Stepping stone fruit pizza

Bring a homemade dessert for the annual volunteer appreciation dinner said the memo. Argggg. I do appreciate our volunteers, and enjoy the projects the teens did for the garden. Their stepping stone creations make me smile. So maybe I could make a stepping stone dessert. After all, I bake about as well as I mix Quikrete! No results guaranteed.

The Pillsbury refrigerated sugar cookie dough recipe for fruit pizza is easy to find on Google. How hard can it be?

Go to grocery store. Forget customer reward keychain tag.
Pile into cart:
1 tube Pillsbury refrigerator sugar cookie dough $2.50
1 container fresh blueberries $3.00
1 container fresh raspberries $3.00
1 big container fresh strawberries $3.00
2 kiwi (or is it kiwis?) $1.00
8 oz. store brand cream cheese $2.25
1 jar apple jelly peach preserves $2.19

We will call that $17, but wait! My customer reward number has never been linked to my current phone number or my previous one. That's because I've had this number since right after Noah shooed all the animals off the ark.

Beg and plead with Billy the store manager to give me the reward card price. Go home exhausted.

Get up in the morning and discover total lack of pizza pan. Try forming cookie dough into a 12" circle on the backside of a cookie sheet. [This was not my best decision ever, and I don't know why I didn't just put the dough on the inside of the cookie pan.]

Bake as directed.

While waiting, beat cream cheese to a fluff with sugar, and search everywhere for the extract of vanilla to no avail. Wash fruit. Locate a Christmassy serving plate on the top shelf of the pantry. Shower and get ready for work.

Smell something burning.

Scrape baked-on cookie mess off racks and bottom of oven.

Return to grocery store with customer reward keytag:

1 tube refrigerated cookie dough $2.50
1 12" pizza pan $8.00
1 small bottle of vanilla extract $4.49

We will call that $15, so $32 so far. Bake a new cookie crust. Eat the reject for breakfast with black coffee while standing in a cookie crumb floor mess. This could be the high point of the day.

Peel and attempt to slice kiwi (or kiwis). One is too firm. One dissolves into a floppy mess onto shirt and floor. Change clothes. Let cookie dough crust cool completely, 30 minutes. Contemplate calling in sick and going back to bed. Arrange remaining fruit in a lovely stepping stonesque design. Brush top with peach preserves.
"Chill at least one hour." Me or the pizza?

Volunteer asking for recipe = priceless!

Note: This week I get to make an egg breakfast main dish for the entire Environmental Health department. Imagine the potential for mayhem...

© 2013-2015 Nancy L. Ruder

A watery week... a watery month...

A walk to the pier makes the granddoggy thirsty. Walks make everybody happy, as the grandbaby mostly doses and the rest of us soak up New Jersey sunshine. We even manage the errands on foot, something rarely even tried in Texas suburbia.

Behind us is One World Trade Center, now the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere at 1776 feet tall. But does it have doggy water fountains??

Back at work, all our rain has created a new gravel bar in the creek. All the turtles and the male mallards consider it a fine amenity

This is Bob Woodruff Park in east Plano, site of many cross country races and the former launch site of the Plano Balloon Festival. At the picnic pavilion on the highest point a "Frozen" theme birthday party was carrying on with the soundtrack playing and a poor guy dressed in an inflated Olaf costume.

The system of parks, nature preserves, and trails in the Rowlett Creek watershed are designed to contain the water in the event of the wettest May on record. City planners, engineers, and the Corps of Engineers get a lot of grief. Our recreation options might be limited in the short term future, but the system seems to work.

© 2013-2015 Nancy L. Ruder


Brunch for six at noon

Wake up and smell the espresso. It's 11:11 a.m. EDT, for heaven sakes! The Mother's Day menu:

Cultural outing to follow:

The Phillips Collection

Man Ray - Human Equations: A Journey from Mathematics to Shakespeare

Hiroshi Sugimoto - Conceptual Forms and Mathematical Models

Delightful paintings by children including a portrait of a pig

Highlights from the Permanent Collection 

Seeing well-behaved families honoring their mothers with a trip to the art museum gave me great joy. I especially loved the young family all in their dress-up Sunday School clothes, the mom with a purple orchid corsage pushing the baby in a stroller, the dad corralling the other kids to make her day special.

© 2013-2015 Nancy L. Ruder


de Kooning, not Willem

Our Monday afternoon, after gelato visit to the National Portrait Gallery was an afterthought, just something we squeezed in before heading to the airport. That's how we found the Elaine de Kooning exhibit. "She painted the JFK presidential portrait, Mom."

And she did, indeed, along with a great many studies and other portraits of Kennedy in vibrant greens and golds.

de Kooning's brushy portraits have the open, incomplete feel of drawings, with most of the emphasis on the pose and the clothes. Nearly all the subjects are male.

Decades ago I tired of her husband's insulting, almost violent paintings of women. Elaine's paintings feel fresh, not pounded like his.

My favorites in the show were two paintings of someone named Donald Barthelme. I'm sad that I did not paint them myself. The Washington Post reviewer is pretty rough on the exhibit, but that's her job. The NPR piece about the show is more inviting.

And the gelato at Pitango was superb, as always. My mojito sorbet and gianduja (chocolate hazelnut) were a surprising, rejuvenating combo. I would gladly exchange my services as a website proofreader for an unlimited lifetime gift card!

White grapefruit and chocolate noir

© 2013-2015 Nancy L. Ruder


Invention is all in the name

In the late Seventies/early Eighties there was a grocery store concept known as "PLAIN LABEL". PLAIN LABEL generic canned goods were a step below store brands, and the contents of a can of CORN might be more salty liquid than kernels. PLAIN LABEL beer and light beer in their black on white cans were something of a sensation of minimalist aesthetic and low price.


As a young homeowner/parent without a penny to my name, I purchased TUNA and PUFFED RICE.

Just a hint of dandelions
Recently our esteemed governor has had some issues with a fantasy federal military plot to take over Texas. In the days of PLAIN LABEL beer we worried that grocery newcomer Albertsons was a front for a Latter Day Saints takeover of food sources. I kid you not.

It's all about the names now. Generic BEER does not have the same appeal as Saint Arnold Fancy Lawn Mower. The son formerly known as Woolly Mammoth reports when he first tasted an I.P.A. his tastebuds hollered, "grass clippings".

MIRAGE is the name coined by that former Woolly Mammoth son for his punchbowl concoction of pink grapefruit juice, gin, and Campari--an appropriate name both atmospheric and predictive of imbibers' mental state.

Did the Woolly Mammoth invent this recipe? Heavens to Betsy, no. My own pink grapefruit and gin concoction was variously known as the "Pinewood Bowl," the "Leaky Radiator," or the "Stranded Sunburn". Grenadine may or may not have been in the thermos. The impaired vehicle was the '61 Plymouth Sport Fury. Of course!

ELI WHITNEY is the name given by a Lunch Bunch alum to a poor college student punch of gin and "blue drink". BLUE DRINK is that pseudo-raspberry cotton candy econo fake juice well known to starving students. And therefore a punch made with cotton candy blue drink and gin was named for the inventor of the cotton gin. And, yes, it is nearly undrinkable!

Your challenge is to invent a punch or cocktail worthy of the name ROBERT FULTON. Let me know what you concoct.

© 2013-2015 Nancy L. Ruder


How did you celebrate?

Last Saturday I woke up at four a.m. to catch a flight to D.C. It was World Bonsai Day.

My youngest son met me at the Metro station near the airport. After a few complications we headed straight to, no, not the bonsai celebration...We headed for the best Neapolitan pizza in the District. Menomale in the Brookland neighborhood has won over his discriminating palate. The pizzas we shared were a perfect match of art and science, believable and artificial, form and function. Or wait, maybe that was the description for the miniature sculpted trees. The function was to fill my tummy with outstanding pizza fast!

At the National Arboretum we breezed past the bonsai t-shirt vendors, book-signing, and teeny souvenir bonsai tree sales. We had arrived! The buzz was audible.

 And, yes, we were completely clueless.

And the buzz was the sound of hundreds of carpenter bees in the Asian exhibit, not paparazzi:

image of a ladybug     Carpenter bees are active at the Arboretum. These large black bees make their nests in exposed wood, including timbers in the Bonsai Pavilion and various wooden signs on the grounds. These beneficial insects are active pollinators. They seem aggressive as the males try to protect their nests. They can not sting, but they try hard to intimidate you with belligerent buzzing. Try to be patient during the nesting season.

What is the WBFF? No, not boxing with forest friends. The World Bonsai Friendship Federation includes the North American Bonsai Federation, naturally. And World Bonsai Day is the second Saturday in May annually. Start planning your cake decorations for next year's party now.

© 2013-2015 Nancy L. Ruder


Chalk in the corner pocket

Today we repurposed the first piece of billiards table slate in the children's nature garden. Kids can sit in the hanging "chrysalis chair" and decide what to draw. The corner pocket cut out of the slate holds a flower pot with sidewalk chalk.

Brawny volunteers who were ready to take on any task that did not involve pulling weeds moved the slate into position and leveled the ground. My chalk thank you note to the volunteers has already been erased in a downpour. The slate is clean and ready for the first kids to discover it.

Can't wait to see what they draw!!

© 2013-2015 Nancy L. Ruder


Reptile risk management with Monty Python

Nobody expects the venomous Texas reptile.

Nobody expects the venomous Texas reptile because our governor is busy anticipating a federal military takeover of the Lone Star State.

The biggest dang snake I've ever seen outside a herpetarium was the Texas rat snake on my condo patio, going about its business eating rodents. I should have sent a lovely handwritten thank you note instead of obsessing about the snake getting into my dryer vent and eating my laundry.

Plano parks may now have laminated printouts posted suggesting prudence with regard to snakes. And that should be enough. Yes, a pretty teen was bitten by a snake in a Plano park, and we should protest and ...

  • Get out there wearing appropriate footwear and enjoying our amazing parks.
  • Remember you are the outsider, and respect the creatures in their environment.
  • Be in awe of their natural camouflage and how perfectly they are suited to their habitat.
  • Don't blame the snake.
  • Worry about fracking, global warming, blue plastic bags caught in trees and fences, and black widow spiders in old-timey outhouses with Nancy Drew, Ned, Bess, and George. 
  • Worry about identity theft because of a data security breach at Park'N'Fly. 
  • Fret about giant mutant rodents in your dryer vent with teen sleuths.

Sweet dreams!

NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapon is surprise!... Surprise and fear... fear and surprise... Our two weapons are fear and surprise... and ruthless efficiency! Our three weapons are fear, and surprise, and ruthless efficiency... and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope... Our four... no... Amongst our weapons... Hmf... Amongst our weaponry... are such elements as fear, surpr... I'll come in again.

© 2013-2015 Nancy L. Ruder


"We are living in fraught times."


I was going to offer a clich├ęd description of the times and the maps drawn by small boys this week after our nature walk. Indeed, I walked perilously close to the precipitous edge of a pregnant pause or a anxiety-laden moment. I was already feeling purdy darn fraught because the one time I put my lesson in a Power Point, the computer was completely disconnected from its tangle of necessary wires.

"We won't go that way," I said and pointed, "because it's full of poison ivy." Three-fourths of the group followed my finger instead of following me away from the danger. 

It went better today when I said we might encounter Capital D danger. "Do you think it will be sharks?," I asked. "Or maybe alligators?" They all followed me in high hopes of meeting both.

A five year old boy's yellow brick road goes past Rattlesnake River and Shark Lake among other pitfalls. He was delighted with it. I like the way all the obstacles are off to one side like cul-de-sacs while the path goes directly from start to finish. Contrast this five year old girl's map of "Everywhere We Went This Morning". Her younger brother thought snapping turtles were soccer ball turtles, but his main drawing was an enormous fire ant mound:

A tiny girl worked very hard on her map, while a boy walked all the way around the lake.

One mom's eyes lit up when I told about taking dictation while the child drew a map. Her son liked the tic tac toe stump the best on the hike, and I won a convert!

And one person besides me got a little bit teary when I told about my father's map of his hometown drawn when he was sliding slowly into dementia. Some things are way more frightening than fire ants or sharks, but our brains are wired for mapping.

Funny on the day we were making wild green games with orange stickers this gift arrived to connect everything!


© 2013-2015 Nancy L. Ruder


Skull and crossbones on the map of life

Danger is on my mind, and not just because my son formerly known as Danger Baby is now a father wanting to shield his tiny baby girl from all possible trouble and woe from here to infinity. He is entering the journey of parenthood for which there has never been a map or manual. GPS, girl protection and security, doesn't have an authoritative, calming, automated voice.

Been addressing the fire ant mounds on our special path with a hopefully potent product. I'll be sending little families out to walk on the path soon, and fire ants are not welcome. Our program is about paths and maps. I'm fretting about introducing the concept of danger into the journey.

My goal is reminding parents and introducing children to the idea that being safe while exploring requires alertness, preparedness, and common sense. We won't be climbing Everest or crossing Death Valley, but we will be pretending with treasure maps.

Growing up in the Sixties the neighborhood kids worried a lot about black widow spiders and quicksand. Blame it on Carolyn Keene and David Lean. Danger Baby had Bambi's mother and the forest fire on his mind for months after he saw that Disney movie.

We live in a country where kids can't walk to the corner without parents being investigated by child protective services. Now I get why the characters in Disney movies are usually orphans. Parent-less kids get to watch for danger and make decisions themselves. What an exciting concept!

There are thorns out there in the wild world, and poison ivy. There are snakes, mostly nonvenomous, but still, and a whole lotta fire ants. It just goes downhill from there. You gotta learn to cross the street, to check the weather forecast before climbing mountains, take proper precautions when meeting lust, be alert to identity theft and investment scams.

That's the thing about life! While we are skipping along to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow it is prudent to wear closed-toed shoes. There has to be a middle path between "Gasp! What if..." and "OMG whatever."

© 2013-2015 Nancy L. Ruder