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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

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We had been married for a year or two. Like many newlyweds, we were on a tight budget, we both liked to eat, and we came from families of good cooks – and no written recipes. Oh, I had, several cookbooks – still have, an early 1970’s edition of the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. It is the one with the checked red and white cover, little tabs on the side for meat, vegetables, soups, etc. Most of the tabs have worn off and a few of the pages are torn or splattered with ingredients. I have a newer version, but, I tend to reach for the well-worn edition, mostly because the back inside cover has quick conversions and my favorites are so used that they just seem to tumble out right when I need them.

This, however, is not a post about cookbooks. It is about my journey in making potato soup, which was one of those comfort foods that my groom loved and for which there was no recipe. Tom’s mother made it, as did her mother before her, and his great-aunt, Ethel. It comes from their family’s kitchen on the old homestead in Ohio. The potatoes were harvested from the kitchen garden behind the barn. The milk would have come from the cow in the barn and the eggs came from the chicken coop just a few steps from the barn. The bacon was from a butchered hog, smoked and cured and oh-so-good.

Potato soup is comfort food. It is inexpensive and something many cultures share, with variations in seasonings and ingredients, but with the common use of potatoes.

In those early years, having had the soup only once, maybe twice, and with no idea whatsoever how to make it, I thought I would give it a try. Tom thought he could guide me through it – and he did.  It is amazing what we can remember from those moments of our youth when we had the opportunities to observe. Color. Texture. Aroma. All part and parcel of our what and how we ate.

Back then, I bought probably more potatoes than needed and a pound of Oscar Meyer bacon. We peeled the potatoes and cubed them into bite sized chunks, then set them to boil with water. I fried up the bacon, cooled enough to handle, and crumbled it into bite-sized pieces that were tossed into the bubbling pot.

When the spuds were tender, Tom said to add milk. This was in the days where we used whole milk. Skim was for when you were sick. I knew enough to not let the milk boil.

All pretty easy so far, don’t you agree?

The “iffy” part was making what Tom called egg curdles, which didn’t sound very appetizing to me then, nor does it today. I call them dumplings.

Cracked an egg into a bowl and scramble. That part really went well. It was when I needed to add the flour that things, shall we say, grew tense. Tom had no idea and I had no frame of reference. We worked together with me adding flour a tablespoon at a time until it looked like Tom thought it should look. I made dough balls and dropped them into the hot milk.

TADA!

It turned out pretty good, though the curdles/dumplings were a bit too big. Practice makes perfect, and so, slowly but surely,  this comforting concoction has gotten better and better over the years.

It was particularly good on Saturday night.

So here, dear reader, is the basic recipe, which some of you asked for. My sister-in-law added minced onions. I think she sautéed them first. Leeks or shallot would also enhance the flavor. I don’t add salt, bacon takes care of that, but, I do add freshly ground pepper. This is based on the approximations that I used the other night. It made enough for several hearty servings the first night and leftovers, which mellow the flavors and taste even better

Tom and Penny’s Potato Soup

Cooked bacon broken into bite-sized pieces

4 large baking potatoes, washed, peeled, and cubed into bite sized pieces

Enough water to cover potatoes in pan

Boil until the potatoes are fork-tender

Dumplings

Add enough milk to be able to add dumplings and simmer until hot

2 eggs, beaten, in medium-sized bowl

Add about one cup of flour, a few tablespoons at a time, until dough forms a soft ball and pulls away from sides of the bowl

Drop by small spoonfuls into soup until done.  (only a few minutes)

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Jesús, second part

IMG_4866Remember my encounter with Jesús? It was while I was on my quest to find cajetas (dulce de leche)? He was so helpful to me, taking me down aisles, looking with me, checking his scanner –  and then finding a recipe for this caramel sauce and printing it out. Jesús will remain my Christmas story of 2015.

When he found me in the grocery store and gave me a recipe for making cajetas, which he said was just how his grandmother made it, I told him that if I made the cookies, I would bring him some.

The days rushed by before I did finally find the dulce de leche at one of the larger chain stores, and I did make the Alfajores, which turned out to be quite delectable.

After the little shortbread cookies cooled, I spread the dulce de leche on them, sandwiching its sweet goodness inside. I dusted them with powdered sugar, and put them in tins and on plates, for house gifts and for our little house on the Cutoff. I made sure to set aside some for Jesús, with plans to take them to him on Wednesday: a day when I planned several stops after an early morning appointment.

I made it to the Center for Health in record time, parked my car, and went in for a quick nurse visit. Once done, I walked the inside perimeter of the hospital, which is a pleasant way to get in my “steps. I  saw an acquaintance with whom I chatted a bit. All-in-all, this took about 40 minutes.

Just as I stepped out the main door, the heavens opened and a deluge of rain poured down. I hurried to my car, only to find I could not get into the driver’s side. As this was a medical center, he or she could be 20 minutes, or three hours. Fortunately, I was able to open the door on the passenger side. I was at least out of the wind and rain – and I did have a book to read.

Unfortunately, the other driver did not return to his car for an hour and a half.

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Off I went, 90+ minutes of my day gone, two days before Christmas. I was cold, damp (actually, wet), annoyed and frustrated. I did have those Frostian “miles to go”, some holiday related errands, and a stop at the grocery store. Once inside, pushing a shopping cart, choosing some vegetables and fruit, and looking about, I asked a stock boy if Jesús was working. He was, and the young man offered to find him.

A few minutes later, there he was, coming around the bend. As soon as he saw me, a smile broke out on his face. “Are you the Jesús who helped me last week?” He was. Hidden, under my purse, a bag of noodles and a loaf of bread was the small cookie tin of Alfajores.   Jesús smile grew as I pulled the tin out from undercover and handed it to him. My own angry, annoyed heart at being hemmed in melted as Jesús opened the tin, thanked me profusely, and we both went on our way.

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PS The other stock boy, having seen the tin of cookies, asked me several times if I needed any help. :)

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Dawn is breaking here, tossing a heavy blanket of clouds overhead. The early fog is lifting and there are shadowy shapes of deer gliding across the neighboring lot of nothingness. They are quietly grazing for food, reminders of all that is yet to be had.

The house is still. Not a creature is stirring, not even a grandchild, affording me these few private moments to sip my cup of piping hot tea and to reflect on Christmastide here along the Cutoff.

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The house has been full of goodness, excitement and love, though our Ezra was very much under-the-weather on Christmas Eve. He perked up and was feeling better come Christmas Day, and even entertained us with some lively renditions on the piano.

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Our Kezzie has been my “cook fantastic”, eagerly helping us frost Ethel cookies and making Pinch Cake.

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Our family has gathered around the Christmas tree, exchanged gifts, and dined  around our sturdy table, an abundance of food and sweets upon it, many times. It has reminded me, once again, of how fortunate we are in what we have and of the joy of this season.

December has not been without some challenges, nor have I spent each hour rejoicing, but, for now, in the still of the early hours, I will bask for a bit in the hopes and cheers of Christmas.

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I have missed you, dear readers, and am sorry for not writing for a spell, and I hope your days have been good, and your evenings restful. I will write again soon, but, for now, I need to find the rest of my flock of sheep.

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IMG_4759 - Version 2What fun was had at the Elmhurst Garden Club’s December Holiday Luncheon. Keeping with our year of decades theme, December brought us to the 1950’s – and all things Disney.

There were plenty of Mousketeer ears;  glittery ears, lit ears, prettily bowed ears. The wicked witch from Snow White, a few Dalmatians, and quite a few bobbysoxers with poodle skirts were bopping around, and I swear, at least a quarter of club had on polka dots somewhere on clothes. There was even a Pink Lady, who had a whole-lotta of attitude (all in good fun, of course).

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The 50’s committee did a superb job of bringing us hearty food, atmosphere, and such an informative history of the decade. A great deal of work went into raffle baskets and many members or their guests went home with some wonderful items, and the many member-made arrangements reflected the creativity, style, and composition that our members are known for. I was fortunate to bring home a few.

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Do you remember the Mickey Mouse Club? Do you remember it from 50’s? later?

Now’s the time to say goodbye . . .

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Taking the time

IMG_4649As the clock ticks towards our Thanksgiving Day meal, my thoughts wander from the turkey roasting in the oven, family soon to surround us, and the bustle of activity that comes with this annual November cooking frenzy. The reason for all this November cooking frenzy in the first place?

Thanksgiving.

Taking the time to count one’s blessings and to be thankful.

We have had a rough year, for sure, but, we have also had more blessings than not, experienced grace, and been shown mercy. Our home is warm, our stomachs regularly filled. Loving family and friends are ever-present and we are sheltered from the winds and snow and cold. We are also mindful that not everyone is as a fortunate as we are.

I sit in a quiet moment of this Thanksgiving Day and I think of my ancestors, boat people all, who sailed across the Atlantic; some at the turn of the 20th century, others much earlier in time, and of those already here who opened their doors, fed them, housed them, found them jobs until they could find their own way in this vast land. I think as well of those my family in turn sheltered, tended their children as they worked, fell ill, buried husbands or wives, mothers and fathers. Each in turn, taken in, shown the way, keeping to customs and religious beliefs and slowly assimilating to others.

I sit here in my quiet moment and remember those Thanksgivings of change as loved ones passed away or moved distances afar, when money was tight and when it was plentiful. I think of the Thanksgiving when our world seemed to tilt in its axis when John Kennedy was assassinated.  We have broken bread on Thanksgiving with authors and musicians, students and immigrants; some at our table, some at the tables of family and friends.

One Thanksgiving our little, fledgling family hosted one guest. and I remember him this Thanksgiving. Gabrielle came from Croatia, by way of a Soviet gulag. Arrested and sentenced to years in a prison, his crime was distributing leaflets while a young man studying to be a priest. This kind man entertained our young daughters with stories of the kitten who befriended him during his darkest hours in jail; a kitten he shared his meager meal of bread with, and he shared his faith, which did not waver. It was a Thanksgiving so long ago now, but, still as fresh as the meal now roasting, for its poignant moments and Gabrielle’s joie de vivre.

I chuckle at the recollection of the frozen turkey that almost killed me, propelling toward my head at 35 mph and of the turkey whose giblets I left in the bird, only to find upon carving. There was the pumpkin pie I dropped trying to move it up a rack in the oven, shooting pumpkin custard all over the kitchen, including the ceiling and me and the youthful Thanksgiving when it was just my immediate family – a rarity growing up. My mother decided to roast a capon, whilst I worried how in the world she could cook, and worse yet, we all eat a bird with a cape on.

I sit here in my quiet moment, smelling the aromatic scents of our own roasting “bird” and can recall the flavors of my life along with the many faces across our table and other tables we have dined around. As I remember, I wonder and I hope that this simple gift of Thanksgiving on a Thursday in November will always be a day of Thanksgiving, no matter where our ancestors came from, and will be more  than a prelude to Black Friday, a paragraph in history.

My bird needs basting and some vegetables need to be diced, so, I best end this quiet moment of memories. Before I do, I need to say thank you, one and all, for visiting here on the Cutoff, reading my words, sharing your thoughts, taking the time to be here.

 

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In the checkout lane

61ne+bmPiAL._SX522_Life in the checkout lane. . . one of those spots in the aisle of life where interesting conversations are held.

There I was, picking up a few items we needed – the milk and bread and butter of life – perusing the sales, looking for staples to stock up on. Do you “stock up”? Canned goods, cereal, baking supplies? Here in the midwest, we are always waiting for the next big snowfall, the power to go out, the creek to overflow and will we have enough toilet paper to see us through?

Back to the checkout lane.

With my purchases on the belt and Gloria, the checker, scanning my items and myself rooting in my purse for my wallet. Suddenly,  Gloria held up a small round bottle of Homade Chili Sauce and proclaimed “are you making sloppy joes?”  .  “I am,” said I. “How did you know?”.

I almost always use this little bottle of sauce, not for chili, but, for sloppy joes. It is what I remember my mother using – this little round jar of sauce. I use it in my barbecue sauce, as well, and I stock up on it because it is sometimes hard to find.

It was a day for stocking up. Ooops. Back to the check out lane.

I asked Gloria, my favorite checker, how she surmised what I would be making. She replied that her husband was a fireman and this was what they  used at his station whenever they made sloppy joe’s. It is what she uses as well. She asked me how I came to use Homade Chili Sauce.  I told her about my mom and how I remembered the jar and always keep at least one on hand. Through this lively conversation, another shopper, her own cart full, was listening. She asked us for the recipe. Gloria and I just looked at each other. “What recipe? ” It ends up that Gloria and Penny make their joes in just about the same way; this and that and then the other – and Homade Chili Sauce. Taste and stir and just know when its right. Moms and firefighters. The best cooks around.

Shopper #2 left her cart and rushed over to the sauce aisle as I completed my purchase. It seems we had convinced her to give this a try. So it goes in this simple life here on the Cutoff (and in the checkout aisle).

Do you have a secret sauce in a jar?

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IMG_3987Last Sunday, this young lass and I made granola.

We also made a mess. Papa thoughtfully cleaned up for us.

Kezzie is a “cook fantastic”.

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