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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Old Cookbooks

        January afternoons, while my mother rested upstairs in her bedroom, I went through her cook book collection. Of course, she had some new, modern ones, favorites of todays cooks, some that I have myself. But I was attracted like a moth to a flame to the old ones on the shelf. Most I remembered from when I was home. A teenage girl on a fantastic foray into cooking and baking. I flip through the pages and I see my old tried and true recipes that are smudged and spotted with old messes. I see where my sisters and I have jotted down funny little bits of advice, our hand writing unpolished and our spelling atrocious. I see where mom, too, has noted her thoughts. "Not good." "Tough"." Needs more liquid." " Used prunes instead of apricots." "Only bake 30 mins." "Very good." Definitely trial and error cook books!
         I scan the front pages, seeing that these books were published in the early sixties. The pictures are garish. Brightly colored and gaudy. The cooks are wearing shirtwaist dresses, nylons and heels. They have pearls, and clean flirty aprons. Their hair is perfect and their fingers manicured. The pictured kitchens are shiny white with red counter tops and linoleum floors. I see myself, my worn out kitchen, my hardwood floor with the finish completely walked off. I have aprons, but they have wrinkles and splotches and I usually forget to wear them, any way. My hair gets scrunched up in a messy bun,so as to not get any hair in the cooking. My fingersnails have dough under them when I bake bread, and I always have flour drifted around the floor.
        I remember that my mother really looked like those pictures. Does she wonder where she went wrong, seeing me so casually going about the serious job of keeping a family happy? These books start with the nitty gritty.  They tell you how to boil eggs. How to peel a tomato. How to clean your sink and set a proper table. How to pluck a chicken. Where all the cuts of meat are on an animal carcass. All with pictures and drawings.
       They tell you how to select the right coffee pot. How to make every kind of coffee... who knew... boiled coffee, drip coffee, percolator coffee, vacumn coffee and even instant coffee. How they make coffee in different countries. In Belgium you will fill your cup with sweetened meringue and then pour hot black coffee over the meringue. In Hawaii you will soak cocoanut overnight in hot milk. In the morning you will strain it and add hot coffee to the cocoanut milk. In Turkey you will heat sugar and coffee to a boil three times, until it is frothy, and then you will drink small cups of froth. In the West Indies you will pour milk and brown sugar into your coffee and stir it with a cinnamon stick. Lets try these, and see if we can do better than Starbucks!
        They tell you how to make tea. Real tea. With a teapot, tea leaves and a strainer. How to combine different teas, for different flavours. How to pour boiling water into your teapot and swirl it around, then pour it out and then put in your tea water. It seems like a lot of monkey business, but it will make a "perfect cup of tea".
         It gives us the history of cocoa. Did you know? Hernando Cortez was the first Englishman to taste hot chocolate. It was served to him by the emperor of the Aztecs. He brought it back to London in 1657. There Chocolate Houses became the fashionable establishments of the day. To make hot chocolate French style, you would fill your cup half full of whipped cream them pour your hot chocolate over the cream.
         Waffles? The knight sat on the bread dough with his suit of mail. Of course they did not waste, so they cooked it up, and loved the way you could fill up the indentations! Believe it? Annadama bread? You might have had some of this. It is made with molasses and corn meal. Apparently the New England fisherman got tired of his Anna always making cornmeal molasses bread. He thought she was being lazy. So he said "Anna, damn her!" Are we swearing if we call it Annadama bread?
         All flour is sifted in these recipes. I remember doing that. It was fun, and the flour (on a piece of wax paper that you carefully lifted up and poured into your bowl) came out in a smooth white mountain. If you had the kitchen to yourself, you could get wild, and really turn that crank! Made the flour fly! If you had a Hoosier cabinet, it had a built in flour bin and sifter, and was very handy.
         No microwave directions in these books. But step by step guides for roasting meat, making pie crust, baking bread, canning vegetables and making jam. Lots of gelatin salads and aspics. Does any one make aspic any more? Lady Baltimore cake. Seven minute frosting. Green Goddess dressing. Doesn't that sound fabulous? Madrilone.. what is that, I wonder? "Heat equal amounts of bullion, chicken broth and tomato juice. Garnish with lemon." Then what? Eat it like soup? It sounds sort of good...  Veloute sauce. It means velvet. "Cook 2 Tblsp. butter and 2 Tblsp. flour until smooth. Add 1 cup chicken stock, salt and white pepper to taste and add 1/4 tsp. nutmeg. Cook until smooth and bubbly." If you want Bechamel sauce you will add paprika and 1/2 cup cream. One day I shall have to try this!
        Need to beat eggs? Are you whipping cream, or making an angel cake? You have an egg beater. It has a hand crank, too, Its a step up from using a spoon, I suppose. It takes along time. You take turns beating with your siblings.

        Have you ever seen the Joy of Cooking cook book? Its thick, every page filled with tiny print. No pictures. Just recipes, recipes, for every thing you can imagine and then some. You would not have known there was that many things to cook in all this world. And we stick to our few favorites! Where is our imagination and daring? We need to curl up and read some old cook books.
         Yet, with all our modern conveniences, life in the kitchen being so much easier, how is it that we don't get near as much done? And why don't we look so polished and elegant? Have a beautiful day in the kitchen!
          From Reading Cookbooks at my Mothers on January Afternoons.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Three Reasons I Love Being A Mom

                         I was nominated for the Beautiful Mama Blog award by Thank you, gypsyhousewife!

     "Write an essay on Three Reasons I Love Being a Mom." Three reasons? It's not enough. And how do you pick? Because being a mom is love. It is love personified. When you are a mom, you are fulfilled. You love unconditionally and you are loved back unconditionally. The only other unconditional love we have is the love of God.
      I see that I write from a different perspective than a young mother. My children are all grown up and I see mother love from a mirror perspective. I see it in my own children as mothers.
       I just lost my Mother, who has gone with joy to her heavenly home. As my siblings and I took on the task of dismantling a home I came across three testimonies of love. Let me tell you...

       Away back in the closet we found three boxes, all neatly packed and labeled. One box for each of the two little girls that had run on ahead and were waiting for her on the far side of Jordan.  Each one we opened, we could feel with what heartbreak and care she had folded and stowed these faded and worn mementos. Dainty, tiny baby clothes, toys, well loved and looking as though they had just been put away for the night. Well loved books, read over and over by parents and siblings. Scuffy shoes. Cards and letters. One white mitten. A pink barette.

      One box holds tiny baby things from each of our baby days. Each one labeled with who had worn it. Some things, we all had used. A pristine white baptismal dress, crochet sweaters and bonnets, silken baby slips, nubby blankets, booties, all things pink and blue. "I'm old fashioned", she just said not so long ago. "I think boys need blue and girls need pink." Some say "made for you by...this aunt, or friend, or grandparent....

       Our tears fall as we unfold and touch these precious things. I think of her, then, young and auburn haired. Busy about her motherly tasks. Cleaning and cooking for us children, sewing us new dresses, reading to us at night, hanging out the laundry on the clothes lines out back. Polishing our shoes on Saturday nights. Ironing our puffy sleeves and laces and ruffles.  Washing and braiding our long hair. Canning and making jelly. Catering to the many guests that graced our home. Singing hymns as she worked and rocked babies.
       Did she take these boxes out sometimes? Did she sigh and hold some small thing to her heart, just to keep close the love? Did she shed a tear? We didn't know the boxes were there. Maybe she could not bring herself to rub raw her wounded heart. Maybe they were there for us. So we could feel even a glimpse of mother love.
      The last time I see her, she is frail. She seems breakable, but I know she is not. I know how the strength flows from her frail hand into mine. I know how her peacefulness graces the room when she is in it. I see how she tenderly loves the great grandbabies, even great-great grandbabies.  I see her laughing with them, and I hear her reciting old nursery rhymes to them in her quavery voice. I hear in her questions that she is interested in the teenagers and how well she listens to what they have to say.  I hear from her heart how she thinks my girls are beautiful mothers, and how she tenderly instructs them in mother hood.
     When I stand beside her, peaceful in her eternal sleep, and I whisper "good bye, Mom", I know that I am not left motherless. Her spirit lies close to my heart. I don't dare ask for a double portion, nor even a whole portion, but I do ask God for a tiny, small portion of that motherly love.
       Three reasons that I love being a mom. Three cardboard boxes. Three tears falling on a page. Three times I have been fortunate to love being a mother. One as a young mother. One as a grand mother. One as a great grand mother. Blessings on the moms every where in the world.
         This has been fun, contemplative and wonderful. I enjoy hearing what all you other Moms love! I am going to nominate
 for the beautiful mama blog award. I think you will enjoy her forthrightness. Lets pass all this wonderfulness on!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Bentii, the Lonely Man

       The girls would see him now and then. He walked the roads. No one knew where he was going, or why. Was he trying to get somewhere, or was he trying to leave? He was a familiar to them as the houses and sign posts. Suddenly, from afar off, they would see a small figure walking briskly along and as he came closer, they would know it was Bentii. His gray hair was shaggy and his beard unkempt. he wore raggedy overalls and  much stained shirt. His boots had holes in the toes, and the soles were worn from all his walking. In the winter he had a hat and a much too large jacket. He had a large bandana in his back pocket that he used to wipe his brow. Even if he wasn't hot and sweaty, he still took a swipe every so often with the dirty red bandana. He had a friendly greeting and a mostly toothless smile. 
      They couldn't remember hearing the story about Bentii. They had just always known it. A strange sad story somewhere back in their memories. He had had a house, and a sweet wife and several children who played and tumbled in the yard. He had worked in the copper mine, going down each day with his lunch pail and his miners light. Down into the damp, dreary depths of the earth along with so many other men, just making a living for their families. One evening he had climbed out, all dusty and tired, thinking of home. Thinking of the wash basin on the porch. Thinking of a warm filling supper. Thinking of a quiet evening with his children and a soft warm bed beside his wife. Instead, he found a pile of ashes. His house burned to the ground, his wife and children gone like a puff of smoke.
      The girls supposed that it was too much for him to bear. Sadly he had decided that a home and family were not to be his. So he had rolled his earthly belongings in his extra pair of overalls, hitching the bundle across his back and shoulders, and he had gone walking down his lonely road. Sometimes, mother would ask him in for a meal, or to stay the night, when the weather was bad. They were used to that , too. Mother always opened her home to friend and stranger alike.
       Home was pristine and shiny clean. Didn't they have to scrub the wooden kitchen floor every Saturday with sand and water? Didn't they have to help with the laundry? All those white, white sheets, those beautifully embroidered pillow slips that they hung on the line. Then dry and scented with fresh air, didn't they have to iron them until they were smooth and wrinkle free?  The spare bedroom, always ready for someone to stay the night.White metal bed frame, scatter rug, bright friendly quilt, white painted bureau with its wavery mirror.
       Only when Bentii stayed, he would not sleep in the bedroom on that cozy bed. He slept on the parlour floor, with his rolled up overalls for a pillow, and no blanket for a covering. The girls would tip toe around him, glancing at him curiously as he slept. He would thank mother for her kindness and be off, again, hitting the road with jaunty step. They would stand on the stoop and watch until he disappeared around the bend.
        As teenagers, the girls were more wary of  him, noticing how he was not always so clean. How odd he was, uncomfortable around people. Used to having only himself to talk to as he made his way around the country side. One bright spring day they were home alone with two of the neighbor girls, playing their silly and harmless games. This game was a favorite of their cliche of friends.Each girl took a turn, and had to go to the door when someone knocked. If it was a man, then that was the man you would one day marry. It was fun, they had lots of laughs and teased each other unmercifully about the choices. It was Esthers turn. They lounged around the room, reading and talking until there came a rap on the door.
       The girls looked expectantly at Esther. She primped, just a little...well, you never could tell... She walked over to the door and decorously opened it. There stood Bentii, that lonely old man, with his odd bundle and his quaint shy look. Esther stood speechless. The other girls burst into merry laughter, doubling over and wiping tears from their eyes.  "Father and mother aren't home," gasped Esther laughing now , too. Bentii turned and walked quickly down the steps. The girls shut the door and hooted with laughter reminding poor Esther that she would one day share the open road with Bentii.
      A few days later, mother spoke to them sternly. She said Bentii had told her that she needed to teach her girls better manners. Of course, then the whole story came out. Perhaps mother smiled and chuckled to herself, but she reminded them to be careful not to be so heedless as to hurt some ones feelings. The girls felt some what abashed. Martha thought about it, afterward. She could vaguely discern that sad, shamed look on Bentiis face as he had turned and walked away. They had not been trying to be mean. They were just having fun. Perhaps he didn't know about teenage girls and their ready laughter. Perhaps it brought back to him what he had missed, when he had lost his children. Perhaps out on the road, with only himself and God, the odd lonely man had a clear vision of the unfairness of life. She hoped she had learned from him. Learned about compassion and learned  to walk in scuffed, holey shoes.
      Years later she heard that Bentii had been found in a ditch by the side of his lonely road, done at last with his wandering, footsore, heart sore life.  She called Esther and they reminesced about that day. They did laugh again, about those young, careless days. And they wondered...what was in that overall pillow that Bentii had carried for so many years?
                From tales my mother told me on a January day.