Archive for November, 2009

The Kid’s Table

There was the Thanksgiving dinner when Tom foolheartedly held up a turkey leg and, in a left field attempt to compliment me,  grinned and said “this skin is like tree bark“.  A hush fell over the crowd, everyone else put their heads down, stopped eating mid-bite and waited for the wrath of Penelope. He still claims he meant it as a compliment. Sad to say and knowing the ways of my Antler Man, I know he meant it as a compliment, but, hey, I’m milking this one for at least another 10 years. The funny thing is that it was an exceptionally good turkey that he, the esteemed chewer of bark and apple cores, and who-knows-what-else, ordered it himself, fresh from the butcher where he often stopped to get a sandwich and soup, making me wonder if he had ever had a crunchy bark sandwich with turkey breast on caraway rye – hold the mayo.

As a child, our Thanksgiving table was always crowded. My cousins, who lived next door, would often be with us.  My aunt and uncle would sometimes have guests at their house, but, because we were close in age and lived next to each other and because we shared a grandmother, who lived in our house, and because they adored my father, their Uncle Pete,  and because Teddy and I were only 26 days apart in age and similar in temperament, and, well, just because they were family, there was always room at the table.

Did your childhood celebrations come with a kid’s table? Mine did in our small house with a small kitchen and no dining room. The kid’s table was set in the tiny hallway off of the kitchen. It was just large enough to set places for four, though there were times when we squeezed in a few more. My sister, my next door cousins and me. It was a gray formica table with red plastic chairs and chrome legs that seemed to take up too much space and was a challenge for a klutz like me! The hallway was the passageway to two of the bedrooms, the livingroom and, of course, the bathroom. It was pure chaos if an adult needed to use the facilities. I don’t know how we got our food from the kitchen. My mind is blank, the memories faded. A grown-up would fill up each plate, I am certain, but all I really cared about was the once a year chestnut dressing. My sister and I wore pretty party dresses, often matching, that were buoyed by layers of flouncy  slips and I can still hear my mother saying “don’t spill” – just as one of us did. To leave the table you had to slide down off of your plastic throne, feet first, somehow get on all fours, and then crawl underneath the table to get out of the hallway. Do I need to mention the three pairs of legs waiting below in eager anticipation, or the morsels of food that somehow missed four mouths and landed on the floor? Try navigating all of that in a red checkered dress, whose pockets were sewn on backwards, compliments of a fire sale and my Uncle Red, and starched to Shirley Temple cuteness with buckled black patent leather shoes shined to a mirrored polish with Vaseline!

Did you have a kid’s table? Do you have one now?

Should Antler Man be banned to the kid’s table if he mentions turkey tree bark?

Downloaded from Shorpy website http://www.shorpy.com/


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Hello, sunshine

It was so comforting to have the sun back today. She beamed brightly through the windows and warmed me with her rays and it felt so very good to see her again. As I sat in our little library late this morning, reading emails, catching up on a few things set aside over the holiday, I just stopped and closed my eyes, leaned my head back and basked in her warmth as she found me through the window and touched me gently for a while. She was a welcome guest today as she made the rounds on her low-lying path across the sky.

Our mail came very late – common for the day after a postal holiday. Our roadside box was filled with mail and catalogues. Can it be that the economy is truly picking up, or is it just that every merchandiser has finally found us here on the cutoff? I hope the former is the case and, even though I rue the loss of trees that were cut in the process, I am hopeful that this hints of some steadier days ahead.

It was close to 5 pm when I bundled up and headed out the door to check for mail. The moon was already rising and smiled hello. It has been awhile since he visited and he has grown a bit. The sun was setting and she cast a ring of pinks and reds and peachy tones around the horizon. Every way I looked, surrounding me, underneath the trees and buildings and past the cars and trucks and deer roaming about, there she was, dancing, one last dance, all around me, before she called lights out. 

It was good to see these two old friends today. They have been gone a great deal lately and I rejoiced at their return. 

           Tonight’s moon from stardate.org/nightsky/moon/
              I find it fascinating that with a few clicks on the computer this                        information is so readily available. Maybe you do too.

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Candlelight and cranberries

We ate a late dinner by candlelight, mellow in its glow, Jennifer and Jason joining us to break bread and give thanks. My friend Roz gave me these cute little squirrel salt and pepper shakers as a surprise gift on a recent outing to match another tablecloth. I was delighted to find them right at home with this one. The napkins were an accidental find for 50 cents each at the Jackson Square Antique Mall that I hoped would match the tablecloth. The charger plates were as expensive as the napkins in a bargain bin last winter at T.J. Maxx. I love it when I find things that work at bargain prices.

Lots to be thankful for.

I discovered I needed just one more ingredient this morning, so, stopped at the local Dominick’s on my way to our church’s Thanksgiving service, where Tom was playing guitar. I saw this breadbasket with rolls in the bakery department, walked past, then came around again. It was just too pretty to pass up. My original intent was to make homemade biscuits for dinner, but opted instead for this unique rendition.  Tom took the picture just before Jennifer and Jason came.

These rolls were actually good. We have several left and I need to find something tasty to do with the basket. When I first saw it I thought it would be much more expensive than the $5.97 price tag. I wonder if Tom was thinking about the post on my Yia Yia’s hands when he asked me to “pose”.

The deer wandered through the back this afternoon. I saw them as I was setting the table. They are already well camoflouged and blended in with the scenery – brown leaves still on the ground, the barren trees and bushes, and a misty air about them. Squirrels scampered around, hunting for walnuts and acorns, and a lone nasturtium still holding on atop the deck.

It’s late now. The day is done as I sit here in the soft lamp light reflecting on all that I have to be thankful for and I am reminded of the words of the old Shaker hymn:

‘Tis the gift to be simple,

’tis the gift to be free,
’tis the gift to come down      where you ought to be,
And when we find ourselves    in the place just right,
It will be in the valley of love            and delight.

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Chestnut dressing and cranberry relish

When I was growing up our turkey was stuffed with a meat mixture laced with chestnuts and Romano cheese. It had Italian bread crumbs and fennel and celery and assorted other herbs. I don’t know how the Romano came to be used, being a Greek household. Thanksgiving, however, is an uniquely American melting pot meal, is it not? My ancestors would not have gobbled turkey in the Spartan mountains of  Greece, so, they learned and adapted when they immigrated to the United States. 

When I was old enough to crank the cheese grater, my grandmother, whose hands were arthritic, would ask me turn the handle to grate the cheese. There would be paper thin slivers of shaved Romano left over and these shards of cheese would delight my tongue with their sharp reply as I slipped them into my mouth. I have her cheese grater with its worn wooden handle and sometimes grate Romano cheese – just to have the paper thin ends. 

The chestnuts would be slit and warmed on the stove top, shaken gently in an old pie tin with holes in it. It emitted a wonderful aroma and I watched the cozy scene play out through the Thanksgivings of my youth.

I make bread stuffing. I first tasted it as a college sophomore eating at my boyfriend’s house that Thanksgiving. Tom’s mom, he was then my new boyfriend, was a good cook and I found I liked her stuffing. Though I long each and every year for the chestnut dressing of my childhood, I made bread stuffing when I started cooking Thanksgiving dinners.

One of the traditional accompaniments around our Thanksgiving table is a simple cranberry relish. These days it is effortless to make with a food processor or blender. I can’t imagine the time and effort it took in years gone by chopping those hard berries by hand. 
Cranberry relish is better the longer it sits, so, I made it this morning and it will mellow until our dinner tomorrow. I’m sure the plastic wrapped bowl will be dipped into several times to check its progress before tomorrow’s feast. I’ll know by the number of spoons in the dishwasher.

The recipe I use is really a basic one for a cold, raw relish, filled with apples and oranges with peels, nuts and pineapple, but, it is special to me. My early experience with cranberries was pretty much the Ocean Spray jelly kind, eased out of a can and onto a pretty glass plate. Now chuckle all you want about PTA ladies and bake sales and such, but, I learned a great deal from the Field School PTA and forged long lasting friendships, as well as time-worn recipes that fill my files and our tummies still. 

Cranberry relish is one. I tasted it at a spring luncheon and the sweet/tart sensation was a budding surprise. I wanted more. I asked Mary Karo for the recipe, which soon arrived via mail on a cream colored note card with her monogram in front, the instructions handwritten in her neatly flowing script inside, and with best wishes for a good summer penned on back. I kept it in a safe place until November when Tom immediately recalled the taste from his youth and Thanksgiving on the family farm in Ohio. The relish quickly became a mainstay on our Thanksgiving menu and is made each year, whether  I’m cooking the meal or not.

I still refer to Mary’s note, now stained cranberry red and smudged with walnut and orange, and think of her prompt note and kindness. Mary passed on a few years ago, the first in a trio of ladies befriended in the PTA. Mary and Vicki and Juanita all fought bravely through cancer and each brought something special to the table of my life. I will say a prayer of thankfulness for the blessing of having known them for so long.

I’m thankful for you as well and the time you take to read my rambling thoughts and share in my life here on the cutoff. 

                                                   Happy Thanksgiving

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 Whether stuffing turkeys or  stuffing  pumpkins, it is easy  to fill things up this time of    year. 

 This is a little something I  learned from my garden club  pals last year. Scoop out the  inside of a pumpkin. Place a  wet oasis inside.  Arrange  flowers to your liking and  there you have it! A festive    Thanksgiving centerpiece or accent arrangement for your holiday viewing pleasure. You can use flowers from the grocery store, a floral shop, or, better yet,  gather things from your own yard.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much to gather under the eight foot browse line around our woody property. The deer have claimed it all. Even poor old Harry Lauder, from a previous post, has been brutally attacked. The poor fellow never saw it coming.

We actually did find several twisted branches left from the randy buck who was marking his territory with his antlers. We can see that the branches were rubbed rather than chewed. A new challenge. Unfortunately, in a delayed effort to thwart the perpetrator, the plant was sprayed with Liquid Fence before we realized that there were many loose branches that could be retrieved, so, we now have a twisted pile of gnarled twigs with the putrid “bouquet” of coyote urine. I guess I’ll use them in an outside arrangement – in a few weeks when the “bouquet”  wears off. 

                                            So goes life on the cutoff.

                      Take some time to make your own fall arrangement. 


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Mrs. Kraml

I’ve been wanting to clean the livingroom windows for several weeks now. They are a focal point of the room and the barometer by which we view the world outside. It is through them that we watch our herd of deer and our families of chipmunks and squirrels. It is through them that I see my flowers starting to bloom come spring and snow clinging dramatically to tree limbs in winter. It is through them we watched a fraternity of cedar waxwing partying on the scarlet berries that form on the flowers of lily of the valley in Autumn and through them where we see, each summer, a Baltimore oriole frequently come for seeds and a bath.

The windows get gritty here on the cutoff. All windows do, but here, it is with more intensity. We live in a heavily wooded area and two major expressways are close by. This is the price we pay for natural beauty and travel convenience right at our doorsteps.

The livingroom window gets a great deal of attention when young children are about. It is where they run when Uncle Tom or Aunt Penny shout “look out the window, deer” or “horses” and little faces and chubby hands are plastered in excitement as nature passes by (and that’s not  just my hands and face). The inside windows are frequently cleaned.

The outside – well, that’s another story. Early spring and late fall are the best time to clean from outside. Plants must be traversed to get to the windows and some come up close to the house. The plants would suffer inordinately from foot and ladder traffic. It is not a hard chore – just cumbersome – and usually muddy, so, I wait for quieter times in the garden.

Yesterday was muddy. Very muddy. My step stool still needs the caked mud washed off, but, oh, how clean my windows are – “the better to see you with my deer said the wolf to Red Riding Hood”!

As I was wiping them, stuck in the mud, shadows falling, and fortunately, not me, I thought of a childhood neighbor, Mrs. Kraml. The Kramls lived across the street and were such a nice family and kind to all of us. It was Mrs. Kraml who had my thoughts, however. She always washed her windows, season by season, month by month. There she would be, a long ladder propped up, her hair tied back, rags in hand, cleaning her windows. I would watch from out our kitchen window, amazed at her fortitude in the cold of winter, her bravery in the blustery, moody March, or the cool in the oppressive heat of August. Her windows were always clean and shiny, and I think I now understand a little of why she always had such a sunny attitude.

My view is a little clearer today.    Here’s to you, Mrs. Kraml.

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Killing sugar

Yia Yia killed sugar. She was not a violent person and explosives were not employed. I think she invented the process.

Have you ever killed sugar?

This was something she did to pass the time when she wasn’t baking or crocheting, stuffing grape leaves or tending to her garden. I remember when she taught me how to do this. I felt quite special sitting at our kitchen table, which was the epicenter of everything that happened in our home.

Do you need a little activity to pass some time with a young child?  Perhaps something to do while waiting for your dinner date, who is late, or while the teakettle is on the flame, puckering up for a whistle?  How about that soporific lull between the turkey and the pumpkin pie at the Thanksgiving table?

Here goes.

Put a scant spoonful of sugar on the table top. Just a scant.

Spread it ever so gently about.

Take the thumb of your dominant hand, press it firmly down on a single grain of sugar and add a little wiggle.

Feel it crack? You’ve done it. You’ve killed the sugar.

Try another. Go ahead. It’s addictive.

Yia Yia, with her “broken” English, found simple, entertaining ways to spend time with her grandchildren as they grew up. In between each grain of sugar, she told stories of the “old country” and embellished family tales, the best being those of childhood pranks of our own parents. It was a little cube of time in which to bond and talk or just be quiet, and watch the little grains of sugar become sand.

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