Our neighborhood during the time of COVID19

A small tribute

For months and months prior to the eruption of the SARS-CoV-2 in China, right here in my hometown so far away, life felt off. Nothing was particularly negative, other than our dire American politics, yet I felt a malaise hanging over the world. And, it was with these manifestations: fires in Australia; polar ice melting at tremendous speed; continual war with refugees fleeing to any port of safety; dire hunger and poverty exploding in Venezuela, on and on. Yet, here I sat in my tiny space where all was well. Unease hung in the air around me. I could not help wait for the other “shoe to drop.” It did. COVID19.

Today, at the rise of this pandemic, I remain sitting in my tiny space, but I venture out, too. The malaise has dissipated; the unease is gone. There is something to be said for meeting your foe whether it is the tangible or intangible. And, I am not alone. My neighborhood is responding with generosity and love in the myriad ways of mixed generations with their talents and inventiveness.

Shared below are a few expressions of caring. I urge you to look to your neighbors, whether suburban, city or rural and count the many ways that caring is demonstrated by others.

Impromptu concert
A windy day for lost toys
Friday-distancing Happy Hours, painted rainbows, Teddy Bear hugs, treasured figs, Flowers from faith, and sweet cats both real and painted, and cookie recipe!

Relax!

Now!

Christmas break. This is the season. One where I have exactly two weeks to relax. Now. At this moment.

It is cold outside. Cold enough that the body tends to slow down, not from inertia, but rather to conserve warmth. I am grateful to the temperature for this very reason. It forces me to still myself. Of course, I venture out for the odd, long walk up and down the quiet streets of my town, but if I am honest, I am spending more time and less energy inside. Seated on the sofa. Or the chair. Lying prone on the daybed in my studio. Asleep early under the white, down quilt – heating pad set on low.

Yesterday, I mustered enough energy to make French onion soup.  I felt revived. Ah, the chopping cup after cup of large, beautiful onions. Bending up and down for this pot and that pan. Slicing and buttering day-old French bread for the croutons.

“Look how relaxed I am,” I say to my husband, “I am cooking!”

He is nonplussed. He knows me too well. He knows it is not relaxation, but my wit’s end. I have no idea how to relax in two weeks, despite the soup.

cake2

Today, I baked a cake instead.

Christmas cookie

My Father’s favorite, kiffles

recipe

The Christmas season. On our table standing proudly are these basic ingredients: Pillsbury flour, Land O’Lakes butter, Philadelphia brand cream cheese and Rumford’s baking powder (the one in the small, red can).

Next to this are her utensils: a large stoneware bowl to mix the pastry, glass measuring cups and inexpensive aluminum measuring spoons, a knife from our everyday set, and a well-worn, wooden rolling-pin. My Aunt Agnesa (Agnes) Check’s recipe – a blending of Slovak family heritage with Italian sensibilities. A new heritage.

Pounds of Diamond’s unshelled walnuts wait for my mother and me on this winter evening – a school night. We sit at the white porcelain kitchen table-top that my parents purchased when they were newlyweds. Metal nutcrackers in hand, we sit together in a comfortable silence and begin to squeeze and crack.

It is tough work for a ten-year old. Repetitive. Detailed. Inexperienced, I laboriously pick out the bits and pieces of meat left behind in the inner shells – spaces dark and convoluted in nature. My mother’s pile is substantive while mine – quite a pitiful showing for the attention I am dedicating to this task – fill only a cup.

Our conversations alleviate the tediousness; our banter brightens the evening hours. We talk of the nuns, my teachers; the friends and the cliques to which I belong and those where I am shunned, already at a tender age.

Then, back to family, she carefully guides the talk, of Christmas gifts, wrappings, of course, eating. Ham or turkey? Both kinds of potatoes? My hands begin to hurt, but I am loathe to leave.

Feeling as if I am caught in some dark fairy-tale with the impossible task, I persevere not for my gluttony, but for my mother’s love.

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bake-001
My son, plugged in, and baking kiffles for the holidays. Same recipe; different generation.


Image of the kiffles is from a fun site for visual foodies!  https://foodgawker.com/

 

a birthday cake

Homemade from scratch

Today is my first-born’s birthday. Suffice it to note that he is not a child or an adolescent, but an adult. To celebrate, the sons and their father went fishing; I remained at home. After a long week at work filled with non-stop movement and interactions, I was thrilled to be alone for a respite. Quiet. No obligation.

I decided to bake a cake. A birthday cake.

What could be more rewarding that to treat my son and family to an old-fashioned, homemade cake?

A shiver of excitement and trepidation ran through my body as I pondered this. What cake? What recipe? Relying on my family history, I turn to my mother’s favorite, Crisco , and choose a yellow cake.

Simple.  cookbook cover

Not only do I default to a family recipe, but grab the mixer that resembles my mother’s – one that was a gift from my husband – and replaced my former, fancy-schmancy, KitchenAid.

Armed with the directions and tools, I proceed to line up my ingredients – flour, sugar, butter, vanilla, eggs, baking powder, & salt.

 

Next, for the pans. It is at this point I deviate from my mother – I do not have 2-8″ round cake pans – any longer. This summer the spouse and I “weeded” our kitchen supplies – foodstuffs, pots & pans, dishes, & linens.  Of course, “since I never bake anymore” I gave away these needed items.  Scrounging around the cupboard, I pull out 1-13″x9″x2″ pan that we use for roasting potatoes. Despite the  warping, it is my only option. So, the mixing begins.

batter mixing

All is going well. The mixture is creamy and sweet. The oven hot. The pan is greased and flour-coated.  Guiding the batter with my bright blue, rubber spatula,

I  reminisce on past birthdays of my boys – cakes and cupcakes – chocolate or vanilla, sprinkles or cinnamon beads, icing in multitudinous colors  – anticipation of the evening with candles, singing, and gifts.

This year holds the same anticipation. As I pull the cake out of the oven, I smell the subtle aroma and delight in seeing the golden brown edges.

baked cake

 

Cut this in half, use a lemon filling between the layers, and the birthday cake is complete.  No coconut white frosting an 1″ thick.

While not perfect – due to the warping of the pan, the one layer is not even, so it was tricky getting it aligned – it is a labor of love, freely chosen on a beautiful Labor Day morning!cake5

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YELLOW CAKE

  • 2 1/2 cups of sifted cake flour
  • 1 2/3 cups sugar
  • 3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2/3 cup Crisco (I used butter)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup of milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

In mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Add the 3/4 cup of milk and the Crisco.  Beat vigorously by hand or at medium speed of electric mixer for 2 minutes.  add eggs, the 1/2 cup of milk, and the vanilla. Beat 2 minutes more.  Pout batter into 2 greased and floured 9×1 1/2 inch round layer pans. Bake at 350° for 40 minutes.  Or bake 35 to 40 minutes in two 8×1 1/2 inch pans or a 13x 9×2-inch pan.


Crisco’s Favorite Family Foods Cookbook.  Cincinnati:OH: Procter & Gamble Co., 1973.

Food, reading & recipes

vintage cookbook cover

Food For Two: How to cook and what to cook for a small family

LASTWORD

“Let good food and good cookery
Bring you cheer and harmony (320).

Sometimes I tend to overlook the most ubiquitous of books – cookbooks. Here, I pay tribute to one found in mint condition, in a used book store years ago. It has been sitting on our bookshelves waiting for the right owner to claim it.

It is:

  • a hardback
  • with hand-sewn binding
  • 1947 copyright date
  • pristine

Alas! it remains neglected.  I could not bear to throw it out for a variety of reasons, despite the dated recipes. What millenial would ever serve these dishes, or even use a print resource?  What do to?

So, I decided to do a little research on the author, Ida Bailey Allen, who I discovered has written a plethora of cookbooks. She was the ideal homemaker of her time, dispensing advice not only on food, but on all sorts of household concerns – utensils, place settings, coffee-makers….Moreover, she was one smart entrepreneur and self-promoter!  With radio shows, lectures at Chatauqua, syndicated newspaper & magazine articles, this woman made a living…and more.  Her books are still available through Amazon today. If you want to read more about her, there is a delightful website that goes into much more detail.about her books and her fame.

Listen this 12 minute radio segment of  Ida Bailey Allen and the Chef.

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RECIPE  (at my speed & fits my budget)

Panned Sardines (Serves 2 to 3)

  • 1 small can of sardines
  • Strips of toast
  • Half slices of lemon
  1. Heat the sardines in the oil from the can.
  2. Arrange each one on a strip of toast; garnish with lemon
(Thank you to  on Twitter for the featured image!)

Allen, Ida Bailey. Food For Two. Garden City: Country Life, 1947. Print.

Meatballs and memories

 

Nonna to mama to me, “ma no!”


meatballs

Our school begins rather late, after the American Labor Day, in early September.  The hectic pace is exhausting, despite how prepared I think I am for the new year.  Inevitably I bring home a substantive amount of work for the weekend.  This, coupled with the fact that we have had such beautiful weather here lately (also something unusual), made the weekend work somewhat painful. I would rather have been out and about, than sitting in a chair at a computer or surrounded by calendars.

Regardless, I needed to attend to this work.  But I also needed to have a some moments that were “mine.”  I am sure that you too, dear reader, have experienced this very same series of events.  So, on the past Sunday afternoon I found myself alone at home – a rather rare event in our household –  and I snatched it for myself.  I played Pandora Radio – French Cafe music, “mais, oui!” – and made “Italian Wedding Soup“.  With this marriage of cultural experiences in my very American kitchen I pretended to be elsewhere as I gathered the ingredients to begin an epicurean form of relaxation.

Being of Italian [both Northern and Southern] descent you might think that I have this special recipe handed down from nonna to mama to me, but alas, I do not! So I do what all others do – go online. Thank you,  All Recipes.

As I stood at the counter, mashing and mixing while swaying to “la musica”, my thoughts began to wander to my childhood and my father.  He, being Slovak, made homemade meatballs and spaghetti sauce for our family every weekend (and also to give my mother a much needed break from cooking).  On Saturday evening I could follow the scent of hot olive oil to find him at our stove “browning” the meatballs before immersing them into his homemade sauce.

Our ritual consisted of the following: entering the kitchen I would engage him in some inane ten-year old conversation, and while he pretended to be distracted I would “steal” a cooked meatball cooling on the counter.  Of course he would “catch” me in the act and pretend to be angry.  Scampering away I would shove that sumptuous morsel in my mouth and anticipate our Sunday noon dinner – after Mass.

There I was on this Sunday afternoon, standing at my counter making meatballs, and wishing I had my children with me or perhaps a grandchild to reenact this vignette.

On another Sunday, in another year, I will make homemade meatballs…with my grandchild.