Tuesday, August 23, 2016

UNSER BAUMEN

I could feel a hint of FALL coming down the stairs this morning---a fleeting coolth in the air, a little scent of something turning, turning, in all the green that swathes the outside of the house.

Our dear TREE had a “haircut” yesterday---a recent storm had dropped a bough gently onto the neighbor’s garage, with just the great bowers of leaves and branches touching, and the danger-half still hanging by a great sheaf of bark.   The nice young man went up there like those small island boys after coconuts, going higher and higher amongst those huge smooth limbs til I was quite dizzy from the watching.   He rigged ropes and pulleys and long poles in an intricate pattern, lifting and hauling, and shearing off the largest boughs, dropping them gently to his helpers on the ground.

Then he and his chainsaw made quick work of the broken limb, shearing it off back nearly to the tree in a cut neat as surgery.   That out of the way and safely on the ground, he went round and round the tree, higher and higher, taking down dead limbs and hanging bits, a bit of deadwood and some hints of moss, til she was left clean and shining in the afternoon sun, like a lady stepping out of a salon. 

Our TREE is a marvel---a hackberry of enormous size and presence, and one of the reasons we bought this house.   I know her roots will probably crack foundations and tumble up sidewalks, plus the berries make an infernal mess, coming into the  house pressed into the fanciful patterns of shoe-soles and lurking on the carpet for unwary bare feet, and we cannot keep up with the fall of the millions of leaves, onto patio and furniture even in Summer.   But TREE is a literal Breath of Fresh Air and we love her.

And speaking of GREEN, I’m late to a blog in which I’ve just found a marvelous celebration of the Summer almost past---this lady is not from the South that I’m from, not of a hot and muggy climate and tradition of “fighting the heat,” but her celebration of Summer is simply, joyously beautiful.   She’s in Germany, her name is Mascha, and I swear she’s a G.R.I.T.S. Girl in the making.  Go have a look---immerse yourself in the GREEN! 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

AUNT LENA'S KITCHEN




Despite their living in a much bigger town than the one I’m from, Aunt Lena and Uncle Ace were purentee Country-Folk, through and through.  They’d been raised way out in the hills, and later in life followed most of their children to “town” over in the Delta.   They were a lively, noisy brood, all  older than I and married by the time I can remember visiting.  The two daughters I looked up to so much and admired for their stylish ways and slim skirts and beautiful makeup, and thought of as almost my own age, were, as I just found to my shock in the 1940 census, 12 and 14 years older).

Aunt Lena was a soft round woman, in house-dresses and slipper-slide house shoes---a good-natured sweet woman with a big laugh and great love for her family.  I don’t know if I ever saw her without a big old useta-be-white bib apron, for her tiny house and even tinier kitchen were the hub of the family, and she turned out great platters of roasts and fried chicken, steaming casseroles and huge pots of several-vegetables-per-meal, as well as breads and rolls and three kinds of pie.   That place was a mad-house on Sundays, and we seldom visited then, for we’d go by on a weekday afternoon now and then, when we’d been to town to Safeway or an appointment.   Uncle Ace was Mammaw J’s brother, and we mostly visited during the three months a year that Mammaw was “ours,” as she lived a “quarter” with each of her four children in turn.  She’d stay a night or two with them, for their “spare room” seldom had a visitor with all the children living right there around town.  




And Sundays---I can attest to but few, and all those centered around that little hot kitchen and all that FOOD.   The girls were just beautiful, in their neat slacks and pretty blouses and jewelry, and had both married handsome young Italian guys.   They’d both learned a lot of their cooking from their mothers-in-law, and so we’d be invited now and then to a “Spaghetti Feed,” by Uncle Ace, as the girls had quite a way with such practically-unknown delicacies as Spaghetti and sausages, Ravioli, and Parmigianas, and they’d have the whole house perfumed with basil and oregano and garlic, as we all hustled to peel things and chop things and oh, boy, did I love to slice FRESH Mozzarella.  The oven and all four burners would be running full speed, and several platters of salads of already-grilled eggplant and herbs and tomatoes and artichoke hearts were sitting room-temperature awaiting the feast.  OH, to look into one of those ovens for a second---the blast of heat and the glimpse of that bubbling cheese atop the lasagna---what a tantalizing preview.



The kitchen was a little L-counter place, with an area at one end for a big yellow Formica table and chairs, pushed up against the wall for room to get around when they weren’t in use, and I still wonder now and then about that room.   They ate all their meals there, and it was such a strange, bizarre place to me that the memory has stuck.








The walls of kitchen and dining area were of a worn yellow beadboard, like so many kitchens of my grandparents’ generation, but that wall right over the table was like some Dali-dreamt bas-relief of decrepit farm tools and scythes and wrenches and hammers, one big old rusty saw that I remember vividly, and all sorts of awls and chisels and such.   This was not for some sort of “vintage chic” décor---these were REAL and rusty and hanging there right where they ate, til somebody needed one for a chore.  Maybe if it had been some kind of antique or vintage kitchen items---old black skillets are royalty, of course, and old molds and whisks possible in some forms of décor.  I rather like the new thing of having lace and pearls and a bit of something rustily-beautiful for a contrast, but this was junky old grungy stuff with dried mud on the blades and greasy handprints up and down the handles, just slung back on the wall right after use and left there.

Even the shapes of the things had faded into the paint, like outlines over the workbenches of those ultra-neat folks with everything on its peg with a neatly-drawn silhouette around.  It was WEIRD, and I’ve thought about it for years.  I  can’t remember a thing about the kitchen---not the counters or drawers or maybe there was a clock or calendar like my Mammaw had, or perhaps just a picture of something to look at while you worked.    Mostly I think about Aunt Lena---didn’t she ever think about wanting something pretty, or long for a smooth white expanse of wall just for the peace of it---the CLEAN of it?  

It boggles me that those folks who loved their Mama with every fierce  depth of their bones would leave that unsightly, dirty MESS in her kitchen to be the first thing she saw as she eased her heavy, swollen ankles in there every morning.  Didn’t they ever realize that she might long for flowers, or a pretty towel on a rack, or a shelf with something on it to enjoy?   

It was just THERE, and it was horrid, though Chris said at lunch that they could probably sell even the smallest piece of that junk for a hundred dollars today.   I hoped so much better for that dear, sweet woman every time I stepped in her door.   I know she had to want better, even if it was for somebody to take a hand for a couple of hours with a big rag and some Lysol.  

Isn't it silly the memories that can haunt you?  




Wednesday, August 17, 2016

PAXTON RECIPES CHOCOLATE CAKE

MISS DOVIE’S MAMA'S CHOCOLATE CAKE
        2 cups sugar
  1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  3/4 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
  1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  1 teaspoon salt
  2 eggs
  1 cup milk
  1/2 cup vegetable oil or melted              lard
  2 teaspoons vanilla 
  1 cup boiling water

Grease and flour 3 8” pans.  Medium oven (350).
Sift dry into large bowl and make a well. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat hard 200 strokes until it forms a ribbon.  (medium speed of mixer 2 minutes). Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour into pans.
Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until broomstraw in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool before frosting.
Make up frosting while cake is baking.

½ cup of butter (1 stick)
2/3 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Melt butter, stir in cocoa and cook for about a half a minute to get the fudge taste. Beat in powdered sugar and milk in two parts each, beating til it’s spreadable.  Stir in vanilla.

(About here, I’d imagine she’d have added:  wash up dishes real quick and wipe down the kitchen.   Then go stand in the back door and swing it back and forth as hard as you can to get some of the heat out of the house.    Do the same with the front door, with all windows wide open.   Go to well and draw a bucket cold as you can get.   Wash your face and your arms up to the elbows, and put a wet rag on the back of your neck.   Wash your hair outside with the bucket you’ve had sitting in the sunshine since early morning, bind it up in a tight towel, go frost the cake, and then dry your hair out in the shade before THEY get home).   Sit in the swing with one of Nettie Frances’s magazines til you hear the buggy about to round the curve.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

PAXTON RECIPES


MARGARET’S TUNA-FISH CASSEROLE AT MRS. WOOD’S TEACHERAGE

Margaret has been Mrs. Wood's cook since her young-married days to Mr. Wood, and has remained steadfast in the big white kitchen over the years, turning out vast collations for parties, dainty teas for the Missionary Society and Bridge Club, and over the past twenty years, has cooked a steady two-meals-a-day for the six boarders, all long-time residents of the house.   All the women are teachers, as was Mrs. Wood, and they "take their breakfast" in the breakfast room with varying morning appetites, from Miss Jones' Two Boiled Eggs to little Miss Hester's  bowl of cornflakes.

Dinner is another matter, for most of the ladies gather in the big "front room" late in the afternoon, watching the news or reading the two papers or simply chatting about the affairs of the day, as the scents of Margaret's excellent dinners waft from the kitchen.    Except for perhaps grading papers after supper in their rooms, their duties are done for the day, and they simply relax and await the bell.

One of the stand-by Fall-and-Winter suppers is Margaret's Tuna Fish Casserole, served almost always with English Pea Salad and Brown 'n' Serve rolls.
MARGARET’S TUNA-FISH CASSEROLE AT MRS. WOOD’S TEACHERAGE

Put on pasta water to boil in large pot with palmful of salt.   Boil a pound box of linguine or fettucine pasta to jusssst done.   (al dente in modern parlance).

WHILE IT’S COOKING, MAKE WHITE SAUCE:

Drain liquid from three cans of plain water-pack Star-Kist (or White Albacore) into quart measuring cup,  pressing tuna a bit in the can with the lid.   Fill cup with milk to measure three cups.

3 T. Butter in medium skillet
3 T. flour stirred in and cooked for a few minutes, stirring constantly with a flat paddle.  Do not let it begin to show any golden brown.

Stir milk gently into bubbly butter-flour with whisk , then keep whisking over heat until thickened and smooth.

Whisk in:  2 good clops of Duke’s mayo
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. salt
Few grinds of the peppermill.
A cup or so of grated white cheese if you like it with tuna.

Flake the tuna into good-sized lumps and stir in gently, along with ½ a bag of frozen petite peas. 

Drain pasta and stir in gently.   Pour into buttered 9x13 and top with two cups of crushed potato chips.   Bake at 350 for 20 minutes, til bubbly and crisp on top.   Serve with Pea Salad.   Serves seven ladies generously for lunch or supper.

 That enticing scent of crisping chips and rich fish sauce coming from the kitchen, wafting out into the parlor of Mrs. Wood’s house as the seven ladies relax until the dinner bell---I’ve always wondered how it would be to be at my leisure at suppertime, just awaiting the call to a meal prepared by other hands (which would also clear and do the dishes). 

 MARGARET'S ENGLISH PEA SALAD

Open three cans of  LeSueur peas in the silver can.    Use lids to drain peas, leaving them in the cans.    Pour cheater-pickle juice over the peas and set in refrigerator overnight or while you cut up the vegetables for dressing

 Stir up in bottom of a medium bowl: 
One large tomato, cut small
Three boiled eggs, cut small,
½ cup or so Cheater pickles,* finely chopped
Thin-sliced tops of two green onions
Three good clops of  Duke’s mayo
Sprinkle of Lawry’s

  Drain peas in a colander, and pat them a little bit on top with Scotch towels; pat around under the colander so they won’t drip into bowl.  

Put peas on top of dressing and toss gently.   Keep in Tupperware to chill.   Toss a bit once more before putting into pretty serving bowl. 

(If you're serving something less rich than the Tuna Noodle Casserole, toss in several slices of crumbled, crisp bacon at the last minute). 

This filling Wintertime supper calls for a little bowl of pineapple sherbet or maybe just passing the fruit bowl for dessert.

*MARGARET'S DIRECTIONS FOR CHEATER PICKLES:
Buy you a gallon of store dills, whole ones or sliced. Cut your pickles if they’re whole and drain out all the juice. Start putting them back in the jug, with a big ladle of white sugar, a handful of cloves. Keep making layers like that til the jar is full. Turn it upside down once a day, then back up, to keep the sugar wet and absorbing. Three days and it’s ready t’eat.

Moire non of Paxton Cookin'





Saturday, August 13, 2016

PUNCHBOARDS


Joining in today with Beverly’s PINK SATURDAY.

One of my very favorite childhood memories is of Aunt Lou's store---the flappy-screen door with the faded Nehi sign, mistily visible after the thousands of hands opening and slamming to the tinkle of the tiny bell above. The foot-faded old green linoleum, the big shining glass cases of candy and notions and everything from #1.25 eyeglasses to single, unwrapped nipples with little side-flaps to fit onto a Coke bottle for those babies whose families' sparse income was doled out for flour and lard and beans, and Evenflo as dear as a Ford. 


The shelves ran all the way around the store, reaching to the ceiling, and there was no real “shopping” to the transactions---you named off your list, citing pounds of flour, lard, sugar, coffee, and they were weighed out and bagged with a neat fold taped down.   Meats and cloth goods were wrapped in the same paper from the huge roll and big blade, scritch-cut and flipped onto the counter like flipping a sheet onto a bed, and so on and on til your order was filled.   




You stood and waited to be “waited on,” in that store of many scents and as many delights as Scheherazade’s gardens, looking around at all the wonderful possibles hung and leaned and placed on the shelves.    And one of the most wonderful covets in the world was whatever prize stood beside the PUNCHBOARD.


There was always a bright slab of colour hanging enticingly on a nail, almost always at reach-height, awaiting our warm-fisted nickels.   The whole board was like an enormous flat domino to me, with hundreds of little dots to be punched out and unrolled.   A small metal punch like a sardine-key, but with a round end, not like a little screw-driver, hung on its length of  grimy string, ready for all hands to grab and take their chance. 


 The main prize was usually an enormous version of a candy bar or immense pole of peppermint, or my very favorite:  A pretty doll in a lacy dress and wee intricate shoes, or the absolute Pinnacle of the Prize World:   A KEW-PIE Doll.  Kew-Pie.   We’d only seen it written, and that’s what they were, those little impish, naked cherubs with the charming smiles and dimpled knees.   They even SMELLED  delicious, like the very first scent of a Christmas doll combined with maybe vanilla and the fragrance of Aunt Lo’s cosmetics drawer.  They looked like the huggiest creatures on this earth, and we all craved one. 





A long debate as to what-dot: corner or side, or one slap-dab in the middle, a hold-and-push, and a tiny round cylinder emerged from the back of the board, like a tee-ninecy section of one of Mr. Leon’s straws at the drugstore, but solid with the heft of rolled paper and the promise of the message within.  A big WINNER in red or blue or green meant you’d won fifteen cents or forty, or a pack of Camels or Kools or one of the small prizes hung like a nimbus around that shining Kewpie doll. 

Oh, the covet in my heart for one of those!  They were chubby and sweet and everything lovable about a doll, and only the sure thing of a new yellow Ticonderoga pencil, right there for sale and shining with all the words within, kept me from gambling away every spare nickel of my youth.