Monthly Archives: March 2011

A Dallas Delight

We found another great store–St. Michael’s Woman’s Exchange in Dallas, Texas.  It’s in Highland Park Village, which is also a great find, at the intersection of Preston and Mockingbird.

In the hour Ruth and I were in the Exchange, it was consistently busy and everybody, including Ruth, was buying.  Not a consignment or thrift shop, the Exchange sells enticing new gift items.  Each department–stationery, weddings, children, specialty food items, and on and on–has a head and a committee to select what is sold.   Totally non-profit, the shop’s proceeds go to as many as 75 service agencies like MADD, Senior Source, Genesis Women’s Shelter, and The American Cancer Society.  A Gift Committee decides where the proceeds go.

All but three on the staff are volunteers, more than 120 strong, who take 4-hour shifts.   Manager Barbe Cree, who showed us around, is clearly passionate about what the Exchange sells.  I mentioned the sensational olive oil we found in St. Louis’ Olive Ovation, and Barbe immediately took down the information.  I wouldn’t be surprised to find it for sale at the Exchange the next time we visit.

Since its founding in 1958, the Exchange has collected and distributed  an amazing $4,000,000 to the Dallas community and beyond.  The women of St. Michael’s and All Angels Episcopal started it, but it’s not a part of the church and not all of the volunteers are from it.

The Exchange also offers reasonably priced and very imaginative gift wrapping.  You don’t even have to buy the gifts in the store.  I kept circling back to the wrapping counter, and the two women volunteering that day were always busy.

Barbe proudly told me that about $450,000 is amassed and distributed annually.  If you spend even a few minutes in the store, you’ll understand why, and you’re sure to find that-perfect-gift. Just ask Ruth.

Google Saint Michael’s Woman’s Exchange to find info on various websites or call 214 521 3862.


A Hoot in Houston

As you may have figured out, I’m a great fan of offbeat museums and look for them wherever I go.  Well, last week in Houston, Texas, I found a three hooter.  Maybe four.  Don’t misunderstand, it’s truly one of the most interesting museums in the United States if you can get past the subject matter, and, occasionally, uh, the presentation at the National Museum of Funeral History.  Seriously.

This is not a temporary operation.  In fact, NMFH will celebrate its 20th anniversary on October 18, 2012.

The first thing that amazed me was the number of people in line in the gift shop, their arms full of purchases.  We learned quickly that the staff is friendly, helpful, and informed.  They printed out page upon page of Presidential history for Ruth and me.

Speaking of informed, I learned A LOT here.  I must admit that I went through the exhibits with mixed emotions–from repulsion to delight, giddy disbelief to genuine respect.  Disbelief, for example, was my main emotion at the replica of Abraham Lincoln’s coffin.  I won’t say why in case you have a chance to visit.

After you do, you’ll be able to amaze your friends with eerie did-you-knows?  For example, the Japanese have the most expensive funerals in the world.  The average cost to have someone ceremonially cremated there is $37, 755.

I learned that Dr. Thomas Holmes, a 19th century mortician, is often referred to as “the father of American embalming.”   Bet you didn’t know that.

Ruth was so impressed with the casket for three that she wrote down the whole story.  If there’s demand, I’ll pass it along.  My favorite was the one covered with money.

The historic hearses like the one in the picture above are reason enough to visit.  In the back of one, I learned, speaking of repulsion, where the term “basket case” came from.

I appreciated this Museum’s capacity to wink at itself.  After all, it’s hard not to like a place that opines, ANY DAY ABOVE GROUND IS A GOOD ONE (TM).

NMFH is at 415 Barren Springs Drive not all that far from downtown Houston.  Get directions at


Sydney, Honey

“Would Harold Harbaugh please come to the Baggage Claim Office?”  Oh, oh.  Ruth and I had been at the carousel for at least 20 minutes.  Her suitcase had been one of the first out, mine was yet to show.

“If something bad is going to happen, it will happen at the worst possible time,” I said tiredly because we had just taken a morning flight from Los Angeles after a fourteen hour one from Sydney after a month in Australia.

As we approached the Portland International office, I saw a man dabbing at my black, of course black, Pathfinder.  Oh, oh.

Whatever he was trying to get off was stubborn.  In fact, bits of the paper towel were adhering as if Super Glued to the rugged suitcase.

“Are you Harold Harbaugh?” he asked and I nodded.  “Honey,” he added, and it didn’t sound like an endearment.

Apparently someone had packed  a container of honey and it exploded in the hold.  Two suitcases, mine and another that had taken even more of a direct hit, were being treated by an Alaska Airlines employee.  “Well, this isn’t working,” he said, which I already knew.

He handed the sticky mess now dotted with bits of paper towel to me and said, “Have it professionally cleaned and send the bill to the airline.”

But I didn’t because of the olive oil.  I simply put the honeyed veteran in a big tub of water with a bit of laundry detergent.  After a few days in the sun, it was back to normal, as in beat up but still serviceable and now really clean for the first time since it was new.

Shortly after moving from The Midwest to the Northwest, we were back home for a visit during which we filled a box with favored local items that we couldn’t find in the new place.  One of them was a bottle of olive oil from The Hill, the Italian section of South St. Louis.  Although I had packed it securely, a suspicious airline watchdog had opened the box in my presence and taken everything out.  As he said, “Go on to your gate.  I’ll take care of this,” I was watching him put my geometrically arranged items haphazardly back into the box.

I knew what was going to happen, and it did.


Cookie Heaven

When I posted info about my visit to Olive Ovation in St. Louis, I promised to post a recipe I took from the box on Marianne Prey’s counter if it was good.  Well, it’s not only good….it’s SENSATIONAL!

I found it a bit strange to put together and it did take some time (being the first time), but it was worth every minute.   It’s like no other cookie in our recipe box, both totally original and deliciously healthful because of the olive oil.

So, here it is:

Pine Nut Rosemary Shortbread

2 cups white whole-wheat flour

1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt (I just used regular salt)

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (if you buy yours from Marianne, you’ll have the best available)

2/3 cup natural cane sugar

zest of one lemon

1-2 oz. Tuscan pine nuts, lightly toasted and loosely chopped (see below)

1 and 1/4 teaspoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped

Whisk together the olive oil and sugar.  Mix in the lemon zest and stir in the flour mixture. Fold in the pine nuts and rosemary and mix until the dough goes just past the crumbly stage and begins to clump together.  Turn the dough out ont0 a floured work surface.  Knead the dough just once or twice to bring it together as best as possible.  This is dry dough.  Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and flatten into a 1 inch thick disk.  Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or on a Silpat mat.  Roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thickness on a lightly floured surface.  Cut into 2 inch squares and place on the prepared baking sheet.  Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the cookies begin to brown slightly on the bottom.  Gently remove to a cooking rack (like most shortbreads, they’re a little fragile).  When cool, store in an air-tight container for up to 2 weeks.

Serve with coffee or tea for breakfast or with fruit, cheese, or ice cream for dessert (if they last until dinnertime).

I just used 2 ounces of Costco pine nuts, which I toasted in the oven at 350 degrees for about five minutes.  They seemed OK.  I chopped them pretty finely before adding to the batter.  But Marianne wrote, “At the end of the summer when everyone is harvesting their basil and making pesto I stock the most wonderful pine nuts that are harvested from a national forest in Tuscany.  They are like no other with a nutty almost smoky flavor.”

About the “disk” above, mine looked like a small log, but it didn’t matter because it fell apart when I took it out of the refrigerator and put it on the floured surface.  I rolled it out pretty well and decided to use a fairly small, round cookie cutter instead of making squares.  This worked fine.  Let me know your experience.  Uh, what’s a Silpat mat?

If you want to talk to Marianne about this, phone 314 727 6464 or write to her at

Enjoy the results.   I’ll post Marianne’s Lemon Thyme Cookies, which are as good as the shortbreads, later.


Krakow, Poland

Krakow, Poland’s third largest city, is the place to witness a multitude of eras in this beleagured country’s past.   Travel writer Richard Watkins says about Krakow, “As the royal capital for half a millennium, it absorbed more of Poland’s history than any other city.”  Spot on.  Wawel Castle, the main tourist magnet, has five major attractions requiring tickets that sell out quickly, especially for the Royal Chambers.

But I found three less-visited-by-outsiders attractions even more memorable.

An Old Town local bus (there’s only one and most locals can direct you to it) took Ruth and me to the town of Wieliczka (vyeh-leech-kah) and its salt mine.  This may not sound like something worth doing, but, truly, it’s a Polish spectacle of Disney-like proportions that attracts more than a million visitors each year.  A UNESCO World Heritage site, a salt works has existed on this site for 700 years.  It still produces 15,000 tons of table salt annually.   Tours provide access to only 1% of the mine’s 2,000 rooms, but what rooms!  You file through 26 chapels, look down upon eerie lakes, study salt sculptures, and end in the Chapel of the Blessed Kinga, a singularly jaw-dropping attraction.

A city tram will take you to Nowa Huta (New Steelworks) for a fascinating walkabout.  During its Communist years, Russia decided to teach the cultured residents of Krakow to be good comrades by building an impractical steel mill here.  The six-year plan included residences for 200,000.  A city within a city, Nowa Huta contained the first Catholic church in a Communist district.

After years of delays, part of the Schindler Factory finally opened as a official museum in June, 2010.  Because Oskar Schindler manufactured what the Nazis needed, like bomb parts, he got away with an inflated list of employees, thereby saving more than 1,000 Jews from deportation and death.  A few scenes from Steven Spielberg’s much lauded Schindler’s List were shot here. It’s profoundly moving to stand in Shindler’s office trying to imagine what it must have been like when history and conscience collided here.  It’s at 4 Lipowa Street only 3 kilometers from Old Town.  The tram stop at Plac Bohaterow Getta Square is a short walk from the Factory.

Krakow is a must for the avid traveler.