Welcome To the Lion’s Den

As Suzette knows, I’m no pink ribbon waver. I wouldn’t have given this video a second’s consideration if it didn’t make fun of early MTV, but the reason I’m posting it is the Madness Stomp in the middle. Who can resist dancing nerds? Not me!

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A Little Sugar On It, Baby

On New Scandinavian Cooking, Andreas Viestad discussed cloudberries, and how Norwegians jealously guard the secret locations of cloudberry bushes. He seemed most emphatic about it. His eyebrows took on a life of their own. I’ve been thinking again about the conflict between wild imagination and the frailty of the body. We could plant more, but I’m having trouble vacuuming a whole room. I’d like to teach grade schoolers to grow herbs, but my stamina runs out on the way to the coffee pot. I’ve skipped exercising 10 days out of the last 13 months and feel certain yoga three times a week would significantly improve the condition of my hip, but I need a nap I’m not going to get. Somehow, though, having the ideas seems like enough for the moment. After the holiday madness is over, I’ll have time to ask questions, find programs looking for volunteers and think about the garden. Today, I found a new yoga studio four blocks from my house I might be able to move in and occupy. Depending on the schedule over there, I might not even have to wait. And, as Andreas let slip, cloudberry preserves can be purchased in the States. I’ll never tell you where.

Nothing I Can Take To Relieve This

Lovely Drusy stares so hard at the finger puppet you’d think it would burst into flames.

Pete’s baking bread. We had long, busy days at the family stores, which is actually good. When we’re busy, time passes faster. It’s all a blur of festive tissue and wrapping paper and – POOF! – we’re home with our feet propped up while the bread machine whirs and squawks. The cats are curled up where they can touch us or at least keep watch: Topaz at my elbow, Drusy over my left shoulder and Sweetpea on an ottoman at our feet. They do not trust us. They dream of fishy treats and catnip mousies, but always sleep with one eye on us.

You Wrote It And I Played It

Lots of people don’t think much about the words they choose. How about you: do you think about words or do you just talk? A phrase most people don’t think much about is If I can do it, you can do it. Now, that is shorthand for something longer, bolder and more vulgar like, My parents were mouthbreathing, six-fingered triplets, and if I can do it, you, a person who eats with utensils and ties your own shoes, can do it, too. People misuse this phrase all the time. My favorite misuse of it currently on TV is Marie Osmond, mother of eight and professional entertainer since birth, insisting that if she can drop a pile of pounds, I can too. Frankly, Marie Osmond can do shit all day every day I can’t do, but that’s probably not true of you and me.

If I can dehydrate pears, I believe you can too – not because my parents were related but because I’m just learning how to dehydrate fruit. You can learn it, too. If I can brandy blueberries, I think you can handle it because I can’t follow a recipe to save my life. If I can mix up brown sugar with cinnamon, a pinch of salt, some allspice and nutmeg, I feel sure you’re up to it. Call it a hunch. I don’t even have to have one and an entertaining lisp to know you’ll be inspired to sprinkle this stuff on anything you bake.

So what did I do that you can do, too? Bake something architecturally unlikely and improbably delicious, that’s what. Go ahead, scroll down. I’ll wait right here. Go ahead. Feelings! Nothing more than feelings! Trying to forget my feeling of loooooooooove! Yup, I did that and a few other things, and you can too. Start at the grocery store with a box of phyllo dough, a spritz bottle of oil or I Can’t Believe It’s Stopping My Heart, a filling you make yourself or one you buy. You need pans and parchment paper. For some reason, tart pans are the shittiest things in everyone’s kitchen. Don’t put food on those!

I mean these! Don’t put food directly on these, no matter how beloved the dead relative who gave them to you. How did I know? You didn’t buy your own tart pans. No one does. Someone dies and you get them. Or there’s a garage sale and the garage owner pays you to take them away. I didn’t even know these were mine until Pete told me they came from Dad. Anyway, these pans had nice steep sides and the flutey shape meant nothing to me because I wasn’t going to let food touch it. No touching!

That would be chaos!

Tear off strips of parchment paper to cover the surface of the pan. I was thinking of the parchment as a guide and not as an exact shape, then I cut the edges down to about half an inch above the edge of the form. You can cut this or leave it long. That doesn’t really matter. I was warbling along to Side 2 of Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy and the sustained notes made me want curves and ruffles. Perhaps it was the extra oxygen.

When you’re working with phyllo dough, the hard part is the easy part. Have everything you’re going to work with laid out and ready. Heat your oven. Turn off your phone. Discourage your helpful pets! Open the phyllo dough, lay it out flat and cover it with a barely moist towel. Ready? Go! Gently peel a layer of dough, lay it where you want it and spritz with oil. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Now and then, sprinkle a little of your cinnamon sugar here and there. It’s not engineering and you don’t have to be precise. Peel, lay, spritz. Try to keep the towel on the unused dough so it doesn’t dry out.

There’s a muddled instruction I hear on cooking shows over and over, but variations of it turn up on all kinds of how-to shows, probably because people don’t know what they’re saying. You’ve heard it. Alton Brown says, Don’t over-mix. Giada says, Not too much. Even Jacques Pepin is not beyond saying, Just enough! This tells you nothing and makes you nervous. What they should be saying is Mix until such and such happens, then stop, or Add the ingredient until you see or feel a desired effect, because then you’d learn something. No sense adding peril to a peril-free situation. In this case, I piled on sheets of dough until I decided plenty was in the form and that it was pretty. Don’t be nervous. There’s no right or wrong. You’re making something fun and pretty. Don’t lose your nerve!

I made two crusts in the two pans, filled them with fruit and baked them at 350 degrees for about 20 or 25 minutes, at which point the crust was golden brown. You should bake stuff to golden brown. If you get to black, you’ve gone too far. See? You learned something. Then I laid out phyllo dough in the same pattern, only flat and as close to even as possible. Phyllo dough grabs wet phyllo dough, so where it touches it sticks. When I was satisfied that I had a thick layer of stacked phyllo to work with, I put down a thick line of fruit filling down the center of this rectangle and folded like a burrito. You’ve folded a burrito, right? Then you can make strudel.

When the strudel came out of the oven we kept our paws off it long enough for it to cool to a temperature slightly hotter than lava. I cut pieces. I mixed homemade yogurt with a dollop of ginger marmalade and tossed in some allspice. At this exact moment, Pete’s sister needed to talk to him, so the strudel cooled, exactly as you see it, for another seven or eight minutes. Then we ate it like we were raised by wolves – wolves with poor table manners.

I made a third kind of thingy by layering phyllo into a loaf pan. When it came right down to it, putting it together was no more difficult than messing with PlayDoh. Nobody taught me to do this. I simply decided I could, figured out the spray goo trick and everything else was just playing. You should give this a try because it was so freaking easy even I could do it. See?

After the shopping, I forgot to mention a crucial step. You cannot miss it! Tie up your hair with the silliest, girliest, most hilarious hair tie. If you’re bald or have short hair, you can now get hair nets with rhinestones and swim caps with flowers. Could we look one another in the eye again if you missed a chance to synchronized swim in your kitchen? I fear not, you know what I mean?

Too Slow But the Earth Is All We Know

Pete pads softly down the stairs, holding the phone and smiling.

Pete: It’s your mother.

Maybe he’s grimacing.

Tata: What’s up, Mom?
Mom: Remember when – maybe you know – could you help me with something? – I’m not sure how to ask this but – when you were in the garage – perhaps the cat – the garage door clicker is still missing and – Tom says he told you –
Tata: He told me to pick up the gray thing and press the button. I picked up the gray thing, pressed the button and put it back on the shelf next to the macaroni.
Mom: It’s catfood. Did you by any chance – while you were walking around –
Tata: No. It was missing while we were still there. He asked me this question before we left Cape Cod and I told him the same thing. He was there and watched me put it back next to the macaroni and catfood. I never touched it again.
Mom: So you didn’t pick it up and walk around and forget about it?
Tata: Nope. Look under the stairs, okay?
Mom: Under the stairs! I’ll do that. I don’t know why we didn’t think of that.
Tata: Me, neither. Look behind the catfood macaroni while you’re there, huh?

When that fails, Radio Shack opens at 9 a.m.

Photo: Bob Hosh

I have a cold. You get this picture from my co-worker, who takes the most startling photographs of flowers. You’d think this patch of mums was the face of a beloved child, and perhaps it is.