Monday, December 30, 2013

Wait. It's Over?

 But, what about all those Christmas intentions I intended to post.  I had so many ideas in my head this year, mostly unprofound ideas about how profound reality really is, as if reality is a real thing.  Even at Yuletide.

 Well, at least let me put up a few pictures representing portions of our Christmastime activities.  It was pretty low-key this year for us.  And a little odd, in some ways, as well, which is actually right up my alley.  If I am nothing else, I'm all about "odd."  



My big Gift this year?  These two. Right here at home.

Katy grew up in the Bay Area where we went to the beach on Christmas day, a regular event that began when we first moved there and had no community, yet.  Christmas was taking a long time to get to us, so we inched it up a day and then when it was Christmas for everyone else but pretty much over for us, we needed something special to do.  We went to the seaside, which tradition she is sharing with her son.  I think he likes it.

Lights, Wonderland walk, tree hunting on the inlet, harbor time, chocolate orange cake, Christmas-cracker pulling, Santy, packages in the mail, chocolate-peppermint shakes at a newly discovered burger joint, making stockings and hats, marzipan pigs, Swedish pancakes, phone calls, friendly visits, thoughtful inexpensive gifts for each other, fake fireplace heater, life in a forest at Christmas!   The end of a year that required of us much energy.  An endearing and peaceful time.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Sugar Ghosts of Christmas Past


A few food-related Christmassies (which doesn't really look right spelled out like that.):  Tastes without which it just doesn't seem like the holidays to me, but without which I will spend Christmas this year, anyway.  Mostly.  And still have a wonderful Christmas time! 
Number One on my list is the ever-so-iconic Orange Slice Cake.  It's a heritage recipe from so far back I hardly remember how it originated.  Deep in Appalachia, but before that, I don't know.  I'm not much of a recipe cook and people are always saying that baking is a science so you have to follow a recipe, but the best cinnamon rolls and bread and orange slice cakes I've ever baked have been pretty much thrown together according to my food intuition.  I guess it could be true that I just did it so much for so long, I had recipes memorized and had incorporated the science somehow, and somewhere I do have the recipes written down, however loosely I may follow them.  Anyway, I'm not posting recipes for any of these merry wonders.  They would be easy enough to find online if anyone really wanted to make them.
The recipe for Orange Slice Cake calls for the candy slices, dates, coconut and probably walnuts.  I use the candy slices, even though that's my least favorite taste (and texture--gumdrops in a cake?!) in the cake, but it's my daughter's favorite and it is Christmas, after all, so you make for others.  I use other dried fruits (not candied fruits used in fruit cake,) such as cherries, sultanas, apricots, figs and maybe something else that happens to strike my fancy at the time I shop for ingredients.  I also stick to the traditional use of coconut and walnuts (black walnuts if I can find them.)  

Before taking the cake out of the pan, I poke holes in it and pour the orange-juice-powdered sugar glaze over it and let it soak in for at least a couple of hours.  The batter itself is pretty straight forward and not heavy, but substantial enough to hold up to all the additions.  Katy loves this cake so much, we used to eat only half of it during the Christmas season and freeze the other half for her birthday in July.  I haven't made if for a few years now and don't plan on making it this year.  My mother made one the other day and even though she's in a completely different state, it feels right now.  Someone in the family made a Texas Orange Slice Cake from my "recipe," and that strengthens the connections over the miles!
I think probably my next favorite is wassail.  The best apple cider you can find, preferably unfiltered and local, if possible.  I then mix in probably not equal parts pineapple juice, orange juice, lime juice, and lemon juice.  Sweet spices, of course.  Mulled and marvelously festive!  I've also spiced and heat-mulled home-canned grape juice which was very nice.  And good.  And tasty.

Even if we had plans to go to a family member's home for a Country Christmas Breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, gravy and biscuits, Katy and I would always begin our day on Christmas morning with Swedish Pancakes or Christmas Crepes.  I usually have a store of jams and jellies that I put away earlier in the year during canning season, but this year we will use some jelly I brought back from Alaska.  Completed with a good dollop of sour cream and a shiny slather of butter.

Finally, a nod to my homeland, New Mexico.  (See what I did here?  I called it homeland as if it's a different country than where I'm living.  Lots of innuendo here.  First, when we left New Mexico, most people we talked to didn't realize we came from just another state.  Also, I feel very far removed right now and not just a little nostalgic and I wish we could be in Roswell with my mother for Christmas. The passing of so much time has made it seem like I'm in a very different world than when I lived in New Mexico as a child.)
Biscochitos are sort of like little short bread cookies but not so short, but plain looking like shortbreads.  They are usually flavored with anise and cinnamon, but I also like to add orange zest and a wee bit of orange oil or sometimes cardamom. 
My mother used to make a lot of candy for us at this time of year.  Peanut brittle, fudge, divinity, chocolate-peanut clusters, and my ALL TIME FAVORITE...well, next to fudge...FOURS!  They are a cube-shaped turtle-like confection.  Walnuts or pecans?, caramel, chocolate, butter and long-time love.  She got the recipe from a magazine oodles of years ago that featured a story of the Roswell Women's League who got together and made this candy for fund-raising.  Fortunately for her collector-daughter, she kept the magazine (with lots of others) and I now have that article in my kitchenalia box.  Somewhere.  Why are they called Fours?  I don't think anyone really remembers why. 
I don't make candy, except once in a great long while, fantasy fudge and once I tried Turkish Delights.  Rose-flavored.  Interesting.  I used to make honey and molasses taffy, but that was a really, really long time ago when I thought it was fun to pull it. 
There are other holiday-themed sweets I used to make like plum pudding and trifle, lemon sugar cookies, gingerbread and molasses cookies.  This year, I bought packaged crepes at Costco for our Swedish Pancake breakfast and I think that's all the holiday baking this household is going to get.  It's enough for me to remember and think about others eating all that sugar. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Parsonage Autumn (It Ends)

 Before we landed in our spring-board parsonage dwelling, we had traveled to Colorado on the train.  At night, of course.  We should have been used to it, because we took most of our trips at night.  We lived in New Mexico, for one thing, before cars had air conditioners.  What we had, in the early days, were rough burlap canteens (water bags) for the radiator and parents who could stay awake and drive through the night.  By parents, I mostly mean fathers, of course.  My mother was grown, married and had several children before she learned to drive a car.  We were moving in two vehicles and my mother learned to drive with a car full of children on winding roads at night.

My clever mother assigned responsibilities to each of us, things we needed to keep track of while traveling.  I had an overnight make-up case, a Samsonite knock-off, filled with various and sundry items, none of them make-up related, I'm sure.  The baby, our toddler brother had a pillow.  What the others had, I don't remember because I probably didn't pay attention.  By probably, I mean, of course I didn't pay least for longer than a few minutes. 

My father worked out of town a lot of the time and most of the time for our short spell in Colorado, following drillers and rigs where he could find work.  He borrowed a truck or shared rides and left us in the hills with the car.  When we came home from school early one day to report the news of President Kennedy's assassination, my mother sat listening to the updates on the car radio.  She stayed out there all evening and into the night, coming in to get a blanket and to fix a quick supper for us.  We had no phone, no television or any other communication device out there in the eerie, forsaken blackness. 

Sometimes it scared me to think of my mother being the only adult caring for the five of us.  I should have seen then how strong a woman she was, but she was just our mother.  One day, we drove into Grand Junction, less than a hundred miles from where we lived in Colbran, for groceries and supplies we were not able to get otherwise.  In those days, the trip was probably at least a couple of hours.  It was late as we traveled home, but Mom decided to stop at the drive-in so we could watch a movie.  A special treat that I tried to enjoy fully, but I was never able to shake the worry that something could happen to the car on the way back and we would be stranded late at night, far from home without my father's home-grown mechanic skills to take care of the situation.  I was no stranger to the fact that cars could break down, radiators could over-heat, tires could blow out and five noisy children could be quite distracting to the most experienced of drivers.

I needn't have worried, because, remember?  This was the year of our charmed and charming autumn.  Our 1st through 12th grade school building had a juke box in the library, riding the bus down out of the mountains was always a happy experience, and our teachers actually liked us and were nice to us...each of us!  (That didn't always happen for us.) We had family friends by way of one of my father's drillers, who were so wild and nutty, they made us look almost normal by comparison.  (And THAT didn't always happen for us, either.)  By wild and nutty, I mean the kids actually chased headless chickens whose necks they had just wrung, tromping barefooted through spilled blood mixing it in the dirt.  For fun and entertainment.  Of course, we ate the poor, tough old things, if we could.

When my father did come home on certain weekends or between jobs, he helped us crack and peel the windfall black walnuts in front of our house by driving over them with the truck he had borrowed.  We used hammers and rocks, too.  However difficult those odd-smelling things were to crack and dig out nut meat, staining our fingers for days, it was well worth it for the banana-walnut ice cream we hand-cranked in the yard. 

Other things I remember about his being there at that time were the breakfasts my mother would cook for him every morning:  fried eggs and toast, and sometimes bacon or sausage.  But it was the hot, over-easy fried eggs that he vigorously dumped salt and pepper over before cutting them into little pieces with a knife an fork and scooping them onto the heavily buttered toast that made me love fried eggs when I really didn't like them at all.

My father was, not surprisingly, an enigma to us, and when he was home that fall, we noticed a Bible sitting on his night stand.  My mother, who was a chuch-goer didn't even have a Bible on the nightstand.  That was enough of a surprise that we talked about it quietly, discretely among ourselves. This was not the father we knew and frankly, it was a bit worrisome.  What ever could have brought about the change?   For all we knew until then, he didn't believe in anything much at all. Was he becoming even more of a stranger to us?  Who could ask him about such a thing? And then he was off again.

We stayed there long enough to get a taste of winter.  Early, heavy snows, layers of ice on the still-running ditch out front, where we would suddenly see our dog Teddy swimming under the ice, and where we would dare each other to skate without shoes, pot-bellied stove needing to be fed and stoked often, and more little bodies in the same bed at night for more warmth and more protection against the mice. 

True to our way of life, the time soon--too soon--came for us to leave again.  We packed and loaded up, crawled into the car with the back seat made into a bed and drove away from our Halcyon Season, this time not in the lonely hours of dusk when one should be sitting down to supper, but on a frosty, pie-less, Thanksgiving morning.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Parsonage Autumn (Part Two)

The next house we rented belonged to the farmers who had built a larger, more modern home up the road. They had a few children our ages and they had animals we loved to get up-close perspectives of, when we could.

Well, the bull, we steered away from (I swear I didn't see that pun coming!) He chased us if he was close enough when we took a shortcut through the field. And the sow we were cautioned to leave alone so that she wouldn't gobble up her newborns.  The other animals, however, were subjected to a good dose of Armstrong hands-on curiosity.  Some of the more intrepid of us would let the still-nursing calf suck on our whole hands and then use his furry back to wipe the thick slobber off.  When I say "our hands," I don't mean I ever did that.  I could play with grasshoppers who leaked brown tobacco spittle on my hands and pull slick and muddy night crawlers from flooded lawns or even land a bare foot right smack in the middle of a cow paddy without making much to do about it, but that calf-nursing on human hands was a bit more than I was ever tempted to try.  The kids said it was a very interesting feeling, though, and that little cow sure had a mighty pull!

Our favorite, of course, was the mare they let us ride bare-back.  Big brown mare with a big bare back that we clambered upon and fought mightily to stay on when she trotted across the field.  We could fit three of us...sometimes four...on her back at a time, but if the front rider couldn't manage to stay astride, the whole rest of the train would hysterically slide right over the "healthy" bulging rib cage and fall in a howling heap onto the hard-packed ground.  Unadulterated delight and joy, that!

When we weren't discovering the delightful world of domestic farm animals, there were plenty of wild creatures to get to know.  Jack rabbits that would pop up right before our eyes, causing the younger ones to exclaim that they had met a kangaroo, skunks that tempted our Teddy out at night to give fearless, chivalrous chase, and little round-eared field mice scurrying and scratching our bedposts, probably very angry that a human family had moved in and threatened to disrupt their warm wintering.  But threaten we did, with girly screams and swipes of the broom under the beds and taking the rodent-slaying dog to the bathroom with us at night. 

Not over yet...


Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Parsonage Autumn (Part One)

When we lived in a parsonage, I slept on the fold down couch with at least one of my sisters and our dog woke me up one morning by licking my face.  Not a pleasant experience, that.  As a matter of fact, I hated it.  How do people like to let their dogs lick their faces?!  That's when I traded places with my sister and slept on the wall side of the couch.  Other people in my family were more tolerant of Teddy and his affection. 
Teddy was as loyal and protective a dog as anyone has ever described and he was with us for quite some time.   He waited by the door at ungodly hours to see our father off to work, even on his days off.  We all have memories of his following each of us all over the place and we were not always together.  It was if he could be in several places at one time.  All this to say that our annoying, barked-too-much little dog is a fixture in these memories, as well.  Magic little mutt.
There were five of us seven siblings, at the time, living with our parents.  One hadn't been born yet and the eldest was in college.  My father was a roughneck, an oil rig worker.  I remember a time when I didn't feel as if I needed to explain what that term meant.  Mostly, to us, it meant we had to move a lot.  Had to follow the work, and pull up stakes, as it were, at any given time during the year.  During this particular year, I attended five different schools in two different states. 
The year we lived in a parsonage, we lived in a couple of different houses in a couple of different towns for little longer than a  couple of months.  I can't even remember how long, really, which is very puzzling in light of the fact that it was one of the most favorably memorable times in my childhood!  My sisters have similar regard for that time, and we often mention something about it, but still I'm just not sure how long we were there.
This much I remember, some of it quite vividly and some of it very vaguely: 
My mother went to a PTA meeting one evening, or maybe it was a Town Hall meeting, or maybe it was both in one,  leaving her rag-tag brood at home to wonder what in the world went on at a PTA/Town Hall meeting!  It got dark early in the Colorado hills and I remember that evening as being very mysterious and even somewhat dangerous.  I mean, weren't we living in a parsonage with an off-limits, most certainly haunted, boarded-up second story floor? We had no phone, our father worked graveyards, and where was this weird PTA meeting, after all? 
Did a couple of the younger ones go out in search of her?  Down the road maybe, where there were some lights glowing in the distance?  Was my mother embarrased when her kids came looking for her?  Someone got scolded that night.  Probably some older children for not preventing the younger ones from going out after dark alone in a strange town.  But really, what did we know?  They were probably the safer ones, with who knows "what-or-who" might have been hanging around behind locked doors upstairs! We had grown up playing out in the dark, after all, often escaping impossible to sleep on backyard army cots in the middle of hot, Southern New Mexico nights, to go in search of whatever creatures inhabited those fleeting cool, dark and refreshing hours.  Outdoor dark was much less scary than inside unknowns. 
A few days, weeks, moments? later, we moved from the parsonage in one town to an old farm house higher up in the hills in another close-by town, but of course, only within town-limits, as we were not in town.  We were in the glorious, wide-open, adventure-rich countryside!  Never before had we had such wild and wooly wonder at our fingertips and right under our beds, too, if you will.
To be reverently and longingly continued...

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Because I'm The First Woman In The World Who Ever Loved A Grandbaby

Well, I just can't help it.  I wanted to write an inspired post about fall.  How it enlivens me.  Why I think we should celebrate the new year at this time, rather than in the "dead of winter."  Share some old, roaming the countryside memories, post some photos of firey foliage popping out along the lane.  I wanted to immerse myself in nostalgia and excitement for the future in the same words.    
But, it ain't happenin', folks.  I looked over my blog past to see if I had written anything about fall before, so as not to repeat myself very much and I came across the entry I wrote a year ago.  Oh yeah!  That's right, I wrote about fall abiding with me while I anticipated the birth of my wee grandie!
I was in Alaska and he was landing in Utah.  We celebrated his 1st birthday this week together in Washington.  And don't think I didn't take oodles of pictures of him diving into a messy green cupcake, either!  I'm just not going to flood this post with those pictures.  I've already written plenty about how this little feller has changed the world in the short time he's been here, so there will be none of that, here right now, that is.
Just let me revel. 
Oh, and did you know that I love the color orange?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

It's All About The Water Around Here

We live close to the water.  Can you tell?  One day while at the park/beach/marina, Buddy and I were talking to our musician/artist next door neighbors and their friends who were percussion jamming under the picnic shelter.  We had met one of the friends down by the launch where she went out for a little paddle in her kayak.  Back up at the tables, she asked if I would like to borrow her "boat," (I don't know why she kept calling it her boat) and they would watch the baby for me.  Oh boy!  Could you just see me dropping Katy's son off with a bunch of strangers (neighbors or no, they are still strangers) while I went merrily rowing the woman's boat out in the inlet?   Still, I can't say I wasn't tempted. 

The "boat" I could have traded Buddy for, for a while, at least.

 On another such outing, I watched a young boy and his grandfather carry a little remote-powered motor boat down the beach and climb into their kayaks.  Once out on the water, they played with the toy boat, guiding it out around the pier and under the docks, past the harbor seals sunning on pilings.  Hope that kid grows up to be a writer.

Our Desmond is just too young and too rambunctious to take out on a kayak right now, but next year, watch out, kiddo!  We are going to have some splashing good times!  Until then, my little friend, try not to be too bored with your lot in life.


He kept crawling further out into the lake until it got too deep to know how to navigate, so he tried crawling sideways.  Hook or crook, he's going to figure things out!

And now a little about little Steamboat Island.  It's little.  And house-heavy.  It was founded in 1909 by settlers who thought it was shaped like a steamboat.  Today it is inhabitated mostly by 2-person households.  Retired people?  Vacation homes?  Whatever.   I like saying the word, itself, and I like to peek through the back yards and imagine having supper out on the deck overlooking the sound. 

My little buddy and I think it's just really pleasant to get there crossing the bridge.