Saturday, February 26, 2011

Breakfasts at Giddy's

I've told you about my grandmother Giddy's molasses cookies so big that they took two little hands to hold and her traditional Christmas bread that remains a tradition and brown donuts that melted in your mouth. Her breakfasts were just as special. Whether they were enjoyed in that huge farmhouse kitchen surrounded by wainscoating or some years later in the smaller home she and Grampie and my aunt Claire moved to within view of that homestead, breakfasts at Giddy's surpassed any IHop anywhere.

For some reason Sunday breakfast seemed extra special.I think it was because we took extra time to enjoy each other around the pine table with its drop-in leaf. My Aunt Claire always sat in the same place. She kept her things in the same spot-like pills, pencils, a small pad of paper, maybe a stray button or piece of candy. On the window sill beside her sat trinkets she'd received from her nieces and nephews. Usually a candle was in the mix. If my cousin Carol and I had stayed the night-enjoying Gunsmoke, Lawrence Welk, and Paladin-we lingered even longer.

By today's anti-lard, anti-grease, anti-fat standards Giddy's eggs cooked in bacon grease and served with a dash of pepper and salt would have been considered a no-no. So too would have been her French Goulash-spaghetti mixed with garden stewed tomatoes, onion, and a half a pound of cut-up bacon-all blended together with the bacon grease, dotted with real butter and baked until just brown. One more note on lard and grease: during haying season when Giddy cooked the big meal at noon for all the workers and Grampie, there'd be bowls of grease from whatever meat she was serving. Throughout the feast her homemade bread smothered in butter was dipped into the piping hot grease-and enjoyed! Giddy lived into her eighties. My grandfather died of asthma but lived a long life. While they consumed the grease and lard like we do lettuce and fruits and nuts the difference is their food was chemical free. They grew and raised most all they consumed.

Of all the breakfast treasures she served-the french toast and pancakes both fried in hot fat, then covered in butter and real maple syrup; the hot oatmeal or corn meal, a favorite was her rice croquettes which were simply cooked rice mixed with beaten eggs, shaped into croquettes, rolled in flour or bread crumbs-then cooked in that deep fat until browned and served with hot tomato sauce. We'd stuff ourselves with those croquettes-and pancakes and french toast and eggs and bacon and hot cereal. There was just something about gathering around that kitchen table at the beginning of a new day-where aromas of cinammon and bacon and coffee perking mingled about and the spirit of a woman we all called Giddy made us feel a part of something special called family.

Those breakfasts are now sweet memories made even sweeter when considering I was given that simple pine table with its drop-in leaf. On Sundays when my sister comes for coffee we sit around the table and talk and share-just like days gone by with Giddy cooking and wide-eyed grandchildren talking and sharing and eating. Last Christmas I sat around that table with my 6-month-old granddaughter. When she is old enough I will tell her about others who'd gathered around that table and if she asks I'll cook her rice croquettes or pancakes or french toast. I'll go light with the butter. It's a new generation.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Getting the Message Right on Valentine's Day

I remember when I was in grade school how my stomach would be tied in knots when trying to decide which valentine would go to which classmate. Those knots became even tighter when it came to choosing a valentine for a boy. It couldn't say too much. "Be My Valentine" was a no-no. "Be My Friend" was a bit nervy.

Making folders that would hold the valentines we'd be receiving from classmates was not quite so nerve racking. Rather, it was fun folding the construction paper; then very lightly drawing half-hearts on the fold. After cutting the shapes, we'd open the paper to discover perfectly shaped hearts. When everyone in the class was finished, our teacher would pass out fancy doilies. We'd take turns using some of the white sticky paste scooped out from a plastic gallon container sitting in the middle of her desk. Wiping some of the goo on the backs of our cut-out hearts we'd then stick them onto the doilies. I remember thinking they were breathtaking. When we were finished with the folders we'd make valentine cards for our parents.

Besides the school party with homemade sugar cookies shaped like hearts covered in red dye frosting and the red dye punch served in little paper cups, the best part of Valentine's Day was taking that folder full of valentines-each tucked inside a flimsy envelope-home to be studied over and over again. Who gave me what valentine? Which boy gave me which valentine with which message? Would any say, "Be My Valentine"? Would any ask me,"Be My Friend"? Sometimes-they did! That's right sometimes a boy asked those questions and when he did I'd study the valentine like a hawk-checked the artwork-the message-the signature. Did he sign it or did his mother? You see when it comes from the heart the signature has to be genuine-especially on Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Valentine Snow Cupcakes and Cookies

Getting ready for Valentine's Day was especially fun in our chicken coop clubhouse. Despite the snow sneaking in through the cracks we were so busy it never really bothered us. We'd swipe it off the desks; push it aside with our boots and play-honest to goodness, pure imagination full-steam ahead play as we made valentine cards and valentine chains kept together by a pastey sort of glue made ahead of time by mixing flour and water. Valentine decorations were created and put in the windows which were allowing the snow inside.

We'd instruct our two rows of pretend students to follow us as we drew designs on the chalkboard; then drew them on paper much of which had become wet by the snow and then cut them out with an old pair of scissors our grandmother gave us. We helped our pretend students make cards to take to their pretend families living in pretend homes nearby. Each student had a name taped to their desk. Of course, as is usually the case, we had our favorites! Those who didn't behave didn't get the pretend snacks at snack time which was snow piled on top of cardboard plates.

Snacks varied-everything from pretend valentine snow cupcakes to pretend valentine snow cookies with little stones-serving as pretend chocolate chips-which had been found under the snow and dug up by little frozen fingers. Whatever we were serving was quite delicious. After our pretend students left to go back to their pretend homes we'd stay to finish the snacks they'd left behind. Those valentine snow cookies were our favorites although the chocolate chips were just too hard to chew even when we were pretending!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Christmas Lights and Valentine Hearts

Now that January has given way to February with its chocolate hearts and paper hearts and hearts on socks and hearts on cards and hearts on sleeves declaring love forever-I have finally put most of Christmas back into boxes and drawers and wherever else I can stuff it.

Out near the barn there remains a string of solar-powered Christmas lights strung around a massive bush of some sort sitting by itself in the field. When it's been a bright, sunny winter's day those lights of red and green and blue illuminate winter's night. Looking out the back window when the dark sky's a bed of silver stars and the moon's but a sliver those dancing lights in the massive bush spread wonder and warmth out across the giant snowdrifts and into the hearts of anyone passing by. That alone justifies leaving them up. After all, it is the month of hearts and I'll keep them up until the month of hearts lends itself to the month of shamrocks.