One Foot

One Foot

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Friends and Family, Not Recipes, Make the Meal

In my last post, I pulled a recipe from my mother’s old file to try this Christmas – “Honey Oatmeal Cookies.”  Now I love oatmeal cookies, but just because the recipe was in the file doesn’t mean it was a good one – or that she had ever tried it for that matter.  These cookies were so bad, I now find myself standing at the counter, picking out the good cranraisins and pecan chunks rather than throw them away.
          If you share my experience, it isn’t difficult to blow a recipe during the holiday season and have some cherished memories as a result.
          There was the year I couldn’t afford a good turkey and bought on the cheap instead.  I was young and didn’t know I couldn’t rush the bird, so I also cooked it on high and fast.  The finished bird lay on the table, looking and tasting much like a deflated football.
          There was a time I served watery broccoli, lumped potatoes, inedible pies and worse dinner rolls.  But there are also some great recipes in my file.  I can cook a mean turkey now, I know the store that sells the best pies, and I have great friends that invite me to their house for Christmas dinner.  I have just enough great recipes to take a tasty dish along with a good bottle of wine and we are all happy.
          The best recipe of all is the Christmas mix of good family and friends who put together the memorable and unique meal of the year. 
          As we prepare our meals and baked treats today and throughout the next week, I hope that all your dishes turn out well.  When in doubt, just remember that Julia Child was never bashful about butter. 
          And if you really want to make good friends, invite or go to eat with someone.  The people who give you their food give you their heart.[i] 

[i] Cesar Chavez

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Haunting Memories of Pumpkin Pies

My mother, Susie Shoemaker

          Today I am baking Thanksgiving pumpkin pies and missing my mother like crazy.  Pumpkin was the first pie I learned to make and I remember standing on the wooden footstool to stir the filling, taking an occasional, if not often, taste of it.  I suppose it isn’t helping that I am also playing Christmas carols.
          I suppose every woman connects to her mother and grandmothers through their unique recipes and approaches to cooking.  Neither of my grandmothers was much on the cooking other than the basic farm fare –fresh vegetables from the garden and meat we had raised, plus a few cobblers when fruit was available. Can you imagine such a lack of skills!  They didn’t even know how to cook the half-prepared, over-processed foods we are so familiar with.
       I inherited Mom’s card box of recipes.  I thought I would flip through a few of them and choose one to make this year.  Oh, my gosh, they’re in her handwriting (tearing up).  Well, onward.  The family favorite for caramel candy  - every member of the family remembers receiving the candy package in the mail and protecting it like gold.  Here’s one for spinach quiche – no wait, that one came from me. 
        I’m not making much progress.  Just found “Crazy Chocolate Cake (Double recipe)” and must ask my friend Norma if it is the same as hers.  That was such a good cake. 
         German chocolate frosting; meat loaf and sloppy joes for the whole church; date clusters…..each card with a memory.
          Well, guess I’ll try the “Honey Oatmeal Cookies.”  I’m about out of Kleenex tissue and I just heard the timer go off for the pies. 
          Holidays aren’t always joyously happy are they?  Some of those memories can truly make our heart hurt.  But then, we are making new memories and perhaps they will make our hearts sing. 
         And to think I was just going to throw together a couple of pies to take to the gathering tomorrow!
Blessed holidays.  May you be so very grateful for your own good memories.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Some Beautiful Things are Worth Waiting For

I cannot raise roses.  I love them; they are one of my favorite flowers, but I have little success with them in this garden. My mother, on the other hand, could raise roses and there always seemed to be a special wave of understanding between her and her rose bushes. 
     When I landscaped the back yard at this house, I planted several roses.  All died the first two summers except one, which simply refused to grow in a desirable shape, always had severe winter kill, and wasn’t the color I wanted.   Yet, every fall, when the temperatures begin to drop and most plants have gasped their last vegetive breath, this rose will send up shoots of deep, blood-red rose buds that are perfect for days.  At the most unlikely of times, it defiantly surprises me with near perfection.
I refuse to dig this plant up and remove it, not just because of this late season tease, but also because every season it repeats this, I am prone to think of my mother and reflect that I was fortunate to have a wonderful late-blooming relationship with her. 
     During my childhood, my mother was less than remarkable.  I’m not saying she didn’t care for us, but rather that she always deferred primary care and attention to my father.  He dominated the household totally and often our home was harsh and severe.  It was many years after my siblings and I left home that a change began to take place. 
          A little assertion can go far, and in mid-life my mother began to assert herself.  She worked for a while outside the home, began to enjoy a few of her own interests, and finally convinced my father that she was capable of leaving if he didn’t soften up a little.  Slowly, she began to have a friendship with my sister and I, discovering new ways to show she cared.
     In the last five years of my mother’s life, I was home to be with her and assist in her care.  Our earlier friendship became the foundation for a rich, pleasing and loving friendship between mother and daughter.  She continued to love her flowers, planted dozens of new roses, and had beautiful roses in bloom when she died.  
      When I cut those final rosebuds from my own garden, I think of those good years with gratitude.  I place my rosebuds in a bud vase with the assurance that some beautiful things are truly worth waiting for.

Monday, September 29, 2014

In Praise of No-Salt-Added Potato Chips

My doctor asked me two years ago to reduce the amount of sodium in my diet in the hope that I could avoid increased medication for high blood pressure.  One wouldn’t think that would be as difficult as it really is for most of us.
          Some days I feel I am making little progress in my efforts to reduce sodium.  Sodium seems to be in the most unlikely of products, and if the sodium is reduced, one can bet the sugar content is up.  It takes forever to shop for food if one is reading labels properly, but I do believe my skills and understanding are improving.
         Of course, one clue is to eat fresh fruits and vegetables.  I do that.  I buy organic when possible and even find some vegetables in cans with no-salt added.  The most difficult canned product to find with little sodium is soup, so now I do try to make my own.
         Processing seems to be the culprit.  Why is it that even the most unlikely product contains sodium.  Breakfast cereal?  Really?
         It turns out that companies add sodium to products for several reasons.  First, salt is a preservative and it extends shelf life of the product.  Second, the addition of salt can reduce the growth of food-borne pathogens.  Third, it improves the taste by binding the ingredients and functions as a stabilizer.  It also enhances the colors of foods. 
      So with all those benefits of adding salt, it makes the product last longer on the shelf and is more profitable to the company - a win-win for the company.  Unfortunately, the product is not so good for people.  The more processed the food is, the worse it is for you.
       While the recommended intake is 1500 mg daily,  I don’t even like to think of the effect of overindulging – i.e., stroke and weight gain. These are certainly not attractive in my mind. 
         So I keep trying and today I jumped up and down in the isle of my discount pharmacy when I found “Uncle Rays No-Salt-Added Potato Chips.”  I expected them to taste like wood chips, but they don’t.  They are really quite tasty. 
          In fact, they were so good I went to the company website and checked out the company.  It isn’t a large company and I doubt it will put Frito-Lay out of business, but for a gal that has worked so hard on reducing sodium, I was really pleased to find one of my favorite foods without the salt.  Thanks Uncle Ray.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Mystery of the Quilt Top

          As a quilter, you can imagine that I run into many a quilt, and I do meet great people and great quilts.  Sometimes, both have great stories to tell.  And then, sometimes, I just have to extrapolate on the information I have and imagine the story they have to tell.
           Take this old blue quilt for example - it is one of three quilt tops that were delivered to my little quilting bee by an anonymous person.  A guy showed up at the senior center one day and said he had found them in an old shed “out back” and wondered if anyone could use them.  The director brought them to my quilting group asking if they were worth saving.
          They made a smelly pile.  There were water stains and all were badly dirt stained.  All were “pieced” by hand and with varied stitch quality.  Of the three, I thought this one had the best chance of being servicable, so I volunteered to see if I could tack it together and quilt it with my longarm. 
          I felt I had to quilt it before I washed it just to keep it together.  Then I would do what repair work it needed.  My machine was not happy, as the quilter had not squared the blocks and there was a bit of excess fabric to sew through.  It was puffy and rough where she had eased the pattern along, but surprisingly, her corners met fairly well and the darn thing was almost square. 
          So here is what I think about this quilt.  First,  I know the person who made it was elderly.  It was hand pieced and the stitches at one end were much better than the other end.  She was probably in declining health.  Second, I know it took a long time to quilt it.  The fabrics on the better half of the quilt were not the same as the other.  She had run out of fabic and had to “make do.” And Third, I bet she (or her family) thought it wasn’t worth saving or couldn’t afford to have it quilted. 
          You might ask, did it turn out well enough to use after I quilted it?  Well, I think it did.  The machine quilting tightened it up considerably and then I went back and hand quilted many of the corners to tighten the connections.  It is still puffy, there wasn’t anything I could do about that.  But all the stains except one little brown spot the size of a pea did wash out.  All in all, it looks like a quilt your grandma would have made for you and I think there are lots of young kids out there that could use a grandma quilt.
          The thing that bugs me is that I don’t know what the pattern is.  At first I thought it was an “Xs and Os” but then realized it was a flower pattern.  I’ve been through my books and just can’t locate it.  If I could, it would help date the quilt. 
          If I ever get any further information on the quilt, it will just have to be for my own peace of mind.  I will deliver it to my quilt group this week and we will probably donate it to Carpenter House, a local residence school for girls.  I will also make a pretty doll quilt and wrap a soft plush toy to go with it.  Somehow, I just know that’s what Grandma would have done.