Thursday, July 31, 2014

Goodbye July

For the last day of July 2014

here is a lovely lady from 1933.

Woman's Home Companion of 1933 advised the following to women contemplating tanning:

"After thirty a woman who goes in for it much is apt to look more durable than decorative.

After forty it's a gamble which few women can afford to take.

After fifty it's facial suicide."

Now we know that sunburns when we're young can be dangerous later in life. Having had two types of skin cancer 11 years ago, I don't go out without wearing sunscreen now. I still remember the smell of Noxema being lathered on my blistered back by my mother when I was 16, a day spent at the swimming pool with girlfriends, baby oil and iodine rubbed on our backs to help us tan. Ouch!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Now here's a little chef-in-training!

Our little Nora loves to help her mother cook,

not just for a photo op but all the time!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Not Julia

When I was 27, I thought I would become a gourmet cook.

Like a certain blogger who made it to the movies by cooking her way through Julia Child's masterpiece, I attempted it also, only I cheated and didn't fix any recipes with artichokes, liver or mutton. And I did not kill a lobster or debone a duck. My freezer was stocked with Julia's chicken and beef stock and homemade praline was a staple in my cupboard. Julia's method of preparing broccoli with lemon butter sauce won over people who before had only eaten broccoli with Velveeta Cheese sauce.

My French bread (Vol. II) wasn't perfect but it was amazing. R.H. helped me copy Julia's oven conditions, finding clay tiles to line my oven rack, and the results really were divine. All of Julia's desserts turned out well. The Orange Bavarian, melt-in-your-mouth perfection.

My ultimate masterpiece, a two day project, was Mt. Killimanjaro (Vol. II), a chocolate cake for my mother's birthday. Although just saying it was chocolate cake is like saying the Mona Lisa is a nice little painting.

In short, I cooked then. A lot. I tried and tried to become a gourmet cook. I collected cookbooks and read them as I did novels, in bed at night. I still do and I still have all my cookbooks except for Julia's two volumes that I gifted to my daughter a few years ago.

But I never became a gourmet cook. Just as I never became a good pianist even after eight years of lessons and being the only kid on the block who loved to practice the piano. I didn't have the ear or the talent for the piano and I didn't have what it takes to become a gourmet cook.

I couldn't pull together a complicated meal and have it all ready to serve at the same time like my mother did. I could never have a kitchen that looked organized and clean before a meal was served like my sister Deb did. And I could never become as creative a cook as my daughter is.

I could not do it but I kept trying. And then I hit my 70s.

In order to cook a decent meal now I have to begin in the morning while I'm still fresh, and I'm not fresh very long. I manage to prepare one or two main things,  and then this aggravating costochondritis (rib inflammation) flares up and I feel as if I have a pole stuck through my back to my ribs, relieved only by sitting down and icing my ribs. The rest of the day my work periods shrink in comparison to my rest periods and by five o'clock in the afternoon, after feeding the dogs, it's pretty much over for me.

So in the mornings I prepare a roast and vegetables, something that's good for leftovers of sandwiches and soup…

Or spaghetti….

Or I roast a chicken….

That gives us chicken and some easy sides the first night, chicken club sandwiches the second night, and a big pot of chicken noodle soup or chicken chili for the third night--with a couple days more leftovers of that. One of us really likes chicken chili for three days straight.

If I do plan on cooking something that needs to be done right before supper, it has to be something easy like salmon done simply with olive oil, lemon juice and herbs.

It helps if I make the salad that morning, such as s simple wedge salad with a homemade dressing like Vincent Price's Egg Salad Dressing or even a quick mayonnaise and red wine vinegar dressing. Leftover bacon from breakfast goes on top.

Vegetables are usually simply steamed squash or broccoli.

Here is last night's supper, Baked Spicy Burgers adapted from Ismail Merchant's Passionate Meals, but I serve them on top of a salad and make the beef patties up that morning to refrigerate until time to bake them.

I love many of Ismail's recipes, and when I use his cookbook I think back to all the wonderful films he and James Ivory made over the years, Howard's End being my favorite. Here is the recipe in case you want an alternative to a regular burger sometime.

Baked Spicy Beefburgers:

2 pounds lean ground beef
1/4 cup lemon juice and the zest
1 egg
1 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Mix all ingredients together well and form mixture into 4 to 6 patties. Place on greased baking sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on thickness of patty.

Lest you think that our suppers are always like these, we too often just have a salad with a frozen dinner, or heat up canned soup, or pick up barbecue. While I still love to plan meals, still love to clip recipes and read cookbooks, and still dream of becoming a gourmet cook, my feet and back and Mr. Arthuritis in my hands tell me it just a'int gonna happen.

Sorry, Julia. You did your best to teach me.

Friday, July 25, 2014


This post is dedicated to everyone who is just plain exhausted at night--most nights--but especially to my loved ones. I can't really help. I couldn't even find a picture to post with this that reached the depth of my concern for you during times that simply must be got through, under the circumstances. This is just to say I worry about you and want for things to be better.

"The day is a chase after ghost duties;

at evening you are exhausted.

A day is over and so much of it was wasted

on things that meant so little to you,

duties and meetings from which

your heart was absent…

Your way of life has so little to do with

what you feel and love in the world.

But because of the many demands on you

and responsibilities that you have,

you feel helpless to gather yourself;

you are dragged in so many directions

away from true belonging."

--John O'Donohue
Eternal Echoes

Please don't think that I believe that every single word in O'Donohue's quote is true in each of  your lives.  And I recognize that your responsibilities are not just heavy but completely worthwhile, a sacrifice you're committed to and much needed at this point. That doesn't stop me from wanting more time for you to do the things that bring you joy and happiness. This is the only way I could think of to say that I care.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

That's What You Did

Food memoirs are some of my favorite books, and none is a more satisfying read than Nora Seton's The Kitchen Congregation. Part of the book is about her mother, novelist Cynthia Propper Seton, who reminds me of another woman of her generation, my own mother.

Nora Seton writes:

"She was a good cook. People remember that about her.
Oh yes, yes, she wrote several novels, received acclaim,
battled cancer, raised five children.
But she was a good cook.
She was a good cook not because the feeding of a family of seven
plus routine entertaining and the importation of
odd sojourners into our house for months at a time
beat the basics into her.
She thought about it. She cared.
The edges of her intellect weren't blunted by the tedium."

Nora Seton's mother's hands may have been busy preparing the meals for her family, but her mind was busy developing the characters of her story or following thoughts that had nothing to do with cooking. But she believed that both cooking and writing were important, and she persistently pursued both. She was of the generation that primarily had been trained and expected to take care of husband and children.

"'That's what you did,' she would say,
referring to the era in which she was the girl child, not the mother,
and girls were channeled,
like small tributaries, into a common riverbed.
'That's what you did.'
You brought the proper mattresses, the right tablecloths.
You served coffee in the family silver.
You dressed for going outside. You behaved yourself."

"Behaving yourself meant cooking without grumbling, and doing it well.
We heard about other kitchens where mothers employed arsenals
of boxes and cans to placate empty bellies.
My mother arched her eyebrows when we described
sugary troves of soft pink things in friends' pantries, or meat in cans.
She couldn't duplicate it. Wouldn't.

"In my mother's kitchen, meals were constructed;
they didn't unfold from a seam.
It was a mark of pride that casseroles and cakes
were produced from scratch."

"And as the butter softened to room temperature,
she might dash upstairs to change the linens…
As the soup simmered, she might sit in the library disbursing checks.
As the dishes dried, as the roast sweated,
she would settle at her desk to write books and letters.

"She seemed to live in her kitchen,
making forays into other parts of the house and world.
She was there first thing in the morning,
a piece of the landscape in her fluffy quilted bathrobe,
making coffee, setting out ten slices of square bread,
top-bottom, top-bottom,
to make five sandwiches, plus ten cookies into five napkins,
plus five nickels for milk money, for five lunch boxes.

"That's what you did."

Nora Seton in The Kitchen Congregation

Yes, my own mother was of that generation and of that thought. "That's what you did." And Mama did. Somehow it all got done, every day. Mama did not write novels but she took sewing and tailoring classes and sewed exquisitely for four daughters.

And she read the novels that women like Nora Seton's mother wrote. Nor for her the chic lit of the day. She even read Tom Clancy's books when she was older and did not skip a single technical word. But then she also loved the Harry Potter books when she was older, always young at heart.

She and Dad hosted constant extended family dinners and not a dirty dish was left over for morning. There were chili suppers on Friday nights after the football games when my sisters and I brought friends home.

For my birthday present my junior year of high school she and my father planned a Hawaiian banquet complete with a whole pit-roasted pig, apple in its mouth.

[May 1960. Look for the red apple in pig's mouth in center.]

Daddy, as produce buyer for Nashville Kroger stores, was her partner in special events, sourcing the freshest produce available. I wish I remembered everything that Mama fixed for this luau, but I do remember her cutting up mounds of tropical fruit for the hollowed out pineapples for each plate. And I remember Daddy folding something up in green banana leaves on the shiny red Formica in the kitchen. I wonder what food that was? I'm sure the dessert must have been amazing as Mama's always were. 

Most likely a lot of the work that went into this party for my friends and my boyfriend--yes, that was R.H.--went unappreciated by me or my guests. I sure do appreciate it now.

This is such a poor quality snapshot but that's R.H. on the left in the white clam digger pants and lots of leg showing. I'm beside him with the flower in my hair. Mama made my fitted Hawaiian sundress, no muumuu for me. Notice that all of us wore flower leis that Daddy had flown in from Hawaii. 

R.H. said he remembers large seashells around the patio including one that was used as a trumpet. He said there were orchids on the table but I suspect my sister Deb is right and they were roses from Daddy's garden, which would have been blooming profusely then. Deb, four years younger than me says that she remembers how exciting all the preparations were and how beautiful the patio looked with torches burning around it. She says that she and our younger sisters Teresa and Jenn were bustled inside after my guests arrived.

I do remember there was a full moon--an artificial one. A round metal sledding disc was hung in the trees and fisherman's netting was strung around the patio.  It was an enchanted evening while Songs of the Islands played through the screen windows via the stereo, and the game of the evening being The Limbo, of course. Every detail possible was planned to make the party memorable.

But that's what mothers (and fathers) did then, because "That's what you did."

Like Nora Seton, "When I miss my mother, I miss her in her kitchen." Like Seton, there were so many times in recent years when "I wanted to hear my mother sally across the kitchen floor humming Ella Fitzgerald songs while lugging a roast to the sink, with her back to me, the bow of her apron reminding me how she had made life practical and pretty at once."

When I read that last sentence of Seton's, I realize that most of my memories too are of watching my mother's back as she worked in her kitchen, moving from sink to counter to stove and back to sink again. 

A husband, four daughters, later sons-in-law, grandchildren, great-grandchildren gathered around Mama's table. Aunts and uncles and cousins galore were often there. Old Air Force buddies and their wives visited. Church friends. Tables stretched to meet the need.

When I think of Mama I think of her moving through her household routines. Everything restored to its place, load after load of laundry, pegging out clothes on the line before a dryer finally came, standing at the ironing board while Stella Dallas played on the radio. Mama was a housewife even though later in life she sold sheets at Jordan Marsh and studied for and passed her real estate license exam. That didn't seem to effect how her house looked, houses that grew bigger and bigger through the years until they grew smaller. Houses that had shrunk just as Mama seemed to.

My mother and Nora Seton's mother may have wanted more for their own daughters than the life they had, may have hoped that their daughters would have satisfying careers other than that of being a housewife. But they might also have had sympathy for the new pressures of trying to be superwomen, working from morning until late bedtime, trying to keep it all together--work, family, house.

I know that my mother was so proud of her daughters who followed careers as well as taking excellent care of their family, just as I am constantly astounded at our daughter who went back for a degree after her children were in school and who does an amazing job in a fulfilling but demanding career and yet still plans family birthday parties, graduation parties, and holiday parties. And is never happier than when she can work all day in the kitchen concocting a family Thanksgiving feast of all her special dishes.

I don't know how women do all that and do it so well.

Maybe they got it from their mothers and grandmothers.

Because "That's what you did."

My mother and father in her kitchen above, grandchildren in the foreground.

Mama seems to be thinking…"You talking to me?"

Yes, Mama. I am.

[All the wonderful illustrations of the 1950s in this post, other than family photographs, were found on Pinterest and were not sourced so I can't give proper credit for them.]

[Update: My sisters confirm that Daddy did indeed cook the pig in a pit in our backyard. I guess I'll believe R.H. from now on! And sister Teresa added that Mama actually let her have a slumber party the night before my luau! Can you imagine? A houseful of 12 year old girls the night before the big party? But, "That's what you did." Thank you, Mama and Daddy, you were the best!]

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A July Day

"Well, you expect July to be July."

--Faith Baldwin

July is my second least favorite month, August being my least favorite.


Because as our daughter-in-law illustrates in the photo above, it's hot.

I'm trying this summer to learn to love July because each month should be a gift.

Shouldn't it?

And a July morning is pretty near perfect here at Valley View.

There's a little breeze to stir the flag.

And if a July morning gets hotter with every hour,

what should I expect?

Samantha finds a shady spot.

Otis goes straight to the fan in the picnic shelter.

The July day passes and R.H. fires up the grill.

It's been a perfect day for him to wear his old watermelon shirt,

although he's been known to wear it at Christmas too.

A perfect day for R.H. to cook our dinner outside.

The day cools off as the sun goes down.

It's been a perfect July day.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

From a Laundry Room to Aristotle Onassis

I love my laundry room. If you had once done your laundry in a dark basement AND had fallen down the steep stairs, head first, ribs taking the brunt of each step, you would love my laundry room too.

When we moved to Valley View and 14 years later added on a new kitchen, we also added on this laundry room, with a splurge of a 15-pane red door, black and white checkerboard floor as in the kitchen, a floor to ceiling window looking out over the creek.

It was if I'd gone to Laundry Room Heaven.

There is a deep sink to bathe the dogs and the washer and dryer on one side.

Dirty laundry and dirty dogs get taken care of on that side of the room but let's go through the red door and see what is on the other side.

On top of the flat water heater is the snack area with an old Lance jar where the kids used to find after school snacks.

On a recycled cabinet from our old kitchen are appliances that I don't want cluttering up my kitchen: microwave, toaster, and an ancient food processor. There's a wall cabinet to hide all the family meds--human, canine, and feline. For who wants to see prescription bottles lined up on a kitchen counter? Shades of my grandparents, for Pete's sake!

An old cardboard Coca Cola Santa Claus stays out year round.

Above the microwave Minnie and Mickey Mouse are always ready to cheer me up on a gloomy laundry day.

There is a precious heirloom on one wall that means a lot to me, an old wood rolling pin, with a cute vintage towel hung over it.

What makes this rolling pin a treasure is that my grandmother used it for many years, and it was carved for her by my grandfather.

The rolling pin is made from white ash that baseball bats were made of in the early 1900s. As you can see, this rolling pin finally split and perhaps the bats did too.

Grandpa was a carpenter as well as a farmer and in World War II he built Liberty ships for our country. He wasn't a young man anymore, but four of his five sons were serving in the war and he wanted to do his part too. These cargo ships were turned out pretty quickly and many had problems. Over two thousand Liberty ships survived the war though, and I found out online that Greek and Italian shipping firms bought many of them.

Aristotle Onassis actually started his fleet from the old Liberty ships. So Grandpa may have had a small part in Mr. Onassis' becoming one of the world's richest men. I like to speculate that he could have even had a teeny part in Aristotle Onassis landing the widow of an American president.

Think of that!

I could't resist imagining a possible degree of separation between that famous horsewoman and my Grandpa. And with myself? Why not? I was never a horsewoman but like most young girls I loved horses. Here I am with Grandpa at the farm, a long time ago.

R.H. penciled in on my rough draft for this post--"a long, long, long time ago." He might be doing his own laundry tomorrow.