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Facebook has a little feature where one can click on a link and your profile image is superimposed (or whatever they do) into a Christmas scene. Just for fun, I clicked, and this is what appeared. Can you find me?

I’m the ghost of Christmas past.ūüôā

It is really a photo of me, when I was a young lass – none other than the Angel of the Lord at my church’s Christmas pageant. You can find¬†my story of being a fallen angel here. In the photo¬†below, there¬†I am, in all my angelic glory, on the night of the Christmas Pageant, oh-so-many¬†years ago, and from whence the apparition appears – now rising from a couch!

Good tidings!

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Ever-so-slowly

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Turkey Lurkey is roasting, ever-so-slowly, tantalizing aromas wafting through the rooms of this old homestead. Bread stuffing, mashed potatoes, roasted sweet potatoes all wait in refrigerated abeyance to be warmed when Mr. Lurkey comes out of the oven and rests after the long hours of roasting. Cranberry relish has been mellowing for several days. The plastic wrap looks to have been rearranged. Antler Man thinks he can fool me and that I won’t notice he’s been sneaking tastes. I’m onto him, though, especially now that I have ditched the walking boot and can maneuver around with more speed. Vegetables, fruit and cheese will whet our appetites before the meal, once family arrives and we¬†gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing, chat, catch up on news, and enjoy the company of two young lads who are growing up fast, two of our grand-nephews.

Thanksgiving.

It is my favorite of holidays. The menu is pretty well set, with regional, cultural and ethnic and other additions. It is a uniquely American holiday, and one I think we need more than anything this year.

I think I’ve touched upon Thanksgiving often in all the years I’ve written, here on the Cutoff. I’ve shared memories of the cranberry relish that graces our table each Thanksgiving. It is a common recipe, but, it came to me from a dear woman, Mary, who sadly passed on a few years ago. I’ve written about family gatherings, my Greek grandmother’s chestnut and meat stuffing, and of the memorable car ride in which a frozen twenty pound turkey hurled toward me at 35 miles per hour and my split second interception at a local turkey bowl.

Thanksgiving.

It remains a favorite holiday of mine, even as I remain mindful of those who are hungry, cold, without hope, and those who are grieving,  lonely, disenfranchised, ill, far away from home . . .  I think of them and I pray for them, and for you on this Thanksgiving Day.

The buzzer went off. It is time to baste Turkey Lurkey, put the finishing touches on the table, and check for platters and serving pieces.

For those of you celebrating Thanksgiving today, I wish you a happy one. For all of you, please accept my gratitude for your friendship, good and kind words, and visiting me here on the Cutoff.

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img_1410-version-2We trudged upstream against a tide of chattering youngsters who were carrying treats and projects in their hands, rushing toward their parents with a mild and sunny Sunday afternoon awaiting them. Jennifer and I were headed in the opposite direction, indoors, to partake in a local endeavor to raise funds to fight hunger.

We purchased our meal tickets inside Congregation Etz Chaim in Lombard and entered a room filled with welcoming warmth and graciousness. Volunteers generously ladled hearty soup into disposable bowls, inviting us to take some bread and directing us to where we could help ourselves to drinks. We balanced our food Рalong with our chosen ceramic bowls Рas we searched for empty seats, taking in the tantalizing aroma of hot soup amid the din of conversation.

My soup choice, minestrone, was flavorful and filling. Jennifer and I chatted, as mothers and daughters do, and we shared casual conversations with good folks around us who were participating in this worthy fundraiser whose mission is to fight hunger in Du Page County.

The ceramic bowls were hand crafted by local artisans and children of the temple. I believe they were made at Congregation Etz Chaim then taken to be fired in a kiln elsewhere. Every bowl was unique and personal to the craftsperson who made it. I imagined experienced potters and young students trying their hand at pottery for the first time. Our ticket purchase allowed each of us to select a bowl from a colorfully unique array of choices.

The green bowl was my choice. Actually, I think I was the bowl’s¬†choice. It seemed to call to me to pick it up, run my hand along the rim, and take it as my own. I know I will cherish it and that it will remain a tactile, visual, useful reminder that there are those among us who¬†suffer with hunger – and those among us who strive to eradicate it. It will remind me of the blessings that are the¬†hearts that conceived this fundraiser, of the hands that prepared the meal, of the hosts and hostesses who welcomed diners to¬†Congregation Etz Chaim and of the supporting local organizations that have a hand in shepherding this project. It will also be a reminder of my own blessings and of the urgent need to feed all God’s children.

The Garry Gardner Memorial Bowls for Hunger Project is an “Empty Bowls Project”. The “Empty Bowls Project” is an international grassroots¬†effort to raise both money and awareness in the fight to end hunger. The mission is to create positive and lasting change through the arts, education, and projects that build. community. *

*From Congregation Etz Chaim’s website which can be found here.

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Once upon a time, in land not so far away, a man with a goat invoked a curse of some renown.

Like many tales, in the telling of the details, words were lost and words were gained, but, the essence of the story remains the same.

In 1945, during the fourth game of the World Series, Billy¬†Sianis’ goat was ejected¬†from Wrigley Field. Insulted at his goat’s harsh treatment, Mr. Sianis uttered a curse. “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more,”

What actually happened is¬†lost over the span of seven decades, but, the legend of the Curse of the Billy Goat lingered.¬†For 71 years, the Chicago Cubs have never won the National League Pennant, and never advanced to baseball’s World Series, in spite of many efforts to break the curse.

Whether you believe in curses or fairy tales, for 71 years avid Cubs fans, some two or three generations deep, would hoot and shout and get their hopes up, only to have them quelled at season’s end. Loyal to the core, they waited – and waited and waited – until next year!

Like the magical moments in fairy tales, next year finally came, and with it something special happened Рthe curse of the Billy goat was broken.

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After 71 cursed years, the Chicago Cubs won the National League Division and are now in the World Series, which they have not won since 1908. Cubs fans the world over are elated, with shirts and caps and big “W” flags flying on pillars and posts and prominent buildings. There are Chicago Cubs caps on the venerable lions guarding the Art Institute of Chicago, and extra-large Cubbie t-shirts on the Field Museum dinosaurs.

These expressions of appreciation, encouragement and hope are important, but, something more meaningful, more magical, more wondrous has happened and it is coming from the hearts and souls and reminisces of people. It started to show, then to grow, on social media, in newspapers, on television and radio and has gathered fans and their ancestors together like a mother bear leading her cubs home.

Whether calling in or writing, texting or phoning Рthe stories of Cubs fans past or present are pouring forth. A common theme seems to have arisen. While fans of the Chicago Cubs have been on Cloud 9, it is their mothers and fathers, uncles and cousins, great-grandmothers, aunts and uncles whose memories are invoked with the hue and cry of

¬† ¬† ” ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† is celebrating in heaven!”.

A local television station, WGN, has encouraged everyone to send in their stories of loved ones who have passed on and their relationship with the Chicago Cubs. The stories keep growing and filling the air with a wholesomeness that is sincere and welcome in these otherwise uncertain times. There is no barrier, it seems, to who a Cubs fan is; no matter the gender, skin color, religion, ethnicity, political affiliations age, or education Рthere is no box to check off on the roster of rooters as so many people reveal their heartwarming stories of the decades of fans; fans that continued to wait until next year.

Whether or not the Cubs win the World Series is yet to be determined, but, in my humble view, they have already won the World Series of Human Spirit.

I have shared a story in the past of Tom and Ron Santo, which you can read here.

Championship sign is from the Cubs.

Goat photo is mine.ūüôā

 

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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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IMG_6512 An  inventive and fun challenge entered my life this past spring.

It was Greek Easter. Jennifer and Jason had invited us, along with several other family members, to their home for what turned out to be a most delectable feast along with companionable conversation, laughter, and all that comes with the gathering of kin.

Ever since the Elmhurst Garden Club’s annual luncheon/90th anniversary celebration in April, I was itching to attempt the floral decoration shown in the top photo. It was an abundant spray of tulips and carnations set in a bowl of pink Easter eggs. Teri’s arrangement was spectacular. With Greek (Eastern Orthodox) Easter being observed quite late this past spring, I had a window of opportunity to do my own experimenting with the typical red Easter egg dye symbolic of Greek Easter.

So . . .

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. . . I pulled out a smaller vase, the one that I had, in fact, made my own centerpiece for the April luncheon, with a plan to bring it to Jennifer and Jason’s. Lilies and tulips, roses and other spring blooms were nestled into the red eggs and a swirl of grass from the grocer’s florist. The deep red eggs bled into a soft pink as they sat in the water, which enhanced¬†the allure of the bouquet.

As we were leaving, I told Jennifer to keep the vase. It was, to be honest, a $3 purchase from a local grocery store that had already proved its worth in holding flowers. Some time ago, I heard (or read) a suggestion that when bringing flowers as a hostess gift it is considerate to bring it in a vase. The last thing a host or hostess needs when guests are arriving and food preparation is underway, is to search for a suitable vase. I have found it to be a twice appreciated gesture, the flowers and the container, and does not need to be in Waterford crystal. A Mason jar or thrift store find serves the purpose and saves the host a hurried look for a container.

So . . .

. . . on Mother’s Day, Tom assembled a brunch at our house. Jennifer came in with her edible contribution

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and this lovely bouquet!

She thought it would be a fun¬†tradition to pass the vase back and forth, from time-to-time, no pressure, just fun – and I wholeheartedly agreed, but, only after I admired her first attempt at flower arranging. Can you just imagine, dear readers, how brightly I glowed at Jennifer’s attention to detail and nod to my interest in flowers?

Thus began a new tradition; this floral adventure between mother and daughter and the traveling vase.

So . . .

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. . . about an hour before leaving on Labor Day for J & J’s house for lunch, I remembered the traveling vase and decided to see what I could find in the ¬†fading gardens here on the Cutoff.

Zinnias and lemon geranium were clipped from the pots on the deck and nestled into floating¬†lemon grass and a spray of Joe Pye Weed that was past its bloom. These came from the now fading Prairie garden. The Joe Pye Weed made a very useful floral “frog”. Green and purple basil, oregano, Rosemary, and Turkey Grass (Big Bluestem) for height, all managed, as well, to follow me inside and into the traveling vase.

Off we went for a lovely lunch – and so goes the continuing adventure of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Vase.

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Guess where I’ve been?

Tundra

Need another hint?

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It was heartwarming to spend time with these two youngsters, our grandest of grandchildren, while I was Up North this past week. I was lending a small hand as our son-in-law, Tom, began his recovery from surgery after an already challenging summer from an injury. I wish I could be there, still, but responsibilities on the home front necessitated my homecoming. Hopefully, enough leftovers will make up for my leaving, and some cheerful memories will linger for Kezzie and Ezra.

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The darling dog is Tundra, a Goldendoodle. She is¬†the newest resident of the Up North limb of our family tree. Tundra is very sweet, becoming very big, and learning the rules of the manor – when she isn’t being silly out back, that is.

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The first night I was there, after dinner at Pieology¬†(where I chose and enjoyed a pesto sauced pizza)¬†we stopped at the library to return and check out more books. We left with two bags filled with books (can you imagine how much this warms my heart?) and Keziah showed me around their newly opened library. I was more than impressed by the children’s section, with books at child level, a welcoming atmosphere, and interactive manipulatives that stimulate budding imaginations.

I appreciate and admire communities that value libraries and libraries that have the foresight to evolve with changing times – daring to keeping libraries relevant and friendly places for young people while maintaining the community service of lending out books.

Speaking of books, I would like to recommend one to those of you who enjoying cooking with children. The Forest Feast for Kids¬†is by Erin Gleeson*. Actually, I would like to recommend it to all of you. It is a fun, well illustrated, photographed, and detailed book full of vegetarian recipes for children to prepare. We gave it to Keziah for her birthday and were pleased to learn that¬†61qJKe+MLDL._SX366_BO1,204,203,200_she has been enjoying it. She pulled it out on the last day I was there. We snuggled¬†and explored the book¬†together, talking about the different recipes, like melon cake¬†(watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew), cut and stacked to make a three-layered “cake” with yogurt in the middle. We discussed what we could make for lunch. While we were missing one or two ingredients for most of the recipes, the cookbook inspired and led us to¬†ideas of our own of what else we could make with the ingredients at hand. Kezzie decided to make “cracker sandwiches” – and here she is with her creation.

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Earlier on the same day,¬†Ezra was intently “forking” peanut butter cookie dough. He proved to be a very good sous chef.

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I always find it fun to be in the kitchen with children Рand these two sweetie pies make food preparation extra special.

I am home, now, and I miss them already, but, it is what it is, and so goes life here on the Cutoff.

*Erin Gleeson is also the author of The Forest Floor, her earlier cookbook.

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Juliet Batten

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