Sunday, December 13, 2015

About those holiday letters...

Do you write an annual holiday letter and inflict it on family and friends? I do, mostly because I love to receive them. So many of my friends are far away, and reading their holiday letters is a way to keep up with their lives, with the events we never quite get around to talking about in our emails, infrequent phone calls, and even more infrequent face-to-face encounters.
The best holiday letters have always been those that include photos of the kids. Some of the kids are now in their fifties, but I've still got their baby pictures, their grade school class pictures, and even a few high school graduation portraits. There are even a few photos of kids I've never met, but they're still part of my extended family because their parents are.
One of my major regrets is that I didn't keep the letters that came with some of those photos. It never occurred to me until about ten years ago, the first Christmas after one of the letter writers died. She didn't write only holiday letters, but long, newsy missives all year long. Sadly I have only a couple of them, and I wish I'd kept them all. Now I do, even the electronic ones. But alas, so many of those don't include photographs.
My own holiday letter has been a webpage for several years now. I stopped sending physical cards (and letters) to nearly everyone on my Christmas card list when holding a pen became painful, due to arthritis. That's under control now, but I admit I really like both saving the cost of postage and not adding to the waste stream (for those of you who aren't aware, I tend to be a trifle passionate on the topic of reducing waste). Using a webpage gives everyone the option of ignoring it, although I hope no one will. It's also easier than sending out a b'zillion emails, which feels way too much like spamming. I figure if I tell the folks on a couple of lists, post to my Facebook page, and put it here, most of the people who might be interested in how I spent my year can go find out.
One thing I've spent quite a bit of time doing this past year, but isn't in my holiday letter, is trying new recipes. The Web is a fabulous resource, so much so that I am gradually reducing the size of my cookbook library. Here is one of the recipes I found, when I decided that all those kale stems were too tough for salad but too healthful to put into the compost bin. It takes 10 to 15 minutes to make, depending on whether you've stripped the stems for something else, or do so just for this recipe.
Sweet and Spicy Sautéed Kale Stems
2 teaspoons olive oil
10-12 kale stems, picked clean of the leaves and chopped into 1 inch pieces
2 tablespoons onion, finely minced
½ teaspoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
½ teaspoon sriracha
⅛ teaspoon chili flakes
Sea salt, to taste
Heat the oil in a medium sized frying pan over medium high heat. Add the kale stems and onion and sauté for 5-7 minutes, or until the kale stems have softened but still have a little crunch. Remove from the heat and stir through the soy sauce, honey or maple syrup, sriracha, chili flakes and season to taste with sea salt. Serve immediately.
I used maple syrup and the red-stem kale the first time I made this. Pretty!
So that's it for 2015. I wish you good health, good fortune, and good cheer for the rest of this year and ever after.

--from my grandmother's collection, ca. 1910.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Giving Thanks for Wonderful Memories

Until I was six-and-a-half, I lived in a house without running water, indoor plumbing, central heating, or a telephone. We did have electricity: a naked light bulb on a wire in the center of the front room and the kitchen (two of the three rooms in the house) and a third wire that went to the radio in a corner. It was one of those big wooden things, with a curved top and two knobs, one for the dial one for volume. We had a record player too. An elegant, tall mahogany thing with a windup crank on the side, and a box of old records—pre-vinyl. A good many of them were original Caruso recordings, but there were a few of more modern western ballads.
My great-uncle's bed was in the front room, along with his rocking chair, my great-aunt's rocking chair, and a third one for company. Underneath Uncle Bill's big iron bedstead were boxes filled with treasures. Toys from a couple of generations were jumbled together there, along with old magazines, a few hardbound books, and odds and ends too good to throw away but of no present use. Some of the boxes held pulp magazines, but most of those were stacked beside the record player. "Ranch Romances" and "Amazing Stories" are the two I remember best. Yaya (pronounced with long a's) taught me to read with those pulps.
Close to the center of the room was the stove, what I've since discovered was called a "parlor stove", black with shiny nickel-plated embellishments. It had a rounded top that could be removed, revealing a hot plate where flat irons could be heated or a teakettle could provide water for tea. We did occasionally use the flatirons, but I think it was more to teach me how than because we needed to, because Yaya also had an electric iron which she plugged into a socket on the side of the overhead light. It made the bulb grow dimmer, which might be another reason she heated the flatiron during winter's dreary days.
The kitchen was also Yaya's bedroom (and mine, as long as I lived with them), the dining room, and where we took our baths, every Saturday morning before going to town for our weekly double feature movie and grocery shopping. The big iron cookstove had a reservoir where water—brought in buckets from the pump on the back steps—was heated. Our bathtub was a galvanized iron tub, big enough for me, a child, to sit in but probably only enough for my aunt and uncle to stand in. I don't know, because they bathed behind a screen. Modesty was important, and it never occurred to me to peek.
We banked the fires in both stoves at night during cold weather, but they never stayed very warm. More than once I can remember it being my turn to leap from bed to stuff kindling into the kitchen stove, blowing on it until it caught, and dashing back to bed, shivering violently, to cuddle until the room warmed a little. After Uncle Bill died, we had to repeat the routine in the front room, but usually not until we'd had our breakfast. The kitchen stove burned mostly wood, while the other one burned coal. My job was to keep the woodbox and the coal scuttle full, as far back as I can remember.
Even after I went to live with my mother and stepfather, I still went to stay with Yaya on Sundays, and as often as possible in the summer. There I was happy, free of chafing rules and personality conflicts. It was the best of all possible places to be.
Perhaps another time I'll tell about my grandmother's upstairs, about the Big Ditch, the Sunday rides in the rumble seat of Uncle Bill's Model A, and all the other adventures of a childhood that to me in retrospect seems about as close to perfect as possible. For all that Yaya and Uncle Bill gave me, I am so very grateful.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Emerging from procrastination

What a year it's been, and it's not over yet. Seems like every time I turned around, something new was demanding my attention or time--or both. It's not like anything earth-shattering happened. Just life, with the occasional mild excitement. Somehow, though, I fell behinder and behinder, until I feel as if I'll never catch up.
But I have, more or less. Enough so that I no longer have an excuse for not getting at the next item on my unending TO-DO list. Several years ago I made a first entry into what I'd planned as a regular blog, gradually replacing my newsletter. That was it. Doing the next one kept moving down the list, displaced by stuff I felt was more important. Some of it actually was, but let's face it. I was procrastinating.
No more. I decided I will NOT take on anything new until I get this done. Hence, I have dug out my old password, tried to remember which email address I used, and blessed Google's help pages in order to get to this point. I am exhausted, and will merely post what I'd written the other day, rather than what I intended to write when I realized it was time for a new issue of my newsletter.
I've probably spent more time playing with my vegetable garden than anything else this yea. You have to understand that "playing with my vegetable garden" includes doing stuff with what comes out of it. Most years I try one or two different crops (if you can call a couple of plants in a raised beD a "crop"). This year my first-timers were leeks and hubbard squash. I actually planted half a dozen leeks, but only one squash. Good thing too, as the squash spread itself across two beds and fought with the tomatoes, cucumbers and garlic for space. And for all that, it only managed to give me two fruits. The other five died on the vine.
So back to doing stuff with what came out of the garden. I've already baked one of the squash and it was delicious. Nothing special, just mashed, mixed with either salt and pepper or brown sugar, cinnamon and clove. It wasn't a very big squash, but I still got four servings out of it. I plan to be more adventurous with the other one. But not until later. Hubbards keep well.
The leeks multiplied. I didn't know they could do that. What I thought were single leeks must have been multiple ones, because I ended up with couple of dozen leeks, half of them an inch or more in diameter. The little ones (pencil thin or less) I stuck back in the ground and as of now, they seem to be thriving. So more leeks next hear...
Leeks were not something I'd cooked often. They are expensive, for one thing, and I always hated tossing out all that dark green stuff on top. Yes, I know one can freeze it and use in when making stock, but these days my stock comes out of a can, since I rarely need more than a quart at a time. so I had to go looking for recipes for leeks. Since both of the recipes I chose are online, I won't copy them here, but I can tell you how to find them. Both were delicious. Better yet, both were easy to make smaller, since I cook for one most of the time.
Creamy Pappardelle With Leeks and Bacon came from Bon Appétit . I confess I substituted double-strength nonfat milk for the heavy cream, but it was still rich-tasting and delicious. I went to Simply Recipes  for a creamy (but creamless), yummy Potato Leek Soup. Super simple, relatively low-fat, and just about the best potato soup I've ever eaten.
Stay tuned. As soon as I figure out a couple more things, get some must-do stuff done, and finish my newsletter, I'll post again.