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9780670015443I’m Swedish, which makes me sexy, and I’m Irish which makes me want to talk about it.”

So begins Kathleen Flinn’s delectable memoir of her family’s journey and food.

It wasn’t the cover that drew me to this book, it was the title, which recalls Flinn’s grandmother Inez, who refused to use toasters when the oven worked well.  The end result was often burnt toast, which she said “makes you sing good”. Don’t you love it?  My Yia Yia would come up with phrases like that, and so would my dad. “Children are starving in China” comes to mind admonishing a picky eater, though my sister got a tongue lashing once when she replied “then feed this to them“.

I digress.  Actually, I really don’t  digress, for this book brought on memory-upon- memory of my own family, both paternal and maternal, and the role food played in making me who I am. I read this in two bites, er, two days, and found myself wanting for more.

The book starts with Flinn’s mom and dad hastily moving from Michigan to California, via Route 66, with all their belongings, including three toddlers and one more on the way, to help run a pizza parlor owned by her Irish uncle – in the ’50s! This was long before pizza was known in most American homes. The Flinn’s eventually move back to Michigan, where they lived on a farm, ate plenty of chicken and eggs, and make do. It is, in its way, the story of growing up in the midwest in the fifties.

“Burnt Toast . . . ” is the love story of Flinn’s parents, and maternal grandparents, finally her own. It is also about the abject poverty she eventually discovers her father grew up in with her grandmother raising a large family, in the Depression, on her own. It is about how her grandfather, once jailed for bootlegging, becomes a cook in the army during WWII and how she goes about doing sunshine work, dressed as cowgirl delivering her mom’s baked goods, in her new, suburban neighborhood.  This is a well-seasoned ragout of colorful grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins,. It is Flinn’s familial immigrant stories, and more, as she weaves chapter upon chapter of memories, replete with a relevant recipe for each chapter.

“Burnt Toast . . . ” is not just about food. It is also about how the hardships, trials, and tribulations of life often serve to harden our resolve, build character, and furnish life lessons. That burnt toast can make us sing good is also about the grand midwestern spirit – and more. It’s mostly sweet and funny, just a wee bit sad, and waiting for you to open it’s covers.

Off I go now to bake a Jack-o-Lantern Tea loaf to take to a friend’s house for dinner tonight. My own story of how I came to this long-loved recipe can be found here.

 

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The most pleasurable moments in my life are often consumed around a table, eating a good meal, talking, laughing, remembering “when”. Such pleasure was had on Saturday night, dining with family on several familial sides, from two East Coast states, as we met at one of the most venerable restaurants still operating on Route 66.

You might remember when I first wrote about the Mother Road, Route 66, a few years ago, citing its starting point on Chicago’s lakefront, which is but a few dozen miles from our house here on the Cutoff.  Several of you commented about time you spent on the “mother road”. Others of you realized, perhaps, that it was more than a television show or tall tale; it was a road often traveled, traversing the wide open spaces of another era. Route 66 was a route, now decommissioned, that connected small towns and bits of wonders across the wide expanse of USA country. I meant to write again about this iconic route, but, well, life took other turns in my writing road, until this weekend.

Along with brother-in-law Mike, in from the Sunshine State, and nephew Andrew’s brother and sister-in-law, from the Big Apple, eleven of us gathered at White Fence Farm in Romeoville, on old Route 66,  for a sinfully scrumptious meal, served family style, with corn fritters, slaw, pickled beets, cottage cheese, bean salad – and, the restaurant’s signature fried chicken.

It was heartwarming to not only catch-up on what was happening in our lives, but, to have our two grand-nephews participate in the lively art of family conversation as they laughed at grown-up’s stories, all entertaining, others downright hilarious (like grandpa Mike’s articulate rendition of his dog’s encounter with peacock droppings or late night stand offs with a gecko – uh oh).

Good memories were gathered to keep close to the heart along with a few photos of all that was consumed, including a few cute chickens among the antiques and memorabilia in White Fence Farm.

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DSCN5809I seem to be drifting under panels of panes lately; and so it was at the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan last weekend.

As we toured this inspiring living gallery of plants and art, in and out of rooms of glass and paved paths of wonder whilst under a stormy sky, I could not help but wonder in awe at how art and horticulture articulate so well with each other.

The sculpture below changes as one walks around; first a man, then a woman, surrounded by shrubs and greenery.

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A queen bee rules from her throne, frogs guard benches, and conservatories house exotic plants that thrive in the upper midwest lakes region.

I’ll stop writing now, dear reader, and just show you a few photos of the delights of the Meijer gardens.

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DSCN5808It all began with hugs and apples.

Phyllis and Art’s bounty from their espelaried Asian pear tree; just harvested, they were nestled on the table, ready to be eaten. Eat them we did, their sweet juices a perfect nectar with which to begin a long, peaceful weekend at water’s edge.

I don’t think either Tom nor I realized how much we needed time to just relax. We’ve taken our walks visited beautiful settings and gardens, attended concerts, enjoyed family and friends – but, it has been a long, long while since we’ve had an opportunity to just be.

Our hosts immediately took us out on the water, where we were fed and floated to the peace of trees, the swiftness of a heron taking off from a pier, and the primal chorus of sandhill cranes, beginning their long migration south.

.We visited garden centers and botanical gardens, watched movies, ate simple and hearty meals – and we talked and laughed and reconnected. I marveled, still do, at the decades that have passed and in some ways really haven’t moved much at all.

There aren’t enough words to express the gratitude I have for the sense of renewal I feel.

It ended as it began; with hugs and apples, the simple abundance of harvest and hospitality to remember the last, sweet moments of summer.

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DSCN5701“Yia Yia. What is true love?”  . . .

. . .  so began our rainy-day morn as we watched Frozen together.

It was a thought-provoking conversation with a lass sixty years younger than I am.  Kezzie and I manage to enter in such conversations. I love her curiosity about life, and, in this case, about true love.

 We discussed our hearts’ amazing capacity for love. I was settled upon the couch. Kezzie was bouncing with barely contained enthusiasm around the living room; a princess in a pink dress. We discussed who we love and how we love new things while still loving those we already have a heart for –  all while she danced and gestured and stepped into the animation on the screen through her own lively imagination;  body and soul, my sweet little girl.

We talked about how she loved her Mommy and Daddy and how they loved her and when her little brother was born there was more love to go around. We talked about love of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. Then, she pretended to be Elsa from the movie and burst into song, duplicating her actions on screen. Elsa and Kezzie, singing together the song “Let it Go“.

Suddenly, from the Pack ‘n Play, a newly emerging voice shouted out  “let go – let go!

I look forward to more interesting conversations, as time goes by.  For now, I’ll just let it go.

True love; it is found in many places; family, friends, pets. It is more, much more, than a kiss from a handsome prince.

 

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Two years old!

10599694_10152605618646391_20501395321069020_nI’ve been up north for a few days celebrating a big boy’s birthday with his mommy, daddy and big sister Kezzie.

Happy Birthday Ezra.

 

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 This week was a week that was;  a toddling sort of week, in a Chicago big shoulders sort of way. A good week for a town often plagued with scandal, murders, and controversy.

It was a good week in Chicago. A week to forget for a bit the troubles that we have as we enjoyed the feel good moments of the National Little League winning team, locally referred to as JRW – Jackie Robinson West. In a town big enough to have two major league teams, the south side White Sox, and the north side Cubs, we finally have a team that has won a national series and became the National Little League champions.

On Tuesday, the “boys of summer”, as they are being called, were honored with a tribute at their home field, Morgan Park, with politicos of every ilk, media of every kind and accolades they rightfully earned. It was followed by a a parade through Chicago, a town that loves its parades, to an enormous rally at the lakefront in Millennium Park.

My dear readers, JRW is a team to be proud of. These young boys were humble in their achievements, and gracious in their loss as World Champions to Korea;  lessons to be learned by professional athletes, who scream, shout, and carry on.

Tom and I sat and watched the festivities, smiles and laughs and a tear or two. This little league team, it seems, has taught us all some big league lessons that have far more to do with life than about baseball.

We finished out this wondrous week that was by attending the last of the free summer concerts at the Burr Ridge Centre. For one reason or another, we only managed to get to one concert this summer; one that was just so-so. It was an ABBA tribute and should have been frolicking good fun, but, well, it just wasn’t.

Friday’s band was what we call a tribute band called the Chicago Experience – and oh, what an experience it was. A tribute band for a well known group of years bygone, Chicago. This band played, non-stop, for more than 90 minutes and would, I believe have gone on longer if the threat of thunderstorms had not been pressing.  They played Chicago songs without missing a note and took many of us back several decades; as far back as 1969.

Like their namesake, Chicago, the Chicago Experience consisted of more than most groups of the era. This was a 10 piece group of musicians, at least that was how many I could see and count, replete with a phenomenal horn section.

Yes, dear reader, it was a very good Chicago sort of week – and a grand way to officially end our summer.

This music video is Chicago, the original group, courtesy of YouTube, not the Chicago Experience, though it could easily have been. We had fun at the concert, even more so since our friend Rick, a trumpeter himself, was with us. His appreciation and reactions were priceless.

Does your town or region have a rock group that carries its name? Did you see a live summertime music performance this year?

 

Photo source http://www.sportsworldnews.com/articles/17076/20140823/jackie-robinson-west-stars-chicago-play-little-league-world-seris.htm.

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