Sunday, January 17, 2016

Home

Most of us will go through life having more than a few places we'll call home. Different stages in our lives-different circumstances warrant changes in our address. Some of those changes go unnoticed. A very few remain with us no matter where we go. It's not because of brand name counter tops or built-in fireplaces or in-ground pools with surrounding paper brick. While that stuff might make us comfortable, none of it matters for the simple reason home is not defined by a price tag or a brand or color or design. Rather, home is defined in our hearts. Home tugs at us. Like a bird in its nest, we know when we're there. Home wraps us up in comfort like an old, tattered quilt. Home keeps the world away. Home allows us to be still.

I have a few places I call home. The one that comes to mind more often than not was my first home. The home where I grew up before we moved to the country when I was in the third grade. I remember every nook and cranny of that clapboard house situated on a lane. My mind can wander through its rooms like a video recorder. I can still feel the 2nd step down into my bedroom move. I can hear it creak. I can smell the aromas from the kitchen coming up through a register in my bedroom. I can hear the wind swirling  though the trees in the back yard. A few years ago, I drove by that house. It used to be yellow but is now an emerald green. That didn't matter. I still saw it as yellow. The owners happened to be out front. I knew the minute I saw them I was going to stop. I pulled right up to the same curb I'd jumped over and walked on when I was a little girl. I introduced myself and explained why I was stopping. Without my asking, they invited me inside the house that tugs at my heart. As they took me from room to room changes made to that home didn't matter either. In fact, I felt the 2nd step down into what had been my bedroom move although there were new steps. Three in fact. And they didn't move. I could smell the aromas from the kitchen still coming up through a register although the register was no longer there. I could hear the wind swirling through the trees in the backyard even though the trees were gone. 

I define that home by memories I hold dear in my heart. While I don't dwell on that place and time, when I do think of it, I get in touch with that little girl inside me.

That clapboard home on the lane grounds me. Brings me back-then pushes me forward and on I go to that place I now call home-out in the country with smells and textures all its own with a barn out back and fields to explore.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Old Skates Full of Memories

Besides the pine desk my grandfather made me one year for Christmas being one of my most favorite Christmas presents ever, my white figure skates are on that list as well. Little did I know that particular Christmas morning, as I sat on my knees in the living room of a house situated alongside a lane, with my grandmother watching me open a box and finding the skates underneath sheets of tissue paper, that many years later I'd remember that moment when opening the box as if it was yesterday. I'd asked for the skates. I'd seen them sitting on a sled in a window of a hardware store in our downtown when out Christmas shopping with my mother. The skates were just as I imagined. I knew they were for me.

Shortly after that Christmas we moved out to the country. Lucky for me and my skates there was a creek that flowed through the field behind our house and cousins next door who loved to skate. In the winter once the creek froze over, we were down there whenever possible. That meant after school, on weekends, and in the evenings. I can't remember ever being cold. We'd be having too much fun-zooming along at top speed, twirling, racing, eating snow and ice pellets, pretending we were in the Olympics, etching designs in the ice with the tips of our skates. Whenever it snowed, we'd shovel paths all about the creek and then skate along them as if they were roads on top of the ice, leading to anywhere we wished to go, anywhere around the world. It was always fun to look down through the ice at weeds and creek grass frozen in place. It was like having a huge frozen water globe all to ourselves. In fact, we did have it all to ourselves. A few times we'd pack a lunch including hot chocolate and follow the creek as it wove through the field, under fences, around rocks and trees. Our journey took forever. There was a lot of exploring to be done.

Skating under the moon and stars was my favorite time. We were never afraid of the looming shadows or the wind howling through the barren trees. They added to the backdrop. And as the wind sang its lonely song my cousin and I would lay on top of the ice and talk and dream and take in the glittering beauty surrounding us. Those millions of stars were the most glittering stars I've ever seen enhanced by the mysterious-the magical moon.

Although I no longer use my skates, I still have them with me. They've survived moves from one place to another. They've been kept in closets, garages, boxes, trunks of cars. I even lost track of them a few times. But through it all, they've survived. While they've lost their youth, I still see them as I did that Christmas of long ago. And this past Christmas I put them on display with an old sleigh for all to see-especially me.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Pg. 51-French Goulash

Back in 1975 the oldest of my grandmother's six daughters undertook a project that still brings smiles to those of us who have followed. This aunt was quite creative. I remember her making Christmas candles using discarded milk cartons and serving the best sloppy joes ever. But it was that project years ago of sitting down with my grandmother and collecting her most treasured recipes and then putting them in order in a handwritten cookbook that takes the cake-pardon the pun. You have to understand. Many of my grandmother's recipes weren't written down or found in another cookbook. They certainly weren't on line. The only on line back then was a clothesline.Her recipes were in her heart-her mind. Many didn't have exact measurements. A pinch of this-a thing or two of that were used to define teaspoons and tablespoons. How long to bake something was often not told in time but how something looked or smelled in the oven. "Until it looks cooked" was a favortie line used by my grandmother.

So for my aunt to assemble the recipes and then record them for others to be able to use with exactness was a mighty task. But she did it in style-breaking the cookbook into seasons and telling stories of each season as they grew up on the family farm. It is an anthology of sorts of a time that has long since disappeared-including their one-room schoolhouse, telling how my grandfather would harvest ice with his team of horses and flatbed sleigh from a nearby river-to the lighting of candles nestled inside little tin candle clips on Christmas morning after breakfast, those candle tins sitting on tips of branches of a Christmas tree put up on Christmas Eve. Besides the recipes, those memories are reason enough to cherish the cookbook-to keep it for generations still to come-offering them a glimpse of relatives and a way of life they will never know.

While I have copies of the cookbook given to me be my cousin that have never been touched I chose to show the cover of that cookbook I've used over and over. The stains-the tape holding it together show how much I treasure it-how much I go to it for not only a recipe but to reread the stories. The line illustrations by yet another cousin add the perfect touch.

Of all my favorite recipes in, "Mom's Farm Kitchen", a favorite is on pg. 51-"French Goulash." I've made that goulash so many times and every time the smell of the bacon cooking, along with a pepper and onion, as spaghetti is cooked and drained in wait of being added-brings me back to my grandmother's farmhouse kitchen. That's what family recipes do. And when I make her rice pudding on page 79 and her Banana Nut Bread on page 108 I'm in heaven!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Soup's On


 

It’s fitting that January follows the hustle and stress of Christmas. Call me odd but January’s my favorite month of the year. It’s always been my favorite. When I was little, it was the mounds of snow that intrigued me. It didn’t matter how cold it was, my cousins and I would stay outside making snow houses and castles and forts. Now when January rolls around, the art of soup-making intrigues me. Drawing me to the kitchen which is not where I normally prefer to create. I didn’t come by this soup thing on my own. It’s in the genes. And it is an art. Add a loaf of bread and a salad and January gets even better.

Along with donuts and breads, French goulash and everything else in between, my grandmother was the original soup guru. Anything leftover became soup for the next day. When you farm the land and you’re raising six daughters, there’s nothing called waste. Instead of following recipes, my grandmother followed her intuition with the season of the year determining which vegetables might be added to the boiling brew. Void of any additives or extracts or artificial this-and-that, freshness was a given. I’m convinced that’s the reason why so many lived long and healthy lives back then.

My mother was known for her witch’s brew. This favorite soup wasn’t served just around Halloween but all through fall and straight through March or April depending on the weather. The thought of that broth slowly cooking on top of the stove with snow softly falling makes the realization that it’s January quite exciting.

Making the brew was an all day event or maybe it just seemed that way. Anticipation has a way of doing that when you’re young. After cutting up the carrots and onions just so, my mother would add the seasonings including bouillon cubes. She loved bouillon cubes. Kept cans of them in a drawer next to the stove. She’d often boil a cup of water. Then throw in some cubes and drink it like a cup of tea.

There was no certain recipe followed. Sometimes tomatoes would be added. Sometimes she’d cut up a green pepper or dice chicken into small pieces or make tiny meatballs dressed in garlic and bread crumbs. While whatever made up a particular version may have varied, there was one constant-one ingredient never left out and that was acini d’pepe. Those little round bits of pasta were the icing on the cake or in this case-the finishing touch of a homemade soup which I now create. Cutting up the carrots and onions just so. Adding the seasonings including bouillon cubes and then going to the refrigerator to see what else I might add before stirring in those tiny bits of pasta.
 
This so-called brew holds memories of family gathering. Of being in a place of warmth and contentment while outside the wind would howl and the snow would grow into giant mounds-perfect for kids to roll in or slide down or pack into balls after having their bowl of witch’s brew on any given January day.
(Photo shows my grandmother's woodstove in her farmhouse kitchen. Most likely that is a pot of soup brewing).