, someone had to tactfully and delicately explain to her the “significance” of the corn cob in Faulkner’s Sanctuary.

But as far as poetry, William Carlos Williams is a case in point.  He lived from 1883 until 1963.  The Williams’ poem which we studied – and which sticks in my memory – is The Red Wheelbarrow:

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens 

In retrospect, reading the poem again and contemplating why Williams was considered so great reminds me of a favorite painting Andy and I have – which we bought at the wonderful The Arts Guild of Sonoma a number of years ago.  Upon seeing this painting for the first time, a family member remarked that her kindergarten students could easily have painted something just as good!

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Our Frank Kreuger art

Though it wasn’t included in Modern American & Modern British Poetry (my well-worn edition of the book, edited by Louis Untermeyer, was published in 1955), another Williams poem is quite famous:

This Is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

And so this brings me to Ruth Reichl.  🙂

Reichl, well known amongst foodies, was the restaurant critic for the LATimes and the NYTimes – and then the Editor of Gourmet Magazine – until it folded in 2009.  Her 2019 tell-all book – about her days at Gourmet – is entitled Save Me the Plums – because of her fondness for that Williams’ poem.

I’m still dense.  I couldn’t figure out why Save Me the Plums – a riff on the poem’s beginning line, “I have eaten the plums” made sense as Reichl’s title.  But – thanks to Google – I found the following Reichl interview with the LA Times.  I don’t want to ignore the deeper meanings, but my take on that interview is simply that being Gourmet’s editor was a “plum” job.

Including recipes seems to be trendy in food memoirs and Reichl is no exception.  I figured she’d be pretty sure to pick delicious recipes from Gourmet, given that she included only a few in this recent book.  I tried three – Spicy Chinese Noodles, Thanksgiving Turkey Chili, and Chocolate Cake with Mascarpone.  And all three were hits with Andy and me.  MountainWestBob, our friend in Albuquerque, gave the chili a try, after reporting that he loves chili but that he’d never made it without tomatoes.  And, yes, he and his wife, Gayle, liked it! Whew.

Though there were “plum” recipes in Reichl’s book, there was no plum recipe per se, so I’ve included a favorite of ours (and of many, many others). Continue reading

He’s As Corny As Kansas In August

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He’s as corny as Kansas in August; I’m as normal as blueberry pie.

I’m pretty sure that’s true of Andy and me…though I’m not a big blueberry pie enthusiast and would never consider it “normal.”

I had to look up which musical my riff on Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics came from – and it’s South Pacificwhich premiered on Broadway in 1949.  I haven’t seen the stage play, but I know that as a 14-year-old I saw the 1958 movie, starring Mitzi Gaynor as Nurse Nellie Forbush.  I had totally forgotten about all the racism dealt with in that film – and never knew that some asked that the song “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught” be taken out…not because it comes from a “white” perspective but because tolerating something like interracial romance was unacceptable.

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John Kerr and France Nuyen in the 1958 South Pacific film

You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught from year to year
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made
And people whose skin is a different shade
You’ve got to be carefully taught

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late
Before you are six or seven or eight
To hate all the people your relatives hate
You’ve got to be carefully taught

Apparently, Oscar Hammerstein considered himself a bit of a preacher – preaching the importance of “reaching across differences,” as a Broadway historian described him in an essay for NPR.

Now as for “corny.” It too may be laced with some lack of respect for differences. Some etymology research suggests it came about as a reference to farmers – who some might have considered unsophisticated…”hicks”… even dull!”

I take it all back. Andy is certainly NOT corny – as in dull and unsophisticated. BUT his jokes! Corn PLUS! (see today’s Andy’s Corner.)

When Andy and I arrived in Colorado for his first visit with my parents, his most telling remark to them – while we were driving up the interstate from Denver to Fort Collins – was when he pointed to a man in a field (maybe it was a cornfield?) and asked my unsuspecting mom and dad, “You know what a farmer is, don’t you?”  Pregnant pause. “A farmer is someone outstanding in his field!” OMG.

And Andy thinks this is super funny:

image

So – I’ll bet you’ve already guessed what recipes I’m going to share, have’t you? It’s going to be all about blueberries.

WRONG

It’s about corn. Please forgive me, Michael Pollan, for loving corn no matter what you’ve researched and written about it.

Did you grow up hearing that corn crops should be “knee high by the Fourth of July?”  Maybe that was a Colorado thing.  Now highly-hybridized (and often GM) corn matures so early (as do chickens, cattle, and hogs) that the more appropriate expression is “as high as a elephant’s eye.”  And – yes, we’re back to Hammerstein lyrics – this time from Oklahoma!

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Gordon MacRae in Oklahoma, the film

(True confession: I think I was secretly in love with Gordon MacRae after seeing him sing “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” in the film.  Or maybe I was in love with his horse!)

We’ve already posted some d-lish recipes using fresh corn (and, might I add, frozen corn kernels work really well if fresh corn is out of season).

But today (yes, appropriately enough, it’s August) I’m going back to our Louisiana past and giving you a recipe for Maque Choux (pronounced like “mock shoe” – and the name supposedly being an odd combination of Creole and Native American words).  This is definitely a recipe geared for David in Albuquerque – who loves to improvise. 

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Maque Choux

Maque Choux

Make this recipe your own by frying and adding diced bacon, sliced okra, chopped celery, some minced jalapeno, ham, shrimp, or andouille sausage, and/or at the end of sauteing – a little cream.  Scraping the cobs of corn to get some of the milky, juicy part to add is also traditional.

Heat oil in a large skillet, then sauté onion and bell pepper over medium heat 3-4 minutes or until tender. Add corn and tomato and seasonings and cook, stirring often, about 10 minutes.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

Brownies, Blondies – and Tomboys

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Katharine Hepburn – 1941

I’ve been waiting for just the right time to use these photos – of Katharine Hepburn and of my Dunn Elementary School Brownie troop.  Andy – in Andy’s Corner – has been waiting for just the right time to tell you about his Boy Scout uniform debacle.

Originally, I envisioned a blog filled with an exciting assortment of brownie recipes, including, of course, my all-time favorite, Katharine Hepburn Brownies.   But in thinking about that I realized that once you’ve tasted a Katharine Hepburn brownie, you really don’t need any other recipe.  And we’ve already posted that one.

Should you want to know more about those brownies, here’s the PBS story behind Katherine Hepburn and her recipe.

Anyway,  I decided to blog about my favorite blondie recipe, which, strangely enough 🙂 comes from our daughter’s Picnics cookbook.  I thought it was the penultimate (whoops, a misuse of that word) absolutely perfect recipe.  Delicioso.  BUT then I did a little blondie research and came up with another recipe to try.  And now I am SO torn as to which is best.  I encourage you to try them both – recipes below – and leave your comments.

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As for my Ft. Collins, Colorado, Brownie troop, I can still identify almost every cutie in the photo – and I’m still in touch with three of them, which is kind of amazing given that that photo was taken about 68 years ago.

I’m the toothless little waif in the middle of the third row, and my friend Susan is standing on my right.  We were “country girls,” growing up on small acreages south of Fort Collins, CO.  And we were both definitely tomboys.

Did you know Katharine Hepburn was a tomboy – and was considered very avant-garde and “gender bending?”  A delightful Vanity Fair article about her maintains that she inspired “proud unpainted princesses with flaring nostrils and dungarees,” who are “startlingly frank, obviously brainy, filled with the new free ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ spirit.”  Geez, how I’d love to be described that way!

Without even knowing about that article my friend Susan lamented how her mother made her wear “girls’ jeans” – which zipped on the side – and what a relief it was when she first got to wear her first pair of Levi’s 501s (considered “boys’ jeans” back then – and still now?).  Susan was also the first girl to be allowed to deliver our local newspaper – the Fort Collins Coloradoan though she was not allowed to attend the weekly meetings with the rest of the delivery crew, since a little girl amongst all those boys would certainly have not been appropriate!

Susan was tough back then and is tough today.  She recently emailed me that “nothing really stopped me from trying and doing anything that needed to be done.”  If that’s gender bending, I embrace it!

Janeene, my very-blondie friend in the middle of the troop – just below me – reported, “Now that I think of it, maybe I was a tomboy in some respects.  I enjoyed playing with the boys more than girls.”  And – soon after the Brownie photo was taken – Janeene made a Hepburn kind of decision:  she quit Brownies and Bluebirds, because they didn’t allow boys!  Go, Janeene!  “Flaring nostrils,” for sure!

A recent article from the NYTimes, entitled Bring Back the Tomboys, got me going on all of this tomboy stuff.  The author, Lisa Selin Davis, writes that the tomboys from the pop culture of the ’70’s and 80’s “were outspoken, confident and indifferent to the silent or explicit rules of gender around them, often dressing and acting “like boys.” They stood in stark contrast to the ingénues and highly feminine characters girls and women were often restricted to.  Davis goes on to describe how by the 90’s this had changed and Jo [from TV’s The Facts of Life] gave way to Sporty Spice, Xena, Buffy — coifed, petal-lipped and sometimes baring midriff — with the message that one didn’t need to sacrifice femininity to have power.

Lots to contemplate here – but I’ve gotta run.  I’m off to pick-ax out some holes for new shrubs we’re planting, power-wash the back deck, and grind down a stain on our concrete walkway.  Andy is fixing dinner.

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Brown Sugar Blondies with Pecans

Brown Sugar Blondies with Pecans

You can easily do 1/2 this recipe, using an 8″x 8″ pan, but we recommend just freezing whatever is not eaten up.  Adapted from Sara Deseran’s Picnics cookbook.

4 eggs
2 c dark brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp Diamond kosher salt
2 sticks (16 T) butter, melted and cooled
1 c flour
1 c pecans, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9″x13″ baking pan.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs until frothy.  Stir in the brown sugar, vanilla and salt and mix well.  Stir in the cooled butter.  Add the flour and stir until everything is just blended, then mix in the pecans.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and bake for 25-30 minutes.  Cut into squares while still warm.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

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Butterscotch Blondies

Butterscotch Blondies

This recipe was adapted from the American classic, The Joy of Cooking (the 1975 edition).

  • 1/4 c butter
  • 1 c brown sugar (I use dark brown)
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 c flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp Diamond kosher salt
  • 1/2 c sliced almonds (or walnuts or pecans) or 3/4 c grated coconut

Lavishly grease a 9″x 9″ baking pan.

Melt butter in a small saucepan and then add the brown sugar, stirring until the brown sugar is dissolved (it will be thick).  When the mixture has slightly cooled, beat in the egg and vanilla.

Mix the flour and baking powder and salt together, using a fork.  Stir flour mixture into butter mixture. Fold in chopped nuts (or coconut).  Spread the batter into prepared pan. The mixture will just cover the bottom of the 9″ pan.

Bake blondies on upper middle rack at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack, cut, and serve. Makes 1 dozen bars.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

 

The Birds and the Bees – Part 2

Actually, this blog is just about bees.  Forget the birds.  Or go back and read the first Birds and the Bees, or easier yet, read today’s revelatory Andy’s Corner!

My father did not let me take high school biology.  And I never figured out why (and I never asked him; maybe I feared it would be an awkward conversation).

So I don’t know much about biology.  Not only did I not learn about “THE” birds and the bees in biology class, I didn’t even learn about pollination.  But you can teach an old dog and an old woman new tricks (mind you, “old” is not a word I really associate with myself – but it works in this context).  Physalis ixocarpa has helped me – about 60 years late – learn a little bit about plants and pollinating.  Google helped too.

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This summer – for the first time – I decided to plant tomatillos. We almost always have a few tomatillos in the fridge, sometimes kept too long and rotting, but I find them intriguing.  And they’re essential in some of my favorite Mexican recipes.

Since we don’t have a huge garden area, I put one tomatillo in a big clay pot (thanks, Swede’s Feeds, for having a great selection this spring – and for being a soothing spot to shop during the pandemic).  That tomatillo plant – with its teeny yellow blossoms – was so pretty, that about a month later I bought two more – a different variety – from Swede’s Feeds and planted them in another big clay pot.  The second plants are now gorgeous – filled with huge, billowing husks, baby tomatillos beginning to develop inside the husks, and visited regularly by the busiest of bees.  The first plant is withering.  Well, it’s got blossoms but no husks or baby tomatillos.

How was I supposed to know that I needed two plants, so that pollination could occur – unless, of course, I wanted to hand-pollinate them.   Right.  (If you think hand-pollinating is an easy option – check out this video.)

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The blossom of Physalis ixocarpa – better known as Tomatillo – and a nectar-loving bee

Just in case you’re scratching your head, not sure what a tomatillo looks or tastes like, here’s some help:

  • Like a tomato, a tomatillo is a member of the nightshade family.  But the similarity ends there.
  • Not only are tomatillos not self-pollinating (yes, tomatoes do self-pollinate), but they’re surrounded by a husk and are both tart and firm (think sour apple) when eaten raw.  And they’re usually – but not always – enjoyed more when they’re cooked.
  • The plants, native to what’s now Mexico,  were cultivated by the Mayans and Aztecs.
  • If you want green supermarket-style tomatillos, be sure to plant one of the larger hybrids, such as Super Verde.  Many tomatillo varieties are tiny – and a variety of colors.
  • Don’t be surprised if you have “volunteer” little upstarts the next growing season.
  • The genus name ‘physalis’ is from Ancient Greek – meaning “to blow up.”  Cute, huh?

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The billowing, blown-up husks of our tomatillo plants

Today we’ve got two new tomatillo recipes that are multi-purpose:  serve them as a salsa with tacos or burritos –  or serve them as a dip with chips and veggies.

And here are three of our favorite – and super-delicious – already-posted tomatillo recipes.

Chicken Pozole Verde

Chile Verde

Watermelon and Tomatillo Salad

 

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Ripe tomatillos – ready to be peeled and used

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