The Stuff That Makes Stories

An email from my daughter-in-law contained the ultimate mother-in-law compliment. Her daughter-in-law wanted the recipe for the oyster dressing I made at Thanksgiving. One problem. There is no recipe. It’s more like a story.

My stepson requested the oyster dressing because he fondly remembers the turkey dinners his father (my late husband) had prepared. Those were the days when we stuffed turkeys, but now for food safety reasons we’re advised to bake the dressing separately. I’d never made oyster stuffing/dressing but figured I could follow John’s recipe. I was dismayed when I consulted his box of three-by-five recipe cards. He’d meticulously written recipes from A (Air Freshener: a mix of orange rind, savory, tarragon, rosemary, and bay leaves) to Z (Zinfandel Sauce for Lamb—email if you want that one). No Oyster Dressing.

The venerable “Joy of Cooking” was his go-to culinary resource, but not the 2006 Seventy-Fifth Anniversary edition I use now. I had to climb on a step stool to retrieve the 1975 version that John used and I’ve sentimentally hung onto. Opening to page 370, I was reassured. The page was well stained. I’m certain he didn’t follow the recipe precisely, but it would’ve been his starting point.

Next problem: oysters. We usually managed to schedule a business trip to Seattle a day or two before Thanksgiving so we could pick up fresh oysters from our favorite seafood shop. After years of driving over the passes in winter storms, I’ve given up that folly. I’d have to settle for aging, outsized oysters from local stores, which meant my supporting cast of ingredients would have to excel. Especially the bread. I didn’t want that factory manufactured stuff. I opted for Lisa’s day-old sour dough, available only at the Farm Stand in Okanogan, where I also picked up organic onions and celery. I cubed the bread (about ten cups worth), spread the cubes on a cookie sheet and roasted them at 400 degrees about ten minutes, occasionally giving them a stir.

I melted a full cube of unsalted butter and cooked two generous cups of diced onions and a generous cup of diced celery until soft (not brown), took the pan off the heat and went outside, hoping to find something still alive in my herb beds. Miraculously, I discovered parsley and thyme. I added a generous half-cup of chopped parsley to the onions along with a small amount of fresh thyme (it can overwhelm), salt, pepper, fresh-ground nutmeg, and ground cloves. Draining the oysters, I saved the liquid and sighed as I chopped them into bite-sized chunks. I used two pints; John would’ve used more. I had just enough turkey stock from the previous week when I’d boiled down bones from a turkey breast to combine with the oyster liquid, making one cup. After mixing everything together, I spread it into an oiled, nine-by-twelve casserole dish. I thought it looked too dry and wished I’d had more turkey stock. Or oysters. I melted another half-cube of unsalted butter and drizzled it across the top.

I was too busy playing cribbage and swilling wine to pay attention to the final step, handled by the primary chef, my daughter-in-law. “Joy” (vintage 2006) says to bake at 350 degrees thirty to forty-five minutes until inside temperature is 165 degrees.

That’s the story. I don’t know if anyone could make a recipe out of it. It wouldn’t fit on a three-by-five card.

Food stains tell part of the story

Getting Ahead of Tech

Just when you think you’re all caught up with the latest tech innovations, someone develops something newer, better, faster, cheaper. Well, probably not cheaper.

Somehow technology has a way of always leaving me behind. I’d upgraded to the latest operating system on my computer, downloaded all the latest apps onto my notebook, and bought a newer (if not THE newest) smart phone. Then a friend showed me a word processing system that boasts an incredible array of features. 

As a writer, this whole idea of “word processing” already has me on edge. At what point did we stop writing and start merely processing words? And when did words alone begin to fail us? It’s not as if we don’t have enough of them. The Oxford English Dictionary requires some twenty volumes to list the 171,476 words in current use plus 9,500 subentries of “derivative” words. Derivative? As in LOL?  Apparently that’s not enough. Now, as we process words, we insert little cartoon pictures—smiley faces, frowning faces, sad faces, hearts, light bulbs, what ever.

That’s what’s so cool about this word processing system I just bought. It’s quintessentially modern, what purists strive for—lean, mean, and green. No goo-gaws. No clutter. No features to distract me—no text messages and emails showing up in the corner of my computer screen while I’m trying to write, like the one a friend just sent me with a photo of her new nose job. That led to several hilarious texts back and forth. Now, where was I?  Oh, yeah. Impulse buy. When it comes to new technology, usually I wait, let the price come down, let the bugs get worked out. This baby? I had to have it the minute I saw it.

The first question everyone asks about new gadgets is battery life. How long will it operate before requiring a recharge? Hah! This little beauty will continue working well into eternity because: There. Is. No. Battery. It is solely powered by ambient energy. All I have to do is press my fingers onto its keys and it’s powered up, ready to go.

There’s more: no separate printer required. Everything you  need comes in the box. No set of confusing directions printed in tiny type in twenty-seven different languages explaining how to synchronize your word processor with your printer. It’s factory synchronized. The instant you write—excuse me—process a word, it appears on paper, ready to read. What’s more, your words never mysteriously disappear. It doesn’t matter if a lightning strike short circuits your surge protector, or if you forget to save. This puppy never locks up, never mysteriously restarts, and always provides you with a hard-copy backup.

Don’t worry about the learning curve. Everything is intuitive. No cursed cursor. You can move up, down, back, forward—wherever you want to be on the page, it lets you go there directly.

My dream machine? The portable Olympia De Luxe, circa 1960. Old just keeps getting better.