Friday, April 20, 2018

"His mission is song."

Two thrashers are nesting outside our kitchen window in a tall holly bush and we could not be happier with our new tenants. 

I turned to Hal Borland to learn more about them and found that they enjoy singing..........

          many phases put together a hundred ways

          trademark is the repeated phrase

          long, intricate songs

          can sound like a flute, piccolo, violin

          sings morning and evening for hours at a time

          rests at midday and dark of night

"But his mission is song."

Hal Borland

I love this more than I can tell you.

And I have my concert tickets in hand, front row and center.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Last Tuna Fish Casserole

I made my last tuna fish casserole the other night.
            I think. Maybe. Probably.

I made two of them, one with cheddar and one with Boar's Head Gold Label Swiss Cheese that is lactose free for RH, with his lactose free milk.

I felt swamped by nostalgia as I made it for the last time, this dish that I had fed my children so often while they were growing up, the recipe that I tripled once they had all left home, one each going to Gurn and Zack to take home for their suppers.

It has been an old friend, the makings of which were almost always in my pantry and fridge.

For there was always a box of macaroni on the shelf and cans of tuna fish. Always the red cans of Campbell's Cream of Chicken and Cream of Celery. Always chicken broth. Always milk in the fridge and cheese, and usually frozen green peas.

Add a salad and French bread and there was dinner.

It was comforting, creamy, and with the addition in later years of crushed Golden Flake Dill Pickle chips on top, almost addictive. And fettucini recently instead of macaroni made it gourmet, kind of.

I will still keep tuna fish in my pantry even though now I prefer the Italian brands. And I may always have an emergency can or two of tomato soup for puny days or chicken noodle for stuffed-nose days when I don't feel like making homemade. But now there are other brands of those that have less chemicals, less additives, and no MSG.

And I make excellent homemade soups myself so those cans really need to go. Hear that, RH? No more stocking up for a year when Progresso soups are BOGO.

So these were my last tuna fish casseroles.

            I think. Maybe. Probably.

Here's my recipe for it just in case my kids someday wonder how Mom made them in the old days:

For 3 Tuna Fish Casseroles:

1. Stir in very large bowl: 2 cans Campbell's Cream of Chicken Soup, 2 cans of Cream of Celery Soup, and 1 can Cream of Mushroom Soup (no mushroom soup if Defee's eating it). Stir in 2 teaspoons curry powder, 1/2 teaspoon ginger, 1 teaspoon tumeric, 2 teaspoons dill, S & P. 

2. Stir in a cup of mayonnaise (or more). 

3. Stir in 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice.

4. Stir in 9 cans of tuna fish.

5. Cook 2 boxes macaroni or fettucini, drain and add.

6. Stir in small bag of frozen petite green peas.

7. Stir in 2 cups milk and enough chicken broth to make it soupy.

8. Add 3 cups of shredded sharp cheddar cheese.

9. Pour into 3 casseroles and top with more cheese plus parmesan.

10. Crush 3 bags of Golden Flake Dill Pickle chips and top each casserole with one bag each.

11. Dot with pats of butter and dust with paprika.

12. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 35 minutes, don't let chips burn.

Sweets are still around in my kitchen and if I don't make them, RH is going to buy them at the store anyway, with all those chemicals and HFCS. 

So why not a homemade cake or cookies instead of Nabisco Vanilla Wafers that are loaded with them, and linger past the sell-by-date?

Two boxes of vanilla wafers, RH? Really?

Here's what I made for dessert just because I had a bottle of Martinelli's Apple Juice that I didn't use for a pork recipe. I found this cake recipe for Apple Juice Cake at Pies and Plots.

There is no dairy in it, safe for RH, but it does call for Crisco type shortening, bad for all of us. I keep a small can in the pantry for using with butter for pie crusts and for my Grandmother's coconut cookies that RH craves sometimes, find the recipe here at a previous post called Who Ate the Cookies.

I remember when I used to keep a large can of Crisco shortening in the pantry. That's another product that I probably ought to banish, maybe use lard instead, according to some. 

This cake was so good, even better the longer it sat. More of a coffee cake than cake and delicious toasted with butter. I did send half of it and lots of casserole to the job one day.

But no more. I think. Maybe. Probably.

Oh, the foods of the past that we thought nothing of eating!

"I refuse to believe that trading recipes is silly.

Tuna fish casserole is at least as real

as corporate stock."

Barbara Grizzuti Harrison

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Happy Birthday, Gladys Taber!

Spring has a special effect on us in the valley.

The whole beautiful world invites us out,

and we have an urge to wander.

The gentle, rolling hills;

the clear, winding brooks;

the bright, rushing streams:

all are filled with the rhythm of life,

and we move with it too.

Gladys Taber in
Stillmeadow Calendar

I think of Gladys Taber often, my book friend and teacher, but especially on her April birthday. 

          Thank you, Gladys, for all you've meant to me.

           Save a place for me, please, in the Quiet Garden Above.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

The Grits Is Cold and The Little Foxes

I am a grits-aholic, to the bone.

We who love grits disagree about grits, what kind to buy and how long to cook them, what to put in them.

One thing is a given. Instant grits or quick cook grits are not the real thing, not really.

One argument you don't hear much of these days is whether grits is singular or plural.

We just don't say anymore,
"The grits is good."

We say, "The grits are good."

And that's a darn shame because grits is singular and properly we should say:

"The grits is good this morning, Mama!"

My authority on the matter is Bette Davis playing Regina Hubbard Gidden in 1941's The Little Foxes.

Davis's Regina was one superbly bitchy woman.

Regina is married in the film to a favorite actor of mine, Herbert Marshall--remember him and his beautiful voice in The Enchanted Cottage as the blind pianist?

Back to grits...early in the film, long before Regina decides not to go fetch her husband's medicine when he's in the middle of a heart attack, crawling up the stairs, she and her daughter are sitting at the breakfast table on the veranda.

Mother dear sends the grits back to the kitchen, telling her servant,
"The grits is cold."

Subject closed. I'm glad that's settled.

There's nothing easier to cook than a pot of grits. I use water for breakfast grits and chicken broth for supper grits.

One ingredient for grits is as necessary as the grits itself. 


You might as well not go to the trouble to fix and eat grits if you're on a salt-free diet. But then, I can't imagine eating a tomato without salt, or an egg, so who's to say.

Tamar Adler inspired me to try her variation on grits in her An Everlasting Meal -- reviewed here on my other blog.

Cut salami into slices on a long bias and brown each slice in a pan. [I used the small dry Italian salami the first time I made this.]

Add red wine vinegar to cover and a spoonful of tomato paste. Let the slices of salami simmer until they've begun to soften, then spoon three or four pieces per person over each bowl of grits. Top each with fresh parsley and grated Parmesan cheese.

I followed Adler's recipe exactly the first time I made this and it was very very good.

The second time I added chopped scallions and a chopped jalape͠no and it was so good I embarrassed myself with compliments.

The third time I used Genoa salami instead of dry Italian, and minced instead of slicing it.

And then I thought, "Why not add the whole small can of tomato paste instead of a spoonful?" 

Yes, I fell for my besetting culinary sin of "If a little is good, more is bound to be better."

And it is not, more is not better.

And then I compounded my goof by stirring it all into the grits, as an imp on my shoulder suggested, instead of serving a little on top of each serving of grits.

I don't know why it surprised me that it looked so disgusting that I didn't even take a picture of it. What I should have done next was throw it all in the trashcan but I thought if I made really good scrambled eggs and toast that it might taste better than it looked.

RH summed it up as we ate our first bite:

"Well, I can say this about the grits, it's different."

Different and utterly awful. I was very glad my scrambled eggs and toast helped take the taste out of my mouth.

But it's what came after this that I'm ashamed of.

I let the little foxes into a perfectly lovely vineyard of a Sunday morning and fell into one of those moods where I berate myself when something goes wrong.

Why didn't I just follow directions?

Why didn't I just think?

Why isn't my table set pretty?

Why didn't I fold that basket of laundry yesterday?

Why can't I ever get anything right?

And here's about what I looked like right then, on a perfectly lovely Sunday morning, if you add a lot of decades to the face:

Does this child look as if she's about to say this?

"Mama, the grits is good!"

I didn't think so.

Do you think I learned my lesson? For a while I did.

I've made a conscious effort over the years to nip that bad habit in the bud--I always think of Barney Fife when I say nip it in the bud, do you?

And I am much better about this than I used to be. But on this morning's perfectly lovely cold dark April morning with snow spitting outside, I once again fixed grits for breakfast.

Plain Jane Grits with just butter melting in it.

And I sliced one potato very thin and a few slices of onion and sautéed them in butter along with slivers of our excellent Easter ham. Then stirred three beaten eggs into it and there we had an excellent breakfast.

I asked RH to fix his plate and then to take a dozen or so pictures of my pretty table.

Then we ate.

But do you think I was happy? No, not me. 

I let a whole skulk of little foxes into the vineyard (a bunch of foxes is called a skulk. I just googled it.)

I sat at my own plate, over on the big dining table because I didn't want to crowd place settings for two on our pretty 1950s dinette set, and I proceeded to criticize my plate. own eggs had set too long in the pan while RH was getting photos of his table for this blog. Naturally I had to oversee him doing it. ham should have been minced smaller.

...I should have had biscuits instead of toast. needed salsa....

And then I really blew it.

After breakfast I imported RH's photos from his camera to my laptop and as they appeared, one by one, I started saying, "Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, no."

This brought RH to my writing room asking, "What? What's wrong?"

[I mean, maybe the world was ending or something.]

I said: "You put too much of the egg stuff on your plate. It's ugly. You should have taken a small artistic helping, there's not enough white showing around the rim of the plate."

Can you believe he didn't blow his stack? He just laughed, and not in a mean way, just in a way of complete wonder at his wife's foolishness.

At least I folded all my laundry yesterday.

Song of Solomon 2:15
Take us the foxes,
the little foxes that spoil the vineyards,
for our vineyards are in blossom.

Anyone else out there ever let the little foxes in?

Besides me and Bette Davis?

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Easter and Mama

This was not Mama's Easter dress. 

This was not even a Sunday morning go to church dress.

It was a fun dress, a party dress, a date dress, and she lent it to me my junior year when I wore it to the Letter Banquet. It swished when I walked.

Mama's Easter dresses were more subdued, usually with a jacket.

Many years it was navy in color.

And rarely was it one she had made herself because she had four other Easter outfits to sew, one each for me and my three younger sisters.

There probably were some hems to finish late Saturday night, but she wasn't terribly late to bed because she was so naturally organized.

Daddy gave the Easter Bunny help with our Easter baskets so she didn't ever have to fool with that. And our corsages were always Daddy's domain. 

But there were those four outfits to have ready, four pair of new shoes and dressy socks--or stockings when we were older. New purses (with an offering in them) and sometimes little hats for us, always hats for her when I was very young, a few with short veils.

Easter dinner was planned and partially prepared, dessert and homemade rolls made a day or two ahead, the dining room ready.

Breakfast was usually simple on Easter morning because it took time for three little girls, and later one more, to look at their Easter baskets and then get dressed. Daddy had often been up early to go to Sunrise Service first but he kept an eye on us when we were all dressed and ready while Mama finally had time to get herself ready. 

I remember one year as a young teenager waiting in the car with him and my three sisters, the car motor running, Daddy tapping his fingers on the steering wheel, all of our eyes on the back door waiting for Mama to appear. 

When she did he told her that she looked beautiful--he always did--and then we sped down the driveway headed for Sunday School and church.

I thought about Mama a lot today (Saturday), about all those early years. She's in her 90s now, living in Florida where my two sisters watch over her. She knows them most of the time, not always. But that's okay, they know her. 

Here we are, Mama. 

All ready for church in brand new handmade dresses. 

We sure had Daddy outnumbered, didn't we?

Thank you for all the pretty dresses, Mama...💗

Mama not only was an amazing seamstress, she had a real love of fabric--oh, that fabric collection!

I remember many favorite dresses Mama made me, but this one was extra special. It just felt good on my skin and it was in my favorite color. I'm in the purple dress in the middle and it was really about the shade of the purple border, not faded purple like the faded photograph. 

My sisters' dresses look white but they were probably pretty pastels. Mama's dress looks white too but it's probably not.

And something weird is going on with all our noses in this photograph but I can truthfully say that we all had very pretty noses. Scout's honor.

And we look so solemn. 

Easter was always solemn. It was different from other Sundays at church, kind of like a spiritual New Year's Day. 

But oh it was glorious! With music and message to make our hearts soar. 

Daddy loved Easter hymns so much although I don't remember him ever singing in the choir, don't remember if he could even carry a tune. 

Now he sings with the angels.

How glorious that music must be!

Happy Easter to all.

He is risen;

He is risen, indeed!

Friday, March 23, 2018

March Reading and Old Diaries

I love combing through my six bookshelves for a good book to read and Elizabeth Goudge's The Scent of Water is one I reread with much pleasure recently. That one is worth a whole blog post, someday.

As many books as I have, a trip to Goodwill always ends with me finding a few books I haven't yet read, and Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris, and Open House by Elizabeth Berg came home with me this month. 

I thought I would like the Harris book as much as I did the movie from her Chocolat. I didn't--it was dark and depressing and Johnny Depp wasn't in it--but finished it as it was well written.

Berg's book was good, what Berg book isn't? Open House was an old one I'd missed, a fun read of a woman who discovers that her husband leaving her is not such a bad thing after all.

There came a day this winter when I had to break down and order some new paperbacks, rare for me when I can get them at Goodwill for 99 cents. But I was in the mood for something I hadn't read before and it needed to be something lite and fun and something to do with food.

Amy E. Reichert's The Coincidence of Coconut Cake and The Simplicity of Cider filled the bill. I'll be watching for more of her books. I loved the cider book, partly because of its setting in Door County, Wisconsin where blogger Angela of The Parisienne Farmgirl has recently moved. This was a good love story too, but all the details of the heroine in her craft cider business was fascinating. I always like stories where the work people do is woven into the plot and this was accomplished beautifully in The Simplicity of Cider.

If you like chef centered novels, The Coincidence of Coconut Cake is a good one for you. I'll skip trying the recipe for coconut cake in this book because my mama's recipe for it with lemon filling is the Bomb. But I do want to duplicate one meal in the book, where friends are gathered outside for a grill meal:
An hour later, the four of us sat at the patio table laden with the sliced pork, mojo sauce, black beans, cilantro lime rice, and grilled peppers and onions.
Hello! That meal is calling my name. But will Lou find out that the restaurant critic who was responsible for her business going south is the same man she has fallen in love with? Will she forgive him?

I saw that ending coming, naturally, which is not a bad thing, not to me. I no longer have to be shocked in a book or in life, and I much prefer a happy ending after some twists and turns.

What I most liked about Amy E. Reichert's books is that they are set in Wisconsin. I am now in love with Wisconsin! 

I turned to a different kind of reading material the other day--my old journals. I pulled out a dusty one from 1992 and began in March. Humor me, will you, while I go back 26 years?

In March of 1992, my sister had just found out after what seemed like a very long wait that she did not have breast cancer, news that made her family very very happy. 

This made me think of a dear friend who has recently gone through the same wait to be given the same good news. And today a dear family member was given an all-clear on a CT scan.

I am clapping my hands here!!

March gives out good news and it gives out bad news, as all months do.

On March 17, 1992, the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires was bombed, and there was also an attack on a group of high school students in Israel where two students died by sword and others were injured.

I recently posted about Anti-Semitism. Will there ever come a time, short of Heaven, where we don't wake up to hear more horrifying news on television? From places you expect and in places you used to not expect it to happen?

Aren't people ever taught to play nicely as children anymore?

In March of 1992, Zack counted over 200 daffodils in bloom in our yard. Okay, I admit it, I sure do miss all my spring bulbs at Valley View. This past autumn neither RH or I were emotionally up to planting bulbs at our new house. We hope to this year.

In March of 1992, my sweet corgi Tex and I spooked five deer in our woods, and we had just watched, for the first time, The Long, Long Trailer with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz during our Friday family pizza and a movie night. And laughed our heads off. Almost as much as we did when we first watched Home Alone. 

Those were lovely years, when Friday nights meant pizza and a movie and kids at home with us, before they were old enough to play on the basketball team on Friday nights, before Friday night became Date Night.

I think I've moved on but sometimes I wonder. I miss them and I miss the sweet corgi who was there with us.

In March of 1992, we went to our friends' house one night for a steak dinner and Scattergories. Our friends are no longer here on this earth.

In March of 1992, we awakened two mornings with snow and ice on the daffodils--mother nature replayed that scene here this March of 2018, twice. It was a beautiful sight here last week when I opened the kitchen door to find light snow had fallen on flowering trees around the pond.

In March of 1992, I had just called all males with strong backs inside to completely switch the furniture in two rooms, our dining room and living room. Years later we switched them back again. Hey, I've been rearranging rooms since I was 14 years old. And six decades later I'm still doing it, and still calling on all strong backs in the family for help.

Two weekends ago when we had family here for supper, between supper and dessert RH called two sons and a grandson to my bedroom to move my bed. I could not believe how they did it--four men went to each corner and LIFTED my king-size bed in the air, over the top of other furniture and placed it on the opposite wall.

They earned their pecan pie for dessert!

I've warned RH that when I stop rearranging rooms is the day he needs to order my tombstone. It's not going to happen until then. However, I think I'm beginning to have found my sweet spot in this house and there won't be as much furniture rearranging from now on. But I can't promise anything.

I do know that there are big goings on in the backyard that I'm so excited about. It's moving along slowly after the first five days of intensive work by RH. Then came bad weather interruptions and now the Cold Bug of Guinness World Records to hit him. Hoping he's better when our son comes here after Easter to help him continue his latest project.

Here's a tiny preview of Phase I, Bree-Bree checking out what dad's done so far:

Another project is planned sometime, I hope. Seven boxes of flooring have been sitting under my dining table for almost three months now, awaiting installation in my kitchen. You may not can tell from this picture because who notices a floor when our daughter-in-law and granddaughter are so dang pretty, but our kitchen flooring must have come from leftover tiles used in a school hallway, and their condition gets a failing grade.

But that will surely happen someday, I hope. It took 14 years, from 1990 to 2004 at Valley View, for RH to add on a brand new kitchen.

Fourteen years from now, 2018 to 2032, might find me beyond caring--or knowing--whether I have a new floor in my kitchen. Let's hope it happens before I turn the boxes under my dining table into Lincoln Logs for visiting children.

With an hour to spare the other day before my annual opthamologist appointment, RH and I stopped by another Goodwill and I found three books that had my name on them, figuratively. Truly, when these things happen I know it was meant to be.

Here's the one I'm reading now, only 30 pages in so far, but I am enjoying it so much.

David Grayson said this about March: "The key virtue is endurance." I know that people in the Northeast section of the US have been called upon for that virtue during March of 2018. I hope that some good books have made it easier.

Happy reading and happy journaling,