Thursday, March 29, 2012

Cooking and Memories

The tie between food and memory has been on my mind a lot lately.

I keep thinking about time spent in my grandmother's kitchen, both eating and learning to cook.  As far as I know, I am the only one she ever taught all of the secrets to making her spaghetti sauce.  My aunts all knew that she sweetened it with carrot, but apparently no one but me knew she always put in chicken thighs.  That's because when it had cooked long enough for the thighs to be almost ready to fall off the bone, my grandmother would take them out and hide them as a rare treat just for herself.  Women who raise large numbers of children almost never have something just for themselves.  I feel so privileged that she shared her secret with me and I still put thighs in as a treat for the cook when I make her sauce. 

A few days ago The Pioneer Woman hosted a fabulous giveaway (3 iPads, which I did not win, dang it) on her blog asking people to tell her what they would most like to have for dinner tonight if they could have anything at all.  I immediately craved a plate of my late Aunt Joan's roast beef hash that she made from leftovers from her lovely roast beef, potatoes and gravy.  I swear, for a moment, I could smell her kitchen, the lovely meaty aroma mixed with cigarette smoke and coffee brewing.  I spent a lot of time in that kitchen growing up.  Even as a rotten tween I was in there drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes and arguing politics with my grown up relatives (who I realize now were smiling behind their hands at my naive opinions).  Ok, so I was a weird kid, and the smoking and coffee drinking probably horrifies those of you who have kids that age now, but it was a different time and those hours are so precious to me.  I was built on that time, made from those conversations, from all that was shared between us. 

Yesterday Jennifer Perillo also held a giveaway (a new pasta maker - it's still open) on her blog In Jennie's Kitchen, here. She told a heart-wrenching story about how she learned to make pasta to make her husband Mikey happy and how it became a family staple until his unexpected and sudden death last August.  Now their tired, worn-out old pasta maker will be retired as she can't bear to use it again. Instead, it will become a conversation piece on her fireplace mantle. It is one way for her to preserve the memory of special family time spent with the husband she mourns so deeply. 

All of the women in my family make cabbage balls every once in a while.  Ours doesn't taste anything like most recipes I've seen for stuffed cabbage.  I have a lot of aunts and cousins and the funny thing is that, no matter who makes it, me, my mom, an aunt or a cousin, it tastes exactly the same. I suspect that, for each of us, it takes us back to my grandmother's kitchen, large numbers of us gathered around her table, sharing food and family gossip and making memories that would have to sustain us after some of those faces around the table were gone.

When I get homesick, and boy do I, it is not just for the rural Upstate New York of my youth.  I get homesick for a time and a place and my family as it once was. At her 70th birthday party my mother surprised us all with a cookbook full of family recipes from her grandmother's generation down to mine.  What a treasure that book is!  I will read it over and over like the story of my family, and share it with my niece and nephew.  Both of them love to spend time with me and my mom in the kitchen learning to cook dishes both old and new. There is no smoking these days, but I do slip my nephew the occasional cup of coffee.  My niece doesn't care for it. I wonder if they, at 8 and 11, have any idea that we are making memories that will help shape them, be part of them, and last through their lifetimes?  Will they look back someday, a memory triggered by some random thing, and long for some of my cooking and the love that it represents?  I suspect that they will.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Perspective

Just a quick thought on perspective.

Kudzuki, my Great Dane puppy, is teaching me quite a lot on that subject.  To his big eyes, things look different than from my perspective.  I'm used to dogs seeing things from a smaller than me view and it's a bit disconcerting to have it happen the other way 'round.

For instance, when I look at my barn red, cedar sided house, I see a sea of red.  My puppy sees sticks that can be broken off and carried around triumphantly as toys.  God help me, he just tears a chunk of siding off and carries it around and chews on it.  They stopped making my siding back in the early 90s. 

Excuse the blurry pic and especially the Eeyore pjs.
I spend half my time worrying that the ingredients in the paint will harm him, and the other half hoping he chokes on it.  Aggghhhh!  I love him!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Cold Weather Food Coming Right Up!

Actually I think it's supposed to be in the 60s today, but I am still craving cold weather food. Here are a few of the things I plan to make this week:

Tonight I am going to do a crazy casserole based on scalloped potatoes, but with cabbage, cheese, and ham added in. I just hate to throw food away and I have a cabbage and some potatoes that need to be used up pretty soon.  Not to mention that my freezer is so full I can't get anything else in it, so a bag of ham chunks would make some welcome space. I have a lot of cheese I bought for recipes I didn't make, so some of that is going in, too.

It is definitely time for another round of chili and cornbread.

Soup!  I want to make at least two huge pots of soup, with lots of leftovers to can.  I'm thinking ham and bean soup and chicken vegetable.  I still have two or three quarts of soup adapted from Bernice and Paul Nolls' recipe for Beef Vegetable in the pantry. I didn't use the cauliflower, and next time I will cut way back on the potatoes, but this was pretty tasty soup.  Have you visited their website?  I just love them to pieces.  They were among the first of my canning heroes and have inspired many a jar of homemade goodness.

This weekend I want to make large quantities of stock and get that canned up.  I have lots of odds and ends in the freezer and I plan to make a run to the butcher shop for beef soup bones and a chicken or three.

That ought to hold me for a while.  What's cooking in your kitchen?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Goals for 2012

I think my goals, and my focus, for 2012 have to be mainly about getting ready for the move to the country house in 2013.  For one thing, it may actually end up happening sooner than that, and for another, there is so very much that needs to be done between now and then.

1. We must get the water fixed in the country house.  It is an inconvenience now, but it will be a disaster if not addressed well before the move. We also need to box up the knickknacks, get rid of most of the furniture and clothes, etc., fix the clothesline, and clear out the storage building....there are so many things we can do now to get the house ready.
2. We must have fenced in areas for the dogs..  This will be complicated by the feud between the two girls requiring that they be separated at all times.  It took the loss of the usefulness of my right index finger to make that point crystal clear. They cannot be together, ever.
3. Choose and prepare the main garden area. I think it would be beneficial to test the soil, then spend some time building it up until I can actually garden there.
4. Get serious about livestock.  This will require fencing pastures, building a barn, acquiring a trailer and a truck to pull it with, and finding a vet and a farrier.
5. Build a chicken coop and run.  Oh, I can't wait to have my own hens.  And guineas!
6.  I need to learn how to operate the tractor.  I secretly (or not, now) look forward to this part more than any other.  Whee!
7. We need to make a big effort to get our suburban house ready to go on the market.  Getting the roof fixed and repairing the rain damage will be the first step.  Maybe putting in a floor would be a good idea, too? Then we can worry about the yard and paint and details.

A lot of other things will have to slide this year so that I can focus on these things.  I will still have a small garden in my suburban front yard, but I won't try to replicate my mistake last year of having a huge garden 3 hours from home.  That just didn't work.  I will continue to can, and cook from scratch, and improve my skills with sourdough and I will make some sauerkraut (in the fancy German crock I got for Christmas!) but I have to get more organized about it so it takes lees of my time.  I spend almost all of my time at work or in my kitchen.  I never seem to get anything else done.

Purge, purge, purge.  Cull that clutter.  There is so much that just has to go.  Yard sale, Craigslist, Freecycle, Goodwill here I come!

What am I not thinking of that needs to be looked at or dealt with at this point?  

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas is Creeping Back Into My Heart

In spite of a few setbacks this week, I woke up this morning with Christmas in my heart.

I've been really inspired by the generosity of the folks paying off K-mart layaways and throwing gold coins worth 16K into Salvation Army cauldrons.  Haven't you?  Even though these stories have been offset by stories of people ripping off toys collected for needy kids, it still puts a feeling of peace and hope into my heart when I hear of the kindness and generosity people are showing each other at this time of the year.

Tomorrow Bren and I will pack up the sleigh and head over to my sister's.  I will depart from our long held tradition of making lasagna on Christmas Eve this year because the niece and nephew are going through that picky stage called childhood.  I'll whomp up a big batch of homemade spaghetti sauce the way my grandmother made it (her secret was to put in a big carrot and a chicken thigh) and an equally large batch of meatballs.  My sister and I will enjoy the Pioneer Woman's recipe for Olive Cheese Bread http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/?s=olive+cheese+bread&submit= (Honestly, if you've never tried this you really should.  It is a greasy, buttery, cheesy, olivey, oniony slice of heaven!) We will make a salad with the lettuce growing in my front yard garden.  My Great Dane puppy (Kudzuki) will make some dog treats for my sister's dog (B.J.).  (Ok, I'll make them but 'Zuki would if he could.)  I will make badly decorated cookies with my niece.  Peace will reign on earth, and all will be well.

On Christmas day my sister's in-laws are all coming over for a big dinner.  Lots of cooking and baking to do.  I found the most astonishingly elaborate bread shaped like Rudolph's head with antlers and red nose and all at a local bakery.  I ordered one for dinner Christmas day and one to give to some of the attendees.  After dinner it will be home again where Bren and I will celebrate Christmas with all five dogs and three cats.  I'm so looking forward to the next few days.

Peace and joy to you this Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

I Have to Change My Life

There are a lot of things wrong with the way I'm living.  My health is just poor.  I don't eat right.  I don't get enough exercise.  My job makes me feel bad about myself daily.  My home, instead of being a cozy haven of contentment, is a chaotic, filthy mess.  We should be on a tv show like Hoarders or something.  I have no time to take care of any of the things that I feel like I should really be doing. This city is making me miserable.  Yeah, I know.  Whine, whine.

Three days ago I was driving near my office with my 11 year old nephew in the truck, on our way to get some pizza.  We drove up on quite a scene.  In the lane next to us but going in the other direction was a car that was sitting still at an angle in the lane.  There was also a police car.  And an officer with gun drawn and pointing in the car as he moved around to the driver's side, shouting at the occupants.  I couldn't see into the car through the pitch black tint, so I didn't know if it was full of bad guys with guns, or just a little old lady from Pasadena.  Considering the window tint and the officer's behavior, I'd have to bet on that first choice. Griffin got down and I hit the gas and got us the hell out of there.

I don't know if you can imagine how upsetting it was to have that going on right next to us with my nephew in the truck.  He was pretty shaken up and his mother told me it's still bothering him.  Me, too, Buddy.  Me, too.

Two days ago I was at Folks Restaurant picking up my catering order for my company's Christmas lunch. They weren't open for lunch yet, so the parking lot was deserted.  One of the employees helped me carry some jugs of tea to my car.  Then he went back inside to get the cart with all of the food on it.  I  stayed outside making room in the trunk for the food.

Around the corner came this shattered wreck of a human being, and he came straight at me.  Normally I am the most tolerant person in the world but excuse me if I describe this guy the way I perceived him - a filthy, smelly, crazy, dangerous, homeless crackhead.  I've been living in the city for almost 3 decades now and this was not my first time at the rodeo.  Normally I have no trouble warning off folks like this who approach me. 

Apparently I managed to encounter the one guy like this who wasn't looking for money.  He was horny.  Great. 

It got physical.  And it got ugly.  And scary.  And it was terribly upsetting.

Thankfully the Folks guy came through the door with the cart, saw what was happening and ran straight at us, scaring the crazy guy away. I need to take him some kind of thank you, don't you think? Maybe some home canned goodies and some cash?  He was literally my hero in a white kitchen coat pushing a shining catering cart.  Bless him.

Looking back now,  I realize, of course, that I should have called the police and done something about this maniac.  At the time it, though, it was like I was in a tunnel.  All I could see was getting back to the safety of my office.  I don't think I was thinking very clearly, really. I barely reacted at all until after the lunch was over and I had time to relax.

It took until I was shouting at my entire department at work yesterday for me to realize how upset I am about all of this.  

I realize that crime is everywhere and moving to the country won't guarantee I won't ever encounter a criminal or dangerous situation.  But it sure would be unlikely to happen to days in a row out there, right?  Also, not so many strangers wandering around out in the sticks where everybody knows everybody.

Time to rethink our schedule?  The move to our country home is scheduled for July 2013.  I just don't think I can wait that long. I feel like I have no control over my life here.  There, I can set my schedule, actually make choices about how to spend my time, go outside, live a life that is cleaner and healthier in many ways.

I really need to change my life.









 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Giving Back at Christmas and Through the Year

I feel weird posting about this but it seems that "Current Thinking" says that you are supposed to be more open about charitable donations in order for everyone  to see donating as a normal, popular, and positive activity.

So, ok.  I give all year, in very small amounts, to whatever charity or cause catches my fancy or interest or gets my blood up.  I do not donate to many of the huge non-profit organizations because I think that some of them (Susan G. Komen, for example) have allowed themselves to be co-opted by their biggest funders, like pharmaceutical and chemical companies, and because most of the larger non-profits don't give enough of the money to the cause it's supposed to go toward.  I also tend to give more to animal related charities, because I think that people are able to help themselves more than they do, while animals are at the mercy of people.

I tend go a little nuts at Christmas, but, again, I keep them amounts very, very small.  This year I have donated to:

Heifer International - Giving families the means to support and feed themselves and then requiring them to help others.  Brilliant!  I buy someone a flock of chicks at Christmas and on my birthday each year.  We have started a family tradition where my niece and nephew look the catalog over and choose a gift for us to give Heifer in their names as part of their Christmas.  It makes them happy that they can help other children feed themselves.   www.heifer.org   

We will be giving a toy to the Toys For Tots drive at Bren's office. 

Petfinder - The best place to turn to when you want to adopt a pet and so much more  These folks do a lot to help animals.   www.petfinder.com

Daffy's Pet Soup Kitchen - What a great idea!  Helping people who are struggling financially so that they can keep their pets and keep them fed. This is one organization I have volunteered with.   www.daffyspetsoupkitchen.com

Edgewood Longears Sanctuary - A donkey rescue that recently saved many, many pregnant jennies.  Wowza, that's a lot of long ears!  I don't have a webiste for them but the donation info and the story on those jennies can be found on Morning Bray Farm's blog  www.morningbrayfarm.com

Angel Acres Horse Rescue - I donate to their nationwide anti horse slaughter billboard campaign. www.saveahorsenow.com

Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund - I love these folks for being there for those who have the nerve to raise sheep instead of being sheep.  www.farmtoconsumer.org  Boy, have they been busy this year with all of the government raids of raw milk producers, organic food growers' dinner parties, etc. Their t-shirts make me laugh out loud, especially the Got Moo'shine? one.

The Horse Rescue, Relief, and Retirement Fund is a horse rescue in Cumming, GA.  These people are amazing.  Not only have they taken in approximately half a bazillion horses and other assorted equines, they also do dog rescue and have taken in pigs, chickens, the biggest goat I have ever seen in my life (really, he's almost scary!), and more.  I have volunteered with these folks a time or two and I would do more of it if they were closer to my home. www.savethehorses.org 


Farm Aid -I have no idea if their efforts are actually helping family farmers but I do know that they consistently bring the problem to the public's attention, bless them.   www.farmaid.org

My favorite way to give back, though, has to be when I see an immediate, specific need and address it personally and directly. 

Being a Secret Santa for underprivileged kids (There are so many places and ways to do this. Try local news or radio station websites) and filling their Christmas wish lists is an awesome way to give and know for sure you are making someone happy.

When Katrina devastated New Orleans, one of my co-workers took in a displaced family.  They literally had only what they were wearing.  We were able to provide them with food, brand new clothing, and other necessities.  

Earlier this year I heard about a recently widowed local woman with a house full of kids and grandkids who lost absolutely everything in a fire.  We managed to get in touch with her, found out what they needed (everything) and started looking for stuff for them.  We got my family, my office, Face Book and other friends, and even a church involved and we checked almost everything off of their list, item by item.  They were so grateful and relieved to have beds to sleep in, and underwear, and toothbrushes, and plates, and shoes, and so on.  What a great experience, to be able to do that for someone.

These projects were really satisfying and meaningful to me. It seems that looking for meaning is a common theme in the lives of homesteading type folks, don't you think?


How do you give back?