LEFTOVERS

LEFTOVERS

How many frogs does it take to cook a turkey?

Only one; it’s genetic and she’s damn good at it!

Our kitchen was always fragrant with onions, celery, garlic, parsley, thyme… one of the neighbors from around the block would walk up the driveway and comment,

Whatever you are cooking smells wonderful! Even the flies are gathered at your kitchen window screen…

Mom took this remark as it was meant to be; a compliment. She was normally preparing a holiday or family dinner.  Often, the flies had gathered on the days she was preparing the farce, a traditional meat stuffing combination of beef and pork, cooked with the seasonings, then ground very fine with her hand grinder clamped to the side of the chopping board.  Stale French bread soaked in milk and squeezed almost dry, an egg, and some salt and pepper – Voila! Farce; smelled absolutely divine and scented the entire driveway and two doors down in both directions.

On Thanksgiving and Christmas, turkey would be one of two main entrees.  Ham was normally the second, unless Daddy decided to barbeque a leg of lamb. All Daddy had to do was normally clean and ready the old round charcoal barbeque; then wait for Mom to tell him the lamb was prepped.  Daddy’s station was the backyard.  The rest of the meal was in Mom’s kitchen.

Preparing a dinner was always an exhausting effort; no matter the year, the turkey dinner had to be perfect and complete. Thanksgiving might be an American Holiday, but the cuisine had definite French overtones. Nearly every dish took two to three days to complete.  There were no shortcuts in Mom’s kitchen.

At one time, a first course soup with a small amount of pasta was served. Mom made the bouillon from scratch.  End of the first day, she’d place the pot on the dryer to cool down overnight.  Next morning, she’d skim any beef fat that might have congealed so to clarify the broth for serving.  On the holiday, she’d boil the entire pot once again, season with a bit of salt and pepper, and then add the very tiny pieces of vermicelli.  The plates of soup began the meal.

Somewhere between the bouillon and crab salad a bread basket arrived, a bottle each of red and white wines, and the antipasto plates; one plate included salami with prosciutto, and the other was a sectioned glass dish of pickles, black olives, and pepperoncini.

Time to prepare the individual, molded crab salads.  The crab mixture had been made the day before. It included canned crab, finely chopped hardboiled egg, minced celery and parsley, held together with Best Foods Mayonnaise, a bit of lemon and dash of salt and pepper.  Mixture was moist and stored covered the day before. Plates were readied with endive and escarole, and then light vinaigrette was spooned over each.  We watched our aunt don her cobbler apron and team up with Mom; they each knew the others’ actions because they had assisted my grandfather in his kitchen “down the house”.  Our aunt and Mom always enjoyed working together; it was just like old times for them. One was as much a perfectionist as the other, so they got along just fine.

As we grew older, Mom would let us mold the crab mixture in a small demitasse cup, just the right size for a dinner menu this grand.  PLOP! The small little hill would sit in the middle (if all went well) and then one would sprinkle a bit of paprika on the mound for color.  A black olive on top, a lemon wedge on the side. Perfect! The salads were stacked inside the fridge, on tops of jars and other glass containers to remain chilled for serving.

Years later, we convinced Mom to skip the soup; none of us younger generation missed the clarified broth very much; personally, I thought the final dish was not worth the effort. The individual crab salads were so colorful that Mom finally omitted the first course soup and we placed the salads directly on the dinner plates.  They looked so pretty and became one of the last finishing touches before calling everyone to sit down.

Petit Pois (peas) seasoned with green onion, garlic and bacon were prepared; as were Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, yams simply glazed with some brown sugar, and cranberry sauce – both whole berry and jelly (these were the most American recipes on our table; American was defined as anything non-French looking, possibly from a can, sweetened, easily served and didn’t take much fuss.

Cheese, bread, coffee with brandy and a store-bought dessert ended the meal; homemade pies came much later once Bro married a gal who could really bake!

No course or detail was omitted when the aunts and uncles came over.  The entire dinner was served on a linen table cloth, with matching linen napkins that Mom had “done up” herself, another expectation that she fulfilled having inherited the French Curtain Laundry gene too.

What is the ONLY reason to cook a turkey?

Leftovers… of course!

I remember the one Thanksgiving that Mom was rather relaxed in the kitchen.  I wasn’t the only one who noticed this.  She even decided that we girls could help with the hors d’oeuvre plate and whatever we did to make the items look pretty would be okay.

Okay? This from the same mother who told me that the way I chopped carrots made her laugh?

I was starting to be concerned… Mom was smiling,  laughing with us in HER kitchen,  and whatever we did was OKAY???

Then it hit; no aunts or uncles were coming; we’d be just the immediate family this year.

Brat and I told Mom we liked her much better when the relatives weren’t going to have dinner with us; that she was much easier to be around.  She took this all in, and didn’t even get angry.  I think she realized just how much she had worked all those years and wasn’t even sure herself if she needed all the fuss to enjoy the day…that was a nice moment of awakening in Mom’s kitchen for us all.

Must be genetic; in true Rubberneck Avenue fashion, I have exhausted myself cooking a Thanksgiving Dinner.  Mine is updated; no soup,  a crab salad appetizer, some tweaks here and there.  Oh yes; bread dressing a la Americaine.

So, I must console myself this Friday After with only leftovers … it’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to keep up the family traditions…

We Were Americans

Mom and Dad brought a common heritage to their first and only new home on Rubberneck Avenue.  Our table had the same four food groups from “down the house” like our grandparents‘ home: wine, French bread, salami, and cheese.  The traditional hospitality of offering a casa croute (sharing of the house bread) continued on Rubberneck as well.

While our table often identified us as French descent, herein lay the distinction:  we were Americans first.  We joined the melting pot of other first and second generation families whereby respect and love for country were inherently as important as the November celebrated reason for gathering.   Like the Pilgrims at Plymouth, we ate turkey on Thanksgiving; the main course, however, was followed by the required bit of French bread and blue cheese to enjoy with the last sips of wine, while we listened to the stories that our uncles with accents had to tell.

Talking Turkey

Our most American tradition – celebrating the year’s harvest and blessings – is once again upon us.  Thanksgiving is a holiday that Americans can historically claim as our very own. Does that mean that other peoples before us were ungrateful?  Not by any means.  But IT IS OURS, the one day on the calendar that evokes a melting pot of commonality, culture,  and deep emotions; encouraging a nation of immigrants to give official thanks for the many blessings and bounty we share in our land.

I submit that while holidays can be difficult at times, maintaining some or all of the family traditions can be especially comforting; let these rituals provide the familiar landscape wherein each of you can still participate, even if the role is slightly amended from years before.  If need be, add a new tradition. I suggest:

The “Talk Turkey” Challenge:

  • Give yourself permission to share a story that you’ve never told before; grandparents, this means YOU.
  • Encourage all ages to join in the conversation.  Keep the technology at a minimum (football games excluded)
  • Don’t pull rank; parents often do, then wonder why the kids never talk.  Embrace the ones around you; life is too short to let a minor grievance ruin the holiday camaraderie.
  • Allow a bit of silliness!  (Not necessarily at the expense of table manners, but you be the judge; lots of family stories evolved from dinner tables in past years; try not to shudder.)
  • Fight over the last drumstick; cajoling a sibling into a little childhood skirmish can be fun, especially if one or both parents or an aunt or uncle are still around to watch and laughingly reminisce…
  • Consider each new happenstance a future memory; find the humor in it and laugh together.
  • Look into each face around the table. Observe the personality nuances and mannerisms.  In as brief a span as five years, table personalities will change; children will grow, friends will leave the area; family branches will sprout afar.
  • Can’t travel to be together this Thursday?  Just wait until the next time you can all regroup!  The possibilities are endless!

Growing up, it was easy to take the Thanksgiving holiday for granted; November was a happy month, the start of the Holidays!  Some of us matured rather abruptly once we saw our president assassinated; we all remember where we were, who informed us, and the immediate days after when, as a grieving nation, we gathered that next week to celebrate Thanksgiving.  Many of us remembered only a little boy saluting goodbye to his daddy.

The old adage, Death has no age, was suddenly meaningful; it is this year for some whose  loved one will be missing for the first time this Thanksgiving.  The holiday season can be a particularly painful period.

The coming months present some economic challenges for many; some earners last year are currently unemployed and find themselves in a completely different scenario than the last time they hit the pavement.  Hitting a keyboard can be just as frustrating.

Thanksgiving will arrive just the same. This season, keep our fellow countrymen in prayer.  Choose how to make Thursday one of the sweeter Thanksgiving Days in recent memory.  May we forever feel a depth of gratitude for the lives and goodness He has bestowed upon each of us.

Rejoice! Celebrate! Praise God! Lastly, may God Bless America.

The Seasons Are But Few

You loaned me once a garden, and whispered quietly,

See what you can create in it with tools and reverie.

You’ll draw from each day’s tending any lessons meant for you.

Understand the garden beds are loaned; the seasons are but few;

They’ll come a time when blossoms fade; remember well their place!

I heard Your Admonition as each season showed its face.

 

I came to know, try after try, each bloom would have one chance

To catch my eye; my stewardship became more joyful with each glance!

Nine years I worked those garden beds; my turn to pass the rake had come.

I one last time watched roses climb; old fashion scents spiced cinnamon.

The lemons, ripened on the tree, awaited the next someone’s hand.

Impatiens filled small garden spots, sweet rose-like, ruby, budded strands.

 

I walked outside the back, recalling once more words You’d said;

I touched the lilies; marguerites; the fuchsias bowed their heads.

Beneath the overhanging branch, I looked up toward the sky.

Releasing hold and heart, I whispered thanks, and accepted why.

When I’m Reduced to Prayer

 

When weakened by dismay, Lord, remind me that You care.

Restore in me a thankful heart.  Cajole me into prayer!

 

When weakened by life’s hurts, Lord, remind me that You live.

Restore in me a quiet peace. Teach me to forgive!

 

When weakened by earth’s trials, Lord, remind me that You know.

Restore in me a calm repose. Feed me; help me grow!

 

When weakened by life’s games, Lord, remind me You are near.

Restore in me a sense of trust. Protect me from such fear!

 

When weakened by temptations, Lord, remind me You were man.

Restore in me a humble bent. Call me, take my hand!

 

Time Keeper

Mom was a stickler for being on time.  She’d managed with a couple of alarm clocks, a watch and a bus schedule to get us anywhere we had to be, either the doctor’s office by 1pm or  downtown for shoe shopping and back to the house in time to fix dinner that evening for her family.

Each evening before going to bed, she’d walk over to the television set and clutch the alarm clock in her hand, then carefully wind it up and set it back in its place.  She loved the ticking of these Baby Bens, with the easy to read dials.  She preferred lighter colored dials in her later years, because they were easier to read from afar.

When I returned to the Bay Area, she happily used to call me each weekday morning to make sure I awakened on time and was “up”.  For some reason, she didn’t think I could rely on my home clocks. (Actually, her making sure I arose early enough often guaranteed I’d stop by for coffee on my way in to the office).  Mom kept a chalk board in the kitchen with my name written next to the 6AM wakeup call notation.

This was right up Mom’s alley; still taking care of her children.  She’d never want to hear that her daughter had arrived late to work!  Even after I remarried, Mom asked me if I wanted her to continue to call me in the mornings.  My Rogue thought the whole practice rather cute, so he’d answer the phone on occasion and assure her that I was awake, getting ready for the day, and then spend a short minute chatting with her.

I found it amusing to observe how in later years, she voluntarily became the official time keeper for old friends as well; they truly relied on her to make that reminder phone call telling them to set their clocks back in Fall and forward in Spring.  Of course by this time, we’d all been schooled on changing our clocks before retiring on that particular Saturday evening.

Her punctuality and clock-winding regimens come to mind especially at Daylight Savings Time.  There are days that I wish I could turn my clock back again to relish just a few of those wake up calls, the hugs and the kisses,  and the hot cups of coffee ready and waiting for me …

FROG IN A BLENDER

Forty years ago, I was a new bride, determined to run a home with matching dishes, orderly towels stacked in my linen closet, and a kitchen floor that anyone could eat from, even if anything was dropped; in MY home, a 3 minute rule would apply!

It was the 70’s but I’d had one too many mentors from the 50’s…so, all things were undertaken as the wife and my area of responsibility encompassed not only the home but also  the counter clerk/bookkeeper/inventory taker/purchaser and hr dept in our ma and pa shop.  Certainly, I was never bored, as I had several priorities during the course of any week.  We had one car, so working early in the morning and late in the evening on the home front was part of my daily routine.  As with any routine, it either works or it doesn’t.  When it works, it’s great.  But when it doesn’t…

The newness of being a young married and working all day with my spouse eventually took its toll.  The business of making a living was obviously the priority in our real world; the buck stopped at our shop counter.  My cooking was doing well, but it was quickly becoming obvious my home didn’t look anything like the photos in the collection of easy to decorate articles.  I had an artistic talent for color and display, so the color schemes, while good, did not quite compare to anything even close to what was “popular” except for the wedding gifts!  Thankfully, the rest of the collection was tasteful and in great shape, as it had belonged to my in-laws; they’d gladly passed it over since they no longer had a family room.

My belief that I could pull off the Super Woman scenario was beginning to wane.   I was careful to monitor my performance against the decorator magazine cover titles of my new homemaker status.  When I first hit my wall (one of many awakenings I’d have over the years), I was already rewriting my titles for future articles in a realistic, slightly off key, self-published Mad Magazine Does Homemaking periodical; perhaps the world will be ready for it someday.

Forty years later, I am now in the entremanurial stage of my life:  sorting through the top-heavy piles on my home desk!

Calendars of medical appointments blend with business opportunities, sitting alongside the household file that holds most of the insurance payments due, half-finished shopping lists, and a few decorating and recipe sheets torn from the two periodicals that still arrive in the mailbox. Weekly, I am  essentially moving one stack of paper, photos, drafts and binders from one side of the desk to the other, onto the floor, over the ottoman’s surface, then onto the one side of the bed that remains clear when My Rogue is not napping…I believe that is enough of a visual.

On any given day I am writing for my very own website, social networking, attending business meetings, sometimes donating a half hour here and there on my  civic or non-profit duties, and employing my creative side, fine-tuning the next snippet or my “natural look” , whichever takes priority for that particular twenty-four hour segment.

I have crossed over into this frontier;  the bonding of a still working wife and a long retired husband, sharing moments of joy and elation (panic attacks are mine) midst a range of exciting opportunities for retirement living in 21st Century America.

My home’s loft is now my working headquarters, but I am  boldly going where other American women have gone before… keeping a disciplined work day’s hours in-between breaking eggs, walking on eggs, or beating eggs to bind last night’s leftovers into a piece de resistance for lunch.

When I do take a break and come up for air and an evening cocktail, I ask myself:  just what chapter did this frog in a blender miss?