Thursday, March 20, 2014
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Thursday, March 13, 2014
Porridge, of course, good coarse-cut long-cooked kind, with a scatter of raw sugar---Sweetpea's favourite breakfast, and fruit ditto: fresh pineapple.
Monday, March 10, 2014
Otherwise, I would make some reason to detour into the kitchen before leaving the house, in order to dab a drop of the lovely vanilla-essence behind my ears and in the crooks of my elbows. I waltzed through the day, confident in my own enticing aroma, and AFTER I discovered cinnamon and oil of clove as a fragrant addition, I must have gone around town for more than a year, faint tan smears on my skin, my whole aura redolent of cookies and pie. Thank goodness dogs are carnivores; I'd have had whole packs following me home.
And during college years, (long since graduated from eau de Watkins and McCormick to Emeraude on my own), my roommate was a graduate student in Chemistry. She worked long hours in the lab after classes, and would come in very late, after I had gone to bed. One semester she was working on synthesizing Vanillin, and I would wake in the darkness, inhale that heavenly scent from her entrance, and smile, falling back into sweet, childhood-scented dreams. And once, when I had a special date, I got her to take my favorite angora sweater and hang it up near her work-station all day. When I went out that night, I smelled FABULOUS, and I still wish they'd bottle that stuff and sell it at Nordstrom.
My vanilla bottle (STILL Watkins; we found our own supplier in the Yellow Pages, but now, the proud gleaming glass has been exchanged for plastic) gets a workout nearly every day...we use it in iced tea, pies, cakes, puddings, party punch, as a richening note in several mixed drinks as well as cut and pureed fruit, in coffee, pie crusts, all sorts of breads and muffins and desserts. And I keep a vanilla bean faithfully tucked down into each sugar cannister. I've been known to dab a bit onto a light bulb, and YES, behind my ears once in a while for old times' sake. Brings back some nice memories, and sometimes makes Chris waltz me across the kitchen to an oldies tune.
So what if Vanilla IS the quiet, unnoticed kid, the wallflower whose mere presence points up the special attributes of her peers? It adds a lovely undernote, a richness, a depth, an extra level to so many other flavors. Even CHOCOLATE is enhanced by its paler companion, borne up to new heights and enticements. And Vanilla ice cream alone is, if nothing else, quite a good reason for getting up in the morning.
Saturday, March 8, 2014
We went out. I had soup.
Thursday, March 6, 2014
Just snapping that lid thunk off the Johnson’s paste wax can sent up its distinctive aroma---kind of a cross between
This was NOT a run-a-quick pad-on-a-stick around the floors---no, not for US.
This was a Three-Sock process---one on my hand for applying, and later, a fresh, dry pair for my feet for the polishing. It was a hands-and-knees procedure, going backward across the floors, keeping the hand-sock well covered in the paste, applying circles and lines and sometimes my name (and a bad word, quickly erased, now and then, as the Summer heat and sun and dust came through the window-screens and the hot morning wore on in an aura of itchy-wool evergreens and sore knees til I felt covered in wax and lint).
The first room was dry by the time I'd applied a layer to the last, and I'd go wash my face and arms and hands, and get something cold to drink before the polishing. Then I’d pull an old pair of Daddy’s wool socks on my bare feet, turn on WMPS radio, and rock ‘n’ roll the floors shiny. I’d sorta shimmy-skate my way in from the doorway, getting all the way up into the far corner, where I’d use a wadded piece of old blanket, cut from a worn-out wooly one, with the square rubber-banded around the end of a heavy ruler to get precisely into the sharp little angles.
All the rest was a foot free-for-all, skimming and stopping to balance on one foot and give a particularly-stubborn spot a good sliding scrub with the other.
And yes, Daddy sometimes wore Monkey Socks, but they were beneath his workboots and nobody ever knew he was wearing vulgar footwear.
Sometimes, if Mother were in the mood, I’d invite a friend or two over to “dance the wax,” and we’d slip and slide and shake, laughing and singing with the radio, til the floors gleamed and we had to head to the fridge for big glasses of tea.
They’d all head home for their own noon lunches, and I’d get the furniture all back into place, and THEN was the perfect time to go wash the car, getting wet and cool and clean as I sprayed and scrubbed. Unless they'd all wanted to stay for that, me being the only girl in the neighbourhood, with houses full of BOYS all around---but that's another story.
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
I also washed our car every Saturday afternoon, after I finished making the week’s cake, usually a pound cake, for Sunday dinner, and to last the week for an after-supper TV snack with coffee every night. That pound cake was a killer-diller, with six eggs and three cups of sugar, three sticks of butter and a little bit each of vanilla, almond, and lemon extract. I got where I could cut a big square out of the side of a grocery sack, set the cake pan center on it, then draw a circle just around the base. After you cut out the circle you folded it four times into a point so the whole thing made a little dart-shape, then snipped the point just so, to make the hole. Then the dart would unfold into a perfect fit for the bottom of that old tube pan.
The inside of the pan was lavishly buttered by hand, top to bottom, all over the top of the removable base pan, and all up the center tube. Then the paper was slid in and buttered again, to await the batter. (At this point, I invariably thought of the settlers whose windows were "glassed" with greased paper, and I'd ponder all the hardship and drawbacks THAT would entail. Still do, occasionally when I toss out the big brown paper sack on which we've drained fried chicken, holding it up to the light and marveling at our blessings).
It was one of those “cream the butter and sugar” recipes, with “then add eggs one at a time” as the next step. I loved the way that the big old Sunbeam spun the bowl around, as the butter and sugar mixed and melded and then turned into a pale, creamy mixture. Adding each egg and beating after made the batter look curdled, like when your Hollandaise is breaking, but a little bit more beating would make all things right, and then came the next egg.
There was just something about the grace of making that cake---the steps and motions, the ssssssift of the flour and scritttch into the sugar cannister, the cracking of those big orange-yolked eggs into a little bowl for pouring into a medium one, for you never, EVER cracked an egg right into a batter, whether the mixer was running or not.
You give the eggs the benefit of the doubt, but even if you’ve just braved a hen-peck to get them fresh right from under her tail feathers, you STILL break the egg in one bowl, have a look at it, then dump that one into another bowl, and so on until you’ve broken, checked, and maneuvered each one into the medium bowl.
And none of that “I KNOW they’re fresh,” which is uttered by some quite bright stars in the culinary firm-a-ment, as they crack an egg and clumsily drop it over the side into the sweet, surging maelstrom. Having the freshest eggs in the kingdom won’t help you if you crack an egg into the mixer bowl with the beaters running. Dropped egg shell will sail right off into that perfect batter, disintegrating as it whirls, ruining a whole bowl of expensive ingredients, an enjoyable, meditative baking time, and quite a few tempers of those who’ve been anticipating that cake.
I always found it kinda hard to get just ONE egg to fall out of that bowl at a time, since they, like the chicks-that-might-have-been seem to have this flocking instinct right in the embryo, all wanting to flow over the side at once, but you just tip and woggle that bowl til an egg or most of its parts forsakes the crowd and hops in.
It’s also one of those “sift the flour three times” cakes, and that was when you put in the tsp. of salt. And each ½ cup of the sifted flour in that bowl went in one-at-a-time, as well, or at least by big old kitchen spoonfuls, as the mixer ran gently and the bowl turned, growing heavy and slow with the rich mixture.
All the flour in, then the teaspoons of flavor---just opening the bottles gave an aura of exotic scents and unknown climes to the whole kitchen---a little bit lighter on the almond---about a scant capful from the tiny bottle.
It cut like velvet, falling beneath the knife in smooth, firm, moist slices, with the beautiful pink and gold marbled effect adding to the charm. I remember these as the epitome of cakes, the apex and crown of the baker’s world. Perhaps it’s all the softening haze of remembrance, but they really WERE that good. And that beautiful.
The prospect of that magnificent cake, cooling on the counter, sweetened all the rest of those long, slow hot Saturdays, as the day wore on, with shoe-polishing, clothes-for-church pressing, hair rolling, Sunday School Lesson, supper, and a final sigh in settling on the couch to the opening notes of Lawrence Welk.