Three Good Things

Today I was…what?  involved with? user of? three very good things.

First of all, I finished the book What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty.  Imagine getting a do-over of all the snarky, testy things you’ve said to your spouse (and spouse has said to you), and getting to see with fresh eyes the situations that led up to those comments.  Alice falls down at the gym, hits her head, and gets amnesia.  She awakes, thinking it is 10 years previous.  Imagine her shock, finding out that she’s thin and in terrific shape, finding out that she has three children, and finding out that she and her beloved husband are divorcing.  It’s an interesting take on an old idea, and I really enjoyed it.  What Alice Forgot is a wistful look at the way lives unexpectedly turn out,  and it’s even a bit funny in spots.  I recommend it.

Secondly, I wore my new shoes when I went out for coffee this morning.  For some reason, I had a yen to get some moccasins to wear this fall.  Beaded moccasins.  What’s that saying, “The heart has reasons of which the mind knows nothing”?  Well, beaded moccasins may not be what whoever said that had in mind, but, well,  there you go.  So anyway, I went to Zappos way back in July and got my mocs.  They are by Minnetonka, called Thunderbird Suede Boat Sole, and they are sooo comfy!  Now, no, they are not the most glamorous footwear I own, but they are comfortable, cozy, and fall-y, which is just what I wanted.  And they have a Top-Sider-type sole, so you could actually wear them in adverse conditions.  Or when you go boating (what, in your birchbark canoe?).

Finally, furthering my sartorial autumnal agenda, I put on my corduroy pants from L.L. Bean for the first time today (can you tell the weather was much cooler than it has been in ages?).  Once again, back in July I decided I wanted corduroy (hey, did you know that comes from the French corde du roi, meaning cord for the king, which is to say that this corded fabric used to be only worn by royalty?  I’m telling you, the things you learn, hanging out with me–I’m like Cliff Clavin) pants for fall.  Sooo, since LL is my new favorite store, I got a pair there.  I love them!  They are called Saturday Pants, they are boot cut, and I got them in the curvy fit.  Comfy and well-fitting right out of the gate, and very little skwiff-skwiff noise (you know, the noise corduroy sometimes makes when you walk?).

So now you have a good book to read and some comfy (apparently the word of the day) clothes to wear.  Yay Fall!

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Gainful Employment

It’s finally happened.  The Vacaville Housewife has begun climbing the corporate ladder.  Well, the corporate step stool at any rate. And it is, may I say, absolutely no fun whatsoever.

The raw material

I get home after everyone else is home, and I’m beyond tired, and I still have to make dinner.  I know, I should have spouse or offspring do it, but  I’m not willing to do that.  I still feel adamant that dinner (and food in general) is my responsibility and I will persevere!  I didn’t want to go back to work yet, but needs must, and so here I am.  When I was growing up my mother worked, but she was home by about 4:00, and we had housecleaning help.  If that scenario was on deck, I’d feel much better.  But sadly, it’s not, so I content myself with planning my exit strategy, fantasizing about flinging down my papers and shouting, “I quit!”

Until that dramatic day, however,  I am left juggling grocery shopping, cooking, and laundry.  On the weekend, I make three lists of dinners:  make-ahead (to, uh, make, you know, ahead) quick and easy (to make on work nights), and regular (to make on weekends).  And as far as baking goes, well, there just isn’t a lot of time for that.  Which makes me sad.  A quick and easy cookie that my mother used to make has always been one of my favorites, and it is also one of my children’s favorites.  They are called Valley Cookies (though I’m not sure why, since they look more like little hills.  I also make what my children call Cave Cookies, so we have all the landforms covered.  But more on those another time.), and you don’t even have to bake them.   You make them on top of the stove, leave them in the fridge to harden, and they take literally five minutes to make.  Do it before bed, and you’ll have cookies for lunches tomorrow.

Valley Cookies  makes about 3 dozen

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup milk (I use whole milk)

1 stick butter (4 oz.)

1/2 cup chunky peanut butter

4 Tbl. Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa

1 tsp. vanilla

3 1/4 cups oats (quick cooking or old-fashioned–I use old-fashioned)

Miss Congeniality cookies

Place butter in a saucepan and melt over low heat.  Add sugar and milk.  Increase heat and bring to a boil.  Boil for one minute.  Remove from heat. Quickly add the peanut butter, cocoa, and vanilla, and mix well.  Now add the oats (no dilly-dallying–you don’t want the mixture to set up before you get the oats all mixed in).  Cool mixture slightly, for just a few minutes.  Drop mixture by tablespoons onto a greased or Silpat-covered baking sheet. You can also cover the baking sheet with plastic wrap, and drop the cookies onto the plastic.  Put the uncovered baking sheet in the fridge and let cookies harden.  When hard, remove from sheet and store tightly covered in the fridge.  They won’t win any beauty contests for cookies,  but they sure are tasty.  And they get tastier when you think  how it took you about five minutes to make them.

So Much Fantastic Non-Fiction!

Doesn't Dorothy Emily Stevenson look like a nice person?

I am not a person who likes to impress others with her challenging reading choices.  My most favorite books are by D.E. Stevenson.

I think reading should be fun.  If I happen to learn something along the way, well, that’s a nice bonus.  But it’s certainly not essential to my reading enjoyment. Does Mira Sorvino really expect me to believe her favorite book is Stephen Hawking‘s A Brief History of Time?  Um, okay.  And Gwyneth Paltrow curls up with Crime and Punishment? Really now.  Nobody ever cops to a Danielle Steele or a John Grisham, so how on earth do these amazingly prolific writers sell all those books?  I guess it’s all of us poor slobs who aren’t feeling the Dostoyevsky this week.  Okay, well, whatever.  I’m getting off track.

This summer I’ve gotten involved with a few non-fiction books.  I’m only going to give you a very brief gist of these works–you can look them up on Amazon.  But I have really enjoyed all these books, and they are well worth reading.  They would be good for a book group, too.

First up:  Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller.  Autobiographical account of the English Fuller’s childhood in Africa.  And there is the second one, mostly about Fuller’s mother (which is really a sequel because there are a fair amount of references back to the  first one), called Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness.  A lot of tragedy in the Fuller family, but a lot of humor, too.  (The mother waves her arms around and cries, “Nicola Fuller of Central Africa is experiencing a drought,” with increasing urgency, whenever she needs a new cocktail.  I am considering taking up this little habit.)

Next, we come to In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson.  I was reading this and marveled to my children that here I was, reading about Woodrow Wilson and isolationism, and I was enjoying it!  Larson is some sort of magician in this way.  This is the story of the American ambassador, William Dodd, who was appointed to Germany in 1933, just as Hitler’s power was really being felt.  So of course the historical period is a fascinating one, but Larson makes it all so compelling, even things like Wilson and isolationism, or the political procedure by which Dodd was appointed to his post.  This is the story of an American family living in a most extraordinary time. It helps that a lot of the story revolves around the ambassador’s daughter.  I always like to hear about things from a woman’s point of view.

Fourth is The Psychopath Test  by Jon Ronson.  Starts off with a strange puzzle that Ronson is asked to help solve, the purpose of which I found to be a bit confusing.  But stick with it just a few more pages and things get going.  It’s incredibly interesting stuff. Ronson interviews various individuals that display the degrees of psychopathy. He chronicles his experiences quite wittily, but does not minimize the terror these individuals are capable of stirring in others.  There really is an actual psychopath test, with about 24 personality traits characteristic of psychopaths.  You read this list and, first of all, worry that you yourself are one.  But the mere fact that you are worried that you are means you aren’t.  As you read, however, and ponder individuals you have known, and may still know, you begin to see that perhaps there are more psychopaths floating around than you’d care to admit–think CEOs and politicians.  And that guy you dated.

So I guess it’s only four non-fictions I’m passing on to you.  Seemed like more, probably because I’ve been reading more non-fiction than fiction lately.  But really, these are all as entertaining as fiction, and educational to boot!  Maybe I’ll give A Brief History of Time the old college try next summer (yeah, right).

It’s Coming… (along with some pumpkin muffins)

Fall, that is.  You know, autumn.  Even though it is still, to put it delicately, stinking hot during the day, when I go outside first thing in the morning it is quite cool.  Verging on crisp even.  Even the leaves that face east are starting to turn, as you can see.  I don’t know why this is, but I am sure there is some folkloric explanation for it of which I am unaware.  Here it is, September 1, and I feel so much better!  It is my reverse seasonal affective disorder–I get crabby and depressed when it’s hot for too long, while most people get crabby and depressed when it’s cold and gray for too long.  Not me!

Vacaville in autumn is lovely.  Look for more pictures in the weeks to come.   In recent years, cities (and even CalTrans–have you seen the trees at the Midway Rd. on-ramp to Highway 80 east in October, November–amazing!) have been more aware of their choices with regard to tree planting and fall color, thus making for gorgeous leafy shows.  Downtown Vacaville in November could rival an Eastern city, with regard to the trees’ display.

So as I get ready for fall to officially arrive in a few weeks, I will make these pumpkin muffins, which are quick and easy.  Nothing says fall (or fall pending) like pumpkiny spices.  The muffins started out as a Katie Lee Joel recipe and morphed from there. May I say I wanted to hate her cookbook, The Comfort Table?  (Did she and Billy Joel really think they had a love connection?  And not that she was a young hottie looking to get a career boost, and that he was marrying her for reasons other than her scintillating conversation? I mean, please.  Although I must confess I did not actually hang out with them at any time, so perhaps I am mean and cynical and they were a match made in heaven.)  But ANYWAY, I really like Katie Lee’s (as she is now known) cookbook, The Comfort Table!  It’s good weeknight food.  Give it a whirl.  But here are the Vacaville Housewife Lee Joel (I don’t want you to feel used, Billy–I’m keeping the Joel.  I’m here for you, Billy.) pumpkin muffins.

Pumpkin Muffins  makes 12

These muffins keep really well, staying fresh for a few days after you make them.  Also, the batter does seem to be mounded up very high in the muffin cups, but don’t worry.  It is very dense and it keeps its shape, not overflowing everywhere.  But you could put the muffin tin on a cookie sheet if it makes you feel better.

2 cups all purpose flour

2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

1/2 tsp. salt

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup canola oil

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1 can (15 oz.) pure pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line twelve muffin cups with paper liners.  In a small bowl, combine the dry ingredients.  In a bigger bowl, combine the sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla.  Add the pumpkin puree and mix well.  Add the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.  Scoop the batter into the lined muffin tins.  Bake for about 20 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  Let muffins cool in tin for about 10 minutes, then remove to a rack.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  An easy breakfast, and so good with coffee!

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