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. . . and other sweet treasures.

I couldn’t find the recipe. It wasn’t in my recipe files, nor was it in a small notebook with Hollie Hobbie on the cover, a gift from a student a long time ago. Inside it are old, faded favorites with tell-tale splatters.

No luck!

The recipe for Fruit Pizza was given to me by my friend, Linda, who first brought this delectable delight to my family many moons ago. Jennifer liked it so much that I asked for the recipe. Maybe it was in the Field School Cookbook. Linda’s children attended the same elementary school as Jennifer and Katy, so I thought it might be in there.

No luck!

I love these recipe books that come from PTA’s, women’s auxiliaries, civic organizations, etc. I call them church lady cookbooks, and I keep them, even if there is only one recipe in them that I use. These are the best of recipe books, for no woman puts in her worst recipe, does she (or he)?

At any rate, I could not find the recipe for Fruit Pizza, even in the school cookbook, but, I did come upon my friend Donna’s recipe for Lemon Sherbet! Donna served us this refreshing and sweet delight as desert for our book group’s annual Christmas Book Discussion in early December.  The tartly sweet frozen sherbet, along with a tray of Christmas cookies, was a perfect complement to her dinner. Then and there, I decided to make sherbet for our Christmas Eve dinner. This young lass helped me. The Lemon Sherbet accompanied not only our Christmas Eve deserts, but, our Christmas Day festivities as well.

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Ezra and Kezzie (and Papa) also frosted Ethel Cookies, an old family favorite. Our kitchen became a confectionary lab for young hands as we slid on a floor covered with powdered sugar and sprinkles.

Both children awakened before their Mommy and Daddy on Christmas morning. Kezzie was eager to make Pinch Cake, a Christmas morning tradition ever since our own daughters were young.

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Unable to find the recipe for Fruit Pizza, it occurred to me that it was one of our Jennifer’s favorite treats and that I must might have put it in a cookbook I made her – and I had! She brought it over on Christmas. We made it later in the week to bring to Aunty Jenny’s.

It is always a joy for me to bake with our grandchildren. It is rewarding as well; not only for our taste buds, but, the for the ritual of baking for them, showing them how we prepare the food we eat, and, of course, eating the things we make.

The first step in making fruit pizza is to make the cookie crust. It is basically a sugar cookie base patted and rolled onto a pizza pan and baked.

Kezzie was quite the young expert at rolling out the dough and patting it in the pan.

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When the cookie dough was done, we let it cool while we made a cream cheese frosting.

Then, like any good pizza, it needed toppings. Kiwi, strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries were carefully placed around the pizza, with both children topping if off. Ezra LOVES fruit. It seemed the perfect kitchen activity for him (and it was).

Round and round the pizza they went with circles of fruit marching along in a palatable parade that made for a perfect desert at Aunty Jenny’s and Uncle Jason’s Gnocchi Night!

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Do you have a church lady cookbook (or more)? How about a fun fruit desert? Are you doing anything to bring in the New Year, and, lest I forget, Happy New Year to all!

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img_1406Navigating the rough, tumultuous afterlife waters, rails, and hidden corners of Nowhere is, well, it is complicated. Nowhere: a place where suspenseful characters, who have died under questionable circumstances, must complete an assignment in order pass through to the world of the truly dead. So it is in Andra Watkin’s riveting “Hard to Die”, a sequel to her first journey to Nowhere, “To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis”, where Theodosia Burr Alston, the daughter of Aaron Burr, finds herself seeking her assignment while circumventing characters even more notorious in the afterlife as they were in real life.

A mix of historical fiction, after-life exploration and spy thriller – this novel is as hard to put down as it for the protagonist, Theo, to die, and it is as riveting as “To Live Forever. . . “ where Meriwether Lewis first appeared. Merry, as he was known by in his time and place, is featured again in this sequel.

Set in the spy and counter-spy intrigue of the 1950’s, Theo becomes entangled with Richard Cox, a former spy turned West Point Cadet, along with a host of other characters, some spies, some otherworldly agents, all who help to keep the pace of this book moving.

The Christmas season is a perfect time for readers to visit ghosts of the past and present – and Andra Watkin’s book is just the book to read as we drift into the longest nights of the year, and it just might be the perfect gift to give or receive.

(Theodosia Burr Alston was the daughter of Aaron Burr, who killed Alexander Hamilton. Theodosia died at sea. )

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rootstotheearth_final-275x363Wendell Berry’s words have shown up on several of my favorite blogs recently, and I have, on loan from our Katy, his novel, “Jayber Crow”. It is one of several books that I am currently halfway through.

Does this ever happen to you; this juggling act of two or more books at one time, born out of an insatiable appetite for the written word?

There I was, at the Indian Prairie Library, looking for “One Souffle at a Time” by Anne Willan, when this Wendell Berry gem, “Roots to the Earth”, appeared in the new books section. I was drawn first to Wesley Bates’ woodcarving on the cover, then pleased to see more wood engravings accompany several of Berry’s poems and a short story, The Branch Way of Doing.

From Wendell Berry’s poem, The Current – ‘

Having once put his hand into the ground,

seeding there what he hopes will outlast him,

a man has made a marriage with his place,

and if he leaves it his flesh will ache to go back.

“Roots to the Earth” is such a lovely book. While it has the outward look and feel of a children’s book, it is a really a more mature book and an homage to the earth and soil.

I read “Roots to the Earth” this afternoon, in the company of a few tasty gingerbread men and a steamy cup of coffee.

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Attendees to the Naperville Garden Club’s annual Christmas house walk, tea, and market, A Cup of Cheer, receive a cup and saucer to take home. Each year, for over 50 years, the cups and saucers have a new design. I think this year’s are particularly beautiful.
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img_1495On a recent November morning, members of the Elmhurst Garden Club gathered in one of the meeting rooms of the Elmhurst Public Library for a viewing of a cautionary tale; From Billions to None.

This is the story of the passenger pigeon, which once blanketed the skies from Canada to Florida, breeding, nesting, and passing through more than half of North America. These pigeons were revered by indigenous Americans for their beauty and an abundant source of food. Early settlers, ornithologists, keen observers, and notables documented the billions of passenger pigeons that swarmed the skies in such large numbers that they would block out the sun for two or three days. The fluttering of so many wings would cause drops in temperature. The tons of excrement left on the fields enriched the soil. Their iridescent feathers adorned hats and they became a seasonal commodity in markets throughout the continent.

Until September 1, 1914 – and then there were none!

From Billions to None is the story of the extinction of the passenger pigeon, with the documented death of Martha, the last of her species, who died on that sad September day at the Cincinnati Zoo. It is a fable about the passenger pigeon and what happens when greed, disrespect for nature, what we today might call over harvesting, and how, in the end, there is nothing left. It is the documentation and, hopefully, illumination, of what and how fast extermination of a species can happen. It brings to mind the near demise of the buffalo and the American eagle, and our over harvesting of fish and fowl, and the cause massive outcomes of deforestation.

Joel Greenburg, who is central to this film, went on to write “A Feathered River Across the Sky: the Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction”. The image at the top of this post is from Greenburg’s book, which goes further in the documentation of this event. The book can be found here.

We watched the film, at times with a collective, audible gasp at photos of enormous hills of dead passenger pigeons, and how business manipulated political sentiment to continue the practices of killing thousands upon thousands of these birds. Some of you may have seen this documentary on your public television stations. I would like to encourage you to watch this short trailer, and consider asking your local library to purchase From Billion to None as well as  “A Feathered River Across the Sky: the Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction”.

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On my way out of Wilder Mansion, following a Garden Club meeting, Marilyn handed me a heavy tote bag. Showing concern, she told me to go home and put my foot up. She also encouraged me to spend some time enjoying her book which was weighing down the bag.

I have been missing my long walks with the seasonal shuffling through carpets of fallen leaves, as well as observing the many migratory birds stopping for sustenance and rest at local watering holes. Trips to the local forest preserves have all but abated, though I have been enjoying drive-by leaf peeping.

Marilyn’s book was a welcome diversion for me.

I have heard nature photographer extraordinaire, Mike MacDonald, speak and was aware of his inspirational book, “My Journey Into the Wilds of Chicago: A Celebration of Chicagoland’s Startling Natural Wonders”. I had not yet journeyed into his luminous creation. Since I cannot physically wander the wilds around me, I truly appreciated being able to vicariously roam them by leafing  through this glorious book.

Mike MacDonald wears many hats, including humorist, poet, naturalist, speaker – and photographer. His command of lyrical prose and eye for natural beauty are hallmarks of his talent and are gifts to the reader of “My Journey Into the Wilds of Chicago”.

My own nature wanderings came to mind through Mike MacDonald’s exquisite images of prairies, savannas, and preserves. I instantly became an armchair traveler and felt a wee bit smug knowing that I have actually frequented many of them. I was also humbled, curious, and anxious to journey to so many more that I either have not been to, or was not even aware of. Some are but a few miles from our home, others just over the Wisconsin or Indiana border or an hour or so away.

With his breathtaking photography , MacDonald takes readers to oak savannas and mystical fens, through the changing midwestern seasons amid the changing light of day and the dark of night when the prairies alight with winking and blinking movement. Bull snakes and egrets and dragonflies offer startling scenery and interesting photographic dilemnas. From Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, the McGinnis Slough in Palos Park, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the Chiwaukee Prairie State Natural Area near the Illinois/Wisconsin border, such natural wonders abound in the greater Chicagoland area.

“My Journey Into the Wilds of Chicago” is more that a coffee table book. It is a photographic celebration of the diverse ecosystems and prairies of Illinois, filled with evocative prose and poetry, humor and facts, tips on photography and insight into wildlife – and more. Much, much more.

I am grateful to Marilyn for lending me this treasure. It has allowed me to travel to some of my favorite preserves, to explore so many I did not know about, and to experience the sunrises and sunsets and seasons in Mike MacDonald’s “My Journey Into the Wilds of Chicago: A Celebration of Chicagoland’s Startling Natural Wonders”.

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mccook-libraryIt was my first time behind the wheel after “The Fall”. Apprehensive, I mentally mapped out a route along roads less traveled with destinations that didn’t require me to get in and out of the car.

Bank – ATM – ✔️

Drive-up postal box ✔️

Coffee – ✔️

Library – ???

My library card had expired a month ago. I needed to renew it. To do so, meant going into the library.

I live in a city that does not have a library. Sad, I know, BUT, it is a very nice city that tries to treat her residents well, and does so in what I feel is a rather nice way. To own a library card, we must buy one from another municipality. My city, however, will pay half of the charge, up to $100. That means, if a neighboring library sells you a card for $200, the city will reimburse for half of that. Not a bad deal at all.

For many years, I have purchased my card from a small library with a healthy tax base in the next town over. It is the library where I was ‘mullioned” a few years ago. They are such nice folks, recognize me, and are part of a very large library system, which allows me library privileges in a very large inter-library loan system.

Most of you know my love of libraries, and how I often frequent them.

I have a “library habit”.

The librarian told me she could renew my card, but, the fee had gone up. She suggested another library, equidistant from our house, that was offering my city and another a card for $100. (which means it would end up costing me $50).

Of I went, down the road, to a charming library, nestled in a small but established residential area that was surrounded by thriving industries and major expressways. I parked on the street, closer to the entry than my own back door. Doors automatically opened and I was greeted by non-other than the head librarian, who asked if she could help me. I assured her I was fine, in spite of my very fat boot, and said that I was interested in getting a library card.

This library, dear reader, and this librarian are everything a library should be! Not only was I welcomed with open arms (and a handshake), but, I was introduced to another library patron, Betty, who lived in my own city, and invited to come to a once-a-month coffee hour at the library.

My maiden voyage, after The Fall, was going pretty well – until . . .

. . . no, I stayed on my feet. It was while one of the librarians was entering my information from my expired card. The head librarian had just handed me a welcoming tote bag, and filled it with all sorts of useful items and the library’s brochure, as she offered me a chair to sit on. The registrar asked a few questions, then, casually said “it looks like you have some outstanding fines“.  I could not imagine what fines they might be, but,  I did remember returning a few items last month a day late.  I asked how much I owed.

One ninety-five!

How could that be? Surely I would have received a notice for such an outstanding fine, either via email, phone call, or, gasp, the U.S. Postal Service. I was flummoxed, fretting, and forlorn, for sure!

The registrar kept entering information on her keypad. I wondered if she was tapping out code for “felon in library – owes bigly” (sorry, I couldn’t resist that).

I endorsed a personal check for the library card fee, handed it to the registrar, and asked who I should make the check out to for the fine, calculating how I was going to square such an unexpected deduction in my checkbook. There HAD to be a mistake, but, one should not leave such outstanding debt dangling like a hanging chad (sorry, again). If I didn’t ante-up, would I be arrested? abandoned from libraries for a millennium? book lice sent to monitor my every page turned?

Oh, don’t worry. You can pay it anytime?“.

Are you sure? That’s a big fine. Can you check again and tell me which library I owe the money to?

She noted the items: two books, an audio, and I could remit payment another day.

Just that for $195.00?

We stared at each other, for a moment, maybe two, and then the registrar replied, aghast, “Oh, no! I wasn’t clear. That is $1.95!“.

It is good, is it not, to have a good laugh, even at one’s own expense, on a maiden voyage in a medical boot while renewing a library card?

Dewey Decimal is still used in libraries, or adapted for modern-day usage, but, that one distinctive decimal point is the one that can cause chaos.

Off I hobbled,  with all of my goodies, a new book, and a smile over my faux pas . I’ve needed a bit of an adventure, and I had one, once again while in a library.

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Meanwhile, grate the rind from the lemon into a bowl. Squeeze the naked lemon and add the juice to the rind”.  Ruth Reichl.

“My Kitchen Year”, page 97

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In between a long morning event and an early evening obligation that meant Tom and I each being on our own for dinner, I had a sudden craving for Avgolemono (Greek Lemon Soup). I had just dropped some mail off at the post office when the craving hit; that urge that is felt for something sweet or something cold or, well, for something comforting and reminiscent of one’s own history. The fact that I had taken a few moments that afternoon to indulge in a few pages of Ruth Reichl’s memoir/cookbook, “My Kitchen Year” may have been the ticket to this urge. It was the passage in which she describes snow falling her feelings after the sudden end of Gourmet Magazine, then notices a lemon on the counter – and begins making Greek Lemon Soup!

With about 30 minutes “to kill” and the realization that a small, local. La Grange restaurant, The Grapevine, was just a few blocks away, I parked the car and walked over to the restaurant, stepped up to the counter and ordered one bowl of Avgolemono soup!

The Grapevine’s Avgolemono is as close to my grandmother’s soup as I have ever eaten. It tastes like lemon, and chicken, and rice and it brings me back into her nourishing embrace. While I make, rather well, many of my Yia Yia’s meals, this soup is one I do not make, so, I appreciate having a good source  nearby.

I found a small table, poured a glass of water, settled myself and soon detected the unique aroma of toasted sesame seed. A basket of warmed Greek bread was set before me, followed by a steaming bowl of my favorite soup. I stirred it slowly, in part to cool it off, in part to see the pieces of chicken and rice floating in the lemony broth, and in part to appreciate the enticing dance of steam spiraling upward. I added a few dashes of pepper and stirred it in, recalling the time my sister went to add pepper to her lemon soup, unaware that the lid was not secure, dumping most of the pepper into her soup. Yia Yia was upset, for she had filled the shaker and had not secured it well rendering the bowl of soup was no longer edible. Things like that mattered in our house. Food was not to be wasted.

Odd, sometimes, is it not, what memories come to us over a bowl of steaming soup?

Equally interesting how words on a page can stir our emotions and lead us to do something unplanned, like ordering a bowl of soup.img_0548

“I stood for the longest time simply staring down at the bright yellow ball, reveling in the color, allowing the oil to perfume my fingers. Then, almost unconsciously, I began grating the zest, concentrating on the scent, stopping every few seconds to inhale the aroma.” page 96

I took my time eating my soup, enjoying the bread, savoring the flavors and textures, before heading out to my next engagement, and I thought of the words that wended their way into my thoughts and looked forward to reading more of Ruth Reichl’s book, filled with the “136 recipes that saved”  her life in the year after Gourmet Magazine ceased.

Have words on a page ever led you to making or eating a favorite dish? or a new one?

Have you read “My Kitchen Year” or any of Ruth Reichl’s other books?

Were you a fan of Gourmet Magazine?

 

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