Since my mother was a Quaker and my father a lapsed Catholic, (let’s assume his experiences in WW2 fostered the retreat) when my older sister, 2 younger brothers and I were growing up in 1950’s urban New Jersey, we kids attended church at the local Catholic church, which shall remain unnamed (mainly because I forgot…the name, but not all the other stuff.)

Every Sunday, after Mass, my siblings and I attended Sunday school, which was held in the school building attached to the church. Because I was bookish and good at testing, the rote method worked well for my Catechism training. I was also what was called “small fry”, the last chosen when sides were called and therefore had fewer distractions play/sports wise.

When it came my time to prepare for receiving Holy Communion, normally about age 7, we public school kids were paired with our parochial school contemporaries in the closing days of preparation. These sacramental ceremonies of initiation always seem to take place in the spring.

Being short, I was near the front of the ‘size order’ line. Since we marched up the aisle 2 x 2, I was paired with a Catholic school kid of similar stature. Even though confident with my knowledge of The Catechism, the instruction manual of our religion, I was always asking my new rehearsing buddy for advice on how to conduct myself. This was more a matter of self preservation then pride. I had quickly learned his experience with the Enforcers would prove invaluable. In those days the local ‘order’ of nuns wore the flowing black ‘habits’ reminiscent of Banshees. Whether this irony was intentional or not remains a mystery.

Many of the sessions were after school, weekdays. On one occasion, instead of going to the church from the school building, we were led around the corner to the convent. My only knowledge of that place was, it was to be avoided. It was where the women in black lived their sequestered lives.

As we entered the building, 2 x 2, we were led into a large drawing room. At the opposite end was what I thought to be a piano with the lid open. As we approached I could see there was a person who was about my size, a 7-year-old runt. It was a nun dressed in her black hijab, oops, sorry, ‘habit’, replete with headgear that tortured the face of the wearer with overly starchy trim, the memories of which have ruined all efforts of making crinkle cut carrots feel fancy.

When we dutifully knelt before the open casket, I turned to my buddy, the seasoned Catholic and discipline adviser, and asked if he knew what was going on. He said “It’s a wake”.

“No it’s not” I answered, “it’s definitely asleep”.

“No, stupid. This is a wake. It’s for dead people.”

“What do you mean, for dead people? Like a party? Parties for dead people? Is that why she has on makeup? Nuns aren’t supposed to wear makeup! It sure doesn’t look like she’s having a good time.”

He failed me, my guide failed me. He started laughing so hard he fell off the “kneeler” we shared. (Yes that ís what they’re called. I looked it up). As we were having a conversation, when we should’ve been solemn and respectful and add some mirth and you have a formula for a descendence of banshees.

We were summarily dragged from the room by our earlobes, in a very non-Dr. Spock approved method and were being slapped repeatedly on the back of the head, while being admonished in Latin or what I assume were ancient banshic curse words, spoken through clenched teeth with furrowed brows and squinting, threatening eyes. This was, after all, a battle to save our malicious little souls from eternal damn nation, I guess.

I was sent home with a note to my parents demanding their presence. Since my mother had a shift work job, as an ambulance nurse, she was assigned parental damage control. I should reiterate, her being raised a Quaker and my father the lapsed Catholic, this would be more an irritant than a shaming for her.

On the assigned day, my mother and I went for the appointment with Mother Superior. After their particularly brief closed-door session, I was summoned from the hall to stand in front of the MS. She said to me “What have you got to say for yourself young man?”

“Whaddaya mean?” I said

“You know what you you did!”

“Whaddaya mean? All I did was ask Catholic Billy a question & when he laughed, the next thing I knew we were being beat on.”

“Don’t you know why?” She said.

“I have no idea. Honest.” I said, turning to my mother.

Mother Superior asked: “Don’t you know you’re supposed to respect the dead?

“What’s dead mean?” I asked. She was appalled.

“You don’t know what Death is?”

“No. Honest….Oh wait, I remember once on the way to school we saw a bird laying in the gutter & I poked it with a stick & it didn’t move. Someone said that’s because it was dead, but that’s all I know. Honest.”

Real Mom jumped in. “See! I told you. My son didn’t mean to do anything wrong. He didn’t do anything wrong. He’s never been to a wake or funeral, so how’s he supposed to know how to act? If he doesn’t understand, that’s your fault for not teaching them that. Isn’t that what they’re here for?”

At this point I was told to wait outside in the hall.

When Real Mom came out she was both red in the face and beaming from ear to ear. I never quite found out the details, all I know is she asked me “which one is your favorite? Stanley or Walter?”

As you can guess these were not Saints. They were competing bakeries located along the route between our house and the Church. One was Walter’s, the other Stanley’s. They both made really, really good chocolate cream donuts. One had sort of a white, whipped cream colored filling with a deep dark chocolate glaze on top, while the other had a more egg custard kind of filling with the more buttery-icing topping. They were a weekly stop on the way home from Mass. (This was over 60 years ago people. So remember to be good to your kids…they remember the good food with a unique reverence that the clergy can’t compete with.)

Needless to say, on the way home we picked up some of my favorite.

The episode was not spoken of again, for years.


I may be a bit slow…

…as it just dawned on me how contradictory some members of Congress are when they say they are against a woman’s right to choose or gay marriage but are always complaining about a smaller government.

I guess consistency or intelligence are not prerequisites.

Here is a tidbit from Missouri:

“The [unemployment extension] bill temporarily gives people who have exhausted their 79 weeks of regular and emergency benefits an extra 20 weeks of assistance, paid 100 percent by the federal government. The estimated cost for the year is $105 million.

Four senators delayed the bill for weeks, hoping, they said, to send Washington a message about overspending. Those four Republicans — Jim Lembke of Lemay, Brian Nieves of Washington, Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph and Will Kraus of Lee’s Summit — voted against the bill Monday. They were joined by Sen. Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield.”

“[Missouri State] Senate leaders also agreed to cut $250 million in other federal stimulus spending, such as grants to make homes more energy-efficient. But that part of the deal appeared less solid Monday.”

So glad to see Missouri is in such good shape they can make a point, screw the unemployed AND resist funds to create jobs. Not a bad days work.

Here’s a toast to those upstanding guys.

I’ll have what their drinking.

Chicken with Mushrooms, Scallions & Toasted Almonds

Here is a very easy, very tasty & low-fat recipe that I’ve had for a while. As a matter of fact, I’ve had it so long I can’t credit the source. My apologies to the originator.

My reason for selecting this particular method is the chicken turns out extremely moist due to the combination saute/poaching. Success in the recipe relies on paying very close attention to the various heat levels almost more so than the timing.

Title: Chicken W/Mushrooms, Scallions & Toasted Almonds
Categories: Poultry, Low-Cal, Low-Fat
Yield: 2 Servings

1/2 ts  Olive oil
2  md  Chicken breast 1/2’s
1 pn Pepper
1/2 c  Water
1/4 lb Mushrooms, sliced thin
2 T  Sour cream,Low Fat
1/4 c  Scallion greens, slice thin
1/4 ts  Salt
1/4 ts  Pepper
2 ts  Almonds,toasted,sliced (optional)

The chicken breasts should be skinned,  boned & trimmed of excess fat.

In a nonstick skillet, large enough to just fit the chicken breasts in 1 layer, heat olive oil over high heat. Season chicken w/a pinch of pepper on both sides & add to the skillet.

Saute, turning once until browned, 1 min.  per side. Add the water to the skillet (it will splatter) & reduce heat to low. Once the water returns to a simmer, cover & cook until chicken is just white, but still moist, 5min. Transfer to warm plates & reserve the cooking liquid in a bowl (you will need it for the sauce). The chicken will continue to cook from residual heat.

Increase heat to high & add the mushrooms to the empty pan & cook over high heat, without stirring until brown on bottom,  about 90 seconds. No oil is needed as they will exude their own moisture.

Add reserved liquid & boil until reduced, about 2 min. Add any juices that have accumulated on the plate from the chicken.

Remove pan from heat & stir in sour cream. Season w/S&P & stir in scallion greens. Pour the mushrooms & thier liquid over chicken & garnish
w/almonds.  Serve.

Per Serving: 176 g Water ; 116 Cal (25% from Fat, 64% from Protein, 11%
from Carb); 19 g Protein; 3 g Tot Fat; 0 g Sat Fat; 2 g Mono Fat; 1 g
Poly Fat; 3 g Carb; 1 g Fiber; 1 g Sugar; 2 g Ash; 202 mg Phos; 25 mg
Calcium; 1 mg Iron; 348 mg Sodium; 412 mg Potassium; 34 mg Magnesium ;
1 mg Zinc; 0 mg Copper; 0 mg Manganese; 18 ug Selenium; 152 IU Vit A; 4
mg ATE Vit E; 0 mg Thiamin; 0 mg Riboflavin; 10 mg Niacin; 1 mg
Pantothenic Acid; 0 mg Vit B6; 21 ug Folate; 0 ug Vit B12; 5 mg Vit C;
41 mg Cholesterol;  AccuPoints = 2.4

A few notes:

This can be easily doubled with the right sized pan. Just remember that in up-scaling any recipe initial oils are merely to lubricate the surface of the pot or pan so judge accordingly. The liquid for the poaching stage should not exceed half way up the chicken pieces, but must be adequate for the poaching process.

When heating oil in a pan watch for rippling lines reflected from the surface. This indicates that the heats energy is sufficient to create movement. Even non-stick skillets need some oil to prevent sticking.

Chicken pieces should not be touching in the pan. Use a pan that is a little larger rather than one that will crowd the pieces. If the pan is a bit larger add a touch more water in the poaching stage.

Sliced almonds will toast in a matter of minutes be being constantly stirred in a dry non-stick skillet for 2-3 Min. over med-high heat. Remove to a plate to cool as soon as a few pieces start to color as they will continue to cook.

If the sauce is a little thin, add a bit more sour cream, off the heat, but remember this is where the fat in this dish is coming from & as written it’s already at about 25% of calories.


Bob Herbert’s Final Column in the NYTimes

His last sentence is “New ideas and new leadership have seldom been more urgently needed.”

He used the complete entry to talk about the disparity of income distribution in this country.

“…the richest 10 percent of Americans received an unconscionable 100 percent of the average income growth in the years 2000 to 2007, the most recent extended period of economic expansion.” is a quote that really stood out in my mind. Poor Bob is still burdened with a conscience.

How greedy that top 10% have become. What happened to “noblesse oblige”?

I guess since there’s nothing ‘noble’ about grabbing all the marbles there’s no obligation. Easy.

Following the lead of GE  who “despite profits of $14.2 billion — $5.1 billion from its operations in the United States — General Electric did not have to pay any U.S. taxes last year.” there obviously is no obligation.

I heard an interview on the PBS Newshour on 3/24 that said for every 3 hourly jobs in the US 1 was someone who was ‘guarding’ something. Cop, security guard, soldier, etc. Seems fitting.

I guess making all that money keeps one too busy than to stop & think about unprofitable things like Right & Wrong. The nearest we get these days is Right & Left or Red & Blue.

So let’s see. What percentage of the population is or has been in prison & can’t get jobs? And what percentage have been bankrupted by the mortgage scamming & can’t finance a house or car? And how many have been unemployed for more than 6 months & are statistically invisible?

Who is going to help us consume our way out of this?

I’m going to do my bit & head to the bar.

Appropriate beginning to this category

NYTimes, March 24, 2011

Shady Dealings Helped Qaddafi Build Fortune and Regime


WASHINGTON — In 2009, top aides to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi called together 15 executives from global energy companies operating in Libya’s oil fields and issued an extraordinary demand: Shell out the money for his country’s $1.5 billion bill for its role in the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 and other terrorist attacks.

If the companies did not comply, the Libyan officials warned, there would be “serious consequences” for their oil leases, according to a State Department summary of the meeting.

Many of those businesses balked, saying that covering Libya’s legal settlement with victims’ families for acts of terrorism was unthinkable. But some companies, including several based in the United States, appeared willing to give in to Libya’s coercion and make what amounted to payoffs to keep doing business, according to industry executives, American officials and State Department documents.


“You can trust your car to the man that wears the star” – Texaco, 1940s ad campaign

“You can be sure of Shell.”

“Put a Tiger in Your Tank” [but pack your own luggage] – Esso

It seems that these guys sure can be trusted…but for what?

Spring has sprung

Cigars are a pastime that I relish when the conditions are right. Always out of doors & only when the temperature is above 50F.

As I sat there, on this day in March, here in NYC, a passerby said “That’s smart. Sitting in the sun like that.”

“Something I picked up back when I was a plant” was the thought but I kept to myself, which is what she probably should have done as well.

But I guess I owe her as it has given me something to start this rant with.