Category Archives: Cooking

Wednesday, for Example

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Sometimes, a day not spent making art is full of progress-making in other directions. Lately, I have been cleaning, sorting, weeding out excess, and rearranging. It feels creative. Then, there are days where simple busy-ness dictates the entire day.

Wednesday, for example.

My day started at two in the morning when the dogs wanted out. The wind was howling. The electricity had gone out. The moon was muted, under a cover of clouds. The dogs came in, but would not settle. Upstairs and down, from one window to the next, Darla roamed the house, barking. When she stopped, Rosa Parks would take up the charge, sharply yipping from her spot beside me. Neither were calmed by my reassuring tone of voice; nor were they quieted by my scolding. A series of hums, beeps and whirs told me the electricity came back on, just after four o’clock. Wide awake by that time, I got up to reset the clocks.

I made coffee and wrote a couple letters, cleaned the bathroom, then turned on the computer. Email, news, social media (several birthdays to acknowledge, another photo of my brand-new grand niece, and my oldest grandson would like my Lemon Chicken recipe) and one game of Scrabble. Next, a little bookkeeping for my news-magazine. Dogs out, in, out, in. Pack a lunch. Shower and dress. Grind up Rosa’s pill and mix it with a tablespoon of wet food in her tiny blue and white china bowl. Prepare the same amount of wet food for Darla, sans the medicine, and serve it up in her clear, heart-shaped glass dish. Boots, coat, thermos, lunch, handbag, coffee cup, six letters to mail, two movies to return, a final good-bye to the dogs, admonishing each of them to “take care of things,” and I am out the door…just a little late.

Work. A fairly normal, not-too-busy day at the hardware store. Some customers, some phone calls. I hauled a ladder up from the basement and made price stickers for the new windshield wipers. I dressed the large beaver in festive green, and arranged hats and trinkets for St. Patrick’s Day in the front of the store. I took time in the middle of the day to go to the Post Office, and stopped at the gas station to return movies on my way home.

Home. Greet the dogs, and take them outside. It’s cold and I’m tired, so just a wander around the yard. Unload the car, then, of letters and catalogs, purse, thermos and lunch bag. I invite the dogs to sit with me on the couch while I go through the mail. They both think a belly rub is more important than anything to be found in those papers! I get up to start dinner. Macaroni and cheese for my dinner, but I also put together a vegetable soup for my lunch through the rest of the week, and a crust-less spinach and cheddar quiche for breakfasts. In between dicing vegetables, grating cheese and arranging pans in the oven and on the stove, I feed the dogs. I eat at the table with a catalog for company. While I’m cleaning up, the dogs go out and in a few more times.

There is work to be done, still. I have a list of articles to write for the Beacon, and the database – again – needs to be updated. I could start a load of towels in the washer. I need to find that recipe for my grandson. It will all have to wait. Nine-thirty, and I can’t keep my eyes open. Bedtime.

That was the extent of my ordinary Wednesday.

I Give Up

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Yesterday, I made a small delivery to the Island Treasures Re-Sale Shop here on Beaver Island: one large food processor, with all of its parts and pieces, and one yogurt maker. I was a long time coming to that end, but am glad I finally arrived.

Lord knows, I have tried, over the years, to become the kind of person who processes her own food, but it never took hold. I grate my cheese with a simple box grater. When making pie crust, I use a hand-held pastry blender. I slice fruits and vegetables the old-fashioned way. The food processor seemed, always, to have too many accessories, all of which needed to be cleaned and stored when not in use.

I eat a lot of yogurt. Simple, full fat, non- Greek, plain yogurt. I buy it in the quart containers and dish out the portions, to save on plastic waste (I reuse the containers to store my homemade chicken broth in the freezer, for extra credit!). I add my own granola, and sometimes berries or a sliced banana, but it’s pretty basic. Making my own, I thought, would save me a pile of money.

Turns out, making yogurt is not difficult, but it’s kind of a hassle. First, the milk has to be heated in a saucepan to just the right temperature. It is then cooled a specific amount before being combined with the starter. It is then spooned into the individual cups of the yogurt maker which sits on the kitchen counter, plugged in to an outlet. For several hours or a couple days…it’s been so long, I can’t remember. Because, the bottom line is, my homemade yogurt does not taste as good as the stuff I buy. I don’t know why. I’ve checked the label for hidden ingredients that might be enhancing the flavor while putting my health at risk, but found nothing.

So, for many years, I stored a food processor and a yogurt maker in my kitchen cabinet, in case I should ever change my mind about either of them. Then, I started cleaning out and rearranging my living spaces. I was encouraged by my sister Brenda, who told me that the time was right – according to the alignment of the moon and stars – for clearing and reassessing. Backing her up was the Power Path site (www.powerpath.org), which labeled March the month of “Surrender,” but not in the usual sense:

SURRENDER is a word that tends to trigger a definition of failure as if we are surrendering to the enemy and as if we have failed in something we believed in and have been striving for. Our definition of SURRENDER for the month is a giving up, a release of a stance, position, or belief that we have stubbornly held onto for way beyond its useful and practical life. It is time to let go of what should have been, could have been and what ought to be in the future. It is time to SURRENDER our anger, our resistance, our judgement and our need to know.

Finally, in trying to get off the island last week, the weather didn’t cooperate. I spent one whole day waiting at the airport, and one day waiting in my home, before finally getting a flight out on Sunday morning. Saturday, I spent sorting and filing while waiting by the phone. Then, I tackled a kitchen cabinet. Everything came out. The shelves were scrubbed. Only the things that I honestly use went back in. Except for the crock pot, which I’m still trying to integrate into my lifestyle.

I’d like to think of myself as a yogurt-making, food processing whiz in the kitchen…but I’m not, and it’s time to surrender that notion. What I am is a person who has one very clean cabinet, feels good about a charitable donation, and is lighter in self-imposed expectations. Happily, I give up!

Artifacts to Memories: Cabinet Hangers

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img_0036First, and for many years, my kitchen storage consisted of plywood shelves, hammered together and mounted to the walls. They were open to dust, cobwebs and any insects that might wander through. They showed off my penchant for hoarding reusable lidded plastic containers, my mis-matched pans, and my disorganization.

When I finally replaced them with actual kitchen cabinets, I spent an inordinate amount of time planning their size and arrangement. I bought bottom-of-the-line cabinets, because that’s all I could afford. Drawers have to be reassembled and glued back together every few months; there are gaps where the cabinets are pulling away from their backs. Still, I take them seriously.Though kitchen cabinets are fairly stationary features, I have – with the help of my always-game-for-another-crazy-undertaking friend, Chris  – rearranged them twice, and have another major readjustment planned. Alas, Chris has moved away.

The last time we moved the cabinets – two not-young women armed with more determination than either muscle or know-how – it was an all day adventure. We placed a kitchen chair on the counter top, to help “catch” the cabinet when the screws holding it to the wall were removed. Another chair on the floor nearby was what I stood on while I removed the screws. Then, with intermittent  giggling and terror, we lowered the cabinet to the chair and then down to the floor. Then on to the next one. We repeated the process to hang them back up. The lower cabinets were easier, except for the sink. Since then, I’ve added formica counter top, which complicates everything.

I miss Chris. It takes a special person to help with a project like that. First, a devil-may-care attitude about whether we have the proper tools, plan or ability. Second, the willingness to listen to my crazy ideas, and understand that – at that moment – I truly believe a rearrangement of kitchen cupboards will improve all aspects of my life. Third, and most important, one must be prepared for anything we might find in dark corners behind the fixtures. In the past, we have encountered massive spider webs, mouse nest, snake skin, and mushrooms growing from a damp spot of floor. A helper needs to be able to work through it, without showing too much shock or disgust, and without making it the talk of the town. Chris added to her value by keeping me entertained with family stories while we worked.

After several years of use, I painted the cabinets, and added knobs and drawer pulls. I went through quite a bit of angst about whether to get pulls that matched the chrome of faucet and refrigerator handle, or antique brass to match the cabinet hinges. My daughter, Kate, solved the problem. She haunted  flea markets, garage sales and junk shops; she brought me a collection of old knobs and pulls. All different sizes and shapes, some are metal; others are wood. Two filigree knobs are identical except for finish, and are placed side-by-side on a double cabinet: one is chrome; the other is antique brass. I love it!

As a finishing touch in my funky little kitchen, I have baubles and trinkets hanging from the knobs of each upper cabinet. Every item has a story. There is the copper bird, cut from heavy metal and painted by my friend, Sue. The metal came from the old roof of our Post Office. There is the blue and white woven paper ornament that my daughter, Jen, made, in a class taught by my friend, Larry. A short string of red glass beads, each in the shape of a heart, hangs from another knob.

The fat, beaded star ornament that hangs from a red wooden knob over the stove was sewn by my friend, Mary. She is genius in combining striped fabrics to form patterns! On the back, in her own handwriting, “Beaver Island ’96” is written in puff paint. Twenty years ago it was, when Mary had her little bookstore here…when we shared coffee and conversation on an almost daily basis. When we walked together on the beach, sharing secrets, sobbing through heartache and shoring each other up through our struggles. When we shared meals, and talked about writing and art and men.  Though I have to take this fabric ornament down on occasion, and give it a gentle bath in warm water laced with strong de-greaser, I always return it to its place, for all the good memories it brings to me, of a good friend, far away.

Artifacts to Memories: Mom’s Old Typewriter

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[This is a re-post of a blog I wrote several years ago. It feels like cheating, but it suits the category perfectly. And I’m so, so busy with other writing today. My apologies.]

I don’t know when Mom got the old Royal Typewriter. It was new – or nearly new – in my earliest memories of it. Perhaps it had belonged to her mother, and came into our home around the time Grandma Thelma died. Maybe Mom invested in it – as she did the large set of encyclopedias – to enhance the scholastic ability of her children. I don’t think Mom knew how to type, but I guess I’m not sure about that, either. I think it originally had a hard case that fit over the top and fastened on the bottom, to protect the keys and keep it dust-free. The typewriter was an important, revered object in our house.

As I think about it, very few objects in our chaotic household were given that status. Mom raised nine children of her own, and always had many more around. She fully expected that “kids will be kids.” That meant that dishes will get broken, toys will be destroyed, clothes will get stained and furniture will take a beating. Expect it, and learn to live with it. Except for those things that Mom set aside as precious, that were to be handled more cautiously, and treated with love.

Mom’s list was not long: the cedar chest that she’d received from her parents at the occasion of her high school graduation…along with the treasures and memories she kept inside it; books in general, and especially the encyclopedias, which had to be handled carefully, dusted regularly, and always kept in alphabetical order; the good china, which was never used, and the frosted iced tea glasses that had belonged to her mother; the nativity set that was put out at Christmastime and handled so carefully that the straw was still intact on top of the stable and the music box still worked for her great-grandchildren to hear. And the typewriter.

When we came home from school with a “really big research assignment”, we could use the typewriter for the final draft. If we had an important letter to write, the typewriter could be brought to the desk. If we had absolutely run out of options for keeping small children entertained, we could sometimes pull out the typewriter to show them the “magic” of their names appearing on the paper, the sound of the bell alerting them that it was time for their job: using the silver arm to push the carriage back over to the left. Always, the typewriter eraser was close at hand. By the time we got to high school and actually took typing classes, the biggest problem was forgetting the “hunt and peck” method of typing we’d grown so familiar with.

My mother gave me the typewriter when I was a graduate student at Michigan State University. By that time – the late ’80’s – her children were all adults, and the machine sat idle. Though a manual typewriter seemed pretty archaic, it was a godsend to me! The only word processor available  for my use – for the multitude of papers that had to be typed – was at the library, a mile from our apartment, with – often – a long list of students in line to use it. I was a single mother with a full load of classes, and no car. Having the typewriter allowed me to be at home with my daughters in the evenings. Many nights they fell asleep to the sound of me pounding on the typewriter keys, cursing as I reached for the Wite-Out. I still have several papers written during that time, with the characteristic shading from many corrections.

I made cookbooks for my daughters one Christmas many years ago. The opening page says “so that Jenny and Katey can have the food they grew up with, even when ‘Home’ is far from their Mom’s kitchen”. My methods were ancient by today’s standards. I gathered photographs and had them enlarged and/or cropped as needed. I used rub on Chartpak letters to make the chapter pages. I typed all the recipes on Mom’s old Royal Typewriter. A dozen hours over the course of several days and a couple hundred dollars at Kinko’s,and I was done. That was the last big job for the typewriter.

The machine sat unused after that. Over the years, I moved it from the shelf to the attic to the storage unit. I almost forgot about it. Then things changed:

First, my mother died. Which caused me to reassess everything. Caused me to look with new eyes at everyone and everything she loved. Caused me to cherish everything she had cared about, and everything she had given me.

Next, I saw a lovely room in an art magazine where a typewriter was used for making gift tags, and had a place of honor on the desk.Then, I saw a piece on a news program about a typewriter repair person who is enjoying a resurgence of interest in the old machines. Last, I reorganized shelves and books to accommodate a new drawer unit, and ended up with one empty shelf.

Now, Mom’s old typewriter sits with dignity among the cookbooks on my kitchen shelf.

The Day After Christmas Blues

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“The Day After Christmas Blues.” That used to really be a thing in my life.

It was worst when I was a child. After all the days and weeks of giddy anticipation, preparation and decorating, magical evenings in the quiet and glow of Christmas tree lights, imagining the bounty that would be found on Christmas morning…suddenly it was over.

Sometimes it struck as early as Christmas afternoon. After the presents were all opened and gathered, after the best new dress was shown off at Mass, after breakfast that included the Christmas Eve ham, now with eggs and toast as accompaniment, things settled, sadly, down. Oh, there were the calls to friends, yet, to compare gifts. There were new dolls or toys to play with, and to find special places for. There were books to read and games to play. There was the long Christmas holiday away from school still to look forward to. Still, there was a hollow space, where Christmas used to be. The anticipation was over; the waiting was done. The reality was never quite what I had expected it to be.

As a young adult, the anticipation went hand in hand with preparation, and the promise, always, to make this one “the best Christmas ever.” The house would reflect the holidays in decorations, music and good cheer. The food, from cookies for Santa to Christmas morning cinnamon rolls, to casserole contributions to the meals that we attended, was plotted and planned far in advance. The gifts would be perfect, and received with gratitude and joy. I remember many frantic Christmas Eve nights, trying to finish just one more handmade gift, to make the under-tree bounty look just a little richer.

And then Christmas was over. Leaving warm memories, sure, and gifts to enjoy, but over nonetheless.  It never quite lived up to my expectations. Maybe gifts weren’t received quite as enthusiastically  as I’d anticipated, or my husband drank too much, or someone was cranky. It was always a letdown to some degree. Mostly, because it was over. It was time for the annual day after Christmas blues. Always with thoughts of how next year, it will be better.

Of course, now I know I should have savored every single moment of those Christmases spent among family and loved ones. Loud, boisterous, crazy, everyone-talking-at-once and “look how much those babies have grown” Christmases are the ones I miss now. I fight off tears for weeks before the holidays, with memories of Christmases past.

  • My mother, coming home with bags and boxes that would be hidden away in her bedroom. Later, after long wrapping sessions, she’d come out with more and more gifts for under the tree.
  • My Dad, recalling his own childhood memories and – like a kid himself – giddily relishing the anticipation and joy of his own children.
  • Christmas morning when the gifts were piled high under the tree, and all nine of us dove in to find the ones with our names on them.
  • Christmas afternoons with games and puzzles.
  • My little family decorating the tree with handmade ornaments, a pot of chicken and stars soup bubbling on the stove.
  • My tiny daughters coming down the stairs to be surprised by what Santa left under the tree.
  • My brother David, in a Santa hat, generous with hugs and always too loud.
  • Sheila putting together the fruit salad, with wide chunks of banana, apples and walnuts in whipped cream.
  • Nita, holding and remarking on every single beautiful baby.
  • Every one of my sisters and brothers present, with their families, chatting and laughing and helping in Mom’s big kitchen.

I should have appreciated every single person and moment more than I did.

Now, alone, with my children grown and most of my family far away, I approach the Christmas season with caution. I don’t want to fall into depression; I don’t want to be miserable. I try to drum up some Christmas spirit. Usually, that happens about 6PM on Christmas Eve. Then, I think, “Oh, I wish I had a tree up…I wish I’d decorated.” I promise myself that next year, I will, so that when I sit down to watch It’s A Wonderful Life on the night before Christmas, I will be able to sit in the glow of lights from the Christmas tree.

This year, I threw myself into a flurry of last minute baking on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. By the time I left for dinner at Aunt Katie’s, my kitchen was destroyed. My car was laden with two pies: lemon meringue and blackberry, a plate of jam tarts, a dish of butternut squash, a spinach souffle, twenty-four butter horn rolls.and a bowl of cinnamon-sugar stars.

I made phone calls on Christmas morning. First to my friend Linda who, in similar circumstances, I knew would not overwhelm me with Christmas cheer while I was still on my first cup of coffee. Then my daughters, each a joy to talk to, and a quick chat with my sister Brenda, who had a houseful of guests just arriving. I took the dogs for a long walk. I opened many thoughtful gifts. I continued putting things in and taking things out of the oven. I soaked in a hot bath. I went to dinner at Aunt Katie’s, where five of us shared good food and cheer.

And now it’s over! I have to say, these days it’s more of a relief. Having used all my milk and cream in baking, I started right off with a shot of Irish Cream in my coffee. I think I may have a piece of blackberry pie for breakfast. No day after Christmas blues for me! At least not until I decide to tackle the kitchen!

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Another Monday

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I can’t think of anything to say.

More accurately, I can’t think of anything nice to say.

My default mode is usually just to fall into a long, rambling whine about all the things that are wrong in my life: all of my frustrations, petty grievances and bothersome little problems. I’m awfully good at that.

“It’s six days before Christmas,” I’ve been telling myself, “Pull yourself together!”

So, that’s on my agenda again today. Pulling myself together, that is.

My plan is this:

  • Take the dogs out for a walk.Bundle up well against the cold and wind. Bring the camera. The woods are beautiful with the fresh snow. The fresh air will do all of us some good.
  • Do some more Christmas baking. I have the ingredients for a dozen batches of cookies that I was too sick to make. I’m better now. I brought jam tarts and mini banana-nut muffins in to the hardware last week. Both customers and other employees seemed to enjoy them. It would be nice to have a plate of goodies out every day through the holiday season. I could also put together plates of treats for the service people around town.
  • Give this house a thorough cleaning. More than just the usual maintenance. Flip the mattress and put clean sheets on the bed. Vacuum under the sofa cushions. Wash windows. Clean out the refrigerator. It will give me a good sense of accomplishment when it’s done.
  • Maybe, pull out a Christmas decoration or two. I have two large totes in the attic filled with lights and ornaments. There are ornaments I made of cardboard, tin-foil and felt, for early Christmases when there was no money. There are things my daughters made in school, out of recycled cards, tuna fish cans and pop-sicle sticks. There are fifty small baskets I collected to hang among the ornaments on a tree. I used to fill them with candy and small gifts. I have a collection of small Santas that range from hand-carved, folk art versions, to the little plastic Santa on a spring with a suction cup, that I used to put on my first daughter’s high chair tray. There are stockings I crocheted for each member of my little family, and a granny square afghan in Christmas colors that I used to use as a tree skirt. I might feel more festive with a few Christmas lights around.
  • Wrap gifts, box them up, and get them in the mail. Late as it is, they should still arrive before the New Year. Write and send out at least a few Christmas cards. My biggest joy, this time of year, are the cards I get from family and friends. With that in mind, sending out cards is something I should definitely do. The cost of stamps has caused me to drastically shorten what used to be a long list, and some years I don’t even get around to the few that are left. Let this year be a good exception.

That’s my plan. I hope it works magic on my Monday morning mood!

The 52 Lists Project #51

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List the things that you want to be known for:

  • I’d like to be recognized as an artist. Not just as someone who spends a lot of time in the studio and spends too much money on materials…not just as someone who sometimes makes something good or worthwhile or even beautiful…but as a serious artist.
  • I’d like to be known as a writer. Having never published anything beyond a few letters to the editor, articles in my own news-magazine, and this blog, it’s not likely…but I’d like it, nonetheless.
  • I’d like to be known for my good cooking. On Beaver Island, there are legends that live on beyond the person: Aunt Joy’s cinnamon rolls; Catherine White’s good bread; Rose’s ginger cookies, Madonna’s homemade Irish cream. I’d love to be remembered for a special dish like that!
  • I’d like to be known, most importantly, as a decent person: as a good daughter, mother, sister, aunt, grandmother and friend, and as someone who tries to stand up for what is right, who has a good moral compass, a kind heart and a respectable set of ethics.