memories involving food without indulging in sentiment . . . is it possible?

For those who turn up their noses at fruitcake at Christmas, it’s only because you haven’t tasted my slightly altered version of Mama’s. I’m getting ready to make Mama’s Best Every Christmas Fruitcake at Hubby’s special request. (That’s not it, by the way, I’m just trying to jazz up the post a bit.)  So while I was looking through my self-produced memory cookbook locating the recipe, it reminded me how so many of our memories are associated with food. Particularly so around the holidays. Don’t you think so? Were I to ask readers to contribute their own food-associated memory, I expect it wouldn’t be difficult for any of you.

When Amanda Hesser became food editor of the New York Times Magazine in 2004, she asked well-known writers of all kinds–playwrights, screenwriters, novelists, poets, and journalists–to contribute essays about an important moment in their lives involving food. The only caveat was NOTHING SENTIMENTAL. She wasn’t so much interested in grandma’s corn bread as she was in why grandma always made it when she was lonely. In 2008, as a result of those special essays, she published EAT, MEMORY – Great Writers At The Table (W.W. Norton). Some of the selections are so creative that it’s easy to see why they are published.

After reading most of the Eat, Memory 2008 collection, I couldn’t help reviewing my cookbook a little differently. Sure enough, most if not all the reminiscences are of a sentimental nature: Mama’s Fruitcake, Grandma’s Clabber Biscuits, the funeral wake potluck dinners, etc, so I challenged myself. Could I write a food memory without being gushy in that special fifties I REMEMBER MAMA television series way? Were there even any food memories that affected me in ways other than sentimental? Sure, I can think of lots of food-associated things to write about that don’t involve emotion. Or can I?

I could write how Grandma Leona and Great-Grandma Nina ate Ritz crackers crumbled into a cereal bowl with warm milk for Sunday supper. After eons of lavish Sunday dinners prepared for extended family who usually showed up every Sunday, it must have been wonderful to finally take it easy in their later years. No pots or pans to scrub, only two dishes and two spoons to wash up, no one else to clean up after. Since they lived to be 84 and 92 respectively, they may have been on to something in those simple Sunday suppers.

Or I could write how all the kids in my school lunch room scraped their beans into the hog slop barrel instead of eating them because they knew the more you eat the more you toot. Some of them liked to see who had NO beans to scrape so they would have a target to point a finger to should unpleasant balm or flatulent noises strike the classroom later. How I loved those beans, so what was I do to? I’d sneak in a few bites and rearrange those that were left with my fork, then dutifully scrape the rest away for the hogs.

But could I write about either of these in a non-sentimental essay? It certainly wouldn’t be easy.

In EAT, MEMORY are some wonderful stories: One about a couple who nearly break up over a dinner in Paris at a famous restaurant, another by an author who professes to hating ice cream, and my own personal favorite by a famous chef who needed a line cook. He found what he thought might be a perfect match. In the personal interview, he discovered the man was blind, his eyes wandered around in their sockets like tropical fish in the aquarium of a cheap lobby, yet the chef convinced himself that this blind man had evolved into such a higher species of line cook that HE would learn great things from him. Sometimes we see only what we want to see, after all. The rest of the story is both heart breaking and hilarious. I think I recognized myself in both characters.

I decided writing like this is a good challenge and I hope I can live up to it. So I invite any interested reader to write your own food-associated memory without being overly sentimental if you can! It might be harder than you think. I’m not even sure I can. If you’d like to try sometime–perhaps in a post on your own blog–please link to Wintersong or this post so that I’ll be sure to know and not miss your entry. Or–if you prefer–jot a short memory in the comment section. If the book I’ve talked about here sounds interesting to you, or you’d like to see it yourself, you can probably find it in your local library. You can also get it here real cheap.

Now, I published Mama’s Fruit Cake recipe, along with notes on my slight alteration, in December 2007. If you missed it then, you’ll find it here. It’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas around me, and I’m not referring to the beans.

a story for the times

I’m not a thief, but in the case of this video Grandma Henke posted a few days ago, well I just couldn’t help it. It’s a small girl, couldn’t be more than four years old, who is reading or re-telling the story of Jonah and the whale. I love it for the obvious and for a couple more reasons. Note the little dress she has on. It looks like a Polly Flinders dress (I used to dress both my girls in Polly Flinders–they hated it), and another thing, she reminded me of my oldest daughter, also a precocious reader/actress, when she was that age and wore glasses from the age of three. It runs a tad long at 7 minutes or so, but I think it’s so endearing it is well worth it. (She’s a little shy when she begins, but hold on, she gets into it very quickly.) Thank you Grandma Henke for sharing this and for your own funny stories.

power and the glory

All kinds of things went wrong last week. First off, exactly a week ago we learned the money (big bucks!) we’d wired to India through our bank to the travel agency in India–prepaid to cover our travel accommodations within India in January–had gone awry! Soon after we learned an agent there had given us the wrong account number.

So we had to wait and worry until the money finally showed up there (sometime on Wednesday), then wait again until the bank rejected it due to the incorrect account number, then still more waiting until they redirected back to our account again. Meanwhile, I’m having visions of being on some bureaucratic list that locates anyone is this country and freezes everything up while they investigate international money transactions (so we don’t make cash donations to subversive terrorist groups, one supposes). Hubby suggests we re-send money from savings, there’s no way I’m ready to cough up another pile of money without retrieving what we’ve already sent.  And you can be sure there will be fees all around–for their bad, not ours!

Then, during all this, when we need it most so as to print up documentation of our transactions, the printer breaks down. One minute it’s working fine, the next it doesn’t recognize the ink cartridge we’re using. Some days it doesn’t pay to get up in the morning–other times it stretches out through most of the week.

It was a cheap printer to begin with, we’d had it only a little over a year. We weren’t sure if purchasing an entirely new set of ink cartridge and re-installing would be the answer, as some “experts” suggested. If it didn’t, we would have wasted as much money for the new ink as the printer cost to begin with. So we chucked it, and ordered another printer online–needless to say, a DIFFERENT brand. We have our S**t list of bad printers in case you’re interested to know, but that’s a whole new post in itself.

In the meantime, in case we ever thought we had control over our everyday lives, the weather decided to remind us who has truly has all the power and the glory–like we didn’t already know!

After a very windy Friday evening and all day Saturday, we went to bed Saturday night to the sound of icy rain hitting the deck outside the bedroom.

Sunday morning I awoke to the smell of coffee (Hubby had gotten up earlier as always) and what you see in this photograph of the trees right outside our bedroom window.

Beneath the down comfort I was curled up in, it was so warm and cozy that I debated about even getting up, but eventually the smell of coffee worked its magic.

Here’s what Hubby captured an hour or so earlier while it was still dark. The snow-unholstered chairs seem to be waiting for someone to sit down in them and slice up the giant snow-cake that fills the table. In case it’s not clear, that’s between 12-14 inches piled up. When I look at it, it conjures up the sounds of Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition, don’t ask why…some things just are. In case you’d like to hear it, you can click this link.

There’s something magic about being high up on a hillside, with snowflakes swirling all around, reminding you that whatever plans you thought you had for the day, sometimes nature steps in and makes other plans. And it’s okay. So you do the equivalent of turning on the fireplace (remember when we had to make a fire?), and look for the book you’ve almost finished reading.

The only problem is, for some it’s not about curling up with a book and a cup of coffee, it’s all work. To wit:

A man does get weary. With his renewed wisdom–don’t sweat the small stuff–he tells me later, “It coulda been worse. At least it’s snow and not horse poop.

That’s the way it was.

Today, the bank informs us around mid-morning that the funds have been tracked down and being deposited into our account. The roads are thawing nicely so we can get out in the car and drive down the hill to the bank and take care of the new money draft–hopefully with the correct account number THIS time, and the UPS tracking systems shows our new printer was loaded on the truck in our local terminal early in the A.M. for delivery today.

Since we’re not expecting another major storm until Wednesday, Hubby wants to go see the new Harry Potter movie. It really is all small stuff!

Oh, and just in case you live in a snow-starved area of the world, here’s another couple of choice digital shots–more proof that Utah has the best snow in the country. This is our neighbor’s back yard next door:And this is the neighbor’s house across the street. What you would see if the snow wasn’t there would be the Great Salt Lake (about where that little strip of blue shows up about  midway down).

amusing myself during a yukky day

Old Man Winter showed up sometime last night to pay us a call here in Utah. Since last night it’s either been raining or snowing, giving our roads up here in the hills a slushy reason to pull out the old winter boots. It’s the kind of day meetings get canceled, and planned outings to the gym seem hardly worth the effort. We are planning to venture out for a movie this evening–a free pre-screening of Morning Glory (Harrison Ford, Diane Keaton & Rachel McAdams) that is scheduled for theaters November 12. It’s always nice to see leading movie characters nearer our ages with wrinkles and droopy eyelids just like us. (If I think it’s good, I’ll let you know.)

I really don’t mind snowy days the beginning of winter; it’s just later on I begin to cry Uncle, around January and February, when I’m just plain sick of snow and slush and long underwear. Today it gives me a good excuse to get caught up on a few household chores, after which I began digging away at more old stuff stored in the unused cabinets in the bar downstairs. As always, when I get into this kind of busy work I find things I’d completely forgotten, then spend the rest of day getting lost in old memories. And things to move to the donate pile. Naturally I brought up the old photo albums to scan and organize in my picture files. The one I chose to do today were from a farewell lunch (for Hubby from Battelle in Columbus) in February 1993, just before he transferred to Battelle in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. We moved to Knoxville a few weeks later.

Now that you regular Wintersong readers have gotten to know Hubby from his guest postings during my cancer treatments, I thought you might enjoy seeing this picture that turned up in that file. It was near the end of lunch where everyone has finished making roasting speeches, and the honoree stands up to thank everybody, then somebody calls out Speech! Speech! And he has to make a speech no matter how much it embarrasses him to be the center of attraction.

Is that not the cutest dimple you’ve ever seen? As I look at it, I think what a hunka hunka burning love! But it isn’t Elvis he reminds me of here. It’s Jon Hamm, who plays Don Draper on Mad Men.

I’m pretty sure I was still his barber that year. For years I pretended to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Not only did I cook and bake, but I cut his hair as well because he insisted he liked my cuts better than the barber’s. (I think it was because I was cheaper!) I had to give it up not long after because arthritis started to show up in my hands and made the task more difficult. So I showed these pictures to Hubby and bragged on my hair cutting prowess. I told him he looked like Jon Hamm (back then). He knows how handsome my next door neighbor and I think Jon Hamm is, so he laughed at me and said something equal to you’re crazy! We were both in our late forties at the time. All of were younger–Harrison Ford, Diane Keaton, and I don’t think Rachel McAdams had even been born yet.

So now I’m sneaking this picture into this post just to see how long before (and if) he notices. And hope I don’t get into trouble.

Humm! On second thought, I think he looks better than Jon Hamm. Don’t you think so? ‘Gotta get busy now. There’s three more old albums to scan. Maybe I’ll find some pretty(ier) pictures of me in them…one is our wedding day in 1969. Meanwhile, it’s still snowing.

Back later in the week with another first India impressions post.

in and out of the mouths of babes

or, a more fitting title for this post would be:  how to know when you’re getting really really old!

Sometimes the warts we see in children we watch growing up disappear and in their place, a flower grows–or at least an attractive mushroom.

Hubby and I took our grandson to breakfast this morning enroute to a mid-morning doctor’s appointment. Since the schools around here seem to routinely save money by dropping a school day here and there (a sad necessity I’m sorry to say, here in the beautiful state of Utah), we also were needed to host our grandson today. Going with Grandma and Grandpa to sit around waiting in the doctor’s isn’t exactly his favorite day-off-school activity, but when his only other choice was sitting quietly in Mama’s office at the U–where he has to be really really quiet–all day, or doing a half-hour or so stint in a doctor’s office,  the choice became easier for him but he still wasn’t convinced. So Grandpa threw in the offer of all of us going to breakfast together before the appointment, and he was ours for the day!

Like his grandma, Thomas has inherited the gene that binds us to the taste of pork in general, and more specifically, bacon! Since he doesn’t get it at home, and Grandma can’t have it at home either–except in rare circumstances when she has overnight guests that still eat it and will (so many our age are diet-restricted), we both look forward to breakfast OUT. And we almost always order bacon.

Lately, the last few times we’ve taken the grandchildren to breakfast with us, I’ve noticed the child-sized portions in the childrens’ menu aren’t quite enough food for a growing eight-year-old boy, and we wind up ordering a side item. So today I suggested he might want to check out the adult menu. We talked it over and thought about what he really wanted to eat today, and decided the 2-2-2 breakfast, which included 2 eggs, 2 slices bacon or sausage, and 2 buttermilk pancakes, would fit the bill nicely. Grandpa chose the 4-item combo, with the 4th item being 2 strawberry crepes.

While we waited for our food, we chit-chatted about school and new friends. We also managed to weave in a little conversation about learning to remember important items to take home at the end of every school day. Like school folders with homework projects that must be completed over the weekend and turned in on Monday.

When Grandpa, or Mom, or Dad picked him up from school in the afternoons the last two years, they were there to remind him to be sure he put everything he needed in his backpack to take home. This year he walks alone or with his friends, either home or to our house. He seems to like feeling grown up and it’s good exercise as well. But there’s no one there to remind him to see that he has everything he needs.

Since he forgot to bring home the much-needed folder, we stopped by the school on the way to and from breakfast/doctor’s office but of course since there’s no school there was no one there either time. So now, on Monday, he must face the consequence or not turning homework in on time. In the meantime we hope to help him work on organizational skills–along with the math and spelling skills and other chores being thrown at him.

I remember very well when he was younger and under my supervision in public places. He was a terror! He was terrible about crawling under tables, squirming or climbing out of his highchair, hiding in clothing turnstiles, or running ahead to be the first to get in the elevator–and when he was big enough to reach the buttons he’d close the door long before I could get there (!) and I would panic that he’d get off somewhere and I wouldn’t be able to find him and how would I ever explain it to my daughter that I knew would be devastated if anything happened to him. Until he was born, I never realized how much difference there was in raising boy babies versus the girl babies I had. Then my granddaughter came along, and I decided girls can be terrors too.

Today there was not even a hint of the terror he used to be. He ate all his food except for a few bites of pancake, then shared one of Grandpa’s strawberry crepes and loved it, and behaved very well. When I said no to his going out alone to the car before we finished, and suggested he read the Harry Potter book he had with him so we could all walk out together, he did so without a fuss. There are a few rough edges to be honed still, and a few skills such as organizing to work on as well, but I can see glimpses of the nice kid who lives there (inside) most of the time.

During our table-chat, when we were talking about computers, the talk turned to spell-checking and he was amused that every time he types his mother’s name on the computer, the spell-check comes on and tells him it’s not spelled correctly. Oh I hate when that happens, I said, and his nonchalant answer was essentially no big deal. You just right click and add it to the dictionary. My jaw practically dropped into my lap. Is that true? I did not know that.

I’ve heard about grandparents learning how to operate computers from their grandchildren but so far I’ve thought myself so savvy and computer-literate, certainly for my age. Now I’m learning from my grandson. And you know? I used it writing this post! it’s a useful tool, that spell-check–when you know how to tame it. I never thought my grandson would be teaching me and not the other way around. I must be getting old!

grand dogs and children

Whenever they go away for a few days, Baloo, our daughter’s family’s Australian Shepherd, stays at our house. We feed him and take him for walks every day, and talk to him some, so he’s come to consider our house his second home, his refuge.

This morning shortly after nine o’clock, we heard something pounding up the veranda stairs. It’s Wednesday, so we were pretty sure who it was, and yes, there he was, standing right outside the door to the family room where Hubby was.

He shows up every Wednesday, almost like clockwork, soon after the maid shows up at their house to clean. He hates vacuum cleaners! So we take him in, give him water and have a nice chat with him, then let him hang out at our place until his other family comes home, then we take him home.

Now that the kids are getting older, they’re allowed to ride bikes to our house (about a block away) for short visits. It’s sort of like when I was growing up and my father allowed me to go with him to Grandma & Grandpa’s house whenever he needed to check on them. Too bad more grandmas and grandpas don’t get to see their grandkids and granddogs on such a casual basis. Not a bad way to spend retirement–as long as they all go home to sleep!

Now who could resist this face?

would no guns or fishing on sundays make us better people?

Well, it’s been a long time since I posted anything from the Looking Back series my uncles wrote in the mid-1980’s. There aren’t many left and I’ve been reluctant to get to the bottom of the pile. As it has a way of doing from time to time, that file turned up while I was looking for something else, and as I poked around through the unposted pieces, I found this little gem. It begins like most if not all his stories began:

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Back in the early thirties when I was a boy on the farm with my father and mother and eight brothers, things were much different than they are today. In the country that I grew up in, it was against the law to shoot a gun or to fish on Sunday. Even if it hadn’t been illegal, I wasn’t supposed to go because Papa said it was wrong and I was more afraid of him than any game warden or sheriff.

One Sunday afternoon I was riding my horse in the woods back near the river. There was a lake that we called the Black Lake. The river had overflowed and left lots of big fish when it was down. I always carried a cork stopper from a syrup bottle in my pocket with a hook and line wrapped around it.

I rode the horse to the lake and cut a pole from a tree limb. For bait I put a small frog on the hook, and I was ready to catch a big one! I threw my hook into the water and as soon as it hit, a large one grabbed it and as fast as I could throw it in and pull it out, I would have a big brim!

Soon I had a large string of fish, but what was I going to do with them since it was Sunday and Papa wouldn’t let us fish on Sunday? Well, after a short conversation with myself, I decided I’d take them to a black man’s house that was on my way home. This would be better than throwing them back. No one would ever believe that I had caught them if I threw them back.

I took the fish to the black man’s house then and gave them to him, but he insisted that I stay and help eat them. There were several other black men there, most of whom worked for Papa, and soon we had the fish cleaned. Rebecca, the black man’s wife, cooked them. I had to sit at the table with them and being the only white person there, I looked like a pale ghost on a dark night.

The black man that owned the house was named Jessie and was very hard of hearing. Before we ate, Goat, another black man, was going to ask the blessing, but Jessie didn’t hear and began talking. Well, Goat just stopped asking the blessing and said “excuse me Lord while I talk to Jessie.”  Afterwards he continued asking the blessing as if nothing ever happened.

The fish was soon eaten, and I was on my way back home. I know this isn’t an exciting story today, but it would have been in the early thirties because the country was segregated and white and black people did not eat together and you did not go fishing on Sunday.

Children today never think anything of eating with black friends or going hunting or fishing on Sunday. It isn’t against the law and Daddy will carry them fishing or hunting before he will carry them to church.


Postscript: I’m not sure if fishing or shooting a gun on Sunday was against real law or if everyone in our neck of the woods just thought so. Even I didn’t realize the difference between “family” or “Baptist” or “real” law until after I grew up and decided that whatever was fun was against some law or the other at the time, enough to make you want to get away as soon as you grew up. In spite of all these laws, his humor remained intact and probably helped him overcome whatever shortcomings that we can legitimately blame on our humble beginnings.

Since he was a practicing minister during the writing of Looking Back, naturally he included moral-shaded elements of his newfound religious convictions. He never considered that anything other than having fathers (or mothers sometimes) who didn’t take their children to church on Sundays was the reason they sometimes didn’t turn out so swell in life. If only bringing up children was as simple as taking them to church. Life should be so easy.

His success–as a minister and as a story teller–was no doubt much more the result of the family stories he skillfully wove into his sermons rather than his limited Bible school education.