Thursday, December 31, 2009

LOOKING BACK


We’ve been conversing about other times, simpler times, my friend Janie and I, and of the things we miss in this fast-paced, ipod, texting, wheatgrass, flashmob, WarGames, CGI, please hold, Muzak, next, please, sugarfree, non-fat red tape Bluetooth white flag greenpeace black Monday Yellow Pages agent orange purple Jesus twitter tweet world.

You can follow her list, with photos, in her blog: http://southernlagniappe.blogspot.com/2009/12/reminiscing.html

During our e-mails today, she added these, as well:
Ice cold Cokes in the little bottles (it never tasted so good!)
Wurlitzer jukeboxes with the pretty lights
Sonny and Cher
Flip Wilson
Father Knows Best
Old time tent revivals with rickety wooden benches
Burma Shave signs
Full service gas stations
Crinolines and bobby socks
The Smothers Brothers tv show
Debbie Reynolds in the Tammy movies
Tommy Sands

I’ll concur, and add a few of my own, since we’re reminiscing. I MISS:

Grady Nutt---Miss Minnie Pearl---Walter Cronkite---Gladys Taber---church bells--- Christopher Reeve---Beah Richards---chenille spreads---Pam & Jerry North---the scent of the earth at First Turning---orange popsicles---Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific---Kraft Theater---going caroling---Richard Boone---All-Day Singin's and Dinner on the Grounds---screen doors with springs---Andy Williams---letters in the mailbox---Martha Rae---mud pies---snow cream---caftans ---the scent of burning leaves---Rob and Laura---vanity skirts---John Ritter---Plum Nuts ice cream--- throwing bread to the bears---hayrides---Vacation Bible School---watermelon cuttings---black telephones---TAXI---those prickly Christmas corsages with artificial greenery and pinecones---Gilmore Girls---Andy Sipowicz---pink Desert Flower lotion---individual iced cakes at parties---crew cuts---wooden ironing boards---real clothespins---Alfred Hitchcock Presents---Mr. Rogers---the scent of Coppertone---Imogene Coca---Fred Waring---Alice at Tea in My Cup---jerky, screechy black-and-white Julia Child on Saturday afternoon---Miss Frances and Ding Dong School---Twilight Zone---mercury thermometers---the REAL Monday-Night lineup which included Designing Women and Hearts Afire, and culminated in Northern Exposure.
Reaching into a cooler or a Coke-box---the kind with lift-up lid and the vague scent of salty metal, with the arctic water and floating ice surrounding the little glass bottles of Coke.

The old pump-organ which occupied one whole wall of my Mammaw’s “middle room,” with its furbelows and fancy carvings, the old rough keys yellowed as horses’ teeth, and the decades of layers of hanging hats, pincushions, ribbon, bias tape, seam binding, tape measures, Cardui calendars, tussy-mussies, hatpins and dogtags giving it the look of a melted closet. I know I dusted the thing---I REMEMBER dusting it---I just can’t think HOW. I’d sit on the floor, put both feet onto the pedals, and pump madly for a moment, then hop up onto the stool, and quickly one-finger through “Ju-ust As I . . .” before the air supply wheezed silent.

Our little corner “caffay” with the floor of inch-square black-and-white tiles, where the eight turquoise boomerang-formica booths and six counter-stools served thousands of those sublime mustard/pickle/onion crinkle-paper hamburgers over the years, and a little steel sherbet-cup of vanilla ice cream with a string of Hershey’s syrup was the most elegant dessert on Earth.

And speaking of ice cream---there’s nothing to compare with a hot Sunday afternoon out under the mimosas, cranking up a freezer or two of banana ice cream---Eagle Brand, whole milk and a big hand of smooshed bananas---to serve soft and rich into wide soup bowls. I can feel the dust-heat and hear the scrape of those spoons.

Net or organdy or dotted Swiss skirts on kidney-shaped vanities. I coveted one of those with my whole heart; the trendy teen across the street had one, with a chair to match---it looked as if our town seamstress had made a housecall to stitch Spring formals onto both pieces of furniture.

The ladies-in-black at the really elegant clothing stores in the larger towns. I imagined they had a training school for these take-no-prisoners, brusque women, like some sort of college with courses in “No-nonsense” and “Abrupt.” They all wore their glasses on chains around their necks, had crisply-permanented or upswept hair, and wore thick-heeled old-lady laceup shoes; every look at you seemed delivered through a lorgnette. Thank goodness I was only there to hold Mother’s purse.

Sample sizes. The tiny lipsticks, usually white plastic, about as big as a good squeeze of toothpaste, with a teensy real cover and a tiny cylinder of real lipstick---the ends usually flat on two sides, like a roof on an elf-house. The little pots and jars of real cold cream and moisturizer and astringent, and wee stoppered drams of cologne---the real stuff, not those magazine tear-outs or those nose-clogging “cards” foisted out by brittle women in Nordstrom and van Maur.

Dishes in products---many a little home kitchen was furnished with one-at-a-time wheat-pattern dishes from boxes of Duz, and I once had quite a nice collection of pale blue glassware---goblets to juices, extracted carefully and excitedly each week from boxes of Rinso, the powder as blue as the glass. Gas stations had dish-a-week giveaways, too, with a fill-up.

Cartoons and newsreels and the Saturday serial at movies. This new practice of  filling up the gaps before and between shows with thunderous car and Coke ads, and the seat-shaking noise of “trailers” for twenty minutes just isn’t the same, somehow.

Waitresses in uniforms, especially pink ones---nylon a bonus. Extra points for Dr. Scholl’s shoes and a pencil through the perm.

The scent of old-time grocery stores, with hints of spice and onion skins and the arid crisp dustiness of dried beans, the pungent hit of flyspray, the exotic float of musk from the big hanging stalk of bananas, and the sweet vanilla/licorice/chocolate mingle of the candy case. All enhanced, of course, by a flappy screen door with a green-painted metal “Nehi” or “Grapette” guard-strip just at hand height. Bell optional, but gratifying.

It seems I must have had a word-quota to use up, and I’ve just flung them all out amongst you on this last day of the year.

They come with warmest thanks for dropping in, passing by, speaking out, or in any other way participating in this odd and wonderful possibility called the Internet.

I look forward to the days ahead, full of promise, and wish you all well and warm and happy in the New Year.

rachel

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

'GEDDI---THE OLD KIND

Not so quiet today---there's a brighter cast to the sun on the snow, though the NINETEEN shining from the little weatherchip spot on my screen tells me why my toes are tingling---I went out with all the Christmas trash and the leftover bits and pieces of all the holiday food. I warmed beans and dressing and dry muffins and croissants and all the heels-left-in-the-bags and poured on some saved-in-a-fridge-jar oil from frying fish, stirring it into a strange amalgam of breakfast for the birds.

I put on long socks, coat, gloves, and battered pink clogs, and spied out the landscape of the garden for an unnatural shape in the snow-blanket. A slightly-not-of-nature circle caught my eye, and I unearthed and tipped the snow from a big plant-pot bottom in the garden, one of several I kept filled with water all Summer for the little creatures outside. I found a spot of uncovered grass for setting it down, and poured in the warm mess, hoping the little fellows would spy or smell or somehow intuit the good nourishment and belly-filling warmth before the cold stone dish congealed the lump.

Up and down the drive in the sole-squeak of the snow, putting my toes into the last set of steps, so as to avoid the in-sift of freezing flakes into the hole-pattern in my rubber shoes, toes beginning to complain and vision flashes of Yuri Zhivago's cold trek with his frozen moustache.

As I locked the glass door, a tiny flurry from the snowy bushes dropped little showers, as a whole covey of hidden birdies left their perches in unison, like the Doors-Just-Opened-At-Denny's morning coffee crowd.  They're all serious business in tiny spokes around that big pot-dish, delving in for quick warm bites, and I fancy I can still see a bit of steam rising from their midst.   I hope so---nothing like tucking into a good hot breakfast made by somebody who loves you, on a snowy day.   I'd love to know what they're thinking---if it's just accepted as what-should-be, or if there's a brain cell in there amongst survival and danger and that great instinct to nest and nurture the next generation---maybe there's one tiny synapse whose job it is to feel gratitude for such unexpected largesse.  

Now, I'm in---dishtowels in the washer and the big fluff of my bed linens in the dryer, with the scents of Clorox and Bounce and the can of Hunts Four-Cheese Spaghetti Sauce competing in the kitchen. Chris makes all our pasta sauce, and we keep several quarts in the freezer, but the snow-shopping on Sunday led my hand to an old favorite from Southern snow-days: Plain old spaghetti---the regular size---with the plainest-of-the-plain jarred sauces. The spaghetti's been cooked and drained, put back into the hot pot with half the warmed sauce poured in, stirred, and then a shower of grated Farmers Cheese on top, lid on to meld and melt.

I'll cut up a little bowl of plain old iceberg, to dress with a little of the homemade 1000 that we keep in the fridge at all times---the sweet, vinegary tang of the dressing is a lovely memory-contrast against the bland pasta. (And if I could have found one of those little Chef Boyardee kits-in-a-box, with the teensy clutch of Pick-up Sticks and the little flavor packet---add your own can of tomato sauce---that I used to "make" when the kids were young, I'd have been throwing that thing right in my cart).

Chris will be home tonight, but right now is for cozying in---a plain, old-fashioned comfort-lunch in my chair with his big wooly blanket over my feet, and the last hour of Brideshead on the TIVO.

Then back to the business of the day. How about Y'all?

Monday, December 28, 2009

HUSH


There’s a vast quiet in the house this morning---the hum of the refrigerator is a low accompaniment to the clock-tick and the rattle of my fingerboard keys, but that’s about it. A grunty little sigh now and then from FuzzyPup, over in the dark edge of the room in his soft basket. Perhaps he’s dreaming of chasing something in the warm-ago grass of his Georgia life, so far removed from this great whiteness piled upon the steps, the sidewalk, the drive, as we walk out, imprinting the ground with the first footsteps in the history of Time.

We crunched our path out to the hosta beds, snugged beneath a big blanket of leaves below the great white quilt, and he demurred on stepping in. We made our way out and around the drive, me in my long flannely gown and flappy cotton sweater, my loose pink clogs slapping on my heels, letting in the cold and the melting wet. He quickly saluted a plant-stand, a small prickly evergreen volunteered in the withered grapevine, the bag of small mesquite chips left leaned against Chris’ new Rolls Royce grill. Caro laughed from the door as Fuzz lifted against the crinkly plastic bag---“A new flavor to the smoke,” we said. “Mesquite-ureeeen.! Be on the shelves soon!!”

And the quiet is a soothe today, as yesterday was a get-out-in-the-snow day, and as Saturday was a hustle in the morning to get Chris underway for his trip South. He likes to TAKE things. The carry bag with his unders and socks and toiletries and hose to the breathing machine, the big black cloth market-bag for the back seat, with meds and book and glasses case and two big CD packs from the library---a Burke and a Grafton, for whiling the long I-65 hours.

He carried a flat box with pans of fudge, a bottle of homemade wine, a couple of gifts for the children. His immense old brown leather satchel, like a doctor’s case from the forgotten time of housecalls, held lots of things---needful things, just in case. And his pillow, his paper and soap bagged and tucked into the mix, the lovely cedar-wood flute in a beige-flannel bag for our California son, for his music ministry. A gift certificate for our youngest couple---a little weekend getaway to enjoy before our new Grandson comes in the spring, and half of Sam’s stock of snacks for plenishing his Mom’s larder.

He smoked a turkey on his new grill on Friday afternoon as the Christmas Dinner cooked in the oven---the turkey was cooled, Saranned up like ET’s death scene, and carted South, to go with Sam’s croissants, several cheeses, grapes, Aussie Bites, Brownie Bites, a flat of Mr. Otis S’s good muffins, and a fresh pineapple. It’s a blessing Granny Clampett’s chair won’t fit atop our car.

And today, as soon as last night’s dishes are done, in the quiet of this room with the sparkly tree lights and the slow-tick clock, I want to write down some things, some remembrances of the past year, of the season, of the gatherings and the days. There’s just a call for reflection in a day with no expected callers, no need to go for bread, and the moat of snow betwixt us and all save the postman. Perhaps his steps on the front lawn and ours on the back will be the only tracks left in the day, and they for the vanishing, so I hope to spend it wisely. Thoughts are swimming and jumping and will fleet away if I’m not quick. And I’m slower these days, with time and thought, but the day calls, and I answer.

Moiré non,

Sunday, December 27, 2009

SNOWY SUNDAY


We went out and about today, in the slow, drifting-down flakes the size of cornflakes; their warm reception from the ground sent them melting the moment they hit. Dear Son #2 and I strolled the dampening aisles of the grocery store, in company with fellow-gatherers intent on those gallons of milk and loaves of bread.

And you know, that's our Southern upbringing---ten flakes past a window, and the school buses started carting the cheering younguns home, as their parents sought the earliest moment they could desert their own posts at work, to get to the grocery store. Milk, I always understood, but how all those clumpy soft loaves of Wonder Bread would save the day in an emergency situation was a mystery past my solving. During all my years of living below the M/D, only once did the power in our area go out for any length of time, and that was during an ice storm, in which the relentless freezing rain coated every tree and bush and shrub with unbearable weights of diamond-clear ice.

The valiant plants shouldered the burdens as long as they could, then with resounding cracks akin to the calving-shouts of the ice itself in colder climes, the limbs gave way and surrendered, tumbled, fell. The landscape took on the look of a vast planet on which giants had lumbered through, shearing off the tops of things and smashing the bits to ground, shattering away the sheathings crystal clear, and leaving the dark bones like some wasteland where old beasts go to die. Tarzan's legendary Elephant Graveyard must have looked something like our devastated pecan grove.

And as the layers grew on the harp-strings of power wires, they sagged ever lower in their ponderous glaze, in symmetry of drop-string on cakes I'll never bake, pulling the supporting poles with them into tinkertoy bows and bends. And the lights went out for miles.

Except mine. I'll never explain that, for the power people worked for DAYS, re-attaching and re-positioning and raising the poles, and surely SOMEwhere between us and the power station, there was a complete break. But we had lights at our house. The Grandparents and the Great-Grandparents had gas heat and plenty of lanterns and lamps and candles, and could cook and stay warm; they laughed and said it was just like "living back at Home"---the homes of their raisings---to have to spend an evening around the kitchen table, with only the glow of coal-oil lamps, and a jig-saw puzzle for entertainment. (Except, of course, for when DALLAS was on---then everybody came to my house, where we filled up the den and ate popcorn and jeered JR).

So today is nothing in the scheme of weather things. The snow fluff had taken on a new energy when we emerged from the store, whitening the streets and our driveway, and we crunched up the sidewalk with our bags, our hair full of drifty clumps and our footprints filling before we could return. We stomped in, put away groceries, changed to warm dry socks and soft flannel pants, and have been cooking a couple of old family favorite recipes for supper---the meatballs in "red gravy,"---not the pasta kind of sauce, but the raw peppers/onions/canned tomatoes layered in the covered skillet of browned meat with a good shake of black pepper, some salt, and a smitch of sugar, perhaps a bay leaf according to your whim. It cooks down into a fragrant hearty peasanty dish, delicious over rice or mashed potatoes.

I made a big Ziploc of the dry spiced tea mix DD2 likes so much---I'll send that tomorrow if the weather warrants getting out to the P.O. And now the house is again Christmas-perfumed of cinnamon and orange and clove, with a faint haze of goldy-tan upon the kitchen counters. Whisking all the dry ingredients together is an impossibility in the weights of things---the dry tea floats on the arid heft of the sugar and the Tang, and rises like lines of thin flotsam on the edges of a tide. I set the kettle, poured a cup, sipped the familiar old flavors of the Seventies, when Tang was a marvel of wholesome fare, and the dry mix stirred up in countless kitchens for a comforting cup at home, or for bringing out Mrs. Heafner's samovar to impress the visiting Grand Matron, as ladies in hats sipped dainty sips of the exotic, heady brew called "Russian Tea."
I also minced an onion, sweated it in a little knob of butter and some salt, then laid in about 3/4 of a pound of chicken livers, left from the giblet-gravy-making on Friday. I'd saved one boiled egg, as well, from the ones boiled for devilling, to make Caro her holiday favorite: Chopped Liver, to spread warm on little pita-points toasted crisp.

And I just finished cutting up what was always known in our downhome Meat 'n' Threes and cafeterias as Combination Salad---iceberg, sweet onion, bell pepper, a bit of cucumber, some grape tomatoes---to be served with the last of the pimiento dressing from the Christmas Eve slaw.

Caro and I are having a Girls' Evening---dinner on trays at five, and my choice from the big stack of "Classics" DVD's she gave me for Christmas: Austens, mostly, with Jane Eyre and Middlemarch in the mix as well. And since Middlemarch is seven hours, and we aren't going anywhere . . .

I'd say Let It Snow, but I'm not in charge of things. Thank Goodness.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

CHRISTMAS EVE

On this day of preparation, for guests and for meals and for gift-openings and parties and so much travel, there's a nip of excitement in the air---the little ones who are old enough to understand and anticipate have that bubble of joy in their tummies, and can hardly stand still and wait for tomorrow.

It's been such a lovely year meeting all of you, and you've added immeasurably to the joy in my own life. And so, I wish you the Joy of the Season, the Joy of the Festivities, the Joy of the Birth and the Celebration and the Homecomings.

Thank you all---so very much---for dropping in and for commenting and for being such a part of the anticipation of each morning, of finding a new message from a friend, of being part of your day as you've become such a special part of mine. It's like opening a beautifully-wrapped gift each and every day, as I sign in and see the names and places---so very special and such an honor to have you here.

I wish you all the most wonderful of Christmases, and sweet dreams on this most Magical of Nights, with the bright promise of Tomorrow and all its meanings.

rachel

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

COLD HANDS, FULL HEARTS

'Tis the Night before Night Before Christmas, and all seems to be calm, though big promises of snow a-comin' hang like lanterns on the weatherclip, with an icy breath of freeze down the stairs whenever the door is opened..

And my heart is full, tonight, thinking of our family and all our lovies; we'll be only six at table tomorrow night for our Christmas Eve Bean Soup supper. Our children are scattered all over the country, and our thoughts and prayers are with each and every one---with our oldest son in Mississippi, and his family; with our second-oldest, who lives here near us, and his; with Caro, who is at work, and who cheerily invited me to "come up for coffee" in the morning, as I rise, and she is in the twilight of her own day. We'll talk of little things, she and I, of small chores to do before everyone arrives for supper, of the few last gifts needing paper and ribbon, of our hopes and wishes for the New Year.

And our daughter and son-in-law, and their three little ones---the ones I call the "Georgia Clan"---they're in a big new city right now, for several months, and are enjoying all the sights and sounds and the SNOW and all the history and museums and new adventures it brings. We'll be seeing them in the Spring, and are missing their bright presences in our house and at our table.

We're thinking of our son in Atlanta, who will join Chris in a trip to the coast to visit with his Mom after Christmas, as well as the son in Louisiana, and his sweet wife---they're expecting our seventh Grand-Child in the Spring, and they, as well as our California son, will be meeting Chris at his Mom's house, so they should have a wonderful time---Chris, all three boys, our dear daughter-in-law, and his Mom, for a few days together.

My dear Baby Sis and her family in Texas will all be together, in one of their rousing family holidays---they are all so witty and bright and fun, and we have hilarious times together---Sis says a visit isn't complete until she and I laugh til we wet our pants.

It sometimes seems as if the Lord has sprinkled our family out all over the country like a shower of salt, and I hope that's what we all are---Salt of the Earth people, sturdy and strong and true, adding a savor to the places we've landed, and sharing our blessings with those we're near.

I look forward to tomorrow, that most momentous of days, with its rich history and long traditions, and the meaning it has for all our family. The meditation in the small things, and the time together as we prepare and draw close and have a quiet meal together. That instinctive huddle of togetherness on a cold night---that's the original Gathering, and no amount of tinsel and paper could wrap that feeling in enough importance.

We'll pray together and eat a supper of centuries-old Southern dishes, and as we have a celebration feast of beans and cornbread, we'll feel ourselves as well fed as from golden plates, crystal bowls. We'll sing a bit after supper---some old carols, and some silly songs which delight the grandchildren.

I've talked to each one of the youngest four this past week, and they've all wished me "Merry Christmas!" Delightful to hear across the miles, straight into my heart.

The littlest one spent Monday with me; we colored and sang and read, and did her alphabet and number cards. She's surprising me with a word I didn't know she knew, or a simple sentence she's putting together.

As they left, she turned without prompting, going up the stairs, and sang out in the chirpiest little bird voice, "Merry Christmas, Ganjin! I love you!"

My heart is full and overflowing.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

CARO COOKS

AHHHHH, the delightful scents of chocolate and sugar and toasting nuts and coconut which have been wafting from Caro's kitchen for the past couple of days!!! She always takes a great assortment of homemade goodies to work for their Christmas party---she makes up several trays just for snacking during the day:



And then there are containers of everything, for everyone to take home some of all the goodies---she orders pretty cellophane baggies and neat baking pans with lids so that her friends can all carry home some of the treats. These are 7-Layer Bars:




In back is a snacking pan, with a variety; in front are (middle bowl): Peanut clusters and toasted coconut clusters, both in Ghirardelli chocolate; bowl on right has Brownie Bites centered with Reese's Cups and little muffins with Reese's Pieces. Tiny pan on left is a sampler---she made up several for people who are off work today and will miss the treats.


The big pan sitting over the sink has individual pans of brownies, ready for lids---everyone got one to take home. In the bags are Reindeer Chow (sweet Chex Mix with chocolate, peanut butter, powdered sugar and chocolate almonds) and Regular Chex Mix.



Baby pans of Brownies with white chocolate chips:



Small pan of treats:




And there WAS other food, besides sweets---for the lunch table, she made three of the Corned Beef Cheese Balls by my Mother's recipe---the recipe originally called for a little jar of the dried beef, but Mother got Corned Beef by mistake, and a family favorite came to be. Recipe makes two or three balls, which we usually roll in toasted pecans at the last minute.



2 Philadelphia, room temp
1 can Corned Beef---we usually get Armour
Spoonclop of mayo
Sprinkle of powdered garlic
Sprinkle of salt
Green part of one bunch scallions, sliced very thinly across
Smush Cheese and Corned Beef together. Mix all ingredients, clop out onto waxed paper or Saran and roll into balls. Bag and store in fridge for up to a week. Roll in toasted pecans or toasted almonds just before serving. It's nice to have one for Christmas and save the other for New Year's Eve.
I DO believe that we're down to about fifteen pounds of sugar in the house.
And as of yesterday, my friends, Bon Hiver!!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

HIDING FROM SANTA

I have no pictures for today’s post, but I wish that I did---I’d give anything for a snapshot of Son#2, at four, hiding from Santa. Keetha’s sweet post about her own eight-year-old, with his own nervous visit to the Man in Red, kindled the wonderful, silly, sad, funny memory that I still cannot tell without giggling.

The oldest three children are close in age, and so that on this Christmas, they were all dressed in their Christmas finery, lined up in the car like little mannequins, and taken to the tiny, tiny grocery store in a nearby town, where promises of SANTA!! PICTURES!!! BALLOONS!!! CANDY!!! FLOWERS FOR MOM!! had been festooning the windows for weeks.

On the appointed day, we made our appearance, driving the several miles from home all gussied up for our one chance at the Santa-op. We opened the little flappy-screen door, with its flat metal crossbar whispering “Pepsi Cola” in faded, hand-worn letters, and entered the crowded fluorescent box, scented with PineSol and Vicks and the onion bins and the scent of the fresh meat being flung onto the big butcherblock for cutting. The whine of the bonesaw and the chatter of the crowd competed with the jolly carols blasting from the little Philco set on the front counter.

We spoke to friends, acquaintances, folks from church, from up and down the streets, from our own little rural area---even people with no children in tow were in the crowd, all in the spirit of the thing and the free refreshments and red carnation corsages (which would show up at churches next morning in heretofore unknown numbers, like an out-of-season Mothers' Day brigade).

The preponderance of red fabric in that crowd was nearly blinding; you HAD to wear red---plaid or solid or reindeered or velveted or petticoated or vested---to have your Christmas picture made. Everybody knew that. And the bow-tied little boys in sweater vests vied for discomfort with little girls in scratchy dresses and lace-topped socks. They fidgeted and hopped and touched things and yawned, and a lot of the little girls, presaging today's pageant-primps with their aura of AquaNet, rubbed their carefully-arranged curls against their Mamas' wooly coats until their bows hung limp.

The line snaked forward, as I’m sure we all wondered where on Earth the Santa Throne WAS in that close-aisled, familiar place. Every couple of minutes, a lightning flash from the far left corner, way back beyond the freezer case and into the dogfood section, would indicate that we were steering in the right direction.

On we went, until we could spy the big red curtain suspended in the corner, and through the crowd, glimpses of the red and white promise of SANTA. We whispered to each other that he WAS here---REALLY here, and we were going to see him. I don’t recall how I thought three children were going to sit on his knee, innocently confiding their Christmas wishes into his furry ear, but no matter---only two would brave the unknown, and one would falter.

We were next in line, and DS2 started to tug at my slacks. “I don’t WANT to,” he said. “But it’s SANTA,” I replied, probably adding immeasurably to the CON-column. “Don’t you want to tell him what you’d like for Christmas?”

“I wrote a LEDDER,” he replied, inching backward as the small girl in red taffeta slid in a swish like running water from Santa’s knee. We moved forward into the light, with DS #1 and Caro stepping confidently up onto the red-blanketed step and onto the foot-high platform, which crackled with each child's entrance and exit, built as it was of 2x8's laid across the big sacks of Gaines and Jim Dandy.


They took their places, with her on the Big Man’s knee and DS at his side, but my errant one was nowhere to be found. I looked around; next in line pointed back down the aisle, where I could see the people parting like wheat in a breeze.

And by then, with all the folks fore and aft, and the photographer all but tapping his Florsheims in irritation, while his helper in the elf costume with a big stockin' runner frowned with her eyes, we proceeded, my two, where there should have been three. A few words to Santa from the brave two, a smile, a snap, and we were stepping down out of the light, and off in search of the vagabond. Today, I would no more turn my back on a small child in a crowd than I’d fly, but this was another time, and even if I didn’t know everybody there, some of them knew lots of them, and others, others---on and on in an interlocking knit of acquaintance which was SAFE, somehow.

So we went in search of Dear Son---if he’d been visibly upset or if he’d cried or evinced any real fear, I’d have been with him like a shot, comforting and cheering him, but he’d just tugged his hand away and escaped. We went the way he had gone, then we walked across the ends of the aisles, looking down the spaces through crowds and buggies and displays and tables of refreshments, and no little boy of mine.

I stood the two in front of the cereal, with orders not to MOVE, and took off alone. As I rounded the final corner to the dairy cases, I saw a strange configuration INSIDE one of the big open cold cases. Way down about halfway of the wall, over inside the glass frame, huddled on his side, knees drawn up and his face hidden in his Christmas finery, lay my dear boy, cuddled up on about fifty packages of cheese.

He was properly comforted and admonished, though I admit I was laughing almost too hard to lift him out. The whole crowd was hee-hawing, and it’s still a Christmas tale to tell. And I only had to buy four of the packages of cheese---the ones down where his little Sunday shoes were resting. I felt that was the least I could do, and we ate cheese dishes for weeks.


We still have the picture, with only the two of the three, but you have no idea what I'd give for one of that sweet little boy, all curled up in the dairy case. I can’t wait til Our Girl is old enough to tell the story to---next year when she’s three she’ll take great glee in hearing of the year that her Dada ran from Santa and hid in the cheese.





Friday, December 18, 2009

FUDGE RECIPE

I'm delighted to supply the recipe for the fudge---it's one of those old family things that I could almost do with my eyes closed (but only if someone would watch the clock).

This recipe is so easy that the set-out, make-it and cleanup can be done in thirty minutes. When I make a lot, I set up a little assembly line, and set the used cooking pan immediately under running hot water---a thorough scrub with a big brush, and right back onto the stove.

First get out your ingredients:

4 cups sugar
Stick of butter
Tall can of Pet or other evaporated milk (not condensed)
16 oz. chocolate chips
I usually buy BIG packages---three or five pounds, and just eye-measure what is 1/3 or 1/5 of the bag. Using a 12 oz. bag will make it more Hershey bar-like, like milk chocolate. We like it darker.

Small jar of marshmallow creme
1/4 t. salt
Glug of vanilla

Measure them all out, if you like, and set them aside. Spray a 9x13, bottom only. Or it will fill four mini-loaves or if you're REALLY agile, about four dozen dropped pieces. With a couple of cups of pecans stirred in, five dozen pieces.

I don't have good luck putting nuts actually IN this candy---it gets solid so fast after stirring in the chips, etc., that it's still so hot that the nuts seem to lose most of their crispness, sorta steaming themselves soft. You CAN put them if you're dropping the candy---those cool too fast to do any mischief. Pour out the candy and wait til it's cooling in the pan, then sorta eyeball the rows you'll use to put a nice fat perfect nutmeat atop each piece, if you like, or til it's REALLY cool to put on the chocolate coffee beans.

Always use a flat paddle or even an egg-turner---you want to smooth up the bottom in a big pattern as you stir, rather than using just a spoon, which clears only a hair's-breadth with each swoop.


Put the sugar and salt in a heavy-bottomed pan like a Dutch oven, and pour the Pet all around the edges like a moat. The sugar will start to get damp and absorb the milk; stir it gently together. Drop in the butter---I usually cut it into several pieces with the paddle I use for stirring. If you're using a liqueur or coffee flavoring (I use the bottles of 1883 Philibert Routin syrups, straight from a coffee bar)---pour in an ounce or so, now---it doesn't interfere with the liquid/sugar balance.


Pay no attention to the little clumps of cocoa---I stirred some into the sugar for an even-darker chocolate on this one---I should have sifted, but it came out fine. Stir gently til it comes to a rolling boil, and time it EIGHT MINUTES TO THE SECOND, stirring all the time. Despite all the caveats on making candy, somehow this one benefits from the stir; I can count only perhaps five times over the years when the candy had a grainy texture.
On the counter, have ready: A folded, dampened kitchen towel to set the pan on for stability while stirring. It's also a great time-and-mess saver if you go ahead and dump the chips onto a plate or flat bowl and scrape out the marshmallow atop before you start rather than trying to do that scraping and hand-de-stickying when the candy comes off the heat.

When time is up, take pan off heat immediately, set it on the towel, dump in the chips and creme and vanilla, and stir. I stir for a bit with a paddle, then use a heavy whisk. When it's all mixed, pour into the pan. To cool, I usually set the pan up onto three cans of beans or corn---regular size cans of anything, for the air flow beneath the pan for cooling. Next-day cutting is easier and prettier.


This is the plain cocoa/chocolate chip version. I dumped it out of the pan facedown onto a small cutting-board, then flipped it over onto waxed paper for cutting. I have a handy plastic ruler with one keen little edge---I sorta measure, then score with the ruler.
Use a chef's-type knife or cleaver, pressing straight down through the candy, to cut. I usually go 9x6 on the pieces, so with Cook's Treat and that edge piece that just doesn't look right, it's usually about four dozen pieces.
I go all around the world telling a recipe, but it's so simple:
Sugar/milk/butter/salt
Cook 8 minutes
Stir in chips and marshmallow, pour into pan, cool and cut.
I hope SOMEBODY will try it.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

SWEETS OF THE SEASON

Here's the tableful of goodies for clients and friends---not nearly all of what we made, but it looks pretty, all arrayed like that. We swap the pretty cloths for an old red vinyl picnic sheet, and use a lot of Windex on the two glass tables, for candy-making is messy work.



Clockwise from One O'clock: Cappuccino Fudge, Plain Fudge, Chex Mix, Chocolate Chip Drop Cookies, Kahlua Fudge with Chocolate Coffee Beans, Rocky Road with the little cut marshmallows showing, more cookies, and a plate of Kahlua Brownies.

Mid-ways are the Peanut Butter Loaves and a platter of sliced loaves.

This time of year, I wonder if the Revenooers might think we've got a still in the basement, turning out 'Shine. That's the way they used to catch a lot of bootleggers in the South, by the amount of sugar they were buying, going from store to store for a hundred pounds here, and fifty there. And we haul it home with the wagon draggin'---like we're driving Thunder Road.

Some crisp, salty snacks to counteract all that sugar---Caro's Chex Mix:




Caro made Miss Laura Bush's Cowboy Cookies, with oatmeal, chocolate chips, coconut and pecans:



And I'm the candy-making Elf---Kahlua Fudge, with a couple of shots of Espresso Syrup and Kahlua:



Cappuccino Fudge, with a shot of Espresso syrup in the recipe:


Just plain Fudge, creamy and chocolatey---I love its color and shine:


Rocky Road, with roasted peanuts and tiny marshmallows tossed with melted Ghirardelli:



Reese's Loaves---the bottom is the old-fashioned recipe for Peanut Butter Fudge, with extra-crunchy, left to sit in the pans til cool and firm, then a small pour of plain fudge on top.



The platter has to be empty by Christmas Morning---that's where the Banana Bread by my Mother's recipe goes, with a little dish of softened cream cheese alongside.

The loaves cut into giving-size portions---you can see they're in thirds, with little rounded corners on some---this is a VERY rich candy. I advise cutting it in little short-ways slices, rather than the big ones on the platter above.

And one more look at the shining, lovely original, from which all the recipes spring:


We wish all of you a Sweet, Sweet Christmas,
rachel

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

LOOKING FOR BABY JESUS


I don’t remember when we didn’t have a small Nativity scene as part of our Christmas celebration---and I don’t think we ever called it a crèche. Well, perhaps I did, but only in one of my moods or when someone else might be listening and be suitably impressed. We’ve had china ones, a flat little “stained glass” set which was actually some kind of textured acetate, cut into the figures, with black markings for the leadings and features; we painted those ourselves into ethereal transparently watery colors, with the paint-pens enclosed in the set.

We have several still---one a free-hand router-cut wooden one, with the three principal figures only, flat and stylized, nailed in front of a slant-roofed depiction of a small shed---Daddy had a remarkable talent for all things made of wood.

There was the small plastic made-in-Taiwan model, from my children’s early childhood, with the quickly-painted daubs of robes and faces and a handful of mossy straw idly hanging from the eaves of the stable. That was the one which impelled my Mother's delighted quizzing of my oldest son the Christmas that he’d just turned five. He had been learning the books of the Bible and the Christmas Story in our small-town, taught-by-Pentecostal-ladies Kindergarten. “Now, who is this?” Mother pointed to the small figure. He’d answer, “That’s Joseph.”

She’d smile and nod and move on: “Who’s this one?” “Baby Jesus,” he’d reply. She nod approval, touching a fingertip to the smaller standing shape, “And who is THIS?” she’d ask, barely able to stifle her mirth. “Mary,” he’d say.

Mother would gasp a little, almost unable to control her breathing, as she posed the vital question, “And what’s Mary’s LAST name?”

Broughtforth,” would come the earnest answer, and Mother would lose her breath laughing.

For the past several years, we’ve had a little clear-glass Manger-Scene on a small oval mirror on a table in the living room. It’s just a stylized set, but beautiful in its simplicity and the aura of light which surrounds it beside the tree. And one year, I lost Baby Jesus.

Somehow, in the maneuvering to get in and out to water the plants in the corner, or dust the table’s several items, or just my plain clumsiness, I knocked several of the pieces to the floor. Nothing was broken, and I gathered them up carefully, looking for nicks or cracks or the sharp edges of a break. Miraculously none. But the Holy Child was missing.

I crawled around on the carpet, on the hardwood, looking into the folds of the tree-skirt, the couch-cover, the fringed edges of the big rug---not to be found. I set the empty manger back up onto the table, in its place between the adoring parents, and kept a lookout for a small form glinting in all the presents and bows and flowerpots.

And he was not to be seen again, not the whole season, til time to put away the small clear figures into their cushioned box. As we worked, I mentioned to Caro that I had looked and looked, trying to find the Baby, the central figure, the true Reason for the Season, and had had no luck.

She looked, laughed and set the small manger aright onto the table, and there, in some sort of optical miracle---there He was---in the manger all the time.




I, of the bassinet-and-baby-bed mind-set, had set it upside down, making the small legs and feet of the manger into the head-and-footboards, and the poor Infant sculpted into the glass had spent His own Birthday lying face down under the bed.
And I'd been poking about amidst presents and rug fluff and beneath cushions and under sofas---for a an elusive something which was right before my face the whole time. There’s a sermon in there somewhere, of the search, of the finding, of the losing and of the giving up, of the looking in the wrong places and of the not seeing at all what is RIGHT THERE. I hope this is a season of Finding and Keeping and knowing what is there, because it’s so easy to pass by and overlook. I hope also that I keep the eyes to see what is real and what is good, and the heart to know it when I see it.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

COOKIES!

These are a few of the kinds of cookies brought to the exchange:

Crisp Peanut Butter, with the traditional crossed-tine lines, and Oatmeal Raisin:



Brownies and a plate of sugar-dusted Lime Meltaways---like the traditional Wedding Cookies, with a lovely citrus breath:


Some rich Ginger/Pumpkin bars and Toffee Bars:




More of Caro's Mini-Brownies with the Reese's Cup centers:





Like that one party guest who won't behave (not that we'ver EVER entertained such a person)this picture just WILL NOT face correctly---it's lying down neatly in the display, but just won't DO RIGHT when I upload it. The Snickerdoodles were a special request from me when my dear neighbor asked what kind should she bring. Her roots are in Germany, and I don't know if these are a modern invention or from her Mother's kitchen, but they're splendid---crisp and sweet, with the most beautiful fault-lines where the dough burst and cracked through the cinnamon-sugar crust.

And Caro made the Chex-Mix sweet in the green bowl---I think they all called it Puppy Chow; it's tossed with melted chocolate, butter and peanut butter til every little pillow is coated, then you shake it in a bag with powdered sugar. And somehow, through all the coatings, the cereal is still crisp and crunchy, though it's stored in the fridge. The almonds were my idea---Chris came home with a gallon plastic jug of chocolate-coated ones from Sam's this week. I thought they'd have the bitter flush of pure cocoa, but it's as if they ran it though a light mist of semi-sweet chocolate, for it's not a shell, but a film of pure chocolate flavor over the crisp nut.

It's like the Trail-Mix of your dreams:



The larger of these are Peanut Butter, the smaller are my neighbor's famous homemade Ginger Snaps---ohhhhh, My! And for those with little ones, she made sugar cookies coated in that irresistible colored sugar:



And in her other hand, she was carrying these---frosted butter cookies, with SPRINKLES!



This is a swirly, many-chocolates bark, broken into nibbling size, and the most sumptuous soft Pumpkin Teacakes, with creamy frosting.



More Toffee Bars---who can ever have enough of those? and Pecan Sandies:




And a pan of nostalgia: Rice Krispie/Marshmallow squares. This crowd of ladies all went, "AWWWWW!" and I wonder if ANY of these made it home:



And, made by my own DDIL, the most wonderful Orange Teacakes, soft and melty, with a lovely hint of orange peel in the icing. Something about biting into one of those tender orange cakes just brings back memories of when Mammaw used to make them and have them waiting on a pretty plate in the big old Hoosier Cabinet. The icing on these had that magical quality of some frostings---it's smooth and feels mysteriously chilly on your tongue---just a lovely cookie.
And somehow, they had a place beside the Mammaw Bowl---quite apropos, I think, though the two ladies never met. Mammaw would be really proud of my DDIL, and especially glad that she's the Mother of her Great-Great Grandchild.

This was a wonderful evening---we talked and laughed and ate and it was wonderful to have the house full of young folks again. Many dozens of cookies changed hands, as did recipes and e-mail addresses and invitations to other outings.
And quite a few little Tupperwares and baggies were filled at the buffet downstairs for husbands left behind at home whilst we ladies had a Girl's Night---croissants and potstickers and sandwiches and sausage balls made their way out into the night alongside trays of cookies.
Each guest also went home with a little baking pan of Caro's brownies and a pound of our homemade fudge, as well as a big bag of savory-salty Chex Mix with pretzels, melbas and pecans.
I wish you every one could have been there---I hope you liked sharing it this way.
And since we found so many things we'd even forgotten we HAD whilst getting out the cloths and trays and silverware, we've started planning our LAWN TEA for the Spring.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

CHRISTMAS TEA

The promised snow did not fall until after midnight, so all was clear and bright and very cold as our guests arrived at five. I was downstairs putting on finishing touches, and down came DDIL and Our Girl---they were the only “backdoor guests” this time---even the two next-doors came round to the front, arriving in bright coats and smiles, with a little breath of the cold ushering them in.

Chris and Our Girl had a date to go to Cracker Barrel and ride around a bit to see the Christmas lights, so after introductions, they departed into the frosty night. They DID come dashing back in, all bright-eyed and eager, about the time the cookies were all unwrapped, and I think that between them, they probably sampled every kind in the house.

You may click on photos to enlarge.



The living room dresser, with our little pans of brownies, and the smaller pans are 1 ¼ lb. homemade fudge. Homemade Chex Mix in the Mammaw bowl---Caro made gallons and everyone got great scoops of it in baggies to take home. I love that cloth---it's in shiny silky jewel shades, and it was one of the very first Thrift Store purchases after we moved up here---I paid five dollars for it in 1991. We had a tiny apartment, with the freezer in the living room, so I draped it with this cloth, and it made it look like just a piece of furniture.

At the far left is Jeeves, a little wooden butler that Daddy made for me years ago, holding a tray of favors---you can just see his feet, with the neat stripe down the side of his butler suit, and the top of his little pink bald head.

The couch’s summer green has been exchanged for its original burgundy, whence our whole color scheme has evolved over the years. Caro did all, and I mean ALL of the decorating up here---Christmas and furniture arranging and everything.

Everyone seemed to arrive at once, as if they'd all boarded the Christmas Bus and rollicked in from all over town, to step off at our curb. I went up to a roomful of bright chatter and warmth and the scents of vanilla and peanut butter and chocolate wafting from all corners, as the many trays and boxes of cookies were set out. Holiday sweaters and sweatshirts and sparkly earrings and tiny red-bowed wreaths-on-lapels added even more color to the festivities as everyone mingled in the upstairs kitchen for wine and mulled cider, cheese and fruit and salty nibbles.



Caro's kitchen corner.



Her kitchen window, all spruced up with a whole choir of Frosty people.


They sat and chatted in the living room and in the sitting area, finally furbished with its row of stockings beneath the windows. The old “waiter” on the ottoman made a handy spot to set down a glass or cup.


And the guestroom, in case anyone peeked in on the way to the Powder Room. Another little Snow Family taking their ease.
I finished up downstairs, setting out the sandwich stands, putting the hot foods on the buffet, lighting the candles, and went up to call everyone down to tea. We had one table of six,

and two tables of four---one down in the end by the buffet--and yes, that IS my red hat atop the torchiere---it makes a nice rosy glow in the evening.



And the other was the breakfast table, in its usual place, but all Cinderella-ed up for the party, like little birds had tied those very bows with their beaks.





I forgot to photograph the tables AFTER the sandwich stands went on---each table had a stand of little Paminna Cheese triangles, and little squares of ham, Havarti and pears on nutbread, like in a teashop. Everyone served themselves at the buffet, and went into my kitchen for tea and ice water and wine.



The Buffet, Clockwise from top: The green tray is Jalapeno Rolls with a bit of taco seasoning in the spread; Crudite with homemade Ranch, Devilled Eggs (always with paprika for Christmas), Chicken Salad in Croissants, Cheese and Grapes, Hot Artichoke Dip. Caro made the Potstickers in the big white bowl, and beneath the butterbell is an almond-covered cheeseball, made by my Mother’s always-for-Christmas recipe. Sausage Balls in the pink napkin, and, of course, Cucumber Sandwiches.


The Cheese Ball with the butterbell removed---we made three of this size, to fit into the well of the dish. This recipe has been in our family for probably fifty years, usually with toasted pecans in place of the almonds. And I love the look of a cuddle of old silver spoons on the table.




A better look at those divine Potstickers---the pink napkin in back holds tiny salt dips and ramekins, for pouring in individual servings of the ginger/sesame dipping sauce. And the Artichoke Dip is really four ingredients; I made up the recipe in a hurry one night when a gluten-free friend was coming to dinner. (And that's Our Girl's kitchen shelves in the background---she has a set of stainless cookware that I'd steal if it held more than half a cup).



Dessert, served from the Pass-Through---the top tray of the silver stand holds tiny brownies with a Reese’s cup pushed into the dough before baking; the bottom is Lemon Cheesecakes in a vanilla crust.

The green cups are Peanut Butter Cheesecake with Ganache.



Strawberry Trifle. Coffee and Tea in the kitchen. The trifle is not one of my most beautiful creations---it was getting VERY close to five, and I was sort of cascading berries into the bowl and glopping on creme anglaise like mortar with a trowel.
And on that charming note, I think there's been a surfeit of telling for now.
Tomorrow---COOKIES!