Posts Tagged ‘Sara Stone’

Saint Sara’s Chicken Enchilada Casserole

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Left to right: Sara, Tinky, and Alice (yes, I am really that much of a shrimp!)

This Tex-Mex dish is more Tex than Mex, but non-purists will enjoy its bubbly warmth.
The recipe comes from my dear friend Sara Stone in Waco, Texas, possible the nicest person in the whole world.
Here’s just one of Sara’s kind deeds: when I was trying to finish my doctoral dissertation, she invited me to stay in her house for the month or so we thought it would take to do the final rewrites.
It took me A YEAR to finish up the darn thing.
Sara never once complained about the messy cooking or the show tunes or the diet-coke cans or the vintage TV programs or the piles of paper or the general Tinkyness of her apparently permanent houseguest.
She even managed to laugh when an experimental cake exploded in her oven on the hottest day of the year. (I can almost still smell the fumes as I type this.)
That’s not just being a nice person. That’s being a saint.
This casserole is a little like her—colorful and comforting. I think it might have a sense of humor, too.
I was lucky enough to see Sara last spring when the Mount Holyoke Club of San Antonio flew me to Texas to cook with them.
Playing with the Mount Holyoke crowd was fun and enlightening. Texas has tons more fresh produce in early June than Massachusetts, and the alums and their husbands certainly knew what to do with it.
After I left San Antonio I enjoyed a wonderful reunion with Sara and another friend and former roommate, the brilliant and funny Alice from Dallas. Husbands and kids rounded out the crowd. (Both Sara and Alice were smart enough to marry people I like.)
Need I add that the food at our reunion was fabulous?
I made Sara’s casserole recently because I get a kick out of being reminded of her—and because my family loves it. Here is her recipe. It serves a crowd.
The Casserole
1 2-to-3 pound chicken
vegetables as needed for making broth
salt and pepper to taste
1 medium onion, chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons butter
1 can (about 10 ounces) cream of chicken soup
1 can (about 10 ounces) cream of mushroom soup
1 small (4 ounces) can green chiles, chopped
about 8 corn tortillas, ripped into pieces (about 3 to 4 per tortilla)
1 pound store (Cheddar or similar) cheese, grated
First, cook the chicken. Bring it to a boil in a pan of water with vegetables appropriate for making a rich broth (onion, garlic, celery, perhaps a carrot or two—and some parsley if you have it in the house), plus salt and pepper; then turn it down and simmer it until it is tender and the broth is flavorful. This will take about 2 hours. Stir occasionally during this process, and don’t forget to add more water if you need it.
Drain the chicken, saving the broth, and set it aside to cool briefly. Strain out 1 cup of the broth. The remainder of the broth may be used for cooking or sipping at your leisure. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, strip the meat from the bones and shred it.
When you are ready to proceed with the casserole, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brown the onion in the butter. Combine the soups, broth, onion pieces, and green chiles in a saucepan. Add the pieces of chicken and heat well.
In a baking dish, place a layer of broken tortillas, a layer of chicken sauce, and a layer of cheese. Repeat until the casserole is filled. Repeat this layering process. Bake the casserole until it is bubbly around the edges, about 30 minutes.
Serves 10 to 12.

Messy but yummy!

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Viv and Ethel (and Always Lucy)

Friday, July 24th, 2009
Kansas Historical Society

Vivian Vance (Kansas Historical Society)


The woman fellow character actress Mary Wickes called “the best second banana in the business” would have turned 100 on Sunday, July 26. Vivian Vance was born Vivian Roberta Jones in 1909 in Cherryvale, Kansas.


According to biographers Frank Castelluccio and Alvin Walker, it always bothered Vance that she was inextricably linked in the public mind with frumpy landlady Ethel Mertz in the situation comedy I Love Lucy.


They quote her as saying, “When I die, there will be people who send Ethel flowers. I’ll get to heaven and someone will say, ‘Hi, Ethel! I see you are still in re-runs!’”


They also chronicle her ambivalent relationship with Lucy star Lucille Ball. Ball was at once Vance’s closest friend and a source of resentment. Playing second fiddle doesn’t sit easily on the ego. Never a complete professional success before or after her collaborations with Ball, Vance understandably longed to be a star on her own. She wanted to be free of Lucy and free of Ethel.


If Vance could look back on her career today, however (she died in 1979), history might show her the value of her work. I Love Lucy paved the way for almost all television comedies that followed it, both in terms of technique and in terms of narrative.


It also gave viewers an eternal model of supportive friendship. Lucy and Ethel were the forerunners of many TV gal pals to come, including the eponymous heroines of Laverne & Shirley, all of Charlie’s Angels, and Cybill and Maryann of Cybill.


When my friend Teri Tynes and I used to drop in on each other across the courtyard of our Austin, Texas, apartment complex, the Casa del Rio, we liked to refer to ourselves as Mary and Rhoda (in homage to the Mary Tyler Moore Show). We could just as easily have called ourselves Lucy and Ethel. Their relationship epitomized the comfort, companionship, and adventurous spirit we felt with each other and sensed in these television comrades.


One of Vivian Vance’s frustrations was that she was often called upon to react in I Love Lucy rather than to act. It was Ethel’s grimacing face that told us that Lucy was about to do something outrageous, Ethel’s careful listening that gave Lucy a chance to expound on her latest scheme.


Reaction is a large part of friendship—and a large part of great acting. So on this anniversary of Vivian Vance’s birth let’s give second bananas everywhere their due. By the time the banana bread comes out of the oven no one can tell where the first banana left off and the second banana took over. (I can’t figure out what to do with the third banana in this metaphor. William Frawley, anyone?)






Second Banana Bread


This recipe comes from another Lucy/Ethel Mary/Rhoda friend, my graduate-school housemate Sara Stone. Sara is probably the most generous person I know. In the last year of my doctoral program I was convinced I had only a couple of weeks to go on my dissertation. Sara invited me to stay with her until it was finished. It took NINE MONTHS! Sara never complained; she just gave me unconditional support and shelter (not to mention grocery money). And she can cook, too! We all need friends like Sara.


Of course, I’m still not entirely sure which of us was Lucy and which Ethel.




1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup ripe mashed bananas (about 3 bananas)
2 eggs
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
1 cup chopped pecans (optional)




Grease a standard loaf pan. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.


In a bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Stir in the bananas, and then beat in the eggs. Beat in the baking soda and salt; then gently stir the flour into the butter mixture. Add the pecans if desired.


Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out dry. (Sara likes her bread a bit mushier than this, but my family likes it firm.) In my oven I tend to bake it for an hour, then turn off the oven and leave it for another 15 minutes or so—but by all means test your bread and YOUR oven.


Cool the loaf on a rack for 20 minutes; then release it onto the rack to finish cooling.


Makes 1 loaf.




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Note from Tinky in 2010: Vivian Vance fans should check out this article about a Vivian Vance archive (including wonderful photos).  Enjoy…….


And Lucy lovers may be interested in my take on the end of I Love Lucy.