Friday, February 7, 2020

Keep Calm and Carry On Casserole

Since Wednesday I have had a hankering for Mrs. McNally’s Spinach Casserole. Tonight I finally made it. I didn’t have all the ingredients, so I made do. 

The first time I made this casserole, I wrote a note in the recipe.  
Made this on Sep 24, 2019 (the day Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced formal impeachment proceedings against President Trump).

So it’s no wonder I had a yearning for it this week.  Wednesday the Senate had their  shameful vote to acquit in President Trump’s impeachment trial.  The President has wasted no time in exacting revenge on his opponents.  Today he fired two of the witnesses, and also a witness’ brother (who was himself not a witness).  I understand that he wouldn't want people who testified against him to be working in his administration.  But you could have them leave quietly, rather than have them escorted out in front of the media.  And it seems to me that retaliating against your opponent’s family is the stuff of despots.

The reason I couldn’t make the casserole on Wednesday was because I had to attend a rally to inform my Senator that I reject his coverup of the President’s abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.  One of my Senators has a deficit of integrity, courage, and democracy.   My other Senator voted to convict.

I owe a debt to Mrs. McNally (whom I may have met once).  Not only does her casserole provide a vegetable in a format that most of my family will eat, but it provides calm and stability on our dinner table. 

I also owe a debt to Marianne and to Tony, who live at opposite ends of the country, without whom I would not have this recipe.  None of us are related to each other or to Mrs. McNally, but all of us have a bond formed through the Music Interest Floor on Wilder 9 and the MIF Annex on Wilder 8, in the early 1980s.

Tonight for dinner I also made fresh-baked bread, from store-bought frozen bread dough.  It tasted fine but it didn’t rise very much so it looked a little odd for a loaf of bread.  The Common Household Husband brought Younger Daughter home from college for a weekend visit.  He saw the bread and said it looked like a manatee, which it kind of did, except without the fins and tail.  The dinner conversation went thusly:
Husband:  I’m just tired and worn out tonight.
Younger Daughter:  Like the antelope.
Husband:  What?
YD: Like the antelope being chased by the lions.
Me:  Did you say Yenta Loaf?  I thought maybe you were referring to the bread, which Dad said looks like a manatee.
Husband:  Yenta Loaf – a loaf that knows all your business.
YD:  The Loaf of Knowledge.
YD:   What other news is there?
Me:  Let’s see… I made a speech at the protest on Wednesday.
YD:   What did you say?
Husband:   Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears!  I come not to bury Caesar but to market his merchandise.
YD:   Now $5.99!  New stabby knives!
Husband: Buy here – these coins inscribed with Caesar’s face!
YD:   Buy a pancake that has Caesar’s face burned onto it!
Me:  What?!
YD:   It’s like when people see the image of Jesus in a potato chip.
Me:  Ooooh.  Those people have overactive imaginations.  Besides, what does Jesus look like?  Where’s the original picture of Jesus?
Husband:  We need to dig up the Dead Sea video tapes.  Or ask a Dead Sea Squirrel.

The spinach casserole was very popular and there is none left.  Thanks, Mrs. McNally!

Mrs. McNally’s Spinach Casserole
(the original recipe)

2 packages frozen chopped spinach, defrosted
1 small jar sliced mushrooms (or 2 jars)
2 cups Italian bread crumbs (or 1 cup Bulgar, cooked)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
¼ pound butter
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
1 onion, chopped
1 egg, beaten

Saute onion in butter.  Add rest of ingredients to defrosted spinach.  Place in casserole.  Bake 25 minutes at 350 degrees.  Sprinkle extra cheese and/or bread crumbs on top.

Carolyn’s Keep Calm and Carry On Spinach Casserole
with Deep Gratitude to
Mrs. McNally, Marianne, and Tony
Mrs. McNally must forgive me for what I did to her recipe.

(Disclaimer: Both times I made this, I did not have mushrooms. It would be really great with mushrooms.  I think it would make sense to put in a smaller amount of bread crumbs, if you don’t have the mushrooms.   I also left out the salt, because I don’t like overly salty things, and the bread crumbs and the cheese already have salt in them.  My husband hates when I give food disclaimers like this.  So carry on. And keep calm.)

1 pkg frozen chopped spinach, defrosted.  (drained a little, but not dry).
1 cup Italian bread crumbs (probably should put less)
(I left out the salt and it seemed fine)
¼ tsp pepper
1 Tbsp canola oil or butter for frying onions
1/8 cup Parmesan cheese
1 onion, chopped
2 eggs (otherwise, it was too dry, but if you have the mushrooms, it probably wouldn’t be)

Saute onion in oil or butter.  Add rest of ingredients to defrosted spinach.  Mix thoroughly. Place in greased casserole.  Bake 25 minutes at 350 degrees.  Sprinkle extra cheese and/or bread crumbs on top.  (I forgot to do this, but the clientele ate it all up anyway.)

Bonus: Images of Jesus, not in a potato chip:

First lines: January 2020 edition

Below are the first lines of the books I finished reading in January.  I was fortunate to read several really good books this past month.

Book 1
My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip.  So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.

Book 2
In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons.

Book 3
Two years ago, the smoke detector went on overdrive in the middle of my latkefest.

Book 4
Even in death the boys were trouble.

Book 5
As fallible human beings, all of us share the impulse to justify ourselves and avoid taking responsibility for actions that turn out to be harmful, immoral, or stupid.

Book 6
I despised suits and ties.  For seventeen years I had been surrounded by suit-wearing, tie-choking, hat-flying church folk.  My teenage wardrobe hollered the defiance of a preacher’s kid.

The titles and authors revealed:

Book 1
Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens.  First published 1860-1861.
A good tale.  One of my favorite aspects was the character referred to as “The Aged” – the elderly father of Pip’s friend Wemmick.  The Aged is stone deaf but seems to enjoy life anyway, and he knows how to make toast with butter.  Quite a contrast to Miss Havisham.  We readers ask: Are all the women in this book characters caricatures?  They all seem so extreme, whereas the male characters seem to have some depth and thoughtfulness about life.

Book 2
Ruth, the Bible.  Probably written in the 5th Century BCE.
Four short but packed chapters.  Much to ponder about dealing with unexpected loss. Interesting economics.

Book 3
How to Spell Chanukah...And Other Holiday Dilemmas: 18 Writers Celebrate 8 Nights of Lights, edited by Emily Franklin.  © 2007. 

Book 4
The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead.
Based on true events about a boys’ “reform school” (but really a prison) in Florida.
Read for book club.  I recommend this book.  

Book 5
Mistakes were made (but not by me): Why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts , by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson , © 2007, 2015.  
This book actually starts with a whole lot of quotes from famous people, to demonstrate the authors’ point.  Quotes from George Orwell, Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, Henry Kissinger, Cardinal Edward Egan, Jamie Dimon, McDonald’s Corporation.

The authors take a look at cognitive dissonance theory – why humans are so prone to need to self-justify, and all the trouble that gets us into.

Book 6
How To Be An Antiracist, by Ibram X Kendi.  © 2019.
First came the racist policy, then came the racist ideology.  My whole life I’ve thought it was the other way around.  (This is not the only book where I have seen this new-to-me thesis.) The fascinating thing about this book is that Kendi takes the reader through his own thought process.  His views changed over time.  There is hope.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Favorite Books read in 2019

In 2019 I finished 54 books, of which 10 were children/YA books, 2 were essays/reports, and 1 was a book of the Bible.  36 fiction, 18 nonfiction.

I rank two of these books as “excellent” – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and  Homegoing.  I think my reading experience of the latter suffered a bit from it being the second long family saga I read this year (the first was Pachinko) and I was not completely fond of that format, although it makes sense for the story that Homegoing tells.

A Man Called Ove was funny.  Beartown, by the same author, was horrible.

The best fiction I read (for the first time) in 2019
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman, © 2017.  

Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi.  © 2016.  (trigger warning – sexual assault)

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, translated by Henning Koch.  © 2014.  

The Story of Arthur Truluv, by Elizabeth Berg.

The best non-fiction I read (for the first time) in 2019
Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, © roughly 1955, renewed in 1975 and 1983. 

The Line Becomes a River, by Francisco Cantu.  © 2018. 

An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, by Barbara Brown Taylor.  © 2009.

Essay “Total Eclipse” by Annie Dillard, in the collection The Abundance.

In the OMG category
Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election, by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller, III.  Washington, D.C.  March 2019
A.k.a. The Mueller Report

Books I re-read in 2019
The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus, by Amy-Jill Levine.  © 2006.   

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood.   © 1985.

Least Favorite
Beartown, by Fredrik Backman, © 2016.  Translated by Neil Smith © 2017.  (originally published in Swedish in 2016 as Björnstad). 

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

First Lines: November and December 2019 edition

Ooof. It’s been a struggle keeping my psychological head above water for the past few weeks.  I finished hardly any books in November (the same was true in October).  In December I chose some shorter or familiar books, and so was able to complete a total of five.   What’s not included here is the selection of poems – Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry – that also helped get me through. 

I have no photos to include here because my computer tends to crash every time I open my photos library.  I only have 49,608 photos.

Book 1
The American handed Leamas another cup of coffee and said, “Why don’t you go back and sleep?  We can ring you if he shows up.” 
            Leamas said nothing, just stared through the window of the checkpoint, along the empty street.

Book 2 – did not finish this one
124 was spiteful.  Full of a baby’s venom.

Book 3
The party is his mother’s idea.  Bart’s birthday is October 31, which is one of the three worst birthdays a person can have, along with Christmas and September 11.

Book 4
Sydney struck Phryne Fisher, quite literally, in the face.

Book 5
The hottest day of the summer so far was drawing to a close and a drowsy silence lay over the large, square houses of Privet Drive.

Book 6
We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.

Book 7
“Ada! Get back from that window!” Mam’s voice, shouting. Mam’s arm, grabbing mine, yanking me so I toppled off my chair and fell hard to the floor.

Book 8
“I regret exceedingly —” said M. Hercule Poirot. He was interrupted. Not rudely interrupted. The interruption was suave, dexterous, persuasive rather than contradictory.

The titles and authors revealed:

Book 1
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold: A George Smiley Novel, by John le Carré  © 1963. 
Read for book club.  I found it terribly depressing.  How could a book that takes place mostly in East Germany be anything else?  The interesting thing, though, is that it was written just two years after the Berlin Wall went up.   The Wall is an integral part of the plot.

Book 2 – did not finish this one
Beloved, by Toni Morrison © 1987.
This book began in such a fascinating way – as a ghost story, and a house with a personality.  But on the advice of book club, I abandoned reading it.  The writing is great.  Extraordinary, in fact.  Perhaps I will be able to take up this book again at a later time.

Book 3
Winter Solstice by Elin Hilderbrand.  © 2017 
For book club; I led the discussion, mostly because I felt unequal to the task of volunteering to lead the discussion for our January book, Great Expectations.  Ms. Hilderbrand is touted as the Queen of the Summer Novel.  While this novel takes place during the winter, it seems to have the qualities (mostly not positive ones, in my opinion), of a good beach read.  In our defense, we picked this book because we wanted a light read. 

Book 4
Death Before Wicket, by Kerry Greenwood. © 2008  (Phryne Fisher Mysteries Book 10). 
I did not know that this would involve so much discussion of cricket (the sport).  Also includes racy scenes, kidnapping, and tarot card readings.  All of this takes place at a university.  The "Sydney" in the quote of the first lines is not a person, but the city in Australia.

Book 5
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling, Mary GrandPré. © 2003. 
My favorite of the Harry Potter series.  Ah, the familiar characters, and the known plot were a solace.  Harry’s detentions with Professor Umbridge were suitably evil.  The Room of Requirement is the best idea ever.

Book 6
The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood.   © 1985.
I first read this shortly after it was published.  The only reason I re-read it now is because I think I might want to read the recently-published sequel.  The writing is excellent.  The society described is more plausible today than it seemed to me in 1985. 

Book 7
The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.  © 2015.
Children’s lit – takes place in Britain in WWII.   Newbery Honor Book.  A good story.

Book 8
The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, by Agatha Christie.  A Hercule Poirot mystery.  © 1960.
A very short, rather predictable story, but five chapters of Hercule Poirot spending Christmas holiday in Britain was just the ticket for recent days.

For my picks of my favorite reads during 2019, click here.