Friday, January 15, 2021

Rice Croquettes in the Wintertime

 Growing up when the snow started falling and the wind howled it became time for mittens and boots; skates, sleds, and toboggans as well as homemade soups and breads, casseroles and a favorite my grandmother used to make-Rice Croquettes. 

I'm sure any of us grandchildren who sat around her kitchen table enjoying those rice croquettes never understood what a croquette was but it didn't matter. We were going by the taste, the warmth and the fun we had sitting around that table in the wintertime. Sometimes after skating down at the creek, we'd stop at our grandmother's and if she was baking cookies or making rice croquettes she'd sit us down to enjoy whatever it was she was making. Her molasses cookies were so delicious. One was a handful.

I never realized until years later that rice croquettes are quite simple to make. There are only four ingredients. After mixing the ingredients together, you roll out the croquettes in flour and cook them in deep fat until browned. The crowning glory was topping those croquettes off with hot tomato sauce or hot tomato soup. Tomato soup was usually my grandmother's choice. I remember anxiously waiting for her to cover my croquette with her hot tomato soup. 

Who knew such a soup could be so exciting-exciting as whipped cream on a chocolate pie. Icing on a cake. Meringue on a lemon pie. But it was and it had everything to do with my grandmother who turned rice croquettes into sought after delicacies served with love in the wintertime.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

That Other Christmas Catalog

I loved it when the Sears Wish Book came in the mail. I'd spend lots of time going through the toy section over and over again. Eventually I'd mark everything I hoped Santa Claus would bring me and then point  out to my mother which ones I liked the most; which ones I really, really hoped to find under the Christmas tree.

Besides the Sears Wish Book, there was another catalog that came in the mail before Christmas that I really, really liked It wasn't as glitzy or jam packed with pages chuck full of toys and dolls and doll beds and doll clothes and stuffed animals and games and bikes and on and on and on yet I'd get so excited to look through the pages of that catalog-the Miles Kimball Christmas Catalog. I never had to share that catalog with my older brother like I did the Sears Wish Book because he had no interest in it so I was able to sit at my desk in my bedroom and go through it over and over again. I always found things that I considered little treasures, along with so much more that can't be wrapped. Feelings can't be stuffed in a box and put under a tree. 

Unlike the Wish Book, I saved copies of the Miles Kimball Christmas Catalog over the years. Now that I'm older I understand why I did that and why they caught my attention as a little girl. It was a 'feeling' I would get when I saw the catalog in the mailbox. It felt like being home. It felt comfortable. It wasn't just the pages of merchandise that pulled me in. It was that catalog's presentation. It wasn't just selling Christmas. The Miles Kimball Christmas Catalog was embracing Christmas.

From original Christmas artwork on the cover to Alberta Kimball's welcoming letter to all the small boxes of copy all following a theme-spread throughout the pages, that catalog told a story. It was like sitting on your grandmother's knee while rocking in her rocking chair. I could almost smell the sugar cookies baking and hear the wind push the snow against the window panes. It was anticipation and wonder all in one. And that is a gift I will never forget.


Sunday, December 6, 2020

The Old Tin Santa Claus

There was something about the old tin Santa Claus sitting inside an old cardboard box on a wooden shelf in an open outdoor shed that caught my eye. The area was full of one-of-a-kind Christmas wreaths and precious one-of-a-kind holiday decorations like the old tin Santa Claus obviously put together with love and imagination by the woman who owns the acres of Christmas trees where we’ve been going for quite a few years in search of and then the sawing down of our Christmas trees.
I arrived early so while I waited for two certain little ones to get there with their parents I spent some time looking for a tree and wandering about that shed. I noticed the old tin Santa Claus right away despite the fact it was sitting way in the back. Once I was standing in front of him, I knew I’d be taking him home. I didn’t need him. I had no use for him. I realized he’d only be sitting inside his old cardboard box on a shelf or on a table in my home. And that was fine with me. He wasn't fancy or computerized or collectible or signed and numbered by the artist. The old tin Santa was, simply put, simple.
Standing there, I realized that was it. He was simple; created by the putting together of a collection of odds ‘n ends of things-of nothings some would say-and then perched on a wooden shelf in an open outdoor shed that felt more like the North Pole than a shed off on a country road. If you stayed still and took in the moment and remembered that feeling of believing when you were a child; if you allowed your imagination to soar, you’d be convinced those famous reindeer were near and sugar cookies were baking and elves were painting rocking horses and sewing outfits for dolls and knitting mittens and stuffing teddy bears.

I was convinced. I bought that old tin Santa Claus sitting inside an old cardboard box. And now that he has become part of the family, I've figured out what it was, other than his simplicity, that caught my attention.

You see, that old tin Santa Claus reminded me of an old Santa Claus my grandmother would put out on display this time of year. That Santa was simple. He didn't talk or do any tricks. He was just Santa Claus. Santa Claus doesn't need to do tricks. If you believe in him, you just simply Believe.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

For the Love of Johnnycake

This time of the year brings back memories of sitting at my grandmother's kitchen table enjoying more than a few slices of her freshly baked johnnycake. Most times it'd still be nice and warm. The aroma of that favorite cake often eaten with meals like bread filled her home. When you walked through the front door and caught the scent of johnnycake, it was as if you'd discovered a little bit of heaven. Actually, my cousin and I did. It was always heaven being around our grandmother whose johnnycake was made from scratch without any need to look up a recipe in a cookbook or go searching in a drawer for a piece of paper with the recipe scribbled on it. She knew that recipe by heart.

The Quaker Corn Meal packaged in its distinctive box was a staple in her home. She used corn meal for many things. But johnnycake was the main event. As we sat around the kitchen table indulging ourselves with a slice or two, we'd sometimes hear about how when they-meaning my grandparents and their children-used to make dessert out of their warm johnnycake by pouring maple syrup made in the spring over their slices. I can only imagine the taste!

I still love johnnycake. In fact, I make johnnycake but it's nothing like what my grandmother made while wearing a house dress with her hair pulled up in a bun.. I buy those little boxes Of Jiffy Corn Muffin mixes. You just have to pour the batter into an 8" square pan when making johnnycake. Add milk and an egg to their mix and twenty minute later, you have johnnycake. Or should I say a version of johnnycake. 

You see it doesn't come with family gathered once again around a kitchen table where they often gathered, talking and laughing as the older generation would tell the younger generation stories from days of long ago-stories the younger generation often asked if they'd tell them again and again. Most often they did tell their stories again and most often they told them while we enjoyed warm, homemade johnnycake with a touch of real butter and served with a meal or served with just a piping hot freshly perked cup of coffee made in a coffee pot that had served so many cups of coffee alongside johnnycake made from scratch, not from a box. 

Friday, October 30, 2020

Watching The Twilight Zone With My Cousin

 When I think about it, I was the lucky one back when watching The Twilight Zone with my cousin. Those were the days when we lived next door to each other out in the country. Separating us was a field with a pathway that we used to go back and forth. Lining one side of that field was a row of tall, stately poplar trees. To this day I can still hear the leaves in those trees rustle in the wind. When Halloween was approaching that rustling sounded more like witches screeching.

One night most every week for quite awhile my cousin would walk, or run, through the field to my house so that we could watch The Twilight Zone together. It was such a frightening show that watching it alone was never an option. Once she arrived, we'd flick the lights off and turn on CBS to get our 25 minutes of fear and suspense. I will now admit I got the better end of that scenario. I wasn't the one who had to run back home through that field with those poplar leaves moaning in the dark after watching The Twilight Zone. I just had to lock the door and go to bed. Most always I never went right to sleep. I'd replay the episode we'd just watched over and over again in my head.

Now thinking about those scary, cliffhanging, suspenseful weekly episodes, I think it was the voice of Rod Sterling that got me the most. Not that his voice was scary. It was his delivery. He'd grab my attention from the very first word and keep my attention to the very last word-all spoken in a monotone that needed no special effects. Just having Rod Sterling standing there and talking to me without a change in facial expression or inflection in his delivery or fancy backdrops was enough for me. His setting the stage to what was to come only enhanced the storyline that followed. From science fiction to fantasy; suspense to the unexpected, those weekly stories never disappointed. My cousin and I would talk about what we'd watched all weekend long until we were back again in the living room with the lights out, listening to Rod Sterling and watching his Twilight Zone. 

Who can forget him saying to each and everyone of us: "The Twilight Zone is a place that exists at any moment of time, space or of mind-but always when you least expect it. When you find yourself in this realm of unlimited possibility, be careful what you say or do. The right decision may help you find your way back out, sometimes with greater happiness & wealth. The wrong decisions often lead to madness & death, or an eternity trapped in this dimension.
Tread warily past the sign post ahead that says you have entered-The Twilight Zone!"
And my cousin and I entered that zone with our eyes wide open and hearts beating and imaginations awake and ready to go.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Story in a Hedgerow


I took the above photo of a hedgerow a few weeks ago. Most any photo taken outdoors this time of the year stirs one’s senses but this one was telling me a story that I couldn’t figure out. That changed yesterday when I opened up an old cupboard where I keep little odds ‘n ends of things, most handmade by my children over the years —like a small ceramic ghost holding a pumpkin and a stuffed-with-newspapers-brown paper bag made to look like a pumpkin face and a ceramic statue of Charlie Brown and a painted, wooden tulip in a wooden vase as well as small candles and small Santas and reindeer and bunnies and trinkets from Dollar stores.

I’d gone to the cupboard over the weekend for a few Halloween ceramic pumpkins and while I was getting the pumpkins I noted a plastic bag way in the back. Sitting on the floor, I pulled the bag out; reached inside and grabbed hold of three very large and very beautiful quilt tops my mother had made. (Example of one shown above). I’ve written before of her sewing skills. She was meticulous. Her eye for color and design was keen. After sitting there for a bit, I put the quilt tops in the plastic bag and sat them way back in the old cupboard with all the other beloved treasures gathered together, safe and sound and out of the way.

So yesterday there I was yet again—back in the cupboard for a few more Halloween trinkets. The minute I saw the plastic bag with my mother’s quilt tops inside, it happened. I heard the story that hedgerow was telling me. I realized the quilt tops were telling me the same story. My mother had the ability to turn all those little mismatched pieces of color and design into keepsakes with every stitch she made. Mother Nature took the wind and the sun and the soil and the rain and turned a simple hedgerow of mismatched brambles and weeds and mini trees and grass sitting along a country road into a breathtaking pallet of design and color.

Both told a story of determination. Both revealed a beauty unique to themselves, even those brambles and weeds twisted together like pieces of fabric sewn together in quilt tops kept in a cupboard.


Sunday, October 11, 2020

Witches' Brew

Growing up in the country provided the perfect spooky setting when Halloween was looming. Poplar trees with limbs bare transformed themselves into scrawny fingers ready to snatch any one of us kids as we ran by in a hurry. Leaves scurrying over the fields evolved into mice rushing toward us. We were certain our grandfather's old barn with its main door creaking in the howling wind sounded more like screeching witches cackling under the big orange moon. But Halloween wasn't only looming outside with bats swooping down and ghosts swirling about. Things were happening inside the house as well. Especially in the kitchen.

For as long as I can remember when my mother would go to the cupboard and take out her largest cooking pot and set it on top of the stove as the leaves fell and the wind blew and homes were decorated with pumpkins and cornstalks and my cousins and I were figuring out what we'd be for Halloween, I knew what my mother was going to make. She made it come every October. And she made it more than once. More than twice. It was our favorite soup and it was perfect for that time of the year. Somehow it became known as Witches' Brew. 

Maybe it was that pot she was using. Surely if you were a kid you could have imagined it as a witch's pot. It wasn't black. It was silver but it was deep with pitch black handles and when she had her gooey, yellowish brew bubbling and she stood there stirring the brew with a long, wooden spoon, that cauldron full of a boiling, gooey yellowish g broth resembled a cauldron any witch would use. Even my mother. Even when her hair was done up in pin curls.

Standing in the kitchen, watching her stir her tasty concoction I imagined her dressed in black with a pointed hat and long, sharp fingernails despite her fingernails always manicured to perfection. When she added tiny little eyeballs, and cut-up parts and disgusting things that were little and round, that pot would get boiling hot and stem would cover the kitchen windows. Once it had roared to the point of being cooked, my mother would fill enough bowls and set them around the table along with warm cornbread just out of the oven. As we gathered around the table, we'd pick up our spoons and immerse them in our bowls of witches' brew. 

And that's when the gooey, yellowish brew turned into chicken broth and those tiny little eyeballs became acini de pepes and those cut-up parts transformed into cut-up bits of celery, peppers and onions and those disgusting things that were little and round became delicious little meatballs.

Witches' Brew stirred the imagination at a most spooky, gruesome, scary and absolutely marvelously unforgettable fun time of the year when growing up out in the country. And witches' brew continues to be enjoyed, even by the next generation-tiny little eyeballs included.