?`s and ANNEswers

Ten minutes to write. Less time to read.

Fish Fry

The local supermarket had a sale on perch, those little fish fillets that fry up crispy and tender. I’ve never cooked perch, but the price convinced me to buy a package and try it.

At home, I discovered three different types of breading for fish lurking in my cupboard. How they got there, since I don’t fry much, is beyond me; but perhaps Earl, the resident grocery shopper, was lured (Pun intended) to purchase Andy’s Red Batter, Drake’s, and one other whose name was ripped off the packaging.

It’s questionable how long these breadings have been in the cupboard, but tonight they are front and center as I try three different recipes: fried, baked, and broiled. Timing seems crucial, since the fillets are small and thin and cook quickly. Each recipe says they are done in about seven minutes.

Which means organization is key. The table is already set; the French bread is wrapped in foil to warm, the lemons are cut, and the salad is almost dressed. All that’s left is to tend the fish. I’ve breaded all three recipes, have the oven at the proper temp, and am heating the oil in the fry pan.

Will let you know tomorrow what happened next.

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Two Restaurants

One upon a time there were two restaurants on opposite corners of a busy intersection. On the surface, they had a lot in common.

They were both part of chains. They had been established locally at least twenty years. They had weathered the pandemic by offering curbside service and delivery. When restaurants reopened for dining in, the tables were appropriately situated and the servers wore masks. Each offered a full bar, and there was ample parking at both. It seemed like the perfect culinary fairy tale, especially as people were eager to eat out.

But last month, one of the restaurants closed with little notice and even less fanfare.

As a diner at each establishment over the years, I wondered how two places with very similar conditions could have different outcomes. I did some research on the two parent companies and learned that the one chain had tried to revamp its menus to be all things to all diners. But this approach confused the regulars who began going elsewhere.

There is a ton of information about restaurants – their menus, their marketing, their profitability, etc. – on the internet; and there’s probably much truth in this research. However, from my perspective the reason the restaurant closed has more to do with personal service than any corporate plan.

It always seemed to be short staffed. The last time I dined there, a person finally came from the kitchen to tell us to seat ourselves, since there was no host. It turned out she was the only server who’d shown up that day as well. Then there were the computers that graced every table and were supposed to be substitutes for the missing servers.

You could order on them, play on them, and finally pay on them. But I am old school and didn’t want to interact with a machine as part of my dining experience.

I’m going to the surviving restaurant this evening with a friend. We’ll sit in the bar and be greeted by the same server we’ve had for years. She knows exactly what we want for cocktails down to the number of limes we’ll squeeze. She’ll remember our order without writing it down or punching a tablet. She’ll be attentive without being overbearing too.

And when she brings our bill, we’ll gladly pay the old fashioned way before walking happily ever after to the car.

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Life on the Pond

The ice is in various stages of melt on our pond, and each day that the temperature climbs and the sun shines brings more water to the surface. With it come the ducks; there are three of them, and I assume they are the ones who were here last year. I love ducks.

The advance guard for the geese has already made an appearance, just like last year. There are always two of them and they swim around the perimeter of the pond looking for a hole in the wire fence that is a barrier between the water and our lawns. They are very squawky and splashy, as if they own the pond. I hate geese.

Still I’m always glad to see these two, because if they find a hole I report it to the management company who comes and repairs it. Unlike ducks who spend most of their time in the water, geese need free access to land from the water; and they spend  an inordinate amount of time eating your grass and pooping on your patio if you aren’t prepared.

I haven’t seen any goldfish yet, but I’m sure they survived the winter at the bottom of the pond, just as they’ve done since a neighbor put them there several years ago. They’re an invasive species, but they don’t eat lawns. And they attract herons. So I’m neutral about the goldfish.

It’s too early for the frogs to show up, but by May we’ll hear them croaking at each other. About the same time the two fountains will be turned on, and we’ll enjoy the sound of bubbling, burbling water all day. All of which is to say that Spring’s emergence is right on schedule in the natural world.

As for our human community, there are twelve homes that circle the pond. Currently the demographics include three couples and nine widows. But when we first moved here, it was the reverse. Time hasn’t been as kind to the people on the pond. Some moved away to be closer to their children. Others went to assisted living facilities. And more than one neighbor passed away.

I am struck with how life on the pond is – at the same time – always constant and always changing.

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More Ironing Issues

All I wanted for Christmas was a new ironing board, one that wasn’t rusted, and a new iron, one that didn’t spit brown water on my clothes. My current versions were at least twenty years old and deserved retirement. Thanks to family members, I got both.

It’s now almost two months down the road from Christmas, and I must say the ironing board is great. But the iron, a Rowenta, isn’t. It doesn’t get hot enough for steam. So today I took it back to where I’d bought it. Or at least I thought I’d bought it at Joann’s in Benton Harbor.

Turns out I bought it on Joann’s online, since the local store didn’t have the one in stock which was my preference. However, the brick-and-mortar assistant manager, Sabrini, took up my case as if I were her best friend. She researched my online account with Joann, found the order number, even though I showed up without a box or a receipt, and ultimately gave me a credit.

Currently, I am iron-less, and Earl has noted that my ironing is stacking up. Perhaps this is an opportunity to jettison ironing, although I’m not sure I can do this cold turkey. Besides, a friend has offered her extra iron in the meantime.

If you read yesterday’s blog, you know my current mantra: Irony . . . the opposite of wrinkly.

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It’s in My Blood

I learned to iron while still in grade school. My mother sent me to a Catholic school where uniforms were required. And since she was a working mother in the days when she worked six days a week, it seemed reasonable to give me household tasks to do on Saturdays. Ironing wasn’t the only one, but it’s one that has stayed with me for seventy years.

It’s rather pathetic, actually. Fabrics have changed; fashions have changed; few people iron anymore. And the general public doesn’t chime in on whether someone walking the red carpet has a wrinkle in his or her outfit.

I understand this. I wish I could let go. But I really like wearing pressed clothing, even the kind that says “wash and wear.” There’s something about crisp lines, collars that lay how they’re supposed to, sleeves that crease at the shoulder seam.

Recently, I met a neighbor who feels as I do. In fact, we met because she said to me at a cocktail party, “Your blouse is lovely; it’s wrinkle free.” To which I replied, “Thanks, I press everything I wear because I like the feel of pressed clothing.” I expected some kind of shocking reaction, which is what I normally get.

Instead, she smiled and said, “I press everything too.”

There is a sweatshirt out there that says, “Irony . . . the opposite of wrinkly.” This new friend and I need to get one. And wear them proudly.

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Survey Fatigue

It seems everybody wants a piece of my mind: Joseph A. Bank, Wal-Mart, Mackenzie, Tastes of Chicago, JP Morgan Chase, even my local car dealer and supermarket. They’ve all sent me questionnaires asking about my most recent experience with their websites or customer service representatives or check-out clerks.

My representative in the automobile service department even told me if I didn’t rate the experience a ten, I’d get another opportunity to rate it again in case I misjudged the first time.

My policy on questionnaires is that I delete them. If I have a legitimate complaint with the vendor, I contact the organization directly (and, yes, it’s a pain to get through to a human) and share my concerns. The corollary to this is that if you don’t hear from me, I’m satisfied.

I spent some time this afternoon reading what the internet says about the value of questionnaires as a means of obtaining first-hand information from customers. Evidently I am in the minority as many people enjoy sharing their opinions. They feel valued; I feel annoyed. They feel they make a difference; I feel otherwise.

According to the internet, survey fatigue is “when respondents lose interest in your surveys due to the large number of requests they receive or the number of questions and effort required to complete them.” This describes me to a T.

But, before you hit ‘Delete,’ can I just ask you a couple questions about my blog?

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Valentine’s Day

The first year Earl and I dated we gave each other Valentine’s Day gifts that were thoughtful and appropriate for the arc of our relationship.

He gave me a signed and numbered print from the G. Harvey catalog. Titled “Exhibition Day” it depicts a group of visitors to the Art Institute of Chicago at the turn of the twentieth century. They are braving winter weather, perhaps waiting for the museum to open, as they stand in front of the famous lions. The artwork hangs in our bedroom today.

I gave Earl a baseball; not the kind found on a baseball diamond or in Cooperstown. Rather this baseball was made by the Irish luxury crystal company, Waterford®. Waterford is known for the way its pieces are cut to enhance their sparkle.

The baseball rests on our vanity in the main bathroom, which might seem like an odd place to display a piece of crystal. But the bathroom is a shrine to baseball with a variety of relevant art on the wall and a wallpaper border of baseballs making home runs at the ceiling.

Over the years we’ve had fancy celebrations and not-so-fancy. This time we agreed to exchange cards only. But it was fine, because in the thirty years since the G. Harvey and the Waterford® baseball showed up, our home has acquired more of the artist’s work and more baseball memories. Really, those are the best Valentine’s Day gifts.

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No Smiling Still in Effect

When I first started blogging twenty years ago, I wrote about going to Walgreen’s for a passport photo. That post said:

I went to my local Walgreen’s yesterday to obtain the two photos required by our government to have one’s passport renewed. Sure enough, in the photo department a woman waited with a Polaroid camera and a pull-down screen that provided the obligatory white backdrop. She propped me up in front of the screen, made furrows in her forehead, and said, “Don’t smile.”

I obliged, although I wondered why smiling, or lack thereof, was part of the process. It wasn’t necessary to ask aloud, since the woman’s explanation was forthcoming. “We’ve received new government guidelines,” she said. “Applicants are not to smile since it changes their appearances.”

Her sincerity could not be doubted, but her answer made me wonder where this idea originated. I also wondered how much money the government spent sending the guidelines to every Walgreen’s as well as to every other place that offers passport photos.

I can see a variety of consequences to the “No Smiling” order. Airport security personnel will add another item to their burgeoning checklist. Anyone who currently possesses a passport with a smiling photo will be asked to replicate the smile before hearing an official say, “Yes, it’s you. Go on through.”

Then when American tourists are asked to show their passports in other countries, we’ll all appear as a somber bunch. This might be interpreted as proof that we don’t like living in our country. We’ll all look older too, since smiles tend to de-age the face and our photos will be smile-less.

I wonder if those who issue drivers’ licenses will follow suit.

Today I returned to Walgreen’s for an updated passport photo. This time, a young man the size of Hulk Hogan had the Polaroid and  the pull-down screen. But I beat him to the punchline about not smiling.

“Yes,” he said, “It’s still in effect. Please look straight at me.”

A few minutes later the updated, non-smiling, two-inch square, 2024 version of my passport photo was in my hand. It cost almost twice as much as it did in 2004. Come to think of it, that’s not the only change. There’s been continuous war, mass shootings, global catastrophes, social media explosions, and political chicanery.

Perhaps those government officials who issued the No Smiling Edict twenty years ago were clairvoyant, because there isn’t a lot to smile about these days.

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Super Bowl Commercials

I found a website this morning that rated the best and worst Super Bowl commercials from yesterday’s extravaganza. Since there was only one commercial of those I’d seen that really caught my attention, I wondered what the website would say.

So I spent half an hour viewing commercials that had aired last night and that really went over my head. The one that Earl and I liked best was deemed one of the worst.

Commercials were rife with cameos from Hollywood types: Martin Scorsese, Christopher Walken, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Jennifer Anniston, Ben Affleck, et al. 

There were definite themes: extraterrestrial challenges, promos of coming movies in theatres, lots of mayhem regardless of the situation.

As I viewed a commercial without its accompanying commercials, I saw more of the content and intention that I didn’t see when the commercial segued into another that segued into another.

Without intrusions, the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdale commercial made me smile. Like me, the Clydesdales are “over the hill” and don’t appeal to younger beer drinkers. But the horses delivered to the younger generation in the ad.

As for our favorite commercial that ranked at the bottom of the list, I still think seeing Eagle and Raven football players flying away because the season is over is pretty funny.

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Super Bowl, Ho-Hum

The game is over; I’m weary and heading to bed. But before I hit the pillow, here is my assessment of tonight’s game. Tomorrow you’ll get everyone else’s.

I had no real investment in who won. Both teams had excellent quarterbacks; both teams had won before. I would have been more invested if Detroit and Baltimore were playing.

I had no real investment in the commercials either, although I read that a 30-second spot cost $7 million. That seems like an excessive amount to spend for being ganged with a bunch of other $7 million thirty seconds for a three to five minute barrage of commercials. Nothing stands out in that situation.

As for the halftime show, I didn’t watch it attentively. Instead, I fixed our snacks and occasionally saw Usher dancing and skating. It reminded me of the openings to various Olympic games, where it seems important to have an many people on the field for the grand number. It’s not a performer’s moment; it’s a group spectacle.

Some people wondered if Taylor Swift would swoop down into Usher’s halftime world. That didn’t happen; nor did a proposal from Travis to Taylor happen either. Thank goodness.

As for my snacks, the hot wings took the trophy while the ribs were second, and the Frito pie was a disappointing third. The focaccia bread and blue cheese hadn’t applied for trophy status, but they were both solid.

By the way, the actual name given to the first Super Bowl in 1967 was the “AFL-NFL World Championship Series. I’m not sure how it could have been a World Series when most of the world doesn’t play football, but I have this issue with baseball’s playoffs too.

I think it’s time to retire.

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