Random musings—food and celebrities

Super Bowl noshes

I don’t really do a whole Super Bowl spread, but our Sunday meal was a little bit Bowl-ish, in that I made a couple of appetizers, which I don’t normally do unless the whole family will be here. I made guacamole, which is so fast and easy, you should never buy it pre-made. If you’re unsure how to choose a ripe avocado, because, you know, there’s a fine line between hard as a brick, perfectly ripe, and too far gone, here’s a handy little guideline. First, the skin should be pretty dark green, then look at the stem end, the stem should still be attached, but should come off easily. This isn’t scientific, but it usually works for me. Much better than squeezing.

My recipe is pretty simple: 3 medium avocados, juice of one small lime or half a larger one (use the rest to make a margarita), one clove garlic, and about 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt. Mash the avocados in a shallow, medium-sized bowl (I use my pastry blender, but a fork works, too), mince the garlic on a cutting board, then sprinkle the salt on top. With the flat side of your chef’s knife, mash and grind the garlic and salt together until you have a paste, add this to the avocado, and stir in with the lime juice. Taste, and adjust for salt ( a finer salt, if you’re adding at this point). That’s it. Simple, but delicious. The lime juice will keep it green for several hours, much longer than lemon juice, for some reason, and it tastes better, too.

Our other appetizer was one I got from Better Homes and Gardens magazine. Roasted Corn and Crab Dip. Oh my goodness, it is delicious, and easy. Did I say I like easy? The picture shows them using that fake snow crab that I really don’t care for, but the recipe calls for real crab. I think that’s odd, but whatever. I use the real thing. It doesn’t have to be top of the line lump crab meat. This isn’t crab cakes (I have an excellent recipe for those, too). We use bagel chips as dippers, but it’s really good on crostini as well.

I was so full from the appetizers that I barely had room for the main course, which was brats with peppers and onions. I split one with the toddler.

Speaking of the Super Bowl

I can’t really say much about it, because I don’t watch football, but I saw the Nationwide commercial with Mindy Kaling and Matt Damon, which I thought was genius. Mindy is always funny. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that she contributed to the writing of the ad. She was one of the writers and producers of The Office, one of my favorite TV series, and of course, she has her own series now on Fox, called The Mindy Project. She graduated from Dartmouth where she studied the Classics, but ended up with a degree in playwriting. She gave a hilariously genius speech last year at Harvard Law School’s class day and brought down the house.

Matt Damon is one of my favorite actors. Even if he’s in a bad movie (there haven’t been that many of them), he always rises above the material. He’s also a champion for teachers, and a philanthropist who co-founded the organization Water.org, and along with George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Don Cheadle and others, the Not On My Watch Project, which aims to bring global attention to and prevent mass atrocities, such as those in Darfur. He also gave his time, along with other well-known actors, writers, and news people, to an Emmy-winning Showtime series called Years of Living Dangerously to bring awareness and education about climate change. I haven’t watched it yet, but it’s on my list. Matt is one of the Hollywood good guys. There’s never been a hint of scandal attached to his name, and he’s been married to the same woman since 2005.

What did this have to do with the Super Bowl, you ask? I digressed a little there, didn’t I? This is my version of Super Bowl watching. A couple of commercials, and then I’m done. I didn’t even watch the half-time show. I think they’re highly over-rated, and not usually my cup of tea. I hid out in the bedroom with a cup of herbal tea and Downton Abbey and Grantchester, and then went to bed. Apparently there was some fuss at the end of the game, something about a botched pass at the one-yard line. Don’t get your panties in a wad, people. There’s always next year.

Winter, I’m so over you

This Monday was the first one that the kids have attended school since before Christmas. We’ve had big snow or freezing rain every Sunday night, or early Monday morning in January. In fact, last Friday morning it started freezing rain while Gaige (middle school) was waiting on the bus at 6:30. The bus came, but the superintendent ended up delaying, and then canceling, school for the elementary and intermediate students, whose day starts an hour-and-a-half later. They’ve used all of their calamity days, and are into make-up days. So far, it hasn’t encroached on their spring break, but we still have a lot of winter left.

Our driveway, especially the area in front of the garage, is like a very dangerous skating rink. It’s been thawed and refrozen and frozen-rained on and snowed on so many times, I’ve lost count. The ice is about two inches thick. Something definitely has to be done about it before next winter. David said it needs to be graded and filled and brought up to level, or some drainage tile put in, or something. It would probably help if it were asphalted. At least it would be easier to plow. I don’t like to use salt, because the birds come to get grit, and it poisons them. And the sun never hits that area enough to melt it off completely like it does the rest of the driveway.

The maple syrup production was brought to a screeching halt by the extremely cold weather we’ve been having, after that little January thaw we had. It was really too early to start, and David knew that, but the long-range forecast was off by a lot, and it threw him off his game. The temps have to be below freezing at night, but well above freezing during the day with the sun being able to warm the base of the trees to bring up the sap. So, it’s on hold until we get a real thaw.

I just want Spring.

Have you heard?

Harper Lee has an unpublished novel called Go Set a Watchman! It’s a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird. Actually, it was the first manuscript that Ms. Lee sent to HarperCollins Publishing, written as the adult Scout. They sent it back to her and told her to re-write it in Scout’s little girl voice, which they thought would be more interesting.  She did, and the rest is history. Now they’re going to publish the original manuscript written in Scout’s grown-up voice with no revisions whatsoever! I’m so excited I can’t stand it! I hope Ms. Lee lives to see it in book form. She is 88 and in fragile health. Hang in there, Harper Lee.

See you soon,

Susan

What if one is all you have?

Sometimes I think Miss Nelle Harper Lee got it right. She certainly got it right the first time when she wrote the perfect novel. She never wrote another one. Her friends and her publisher were exasperated by her refusal to write another book. But her fear that to write another one might take away from the perfection and beauty of To Kill a Mockingbird, especially if it weren’t quite up to snuff, makes perfect sense to me. I’ve often been disappointed by sophomore books by acclaimed first novelists. At best, they were average; at worst, they should have been burned before reaching the publisher. I’m someone who, upon finding a delicious page-turner, eagerly awaits the second and subsequent attempts. Or when I find an established author, will read everything of theirs that I can lay my hands on. It’s very disappointing when the next one falls flat, or fails to hold my interest for not even a paragraph.

Then there are authors who don’t really come into their own until their second or third novel. In this case, I’m thinking of Pat Conroy whose wonderful novel The Prince of Tides is number two on my list.  It was actually his fifth novel and, in my opinion, by far his best to date. Anyone who has read Mr. Conroy’s beautiful prose knows that all his works are semi-autobiographical in nature. Sometimes when one has emotional wounds that run deeply, one book can’t contain it all. Writing is an exploration of and, hopefully, a balm for those hurts.

John Grisham is one of the most prolific and successful modern writers, and I confess, I’ve been a huge fan. His first novel was actually A Time to Kill.  He shopped it around for a couple of years, getting turned down at all the major publishing houses, before it was picked up by a small publisher and only 5,000 copies were released.  All the while he was working on his second novel, The Firm, and with that one, he landed a contract with Doubleday. After it debuted and was such a smashing success, Doubleday bought the rights to his first novel. The rest is history.

We will never know if Harper Lee had another brilliant novel in her, but we can all be thankful that she knew there was the one.

Excerpts from To Kill a Mockingbird:

Miss Maudie Atkinson to Scout:  “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

Atticus to Scout:  “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

Excerpts from The Prince of Tides: 

The best first sentence(s) ever:  “My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my port of call.”

“I grew up slowly beside the tides and marshes of Colleton; my arms were tawny and strong from working long days on the shrimp boat in the blazing South Carolina heat. Because I was a Wingo, I worked as soon as I could walk; I could pick a blue crab clean when I was five. I had killed my first deer by the age of seven, and at nine was regularly putting meat on my family’s table. I was born and raised on a Carolina sea island and I carried the sunshine of the low-country, inked in dark gold, on my back and shoulders…..

“When I was ten I killed a bald eagle for pleasure, for the singularity of the act, despite the divine, exhilarating beauty of its solitary flights over schools of whiting. It was the only thing I had ever killed that I had never seen before. After my father beat me for breaking the law and for killing the last eagle in Colleton County, he made me build a fire, dress the bird, and eat its flesh as tears rolled down my face. Then he turned me in to Sheriff Benson, who locked me in a cell for over an hour. My father took the feathers and made a crude Indian headdress for me to wear to school. He believed in the expiation of sin. I wore the headdress for weeks, until it began to disintegrate feather by feather. Those feathers trailed me in the hallways of the school as though I were a molting, discredited angel.

‘Never kill anything that’s rare,’ my father said.

‘I’m lucky I didn’t kill an elephant,’ I replied.

‘You’d have had a mighty square meal if you had,’  he answered.”