Please, just say no to casserole madness

Every now and then the newspaper gleefully publishes some gratuitous piece of helpful advice that’s supposed to make our lives a little easier, our days a little brighter.

Fortunately, this advice – usually written by some wizened, three-fingered scribe who’s lived his entire life in the Jersey Pine Barrens – is usually harmless. Bathing your cat in a bucket of milk won’t really get rid of the frisky feline’s fleas, but it won’t cause your refrigerator to explode, either.

Harmless, however, is the best you can hope for if you insist on living your life around the well-meant advice of newspaper columnists and the occasional reader who writes in about her boiled salamander cure for warts.

Sooner or later – probably sooner – you’re going to blissfully follow some helpful hint from the newspaper and find yourself running down the center divider of the freeway covered in flaming gobs of burning seaweed.

(Hey, it could happen …)

Take the helpful hint we published earlier this month on our Family page. A reader from Atlanta suggested that “One of the best things you can do for a new mom is to organize a casserole shower.”

Yeah, sure. Better to organize a meteor shower, amigos. Bombarding a new mom – or anyone – with a dozen or so yummy casseroles is tantamount to asking them to join you for a brisk round of Russian roulette.

Think about it – they don’t have casserole parties in Pakistan or, for that matter, Holland. That’s because intelligent people live in both of the aforementioned countries and they’ve got sense enough not to engage in really goofy practices without a pretty damned good reason.

There is no good reason to have a casserole party.

Consider, if you will, the things that the average American puts into his or her favorite casserole recipe. Once you’ve ruled out the basic macaroni and cheese combo, casserole ingredients constitute one of the single largest collections of mismatched mealtime components ever assembled anywhere.

Almost every family has a “secret” casserole recipe lovingly handed down from generation to generation.

Why are so many of those old family recipes secret?

A little research will usually reveal that the dish dates back to great-great Aunt Eunice who prepared her first casserole while crossing the plains in 1848, so it contained items like cactus, porcupine, acorns and cabbage baked in a creamy trout-and-cheap-whiskey sauce (hedgehog or skunk can be substituted for porcupine in a pinch).

Nobody in any given family actually eats these secret family recipes. They simply prepare them again and again for somebody else’s potluck dinner, baby shower or wake.

Bon appetit!

Then there’s the “Oh, this can’t be so hard to make” casserole. This is usually prepared by someone who can’t boil water but who has reluctantly agreed to provide a casserole for one of the aforementioned functions.

When the smoke clears, beginners usually wind up holding a slightly charred tuna-and-marshmallow casserole quite suitable for chemical warfare purposes.

Yeah, by all means, let’s have a jolly casserole party …

Originally published October 15, 2000

How do you spell ‘Rockefeller’?

Thick-headed newspaper colleagues have, of late, complained that I don’t hear quite as well as I used to.

Harrrrumph!

(And, I might add, balderdash!)

My hearing is just as sharp as it was 30 years ago when I could hear a kitten dropping a pin on a shag carpet three blocks away. Admiring friends nicknamed me “Sonar.”

No, the problem’s definitely not with my hearing. People just don’t speak as clearly as they should.

If they did, I wouldn’t constantly be running into the kind of confusion I encountered last week when one of my co-workers asked me how to spell “Rockefeller.”

“Yeah, that’s a tricky one,” I responded helpfully. “Most people forget one of the p’s. It’s spelled a c-a-p-p-e-l-l-a.”

My colleague gave me a blank stare and then turned quickly back to her computer screen.

“Oh, er, never mind…”

Rockefeller.

A cappella.

See what I mean? It’s all a matter of enunciation.

And this isn’t the first time my acute hearing ability has been unfairly questioned. No indeed.

Several years ago, while observing a jury selection in Superior Court, I was surprised to hear one potential juror tell a prosecutor that he worked as a “fight separator” at Travis Air Force Base.

Travis must be a pretty rowdy place, I thought.

The septuagenarian judge, whose hearing was at least as acute as my own, was even more surprised, since he thought the juror-to-be had said he was a “wife stimulator” at Travis.

Upon further questioning, it was determined that the gentleman actually operated a “flight simulator” at the air base.

Enunciation. Enunciation. Enunciation…

Then there was the endangered species soup.

I was ensconced at a fine old Vacaville dining establishment a decade or so ago when, after two or three conservative tumblers of lunchtime whiskey, I inquired as to what the soup of the day might be.

“Punch otter soup,” the waitress responded brightly.

Great, I thought, some ham-fisted cook was punching out cute little otters and dumping them into a steaming soup cauldron.

Outraged, I opted for the salad.

“Can you believe this place? Punch otter soup?!”

My dining companion began shaking with ill-concealed mirth.

“She said clam chowder, ya lunatic…”

Like I said, even with great hearing like mine, it isn’t always easy to understand what people are talking about when they don’t, er, speak clearly.

Even my trap shooting buddies have begun to unfairly criticize my auditory acuity.

Not long ago I stood on a shotgun range near Woodland with four other trapshooters and watched a small clay target sail unexpectedly across my field of vision.

Caught by surprise, I fired hurriedly, missed and turned to my fellow shooters with ill-concealed disgust.

“OK, which of you guys called for that bird?”

Trying hard not to grin, the quartet shrugged and responded simultaneously “You did.”

Oh…

Originally published September 3, 2000