Monday, March 29, 2010

We're Not Gonna Take It: The Limp, Dead Fish Handshake

I am instituting a new feature on this blog--an occasional post about things that annoy me. Anyone who knows me knows that I am, among other things, impatient, detail-oriented, a perfectionist, and, as Mother of Ken so nicely puts it, I "don't suffer fools gladly." I've been thinking about doing this for a while, but I was afraid it would be too negative. I have now decided that while it may be negative, most of my posts are positive or at least somewhat humorous, so any negativity will be balanced by the "upbeat and positive" nature of my other posts. Plus, this is my blog and I get to decide what I post. Sometimes you just need to vent. Feel free, gentle readers, to join in the conversation and to tell me what things annoy you.

The first thing that I am going to write about is the limp, dead fish handshake. I. Despise. This. If you are going to make the effort to shake someone's hand, then do it with some conviction. There is nothing worse than shaking someone's hand when the result is a clammy, limp waste of flesh suddenly shoved into your grip that you are forced to support because the person belonging to the hand refuses to do so. This is true for any situation. This has happened to me in professional settings, while passing the peace at church (not exactly handshaking, but still meant to be meaningful contact with another human being), at parties, with people young and old, with women and men--there does not seem to be any rhyme or reason as to why certain people choose to employ the dead fish handshake. I'll make this easy on people who are confused--never do this! Support your own hand, grip the other person's hand firmly, and shake hands like you mean it.

Grandfather of Ken worked on handshakes with me and Brother of Ken while we were still in the hospital, I think. I remember being drilled on proper handshaking technique before I went to school because "you need to know how to do it correctly!" Bear in mind that Grandfather of Ken was a giant Viking in a priest's collar and he had huge, strong hands. This is a skill best learned from someone who is intimidating, but who loves you. His instructions were:

1. Look the person in the eye very clearly.
2. Extend your hand and keep it in line with the rest of your arm.
3. Grip the other person's hand firmly, but don't squeeze so hard that you hurt them, especially if they are old and/or feeble.
4. If it is a dead fish handshake and you need more support, use your left hand as well.
5. Do not hold someone's hand for too long, but do not let go immediately.

This is not difficult. Practice if you're uncomfortable, but I can't think of any reason not to know how to shake someone else's hand with conviction. If you're shaking my hand and telling me that it is nice to meet me, then show me that you mean it! A good, strong handshake has gotten me pretty far in my 28 years and I think that women, especially if they are young, really need to have a strong handshake to let others know that they are not to be trifled with.

All Over the World

Okay, not all over the world--just Greece. What am I talking about? Well, if you must know, Friday was the annual bake sale at the Greek Orthodox Church around the corner from my church and you know that Ken was there with plenty of cash reasonably early in the morning (not at 7, when it opened, but soon thereafter). I was under strict orders from Mother and Father of Ken to purchase plenty of food for them to enjoy when they come to visit in a few weeks.

So, what did I get? Spanakopita, of course:

Also plenty of baklava:

And they talked me into a tiropita (cheese pie), which I ate for lunch with one of the spanakopita:

Everything else I wrapped carefully and put into the freezer. I'm really trying not to think about the fact that there is baklava in my freezer...

The story doesn't end there, though. I somehow ended up being responsible for preparing the lamb for the reenactment of the Seder that we do at church every Palm Sunday. A friend offered to help me with this process, so I made lunch for us to eat before we tackled the lamb preparation. We had spinach and clementine salad with clementine vinaigrette and ham and cheese quiche.

Okay, so the lamb. This just happens to be a Greek recipe for leg of lamb that we use every year. I lost my copy of the recipe, so I'll try to remember all of the details here. We had to prep three five pound legs of lamb (boned and rolled) for our dinner--each leg feeds about ten people with fairly generous portions. I'm giving you the recipe for one 3-5 lb. leg.

First, you have to cut cloves of garlic into slivers (for one leg, you'll probably need 3/4 to a whole head of garlic). Then, you have to poke holes in the lamb about an inch apart and put a sliver of garlic into each hole. The original recipe says to use skewers, but that was not working for us, so we used my smallest paring knives and that was much better.

Once the lamb is stuffed with garlic, you rub it all over with two tablespoons of dried oregano (Greek if you can find it) and one teaspoon of dried thyme. The recipe calls for "salt and pepper" with no measurement, so I would just mix about two teaspoons of salt and one teaspoon of black pepper into the herbs and rub all of it onto the lamb at the same time.

The next step is to put the lamb into a container or plastic bag to marinate. The marinade is four tablespoons of fresh lemon juice, 1/2 c. olive oil, and 1 c. dry white wine. Marinate the meat for several hours (ours got about 18), turning the meat several times.

Finally, roast the meat at 350 degrees for about 2 hours (depending on how "done" you like the meat and how thick it is--I would go by temperature, probably 160-170 degrees).

Here is our lamb after 18 hours, ready to be transported to the church:

This is such a good recipe for lamb, I can't even tell you--there is so much flavor, but you don't taste the marinade or the herbs or the garlic specifically, those ingredients just enhance the flavor of the meat. I don't always love lamb, but I could eat this every day. Try this--you won't be disappointed. You could also adapt the recipe for use with other cuts of lamb.

Also, I was able to put the electric knife that Grambi sent me to good use. After watching our priest hack at the lamb last year, I decided to take control of the carving and use my electric knife for the sake of speed since we had thirty hungry people waiting to eat.

We also had baked potatoes and green beans, but the lamb was the best part of the meal.

I love Greek food...

Thursday, March 25, 2010


This week's favorite thing is the chocolate ice cream soda. I happen to be the great granddaughter of one of the greatest druggists and soda fountain operators in history. My great grandfather, Merlin Arthur (that really was his name, although we called him G.G.), had a drug store in Kansas City where he had an awesome soda fountain. I don't know why we don't have more of those around today--I would go all of the time. Anyway, he taught my grandmother who taught my dad who taught me how to make the most fabulous chocolate sodas. G.G. had his own recipe for chocolate syrup that is top secret--the original is now in the hands of Brother of Ken, who guards it with his life.

When I moved to Maryland for college, I found out that lots of people on the east coast had never heard of a chocolate ice cream soda, so I had to teach them all about it. We used to eat these for dinner when the other food was too horrible for words.

Start with a glass full of vanilla ice cream:

Then add chocolate syrup (I had to use Hershey's this time because I didn't have any already made):

Finish with club soda:


Try it sometime if you've never had one. If you've had one before, but it's been a while, celebrate spring with a yummy ice cream soda.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Reminiscing: Savory Seafood

What would I do without Sue's mother, who apparently was not a culinary master, but who saved things like it was her job to do so? Published by the same people who brought you the Party Cookbook, Savory Seafood must have been a staple on the shelf of any 1950s home cook. I had to present the cover to you this way because it just doesn't make sense viewed in two parts. You really need to see the whole thing all at once.

Like the Party Cookbook, the recipes in this book aren't too bad, but the illustrations are. My favorite part of this is the mix of fish swimming with crab, shrimp, lobster, oysters, etc. At least they all appear to be salt water-dwelling creatures. I love the swordfish attacking the defenseless leader, too.

Side note: This scene brings back memories of my college aquacise class, which I took with several friends, including Leah. Our instructor was brought in from a local nursing home, I think, and she would stand on the side of the pool in her swim suit and special water shoes, showing us how to do the moves. She played music from The Pink Panther the whole time, every time we met. She never got in the water with us. Until one seemingly normal spring day.

She got in the water, made all of us wear our flotation belts, and instructed us to begin using our legs to move across the pool backward as she faced us going forward. I was in the front row with my friends and everything was fine while we moved backward. Then she yelled at us to switch and move forward while she moved backward. We were getting quite a workout with the drag of the water moving in the opposite direction when she suddenly became a crazed water demon, surging forward and screaming "I'm gonna get you!" She, of course, had the benefit of working with the drag created by 20+ people while we were fighting it and trying like hell to get away from her. We would have succeeded if we hadn't been wearing those belts, too--and if it weren't for those meddling kids, but that's another story. Anyway, I can't remember exactly what happened or who did this, but as she closed in, someone grabbed the back of my belt (maybe Leah?) and pulled me swiftly away from her. I kept moving my legs to look like I was powering backward on my own because I didn't want to be yelled at. Mercifully, I escaped unharmed. Others were not so lucky. Every time I look at this illustration, I hear "I'm gonna get you!" coming from the swordfish.

Anyway, back to the book. Based on these photographs alone, I think they should have stuck with the drawings. Poor quality black and white images just don't make food look enticing.

See? So much better to just use drawings...

Also, my favorite part of the chef drawing is that he is holding up the pinkie of his right hand while he stirs. Is this supposed to make him seem French or something?

Let's be careful out there--watch out for swordfish...and crazy aquacise instructors.

Reminiscing: Party Cookbook

Another offering from Sue's collection, Jim Beard's Party Cookbook. Jim captures the 1950s perfectly in twelve pages--the look, the food, and the attitude.

One of the best things about this cookbook is the illustrations. I really think that Hanna-Barbera used these illustrations to draw The Jetsons ten years after the cookbook was published. That lady on the right looks a lot like Jane Jetson.

Any ideas about what is happening on the left with those two guys? The one looks like Mr. Spacely.

Most of the recipes in this book seem harmless, but I have to comment on the "Onion Rings." The book has this to say about them: "These are monotonous to make, but they're well worth the trouble. The mind of man has never devised a better hors d'oeuvre."

I was with Mr. Beard at first, when I thought they were traditional onion rings. They aren't. These are slices of onion placed between thin circles of bread slathered with mayonnaise, pressed together, with the edges rolled in mayonnaise and chopped parsley. I can imagine how pleasant that party would be--a bunch of people with raw onion breath (and possibly onion gas also). Ick.

I'm impressed by how inclusive these people are. They even invited some conjoined twins to the party. These guys know how to step up the wardrobe for a festive occasion, too, by wearing red pants and coordinating jackets.

Anyone know what a "Visiting Fireman" dinner is? What's happening with the lady on the left? Did some errant meat get stuck on her pearls? Is the other lady refusing the main course? Why is there only one glass of wine on the table?

Don't forget about children's parties. Back in the 1950s, there was no Chuck E. Cheese, so people had to have parties in their own homes. This was actually better for the parents, who were able to drink cocktails, which they cannot do at Chuck E. Cheese unless they bring their own water bottle of vodka. Anyway, while the other adults are passed out in the living room, Jane Jetson helps Elroy blow out the candles and cut birthday cake for his friends. Two of them can barely contain their excitement for the hamburger-themed cake eating that is about to commence. They've fed all of the string beans to the dog, so they're still hungry.

"...tonight we gonna party like it's 1955..."

Thursday, March 18, 2010


This week's favorite thing is the Bee Gees. I love the Bee Gees--really, I have a borderline unhealthy obsession with these guys (RIP Maurice). Mother of Ken is a huge fan of Barry Gibb and I tend to throw my fanaticism toward Robin because he is so fascinatingly strange. Anyway, there are lots of videos of the Bee Gees on YouTube and elsewhere, but I happen to love the SNL sketches of "The Barry Gibb Talk Show," so here you are:

And here are the Bee Gees in the flesh on Jimmy Fallon's show this week:

Oh, Robin. You are so strange. And Barry--I am impressed by how much you still rock the falsetto after all these years.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Missing You

Dear Sun,

We are grateful to have you back after months of darkness. Ken is enjoying the extra vitamin D, Kenna is enjoying sleeping in patches of sun, and the flower bulbs are happily popping through the soil. Even the creek seems happy that you are back.

Please come back tomorrow, too. We promise to bake you some cookies if you do.

Ken and McKenna

Friday, March 12, 2010

Obsession Update: Kramer and Boomer--Related?

For Mother of Ken:


This week's Favorite Thing is dogs.

Since I can't put all of the dogs in the world on my blog, I've got some photos of my dogs (or at least the dogs in my family).

Our official first family dog was Corkey, a Boston Terrier. Corkey lead a complicated life before he came to our house, but he was a really good boy. Here is a photo of me with Corkey that I took for a class project in the fifth grade. Feel free to make fun of my clothing and accessories, including my gigantic pink plastic glasses and my hot pink socks.

Sadly, Corkey could not be with us forever, and we eventually got our first Boxer, Kramer. Look at that face. She had the softest fur on her head and she was a really good natured dog. Everyone loved Kramer. And, yes, that is red shag carpet.

Kramer was never far from me--she slept in my bed most nights, she stayed with me for several sleepless nights after I had complications from my wisdom teeth being removed, and she even traveled with Mother and Father of Ken to Dallas to help me move into my first place.

Me with Kramer and Frazier, our second Boston Terrier. Again, feel free to make fun of me--it was the 90s and I had some terrible jeans.

My favorite photo of Father of Ken and Frazier--this pretty much sums up their entire relationship, which was that Father of Ken had little use for the dog when he ate the front door, but Frazier always loved Father of Ken and only wanted to get on his good side. That never happened.

Who could resist this face?

After Kramer and Frazier came Piper, our first brindle Boxer. Father of Ken rescued Piper from being tied up to a tree out in the middle of nowhere. She is insanely good at carrying toys around the house and never tearing them up.

Boomer, who may or may not be descended from Kramer, but who is the biggest, most loveable goofball ever and he literally throws himself into everything that he does: eating, sleeping, playing, etc. Boomer doesn't do much of anything halfheartedly except stay awake.

The latest addition: MacGyver, who is probably four times larger than this now and who is probably 100 times more accomplished than any of the other dogs because Brother of Ken has been training him:

And, finally, McKenna. She might be the smallest one, but she's feisty and strong. She took over from Kramer when I moved out on my own and she has been taking good care of me ever since.

Why own a dog? There's a danger you know,
You can't own just one, for the craving will grow.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Right Before Your Eyes

Just two weeks ago, we had a crazy snow storm. Today, it was 63 degrees and I found these in my yard:

There is an end in sight--it might take a while, but I'll have flowers in the yard eventually.

Reminiscing: Flavorite Recipes from the Farmers' Almanac

Another gift from Sue's collection:

If you don't know what a Sooner is, go here.

All the way from 1972, let's start the party with some "Peach Mello," a delicious concoction of crushed peaches, marshmallows, and whipped cream, all frozen together and served with a side of "Topless Cheese Cake."

Two things here. First of all, "Potato Candy." I'm torn on this because I love potatoes and will try just about anything to eat more of them, but I just can't imagine the texture of this candy. Perhaps I should try to make it? "Bethel Bars" are basically the same as Hello Dollies, but I really love the comment at the end of the recipe: "If you can't make this--give up!" These Sooners sure are straightforward, no nonsense types!

This is the "Diet Delights" section of the book, which includes a recipe for an "Ironed Cheese Sandwich." Why would you iron a cheese sandwich? Just put it in a pan on the stove! Chances are that if you don't have a stove, you don't have an iron. Maybe this is for use in motel rooms?

Another recipe for pups! "Hobo Bundles" sure look interesting, no?

First of all, I seriously think that they should reconsider the name of the first salad--"Try-and-Guess Salad." The caption at the end is fairly telling: "This sounds horrible, but don't be afraid to try it!"

More desecration of avocados--"Avocado-Cheese Molds." Nothing like some lime gelatin, avocado, cottage cheese,and canned pineapple all molded together, is there?

Par-tay, gentle readers! Perhaps I will make "Yankee Doodle Salad" for my birthday this year. I'll definitely "try it on my political friends." I think it would be quite eye catching placed on a table with some "Bologna Stack-Ups" inserted "porcupine fashion in a standing avocado, grapefruit, pineapple, or what have you." Round out the tablescape with a "Penguin Egg," which combines hard cooked eggs and black olives. This one would certainly cause Brother of Ken, a.k.a. The Olive Fiend, to think twice before popping it into his mouth. He would probably just pick the olive parts off of the penguin and leave the egg with toothpicks sticking out of it.

Anyway, bear in mind that "One or more of these little figures on your table will cause plenty of comment at a party. They can stand by a food platter, hold a flag or tiny decoration in keeping with the occasion." You could also use them as place card holders if necessary.

I loves me some "Honky Tonk" and some "Elephant Stew."

As I was reading the recipe for "Elephant Stew," I thought, "I'll bet you can buy elephant meat online these days." Yes, yes you can. You really could make this, but only add the rabbits if necessary because "some people do not like to find a hare in their stew." Hahahahaha.

More to come soon...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Make Me Lose Control

Well, gentle readers, after yesterday's inspection, I'm down two more tomatoes and a bathtub drain. I'm really trying not to lose it with all of this invasion of my space.

I noticed yesterday when I got home that my bathtub upstairs was full of dirt and gunk that wasn't there before. I just figured someone stepped in to look at something while wearing shoes. This morning, I turned the shower on and when I went to get in, I noticed that it wasn't draining at all and I had about an inch of gross dirty water standing in there. I thought that maybe they checked the drain and that it had gotten clogged (it was fine yesterday morning), so I got the plunger and gently tried to fix it. Once it drained, I poured some Drano in and went downstairs to take a shower. According to the directions, I was supposed to wait for 30 minutes and then run hot water down the drain. When I did, it still wouldn't drain and I noticed that the drain stopper had been pushed down.

I felt like an idiot that I had gone through all of this when I just needed to pull the drain control up. However, when I did so, the entire knob came off in my hand. I no longer felt like an idiot, I was annoyed that they broke my drain. Granted, it may not have been in the best shape to begin with, but I have never had a problem with it (I don't use that faucet often anyway, I use the other one) and I certainly did not leave the tub in that shape yesterday when I left the house.

After conferring with Father of Ken, I successfully extricated the broken parts of the assembly, put it into a plastic bag, and headed for the hardware store. Please excuse the filth in these photos--my bathtub usually doesn't look this awful.

I found the replacement parts without incident and brought them home:

I'll spare you the details of how I put it back together and simply say that I may soon be moonlighting as a plumber. Look at this:

A thing of beauty. Now my drain works and I can clean the Inspection Filth from the tub. Thank God.