Common Sense

Thomas Paine

On January 10, 1776, 235 years ago today, Thomas Paine published anonymously the pamphlet Common Sense

Besides other terrific stuff, he said in the pamphlet:

Yet, as the domestic tranquillity of a nation, depends greatly on the chastity of what might properly be called NATIONAL MANNERS, it is often better to pass some things over in silent disdain, than to make use of such new methods of dislike, as might introduce the least innovation on that guardian of our peace and safety.

“National Manners” is not a new concept but one we seem to have abandoned.  Indeed, Mr. Paine, these are the times that try men’s souls.

If you have not read Paine’s masterpiece, it is available online in it’s entirety.

12-Step Program for Refrigerator Magnetaholics?

I have a thing for refrigerator magnets. I realize it’s hokey, bourgeois, tacky and a sign of feeble intelligence. But I love them. They make me smile and, sometimes, guffaw. My penchant for excess is clearly apparent by simply looking at my refrigerator. [I was sorely disappointed to learn my dishwasher door was not metal. That’s probably a good thing as I tend to dribble coffee down the door.]

I don’t even pretend they’re utilitarian. I don’t use them to hold notes, children’s artwork, grocery lists, or medical appointment cards. They are there because I like them. Although when Chef Boy ‘R Mine was little, I had alphabet magnets near the bottom so he could play with them. The magnetic poetry is not on the fridge because I like to sprawl on the couch with the nifty magnetic board and compose my pearls of verse.

Some magnets I bought as souvenirs and others were gifts. Some my son made and some were made by friends. Many were given to me by HMOKeefe. Some I bought just because I liked them or they spoke to my heart.

When I painted the kitchen several years back I packed them away. For reasons I don’t understand and certainly can’t explain, they’ve languished in the closet all this time. During the holiday housecleaning frenzy it occurred to me while cleaning the surface of the refrigerator that I ought to perambulate my lazy butt over to the closet, fish them out and put them back on the fridge. And so I did.

I feel like I’ve reunited with old friends.

Among the puppies, quotes, Wizard of Oz characters, tropical fish and goofy photos are the Unemployed Philosopher Guild’s magnetic finger puppets. If you’ve never seen these things you really must meander over to their website. My favorite is Freud and his accompanying couch. But then again I’m uncommonly fond of Frieda Kahlo. Not to mention Schrödinger’s cat and Pavlov’s dog.

My magnets are not confined to the refrigerator. I also have them on my filing cabinet at work. I haven’t added to that display for a few years now. It’s time to remedy that.

As for alternate locations at home, for years, I’ve been trying to find the right sized piece of sheet metal without grooves to cover one side of my antique filing cabinet so the finger puppets can go live there. I’ve explored the possibility of magnetic paint, but I’m not convinced it will hold the heavier magnets and, besides, we all know how I hate painting. [And if you don’t, please understand that I would rather clean the cat box with my tongue than paint. While cleaning the cat box in that manner is never necessary, painting is and the bitching and moaning that occurs is legendary in its intensity.]

I really do have to get the puppets out of the kitchen to protect them from grease and the occasional flying food spatters. And the cat. She likes to pull them off and play kitty soccer with them. I’m a little tired of finding Dorothy Parker under the church pew though I think if she were still alive she would have something really funny to say about lying under a church pew.

Somewhere I have a package of 50 magnets the size of business cards with adhesive on one side. Their reason for being is to turn business cards into fridge magnets. When I bought them I did so because I figured making my own magnets would be a big bunch of fun. I’m going to throw in the towel and just go buy some more. [Lost Things drive me crazy. It doesn’t matter if I want them or not, their status as Lost is a challenge that makes me feel like a failure when frenzied looking is of no avail.]

Frankly, I think we all have some silly thing we collect not because we need them, but because they make us happy. My shoe collection is another, but that deserves a post of its own as do the reading glasses and watches (all of which need new batteries). And of course there are the cow and barn images.

I have a friend who has a display of antique toasters – at least a hundred of them – that are stacked two and three high on the top of his kitchen cabinets. I have an uncle who collects clocks. Every wall in his house is covered in clocks. I believe they number in the hundreds. My brother and his wife have every movie released on video tape or DVD in the last 20 years. My father acquires old computers he works feverishly on to get them running. He does nothing with his successes as most of them are such old technology they are useless. My mother is into glass birds and painted birdhouses – both collections are getting completely out of hand. [I am so dreading dealing with my parents’ house when the time comes – they’re getting close to needing intervention for hoarding.]

So, what is your silly thing? And how to you justify it?

Brand new favorite winter comfort food (Italian style)

I love these things beyond reason.

Tonight was HMOKeefe’s last night here. We’ve done absolutely nothing and both of us seemed to enjoy that. Lots of sleep (no! really!) and lots of down time. I also, saints preserve us, cleaned out most of my kitchen cupboards. [I’ve only been trying to get around to this for several years – why I picked this week is a mystery.]

My DSL has been down. In fact it’s still down. If you’re reading this, I’ve actually managed to upload it via dialup – or it’s several days after the fact.

For his week here, we’ve mostly just been noshing on this and that – cheese, fruit, bread, Christmas cookies, etc. Tonight, I prepared a recipe I ran across quite by accident a couple of weeks ago. I wasn’t even looking for a recipe – I think I was looking for a blueray player.

Anyway, the recipe was for a soft polenta mounded on a plate with a deep well to hold a tomato sauce. I thought it sounded awfully yummy. I showed it to Chef Boy ‘R Mine and he made some suggestions to improve the flavors and textures. [I say frequently that I taught him everything he knows – he’s a damn fine chef!]

I made some more changes. The end result doesn’t bear much resemblance to the original recipe.

Winter Salad

While my son was growing up, I prided myself on the fact that we had dinner at the table nearly every night. Recent research suggests this is one of the most important things you can do to raise well-adjusted kids and strengthen family bonds. My son is fabulous, but my marriage ended a few years ago. After cooking daily for nearly 30 years, I was tired of it. And summoning the energy to cook for one was too much to expect. Besides, not having to cook has been an illicit pleasure. My diet’s gone to hell, but I’ve wallowed in the freedom to feast on Cheez-Its for dinner.

While I was never keen on fixing Tuesday’s meatloaf or Thursday’s tuna casserole, I did enjoy real cooking. Usually on Saturday or Sunday, I’d pull out recipes I’d gathered from here and there – or go web surfing and find something I’d never tried before. Many were good, some were awful, others were fantastic. Very few achieved fantastic the first try.

I’d decided to make the polenta thing while HMOKeefe was here.

I’ve been pretty scatterbrained lately. While I’m pretty sure I bought portabella mushrooms, fresh garlic, and scallions – they were nowhere to be found. I flat out forgot the wedge of parmesan. At 5:30 I did the 50 yard dash to my little local grocery store and procured a 5-cheese mix of Italian cheese, canned portabellas, ground garlic and heavy whipping cream. For the life of me, I have no idea why I thought I needed whipping cream. It’s in the freezer.

Not an auspicious start.


Nonetheless, I soaked 1.5 cups of stoneground yellow cornmeal in 2 cups of chicken broth. I brought another 2 cups of chicken broth to a boil, mixed in the cornmeal mixture, tossed in some sea salt, white pepper and garlic and brought it to a boil. I then turned the heat down to nearly nonexistent, stirred frequently and began the sauce while the polenta cooked the required 40 minutes.

I formed ground Italian sausage into small balls, browned them, dumped in crushed tomatoes, basil, onion, the sub-par garlic, crushed red pepper and heaps of oregano. (I love oregano.) I set the sauce to simmer.

I dragged out romaine lettuce, red grapes, red onion, oranges, black olives and pumpernickel croutons. It became a salad dressed with an excellent, but bottled Caesar. (Radishes would have added a lot to it.)

I boiled some rigatoni in case the polenta was a disaster.

I checked the sauce, added more oregano and tossed in canned chunked portabella ‘shrooms and black olives. I found one of the microwave steam bag thingies of whole green beans in the freezer and set them to nuking.

I cook with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food.

I took out the loaf of Tuscan flatbread the fine bakers at Kroger made, sliced it, heated it and drizzled it with a really kick-ass peppery olive oil my son gave to me a year or so ago. (I tend to save the really good stuff.)

I dumped some water into the polenta as it looked too thick, stirred in a cup of the 5-cheese blend and mounded it on the plates making a neat well for the sauce. I ladled the sauce – so chunky it was more of a ragout bordering on a ratatouille – and decided next time eggplant was going to be necessary.

I put rigatoni on the plates and dressed it with olive oil and more of the cheese. I fished green beans out of the bag with salad tongs and put them on the plate. I arranged the bread on the plate. HMOKeefe opened a nice Malbec and we sat down to eat.

Oh my.

We even had flowers on the table.

I am never ever pleased with something the first go-around. Considering I used nasty cheese, gross mushrooms and <gasp> dried garlic, I’m astonished. This was one fine plate of food. The addition of eggplant and the use of fresh ingredients are things I’d change.  Those changes would take fabulous food and catapult it into the realm of foodgasm.

The textures were beautiful. It was a lovely stick-to-your-ribs heap of comfort food for a cold winter’s night. The Malbec was stout enough to stand up to the strong flavors and what’s not to like about sneaking red grapes and oranges into a salad?

A lovely, lovely meal I’ll be making again.

HMOKeefe has retired for the night (I wore him out), I’m finishing the Malbec and wishing my camera did a better job photographing food. I’m going to attempt to post this, but I’m expecting a big bunch of cursing at Frontier as I try to coax dialup to upload. We’ll see.

Happy New Year, y’all. Eat well, love well, and other good wishes to you for this brand new year.

[Woo Hoo!  2011 is looking good!  Dialup was a whole lot easier than I had even hoped for!  It’s a good day to be me!]