If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the hardware store

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‘Shopping local means lots of local color’

It’s been really hot here in Amagansett, though not as hot as it was the last time my Middle Younger Brother Roger was here.

That time it was so hot that you couldn’t walk on the sand without burning your feet. My poor wilted sister in law, the amazing Nobody-Doesn’t-Like-Jenn, was loath to leave the library, the one air-conditioned room in the house. (The AC is for the books, you see. To keep them from molding. People, at least most of them, don’t mold. So the rest of the house doesn’t need it.)

Before Roger and Jenn melted down into viscous puddles like the Wicked Witch of the West, they did manage an outing. Roger: “Where can I get an Amagansett hat?” Me: “Herb has Amagansett hats. Go see Herb. At the hardware store. Herb’ll fix you up.” (Now, I don’t have a photo of Herb’s hardware store — inside or out — but the shot at the top of this story shows The Child and me standing out front a few years ago.)

Everyone knows you can’t wear your Amagansett hat in Amagansett. Here Dude Man is seen wearing his on a plane to Borneo

Now, my Brother Roger is the kind of guy you could drop into the middle of the Sahara Desert and he’d make ten new friends in the first ten minutes. And Herb? Well, suffice it to say that Herb is a Local Character who defies easy description.

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Here’s to Mt. Fuji

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‘My favorite “Nope-I-Don’t-Eat-Sushi” Sushi Place’

I was in the Liquor Store Next To The IGA the other day, looking for my bourbon—”Hey, where’s Jim? Are you out of Jim?”—when Maureen Who Works There, after directing me to the spot on the shelf where Jim Beam now resides—”You moved Jim?”—remarked that she had recently been to Zakura.

“Zakura?”  I asked, thinking this must be some sort of Buddhist retreat or something. “What’s Zakura?” “You know,” she said. “The sushi place.”

“Oh! You mean Mt. Fuji.” Another customer in the place nodded along, “Yup, she means Mt. Fuji.”

Hungry for sushi stories? Here’s a yummy Ad World story: “Radio Days

Maureen was actually right; the sign outside this place does indeed say “Zakura,” and has for fifteen years or so. But, before that—ages before that—it was called Mt. Fuji. And that’s what everybody who goes there still calls it, “Zakura” sign be darned.

Could this be a sign that sushi’s for dinner?

Now, Zakura/Mt. Fuji may not be the best sushi restaurant around—or maybe even the better of our family’s two fabled sushi haunts. The late, lamented Shabu Shabu, the very restaurant where The Dude and I had our first date (and where I polished off a plate of sashimi for the first—and only—time in order to impress him) was probably better. (He said he loved sashimi, so by gum I was gonna order sashimi, not actually realizing that I was about to be confronted with a whole platter of raw fish without even any rice or little wrappers to kind of mitigate it.)

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“Pop” goes the weasel

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‘My popovers? Not so much.’

First, full disclosure. The popovers portrayed in the photo at the top of this post are not of my making. They were produced by The Dude’s talented Cousin Christine, who is the daughter of the Best Cook — and Popover Maker — on the Planet Earth, Dude Man’s Aunt Eleanor.

Aunt Eleanor too busy enjoying a toast at her 90th Birthday Party to make any popovers

Why, back in the Olden Days, when I had first met The Dude, we would look forward all year to an Eleanor Christmas, when we would gobble up not only perfect popovers, but sublime roast beef accompanied by some crazy-good potato dish that was sort of like scalloped potatoes but on some whole other level of deliciousness.

(I could go on and on, but I promised I would write this post before lunch, and this is torture.)

I knew I couldn’t replicate the whole menu, but, silly me, I thought because Eleanor said that popovers were “easy” and that she “just threw them together” that I could make them too.

Dude, scanning the horizon for piping hot popovers. Er, make that piping plovers

Hah. I tried every recipe I could find, including — yes — Eleanor’s own. But my popovers flopped. They were wimpy and chewy and blech. Lucky for me, The Dude eats anything and everything so he didn’t really notice that my popovers were less than fantastic. Well, except for the time the oven caught on fire because the butter I’d greased the pan with overflowed onto the gas jets and burst into flames. That batch he noticed.

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Where I grew up, fish came in a stick

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‘Not that my palate is all that sophisticated now’

I had fish for dinner last night. Which means that I ate in a restaurant. (Yes, I was masked. Except when I was actually eating said fish.) See, now that I am a grownup — and a rather broken-in grownup at that — I can handle eating fish. Certain kinds of fish. Once in a blue moon. But I still can’t cook it.

Me, after having not cooked fish for dinner

See, fish was not something in my Mom’s meal rota. We had pork chops (which came with mashed potatoes and canned corn), and “Swiss Steak” (which came with mashed potatoes and peas), meat loaf (ditto), chicken (double ditto) and sometimes — because it was “good for you,” — liver (which came with creamed potatoes and green beans.)

And fish was generally not found on Midcentury Midwestern restaurant menus. I can’t remember fish appearing, like my salmon last night or my branzino last week, even in “tonight’s specials.” No, fish mostly came in a stick, battered and fried — and was primarily eaten at school lunches on Fridays as sort of a penance. Or during Lent. Ditto.

I don’t have a photo of fried fish sticks. But this one of fried chicken is much better. In many ways

In all my growing up years, I can’t recall anyone of my acquaintance — certainly not anyone in my family — saying, “Gee, Mom. Let’s have fish for supper.” No, fish was what you ate as sort of a default option.

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Nope. It doesn’t rhyme with “squish”

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‘Tasty slips of the tongue, menu edition’

Back in the Seventies, all the cool lunch spots were festooned with macrame and spider plants. Yes, back then we young working people actually left work to go to out to lunch — and not just to grab a pannini or an acai bowl to bring back to eat at our desks.

Me, in my Houlihan’s for lunch days

Nope, about mid-morning we’d run into each other at the water cooler (seriously) or, more likely, the coffee machine (which was a Mr. Coffee we all took turns filling up and turning on) and discuss where to have lunch that day. The Middle-Eastern Place with the really yummy backlava? The Vegetarian Place run by the ashram? Or maybe Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue? Most of the time we’d head to Houlihan’s Old Place.

Note: All of these places were gussied up with macrame and spider plants. (Well, except for Arthur Bryant’s. You shuffled along in line at Arthur Bryant’s and, if you were smart, ordered the barbecued sandwich, which a guy with a missing finger cut in half for you.)

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Who wants to go on a Walmart Run?

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‘No, my hometown didn’t have a Costco’

When I was growing up Midcentury-Modern Style in the Midwest, my very small home town had a main street with a few stores (and several taverns) on it.

If you wanted to, say, buy a Christmas present for your mom (Evening in Paris was a popular choice), you’d take your allowance or your paper route money and go to the Dime Store. (Ours was a Ben Franklin, but we always called it the “Dime Store”.) Which was owned by a really crabby guy who totally didn’t like kids and would follow you around like you were going to shoplift. There really wasn’t any other option.

Then, sometime after I’d gone off to college, a Walmart came to town. It was out on the west end by the Dairy King (totally different from the Dairy Queen). A (gasp) Walmart.

My Personal Family. In the front yard of the house I grew up in — in my Walmart-welcoming home town

Did my town protest? Did they try to keep that Walmart out? No way. They welcomed it, big-time. I remember reading a Big Story about its Grand Opening in the local paper (which I subscribed to because I worked there during the summers.) And it was only a matter of time — and not much time, either — before everyone was shopping at this new Walmart.

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Paradise by the kitchen light

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‘Meatloaf again. Or maybe chili this time.’

It’s my darned fault it’s been so chilly here in the Northeast. Not only did I stow my chili (speaking of ‘chilly’) pot away, but I put my meatloaf pans in mothballs. Figuratively, that is. It’s sort of like what happened last week when I took our big fat comforter to the cleaners. It snowed.

But back to the kitchen. When the weather’s cold, there’s nothing we Henrys like better than a big ole batch of Anything Made With Ground Meat. Of course, my Oldest Younger Brother Scott, being a Californian, scorns chili made with ground meat. But the rest of us slurp it up like gangbusters. (I’m featuring a photo of a large pot of a late great batch right there at the top of this post.)

When I was growing up, my Mom made chili a lot. Her recipe for chili was the same as her recipe for spaghetti sauce — except that the chili had beans. Continue reading

Deck the halls with bough of holly

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‘A Grinch Guide to Holiday decor’

Well, maybe not ‘Grinch’. Make that more of a ‘minimalist’. It’s not that I don’t enjoy Christmas (well, not as much as I enjoy Thanksgiving; everybody who knows me knows that.) And it’s not that I don’t appreciate a nice Christmas Tree. In fact, I remember gazing out of the car window as we worked our way through small town after small town on those long pre-interstate drives up to my Gramma’s in Northern Illinois, admiring the Trees that were strategically placed in front-room picture windows for maximum drive-by impact.

But I’ve never been one of those people who fusses with the ornaments on her own Christmas Tree, arranging and rearranging them every time she walks by, striving for Holiday Perfection. In fact, I do everything I can to avoid having my own Christmas Tree.

Oh, there for a few years, when The Child was an Actual Child, I condescended to allowing a Tree on the premises. But I got The Dude and The Child to go get the tree. (I made this sound like a fun Daddy-and-Daughter outing, while I cleverly stayed home and sipped champagne.) And I threw a Tree Trim Party to get other people to actually do the decorating of said tree. I made this sound fun, too, by luring friends over with the promise of more champagne — and my Famous Pot Roast — in return for their bringing over an ornament (and this is the important part) hanging it on the Tree. (I’ve told the story of my Tom Sawyerish get-someone-else-to-do-the-work Tree Trickery in a previous hilarious/nostalgic post called ‘(N)o Tannenbaum’, which I invite you to read when you’re done chuckling over this one.)

I decorate myself in preparation for bribing friends with pot roast in return for decorating that bare tree, stage left

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Looks like we got ourselves a HooHah!

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‘The Family Reunion, taken to a whole new (Henry) level’

Well, no one who appeared in one of my commercials died this week. (Are you still out there, Betty White?) Or not that I know of, anyway. So “HooHah” story it is.

Now let me be clear. The Henrys did not invent the “Family Reunion.” Family reunions have been around, oh, I’d say probably since the invention of Large Extended Families. No doubt some of you readers can recall sticky gatherings of seldom-seen aunts, uncles, and cousins featuring picnic tables laden with summer dishes like jello salads (urk) and glorified rice (yum). Games like Corn Hole (a real “thing”, I kid you not) and wiffle ball and sometimes even croquet would be played (though our “croquet” was decidedly non-Downton-Abbey-esque, involving lots of violent “sending” of opponents’, i.e. younger cousins’, balls, resulting in much wailing).

Gathering of the Henry Clan featuring sweaty, crying cousins (I’m down in front next to the boy sucking his thumb)

The other side of my family, the Petersons, had Family Reunions too. They even gave theirs an idiosyncratic name. I dimly recall attending something called the PAL Reunion in Belvidere Park. (This was in Belvidere, Illinois, the closest metropolitan area/gathering place for my farm-residing relations.) The “PAL” stood for, I believe, Peterson, Anderson, and Lindstrom. Yup, these were the Swedes.  Continue reading

Stars in stripes

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‘Looking back and Fourth’

For the past several summers we’ve had this fun Fourth of July tradition where we let The Child fill up our house with as many of her friends as we have beds to lay their pretty little heads on. Sometimes it’s guys and girls; sometimes ‘just’ girls. The Dude and I are happy with either arrangement, though we have noticed that when it’s girls-only, the Young Friends seem more inclined to activity — like going to the beach, hopping on the bikes, or heading into town to catch what’s up at The Talkhouse.  

Last year’s crop of Nation’s Birthday Beauties. Haven’t wrestled this year’s photo out of The Dude’s camera yet. But, trust me, they’re equally sparkly

(The guys, when the guest list includes them, seem content to hang around The Compound, sipping beer and, well, being content. Sometimes they bestir themselves to demonstrate their CrossFit routines; there was a Matt-shaped indentation in our lawn for a few post-Fourth days one year. Oh, and one other memorable Fourth, Somebody’s BF soaked his iPhone in our hot tub, though not intentionally. BTW, putting a soaked iPhone into a jar of rice does not dry it out, no matter what you may have read on the internet.)

Speaking of food, this year I inaugurated a new tradition: The USA Birthday Cake. From Carvel, of course. No, we didn’t sing

But hey, anything anybody wants to do — or not do — is A-okay with me. I’m happy to provide food — beaucoup de food — and stay the heck out of the way. I was in the kitchen in the midst of doing just that when one of this year’s Young Lovelies (and they are — lovely — each and every one of them) strolled by on her way to the pool, and I happened to catch the unmistakable whiff of — Coppertone.

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