Tuesday, July 31, 2012

RECIPE: Julie's Fruit Buckle of Awesomeness and homemade vanilla ice cream

What is summertime, exactly, if not swimming pools and sweet corn, tomatoes warm from the garden and fireworks, blueberries and ice cream? One of my favorite memories of a book is from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy, when she described Almanzo and his brother and sisters using up all the white sugar to make ice cream in their hand-cranked ice cream freezer when their parents were gone visiting relatives for a week. White sugar was a valuable commodity in the 1870s and those naughty Wilder munchkins emptied out an entire barrel of it in their lust for sweet, creamy frozen yumminess. Almanzo had to do the majority of the cranking because he was the youngest. Eliza, the bossy one, put herself in charge of beating the eggs, I believe, so what the young Wilders were eating was actually frozen custard rather than frozen ice cream.

What I've got for you here is frozen half-and-half, although if you want a sturdier result, you could substitute heavy cream with no problems. I do use an ice cream freezer: I think my husband and I received it as a wedding gift back around the time when the Wilder kids were growing up; they asked to borrow some of our sugar after they used all of theirs, but we told them no. You can also use a freezer method that involves whipping the ingredients with an electric mixer, pouring the mixture in a 9x13 dish and then freezing it for something like eight-thousand hours, but honestly, ice cream freezers can be had for such a small outlay of money, I'd buy one if you don't already have one. My freezer is not a high-end model and it churns (noisily, my gosh, the thing could deafen you) for forty minutes and you have ice cream before you can say Bob's-yer-uncle. If Bob is, indeed, your uncle.


4 cups half and half
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)

Mix all ingredients together and pour into the freezer container of an ice cream maker. Proceed according to manufacturer's directions. When ice cream has finished churning, remove from freezer container and pour/scoop into an airtight tub of some sort (I just use Rubbermaid). Place in freezer for two hours to finish hardening.

Add 1/2 cup cocoa powder to half and half mixture and one teaspoon of cinnamon, if desired.

Add one cup of chocolate chips, Heath toffee chips, Butterfinger chips, etc. when ice cream is finished churning. Stir candy into soft ice cream and place mixture into a Rubbermaid container. Put in freezer to continue hardening,

Add two cups of mashed ripe blueberries, peaches,strawberries to mixture. Omit cinnamon, unless it just sounds good to you.

Add one cup of crushed peppermint candies to mixture

Purchase a log of chocolate chip cookie dough. Using about half the roll, cut into small chunks: refrigerate until firm. Prepare vanilla ice cream according to directions. When ice cream has been churned, remove it from the freezer container and place into a bowl; stir the chunks of cookie dough into the soft ice cream. Scoop into a Rubbermaid container and place in freezer for two hours to finish hardening.


The dessert recipe actually belongs to my friend Julie P., as much as I would like to claim it as my own. It is delicious, it is easy, it is cheap. It's comforting and homey on a cold, wintery evening and it's absolutely delicious with that homemade ice cream pictured above. Julie claims that it is actually a Paula Deen recipe, but Paula's recipe contains an extra stick of butter, which Julie felt was too gooshy. I tried it Julie's way and it was so good, I almost fell out of my chair in a happy little dessert coma, so I'm fine with just the one stick too.

1 can fruit pie filling, any flavor
1 can of crushed pineapple or pineapple tidbits, your choice
1 box yellow cake mix
1 stick of butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spritz a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray. Pour the undrained can of pineapple into the baking dish and spread it around to cover the bottom. Spoon out the fruit pie filling onto the pineapple and spread it around as well. Open the cake mix and distribute it on top in an even manner; pour the butter across the top, criss-cross, back-and-forth, up and down.

Bake for 30-35 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with a little cinnamon sugar if you'd like. Serve warm and prepare to be revered as a goddess.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

How to Know When Your Daughter's Boyfriend is Officially Part of the Family

Bobby and Meelyn haven't been a couple for long, but they seem rather permanent, which just goes to illustrate that when you know, you know. My husband and I are great believers in knowing, since we got married six weeks after we met. Bobby's parents got engaged after their third date. My parents showed a certain measure of restraint by waiting for something like eight weeks after they met before they tied the knot, but that's only because all the Saturdays at the church in Mt. Summit were already reserved. And considering that we've all been married, respectively, twenty-one, twenty-five and almost-fifty years, I think we have a good track record for being People Who Just Knew.

So when Bobby isn't working, he's usually here. He does the kinds of things other family members do, such as sitting on the couch eating Pringle's potato chips, drinking a Coke and commenting loudly on the stupidity of whatever movie we're watching on Netflix. Or he's engaged in a debate about who, exactly, is going to get in the car and drive to the nearest Redbox to rent a different movie after we all give up on Netflix. Or he's making poop jokes while we're eating dinner, which has possibly done more to endear him to my husband than anything else I could think of. Or he's yelling, "SHUT UP!!! GEEZ!!!!" at the dogs, who deserve it.

But the other day, something happened that confirmed Bobby's place in our family, which has suddenly not just added another person, but also added a lot more heart, although you may wonder if I've lost my mind when I explain the circumstance that marked him forever as One of Us.

It was an almighty hot day and my husband was at work and Meelyn, Bobby, Aisling and I were hanging around the house, drooping limply over the furniture. I was so bored, I thought I was going to implode, and since I'd already done three loads of laundry and cleaned up the kitchen TWICE, I felt like I deserved a little break. So I grabbed my keys and said, "Who wants to go to Starbucks? I'm buying."

The resulting stampede nearly knocked me out the front door and down the porch steps, and after we finally sorted ourselves out and shooed the dogs back inside (they're not allowed to drink coffee, even though all three of them like it and will totally slurp it right out of your mug if you don't keep a close eye on it) and got the people inside the hot van, Aisling and Bobby had started one of those pointless arguments that sounded like this:

Aisling: No, it didn't.

Bobby: Yes, it did.

Aisling: No, it DID NOT.

Bobby: Yes, it DID TOO.

Aisling [witheringly]: Nuh-uh

Bobby [unperturbed, toying with her]: Yes-huh

Aisling [yelling]: NO IT DIDN'T!!!

Bobby: [raising his voice, mocking] YES IT DID!!!!


[brief moment of silence]

Bobby [very, very quietly]: youuu got in trouuuuble....

Aisling [goaded beyond endurance] SO DID YOU, YOU STUPID BUTT!!!!

See what I mean? You can get to know people and you can really like them and all, but you will never really get them and they will never really get you, but they're very nice all the same. Then there are those people who can come to your house and fall in love with your daughter and eat your potato chips and know exactly how to torment her younger sister, giving her the opportunity to have the older brother she never had, and you can  think, "Here are my kids. My three kids," and share that thought with your husband, who will say, "I know just what you mean."

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Compleat (Bad) Gardener's Guide to Growing Things

I do not have a green thumb of any sort -- kelly, hunter, lime, pea, you name it, I don't have it. And this in spite of the fact that I come from a long line of talented gardeners, which doesn't seem fair. Of course, I also come from a long line of accomplished drinkers and brilliant cussers, so that kind of makes up for the fact that I can kill living plants with a casual glance, doesn't it?


Anyhoo, in spite of the fact that I am the grim reaper of garden centers everywhere, I really like flowers. And I do have a measure of success with hard-to-kill varieties of flora such as marigolds, petunias, geraniums and impatiens. I have some nice hostas growing around the house. And, you know, grass. But other than those things, I register a big, fat FAIL on the scale of People Who Sing to their Ferns.

So I wrote this handy little guide, not yet available in hardback, paperback, library binding or 99 cent e-book edition, to those who share this deficiency. Because there must be someone else. Someone. Anyone?

The Compleat (Bad) Gardener's Guide to Growing Things

1. Never trust yourself with plants you buy for full-price because you'll hate yourself when they die later. Ditto for anything bought at a plant nursery that looks healthy, robust and colorful. Limit yourself to plants purchased from, say, Lowe's. Or better yet, Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is famous for buying huge amounts of annuals and then allowing them to languish, un-watered, until they're on the verge of expiring and marked down to half-price. THAT, my friends, is the time to buy your hanging baskets, your flats of pansies. See, if it's already mostly dead, you won't feel like a failure later if you forget to water it for a week or so: It's already accustomed to such mistreatment and won't hold a grudge.

2. While you're buying your plants, tuck a great big box of Miracle-Gro into your shopping cart. Miracle-Gro is one of those products that real gardeners scorn, preferring to use their own fertilizer from the compost bin in out in the yard. But for you and for me, Miracle-Gro is, well, a miracle. It can take a basket of vining petunias that are drooping limply over the edges of their container, trying to gasp out final instructions to their lawyers about the contents of their wills, and make them sit right back up and demand scrambled eggs and bourbon.

3. Come home and distribute your plants wherever you want them to go. Then find a pitcher and pour in some red wine (Shiraz works), half a cup of sugar, two sliced oranges, one sliced lime, one sliced lemon, a handful of grapes, a sliced apple. Throw in a liter of club soda or ginger ale and you've got yourself an amazing little sangria that will....wait. This was supposed to be about Miracle-Gro. GET A PITCHER, gallon-sized, fill it with water and one tablespoon of Miracle-Gro, and go douse your flowers with it. Be generous.

4. Pinch back any gangly, unsightly stems or stalks that are springing forth from the plant at strange angles; also remove, by using your thumbnail, any spent blossoms. Geraniums, in paticular, need this service offered to them because there is no flower that looks as ugly and unkempt as a gone-to-seed geranium. For other plants, like petunias, you can't just pull off the withered blossom, you also have to pinch off that little green part that the blossom sprang forth from. I learned this the hard way one summer, and made my mother double over with laughter as she observed my sad, sad baskets of flowers.

5. Check out the internet and make sure that flowers that are supposed to be in the sun are actually in it, and vice versa. Change plants all around, wishing you'd thought of doing this beforehand.

6. Water daily when it's super hot; continue to pinch back spent blooms. If you forget to water the plants for a few days, blame it on the sangria, not on me. Look, I was the one who told you right from the beginning that I was not to be trusted around flora, right?

7. When late fall arrives and the flowers die and look all shriveled and brown and loathsome, leave them out for a little while longer, like until Christmas, so that your place assumes a slightly squalid, if not downright haunted, air. It works well at Halloween. This will make the neighbors love you. LOVE you.

8. When it's finally time to throw out the hanging baskets, don't just pitch the soil and the dead plants, thinking that next year, you'll buy your annuals in flats and maybe purchase some lovely vinca and devise your own flower baskets that spill colorful blossoms recklessly over the sides in a sweet cascade that nearly reaches the porch floor. You and I know right now that it will never happen. You will end up storing five years' worth of plastic pots with those cheapo, coat-hanger hooks on them out in the shed or down in the basement, where they will eventually tumble over onto your husband, who will storm into the house or up the steps growling, "Please remind me WHY THE H*LL WE'RE SAVING THESE?"

You will not have an answer that will satisfy him. You see, he knows you. Probably the whole neighborhood does. Just... let the baskets go, along with your tender dreams of window-boxes and trellises and flowering shrubs. It isn't going to happen.

Just ask my husband.

Friday, June 22, 2012

It seems that on every House Hunters we watch around here, the couple searching for their dream home anxiously says to their realtor (a person who often looks strained to the point of screaming), "We want a private back yard. We don't want everyone staring at us and peering into our business."

I, for one, want to know exactly what all these couple are doing in their backyards that they don't want everyone to see. Because, you know? None of the neighbors give a flying flip about your kids playing in the sandbox or you out there planting geraniums. They don't care about your pork chops on the barbecue or your dog pooping in the grass. So unless you're an ardent devotee of topless sunbathing or things of a more intimate nature done al fresco -- in which case, shame on you, were you raised in a barnyard? -- let me just tell it to you straight: THE NEIGHBORS DON'T CARE. They're not really interested in you at all. They are not spending their days eagerly hanging about by the patio door saying, "Oooh, I can hardly wait until the neighbors' kids come out to swing! And did you see that flat of petunias the missis bought yesterday? Do you think she's going to, like, plant them? Seriously, this is just as exciting as Christmas freakin' morning!"

You're boring. We're all boring. We all do boring stuff at home that no one else cares about, because they're all at their houses doing their own boring stuff and they have no time to sit wistfully gazing at your boring stuff. Get over yourselves, House Hunters.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Husbands, take note

Husbands, at some point or another in your marriage, your wife will turn to you with a suspicious look in her eye and say, "Surely you're not going to wear THOSE PANTS are you?"

Let me stress that there is only one right answer to this question, and here it is: "These pants? Aw, no, I'm not wearing THESE pants. I was just wearing these pants until you tell me what pants you actually want me to wear. These pants are just like a holding pattern in air traffic: working fine at this moment, but not even close to the final outcome."

Sunday, June 17, 2012

This was my husband's idea of the perfect Father's Day dinner: sausage gravy with nasty canned biscuits, potato puffs and scrambled eggs. He ate in perfect happiness, oblivious to the girls and I, who watched him inhale at least a pound of grease with an almost obscene amount of enjoyment. We elected to eat other food, to which he gleefully responded, "Oh, yay! MORE FOR ME!"

*gulp* Happy Father's Day, honey!

My husband and I went to the opening night of Symphony on the Prairie at Conner Prairie in Fishers last night to hear Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, which happens to be the music we heard on our first trip to the prairie, which we think was probably about fifteen years ago. The music is performed by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra inside that big bandshell with all the pretty colored lights, and people sit in folding chairs or lounge about on blankets spread over the grass. There may be wine involved. Indeed, a great many of the audience members at Symphony on the Prairie take the relaxed atmosphere as a license to get  pleasantly buzzed, and there's a giddy note in the applause after each piece of music, with some people lurching a bit unsteadily to their feet to shout "BRAVI!!!!" just before stifling a gentle burp.

When we go, we always take a substantial picnic in a basket, as well as a fully-stocked cooler. Ditto, folding chairs, a camp table, and the old king-sized comforter from our bed (the one Izzy ruined by chewing a black pen on it) and some pillows.

But there's an awful lot of peripheral stuff that has to be packed too, in order to make the whole experience on the prairie more comfortable. Because, you know: NATURE. Nature will sometimes have her way with you, and out on the open prairie, she likes particularly to blitz you with heat and mosquitos. It's important to take stuff along not only to make your meal more easy to eat, but also to force Nature to keep her distance.

Here's my list, not only for your information, but also so that I'll have it handy for my own reference. The ones I keep writing on paper disappear. I blame Nature. I know she's responsible somehow.

In the Picnic Basket:
- at least two citronella candles, more if there are several people in the group: I like the three-wick kind that
   some in the little pretend-galvanized steel buckets.
- an Aim-n-Flame, unless you can light those candles by the force of your will
- a squirt bottle of Off or some other insecticide
- several cardboard-on-a-paint-stirrer fans
- plates
- cups, if all your drinks aren't in bottles or cans
- napkins
- plastic forks, spoons, knives
- salt and pepper
- a bottle opener/cork screw (because if you forget these items, you might as well just go home)
- a bag for your trash
- some wet dishcloths sealed in a plastic bag, to be used to wipe off dirty stuff or the occasional bird
  offering: curse you, Mother Nature
- a container of baby wipes or similar, for wiping sticky wine off self (don't ask); also for removing frosted
  brownie residue from fingers
- binoculars, which come in handy for seeing the actual keys of the piano a special pianist is playing, ditto for
   violins and other instruments being played by a soloist
- any non-chilled food items you plan to eat, such as potato chips, croissants, or the aforementioned
- a roll of toilet paper. Just. Because. Shut up.

In the Cooler:
- the wine
- the beer

And if there's room for anything else...
- food that needs to be chilled, and this includes any CHOCOLATE you bring with you. Because if you put
  your chocolate in the picnic basket, you will be so very, very sad and sorry that you did
- At home before we leave, I always fill a mixing bowl with some ice cubes and about six cups of cold water, adding one teaspoon of almond extract. Soak however many washcloths you need per person until they're completely saturated - the washcloths, not the people, silly - and press them gently to rid them of excess water. Put the wet, chilly washcloths into a plastic ziploc bag and seal it well: use them on the prairie for wiping off your feverishly hot forehead, arms and legs. Sometimes it gets really darned hot out there, and those washcloths always seem like a decadent treat.

And also:
  I mentioned above that we also take our huge old bed comforter, because the prairie is often so relaxing, you just don't feel like sitting through the whole performance. To that end, we also have a number of crummy-looking pillows that used to do duty on the couch, but which now are fit for nothing better than head duty outdoors. We also take folding chairs, our folding camp table and a wee little folding table I bought at Wal-Mart that is just the right height for putting your drink on if you're sitting on the ground. Basically, think of it as a three hour camping trip, although you obviously can't take a tent, an awning or a barbecue grill. Which is a shame, because Symphony on the Prairie is the only place on earth, I would ever remotely consider camping.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Humorless people suck

Meelyn's graduation party is coming up this Sunday, which means that it's just about time to buy all the food we're planning to serve. Lots of it can be put together this coming week, but the bulk of it will be done on Saturday. Which means that the Big Shopping Trip will happen on Friday.

Mee and I decided that the bulk of what we're buying should be purchased at the local Gordon Food Service, which is a store, like Staples, in which I could wander for hours and hours, lost to demanding clocks, text message notifications and pesky store managers who eventually want to GO HOME for the evening. Today, then, was a banner day for me because it was the day I got to go to GFS and use their Menu Wizard for the first time.

The Menu Wizard is a nifty system which involves a store employee giving you a barcode scanner, much like the one you see in the picture above. You go through the store, clicking the little trigger at the barcodes of the items you which to purchase; when you're finished, all your info is magically uploaded into one of the computers at Customer Service, and when you're done clicking, you and an employee stand there and allow the computer to reckon up, say, how much potato salad you're going to need.

As you can image, the highlight of this entire experience was getting to use that scanner gun. I was restrained enough not to point it at fellow shoppers and squeak "Pitchooo! Pitchooo!" at them, which is what I am absolutely certain Susan or Allison would have done. (Carol and Meelyn would have encouraged them to do it, and then gone to hide behind a huge display of barbecue sauce and laugh.) My restraint failed me when the store manager first handed the gizmo to me and said, "This is the Menu Wizard."

I took it from her and said with great seriousness, "Oh, gee. I'm kind of disappointed. I thought the Menu Wizard would be a person wearing a robe and a pointy hat."

She gave me a long look. "A person? In a robe? And....a pointy hat?"

"Uhm, yeah. Because, you know. Wizard." I shifted back and forth from foot to foot while she stood there, clearly waiting for me to come to some kind of point. "A wizard? Like Harry Potter? Dumbledore? Hermione? He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Called-Voldemort?"

"Oh. Well. I'm not a fan," she said crushingly. She proffered the scanner and I took it from her meekly and went off, feeling severely snubbed. I snuck a look over my shoulder and she was looking after me with a frowny face, like she thought I was going to take a wand from my purse (nine inches, pecan wood, rather whippy) and start making the packages of paper plates dance the Macarena.

So, okay. Maybe that wasn't the funniest thing I've ever said. But honestly, don't you think it's kind of worth a smile, thinking about a guy with a beard and a robe and a pointy hat sitting back in the break room, smoking a pipe and reading The Daily Prophet, just waiting for customers to come in so that he could work his magic with the sliced Virginia ham and the colby-jack cheese?


Shut up.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Suddenly this summer....

So I haven't written a single word on my blog since January 17, I've been told. One part of me feels like a complete slacker, because writing is supposed to be what I do, you dig? On the other hand, even my own mother doesn't read my blog, so for all she knows, I could have contracted some terrible disfiguring disease that caused all my fingers to fall off so that all my typing had to be done with my nose, which is why it has taken me SEVENTY-FIVE HOURS TO TYPE THE LAST THREE SENTENCES.

No, seriously. I don't have a disease that made my fingers fall off. And, surprisingly enough, I haven't been avoiding my blog out of laziness, a character flaw that I heartily endorse in myself, but completely deplore in other people, especially people who are supposed to be bringing me a Diet Coke. Actually, I've been doing stuff. Mostly stuff like teaching some classes, not exactly what one could call full-time, but somewhat more than part time. Plus, Meelyn and Aisling both have jobs and schoolwork to keep them busy -- the two of them used to work at the same Hardee's, but in the past few months they've moved on, Mee to Ruby Tuesday and Aisling to Fazoli's (she comes home smelling delightfully of garlic butter) -- and both have been swamped with schoolwork, as is the norm at Our Lady of Good Counsel. I don't think it was Our Lady who advised, "Keep the little jerks busy and they'll stay out of trouble," but it's a good motto anyway, don't you think?

Also in the news, my husband is still selling cars and he's also gone back to lifting weights, alternating that with his running so that he's looking way too cute for someone his age and the other day we were at a restaurant and a young server asked him, "Do you ever sell tickets to your gun show?" and I gave her a slitty-eyed look and said in a voice laced with cheerful menace, "That is MY gun show, sweetie, and those tickets sold out a loooong time ago." At any rate, he's looking so ripped, I've had to do my part so that he wouldn't be the only pretty thing in our marriage and now...I am, well -- and those of you who know me had better sit down -- I've been exercising. Yes. Swimming, actually. I love to swim, mostly because it allows me the solitude I need in which to be surly about exercising. If you walk on a treadmill, other people come in to the cardio room at the YMCA and they want to say hello to you when they get there and goodbye to you when they leave and I just can't stand it. When I go into the cardio room at the Y, my first thought is that I want the person who is already on my favorite treadmill -- the one in front of the big fan -- to die, and also the two people to the left and right so that I won't have to smile at anyone. The pool allows me the freedom to be who I am, and that is a big stinker.

And yet there's more: Meelyn has been accepted to my alma mater, Ball State University, where she plans to study dietetics and exercise science (I don't know where I went wrong with that girl), and she also has a serious boyfriend, Bobby, who is just the nicest guy ever. They are so cute together that sometimes I have to go outside and quietly vomit into the shrubs, but most of the time, they make my husband and me remember what it was like when we were as shiny and new as they are, and that makes us do stuff like go out walking in the rain, holding hands. Plus, isn't it always the most awesome thing ever to find out that there are other people in the world to love and be loved by? I hold such a dim view of humanity that's it always comes as something of a shock, the most pleasant of surprises, to stumble across another person who is just...good.

So here we are and it is summer vacation, and although I have a ton of prep work to do for the classes I'm teaching next school year -- Shakespeare, American literature, college prep composition, a composition class for middle schoolers and a Shakespeare for Grownups class -- I also plan to just do some sitting and some reading and some catching up here so that when, every now and then, someone asks me "So why aren't you writing on your blog anymore?" I can answer, "But I am!"

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Pass the Puffs

Once a winter, I get that kind of cold where I lose my voice. Not a total loss; just enough to make me speak in something between a breathy murmur (which bears no resemblance to the smoky purr of Marilyn Monroe when she sang the happy birthday song to John F. Kennedy) and a strangled squeak. My throat hurts when I talk, but that doesn't stop me because when you're a mother, when does something like a lousy cold stop you from doing ANYTHING, up to and including giving birth, hauling yourself out of the house to drive various children to various activities and baking a pan of hopefully un-coughed-upon brownies for the church chili supper.

Naturally, this is one of my family's favorite times of the year, the time when they can, in all truthfulness, say that they didn't hear me calling them twenty-five times for dinner. Or telling them to take the dogs out. Or telling them to...oh, never mind. They just love it, that's all. And they never cease talking about how delighted they are that I've been reduced to a series of eye rolls, scowls, gestures and emphatic huffing sighs. It reminds me of the Buffy episode titled "Hush," where the entire town of Sunnydale lost their voices due to the influence of the super-scary Gentlemen, and Giles was forced to communicate with the Scoobies with plastic overlays on an overhead projector.

So, like all mothers everywhere who will catch a bad cold or the flu this winter, I'm still patrolling, just like you. We're all still patrolling. I'm just thankful that I don't have to stake anything more resistant than the baking potatoes I'm getting ready to put into the oven.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Forecast: snow and wind, then more snow. With wind.

I don't know who made this "AccuWeather" map, but whoever it was is my personal hero. Not only for being funny, but also for making sure my area of the country is designated as part of the group that needs to hit the liquor store. Because I found out last year when the snow lay on the ground like a big fleece blanket with a deceptive three inch layer of ice underneath, you can get through the winter without the whiskey to make a hot toddy, but why would you want to?