Posts Tagged ‘family memories’

DSCN4838As soon as I squirted the glass with the contents of the bottle, out, like a genie, came thoughts of my Aunt Christina.

It was the fragrance of Sparkle. It doesn’t cure mosquito bites, like Windex in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”, but, it does evoke fond memories of my Greek family, especially my Aunt Christina.

It was my Aunt Christina who took me each summer, mid-August, Downtown, to the Loop. In the heart of Loop was that emporium of magnificent merchandise, Marshall Field’s. My aunt knew every floor, every department, every corner of Field’s. Off we charged to the children’s department, then the young girls, eventually juniors, where I would try on dresses, picking out one to buy for the start of school. I loved every minute of our yearly adventure. I cherish those memories now.

Aunt Christina bought be my first pair of nylons, to the horror of my mother, and showed me how to use a garter belt. Do you remember those? She bought me my first princess heals, and I’m sure laughed, robustly, as I attempted to walk in them.  My love affair with Elvis was her doing, for a record player with “Return to Sender” was a birthday present, my dad’s turn at horror.

My aunt loved Erma Bombeck. We would phone each other, trying to read a particularly humorous column out loud; failing miserably because neither of us could stop laughing enough to finish a sentence.

Tom always, ALWAYS knew when I was on the phone with my aunt; unless, of course, she got Himself on the phone, for she appreciated his Irish wit.

When I was about 12, I slipped next door to her kitchen, $6 in hand, and asked her if she could buy my parents an anniversary gift with it.  The next day she called me over and opened two boxes of glass plates and cups; the little lunch sets of the 50’s and 60’s that ladies would use for parties. Did your mom have them? They were more than $6, though she never said so, only that she put in the money for the tax. My parents were thrilled that I thought of them – but, it was my aunt who made it possible.

So, here I was yesterday, a cloudy day, spiffing up windows and glass tabletops, thinking of Aunt Christina, and the Club girls. When it was my aunt’s turn to host these card sharks, there was a housecleaning flurry. She would call me to come over and sit in her kitchen next door and then start her sales pitch. “Penny,” she would say, “the club girls are coming tonight and I need your help. No one cleans the tiles in the bathroom as good as you do. Will you help me?”  Of course, I would. I was the best, after all, at spraying and sparkling those mid-century tiles. Off came my shoes and my socks. Out came the paper towels and a big bottle of Sparkle. Oh, I was good. I was very good, squirting each and every square of her gray tiled bathroom walls, especially those around the tub. Aunt Christina would pop her head in and say how great they looked.  Eventually I would stagger out, high as a kite on self-esteem and Sparkle fumes, a few shiny quarters in my palm – and a life-long affinity for Sparkle Glass Cleaner.

I thought of my aunt as I erased fingers smudges on glass – and she sparkled like a star in my heart and mind.



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Our son-in-law Tom likes to watch American’s Test Kitchen. His quiet enthusiasm  has led me  to watch whenever I can. Compliments of the Public Broadcasting System, it airs in my area and I think of Tom often when I watch. Not only do we see delectable recipes being demonstrated, but we learn a bit about the science of why one ingredient works better than another, how products like canned peeled tomatoes are rated, or what the best bang for your buck is if you are looking for a stand mixer.

It was while I was up in Minnesota visiting that I saw an episode on chicken and dumplings that set my taste buds afloat and brought to mind my Aunt Babe, who made the most delectable dumplings I ever set my teeth into. Aunt Babe, Isabelle, was my mother’s older and only sister.

Babe was a force to reckon with.  Often the instigator of family spats, she could cut you down to size in an instant. She could also be your greatest ally. I was afraid of Aunt Babe as a child. I sometimes resented her when I was I young adult and she moved in with my mother. I grew to love her as a woman and mother.

Aunt Babe would call me on my birthday or holidays, then she would call me more frequently. Eventually, I realized she was repeating herself more and more in the course of a conversation and that she was calling me at odd times. Since she was calling from Michigan, I worried about the cost and asked her daughter if she was aware of how often Aunt Babe was calling me. It was sad to not hear from her as much after that. Her phone bills, it seems, were exorbitant – and she was calling others as well. Eventually, the calls stopped. I miss her gruff “yyyyellow” as a greeting, instead of hello, or picking up the phone to hear “doing?” Her wicked laugh and role as family historian stilled. Her storytelling and good food, however, remain in my heart and mind.

Aunt Babe had given me some recipes when she heard I was putting together cookbooks for my girls. I still have them, in her own script. She was known to leave out ingredients or steps. The little touches that make good recipes great. Aunt Babe never shared with me her recipe for dumplings, but the ones being made on America’s Test Kitchen looked a lot like hers.

I’ve had a hankering for chicken and dumplings ever since I saw them on American’s Test Kitchen. I was intrigued by the use of a dish towel, under the lid as the dumplings cooked to capture the steam. The use of buttermilk and baking soda with the flour sounded like they would float on air. The weather had turned cold, the days had shortened, and my appetite was whetted, so I found the recipe in “The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook” and set out to try my hand at these dumplings.

I can almost see Aunt Babe, nodding approval and smiling down at me.

Yum! You can find the recipe here. For vegetarians, they would be good floating in vegetable broth.

We’re on the road again, headed back up to Minnesota. I wonder if another recipe with a tasty memory will find me there.

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