Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Flying the Friendly Skies

I used to love air travel:  the excitement of international flights coming and going, the glamour of crisply uniformed stewardesses and pilots, and, yes, even the airline food.  When I was a girl, I wanted to be a stewardess when I grew up.  Though I never realized that particular dream, my daughter was a flight attendant for awhile, and I have a friend who still flies the friendly skies.

I no longer have any desire to travel by plane:  the glamour and the airline meals, along with good wages and retirement benefits for airline personnel, are gone.  And unless being groped by security or subjected to a body scan is your bag--and it's not mine--the fun is gone, as well, replaced by bureaucratic hassle.  I still like to watch movies that render the bygone romance--and the occasional terror--of flying.  Here's a dozen of the best films about airports and airplanes.
  1. Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines(1965).  One of those fun race movies so popular in the sixties.
  2. Airport(1970). It is the first disaster movie of the seventies and features an all-star cast.
  3. The Great Waldo Pepper(1975).  After the end of World War I, Waldo Pepper (Robert Redford) takes up barnstorming.
  4. Airplane!(1980).  A spoof on Airport.
  5. The Right Stuff(1983)  Sam Shepard is chuck Yeager, the first pilot to break the sound barrier.
  6. Air Force One(1997).  Harrison Ford plays the President forced to deal with terrorists.
  7. Six Days, Seven Nights(1998).  Another Harrison Ford vehicle, in which he plays a pilot stranded on a deserted island with a journalist (Anne Heche).
  8. Bounce(2000).  Buddy (Ben Affleck) gives his ticket to Greg, who has been bumped from the flight, but the plane crashes, killing all on board.  Buddy seeks out Greg's widow (Gwyneth Paltrow) with whom he falls in love, only she doesn't know of his connection to Greg.
  9. Catch Me If You Can(2002).  Leonardo DiCaprio plays a con man who passes himself off as a doctor, a lawyer, and pilot.
  10. View from the Top(2003).  Like many a girl, Donna (Gwyneth Paltrow) dreams of being a flight attendant.
  11. The Terminal(2004).  Tom Hanks, a man without a country, is stuck living in JFK Airport.
  12. Snakes on a Plane(2006).  I don't care what anyone says, I like this Samuel L. Jackson vehicle.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Just My Luck!

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole
by Sue Townsend
272 pages
ISBN:  0060533991

It is 1981, the dawn of the eighties, that rich decade of pageantry, pomp and circumstance.  Margaret Thatcher, the U.K.'s first female prime minister, is in office.  The wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer is televised and viewed by 750 million people.  Abba is still cranking out the hits.  My daughter is born, and Adrian Mole begins recording the day-to-day travails of his agonizing adolescence in Sue Townsend's The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4.

Adrian Mole, sprouting spots and a bad teenage mustache, pines for the lovely Pandora, about whom he writes poems, poems that he submits to--but are rejected by--the BBC.  When Adrian isn't writing poetry, he's doing household chores, caring for an elderly neighbor, or delivering papers to raise money to pay the school bully.  Adrian's newly liberated mother is too busy finding herself to clean house:  She has taken a job, is reading feminist literature, and is keeping company with Mr. Lucas, a divorced neighbor.   His stodgy father is in a fog:   He fusses over his car, goes fishing, and fist fights with Mr. Lucas.   Adrian's grandmother has gone around the bend as well:   She has joined the spiritualist church and communes with Adrian's grandfather...dead for four years.

First published in 1982, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4 still engages middle-school readers, who empathize with and enjoy the adventures of Adrian.  For those who can't get enough of Adrian Mole's angst, there are eight more books in the Adrian Mole series.  I'm currently reading the second in the series:  The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Macaroni Salad Days

I love macaroni salad.  My husband is fond of the pasta salad made with tri-colored noodles and assorted vegetables, but I like the old-fashioned salad with elbow macaroni.  I also like it made with tuna or shrimp.  Here are a couple of my favorite recipes, perfect as sides to grilled meat or on their own as light summer meals.

Shrimp Salad
My sister-in-law gave me this recipe way back in the early eighties when our children were still quite small.  I make it at least once every summer.

1 lb. cooked shrimp
1 lb. cooked shell macaroni
1 large scallion
1 red pepper
lots of black pepper

Sauce Louis:
1 cup mayonnaise
1/8 cup milk
1/4 cup cocktail sauce
1 tsp. Worcestershire
2 Tbsp. lemon juice

Coarsely chop shrimp.  Dice the scallion and red pepper.  Toss shrimp, macaroni, scallion, and red pepper in a large bowl.  In a small bowl mix all the ingredients of the Sauce Louis.  Thoroughly mix the dressing and the salad.  Sprinkle liberally with pepper.

Confetti Macaroni Salad
I got the basic recipe for this from my best friend who owns a pizza restaurant and has the best salad bar anywhere.  I like to use Barilla™ elbows because those elbow have ridges.

1 lb. cooked elbow macaroni
1 ripe tomato, seeded and chopped
3 scallions, diced
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 bread and butter pickle, diced
1 red pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 bottle of Newman's Own™ olive oil and vinegar dressing
1/2 cup mayonnaise
salt and pepper to taste

Marinate all the vegetables in the olive oil and vinegar dressing for five minutes.  Add the cooked macaroni, and mix in the mayonnaise, salt, and pepper.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Wild About Berries

I grew up in a time when people were not yet nostalgic about rural life; nonetheless, I was fortunate to live for a time in a rural area of the country.  Our house was on the edge of a small town, a few-minutes walk from farmland.  My brother, my best friend, and I often walked out there to the trestle.  Though I was too cowardly, my brother and friend often crossed the trestle and, if a train were coming, they'd have to stand on a small platform jutting out from the tracks and hanging precariously in thin air.  Their tiny perch rattled as the train thundered by.

Sometimes we ventured down below the trestle, where a creek ran through a cow-studded pasture.  We waded in the creek and caught snapping turtles and tadpoles.  What I remember most about that time and place are the delicious black raspberries we picked along the tracks.  We jumped from bush to bush, back and forth across the tracks, in pursuit of the plumpest, darkest ones.  The trestle and the train are gone now, but the berries still grow along the barren tracks.  The first pie I ever made, a lattice-topped black raspberry pie, was made from a bucket of these berries.

Black Raspberry Pie

2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup shortening
6 Tbsp. ice water
5 cups black raspberries*
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 425°.  Blend together 2 cups flour and salt.  Cut in shortening with a pastry blender until the mixture turns to coarse crumbs.  Add the water a tablespoon at a time, stirring with a fork after each addition.  Divide the dough into two balls, one slightly larger than the other.  On a floured surface with a floured rolling pin, roll the larger bowl into a 10" circle.  Line a 9" pie plate with the pastry.

In another bowl mix together the berries, 1/4 cup flour and sugar.  Spread evenly in the pie shell.  Roll out the remaining dough ball and cut into 1/2" strips.  Place seven strips across the pie about an inch apart.  Weave seven cross strips through the first seven.  Press the ends of all the strips firmly down to seal.

Bake the pie at 425° for 20 minutes.  Turn the heat down to 350° and bake another 20 minutes.  Serve with a scoop of chocolate ice cream on top.

*If using red raspberries, increase the sugar to 3/4 cup.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Grandma Dowdel Trilogy

Richard Peck is one of my favorite authors of books for middle-school readers.  He sets most of his stories in rural Illinois and Indiana in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  His characters are of the sturdy midwestern stock variety.  One of the best--and indeed best in all fiction--is Grandma Dowdel.  She first appears in Richard Peck's Newbery honor A Long Way from Chicago and then his sequels, the Newbery winner A Year Down Yonder and A Season of Gifts.  A Long Way from Chicago is narrated by her grandson Joey, who with his younger sister Mary Alice spends every summer between 1929 and 1935 with Grandma Dowdel.  On first arriving in Grandma's town, Joey says "We could hardly see the town because of Grandma.  She was so big, and the town was so small."

Grandma Dowdel is a large woman, but she also possesses a large, charitable heart, something she does not brag about.  Nor is she your average woman with a heart of gold:  She is industrious, thrifty, self-reliant and foxy, and not above deception, thievery and arm twisting to accomplish her good deeds, as when she wrings every cent out of the good citizens on Armistice Day selling burgoo to raise money for a seriously disabled veteran.  In the words of Mrs. Sheets, leader of the Legion Auxiliary ladies, "Mrs. Dowdel, you're twice as bald-faced and brazen and yes, I have to say shameless as the rest of us girls put together....you outdo the most two-faced, two-fisted shortchanger, flimflam artist, and full-time extortionist anybody ever saw working this part of the country....God bless you for your good work."

Grandma Dowdel doesn't have much use for "respectable" people, for instance the disreputable sheriff who forces the out-of-work drifters to move to the outskirts of town.  Grandma steals the sheriff's boat, traps a mess of catfish (both illegal activities), and feeds the drifters catfish, fried potatoes, and her home brewed beer (also illegal in those days of Prohibition).  Did I mention she was an excellent cook and baker?  Although she probably didn't enjoy working day and night rolling out pie dough for pumpkin and pecan pies for the Halloween social, her granddaughter Mary Alice, the narrator of A Year Down Yonder, learned a lot from Grandma Dowdel.  "Sometimes I thought I was turning into her.  I had to watch out not to talk like her.  And I was to cook like her for all the years to come."