Day #117: No Microwave

Once we made the decision to put our microwave away in a closet, the re-learning began. How would we warm up food? 

On the one hand, this feels slightly ridiculous because we didn’t cook with a microwave until 1982. I remember attending classes at Byerly’s Cooking School to master cooking in a microwave. The huge oven quickly became a kitchen staple, even when I did awful things like setting the timer for one hour instead of one minute and walked away into my office. (What happened? The interior of the microwave oven melted and so did the door.)

Lavangie silicone mats and Nordic Ware baking sheets

We’ve found two tools very handy for warming up food. Nordic Ware (shop local!) makes wonderful half sheet, quarter sheet, and large sheet baking pans. They’re very sturdy and easy to keep clean. With care, they should last us forever.

To line them, and keep them looking clean, we use Lavangie silicone baking mats. They come in sizes that fit those baking sheets.

There. It wasn’t as hard to adjust to cooking without a microwave as we imagined.

Day #116: Capriccio Italien

It’s Monday morning and, as is often the case, I need a kickstart into the week. What better than one of the soundtracks of my life, Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien Opus 45? Composed while he was in Rome in 1880, he wrote, “I have already completed the sketches for an Italian fantasia on folk tunes for which I believe a good fortune may be predicted. It will be effective, thanks to the delightful tunes which I have succeeded in assembling partly from anthologies, partly from my own ears in the streets.” I love knowing that he was listening to folk music to inspire his creativity.

Here’s a version conducted by Herbert von Karajan, with the Berlin Philharmonic:

Day #115: Book Treasures

On a hunt through a used bookstore, nothing brings me more delight than finding a book I didn’t know existed that’s written by a favorite author. Many years ago, I discovered that Carol Ryrie Brink had written a book called The Twin Cities (The Macmillan Company, 1961).

Carol Ryrie Brink and The Twin Cities

You probably recognize her as the author of the 1936 Newbery Medal winner, Caddie Woodlawn. You may not have known that although she was born in Idaho, graduated from Berkeley, she lived in St. Paul for 40 years. Her husband, Raymond, was a professor of mathematics at the University of Minnesota. She taught creative writing while she lived here. Hamline University named her as one of twenty-eight outstanding women of Minnesota in 1954.

This book is very much a time capsule and it’s fascinating to read for that reason. With a Euro-centric view of living in Minnesota, the chapters cover figure skating, the skylines and progress of Minneapolis and St. Paul, the indoor gardens, the Winter Carnival, the Minneapolis Aquatennial, the Old Log Theatre, the anticipation of the new Guthrie Theater … and many, many more tidbits. She includes several pages about the native American tribes, all of which have a 1950s lens. Those pages are uncomfortable to read but I appreciate having this perspective on where we’ve come from.

In the chapter “Dinner and a Show,” she writes, “I remember one Sunday when friends from New York tried to take us to lunch in Minneapolis. My husband and I, like our neighbors, were unaccustomed to lunching away from home on a Sunday, but we supposed that it could easily be done. We were as surprised as the New Yorkers to find that most of the restaurants were closed, and that cocktails were entirely out of the question. The only satisfaction that our thirsty friends got out of the adventure was the dubious thrilled of finding themselves in that incredible part of the world known to them as ‘the sticks.’”

She writes about “Jim Hill” in her chapter on the “Empire Builder.” Hill advertised for settlers along his railway so goods and commerce and supplies would flow. He built a fabulous art collection. He believed strongly in education, books, and libraries, so the Hill Reference Library at the St. Paul Central Library was planned shortly before his death. In 1910, Hill published a book called Highways of Progress, in which he wanted to see beyond the present to “anticipate the needs and opportunities of tomorrow.”

It’s tomorrow. We still live in the context of our history … although we’re striving to make forward progress. I’m grateful for the discovery of book treasures like this one.

Day #114: Word Detective

I love putting on my Word Detective hat. I recently read a novel set in 1920s Minneapolis and Hollywood, The Looking Glass Goddess, by Amanda Hughes. The author was good about including authentic locations, food, styles, and phrases. One of those phrases, “Tell it to Sweeney,” I had never heard before. Was this a real thing? What did it mean? The hunt was on. First, I looked it up online.

According to Wikipedia, a silent movie was released in 1927. But there’s no notation about the plot.

Tell It to Sweeney movie card

The Free Dictionary says “A scornful or incredulous response to a story or statement that one does not believe or finds ridiculous.” Okay. That tells me the tone of the statement, but where did it come from? (Someone cared enough to make a video explanation!)

There’s a book by this name, subtitled Informal History of the New York Daily News, by John Arthur Chapman. [Flag raised: what constitutes an “informal” history?]

On a site named Tell It to Sweeney: the straight dope about the 20s, 30s, and 40s, I found the explanation that the original phrase was “Tell it to the Marines,” first used in 1804 in The Post Captain: Comprehending a View of Society and Manners “in which author John Davis proclaims, ‘You may tell that to the Marines but I’ll be damned if the sailors will believe it.’ The variation that uses the name “Sweeney” referenced the myriad of monikers used to describe the stereotypical Irishman.” Aha, so now there is a derogatory connotation to the phrase.

Time to head to my print reference collection. In Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, I find no reference to ‘tell it to Sweeney,” but “tell that to the Marines” has an entry. “Said of a farfetched yarn. The story is that Pepys, when re-telling stories gathered from The Navy to Charles II, mentioned flying fish. The courtiers were skeptical, but an officer of the Maritime Regiment of Foot said that he too had seen such. The king accepted this evidence and said, “From the very nature of their calling no class of our subjects can have so wide a knowledge of seas and lands as the officers and men of Our Loyal Maritime Regiment. Henceforward ere ever we cast doubts upon a tale that lacks likelihood we will first ‘tell it to the Marines.’” Brewer’s was first published in 1894 in England.

The website Tell It to Sweeney leads me to the website The Big Apple, which states,

“Tell it to Sweeney! (The Stuyvesants will understand.)” was an advertisement for the New York (NY) Daily News, first appearing in August 1922. The Daily News positioned itself as the newspaper of the average working man—such as the Irish “Sweeney.” The name “Stuyvesant” was used to represent blue bloods. If you advertise in the Daily News and reach the Sweeneys of New York City, the Stuyvesants will also get the message. 

‘Tell it to Sweeney!” had been in slang use since 1910. “If you have any harness trouble tell it to SWEENEY, the leading harness maker,” appeared as an ad in 1909, but it’s not certain if this is connected to the slang use. The song “Tell it to Sweeney,” with words by Will Dillon and music by Harry Von Tilzer, appeared in The Yankee Girl that opened in the Herald Square Theatre on February 10, 1910, and ran for 92 performances. The slang use is probably related to this song, with “Sweeney” being a typical Irish name for a policeman.

This is satisfying. I can get lost for hours pursuing word and phrase origins. I am grateful to the people who record these origins for posterity.

I’m curious. Had you heard the phrase “Tell it to Sweeney” before?

Day #113: Joni Mitchell

In this persistent winter, I have finally applied my best antidote: Joni Mitchell. Constant companion, genius, master musician, songwriter, innovator … I am grateful for her presence in this world, in our house. We are listening to The Hissing of Summer Lawns. Here, Graham Nash sings “Our House” at Joni Mitchell’s 75th Birthday Celebration. Catch the special on PBS, if you can.

The Hissing of Summer Lawns, Joni Mitchell

Day #112: Recipes

I’ve written before that my grandmother was a wonderful cook. One of her specialties was peach pie. She left us without a recipe. When I asked her to write it down, she was reluctant. I don’t know why. I would watch her make it, using pinches and handfuls to measure. She used tapioca to thicken the sauce, nutmeg, and she cut fresh peaches. I’ve hunted for a recipe that is similar. I have been unable to replicate her pie. Do you have a beloved food that you’ve been hunting elusively? I’m grateful to people who write down their recipes for posterity.

peach pie

Day #110: World Wide Web

Today is the 30th birthday of the World Wide Web (1989). We began our business one year earlier with a computer that had a 10 Mb hard drive. Everything we did started at the C:> prompt. To draw a line, we described its X and Y coordinates. Then we printed it over and over and over to make sure it was positioned on the page where we wanted it to be. We could not see on the screen what a page would look like when it was printed. Soon, the Compuserv chat rooms were full of rumors of WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get). Could it possibly be true that we could SEE an accurate representation of our page on the screen? Even better was GUI (graphic user interface) when we could see a page with words and visuals on our screens as we moved from one website to another. Oh, those early days! We take a lot for granted now but using a computer was once more difficult than we care to remember. It’s a vital tool for my worklife … I am grateful for the World Wide Web.

Working at the C prompt

Day #109: Dish Towels

Yesterday, Steve and I sat down with our newly washed collection of dish towels, deciding it was time to cull those that are too thin to be effective after decades of use. We don’t use a dishwasher, so our dish towels are crucial kitchen equipment, as they were for generations before us. The aspect for which I’m grateful is that so many women chose to display their embroidery talents by telling stories with these towels, thereby turning them into art. We have towels stitched by my mother, my grandmother, and two aunts. Each time we use them, we feel that connection. Quite often, the stories they tell are funny: vegetable musicians, naughty kittens, and Mother Goose, as well as a set that depicts dishes in the colors of the pottery Steve and I collected when we were first married. Those that we set aside because they no longer have a practical use will become part of a fabric art project I have in mind … their stories will stay with us.

Dish towels as storytelling art