vegetarian improvisation

Generally when I cook I pull out a recipe – usually from my Living Cookbook database. I may not follow the recipe exactly, I generally don’t follow the recipe exactly, but I have it there. Sometimes, though, I don’t feel like selecting a recipe and I don’t feel like shopping for ingredients.

macaroni and cheeseI was in that kind of mood last week. Add to that the fact that I’m still supposed to be avoiding red meat and I ended up doing some vegetarian improvisation. On Thursday I made my own macaroni and cheese. I cooked the shells, threw them in a casserole dish along with two remaining slices of pepper jack, added shredded cheddar, and  topped it all with panko drizzled with garlic butter. I baked it for fifteen minutes. It turned out well.

For Friday dinner, we had some spinach and mushrooms in the fridge that needed to be used before they went bad. I cooked a cup brown rice, threw in the spinach along with mushrooms which I had sliced, added to that shredded cheddar and there was dinner.

Not elegant or fancy, but nutritious, easy, and inexpensive. As the tagline from the old Smooth Jazz TV program (I hate smooth jazz!)  used to say, “Life is like jazz. It’s best when you improvise.”


Route 66 Still Kicks

Route 66 Still Kicks coverRoute 66 Still Kicks: Driving America’s Main Street
Rick Antonson
Skyhorse Publishing; August 15, 2012, 385 pages
KIndle edition $9.99, Amazon paperback $11.91
Purchased during an Early Bird Books sale for $1.99

I have a long history with Route 66. My family lived in Barstow during the years I was in first through fourth grade. Route 66 ran through Main Street in the town before the Interstate was built. When I attended Pitzer College the northern border of the campus was Foothill Boulevard, which was the old Route 66 in the area. During my years in Oklahoma my first wife Ruth and I, on one trip from Tulsa back to Oklahoma City, abandoned the turnpike, an Interstate highway, and traveled Route 66 through the old towns that the turnpike bypassed.

When I saw that the Kindle edition of this book was on sale for $1.99 I of course immediately bought it. And what a delight it was.

Rick Antonson got a bee under his bonnet and decided that he wanted to drive as much of the old Route 66 as possible. He recruited a friend, Peter, and they rented a Mustang in Chicago for their trip. They discovered that much of the old highway was hard to find, but it was findable nonetheless. They took risks, sometimes venturing down unpaved parts of the road. They seemed to have an aversion to shaving and to Laundromats. They met interesting people and they ate good food. Mixed in with all this was some fascinating history of people, places, and of the highway itself. Not to mention a detailed discussion of that iconic Nat King Cole song.

If Route 66 and its history resonate with you, you will find this book a kick.


struggling brick-and-mortar

I am as guilty as anyone: I order a lot of things through Amazon. It’s simple, convenient, and the prices are good. But sometimes I like to see what I am buying, and for kitchen-related merchandise Terry and I are big fans of Bed Bath & Beyond. We really liked the Gilroy store, and we spent a lot of time (and money) there. The store here in Hemet is smaller, but still not bad.

Now the retailer (Terry and I call it BBY) has been struggling and has announced that they are closing stores this year. So far the Hemet store has remained open, but I wonder how long that will last.

Bed Bath & Beyond couponsWe recently needed a few things, and headed over there armed with their famous 20% off one item coupons. I needed a new 4-cup measuring cup. I hated tossing the Pyrex one I’d had for decades, but it was chipping and you don’t really want to mess around with glass in the kitchen. We were out of food-grade mineral oil for our cutting board and we needed candles.

The candles we found. The only measuring cups they had were cheap plastic ones. Really? Are you kidding me? They didn’t have the mineral oil even though I’d bought it there a year ago. I found a quality glass measuring cup at Target. It’s Anchor Hocking rather than Pyrex, but still quite serviceable. I had to use Amazon for the mineral oil.

I suppose it’s a Catch-22. If BBY doesn’t have the business they don’t have the cash flow to stock the merchandise. But if they don’t have the merchandise they’re not going to get the business – even from people like Terry and me who want to shop there.

The world of retail is not what it once was.


Daisy Jones & The Six

Daisy Jones and the Six coverDaisy Jones & The Six: A Novel
Taylor Jenkins Reid
Ballantine Books (March 5, 2019), 368 pages
Amazon hardcover $15.99, Kindle edition $11.99

I actually read this book in hardcover, not as a Kindle e-book. Terry and I both read the review in the New York Times Book Review and thought it would be a fun read. She picked up the hardcover at Barnes & Noble and I read it when she was done. We were right. It was a fun read.

The book is presented as an oral history of a seventies rock band, with each member of the band presenting his or her perspective of events. The band’s supposed songs are even printed at the end of the book. There might be a tendency to view this as a fictionalized history of Fleetwood Mac, although there are probably more differences than similarities to that band’s history. Daisy Jones herself is something of a Stevie Nicks, although even here there are as many differences as similarities.

The book is a fast, enjoyable, and engaging read. There is something of a surprise near the end of the novel when we learn who the supposed interviewer and author is. And at the book’s conclusion I had tears in my eyes. I don’t cry at the end of novels. I did this time.

If you are a fan of seventies pop music you will find Daisy Jones & The Six well worth your time.


more on the Beyond grocery store products

I continue to be impressed by the work that the good folks at Beyond Meat are doing.

Beyond Meat Taco CrumblesI have written about their grocery store Beyond Meat patty, the Carl’s Jr. Beyond Famous Star, and the Del Taco Beyond Taco, good stuff all of it.

I have now tried two more of their grocery store products.

The Beyond Beef Crumbles, feisty flavor, is a frozen product. I used it to make tacos. It’s very tasty. From my perspective it requires no additional seasoning. It’s perhaps just a tad rubbery, but it’s really not bad at all.

Beyond Meat SausageI had been wanting to try the fresh Beyond Sausage for some time. I finally had the occassion to do so recently. There are two flavors; I bought the Brat Original. I used it on spaghetti and it was quite tasty. Terry really liked it as well. We both agreed that it was a hell of a lot more flavorful than the turkey sausage we’ve purchased.

The other sausage flavor is Italian. I’m looking forward to trying that one. These people are doing a marvelous job.


Save Me the Plums

Save Me the Plums coverSave Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir
Ruth Reichl
narrated by the author
Random House Audio, 2019
$19.60 for Audible members, more for non-members
purchased with an Audible credit

I read My Kitchen Year, Ruth Reichl’s memoir cum cookbook, when it came out in 2015, so I was keen on reading, well, listening to, her latest book. My Kitchen Year is Reichl’s story about her life in the year after Gourmet magazine, of which she was editor-in-chief, was shut down, and in it she included a number of recipes that helped her make it through that year. Save Me the Plums is her narrative about her decade at Gourmet.

This is one of those audiobooks that is made far better by being read by the author. Reichl describes being lured to the Condé Nast publication from her job as food critic for The New York Times. She describes how she helped revitalize the magazine, which had become staid and stale. She talks about the lavish expense accounts and other perquisites that came with being part of Condé Nast. She talks about the politics of publishing and the idiosyncrasies of Condé Nast owner S.I. Newhouse. She describes the belt-tightening that came with the Great Recession and Newhouse’s decision, sudden and unexpected, to shut down the magazine. Throughout it all Reichl offers a variety of recipes.

This book will appeal to a variety of audiences: foodies, lovers of food writing, and those with an interest in the magazine publishing business. Enjoyable, engaging listening.


a useful little kitchen tool

Bread SlicerAfter we got our new stove with convection oven and I started baking bread again, my dad requested a raisin cinnamon loaf. I was happy to oblige and he was pleased with the result. He mentioned having a bread slicing tool that resulted in straight slices. When I saw his I decided that it wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but Terry and I agreed that having such a tool would be useful.

I went to Amazon (where else?) and began to search. Most of the products had middling reviews and many of the comments mentioned flimsiness. The one that had the highest rating, a rather different design from many of the others, is the one I selected. As it turned out, between a credit I had for a returned item and points from my Amazon VISA, it cost me nothing. Now that’s a good deal.Bread Slicer box

When it arrived I was anxious to try it out, but I had to wait a day until I could bake a new loaf of bread. When I first attempted a slice I was not pleased and considered returning it. But I gave it more time and tried to make it work. I realized that the first thing I had to do was to make a clean, straight initial slice when I first cut the loaf in two. Then, if I applied proper pressure with my left hand while cutting with my right and at the same time held my mouth just right I could get a nice, even slice.

It’s a bit more flimsy and a tad less solid than I would prefer, but the thing works and I’m keeping it.