Sunday, November 20, 2016

Thanksgiving



I thought this was a lovely image for Thanksgiving.  The guest comes bearing gifts - straight from the tree.

Aside from the turkeys we constructed in elementary school with multi-colored paper feathers, the Pilgrims were never far from our lessons.  We were taught the reason for the first Thanksgiving meal was thanks for the harvest which would provide bounty for yet another harsh New England winter.  Many centuries separate our holiday from the Pilgrims' benediction and now the main theme of the American Thanksgiving is family, home and gratitude for both.

This year, my daughter is entertaining us for the first time and in her new house.  And she's very nervous.  My mother asked her what kind of stuffing she planned on making.  "There's more than one kind???" she nervously queried back.  I will be there early to help her and will be bringing pie, wine, and a carrot soufflé.

I think the hardest part of the Thanksgiving meal is making sure everything is hot at the same time.  It's not an easy feat.  My mother did it in her suburban home even while longing for a separate dining room.  One year, the week before the holiday, my father finished turning a bedroom into a real and permanent dining room.  It was so beautiful.  My mother's perfect wished-for Thanksgiving at last came to life born of my father's gift.

When I was married, my husband and I traveled to his parents' ski house in Vermont each year.  There was never a snow-less Thanksgiving there.  But it wasn't the snow that made it cold.  The first year I was a fresh new bride who came bearing gifts too.  I went to a crafts shop and purchased all the materials to make petite dried marigold corsages with chestnut-brown silk ribbons replete with pearl-topped fastening pins for the women who would be at the table. But when I saw how relaxed and casual ski-holiday entertaining was, my bestowal seemed out of place and silly.  I wanted so much for them to like me.  But my mother-in-law's weak smile told me everything I needed to know.  Instead I worked as a quiet servant, staying in the background helping bring chairs up from the basement and peeling potatoes at the sink.  When one of the non-relative guests looked me in the eye and seemed interested in getting acquainted, it was a revelation - someone noticed.  Sadly, these Thanksgivings continued for a few more years and they were never warmer - or easier, not even the year my "gift" was a first grandchild.

Last week, I delighted in hearing my hairdresser's story about how she searched online for the perfect brown "left-overs box" and how she decorated each one with a guest's name in gold and a raffia tie.  Her excitement was infectious and charming.  Unlike my corsages, I know her gift will be a welcome touch for her own wished-for Thanksgiving experience.

Maybe it was the married Thanksgivings that make me so very thankful for the ones I now enjoy with my family and friends.  And even though my new son-in-law is carving this year, I will still have a hand in crafting my holiday.  I will break bread with those I love and those that love me.  My own wished-for Thanksgiving.

I cannot end this post without thanking my sister and brother-in-law for their many years of Thanksgiving-hosting.  The light in their pretty home drew us all to their doorstep and I'm happy they can take it easier at my daughter's this year.  But like our young miss in the picture above, I know they will arrive bearing gifts and whatever they are, they will be accepted with gratitude and love.  That's how we roll...


~


Note:  Have you tried "Google Image Reverse" yet?  I fell in love with the above image and uploaded it into Google's new search engine which gave me similar pictures as well as the source of this one - a British clothing catalog.  And speaking of British clothing, you may want to check out Marks and Spencer's new Christmas video where Mrs. Claus offers a modern-day version of a cherished ideal.  



Sunday, November 13, 2016

Bright April (or Fringed Placemats)


"It's a book about Girl Scouts", said the book dealer as I lightly turned the pages of Bright April, a children's book by Marguerite de Angeli.  "Actually, it's a book about diversity", I quietly responded.

I am well-acquainted with Bright April as it is a story I read often to my daughter when she was small.  I spent a lot of time selecting books for my child's personal library.  If even one illustration seemed "off" to me, the book went back on the bookseller's shelf.  But Marguerite de Angeli's books filled up prime bookshelf real estate in my daughter's bedroom and she left them here for me.  For the time being.

Bright April had me at the fringed placemats in the illustration above, so enchanted was I with the details of the picture.  De Angeli's work is so vivid and cheerful and her stories are often about things dear to my heart - like home.  But in Bright April, she tackles a serious issue and she does it gently and with honesty.  Admittedly, the book is just a bit politically incorrect -  but there is only one line I would alter for today's audience.

I did purchase the bookdealer's edition - it is in much better shape than the one I have at home.  The spine and the boards of my copy have frayed and broken apart and are only held together now by strings.  But when I brought the new book home I found not one but two copies of Bright April on my shelves.  One was the 1945 edition that was falling apart and the other one, had a stamp on the inside cover from a church I regularly attended when my daughter was still a pre-schooler.  Suddenly,  I remembered I borrowed the book from the church's library and did not return it in the flurry of moving to a new state.

Right now, my old copy is at the bookbinder's being repaired - I discovered from the bookseller that it's a first edition and therefore, should be preserved.  When I collect it, I plan on sending it to the church as a gift along with their missing copy.  It will be dispatched with a note of apology.  Mine, I will keep on my nightstand to dip into for pure beauty and for the comfort of a bedtime story.

It will also remind me to resume my lifelong search for fringed placemats.

~

More beauty from Marguerite de Angeli:





Saturday, November 12, 2016

Tea and Sympathy

  • "Isn't it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different".  ~C.S. Lewis


A shy classmate in my kindergarten class admitted at circle time that her mother let her drink tea.  Our teacher gasped and looked askance and said that little children should never be allowed to drink tea.  I stayed silent as tea was the beverage of choice at our house every Saturday at breakfast and always when one was sick in bed with a cold.  Both my grandmothers drank tea - one - the indulgent one, gave us "tea time" every Saturday at 3:00 when we gleefully spoiled our dinner with tea, potato chips and M & M's.  My brother was also allowed ten consecutive teaspoonfuls of sugar into his delicate bone china tea cup.  This I know because I counted each out loud. One...two...three...four...

With my other grandmother, tea was more refined.  We sat at her table with silver spoons, cloth napkins and small sandwiches.  But at both houses, tea was always sympathy...and love.

I drank gallons of tea this week.  The stress of the election coupled with too many, too-early signs of the holidays bearing down, had me reaching for the tea box regularly, even at work.  One simply cannot help but slow down when there is a warm brewing cup in the hand.

I have friends who visit often for a chat and a cup of tea.  As soon as I see my "tea-friends" car, I put the kettle on.  And when I visit them, they have my favorite mug heated and waiting.  Tea time is our text, our email...our network.  It is the way we touch hands and receive understanding for life's inevitable speed bumps.  In the time it takes to drink just one cup, we sort through the tough week at work, an elderly father's unexpected fall, or a grown child's move to a distant town.  We nod in communion over tea, offering each other something as warming as the fragrant elixir in our cups.

My kindergarten teacher may have believed that tea stunted children's growth or something similarly old-fashioned.  But I believe tea along with sympathy makes us grow -  in strength, if not in stature.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

In The Night Kitchen


I've been having some work done on my house these last few weeks.  And it's been stressful.  I haven't been home for the noise and mayhem but there are plenty of new chores when I do come home.  And extra emails, texts and phone calls during the day from the contractor.  He's a nice man but I'll be glad when it's all over.

I had no intention of emptying the dishwasher one night last week.  The early darkness has been unnerving me a bit as I still get used to living alone.  I wanted to put my glass in the sink and escape back to my safe room with the warm and cozy light stream and pretend I didn't see the leftover screws on the floor.  But I did see some crumbs near the toaster and brushed them down the sink with my hand and then a towel left on the microwave needed to be smoothed and hung.  Before long, I was sweeping up the screws and dust from the day's booted feet...and emptying the dishwasher.  Slowly a calming peace came over me. The atmosphere was quiet and still and I was alone with my thoughts.  Before long, all felt right with the world again.

One of my favorite wartime films, Since You Went Away, is about wife and mother Anne Hilton whose husband Tim departs for war, leaving Anne to tend the home fires alone.  One night, while her girls are bickering upstairs, Anne remains in the kitchen doing what grown-ups do:  clean up.  As I worked my way through the kitchen, I thought of Anne making lunches, filling the percolator and setting it on the stove, and generally tidying up in her apron in the darkened kitchen.  And even though a war raged across the ocean and at home there were frightening black-out nights, mounting chores and responsibilities never slowed down.  As the grown-up, Anne was on first.  

There is something very adult about taking care of business in the night kitchen.  It's a way of taking care of yourself too.  Work left undone in the kitchen makes for chaos everywhere.  And when the heart of the home is tidy, the rest of the house seems tidy too.

~

Note:  The picture above was forwarded to me by reader and pen pal, Judy, who clipped it from her parent's Readers Digest as a girl and saved it for the time she would have her own kitchen.  Look closely and you will see our pretty homemaker is not performing her nighttime kitchen tasks alone ;)




Thursday, November 3, 2016

Bubbly Melon's Italian Pie


One of my first jobs after college was working for a cutting-edge tech company.  It was 1978 and we were making computers for the airline industry.  It was a blast with a Mad Men atmosphere without the bad stuff.

Single but longing for Mr. Right, I admired a sophisticated Kate Spade-esque "older" woman (age 30) who was the wife of one of the rising-star engineers.  She was the top secretary to the firm's owner and wore elegant wool tweed sheaths with matching jackets and black patent leather pumps.  The rest of us, although appropriate, were embracing the new folkloric style of the decade and somehow our long floral skirts and knit vests paled a little next to our lovely office-mate's allure.

My new friend kindly took me under her wing and before long I saw the off-beat side of her that she kept hidden from office eyes.  Her close friends called her Bubbly Melon (Beverly Mullin) because the parties she and her husband gave in their city apartment often began cultured and refined but morphed into rollicking affairs that ended with a lot of water cooler banter the next day.   So I was thrilled with a touch of trepidation the morning I found an invitation to her legendary Christmas gathering on my desk.

Two things stand out about that party.  One, my friend and her husband were called to a downstairs neighbor's apartment for quick holiday toast.  Once they were gone, another guest suggested that we all pile into their massive water bed, exposing our upper arms and chests to give the illusion of being naked.  I was shocked but did my best to roll up the sleeves of my sparkly sweater and pull the neck down low.  One guest took pictures while we grinned and saluted with champagne glasses held high, about 9 in the bed. Later, when the pictures were developed, they were sent to our hosts anonymously for a good laugh.  It was my introduction to café society.

The second thing that stands out from that party was the dish that Bubbly served, a savory delicacy she called Italian Pie.  As I was leaving that night, she squished a small index card into my palm tied with a festive ribbon and a candy cane.  She told me I would make the pie for the rest of my life and she had typed it up especially for me.  At the bottom in red, she wrote the word "Voilá!" and even though it wasn't a French pie, I thought she was infinitely cool.

I still have the recipe card and have made the pie hundreds of times.  I've added some of my own flourishes and I think it is perfection, whether for company or comfort.  The magic is that it appears to be a dish that takes hours but is quite simple.  I gave the recipe to a co-worker a few years ago who was looking for a kid-friendly meal idea after a harried day.  That night, her husband called to thank me!  It was hit.

I have lost track of Bubbly Melon forever.  I do, however silently thank her whenever I have to bring something scrumptious to a potluck supper or need an easy dish to make on a cold Sunday night at home.

~

Bubbly Melon's Italian Pie


Pie crust bottom only (you can use your favorite pie crust recipe, a store-bought one, or in a pinch, Crescent Rolls pieced together in the pie plate)

1.5 pounds ground beef

1.5 small cans tomato paste

2 cloves garlic minced

1 green or red pepper diced

1 large onion diced

Italian seasoning to taste

Pinch of dried hot pepper flakes

Pinch of salt

Parmesan cheese

Shredded mozzarella cheese

Olive oil

Freshly washed and dried spinach

***

Saute garlic in fry pan with olive oil.  Add onions and peppers and cook until softened.

Add ground beef and break up with a spatula.

Add tomato paste (the unused 2nd can will freeze well in the can with a plastic wrap covering)

Add Italian seasoning and hot pepper flakes

When beef is cooked thoroughly, drain off oil.

Pour beef into pie shell.

Cover with cheese.

Poke several holes.

Lightly grate Parmesan cheese on top

Sprinkle just a pinch of salt on top and a little more Italian season for color.

Bake 30 minutes in 350 degree oven or until cheese melts and crust browns.

Let sit for five minutes and slice.

Plate on top of spinach drizzled with olive oil

Voilá!