This entry was written by Kris.

I’ll admit it: I’m obsessed with jars. I’m not a collector or anything, but I have a strange attraction to smooth glass objects, especially those I can fill with pickles or salsa, jams, tomato soup or summer fruit. Of course, canning jars are reusable, and J.D. and I have emptied many during our winter and spring meals, but I also gave about a hundred away last Christmas for various gifts and I wanted to replace them — cheap.

When our street had its annual garage sale last Thursday though Sunday, that was my quest: canning jars. I found a couple nice ones for $1 apiece up the road but they were “for pretty”, too old and irregular for actual use. I was still in need of jars for canning this year’s batches of goods when Amy Jo forwarded a Craiglist posting for jars for sale. I glanced through the ad — very detailed, lots of jars, decent prices — but it was farther than I wanted to drive. After deliberating, I decided to call anyway and see what was up.

“Hi,” I say “I’m calling about the jars you’re selling through Craiglist. I’m interested in buying some and wondered if I could come out today.”

“What kind of jars do you want?” asks a powerful male voice.

I explain that I want wide-mouth pints and half-pints.

“Fat chance,” he laughs, I’ve only got about nine cases of those — you better come today or there won’t be any left. How many do you want?”

Well, I want four or five cases, so it seems like there is plenty for me, but it makes me wonder: Are people thronging to this jar sale? Am I going to be left out?

Then he proceeds to quiz me on what I’m going to use the jars for. My answers (pickles, jams, salsas) meet only halfway approval. He is skeptical. I try to laugh it off and explain I also am interested in seeing some of his more decorative vintage jars. Again, I get the third degree.

“I won’t sell ’em to you if you’re using them for wedding candles or something and are just going to throw them away. You’ve got to understand, these are jars of quality.”

I reassure him. I get long and very detailed directions to his house.

Then he tells me to bring boxes. And he tells me exactly what kind of boxes to bring: whiskey bottle boxes and chardonnay boxes — with dividers. “Stop at the liquor store on your way,” he orders. “I won’t sell you any jars if you don’t have the right kind of boxes. And if your boxes are dirty, you’re not getting any jars.” Wow. Okay, now I want more than ever to meet this guy with the jars. I tell him I’ll be there around noon. J.D.’s up for the adventure and we pick up Rhonda, who actually knows a lot about jars and has a varied collection of her own, and head east. [J.D.’s note: Rhonda actually has a book about jars, a price guide. She’s the one who is obsessed.]

Upon arrival, I ring the doorbell. The three of us look up at a voice coming from the upstairs window and see a bearded face peering down. “I’m Kris,” I say, “I called about the jars.”

“Oh! You’re early! Let me put some pants on!” The time is exactly 11:53. We are seven minutes early.

Once he meets us at the garage, the jar-man’s first words are, “Let me see your boxes.” I cringe.

We have two boxes with dividers from my basement, but the boxes from the liquor store (which we were amazed was even open on a Sunday) are divider-less. For a moment, all hangs in the balance, and I fear he will turn us away. I hold my breath. But hurray, the boxes are at least clean and he permits us to stay and buy his jars.

For the next two hours, we hear more than we ever wanted to know about jars, lids to jars, boxes for jars, where to find old jars, how to clean jars, how to protect jars, what to use certain types of jars for, and so on. The jar-man knows jars. He is seemingly torn between the necessity of selling the jars (this appears to be his livelihood) and the overwhelming desire to keep every jar currently in his garage (which he numbers at 4000). We learn that Oregon is a much better source of old jars than his previous state of residence, California. And we learn why.

Boxes of jars and loose jars fill the garage. To show us the contents of any particular box involves moving the loose jars stacked on top of the boxes. When Rhonda and I try to help, he takes the jars from our hands. Wisely, J.D. (who is not clumsy), gets out of the way and assumes the task of carefully packing our purchased jars into our boxes according to the jar-man’s instructions (involving newspaper, strips of corrugated and brown paper sacks). We are not allowed to take the jar-man’s boxes, which are of a type that is not longer produced. I don’t really blame him, but it makes the purchasing and packing process very long.

Rhonda and I both choose some modern jars for canning and take a look at various types of run-of-the-mill vintage jars. The jar-man keeps a handwritten tally of our purchases.

After a while, the jar-man decides we are okay. He takes us inside to see the “good jars”. This is what Rhonda was hoping for. It appears he does actually have some rare collectible jars, but as he proudly shows them to us, one by one, he seems to decide they cannot be sold. Each jar is special and precious, and cannot be parted with. In the end, he does sell Rhonda two nice jars, not especially rare, but for a good price.

Time drags on and now I have seen enough to know which jars I want, but getting them is another story. It takes me almost another hour to wheedle and cajole him into releasing the jars. It is while he is tallying my purchases that I notice he is wearing two different shoes, both repaired. I can barely keep from laughing. Also, I keep noticing that for such an odd man, he appears to have surprisingly good teeth. I think at this point I am delirious for lack of lunch.

We make our way to the car but the jar-man follows, telling the tale of an old woman who has a monster load of jars, but she won’t sell them to him. “She thinks they’re worth way too much,” he sneers, “but wait till she drops dead. Her people will sell me the jars for cheap.” J.D. starts the engine, but the jar-man is still clinging to my open door. I make a move for the handle and he gets the message. I shout, “Thanks! Thanks for the great jars.” And I’m not kidding.

I am very happy with my jars; they are just what I was looking for, at a reasonable price, clean and in good shape. And although jar-man was odd, I sort of admire him. What a passion for jars! I imagine his frugal lifestyle, completely supported by jar commerce. Not a bad way to live. Now I really know what it’s like to be obsessed with jars.

[J.D.’s note: Two hours at the jar-man’s house was far too long for me, especially since I hadn’t eaten anything all day. I zoned out by taking in my surroundings. He had amazing tomato plants. And peppers. And nine eggplants. His home was sparesely furnished. The living room had red shag carpet, a seldom-used sectional, a stack of vinyl records, and boxes filled with rare jars. On the side of his fridge he kept a calendar on which he recorded the temperature three times each day, as well as the overall weather conditions and the amount of rainfall. The jar-man apparently did a lot of canning himself; his shelves were full of jams and jellies and pickles. His lawn needed to be mowed.]

Ambrosia Pie, and Other Recipes from the 1940s

More and more, Kris is becoming my partner on these blogs. Here she provides a guest entry for foldedspace.

Over the past few months, I’ve entered hundreds of recipes into MacGourmet, a computerized recipe database. While working on my recipe project this weekend, I came across an old mimeographed and bound cookbook put together in 1947 when both my grandparents and great-grandparents were working for a naval base in California. I thought you’d get a chuckle out of these.

Ambrosia Pie (Great Grandmother)
1 pint heavy cream
16 large ginger snaps, + 2 extra for garnish
2 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp sugar
9″ graham cracker pie crust
This is an ice-box dessert and should be prepared 6-8 hours before use. Whip the cream so it will hold its shape but not be too dry. Break the gingersnaps into pieces about the size of a quarter and stir into the whipped cream. Add the sugar and vanilla and heap into your pie shell. Sprinkle with crushed remaining two cookies. Set in refrigerator until ready for use.

Chicken Chasseur (from Grandmother)
Take one stewing hen. Boil with 3 stalks of celery, 1 large onion, salt and 5 peppercorns. When tender, remove meat from bones, put in casserole with onions. Add parsley, sage and thyme. Pour over meat 1 cup dry white wine and 1 cup cooking liquor. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and add 2 lumps of chicken fat. Cook in 325 degree oven for a half-hour.

Chocolate Puffs (Great Grandmother)
1 large bar Baker’s bittersweet chocolate
2 squares baking chocolate
1 package Rice Crispies cereal
Melt chocolates together in a double boiler. Pour in the Rice Crispies. Stir until they are uniformly coated in the chocolate. Drop by large spoonsful upon waxed paper and put outside to cool. This is something a child can successfully make.

Boneless Birds (from Great Grandfather)
Split the flank steak or have the butcher do it, then cut each half in half again to make 4 6″ squares. Lay flat, season well with salt and pepper. On each piece, at one end, place a piece of bacon, a sliver of dill pickle cut lengthwise, some chopped onion and a slice of garlic salami (diced small). Roll up each steak and skewer neatly with toothpicks. Fold ends together and skewer to keep contents in.
Put a teaspoon of fat in a Dutch oven and brown the “birds” well on all sides. Then, add any leftover onion, a teaspoon of vinegar, a generous dash of Worcestershire sauce. a bay leaf and a can of tomato paste. Reduce heat and cook slowly for one hour. Add water if it gets too dry.

Fruit Salad Dressing (Great Grandmother)
1 egg, well-beaten
2 Tbsp sugar
pinch salt
2 Tbsp cider vinegar
1 tsp dry mustard, heaping
1 cup heavy cream
Cook all ingredients except the cream until they get quite thick. This must be done in a double boiler. Cool. Just before you are ready to use, whip the cream quite stiff and at the last few turns of he beater, fold in the cooked mixture. Pile on top of your fruit salad and top with a cherry. This makes an excellent tangy dressing.

These recipes are so, well, vague. What are you supposed to do with the Chicken Chasseur? Eat it over noodles? By itself? And what about the ingredients? There aren’t any amounts for anything! How much parsley? Where does the chicken fat come from?

It’s not just the vagueness that shocks our modern sensibilities. The very notion of eating some of these things puts my stomach ill-at-ease. Ambrosia pie? It’s just whipped cream with soggy cookies! And what’s up with that fruit salad dressing? (Just reading the ingredients makes J.D. sick.)

Aside from the “ick” factor, reading recipes like this should remind us that we need to provide specific weights and measures when we write things down for friends and family. (At least if we want our recipes to be prepared by our descendants.) Who knows if a package of Rice Krispies from 1947 is the same size as it is now. How much, exactly, is “one large bar of Baker’s bittersweet chocolate”? And how about “16 large ginger snaps”?

I’ve only posted the silliest recipes here, but I found my great-grandfather’s crepe recipe, which I remember eating in my grandmother’s house, and a braided Christmas pastry recipe that brings back fond memories. So many of our childhood memories involve food — it would be great if the recipes that we (not J.D. and I — but we as a generation) passed on were actually useable by our children. (Not to mention appetizing!)

Tomato Planting Day

This is a guest-entry from Kris, the Tomato Queen.

Okay, call me crazy. I just took an afternoon of vacation to come home and dig in the dirt. My tomato plants, started from seed on February 24th, were begging to be put into the ground. J.D. tilled the vegetable plot yesterday, the sun is shining and the bees are buzzing! All is in readiness.

photo by Kris

This year’s crop includes(d) eleven varieties:

  • Aunt Ruby’s German Green — repeat from ’06, it’s green when ripe & actually tastes bacon-y to me
  • Bloody Butcher — early salad-sized tomato, repeat from ’06
  • Black from Tula — Russian “black” beefsteak, recommended by Amy Jo
  • Box Car Willie — fatal transplant accident! (More below.)
  • Dr. Wyche’s Yellow — huge orange-yellow beefsteak, repeat from ’06
  • Oregon Star — recommended by Craig
  • Raad Red — free tomato seed w/ purchase, relegated to the spot with least sun
  • Red Star — a pleated red cherry tomato
  • Rutgers Select — roma/paste-type
  • San Marzano — roma/paste-type
  • Sungold — golden cherry, from the Garden Show last weekend

Think I’ll have enough?

Alas, I handled the Box Car Willie too roughly and snapped its stem as I was attempting the transplant. In sheer desperation, I cut off the lowest tier of leaves, filled the hole with rich potting soil, and stuck in the stem six inches deep. Watered a lot. Misted. Watered. Misted. It probably will shrivel up. It’s too late in the season to start another one from seed but there’s always next year. Poor Willie!

photo by Kris

This past weekend was the annual Master Garden Show at the Canby Fairgrounds. I exhibited incredible restraint! I had a list and stuck to it (mostly), purchasing:

  • pickling cukes
  • anaheim pepper
  • aforementioned Sungold cherry tomato
  • butternut squash
  • acorn squash
  • pineapple sage
  • lemon-rose-scented geranium
  • basil
  • cilantro
  • lemon verbena
  • English thyme
  • ornamental currant “ribes brocklebankii”
  • evergreen “clematis armadii” Snowdrift

Everything’s planted except the pepper.

Of course, then on Sunday I coerced J.D. into facing the crowded Portland Nursery. I was craving a small evergreen for the spot by the garage where we removed a monster of a climbing rose. Found the perfect juniper communis “gold cone” and picked up a couple more peppers (jalapeño and cayenne) and some catnip for the cats (really for J.D., who thinks the cats need it).

Already up in the garden are: peas, yellow onions, rice, turnips, carrots (second planting — aliens took the first sprouts one night, en masse), and red and Yukon Gold potatoes. Oh, and asparagus, but not enough to really harvest, although I’ve cut a couple to nibble on. Beets are planted, and nasturtiums. Corn, green/wax beans, salad cucumbers, ornamental gourds, sunflowers, and dill to be planted soon, now that the spring has arrived.

I am eager to begin the harvest!

p.s. Not really growing rice — just checking if you’re awake.

One Nation

text by Kris, links by J.D.

My fifth grade teacher was a wonderful man to know, though I once saw him use his cane to hit a classmate of mine.

This was back in the day when corporal punishment was allowed in schools, so it wasn’t as shocking as you might think nowadays. I can’t remember what the classmate, Lester, did to deserve it, but it must have been something quite provoking, because Mr. Poore was not generally an active man. He could barely walk. Once seated each morning, at his teacher’s desk in the front of the classroom, he didn’t get up until recess. Yet his mastery of a room of ten-year-olds was absolute. We respected him too much to fool around. We took turns fetching various items for him, or passing out division quizzes, or collecting reading group textbooks. When the time for recess arrived, Mr. Poore would painfully make his way out the door where he had parked his sky-blue golf cart. As we kids amused ourselves with Chinese jumprope, games of Uno, four square or tetherball, he would zip over the asphalt keeping an eye on our activities. By the time the bell rang for us to return, he would again be seated at his desk, immobile until lunch.

For all his obvious disability, Mr. Poore was a passionate man. He made us passionate about learning. He spoke to us about things he thought were important in a way that made us feel worthy of listening. I’ve been thinking of Mr. Poore a lot this week as our Congress tries to pass legislation that would bar federal courts from having authority to rule on constitutional issues regarding the Pledge of Allegiance. This is an attempt to prevent the courts from ruling, as they have in the past, that the recitation of the Pledge in schools is unconstitutional because of the inclusion of the phrase “under God”. It was exactly this phrase that so bothered Mr. Poore.

“Those words don’t belong,” he would say forcefully. “They were inserted later. It was a mistake.” He encouraged us to think about whether we wanted to say them or not. When we recited the Pledge each morning, his voice louder and prouder than all of our smaller voices combined, the absence of his own voice as he left a pause for those words was alarming. As we all faced the flag, us standing, him seated, we tried not to notice who was saying it and who wasn’t.

At one point we must have studied about the fifties and McCarthyism, because it seems I’ve always known that “under God” was added at the height of anti-communist Cold War hysteria. The addition was heavily campaigned for by a Catholic fraternal order called the Knights of Columbus, who thought that a patriotic American should be a person of faith, opposed to all forms of communism, socialism, secularism, deism, agnosticism and atheism. Other religious groups supported the change, maintaining that it would help root out godless communists who would refuse to recite the new pledge. Eisenhower signed it into law in 1954.

It amuses me now to know that the Pledge was originally created by a socialist in 1892.

I have no idea of Mr. Poore’s religious leanings or political affiliations. He may have been a godless communist. But he was a man of integrity. On the day he hit Lester with his cane, he later apologized to the whole class. He said he had been wrong to do it, and he hoped Lester, and all of us, would forgive him. When Mr. Poore died shortly before the end of that school year, we felt utterly abandoned. His golf cart sat untouched at the edge of the playground. Our substitute teacher, to whom we were merciless, recited the full Pledge. The rest of us did it Mr. Poore’s way.

[Note: There is now a new by Kris category in which you can find her two previous entries: My husband, he chef and Vintage film sampler: what to watch when you don’t know what you like.]

An Introduction to Classic Films

text by Kris, links by J.D.

[Note: Kris’ original title was Vintage Film Sampler: What to Watch When You Don’t Know What You Like, but it’s just too damned long!]

A friend of ours recently joined Netflix and asked me to make some recommendations. Although Jd & I do our fair share of adding recent releases to our Queue, I think Netflix’s true strengths shine when it comes to viewing both TV series and Classic Films.

I am a sucker for the old black-and-whites. Especially Warner Bros. Especially from the late thirties and forties. Especially Bette Davis.

Turner Classic Movies was my first introduction to many of these vintage films, but even they don’t own the rights to everything. Netflix has a very respectable inventory of the most-acclaimed Classic Films, but they are missing some of the more obscure from my favorite actors.

If you’re new to the genre, I’ve compiled a list to get you started. Once you’ve sampled from the list, it’s easy to branch out according to your taste. Pick a favorite actress (Katharine Hepburn, for example), Director (George Cukor, anyone?), year or two (hard to beat 1939-1942 in my book), romantic duo (ie. Bogart & Bacall) or style (screwball comedy, film noir).

The list is chronological. Remember that most actors worked on contract in those days, meaning they churned out the movies, so there are bound to be some losers among their credited titles. As the list moves from thirties to fifties, color arrives and the films lose their cinematic innocence. Movies of the fifties and sixties are bleaker, angrier, more “real” than their theatrical predecessors. (By the seventies, I think they’re mostly vapid or in need of therapy.)

I’ve organized most of the list according to leading actress for two reasons: the movies I love almost always have a strong female character, and the biggest names (and salaries) during this era were the leading ladies (partly due to the influence of WWII in the mid-forties). Davis and Hepburn get the most due to the incredible length and breadth of their careers. I hope my plot summaries below aren’t as bad as the Sci-Fi blurbs, but face it, vintage films require you to accept implausibility.

I hope you find something you like!

Claudette ColbertIt Happened One Night (1934)
I’m not normally a screwball comedy fan, but the chemistry between Colbert and Clark Gable is undeniable. Directed by Frank Capra (It’s a Wonderful Life), this early film set the stage for the next fifteen (or fifty) years of romantic comedies.

Katharine HepburnStage Door (1937)
Before Hepburn was a big star, her trademark cheekbones were part of this ensemble cast that also features Ginger Rogers, Eve Arden (the principal in Grease), Lucille Ball, and Ann Miller. In the role of a snooty aspiring actress, Hepburn’s so convincingly bad you’ll forget she’s acting.

Bette DavisJezebel (1938)
Warner Bros.’ pre-emptive answer to Gone with the Wind. Davis is a rebellious Southern Belle opposite Henry Fonda. Great supporting cast. Includes dueling and the obligatory happy slaves singing gospel songs and an obscenely melodramatic ending. No one but Davis could have carried off this plot.

Norma ShearerThe Women (1939)
One of the most popular stars in her day, Shearer’s name hasn’t survived among the pantheon of movie greats. But this is a great film. The all-woman cast includes Joan Fontaine, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, and Marjorie Main. It deftly showcases some of the fads and trends of the day, and has both snappy and heartfelt dialogue. There’s a decent remake as a musical with June Allyson (The Opposite Sex, 1956). If you like Shearer, she played a sympathetic Marie Antoinette opposite Tyrone Power (va-va-voom!) the previous year. [J.D.’s note: there’s also a new version in production. I like this film.]

Katharine HepburnThe Philadelphia Story (1940)
C’mon — you’ve seen this one, right? An uber-classic. Fabulous trio of Hepburn, Cary Grant, and Jimmy Stewart; it’s hard to know which guy to root for. All the minor roles excellent, too. (Make sure you don’t get the watery musical remake with Grace Kelly and Bing Crosby from 1956 — called High Societyugh!)

Joan FontaineRebecca (1940)
You’ll win a prize if you can figure out Fontaine’s character’s name in this classic psychodrama by Hitchcock (hint: it’s not Rebecca). Also a wonderful leading role spin by Laurence Olivier, if you want to see what your grandmothers were swooning over. Stellar supporting cast. If you like the movie, the book is even better.

Ingrid BergmanGaslight (1940)
The vulnerable Bergman is lovely in her distress in this film. Although the plot is a bit thin, both she and Charles Boyer, her (mis)leading man, shine. Too bad Joseph Cotton is so stiff here.

Bette DavisAll This, and Heaven Too (1940)
Davis is a governess who accidentally sparks the French Revolution when she becomes embroiled in a battle of wills between a Duke and Duchess. Features some nice child actresses (including June Lockhart of later Leave it to Beaver fame). NOT available on Netflix! Let’s start a letter-writing campaign. [J.D.: I find this film tedious. It’s not available on Netflix because it’s not out on DVD.]

Orson WellesCitizen Kane (1941)
No true fan of cinema should skip this movie. All of Welles’ films are scary in their single-minded, experimental genius; this is the least flawed among them. Pay attention to the groundbreaking camera work by Gregg Toland. And oh yeah, Welles is the lead actor, writer, director and producer of this amazing film. He was 26 at the time. [J.D.: Kane has some great moments and should not be missed, but the film d-r-a-g-s in its last act. Welles was 26! 26! It boggles the mind.)

Greer GarsonMrs. Miniver (1942)
Director William Wyler made this movie about a British family in WWII to encourage the US to join the war against Germany. And it worked! FDR used part of the film’s dialogue to persuade the Americans that the fight was worthy. It’s cheesy patriotism but the casting is perfect and there’s a twist in the end. It will make you remember that there were wars for which we sacrificed more than just our tax dollars. Greer Garson also played a charming Elizabeth Bennet (opposite Laurence Olivier as Darcy) from 1940, and if you like movies about famous chemists, she’s a wonderful Madame Curie in 1943. (Unfortunately — neither available from Netflix, although Random Harvest, a decent alternative, is.)

Bette DavisNow, Voyager (1942)
Ah, unrequited love. Davis’ transformation from over-mothered spinster to confident (and secretly fallen) woman is beautiful. Also a great scene where she gets to tell off her controlling mother. You may have never seen the leading man, Paul Henreid, in anything else, but he will capture your heart here. Be forewarned: very cheesy ending.

Ingrid BergmanNotorious (1946)
What could be finer than Bergman and Cary Grant teaming up to fight the Nazis! Hitchcock balances the romance, character development and suspense in one of his best. Great camera work. Kudos to villain Claude Rains, too; at times, he steals the show and you feel sorry for him even though he is a Nazi!

Lauren Bacall/Humphrey BogartThe Big Sleep (1946)
Ah, I long for the days when a leading man could be ridiculous-looking, and be named Humphrey, but still make the ladies pant. Don’t allow yourself to be confused by the plot (or lack thereof) in this one. Just enjoy the ride. None of the Bogart/Bacall movies have serious credentials; they existed merely as excuses to get this team together on the screen.

Irene Dunne/William PowellLife with Father (1947)
Adapted from what was (at the time) the longest-running non-musical Broadway play of all time, a very cheesy family comedy set in 1883 New York. Good clean fun that will probably bore the pants off any young movie-viewer today. Lots of complaints on the Netflix site about the DVD quality on this and a few other older films. Sounds as though some film restoration is in order so we don’t lose classics like this one. [J.D.: This film is goofy fun. Some of the dialogue is as hilarious as you’ll ever find, especially when Mother explains her shopping rationale. And who can forget Father’s constant refrain of “I am not going to be bap-uh-tized.”]

Katharine HepburnAdam’s Rib (1949)
Had to include at least one Hepburn pairing with Spencer Tracy. Their off-screen romance permeates their acting. In this film they are husband-and-wife lawyers on opposite sides of a case in which a woman tried to kill her husband for infidelity. A wonderful examination of gender issues is woven through the slapstick. (My fave Spencer/Hepburn, Without Love, isn’t available from Netflix.)

Bette DavisAll About Eve (1950)
You owe it to yourself to see this film. Top-notch acting from the entire cast (including Marilyn Monroe in a minor role). Deliciously wicked. Has the famous “bumpy night” line. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Rent it. By now, the young attractive actress Bette Davis has morphed into the weird-looking later Bette Davis, but her acting became even more powerful as she aged. [J.D.: Despite some slowness in the middle, this is a great film. Excellent writing, and for a long time the film with the most Academy Award nominations.]

Grace Kelly/Jimmy StewartRear Window (1954)
Edge-of-your-seat Hitchcock. This is such a classic that people refer to it in casual conversation; time to see the movie if you’re missing the allusions. Kelly’s cool beauty is a perfect foil to the clautrophobic suspense of voyeur Stewart trapped by his window with a pair of binoculars. [J.D.: I find this film dull; I much prefer Vertigo, which Kris hates.]

Henry FondaTwelve Angry Men (1957)
See, I can like a movie with all men! One of the best of all time. Pure psychological drama; you’ll be sweating along in the jury room and turning on the fan. Watch this one when you can savor the exquisite pacing and characterizations. No distractions, please. [J.D.: Kris first saw this film a year ago. She was raving about it as soon as the credits rolled.]

Elizabeth Taylor/Paul NewmanCat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
Wow! This adaptation of Tennessee Williams‘ drama sizzles with sexual frustration. If you think Liz is only famous for her myriad marriages, friendship with Michael Jackson and malodorous perfumes, you owe it to her legacy to see this film. She didn’t get many meaty roles (typecast for her looks rather than her acting abilities) but she’s an absolute carnivore in this one. Me-ow!

Marilyn MonroeSome Like it Hot (1959)
This movie crackles with inside jokes and witty repartee. Monroe is mostly eye-candy, but charmingly so. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon provide most of the laughs, but the real star of this film is the screenplay by Billy Wilder. Even better the second time around. Although this movie is from the late-fifties, it could have been written in 1938, perhaps because Wilder had been working in films since 1929. [The funniest movie ever made — even the AFI thinks so. Even better the twentieth time around. One of my top three films of all time.]

Other notes:
A Lion in Winter (1968) — Too late to be in my fave era, but worth seeing if only for Katharine Hepburn‘s luminescent turn long after most of her contemporaries were long gone.

Musicals — that’s a whole separate entry!

Notable absences:
Barbara Stanwyck: some love her, but I think she always seems like she has gas
Joan Crawford: ugh — too butch for me
Myrna Loy: I love Myrna Loy, but don’t really like the films she’s in. If you must try her, your best bet is the Thin Man series with William Powell.
Gone With The Wind: I just assume everyone’s seen this one. If not, take the day off work, rent the full version, and enjoy the War Between the States.

[Research for this entry was aided by the TLA Video & DVD Guide, a very handy reference.]

My Husband, the Chef

text by Kris, links by J.D.

Jd loves Texas Sheet Cake, a sort of cake-like brownie topped by a rich chocolate glaze. Very sweet, very chocolate-y with a hint of cinnamon. I think this is something his mother fixed when he was growing up. Chocolate sheet cake is on Jd’s menu for Chicken Noodle Fest so I look for his recipe as I make a shopping list.

It’s Friday, so Jd’s working till noon and I’m home. When I can’t locate the recipe, I email him. He responds: “Hm. It may be loose, on a piece of paper, just floating in my recipe bin, or the favorite recipes book, or somewhere. I may have to find it when I get home.” This is déjà vu; the last time he wanted to make this dessert, he couldn’t find his previous recipe, so he purposely got it from his Mom. I’m hoping he can find it, and, after he searches fruitlessly around for a while and is on the verge of giving up in favor of using an alternative cake-like brownie recipe, he actually does. He spied the word “Texas” on a corner, peeking out of a stack of loose papers in a pile on the bookshelf where his cookbooks used to be. He feels victorious. I silently wonder if there isn’t a more efficient system.

When I look at the recipe, I notice it calls for a 10″ by 15″ sheet pan. Although I have more baking gadgets than I could possibly need, I don’t own a pan of this size. Don’t worry, Jd reassures me. He always uses one of our 12″ x 16″ cookie sheets instead. I am doubtful. Does he size-up the recipe? Does he adjust the baking time? Is he sure? He’s very sure, he has made this recipe with this pan, multiple times. Okay, fine—off to the store.

At Thriftway, things go pretty smoothly. A small glitch when he asks if we need peanut butter and I remind him we got a two-pack at Costco last week. He laughs that he could forget such a thing in only a week. But then he gets snippy when in the soup aisle I remind him that we also bought a “flat” of chicken noodle soup. “Why do you assume I would forget that?” he complains. Why indeed? While I am in the produce section, Jd also gets mildly admonished by the Pepsi Corp. stockperson who catches him cheating on the iTunes contest. She has watched him tilt the bottle to sneak a look at the cap to see if he has a winner. He feels no shame.

Home again—time for Jd to cook. I try to prepare myself for the impending combination of Jd in the kitchen with a pound of powdered sugar. I feel like I do a pretty good job of not hovering, but as I’m folding laundry he comes to me holding one of our cookie sheets. You saw it coming, I’m sure. He has realized that, in fact, he has in the past used the smaller size, which we no longer have. He makes store trip number two to get a pan as the batter sits ready on the counter.

As the cake bakes, he makes the glaze on the stovetop. The recipe says to glaze the cake as soon as it comes out of the oven, but when the timer beeps, Jd finds that the cake has risen alarmingly into a dome, rather than remaining flat. I tell him that it should fall as it cools. Be patient. However, wanting to follow the recipe exactly, Jd proceeds to pour hot chocolate glaze onto the convex surface of the hot cake. Gravity exerts its influence, of course, and soon Jd has a sheet pan surrounded by several inches of gooey icing-covered counter. He laughs. I need to leave the kitchen.

Finally, he is done. The remaining glaze has been spread onto the cake, which has flattened somewhat. Wanting to sample his creation, Jd cuts a small piece from the corner. “Hm. It’s not quite right,” he says, “I can’t serve that.” Optimistically, he tastes a piece from the opposite corner of the pan. Still, there is something not quite right. He surmises that what he tastes is the buttermilk. But he has made this recipe before, and it always has buttermilk in it. “The only thing that I could have possibly done wrong is put in a tablespoon of baking powder instead of a teaspoon.” A-ha! I ask if it’s bitter. “I think that’s the buttermilk,” he answers. I sample the cake myself. The strange dome-like phenomena is now explained; the cake tastes characteristically alkaline. Too much baking powder, alright. Jd makes store trip number three: more powdered sugar and buttermilk. Cake #1 goes into the trash. The ants will feast tonight.

While Cake #2 is happening, I go to work on this story. As I make my way to the computer, Jd asks me hopefully if perhaps the omission of the cinnamon could have caused the abnormal rising and taste—he’s not sure he added the cinnamon the first time. I assure him that the cinnamon is completely optional; cinnamon, or lack thereof, is not the cause of his problems.

All sounds like it’s going well from the kitchen, until Jd, obviously pleased with himself, comes in to tell me that he forgot to get more buttermilk at the store (trip #3). “But,” he crows, “there was just barely enough left from the first one!”

I hope you all enjoy the Texas Sheet Cake. It has been a labour of love.