Friday, October 26, 2012

Kale Konvert

I tend to come late to food fads. I have not been inclined to do “organic.” I’ve yet to try Thai food. I find little that is tasty in mesclun greens.

In fact, I was more than a little put out when iceberg lettuce disappeared from restaurant menus to be summarily replaced by the so-called “spring mix.”  It happened so quickly, didn’t it? One day we were happily munching on brisk, crunchy leaves of iceberg topped with zesty, creamy Thousand Islands dressing with a radish slice thrown in. And then what? Somebody in California put a plate of bitter, chewy, herbaceous, mesclun greens drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette in front of an impressionable herbivore diner who declared it, “Yummy! Healthy!” and suddenly every eatery in America adopted this vile mixture as if iceberg never existed. For years, I’ve avoided ordering salad, or I order a Caesar salad instead – another trendy menu item – probably there to placate those of us who eschew the bitter mesclun mix, the one food that not even the presence of bacon can improve. I see that “The Wedge Salad” is giving iceberg lettuce a second kick at the can in some dining establishments. I’m happy with this re-packaging even though it usually means a higher mark-up.

Goat cheese is another trend that I rail against. I know some people love it, but not me. We recently dined at a restaurant where three out of the six entrees included it.That meant that half of the menu held no appeal for me whatsoever.  When did goat cheese become such a staple?  Again, I suspect it started in California where a thriving portion of food production is “artisanal.”

That’s another craze: artisanal everything. Artisanal  cheese. Artisanal  bread. Artisanal olives. I think even the word “artisanal” is trendy enough to rate its own fad.

Whole wheat pasta is popular with the low-carb diet crowd. I refuse to convert, though. That snappy, gritty texture is just wrong in a noodle.

The “gluten-free” movement has followers even among people who don’t have celiac disease. Labels declaring “gluten-free” are showing up on all sorts of foods these days. News flash: apples have always been free of gluten.

Yogurt business is brisk these days especially if it claims to be Greek. Green tea isn’t just for Chinese food anymore. Food producers seem quick to jump on a bandwagon if it will sell more products. But, I believe these food trends gain momentum in part due to their inherent health benefits.

So, when Ken came home from a visit to New York last week, and told me that restaurants all over the city had kale on the menu, I wasn't that enthusiastic to follow suit. Fashionable diners everywhere might be scarfing extravagant platefuls of the stuff, but what, I wondered is the appeal? This prompted me to do a little research.

Kale is, by all accounts, a super veg. One cup of kale provides a powerhouse of fiber, calcium, potassium, magnesium, anti-oxidants, beta-carotene, vitamins A, B6, C and K, and even some carotenoids, whatever they are! Kale can help prevent heart disease, cancer, dementia, osteoporosis and cataracts. Wow!

Online recipe sites abound with kale koncoctions (sorry – had to do the aliteration.) Pasta with kale. Lentils with kale. Kale sautéed with shallots and balsamic vinegar. Roasted kale. Dried kale chips. Kale burgers.   

At first, I wasn't going to try it. I was determined to exercise my usual resistance to anything new. But I thought, “Oh, what the heck!” and sautéed some with garlic and lemon juice for dinner on Wednesday. I am now a Kale Konvert!

In fact, I have become such a fan that I propose kale make its way into all kinds of products. Think of the double whammy health benefits we’d get from these new ideas:

Kale Toothpaste – with such a high calcium content, brushing it directly onto your teeth could totally make up for all those years when you didn’t drink your milk - and get you a good report at the dentist.

Kale Body Lotion – beta-carotene and vitamin C are really good for the skin and that cabbage-y fragrance has a nice autumnal tang to it.

Kale Green Tea – well, it would be, wouldn’t it? Green, that is.

Kale Yogurt – pretty close to perfection in the fiber/pro-biotic interaction. Make sure you renew some magazine subscriptions for the loo.

Kale Room Deodorizer – everyone who walks into your house will know you mean business about healthy eating!

And finally, Kale Kapsules – concentrated and stuffed into an easy-to-swallow supplement, so that you actually won’t ever have to eat kale at all!

Dedicated to my dear friend, Bernie who gave me the idea for this blog. Way ahead of the curve, Bernie has been growing kale in her garden for at least 15 years.  Although her crops are organic, she insists her kale is not artisanal.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

An Open Plan

Do you have an open plan in your house? Before you answer, “Yes,” think about this: I just recently learned that today’s version of “open plan” is a single, multi-functional room containing living space, dining area and kitchen, all in one. Did you know this? If you did, you must be paying attention to domestic design trends more closely than I am!

I had not seen this type of floor plan until recently when we visited a Homearama here in Dayton. I’ve been under the impression for years that an “open plan” meant a free-flowing combination living and dining room, or it meant kitchen and family room arranged as a single open space. I wasn’t aware that “they” had done away with any enclosures around these rooms altogether. I also hadn’t realized that entire rooms had been eliminated in the process. I’m not sure I like where this is heading.  

In case Homearama is unfamiliar to you, this is a term coined (locally?) to describe a showcase of newly built developers’ homes, all  tarted up, excuse me, “STAGED” by decorators and ready for viewing and sale. Usually these exhibitions of the newest in home design, oversized furniture and excessive quantities of dried flowers, are set in new developments in remote, far-flung suburbs. This recent Homearama was unique because of its location in a more urban setting, i.e., a reclaimed tract of land in our very own neighborhood, a five minute drive from the city core. We HAD to go. It would have been un-neighborly not to.

We encountered “open plan” in the first house we viewed.  A large kitchen dominated the first floor, spatially defined by a substantial island with requisite granite counter top and stainless steel appliances. A zone containing couches, chairs, fireplace and flat screen TV flowed into kitchen and dining area in a zen-like confluence. A master bedroom opened almost directly from these spaces. I did a quick scan of the room and then it dawned: Wait a sec! Where’s the living room? Where’s the dining room? They don’t exist as separate entities! This isn’t the family room of old – this is IT! I surmised that this was what they call a “Great Room.”

It was then that I understood what I’ve seen time and time again on HGTV: homeowners seeking “nice big open plans for entertaining.”  They are apparently looking for this arrangement. They all seem to romanticize the notion of having guests gather around the granite island perched upon bar stools quaffing wine and laughing gaily while their host deftly tosses salad and plates dinners that look like they are prepared by a Michelin Star chef.

Now, I don’t mind the family room/kitchen combo, because “family room” implies that only the closest of relatives and dear friends are welcomed there. Or I can accept an open living/dining room arrangement. But I don’t think anyone is thinking clearly if they desire this exposed-to-company kitchen concept. I’m a reasonable cook, but I like my privacy.  I’ve had enough mishaps in the throes of preparing a meal that I’d just as soon keep that to myself, thank you very much! Give me a kitchen that’s off-limits to all non-essential personnel.

Don’t judge me! You can’t tell me that you haven’t had moments of sheer panic preparing a meal. Like when your roasted Brussels sprouts go just a bit too long at 400° and you catch their charred remains just before they burst into flame. Or a lemon sponge that falls so flat it becomes a sauce. I like a kitchen separated from guests who await the arrival of the meal at the table. I can take a deep breath, swing open my Hazel door¹ and calmly, with poise and quiet grace, never let on that I cut a corner off the roast where the dog licked it.  

No, I don’t approve of the open plan. And I hate to think what’s coming next. If you study the history of interior design², you will know that today’s open planning concepts (originated by Frank Lloyd Wright, by the way) derived as an antidote to tightly corseted Victorian parlors and subterranean kitchens, which developed out of room upon room manor houses, which, if you look far enough back, came out of the Middle Ages when dining, lounging and sleeping all took place in the same vast room. Now I ask you. Are we on our way to repeating history? If this open planning trend continues will we one day eat our meals, entertain our guests and then take to our beds all in one open room? Loft apartments are already there. I’m not sure I’m ready for this.

Although, breakfast in bed would take on whole new meaning.


² Home: A Short History of an Idea; Witold Rybczynski; Penguin Books, 1986.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Ode on an LG Fridge

I am not generally given to being poetic about appliances. Well, I’m not especially poetic at all really. But our new LG refrigerator arrived yesterday. I am sitting a few feet away from it as it quietly makes ice cubes. It is a work of art.

You see, I’m excited because this is our first new fridge. In the 35 years we have been married and the four houses we have owned, we have always made do with refrigerators inherited from previous homeowners. None of them has been the latest in fridge technology, but all of them have been serviceable and none were too hideous, such as being avocado green or harvest gold. So we saved ourselves the expense of buying this major appliance and carried on.

We have been disappointed in the fridge that came with our house here in Dayton. I’m glad to say it is now past tense. It had no water dispenser and the ice maker had been broken for some years. The door wouldn’t stay open when I’d be carrying, say, a heavy casserole dish from counter to fridge. I would have just liked it to give me time enough to get that dish in there without having to perform elaborate ballet moves to hold the damn door open with a toe. I’m just not that limber anymore. And besides, this can be very annoying if you are like me and have very little patience with household appliances that don’t cooperate (remember the vacuum cleaner I kicked down the basement stairs.)

Also, the old fridge seemed to have so little room inside certainly not enough for 35 jars of partially consumed condiments that no one would ever finish. It was always a significant challenge to cram a turkey or oversized cauliflower in there. And it was just so noisy. It frequently erupted in monstrous spasms accompanied by loud “Ruuuur-ruuuuu-ruuuuur-ruuuuur” sounds. If I whacked it firmly on its side, it would pause for a few seconds but immediately start its dreadful rattle again. A hip check had no effect either. So, it was time.

We bought an LG with French doors that stay open, four produce bins, and a pull-out-drawer-type freezer at the bottom so that my Yeast Museum of frozen bread artifacts can be more easily rifled through when looking for rolls with no freezer burn. Plus, it has an ice maker and a water dispenser on the door that is wide enough for a pitcher. The light inside looks like it was intended for Starship Enterprise. This is what my new fridge looks like on the manufacturer’s web site.

I love my new fridge. A friend suggested that I fill it with fabulous fresh produce and take a picture. Unfortunately, once I got our half-empty jars back in, it didn’t look quite as glamorous as the web site.  One gallon of milk, one jug of o.j., three bottles of beer, two bottles of Chardonnay, a tub of whipped butter, eggs, some salad dressings, a bag of onions and a can of dog food later, it still looks pretty bare! But I’m not worried. I’ll be grocery shopping today. This whole event has made me wax poetic!

Ode on an LG Fridge

O rectangle shape! Fair fridge! With doors

That ope’ double wide to welcome deli meats and Tetrapaks with ease,

And ice maker that doth quietly not scare the dog;

Thou, slim form, with bottom freezer deep, doth harbor frozen peas.

And doth thy upper chamber shelter milk?

Aye, whole gallons by thy adjustable shelves and door holders!

And when old age shall this homeowner waste,

Thou shalt remain, scarce past your warranty.

Then, fridge, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,

“Beauty is fridge, fridge beauty, - that is all

In truth I pledged to this century!”

 (apologies to John Keats; Ode on a Grecian Urn)


Ken was in New York to see Broadway shows when the fridge arrived. But he called me on the night it was delivered and asked how I liked it. As I was describing its salient features, he suddenly interrupted to tell me that the giant digital “billboard” in Times Square had just flashed an advertisement for our LG fridge! I took it as a sign.


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Neufs - The Sitcom - Episode Three

In Episode 3 of the Ridiculous Weekend, Ken and Lesley find themselves on a leaf-peeping outing that goes in the wrong direction!

Neufs the Sitcom

Episode Three: “The Road Less Traveled – or, That Simply Disappeared”

Sunday; 11:00 am

Neufeld residence; Front hall.

K: C’mon, let’s go! Leaf-peeping awaits! If we don’t go now, we’ll never make it back in time to meet the window estimator at 2:00!

L: (calling from upstairs) I’ll be there in a minute. I just need to wash my hair and put on some makeup and some decent shoes and figure out what to wear.

K: We’re going to be in the car. Why do you need makeup?

L: I’d scare the children looking like this! (Laugh track: Light chuckle)

K: There won’t be any children in the car!! (Laugh track: medium)

L: O.K. I’m coming. (Stomps downstairs) I’m still pretty peeved that we’re ruining a perfectly good leaf-peeping day for a window estimator.

K: Aw, it’s not ruined. Let’s go now and look at as many leaves as we can in under three hours. (Laugh track: light titter.)

L: Yeah, you’re right. (Gets into car) O.K. Where are we going?

K: I don’t know. Where do you want to go?

L: I don’t know. Where do you want to go? (Laugh track: chuckles of recognition)

K: Let’s not do that one, shall we? How about that sandwich place in Greenville? We’ll have lunch and get a country drive in all at the same time.

L: Maid-Rite? Oooh, goody! Good plan.

(Next scene: K&L at the Maid-Rite (since 1934) Drive Thru and Café in Greenville, OHIO)

Café server: What’ll ‘ya’ll have?

L: Um…. Is that a burger on the menu?

Server: No, it’s a loose meat sandwich.

L: A what?

Server: Loose meat.

L: Moose meat? Huh!

Server: No, MA’AM, LOOOOO-SE MEAT! (slowly, like she’s talking to a senior citizen) What…. would…. YOU… like….to …. OR-DER? (this last bit in sign language)

K: We’ll take 2 sandwiches and 2 Cokes. (To L:) Have you never ordered in a restaurant before?

L: I’ve never ordered a loose meat sandwich before. (Laugh track: medium) What the heck is that?

K: No idea. But they make them fast! Here’s our order now. (Laugh track: big laugh) (Server tosses two sandwiches wrapped in wax paper on the table.)

L: (unwrapping) Look at that! Its ground beef on a bun! Huh! It would have killed them to make a burger patty?!? (Laugh track: huge guffaw)

K: (finishing the sandwich and rolling up the wrapper) That didn’t take long.

L: Certainly didn’t. We won’t be late for the window guy at this rate.

K: Ah, but we aren’t there yet, my little peach. We still need to go outside and look at the chewing gum wall. (Laugh track: surprised “Huh?” kind of laugh)

L: You’re kidding. No you’re not! Oh my! Look at that! Hundreds of pieces of gum stuck to the wall! (Laugh track: light laugh) It looks like a flock of seagulls had target practice – all OOO-ver the walls! (Laugh track: loud snort) Oooh! Not nice.

(Next scene: K&L back in the car, heading for home)

L: Let’s take a different route home. We might find even better leaf-peeping opportunities.

(Driving along toward Piqua on Hwy 36; L at the wheel.)

L: See? Color!

K: Mm-hm.

L: And over there? Color!

K: Yuh.

L: And, ooo, look at that color!

K: Enough!

(Next scene – following Hwy 36 through Piqua to pick up Interstate 75 south for Dayton)

L: Detour! Rats. Now what?

K: Just follow the signs.

(Following signs, passing the turn-off to I-75, turning right and traveling parallel to the road that goes to the Interstate.)

L: One of these side streets must go back to the highway. But which one?

K: Just look for another detour sign.

L: I’m not seeing another detour sign.

K: There has to be another detour sign.

L: Not so much. We’ve run out of road. (Car comes to a stop in a parking lot) Where the hell is the detour? Who puts up signs for a detour and doesn’t give you an exit route to a major Interstate? That’s just nuts!  (Three other cars arrive in the parking lot looking for the detour.)  (Laugh track: acknowledging kind of “been there” laugh.) Where to now Cap’n?

K: Just pull up to the end of the lot and we’ll look to see if there’s a way out.

(K&L edge out over a curb, passed orange barrier cones and onto newly paved, fresh road toward the I-75. All the cars in the parking lot follow.)

L: Do you believe that? I’ve never seen just stupid signage in all my life!

(K&L continue on for Dayton southbound on I-75.)

K: Let’s take the Edwin C. Moses exit off 75 – all this construction is such a mess, we should get off it as soon as we can.

L: Good plan. Here’s Edwin C. Moses – huh – what is that? It says “Detour to I-75 North bound”. What the heck does that mean? (making the exit) Are you kidding me? They’re bringing traffic back onto 75? Where’s Edwin C. Moses? How do we get to our exit?  They’ve canceled our exit! We’re going back North again!!! That’s just nuts! AAAUUU-GGH!

K: (at home, a half hour later – on the phone) Hello. Department of Transportation?

Cue theme music.

 The gum wall at Maid-Rite Sandwich Cafe and Drive Thru, Greenville, Ohio





Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Neufs - The Sitcom; Episode Two

Neufs- the Sitcom

Previously on Neufs: Buying a fridge at a store that closes at 5:30 on Friday turns out to be a futile exercise.
Episode Two: “May I Speak to Customer Service, Please?”

Saturday; 1:00 pm

Neufeld residence; Kitchen.

(Ken and Lesley enter from a shopping trip and unload grocery bags)

L: I am very excited about the new fridge we ordered. All those new drawers and dispensers. I can’t wait. I’m giddy with excitement. (Laugh track: light chuckle)

K: I’m glad you’re excited. Want to go look at windows?

L: Hey, you’re on a home-repair roll!

K: I just want to see about replacing the storms and screens before winter. It’s got to save energy if the wind isn’t howling through the living room. (Laugh track: medium chuckle)

L: As exciting as that sounds, no, thanks, you go ahead.

(Some time later. Ken returns.)

K: I might be the best husband in the world.

L: Yes. You are. But what have you done to deserve the title this time?

K: I bought you a vacuum cleaner! (Ken produces the latest model small portable electric broom. Laugh track: light chuckle)

L: You bought ME a vacuum cleaner? I hate vacuuming. I kicked our last vacuum down the basement stairs. (Laugh track: light chortle.) You mean you bought yourself a vacuum cleaner. How does this make you the best husband in the world?

K: It isn’t your Christmas present. (Laugh track: big laughs)

L: Good point. How did you make out with windows?

K: Fine. An estimator is coming at 2:00 tomorrow.

L: Oh, nuts! On a Sunday? Can’t he come on Monday? I was hoping we could go on a Sunday drive to go leaf-peeping tomorrow. It’s going to be such a beautiful day.

K: (Sighs) O.K. Let me call and find out if I can change it.

L: I can be home Monday afternoon.

K: (On the phone with the dispatcher at the big box hardware store)  Yes, I have an appointment set up with someone to measure for storm windows on our house for tomorrow at 2:00. I’d like to change that please.

Can you Monday? (To L: ) Can you do Tuesday?

L: No

K: How about Wednesday?

L: No good.

K: Thursday?

L: Nah-uh. I can do Friday. I’ll be waiting for an electrician anyway. Can they come Friday?

K: (to dispatcher:) Friday? No.

L: Oh, fine, fine. Let him come tomorrow.

K: (to dispatcher:) Alright, let’s leave the appointment as it is. We’ll be here at 2:00.

(Next scene: Sunday; 2:30 pm)

K: O.K. Where is this guy? (Laugh track: light, knowing snort)

L: I know! We raced home from leaf-peeping for a window guy who hasn’t even shown up!

K: (on the phone to the window estimator) Yes, we were expecting you at 2:00 to measure for storm windows? Uh huh. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. You don’t have us on your schedule AT ALL? No. Right. They never told you that you have an appointment this afternoon? For storm windows? Right. You’re a window estimator, right? Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Well, we made an appointment with the dispatcher for 2:00 for someone to measure for storm windows today. Yeah, we thought Sunday was weird, too. (Laugh track: guffaws.)


K: Yeah, O.K. 5:00 would be fine. You’re in Fayetteville, but you can be here by 5:00? O.K. Thanks. See you then.  (to L:) Well, that’s just ridiculous. They never told this guy he had an appointment!

L: We re-organized our whole day for this!

K: I know. I’m going for a nap. (Laugh track: medium laugh.)

Sunday; 5:00:

Estimator arrives.

E: So sir, what are we lookin’ at here?

K: Storms and screens. Replacing them.

E: Uh, yeah. We don’t do that.

K: What do you mean? You don’t do that.

E: Yeah. We don’t do that.

K: O.K. Why did they tell me at the store that you do?

E: I dunno. They messed up I guess.

K: Yeah, I guess they did. So, we reorganized our whole day, waited for you to come at 2:00 and then waited for you to come at 5:00. And you don’t do this. That’s just perfect.

E: What can I tell ‘ya, sir?

(Ken on the phone a few minutes later)

K: Yes, customer service, please…..

Cue theme music.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Neufs - The Sitcom; Episode One: "What's the Luck?"

If TV cameras followed us around it wouldn’t be a reality show. It would be a sitcom.

This past weekend certainly was one. Here’s the screenplay from our ridiculous weekend:

Neufs- the Sitcom

Episode One: “What’s the Luck?”

Friday; 4:30 pm

Neufeld residence; Front hall.

(Two furnace repair guys who have been checking out the boiler are just taking off their blue booties and packing up to leave. Ken enters.)

L, to K: Hi, Hon!

Repair guy: Sorry, sir. We’ll be out of your way in a minute. Ma’am, I’ll just turn down the thermostat. We had it up to 74 to get the system cranked up.

K: 74!!!!! Are you crazy!?! You were alone with a middle-aged woman in a house with the heat up to 74??!! You’re lucky you’re still alive!

(Laugh track: medium chuckles)

Repair guy: Uh, yeah.

K: She only lets me put it up to 65!! In mid-January! I live in a meat locker!

(Laugh track: large laugh)

Repair guy: O.K., ha ha ha. You’re all set, then. Bye! (Leaves hastily. Laugh track: light.)

L: So. You’re home early.

K: Yeah, I thought we could go look at fridges.

L: Excellent! It will be great to get rid of this old relic of a fridge!

K: Yeah, that thing’s so old it kept the Last Supper cold.

(Laugh track: big guffaws)

L: Let me change shoes and get something nicer on and put on some makeup.

K: It’s an appliance store. Let’s go.

L: I can’t go out looking like this!

K: If it was fine for the furnace guys, it will be fine for the fridge salesman.

(Laugh track: medium giggles)

L: Ha, Ha! I’ll be there in a minute.

(Fifteen minutes later, in the car. Laugh track: knowing chuckles)

L: So, where are we going?

K: Everybody I’ve talked to recommends this appliance store on Smithville, kind of over where it runs into Wilmington.

L: Oh, that’s not far. Five minutes tops. But there’s construction over there. Do we have to go now, at rush hour?

K: It’ll be fine. It’s Dayton. How much traffic could there be!?!

L: O.K. O.K. You got it mapped on your phone?

K: I got it mapped. You drive.

L: Alright. You navigate.

(Next scene: K & L in the car. Stuck in construction traffic. Laugh track: medium)

L: Do we stay on here? Or turn at Wilmington? I can’t tell where to go with all these construction barrels.

K: Uuuuuuuh…looks like you turn at Wilmington. This is it! TURN HERE!

(L pulls hard left. Car screeches around construction barriers. Laugh track: big)

L: Sheesh! Are you sure?

K: Uh, no – but keep driving along here anyway. Oh, sorry, that was wrong. We should have stayed on Smithville.

(Laugh track: medium)

L: Well, let’s just go home. I don’t want to go back and sit in traffic again.

K: We’re out now. Let’s just go up here a bit and turn around and I think I know a short cut.

(Next scene: K&L in the car. Stuck in traffic in the opposite direction. Laugh track: big guffaws)

L: What the heck are they doing letting a bus go on a residential street?

K: Patience, my little cabbage.

(Next scene: K&L inching along in traffic behind a bus that stops at every bus stop for blocks. Finally they make a left turn into regular traffic, then a right into the construction zone, then a left onto a side street and pull up to the appliance store.)

K: Well, we’re here. What do you bet it’s closed? Ha!

(Laugh track: light)

L: Oh, no way! It’s only, what, 5:30? On a Friday? They’ve got to be open.

K: 5:27 actually. Hmm. No lights on.

(Salesperson exits from the appliance store and locks the door.)

L: (calling from car window) Are you closing?

Salesperson: Yup. Sorry.

(Laugh track: roar of laughter.)

K: Of course they're closed!

L: Just our luck.

To be continued. Cue theme music.