10 Family Foods. 10 Fabulously Festive Family Foods! (Ah, ah, ah…*thunder and lightening*)
Is this a Muppet Count-down? No, not really. This is Day #2 of my mother’s birthday present. Yesterday’s post introduced the project and 10 Background Bits of my mother’s life. Today being Christmas Day, I want to tell you about my mother’s culinary talents. This is a day that we would spend feasting and in high spirits. Christmas Eve Mass having been accomplished and Mom’s choir commitment completed, she’d turn her attention to Christmas dinner. There’s so much I could write about, but I’ll keep it down to 10 things, and I’ll limit them to things that I have actually made myself. Except for this first item…
1) Fruitcake — You may shudder, but wait! My mother’s fruitcake is a triumph of dark, rum-and-brandy-soaked cake popping with candied fruits and savory nuts. The recipe is from Julia Child herself. Mom used to make it weeks ahead of Christmas in a huge, plastic tub (which later served as an infant bathtub for my baby brother), wrap it in cheesecloth, douse it with brandy and let it age. A dozen foil-wrapped parcels went out to the most appreciative friends and neighbors. Now my sister Sarah makes it, and if I’ve been good, I may get one in the mail this year, too. I have NEVER attempted this on my own. I doubt I could live up to the legacy.
2) Roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and gravy from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook — Fannie and I have become good friends, and though my original copy is pretty trashed, I am partner to a bookseller and have a few new editions at my fingertips. Yes, I can make this…and have!
3) Cran-orange relish — The recipe is on a postcard my mother sent to me when I moved back to the Midwest from California. It simply says, “1 bag cranberries, 2 navel oranges, 1 cup sugar. Grind and enjoy!” I should mention that I’m still using Grandma Marion’s food grinder from the 1940s. I’ll probably keep using it until that worn out cord and plug start a fire.
4) Pecan pie (and mince pie) — Again, from Fannie Farmer.
5) Lobster — When we lived in Massachusetts where I was born, Mom learned how to cook a live lobster. I didn’t end up cooking the first one on my own until we were living in California, and I was in college. My fiance Jim drove home from the fish market with the live lobster on his shoulder just to freak out passing motorists. I showed him how to hypnotize the lobster by holding it head down and stroking its tail. When it was limp, dropping it into the pot of boiling water (don’t forget a bit of Vermouth!) was a cinch.
6) Roast leg of lamb — Make slits in the outside and insert slivers of garlic cloves before putting it in the oven. I like rosemary and gravy more than mint sauce with it. I have a picture of myself one Christmas with a Lambchop puppet on my arm; we’re both looking aghast at the serving platter.
We can’t feast like Christmas all year long, so here are some samples of every day fare.
7) Soup — My mother kept a stock pot in her ‘fridge all week. On Wednesdays, when she’d be going out to choir practice, she’d make a batch of soup from leftovers and stock that we could eat ‘whenever’ and clean up without her supervision. To this day, she makes soup every week for the Food Pantry. Steve and I have dubbed her “Our Lady Of Perpetual Soup”.
8) Chili — The family recipe is pretty mild. Steve adds Tabasco and cheese and oyster crackers, and if I let him really indulge his Milwaukee roots, I’ll serve it on spaghetti noodles. Texas folk, please avert your eyes!
9) Chicken and rice — Basic dinner memories: the smell of onions and mushrooms sauteing in butter as the sun goes down. Add the chicken, rice and liquid to the same pot. Season with your favorite flavor combinations.
10) Brownies — Not from a box! Made by melting Baker’s chocolate and butter on a double boiler and adding it to the creamed butter and sugar. Then add the eggs and the flour and dry ingredients. Memorable mishaps: pouring hot, melted butter and chocolate into the creamed butter and sugar AFTER having added the eggs and watching bits of cooked scrambled eggs emerge. And my sister putting in half a cup of baking SODA instead of half a TEASPOON of baking POWDER. The brown, bubbly stuff spilling out of the pan and all over the oven resembled lava! Cool!
Tomorrow, for St. Stephen’s Day, 10 Musical Memories…
In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Gone, But Not Forgotten.”
Well, this is an obvious one. After all, I am a widow. How can I forget the love of my life, my one and only husband, the father of my four children and the man who bought me my first Canon (an AE-1 for Christmas when I was 17)? I am in a wonderful relationship now with a new partner, Steve, and he’s featured in many of my posts. But Jim is my first love, the man who was beside me for 30 years, from the time I was 15. So much of my adult formation took place in those years, even though profound change has happened since. Shortly after Jim died, I became an empty-nester, I sold our home, and I stopped practicing evangelical Christianity. Gone are my ‘suburban mom’ characteristics…the van, the mortgage, the disposable income, the salaried position with a Christian company in my home town, the prayer groups and Bible studies, the daily involvement with my kids. My life is definitely different. I am much more independent and self-reliant now. But I haven’t forgotten how well loved I was, how dedicated Jim was to taking care of me. As his best friend said at his memorial service, he was a Prince of a man. And he was definitely Charming.
Yesterday was a wonderful day, a triumph of change, of many changes coming together. Thanksgiving is Steve’s favorite holiday, and what’s not to love? Fall colors, harvest time, lots of great food, a crisp chill in the air, wood smoke, and an all-pervading sense of gratitude for the process of life.
We’ve hosted Steve’s family for dinner at our place for the past 4 years. “Our Place”, however, is not just a home. It’s an online book business, which means that our inventory is stored under the same roof. That roof was replaced this year, bringing inches of old cedar pieces and dust down on top of our piles of books. It was a mess. The clean up and resorting was enormous. But Thanksgiving was the deadline: we wanted to host as usual. Piles of books, CDs, video tapes and packing materials carpeted all the rooms and stairwells in the house. We literally had to pick our way through for months. Steve took infinite trips up the narrow, steep stairs to the attic, laden with heavy boxes and stacks. But yesterday was a triumph! The place was clean, the table glistened, the food was colorfully delicious, and everyone had a great time. And Steve got to put his feet up and read aloud in Italian.
We are really getting good at team work. The next triumphant convergence will occur tomorrow, when we get together with all my children and their ‘significant otters’ for a holiday which we call ‘Galassoween’. Five couples, two generations and as many various lifestyles merge to create a feast of conversation and edible togetherness. And it will take place in the house that my daughter and her fiance have rebuilt. (see this post, “Harvesting Hope”) I’m looking forward to it! (but first, I have a lot of dishes to wash…)
Happy Thanksgiving! I am doubly thankful for you, the blogging community. Thank you for your visits and thank you for hosting me when I visit. It’s been great fun and great learning doing this project. There are (at least) twice as many wonders in this world to see than I imagine. I am grateful to be opened and broadened and expanded by your lives and your art. Thank You, Thank You!!
Treasure: what is it? I’ve worked at museums long enough to know what an artifact is. Usually, it’s an object that you find or dig up. It can tell you about the environment, what kinds of things lived there, what they did and when. Paleontologists like to say that archaeologists study garbage, stuff people throw away, while they study bones and fossils.
Some artifacts get handed down from one generation to another instead of being thrown away. There is a sense of value in the thing itself. It’s special to someone in some way. It carries attachment, and those attachments are preserved along with the object.
So, maybe ‘treasure’ is really about our attachment, the things we want to hold on to. Many times those things are ephemeral: feelings, living beings, pleasant moments in time. We know they will not endure, so often we transfer their significance to objects that may last a bit longer.
And, of course, this is just what we’re doing when we take photographs, isn’t it? But what is it that we actually treasure? Life and love. How do you preserve that kind of treasure? You can’t, really. What you can do is be absolutely present while it is within your grasp. Celebrate it, bring yourself to it, flow with it. Enjoy it, with all your heart.
Joy to the World
Gift of the Universe #22: JOY!
I truly believe that joy is available to everyone. No one is denied the opportunity to be joyful. Many people on this planet will never have a full stomach or adequate shelter or enough material wealth to climb out of poverty, but believe it or not, some of those very people know joy.
“Joy is not in things; it is in us.” – Richard Wagner
“Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.” – Joseph Campbell
My late husband was ill for many years. He went under the knife for open heart surgery when he was just 31. He suffered a host of medical problems stemming from diabetes, always believing that he would get the disease under control. When he realized that was not going to happen, he said, “Okay, I’m sick. I can be sick and miserable, or I can be sick and happy. I choose happy. Pain is inevitable, misery is optional.” I really admire him for coming up with that maxim, and for embodying it. The night before he died, he called me at work and asked if I’d like to go out to dinner. Our daughters were out for the evening, and he took the opportunity to enjoy a ‘date’ with me. We went to a local sports bar & grill and enjoyed veggie appetizers and sandwiches. Our youngest called from rehearsal to say she was not feeling well and was coming home early, so we went home to be with her. Jim was tired, so he took his medications, hooked up to his dialysis machine and CPAP and watched some TV. When I came up to bed, he turned off the TV and the light. We fell asleep holding hands. He never woke up. And he never complained. Some people claim that “if you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything”. I don’t buy that. Jim didn’t have health, but he had joy and love and he knew it.
Many people would foreswear food, health, housing, and money in order to find joy in an ascetic lifestyle. Mendicants, yogis, monks, and priests of different faiths have adopted austere practices in order to experience the bliss of enlightenment.
“Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.” – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
“The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything.” – Julian of Norwich
This is a deep and serious topic, and much too heavy for me to write about today. My brain is circling closer to Dr. Seuss and The Grinch who puzzles how the Whos could be singing without “ribbons and tags, packages, boxes and bags”. Perhaps joy means a little bit more than the glee we feel when we get a shiny, new present. Happiness is fleeting. Joy is deeply felt.
“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” – George Bernard Shaw
I’ve got to say that the way I have most felt this joy of being used for a mighty purpose and force of Nature is through mothering. I know what it is to be thoroughly worn out and joyful. I know what it is to feel like nobody is devoting himself to my happiness and not to complain because I am finding so much joy in devoting myself to someone else’s well-being. Not that I didn’t complain occasionally (hey! I’m human!). I always felt that mothering mattered. That I was truly making a difference, a big one, to at least four people in the world. I smiled at my babies even when I was not feeling joyful, and joy emerged. Never underestimate the effect of a smile. Check out this Still Face Experiment by Dr. Tronick on youtube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apzXGEbZht0
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” – Thich Nhat Hahn
My joyful (and crazy!) kids
Are you smiling every day? I’m sure I am. I even busted a belly laugh today as Steve was describing a Giotto fresco…of Mary and Joseph… kissing at the gates of Bethlehem…with Snoopy in the background. He speaks like a nerd who knows everything, and then I realize he’s bullshitting me. I fall for it all the time and then get to laugh at him and at myself. Steve’s identity motto, which he came up with at a psychology school retreat, is “I am the joy in change and movement”. I am really benefiting from his perspective because I am often afraid of change and movement. I so don’t need to be. There is freedom in allowing joy into your life.
Let Heaven and Nature sing…and see if you don’t find yourself singing along. Rejoice, my friends.