Howard Johnson’s — the Best Fried Clams in the world — or maybe I just didn’t know any better

Of all the memories I have of my grandparents (on my mom’s side — my dad’s dad died before my parents even got married, and my dad’s mom was a crappy grandmother to us because she hated our mom) one of my favorites was that they would take each of us out for a birthday meal. I’m assuming that they did this for my siblings and cousins, because they did it for me many times. If they didn’t do it for you, dear sis & bro & cousins #1 & #2, DON’T BLAME ME.

One time I remember I chose the Brown Derby, but that was a disaster, because I had not yet come to the understanding that steak cooked to “well done” was going to be an awful steak. (Now, I know better and on the VERY rare occasions that I buy a decent steak, I cook it just until it no longer has the possibility of complaining about being cooked with an audible moo). So, at the Brown Derby, I sent my steak back to the kitchen. Twice. Because it still had pink-ness to the meat. And because I was young and afraid of bloody meat. Then, once it was no longer pink, it was tough. Yeah, like I said, I know better now, and can cook a steak pretty well on my own.

And so, other times, while they still existed and it was still a choice, I picked the local Howard Johnson’s restaurant, which I think was in Madison, or possibly Geneva, in Ohio. I chose that only because of their Tendersweet Clams: deep-fried strips of succulent shellfish, battered and fried to perfection. However it was that they did it, they weren’t chewy at all, as other clam preparations seemed to me. Maybe there were better ways of preparing fried clams, but I was unaware of them and I craved HoJos Tendersweet clams..

When I was in 9th grade, our family (Dad, bro & sis — mom was unable to travel due to her Meniere’s diseash, but encouraged us to go) took a roadtrip to Florida, via all the states in between there and Ohio, to visit Busch Gardens and Disney World. Along the way, we most frequently stayed at the Howard Johnson’s Inns along the way, and often dined at the attached restaurants, if they had them. I’d always order the clams, if Dad allowed it. Sometimes he insisted on something cheaper.

I don’t think I’ve had fried clams since that trip, which would have been in the mid-1970s. Due to health issues, I don’t go to restaurants much these days, and while I’m an excellent cook, I have not attempted any battered & deep-fried foods, and am not likely to try them.

I’m reminded of that old saying – “You can’t go home again.” It’s only in the last few years that I really understood what that phrase means. So many of the places of my past only exist in my memories now. The physical buildings no longer exist. I can only visit them in my mind.

Since there is only one Howard Johnson’s in existence today, and it’s in Lake George NY, I’ll likely never taste the HoJo’s Tendersweet Clams of my memories. But I can still look back and feel the love that gave them to me.

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Next Stop, Twilight Zone?

How about that picture? Not to sound mean, but it looks like something a child would take, don’t you think?

Well, really, it’s possible. It might’ve been a kid. Could’ve been taken by anyone at all.

I seriously have no idea who took it, or—even stranger—HOW it got on my iPhone camera roll.

I found it when I was taking a reference pic of a error screen on my computer (which is another story.) The bright cherry red caught my eye, so I looked at it more closely, and it was a picture I didn’t remember taking. For good reason, as it turns out.

It was taken about 12:53 AM, on June 9, while I was sleeping. There’s no way anyone else had my phone, as it was next to me, with the alarm set for morning. My husband didn’t do it — would never do that kind of thing.

Also? It’s a picture of stuff that is NOT AT MY HOUSE.

So, how does a random photo show up on my phone in the middle of the night? Is my phone haunted by the ghost of a five year old girl?

Ideas, anyone?

Send answers on a postcard sent through the interwebs, or better yet in the comments.

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Sand Tarts: A Sugar Cookie recipe that actually TASTES good — great for Christmas or any time!

You will think I’m exaggerating, but these buttery, crispy, melt-in-your-mouth treats are seriously the best sugar cookies EVER.
When we were in college, years before we got married, David had talked about the Sand Tarts his grandma made. Apparently they were a long-standing family Christmas tradition, but I’d never heard of them. When David described them, they just sounded like a sugar cookie — which are seriously yawn-inspiring to me. I’d never cared for sugar cookies. At all. I’d always found them too floury and bland, especially when there were other cookie/dessert choices around.
After we got married, and spent Christmas at David’s parents’ house, he pointed out the container of Sand Tarts to me. They didn’t look like anything special, honestly. Then I tried one. And another. And another. I may have spoiled my Christmas dinner with a few (LOT) too many sand tarts. Of course, I asked for the recipe.
The key to these cookies is to make them VERY thin, so they’ll be crispy, and they’ll kind of melt in your mouth when you bite into them. I need to make some soon! Absolutely love them. If you prefer to use a rolling pin & use cookie cutters,  you’ll have to make them a little thicker so they don’t break apart when you move them to the baking sheet. They won’t be quite as crispy as the thinner version, but they’ll still be melt-in-your-mouth buttery. Adjust baking time as needed.

Grandma Laughman’s Sand Tarts

From David’s grandmother. These are thin and crispy and oh-so-buttery. They melt in your mouth and demand for more to follow. Dare you to eat just ONE.
1/2 lb. butter (2 sticks)
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
3-1/2 cups flour (or up to 4 cups if it’s been sifted or fluffed up a bit**)
egg wash made from 1 egg beaten with a teaspoon of water
colored sugar to sprinkle on top (or just plain white sugar if desired)
(**the original recipe calls for 1 pound each of sugar and flour — but you may not have a scale)
Cream butter & sugar well.
Add eggs, mix well.
Add 3 cups flour and mix it in. Mix in as much of the rest as you need in order to make a dough that isn’t sticky, but not crumbly either — just enough so you can roll gather it into ball. You may find it easiest to use your hands to work in the last bit of flour.
Roll dough into a tube shape, about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap well in saran wrap to keep it from drying out. Chill in fridge at least 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 375F.
The way I’ve always done them, is to roll all the dough in one long tube shape, wrap in saran wrap and chill at least several hours. Then slice it VERY thin and place on baking sheets. Brush each with a tiny bit of beaten egg, then sprinkle with sugar – I usually use red or green.
Bake in a PREHEATED oven at 375F, for 7 or 8 minutes. Watch the first couple batches to see how long  you’ll need to do in your own oven — might be done in 5 minutes. You want them just starting to turn golden, but not brown. Let them cool about 2 minutes on the baking sheet before removing them to a rack to cool completely. If you’ve baked them right, they will be crispy-crunchy when cooled.
Once cooled, store in a container that seals airtight, by themselves. If you store them with other, moister cookies, they will LOSE their signature crunch (though they’ll still taste good)
The dough can be kept for a few days, since there is no leavening that will “wear out”. I’ve even frozen it for a couple months. Take out the roll of dough and let it sit a couple minutes at room temp — just enough so you can slice off dough for a sheet pan of cookies, then re-wrap and pop the remaining dough back in the freezer immediately.
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Batter up! (the end is nigh)

So, the only reason I would ever have to watch a Major League Baseball game, and I couldn’t find any way to watch it. (Cleveland in the World Series? The world must be ending.)

But, why would I care?

I was born in Cleveland in 1963, spent a year I don’t remember living in an apartment there, and then in a tiny town called Perry, only 40 miles away. My parents lived there until Dad died, and I was the one who sold their house. Occasionally, while I lived there, I went to an Indians game if some group I was somehow associated with was going, and usually only because there were going to be fireworks, but also because it was a sport I understood.

Football, not so much.
Basketball, even less.

I did a one-season stint in basketball, 8th grade I think. I was awful. Dreadful, even. I think I played in an official game for a total of 5 minutes that season. Maybe less. Let me tell you something true: If someone tells you that you’d be good at basketball because you’re tall, they’re lying. Being tall doesn’t enter into it nearly as often as needing to understand zone defense and one-on-one and running constantly until you pass out.

Football, I almost understood by my senior year, because I’d go to games to hang out with my best friend who had to be there because she was in band. And I tried to pay attention, and cheered in almost always the right places. And it was fun because I knew the guys playing. Well, I say knew. I knew who they were, and had possibly even exchanged the rare awkward sentence or two with a few who were in my class. Small school, but I didn’t talk much except to the very few I was the least uncomfortable around. After graduation, I forgot everything I’d learned about football. No regrets.


Honestly, I can’t remember what it was, but something made me realize that Volleyball was something I could dig. (Heh, heh. Get it? Nevermind.) After my Junior year I joined the volleyball team, went to volleyball camp and didn’t totally stink at it. I learned to throw myself at the ground without fear, to save the ball (as long as I had my official knee pads.) I had the dubious honor of being the only Senior on the Junior Varsity team, and wishing it had occurred to me a few years before that I would actually like playing on a team again.

Again? Yes, again.

You see, I’d played in a girls’ summer league since 3rd grade. The first couple years were awesome. We had good players and we won games.

The game was slow-pitch softball. Because I’m not stupid enough to stand still and have someone throw a hard little ball at me as fast as physically possible, on purpose. So, SLOW pitch and SOFT ball. What could go wrong?

{{But….sometimes they do end up hitting you. I learned this up close and personal and RIGHT IN MY FACE years later, when I caught a softball in the mouth one time, thrown by our first baseman (basegirl? baseperson?) who had one heck of an arm on her. I learned things that day. Lesson-type things. I learned that SOFTballs are really misleadingly named. Oh, and I learned that having braces when catching a ball in the mouth is a mixed blessing. Shredded my lips, but they probably kept my teeth from being knocked out. Good times.}}

So, after that encouraging start of a couple years on a good team, some of the older players graduated from the Pigtail league up to the Ponytail league, and we got new blood. Bad blood, sports-wise. Signed up by well-meaning parents, some of those girls had never played any sport, and had to be taught EVERYTHING. A couple of them did not speak a word of English, only Spanish, and nobody could communicate with them at all, so that was fun.

Suddenly, I was one of the best players on the team.
And it’s not because I was really awesome at softball.

It was like The Bad News Bears. Only with more girls and less swearing.
And zero winning.

If you know my sister, ask her. She was on the same team and will back me up on this.

So, it was awful. Even “I WANT TO QUIT” awful. But, Mom & Dad had a rule. We could not quit in the middle of a season. Something about Not Letting Down the Team and They Were Counting On Us. Or some such. I suppose that was true, since Debbie and I were two of the few who could hit, catch the ball and score runs (on occasion) So, we stuck it out.

And then temporary insanity struck.

I signed up for the next season. And the next.
{{Maybe not so temporary?}}

Eventually, I got to the Ponytail league myself and was on a decent team again. Eventually I was on the team with the girl who had a great arm who would end up throwing the ball I caught with my mouth.

Oh, I forgot to mention. I was the catcher.

That fateful day, we didn’t have enough players to show up to play an official game, so we forfeited, but decided to play anyway “for fun” — and some Adult In Charge told me that I didn’t have to wear the catcher’s mask since it wasn’t an official game. I really hated the mask, so I didn’t. Idiot.

Also? Being catcher ruined my knees. For years. After some help from a chiropractor, and some self-prescribed physical therapy, my knees are in (slightly) better shape than they were at age 18.

So, anyway, I’ve digressed a bit from my opening. How about them Indians, eh? And the Cubs, too? What a historic event. My husband remarked that having both the Indians AND the Cubs in the same World Series was surely a sign of the apocalypse. But it’s come and gone and the world is still here.

But, Election Day is in 5 days, so it may end up it was a sign after all.


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Half-Full English Breakfast Oatmeal -or- What I Created This Morning

Pan-grilled in bacon grease: one huge mushroom, sliced, and one small tomato, halved. Meanwhile, cooked a serving of oatmeal. Stirred a bit of chopped onion into the oats. Set aside the mushroom and tomato, and cooked an egg, over easy.

Oats went into large, flattish bowl (pasta bowls by Correlle, how do I love thee?) Sprinkle with a small amount of shredded cheddar. Top with the mushroom, tomato and egg. Salt & pepper.

Forget to take a picture.
Decide I have to write about it anyway. So, here goes:

A while back, I’d heard of savory oatmeal, but I’ve always been hesitant to have my oatmeal in a not-sweetened-with-something-brown manner. The something brown being brown sugar or (real) maple syrup. Also: butter. (Not. Margarine.)(Also also: Yellow butter. Not brown.)

Today wanted to be an oatmeal day. (What? Don’t tell me your days don’t have food preferences.) And it also wanted to be a Full English Breakfast day. But my days know: I never truly make one of those anyway. Too much work. Fried eggs, grilled mushrooms and tomatoes, bacon, some kind of sausage, some kind of fried potatoes, baked beans and fried bread. Seriously, they FRY the BREAD. There are a lot of variations on that basic theme, but you get the idea: it’s a whopping great lot of food. And work. And frying.

So, I like the idea of the Full English, but not the actuality of it. And, therefore, I’ll occasionally do us a brunch of eggs, bacon, toast and pan-grilled mushrooms. Sometimes, tomatoes, if I happen to have any because they’re in season and not those awful pink plastic hothouse ones you get in winter.

Anyway. I decided to do a fusion of the not-quite-full-English and not-sweet-oatmeal, and came up with the above-described breakfast.

And it was good.


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A Greek Tragedy in 10 seconds

Based upon a lame joke I made up in my head ages ago but never told anyone until today, and presented without apology.

Wife: Euripides?

Husband: Yeah, got caught on a nail.

Wife: Tragic.

Husband: Eumenides?

Wife: Uh, no. The sewing kit’s in the drawer. Eumenidoze yourself.

Now don’t get mad.  I did warn you it would be lame, but you went on and read it anyway.

Tragically, you’ve only yourself to blame.

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When SNL was funny

I just found the beginning of Saturday Night Live (SNL) on Netflix.

Well, more precisely, I found Saturday Night. You see, back then it wasn’t called Saturday Night Live, because there was another show premiering that same year entitled Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell, which I know about because our dad found Howard amusing, so he watched it. The show only lasted 18 episodes. Why? Because frankly, it sucked. And mostly, it sucked because of Howard Cosell. But since dad liked him, the show got at least a few airings in our living room. Howard may (may) have been a good sports commentator, but giving him a variety show was a boondoggle, doomed from the get-go. After a while, Saturday Night changed its name to Saturday Night Live, since nobody was using the name any longer, and because that’s what it should have been called to begin with. But, I digress…

Once I started the first episode playing, it was pure déjà vu.

George Carlin was the host (and if you’ve avoided watching him because you heard he was vulgar, this is a pretty clean/safe way to experience his wry wit.) I knew I’d begun watching Saturday Night during its first season, after convincing my parents to let me stay up (I was only 12 1/2 when it first aired, and I usually had to be in bed by 10pm) but until now I didn’t realize I’d actually seen the first episode. (Granted, I may not have seen that first episode until it went into re-runs — when they re-aired the episodes after finishing the live broadcasts for the first season.)

Yesterday, I had just told my husband about the first time I’d ever seen Andy Kaufman, because we were deciding whether to watch Man in the Moon, which is about him. Turns out that what I described to him was in this first ever episode of Saturday Night (Live). I’ve embedded the video below. Turn on your speakers and watch it, and you’ll learn a bit more about me, because my 12-year-old self was mesmerized by this short performance. It was one of the most hilarious things I’d ever seen. (Don’t worry, there’s nothing offensive to anyone.)

And as I slowly re-watch this first season, I’m certain I’ll discover some origins of my quirky sense of humour that not everybody gets.

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The End of Poverty? Not so much…

My husband often will point out certain movies that are going to be “falling off” of Netflix — i.e., they are available via streaming, but will shortly be unavailable. I’ve no idea how he comes by this information, but he does, and sometimes we end up watching a movie or show we’d never heard of before then.

That’s how we found out about the documentary The End of Poverty? The description on Netflix said:

Exploring the history of poverty in developing countries, filmmaker Philippe Diaz contends that today’s economic inequities arose as a result of colonization, military conquest and slavery, with wealthier countries seizing the resources of the poor.

Which sounded like a bunch of “blame the rich” liberal drivel, but we wanted to see their arguments. Turned out to be not so much drivel, after all.

We did have a problem with how they characterized capitalism — they seem to equate it with colonialism and imperialism, which really isn’t — but  this film opened my eyes to some things I hadn’t previously known or understood very well, and it actually DID make an excellent case for the premise that today’s poverty is a direct result of colonization, conquest and slavery. The seizing of resources from poorer people by those who have more money and power still happens today, but it’s disguised to look like “here, let us help you” instead of outright theft.

Have you ever heard of the water wars in Bolivia? I hadn’t. Water was privatized — control of ALL water was given to ONE private company. Even RAINWATER. It became illegal to collect rainwater. All water had to be purchased from this private company, at whatever price they set. There was an interview of a man who didn’t even make enough money to pay for his family’s water each day, let alone anything else.

Although I did know about the not-so-pure motives and methods of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in their ways of “helping out” struggling countries via loans with strings attached, I wasn’t aware of the outrageous control that they exert, and how it actually ends up destroying economies and infrastructure, and the country’s ability to stand on its own. Sometimes, as part of the IMF loan package, a country must agree to produce a certain crop for export, sometimes they have to stop producing certain things and agree to import those instead. It can lead to a monoculture type of agriculture, which is asking for disaster (Irish potato famine, anyone?)

The End of Poverty? is no longer streaming on Netflix, but I found it on youtube, and have linked it in below.

Really, you need to watch this documentary.

But it’ll make you mad if you’re paying attention.

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The Coin and I

1963 pennyThis penny surprised me when I found it over the weekend. The photo doesn’t do it justice, but then I don’t claim photography as one of my skills.

While it doesn’t qualify as “mint condition,” it is surprisingly shiny and unmarred, considering it’s FIFTY YEARS OLD, and also considering the fact that it was just an average circulating coin, found in amongst fifty cents worth of  its somewhat less gleaming peers, all rolled up in a paper wrapper.

Though we both began our public circulation the same year, I must say this 1963 Lincoln cent has held up better than I, appearance-wise at least.

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Creamy One-Pan Pasta with a Kick

Pinterest is great at sucking time away from your day, so I use it a whole lot less than I used to (just as I’ve tried to do with other social networking websites). But, yesterday I spent a few minutes on Pinterest, and one of the people I follow pinned a variation of a Martha Stewart recipe for one-pan pasta. I went back to the source, to compare the two. The variation used sun-dried tomatoes, instead of fresh like Martha’s, as well as tossing in some brie, and there were a few other differences as well.

But, one pan? Seriously?

See, I’m super skeptical of recipes that claim to be insanely simple, and one-pan pasta sounds scarily close to my Hamburger Helper memories. But I couldn’t imagine The Martha allowing stuff that tastes like a cardboard box being attached to her name.

“Isn’t it worth a try then?” I asked my skeptical self. “Especially since your thoughtful daughter brought you that lovely fresh basil and you’ve got, oh…about 32 fresh tomatoes laying about waiting to be amazing.”

Well, my skeptical self and I agreed, and together we decided to whip up some one pan pasta for supper last night. With variations, of course. First off, I used spaghetti instead of linguine, since my husband really doesn’t care for the wider noodles. I was out of olive oil, but I had some cream cheese that was just past expiration, so that went in and made it rich and creamy. And since I’m married to Oregano’s Number One Fan, I added a touch of that, too.

Just to tempt you, here’s what it looks like once it’s ready to serve:

Easier than pie! (Have you TRIED making pie?)Don’t know about you, but to me that looks like minemineminenotsharingmine

So, with my little tweaks and twists, here’s my take on one pan pasta.

Creamy One-Pan Pasta with a Kick

12 ounces spaghetti (not angel hair — it needs to have about a 10 minute cook time)
12 ounces ripe tomatoes, diced. Peel first, if you hate bits of tomato skin in your food
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced (1 1/2 to 2 cups)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and cut into small chunks
1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
about 8 fresh basil leaves, torn
1/2 teaspoon Real Salt
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
4 cups water

4 ounces cream cheese, cut in small chunks (let sit at room temperature while pasta cooks)
1/3 to 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, preferably freshly grated
more black pepper, basil, and/or chopped tomatoes, for garnish, if desired

Use a large, deep skillet. One with straight sides will make it easier to keep everything in the pan while stirring. Martha’s recipe said to stir with tongs, but I used a pasta server, which worked even better, in my opinion.

Spicy-Creamy One Pan Spaghetti

Put the pasta, veggies and seasonings in the skillet, then add the water. Put on high heat and rapidly bring to a boil, stirring gently.

Keep it moving!

Do not cover the pan. Continue to boil, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes. Try to keep the pasta under the water as much as possible.

Boil and stir until pasta is tender

Cook until the pasta is done to your liking. (We like it done just a bit more than al dente) and the liquid is nearly gone. Make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom — mine did just a bit, but no biggie.)

Remove from heat and stir in the cream When liquid is reduced to a thin sauce, add cream cheese
cheese until it melts throughout.

Stir in parmesan, and mix until creamy. Divide among 4 bowls. Garnish with additional black pepper, diced tomatoes and torn basil leaves or a basil chiffonade. For chiffonading how-to, see the handy tutorial I did a while back on Home Ec 101. And for heaven’s sake, remember to use a sharp knife that is NOT serrated one. Which I failed to do this time. Derp. Rather than elegant, thin shreds, I made rather a wet mess of the leaves. I almost omitted the photo, but I think it demonstrates the lesson well. )

This is why you do not use a serrated knife to do a basil chiffonade

This dish came out quite hot, from the red pepper. At my husbands behest, I’ll reduce the red pepper to 1/4 teaspoon next time. We also thought this would be good with chicken, so I’m going to try adding a half-pint jar of my home-canned boneless chicken just before the pasta is done. My husband thinks green olives would be amazing in this, too. Not surprising, since he thinks they’re amazing in just about everything, but he’s probably right about this one.

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