Tag Archive | memoir

The Right Amount of Sweetness

Every Saturday when I was a kid, my mom made pies – two pies of the same flavor – to be exact. The kinds of pies Mom made were blueberry, apple, cherry, rhubarb, pumpkin, or lemon meringue. She used the same two glass pie pans. As she rolled out the dough on the wooden board in our kitchen, I watched sometimes, but didn’t quite get the knack of making a crust like Mom made. It was flaky on top and crunchy on the edges. When my fork dug into a piece of Mom’s apple pie, tiny flecks of cinnamon could be seen in the juice of apples that had baked away. Each remaining apple chunk was the same size and each bite melted in my mouth. The rhubarb was just as nice as the cherry and blueberry.

The fruit and pumpkin pies were Mom’s specialty, and then she experimented by making lemon meringue. The lemon was tart and made my mouth water and pucker up underneath my cheekbones. The meringue reminded me of clouds floating up to make mountain peaks, and the taste was just the right amount of sweetness to blend with the lemon and chase the tartness away.

It would be nice to get a taste of any one of those pies today because no store or restaurant can top the flavor of what Mom used to make. I never became good at it myself because it seemed like such a chore. A pie crust needed to be made, and it had to be an even thickness and in a circle to fit a pie pan.  Apples needed to be peeled or pumpkin had to be cooked (yes, she really made it from scratch), and an entire hour would have to pass by before the pie was done baking. Mom would always laugh and tell me it was so easy to make a pie crust! To me, the entire process seemed like so much work and the pre-made crusts at the grocery store weren’t the same.  Plus, what had been created disappeared faster than the effort.

I wonder if I ever really appreciated that labor of love when I was making Mom’s creations disappear. Even if I forgot to thank her for the pies, I bet she knew we loved the treats by how fast we made them vanish.  If I can drum up a little patience, I’ll bake a pie and hopefully it will taste just as good as Mom’s. I just have to remember to use the right amount of sweetness.

I think careful cooking is love, don’t you? The loveliest thing you can cook for someone
who’s close to you is about as nice a Valentine you can give.
~ Julia Child

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Helping Us Celebrate Christmas

Flexible Flyer

It was only a short ride, and after we got out of the car, Dad pulled the sled along. When we got to the edge of the hill, the hill going down looked huge to me.  There was a lot of snow, and many people were sliding down the hill while others were walking up the side to go back down again.  Everyone looked like they were having fun.  Dad sat on the Flexible Flyer, and I sat in front of him.  I wasn’t scared because Dad was holding on to me very tightly.

“Are you ready?” he asked. I must have nodded my head which was covered in my little white cap.  The cap was as fluffy as a lamb and had a little doll’s head sewn to one side.  I wore my red boots that were wide opened at the top so my snow pants could fit inside.  Dad pushed the ground with his hands and we slowly went over the top of the hill. Suddenly we were flying down the snowy path.  Dad still hung onto me while steering with his feet by using the wooden bar in front. Little flecks of snow hit me in the face, and the ride gave me a feeling I didn’t like and never felt before.  It seemed like something was fluttering around in my stomach.  Those butterflies were trying to catch up – they bounced up and down with each bump in the hill, and I wished they would disappear.  I held my breath and decided to just look at my boots until we got to the bottom. I thought if I focused on something, I wouldn’t get even more dizzy.

“Wasn’t that fun?” Dad asked me after we got off the sled. He bent down to look into my eyes.  “Do you want to go again?”

“No,” I said. I didn’t cry, and I know I didn’t think it was fun, and I told Dad.  He was disappointed I didn’t want to go again.  Scary rides or feelings of butterflies in my stomach were not for me at the age of four.  As I followed Dad back up the hill while he pulled the sled along, I was so glad we weren’t going to use the sled again. Now, when I think back, it’s a wonder we flew down the hill as fast as we did. Those old Flexible Flyers are made from solid wood and steel and probably weigh at least thirty pounds. Those sleds are antiques now.

When my brothers cleaned out my parents’ garage, neither one of them wanted the Flexible Flyers. I took them mostly because I couldn’t see us getting rid of them for sentimental reasons.  Luckily, a friend of mine told me how she decorates her old sled and sets it out on her stoop as a Christmas decoration.  After I found a picture of a decorated sled on Pinterest, I went to the craft store and bought some fake foliage, ribbon, and bells.  I used a bunch of floral wire to keep the decorations in place.  When I finished the project, I was pleased how it turned out, but I couldn’t figure out where to put it without having to rearrange the entire house!  Eventually, the sled ended up sitting in our entryway.  Now that big old sled decorates a corner of our home helping us celebrate Christmas while bringing back some fun memories.

Next year, I might decorate the other one with gold ribbons and bells. I’ll just have to figure out where to display it!

Merry Christmas!

 

They Think I Dressed Them Weird

Christmas Picture of Girls

It seemed like such an easy plan, but the process completely wiped me out. The idea was to take a trip to the mall to get the girls’ pictures taken. The baby was only a month old, and I didn’t think it would be a big deal to get both children ready all by myself. The pictures had to be taken in time to be given as Christmas presents and sent out as Christmas cards. Well before that day arrived, I decided the outfits should match and that Laura would wear a dress. Since we didn’t know the gender of our baby before she was born, I made Katie’s outfit using one of my favorite patterns – a one-piece ensemble. I used a red, stretchy cotton fabric for the bodice and cuffs and booties to match. The rest of the outfit was red, blue, and white plaid.  Laura’s dress was the same plaid material with lace added to the hem and with a frilly collar sewn to the top.

After the girls were in their outfits with their shoes and baby booties in place, winter coats, hats, and mittens all where they belonged, I remembered the red bows. One bow was attached to a barrette for Laura’s hair and the other was a ribbon to get stuck on top of Katie’s fuzzy head.  I attached the bow to Katie’s hair with some sort of gooey stuff that was invented for just that purpose!

By the time we got to the mall, I was feeling less stressed and happy to be among the crowds of people. We hung out there for a long while on our first of many shopping trips together.  Luckily the bows and everything else stayed on for the adorable pictures.

Sometimes when our three kids look at old photo albums together now, they tell me that they think I dressed them weird. Doesn’t every older kid say that? Isn’t it because the fashions change? Probably it was because I didn’t dress them most of the time. I let them wear what they wanted . . . (Just saying!)

Anyway, luckily Laura and Katie think this picture is a cute one!  Looking at it brings back a lot of great memories, and I’m especially thankful I remembered the bows!

Were You as Shocked as I Was?

As the sun shined down and sat in a perfectly blue sky, I pumped my legs trying to get the swing to go as high as it could. Green leaves from the trees waved to me in the wind as branches swayed back and forth. Stomach muscles felt tight and strong every time I pumped my legs. My hands held tight to both of the chains that held me up. Each time my legs were in front of me on the way up, I saw how the sun had turned them a brown berry color over the summer months. My toes pointed up trying to touch the leaves that were too far to reach. My hair flew back and forth keeping time. I never thought I could go so high!  Then, as the swing and I winded down, I sat still and thought how cool to be able to go so high. As I day dreamed a little more, a splat of something wet hit my leg to bring me back to reality.

On SwingA Different Day on the Swing in November

“What was that?” I thought. I looked down to see a white blob sitting on one of my legs. The offending thing had just missed landing on my new pair of shorts. As I stared at it for a little while, I realized that it looked familiar – something I would have seen on a sidewalk and tried to avoid. A little speck of black surrounded by a white blob had ended up on my leg. Could it be that a bird pooped on me? I looked up at the sky and didn’t see one bird flying or sitting above me. With pockets empty of a handkerchief, I had to leave my swing to search for something to clean up the mess. I quickly found a leaf and scraped away the upsetting gift the bird left on my leg.

Since then, I’ve heard that it’s good luck when a bird poops on you, but I didn’t know that at the time. Back then, I was so shocked and grossed out!  Do you remember the first time a bird pooped on you? Were you as shocked as I was?

Spicy Met Sweet and Tasty!

Last time, I shared the story of making applesauce, but do you know what goes best with applesauce? Potato pancakes. I found a container of applesauce hiding in the freezer, our last one from 2014. Just looking at it gave me a craving for German potato pancakes. My mom used to make them on occasion too, and I have her recipe:

Potato Pancakes

Ingredients:
Two eggs
1/2 small onion, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups cubed raw potatoes

Directions:  Put the eggs, onion, salt, flour, baking powder, and a half a cup of potato cubes into a blender, cover and process at grate until potatoes have gone through the blades. Stop blender. Add remaining potatoes a half a cup at a time, cover, and process at chop only until all potato cubes have passed through processing blades. Use a rubber spatula to help guide potatoes to processing blades. Do not over blend! Pour onto a hot well-greased griddle. Drain on absorbent paper towels. Yield – 12 pancakes.

Once I found a packaged version in the grocery store, but I only made it one time – the scratch recipe above is so much better. Be a little patient because potato pancakes take a little while longer to cook than regular pancakes.  I didn’t grease the griddle with oil like Mom used to do. Instead, I used Pam olive oil, and it worked very well. The pancakes were not greasy and tasted great. As the cakes cooked, the scent brought back fond memories of when Mom used to cook these up. Our family gobbled them down faster than it took Mom to make them – always a good sign of a family favorite.

Potato Pancakes

After you make a tasty batch and stack them on your plate, be sure to smother them with sweet applesauce. It’s one of the best combinations ever invented – almost better than when peanut butter met chocolate! The grilled mild Italian sausage that we served made for a nice combination and was an extravaganza for our taste buds. Spicy met sweet and tasty.  🙂

When’s a time you cooked something where the aroma gave you a pleasant memory?

Stirring the Pot

One thing I did when I was a kid was twist the stem of an apple while saying the ABCs. If the stem fell off when you got to a certain letter that was automatically the first letter in your boyfriend’s name. The girls at my school lunchroom table snickered when we asked each other what letter we were on when the stem fell off. Teasing each other about pretend boyfriends turned into an amusing game. I don’t remember the types of apples that were around then because I liked them all, just so long as they were crispy and didn’t have any worms living inside.

Now we have so many varieties of apples in Minnesota. Fireside, Honeycrisp, and Paula Red are my favorites from peeling to the edge of the core. Haralson apples are tart and work best for apple crisp. Over the years, Cortland apples have brought me the most memories because every fall our group of friends gets together to make applesauce. Kim organizes the event, and we use her grandmother’s recipe.

First, we decide when we can get together and how many bushels Kim should get. When we first started, we made five bushels. Now I think we are down to three. Next, we meet at Kim’s place and must remember to bring containers, pots, bowls, apple slicers, knives, and a snack to share because the event lasts for hours. After everyone arrives, we wash the apples.  We slice them with apple slicers, remove any bruises or stem marks, and toss the slices into a pot. After the very large pot is full, about a quarter of a cup of water goes in too. That’s all it is: apples and water, plus a lot of love – sounds like a grandma sort of recipe!

My job has been pot stirrer even though I’m not one to “stir the pot!” If any burn marks end up on the bottom of the inside of the pot, I hear about it later in the day when we wash the dishes. There’s a secret method of knowing when the apples are ready to be sauced. I carefully squish a few against the inside of the pot. If it doesn’t squish easily, they need to remain where they are to be cooked a little longer. When the apples are ready, we transfer them into the strainer. Diane, Dianne, or Kim take turns squishing the apples by twirling the masher.  The stuff that comes out goes into a bowl, and the other stuff that stayed inside the strainer gets tossed.  Sheila works on dividing the portions equally into everyone’s containers, plus she figures out the cost per cup and how many cups are in each container. Since we all bring different sizes, this job can be tricky. Every year the cost can vary.  We know this because Sheila keeps track! Something else varies each year too: the color.

Stirring the Pot

Stirring the Pot

Throughout the day we’ll talk about the happenings in our lives, but mostly we talk about the color of the applesauce. We usually compare it to the batch we made the previous year. Last year’s batch was very good, colorfully pink, and tasty. The year before, we thought the applesauce looked gray but tasted okay. In between those conversations, we reminisce about how long we’ve worked on this project together, when we did this before our children arrived on the scene, and how our children used to tag along to help. Last year, we were on our own and enjoyed delicious apple martinis, and the other sauce still turned out fine!

We’ve learned some tricks along the way.  Now that we use the Victorio Food Strainer and Sauce Maker instead of the old-fashioned “squisher,” the process has become shorter which is good – then we might have time to sit down for a game of dice after we eat a delicious bowl of chili, spaghetti, or soup that Kim prepared before we arrived.

The sauce has been at most of our Thanksgiving dinners and fall birthday celebrations for over 25 years, and my family is always happy to help make it disappear. The times when we find an extra container hiding in our freezer makes us feel like our day has turned into a lucky one. It’s a blessing to be a part of such a grand tradition and to know how to do something besides twist the stem.  I’ll always be happy to stir the pot whenever needed!

Constant use will not wear ragged the fabric of friendship. ~Dorothy Parker

Yellow Watering Can

Every time I water the plants in our house, I think back to the time when I first held the yellow watering can.  It was when I made my debut on the stage in first grade.  Our teacher handed out a sheet of paper with a nursery rhyme to memorize.  My rhyme was:

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.

I did a good job on the stage!  I said my lines perfectly, and I don’t remember being nervous.  After I said my rhyme, I went to join my other classmates to stand towards the back of the stage.  We all watched and listened to others recite their rhymes one at a time.   It was fun to wear a dress made just for me.  I had to stand still while I listened, even though I wanted to twirl my dress around.

Mom had the bigger job of sewing my dress together and purchasing other accessories to make a complete costume.  Sewing the dress was quite an undertaking considering my debut only lasted a couple of seconds.  Even I knew in my young age that Mom did a great job of creating my outfit which made me feel proud.  I felt like I had the best costume in my class.

Dad was proud too.  There aren’t many color photos during this time in our family album. The photos above were sprinkled amongst many black and white ones.  Even though the photo is quite faded, I remember that the fabric was very vibrant.

I don’t know whatever happened to my dress, but the watering can is one thing I was sure to take when we cleaned out the house where I grew up after Mom passed away.  Mom used that watering can for years, and now I’ll use it as long as I can.  I’ve been through lots of watering cans in my life, but the yellow watering can doesn’t even show any signs of aging.

Is there something you hold onto that brings back a fond memory?

It’s surprising how much memory is built around things
unnoticed at the time. ~Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams