Archive for September, 2010

Chairside Confessions. And a recipe.


My wonderful dentist will tell you that I am not a good patient. It is not easy for me to lie in a chair and know that someone is going to jab a 12″ needle into my gums and then have a go at my teeth with a drill that could blast concrete out of your sidewalk. Maybe it’s just me, but it’s hard to sit still for that.

I’ve been a bad dental patient for as long as I can remember. Ever since, I think, the time Meanest Dentist in Duluth told me to settle down or he’d shove me out a window. I’m not kidding. This was my introduction to dentistry. (And his introduction to banshee hissy fits.) I can’t quite remember his name, but every time I drive past his office on Central Avenue I shudder. (Yeah, you know who you are, old man.)

So anyway. I’m getting crown work done (the dental kind, not the pretty sparkly tiara-type I believe I deserve) when my nice dentist asks me a few questions about where I grew up and where I’ve lived. I relayed a brief history of my life, including mention of my dead ex-husband. (I didn’t kill him. At least not outright.) So the dentist puts cement and the temporary crown in place and then instructs me to bite down on some big rubber thing while the cement dries.

After he left the room, his assistant, a very nice lady, began telling me about her own divorce experience, and suddenly she was weeping. I was stunned. I knew it was an emotional moment for her, but there I was, biting down on rubber and lying under a metal tray of God knows what. There was nothing I could do. I think I said “wah wah wahwah wah wah wha,” which I hope she knows meant “I’m so sorry to hear that.” (Maybe she understands patient language.)

Another chairside confession happened as I was getting my hair cut the other day, which is a situation just rife with confessions and juicy gossip. (Even if it’s about people I don’t know, I love hearing it.) In the chair next to me, a woman confessed a torrid affair with a man from her office. “It just happened,” she gloated, which made me want to turn around and yell “IT NEVER JUST HAPPENS, YOU JACKASS,” but I faced forward and managed to roll my eyes at my hairdresser, who was also caught up in the story. Under a dryer, an elderly lady was shouting about her neighbor whose wife is pregnant with someone else’s baby. Geez, it was better than a Dr Phil episode. I almost hated to leave. “Give me a perm, too, while you’re at it,” I wanted to say.

My last is not a confession but a revelation, and I can throw it in with the mix because both of us were seated when it happened. I was getting my oil changed the other day: a task I absolutely hate, which only involves driving in to the shop, sitting for 10 minutes and then driving home, but honestly, I’d pay someone to do this for me.

The shop has a small “two persons only” table where you can wait and read the newspaper, and so that is what I do. The next customer to come into the shop was bearing two bags of recently cooked food. (I knew just from the aroma that it was from the Beijing place.) He proceeded to open the bags at this very small table! and set out his food. I thought I was being pranked. I almost laughed out loud. I almost said “I hope you got enough duck sauce for both of us,” but I didn’t. I couldn’t believe my eyes, though I tried to keep them glued to the newspaper, sorry that I’d already completed the Jumble. (Damn my big brain!) The man proceeded to finish his lunch sitting about as far from me as I am sitting from the monitor, which with my crappy eyesight isn’t very far.

Maybe the most interesting things can happen when you’re sitting down, or possibly sitting as a captive, which I always feel like in these situations. I am not a good sitter/waiter, but I guess if you keep your eyes and ears open, you can see some pretty good things.

Speaking of good things, here’s a recipe for something really good and savory that will use up some of that zucchini you keep finding on your doorstep. I am sitting down, so my chairside confession is that I am making this right now to take to the home of some friends tonight. I hope they don’t read this before 6:00!

Zucchini Appetizer Squares

3 Cups Zucchini, unpeeled and thinly sliced

1 cup Bisquick

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt (or more, Jean)

dash of garlic powder

2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or cilantro

1/2 cup  grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil

4 eggs, lightly beaten

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well with a spoon. Pour the mixture into a greased 9×13″ baking pan or dish. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30-35 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cut into squares and serve as an appetizer or side dish.

(This is just slightly heavier than a quiche, but still good enough to eat as you’re leaning against the sink and contemplating cleaning your oven. I’ve made it with leftover stuff from the refrigerator, like black olives or red and green peppers or mushrooms, and I’ve mixed up my own spices, too. It’s always good.)


Auntie Kay’s Toffee Bars


The other day I was looking at some wonderful photos of downtown Duluth in the 50s and 60s, and so many memories came flooding back. I grew up in Duluth, and how I’d love one more day of shopping at Glass Block or Woolworths or Wards and Sears, or buying popcorn at Snyder’s for the bus ride home. When someone mentioned the Fifth Avenue Hotel and the Lamplighter Lounge, my thoughts immediately turned to Auntie Kay.

She was my mom’s only sister, and she worked for years as a waitress at the Fifth Avenue Hotel. I can remember her shiny black uniform, white apron, white crepe-soled nurse shoes and the little white pleated ornament she pinned in her hair. She must have worked like a dog. She owned a dog, come to think of it, named Skipper; a beautiful yellow cocker spaniel. Skipper was a lucky dog who dined on prime rib, short ribs, baked potatoes with butter and sour cream, and whatever else was leftover at the restaurant every evening. Like Lake Woebegon’s garbage eating dog, Skipper suffered from gastric distress.

But enough about that.

My aunt was a fabulous cook. Sunday dinners at her house in Woodland (most perfect house on earth) were the stuff of dreams: baked chickens, lamb roasts, succulent beef and pork roasts, mashed potatoes with heavenly gravy, dressing, vegetables, and even soft drinks that we weren’t allowed to have at home … oh, those Sundays. There were great desserts, too, some consisting of Bridgeman’s vanilla ice cream with thick chocolate fudge sauce that came in a yellow and brown can which she heated in a pan of water on top of the stove.

A few years ago I was at a yard sale and bought a very heavy Wearever dutch oven; the same kind I remember my aunt using. It is my favorite kitchen item, and every time I use it I feel close to my aunt. If my house were on fire, I’d run back in for that Dutch oven.

Every summer, my sisters and I spent the last two weeks in July with my wild and energetic cousins, Barbara and Dwight, at a small log cabin at Round Lake in Tamarack, Minnesota. My uncle Don (who only had one hand and used one of those “grabber hooks,” causing endless fascination) was our chaperone. Aunt Kay stayed in town to work (and probably to enjoy time away from all of us) but always sent her famous toffee bars to the cabin for us. I’m sure they were gone the first day!

When my mother died in 1958, Aunt Kay began a tradition of coming to our house every Friday night after work. She would leave work at the restaurant, go to the Patty Cake Shop on East Superior Street, and buy a Boston Cream Pie, and then drive out to our house on Oneota Street to spend the evening and watch “Shock Theater” with us. That was before the freeway came to Duluth, so it was a long and tiresome trip for her, and after being on her feet all day I’m sure she wanted nothing more than to go home and relax, but week after week she showed up at our house.

I loved my aunt very much. I still do. In the unthinking way of children, it never occurred to me to tell her. She died many years ago but I hope she knows how much she meant to me, and how much she still does.

Here’s her simple recipe for toffee bars that are buttery and sweet and melt in your mouth:

1 cup butter (not margarine, please)

1 cup brown sugar

1 egg yolk

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups flour

1- 12 oz bag semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup chopped nuts, optional

Cream together the first 4 wet ingredients, and then stir in the 2 cups of flour. Use your fingers to pat this mixture into the bottom of an ungreased 9×13 pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 18-20 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the bag of chocolate chips over the hot bars; return to oven for just a few moments until the chocolate is melted, and then spread that over the bars. You could also sprinkle one-half cup of chopped nuts over the top of that, but I never do. Cut while warm. Enjoy!

PS: Aunt Kay used to buy those very large Hershey bars or Farmington Chocolate Bars, and she’d chop that up to melt on top of the toffee bars. I’ve found that chocolate chips work just as well, but I can still see her at her red countertop, chopping up the chocolate. How I miss her!

Another Fabulous Family Wedding


I’ll say this for my family: They know how to throw a great wedding, and with one notable exception, which would be me, all those marriages tend to last years and years, the way marriages should. So bravo to them, and sorry I broke the chain. ha ha. Maybe next time I’ll get it right.

All that off to one side, as Sade Gook would say, my niece Katie married her beloved Eric on August 14, in a wedding that was poignant and lovely and made even the most hard core family member weep. (Kim: I didn’t use your name!)

Eric and Katie have dated for several years and they’re a beautiful couple. (“Beautiful babies on the way,” someone commented.) Their wedding packed First Lutheran Church and then the Kitchi Gammi Club, where the bride played lawn games in her gown on a beautiful summer’s evening. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

While she lived in St Paul, Katie was a nanny to Ben and Abigail, two little kids she grew to love. They were both in the wedding as ring bearer and flower girl, which was amazingly sweet. Abigail wanted to also wear a veil, and so she did. As a bride, Katie was as equanimous as she is in the rest of her life: If the flower girl wants to wear a veil, she should wear a veil. If there are more bridesmaids than there are groomsmen, so be it. If playing lawn darts means you get grass stains on your wedding gown, well, so what?

You gotta love Katie.

Eric, too, was a gracious and good-tempered groom. I’m sure the wedding planning, which went on for weeks, was fraught with tension and big decisions and financial concerns, but by the day of the wedding you didn’t see any of that. Just one beautiful beaming couple, good natured and serene. It was a sight to behold.

We’re happy to have Eric in the family. He’s felt like “family” for a long time, but now it’s official, and that is a good thing. Our family is growing, with the latest additions of Gabriella and Davin and Eric, and it makes me feel happy. (And really: Isn’t that all that counts? My happiness? Thank you for agreeing.)

On our way to the wedding we saw two white stretch limos, and commented that they were probably going to pick up Katie and Eric after the ceremony. But they were not. The bridal party walked from the church to the Kitchi Gammi Club. If you follow their path some day, you may see “K&E” in a heart that a friend lovingly carved in some newly poured concrete. A lasting tribute!

The reception was huge and chi-chi and had a free bar, which is good if you’re suffering from a sore throat and fever, as the favorite aunt was. (Don’t make me say my own name.) There were canapes and lawn games and a cake room and a photo booth, all of which I managed to avoid while spending time catching up with relatives I don’t get to see too often. The dinner was fabulous; the speeches from Katie’s sister and Eric’s brother were a perfect mixture of sweetness and humor (or possibly I was tipsy by this point) and the wedding cupcakes went down as easily as the drinks. A perfect evening!

The couple honeymooned in the British Virgin Islands (I’m so proud of myself for not making any obvious joke here) and enjoyed fun and sun until Hurricane Earl showed up. Their hotel took good care of its guests, and Katie and Eric got home a few days later than planned, but happy and in good health, which of course is all that matters. They also have a great honeymoon story to tell their future kids.

Who could ask for more?

So here’s a toast to Katie and Eric, a happy couple beginning their new life journey together. They deserve every joy that comes their way, and I believe they will also weather every storm. I’m hoping their life will be a continuation of their honeymoon: sun and fun, a survivable storm here and there, and many people who love them both.

Here’s a photo of the stunning bride and her equally stunning slightly tipsy and self-appointed favorite aunt: